The yelp startled him—a short, sharp cry that indicated something was most definitely wrong.
Panicked, the boy ran to catch up, cresting the ridge of snow over which his companion had disappeared just a few seconds before. She was crouched about fifty metres ahead on a wide flat plain, licking her front paw, the snow around it tinged ever so slightly pink.
“Laika! You okay? You hurt?” he asked breathlessly, speaking, as every dog owner does, as if his canine were completely fluent in human language.
The big black dog rolled onto her back as he approached, holding up her left foreleg for inspection. Maybe she did understand? As the boy dropped to a knee to look for signs of damage, something jabbed into him and he too yelped and jumped back, shocked more than hurt and wondering what could possibly be that sharp on the top of a slushy, snow-covered glacier.
Laika snapped to her feet, startled at her small human’s vocal and physical recoil, but with her tail wagging furiously, having clearly reached the conclusion that both she and he were now in the same predicament. The boy pulled off a glove and poked a tentative finger through the small tear in his trouser knee, feeling around somewhat anxiously for any signs of damage. Relieved to discover that there was nothing of serious concern happening in there, he turned his attention to the mystery cause.
He’d fallen on the snow and ice out here thousands of times, so he knew that whatever had cut Laika’s paw and torn a hole through his snow pants had to be something other than crystals of frozen water. A sharp rock, maybe? He began to dig, carefully scooping handful after handful of slushy snow away from the pain-inducing thing.
He uncovered the edge of a piece of metal, and as he dug a little deeper, it revealed its full self.
He guessed it to be about twice the size of his iPhone, but it was thinner, more like a piece of lightweight cardboard. Angular, gently curved, dull dark grey on one side and a kind of faded pea green on the other, the object had a line of raised dots and some small holes along one edge where it looked as if another piece of metal had maybe once been attached. He held it up in the weakening afternoon sunlight, trying to make sense of it, but of course he couldn’t because it simply didn’t belong there. And, at that time of day especially, neither did he.