Logo Designed by Perry Constantine
To the naked human eye, and by 1932 that had amounted to honestly maybe at the most eight people as far as the world at large knew, there was nothing at the North Pole. Swirling torrents of snow, lashing out like tendrils from some unseen frozen beast at the waters of the Arctic Ocean. Waves of water eternally fighting to cap and crest despite the frozen grip that sheets of ice, some possibly as old as the planet itself, held them in. No great unseen mountain range laced the area popularized by explorers and adventurers who considered it the Holy Grail of expeditions. No hidden plateaus harbored ancient life heated by some unknown source. The North Pole was simply a dot on a map amidst a frozen ocean, horrible wintry storms, and masses of ice shifting and floating atop a fluid foundation, pushing and even sometimes crashing into one another. To anyone flying over in an airship or unlucky enough to float far enough north for their sailing vessel to become icebound, The North Pole was barren of land and life.
That is not to say that there were not wonders and beauties of nature to behold. Descriptions made by men such as Peary, Byrd, and Amundsen filled the papers after each of their journeys northward, marvelous details about ice floes as long as the state of California and icebergs larger than the Rock of Gibraltar, rising and falling in the Ocean as if some terrible sea god were down below pitching them about. And then, as in any area new to man’s musings, there were the oddities, formations that simply had no explanation, but were somehow accepted as appropriate for their location for that fact. Like what some had referred to as ‘ice coves.’
Essentially ice floes fathoms thick beneath the water, ice coves sported massive frozen walls, rising high into the sky and some more than a hundred feet thick by most estimates. Although most of them had a single edifice protruding like a frigid finger waving at the heavens, some floes had three or four walls, each one more than a hundred feet tall, and most of them leaning in on one another, forming a sort of pyramid or dome over whatever might lie inside. One of Peary’s Inuit guides, Seeglo, told fantastic tales of entire lost tribes living within these coves, of things never witnessed by human eyes alive and sometimes squirming or even flying out of these icy enclaves. But no reports ever came back of such things, from Inuit tribesmen or their Caucasian employers.
That might have been in part due to the fact that none of them ever went far enough to see what truly lay atop the Arctic Ocean nearest the Pole. Amundsen, Ellsworth, and Nobile came very close in their fly over in 1926, but even from their vaulted view from the airship Norge, they were blind to the true mysteries the Pole held. Blind in part because of how well Nature always hides her own secrets, but also due to the fact that they, learned men they may have been, simply were not prepared for certain truths.
The largest floe by far in the entire region had either never been seen, though one could not understand how it would be missed, or more likely was lumped in with all of its brethren, even though it was literally miles longer and its walls a good thirty stories high at the point they curved inward, sealing themselves into a sort of conical dome. In terms of location, it floated atop the true northernmost point of the ball of mud, water, and humanity known as Earth and even in the years when it would be discovered, would simply be regarded as a natural wonder of the world, the largest decorative ice cube forever afloat in the cocktail that was the Arctic Ocean. Some would even jokingly cast a name upon it in scientific reports and academic journals in the mid and late 20th Century. They would call it ‘Santa’s Village’ with a wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Were those scientists and researchers ever to burrow in deep enough or by chance catch a whiff of smoke that would lead them to an egress, even a crack in the protective dome of ice over the floe, then they’d learn what very few people have. They’d learn that even comments made in jest are actually sometimes fact.
In actuality, the floe was more an island of ice, its glacial roots running so deeply beneath the water’s surface that they scraped the ocean floor. Its entire mass covered nearly thirty acres of water. Surrounded by the emptiness of nearly constant winter and frigid ocean outside of it, the interior of the natural dome was nearly full to bursting. Full of buildings of varying descriptions, from longhouses made of caribou hide draped over frames of bamboo imported from India to more traditional houses and out buildings that one might see on a Midwestern American farm or dotting the English countryside. All of the buildings stood sentry around a central structure, one that owed something to various architectural influences, but was also as unique as the naturally hewn cove that hid it.
Clearly the largest structure within the ice bound compound, it served as equal parts central headquarters, production and manufacturing facility, and primary residence for the progenitor and manager of this clandestine operation. Its appearance reflected its schizophrenic utility, the front façade being very much in the style of a Swiss Chalet. Richly hued British Columbian red cedar logs crisscrossed atop one another . Windows of hand blown glass, six on the first floor, three on the second and two on the third looked out at all before them like ever open eyes. The forest green shingled roof ran the full length of the building, coming to a point just above the center of the structure. Its length, nearly three hundred feet across from corner to corner, was the only oddity to the welcoming face put forth by this most extraordinary construction. To hold what all truly lived, breathed, and happened within those walls, however, commanded enormous amounts of space.
The embrace of the red cedar logs continued beyond the façade, running the full length of the structure, nearly 500 feet. Just behind the wooden walls, though, were sheets of steel riveted together to form an inner shell, a casing for the work and wonders that went on nearly year round. Home to approximately thirty different souls at any given time, the living quarters resided in about the first third of the building. Nearly all the rest of it, at least the first two stories left behind the homey scents of bread baking and the earthy colors of brown and crimson and emerald that hugged the walls and floors of the home, giving way to gun metal gray walls, work tables, and machinery of the strangest sort. Large, massive constructs with claws, grapples, and other appendages, but not ran simply by an engine, not at all in some cases. Each of these strange machines, regardless of size, had at least one egress in its hull, about four and a half feet tall, an egress where a man or woman stood, their hands and feet, and sometimes even their heads attached to the device in some way, its movements mimicking theirs as they moved. Cutting wood, picking up completed projects, packaging them in brightly colored boxes of all sorts, and many other duties.
The tables lining the floor were full as well, full of half completed dolls and unvarnished pop gun barrels and so many other wonderful childlike items in some stage of creation. And at these tables stood a cadre of workers, similar in stature and appearance to their companions manipulating the machines. All of them short, most of them slender, and each of them wearing a sort of full body jumpsuit the color of fresh clover. Some wore their hats of the same color with white trimming rimming their foreheads and covering their ears, but most did not when inside the workshop. The air around them inside the building was kept a constant temperature thanks to the innovations of their benefactor, so wearing the hats when diligently working often left the diminutive people with a sheen of sweat coating their brown flesh, skin the color of burnished almonds.
And all of this, the work, the living, the entire function of this veritable city within a life size snow globe, all of it was overseen by one man. Often down on the floor getting his hands dirty or watching and monitoring from his open aired center of operations that occupied the entire third floor, his quarters included, the genius behind what unfolded on this phenomenal glacier was in neither location on this particular day. The man responsible not only for the unbelievable marvels that allowed nearly five hundred people to not only survive, but live comfortably in an ice mountain, but also for many innovations that those in the outside world had taken for granted for nearly a century, was not even in the ‘Workshop’ as everyone had come to call it. He was outside, forty feet from the rear of the building walking slowly through the wide open red doors, the decorative white deer heads adorning their fronts hidden, of a circular red barn topped with a gray thatched roof.
“So,” he said, his jocular bass voice rumbling up softly from his broad chest as he entered, “how is the patient this morning?”
He stood, his large rugged hands on his hips, his well-defined arms jutting out to his sides. Even beneath the thick red wool coat he traditionally wore and the white T-shirt under it, thick cords of muscle were evident, running and wrapping about his arms like iron links of chain. His eyes, the blue of pure glistening water, took in the whole of the ‘infarmary’ as it had come to be known. This barn served as the place where lost and injured animals found either on the few landmasses within a hundred miles of the Pole or on the journeys he and those within his charge sometimes made came to recover and heal, to live and survive if he and those he’d specially trained had anything to say about it.
Stalls lined the barn’s circular walls all the way around. The large open area in the midst of the building was a mix match of hay bales, feed sacks full to brimming, and three long metallic tables for surgeries and, when nothing at all could save the hurt and injured, explorative autopsies. His eyes did not dwell on the tables long, his least favorite part of the infarmary. But they had been useful just a week prior, in saving the life of the barn’s sole animal occupant at this point.
“He’s fine,” came a raspy response to the question. The wooden gate on a stall on the right slid open soundlessly and the owner of the gruff tone, a malady he’d had since he spoke his first words according to his family, stepped into the open. He was shorter than most of his people, barely three and a half feet tall. He was thinner, too, like a wizened pine fencepost with spindly legs and arms. He wore the jumpsuit like his brethren did, but atop it sat a tailor-made white linen coat, much like any other doctor would wear. His almost square head bore no cap and barely any hair atop it, simply a few wispy strands of snow white lying languidly in various directions.
Carrying a leather bound book, he wrote notes in it hurriedly with a nubbin of a pencil as he crossed the floor toward the new arrival. Making his final period with a flourish, he slammed the book shut as he walked, pencil somehow inside it, and gingerly dropped it on the second surgical table as he passed by. “Recovering as the other strays of his kind that you managed to salvage did,” rattled the little man as he shuffled up to the larger man. “Mostly, that is.”
Return for Part 2 of Chapter 2 Tomorrow!