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October 2019
 
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ICE

by E. S. Strout


The Great Ice Age was the last major ice sheet to spread across the North American Continent. It reached its maximum extent around 20,000 years in our past, with its last remnants melting in Canada about 6,000 years ago. Geologists believe another one is a possibility.

U.S. Department of the Interior/Geological Survey

1.

Monday 14 May, 2012. 0835 hours:

Dr. Adams slurped tepid coffee from a Styrofoam cup as he viewed the video monitor. “Are our boundaries stable, Allison?”

“Sharp and clear, Professor,” she affirmed. “All tachyon relays are on line. Transfer field localized and stable. Fifteen thousand years, plus or minus a hundred. French River site clear for receipt.”

He crushed the empty cup in a fist and sank a two-pointer in the circular file. “Let’s make history.”

His student pressed ENTER.

There was a sudden flicker of the overhead fluorescents. The power outage lasted only a millisecond.

“The enclosure is empty.” University of Minnesota Duluth Branch Geology Professor Thomas Adams said with an incredulous gasp. “Where’s our ice field?”

Graduate student Allison Guilbert tapped computer keys. “I don’t understand, Professor. The capture sequence is complete, but the homing signal is lost.”

She brushed stray wisps of auburn hair from her face and tucked them behind an ear. “Enclosure location was pinpointed within ten meters. We should have a one-eighth mile wide chunk of Wisconsinan glaciation under that dome.”

Dr. Adams scrolled data. “Oh, oh. Check this out.”

Allison viewed the screen with a skeptical eye. “This isn’t right. My figures are accurate.”

A red trouble light blinked its ominous disclosure. “Damn,” Adams said. “Surge protector’s been blown. Show me our original numbers, please?”

Guilbert handed him a printout. “Bottom of the page, sir. 46o 53’ 12’’ north latitude, 91o 53’ 16’’ west longitude. French River site, on the nose.”

Dr. Adams massaged both temples with his fingertips. He could feel the tentacles of an impending migraine writhing behind his eyeballs. He gaped at the CRT screen. The bleak numbers stared back:.

44o 55’ 22’’ north latitude. 93o 35’ 18’’ west longitude.

“Somewhere south-southwest. Break out a geodetic survey map please, Allison.”

Adams traced longitude with a fingertip. Guilbert followed latitude with a straight ruler. “West Minneapolis suburbs,” the Professor said. “Excelsior. Little town near Lake Minnetonka.”

Allison grabbed the phone. “I’m calling the Geology folks at the Minneapolis campus. We’re missing a cube of glacier, 660 feet on a side.”

2.

0930 hours:

The eastern shore of Excelsior Bay was hidden in solid swirling, wind

driven sheets of snow. “Can’t see a damn thing,” Village of Deephaven cop Martin Bjorklund complained. “Glad I brought cold weather gear.”

“Me too,” his Wayzata contemporary Ben Kimberly agreed. “It’s May already. Lotta boats in St.Albans Bay.” He pointed over his shoulder where unhappy owners dressed in heavy parkas and snow boots chopped at fresh ice clogging the slips. The howling, frigid wind drowned out their curses.

“I phoned Fred Miller at Excelsior P.D. half-hour ago. He’s snowed in and on emergency power. He said there was a sonic boom, then the storm came,” Officer Bjorklund said, stamping his feet to combat the numbing cold.

“Lotta ice on Minnetonka Boulevard,” he continued. “Skidded twice, almost hit a tree. Sure wasn’t like this yesterday.”

“When I drove into town I couldn’t get past Lake Street. Zero visibility,” Kimberly affirmed. “Couple of stalled cars on Excelsior Boulevard had a foot of snow on top and iced up windshields.”

“Must be some freak Alaskan storm front,” Bjorklund guessed.

Kimberly keyed his voice-activated microphone. “I’m checking with Dispatch.”

“Weird, Marty. Minneapolis is sixty-seven degrees, skies bright and clear. But they say a big storm front’s moving in from the west. Came up real sudden like. They want more info.”

“Let’s ask Hopkins P.D. for a flyover.”

3.

1020 hours:

“What the heck is this?” the helicopter pilot asked. “I’m at a hundred fifty feet. Lousy visibility and weird radar return. I’ll try to go higher.”

“Copy,” Kimberly affirmed. “Watch yourself, Hopkins. Something very strange goin’ on.”

“Roger that. Wait one. Got something. Turning north. Damn! There’s a big green wall, stuck right in the middle of Excelsior Bay. Six, seven hundred feet long. Fog and snow all around. Can’t fly over, too much turbulence. Rotor blades icing up. Gotta return to base. Sorry, Marty.”

“Copy, Hopkins. I’m gonna ask Minneapolis P.D. for some help.”

4.

“You were right, Professor,” Allison said as she closed her cell phone. “Folks are mobilizing at Excelsior Bay. Joe Fredricksen from Geology at the Minneapolis campus wants our asses down there now, his words.”

Dr. Adams squinted at the unnatural brilliance of the laboratory lighting as the migraine announced its approach. “You explained our problem?”

“I tried, sir. He hung up on me.”

“I’m not surprised, Allison. Joe believes tachyon-enhanced matter transfer technology is witchcraft. Thinks I’m a wacko. Hmpf. He has no idea of how large a sample we can move, from any time to any place.”

She stared at the floor. “My fault, Professor.”

“Nonsense. Your premise is brilliant. How soon can we . . .?”

She brushed recalcitrant tresses from her face and punched computer keys. “Northwest Airlines flight 3154, arrives Minneapolis ten-thirty. Got us two economy class seats. We can just make it.”

“We’ll need cold weather gear and climbing equipment, Allison.”

“I’m on it, sir.”

5.

1235 hours:

The I-494 interchange with westbound State Route Seven was blocked by a Minnesota State Trooper car. “We’re from U. of M. Duluth,” Allison explained. “Dr. Adams here is Professor of Geology. I’m the Geology Fellow. Dr. Fredricksen from U. of M. campus told us to shag ass.”

The cop focused a doubtful eye. “You’re a graduate student? You can’t be more than sixteen.”

Allison pushed more unruly locks under her ski cap. “Yeah. I get that a lot. Try twenty-four.”

She gave the cop a bright grin. “Would you please contact Officer Martin Bjorklund at the scene?”

“Marty? Okay, sure. Transmissions have been garbled west of here,” the trooper said. “But he came through clear ‘bout ten minutes ago. He’s expecting you folks. Go ahead, but take it slow. Some kind of weird weather condition, he said.” The cop gestured toward the ominous overcast.

6.

1305 hours:

“Allison Guilbert. Duluth Branch graduate student in Geology. Guy with me is Tom Adams, my Prof.”

Bjorklund winked as he shook her proffered hand. “I’m Marty. This fella with me is Ben Kimberly. I’m Deephaven, he’s Wayzata. Graduate student? You can’t be . . .”

“Allison is a Ph.D. candidate, officers,” Dr. Adams explained. “Tell us what’s happening here, please?”

“Sure, Doc,“ Officer Bjorklund said. “I was on routine patrol through Cottagewood, ‘bout a mile northeast of here. Couldn’t figure why the road had iced up. My thermometer pegged at minus forty. Asked Ben to help me check it out.”

“We found Excelsior Bay like this,” Officer Kimberly said. “Frozen solid. Visibility less than fifty feet. Look behind you. St. Albans Bay’s freezing over too. Couple hundred-thou worth of boats wrecked.”

“Hopkins P.D. helicopter pilot did a flyover, said he saw a green wall,” Marty said.

“When did you first notice this weather change?” Adams asked.

“Eight-thirty, quarter of nine,” Officer Kimberly guessed. “It came on real sudden like.”

“It fits,” Allison said. “Our outage was at eight thirty-seven A.M. exactly.”

“Anything else, officers?” Dr. Adams asked.

“Really weird, Professor,” Bjorklund said. “Couple of miles west of here it’s bright and clear, but traffic coming east on Route Seven is diverting south to avoid the storm.”

“A localized phenomenon. Very strange.”

“And awfully cold for Minnesota,” Allison added.

“More like Canada, you ask me,” Bjorklund said.

Allison covered her mouth with a mitten to stifle a giggle. “Canada is colder.”

“How would you know?” Officer Bjorklund asked.

“Come on, guys,” Allison retorted with a contrived pout. “I’m from Thunder Bay, Ontario.”

“All right, Canada, you’re okay. Hot coffee over in the prowler.”

“Thanks. Any doughnuts?”

7.

“Ah, there you are. Professor Adams?” an approaching figure clad in cold weather gear and ski mask asked.

Dr. Adams squinted through glare-reflective glasses. “Tom Adams. And you are?”

Allison cupped a hand to Adams’s muffler-bundled ear and shouted to combat the knifing wind. “Professor Fredricksen, sir.”

“The nonbeliever. Thank you, Allison.” He turned to the bundled shape. “Good of you to join us, Joe.”

“Your damned experiment splashed down in Lake Minnetonka,” Fredricksen blustered. “Excelsior and St. Albans Bays are frozen over. The city is snowed in with no power.”

“This was certainly not our intention,” Allison retorted, leveling a cool eyeball at the Ph.D geologist. “Our computer models were letter perfect. I told you about the blown surge protector.”

Fredricksen gave her an agitated shake of his head. “Reckless experiment. Your Board of Regents will hear . . .”

“Excuse me, folks,” Officer Kimberly said. “My guys in Wayzata say their bay is freezing over.”

“Where?”

“GPS locator in the prowler, Prof.” Officer Bjorklund said.

Dr. Adams picked up a loose ice fragment and rubbed it across his forehead to combat the migraine’s assault, then stared in disbelief at the dashboard CRT image. “That’s six and a half miles from here.”

“Why is it expanding?” Dr. Fredricksen raged.

“It’s not,” Allison responded. “The lake water is reacting to a fragment of supercooled glacier.”

“I don’t understand,” Dr. Adams said. “Local weather reports predict temps in the low seventies. Warm for May. It should be melting.”

“Maybe we entrapped part of the Pleistocene atmosphere along with it,” Allison ventured. “Ambient temps then must have been like in Antarctica now. What if . . .?”

8.

They were interrupted by an odd sound.

“What the heck was that?” Officer Bjorklund asked.

“I heard it too,” Allison said. “The wind?”

“No, different,” Ben Kimberly said. “Low pitched. From up there.” He pointed a gloved finger upward into the raging blizzard.

“Maybe ice shifting,” Martin Bjorklund said.

Allison’s eyes grew wide. “Like an avalanche?”

Dr. Adams lifted his ski cap, cocked an ear. “It’s gone now.”

“We’d better check it out. You people bring climbing gear?” Joe Fredricksen asked.

“Glad you asked,” Allison said.

“Good.” His booted footsteps crunched across the ice crusted, snowbound surface.

“Hold on, Joe,” Dr. Adams said. “That’s fresh ice. We don’t know if it’s safe. Let me cut a sample.”

9.

Allison measured the ice core. She blinked in amazement. “Four feet, six inches.”

“Impossible,” Dr. Fredricksen said. “Even in January it can’t freeze that deep.”

Adams pressed a handful of snow against his forehead and grimaced. “Perhaps Allison is right, Joe. A fifteen thousand year old fragment of Wisconsinan glacier accompanied by its unique weather system. With self-perpetuating properties, due somehow to the temporal and spatial shift required to transfer it.”

“Junk science,” Fredricksen grumbled.

“Or we may have initiated a new glaciation period.” Dr. Adams said.

Allison exhaled a cloud of frosty vapor. “The global warming folks won’t like it very much.”

10.

1425 hours:

Officer Bjorklund stared up at the vertical expanse of translucent green-blue ice. “The ‘copter pilot was right. A wall.”

“Ready to climb, people?” Fredricksen hammered a steel piton in place.

“Wait one. Listen”.

“Not like before,” Allison said. “Different, know what I mean?”

“I hear it,” Ben Kimberly affirmed. “Kind of wild.”

“Gone now,” Dr. Fredricksen said as he threaded climbing ropes through metallic rings. “Let’s go. It’s getting a little lighter up above. Visibility’s improving.”

The ice wall ended in wind-sculpted snow creations. The climbers collapsed in the drifts to take a grateful five. “I can see a little better,” Allison said, sitting up and brushing snow from her ski goggles. “Look. Something over there.”

“Wow,” Officer Bjorklund said. “Looks like tracks.”

“Human?” Fredricksen asked.

A closer odd sound split the swirling snow.

“Animal for sure,” Dr. Adams said. “We got wolves and bear up around Lake Superior, but this is different.”

Officer Bjorklund swiped a glove across his brow. “Sounds pissed off.”

“There’s more tracks ahead,” Dr. Fredricksen said. “Stopped and retreated. I think we scared it.”

“It’s big,” Officer Bjorklund said. “Look at the length of the stride when it took off. And the size of those paw prints.”

Fredricksen shaded his eyes with a gloved hand. “There’s movement. I’ve gotta see this.” He headed off, tramping through the knee-high drifts.

“Better watch yourself,” Allison shouted over the wind. “We know there’s Pleistocene wildlife . . .”

Her warning was cut off by an angry snarl. A huge white form sprang from the snowstorm as Fredricksen raised his arms in defense. An answering roar came from the 9mm Beretta automatics of Officers Kimberly and Bjorklund.

11.

“You were lucky, sir,” Allison said as she helped the U. of M. Prof crawl from under the huge white sabertooth tiger’s body. “Didn’t see this one on the tachyon setup. Its camouflage was perfect. There could be more.”

“More for certain,” Dr. Adams said, giving a nervous glance into the swirling snow. “They may be with us for a while.”

“Your Board of Regents is going to hear of this,” Fredricksen grumbled, rising to his wobbly feet. “You, Miss Guilbert, will be flipping burgers at a White Castle.” He aimed a trembling index finger at Dr. Adams. “And as for you, sir, I’ll be recommending demotion and loss of tenure.”

Adams massaged his throbbing temples with more snow. “I think you’re in for a big surprise, Joe.”

12.

Ten months later.

“Just about finished, Dr. Adams,” Associate Professor Guilbert said as she downloaded fresh data. “Flew in from St. Louis Ice Station an hour ago. Just gotta finish my report on Pleistocene fauna.”

The Professor peered over her shoulder. “Good photos. Woolly Mammoths, bison and our friend, the sabertooth tiger. Looks like all are acclimatizing nicely.”

“And Professor Fredricksen?”

Adams grinned as he entered longitudes and latitudes in the computer. “He will acclimatize nicely, too.”

“Joe, his geology laboratory, offices and library will be joining us here at U. of Minnesota, Baja California Campus in a few seconds.”

THE END


© 2007 E. S. Strout

Bio: Stories by E. S. Strout (M.D.), a.k.a. Gene or Gino, have appeared in Planet Magazine, Anotherealm, Millennium F&SF, Beyond-sf, Jackhammer (Eggplant Productions), Static Movement, and Bewildering Stories. And, of course, several of his stories have appeared in Aphelion (most recently Family Ties, October, 2006. Gene tells us that the Minnesota locations in "ICE" are real places from his misspent youth (geographical obsessives take note).

E-mail: E. S. Strout (substitute @ for " AT ", ye non-bot correspondents)

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