Corporeal Passage: Chapter 19: Effective Effluent Expulsion
by Jeff RandEthan expected that the pillar leading to the waterfall in the house above would be lowered and replaced by a ladder of some sort for the return to the surface. Instead, Ron directed Ethan and his son to the small bathroom with the toilet and wash basin. "We will not be returning to the house," he said.
Ron removed a thin monocle from a cabinet and stuck it on his forehead without need for a strap or headband. Then he lifted the sink basin pulling it's straight drainpipe out of the floor. Sticking his hand with his narrow palm and wrist into the hole, he was able to remove a circular section of the floor. He pressed the monocle to activate a bright light as he peered into the hole. Ethan moved over the hole and investigated the chasm now illuminated by Ron's monocle headlamp. It was at least a tad in depth and appeared to be the drain into a larger horizontal pipe.
Ron turned to Ethan and Leu, "I will give you each a headlamp and suggest you grab your packs. We will be leaving through the sewer system."
Ethan made no objection and quickly went to his sleeping quarters to retrieve his few possessions. Leu did the same. When they returned to the bathroom, Ron handed them their headlamps and told them to put their shoes in the packs.
"This will not be a very pleasant experience," instructed Ron. "However, Eli is a very smart man, and the escape will not be discovered by the authorities. I will go first since the pipe exiting the premises can handle just a single person as he slithers through it. Fortunately, neither of you are obese and should not get stuck. If you do, it will not provide the best environment for a slow death. When I jump into the drain, I will force my feet into the main inflow and should be able to bend just enough to force my head and trunk into the outflow. I must stick my hands and arms in front of my head. Then it will be a matter of slithering through the long drainpipe to the treatment chambers. I will lead, and you will follow when I have fully entered the drainpipe for the rest of the journey. Any questions?"
"I suppose we can't wear our packs?" asked Ethan.
"No. You will push them ahead as you slither through the drain."
Once Ron went down the vertical drain and forced himself into the main, Ethan directed his son to go next, believing he could still rescue the lad should they face the worst. Without complaint, Louis was quick to respond and complete the maneuver in entering the main. Ethan knew he would make a ten-foot drop into the hole without injury, but banged his head when he tried to enter the outflow. He barely fit and struggled to move. It would be slow going sliding through a wet sewer pipe, but it could have smelled worse. After many minutes he had made progress, when he noticed a slight draft and an opening above his head. He stuck his hands into the shaft rising above him. He believed that it might lead up into the main house, and he felt he could take a rest. Unfortunately, his rest was cut short when a stream of water followed by some mushy solids flushed him from above.
After being thoroughly bathed in the effluent, Ethan felt a renewed burst of energy as he slithered through the pipe. The pipe emptied into a large enclosure where he observed the headlamps of the others who were standing among the solids floating in a swirling liquid.
Ron provided more instructions, "Welcome to the first treatment chamber. This serves the purpose of separating the solids from the rest. We must now make haste and keep your packs out of the water as much as possible until we are outside. I have taken the liberty of removing the screening the separates us from the next chamber. However, it will be necessary for you to submerge yourself in the sewage and swim underwater to get to it. We will not want to spend much time there, as the processes in place will dissolve your flesh within a few jiffies. You will follow me as we climb through some machinery to enter the final treatment chamber."
Ethan felt like a reptile losing a layer of skin when he finally made it to the last chamber with Ron and Louis. It was then that he noticed that his clothing was gone, as if it had dissolved in the pool. The water in the chamber was about four feet deep and Ron submerged again to manually open a large relief valve. It was some time before he returned, which further added to Ethan's trepidation.
"I made it outside into the pond," said Ron. "While it is still dark, I observed two men patrolling the perimeter of the house. I am sure there are more looking for you. I thought Eli was beyond real suspicion. We can make it, but we must not be seen or heard. They have powerful headlamps. We will stay underwater as much as possible and swim through the pond into the woods."
"I recall a fun activity called the silent swim, during my youth as a Scout camping at D-bar-A Scout Ranch. I was told once by an old man that it used to be a requirement for the swimming merit badge. I guess we need to do it now." said Ethan.
"You cannot use your lights and must feel your way. You will swim down then up, as if going through a snaking drain. When you reach the open water, stay under as long as possible and swim as far as you can. We must get deep into the woods, where we will not be seen before leaving the pond."
Ethan was the last to leave and found his way through the relief drain into the pond. It was dark but he continued to swim underwater as his life depended on it. When he finally brought his head to the surface to breathe, it was dark, and he had no glasses. He froze as a light beam spread across the water. Although his face was barely above the surface as he lay prone, he could see the light illuminate the reeds just two inches above him. Not since Winter Camp I had a searchlight come this close to discovering hiding Winter Campers.
"Over here," Ethan heard the whisper. It was Ron.
"I can't see anything but the searchlight in a fog shining on the reeds."
"Just keep low. We're going to get out of here."
Ethan could barely see, but he followed the voice. Then a hand grabbed him. It was not the scrawny appendage from Ron. It was the sturdy grasp from his young son. "I'm glad you made it," rejoiced Leu.
Leu followed Ron and held his nearly blind father as they trudged through the pond into a thicket. Ron indicated that they would wade through a stream to avoid leaving a trail should there be an extended search for them. Although it was not completely dark, the fog thickened as Ethan struggled over, under, and through many obstacles. While he couldn't explain the plant life flourishing without any apparent source of light to power photosynthesis, he expected that it would continue to be dark here inside the earth. He did hope that there was volcanic activity somewhere to explain the lack of total darkness.
"We've gone far enough in the stream. It will become too difficult to follow it any further. I suggest you take a drink from it before we begin our long trek through the forest. Hopefully you have a change of clothes in your pack that is still intact and have your shoes in there too." said Ron.
"Isn't the stream filled with poop?" asked Leu.
"I assure you that the water is clean. When we went through the sewage treatment, all of the feces that covered you was extracted when the first layer of skin was removed from your body." Ron replied.
"Ron, I don't understand how our clothes could have been dissolved but we were not really harmed in the sewer system?" asked Ethan.
"I am not sure I can explain all of it. When Eli described the escape plan before we entered the bunker, I had trouble understanding him. Fortunately, he had designed a translating program to convert the Teran language into English. Although it was a work in progress and the language construct was quite different, I was able to understand the key points. As I recall, he explained the workings of the sewer system, or I should say waste converter, as a device to perform more than simple treatment to effluent. Initially it functioned much like a centrifuge. Then it would identify the inorganics and other nonliving constituents, such as your clothing. That is why I had you hold your packs above you, beyond the action of the centrifuge. Then it reconstructed the basic elements through a realignment of the electrons and protons. Through this process, even the heavy elements, such as lead, were converted to hydrogen and oxygen. Although there was a surplus of oxygen produced, the inorganics were chiefly converted to water. He indicated that depending on the composition of the waste, some of it would be heavy water because of surplus neutrons forming the deuterium or tritium hydrogen isotopes. Nothing to worry about here."
"The system treated organics differently, although single celled entities, such as bacteria, were destroyed, as were most plants and viruses. Living multi-cellular creatures would not be harmed in the process, although the system removed the initial layer of dead epidermal cells and any impurities from the skin of the animal. When I suggested that it would remove your skin, it was an exaggeration, and would require many cycles. Truly if you flushed your pet goldfish down the drain, eventually you would find him swimming in the pond."
"You said that it was more than a sewer system. What does that mean?" asked Ethan.
Ron explained, "Essentially everything is recycled. Eli has a disposal unit near his kitchen for larger items to break them down before they enter the waste converter. Once the process is complete, all trash will have been converted to air and water. I saw him dispose of a broken chair this way during my earlier visit. You may have been drinking the end product that once was the chair. Now we must be on our way; we have a long journey ahead."
Ethan entered the thick forest, keeping close to his son. The combination of the foggy darkness and his poor uncorrected vision made the going difficult. He suffered numerous cuts and abrasions as he clawed through the undergrowth. Yet Ron was relentless in his efforts to keep moving and increase the distance from any potential pursuer. Ethan believed that they had traveled several hours in the eternal darkness before they stopped for a rest next to a small waterfall. He marveled at the complexity of the subterranean environment. Ahead he could see a slight glowing in the sky diffused by the fog. Perhaps they were approaching some hot magma being emitted from the inner core.
As the light increased and the forest gave way to more stately trees with less undergrowth, Ethan's vision improved. They were now on a trail, and Ron increased the pace with his large strides. They came to a small clearing where they were able to sit on a log. "We will wait here," said Ron.
And wait they did - for several jiffies, while the glowing sky became more radiant. Ethan was concerned but said nothing.
Footsteps were heard coming from a trail approaching the clearing. Ethan remained apprehensive when he saw two people approaching, though he was yet unable to identify them. "Good morning," said the closest one.
"Good morning, Danielle," said Leu, noting that she was being accompanied by Tom. "Where is Markie?"
Danielle approached Leu and stuck her tongue out. Leu responded with the same gesture.
She squeezed between Leu and his father to sit on the log, "I see you've learned the local custom."
"I am afraid we have had a split in our ranks," she continued. "Markie fell in with Doug and Jeff. She told them of your plans to escape from Zero Node. In exchange we were allowed to go free. I kept quiet and was happy to be released. However, later when I met Ron, I learned more of the truth. He was able to fool the others and eventually ingratiate himself with Eli. At that point, we knew that we could not trust my sister. Also, we assumed that Doug and Jeff had been part of an evil plot for some time. Perhaps they had been raised knowing that the day would come when we would return to our people. You have Ron to thank for saving you from being a scientific curiosity in what we now call "The Zero Node Zoo."
After a further exchange, Tom interrupted the conversation to suggest that it was time to depart. Ethan could see better now and followed the others on the trail. After winding through the forest, the trail ended at a lake. Casting its rays across the misty lake, Ethan observed the sun glowing red.