©14 The Media Desk
"It is a cooperative multi-national base, we're there, I mean, the US Geologic Survey and the Weather Bureau, and I think NOAA still has a ocean guy there. And the Brits, there's somebody there from Brazil. But Dinner Rose is in charge of all of it."
Of the six people in the audience, nobody had been paying any attention at all after the orientation officer had said that it was a 'cooperative multi-national', until, that is, he got to the part about 'Doctor Dinner Rose'.
"Dinner Rose?" A guy with 'Macki' hand written on his name tag asked.
"Yes. His real name is Hamilton Rose. Doctor Hamilton Rose. He's a marine biologist. If you mention the word 'penguin' or 'ice fish' to him you're good for at least twenty minutes."
"Isn't he the one with the tuxedo?" Somebody else asked.
"Yes, but he has three. Black, white, and a sort of battleship gray with full tails." The officer nodded and smiled, then he shook his head. "He is very proud of his formal wear, and does totally Dress for Dinner whenever there are guests on the base."
The audience members exchanged looks, "Will he expect us to?" Macki asked since he had brought it up.
"Not unless there is a high level delegation down there."
"Good. I haven't worn a tie since I was in high school."
"Buy one and take it with you," the officer advised. "OK, your personal luggage is limited to two bags that you must be able to carry yourself, and no more than twenty five kilos each. That's about fifty five pounds."
A week later the relief group was on their way to the staging base in Buenos Aires where they'd eventually be transported out to the ice breaker that was already on its way to the Antarctic Peninsula. Or more specifically, Brabant Island where a temporary base had been erected on foundations previously laid by an expedition long ago.
To the six new members of the expedition the good news was that all of their facilities were more or less brand new. The bad news was that the organizers hadn't been allowed by international treaty to change anything on the island, including the badly aging concrete. Their buildings were modified cargo containers and other prefabs, sitting where they were left by the heavy lift helicopters that had flown them in. And once the research was done at the end of next season, they'd be flown out again. The expedition was on what was usually described as the most inhospitable place on Earth on a "No Impact" basis.
But it was a chance to do serious research someplace where the entire 'all time' list of human visitors was shorter than the list of signers of the US Declaration of Independence. And to the six, that was, to a soul, irresistible.
Macki heaved his second bag onto the chopper. He had crowded the twenty five kilo limit, and he knew it, but so far, nobody had made him repack.
Mister Brian Mack was a professional wildlife and scenery photographer. Of the six, he was the only one who had paid for most of his passage himself. Part of his bill was being picked up by one of the consortiums that was sponsoring the base so they'd have some good quality images for future use. Including a bid for another base on the other side of the Peninsula in a couple of years. His gear included every sort of camera and lens, digital and film, snapshot and medium format that he could find, and what he hoped was an endless collection of rechargeable batteries in spite of the frigid temperatures he'd be working in. He had so much photography equipment he had to get really creative with his clothes and personal effects to get them packed.
"Yeah, that's it," he said to the crewman and scrambled up.
Michelle Grant had to use every ounce of her strength to get her bags onto the aircraft. Combined, they almost equaled her own weight, but she wasn't going to admit that she couldn't do what was required to go. This was her make or break assignment as an oceanographer studying polar currents for the United Nations Secretariat. Technically she was still employed by the Canadian Weather Office, on loan to the UN, but either way, if she didn't contribute some sort of original research she would probably have to find a teaching job somewhere.
The only thing she was really worried about was whether or not she'd brought enough dark chocolate with her to last for the duration of their mission.
"Doctor Grant, you ready to go?" The crewman asked her.
"Yes, just a little out of breath after that."
"I can help you up," he extended a hand to her.
Next to load their bags was Noel Curtis, a British ex-pat who had already spent several seasons at Halley across the Weddell Sea from the Peninsula and had worked on the South Shetland islands for years as support crew. To him, going north of the Antarctic Circle was the adventure, going back toward it was going home.
He was there to support his 'friend' Carol Stewart who was working on her doctoral thesis on the acidity of ocean water and its effects on marine life. To Carol, 'Dinner' Rose was one step this side of God, but she was doing her own work and gathering her own data. Doctor Rose was, according to the academic paperwork, a 'thesis advisor'.
Noel violated the rules by loading all four of their bags, then he helped Carol on board and growled at the aircrew when he hefted himself up.
"Oh, so you are going back," the crewman said to him after seeing for sure who it was and checking him in.
"Did you lose a bet?"
"I knew better than to take it."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," they heard a frantic voice call out.
"We're leaving," Macki shouted back to them as he unstrapped the two tripods he had been wearing across his back because they wouldn't fit in his bags.
"Made it," the man said as he put his hands on the side of the aircraft and looked up at them.
"John Fergusson," Macki said to the crewman, "the chronically late geologist. He's even missed volcanic eruptions because he was styling his hair."
"Now that's a damned lie," John answered as he put his bag in.
The crewman was looking at him waiting for an explanation, but John didn't offer one and instead picked up his second bag and put it inside.
"That's it, everybody is on board," the crewman said into his microphone. "I'll get them secured."
The last member of the group had already been delivered to the ice breaker the day before with a load of other supplies and mail that was heading for the base.
Doctor Sue, as she was called, was an atmospheric scientist who had been in a video conference from on board the ship. In spite of her having full natural US citizenship she worked closely with the Government of India and had spent some time at their Maitri Station a couple of years ago. Now she was going to run the same set of observations on Brabant, then later, she'd move to a temporary station on the Victoria Land coast and do it again. Essentially completing a circumnavigation of the continent with her equipment.
Sushobhana was as proud of her Indian heritage as she was of her work, but she had no intention of going back to her parents country on a permanent basis and was perhaps a little too vocal about her views for her own good. But India had invested a lot of time and money in the study and they intended to take her research when it was finished and pass it off to others who were more agreeable for the next stage, and 'Sue' knew it.
Their destination was thousands of miles south. After stops at one of the two civilian towns on the continent, then various other bases it was on toward the Gerlache Strait where they would be flown to the rocky outcrop on the southern tip of the island where the Brabant station was located.
"Here you go," Noel said to Sue and Michelle as he handed them each two different postcards, each with a two dollar stamp affixed to it. "You want one?" He asked John and Macki.
"Sure," Macki said as he took it, "what do we do with them?"
"Send it home," John said, "it'll have the Antarctic postmark from Esperanza, the Argentine base." He looked up at Noel, "Right?"
"Exactly. There's only two post offices down there, and that's one of them. The other is Villa Las Estrellas, they'll stop there on their way back home.
"Where's Villa Las...."
"King George Island," Sue answered.
"Oh. OK," John said with no recognition of the name.
"He's a geologist," Macki said, "he doesn't read regular maps."
"It's north of Deception Island."
"Oh, the '87 eruption. OK, yeah, I've heard of that."
Noel just shook his head.
As the ship cruised south the weather got worse. Even during spring the Southern Ocean still let you know that it was the most treacherous body of water in the world and even the well traveled Drake Passage wasn't anything to be taken lightly and 'the Roaring Sixties' had repeatedly earned their name and reputation. Even with advanced stabilizers and an experienced captain and crew the huge vessel let you know that the ancient gods of the sea were still in charge down here and you traveled into the world of eternal ice at your own peril.
Or at least, so Noel told those that hadn't been Way Down South before.
Sue, laughed at him and his stories of trial and travail getting in and out of Antarctica. "I've been here a couple times before, I've never had such problems."
"How often have you been to this side of the continent?"
"This is my first time," she answered.
He nodded knowingly and watched Macki throw up again.
In a moment the photographer looked at them with exhausted eyes, "when will it stop?" he made a rocking motion with his hand.
"When we get there and get off the ship."
He didn't want to hear that and sagged into a chair. "Or die," Macki muttered.
Macki was off the ship and on his way to Esperanza Base as soon as they opened the hatch to get to the soft skinned boats that would ferry supplies to town until the wind allowed the helicopter to take off.
"I'll be back," he said as he staggered toward the rear of the ship when they made the announcement. "I need to stand on something that isn't moving for a little while."
The others took a vote and a couple of them decided that if the helicopter could make the trip later they'd go if there was room. Other than that, they were fine where they were.
The shore facilities at Esperanza were somewhat lacking for visitors. But Macki took some deep breaths and enjoyed the feeling of real land under his feet and then managed to take some good pictures of the ruins of the stone survival hut built over a hundred years ago by a Swedish expedition that had had some trouble with their ship.
Then he tried to focus on his job. He was on the Antarctic Continent, and he wasn't going to waste the chance.
He only had an hour or so ashore, and he tried to make the most of it by taking multiple image of anything that would hold still long enough, and a few things that didn't, and had to run to make it back to the next to the last launch that was going back out to the ship.
"It was worth it," Macki said downloading his pictures into his laptop then onto a portable hard drive that was his backup.
"You still planning on using all of your net access time sending photos?" John asked him.
"Most of it," Macki said as he watched the progress of the download. "That's what's going to pay the bills."
"Sounds right by me," Noel commented as a photo of the penguin rookery went by.
"Well, yeah, we're all here to work, but...."
"But what?" Noel asked the geologist.
"We're only going to get a half hour twice a day, I'm planning on doing something else with it."
"Suit yourself," Noel said. 'That's a good shot."
Macki looked at the long range image of the icebreaker in the Sound from the shore. "I was afraid the wind would make the camera vibrate and ruin it. I had to use a long exposure."
"Looks good to me."
And then they were back underway to the next stop.
The team was informed that their stop had been moved up by over a day because one of the other bases was socked in with icebergs and bad weather and the ship would stop there on the way out if possible.
"When will we get there?" Noel asked the ship's officer that told them about the change in the itinerary.
"We could be offshore as early as tomorrow night."
"So we need to get ready to go," Sue said.
"It means one less day on this thing," Macki said already looking and feeling queasy again. "Good."
"You didn't get seasick on the Zodiac?"
"We weren't on it long enough, did you see how fast they had that thing going?"
She shook her head and took her drink to go pack.
There was one more stop, but it was brief and there was no opportunity for anybody else to go ashore. All too soon for Macki the ship was back under way.
"As it is now, we'll put you ashore at Brabant Station tomorrow morning."
Macki nodded and said he'd already packed everything and was ready to go.
Their first glimpse of the island wasn't promising. From the deck of the icebreaker all they could see was swirling fog, and once in awhile there was a glimpse of ice and snow. The wind was just below the threshold that would ground the chopper, so there was no delay. The crew wanted to get there and back before the weather changed. Around here, the weather never changed for the better, it always got worse, and if the temperature dropped any at all, the moisture in the air would begin to freeze to the exposed metal and could endanger the helicopter.
"It's over there," the officer said and pointed off at an angle.
"Oh, OK." John said as they saw different fog and ice and snow.
Then they put their stuff in the helicopter with everything else that was going to the station, including two barrels of fuel, and they were off.
"There it is," somebody said.
They could see several structures shrouded in windblown mist. Then the helicopter turned and headed for a vacant patch of gravel that was the landing pad for the outpost.
They were met by several people, including two who were leaving the station after spending the winter and wrapping up their work over the last couple of weeks as the nearly endless winter gave way to what could be called spring.
The crew unloaded and reloaded the aircraft in less time than it took the group to get their baggage over to the sled that was being pulled by a snowmobile that would ferry the cargo to the camp.
"I'm Danial. Follow me, and stay on the trail," the man driving the snowmobile.
One of the others from the outpost hung onto the back of the sled to make sure nothing fell off as the machine roared to life and plowed down the trail toward the buildings.
"Come on," one of the two other locals said to them, "I'm Derrick Simon, let's go get out of this wind and then we'll have a proper round of introductions."
"OK, let's go," Carol said shivering.
The clutch of what looked like shipping containers were about halfway down the rise where the landing pad sat at the end of the Solvay ridge that formed the backbone of the island.
The snowmobile had stopped outside a large block of three boxes all sitting side by side and joined together with what appeared to be rubber gaskets between them, but Danial directed them toward another unit that was a large military looking Quonset hut of corrugated steel that, had they known it, was a senior citizen as far as Antarctican buildings were concerned having been delivered in the seventies and was now on its fifth deployment. This time around, it was the headquarters and recreation building. Off to one side was a couple more buildings, including the equipment shed with the generators built into one end.
"He's in there," Danial pointed the way and they all followed.
As it was still morning, Doctor Hamilton Rose met them in the following costume: a white tuxedo with matching top hat, bow tie, and gleaming white shoes with spats. He was holding a white walking stick with silver knob and ivory highlights. He was, to coin a word, as over the top as he could be without being the reincarnation of either Napoleon the Great or Liberace. Or perhaps both. At once.
The man wearing the suit was as elegant as his clothes. His face reflected neither classical madness nor pomposity. His hair was nearly as white as his jacket, his eyes were clear and focused, and his overall bearing was a man who was sophisticated and utterly satisfied with everything he had done since he was old enough to know what he wanted to do. He would have been perfectly at home in a more regal setting, but he was here, and he enjoyed making the impression he made. Tomorrow, in an insulated jumpsuit he would be out checking monitoring equipment and getting water quality readings from offshore sensors, but this morning, he was, as the flower in his lapel insinuated, Dinner Rose.
The new crew members walked in the door and took in the sight.
"Well come!" Doctor Rose said expressively to them and bowed slightly with a tip of his hat. "Welcome, indeed! Come in, come in! We have hot tea, wine, something stronger! Please. Please." His grand sweeping gesture and double action speech pattern did not belong in the nearly fifty year old military surplus building. But there it was. "Make yourselves comfortable for a few moments after your journey. Their belongings are being delivered to the Castle. Are they not?" He asked Danial.
"Yes, sir. Bentley and Simon are putting them away."
"Good, good. I am afraid that our choices for accommodations are somewhat limited. But we will help make you at home. Now. Let me see." He looked at them with eyes that were piercing and discerning under their absolutely white brows. "Ahh, there you are, Mister Curtis, and charming companion. Welcome back to the bottom of the world. And your lady friend must be Miss Stewart."
"Yes, please, call me Carol."
Rose bowed deeply, "And you, my dear lady, may call me anything you wish."
"It's good to see you again, sir." Noel said with a thin smile.
"It has been some time. I believe we had a rather disappointing meal together after flying into Eduardo on KGI."
Rose nodded to the man, then turned his attention toward Sue.
"Vanakkam," he said with a deep bow.
She returned the bow and nodded, "It is good to finally be here Doctor Rose," she answered in English.
"A delight to have you with us, Sushobhana, a delight. However, I hope we don't compromise your diet too dramatically." The others glanced at her, then back. "If you didn't know, she prefers a vegetarian menu. Something almost impossible to maintain here as we are not at Amundsen–Scott."
"I am open to some compromise, and they have hydroponics at McMurdo as well, but it doesn't taste the same," Sue added.
"Unfortunately, compromise is a way of life here. But Welcome, Mademoiselle, nonetheless."
She smiled in return as he bowed his head to her once again.
"Come. Come. I will chat with the others in due course, but for now, our tea is getting cold."
"Do you think the insulation will prevent the screens from freezing?" Doctor Rose asked Macki as he inspected the camera the photographer had around his neck with a zipper jacket around it.
"That's what the rep said. But I intend to leave them in the case until I get everything else set up, and then take them out for a few shots and get them back in with the warm pack as quickly as possible. The cover is just to keep it out of direct wind."
"I've lost several cameras to the elements down here. Let me know how that works out."
"Oh, yes, Doctor Fergusson. Welcome to Brabant Island. May I ask what we have of interest to a geologist?"
"Well," he said, "I'm examining a local feature that may be related to the Thuronyi Escarpment on the other side of the Peninsula along the embayment that may also have been created by sinistral motion during the mid Jurassic rifting period or instead be either part of the South Scotia Ridge or even the outlying southern terminus of the Andean chain."
For the first time since the group had entered the Quonset hut, Doctor Rose was speechless.
It didn't last long, "Excellent. There is an outcrop just up from where you landed that you may find of interest."
John grinned and nodded.
"And now for our weather forecaster, Doctor Grant, I am honored to make your acquaintance. Your word as resident meteorologist will dictate much of what happens here. Or equally, what doesn't happen."
"I'm..." She shook her head and began to object.
Doctor Rose held up his hand, "As I said earlier, compromise is mandated here. You are the only true weather scientist on our base. We have all the instrumentation, and the feed from the outside, but our forecast is usually made by somebody a thousand kilometers from here," he gestured to the outside. "Before I allow Mister Fergusson to go up on the ridge I would like to know if he will survive the trip."
"So would I," John added.
"I'll do my best, sir."
"I know, now, perhaps a bite to eat, and then we'll go see your quarters. Again, it isn't the table I would prefer to set for such honored guests, but it is what we have." He looked down the small pool table that was playing its alternate role as food serving line for now, "It is what we have."
The meal was simple but good considering where they were. The only fresh item was grilled fish that Doctor Rose said was the ugliest thing in the offshore waters. "And I am not shy of saying that as it is my specialty."
"You catch them?" Michelle asked him with some surprise.
"It is a good way to study them, no?" He answered. "Adult tooth fish like this one are usually found further off shore although they will come up closer to shore to feed, whereas we have caught juveniles in the intertidal zone. This one was taken yesterday off the isthmus." He pointed up at two large surf fishing rods and reels. "Sometimes we just fish for the table, but at other times, it is a good way to see what is out there and what they are feeding on, and occasionally, what is feeding on them. After a full examination and measurements, we use them, nothing goes to waste."
"What do you use for bait?" Macki asked him.
"Almost anything, although these prefer squid, which are also occasionally on our menu, although we try to avoid being on theirs."
Noel laughed out loud.
"Yes, sir. It is humorous, although once you have met our local population of Mesonychoteuthis you may change your mind."
"I've heard about them, but I don't believe they get big enough to attack a man."
Doctor Rose didn't answer, but instead went back to the work area and took two framed photos off the wall, then he came back and handed them to him.
Carol looked at the creature in the image with wide eyes, "That's got to be the largest cranch squid ever seen."
Doctor Rose nodded with pursed lips, "probably."
Noel just stared at the image of the massive red bodied thing with its forest of tentacles and the three researchers around it. In the photo Doctor Rose was holding one of its attack tentacles up displaying its flattened end covered with wicked looking toothed suckers. The broad tip of the animal's appendage was very nearly the size of the man's body.
"We froze that tentacular club. If you would like to examine it it's over in the supply hut," Doctor Rose said softly.
"I've never seen a colossal squid that big," Noel said handing the pictures to John.
"Very few have. The mantle was just over three meters long, making it possibly eight meters total length in life. Right now, it would be the second largest ever recorded, and we couldn't weigh it. When we found it, it had been dead for some time."
"What killed it?" Macki asked.
"It appears to have tried to eat something that didn't take kindly to that turn of events."
"A sperm whale?"
Doctor Rose shook his head, "Something else we've got down here. I'll show you later. But you have to maintain the confidence until I release the research." He looked from one to the other of them with strong clear eye contact.
"I won't tell a soul. I'm here for rocks, not calamari," John said.
"Us either," Carol said seriously.
"I trust you. We'll go over there sometime and I'll show you. I'll show you," he turned toward Danial, "I must remember to congratulate Frau Hedda once again. The luncheon is excellent as always."
"They were late so she was going to do some laundry."
"Then it is best not to disturb her," he gestured with his plate, "let us finish up and take our tour. Perhaps you will get to meet her then."
Noel waited until Doctor Rose was preoccupied with showing Sue the desserts, then he asked Carol, "besides a whale, what would attack a squid that big?"
"A bigger squid. Other than that, I'm not sure."
A substantial percentage of the tour of the research station involved running in a small tight group between buildings trying to avoid the windblown snow that hadn't heard that it was now spring on the island.
First they went to what Doctor Rose said was their Equipment Locker. For a 'locker' it was huge. For an equipment shed, it was barely adequate as it was a shipping container with an insulated garage door built into one end so they could get their three vehicles out, one at a time usually, the rest of the unit was divided up into an insulated storage space with just enough heating to keep it above freezing.
The other two buildings on their tour were of similar vintage. The Work Place was a large container that was well insulated and outfitted with equipment ranging from a small electron microscope to an array of sampling and preservation units to the monitoring equipment for all of their remote stations.
The other was the utility building. Inside they found Frau Hedda folding laundry.
"Our shower is back there. I'm afraid we must stick to a schedule for bathing, and other functions are as needed. Such as laundry."
"When you run out of clean underwear, wash some," Hedda said without a smile. "He'll get over it."
"I heard you have to use a dry disposal toilet, how does that work?" John asked them.
"You'll find out soon enough."
Doctor Rose didn't answer either, "it's part of our low impact effort. We use reverse osmosis for drinking water, but our capacity is very limited. We try to return as clean a liquid as possible to the sea, so we make other arrangements for solid waste."
John looked from one to the other of them, then gave up.
"You been to the Castle yet?" Frau Hedda asked Rose.
"We're just going there now."
"I'll come with you."
The two reasons the housing unit was called 'the Castle' was that it was larger than the other buildings and from a distance, at a certain angle, in bad light, and after a couple too many of a homemade drink they called 'ice vodka' after a recipe borrowed from the Ukrainians on their own godforsaken island not too far south, the heating units on the roof have been said to look like the turrets of a castle. Almost.
It was usually the warmest of the buildings inside, and, if it was nothing else, the homiest. There were dividers of sheets, tarps, and even one made from an antique Persian rug hanging between bunks. A couple of residents had made an actual restroom to give some privacy to use the dry toilets from a couple of sheets of well weathered plywood that they had found someplace.
"Privacy is at a premium here," said Frau Hedda, as they smiled at the hand written signs above the toilets. One was for 'liquid' with a pipe that went outside, the second one was for 'other', except the language was somewhat coarser. "In case of emergency, you can use either for either as long as you clean up afterward because the liquid pipe is too small for, other things."
"Don't worry, it'll freeze and there's no smell. If it gets too warm, we burn it more often."
"Which is what I wanted to ask you, I need to go," John said looking at the graffiti under the printed words. "Ten, two hundred, I guess."
"Use a bag, when you're done, it goes out back to dry, then about once a week, we run the incinerator. Use those to clean everything up," the German lady pointed at a bin of disposable wipes, "you and it, they smell good."
John looked at the toilet with misgiving, but nature's call was not to be ignored. "OK," he said and the others pulled the curtain behind them to continue the tour.
As the newcomers, they had to take the available bunks. Doctor Rose was the only one of the staff who did not bunk in the Castle, he stayed in his office in the back of the Quonset hut, and appeared to be happy to do so. One large corner of the Castle was given over to frivolity with a couple of well used exercise machines, a video game console attached to an obsolete TV, and a leaning pile of books that had all been read multiple times.
"Sorry, there's no double beds," Frau Hedda smiled at Noel and Carol as they walked through the sleeping area.
"It's OK, we expected that."
"There was another married couple here last year, they worked it out."
"We're not married," Carol answered, "well, not yet."
"Close enough for down here."
John came back in after making his delivery outside. "That was the most humiliating thing I've ever had to do."
Noel understood all too well, but his sympathy was somewhat lacking, "Don't worry, it gets worse."
Sue patted his shoulder, "For a woman it is worse. I've had to do it before at other outposts."
John didn't understand what she meant but he nodded anyway and joined the other in picking his bunk.
Their second day on the island was met with a combination of confusion and disorganization. Macki couldn't find any of his socks for awhile, John forgot he was in a bunk and bumped his head getting up, and so on. But one by one, they got moving and began to develop a routine.
And, so began their pursuit of whatever duty they had come to Antarctica for.
At least, after breakfast it did.
As with most meals, somebody would cook something in the Quonset hut and everybody would either eat it, or not. And so it went today.
The first of the newcomers to do anything productive was Doctor Grant.
Doctor Rose showed Michelle the display of surprisingly new gauges from the equipment on the roof, as well as the reports from two of the closest weather stations, and asked her what they should expect today.
It took Michelle a couple of minutes to make her forecast, but she did. "It'll be a little better than yesterday, perhaps less wind and mist early, but the wind may pick up before sunset and it looks like it is going to be really cold tonight."
"And she smiled when she said it," Noel summarized.
"Excellent. Excellent indeed, thank you dear lady," Doctor Rose nodded to her. Then he looked at the others. "Based on that I'm going down and check on the traps," he said to Carol. He was now wearing a more standard and serviceable uniform recognized all over the Antarctic, work pants and a flannel shirt that were easily covered by the insulated coveralls and a parka or other 'outside' gear. "It's not windy right now, finish eating and drink some water and I'll show you where they're at."
"Yes, sir." She answered and Doctor Rose looked at Noel.
"I'm here to help her, if she goes, I go to do the dirty work."
"That sounds like a photo op," Macki said, "mind if I tag along?"
After Doctor Rose had gone to get his materials together Carol asked Frau Hedda a question about him. "He's mentioned that we need to drink our water several times now, I know the air is dry and all that, but..." she trailed off.
"But he's obsessive about it. I know. He had a bad spell of it last fall and got really dehydrated and almost had to be flown out. Now he says it every ten minutes to remind himself to drink his water."
"Oh, OK. So does he?"
"So why did you pick a place like this that nobody has ever heard of to take your pictures?" Frau Hedda asked Macki as he got his breakfast.
"That's exactly the reason. If you look up Antarctic photos you get Scott or Palmer or one of the other big bases. You have to really go looking for something that not everybody has seen."
"Good point. Until I started looking I didn't know any of the other bases were even down here."
"Some of us like to be forgotten about by the rest of the world," Noel said. "This sausage is excellent, what is it?"
"Mirounga leonine," the German lady answered with a straight face.
Noel just looked over at Carol.
"Southern elephant seal."
"Don't panic," Frau Hedda said to Macki, "it was a seven hundred kilo female that had gotten tangled in a drift net awhile back. She was alive but too far gone to release, so we did our measurements and after the necropsy we made sausage."
"We never made sausage at Halley, I'll have to remember that."
"Crabeater seal jerky gets old very quickly," Doctor Rose said coming back out of his office. "Very quickly. Everybody ready?"
They all got changed into the layers of clothing and waterproof boots that they had all been told was best to wear away from the shelter of the buildings. 'You can always unzip something', the advice had gone, 'but you can't put it on if you get cold and don't have it.'
"We'd asked for a fish hut from McMurdo to be parked down on the spit. We didn't get it. So we have to take everything back and forth every day," he indicated the backpack he was wearing. "The fastest way there is to go down the hill then walk along the shore," Doctor Rose said as they went outside.
"Lead the way."
The one new member of the group of scientists on the island that didn't have any trouble getting moving was Sue. She knew exactly what she needed to do and how to do it, and had even scoped out areas to deploy her sensors beforehand from satellite photos and maps. The only thing she would need a hand with was when it came time to launch one of her tethered balloons for readings at various altitudes, but she'd found that as a woman in Antarctica, there was usually at least a couple of men around who were willing to help her out.
She had a light breakfast and then got changed into her well worn work suit and went on her way with her first aluminum-cased instrument array. The only thing she forgot was the two way radio that Doctor Rose recommended they all carry when they went out. Some bases had them, others didn't and she was just out of the habit of taking one with her. She did remember it as she was setting up her ground station, but by then she wasn't going to walk back to the base to get it.
Sue made sure the unit was operating and recording, then she closed the case and stood up. Her plan was to deploy two more this morning, then take the last one out before it got dark. The days were still fairly short and she didn't want to take a chance on getting lost on a still unfamiliar island at night. She stood over the small beeping case for a minute, then looked out at the ice filled sea and smiled at the stark beauty of the scene, then she turned and headed back.
John knew what he had to do, but he was having a rough time getting organized to do it. The base was general enough to serve almost any form of scientific research, but it hadn't been used as yet for pure geology, and he had forgotten one thing critical for his research, a large rock hammer, but he was going to see what he could do without it, or make do with something else.
"Where's the ridge that Doctor Rose talked about?"
"It's not far," Bentley said, "I'll even show you how to get there. And ol' Dinner Rose didn't tell you about the exposed fault line on the other side of the ridge."
"No, he didn't," John answered and looked out toward the line of hills.
"It's fairly clear today, we'll go over there and then stop by the other on the way back. We can take the snowmobile most of the way."
"That sounds good." John decided to just go out and do a preliminary survey of the locations today, then go back later with his lidar survey unit and rock sampling equipment. Or rather, with the sampling equipment he had. "Say, do you know if there's a spare hammer in the shed?"
"Let's go look."
The rooted around in the hand tools for a few minutes, then Bentley came up with a large ball peen hammer. "Will that work?"
"Take it. I don't think anybody here has ever used it for anything. I don't even know why it is here. We don't do a lot of auto body work."
Bentley started the snow mobile and drove them up the hill passed the landing area and on toward the mountain.
"So are you really gay?" Bentley shouted back to him as they rode along.
"I don't think I could do that, being rejected by women is bad enough. If I got rejected by a man..."
"Rejection is rejection. You get used to it."
"I'm not sure I ever would." He said, then he came to his point, "so, what's the story about Sue?"
And so they began their routine.
Those who had been at the post for some time were grateful for the most part to have somebody else to talk to. Roxanne really appreciated having the other women on the island as she said she had almost forgotten what girl talk was like.
"But Hedda is a woman," Michelle answered.
The oceanographer nodded, "but she really doesn't just chat."
"Well, I can do that."
The only time most of them were together, other than at night when they were sleeping, or trying to rather, was for the evening meal.
In spite of the location, and the limited stock of provisions, whoever the kitchen duty had fallen to that day was usually able to turn out a fairly good meal. Often supplemented by fish and occasionally by one of the two seal species that were abundant enough to permit their taking one now and then 'to study'.
The sole exception to the rule that everybody cooked at least once in awhile was Bentley the glacial scientist.
"I've tried," he said when John asked him if he 'pulled KP'.
"You can't cook?"
Bentley raised his eyebrows and looked across the table at Derrick Simon.
"No, what he does isn't cooking. Some sort of atrocity with ground beef maybe, but not cooking," Simon answered.
Frau Hedda agreed, "And what is worse is that he has really tried to learn to cook."
"She's right," Bentley said, "I've followed the recipe to the letter and...."
"We burned his cook book for heat that night."
Bentley turned the question back on John, "So, can you cook?"
"I've been known to."
"Then you're on for tomorrow night," Bentley threw out with a smile.
John looked around, nobody objected.
"Well my good man," Doctor Rose said, "we'll see what you can do. We'll see."
Hedda grinned at him, "after dinner I'll show you where the storage is."
Noel found out that the only place there was where he and Carol could spend any time alone together was in the spare Jamesway building that was essentially the home for anything they had that wasn't of immediate use or need elsewhere, such as their heaviest winter clothing and a portable emergency generator. The heat in the unit only kept the interior above freezing unless you went in beforehand and turned it up. On their fourth day there while Doctor Rose was out doing something else he and Carol acted like teenagers sneaking away from a day camp program to make out in the bushes.
Other than there not being any shrubbery on the island, that was essentially what they did.
"Remember to turn the heat back down," she reminded him when they noticed that it had been longer than they thought and they had probably been missed.
According to the source that had cued Noel in on the other use for the shed, back behind the frame for the wind screen they used in front of the Quonset hut in the winter to keep the snow from drifting so deep you couldn't get the door open, there was a stack of wooden pallets. If you looked up on top of the shelving unit there was a rolled up mattress or two. The source just told Noel to roll the mattresses back up when they left.
"So, you've used it for...."
The source shook his head, "I don't know nothing about using it for anything but storage."
"Oh, and there's a shortwave on the shelf that's set to music from the BBC."
"Just a lucky guess about the radio, I suppose."
"Just a lucky guess."
"Do you want me to leave the heat turned up?"
"Not this time."
Macki spent most of his first week on the island going out with the others and taking pictures of their work. Or setting up and taking long term exposures of the scenery at twilight. Or just grabbing a quick shot of the buildings and people, and penguins, and seals, when he could.
He quickly learned that some jobs they performed were something less than glamorous. Such as Derrick Simon's work. He was an avian biologist who said he was studying the variations in the nematodes excreted by austral polar waterfowl.
"You're looking at parasites in penguin poop?"
"It just sounds better the way I said it."
But when the wind blew in off the continent, and at one point the winds were reaching tropical storm force, he spent time doing everything else.
Even though the base had a schedule of when the various staff members had satellite internet access, nobody paid much attention to it. The base was supposed to have a full time compliment of nine and an itinerant staff of eight to twelve more. Which meant that even with the new arrivals to replace those that had just bugged out, it was still well below capacity. Which meant two further things: Nobody had to sleep in an upper bunk unless they wanted to, and, as long as your internet usage was reasonable, nobody actually cared what you did on line, so every evening Macki was able to upload his raw files back to his storage server and then later, after he'd done some basic cropping and editing, he uploaded those too.
So far, he'd been lucky with his gear. He had been manic about bringing equipment into a heated space once it had been outside and gotten cold. He knew that there would be condensation and there was nothing he could do about it, but he made every effort to keep it to a minimum. And so far, except for moisture on the inside of the lens on a fill flash, he was doing OK.
But when he enlarged a panorama of a bay and saw something in the water he stumbled into trouble. There were a couple of Some Things in the water, and they didn't look like an orca or minke whale. "What is that?"
He tagged the four best photos to check with the marine animal people and moved on to the next set of images.
The photographer took his portable hard drive to the Quonset hut to find Carol and the others.
Noel helped Macki plug it into the maze of USB cables and hubs on Doctor Rose's desk, then he took one look at the photo that he said open up and walked across the room for a drink while the others checked it out. "I didn't see that," Noel said to Carol and Roxanne as he got up. "I've heard... stories, about them being down here. But I didn't see that."
Doctor Rose's face got long as he stared at the computer monitor, then he looked up at Macki, "What do you think they look like?"
The photographer shook his head, "I'm not a biologist, I have no idea."
Roxanne cleared her throat, "Carol, what do you think they are?" She looked at the enlarged image and shook her head, "I know what it looks like, but it has to be something else."
"Why can't it be what it looks like?" Doctor Rose asked her as he clicked from one photo to the next to see how they were moving.
"Because it looks like a plesiosaur."
Macki had the question all over his face before he said it, "That's a swimming dinosaur right?"
"That's what I thought but I thought you'd all think I was smoking dope again or something."
"Perhaps a relative of Kaiwhekea katiki or the Mauisaurus," Doctor Rose said softly. "Possibly a couple of juveniles. Yes, juveniles."
Carol was still enlarging the closest of the animals on the third image.
"Their neck appears shorter, so I would go with the Kaiwhekea," Roxanne said and brought up an encyclopedia image of the extinct lizard on her laptop.
Fortunately, Macki had been using one of his best lenses and a high quality camera with adequate resolution to allow her to blow the thing up to where you could count its teeth and compare it with the artist's rendition on the other monitor. "If I had to guess, I'd say Kaiwhekea." Then she realized what they, and she, had said. "No."
Noel had been watching from the background. "I guess our lives just got even more complicated," he whispered. "Terrific."
"Yes, a type of Kaiwhekea, yes," Doctor Rose said. "Welcome to our secret."
Macki stepped back, "You mean?"
"You had wondered what had killed the colossal squid?" Doctor Rose nodded to the screen. "Possibly one of their older relatives. An older one. Yes."
"You have a breeding population of plesiosaurs down here?"
Doctor Rose looked up at Roxanne and nodded, so she answered. "There are three known family groups along the western side of the Peninsula and several more further out and more over in the Ross Sea. They come in from deep water to breed in the summer. These appear to be a little early for the mating season and they don't appear to be of breeding age yet either."
Carol shook her head at the screen. "This is a gag, right? 'let's put one over on the new girl.'"
"No, my dear, it is not a gag." Doctor Rose turned to Macki. "You took these photos, right? And I have to say, they are the best ones I've seen of our friends yet."
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
"Have they been altered in any way?"
"Did you see these creatures in the water when you took the image?"
"Yes, but I couldn't tell what they were. I thought they might be whales or something. I had the LCD covered to keep it from freezing so I just took the photos and came back."
Rose turned his attention back to Carol, "You saw the images of the dead squid?"
"Let's go see some of the preserved samples. You may find them of interest." Then he turned to Noel, "bring some drinks, this may take awhile."
They bundled up and headed for the storage unit.
"And before you ask, we are planning on going public with this. But first we want to know how they live so we can protect them. You know as soon as this breaks every zoo in the world will want them on display. Not to mention the tourists that will be on their way down here," Doctor Rose said with a sour expression as they walked.
Roxanne nodded, "When we publish, we want to do so with the full weight of all the research that can be done. And it's not just us, there's three other seasonal bases working on it, but I like to think we're in the lead. And this is why we're here year round, and we're going to stay for a lot longer than we were supposed to." She smiled at them as she closed the door behind them. "So we bring in others to do other things. And some of them never know about this."
"And it is better that way. Much better," Doctor Rose opened the cabinet in the lab and took out a specimen jar with a piece of one of the arms of the giant squid in it. "As you can see, it was bitten by something large and toothy."
Carol peered into the jar, "it ripped some of the predator's teeth out."
"Yes," Doctor Rose said and handed her something long and sharp, "this is one of the teeth we recovered from the mantle of the squid. It is identical to what is imbedded in the arm. They evidently had quite the struggle. We sent some of the tooth's pulp to have a genetic screening done. The results are back in the office if you want to see them."
"They said it was reptilian, previously unclassified." Roxanne said as Carol peered at the tooth.
She knew what the tooth was immediately. Almost every museum in the world had a display of them. You could order them online for your own collection. Fossil plesiosaur teeth were a standard commodity in the trade, but this one wasn't a fossil. There was some similarity to a saltwater crocodile, but there were two problems with that. It was too long, and crocodiles didn't swim along the Antarctic Peninsula.
"You have to wonder who was trying to eat who?" Noel said as Carol showed him the contents of the jar. Then he started pouring drinks into paper cups.
Roxanne chuckled and took a cup of- well -booze, "That's hard to say, but it's my guess that the Kaiwhekea didn't realize how big his lunch actually was."
"He found out."
"Would you like to see the other samples?" Doctor Rose asked them.
"Sure," Macki said taking a cup from Noel.
"There's more?" Carol asked.
"Oh yes. Yes. If I can have some of that, I'll get them out." Doctor Rose said to the bartender.
"Yes, sir. No problem." Noel poured him one and passed it over.
"Oh, when it is straight like that it is awful," he said after he took a sip. "Awful. But, nonetheless, they're in here." He took another sip then opened the smaller deep freeze and got out a cardboard box.
Roxanne carefully opened it and showed them eggshell bits wrapped in plastic as Doctor Rose told the story.
It was early last season. They were out doing a preliminary survey along the shoreline and came across a nest that had been disturbed. All the eggs had been broken and most had had their contents eaten, but two of the broken eggs still had their occupants at least mostly intact and they looked as though they hadn't been too far from hatching when the predator got to them.
After watching the nest to make sure there was no angry mother around, Doctor Rose had collected the two eggs that still had partial fetuses inside, then took a couple of the others so the shells could be analyzed.
Doctor Rose said that they had no idea what they had found until they got back to the lab and began to dissect one of the eggs. "Even though the fetus was partially desiccated from exposure to the wind, it didn't look like a penguin. For one thing, given its advanced stage of development, there was no down."
"And it didn't have a beak," Roxanne added.
"That would be a dead giveaway," Noel said as he refilled Macki's cup.
Then Doctor Rose removed a small plastic tub from the freezer box and gently laid it on the table. He opened the lid slowly and carefully.
And there it was.
"Oh, my God."
Noel wasn't drunk, not yet anyway, but he was heading that way with direction and purpose.
Macki was sound asleep on the couch next to the exercise machine.
Carol was still sipping hers and thinking it through, back and forth.
Roxanne was on the computer in the corner checking emails and chatting with somebody at the Davis Base on the other side of the continent that went by the handle of PNGNbbq.
Doctor Rose had told them that since they were all in on the secret now, they would have a party and asked Carol if she liked to dance.
"She does," Noel said, "I'll try."
At that point Macki was beyond knowing if he danced or not.
Later when Michelle heard about the party said she had even brought something to wear. She didn't know about 'the secret' and didn't need to according to Doctor Rose.
"Some people will be happier for the rest of their lives if they don't know. They can say, 'oh, I knew they were up to something but I stayed out of it' later."
"Yes, sir." Noel said.
"Good, everybody run along now and come back at seventeen hundred for dinner and dancing."
Michelle showed up in the Quonset hut wearing, of all things, a tea length formal gown that was bright, yes, bright red. The effect was somewhat ruined as she had to wear boots and a heavy coat from the Castle to the hut, but once inside she changed footwear and removed her outer layer. Then she smiled and curtseyed to the host.
"Stunning, dear lady. Absolutely stunning. Stunning," Doctor Rose said. "And I approve of the color," he added and brushed at the silk flower in the lapel of his black tuxedo jacket. "Shall we?" He asked her with his elbow extended.
The dinner was good, although not spectacular, but the overall mood was one of celebration, although most of those in attendance didn't know what they were celebrating.
And it didn't matter. It was something to do besides listen to the wind howl and measure water temperature or peer at microscopic slides of bird droppings.
Macki, somewhat recovered, made a good effort of it, as did the others, but it was Carol who stole the show with her line dancing ability. Even if the line was exactly five people.
The night got old. They had been through the list of possible cocktails given the ingredients they had at hand, twice, and then the last of those trying to learn how to dance gave up and toddled off to the Castle.
Finally Doctor Rose turned the streaming music off and looked at Carol. His eyes were still clear and focused in spite of the amount of liquor he'd consumed.
"Well, ma'dam, it is up to you. What are you going to do with what you know?"
She put her cup down and shook her head, she was no where near as clear and focused as her mentor, "That is what it comes down to isn't it?"
"Yes," Doctor Rose said and looked at Noel. "Yes, yes?"
"I have no say in it. If I said anything I'd get laughed at. I'm a cold weather welder. Brother-in-lawing pipe welds I can talk about, dinosaurs, no."
"And I don't believe Mister Mack will say anything either. All he has is some photos, and we all know how easy it is to fake a photo these days."
"But you can't fake the evidence out in the freezer," Carol said.
"No, which is why it is up to you."
Carol thought about it again. All the way through. "Would you like another research partner?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Yes, indeed."
"Doctor Stewart is a co-researcher with Doctor Rose on the special Colossal Squid project on Brabant Island. We have elected to extend the mission there for at least one more year, which will make the facility available to researchers in other fields as well, which helps to offset the operating cost of the station." The Director of the Biological Sciences for the National Science foundation told the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Carol sat at the table next to the Director and hoped none of the Representatives would ask her any specific questions, she was under oath and did not want to end up committing perjury. Fortunately, it was exactly what Doctor Rose had told her it would be as the Chairman of the Committee knew what was going on, as did the Director. But they had to run the funding for the station through the 'Dog and Pony Show' for the rest of the committee as part of the funding process.
But just before they moved on, one of the Congressmen who had evidently been paying some attention asked her a question.
"Doctor Stewart, is there really enough new information to be learned about what a ... what it is? The squid, what it eats, to warrant another season at what has to be one of the worst places on Earth to spend any time? I mean, I heard that they make their own vodka down there and have to use the bathroom into bags made of waxed paper and then carry it out to burn it."
"Yes, sir. But, one of the things we are studying is what is in the Southern Ocean that will feed on the Colossal Squid, and they would appear to be subject to predation besides just the Sperm Whale. And the island and the surrounding straits are the perfect location."
"I see. How big do these things get?"
"The one Doctor Rose discovered that had been injured by a predator had a mantle over three meters, I mean, nine feet long, and it was well over twenty feet long counting the tentacles, and weighed several hundred pounds when alive."
"What else would try to eat something that big besides a whale?" Another committee member asked.
"That is the question they are trying to answer, ma'am."
"Yes, I suppose they are."
"Very well," the committee chair said, "if there are no more questions. The next program is the long term study of Mississippi Sturgeon and the related breeding and release program."
"You can go Carol," the Director whispered to her, "you did wonderfully."
"Thank you," she answered and nodded to the next person who was waiting to take the seat next to the Director. "Good luck."
"Thanks. Depending on how this goes, I might be heading south down to your place."
"We've got extra bunks."
"And no mosquitoes," the Director grinned as Noel congratulated Carol on her first, and hopefully, last, appearance before a Congressional Committee.
"Thanks all the same, but I don't like the cold that much," the fish program man said.
"Can we continue?" The chairman said.
"Yes, sir. The Sturgeon program has met with great success and the species has been reintroduced...."
Carol didn't get to hear any more about the fish. Instead, she and Noel hurried back to their hotel and got online to fill the others in on how it went.
"Hang on, I'll go get them," Macki said over the video link.
"OK, but come back, because I've got a message for you too."
There was noticeable delay in the conversation, but considering all the perambulations the call was going through to get from Washington DC to their island not far from the end of the world almost exactly seven thousand miles due south of them, it wasn't bad. "Me? Sure, don't go away."
Doctor Rose nodded as Noel relayed his impression of the hearing, "I've had a better time in the waiting room at the dental office at McMurdo."
"Now, now you see why I didn't want to go."
"Thanks a lot."
"So what was the message for me?" Macki asked.
"They want a photographer, and they want you, if you can do one thing," Carol said to him.
"Run video equipment," she answered.
"Underwater, remotely off a boat," Noel added. "We're bringing the gear back with us."
Macki's jaw worked for a few seconds with no sound coming out.
"We'll discuss it on this end. When are you heading back?"
"There's a briefing tomorrow morning in Arlington, then, we've got to see about flights out."
"Very well. Very well." Doctor Rose said.
Carol closed the connection and turned to Noel, "So, what do you have planned for this afternoon while we're stuck in the hotel?"
Noel's grin could have easily been listed on the committee's schedule as one of the wonders of science that needed to be studied, instead, Carol just smiled back for a moment with a slight blush. Then he said, "Well, one thing I want to do is to see how much hot water I have to use before it runs out."
He laughed and kissed her, "I'm sure we can come up with something somewhere besides a stack of shipping pallets."
Dinner Rose 2 and Dinner Rose 3
[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. No squids or dinosaurs were harmed in the writing of this piece. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]
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