At the crack of dawn, with the court order in hand, Leslee and Zack, accompanied by Snow Smith and Josh Benjamin, charged through the cordoned-off area, whipped past the cave entrance …
… and down into the inscrutable Kodiak Island cavern. They were dressed in hooded parkas and various other warm and fuzzies. Though Zack had been away from the dig for less than three weeks, most curiously, everything was exactly as it had been when Zack, Snow and Joshua first saw it. The progress had shifted into reverse. The drip, drip stopped and the craft was again buried deep inside the baby glacier. Zack clutched the silver dollar artifact and Leslee carried the cell phone-sized piece as the four approached the huge frozen mass.
It was at this moment that the series of astonishing events vaulted into mega-high gear. The mysterious weightless rectangle in Leslee’s hand suddenly unleashed a series of wide-arc, full-spectrum beams toward the ice-imprisoned vehicle. In answer, a narrow, multi-hued ribbon of light shot from the craft and the two intersected within the glacier. “These trinkets are not simply trinkets,” Zack exclaimed. “They must be some sort of high-tech alien electronics.” Immediately after Zack spoke, the craft began to radiate and pulsate rapidly, bathing the group in a fiery scarlet glow, and the drip, drip from the glacier recommenced. Then the quartet was thunderstruck when, without warning, the vehicle began to uncover itself. The defrosting process jumped to warp speed with a shattering roar and in an instantaneous meltdown the frozen veil became liquefied in a surge of raging water which quickly inundated the cavern. The ice-cold torrent swept up Zack, Leslee, Snow and Joshua and heaved them with bone jarring force against the chamber walls. In a matter of seconds the flood level rose halfway up the twenty-five-meter height of the cavern. After being slammed several times against an outcropping of rocks, Zack lost his grip on the circular device in his hand, and it was whisked away in the foaming tempest. The four were barely remaining afloat. They bobbed up and down violently and were smashed unrelentingly against the cave sides while they struggled to tread water. As they continued to fight the treacherous, swirling current their bodies were being battered to the point of exhaustion.
“Rosy,” Zack shouted as he reached out for Leslee’s hand. But Leslee knew from her training that grabbing someone hand to hand provided the weakest grip. She dropped the rectangular alien item, slid her hand up between Zack’s wrist and elbow and secured it. Zack responded by doing the same and tightening his hold on her arm.
“Maybe we can we get back to the stairs,” Leslee hollered over the thundering cascade as the water level continued to swiftly rise.
“No,” Zack shouted back. “It’s too late for that. The stairway must be ten to twenty meters beneath us … and even if we could make it there, it’s got to be swamped already as well.”
They were now floating near the top of the grotto with just a scant few minutes worth of air. Snow and Josh were holding onto each other for dear life and all were utterly oblivious to the supernatural reddish glimmer wavering beneath them.
Meanwhile, up on the surface at the excavation site, all hell broke loose. The small cave entry was suddenly blasted away by the raging surge of melted ancient ice. Panicked, the entire crew and the onlookers began scrambling to get to higher ground.
Dax Wolf had been covertly flown by DARPA to Switzerland to run some experiments using the Large Hadron Collider particle-accelerator near Geneva. He was intensely involved in highly advanced experimentation with the tiniest building blocks in nature when once again he became intolerably cold and he began to shiver, and instantly recognized that it was the same eerie chill that he had experienced previously. He began shaking uncontrollably and as he was losing consciousness, he became curiously aware of the fact that the other lab technicians seemed perfectly comfortable in this same environment in which he was now freezing.
Inside the underground cavern, the water level rose to a mere two finger widths from the top. Zack, Leslee, Snow and Josh, straining to keep their faces above the surface, were gasping for air and beginning to feel the numbing effects of first-stage hypothermia. Then, suddenly, numerous streams of bubbles began to erupt in eddies all around them and the deathly cold temperature of the water started to rise. It was as if they were floating inside of a giant can of warm soda pop. As the frothing pockets ascended they began to inflate, becoming as big as king-sized fitness balls. The introduction of the unusually significant volumes of the gaseous matter substantially reduced the buoyancy of the surrounding water. Zack was the first to sink beneath the surface, followed by Snow, Joshua and finally Leslee. Water began filling their lungs and a drowning death was lurking only a few short moments away.
On the ground above, the rumbling rush of water was pummeling the derricks, vehicles and drilling machinery; pounding and rolling them over and over and reducing them into a junkyard heap of twisted scrap metal. The dozers and other vehicles were overturned and wrecked beyond any salvage efforts. Supply tents were washed away entirely. When the crashing flood water began to diminish, the extensive damage to the Barrgrave Company resources was apparent.
When Dax Wolf awoke, he was still at the console. No one else in the lab seemed to notice that anything unusual had occurred. As he did following his previous seizure, Dax looked older, and felt more worn and haggard. In spite of this, like a ball dropping on a winning number slot on a roulette wheel, Wolf clicked into another astounding epiphany. Incredibly, the secret mini-universe he was studying had suddenly become no more difficult to perceive than the advanced aptitude he had for spatial relations when he was a child building with Legos. In a blinding flash he acquired the ability to, in his mind’s eye, actually be one of the minute fragments of matter and energy and visualize their positions and movements. He could see them in the accelerator, a feat no one else could even approach. Was it just his imagination, or had his relationship with the subatomic world become an up close and personal experience?
Dying was odd, Zack thought as exhaustion forced him to give up fighting and he tumbled through the bubbling maelstrom, finally thumping down on the cavern floor. He was somehow consciously aware that he had ingested vast amounts of water and clearly remembered that at one point he was choking and sensed he was blacking out. With those impressions in mind, his deductive reasoning led him to the conclusion that he must certainly be—dead. But if that were true, how was it that he was now sitting comfortably at the bottom of a warm effervescent pool, breathing in and out with great ease?
Holy shit, he mused as a bell rang in his head, so there really is an afterlife. I guess I should’ve prayed more.
Zack’s religious inner conversation trail was cut off at the pass when he saw Leslee paddling over to him through the streams of rising bubbles. She was smiling like some diaphanous water sprite.
And you get to take those you love with you. I do love Rosy, he thought. I wish I could have found a way to tell her when I was alive. Then the other shoe dropped. Oh no, Zack moaned internally, No! Rosy must be dead too and it’s my fault!
Leslee swam up face to face with Zack and kept pointing to her nose and mouth but Zack couldn’t concentrate enough to understand what she was trying to communicate to him. He was too flushed with guilt about Leslee and the revelation of his being among the deceased.
Then he caught a glimpse of Josh and Snow. Wow, you even get to see your friends in the hereafter. Hey, I wonder if secondhand smoke is a problem when you’re dead. Shit, I wonder if firsthand smoke is a problem when you’re dead. Jeez, I wonder if it’s okay to even say “shit” if you’re dead. The questions, as it turned out, were moot.
The choking was caused by the initial influx of the super-oxygenated plasma that was introduced into the water. It was inhaled through Zack’s air passages and taken into his lungs. When he temporarily lost consciousness his body relaxed and his lungs ingested the oxygen that saturated the liquid plasma. This in turn established a normal respiration pattern, and the same unique phenomenon occurred with Leslee, Josh and Snow as well. They were all still quite present in the here-before.
The deluge of water drained away as abruptly as it had filled the cavern. Zack, Leslee, Joshua and Snow found themselves on the floor of the cave lying near the now totally exposed, teardrop-shaped craft. They began gagging and coughing up the residual fluid in their lungs as their bodies started readjusting to normal breathing. Then another oddity—they realized that in spite of the giant flood, the entire cave area as well as their clothing and they themselves were thoroughly dry. Moreover, none of their equipment showed any hint of exposure to water. But most curious of all, there didn’t seem to be any residual effects from the physical pounding they each took.
Leslee was the first to notice the soft hum and pale red pulsating glow emanating from the enigmatic round and rectangular pieces of electronic equipment that she and Zack had dropped. When she picked up the instruments, they immediately stopped glowing. Leslee studied them, handed the circular item to Zack who examined it for a split-second, then slipped it in behind the round Archeology<>Dig It! emblem on his belt buckle. The four turned their attention to the exotic vehicle and were surprised to find that it looked to be a dark, slate-colored, completely unmarked and oversized droplet. It showed no outward evidence of a command deck or power source: and no visible control surface seams, apertures, vents or openings of any kind. As they drew nearer to undertake a more detailed inspection, the cell phone-sized device in Leslee’s hand began to radiate again with great intensity and emitted a wavering multi-spectral beam which fell on the mysterious conveyance and scanned its length. Then the unpredictable ultra-tech, gravity-defying rectangle stopped humming and switched off. Dr. Carver walked around the ancient object to search for an indication of flight-control surfaces or any other information that would provide a clue to help explain the astonishing events that were taking place. He found none. “This thing might be an unmanned probe. Maybe we can get an idea of where it came from if we can get inside.”
That notion was dead on arrival because there seemed to be no way to get inside. Then another beam from the instrument in Leslee’s hand shot out laser-straight and became a wide shaft of blue light that played on the rounded end of the large, murky-shaded craft, instantly initiating the deployment of a slightly fluctuating, opaque windscreen.
“I can’t see through it,” Zack said as he and the others advanced closer, “Maybe this is a viewing port and if it is, there could be a pilot.”
“The surface around the cockpit area looks smooth like the rest of the craft and seems relatively intact,” Snow added.
“There’s a chance that we’ll find some evidence of whatever creature or being flew this machine if we could get aboard,” Joshua suggested.
“There might even be some alien … or whatever … organic remains … an articulated skeleton … skin … hair … if they had any,” Leslee said.
Then she stepped right up to the remarkable aerial artifact to get a tactile fix on it. She cautiously stretched out her hand and the instant her fingertip made contact with the body of the vehicle, the seamless clamshell canopy lifted, revealing an inner flight deck bubble which also opened almost as if it were an invitation.
Zack was blown away. “Holy shit, the thing still works? What the hell could be the power source?”
Zack, Leslee and the others were overwhelmed by the mind-numbing possibilities of what this discovery might portend. Holding their breath, hoping to see some kind of weird extraterrestrial collection of bones, Zack and Leslee gingerly leaned in, anticipating at least one solid clue that would shed some light on the ever-growing plethora of incredible mysteries.
Their stunned gazes fell on a gloved, booted and helmeted figure wearing a one-piece, azure flight-suit. The uniform was remarkably preserved and was adorned with undecipherable military-style insignia bearing characters that indicated some form of a written language. There were no visible pockets or fastening mechanisms of any kind and though the garment was neither worn nor torn, it exhibited a significant amount of what seemed to be scorch marks, some of which inexplicably vanished after a few seconds. Though they could not see the pilot’s features through the wrap-around face-plate that was identical in color and state to the windscreen, they could clearly discern that the flight-suit itself was solidly filled out with two arms and two legs attached to a torso.
“This is no bundle of bones,” Zack observed. “Who or … whatever this alien astronaut is … it looks like he could have died last week and he looks humanoid.” However, being well aware that he was treading on unfamiliar ground, it was hard for Zack to be sure—of anything.
Then Leslee noticed that the chest area was amply convex-shaped. “Look!” Leslee declared with enthusiasm, pointing to the pilot’s upper torso. “Breasts … this first alien astronaut isn’t a he … but a she … a female … a … me!”
“An… us,” Snow added and shared a high five with Leslee.
Joshua got busy shooting digital video of the craft’s exterior while Snow took a battery of high-resolution, three dimensional stills of the cockpit area and the expired humanoid pilot within. Upon closer inspection Leslee noticed that clutched in the alien flier’s right hand was a shimmering object that appeared identical to the glowing piece that she was holding. Using great care, Leslee gently tugged the palm-sized rectangle free from the pilot’s gloved grasp. The second she did so it stopped radiating. “This has no apparent weight either,” she said and handed the second rectangular instrument to Zack. He slipped it into his pocket and then attempted to locate some sort of release mechanism on the helmet. However, as soon as he made physical contact with the headgear, the canopies started to close and he was barely able to get out of the way. Leslee started to reach out, hoping that touching the same spot she touched before would reopen them but Zack stopped her. “This may be the best way for the moment, to protect whatever is able to be preserved,” he said. “This space ship seems to know much more than we do. It gave us a quick peek and now it just told us … that’s all folks.”
When Zack, Leslee, Snow and Joshua reached the outside entrance to the cave the four were shocked when confronted by the devastation to the site and the equipment. However, they were relieved to hear that in spite of the evident destruction, by some unknown miracle no one was seriously hurt. But the fact that there would be no oil drilling until new equipment could be brought in was met with muted appreciation.
Before Zack and the others were allowed to leave, several security operatives insisted on searching them. Leslee immediately raised the rectangular piece she had in her hand up in front of her face and began looking into it and sliding her pinky finger over her lower lip as if she were looking in a mirror and applying lip balm. After also mock-treating her upper lip she placed the mirror in her pocket. When Zack took the other piece from his pocket he whipped out a pen and began writing on it as if it were a notepad then quickly slipped it into his Spare Pocket behind his cell phone. The guard, having no real idea what he was looking for, saw nothing suspicious and allowed them all to leave without further incident.
As soon as the four archeologists were gone, one of the members of the security detail placed a call to corporate headquarters. By dawn, word of the mini-flood reached the powers that be, and a legion of Barrgrave International technicians and additional security personnel arrived at the dig.