Zero Node
Chapter 14: Clearwater

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

Not every chapter in Another Ten Seconds is filled with secret messages. However, the title of this chapter tells its own story. It was the title of a special ceremony held on September 23, 1977 at the ceremonial training weekend. This was part of the impetus for Winter Camp I held three months later.

The ceremony had its own unique special effects which someday may be repeated. However, there were other memorable events, such as the young Steve Donohue being forced to carry a car battery and crate of candles up and over the highest point in D-A. Later, after the ceremony, Steve was alone and became lost. The experience of his hike became a future activity known as the "Lost Daha Hike."

During the ceremony itself, the individual playing "Bobby" was required to utter an expletive for the first and only time in his life. His pseudonym committed the same utterance in Chapter 14.

Jeff Rand
October 6, 2019

Need a refresher? Here's the After the Apocalypse chapter

Due to its shallow draft, the boat was christened "Clearwater." Although it was a sailboat, it had the advantage of a small engine to help it maintain its course. The Clearwater had the economical design of sloop being capable of sailing in the open ocean. The boat measured 27 feet in length with a 10-foot beam at its widest point. The mainsail was affixed to a mast reaching more than 30 feet above the water. It had a jib on the aft of the vessel for extra sailing power. The cabin could sleep two comfortably but could handle a larger compliment, if necessary. A short person could stand in it without hitting his head.

The small crew on the Clearwater had stocked it well, having become expert at extracting resources from the remains of human habitation. They had set sail some weeks ago ready for a voyage across the world or wherever the search should take them. Initially, they stayed close to land but then there was a faint signal on the radio. They set sail and the search began.

A routine was established to make best use of the accommodations, where no more than two would be sleeping at a time. This allowed the others to mind the sails and monitor the radio. Twice they thought they heard a beep on the radio but no real audible signal. Yet, this offered encouragement.

Though he was still a child, Leu quickly honed his skills as a sailor. At heart he was a Scout and wished he had a chance to earn the small boat sailing merit badge. However, this opportunity had not been available in years, only, perhaps virtually for those existing in neural virtual reality. For Leu, the opportunity gave him real challenges and the associated danger.

Summer was upon the northern hemisphere and good weather prevailed for many days. Leu told the adults that it was time to turn east and head across the Pacific. Having more than three weeks experience as a sailor, he considered himself captain of the Clearwater. The others accommodated his wishes when they realized that they had gone far enough south to join the currents now heading in the right direction. In any respect, Leu was the first youth leader of Clearwater in over fifty years.

The first days heading east with the prevailing westerly winds went smoothly. Leu tended to the sails and made frequent adjustments to their course to keep heading due east. He reasoned that that would be the logical course for their search. The two adult males in the party were happy to oblige Leu but spent time tending to other needs of the boat. The fourth member of the crew was a woman who dutifully took her shifts and spent much effort preparing the supply of fresh water. On occasion she would intervene to help Leu avoid conflict with the older men.

After several days sailing in the eastern direction, the seas grew rough. The small crew of the Clearwater reasoned that it was July 13, 2031, as they prepared to ride out the coming storm. The sails were lowered, and all provisions were secured. The woman noted a significant drop in barometric pressure.

In the early stages of the storm the wind, rain and waves increased causing the Clearwater to rock violently. The only reason it remained upright was a result of the buoyancy foam lining the inside of the hull. The four humans clung to the rails in the cabin as they sought to survive the torturous hours of the storm.

The smaller adult man described the storm as a typhoon and brought hope to the group as the winds began to die. "I think we have seen the worst and will be in calm of the eye soon," he said. Unfortunately, he was wrong. While the wind and rain subsided, the waves came crashing from all directions. First, all windows were smashed and would have caused harm to the crew if they had not crouched and hid their faces. Then there was a loud crack, as a huge wave hit the mast.

The larger man rushed out of the cabin to grab the towline. Despite being hit by crashing waves, he moved deliberately to tie the line to the mast. Holding the line with one hand, he grabbed the mast now leaning forward. He struggled to wrap the rope around it to no avail. The other man reacted quickly to the peril and pushed the boy and woman to the sides of the cabin. He left the cabin to join his friend.

A monstrous wave came rushing onto the boat from the stern. It was at least the height of the mast. The mast could not handle the force and broke, falling towards the bow. It fell directly on the cabin and crashed through the roof. The base of the mast hit the larger man and pinned him to a seat on the deck.

The quick-witted response of the smaller man saved the boy and woman in the cabin. The cabin was filled with debris and anyone in center would have been crushed. Leu and the woman crawled out from the corners of the cabin removing the debris that blocked their path. Although the boat continued to rock in the waves, they rushed to find the men. One was covered by the mast, but they could not see the other.

The woman rushed to aid the one being crushed by the mast. As she held the mast to keep from being washed into the sea, she looked at the face of the man whose head was turned to the starboard. She bent over to see if he was conscious. Another wave crashed onto the deck nearly carrying her out to sea to drown. With such high stakes her grip would not break. When the wave finished its roll across the deck, she looked towards the man's face. He was not alert but still alive she hoped. She sensed that he might be breathing.

Without much thought, Leu rushed out on the flooded deck. The wave knocked him down, but he was quick to grab a side rail and lift his head out of the water. He coughed and struggled to his feet. Another wave came from the opposite direction and pushed him over the side of the boat towards the open ocean. Though his feet dangled to the sea and his body was over the edge, he held the rail with just one hand to save his life. Had he spent the last few years in neural virtual reality as had almost every human, he would be dead. Yet, he had endured through the challenges of the real world, having developed far more strength than his age and size would suggest.

Leu pulled himself over the edge to the flooded deck. As the last wave caused the water to flow across the deck towards the stern, he saw the man face down in the water. Again, with no regard to his own safety he grabbed the man to drag him out of the water. He wasted no time and broke through the rubble in front of the cabin. He pulled with all his strength and was able to move the man onto a table in the corner of the cabin. Although there were no actual Scouts any longer for such training, Leu had learned some Scouting skills from the others, and checked the man for a pulse. He found none and immediately started giving chest compressions.

The women left the other man under the mast so she could help Leu. Leu had counted five compressions about a dozen times before she was able to take his place. The woman continued the count for two more minutes with no success. Leu was ready to step-in, but she continued with undaunted determination. Leu grabbed the man's head to tilt it back and begin mouth to mouth. He filled the man's lungs with air as the count reached five. He did it again on the fifth count and a third time.

Suddenly the man coughed and expelled water in Leu's face. The man was alive!

In minutes, the man was semi-conscious and breathing on his own. The woman and boy spent no time with any niceties and moved quickly outside to the other man. The mast weighed perhaps a quarter ton on the surface of the earth and was still pinning the large adult. Leu and the woman were not big or strong enough to lift the mast. Although, they tried several times, they quietly feared the worst. Another wave nearly washed them away but did not move the mast.

As the woman turned to keep the water from hitting her face, she saw the boom which had held the bottom of the mainsail, now floating on the deck. She released her grip and grabbed the boom. A smaller wave washed onto the deck, but Leu immediately grabbed her arm. Using the boom as a lever, the pair was able to pry the mast off the big man. They pulled him into the cabin. He was seriously injured but alive.


The storm continued for several more hours, while the small crew stayed in the remains of the ship's cabin. The smaller man was now conscious and capable of conversation. Leu asked him several questions to which he dutifully responded. When Leu asked a math question, the adult gave the right answer but added, "However, I don't think I can remember the infinite series for calculating pi."

"Perhaps Doctor Bollman could help," said Leu. "O yes - he is locked in an NVR center if he is still alive."

Two days later, the conscious trio were busy making repairs while the large man continued to sleep. The woman was able to force him to drink and continued to spoon feed him. Then suddenly he awoke. He had been knocked unconscious from the mast. Adding to that he was sure he had broken ribs and perhaps a broken collarbone. Breathing was painful and it would be many days before he fully recovered.

The repairs to the cabin went quickly but propelling the sailboat would be difficult. The small engine and propeller were destroyed. The mast had broken from its rigging and was bent. The mainsail was gone. The jib was in the bow and had been ripped. The woman set upon repairing the jib sail while the able man and boy were able to fix the boom from the mainsail to use as a short mast. They used some other pieces from the jig rigging and in just a day had a small mainsail. Travel would be slow but possible.

In the days that followed, the large man continued to recover. He paid close attention to the radio, which had survived the storm. After two weeks he was able to move around the deck but continued to listen to the radio. Then after a month he heard a faint message to which he responded. There was nothing for three more days, but the radio transceiver had fixed the signal to the south. They continued in that direction.

Leu liked to be on deck for sunrise and was operating the sail to keep on course. The sun reached the horizon and now sent its rays across the ocean from the northeast. His line of sight was clear, but he observed a dark splotch on the horizon. Immediately he adjusted the small sail and rudder to head in that direction. As he grew closer, he observed some floating debris. Perhaps it was part of their sailboat.

He was about a hundred meters away when he knew it was a raft. At a hundred feet he saw a man laying on a small raft. He moved the sailboat to the raft and was shocked at the site.

"Mr. Donohue!" he shouted.

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