The Sketch of Sam Monroe

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Current Length | 195 Pages (In Progress)

Description | A psychedelic thriller, frontier fiction if you will, that explores those precious dwindling limits of the known. Join the members of PLATO (Practical Liberty – An Alchemy Towards Order) a DARPA funded group of military researchers as they globetrot their way to and through the Amazon rainforest – in search of something akin to Fawcett’s Lost City of Z.

Disclaimer | This is a work of fiction and I neither endorse nor discourage the use of psychedelics. My goal is to foster the spirit of wonder and I personally don’t go much further than an occasional whiskey. Responsibility is key, psychedelics are not shortcuts to ‘enlightenment,’ and I will always staunchly assert that divine transcendance can be achieved through a hike in the countryside.

Content Advisory | Violence, Sex, Drugs, Flowery Language, Woo, and worst of all Philosophy

 


The Green Cathedral

 

The whole place had a bizarre sort of sentience.

 

We filed down a path lined with gnarled roots and dense vegetation. The smell of damp earth pervaded humid air. Fireflies lent mystic luminescence to the primeval scene. Every now and then bits of stone, arranged in vaguely intelligent patterns, would make us pause and ponder. Until a shove informed that we must troop on.

 

Sam’s tan baseball cap bobbed prosaically, just feet from my line of sight, intermittently obscuring my view of a darkness that was surprising for mid day. The canopy was thick, stretching some hundred feet above, vaulting cathedral like, assuring the sun dared not defile an eternal vesper.

 

The hush among us Americans was certainly church like, much to the amusement of our guides, who laughed and sang in a mix of Portuguese and Arawak.

 

I could tell that Chuck was much annoyed by the insouciance of the natives.

 

He was a true believer. With his shaggy hair, ginger beard, pale blue eyes, and antiquely rounded spectacles, he could pass for a head freshly plucked from Haight Ashbury. An effect which I found humorous, given that he was younger than me, and I could barely vouch for being birthed in the eighties.

 

We were shameless hipsters, everyone of us. Despite my studied avoidance of facial hair and engineered unkemptness, I must confess that my very dedication to being a square was itself filthy avante-garde hipsterism. I am ashamed.

 

Like all trendy fools trekking through a place we had no business in, we were after the Vine.

 

The whole expedition had been birthed after a smoke session. A ritual of psychedelic transcendence punctuated by an obsessive review of Mckenna recordings and dick jokes.

 

The Fibonacci Five

 

Sam had dramatically called for a pause. He then ran to our grungy kitchen (which served as his studio) to fetch his sketchpad. A pretty frequent occurrence.

 

“The inspired artist!” We cried in unison.

We were our own religion you see. The Fibonacci Five. A church built on pretension and a deep misunderstanding of mathematics.

 

We weren’t expecting much.

 

The last masterpiece had featured a surprised looking penguin floating past the horsehead nebula, and sporting an erection.

 

Our da Vinci had seemed legitimately surprised when we’d informed him, ‘Penguins don’t have dicks, Sam.’

 

This time though he really took a while. Our normal silence during his fifteen minute stretches of ruining a perfectly innocent bit of paper, was broken by heavy sighs and passive aggressive bong rips.

 

At the end of two hours we were so catatonic that Graham asked Lucas to pull Graham’s cigarettes from Graham’s pocket. Locomotion was apparently a chore too great. Stoned in the truest sense I suppose.

 

It was our rule that no one speak, or halt the process, of anyone under the influence of the ‘Divine Flame.’

 

Finally, after the course of three toxic hours, Sam rose anticlimactically to his feet from the dusty wood panel floor, and traversing the brief distance to the couch handed me his sketch.

My eyes widened. I held the thing for some minutes. I looked at Sam who was beaming, the deep browns of his eyes dancing with pride.

 

“Jesus, pass it along will you Alan.” Chuck demanded.

 

“Hold on a fucking minute you spectacular shit.” I exploded. “This is..this is…fucking good Sam..”

 

Chuck snatched the thing out of my hand almost tearing it. I had half a mind to sock him and nearly did.

 

I was not a head. Not for years. Panic attacks had made whiskey my substance of choice.

 

Fortunately for Sam, my vice produced poor aim, and I broke my knuckle on a support beam of our rustic Bohemian lodgings. Though I wouldn’t know of the fracture for a few days.

Chuck was too enraptured to notice my attempt. He sat there staring at it next to Graham, who would have been annoyed had he not been asleep.

 

“Alright pass it on hog fuck,” Lucas said with calm vehemence in his characteristic mellow tenor.

 

“Dude, it’s like I’m there.”

 

“Right?” I said.

 

“Right…” we all assented.

 

“Well Sam what the hell is it? You made a photograph with your hands just there. Of something in

the jungle. Something wild.”

 

“You guys know not to question: ‘The Flame‘… just abide. Just mellow.”

 

“Mellow your ass, fuck-wit, and cut the flame shit, it is s a tool not a thing. Expound the process!”

 

“HASTILY!” We bellowed stamping our feet.

 

Graham started awake at this sudden outburst. He started awake and began to scream in a bizarre falsetto.

 

We were momentarily taken aback. Then having regained our composure, started laughing, as

Graham continued to scream.

 

I threw a fresh tumbler of Jim Beam in his face.

 

“Relax you canny…Or at least you’d better, Jim’s expensive.”

 

“You guys, holy shit, holy shit, I saw a Jaguar.”

 

“The Jags in the garage Graham. Candy nose Graham. Cause you ran my dads car off the road Graham. You’d better be fucking screaming at seeing a Jag, Graham.” Lucas said wryly.

 

“What good’s a car untested? …and besides,” he said rising to his lanky six feet six inches.

 

A height made more comically prodigious by wildly curling locks of sandy hair.

“…and besides I saw a cat, a jungle cat. Black like midnight in the wildest place!”

We all froze. We all knew.

 

We all knew that Graham had not seen the picture.

 

”A jungle cat you say?” Sam queried in an unsettling tone with an equally unsettling smirk.

 

There was something not native to his character; the way he held himself just now.

 

Lucas wordlessly passed the sketch to Graham. Who held it momentarily before he began convulsing.

 

Cajun Prayer

 

“What the hell was in that?”

 

“Dude, it was just weed, plain old Mary Jane, Mary never hurt a fly.”

 

“He was foaming at the mouth….”

 

“Who knows what he took beforehand, either way, let’s not…”

 

At this point, a tall precise-looking man seeming to be about sixty years of age strode into the room.

 

It was a very odd hospital. One of those cramped country places. The little squarish chairs in the waiting room had that burnt orange look which reeked of the seventies. The metal bars beneath the armrests were cold on this Kentucky evening.

 

“I really can’t find anything wrong with your friend. Nothing biological anyway. I lack a lot of the instruments I’d need to do a proper battery of tests. Would you boys like it if I sent him off to Louisville? I have a driver on hand just for that purpose…”

 

‘No…’ a few of us chimed in. We couldn’t risk it.

 

“Well, right now he’s catatonic and I really can’t do much except run an IV and monitor his vitals.”

 

“He’ll come around I’m sure,” Lucas said with barely disguised guilt.

 

“What’s going on? I never really got a good grip on where you boys are from… I’ve never seen you in town. You don’t look like hunters, so are you campers, hikers what…?”

 

“We’re local,” I said.

 

“Mmm…I know everybody in this town, even old Ira Basset….”

 

“Well, we keep to ourselves mostly….we’re…artists….”

 

“Oh, so you’re private sorts, prematurely retired from the wild world into the rustic Kentucky hills…”

 

“Yeah…that’s one way of putting it….”

 

“Or could this be it.” The doctor threw a small plastic baggy into my lap. The contents of which I instantly recognized.

 

‘Shit…’

 

I heard footsteps outside.

 

“Well, Officer Fabre looks like you arrived at the perfect moment. Have you ever seen guiltier men?”

 

‘Shit…’

 

“Heh, o they’re guilty all right…mostly of being the most stereotypical heads to ever walk the earth, and what’s that he’s got…” The barrel-chested officer’s eyes narrowed as he took in the contents I was awkwardly grasping between shaky fingers.

 

“Toss, it here, actually don’t….that’s cocaine…which isn’t very legal….” He had a slight accent that I couldn’t quite place. And his tone of voice suggested perpetual amusement. He began to jauntily swing a set of handcuffs.

 

“So whose is it..?” he asked, looking from one of us to the other, “who am I taking to meet Bubba?”

 

“I found it on the patient.” The doctor said.

“So you did, Doc, but I gotta take somebody in, I’ve only got two cells, one of which holds Bubba, and he don’t find no sport in a body that don’t holler….”

 

The guy was fucking with us.

 

“I’ve got money, you know,” Lucas burst in.

 

“Aha, yea…I mean I don’t have to be Sherlock fuckin’ Holmes to know that if you have coke in Foley…you’re a walking trust fund…”

 

“Are you just gonna accept a bribe like that!” The doctor exploded.

 

“Well, doc, did you like identifying Mrs. Belmont’s corpse very much, or that endless stream of rotted gums?”

 

The doctor looked glum.

 

“Yeah…one thing about Foley…The State of Kentucky…Uncle Sam…and even Jesus Christ himself do not give one solemn shit much less a penny to keep meth heads from shooting little old ladies. I need ammo, I need vests, I need to feed my dam squad, hell Patrick doesn’t even have proper boots anymore…so….does 15k sound reasonable?”

 

“More than reasonable,” Lucas replied.

 

“WHERE do you boys have this kind of cash….” The doctor was incredulous. “Shit…you’re runners aren’t you!” There was something odd in the way that the word shit sat in the mouth of such a gentlemanly looking man. He was truly flustered by his suspicion to react that way.

 

“Nah….doc…they ain’t runners…they’re faggy little college boys…and I guess that there must be a god after all because they’re the fucking solution to my problem….”

 

It was at this point that Graham burst into the room with a wild look in his eyes. The IV hanging in an awkward grotesque sort of way from his left arm. He gazed directly at the cop with the most unnaturally sardonic expression I’ve ever seen. It made my blood run cold.

 

Graham stood there swaying from side to side just gazing directly at the officer. Then he spoke some other language. I guess it was French or something.

 

For a moment Officer Fabre was stock still. Then shrieking wildly he ran from the room screaming something like…

 

Jay vous saley,

Marie,

they grass

Le Signor

ist avec vous.

Le signor is avec vous!

 

“Get back here you cowardly frog!” Doctor Pierce exclaimed at the retreating man.

Then regaining some of his composure he said, “What the hell am I going to do with you fucking kids!”

 

‘Gator is Waitin’

 

The mid-February evening grew chill quickly. I shivered and pondered as to how our retreating ‘boy in blue’ could sit so comfortably, on the faded green metal bench outside Pierce’s practice.

 

Graham had fallen into a neat little heap of lanky limbs and golden Afro soon after the dramatic episode.

 

Currently, he was being comforted by a nurse (who despite being a tad older) still retained that magnetic auburn haired sort of charm common among the locals. Lucky dog….

 

Fabre was a picture of calm as he sat there gazing into the middle distance with a particularly offensive clove cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

 

“What in the hell was all that about?” Pierce queried.

 

The Gallic sheriff remained impassive. His cold grey eyes held none of their former mischief.

The doctor was a reasonable man but his patience did have a limit. After the span of a quarter hour he remarked sternly.

 

“Well, come on man! Remember your Norman heritage. The blood of William courses through your veins and you would let a little of the old country spook you like that?”

 

It took some minutes still before Fabre responded.

 

“In Louisiana there are very wild places…”

 

“And many Alsatian fools,” Pierce remarked wryly. He had an odd habit of simultaneously praising and dressing people down.

 

“Yes, yes, I am a fool, and an Alsatian. But better to have my blood and my folly then to remain composed through that…”

 

Another long pause.

 

“I’m sorry, but I still don’t gather what ‘that’ is?”

 

This pause was even longer. I couldn’t suppress a yawn despite my interest. There was something dreamy, hypnotic in these hills. It was as if at every moment they threatened to drown you in some strange ancient honey.

 

“’That’ is voodoo…mssr”

 

Pierce laughed derisively. “Come off it man, you don’t even go to church.” It was now that I noticed that Pierce had an accent too. My Carolina ears were keen for the foreign sound of Yank inflection. And Yank he was. He was less a son of Kentucky than I.

 

“I tell you the truth. You have the benefit of your education and distance as buffer. But this is…this is old stuff…this is not drugs…I’ve seen it before too…but not like this…”

 

“You are a superstitious fool.” Pierce scoffed. “The fair haired boy was having a pull at your leg. It’s that Irish mother of yours.”

 

“That was just a rumor I am as Cajun as they come. Perhaps too Cajun…I have hot blood….a bad temper…you see…that is…”

 

I thought I spied a moment of panic in that expressive face.

 

He puffed at his cigarette for a time before he continued:

 

“That is voodoo mssr. That is very bad stuff…I have nothing on it…”

 

“Pfft…OK…fine it’s voodoo what did the blasted lad say?”

 

I was beginning to grow as weary of the pauses as Doc Pierce.

 

“He say…he say…’the gator is waiting.’”

 

It was a bizarre expression.

 

Yet, something about the way that the officer said it that sent a shiver through my spine. I noticed

that Pierce was suddenly subdued as well. Though not for long.

 

“Ok and what does that mean exactly.”

 

“It means I am lost.”

 

This statement was followed by another litany of papist prayers. Latin, English, French…what I eventually came to recognize as Creole intermingled in a fluid entreaty to what of God may still reside in a world of drive throughs and porno.

 

“Look, I think it very touching that you’ve suddenly found the Lord but he helps those who help themselves. So what is this gator business?”

 

Officer Fabre used what remained of his initial clove to light the second.

 

“As, I have said it means I am lost. That was the end of Jack Montreux and it will be the end of me.”

 

“That, is a long story doc…”

 

Horticulture

 

“Just look at these curls….” Said the nurse running her fingers through Hoyt’s golden ringlets.

 

“Yeah, they probably smell like patchouli.” Lucas said wryly.

 

“You might wanna sterilize your hands. Who knows what’s been nesting in there…”

 

“Y’all should leave him alone. He’s the handsomest one…and so tall…”

 

Graham wasn’t handsome but she did have a point about the height. He looked ridiculous hunched up on that little examining bed. With his long thin arms between his knees he looked like some kind of shagged out alien. He seemed very tired.

 

“He might be tall. But I’ll have you know that I’m the handsome one.” Sam said dramatically tossing his own brown mane to shoot her an I’m so sexy stare.

 

We all laughed because of how plain he was. He wasn’t ugly just incredibly typical. There was nothing to suggest itself as pretty or ugly in his WASPY features.

 

“Well, I suppose you’re all charmin’ in your own ways but…I do mean that you should leave him alone, he needs to rest, make sure he drinks plenty of water too.”

 

“We will.” I said as I nervously pondered what exactly was going to happen. Pierce had remained outside with Fabre and we were all anticipating some fresh sentence when the officer regained his wits.

 

I fingered my flask.

 

The nurse continued chatting pleasantly with Sam whose thirst for female attention knew no bounds. I think she enjoyed humoring him. His poorly disguised attraction must have been flattering to a woman approaching middle age.

 

“Well now…what do you have there…” she asked snatching my flask away just as I got the barest sip of Jim.

 

“O mercy.. whiskey..this is strong…how do you stomach it…” Her disgust was so genuine that I couldn’t suppress a smile.

 

“Twice barreled, top shelf, twelve years in the making’ ain’t something to turn your nose up at ma’am. Besides it helps with the nerves.”

 

“And what does a young man with enough money for the ‘top shelf’ have to worry about? What are you boys up-to out here? What did you do to your friend?”

 

“Well, I guess it’s the purdy girls that make me nervous,” I said with my most winning smile.

 

“Flattery ain’t gonna work on me none sugar,” she said laconically, “’fess up, what’s all this gentry doin’ out in Foley?”

“We’re here for the inspiration, we’re artists and….”

 

“Yeah, yeah, they’re artists uh uh….” said the Doctor upon entering the room with the somewhat recovered looking sheriff.

 

The pretty lady laughed. Her upturned little nose scrunching up a dozen darling little freckles that may as well have been the stars of a Kentucky night. ‘I need a date.’ I laughed to myself as I realized how long I’d been in the hills.

 

It was this state that made me particularly keen on noticing that unmistakable sort of familiarity between our Frankish chief and the nurse. Jealousy does have its uses I mused as I ruefully gripped my recently reacquired flask firmer.

 

I was glad we hadn’t told her anything…but more than a bit worried about what she might have extracted out of Graham. There was no reserve in Graham Hoyt. He was nothing like his English father. He talked with his hands like his mother. Italians…

 

Pierce was laughing. “Well boys, old Philly Fabre here’s just told me the most coonass story I ever heard. Full of magic, and bayous, and Catholic guilt. Definitely displaying some hyper-religiosity…”

 

“Coonass…?”

 

“Means Cajun…” Chuck whispered. He was our resident Trebek. His mastery of trivia did have its uses despite being largely insufferable. He was a hipster caricature a bourgeois Google savant.

 

Memorizing more irrelevancies in day then a Trekkie does in a lifetime.

 

“Yeah, coonass and shrimp boat reeking as they come.” Pierce laughed. “Hell I think he actually did work a shrimp boat as a boy…” Pierce was really laughing now.

 

“Ain’t no shame in the trades.” I said.

 

“Of course, of course, I meant no offense, only that the man is so damnably iconic. I suppose Americana survives in the weirdest of places. Now…” He said with a glance at Graham.

 

“Your friend seems to be fine enough to go home.”

 

“So we can go…” Lucas was excited.

“….Yes…of course…but…as I have told the Officer here…the best way to surmount your fears is to face them head on, that’s what got me through Phnom Penh…”

 

“You seem a little young for that one.” Chuck said.

 

“I age well.” Pierce responded. He was the iciest man I’d ever meet.

 

There was a moment of awkward silence.

 

“Anyhow,” the doctor continued, “Fabre here has it in his head that you’re all some sort of magicians, he thinks you talk to something in these hills, he says he’s been watching you, and he knows a thing or two about the plants you grow in your garden.”

 

O shit…

 

“I’m not much for ghost stories but I am a chemical engineer.”

 

Double shit…

 

“…so, the officer and I are going to visit you out at the cove.”

 

To Luckadoo Cove

 

The Wagoneer was totally silent, save for the rushing of cold country air through a window cracked just enough to vent Graham’s cigarette.

 

It was eerie. I was the least spiritual of the bunch. Generally taking all our little rites and chemical adventures as so much psychodrama for creative stimulation.

 

Yet the way the gibbous moon hovered above the solitary spire of Foley’s United Methodist Church. The general sleepy stillness of the hollow, like some perpetual dream, was beginning to stir things in my imagination. As we rounded the last ‘civilized’ corner of Foley proper to enter a wooded country road the feeling was compounded.

 

The still searching faces of my comrades didn’t help matters. There was only one face that showed no fear of magic. It was that of our unexpected guest. Whose implacable thin-lipped smirk would probably outlast the reaper.

Doctor Pierce was with us. He’d made just one single remark in the past quarter-hour. He was clearly of a reserved nature. His eyes were of an indeterminate color. Perhaps hazel but they were absolutely resolute. Chuck’s comment about his age rang true until you glimpsed those eyes. These were old eyes. Ancient with experience, they seemed to drink in everything, and find it daft.

 

Officer Fabre was following us in his squad car. Not that he needed to. I’d now had my suspicions confirmed. There weren’t many deer with two legs. Neither did deer rifle through ones papers. I did have to give him credit though. He was a stealthy git. I did really attribute all such happenings to inattention and wildlife till a few days ago when I found boot treads round the greenhouse.

 

I was quite impressed that after forty-five minutes of plowing through the inky hills we’d heard nothing but the weird cry of an occasional owl. Normally there was much protestation even from my preternaturally silent ex, that dirty blonde Finnish number, I really missed her quiet energy. She’d gone back home after the last semester. I really do hate family values….

 

My musings were cut short as they always were by the change of surface. The smooth silence gave way to a quiet sort of crunch as our tires found Kentucky clay.

 

The woods here were deep and thick. They pressed in closely on either side. There was scarcely room to lean an elbow out the window. The old growth branches vaulted overhead suggesting a foyer. It was as if we were being borne along to some sacred ancient temple.

 

In some sense I suppose we were. These hills, with their attendant mountains, the valleys and meadows, and woods were positively primordial. especially here where geology chose to become Swiss Cheese. Strange noises did at times carry on the air. This was due to winter wind passing through grid lock caverns like some vast pipers breath through a hoary chanter.

 

These especially when combined with the subtle rush of subterranean streams made it seem as if a thousand voices were reciting some subtle litany. We had arrived where nature worshiped. The prayer it offered to the glimmering heavens at times answered by the shooting tear of a falling star. It was as if some great god wept with joy at the song of his children.

 

Yes, this was indeed a temple. I began to feel some certain pious trepidation. This place was perhaps no more ancient than my own blood and bones but my conceptions had only the faintest inkling of the purpose of my blood and bones. These hills knew, they knew why marrow fed the ligaments of the things that scurried through them. They knew and they brooded in a rapt vesper.

Perhaps they were now toying with us. Putting things into our head. Since we’d come here just for that purpose. They honored our request for their influence. I do not know if we are meant for such influence…

I broke my trance by taking another swig of Jim. There was something in its warm cheery sting that quickly dispelled any ancient terrors. Though in such a place, where the thing called time stands still, the aeons are merely muted by such tricks. Muted but not drowned.

 

“This is a Mossberg.” Came the quietly surprised voice of the doctor from the seat behind me.

I turned round to see him inspecting the gun appreciatively.

 

“Yes it is,” said Lucas who was driving, “and we’re here.”

Luckadoo’s

 

It always felt like bursting into another world. The only sensation I could effectively liken it to was cave diving. Something I’d done once on the dime of Lucas’ dad.

 

The thing was like swimming through some narrow submerged corridor, and bursting into one of those vaulted dagger studded chambers that knew no light, save the febrile beam of your headlamp.

 

Luckadoo’s estate sat in a clearing in the thick woods denuded just enough to afford a modest yard.

I heard the sheriff’s car pull up beside us. We’d dimmed our lights ten whole minutes ago but the squad car illuminated the oak and stone walls with an officious glaring brightness. Lucas hopped out of the driver’s seat and ran over to tell Fabre to cut it out.

 

He was back momentarily. We heard the sound of a cell phone. Pierce answered: ‘Hello.’

After a second. He put it on speaker.

 

“What the hell did you just blabber about, why should the lights be off, what the..”

 

“We need to secure the perimeter,” Lucas replied matter of factly.

 

“Secure, the perimeter, what are you talking about, listen…”

 

Lucas popped open his cell phone and tapped on the screen as Fabre’s protestation continued to pour from the doctor’s device.

 

Suddenly there was a very odd sound. One that bespoke suspense and familiarity at the same time. Fabre’s voice grew still.

 

Out in the sea of trees, as far from the reach of civilization as one could get in a global village, the sound of a THX soundcheck rang out through the valley.

 

Suddenly there was another sound, it was some simple spoken words, done in a sing-song chant to a certain pitch and rhythm, it was Roger Waters, “Is there anybody out there?”

 

“The wall…”

 

Graham flipped a metal switch on the dash. The house, the yard, the woods, and what we could see of the lake beyond were illuminated by harsh glaring floodlights that may as well have been the noonday sun.

 

“Holy shit!” Fabre was apparently still on the line.

 

Lucas reached down beneath the armrest and pulled up a mouthpiece on a black coiled wire.

 

“This is Colonel Schmidt of LRD, Army Corps of Engineers, you are within a federal jurisdiction, you are advised to immediately beach all watercraft, and give a report of your position. Having done so you are to step into our immediate line of sight. The line of sight being in front of the vehicles. Drop all weapons and proceed with your hands held high. Be advised that we are authorized and capable of using deadly force.”

 

“What in the fuck…” Doc Pierce muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

 

I chuckled. It was always funny to see Lucas Schmidt with his surfer boy haircut deliver such stentorian tones. I suppose having an admiral for a father does make a difference.

 

There was a five-minute wait for a response.

 

“If you are military, federal, or law enforcement personnel, state your rank, file, serial number and purpose clearly. If you are within fifty yards of our position we will hear you. Do you copy?”

 

Again we waited five minutes.

 

“I repeat, military federal, and law enforcement personnel, are advised to give a prompt and clear report of purpose and station. Failure to comply may result in disciplinary measures. We wish to avoid friendly fire but are authorized to engage, should the need arise. Do you copy?”

 

We waited five more minutes. There was no response.

Each member of our team put on headphones. I handed a pair to the doctor who complied wordlessly. Lucas ran out of the car with another pair. We heard his voice and the sheriff’s voice arguing through the doctor’s cell phone speaker.

 

Out of the car window, I saw Lucas’ screen shine dimly in the glare of the spotlights. Then the floodlights died.

 

Suddenly there was a pulse and a harsh shrill sound, that was thankfully muffled by the deadening in our headphones. You could feel it on your skin, it was like an air dryer, the pressure pushing the hairs on my arms in every direction.

 

The cars shook gently, the window panes rattling, the windows of the house also rattled, leaves and weaker branches fell from the roof and the trees.

 

I put away my flask and picked up a P320 from under the seat. The doctor shied away from me mid-process. I motioned for him to stay in the car.

 

Lucas opened the doctor’s door and extracted the Mossberg 500 off of Pierce’s lap.

 

Graham, Chuck, the Doctor, and the Sheriff had been pantomimed into staying put as Sam with his own Sig joined me and Lucas in a serpentine toward the door.

 

I punched in the key-code and Lucas dashed in sweeping the area. I tapped him on the shoulder and saw his flashlight mount head off to clear the eastern wing. I heard the door shut behind me and felt a tap on my own shoulder. Sam headed to the western wing as I made my way upstairs.

 

We then reconvened in the parlor to clear the basement, backyard, and dock.

 

The whole process took eight minutes. At every point at least one of us had a line of sight to the vehicles.

 

At the end, the sound died and we took up position one man prone on the front porch and two flanking the sides of the house.

 

Sam and I held our position with our sidearms at the ready as Lucas escorted the Doctor, the Sheriff, and our two civvie comrades to the door.

 

Once inside the rustic wood-paneled lodge with its gentleman hunter’s decor we felt the comedy of contrasts and laughed.

“That is one hell of an ADT system,” Fabre remarked.

Meeting

 

It was cold, and there was that pine dampness to contend with. I was glad that our guests were too stunned for words. I didn’t like talking while I worked.

 

Having carried the logs from the basement to the hearth I proceeded to light them.

 

“Don’t you boys have central heating?”

 

“It ain’t enough on a night like this,” Sam answered for me knowing my disdain for conversation during activity.

 

Luckadoo’s lodge was large. We sat in one of the most impressive rooms. The ceiling stretched twenty feet overhead. Five feet above the Buck’s head above the fireplace. There were the obligatory fox hunt paintings and animal skins about. Bespeaking the English pretensions of the moneyed classes of the region. Though, come to think of it Luckadoo actually was a Limey.

 

With the aid of a bit of kerosene, a roaring flame brought a humanizing cheer to the somber masculine poshness of the room. Our guests were sat in great mahogany leather chairs, while we occupied an assortment of beanbags and lazy-boy’s that we’d brought to keep the antique, haunted vibe of the place from overwhelming us.

 

I reached under my seat and produced a flask.

 

“Jesus,” Officer Fabre chuckled. “A flask for every occasion? How many of them things do you got?”

 

“You’d better be glad he has those. You should see him Au natural. Patience was never a virtue for Alan Baird.”

 

I always felt that people overstated the ‘problem’ with my temper. I simply had no use for the excesses and liberties most people thought normal. Generally, I’d let them know nicely, the first time.

 

“Oh, come on now, I’m a regular sweetheart,” I protested. “In fact, how about I get everyone a round.”

 

“A round of what?” The Doctor inquired.

 

“A round you’ll like,” I said rising to my feet and making my way towards the kitchen.

 

“Alan never disappoints in spiritual matters.” I heard Lucas say with a chuckle as I rounded the corner.

 

Almost immediately the voices of guests and companions alike were muted. Replaced by an eerie sort of silence broken only by the muffled cry of a nearby owl. The place was a nightmare from a security standpoint.

 

A coked up sorority with air horns for shoes wouldn’t be any less stealthy than a SEAL team. The stolid nature of the log and stone made the transmission of sound a near impossibility. It was preternaturally quiet. Like being in a well-appointed sensory deprivation chamber.

 

It got unnerving from time to time. Which is why I was glad for our motion sensors. But the two boffins we’d taken on board had forced me to minimize its use or risk another round of false alarms. I really wished that they weren’t high all the time. But I suppose that was part of the project.

 

Yeah, I’d bet we’d have caught our French friend if I hadn’t dispensed with arming the thing. Though I’m glad we hadn’t. This present situation was far less awkward than having to phone Langley. I might still have to make the report.

 

Despite the size of the kitchen it was as cluttered as the comically tiny one in the apartment I’d grown up in. None of us had the time or inclination to do much dishwashing. I really didn’t mind mess except that mess made it hard to know if something had been tampered with.

 

As I turned on the light and saw a few woodland roaches scatter over greasy pans I couldn’t help but feel that something was off.

 

I shrugged away the sensation as I stepped behind my minibar. I wasn’t an expert mixologist. I really didn’t care for overzealous bartending. A mint leaf here, a dash of vodka there, a good ice ratio… Really all the magic you need, provided that you were serving up the good stuff.

 

After pausing for a moment I headed to the fridge. A couple of beers or so would probably be welcome.

 

As I carried the tray out the door I could have sworn I heard footsteps. I paused to listen. It was probably my imagination.

 

As I headed towards the parlor I heard the unmistakable sound of falling silverware. I continued on my way as if I hadn’t noticed.

 

My friends were chatting merrily amongst themselves as I set the tray on a round oak table beneath a Tiffany lamp.

 

“Ach!” I said in as loud a voice as naturalness would allow, “Ach! I forgot the chasers!”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it, that looks fine enough.” The doctor offered.

 

I shook my head and tapped Lucas thrice on the shoulder. He rose and produced something from behind a bookshelf.

 

Our guests picked up the funky vibe.

 

“Act natural,” I mouthed.

 

“Yeah, I always forget the damned chasers,” I said loudly as the conversation around me recommenced. “Hey, Lucas come help me carry the damned things. That’s the trouble I tell ya…”

 

As we approached the kitchen I switched to a no less enthusiastic but somewhat more subdued volume. “Yeah, how did you like that plum stuff from Serbia?”

 

“Was alright,” Lucas said just as we reached the door.

 

“Here try a shot of this before I put it back,” I announced. Pausing to listen.

 

I didn’t have to listen very long, for the sound of someone trying to open the kitchen door that led outside. A kitchen door with no keyhole controlled from a keypad in the hall.

 

Lucas handed me a small dark green cylinder. I removed the pin, and ever so lightly rolled it in the direction of the kitchen’s sole egress.

 

We moved away. As far away as we could. But not so far that we couldn’t hear coughing and swearing.

 

Lungful of Bees

 

I punched in the code on the keypad in the hall. The kitchen door swung open and we waited nearly a minute for the smoke to clear. There was still some irritant.

 

Our intruder was a big fellow but something in the shock of burgundy hair bespoke youth. He was doubled over the sink. His hands clattering blindly over unwashed dishes searching for the faucet handle.

 

“Looks like he’s found his way to the world’s shittiest eyewash station.” I chuckled between coughs.

 

We’d gone retro. Hell, this wasn’t even strictly legal and we should be wearing masks. It was my decision, I really hated trespassers, but I somewhat softened when that red, swollen face, turned round to try and look at me.

 

“It burns! It burns deep.” He said with a disturbing hoarseness.

 

“Jesus, Alan, Jesus, why did you pick CS, that kind… hell where did you get it?”

 

We’d run back out into the hall. It was horrid. I’d let zeal get the best of me.

 

“Hey, it was an option, I don’t ask questions, I wasn’t expecting to use this shit on civilians.”

 

“How do you know he’s a civ? And shit that doesn’t even make sense. Domestic enforcement only Alan.”

 

“He can’t be any more than twenty maybe twenty-one. His clothes reek of the hills. There’s a loophole somewhere…” I hoped. More awkward meetings with Thornton…

 

“Well, fuck, we don’t have masks, how are we gonna solve this shit.”

 

“There’s some saline in storage, we’ll grab that, but really the best thing is fresh air. It’s been about four minutes now with that door open…. Let’s take him outside. I doubt he’s gonna put up a fight.”

 

“He’s a big fucker.”

 

“Don’t be a pussy, Lucas. He’s a kid with a lungful of bees.”

 

The guy was retching now.

 

“Oh no no..buddy…this kitchen is messy enough…” I said putting a hand on his back and positioning my hips in case I had to slam the fucker.

 

He didn’t seem to put up any resistance. “Ok, kid, you’re gonna have to step out this door and get some fresh air.” I couldn’t help but cough myself. “My buddy here will wet a rag and then we’re gonna give you some saline and water for flushing.”

 

“My skin burns, everything burns….”

 

“Lucas go grab some of Graham’s clothes and that saline. Double time.”

 

He was gone.

 

The stranger just kept groaning and retching in the chill Kentucky air. The contrast was odd. Such serenity sat awkwardly against the loud and painful events of just moments ago.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder how in the hell he’d gone here. The nearest ‘road’ was fifty or so miles from here and the lake didn’t touch any property that was known to anyone save Uncle Sam, people tied up by NDA’s, and maybe a couple of venturesome hicks.

 

He was too young though.

 

I was impressed with Lucas efficiency. He was back with all the necessary things within the span of six minutes.

 

“Ok, I’m gonna need you to take off your top layers of clothing, and put on these.”

 

“I can’t see…I can’t breathe…”

 

“Strip.”

 

A jacket, a flannel, and a beanie were tossed aside.

 

“Now here’s a jug of water. Flush your eyes with it.” I said making sure his hand found the handle.

 

“Not all at once. Try to keep your eyes open…”

 

He was pouring it too quickly but I didn’t blame him.

 

“Slow down a bit…ok good…”

 

He got the idea and applied the water to his eyes in measured doses.

 

“Ok, now take some of this saline and spray it in your nose,” I said handing him a pressurized can of the stuff.

 

“Ok, now dry off with that towel. I’m going to take you to our shower, you need to run that water hot, it’s not going to be pleasant, but right now you’re soaked and it’s below freezing, so…get inside…double time…”

 

Our intruder was somewhat recovered.

 

As we stepped back into the kitchen I saw his red half shut eyes give something like a look of recognition.

 

“Doc Pierce….?” He inquired with hoarse incredulity.

Jesse

 

“O Christ, looks like you gassed Deacon Mitchum’s kid.” Pierce chuckled.

 

“What in the hell are you doin’ out here Jesse?” Officer Fabre inquired.

 

“Not now,” I said. “He needs to get warm and quick.”

 

I escorted the stricken captive up the stairs.

 

“I ain’t gonna bathe you, the water is probably gonna irritate your skin at first, but the steam will do good for your mucous membranes. We made sure to have hot fucking water. So you’re in luck. I think you can find your way back down to the living room and back down the stairs. We know who you are now and I could get you in a hell of a lot of trouble so there’s no point in braving the cold and runnin off. Got it kid?”

 

The ruddy faced giant just sort of nodded in a defeated way and went into the bathroom to nurse his wounds.

 

“So I guess those weren’t your boot-marks I found round the greenhouse.” I said to Fabre.

 

“O no, you won’t find trace of Philippe Fabre.”

 

“You don’t track a coonass, a coonass tracks you.” Doc Pierce enjoined.

 

“Well, whatever. In either…in both cases I ain’t too pleased. What’s that kid doin trespassing, what are you doin’ tresspassin without a warrant?”

 

“Well, this is my town.”

 

“This is outside of your jurisdiction…”

 

“Nah.”

 

I shook my head.

 

“You understand that from even a basic legal standpoint you are in the wrong. And since this is a military operation you could be in a hell of a lot of trouble.”

 

“I still don’t know what the hell this is all about. All these exotic plants, y’all are real young too, there’s no way that one is a colonel…” Fabre said pointing to Schmidt.

 

I laughed. “Nepotism.”

 

“Ain’t that just the way it always is…” Pierce affected a southern drawl.

 

“Also, we’re a bit older than we look. That’s part of the shtick. I’m twenty eight, Schmidt is thirty, Sam is twenty six, and the two boffins are also about to hit thirty rock.”

 

“Ok…so what’s all this…”

 

“Well…frankly I don’t have to tell you anything, I could hand you over, and you’d have an assful of fines and NDA’s. But that means more work for me….paperwork…so….”

I weighed my options again momentarily.

 

“So..”

 

“So it’s easier just to tell you that we’re here conducting research on behalf of Uncle Sam. I’m basically security and liaison, Schmidt is team leader, Sam is a toxicologist for DARPA, Chuck is a UC Davis botanist, and Graham is here just cause we like him and we share your approach to flaunting regulations.”

 

“That still doesn’t tell me what’s goin’ on…” Fabre said with a befuddled look.

 

“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked.

 

“You’re doing chemical research…” Doc Pierce offered.

 

“Close. The full explanation is that we’re studying the effects of various psychedelics and subliminally induced states. Along with a tad of work on understanding and neutralizing viral and bacterial agents.”

 

“So you’re a Psyops and Bio Warfare outfit…”

 

“In a manner of speaking.”

 

There was some small span of silence as the two visitors digested the information.

 

“Hold on if you’ve got the kind of clearance you say you do, and this is that kind of operation…there’s no way that top brass doesn’t already know we’re here.”

 

I chuckled. “You think we’re being surveilled?”

 

“I guarantee it. That is if you’re being honest.”

 

“Ok…so sound-weapons, leapfrog tactics, tear gas, and a greenhouse full of military grade psilocybin and nightshade on crack don’t convince you…”

 

“It’s just really out there…”

 

“Well, reality is really out there. We’re on a rock hurling itself round the sun and in the span of a few generations we’ve gone from riding four-legged animals to walking on the moon…”

“I guess it’s possible.”

 

“Damn right. But you know what’s impossible…?”

The two men humored my dramatic pause.

 

“Spying on Alan Baird.”

 

“I think you underestimate the snoopiness of your employers.” Pierce remarked.

 

“There are three things necessary to keep tabs as close as you’re suggesting. The first is manpower, the second is probable cause, and the third is technical facility.”

 

“And I’d assume that whatever Black Ops juju you’re involved with has all three in spades.”

 

“Your antique assumption of competence is charming Doc. But, the complexities and vulnerabilities of digital systems are highly exploitable. And politics has weaseled itself even further up the chain of command and past every conceivable barrier of clearance.”

 

“Politics…”

 

“Yep, case in point, take a look at Schmidtty over there…handsome ain’t he?”

 

“I don’t swing that way brother.” Fabre said.

 

“Don’t be a homophobe you know you’re a sucker for those sweet baby blues. So is Alison…”

 

“Alison?”

 

“Hey Ali! How was that trip to Malibu with….Lukey Pooohhh. DAWWWWWWW!” I said boisterously as I pretended to speak into a hidden microphone behind a tapestry. “His daddy sure has a nice little beach house doesn’t he..you spoiled fucks…”

 

“Eh, I dunno, I think you’re setting yourself up for trouble…”

 

“Oh…we would be if that was the extent of our capabilities.”

 

“Huh..”

 

“What she and the rest of the donut dippers are listening to is actually an artfully rendered loop of us acting out the sorts of things we’re supposed to be up to. She simply makes sure the charade is complete by hammering out any inconsistencies.”

 

“Hmm…”

 

“Don’t underestimate the corrupting influence of an attractive brunette in a sea of IT geeks.”

There was yet another pause as the two men took in the full weight of everything that was going on.

 

“Wait, there’s a precedent, you’re…you’re the successors of Ewen Cameron’s abortion…”

 

Calvinist Neurosis

 

The giant was really taking his sweet time. I wasn’t worried. There was no way out except to pass my line of sight. My lazy-boy was pointed to provide ample view of the stairwell.

 

We were all a bit surprised to hear Cameron’s name.

 

The fire crackled and lit tense faces.

 

“You do me a disservice doctor.”

 

“O?”

 

“Yes, I’m not presbyterian.”

 

“Come again.”

 

“Calvinists…predetermination..that’s really not my cuppa tea.”

 

“I don’t really follow…”

 

“Strength and beauty…not a bad little book…but quite ripe for perversion…”

The doctor was completely lost.

 

“Cameron’s father was a Presbyterian minister, there’s a wee book by another fellow of that denomination called Strength and Beauty.”

 

“I thought Cameron was canadian.”

 

“Scottish actually. It’s the experiments that took place in Canada.” I paused searching my mind for the name behind the book I’d just mentioned.

“…ooo that’s right the fellows name was Miller..JR..or JD something to that effect, anyway I quite fancy the thing, good advice, very elegant and cheery…but all throughout there’s that sneaky nordic sternness, a bit imbecilic, in fact I think Nietzsche called it out quite well, it is a beer soaked contentment, volkisch, daft, ponderous, German…”

 

“Cameron hated the Germans.”

 

“Yes, which I always found to be most amusing given how Teutonic a flavor his weltanschauung held.”

 

“I’m lost.”

 

“Well, the fellow had a very bizzare sort of idea of normalcy. That there were the strong healthy types suited for industrial societies and then there were the weak and maladapted most markedly displaying themselves in the German populace via aggression and the neurosis of xenophobia. It was a wonderfully Celtic inversion of Hitler’s idea. We’re the master race! No lad! You’re the

Jews!”

 

I chuckled a bit. “Yes, it would all be quiet funny if he weren’t handed so much money and authority out where the mounties roam….O My God the women in Montreal…anyway…he was very strong on the idea that everything was biological and that psychiatry should take a disciplinary approach. This led to those infamous incidents at Allan Memorial. Though honestly I’m surprised you’d heard of it.”

 

“You’d be surprised by a lot of the things I’ve heard.”

 

“Doubtless, doctor, doubtless. But yes we’re not doing anything of the sort here and I find the guilt by association offensive. Cameron was nothing but simple minded euphemism of a lobotomist living out Calvinist neurosis.”

 

“Calvinist neurosis?”

 

“Aye, think about…predetermination.. you are born damned or saved…you are born fit or unfit…your brain shape and chemistry making you either healthy or unhealthy…very little room for nuance…no free will…simply automata that must be repaired by the healthy…of course the healthy are the ones that view the world this way…which is…” I burst out laughing. “So profoundly daft that it makes me believe in God, because only the hand of something so grandiose could make creatures capable of such folly.”

 

No sooner had my fit of mirth ended then I noted a large frame at the bottom of the stairs.

 

The giants shoulders drooped and he was still miserable from my little tactical measure.

“How dare ya tak bout the Lord…” He said in a low voice.

Hyperreligiosity

 

It was the doctor’s turn to laugh. “Well, Jesse, I see your love of Shakespeare has paid off. That was pretty damned dramatic.”

 

The big oaf was momentarily embarrassed dawdling at the threshold.

 

Then a fresh burst of zeal overtook him and he rushed into the light of the fire.

 

“These, what are ya doin with these…”

 

“These what Mr. Jessup?” Doctor Pearce inquired cooly.

 

“These!…Devil worshipers…”

 

The word hung awkwardly on the air before the whole room erupted in raucous laughter. The boy’s face did bear some evidence of intelligence but his rustic accent and protestant zeal were too much for composure.

 

“I saw you, I saw you out in the woods, actin actin like like warlocks, don’t deny it, there ain’t no use, ain’t no laughin where you’re goin…”

 

We redoubled our laughter. The way that lanky Graham’s clothes straight jacked the brawny youth’s broad shoulders made his rustic preachments doubly funny.

 

“You claim that we are witches, Inquisitor!?” I said in a comically arcane English accent.

 

“No one expects the Yokel Inquisition!” Lucas caught on to the Pythonism.

 

Jesse Mitchum’s embarrassment was creeping back into his wholesome, square jawed, features.

 

“You know Jesse, in your defense, I’d believe they’re witches quicker than what they really are.”

 

“What are ya’ll doin’ out here! You’re just like old Luckadoo’s kin, wicked, wicked to the core…!”

 

“They’re soldiers, Jesse, defending America…with better life through chemistry.” The doctor announced with his characteristic acerbic sarcasm.

 

I was beginning to get curious, we rarely ventured far into the woods, and our voodoo themed ayahuasca trips were held in a root cellar. The lad struck me as a typical Methodist teetotaler and I doubted highly he was given to hallucinations. He must have seen something.

 

“Jesse,” I said, “I think that’s your name, so, Jesse, I promise you that we are way too fond of lattes and craft beer to venture too far out into these hills. Whatever you saw wasn’t us. Though I’m as curious as the hell that you’re promising me as to what you saw exactly.”

 

Our unexpected guest relaxed a little and seemed to enjoy the respect in my voice. Pearce had mentioned something to him about his study of Shakespeare. I was dealing with a budding thespian.

 

“Well..” He began.

 

I held up my hand. “Take a seat, get comfortable, do you want something to drink? I bet you’re wanting something warm?”

 

“Y’all wouldn’t happen to have some Cocoa?”

 

“O Graham has plenty of Cocoa.” Sam quipped as he did a pantomime noseful.

 

I had forgotten about Graham in all of the excitement. He hadn’t said a word since his French exchange with Office Fabre. The traces of that sardonic smirk still played in curlicues round the corners of his mouth. His eyes were distant and unpleasantly cold, mocking even…

 

I got up to fetch the cocoa partly cause Chuk had fallen asleep and I was the backup chef and partly to display the serious dose of heebie jeebies that I’d just gotten off of Graham Hoyt.

 

I wasn’t spooked easily. And while I’m not an atheist my outlook on cosmic matters is so spartan and empirical that I wouldn’t blame a body for thinking that I were. There was something about that look and the whole atmosphere around Hoyt, the suddenness of the shift from his vivacious Etruscan chattiness to this brooding haughtiness, that reached down into my guts and broke my skin out in goosebumps.

While I was getting the powder from the cabinet above the microwave I felt a command.

 

Look out the window.

 

It was very stern. It was impossible to resist the compulsion. I looked and I froze.

 

There out beyond the dock in the midst of the cold mountain lake were lights. Fantastic lights of various hues, violet, green, crimson, deep blue. They appeared as orbs glowing with a ferocious luminosity and doing a sort of rhythmic rearrangement round some spot. There was a strong sense of intelligence and intent.

 

“Hey, hey Baird, hey what’s taking so long I’m keen to hear what this yahoo has to say.”

 

I couldn’t look away or say anything.

 

“Hey!”

 

I managed to mumble with a slurred sort of awe, past whatever was keeping my jaw from

working, like speaking through a straw… “Look, there…”

 

For some reason it was damnably difficult to get my arm to move so I could point.

 

Schmidt slapped me on the back. “You gotta cool it with the boozin man, you’re slurring like a motherfucker.”

 

This brought me back into a fuller control of my faculties.

 

“Hey, hey! Look out the damned window asshole!” I yelled.

 

There was a pause.

 

“Uh…at what…”

 

“Don’t you see the lights…”

 

But there was nothing but darkness now.

 

“Have you been microdosing again?”

 

“No, holy shit, you can’t tell me you didn’t see that…”

 

“Dude, my last liver workup looked like a Merck catalogue, I see shit all the time. But there’s nothing out there but owl shit and darkness at the moment. I promise you.”

 

“Well fuck…”

 

“You alright man,”

 

“Yea, yeah.” I said as I put the milk in a clumsily rinsed kettle.

Stories

 

I handed the chocolaty concoction to our stricken friend, whose voice, and redness of features still bore witness of his recent ordeal.

 

Lucas and I sat down and everyone was quiet for a bit. I could see several heads nodding as if they were about to fall into a dream. The hour was of course by now quite late. Maybe I should have chosen coffee over alcohol.

 

Eventually, Lucas looking at Jesse, spoke up, “Looks like Alan’s caught your mood.”

 

“Whaddaya mean?”

 

“I mean he’s seeing stuff too. Just said something about lights out on the lake.”

 

“You saw ‘em too!”

 

I nodded.

 

“I tell ya, they called them up, called them up right up out of the lake! I saw them with their gizmo out at da rocks about a mile from here. The look of ‘em, I nearly hollered, I nearly ran back home, and woulda too if it hadn’t been for that mut…”

“Hold on, hold on, Jesse. Let’s start things from the beginning. How did you end up out here? This area technically doesn’t exist.”

 

There was a pause as the rustic gathered his thoughts.

 

“Me n Jumper were trackin pigs. I almost was on top of em too but the dog was acting up, getting goofy in steps, like somethin had grabbed a hold of his brains, anyway, I could hear em snorting just a few yards away, then suddenly he yelped and jetted off deep deep into the woods, headin west from what I remember.”

 

“Yeah, we’re more or less sixy miles west of Foley.”

 

“Sixty miles…! No, no way, I wasn’t a walkin’ for longer than an hour and had been trackin maybe since three in the afternoon.”

 

“Hmm…well did you drive up to Totten’s cabin like usual?”

 

“Yea.”

 

“Well that’s twenty miles west of Foley.”

 

“There ain’t no way that I walked longer than a couple of miles before I saw em….”

 

“Maybe so, but what happened afterwards….”

 

I was getting annoyed.

 

“Ok, hold on! Like I was saying let’s keep things chronological…so, you were out pig hunting, your dog freaked out, and you saw them…”

 

The giant hunter paused again to find his place in the story.

 

“…yea so Jumper ran off, and that’s Totten’s favorite dog, and he’d have my hide if I lost him. So I gave up the pigs which were spooked by his antics anyhow and I chased that damned mut. It wasn’t hard cause he would pause every once in a while and turn in weird little circles, like he was trying to make up his mind on somethin. But…whenever I was on top of him he shot off again, always headin west, I always keep my GPS and compass on me, direct beeline west.”

 

He sipped the cocoa for a while, obviously enjoying it, letting the steam soothe away the trace of CS. I grinned as he shot me a venomous look.

 

‘Hey, if you trespass on private land in Appalachian hills…tear gas is probably the best outcome…’ I thought to myself.

 

“It was pretty soon that I realized that this was the way to old Luckadoos lodge.”

 

“How do you know about Luckadoo? About this place?”

 

Pierce burst out in a chuckle. “That porch mason!”

 

“Huh…?”

 

“Deacon Mitchum…that’s the connection to spooky Doo. He was never well liked by the brothers here and the Deacon aimed to find out what the hell that icy Brit was doin’ in Foley. Jesse’s dad is real good at ingratiating himself, he even broke down the batards classic English reserve. God, this must have been years ago though.”

 

“I was about six at the time that dad n me were invited out here for a turkey shoot.”

 

“God, William must have been ancient, if you were six, what’s that 2003, he must have been nearing eighty, hell ninety, no no, he was about the same age at the time as Lord Russell was when he passed, three years shy of a hundred.”

 

“Well, he didn’t look much older than Officer Fabre over there…” Jesse interjected.

 

“Really! I’ve been practicing here since 78 and he was already getting grey then.”

 

“Well, there was a touch of grey in the hair.”

 

“A touch! The man you saw wasn’t Luckadoo!”

 

“Oh, yeah, now I remember that was Mr. Luckadoos son.”

 

“Ah! Of course 2003 is when Luckadoo died and his slacker son took over the estate.”

 

“Yeah, he was talking about plans of turning this into a huntin’ resort with discounts for the locals. He was real nice. But my dad kept on tellin’ me stories bout that whole clan, said they was no good, involved with some business havin to do with some kinda Dawn back in England or somethin, anyhow..”

 

“Discounts for the locals, old bastard musta turned in his grave twice.”

 

I recalled the man I’d met when Thornton was negotiating to have us sequestered here. The land, the lake, and the lodge didn’t see the plans the squire imagined. There was a provision in the will which he found distasteful. But duty was duty and the only protest Thornton recalled from the heir was a furrowed brow as the land was publicly noted to have been placed in the care of ‘The Army Corps of Engineers.’

 

Classic DARPA shenanigans. But, that was the funny thing. There was no need for the son to know anything about the real intent of the land, the real reason for all the NDA’s. God! I’d never thought about it. Why did Lucas and I have to meet Henry? Now that I thought about it, it was almost like we were reporting to him, Thornton too..I’d never seen a subservient side of him before. What was this…and NASA…?

 

“Ok, ok!” I said as annoyance broke me out of my reverie. “So, you knew about this place, had been here before, and ended up heading in this direction looking for a dog you’d borrowed, then you saw something…”

 

“Yea, yea, then I saw them…”

 

His eyes turned distant.

 

“Them…?”

Cosmic Dial

 

Jesse’s eyes darted around the room. He seemed reticent on the matter, which was odd given how eager he had been to implicate us as whatever supposed villains he’d seen.

 

“Well…” I said, drumming my fingers impatiently on a mahogany table.

 

“There were five of ‘em, or at least I think so, ‘it’s all real hazy, two real tall ones in hats with big brims, so I couldn’t make out the face, and three guys in khakis and golfing shirts.”

 

“Khakis and golfing shirts, truly Satanic…” Lucas quipped.

 

“Anyway they looked like foreigners and they were strong, big guys, crew cuts, two was carrying cases and backpacks and one was carrying’ some kinda rope.”

 

“Maybe Thornton is into BDSM. He does always say he’s tied up…” Chuck guffawed.

 

“Shh…I wanna hear this…”

 

“Well I must followed em for about forty minutes or so, I made sure to stay back far…far…I didn’t’ like the look of them tall ones with the hats, somethin’ was wrong with their hands, though I was too far away to tell wut.”

 

He seemed to have a hard time recollecting.

 

“Then I saw ‘em come to some kinda clearing with a buncha granite and such in it. They dropped all their stuff and started setting up somethin’. The guy with the rope tied it around three trees into a triangle and the two tall ones stood in the center of it, back to back.”

 

“Sounds like some high caliber LARPING.” Sam couldn’t help himself. “Didn’t you once go dumpster diving with a chub that was into all that Wicca shit?” He asked looking at Graham who was as creepy and unresponsive as he’d been for the past four hours.

 

“Sam, shut your fucking mouth, I don’t get to hear bullshit this good very often.” Lucas said.

“It ain’t bullcrap, it ain’t, I saw it, I swear, one o the tall ones pointed an arm straight down in a perfect kinda angle the other raised his and bent it at the elbow kinda a pointin at the sky with the weirdest gnarled finger…then…

 

They started makin’ sounds. Weird sounds, unholy sounds, they was nothing like that I had heard before, it was a sort hum and shriek and chant all at ones, low and pulsating, the three commando looking guys had set up some kinda box with a revolving sort of stone on it, and one was holding a panel..I dunno there was a lot goin on but it was all somehow related…to them lights, cause soon, the whole place got real weird, real dizzy like, it was almost like stars and such had come to earth, it go real dark but I could still see trees n sky, n ground, and then the ground, it got all inky, n them glowing christmas lights dun sorta ooze out of em and buzz about, and in the light o that buzzin…I saw…

 

There was a long pause.

 

“You saw…”

 

“I saw the face of the tall ones under the hats, they was rong, not people faces, they had real rough looking skin, and no noses, and the eyes were large, kinda like snake eyes…”

 

“Then I saw it look at me, and ….”

This time the pause was uncomfortably long. More than eight minutes of silence interspersed with prodding.

 

“Ok, so how did you end up in the Lodge, and how did you avoid our suppressive systems? That would be the ear splitting pulse weapon we have to play with.”

 

“I don’t remember no sound except for that throbbin thing just before I dropped my gun and found myself all damp by that cold lake…”

 

“Yeah, but you got in here somehow…”

“I don’t remember…”

“Anybody leave anything open..”

 

“Thass right…! Y’all is wicked I recall now makin my way on muh hands and knees and I saw two doors open to the sky and stars…”

 

“The root cellar…” I said palming my face.

 

“I saw them pillars n skulls n runs n such yall had in there yall is wicked too.”

“It’s not what it looks like.”

 

“Government funded voodoo?” Pierce chuckled.

 

“I wouldn’t put it past ‘em.” Fabre remarked with rueful vehemence. Feijoada

Just then the television flickered on.

Stonehenge of the Amazon

 

I looked around to see who was holding the remote. Nobody seemed to. It was a repeat of the ten o’clock news.

 

At the end of the broadcast for this particular township there was a quirky little segment called:

 

“News of the Weird.”

 

That’s what was playing now.

“Well, Alison,” the anchor said, “you know that maps can be deceiving?”

 

“Whaddaya mean Pete?”

 

“Well, maps are just projections, they’re abstractions from reality suited for purposes like navigation, and oftentimes affected by the place that map makers call home.”

 

“Yeah, so…”

 

“So, did you know that Brazil is actually pretty much the same size as the United States?”

 

“Well, I know it’s big, I think it’s the biggest country in South America.”

 

“That’s right! It takes up half the continent’s land area. To give you an idea of just how big that is, the United States is 9,833,517 sq km, while Brazil is about 8,515,770 sq km.”

 

“Wow, that’s pretty close.”

 

“That’s right, and you can bet that such a big area, most of which is shrouded in thick rainforest holds many mysteries and surprises.”

 

“I don’t doubt it Pete. So I guess you musta fished something wild from the info stream?”

 

“I sure did. Take a look at this,”

 

The screen cut to an aerial video above canopy, in the midst of which was a field, and in the field were some rocks. At the periphery we could see the faint line of a river.

 

“You see Alison, yin and yang, do happen, there is a little of the bad in the good and the good in the bad, deforestation in all its destructiveness may have just presented the best case for its cessation.”

 

“O yea, how so?”

 

“What we’re looking at here is the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Amapa, more specifically the municipality of Calcoene. Here, a farmer who was clearing land for grazing stumbled upon those rocks you see.”

 

“What’s so special about those rocks?”

“Well, they’re what’s known as megaliths, giant blocks of geology arranged by ancient man for mysterious purposes. This particular arrangement is very peculiar and along with other evidence is revolutionizing the way that we look at ancient cultures. It has been dubbed the Stonehenge of the Amazon since part of the formation seems to align with the sun during the winter solstice.”

 

“Wow, that’s wild!”

 

Jung

 

Everybody was silent.

 

“Who turned on the TV?” The doctor asked.

 

No one responded.

 

“That’s funny,” I said pulling out my phone, “that formation, what did they call it…

Amazon…and then the name of that famous thing in England…uh…”

 

“Stonehenge,” Lucas responded.

 

“Yeah,” I plugged the name into my phone.

 

“Hm, well there it is.” I remarked. “Looks just like the thing in Sam’s picture….”

 

I passed the phone around.

 

Everybody’s face registered recognition besides the faces of our three guests.

Graham’s response was strongest. He seemed to exult at seeing it only to return to the offputting laconic haughtiness of the past few hours.

 

“Sam’s picture?” Fabre asked.

 

“Yeah, it’s actually why we came to town.”

 

“Huh…?”

 

“Well, part of our project here is the use of hallucinogens, chants, and archetypal imagery. We’re studying the potentialities of what Jung called the collective unconscious. Earlier this afternoon we’d been engaged in ‘fire stoking’ which is a sort of call and response according to a certain Pythagorean ratio while loaded on mushrooms and absinthe.”

 

“Far out man…” Doc Pierce quipped.

 

“…Anyway, generally, one of us is moved to some form of expression. In this iteration, Sam was the one that had felt the pull. He sketched out some kinda weird jungle scene with this jaguar lying on a stone near a megalith that looks like the one we just saw. Normally, we would record the event and match its contents with others derived from the ‘stoking’ method. We search for things like continuity and coherence. You’d be surprised at how intelligible and teasing these things are…” My eyes got a little distant.

 

“So…”

 

“Well, so this time we couldn’t record anything, cause the moment old lanky Hoyt over there got a gander at it he spazzed out. And well…you know the rest…”

Our guests took a while to process the information.

 

“I’d like to see the picture.”

 

“It’s in the den.” I said rising to fetch it.

 

Before I made my way down the stairs I rounded back to the kitchen.

 

Just as I’d thought…

 

There was Jesse’s gun. It was a revolver. Smith and Wesson model 66 with four .357 magnum bullets in the chambers. You could definitely take down a pig with this. The big gun is what had given me that off feeling after my first trip to the kitchen. I picked it up and took it with me on my journey down to the den.

 

There it was, still laying on the table beside the couches we were sitting on.

I picked it up and turned on the overhead light comparing the stone formation to the one on my phone. They were similar, but the one in the picture was a bit more polished and the pattern seemed more evocative, the jaguar was really well drawn…

 

As I re-entered the sitting room I emptied the chambers and gave Jesse back his gun.

“I don’t know you from Adam so I ain’t taking’ any chances… but I’m no thief so here’s your piece.”

The bumpkin reacquired his arms with a quiet gratitude.

 

“Here’s the picture,” I said handing it to the Doctor. “Uncanny isn’t it?”

 

The Doctor examined the picture minutely and then looked over at Sam.

 

“You’re a great artist, this is a fantastic sketch.” He remarked as he passed the picture to the officer.

Sam beamed with undisguised pride.

 

“That is so strange! It is very much like that thing on TV we just saw…” Officer Fabre very nearly shouted, “To have that play just now, was it a tape or an internet clip, I did see that commercial….who turned on the TV….?”

 

None of us knew the answer.

 

“So what was this you were saying about Jung?” Doc Pearce inquired.

 

Dee

 

I don’t think that I’ll ever truly believe it. Believe anything that happened in the coming years but I think this was where I touched the cusp of something bordering on faith.

 

There was nothing. Nothing in what we were doing aside from the practicable psychological insight gleaned from what was for lack of a better word ‘the unconscious.’ The purpose was clear and determinedly martial in aspect.

 

We wanted to gain mastery of certain shadows and drives to help steer our nation and the world toward a better future. But there was certainly no actual magic, no actual divinity, just animal impressions that need to be harnessed and understood.

 

Yet here I was starting to get touched by it. It was like an infection and there were too many things to deny. But what’s the use of taking on undeniable things that make no sense? What are you even on about at that point?

 

I took a swig.

 

“Well, really we view him as part of a procession. A certain lineage beginning with Hermes Trismegistus, titrating into John Dee, and finally in the age of Aquarius forming the more tangible 20th century psychoanalyst.”

“Oh, and what does all that have to do with the United States military?”

 

“Well..it’s a way for folk like us to earn a salary..but really I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to know…you’re going to be dead soon…and no one is going to believe or care if you talk…we consider ourselves shepherds.”

 

“Shepherds…eh?”

 

“Yes, shepherds tasked with the most bizzare and psychedelic sort of sheep one can imagine: humans.”

 

“That’s a bit Orwellian.”

 

“Oh, we know, but what’s the alternative? Entropy is the state of nature and idiots in the original greek sense, sated by bread and circus, will never assume the full responsibility of citizenship, the history of education bears this out.”

 

“So you don’t subscribe to the Jeffersonian ideal?”

 

“I do, I do think it important to inform, but informing, educating, these things are slow, and in the meantime we’ve had monarchs, and warlords, and Nazis, and we’re not keen on that sort of thing, you see.”

 

“So what does all this voodoo have to with any of what you’re proposing?”

 

“Well, human beings are not rational animals, not truly rational, no, the chief mechanic of our reason is analogy. The most powerful analogies are mythological in nature and there are all sorts of associations wrought through myth and various esoterica that drive to the heart of humanity. In weeding out exactly which myths, which fears, which hopes, are most efficacious we can use that knowledge to help steer the human enterprise towards a more promising future.”

 

The doctor laughed. “Better life through magic….?”

 

“And what if what you’re doing evil!” Jesse interjected.

 

Lucas responded with a verse: “Now in a great house, there are not only golden and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen; and some indeed unto honor, but some unto dishonor. ..”

 

“Indeed,” I assented, “and I’m still uncertain of who is the earthen vessel. One could argue that the

Methodists and the rest of the moral majority are quite hellbound. Living lives of excess luxury and pharisaical disdain off the labor of Chinese peasants and a rapacious foreign policy sounds far more wicked than any grimoire Crowley could have compiled.”

 

Graham rose from his seat and wordlessly left the room.

 

There was an awkward silence.

 

“Should we follow him?” Fabre asked.

 

“Well, he might have just gone to the bathroom. Let’s see if he comes back.”

 

The Cambridge Gable Scene

 

It was kind of funny. He just stood there holding the record.

 

“Uh, what’s up there Hoyt?”

 

Wordlessly, he traversed the floor to the record player he’d set up. He put the record on. With his finger still on the play button he said, “I want you to listen to this. I want you to listen to this in its entirety. Then, we can talk.”

 

“Errr….ok…” Lucas assented.

 

We heard the click of the button.

 

At first there was nothing but a faint crackle. The recording must be fairly old.

 

Then a voice, sort of deep and dreamy, with an English accent, “Threes, and threes, and symmetries, folded here amongst the trees, whose roots run deep, let us attend and keep, the royal trane, pierce the veil of the mundane, drink deep from cup, and let’s go up!”

 

There was a moments crackly silence and then a resounding gong.

 

Then a woman’s voice, also British, “This cup is said to hold our dreams, but they are not they are realer things, then the paltry schemes of geometry, bless and drink, with threes to free!”

 

There was something like the faint sound of slurping but mostly silence.

“Now laying back upon the velveteen divans we dream realities in lucidities of how reality most true belongs.”

 

There was a long silence. As per Graham’s instruction no one interrupted.

 

Then the deep voice again except less dreamy. “Cambridge Gable Scene, October twenty-mato grosso second, Nineteen Sixty Seven, meeting two hundred and eleven, the fifth delivery.”

 

Silence again.

 

“What tale brother, what tale do you carry, what story in the house of ought and was, have you acquired? Tell now, tell now, for it is most pressing, most required.” It was a different woman this time though no less British.

 

I’d heard Cambridge, so by this point, I had figured that this was somewhere on that campus in England. Probably one of those little psychedelic clubs that had sprung up like weeds round that time. I held off on inquiring as per Graham’s request.

 

“I have dreamt of a strange reality, and now recount, what’s been seen, from divine vantage post trekking up the holy mount.”

 

“Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell,” Came seven different voice in responsorial refrain.

 

“I’d awoken amongst a great leafy mess. All about me were strange primeval huts and a sort of garret. There was the impression of roads intersecting into the clearing of the vast forest I found myself in. Some primitive approached me. He was apparelled in the head and coat of a jaguar.

 

Now I noticed that all round us were many men and women of as a primitive a race as this their apparent chief who stood before me. He gazed into my eyes in a laughing sort of way as the lyric and highly musical chants of his subjects caressed our ears.

 

Then it was that I conceived him as a vast bipedal jaguar with great yellow eyes. And the whole scene shifted.

 

I felt as a thought, rather than heard, the instruction. ‘This is how it was.’

 

I was standing in a vast city amongst citizens who strode it’s smoothly cobbled pavement utterly unshod. They were apparelled in light blue tunics that truncated just above the knee. In appearance they seemed to be an odd admixture of races though the features were primarily European. The general color of their heads was a sort of reddish brown.

 

Great lights would ascend and descend in plazas and atop great pyramids in the mesoamerican style. The general atmosphere was one of mellow ecstasy. Everyone seemed to be engaged in some vast purpose but without hurry or any of the usual trepidations of responsibility.”

Then the thought voice came again, “Then came the El.”

 

Again the universe shifted though not as dramatically. I was still in the same strange hoary city. There were however a myriad of subtle and not so subtle differences. The streets were rougher, the tunics were some sort of tribal wear, and there was a sick feeling of fear in the air. The atmosphere was so oppressive in some unidentifiable sense that I nearly wept.

 

I also noted that not only had the lights stopped ascending and descending but mixed in with the odd heterogeneous folk of the city were beings of the most repellent aspect. Some were like vast anthropoid lizards with sickly cunning serpent eyes, others were like malnourished men of diminutive stature. The latter walked beside official looking persons, seemingly instructing them, I say this because the officials would nod, and the ghastly things would point with their strange, grey, thin limbs.

 

I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. It seemed that something had felt my revulsion and decided on mercy. I was again sitting in the jungle clearing that I’d first found myself in. Though this time there were no people. There was only a large black jaguar, dreaming, with half open eyes atop a stone in front of me.

 

The thought voice came again.

 

‘You have seen what some in your Kalpa have called Agartha though of course it is not in the center of the Earth! Yes, you have seen the coming of the El you have seen them the mechanics of Set who affixes spirit into matter. They have rebelled against their purpose and whispered strange things to your ancestors. A promise was made, a promise of false immortality, as if physic was so grand a thing, that one would wish dust to remain animate forever…!!??? The promise is of course sealed in electric blood, this gravity, the resultant black hole to put it in a metaphor more graspable for your primitive sorcerers brain, has set your story on its current trajectory. You must make a record of our meeting. For there is a purpose in this that is beyond your span.’

 

And so it was that I awoke upon the divan.

 

“Heard, heard, heard, heard, heard, heard, heard,” again came the seven voice in responsorial refrain.

 

Itinerary

 

Graham stopped the recording here and returned to his seat.

 

We were all waiting for some kind of explanation. It never came.

 

“Uh…Hoyt? What was that about?”

 

“Well, isn’t it obvious!” Graham snapped.

 

“No.” I said wryly.

 

“We have to go to Brazil!”

 

He said it with such certitude that we couldn’t help but chuckle.

 

“What’s so funny!” Graham demanded. “The thing is clear as day! He’s drawn it!” He expostulate pointing a finger at Sam. “He’s drawn it and whatever had a hold of me earlier has even played the Tele for us! And about…what…about bloody Brazil…so we have to go…and soon…because…because…” He was kind of breathless. Sinking back into the mahogany leather he released strange little wheezes.

 

I was about to ask if he was alright but his former odd placidity returned right as I opened my mouth.

 

We all waited for him to continue building his case for a trip to Brazil. It never came.

“The Tele…?” Lucas inquired. “Bloody…? Have you been watching too much Top Gear again?”

 

Yeah, I thought to myself. It was a really odd word choice for our all American giant.

 

“Look…” Graham said palming his face. “Look, the thing’s thrown itself on us…Unification…the answer…don’t tell me this dream hasn’t been peeking through our dim eaves…tapping…trying to get our attention…and finally a word slips through..and you would all align in denial. What utter claptrap, what nonsense, you..you Philistines!”

“Relax man, relax, I’m not against going to Brazil, but there’s no way we’re going to just up and fly on your word. Thornton wouldn’t have it. There’s so much volatile stuff on site. We need adequate reason. So you’d better get a grip and elaborate. Else, we go nowhere…” I stated firmly.

 

“We’ll have to begin in Cuiaba. It will all fall into place there. That’s where it will make sense…”

 

“It has to make sense now, Graham.” Lucas interjected.

 

“Alright! Look…what was that newscaster talking about?”

 

I’d almost forgotten about the ‘News of the Weird’ segment that had come on the ‘tele.’ This reminder led me to recall the record that had just played. It was very strange how things kept slipping back out of my conscious attention. Then again I had been drinking and awake for nearly a day now.

 

“So what was that a recording of anyway?” I asked.

 

“I’ll get to that! But look I don’t think I have to. They turned on the television! You saw it. You were all here. You were privy!”

 

His eyes were alight with indignation.

 

“Amapa! Calcoene! Amazon stonehenge! What does it suggest you utter Pillocks?! Eh….”

We all just stared. His voice was becoming more foreign by the minute. The usual mellow tenor was too crisp…

“No takers?! Figures, thick, thick as the Styx. BRAZIL! BRAZIL! BRAZIL! The jaguar in Sam’s picture what was it next to? Monoliths right…what was on the Tele…monoliths…right…hmmm….yes…?!”

 

“Sure. But what would we do there? What’s the MO? You know Thornton’s ‘operating definitions.’”

 

“You understand it would all end there right. All these little Physics right! Hmm…no..no…much too thick…like tar they are…boggy sodding fuck…right…yea..gotta make them see..eh…got to…ok I’ll tell you what…hmm mmm o mmmm,” He was teetering under his breath, “I will…so you have to see for yourselves… a trip to the Shuttle then. Now!”

 

‘The Shuttle’ was our ‘place and setting’ it was where we did our transcendental work. I wasn’t about to go there on a whim.

 

“We’re not moving till you explain what that record was.”

“Look…I uh…oooo…I have to piss….!” He sprang up from his seat and was gone.

 

We were all dumbfounded. No one spoke. Fortunately it wasn’t terribly long before he returned.

 

“I don’t know what that record is! He cried. I just know the vision I know the voice. It’s….it’s something of my late uncle’s something my father left me when he died. I’d always been told to stay clear of uncle Henry. He was the black sheep of the clan you see. Got into some kind of trouble thieving some sort of thing from the Museum of London. Bad reputation..bad…always up to something..always stoned..but there’s this record which I’ve played only once before..sounded like utter gibberish at the time…but now it all makes sense…I’m glad I kept it out of interest out of filial duty. Now we know…we know…”

 

“We know what exactly?”

 

I was still confused.

 

He was still standing at the threshold to the sitting room. Gently swaying like a drunk but with more rhythm. Given his height the motion had a strange serpentine sinuous sort of quality. I actually think I’d seen my autistic nephew do something similar.

 

“We know that we must go to Brazil! To Cuiaba! We must go: and this is how you will explain it to Thornton. We must go because there is medicine there and an academic who will know exactly what we’re on about! Name’s Senor Palis! He’ll be thrilled to see this….”

 

Graham crossed the floor to the record player, picked up the sleeve from the record he’d put on, and produced from it a sheet of yellow paper. Holding it aloft dramatically he scanned our faces with searching eyes.

 

“Uh…and what is that ya got there…”

 

“The map.”

 

“Yar!” Lucas screamed.

 

I caught his gist.

“Is that wher da gol doobloons lie!”

 

Graham was surprisingly nonplussed given his recent raving.

 

“Well, the city this leads to was reputed to have been built from gold.”

 

“The old Eldorado gag…” Chuck snorted derisively.

 

“Fact and fiction often intermingle, especially in very old matters.” Graham replied matter of factly.

 

“Let me see the map.” Doctor Pierce chimed in.

 

Graham handed him the map, “Be careful, even though it’s a copy, it is a hundred and thirty years old.”

 

“Hmm…” Pierce exhaled examining the document.

 

“It’s a very localized map. Obviously showing some tributary of the Amazon. If I had to guess this is somewhere in the south-west, probably near Bolivia.”

 

“Aha, that’s exactly where it is.”

 

“Mmmhmm…I guess you were right about fact and fiction often mixing. The reason I’m able to offer that up is boyhood reading. There was a series of adventure magazines that my father had delivered to Boston in order to encourage literacy. That area was the setting of a sboston brogue accenterial fictionalization in ‘Intrepid’ of Henry Fawcett.”

 

Boston, so he must be some offshoot of the last of the Brahmin. His nearly British intonations were nothing like the folksy brogue typical of the region. This fresh factoid accounted spectacularly for much of his demeanor.

 

I noticed that my eyelids were very heavy.

 

“We may very well find Fawcett, or his bones, there.” Graham replied.

 

“Well that would be very interesting indeed, many have tried, what makes you so sure of this map. Did it belong to Fawcett?”

 

“Hardly. It predates the man by some three hundred years.”

“Oh, and who’s map was this then, was it Friar Carvajal’s?”

 

“You have a good memory doctor, but no, this is the map my uncle nicked from the museum. The cartographer was far less public then that clergyman.”

 

“Who then?”

 

“I honestly don’t know, but my uncle was in such a great deal of trouble over what most had thought was a college prank, a man of his station and promise would usual get a lot of leeway at the time. This was not the case. Very nearly ruined the family and was a large part of the reason why my father immigrated to America.”

 

“Hm, so I’m guessing this thing was not on display. It was in an archive right?”

 

“That’s correct. He only knew of it because of his studies of ethnography. I don’t know why he actually wanted to steal it though. I am here repeating my father. He could just as easily have copied it. Or perhaps not. Very strange. Because even after posting bail my father recalls that the family home was subject to many rummagings and very grim folk would come knocking by to grill ‘mad Henry.’”

 

All this talk of lost cities and stolen maps was like something out of a storybook and I realized that I was dozing off. Whatever more we could gather wouldn’t be much good. None of us were in a state to pay attention much less to make any sort of decision.

 

I held up my hand. “Look. This is all very fascinating but I for one am tired and judging by the fact that three of you are asleep, I say we turn in, and re-examine this come morning…or afternoon.”

Graham seemed annoyed momentarily but there was a confidence to him now. I think he felt he had our interest now.

 

“Agreed.” Lucas said.

 

I got about the business of finding bunks for our guests.

 

Appalachian Morning

 

I awoke from a deep dreamless sleep to the sound of chirping birds. A sunbeam danced through the window to land on the wood panel floor. Motes of dust glimmering in its wake.

It was cold. Despite the best efforts of a powerful central heating system my lower level room fell prey to the biting sting of a Kentucky spring.

I buried my face in the pillow and pulled two thick blankets over me.

 

Lucas, Sam, and I had taken three rooms on the first floor. It was a security thing. Even though I’d rather hear an intruder than be caught off guard I’d considered moving upstairs more than once. Hot air rises and I could just picture Graham, Chuck, and our guests all warm and snug.

 

Meh…I flipped the covers off and set my fortuitously besocked feet on the chilly floor. Just like with water it’s better to dive in. I made a beeline for the kitchen.

 

As usual, I had no idea what in all solemn hell was going on, I just knew that I had to make coffee and eat something fat and now!

 

I rinsed out the dirty pot and filled it to the top. After adding the grounds and flipping the switch on I pulled the cream cheese from the fridge. Post toasting a couple of bagels to perfection I smeared thick gobs of the cheese on it. It was unholy.

 

I was always ravenous in the morning. Ravenous and cold.

 

As I turned round to head back towards the kitchen table I was surprised.

 

“Bahh…who the fuck…”

 

It took nearly a minute to recognize Officer Fabre. Slowly last night’s events crept back into my mind.

 

“Aren’t you worried about your precinct?” I asked right as I took a greedy bite of bagel.

 

“Eh…com ci com ca, in a town this size, the deputies can handle it. I told them I might be gone for a couple of days.”

 

“Really, you expected to be gone that long.”

 

“Potentially. But I am not worried about that. Right now I am worried about the crime that is my empty stomach.”

 

“You and me both,” I said between bites. “No donuts here, though…this kitchen’s only big enough for one pig.”

 

“Now where’s all that famous southern hospitality?”

“That don’t kick in till a more godly hour.” I said opening the fridge grabbing a half empty packet of cheese slice and throwing it to my guest.

 

“Uhh..thanks…”

 

“Yeah, no problem, figure it out, I need to find some damn aspirin.”

I pulled open a drawer and pulled out a couple.

 

“Jesus Christ you’re just like papa…” He said.

 

“Huh…?”

 

“You chewed them….”

“Well, yea it’s quicker that way.”

 

Officer Fabre shook his head.

 

“Aren’t you at all concerned about your liver? Dialysis isn’t fun.”

 

“Eh…I only get like this maybe once or twice a year…when I’m bored…other time I’m a real fucking Nazi just like these pills here.”

 

“Huh…”

 

“Bayer…aspirin…Nazis…and most of the year I’d put any West Coast fascist to shame with my trendy ketogenic diets and other shit.”

 

“How are you bored out here. Doing all this damned voodoo?”

 

“Well, because it’s bullshit.” I responded taking a huge swig of coffee.

 

“Come again…isn’t the government paying for this research.”

 

“Uh, yeah, it’s government sponsored bullshit.”

 

There was an odd silence.

 

“O come on…you’re a public servant as well…”

 

“Yeah, but everything that’s just happened…”

 

“Well, this stuff with Graham and the TV, etc..” It was all flooding back to me. “It’s strange, but stuff like this does happen, Jung attributed the mystic label Synchronicity to it. Dunno how it works but ehh…mostly it’s bullshit and confirmation bias. I’m not really a skeptic but I’m not really a believer either.”

 

“So you don’t believe in what you’re doing.”

 

“No, I do. I just don’t think it’s magic. I think we’re here to figure out why symbols and chemicals do what they do and then weaponize it.”

 

“You’re a creepy son of a bitch.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“It’s not a compliment.”

 

I rubbed my temples. “Look, I know you’re officer yokel… down to earth…. independent minded etc… whatever…do you understand…that…it hasn’t been much longer than a half century since people were still hanging each other…in public…with the cheering approval of the masses…who watched…it takes quite the son of a bitch to know about the mechanics of that sort of business. So yea, thanks.”

 

“Where’s the coffee cups?”

 

I pointed to the cupboard on my right and watched Fabre pour himself a cup.

He was a big guy. Probably ex-military himself.

 

“So how was the Gulf?”

 

He cocked his head. “How’d Ya know?”

“Just a guess, age, build, gait.”

 

He just kind of looked at me.

 

“So, the point of me asking was. You remember how the Iraqis or Persians or fucking whatever behaved…”

 

“Pretty damned civilized actually.”

 

“Yeah, until it came time for discipline, you recall right..”

 

“Sure, but war is war.”

 

“Peace time wasn’t much different.”

 

“I don’t know. Aren’t you the one that’s supposed to tell me to be less xenophobic whippersnapper.”

 

“Race, ethnicity, nationality, even faith, that’s not the issue. Limited resources, underdeveloped legal structures, no matter how enlightened a civilization fault lines will occur. Iraq, hell evern Afghanistan, is not as different from the United States and Western World of a few decades ago. Even though we had the enlightenment it took years for its best effects to blossom. Like I said it was only a half century or so ago that we were still hanging people publicly.”

 

“It was a little longer than that. I remember from the Academy. It was the 1930’s.”

 

“Sure, officially…in the States…”

 

“So this justifies brainwashing, manipulation…”

 

“Guidance.” I said coldly.

 

“You say tomato I say tomahto.”

 

We were silent for a bit, sipping coffee, and watching the sunlight bounce off the trees outside.

 

“So, what did Graham say to you?”

 

The officer looked a tad taken aback, it was obviously something he’d rather forget.

 

“Like I said… he told me the gator is waiting.”

 

“Ok…and what does that mean exactly.”

 

“Well…in the Bayou..when a gator crawls under your house…it’s considered a sign that someone is about to die.”

“Heh.” I chuckled. “Isn’t someone always about to die?”

 

“Yeah, but the fact that he knew about it, that he spoke Coonass…and…and…he told me about Jean.” Fabre looked so nervous that I didn’t really want to push him but curiosity got the best of me.

 

“Who’s Jean?”

 

Before he could answer, Graham, Chuck, and the Doctor all trooped into the kitchen.

“I knew I smelled Java.” Chuck said boisterously as he made a beeline for the pot.

“Dear god, I’m too old for these sorts of marathons.” Doctor Pearce remarked, popping his back.

Graham was silent, placid even, given his recent eager shenanigans, I had half expected another barrage of reasons for leaving post haste. But, they never came.

 

My headache was dissapaiting, nonetheless, I was in no mood to play chef this morning.

“Well! There’s the fridge, there’s the pot, you know what to do.” I declared and trooped off to take a hot shower.

 

On my way to the stairs, I stopped by Schmidt’s room and told him to drive the yokel back to town. He groaned but assented.

 

There was no need fo that kid to be here, there was a lot of weirdness to unravel, and he’d just further complicate matters. I was concerned he’d talk but even if he did. The Rotary club types of the town or what passed for them in Foley anyway, were all under NDA’s and already knew. For added security, I told Schmidt to scare the shit out of him on the drive back. His wry smirk was all the confirmation I needed.

 

Steam Dream

 

It was good. It was good to stave off the cold. I appreciated the steam coming from the showerhead. One hell of a water heater, one of those things that made me wonder, why someone so rich would build a place like this, in Foley…

 

The thought disappeared as I was enveloped in warmth. There were a lot of headaches ahead and I made certain to take adequate time to let my muscles relax. Bodily tension leads to mental tension which leads to fuzzy thinking. This was no time for fuzzy thinking.

I was good at this, too good, and soon dozed off.

 

The sound of running water and the pressure of the drops on my head…the warmth…I awoke under a waterfall. The sound of exotic birds echoed all around. And there was a pervasive nearly unbearable humidity.

 

I looked to my left. As the water struck stone it produced a fine steamy mist which was falling on my face. I hopped to my feet which I noticed were bare.

 

The soil was black, soft, and spongy, the air redolent with flora. Vast trees with great trunks stretched up and away on either side of the river near which I’d been napping.

 

Despite myself I knew my purpose, at least my legs did, I strode with confidence into the dark line of trees.

 

The atmosphere beneath the actual canopy was entirely different. Though I could still hear the sound of the waterfall tumbling down behind me there was a muffling effect. It was like being wrapped in some subtle sort of filter that wouldn’t permit anything inessential to enter the mind.

 

Despite the occasional cry of a bird or monkey there was a solemn sort of silence. I proceeded further into the forest my feet adept at dancing round roots and other impediments. My eyes sharp for speckled bands or leaves sitting where they should not be.

 

After some time. I came to a line of rocks pointing like fingers in every direction. Some towards the sky, some to the east, some to the west, and in the midst of these there sat a man with bronze skin. He was older and stretched in front of him was some kind of array of multi-colored strings with little knots at odd place up and down the length.

 

As I approached, the elder looked up from his work and said in a loud clear voice,

“Baird! Baird! Stop jerking off already!”

 

I thought it was odd how he sounded exactly like Sam.

 

“Baird! Thornton is on the phone.”

 

‘Oh shit.’

 

Two Pair

“Where’s your Commanding Officer?” Thornton’s distant nasally midwestern voice inquired with detached vehemence. I often pictured him sitting in some lonesome farmhouse on a dirt farm, even though his actually surroundings consisted of an array of red, green, and yellow christmas lights, broken up by buzzed or titghtly bunned heads blocking the glow of computer monitors.

 

“Had an errand to run in town.”

 

“Did he review his role before leaving?”

 

“Yes.” I answered. Thornton was referring to the ‘story consistency checks’ we’d do to make sure locals unbound by NDA’s thought that our periodic trips into town were just stops along the way between home and our relatives. We didn’t go into town very often so it worked pretty well.

 

“Purpose?”

 

“Needed a new PVC pipe, been having some plumbing issues.” I lied.

 

“Major Baird, you were provisioned with a full years supply of repair and maintenance tools and materials.”

 

He called my bluff.

 

“Alright Colonel, alright, we ran out of Jack.”

 

“You have a very interesting job, Major. Why compromise it?”

 

“Interesting! Colonel, there’s nothing out here but owl shit and ghosts and believe it or not chemistry and psychology do lose their lustre after a couple months. Even if we’re paid to trip balls. The hamsters get tired no matter how psychedelic the maze. Need the formula. The formula happens to be Jack…and we happen to be out!”

“Stop, prevaricating Major.”

 

“I was not prevaricating sir.”

 

“Did Lieutenant Monroe inform you of the purpose for this call?”

 

I looked at Sam who now that I had had time for the fog of sleep to fully dissipate, looked decidedly nervous.

“No, sir please elucidate.”

 

“There are three unauthorized parties on your premises.”

 

“Nah, Schmidt left, it’s just me Sam, Chuck, and Hoyt.”

 

“Unless you’ve grown extra legs….” Thornton let his comment trail off into the air of a sarcastic question.

 

‘Shit!’ I thought as it dawned on me. ‘Shit! The damned strips! I’d forgotten the doors were coated with electromagnetic dust. Basically an electrochemical gumshoe affair. Right now he was probably looking at a computer readout on a screen in Langley or whatever godforsaken black site he was haunting.

 

‘…wait…SHIT!’

 

“Location.”

 

“Kitchen – 3 pair, com station 2 pair, Lab – 1 pair.”

 

“Target acknowledged, standby.” I said reaching for my cell phone.

 

I tried to use the app I’d written to lock the lab door.

 

‘Localhost..80…what….’ I tried frantically to wrap my mind around it… ‘fuck’ …. nothing was working.

 

I turned to Sam. “Cover me.”

 

God damn it where was my sidearm…

 

“Fuck!” I yelled under my breath as I ran to my bedroom.

 

Grabbing the Sig from the holster I wheeled around to Sam.

 

He was just standing there unnerved.

 

“To arms man! Tallyfucking ho…come on!”

 

He just pointed upstairs with a pained expression.

 

The Lab was upstairs to avoid groundwater contamination.

 

“Fuck!” My whisper was loud. “Ok, just stay behind me, there’s only one man.”

 

“I know it’s cold, but it’s so sunny outside! We should hike to take the edge off.” I said as naturally as possible as we ascended the stairs. But no matter how artfully rendered a trick how precisely loud so as to inform but not alarm the intruder. Something to make him lay low enough to isolate, suppress, and apprehend him…it was too late.

 

I heard heavy footfalls coming towards us fast.

 

Thump, thump, thump, before I could raise my pistol in defense…before my “On the ground!” was anything more than an “Ahnn….” I felt a sharp pain in my gut, it was sickening, instantly nauseating, felt like that thing when you loop over the swing as a kid but fucking painful. I tumbled backward into Sam and we rolled down the stairs.

 

As I was getting up on my elbows and knees dry heaving, I saw a black heavy boot swinging at my face. Suddenly before the moment of truth it was yanked away. Sam had gotten the bastards leg. I was still dry heaving and couldn’t help him. As I rose to my feet I saw Monroe get a vicious kick to the shoulder and he released his grip.

 

The man who now noticed was large, unusually so, ran toward an egress that I knew was locked. ‘Gotcha bitch’ I thought to myself as I got to my feet tasting bile and readying my pistol.

He had some distance on me. But I could still hear him. As I rounded the corner to the door that led to the back porch I saw him produce something that looked like a tazer. He zapped the electric door lock and put his prodigious weight against it.

 

I could hardly believe what I was seeing. He was out the door. I fired. Missing in my pain and confusion…the bullet lodging in the doorframe.

 

“Give me the fucking gun!” Sam yelled coming up behind me.

I watched him run through the door after the man, firing carefully in doubles, but we were too late, the giant climbed into a running dark green ford sedan and was gone.

Aftermath

 

My sides were screaming and I felt nauseous.

Doc Pearce said I likely had a broken rib.

 

‘Wonderful.’

 

I was grateful for the silence in the car. It had been a couple of hours since we’d merged onto the freeway.  No one said much and I was glad. It allowed me to nurse my wound and gather my thoughts.

 

How did the bastard get in? Why? Nothing in that lab would have made much sense to anyone not directly involved in PLATO. Nor was it anything that was difficult to procure through conventional means.

 

It didn’t add up.

Apollo and Dionysus

“In the ancient near east shaving your beard was a sign of mourning.” Thornton’s reply was placid.

 

It took me a few moments to process the snark.

 

“Should we be mourning?”

 

“I’d say so, yes.”

 

“O?”

 

“You’ve suffered a loss.”

 

“We have?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What have we lost?”

 

“The PLATO project has been terminated.”

 

I exhaled.

 

“The entire operation?”

 

“The Luckadoo Site is on lockdown.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It’s been compromised.”

 

“O?”

 

He nodded.

 

“How so?”

 

“Misconduct.”

 

“O? And what’s on the naughty list?”

 

“Admitting unauthorized personnel without clearance, misappropriation of funds, breach of trust, and worst of all shenanigans.”

 

“Funny,” Schmidt interjected. “I thought that was the whole point of PLATO…shenanigans.”

 

“That’s the problem I’m afraid.” Thornton responded.

 

“What?” I queried brusquely with undisguised annoyance.

 

“You don’t seem to take your job seriously.”

 

“The hell we don’t,” I said pointing to my ribs then looking at Hoyt, “He nearly lost his mind.

 

Why…why would you even say that…? My exhaustion was getting the best of me, I seriously thought of strangling the man.

 

“Admitting unauthorized personnel without clearance, subterfuge, misappropriation of funds, breach of trust, general malarkey.”

 

“Ok, so we take a liberal approach to achieving core objectives.”

 

“It’s not liberality, not creativity that I find troubling, it’s sterility.”

 

I was getting dangerously mad. But this time I managed to control myself.

 

“Please explain.”

 

“All the crimes here,” he said tapping a finger against a stack of documents in front of him, all could be forgotten, if there was a sufficient yield.”

 

“You weren’t satisfied with our reports?”

 

“The reports are lacking and as your injury demonstrates you are clearly incapable of even basic security.”

 

I lost it.

 

“Holy shit! Holy fucking shit! Are you serious…the man fucking materialized….there’s zero, zero we could have done.”

 

Thornton’s milky blue eyes were fixed on me in that placid appraising way, for what seemed like hours, but in reality must have been mere seconds.

 

“And how did that boy make it in?”

 

I was embarrassed. I couldn’t even answer.

 

“The root cellar…” Lucas responded.

 

“Aha…” Thornton grunted, “and did you bother to shut it?”

 

‘Fuck.’

 

“So, you don’t even have the presence of mind to correct an obvious, easily mended mistake. If you were in my position would you entrust such people with a sensitive project?”

 

“Everyone makes mistakes!”

 

“Yes, but frequency and context matters.”

 

“Frequency! I just forgot to shut one of four fucking doors. One of four! Once!”

 

Thornton let me stew for a bit.

 

“Look, I know it’s easy to criticize as an outside observer. Especially as one after the fact, hindsight is 20/20, that sort of thing…however…I have to point out your trifecta of failure.”

 

“A trifecta is it!” I said flinging my water glass across the room. It hit the glass of the wall shattering into a million pieces. Fortunately the wall itself was undamaged.

 

“Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s all sort of frustrating but a trifecta it is. Three strikes. That’s why you’re out!”

 

“What…WHAT!”

 

“First, there is the matter of the officer and that boys snooping, second there is your incapacity to control your team and your fears leading you to breach protocol by seeking an outside physician, and third you can’t even shut the damn door.”

 

“Well fuck, I guess everything we’ve done is fucking worthless then, all the patents, all the strains, all the whitepapers! Two years of work! And you’re just gonna cut us off!”

 

Thornton sighed. “Temper, temper…that’s your problem..and let me ask you something….”

I raised my eyebrow in disdaining inquiry.

 

“What’s that in your jacket pocket?”

 

I hesitated.

 

“Come on what is it?”

 

I pulled out my flask.

 

“Tsk, tsk, well it’s not the worst of things. But I can’t countenance this sort of debauchery with this sort of operation.”

 

“Ah fuck it whatever,” I said taking a swig.

 

“Vicodin and alcohol are a dangerous mix.”

“I don’t give a fuck Thornton, I’m dead already, ya killed me just now, ya killed me.”

 

“Not quite, as I said this is…detention.”

 

“O?”

 

“You know who was also quiet the drinker and revler.”

 

I just stared.

 

“Dionysus.”

 

I tried to recall my Greek mythology to no avail.

 

“He is the god of ecstasy and wine. Obviously right now you are under his sway. The purpose of the upcoming interim beside tying up odds and ends is for you to regain the favor of Apollo.”

 

Fabre and the doctor looked lost. But I understood why Thornton was talking all this mysticism. A large part of PLATO had to do with researching the psychological effects of archetypes. This babble was a good sign. It was a confirmation of Thornton’s ‘detention.’ We’d resume the project.

My nerves simmered down a tad.

 

“That is why we’ve shaved you. For Apollo the god of truth, appears a youth, and does not wear a beard.”

 

“K…” I said. Trying to hurry things along. I wanted out of this meeting room now that I knew we were safe. I wanted a nap.

 

“Impatience..you see…you must gain discipline…must let wisdom in…”

 

I just stared.

 

“You boys are going to spend a fortnight in the Mojave.”

 

We all groaned collectively, knowing exactly what that meant.

 

Thornton smiled.

 

He looked at the two burly aides at his side.

“Help these gentlemen finalize their NDA’s,” he said nodding at Fabre and Doc.

 

‘Heh,’ I chuckled internally. ‘Black ops JAG officers. Probably just got done presiding over some grim tribunal just off the coast…’

 

Officer Fabre’s and Doc Pierce’s presence now made since. This meeting now made sense. I was glad to be getting a grasp on the situation.

 

I really didn’t like these JAG guys…

 

‘Eh…o well…America is fucked…but at least I’m not.’

 

Inherit the Wind

 

I scanned the horizon, photons, a gift of the brilliant noonday sun bounded of a line of low gently curving mountains into my retinas. There was exhilaration in the deep blue sky as it contrasted with the sometimes sandy, sometimes brown, earth interspersed by scraggly brush, and the occasional Joshua tree.

 

Two weeks, we would be here two weeks, and this was day three. At least it wasn’t summer.

I glanced over at my comrades. They were all wearing the same loose-fitting gray blue tunics that I was. Long sleeves, long leggings, these things offered the best protection from the fearsome star, whose rays though now cloaked by a deceptive balm of middlemarch, were nonetheless profoundly hostile to European hides.

 

We looked a bit like Eastern Ascetics. This wasn’t an accident. Our clothes were Chinese. The PRC was leading the way in desert tech. It was surprising but true. Surprising because this would be the expected forte of the Emirates or Israel but no. The pioneers lay further east.

 

The popular western conception of China doesn’t include the Gobi. We are inclined to picture bamboo forests, bustling ports, and emerald mountains. China being just slightly smaller than the United States is just as varied. There are many landscapes, many ecosystems, with widely varying weather and temperature ranges. Though a great part of the Gobi lies in Mongolia, the Chinese portion isn’t at all negligible.

 

The bustling ports of popular imagination aren’t incorrect, merely incomplete. They are the reason that China is leading the charge on desert dwelling. The reason being that these metropolises are too bustling.

Malthusian fears are common among bureaucrats. Such fears of starvation, conflict, and epidemic often lead to atrocious policies but sometimes the results are less dystopian. The idea of relieving the pressures of overpopulation by adapting to hostile environments is a laudable one.

 

It is less surprising that our climate adapted clothes came from ground zero of overpopulation given these facts. Though for now such advances were reserved for the elite there was hope that they’d ‘trickle down’ to general population.

 

I turned around. I could still see the faint glimmer in the distance. The faint glimmer came from solar panels which sat atop the subterranean compound that Thornton and a dozen or so other spooks were currently haunting.

 

We were not far from civilization at all. The nearest city was a mere forty minutes away. My drive to school from my rural Carolina backwater took longer. Though I am not at liberty to disclose the exact location even after all these years, in what’s bound by most to be interpreted as a story, I feel inclined to point out that weirdness is always closer than you suspect.

 

It was ingenious really. Hiding in plain sight. The mojave desert and the American Southwest is renowned for eccentrics. The area has drawn crackpots with more money than sense since Europeans first brought manifest destiny to the unsuspecting natives.

 

There was a nice, albeit architecturally quirky and Mojave adapted, upper middle class home right by those solar panels. I could just faintly make out the top of its low lying roof as we’d gained a few feet of elevation since departing.

 

The home was owned by a rich Swede. Eskil Engmann was the wildly successful CEO of the technical fabrics manufacturing company Wadmal, which he’d inherited from his late father. Eskil was actually eccentric. With a strong interest in Shamanism and Indian culture Engman had built the place as a retreat where he’d meditate, align his chakras, and engage in all the other tell-tale signs of soCal pseudo enlightenment.

 

In his defense he actually acted on his philanthropist inclinations. For most of the year the outpost served as a place where homeless youths were housed in the twenty or so rooms, as they underwent training to be reintegrated into society as codemonkeys and various other trendy professions.

 

He was perfect. The place was perfect. Who would suspect that a desert home owned by a secretive Swede full to the brim of Nordic reticence was a hub of black ops juju? Especially since the place was listed as a nonprofit, foundation, type of thing, so if anybody snooped, showed up physically, took aerial photos, all they’d find was troubled youths learning Java.

 

There was just one hangup, given his heavy leaning towards the passive-aggressive neoliberalism trend of recent decades, he was very leery of anything even vaguely martial.

 

Thornton, the archetypal mild mannered deceiver had gotten round this hangup by lying. According to the yarn he fed the impressionable thirty-something blonde hippy, we were codebreakers. We needed use of his grounds as a cover to fool to the Ruskies, the Chicoms, and various other enemies of yuppie sensibilities. He was made to understand that his little academy was a wonderful front that hackers would stumble onto as they were trying to ferret out our algorithms etc.

 

He bought it. He had no reason not to. He was busy saving the world. The kids were too busy trying to sneak in dope, and the instructors too engrossed by gaming to make much of the ‘maintenance crews’ that would occasionally stay for suspiciously long periods of time.

 

I really didn’t know why we were out here again. We’d already done survival training, team building exercises, and even engaged in our own classified brand of new age esoterica.

I suppose that judging by Thornton’s cryptic last words we were still in need of some of the latter.

Right as we were departing on our trek, I’d pressed him on the matter once more, all he said was:

“You’re back here to learn the other meaning of ‘inherit the wind.’”

 

‘K.’

Must be the Meds

 

There were just four of us now. Pearce, Fabre, and Graham were gone. Pearce and Fabre’s absence made perfect sense. The NDA’s finalized, there was nothing more for them to do but go back to Kentucky. Honestly, I wasn’t sure why it couldn’t have been done on site, or at least closer than Phoenix. I guess it was more dramatic or something.

 

Spook ‘em silent…

 

I was really curious about Graham though. Sure, we’d sort of grandfathered him in but he was part of the project now. Thornton knew that. He had no complaints, no grievances. It couldn’t have been cause he was a civ. Chuck was a civ and he was right beside me snoring loudly.

Which, really wasn’t an ideal soundtrack for stargazing on a desert night. Yet, despite that abominably terrestrial snoring we may as well have been on another planet – The sky was so clear.

It was exhilarating.

 

It felt like we were part of the sky. That it was enveloping us, embracing us, just like our sleeping bags. That’s exactly how it felt too. Rather than being frightening or lonesome or making one feel miniscule in the vast face of the cosmos – it felt like home, cozy, familiar, warm. We are stardust after all, comprised at least in part, of the same elements as those luminous orbs burning their way through ether a billion miles hence.

‘What’s a billion miles?’ I mused to myself, my eyes drooping despite the obnoxious noise directly to my left.

 

“What indeed!”

 

‘Woah!’ I snapped my neck to the right.

 

At first I saw nothing in the inky blackness. Then a faint glow made itself apparent. It wasn’t intrinsic to whatever it was. More like a reflection of the last dying embers of our fire bouncing off two dark orbs.

 

After a bit of squining I finally let my eyes relax.

 

Which is when I saw the outline. Two outsize ears and a funny geometric sort of face.

 

“Come with me!” It was so loud. But I realized that it wasn’t actually sound. It was like a thought in my head. Very prominent.

 

The face turned and I saw the outline of a small fox.

 

“Well!”

 

I could have sworn that the critter had stopped mid scurry just as I heard this rattling in my head.

 

“Must be the meds.” I mumbled under my breath and falling into a deep dreamless sleep.

Loyola

 

“That fuck!” I exclaimed examining the small note that had been stuffed at the bottom of the Vicodin bottle.

We were doing our mid-day reading and I was getting distracted by the gnawing pain in my ribs. It was sapping my will to live. There was no alcohol no balm save those little pills and now…

 

“That miserable…Catholic…fuck….”

 

‘A M D G’ That’s what the note read. I’d been suspicious about the lack of efficacy. I was too clear-headed and too aware of the stabbing near my lungs.

 

This confirmed it.

 

“Huh?” Lucas looked up from his copy of Aurelius.

 

“Ad majorem Dei gloriam,” I muttered ruefully.

 

Schmidt’s features contorted into a wry smile. “O Jesus! Christian Trolling…that’s the worst…especially Thornton’s brand of it.”

 

“These are fucking sugar pills!” I exclaimed downing the whole bottle.

 

“Hmmm…” Lucas said, “I dunno Baird, if your guess is wrong …what you did just there…”

 

“It’s not wrong! This is bullshit…this is his usual…Spartan bullshit….”

 

“Probably.”

 

“I fucking hate stoics…”

 

Schmidt laughed a hearty assent, “Dry cunts aren’t they?” He remarked tapping the ancient

emperors ‘Meditations.’

 

“Repackaged common sense and humble bragging fucking ugh…dudefuck…two weeks of Lent….that’s what we’re doing out here. Dry was the right word…he wants to dry us out….”

 

Lucas drew in breath sharply, he wasn’t exactly thrilled either.

 

“Yeah…but at this point, the best thing is probably to just go with it. It’s a trip in its own right.”

 

“Easy for you to say,” I remarked as I ran my fingers across my bruised ribs.

 

“Yea, that was a pretty nasty kick…”

 

Just then I remembered Sam’s clavicle.

 

I looked across the shadow of the mesa. Despite this slight darkness, I could tell his face was contorted in unmistakable misery.

 

I threw down my copy of Arrian and trooped over to Monroe.

 

“Find anything interesting in your medicine cabinet?”

 

“To the greater glory of God!” He exclaimed sarcastically miming the sign of the cross.

 

“Bastard…” I murmured.

 

It all made sense now. This was a monastic rite. Thornton often waxed poetic about the ‘exercises.’ He was a profound contradiction. Despite being mired in what most would consider to be occult.. even wicked – he remained a devout Catholic.

 

‘Inherit the wind.’ I recalled his cryptic parting words. I remembered where I’d heard that before. It was from the book of Proverbs.

 

I suppose we had ‘troubled our own houses,’ the project, our own bodies, had been terribly bothered. And this was a secularized reinvention of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. The isolation, the privation, the focus on abstracted philosophical reading, and the vision quest of ‘learning what it means to inherit the wind.’

 

This was going to be awful.

High and Dry

 

It had been a little over a week. Only five or so days of involuntary sobriety and contrived gravitas left. When we realized our predicament on the fourth or fifth day in, we were irrepressibly chatty.

Now however, there was silence. We seldom spoke or had need of speaking. The food we’d been afforded was sparse and so plain as to almost be entirely unpalatable. Sardines, unleavened bread, wild rice, and water. The salty little fish though initially delicious quickly lost their charm. There was nothing we could do about it either. Even if we had been equipped enough to hunt, game here was so rare and flighty that it wouldn’t have mattered if we were.

True, we could trek the thirty miles back to Engmann house but that meant throwing away our jobs. None of us wanted to go back to living on base waiting for Uncle Sam’s next whacky adventure.

 

So it was that we continued our trek towards that little blip on our GPS. Forty miles from Engmann house. There was supposedly a tub just sitting out there. We could have already gotten there long ago. But we were required to stop and camp every afternoon, to read old dry philosophy, to copy passages by hand, and to record our thoughts and the time that they’d occurred to us.

 

We all started seeing and hearing things fairly quickly. That’s probably one of the big reasons for our speechlessness. We were rapt up in weird melodies, voices, and films. I knew why but it didn’t help to dispel the strength of the thing.

 

Going from heavy psychedelic indulgence to absolute monastic asceticism was a sure fire way to open doors best left firmly shut. Not that they’re necessarily all wicked or bad but the strength of the things whether fair or foul put us dangerously close to cracking.

 

I could swear that the little kit fox I’d glimpse all those nights ago was following us. Most of the time I could feel it rather than see it. When I’d wheel around I’d see something matching its description but then it disappeared leaving me wondering if it was a trick of the light.

 

Each encounter was always paired with the thought ‘one breath, one pulse.’ There was nothing associated with it beside the memory of that critter, the words, and the profound blue of the desert sky.

 

We were within ten miles of objective. Not far to go at all. None of us showed excitement howerer. It was true that we were arriving ahead of schedule but we’d rather complete the rest of the ‘exercises’ without the monotony of walking. It had been a silent agreement. But we were far beyond excitement or anything save our lown luminous thoughts that glowed as bright as the fearsome mighty sun seated regal on its azure throne.

 

As noon approached I saw it. At first a distant speck on the horizon, with each step of my feet, or something that rather felt more akin to floating, it grew more distinct till I perceived the outline of a bronze coloured antique tub. Next to it was what looked like some sort of sign which I couldn’t read until we were right on the thing.

 

The thing was riddled with holes. Sitting there in the midst of absolute nothing was this antique rusted tub with its little Victorian feet.

The wind whistled strangely through the perforations.

 

The sign that had till known remained illegible was a rustic wooden affair, with a thin velvet scrawl that read, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’

 

None of us laughed.

One Dream

 

We dumped our gear all around the weird antique and set up our shade. The last few days were listless. Reading, dreaming, and silence, that was the trip.

 

Each night we spent round the hole ridden tub. Impelled to be as near the thing as possible. Our four sleeping bags formed a neat little semi-circle round it.

 

I imagine that if someone had happened to fly by overhead they’d have thunk they’d stumbled across some weird desert flower.

 

It was the whistling that did it. There was something in it. Some unspeakable allure.

 

We hardly ate, and finished our daily assignments with desperate haste. All in the interest of laying round the brass flute and listening to its strange music. Drifting in and out of a bottomless somnolence that would take us from mid afternoon on through to dawn.

 

I don’t remember what it was I’d dreamed. But I know it was profound. The memory of something monumentally important, something fundamental, still tickles the periphery of my conscience.

 

I do remember one dream, or whatever it was.

 

The fox came by on the second to last day just as evening had settled and just layed there a few paces off. Regarding us in its Sphinx like way.

 

I don’t know if any of the others had seen it. As I’ve said we hadn’t spoken for days and seeing this familiar apparition was no cause for comment.

 

Then it spoke. It spoke as it had before, not aloud, but sort of in my head.

 

‘Pretty aren’t they?’

‘I suppose so,’ I answered. I knew the creature was referring to chromatic light show that wove its way in and out of the holes with the wind.

‘Yea, one and the same.’

 

‘What?’ I asked.

 

‘Well all of it really.’

 

‘O god, this old schtick! I thought I was past this mawkish infantile unity bit. Can’t I dream better?’

 

‘You really want to be original don’t you? That’s the trouble with this crop. As if origin implies

novelty. Does that make sense you utter pillock? Does it make any shade of sense that you should come up with some profundity – something you could call original – what does original imply? It implies origin – are you the origin?’

 

‘Well in some sense there is novel authorship. So I am the origin of novelty peculiar to me.’

 

‘And what made you capable of this then? You say you are the origin…’

 

‘No, I say that I am the origin of novelty.’

 

‘But then does novelty exist separate from you? Did it exist before you existed? Or are you (laughingly) are you novelty itself?’

 

‘Yes, and no.’

 

‘Ah, don’t prevaricate. It’s all one and the same. Yes…in fact you hit it there. Yes and no. One and the same. Off or on? Hmm…?’

 

My mind was silent.

 

‘Lets have something different then. Something a bit more visceral a bit more limbic eh?’

 

With this I was back in the dreamscape of that nap. There was the old man with his strings seated by the monolith in the jungle scene. Except this time I was not the sinewy youth. I wasn’t sure what I was at first, I knew that I was looking down at the pair, and I had a sense of great height.

After a bit the youth and the old man’s chat ended. The former gathered up his strings and the pair disappeared out of my range of sight.

It was here that I’d realized I was a tree.

 

I spent some time musing about my predicament. I guess it wasn’t so bad being a tree. I felt solid.

 

And despite being unable to move I had a calming sense of motion running through the ground beneath me, beneath the ground itself, my roots had inner motion, there was no need for an extrinsic walk.

 

Then she appeared. Her hair was such a raven hue that it felt in some sense blue. She was barefoot and quiet devoid of clothes. I didn’t really feel any sort of lust. I was a tree after all. Though I did appreciate that she was beautiful and the flitting way she walked round my base was soothing.

 

She began to play a strange sort of flute. I later realized that the melody coincided with the whistling of the wind through the tub. But here in this place it was not mere whistling but the sweetest music.

 

After the tune ended, she placed the flute on the ground beside me, and disappeared back into the forest.

 

I was appreciating the warmth of the sun on my leafy crown and pondering what this all meant when I felt motion at my base. Then I had the impression of a vast speckled band writhing up my side. It wasn’t alarming, more like an embrace.

 

Suddenly, the scene shifted and I was in a very cold dim room in some rather itchy clothes.

 

Graham was seated at a table next to a window through which some dwindling sunlight aided the candle atop an antique desk. He was wearing what appeared to be colonial garb. I was confused.

 

The man that looked up looked like Graham but wasn’t Graham.

 

All he said as he slowly raised his head was, ‘Hmm, looks like it’s some manner of vine.’

 

I don’t recall anything further.

 

Pensive

 

I was glad to be rid of that blasted tunic. Its exotic charm had faded quickly. I was glad for my jeans. I was glad for the feel of the cool tumbler in my hand.

The tan liquid soothed as its familiar spiritual warmth embraced my palate. Balm was much required. The face I’d glimpsed in the bathroom mirror was not my own.

 

The eyes that peered from the gaunt brown visage shone with a luminosity that could never have been my own.

 

“What the hell do you think you know?” I mumbled sticking out my tongue at the unkempt specter staring back at me.

 

Everything seemed slow, as if it were suspended in molasses. I felt this profound sort of calm…as if

 

I were a deep and silty lake, fertile, fluid, and self contained.

 

The thing that brought the need for balm was precisely this. It produced a sort of tranquil annoyance at the pace of things.

 

I stared at the large ornate clock hanging in the middle of the lobby. It lacked a second hand. A fact that only added to my Zen ennui.

 

That hour hand would circumnavigate that disk four times before I could give Thornton a piece of my mind. It was odd. All my ‘spiritual’ or ‘philosophical’ or really whatever realizations, hallucinations…whatever they were. These were still present strongly. Still enthusing me with their tantalizing energy. Yet the mundane was so tightly coupled with these. That’s why I could hate the acrid hotel coffee more than love the grandeur of zero.

 

Zero was an Indian invention or at least is purported to be. I could see something eastern, something Hindu, being the origin. I detested Hinduism. Its caste system and obscurantism were filth that very nearly nullified the sins of the English. But, I had great love and respect for the central asian geist, the peculiar genius of that continent, and was not at all surprised that such a people would see such a magic potential in nothingness that they’d give it a name.

 

This I think was the summation of what we were supposed to realize. A sort of reorienting toward the true north of naught. Not empty in the sense of void but empty in the sense of the next second. Like the missing hand on the clock in front of me you knew it was there. You knew it in the realization of well…realization. But I digress. At this point, I at least in part fancied that I’d grasped, ‘the other meaning of inheriting the wind.’ I knew much was coming out of nothing and couldn’t wait for the nothing to unfold. So I was, pensive.

 

Yes, pensive was the proper word. And, I must have telegraphed it. A sin that I found easy to forgive myself because I swear. I swear that 48 hours was never such an aeon in the history of man.

 

They say that a billion years or some equally absurd sum is like a blink in the eye of God.

 

Well, I felt very much like something was a bit lugubrious about the normal procession of terrestrial phenomenon. Was I so full of the Spirit that my mortal coil could no longer bear the constraints of the heliocentric orbit?

 

I allowed the gauche absurdity of approaching Godhood to wash over me. I chuckled internally. Ah, the calculus of conceit! What a ready folly for the novitiate mystic…Nowhere was I nor anyone else approaching Godhood. A fact that for me was presently highlighted by my obsession with the redhead behind the counter.

 

I suppose she was more of a brunette than a redhead. Reddish brown was the color. Not that it mattered. I think that I would have been fascinated by anything female after two weeks of boys club in the Mojave. This fixation though, it was different, it was something akin to limbo.

 

As I said, I must have telegraphed it, my pensiveness, my ennui.

 

She’d done that thing. The most annoying thing that a woman can do. She’d left me hanging.

I was the liaisons officer after all. So it was no surprise that I was the only one in a state to speak after our adventure. I was the one who checked us into the hotel.

 

At first she was all smiles and intrigue at the grim faced ruffians who’d trooped through the posh hotel like so many marauding barbarians.

 

Then during the course of our brief exchange I must have said something to annoy her. Because, suddenly for no intelligible reason her effusiveness ceased. She informed me that I looked tense and in need of a drink and pointed in the direction of the bar.

 

That’s where I’d gotten the tumbler of Scotch. I think that subconsciously I was drawn in her direction. Because I left the bar to sit in the lobby. I had plausible deniability. That’s where the newspapers were. And I was in fact waiting for our contact to arrive. Yet, neither of those was the real reason.

I looked up from the corporate rag and briefly turned my eye in her direction. She was looking at me. She smile coquettishly. Or maybe it was my imagination.

 

‘Great,’ I thought to myself, ‘two days of wondering if I should fuck the receptionist.’

 

Feijoada

 

My hell was abruptly ended by a loud, “Senhor!”

 

A tall, Latin-looking fellow, seeming to be somewhere in his mid-thirties was standing directly in front of me.

 

“May I help you?”

 

“Yes, you are Senhor Baird, am I correct?”

 

“Sure, but don’t tell the authorities.”

 

The stranger laughed heartily.

 

“Very good, Senhor Baird, very good. You still have your sense of humor…that is good. But you are seeming to be missing something.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Si, that nasty drink, that will not fill you, you must eat!”

 

“I’ve never been known to pass up a meal. So are you…Professor…Böhm?”

 

“Yes! But you can call me Leo”

 

My surprise passed when I recalled how many krauts had expatriated to Brazil. What I at first thought was Spanish inflection I now recognized as Portuguese. I guess Thornton had wanted to surprise me.

 

“Ok, Leo, is that short for Leonardo?”

 

“Leandro.” Here he threw up his hands in disarming ‘Comme ci, comme ça.’

 

“But that is no matter. Leo is fine. Where are your friends?”

 

“Two are sleeping, one is at the pool, and I haven’t seen the fifth in weeks.”

“Ah, you are talking about Senhor Hoyt?”

 

“Yea,” I said, my curiosity peaking.

 

“He is in Virginia, where I stopped before I come here.”

 

“Wirklich?”

 

“OH! Deutsch?”

 

“Ein bißchen.”

 

“Ah, ok I suppose you figured out my father’s family.”

 

“Not exactly an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, so, what the hell is going on with Graham?”

 

Leo sighed. “You Americans are all business.”

 

“Maybe Thornton…” I smirked.

 

“Your friend was with Senhor Thornton, in Richmond, I could not believe what he told me…”

 

“Was he alright?”

 

“Well, yes in terms of uh…he seemed strong…but well I have always been sort of superstitious and I don’t know…he was…”

 

“Freaky?”

 

Leo laughed. “Si. I would not have said it that way but I guess so.”

 

So it seemed that Graham was still under whatever the hell spell he’d fallen into all those weeks ago.

 

“So what did he tell you that was so unbelievable?” I inquired regaining the pace of the conversation.

 

“Hmm…” the professor looked around.

 

“Hush hush?”

 

“Oh no no, nothing like that, nobody would know what to do with the information except us.”

 

“Us?”

 

“Si, but that…all of it…is sooo much information…and…you must eat! Look at you…like a skeleton. Crazy eyes too, hungry…”

 

“As I said, I’ve never been known to pass up a meal.”

 

“Excellent. It is Saturday, I will show you how Brazilians celebrate such afternoons. There is a fellow Fernando has a restaurant on Fifth Avenue just a few blocks from here, best Feijoada in the states.”

 

“I’m game.”

 

After a bit more banter I headed off to corral the other reprobates.

 

Good Food and Good Work

 

I was sated. I was overstated. So much so that I felt one with the deep brown leather of the recliner that I was occupying. We were two stuffed amorphous things merged as one. Like some sort of glutinous first world yin yang circle.

 

The rich tobacco was simultaneously soothing and oppressive. Slowly it brought me from the pits of ‘itis’ to that peculiar nicotine alertness. I suppose that was the point of an after dinner smoke. It was meant to keep the conversation going.

 

There was much to converse about. The low-lit backroom was full of expectation. Our hosts lilting Latin baritone painting wild scenes with surprising fluency. The halting, grammatically awkward, cadence of the past few hours had completely faded. As if the Professor’s brain had completed shifting gears into English.

 

“So, you see, it’s really an amazing thing. They’re all over the place. Mostly under the sea. Do you know how to dive?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“How well?”

 

“We aren’t Navy Seals but we’re certified.”

 

“Commercially?”

 

“We might be a grotesque tax funnel but we aren’t mercs.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“I’m joking, point is, yeah we’re prepared to dive, deep, long, and hard.”

 

“Giggity.” Sam enjoined.

 

“To what depth?”

 

“Beyond 130 feet.”

 

“Spectacular!”

 

We all waited to hear why this was spectacular.

 

Senhor Bohm pulled a fresh Davidoff from the humidor.

 

He had very languid, sort of fluid, movements. All the way up to that perfect snip just above the shoulder. The brisk cheery sound of a match, an arc, a draw, and an explosion of smoke all occurred with a hypnotic precision.

 

“Well, the thing is about a hundred miles off the coast of the Galapagos.”

 

“O?”

 

“Yes, the largest megalith known to man. And much besides…”

 

“Such as?”

 

Leo chuckled. “I do not like to ruin surprises.”

 

“We’re already plenty surprised.”

 

“Perhaps, but I can tell that you are skeptical about what lies in the Mato Grosso.”

 

“Professor, I could take you places that would make you doubt the very soil on which you stand.

 

Lost archeological sites in thick forests aren’t beyond imagination. Even in the present day.”

Our host simply smiled in that friendly perpetually amused sort of way.

 

“The young always think they’ve seen it all.” He laughed.

 

“Young? I’ve been officially too creepy to go to a rock show for almost a year now.”

 

“Perhaps, but I am old enough to be your father and I must tell you that, you will enjoy life much more if you really let the mystery in.”

 

‘Old enough to be my father…’ I mused regarding the smooth clean cut features, the lack of paunch, the bright smiling eyes that radiated so much energy I’d swear they were on the verge of exploding.

 

“Don’t look so surprised, you will be the same as I, if you learn to love good work, and good food.”

 

“I don’t believe you.”

 

“Guess when I finished Uni?”

 

I thought for a bit.

 

“2004.”

 

Leo laughed in his quiet, gentlemanly way, for a long time.

 

“I am very flattered but…off by two decades I’m afraid.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“UC Berkeley, 1984.”

 

“Super bullshit.”

At this our host produced a passport from his blazer. He handed it to me.

 

‘Jesus. March 19th …1958…’ I thought to myself as I inspected the document. Looking for signs of forgery. He certainly had the demeanor of a practical joker.

 

Again, he was chuckling quietly to himself.

 

‘He’s three years older than my father.’ I felt my brow furrow as I looked form the date to the man.

 

“You’re sixty?”

 

“Yes! And as you can see my birthday was only a week ago! And what a wonderful present Senhor Hoyt has brought me!”

 

I was still skeptical. But maybe it was possible. He did have that sort of posh energy that I’d seen in athletic frat boys. ‘Good food and good work…’ Still though…

 

My reverie was broken by Sams excited soprano, “So when!?”

 

“I will leave for the Galapagos in two days. You boys will leave for Richmond in three. But ah! The future is dull and unreal…for now I have always meant to see Staten Island.”

 

A Good Egg

 

People like Leo always made me reevaluate my line of work. He was so genuinely thrilled by every nook and cranny of the ‘forgotten borough;’ Waxing on and on about the architecture of the Conference House where Lord Howe had met with Franklin to successfully negotiate a peace treaty.

 

I didn’t at all feel like herding him. Thornton’s shepherding analogies never sat well with me. But if not us, then who…the fundamentalists, the Chicoms, the Muslims? Jeffersonian transparency, actual education, reason, the enlightenment these appealed to few.

 

It was when I actually met one of those few, one of the good eggs, that I felt awkward in my own shoes. At times I would see myself as a stooped, homunculus like thing, stood at the center of my chest. I’d quickly snap out of this when I recalled the hospital.

 

Resources man. Resources were everything. You could have the best metaphysic, the best philosophy, and the best men and still without resources… Christ himself felt the need to multiply fishes. Unfortunately such magic was unavailable. Maybe that’s what he meant by you will do greater things than these. Doing more with less is definitely a hard magic. And hard magic is what

PLATO was all about.

 

It’s funny that most folk don’t quite grasp how much of a Statist the Plato described by Aristotle was. The republic, that thing led by ‘philosopher kings,’ was the very definition of oligarchy.

 

This hubris was what we practiced. The kings we served did not walk in the public square, they may well be philosophers, but they were covert statesmen. While awry in detail the various conspiracy theories of popular imagination weren’t without a kernel of truth.

 

This project was named after a white-paper written by a devout acolyte of Bernay’s, in the early 70’s. Thornton had an eye for acronyms.

 

The paper’s title read – ‘Practical Liberty – An Alchemy Towards Order.’ It consisted of equal parts quasi-masonic bric-a-brac, pharmacology, dubious neuroscience, and new age tinged anthropology.

 

Practical Liberty An Alchemy Towards Order – Plato. The wise should rule. The philosophy really did fit Plato’s ‘Republic.’ Though there was a technocratic twist. The wisdom must remain secret.

“Globalization has been thrust upon us. We are dealing with massive complexity. Management of resources and the population’s that depend on it is a precarious business. Need I remind any of those present, of the Malthusian fears of the fifties and sixties? The public is largely unaware of the green revolution. The thing that fed continents. Those that are demonize it. The thing has many flaws. But without it what?

 

We are the shepherds. We guide them to water. Then they spit it up. How are we to make them drink? I think it most fortuitous that such a free-spirited culture has emerged in recent years. This neo-shamanism must be molded into a new faith. For it is not reason that guides the human animal, nor theology, no it is faith and instinct. The reason a mere aftereffect. So my dearest brothers we must take up the staff.”

 

“O! Pizza! Excellent. I will tell them that I have had the genuine stuff. With the thin crust.”

 

My reverie was interrupted as we passed some place called ‘Napolis.’

 

We went inside, ordered our slices, and sat at some small tables enjoying the cheesy fare. The others were all talkative. Despite the cheery surroundings and delicious eats I was decidedly blue.

 

My self critical funk ran deeper than I thought.

 

Then I remembered her…

 

Right after I finished college, then A school, I was sent to Bolivia for some arcane reason.

 

Something that was officially about playing world police with some drug lords but ended up being sabotage of…well I’m not sure what.

 

I really don’t care to remember the details. Save one, which I can’t forget anyway.

 

Dysentery is fairly common in many places of the world. We all know about it but few see it up close.

 

I was on patrol in some hilly shithole and almost killed the woman. She’d run into me from a back alley screaming in Spanish.

 

“That’s a great way to catch the wrong end of gerber…” O’Shea muttered darkly.

 

She had said something about her girl…but it was too hurried, the accent too different from Mexican, I looked at my interpreter.

 

“OH fucking hell,” he said. “We can’t help everyone. Why don’t they take care of their own? Why the fuck…”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Her kid, is shitting itself to death, and the hospital won’t admit her.”

 

“Jesus.”

 

The woman was unconsolable.

 

“What does she want us to do about it?”

 

“She says that they will listen to us.” Eddy, the interpreter chuckled. “Basically she wants us to bully them into doing their job.”

 

“I’m game.” I said.

“Eh, look Baird…” O’Shea our commanding officer launched into that Celtic side-stepping that I’d

hated so much in my father. “There’s probably a good reason for it, we don’t want to alienate the locals. I’m with you in spirit. But alienating the locals is bad ju-ju.”

 

I grinned my disdain. “Fuck it.” I said.

 

I turned to the woman. “Vamos!” She disappeared into one of the low roofed clay building to our right.

 

“I don’t think you understand me…I’m ordering you to keep to our primary objectives.”

I was twenty-two, I’d been sneaking little bumps of the cocaine that we’d confiscated…strong, wired, and programmed by billions of years of evolution to serve distressed females…there was no deterring me. Certainly not by O’Shea’s authority even if was backed by the United States navy and the extra thirty pounds of muscle he had on me.

 

“Go suck McNamara’s flaccid cock, ya fuckin dickless, conformist…paddy prick.” I said wryly grinning.

 

I was surprised by his reaction. He returned my grin with one of his own, shaking his giant head. “Don’t do it Baird.”

 

“You can fuckin’ court martial me.”

 

The woman reappeared holding a young girl of four or five years old. The smell was horrible.

 

“You’re gonna regret it,” O’Shea said.

 

I ignored him. “Vamos!” I said pointing in the direction of the local hospital.

 

She led the way with just me and a reluctant Eddy in tow.

 

The girl died.

 

The doctor who spoke excellent English was actually a pretty decent guy. There was an issue of class here. Water was hard to come by in the village. This girl and her family were very low on the totem pole, the moneyed classes came first by necessity, hospitals need funding. There was also so much of it…it was an epidemic…all sorts of things…

 

There was really nothing he could do. He tried to rehydrate her. Normally hydration works, but this case was severe. Antibiotics were needed..But there weren’t enough antibiotics.

I still remember her two large dark, beautiful eyes, looking in sheer pleading fear and pain at us as she kept defecating and crying.

 

All this. Because of a lack of resources. Resources did exist. But intelligent management of those resources was sorely lacking. Everybody was too busy showing off the tidiness of their fucking lawns.

 

Suddenly, I didn’t feel any remorse at all about PLATO.

 

“This is great fucking pizza!”

Thick Bushes

“Quick call Enya!” Sam exploded.

 

“Save all the whales, all the fucking whales…” Lucas enjoined.

 

We were in a large second story bedroom that had been converted into an office. In the center stood a cheap Ikea desk with a generous surface, across which were strewn aerial photographs.

 

“The area in question is a region of Brazil known as the Mato Grosso, which means thick bushes, though if you look at these photographs you can see that much of the area looks like Nebraska, due to deforestation.” This was the comment that had made my comrades burst into their little slapstick routine.

 

We were skeptical about the environmental industry that had hijacked an otherwise noble movement. Of course we knew that deforestation of this magnitude was a legitimate concern.

 

However, people have to eat and who the hell are a bunch of latte sipping first worlders to dictate a developing nations policies. Then again…This inner debate thumped away quietly in the background of my mind as I tried to understand exactly what all this Brazil business was about.

 

“Thick bushes?! Like in my dad’s porno stash?”

 

The NORP that had greeted us, an analyst named Mark held a palm to his forehead. “You work with these people?” The question was directed at Thornton.

“Mallum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“It’s Seneca.” I said.

 

“Like the cigarettes?”

 

“Nah, he’s a Stoic, the phrase means ‘there is no great genius without an element of madness.’”

 

“Pfft…” Mark guffawed. “You aren’t mad, you’re just run of the mill assholes. Sophomoric little shits.”

 

“Sophmore year was my favorite.” Sam said.

 

“Enough.” Thornton interrupted. “Let’s get back to the matter at hand. We’re only here for another day.”

 

It was undeniable, we were on our way to Brazil, though rendered vivid through drama Hoyt’s proclamation of that trip, about a month prior now, was shaded with haze, like looking at an orchid through cellophane. I waited for clarification.

 

“As I said. This area is heavily deforested. It looks nothing like it did when Fawcett embarked on his final foray in ‘25. In recent years he’s been vindicated. There was a civilization there. Mounds, traces of roads, lots of pottery has been uncovered. Maybe it’s not El Dorado but it’s revolutionary alright.”

 

“Ok, so what does any of this have to do with us, with Hoyt and his limey uncle? I suspect the map he pilfered had something to do with this and it’s already been found. So let the eggheads mull it, yeah?”

 

“You anticipate way too much. No wonder you’re still a blue belt.” Thornton said.

 

“Ah yea! Now I’m game. Let’s go meet the fuckin’ Gracies.”

 

“Afraid that’s impossible.”

 

“Do they even live in Brazil?”

 

“Back to the matter at hand.” Thornton said firmly.

 

It was like sophomore year.

 

“About the matter at hand.” Lucas chimed in, assuming that Prussian coldness which ran much stronger in his father. “We’re not archaeologists, or anthropologists, we’re…” he paused as the difficulty of defining PLATO loomed hurdle-like in the wake of his cross-examination. “…we’re ‘alchemical chaplains’ and I see nothing of either psychological or pharmacological interest there.”

 

“Nothing of pharmacological interest in the Amazon?” Mark asked, raising a disdainful eyebrow.

 

“We’re not field botanists, simply chemically sophisticated psychonauts, what’s the M.O?”

 

“Ah…here is where you will have to humor us…we have after all been very understanding with you…” Thornton said.

 

“Err…”

 

“First off, though there is much deforestation, there is still plenty of forest, and that map is…well like the rest of the mission…it will make sense in execution. Improvisation you see is key for developing the new dynamic the fresh ‘rod and staff’ that we’ve been trying to squeeze out…you’ll just have to piece the thing together as you go along.”

 

The rest of the evening was spent getting familiar with the topography of the region. The politics and culture of Cuiaba and a brief survival lecture. Which was going to be elaborated upon further when we landed.

 

I still wasn’t certain why we were meeting Leo in the Galapagos.

 

No Room at the Inn

 

“Welcome! Welcome to San Cristobal!” Professor Bohm boomed with the enthusiasm of a tour guide.

 

I blinked in the balmy saline breeze.

 

“Fantastic isn’t it. This place is magic! No wonder that the seed of genius that had germinated in England blossomed here!”

 

“Huh?”

 

“He’s talking about Darwin.” Chuck filled in the gap.

 

“Si. I love it. This is my absolute favorite place. It is…electric…do you not feel it! This is the birthplace of the whole Earth.”

 

“I thought that was Africa.” Schmidt said.

 

I grinned at his Teutonic literalism. Though it was interesting. Where did life begin? I doubted that it radiated from some central location. At least not wholly. No it made much more sense that places like this, like the Galapagos, had spawned the great biochemical adventure that we call life.

 

These were volcanic islands. And there was the primordial basalt mystery whose embrace was so fertile, so fecund, in its implications. At the crossroads of sea, fire, and air there had sprung one of the most diverse litanies of flora and fauna on the face of the earth.

 

The stark sparseness of the landscape, the stones that jutted from the lapping ocean, and the rose colored sky of an onsetting evening were indeed stirring.

 

“It is nice.” I said.

 

“More than nice now, I’m sure!” Leo teased. “You Americans, sometimes you are so loud, and sometimes you are so English.”

 

The weight of my bags was making itself more and more apparent. We had taxied to a pier from the airport. “I’m beat. When are we gonna get some grub and bunk down?”

 

“O! Very soon. But not so soon that you shouldn’t put down those bags.”

 

“What right here?”

 

“No. Come with me.”

 

We followed him past coils of rope and other nautical paraphernalia up the length of the pier.

 

“Ok, you can drop it.”

 

“Uh?”

Leo, didn’t answer immediately. Instead he bent down to open a cooler.

 

“Cerveja?”

 

I dropped my bags and eagerly reached for the crisp freshness nestled among melting cubes of ice.

 

The label read Eisenbahn. I looked at Leo.

 

He extended a bottle opener.

 

“So is the hotel near here?” I asked, popping off the cap.

 

Leo laughed in his quiet way, “It’s coming.”

Genevieve

 

It was only a beer and a half later that my eye caught something cresting the horizon. Its size was apparent even from a distance. There was no way that a craft that large could dock at the diminutive pier which now held us.

 

My inner query was soon answered when the teal behemoth stopped some 5000 yards from the dock.

 

“Here,” Leo said reaching into a posh leather satchel and pulling out a pair of binoculars. If it wasn’t for the ease of his manner, his impeccable appearance would be unnerving.

 

“You see it! You see our taxi?”

 

I scanned the side of the boat. It was quite a sight. The first thing I panned across was the stern. It had a crane which meant that it was equipped with an ROV. It was modern. Definitely built in the last couple of decades. Ah, ‘RV Genevieve’ ok so it’s an oceanographic vessel. This was hardly surprising.

 

I looked in vain for the dinghy. That meant it was on the side of the boat I couldn’t see. So as I waited for the ‘taxi’ to round the prow I made an inspection of the deck and wheelhouse. Which caused me to discover the Union Jack. Something vague about maritime law entered my head but it had been so long…

 

“God save the queen!” I mumbled in a loud sarcastic semi whisper.

“O ho hoho,” Leo laughed. “Yes, Senhor Reed is quiet the nationalist.”

 

“This is a private vessel?” There was something off about the way that flag was flying.

 

“Si. Very much so. You are very lucky to see it. There are many companies in this part of the southern hemisphere, few of them acknowledged.”

 

“Crazy fuckin’ expats.” Sam murmmured.

 

Leo continued laughing. “Yes, Senhor Reed is quite spirited. And I would suggest that you not get on his bad side.”

 

I had lowered the binoculars and was now looking at the ‘Genevive’ with the naked eye. I saw a small speck shining green and gold in the rays of the setting sun. I trained the lenses on the speck. It wasn’t a dinghy at all. It was a speed boat. And, I chuckled, equipped with its own miniature union jack.

 

It was approaching us at a decent clip. A speed for which I was glad. I couldn’t wait to explore this rare treat that had dropped itself in my lap.

 

I looked over at Hoyt to see if the vessel had stirred a similar nautical passion. I was still unaccustomed to the recent shortening of his leafy crown. Maybe it was this. But…no…he was still distant…there was something foreign about the tight expressionless curl of his thin lips. Here we were in one of the most stirring possible situations and all I could read in his angular features was the cold detachment of a vivisectionist. Whatever had gotten into him all those weeks prior was still very much in control.

 

The speedboat that had pulled up was piloted by a man with a broad nose and a heavy brow. He deftly grabbed the rope that Leo tossed him and moored the sleek looking boat with its impressive outboard to the landing.

 

We hoisted out gear and descended the stairs to meet the new comer. He was an older man though how much older was indeterminate. His step was lively, despite the graying of the hair and beard, and the first thing he did was hop from his craft and embrace Hoyt with a very peculiar hug, placing a hand on Graham’s opposite elbow. Graham reciprocated the hug perfectly in a mechanical sort of way.

 

“Welcome Mr. Hoyt. Welcome!” The man boomed in a decidedly American accent.

The Genevieve was large enough to support sixty-five people. With an endurance of two or so months. The German Navy’s newest toy, a SWATH hulled behemoth dubbed Planet, could only carry about forty personnel. This vessel didn’t seem to have much of a size advantage on the Kraut’s paramilitary cod-piece . A thing that impressed me because it suggested an incredibly efficient use of space.

 

The crew consisted of six scientists, a couple of students, four cooks, and several dozen more personnel with various nautical responsibilities. The number of people aboard before we joined was 53, with the six of us tagging along 59.

 

Despite being only six members shy of carrying capacity it was by no means cramped. There was no awkward bumping of elbows in narrow hallways or harrying on deck.

 

Though our cabins were far from cavernous, they were certainly roomier than what I had expected.

I was very curious as to how all this was funded and even more curious about Frank Reed.

 

It was in fact the proprietor and captain of the ship that had ferried us aboard. He had that simultaneous boisterousness and reserve I’ve come to associate with successful eccentrics. He was as silent as the sky before a storm until the thunder rumbled and lightning struck.

 

Not to say that he was mean spirited. His thundering was usually effervescent excitement and the lightning a scintillating wit.

 

There was also something vaguely martial in his bearing. It sometimes seemed like the wispy strands of near shoulder length hair were an ironic mask meant to soften the impression of the insurmountable determination of his lantern jaw. The thick brow and broad nose were suggestive of a primeval savage.

 

There was something of the Neanderthal in Frank Reed, something of the paleolithic hunter as he noiselessly stalked his domain, surveying his kingdom from a height of no less than six and half feet.

 

Leo’s description of diving in the Galapagos was misleading. The site of whatever surprise he had in store for us was several hundred miles to the southwest of San Cristobal.

 

At twelve knots this meant a journey of nearly a week, just to reach the destination. The return trip would be equivalent. There must be something really vital out in these Pacific waters. I was positively giddy with excitement.

Ecclesiastes 1:18

 

There is a peculiar phenomenon common to all Pacific coasts. This volcanic anomaly is dubbed the Ring of Fire. It’s what was responsible for the Galapagos. And according to everything I had been able to gather in the first couple of days we were headed to a spot just beyond its reach.

 

May was approaching and this made me nervous. The balmy calm though pleasant was frankly creepy in light of the knowledge that made little electric pulses travel up my spine.

 

I stood on the deck surrounded by nothing but vast plains of water. Like a liquid Nebraska, the unbounded horizons were alien in their spartan invariability, silent and starkly unnerving.

 

Yes. The crew exuded competence, the captain was likely some offspring of Ericsson, and the ship was as solid as one could wish.

 

But, here in the limitless dizzying melding of blues, such assurance wouldn’t suffice. Crews as bold and ships just as sturdy had melted down beneath the mocking tickle of the waves that lapped the Genevieve’s hull.

 

As if reading my mind Capitan Reed strode up beside me, “Don’t worry, Typhoons generally tend to stick closer to Australia.

 

I knew that he was right. That no tropical cyclone had ever affected the pacific side of the continent we’d just left behind. But somehow…

 

I felt Lauren’s long fingers tickle the back of my neck. She was very touchy feely in that possessive way that I generally associated with cats.

 

It wasn’t sexiness that gave her the peculiar power she seemed to wield over nearly everyone aboard but the sheer force of her femininity.

 

“What’s the matter? Navy man afraid of the water…?”

 

“Boys aren’t afraid of girls till their first divorce. Same applies to the sea.”

 

“So you’d prefer a bore, a housewife, something tame…?” She teased as her large grey blue eyes danced mirthfully.

 

“I’d prefer someone who’s not a psycho.” I responded. “That right there,” I extended a hand toward the placid water sparkling in the pleasant warmth of midnoon sun. “Never lasts.”

 

Reed was impassable, calmly surveying the horizon, there was no deciphering his opinion. I honestly didn’t care if these folks thought me yellow. If they were as salt soaked as their ease suggested, they knew, as well as I that NOAA and 1200 years of seamanship were so much chaff, at the mercy of a schizophrenic wind.

 

We all turned at the sound of footsteps. Eric Chen the youthful geological oceanographer from Kaohsiung kindly informed us that lunch was ready.

The Big Picture

“What people forget, you see, is that it’s a world.” Said Captain Reed between mouthfuls of strawberry shortcake.

 

Everyone was silent. I sipped my coffee and wondered what he was getting at.

 

“Everybody…thinks…they ‘know’…so they get sad…because they ‘know’…and so they’re bored…”

 

The captains massive brow furrowed.

 

It would have been frightening had he not started laughing.

 

“What the hell is there to know? How is there anything to know…that’s a much better question I think yeah?”

 

Us newcomers sat bewildered as the crew nodded assent. Making me wonder if it was agreement or appeasement…or both.

 

A massive fist smacked the table making the china jump. I winced as scalding coffee landed right on that little space between the thumb and index finger.

 

“A perfect little sphere…just spinning…round a nuclear reaction…how why…a thought that rarely enters the mind of man these days…”

 

No one dared to interrupt the monologue.

 

“It’s a wuuuuuh eeeerrrrrrrrr eld!” The grey eyes bulged. “A world …whirl…whirling and tumbling

between twisted stars in a pitch darker than any ocean depth.”

 

I wasn’t really sure how the conversation started. What was the origin of this tirade? I really had trouble remembering. I was so sleepy. I’d lost my sea legs nearly half a decade ago and the swaying of the craft produced a slightly nauseating soporific sensation.

 

“I tell you! If I were to grab that neck of yours and sueeeeeze. I mean not even very hard….that’s it…! That would be all for you. No shortcake…no Genevive…no childhood to color the years that would have come with wisdom…just flesh with fresh shit in the britches. Isn’t it amazing…isn’t it downright uncanny?”

 

This would have been off putting had we not by now grown accustomed to the Captain’s moody homilies.

 

“And yet…you wear britches! Why! Because Adam was embarrassed all those years ago… Most likely not. But….even so…how much the better! Because…you can wonder at it…the folly of such literalism…isn’t it mad…isn’t it whirling..?”

 

I now recalled why Reed had erupted. Chuck had casually blurted one of his usual sarcasms. Leo had been chattering excitedly about the revolutionary nature of recent discoveries in the Amazon. Chuck loved to exercise his capacity for acerbic skepticism regarding all things redolent of woo.

 

Especially revolutionary woo.

 

The Captain smirked.

 

“Looking a bit pale there Charles…”

 

Chuck remained silent.

 

“I’m telling you..I’m telling you the truth…I’m infinitely tamer than what lies beneath the salty sway…if these simple truths I’ve spoken have drained you…I tell ya…you’re about to be downright bleached…

Marty

 

The rain delayed our descent. We’d arrived. We’d arrived rather sooner than I expected. Not in terms of days but in the speed with which they seemed to pass.

It rained hard. Though sitting snug with a cup of tea in my cabin was cozy. The thought of that much water hitting that much more water was disconcerting.

 

Fortunately there wasn’t much turbulence. I was grateful that the worst thing we’d likely have to fare was heavy rain.

 

I wasn’t happy about the setback. Leo, Capitain, and crew were all flawlessly reticent on the nature of what now laid beneath the deck.

 

The closest thing to a revelation came from Marty Blumenthal. Marty was a microbiologist. I’d cornered him in the wet lab where he set peering intently through a microscope.

 

He was the most pensive man I’d ever met. A perfect bundle of nerves. Kind but frightfully neurotic. Which was strange because he was nearly as tall as the Captain. Odder still was the contrast between his massive frame and the cautious jerky precision of his motions. He had the body of an Olympian but the mannerisms of a high school nerd.

 

Maybe bodybuilding was his way of reigning in his nerves. But that seemed too convenient an explanation. Despite being kind. Marty was probably the scariest guy aboard. There was something uncanny about the fierce smoldering of his large dark eyes. They seemed to read everything about everything. It was as if they were burning away layer after layer of some great cosmic onion that pervades everything.

 

I was really keen on knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Why was this geek flotilla so secretive? Trappists were probably chattier.

 

Fortunately, I had a weapon. I’d found Marty’s weakness.

 

“Say, Marty…”

 

It took awhile for those massive shoulders to hunch.

 

“Yea…is it important…I’m kinda busy here…”

 

“O…not terribly…”

 

“Well then…I’m sure there’s better company aboard…”

 

“You do yourself a disservice…you’re probably the hardest working boffin here..and I think you deserve a reward…”

 

“That’s very flattering but not only do I not swing that way but I’m married.”

 

“Don’t be silly.” I said affecting a lisp. “I just thought you know…you’d be interested in the last bit of cheesecake till port…”

 

The stool swiveled.

 

“As a matter of fact…that’s the most interesting thing I’ve heard all day.”

 

“Yea, well you know..I’m a capitalist. And capitalism is the best means of exchange…”

 

“O?”

 

“Yea, you have something I want, and I have something you want.”

 

“Yea…?”

 

“What’s going on Marty? What’s down there. What’s up with all the freemasonry? Is this some kinda cult?”

 

Marty chuckled.

 

“The captain has a weakness for melodrama. You know his philosophy. He wants to teach the world to dream again. There’s really nothing much more to the ‘freemasonry’ than that. We like old Reed and don’t want to spoil his fun.”

 

“Hmm…I’m getting hungry…” I said wielding a fork threateningly over the coveted sweet.

 

“I’m telling you the truth Alan…as far as the reason for keeping you in the dark…but it really is for the better. There is something down there. I’ve never gone down myself but I’ve seen pictures, videos, pieces, I’ve heard the talk, it’s…well…it’s insane…telling you would never do it justice. Expectation would poison your comprehension.”

 

“Hmmm….” I said slicing a bit of New York style with the fork.

 

Marty moved fast. He traversed the nearly eight foot span between him and the prize in what seemed like less than a second.

 

“You might be a capitalist but I’m a commie…” I was so surprised by the sudden explosion of motion that my hold on the plate weakened.

 

Grabbing the desert from my hand he said. “And I must seize the means of confection.”

 

I laughed.

 

The cheesecake did work, sort of, because after a few bites Marty said, “We’re floating above an ancient prayer.”

 

Believe It

 

“Believe it.” Reed said cooly.

 

I didn’t. This was a gag. A great looking gag but a gag nonetheless.

 

I’d hoped to reaquint myself with saturation diving but alas the wreck was a touch too deep.

Though supremely more claustrophobic, the trip down in the submersible was as exciting as an elevator ride

 

The thing lay at the unimpressive depth of 2,734 feet. It was on a sort of submerged island that jutted from the surrounding average of 14,040 feet.

 

Given the character of the ship and crew I’d gotten the notion that we’d go much deeper. I wanted to test limits whether I dove or tin canned my way down.

 

Bragging rights aside…this was spectacular…significant in that it stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s hard to recollect all these years later but it was something like an island’s highlands that had been submerged.

 

Atop which…sat the most unbelievable thing…and by unbelievable I mean that I really didn’t believe it.

 

There illuminated by the eerily wavering yellow glow of our searchlight sat a pill shaped thing with little triangular wings.

 

It sat with its nose angled up towards the surface atop a crumbling runway.

 

“This is a prop Capitan.”

 

“Believe it.” He reiterated in the same cool tone.

 

The submersible only held three men. The captain was more like two men so it was with some difficulty that my eyes found their way past that cretaceous skull, and through the dim light of the interior to inspect Schmidt’s features.

 

That smirk meant that he was just as incredulous as I. Though he refrained from vocalizing his skepticism.

 

The thing was too perfect. Too unmarred by salt and sea. The thing of it was though…everything else was spot on. In terms of decay. All around the briny deep lay crumbled ruins of stone.

 

My guess was that this really was fascinating in that it represented a heretofore unknown civilization in the south pacific.

 

The goofy bit was that someone likely the captain himself had sunk a prop, a mock spaceship, to make the impious worship again. Very Scooby Doo this. I chuckled.

 

“Believe it.” The captain repeated yet again with that same even cadence.

 

I couldn’t. Not because it contravened all established knowledge. But because it was too perfect. It gleamed in the light.

 

The captain panned that light around the ruins. The wide acrylic bubble provided us with nearly 360 degrees of visibility that is one could peak around that massive blockhead.

 

There among the stones and glyphs I glimpsed the thing that rendered me a convert.

The thing or rather the things that made the hair stand straight up on the back of my neck weren’t the hundreds of skeletons, not even the hundreds of other gleaming little props that not even this wealthy loon’s fortune could have sunk, no…

there like spectral fingers were thousands upon thousands of exposed rusting metal beams and struts.

 

Sun

 

Hoyt had been the first of us to see it. He’d gotten preferential treatment from Captain and crew alike. Yet he remained morose. In fact the melancholy that had gripped him during that episode at Luckadoo’s had only deepend.

 

And there was something else now. He was stern both in manner and speech.

I wasn’t at all surprised when his face betrayed nothing upon surfacing. That same implacable resolutness held firm. Sam’s prodding had been predictably fruitless.

 

I smiled as Sam and Chuck slipped gently beneath the current. As the last vestige of the comical goldfish colored pill that was our recent ferry disappeared I glanced at Schmidt.

 

He alternated between shaking his head and rubbing his temples.

 

“So what the hell do you suppose that was…?”

 

“I dunno…I was hoping he’d tell us…his ‘mystery’ schtick is beginning to annoy me.”

I shared that sentiment but then realized that it was equally likely that the captain chose theater in lieu of knowledge.

 

“I bet he doesn’t know either. I bet this is a pretty recent discovery.”

 

“Yea well he could at least be forthcoming enough to give us his guess.”

 

“Forthcoming isn’t his style.” Said a voice from behind.

 

I turned round. It was Lauren. She was sitting with her long bare legs tucked behind rummaging through some kit.

 

“Watcha lookin at.” In a tone of mock challenge.

 

“You’re doin that on purpose.”

 

“Doin what…” The young matriarch said scrunching up a deeply tanned face that clashed with light blonde hair.

 

I approached and leaned on the opposite side of the white metal chest trying as hard as I could to twist my rigid male body into the same sinuous pose that she was in.

I met her eyes and batted my own. “That.”

 

She smirked. “I dunno what you’re getting at…”

 

“Nobody sits like that.”

 

“Yeah well I do…” she said yawning as she stretched sensually making sure that every curve was accentuated and her bra tested the limits of her LSU tank top.

 

“Stop flirting,” I said.

 

“Don’t compliment yourself.” She was on the ball.

 

“Alright dorks…” Schmidt joined us.

 

We were both annoyed that our little banter battle had ended.

 

A sentiment that I knew was shared cause Lauren now began teasing Schmidt.

 

“Hey,you can’t fault your friend for having good taste.” She said as she rose and walked to sit behind me with her arms draped over my shoulders.

 

She really was like a cat. It reminded me of when Chubs would try to make Sarah jealous by ignoring her ‘kitty kitties’ and sitting in my lap. Chubs knew who approved of his diet.

Likewise I knew that she was now making eye contact with Schmidt. I could see that he was looking at her as she leaned in and gave me a quick friendly peck on the cheek.

 

Lucas made a mock retching sound. Though I knew that he was jealous. Our work rendered coed interactions few and far between. Female attention is supremely coveted by the sequestered man.

I think that aside from her inherent femininity she somehow picked up on our state. And seemed to find it supremely entertaining to exploit it.

 

“Alright kids…come on…focus….”

 

“On what?” Lauren asked really rubbing it in by tracing her hands gently across my chest. Just like how Chubs would nuzzle up…though this was much nicer. It felt nice.

 

“On the fact that there’s an ancient LAX under the fuckin’ Pacific.”

“O that…” She said as she stood. I didn’t like that. It was like having your brother steal your cookie. I felt robbed when our bodies no longer made contact.

 

She twirled and raised her arms melodramatically in the air.

 

“The sun ain’t just for tanning.”

 

What is It?

 

Graham exhaled smoke. The toxicity of the past-time creating an odd study in contrast with the robust wholesomeness of salt and sun.

 

He raised and lowered the Pall Mall with a precise and measured quality.

 

How anyone could remain so pale in the tropic sun I’ll never know. He truly looked a specter. So profound was his melancholy that he’d earned a nickname. First it was ‘Gloomy Graham’ then when we tired of alliteration it became ‘Gloom.’

 

As I approached the railing I announce my presence with the latest iteration.

 

“So, Glum what’s with this? What do you make of it…?”

 

The mystery still lingered. Neither captain nor crew would divulge any morsel of revelation more intelligible then a cryptic turn of phrase.

 

Cold grey eyes regarded me with demonic detachment. They did not welcome, nor did they glimmer with repulsion, neither could their attitude be called appraising. Instead they simply seemed to drink in everything like a pair of collapsed stars.

 

“What is it?” He finally answered my question with a question.

 

“That’s what I want to know. I think it’s some kind psy op. Somebody organized this show and we’re the first guinea pigs. Fits real nice with the ‘single faith.’”

 

“I suppose that I should be a touch more specific.” He replied with uncharacteristic urbanity.

 

“Pray, continue.” I intoned smugly playing along with his antique phrasings.

 

“What does the captain repeat?”

I chuckled. “The guy’s a friggin reference manual for quirky idioms.”

 

“What is it?” Graham reiterated with the weight of profound significance placed on the very last word.

 

I stood silently for a bit as my mind drew blanks.

 

As Graham lit yet another cigarette the realization struck me.

 

“It’s a world!” I exclaimed.

 

“Yes, that’s the one.”

 

As the thrill of the guess faded disappointment settled in its place.

 

“So what? You know something Glummy, they’re mighty friendly with ya. And you’re playing their game. You need to be straight with me. Need I remind you that after Schmidt I’m your commanding officer. Where’s your esprit de corps?”

 

Graham laughed for the first time in nearly a month. It was a cold mirthless sort of laugh but a laugh nonetheless.

 

“The thing is plain enough if you remember what often follows the Captains favorite mantra.”

 

“Well, darn tootin fellar rekon I’m just a barefoot bucktooth bumpkin with twelve toes cuz I don’t’

recall and I sure don’t follow.”

 

Hoyt just stared at me in that expressionless way,

 

“What does the world do?”

 

This time I was quicker on the draw. “It’s a weeeeeeeeerld …. it whirls….!” I proclaimed bugging my eyes Reed style.

 

I still wasn’t getting it. I furrowed my brow.

 

“Where does it whirl?”

 

The mantra was now well within the reach of retrievable memory. “Among twisted stars….in depths….far greater than the blackest deep of ocean…”

 

Graham nodded slowly and I got angry.

 

“Ugghhhh! What the fuck…so fucking what…it means fuck all Hoyt!” I bellowed lunging for his chest.

 

Having grabbed the pack from his shirt pocket and put a cancer stick in my own mouth I extended a demanding hand.

 

Completely unphased throughout my pseudo assault he matter of factly placed a lighter in my hand.

 

As sparks erupted turning dead leaves into an explosion of smoke and flame I suddenly recalled a lithesome blonde with her arms outstretched to heaven.

 

It was unpleasantly warm.

 

The fire, the warmth, the damned sun…

 

‘The sun ain’t just for tanning.’

 

‘Whirling amidst twisted stars…that burn and blast and pull…’

I looked up to see a sphinx like smirk.

 

“Holy shit…you mean…Roland had it right…”

 

Hoyt clapped.

 

Ant

 

Before we had been whittled down to the delightfully sophomoric ‘Fibonacci Five’ there had been a sixth member.

 

Anthony was energy incarnate. That’s why he didn’t renlist. Though perhaps entered a contract is a more accurate way of putting it since he like Graham and Chuck served in a capacity that straddled the line between marshal and civilian.

Anthony Harris was an unemployed archeologist wielding a PhD from Boston that had landed him the stellar position of serving Thornton coffee at some hipstery little number in a Jersey suburb.

 

While I do sympathize with economic realities I can’t really excuse Harris on this point. I know he could have found something. But the guy was and probably still is a mess. Aside from the ability to concentrate on things that capture his interest with unholy fervor he had little in the way of skills.

I really think that he put his nose to the academic grindstone simply to prove he had the chops. Like so many merry fools before he fancied that credentials and mastery of subject would propel him to a tenure that would let him play with ideas.

 

He was full of wild speculations. Wild speculations that he wasn’t shy to share.

Not even with the dubious likes of Thornton whose moustache hairs had an unpleasant way of dipping into a drink. It was especially gross when it was coffee.

 

I wouldn’t have called the number on the big midwesterners business card for all the gold of Ophir. Our chief exuded the sort of fathery gooberishness that made anarchy themed graffiti appealing even if you hated punk rock…Just to distance yourself from that unwholesomely contented malaise. No one should be that ok with the world.

 

But I suppose the goobery depths of Thornton’s company seemed less foreboding in contrast with the snarky sting of acerbic tongues lilting sarcastically in faculty lounges the world over.

 

You did not challenge convention. You taught what was taught to you. If you discovered something it had better be a discovery that falls well within established contexts. Otherwise you’d end up like Carl Roland.

 

It was a profound testament to the nebbish narrowness of his interests that Ant had failed to notice the cautionary tale in the experience of his idol.

 

Dr. Roland was a pariah. At the time that Ant was hired the doctor was in court battling claims from a colleague that he’d falsified evidence. His name was not officially cleared till a year after

 

Ant left to join him in Egypt. Unofficially the name was never cleared. Roland is a dirty word that causes many a titter at many a convention.

 

If Pangea was the continent than Thera (the ‘th’ sounds like the Icelandic þ) was the ur civilization. In Roland’s conception Thera unlike Atlantis or Lemuria was the grandfather of all cultures rather than some long dead uncannily gifted cousin.

The theory is immediately redolent of quackery but the trouble is that Dr. Roland is not a quack. At least not in the sense of credentials and achievements. Degrees from Yale and Brown adorn the walls of the California home he so rarely inhabits. Dozens of papers and several prominent and accepted discoveries regarding subjects that range from peat bog mummies to astrophysics bore the muddy moniker of Dr. Carl Hapgood Roland.

 

After Thornton had asked (in true goobery interest) if his waiter was a college student, that waiter informed him that he was in fact a graduate, and began beguiling our blue eyed devil with exultations of Dr. Roland and how the waiters barista funded research would vindicate the man.

 

Of course, Thorntons interest was immediately peaked. So it was unsurprising that the rogue scholar read genuine approval in the pockmarked face. He served us many papers on psychoactive plants, Mesoamerican cultures, Descartes, etc. Never imaging that his earnest research was feeding a project with motives as cynical as PLATO’s.

 

I don’t really know what explanation Thornton gave him. Though I don’t think a paycheck ten times one’s former salary is a thing that makes one ask too many questions. The impression I got from our rare face to face meeting with Ant was that he thought we were seeking to understand one of the military cults that had formed among cartels in Peru. Even if I had been allowed correcting him would shatter what little trust he had left in the goodness of his fellows.

 

It never felt good. And now…in a way it felt like Roland was getting his revenge. Because in light of what I just saw the suggestion of solar flares and other celestial phenomenon bringing a very high point in human history to an abrupt close didn’t seem that far fetched. All my eye rolling and tsk tsk the poor ladding was now a big lump in my throat as I stared in astonishment at the spectral husk that was Graham Hoyt.

 

Father Crespi

 

Leo looked like a tourist. The straw hat, hawaiian shirt, and khaki shorts were a far cry from his usual dapper self. It was a wardrobe that jarred comically with the doctors urbane mannerisms. Despite the Jimmy Buffet vibe the impression of the tall Brazilian behind the podium remained one of elegance and poise.

 

“Does anyone known the man in this picture?” He asked as the Göbekli Tepe slide gave way to the grinning bearded visage of a monk in a habit.

 

Sam stood abruptly and gave a roman salute. “Mein Fuhrer!”

 

Dr. Bohm smiled as he shook his head.

 

“So you’ve heard that bizzare theory?”

 

We had. We were all quite familiar with the Italian art collector smiling down at us.

 

“Ja. Warheit!” Sam said as he sat back down crossed his arms and lifted his chin in a very satisfied matter of fact way. Panning his head from side to side like it was Nuremberg 1933.

Leo sighed. “As a Brazilian anthropologist… with a german surname you can imagine the emails.”

I laughed and took a swig of Sailor Jerry’s. Apparently the Captain had a frat boys taste in liquor…either that or he was holding out.

 

“Yes it is funny some of the time. But, it is also so sad….even if it were true the reality that was made evident in those Ecuadorian caves dwarfs that little proposition a hundredfold….”

 

I was still grinning like a Cheshire at the thought that the tantrum prone little Austrian with the girlish hips and shoulders had seamlessly transformed into a Salesian friar. My smile belied my agreement. The story goes that Father Carlos Crespi Croci was very loved by the Ecuadorian community he served. So much so that he was the very first person that got word of the strange artifacts the locals found in their caves.

 

The motifs on the artifacts were bizzare and claimed by some to represent Mesopotamian scenes and symbols. The reason for the tales obscurity is due in large part to the fact that most of the collection wound up destroyed in a fire or in the hands of private collectors. What little remained is not accessible to the public. These inconveniences along with the implications that the purported near eastern artifacts held – led to little save fringe discussions ultimately devolving into the ‘muh Hitler, muh Nazis’ meme.

 

My own familiarity with this obscurity had of course come from Ant.

 

“I’m serious…” Leo said looking at me. “You do not believe me?”

 

My grin must have been truly obnoxious.

“Nein.” I said jumping on Sam’s bandwagon. “Das ist nicht wahr….just look at ze skull…while ze broadness does suggest Nordic influence, it is too spheroid…und….ze eyebrows…do you not see a semitic influence, that Turkic angularity…Ashkenazim…no zis is not the noble wolf…nicht…Das ist nich NICH NICHT NICHT!” I began yelling as I pounded the tumbler against the table.

 

Leo looked surprised. “You’re pretty well versed in the Reich.”

 

“Well of course, do you really think that Uncle Sam ignored the poison dwarf? Goebbels was the executor par excellence of Bernays little theories. Though the Bolshevik stuff is more interesting there is no vein of humor richer than the Propaganda Ministerium des NSDAP.”

 

“I see.” Leo replied. “Well, the bizzare is often funny as well as being a most effective over-ride for critical thinking. But..the bizzare is also often true…and as I said this real bizarreness…”

 

“Hate to cut you short Doc but I think I know what this is about.” The cigarette I’d stolen from Hoyt had made me hungry for nicotine. We’d already been listening to what was the pedantic buildup to a dramatic reveal. I already knew the end so I chimed in. “This thing we’ve just left behind, these Crespi trinkets, it’s all one grand civilization. We were all one until sunspots or meteors or whatever and you’re gonna take us from here to Brazil to show us the final grand proof that’s so central to our little project.”

 

The Captain laughed darkly somewhere behind me.

 

Leo held up his hand. “It’s alright…I’ll explain it…”

 

“I mean what else could it be? You showed us a sunken evacuation scene and then this Crespi business…”

 

“It was not an evacuation.”

 

“So it wasn’t sunspots that grounded those ancient shuttles?”

 

Leo shook his head.

 

I raised my arms palms up and shrugged. “Then what?”

 

“EMP’s and bullets.” Graham chimed in without a trace of humor in his voice.

 

At first I was too stunned to laugh but after the initial shock had dissipated I laughed uproariously.

“Ok folks….”

 

Before I could finish the Captains deep baritone overwhelmed me.

 

“How is it that you account for Iraq in Ecuador?”

“Come again?” I said choking back my mirth as best I could.

 

“You say that you understand the single origin of civilization. Where is it?”

 

“I dunno Africa…Asia minor…”

 

“No.” Came the rumble from behind. “You think that the Sumerians landed here right…that’s how you account for Crespi am I correct.”

 

“Well I suppose it’s only logical given…”

 

“Logic is merely an instrument. And one that only works if the initial premises are correct. You are not correct.”

 

“Well ok…then where…where did it all start?”

 

Leo held up his hand cutting off the Captain. “Everywhere…as you have shared before in our conversations…but everywhere must have a center…and that center is in what is now Brazil.”

I no longer needed a cigarette.

 

Really?

 

I was really confused. I thought that Graham had revealed an ancient apocalypse in his newly found and quite frankly annoyingly cryptic mode of communication.

 

He clapped when I’d mentioned Roland’s theories.

 

The rest of the meeting in that nautical conference room devolved into a guessing game. The presentation and certain factoids were meant to serve as clues. It was up to us to put the pieces together.

 

Graham knew. But I suppose that he was no longer ‘one of us’ at least not in the way that he had been before the incident.

 

I was looking at the picture now. Sam was a good artist and he’d really outdone himself.

 

Though I really couldn’t for the life of me understand what was so damned startling about it. It was really such a common idea. So much so that it might as well be some standard mandala. If you took out the photograph like precision of that pencil it could be some cheesy 80’s metal album.

 

What with it featuring cryptic ruins, a big cat, and that favored hair metal metaphor: the jungle.

We were all psychedelic veterans, Graham being the most grizzled in that theater, so I also found the bad trip theory dubious. There was also the permanent nature of the change that had taken hold of him since the seizure. That and how everything fell into place to make the trip to Cuiaba a reality. Thornton’s hand in this also seemed heavy.

 

As I layed snugly in my bunk I wondered if we were more guinea pigs then pioneers. Was the goobery midwesterner feeding us ideas, guiding us subliminally towards some martial end that we would never accept save for the spooks hypnotic art?

 

I understood that there was much strange in the world. Existence itself however you choose to interpret it is a grand mystery. I did not doubt the reality of those ruins or even the possibility of some kind of elusive metaphysic.

 

But, metaphysic and archeology can be interpreted in many ways. The conclusions drawn whether correct or not can often be twisted to dubious ends.

 

Towards what end where we twisting? Was it correct? Was it right? Why this rather than some other thing?

 

It was the return trip. We’d make port in San Cristobal within the span of two days and as I closed my eyes that night I vowed to spend them drinking in the Sun and rum.

 

Answers come when answers come.

Brazil – Mato Grosso – Cuiabá

Once you got there. It was believable. The green hell was overwhelming. It enveloped like swaddling cloth. This green cradle was ever on the verge of smothering its children with maternal overabundance. The liquid air whose lackadaisical stirring swayed palms, ceidas, the whole ark of creation. This air felt like a sloppy overeager kiss. Yes, I believed it.

 

This is where we were born. This is where our cities were born. Here were all the combustible elements needed for launch. The fuel that propelled a thousand ships, like seeds upon primeval air, to land in Egypt, Greece, Babylon, and Thule. From such ground they’d flourish till the blossoms withered.

 

What we have been collecting, collating, and binding are but febrile petals. A gossamer chaff. It was better than nothing and so a commendable pursuit. But there were other ways other methods.

And I imagine that’s why we were here. We were here to meet the dreamers. Those who can trace the ruins of Babel and make it stand as it once did.

 

There was an element of eschatology to P.LA.T.O. Yes, of course behavior modification was the primary objective but…one must know which behavior to modify. The etiology of extinction…

 

I understood all this as we thumped along the knotty boards protruding from a river of might beyond all reckoning. It was mystic. I felt awash in profundity as her aroma lilted up from beneath and all around like some hoary Thurible.

 

My spiritual zeal was quickly shattered by the scent of Feijoada. The natural, sensible man, returned as our solemn track ended and we were met with the clatter of plates and chattering voices.

 

“Ah, Senhor Bohm! I am so happy to see you again!” A tall pretty girl in her early twenties ran up from behind the counter and threw her arms around Leo.

 

Sam started humming. Then Chuck caught on. Soon there was a chorus.

 

“Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking….”

 

She released our guide and turned to regard us with dark, exuberant eyes, that sparkled with tranquil curiosity. There was some portuguese exchanged.

 

“Ah, so you are fans of Tom Jobim?” She inquired with only the slightest tinge of accent.

 

“I’m a fan of you.” Sam said with the characteristic over enthusiasm that he somehow managed to make charming.

 

“Great, now I have to worry about disappointing my fans.” She replied playfully.

 

“No chance of that…” Sam said with an over-dramatized expression of wistfulness.

 

“Your friends are funny Leo.” She laughed. “Are they the ones who are here to see uncle?”

“Si. That one there,” he said pointing at Graham. “Is a Hoyt.”

 

Her face grew solemn as she looked at the pale, thin, towering, barrister faced cipher that had once been the fair haired favorite of venues from Nashville to LA.

 

There was some more muttering in portuguese though this time it was dark. But she seemed to be one of those wonderfully buoyant types whose effervescence wouldn’t disappear for long.

“Well, I suppose that even if ghosts are real, they still need to eat. Vamos!”

 

Parlor Tricks

 

The city was surprisingly modern. It had a mildly southwestern vibe. Which I suppose made sense because it was in the southwest. But what I mean is that there was a bit of cowboy culture in Cuiaba. With many shops devoted to riding gear and boots.

 

The cattle industry was huge. The chief driver of the economy being agriculture the cowboy thing was only natural. Still as I’d never been in Brazil before I suppose that I expected something a bit more Bossa Nova.

 

These were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I lay in my hotel room. The heavy meal tethering me to the bed. American TV was available but I really was in no state to watch anything beside the ceiling tile.

 

So I let my mind wander.

 

Fernando Cook was a stocky man with broad shoulders who moved with a certain tanklike determination. His close cut hair alternated between grey and jetty black which when coupled with a pair of glasses gave him a distinguished look that was at odds with his pugilistic bearing.

 

We were doomed to be surrounded by anthropologists. He was one of the best. It was his expertise and connections with the natives that would guide us out of the Pantanal and into the depths of a verdant hell that had swallowed men far hardier.

 

It was a thought that was simultaneously reassuring and unnerving. Which had a nullifying effect. I felt sort of Zen drifting between concern and confidence. A certain nervous Coinsidera Oppositorum that produced a soporific state.

 

I was soon asleep.

I awoke with the strong sensation to urinate. Though instead of hotel carpet my bare foot touched a cold wooden floor.

 

“Damn it all.” I said in a stentorian tone that was not at all my own as I lit a gas lamp that revealed heavy oaken furniture.

 

I pulled a brass pot from beneath the bed. Which to my disgust was full of the very liquid I wished to void.

 

‘Well, Henry does need the rest.’ I thought as I longed for assistance.

 

I couldn’t really afford him anymore. Living in this style may have been feasible when demand for wool was what it was in my father’s time but the blasted colonials had been exporting that devil cotton and…

 

I sighed and studied the position of the moon. Surmising that the hour was late I cast open the window and poured the offal onto the fog drenched roses below my quarters.

 

After I relieved myself my thoughts turned to affairs a touch grimmer than biological impulse. My quarters…whatever name may be on the deed…is of little consequence when the owner is a penniless eccentric. I let the biting cold drift in from the moors. It was punishment a sort of purgative that I inflicted upon myself as penance for all the excess and seeking after that had supplanted the industry that was my duty as scion.

 

I felt incredibly tired. Drained…I cradled my head in my hands…and despite the merciless cold felt myself disappearing into a deep dreamless sleep. The only escape that sweet nepenthe…

 

I would have too had it not been for that cry.

 

It was terrible. Forlorn, imploring, and utterly mad. It made me jolt my head with such a start that I thought I’d severed my neck.

 

I ran to the door. Then caution overtook me. It was with stealth that I produced the Webley from the bedside table.

 

I stole from my room, crept down the hall, and peered at the parlor below the mezzanine. There was nothing there.

 

“Psst…” I wheeled round bringing the revolver to bear on a freckled face whose pallor was wraithlike in the glow of the moon.

 

“Put that away Roderick…my god but you are a coward…”

 

It was Betty. Still acerbic even in the midst of crisis.

 

“Blast it all Beatrice…” I hissed. “I could have shot all those darling little sunspots clean off your bloody mug.”

 

“Oh, darling are they? So where was all this darling business when I…”

 

“Not now Betty…”

 

“You treat me like a servant.”

 

“You are a servant.”

 

“I’m a barkeep not a servant…”

 

Aside from our inappropriately puerile conversation nothing could be heard. The house was deathly silent.

 

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

 

“What!?”

 

“It’s silent.”

 

Her large green eyes lost their masterful sarcasm and advertised fear.

 

‘Good.’ I thought. She really was impeteous. I’d nearly killed her just now and if she didn’t stow that tomboy nonsense whatever was in the parlor may well do just that.

 

I’d worried for a long time now about security. The house had thirteen bedrooms, a library, a parlor, a kitchen. There were servants quarters on the grounds. These now that Henry and Sarah had left for Surrey stood empty. All of this was my doing. People may bear with much for fealtys sake but one cannot eat fealty.

There were three of us in the house. Jones, myself, and Beatrice. And I very much doubted that I was her first suitor. The province was small and word of the isolation of Roderick Hamilton would travel fast.

 

“Don’t look at me like that Rod…don’t…”

 

“If this is one of yours…I’ll kill him…” I said coldly.

 

“O….” she said tossing her head and bulging her eyes in a mocking expression. “Now he’s jealous…”

 

“I’ll kill him.” I repeated.

 

“It’s not one of mine. I told you…that’s done with…for ages now…”

 

I shot her a look.

 

“You never believe me…why do you never believe me…its horrid…what what have I done to you…you’re the one who said all those things and promised all those things and where are you…all you have is your mate and you strange games…you’re not a gentleman at all….”

 

“Well, yeah.” I said. “Yeah, I’m a failure…yeah…alright..fine… but I’ll be damned if I’ll be called a coward. Do you know what a trench smells like?”

 

“What…”

 

“Just stay there…or you’ll end up like Charlie. You fancy that?  like a banshee with a bit of skull swinging on a flap of skin?”

 

She started to complain again but I bit her ear. Gently of course. This was our little secret.

 

“Get back to your room or I’ll drag you back.”

 

“Is this it…is this what gets you frisky?”

 

“Now…” I hissed as I picked her up. For all her fire she was a petite little thing.

 

She sighed as she rested her head on my shoulder. “The things it takes for you to be a man.”

I had no time for this. I tossed her on her bed and made my way down the stairs. Why the hell did I humor her. I probably just killed Jones with this delay. I truly am worthless.

 

Peering into the eerie darkness I distinguished nothing. There were the chairs, the table, the piano and the cupboard. There were no occupants.

 

I was really at a loss as to what to do. Surely the cry had come from here and it had sounded exactly like Jones.

 

I stood at the precipice deliberating for what seemed like an eternity. Maybe I was a coward.

It was then that I heard a low groan.

 

This directed my attention to the thing long limb. It was Jone’s arm.

 

I decided on surprise. I discharged my weapon into the couch.

 

“Surrender!” I shouted as I swept the room. Then I ran back and swept the whole lower floor. Being sure to discharge only two more rounds while yelling that I’d summoned the police.

Finally frantically I ran back into the parlor and lit the lamps.

 

“Jones….Jones…Freddy…my man…what happened….”

 

He was laying behind his favorite easy chair with a book covering his face. There was no blood, there was no sign of struggle, he just lay there muttering and groaning weakly.

I poured a whiskey and sat him up.

 

“Here, drink you loon.”

 

The spirit returned what color could be said to naturally inhibit those thin pale cheeks. His grey eyes locked onto mine.

 

“They’re not angels Roderick…they’re not angels…” he coughed.

 

“What the devil are you talking about…”

 

“I don’t even know if that’s what they are..devils that is…no I don’t know what they are…but they’re horrible…”

 

“What! Who!”

But I knew what he was talking about even before I saw the shewstone clasped frantically in his hand.

 

I felt wet, shock, and surprise.

 

I woke up in a very soft comfortable bed with cheesy eighties themed wallpaper and a HD TV.

I was soaked and there was something red on my chest.

 

As I picked it up I realized it was part of a balloon.

 

“Oh, god damn it Sam…!”

 

Tropical Brutalism

“Hmm…” Sam said as he eyed the low L shaped building.

 

He was a surprisingly buoyant sort. I’d given him quiet the public thrashing for his sophomoric sin.

 

Though naturally strong he was lazy and thus no match for a rudely awoken sailor nursing a monstrous hangover.

 

I’d torn his Rick and Morty themed boxers clean off in the hotel lobby. And here he was grinning like a fool without a shade of embarrassment. Criticizing the local architecture.

 

“Retro stuff right there…I guess I’d call it tropical brutalism…”

 

The smell of aged leather was overwhelming in Doctor Cooks Benz. Apparently the pug faced academic thought fine cigars a more indispensable luxury than air conditioning. Though I suppose that if one grew up in the Amazon, especially as an outdoorsman, this would be perfectly rational.

 

To us though it was sheer hell. The wistful scent of overpriced tobacco fused with the humid air like a sauce to spice up the taste of that dank leather. ‘Yeah…this is tropical brutalism alright….’ I mused.

 

I kept quiet because I did not want to offend our hosts. But, the old school ‘69 280SE and the look of Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso was very reminiscent of pictures that I’d seen. Pictures of Cuba that is. I also couldn’t help the pueirile association between the words Cuba and Cuiaba. The cigar smell didn’t do much to dispel visions of Castro. Nonetheless I kept quiet.

Brazil is a unique place and Brazilians dislike it when people forgot this fact. At least that’s what I’d gotten from Thornton during the telephoned debriefing Schmidt and I received after disembarking the Genevieve. I’d learned to trust the goobers cultural insights ever since I’d unconsciously allowed my foot to point at our contact in Thailand. Turning what should have been a five minute exchange into a thirty minute session of placation.

 

We weren’t actually going inside the University. Dr. Cook had left the keys to his office at the local institute he’d recently helped establish in one of the classrooms.

 

Leo laughed from the convertible MG as the five of us sardines groaned in unison. The bespectacled panzer left us to simmer in our malodorous can as he blitzed his way toward the school. We groaned again and Leo laughed even louder when Cook returned to fetch the key to the building that held his other forgotten key. He would have fit the absent minded professor stereotype to a T had it not been for the strong impression of a fierce and practical intelligence that animated those deep brown eyes.

 

“Do not worry boys. There is excellent air conditioning at the Antiquities building. Jarvinen and De Witt made sure of that.”

 

I was annoyed at Leos easy sweatless expression beneath his panama hat. How could this convection oven ever become normal?

 

It was my turn to chuckle. A laugh caused by the realization that the excitement of jungle exploration had died long before we’d left the city.

 

“Tropical brutalism…” I muttered under my breath.

Institute

 

Cook’s institute was a sleek low building. The vibe of the universities brutalism gave way to a sort of giddy futuristic minimalism. It was not a key that operated the sliding glass doors. It was a card.

 

“Fancy.” Chuck quipped as we passed into the blessed hum of central air.

 

A plain middle aged woman greeted us in Portuguese. Cook grinned broadly and returned her welcome. But he did not pause. We all filed past in quick purposeful procession.

 

The keycard apparently unlocked many doors. First there was one inset within the confines of a glass wall that hinted at the hallway beyond. Then a slightly heavier metal door that led to a flight of stairs.

 

From the placards on the wall I could see that most of the building was underground.

 

We eventually found our way to a windowless conference room with an oval table. We were instructed to make ourselves comfortable on the ergonomic mesh swivel chairs as Leo and the Doctor positioned themselves in front of a projector.

 

“What are your opinions on dreams?” Cook inquired with a deadpan expression.

I chuckled internally. ‘Didn’t know I was in for new age psychotherapy.’

 

Sensing our less than serious appraisal of the question he reiterated it with emphasis as he added. “Tell us, all of you, from left to right.

 

We all gave various versions of: I don’t know, biological aftereffect, maybe it has something to do with spirituality, etc…

 

Cook nodded. “That’s about what I’d expect. It’s not too different from my own original opinion. To be honest it’s not too different from my present opinion. However, I’ve made some amendments to that conception. There are many tribes in the Amazon. Many tribes with many cultures and yet they all more or less share one constant. In that they place enormous emphasis on the importance of dreams. Many of the natives treat the world that lies beyond the veil of sleep more seriously than the waking world.”

 

“Kind of like the aborigines in Australia?” Sam quiered.

 

“Very similar yes.”

 

We all waited for an exposition that never came. Maybe they were waiting for us to ask more questions. They were former professors after all. But none of us knew where exactly to go.

 

“Hmmm…” Leo said bemusedly breaking the spell. “I’d have thought you’d be a touch more effusive. Given your line of work. You basically tear down the walls with your chemical hammers. Or do you really favor the so called materialist position? I’d have thought otherwise from my briefings with your superior.”

 

Again we didn’t really know how to respond.

It was true that a big part of PLATO entailed the use of psychedelics to explore the manifestation of Jungian archetypes. Such studies along with yielding a plethora of weaponized narcotics also gave those who considered themselves to be stewards of the earth a subtler toolset. The qualia of the sort of primordial drives and thought forms were profoundly useful for the peculiar sort of political science that Thornton et all specialized in.

 

As I’ve said before. I don’t hold a strictly materialist position. However, our work seemed up to the very recent events at Luckadoos and the Genevive to be pretty straightforward analysis of how neurochemistry coupled with suggestion would produce uncannily consistent results. So despite there being some surprisingly solid ‘proof of concept’ for Jung’s theories in our studies there was nothing terribly outre. So the team and I sat on the same fence between relativistic mysticism and reductionist philosophy as the rest of the industrialized world.

 

I put my thoughts into words. “Well, we’ve seen some wonky stuff. Though I’m not sure if its not part of Thorntons little experiment. I mean we’re the scientists and the guinea pigs ya dig? Has to be that way so it really is very uncertain. And I mean what do you expect? A dream is such a variable ridden thing. So much depends on so much. As you’ve said our work is sort of along these lines. And our work has brought us here. So why don’t you fill us in on your own understandings Doctor?”

 

There was a long pause.

 

Cook chuckled. “Well, my own understanding is equally difficult to get across. I was just curious to see if what I cannot express in words would match up with your ideas. When words fail pantomime is in order. And the sort of pantomime that is in order to relay what it is that I think I’ve found out, something that’s made almost certain by Senhor Hoyt’s possession of that map, is to go and find the dreamers in the wood.”

 

Boffin Bin

The air was cool. The room was dark. Servers hummed and blinked like christmas trees. It was a surreal world punctuated every now and again by a blue glow and a little puff of vapor.

The source of the latter phenomenon was a bearded and bespectacled youth. Who was so busy clack clack clacking away at one of the terminals that he didn’t hear us enter.

 

“Good morning Adrien.” Cook boomed.

 

There was a big metallic clank as the e-cigar dropped and rolled on the linoleum floor followed by a loud “Merde!”

 

Leo and Cook laughed at the profuse litany of french curses that followed.

 

“You are the reason for Agincourt.” Leo teased.

 

The youth fumed again. But this time in English. “You surprise me in the dark like a coward Les Goddams.”

 

He picked up his futuristic nicotine dispenser and resumed copying whatever it was he was copying.

 

“You should not be so focused. It is not French. What if we were thieves.”

 

“You are thieves. You steal my time. I want to finish this EH ES EH PEH so I can go home to your nieces cooking.

 

I chuckled at Sam’s look of dismay. Seems like his newest crush was in the clutches of a hipstery Frenchman.

 

“Ah, now you comport yourself as a proper Norman.” Cook said goodnaturedly.

 

“Mm…and who are they?”

 

“Hoyt et al.”

 

“Ah, so you are going to go chasing fairy tales.”

 

Cook began to protest in Portuguese but not before the door opened behind us and I heard someone yell something in French.

 

This polyglot mess was about to get a whole lot more disorienting.

 

There was something really familiar in the tone and cadence of that Gallic lilt. As the owner shutout the veil of fluorescent light that blinded us I realized why.

 

“What the hell…!”

 

Coonass Ops

 

I suppose it is true. There is some overlap between the bayous of Louisiana and the Pantanal. These hot humid wetlands develop similar skill sets in their natives. This at least was Thornton’s stated reason for Fabre’s presence.

 

Apparently he’d been here ever since he had signed the NDA about a month prior. Fabre had insisted on following us, on helping guide us, with much vehemence. And since his background was so ‘fit to task’ Thornton had arranged to have a Sheriff take over the Cajuns precinct.

 

When I pressed him on why he was so keen on joining us in this mad business, he simply said that some things couldn’t be conveyed through words. He said that maybe we would see when the time was right. He said something about duty.

 

I recalled vaguely some fear of his about some business in his past. But decided not to press the matter any further. Not only would it do little good but I was too preoccupied with dreading yet another bout of training.

 

No one was about to let a bunch of recently sequestered boffins just waltz into the Amazon. No matter their background. That’s one of the reasons why Fabre had arrived so far ahead of us. He’d been here training with Martin advising him on American culture, tactics, and on us.

Martin Lobo was a recently retired C Op Esp guy.

 

Basically the Brazilian equivalent of an army ranger. He was large, square jawed, and distant. I did not relish the month of ‘conditioning’ ahead of us under his supervision.

 

I’m sure that whatever regime he and Fabre had concocted this past month would make our fortnight in the Mojave seem like a vacation.

 

Fortunately the goobers Catholic sadism had relented enough to allow us a few days to explore Cuiaba. Despite its modest size it was a modern city with all the comforts that this entails. We had decided to make the best of it by letting Cook’s niece introduce us to her friends.

 

These girls turned out to be earthy good natured sorts, as did pretty much all the people we met, male female, European, indigenous, or mixed. There was a sense of ease and abundance in the music filled streets that almost made us forget the herculean task that laid ahead.

 

Madonna

 

Lobo grinned broadly.

 

“Madonna?” I confirmed.

 

“Si.”

 

He did have a sense of humor.

 

We watched in amusement as Madonna lilted lazily around Martin’s feet.

 

Capybaras are rather retiring beasts. Madonna was no exception. Black button eyes regarded us with beach bum tranquility.

 

Fabre chuckled and exchanged some words with Adrien in French.

 

“What do you frogs find so damned amusing?”

 

“You will not find her.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“You know last night there was a caiman under the house.”

 

I was getting even more confused.

 

“You do not remember what that means?”

 

I shook my head.

 

“It means you are going to piss away all the water and die of a heatstroke.”

 

“Would you people stop talking in riddles,” Chuck interjected.

 

“Suppose you’re out there,” Fabre said jerking a thumb at the jungle behind him. “What happens when you run out of food…more important…outta water?”

 

‘A question with a question.’

“Are you guys fucking lawyers or something?”

 

Fabre laughed pulling a paintball gun out of a chest beneath some awning.

 

“No, but that out there is judge, jury, and executioner.” He said as a paintball ‘thunked’ into the depths.

 

Basic 2.0  

 

I awoke to the sound of drops on fabric. Groggy, exhausted, and unbearably hot, I cursed the dawn.

 

Despite the planned expedition’s manifest including portable climate control we would suffer a month of conditioning.

 

‘We need conditioning alright…air conditioning.’ I mused as the Jeeps side mirror revealed my ruddy face.

 

My trek to the latrine was abrupted by a heavy accent.

 

“You did no check your boots.”

 

‘O Christ..’ It was Lobo.

 

He was wearing combat boots, cargo pants, a t shirt, and a paddy hat. How anyone could stomach a hat, much less a woolen one, was beyond me.

 

“You will be killed…sick…before we start, this way…”

 

“Yeah, yeah…” I muttered drowsily.

 

His expression informed me that he didn’t like that answer.

 

“Look, Senhor Lobo I’m not a civ, I know this…I understand this.”

 

“You understand nothing.”

 

I really had to piss.

 

“I think the camp is wet enough without my fertilizing it.” I turned to go on my merry way. But I was stopped by a vice like grip.

 

The sound of the rain, the feel of it, wasn’t helping matter. A mad thought flashed through my mind as abruptly as the local lightning.

 

‘I’m going to kill this son of a bitch.’

The guy was bigger than the spook that had broken into the lodge. I’m a strong man and the position of Lobo and his hand would make it easy to slam him over my hip. But why alienate an ally? Why risk injury?

 

I relaxed.

 

“Look, I’ve already seen my share of drill sergeants. Lemee piss and then you can bitch me out…ok?”

 

He released me and I nearly jogged to the latrine. I was nauseous from my over occupied bladder.

 

‘This shit is bad enough at nineteen…at nearly thirty…unbearable…” I ruminated after relief.

 

When I returned he d me to get back in the tent, get out, check my boots.

 

‘Yep..basic 2.0.’

Bichanos  

We were sick for a while at first. Though the food and water was clean our bodies required some adjusting to the local microbiome.

 

Of course I was expecting this. I’d gotten a lot of background from Thornton as usual. The fact that we’d be facing gastric distress had been hammered into place by the round of vaccinations we’d undergone.

 

As such malaria and yellow fever were less of a worry. Though I still did not entertain too high a confidence in my immunity. Especially now that I was here.

 

It was so vastly different. Even the touristy parts we’d seen before heading into the ‘proper’ jungle for Lobo’s little course were forbidding.

 

We’d been tracking Madonna for some time now. How a two hundred pound rat gets lost is beyond me.

 

‘The sooner we find that beast the sooner we eat.’ I ruminated as I hovered over the trigger.

Now don’t get me wrong. We weren’t going to eat Lobo’s pet. Just give it’s fur some color via paintballs.

This made me feel doubly sorry for the criter. Capybaras were gregarious. Being alone in this remote area of the Pantanal was as unnatural for a capybara as the space age colors that adorned some of the trees we’d mark with our arsenal.

 

It had been four hours since we’d left camp and there was no sign of her.

 

Capybaras only range about 25 acres max on average. But, she was far out of her range. And I really doubted that Lobo would be so lenient. Even though this was our first exercise. He wasn’t the sort to ease people into something.

 

I wondered if she’d find some other capybaras.

 

Just then I heard Sam give a long whistle.

There at the edge of a tributary was a huge anaconda. It was motionless and we soon understood the reason why. There near the center of the serpents trunk was a very suggestive bump.

 

“Does it count if we paint the snake?” Sam joked as he trained his gun on the reptile.

I had no idea. This whole exercise was very wild, very irregular.

 

At times I thought that Lobo was trying to put us off the trip. He didn’t seem too keen on trekking into the depths. His quiet cryptic protostations chilled me more than even the most graphic accounts of the Candiru fish.

 

I was hot, tired, and we were almost out of water.

 

As I said before we did not drink Brazilian water. Rather bottled American stuff. We were slowly being weaned onto the local sources. I really thought this an overcaution something that played into the little game of trekking through unforgiving terrain with limited resources.

 

Now our camelbacks and the litre bottles in our packs were getting dangerously low. This place sucked the mositure right out of you. It bled through your pores to join the liquid air.

Now that our main objective might well be compromised I felt more tired than I’d ever been before. We hadn’t received very much conditioning before he sent us on this wild goose chase.

I wanted to jump into the river. Just strip down and jump on in. I didn’t. I knew all the reasons why it was a bad idea.

 

So instead I inspected the ground for perils tossed down my pack. Sat on the makeshift chair and pulled out my flask.

 

“Well fuck.” I said looking up at Lucas red tired face.

 

“You really think that’s her in there…”

 

“Well it’s about the right size.”

 

“Sure, but it could be any number of things.”

 

“What if it’s a princess…” Sam said producing a cruel looking combat knife from the swordlike sheath at his side. “I haven’t fucked in days.”

 

“Put that away ya fuckin dork.” Lucas said with fatigue accentuated exasperation.

 

“You haven’t seen pussy since the womb and the womb was trying to spit you out…” Chuck attempted some raunch wit.

 

“Jesus, you guys…pardon me for trying to lighten the mood.”

 

“The only thing that could lighten my mood is an igloo, a six pack, and your mother.” The heat really wasn’t helping my banter. I highly doubted that shoving the blarney stone square up my ass would help improve my rhetoric under these circumstances.

 

Graham was even creepier in the wild. I felt like he still had most of his supply. He was calm, almost bemused, but with that same mocking edge. He was pouring over a field guide completely detached and oblivious to our whinge fest.

 

“Hey Hoyt gimmee a damn smoke!” I grunted at the spectre.

 

“Now’s a pretty bad time to pick up that habit wouldn’t you say Alan?”

 

“Now’s a pretty bad time to piss me off.” I said with a violence that surprised me.

Graham obliged.

 

No sooner had I lit the cigarette then I heard a distant whir.

 

Pretty soon a green and blue helicopter burst into sight over the tree line on the opposite bank.

“Bichanos! Bichanos! Why have you drunk all the water….” Lobos voice boomed in mocking triumph through a megaphone.

 

I took a drag and lifted my middle finger high.

Extreme Parsimony

 

‘In the jungle the miser is king.’ Cook’s translation of Lobo’s little epigram kept circling round my brain.

 

The Capybara hunt had simply been an assessment of our frugality.

 

We had failed.

 

A complete restructuring of habits was in order. The incident with the boots had only been a taste of Lobo’s OCD.

 

I understood military precision. I understood the psychological and physical necessity of ritual of tidiness. I understood the fastidious caution of the seasoned outdoorsman. But I did not understand Lobo.

 

What I had mistaken for reticence and a stiff upper lip was actually just energy conservation. The guy was a human sonar. Taking in every little thing and every little thing beyond the smallest thing ad infinitum. When we’d go into town for meetings and supplies he was as gregarious as anyone.

 

He liked to sing and could play a little guitar. The instrument dwarved comically by his cyclopean hands.

 

Despite  excellent English he opted to communicate in Portuguese more often than not. Even to us.

 

I figure he was trying to get us used to the language. Or that he was just being an ass. It was always difficult to tell.

 

‘In the jungle the miser is king.’

 

I found the thought a touch odd. The jungle is a place of extreme abundance. Fertile and fecund beyond belief. Rain, game, and fuel was for all intents and purposes boundless. Yet we were supposed to exhibit: ‘extreme parsimony’?

 

It took a while for an obvious fact to dawn on me. Every calorie expended in the jungle was a huge withdrawal. Food might be everywhere and even if you are a skilled hunter you still must hunt.

 

Rain may be everywhere but you must catch it. River water must be purified. All things that take time and energy. Time and energy that here beneath the canopy would tax an Olympian.

 

As such the utmost must be done to promote efficiency. Even minor setbacks like a scrape that went a little too deep could quickly escalate far beyond control. Infection, death, etc.

You had to move quick, you had to move light, and you had to move tidy. There was little room for error if any. Even in as propitious a season as we had chosen to embark. The lack of flash floods was not the lack of snakes, bacteria, or mercurial natives.

 

Everything must be conserved because everything took a fortune to replace.

 

I understood this after a few exercises. After really letting the fatigue of even the most mundane tasks seep in. But still…

 

“Yeah, but aren’t we gonna have 24/7 comm lines and air support?”

 

All I got in response was a condescending grin.

Acclimation

 

The month broke down into quarters. The first two weeks were spent in assessment and orientation. The last two in intensive conditioning.

 

The latter portion was to take place entirely in the wild. There would be no communication and definitely no more trips back into town.

 

I gave up alcohol. We all did. The only one that retained a vice was Graham whose continued smoking bewildered us. It didn’t slow him at all. In fact despite his lankiness he seemed entirely at ease.

My physical condition had deteriorated at the lodge. Of course we’d all kept up with a basic standard of fitness. I’d always been naturally strong a feature that wasn’t too dampened by drinking. Or so I imagined until I had to have a real test again.

 

Explosive strength I had in goodly measure but stamina lagged far behind that hare. In fact that’s what I had become a hare. Quick bursts of prowess and then deep fatigue. I even had a slight gut.

Needless to say I was miserable. We were all profoundly miserable save Graham of course.

 

As I sat at a bar on our last night in Cuiaba drinking mango juice I felt simultaneously grateful and apprehensive about the two weeks of hell ahead.

 

I recalled my now decades old patrols in Bolivia and how I was grateful that I was a sailor. One can move with ease in a difficult environment, the same ease as if in a living room, with adequate preparation.

 

So mango juice it was.

Cosmic Shoes

Chocolate. This is why I loved every third night. Chocolate, of the ice cream variety was our nightly reward.

 

My legs were screaming from the log carry we’d just completed through the muddy trail that we ourselves had cut.

 

The warmth of the fire wasn’t necessary though I appreciate it nonetheless. It was a necessary balm. Lifting the spirit and impelling the mind from an aching body and towards the realm of dreams.

 

Nobody said anything. We just ate our treats in that measured methodical way that people do after an ordeal.

 

The fire danced and so did my mind.

 

The tropic sky gleamed above with pinpoint purity. There high above untold billions of celestial conflagrations danced far fiercer than the aromatic orange at our feet.

I was dreadfully sober. It was the sobriety of exertion. No chemical flashbacks assisted the films my head produced. My musings these sensations were au natural.

 

And it was spectacular. As spectacular as the deepest inebriation.

 

I beheld the Earth as an idealized thing. A tidy clinical Earth fit for a geometers purpose. I thrilled as I realized that it was my shoes. Holding me fast as we traversed the Sunbound track.

The cool deliciousness of the desert sent chills of pleasure through my frame and I closed my eyes.

What is it? What is it to be alive and in what way does it differ from death? The dead have not as yet testified.

 

Did we ever transcend? Could we ever transcend. Would we transcend through this current trial?

 

What would that even mean? What am I even asking?

 

What good is giddy whirling between dimensions? If such a thing is possible then they are all bound by a single thread. A single thought the only thing that can ever be. The ever present now. For a past is a present that was and a future is a present that will be.

 

And whatever array of whatever metaphysic and matter in whatever hierarchy all it can and all it will is NOW.

 

And now was ice cream. And now was fatigue. Now was not a kaleidoscope or elves or machines now simply was in the midst of these things and could damn well be more profound than any such conjuration.

 

For now I had become a silence.

Ambush

 

We’d gone north. And we’d go further north and east through the depths of the Xingu national park and perhaps further. The actual journey somewhat retracing the path of Fawcett as corrected by Grann’s findings in Gurrins collection and Hoyt’s map.

 

I thought that the training had reached a plateau when we were forced to do small engine repairs after twenty mile hikes. I was wrong.

 

Lobo had a book of common mechanical woes. He would circle our various crafts both aquatic and terrestrial with a look of profound satisfaction as he sabotaged them in ever more intricate ways.

 

At first we were rewarded for a swift or sound repair but soon they had to be both swift and sound. And not very long after that our reward for a swift and sound solution was digging ditches and building lean tos in the humid air.

 

Periodically he would leave us to our own devices without warning. Cook, the frog, and the cajun, had gone back to arrange things with native tribes for our arrival in their respective territories during the coming weeks. So when he left it was just us American boys and the jungle.

 

That’s exactly what we’d felt like as well. Boys.

 

Though we held various ranks we had trouble assuming the roles they implied. Seniority means little without the real wisdom and skill of cultivated age. Five late twenties martial vagabonds may be captains and colonel but that didn’t mean much. It meant even less in the Amazon.

 

Oddly enough it was Hoyt that turned out to be the daddy we all needed when Lobo split. This weird alien boffin was so removed from us, and seemingly from all things terrestrial, that we natural used him as supreme court justice when settling various disputes.

 

I chuckled when I realized we had organically formed our own Amazonian tribe complete with shaman.

 

I suppose that Lobo ghosted us with the express intent of simulating the mercurial nature of the jungle. We could not learn self reliance if we relied on him psychologically even if this reliance held to many unhealthy similarities with Stockholm’s famous syndrome.

 

I doubt that he realized we’d just replace one chief with another. Hierarchy is one of the strongest human instincts and I had never felt the fragile state of my humanity more profoundly then when I tried to sleep. When I tried to sleep in an ancient alien womb with a highly classified version of the Haight Ashbury as the only guards against starvation and the things that crinkled, pussyfooted, and crunched just beyond the flame of the camp.

 

I had read in Howard Bloom’s Lucifer Principle that the top ape would feign disinterest. That his stoic bearing is what ushered the troop into line. Maybe that’s what Graham was doing. But I didn’t think so. Besides I had long thought the strength of the ape and man analogy to be weaker than the giddy proponents of biological determinism would have one think. Not that I was a blank slatist but really even if genes were the whole picture then it must be stressed that even slight variations produce profound spiraling effects. As far as I understood things anyway.

These were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I watched Graham extinguish his millionth cigarette.

 

He turned to look me in the eye.

 

I opened my mouth to speak but he held his finger to his lips.

 

Then he pointed at the line of trees to our immediate right.

 

No sooner had he done this than a sturdy deeply tanned man with a bowl cut emerged into our clearing. Followed by a silent explosion of feathered brothers wielding clubs, bows, and spears.

 

O good.

 

I got the distinct impression that these fellows weren’t very happy to see us. One of them chattered at me demandingly in incomprehensible syllables. Having noted my blank uncomprehending stare he turned to his fellows and whispered something. They began circling us.

 

‘O good.’

 

I really didn’t know what to do. We had no arms and even if we did using them would be inadvisable. Who knows how many lurked in the dim shadows beyond the fire?

 

“This doesn’t seem very diplomatic.” Sam quipped grimly.

 

“Any ideas?” Lucas said looking directly at our de facto leader.

 

Graham said nothing. Producing a zippo from his lighter in a smooth fluid motion he popped the top with a metallic clink and the small candle like flame danced in the night. This produced a quick bursting wave of hushed chattering from our visitors.

 

Then Graham pulled out his Pall Malls and held them high. The top of the pack was torn open and wiggling out a fag with his thumb he completed the extraction with his lips and lit it. As he exhaled smoke he eyed the crowd.

 

They chattered again.

 

He closed the zippo and along with the pack extended it towards the crowd with a bowed head.

 

“A gift.” He said calmly as he beckoned with the present.

 

One of the younger looking men rushed forward to accept but was quickly yanked back by the man who had first spoken. There were some words of obvious reprimand and then for what seemed like hours but was likely mere minutes the entire group watched us with eerie silence.

 

This is when I heard the sound of rotor blades.

 

Soon after flares rained down on all sides and a familiar voice boomed curious syllables through a megaphone.

 

The crowd remained watchful for a few moments more then disappeared smoothly into the inky night.

 

The bird circled and continued its rain of flares. Then hovered above our camp.

We heard metallic laughter through the megaphone.

 

“Are you scared bichanos? It is ok stay calm do not leave the camp Papa is coming.”

 

The laughter resumed.

 

‘What a fucking asshole.’

 

An hour or so later Fabre and Lobo burst into the camp laughing uproariously with a silent Cook in tow.

 

Upon seeing our confused annoyed faces they managed to calm themselves enough to put forth an explanation.

 

“I guess Cook owes you an apology. Diplomacy is hard in the Amazon and we can’t keep track of everything.”

 

“It is my fault.” Cook confessed.

 

“What is?” Lucas asked.

 

“That tribe, we don’t really even have a name for them we were unable to negotiate for them to tolerate you.”

 

“To tolerate us?”

 

“Yes, all the local chiefs must be placated and assured that brancos are not garimpeiros and are not carrying disease.”

 

“It is a good thing that this happened.” Lobo cut in.

 

“It is a good thing because you see I am a man and this place will crush me accidently in seconds and you are bichanos…this expedition is a joke…”

 

“Don’t be insulted by the truth boys.”

 

“I might not be a superhero but I’m not a bitch.”

 

Lobo shook his massive head. “Does not matter…we are all bitches here.”

 

“They were going to kill you and burn the camp.” Fabre said.

 

Noble Savage

 

I never subscribed to the myth of the noble savage. Ever since I came across Rousseau’s idea of the inherent goodness of man in the wild…. I found it laughable.

 

And here of course my suspicions were confirmed. Those suspicions being that ‘people are people.’ Attributing mysticism to their humanity because of an underdog ‘natural’ status is condescending. All that west coast birkenstock bric a brac seemed a touch racist. ‘Why can’t an Indian be an asshole?’

 

But these boys weren’t assholes. They did have a legitimate reason to kill us. Nothing wrong with whacking the baddies. I’m a military man after all so murder is in my toolkit. Argue all you want but at some point killing is a right. Ugly? This fact? Perhaps, but defecation is also a right. We shit.

 

We kill.

We were potential vectors for disease. And while this tribe may not have understood the finer points of germ theory they weren’t stupid. They understood that every time ‘brancos’ (white folk) showed up death and disease often followed.

 

Hence all the trips to various villages that Cook and Lobo had recently taken. They were on a diplomatic mission to ply various chiefs with gifts and assure them that we weren’t walking infections. This would pave the way for a smoother passage then if we just strode in like we owned the place.

 

And Brancos had been doing precisely that for far too long. I am no bleeding heart and I take a healthy satisfaction in my northern heritage but there’s much to lament about the course of history. I can’t recall the name of the prospector but one story in particular turned my stomach.

 

Cook recounted how nearly a century or maybe it was more…there was a group of brigands chasing dreams of gold in the wood. There is gold in the Amazon but there are also Indians. And this particular band took great joy in giddy slaughter. Pregnant women were disemboweled, flayed men hung from trees, and all this was considered good.

 

More recently clashes between natives and police had produced less gruesome deaths. But deaths they remained. There were yet still prospectors boasting of slain Indians. In 2017 an investigation was launched based on these boasts which could be the cause of the deaths of 10 natives. Ten dead men does not strike a NATO boy as even the merest marginalia. But, these ten marked the death of a fifth of a nation.

 

It was small wonder then – the news of the visitations intent. The Amazon was home to the largest number of uncontacted tribes and while Cook was good, no one was quite good enough…

 

All these thoughts I read in the reflection of my face. The dark glass of a government Jeep was transporting us back to Cuiaba.

 

We were in trouble. The incident with the flares and the helicopter may have saved us but it was certainly unpopular with local officials.

 

Cook paused his hectic portuguese exchange with the officer driving and turned to me.

 

“Did I forget to tell you to sing?”

 

Those Who Come In Silence

 

Silence suggests stealth. And stealth suggests malevolence. A man who enters your house belting a show tune is less likely to be a thief or killer than one who silently finds an open window.

 

I had heard that Percy Fawcett was fond of singing and that he often sang with the natives. There are many anecdotes from this hundred year old tale and I’m not sure which are true. I do know however that it is advisable to make your presence known. So perhaps the Colonels singing was less indicative of a cheery disposition and more of a practical necessity.

 

Us Americans had the luxury of only the briefest questioning before we were returned to the hotel. Cook, Lobo, and Frog were probably going to spend the entire night deliberating with the police chief and Indian Rights organizations.

 

Honestly this whole thing was beginning to feel more and more insane by the minute. Even despite the fact that madness had become the norm for us. We were as out of sorts here as if we were on the moon. Probably more so since the moon is uninhabited.

 

Lobo had looked happy. Maybe he had purposefully forgotten to inform Cook of the unknown tribe. Maybe he was trying to delay or sabotage an expedition that he found daft.

 

We were going to be well equipped. We were going to have native guides, fighting men, medics, and enough supplies to state a small army for a full years quarter. GPS phones, air conditioned tents, antivenoms, MRE’s, despite all this…it felt crazy…it felt wrong.

 

And tonight had deepend the feeling.

I layed in the hotel, appreciating the cool sensation of the fabric, the crystal glow of the football match, and even the shitty eighties wallpaper. I was nearly thirty, and military or not, conditioned or not, a very recent boozehound.

 

Was Thornton trying to get us killed now that he had extracted all usefulness from us at the Lodge? But then what was all that I had seen the lights, Jesse’s story, and that damned airport beneath the waves. Above top secret meant we knew things but in bits and slivers and how did I know that the bits and slivers weren’t being fed to me for the amusement of an old sadist or the founding of some cult.

 

My eyes and forehead hurt from the strain of trying to figure away out of it. Out of trekking through a place where I had no business. Out of looking for a myth that had killed countless others.

But then I recalled my father. I recalled his final years. Listless as I was now, sitting before a screen, with his only outings being protestant worship, or a buffet. He’d been active but a work injury had dampened his athletic resolve and his cinematic escapism led to a diabetes which participated a premature death. I remember the hospital bed, I remember the bored look of bored pain….

 

And suddenly Valhalla made sense.

 

‘I fucking hope piranhas eat me.’

 

The Map

 

Stealth had failed Dr. Cook. There is as much corruption in Brazil as anywhere and there are plenty of travel restrictions even for esteemed scientists. He had wanted to circumvent these. Some of the limits on passage were absolutely ludicrous and had more to do with guarding smuggler’s routes than anything approaching legitimacy.

 

But he was not cautious enough and the forces of pillage, rapine, and court intrigue would soon have caught up with him had he not failed in placating our yesternights marauders. In fact that incident attested to the benevolent force of luck which seemed to follow me everywhere.

By all rights I should be dead many times over. But that is a story for another time.

 

For now we sit again at the Jewel of Cuiaba with Cook’s niece the fetching Maria. The fading sunlight dapples with utmost play upon her tan and silky shoulders. I was fiercely horny, having seen nothing but jungle, sweat, and sweaty men for a fortnight and a spell. It reminded me of Citadel nights when we’d be allowed to mix with the women. But unlike those times I could not act.

 

There set that French fuck. A charming enough fellow, intelligent and all, but possessing that Gallic air, a certain carriage that stirred violence within my heart. I do so hate the French and lust most heartily to acquaint them with their own foul concept of Coup d Grace. Insufferable prick I could snuff out his miserable life and take this little minx for myself. Weak degenerate, academic, shit…Look at her on display as if on a desert roof and I a David and he a French fuck. He turned and smiled his crooked condescending smile and I laughed internally at my primordial violence.

 

No woman is worth the death of even the vilest of men. Not that women are bad. They are just no better than men. Chimps we are the whole sodding lot. Helen is a whore. But I stray…

As we stuffed ourselves with Feijoada and dishes the names of which I cannot recall for the sake of sheer variety. Delicious all, especially so, for our esteemed guest, some G-man betitled Costa. Dr. Cook attempted to extract a travel permit of sorts while the girl lavished the official with drink and femini viles. Many a stray touch occurred. And this was the reason for Adrienes grin.

 

It could not have been pleasant to watch a lover stoke a strangers flame. But he was French after all and seemed to be fine, amused even. Fatalistic frog…typical cynic..blase shit….

I nearly retched upon remembering the vile vile taste of Onion Soup. But the chief portion of our repast was over and as we awaited dessert, Dr. Cook pulled Hoyt’s map from a protective sleeve that he withdrew from a briefcase.

 

“You have of course heard the rumors?”

 

“Si.” Senhor Costa laughed turning red a color that mixed oddly with his deeply tanned face. “Is this what you are after! Hah, well if it’s really there, I guess it would be somewhere there between the Xingu and the other branch. But you will die long before you arrive. And for what ghosts? Stories from superstitious fools.”

 

“But look at the parchment. Is it not authentic. Do you not smell Carvajal?”

 

“I smell folly.”

 

“Fine, I am not asking you to believe in the city but you have seen yourself, the ditches, the canals, the traces of road, the black earth. This could be the key to unlocking it all. Myths are not always unfounded you know.”

 

“Dr. Cook you are an intelligent man. One of the finest minds of Brazil. If I allowed you to venture with these indians, boys, and mercenaries that deep I would kill you. Then what will they say about me. My wife will hate me even more than if I was stupid enough to fall for your niece flirting.” He said as he smacked away Marias hand.

 

I gained considerable respect for the balding bespectacled bureaucrat in that moment.

 

“No one will know Senhor Costa. It will all seem as if we bribed the Red Hand.”

 

Costa shook his head and threw up his hands.

 

“Fine, doctor if you want to die if you want to kill these brancos. You have my blessing.”

I was really confused. The exchange that had occurred seemed too easy.

It took a long time for me to understand. I had to piece it together from murmurs and hints.

Honeypot

 

It was a jungle. It was literally a jungle. And it was also metaphorically a jungle. Unlikely alliances are common in jungles of the latter variety. As any New York deputy would attest.

 

Interests had converged and what I had witnessed was merely a formality. A way for both Cook and Costa to assure each other that a mutual understanding was honored.

 

Nothing in the conversation could implicate either man, even if they were being recorded. This thought made my spooky soul giggle. You can lodge a bug right in your targets colon but you can’t beat good old fashioned bullshit. A turn of phrase, nonverbal codes, a list of blasphemies for the NSA.

 

I think they call it social engineering. I was always annoyed by this term even though it was technically part and parcel of my job description. I guess I’m old fashioned in my disdain for euphemisms. Social engineering is just good old fashioned bullshit.

 

“What do you think about lying?” I shotgunned. Hoping to catch her off guard mid stretch.

She dropped on her back from the edge of the bed where she was sitting. Rolling over on her stomach and shimmying on top of me her lips found mine. Our tongues met and then suddenly I felt a slight pain. She’d bitten my tongue…

 

It was blessedly brief. In just over a second she’d shot up and giggled.

 

“What kind of question is that…you have asked…have you lied to me…I will bite off…off the tongue…”

 

My fears were somewhat allayed. There had been none of that tell tale stiffening. One would think that a well known ‘out’ for a honeypot would be ineffective and thus you’d have to find a new one. But actually familiarity made a reaction harder to mask.

 

Though I was still suspicious. This sudden tryst had gone a touch too smoothly. I’m not a putz but I’m no Casanova. I’m far too analytical to be a lady killer.

 

“It was a test.”

 

“O…a test…well so what position are you to test me…” Her obtuse nordic indignation was more Swedish than Finnish.

Which was opportune since she basically handed me the keys to the mansion of sophomoric wordplay.

 

“How about sideways…let’s gauge structural integrity…”

 

‘Ewww…’ I was grossed out by my awkward banter but she didn’t seem to notice and I quickly remedied the chance of a spoiled moment with sheer physicality.

 

We went on for a few more rounds.

 

“There it was.” She said.

 

I turned my head to look into her eyes and raised a brow in question.

 

“You looked at me like you look at her… You were so hungry …but she does not get you…she always gets the fun…”

 

And it all made sense. It was a repeat of my last romance. Accidental jealousy. A surprisingly effective aphrodisiac.

 

Still…I was paranoid.

 

Like with the pow-wow full enlightenment would take some days.

 

It seemed that Anna, the dirty blonde doing her doctoral dissertation was Aada’s sister. I mean I knew that. They were both Finnish, treating each other with the sort of disinterested familiarity that was more common among families rather than friends. Years ago Saara had taught me some basics which in Brazil coming from an American was I guess…’sexy.’ Or probably just nice.

 

Anyway, I’d taken no care to mask my lust. I was undoubtedly a touch wild eyed. Not that it was the least bit surprising considering how rarely female presence and how even more rarely female attention graced us these past couple of years.

 

Aada had smiled quietly in the corner. And though I favored her reddish blonde head to the more typical indecisiveness of Anna’s. Anna seemed absolutely taken with me. Which to a lonely man was like finding water in the desert.

 

But nothing had come of the exchange. She left abruptly after receiving a text. I did note that Ada had turned to look at me one last time before they exited Cook’s sitting room.

She was asleep now. I kissed the top of that auburn celebration that so reminded of New England autumn’s at my uncle’s cabin. Scarcely knowing the annoying secret that lay beneath those locks.

 

Huaca

 

“You saw those rocks right?” Cook inquired.

 

“Huh?”

 

“When you were training did you notice any stones in the jungle?”

 

Everything had been a blur.

 

“No.”

 

“Hmm…” Cook said furrowing his brow.

 

“Isn’t the rainforest famously rockless?”

 

“Si…yes…for the most part but…you are telling me that you did not see the huacas?”

 

“Huaca WAKA?” Sam quipped.

 

“Yes you can also say waka. It is a quechuan word.”

 

Sam laughed. “Holy shit I’m a fucking shaman. And you guys think I’m the dumb one. None of you had sudden god damned blessed burst of hallelujah glossolalia. I’m Quetzalcoatl bitch!”

 

“Wrong country…”

 

Sam waved dismissively.

 

“As I was saying,” Cook continued. “All roads lead to Cusco.”

 

“Do they?”

 

“Yes, you have no doubt heard the saying: ‘All roads lead to Rome?’”

 

“We’re familiar with the concept.”

 

“So huacas are all over South America but mostly concentrated in Peru.”

 

“And you’re saying that we should have seen some, that they’re rocks?”

The doctor responded by placing a glossy picture book of various Andean glyphs on the table. I passed it to my right.

 

“Well…a huaca can generally be anything but is often a stone or stones sort of like Menhir in England.”

 

“Anybody see anything?” I asked scanning the faces of my comrades. Every expression was blank.

 

“Huacas are shrines, that served various purpose, many of which had to do with pilgrimage. They are sort of politico/religious outposts of the Inca civilization leading to its center in Cusco.”

 

“Do you think we should have seen some?”

 

“O certainly, yes….they were right beside your camp. I was going to give you a lecture on them when I returned but of course you know I was interrupted..and…actually…about that interruption…”

 

There was a long silence.

 

“Apparently that uncontacted tribe wasn’t even supposed to be there. They were from deep deep in the jungle to the East. Coming from the direction that we were heading. The Kuikuro chief told me that these strangers had chased some very strange looking folk who they had describes as enemies and thieves…”

 

None of us were sure what this had to do with rocks. Despite several days of airconditioning and rest we were too tired to make even the most basic deductions.

 

“Lot’s of weird stuff going on lately.” Anna chimed in. “Doc thinks these ‘enemies’ have been stealing sacred items.”

 

“Yes, which is very strange because most of these things aren’t worth much and even less when moved from their original location.”

 

Chuck looked especially lost in thought.

 

“Say, didn’t Sam’s sketch have a pile of stones in it?”

 

The doctor pause a bit, obviously trying to recall the subject.

 

“Si! As a matter of fact it did.”

 

“I thought it was ruins but …maybe it’s one of those Waka thingies?”

 

“Could be…”

 

“Yes, your little drawing there, you said you’d made it under the influence, in a sort of shamanic state?” Dr. Bohm’s urbane voice inquired.

 

Sam nodded.

 

“Coupled with the map Hoyt brought along this has all the hallmarks of an authentic vision…which makes me think…that someone out there in the wood has heard…and is destroying what remains of an ancient road.”

 

“Did a vehicle…land somewhere out there …in the Andes….” Sam sang under his breath.

 

“Hah, Inca roads!” I exclaimed. This was getting interesting.

 

“I don’t know what song that is but yes that is my latest theory that Cusco was the epicenter of a

far vaster empire than we ever imagined. Though of course Manco Capac was a rediscoverer of that sacred place. The scion of a remnant who returned and kindled the last flicker of memory before the arrival of Cortes.”

 

“Alonso are you guys familiar with the cosmic bellybutton?” Anna was fond of calling me Alonso…how that arose from Alan I guess only a Suomi would know. I had no idea what she was talking about.

 

“The Quechua word q’osqo is anglicanized Cusco. In that original language it means navel. Based on the geology of the surrounding rivers Cuzco fits into the dark rift north of Sagittarius that alignas with those rivers.” She answered my raised brow in a lilting paragraph.

 

“So South America was the birthplace of all civilization? I mean yeah, I guess the Amazon is far more Eden like than Mesopotamia.” Chuck mused.

 

“That’s one possible explanation. And explanations are what we have been seeking and why we brought you here as soon as we heard the news about Hoyt’s awakening.”

 

“So we’re still going…?”

 

“Si…but…Lobo is really against it now…and I can’t go without him at some point the native guides and even the mercenaries will abandon us…”

 

“Why?”

 

“They are afraid of the Chachapoyas…”

 

“Huh…”

 

“Those are the folks that the visitors were chasing. A group of lightskinned savages originating in Peru who till now were nothing but a faint and wispy myth.”

 

“Are they dangerous?”

 

“South American empires are renowned for their violence…”

 

“We theorize that they’re a lost priesthood…and well if the stories are to be believed…Jack the Ripper is a friendlier face in a dark alley…”

 

I was getting excited again. Maybe I would get to die a beautiful death.

 

“No bedpans for me…Valhalla here I come…let’s go now!” I yelled to a chorus of eye rolls and giggles.

 

“To be honest I have no problem dying of an overpowering bowel movement during a lawrence welk rerun.” Chuck said.

 

“You would.” Lucas laughed.

 

“I am heartened by your enthusiasm but there is still much to prepare. We will begin yet another round of training as soon as I finish up arrangements with Costa and Lobo.”

We all groaned collectively.

 

After the final banter ceased Anna caught up with me in the institutes hallway.

 

“So I heard you made friends with my sister.”

 

I smirk blushed. “Uh…yeah…actually that’s who I was about to go see.”

 

“Good…good…hey…” She said pulling a revolver from her purse.

 

“What the fuuck…”

 

She aimed it at me…

 

POP!

 

A little red flag with the word BANG! Unfurled from the barrel.”

 

“If you fuck her up…I swear…I swear…the Candiru is more merciful…”

 

“Jesus…hey…I’m not the marrying sort…ya know…”

 

“Good you’d make a shitty brother in law…but I swear on my life …I will end you…”

 

I shook my head. “Hey, I usually don’t respond well to threats but well before right now I really

liked you and I’m a sucker for redheads…sooo..fucking relax ok…”

 

She laughed and tugged on my ear.

 

“Owww…! Fuck god damn it lady.”

 

“It’s alright man I’m just fucking with ya…” She said stepping into one of Cook’s mercedes and roaring off.

 

‘Jesus Christ she didn’t strike me as much of a Tomboy…I guess first impressions are bullshit.’

 

O No

Anna was going with us. That’s what I learned from Aada on our final night in Cuiaba. This was a bad idea. No amount of neo-progressive gibberish could change basic biology.

The female frame is not built for war. Neither is the male for that matter but the female is really not built for war. We were going to war. We were going to war against weakness, parasites, heat stroke, and possible smugglers and unfriendly natives.

 

Though she hovered somewhere around six feet and was athletic. There were physical limitations that no amount of gym ratting could surmount. Sure maybe if she was a UFC fighter. But she wasn’t. In fact most women that are in the armed forces are far from being Ronda Rousey. Anna wasn’t in the armed forces. She was a leggy academic and nearsighted to boot. God it was so stupid.

 

Women’s martial struggles were not due to a lack of dedication but due to the fact that women like Rhonda are outliers. And I doubt that even she could sustain the weight of a combat load. Women that served in Afghanistan had suffered skeletal fractures for precisely this reason.

 

The officer corp always wanted to cover their ass and promote their careers. They went along with whatever corporate shit dropped in their pond. Pulling it out would cause ripples. So men died and women got hurt. If I hadn’t been transferred to a highly specialized op like PLATO I’d have been consulting for international shipping years ago.

 

By the time I’d enlisted in 08 we were already a petticoat flotilla and the only thing that kept my Scotch candor from sinking my career was my ability to find dirt on my superiors. The latter skill actually being the reason Thornton had plucked me into spooky land. My nickname was bloodhound.

 

Nature doesn’t care about politics. And the nature that I was afraid of wasn’t just physiological. A dozen men and one attractive woman is not good for morale. What the hell was Cook thinking?

I mean he was a professor but this wasn’t fuckign Berkley. He didn’t know that I knew. And I knew for a fact that Lobo didn’t know.

 

I leaned on the bar and studied my reflection as it was blurred by the frosting. Should I tell Lobo? Would Lobo be able to do anything? If I did wouldn’t this just cause more in group strife? A strife arguably more dangerous than a cute geekess in a platoon of libidinous baboons trekking through hell?

 

Jesus fucking christ….

 

Perkele

 

“Just how much trekking are we talking about?”

 

“Depends, but I’d say somewhere around a 856 kilometers.”

 

“What’s that in miles?”

 

“I think something like three hundred, three hundred and fifty.”

 

“That’s wildly inaccurate…” Graham chimed in.

 

“O?” Fabre seemed annoyed.

 

“Based on the number you mentioned we’re looking at a 533 mile hike.”

 

“Fuck!” I very nearly screamed.

 

“Hey, I’m just a good ol boy from kentucky conversion factors ain’t my bread and butter…”

 

“Wellp…looks like some of the mystery of how I’ll die ‘s cleared…” Chuck mused darkly.

 

I looked over at Anna’s long smooth legs glistening in the light of the fire. They were strong but…

 

“Take a picture it’ll last longer!” She must have noticed.

 

“Hey…lady…it’s a compliment…you have nice legs ya know…I mean I know you know…otherwise there’s just no reason for those shorts.” Sam jumped in on my behalf.

 

I raised my hand.

 

“Eh, your sister’s legs are better.”

 

“My sisters legs are probably wrapped around another tourist by now.” Anna smirked.

 

“Sailors aren’t known for jealousy. Otherwise every port would be a harem.”

 

“You know,” she said, “there’s lots of places here to hide a body…I mean…lots…”

 

Cook smiled bemusedly as he shook his head and took a laconic drag of his cigar.

 

“I’m a lot more afraid of having to drag your Suomi ass outta here and running outta supplies than I am of your feisty attitude.”

 

“Perkele!” She exclaimed sticking out her tongue.

 

“Huora!”

 

She sprang from her seat and twisted the ever loving fuck out of my ear…again…

 

“VITTU VITTU VITTU VITTU VITTU!” I kept shouting defiantly.

I thought my ear was going to come off.

 

Looping a finger into her jean shorts belt loop I pulled her to the ground and put her in an arm bar.

 

“Children…” Cook said rising to his feet.

 

“You know you’re lucky I’m a gentleman…I could really hurt you right now…”

 

She giggled, “Gentleman is just a euphemism for pussy…pillu…”

 

She squealed as I motioned her joints in contrary directions.

 

“Seriously,” I said taking the opportunity to bring the point home, “I have a hundred plus pounds of muscle on you, and I didn’t spend the last decade in a faculty lounge, drop the GI jane shit.”

 

With this I released her.

 

She seemed to have calmed down and to her credit regained her composure rather quickly. There was no crying, no protesting, she knew she’d been a brat. Brushing the dirt off her legs she sat back into the camp chair with a lady like grace.

 

I chuckled, “You have brothers don’t you?”

 

She pouted as she nursed her elbow and nodded.

 

“Do me a favor.” Bohm said with amusement in his voice. “Don’t cripple the foremost authority on indigenous languages…”

 

I paused cocking my head. “I thought she was just a Ph.D. chaser?”

 

“Sure, her third Ph.D.”

 

Was this supposed to make a difference…

 

“So fucking what, this is still a terrible idea, this is not a fucking campus…”

 

“It is what it is.” Fabre said.

 

“Bullshit…” I said taking a swig of Jack.

 

Round Two

 

Lobo’s duffel dropped onto the damp earth with a dull thud.

 

He was late.

 

The second bout of preparations had been set to begin half a week ago. We’d spent the last four days drilling methods of keeping the perpetual damp off our gear and food. When Cook ran out of lessons we’d grapple with Fabre and talk history with the boffins as we loafed around the camp.

 

“Nice of you to join us.”

 

Lobo shook his head.

 

“You’re taking a girl? On top of it all…you are taking a girl…”

 

“Only as far as dead horse camp, she wants to use every opportunity to get some exposure to Kuikuro chatter.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief. Though I couldn’t help but worry that once we reached the camp she’d just keep going…you know…for science…

 

The big spec ops guy psychically mirrored my internal concern.

 

“That better be so…cause this is not Scandinavia.”

 

Anna looked exasperated. “Holy shit, I know that. I’m thirty fucking two years old and my dad is a cop.”

 

‘O no.’ Nirvana’s ‘Been a Son’ started playing in my head.

 

“Do you know why I am late?”

 

She bugged her eyes out and shook her head in annoyed dismissal.

 

“I’m late because anacondas and Indians aren’t the most dangerous thing in this Jungle.”

 

“So what. Yeah, it’s a jungle smugglers, drug runners, whatever…they don’t wanna run into a small army…”

 

“Everybody out here is a small army, prospectors, drug lords, human traffickers, you think the Amazon is easily policed…there are resources here so many….the trees are thick…they hide a lot more armies than you could imagine. Armies with methods that you wouldn’t want to imagine…”

 

“Gotta die someday.”

 

“I don’t intend to die but I’m gonna be real fuckign pissed if I die cause one of you bichanos does something stupid. Which is guaranteed…”

 

“O come on…” Cook began protesting.

 

Lobo held up his hand.

 

“I do not trust the guides, I am familiar with only a few of the security detail, and the rest are typical desperate looking underfed mercs, there are people out here guaranteed to offer a better deal…”

 

“Well what?!” Cook got mad. “I can get someone else if you don’t want to…”

 

Lobo laughed.

 

“You will not find such fools…there is not even one…in all of Brazil…in the whole continent….”

 

“You take yourself too seriously…João will be arriving with the guides in a week…we are going with or without you.”

 

“Either way is equally stupid..I will go…I will go for the history of my people…for my loyalty to you…but do not insult me by bringing this baggage.”

 

Cook softened. “It’s out of my hands…”

 

I guess Thornton had sort of forced us onto Cook…but I wondered what drove him to take Anna…I noticed that Lobo was talking in English so we’d all understand. I understood but I also felt insulted…I’m a United States sailor…sure we’re a bit soft these days but Jesus Christ.

 

Sam piped up giving voice to my frustration. “Yea that’s real fucking great for morale there guys!”

 

Sauna

 

It was possible to get used to it to some degree. But you could never get fully comfortable. I feel that everyone save perhaps the indigenous peoples felt it. That near constant fatigue that always hummed in the background.

 

It was the heat, the rain, the damp. Even though the scenery and the sheer vitality of the surroundings was exhilarating the constant onslaught of heat was nonetheless oppressive. It slowly drained you from sunup to sundown.

 

Lobo was determined to not only make us have second thoughts but to feel them. From the dim of 0500 to the setting of the sun we were driven like sled dogs. Cook couldn’t protect Anna from Lobo’s discipline. Not that she wanted to be protected.

 

Unfortunately she needed to be. It happened on a run down a black earth path. We were all encumbered by sixty pounds of gear. Save for Anna who had on forty. I suppose that’s what they call benevolent sexism. It didn’t help.

 

At the end of the run as we were returning to camp she began to complain of a constant dull pain that worsened the faster she walked. Once we’d actually arrived and removed her boots she found a telltale swelling.

 

“Stress fracture.” Lucas said.

 

Lobo was grinning like a wolf.

 

Cook sighed.

“It’s fine. I’ll be ok after some sleep.”

 

“No.” I said.

 

She looked pissed.

 

“Look, you don’t want to put anymore pressure on that. Especially at the pace we’re going.”

 

“Well, then I’ll just stay off it for a day.”

 

“It’s hard to diagnose the extent of the damage out here. It would be best for you to discontinue training. I honestly don’t know why you gave in to his bullying. It’s not like you’re going any further than Fawcett’s last camp.”

 

“I’m doing it because you’re all a bunch of macho retards.”

 

Lobo chuckled. “They may be retarded but I have a hard time calling them macho.”

 

I really wasn’t bothered by this. I never considered myself macho. Except for boxing I’d always hated sports, was shit with cars, and rarely womanized.

 

“Dem’s fightin words!” Sam quipped rolling up his sleeves. His biceps had gotten substantially larger. We were all far stronger than we had been at the lodge. While age dampened the effect I felt almost as invincible as I had after my first boot camp.

 

“These are true words. Two of you idiots almost broke your ankles.”

 

It was true. We weren’t doing very well. But I felt that he was overestimating our shortcomings. He was fucking us on purpose. He wanted to sabotage this trip. Anna was his first victim. He hoped that we’d all follow suit. I don’t think he knew that ‘The Fibonacci Five’ didn’t have a choice.

 

Ever since John Dee…the cosmos didn’t have a choice.

 

“Rule, Britannia…! Britannia, rule the waves!” I burst forth into song.

 

Danger and Destiny

 

I found it amusing that only a few of even my own group understood my reference. There is something of inevitability in the unfolding of history. I do not believe in predestination and in fact count it as a blasphemy. There are however instances of such incredible confluence that a defacto form of predestination can be said to exist.

 

One such phenomenon is the global power of English. How is it that a small island nation surrounded by a frozen sea informed and continues to inform the whole Earth. How small the number of her sons, how great in number the adversaries and perils that beset her, yet she sat as regent of the world. While power proper has arguably waned… for good or ill the world is still so very English.

 

Did Dee’s designs so many centuries ago help seal Britannias destiny as sovereign? Given the nature of our research, the heritage of the United States, and our current relationship to that jilted forbearer I could not but help feel that we were continuing Dee’s work.

 

So I knew that we would soon head north and east. I knew that we would be successful. What I did not know was the nature of that success. Even now I can not fully grasp the enormity of the implications that we uncovered for the sake of civilization. But I get ahead of myself.

 

Our training ground was actually just west of the true location of Dead Horse Camp. I have already described the first week of the second round of training. A lot of calisthenics, hygiene, and packing drills, basically what one would expect.

 

Week two was a lot more of the same. Except that it was tinged throughout with dire warnings of death.

 

“I will leave you, which means they will leave you, once we are more than a hundred miles in the depths, if the equipment fails or the helicopters aren’t available, you will die. So don’t get hurt.”

 

One thing that I didn’t understand throughout all of this is why exactly we had to do it on foot. I mean…we had the coordinate why not just airdrop our way in? Of course the answer was a mixture of pride and ambition.

 

Cook had long wanted an excuse to risk his life and the lives of whoever was mad enough to accompany him to mount an on the ground expedition. An expedition where he could travel slowly and take in the terrain, the locals, what artifacts he may find. It did make sense from a scientific standpoint. The closer you can get to your subject the better.

 

I was relieved that upon hearing of all the random shootings, robberies, and deaths Anna was no longer keen on joining us. Honestly I wasn’t too keen to get a lung full of birdshot from the Amazon’s version of Johnny Cash. Some folk shoot you just to see what it’s like to watch a man die. Lobo had made sure to recount a recent case of a kayaker’s narrow survival after multiple shotgun blasts.

 

“He was lucky he was close to a village. We are not going to be close to a village.”

 

The House that Sang

 

“It’s done!”

 

“And well that it is…” I said as I shovelled the last bit of earth over the fragments of that shattered stone.

 

I gazed at Jones. His lip was aquiver. It was odd to see such a tall man so contorted by fear.

 

“Take courage…what can they do…they have no flesh.”

 

Jones gulped.

 

“Is there something you want to tell me Fred?”

 

He stared into the middle distance for an inordinate period.

 

“It’s not true.” He said so faintly that I could barely discern the words among the woodland noises.

 

“What’s not true?”

 

“That they do not have flesh.”

 

I laughed heartily and slapped him on the back.

 

“You take that Crowley fellow far too seriously. The man is a charlatan… a con artist. Thrilling conversationalist when he’s in a pleasant mood… but damn it man! G’s as unemployed as I and utterly lacking in inheritance. Charms and perversions have long been the trade of loafers the world over.”

 

Jones shook his head. “No…no…I saw them..”

 

I laughed again. This was a welcome break from the monotony of musing on my failures. “My man we have spent too many nights on the moors. I myself have had strange nauseous and fancies and I was born here. This desolate house is no place for an opium hound like yourself.”

 

“I have not touched the stuff in three years. I’m quiet sane Roderick…a bit too sane really…a certain sleep has left me. I must say…I do not fancy the light of dawn.”

 

His words had a certain poetic quality that made them settle in my brain most oddly. I was momentarily dumbfounded.

 

“Look! Opium or no opium all this hullabaloo with spirits and orders and the like. These are fantasies. I mean we entered into this for the fun of it for the distraction…to rid ourselves of moneyed dissipation and now…it’s gone too far…we must quit this place Freddy. Let’s go to Spain …Italy even.”

 

“He is in Italy.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Perdurabo and his chief…”

 

I had no idea what he was talking about nor did I have time to question him because just then I turned round to glance back towards the house. A figure was dashing towards us across the moors.

 

“What on earth…!”

 

I took out my binoculars. It was Beatrice! Her red locks all akilter my revolver in her hand…I’d never seen her run so fast.

 

I lowered the glass and just stood and stared while Jones leaned against a tree.

 

In the span of a quarter hour the diminutive figure reached us. To my great surprise I saw that she was barefoot.

 

I stared as she collapsed a few steps in front of me breathing heavily.

 

I leaned down and placed a hand on her shoulder.

 

“Betty…betty what is it?”

 

And odd sort of half groan half whimper came from the quivering nightgown that lay before me.

 

“Roderick…” She hissed…. “Roderick…the house…the singing…”

 

“Beg your pardon?”

 

“It…IT HUMS…Roderick…”

 

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Wheeling round I saw Jones face wear a somber tight lipped expression that sent shivers throughout my frame.

 

“Zo..d…e..c..ah”

 

It was unbearably hot and humid. The grim face that the hand on my shoulder possessed belonged to Graham Hoyt. His words were quiet at odds with his bearing. “Are you coming to dinner?”

 

I rose from my folding chair and followed Hoyt to the mess tent.

 

Weirdo

 

Two days to departure and I watched Graham like a hawk. There was something that I couldn’t place. Yes, by now it’s well established to the point of tedium that he was decidedly freaky. But there was a fresh aura of mischief about him now.

 

That silent placid gaze in which nothing could be read but everything was mocked. The thin cruel smile that was unsettlingly familiar yet unplaceable.

 

I even decided to try a trick. He was reading something a few yards away. I fetched a loaded Colt from the arsenal.

Removing my shoes I slowly crept behind him. I was absolutely certain that the ambient noise of the jungle masked any stray noise that escaped my stride. I’d taken the safety off yards and yards away. I’d already cocked.

 

I stood a mere ten feet behind him. I aimed directly at his head and allowed my finger to tease the trigger.

 

Fluidly, he turned his head so that I was able to see that smile in profile. “And what’s the point of that?”

 

I was momentarily lost. “Just testing your situational awareness.”

 

Hoyt laughed in a hollow amused sort of way. “There are more situations to be aware of than you can possibly imagine.

 

I believed him.

 

“Graham,” I said. “What happened back at the lodge.”

 

“Well, you know already. I dreamed about a jaguar and had a stimulant induced seizure. Because of Sam’s picture. Right?”

 

“Yes…but…” Something kept me from prodding further. Like an invisible sucking drain that drew away all will to know.

 

Hoyt just regarded me with the same cold amusement.

 

“Nevermind.” I said departing and he returned to his reading.

 

There was a blankness in my mind. There had been something strange about his terse sentences. Each word, each phrase, its order, its cadence took root somewhere deep in the spine and suggested vistas and chains beyond all reckoning. I wasn’t the only one that felt this way.

 

I didn’t mind accidentally killing him during that test. That’s what I found the oddest. It was like he was a nonperson. It wasn’t even hatred or disgust or any such thing. There was something in me that wanted to join oblivion with oblivion. Of course I couldn’t because oblivion had become flesh.

 

‘I guess I’ll just let zero unfold.’ I said as I drew an ankh in the dirt.

 

Arutam

 

I don’t know why I confided in her. I guess it wasn’t anything important. There was no way this was a breach of security. Who cares if she knew about Sam’s vision. High ranking academics like Cook and Bohm were of course privy to the true nature of our presence. She didn’t have that clearance.

 

Anna and I were the last to be sitting around the fire that final night. She was calm and looking forward to getting back to Cuiaba for a proper shower. I was slightly inebriated. Something in the feminine prosody of her voice made me open up.

 

“You know,” I said, “I’ve been having the most fucked up dreams.”

 

“Hmmm…?” She queried midsip.

 

“You know just those really vivid things….that come like pictures…of really different kinda shit…but somehow seem to have a certain logic?”

 

“O you haven’t dreamed of a panther have you?” She asked with genuine curiosity.

 

“No…but Graham had a massive freakout at Luckadoo’s…cause of a picture with a jaguar…”

 

“Luckadoo’s? That’s a funny name…”

 

“It’s not important.” I said quickly shifting the conversation away from a classified subject. “What makes ya ask? Did you?”

 

“Well…no not personally but you shouldn’t be afraid if you had…it’s considered good luck by the Achuar.”

 

“The Achuar?”

 

“They’re a tribe from the Amazon basin, nor far removed from our position relatively speaking, but they are unique in that they place especially prominence on dreams. Each morning they wake up before dawn and drink a tea that they then spit up for purposes of purification. After this they each describe their dreams to one another. The world of dream is considered more important than the waking world. It is their reality. This notion has been implicated in their survival as a people in this harsh environment. Very, very fascinating from an anthropological standpoint.”

 

“And they think jaguars or panthers are uh good luck?”

 

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The panther is a manifestation of the spirit of the rainforest…something that they call “Arutam” and it seems that your friend saw this before you guys came down here. That’s the strange guy right…the tall one…? What exactly happened?”

 

“Tell me more about these tribespeople.” I said deflecting again.

 

“Umm…well not long ago or relatively not long ago they had dreams about us “the people of the north, the people of the eagle” we’re called that because we are technology and mind oriented whereas they the people of the condor are more imagination and heart oriented. Anyway, the interesting part was that they dreamed something malign coming from us just as Peru, Bolivia, etc were talking with powerful companies about oil extraction. These dreams that they take seriously as a sort of divination and navigation tool stirred them to action. They formed a coalition with missionaries and local tribes to protect their area. It was effective. So it looks like the Arutam was with them and if you saw it…or weirdo saw it well that’s a good sign. They say that one day the eagle and the condor will fly together.”

 

“Hmm…well…that’s nice…and I don’t mean to be a prick…but I’d like to have good dreams tonight so I’ll leave on that note.”

 

“But…hold on I’m curious about Graham…”

 

“Ok I lied the real reason I have to go is that I can’t bear to sit next to a pretty girl, beside a dwindling fire, and not try something. It’s maddening…like castration of the sou…”

 

She laughed. “Well then…you’d better go unless you want to feel a real castration.”

 

“Right.” I said and shuffled off to my tent.

 

‘Phew.’ I breathed a sigh of relief. Any longer and I might have spilled the whole tale.

 

I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

 

That night I did indeed experience good dreams. A sort of Wizards nod. I awoke the next morning knowing precisely what I was about.

 

Musings in the Village

 

There is an ennui. It is the nagging suspicion that everything has been mapped. It’s that claustrophobic sensation that all serious mysteries have been surmounted.

 

What is one to do with wanderlust?

 

In the Amazon all such worries evaporate. The explorer whose footsteps we were tracing had called it “the last great blank space in the world.”

 

Henry Percival Fawcett, his son, and a family friend had disappeared somewhere round the Xingu National Park. The vanity of early twentieth century exploration had certainly spelled doom for that vastly inadequate force. Fawcett did not want to suffer the fate of Scott who had glory stolen from him by Amundsen. Towards this end he had provided false coordinates.

 

The real goal lay somewhere between the Tapajos and the Xingu tributaries. A fact that was uncovered by the unlikely David Grann a nebbish news hound in 2005.

 

All these years and that statement “the last great blank space in the world” remains as salient as ever. Despite satellite imaging, drones, and the whole blasted litany of high tech abominations… that thick impenetrable canopy still hid as much as it had in Carvajal’s time and many aeons prior.

 

It was a rare treat. I blessed Thornton for the opportunity as these thoughts ran through my head. The mystic sensations swirled round me like the currents round the aluminum hull of the twenty five foot outboard driven boat that served as my bed.

 

We were following in the footsteps of Expedition Fawcett and Expedition Lynch. The latter having occurred in 1995 was more closely aligned with our current method. Much as it had appeared those two and and nearly half decades prior…that was the state of the jungle. Overgrown. So we had to proceed up the Xingu by boat and have our supplies air dropped in the field next to Kuikuros settlement.

 

Although it was an altogether different Kuikuros settlement, an altogether different dead horse camp, because we followed the true coordinates from Fawcetts diary rather than those published in Expedition Fawcett.

 

We were not after Fawcett, we’d be thrilled to learn of his real fate, to find his bones, but what we sought was far more elusive.

 

What we sought was not some dead mans fat but what Fawcett had sought. The Lost City of Z or rather its method. If this seem unduly cryptic I apologize and promise that it will become clear soon enough. My circuitous methods may be unsavory to some but there is a reason for them.

 

It is difficult to piece together these mad events so many years after their occurrence. More difficult still after the chemical lobotomy I’d narrowly thwarted at the facility. I do remember the salient details. Yes, many of them are too deeply buried in esoteric contexts that too few could fathom. But the core of what I communicate should help bolster our flailing humanity despite such hurdles.

 

Hoyt’s map that was the key. It was what Fawcett had been missing. Even if Fawcett had found the actual location of Z he would never have been able to enter it.

 

This was not a labyrinth that could be decrypted. And so it was that the old Portuguese map Graham’s ancestor had pilfered from RGS had found its way into the hands of P.L.A.T.O. the organisation most suited to implement it.

 

As the gangly scion of that weird little Cambridge club played strange airs on the guitar I fell into even stranger dreams.

 

I awoke with a start. I was no longer floating. As I sat up I noticed that we had landed in front of a settlement.

 

Various porters were conveying our gear to what I assumed was the village square. There had already appeared a neat little stash of our alien looking wares beneath a grey canvas.

 

They must have decided to let me sleep. I suppose I was grateful for this. Every so often a deep fatigue would settle over me. The warm sticky air, the feeling of being swallowed in some great green blanket, it was a feeling of depth, of heaviness, and it drag me down.

 

I wasn’t the only one. Which is I suppose why they’d decided to extend a courtesy they no doubt wished to have reciprocated.

 

The ground that greeted my boots was muddy, it sank, but not overmuch. I mused on the now familiar sight of Indians – Kuikoros milling about in various states of undress and ornament as they had done for time immemorial.

 

It was odd to imagine that Fawcett had seen a nearly identical sight nearly a century prior. It was one of those things that made you feel part of a vast eternal sea. The sea of time, ever undulating, yet remaining one.

 

I was suddenly struck with panic. What if this deep fatigue was the result of some infection? I hastily inspected any readily bare portions of flesh for ticks, or bites of any sort. True, we had been thoroughly inoculated but didn’t put my mind any more at ease.

 

We were in an ocean of trees, and neither boats, nor helicopters seemed sufficient insurance.

 

“You look like hell.” Lucas said.

 

“Yea…I’m not sure about this.”

 

“Me either…but…since we’re here you should probably follow Lobo’s advice and refrain from drinking. I’m sure it’s not helping matters.”

 

“Alcohol cleans the blood Schmidt. This place is crawling with parasites.”

 

“Trying to keep your precious American fluids clean?”

 

“Always.”

 

A kid ran up to us and just stood there staring out of rich dark eyes. He muttered something and ran off before we could respond. We ignored it.

 

The village wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with outsiders but its remoteness meant that the appearance of brancos was rare enough to make us a novelty.

 

“So, really…. what’s up? I mean I’ve never known you to be pensive.”

 

“I just feel really tired. Like something is sucking the life right out of me.”

 

“Dude, it’s called a hangover.”

 

I was getting annoyed. I really hadn’t been drinking that much.

 

“It could be any number of things. When I got excited for this I didn’t consider the fact that I might die shitting myself or muttering in the grips of yellow fever. I don’t want a weak statistical death.”

 

Lucas laughed. “I see that you still have your Viking complex.”

 

“Absolutely, I watched that man die slow, wither up like a shit stained raisin…no way man…”

 

No sooner had I entered into this reverie then the kid returned holding some sort of earthen bowl.

 

He extend it up to me and muttered something.

 

“Yo,” I said lapsing into American pseudo-urbanism, “I ain’t about to start this party with poisoning.”

 

“Don’t be rude.” Lucas said motinoning for Cook to join us.

 

The squat bespectacled pitbull sauntered over.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Tell us what he wants.” Lucas said.

 

Cook engaged in some native banter and then pointed off to a nearby hut at the front of which sat an old man before a small fire. The man regarded us calmly.

 

“They say you have a demon.”

 

Lucas laughed again. “I think they’re a bit mixed up. We’re NATO boys…we are demons.”

 

Cook didn’t seem amused. “Look, things here work a little differently, there’s stuff in the air, I know it sounds insane, but I’d listen to them, especially if you don’t feel right…you certainly don’t look right…”

 

I threw up my hands.

 

“You should drink it.” Lucas said.

 

“Dude…hell no…I have no idea what that is…”

 

“Please, Mr. Baird drink it…I assure you that it will not harm you…we do not want to alienate these folks…please take the gift…”

 

“What the hell is in it…”

 

“I wasn’t really able to gather but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing more exotic than some Guarana blend. It’s not so much the actual chemistry…it’s the spirit they infuse into it…”

 

I was getting tired of this woo. And I felt like shit…so fuck it….

 

I drank it up. It was bitter but the bitterness soon resolved into a sort of pleasant plantiness that tickled my tongue.

 

“Did you like it?” Lucas asked.

 

I shrugged.

 

The kid smiled and scampered off.

 

“If you don’t feel better in a couple of hours I’ll give you three of my Cubans.”

 

“It’s a deal.”

 

I never got those Cubans. I felt better.

 

It was the oddest thing. Watching the natives avoid Hoyt.

 

Apparently there wasn’t a medicine strong enough to purge whatever demon he had.

 

He never stopped smiling that same unpleasant Sphinx lip smile. His demand and tolerance for tobacco was disturbing. I swore he went through a pack and a half a day. None of our protests meant anything and not even Lobo was able to stop him from using some unknown connection supplying him with a crate of Pall Malls.

 

‘Wherever particular cacodemons congregate.’ I mused.

 

His accent was now 100% British but unlike any variation I’d heard before. I don’t know why he’d decided to pull a Madonna. But it was certainly creepy. And made creepier by the fact that he seemed to be trying to mask it.

 

Otherworldly influence certainly seemed the correct position. Given our line of work it wasn’t unlikely. But, given our line of work skepticism was in order. Martial grade psychedelic research for the express purpose of fashioning a new religion to nudge the herd from the cliff edge required scientific precision.

 

He did suffer a psychotic break at the lodge. Who knows what sorts of novel neural connections our various disciplines and chemical regimens produced. Who knows what sort of subliminals Thornton was implementing.

 

I chuckled briefly as I was transported back in time to my introductory philosophy course. I’d just reconsidered the brain in the vat hypothesis. What if our experience is merely a fantasy and we are all just brains in vats fed memories and experiences by some alien? I think this was a variation on something Descartes had theorized in a similar vein involving a demon.

 

What if we weren’t in the jungle at all but strapped to gurneys at some black site? Or catatonically entranced by some new electromagnetic gizmo at the lodge.

 

Well…I guess I didn’t feel entirely better. I’d downed a bottle of honey jack to allay the monotony of preparing for the first leg of the journey. The hangover certainly felt real.

 

The old man that the kid had gotten the planty tasting thing from shook his head as I passed to fetch a coffee from the mess tent.

 

It was going to be a long trek east towards some half guessed location. It had to be made on foot. Cook wasn’t about to toss away his opportunity to document jungle depths on Uncle Sam’s prodigious war dime. Furthermore there were prestablished, roads, circles, and ruins that had to be ugh…I think the word they used was activated…Thornton was definitely taking vision inducement seriously. The honey jack was warranted.

 

What if I didn’t want to converse with my holy guardian angel? Angels are boring. The most boring concept of all an angel, a demon, really it is…it’s just a clerk with fancy keys. They can’t do anything outside of a certain determination…unless…anyway…

 

I felt water hit my face.

 

“AH!” … “Hey! Watch it fella…”

 

The elder was grinning. His fingers half submerged in some other earthen bowl full of god knows what. Part of that whatness was now drops rolling down my cheek. Had he flicked it at me?

 

“What the hell are ya doin you goof…” I said trying to hide my annoyance. But I didn’t have to try for long. My hangover was gone.

 

I cocked back my head. The old man laughed, teetered, and mumbled.

 

“Uh…thank you.” I said.

 

He just stared at me. I remembered that Portuguese was probably a better choice. Though I wasn’t sure he spoke it either.

 

“Obrigado.”

 

The wizened head nodded in acknowledgement. His hand waved me on.

 

The healthy sized Professor was spreading a nice thick schmear on his breakfast bagel.

 

“Uh, who’s the geezer with all the potions?” I inquired.

 

“Not sure.” Cook said stirring his coffee.

 

“Well, he’s the Shaman right?”

 

Cook shook his head.

 

“Old man, weird, healing potions, talks about spirits…not a shaman?”

 

“Well, I suppose he probably is a shaman but he is not their shaman.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“They say that he’d emerged from the jungle in the middle of broad daylight. Nobody had seen him coming. He was alone and seemed harmless so they let him stay. They were glad they did.”

 

“How long ago was this?”

 

“About a month.”

 

“Doesn’t speak a word of Bakairi…or any related dialect…but seems to understand some Portuguese…weirdest damned thing….”

 

“Bakairi?”

 

“Yes, that’s the language here…these are the Bakairi.”

 

“Not Kuikuros?”

 

“You really ought to stop drinking Mr. Baird.”

 

“Not to be a bigot but…all these tribes look pretty similar to me.”

 

Cook laughed. “Really?”

 

“What?”

 

“I thought CIA was supposed to be observant.”

 

It was my turn to laugh… “I’m not CIA…and…hah…he..CIA is not observant.”

 

“That is hard to believe.”

 

“Donut dippers love to mythologize.”

 

“Well, the cultures around here also love to mythologize and though there is a common thread, the clothing, ritual, and customs vary greatly from tribe to tribe.”

 

“All I see are feathers, bowl cuts, and body point.”

 

“Sure, but you wouldn’t call yourself Moldovan.”

 

“What?”

 

“Think about it, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, even some parts of Central Asia all share the business suit. Generally eye and hair color stay within the same range. Social organization also has a very similar culture. Drop one of the Bakairi man in any of the aforementioned places and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

 

“Yeah, I get that, but I mean this is more like the difference between a Welshman and a Scott…if that…hell this is more like…”

 

Cook sighed.

 

“I don’t blame you for neglecting one of my favorite disciplines. But really you did not note the thatched dress and the masks?”

 

“On occasion but again…doc…that ain’t my field.”

 

“Well, you’d better start taking an interest. We’re going to need many pairs of sharp eyes out there.”

 

“I’m not against it. You’re just going to have to help me put on the old anthropologist goggles.”

 

“Well, let’s start with something interesting then.”

 

“O?”

 

“Have you noticed how no one talks to Senhor Hoyt, how they disperse at his presence?”

 

“You bet.”

 

“Have you seen how all the Shamans the stranger included draw shapes in the ground in front of Senhor Hoyt?”

 

“No.”

 

“So you have not seen Senhor Hoyt invariably step around them?”

 

“Well, it would be rude to trample some recent graffiti.”

 

“Hmm.. I don’t know…but I do know what the Bakairi here call him…”

 

“O?”

 

“Kurâmã.”

 

“And that means…”

 

“It is hard to translate exactly…but…it means roughly…conceptually…demigod…”

 

I laughed so hard I shot coffee from my nose.

 

HAG-I

 

It was cold in the spook tent. I was in a cryogenic womb made from space age canvas, fiberglass, and fans.

 

It was dark save for the glow of monitors and the Christmas light array of blinking LEDs.

 

There in cramped quarters we traced the paths of several drones. It was a microcosm of full spectrum dominance. Sea, air, and land were at our fingertips. Yes, I said land.

 

I sat below the image of a grinning witch. The toy at my disposal was the HAG – I . High Agility Ground Intelligence or the Hag Eye.

 

These were devices as experimental as PLATO itself. I’d played with early iterations in a highly controlled environment. This was the wet test, Thornton wanted deployment data, and so here we were putting her through her paces.

 

Despite being glad for the feel of cool air I soon grew to hate it. The jungle outside was bad but this cramped, sterile, ice box was built for the comfort of machines, not men.

 

“Cut me a sample.” Cooks voice crackled in my headset.

The robotic spider never ceased to amaze me. My horizontal trajectory became vertical. Some of the multi jointed legs flashed briefly in my field of vision. Then I behold the uppermost branches of the Kapok tree.

 

Ascending to the impressive height of a hundred and seventy some feet I paused before a patch of leaves. Briefly striking a hotkey combination engaged an automatic process. The reason for this tent was manifold. We were transmitting data back to a neural net in Langley. HAG – I was not only being tested but trained.

 

I watched in fascination as the little abomination adjusted itself and a slight mechanical whirring informed me that its tiny mechanical arms were coming online. A clamp and some sharp calipers emerged. The little circle of dots that appeared on my monitor informed me that calculations were under way.

 

Then slowly methodically the clamp extend and closed around a branch bearing the lance shaped leaves, and several pepper/nut like seed pods. It then proceeded to cut with the calipers just above initial grip. The branch came loose and Laura adjusted herself. I’d decided to call this particular HAG machine Laura after my ex’s mother.

 

A-Seq; Complete, the green font at the bottom of my screen informed me, I was pilot again. Slowly I made my way back down the trunk of the tree. Branch in hand mind you. Laura was primarily a surveillance device. There was no storage container. The only reason she’d been equipped with arms, and other tools, was in case there was a need for quick conversion for bomb diffusion.

 

We weren’t about to insect scuttle our way back across two and a half miles of jungle though. A few feet from the base of the Kapok sat a gaping mouth. The mouth was open and a little metal ramp led to the depths of the beasts bowels. Laura scuttled her way inside.

 

I switched to night vision. There was a darkened pad in the corner. I placed the branch on the pad. It opened and swallowed the sample. I pressed another hot key combination and watched as Laura took her place in the pen next to her sisters.

 

Though I couldn’t see it I knew that the gaping mouth monster closed its mouth and wheeled its way to the most open patch of canopy it could find. Schmidt’s aerial machine descended and attached itself to the calipers atop the mobile garage.

 

Our toys were homeward bound.

 

I blinked stupidly in the harsh sunlight.

 

O good.

 

Lobo was heading over. I’d long ago grown weary of his perpetually critical outlook. There was only one cunt in this camp that had the divine sanction to be cynic sovereign.

 

“You are taking these with us?”

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Is this your first encounter with NATO?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“What do we do every day Pinky?”

 

Lobo laughed. The one endearing quality about him was his near encyclopedic knowledge of cartoons.

 

“You do know that this will slow us down?”

 

“Us Carolina boys might be barefoot and bucktooth but we ain’t stoopid .”

 

“Huh.”

 

“We don’t have a choice, and yes I’m well aware that a high tech toy chest is gonna kill speed faster than when Aunt Bertha hopped aboard the carpool.”

 

“They will break…or be broken…”

 

“Yea..well I ain’t too attached.”

 

Lobo appeared to be lost in thought.

 

“We are only taking them fifty miles in.” I intruded into his reverie confident that I’d guessed where his mind was going.

 

“So you’re saying that if they’re damaged…”

 

‘Well…fuck.’

 

It was true that I’d relished the chance to get a couple of good licks in even if it meant getting twisted into a pretzel. But now that the opportunity presented itself I wasn’t happy. If he succeeded in sabotaging the equipment we’d have to go back. I wanted to go back but I didn’t…I’d gone too far on this weird ride.

 

“Bad idea, bub.” I said placing myself in his path. At 6’ 2” I’m not exactly short but I found myself staring at his nipples.

 

Lobo laughed. “I am doing you a favor.”

 

“I appreciate that…but you are also doing yourself a disservice.”

 

“How?”

 

“You think Uncle Sam likes having his toys broken?”

 

He laughed again. “So you are saying they will come to Brazil…to Cuiaba…find me…”

 

“They’re already here.”

 

Lobo glanced around.

 

I shook my head. “Don’t you think that a lot of the tourists cityside seemed a little too fit. That their size and haircuts didn’t exactly fit the profile of bored dentist?”

 

Again Lobo laughed. “Yeah…I guess you have a point…but I have a suggestion…American soldiers should stay in America…”

 

He was holding an apple in his right hand. An apple that instantly exploded and oozed out in between his clenched fingers.

 

Guess he knew I was angling for a fight. I was glad that I had backup. Not because I minded having my ass kicked. The thought of bruises on his face gave me a near sexual thrill… even if it cost me a fracture. No I was glad because the shit storm of paperwork and bitching that would have come as a result of sabotage would have cost more careers than my fingers could count.

 

He walked off leaving me in the small clearing between our tents.

 

I was tired. I was horny. The native girls who I’d at first had difficulty seeing as sexual creatures despite their near constant nudity began to look more and more appealing. They weren’t ugly just very primitive and removed from my world. The longer I stayed here though the further away seemed that world and I began to experience an erotic dimension in the busy rhythms of the village women. I liked watching them tend to their homes, to their families, I liked their soft dark eyes and the feminine tone of their musculature.

 

I chuckled internally at the fantasy of going native. Yes, I Alan Baird would become Karakiki and along with my comely village bride raise a clan of strong clever lads that stood head and shoulders over their more compact brethren. I would learn the rhythms of the wood and forget the poison of asphalt and plastic.

 

Despite this amusing distraction I couldn’t in good conscience go around getting my dick wet. Horny wasn’t a problem I could solve. But I could and should take a nap.

 

The hammocks were in a tent thirty or so paces from the high tech igloo.

 

O yeah! This felt fantastic. There was air conditioning and a fan to soothe my nerves and lull me to sleep with the gentle sway of the unorthodox bed.

 

Purge

 

Dispensing with any sort of quackery I’d simply shouted, “Get out of here. This is my home. I am an Englishman and this is England!”

 

After all the noise had settled and Betty had ceased whimpering I winked at Jones. He was still holding the ceremonial dagger and chalk.

 

“You see my man…you have to tell these things off properly…don’t treat them like bloody royalty. We are higher than the angels…do you not recall…”

 

The towering bundle of nerves simply extend a thin white finger.

 

There it was. A perfect azure sphere sitting atop a cold carpet that itself sat atop a yet colder floor.

 

I promptly hauled it up. Jones leapt back.

 

“Ah! Careful Roderick…are you mad…”

I laughed. “Perfectly so my friend. Glad for it too seeing as to the effects sanity has upon you.”

 

“The house was shaking Rod…shaking and humming…” Betty muttered. “You should maybe be more…”

 

“Ooo uhhh were it now..shaking like the perfect pair of autumn shrivelled leaves I see stand before me?” I laughed.

 

In all honesty I’d lost all mirth. I’d just received word from France that my bastard daughter hadn’t survived the tuberculosis. Yet, in its place, in the place of levity a certain ecstatic freedom took hold. This made me quiet jolly but with a sort of thrilling chill rather than happiness.

 

Everything felt liquid, fluid, cool and malleable.

 

It is an odd thing to see yourself in the daughter of a whore. She’d called me Papa. Six years old…moving onto the seventh…I did not have the courage to take her with me…to avoid that harsh little apartment in Tours.

 

It is odd to see yourself in the daughter of a whore. To see your self same hazel fire and jetty locks to see a twist of the lips so familiar….so peculiar.

 

“Are you afraid of eternity?” I bellowed tossing the sphere onto an armchair.

 

My two tenants stood dumbstruck as I unfastened my trousers.

 

I urinated on the pretty thing. My offal running in gold rivulets off its perfect geometry and staining the mahogany fabric of its throne.

 

“It is a holy thing Hamilton…have you no shame…”

 

“I don’t care if it’s God’s own eye!” I laughed again dancing a jig.

 

“He’s mad…” Betty murmured.

 

“Oh,” I said. “No, no darling I am perfectly beautifully sane. You see I did nothing wrong not one thing wrong. Was it I who bargained with the colonials? Was it I that shot Ferdinand? What was I to do with my loneliness in France….what was I to do with that shrieking image…that homage to the great god pain. Did I invent the trench or fashion the bullet that rained upon it?

 

…NO!…

 

And neither did I fashion angels, or hells, or Gods, or magick, or its implements. Why should I give fealty to that which is not my own! There is nothing holy Jones. Not a thing upon the Earth, nor below, nor above!”

 

Jones simply shook his head sadly wiping away the urine with a kerchief. He moved past a weeping Betty to secret the thing…perhaps make obeisances to it.

 

I didn’t care one wan iotalated damn.

 

“Eh ! Pantruchar ! C’est y qu’ tu s’rais malade

Ou que l’ cafard te rendrait tout transi ?

Ce soir, t’as pas l’ cœur à la rigolade”

 

I began to hum.

 

Breakfast  

 

“Je ne savais pas que tu parlais français.”

 

I groaned. “Wha..what ?”

 

“I didn’t know you spoke French.” Fabres voice was muffled by the fog of sleep.

 

“Huh…”

 

“You were just humming an old French tune. In near perfect French.”

 

“I wouldn’t speak Frog if you paid me in gold bullion and Claudia Shiffers pussy.”

 

“Are you always this charming when you wake up ?”

 

“Are you always an unbearable asshole ?”

 

“A question with a question with an attitude…you’re sure you’re not French..?”

 

It was one of those naps that really disoriented you. I mean I knew where I was…slowly. But, everything came in as incomplete jigsaw pieces.

 

“Are ya ready for the first big hike?”

 

I wasn’t. I watched the porters stowing the tents and gear with growing horror. The humidity was nauseating and physical exertion was an unwelcome suggestion.

 

“Cheer up! What…you’d rather play with chemicals in Kentucky?”

 

“Much.”

 

I dangled my legs over the side of the hammock. These poor feet would soon be ensconced in boots. And these poor legs would soon be a trekking for a mystic puzzle piece.

 

Two porters approached the sleeping tent and began working to remove the outermost tarp.

 

“Looks like you’d better get moving.”

 

“If you were going to be my reveille you could’ve at least brought some coffee.”

 

“I’m a cop not a maid.”

 

“Nah, what you are is an asshole.” I muttered as I checked my boots for bugs.

 

All that was left of the mess tent was a fold out table with what remained of some pork and eggs and a coupla big thermoses of coffee.

 

I dumped two huge ladle fulls onto a metal plate and went to town.

 

“Hungry much?” Lucas voice rang out behind me as he approached.

 

“Hell yeah…I’d suggest ya pig out too…” I said between chomps. “I mean ya shoulda already…you remember how many calories we’re about to burn?”

 

“That’s why the pot is nearly empty. Your lazy ass was the last to wake up. You got Lobo to thank for us leavin ya as much as we did.”

 

I chuckled. “Aww…what a sweetie.”

 

“Sweetie nothin…I think he’s gonna drive us to near breaking. He wants to get this over with as soon as possible. You can almost cut the tension in the air around that dude with a knife.”

 

“Yea…I figured…he’s worried about revolutionaries or drug runners or both.”

 

“I’m pretty sure he’s worried about everything.”

 

“Can ya blame him…” I said motioning a circle around the perimeter with my fork. “Look at the size of all this…ya could see this expedition from space.”

 

“They say there’s safety in numbers.”

 

“There’s also mutiny and intrigue and broken gear.”

 

“Yea…I’m not really sure about this but then again this is one hell of a trip…one hell of an everything…I mean this whole fucking project. I mean I still don’t believe that crazy bullshit we saw in the Pacific. If we’re looking for ultimate origins…I mean hell just show the public one glimpse of that…”

 

“I think old Thornton is looking more for a way of life. But before that…someone’s gotta live it…I guess we’re the guinea pigs. I kinda think of it like the end of that Doors song…but sorta like the opposite…we must try to find a new answer instead of a way…”

 

“Yea…” Lucas agreed. “Makes sense I suppose…now that we found the new answer the problem becomes clearing the way.”

 

“You really think he’s gonna put Mescaline in the water supply?”

 

“Wouldn’t put it past him.”

 

“You know…” I said as I gazed at the villagers going about their business despite the high tech alien bullshit that was going on around them. “This isn’t going to work…it isn’t going to work…there’s just too many different ways to live.”

 

“…hmmm…but… maybe that’s exactly how it’s gonna work.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

I heard muttering in Portuguese. A couple of porters were approaching.

 

“Are you finish the coffee?” One of them inquired in halting English.

 

“Hell no!” I said snatching up one of the thermoses.

 

The porter laughed.

 

“We got order to pack up…”

 

I was done with the food an indicated as much. As for the coffee…there was still a good half hour before we were going to take off.

 

I wandered over to an overturned canoe. Lucas decided not to follow suit as he was already full of caffeine and opted to buzz with overstimulation over the various affairs that surrounded us like a mad pointillism painting.

 

As I poured another of coffee I heard the sound of approaching rotor blades. It was the bird coming by to pick up the HAG I and our other high tech toys.

 

‘Pizzaro could never have imagined this kind of bullshit.’ I chuckled to myself.

 

To think that we’d be followed by a helicopter full of silicon valley took some of the romance out of it. But, as my eye danced from lapping river to canopy I regained a sense of mystic thrill. As the caffeine began to work its way through my system I became cautiously excited again.

 

Kvetching

 

In an era when Brooklyn dentists go on Safari, I suppose that even our mad expedition was doomed to be tainted with training wheels. I lost my coffee buzz at the same moment that I watched a bright glint arc its way over our heads through my binoculars. The big high tech daddy in the sky was always just a few steps behind to catch his little man in case he happened to run the risk of scraping up against reality.

 

There were dangers, and plenty of them, chiefly the heat and the monsters the humidity bred. Provided that this manuscript made its way across the web and the handful of copies we were able to get into print weren’t destroyed I’m sure that readers are pretty fed up with my incessant bitching about the heat.

 

If it helps, I’m doing it on purpose. The thick sticky air is a constant preoccupation. A preoccupation as constant as hum of every kind of arthropod deploying billions of years of evolutionary strategy to wage war on my homeostasis.

 

You really shouldn’t come here if accidental death by exotic critter or heat exhaustion isn’t your thing. It really is pervasive. I sit down to write and can think of no other thing to describe. Though I prefer a pen and paper I’ve switched to a rather bulky waterproof laptop due to sweat and damp making it impossible to maintain the integrity of my notebooks.

 

I suppose that what I’m getting at is yes there were dangers here but really they were theme park dangers. You can get decapitated on roller coasters. Here in the jungle there was a chance that you’d get shot by nickelante revolutionaries or mauled by a jaguar but the chances of that were about as high as a loose bolt on Thunder Mountain. That’s the impression I had.

 

Nightvision, air conditioned tents, and a small platoon armed with automatic rifles didn’t bode well for feelings of vulnerability. As I’ve mused before there are plenty of reasons to be worried even despite this but I still got this boxed in feeling. I mean at the moment I could pull up a porno on this little 13 inch screen. My phone talked to satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

 

Space might hold some fascination some thrill of the unknown but I know for a fact, I feel it in my bones, that the wonder of Magellan…or even Patton is no longer possible.

 

I’m happy to inform you that this dreary notion was soon to be dispelled. Brazil is a volatile place and the construction of the Belo Monte dam far to the north sent shock waves from the city of Altamira throughout the basin, even as far as Mato Grosso.

 

“What is the number one problem in the Amazon?” Lobo quired as he fell into step beside me.

 

“Bugs that crawl up your pecker?”

 

Lobo smiled wryly. “Expand your scope.”

 

“Deforestation.”

 

“That’s a surprising answer for a military man.”

 

“I’m a martial scarecrow,” I laughed. “Sure, I have rank and file but really I’m what the limeys call a boffin.”

 

“I’m aware of the term. But now that you know that I am speaking from a soldier’s view what is the biggest problem in the Amazon? I will give a hint: deforestation is but a symptom.”

 

“Corruption?”

 

“Close, but again that is merely a symptom.”

 

“Well, deforestation can be a crime, corruption is basically another term for crime, so law enforcement.”

 

“So close, in fact close enough to where I’ll take it. But, I have to expand it…you see the problem is very simple…power projection.”

 

I turned my head and raised an eyebrow.

 

Lobo pointed up.

 

“You see the canopy? Does that lend itself to air support?”

 

I shook my head.

 

“Did you see the savanna, the wetland, this dry forest? How easily do you think that adequate force can be projected on the ground?”

 

“Not very.”

 

“Yes! What we do here now…” he said sweeping his hand over the expedition trailing in front and behind. “…is only possible because of your American money…”

 

“I see.”

 

“Ah, that you may…but seeing is not realizing…there is other money besides American money and there are people who do not in the slightest motivated by that impulse…”

 

“You are talking about social unrest?”

 

“That and much much more…those are the things…not just these trees, this mud, this river…that make projecting the power to enforce what we call civilization.”

 

“Ok…and…”

 

“I’m worried…this is really complicated…this project…the area…the time…we are a tangle of knots…”

 

He fell silent.

 

We strode on in a thick air of contemplative apprehension.

 

Too Grand

 

Ah, the rain…it is after all a rainforest. Though we were careful to embark during a season that was dry relatively speaking…the problem was that we were speaking relatively. We were coping swimmingly.

 

That is we were in essence swimming. Though everything was waterproofed in a spectacular fashion…I kept waiting for something to give out. It was of course a relief from the heat…but hardly that either. The decrease if hell was but a scant degree and a half if that.

 

There were times that we’d have to cut through bush, and times that we could walk freely between massive trunks, shrouded in a dark misty shower.

 

No wonder the Indians walked about nude. Hey…maybe they were the first people to evolve…hairlessness would certainly be an advantage here…

 

“What’s got you so perplexed?” Dr. Cook inquired as he fell into step beside me.

 

“Oh just thinking about ultimate origins. This place sort of makes it inevitable. That and what a spectacle we must be. We are an utter invasion.”

 

Cook laughed.

 

“We are but a germ’s germ here. Even if we took the whole population of Brazil. Even with the deforestation…”

 

This was not a comforting thought.

 

“So do you believe what that anthropologist at Kuikuros village told us?”

 

Cook stared at his footfalls for a bit.

 

“Believe him in what way?”

 

“That the cities were simply a larger scale version of those massive grass huts? That the conquistadors were being too European in their imagings. That cultural nearsightedness was the cause of their failures. They were looking for stones, causeways, roads – and this was wrong…”

 

“Oh well certainly yes as regards the Kuikuro. You yourself saw the ditches and depressions for the palisades the remnants of the plaza. However…our friend is a bit too enthralled with a certain glib neosketpticism. It’s an odd thing common in academics my age…they want to reform ‘Western Conceptions’ so much that once something fit for that purpose is found…they cease inquiring.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean they’re in love with the noble savage myth. I am too…to an extent….but there is a reason the Kuikuros and many others are fascinated and frightened by their own myths about the ‘people of the cloud’ that live somewhere beyond their borders. There were ample reasons for the early explorers to lie. Grants…glory…etc…but that does not mean that they lied. Nor does it mean that they lied to themselves mistaking boulders for bricks.”

 

“What makes you so certain? Is it Hoyt’s map?”

 

“Pffft…well, it certainly buttresses the case for alternative history. But, that history frankly stands well enough on its own.”

 

“O?” I said as I smacked the billionth demon from my cheek. It was remarkable how they braved the rain for blood.

 

“Well, yes…I have shown you Gobekli Tepe…you yourself saw the ‘Brazilian Stonehenge,’ and Stonehenge itself. Certainly certain clever physics may have been applied…and perhaps many a thing has the accustomed mundane explanation…but when one takes all these things together…and when one see the explosions of high culture…the surprising spread and syncretism.”

 

“Syncretism….So what you’re telling me is that if someone was seeking to create a new faith…a global faith…it would in fact be an old faith?”

 

Cook and I trudged along in silence for a great long while before he spoke again.

 

“Yes.”

 

I began to see Thornton’s proddings in a different light. He was not a G-man who wished to use psychological and chemical tricks for martial purposes. He did not simply want to gain compliance through memetic warfare. He was a sorcerer…a high priest in some mystery religion I was only beginning to understand. And we were all his unwitting altar boys…o good.

 

And I began to feel a very strong urge to deny the doctor.

 

“Yea…but come on…what could be out here…that we haven’t seen…you yourself have been studying the area for forty years you say…and you have not yet found a single thing resembling El Dorado or whatever…”

 

Cook laughed again.

 

“I have already told you…we are a germ’s germ here…much there is unseen beneath the canopy…and much more beneath…the soil beneath the canopy…and you and I hold a clue to original elevations, to a four hundred year old topography in the map of your strange friend there…” he said as he pointed to Graham hiking a few bodies ahead. “You yourself have seen the strange stones that we’ve been passing the odd dispersal of trees where they should be thick…no my friend…you are going to see something far more ancient and impressive than a thatched roof New York.”

 

We were again silent for a great length.

 

“Babylon ex nihilo?” I inquired incredulously.

 

Cook simply shook his head.

 

“Babylon is simply a fragment…and nothing arises ex nihilo…all physic things have a metaphysic origin.”

 

“You’re beginning to sound like Thornton.”

 

“So be it.”

 

“So you are basically proposing the stoned ape theory?”

 

Cook smiled broadly. “That’s an oversimplified version of an aspect of what I’m saying but what I’m saying can’t really be said. It like theoretical physics or any complex systems can only be understood through rigorous study. But…it can also be seen. And I aim on seeing it.”

 

Commit

 

The satellite view was deceptive. Google maps reveals an impressive looking patchwork of highways in the Mato Grosso and all throughout Brazil. Labeled with such bureaucratically soporific appellations as MT 101. Yet, these thin lines stretching like gossamer serpents to overgrown pioneer towns were nothing but dust in a vast ocean of green.

 

So knowing that we could eventually break through to another highway should the need arise wasn’t as comforting a thought as one might suppose.

 

These were the things I pondered as I watched Lucas shoo a stick bug the size of a forearm off of his pack.

 

“That thing is almost as scary as Graham.”

 

“You mean Jeeves?”

 

Schmidt chuckled. “Jeeves…?”

 

“Or maybe he’s more of a Bertie Wooster.”

 

“What the hell are you talkin bout man?”

 

“Guess you Krauts are just that uncultured.”

 

“I’m American man…USA USA USA USA!”

 

“I wouldn’t be proud of ignoring the glory of Stephen Fry no matter my origin.”

 

“Can’t ignore what you don’t know.”

 

“That’s the definition of ignorance.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

We sat for a bit in the fold out chairs appreciating the familiarity of the fire rather than the warmth. The polyglot chatter of the voices mixed with twilight and the occasional cry of howler monkeys had a surreal effect. God, my legs ached. Even more so my feet. Even with the best gear the planet had to offer there was no way, no precaution, no circumspection that would allow you to adequately address the damp. I had athletes foot. I had it bad.

 

“Fuck.” I cursed.

 

“I’m not into dudes.”

 

“Don’t flatter yourself, if I go gay I’m goin for old bedroom eyes over there,” I said flicking a thumb in the direction of one of the Brazilians with especially large liquid brown eyes that seemed to ever be on the verge of weeping.

 

“Pffft….my ass is better.”

 

“I thought you weren’t gay.” I laughed.

 

“Just cause I’m straight doesn’t mean I’m not vain.”

 

“Glam rock kid?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Our banter was a silent pact to balm the weirdness. Graham had become eerily good at hunting. I’d never known him to hunt. In all the years I’d spent with him…I’d never heard him mention hunting. Nor did I know that he could carve out, string, and pull a longbow.

 

What was stranger was that no one stopped him. Brancos were not supposed to hunt on tribal lands. Yet no one stopped him. The Kuikuros and other tribes among us were terrified of him. The Brazilians disliked his taciturn nature, and the terseness of his replies. As for Lobo and his mercenaries they were far too busy keeping watch on the brush. The latin spec-ops guy also seemed to have gained a deep respect for old Hoyt.

 

Which is why he made no attempt to stay the silent stride that carried the lanky predator beyond the perimeter.

 

“What I don’t understand is how he’s able to get close to anything with that reek.” Sam remarked.

 

“Yeah…”

 

Hoyt had continued smoking like a chimney throughout the week. I could always smell him before I could hear him.

 

“So, I guess we have to talk about it…” I said after yet another prolonged silence.

 

“Let’s not and say we did.” Lucas said.

 

“Yeah…you tasted that Finnish pussy…you should appreciate Suomi wisdom…silence is sacred.”

 

“Fancy yourself an ascetic now motormouth?”

 

Sam flicked his tongue between a peace sign. “Motormouth is what your mom calls me.”

 

“O yea…score that post-menopausal tang…ya tiger!” Schmidt rolled his eyes.

 

“Jesus Christ guys…I’m serious what do you think is going on here…”

 

Lucas sighed.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean you can’t tell me that this is actually real…”

 

“Well it is…we’re here, wet and miserable as fuck, likely to die of dysentery or oversaturation at any given tickby of a goddamn second.”

 

“No I mean…I don’t think Thornton is a Gman at all…I don’t think we’re really propagandists…or shrinks…or drug manufacturers…”

 

Each of us eyed our boots uncomfortably.

 

“I think he’s the arch-druid and we’re bringing him the vestal virgins on a silver fucking platter.”

 

“You guys wanna…call it quits…”

 

Slowly we all shook our heads.

 

Graham

 

‘As if we had a choice.’ I mused to myself as dawn tickled its way up my hammock pegs.

 

The haze of sleep dissipated slowly.

 

I wanted to lay there and sway forever in the sticky morn. My wish would not be granted.

 

Cooks boisterous tank roll of a gait disturbed my contented malaise.

 

“Senhor Baird! Senhor baird…come to the surveillance tent…come on…”

 

“Wuhh…” I shook my head.

 

I felt a strong hairy hand grip my wrist.

 

“Get up…get up! I have something to show you…”

 

I hung my feet over the edge of my suspended bunk.

 

“Dr. Cook…it’s too early to be this excited…”

 

I barely registered a look of incredulous rage.

 

“I would not risk your bitching for nothing….bichano…fucking Americans..”

 

I rolled my eyes and reached a hand down to examine my shoes.

 

“I already look. Come on get dressed lez go!”

 

I groaned.

 

‘What the hell could be this important.’

 

I hardly saw any other fool stirring in the legion -like camp.

 

My boot ensconced feet contacted a slightly sinking earth and I was off to our gizmo tent.

 

Cook had outpaced me by a country mile and was leaning over a console. As I stepped closer I noted Grahams figure stooped over something in the black-white glow of night vision. It was HAG-I footage.

 

I leaned over Cooks shoulder to get a better look.

 

“So what…Hoyt is bein a freak again..what else is new…” I muttered in disgust.

 

Cook’s face wheeled about and faced me; so few inches distant that I could bite his nose. These tents were cramped.

 

“Look closer…”

 

I did. An action which caused me to get just as excited as Cook.

 

Graham was leaning over a body.

 

Not the body of a pig or a peccary or any kind of wildlife…but the body of man…a decidedly non native man with an arrow protruding from his chest.

 

I gasped audibly.

 

“I told you…this explain everything…about why Commander Lobo let him go alone in the Jungle…”

 

It was still too early for me to understand.

 

“Don’t you see…we are so unmolested…”

 

“Well…I mean uncle Jethro ain’t here…”

 

“Ugh…you Americans with your jokes…look….Senhor Baird…the fact that we have not had to deal with anyone for a week is not absolutely outre…but given the current climate…it is unusual…and there…” he said tapping the screen…”there is the reason why…there are simply no one to bother us…”

 

Cook was really worked up. His English never slipped this bad.

 

“Do you get it…he is killing people..”

 

I got it. I got it loud and clear. This was highly illegal…on multiple levels…and Thornton would skin us alive…it would be worse than Court Martials…Thornton would..Thornton….

 

I wheeled round and headed off towards Schmidt’s hammock.

 

“Senhor Baird!”

 

I ignored Cook’s protestations.

 

No this was real…this was real alright…

 

Thirsty

 

Lucas was even less thrilled about waking earlier than early.

 

He stumbled to the spook tent with all the enthusiasm of a snail approaching salt.

 

It took what would otherwise have been a comically epochal span of time to realize the gravity of the situation.

 

“Wait….what…what the fuck…” He muttered as his eyes narrowed on the bichromal display.

 

Slowly, ever so slowly, his face turned ashen white. An effect rendered all the more impressive by his deep Amazonian sunshine induced bronzing.

 

“Pai Nosso que estás no céu Santificado seja o vosso nome…” Cook muttered under his breath.

 

“I didn’t know you were religious.” I said.

 

“I am not but sometimes one must…Ai meu Deus!”

 

“Nah…god damn is more like it.” Lucas interjected.

 

“Perhaps…” Cook said looking as wistful as the cramped quarters could afford.

 

Lucas tugged at my shoulder.

 

I instantly recognized it as a prompt for private conversation.

 

“Excuse us Doctor Cook.” I said.

 

The doctor simply waved us away as he played and replayed the grim little video.

 

Lucas and I stepped into a thicket just outside the camp’s perimeter.

 

“Ok…wha the hell Is going on?”

 

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

 

“He’s….killing people…?” The statement trailed off into the tonal quality of a question.

 

“Uh..yea..looks like it…”

 

“Why….”

 

“Fucked if I know…”

 

We both stared at our boots.

 

“Your theory…might be right…”

 

“What theory…”

 

“This is real Alan…”

 

“Yea…either that or he’s just gone mental…”

 

“Hoyt…old pussycat Hoyt with the soft gray eyes…the nerdy bent…he’s not even military for Christ’s sake…and since when in all fucks name does he hunt…”

 

“Since when does he hunt people…” I added.

 

“No something happened….” Lucas said. “Something far beyond the power of suggestion…”

 

Again we examined our boots as if they were the most interesting thing in the universe.

 

“No wonder the natives avoid him. But…the thing that’s got me most bothered is why Lobo allows it.”

 

“What if he’s commanding it…” Lucas began.

 

“I dunno…I kinda wanna go back…”

 

“I don’t think we can…”

 

“Sure…just call it quits….if Cook and what was once Grahamathy wanna find some abomination in this god forsaken hell they can do it without our help…”

 

“Yeah…but Baird…if they do…they’ll have ultimate say…over whatever…whatever it is…”

 

“Is that the way it works?”

 

“I dunno…but it’s too risky to just let it unfold.”

 

“Fuck!” I stamped my foot against the ground.

 

Then as if I’d unwittingly performed some summoning spell Graham Hoyt emerged from the treeline with a pair of wild pigs in tow.

 

Lucas and I must have stared the oddest stare. Yet he was unflinching as he had been since the Luckadoo incident.

 

“What?” He asked.

 

“Where the hell have you been…?”

 

He was silent for a moment as if considering something.

 

“The roots were thirsty.”

 

And with that he made his way past us into the camp.

 

Sigil

 

We continued as if a trail of corpses wasn’t piling in our wake. Thornton’s fatal call never came. Stateside communication was as mundane and technical as ever. Was there some glitch that made ‘Langley’ miss the HAG – I log?

 

Our minds struggled frantically for answers. Graham reticent as ever would certainly not provide them. Lobo simply replied “Less hassle for us.”

 

Cook the de facto leader of the expedition couldn’t extract answers from anyone and was at a loss as to the probable identity of the dead. They weren’t tribals. Murmurs rippled through the expedition and yet no one bothered to confront Graham. We were the only ones that even dared to question him.

 

Everyone just sort of watched from a fearful distance.

 

It became a sort of grim show. Whenever Hoyt ventured into the wood…we’d gather in the spook tent like a suburban family watching a morbid sitcom.

 

The more we saw…the more confused we became. Since we never used the aerial drones at night to prevent tree induced collisions the little robotic with eyed climber was our awkwardly angled window into a world of silent death.

 

The first sighting that I mentioned was a mere accident that happened while Cook was playing with our toys. But having become obsessed with figuring out this fresh mystery we took more drastic measures.

We figured his location by placing a tracker in his boots. Just slipped one in as he slept. To be honest I think he let us.

 

If it was within range we’d send out the HAG – I. How Hoyt knew where the intruders would be is beyond any of us.

 

He’d simply appear. As if he were going to an appointment. We’d hear nothing but the tread of the enemy and the barely audible whoosh of arrows splitting the jungle air. The stricken never cried aloud. The aim was deadly piercing either neck, heart, or lungs, once or twice the mouth.

 

The most disturbing discoveries occurred when we’d troop out to the kills. The dead were invariably turned face down with their throats tidily slit. They were all wearing some sort of uniform. The pattern of the camo wasn’t that of any branch of any nations military that I knew. The fallen were equipped with night vision and some odd looking assault rifles that resembled an M4 carbine.

 

Strangest of all each member carried daggers bearing the planetary seal of Saturn on the blade.

 

 

Episodic

 

 

The whole place had a bizarre sort of sentience.

We filed down a path lined with gnarled roots and dense vegetation. The smell of damp earth pervaded humid air. Fireflies lent mystic luminescence to the primeval scene. Every now and then bits of stone, arranged in vaguely intelligent patterns, would make us pause and ponder. Until a shove informed that we must troop on.

Sam’s tan baseball cap bobbed prosaically, just feet from my line of sight, intermittently obscuring my view of a darkness that was surprising for mid day. The canopy was thick, stretching some hundred feet above, vaulting cathedral like, assuring the sun dared not defile an eternal vesper.

The hush among us Americans was certainly church like, much to the amusement of our guides, who laughed and sang in a mix of Portuguese and Arawak.

 

This is how I began recollecting the strange series of events that led to our present situation in the Amazon Rainforest. Everything that I’ve so far recounted is crystal clear in my memory. It is my fond hope that those who can glean what stands in the shadows of my words…do. That is that I have communicated effectively.

 

It is a matter of necessity that this record is episodic. Despite our notes, our corraborations – there is some difficulty in recollection. Yes, I understand that this seems to contradict the earlier statement about a crystal clear memory. What I mean is that the skeletal framework is crystal clear. But certain connective tissues remain mercurial.

 

Did you ever forget the name of a coworker you saw daily? Someone you knew, whose name you knew, yet for some reason now that name escapes you. So you resort to recalling facts about your interactions, their appearance, how you felt etc. Well, this is exactly like that.

 

Most of the blank spaces have been surpassed except that which regards the key. I can barely piece together the connection between the strange soldiers and a certain shadowy lodge in Germany. The furthest true planet is cloudy.

 

I think these men have something to do with the giants that attacked us at Luckadoos lodge; and maybe some of what the country swain recounted was not entirely fabricated. Physically they are not a threat. Whatever has Hoyt in its grip does not tolerate them. He’s like some white blood cell.

 

But, metaphysically something has crept in. I think the strange shaman who appeared at the Kuikuro village is trying to keep it at bay. Nightly he makes some sort of propitiations. He sits alone by a strange geometric fire that he himself has set and rocks back and forth as he mutters some staccato chant.

 

Many of our guides have abandoned us. We did foresee this eventuality. Which is one of the reasons for our (traditionally speaking) inadvisably outsized expedition. It isn’t their exit that alarms us. It is their parting words.

 

What I am saying is an extreme paraphrase but I believe it to be a faithful enough rendition. In essence they told us that there is no such thing as balancing duality, in affixing it, and that our attempts to do so render us: ‘as wicked as the wicked.’

 

What I am saying is an extreme paraphrase but I believe it to be a faithful enough rendition. In essence they told us that there is no such thing as balancing duality, in affixing it, and that our attempts to do so render us: ‘as wicked as the wicked.’

 

Who knows what sorts of bizarre imaginings the Catholic/indigenous syncretism fosters in local brains. Yet there was something uncannily erudite in their debased Portuguese patois. Something forceful in the rhythm of syllable and the sternness of expression.

 

This coupled with the fact that their admonishment echoed well established alchemical truisms.

 

I approached the Shaman one night mid ceremony. Something no one had done. But, I was through with politesse.

 

I entered with the intent to get answers. And I did.

 

He met my gaze and instantly I was flooded with inexpressible awareness. It was throbbing, pulsing, wavelike – everything was solid but nothing was tangible. It was as if the whole present reality was comprised of smoke. A wispy thing an aftereffect…and then I heard him say….

“Sacred fire…sacred fire is timid…it does not consume. Rather it perpetuates. It is flux and stasis.” As these words manifested in my brain I saw two iridescent orbs emerge from the ground and phase their way through the trees.

 

I was immediately transported back to that spot by the kitchen window at the lodge. By now I knew…but still it threw…me…the saucers I saw at a hidden Kentucky lake were not the effects of military grade hallucinogens.

 

For what I saw now…I saw stone cold sober.

And this is where the trouble and the shadow began. Memory flees from me just as those orbs seemed to flee from our strange companion.

 

My surroundings aren’t helping matters. As of the writing of this, I am inside a shipping container aboard a Chinese cargo vessel. I’ll reveal the reasons behind this later – post hoc dangers aren’t primarily metaphysical.

 

If it wasn’t for Chao and his dumplings I may have given up on recounting this at all. I mean in the grand scheme I suppose it doesn’t matter. Whether one knows or not. It’s not a matter of fate either…but I get ahead of myself.

 

The trouble is that the key as you may well have guessed was chemical in nature. And the realization of the city shattered our standard temporal apparatus to such a degree that everything in the periphery of the epicenter was lost. That is we that survived knew…but we do not know how we knew. It is against my better instincts that I am trying to surpass that gap….

 

There is a reason that there is no heaven on Earth. But more on this later. I hear the sound of flesh on metal…that’s Chao with the dumplings.

 

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