Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Old Gib’s Avatar
20 June 2008, Finney @ 7:28 pm

[This post written 6/20/08; position: lat -58’09”, long -42’36”; temp 0C; wind chill -10C]

June 20th turns out to be a very special day in Antarctica. I have been so busy keeping track of ROV launchings and plane flights, lasers and ice caves and weird sea creatures, that I didn’t think about it until this morning, when Adam sent around an email greeting from Palmer Station. June 20th is summer solstice. For all of you on the northern half of the planet, it’s the longest day of the year. I am thinking about that and feeling a little wistful, imagining what it’s like at home right now. In our town, it has probably been a hot day, maybe with some thunder showers, but not enough to cool things down much. Pretty soon, kids climbing trees and playing catch will stop and sniff the air as their parents start barbecues. They will eat dinner outside on screened porches, because it’s too warm to be inside. And when they’re done, they’ll race back out into the neighborhood to meet their friends and play some more before dark. The great thing is, it’ll be a long time before dark. At nine-thirty, the fireflies will just be coming out, because this is the summer solstice — the day when there are more hours of light than on any other day of the year.

But that’s at home. Here in Antarctica, everything is backwards. It’s not the summer solstice. It’s the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year! Believe me, we are not eating outside here. At Palmer Station, the people who are staying in Antarctica all through the long, dark winter are sitting down to a big, fancy dinner with wine tonight, making a celebration out of it. After all, what else could you do? Better than whining about it, as my dad would say. But I haven’t told you the craziest part yet. After dinner, they go out and jump into the sea! I am serious. Dude. The water is -1.5C. That is colder than freezing! I don’t think they are going to let people jump off the Nathaniel B. Palmer. But if they did, I would not be dumb enough to do it. They must be pretty desperate for stuff to do down there!

Before I started thinking about the solstice, I planned to do a post about Dr. Vernet and her diatoms, and I guess I will still do that, especially since diatoms remind me of crystals and ice, so they seem like a good subject for the shortest day of the year.

Diatoms are these tiny, tiny plants that live in water. You can find them in lakes as well as in oceans, like down here. They are so small you can only see them with a microscope. One of the coolest things about them is that they spend their lives in these little structures they make out of silica, which is the same stuff sand and glass is made of. No kidding. These things are so weird they are like from some other planet. In the picture above, the ones on the left are Corethron criophilum. The one on the right is Asteromphalus sp. I hope I spelled those right. Dr. Vernet and her helpers (who are the ones who use all those purple gloves) take water samples every day and look at them all to see what kinds of microscopic life forms they contain. They find some amazing stuff, that’s for sure. Next time I go swimming in the lake, I’m going to be thinking about what else might be in there with me that I can’t even see!

Of course, you probably are also waiting to hear about what happened next with Strike. As you probably recall, he had just announced that he was from the future, which did not surprise me at all. How else could he be warning me about things before they happen?

After he said that, I said, “All right, but that’s only half the answer. How did you get here? And why did you come?”

He sighed. Seriously. It was a sigh, even though he probably has no lungs. “You sent me,” he said. “I probably should not have told you that.” He sounded so miserable I almost felt sorry for him.

I sent you? You mean, Old Gib sent you?” I was referring to my future self. The one who grows up to be a scientist and invents the unner, which makes it possible for me to save my sister Roxy’s life. Unless you have read The Power of Un, you don’t know how weird I turn out to be. It’s like this. When I first met Old Gib in the woods near our house, I thought he was a homeless ax murderer. I have a lot of trouble thinking of Old Gib as in any way related to me. “Why did he send you instead of just coming himself?” Which is what he did last time. He came in person to deliver the unner to me. And I have reason to believe he did some other things, too, while he was at it. Or I did them while I was at it, depending on your preferred point of view.

“It’s too hard to come back in person. It’s easier to send an avatar, like Strike,” said Strike.

“An avatar,” I repeated, feeling dense. As far as I know, an avatar is the character you pretend to be in an online game or an RPG. I did not get how Strike could be an avatar. At least not at first. Then I started thinking. An avatar can’t do anything on its own. It is just a substitute for the real person who is actually playing the game.

“Dude,” I said, as the truth hit me. “You’re Old Gib, aren’t you!”