Zero Node: Chapter 33: "Tribal Elders"
by Jeff Rand
The "town" of Creighton in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has impacted Doug Wilson over the years, although there is no such town. In 1979, while on a 1,204-mile cycling trip, Doug and I stopped at the abandoned Pines Resort at the townsite so indicated on a Michigan map. There were motel-style cabins, most likely active in the 1950s and 60s due to its proximity to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. We made a hasty retreat after being attacked by a hoard of black flies. Over the years, Doug made repeated stops to this delightful location, acquiring an old cabinet radio which he restored.
In the 1990s an A-frame was built on the property behind the cabin structures. It, too, has been abandoned. Besides the decaying structures, Creighton now houses a collection of oil drums and other toxic wastes. The rich history of this place makes it perfect for a hideout.
The chapter further explores the engineering of the Mackinac Bridge and using boards to build a moving roadway across an open span. I had successfully used the technique to drive on top of snow that was more than two feet deep.
June 27, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Being careful not to reveal his true identity, he referred to himself as Chingachgook, chief of the Delawares, although he had no real lineage to the tribe. Typically, he used this code name with others where identities were not disclosed.
The true nature of his job had never been revealed to his friends and family. Although tempted, he did not engage in neural virtual reality. Prior to the World Unity Day Celebration in 2027, he had been involved in a top-secret project to determine the risks of having large segments of the population being engaged in this practice for prolonged periods. Never could he determine the powers controlling NVR or responsible for the development of the centers. His superiors assumed that it was the US government and assured him that it was directed by men above his pay grade. This puzzled Chingachgook, since this information was coming from one of the most secure installations on the planet.
It was Saturday, September 18, 2027 when Chingachgook was leading an out-of-state guest on an overnight hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. As far as he could tell, they were the only visitors to the park that day. They were able to enjoy hiking in the area around Bear Lake, known for its breathtaking scenery. There were no rangers to be seen or any other personnel since the park would be closing on the next day so that everyone could join the World Unity Celebration on Tuesday. They camped in an area that would be filled with a hoard of tourists in the past.
The call came early Sunday morning, and Chingachgook was beckoned to come at once to the installation. It would take a few hours to break camp and drive south. He had no choice but to bring his hiking partner. Hastily they dropped their tent and gathered their few belongings for a trip of unknown duration. When they arrived at the well-guarded entrance to the installation, Chingachgook identified his friend with the code name Uncas, although the man was some years older. The guard did not know that the real Uncas from the Delaware tribe was actually son of the chieftain, Chingachgook. The one now called Uncas did not realize that Chingachgook had already established clearance for Uncas to enter. It became clear that biometric tests that Chingachgook administered before the hike were not really intended to determine fitness for backpacking. The guard scanned their irises and they were admitted without incident.
Chingachgook and Uncas entered the tunnel and passed through the large blast door, which the guard had opened. Once they parked their vehicle, they were met by two heavily armed soldiers. Chingachgook and Uncas were moved to a holding cell. Then the soldiers closed the blast door and completed a full inspection of the vehicle before returning to the two newcomers seeking admission to the complex. Full searches and x-rays of all body cavities would be required before the second blast door would be activated.
While Uncas knew he had entered the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, he was not aware of the significance of the place. As Chingachgook explained, the complex was built to withstand a nuclear blast in its vicinity and housed the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD until 2008. NORAD was created to track missiles launched over the continent but is best known for tracking Santa Claus every Christmas. Recently the complex has been operated by the US Air Force as a training center, which seemed as overkill given that it spread over five acres under 2,000 feet of solid granite.
Uncas had expected to see more people in the training center but there were fewer than a dozen stationed there. Chingachgook directed him to another passage and retinal scan. This allowed the pair to pass through a series of sturdy hatches leading to an elevator. However, before they entered, Chingachgook stopped his friend. "If you choose to proceed, you will learn some government secrets that must not be shared. Do not attempt to do anything on a computer, unless told to do so. If you violate these rules, your remains will be pulverized." he said.
Chingachgook indicated that they would be going down several hundred more feet in a series of elevators cut through the granite. The fifth elevator opened to the entrance to another chamber housing just six people crowded with technology. They had reached the best kept secret of the government. They were in the real command center.
"You may have assumed that the president of the United States could simply issue a command to launch nuclear missiles. That is not the case. No missile from a major power can be activated without authorization from here." Chingachgook stated as if a matter of fact. "Of the three men and three women in this chamber, only two are Americans. The others are Russians and Chinese. These folks are outside the respective command chains in their governments. For example, I doubt that Trump. Putin, or Li knew of this place when they thought they were in power."
Chingachgook did not interact with the others who controlled nuclear weapons of the three world powers. Rather, he proceeded directly to his own workstation and asked Uncas to remain beside him. The call he received while camping was very specific - he was to monitor the threat imposed by the World Unity Celebration. Although it appeared to be a positive step to bring peace to all mankind, the Powers behind this real command center, wanted to maintain some sense of control.
Though Chingachgook was not considered a high-level operative, his unique skills and contacts made him a valuable asset when he was recruited six years ago. After rigorous testing, he was given the highest-level clearances before he learned of his covert assignment. The rapid development of neural virtual reality did not become a concern until the construction of the NVR centers. A project of this nature involved an unfathomable amount of resources from a source unknown to the Powers. Most folks were happy to assume that the project was under the direction of some international agency. Even those in high levels of government assumed it was someone else outside their sphere of influence. The Powers were not comfortable with such conclusion and felt their role was to preserve world order rather than extending a comfortable lifestyle for everyone.
Once Chingachgook activated his station, he stepped away to show Uncas their living quarters for the next few days. Attached to the command center was the dormitory where there were six others sleeping who would assume their shifts at the missile controls. Chingachgook and Uncas would be sharing these quarters. There were others who would monitor the missile controls, but they had temporarily left the Cheyenne Mountain complex for some recreation.
"Do I have a role here?" inquired Uncas.
"Yes. I need you to monitor the station when I am resting. If there is a warning, then I must be notified at once."
On Monday, September 20, 2027, both Chingachgook and Uncas were monitoring the mass migrations into the NVR centers. Early the next day they believed that virtually every living person was in a center to join the celebration. Without exception, the centers provided for individual needs, including rooms for the sick, nurseries for babies, and even birthing chambers, with everyone being attended by technologies devoid of human labor. By Tuesday, all NVR centers were ready for the celebration to commence at 4:10 AM GMT. The celebration would last for two days until the direct rays from the sun would move to the Southern hemisphere.
At precisely 12:02 AM local time on September 23, when the zenith of the sun finally crossed the equator, all screens momentarily went blank in the command center. Both Chingachgook and Uncas were present and could not reactivate their system. The other screens flashed the warning message that activation of all nuclear weapons had been disabled as a failsafe. Those missiles where the United States lost control included the weapons of the United Kingdom, France, India, and Israel. Russia lost control of Pakistan. China lost the North Korean missiles. No country would be able to launch an attack.
Adding to the confusion in the secure command center, all communication with the outside world had been severed. For those in the upper chambers, the training simulators continued to operate but their systems, too, had no interaction outside the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. They couldn't even communicate with any guards on the outside and were not ready to leave the safety of their bunker for fear of disaster. In total, there were 28 people in the entire complex, including 10 air force cadets, two instructors, two air force guards, 12 missile commanders, and the two newest arrivals.
Although the inhabitants of the lower command center were not part of the normal military structure of their respective nations, it became evident that order must be established. Protocol for such an event would give overall command to the highest ranking person present. Chingachgook and the three lead missile commanders left the others to meet the one called Moose in the upper training center,
Colonel Peterson was the lead flight instructor and now commander of the small garrison in the complex secured deep within Cheyenne Mountain. The Moose gathered the others to review their strategy to protect themselves and the installation. The first priority was to protect the complex and secure the blast doors from unauthorized entry. Then a complete inventory was required of the resources available within the complex. The small group may have to quarantine themselves for many months should there be total disaster on the outside. Everyone would have to share in duties beyond his area of responsibility.
It took most of a day to fulfill the demands of the Moose's orders. Once video was restored to the entrance tunnel, the guards were able to leave the confines of the complex in the relative safety of the tunnel. With the aid of a Geiger counter to detect radiation they were able to open the main blast door. Outside there was no sign of any other person, including the guards required at the entrance. Looking to the east there was only complete devastation to Colorado Springs and Fort Carson. Yet it was not the result of a nuclear disaster. Just as the two were closing the blast door to report their findings a helicopter approached firing a missile. The explosion scarred the blast door but had no effect on the complex.
Moose Peterson quickly established order in the new garrison inside Cheyenne Mountain. There weren't many places on earth more secure and well provisioned. The complex was powered by its own nuclear energy source and had food provisions to feed eighty men for at least a year. A well to an aquifer several thousand feet below the mountain provided a reliable source of fresh water. There were storage rooms filled with other supplies and the necessary tools and machinery to sustain long-term survival. Other than communication lines not currently functioning, a complex air exchange system was the only interface with the outside world.
Although Chingachgook was part of a separate reporting structure, it no longer existed and he quickly adapted to the direction of the big man, The Moose. Both he and Uncas aggressively pursued their new responsibilities for the garrison to function during an unknown disaster. In spite of these duties, they continued the effort to re-establish contact with anything outside of the complex.
Three months had passed before there was any real attempt to explore the outside world. In the days before Christmas, it was hoped that some cheer could be brought to the garrison. Two young airmen volunteered to leave the safety of Cheyenne Mountain and investigate the fringes of Colorado Springs. They aimed to return with a Christmas tree and perhaps some decorations. Unfortunately, Christmas of 2027 was not celebrated with a tree or the airmen. In their final radio contact, there were sounds of an explosion after they reported the attack from the air.
On the outside, springtime blossomed into summer. Summer into autumn ripened. Autumn died on winter's bosom before there was another attempt to leave the safety of the complex. Now Chingachgook would risk his life. In doing so, he borrowed the large mounted head of The Moose's namesake, which adorned his quarters. It took several days before the conditions were right. Then in a blinding snowstorm, Chingachgook, dressed in his moose regalia, followed the rituals of the ancestral Delaware tribe and became a creature of the forest. When he returned with a Christmas tree and a string of lights, everyone enjoyed a bit of holiday cheer. However, he made some other observations that would prove useful in the months ahead.
From the notes of his friend, Uncas was charged with fixing the antenna array on the side of the mountain. In doing so, it had to remain well hidden from the enemy, whoever he was. Although The Moose had given up on fixing the subterranean connections with the missiles and the net, Chingachgook reasoned that they may be able to connect through satellites. After more than 18 months, the computers came alive with data from the outside.
As the garrison fell into an established routine, Chingachgook continued his efforts to link to the net, working to bypass the numerous firewalls. Finally, in September 2030, he had disabled security to have access to the local neural virtual reality center in Colorado Springs. Although names were not used, each individual was identified with a long series of digits. There were more than 100,000 housed in this one superstructure. He was able to get biometric readings but could not control any of the systems in the NVR center. He had previously given Uncas access to the control computer to maintain a near constant presence in the vast network.
Lacking the ability to interface with their weapons and associated personnel, the American, Chinese, and Russian missile commanders turned their attention to neural virtual reality and assisting Chingachgook in his work to understand the situation facing the world. Although they were not military, they represented their respective nations with a deep understanding of world events, at least until the construction of the NVR centers. The commanders shared a broad worldview, and none would be considered a nationalist. If given an IQ test, all would score above 150. Uncas was most impressed with one of the Americans when he learned that his family had immigrated from Haiti and the man had been a Scout in Troop 412 at the First French-Speaking Baptist Church of Asbury Park, New Jersey. At this point, the missile commanders in the complex had given up on their weapons and directed their systems to interface with the vast NVR network.
It took another month before the team was able to gain digital entry to the other 262,143 NVR centers. All electronic activity was now being recorded on a separate system using a diode enabled connection to make two-way communication with this data depository impossible.
The real breakthrough came in December when Chingachgook first entered the vast network with his own virtual characters. Surprisingly, NVR simply allowed these characters to join the 8 billion actual souls all interconnected. Later Chingachgook would learn that NVR was filled with all sorts of virtual folks, many of which were offspring manifested from real people. Both Uncas and Chingachgook had a special interest in Southeastern Michigan, where they established their virtual characters. For this purpose, their virtual avatars would be two young Scouts from Troop 7734, Charles Powell and Christopher Jordan.
As the days progressed, Chingachgook learned how to join the great thought highway within the NVR network. First chaos reigned, before he was able to identify and focus on a single person, whose most secret thought, worthy or unworthy, was an open page. Then the computer resources at his disposal had to engage in thought feedback with that individual. Still, it was not possible to have any physical control over the NVR inhabitants, the centers themselves, or the defensive systems. The search for a Winter Camper as a control subject succeeded when a momentary glitch occurred with the physical connection to John Howey in the Brownstown Center.
Once the connection was reestablished, the initial thought interactions with John did not go as expected. On December 27, 2031, when John believed he was participating in the 54th Winter Camp, the untested approach to guiding his perceptions resulted in a misfiring of his synaptic junctions, in essence continuing the effects of him being partially disconnected from the Net. A day later, he still experienced these perceptual problems. Others, who were sharing the perception of attending Winter Camp had taken note but were unable to offer any aide. This shared virtual experience ended with John's apparent drowning, before Chingachgook was able to induce a period of sleep to John.
In the weeks and months that followed, Chingachgook and Uncas were able to invade the thoughts of other Winter Campers, but once they triggered thoughts of a new reality for these individuals, the perceived reality took a life of its own. Throughout this time, the separate computer system operated by the missile commanders continued to record all aspects of the perceptions of these Winter Campers, undetected by any controlling power of NVR.
Chingachgook did not know who had developed NVR or what nation-state controlled it. His colleagues denied any knowledge that their nation was involved. Two years before World Unity Day he made some progress in identifying a control source for the vast NVR network. Yet, the location was not in the territory of any nation. It was the point where the Equator met the International Dateline on the Pacific Ocean with a depth of more than 20,000 feet. This made no sense, but he endeavored to pass on this information, if for only posterity.
After more than four years confined to Cheyenne Mountain, on the day after Thanksgiving, Chingachgook broke all security to enter a complex system that he believed to be the NVR control source. When he worked to identify its location, he came to the same conclusion that someone in the middle of the Pacific was in control. It took more days to break the code, now having full use of the best minds in the complex. On December 8, 2031, Chingachgook had assumed control of Zero Node. For a brief period, the entire network of Neural Virtual Reality was interrupted before a backup system took over.