Justin Saville-Tambora shivered just as much in annoyance as from cold and squinted across the endless sea of ice. Well, not endless – the anticipated melting of the Arctic ice caps was why his bosses had hired him to supervise the survey team, after all.
Still, camping out in the bone-snapping cold under a sun that never set hadn’t exactly what he’d set out to do with his life. Hell, becoming a petroleum engineer was about as far as he could’ve gotten from where he’d anticipated landing as a real-life, honest-to-God adult.
He’d wanted to study medicine, but on learning of his aspirations, his father had sniffed, “The NHS is constantly over budget.” Justin started to protest that there were private-sector opportunities for medical researchers (academic positions, as well, though he knew how well that would go over), but his father cut him off. “If I’m to be paying rent for you at London rates while you’re studying, I need a guarantee that you’ll be self-sufficient afterward.”
So here he was, gooseflesh pricking constantly against a virtual spacesuit that restricted his movement yet couldn’t seem to keep him quite warm enough, supposedly leading men with more life experience but fewer diplomas on a mission to stake out potential oil reserves instead of cracking down on the mysteries of aging and disease, perhaps finding the correct chemical sequence that would stop them in their tracks.
His father had grunted out what might have been a “congratulations” when he’d heard that Justin had been hired right out of university, turning back to his stocks before Justin could elaborate on what he’d been hired to do.
His mother had pursed her lips thoughtfully on hearing the news. “I have something that might be of interest to you,” she’d enthused, bustling off to her bedroom and returning minutes later, cradling a wooden box in her arms.
Inside the box was a series of yellowed, crumbling papers. He squinted at the scribbles that passed for handwriting on the envelope atop the bundle. “To Mrs. Margaret Saville, from Captain Robert Walton,” he read aloud.
His mother smiled softly. “Your many-times great-grandmother and just-as-many-times great-uncle, respectively,” she explained. “I thought you might like to read the personal account of one of the earliest Arctic explorers before you make your own journey.”
Justin made appreciative noises about her thoughtfulness, but when he’d tried to read the letters, he’d found his irritation at his predicament growing anew. The bulk of the writings had precious little to do with his many-times-great-uncle’s explorations and more to do with some madman fleeing his former life whom the captain had discovered on the ice.
“We all make decisions we regret,” he snapped aloud at the subject of Capt. Walton’s pages at one point.
He’d not had much time to read the rest of the missives before his departure, but while he had done a courtesy skim for his mother’s sake, he couldn’t force himself to maintain much of an interest in the self-sabotage of some German scholar. At least the man had gotten to pursue studies of his own choosing, and those that Justin would have chosen to boot!
He somewhat wished he’d brought the letters with him, however, as he was tiring of staring at ice all day, looking for concealed resources he wasn’t sure his conscience would allow him to tell his bosses about and permit him to sleep peacefully afterward.
But he didn’t have time to talk down his own morals once again. One of his technicians was running across the ice, his pupils dilated in spite of the white-hotness of the surroundings.
“Think you’d better have a look at this, boss,” panted the technician, barely waiting to see if Justin was following before taking off across the ice once again.
When the tech slid to a stop in front of a sizable crevasse far more gracefully than his supervisor, Justin was prepared to give him an earful about priorities, something he’d previously dreaded doing thanks to his relative youth.
“This is driftwood, Carter,” he began, but the technician had grabbed his shoulder and hauled him to the edge of the crevasse, gesticulating downward frantically with his free hand.
Justin squinted into the depth, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the sudden absence of brilliance. At length he saw the figure lying amidst the splintered fragments of driftwood, distinguished an arm ending in a heavy sphere of a fist that was draped across a formidable trunk of a torso.
“Get me a flashlight, would you?” he barked, reaching for it without looking as Carter whipped one out of a pocket.
He clicked it on, not entirely sure it was his imagination alone that saw the figure’s eyelids flutter when Jeremy had gotten the beam focused on the leaden density that was the head. He was no fashion expert, but if the period dramas his mother fancied were anything to go by, the clothes the figure was wearing (which did not fit its mass well) looked as though they dated from Jane Austen’s time, if not before.
He let the flashlight drift back to the figure’s face, if it could be called such. Even for a corpse that may have been stuck in the ice for a good century or two, something about the features seemed off-kilter…the skin stretched and sallow beyond that which he would expect, the limbs and musculature lacking even beyond the combined powers of decades in a naturally cryogenic environment.
It was only after he’d been staring at the figure for the better part of a half-hour, maybe an hour, who could tell, with the rest of his team gathered around him, shifting uncomfortably as they awaited his orders, that a sentence or two here and there from the letters he’d skimmed drifted into his head. Frankenstein, of course, had been returned to his homeland, but his life’s work had been thought lost to the wasteland.
Carter was at his elbow to help Jeremy to his numbed feet when he was ready to stand at last. As soon as the rest of the men saw the grin on his face, they shrank back instinctively.
For his part, Jeremy barely remembered to toss the flashlight back to its owner and command his men to carry on with their assignment before rushing back to camp to collect his tools. He would have to handle this himself, he knew, for he saw his dreams of being the biochemist who defied death itself were about to come to life at last.