If what Sam had just heard came from anyone other than Professor Bickford, he’d have filed it away in the lunatic raving’s bin. But, this was Harry Bickford, one of the world’s most respected minds on the subject of Anthropogeny—and one of the few people Sam respected without question.
“Why haven’t ya’ made this knowledge public?” asked Sam.
“The idea of modern humans is…” Bickford drummed his fingers on the desktop as he looked up at the ceiling, “shall we say, more than a bit difficult for the scientific community to swallow. It’s a pretty radical departure from what we’ve believed for thousands of years. The few times I’ve broached the subject with colleagues it’s been met with little more than polite laughter.” He propped his head back onto his interlaced fingers. “I suppose I can’t blame them. To rewrite the accepted evolution of human history we’d need far more hard evidence than the little we have.” He lowered his hands back to the chair’s armrest and exhaled. “And even then I am afraid we’d be fighting an uphill battle. And, at my age…?”
“But, if it’s true…” said Julia.
“Oh, it’s true,” said Bickford. “But, someone else is going to have to pick up the torch and run with it if we’re to have a chance of convincing anyone.” He looked at his wristwatch and then rose from his desk. “It’s late and I have a lovely dinner I have been looking forward to this evening.” He winked at them both before opening the door.
They thanked Bickford and renewed their pledge of silence he’d asked of them. As they walked to the parking lot, the glow of the setting sun gilded the treetops. Where the path turned south, they crossed a low bridge spanning a narrow creek, its trickle of water wavily reflecting the sunset’s red. A chorus of chirps and croaks from peepers and larger frogs accompanied them to the other side. The lights of the parking lot were just flickering from yellow to white when Sam noticed a man sitting on a bench, looking at a magazine. His clothes were different from what he’d worn at the party and in Starbucks, but Sam was certain it was the same man.
“Just a minute,” he said in a low voice to Julia. “Wait here.”
As soon as Sam was clearly walking toward the bench, the man jumped to his feet and walked swiftly away.
“Hey!” Sam ran after him.
Past the man, in the direction he’d run in, car lights flashed, car doors slammed, tires squealed. They watched a distant vehicle bounce over a speed bump on its way to the street. Julia turned to Sam: “What the hell?”
“Satsky warned me they were watching him. I didn’t believe a word that old man said, but now . . . Look, Julia, we gotta go find out what’s under that ice. We can’t just let this knowledge die.”
“In Antarctica?” She laughed.
“Yes, Antarctica. This is too much to let go of. Bickford said someone else needs to pick up the torch and run with it. Let’s go together.”
She motioned for them to sit on the bench. Sam looked around for others who might be listening, but saw no one within earshot.
“Look, this is beyond crazy.” She counted off the reasons on her fingers. “It’s winter in Antarctica. There are no flights. There’s no way to get permits. Even if you managed to get there, you’d never survive. Do you have any idea how brutal winters are at the South Pole? Gale-force winds of 140 miles an hour. Temperatures dropping to –70˚ Fahrenheit. No one goes there in winter.”
“Exactly. Look, if we wait till spring, we’ll never get your team to agree to help us uncover what’s down there. Right?”
“No, you’re right — that’s not what they do. But . . . what the hell do you have in mind? The two of us going it alone? We’d need transportation. We’d need supplies. We’d need a team—an experienced team of drillers. People who know the rigs and can drill down to half a mile in the harshest conditions on Earth. We’d need…our heads examined. No one goes down to Antarctica in the winter.
“Yeah, right…gottcha…but this could be the discovery of a lifetime. We’ll never get another chance. We gotta do this.”
“We? Sam, I hardly even know you,” said Julia, folding her arms. “It’s out of the question.”
Sam smiled at her and looked off into the distance.
“What if I return the spoon you loaned me…?”
She blushed. “You kept it?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have survived without it.”
She grinned. “It’s crazy. We can’t.”
“But, just think of what we might find.”
Julia shook her head and sighed. “Where in hell would we find drillers? Aircraft? Money?”
Sam laughed. “I know where ta’ get everything we need includin’ the drillers and equipment. Trust me. I have some people I want you to meet.”