Report to the Senior Committee
Interior: a man is standing in a conference room next to a projection screen. He is holding a small remote control device; dressed in a tidy dark suit with white shirt and pale tie. The room is standard, anonymous, clean, plastic, laminate and pine. There is a small number of people assembled, sat, facing the Man. They are a mix of genders and dressed in a similar manner to Man and they are waiting for him to speak. He begins:
Man: Thank you, I, um [pause] let's begin [coughs]. Many cultures have supplementary dimensions, over and above the quotidian three. There's the, uh, the Australian Aboriginal Dream Time, the Native American Vision Quest and so on. There are witch-doctors in corners of South America taking ayahuasca, sprouting wings and flying off to alter-realms. Even science is outlandish on this account. According to current theory there are eleven dimensions, proposed to account for the discrepancy between quantum physics and relativity. There is one place where this weirdness is manifest. I have been there.
Man clicks the small remote control, light flickers across the projection screen. There is a slide.
Outline of the anomaly
Man: It is often said among the para-scientific community that there is no international protocol on anomalies because there are no "transnational phenomena", and there aren't, except for one. It's known simply as The Plateau, [wry smile] some refer to it, casually, as "Leng." [Pause - return to concentration] Another common name is "Dream Land."
The Plateau is an extra-dimensional region, accessible through gateways at various locations across the Earth. It is of uncertain size and the topography is variable though it generally takes the form either of a grassland with rolling hills or a cold semi-desert.
The region has been known about for millennia, hence Dream Time, Vision Quest etc. [Smiles] OK, that is conjecture, but it happens to be my conjecture. But, um, anyway, it was first 'discovered' in 1962, when an entrance was found by charity workers on an expedition to what is now the Eastern Himalayas Wildlife Corridor. Given the intensive nature of the Cold War at that point it, this sparked great interest.
American expeditions found entrances in the Blue Mountains in Australia, Groom Range in Nevada, USA and the Hidaka in Northern Japan. At this point the Americans could not access the Himalayan portal. [Pause] The Russians meanwhile found their own portal, rather by chance in what's now become known as the Dyatalov Pass Incident. To date thirteen locations have been established as gateways; most, though not all, at high altitudes.
The topography of The Plateau is mutable, frequently changing. This is visible from external observation. Compass bearings inside are erratic, as is the day/night cycle. On The Plateau the Sun in is recognisably the same as that on Earth in regular space though it is liable to rise and set at wildly different times of day at very different points on the horizon. The same applies to the Moon. It has proved impossible to establish radio or satellite contact with anyone on missions to the region. This all makes navigation inside difficult but not impossible.
Explorations and observations of The Plateau have recorded a range of unusual animals, from known rare/extinct animals to cryptids to unknown organisms initially hard to credit. There is also human habitation. Although these settlements have so far proved impossible to reach or remotely contact artefacts have been recovered, shedding some light on the human and natural history of The Plateau.
There have been three significant scientific expeditions into the region, two in 1999 which were unsuccessful and a third, recently completed, which I have led. This presentation, which will be made available to you later in written form, is in part a personal testimony but also, I hope, a comprehensive account of the expeditions, large and small, to The Plateau. By the way I apologise to you now if I go over ground that is already familiar to you. You may already know I am profoundly ambivalent about future missions to The Plateau. Caution is recommended to any future explorers [pause] if there are future explorations.
The Man clicks the remote control again. Another slide appears:
Why go there at all?
Man: There are reasons, aside from promethean curiosity, for returning to the region. Why did the Russians plant a flag under the North Pole? They wanted to establish a basis for dominating the area, remote and hostile though it is. A remote, hostile area today may turn out to be of crucial strategic or economic importance tomorrow. The Plateau is not on any map. It is of the Earth but not on the Earth. It is, in theory, a quick and easy link between far flung locations. Who wouldn't want to control it?
But there is also the matter of what goes on inside The Plateau. What causes the instability in the landscape? No one yet knows. Researchers have seen cryptids and living fossils thriving on The Plateau. For example, during the third expedition, staff recorded flightless birds reminiscent of New Zealand Moa being pursued by Maltese Tigers. At one point the main research base was almost upended by a giant earthworm, known as the Minhocão, said to live in the foothills of the Andes. There are also some darker, more disturbing accounts of hybrid species, which I will mention later.
How are these species sustained? How many creatures have made it off The Plateau and into regular space? Can these processes be harnessed? These are all very worthwhile questions.
Who owns The Plateau?
Man: By convention, and later by treaty, The Plateau is exempt from territorial claims. Each of the gateways is guarded by local military units however since 1991 delegations have been increasingly allowed to observe other countries bases. There is an ad hoc delegate council that assembles to discuss administrative and international issues, most frequent being animals escaping from region into regular space.
The outer layer of hard-core militarism conceals a culture of international scientific cooperation. Um [pause], a biographical note: for those of you who may not know, my name is Chandra Bhattacharya. I am part of a British delegation based at the Australian portal. I have been studying The Plateau since 2003. I, um, [Pause] I started out my scientific career as a PhD candidate, specialising in insect taxonomy. It's a real quantity-led field. Go to most parts of the world, shake a tree and catch the results and, sooner or later, you'll discover a new species. I saw this job advertised in a scientific periodical with a mysterious outline but very good rates. It was also out of the country and I wanted to travel. There was also the allure of "rare mega-fauna." I went through two interviews and an aptitude test. The contract was for two years ongoing. It wasn't until the British delegation met with other groups out in Australia that we were fully briefed as to what we would be studying. For better or worse I am now the Lead Scientist on the Australian Mission.
But the first scientific study was carried out by the original discoverers, an international team, twenty-strong, part British-American and part local, working for a well-known conservation charity. They were surveying the Eastern Himalaya for flora, fauna, climate and topography. As mentioned the survey was carried out at the height of the Cold War; chances are at least one of the team was working for Allied espionage.
By the team's account they were working above the tree line and below the snow line when one of the party scouted a route between two mountains. It led to an "uncharted region," this was how the group referred to The Plateau, with a graphically different ecosystem. The group spent two to three hours on The Plateau. They were fortunate it seems to have not strayed too far from the portal. The party made its way back after an earthquake opened up a large canyon in front of them.
They returned to normal space with soil samples unlike those on the other side of the mountain and samples of grass and flowers not ever recorded before. Members of the expedition observed some animals, but only distantly, including unknown "large, hopping bipeds." That is a direct quote also, by the way, from a written account of the expedition. One of the survey team also reported seeing "lightning fast" rodents scurrying between various bushes. But the truly anomalous feature was the earthquake. There were no significant seismic disturbances reported anywhere in regular-space.
Man: The subsequent return missions were military. Many of the documents referring to these missions are still classified. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has put a small trove of accounts into the public domain. Public-ish; as you probably know, the documents are served under a permanent D Notice in the United Kingdom. Most accounts of the Russian Invasion circulate as conspiracy theories.
Though I am led to understand the translations could be improved documents show that a conservative military faction, led by several division commanders, attempted a secret invasion of The Plateau in early 1965. No one in high command or the Politburo was informed of the action. The plan was to place the Red Army (and by extension the Americans) in front of a fait accompli. Several divisions of infantry were moved into the area along with a tank and an artillery division, incredible though that may seem [laughs]. Quite apart from the lack of roads, what were they going to bomb in there?
A small number of infantry lived to return to regular space. They survived because they were part of a drug micro-culture. The main camp established on the first night was set in a shallow valley. The survivors though, two dozen or so, had gone up into the foothills of a nearby mountain to have a smoke and complain about the strangely long day they had building the camp (they were mostly sappers and infantry) and the particularly aggressive insects that seemed to attack everybody. The night was clear and cool. Even so, the base was almost completely scoured by a flash flood that emerged suddenly and disappeared just as fast.
By the survivors reckoning, it took six days to escape The Plateau, in which time they all succumbed to a feverish disease, presumed to be carried by the insect swarms that harried them almost every step of the way. Three died from a combination of the disease and (probably) exhaustion. They were also stalked, though not attacked, by large felid creatures. Though lost, the surviving party eventually emerged into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, discovering a new entrance in the process.
The final report submitted to the Politburo described the action as a "military rebellion" but suggested no further action as the survivors had all served or were still serving custodial sentences and the truly "guilty [had] already been punished."
Accounts of the invasion are officially dismissed by the current Russian Republic as fabrications (though the truth is acknowledged secretly). Despite the lack of a Cold War imperative there are no equivalent reports available from either US or Allied armies; though we know they made expeditions to The Plateau. In my opinion we are missing much potentially valuable data from this period.
Man: Proper scientific research was resumed after the 1994 Memorandum on Extra-Regular Space. Much preliminary investigation was done through remote observation, though groups of field workers were eventually allowed to step out onto The Plateau, under armed guard, never for longer than 12 hours and never out of sight of the base camp. Teams were briefed, albeit in a sketchy manner, on the dangers of The Plateau. The pioneering work was done by teams directed by Dr Walter Mattingly, a researcher from Arizona State University.
Mattingly's team documented numerous unusual creatures; the prize being a live Thylacine. For those of you interested [pause] for those, um, [pause - scratches head], it was a mature male. The Thylacine was found, sick from an infected leg wound. It was sedated, captured, treated and then returned to the wild, but not before it was given the nickname "Lenny", to go with Karl, biology undergrad who took care of it, fed it, cleaned its cage. [Pause - smiles, slightly embarrassed - renews] It was Mattingly's team that established the existence of human settlements on The Plateau. They brought back not just photos showing permanent structures, not just tents, not just that but also footprint casts, scraps of clothing material, lost artefacts (sticks, blades, small receptacles, earthen scorch marks - the remains of encampments) and so on. Mattingly also devised the first means to navigate region, the first allowed by the military.
The plan was simple; in a shifting landscape create a point of reference. In this case it meant plant tall flags that can be seen over several kilometres across the (generally) wide plains. In December 1998 Dr Mattingly led three of his students onto The Plateau out again, on a dawn to dusk mission, leaving and entering via the Groom Range portal.
The expedition was largely successful, though the terrain defeated them from reaching any of the settlements spotted. In the months after this Mattingly got the go ahead for a three-day expedition.
The team that eventually left for The Plateau on the 3rd of March 1999 consisted of students of Mattingly; three PhD candidates, plus a graduate (from a different university) working on her MA. They were accompanied by two US army officers with experience in wilderness survival. Mattingly had fallen ill a few days prior and was unable to go.
The Alpha Party, as they were dubbed, left in good spirits and with plenty of batteries for their night vision goggles, and food, water etc. They did not return. Three days later the markers were still there and the terrain had not radically shifted but the Alpha Party was not spotted. Four, five, six days passed, the markers vanished and still no sign of the expedition. All outposts were alerted to look for the missing scientists. Ten days after they left a rescue mission was launched.
Man: No one knows for sure what happened to the Alpha Party. It is generally assumed that it met a similar fate to the Rescue Mission. Sergeant Rexroth is the only known survivor of the Rescue Mission. Having entered The Plateau at the portal in the Groom Mountains, Officer Rexroth was spotted by observers three days later. He was found lying unconscious fewer than 200 metres from the portal in the Andes and successfully recovered. As part of my research into The Plateau I was granted an interview with Rexroth. The interview took place five years after the events described.
Bhattacharya: Can you state your name please…? This is for the record.
Clicks remote control, stands with arms crossed:
Rexroth: Sergeant Anthony Rexroth, 75th Ranger Division, US Army.
Bhattacharya: What were you doing on The Plateau?
Rexroth: [Pause] Is this really necessary?
Bhattacharya: For the record.
Rexroth: I was drafted to the Rescue Expedition, launched to recover the Alpha Party sent into the region. [Pause] They were Researchers Danforth, Akerley, Wilmarth and Liebkraft, along with Officers Lynch and Michalopoulous.
Bhattacharya: Thank you, uh [pause]. How many were there on your team?
Rexroth: There were also six of us, four more from The 75th, there was also the Research Lead Dr Mattingly and his assistant Researcher Naidoo.
Bhattacharya: Why did they accompany you?
Rexroth: I did not discuss this directly with either. Dr Mattingly was the uh, the guy who came up with the exploration idea, the flags. He said he wanted to complete the original mission, making observations and recording data from inside The Plateau. Naidoo was there as his gofer.
Bhattacharya: Presumably he did not think that the Alpha Party itself could be recovered.
Rexroth: [Pause] I don't know. He did not go on the first mission. I think he felt guilty.