Zero Node
Chapter 2: "Starting Where We Left Off"

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

Among the things described in this chapter are future predictions regarding Robert Hartwig. At the time of the writing, I had no idea of Rob's future plans. I later learned that he did have hopes of becoming a physician. I hope this prediction proves true, though I am not sure he will pursue the specialty described. However, I should point out that the information used to describe his future practice and Scouting involvement, accurately portrays the background of a former chairman of the National Order of the Arrow Committee.

Those who've known Steve Donohue for a number of years will attest that his mother always enforced a 10 PM rule regarding phone calls. It was predicted at Winter Camp X that Steve would have an internal organ removed. The story fulfills this prediction, but thankfully this remains fiction.

The title of the chapter "Dr. Bob's Gift" has nothing to do the Dr. Robert Hartwig, rather it tells a quite different story. Dr. Robert Finehout first joined the D-A Scout Ranch staff in 1976. Later he became a permanent resident of the camp for a period. When he moved away from the Ranch, among the things he left behind was a beaded name badge for "Doug Horn." Winter Campers found this name badge during a clean-up service project. At the time, long time Winter Camper Roger Horn did not have a son and should he have a son in the future, he was asked to name him Doug. Mr. Horn failed to remember this fact when his son was born, now allowing for the future potential of a grandson with this name. Although this has only occurred in the context of the story, many miserly Winter Campers would like to see the name badge put to good use.

Jeff Rand
December 27, 2005

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

Steve could not see Jeff and removed the covering from his face, which Jeff had only partially lifted. Despite the bitter cold, he needed to know that he was not really alone in the midst of some terrible nightmare. Eventually, he focused his eyes towards the human shape beside his bed. Darkness pervaded all else about him.

"Might you be able to shed some light on my situation? Now why did you bring me here?" Steve asked.

"Don't you remember," responded Jeff. "Frankly, I hope to add some light to this room. My efforts, unfortunately, at this time have yet to be fruitful."

"Let's not talk in riddles. Sure I remember going to Siberia with you over three years ago. Our trip ended and we returned home to the United States."

"Steve," said Jeff, "we came here to Siberia to bury a time capsule and we never left."

"That's not true," Steve cried. "Damned if I know how we got back here to Siberia. All I know is that we were just at Winter Camp fifty-four."

"Really? Yet all of sudden we've been transported halfway around the world."

Donohue became perturbed. "Drugged we've been and dumped here for some reason. Now if you know why, tell me Jeff."

"First, we came here on our own. Not only that, but we chose not to leave this forbidding place," Jeff responded. "Don't you remember joining the World Unity celebration in Yakutsk after we placed the time capsule? Everyone on earth participated in the celebration, and we were forced to stay here for that purpose due to the bad timing of our project. That's when we entered the Yakutsk service center to plug our heads into neural virtual reality. You remember that, don't you?"

"Unfortunately, I do. Our timing was bad, but we returned after the celebration. NVR became all too consuming, as you know, and we were happy to do without it once the celebration had finished."

"Do you remember specifically unplugging yourself and leaving this NVR center in friendly Siberia? After all, the center was established to support our bodily functions for a prolonged period. Do you think that the world just gave up the NVR experience after celebrating world unity? You know how addicting it was. Steve, we've been living in the virtual world these past few years and we never left Russia. All you experienced was in this universe of make believe. Everyone else has been fooled too."

"Oh no!" Steve exclaimed. "Damn, that's impossible. Everyone couldn't be connected to the virtual world for three and half years."

"Steve, I don't know how, but I've been outside and seen the neural virtual reality center. Rest assured, it looked fully operational, like it was when we entered it. The thing is really an ugly building."

"Great, you mean that everyone else is still inside connected to NVR?" Steve asked.

"Didn't see any other sign of human life, and I dared not probe the center. Right or wrong, I have bad feeling about it. There is some reason that we have been separated from the NET, and I believe that we best keep our distance."

"Even if you think there is some danger, I believe we should investigate it" Steve said. "Don't you think it would offer better shelter than this freezing shack?"

"Knowledge may be the key to our survival," said Jeff, "but I've already seen enough to realize that we must be very careful. Little else is left of the city, besides the NVR center. Regretfully, the city lay in ruins, as if the sight of a major bombing campaign. Nestled here in a thick forest, this little shack was the only other standing structure I could find."

Donohue felt the biting cold again and struggled to respond to Jeff. "Fire," he said. "Do you think you could build a fire? Even with all of these blankets, I'm going to freeze to death. How come you let the fire go out?"

"That's not what happened. Don't you realize that I did not bring your here to this shack in the trees? Steve, when I first woke up, I was in a cot next to you and it was much warmer than it is now. Weary, I struggled for a long time before I had the strength to plant myself on the floor. Right about that time, in the dim light of the cabin, I noticed the small stove in the corner had nearly burned itself out. That's when I realized that I was not alone and that you shared the small room. Momentarily I thought you had expired, and I was relieved to learn that you were in a deep sleep. Patiently, I gained more strength with my very wobbly legs. Since I was actually quite well dressed, I pulled my parka tight around my face and left the building to greet the cold day. You can imagine my shock at the devastation. Naturally, I wanted to investigate and learn the fate of the city and its inhabitants. Short-lived winter daylight offered me little time to do more than take a quick stroll about the ruins, and I set about the task of finding firewood. Darkness had already settled over the city by the time I returned to the cabin."

Nothing more was said and Steve buried his face in the blankets in hopes of regaining some feeling in his cheeks. Steve believed that it was essential to get warm and he now relied on Jeff to rebuild the fire for their salvation. Now he could only hope that he would not fall into an eternal sleep.

Poking at the stove in the darkness, Jeff opened the door near the base of the unit. Turning his head to peer into the chamber, he thought he saw the faint glow of an ember. Realizing this offered a bit of hope, he grabbed some tinder that he had stuffed in the front of his parka. Although it was probably forty degrees below zero, Jeff removed his glove and arranged the tinder next to the glowing embers. Slowly and carefully, he blew upon the embers in hopes of igniting the tinder. Remarkably, he coaxed the flame to life, and added more tinder and kindling which he had placed near the door. Rand put his left hand directly above the flame before retracting it to the glove once again. Next he retrieved the supply of firewood which he had collected and placed just outside the building. Giant flames filled the stove, and he was all too glad to experience their warmth and light.

The fire eventually warmed the room to some tolerable temperature, perhaps as high as thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Throughout the warming period, Jeff tended to fire, filling the area near the door with a supply of wood, sufficient he hoped, to last through the eighteen hours of darkness. Steve remained in his cot glad to feel the warmth.

Hours passed and though Jeff took a brief rest, he was careful not to let the fire go out, lest opportunity go with it.

The fire had died a bit when Steve lifted the covering from his face. "Excuse me," he said, "are you going to let the fire go out?"

"The fire's alright," Jeff said. "Don't you think I deserve a little rest? "This has been a tough experience, and I am actually quite hungry, and I dare say, quite weak."

"Kristie," said Steve, referring to his wife, "should be here to see you admit your weakness. She always thought you took great pleasure from subjecting yourself to extreme physical conditions."

"She may be right, but I'm afraid this is just the beginning."

"Great bit of optimism you have there, Jeff," Steve responded. "Didn't you find any food on your journey?"

"Yes, but I think it would necessitate Class Ten Dining," said Jeff, referring to his own classification of meals published over fifty years ago in the Winter Camp Book of Lists.

Steve knew not respond to Jeff's comment. The Class Ten meal would likely involve cannibalism or eating the entrails of some long dead rodent. The matter of their long-term survival was of more importance and he hoped to direct their conversation in a more positive direction.

"Now that we know where we are," Steve began, "we need to plan for our journey home."

"Even if we had transportation, it will be a difficult journey back to United States," said Jeff. "First we should regain our strength and improve our shelter."

"Right now I wish I were back at Winter Camp. Please believe me I know it will be difficult," Steve continued, "but we can still walk, even in the snow."

"We can walk?" asked Jeff, quite surprised. "Didn't expect you to be the one suggesting something like that. This is quite a turn of events."

Steve became more vocal. "Let me assure you that I am quite serious, and I suggest that we leave as soon as possible for the United States."

"Steve, do you know how to get home?" Jeff asked.

Donohue responded, "I am sure you know way."

"Yes, but it is over 2,000 kilometers just to get to the Pacific Ocean. Not that I want to discourage you, but ahead of us lays the Road of Bones. Stalin was said to have constructed this road a hundred years ago using forced labor and sacrificing tens of thousands of lives."

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