For thousands of years after the impact, comets were associated with superstitions of catastrophic events and considered omens of future tragedies. They were blamed for everything from wars and pestilence to death and destruction. Not until recent history were comets considered nature's wonders, like the splendor of a rainbow or clouds painted gold by a setting sun.
The biblical flood and a host of other calamity legends all had ties to this one tragedy. The ancient civilizations of Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs of Central America had many traditions relating to an ancient cataclysmic event. The Indian tribes throughout the United States passed down stories of waters flooding over their lands. The Chinese, the Polynesians, and Africans all spoke of a cataclysm that decimated their ancestors.
But the legend that was spawned and that flourished throughout the centuries, the one that provoked the most mystery and intrigue, was that of the lost continent and civilization of Atlantis.
September 30, 1858
Stefansson Bay, Antarctica
Roxanna mender knew that if she stopped walking she would die. She was near complete exhaustion and moving on willpower alone. The temperature was well below zero, but it was the windchill from the frigid teeth of the ice gale that was biting through her skin. The deadly drowsiness gently slipping over her was slowly draining
Her will to live. She moved forward, one foot groping ahead of the other, stumbling when caught off balance by a sudden break in the ice field. Her breath came in the rapid, rasping panting of a mountain climber struggling toward a peak in the himalayas without oxygen equipment.
Her vision was nonexistent as the icy windblown particles swirled in front of her face, protected by a thick woolen scarf wrapped inside her fur-lined parka. Though she only squinted between the layers of the scarf every other minute, her eyes were sore and reddened from the onslaught of the tiny granules. Frustration gripped Roxanna when she looked up and saw the dazzling blue sky and brilliant sun above the storm. Blinding ice storms under clear skies were not an uncommon phenomenon in Antarctica.
Surprisingly, snow rarely falls in the South Polar region. It is so incredibly cold that the atmosphere cannot contain water vapor, so any snowfall is minimal. Not more than five inches falls over the continent in the course of a year. Some of the snow that is already on the ground is actually several thousand years old. The harsh sun strikes the white ice on an oblique angle and its heat is reflected back into space, contributing largely to the extraordinarily cold temperatures.
Roxanna was fortunate. The cold did not penetrate her clothing. Rather than wearing European cold-weather garb, she was dressed in clothing her husband had acquired while trading with Eskimos during his earlier whaling expeditions in the Arctic. Her inner clothing consisted of a tunic, short knee-length pants, and a socklike boot made with soft fur worn against her feet. Separate outerwear protected against extreme cold. The parka was loose-fitting to allow body heat to circulate and escape without the problem of sweat buildup. It was made from wolf fur, while the pants came from a caribou. The boots stood high and were worn over the socks, with the fur inward.
Her greatest physical danger lay in breaking an ankle or leg on the uneven surface, and if she somehow survived, there was the threat of frostbite. Though her body was protected, it was her face that worried her. At the least tingle on either her cheek or nose, she vigorously rubbed the skin to restart circulation. She had already watched six of her husband's crew develop frostbite, two of them losing toes and one his ears.
Thankfully, the icy gale began to die away and lose its violence, and her progress became easier than it had been for the past hour she had been wandering lost. The howling wind faded from her ears, and she could hear the squeak of the ice crystals beneath her feet.
From Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler. (c) October, 1999
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