Zero Node: Chapter 25: "Accommodations?"
by Jeff Rand
The title of this chapter makes sense because it appears before Chapter 24. I got a little ahead of myself writing online and had to backtrack to describe some of the events in an alternate reality.
When the chapter was written, there was much talk of the potential of hydrogen fuel cells. Therefore, I had to bring this technology into a story taking place in the future. Gasoline was approaching $2.00 per gallon at the time this was written, and the United States was a lessor oil producer. Now that we are much closer to this predicted future, the United States is the leading nation in oil production, and the price of gas is less than $2.00 per gallon (in many states) and falling.
Ron Donohue makes it across Lake Ontario to New York State. One may notice a change in how words are spelled in the chapter, as Ron crosses from Canada into the United States. In Canada it is "metre" rather than "meter." In the USA "realise" becomes "realize." Wilson is a real town in New York.
Bringing key characters together is an important part of the reality where Ron meets John Howey and his friends on M-24. However, John's encounter with Doug Wilson later in the chapter purposefully creates some uncertainty for the reader.
April 20, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Ethan and Louis Rein could not believe their accommodations. In more than four years since they avoided connecting to the World Unity Celebration through neural virtual reality had they ever enjoyed even the slightest luxury. Although they weren't staying in an over spacious McMansion characteristic of the early 21st century, their assigned quarters were exquisite. As the glass door opened, they were greeted with furnishings of fine woodwork and ornate upholstery. The front panel looking out into the great space was solid glass. Finished wood panels prevailed, accented by fine stonework. Again, there was no source of light, but all rooms were comfortably lit.
The unit to which they were assigned had two floors, connected with a marble and wood staircase. The first floor had a sitting room featuring comfortable furnishings and a selection of books. It had a small kitchen and dining area, along with a workspace. Besides a large closet in the rear, there was a bathroom with an unusually tall commode.
The second floor had another bathroom and two large bedrooms with balconies overlooking the great space.
"Everything looks expensive. I didn't see anything made of plastic," said Leu to his father.
"Perhaps these people have learned that plastic is the root of all evil," responded Ethan.
Michaela and Keith were assigned adjoining accommodations, and like the Reins had two bedrooms on the second floor. Michaela examined the kitchen and found the same type of spicket that Leu had discovered on the submarine to dispense hot and cold water, even ice. There was a single oven and empty food storage units. The cutlery appeared to be made of polished silver to complement the fine china and crystal goblets.
When the pair explored the second floor, Michaela rushed to the bathroom with hopes of taking a shower, something she had not done in years. However, the fixtures in the bathroom befuddled her. When she tried the shower, she could not get anything but a trickle of water. Keith investigated the unit and found a control with a lit panel of instructions on the translucent glass of the enclosure.
"This is a hydrosonic shower," he said. "Unlike the fictional waterless sonic showers depicted on Star Trek, this is based on real technology that uses a combination of water and vibrations."
Wilbur helped Steve get acquainted with his abode. It was similar to the others, and Steve was quick to investigate it before Wilbur left fearing that he would encounter Ron later, who would not be very helpful.
"Where is the television?" Steve inquired. "I haven't been able to watch TV in months. Oh, I forgot that it wasn't real. I haven't watched TV in years."
"Life here may not be the same," replied Wilbur, as he walked over to a table and picked up a small console. As Wilbur pressed the screen, the large glass front facing the great space was suddenly tinted. Steve watched the glass as it became gradually darker, as a gigantic example of the technology he'd seen on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Now the large window was black and completely opaque
"You will not find some mindless entertainment available, but you can use this for some inspirational program or designate your desired wall layout to display." Wilbur pressed the screen again and a small image appeared, eventually growing into a Sierpi?ski Triangle.
Shortly after they were settled, Ethan noticed Tom Wilder holding a cat on the walkway on the other side of the glass. "How do I let you in?" he asked.
Tom did not respond and acted like he could not hear Ethan. He walked over to the glass door and held up his right hand causing it to open. Then he pressed a small panel on the wall next to the entrance. "Your glass was set to mute all sounds on the outside," he said. "I changed it to allow greeting exchanges. Of course, you can set it to hear all of the sounds coming from the Great Space."
Tom placed the cat on the floor. True to the characteristics of her species, she ignored Ethan but did not run away. Tom continued, "This is Thomasina. Besides having an excellent name, she is proof that cats have multiple lives. She will not require any special bedding, as she will be happy to share the beds with you and Leu. I will show you how to open the passage in the bathroom to the animal toilet."
When Wilbur returned to the quarters for Keith and Michaela King, he was hauling a large glass enclosure holding a lizard. He brought the unit into the large front room and plugged it in to a socket. "We call this young iguana, Hector's Boy. You can let him out, but he will prefer the heat and humidity of his enclosure."
Noticing the electrical outlet, Michaela inquired, "Why is that plug different?"
Keith took the initiative to respond, "Michaela, actually there is no worldwide standard on electrical outlets and many countries have outlets with twice the voltage that we have in the USA. I have no idea what it would be here at Zero Node."
"Suffice it to say that the quantity of zaps is significant," interjected Wilbur.
Ron did nothing to announce his entrance to Steve's quarters. Using a strong leash, he brought a young pit bull, with a muzzle covering its mouth. "This is Roger. Good luck and I brought you some stuff for your larder," he said, before he departed.
Steve expected that he might receive some yappy breed. Instead, he was surprised to find Roger well behaved when he removed the muzzle.
Ron had just departed, when the Jeddo sisters made their appearance. Unlike Ron, they waved before entering Steve's quarters, and Markie was inspected by Roger as she did. Roger was happy when she gave him a treat, ignoring Danielle pushing a cart. A squirrel rested on Danielle's shoulder. "This is squirrelly," she said.
Markie proceeded to give Steve a ball of dough to form a pizza and asked him to make selections from among several toppings. Steve noted that nothing was processed, and the meat selections were limited. Markie indicated that pepperoni, the most common pizza topping, would not be available, but he could have some ground turkey. This suited Steve, even if his wife Kristie was not present to monitor his dietary restrictions. He much looked forward to having a pizza regardless of its toppings, after many months of near starvation.
After Michaela and her father made their pizzas, she proceeded to take her hydrosonic shower. She changed into her only other set of slightly less worn and soiled clothing. She joined Keith in the downstairs room to enjoy some fruit left by the Jeddo sisters. Suddenly the large glass window became opaque and flashed an image of Wilbur speaking, "Good evening. Dinner is ready. I would ask you to leave your rooms, turning right proceeding to the dining area."
After passing several more housing units, Steve found the others seated around a large table in what he presumed to be the dining area. His companions were there with their prepared pizzas but were not yet eating. He noted that most of the Zero Node folks were seated too. Continuing the shoulder animal habit, he saw Jeff Dryden had a capuchin monkey with him. Danielle placed Steve's pizza on the table, and Steve took his place next to Ron.
When Danielle found her seat, Wilbur rose to address the group, "Welcome travelers. We hope you find your accommodations adequate. Doug, will you return grace?"
This truly surprised Steve and his companions, especially when Doug asked for blessings for the guests. When Doug finished with grace, Jeff introduced his pet monkey. Jimmy left Jeff's shoulder to ring the dinner bell.
The pizza was incredible, and it was complemented with fresh produce and hand squeezed lemonade. Jimmy, who had been well-behaved during grace, walked on the table once dinner started, stealing toppings off the pies from those that were inadequately guarded.
As light conversation pursued, Steve complained that he was very tired and was looking forward to some sleep. "How long have we've been up?" he asked Wilbur.
Wilbur responded, "You may find things a bit different here. We are accustomed to prodays."
Steve followed with another question, "What the heck is a proday?"
"It stands for prodigious day. Here we're not subjected to the nuances in the relationship between the Earth and Sun. You are accustomed to this limitation, but the proday is about 9% longer than your day. Of course, my friends here prefer double prodays or deep days, where they can have a single sleep period every two prodays. I think you will find our system a little more universal."
Michaela asked the next question, "I figured out how to take a shower but how can I wash my clothes?"
"We'll let you get some sleep first, but we have some next day plans for you. Michaela, Doug will meet you after your rest to take you and your father to the clothing center where you will be able to make some new clothes. Leu, you and your dad will be joined by Danielle for a hike. I will meet Steve to answer some important questions."
After dinner Steve and his companions thanked their hosts and departed for their rooms. Steve noticed that the lighting in the great space was diminished.
As his neighbors had done, Steve learned how to use the hydrosonic shower. However, he did not have a change of clothes and hoped he too would have access to the clothing center. Stepping into his bedroom, he noticed that the great space was now much darker, but some activity was commencing on the ceiling high above. When he opened the glass doorway to the balcony, the full effect came into view. It was a spectacular light show accompanied by sound coming from all directions. Although he was not a student of classical music, he recognized the unmistakable rendition of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss.
The show continued for a few minutes before the image changed. Now the ceiling mimicked the night sky above the equator. The constellations of the zodiac were brilliant, but Steve could not see the Big Dipper or North Star, which were most familiar to inhabitants of the north. He went to bed uncertain if this was real or just another trick from neural virtual reality.