No Man’s Land

blue

“It’s blue out here,” Professor Blatt sighed. She pulled her coat and hood more tightly around herself against the cold. “Everything’s blue.”

Her radio crackled. “No, the snow’s white. And technically the ice has no color, it’s translucent.”

“Don’t contradict me, Asahi,” Blatt snapped at the second-year grad student. “Give me red, give me yellow, give me anything but blue. There’s nothing out here but snow and sky and more snow. The mining equipment is getting close to its maximum depth and all we’ve discovered is more ice. You still so sure of your coordinates?”

There was a pause. “I’m sure,” came Asahi’s quiet reply. “And now you usually say something like ‘this had better be worth it,’ and then I remind you that it is. We’re digging through snow that’s an ice age thick. It’s going to take time to find anything down there. But I’m sure that this is the right place and I’m absolutely certain that by the end of the day we’re going to make a discovery that will tell us a lot about the ancient people who were here before us.” The voice paused again. “By the end of the week, at least.”

That didn’t help Blatt’s mood any. “How did you talk me into leaving the basement lab for this? I’m not fond of being out in bright light.”

“You know the nighttime temperatures can be lethal. And you’ll want to be here, anyway, in case we make any discoveries. I meant ‘when,’ not ‘in case,'” Asahi amended.

The professor spotted some commotion from the workers around one of the rigs. “Stand by, Asahi,” she radioed. She half-crawled across the ice, leaning into the wind, until she found the expedition’s anthropologist, wearing a nametag that read ‘Palm.’ “Tell me what’s up.”

“What’s up is a relic!” replied Palm, gesturing breathlessly. “I believe the drills have finally reached what was once ground level, and we’ve recovered … this!” As she spoke, a crane gingerly pulled a living-room-sized block of ice from the nearest excavation tunnel, lowered it to within a few feet of the ground, then dropped it the rest of the way. The thud knocked Blatt onto her back, but as she rose and shook snow from her coat, she saw the vague outline of something large and yellow inside the block. She approached it slowly, trying to make out its contents until Palm interrupted her: “You’ll want to come around this side, it’s easier.” Sure enough, the other side of the block of ice revealed that the drill had sliced this artifact cleanly in half. Already, the engineers were dragging warm-air blowers over to this side to begin the thawing process.

Blatt found her voice. “What IS it?”

“I believe,” Palm said excitedly, “it was called a ‘taxicab.'”

“And that?” asked Blatt, pointing to a smaller piece that had broken off the block.

Palm crouched over it and studied it intently. Then she stood and took a half-step backwards in surprise. “Man!” The commotion around her ceased immediately, all attention on her and her discovery. “Well, the top half of a man. We really need to be more careful with our drill bits. But I am familiar with the style in which this one is dressed, and if my hunch is correct…” She turned the frozen remains face-down and pulled at the fabric behind its neck. “‘Men’s Wearhouse’, if I’m reading it correctly. You know what this means, don’t you?” she asked the professor.

“It means that men were still alive during the last ice age,” Blatt answered her, as the significance of this sunk in. “There must be millions of them trapped down there, frozen solid. I thought they had died out thousands of years earlier. This is going to turn science and history on their heads.”

Palm had already left the corpse and was pulling something else from the ice. “Bonus!” she exclaimed. “This is what was called a ‘briefcase’. This particular one is made of genuine crocodile leather, which should make it water-resistant, and that means there wouldn’t be any water damage to…” She cracked the briefcase open like an egg. “This!” Nestled within the briefcase, between manila folders and a well-preserved fast food lunch, was a small black smartphone, still intact. She attached a clip that snapped readily into the data port on the phone’s edge, powered it up, and defeated its encryption. “I had hoped that would work!” she said giddily. “We only had an incomplete set of specifications to work from. But now we should be able to access all of the data it holds. Cached information, news, personal messages—”

“Give it here,” Blatt demanded, and Palm complied. Blatt examined the device from every angle. “This symbol on the back has religious significance,” she said in a hushed tone. “It appears in references to temples where people would gather and sacrifice their wages.” She turned the device so that she could see rows of icons on its glowing face. “How do I view the data stored in this?”

“Just tap the glass.”

Blatt tapped gently on the glass. Nothing happened. Then she tried slightly more firmly, but still nothing happened. She handed it back to Palm for a try. Palm tapped at it, shrugged at her.

Blatt sighed unhappily through her mandibles. “We’ve come all this way…” She pulled her hood back from her face, let it slide off to expose her head-carapace to the frigid air for just a few moments so that she could unfurl her antennae. “The temperature will drop soon. Let’s call it a day. We’ve discovered the ruins of Boston, we’ve found evidence that man survived longer into the Information Age than previously thought, and we’ve even recovered a relic from that period.” She tapped again at it with her claw; still it did not respond. “Once we learn how to access the data in this device, we could very well understand a key chapter in cockroach evolution.”

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