Flying over the Caribbean Sea wasn't exactly boring. The water was all sorts of strange colors: silver and red in the sunrise, plain silver in the morning, pale blue-green in the afternoon, green-grey in the evening; and the islands were like green-and-gold jewels. So, don't get me wrong; I loved the view, but I was impatient to get to the other side and get on with our mission.
On the second day of flying, Traroth said, "Storm ahead; we'd better land", and spiralled down on the next island we came to. When I looked up at the interior, we were standing in front of a glacier.
At first, I thought we’d somehow been blown up north. Then, I looked again, and saw palm-trees frozen in the ice. Other tropical plants, too. This didn’t exactly make sense, because glaciers never came far south enough for palms or hibiscus, when those were growing where the glaciers actually went. Nor do glaciers absorb trees whole and keep them in one piece, like amber with insects. Those trees should’ve been crushed, if a glacier’d flowed over them. But they were whole, just like insects in amber.
It wasn’t only trees, either. There were buildings and people there too. The whole island (because it was an island) was surrounded in blue ice, and everyone who’d lived there was frozen solid. The ground was bare and frozen hard, and dusty with tiny crystals, and the air was both hot and cold, just like around ordinary glaciers. All I could say was, “What?!”.
Clipson answered: “Ice. A form of high-pressure ice, such as one finds in the interiors of ice-dwarf planets, but modified in a chemical lab. to stay frozen at our sea-level temperature and pressure; created to dry up muddy terrain on the battlefield, and destroy the enemies’ water-supply. In peacetime, used to stop leaks in one’s own waterworks. If it touches water, the water sets hard, and turns to ice like itself, you see. But here, set loose, dropped anyhow into the whole island’s water-cycle, it destroyed everything it touched. The survivors said, The sky went dark above the isle, and filled with whirlwinds. For a few months, they thought the whole world had been contaminated with the stuff, and all other life had been destroyed. They were lifted off the isle a year later. No-one’s been here since, except to take pictures and record the mess from every angle. Don’t touch it! If it touches your eyes, you might go blind; if it touches your mouth, you’ll freeze from the inside out. Plenty of locals did themselves in with it, after the storm calmed down, thinking it better to die than to live in a world turned, if you’ll excuse the expression, to stone. Half-a-dozen others survived, as I said, and they left, sometime after, and went their separate ways and never spoke of the disaster again”.
I could hardly believe it. But there was the evidence right in front of me.
At the top of the island was a dead man, lying on his back, with a grimace on his face and his thumb on his nose. Like everyone else on the island, he was frozen solid.
I asked, “Who’s this?”.
Clipson answered: “According to the autobiography the rescuers took from under his head (you can see the gap there, between his head and the ground), he was the leader of the survivors: John Jonah Jameson the Third, by name”.
This was weirder yet. “John Jonah Jameson? The news-magnate’s son?!”.
Clipson answered: “Grandson. His father was Col. John Jonah Jameson the Second, the Air Force man turned astronaut. All the first astronauts came from the Air Force; it was nearly a hundred years before the likes of me got into space”.
I replied, “I know. That’s not fair”.
Clipson said, “Yes it is. If the best go first, the rest can follow. Poor Jonah Three, though, never got so far. He died here, as you see, months before the others were ferried home. It was his idea to plant a flag or something up here; and with nothing else to plant, he planted himself. He never even knew there were other people left in the world. His wife gave birth not long after she landed on the mainland; but neither she nor their son ever cared much for public life, after so long alone”.
There was also one other dead person on the island: an old man by the roadside, frozen waving to the people not going by. This, they told me, was a soldier named Lionel Boyd Johnson, who came to live on the island after the First World War and wrote some popular books on religion; mainly pointing out that religion was nothing but, as he said, “the harmless lies that make you brave and kind and happy and healthy”.
According to my new friends, “he refused to leave when it turned out there was anywhere to go, because he was sick of the world as he knew it, and disappointed to find it still existed”. It was his advice, they said, made J.J.J. III die where he did, in that crazy pose. The survivors had all been fans of his, “though they couldn’t live by his principles no matter how they tried;–– like most worshippers of anything”.
Altogether, the frozen island was a depressing place. We left as soon as the storm let up.