Zero Node: Chapter 17: "Scouting Continues"
by Jeff Rand
Much of the action in this chapter involves characters that exist as manifestations of the thoughts of the actual persons believing they are participating in Winter Camp. John Howey knowingly participates through the creation of a virtual character. Some of the youth attending Winter Camp are created by the combined wishes of serious Winter Campers, and they tend to be ideal participants. As stated earlier, new names being introduced in Another Ten Seconds tend not to be random. For example, the name Randy Tarandus, who is cooking the caribou sausage, refers to the scientific name of that very species - Rangifer tarandus. Of course, we often refer to this species as reindeer.
The title of the chapter concerns the relationship between Doug Wilson and Mr. Oatley. Throughout his youth, Douglas was under the control of Mr. Oatley. Mr. Oatley was a key player at the Trinity United Methodist Church, to which the Wilsons belonged. Of course, Mr. Oatley controlled Troop 842, where Doug was a member, in addition to playing a key role in Doug's early experiences in the Order of the Arrow. Finally, Mr. Oatley was Doug's high school principal. (It is worth noting that Mr. Oatley was the principal for another Winter Camp participant. The grandfather of Louis and Ruth Rein, Winter Camp Casino Dealer Gerald Rein, was a student during Mr. Oatley's tenure as principal.)
Doug's actual wish was fulfilled, when in a moment of indecision, he called Mr. Oatley by his first name. The actual quote stated in Chapter 17 was uttered in a frenzy by Howard McIver, a father of a Scout, while Troop 842 was camping at Rifle River Scout Camp, now known as Cole Canoe Base.
November 16, 2019
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
It had been many years since Steve had cooked using a wood fire. At least he wished he had some charcoal and a "Scotch Box." He recalled that the representation of the long-deceased Mr. Oatley had brought one to the last Winter Camp Steve experienced in the virtual world. There had been a real Scotch Box that Mr. Oatley had purchased and used in the 1970s. It was doubtful that Mr. Oatley ever realized a return on his investment, since the purpose of the devise was to extinguish burning charcoal embers so they could be reused.
Having consumed the Winter Camp favorite of Rand Stew for decades, Steve became adept at preparing delicious meals with random ingredients. Although some of the cans they found on Midway Island had labels printed in English, Steve chose to discard the labels and continue the tradition of mystery meals. However, there were still a few occasions when a known species of fresh fish was added to their diet.
Maintaining a southerly course became a real challenge in the steady trade winds blowing from the east. Leu constantly adjusted the small sail and complained of their slow progress. Leu took a brief break from his duties in September to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his birth. They had hoped to reach the equator in time to celebrate the autumnal equinox but the days passed quickly, and they were still in the northern hemisphere never quite reaching a point when the sun was directly overhead.
By early October, food stores were low once again, and the Clearwater crew returned to a diet of raw fish and rainwater. The constancy of the ocean scenery and the monotony of the schedule began to take its toll. There were no computers or virtual devices to help pass the time. However, the crew had two books to share: The Russian Atlas and a well worn copy of the Winter Camp novel, Channel 120. Steve doubted that he would be around to experience any of its predictions. He had hoped to finish writing After the Apocalypse, his collaborative work with Mark Bollman. However, that would take a lifespan equivalent to some of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. Steve would even be happy to have a copy of the novel by Jeff Rand, Within Two Hundred Thirty-Three Million Two Hundred Eighty Thousand Minutes.
As the Clearwater approached its new destination, the crew decided to divert their route slightly to Baker Island with the hope of finding some food supplies. Baker Island had been a possession of the United States four years ago when there were actual functioning nations on Earth. Upon arriving to its shore, the travelers were disappointed to find no human settlement. When they explored the small atoll, the only structures present were the ruins of a lighthouse and the rubble of a few small buildings. Carcasses of heavy equipment dotted the western shoreline, but Keith's hope to extract some petroleum products from this wreckage remained unsatisfied. They discovered an old cemetery, suggesting that the island had once had a permanent population. Vegetation was sparse, but Michaela, during the search for food, robbed some nests of their eggs. There was no source of fresh water.
The winds and current now favored the voyage to the destination about 200 miles to the west. During the second night of the short trip from Baker Island, they reached the point of interest. Shortly before it was fully dark and arriving at their destination, Steve Donohue asked the others to approach the cooking platform. He had built a small fire but there was no sign of food to be cooked. He proceeded to speak, "Will Brother Louis Rein come forward to stand before us?" Steve continued with some additional words from a long-held memory.
Following the short speech, Steve, Ethan, Keith, and Michaela crowded the small Clearwater cabin leaving Leu to spend the night with his maker under the lights of heaven. Twice during the night, Steve visited Leu. Other than these brief exchanges, there were no conversations, and Leu remained conscious throughout the night.
When the sunlight returned to illuminate the world, Steve called the group together once again. He searched for the right words to use, being incapable of adding ought to Leu's experience.
The festivities continued when Keith verified that they had reached their destination of 0 degrees latitude and 180 west longitude or 180 east, depending on one's perspective. Steve had prepared a true feast of omelets, using the eggs that Michaela had gathered from Baker Island. Following the best real breakfast anyone had experienced in years, Steve proceeded with the ceremony. Although human artifacts were scarce, Keith had shaped a piece of metal with a ribbon that Ethan pinned on his son's tattered clothing. Steve continued with a few words of congratulations, declaring Leu an Eagle Scout. He asked Leu to join the other four Eagle Scouts present.
Ethan, who had served as a lodge chief of the Mi-Gi-Si O-Paw-Gan Lodge, Order of the Arrow, took the stand to congratulate his son. Then he proceeded to recognize Leu as a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, mumbling some words to represent Leu's new name in the language of the Lenni Lenape. He described its meaning as "He who navigates the seas." Leu was honored to be recognized as an Eagle Scout and Vigil Honor member on a beautiful day at the intersection of the equator and dateline in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
When the Clearwater arrived at its destination, its occupants expected to find something, such as an island or another ship. When this happened at night, it was too dark to conduct a search, and the adults opted to proceed appropriately with the experience for Leu, hoping that something might appear during the hours of darkness. Now that daylight had returned, there was nothing to be seen but a bright sun in a clear sky and open ocean. The Pacific Ocean was truly pacified this morning.
Perhaps their navigational equipment was not perfectly accurate, so they opted to conduct an expanded search of the area. Although Leu was pleased with the early events, he too, was disappointed and proceeded to set the sail for the search. The crew spent the rest of the day and the next, searching the waters of the pacific. They did see a pod of dolphins on the second day. When they saw a reflection from one of these intelligent mammals, they decided to approach. But the pod swam away before they were close enough to investigate any further.
Keith, who had paid attention to the islands they might encounter, suggested that the crew proceed to Howland Island, which was about 40 miles north of Baker Island. He believed they might find some supplies there. Reluctantly, the Clearwater set course for the Island. After the celebrations of the previous day, the crew had now lost sight of any purpose except returning to North America. It was now much further away, and they could find a island in South Pacific that may become a better home. However, the long-term prospects would not be encouraging for a colony of four males and one female.
Two days later, they sighted land and found the small boat landing on the west side of the island. As was the case with its neighbor, Howland Island was dry and windy. It did have a few small trees. After getting on shore, Steve found the sign that confirmed their destination. It read "Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge - No Trespassing." Although Ethan was known to obey the law, he suggested that the US Fish and Wildlife Service no longer existed to enforce it. However, he would be happy to be arrested and brought to the United States for trial.
It quickly became apparent that there were no buildings standing except for the lighthouse. As they approached the lighthouse, they realized it was remarkably intact and would make a good shelter as they contemplated their next move.