There's nothing about the Socorro desert that is scorching at 5:30am. With her stilettos behind her, it was the cold hard fear of the chase that kept her numb to the pain
of sage and gravel ripping her bare feet. The metallic churn of the shifting S.E.T.I. dishes was a cello beneath the staccato of a blue steel .45 cocking behind her.
As she spun for one last plea, the red silk wrap that completed her gown the night before unveiled an assailant who squeezed the trigger that ended her.


The Convoy Sentinel


I can tell by the dull ache in my thighs that it's going to be an early winter. It's not a folksy feeling like the grandmother who knows it's going to rain when her rheumatism flares up; rather, it's the mundane physics of the asphalt getting stiffer when the air gets colder sooner and for longer.

I'm a Captain in the U.S. Army and have patrolled this same stretch of U.S. Route 6 in western Colorado for three and a half years. The U.S. Convoy Sentinel Corp was set up as part of the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017. Those of us with prior military service records and the right political and/or fraternal connections were fast-tracked to posts like this to monitor civilian and troop movements to the Citizen Compounds after the Great Shift.

It's a lonesome gig and, except for the periodic inspection of armored personnel carrier and civilian transfer convoys, the subtleties of the US6 surface and its affect on my middle-aged body have replaced most original thoughts and emotions, except one. Dread.

Today is Sunday, November 6, 2022. I remember when I was a boy, wondering from time to time on what date would I die. Not that I was a morbid child, just often bored. Like a birthday, we all have a deathday — one date each year that we walk right through until that last year never knowing its significance. But now, like a pregnant woman with a scheduled cesarean knows when her child's birthday will be, I now know my deathday. It's the day after tomorrow.

As I walk up the steep path from US6 toward my patrol tower and shelter, made of Army-issue corrugated steel and carbon fiber, the pain in my thighs moves up to my lower abdomen. I know I'm going to have to take a break before ascending the six meter high ladder so I scan the terrain slowly while the lactic acid in my legs recedes before I climb.

The climate of this 5x5 meter patrol shelter is conditioned by a solar roof and, despite being a mélange of wiring and embedded control panels, it contains all the creature comforts; hot and cold running water, refrigerator, microwave oven and transmitter plus all the digital entertainment I can stand. But for the first year, it was all I could do not to feel like a prisoner — only worse. Prisoners have other prisoners. But now, with less than two days to live, I feel almost homesick for this mechanical shed.

I study every banal routine with new appreciation. Shaving the edges of my once blonde graying beard—the Army relaxed its grooming protocols years ago in favor of willing men and women—I notice new errant eyebrow hairs and more crow's feet flanking my dulling blue eyes. This is the last time I'll set this table, these are the last MRE's I'll eat, this is the last time I'll wash this dish—like a disciple of Gurdjieff trying to crystallize consciousness in total awareness of every single action. Or was I desperately trying to grasp as much self-awareness as possible for my soul to survive my body's death? Why didn't I move to Tibet when I had the chance? And I did have the chance.

Long before I became a Convoy Sentinel for the U.S. Army stationed west of the Rocky Mountains, I was America's preeminent internet television archaeologist. As host of Unearthed with Dr. Emit Archer, I chased down artifacts all over the globe while millions watched and interacted as amateur detectives. Millions of social network followers meant thousands of real time searches on Google Earth and digital databases that kept me running from dig sites to archives worldwide and resulted in dozens of artifacts being found and protected. But there was one artifact in particular that changed everything for me and my family. It was a Spanish morion (helmet) that belonged to Hernán Cortés—the Spanish Conquistador who led the expeditions through Central America and brutally ended the Aztec Empire in the 1500s. It was the pinnacle find of my career.

So important the find and intriguing the backstory, that we were quickly descended upon by producers to put the story to film. As it turned out, the utter magnificence of this artifact and its history became a mere kernel of a script. A minor role in the treatment that spun the science of it all into a formulaic thriller called The Unveiling. But more people see it now than ever paid to see it at the theaters. It's on a continuous loop at the three main gates of the East Rockies Citizen Compound in an effort, I suppose, to assure the weary refugees that they are in the right place. It also serves as a sensory distraction to the fact that their next life will be little more than MRE rations, primitive plumbing and existential uncertainty.

How did Internet TV's leading archaeologist end up here —a lonely Convoy Sentinel in western Colorado? It might be hard to imagine, but this is one of the most coveted jobs in the region right now. Compared to the war east of the Mississippi Sea, this is a safe and quiet post. And it's because of my past accomplishments and connections that I was appointed to it. Because of my time in the service before going back to school and the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017, I was given the expedited rank and pay of Captain. But the only company I command out here are coyotes, rabbits and skunks.

I can't complain though. The mild commercial success of The Unveiling did payoff the student loans that the Army didn't cover and supported the Archer household for years. Any younger though and I would probably prefer to be closer to the action in the Appalachian theater. But only close enough to employ my sniper skills.

It seems counter-intuitive on the surface, but my military training and Archaeologist's education work well together. There are two skills I excel at as a soldier: being still and shooting straight. The first skill I learned in Tibet while on a dig and the second in a Marksmanship Unit. The first made the second possible. The second made the first untenable. But there is a comfortable rationalization when one understands things from an Eastern ontology. There was no "fall from grace" in the Eastern traditions. No Augustinian guilt of an "original sin" thus no evil or good. Emptiness and fullness. When I was most empty, my aim was most exact. But I've lived many years since then and I've filled up on many sins, original and forged so, while the muscle memory in my finger remains, my aim isn't always true.