It's archeology camp, except it's not—it's work. In the day, when fifteen of their archeologist kin are wandering about the site, hyper-focused but especially giddy, it can feel like camp. Tonight, in the natural frosty darkness, it feels like a survivalist adventure. It's gritty enough to keep Dr. Maxine Zink and Dr. Nesha Kang grounded and awake.
It's 2017, but Maxine is in the company of no millennial. She's eyeballing a very homo neaderthalensis, and the hollows of its cranial sockets pay her no mind. It is the full body remains of a pre-human completely preserved by the ice. His arms lay straight at his sides. He's well-clothed, but not in furs as expected. He has a hairy head and a chillingly gaunt mug. He's been cuddled here for tens of thousands of years. It's not a bad spot, and he looks comfy, due to him apparently appearing to be wearing a onesie. Actually, it's not a onesie, it's more of a, what's the term for chic overalls—a romper. A…romper. That's it. A half-ironic internet fashion trend. All he's missing is a man-bun.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the cavern, Kang steps on something hard, slightly offsetting his stride. He steadied, knelt, and brushed off the general radius of his last few paces, until he unearthed a section of something shiny. His first logical conclusion was "shrapnel", but was quickly trashed because "shrapnel" doesn't match up with "Pleistocene era den".
Kang let his fingertips exploratively run across the sheen surface as the other hand retrieved a small trowel from his belt. The object was the size of a thumbnail and completely cylindrical. It was a metal ball. Kang's excitement tripled, as further excavation revealed the object was three-pronged, with two other metal balls inset, all fitting into the palm of his hand.
"Kang, I think we've got something," Maxine called.
"Ah wouv hav tou sayh yaur right abou thah," Kang appeared a few moments later, his agreement heavily muffled through the fur collar of his coat. He'd pulled it above his nose to keep out the cold, to limited effectiveness. He pulled it back down while bending over to examine Maxine's finding. There was silence for a few minutes aside from their breathing and the breathing of the night.
Maxine waited until Kang circled the entire ancient man before speaking. "This is..beyond odd. Is this a joke? Was this site vandalized?"
"I..don't think so—we know all entrances don't appear to have been breached for thousands of years, and the interior status of the cave matches. Besides..that doesn't look fake..just very very wrong."
"Kang, we're looking at a fully preserved Neanderthal corpse wearing a modern article of clothing, which looks like it's been on him since the day he died."
"That's a past-modern look—the clothing of the future, there. Anyway, all we've got to do is ship him off for lab analysis tomorrow. Can't do anything tonight but dig him out of his resting place." Kang's lip curled like he was trying to choke down a chuckle, but his tone was as dead as the street style-adorned corpse.
"'All we've got to do'?" Maxine repeated flatly. "Kang, if we bring this to the lab, we'll—we'll be ostracized. Screw the lab, once we show what we've found to the others in the morning, we'll be shipped home, and sent to academic prison—not just figuratively, probably literally. We'll be the laughing stock. They're going to think we put this baby blue romper on an impeccably preserved Neanderthal specimen. They're going to think we've lost it. There has never been anything like this, and I mean in the worst, stupidest way."
"You're right, there has never been anything like this. But, we know in what condition this guy was discovered, even if it's, ah, alarmingly unclear what we've found."
"'We found him like this' is not gonna be believable in any realm. It's not like we set up security cameras on the cave ceiling, either."
"Well, I can assure you that they will set up cameras, now. Before we go all in over here, I've got to show you something I found too. I picked it up and dusted it, but I'll show you where I got it."
"A small object? What is it, bones or a tool?" Maxine responded quickly, eager to abandon astronomically incomprehensible matters for a moment. The ground crunched under her boots as she swiftly rose; the remains as still as stone at her feet.
"Come over, it's in section A4-503."
Maxine obliged, following his lead four or so meters further into the cave's depths.
"Take a look. See anything sparkly?" Kang gestured to the ground and Maxine crouched to look closely.
"…What is going on?" Maxine spun to face her partner after taking in Kang's unearthing. "Is this your joke? Seriously, I don't need to deal with this shit when I can't even feel damn my toes." Maxine dropped her head to shake it in her hands; her rough gloves pressing against her dark cheek, the skin smoothed and tightened by the absurd cold.
"You're the expert on fidget spinners. I didn't bring any to plant—I wouldn't even know where to buy them. And there's not exactly any stores around here."
Maxine had enough of Kang's nonchalance. "You can buy them anywhere, you imbec-..Can we just go back to our tents? In any other case, I would love to examine that Neanderthal down to the last follicle, if it weren't for what he was wearing."
"I really, really wish we were recording this," Kang sighed, a cloud billowing in front of his head. "I swear I'm not the culprit, partner. You might be right, though. Maybe we should cover this all up; pretend it didn't happen. Perhaps play into our coworkers' theoretical trap."
"No...I want the credit for this discovery. I'm a proper archeologist." Maxine stated, oozing sass and exasperation.
"Me, too, Zink." Kang supposes rediscovery is just as good as discovery, peradventure even better.