Randolph Whines sat in his cabin on the ice-breaker, SS Discovered, looking through his new equipment, and organising it ready for the great exploration awaiting him at the Ross Ice Shelf. He was an Explora-Sub, commissioned by Oodles to retrace the footsteps of one of the most intrepid, and possibly foolhardy, adventurers of all time.
At any moment, he would have wished to hear the scrunching and scraping of the ship as it forced its way through the ice to the Base-Camp. However, he never does! And he knows he never will.
He went up on deck to look for himself, as the view from his porthole was obscured by steamy condensation. He was not surprised to see that there was no ice. The rocks leading down to the sandy beach were bare. He could even make out small figures sun-bathing on the beach in shorts; he was disgusted. There were no ice-floes and the bay was clear blue water, just like the Mediterranean used to be. The hole in the Ozone layer made the constant ultra-violet glare from the bright sun dangerous, but even the penguins were sun-bathing, with sun-glasses provided by the Research Team, and seals lay under deck-chairs, stolen from Base-Camp. A kindly and thoughtful man, Randolph nevertheless ranted and raved at this stupidity; it was never like this in his grandfather’s day!
He set off inland, walking alone and with minimal provisions to give his followers on the Web some frisson of excitement, to try to find some real ice and snow. But for miles there was only bare rock. He sat and drank from his Thermos flask, munching on a Mars bar, and quietly despairing of living up to his fame and notoriety. He took out a map, opened it, and studied the latest updates; he could have done this in his head if he wished, but that would have been too easy and lacked the historic perspective he was trying to give the mission. Also, he liked maps and needed them in case the Communications Satellite went out of range, or was shielded by the mountains, as he was so far south.
Noticing a strange contortion of the rocky contours on his map, he jabbed at it with two fingers. The rest of his fingers had been lost to frostbite many years ago. “That looks strange!” he thought. “And it’s just below where the snow-line starts now. I’d best go there and investigate!”
He packed up his rucksack again, rather bulkier than it really needed to be, hoisted it on his shoulders, and marched off on his cramponed boots and his pointless ski-poles. Reaching a spot just below his intended destination, he looked up in wonder at the bare, black granite cliff, hollowed out by aeons of blasting ice, snow and grit. There appeared to be caves, or openings of some sort on the face at its base. As he got closer, he realised they were not part of the natural structure, but piled-up, regularly shaped slabs of rock, collapsed into twisted and broken heaps, and now sticking up out of the receding snow and ice.
Had he discovered buildings, or man-made structures, of some sort? Could this be an ancient civilisation never before heard of, or even dreamed of, that had lain buried beneath the snow for thousands, if not millions of years? He inspected the rocks more closely. To his wonderment, if not actually to his surprise, he found traces of carvings that proved this to be a site of some intelligence, not just chaotic chance.
The carvings appeared to be in sequence: the first showed the figure of a man, arms outstretched, with light shining all around him. In the next panel, the long-haired, bearded man was holding a globe, which, to Randolph’s astonishment depicted the continents of Earth, pretty much as they are now. “But the first accurate globes were only conceived in the late XVIth Century,” he thought. “This must be earlier than that!”
Running his gloved fingers over the next section, he was shocked again; the carving was of the same globe split asunder, torn into two jagged pieces, spinning in the Cosmos. His sanity was threatened as he made out the next engraving, of what could only be described as a Space Ship, or some sort of large machine. Some crude letters, “H-H”, “M-T”, and “P-J”, were scratched beneath it. They signified nothing to him.
Then there were two final, whole globes etched into the hard granite. One was a plain orb, empty, a mystery; the other had one land mass, almost covering the whole surface, but surrounded completely by what must be the ocean. Looking closer, Randolph could make out thin lines etched into the surface of the land-mass. It was a jigsaw puzzle of shapes. But he suddenly recognised them as the main continents: Africa, Antarctica, North and South America, Australia, and at its top right corner, Eurasia. They were cleverly arranged into one tight-fitting shape. He realised he was looking at a map of Pangaea as it was, or thought to have been, some 300 million years ago!
Could this possibly be the remnants of an earlier life-form, or an earlier civilisation before the Ice-Ages? Aliens who had suffered a terrible catastrophe befalling their original Earth-like planet. Then perhaps, a flight through Space, and the discovery of a this planet, similar to their own, but at an earlier stage in its history, where they may have settled and lived happily for many thousands, even millions, of years. Until the land started to move and the climate changed! It was known that after 200 million years the Earth’s single land mass had started to break up, and later the Earth had become colder and colder until practically all life on the planet had been wiped out. But how could the first carvings look exactly like Earth as it was now? It just didn’t make any sense!
There was a crevice below the carvings, some six inches wide and an inch high. Randolph groped inside with his mutilated hand and felt an object, deep at the back. He pulled it out, gingerly. He was staggered to see an old-fashioned, stainless-steel shielded, plastic-coated USB memory stick, wrapped in polythene and rimed with frost and ice, which was just beginning to melt.
Randolph was dumbfounded by what he had seen and found. Then he had a moment of sudden revelation: it wasn’t a Space Ship depicted on the rocks; it was a Time Machine, somehow sent back aeons from the present age! He tried to transmit a message back to Base Camp, warning, rather belatedly, of imminent disaster.
Unfortunately, his Comms Pack, relaying the thoughts from his terminal, was shielded at that moment from the Communications Satellite orbiting the planet by the wall of granite in front of him. He turned to retrace his steps to lower and more open ground, slipped and fell headlong down a crevasse. His head jammed between the rocks and he was left struggling, unable to move, apart from his arms and legs flailing about uselessly in the air.