Las Montañas Hotel.
9:36 am . . .
“We’ve been looking at the pictures,” Ricky explains as he lays out several satellite images. They look to be thermal as well as normal photographs from space. I’m surprised how good the detail is . . . from freakin’ orbit!
He points with a pen and hands me a magnifying glass, “That’s the dead pool area you guys staked-out last night. See there, where the foliage changes from grass and boulders to trees and dense canopy?”
My right eye looking through the magnifying glass, I could be a bird flying just above the tree line. This is so crisp it’s scary. I look up, “Can they see with this quality . . . anywhere?”
“Yeah,” Ricky says as if I just asked if the sun was coming up tomorrow. As if I’m asking him what two and two equals. Like I just asked him if pizza was good. “Of course,” he adds. “That’s the power of technology. It starts in some weapons lab, and a few years later, we all get to benefit. See, war is good.”
“Whatever,” I say, ignoring his odd-sighted justification. I look back down at the dead pool area. It looks impossible. “This place around the forest . . . it’s not anything the same as far as the types of foliage. That’s not normal, is it? Nobody ever commented on that?”
And then I considered what Juan had told us about the volcano erupting every 15 or so years. “And another thing, those trees looked older than fifteen-years old. So, if the volcano is always spewing magma all over everyone. Then how does this forest area pop up so quickly? That’s not even natural.”
“No,” Ms. Josephine agrees. “Dere are serious problems wit dis place. But you’ve only seen ’alf of it.”
Ricky points to the other side of the mountain, near a smaller cone that only slightly interrupts the large cone.
“La Cabeza del Inca,” Mr. Green says as my eye focuses in on the second forested area. It’s obscured from plain view by large boulders and rock formations.
“From the ground you’d never see it,” Ricky offers as he slides me the same image, but with the thermal overlay. “Check this out.”
I see little dots. Small red shapes in a rather curious gathering near the middle of this impossible forest.
I look up, “Wait, this is another hidden forest?”
They all smile.
I look back down, trying to make sense of it. Two forests that defy not only their environments, but also logic and botany and common sense. And I don’t know much about any of those.
I suppose that there could be a kind of false environment created by the heat from the volcano and the moisture that is present from the clouds and melting snow. I don’t know, fellas, this doesn’t make sense to me. I remember a show about Venezuela a few weeks ago that had a similar hidden jungle, way up in the mountains. Had all sorts of freaky spiders and snakes and stuff. And they claimed that no human had ever stepped foot inside.
But then, I’m not smart enough to understand it. “What are we looking at, exactly?” I ask them all.
“These two wooded areas,” Ricky says profoundly, “they really shouldn’t exist. And yet, the conditions exist for them to thrive. Everything in the first area, as you know, was devoid of life in that dried-up pond. But . . . ” he says, tapping his pen near the other forest, “this second one is hot.”
I look back down at the satellite images again. I study the dead pool. I slide across the volcano to the hidden forest we haven’t searched. The other one that should not exist. And I see all the tiny splotches of red and orange.
I close my eyes, saying, Are these heat signatures big enough to be human?
“Yeah,” Ricky answers. “Hal did the calculations last night.”
And are they small enough to be children?
Ms. Josephine puts her hands on my shoulders, “Yes, Jack.”
I lean back in the uncomfortable hotel chair, squinting my eyes to relieve some of the double vision I’m starting to get from being so damned tired. I feel like I haven’t slept in a week.
I sigh, Well, then . . . I have to go and get those kids back.
“We, Yack. We.”
Juan and I grip hands. I trust this man with my life. And I believe that he’d take a bullet for me. Sure, maybe not in the chest, but definitely in the arm or lower leg.
“Well, you know I’m in,” Mr. Green says, as if it shouldn’t even need to be asked.
“Estoy con ustedes,” Mr. Blue chimed in.
“We’re together on this one,” Ricky said. “Besides, it may take several of us to get this done.”
Okay, I say to them. But, in the event that these are who we think they are, then you need to listen to my instructions and no matter how crazy it gets, just follow my lead.
Everybody nods in agreement.
When do we go, then? I ask.
“Two hours to prep,” Mr. Green says.
“Four hours to sleep,” Juan adds, his eyes swollen and puffed underneath.
Mr. Green checks his watch, “Everyone be ready to roll at four-thirty.”
“Cool,” Ricky says. “Now let’s get to work.”