Up the Xingú River
July 4th, 2005
It was their first field exercise. Of course, they were going with Agent Smith. He had connections in Brazil among the Natives on the Xingú River in the State of Mato Grosso, though he kept calling them os índios. And officially, it was a training mission, but Smith was Smith and he always had ulterior motives. They had taken Nehto’s Land Rover, of course, and Joel’s Ford F-250 Explorer.
“I am guessing it’s good to be back in the Jungle, eh Nehto?” asked Matt sitting ‘shotgun’ with his right elbow hanging out the opened window.
“No, Matt,” said Nehto with a worried expression. “This isn’t a jungle. It’s a desert. I mean, look! Sand dunes and camels. ”
“What?” said Justin. “It’s so hot here, I think I’ll die,” he wasn’t laughing.
“Did Smith make a mistake?” asked Matt. “Are there any deserts in Brazil?”
“There are in Bolivia and Peru,” said Nehto. “But none in... No, this is drier than even Recife.”
“Watch out!” cried Matt. “The road is washed out!”
“I see it.” Nehto hit the brakes and the contents of the vehicle shifted forward. “I’m glad you’re wearing your seat belts.” Suddenly they bounced upward as the ruts in the road conspired to make their life less pleasant.
Matt’s lapel crystal suddenly flashed with a message from Smith in the pickup in front of them. He tapped it and saw a ghostly image of Smith, his weather worn face lined with worry. “Matt, I’ve set a cloaking pattern over the two vehicles. Have Nehto keep close to us. It’s not safe. We have warriors on the prowl.”
And suddenly, there the warriors were, dressed in long baggy pants and turbans and carrying automatic rifles and heavy ammunition belts. “Those aren’t Indios!” cried Nehto. “We’re not in Brazil!”
“You’re right, my friend,” said Smith. “Stay calm. I’ll explain everything --later. We’re busy now.” The connection shut off.
“I think those are Iraqi Insurgents!” said Luc who was rather quiet until now. “Are we in a war zone?”
About ten minutes of excessive-speed-for-the-road-conditions later, Joel pulled his pickup over and Nehto slid in behind him. Smith came back and motioned the four from the Range Rover to approach.
“Are we in Iraq?” asked Luc.
“Actually, we’re in Iran, so it’s even worse.” He placed his finger on his lips in a shushing motion and reached the staffs in the back of the pickup. “Matt and the twins will follow me. ” He pointed to Owain and Joel when he said that. Apparently that was his latest name for the two farmers from different continents that acted like, well, twins. The name was apt and would probably stick. “The rest of you, I want to stay with the vehicles. Maintain a cloaking field around them and keep an eye out for the warriors.”
Smith led the three up a small trail through the woody desert brush up the hillside to the right of the road. It got steeper by the second. Soon they were panting with the exertion. Matt’s staff began to feel like it was made of lead weights and afforded little walking assistance. Owain looked back and noted that Matt had fallen behind. He returned and took a hold of the squad leader’s arm. “Come on, Matty!” he whispered in English, his Aussie accent strong. “You can keep up.”
“It’s the dryness and the heat,” Matt said. “I’m having a hard time breathing this dust.”
“Hang on, mate,” he said as he contacted Smith on his lapel crystal. After a bit, Owain nodded, turned and reached inside Matt’s duster to his shirt. He touched one of the crystals there and suddenly Matt’s breathing was easier.
“What did you do?” he asked.
Owain touched another crystal and said “I’m adjusting your humidity and temperature settings. You’re burning up, Mate! You’ve got to have the right settings to operate in this desert.”
“I thought it was going to be a muggy and sticky jungle,” he said. “So I set it to dry out my sweat.”
Smith strode back and handed Matt a container of water. “Drink this. And sit here in the shade for a few minutes. Matt, I want you to learn from this and set your duster to the right conditions. You don’t want to end up looking like my daughter’s meat loaf! We may need to go to Slave Lake in northern Canada next or to Papua-New Guinea. Your duster will keep you healthy and fit. I can’t afford to babysit you. But you are needed on this mission. Are you feeling better?”
Smith reached in and touched the crystals again. Matt was suddenly much cooler, almost like standing in snow. One more adjustment and the air around him felt very comfortable.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “That’s good, that’s good.”
“Now there’s an airplane up there that’s crashed. The warriors are looking for it. We need to get there before them.” He picked up the pace and led them upward. Soon they were standing in a plowed up area with wreckage all around. Smith led them to the largest piece of fuselage and climbed inside. Only one of the twelve, or so, men was still alive.
Smith planted his staff and pulled up a medical diagnostic override. There, in the air above the wounded soldier, was a mana ghost showing the wounds. Something small had pierced the man’s chest, and blood was collecting in one of his lungs. He was coughing weakly and spitting up red, foamy dribbles. His face was burned on one side and covered in an oily mixture of gunge.
“Take his hand and talk to him, Matt. Keep him here.”
He knelt as directed and took the man’s hand in his and patted the shoulder furthest from the wound. “It’s okay, soldier. We got here in time. You’re going to be okay. Don’t worry about the enemy. We’ll keep them at bay.” He didn’t see what Smith was doing, but mana light shone from time to time and the soldier’s breathing eased. Matt kept up the chatter as he wiped some of the blood and oil from the face with a piece of the uniform he’d ripped off. The two locked eyes for a brief second before his patient’s eyes closed.
Matt looked up frantically to Smith.
“Don’t worry Matthew. I put him to sleep. He’ll recover, but I need to get the radio working again.” More mana light and a few key-phrases, then “May day, may day.” Matt looked up to see Smith talking into the hand-held mic calling out coordinates and asking for help.
Matt held on to the man’s hand for several minutes. Suddenly he noticed the name on the soldier’s right breast pocket. It said ‘HAMBLIN.’
They stayed until they heard US choppers coming to the rescue. On the way back to their vehicles, Smith said, “Matthew, we almost didn’t make it in time, because of your overheating. It would have been a shame if your brother had died.”
Fast and Testimony Mtg
Provo 9th Ward
October 7th, 2007
A young girl was at the pulpit was repeating memorized words that her parents and Primary teachers had put into her mouth. They were nice words. They were words that would have been beautiful had they been the girl’s. But they were not. She told of her love of her parents and family and for her Savior. Lovely words indeed. She gave a fast close and the congregation murmured a perfunctory “Amen.” Then it was still in the chapel, with an uncomfortable quiet.
Finally, a man in his mid-twenties stood, made his way to the front and stood in the place of the young girl. “My brother’s and sisters,” he began. One could tell by his pause and the tightening of his voice that he had some profound thoughts to share. “I have never told this story before, ” said James Hamblin. “After I joined the Army. I felt trapped; it was a great rupture of my life’s plans. I would not be able to go on a mission, I would not be able to see my family and I might not survive. Many of my friends returned from Iraq in caskets or broken in body or soul. I was afraid that might happen to me. I spent much time counseling with my spiritual leaders, my father and in prayer to the lord. I was told time and time again that the Lord would watch over me.”
He sighed and wiped at his eyes. He looked down at the pulpit and paused for his voice to calm down enough for him to resume. “I was an army soldier. I did the things that army soldiers do. I am not proud of my behavior, but that’s how I was. One day, I decided I would go back to church, I stopped the bad behavior and started to read the scriptures,” He wiped his face again.
“About a month later, my troop was assigned a secret mission. I was scared and prayed for protection. We were shot down. All the men on my flight were killed and as I lay there, I felt my life run out of me. As I was passing in and out of consciousness, about a half hour before the rescue squad found me, the Lord sent angels to rescue me. I am not speaking metaphorically. He sent actual angels. For just a moment I stared into the eyes of one angel who held my hand and told me that I would be alright. I felt my life flow back into me and just as I dozed off in a blissful sleep I saw three others working to save my life.
“I woke up later to the rough treatment and swearing of the army medevac crew. I know what I saw, Brothers and Sisters. Before I was rescued by a helicopter, the Lord sent his angels to buoy me up.”
As he sat down, he whispered to himself, “And one looked just like my brother.”
Up the Xingú River
July 4th, 2005
Smith planted his staff in the sandy, desert soil beside the two vehicles and triggered a mana override. An ornate door appeared in the air from nowhere and floated before them. It had a stained glass window with lead crystal panels in the form of an antique, arched beehive. The window was dark. Smith stood back almost bumping into the parked pickup. The twins stood, one on either side of him.
“Where we going now?” asked Joel.
The adult leader tapped the back of the image of the bee entering the beehive and slid his finger first to the right and then to the left. A duplicate door slid with each stroke. Now the entire roadway seemed to lead into three doors. He placed his palm on the hand print which floated beside the far right door and a small white rectangle popped into view to the right of that. “We’re going to Brazil, like I said. Now that this little side trip is done.” He wrote in the Deseret script with his finger in the white box. The window of the middle door lit up. He tapped it and slid his finger first right and then left. The windows of both side doors lit up.
He pushed where the far left door touched the central one. The two pivoted back as if they were adjoined panels of a large screen. The left edge of the furthest door pivoted toward him. He pulled it forward revealing an opening, from Iran into Brazil. He pushed the doors to the right. They folded together. He and the twins now stood in front of an opening the size and shape of a small garage door.
“Why didn’t we just come here through these doors?” asked Owain.
Smith looked at him seeming to hold in a very snarky comment. “We can open a door from any place we actually are. But, we can only open a door to some place that already has a doorway. That door we came in through has been there for twenty years or so, and it’s the closest one to where Matt’s brother was. We were lucky to have one so close. We still have a drive to the camp in the Ikpeng village, but it’s only five miles or so through the jungle.”
“Okay,” said Joel. “Cause that last drive was long!”
“And dangerous.” said his ‘twin.’
“Everyone get a drink from the cooler. If you’ve gotta take a leak hold it till we get to the village. Quickly. We need to leave before those helicopters see us.”
Matt was the closest to the back of the pickup so he opened what looked like a plain wooden box. It wasn’t much different from the Hope chest his cousin had. He lifted the lid and pulled out several very cold, soda cans. None of them was caffeinated, of course. They got into the vehicles and drove through the open doorway. Owain was driving lead this time. He pulled over as Smith jumped out and closed the temporary portal to Iran.
“Now this smells like Brazil!” said Nehto. Matt was going to be driving this leg of the journey. He leaned out the window to hear what those in the pickup were saying.
“If you touch my leg again, Owain, I’m going to punch your face!”
“Keep your knees away from the shifter nob!”
“How can I keep my knees away when the nob is between my legs?”
“Will you two shut up?” roared Smith, entering the cab. “This is like driving with kindergartners!”
Matt started the Land Rover and the sound of the engine drowned out the bickering of the twins. The distance wasn’t very far, but the condition of the path through the trees was much worse than in Iran. It took them about eight minutes.
They drove to the center of an open plaza surrounded by grass huts covered by long leaves dried into thatch. There were groups of native women and children, all undressed. “Oh my gosh!” said Justin, rubbernecking as the naked females wandered past. “I mean they’re so...”
“Keep your eyes on their faces, young man!” said the older gentleman as he gestured for the teens to stay in the vehicles. Soon a group of warriors, covered in feathers and little else, approached. Smith began chatting with them in their language. Three of them jumped into the back of the pickup and Smith rejoined the twins.
“That direction, boys!” he called. After a few minutes drive, they pulled into another clearing. On one side there were two huts, and there in the plaza, was a shooting range of sorts. Along one end of the clearing were piles of arrows and of bows. Along the other, there were six targets: bullseyes made of primitive, painted, leather circle hanging on a structure of stripped branches tied together with tree bark. Around the other three sides from the huts, the clearing was surrounded by dense jungle.
All jumped out.
“Boys!” called Smith. “Get your weapons.”
Matt knew that this was the beginning of the testing. No more information would be given. They must choose the weapons and then file in for inspection. He looked at the pile of bows. They were made by the Ikpeng according to their own specifications. But, the boys would be judged by Smith’s standards.
The bows were very long, some as long as five feet. They would all have been longbows in the hands of the Ikpeng warriors, who were very short. But Matt and his squad were all over six feet. The arrows were almost as long as the bows were tall. Matt picked up several bows. He drew back and tested the spring. He found one he liked. It had a good even feel to it and it was easy to find the best draw length.
He looked around, no bracers, no arrow rests, no tabs, no gloves. He would have to be careful not to hurt himself. He expected to see some of his squad to be banged up after this. He picked up several handfuls of arrows and checked the shafts’ flex and spine. He checked the points: no arrowheads. Of all the arrows he’d picked up, he chose six.
“Justin,” he said to the boy next to him. “How’s it going?”
“Well I really haven’t done this, so I don’t know what I’m looking for.” He picked up one of the bows and drew back the string as far as he could then just let it go. It hit him on the forearm and must have left a deep red mark. “Ow, damn.”
“I’m glad you didn’t take off your ear or nose.”
Justin threw the bow down and kicked at it, nearly falling in the process. Some of the warriors started to giggle. Justin frowned, gritting his teeth. He picked up another bow and drew back on it, but didn’t release the string. He tested it for the best draw length. “There’s kind of a sweet spot, isn’t there?” he said as he moved the string further away and then closer to the bow.
Luc approached them. “I’ve never fired a weapon either,” he admitted.
Matt smiled and nodded. “I got my archery merit badge last summer and remember most of the stuff.” Matt had him looking for a decent bow. Then he pointed out a few things to look for in arrows, balance, flex, fletching. Most of the arrows were pretty good; apparently the Ikpeng didn’t want to waste their materials on shoddy goods, even for the Cherubs to use. They would probably pick up the leftovers and use them in their own hunting.
Nehto and the twins were already standing waiting for inspection. Matt and his two joined. Smith walked from one end of the line to the other, checking each bow and the several arrows. “Justin,” he rumbled. “I don’t think this one will do you any good. Look at the fletching on this arrow. It’s off balance. Go choose another one.” Matt expected his to need some attention, but they met with a grunt of approval. Luc needed to replace two of his.
“Matthew! Nock and loose the first arrow.”
He was expecting this. After three and a half weeks of going first in everything his squad did, he just expected to lead here too. He took five arrows in his left hand as he gripped the bow. Then he took the sixth in his right hand and nocked it. Using the tip of his left thumb as a rest, he aimed down the arrow. “Now’s the time,” he whispered and released the string.
It hit the target, nowhere near the center, but close enough. Matt was grinning.
“Now the rest of your arrows, Matthew.”
He let them loose and the last two landed in the six-inch wide bullseye.
He ended up tying with Nehto for third. The twins were first and second. Only a few millimeters separated one of their arrows. Justin took fifth and Luc did very poorly. He would have taken twelfth if there was more competition.
“Alright, boys!” called Smith. “Now that we’ve done this in the Earth-bound way, let’s try it with mana. You’ll notice the cuffs of your dusters have mana crystals.” He demonstrated where he meant by raising his left arm and holding on to the crystal acting as a button at the end of his sleeve with his right hand. He switched hands.
“Do that again, Vanna White!” called Justin.
Smith shook his head slightly and tried to hold in a laugh, only his belly bounced a bit giving him away.
“The crystals hold mana like a battery. So as long as you keep them recharged, you can do this all day. I want you to practice recharging your crystals first with your mana spike and then with your staff.”
Matt had done this several times at the camp, so it was not a difficult assignment. He threw down a spike and felt it attempt to connect. He felt his spike slide first to the north and then to the west. He wiggled his spike and used his mana sense to find a path down, but hit a layer of water. Wiggling again, he moved the spike to the southeast and pushed under the water table through a stony layer found there.
“Aha!” he said. This was a puzzle and a maze mixed together. He found obstacle after obstacle. One was a natural gas pocket that led to a fairly substantial petroleum layer. He had to find a way around that. He found that he could create a carbonaceous thread to funnel his mana around. Finally, he had found enough mana to charge his crystals.
He whooped in excitement and raised his right hand. “I found it!” he called.
The other boys looked at him in shock, and so did Smith. “What did you find, Matthew?”
He looked to his teacher and said: “I found a small bubble; Dude that was hard to find!”
“You found a source of mana?” asked Smith. “Here? I mean you found mana here? There isn’t any mana here; that’s why I brought you.”
Matt was surprised at the intensity of Smith’s interrogation.“What?” he asked. “You didn’t expect us to find any and this was an exercise to show us that we need to be prepared again?”
“Well, look.” Matt gestured to the spike in his left hand with the right.
Smith’s hand glowed and he touched it to Matt’s fist. As the mana fields merged, the instructors expression softened to wonderment. Matt could feel the control of the mana shift slightly as Smith’s attention moved from one obstacle to another. When the carbonaceous threads were reached. Matt felt them wiggle.
He looked at his mentor’s eyes and saw that he had a misty expression.
“Nehto!” Smith called.“Get Matt’s staff from the pickup.”
He soon returned with the orange topped staff. “Place its point on the ground in front of us there.” He looked at the ground to direct the movement. Nehto did as asked. “Matt, can you keep the spike going with an opened hand?”
“Not very long.”
“Okay,” He nodded a bit.“We’ll have Nehto slide the staff up till it touches your hand, then I want you to transfer the mana from a manual spike to the staff. Can you do that?”
The staff touched his fingers and Matt grabbed on to it.“Oh! A staff is so much easier to use!” he cried. Then he filled up the reservoir in the staff and all of his crystals.
“Matty,” said Smith with a grin, as he patted the fifteen-year old’s shoulder. “Good work. Everyone, I want you to come, one at a time, to see this.”
One by one, they came. Matt could tell which of the boys were adept and which were less than adroit. In fact, Joel was so clumsy that he broke the delicate threads of carbon. The spike shriveled up and Matt was thrown over backward.
He lay on his back, staring up at the clouds and just closed his eyes momentarily.
When he opened them up again, the sun had moved quite a ways and the boys were three-quarters of the way through the lesson.
“Have a nice nap?” his mentor asked.
“Yeah, I did.”
“Ready to join us?”
“I need to get me something to drink first.” He walked to the pickup and relieved himself behind it. “Now that’s better!” he said. He then got a can of root beer from the chest and rejoined the boys.
He popped it open and was sipping the carbonated sweetness when Luc came over and began to explain the lesson. Smith was still trying to help the twins. “You use this mana override.” He made a copy of his and wafted it over to Matt who quickly placed it in one of his cuff link crystals.
“What does it do?” he asked as soon as he was done.
“Instead of using the energy from the string of a bow, or from gunpowder, this override uses mana to propel a projectile. You aim with your intent.”
“How is your intent manifested?” asked Matt.
“Eye contact, so you cannot be distracted or even blink. But you can hit a moving target easily.”
“Let’s try it.”
“Pick up some arrows, then.” Luc then explained how to shoot them off.
With six arrows in hand, Matt touched the nock of one arrow to the crystal and then lay it on his forearm. The nock end of the arrow to his elbow and the point out beyond his open palm. He aimed in the general area of the target and blinked a few times. He gazed intently at the bulls-eye and willed the arrow to hit it.
The arrow flew across the plaza in a gentle, granny walking speed. It did hit the target in the middle of the bulls-eye, but it bounced back and fell on the ground. Matt groaned.
“Actually,” said Nehto who had come up behind them. “That’s pretty good. That was one of the better first tries. I think they all bounced.”
“Oh, okay,” he said slightly reassured. “I’m going to try again.” The arrows flew faster and faster until the last two flew through and beyond the target.
“How do you do this stuff, Matt?” asked Justin who had come to join them.
“What do you mean?”
“You get it easily and then you do it really well. While we,” he drew a circle in the air that included the other boys, “lag behind. We left you asleep for two hours and you still beat us.”
“It’s intent. You’ve gotta see how you want it to work. Do you want the arrow to touch the surface of the target or...”
“Or fly through it,” nodded Luc. “Well, I’d try again, but I’m out of mana. And I cannot find that bubble of yours, even knowing where it is.”
“No, I’ll let you borrow some from my staff. I recharged it before Joel snapped the connection.”
“Is that what happened?”
Matt nodded as he lowered the orange gemstone for his colleagues to use.
Suddenly a wild tapir, a yard tall and two long, emerged from the jungle snorting and roaring, as it ran through the plaza. The Ikpeng warriors grabbed for weapons and started shooting arrows at the animal. It had six sticking out from its tough hide before Matt fired and hit it. The arrow went in cleanly and stuck out both sides. The beast slammed to the ground, no squeak, no movement. The warriors turned and stared at him.
After considerable noise on the part of the locals, Smith led them up to Matt and tapped his ear, temple, and lip.
Matt suddenly understood them. “The young white boy from the north is a good shot with his arrow,” said one.“He shoots better than Angry Smith!” “He should be a member of our tribe!” said a third.
“They’re really asking you if you will share your kill with them,” explained his Mentor.
“But the forest is theirs and so is the beast.”
“It’s a free tapir and it wandered in on its own,” said one of the warriors. “You killed it, you can say how to use its meat.”
“Then I say the seven of us would want to share this tapir with you. We will take but a little and we will leave the rest for you and your families.”
The three smiling men tapped Matt’s arms. “You will invite us to a meal?”
Matt looked at Smith who nodded. “This is your home. We bring this meat to your home.”
“Will you cook it and invite us in?”
Matt turned and in Mananok, said: “I need advice, Smith!”
“Just answer his question.”
“But I don’t know how to cook or to prepare a beast.”
“It’s easy,” said the older gentleman. “Apologize and tell them you have never cooked such a marvelous beast and ask if they could help.”
Matt’s clumsy answer was very well received. The tapir was cut up and a huge bonfire was set. Three hours later Matt was sitting back staring up at more stars than he’d ever seen in his life and thinking that he’d never had a better meal or a better Fourth of July.