There’s always work for an archaeologist. All you need is a good pair of eyes and more importantly: know who to bribe. Getting used to the site though is another matter. A hundred and twenty kilometres south of Palmer Research Station in freezing Antarctica, isn’t a place that’s easy to get acclimated to. There’s barren ice all around us, and only my four companions to tell me I’m not stranded in some frozen hell. The job keeps my sanity in check. The crackle of the radio keeps my spirit high, and if a voice should sound out of it, divine.
I’m wearing enough thermals to stock a store, and about ten birds worth of down feathers, while that idiot Harry is gallivanting around half naked. He should’ve died of pneumonia a long time ago, or of frost bite at least. He dives into the pool outside, not exactly a geothermal pool. It’s cold on the surface and warm below. We aren’t sure what the pool is exactly, there shouldn’t be a source of heat underground, or so said the survey team. They’d found another one in East Antarctica a few years ago. ‘A Hidden Radioactive Heat Source Seems to be Melting Antarctica from Below,’ said the article. It’s nothing like the hot springs I’ve visited before. Well anyway, the water’s warm, and Harry is the only guy brave enough to swim in it, which is probably a huge violation of our contract. It’s a good thing that the marine biologists from the research station haven’t come around to check on us. They’d get a fit seeing Harry swimming there, and contaminating all their lovely samples. I shrug when I hear one of my colleagues sigh.
“If it wasn’t for his father,” I say to her, “we’d have dumped his ass a long time ago.”
“A golden key can open any door,” she replies.
“Penny dreadful,” I shudder. “What’s he made of anyway? Blubber? It’s minus 30. He’s a god damn medical miracle.”
“Hey guys,” Harry jumps out of the pool, goggles askew. This time he has the decency to shiver a little when he gets out, “I’ve found something down there. Come look.”
Just humour him, I tell myself… humour him. “What have you found Harry?”
“A whole graveyard.”
“Is that so? Well, why don’t you use the aquatic drone to take some pictures?” I ask. If he breaks the machine his father will send a better one to replace it. At least this way I can get him out of my hair at the actual dig site.
“Really?” Harry seems overjoyed. “I’ll start right away,” his big red ears wiggling with glee. Why the hell hasn’t he already frozen? Our tea freezes, even within the relative warmth of the base camp and despite the proximity of the heated pool. He wipes himself off with a towel and puts on his clothes, a t-shirt and jeans.
“Do you want a jacket? I’ve got extra,” I ask for the hundredth time.
“Nah, I’m good,” he gives me his usual reply.
I leave him there, my conscience now clear and continue with the dig. The stone structures are more apparent now, the foundations gigantic. We collect some organic material from within the rock. Carbon dating is probably going to surprise us. This continent hasn’t been habitable for a long time, and we’ve just found the foundations of a huge stone structure, definitely man-made. This could be the discovery of the century.
Months pass while Harry plays with the drone and our dig expands. The carbon dating results have come in. Cotton fibres, twenty thousand years to date. The team is overjoyed, though Harry is just doing his own thing. These were no primitives we’re dealing with here. Just how advanced they were becomes apparent when our dig passes the twenty meter mark. The people here carved their homes out of granite! They were as advanced as us, in stone work at least.
“Holy shit,” my colleague exclaims, as we put the pieces together in our mind. “This was a roof. A painted granite roof.”
Some of the paint is still visible, red, black and yellow. The ice has preserved it, meaning things were frozen to stillness here. No flow. No displacement. Twenty thousand years! This dig is going to get us some major publicity.
“Boss,” a voice sounds out from the radio, “you should come back to camp and see this. Harry’s really found something.”
“Found what?” I ask, irritated to be interrupted when we’re on the cusp of greatness.
“You really should come and see.”
We drive back in the Sno-Cat on the trail we made. Harry and my colleague are both drinking tea, alongside a dark skinned stranger dressed in my clothes.
“Who’s he?” I ask.
“I dug him up a few hundred metres away from the pool.” Harry explains, like an idiot.
“What do you mean, ‘dug him up’. We dig up stones and tools, not people. If this is some sort of sick joke…”
“No joke, boss,” my colleague assures me. “Harry really did dig him up. Harry traced the flow of the pool and followed what he’d found to its source. He then just started digging and digging. Before you know it, we found the frozen man. Those things in the pool must really be corpses like Harry said.”
Frozen? “Who are you and where are you from?” I ask the stranger.
The man stands up, looking me in the eyes and makes some frantic gestures while spouting gibberish. He seems flustered. I don’t blame him. Being saved by Harry is not a comforting thought.
“Do you think he was frozen in time?” my colleague asks me, eyes big with wonder.
“Do you recognize any of the words he used?” I ask. She has a diploma in linguistics.
“Some of them sounded like Elamite.”
A language that has been dead for millennia. It really looks like his body was cryogenically frozen, and preserved for all this time. He could have been the owner of the house we were digging up. Perhaps there was even a city here. Forget TV interviews, this discovery is going to fund all my future digs in one go.
“See if you can communicate with him,” I tell her.
Weeks pass, and we find more bodies in Harry’s pool. We carefully bring them to the surface, one by one, but they’re all dead. Still, they’re remarkably preserved. Some still have their clothing. Blue linen seems the fashion. We can’t find anything at Harry’s dig site. Harry was just lucky that one time, that son of a gun.
Harry Junior, a name Harry bestowed on the cryo man as was his ‘rights as rescuer’ seems to have been the only survivor. The special medical team I requested will take a few weeks to arrive. From the bruising and other signs, these people were dead long before they were frozen.
Harry Junior suddenly runs wild, gesturing madly at the aurora and screaming something.
“What’s he saying?” I ask.
“He’s saying, ‘It’s happening again,’ I think.”
I feel a rumble, an earthquake. We scramble underneath the table. It’s big enough to shelter all six of us. The twenty thousand year old man scrambles out of my grasp and runs out. I follow, but what I see stops my movement. There heading towards us is a wall of water as big as a mountain.
There’s always work for an archaeologist. All you need is a good pair of eyes and more importantly: know who to bribe. Getting used to the site though is another matter. Limbo is much like Antarctica. I’ve already grown used to it. My whole team is here, apart from Harry. I wonder if he survived.