Corporeal Passage: Chapter 4: Utilidor Excursion
by Jeff RandEthan turned to the girl sitting on the sofa next to his son, "Hi, Danielle. How did you get in here?"
Danielle replied, "It's not what you think. Markie and I were also locked in our rooms, but we knew how to escape through the utilidor."
"Utilidor? What's that?"
"It's the passage through which the services connect to our rooms," she said.
"OK. But I could not find any way to break through the walls to get to any passage."
"Actually, it is really quite simple. Markie and I learned about it a couple of blue moons ago. We were caring for our feline friend Thomasina before you came here. When the animal toilet stopped working, we prevailed upon the Infinite Wisdom to fix it. He was quite adept at dealing with animal wastes. That is when we learned that the animal toilet passed these waste products directly into the utilidor for processing. When we were also locked in our apartment, we were able to break into the utilidor through the animal toilet."
"We know that the Corporeal Passage was harmful to Thomasina. She's been acting crazy ever since. Dad, she climbed onto the chair you broke to defecate," added Leu, emphasizing that Ethan had broken a chair in case Danielle didn't remember him just telling her about it. "Well, I knew you would be mad if you tried to sit on the chair, so I scooped the poop and dumped it in the animal toilet."
Ethan glared at his son, but Danielle was quick to continue the story. "I grabbed our lantern and crawled into the utilidor," she said. "I knew the utilidor ran around the outside perimeter of the apartments and the elevators. But I could not be sure where to find your apartment. It was just lucky timing when I heard the engagement of the animal toilet from your place. I crawled to the disposal unit and banged on the metal frame."
Leu added his perspective, "I heard the banging and called to the perpetrator on the other side saying that we had a weapon. When I found out it was Danielle, we went to work removing the disposal unit. I retrieved the pry bar weapon that we had used when you failed to open the door to leave the apartment. Once we removed the disposal unit, Danielle was able to crawl through to our quarters. The animal toilet won't work now. I guess Thomasina can continue to use the chair you broke."
Ethan responded, "I am glad that everyone knows I broke the chair trying to escape. You broke the animal waste disposal unit. I guess we're even. We now have a real chance for a successful escape, and we may break more things that get in our way. Danielle, I have a question. Do you know what's really going on?"
"I am afraid I don't. After we finished your birthday party last day, Markie and I went back to our apartment. We played a couple of games, then went to bed. After some sleep, we tried to leave the apartment and found we were locked in, just like you."
"What about before the party?" asked Ethan, "since you recovered from the Corporeal Passage event quicker than I."
"We had access to the hall and the rooms circling the Great Space but could not use the elevators or stairs to leave this level. You noticed that there is now a chromite wall preventing us from viewing the Great Space or jumping over the railing. Doug and Jeff told us that we were not ready to leave this level, but I think that they already had done so themselves. Otherwise, how did they butcher the swine and bring the remains to the pantry."
"Indeed, there are some real trust issues. Hopefully, we now have a means of escape and must work together. I suggest we make quick preparations. Danielle, you should not go back for your sister at this point. She probably thinks you are still looking for Leu," declared Ethan.
Access to the utilidor was tight and required a twisting and dropping action to enter the passage running underneath the floor of the apartment. It was narrow and no more than two foot in height, except where a beam forced one to slither. Ethan noted the bottom tended to be covered with rough objects, but as a result of the weight he had lost, he felt no pain to his hands and knees.
Leu was the smallest member of the trio and led the others through the dark passage with the lantern. The utilidor continued to curve slightly to the left. He purposefully banged the ceiling on what he believed to be the animal waste disposal units for the other apartments. As they continued the crawl, they found no other passages to investigate before stopping for a rest. They passed some metal plates that could warrant further investigation.
Ethan did not have a watch but believed that they had been crawling for more than two hours, according to how he measured time before coming to Zero Node. It seemed that they had made a full circle when Leu yelled that he saw light ahead. The pace quickened as they crawl-raced towards the light. Leu poked his head through the ceiling into a pile of debris. A figure stood looking at Leu amid the debris.
"I see that Danielle found you," said Markie. "It took long enough. I had a bit of a scare when I received a video call from Jeff checking on us. I told him that we were OK but eager to leave our apartment. He said it would be a couple more prodays to be safe. When I asked about you and your father, he said that he did not know when you would be released."
Danielle emerged from the narrow opening to the passage, followed by Ethan. "I see you brought Ethan too," said Markie, directing her comment to her sister.
"Yes, I didn't want to separate Louis from his daddy," teased Danielle, as to diminish Leu's attempts to gain more independence.
The four gathered in the girls' apartment to discuss their situation. Danielle explained that the utilidor completely circumnavigated the living quarters and there was no visible means of escape.
"We did find some plates where there were junctions of pipes. I think we can use the pry bar to remove them," said Ethan.
"You mean the one that you used to bust up our apartment," added Leu. He believed that senility was inevitable once you hit forty and his father was on that path. Perhaps the Corporeal Passage event was speeding the process.
"Look son. We all want to work through this thing," replied Ethan.
Markie rose to change the discourse, "Leu, you are being rude to your father. Did you not learn the fifth commandment - To honor thy father and mother?"
Leu apologized and let Markie continue. "We are trapped," she said. "And I think Tom and Ron are also locked in their rooms. But I don't trust Doug and Jeff. When Wilbur and the Infinite Wisdom were here it kept them in-line. Now that Doug and Jeff are without supervision, they represent real danger. You should know that it was Wilbur who prevented your premature death on Howland Island. I heard Jeff brag afterwards that you would have made a good stew. At the time, I took it as a joke. Now that we learned of the corpse recycling processes at the NVR centers, I am not so sure."
Ethan responded, "OK. That tells me we must be cautious. I have an idea for a plan. Danielle you should stay with Markie in your apartment and close the entrance to the utilidor, playing dumb should the others return. You will be safer that way, and we can come back for you. Leu and I will return to our quarters to get our tools to break out of the utilidor."
"I'll give you my daypack so that you can carry some food and water on your escape," said Danielle, embracing Leu.
Ethan and Leu completed the circuit in the utilidor and returned to their room through the chute for the animal toilet. Ethan instructed Leu to further vandalize the place, which despite Leu's earlier remarks to his father, he found thoroughly enjoyable. Ethan explained that it was all a ruse to disguise their actual method of escape. Leu's values were demonstrably much higher than he had shown recently, when he made sure there was plenty of food and water left out for Thomasina.
Leu did not damage the console controlling the video, which resumed playing the Twilight Zone episode "People are Alike All Over." Leu concentrated on selectively vandalizing the apartment until the video presentation caught more of his attention. The episode he had chosen featured the actor Roddy McDowall, who had a leading role in the movie he watched earlier. As the Twilight Zone episode came to a conclusion, Leu was surprised with the ending. The situation for McDowall's character contrasted significantly from that in the movie. Where McDowall was a member of the group responsible for keeping the astronaut, played by Charlton Heston, locked in a cage in the Planet of the Apes movie, McDowall was the one locked in a cage at the conclusion of the Twilight Zone episode.
As Ethan and Leu crawled into the Utilidor to vacate their apartment, they gathered debris and pulled the grating to the animal toilet to block the chute and disguise their escape path. They crawled past the apartments to where they believed to be the base of the room where they last dined with the residents of Zero Node.
Ethan found a metal plate on the floor of the utilidor surrounding some pipes and a chute. Although it appeared to be welded in place, he was able to use the pry bar to remove the thin plating and expose a downward chute containing the pipes. Ethan asked Leu to remain while he forced himself through the narrow opening into the chute. Once inside, he found the passage a bit wider, but he was able to push himself against the sides with little force to prevent slipping.
Ethan released some pressure to begin a slow slide down the chute. While he couldn't determine the exact distance, he thought he had descended at least four or five stories. He held himself in place when he felt a release of the pressure on his buttocks. He could see the light coming from below as the chute opened into a large space. Though he believed that he could wedge climb back up the chute to his son, he decided to take the risk and slide down the pipes fireman style. Ethan misjudged in his attempt and fell more than 20 feet to the floor below.
During the fall, many terrible thoughts raced through his head as he imagined paralysis or death. Since he started the fall in a seated position, he did not hit the floor with his feet but landed squarely on his poorly padded rear-end, expecting the shock to rearrange his spine.
Ethan was surprised when he was able to stand after the fall with only minor pain. Standing under the chute, he called to his son, "Leu, you can wedge yourself as you slide down the chute. Be careful at the end. It is a bit of a fall. You will want to shimmy down the pipes."
Leu wasted no time coming down the chute and landed feet-first, holding the pack that Danielle had provided.
Since Ethan had first arrived at Zero Node, he had never seen the large complex of pipes and tanks before him coming from all directions. He reasoned that this master chamber served as the environmental control center for the various habitats and rooms constituting the node.
Ethan and Leu were cautious as they investigated the environmental control center curving around Zero Node. They determined that it was much more than a waste processing center. They reasoned that it was providing all the maintenance functions to the various habitats and probably handling the needs of the flora and fauna. Though nothing could be surprising in Zero Node, the magnitude of this enterprise was quite impressive.
As they moved carefully through the maze, they were aware that it circled a central chamber to which they had no access. Given the depth to which they descended, Ethan reasoned that it was below the Great Space at the center of the Node. But what could it be? The answer might be revealed when they came to an entrance.
Here they passed through a series of clear enclosures storing all manner of supplies. Some made sense, such as tall man clothing and foot ware. Others were most unusual and of indeterminate purpose. Some looked like tools for various functions. Ethan thought that one collection looked much like the mining equipment he had seen when touring the Tower Mine near Ely Minnesota. After passing several chambers they came to a solid wall. They walked around the curving wall, which appeared to house the inner most chamber, surprised when they found an open doorway.
They cautiously peered into the room to see a glowing orb on a pedestal in the center of the room. There were two tall men behind they orb with their backs to it. They were fully dressed in hazmat suits working with some hand-held devices. Ethan thought that they might be Doug and Jeff engaged in some dangerous activity. Perhaps there was a real threat to their well-being and hence the need for Doug to lock them in their apartment. Ethan was now regretting the decision to leave the apartment and put his son in danger. Although Doug and Jeff had not been very informative, he believed that as a result of the corporeal passage event, they might be protecting him.
Ethan heard a noise behind him. Before he had a chance to turn around, he felt a sharp tap on his right shoulder. When he snapped a quick turn to face the intruder, he saw Doug Sutton and Jeff Dryden lowering their hands to their sides.
"We wondered how you escaped from your rooms. We've been looking for you. You made quite a mess," said Doug, shortly before Ethan and Leu collapsed.