Zero Node: Chapter 28: “Charles’ Scout Troop”
by Jeff Rand
Although Camp Agawam is no longer a Scout camp, much of the structure is still there to serve youth. We hope that it remains so in 2031. The chapter tile refers to the distance from Doug Wilson's childhood home to the camp. This was the distance Doug and I walked on May 11, 1977, following the path referenced in the previous chapter.
This chapter gives insight into the challenges one faces finding an object in utter darkness. It is an example of a Winter Camp blind hike when there are truly no cheaters.
A novel involving neural virtual reality can be confusing to the reader. This one is intended to be so, especially as one tries to place the characters in the true reality. Perhaps the reader will come to a better understanding of this true reality in the pages of the sequel Zero Node. However, it remains possible that the novel is simply a manifestation of your own virtual reality. It pains me to say that I might not really exist.
May 11, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
The Infinite Wisdom directed the others to leave him alone with Steve. They were surprised at this development, particularly Ron, who voiced his concern. "I assumed that you would recognize the threat that Steve poses, and we would be digging a grave to bury him with the dogs," he said.
"Ron, you are to leave. This man poses no threat," responded Charles, the Infinite Wisdom.
Among the items strewn across the grass was a large log. Charles discarded his shroud and sat on the log. Steve took the hint and sat beside the older man.
Charles began his explanation:
Steve, I know you may not believe your eyes, but I must maintain the harmony of this special place. The ceremony helped the others understand the significance of your arrival.I take you back to the spring of 2020. I had been working with the US military on a special project. Although there was no formal military presence on this remotest US territory, there are various monitoring and sensing devices in a secret location at the site of a former leper colony on Nu'utele Island. I was charged with determining the status of the equipment involved for the Aerotek Company.
Our project had been going well when we were forced to return to Pago Pago. Although I had no fear of contracting hansen's disease from the remnants of the leper colony, the scare of the global pandemic had reached the Samoan islands. The Samoans recalled the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 that killed 20% of the population next door in Western Samoa. They were not about to take any chances with outsiders. Although I had been on the island for some months, I was asked to leave.
I boarded a military aircraft with Gordon Ribble, my colleague on the project, in Pago Pago bound for Hickam Air Force Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We joined two air force pilots, who had come for us but were never permitted to leave the aircraft. I am not sure that the aircraft was given the normal attention expected before taking off again for a flight of the same length as flying across the United States. The Samoans insisted on having no direct contact with the plane. Gordon and I had the advantage of having been in the territory for a few months, so we were considered safe.
Shortly after taking off, the copilot left the cockpit to see us in the passenger cabin. He told us that the flight plan had us veering west to avoid some rough weather. He did not look well, coughing in our faces. About an hour into the flight, the turbulence started. Since my progeny was familiar with the characteristics of effective flight mechanics, I knew enough to become quite concerned. Both Gordon and I clutched the armrests as the plane began a rapid descent.
We hit the water so hard that our seats broke free, and we crashed into the wall separating us from the cockpit. I was hurt and struggled to free myself. The plane was quickly filling with water as we sank into the Pacific. I looked towards Gordon who was smashed against the wall and not moving. It took me minutes to free myself while experiencing great pain. It felt as though I had broken several bones and displaced my internal organs. I removed the life vest under my seat, trying to move towards Gordon. My legs were in no shape to allow me to stand upright but the rising water gave me a bit of a boost to see Gordon. He was completely impaled by a pipe that had broken from the ceiling. Gordon was dead.
I do not know how I crawled or waded through the water, but I made it to a hatch. Before I entered the stormy seas, I inflated the life vest by blowing through the red tube. I had no raft or anything else. Of course, it was dark as you always would expect when your plane crashes in the ocean. I could see no one else among the debris. When I heard a rush of air, I knew the fuselage was on its way to the depths below. I did not expect to be among the living much longer.
The night of terror continued, and though I was mostly submerged, the warm equatorial waters did not rush me to a death from hypothermia. By morning I had no mobility, being little more than a floating corpse. Thirst and hunger pangs added to my pains on the second evening. Yet, I dared not drink the salt water. On the second morning, I knew that death was not far away. I had hoped to speed it along but lacked the strength to remove the life vest so I could facilitate my drowning. I lost consciousness on the third night.
When I woke up, I was in a bed with a boy standing over me. It was Wilbur, and he told me that I had been rescued three days ago. There were no other survivors. I was still in great pain and too weak to speak but I believe he saw me nod my head in response. Making things worse, I had trouble breathing.
Later when I became conscious again, I was visited by Wilbur's father, Orville. Orville adjusted the rubber hose connected to my arm that was feeding me. I was able to mutter a weak 'thank you.'
As the days went on, my broken bones began to heal. Although I would have liked to have the assistance of a ventilator to help my breathing, I was slowly recovering from my respiratory problems. The visits from Orville were getting less frequent. When I did not see him for two days, I asked Wilbur what had happened. Wilbur asked me if I was ready to get out of bed and told me his father was very sick. Though I was now eating solid food, he was having trouble changing my catheter and diaper. He hoped I could be on my own and help his father. Wilbur was just 13 years old.
Next day I got out of bed. With the help of a cane and young Wilbur, I was able to visit the toilet on my own. When I saw Orville in his bed, it was devastating. Suddenly, I was transformed from an invalid to a caregiver for someone on the decline. Then we saw the other children, all seemingly younger than Wilbur. The news was not good.
In the last few days or what were accepted as days, the parents and grandparents had all become patients of the makeshift hospital in Zero Node. The children were not at all ready to become medical practitioners. My recovery had to be complete, for my skills would now be needed. Unfortunately, I was not able to offer anything but a little comfort as the deaths began to mount. By May 4, 2020, all the sick ones had expired. I was alone with the children as to become their Scoutmaster.
Among the dead was the most senior inhabitant of the Zero Node, the one called the Infinite Wisdom. Now, I was alone with a group of children. Having read the fictional novel Lord of the Flies, with the chaos the ensued from such circumstance, I accepted a new role as the Infinite Wisdom.
Steve finally interrupted, "Charles, you know that story and the movies it spawned are pure fiction. A real situation occurred not far from here when six Tongan boys were stranded on the Island of Ata for 18 months from 1965 to 1966. These youth departed from a Catholic school on an adventure but kept to their religious principles to build a working culture.
Charles responded, "Perhaps the Zero Node youth would have thrived too without adult guidance. I had a tough choice with limited facts. It was necessary to rebuild the society in this special place. And Steve, I wish you would not call me Charles. You know it brings back a bad memory on an important day in my life."
Steve answered, "OK. Do you want me to call you the Infinite Wisdom?"
"You've known my name for over 50 years. Please call me Mike Osvath or Ozzie," said the Infinite Wisdom.