Corporeal Passage: Chapter 2: Happy Birthday
by Jeff Rand"What happened?" Ethan asked his son.
"The pigs died," replied Leu.
"I meant, what happened to us?"
"Oh. You were not fully conscious for nearly eight prodays. It didn't take me as long to come out of it. I am afraid it was too much for some of the animals. It killed the pigs, and our cat Thomasina is acting strange. It is like she died and came back to life without a brain."
"But we are back in our quarters. I thought we were going through the corporeal passage to find some secret inside the earth."
"You mean on the other side," joked Leu. "I know some of your crazy friends promoted the hollow earth theory."
"Well, I might have placated them but there is more to this Zero Node. It makes no sense to be on the bottom of the Pacific in this tremendous underwater structure, and we are still here."
"I don't know," replied Leu. "We will be joining the others for dinner. Perhaps they can explain."
After a bit of a struggle, Ethan was able to sit and eventually leave his bed. He proceeded to take a hydrosonic shower and dress himself in some of the new attire he had made during his stay in Zero Node. Leu joined him as they exited their apartment. Ethan was disappointed to see that the open overlook was now covered with a transparent surface stretching along the extent of the balcony. The Great Space beyond was dark. The luminescence of the ceiling along the pathway helped them journey past the apartments once occupied by their friends.
As Ethan proceeded along the balcony, he noticed that he was light on his feet and his stride seamed to outstretch his short stature. "Did I lose some weight while in the corporeal passage?" he asked Leu.
"You look the same to me. But I feel much stronger too. I was able to lift your bed with you in it using only one hand," replied Leu.
"I guess these other apartments where our friends stayed are now empty," Ethan stated, wondering how they fared during the departure from Zero Node on a submarine.
"Yes. But Danielle and the others live around the bend past the elevator."
"I guess that means we are stuck here now that the submarine is gone. Perhaps we can contact them, and they can come back for us."
"I don't think so," replied Leu. "Danielle said that we lost communications with the sub and the people in Colorado."
Ethan entered the communal dining room glad to be greeted by the Zero Node veterans. "Happy Birthday, Ethan," they shouted.
"As near as we can figure, it is January 8, 2032, at least by your calendar," added Leu, emphasizing 'your.'
Ethan was pleased that his birthday was being recognized but dismayed that his son implied that he was no longer using the Gregorian Calendar. Ethan still expected to reunite his whole family, and Louis might make it extremely difficult.
The room was fully decorated for Ethan's birthday. Rather than cheap plastic trinkets, which were not available in Zero Node, there were several bouquets of colorful flowers. The chromite-covered walls displayed an array of photos featuring Ethan, mostly engaged in activities at various Winter Camps. Jeff Dryden explained that the contents of the internet had been downloaded to Zero Node prior to humanity's migration to the NVR centers for World Unity Day four years ago. The photos came from the vast collection once housed on the internet.
Doug Sutton continued as the de facto leader of the small band remaining in Zero Node and formally welcomed Ethan. "We're glad you could join us for dinner, Ethan. You had us worried for a while," he said.
Ethan and Leu sat down at the table next to the Jeddo sisters, Danielle and Markie. Doug, Jeff, Ron, and Tom sat on the other side. After just enjoying a snack of bacon, Ethan was surprised to see a platter of ham in the center of the table. "I noticed there is a new affinity for pig flesh," he remarked. "I didn't think you folks ate a lot of meat," addressing he his remarks at the six veteran residents of Zero Node seated around the table.
"Actually, I enjoy ripping into animal flesh," responded Ron Olds to maintain his persona as a hunter and warrior. "Unfortunately, the adult hogs did not survive the event. I think the piglets are OK."
"Event?" inquired Ethan.
"Yes. We went to the special chamber during the corporeal passage. But the animals did not have this luxury, and some did not survive," said Doug.
"How is it that you know this? I thought the corporeal passage was the chamber we entered. You talk like it was an event."
"I guess I have learned some things since I've been awake. I am not sure it will make sense to you. Let us enjoy our dinner," Doug responded.
Danielle rose and directed a question to Leu, "Will you offer grace?"
Leu was happy to oblige the request and repeated the standard grace known by most Catholics that his father had taught him. Following the grace, Danielle picked up the platter of ham and passed it to Ethan. Ethan noted how light it felt, perpetuating the belief that he had gained strength during the corporeal passage. He had never known a period of rest to be so beneficial.
"Would you like a dinner roll?" asked Tom Wilder, seated at the far corner of the table. When Ethan nodded in the affirmative, Tom picked up the roll and tossed it to Ethan. The toss turned into more of a throw as the roll sailed above Ethan's head clear across the room.
As dinner was completed, Markie passed around the dessert she had made by baking some exotic fruits into a cake for Ethan's birthday.
"This is much better than the strange buddha's hand-shaped fruits that were served at Winter Camp thirty-seven," remarked Ethan.
Dessert having been served, Leu rose to present his father a gift. "Once I learned of the information that had been extracted from the internet, I felt it necessary to make you a scrapbook of Winter Camp," said Leu. "It was especially a great idea, when I learned that scrapbooking was a requirement for the Wolf Cub Scout Badge in the sixties."
Ethan thanked his son and the others before turning his attention to Doug, "Now, could you tell us what happened to Zero Node?"
"There really isn't much to say. As you know, when we went into the chamber for the Corporeal Passage, we had to focus our minds for the event," offered Doug.
"Yes, I know that we essentially entered a meditative state of sensory deprivation. Apparently, I was unconscious for days and struggled to regain my sanity. What happened?"
Doug continued, "At the conclusion of the countdown, there was a tremendous energy surge. The surge was much more significant than an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion or even the reactions within the sun. Although not intrinsically deadly, this surge affected transmissions within the synapsis between the neurons in your body. As a result, it took some time to return to normal neurological functions. Unfortunately, it took longer for you to recover than it did for the rest of us. Your brain waves were unusual, as were your son's. He recovered more quickly, however, likely due to his youth."
"Did that kill the pigs?"
"I believe it did. You should know that the experience could be harmful to the more intelligent animals. That is why we had to clear our minds in the special chamber. Unfortunately, the pigs did not have this opportunity. The other primate in Zero Node, the capuchin monkey named Jimmy, left with the others on the submarine. We know it was hard on the cat, Thomasina. But she will survive. It was very difficult for the dog, Roger, and he will likely continue to be insane, if that's the right way to describe a crazy dog."
Ethan was plainly irritated, "How is that you know all this? And where did we go?"
Doug responded, "I am sorry I can't say anything more at this point. But rest assured, we didn't go anywhere."
"OK. Then we need to contact the submarine so they can come back for us since that is our only means of escape. I guess this 'Event' was a waste of time for us and deadly to some animals. We need to help the others in their mission to save humanity!" Ethan cried.
"I don't think that is possible," Doug responded.
"Oh, I forgot. My son said we lost communications with the submarine. I suggest we go about fixing it."
"I am afraid we don't have the means," Doug countered.
Ethan rose to face his now protagonist. Although Doug remained in his seat, even in a sitting position he was nearly as tall as Ethan. Ethan noted that all six veterans were tall and thin. The four men, if you could call them that, looked like they never needed to shave and had feminine sounding voices. Certainly, they should be past puberty. The Jeddo sisters were a bit shorter than the men, but still well over six foot tall. Although their hips were shaped typically for a female, their breasts were not fully developed. If he had to guess, Ethan would not believe that these Zero Node veterans were much older than teenagers. Doug might be twenty, he thought. Yet, they had recently celebrated Danielle's 224th birthday, using their system of measuring time with its prodays, proweeks, and blue moons. When they tried to convert to the standards to which he was accustomed, it made her 66 years old. However, she acted and looked no older than his 15-year-old son.
"Doug, I am happy that you recognized my birthday using my calendar, but understand I feel trapped now," Ethan said, raising his voice slightly.
Doug showed some irritation, "I am sorry about that. You must know that this is our home, and we were not prepared to leave. We had no place else to go. Your son wanted to stay too. You could have forced him to get on the submarine. Instead, you chose to join him."
Leu stood facing his father, "Dad, I..., I..." Leu could not finish his comment before Ethan stuck his hand out as if saying, "shut up stupid kid."
Surprisingly, Ron interjected, "Ethan, I share your concerns, but it will be better if we return to our quarters so that our minds will be fresh next day to approach these problems."