Researchers in Antarctica discover something ancient frozen in the ice.
In order to gain access to Antarctica, widely considered the least hospitable place for humanity on the entire planet, a surprising amount of paperwork is required.
Evan Mathison wasn’t sure who the first stuffed suit was that decided that the weather on the insanely remote continent was not enough of a barrier to entry, but he was quite certain he wanted to strangle him. Preferably while the man was dressed in nothing more than his underwear during the middle of one of the Low Plateau’s infamous blizzards.
And this was if he had been asked about the matter well after he and his fellow researchers had established their camp twenty miles from the coast in Eastern Antarctica. Had someone been foolish enough to make the same inquiry during the two years of forms, reports, justifications, and appeals that preceded their arrival, there was a good chance he would have gladly used the innocent inquirer as a proxy for that unknown official.
Fortunately a few days worth of exposure to the blowing, blistering cold succeeded in taking the heat out of his frustrations and his sense of humour returned with full force. Less fortunately, his colleagues were not always appreciative of this.
“I see Chip isn’t wearing his gloves again,” he said one afternoon during the second week of their stay. He was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing out his coffee mug while he watched his young research assistant adjusting the angle on their communications dish. The wind must have knocked it out of alignment over night yet again.
“He says he’s not cold,” Genevieve, his long haired and long suffering research partner, replied. Seated at the tiny dinner table a few feet behind him, she threw her curly brown hair back over her shoulder with a sigh before adding, “And his name is Dale.”
“Whatever Genie,” Evan said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “And he’s bloody freezing out there.”
“Well that’s what he told me,” she said, not bothering to ask him to stop calling her that. It hadn’t worked the first two hundred times, what difference would one more request make?
“Well either he’s just being a stupid kid trying to impress somebody,” Evan said as he turned to face her, “or his mother got real intimate with a penguin twenty-four years ago.”
“Hey, I’m not judging the woman,” he said as he headed for the bathroom. “I’m sure there are some real attractive waddling birds out there.”
Genevieve shook her head in disgust before bringing her attention back to the sheet of paper before her. It contained the headline articles from the New York Times website that she had printed out shortly after crawling out of bed that morning. It wasn’t quite the same as having a proper newspaper to read with breakfast but it was as close as she would get for the next three months. She finished the last article and glanced at her fingertips, sad to find them as pink and clean as ever, free of the black smudge of newsprint.
Standing at the sink washing the remnants of her beans and toast off her plate, she watched Dale as he finished making his modifications. He was a good looking kid, she thought with a smile, and not for the first time. His bright yellow parka, already incandescent in the early morning sunshine, concealed an upper body that seemed to be chiselled from stone. However, his short, messy blonde hair and the face that looked like it belong on a California beach were on full display.
As Genevieve leaned over to scrub at a spot of sauce that was stubbornly clinging to the plate her hair fell around her face, obscuring her sight for a moment. She flicked soapy water from the fingers of her right hand and brushed her hair back over her shoulder. As she did so her eyes fell on a handful of grey hairs lurking amongst the brown and her smile died a slow death on her lips as reality firmly reasserted itself.
“Genie!” Evan’s voice had an urgency that cleared her mind of all romantic thoughts instantly. “Get over here!”
Pausing only to dry her hands on a dish towel that bore permanent coffee stains, she raced from the kitchen and down a narrow hallway whose walls were filled with maps, charts, and diagrams. She noticed as she hurried by that one sheet had been taken down but she couldn’t remember what it contained.
“What happened?” she asked as she skidded to a breathless halt in the work room. It was a cramped space, the mass of wires and computer equipment making it seem smaller than its constructed dimensions of twenty feet by fifteen feet. It was here that the monitoring equipment sent their collected data for the researchers to examine and interpret. Evan was bent over one of the five laptops that crowded the table along the southern wall, the map he had removed from the hallway sitting on the keyboard and spilling over onto the adjoining laptops on both sides.
“The sensors found something overnight in quadrant three,” he replied, his eyes going between the green and black image on the screen and the black and white map, over and over like blue ping pong balls. He ran a hand through his closely cropped, thinning blonde hair and shook his head in frustration. “It doesn’t make any sense though.”
“Since when has sense had anything to do with what we’re doing here?” Genevieve chided as she came to stand beside him. “If we had any brains at all we’d have chosen to do research in the tropics. I hear Jamaica is… what the hell is that?”
“There shouldn’t be anything that big out there,” she whispered as she examined the green undulating outline of an object the size of three football fields placed side by side. “Someone would have found it long before now.”
“Maybe there was a massive ice melt since the last time anyone looked here,” Evan said, but even he didn’t sound like he believed it. “It is buried pretty far down – the equipment shows at least two kilometre of ice between it and the surface.”
“Then why didn’t we see it before today?” Dale asked from a few inches behind them, causing Genevieve to jump and Evan’s frown to deepen.
“That, young Chip,” he said slowly, “just might be our billion dollar question.”