Snippet the Last, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Damned if I didn’t finish this. Go me!

It was a two hour trip to the Shackleton Area, and at first I thought everybody was just too nervous and excited to talk. It took me a while to realize that the actual problem was that the pilot and I were the only two people on the flight who didn’t hate anybody else on it. Anne was barely civil to Ted, Suzuki was openly contemptuous to Jo, Jo was sullen right back, and Ted? …Ted smelled. I don’t know how he managed that, since we were all already in our cold suits, but there was a faint whiff of rancid sweetness about him. It was so subtle I couldn’t taste it unless I was looking at him directly, so after a while I stopped looking. I didn’t want to test this suit’s ability to handle me throwing up in it.

Nothing happened until we arrived at the Area and were looking at the door, so let me skip to that — no, wait, there is one thing; I did not like the look of the drone after a few weeks in this chamber. There was a sheen on its hull that I found unpleasant — and incomprehensible, since it was supposed to be able to withstand the heat of a Mercurian noon, or the upper winds of Saturn. Nobody else remarked on it, so I let it pass. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

After all the drama and anticipation, it turned out the door to the inner chambers was locked. We found this out because Ted had gone straight to the door, heedless of everything else, and was steadily rattling on the doorknob by the time the rest of us got there.

I was about to remonstrate with him for that when the door gave up under Ted’s methodical attack and popped open. Beyond was a passageway, wide enough for two to pass, with three doors: one ahead of us, and one on each side of the passageway. Ted stepped through — and stopped, visibly looking confused at the choices.

03/29/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

This is coming together nicely.

April 5

We’ve worked to re-familiarize ourselves with our coldsuits. More hybrid tech; supposedly we can almost understand most of the alien-derived systems! Essentially, it’s a spacesuit that can pull oxygen from the outside atmosphere while still keeping its wearer in a controlled environment. If the air does go away, the suits have a recycling system that can keep someone alive for two weeks without refreshing. It’s flexible and light, too, to the point where you can scratch an itch through it. Once we’re at the Shackleton Site, we’ll be able to move around fairly freely, and very safely.

The trick is actually getting there. We can’t exactly take a suborbital to the site. The NSF has been working on sending down a jump-copter, and supposedly it’ll be here in another week. Then we should expect another week to put the copter together, and make sure it’s not going to conk out, mid-trip. By then we can actually go. Or at least some of us: the copter’s rated for five passengers, and their supplies.

In the meantime, we’ve sent another drone to deliver a sensor package. Claire told me there’s no sense using alien tech to keep an eye on the place when our own stuff can do the job. She then casually mentioned that it’s better to use disposable technology in situations where the goo-bags might show up, which eventually resulted in me going down the rabbit hole that is Antarctica conspiracy theory. I’ll say this for that nut Dyer: he could spin one hell of a fairy tale.


I suppose that I should now have an open mind about this, but… no. William Dyer was either a fraud, or a madman. Aside from everything else, we’ve never found a sign of those damned mountains of his. Note that I say that, having just overseen a surface survey of the entire continent, so I know what I’m talking about.

I wonder if that data will ever see the light of day, at least.

03/28/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Opening up!

March 28

Call me old-fashioned in one way, at least: discoveries lack something when you watch them through a video screen. Then again, I didn’t actually want to be outside in the frozen, slowly deepening twilight, either. Such is the eternal conundrum of Antarctic archeology: field work is dangerous here. I still wanted to be the one opening up the Shackelton Object, though.

Although it turned out that we couldn’t have shifted that door without explosives and blowtorches. This close up, the probe could dimly detect a locking mechanism on the other side of the door; I would call it a deadbolt, except that deadbolts typically do not weigh five hundred pounds. Even the probe had trouble at first loosening and moving it (via gravity pulses, or whatever other witchcraft it uses). Being under the snow and ice for several centuries had frozen it, in more ways than one.

It had been centuries, too. Close up, the structure of the Object was clear: a vault door of crudely machined iron plates, riveted to a lattice of girders and mounted on titanic hinges. Those hinges did not shriek when the door opened; the silence was nigh perfect, the only noise being the faint clank as the Object’s iron edge met the mountain wall. The lack of sound disquieted me obscurely. Who built this thing?

03/27/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Went back to frame the story. Also, to give our protagonist a name.

December 23

I realize that, if I am going to actually physically write in this journal as a supplement (or hedge) to the digital record, I should be clearer about who I am, who we are, and why we’re here at the literal bottom of the world. After all, I have no idea who will eventually read this, or what language they will speak. Well, I know that it won’t be an alien language, because there aren’t any of those left.

Well. My name is Hank Campbell. PhD. in Archeology, although I don’t mention that much because people still try to get medical diagnoses whenever they hear the word ‘Doctor.’ I’m heading up the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey, which is really a joint American-Canadian effort, spearheaded by the National Science Force. To make it even more convoluted, technically it’s an American-Northern League effort, but the only two Leaguers are both Canadian. The NSF’s paying all of our salaries anyway.

So, our two Canadians would be Ted Hooper (my second in command, as much as we need one) and Ann Rochon. They also both have doctorates, as well as the fourth member (Ruskin Kamar); our fifth member is our lone grad assistant Jo Buckley, who will probably go on to become the most famous one of us. That’s usually how it works in these situations.

The Survey’s here at Amundsen–Scott to test out alien technology that was originally supposed to be given to us at First Contact with the ‘Amalgamation,’ three decades ago. Presumably we were also supposed to be given instruction manuals, or at least an idea of how the technology works, but all of that was preempted by the mass xenocides that ripped through this part of the Galaxy, four centuries ago.

So we’re practicing with the gadgets down here, where archeological digs are rare, and things which we’d mind seeing destroyed are even rarer.

03/26/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Had a busy day today, but sitting down to write another big block of this was part of it.

Cleaning the Shackleton Object was… unusual. I felt obscurely horrible while it was done, as if we had thrown away all the delicacy of the last two centuries, and gone right back to tomb-breaking with dynamite. I could almost feel the disapproving glares of the ghosts of generations of careful, meticulous archeologists, mutely wondering how we could have forgotten their teachings.

The answer is, Because we have gravity pulse generators and full-spectrum scanners now. Not that we have the slightest idea how to make them, or even maintain them. The theory is beyond even the wildest speculations of our physicists, and they’ve learned to be very careful not to burn out their best minds on understanding Amalgamation science. We still have them, though, and we understand what they can do.

One of the things that they can do is analyze a site’s ground cover, not quite down to the molecular level, but at a degree beyond which we could manage, with a perfect picture of every loose item’s composition and location. The software can even calculate each item’s movement within the soil — or, in this case, snow and ice — which would then offer us decent hints about how those items got there in the first place. We’re careful about disturbing the ground because we don’t want to lose any clues through clumsiness or haste. But what if going quickly doesn’t matter? Why take extra time when you honestly don’t need it?

Then there’s the pulse generators. No delicate brush is better at cleaning an artifact, no bulldozer is better at clearing away cover — and the generator is both at once, able to sweep away detritus while preserving items of actual interest at the same time. There’s no extra damage, either. Not even the kind you inevitably get from pulling something out of a dig site, or simply brushing it.

You know what it’s like? These aren’t archeological tools, except only incidentally. They’re sorcerous implements, and we’ve been taught the charms that activate them.

03/25/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Tech! And Trouble!

February 5

We’ve programmed a new search pattern for the drones — or, rather, we found the parameters of a suggested new search pattern in the software. This was a surprise to me, because I didn’t know the software could do that. That surprise became apprehension when Hooper explained that the software couldn’t do that.

Fortunately, Ann Rochard’s our local Amalgamation tech expert, and she explained what happened. I wish I understood any of it, beyond the level of, “the drones can’t really think, but they can learn our software, and then guess what you want.” …How this is different from “the drone is magic and can cast spells” was not immediately obvious, but then I feel that way about most Earth technology. I wish we had magic available. Divination, psychometry — indeed, I would give much for access to a reliable necromantic ritual. It would make archeology so much easier if we could simply talk to the dead.

News from home could be better. More reports of deaths from ricin; turns out those Gaian bastards managed to contaminate Homeland Security’s antidote stockpiles. Not all of it, but enough that they don’t dare use it. They’re back to activated charcoal and electrolytes, and it’s not helping much. There are a lot of senior positions vacant in the agencies now. God knows I don’t care for how the government never does anything anymore, but I didn’t want any of those people to die.

03/24/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Dun dun dun!

February 10

The drones discovered something in the Shackleton Range. And I do mean ‘discovered.’ Our records have no entries for scientific expeditions or surveys in that particular area, so whatever it is, it is a genuinely new find.

Only, what is it? The anomaly is under a fifty foot snowdrift and is either embedded in rock, or close enough to it that the resonators are only getting basic details. It’s definitely metallic, and arguably regular. The astrophysicists think it could be a meteor, everyone in the Project is scouring the historical record for possible lost or private expeditions, and Claire Bishop in Maintenance is coming up with steadily more obscure conspiracy theories. She has already suggested the Hollow Earth, the Starkweather-Moore Hoax, and Antarctic Space Nazis; no doubt tomorrow she will find something even more obscure.

(That sounds disapproving. In reality, Ms. Bishop is an excellent engineer and technician, as well as in possession of an impressive library of videos. Including a few she only shows to her, ah, companions.)

03/23/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

I should just note now that I am attempting to write a viewpoint character who disagrees with me on things, without making him too much of a caricature. Alas for him, this is also a horror story.

January 17

We tested the capacities of the repaired software today, and wow. That doesn’t come across as very scientific or dignified, I know. Still: wow. How’s the software doing, now that it’s taking full advantage of the drones we were given? Well, does anybody want a good surface map of Antarctica? Because we’ll have an accurate one within two weeks.

To be fair, it’s mostly going to be a map of ice and snow. But these survey drones are amazing; with the upgrades, they can detect significant metal deposits through up to two hundred yards (rolling eyes) of ice and snow. I’m told that’s deep enough to find some old meteor strikes, which is obviously making the astrophysicists and geologists sit up and take notice. Hooper and I haven’t promised anything to anybody, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for anything worth a closer look.

It really is cheating, doing preliminary surveys like this. The drones are designed to go anywhere from the void of space to the surface of Venus, so an Antarctic summer isn’t even a challenge for them. I can see why the UN wanted to keep ultimate hold over the drones; all alien tech is valuable, but things like the drones are priceless. They’re also politically dangerous, which is why we’re testing their capabilities down here, instead of somewhere more touchy.

January 24

Communications with the NSF are down again. First time this year! Besides, that gives us the chance to figure out more about the drones without having bureaucrats breathing down our necks. …Not that I would ever give the other side ammunition by admitting that in public. They’re annoying enough as it is.

03/22/2023 Snippet, Notes from the 2078 United Nations Antarctic Archeological Survey.

Had this thought before I went to bed; woke up, and had 1000 words done without raising a sweat. Nice.

December 22, 2078

Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station

Finally got the suborbital delivery of the special equipment from up north. I wish to say that it “took ‘em long enough,” but that would be unfair. We all decided that the Survey’s work would benefit from incorporating the new stable superconductor technology into the image resonators, and Monitech actually upgraded the product on time, and within budget. I shouldn’t blame them for the Argentinian separatists rising up again, however briefly. At that, we are lucky that the Brazilian personnel in the Survey are all politically reliable Brazilian-Brazilian themselves.

Although ‘luck’ probably had nothing to do with it. Everyone remembers the wretched way the Grabiński affair ended, back in ‘77. It may be more difficult to acquire firearms in Antarctica than it was to the Empty Quarter, but archeological expeditions still have a remarkable number of items that can be turned into deadly weapons. It’s best to leave the more excitable political fanatics at home.

Still! We carry on. The image resonators are here, just in time for Christmas, and soon there will be a proper drone fleet for the Survey. I expect wonders from the new year.

December 31

There were quite a few arguments over when exactly the new year would start, but eventually everyone agreed on New Zealand Time. According to one of the old hands at the Station, this happens every year. She also said it usually didn’t devolve into an actual fistfight. I got the impression that the incident didn’t reflect well on the Survey, even if watching two scientists take awkward swings at each other did have its own entertainment value. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that I was above such crudeness — or at least that kind of crudeness. She had nothing to complain about the way we rang in the New Year.

January 3, 2079

The drones were retrofitted, checked out, sent up in the air — and the software promptly crashed. Ah, technology. How useful thou art! Fortunately, Ted Hooper spent a couple of years at CHARS before the Canadians shut it down for refurbishing; he figured out where the code was getting hung up before the coders themselves did. Apparently it was a common problem in Nunavut. We’re lucky to have him.