Episode 14 - Every cloud has a silver lining

It finally arrived. Not the new pair of socks I really need, but the snow. The Mulberry Ridge is covered by a white blanket. Mount McMillan's cliff stands alone, with its dramatic sandstone side untouched by the winter storm. Even the pond was affected by the snow fall; with below freezing temperatures it finally froze over. Only the old waterfall section was still not solid, making the pond look a lot smaller. Life at Base Camp changed a lot this week. Patrols were cut in length and our priority changed: we need to locate the missile at the bottom of the pond as soon as possible. The necropsy results came back. The huge lump on the fish caught last week tested positive for radiation mutation. The professor explained: - When gamma radiation interacts with one of the chromosomes, there are major ways in which the information system of the cell can be permanently altered by radiation. In the case of the fish, it expanded its brain, first as a tumor, then creating new tissue. The radiation produced a chemical alteration in a gene, so that the gene functioned abnormally thereafter, providing the cell with false directions. When such cells divide, the altered gene may be reproduced in the descendant cells, forever! - What if this is not the first fish? What if other animals are contaminated? The turtle? - asked Dr. Johnson alarmed. Clearly there was a radioactive leak. Maybe back when the Mulberry National Laboratory was still operative. Or worse, our missile warhead had fissured. - And it's up to us to find out - said the sarge. The professor and I spend the last few days tinkering with Argo 3, the mini-sub. It has now a retractable arm to collect larger samples and it can even perform small tasks. We met with Ben who was patrolling the northeast side of the pond around 1200 hours. - It was about time Harris! - said Ben. I was supposed to relieve him of his patrol shift with Roy, after launching the mini-sub with Professor Evgeny. The Professor and I headed to the unfrozen portion of the pond by following Roy's ski tracks in the snow. After taking Argo 3 out of my backpack, the Professor performed a systems check on the mini-sub and I placed it in the water. Its sensor lights went on, and within seconds it disappeared under the thin ice. As I met up with Ben again, Sgt. Palmer came on the radio ordering our return to Base Camp. Another snow storm was on the way. Later this afternoon we received the first image from the bottom of the pond sent by Argo 3. - This is great, so clear! - said Dr. Johnson, followed by the Professor - I sure hope it doesn't break again, we can not afford to waste any time. Besides, I would hate to see Harris under the frozen water retrieving it. - He's so right, I'm crossing my fingers. If it happens I'll be known as John Harrisicle. The bad news about the radiation leak brought purpose and excitement to the mission again. The men were feeling let down after a non existing thanksgiving last month. Spirits are high. I just wish the temperatures were too.

by Corporal John Harris, December 08, 2005