Timothy Allen



Often as I drift off, I see the faces of Jules Verne and Samuel Beckett. I wait for one of them to speak to me, but neither ever does. I guess I’m searching for some advice; I have the feeling I’m merely winging it here. I’m living in perpetual anticipation, infused with anxiety. But, on occasion, I think of Oscar Wilde. When I do, his quip: "The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last," also drifts through my thoughts.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around all of this, where I am, what I’m doing.
Oddly, of all of the things I’ve done in my life, it was the geology degree, the surveyor’s assistant job, and the MFA that got me here. All those years of teaching philosophy were largely for naught.

So I muse. And now, this is outside my window.

It’s never been confirmed, by the way, that iron oxide is really responsible for the red color here. I think I made that clear in the interview. Nobody would have thought that something as mundane as this would have been the tipping point. I still can’t believe the questioner from MIT had the audacity to ask if I knew what red was. Chaos theory at work here, no doubt.

Boy were they surprised, the way things went, but they knew there was no way out of it. Signed contract, notarized by one of their legal team. The rhetoric in that Congressional hearing sealed it; I wish I’d seen the looks on their faces.

But I digress.

I lived in a modular house for a while in Kentucky. They are eminently practical; and to think I bought it on a credit card! I remember the day they delivered it, the two flatbed drivers flummoxed by the narrowness of the road. And then, the ASL user hoisting each half high in the sky with that giant crane. I’ll never forget it. The foundation cost almost as much as the house, not to mention running that water line 3800 feet. That poor lowest bidder with the backhoe, he didn’t realize how rocky that ridge was. Oh, well.

I’d have never guessed that I’d be living in a glorified one of them, here. To be honest, I never guessed I’d be here.

But yes, to deal with the problem at hand. There are a lot of rocks here too. More than any place I’ve ever been, actually, except maybe Arizona. I don’t have to worry about the nuts and bolts stuff, though; the others have to deal with that. They sure got the short end of the stick on this. And worse, I’m not sure how having four in one of these pods would work out. They can talk to each other in real time, and that’s a big plus. But it may not outweigh the negatives. Hell, I feel pretty freaking cramped in this one, and it’s just me. And actually, I can talk to any of them, basically in real time too, even though they’re on the other side of the equator. Not those back home, though. Five and a half minute delay, each way; eleven minutes just to hear: “Fine.”

Okay, this is all doable. I can’t believe all the flack they gave me about Herbie, though. It almost cancelled the whole project. It was only the Congressional hearing, again, that saved my ass. It does weight over 50 pounds, but it’s still lighter than the books that Ken would have brought. And, don’t forget his fancy monitor. We’re allowed 200 pounds of discretionary stuff, after all, and even with 6 reams of tractor paper, I’m well under that. And why would Herbie be considered discretionary? Touchy topic; better not go there...

No more procrastinating; I need to roll up my sleeves and get cracking on this. Step one: headphones. It was just a lucky fluke that my idea of horizontally and vertically triangulated LIDAR technology actually panned out. All those people with impressive STEM credentials were left speechless at the demonstration. Even after that, none thought it would work here, in this thin atmosphere; still less, having me operate it.

So, what have we got here? Ah, it looks like there’s a prominent ridge, of some kind, over there, at about 10 o’clock. Right, but I can’t say 10 o’clock anymore, I have to be scientific: it’s 300 degrees. More specifically, looks like it stretches from about 290 to 310; horizontally, that is. Elevation from the base line, a little over 21 degrees.

You know, even though it was my brainchild, I hate the sound of this thing. It reminds me so much of a theremin. I can tolerate it, I guess, for the roughing it out stage anyway. At least I don’t have to listen to people mocking it, the way they did at...better not go there, either. Thank God, there’s Herbie, for where the rubber meets the road.

So, what kind of distance are we talking about, here? Where’s the gun? Why wouldn’t they mount it right into the tiles? Regulations, they said. Okay, at least it will work through this port. Where’s the jack? This takes a lot of juice. That colonel kept joking that I was like a cop in shades, looking for speeders, trying to aim this thing. He probably never got why I was grimacing so much at his remark.

Okay, what have we got here? 961 meters; 959 meters; 958 meters. Wow, this face is pretty sheer; it must look a lot like El Capitan. No, wait; it’s more of a butte than a ridge. Let’s get the outline of the whole thing. Geez, there’s another one, off to the right of it. Wow. This is more like Monument Valley! If there are more of them, anyway.

Holy shit. I don’t think anybody anticipated this. I’ve got to get all this into the computer.

Well, it’s all loaded. Let’s see what we’ve got here: Ctl-F2. Need to see what Herbie has to say about this! Alt-P-I: H R B E. Bingo!

Boy is he loud, even here. Nine pages for what was on the screen, 3 by 3. I’ve got to make sure I keep these in order. Scotch tape, now that’s high tech. Sure hope I don’t run out. Let’s get all this on the drawing table.

“What does somebody like you need a drawing table for?” that jerk from NASA blurted out. I felt like choking him. He was never convinced. I’m not sure if he actually quit, or just threatened to.

Wow, this is good! The resolution is better than I imagined. Look at this strata, will you! This is all sedimentary, and it goes right to the edge of the butte. Ice has been verified at the poles, but this would mean there’d definitely been an ocean or something here at one time. It sure seems like it, anyway.

The Rover, Curiosity, got some shots of what appeared to be shale, some years back, yet not everybody was convinced. But there’s no denying this. So much variation, too.
Holy shit! This layer is dense. Could this really be limestone!? No fucking way! It’s so much like those shots from Utah I practiced on before I left, though, and that all IS limestone. Let’s follow this vein across…

Quite a gap, here. A few random dots; dust? More likely just image noise. Wait, here’s another butte. Unmistakably. Wow, this really does look like Monument Valley. Let’s see if that strata shows up in this one, too.

It does! It’s as clear as it can be. Let’s blow this up a bit; I think Herbie can handle it. Don’t forget CalTech’s dynamite software; Herbie can print only what the driver sends him. Nine more sheets. I need to be careful in how I marshal out this scotch tape.

Okay, what have we got here? Oh man, I might need a little lemon juice on the finger tips for this! Look at the angle in this layer. Sandstone, it seems; yes, I’m certain of it. I need to go back to see what the preliminary analyses said about this quadrant. I’m pretty sure that nobody had thought any of these formations were butte-like or were stratified like this.
It’s amazing how vivid this is; just below the sandstone...whoa!...I can’t believe it; this one (ITALICS)definitely, really is limestone(END ITALICS). And, limestone can be formed in only one way...you know what this means! Nobody at NASA is going to believe it. I’ll be branded as a crackpot, for sure…

Wait, there’s one way to settle this. It could actually work, too; it’s not going to be easy, though. FOSY will only get a reading at really high temperatures. The surface here, even in direct sunlight, won’t get over about 18 degrees C. The only way to heat it up enough for FOSY to get a reading is to really zap it. The concave mirror on the roof could possibly do it, if I could deflect a beam of sunlight over there and focus it on a small spot.

No easy trick, though. It’s programmed to follow the sun to keep the batteries charged. Moving it would require manual override. It’s doable, in theory. The manual says it can be done visually; good luck with that...

What’s the strategy for this? I need to make a model to get the logistics right. I’ve got a ruler, somewhere, but I’ll need something else, a straight edge, anyway. The pencil tray on the drawing table might work; I’m not going to be needing it for pencils, that’s for sure. At any rate, I’m going to have to be fast. As soon as the mirror is turned away from the sun, the batteries begin discharging at an alarming rate.

Where’s the calculator? Got it; thank God I put it back in the case.

According to this, then, the mirror needs to rotate 57 degrees horizontally, 6 degrees vertically. Let’s see what this looks like in the real world. Horizontal, first: ruler against the pencil tray; up 45 degrees. All right, 12 more degrees. Wish I had a protractor; APH has a prototype, but it’s not in production, yet. Oh well, I’m just going to have to estimate it, and hope for the best.

This is as close as I can get it. The beam should be focused right on that layer. It’s now or never. Click. Fiber Optic Spectrometer activated, JAWS tells me. No data. Crap. No, wait, there is some coming in. I can’t tell what it means, though. I’ll have to graph it. Herbie can likely do it, he did a great job on that strata. But I need to recalibrate this first.

Okay, let’s see what we’ve got here. Click; High Resolution Braille Embosser, JAWS tells me. This will all fit on one sheet, I think. Yes.

Wow! Just wow! The verdict from Fosy and Herbie: between 55 and 60 percent calcite, CaCO3. I can’t believe it. Actually, I can believe it. How is this going to go, though? I’m sure some are going to think it’s fake data, and I’m going to be the butt of all kinds of jokes.

The others will come next week; they’ve got the MRV, after all. When I tell them, they’ll go over there and chip off a sample to take back with us and get the credit for this. I’ll need to get this all written up and submitted before that, then, with all the data laid out, else no one will believe it’s all in the dots.

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return to issue 4: May 2017