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Chapter One

I was sitting on the back deck, studying a two-page spread in the travel section of the Times pertaining to the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan. Not that I was planning an imminent journey, but the scenery and descriptions were captivating, the authors chronicled exploits notable. They had me transfixed between sips of Caf du Monde and brief pauses to marvel at the beauty of 150-foot firs wavering overhead in gentle, balmy spring breezes. I noted the top of the left tree had changed its moniker, as many small branches had generated in the early spring, filling it out, lending it an air of benevolent watchfulness. At the very top had formed a perfectly shaped cross, which could only be seen from the deck below and from no other angle. I was bemused to have been a spectator to its ecclesiastical perfection formulated throughout the year. I would have to insure less paganish behavior, exhibiting forthwith a more pious attitude in the back yard as the deck and house had now become officially sanctified. Memorial Day weekends in the New York area are normally marked by excessive traffic, crowded airports and beach openings. The City was generally quiet once the bridge and tunnel folk emigrated, but the connecting arteries pre and post were generally clogged, exhibiting need of continual surgery. Trying to avoid that insanity at every opportunity, I was complacent in the early Sunday morning quiescence with the paper spread before me on the table, marveling at the authors ascension of the Pamir Knot, when the paper began vibrating. Oh no, I groaned inwardly. Not now! Hello, my friend. Howve you been? Seems like ages since I was here. Right, ages, less than sixty days ago, and here we go again! I thought. Why, hello, Lyft, and whats made you a stranger over the

past two months? Good to see you! Dont be so sanctimonious! I know youre not overjoyed to be interrupted on this beautiful spring morning, but something importants come up and we need to get moving on it! Lyft had my full attention, as I knew the serious side of his personality normally warranted a cataclysmic crisis. As he spoke, he materialized, perched on top of the chair opposite me, which was unusual, as he normally settled himself unannounced on my left shoulder. I sensed agitation in his demeanor, realizing from the logistics of his posturing that a serious face-to-face discussion was about to ensue. His taloned feet gripped the back wrung of the chair as he rocked gently back and forth. Theres a major problem we have identified, and if something is not done immediately to reverse what we think has happened, we are all doomed! Pretty strong stuff for 7:15 on a Sunday morning. Whats up? Ill tell you whats up. We have sensed something amiss for some time, but now we feel we understand the dynamics of it. Whos we, Kimo Sabe? You know, one derivation of that term you just used is horses rear end. You wouldnt be referring to me as such, now, would you? Absolutely not. Trusted friend is how I see it. Whos we? The we are the Klinque scientists closest to some of the plate activity weve been sensing deep in the Earths crust. I dont know how much you know about tectonics, but right now theres more going on within the Earth than since its formation. Whoa! Whoa is right! What has happened is that

the spin of the Earths core has increased, resulting in more volcanism worldwide, which has heated Mother beyond her tolerance level. This is causing tectonic plates around the Earth to expand, leading to severe earthquakes, major shifting of land masses, and a profusion of additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Armageddon as we know it. This is serious. An understatement if I ever heard one. Sorry, but this is hard to get my head around. For us too! Think of discovering it! Along with all that, there will be a marked increase in volcanic pollution in the atmosphere, which could lead to localized cooling. An increase in the Earths temperature plus volcanic winters would be a catastrophe, and if the volcanic activity increases, we could have nuclear winter worldwide for god knows how long! Think of the weather fronts generated by such a scenario! It would truly be the end. Lyft, this is too big for us to handle! How in the world are we going to alert governments around the world to act on this? Were not. What do you mean, were not? Just what I said. By the time the UN got through with debating plans as to how to deal with the situation, wed all be fried, or maybe flash frozen. We have a plan. And it began some time ago. Who has a plan? You ought to know me by now to realize that I always have a plan. OK, so, if you have a plan, and have it all figured out, then you dont need my help, so now I can go back to my paper and relax on what 4

was to be an official two month vacation which I feel somehow is to be cut short. Lyft thundered, Youre damn right its about to be cut short, as of now! Punch the time clock, lad, cause youre now on it! My full attention again turned to Lyft, who was nearly apoplectic, gesticulating on the back of the chair, exhibiting a full-blown St. Vitus. I felt it best to not be a smart-ass and listen to what he had to say, as he was not only my true friend, but my employer as well. OK, well, since I am now officially on the clock, tell me the plan. What, do you think, youre a union member? Ive had no sleep for months working on this, so dont talk to me about vacations. Ive left you alone for a reason, as I promised you time off after our last escapade, but this cant wait. This is serious with a capital S! OK, ok, I get it, sorry for being flip, but sometimes you bring out the worst in me. I apologize. Just tell me what were going to do. Thats better. Now that I have your attention, herere the basics. Just then, Barb came out of he house in her nightgown protected by a white terrycloth bathrobe, trimmed pink, somewhat bleary-eyed, as evidently the noise on the deck beneath the bedroom window had awakened her. Her big brown eyes narrowed, as she hissed, Whats going on out here? Im trying to sleep! You two are noisier than a one-man band. Whatever you two are doing, cant it wait until later in the day? A person cant even sleep around here on a Sunday! From next door, Christ, Im trying to sleep, so keep it down out there! Lyft piped up, Its blasphemy to take the Lords name in vain on the Sabbath, or on any other day for that matter; and if you look skyward to the top of the fir tree there, youll see another reason for the neighborhood to practice a 5

little more veneration whilst a great symbol looks down upon you and yours! With that, Barb looked up and covered her mouth with her hand in an apology on behalf of the neighborhood to whatever deity was looking down upon us, hopefully with great beneficence. Why Lyft, its a perfect cross! How on Earth did that happen? Maybe not on Earth, although it seems to be a natural occurrence, albeit some would say a supernatural occurrence. Either way, whos to doubt it? You know, the Cross has a lot of history, most of it not rooted in Christianity. Prior to Christian adoption, it was a pagan symbol for almost all cultures, having various different meanings for each. I interrupted, Does that mean I can exhibit blatant impious behavior out here then? Lyft pointedly ignored the segue. Barb said, Interesting, but not a subject for lecture before morning coffee. Let me get mine, and then Ill join you boys for what Im sure will be fascinating dialogue. As Barb went into the house, Lyft whispered, Any more irreverent exhibitions from you and youll end up in purgatory. I wouldnt be out here in a windstorm if I were you. She retrieved her coffee, came back out on the deck, and settled in for an early morning explanation pertaining to her disturbed sleep. Five-foot four, tousled short brown hair with delicate facial features, she looked beautiful in the morning light, even without her make-up. OK, said Lyft. Heres what were up against. The Earths core has somehow increased its spin. We dont know why and its difficult to determine how fast, but it has, heating up all the different levels of what constitutes the collars surrounding the inner core of the Earth. As you may know, the inner core we feel is solid, made of something like iron, perhaps iron and nickel combined, no one really knows, 6

but we do know it spins at a constant rate, or at least used to. How do we know? Through exact measurements of seismic events over long periods of time. However, lately, we have detected a marked increase in speed of the spin, and that increase has heated up the outer core surrounding that of the inner, which in turn has heated the Earths mantel, or Lithosphere, causing substantial expansion. This is tantamount to the end of the Earth as we know it, because all of the tectonic plates could expand at once, causing major rifts through excessive volcanic activity with earthquakes the likes of which no one has ever seen. Tsunamis will circle the Earth, the sky will turn black, nuclear winter will set in for eons, volcanoes as yet not formed will spew ash and poison into the air, and it will literally be Hell on Earth. Nothing living will survive, if something is not done immediately. Im afraid we pretty much are all doomed, if nothing occurs to reverse the course Mother has decided to follow. Barb said softly, Suddenly, I dont feel the need for this coffee anymore. Me either, I intoned. But, what on Earth can be done about such a scenario? How can it be stopped? You really mean, What in Earth. We are working on a cooling mechanism, as we speak, for the Earth. Youre kidding! I wish this were a kidding matter, but unfortunately, its not. What we are going to do is cool the Earth through a series of rifts and tunnel shafts. You remember my suit and how it is made? We are going to use the same technology for piping deep into the Earth and then we are going to pump liquid nitrogen into excavated tunnels around the outer core in the hopes of slowing down the Earths spin utilizing the principles of contraction. We are not sure it will work, but its the best shot we have.

Wont the pipe melt and the nitrogen heat up as it gets to the outer core? I queried. No, the pipe is being constructed so that it can reflect any heat up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so therefore the nitrogen will remain at its liquid cooling point. We figure the Earths core at about 7,000 degrees, so we should be safe dealing with the outer core. But how do you transfer the temperature of the liquid nitrogen to the core? Simple, really, just like the principle of my suit. We reverse the polarity of the metal, which allows the transfer of cold to hot. The secret is to keep enough liquid nitrogen flowing so that it is not allowed to absorb any heat. This will be the tough part, to produce enough liquid to do the job. And then enough to eventually slow the core while at the same time attempting to keep it from spinning out of control. How are you, we, I guess I should say, going to go about constructing the tunnel around the outer core? Its a mammoth project if I ever heard of one! Tunnels are under construction already. True, its the most brutal and the largest construction ever undertaken, but there are many of us, and our engineering skills are superior to anything above the Earths surface, as you know from our construction of the LMPs some time ago. They are working quite nicely, for your information. Those Liquid Metal Penguins are filtering carbon out of the oceans to the tune of ten tons per day, soon to be exponentially increased by their mass construction worldwide. But, thats another issue. Since the approximate radius of the outer core is about 3,500 kilometers, we figure the circumference of the circular tunnel needed to surround it should be 21,991 kilometers, plus or minus 500, or about 13,744 miles plus or minus 312 for those metrically challenged. The diameter of the tunnels will be about eighteen feet, so maintenance can be done inside them if necessary. Theres really no time to lose!

I can see that. So, whats our role in this? To convince the various world governments of the magnitude of all were doing? Actually, no. Your job is to oversee the first project in the Wakhan Corridor, a wild remote area of Afghanistan otherwise known as the Roof of the World. Couldnt you have picked a site a little closer to home, like the San Andreas Fault or something? Nope, has to start there. Too many earthquakes occurring there in a short span of time, so the area is suspect as being the number one seismic event location. Its near where the IndianAustralia plates merge, also encompassing the Java Trench and the Ring of Fire, from which emanated the tsunami, devastating parts of Asia two years ago. You will go to those locations as well. As a matter of fact, you will be traveling the globe, overseeing various projects where the great plates of the Earth meet. I would advise packing your best winter gear first, as much of the Wakhan is 15,000 feet or more above sea level. The summers are minimal and the winters brutal, so pack accordingly. I will help you of course. Barb and I looked at each other, not really believing what was happening. How long am I to be gone? Until the projects are finished. That could be years! Could be, but wont be. We dont have enough time for it to be years. Our workers have already carved out the first shaft and have begun work on the bottom tunnel around the outer core. We will pretty much have that aspect of construction well in hand by the time you get to the Wakhan. The construction has already been laid out. What you are to do is insure its continuance on the surface. Well take care of the

subterranean issues. And those issues are huge, by the way. All the sections have to marry up in one circle, and then a filtering system for the nitrogen to keep it cool must be constructed at the various plate junctures. Look on it as a giant circle with as many sub-loops, all connected, somewhat like your own circulatory system. Someone needs to insure those operations on the surface are not interrupted while we concentrate on our end below ground. You know, Im not at all qualified for this. Why dont you get an engineer for this type of assignment? We already have numerous engineers on the project. Im not interested in your technical expertise, or rather, your lack of it. Im interested in your management skills. I need someone to vet our employee roster in the Wakhan, which is over 5,000. We feel we could have some security issues facing us. And I have to go to Afghanistan, why? All I need is a computer. I can do it from here. Perhaps, but there are other issues as well. Some of these locales are pretty wild, and in many areas there is no governmental allegiance, so you can pretty much get my drift here. Great! Ill have to sharpen up on my martial arts skills. You know, normally, I would never put you in harms way, but this is different. We are all at risk here, so perhaps it would not be a bad idea to take some basic self-protection course, just in case you need it. I glanced at Barb, who blanched visibly. She said, So, this is going to be dangerous. Yes, it could be. I do not anticipate it, but there is some risk involved. However, we have no choice in that regard, so we best deal with it. So, when do I leave? One hundred eighty days from today.

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Well, at least that gives me a little time to get used to the idea and to get in shape, not easy for a forty-five year old pudgy, balding male. Lyft raised an eyebrow, or what should have been an eyebrow, intoning, Slightly pudgy? Barb giggled. I ignored the thrust. I said, What will you be doing in the meantime? Convincing multiple governments to assign protected status to the areas in which well be operating. That will be essential for success. Good luck! Some of these governments are nothing more than self-serving dictatorships. I realize that. They have their methods, and we have ours. Leave that aspect of the project to me. OK, then, whats first on the agenda? Get your will in order. Oh, thanks. Any other encouragement? Im serious! Anything can happen, and you should be prepared. Im not trying to alarm either of you, but this is a first for us all, and well be operating in some pretty inhospitable territory; places in which there is drug smuggling, civil war, outright thievery, areas where unlawful behavior is sanctioned by governmental authorities, in fact, where the criminals are defined by their government uniforms. So, its best to get your affairs in order, just in case. I dont anticipate anything untoward happening to you, or me for that matter, and as you know, Im pretty savvy in the protection department, but one never knows the future, so best to protect Barb and the children in case the unexpected 11

happens to occur. Well, just so you know, we are pretty buttoned up in that department. Our wills are in order. Theres no need to change anything from when we reviewed them several months ago. How about you? Do you have a will? Dont need one, I have no assets, no need for material things, and as we in the Klinque comprise a truly communist society, there is nothing to hand down to anyone. Our traditions will suffice to insure any last wishes are instituted should the inevitable arrive early. Huh, you mean youre a communist? Never would have guessed. Just think, me working with a communist, who pays off people with precious stones, exhibiting the most capitalist philosophy, payola at the highest level, for tasks well done. Just like corporate America. Harrumph! You cant typify me. In this day and age, it takes any number of philosophies to get the job done. Why do you humans have to have a tag for everything? You have this propensity for placing things in neat little boxes; hes a rightist or leftist, a communist, a fascist, it goes on forever. Philosophically categorizing people leads to misrepresentation and underestimation of their capabilities. Machiavelli had it right. Do what it takes to get the job done and damn the political labels. I prefer to get the job done, thank you. OOOKAY, boys, said Barb with inflection, so this is getting a lot done. Lyft, would the next step, per chance, be to order some major cold weather gear? Yes, and tropical gear at the same time. There will be some shuttling eventually between the two climates, as the next location will be tropical near the Java Trench. As a matter of fact, most of the work will be done in temperate to tropical climates, with the exception of the Andes Mountains, where the Nazca and South American 12

plates meet. And, both of you need to be immunized against nearly everything on earth. Ill give you a list. Barb asked, Why me? Im not going Oh, you very well may, said Lyft. Barb and I looked at each other somewhat askance. The reason you could be traveling is to understand the nature and magnitude of the project so that when Jeff talks to you remotely, you can understand whats happening on the other end. Theres nothing worse than not being able to communicate to the other partner the gravity of a project if one partner cant understand the issues because they havent been realized first hand. Thats number one. A second reason for your occasional travel is that sometimes it takes a womans sensitivity to break through testosterone infused ineptitude. I can see where talking sense to locals from another viewpoint will be of value in certain situations which are sure to arise, and we may need your temperate expertise from time to time to explain what we are about. Remember, some of the people we will be dealing with have a 13th century mentality, and they can only see into the next day or into the next growing season at best, so we have the issue of communicating the importance of our mission to them, while at the same time not inundating them with scientific gobbledygook, serving only to make them more suspicious. Remember its whats not understood which is most dangerous, not what is. Barb queried, Isnt language a problem? Im not fluid in languages. Not to worry, we will have interpreters where needed. Some women and some men, depending on the circumstances. What about the home front? The kids, and especially the dog. Marquis needs care and insulin twice a day

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As to your children, they can take care of themselves. They, too, will have a mission, to insure all goes well here. As both are in college, they have their own worries and concerns, and will have the added responsibility of insuring that their mother does not come under undue stress due to her husband being away for an extended period. Cristine and Brad will be fine, trust me. As to Marquis, he will have the best of care, we will see to that. You need not worry about him. Once you explain the salient points of the project to your son and daughter, the significance of the venture will weigh on them to do the required and then some. This is where we all pull together. Ok, then, said Barb. Time to get busy! We have the L.L. Bean, Cabelas and the Patagonia catalogs here, so lets look through them and see what we need! From Lyft, I like her style! No nonsense, just get to it! Well, I want to finish this article. It just so happens its about the Pamirs near the Wakhan Corridor, and it wouldnt hurt anyone here to read it, as the author just returned from an expedition of climbing the Pamir Knot. Barb asked, Whats the Pamir Knot? Well, I said, according to the article, the Wakhan Corridor is a shallow valley between Ishkeshem and Qala Panja, bounded by the Pamir Knot. Its a strip of land with a shallow valley floor, which separates Tajikistan where the Pamir Mountains are located from Pakistan and the Hindu Kush. The Pamir Knot is the junction between two sets of mountain ranges, the Big Pamir and the Little Pamir. The Big Pamirs rise 600-900 meters above the Wakhan, which dont forget in some places is already 5,000 meters above sea level. This area is at the eastern end of the corridor and is now part of a wildlife reserve because too many idiots killed off the Marco Polo sheep and those beautiful snow leopards. 14

The Wakhan is about 200 km long, 20 to 60 wide, and ties into the easternmost ranges of the Hindu Kush and the south-easternmost part of the Pamirs where they join the Karakorams in Pakistan. K2 is in the Karakorams, at 28,251 feet, the second highest mountain in the world, and perhaps the most lethal, so you can see what type of territory we are entering. The author calls this area one of the most beautiful in the world, and also one of the most dangerous. The article is well worth reading. Barb said, Ok, you have me interested. That first, catalogs second. Lyft said, Well, while you do your homework, Ive got things to do, so Ill see you a little bit later after youve settled into your day. With that, Lyft elevated himself from the chair, floated toward the path leading to the front of the house, where he disappeared in a blink. It never ceased to amaze me watching his effortless flight. He hummed the Klinque Wassail, probably in anticipation of pending events. As Barb collected the newspaper and began reading, I sat back, musing on past escapades leading us to a new reality. I thought about my first meeting with Lyft, the unbelievability of it, as he floated down onto our driveway in front of me last winter after a brutal snowstorm, winking out of invisibility, appearing out of nowhere. He explained his presence due to the impending planned destruction of the retaining wall holding back the elevated roadway at the head of our property, whose stones were sacred because they imparted invisibility to him and his cohorts and why WE could not allow THAT to occur. I thought of the incidents with the local Mafia, the corruption of the contractor bidding on the road expansion project, then the snowplow accident tearing half the wall apart last winter. Most amusingly I vividly recalled the interview with church officials after Lyft had snatched a boy out of mid-air who had tumbled off the wall 15

and how he had orchestrated their hasty departure. Most of all, I relished his never-ending historical anecdotes, although Id never tell him that. I remembered how astounded I was at his initial presence, yet how readily I accepted it. He had worn a greenish plaid Tam o Shanter like covering on his head with a large pom-pom in the center, on top. I figured he was a male by the timber of his voice, but that was only an assumption at the time. He had no hair that I could see. His face, kindly, wizened and wrinkled, had large intelligent eyes, reflecting the moonlight. Slits in the flesh were where the eyebrows should have been. His ears were rounded, close to his head, with overly large lobes, upon which were affixed what looked to be very large diamonds, perhaps four karats or more. His skin had a leathery texture, colored muddy brown, his neck being essentially non-existent, overshadowed by a long, full visage which terminated opposite his upper chest cavity. His body was in proportion, but the hands were huge, with each having an overly large thumb and six digits, talons emanating from all. His dress was simple, difficult to see in the dim light, yet I discerned it was of fine quality, as the sheen sparkled and danced in the effervescent night air. I noted a bejeweled silver metallic-like over-garment, with precious stones for buttons, coming to his ankles, and then discovered that his feet were unshod, and what feet they were! Thick and muscular, each foot exhibiting seven toes with talons extending several inches from the protrusions, grippers more than weapons. The incredulousness of our first encounter haunts me to this day. I reflected on his offer to bring me into his organization, which had now turned into us, how our lives had changed since this two-foot whirlwind inserted himself into our daily routine. Money along with a secure future was no longer an issue. Lyft had assured of that. We had sealed a bargain that the property would remain beyond us in perpetuity, 16

deeded to his dummy corporation in New York should anything happen to Barb and I, so much importance he placed on the preservation of the wall, which now exhibited a new growth of ivy and wisteria. I thought about the children, Crissy and Brad, twenty and eighteen respectively, whether they suspected anything amiss, with all the displayed insanity of the past months, but as with many young people, they were pretty much locked into their own worlds, accepting much at face value if it did not directly impact them. I wondered how long Barb and I could keep Lyfts existence from them. Marquis, our apricot miniature poodle, had no issue with Lyft. They had become best of friends, with Lyft occasionally flying him around the front yard, giving the dog the benefit of a cheap thrill. Lyfts kindness to animals was dampened by his attitude toward humans, however. He generally felt complete disdain for most of our race, which was why his continual historical proselytizing was so important to him. I truly believed that Lyft had a severe case of cognitive dissonance with regard to humanity. He detested our worst attributes, but realized at the same time we all could be so much more, while owing his purpose in preserving us all from our own follies. Not that there was only a little self-serving involved with his exploits. Everything he undertook reflected the attitude that he was acting always on behalf of his people, the Klinques, who lived in a subterranean society, of whom evidently there were millions. We had met only one, however, as not many are given the power and authority to operate on the surface. Lyft definitely was the exception with his people. I even told him once he should run for elected office, which met with little humor. He then went on an extended diatribe about the entire Klinque political system and into the lineage of all the ruling families over the past several thousand years, which I felt at first to be a complete bore. However, once he became more animated when he reached his own family, I 17

began to view his society in a different light and attained a new degree of respect for his machinations. Knowing he eventually could well be in line to rule his kingdom one day had psychologically influenced my relationship with him, although I did not intend to let him know that. As far as our relationship was concerned, it was business as usual, rude repartee in a neverending immersion of historical narratives. As Barb read about the Wakhan, she exclaimed, This is where the Oxis River is located. In ancient Greek mythology, it was a defining point between the known world and the unknown! I remember it from the book I have on the Greeks and their Gods! I never knew it was in Afghanistan! Huh! Keep reading, theres a lot more. This area is really steeped in history. Marco Polo traveled here in the 13th century, establishing the Silk Road. Ive never read anything about him, but can you imagine traveling from Italy deep into China back then? What it must have been like? I know, amazing really, when you think about it. And, that was only one branch of the Silk Road. There were southern branches, offshoots, tributaries if you will, which were operating wherever trade flourished. The whole era is fascinating. It established a major part of world history, as China opened up, and then subsequently shut its borders, depending upon which dynasty was in power. No wonder you and Lyft have a love-affair with history. We do. Studying it helps to understand what makes us tick, or at least thats the theory. The article goes on to explain the Great Game, when the Wakhan became a buffer between Russian and British aspirations for dominance in 1896. It was a compromise between two great powers, separating their territory in a 18

country which had no say about it, Afghanistan. No wonder the Afghans have little respect for Western diplomacy. They never really had a country until late in this century, with only the beginnings of democracy as we know it being formed today. I said, The Russians had another name for it, Tournament of Shadows, because of all the intrigue surrounding the continual posturing of the two countries for dominance in the area. World War 1 eventually ended all that, but for our purposes, whats important is that the Wakhan is now ruled through Afghanistan. Its a relatively stable area politically, as there is little there, except local small communities struggling with subsistence farming. You know, the general public knows little about this area, but geographically, it is hugely important, as its the juncture of Western and East Central Asia. And, at the eastern end of the Corridor at the Wakhjir pass through the Hindu Kush, there is a three and a-half hour added time change into China, the sharpest time change anywhere in the world. Within one step, over a three hour time change, weird, really. Barb asked, What about the situation now generally in Afghanistan? Military operations are still going on there, and there are still terrorist incidents. I cant imagine Americans generally are welcomed there by much of the populace. True, its dangerous, especially traveling around the country, but we wont be doing so much of that. We will be in an area not subject to military operations. Most of those are taking place from Kabul down into Kandahar right now. That area of the country is of concern, as remnants of the Taliban and other militant offshoots seem to be hiding in the mountains along the Pakistani border, going back and forth as it suits them. Not to mention general thievery, used as a cover to conceal any variety of criminal activity while at the same time serving to discredit Americans and add fuel to the fire. There is a lot 19

of rivalry between tribes there, and much inter-fighting, with many tribes uniting as it suits their purposes, then going back to fighting each other again. One really has to understand the political landscape to operate there and get away with his life. I can see that. At any rate, Im glad youre interested, cause you know what they say; Those who have the most knowledge, win, or something like that. Ill leave you to it. I went into the house and pulled up the U.S. Department of States Consular Information Sheet on the Internet pertaining to Afghanistan. I noted that a passport and a visa were required to enter the country and thought how interesting it would be explaining our mission to consular officials, especially when they had never heard of it. Other than terrorist/criminal activity, one of the main security concerns was the 5-7 million unexploded landmines and other types of ordinance, scattered over the entire country. Random explosions were frequent in and along roads, which were poor, with most unpaved, although I read with relief that the Wakhan area had never been mined. Highway robbery was literally rampant, vehicles were poorly maintained and were in severe competition with animals and bicycles on the roadways. Potholes were numerous, remaining unfixed in most instances, and there was no enforcement of traffic laws. Few streets were lit at night, adding to the mix chaos from the criminal element under the cover of darkness, and policing sporadic, if at all. Healthcare was basically non-existent, especially where we would be. The information stated unequivocally that Afghan hospitals should be avoided and that private clinics were operated by unlicensed individuals who had no medical degrees. There were no agencies to monitor these operations nor was there health care in general in the entire country. Phone service depended on satellites, there were no credit card services available, and all financial transactions were done 20

in cash. Airline service was sporadic, being generally unsafe. We would be flying into Tajikistan at any rate, so that was a relief. As I read on, it would have been comical if it were not so pathetic. To add to the countrys misery, it had undergone years of severe drought from which it still had not recovered, so there were chronic food shortages, along with a perpetual dearth of potable water. The good news was that we had plenty of water where we were going. The bad news was that it was all the more isolated should the unexpected occur. We were truly going into harms way. Aside from usual in-country chaos, the most prominent security issue, in my subjective opinion, was the opium smugglers in the Corridor. Most of the opium grown and processed in Afghanistan was accomplished in western Badakhshan province. The Wakhan lay in the northeastern section. However, growers had targeted the populace of the Wakhan further east for addiction, and it was estimated that up to 28% of the population were drug abusers. The dealers were then able to appropriate local lands due to drug debt and use it for further cultivation, bringing the production points closer to the market. Drug deliveries were made by four-wheel drive vehicles on a rough road along the border of Tajikistan from Sultan Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Wakhan and then following the Pamir River through low elevations up to the Wakhjir Pass and down into the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Half the year, the road is blocked by snow, and the other half it remains challenging to navigate its entire length, due to landslides and gargantuan potholes. Subsequently, there was a lot of pack animal traffic in the Corridor, not all of it heading in the same direction. Tajikistan offered even more attractive options for smugglers, as there were many unpatrolled areas along the border which could be crossed on foot. As it is often a struggle to complete the trek through the Corridor all the way to China, it is easier to use the Tajikistan option, with the route heading north 21

through the Kulma Pass directly over the TajikChina border. Again, much of the border between Tajikistan and China is flat, so there are many more entry points into China here than further on in the Wakhan region. Lubricating the greasy wheel, much of the smuggling is done ethnically, that is, Tajiks dealing with Tajiks, albeit in a separate country, making penetration into drug smuggling operations by authorities the more difficult. Then, there are the border officials at bonified crossings, who continually look the other way, paid well by the smugglers according to local standards, with the graft going up the ladder to insure uninterrupted transportability. Reading further, the article stated that in recent years, the shift from opium to heroin had been dramatic. In 1995, heroin seizures were only 3% of all opiates confiscated in Central Asia. In 2001, they accounted for 90%, due to higher monetary yield per kilo and a greater punch per hit from the drug. Most smuggling out of the Wakhan centered recently on the border of Tajikistan, as it seems Russia and Europe were a better market for the drugs. Due to the poverty levels of the various ethnicities along all the border regions, there was a fertile ground for recruitment of couriers, even though the activity is abhorred in the Muslim religion. So, not only was the Wakhan area increasing its cultivation of the poppy, there was continual drug smuggling traffic from further west heading north into Tajikistan, east into China and south into Pakistan. I was surprised there was no need for traffic lights and a good veterinarian in the Corridor. Clearly, our biggest threat was not the climate or disease, it was the ever prevalent debased human condition. It set me to thinking how best to deal with security issues, when it became apparent that Lyfts usual method of financial subjugation would have to be employed. We would have to take along a huge supply of local currency, engaging in our own smuggling operation, which would be a 22

challenge in itself. I whistled out loud at that one. Just then, I felt the old familiar presence on my shoulder. Doing some homework, eh? Yes, and not finding much to like, either. I heard you whistle to yourself. What was that about? I was thinking of how we were going to get local currency into the area, which we will need for bribes. Well need several helicopters to transport it all. Bah, not to worry, got it covered. We, I, will take along several bags of precious stones, you know, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, that sort of thing, and convert them near there through our sources. You know, that area is famous for lapis lazuli, and occasionally diamond finds generate some excitement, but then the realization dawns that they are washed up from upheavals deep within the earth due to earthquake activity, so the excitement dies down quickly. Because there is occasional gemological activity in the region, we have been able to find a particularly trusted source there with whom we do business. There should be no problem with the local currency, keeping those we need in a state of fiscal bliss. Drug smuggling would seem to be a worry. How do we deal with that? Youre correct, that is a concern, a big one. Pay-offs may not work there. All the smugglers will want is more, more, more, until they get it all. So, we will have to deal with them by the seat of our pants. Very reassuring Well, what would you propose, then? After all, its your race, so you figure out a way to deal with them. Very flip. You know what I would do? 23

Take along enough hardware to blow the Wakhan to kingdom come, if need be. Drug smugglers mean nothing to me, so whats a few less? Clint Eastwood you aint. Either are you. Most aptly put! Any other ideas, primarily ones which make sense? Yes, shoot the yaks and two-humped camels the smugglers use for transport of the goods. Shame on you, resorting to killing defenseless animals. You should know better! Well, it was just a thought. You know, it does have the advantage of taking away their livelihood, so to speak True enough, but what you are missing is this. These people are inherently poor, and drug smuggling is just another way of making a living. If there were no market for the stuff, then there would be no smugglers, so killing off all the Bactrian Camels and domesticated yaks in Central Asia will do little good. Youd just be making the poverty all that much worse. What is needed is some persuasion that there is a better way of life, and I suggest we show them some opportunities, opportunities which would be non-existent, except for us. Now, thats converting a populace! How in the hell do we do that? Oh, give it some thought. Im sure youll think of a way. Thanks for the insight. Youre most welcome. Now, I have some things to take care of, so I will see you later. I love the way you dump on me! Me too. Before I met you, I had no

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dumpee, so you have fulfilled a niche in my life I could not have envisioned prior to your arrival. Talk to Barb, she has great insight into the issues were facing. You two will figure it out, Im sure. See you later. I felt the pressure release from my shoulder as Lyft ascended, finding his way out the front door in invisible mode. The door clicked, leaving me to ruminate on the future challenges facing us.

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