The SCAR “special forces issue” machine gun skipped in my hand as I brought the ghost ring down to center mast and fired a double-tap. I smiled just a bit as I watched the spot of crimson spread across the white background on the body fifty feet down range. I knew what my weapon could do, so I was sure the figure sliding down the hill with a strange tail of red would not be moving again once it came to rest. Maybe a smile wasn’t appropriate, but I didn’t care, that alien-looking figure had just shot Tango, my partner.
“Take that you. . . .” I muttered to myself as I turned to glance around the corner for more targets after looking back over my shoulder at Tango. He hadn’t moved, and it appeared quite certain he would never move again.
Off to the left there was a splatter of gun-fire. I suddenly realized that it was directed at me because the tin shed next to me began playing a symphony of rat-a-tat-tat sounds near my head. Yeah, they were definitely shooting at me. As I spun to meet this new threat a shiver traveled up my spine. This other-worldly being had a very earthly-looking rifle pointed right at me. I watched the strange little blossom of flame from his gun as I pulled the trigger on my own. Another crimson flower appeared just beneath where his chin should have been.
Seconds later I lay in the cold snow feeling the throbbing pressure of the blood flowing out through the hole left in my side by the scorching bullet. Pain seared through torn muscles causing them to spasm. I winced as I turned back toward my attacker, the force of the shot had turned me half way around.
The alien had a mask covering any features but I wondered if he had a smile on his face like I had experienced moments before when I killed his partner. I wished desperately to tear the mask from his face and expose the animal that had done this. I wanted nothing more than to crawl to his side and bash his head to make sure he was dead, but I simply didn’t seem to have any strength left. Suddenly I was very tired, wanting nothing more than to sit for just a moment.
As I lay there I thought back to that morning in Captain Meeker’s office. I tried to concentrate on what I should do but my reflections wandered back to that fateful day.
“Why should I babysit a group of overpaid, underachieving tree-huggers and lab rats?” I wasn’t happy with the new assignment the captain had given me.
“I need to have someone with them, and I can’t go,” his eyes narrowed, letting me know that he wasn’t happy .
Hours later my boots descended the icy rungs of a rusty ladder thirty feet into a cocoon of snow and ice. The Old South Pole Station lay buried after twenty years of frantic activity monitoring the Ground Approach Tower for the LC-130 Hercules aircraft that supplied the groups and stations on Antarctica during the 1950s.
For twenty years the station hummed with the noise of activity as scientists studied the different secrets held by the coldest place on earth while soldiers like me watched their butts to keep them from dying. Then the ‘powers that be’ determined that there was no need for a military presence at the South Pole – and the US Navy abandoned the base. The structure fell lifeless and dark, and the constant blowing snow covered the unattended structure. Fifty years later only a few of the taller antennae were still visible.
The microscopic mites inhabiting the station had no interest in the piercing glow from our flashlights and cap lamps. Their light cast the shadows of dancing phantoms as we made our way down the vacant corridors.
Could even ghosts survive this bone-chilling cold?
Our New South Pole Station team was in the structure to clean out food left in the kitchen, parts left in the shops, and fuel left in bladders placed in various locations around the station. With the movement taking place as the ice worked its way across the buried continent deep below there was a fear that the ice’s dynamic force would destroy the station. No one knew, for sure, what would happen if the different types of garbage and supplies were just left, and no one was willing to take the chance anymore.
Three different factions were responsible for policing the closed station, the environmentalists, the Palmer Station scientists, and me, Jimmy Owens – the military’s sole member – brought along to babysit! The others had specific responsibilities, but I felt useless in the bone-numbing cold. No sane enemy would be worried about this group – in this cold!
No one listened as I said, “I’m going to go look around.”
I wandered down a dark hallway without thinking of the dangers that tons of ice and snow created. The room at the end of the hall had to be a science lab, the sign “Environmental Studies” was a dead giveaway. Opening the door, I stepped inside. The floor was buckled and bowed, and ice consumed one corner split from the pressure. Suddenly, my eyes picked up the faint outline of another door set back in a far corner behind a jumble of overturned filing cabinets.
“I wonder what’s back there?” It’s amazing how much talking to one’s self a soldier does when escorting a dozen people who have more interest in lifeless objects than human beings.
My heavy winter boots squeaked like a very chilly mouse as I clamored toward the door.
“What the…” I muttered under my breath. The door was twisted and jammed making me even more interested in its contents.
I slammed my shoulder against the door until it splintered, spilling me into the room.
“That’s going to leave a mark!” I booted the board that had kept the door from opening and received another sharp pain in my knee.
“Dad blasted, stinking…” my ranting stopped abruptly.
I suddenly realized that I must be in the private office of the science team’s leader and commander because the ruined room held a large desk that would never have been allowed if not for a very important person. It lay tipped over, its drawer spilling its contents like a deck of hastily discarded playing cards onto the slanting floor. Several science books whose titles I couldn’t pronounce littered the dusty boards. There was also a small, locked box. Other than that, the desk was empty.
I placed the items into my backpack for transport back to the new station even as I read the writing stenciled across the lid of the metal box — “Oil Experiments”.
“What an interesting title. I’ll enjoy having a closer look at these particular papers. Why Oil? Something odd was happening here.”
Upon returning to the new station I placed the items in a little used drawer of my own. Things were hectic for several months following that excursion, so I didn’t get a chance to do any studying. Then, one day, after I had finished all my work for the week; I opened the drawer, forced the lock and spread the contents out on my desk.
Three hours later, I leaned back in my chair – speechless.
There’s little doubt that there’s a vast ocean of oil lying underneath my feet at this very moment. There may be more oil here at the South Pole than there is in the Middle East.
I struggled to know how to respond because the implications were so extreme. The repercussions of the words staring up at me were beyond my comprehension. This stuff was the type of thing that had the potential to make people wealthy beyond all reason. The things that I now knew could make nations superpowers – or bring them to their knees.
Finally, I turned on my computer and made a report of the whole thing. As the words marched across the screen I wondered, What will be the outcome of all this?
Little did I know the can of worms my simple actions would unleash. If I’d known I would have thrown the box in the ocean! Life is always lived on the edge when one chooses to dwell at the South Pole, but the events that followed would take months to comprehend, and impact my life forever.