The Clovis Mission: Ch. 4: Summers

 

Despite the very high regard I had for Leonard Carver, I thought he’d been remarkably foolhardy in the way he’d gone back.  It had been planned only as a brief scouting expedition, a chance for him to examine the countryside, in preparation for the summer’s fieldwork.  The summer project was to have involved his grad students and was going to last for six weeks.  But for this scouting expedition, he’d gone back alone, for a four-day look-see.  I thought that was stupid.  You don’t go into unfamiliar country, one swarming with big predators, alone, even if it’s only for a few days.  I still don’t know exactly how that came about.  Maybe because he was so well-known he could just do whatever he wanted.  But as a result, he was all alone back there – disastrous if anything went wrong, as it apparently had.  And, while we obviously knew exactly where he inserted, we didn’t know where or how far he’d wandered after jumping back in time.  And one man, alone, leaves a tiny footprint in a huge country.  So finding him might take us some time.

We prepared for the mission and trained for three weeks.  We trained in Englewood, Colorado.  White and Kramer didn’t stay there with me.  They  dropped me off, said that they’d take care of all of my personal and financial business while I was gone.  They were pretty nice, all things considered; shook my hand, petted Jack, wished me well.

The training center was fairly spartan, up at about 7,000 feet.  I was the first one into the training center.  On the second day, Dr. Steven Devereaux joined me as the second member of the team.  A specialist in the modeling and mechanics of the time travel apparatus, the technician who’d find out what had happened to the ASU site, and, hopefully, fix it.  He was a couple of years younger than me, thirty-two, I think.  Fairly slender, short dark hair.  Nerdy.  About what you’d expect from a techno-math-physicist.

Some of our training was academic – reviewing the maps we’d be bringing with us, learning how to send the time beacons.  Which, by the way, was easy, simple.  Food identification and preparation.

At night, we had to sleep with these mesh coverings over our head.  Neuro-linguistic programming, they told us.  Guaranteed, they said, to vastly accelerate the speed with which we’d pick up a new language.   It worked by electromagnetic stimulation of the speech centers in the brain.  I supposed it was in case we ran into any of the people living back there, back then, although I thought it was unlikely.  And, as far as I could tell, other than being slightly uncomfortable, the mesh headpiece and the neuro-linguistic training had absolutely no discernible effect.

For the most part, the training was – how shall I put this?  Stupid.  The firearms training was informative, and, somewhat to my surprise, fun.  Skinning and butchering animals, less so.  Otherwise, camping skills?  I already knew how to camp.  Saddling and unsaddling – I mean, c’mon, how long does that take to learn?  Not three weeks, that’s for damn sure.  Setting and sending the time beacons?  Easy.  Water purification?  Child’s play.  So why were we spending three weeks in “training?”

I thought, after they had pushed me so hard to decide instantly, that this delay was madness.  It made no sense to me.  If they were in such an all-fired hurry to get me committed, then why a three-week delay before sending us back?  Gene Kessler was the official in charge of the program, and I asked him about this after the third day.  He told me that this delay was only an “apparent” delay.  We would be sent back to three months before  Carver disappeared.  This, it was thought, would give us time to travel from St. Louis, to the Arizona State site, where Carver had last been, in time to find out what happened.

Time and distance.  We had a one-way journey of about 1400 miles, at a minimum.  But that was little more than a rough estimate, insofar as there were no roads, and we’d have to travel across entirely wild country.  We’d be at the mercy of the terrain, and would, I supposed, have to detour hither and yon to get there.  The team at DARPA figured that we’d average maybe twenty miles a day.  Sometimes more, of course, sometimes less, but they thought twenty miles/day was a reasonable estimate, for purposes of their time and distance calculations.  So, what? About two and half months to get there.  And a couple of weeks of “spare” time.

I knew a little about camping.  Devereaux had known nothing.  For Steven, the training was much more useful.  He’d never been camping, never ridden a horse, knew nothing about wilderness living. Not a clue about the guns.  An absolute wizard with the time beacons, though.  A very pleasant guy, I thought.  And a quick learner. He got the hang of everything pretty easily.

Lasher was a different story.  He didn’t show up until the middle of the second week.  Kessler had told us only that Lasher was Special Forces; long-range recon.  He apparently was going to be our security.   Tall, slim, dark hair, calm green eyes that missed nothing; an easy smooth walk; I had the sense that Lasher did everything gracefully, efficiently.  He looked very fit and very alert, and he was.  He didn’t say much.  He was a little older than me – probably late thirties, early forties.  No hint of a smile.  Two day old stubble.  Scruffy clothes.  A professional, I thought.  He gave off that calm, serious “Do not fuck with me” vibe.

Obviously, based on what Kessler had told us, Lasher didn’t need any training.  In fact, what he did was take over our training.  He coached us on our marksmanship, with all three weapons –rifle, shotgun, pistol.  He was surprisingly patient, and, it turned out, very good at teaching, at explaining to Devereaux and me what we were doing wrong.  And in a couple days, both of us were shooting much better.  Not marksmen, by any means, but we were at least respectable.

He also taught us about what was called the field protocol.  Basically, it was how to be alert in unfamiliar territory, how to move as a unit, how to use hand signals, all the stuff you’d want in a hostile environment, in enemy territory, or something.  I tried to explain to Lasher that we weren’t going into enemy territory.  Clovis fossils and artifacts were rare, ergo, the people known who made the Clovis points were thin on the ground.  Scarce.  Most of North America was uninhabited.  No people.  For all practical purposes, we’d be the only ones out there. We’d be unlikely to even see anybody.  And, even if we did, they’d have spears, and atlatls; we’d have rifles.  They’d have flint knives; we’d have pistols and Damascus steel knives.

Lasher just looked at me.  After a long minute, he said, “Yeah, well, we’re going to do it my way, anyway.”  That was it.  No discussion, no debate.  Just a given.

“Look, I don’t mind doing whatever,” I said. “I just don’t see why this is such a big deal to you.  There’s not going to be anyone out there, and even if there is, we outgun them by a mile.”

“I believe that is what Custer said,” Lasher replied.  And he sort of half-smiled.  I guess that was what he thought was a joke.  So Devereaux and I trained on, and learned the field protocol.

The biggest surprise was Jack.  He was a border collie mix, four years old, about.  I’d got him as a rescue puppy, and had sort of trained him, in a half-assed way.  What a great dog.  He was so smart, and full of energy.  I loved him.  And so, it turned out, did Lasher.  I saw him holding Jack’s head, and grabbing his fur, and talking to him.  So I was stunned when Lasher said “Too bad about Jack.  He’s a great dog.  But he’s not coming with us.”

“What?”

“Your dog, Jack.  He isn’t coming with us.  He’s a liability.  We can’t take him along.”

“Bullshit,” I said.  “Let’s go see Kessler.”  Lasher nodded, and he and I and Jack went into the field office to talk to Kessler.

I told him, “Look, Lasher just said that I can’t bring my dog with me.  You’ve got to talk to him.”

Lasher said, “The dog can’t come.  He isn’t trained.  He’ll spook the game.  He can’t be relied on.  We can’t bring him.”

“I see,” said Kessler.  “Well, Jeff,” he said, he said to me, “it seems to me that Mr. Lasher makes some very valid points.  I’m sure we can find someone to care for your dog while you’re gone.”

So, really, what did I think Kessler was going to do?  Referee?  Help us work it out?  What he did was, he sided with Lasher.  Of course he would.  Like he’d oppose what the security man said.

I drew on my extensive education, my doctorate, my scholarly research.  “Fuck you,” I said.  “If Jack isn’t going, then I’m not going, either.  I don’t’ care what you two have to do, but understand this – Jack goes where I go.  If he’s out, I’m out.”

I was beyond angry.  I was furious. The intensity of my rage surprised me, and even as I was swearing, part of me was watching, mortified.  He was it – other than my mom, he was the only family I had. We’d hiked for miles through the mountains and hills near my home.  He’d come with me on my fieldwork in the Green River country in Wyoming.  He’d hang out in my office on campus, while I taught class.  He was my companion.  So even though I was mortified, I was real damn serious.  I would not leave him.  Not in some kennel.  Not for four months.  Not at all.

“Look,” I said.  “He’s a border collie.  They’ve been bred to work with animals, to be partners with men.  Can’t we train him, so that he’ll work with us, not scare any animals away?”

Lasher just looked me.  Then, after a minute, he said, “Okay, we got a week.  If we can get him trained, I mean really trained, then the dog can come.  But if we don’t, if he isn’t perfect, then he isn’t coming.  And then you’ll have to do what you have to do.”  And then he left.

Kessler sighed.  “That’s Lasher.  Jesus.”

So, for the next 8 days, Lasher trained Jack and me.  He was like the freaking dog whisperer.  He had Jack trained unbelievably.  Come, go, stay, heel, go left, go right, come up; all the things that border collies are supposed to do.  And he had me trained, too. “He’s your dog, he told me, “He’s got to listen to you.   So here’s what you do.”  Over and over.  Until, at the end of that week, I got it.  I understood what he was talking about, and finally, Jack and I “clicked.”  We were a team.

And Sunday night, Lasher looked at me and Devereaux and Jack and said “That’s it. We’re ready.  We’ll go in tomorrow.”

What we brought:

Twelve  Horses.  A horse for each of us to ride, a spare horse for each of us (a “remount,” as the cavalry has it); two horses for Dr. Carver; three pack-horses; and a spare pack-horse.  The reliance on the horses was our greatest worry.  We were embarking on a round trip of approximately three thousand miles – as the crow flies.  And we were certainly not going to be able to travel that directly.  In all likelihood, we’d end up travelling well over three thousand miles.  The distance alone is an enormous burden for any animal. And this was travel in wilderness.  We’d be confronting all of the perils of the trip –deadfalls,  river crossings, animal attacks.  So we all thought that we were taking too few horses.  We had discussed this at length in the preparation sessions with the DARPA representatives, and Dr. Kessler.  Unfortunately, none of us saw any way around it. Kessler and the techs thought we might be able to take two, maybe three more horses than we did.  But then, paradoxically, we thought that to take more would make the size of the remuda unwieldy.  So we were stuck.  Twelve horses it was.

Oddly, Lasher seemed the least concerned about this.  “We can walk if we have to,” he said.  “And if Devereaux can get the ASU station up and running, we can just come back that way.”  Maybe we’d only go out by horse, but come back by. . . . magic.  (I still, even after all this time, can’t write “we’d come back by ‘time travel’” with a straight face.  It sounds like something out of Star Trek).  So, in the end, it was twelve horses.

What else?  Two of almost everything.  Two rifles each, two shotguns each, three pistols each.  (Lasher took four).  Clothes for all kinds of weather and temperature. Tents, sleeping bags, water filters.  This was somewhat controversial.  I argued that since we were going back before the modern era, i.e. before pollution, that there’d be no need to filter the water.  After all, the indigenous people  didn’t have micropore filters.

“Ever hear of Giardia?” Lasher asked.   So we took the filters.

We took a first aid kit – much bigger and more extensive than I had previously seen.  Lasher had  some training as a field medic, and Devereaux, it turned out, was an EMT.

We brought lots of gear: Pots, pans, salt, coffee, sugar.  Field guides to birds, to plants, to trees, to mushrooms.  I was the nature guide on this expedition; the one who was supposed to know what was safe to eat; how to traverse the varied ecosystems we’d encounter; how to deal with the natives, in the unlikely event that we met any; stuff like that.  And I thought the field guides would be useful.  From an evolutionary standpoint, twelve thousand years ago isn’t very long at all.  So the oaks and aspens, the fungi and mushrooms we’d see would be the same as the ones living today.  Stranger, though, to think about the animal population back then.  All the animals we know today – raccoons, robins, deer, ducks – all of them – were living there, back then.  But so were all kinds of other animals.  Animals no-one alive today has seen.  Mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths.  Passenger pigeons.  They’re all extinct now.  So it was quite a juxtaposition – bringing a field guide to birds, while worrying about running into a saber-toothed cat.

So what else? Packages and packages of freeze-dried foods.  They took up almost no space, to offset the fact that they had almost no taste.  Binoculars, axes, saws, knives. Dynamite.   Rope.  Needles and thread.  Lighters.  Matches. Traps.  Mirrors (for signaling).  Spare horseshoes, files, and nails.  More stuff than I had ever thought about.    Devereaux’s gear – the stuff he was going to use to repair the tesseract, if possible.

It seemed like a lot.  It was a lot.  But even as we practiced packing it on the pack-horses, I knew, I just knew, that it wouldn’t be enough.  Or rather, that we’d need something we didn’t have.  That was the first time, really, that the enormity of what we were doing hit me.  We’d be truly on our own.  I wondered how the mountain men had done it.  What if . . . What if . . .?  No doctor, no hospital, no cavalry to ride to the rescue.  It was a daunting task, and for the first time, I really knew it.

Personal stuff:  I brought pens, pencils, and paper;  several digital cameras and lots and lots of chips; a video camera; a magnifying glass. Here’s what I desperately wanted to bring, but couldn’t:  A complete dissection kit; a CT scanner; three hundred gallons of formaldehyde; five hundred pounds of plaster of paris; a cryogenics lab; a gene sequencer; 500 radio collars; six hundred tranquilizer darts, a gas chronometer; an ultra light aircraft for aerial surveys, and a tractor-trailer to haul it all in.

I brought Give your Heart to the Hawks, by Win Blevins, a book about the exploits of the mountain men.  I commend that book to anyone who is going off into the wilderness.   Devereaux, as it turned out, brought about two pounds of weed, and a bong, and rolling papers.  That was a surprise.  Lasher brought a big long, flat box, and  square (cubical) box, about 12 inches on a side.  And packs and packs of gum.

And so, off we went.

The insertion took place at the ground floor lab at Washington University.  The array was complex, to say the least, and I was surprised at the number of technicians running around, placing sensors here, and moving cables there.  The three of us, Jack, the horses, and all of our gear were placed in the center of the array, inside the tesseract.  We all had to go at the same time, because the vagaries of the insertion were such that successive “drops” might not land in exactly the same time.  That, I gather, was part of the reason why something as big as a plane or helicopter couldn’t have been used.

Kessler came up and shook hands with each of us, and wished us good luck.  And then, (and I loved him for it), he stooped and petted Jack.

And then he left, and we stood around for about three more minutes, while they calibrated whatever it was that needed calibrating, and then they counted backwards. Five.  Four.  Three . Two.  One.

Blink.

Transcendence.

Rest.

Stop.

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