Evans could see nothing different—it just looked like more ice field, glistening in the sun—but here there were red flags on both sides of the route. The flags were mounted on six-foot-high posts.
As they moved deeper into the field, he looked beyond the road to the openings of crevasses in the ice. They had a deep blue color, and seemed to glow.
“How deep are they?” Evans said.
“The deepest we’ve found is a kilometer,” Bolden said, over the radio. “Some of them are a thousand feet. Most are a few hundred feet or less.”
“They all have that color?”
“They do, yes. But you don’t want a closer look.”
Despite the dire warnings, they crossed the field in safety, leaving the flags behind. Now they saw to the left a sloping mountain, with white clouds.
“That’s Erebus,” Bolden said. “It’s an active volcano. That’s steam coming from the summit. Sometimes it lobs chunks of lava, but never this far out. Mount Terror is inactive. You see it ahead. That little slope.”
Evans was disappointed. The name, Mount Terror, had suggested something fearsome to him—not this gentle hill with a rocky outcrop at the top. If the mountain hadn’t been pointed out to him, he might not have noticed it at all.
“Why is it called Mount Terror?” he said. “It’s not terrifying.”
“Has nothing to do with that. The first Antarctic landmarks were named after the ships that discovered them,” Bolden said. “Terror was apparently the name of a ship in the nineteenth century.”
“Where’s the Brewster camp?” Sarah said.
“Should be visible any minute now,” Bolden said. “So, you people are some kind of inspectors?”
“We’re from the IADG,” Kenner said. “The international inspection agency. We’re required to make sure that no US research project violates the international agreements on Antarctica.”
“Dr. Brewster showed up so quickly,” Kenner went on, “he never submitted his research grant proposal for IADG approval. So we’ll check in the field. It’s just routine.”
They bounced and crunched onward for several minutes in silence. They still did not see a camp.
“Huh,” Bolden said. “Maybe he moved it.”
“What type of research is he doing?” Kenner said.
“I’m not sure,” Bolden said, “but I heard he’s studying the mechanics of ice calving. You know, how the ice flows to the edge, and then breaks off the shelf. Brewster’s been planting GPS units in the ice to record how it moves toward the sea.”
“Are we close to the sea?” Evans said.
“About ten or eleven miles away,” Bolden said. “To the north.”
“Actually, this isn’t so far,” Kenner said. “Two years ago an iceberg broke off the Ross Shelf that was four miles wide and forty miles long. It was as big as Rhode Island. One of the biggest ever seen.”
“Not because of global warming, though,” Evans said to Sarah, with a disgusted snort. “Global warming couldn’t be responsible for that. Oh no.”
“Actually, it wasn’t responsible,” Kenner said. “It was caused by local conditions.”
Evans sighed. “Why am I not surprised?”
Kenner said, “There’s nothing wrong with the idea of local conditions, Peter. This is acontinent. It would be surprising if it didn’t have its own distinctive weather patterns, irrespective of global trends that may or may not exist.”
“And that’s very true,” Bolden said. “There are definitely local patterns here. Like the katabatic winds.”
“Katabatic winds. They’re gravitational winds. You’ve probably noticed that it’s a lot windier here than in the interior. The interior of the continent is relatively calm.”
“What’s a gravitational wind?” Evans said.
“Antarctica’s basically one big ice dome,” Bolden said. “The interior is higher than the coast. And colder. Cold air flows downhill, and gathers speed as it goes. It can be blowing fifty, eighty miles an hour when it reaches the coast. Today is not a bad day, though.”
“That’s a relief,” Evans said.
And then Bolden said, “See there, dead ahead. That’s Professor Brewster’s research camp.”
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6
2:04 P. M.
It wasn’t much to look at: a pair of orange domed tents, one small, one large, flapping in the wind. It looked like the large one was for equipment; they could see the edges of boxes pressing against the tent fabric. From the camp, Evans could see orange-flagged units stuck into the ice every few hundred yards, in a line stretching away into the distance.
“We’ll stop now,” Bolden said. “I’m afraid Dr. Brewster’s not here at the moment; his snowtrack is gone.”
“I’ll just have a look,” Kenner said.
They shut the engines and climbed out. Evans had thought it was chilly in the cab, but it was a shock to feel the cold air hit him as he stepped out onto the ice. He gasped and coughed. Kenner appeared to have no reaction; he went straight for the supply tent and disappeared inside.
Bolden pointed down the line of flags. “You see his vehicle tracks there, parallel to the sensor units? Dr. Brewster must have gone out to check his line. It runs almost a hundred miles to the west.”
Sarah said, “A hundred miles?”
“That’s right. He has installed GPS radio units all along that distance. They transmit back to him, and he records how they move with the ice.”
“But there wouldn’t be much movement…”
“Not in the course of a few days, no. But these sensors will remain in place for a year or more. Sending back the data by radio to Weddell.”
“Dr. Brewster is staying that long?”
“Oh no, he’ll go back, I’m sure. It’s too expensive to keep him here. His grant allows an initial twenty-one-day stay only, and then monitoring visits of a week every few months. But we’ll be forwarding his data to him. Actually, we just put it up on the Internet; he takes it wherever he happens to be.”
“So you assign him a secure web page?”
Evans stamped his feet in the cold. “So, is Brewster coming back, or what?”
“Should be coming back. But I couldn’t tell you when.”
From within the tent, Kenner shouted, “Evans!”
“I guess he wants me.”
Evans went to the tent. Bolden said to Sarah, “Go ahead with him, if you want to.” He pointed off to the south, where clouds were darkening. “We don’t want to be staying here too long. Looks like weather coming up. We have two hours ahead of us, and it won’t be any fun if it socks in. Visibility drops to ten feet or less. We’d have to stay put until it cleared. And that might be two or three days.”
“I’ll tell them,” she said.
Evans pushed the tent flap aside. The interior glowed orange from the fabric. There were the remains of wooden crates, broken down and stacked on the ground. On top of them were dozens of cardboard boxes, all stenciled identically. They each had the University of Michigan logo, and then green lettering:
University of Michigan Dept. of Environmental Science Contents: Research Materials Extremely Sensitive HANDLE WITH CARE
This Side Up “Looks official,” Evans was saying. “You sure this guy isn’t an actual research scientist?”
“See for yourself,” Kenner said, opening one cardboard carton. Within it, Evans saw a stack of plastic cones, roughly the size of highway cones. Except they were black, not orange. “You know what these are?”
“No.” Evans shook his head.
Sarah came into the tent. “Bolden says bad weather coming, and we shouldn’t stay here.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t,” Kenner said. “Sarah, I need you to go into the other tent. See if you can find a computer there. Any kind of computer—laptop, lab controller, PDA—anything with a microprocessor in it. And see if you can find any radio equipment.”
“You mean transmitters, or radios for listening?”
“Anything with an antenna.”
“Okay.” She turned and went outside again.
Evans was still going through the cartons. He opened three, then a fourth. They all contained the same black cones. “I don’t get it.”
Kenner took one cone, turned it to the light. In raised lettering it said: “Unit PTBC-XX-904/8776-AW203 US DOD.”
Evans said, “These are military?”
“Correct,” Kenner said.
“But what are they?”
“They’re the protective containers for coned PTBs.”
“Precision-timed blasts. They’re explosives detonated with millisecond timing by computer in order to induce resonant effects. The individual blasts are not particularly destructive, but the timing sets up standing waves in the surrounding material. That’s where the destructive power comes from—the standing wave.”
“What’s a standing wave?” Evans said.
“You ever watch girls play jump rope? Yes? Well, if instead of spinning the rope, they shake it up and down, they generate loopy waves that travel along the length of the rope, back and forth.”
“But if the girls shake it just right, the waves appear to stop moving back and forth. The rope takes on a single curved shape and holds it. You’ve seen that? Well, that’s a standing wave. It reflects back and forth in perfect synchronization so it doesn’t seem to move.”
“And these explosives do that?”
“Yes. In nature, standing waves are incredibly powerful. They can shake a suspension bridge to pieces. They can shatter a skyscraper. The most destructive effects of earthquakes are caused by standing waves generated in the crust.”
“So Brewster’s got these explosives…set in a row…for a hundred miles? Isn’t that what Bolden said? A hundred miles?”
“Right. And I think there’s no question what he intends. Our friend Brewster is hoping to fracture the ice for a hundred miles, and break off the biggest iceberg in the history of the planet.”
Sarah stuck her head in.
Kenner said, “Did you find a computer?”
“No,” she said. “There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. No sleeping bag, no food, no personal effects. Nothing but a bare tent. The guy’s gone.”
Kenner swore. “All right,” he said. “Now, listen carefully. Here’s what we are going to do.”
TO WEDDELL STATION
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6
2:22 P. M.
“Oh no,” Jimmy Bolden said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that, Dr. Kenner. It’s too dangerous.”
“Why is it dangerous?” Kenner said. “You take these two back to the station, and I’ll follow Brewster’s snowtracks until I meet up with him.”
“With all due respect, sir, you don’t know your way around this part of the world…”
“You forget, I am an IADG inspector,” Kenner said. “I was resident in Vostok Station for six months in the winter of ’99. And I was resident in Morval for three months in ’91. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“Gee, I don’t know…”
“Call back to Weddell. The station chief will confirm it.”
“Well, sir, if you put it that way…”
“I do,” Kenner said firmly. “Now get these two people back to base. Time is wasting.”
“Okay, if you’ll be all right…” Bolden turned to Evans and Sarah. “Then I guess we go. Mount up, folks, and we’ll head out.”
Within minutes, Evans and Sarah were jouncing along on the ice, following behind Bolden’s snowtrack. Behind them, Kenner was driving parallel to the line of flags, heading east. Evans looked back just in time to see Kenner stop, get out, check one of the flags briefly, then get back in again and drive on.
Bolden saw it, too. “What is he doing?” he said in an anxious tone.
“Just looking at the unit, I guess.”
“He shouldn’t be getting out of his vehicle,” Bolden said. “And he shouldn’t be alone on the shelf. It’s against regulations.”
Sarah had the feeling Bolden was about to turn back. She said, “I can tell you something about Dr. Kenner, Jimmy.”
“You don’t want to make him mad.”
“No, Jimmy. You don’t.”
They drove on, climbing a long rise, descending on the other side. Brewster’s camp was gone, and so was Kenner’s snowtrack. Ahead lay the vast white field of the Ross Ice Shelf, stretching away to the gray horizon.
“Two hours, folks,” Bolden said. “And then a hot shower.”
The first hour passed uneventfully. Evans started to fall asleep, only to be jolted awake by the sharp movements of the vehicle. Then he would drift off again, his head nodding until the next shock.
Sarah was driving. He said to her, “Aren’t you tired?”
“No, not at all,” she said.
The sun was now low on the horizon, and obscured by fog. The landscape was shades of pale gray, with almost no separation between land and sky. Evans yawned. “Want me to take over?”
It was irritating in a certain way, he thought, that she did not take him seriously as a man. At least, not as a man she could be interested in. In truth, she was a little too cool for his taste. A little too ice blond. A little too controlled, beneath that beautiful exterior.
The radio clicked. Bolden said, “I don’t like this weather coming in. We better take a shortcut.”
“It’s only half a mile, but it’ll save twenty minutes on our time. Follow me.” He turned his snowtrack left, leaving the packed snow road, and heading off onto the ice fields.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “Right behind you.”
“Good work,” Bolden said. “We’re still an hour from Weddell. I know this route, it’s a piece of cake. Just stay directly behind me. Not to the left or right, but directly behind, you understand?”
“Got it,” Sarah said.
In a matter of minutes, they had moved several hundred yards from the road. The ice there was bare and hard, the treads of the snowtracks scratching and squeaking as they crossed it.
“You’re on ice now,” Bolden said.
“Won’t be long now.”
Evans was looking out the window. He could no longer see the road. In fact, he wasn’t sure anymore in which direction it lay. Everything now looked the same. He felt anxious suddenly. “We’re really in the middle of nowhere.”
The snowtrack slid laterally a little, across the ice. He grabbed for the dashboard. Sarah immediately brought the vehicle back under control.
“Jeez,” Evans said, clinging to the dashboard.
“Are you a nervous passenger?” she said.
“Maybe a little.”
“Too bad we can’t get some music. Is there any way to get music?” she asked Bolden.
“You should,” Bolden said. “Weddell broadcasts twenty-four hours. Just a minute.” He stopped his snowtrack, and walked back to their stopped vehicle. He climbed up on the tread and opened the door, in a blast of freezing air. “Sometimes you get interference from this,” he said, and unclipped the transponder from the dash. “Okay. Try your radio now.”
Sarah fiddled with the receiver, twisting the knob. Bolden walked back to his red cab, carrying the transponder. His diesel engine spit a cloud of black exhaust as he put the snowtrack in gear.
“You think they’d be a little more ecologically minded,” Evans said, looking at the exhaust as Bolden’s snowtrack chugged forward.
“I’m not getting any music,” Sarah said.
“Never mind,” Evans said. “I don’t care that much.”
They drove another hundred yards. Then Bolden stopped again.
“Now what?” Evans said.
Bolden climbed out of his vehicle, walked to the back of it, and looked at his own treads.
Sarah was still fiddling with the radio. Punching the buttons for the different transmission frequencies, she got bursts of static for each.
“I’m not sure this is an improvement,” Evans said. “Just let it go. Why have we stopped, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah said. “He seems to be checking something.”
Now Bolden turned and looked back at them. He didn’t move. He just stood there and stared.
“Should we get out?” Evans said.
The radio crackled and they heard “—is Weddell CM to—401. Are you there, Dr. Kenner? Weddell CM to—Kenner. Can you hear—?”
“Hey,” Sarah said, smiling. “I think we finally got something.”
The radio hissed and sputtered.
“—just found Jimmy Bolden unconscious in—maintenance room. We don’t know who is—out there with—but it’s not—”
“Oh shit,” Evans said, staring at the man in front of them. “That guy’s not Bolden? Who is he?”
“I don’t know, but he’s blocking the way,” Sarah said. “And he’s waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
There was a loudcrack! from beneath them. Inside the cab, the sound echoed like a gunshot. Their vehicle shifted slightly.
“Screw this,” Sarah said. “We’re getting out of here, even if I have to ram the bastard.” She put the snowtrack in gear, and started to back away from the vehicle in front of them. She shifted, starting the snowtrack forward again.
“Let’s go!” Evans said. “Let’sgo! ”
Crack! Crack!Their vehicle lurched beneath them, tilted sideways at an angle. Evans looked out at the guy pretending to be Bolden.
“It’s the ice,” Sarah said. “He’s waiting for our weight to break through.”
“Ram him!” Evans said, pointing ahead. The bastard was making some hand gesture to them. It took him a moment for Evans to understand what it meant. Then he got it.
The man was waving goodbye.
Sarah stomped on the accelerator and the engine rumbled forward, but in the next moment the ground gave way completely beneath them, and their vehicle nosed down. Evans saw the blue-ice wall of a crevasse. Then the vehicle began to tumble forward, and they were encased for an instant in a world of eerie blue before they plunged onward into the blackness below.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6
3:51 P. M.
Sarah opened her eyes and saw a huge blue starburst, streaks radiating outward in all directions. Her forehead was icy cold, and she had terrible pain in her neck. Tentatively, she shifted her body, checking each of her limbs. They hurt, but she could move all of them except her right leg, which was pinned under something. She coughed and paused, taking stock. She was lying on her side, her face shoved up against the windshield, which she had shattered with her forehead. Her eyes were just inches from the fractured glass. She eased away, and slowly looked around.
It was dark, a kind of twilight. Faint light coming from somewhere to her left. But she could see that the whole cab of the snowtrack was lying on its side, the treads up against the ice wall. They must have landed on a ledge of some kind. She looked upward—the mouth of the crevasse was surprisingly close, maybe thirty or forty yards above her. It was near enough to give her a burst of encouragement.
Next she looked down, trying to see Evans. But it was dark everywhere beneath her. She couldn’t see him at all. Her eyes slowly adjusted. She gasped. She saw her true situation.
There was no ledge.
The snowtrack had tumbled into the narrowing crevasse, and wedged itself sideways within the crevasse walls. The treads were against one wall, the roof of the cab against the other, and the cab itself was suspended over the inky downward gash. The door on Evans’s side hung open.
Evans was not in the cab.
He had fallen out.
Into the blackness.
“Peter, can you hear me?”
She listened. There was nothing. No sound or movement.
Nothing at all.
And then the realization hit her:She was alone down there. A hundred feet down in a freezing crevasse, in the middle of a trackless ice field, far off the road, miles from anywhere.
And she realized, with a chill, that this was going to be her tomb.
Bolden—or whoever he was—had planned it very well, Sarah thought. He had taken their transponder. He could drive a few miles, drop it down the deepest crevasse he could find, and then go back to the base. When the rescue parties set out, they would head for the transponder. It would be nowhere near where she was. The party might search for days in a deep crevasse before giving up.
And if they widened the search? They still wouldn’t find the snowtrack. Even though it was only about forty yards below the surface, it might as well be four hundred yards below. It was too deep to be seen by a passing helicopter, or even a vehicle as it drove by. Not that any vehicle would. They would think the snowtrack had gone off the marked road, and they would search along the edge of the road. Not way out here, in the middle of the ice field. The road was seventeen miles long. They would spend days searching.
No, Sarah thought. They would never find her.
And even if she could get herself to the surface, what then? She had no compass, no map, no GPS. No radio—it lay smashed beneath her knee. She didn’t even know in what direction Weddell Station might be from her present location.
Of course, she thought, she had a bright red parka that would be visible from a distance, and she had supplies, food, equipment—all the equipment that guy had talked about, before they set out. What was it, exactly? She vaguely remembered something about climbing supplies. Crampons and ropes.
Sarah bent down, managed to free herself from a toolbox that had pinned her foot to the floor, and then crawled to the rear of the cab, balancing carefully to avoid the gaping, wide-open door beneath her. In the perpetual twilight of the crevasse, she saw the supply locker. It was crumpled slightly from the impact, and she couldn’t get it open.
She went back to the toolbox, opened it, took out a hammer and a screwdriver, and spent the better part of the next half hour trying to pry the locker open. At last, with a metallic screech, the door swung wide. She peered inside.
The locker was empty.
No food, no water, no climbing supplies. No space blankets, no heaters.
Nothing at all.
Sarah took a deep breath, let it out slowly. She remained calm, refusing to panic. She considered her options. Without ropes and crampons, she could not get to the surface. What could she use instead? She had a toolbox. Could she use the screwdriver as an ice axe? Probably too small. Perhaps she could disassemble the gearshift and make an ice axe out of the parts. Or perhaps she could take apart some of the tread and find parts to use.
She had no crampons, but if she could find sharp pointed things, screws or something like that, she could push them through the soles of her boots and then climb. And for a rope? Some sort of cloth perhaps…She looked around the interior. Maybe she could tear the fabric off the seats? Or cut it off in strips? That might work.
In this way, she kept her spirits up. She kept herself moving forward. Even if her chance of success was small, there was still a chance. Achance.
She focused on that.
Where was Kenner? What would he do when he heard the radio message? He probably had, already. Would he come back to Weddell? Almost certainly. And he would look for that guy, the one they thought of as Bolden. But Sarah was pretty sure that guy had disappeared.
And with his disappearance, her hopes for rescue.
The crystal of her watch was smashed. She didn’t know how long she had been down there, but she noticed that it was darker than before. The gap above her was not as bright. Either the weather on the surface was changing, or the sun was low on the horizon. That would mean she had been down there for two or three hours already.
She was aware of a stiffening in her body—not just from the fall, but also, she realized, because she was cold. The cab had lost its heat.