Bob Fletch was standing in the shower with the water spraying his back, enjoying its warm sting, when his wife Lizzie poked her head into the bathroom. "Youve got a phone call," she hollered.
"Tell em Ill call em back." he shouted.
"Its from Antarctica."
Of course it is, he thought to himself, turning off the water and stepping out of the shower. He grabbed his towel, did a cursory job of drying himself off, wrapped it around his waist and headed into the bedroom. Lizzie was wearing just a bra and panties, and he goosed her as he went past on the way to the phone. She whooped, as she always did.
"Who do you know in Antarctica?"
"Nobody that I know of."
He picked up the receiver. "Hello."
The voice on the other end was as clear as if calling from across town, which surprised him a bit.
"Dr. Fletch, this is Hal Reynolds. Im with the geology department at U. C. Berkeley."
"Sure, I know your work. You wrote that paper last year on tectonic analysis."
"Im the guy."
"So whatre you doing in Antarctica, and what can I do for you?"
"Weve been drilling samples trying to check out some odd-looking echo readings we got around 500 feet under the ice pack, and we finally managed to bring one up. Ive never seen anything like it, and I thought you might like to look at it."
Fletch nodded to himself. As chairman of the School of Geology at the University of Colorado and a specialist in mineralogy, he was a logical choice for Reynolds to turn to.
"What do you have?" he asked.
"The stuff we hit looked almost like granite, only denser. It had a smooth top surface, and if I didnt know better, Id swear it was artificial. I ran a spectrograph on a sample, and thats what has me stumped. The chemical building blocks of granite are there, all right, but theres also what appear to be organic compounds. Plus, while granite has a reasonably regular molecular structure, this stuff turns out to be almost perfectly regular. Thats what makes it so dense."
"OK, youve got my attention. What would you like to do?"
"First, Id like to e-mail you the spectrography results and some photos of the samples. Ill follow up with some actual samples, but thatll take a week or so, until the next supply plane makes its run."
"Sounds fine to me," Fletch replied. "Let me give you my home e-mail address. Im not planning on being in the office for a couple of days." He recited the information for Reynolds, and agreed to be in touch once hed had a chance to study the data.
"So hows the weather down there?" he asked as they were about to sign off.
There was a moments hesitation as Reynolds tried to guess what kind of sense of humor Fletch might have. He decided that he didnt want to take a chance of offending him with a caustic comment, and simply said, "Cold."
Fletch smiled to himself, knowing that his question had been banal. "Ill bet," he answered. "OK, Ill get back to you as soon as I can."
"Great. Talk to you then," came Reynolds reply, and the two hung up.
"What was that all about?" asked Lizzie, whod been in the bathroom brushing her teeth during most of the call.
"This guy from U. C. Berkeley dug up some odd core samples that he cant explain, and he wants me to take a look at them."
"You gonna have to go to the office?"
"No, I gave him the home address. Hes gonna e-mail the stuff to me so I can look at it tonight."
He turned toward the bathroom to finish drying himself off, but Lizzie moved into his path. "So when the going gets tough, they turn to the expert," she said with a grin, rubbing up against him. He grinned back as she pulled the towel from around his waist and grabbed him where he most liked to be grabbed, at least, by her.
"Only the best will do," he replied.
"Oh yeah? Ill show you best. " And she did.
Fletch stared at the data displayed on the screen of the Macintosh in his den and gave a low whistle. After a while he switched to the digitized images Reynolds had sent along with the spectrographs. There were six in all, scanned from slides taken by Jill Hodge. Reynolds had been right the material did look like marble or very dark cement.
Switching back to the data display, he made a few notes, then switched to his browser and called up the mineral database at school over the web. There was no question that there were organic compounds present in the sample, and the combination was nothing hed ever seen before. Nor was there anything in the database that came close to matching.
Granite is a silicate a combination of mainly silicon and oxygen, with lesser amounts of aluminum, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium and traces of manganese, phosphorus, titanium, zirconium, barium and water.
The spectrographs that Reynolds had sent him showed all of these, but there were elements present that simply didnt belong, including carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, all of which indicated organic compounds.
Unfortunately, the spectrograph worked by vaporizing material and reporting the raw elements, so there was no way Fletch could determine what compounds the elements were in until he could get his hands on a sample. With chemical and other tests, he could start to get some idea of how this material was put together.
If he had run across these data without knowing how they were obtained, hed have assumed that the sample had been contaminated with organic matter. But the cover note that Reynolds had included made it clear that the sample Reynolds tested came from the inside of the section. Reynolds had been careful about getting uncontaminated results.
Fletch picked up the phone and punched in a number. After a few rings there was an answer at the other end.
"Charley, its Bob. Yeah, hi."
"Charley, I just got some spectrographic data from a guy from Berkeley whos drilling core samples in Antarctica. Its the damnedest thing Ive ever seen."
For the next half hour he and his friend from the University of Kentucky speculated on what the team in Antarctica might have found. He described the appearance of the core sample, forwarding the images and data over the net as they talked. By the end of the conversation, Fletch had a feeling that his hunch could very well be correct.
Reynolds had said that the material almost seemed artificial, and Fletch had a feeling that he was right. And he tried not to think too much about the implications if this proved to be true.
Later that evening, Charles LeMont forwarded the data and images to two other colleagues, and posted them on his web site. Within three days there was a UseNet newsgroup devoted to the find, and a search of the web would have found more than a dozen web sites that included the data and images.
Eleven days later, when Fletch received the actual samples for testing, the geology and mineralogy departments of virtually every university and college in the world knew of the find, and were busily adding their speculations on what it might be.