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Thursday, July 14, 2022

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu Book

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How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu Book Read Online And Epub File Download


Overview: For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, a spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague—a daring and deeply heartfelt work of mind-bending imagination from a singular new voice.


In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.


Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.


From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe. 


How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu Book Read Online And Epub File Download More Ebooks Every Category For Go Ebooks Libaray Online Website.



How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu Book Read Online Chapter One


30,000 Years beneath a Eulogy


In Siberia, the thawing ground was a ceiling on the verge of collapse, sodden with ice melt and the mammoth detritus of prehistory. The kilometer-long Batagaika Crater had been widening with temperature rise like some god had unzipped the snow-topped marshlands, exposing woolly rhinos and other extinct beasts. Maksim, one of the biologists on staff and a helicopter pilot, pointed to the copper gash in the earth where my daughter had fallen shortly before discovering the thirty-thousand-year-old remains of a girl. We circled the research outpost, a network of red geodesic domes peeking right below the tree line, before landing in a clearing. Maksim helped me out of the chopper, grabbed my bags and a sack of mail from the back.

“Everybody loved Clara,” he said. “Don’t get weirded out if people don’t talk about her, though. Most of us keep that kind of stuff to ourselves.”

“I’m here to help,” I said.

“Right, of course,” Maksim said. “There is, of course, another matter . . .” I half listened as I studied the land, breathed air that, like the fossils beneath us, seemed trapped in time. He explained that a quarantine had been put into effect while we were in flight. No one had expected me to come finish Clara’s work, let alone so soon. 

Inside, the outpost’s central dome looked and smelled like a dorm common room, with a big-screen television, worn recliners, and a stockpile of mac and cheese boxes. The walls were covered with a mixture of topographical maps and movie posters—everything from Star Wars to Pretty Woman to Run Lola Run. Down the accordion-like halls, I could see unkempt people emerging from their bunks or labs. A woman in a purple windbreaker and running leggings sprinted across the room.

“I’m Yulia. Welcome to the end of the world,” she said, and disappeared into one of the eight tunnels radiating out from the central domes, punctuated with bunks like cells in a beehive. The team emerged from their workstations, slowly enveloping me with the musty scent of more than a dozen researchers.

“Everybody, this is our guest of honor, Dr. Cliff Miyashiro from UCLA—archaeology and evolutionary genetics,” Maksim said. “He’ll be helping us out with Clara’s discovery. I know all of us lab rats will get even weirder now that we’re not allowed to leave the site, but try to be nice.”

Maksim assured me the quarantine was precautionary since the team had successfully reanimated viruses and bacteria in the melting permafrost. He said government officials watch too many movies. Standard protocol. No one at the outpost seemed sick or concerned.

Unwanted orientations into how Clara lived her life here soon followed—where she drank her coffee and gazed up at the aurora; the route she jogged with Yulia, the botanist; the tabletop lotus aromatherapy fountain she and Dave, the epidemiologist, used for their morning yoga sessions; the cubby where she kept her snow gear, which would become my snow gear since we’re about the same size—and how for birthdays, some of the team would make the trip to the nearest big city, Yakutsk, for karaoke, to forget for a moment that the buildings around them were slowly sinking into ancient mud.

“Can somebody take me to the girl?” I asked. There was a notable pause. A researcher in the kitchen put away the plastic cups and bottle of whiskey he was no doubt bringing over to welcome me. The cluster of disheveled scientists, most of them in flannel or fleece, felt like a repeat of Clara’s memorial a month ago, a church filled with her friends and coworkers, most of whom we’d never met before. I’d shaken their hands as they lined up to tell me and my wife, Miki, how sorry they were—a man with spiky blue hair said he’d once tattooed a star system onto Clara’s back, a purple planet orbiting three red dwarfs, and called her a fucking trip; our old neighbors reminisced about how Clara used to babysit their twin girls, helped them gain confidence in math; a bald gentleman, her project supervisor at the International Fund for Planetary Survival, gave me his card and invited me to continue my daughter’s work in Siberia. After the crowd left, I held Miki as we rewatched the slideshow I’d prepared, pausing on a photo of three-year-old Clara at her foster facility. She held the purple crystal pendant she’d had when we adopted her. We both swore we saw her eyes light up with tiny stars whenever she gazed into it.

Outside the funeral home, our granddaughter, Yumi, played with her cousin despite the heat waves rippling the street. I could smell the smoke from the burning Marin Headlands to the east beginning to creep over the neighborhood. “Our daughter never seemed to need us,” Miki said, her voice barely above a whisper. “But Yumi does.” I clutched the business card in my pocket.

At the research outpost, Maksim led me away from the awkward stares of the crew to the mummified remains Clara had found before she died.

“Annie’s in the clean lab,” Maksim said.

“Annie?” I asked.

“Yulia loves the Eurythmics—her parents are still living in the eighties. She named the body after Annie Lennox.” 

The clean lab consisted of a plastic sheet duct-taped from floor to ceiling, separating one side of the bone lab from the other. He handed me a box of nitrile gloves and a respirator face mask. “We don’t have funding for anything else, but we try to be mindful of the pathogens we may bring back with us.

“Probably nothing to worry about ninety-nine percent of the time,” he added.

“Right,” I said, a little taken aback by his cowboy attitude.

“Some of our colleagues at Pleistocene Park, about a thousand kilometers east, have made progress reintroducing bison and native flora to the land. More vegetation, more large animals roaming the steppes packs the topsoil, preserves the ice below the surface—helps us keep the past in the past.”

I doubled up my gloves, pulled on my mask, and stepped through a slit in the plastic.

Annie rested on her side, fetal, on a metal table.

PRELIMINARY EXTERNAL EXAMINATION NOTES: Preadolescent H. s. sapiens with possible Neanderthal characteristics–—slight protruding brow ridge. Approximately seven or eight years old. 121 cm in length, 6 kg in weight (would have been approximately 22 kg in life). Remnants of reddish-brown hair remain at temples. Tattoo on left forearm–—three black dots surrounded by a circle punctuated with another dot. Body is covered in stitched garment–—likely a mixture of pelts. Seashells not endemic to the region woven into stitching–—further study needed.

The tissue around her eyes had shriveled, as if she were staring into the sun. The skin around her mouth had begun to recede, revealing a pained cry. I couldn’t help but picture Clara as a young girl, or Yumi, who was about this age, traversing barren plains in search of big game, stalked by giant steppe lions and wolves. I ran my hands over her clenched fists. 

“Big fucking mystery,” Maksim said, coming up behind me. “Most of our research here is funded, in partnership, with the International Fund for Planetary Survival. We keep busy with soil and ice core samples and the occasional ancient animal carcass, but I’d be lying if I said all of us haven’t been distracted by Annie and the other bodies we recovered from the cavern. And of course, there’s the unidentified virus that Dave found within them in our preliminary samples.”

“Have you run any other scans, tested samples? The shells, for one thing . . .” 

“From a small sea snail native to the Mediterranean. Trivia monacha. I mean, there’s evidence of Neanderthals and early humans in Siberia near the Altai Mountains as early as sixty thousand years ago, but nothing this far north. The complexity of how the shells are woven into the fabric is highly unusual. Honestly, this needlework would put my grandmother to shame.”

“It’s strange that Annie’s the only one with such clothing. The other bodies in the cavern showed evidence of simple fur cloaks. The station debrief file you guys sent over left me with more questions than answers,” I said.

“We’ve been waiting for someone to take up the task, fill in Annie’s story. Clara said she was here for the animals. She wanted to understand the Ice Age biome so we might re-create it. But it always seemed like she was searching for something else. She’d linger at the dig sites longer than any of us. And for someone whose job it was to study what was hidden in the earth, she spent a lot of time staring at the sky. I bet she would have seen Annie as part of her charge, too. She was always talking about how the unknown past would save us. For a scientist, she dreamed more like a poet or a philosopher.” 

“Got that from her artist mother,” I said. As a child, Clara would spend entire afternoons in her tree house creating—her teachers called her a genius and we encouraged her as much as we could. She wrote reports on nebulae with crayons. We’d find lists of the constellations she’d spotted, alongside mythologies of those she’d made up, the cousins of the Pleiades, the dipper that was neither big nor little but just right.

“I think I can see that,” Maksim said. “It’s normally easy to get to know people around here, but Clara kept to herself. It took some sleuthing through her belongings to even find your contact information.”

“She was always about the work,” I said. Our eyes both fell to Annie, whose cry seemed to fill the silence of the lab.

Maksim nodded and said I should get some rest after the long trip. He told me Clara’s belongings were in a box in her sleeping pod, waiting for me. 

When I departed for Siberia, my granddaughter, Yumi, sobbed at the airport even though, at almost ten, she insisted she was fine. Miki asked me again if I was absolutely sure about doing this. At least wait a few months, she said, so you’re not heading into winter. But I knew that if I stayed, I’d delay indefinitely, and the specter of my daughter would have faded from this faraway land.

I never could picture the place where Clara had chosen to disappear in her final years. When Yumi asked Miki and I where her mother was, we would point to a map, search Google Images for the Batagaika Crater and northern Siberia. My wife helped Yumi make papier-mâché dioramas of the region that they populated with tiny toy bison, dinosaurs, and 3D-printed facsimiles of our family, on an expedition where time didn’t matter.

“Your mother loves you,” I’d reassure Yumi. “Her work is important.” And part of me believed this, but I’d also given Clara an ultimatum the last time we were all together, telling her she needed to come home, that it wasn’t fair to Yumi or to us. Apart from the postcards and the occasional video calls with Yumi, I hadn’t spoken directly to my daughter in over a year.

Before I realized her research outpost was an international effort, I’d imagined Clara roughing it in a yurt, falling asleep beneath animal fur, cradled by the light of the Milky Way. I saw now that her sleeping pod was a three-by-ten-meter cocoon, nested into the wall of one of the domes. Lined with thermal fleece, it had LED lighting, bookshelves, a fold-away worktable, and cargo netting for storage. I searched a duffel of her belongings that I found tucked into the netting—clothes, toiletries, one of her disaster journals, a personal diary, an old iPod, a few artifacts she’d procured on her travels—but the item I’d most hoped to retrieve, Clara’s crystal necklace, was nowhere to be found. I hoisted myself onto her bunk and removed my hiking boots, peeking under the mattress and inside a ventilation grate, anywhere she might have hidden her pendant for safekeeping. My feet had baked during the long journey, and the cheese-like odor filled the bunk, mixing with the stale scent of cigarettes and sweat that permeated the rest of the station. I lay back for the first time since leaving America and searched through Clara’s iPod, stopping at the Planets suite by Gustav Holst. The triumphant horns of the Jupiter movement transported me to happier times when Clara’s wonder was still caught up in the stars, like when she insisted her third-grade solar system project had to be at the correct scale or got into trouble at science camp for inventing a story about the lost star sister of the Pleiades that was once visible in the ancient African sky. What did Clara think of when she looked at the cosmos dancing above the gray of the tundra here? I grabbed her diary and began flipping through it, trying to hear her voice again.

Day 3: It’s amazing how the interior of the crater has already given birth to patches of green. Mammoth tusks protrude from the mud, while new plant life takes root. With the frequent landslides and ice melt creating temporary streams, the whole area has become a washing machine, mixing up the new and the ancient. Everybody here understands what’s at stake. It’s hard to ignore the Earth when it slowly destabilizes beneath you as you sleep, when it unlocks secrets you never asked for or wanted. On my first night, I stood outside and listened. And maybe it was my imagination, but I could have sworn I heard the soil churning, the dance of a million dead insects, early humans, and wolves.

Day 27: In the wild, most parents will fight to the death to protect their young. On some level, I know my parents understand this. I do not answer their messages because I’ve said all that’s left to be said. I believe Yumi hears the song of the Earth when she sleeps. I have to believe she knows why I can’t be there for her plays and soccer games and all the other things. She’ll be okay. My colleagues here have children, too. They say their kids don’t understand or that they aren’t as close as they would like to be. But we’re here to ensure that they and their children and their grandchildren can breathe and imagine—and so they don’t have to deliver the eulogies of so many species. Happy birthday, Yumi. If you ever read this, know that I never stopped thinking of you.

I set the notebook aside and returned the iPod to the duffel bag, noticed another item wedged in the corner, wrapped in a pair of fleece socks: a worn photo and a carved figurine. The picture was taken three years ago, when we’d met up with Clara in southern Alaska. Yumi had just turned seven, and I was excavating a four-hundred-year-old Yupik village that was slowly washing out to sea.

I recognized the squat brown dig site trailer in the background. I used to sit inside and watch over my grad students while I finished my morning paperwork and coffee. The day this photo was taken, Miki and I looked on as Clara fit Yumi into a pair of oversized waders. Whenever Yumi saw her mother, on average every three or four months, for a week or two at most, it was as if Clara could do no wrong. “We only have the week,” Miki told me that morning, when it seemed like I was about to go lecture our daughter. “Don’t cause trouble.”

I walked from the excavation office to the edge of what my assistants called the mosh pit and watched as my daughter and granddaughter sifted through the sludge. Clara was telling Yumi a story about seal hunts.

“I think I’m going to start a painting of Clara and Yumi together like this, knee-deep in the mud,” my wife said from behind me. “For my next gallery show. Maybe it’ll remind Clara that the two of them need each other.”

“It’s almost too perfect,” I said.

“Look, Grandpa. I’m a big poop!” Yumi yelled.

Afterward, Miki took Yumi back to the motel to get cleaned up and I urged Clara to stay behind so we could talk.

“Your mother says you’re coming home for a while once we finish here,” I said.

“A week at most. I told you about the opportunity in Siberia,” she said.

“You see how much Yumi misses you, though.”

Clara stood next to one of the folding tables that overlooked the lip of the mosh pit. It was strewn with artifacts. She was focused on a wooden doll we’d found at the site, no larger than a soda can.

“I’m doing this for her,” she said.

“Sure, I get that,” I said. I’ve always been proud of how much my daughter cared about the world. After school she’d study the news, comb the internet for disasters, wars and hate and injustice, write it all down in these color-coded journals. Once, I asked her what she was doing, and she said she was just trying to keep track of it all because it didn’t seem like anybody else noticed or cared that we kept making the same mistakes, that hate in a neighborhood or injustice in a state ran like poison through veins, until another ice shelf collapsed or another animal went extinct. Everything is connected, she’d say. And I’d tell her, You’re only one person and you only have one life.

“You’d rather I come home, wouldn’t you, and maybe teach in your department? Pick up Yumi every day after school and pretend like everything is going to be fine.” She waved the wooden doll in the air, studied its simplistic carved smile. “Whoever played with this had a hard life, you know. Probably a really short one.”

“I just want Yumi to have a childhood with her mother,” I said.

“You and Mom are in no position to talk about being there for your child.”

“That’s not entirely fair,” I said. Every time Clara made this accusation, I felt like a pill bug curling in on itself. Once she had her own money, she’d wasted no time escaping to the farthest corners of the planet with only postcards and photos to let us know she was alive. Clara turned and left me standing there, grabbed her messenger bag, walked toward the ocean, still holding the wooden doll. By the time I caught up to her, she’d pulled out another one of her journals.

“Have you seen the new sea rise projections?” she said, reading off a list of cities that might be submerged within Yumi’s lifetime—most of southern Florida, nearly all the major cities in Japan, New York City turned into Venice. “Are you watching the news of Appalachia burning? Brain-eating amoeba population explosions at summer camp lakes?” 

“Things are bad in every generation.” I looked at the opened pages of her notebook, each one covered in disaster. “But we still have to live our life.”

“Your research here wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for climate change,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“Tell Yumi I’ll take her out for breakfast tomorrow. We can talk later if you want.” She turned and walked toward the research tent, flagged down one of my assistants, asked for a ride into town. While she was waiting for her lift, she came back to the dig site and found me in the mosh pit, half sucked into the earth.

“By the way, don’t think I don’t want to be with my daughter,” she said. “You’re dead wrong if you think that.”

But the next day, when Miki and I went to meet Clara and Yumi for breakfast, we found Yumi in tears. Clara had changed her plans, said something about travel being too difficult to the site in Siberia, things were out of her control. She hugged Yumi, who was sniffling over her banana split, and then her mother, who told her to be safe. But I didn’t say anything. I drank my coffee and ordered chocolate chip pancakes.

“Cliff,” Miki said.

I peered through the blinds of the roadside diner, watched Clara climb into her rental. She didn’t start the engine, though. She sat there for a long while until I finally got up from the table, went outside, and knocked on her car window.

“I love you,” I said, cracking open the door. “Stay safe.”

“I’m sorry this is the way things need to be,” she said.

Back in Clara’s sleeping pod, I tucked the photo in my wallet and picked up the two-inch dogū figurine I’d found wrapped in the sock. It was a squat stone humanoid with a bulbous torso and globular eyes occupying most of its head. I had bought her this replica as a junior high graduation gift at a museum of ancient Japanese history, explained that it was likely a form of magic for the Jōmon people, capable of absorbing negative energy, evil, and illness. I told her to keep it close, that it would keep her safe in the world. I ran my fingers across the crevices and contours, feeling for some last shred of my daughter—a bad day at work, the distance between her and Yumi, a final breath.

From across the dome, I heard someone sprinting closer, their footsteps echoing through the aluminum halls. I slipped the dogū into my pants pocket as Yulia entered the room, glancing at her wrist health tracker.

“Phew. Moscow Marathon, here I come. So, I’m not sure if you’re hungry or just want to rest,” she said, still catching her breath. Yulia had changed from workout clothes to the unofficial uniform of the station: faded jeans and a hoodie. “But we made fish tacos and we’re about to watch The Princess Bride.”

“So, you’re the one who named Annie,” I said. “The Eurythmics fan.” 

“Maksim wanted to name her after a Beatles song,” Yulia said. “Like how Lucy was named after ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ when they found her in Ethiopia. Our girl would have been Jude or Penny. I beat him at chess for the naming rights.”

I followed Yulia to the main area and made myself at home on a recliner that was patched in several places with duct tape. The aroma of grilled trout filled the facility, and I realized I hadn’t eaten a real meal since my first layover in Vladivostok nearly ten hours ago. Four of the researchers huddled on the sofa. Another used a supply chest as a stool. They all formally introduced themselves and the one on the chest, Dave, offered me a glass of vodka, which he said was mandatory for initiation. He lingered on the edges of his words and wore an Occidental College shirt, so I assumed he, too, was from California. 

“Santa Cruz,” he said. The bottle he tipped over my glass looked like a mammoth tusk. One of the other researchers noted this particular vodka was a true Siberian drink from the oldest distillery, made with local water, wheat, and cedar nuts. “You’ll learn to hold your own soon enough,” Dave continued. “Keeps us warm, keeps things interesting. Helps us forget that we’re flying by the seat of our pants here.” My face began to flush after the first few sips. 

I sat on my pleather perch like a gargoyle, cradling my shot glass, observing the room like an awkward schoolboy, figuring out how I might fit in here. A few researchers clustered in the halls, dancing; most crammed onto torn furniture, either heckling the movie or asking me questions, including my thoughts on live-action role-playing games. Eventually I let Maksim create a Dungeons & Dragons character for me, an elf rogue named Kalask, a name that sounded like IKEA furniture. Dave snatched the character sheet away from him.

“This nerd has been trying to get a game started for over a year,” Dave said.

“I’m building the perfect campaign,” Maksim said.

“Forget that shit. I know a good initiation game,” one of the mechanics said. His name was Alexei. He was a frequent staffer at Bellingshausen Station in Antarctica. “It’s important that new guys like this don’t keep to themselves.”

“His father was at Bellingshausen in 2018, during the first attempted murder in Antarctica,” Yulia explained. “So he’s a bit sensitive to cabin fever. Alexei is our unofficial counselor. If he sees one of us acting weird, isolating, getting too caught up in work, he’ll give us our medicine.”

“Medicine?”

“Bear Claw!” Alexei yelled.

“You don’t have to,” Yulia said, sitting next to me. She explained the rules of Bear Claw: a full glass of beer is passed around the room and with each drink, vodka is poured in to refill the glass.

The entire room was chanting my name now— Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff. These kids understood I needed to forget, even for a moment, that Clara’s presence still resided here. The station started to spin beneath me as the glass made the rounds. The laughter and conversation around the television seemed miles away when Yulia finally tapped my shoulder to check on me; the end credits of the film were scrolling and a glass half-full of vodka had landed in front of passed-out Alexei. In the newfound silence, we could hear the wind and hail pelting the outpost. Maksim rushed outside to protect the solar panels. Some of the others dispersed to their pods or labs. Yulia lingered. She was probably close to Clara’s age, early thirties, maybe a little younger. She had studied at Moscow State University and completed a fellowship at Cambridge, where she continued her work on native flora, particularly low-lying shrubs as crucial carbon sinks. 

“Clara always had that on her,” Yulia said. “It was in her coat pocket when we recovered her.”

I looked down and realized I had been fumbling with the dogū figurine the entire film. 

“It was like a lucky charm,” she said. 

“I told her it would protect her,” I said. “Didn’t think she still carried it around. Of course, some say you’re supposed to break the figurine after it absorbs any kind of misfortune or evil. There was a crystal pendant she always wore—like an uncut diamond the size of a thumbnail. Slightly purple. She wore it on a braided silver chain. It wasn’t in the box.”

“It wasn’t on her when we recovered her body,” Yulia said. “It must have gotten lost, or maybe it was stolen when she was transported to the hospital. I know it meant a lot to her.”

I clutched the dogū tighter as she spoke, my eyes drifting past her to the map of the crater on the far wall. Yulia stood and helped me to my feet. I swayed from the vodka and pointed to an orange pushpin, an exposed cavern once sheltering ancient air.

“Clara fell into the collapsed part of the cavern ceiling not far from there,” she said, shaking her head. “I didn’t understand her at first—all she talked about was seeing Annie and the other bodies. Maybe she was delirious from blood loss, you know? Maybe she hit her head. But all she cared about was the discovery. There are so many of them, she said. I can see her face. I remember because she kept repeating it. I can see her face. She was saying so much—something about writing reminders to herself, about how it’ll be all her fault. Do you know what she might have been talking about?”

“No,” I said, and wondered if Clara blamed herself in the end for not being able to save the world. “I’d like to see where she was found.”

“Weather permitting, a few of us will head out tomorrow afternoon. We’re trying to get as much fieldwork done as we can before the topsoil freezes again. Everyone wants to get their samples and crunch the data this winter. Though Maksim seems to think it’ll be another Siberian heat wave—which is nice for us but bad news for the planet.”

The next day, after considerable time draped over a toilet due to the previous night’s welcome, I pulled on Clara’s waders and bundled up for what was forecast to be a beautiful Siberian October day, a balmy five degrees Celsius. The journey from the station to the crater’s edge, a half-hour hike, curved through pine forests dominated by larches, modest trees whose upswept branches looked like they were in a constant state of shivering. I hung back with Yulia and Dave, followed the long line of researchers slowly trudging along behind the equipment.

“You know, the larch’s root system helps maintain the ice in the ground,” Dave said. He patted the trunk of one of the trees as he passed. “These trees are the descendants of the last ice age.”

“Oh?” I said.

“He would have been a great trivia show contestant,” Yulia said.

“Hey, don’t pretend like your runs are all about fitness. You worship this place as much as any of us,” Dave said.

“I do,” Yulia said. “I just prefer to keep my mouth shut.”

“Anyway, speaking of trivia: You know they call Batagaika the gateway to hell? Probably started when the locals cut too many of these trees. And vegetation, my friend, is what keeps this land frozen. This piece of the underworld is getting bigger every year.”

As we approached the crater’s rim, I imagined the land falling away from beneath my feet. In reality, it had slowly peeled away and sunk with the floods and permafrost melt. I stepped close to the edge and saw a somber Grand Canyon spread out beneath the perpetually gray Siberian sky. The researchers had carved out an entry point, a zigzagging soil ramp exposing a colorful palette of time—the burnt sienna and raw umber of a crayon box. Dave and his team broke away and started their trek to a section of the interior they’d nicknamed “the gully,” where they collected samples from a stream. But deeper in the crater was another cavern, an ancient cave uncovered by last year’s melts. Yulia guided me beyond the others and pointed to a hole the size of a Mini Cooper.

“We didn’t realize this was here until Clara fell through it. Probably covered by a thin layer of ice and soil. We’ve since widened the opening for access, set up scaffolding and supports in the interior to prevent the ceiling from collapsing. But of course, everything is melting out here.”

Yulia slowly descended using a metal ladder propped against the muddy lip of the cavern, her headlamp bobbing in the dark. Ice melt trickled on my head as I followed her lead, lowering my feet one step at a time into a void. I breathed into my coat sleeve, overpowered by the smell of rotten eggs, soil laden with newly released gas, microbes, and ancient dung.

“Here,” Yulia said, handing me a bandanna to tie around my nose as I touched down on rock. “The smell was ten times worse before we widened the opening. But smells mean science. A lot of these gases are produced by bacteria that have adapted to the permafrost. Some even have their own kind of antifreeze.” 

Yulia turned on a string of lanterns suspended along the perimeter of the cavern—a shelter, a home, a tomb. Save for stalagmites and stalactites lining the floor and ceiling like a sound wave, the interior was largely smooth. Once, these walls had been open to the sky. I imagined Annie sitting at the entrance, savoring the meat of a fresh kill with her family over a fire. Perhaps they ate in silence, or maybe they told tales. Did Annie and the others sing? Did a funerary dirge echo off these walls?

“That’s where we found Clara,” Yulia said, pointing to a portion of bedrock that looked like it was stained with blood. “She was gone by the time we reached her.”

I knelt and ran my fingers along the darkened stone capillaries.

I wanted to ask if Clara had said anything about her family, though I knew it was more likely she was studying her resting place as she bled out, breathing in the Pleistocene epoch as consciousness faded. The remnants of a stone circle occupied much of the space, with a door-sized megalith at its center, carved repeatedly with the same design tattooed on Annie’s body. The ground around the pillar, the resting place for most of the recovered bodies, crawled with a series of dots and swirls, patterns resembling a code or a language that shouldn’t exist.

“These carvings,” I said, running my fingers over the exact edges. “It’s almost like they were made with a laser. I don’t see any chisel marks. Some of these lines are incredibly precise.”

“Related to cuneiform, but not quite. We sent photos of the walls to an archaeolinguistics professor at Oxford. He said the markings were impossible for the time period. What he could make out seemed to indicate that much of what’s surrounding us is something akin to high-level math.”

“You know, Clara always loved those documentaries about ancient aliens—how we had help building the pyramids, the legend of Atlantis having extraterrestrial origins. I told her there was always another explanation.” I’d chastised her for entertaining conspiracy theories from people with mail-order doctorates. But whenever I questioned her beliefs, she just rubbed her pendant, as if it held secrets only she knew. Sometimes I wondered if her fantasy and science fiction magazines, her UFO phase, or how she dragged me to a Bigfoot convention in Sacramento had made her a better scientist than me—maybe it was the reason she saw things in the dirt that no one else could. 

Once we were back aboveground on the main interior of the crater, I trudged my way to Dave and his research team, my boots sinking into the mud. Dave was crouched over a stream, collecting water and sediment into plastic bags. His entire team looked like they had gone swimming in a swamp, their faces mottled with dirt. 

“Like a snapshot,” Dave said, looking up. “All of it. It’s amazing what survives down here.”

“What are you looking for, exactly?” I asked. 

“Best defense is a good offense,” Dave said. “Eventually, whatever is in this land will make its way to cities, to the ocean, to our food. We’ve been finding largely intact bacterial life. Annie and the other bodies contained incredibly well-preserved giant viruses we’ve never seen before. No luck reanimating anything ancient as of yet. The oldest sample we’ve made viable was a century-old smallpox strain—that’s why we’re on quarantine.” 

“You’re trying to bring those ancient viruses back?”

“We need to understand what’s coming out of the ice as it melts,” Dave said. “Most of what we’re finding poses no threat to anything but amoebas, but that one percent of uncertainty is why I’m out here. The more we know about these pathogens, the better we’ll be able to defend against them in the unlikely event they become a problem. Kind of like ignoring history. You can try, but it’ll probably bite you in the ass later. The more we know about where our illnesses come from, the better we can prepare.”

“And if you bring something back that’s in the one percent?” I imagined prehistoric microbes crawling over Dave and his team, through their hair, inside every orifice, and suddenly became aware of a leak in my boots. I would have thought even a 1 percent risk would have warranted more funding for protective suits. 

“We try to stop it from getting out or we prepare people,” he said. “We get the world to wake up and pay attention to the fact that all this ice melting and the millions of years of shit it contains has to go somewhere.” Dave reached for his belt buckle, twisted the metal square, pulled out a tiny flask and took a sip. “But the odds of us finding some completely foreign runaway pathogen that we don’t already know about are incredibly small.”

Later that day, I returned to the compound to continue my examination of Annie, carefully turning her over, cutting into the husk of her skin to prepare samples of tissue and bone marrow. Dave and his colleagues offsite were planning to run DNA and viral analyses.

“It’s okay,” I caught myself saying, as if Annie could hear me or feel my fingers as I cracked open her rib cage to inspect her hardened organs, black as the stone walls that kept her hidden. I was about to remove her stomach when Miki texted:

Don’t repeat the same mistakes as she did. Yumi only has one childhood. She’s already lost her mother.

I won’t. I’m not. I’m here trying to understand Clara, I responded. Yumi will want that, too, someday.

Miki sent a photo of Yumi at the zoo, another of her napping, one of Yumi and her cousins biking through Golden Gate Park with giant sun hats and air pollution masks during a recent Smog-Free San Francisco Challenge week. I was happy for the update, but I didn’t have anything else to say. I set the phone down and returned to my work. I was living at the edge of the world and everything else seemed like a distant dream.

I pried open Annie’s mouth and found traces of crushed flowers and pebbles that evaded our understanding of Neanderthal and early human migration routes—too far a journey and distance for a young girl. The mysteries of Annie continued to compound as I explored the stories hidden in her body.

INTERNAL EXAMINATION NOTES: Stomach mostly empty but contains traces of marmot and several plants, notably Silene stenophylla (narrow-leafed campion)–—low amounts make it unclear whether ingested for sustenance or as treatment for illness. Teeth and gums in near pristine condition with traces of wood found between molars, indicating possible dental care. Samples of plaque indicate a diet rich in plants, animals, and insects. Unidentified bacteria beneath gum line in addition to variants of Streptococcus. Signs of cerebral edema preceding cranial trauma. Cranial trauma exacerbated by deterioration and thinning of parietal bones and skull base. Genome results and analysis forthcoming from Far Eastern Federal University.

Rigor mortis had curled her fingers. I imagined her asking for help—if her family had possessed medicinal knowledge of plants that could potentially redefine our knowledge of early humans. How do you sing a lullaby in Neanderthal?

Miki and I first started caring for Yumi during her fifth Christmas, when she and her father came to stay with us. Her mother was on a research trip. I’d stay up with my granddaughter to give Ty a break, watching cartoons as she completed her breathing treatment; the wildfire smoke aggravated her asthma. Sometimes I’d fall asleep with her in my arms, and wake to Ty holding a breakfast tray. I’d watch Yumi and her father making weekend plans—a bike ride, a dinosaur exhibit, a ballet class—and remind them to take lots of photos because Clara was missing it all.

It seems like another lifetime that a coroner pulled my son-in-law out from a metal drawer. I had to identify his body after it was spotted floating in Baltimore Harbor by some diners at a dockside restaurant. At first they thought it was a seal. By then, Ty and Yumi had been living in our converted garage apartment for over a year. She had just started kindergarten and he was struggling to find steady work, freelancing as a graphic designer for local restaurants and cash-strapped dot-coms whenever friends passed him a lead.

“Hey, Pops,” he’d say. “What do you think about this logo I made for that new Thai restaurant down the street?” Always enlisting my feedback, as if I had an artistic bone in my body.

“I’d eat there,” I’d say. Or “Maybe this place should give you a full-time gig.” And sometimes Ty would ask, but always the answer was no. He’d moved to the West Coast with Clara after attending college in Boston to give Yumi a better support structure and was never able to find his footing.

“Don’t worry. Next time,” Miki and I would tell him. “The next interview, the next freelance gig will lead to something steady.” He never complained, always asked too little. So, when he wanted to leave for the weekend to attend a friend’s wedding, we paid for his ticket, told him to go have fun. Two stab wounds. No witnesses outside his hotel. I had just tucked Yumi into bed when we received the call from Ty’s friend. Clara was silent for a long time on the phone when I told her. She didn’t cry; she asked me how Yumi was doing, if she knew. I told Clara that I didn’t know how to tell her.

“When can we expect you back?” I asked. In my mind I saw her packing her bags and booking a ticket.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she said.

But she missed the funeral despite Ty’s family delaying it for nearly two weeks. They simply couldn’t wait any longer. When she finally arrived, I picked her up at the airport and dropped her at the cemetery to visit her husband’s urn niche, waited in the car for nearly an hour. After that, she moved through our house like a ghost, continued to work on her laptop. She cooked and ate alongside us, saying little, leaving the house for hours to clear her head. I’d later find dozens of movie ticket stubs in the trash, crumpled letters to us and Yumi that never progressed beyond a few words— Maybe it’s time . . . I know I’ve been . . . I want you to know . . .

I watched her over the following weeks, slowly packing and donating all of Ty’s belongings. One of the few things she kept: a photo of the two of them and Yumi celebrating Yumi’s third birthday at Disneyland. I wanted Clara to feel the loss. Miki and I worried we’d somehow failed in raising our daughter. But here in Siberia, I read her journals and realized she dealt with loss in her own way. She had a plan, and maybe when Yumi was older, she would have been able to come home and say she played some small part in making the world better. 

Day 68: Dear Yumi, the team went into a nearby village today and we saw a girl that reminded me of you. Her mother and father were holding her hands, all three of them bundled up to their eyeballs, waddling over the ice. Your father and I took you ice-skating once. You probably don’t remember, but you pushed a metal walker across the rink, grasping it for dear life. But then your father took off your skates, held you in his arms, and the two of you flew around the rink. I miss him. Maybe I should have stayed longer, explained better. But all I can do right now is remain here, so very far from where I want to be. Maybe it’ll all be worth it one day. Maybe it won’t, and we’ll have lost all this time (and your grandfather will have been right). But know that what I’m doing here is trying to give you a future filled with light.

After I finished Annie’s examination, I went outside to join Maksim and Dave for a cigarette. The temperature dropped quickly at dusk. I tried to inhale without inviting in the cold like when I was younger and smoked outside of bars and restaurants, meeting people through our shared nicotine exile. I hung back for a moment as Dave practiced his Russian with Maksim, watched the sky as it transformed into an orange haze over a never-ending sheet of fresh snow. Somewhere, at that moment, footprints in powder recorded the day of small animals and the slow migration of bison. Somewhere, thirty thousand years ago, perhaps the snow recorded someone who loved Annie, walking far away from here. 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Maksim said. 

“It is,” I said.

“And depressing as hell,” Dave said.

“It’s Siberia,” Maksim said. 

“We didn’t realize Clara had a daughter,” Dave said. 

“Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about this,” Maksim said.

I breathed the smoke in deeply and fell into a coughing fit. Maksim handed me a flask, which I gladly sipped to cool my throat. 

“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s almost ten.” I pulled out my phone, showed them photos of Yumi and Clara and Ty, all of us together. 

“It’s tough having those kinds of connections out here,” Dave said. “Pretty sure my marriage has been in the shitter for a while now.”

“Any updates on how long the quarantine will be in effect?” I asked. 

“We’ve seen some reaction from amoeba test subjects to the virus that we found inside Annie. It’s like their cytoplasm began to either seep through their outer membrane or crystallize. We’re not telling our governments just yet. We need to know what we have first, what it might mean, if anything, for humans,” Dave explained. “Don’t want them overreacting.” 

Maksim handed me the flask again, told me they’d make a Siberian out of me yet. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine Clara standing at the edge of the crater, looking back through the darkening forest, searching for a speck of light from the outpost.

A week later, mainstream news outlets called Annie “Another Missing Link” and “The Wonder Girl of Ancient Siberia” after the analysis of her genome was completed. Part Neanderthal and part something only superficially human, she possessed genetic traits similar to those of a starfish or octopus. What exactly this would have looked like in Annie was unclear, but the frail girl I’d previously imagined would have been highly adaptable to whatever the Ice Age had thrown at her. She was a fighter. She was filled with possibility. Most of the lab buzzed with video interviews and celebrations, the promises of research grants and new equipment. No news of the virus within Annie had been publicized, and we’d been instructed not to reveal anything. Dave and Maksim grew increasingly busy, trapped in their labs despite their assurances to us that everything was under control. I wondered if Clara would have told us about any of this had she lived.

I video-called my wife and Yumi. They were both wearing construction-paper crowns when they answered. I said I would be home soon, maybe a month or two, and I wanted to believe this was true. Yumi had been chosen to play the sun in a school play and had started taking violin lessons. My wife’s sister and brother-in-law had moved in to help, since Miki held regular art shows in New York, and other relatives stopped by on weekends, resulting in regular potlucks.

“I sold two paintings of Clara and Yumi,” my wife added. “A couple in Brooklyn said they could sense the love between them, and also a kind of longing. I didn’t intend that, but I couldn’t help noticing the sadness in Clara’s eyes.”

“I think she was happy out here,” I said.

When Yumi chimed in after, I told her about an extraordinary girl who had the lungs and heart of an Olympic athlete, and who may have possessed the ability to heal from minor wounds in a matter of hours like a starfish or an octopus.

“Like a superhero?” Yumi asked.

“Kind of,” I said. 

“But you said she got sick.”

“Everyone gets sick sometimes,” I said. “And that’s why I need to stay here for a little while longer. I want to make sure people don’t get sick if they don’t have to.”

“But you’re okay?”

“I’m okay.”

After Yumi left the call, I reassured my wife that what I had said was true. I told Miki to make teriyaki beef for the next family dinner, to soak it in sauce overnight in the fridge, and to cut the meat extra thin because that’s how Yumi likes it. I promised I would call if anything changed. 

At night I wrote to Clara in her journal, instead of watching The Goonies or The Shining for the umpteenth time. Most of the researchers had dispersed to their own pods as the quarantine dragged on, as winter storms limited our research to the domes. The outpost alcohol and cigarette stash ran low between supply drops. Some took on new hobbies—learning how to play chess, crocheting, drawing, magic card tricks. Yulia was sketching a group portrait of the entire team. I opened Clara’s notebook one night and wrote YOU WERE RIGHT on the interior cover in big bold letters, circled and underlined.

Dear Clara,

It’s strange to think I’ve started to build a life in the same place I saw as your escape from home. But you saw something else, and I think I understand now why you never could rest. It wasn’t about us or a job or all the little things we call a life. You saw a future of dead soil and dead oceans, all of us fighting for our lives. You had a vision of what life would be like for future generations and acted like the planet had a gun to our head. And maybe it does. I was always so proud of you, but it took Siberia, a quarantine, and the mystery of a 30,000-year-old girl to help me realize that. Maybe tonight I’ll look at the stars and make up a new constellation for the both of us, a woman standing at the precipice of a great chasm. I’ll be here with you. 

Love,

Your father

Sometimes, late at night, Yulia and I overheard Dave and Maksim talking in Russian as we were finishing our evening game of chess in the common room. They tried to be covert, but voices ricocheted off the walls around here. She’d translate what little she understood around the scientific jargon—video conferences with medical and government officials, reports that a strain similar to the Batagaika virus had been found hundreds of kilometers away in soil and ice cores. But no one had gotten sick and so maybe we were all okay. Perhaps we possessed an immunity to the illness deep inside of us because some of our ancestors had fought the virus. Dave reiterated this to us all: unless we’re taking shots out of lab test tubes or snorting infected amoebas, we shouldn’t be overly paranoid.

“But they’re still going to keep us here,” Alexei, the mechanic, said. “They can’t keep us here if nothing is wrong with us.”

“Actually, they can,” Dave said. “Right now, we’re their best bet for learning more about the virus.”

We looked at the amoeba samples under the microscope every day. Maksim and Dave explained any changes, how the cytoplasmic structures inside them had begun to disintegrate. We watched a rat injected with the virus inexplicably slip into a coma. 

“It’s like the virus is instructing the host cells to serve other functions, like a chameleon—brain cells in the liver, lung cells in the heart. Eventually, normal organ function shuts down,” Dave explained. “There’s still no reason to think any of us are infected, though, or could be infected.” 

“There’s also no reason to think that we’re not,” Yulia said. “You said you haven’t seen anything like this before.”

“We should have left it alone,” one of Maksim’s assistants said, pointing to Dave. “Everything will be your fault. I have a family. We all have families.”

Later that evening, Maksim assigned everyone to dining and common area groups.

“If you can’t be civil with each other, this is the way it has to be,” he said. “I will not tolerate arguments. We have enough to deal with right now.”

Lately, I can’t help but think about all the times the team was covered in mud and water from the crater, of the jury-rigged clean lab, the respirators that probably need their air filter cartridges replaced. I question Dave’s decision to inject the virus into a rat, one of history’s most notorious vectors for disease. We’re told to report anything out of the ordinary. We’re told the quarantine is to be extended and to expect supply drops every two weeks. We’re told biohazard medical teams will be sent if necessary. I fall asleep every night video-chatting with my family, telling fairy tales to Yumi: And they all lived happily ever after. I wake up half expecting to find something wrong—a fever, a stiff neck, a rash. I examine every inch of my body in the mirror. We are all waiting for nothing or everything. I dream of going home and holding my family, telling Yumi that her mother has saved her. I dream of the last trip Clara took with us, flying over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, watching the last remaining wild caribou migrate. When Dave tells me he has a splitting headache, I tell him to take his own advice and not jump to any conclusions. But I tell him this while standing across the room. When Yulia says she has a stomachache, I tell her to drink tea. We’ll be okay, I say, but I see the fear in her eyes. Dave tests positive for the new virus with both saliva and blood samples. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to help Yulia. In the real world, people comfort themselves with ignorance, politics, and faith, but here in the domes only hard numbers matter. She has stopped running, her portrait of the research team left unfinished. We keep telling ourselves we’re going to complete our work and go home—some days I even believe this. I put on my daughter’s snow gear, take the dogū figurine with me, and walk out onto the tundra, picture Clara there beside me beneath the aurora. I don’t take the ATV. I walk the mile to the crater’s edge. I imagine the virus and anything else the ice has kept hidden from us being sucked into the figurine, its stone belly filled with all that can harm us. I tell my daughter I love her and throw the dogū into the crater, waiting for all that has been unburied to be retaken into the earth. I walk back to the outpost. I can barely breathe. 



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