Giant ants create a new apocalypse!
Even in the 21st Century many people continue to be fascinated by the ‘big bug’ movies of the 1950’s. At age ten, my first titillating exposure came with the movie, Them, a 1954 James Arness and James Whitmore classic about giant ants. I have never forgotten that jaw dropping experience and still watch the show with a sense of antiquated wonder and nostalgia when it is shown. I have also longed for a sequel to this early classic.
Therefore, it is with a sense of yearning for those old days that I have decided to write one of my own, not in script form, but as a novel. Times have changed, hence, in order to make the story more believable and as equally exciting, the technology and story must be adapted to modern frames of thought. Here goes…
This one is for…James Arness, James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn & Joan Weldon, the original cast of Them!
Hardcopy at - http://outskirtspress.com/bookstore/9781432786489.html
E-Book at - https://www.amazon.com/author/eugeneladnier
April 10, 2012 – Near Mount Erebus, Antarctica
The bitterly cold wind along the slopes of Mount Erebus, an active volcano located in the Royal Society Mountain Range of Antarctica, had finally calmed down. Doctor Yoshida had been waiting at the McMurdo Station, for several weeks for an opportunity to take some ice core samples from the slopes of the mountain. The half mile thick layer of ice along the sloping saddle he selected had melted down to within fifteen meters of the underlying surface, causing a great deal of concern among the world’s climatology community. Mount Erebus was known to be an active volcano but the ice melt could not be scientifically attributed to that.
Doctor Isorokou Akihito Yoshida, a renowned paleoclimatologist and senior member of the staff of Yokohoma National University in Yokosuka, Japan, could practically write his own ticket to any spot on the globe with a guarantee of financial backing. He was one of the most respected persons in his field and the scientific community revered his work.
As he walked over to the drilling rig, which steadily bit into the hard ice laid down millions of years ago, a sudden gust of wind blew his parka hood from his face causing his aging eyes to water from the bitter cold. It was a mere eight degrees below zero Fahrenheit, but the wind chill was agony to his frail aging body.
I’m getting too old for work like this, Yoshida thought. He knew that it would not be long before he would have to turn the fieldwork over to one of his younger associates who followed him around like eager pups, but the mere thought of ending his decades old career in the lab was unsettling. He had always loved the outdoors and took every available opportunity to get away from civilization.
“We’re almost there Doc,” a heavyset man remarked as he steadied the drill platform. “This ice is like cutting through solid steel, hardest I’ve ever seen. We have seven drill pipes so far and I think this one is just about to the bottom.”
Yoshida nodded his head in response and glanced at the seven ice core pipes laid gently in the snow. Each pipe was about three inches in diameter and six feet long. His task was to examine the core samples and record each section in time. Alternating bands of light and dark snow can be seen when light is shown through the ice core from behind. The light layers represented summer snow and the dark layers winter snow. By recording each individual layer, he could determine the age of the ice. It was almost like reading the rings of a tree. He already knew the date when they were starting, from reading previous core samples. Once he got the cores back into his lab he would analyze the concentration of oxygen atoms for a more detailed scientific dating.
It didn’t sound like an exciting field of work, but Yoshida loved it. It was like being a time detective. The climatic parameters such as air temperature, rate of precipitation, and solar radiation would provide him a long history of global warming and cooling. The fact that this ice shelf had melted so far down was baffling in itself, indicating an incredible shift in recent climatic activity.
“Bringing up the last section of pipe!” the drill rig operator yelled.
Yoshida moved closer to the hole to get a better view of the pipe as it slid from the ice. As the operator gently swung the pipe over and laid it on the ground, Yoshida noticed that the drill end was clogged with something other than ice. The pipes were not designed to go through rock but it was possible they had bit into a section of frozen prehistoric mud.
Yoshida glanced at his associate, a younger man, standing near the drill hole. “Have these samples brought to my field lab immediately.” He then turned and headed back down the gentle slope.
His field lab was a small ten by twenty-foot balloon building. They could not afford to commute the long miles to and from McMurdo Station so he did his initial core sampling in this durable inflatable lab, provided courtesy of the United States Navy. Another similar balloon building was near and was used as their sleeping and dining quarters and contained their sensitive scientific equipment.
Several graduate associates and drill workers placed the ice core samples on a long table inside the lab. Yoshida would normally begin with the first core sample but his curiosity got the better of him and he decided to start with the last sample taken.
It was a simple thing to heat the pipe thus allowing it to slide off the core sample like a sausage from its skin. The sample was normal ice except for the last fifteen or so inches which appeared to be a frozen gelatinous substance.
Yoshida glanced curiously at the substance. It appeared to be tissue of some kind from a once living organism. He decided to remove a sample of the frozen matter and take it to the other, heated, balloon tent where his scientific equipment was located.
“What’s that Doc?” a colleague asked, as he entered the warm tent carrying the Petri dish containing a sample of the unusual matter.
“It came from the end of the last core sample,” Yoshida casually replied. “I believe it was between the ice and the frozen ground. It appears to be some sort of biological substance.”
Doctor C. Sebastian Cummins was in Antarctica to do biological research. He had accompanied Yoshida in the chance of finding animal life among the frozen barren landscape. After two days he had almost given up hope.
“If you’ll give me a sample I’ll be happy to have a look at it?” Cummins eagerly asked. He was about to go stir crazy for something to do and had already packed his personal gear to return to McMurdo on the next shuttle.
Yoshida passed the dish over to the eager scientist. “I’ll be in the other tent working on my ice core samples.” He left without another word.
Several hours later, the tall slim biologist interrupted Yoshida as he was counting layers on one of the core samples. The man rushed into the freezing tent. Yoshida could see that he was very excited, he wasn’t even wearing his cold weather gear.
“We’ve got to get to this!” Doctor Cummins exploded, holding up the Petri dish that Yoshida had left with him.
Yoshida removed his heavy glasses and stared at the man. He did not say a word but waited patiently for the biologist to explain himself.
Doctor Cummins pointed a red finger at the dish. He was already starting to shake from the bitter cold. “It’s amniotic fluid,” he blurted. “Your drill bit dug through a prehistoric egg of some kind. We’ve got to uncover it and take it back for study.”
“What kind of egg?” Yoshida asked.
By this time Doctor Cummins was shaking like a vibrator.
“I’ll follow you back to the other tent.” Yoshida smiled. He knew that he would not be able to make any sense out of what the man stuttered while he was slowly freezing.
“I don’t know what kind of egg it is,” Doctor Cummins stated, once they were back in the warmth of the other tent. “But, there is a bacterial infection in the amniotic fluid and the bacteria is alive. That means the frozen egg tissue could possibly be regenerated.”
“That egg has to be millions of years old.” Yoshida was skeptical about the man’s conclusions. “Regenerated to what degree?”
“Impossible to tell at this point.” Cummins shuddered. “But we must uncover it and take it back to be studied. This may be the scientific find of the century.”
“Have you determined what kind of animal the amniotic fluid belongs to?
“Not my field Doctor. We’ll have to send samples out to determine its composition. But, it does represent prehistoric life of some kind. We have got to get it out!”
The man’s infectious curiosity was starting to take root in Yoshida’s mind. The ramifications of the find could be incredible. He was no biologist, but any living matter related to the period was a virtual gold mine to other scientists. Yoshida had dated the ice to 34 million years ago during the Eocene-Oligocene extinction event. He knew that the first ice appeared when Antarctica separated from Australia around 40 million years ago. Before that it had a tropical and sub-tropical climate and most likely a well-developed ecosystem of plant and animal life.
“We will need special equipment to melt the ice to get down to where it’s located. Perhaps the U.S. Military has something we could use.”
Several days after returning to McMurdo they had their answer. The U.S. Air Force used a special de-icing compound, Propylene Glycol with a separate but secretive chemical, to remove the ice from the wings of their planes and they had great quantities in store. The mixture was classified as non-toxic and safe for environmental use. The technicians responsible for de-icing the planes assured Doctor Yoshida they could dissolve the ice in a matter of hours if the grade of the hill was angled enough to allow the chemical solutions to properly run off.
Yoshida watched as the huge five hundred-pound bladder of mixture was loaded into the belly of the cargo plane that would make the return trip to the work site. Doctor Cummins was so engrossed with the first sample he excused himself from the follow-up expedition. Instead, Yoshida was accompanied by two of his graduate students who were fascinated by the unusual find. Yoshida knew they both had visions of Jurassic Park dancing in their adolescent minds.
The area had changed little in the few days that he was gone. The weather was cooperating as the bitter wind had calmed down and the temperature had risen to about four degrees above zero. They used several arctic snowcat vehicles to climb the slope from the flat landing field. One vehicle was used to pull the sled with the heavy bladder of de-icing compound, so it took several hours to make it to the original work site.
Once at the work site, Yoshida directed his associates and the de-icing team to begin melting the hard ice, while he took a break to make a pot of hot tea. He was also excited and eager to find what lay at the bottom of the ice, but he could not afford to display his excitement in front of his young graduate students. It would not be proper.
He finally gave in after an hour and another cup of tea and headed back to the bore site. When he arrived there was a large depression in the ice with a v-shaped notch running down the incline to allow the chemical mixture and ice melt to run off. The depression was already a good thirty feet or more in depth.
“It’s melting fast Doc,” a moonlighting Air Force Sergeant grinned. “Our problem is the melt channel. We have to stop about every few feet and deepen the channel so it’ll run off, otherwise we’d just have a pool of melted ice water.”
Yoshida could see the problem without the man having to explain it to him, but they were still making rapid progress. Half an hour later, Yoshida spotted the tops of several round objects just beneath the melt water. He halted the process and, using the runoff notch, made his way to the bottom of the depression. He bent over and looked closely at the objects just beneath the water level. They were cylindrical in shape and about the size of an elongated soccer ball. Although the water clouded his vision, he could tell there were a considerable number of them.
Yoshida climbed out of the depression and signaled for the operator to continue the de-icing process. A few minutes later, dozens of the soccer ball sized globes had been uncovered. There was a large pile of them and Yoshida could see they extended back into the ice wall where the melt had not reached. It was obviously a large nest.
One of his associates joined him down in the depression. His eyes were wide as he stared at the pile of glistening white orbs. “What are they Doctor Yoshida?”
Yoshida grinned back at the young man. “They’re eggs. Prehistoric eggs to be precise.”
Yoshida glanced around the frozen pile of eggs. To his right he saw one egg with a neat three-inch diameter hole drilled through it. It was the one that his core pipe had punctured. He reached down and picked up one of the eggs. It was heavy and frozen solid.
“We will take a dozen of them for study,” Yoshida stated, glancing up at the men standing on the rim of the depression. “We will cover the rest with snow to preserve them for future study.”
Several days later, Yoshida shook his head and pushed the specimen back on the workbench. He had spent at least thirty hours studying the substance, along with Doctor Cummins, and they could not identify the amniotic matter. They still did not know if it was bird, reptile or mammal.
“I must send samples to my friend and colleague, Doctor Eoin Gallagher, in Belfast, Ireland,” Yoshida mumbled. “He is one of the best Paleobologist in the world. Perhaps he can help identify this elusive substance.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Doctor Cummins agreed. “If anyone can solve the mystery, he can.”
The next day, two crates containing four eggs each left on a cargo flight from McMurdo in route to Ireland, safely packed in refrigerated containers.