With the steady retreating of the polar icecaps, diverse governments rushed in to stake claims to vast tracts that were formally forbidding moonscapes of uninhabitable ice.
New fishing zones were opened up. Fields of land, locked under thick glacial crusts for millennia, became exposed and their virgin mining and mineral potentials were avidly sought.
Minor skirmishes broke out between nations over areas previously too barren to warrant economic consideration. Battles were fought on land, on the high seas and in United Nations back rooms, as well as vocally over the airwaves.
All that constituted unimportant backdrop to the true threat to mankind.
Deep in Antarctica, the thinning ice exposed new continental quadrants holding subterranean vaults belonging to the race of star-headed beings called the Great Old Ones by their so-called discoverers, the infamous Miskatonic University Expedition of 1930-31.
The opening of these previously-unexplored preserves fell under the operational aegis of the Cryptic Events Evaluation Section of the National Reconnaissance Office. Low-orbit NRO satellites had initially detected the denuding of a portion of the megalithic proto-city that had flourished eons before the last pole shift.
I was called into the office of the Director in our Chantilly, Virginia headquarters and briefed.
“Banis, you’re on a C-130 headed to the South Pole Station within an hour. It’s waiting for you at Andrews Air Force Base.”
I didn’t blink an eye. I was used to moving fast in order to deal with External Threats—Crypticspeak for Extra-Solar menaces and other-dimensional incursions.
“I’ll pack an extra sweater,” I said dryly. No matter how I pitched my humor, the Director seemed impervious. But what can you expect from a guy who requires regular exorcisms the way you and I need to scan our home computers for viruses?
He didn’t disappoint me this time. “Do that. Here’s the drill: We have a team already on-site. They’ve encountered anomalous material they can’t decipher with mundane methods. Maybe you can break through the block.”
“What kind of team?” I asked.
“Exo-archeologists. That’s all you need to know. They’ll fill in the rest down under.”
I didn’t bother correcting his geography. I just said, “I’ll bring an extra deck of Tarot cards.”
I did bring an extra deck. A Rohrig. My war deck, I called it. But I just used it to pass the time as the C-130 blundered south to the pole, rattling all the way down to the Antarctic Circle.
I had started with CEES as a Cartomancer First Class, back when Special Powers was a pilot program. The Old Guard fought it tooth and nail. Time passed. After a decade or so of casualties and fatalities, the Old Guard fell by the wayside and the psychic operatives moved up in the ranks.
Now we were the normals. Not that we really were. But growing threats meant adapting to new challenges. Multisensory applications were the only ones that seemed to work any more.
We landed at the McMurdo Sound Station on the edge of Antarctica for final refueling and to be fitted with skiis. I was no fool. The C-130 was heated, so I stayed on board. I would have my taste of the true South Pole soon enough.
On the last leg, I slept in a netting hammock, waking up only when the great engines changed pitch for landing and the entire aircraft rumbled as it made contact with a skiway.
When the drop gate yawned open, I was blown back by a blast of cold air, and several mittened hands reached in to drag me out.
My beard and cheeks frosted over immediately. I had to shut my mouth to keep the tip of my tongue from freezing, too.
“Come on. There’s a Sea Stallion helicopter waiting for us. No time to lose.”
I had been looking forward to the comparative warmth of the cluster of regulation buildings that constituted the South Pole Station since they tore down the big geodesic dome. But once they bundled me into the Sea Stallion, I was fine with that.
I shook hands with a bunch of frozen beards like myself. There was one woman. She introduced herself as team leader.
“Kim Greene. We’re headed directly to the dig. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Have I a choice?”
The way she laughed said No. I took her for a Sagittarius, and since I needed to warm up, I put it to her for validation.
“No. Rising. Leo Sun.”
I laughed it off. “Close enough for government work.”
We both laughed. Then she grew serious.
“We discovered a fortress west of the great plateau. Dome shaped. Intact. One way in and one way out. Interior consists of a winding hall running to the center in a spiral.”
Receiving a flash impression of a mollusk, I asked, “Like a sea snail shell?”
“You got it. Along the walls on either side are bas-reliefs of a kind we date from the later period of habitation, during the Jurassic era. We think they’re important. But there appears to be some defacing of the carvings at critical points. We don’t know what’s missing, but we hope you can help visualize the absent designs.”
I got it then. In dealing with essentially alien bas-reliefs, even experts couldn’t deduce or adduce what was missing from the surviving work. That was my job.