Zero Node
Chapter 1: "Most Cold Place "

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

As an ongoing sidebar to the publication of Zero Node, some of the hidden meanings and inside information found in Another Ten Seconds will be revealed. Since Zero Node will expand upon the information contained in this earlier work, it is quite appropriate to share this background at this time. As new chapters of Zero Node are created, explanations will be added for the chapters corresponding with the same number from Another Ten Seconds.

The cover photo on the paperback edition of the novel has nothing to do with the story. It is, however, part of Winter Camp lore. The winter scene is of the Main Lodge at Charles Howell Scout Reservation, taken shortly before its sale to developers. For many years a winter camp program was held at this camp, and I attended my first winter camp there with my troop in 1970. The main lodge was said to be one of the largest log cabins in the world before it was demolished.

Most of titles of the chapters contain some meaning that may or may not pertain to the central story, usually not. The first chapter was written before this idea was conceived. However its title "Winter Camp LIV" did convey the thought that Winter Camp Lives, an obvious oxymoron to the truth that would be revealed later in the story.

Of course, I had to use an outlandish word like coprophagous in the first sentence. For those that know what it means, it should offer some shock value. But it also conveyed the sense that things were not normal. The nickname for the cooks of this meal was related to a real experience that happened at the 1975 National Order of the Arrow Conference. The actual incident was not exactly pleasant, particularly for the adult in charge of the lodge contingent.

The Communal Straw is another meal idea long proposed for Winter Camp, which now sits prominently on the top of the list of meals that will likely never happen.

Not surprising the names of the two new Winter Campers described in the chapter were not chosen at random. (Very little in the novel was random.) Charles Powell was a combination Charles Howell Scout Reservation and Lord Robert Baden Powell. Christopher Jordan came from the last district executive to serve the South Parks District, where Winter Camp had its early roots. Jordan's troop number, of course, spells a bad word on a calculator. This was a big thrill when calculators first came out in the 1970's.

It should be noted that Charles and Christopher were studying for the history exam to earn their Winter Camp Participation Award. At the time this was written, the idea for the participation award was just being proposed. That it has now become a reality, adds one correct future prediction from this story.

The Tower of Babel came from memories of earlier pioneering projects, though much grander. Troop 842 constructed a 46 foot tower over the roadway to Fair Oaks campsite in 1981. Doug Wilson and I were involved in engineering the real tower, which first required construction of a smaller scaffolding tower.

Jeff Rand
December 1, 2005

Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter

Steve Donohue gasped a painful breath, experiencing air so cold that he wondered if his nostrils could be melting chucks of frozen atmosphere before he could inhale. His eyes were glazed; perhaps his tears had frozen to the cornea. The pouch of flesh on his face stung bitterly, but his ears were absent any feeling. When he breathed in through his mouth, the rush of cold air across his teeth felt like he was getting a root canal without anesthetic. Fingers, toes, arms, legs, stomach, buttocks, all were painfully cold. He believed, too, that the marrow in his bones and the blood in his veins were beginning to freeze. His urine, he felt certain, was freezing in his kidneys. Perhaps the acidic contents of his stomach would take a bit longer. He could only hope that blood in his heart would not freeze solid halfway through a beat. He had never been one to suffer from the effects of cold; and back in the day he was known to put others into some uncomfortable situations in demonstrating his tolerance for frigid temperatures. But his current situation was well beyond anything he had ever experienced and dangerously so. He had to get warm or soon he would become a frozen corpse. And if he were really still alive, an uncertain fact at the moment, his soul would be frozen before it reached heaven. Of course, if hell was to be his destination, he might just moderate things a bit.

He was lying down in some sort of bed, entangled in a wad of cloths. Yet in the total darkness, he was unable to comprehend anything beyond this cold bed. When he realized that he might be wrapped in blankets, he used great effort to coax his frigid fingers to move the ice-cloaked blankets in an attempt to protect the exposed flesh on his face. He could barely move under the thick pile of blankets, which despite their bulk were not very effective against the penetrating cold. As he tried to assume a fetal position to preserve warmth, it took an exceptional effort to move. His lethargic muscles were marginally responsive, and he assumed this to be a product of a reduced body temperature. However, in attempting to move his arms, he realized that he was also extensively dressed, probably wearing some very stiff wool.

The bitter cold had also reduced his mental capacity. But he sought to make sense of his current predicament. Certainly he was not at Winter Camp. It was never this cold. Something had happened, perhaps some great disaster, he thought.

He lay for some time recalling recent events in hopes of gaining some understanding as to how he came to be in this "arctic tomb." Just hours ago, he believed, he was at D-A Scout Ranch in Metamora, Michigan participating in Winter Camp LIV. Following an unexpected tragedy, the Winter Camp elders had been contemplating what to do about the drowning of John Howey. Several of Steve's closest friends were present, but he had taken an unusual role of not getting engaged in the discussion. Steve had mixed emotions about the decision to continue the camp and had pulled Jeff Rand aside in an attempt to discuss the matter more fully, one-on-one. Steve knew that he could readily convince the others to change their minds, but with Jeff it required more subtle psychology. He would help Jeff come to the desired conclusion without necessarily mentioning it himself.

Steve and Jeff departed from the main activities in the Beaver Creek Cabin and walked some 100 meters to the smaller Clearwater Cabin where they expected to be alone. As they approached, they could see that the lights were out, but a flicker of firelight illuminated the windowpanes. Opening the door, they were astonished to see the cabin bathed in ritual candlelight and Dave Milon standing in the center of the room wrapped in a white sheet. Dave paid no attention to the visitors and went about a ranting speech. Though Steve was hardly a student of Scripture, the source of Dave's diatribe had been all too evident. "And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads," they heard him say.

Dave finished the ceremony and left the building through the rear door, covered in his sheet. Steve reasoned that he could talk to Jeff later, since Dave's unusual behavior warranted immediate action, and he prepared to follow. Before he could leave, however, an urgent call on his satcom thwarted this plan. A familiar, yet unidentified voice told him of information of vital importance to Winter Camp. He should leave at once and bring Jeff to the front gate of D-A in order to learn this truth.

Without consultation, Jeff had already taken off in pursuit of Dave Milon. The call delayed Steve enough so that when he looked out the back door, he saw no sign of Dave of Jeff. He was quite surprised when he turned around and saw Jeff coming back in the front door.

"He got in his car and is heading towards Trout Lake," said Jeff. "I don't know how safe he'll be driving wrapped in that sheet."

"I think he is meeting someone at the front gate," responded Steve. "Let's go. I'll tell you about it in the car."

Before getting into Steve's vehicle they saw Mark Bollman and told him they were going after Dave Milon. Apparently Mark had seen Dave leave, dressed in the sheet and ranting about the fall of Babylon. For his part, Steve confirmed seeing some of the same, but chose to say nothing of the strange phone call.

Steve recalled getting into the car with Jeff and driving on the road beneath the Beaver Lake dam. It seemed like it had just happened; yet he could remember nothing beyond reaching the fork in the road where the high route veered off at an acute angle across the breast of the dam.

Had there been accident? Then why wasn't he in a warm bed in a hospital? And what about Jeff? Maybe something worse had occurred. After all, he had collaborated with Mark Bollman in writing the still unfinished Winter Camp novel, After the Apocalypse. Maybe it was actually a premonition he shared with Mark, and now nuclear winter prevailed across the land. This thought could make sense, but he could remember nothing of a disaster, and certainly someone had placed him in these blankets. Or have I died and gone to my own private hell? Dave Milon's words, he knew, quoted the Book of Revelation, speaking of the end times. "I'll accept the nuclear winter hypothesis," he concluded.

Laying motionless and getting progressively colder, Steve could not contemplate the passage of time. Anyone who has spent a winter's night in a tent in the northern latitudes without adequate equipment could appreciate how long it took for just a few hours of night to pass. Steve had camped over fifty years ago with Jeff in such conditions. He remembered another famed Winter Camper being there, Doug Wilson. And there was a fourth person, he was sure, but his chilled brain could not conceive an image of the individual. Whoever he was, all traces of his being were now erased from Steve's memory.

Steve thought he heard the wind howling; otherwise, with the exception of touch, his senses were inert. And the feeling associated with touch was nothing but cold and pain. His thoughts drifted back to his bitter suffering. "I've got to turn my mind to other things," he howled in a raspy voice. Though the blankets muffled the sound, he was sure he could hear his own voice; at least he felt the vibrations in his head, which was something other than the feeling of cold.

"I'll keep my mind active," he declared. "Something Math Professor Mark Bollman would appreciate, I'll count. One, two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen." He paused, trying to move his toes to warm them. He continued counting, "Seventeen, nineteen, twenty-three, twenty-nine, thirty-one, thirty-seven, forty-one, forty-three, forty-seven, fifty-three, fifty-nine, sixty-one, sixty-seven, seventy-one, seventy-three, seventy-seven." Like his body, his thoughts slowed.

Hours passed. Days drifted into weeks. Or so it seemed. In reality, just a few minutes passed and Steve was still cold. Gradually, he became less conscious and entered a fitful sleep.

"Steve, are you awake?" inquired a muffled voice.

Steve became partially alert, hoping that his cold dream had come to an end. Unfortunately, the blankets were still there and so was the cold. He felt the covering on his face rise slightly, and he sensed a presence. A rush of cold air flooded the space above his face.

"Are you OK?" The voice was louder. Steve thought he could see a dim light.

Steve struggled to speak, "Who's there? Where am I?"

"Steve, it's me," said the voice. "You're in a small hut."

"Please tell me who you are!"

"I'm Jeff. Don't you remember?"

"No. We were at Winter Camp 54 driving past the Beaver Lake dam. Then something bad happened. I just don't remember what it was," Steve responded.

"I'm afraid we did not attend Winter Camp 54," said Jeff, somewhat condescending.

"Well maybe it was your double. I'm sure I was there and it was just a few hours ago, at most." Steve became antagonized and more alert.

"Steve," retorted Jeff, "You have not attended Winter Camp in four years. We've been here three and half."

"What? I don't know what you've done. Maybe you drugged me back at Winter Camp and dumped me somewhere up north in the old country!" cried Steve, referring to his Canadian homeland.

"We're not anywhere in Canada. We're in Yakutsk, Siberia, which happens to be the one of coldest cities on earth, and we have a long winter ahead of us."

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