Zero Node
Chapter 18: "Trespassers"

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

The title of this short chapter appears to refer to key features of D-bar-A Scout Ranch that are of particular importance to Winter Campers. The "Last Ceremony" served as a precursor to Winter Camp and was held in a small clearing on top of a hill with the highest elevation at the camp. A short distance from this spot in a secluded area, various Winter Camp artifacts are buried for future excavation. That it served as a point of rendezvous in the story was based upon its importance in Winter Camp lore. However, it should be noted that as this paragraph is written, these significant features are threatened with destruction from gravel mining.

A careful reading of the chapter will reveal that the title does not refer to physical locations at all. Although the Order of the Arrow has been accused of appropriating the culture of the aboriginal peoples that populated North America, the author does not typically subscribe to the notion that this is a negative thing. The legend, for example, as expressed through poetry in the Ordeal Ceremony, perpetuates a positive heritage for the composite of cultures now present. However, there have been negative stereotypes of Native Americans perpetuated as well. One example involves the rhythm of a drumbeat. Although knowledgeable members of the Order of the Arrow tend to use a traditional rhythm during their activities, there are some who use the improper, but familiar beat of BOOM-boom-boom-boom. The chapter in Another Ten Seconds uses this beat. It is written by consistently using a two-syllable word followed by three one-syllable words.

Jeff Rand
December 8, 2019

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

The lighthouse on Howland Island appeared to be abandoned, as the crew investigated the perimeter of this hexagonal structure. Two of the sides had narrow slits in the wall for light to enter, and there was a door on the west side. The locking mechanism for this solid wooden door had been broken allowing easy access. Above the door was part of a sign, with the letters "Ear."

Leu and Michaela rushed to enter the building, but Ethan turned to face Keith. "K2, you better duck your head. It is a low door," he said to the tall man. Of course, Ethan and Steve being much shorter, had no trouble with the door.

At the base of the lighthouse was a large room filled with debris. A stone staircase snaked along the walls, but ended at the ceiling, which had been completely sealed. The ceiling like the rest of the structure was constructed with stones and concrete. At this point, there was no access to the chamber above.

Since the lighthouse would be there temporary home, they set about removing the debris to create a living space in the cramped quarters. Steve and Michaela found some stones and metal grating, which they used to build an outdoor stove next to the building. On the other side, several tads from the main structure, Ethan and Leu found the remains of a privy. Here they spent the next three hours to return it to a serviceable condition. Keith returned to the Clearwater to begin hauling their supplies to the lighthouse.

Howland Island was in the shape of a banana, stretching more than two miles in length. Steve elected to stay at the lighthouse to further refine their shelter, while the others split in family pairs to investigate opposite ends of the island. As with the other islands they encountered, Howland lacked any serious woody plants, having vegetation consisting of grasses and a few low-lying shrubs.

Ethan carried a duffle to collect firewood, but soon realized that he would have to settle for guano once again. His earlier experience in collecting guano deposits had been marginally successful, and he hoped that the dry wind-blown conditions on the Island would favor his current efforts. He believed himself to have some expertise in the field after his experiences with Professor of Scatology, Dr. Nancy Jeanne Rand.

Leu left his father to collect guano and ran ahead to the northern terminus of the island. He looked west to the leeward side of the island to a rocky shore that did not offer anything of value. The windward side was more inviting. Although Leu knew from the lore of Winter Camp that he now risked an encounter with the root of all evil, he was tempted to proceed. Strewn across the shoreline was all forms of plastic debris. Most of the plastic objects had been broken into useless bits, but Leu did extract a large funnel that remained intact.

Ethan filled his duffel with some dry guano and a few weathered boards. He noted the location of the wood, expecting to return to this site. As he left to return to the lighthouse, he nearly tripped on a human skull. He kicked it over to reveal a jawbone filled with gold teeth. Using his trusty Scout knife, he was able to pry the teeth loose, reasoning that the gold may still be of value. He recalled it being a very effective conductor of electricity.

Michaela and Keith explored the Southern reaches of the island. Although they hoped to find some canned food, it was not to be. However, Keith was able to extract some material to make netting and found some metal racks that he would fashion into drying racks. Michaela proceeded to rob some nests of their eggs. When they returned to the lighthouse, she went inside to "candle" the eggs. In doing so, she would keep those which were infertile and acceptable for human consumption.

Steve worked to prepare the accommodations in the lighthouse. He determined that they had just over a square tad of floor space. As a result, cooking and food preparation would remain outside. He used the stone staircase for storage of their few foodstuffs. A couple dozen cans of food remained, along with ten gallons of water. He did not know how long they might stay on this "beautiful island paradise," but reasoned that they were certainly not ready to resume any voyage. Of course, where could they go now that they were much further from their North American home. After many challenging months, he was no longer directed to a purpose. Once again, he questioned the decision the others had made to extract him from neural virtual reality. At least there he could experience a comfortable death.

When the others returned, they turned from thoughts unworthy to a positive approach for the next phase of their journey. The strong easterly breezes suggested that their course should now head westward. Their next destination should be the islands of Vanuatu before reaching Australia.

Over the course of the next two days, Steve and Michaela perfected their cooking apparatus, where the travelers were able to enjoy some of the fresh eggs that Michela had candled from the batch she had collected. Keith directed Ethan in building a smoker using some of the materials they had scrounged. They hoped to catch fish and smoke them for later consumption. While Keith would prefer to use some pleasant burning wood such as cedar for this purpose, they would resort to the flavorings imparted by burning guano. Leu found a plastic sheet in the Clearwater, which along with the funnel, he used to construct a solar still over some shrubbery.

Much of the effort over the next two weeks was devoted to securing food for both immediate and long-term needs. This included catching and smoking the flesh of the several species of finfish caught in the shallow waters near the southern tip of the Island. Keith had located a suitable tidepool that served as an effective catch basin during the periods of low tides. Michaela continued her efforts as the "egg lady." Ethan and Leu pursued their talents as crabbers to add further variety to their diet. One afternoon, Ethan surprised the group when he a dumped a load of bivalve mollusks from his pack. Steve, being less inclined to harm animals, found some seaweed to supplement the preponderance of animal products. He prepared a delicious batch of clam chowder and seaweed salad that evening.

As their dietary needs were being met, attention was directed towards preparing the Clearwater for its next voyage. Although they hoped to find a larger mast and sail, there were no materials available for this project. However, improvements were made to the rudder and food storage. Now, The Clearwater was as ready as possible.

Three weeks had passed, and Ethan called the group together. They sat outside the lighthouse under the star-filled sky enjoying the balmy breeze that was always present on Howland Island.

"We have come to the point where we need to make a decision," said Ethan.

"Yes, dad. I'm ready to set sail," remarked Leu, eager to get back on the ocean.

"Are we really ready?" asked Michaela. "I think we're doing well here on Howland Island. I haven't felt so content since "

"Since mankind fell victim to neural virtual reality," interrupted Keith. "What about your mother and brothers, who are still trapped in the virtual world? Don't we owe it to them to pursue rescue? And I am sure that Ethan and Leu would like to be reunited with their family too."

"Indeed," said Steve. "I look forward to seeing my wife, Kristie and son, Quentin."

"Son?" quipped Keith. Aren't you a little old to have a child?"

"No," remarked Steve. "Quentin is 26 years old."

"Really?" asked Keith. "When did he first attend Winter Camp?"

"His first one was Winter Camp Forty-three in 2019. He participated in the planning meeting that year at the First United Methodist Church of Dearborn.," Steve continued.

"I don't remember you having a son or him attending that meeting," said Michaela, to join the conversation. "In fact, I never saw the lad at your mother's house or any other time we were preparing for Winter Camp."

Steve paused and grabbed his forehead. He remained silent for a moment.

"K2, I don't really have a son. Do I?" he said, directing his attention to Keith.

"No. I'm afraid he was created through virtual reality," Keith responded. "It may take some time to sort out what is real in your mind."

"I'm not sure I want to lose those memories," said Steve.

Five humans, free from the hoards who were effectively entombed in the neural virtual reality centers, crammed into the small room at the base of the lighthouse on Howland Island. There they planned to spend their last night before setting sail for Vanuatu the next day.

Ethan was startled in the depth of the night when he thought he heard voices outside their shelter.

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