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Author: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1995
Headline Publishing Group, 1995

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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The arctic night is endless. The fear is numbing. Screams freeze in the throat. Death arrives in shades of white. And cold-blooded murder seems right at home.

Conducting a strange and urgent experiment on the Arctic icefield, a team of scientists has planted sixty powerful explosive charges that will detonate at midnight. Before they can withdraw to the safety of their base camp, a shattering tidal wave breaks loose the ice on which they are working. Now they are hopelessly marooned on an iceberg during a violent winter storm. The bombs beneath them are buried irretrievably deep... and ticking. And they discover that one of them is an assassin with a mission of his own.


Chapter One


Detonation in twelve hours

With a crystal-shattering shriek, the bit of the power drill bored deep into the Arctic ice. Gray-white slush churned out of the hole, sluiced across the crusted snow, and refroze in seconds. The flared auger was out of sight, and most of the long steel shank also had disappeared into the four-inch-diameter shaft.

Watching the drill, Harry Carpenter had a curious premonition of imminent disaster. A faint flicker of alarm. Like a bird shadow fluttering across a bright landscape. Even inside his heavily insulated clothing, he shivered.

As a scientist, Harry respected the tools of logic, method, and reason, but he had learned never to discount a hunch-especially on the ice, where strange things could happen. He was unable to identify the source of his sudden uneasiness, though occasional dark forebodings were to be expected on a job involving high explosives. The chance of one of the charges detonating prematurely, killing them all, was slim to nil. Nevertheless...

Peter Johnson, the electronics engineer who doubled as the team's demolitions expert, switched off the drill and stepped back from it. In his white Gore-Tex/Thermolite storm suit, fur-lined parka, and fur-lined hood, Pete resembled a polar bear-except for his dark brown face.

Claude Jobert shut down the portable generator that supplied power to the drill. The resultant hush had an eerie quality of expectancy so intense that Harry glanced behind himself and then up into the sky, half convinced that something was rushing or falling toward him.

If Death kissed anyone today, it was more likely to rise up from below than to descend upon them. As the bleak afternoon began, the three men were preparing to lower the last hundred-pound explosive charge deep into the ice. It was the sixtieth demolitions package that they had handled since the previous morning, and they were all uneasily conscious of standing upon enough high-yield plastic explosives to destroy them in an apocalyptic flash.

No fertile imagination was required to picture themselves dying in these hostile climes: The icecap was a perfect graveyard, utterly lifeless, and it encouraged thoughts of mortality. Ghostly bluish-white plains led off in all directions, somber and moody during that long season of nearly constant darkness, brief twilight, and perpetual overcast. At the moment, visibility was fair because the day had drawn down to that time when a vague, cloud-filtered crescent of sunlight painted the horizon. However, the sun had little to illuminate in the stark landscape. The only points of elevation were the jagged pressure ridges and hundreds of slabs of ice-some only as large as a man, others bigger than houses-that had popped from the field and stood on end like gigantic tombstones.

Pete Johnson, joining Harry and Claude at a pair of snowmobiles that had been specially rebuilt for the rigors of the pole, told them, "The shaft's twenty-eight yards deep. One more extension for the bit, and the job's done."

"Thank God!" Claude Jobert shivered as if his thermal suit provided no protection whatsoever. In spite of the transparent film of petroleum jelly that protected the exposed portions of his face from frostbite, he was pale and drawn. "We'll make it back to base camp tonight. Think of that! I haven't been warm one minute since we left."

Ordinarily, Claude didn't complain. He was a jovial, energetic little man. At a glance, he seemed fragile, but that was not the case. At five seven and a hundred thirty pounds, he was lean, wiry, hard. He had a mane of white hair now tucked under his hood, a face weathered and made leathery by a lifetime in extreme climates, and bring blue eyes as clear as those of a child. Harry had never seen hatred or anger in those eyes. Until yesterday, he had never seen self-pity in them, either, not even three years ago, when Claude lost his wife, Colette, in a sudden, senseless act of violence; he had been consumed by grief but had never wallowed in self-pity.

Since they had left the comfort of Edgeway Station, however, Claude had been neither jovial nor energetic, and he had complained frequently about the cold. At fifty-nine, he was the oldest member of the expedition, eighteen years older than Harry Carpenter, which was the outer limit for anyone working in those brutal latitudes.

Although he was a fine arctic geologist specializing in the dynamics of ice formation and movement, the current expedition would be his last trip to either pole. Henceforth, his research would be done in laboratories and at computers, for from the severe conditions of the icecap.

Harry wondered if Jobert was bothered less by the bitter cold than by the knowledge that the work he loved had grown too demanding for him. One day Harry would have to face the same truth, and he wasn't sure that he would be able to exit with grace. The great chaste spaces of the Arctic and Antarctic enthralled him: the power of the extreme weather, the mystery that cloaked the white geometric landscapes and pooled in the purple shadows of every seemingly unplumbable crevasse, the spectacle on clear night when the aurora borealis splashed the sky with shimmering streamers of light in jewellike colors, and the vast fields of stars when the curtains of the aurora drew back to reveal them.

In some ways he was still the kid who had grown up on a quiet farm in Indiana, without brothers or sisters or playmates: the lonely boy who'd felt stifled by the life into which he'd been born, who'd daydreamed of traveling to far places and seeing all the exotic marvels of the world, who'd wanted never to be tied down to one plot of earth, and who'd yearned for adventure. He was a grown man now, and he knew that adventure was hard work. Yet, from time to time, the boy within him was abruptly overcome by wonder, stopped whatever he was doing, slowly turned in a circle to look at the dazzlingly white world around him, and thought: Holy jumping catfish, I'm really here, all the way from Indiana to the end of the earth, the top of the world!

Pete Johnson said, "It's snowing."

Even as Pete spoke, Harry saw the lazily spiraling flakes descending in a silent ballet. The day was windless, though the calm might not endure much longer.

Claude Jobert frowned. "We weren't due for this storm until this evening."

The trip out from Edgeway Station-which lay four air miles to the northeast of their temporary camp, six miles by snowmobile past ridges and deep chasms-had not been difficult. Nevertheless, a bad storm might make the return journey impossible. Visibility could quickly deteriorate to zero, and they could easily get lost because of compass distortion. And if their snowmobiles ran out of fuel, they would freeze to death, for even their thermal suits would be insufficient protection against prolonged exposure to the more murderous cold that would ride in on the back of a blizzard.

Deep snows were not as common on the Greenland cap as might have been expected, in part because of the extreme lows to which the air temperature could sink.. At some point in virtually every blizzard, the snowflakes metamorphosed into spicules of ice, but even then visibility was poor.

Studying the sky, Harry said, "Maybe it's a local squall."

"Yes, that's just what Online Weather said last week about that storm," Claude reminded him. "We were to have only local squalls on the periphery of the main event. Then we had so much snow and ice it would've kept Père Noël home on Christmas Eve."

"So we'd better finish this job quickly."

"Yesterday would be good."

As if to confirm the need for haste, a wind sprang up from the west, as crisp and odorless as a wind could be only if it was coming off hundreds of miles of barren ice. The snowflakes shrank and began to descend at an angle, no longer spiraling prettily like flakes in a crystal bibelot.

Pete freed the drill from the shank of the buried bit and lifted it out of its supportive frame, handling it as if it weighed a tenth of its actual eighty-five pounds.

A decade ago he had been a football star at Penn State, turning down offers from several NFL teams. He hadn't wanted to play out the role that society dictated for every six-foot-four-inch, two-hundred-pound black football hero. Instead, he had won scholarships, earned two degrees, and taken a well-paid position with a computer-industry think tank.

Now he was vital to Harry's expedition. He maintained the electronic data-gathering equipment at Edgeway, and having designed the explosive devices, he was the only one who could deal with them in full confidence if something went wrong. Furthermore, his tremendous strength was an asset out there on the inhospitable top of the world.

As Pete swung the drill out of the way, Harry and Claude lifted a three-foot bit extension from one of the cargo trailers that were coupled to the snowmobiles. They screwed it onto the thread shank, which was still buried in the ice.

Claude started the generator again.

Pete slammed the drill in place, turned the keyless chuck to clamp the jaws tight around the shank, and finished boring the twenty-nine-yard-deep shaft, at the bottom of which they would plant a tubular charge of explosives.

While the machine roared, Harry gazed at the heavens. Within the past few minutes, the weather had deteriorated alarmingly. Most of the ashen light had faded from behind the oppressive overcast. So much snow was falling that the sky no longer was mottled with grays and black; nothing whatsoever of the actual cloud cover could be seen through the crystalline torrents. Above them was only a deep, whirling whiteness. Already shrinking and becoming grainlike, the flakes lightly pricked his greased face. The wind escalated to perhaps twenty miles an hour, and its song was a mournful...

Copyright © 1995 by Dean Koontz



- pauljames


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