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Authors: Alton Gansky

beneath the ice

 

 

Beneath the Ice

 

Alton Gansky

Copyright 2012

Smashwords Edition

 

 

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations
in books and critical reviews.

 

Scripture
quotations taken from the New American Standard
Bible
®, Copyright © 1960,
1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman
Foundation Used by permission." (
www.Lockman.org
)

 

 

First edition, trade paper, Promise Press Fiction, an
imprint of Barbour Publishing Inc. 2004

Cover provided by Promise Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Alton Gansky is the author of 4o books, novels and
nonfiction. He is a former firefighter, architectural project
manager, and Christian minister. He resides in Central California.
www.altongansky.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Dr. Harry Hearns
struggled
to place the plastic-coated
electric lead into the tiny copper socket. He failed for the third
time. Anyplace else, any other time, this would have been a simple
task, but this was not just any place or any time.

The lead slipped from his hand, and he swore
at the stateside engineers who designed the sensitive instruments
in warm, comfy offices.

“Hey, Doc.”
The voice scratched out of a microphone/speaker
attached to the lapel of Hearns’s parka.
“We’re gonna go bingo fuel if you don’t cart your academic
fanny back in here.”

More swearing. Hearns released the lead,
raised his hand to the mike, and keyed it. “You’re welcome to come
out and help,” he snapped. “Assuming the wind isn’t too much for
your sensitive skin . . .” He returned his attention to the device
before him.

“Speaking of wind, it’s picking up,
and we pilots are kinda sensitive to that.”

Hearns chose not to respond. They would
wait. They had no choice.

Pulling his gloves tighter, he took another
stab at connecting the wire. It was like doing surgery while
handcuffed. Once again he fumbled the small connector, and it
slipped from his fingers. For a moment he considered removing the
glove, but he had been around too long to do something so foolish.
It wasn’t the cold he feared as much as the metal box and pole
before which he knelt. He had no desire to place bare, moist skin
next to metal that had been exposed to temperatures so far below
zero that most people could not fathom the effects.

The wind picked up, taking
ice crystals airborne and swirling them around like motes of
precious gems. The first time Hearns saw what scientists called
“diamond dust,” he stood in stunned amazement, moved by its beauty.
Now, though, bone-weary, cold, and fac
ing
a recalcitrant electronic component, it just annoyed
him.

“Too many years on the ice,” he said to
himself. The puff of mist that escaped his mouth with the words
froze to his gray-brown beard.

The breeze stiffened, carrying with it the
sound of ocean slapping the sides of the ice. Hearns knew the ocean
was a half mile away and 150 feet lower than the plateau he stood
upon. He also knew the ice extended 1300 feet below the surface of
the frigid waters.

“Seriously, Doc. Mrs. Larsen didn’t
raise her little boy to be stupid. We’ve already made two extra
stops for you. It’s time to head back.”

He looked to his right at the Coast Guard’s
bright orange and white HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter that waited for
him fifty yards away. “Get off my back, Lieutenant Larsen. I’ll be
there as soon as I can.”

The surface beneath his feet shifted, and
the ice roared as if in pain. The small toolbox he had brought with
him danced on the ice.

Okay, now I’m getting
nervous.

Hearns keyed the mike again. “We’re on an
iceberg, Lieutenant, and icebergs move—which is why I’m here.”

That
was
why he was there, he reminded
himself. He had made icebergs the object of twenty years of study.
This berg, B27, was especially interesting, the second largest
iceberg known, second only to B15, which calved off the Ross Ice
Shelf in March of 2000. B15 had been nearly 4,200 square miles, a
little less than the size of Connecticut—170 miles long and 1,000
feet thick. B27, or “Kong” as it was known to the engineers and
scientists that made this part of Antarctica home, was eighty-five
percent of that but well worth studying. It might be only the
second largest berg, but it was still three times the size of Rhode
Island.

Hearns had studied
icebergs with the National Ice Center for most of the last two
decades. His specialty was formative ice structures. No one knew
more about how bergs formed. What he didn’t
know was why they broke apart—calved—like they
did.

Kong had calved from the ice shelf four
weeks before and had been slowly moving out to sea. Hearns knew
that Kong would split soon. B27 had done so just a few weeks after
it dropped into the ocean. Not even an iceberg the size of Kong
could defeat the un-relenting pounding of the sea. It would last
years, but not many. Bit by bit it would fragment into smaller and
smaller pieces. The berg would become two, then four, then a dozen,
until it disappeared into the ocean, its majestic white grandeur
indistinguishable from the cold, churning sea.

Now the iceberg was
beginning to break in two. Hearns want
ed
to know why.

Two weeks after the B27
separated from the ice shelf it had been part of for more years
than could be numbered, Hearns and his
team had placed instruments along the length of it. Those
instruments monitored temperature, wind speed and direction,
baromet
ric pressure, and much more data.
More important to Hearns, however, they monitored the iceberg’s
position. A GPS monitor in each instrument station took periodic
readings and radioed the information to McMurdo Station, Hearns’s
home base.

Two of the GPS stations on
Kong had quit broadcasting; Hearns was sure that had to do with
cheap transmitters.
Can’t do real science
when they pinch pennies,
he
thought.

He took a deep breath and shut out the sound
of the wind, the moaning ice, and the distant water and made
another attempt to secure the tiny connection. “Someone is going to
hear about this,” he promised himself.

It slipped in.

“Finally,” he said to the rising breeze. He
stood, shut the metal box, and secured the lid. He took one last
lingering look at the triangular aluminum mast that held the
antenna, gave the support chains a tug to make sure they were snug,
then jogged toward the helicopter.

“That’s what I’m talking about, Doc.
Put some heart into it.”

The ice shook and
rumbled.
Icequake.
Hearns lost his footing. He tumbled to the hard ice in a
heap; the toolbox skittered across the surface. The ice groaned in
agony.

“You okay, Doc?”

Hearns struggled to his feet. Hot bolts of
pain fired up his back and down his leg. He took a tentative step:
pain, but not severe. That was good. The last thing he needed out
here was a broken hip. He trundled on, this time with a limp.

The ice shuddered again, and Hearns stopped,
turning to his left. A crack had appeared—right where he had
expected it, right where he had predicted it! Although he had been
right about the place where the calving would happen, he had been
wrong about the time. His calculations showed that it would be at
least another week before an appreciable hunk split off.

Another quake; the gap in the ice
widened.

“Doc! Move it!”

For once, Hearns agreed with Lieutenant
Larsen. Despite the pain in his hip, Hearns broke into a full run.
The cold air bit his lungs with each inhalation. He felt as if he
were gulping angry bees.

Each step crunched the ice beneath his
boots. The wind rose another notch and pushed against his form. The
helicopter had been fifty yards away when he started. Any closer
and the constantly turning rotors would have stirred up ice in
Hearns’s work area. Now he wished he hadn’t been so cautious.

“This baby is splitting up, Doc.
Run!”

He was running, but he was running with a
box of tools in one hand and heavy boots on his feet. He was in
good shape for a man of fifty, but the Antarctic climate didn’t
care. It could send the strongest man to his knees without
warning.

At last he reached the
helicopter. The side door slid open, and a pair of strong hands
seized the parka he was wearing. A half-sec
ond later, Hearns was inside, and the loading door slammed
shut.

“Strap in,” flight mechanic Neil Russo
commanded. Then he spoke into the microphone that hung from his
orange flight helmet. “He’s in. Feel free to bug out.”

Hearns sat in the nearest jump seat and
pulled the safety harness across his chest and lap. The engine
began to whine as the rotors came up to speed. Dr. Hearns slipped
on his helmet. He would now be able to hear what the crew said over
the roar of the engine and the pounding of the rotors.

“Hold on,” Larsen snapped. “We done wore out
our welcome.”

Hearns’s stomach dropped like a stone as the
chopper took to the air. He hated flying, but this time it was a
welcome feeling.

“Oh, baby,” Larsen said. The words poured
through Hearns’s helmet earphone. “I was getting just a touch
nervous there.”

“Just a touch?” Russo asked.

“Okay, maybe two touches.”

Hearns ignored the banter. He waited a
moment until the helicopter had settled into a gentle ascent, then
released his restraints and made his way to the windowed door. The
iceberg receded from them as the craft continued its rise. Below
was the familiar shape of Kong, a white mass of ice as far as the
eye could see. What wasn’t familiar was the growing crack that had
only been a supposition before.

“Camera,” he whispered.

“What’s that, Doc?” Russo asked.

“My video camera . . . where is it?” Hearns
didn’t wait for an answer. He lurched toward the seat he had
occupied on the flight from McMurdo. The helicopter pitched
slightly but not enough to slow Hearns’s movement toward the seat.
Next to it, fastened in like a passenger, was the worn backpack he
carried on every trip. Yanking it open, he plunged a gloved hand
inside and removed a small video camera. He paused, then reached
back into the satchel for his digital camera.

“What are you planning, Doc?” Russo wanted
to know.

“Take this,” Hearns ordered. “Turn the
switch on top until it points at the camera icon. Start
snapping.”

“What—”


Do it, man. We’re missing it.” He tossed the camera in
Russo’s
lap and returned to the window. He
activated the video camera and adjusted the zoom. Through the
eyepiece he saw the fracture become a split and the split a
crevasse.

“Wow,” Russo said. “Are you seeing this,
Lieutenant?”

“Roger that. Looks like we bailed just in
time.”

“Spin us around,” Hearns said, pushing back
the hood of his parka.

“No can do, Doc. I told you, your extra
stops have eaten up more fuel than we planned. We’re headed
home.”

“If you wanted to play it safe, you should
have become a plumber,” Hearns shot back. “Now turn us around.”

“I joined the Coast Guard thinking I’d be
patrolling the beaches of sunny California, not hopping from
iceberg to iceberg in the Antarctic. I’m not here by choice.”

“Turn us
around!”

Hearns felt the chopper bank to the left.
His heart raced more from what he was seeing than from the threat
he had just escaped. Kong was separating, calving into several
smaller icebergs. Scientists had seen it happen before, but not
Hearns and not from a helicopter flying overhead. He had no
intention of missing his chance to record it.

“Looks like you finished up just in time,
Doc,” Russo uttered, the camera pressed to his eye. “How many shots
do you want?”

“Fill the memory stick,” Hearns answered. “I
can study them later . . .”

“Hey, Doc. What’s that?” Russo didn’t
explain. He didn’t need to.

Hearns pressed the
zoom
button and
tightened his shot. He closed his eyes and shook his head. It had
to be wrong.

“Do you see it, Doc?”

“I see it. I just don’t believe it.”

“It sorta looks like—”

“Lieutenant, take us closer to that dark
object,” Hearns ordered.

“The one in the crevasse?”

“Yes.”

The helicopter dipped and banked. “Make it
quick, Hearns. You got sixty seconds . . . no more.”

“We’ll leave when
I
say,” Hearns
barked.

“Unless you plan to come
yank the stick out of my hand, we’ll leave when
I
say.”

“Then put me down,” Hearns said. “You can
send another chopper after me.”

“That’ll cost me my commission. No can
do.”

Hearns swore but kept the camera taping.
“Lower.”

Nothing happened.

“Listen, Larsen!” Hearns
shouted. “If Kong cleaves, the small
er
piece is certain to roll, and we’ll lose sight and access to
it.”

“And you wanted me to set down,” Larsen
said. “What is that thing, anyway?”

“I can’t be sure unless we get closer,”
Hearns admitted. “I don’t want to speculate.”

“I’ll speculate,” Russo said. “It looks like
a building.”

“Impossible,” Hearns said. “It’s close to
fifty meters down in the crevasse, maybe more. Ice builds up at two
centimeters per year. Do you know how old that makes the
object?”

“I don’t know nothin’ about that, Doc,”
Russo said, “but it still looks like some kind of building to
me.”

Russo was right. It looked like a
building—and a large one at that. That was nonsense. It had to be.
Researchers had found fossil trees and other plant life in
Antarctica but nothing showing a human presence—and buildings were
distinctly human things.

“It’s an optical illusion of some kind,”
Hearns said, “but we need a closer look. Lieutenant, I insist you
put us down.”

“I’ll pull closer—I’ll hover over it—but I
will not set down. Is that clear?”

“Yeah, it’s clear,” Hearns growled.

“How close do you want me to get?”

Hearns thought for a second. “I’m worried
about what the rotor blast might do. If you get too close, then the
props will kick up ice particles, and we won’t be able to see
squat.”

“Roger that,” the pilot said.

“Pull just a little closer, but be prepared
to pull away if I say—”

Even over the noise of the helicopter’s
engine, Hearns heard the crack, the rumbling, the shearing squeal
of tons of ice rubbing against tons of ice. It was if the earth
itself had split open. Hearns felt his heart tumble to a stop then
skip back to life. Thirty meters below them, the ice chasm widened
and deepened. Kong was now two icebergs. The berg shuddered before
Hearns’s eyes, and then the smaller section began to roll on its
back like a dying whale.

“Up!” Hearns shouted. “Take us up. I need
more altitude to keep my eye on it.”

The helicopter shot up fast enough to make
Hearns feel sick. He pushed the nausea away and focused on the dark
object.

“We’re losing sight of it,” Russo said.

“Veer north,” Hearns said. “Quick, man!”

The object disappeared from sight, and
Hearns felt ill again.

“I’ll stay this course until we’re feet wet,
Doc. Maybe you can see where it went under—if it went under.”

“It went under,” Hearns whispered.

“How can you be so sure?” Russo
wondered.

“Because Kong didn’t cleave down the middle.
It’s only half a mile or so to the berg’s edge. That means that the
new berg is top heavy. It rolled. The ice we can see now used to be
under water.”

“You want me to keep going or not, Doc?” the
pilot pressed.

“Yes. We’ll drop a die marker and come back.
Maybe we’ll find something.”

Hearns turned off the camera and stared at
the ice below.

No matter how hard he
tried, he couldn’t deny what he had seen.
Maybe it’s better this way,
he
thought.
Maybe it’s best if we don’t
know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter
1

 

 

I
hope you’re
kidding,”
Perry Sachs said. He shifted in
his seat, trying to find a way to be comfortable dressed in
clothing far thicker and heavier than he was used to
wearing.

“Maybe I should have mentioned this before,”
Jack Dyson said. “You know how shy I am.”

Perry laughed. He looked
at his friend’s smiling face, lit by the overhead lights that lined
the C-5 Galaxy aircraft as it bumped along through the
twilight-tinged air. Jack Dyson was a tall, broad man who looked as
if he could have a stunning career in the NFL.
His black face was accustomed to smiling, and his eyes danced
with
humor. Too often those meeting him
for the first time assumed he
was a dumb
jock, as if a large body made for a small mind. The assumption
always led to their embarrassment. Jack was the
sharpest man Perry knew, and Perry knew and worked with the
brightest.

“Shy. Yeah, that’s you, all right,” Perry
replied. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to draw you out of
the shadows.”

“I’m a sensitive soul,” Jack said. He turned
and looked out the window. “Sure looks cold down there.”

Pe
rry leaned over and looked past his friend. The light in the
cabin returned a thin reflection from the plastic pane. For a
moment, Perry’s own image distracted him. Gazing back was a
handsome man with hair one shade lighter than coal, weary blue
eyes, a nar
row face, and two days’ growth
of beard. At thirty-nine, Perry was easing into middle age. His
lean body stood six-foot-two—when he got to stand. Since leaving
Seattle a week earlier, he had been on one aircraft after another
until he had arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, the day before.
After he’d grabbed a warm meal and six hours of sleep, Jack had
joined him, having taken his own series of red-eye flights from a
job site in Canada.

“Antarctica looks cold to
you?” Perry said. “You
are
a sensitive soul.”

“Even Canada was warm.”

“Spring is just ending in Canada, my friend.
Down here winter is just around the corner.”

“That I know,” Jack said. “Like I said, I
don’t like the cold, and it’s only going to get colder.”

“That’s why we have to work fast,” Perry
said, leaning back in his seat. “We have to leave before winter
sets in, or we’ll be stuck down here for more months than I care to
think about.”

A whining noise filled the long bay in which
they sat. “We’re descending,” Jack noted. He looked at his watch.
“Right on time. These flyboys are punctual.”

A voice came from behind them. “That’s
because the sooner they land this beast and unload, the sooner they
get to go back to McMurdo.” The passenger who’d spoken rose and
stepped into the narrow aisle formed by the cargo boxes that ran
the long axis of the aircraft.

“I thought you were sleeping, Commander,”
Perry said.

“I was, but that last bounce told me that I
had too much coffee—if you catch my drift. I’m gonna hit the head
before we land.” Commander Trent Larimore, United States Navy,
passed a hand over his thin face. Two years older than Perry,
Larimore had dark hair lightened by too much gray for a man his
age.

“Better make it quick,
sir,” a fresh-faced young man said, mak
ing
his way back from the front of the large plane. He was the
loadmaster for the trip. “The skipper wants everyone in their
seats. We’ve begun our descent.”

“Never fear,” Larimore
said.
“Semper paratus.”
He moved aft, leaving the young loadmaster
looking puzzled.

“Always prepared,” Perry translated.

The young man nodded and moved along the
aisle repeating the information about landing.

“I should have asked him for peanuts,” Jack
said. “He’d make a good flight attendant.”

“Don’t tell him that,” Perry replied. “You
might hurt his feelings.”

“I thought the navy handled these flights,”
Jack said. “Or at least the air force.”

“The navy used to, but they stopped in 1999.
These days the New York Air National Guard handles supply flights.
They were available, so we arranged a ride.”

“Frankly, I’m tired of riding. The sooner
they put wheels—I mean, skids—down, the better.”

Perry agreed. He had tired of sitting and
was ready to exchange the crowded cargo plane for some open air. He
thought about the work before them, the task they had been retained
to do—something never done before. The familiar mix of anticipation
and anxiety stewed in Perry. It was a sensation he had come to
love, and one he had felt on many occasions. It was what made him
feel alive.

As vice president and senior project
manager, Perry had traveled the world for Sachs Engineering, an
international construction company founded by his father decades
before. Since 1975 Sachs Engineering had erected buildings and
structures across the globe, many for Western governments. Secrecy
was a valuable commodity, and Perry’s father, Henry Sachs, knew how
to market it. When a situation demanded nontraditional
construction—such as underground facilities—Sachs Engineering was
often the first called.

Perry had never known another job. He worked
on small, local projects while in high school and filled summers
off from college working in deserts, swamps, and on mountainsides.
He worked his way up through the ranks. Being Henry Sachs’s only
child bought him no favors. Dad insisted that advancement came with
experience, education, and production. That was fine with
Perry.

“Look at Gleason,” Jack said, nodding
forward. “I’ll bet he’s read that file a dozen times since we went
airborne.”

“Did you expect otherwise?” Perry asked, and
Jack shook his head.

Gleason Lane was the head techie of the
group. He specialized in making electronic equipment do more than
designers imagined. Like Perry and Jack, Gleason was an MIT
graduate. While Perry took a degree in architecture, and Jack a
degree in civil engineering, Gleason had studied computer science.
It didn’t take him long after graduation to realize that pounding
computer keys in a cubicle wasn’t for him. Perry arranged a field
job for him, something at which he excelled. His reputation had
made him a much sought after consultant.

“We’re asking him to do the impossible,”
Perry continued. “Of course, he’d be offended if we asked anything
else.”

“So what did you promise his wife this
time?” Jack asked. Perry and Jack had remained unmarried. They
traveled to places they couldn’t discuss to do work they couldn’t
explain—and not return home for six months. It was difficult to
keep a woman interested in that kind of relationship.

Gleason, on the other
hand, had married during his senior year in college and now had two
preteen children. Any time Perry required Gleason to leave home for
more than two weeks, he sent gifts to the family. Fortunately,
Gleason was seldom required to be gone as long as Perry and Jack.
He came in, did his work, and left. It took less time to set up a
computer system than it took to tun
nel out
a mountain or build a bombproof building.

“I sent the kids a new video game player and
got the missus a DVD recorder. That way she can record all the
shows she likes to watch with Gleason.”

“She’s an understanding woman,” Jack said.
“Not many around like her.”

“Feeling lonely in your old age?”

“Old? I’m a good deal younger than you,
Pops.”


Three months cannot be defined as ‘a
good deal younger,’ not even in your world.”

“Yeah? Well, at least I’m still pretty. You,
on the other hand . . .”

“The only thing pretty on this flight is
Sarah Hardy, and you ain’t her.”

“Ah, the lovely NASA robotics expert,” Jack
said with a smile. “Thinking of asking her out for dinner and a
movie?”

“For the next few weeks, dinner will be
coming out of a can or plastic pouch. And as for movies, I didn’t
think to pack a theater.”

“Just as well. You know how you are around
women.”

Perry looked at his friend. “And just how am
I around women?”

“You know, tongue-tied, intimidated,
and—let’s be honest—you can be a little irritating.”

“Not me, buddy. I’m as soothing as hand
lotion.”

“I believe last year a certain small-town
mayor named Anne Fitzgerald planted the palm of her hand on the
side of your face.”

“She tried, but failed,” Perry rebutted. He
had met Anne in Tejon, California, the previous year. She had been
a problem from the beginning, interfering with a project that Perry
was doing his best to keep undercover. Before it was all over, she
had saved his life and he hers.

“Do you still see her?” Jack asked.

“From time to time,” Perry said, but offered
no more. The truth was, there was nothing more to offer. She had
continued on with her mayoral duties, and he had gone back to
Seattle, then to Japan for an extended period.

“Did I miss anything, gentlemen?” Larimore
asked as he returned to his seat.

“Just the in-flight movie,” Jack
quipped.

“Yeah, right,” Larimore
said. “I wasn’t gone
that
long.”

The plane banked left and continued its
descent. The loadmaster was making a final check of the onboard
crates, inspecting the lines and cargo netting.

“Doesn’t seem right,” Jack said, “a plane
this large with this much equipment landing on ice. Doesn’t seem
natural.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Larimore said. “I’ve been
in these things when they’ve landed on sea ice only six feet thick.
Ice is incredibly strong. It’s done all the time.”

“Thanks. I feel better now,” Jack said.

“Sarcasm,” Larimore said. “I recognize
it.”

“Jack never outgrew it,” Perry said.

The conversation lulled as
the plane dropped through the
cloudless
sky toward the barren continent of ice. Perry stole
anoth
er look out the window and was glad
he was not the pilot. They were flying over a featureless terrain
that made determining altitude impossible. He leaned his head back
and closed his eyes.

It seemed a good time to pray.

 

Touchdown was as smooth as any Perry had experienced,
except for the unusual sensation of the plane moving along on its
skids. Instead of the roaring of rubber wheels against fluted
concrete runway, he heard the whisper of a quiet gliding
action.

The engines powered down, and a few moments
later, the loadmaster appeared again. “Time to open the door,
folks,” he said, and a chorus of groans greeted him. The nearly
250-foot-long C-5 was capable of carrying 270,000 pounds of cargo.
They had come close to that, and this was the second flight in. An
earlier flight had landed on-site two weeks before to set up crew
quarters, communications, and monitoring equipment. Now Perry and
his team would begin their work.

Commander Larimore led the
exit, followed closely by Perry, Jack, Gleason, and Dr. Sarah
Hardy. Larimore’s team of navy per
sonnel
poured out a moment later.

It was a different world.

It was a painful world.

Perry had tried to prepare himself for the
moment. He had read everything he could find and had been briefed
by experts on Antarctic conditions. Mental preparation was one
thing; experiencing the harsh reality was something else.

Perry and the others wore clothing designed
for the subzero conditions, but he immediately felt frozen to the
marrow. He walked down the ramp that lowered from the rear of the
C-5 and strolled from beneath the tail that towered six stories
above the ice.

His heart pounded; his breathing was
irregular. He caught himself panting. His lungs hurt, and his lips
burned. A slight wind blew past his face, fluttering the fur lining
of his parka hood. The breeze felt like a thousand razor blades
across his skin.

“I . . . hate . . . the . . . cold,” Jack
whispered.

Perry tried to respond but only managed a
nod.

In front of them a wide dome rose fifteen
feet from the surface, as well as two large structures that looked
like cargo boxes on steroids. All three buildings were flown in on
the previous C-5. A door opened in the dome, and two figures garbed
in dark blue snowsuits approached. They walked with their heads
down until they stood before the gathering.

“Good day,” one of them said. He seemed
unbothered by the cold. “I’m Dr. Griffin James, chief scientist for
this project. Welcome to the bottom of the earth.” He threw his
arms wide. The other figure stood a few feet to his right and a
couple of steps behind. “This is my sister, Dr. Gwen James. She is
our associate director, so you’ll want to treat her well.”

“I’m Perry Sachs—”

“You may have noticed that
it’s a little chilly here,” Dr. James went on. “That’s to be
expected. You’re not far from the place where the coldest
temperature was ever recorded—a negative 89.2 degrees Celsius.
That’s 128.6 degrees
below
zero to you nonmetric folks. It makes today seem
positively balmy, doesn’t it?”

The weather didn’t feel mild to Perry. He
felt frozen. His legs were beginning to shake.

“Dr. James—” Perry began again. His lungs
tightened, and his chest began to hurt.

“By now you may have noticed that your lungs
hurt,” Dr. James continued. “That’s because of the altitude. You
are standing on the highest, driest, coldest, windiest, and
emptiest place on the planet. Beneath your feet is 70 percent of
our planet’s fresh water, and below that—well, that’s why we’re
here, isn’t it? We’re at over twelve thousand feet above sea level.
Not much oxygen, just extreme cold and mildly filtered ultraviolet
light. Be sure and wear sunblock when tanning.” He laughed at his
own joke. He laughed alone.

Perry turned to look behind him. Heavily
garbed men, the men assigned to Larimore, unloaded the plane. They
worked efficiently. Most, he knew, would be returning with the
plane as soon as they had finished offloading everything. For a
moment he envied them.

“If you develop headaches, dizziness,
disorientation, then tell Gwen immediately. She’s our paramedic.
Altitude sickness can be a serious problem. Most of you will adjust
just fine.”

Perry drew a ragged breath, and then said,
“Dr. James, may we go inside?” He motioned toward the large, squat
geodesic dome.

“I’m not finished,” Dr. James protested. “As
chief scientist, I am in charge of this operation. Questions and
comments should be directed to me, and no work should be commenced
without my approval.”

“Who does this guy think he is?” Jack
whispered.

Dr. James stopped and directed hard eyes at
Jack. “Who do I think I am?”

“Uh-oh,” Jack said.

“Five minutes on the ice and you’re already
in trouble with the teacher,” Gleason chided.

“You’re John Dyson, right?” Dr. James asked
with clipped words.

“Everyone calls me Jack.” Perry saw his
friend flash his best winning smile.

“Everyone calls me Dr. James and—”

“That’s it,” Larimore snapped. “If it’s all
right with you, Perry, I’m going in.”

“I haven’t dismissed anyone,” Dr. James
said.

“Listen, little man,” Larimore said. “As a
military man, I’m well acquainted with chain of command. According
to my orders, Mr. Sachs is in charge, not you.”

“I’m the chief scientist—”

“So you keep saying,”
Larimore shot back. “And just so there’s no confusion, I don’t
care. My orders are to serve as military liaison and assist this
man—” he motioned to Perry with his thumb—“in whatever way I can. I
handle military personnel, Ms. Hardy
handles robotics, and you and your sister advise us on issues
of sci
ence. Sachs oversees everything. Got
it?”

Perry studied the navy commander for a
moment. He seemed unfazed by the cold or thin air.

“And if I don’t get it?” Dr. James
asked.

“That plane leaves in an hour,” Larimore
replied. “As far as I’m concerned, you can be on it. It makes no
difference to me.”

Griffin’s jaw tightened. Larimore took a
step forward.

“Griffin, don’t,” Gwen James said. Her words
carried concern and annoyance.

“Thank you for the warm
welcome, Dr. James,” Perry interject
ed. He
took another deep breath before continuing but felt like
he was sucking oxygen out of an empty jar. “Let’s
continue the
party inside. Perhaps you’ll
give us the ten-cent tour, Dr. James.” He started forward, but
Griffin remained rooted to the ice. “All right then, maybe the
other Dr. James will provide the tour.” Perry stepped around
Griffin and trudged across the white surface toward the warmth of
the dome. He didn’t look over his shoulder until he reached the
thick door. Larimore, Jack, Gleason, and the others were right
behind him. Bringing up the rear of the pack was Gwen.

Perry didn’t wait for her; he opened the
door and waved his companions in as if he owned the place. It was
too cold, Perry decided, to stand on ceremony.

Thirty minutes later, key personnel gathered
in a semicircular room in the center of the dome. Dr. Gwen James
had given the group a tour, showing them the sleeping quarters,
bathrooms, and galley. It was a tight fit. The six men—all navy
Seabees—were housed in one of the square buildings a few feet away
from the dome. The other rectangular structure Perry saw held food,
medical, and other supplies for six months. If things went well,
they would be on-site less than a third of that time.

Heavy coats had been sloughed off, but warm
clothing was still the order of the day. Perry wore a white,
long-sleeved undershirt, thick pants, and boots. The others wore
something similar.

With the parkas and thick, fur-lined hoods
gone, Perry could better see the faces of the others. Nonleadership
personnel had been asked to give the team leaders some space and
privacy. Perry, who always worked aboveboard with his crew and who
encouraged participation from every worker, felt guilty for sending
the others from the room, but on this trip, he wasn’t making the
rules.

The room, with its dark, insulated dome
ceiling, made Perry feel like he was in a spacecraft. The furniture
was utilitarian, de-signed to be unfolded and set up on a moment’s
notice and with as little effort as possible. Everything about the
place was Spartan and indicated the hasty setup.

Dr. Griffin James entered
the room last, noted where Larimore
was
seated and took an open seat farthest away. Larimore studied him
for a moment, then smiled and offered a tiny nod. It wasn’t a
friendly gesture. Everyone who needed to be there was present. It
was time to get to work. Perry stood.

“You’ve all received files on our mission,
including biographies for team leaders,” Perry began. “I expect you
have all reviewed them, but let’s introduce ourselves to make sure
we’re all on the same page.”

“I get it,” Jack said. “It’s like a party,
and this is the icebreaker.”

A few people groaned.

“Wouldn’t want another misunderstanding,”
Dr. James growled.

“No, we wouldn’t,” Perry responded, unfazed
by the snipe. “Since you spoke up, Dr. James, let’s start with
you.”

“Everyone met me outside, remember?”

Perry felt his patience with the man growing
thin. According to James’s personnel file, Griffin was thirty-two
years old, never married, and a rising star in his field. Perry
judged him to be five-ten and 160 pounds. His hair was sandy blond,
his eyes dark blue. His mouth turned down as if chiseled in that
position. Perry could tell Dr. James was a man who didn’t laugh
much.

Griffin frowned then said, “Dr. Griffin
James, glaciologist, Ohio State—chief scientist.” He offered no
more.

“Dr. James will provide guidance about the
ice and the problems we may face.” He smiled and nodded at Gwen
James. Her hair was dark, a shade lighter than Perry’s. Smooth,
alabaster skin covered a serious face. Unlike her twin brother, she
struck Perry as less impressed with herself. She took the cue.


Dr. Gwen James, biologist, University of California, San
Diego
. Griffin and I have been working on
subglacial bioforms. I’ve been
retained to
monitor and record any discoveries indicating microscopic life. I’m
also the team paramedic. It’s not my forte, so stay
healthy.”

“Thank you, Dr. James,” Perry said, then
asked, “Since we have two Dr. Jameses, may we call you Gwen?”

“That would be unprofessional,” Griffin
said.

“Shut up, Griffin,” Gwen shot back. “It’s
not unprofessional, and it will go a long way to make communication
error free.”

Perry pressed back the urge to smile. There
was fire in the woman, and, apparently, she was used to handling
her brother.

Skipping over his own crew for the moment,
he turned to Larimore. “Commander?”

Larimore sat up in his chair. “Commander
Trent Larimore, United States Navy. I oversee a team of six
Seabees. Our job is to erect the exploration module, maintain
environmental parameters, and generally be the life of the
party.”

“Seabees?” Gwen asked.

“We’re the construction arm of the navy,
ma’am,” Larimore explained. “ ‘We build, we fight’ is our
motto.”

Next, Perry turned to a brown-haired woman
with cover-girl cheekbones and hazel eyes.

“Sarah Hardy, robotics, King’s College,
London.” There was a slight twang to her words.

“You don’t sound British,” Jack said with a
wink.

She smiled. “I’m not. I grew up in Austin,
Texas. My family moved to England when I was a teenager. I’m with
NASA.”

“Thank you, Sarah,” Perry said. “Jack?”

The large man stood, bowed, and then said,
“Jack Dyson, civil engineering, MIT, and all-around swell guy.”
Perry saw Dr. James roll his eyes. “My job is to make sure Perry
doesn’t make a mess of this operation.”

“Translation: He’s the other project
manager,” Perry explained.

“Gleason Lane,” Perry’s friend said without
waiting for a cue. “Like Perry and Jack, also MIT, except I majored
in a challenging discipline—computer science. I handle all the tech
stuff except robotics. That’s the lovely Sarah Hardy’s
expertise.”

“Perry Sachs,” Perry said. “Project
director, Sachs Engineering, architecture, MIT.”

“Architecture!” Dr. James exclaimed. “You’ve
got to be kidding. Why would Pentagon honchos send an architect to
Antarctica?”

“Because he’s the vice president of Sachs
Engineering,” Larimore said before Perry could reply. “They have
built things in places you can’t even imagine. They’re a known
quantity at the Pentagon.”