Antarctic Expedition

penguins at sealifecentre

Randolph Whines sat in his cabin, on the ice-breaker, SS Discovered, unaware of the chaos engulfing the Northern hemisphere, 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 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. The ice-sheets surrounding the bay have all disappeared.

He went up on deck to look for himself, as the view from his porthole was obscured by steamy condensation – on the outside! 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 grand-father’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. It was sometime since he had last logged on and he didn’t realise that the world had gone strangely silent.

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 snowline 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 12-point 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 were 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 125 million years the Earth’s single land mass had started to break up, and before that the Earth had become colder and colder until practically all life on the planet had been wiped out. But how could the first rock carving 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.

But his Comms Pack, relaying the thoughts from his terminal, was shielded at that moment, he assumed from the shrill static in his mind, by the wall of granite in front of him from the Communications Satellite orbiting the planet. 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.

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SILENCE

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Tom and Maddie in Space

 

 

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“We settled down in the space-ship, not realising then that we were about to travel back in time. The big red button was pressed, and the automatic sequence powered up. We felt a shudder and the giant rocket slowly gathered momentum. It would be many years before we landed on anything like Earth again.

“All of the young couples have been injected, even Jacqueline and I, our terminals now redundant. Hills and Hodges, McGill and McGilly still resist for the time being, waiting to see how things develop.

“As soon as they were injected, the nano-chips and nano-bots commenced their work. The youngsters are beginning to think of things they had never imagined before.

“They see history from the beginnings of the World, experiencing simulations of the cosmic chaos, through the evolution of life to the early beginnings of man. They experience hunts, cave-paintings, love and companionship. They learn about cultivation and animal husbandry and the unseen dangers they can pose. They begin to see the start of civilisations, the horrors of war, and the birth of science.

“They experience art in all its forms, from the earliest chanting to the later symphonies, jazz, folk, rock, even disco. They discover great paintings from the Aborigines in Australia and elsewhere, through the Medieval, to the Renaissance, the Impressionists, Cubism, Dada-ism, and Modern Art.

“They experience Dance, Theatre, and Ballet, wondering at the skills and abilities of the human body. They understand Architecture and Design, how to build and create lasting environments. They learn about great adventures, explorations, sporting achievements, skill and craftsmanship. And they are aware of every book that has ever been written. Of course, there are many warnings; many wrong turns and blind alleys; many disasters and cruelties; but at least we are fore-warned.

“We are also taking with us the DNA of all the plants and animals that grew or roamed, or once upon a time grew or roamed, upon the Earth. We should be able to reconstitute them on Earthtoo, or at least superimpose them on any flora and fauna we find there.

“In time, even Hodges, Hillsy and the McGills saw the wondrous change in their children as they become more and more enlightened; ever more peaceful and serene; ready for any eventuality. They agreed to be injected too. They may even have more children themselves; it’s not too late for them on the flight.

“The nano-chips are working on everyone’s DNA, implanting the whole Human data set, to be passed on to future generations as a complete start to life. Future babies will begin their life-journey in full possession of all knowledge and wisdom, though there is much yet to be discovered and experienced.

“Also, much is yet to be learnt about the vagaries of nature and the dangers inherent in a Universe of chance and fractal order.
“Creation and Life will always be fighting Entropy, delaying or reversing the slide into Chaos and Decay.”

(PKD’s final Blog #6)

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