“CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND”
With a sixty day ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over the proceedings …
… the activity at the dig site began moving at a frantic pace. Heavy equipment was brought in and the semi-frozen earth was carefully removed from around the spherical boulder, which turned out to be the size of a mail delivery truck. Several smaller bulldozers carved out an incline leading down to the unusual discovery which Zack believed had been keeping its monumental secrets buried in the earth for untold millennia. It was nearly ten feet high and had hundreds of petroglyphs pecked all over it. A system of lasers calculated the precise dimensions of the giant globe and indicated that it was close to being perfectly round which summarily discounted any possibility that it was a natural formation.
Snow Smith had jet-black hair, deep brown eyes and looked great in a faux-fur parka. As a dedicated environmental and animal rights activist, she would never wear real fur. Snow might have made a fine ski-bunny. She even looked good in ear muffs, and no one looks good in ear muffs. But most of all, Professor Smith was a scholar and a widely published expert in the field of primitive cave art. Although Snow Smith was her nom de voyage, her ancient native name was Aput Omak. In her Aleut language Aput meant snow. When Zack first discovered the petroglyphs, he contacted Dr. Smith at the University Southeast at Juneau. Although the etchings were worn, they were highly decipherable. Almost immediately, a new slice of history leaped off the huge granite ball.
“They tell the story of a prehistoric race that migrated across the land bridge from the Asian continent to North America,” was Dr. Smith’s first revelation.
As the days went by, Snow painstakingly studied, photographed, videoed and continued to translate the pictorial messages from the dawn of civilized history. Additional assessment of the ancient rock drawings led Zack and Snow to postulate that the large orb might be a granite gatekeeper possibly put in place countless millennia ago to seal off a hidden burial cave entrance or conceal other unique markers.
When some of the project workers leaked word of the find and its associated theories to the locals, a sea of indigenous people flooded into the area and immediately began demonstrating. They protested against the drilling that was to begin in several days and they objected to any further excavation by Dr. Carver of what they were convinced was a sacred ancient tomb.
In an effort to mollify the churning controversy, Zack borrowed a bullhorn from the crew foreman, motioned Snow to step forward and raised the bullhorn to his mouth.
“You all know me,” he said. As expected, the crowd erupted in catcalls and boos. Zack then raised his hand.
“This is Aput Omak. She’s an archeology professor as well as a representative from the Afognak Native Corporation. Aput is here to see that the native people’s interests—your interests—are protected. I promise you that I have no intention of desecrating your sacred heritage.”
Zack then handed the bullhorn to Aput. “I am here to make sure that we all work in harmony to investigate questions of common interest,” she pledged. “I believe that it will enhance our culture to know its true history. It is the sacred right of every one of us to know how we became who we are.”
The crowd murmured and nodded their agreement, and settled down.
When Aput returned the bullhorn to the foreman he barked the order for a custom woven, wide-circumference, nylon thread harness to be secured around the sphere and then motioned the green John Deere caterpillar tractor to inch forward. The chain was pulled taut and the heavy granite guardian began to slide ever so slowly away from its long-standing post.
Zack was surprised to find that the entrance revealed was not much more than a crawl space skillfully chipped into the shale boundary layer. He turned his 10 TB, holographic, pod-corder on and handed it to Joshua Dove Benjamin, one of his teaching assistants. At heart, Josh was pretty much a basic geek. His IQ was well in the 160s and he hung out mainly with other geeks. However, Joshua was in reality a semi-geek at most. He didn’t really look very geekish, dressed with more than a slice of style and never had a vinyl pen and pencil holder in his shirt pocket. Actually he always wore golf shirts which had no pockets at all. Joshua could also throw a football over sixty yards in the air. It would sail like an artillery round, but he declined every football scholarship that was offered to him. He was first and foremost an academician.
The trio donned their hard hats, switched on the lights, wriggled into the opening and entered the cave. The first observation was that the area inside was amazingly dry. No dankness or musty odors whatsoever. It was also quite cramped. Shell, bone, ivory tools and decorative objects were scattered about. These were quite different from those linked with the Alutiiq people, who had left evidence of their presence dating back from two to ten millennia. The drawings carved into and painted on the stone walls indicated that the journey of the individuals that created them occurred well before the Alutiiq or any other ancient nomads crossed the Bearing Sea. This provided Zack with an internal Ah ha!
The etchings depicted hunting rituals and expeditions, a man and a woman at the moment of childbirth and images of primitive deities. Though similar pictorials had been uncovered in other areas of Alaska, Zack was awestruck at the level of detail and preservation in this new find. Also, unlike the weathered appearance of ancient illustrations on the outside of the cave, the petroglyphic art inside gave him the strangest feeling that he was looking at sophisticated work that could have been created in the not too distant past by someone with a keen, artistic eye. The colors were bright, showed no signs of wear, and the figures were anatomically accurate and to scale. Zack continued moving slowly along the wall and after several steps he came upon another almost perfect sphere. It was the about twice the size of a large beach ball and had a drawing of an evil-looking ancient deity. Zack instantly interpreted it as a “Keep Out” sign. All it needed was a red circle and diagonal line.
“What on earth did the priests have to hide?” Zack muttered.Though the mini-boulder was round, it was expertly fitted into a rut chiseled out of the cave floor and it took all of Zack’s strength combined with that of Snow and Joshua to push it free and roll it aside. This revealed a DVD-sized drawing on the adjacent wall of what at first glance appeared to be a spaceship. It was shown spitting fire and was engulfed by a white cloud-like object. Zack smacked his forehead.
Snow and Josh knew what was coming and retreated several steps.
“No … no … we’re off again, Area 51 the prequel. A flying saucer! Here comes more of that Plane of Jars Peruvian ancient astronaut bullshit; more of Ezekiel’s flying chariot of fire.”
Joshua, who was carefully studying the cave wall etching, perked up. “Dr. Carver, if I may say so, it looks to me like it could be the depiction of a comet and not necessarily a UFO.”
“Say what?” Zack mumbled. “A comet?” Zack scrutinized the primeval artwork more closely, then let fly a Cheshire cat grin. “Yes, a comet … of course … it does look more like a comet, doesn’t it?”
Snow and Josh smiled and nodded their agreement—happy to have nipped a rant-in-the-bud. Several yards farther along the prehistoric archeological treasure-trail, Zack spotted another smaller globe, which when rolled away revealed another comet. It was a foot or so lower on the wall and smaller than the first. Then he found another sphere and another comet etching. Each primitive scratching and stone globe was getting lower and lower and smaller and smaller until the last sphere was the size of a marble and the last comet drawing was at ground level, maintained the same detail as the previous ones and was no bigger than a pea. Zack scraped away some of the soil near the tiny symbol and after a few scoops uncovered a perfectly straight seam in the solid rock of the cave floor. He motioned for Snow and Josh to help him move the dirt and the three uncovered a six foot by three foot stone slab. Zack ran his finger along the full length and width of the rectangular groove. He looked at the others and spoke in a near whisper. “It’s like an ancient trap door cut by a prehistoric tool of some kind to fit perfectly in the granite. Go up top and bring back some picks, shovels and heavy-duty crowbars and don’t say anything to anybody.” Josh and Snow hustled out of the cave to do as Zack requested.
There was a scraping sound of steel grinding against stone as Zack and Josh, using a pick axe and a crowbar, carefully pried the heavy tabletop granite slab up from the position it had no doubt been in for many thousands of years. When it disengaged there was a whoosh of air comparable to the sound of a vacuum-seal being broken, followed by a chilling draft as if the trio had just opened a meat-locker door. Zack’s flashlight beam played on the rectangular hole, and spread down an intimidating and perfectly proportioned stairwell carved into it. Zack was about to become the first human being to trod this antediluvian set of steps in perhaps countless eons. Like a curtain rising, this was the opening scene on a series of unexpected discoveries in an astounding chain of events.
In reverent silence, with only the echoes of their footfalls reverberating sharply off the granite walls, Zack and his companions descended the stone flight of stairs. As they continued down, the air became more frigid and yet the frosty air did not smell like it was musty underground air. Strangely, it was slightly dizzying as if it contained an abundance of oxygen. They also noticed that as they headed further down, the petroglyphs became more infrequent. When the three reached the lower landing, the etchings disappeared altogether. Josh counted the steps observing that they fell one short of an even hundred.
At the bottom, Zack and the others found themselves in an unexpectedly massive chamber. It was at approximately the size of a baseball diamond with rocky walls and an abnormally smooth seventy-five foot high ceiling.
“The air seems to be fresher down here than it was up top,” Zack observed with surprise. Then the beam of his flashlight caught a wall of blue ice roughly one-hundred feet away at the far end, and Zack’s eyes widened. When Snow and Josh also pointed their lights in that direction, a frozen mound about three meters high that protruded some fifteen meters out onto the cavern floor also became visible.
“I’m not a climatologist, but that looks like a corrie glacier.” Zack ventured.
Dr. Smith nodded. “I think you’re right but how could this little toddler of a glacier be born inside a cavern like this?”
“Glaciers are formed outside from snow,” Josh added. “Millennia upon millennia of snow.”
“Unless it snowed inside or this cave wasn’t always … a cave,” Zack said and approached the bus-sized, mass of ice. Then he caught sight of something that stopped him dead in his tracks. Greenish shafts popping through the icy surface—plant stalks! Taking care not to touch the shoots, he moved in for a closer inspection.
“This looks like swamp pricklegrass similar to the type normally found in California—and what the hell—why is it still green with no sunlight for who knows how long? How could photosynthesis even take place? And look at the geology. The different levels of sediments and permafrost show no evidence that a wetland ever existed anywhere near here. How could swamp grass in any condition be explained? What in the name of Gene Shoemaker is going on here?”
After a few more paces, Zack spotted the head of an unrecognizable species of animal visible through the ancient, icy wall. He held the lens of his flashlight directly against the surface to improve the illumination on the creature and to permit its overall shape and size to be determined. “It seems to be in one piece and it looks like some kind of water reptile—except that it has fur. This is like the damned Twilight Zone. What’s next—a woolly freakin’ mammoth?”
A complete visual record was shot while Zack supervised the careful cutting of the ice sections containing the creature and the grass shoots, into blocks. These highly prized specimens were swiftly and safely transported back to the school to be stored in a special freezer unit.
Zack could have e-mailed the video and photos, but he wasn’t comfortable with Internet security. Therefore, UCLA paleontology professor Ilias J. Solomon, Ph.D. was considerably surprised to receive the FEDEX package sent by I. L. C. Ph.D. of the University of Alaska Southeast.
After reading the preliminary report that accompanied the digital images of the exceptional flora and fauna, Solomon went completely gaga. He wished he had programmed Zack’s cell number on his auto dial because in his excitement his fingers were tripping all over themselves trying to punch in the ten numerals that followed the one.
“I think it’s a new genus,” Zack said as he used the camera feature on his cell phone to shoot a live image of the ancient animal. “Snow named it a Zackosaurus in honor of my seeing it first.”
“Did you photo-document the exact spot where you found it? Is there any evidence of other specimens? Where are the …”
“Stop jabbering, Ilias, and listen. I need you to send me two of the large Keep Frozen containers from the college hospital. You know—the special ones they use to transport bio-medical materials, and also put a bunch of those ‘Radioactive Material’ warning stickers on them.” When Solomon protested the idea Zack cut him off. “Just do it and get the proper clearances and I’ll send a couple of blocks of ice that’ll keep your department buzzing for years. Shit … maybe decades. Oh, and even though the creature is hairy, I’m fairly sure that it’s somewhat reptilian. Also, it’s female, and the portable MRI indicated that it is in an initial embryonic phase and it also showed that the baby Zackosaurus would have been born live and not hatched. Kind of like a duckbill platypus in reverse. One more thing I J, there’ll be some interesting specimens in the second block of ice for your botany department. And for God’s sake … keep it quiet.”
Nineteen days before the court-ordered end of Zack’s access to the dig, a fleet of Barrgrave Industries giant earth-movers, bulldozers and drilling equipment was assembled and poised to violate and ransack the virgin land.
Zack decided it was of the utmost importance to keep the interior environment as stable as possible, and opted to avoid the high-heat-producing incandescent or halogen floods. Therefore, the inside of the cavern was bathed in cool fluorescent lights powered by several portable, high-efficiency, Sun Station 1, photovoltaic generators that were set up outside.
Zack, Snow Smith and Josh had just begun ferreting around the mini ice field when the cave area was suffused by a soft light-red aura emanating from inside the frozen mass of otherwise undisturbed ancient geological history. It almost seemed to be calling out to Zack and when a section of ice, containing rocks and assorted vegetation was painstakingly removed, it revealed the pointed tip of a larger object buried deeper in the glacier. Additional clearing resulted in the apex flaring out in a funnel-like protrusion extending a meter beyond the bluish ice. Zack slowly reached out until his gloved hand made contact with it. “Whatever this thing is, it’s no natural formation. It reminds me of a rocket nose cone.”
Snow and Josh moved in for a closer look. “I agree,” Josh said.
“Maybe those petroglyphs weren’t comets after all.” Zack said reluctantly as he slowly took off his gloves. “This could be a research probe or a transportation module manufactured by some high form of prehistoric intelligence.” Zack tentatively stretched out with his arm and carefully rubbed his bare fingers along the surface. “It feels warm and there’s not one detectable rivet or any evidence of bonding, and it’s perfectly smooth but doesn’t feel at all like a metal of any kind.”
Joshua began to chip away at the ice, but as he proceeded he miscalculated a hammer blow and accidentally struck the conical enigma.
“Careful, dammit!” Dr. Carver grumbled and then he and his assistant quickly scrutinized the spot where the wayward blow landed. To their amazement they recognized that there was absolutely no sign of a scratch or a dent on the surface of the unique, highly reflective material.
Then, unexpectedly, seconds after being struck, the tip of the cone became semi-transparent and illuminated. The additional light source revealed a teardrop-shaped silhouette which extended back about forty-feet to the cavern wall. The exposed section began to generate waves similar to those which rise from a sun-baked street on a sizzling summer day and at a glacial pace the wall of ice began to liquefy one drip at a time.
Suddenly, a rainbow of pulse waves beamed out from the top of the cone, shot up the ninety-nine step stairwell, out through the cave opening and disabled every piece of rolling excavation equipment outside the cave.
The crews were baffled but no matter what was tried, none of the electric-powered machinery within a mile of the dig would work. The foreman had to consult with the higher-ups to see what could be done. Zack took this break in the action to have a 10 by 20 foot pole tent pitched in front of the cave entrance and ordered most of the crew to another location to dig.
Feverishly and secretly, a small group was gathered. Due to the thawing action, the pace of the operation was quickened. Zack found two small pieces of material that matched the exposed section of the icebound teardrop in its makeup. One was thin, flat, rectangular and roughly the size of a cell phone or PDA. The other was round and approximately the size and thickness of a silver dollar. Zack examined and hefted the items and was amazed to find that neither one gave the slightest physical indication that gravity exerted any force over it.
“I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that if you put these on a scale they would register zip. I think they’re virtually weightless. Either separately or together,” Zack announced and gave the pair of exceptional articles to Joshua to handle.
“This stuff is unparalleled,” observed Josh, duly flabbergasted. “Mass without weight … unreal, whatever these things are made of seems to exert an inherent force that negates gravity … with no perceptible power source. Einstein would flip.
“Not only were the materials weightless, they also turned out to be virtually indestructible. Blows, pressure, heat and obviously cold had no impact. “We could be in the presence of the most startling find in the history of the world,” Zack postulated. “It could virtually relegate the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rosetta stone and even Lucy or Ardi, the hypothesized mothers of our race, to footnote status.”