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.

The Clovis Mission: Ch. 3: Ross

Metairie, Louisiana.

Ross knew the General; well, the retired general now, Ambrose Maddox.  Forced, ever so delicately, into retirement after reports surfaced about some of his activities in Afghanistan.

And Ross knew about those activities, too.  After all, he had served with Maddox, before he’d been cashiered, along with several of his men.  Over fucking bullshit. Bastards.

No, wait.  Calm down a minute.  Be here now.  Ross regained his equilibrium.

“Thank you for coming, Colonel,” Maddox said. “It’s nice to know I can count on a few good men, when I need them.”

Ross nodded, and said, “Sir.”

“Colonel, we’ve got a situation, and we need your help.”

Ross thought, “We?”

Ross said, “Sir?”

“You know about this time travel thing, right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Three stations, right?  Fairbanks, St. Louis, and Arizona, right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well those DARPA pukes been using it for some scientific research into cavemen or some such shit, and now they fucked up.”

“Sir?”

“First, the station at ASU – that’s Arizona State University, Colonel – the station there has gone down.  Deader than Uncle Harry’s Aunt.”

“Sir?”

“Second, they’ve sent a civilian –  a civilian, for Chrissakes! –  back to fix it.  Accompanied by another civilian, some professor of cavemanology or some such shit.  Well, Colonel, the people in the Defense Department, and my friends at NSA do not want some civilian running around out there, or back there, whatever.”

“No Sir,” Ross said.  He knew his lines.  And he knew this story was phony.  Maddox was out – O. U. T. – out.  No fucking way he was tied-in with Defense or NSA.  No.  The story was bullshit.  And obviously bullshit.  He was meant to see through it. So okay, why?

Because this is something else.  This is a black op.  This is the spooky stuff – covert.  Fair enough.

Didn’t matter much.  Ross knew what loyalty meant.  He knew that the General would take care of him – hell, he already had.  He’d run some serious interference protecting Ross and his boys after that last go-round over there.  So, yeah, Ross knew about loyalty.  Whatever the mission, he was in.

“No sir, we don’t want that at all,” Maddox continued. “It’s absolutely critical that we get that station repaired, and prepared – you know the President’s going to go out there to that Arizona station to give a speech, honor the fine men who perfected time travel, let the world know what we done.   And now that very station has gone down?  A little too coincidental, I think.”

“Colonel, we have reason to believe that this station has been brought down by an act of sabotage, and these purported civilians making their way out to Arizona present a clear and present danger to this great land of ours, to our science, to our technology.  These men are traitors.”

“That’s where you come in.  We want you to assemble a small team – no more than eight men.  Your men, Colonel.  We’ll task two scientists to accompany you.  We want you to jump back there, find those traitors, eliminate them, and then proceed to the ASU site, where the two scientists – our scientists –  will get the station up and running.”

Okay, Ross thought, so that’s the cover story – go back and wipe out these traitors.  Got it.  What’s the real story?

“Yes sir,” Ross said.

“We’re also going to send two more of our men with you, Colonel.  Good men.  Treat them with respect.  They are mission critical.”

Ah, this was a clue.  These guys, whoever they were, were part of this op, whatever it was.  Two of “our” men.  Whose men would that be?

“Understood, Sir.”

“We’ll keep working from our end, here.  Maybe we can jury rig a way to get that station fixed from this end.  But your job, Colonel, is to go back and get those two, then proceed to the station in Arizona.

“Yes, Sir,” Ross replied.

“Time is short, Colonel.  I want you to assemble the team within one week.  My aide, Swanson, has all the details.”

“Very good, General,” Ross said.

“That’s all, Colonel,” Maddox said.  “Dismissed.”

Ross had almost made it to the door when Maddox said “One last thing, colonel. Something that might interest you.”

“Sir?”

Those two civilians have some security on their trip.  Someone you know.”

“Sir?”

“Daniel Lasher, Colonel. Master gunnery sergeant Daniel Lasher.”

The Clovis Mission: Ch. 1: Summers

It’s funny, the things you remember.  I remember how hot it was. Valley floor, at the base of a shale cliff, digging for fossils in the Green River formation in Wyoming.  Bright, bright sunshine, and baking in the heat.  Really scorching.

Three of us were digging – two graduate assistants and me, and it was late morning, and we’d found nothing, and it was hot.

I shouldn’t say we’d found nothing.  ‘Nothing that morning’ would be more accurate.  A couple days earlier we’d found some bones which I thought were – improbably – helmeted muskox bones. Bootherium bombifrons.  If I was right, and I was pretty sure I was, that’d be a fairly exciting discovery.  The helmeted muskox, now extinct, like so many of the other Pleistocene megafauna, were muskox – real muskox – but unlike the muskox which survive today, they were bigger; had shorter hair; and most remarkably, lived down here – scattered throughout the United States, not relegated to the artic north.  But their remains were rare, and not previously found in Wyoming.  So, yeah, that was kinda cool.

Figuratively speaking, of course, because we were baking in that sun.

I remember, too, that I was thinking about those fossils, and about what I did, and, really, how frustrating it was.  Don’t get me wrong – I love being a paleo-ecologist, love studying the past, especially the relatively recent past – 50,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago, when it all changed.  Because between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, two things happened:

First, people – human beings – came to this Continent for the first time.  Those people are associated with big stone spear points first found near Clovis New Mexico, and for that reason are often called the Clovis people.

Second, right around that same time, many, many species of animals, especially large animals, became extinct.  Mammoths, mastodons, the American lion, the enormous short-faced bear.  Animals which had lived here, thrived here, for hundreds of thousands of years.  Gone.  Extinct.  And suddenly, too, within a few thousand years, at most.

And no one knew – no one knows – why.

So I have devoted myself, my career, to trying to figure out why.

But what I was thinking there, that morning, was how frustrating it all was.  Say I was right – say those were the bones of a helmeted musk ox.  So what?  Oh, we’d be able to reassemble as much of the skeleton as possible, determine its age, and gender, and conclude that it had lived around here, back then.  But that would, really, be about it.  We’d never be able to look at it, see how it moved, or browsed, or ran.  Never see how it interacted with its environment.  And that was frustrating.  Really frustrating.  I knew so little, and wanted to know so much.

Maybe it was just because it was so damn hot.

Anyway, we were just about to retreat to the work tent, for some shade, and water, when the chopper came.

Big, and dark green, and noisy as hell, and stirring up dust clouds like you wouldn’t believe.  And pissing me off.  Who the hell would come flying into an archeological site – my archeological site – and blow dust around everywhere, and maybe mess up our specimens?  Right away, I was angry, and despite the heat, set off up the swale to where the tent was, and where the chopper was just setting down.

“Hey!” I yelled.  “What are you doing?  Get that thing out of here!”

Well, no.

They didn’t move the chopper.  It stopped and the rotors gradually slowed down, as I stood there, sweating and glaring.

Two guys stepped out.

Dr. Kramer, and Dr. White, as I learned later.

Kramer was short, stocky.  Short blond crew-cut, black-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved white shirt, black tie.  Looked like a stereotypical scientist from the nineteen fifties.  White was tall, thin, beaky nose, longish brown and gray hair, swept back over his ears.  Tweed sport coat.  The politician of the bunch, if I had to guess.

White told me that they were from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, not the Park Service.

“Professor Summers, you know of Dr. Leonard Carver, of course.”  White spoke. “His interests and research are quite similar to yours, I think.”

What?  Of course I knew Lennie, and as a paleo-ecologist, I was, of course, familiar with his work.  Like me he was interested in the megafauna extinctions possibly associated with the Clovis culture.  We were not friends, although I had met him a couple of times at various symposia.  I thought his work was meticulous, and that he certainly deserved his reputation as one of the foremost archeologists working in the peopling of the Americas.  I knew he was one of the very few scientists awarded the grant and opportunity to travel back in time to conduct research, and had gone back in time from the station at Arizona State University.  I was eagerly awaiting his report.

Then Dr. Kramer took it up. “You’re aware that he’s been selected to go back in time, to study the extinctions associated with the Clovis culture, some 12,000 years ago? We’d like to talk to you about that, if you can give us some time.”

“Sure,” I said. “What’s going on?”

We all walked in under the shade of the work tent and sat uncomfortably in the directors chairs we used when we’re sitting around the specimen table.  I sent the two kids – my graduate assistants – home for the day.

“Basically,” White explained, “Carver has disappeared.  He hasn’t sent any of the time beacons back to us, for the last three days, our time.  And then, yesterday afternoon, the ASU station stopped.”

“Wait a minute.  I didn’t think he’d gone back yet – isn’t that set for later this summer?”

“Yes, that’s correct.  Only he inserted a couple days ago, just for a brief scouting expedition.”

“So what do you mean he’s disappeared?”

“He’s been out of touch – no time beacons for three days now.  That shouldn’t happen.  He’s supposed to light off a beacon every day, so we can track his place in time and space, but he hasn’t.  He’s gone.  Missing.”

Kramer chimed in.  “And now the station itself, the one in Arizona has gone down.  It isn’t working.  We can’t send anyone back to see where he is, or what’s going on.”

Well, shit.  This didn’t sound good, at all.

“So, wait.  How big was Carver’s group?”

“There was no group.  It was just him.”

“Are you kidding me?  That’s crazy.  I mean, I have the highest respect for him, but that’s nuts.”

“Look, it was just supposed to be a quick look around.  Only four days, in preparation for his work this summer.  He wanted to walk the ground, do some preliminary reconnaissance of where to begin his studies.”

“You’re serious?  He went back alone?  Who let that happen?”

I was pissed.  I mean, I was no mountain man, not even a park ranger, but I knew how stupid that was.  Carver was probably sixty, sixty-one, twenty-five years older than me.  No way should he have been wandering around out there by himself.

“Well,” White began, and then trailed off.

“Look, Professor,” Kramer said, “We have never had a problem with any of the technology, with any prior trips sending or retrieving.  And we had no reason to think that there’d be any problem this time.”

“Who runs this?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” White said.

“I mean, who makes the decisions to go and who gets to go, and when and for how long.  Who’s in charge of this?”

“Why, we are,” White said.  “I mean, DARPA has been given authority over administration of the time travel program.  We have a budget, and there is a grants program that we administer, and from the list of applicants, we select who gets to go, and work out the details of the trips.  We answer to the Secretary of the Interior.  Is that what you meant?”

Well, no, not really.  What I guess I meant was how was anyone stupid enough to let someone go back twelve thousand years alone.  But whatever had happened was already done.  No point in stirring it up.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.  “I thought it might have been under the supervision of the Army or the CIA or something.”

“Oh, no,” Kramer said.  “That’s all been worked out.  If they, or anyone else wants to use one of our facilities, they have to come through us, just like everyone else.”

“So what you’re telling me is that Carver is gone, or lost – out of touch anyway, twelve thousand years in the past, and you don’t have any way to get back there and rescue him.”

“Well, not exactly,” White said.

“No,” Kramer said.  “Not exactly.  That’s why we’re here.  We want to talk to you about going back there to find him.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“But you just said that the station was down or dead or something.”

“Yeah, it is.  But only the station at ASU.  The one in St. Louis is still running.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.  So the team would insert at St. Louis, and then go the Arizona and find him.”

“Wait,” I said. “Look, I don’t know the first thing about time travel or how it works or anything, but instead of schlepping from St. Louis to Arizona, why don’t you just put in a new gate or station or whatever you call it right there in Arizona?”

Sounded like a pretty good idea to me.

“Can’t,” Kramer said.  “Time and money.  The cost is too prohibitive.  Unbelievably prohibitive.”

“Hundreds of millions of dollars,” White added.

“Budget won’t permit it,” Kramer finished.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

They assured me that they were not.

“Time, too,” White added.  “We’d have to assemble the new tesseract inside the existing one at ASU, before we could send it back, and that would take eighteen months at a minimum.”

“More like two years,” Kramer said.

“And we can’t wait.”  This time, it was White who finished.

“Well, okay, then, I guess.  But why me?  Why not just send a chopper back in St. Louis, fly out, pick him up and bring him back?”

“Too big,” Kramer said, just as White said, “too far.”

“No infrastructure,” Kramer added.

“What?”

“We can’t,” White said.  “A chopper big enough to fly out there and return – that’s about three thousand miles all told – is to big and heavy to fit inside the St. Louis tesseract.  We can’t send it back.”

“And even it we could, it doesn’t have the range.  Can’t fly that far without refueling, even with extra tanks.  And there’s no infrastructure back then – no place for it to land, to refuel, no GPS to let it navigate.”

“Same problem with a truck,” Kramer added.

Well.  Not good.

“So, how would I – ?” I began.  “I mean, how can I help?”

“That’s where you come in,” Kramer said. “We are planning to send a team – a small team – back to find Dr. Carver, and see if we can figure out what happened.  We’d like you to join that team.”

I kept thinking about what they were offering me.  A chance to go back for myself and see the world I’d spent my whole life studying?  Fantastic.  Amazing.  Look, I’m in.  If its safe, if I can go back in time, and then come back home safely, I’m in.

Only – how in heck do we get there?

“Horseback,” White said.

“You and the team travel on horseback to Arizona, to find Dr. Carver,” he continued, like it was the most obvious, sanest thing in the world.

What?”

“Yes,” he said. “You and the team insert at St. Louis – Washington University – and ride cross country to find him and bring him home.”

I think I just stared at him.  My mind was racing.  On the one hand it would be fantastic to go back in time to see the mammoths, and cave lions, and horses, and everything that went extinct.  A paleo-ecologist’s dream.  But on the other hand, I didn’t really know anything about the science (or witchcraft, or voodoo) of time travel, and I wondered what had gone wrong with Dr. Carver.  That was a little scary.

“So, who would go?”  I asked.

“We think it’s best if it’s just a small party – three of you.”

“Three?  That’s all?  Why?”

“Distance, and weight, mostly,” White replied.  “You have a lot of ground to cover, and everything you take has to fit on the horses.  We have weight limits, as we’ve discussed.”

I thought about that for a moment.  At first, it seemed crazy, foolhardy.  That was a big, wide dangerous world back there.  But by the same token, this may have been a case where size didn’t matter.  First, this was before (or, strictly speaking, just around the time that) humans were first coming into the Americas, so essentially there wouldn’t be any people– no dangerous criminals, or marauding armies  – to worry about.  Then too, without resources, what good would a larger party be?  How could a surgeon, say, operate, without an operatory, without anesthesia?   Didn’t lessen the risk any – you got sick, you died, is what it boiled down to, but that fact alone didn’t mean you’d be any better off with a larger group.

But still, only three of us?

“We think you’d be a good fit,” White said.  You know more about the ecology and terrain of the North American Pleistocene than almost anybody, and you’re young, fit, like to camp – We think you’d be a real asset to this trip.”

Kramer jumped in, playing the bad cop.  “Don’t get us wrong, Professor,” he said.” We’re not saying that this trip will be easy.  Far from it.  Because ASU is down, we’re going to have to insert in St. Louis.  You’ll have to travel from there to New Mexico, by horseback, just like the pioneers.  The trip will take four months at a minimum – maybe much longer.  You’ll be out in all kinds of weather, and most of all, you’ll be involved in a mystery , because we can’t tell you what the hell went wrong.”  He sat back, belligerently, if that makes any sense.

“Well?” White said.  “Will you help us?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I have classes.  I mean the semester doesn’t start for  a couple months, but I’m teaching a heavy course load . . .I’d have to check with the Dean.”

“Of course,”  White said.  “He’s sitting out there in that cool air-conditioned helicopter. Let’s go see him, shall we?”

What?  Are you kidding me?

So the three of us trekked back out to the chopper, climbed up into that blessed coolness, and there, by God, was Nate Mendelsohn, same as ever.  Cool, imperturbable, patrician.  Chewing on that goddamn pipe of his – unlit.  No smoking aboard the aircraft, apparently.

“Oh, I don’t think that would be a problem,” Nate said. “I’m sure we could get coverage for your classes.”  Thanks a lot, Chief, I thought.

“When do you need to know?”  I asked. “I’d like to think it over for –“

“Now,” Kramer interrupted .  “We’re sorry to be so abrupt, but we’re treating this as an emergency, and we need to know now.”

“Your help is important to us,” Dr. White said.  “To DARPA, and the program, and to Dr. Carver.”

“I think it would be a feather in the University’s cap, if you’d go,” Nate said, “but of course, I don’t want you to worry about that at all.”  Thanks again, Chief.

Great.  A trip lasting four months, at least, twelve thousand years ago, and they need an answer right this minute.

Well, let’s see.  I’m single.  The past has always been my passion.  Nate and the University will apparently cover for me.  Why not?  Oh, yeah –that’s why not.

“I have a dog,” I said.

That’s how Jack came to be with us on the expedition.