|Chapter 18||Table of Contents||Chapter 20|
Rio Triste, October 22, 2055
Fifteen scientists formed the Mandate group and one staff person, a terrifyingly severe Dutch woman who managed schedules and bills. She never said more than two words to me the whole time I was there. The locals were a mixture of Spanish descendants, blacks and natives in various proportions. Most of them seemed to think we were a bunch of arrogant, ignorant bastards useful only as victims. They paid attention to us only because we had money.
The ecologist literally spent all her time in the field. I only saw her once for a couple of hours. A couple of anthropologists were looking for evidence of the Amazonian culture some of the early Spaniards had described seeing. The geologists were drilling core samples, looking to reconstruct the last 100,000 years of climate and geology. They worked closely with their roughriding drill team and probably got to know the locals better than any of us. The climatologists spent their time setting up automatic weather stations and releasing balloons.
I spent mornings and evenings in the fields collecting samples when it was relatively cool. The heat of the day I spent in the airconditioned lab examining, cataloguing and sequencing the specimens collected. When I finished my 'official' work for the day, I turned to my own --- measuring variations in photosynthetic efficiency among the plants. There was little chance of finding the ambient light loving jungle plants whose unusual appearance I had heard about, but I kept looking.
Communication with the outside world was a problem. We had satellite and short wave radio, but nothing else. That was one aspect of the Amazon which caught me unawares. It is all too easy to ignore and discount the soup of electronic media in which we are immersed. We take the smart world for granted. Smart cars, smart houses, smart clothes, the newseyes and microbugs, the gadgets and gizmos all talking to each other is our jungle. The latest news, the surveillance, the interactive advertisements --- the constant background babble was absent in Rio Triste. I was a fish plucked out of water and I found I relished the silence.
Life in the tin and clapboard shantytown we called 'the oven' very quickly settled into a routine. How can the jungle be grey? Well, first you cut down all the trees. Then you bulldoze the earth flat. Then you let the sun bake the ground into a hardcake and you stick a tin shack on it. No colour. Dull grey. A weekly helicopter brought in food and supplies. I kept working, mainly to avoid the tedium of burning hot sun and nothing going on. I heard from Olivia once via satellite phone, which was intermittent and unreliable. She told me Edie had her baby, a girl. It all seemed very remote and far away.
One week I heard the helicopter come in on an off day, but paid little attention. I had what I needed, a sample of a plant to test.
The door to the lab opened and Adelle walked in. I stared in disbelief. "Adelle! What are you doing here?"
"I flew down with Sergeant."
"Oh." I took a few seconds to digest that. Sergeant was the CEO of one of the sponsoring corporations and a Senator. "Jon mentioned you were working for the enemy." I paused and tried to soften the statement. "His enemy."
She smiled at that.
"Well, would you like some of our world famous lab tea?"
Adelle glanced at the plexiglass hemisphere on the ceiling that housed the monitoring equipment. "Why don't we take a walk and you can show me what you do."
I may not be the swiftest thing on two legs, but I realized something was up and quickly agreed. I grabbed my floppy old sun hat and followed her out the door.
"Can we walk out a little ways and then swing around toward the airstrip? My flight is leaving in less than an hour."
"Sure. This way."
I led her past a few shacks and out into the fields. We walked past rows of genetically modified soybeans. I talked about the deep blue plant and some extremophile bacteria I had discovered. Adelle didn't seem to be listening, so I fell silent waiting to see what was on her mind.
We went about a kilometer or so around the square of a field. From where we were, I could see the airstrip with a single helicopter sitting beside the trailer that served as an office. The inflatable plastic aerodrome was currently deflated.
"Did you know that Edie had a baby girl?"
"Yes. Olivia managed to get through by satellite phone."
"Olivia is very protective of that girl."
I looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
Adelle swung around and started walking backwards in front of me on the trail.
"It's a little discombobulating, you know. You three look so much alike, but you're all so different," she said.
"If you were Matt, he'd already be trying to put the make on me."
I smiled self consciously and looked down.
She turned to walk beside me again. "I'm sorry," she said. We walked in silence for a few seconds.
"Have you heard from him?" I asked, trying to be unabashed.
"Not since that day." Adelle dropped her voice. "And since he has been declared an enemy of the state..."
"What? When did that happen?"
"Oh. You didn't know?"
"Last Thursday." She put her hand on my arm. "You'll have to be careful when you come back north. Make sure all your papers are in order."
I stared at her, wondering if this was really what she had come to say.
We had walked up to the unirrigated unfertilized grey-dry land beside the landing strip. Just then, a car pulled up beside the airport trailer.
"Good timing," said Adelle.
As we walked across the gravelly strip, a short fat bustling guy barrelled out of the car heading towards the helicopter. The Senator did not look at all the way he does on video.
"Come on, Del," called the Senator.
She squeezed my hand to say goodbye. "In spite of your brother, I respect the work your father did and I thought you deserved fair warning."
I whispered, "Thanks."
Adelle hurried to the helicopter and in seconds I was alone watching the tiny dot disappear over the horizon. It felt like I was watching the last vestiges of civilization disappear before my eyes.
I wandered back to the lab to continue my work. Within five minutes, Pierre Marquez came around to gossip. He is one of those irrepressible, almost overbearing sorts, who has a good heart, but won't shut up. He wanted to know who the "hot little chiquita" was.
I gave him a sanitized version and he looked at me in disbelief. "Your brother was a fool to let her get away! Of course that doesn't answer why she showed up here. I think she must like you, my friend."
It didn't matter what I said, so I just smiled.
Whether it was Sergeant or someone watching him, several newseyes floated around Rio Triste after he and Adelle left. I'm not sure how many there were. They all looked the same. There is a unique identifier number, but you can't see it without close examination. Some of the less ruly of the locals took to using them as targets and soon they were all gone.
I did my six weeks in Rio Triste and did not sign up for an extension. I was not sad to leave. As I rode the helicopter to the international airport at Brasilia, I thought of Olivia and wondered what lay ahead.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.
Last modified December 18, 2012