In response to aldersprig's prompt "Ancient creatures now, for the first time, fully visible in the light." I wrote this:
“Should we open it?”
“It’s a little late to be asking that now, isn’t it?” Lorna Fenton, Professor Emeritus of Exploratory Palaeontology at the Polygnostic University of Hornsby was leaning on her walking stick and talking to a former pupil while they watched the preparations to open the dome under the Antarctic ice.
“I’ve been asking that since the beginning of this project,” retorted the current Bodley Professor of Antiquarian Writings at the same institution, “but no-one’s been listening.”
“Probably because they think you’re just annoyed at having your expedition overrun by this one,” pointed out Professor Fenton. “Why does Antiquarian Writings have an expedition down here anyway? There wasn’t anyone down here to leave writings until the century before last and that’s a few millennia out of your period, isn’t it?”
“That’s what we thought,” agreed the still ungreyed Professor Friend, “but one of my students came across an anomaly while he was doing a geology unit for his science requirement.”
“What sort of anomaly?” Professor Fenton switched her full attention from the preparations to her junior colleague.
“Letter shaped staining in the rocks of that cliff over there,” he gestured at the feature that lay on the far side of the ice dome the palaeontologists were planning on opening. “You get formations that look like things, of course. In your field there’s the whole question about extra-terrestrial microbe fossils in meteorites,” Professor acknowledged that with a gracious incline of her head. “But this wasn’t a letter, or even a jumble of letter-like shapes. This looks like properly set out text.”
“I can see why you came down here,” mused Professor Fenton. “Firstly you’d want to make sure it wasn’t a prank with a spray can.”
“It’s not,” Professor Friend assured her, “and we haven’t quite pinned down the dialect yet, but it’s definitely Hurrian and probably early in the period.”
“How do you know it’s not a prank?” The old woman smiled. “Most scientists were university students once and university students can be very inventive.”
“In that case we want to know how they did it,” retorted Professor Friend. “Dr Franz Muir, our geologist, took some core samples and the discolouration of the letters goes back into the cliff at least 30 feet from the current surface.”
“Not a prank then,” she acknowledged. “Do you know what it says?”
“The opening phrase is “Do not open unless” or possibly “until” but then we run into a word we don’t know.”
“In case of emergency?” Professor Fenton smiled at her own quip.
“No,” Professor Friend was completely serious. “It’s a proper noun, so something specific but nothing we’ve seen in any of the extant texts.”
“So, don’t open what?” Professor Fenton followed her colleague’s gaze to where the dome opening preparations were in progress. “You don’t think?”
“I think it’s possible.” Something caught Professor Friend’s eye. “Someone seems to be trying to catch your attention.”
“From the parka, that should be young Hudson. They must be ready to take a look at what’s in the dome through the camera probe.” Professor Fenton smiled with girlish enthusiasm. “Come and have a look with us!” With that that she led off, out pacing the younger man across the ice and snow, even with her walking stick.
Professor Friend caught up to her inside the hut that housed the small probes and their workings. When he entered an earnest young man was telling Professor Friend, “The top of the dome is filled with gas, not water. The mixture is exotic but the gases that comprise it aren’t, they’re all common in our atmosphere. The temperature down there means there’s less water vapour, of course, but there’s more oxygen and carbon dioxide than we’re used to.”
“So, there could be something alive down there?” Professor Fenton sounded as if she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“Quite possibly,” another earnest young expedition member assured her, “that’s why we’re using a minimal light source and taking care to limit our heat pollution of the environment in the dome.”
“Very good,” said Professor Fenton, “but let me see!”
The camera was lowered the last short distance into the ice dome below and pictures began to appear on the monitoring screen.
“A nautiloid!” someone breathed as an oval shelled creature with tentacles spilling from the opening in the shell floated past in the distance.
“In the air?” queried someone else.
“How big was it?” That was someone else again.
The earnest young expedition member checked his readings. “About 5 metres long. In the air. It must be a new species.” At that point a suckered tentacle flashed across the screen, “And nautili don’t have suckers and that sucker was six inches across, so that’s another species.” With that something closed around the camera, the picture rocked and the screen went dead.
“I think something just ate your camera,” ventured Professor Friend. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to move my expedition’s campsite off this piece of ice and on to something over solid rock.”
“Aren’t you overreacting, Professor Friend?” chided Professor Fenton, “There are two kilometres of ice between us and those creatures.”
“Perhaps,” conceded the younger man, “but you’ve just breached an environment with five metre long, airborne predators and demonstrated that something down there can at least attempt to eat metal. Sorry, but I’m going to act on my natural paranoia.”
The small group of antiquarians and their geologist were on the top of the cliff they had been studying when the sound of a whip cracking announced the first fissure across the ice below.