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Behind the sounds of the surface support vessels, the Komandorskie's technicians listened to the familiar cracking and crashing of distant ice floes. Muffled by the immense volume of water, they could discern little of the activities taking place far below. Captain Dmitri Lebofsky assigned his best sonar men and began classifying and recording the sounds at intervals during the approach. As they came within half a mile of the site, he halted the submarine and ordered the launch of a Nereid camera drone.
Half a minute later the Nereid slid silently out of its launch tube in the bow of the submarine. The electric motor drove the twelve-foot-long, torpedo-shaped drone away from the submarine and down into the gloom. When it reached the tops of the highest ridges, it leveled off, guided from the sub by its FLIR cameras. It hugged the steep walls, then continued downward into the trough of the valley floor, snaking its way through the darkness. When it got to within three hundred yards of the Americans' work site, the FLIR began picking up a luminance signature in the distance and the transducers picked up the low, steady hum of electrical generators. As the drone drew closer, the optical camera was switched on, but without its usual spotlight for illumination. There was almost enough light here to record without it. As the drone rounded the final bend of the ridge, the intensity of the light suddenly blazed into the camera, momentarily saturating the monitor in the sub before the lens aperture self-corrected.
When the image finally cleared, it stunned everyone in Komandorskie's operations center. Slowly, the camera panned back and forth, then up and down.Gradually the Nereid pulled back a few hundred feet for a broader perspective. There on the screen, fully illuminated by dozens of large, rectangular banks of work lights, was the four-hundred foot high ellipsoidal structure with its cleaned walls exposed from top to bottom. The blunt, rounded nose was pointing obliquely towards the camera and the rows of lights faded back into the empty darkness beyond. The headlamps of several remote vehicles patrolled the perimeter of the halo cast by the work lights and everywhere within it great swarming schools of fish darted about the strange and unearthly scene.
Lebofsky turned to his charts and noted the exact position of the Nereid. There was nothing unusual in the topography shown on the chart, although this particular ridge did run very straight for the length of half a mile. But that was not particularly odd in itself. What struck him was how closely the size and shape of this object fit the topography of the chart. Whatever it was, it had been there for a long, long time. It was even incorporated into the very maps and charts they used to navigate. It was here for who knows how long, but nobody had seen it for what it was. And now the Americans had somehow found it.
Slowly he walked to the screen where the image hung like a fantasy landscape. As he watched the ROVs and the schools of fish playing over its surface, he envied the awe that must have seized those who did this work here in the face of this huge, wondrous object. What could it be? Did the Americans even know?
For hours the drone circled the structure from the darkness of the valleys and noted its lack of features. When the batteries began to weaken, Lebofsky recalled the Nereid. As it turned away from the object and spun silently back toward The Komandorskie, those in the operations center watched the last image of the giant structure disappear. For several moments the Captain remained staring at the screen, then turned to his Executive Officer. He saw the same look of awe as he saw on all the faces in the op-center. "What in God's name have they found?" he said out loud, knowing that there could be no answer that would make sense. The officer glanced vaguely back at the empty screen and slowly shook his head.