For what purpose was so much fresh water locked up in eternal ice, then set aside amidst freezing salt oceans? Nature did not create things mindlessly, or randomly, as some fools who thought themselves wise were beginning to think. Purposefulness was written into every rock, river, leaf, animal, and human being, not to mention the stars and orbs of the heavens and the solar system.
Purpose was there, embedded in eternal ice, but what Purpose? For what reason was Antarctica fashioned so magnificently? To his mind she was Mystery, and to touch Mystery, to dare to set foot upon her, was the greatest privilege life could offer a young man of means, courage, and strength. To brave the defenses of sheer Mystery and attempt to conquer her secrets, that was his life’s aim when he first set eyes on her immensities in his child’s geography book.
As for the North Pole, it was not the same at all, and held little interest for him. Ringed closely and warmed by land masses, populated by Esqimoes, traversed from earliest times, accessible and well-known, with large predatory species able to survive upon it, the Arctic was not the same phenomenon. There was no compelling, soul-ravishing, spirit-challenging, sphinxlike Mystery there. Why go where other men had gone repeatedly since the dawn of mankind? Why put his feet in other men’s footsteps?
Growing up, he continued his studies on his favorite subject, for the thought of Antarctica consumed him. He also paid close heed to the authorities on weather--for knowing weather-patterns was crucial to any expedition (he had set his heart on his own South Pole expedition, to find it first before the others he knew were preparing to go).
His first expedition with his ship DAISY....apparently he missed the North Pole by a hundred or so miles, and the Norwegian, Amundsen, reached it in his place.
His second expedition with ENDURANCE, a three-masted barkentine made of greenwood by Norwegian shipbuilding experts.....not one member was lost, to be sure, but he hadn’t even landed on the Continent, if tiny Elephant Island could be said to be a part of the mainland.
Then came 1922’s Third Expedition and the outfitting of his second ship, QUEST. He hardly knew what he was looking for now that other men had succeeded in beating him to the North Pole and conquering the unknown heart of Antarctica. But somehow the continent drew him back--he kept feeling that something had been missed. But what? What remaining Mystery was there? Could he, after two spectacular failures, find it?
It was a wonder to him that his long-faithful friends at Dulwich supported his third attempt, but they gave him yet another ship, yet another crew and provisions, and heartily saw him off at the embarkation.
A friend thrust the latest weather report from the London TIMES in his hand of renewed cold and snowfall in Europe, and a report in the Royal Geography Society meeting the day before concerning weather. When he had time he turned to them, and read from the expert on weather patterns, who was attempting to explain the hitherto unexplained cold that had gripped Europe year after year:
“The Atlantic Palpitation is a pattern that habitually forms itself from December to March. It occurs between troughs of pressure off the isles of Iceland and a mountain of pressure centered near the Azores Islands. When ascendant, this puissant Palpitation creates a river channel, so to speak, through which high gales of stratospheric winds blowing off the Atlantic are accelerated to a phenomenal degree. All this moist, oceanic wind acts as a gigantic dynamo that produces the devastating snowstorms that have swept across Europe year after year since the first decade in this unfortunate century...”
Shackleton crumpled the paper--it was nonsense to him. Science was for the most part a shoddy parlor seance, a hoax perpetrated by swindlers who took shameless advantage of the public, their cash-cow! “Origin of the Universe,” “Extending Human Knowledge,” even “Modern Science,” were added to intimidating, hieroglyphical acronyms to confound the national cow and make her compliant for milking. He knew the true scientists, the precious few that were doing any useful investigation, but the vast majority were milking the cow for pure self-interest and a lucrative job to butter their bread with caviar! Europe was not his interest, anyway, unless somehow--the thought now struck him like a thunderbolt--Antarctica were reaching out imperialistically to engulf the world within her empire of ice! Could that be happening?
Perhaps, there was a reason for this expedition that had formerly escaped him--to unlock the Mystery and find out why a catastrophic Ice Age was once again clamping down upon the civilized world, in a time that had been expecting a warming of the globe for decades to come. Might he be the man to find the cause? The thought thrilled his being. He turned to his cabin when he saw that all was in order, and the barkentine was well on her way.
Taking down every available book on weather patterns and systems that he judged written by honest men, he reviewed the two or three books available on the entire subject as he set course for Mystery and the Empire of Ice. Men who knew they knew virtually nothing, and bravely and honestly acknowledged it--these men were fit to discuss the subject since they would never get a big government grant talking that way. Sir Delbert Whipple, Busby Dement Boepple, and Damien Plummett--were such true authorities on what was plaguing the world--but who would listen to them? They had gone against the entire scientific establishment, and any paper they submitted was scornfully dismissed before it could reach the platform and read to the sitting conferences convened to discuss the problem of so much cold in a global warming trend.
He appreciated Plummett’s daring most of all, particularly when he dared to quote at the start of his book a scripture from the Holy Bible, from the Book of Job:
And the hoary frost of Heaven,
who hath gendereth it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.
Boepple covered ground that Plummet did not--the increase in rainfall over the temperate regions, which were not the traditional temperate regions but vast areas further south that had previously, in other centuries, not known much rainfall and almost never any snow below 1,000 feet. Boepple’s documentation was also extensive, covering Eurasia, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania including Australia.
He found the temperate regions retreating southward, and documented this by the movement of the temperate region crops from north to south. Some grains like barley held on in their traditional territories, and potatoes could survive in the chill of 14,000 feet elevations and so could stand the shift from warm to cold. Requiring much smaller amounts than hungry cities, manufacture of spirits continued unabated (potatoes made into vodka and, with some grain added, into an adulterated whisky).
But corn--except for one or two cold-resistant strains--moved into the deep southlands of Eurasia and North America, while in the southern continents of Oceania and Africa and South America, they moved north to escape the encroaching cold from the South. Wheat, with greatly-shrunken growing seasons in former breadbaskets of the North American plains and in the Ukraine, failed to mature, so wheat-culture moved south with most other grains--seriously depleting the world’s ability to feed itself.
Australia and certain portions of tropical South America and Africa, however, together with formerly desert areas turned temperate with rising rainfalls, blossomed into wheat-growing regions, compensating somewhat for the loss of the northern wheatlands, so a reprieve, a time to adjust, was given the world as if time were given Earth by Providence to seek out new ways of food production. His findings with his conclusions about “Providence,” too, were thrown out as “speculative” and “inadmissible” and “verging on religion and superstition.”
Finally, attention was always drawn to his not having a university position, which his critics all possessed.
By the time he took up Whipple’s book, the QUEST was nearing South Georgia’s main whaling station at Stromness Bay, the point where they would set out for the South Sandwich Islands, and thence--due to the prevailing winds, and pack ice--to a point on the Antarctic Peninsula just above the Ronne Ice Shelf. He had not quite finished the book when they dropped anchor in Stromness Bay, and prepared to wait for the ice pack to receded in the Weddell Sea, enough, at any rate, for them to embark on the voyage to the South Antarctic Peninsula. So engrossed had he become, that he hardly noticed where he was, and ignored the men who broke excitedly into his cabin with some a captain from a Norwegian whaler in port to tell him that their accommodations on land had been prepared for their arrival.
“What, sir?” Hugo Oliphant, second on the ship, protested. “Surely, you’re coming ashore with us!”
Shackleton shrugged, and held forth Whipple’s book on the Scott expedition into the Ice Valleys of McMurdo. “I’ve got to finish this account, and then I’ll come. Go now! We’ve got at least two months to wait, so what is the hurry in landing? They’ll understand, those Vikings! They know a good book is a man’s best friend at times!”
Shaking their heads, the men departed, leaving Shackleton in peace aboard the deserted QUEST. A couple days later a boat came out and Oliphant climbed up, finding Shackleton at the portside, looking South.
“I’ve decided to change the course,” Shackleton remarked somewhat off-handedly.
Oliphant stared at the Boss, unable to comprehend what was transpiring within Shackleton’s heart and spirit.
“Change it how, cap’n?”
“We won’t be landing on West [Antarctica] after all.”
“No, I’ve decided, or, rather Whipple has decided for us, that East is most promising to what this Expedition is seeking to find.”
Dumbfounded, Oliphant was at a loss for words. He grew red in his face, and shuffled his feet about, then looked South toward West Antarctica and then toward East Antarctica. He knew they would be attempting to sail against the prevailing winds if they headed East! How could they do it?
Shackleton seemed to know what all his men thought, at least on the important issues. He smiled grimly. “Yes, it hasn’t been done before! But that is why we are here, to do what other men have not done, and go where men haven’t gone. So we are going to make the attempt! We will set sail, in three weeks when enough ice has cleared off the pack round the continent, and head for the Dry Valleys of the mainland which lie just above the Ross Ice Shelf. Scott found them in 1903, and hardly a soul has been back to explore them since. I think, judging from Whipple’s fine book, that we will find the key to the whole issue confronting the world, we will find that golden key in the Dry Valleys, or that key does not exist!”
Was Shackleton mad? Oliphant must have let the thought cross his mind, for Shackleton’s grim smile was replaced with a grin. He reached out and patted Oliphant on the shoulder. “You see, friend, if we should find the Dry Valleys being covered with ice and snow, then we shall have found indisputabnle proof that there is NO Global Warming Pattern. Those valleys have remained ice-free for thousands of years, according to scientists. Wouldn’t that compensate our sponsors for this expedition, to answer the supreme question of our time?”
Oliphant’s expression cleared, and he smiled. He put forth his hand, and the two men shook.
Oliphant returned to the base, and Shackleton finished his book at leisure, particularly enjoying the concluding portion that dealt with Scott’s unpublished findings in Beacon Valley. These findings riveted Shackleton’s attention. He would have to see the site to determine the matter for himself. As for the Global Warming Pattern, he forgot all about it. He no longer cared. It was, now, of little or now importance to the true Mystery, the true Treasure, of Antarctica and her Empire of Ice.
Shackleton, leaving the party of five at the lip of the glacier, continued on. They were to find a safer spot by the water, and he would return in afew hours.
“I’ll just take a quick look into the valley,” and return, he told them. “I’ve read that Scott probed into that area after I was shipped home, and I just want to see it with my own eyes before we go on from here.”
No one knew then they’d never see him again!
Shackleton found the way up the slopes hard, with chunks of ice like the British Navy heaved about by a mad Cyclops then frozen in place. But once he had threaded through the behemoths, he reached more even ground, you could call slopes of nearly vertical ice and rock frozen together “even”! Using his ice ax, he hauled himself up, chopping holds for his hands and feet, if he found no crevices. Fortunately, the entire face of the glacier, at that point was seamed, shattered, and furnished many places to grab on or wedge a foot--he didn’t have to use the ax all that much, except for steadying and securing himself on the slope.
In minutes, the men he left behind were pin pricks moving about below him, and the whistling wind and the glare of the ice was all that accompanied him. Reaching the crest at 6,872 feet, he found much snow, and not wanting to eke his way down, he did as he and three others had once down on the Second Expedition, when traversing the unknown mountain wilds of South Georgia’s interior--he sat down, put his feet out and--down he slid! He did it completely on impulse.
He reached the base of the snow cap and plowed into a drift, fortunately, since the snow ended rather abruptly among some tumbled rocks the size of cottages. Only then did he realize he had forgotten something--he had said to his men--who were waiting on the other side--that he would only take a look! How had he been so stupid as to take that slide? Now he would be hours late.
Well, he was here, and he decided to take a quick reconaissance and then head back and apologise for the delay. A man of his word, he felt stung by his own lapse. What commander could be trusted if his own word did not hold true? This wasn’t like him--to ever forget his duty to his men.
Shaking his head, he began to look about beyond the boulders. Just as the map in his pocket pictured, this had to be Lake Falcon--so salty it never froze. As for the environs, rock and sand and steep slopes up to the glacier, dry winds prevailed, keeping the snow-bearing clouds away for thousands of years. He scooped up a handful of salt collecting behead a rock for untold ages, the product of condensation. The place was one big salt cellar! After a taste, he let it slowly drop through his fingers. How many thousands of years old was it? It had to have been there, according to Scott’s calculations, since before the Pyramids, and long before them as well!
With the map in hand, taking sightings from it, he hurried along Scott’s route drawn by memory. He needn’t spend time on the details sketched along the rambling, dotted line, since he had already read about them.
The run around the end of Lake Falcon took him ten minutes, for the lake was narrow, a mere quarter of a mile across. Now he was on the side where Scott had discovered an “anomaly of geology, a time-frozen artifact of dark hands and dark minds,” Scott’s cryptic reference, the sole one, that had brought Shackleton to take this detour.
Surprised at his own reaction, now that he was here, he blazed with hope that he would find it. If not the first, he would be the first since Scott, pressed by modern time and its demand, left the artifact to the elementals that had preserved it through the ages, hoping he could return--which he never did.
Shackleton, feeling he was completing his former commander’s mission, ran, stumbling here and there on the scree. Breathless, his eyes blurring from the force of the wind, he ran and peered at everything he could possibly identify from Scott’s map and secret memoirs.
He needed to climb some, and there was no snow, so he made quick progress up the slope. He was half-way to the glacier above when he reached a crack he hadn’t noticed from the lakeshore.
Ice-filled, it seemed. But the ice, it was really a big piece of something that shone like ice because of the thick hoarfrost covering it, and Shackleton’s wind-blurred eyes could not distinguish exactly what it was for a moment.
Crawling into the crevice, his eyes adjusted to the gloom, and then he realized that he was staring at Scott’s mysterious Artifact!
Stunned to have found it so easily, Shackleton felt destiny weighing on him like tons of bricks. Unable to breath from his excitement, he crawled toward the artifact. He just had to touch it. Could it be real? Could his mind have slipped? Too much exertion, not enough sleep on the voyage down, some delayed mental effect of the scurvy he had contracted on the Scott expedition that had nearly killed him and sent him back to England an invalid?
He hardly cared now, he just wanted to reach the Mystery glowing like ice in the darkness ahead.
Rock roof scraping his head and his chest, he kept going, unafraid that he might not be able to crawl back out and might become yet another “Artifact” for later explorers and scientists to find and wonder at. Ages hence, what possible explanations would they think up to account for his presence here? Would they scoop up his frozen, dessicated body, ship it to London and set it on display under a glass case, after tagging him with a Latin name: Hibernatus Antarcticus? The tabloids would have a heyday, no doubt, fabricating all sorts of reasons for his existence in an “Ice Cave” in East Antarctica. He would be called the last surviving member of some extinct Antarctic tribe. Pictures and captions detailing his clothes, his possession, along with conjectures about his means of support--hunter? fisherman? penguin-herder?--would be given. No doubt some future Punch would make fun of his anatomy in some shocking, indecent way, just as it had made fun of glacier finds--that long-missing Oxford don, for example, who had come out of a glacier in the Alps in September, 1921, his spectacles still in place, with his eyes wide open, his tie and tweed coat firmly buttoned, yet with his trousers missing! And the most sensational rags would concoct stories that he had awakened from his long hiberation in the glass case, pushed it aside, and then chased female museum staff about, before he was subdued and then hidden away, a reasonable facsimile put in the glass case for the public to see.
Wasn’t it bad enough to risk death, lose, and freeze in some ice-crusted cranny in the Dry Valleys? Must he also risk being made the sport of scientific autopsies, with every part of his body laid bare and analyzed for its “scientific content,” photographed for periodicals and journals and seated conferences to review and then, reassembled under refridgeration in a glass museum case, submitted naked as a bluejay to the stars of little pop-eyed children and adults?
But if he wanted to touch Mystery, the artifact of some unknown Ancient Morning Civilization and find out exactly what Scott had wanted to see, he must press on, he knew!
He couldn’t let what might happen to him deter him from the quest. Possible loss of all human dignity, the inhuman, cold-blooded invasion of his being by strangers with intellects and hearts more cruel-edged than their scapels and probes, was an intrinsic part of the trade-off for his choice of vocation.
Hadn’t he traveled with scientists long enough to know their way of thinking about the objects under study? Their passionless search for objective fact, when coupled with their impassioned, personal pride and fight for personal advancement--no wonder it made monsters of them. Compartmentalized like that, they ceased to be human beings in any traditional sense. They could create the most fiendish weapons of destruction, while slapping themselves on the back for the advance to science and knowledge such work was supposed to mean!
To such divided men--intellects divided from hearts, and hearts divided from human values and respect for anything higher than man and his science--there was nothing illogical about their behavior. They had completely blinded themselves! All in the name of this holy cow of the modern Western World--Science and Knowlege! They couldn’t see that they had made themselves a new race of barbarians, the like of which the world had never known, unless Dr. Faust was a a forerunner....what was their chief aim?
It had to be power, power over the elements, the forces of nature. They must achieve complete mastery of Earth and human destiny, even if their means destroyed everything in the process. Touting the great goods science and technology had produced to help mankind, they meanwhile went about their true aim--taking God’s place on the throne of the world.
“ Supplanting Almighty God, that’s really the aim of modern science,” he thought. He knew every humble soul involved in the science business, and none were truly humble who had left God out of their equations.
Secretly, unacknowledged, the massive Ego of Man had taken primacy, and wore the Pope’s tiara! They were the Titans, once again striding the Earth as her masters! To be Kings of the World...
Shackleton’s straining hands reached the object, but recoiled before he could touch it. He hesitated, taking stock of what lay before him. He decided, rather than first touch it, to examine it more closely first.
So close it was unmistakable, the object exuded a sense of itself that was nearly overwhelming. He felt reduced to a fly, a nothing beside it, though it wasn’t more than thirty feet across as he estimated as best he could in the gloom. But the insignificant feeling he had was joined soon by a strong feeling of threatening menace.
Shackleton was surprised by himself. What was the matter with him? he wondered. What could this strange object wedged between two rock faces do to him? He could hear the rising wind at lip of the crevice, reminding him of a true danger to his life and limb--the cyclonic polar winds, which rose at dusk to gale force and blew all night, reducing even such crevices uninhabitable due to the extreme cold generated. Indeed, if he still wished to live, he must leave the place immediately or he would be a dead man long before dawn, and some future time and people would have their stupid “Hibernatus” to paw and titilate them in some scientific zoo!
His ear cocked to the wind, and after a glance at his watch--lighting a match to see it--he knew that he had already made his decision when he first entered the crevice. It had been too late then to turn around! The winds would now, at this hour, have turned gale force! He was trapped!
The coldness increasing round him was like the icy hand of dread that seized his vitals. He had made a big mistake coming down to the valley, then compounded it by not turning back at once and exploring the crevice. Now he was a dead man, due to his recklessness. Having only himself to think about, he had thought most foolishly! He had doomed himself beyond a chance of returning alive to base camp at the Taylor. If he was found--and that was not likely--he would be carried back to ship as stiff as a deck board.
“Maybe I ought to write my last words now while I am still conscious,” he thought seriously.
Yet the press of discovery that gripped his whole being and heart would not let him pause any longer. He had sacrificed his life for this chance, and now he wasn’t going to deny himself. He wanted to see if it was worth his life--even one producing so little as his had in the last four decades, far as he could see.
Now that he was a dead man, he didn’t refrain from touching the object, and felt all along the edges, hoping to find something to tell him something. But everything was seamless, beviled smooth. Undoubtedly, it was not natural. Nature produced smooth things, but not smooth things made of metal, which this object seemed to be. Was it solid? He struck it with his fist. No sound. He then kicked it with the sole of his boot as hard as he could, and heard a most distant sound that told him that it had to be hollow, at least in part.
Well, he had learned something! What next?
Excited as he could be, he crawled and wedged himself along the thing as far as he could to one side, and then tried reaching around to see if he could touch its sides, since the top and bottom was so firmly wedged between the rock. He couldn’t! Not even his fingers would fit, thanks to the uncanny way the rock had been evidently molded to form a supremely-close fit for the object. It was like an egg, somewhat flattened, in an egg cup!
He had learned another face--the rock faces were not natural at all, they were part of the same complex, made to order! This crevice had led him to the “egg cup.” But what was this cosmic egg enclosed in rock for? What purpose did it serve, or what purpose had it been intended? Was it--he paused to consider--some sort of ancient archive from a vanished civilization. There had been many such, as archeologists were proving almost every day in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and also the Americas. Whole civilizations had sunk beneath tons of sand, together with their languages, culture, and arts--and so it wasn’t improbable at all that one had purposely put here a lasting memorial, to set as a reminder that they had once rejoiced in the sun and walked the Earth and done mighty deeds. What better place than a dry valley in Antarctica, where rivers would never flow, where rain would never fall, where every object was preserved for all time to come exactly as it was left. He himself had seen dried penguins that were thousands of years old--since they were lying in places that had been free of ice for that period, and so they must have wandered off the ice and been caught by the drying, deathly cyclonic wind before they could scramble out.
Only minutes had passed, yet the wind had risen to a high-pitched scream that made his ears tingle. He thought it sounded like the experimental jet he had heard in a London laboratory--deafening if you listened too long! The sound told him he couldn’t leave--not before morning anyway. And it was already so cold in the crevice, that he wouldn’t last more than an hour exposed where he was.
Well, what next? He had come to the end, couldn’t reach around the object, and so was that all? Apparently!
Was he content? Hardly! He felt robbed. But his was the robber’s hand, a kind of suicide too, taking his own life so cheaply as he had just done. What good was the pitiful fragment of knowledge he had just gained--finding an object set like an egg in a cup fashioned from bedrock? He began to shudder from the cold, and wrapped his arms around himself, trying to conserve his body heat. His feet were already numb, and instinctively, he crawled away from the crevice mouth, seeking shelter where there really was none available to a human being.
It was no longer “What shall I do next?” There was no next--but to die in this cold, dark hole in the mountainside facing Beacon Valley.
He sighed, then deciding he might as well be comfortable if he was going to die there, he stretched out his feet, and in doing so struck the rock face above, and--the moment that happened he felt the entire base shudder.
The whole facility began to quiver with life. More excited than terrified, he waited, and then realized that the space between the rock faces was increasing, leaving him room to crouch, then to stand.
The first reaction he had to increased space was to run round the edge of the object, to seek more shelter from the wind,which was now able to sweep into the crevice.
As he crept quickly down around the object, it grew in size as well, forming a somewhat rounded tube-like body, which was more than the height of a man--about 12 feet tall, he estimated. He felt quickly along the length of it, running his hands without their gloves to see if there were any seams. Yes, there were!
Already, he was freezing to death, as the rock ledge beneath moved and jutted outwards, apparently going to thrust both him and the object off!
The full gale of the cyclonic wind began to claw and rip at his clothes and face. Holding his face down, he tried to keep up his examination of the object’s exterior. He couldn’t see anything upwards, and guessed that the levered rock had completely placed him and the object outdoors. He would die in minutes, exposed as he was.
He felt, rather than heard, a hiss as his frantic hands clawed at at a seamed panel.
The panel jutted out, nearly knocking him down and crushing him as it made itself into an elegantly stepped entrance.
His clothes slashed on the razor-like edges as he wrenched his legs out from beneath just in time to avoid crushing, he was like a madman as he scrambled to escape into the tube. Falling and rolling indoors on the floor, he lay, gasping in horror and surprise as he found the interior warm!
But the temperature was rapidly falling with the door open, so he rushed to find some way to close it.
Feeling all along the door, he found nothing, but he was still frantically trying when the door closed of itself.
He lay in the dimly lit chamber formed like an egg, he realized, wondering what he had found.
Was he mad? Was he dead? What could it be? Was it going to be his coffin?
He couldn’t like there forever and expect to find out anything more, so he got up, taking a few steps toward one of the walls. The curving chamber, was it an entrance? Or part of something else? It had no dimensions that he could identify with any ordinary room. Colors and hieroglyphics (though he could see they were hieroglyphics of a geometry unknown to him) race across two curving bands above his head. From time to time the light would jump, apparently, and a single mass of geometric signs would form at head level if he happened to be looking that way. Startled, but curious, he reached out at the glowing symbols, and the moment his finger touched, the symbols went blank, and the whole wall exploded into bright light. Blinded, he fell back a step, but as his eyes adjusted he saw the whole panorama of Beacon Valley spreading across the screen, for it was no wall. He could see beneath him as if it were in broad daylight, but the mostly pale greenish sky was blackening like a scroll held in a smoking fire, as if night were coming on like pools of ink swept by ferocious winds, or--it was impossible for him to describe--as if the cyclonic gales were heads of black hair combed so hard that each circular whirling storm vortex stretched out in tiny filaments and spikes like fine-spun glass.
He was bewildered, watching the process. Was he looking at things as they were at the moment, or at replaying weather, day after day? He waited, and his suspicion was correct, for day and night wound back as on a giant spool within the hidden mechanism that powered the screen. Faster and faster, day, then night, a thousand days and a thousand nights, flickered across the screen.
Why was this being shown? he wondered. Had something gone wrong with the intelligence that guided the screen?
He moved further down the chamber as the screen continued showing the full calvalcade of days and nights as recorded in Beacon Valley. But before he took more than six steps, the sequence abruptly ended. A black screen darkened the chamber instantly, then a red flash shot across it obliquely, with an accompanying series of hieroglyphic symbols. Before they had died completely away, the screen opened up, showing the interior of the vessel, and it appeared to be a palace. A woman was standing, facing him, dressed in the linen garment of an ancient resident of Egypt, and she had a proud, commanding presence to her--so he thought she might be a queen.
The woman spoke to him, but he understood nothing she said. She seemed to be looking at him, but she couldn’t have seen him for she paid no attention to his expressions or to his appearance, which in his state of an explorer who had just escaped a very painful death could hardly have proven reassuring.
The moment she stopped speaking, she turned and showed her back, and the screen darkened, and went back to looking like a wall, with the two color bands racing across the ceiling.
“Is that all?” he cried out, in spite of his surprise at everything. He touched the wall-screen, even pounded it a few times, but nothing more appeared. He turned first one way, then another, but everything remained dim and the same as he had first glimpsed it.
He knew there had to be more, so he took more steps around the wall, which slightly curved to his right, and immediately found a smaller chamber, not much more than a closet, but it was strange, smaller at the floor than at the top, and tubes began in the room and went outwards in four directions. Near the floor, but without any visible support, he found four blue glowing objects, cubes, hovering in the air.
It was the strangest sight yet, and he had no idea what they could be, or what purpose they had been fashioned to perform. He could find out little by gazing at them, so he reached out, and a dazzling electric surge flared up, sheathing the entire chamber, and he was thrown back, though there was no wall to catch him, and he stumbled to get his balance, for he was on a ramp that led up and turned to the left. Following it, not knowing what to do, he found another rounded half-chamber, beanlike, set with two chairs and small stands by the chairs. The chairs--actually they were backless but had arms--faced a large curving mirror that stretched across the space between the two chairs. He went to a chair and sat down, to look at the mirror more closely. He armrest he touched was jeweled where his hands rested, and his fingers no sooner touched the jewels then the mirror ceased to reflect him and cleared to be come a crystal-clear window. He looked out into the whirling darkness of a Beacon Valley night, and the pale green Aurora Australis was beating patterns and quivering lights across the jagged peaks, lighting them enough to reveal their summits and also the slopes.
Worn out from his hike and the harrowing escape from near death in the crevice, he couldn’t sit there very long, and he rose, looking about. Could he find something to drink or eat? He was exhausted. He wanted most of all to lie down and rest, but he forced himself to keep looking.
At least the “mystery object” would furnish enough shelter to save him from freezing to death, he decided. He could then hike out in the morning.
This thought was a great comfort. He decided then to find a corner and curl up and sleep if he could--though his surroundings were so bizarre they seemed altogether unearthly.
He found the opposite end of the chamber did not end as it appear to, but a curve in the wall took him immediately into yet another chamber, this one just what he was looking for--a commode, with water running in a small fountain that he could drink as well as use to wash himself. A mirror was also standing on a small pedestal. And there were linens piled on a small stand. Everything was laid out so neatly, along with a plush rug of some kind of fur, that he could not believe from the looks that he had not been expected. He noticed that the wall was not solid, but had a chest inlaid, and he opened it and found many objects, some small, but all packed in linen and held with clamps. He opened up several of the alabaster vases, for that is what they appeared to be, and smelt the contents. Some bouquets made him think of fine wines--and he tested one--it was wine! He drank it down.
It must have been strong, and the scent of it was fragrant too, for he could hardly make from room and back to the chamber with the two chairs. Was that music? In his state, chilled to the bone, then suddenly warmed with inner fire, his head beginning to whirl, he could be listening to the London Philharmonic, the music was so superbly performed, but what were the instruments? He couldn’t make any of them out. Most sounded like stringed instruments, perhaps harps, but with amazing oboelike depths to the strings. How could that be? He couldn’t gather his thoughts together enough to entertain the problem any further, and sank down on the floor, full stretched, and let the wine work its magic.
Helpless as a baby, he lay with his eyes open, aware of the chamber, and where he was, but not caring if the world came to an end or whatever happened to him. He felt so good, as if he were floating on a layer of cotton cloud, refreshed by warm light and cooling wind, which played gently over his skin.
The feeling was like the pleasure of being in paradise, and it took the utmost effort of will to resist it, and to take command of himself back. With a terrible groan he struck out with his fists, and hitting himself to feel the pain, he used the pain to awaken himself enough, so that he succeeded in getting back his consciousness. Continuing to beat at his body, he fought the drugged wine of Lethe, for that was what he realized it had to be, and knew he had to escape the “mystery object” or it would surely get the best of him.
He tried retracing his steps, but he was so confused, and the curving walls gave no indication where they opened to another chamber, that he discovered in his flight several more chambers, which were filled with objects he no longer wanted to examine. He found a minature zoo in one, but all the caged animals--birds, lemurs, snakes--were dessicated. They looked as if they had died a thousand years before. He staggered away, and fell into yet another chamber, and this one had low couches, like berths in a sailing craft, and as he no longer had any intention of spending the night he lurched away, feeling the wall until it gave way to something else. Without passing the glowing cubes he at last recognized the first chamber.
Then something most strange and alarming happened. Two red lights shone like crossed fencing swords, blocking the door out, just as he stepped toward it. And the racing light bands above lost no time in forming a pulsing pattern for him to touch. He reached for it, and his finger again brought the whole wall-screen to life. Expecting to see the weather systems being repeated, he found the woman staring at him. This time she seemed to see him, for she looked him up and down, and evidently missed nothing, for her lips curled in distaste as if she had just viewed an obnoxious creature, like a worm or spider, crawl into her view. He waited, surprised, for her to begin speaking, but she said nothing. A thought seemed to flicker in her eyes, with a hint of cruel amusement, and then she turned away, the screen went blank, and he was left alone.
Moments passed, and he felt stunned. He again approached the door, but the crossed swords of light blazed tenfold as he reached for the door, becoming a solid sheet as he kicked at the door. He awoke later, his foot scorched, and the smell of burnt leather reeking in his nostrils. Truly, he was trapped!
It was, he realized, easier to enter the Mystery Object than to leave. But why wouldn’t it let him go? Though he was an intruder, what had he done that was so wrong? Who were the guardians of the chambered object? What reasons had led them to create such a strange thing?
One thing was clear: he could not leave. But within the object he was free to roam about. He had been allowed to look at anything he liked, but he was not permitted to leave once he had seen the contents.
He could not fathom the thinking that went into the construction of the Mystery Object. He rather sensed it. Such ingenuity, elegance, and freezing cold of intelligence--he had not encountered in his entire life. In the face of this mighty intelligence, he was a mere zoo animal! An object of amusement only! No wonder the woman in the screen had looked at him so condescendingly. To her eyes he was an insect.
Walking back along the route he had first followed, he felt a shift beneath his feet, but thought no more about it, it was so slight.
The darkened two-seated chamber, however, was different. An aliveness in the air alerted him to the change, for he saw at once on entering that the screen was showing a different sky than Beacon Valley’s.
He began to gasp and his heart stopped for a moment. It was no sky at all that he was seeing.
In the few moments it had taken him to reach the room, the Mystery Object had changed itself into a rocket or stellar-Argo, and he was being shanghaied away to the stars!
Though an explorer’s explorer, with a heart and a will to want to climb the impossible mountain, and swim the impossible sea, and walk the impossible trek, this was more than he could bear. He was being wrenched from the Earth against his will!
There could be nothing more horrible, he knew at that moment. Death in Antarctica, lost in the Dry Valleys, was now infinitely preferable to this being hurled out into the vastness and oblivion of deep space.
But what could he do? The ship, for that is now had to be, answered to nothing that he knew. He sank in agony upon a chair, leaning over in his dismay and pain.
He hardly cared what showed on the screen, for the loss of Earth, all that he had known and cared about, was like a hundred deaths in one.
What agency could be so cruel as to do this to him? Why hadn’t he been killed instead for intruding? That would have been far kinder than to do this.
He sat with his head in his hands for some time, unable to think of what to do. Could he break out by using one of the chairs. He tried to pull it up, but the material was strong as iron, and it was part of the floor, without any fastenings, so he immediately gave it up. He went back to the sleeping room, and found the low couches were fashioned the same. Nothing was made separate from the floor or walls. It was all one piece. Only very minor fixtures, together with the viewing mirror and the viewing wall, were inlaid.
Returning to the chamber with the door, he found the crossed swords still keeping guard, and he went back to the two-chaired chamber, then decided he couldn’t bear the star systems being portrayed on the mirror-screen and went to the sleeping room and lay down. He was lying there, his eyes open because he couldn’t sleep, when he felt a shift of the floor.
He sprang up like a cat, instantly, keenly alive. Creeping into the two-chaired chamber, his gaze darted to the mirror, and this time he saw two figures. The woman he had seen previously was standing with a man. At least he had the body of a man, but what had gone wrong with his head? It was monstrous. A birds?
Gagging, Shackleton reeled backwards, he was so horrified. He continued to back up until he struck a wall.
Meanwhile, the two figures in the mirror seemed to be amused at his antics, and were watching him with interest. Then the falcon-headed man turned to the woman, and they spoke a few words he couldn’t understand, and the screen fell dark.
A moment later, as Shackleton sank to his knees, he felt the floor shift.
“No!” he shouted. He lunged forward toward the mirror-screen and struck at it. “Come back! I am not going anywhere more! Let me go! I am a subject of the King of England, and this is unlawful seizure of a British citizen! Come back!”
Shout and pound with all his might, nothing helped. The screen remained dark, and he was again flying somewhere farther into the depths of space--his fate being decided by two unearthy beings that could not have been human.
“What am I going to do against them?” he wondered, at his wits end. “Where are they taking me?”
His knees gave way, and he found himself kneeling. Then his neck seemed to grow limp, and he was actually in a position for prayer. Realizing that Someone was trying to reach him with a rather broad hint, he recognized that it might be God. But he had grown up in a traditional household where his armoreal banner meant more than church attendance. Except for his christening and a time or two when he attended a funeral of one of his relatives, he had not set foot in a sanctuary. Besides, he had been schooled at public schools for wealthy nobility, and even though chapel was required, his parents had signed a release for him, which was granted whenever parents felt that religious training would constitute an abridgement of the boy’s freedom. He had never questioned that his parents knew best, and so he neither despised nor thought highly of church-goers, he simply wasn’t one of them, and didn’t think it at all necessary.
Yet his mixing with all sorts of men on his expeditions had taught him valuable lessons--both about men’s characters and his own. Moral courage was a necessary quality in a leader, and along with endurance--”Endurance” being emblazoned on the family crest--made a leader liable to succeed. But cruel and wicked leaders would result if that is all they possessed. Grand expeditions had set out only to founder, because their leaders lacked the requisite attendant qualities of trustworthiness and compassion. With those two undergirding Moral Courage and Endurance, he had learned that he could gain any man’s heart and steadfast allegiance, no matter the hardship. These qualities he had thought were sufficient for leadership of the best sort. They had sustained him in the most trying circumstances imaginable, particularly on his second expedition when his ship was emtombed in the ice for many long months, only to be crush into pieces by the ice pack, leaving them a few small boats and a long, long trek to Elephant Island, their eventual jumping off point back to “civilisation,” in this case, meaning the whaling port of Stromness on South Georgia Island eight hundred miles distant across a storm-tossed sea. Yet his four leadership qualities had stood him in good stead, and maintaining them had brought him safely to South Georgia through seventeen days of sailing the James Caird lifeboat, ten spent battling fifty-foot Cape Horn Rollers. From there he set out with another ship to rescue the men he had been forced to leave on Elephant Island. It was a story everyone came to know from the numerous books written of the venture. Become famous not so much from his successes but how he had handled his rather spectacular failures without losing a single man, he had never lacked in finding new support for his next expedition. Wealthy men seemed to consider it an honor to finance him, whatever he decided to do, and he was very grateful. Close school chums from Dulwich College days came forward each time as well to provision and outfit him and his crews.
Yet the Four Pillars of Leadership, as he called them, which had proven able to carry him through the worst that Antarctica and the polar seas could throw at him, they failed him now. They had nothing to say, in fact, about his present situation. Only endurance seemed to glow with a polar gleam, down deep in his spirit. It would have helped, however, if he only knew what he must endure, but of that he held not a clew.
“Fortitudine vincimus--By endurance we conquer” had been his family’s motto for generations in Yorkshire. It had sustained the Shackletons through many changes in royalty, not all favorable to them, and some extremely hostile. Shackletons had endured the Tower of London, and come away with spirits unbroken. Endurance had sustained them when all human aid failed.
The lesson had been learned long before he was born, Shackleton came to know as he gained mature years and education. But was it enough? he was now forced to ask of his legacy and upbringing. Had the Shackleton philosophy failed to account for everything that life had to offer? Was it lacking in one vital point somewhere? If so, what could it be?
Even as he faced the sheer unknown, played with by forces he could not possibly comprehend or master, he had to find that missing element--or else he sensed he would prove utterly helpless to influence his destiny in any way.
Finding his muscles giving away involuntarily, forcing him into a praying position, he wondered if he should pray? Was prayer the missing element in his background? Certainly, his parents saw no need of it. They preferred a secular understanding of culture and knowledge. Religion, to them, muddied the question. “Why mix a clerical collar among the logarithims and the test tubes?” his father would remark, if the subject of religion and science--then hotly debated on some campuses--ever came up at table at the Shackleton mansion. His father always had the last word too: “Do that, and you’ll get the Inquisition on our necks again, and look what happened to Galileo when he spoke up for Copernicus!”
No one could argue with his father on that point. They all knew the famous incident. Unfortunately, it had stifled the discussion, rather ended it before it even began. And so he had come all this way only to find out that he needed to keep the discussion going. But now it was too late! He was on his own!
He tried to pray, but gave it up. How could he pray for help from a totally unknown entity that he wasn’t sure existed--this “God” that the Book of Common Prayer was full of but never really explained.
In agony, however, he was forced to try again. Without any words he could think were suitable, he burst out: “Are You really there, God? If you are, then I need to ask you to consider this. I am going godspeed in a strange craft, to unknown ports, and entirely against my will! I must ask for immediate rescue, and I don’t ask it for myself, I have a crew waiting for me back at Taylor Glacier, East Antarctica--”
He halted. It occurred to him he need not explain so much geography, since if there was a Supreme Being, then he could be expected to know where everything was in the Universe. If not, then he wasn’t God, and his prayer was useless anyway. Either God was all-knowing, everywhere present, or he wasn’t worth considering at all!
But another thought struck him. What if God could not care less about him or his fate? What if his prayer fell on deaf, cold ears?
This gave Shackleton some hard moments. He thought back over his life’s experiences. They were all that he knew, aside from his Dulwich College academics. He had learned and tested certain principles, and they had held true. What about his leadership, for instance, if he had failed to be compassionate? Could he had gotten his men to willingly sacrifice their comfort for hope of a rescue months from then if they hadn’t trusted in his goodness and trustworthiness? Absolutely not! He had found that his unfailing attention to their needs and well-being had paid off in that when put to the test they came through wonderfully. He had to nearly beg men to leave the hellishly stormy Elephant Island, for nearly all were willing to remain and suffer the long wait for his return. So, taking along those he couldn’t trust completely not to crack on Elephant Island, he set out for South Georgia. Events proved him correct in his evaluations, for no one “cracked” of those he left behind. Though it took him one hundred days instead of the six weeks he had thought it might take to reach them--they remained steadfastly holding down the “fort” in makeshift boat shelters on the beach. They were all splendid, brave men, even to the stowaway who lost part of his frost-bitten foot to gangrene!
Yes, if his experience said anything, Providence had to be compassionate, or God was not worth dealing with on any account.
So a compassionate God would listen and not only listen would do everything to aid him in his distress! The logic was inescapable!
Feeling his heart greatly strengthened, Shackleton felt his old self return. He clasped his hands with vigor, and prayed what he felt was on his heart. He knew, even as he prayed, that his prayer was being heard and would not be rejected. He had somehow seized upon God’s prime qualities and knew God, and in turn God knew him, did He not? They could not be strangers to one another.
They could not be strangers? This last thought shook him. He had thought God was distant, to the point where he hardly bothered about his existence, but now all that was changed. His eyes were opened! He saw God had been the unnamed, unknown Presence that had attended him and his men as they trekked the unknown peaks of South Georgia’s interior in their attempt to reach the whaling port by crossing land instead of sailing round the capes the hard way in stormy seas and risking being drowned at sea. That Presence had been unmistakable at the time, and one of the men had remarked about it to him, and he could not deny it. Now the memory returned with vividness, so much so that he felt the Presence in the two-chaired chamber.
He dropped his hands, his face uplifted, and felt as if the Presence were speaking to him in response to his urgent prayer for help.
At first the Presence spoke peace into his spirit, and when that was accomplished, Shackleton felt it enough, but then words began to form in his mind.
That, for Shackleton, answered his prayer. He had no idea what was going to happen, other than his being used as a “decoy” by hostile forces, but Almighty God had just declared that he would act in Shackleton’s behalf. What more could he want, other than to be returned to his waiting men at Taylor Glacier? Was that possible? It now seemed faintly possible. He would have to pray again, he decided, and ask the Lord God about it.
He was preparing to do just that when he noticed the mirrored screen was picturing star systems again. Growing fascinated by the spectacle, he began to enjoy himself for the first time. He repeated his family motto, as he gazed at the clusters of galaxies and then a stellar object that grew larger than any others on the screen as he appeared to be diving into it. His course was direct at the beginning, and the swirling illuminated gas and stars intermixed gave way to an opening, and toward this his craft flew.
Suddenly, he glimpsed many bright stars heading his direction, from out of the vast hollow space within the intermixed stars and mist. They seem that they would catch him and burn him with their intense light for a moment, but his craft veered sharply, with the lights arching overhead in terrible, blinding flashes of light. Ahead he saw the whole horizon had changed radically, and the craft was speeding in another direction entirely, but they were followed by the spear-throwing stars. Again and again his craft would turn and make more runs at the entrance to the Cavern, for that was its appearance, and then run with the star-spears in pursuit.
This same strategy happened so many times that Shackleton grew weary watching it, and he wondered if it would go on forever. What was the point? To weary the defense?
Having come to faith in God, he decided he could leave the matter in the Almighty’s hands, and went to turn in and get some sleep.
Day after day, the craft went through the same tiresome maneuvers. It was maddening to Shackleton, but daily he gave it up to the Almighty and began to pray instead for understanding.
As he prayed more often, trying to remember scriptures that had randomly crossed his path in college days, insight grew in him.
With no distractions--the external fox and hound hunt going on perpetually with him as the spectator--he was free to think back and retrieve many little bits of information about Christianity he had not realized he absorbed. It amazed him how much he had stored away.
Now, putting the pieces together, he found things taking shape and meaning, and Christianity began to make real sense to his mind. A jaunt through the Dulwich Village Gallery once had afforded him glances at a number of Biblical scenes painted by Old Masters. Now, in deep space, the paintings glowed in his mind’s eye with a vividness that exceeded the originals. He recalled Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, shown just after their mortal sin of eating the forbidden fruit. That scene now made him weep, for the significance of it sank in as it never had when he saw the picture in his youth. He had seen enough of the sin and misery of moral bankruptcy in men to know the extent of the tragedy that the First Parents engendered. It had even led, ultimately, to his being kidnapped! What else but sin and rebellion could account for what was happening to him?
In another recollection, he saw the young Jacob and Rebecca, bethrothed, standing near the tent of her father, Laban, and the sheep gathered in the vales all around. He thought about the future Patriach of the Hebrews, Jacob, and his beautiful lover, and then he recalled other pictures, that dealt with other patriarchs. Isaac, Abraham, were two others, he recalled somehow. But which came first, he wasn’t clear. Perhaps Isaac, since he looked so old with that long white beard.
Yet there was another painting which showed Isaac as a youth about to be sacrificed with a knife on an altar by his father, Abraham! Mt. Moriah was the place. But a ram appeared in a thicket, and God spoke to Abraham through an angel, and a substitute was provided, sparing Isaac from the commanded sacrifice.
This painting made Shackleton confused. He had just believed in a compassionate Godhead, but how could one such command a totally barbaric and cruel human sacrifice? It made no sense. He was pondering this when words formed in his mind:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting
Shackleton was overwhelmed as he continued to think. So God had done all this for him! He had sacrificed his only, divine Son! He loved him, Shackleton, that much!
At first Shackleton could not think how to respond. Already grateful for God coming to his aid, even if the outcome was not yet seen to be in his favor, he could not quite take in the magnitude of the Gift of Grace and Salvation.
He wanted to pray forthrightly, “Yes, I think I see that you provided this marvelous Substitute for my own sin and rebellion, but why? What is the point of it? Why didn’t you let me perish?”
But the words he had heard previously repeated themselves.
“Since you have, I believe, done such a great thing for me, then I am obliged to surrender myself! You have bought me with your life! Whatever I am, whatever I possess, I am yours, Lord God!”
Having done this, he sank down to his seat on the chair, and waited, but there was no response. Hadn’t God heard him? Was his gift of himself spurned?
Not knowing, he had no choice but to watch the usual feinting going on in the maneuvers of the decoy craft, and when this wearied him, he returned to his mental touring of the Dulwich Art Gallery.
With is memory, he was able to put together quite a good pictorial Bible, even if he lacked most of the scriptures. One picture that impressed itself most vividly as time went on was Christ the Good Shepherd. It was this one that most embodied what he had come to realize was God’s own character and divine attributes. The Good Shepherd not only risked his life, he laid down his life for his sheep! That proved the Shepherd’s unconditional love for the sheep.
Day followed day, though it was something he kept track of with his watch, not having a clock on board. He hardly noticed anymore what was transpiring in the heavenlies, since he had lost all interest.
One morning, he awoke with a feeling of urgency. “What is it?” he wondered, as he went to the mirror-screen to look.
From one, suddenly, a bolt shot that enveloped his craft in light, and the words formed in his mind:
Taylor Glacier. The comet the men had seen the night before? Where it had struck the glacier, soon a man came walking, hale and hearty. Unmistakably, Shackleton! He had survived the crash without a scratch, but the craft he tried to describe to his men, when they climbed back up on the glacier they found only bits and pieces and a heavy snowfall soon covered what little they could find. Shackleton reported that the craft had landed without incident, and he had gone only a hundred yards when the thing began to burn, and then he felt he should run, and he was glad he put some distance between them for it suddenly flared up, then exploded in a terrific fireball.
Had the glowing crystals, the cubes that hovered in the air, had they been destroyed? Of them there was no trace. He never did find out who the woman and the falcon-headed man were. It hardly mattered. He was home, back on Earth, and knew that his life was forever in the hands of the Good Shepherd of all men. For Shackleton, that made his Third Expedition a resounding success. What was strange to him, was not his voyage to the stars, but that it took place in a fortnight’s space of time, when to him it seemed to last years, even decade.
Later, asked to explain his tardiness and disappearance into the Beacon Valley, he could only say he had acted impusively and regretted it, but in doing so “he had initiated events that had turned his night into a morning of glorious light.