Part One - That Thing in the Ice
White flecks blowing through the imposing grayness surrounds the tiny research station positioned at the Pine Island Glacier outpost. With the constant threat of global warming and loss of what was once thought of as an endless land of ice, scientist survey the continent with a vigor never before seen. The tiny village of pods linked by plastic tunnels resembles a frozen translucent mound barely visible through the storm that has overtaken the late afternoon sky.
A line of three snowmobiles followed by two teams of dogsleds rushes through the unforgiving weather in a search for shelter from the harsh environment. They pull into a makeshift area and begin to dismount their varied transports and hurry inside for warmth.
“Don’t worry about the dogs,” a man shouts to his companions over the wind. “I’ll get them settled and fed. You take the specimen in and see what the professor has to say about it.”
All of his companions but one nodded at his order, grabbing equipment and bags of gear before heading inside. He instead moved up beside the first man. “I’ll stay and give you a hand. It’s too cold for one man to be doing all by himself.”
“Fine. Whatever you say, Nic.” He pats the man on the shoulder as he turns to the sleds to release the sled dogs. “I want to get her in as fast as we can. She’s been acting sluggish ever since she left the dig site.”
“She seemed just fine there. She was digging at something buried in the snow,” Wilbur said. He knelt down before one of the lead dogs and examined her mouth. “Yeah, we better get her inside. I don’t like the look of her mouth. It’s not right. It’s turning yellow.”
“Probably just the snow. Let’s get them inside where its warm.”
Together, they began releasing all the dogs from their harnesses and leading them to the kennel run where their cages were kept.
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“What do you think it could be, Professor?” Expedition Leader Jonaz asked of the young man standing over the examination table where the ice sample had been placed. “We found it inside of a recently discovered crevasse in the ice field just before the storm blew in.”
“It is unusual, that is for certain,” Professor Plum said. “It appears to be an avian, roughly the size of a football. It is completely encased in the ice, which is strange. It would take a long period of time for the ice to become this dense around an unfortunate wildfowl that traveled into this region of the continent. It might be some type of malformed penguin.”
“Do you think it is worth thawing out?” Jonaz asked while rubbing his hands together for warmth. “We were going to just leave it there, but we figured we should let you make that decision. Do something that makes it look like our venture down here isn’t a huge waste of time.”
“I can use an extraction drill and take a small sample of the creatures DNA and use that to discern what it truly is,” Professor Plum said. He walked over to a cabinet, opened the double doors, and removed a large drill. Fastening a long, thin bit into its housing, he returned to the table, pressing the trigger repeatedly to test the device. And because he liked the sound. “Not to worry, my little friend. This won’t hurt a bit.”
Placing the drill bit to the large block of ice, he pressed it forward while engaging the motor. A mist of ice chips spewed from the hole he created as he sent the bit deeper and deeper into the sample. Reaching the hazy shape trapped in the ice, the drill suddenly jumped in his hands as if fighting his attempt to drill any further.
A bloodcurdling garbled howl erupted through the compound, louder than any natural animal should be able to make. Its sound resembled the baying of a wolf but combined with an unearthly hissing sputter.
“What was that?” Jonaz asked. He hurried to the intercom built into the laboratories wall. “Nic? Was that one of your sled dogs?”
From the other end of the intercom, terrified and frightened barks played. “Somethings going on with Queenie. You know where the professor is?”
“He’s here with us. What’s happening?” Jonaz asked.
“I… I… I don’t know. You have to see this. I think Morphons must be changing her.” The intercom went silent.
Professor Plum retracted the drill bit from the ice. “Let me put this away and I’ll meet you all there.”
Jonaz nodded and rushed out of the room as the professor brought a cooler out from under a shelf and placed the frozen object inside. He also removed the drill bit and placed it into a test tube, sealed it with a cork stopper, and placed it inside of the cooler as well.
The kennel where the sled dogs was a filled with stalls for two dozen animals, tiny sliding doors to allow them entry and exit, and shelves of bagged food. The noise from the dogs was overwhelming as they barked and howled with discontentment, except from within Queenie’s slot. Nic, Tasha, and Tara stood outside of her stall and stared into it with looks of worry and shock as Jonaz entered the room.
“What’s wrong with her? How was she hurt?” Jonaz demanded as he stepped behind them. Once he could see what captured their attention, he took a step back in horror. “What in the name of god?”
The large, lean dog was barely recognizable. Her fur had become matted to the point of looking like it has become one solid layer plastered to her body. A body that appeared to be liquefying, changing into a blob of goo, except for her head. Her muzzle flattened and her jaw widened as it took on a yellow hue. It was horrifying to look at, straight out of a horror movie.
Blossom and her parents loaded up the back of their van with supplies for a picnic. A large basket full of supplies, a picnic blanket, and a large ice chest. Her father closed the door with a firm click and they all boarded the vehicle.
“Why are we doing this again?” Blossom asked. Her weekends were the only time she had to practice her morphing abilities for BADGE as a probationary field agent. This outing was an interruption of her planned activity.
“We need to get out of the house for a while and have some family fun,” Dad said. “With Mom at her new job and you at the Sagan Academy for school, we haven’t seen much of each other lately.”
“What are you talking about? We have dinner every night together,” Blossom said as she buckled her seatbelt.
“That’s right. We sit around a table and eat, but we’re all so tired from the day, we don’t do much else. We need to have some fun. Recharge the batteries, so to say,” Mom said.
As much as Blossom wanted to disagree so she could stay home, she couldn’t. Between homework and twice weekly patrols, she had been pretty busy, as had her mom, with her landscaping designs. A day outside at the New Amsterdam State Park might be a good diversion.
What could be more relaxing than a day next to the lake, taking in the sun, and feeding the ducks.
“What do you think is going on, Professor?” Jonaz asked.
“I may be a genius, but I have absolutely no idea.” Professor Plum said as he knelt beside what used to be Queenie. Her canine body was no longer visible. Instead, it was replaced by a hardened carapace formed from what used to be her beautiful black and white coat. He tapped at what remained of her with a pen. “I’d need to verify this with equipment in my lab, but it resembles calcium carbonate.”
“Bone?” Nic said.
“There’s more than just calcium carbonate in bone. This is more like… shell. The hard shell of an egg.” Professor Plum stood up and grabbed a nearby broom. He swung at the remains, striking the material hard. The blow was deflected, showing no apparent damage to the shell casing. The blow did evoke a low rumbling growl from within what was left of Queenie, causing everyone to retreat a step. “Very hard shell, but shell none the less.”
“Is she still alive in there?” Nic asked, his face contorted in concern.
Professor Plum took an old-fashioned stethoscope out of a backpack, knelt down closer to the mass, and placed it on top of the carapace. “I hear a muffled heartbeat, but it is very, very slow.” He stood back up and waved the others toward the door leading deeper into the compound. “I think it is time we contacted BADGE. Their scientists will certainly have more experience with this… strangeness.”
“OK then,” Jonaz said. “Nic, get the rest of the dogs out of here, but keep them contained. We don’t know what this is. If they were contaminated or infected, we need to keep an eye on them. I’ll contact BADGE, but with this storm, it’s likely going to be a while before they can get anyone here. Spread word to everyone else to keep out of here. Professor, keep me informed if you find out anything new.”
Each with their own missions, the group dispersed to their assigned tasks. Professor Plum retrieved the drill from inside his pack and loaded a new, larger bit.
Madam Marvelous ID#26130
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