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Alone

By Tony Benci All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi

Blurb

The world is awash with electronic noise. It doesn't matter where you are it's just there. No one leaves a house without a phone, in fact a phone is not just a phone any more. The world expects to communicate and communicate when they want. Come see what happens when it just stops; stops dead in it's tracks. Imagine no Twitter, Facebook, Google; imagine nothing except the people you are with; giving social networking a whole new meaning. How alone would you feel; how completely alone might you be?

A Short Story; A Long Time

“Three bloody weeks!” David Horniblow said to no one in particular. Well, no one that was likely to hear him. He had transmitted it, but if the past three weeks he’d just emphasized were anything to go by, it was to no one at all

He sat staring at the box. Its controls all dutifully set; all glowing and indicating that all was well with its particular world. The headphones decorated his neck in a simple statement of “why bother”, looking like some New Guinea headman’s tokens for all the use they were. The only sound from the monitor speakers was the waterfall of white noise that he had been listening to since they came out of the last curtain, that particular radio deafness that plagued them here.

The single biggest problem facing him in his role as communications officer and radio engineer was communicating. There was no doubt that the blasted “Australis” had kicked the shit out of them this year. Lasting weeks longer than it usually did and just messing with everything. For the first few days he had been able to rationalize it all in a technical sense, now, three weeks on, it was starting to really get beyond a joke; the sort of “getting beyond a joke” that makes your palms sweet.

Dave Peterson has been predicting this. The old war-horse was one of the original seven. Must have been in the early ’70’s when they did their initial work on the Van Allen belt and the effect it was having on the environment. As well as the more popular global warming, the effects the thinning of the atmosphere was going to have on electromagnetic equipment was discussed, studied and recognized. Now, in the first years of the 21st century it would seem they were about as right as they could be.

Living at Mawson Station was not the hardship it once was. Although, being over five hundred kilometers from the nearest inhabitants, if inhabitants is really the correct word, it should really be “other silly bastards”, and two thousand kilometers from anything resembling your cooking version civilization, it left one feeling more than a little isolated.

Mawson was the main staging base for the Australian Arctic Division, supplying and controlling sites that covered an area greater than sixty percent of the fourteen million square kilometers that was Antarctica. Bases such as Vostok, Casey, Mirnyy and Davis, to name a few, spread across the pristine rawness of the land; continental ice if the truth be known, but land is how most of them thought of it. David Horniblow could not talk to anyone, not a soul, no Holstrop’s, no Pierre’s, no Pedo’s, no Bruce’s. Christ, even the “Septics” working over at McMurdo Sound weren’t saying “boo” to a bloody goose.

The Americans, like the Russians, had never made a claim here, although, through working agreements with various nations, had representation in the form of research facilities. One could question the “research” aspect of their work. It was reasonably well known that the American complex on the “Sound”, with its intricate array of aerials and satellite dishes, was doing more than helping NASA find deep space noises.

Still, as David knew, they should have been hearing him.

He had tried every frequency known to man, even very low frequency which was outside his normal operating range, to attempt to overcome any effect that the upper atmosphere may have been having on it all. It was all to no avail, what’s more, there was none of the interference he would have expected if the atmosphere was playing its games. This was just silence. Not a cracker, a squeak or a breath. Nothing.

Matty Ronaldson came into the “shack” carrying two mugs of coffee, one exclaiming “ANTARCTIC STUD” and the other sporting the Golden Arches of that ubiquitous hamburger chain and the words “Bottomless Cup”. Horniblow had brought that cup with him from his Geelong home on the Australian main land; he now wondered the logistics of a refill and smiled to himself.

“Anything, Dave?” the tall Aussie-rules footballer with a leaning to microbiology asked, handing his friend his coffee. Horniblow just shrugged “Stuff all, mate” and took the cup, placing it on the metal table beside the Motorola microphone, and scribbled another entry in the radio log.

At that morning’s meeting, options were discussed as to what to do. For the first time the complete reliance on the thin web of electromagnetic energy was understood. In the modern world of data flow, planning tended to take on a completely different personality to what was the norm for the intrepid explorers of yesteryear.

Then, the expedition; Horniblow liked the word EXPEDITION as it gave the endeavour such a spirit that the actuality of it was overpowered by the dream that had him sitting there; would plan each step, from go to woe. These days, things were planned from hour to hour; this worked fine, while everyone could be a part of the decision making. Now, three weeks since communications should have been reestablished, they were deaf and for all intents and purposes, dumb. Worse, their plans had run out three weeks ago so they were rudderless as well.

How completely they had come to rely on radio communication with its bits and blocks of data and electromagnetic magic had never been so well illustrated. The usual curtain the southern spring brought as the ionosphere was heated and bombarded with solar energy and gamma radiation was expected. It was an acceptable part of living at the arse end of the world in conditions about as close as man got to laughing in the face of Mother Nature as if saying “See, weak as piss; I can live here”.

The usual months of blackout were planned for, a “feature” of the place, a time when the team was truly alone in the white world. It should have ended about three weeks back. No, damn it Horniblow thought, it should have ended right then, looking at the big red texta circle on the calendar. The red line caressing the left breast of the young lady holding the shock-absorber in a blatantly phallic manner marked when it should have stopped; even give or take, it should have been then.

Now, David was more than worried. Nothing was being received. There were no returns from the Meridian Satellites, no television skips, nothing. Even the white noise had no discernible harmonics, usually, the signal would meld with its returns and cause a series of out of phase replies that could be seen to be both man-made and, at times, tease other signals to accompany it back to the receiver; sometimes catching whispers of sound, from local radio stations in the Cook Islands to a couple of lover’s talking on a cell phone in Brisbane.

There was nothing at all.

Right there and then, their place was all of it. That sort of “it” you do when you throw your arms wide in complete exasperation trying to describe a problem that you didn’t even know existed.

Dave was one of twenty-seven men and three women. That he was certain of, and, for the first time, in the early morning of the twenty-third day of silence, he realized that that was all he could be.

The station was self contained; it had to be for all the obvious reasons that living in the environment they were foisted on them. This self-contained characteristic was finite. It relied on re-supply and it was fast approaching the time when this should take place. Normally, there would have been weeks of planning and communications with the support bases in both New Zealand and Tasmania, but, to date, there had been none.

The consequences of what they would do if there was first, no communications and, second, no re-supply, were too dire to consider. What’s more, there was no protocol in place to manage this, it was not part of any scenario and it had not formed part of the simulations performed in the large freezer rooms in Glebe near Sydney during their assimilation trials all those months before.

Never had anyone considered what to do if this happened. The “this” at this time was not communicating, the other “this”, the failure to re-supply, was not worth considering.

David Horniblow looked at his mate, the coffee mug warm in his hands as he raised it to his lips “Fuck all, Matt.”

* * * * *

Peter Swaine stood on an ice peak about a kilometer from the base. The Antarctic dawn was now three weeks old and it was possible to work with little or no lighting.

The auger worked to one side, its two-stroke motor singing its falsetto tunes as the blade dug into the ice. Beside were three cores, laid out flat on a green canvas sheet, each lapped into a pocket at the end with labels attached, recording the “dig” positions.

These would be filled four per sheet, wrapped together and returned to the camp for analysis. His job was to track the effect the environment was having on the world.

It had been discovered, many years earlier, that the Antarctic ice sheet was a wonderful snapshot of man’s time on the earth. Its layers held minute records of his effect on what God had given him. With visual and spectral analysis and Carbon 14 dating, it was possible to view the pollutants of mankind.

From the earliest of peat fires to the 20th Century’s love affair with fossil fuels, man had been polluting. Pollution tended to make its way into the environment and that which was airborne ultimately ended up settling on the ice at the poles, the South Pole in this instance.

Over the course of 60 years a set of cores and samples had been taken, catalogued and stored, producing a histogram of man’s carbon usage, with the past 200 years driving the usage graphs off the scale of all time prior.

It was Swaine’s task to do this job.

He hit the clutch on the machine which stopped turning, then pushed the thumb control on the throttle back to cut-off causing the engine to die, leaving the cold silence that only this place could produce. Swaine was convinced that temperature effected sound. Here, there was no sound, just cold.

This last core was a part of a set he had started yesterday. They were taken from various positions, in this case, close to the base camp. Normally he traveled near and far to obtain his cores, following the paths of others before to the various test sites on the samples map, with four samples sometimes taking a week to obtain, these he had collected in just over 24 hours.

He removed the blade from the drive joint below the motor and pulled it up and out of the ice. It was about 2 meters long and, when cracked open, revealed an ice pole about the same length. Its diameter was about 7cms and it held the history of the world.

Peter placed it into its pocket and rolled the samples together. Ron Alders helped him lift it onto the sled and they stowed the auger; all of this done with little or no sound; just cold.

Sitting in the cabin of the Cat, moving slowly back to the base pulling the sled behind, Ron turned to Peter, his face outlined by the fur beading of his hood and his beard wet with the melted ice formed from his breath outside. “What do you think, mate?”

Peter would have shrugged but it would have been lost in the weight of his suit, you had to exaggerate your movements in this environment, so he shook his head.

“I’m stuffed if I know, Ron. If its right we’re” he didn’t finish, this time he shrugged, not that you could see it but Ron nodded, turned back to the task of steering the small Cat.

Swaine looked out the side window, not to see anything per se, just to turn away the way you do when you don’t want to talk to the person beside you. He could see the workshop building over on the flat and the canvas covering over the Bell Jet Ranger. There were three people working near the helicopter. He knew it would be Terry Riggs, the pilot and Mike Villasonic, the aircraft mechanic, the third would probably be Susan Riordan, who was both the administration officer and the back-up helo driver.

Peter had often considered this combination “so Susan you are typed for the 410, IFR and senior commercial? Good, excellent, by the way... do you do shorthand?” normally he smiled at this, not today.

The group would be getting ready to fly. That morning’s meeting had decided they would visit Casey as soon as the conditions were right. Not a big deal normally, a flight of a little over two hours, still this was not a normal place and far from normal times.

There was no Global Positioning System to speak of, no Radio Directional Finder of any kind. This flight would be dead reckoning and this place was not one for dead reckoning in anything besides perfect conditions.

Still, that decision was a day or two away. Just to preflight the Bell would take almost a day. It had been asleep for a while and would need more than a little attention before it was ready to work for them. In fact, Peter could make out the oil heater sitting besides the engine cowling. A shimmer of heat was rising above it in the cold air.

He looked at his watch. It was 19:47. He had been working since 13:00 on this core and was exhausted. Bed was the order... then... well then he would study these cores... then he would decide whether they were right, or not.

* * * *

Dr. Andrew Ryan sat at his desk. It was not a typical office desk, things tended to be multi-purpose in this place. It was also a workbench on which he had his computer, a drip filter coffee machine and a number of books and assorted papers.

Ryan was the base commander. He was a medical doctor, specializing in tropic diseases, which had been the brunt of more than one joke in the mess at the end of a shift, and he was worried.

The camp was getting near its BINGO. One of the programs running on the PC was a spreadsheet and the tabs across the bottom suggested that the model was quite large. This page was the summary, the one that told him just how long he had to go before the camp failed to support itself.

The spreadsheet sat there looking at him, in that completely disinterested way inanimate objects tend to do when they are informing you of your worst fears, its calculations all perfectly correct and absolutely figured showing him that they were getting pretty close to the red-line.

Redline was a term coined for a number of “below-minimum resource requirements”. God how he hated the euphemistic way these things were worded, “below-minimum” meant “gone” and “resource requirements” meant “all the things we need to survive” and “red-line” just meant “fucked”.

On the table side, to the right of the PC, given his proclivity of using his left hand, was a pad and a biro. Scribbling filled one or two pages, formed from the various meetings he had had with a number of the team over the past few hours.

Immediate rationing was to be put in place although he established that a sort-of unofficial cut back had been working for the last 12 days, since the radio silence was first thought of as a problem. All the outer sheds were running off-heat and where ever possible power had been cut. This meant that the spreadsheet was not as correct as it should be because it was modeling full resource usage up till now and the effect of these reductions not considered.

Only one cat was kept warm and the environment heating was down to 19c.

Further changes would see less power and a cessation of all experimental and procedural activities that were not needed to sustain the environment.

They had to prepare now. According to the bottom line of the system model, they had 19 days before the shit would hit the fan. This was bound to be longer and would be made more so by the implementation of the stricter rationing but 40 days is not that much different if re-supply were 90 away.

If nothing else Ryan was an optimist and considered that the inability to talk to anyone was not that much of a problem given that the re-supply would be happening regardless and their plans called for the arrival of the supply vessel in another three to five days. Ryan was certain that the fail-safes would be there, after all, why shouldn’t they be.

This radio blackout was probably the result of the “Aurora” they had experienced. There was no doubt in any of their minds that it was as spectacular as any recorded. The electromagnetic measurements were off the dial and everyone, except Dave Horniblow, had really enjoyed it while it lasted. Dave just grumbled about what it would do to his radios.

Still Andrew Ryan was not that worried; although there were a lot of notes on the scribble pad for a man that was “not that worried”.

* * * * *

David tuned into the frequency of the Jet Ranger, 127.9, and did a radio test. Susan responded and reported that the bird was fine. Mike reckoned that the oil would be right in an hour or so and they would run her up then.

This made Horniblow feel a little better. Terry Riggs had said that they would do a high hop first up. That would mean flying to maximum altitude while remaining over the base, white outs are not fun at the best of time and with no navigational aids, less so by a long way.

12,000 feet, aviation always used feet David reminded himself, would give them a large range of view. God knew what for but it would be more than they had now sitting in the flat of the coastal plain.

He was sick of the bloody radio and decided to stretch his legs. Hitting the switch on the scanner, which would run across the various frequencies he had programmed into it and look for any signal variations, he stood and stretched, deciding to go down to the lab and see what Swainey was up to. They called him “snowy”, Aussies tended to do that, pick a nickname and learn it before they ever know who you really are.

Peter and Ron were stowing the samples. It always made David smile to consider the idea of a cool room here. There had been times in the past 6 months when the temperature in the freezer was less than that out-side. A stretch of days just prior to the Aurora had, with wind-chill, been 30c below the setting of the cool-room. There we no doubt that this winter was special. Everything had seemed to be “off the scale”.

David stood against the wall to stay out of the way. He had made coffee and it sat on the bench waving its steamy fingers in the cold air moving out of the open freezer. The two men were still kitted up and would be grateful for the hot drinks when done.

The stainless steel door was closed with an authoritative “whoosh” and they started removing the heavy outer garments that had spent the past 10 hours keeping them alive.

Dave helped each remove their top coats, he knew how heavy they felt on a body that had been carrying over 20 kilos of extra weight and working in an environment that just was never meant to be worked in. The process took about five minutes and when done, they stood together in the room drinking coffee and saying nothing much at all.

“Anything Dave?” Ron asked across the brow of the white enamel mug always used for the first cuppa after being outside. They tended to fulfill two purposes, the first easy to see, it held the liquid, the second, an ideal hand warmer and this Ron was using as best he could.

“Not a cracker, mate” he replied, not even bothering to shrug anymore; he was shrugged out.

Peter Swaine finished his coffee, stretched to get a little of the stiffness out of his back and bid them goodnight. He was about as tired as he could be and felt that there was nothing he could do in this state. He left the other two and went to bed. Ron followed behind him and David took the mugs back to the mess.

He grabbed the DVD from the rack; happy to see that it was back in the Library. This muster had seen the introduction of Microsoft’s Age of Empires III into the games library and it had gone through the place like a dose of salts.

Dave walked back to the radio shack and loaded the game. He left the scanner on and started pressing his advance against the Vikings. It was not lost on him that most of the lighting in the place was either off or running at its most subdued. The camp was asleep for the most part. Except for him and the helo crew, most of the other inhabitants were doing the one thing that didn’t need power, sleeping.

He watched the LED’s on the scanner as they moved across the face showing the frequency shifts. They would sit for a second or two and move on, sometimes sitting a little longer, teasing a hope from anyone watching, as if it was making up its mind whether there really was something there, then it would skip across to the next as if nothing had happened.

Each transaction was being written to a log on the PC and Dave would analyze this later. Now, he had a battle for a gold mine to contend with, the scanner was not that important, it was for the first few days, now, it was just a part of the things he was doing, like eating and sleeping.

* * * * *

Pushing the collective forward a little caused the big helicopter to settle in a small turbulence that shook it gently. It was an automatic response, something a helo-driver did when ever it was needed. Unlike a fixed wing aircraft, these things became a part of you, needing tending every second of the time they were so.

The altimeter was climbing as the silver blue machine fought for height in the super-cold air above the camp. The biggest problem facing aviators in this climate was the fact that most electrical circuits and things mechanical didn’t like cold as much as they didn’t like heat. Just to get the machine going required over five hours work and that was before the turbines were fired for the first time.

Now, with over 3,000 feet between the skids and the snow, the world was back to where Terry Riggs wanted it to be.

Susan was sitting beside him and doing a very good job of looking out. Not sight seeing, just keeping a weather watch. Ice blows happened so quickly you could be in clear air one moment and completely encased the next.

The directional equipment had absolutely no feeds and it was visual flight rules all the way. Except for the ADF from the camp’s transmitter there was absolutely no radio frequency anywhere.

The sortie was simple, as much altitude as possible and look.

Their re-supply was expected and the supply vessel should be able to be seen if it was within a 400 mile radius at the Bell’s service ceiling.

They were slowly climbing and, then, they would see.

Susan was saying very little of nothing at all and Terry was concentrating on everything he needed to to do the job. She had the flight map spread on her knees and opened out more than would normally be required. It looked a lot like a line drawing with a number of blue circles on it.

Other lines cris-crossed the predominantly white background and a red cross marked the base with a number of typed numbers showing the working frequencies generated by the black boxes in the RF shack.

Susan was studying the map intently. The cabin noise was such that intercom headgear was needed to talk. She had her’s drooped around her neck. Terry adjusted a little again and answered a radio check from Dave.

He heard the shuffle over his phones as Susan refitted her set.

“This is weird, Terry.” She said as she tapped his arm. She was pointing to the coastline on the map. Mawson was situated close to a large ice inlet. It was a sheet ice field that normally extended for miles off the coast proper.

“I reckon the ice shelf is about half as big as it should be”.

She moved her hand across his field of view; he could see the deep green of the Antarctic waters about where she ran her finger under the compass above his head.

“We shouldn’t be able to see that for at least another thousand feet or so.”

Terry took notice of the altimeter. It was just over 4000. He nodded. Not sure what it meant. God knew that the temperature was no different to what it should have been and you didn’t have to be Swainey to know that a few kilometers of sheet ice does not just melt in six months.

They continued to climb to about 8000 feet. There was a cumulus cloud base off to their port and coming their way. They both decided that that should really do it for now, although they were both experienced IFR pilots, neither wanted to be caught in instrument flight conditions with only a single ADF to fly by and about forty minutes of current flying over the past 6 months.

They sat at that altitude for a minute or two scanning the horizon to the east or seaward side of the base.

There was nothing to be seen.

Terry handed the controls of the powerful machine over to Susan and reached across for his binoculars. As she moved the craft from side to side he continued the scan. Neither said a word.

On the way down, she took it very easy. There was no way any pilot ever did anything quickly if slowly was an option and Susan differed very little from most other pilots.

Terry had poured a coffee out of the thermos and after taking a drink, took the controls back so Susan could follow suit. Even with the cabin heat turned up it was still very cold and the coffee was only luke-warm by comparison.

They flew a few circuits of the camp and Terry took the time to align the ADF as best he could on a single signal.

The big Bell settled by the refueling pad and they immediately started the post-flight checks. One or two of the camp members were waiting in the machine shop by the door and walked over to help cover the airframe.

Very little was said. A lot of exaggerated shrugging was going on.

* * * * *

By the doors of the freezer Peter Swaine had moved one of the aluminum examination gurneys. Its huge rubber wheels moved effortlessly over the metal tiles on the floor and had to be locked to stop it skating around the room. It now sat on its long spindly legs gleaming under the overhead lighting array.

Against the low light elsewhere in the station, this room, and this part of it, was an anachronism. Swaine had opened the samples fridge and removed a number of the green canvas rolls. Some were from the set of cores he had drilled during this deployment and others appeared different shades of green, highlighting the fact that they had been filled, filed and locked away at times other than this.

From each of the sample kits, known colloquially as ice blankets, he had taken a drill section and laid it into the core trays that looked like corrugated iron with each valley holding a cylinder perfectly.

Alders was working alongside his boss with that quite efficiency that most 2 IC’s seem to have.

Each core had a label sitting at its head in a special flat plat on the end of the corrugated section and the two men were finalizing the samples. They took a 20 cm end slab from each, running the ice cylinder through a band saw on the bench beside the freezer and put the remaining sample back into the appropriate bag.

When they had finished all the samples Swaine had chosen, the bags were returned quickly to the freezer.

“’Suppose we need to check these things now?” Alders said to Swaine as he picked the first section out of its tray channel.

The room was set to a working temperature that would cause the least amount of melting and both men, although not kitted up, were dressed accordingly. Peter had had to remove his gloves for a moment to set the cutting width and was rubbing his hands together now as Alders placed the first section into the slicer.

Ron moved across to the left of the machine and locked the holding arm down. As Swaine pulled his gloves back on Alders hit the run switch and the bale moved across bringing the ice plug up to the cutting wheel.

The sample was cut through the middle length ways and the free part fell into the sample tray. Ron removed the plug and Peter got the next, moving the sample tray out of the way and replacing it with an empty one.

This process continued with a calculated efficiency for the next hour or so until all the sample cores had been treated and 18 trays sat on the table behind the appropriate valley on the sample tray.

Most of the sections were showing the first signs of melting and they worked as quickly as they could given the bulkiness of their attire and the gloves doing short work of any dexterity needed to be efficient.

Under the glare of the florescent lighting each core looked like a cross-section of a kiwi fruit cut long ways. The crystalline structure ran with the grain of the cut and even in this light and to the naked eye there seemed to be differences in the samples.

To the trained eye there were differences all right. What these two geologists now had to do was discern what.

* * * *

The mood in the canteen was subdued. Peter Swaine was making good the last of the connections between the projector and the small laptop computer. Currently the display was an out of focus image of the Windows XP desktop.

He turned the focus knob on the projector lens and the image sharpen to readable against the back wall which had had its posters and framed prints removed so the display could be seen throughout the room.

Andrew Ryan sat at what had become the head table and the rest of the team was slowly filing in. It had been 7 hours since Swaine and Alders had started their work with the ice samples and, following a briefing just completed, Ryan had decided they must let everyone know what they had found.

As the last of the service crew entered; they had been called from the maintenance shack and had needed to change out of their outside gear before joining; Ryan called the meeting to order.

The group was spread around the laminex-covered tables and two of the sofas that had been moved from behind the pool table. Most were sitting with coffee cups, one or two with soft drink bottles, although it was fast running out and a list was taped to the front of the fridge explaining the “honour system” used to share it equally.

The mood was somber but with a little expectation given that all were hungry to hear anything that may be more than they then knew. A few had asked Dave Horniblow whether he was the harbinger of news and he had quietly denied it. Now, as Dr. Andrew Ryan stood to address them, the tension in the room was overpowering.

As he called them to order Swaine loaded an application that had the projection on the wall change to display a series of thumbnail images down the right of the screen and two larger panels side by side to the left.

He dragged and dropped two images into the panels and with a little more adjustment these showed what appeared to be a tube with a number of lines across it.

The images were linked so dragging one would drag the other. He turned to Ryan and nodded.

“Ladies and Gentlemen” he began with their complete attention. Ryan had the appearance of everyone’s favourite uncle and his tone did nothing to dispel that. His voice was cultured and reserved, reminding some of Frances Urkhert from that marvellous House Of Cards video in the library. In Ryan’s defense there was little else of Frances in his character.

“I am not going to beat around the bush. Dr Swaine wishes to share with you all a discovery he has made. For mine, it seems” he shrugged as he looked for a word then sighed that sigh of a loosing coach when he is asked how he feels about loosing “I’m buggered if I know but I am left with no argument against it. We both agree” he motioned in Peter’s general direction to indicate that the we was both he and Swaine “that the best course of action is to discuss it here and now.” He paused, no one said a word.

“Peter”

Swaine looked up from the laptop and moved to the left leaving Alders in to control the thing. He glanced over the gathering, seeing faces he had come to know over the past months as friends and extended family. For the merest second, lost on anyone else, his eyes met Susan Riordan’s and held them in the embraces that secret lovers can only share.

He stood tall now. Swaine was a big man in anyone’s book. His demeanor at most times was quite and gentle but he always filled a room when he entered it. Now, he filled this one to overflowing.

“On the screen you will see two ice core samples.” He clicked the button on the laser pointer and a red dot appeared on the leftmost.

“This sample is the oldest we have in our kit. It was taken in 1937 from a geo-point about 17 kilometers south west of our camp. You will notice that each sample has a series of rings. Terry” Alders clicked on a button on the bottom right of the screen and the magnification increased to show regular lines through each sample. They seemed incredibly uniform in their distribution.

“These rings show the Antarctic seasons, two, sometimes three, signify a year in the scheme of things. Here we have a history of about two thousand years of geological activity.”

He moved his pointer up and down the sample.

“You will notice that there are imperfections in the core” he pointed to a section of the sample that had a noticeable dark stain in the ring.

“These are pollution, nothing simpler really. These cores allow us to trace man’s existence on this planet.” He turned to face the gathering; he had to explain this but didn’t want to turn it into a lecture.

“It’s easy to understand. We all know about currents and the climates” most nodded or mumbled their agreement “the earth is like a big spinning pump. Gravity and centrifugal force cause the atmosphere to move in relation to the ground. This movement, at differing speeds, causes currents. The same holds true for the seas and oceans but my work is with atmospheric conditions.”

He paused for a moment and took a sip from his coffee cup, the liquid now tepid to his taste.

“This movement causes equatorial air to be pushed north and south causing the local weather patterns and the notable jet-stream systems.”

“Finally, any air-born contaminants are dropped here or in the Arctic for the Northern Hemisphere, as the air cools and thickens. It is this contamination we are seeing here.”

Swaine had picked up the pointer again and was moving it over the lines again.

“We can study man’s impact on the earth for thousands of years with these ice cores. Although I have not done any Carbon 14 analysis on these I can tell you that this sample from the 1937 site shows us a fair bit about our recent history.”

Swaine spent a few minutes discussing this. He showed them how an area of darker rings showed loosely the start of the industrialization of the Southern Hemisphere as fossil fuel was begun being burnt. Of course his explanations were devoid of much scientific support as their work had been rushed and they had not had time to perform any spectra-analysis or dating procedures.

The comments were a direct result of Swaine’s experience and for the sake of the argument were adequate.

“Now, I’ll get Ron to move a number of samples into the right panel to compare with our control.”

This Alders did, stopping long enough for Peter to show quickly the various datum’s that gave the samples their similarity and synchronization.

“All the samples I have shown you, including the last three were taken by previous expeditions. Now I will show you two I took early this year, before the Aurora.

Alders dragged another image across and the similar lines and dark patches showed and with a little dragging could be made to line up pretty well.

“As you can see these samples are all unique but have similarities that can be used to correlate them into a time line.”

“We are looking at the past fifteen hundred to two thousand years of human history here folks” he paused again.

“Now, Terry is going to show you samples we have taken over the past few days. We got as close as we could to the old survey sites. There is no GPS so we had to use some of the old surveying equipment and we were always a bit concerned about their calibration but it is safe to say we were within a kilometer of the old sites.”

Alders dropped an image onto the panel.

It sat beside the control looking completely different. The rings were there but the sample was almost pure white. What’s more, the rings appeared wider apart, less compressed as it where.

This occurred for the other images and Alders finished leaving the last one on the screen with magnification x100.

“We are looking at ice samples that I would expect to find at the end of my double extension drill.” Once again he paused to let his words sink in.

“As best as we can Terry and I have established that a circular area about 1.5 kilometers around the camp are able to be correlated to our 1937 control.

“This core, taken from ground to our north east, and the others, all pulled from roughly the four cardinal points around the camp but outside the circular area” he shrugged his shoulders in a sort of frustrated resignation “is over 2000 years old.”

Peter paused, scanning the faces in the room. “I have a pretty good feeling we are alone people, and God knows when.”

You could hear the hum of the fan from the overhead projector. There was no other sound in the room.

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