Follow the map

The base camp is composed by a bunch of wide tents, the kind you can see in weird low-scifi movies. Fuel cell-based vans and cars are scattered here and there. The sun here is almost scorching, so we are given a hefty dose of sunscreen. Also, each tent in the camp is fitted with a wide solar panel: to avoid any issue with the potential inhabitants, the mission chiefs have banned all kinds of fossil fuels from the camp.

I’m sharing the tent with dr. Shauna Wilkins, a linguist from the Smithsonian Institute with a strong background on pre-Columbian languages. “My supervisor told me he had a chance to choose someone for a big international project, and that he chose me,” she tells me. She’s short and stout and her voice is booming and bright, full of energy; an energy she can barely contain and that keeps her constantly waving her hands and pacing across the tent.

At night, when the temperature goes down, we are admitted into a bigger communal tent and join our small army at a table. A carefully-drawn map lies upon it, and general Crowe — a tall man from the Marines with a grim-looking scar that crosses his forehead sideways — shows us the mission plan.

“We are here,” he says, aiming a laser pointer at the lower portion of the map, right above what I can say is the mountain range that can be seen right southward. “We call this spot Riverdale, and we will all refer to it as such in the future reports and meetings. It’s a temporary name, so don’t grow too fond for it.” He then moves the pointer northwards, stopping at the river. “This is our next stop. This portion of the river is right downstream a middle-sized settlement, big enough to be seen by the satellite. We will set there a new camp and will then send a small greeting committee to the locales.”

The map of the continent, drawn from a collage of satellite pictures.
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