[This is a work in progress.]
The gray asphalt segments the world in two. On the left are calm waters, on the right are righteous waves and whitecaps. I descend down, closer to the water. Up ahead artificial structures pop up from a green landscape. I look past the buildings, out to some sixty miles in the distance, toward the glowering snow-covered mountain peaks. The Olympics, my destination. I drive my trusty truck over the floating bridge and cross over into Seattle. It is just the first leg of my journey.
An hour later I'm on the ferry from downtown to Suquamish, across the water. I spend the ride in the truck, nervously checking and double-checking my equipment. The camera gear is fully charged, the GPS beacons are working and I'm able to locate the ferry on my tablet, and the AR gear shows green neon arrows around me. The green arrows have text next to them, the distance from my current location to the various points I'd bookmarked in advance.
The trip is uneventful. From the ferry terminal it's a drive up through various small towns no one outside Washington has ever heard of, like Sequim and Elwha. From Elwha it's forest service roads, which themselves are little more than frequented paths set deep in the woods. By sunset I get to the first of the bookmarks. This one I'd labeled simply "Base Camp".
Dinner is a bag of fast food I picked up in town. I read an old techno-thriller for a while. Or, rather, I try to read.
My thoughts are on the search. I tell myself that this time, this excursion, will be the one. This will prove me right and the world will click into place again. Things will make sense and my luck will turn around. I spend some time composing various speeches: "No, never doubted it myself", "persistence and hard work, of course", "stay in school".
I plan and rehearse the phone call after Amy sees me on TV. I'll of course be humble and tactful, all is forgiven, that kind of drivel. She'll be back.
I fall asleep to dreams of fame and popularity. I rarely dream of BF anymore, just the aftermath. Truth be told, I wouldn't mind just the aftermath. Don't even care about BF, not after all these years, not really. I just want to be able to say I haven't wasted half my life.
In the morning I go through the gear again, check and recheck it, and finally pull the tarp off Jetson. I crank up the strength on my exosuit and haul the monstrosity out of the back of the truck, then install the removable propellers. The sun hits the nearby peaks and the reflected golden light illuminates the valley where I'm camped. Shortly after that I'm up in the air and the Jetson is flying south into the heart of the mountain range.
One by one, I stop off at the bookmarked destinations that are scattered below us. Each one is a delta where creeks and rivers meet and flow together. At each such juncture I check the smart webbing that I left in place just a few weeks back. On this excursion I'm following the Queets River - and whatever rivers and creeks feed it - as it flows through the Olympics and out west to the Pacific.
The first four stops are disappointing: the webbing has been torn to shreds and I'm unable to get any data from it. It looks as if an army of piranhas chomped on all of the electronics. But, I think, this could be a good sign, as there are no piranhas in the Olympics. For a moment I let myself believe that the webs were destroyed by not-quite-wild life.
I replace the nets (repair isn't really an option, these things are one-use) and download whatever data the old ones had. The first four junctures don't really give me that much info.
The Jetson mostly flies itself, so there is plenty of time for me to sight-see. We fly through the Queets Basin and follow the river, hovering just a handful of meters above it, low enough to see schools of fish and the odd beaver. Mountainous forest surrounds us, snow-capped peaks on the right and the left, twisting valley in the front and behind us.
We approach the fifth juncture, where Queets meets Saghalie, and the sensors start going haywire. The webbing is still in tact and is reporting that it has found something of interest.
The webbing is powered by the rushing water that flows through it. The constant motion generates electrical current. Not much, but enough to power the sensors sewn into the carbon fiber that make up the mesh. The gossamer web sends out electromagnetic radiation of a very specific frequency which is reflected back by the particles in the water. The sensors pick up these echos and use this information to identify the particles in the river.
That's the ten thousand foot overview of the tech, at least as far as I understand it.
I started distributing these webs along the west coast of the Olympic peninsula, at the mouths of the rivers that originate in the mountains and feed into the Pacific, in little-known towns like La Push, Oil City, the town of Queets, Taholah, and a handful of others. That investment almost bankrupted me, but it was worth it.
Within just a few months the webbing found what I was looking for: biological particles in the Queets river differed from the others. There were anomalous artifacts that raised a few eye brows at the UW lab that analyzed my samples. (The dean has it out for me, the jackass, so the UW partnership didn't last long. But I got what I needed at the time and that was enough.)
Having identified Queets River as the source of the strange biologicals, I was able to concentrate on just this one river and it was "just" a matter of finding where the particulates entered the water. Hence the reason for planting the webbing at the junctures. Queets is fed by countless named and nameless creeks, so now my goal is to identify the spot in the greater river where the particulates enter the water.
The Jetson lands in a flat meadow about a hundred yards away from the river juncture. I wade into the rushing waters of Saghalie, just before its waters join those of Queets, and using the AR rig locate the webbing by the unnatural green arrow that hangs in the air just above a random spot in the creek. The webbing looks surprisingly intact. I download its data stores and start going through the wealth of information it has collected over the past few weeks.
The particulate count jumps out at me. This is the highest concentration I've observed. My search may be nearing its end. I look to the east, to where the creek is coming from, but can't see very far: mountainous forest blocks the twisting creek.
But it's clear that what I am searching for must be close by. The Saghalie creek is less than 5 miles in length. Though, I remind myself, I must remember to account for the runoff. I look up at the mountains that surround me. But somewhere here, somewhere nearby, is the mythical Big Foot.
2 thoughts on “Excursion”
Nice cliff hanger. I think I needed a bit more of a tease at the beginning. Probably nothing more than a juicy opening line on the order of “Botanists do not normally engage in this kind of behavior. I guess that’s why most folks think botany is boring.”
Ah, but is the MC a botanist? 🙂