Looking For Kelly Dahl
I awoke in camp that morning to find the highway to Boulder gone, the sky empty of contrails, and the aspen leaves a bright autumn gold despite what should have been a midsummer day, but after bouncing the jeep across four miles of forest and rocky ridgeline to the back of the Flatirons, it was the sight of the Inland Sea that stopped me cold.
"Damn," I muttered, getting out of the jeep and walking to the edge of the cliff.
Where the foothills and plains should have been, the great sea stretched away east to the horizon and beyond. Torpid waves lapped up against the muddy shores below. Where the stonebox towers of NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, had risen below the sandstone slabs of the Flatirons, now there were only shrub-stippled swamps and muddy inlets. Of Boulder, there was no sign -- neither of its oasis of trees nor of its low buildings. Highway 36 did not cut its accustomed swath over the hillside southeast to Denver. No roads were visible. The high rises of Denver were gone. All of Denver was gone. Only the Inland Sea stretched east and north and south as far as I could see, its color the gray-blue I remembered from Lake Michigan in my youth, its wave action desultory, its sound more the halfhearted lapping of a large lake than the surf crash of a real ocean.
"Damn," I said again and pulled the Remington from its scabbard behind the driver's seat of the jeep. Using the twenty-power sight, I scanned the gulleys leading down between the Flatirons to the swamps and shoreline. There were no roads, no paths, not even visible animal trails. I planted my foot on a lowboulder, braced my arm on my knee, and tried to keep the scope steady as I panned right to left along the long strip of dark shoreline.
Footprints in the mud: one set, leading from the gully just below where I stood on what someday would be named Flagstaff Mountain and crossing to a small rowboat pulled up on the sand just beyond the curl of waves. No one was in the rowboat. No tracks led away from it.
A bit of color and motion caught my eye a few hundred meters out from the shore and I raised the rifle, trying to steady the scope on a bobbing bit of yellow. There was a float out there, just beyond the shallows.
I lowered the Remington and took a step closer to the dropoff. There was no way that I could get the jeep down there -- at least not without spending hours or days cutting a path through the thick growth of ponderosa and lodgepole pine that grew in the gully. And even then I would have to use the winch to lower the jeep over boulders and near-vertical patches. It would not be worth the effort to take the vehicle. But it would require an hour or more to hike down from here.
For what? I thought. The rowboat and buoy would be another red herring, another Kelly Dahl joke. Or she's trying to lure me out there on the water so that she can get a clean shot.
"Damn," I said for the third and final time. Then I returned the rifle to its case, pulled out the blue daypack, checked to make sure that the rations, water bottles, and .38 were in place, tugged on the pack, shifted the Ka-bar knife in its sheath along my belt so that I could get to it in one movement, set the rifle scabbard in the crook of my arm, took one last look at the jeep and its contents, and began the long descent.
Kelly, you're sloppy, I thought as I slid down the muddy slope, using aspens as handholds. Nothing's consistent. You've screwed this up just like you did the Triassic yesterday.
This particular Inland Sea could be from one of several erasthe late Cretaceous for one, the late Jurassic for another -- but in the former era, some seventy-five million years ago, the great interior sea would have pushed much further west than here, into Utah and beyond, and the Rocky Mountains I could see twenty miles to the west would have been in the process of being born from the remnants of Pacific islands that had dotted an ocean covering California. The slabs of Flatirons now rising above me would exist only as a layer of soft substrata. Conversely, if it were the mid-Jurassic, almost a hundred million years earlier than the Cretaceous, this would all be part of a warm, shallow sea stretching down from Canada, ending in a shore winding along northern New Mexico. There would be a huge saline lake south of there, the mudflats of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico stretching as a narrow isthmus for almost two hundred miles between the two bodies of water. This area of central Colorado would be an island, but still without mountains and Flatirons.
You got it all wrong, Kelly. I'd give this a D-. There was no answer. Shit, this isn't even that good. An F. Still silence.
Nor were the flora and fauna correct. Instead of the aspen and pine trees through which I now descended, this area should have been forested during the Jurassic by tall, slender, cycadlike trees, festooned with petals and cones; the undergrowth would not be the juniper bushes I was picking my way around but exotic scouring rushes displaying leaves like banana plants. The late-Cretaceous flora would have been more familiar to the eye -- low, broad-leaved trees, towering conifers -- but the blossoms would be profuse, tropical, and exotic -- with the scent of huge, magnolialike blossoms perfuming the humid air.
The air was neither hot nor humid. It was a midautumn Colorado day. The only blossoms I saw were the faded flowers on small cacti underfoot.Worlds Enough & Time
. Copyright © by Dan Simmons. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.