by Tom Campbell

"Hey, George, come take a look at this!" Frank Marsdon was waving his arms enthusiastically, obviously trying to get Dr. George Steven's attention.

Frank and George were part of the fifteen-member team sent to study the least explored continent on Earth -- Antarctica. The continent was subdivided into six different regions, with two scientists responsible for exploring each region. The other three were the team coordinators and set up a centralized base of operations.

By this time, the initial excitement had worn off and reality had set in. Armed with all the latest gadgets for working in subzero temperatures, survival wasn't really a problem. But boredom caused by the same tedious schedule each day was. After sharing a tent with the same man for nearly a month, all pretense of formality and titles had given way to first names.

George didn't get his hopes up. The antarctic expedition was in its fourth week now, hoping to discover fossils of previously undiscovered species. So far, all they had to show for it were a few penguins and a plant or two. Frank had probably found some algae or fungus that had adapted to the harsh environment. But, Frank's excitement offered a welcome reprieve from the mundane chipping away of ice, so he wandered over.

"What's the excitement about?"

Frank, not noticing his colleague's lack of enthusiasm, replied, "My density meter is registering something below the ice here."

"It's probably just an outcropping of rock."

"No, it's not dense enough for that. And it looks like there is ice underneath it as well. So it must be isolated from the landmass."

"Well, I suppose it's worth a look. It'll be dark in a few hours, though. Let's head back to camp for the night and work up an excavation plan. Then we can tackle it at first light tomorrow."

They packed up their equipment and started the trek back to camp. The weather was relatively calm right now, but both of them knew how quickly a snowstorm could develop around here.

George was reminded of the earlier expeditions to Antarctica. Back in those days, many people died just getting to the South Pole. Except for the coastline, the continent was still mostly unexplored. "Here there be dragons," the old maps used to say. Of course, any unexplored territory was similarly marked. It helped to add to the excitement and mystery of the unknown.

Thankfully, the trip back proved uneventful. That evening, George and Frank decided on a course of action for the next day. They would start by cutting the ice into a large slab that completely enclosed the mass by at least a foot on all sides. Then, they could carefully chip away at the remaining ice until they discovered what lay underneath.

The next morning, the two scientists arrived early at the site and began their work. Within a few hours, they had the slab cut out and had started the long, slow process of peeling layer after layer of ice. By early evening, they had enough of the ice removed to make out a vague form underneath.

"Would you look at that," Frank exclaimed. "Do you see how that section over there resembles the wings of bats, only much larger?"

"Now that you mention it, there is some similarity. But it's hard to tell at this stage." George was starting to get a little excited himself. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, because he would've hated to waste a whole day's labor on a boulder. Or maybe they had finally found what they came after. "We'd better notify the team leaders that we have a possible find."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right. I know they'd hate to have us get full credit for it," Frank smirked.

Frank picked up his communicator and contacted the base. "This is Dr. Marsdon. I think we may have found something... We're not sure, we're still digging it out of the ice, but it's big and looks like an animal of some sort... But, by the time you get here... Oh, all right. Over and out."

"Well, what did they say," George inquired.

"They want us to set up camp here. They're going to come over and take a look at it tomorrow morning."

"That's not fair! They just want to dig it out for themselves and take all the credit!" George was exasperated.

"You know how they are. But, they pay our bills, so we have to follow their rules."

"Well, I guess so, but to me, it's just a big waste of time. By the time they show up, we could've had it dug out."

"True," Frank replied. Trying to add a voice of reason to the emotional outburst, he quickly added, "Look on the bright side. At least this way, they'll have to put in a little bit of labor for their glory."

"Yeah, right." George snorted, rolling his eyes. He knew, however, that he really didn't have any choice in the matter. "Okay, fine," George relented, but his tone indicated that it clearly wasn't.

Moving their campsite was a large task. After working hard all day, neither of them felt much like hauling all their equipment around tonight. So they both agreed to head back to camp for the night, then set about moving it the next morning. Frank decided to leave a couple of battery-powered heat lamps aimed on the block of ice, in order to keep additional ice from forming during the night and nullifying all their work.

Despite his grueling work that day, Frank found it difficult to sleep that night. Hundreds of scenarios were running through his mind, ranging from earning a Nobel Prize for a breakthrough discovery to being the laughingstock of the expedition for discovering nothing more than an unusual rock formation.

George, on the other hand, was sleeping like a baby. His loud snores weren't doing anything to increase the chances of Frank getting a few hours of much-needed rest. Frank sighed, buried his head inside his sleeping bag, and rolled over.

Morning came early. The Sun of late Spring was just rising as George prepared breakfast. While they were eating, they received a call from Base, stating that a snowstorm had hit their area during the night, and that it would be awhile before they could dig everything out. In the meantime, Frank and George were ordered to proceed with setting up camp near the dig.

After breakfast, they quickly gathered all their gear together, packed up their tent, and headed toward the dig site. Despite the powerful engines on their snowrunners, it was slow going. In fact, it was nearly noon before they approached the site. Frank's vehicle was in front, and suddenly came to a stop about a hundred yards away from the slab of ice.

George slammed on his brakes and skidded to a barely-controlled stop, just missing Frank's snowrunner. "Holy Cow, Frank, what'd you do that for?"

Frank didn't answer, but merely stared straight ahead. George turned to see what Frank was looking at.

The heat lamps had been working all night long. Not only were they preventing new ice from forming on the slab, but they also had been slowly melting it away. There definitely was some sort of creature trapped there in the ice, but neither of them had ever seen anything like it.

The first word to enter George's mind was "Big," followed immediately by "Purple." Its long tail was curled around its body, making size estimates difficult, but George figured it must be twenty or twenty-five feet long.

If it weren't for the large set of wings, George would have been content to call it a dinosaur. Indeed, it seemed to have a reptilian appearance, with the body shape resembling that of a raptor. There appeared to be two powerful-looking hind legs and a smaller pair of almost hand-like front paws. And of course, nobody really knew what color of skin the dinosaurs had, but the last color George expected to see was purple.

Frank was the first one to regain his voice. "It looks like a dragon, straight out of a storybook."

"Oh come on, Frank. You're a scientist. You can't start spouting off nonsense about dragons and fairy tales." But he did have a point. Now that his initial shock wore off, it DID look like a dragon.

Ice continued to melt and slowly drip away from the massive body. Frank and George quickly set up camp and plugged additional heat lamps into the portable generator. Of course, this went somewhat against their orders, but neither of them could wait. The ice started melting a little more quickly.

Base called them again, and told them they would probably be delayed for another day or two. Frank considered telling them about his discovery, but decided it would be something that they'd have to see for themselves to believe. So he kept silent. "Like the old saying goes," he told himself, "it's better to be quiet and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

At this point, there really was nothing to do except wait. As the ice layer became thinner and thinner, it was easier to notice more details about their find. The preservation was incredible. This creature could have just died yesterday. There was no noticeable decay anywhere. It must have been buried in ice rather quickly. Perhaps it had died in an avalanche of ice and snow.

Finally, the ice was completely gone. "Well, there's no sense in just sitting here, " George urged. "We should start examining the animal and record our observations."

Frank was unsure. "Shouldn't we wait until the Base team arrives?"

"Why? You know as well as I do that time is money. By starting now, we'll save both. They can't blame us for that. Besides, what harm can it do? We'll just do external tests, so they'll have a chance to view it for themselves before we dissect it."

"Well, I don't suppose there'd be any harm in that." Frank didn't really need much convincing. He was itching to get started as well. If anything had more curiosity than a cat, it was a scientist.

They began their routine of poking and prodding the animal, recording muscle thickness, bone strength, and a variety of other features.

"Whoa!" George jumped back. "I thought I just felt it twitch."

"Stop playing around. You know there's no way that could happen."

"I know. I must've imagined it. Maybe it's just my nerves. This thing is actually kind of spooky. It's almost like we stepped into a time machine."

"I know what you mean," Frank answered. "Why don't we take a break and grab a bite to eat?"

"Good idea. We'll both be more objective on a full stomach," George agreed.

Three bites into their meal, George stopped chewing and cocked his head to one side. He whispered, "Did you hear that?"

"Now, don't start that again, George. I'm not in the mood for your fooling around."

"No, really! It sounded like a low growl. Do you suppose a polar bear has wondered into our camp?"

"I didn't hear anything. But if you're right, we better take a look. We can't afford to have it eat our dragon!"

George rolled his eyes. "Stop calling it a dragon. Pretty soon, you'll be getting me to call it that, and then we'll both be put away."

Frank cracked open the tent flap and peered outside. Almost immediately, he fell to the ground, apparently in a daze.

"Frank, what's going on," George frantically whispered.

"I-I-It. It's a-alive!"

George had never heard Frank stammer before. He quickly took a peek out the tent flap as well. Sure enough, the dragon was slowly flexing its toes and its head was gently swaying from side to side. Doggone it! Now he was calling it a dragon!

His scientific mind always at work, George was quickly trying to figure out how such a thing was possible. Perhaps it was suddenly trapped in the ice and froze nearly instantly. Dinosaurs were believed to be cold-blooded creatures. And he'd seen fish and a few other animals that could be completely frozen in ice during the winter, and yet come back to life the next spring, after getting thawed out.

This could be a bigger discovery than either of them thought! Imagine having a living dinosaur to study. The things that could be learned about prehistoric Earth!

"I bet it's gonna be awful hungry." Frank had come out of his stupor and was obviously thinking along the same lines.

George replied, "Yeah, but what does a twenty-five foot long dragon eat?"

"Uh, anything it wants to?"

"Now look who's clowning around. Based on those large, pointed teeth, we have to assume that it's a carnivore. Which means that we might be on its diet. We'll have to be vegetarians for a few days and feed it from our meat stores."

"But first, " Frank interrupted, "we better chain it up or something. We can't let it get away."

"Hmm. You have a point," George conceded. "We have several hundred feet of climbing rope that we can tie it up with, and we can use some of our steel spikes to drive the ropes into the ground."

"I don't think that'll be enough."

"It'll have to be, Frank. It's all we have," George stated. "Besides, if we feed it just enough to keep it alive, it will be too weak to escape."

After a brief game of Paper-Rock-Scissors, Frank was chosen to be the one to put the rope around the creature's neck.

As Frank and George approached, they noticed that the dragon's teeth appeared to be chattering. "Poor thing," Frank mused, "it would be almost impossible for a creature such as this to survive very long in these harsh arctic conditions."

Suddenly, a ball of fire erupted from the mouth of the dragon, aimed right at Frank. Frank screamed in agony as his clothing burst into flame. George rushed to his aid, shoveling snow onto him to put out the fire, but it was too late. Frank was gone.

Looking up, he saw the dragon slowly rise to his feet and approach them. He quickly ran back to his tent, glancing back only long enough to see the beast tear a big chunk of flesh out of the charred remains of his colleague.

His mind still working, George was trying to make sense of what he'd just witnessed. They really had found an actual, honest-to-goodness fire-breathing, purple dragon! Incredible. The dragon's teeth must have similar properties as flint rock. The dragon's teeth weren't chattering. It was rubbing them together to create a spark that would ignite the gas escaping from his mouth.

Inside the tent, he quickly began rummaging through his supplies, looking for something he could use to combat the dragon with. Hmm. A bottle of scotch. Frank and George were planning a celebration that night in honor of their joint discovery. That would never happen now, but alcohol was flammable. Maybe he could make a bomb.

The dragon sounded like it was about finished with its meal. He was running out of time. He quickly tore a strip of cloth from his shirt, popped the cork, and stuffed the cloth into the neck of the bottle.

Matches. Where were the matches? Oh, God, Frank was carrying them. He heard a screech, and suddenly, the tent around him erupted into flames. His heart racing madly, he looked around for a means of escape. Outside, he heard what sounded like the flapping of giant wings. A second later, the forgotten bottle in his hand ignited.

The Base team arrived to find a scene of utter destruction. Equipment was strewn everywhere. Everything looked scorched and the smell of smoke was still in the air. The only clue to the cause of the fire was the broken shards of what appeared to be alcoholic containers.

"Poor fools," Dr. Kinneman said to the other members of the team. "They must've gotten drunk and accidentally started a fire."

"But there's no sign of the bodies," one of the team members questioned.

"They were probably at ground zero when the alcohol ignited. Combined with some of the other combustibles in their inventory, and there would be very little left of them. Of course, this will mark the end of our expedition. There's no way we can get our backers to continue supporting us now."

High above them, muffled by the wind, a screech rang out.

Copyright (c) 2001, Tom Campbell. All rights reserved.