Corporeal Passage: Chapter 8: Realization of Myth
by Jeff RandEthan continued to perceive Ron as a threat, and Ron's latest demand could mean disaster. Although Ron had a feminine voice, he was tall and muscular, at least relative to the others from Zero Node. His mannerisms suggested that it was best not to mess with him. Ethan feared the worst but tried to hold expressing it when he woke his son.
Leu reacted with some fear and dressed quickly, as he joined his father ready to leave the apartment. Since they had been prepared to escape at any moment, their packs were prepared with a few essential supplies, including the Bible. Ethan thought to grab the scrapbook that Leu had given him for his birthday, along with the journal and other notes he had kept. When Leu asked to bring Thomasina, Ron denied his request and told him that nothing bad was going to happen to the cat. Of course, this implied that bad things were ahead for Ethan and Leu.
Ron ushered his two prisoners through a passage in the clear wall facing the viewing deck in front of their prison-apartment. He quickly moved them along the passage to a stairway. They descended, skipping two or three stairs with each step. They were in familiar territory when they entered the room where they had gathered for Ethan's birthday party.
Ron placed his hand on a panel in the rear of the room. Momentarily the entire wall spread as if opening curtains to a window. Beyond the dining and meeting area, the room expanded to provide a fully functional kitchen with provisions and equipment sufficient to serve a large gathering. Ron offered no explanation when he directed Ethan and Leu into the kitchen before closing the wall behind them. They moved along a conveyor system and entered a food processing center. They were at the edge of the large field of wheat which they had toured shortly after entering Zero Node months ago.
Ron continued to be cautious but urgent in his attempt to move through the fields. While Ethan had expected the worst, he took the hint that he should maintain this caution himself and directed his son to do the same. The route was circuitous, as Ron led them up some stairs to yet another level of grains. From there they climbed still further past the level with livestock until they were on the overlook above the desert ecosystem inside the massive structure of Zero Node. Leu was most acquainted with this area due to taking numerous hikes through these massive ecosystem chambers prior to experiencing the Corporeal Passage. He did not detect any changes to the desert system as they passed.
Ron activated a panel on the wall at a junction above the desert terrain, where another walkway crossed their path allowing access to the Great Space in the center of the Node. A passage to a stairway opened in the wall. It took little effort to climb the stairs, though there were more than a hundred. The stairway ended at an observation bubble jutting into the sea. Ethan was now thoroughly confused, having previously believed that Zero Node had fallen deeper into the earth during the Corporeal Passage event. Now how could they still be at the bottom of the ocean. He was further shocked that there was a luminance to the sea itself allowing him to see a school of fish. How could there be any light at this depth?
Ethan broke his silence. "Have we reached the floor of the ocean?" he asked Ron.
Surprisingly, Ron responded, "No. We are still inside Zero Node. Now follow me."
Ron placed his hand on a panel at the entrance to this observation dome. A circular opening appeared at the top of the dome. Ethan expected a rush of water that would culminate in their drowning. Perhaps Ron had gills. Instead of water pouring through the hole, a ladder lowered to the floor. Ethan could not process the image and checked his glasses. The ladder was virtually transparent. Ron directed Leu to take the lead in climbing the ladder. After it passed through the hole in the top of the observation dome, it continued upwards through a clear cylinder.
They were climbing a glass ladder through a glass tube, miles deep in the ocean, with fish clearly visible, yet with no source of light. "How could one's brain create a nightmare of such intensity for so long?" mused Ethan.
It was easy to climb the ladder, as Ethan came to a rocky ledge and passed through the surface of the water. Looking through the clear cylinder that surrounded him, he realized that when he rose above the water, he was at the edge of an island, the very same island that the Infinite Wisdom had showed him months before. Ron had told the truth; they were still inside Zero Node. They had not been climbing through the ocean.
Becoming bolder, Ethan stopped to question Ron, "This looks like the island we visited with the Infinite Wisdom. This cylinder we are climbing through was next to the island."
"Yes," Ron replied.
"I observed this dark cylinder extending upwards from the island. How is that it is now clear and transparent?" asked Ethan.
Ron explained, "Since I am not expert in such things, I can tell you that much of the structure of this place is composed of chromites that can be activated to produce the full range of images and surfaces you have seen. When the chromites are inactive, they are transparent. You may note that you climbed down this same ladder when you first entered Zero Node from the submarine. At that time, the chromites were fully activated to produce dark opaque walls as you descended through the cylinder."
The trio continued to effortlessly climb the ladder through the space above the water and reached the top of the cylinder. There they found the hatch that Ethan believed to serve as the entrance to the submarine. He wondered if the sub had returned or if there was some new horror awaiting them as they might be facing their deaths.
Standing on a landing space beside the ladder just below the hatch, Ron found three packs that were placed there. He handed two of them to Ethan and Leu. "You will put these on and follow my instructions carefully if you want to survive. I think these small ones for children will fit," he said.
"I am not a little kid," remarked Leu. "What are they?"
"As I said, follow my instructions or be dead!" barked Ron. "There will be no time to develop your skills. You must do this right the first time. I am not sure what you would call these, but I might suggest you use the term Icarus Wings."
Ron instructed Leu and Ethan to put the packs on their backs by stepping into the leg loops, tightening the shoulder straps, and cinching the hip belt. He grabbed the third larger pack and did the same for himself.
Ethan and Leu braced themselves as Ron moved to the hatch. They prepared for disaster when he turned the wheel and allowed the hatch to swing downward. Other than a waft of air coming up the shaft, there was no rush of water pouring in from the ocean. Ron instructed his captives to climb the rest of the way up the ladder.
There was no submarine. Ethan found himself standing on a smooth surface gasping for air. He might collapse at any moment.
Ron grabbed him to offer more advice, "I suggest you take deep breaths and exhale forcefully. The air is a bit thinner here, and it will take a while to acclimate. We are now on the outside surface of Zero Node."
"What happened to the ocean?" asked Leu. "I thought we were at the bottom of the sea."
Ron offered a quick response, "I cannot explain it to you now. We do not have much time." Ron approached Ethan and opened the back of his pack. He proceeded to pull the wings from the pack, attaching them to Ethan's wrists. He did the same for Leu and himself.
"I guess this would not work for Mr. Rand," remarked Leu, referring to the one-armed guy they rescued in Siberia, who later disappeared and presumably drowned during the typhoon.
Trying to be more respectful of the dead, Ethan offered his own wisdom, "wherever he is, I suppose he could still imagine this experience."
Ron interrupted the banter to explain, "The first part will be easy as we walk along the top of the Node. Just be careful. It is smooth and slippery. Since we will be walking on top of a sphere, at some point, it will curve downward too much, and you will begin to slide. If you do nothing, your speed will continue to increase, and you will enter a freefall. When you hit the ground or moat, you will likely kill yourself. Therefore, at the point you begin to slide, you need to spread your arms so that your wings will catch the air and slow your fall. You will be able to control your speed by dipping your arms or even turn if needed.
"I have never heard of anything like this working," cried Ethan. "We will be killed."
"That is certain, if you don't spread your wings when you begin to fall. There is one other thing. There is a moat around Zero Node. If you can control the fall with your wings, you might be able to land on the ground outside the moat. Most likely you will land in the water. At that point you must close your wings quickly and use only your legs to swim to the edge of the moat.
Perhaps it was the daring nature of youth, but Leu was less apprehensive about the fall than his father. Yet Ron gave them no choice. The initial walk was easy, though Ethan and Leu had to hop step to keep up with Ron's stride. After a period when the surface had curved down enough, Ethan started to slip. He spread his wings and stopped his slide. At that point, he began to change the spread to control his speed. Despite his earlier fears, he marveled at the effectiveness of the Icarus Wings, until the slope was nearly vertical. At that point he lost all contact with the surface and spread his wings for dear life. He hardly expected these small wings to be effective in thin air while falling straight down. This would be the end of an interesting life. He still held hope that his son would survive somehow.
When Ethan hit the water in the moat, the impact was no different than jumping into a pool. However, he failed to heed Ron's advice and did not close his wings. He flailed his arms in the water only to submerge himself. He continued to struggle, forcing his head to remain submerged. He coughed and swallowed water. He needed air. He was drowning. Further struggle caused him to lose any clarity of thought. He was beginning to blackout as the prelude to a drowning death, when a strong arm reached across his chest and pulled him to safety. Ron had saved his life.
Ethan was profoundly gracious, but Ron provided no time for pleasantries. When Ethan rose, he was standing on firm ground in near total darkness. Ron helped him remove the wrist straps and fold his wings. He would keep his pack with the Icarus Wings and the personal pack that was now strapped to his chest. Ron looked at the face of a watch on his wrist. After a moment, he grabbed Ethan and Leu and pointed them in a direction. "We must move this way," he said. "And you need to run."
Ron set a phenomenal pace with huge strides. Yet despite the thin air, both Ethan and Leu found themselves literally gliding along with their own huge steps. Never had they run so fast and been so light on their feet. For all they knew they had run the mile for a new world's record.
Ron stopped abruptly when he saw a flashing light ahead. Ethan had lost his glasses in the moat and could not distinguish the object in the darkness. After recent events, he had the sense that it might be a vehicle to facilitate their escape. Of course, he had his doubts when a door opened upward, and a crouched occupant exited before standing to face him.