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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 114: Kondor 127
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Having decided to camp for at least a day, Kondor began pulling things out of his packs. The first thing he did was grab the two staves from the tent and set them sticking out of the ground, one as nearly perpendicular as he could manage, the other pointing directly at the sun so it cast no shadow. He then continued digging through the bags. He looked at his travel clock; in the world he left it was now about seven in the evening. It was still very much daytime here.
“What’re you doing?” Zeke asked.
“I’m working on a few things I think might help us survive.”
It was apparent that Zeke was waiting for more of an answer than that, so he continued.
“The stave pointing at the sun, the one with no shadow right now--as the sun moves west, its shadow will appear, growing as near due east as we can get. That will give us a clear east-west line on which we can orient ourselves. A line perpendicular to that will be a north-south line, obviously--”
“--which we can use to measure the shadow of the perpendicular stick, to get some rough idea of how close we are to the path of the sun. I can use my sextant from there to work out whether we’re probably in the tropics or in a temperate zone desert.”
“Probably not a lot, but some. I’m also going to try to build a solar water collector, but I’m not sure if I have all the parts.”
“You think you might have all the parts for a--what did you call it?”
“It’s not really that complicated. I have a camp shovel, so if I have everything else I can dig the hole. I’ll need a plastic sheet, and I’m not sure if I have one; the tent has its own floor, so I’ve never used a ground cloth, but it seems to me that there ought to be something like a space blanket either in the med kit or in my emergency supplies from home.”
“You’ve lost me. What’s a space blanket?”
“If I’ve got one, you’ll see. Anyway, the space blanket covers the hole, pinned down around the edges with anything heavy--I can probably use my jewelry for that--with one piece in the center to make it somewhat cone shaped, pointing down, and then I need some kind of pot to catch the water.”
“Water? Where do you expect to get water in the desert?”
“That’s the beauty of it. There’s almost always some water underground, and when we strip away the top layers of dry sand and dirt we get cooler and usually slightly moister ground below. The plastic sheet creates something like a greenhouse, or a cross between a greenhouse and a still, causing the water in the ground to evaporate, but keeping it trapped inside the hole so that it condenses on the sheet, and then it runs down the sides and drips into the bucket below. There, I knew I had one.” Kondor pulled out the familiar shiny block that was the folded and wrapped space blanket. “Now all I need is a bucket.”
“I’ve got a small cook kit. I think it’s got a two-quart pot.”
“Well, I could wish for something twice that size, but if we can get two quarts of water in a day it will stretch our rations significantly. Get it.”
With that, Kondor began digging the hole, about four feet round and five feet deep. It was hot work in the hot sun, but the desert fatigues helped.
“What can I do?” Zeke asked. Kondor paused and looked around.
“Well, we’re going to want to pitch the tent, but at the moment we’re using the staves for our sun measurements. Just stay rested for the moment; I’ll need your help with the space blanket, and of course I’ll need that pot when the hole is ready.”
The hole was ready fairly quickly, and Kondor placed the pot in the center of the bottom and with Zeke’s help pulled himself out of it. Then he unwrapped the space blanket.
“Looks like tin foil,” Zeke said.
“I’m not certain exactly what it is--probably Mylar, or something like it.
“What is Mylar?”
“Hmmm--did your world have nylon? I think that was the first, or maybe it was Rayon. Chemical companies figured out how to make thread out of oil, and created a wealth of plastics and cloths from it. Anyway, this is like a sheet, but it’s completely waterproof and doesn’t let air through, and its made with some other properties. Here, grab an edge, and a couple of these necklaces.”
“Whoa, these are heavy. What are they made of?”
“Gold. Took them from some pirates when I sank their ship.”
“I can never tell when you’re pulling my leg.”
“I don’t believe in lying; if I have to lie, I find it best to stay as close to the truth as possible. However, I don’t think that I’m obligated to correct someone’s misunderstanding--letting someone believe a lie they thought of themselves is not the same thing as lying, even if I expected they would draw that conclusion from what I said.”
“So these are real gold necklaces you took from pirates.”
“Yep. Most of the gems came the same time, but the emeralds I bought and the gold coins were my pay when I was working on the ship the pirates attacked. Anyway, without kicking dirt into our collection pot down there, we’ve got to spread this blanket on the edges of the hole and hold it in place with the weights. Rocks would do the job, but we don’t have rocks and we do have these, so they’ll do.”
In a couple of minutes they had the collector finished.
“All right,” Kondor said, “let’s look at the shadows and then turn our attention to the tent. First, though, I think a bit of water is in order.” He produced his canteen, and offered Zeke a swig. “Go easy on it. We don’t want to dehydrate, but we don’t want to use up our water until we see whether we’re getting more. And two quarts is not a lot in this climate, especially since most of the food I carry is dehydrated. I don’t suppose you brought a canteen, Lieutenant?”
“Of course I did. What kind of a soldier would I be if I didn’t pack a canteen? Unfortunately, it’s empty.”
“Well, we’ll fill it as we’re able.” Kondor also took a swig from his water, and then looked at the staves and their shadows. Using the camp shovel, he dug a trench along the east-west shadow of the one, scarring a pointer at the eastern end. Looking at the other, he decided they were very close to the path of the sun, probably in the tropics.
“Well, it will probably stay warm.”
“I said judging from these shadows we’re probably somewhere where it’s not going to get very cold overnight. Let’s get this tent up.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #265: Versers in Motion. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: