Short Story: Apex

The night air was frozen with inaction, the wind petrified by its own icy gale. When it did see fit to blow, it did so begrudgingly and with a fury that froze everything to its very core. Even the stars saw no reason to appear despite the cloudless sky. It was as if some phantom force had turned them off until it felt they were needed again.

Beneath that vast emptiness was nothing but glacial fields and sprawling ice. That is, unless directed southeast, nearest the pole. There a few, hilly rises would break the monotonous flatness until they were over-passed and the land became flat again. The nearer one approached however, the more their shapes would redefine.

From their distant, mound-like forms, they would turn first to dome half-spheres. Then, upon even closer inspection, the domes would reveal a pattern. The largest would be seen to tower above the rest and encircle it like particles to an atomic nucleus. Upon being beside or beneath these semi-spheres it would then become obvious that each was composed of individual panes of glass, each one slightly conical in the center to keep off snow and ice, and otherwise were curved to varying degrees.

One by one, the rows of panes curved to form the dome shapes. Beneath them though, the truly wondrous marvel was a creation of neither man’s ingenuity nor his daring. Rather, it was a creation of nature, fused into a block of ice roughly ten feet wide, six feet deep, and eight feet long.

Located with a 3-D Resonance Imager– a device that sent sound-waves through objects then recorded their vibrations. The interpreting computer then read the reverberations, and arranged them into a picture of various contrasts of light and dark, that by degrees, formed an accurate render of the site examined. All of this was carried out via antarctic rovers, computer-guided across barren tundra, from one room beneath the largest dome.

The other twelve domes housed full-sized living spaces for the scientists, researchers, and various others staffing the facility. The entity in charge of this great place, known as the International Collective of Scientists, had footed the project’s five billion dollar costs with grants from just about every country in the world. From each of them too, it drew its employees; every individual required, and to the best of abilities, accommodated, to live in the Antarctic glacial lands for an indeterminate amount of time. The structures they occupied were surrounded by ice, that for millenia-untold, had been undisturbed by anything beyond the gales of ice and snow.

The Antarctic Research Treaty, created by men and women infinitely smarter than those that passed it, was a piece of UN legislation meant to help collaborative scientific efforts. Thus, the ICS was born and the domes built. If asked though, the people there would have simply called it “The Dome.” Though they lived spread across the other domes, it was in the largest of them that their lives were carried out. Whether in research, work, eating, or even recreation, life was lived largely in “the Dome.” That was the level of commitment the ICS had built it with.

Still, the wonder in the laboratory of one, particular team of scientists rivaled everything else in the Dome. Arguably, it might even rival anything thus far discovered by humanity. It would, if all suspicions were true, confirm an eon of speculation. Moreover, it would rewrite the history of the planet– if not the universe.

Presently, heat lamps were stationed around the block of ice that was half-melted. Streams of cold water leaked down into the floor. The team responsible for its discovery were clustered around it in white, level-1 containment suits to protect themselves from the discovery and vice-versa. A few held clipboards, but all of their faces were fixed in consternation, staring at the ice and the thing half-protruding from it.

For nearly two days the team went without sleep. Most fell into varying stupors, near collapse, awaiting the moment they could, with the utmost care, gather round to liberate the find from the ice. The twisted, humanoid creature, was perfectly preserved down to its blue, leathery hide. Once removed and laid upon a table, the remaining ice-block was combed for any particulate matter left behind. After thorough analysis, it was concluded that not so much as a skin cell had been misplaced. The creature was intact down to its cellular level, preserved as if in a time-capsule at the moment of its freezing.

A few people took pictures for the record. Flash-bulbs strobed from cameras that homed in on the strangely embryonic features of the subject. It appeared as human fetus might, early in its development; at least as far as the head, eyes, and face were concerned. They had oblong, grotesque proportions. The arms and legs were distended, over-long with hands whose five fingers were similarly longer than normal. Nail-like claws a few centimeters in length adorned the grisly hands with points so sharp it hurt to look at them too long.

Clearly, this creature had evolved for combat, adapted to either extreme defense or hunting. The mouth was merely a slit in the otherwise overly large head, suggesting the creature had little to no use for vocalization. Most fascinating of all however, were the thick, bone-like plates plateauing the broader area of the limbs and torso. The protective adaptations broke only for the neck, head, and joint areas that were marred by deep gouges, scars leftover from its life.

Clearly, this creature had come from violence.

Someone made careful measurements of the claws and the wounds, concluding they must have come from the another of the creature’s species. The debate it sparked, however academic, seemed to conclude in one way; this species was a violent predator. More importantly, it possessed strength that easily rivaled humans. Despite its distended, yet muscled form, someone theorized that with its brain size its intelligence would rival humanity’s. Were this creature alive today, it could topple Humanity with enough numbers.

The extraction of a skin sample immediately confirmed Earthen DNA. This was no visitor. Rather, it was a distant relative who’d appeared first on the evolutionary chain. The team would have to keep it quiet for now, but there was no doubt this species would have supplanted humans if living.

It was then that someone took another skin sample. The man leaned over to begin a small incision. The bulbous eyes flitted. The room froze. The person with the scalpel keeled over. Blood streamed from his eyes, nose, and mouth. His body stilled.

The creature sat up. All at once the team crumpled. They tried to scream, found their airways closed by invisible hands. The pressure in their heads built. Blood leaked from orifices. They fought to cry out. One by one, they realized what they’d done before dying from it: they’d awakened an apex predator– one capable of reason, intelligence, and very angry.

They knew their mistake when its words entered their minds. As if harsh whispers on a surf of disharmony, everything they’d only theorized was confirmed. With a lone sentiment, its hidden properties were revealed; “My kind will reclaim this world from you.

The last to die was merely one of the first.

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