Embedded in an Alaskan glacier is evidence that would overturn more than a century of Western thinking.
The radical discovery sets off a deadly chain-reaction that stretches across the continent and changes the lives of several people, including a dissatisfied young Pennsylvanian man and a heartbroken Inuit woman. An entire culture is seduced by an illusion, but who can guess the extremes powerful people might go to in order to preserve the lie?
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GENRE: Christian Thriller ISBN: 978-1-921636-11-0 Word Count: 56, 398
Near the Bering Strait
The walls and ceiling were roughly round. The makeshift chamber was twenty feet wide by ten feet high. It was greenish, milky white, and cold.
The floor was hard, frozen ground. Three kerosene heaters and two pumps attached to hoses stood about three feet from the wall of ice, designed to slowly melt the ice wall at the back of the cave.
Artificial lamps cast an eerie, wavering glow in the man-made ice-cave. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny day, but you wouldn’t know it in here. The half-dozen people, anonymous in identical parkas, looked like they were in space, though they’d been told there was no need for the care they were taking. Even after several weeks, the thought of all this equipment digging ever deeper into a massive, moving, growing block of ice made all their movements nervous and tentative. They were mid-glacier, in a horizontal hole they had dug and melted, with ice all around them, throwing the interior into even more of a greenish, milky haze. Somehow it seemed more tenuous and dangerous than an earthen cave.
The heaters were slowly melting the back wall, or front, if you considered the movement into the glacier as “forward”, with the water dripping into a tub before being pumped out through three-inch hoses where it quickly re-froze outside.
One of the men monitoring the progress, Mike Sketnik, was bored. Some post-graduate internship this turned out to be, he thought. Watching a glacier melt was almost as exciting as watching paint dry, only sitting under a few tons of ice made this much more dangerous than sitting in a room staring at wet paint. Of course, Mike hadn’t always felt this way. In the beginning, the growing tunnel was a blue-green wonderland. It looked like something from an old Star Trek episode. But after a week, it started getting old. He was ready to go back home to his church Media Ministries team and his Internet classes. Mike was an avid “oldies” fan, so to help pass the time, he tried to remember the words to old songs. But it would always degenerate to something relevant, like:
“If you’re ever in Alaska
stop and see – ee
my cute little Eskimo”
Or, as he was now thinking:
“So if you don’t want me to be
cold as ice,
(thumpity – thump – thump)
Treat me nice.”
He was so preoccupied, he almost missed it, since his shift was practically over. But at the words “cold as ice”, he glared at the melting, whitish-gray wall in front of him…and saw something. He turned around and called out, “Hey! I see something! Something’s in there!”
Jason Schmidt, who was only a few feet away doing one of his frequent equipment checks, muttered, “This better not be another one of your stupid jokes, Mike. ‘What?’ we say. ‘There’s ice in there’, you say.”
Mike shook his head. “No, for real! Is Joe here?”
Joseph Kosagnarak, a graduate student who had distinguished himself and was now shift supervisor, looked up from the letter he’d been reading. Normally he waited until he was on his own time before he opened his personal mail, but he’d been on pins and needles waiting for this one. Lord, he prayed in silence, It’s been too long. I need to be with her again. But now he stuffed it into his parka and walked to the wall. “Yes, I’m here, Mike. Let’s see what you found. Where is it?”
Good, Schmidt thought, That’s the right way to talk to him. Don’t ask that turkey ‘what?’ Ask him ‘Where?’
“It’s still in there a ways, but it’s kinda here…” Sketnik’s gloved finger outlined the vague shape he saw. “It’s some kind of animal,” he said, enthusiastically. “Hey! Maybe it’s a woolly mammoth, like they found that time in Siberia.”
“You sure you don’t mean mastodon?” Kosagnarak muttered, staring through the ice. After a while, catching the enthusiasm himself, he said, “No…no, I don’t think so.”
“Why not? It is an animal, right?”
“Looks like one, but it’s too small and shaped wrong for a mammoth.” He grinned at Sketnik. “Looks more like a big reptile…or maybe a bird.”
“Wow…that means it’s even older, huh? I mean, this is an even more important find than we thought it was.”
Kosagnarak nodded without consciously hearing the question, muttering, “If this thing is really what it looks like. Remember, at this point it’s just as likely to be a broken tree trunk or something.” He turned, searching. “Jorge!”
One of the parkas looked up and waved.
Kosagnarak beckoned and Jorge sauntered over.
“Get some pictures of this and let’s focus on it from now on,” he said. “I know I don’t have to tell you to be careful, but let the record show that I did, okay?”
Jorge grinned. “You got it.”
They moved away in different directions. Kosagnarak headed for his tent to record the find in his journal…and to finish reading his letter.
Jorge turned and gave orders to the diggers impatiently, eager to send a message of his own.
“Yes, yes; I see it,” the older man said, with growing enthusiasm. In spite of the cold, his iron-gray hair was damp and plastered to his forehead. His green eyes squinted as he focused on the ice in front of him. His coat was open, and his whole body was tense with concentration. After several minutes he turned and said, “Joe?”
Kosagnarak came to attention. “Yes, Mr…uh, Bob?” He was still uncomfortable with the informality, but the older man insisted, so he tried to comply.
“You made the right decision. I’ll back it up. Recovering the creature should be our highest priority. You’re a paleontologist, aren’t you?”
“Right. Of course, I like archaeology, too…”
Robert Bernat sighed and waved off the disclaimer. “Once this creature is available to study in detail, you won’t be able to assist me anymore with digging. You’ll be too busy with your ‘first love’. Let’s be realistic.”
Kosagnarak didn’t know what to say to that. He ran his hands through his straight, raven-black hair and shook his head. His own emotions were a strange mixture of sadness and elation. He loved working closely with Professor Bernat, who all the students called “the Prof”. But here was an opportunity to study a totally intact creature. This was much more than a skeleton! He stared through the ice, trying to push the form into greater clarity through the force of his will. The effort only gave him a headache, but that didn’t dull his appreciation for the find.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Karl Diefenbach, Professor Emeritus of Paleontology at Cambridge and current president of the Boston Natural History Museum, was edgy. He was 59, looked 45, and felt 80 right now.
Though he usually affected the traditional garb of academia–open necked shirt, sweater, nondescript pants and jacket, he always wore subdued suits at the museum to enhance his authority.
He looked up from the museum’s financial reports as his fax machine beeped. He stood, stretched his long, thin frame, and stared at the lights of Boston through the bay window his office boasted, and finally sauntered over to the phone to read his incoming message. His eyes lit up with a smug pleasure as he scanned the page.
“Excellent!” he said, aloud, “Excellent!”
Then he scribbled a quick note, placed it in the machine, punched the numbers he’d memorized and hit the “send” button. As it went through, he stared back out at the city he revered as the intellectual capitol of the world. He was pleased with it, and with himself.
48 HOURS LATER
THE GLACIER DIG
Professor Robert Bernat and Joseph Kosagnarak turned reluctantly away from their discovery and stared at each other. They’d stopped noticing their breath weeks ago, but now they weren’t even aware of their eerie surroundings.
“Do you realize,” Bernat whispered, “what this means?”
“Well, if it’s not a hoax, our names will be in the next edition of every history and science textbook that’s published from now on,” the younger man said. Though he tried to be matter-of-fact, his voice trembled.
“More like an unmarked grave,” the professor said. “This discovery destroys over a hundred years of teaching and understanding. Textbooks, research grants, videos, museum displays…millions, billions of dollars…as well as lives dedicated to teaching and research.”
They turned back to the figure, now a little clearer, though still entombed in the ice. They could see the reptilian face, the nearly useless front legs, the powerful hind legs that held it upright, the snakelike tail…and an unnatural complication around its torso that looked suspiciously like leather.
The professor shook himself. “Let’s go to the commissary. We need to think this through.”
“What about the rest of the team? Shouldn’t they know about the danger?”
“I don’t know yet.” They turned and followed the hoses through the greenish-opaque tunnel into the daylight. The air pressure seemed to change with the light as they stepped outside.
About fifty feet away was the makeshift shack that housed their cantina, cafeteria, snack bar and post office. No one paid attention to the two figures as they made their way silently to it.
Inside, they found the coffee urn and fixed one each: light with no sugar for Bernat, black with two sugars for Kasagnarak.
The place was busy–they’d called a break before their private talk in the glacier–but they were still able to find a table away from the others.
With their styrofoam cups in front of them on the folding card table, they sat and took tentative sips. Then Bernat chuckled without humor. “I keep thinking of that line that Uncle Billy says in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. It was something like, ‘Oh, this is a pickle!’ This…is…a…pickle!”
The enormity of their position began to intrude into the young man’s thoughts. “But…well…I mean, what do we do?”
Bernat became a scientist again, but with a new wariness. “First, we must make absolutely sure it’s not a fraud. Then, we must be careful about whom we tell, and how we tell them. And, we need to make out our wills very carefully.”
“Wills?” Joe chuckled. “No need there. My parents are both gone, I’m an only child, and I don’t even know who my cousins are.”
“But there is that special young lady, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Pamela. Pamela Suisalak. But…I mean…I don’t even own anything!”
“Nevertheless, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know how to contact her.” Bernat was so serious that Joe decided to stop protesting.
“Hey, no problem. She’s already my official ‘next of kin’ on the forms I filled out when I applied for this gig.”
Bernat nodded, satisfied. “Good. Thank you.”
“But why do you think our lives are in danger? I mean, the media could just do like they always do: ignore us, debunk us, make us look like fanatics. Don’t you think that’s the real danger?”
“It’s a more likely danger, but I want to be prepared for the worst. Besides, I don’t want that to happen to you, either. Your career hasn’t even really started yet. I don’t want it to get shot down before you even have a chance to do anything.”
Joe noticed that the Prof hadn’t mentioned himself, but let it go.
With that out of the way, Joe was ready to issue orders to the crew. He looked around the room. “Where’s Jorge?”
The short, dark man currently known as Jorge Aiello had slipped into the glacier moments after they’d left and studied the creature himself. It took him longer to recognize the details, but when he realized what he was probably looking at, he figured it was enough for another secret bonus from Boston. He ran to the all-purpose shack and into the corner containing the office equipment.
He had a very important fax to send.
Diefenbach stared at the fax in horrified disbelief. His normal pedantic self-satisfaction was gone. At first, all he could think of was, “No…no…no…”. Then he shook himself and paced around the oak-paneled room. It was a fraud, a hoax…it had to be. Probably planted by one of…one of them!
He couldn’t stand the thought of people being taken in by this. If taken seriously, it could cause the whole world to question modern science. And who wouldn’t take it seriously, with this prestigious museum underwriting it!
He wasn’t due for a drink for another half-hour, but he strode to the cabinet against the wall to the left of his massive desk. The kind of decision he needed to make required steady nerves. Grasping the crystal decanter, he poured a generous dollop of brandy into a snifter and measured his options.
The easiest was to simply shut down the dig and pull everyone home. That might work, except the wrong people had already seen the abomination and would waste no time in spreading religious lies about it. In no time civilization would be back in the Dark Ages.
What else was there?
He could recall the present team and send in a more reasonable one to replace them. But who could he trust? Who could guarantee that they would sell photographs to the tabloids?
He could travel there himself, declare the find a hoax and discredit the discoverers. He liked that one.
But they would challenge him. They’d probably do it publicly, too. After all, they’d be fighting for their credibility and their futures…as would he.
What else was left?
He did not consider himself a ruthless man. Decisive, perhaps. Assertive, not aggressive. Nevertheless, this particular situation was extraordinary…an emergency. These circumstances were extreme…and extreme circumstances called for extreme responses.
In ten minutes his response was speeding across Canada, toward the Arctic Circle in the Northwest.
An extreme response.
A few hours later, a strong and sudden impulse came over Joe Kasagnarak. First, he rummaged through his gear and brought his camera down to the find. After staring again for a few minutes, he turned on every lamp there and took several pictures of it, in the best light he could produce. He put the film in an envelope and addressed it to John Signewski, at his home address in Seattle, with a note of instructions he didn’t fully understand himself. Next he found his address book, put it in an envelope, and sent it to Pamela with a note taped to the front cover: “Please hold this for me. If anything happens, try to contact these people. See you soon. Love, Joe.”
Then he took both packages to Kimberly at the concession/office/mail shack. He prayed for guidance, and that worked as long as your heart was right, but afterwards he never could explain what he was doing or why.
Sometimes he couldn’t even explain it to himself.
Professor Bernat found a hand truck, then finished labeling his own package and brought it to the makeshift campsite Post Office.
Kimberly Mischat, a student from Seattle, worked hard to maintain her “blonde” reputation, despite a native intelligence she could never quite conceal. When she saw Bernat entering with the clumsy package, she put down the paperback copy of Anna Karenina and smiled. “Hi, Professor.” Then she noticed the box. “Wow! Most of us want to get ‘CARE’ packages. You actually send one to somebody!”
Bernat forced himself to chuckle. “My nephew’s freezer broke, so I’m sending him some natural ice.”
She nodded sagely, as if she believed it. “Su-ure! Makes good sense to me.”
When the package was weighed and her customer was gone, Kimberly read the name again: “Leland Bishop in Winston, Pennsylvania.” Then she hefted it…man, this thing was heavy!…on the shelf to wait for the daily trip to town. “Wonder if this nephew in Pennsylvania’s married?”
A few feet away, in the restaurant part of the shack, an athletic-looking black girl approached a table where Jason sat with Kim and another young man from the team named John Signewski.
Jason said, “Hey, Terri! Have a seat, why don’tcha. You look worried about something. You okay?”
Terri ripped open her bag of salt and vinegar potato chips as she sat down. “Yes to both. I’m okay, and I’m worried about something.”
“Yeah, I have a mild case of the willies, too. How about you, John?”
Signewski nodded. “I agree. Something’s definitely going on.”
Terri accepted that as encouragement. “Joe and the Prof are always putting their heads together, and suddenly nobody else is allowed inside the glacier anymore.”
Jason looked back and forth between them. “That’s right. It all started earlier, when Mike found something in the ice.”
Terri said, “Found something? What’d he find?”
John snorted. “That’s what they don’t want us to see.”
Jason noticed that their words sounded angry, but they didn’t look or act that way. “Well, it’s all the same to me at this point. I’m headed back home to Florida in a couple of days to finish my break before getting my sheepskin. You think they’re trying to get all the credit for whatever they found?”
Terri shook her head. “No, it’s not like that at all. It’s like…like they’re trying to protect us.”