Zero Node
Chapter 8: "Into the Hands of the Maker"

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

The chapter title refers to the activity suggestion "The Conquest of Mars," which was indeed described in the 5th edition of the Scoutmaster's Handbook, first published in 1959. At that time it was not known with certainty if there was intelligent life of Mars. Subsequent landings of spacecraft on the red planet have not proven that life does not or has never existed on Mars, especially with the evidence of organic molecules. When the activity was actually introduced during Scouting events in the 1950s, alien invasions coming from local planets was a staple of science fiction.

Mister Oatley was well known for his many defined and somewhat unusual habits, some of which are described in the chapter. While he is now deceased and the home in Allen Park has new owners, it is not known if there was a secret room connected to the basement. Perhaps the new owners are not aware of the room. The incident described in the chapter was truly a bit of cunning on the part of Doug Wilson, as he and Jeff Rand snapped a picture of a notebook for the OFA or Oatley Family Association. Since the pictures were being taken for the 1976 Mi-Gi-Si O-Paw-Gan Lodge annual banquet, Mr. Oatley never saw the picture when Doug suggested that the developed 35mm slides be sent directly to Jeff's home. However, the initials OFA took on a degree of importance within the Downriver O-A Chapter, as they were used in various calls by chapter members. Eventually, they were to represent "Oatley Fortieth Anniversary" in 1979 when the chapter held a ceremony and party in celebration of Mr. Oatley's forty years in the Order of the Arrow. It should be noted the Mister Horn told Mr. Oatley that the chapter's youth were involved in some shenanigans in order to get him to the ceremony.

Synaesthesia is defined as the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. It helps explain the situation for John Howey as the story plot continues to build to a new reality.

Jeff RandDecember 2, 2018

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

Struggling to remain standing in his emaciated state, Steve kept his eyes focused in the direction of the flash. It was, perhaps, 150 tads to cross the river, and just another 50 up the bank to the point of interest. He stumbled down the riverbank to the tepee. There he found the sleeping cocoon of his companion.

"Jeff. Wake-up," he muttered.

There was no response.

"Jeff!" he shouted, with all the energy he had left to force his vocalization.

Still no response.

Steve moved to his friend's cocoon, hoping that it had not become a coffin. With much effort, he exposed the body. Jeff appeared lifeless. Steve dipped his own body to examine Jeff, hoping that he would not collapse on top of Jeff to become a pair of corpses waiting for the spring thaw before they were washed downstream to some unknown end.

Steve removed the covering from his right ear, as he placed his head above Jeff's face. He sensed that Jeff was breathing, albeit his breaths seemed to be very shallow. Steve quickly replaced the wool cap, lest his ear become a useless hunk of frozen flesh. He decided to leave Jeff in his state of delirium and attempt to find the object that flashed in the sunlight.

The trek to find the object was as difficult as any he had undertaken, including his first steps after suffering a cardiac incident years earlier. He made slow progress in a bitter wind now blowing head-on, as he suffered from extreme hunger and thirst. That he had not slept well during the long hours of darkness further contributed to his fatigue. Yet, he crossed the river without falling.

The climb up the hill on the opposite bank appeared impossible, but he believed it would be a short distance of perhaps a thousand feet total. The snow was deep, and numerous bushes and treefalls penetrated its surface. He plunged into the depths, fell, and crawled. He fell again and still crawled forward. He fell a third time, yet still going up the bank. Steve had travelled about one hundred feet.

After more than an hour of repeated falls, Steve was beyond exhaustion, as he came upon a rock outcropping. For young folks on a nice summer day, the scramble up the rocks would be no challenge. For a man in his sixties under such conditions, it had to be the end.

As he plunged into the depth of snow that now reached his shoulders, he prepared to meet his maker. Steve felt the guilt that came with the knowledge that neither he nor Jeff would provide sustenance to the other, as they had promised.

Sleep began to overtake Steve, as was the case with Jeff. Once again, he heard the dream voice. "Here, from out of the darkness, my hand is stretched to you, my brother. Be courageous. Be alert - to turn from thoughts unworthy of this hour and purpose. Be resolved - to prepare yourself for the experience that is now within your reach," it said.

Steve woke, startled, and crawled out of his snowy grave and up the rock escarpment. As he forced himself to stand, he saw the reflection of sunlight hitting a window.

When he crawled and pulled himself through the snow, Steve experienced a remarkable burst of energy. Within minutes he reached a small cabin, remarkably untouched by the destruction that he had encountered during the many days since leaving Yakutsk.

The cabin had a small overhang which helped shield a door and a window from the full depth of the snow. He moved towards the door ready to bash it with his shoulder in order to gain entry. Yet there was neither door knob nor any noticeable lock. Rather there was a latch, which he lifted with his gloved hand and pulled the door outward to open. A snowdrift stopped it from fully opening, but he kicked a path to swing it enough to enter the building.

After weeks of struggle and coming to grips with his imminent death, the scene before him suddenly changed Steve's whole outlook. It was as if the voices in his head had led him to salvation. Inside the cabin he found furniture, a woodstove, and bedding. Shelves lined the far wall where numerous cans filled the space. Cans that likely contained food. Looking to his left, Steve observed a stack of firewood.

Stephen stirred from his rest, warmed from the fire blazing in the woodstove and nourished from eating a whole can of pears that he had thawed on the stove's surface. Feeling much better, he added some more wood to the fire. He did not want the fire to burn out, lest opportunity go with it. He walked to the door and peered outside. It was still bitterly cold and the low sun had moved behind the trees. Soon his surroundings would be overcome with darkness and he would be alone with his God. But what of his companion?

Stephen descended the slope back to the river. He doubted that Jeffrey would still be alive. The thought was most troubling; especially since he and Jeffrey had a tacit agreement to make the best use of the flesh of his companion should one of them become deceased. However, the need for such action was now diminished after his discovery in the cabin. Yet there was still the task to take care of the body. Digging a grave would be impossible, but he supposed he could build a funeral pyre as had been done for an effigy burned at Winter Camp IX.

The wind had increased its speed and the tepee was flapping in a stiff breeze. Stephen had forgotten to secure it before making his trek up the hillside. "It won't matter much," he thought. "Perhaps I can put the body on the sled and haul it into the trees. I recall the ignition temperature of flesh being about 480 degrees Fahrenheit." As he thought more of the gruesome task ahead, he reasoned that a higher temperature might be required due the diminished fat content in this body. In fact, he and Jeffrey were of their lightest weights in decades. Years connected to machines in neural virtual reality and days of starvation had this effect.

Stephen grabbed the tarp of the flapping tepee to find Jeffrey's sleeping cocoon mostly covered in blowing snow. He carefully removed the coverings and a bit of clothing to expose the face. It was difficult to determine if there the life left in the body, so he lifted the wool cap to expose Jeffrey's bald head. He knew it would be cold, as it served as an effective radiator to dissipate heat. The trunk of the body would be the last to freeze in its attempt to protect the internal organs. In a quick move to keep his own hand from freezing, he removed his right mitten to touch the scalp.

To his surprise, Stephen discovered that the head was not yet frozen. In fact it might even have some warmth. He lifted his own cap and dipped his head to listen for a breath, but heard none. Perhaps Jeffrey had just died. Stephen knew that he had rested a bit too long to warm himself in the cabin. In a final attempt to verify Jeffrey's unfortunate death, he placed his exposed fingers below the nose.

Upon feeling a slight waft of air from the nose, Stephen experienced a real rush of hope. He sprang to action, almost forgetting to cover has own hand. Without delay, he covered Jeffrey, placed him on the sled, and hauled him across the river and up the hill to the cabin, with strength and speed beyond reason for such conditions.

The cabin had a single cot, which Stephen placed next to the stove. He was able to lift Jeffrey onto the cot. Later that evening after he melted some snow and heated a can of soup, he was prepared to help his companion. Surprisingly, Jeffrey was still breathing, and his respirations we indeed audible. Stephen began to pour some water on Jeffrey's lips, which ran down his face. He grabbed the chin to open Jeffrey's mouth as if preparing for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When he poured some water into the now widened orifice, he was greeted with a choking response. The second attempt resulted in swallowing. Then he proceeded to feed Jeffrey with spoonfuls of soup.

Stephen rested fitfully on the floor during the long night, paying close attention to the stove and the man on the cot beside him. In the morning, he proceeded with another feeding for Jeffrey and himself. His friend was not yet conscious when Stephen left the cabin to return to the tepee to retrieve the remainder of their supplies.

The sled was loaded, but Stephen decided to leave the tattered tepee and the poles on which it rested. He returned to the cabin to find Jeffrey had awakened.

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