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Authors: Helen MacPherson

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Colder Than Ice

BOOK: Colder Than Ice
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Colder
than Ice

Helen
Macpherson

Prologue
Antarctica
July 1896

My
Darling Charlotte,

This
will be my last entry for I am becoming too weak to write. After so many months
of hardship and heartache, I grieve at the thought that I have led my men to
their deaths, and I will soon join them. Lying here alone, I understand now
where I failed and have endeavored to record these lessons for those who may
find me, so that any future Antarctic expeditions will not suffer the same
fate. It pains me to think that after so long I have achieved so little.

However,
of all the pain I suffer now in silence, of all the loss we have experienced
and the regret at not achieving what we set out to achieve, I have one regret
above all else. That regret is that, Charlotte, I will never see your face
again, your warm smile and your sparkling eyes. It pains me to think we shall
never again share a cup of tea by the fire, discussing the everyday events that
course through our lives. I will never again lie in the warmth of your arms, feel
your soft caress, like butterfly touches to my face and limbs. I know you
cannot read this and I can only hope you can hear my thoughts. Please do not
mourn for me my love

you are too
young to sentence yourself to premature widowhood. Find someone new to share
your life with. However, know this: I will always love you, until death and
beyond.

E.R.F

Antarctica,
2009—nine days out of Wills Station

THE
VEHICLE, A barely discernible orange speck on the Antarctic landscape, made its
slow, deliberate way across the white expanse. Inside, the rumble of the
tractor made it difficult for Sarah Knight to catch the driver’s words.

“I
missed that, Rob. What did you say?” she shouted in his ear.

Without
taking his eyes from the unchanging vista, Rob turned his head slightly and
yelled, “I said, after days of traveling at this bloody slow pace, are we
there yet?”

Sarah
smiled. She’d previously worked with Rob and was used to his teasing questions.
“Okay, enough. We’re nearly there. Of course, lugging around an ice core
drill that weighs as much as this one has slowed us down.”

“Really?
You don’t say,” he replied with light-hearted sarcasm. “I’ve dragged
this baby around before and I’m intimately aware of how heavy the bloody thing
is. I suppose what I should be asking is why not just take core samples from
the Law dome, instead of coming all the way out here?”

“We’re
trying to do a comparative study of the information we’ve found in core samples
from the Law dome with samples that are further along the inner coastal fringe.
We’re investigating the extent of damage done to the environment through the
spate of worldwide nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s. Think of it as an
integrity check of information collected from a site which has been relatively
untouched by humans over the past hundred years.” She slapped him on the
shoulder, hardly registering against the multiple layers of clothing. “And
besides, who else would I have out here except the best driller in all of
Antarctica?”

Rob
laughed. “Flattery will get you everywhere. It’s just a shame you’ve never
taken me up on the offer. We’d make a great team you and I. Me, the brawn, and
you, the brains of the outfit.”

Sarah
shook her head in mock exasperation. “Mate, as I’ve told you before,
there’s one slight problem with that. You’re not kitted with the gear for my
kind of interests. And besides, how could you put up with my constant nagging?
I’d drive you to drink in no time.”

Rob
spared Sarah a glance. “You can’t say I didn’t try. But you’re right; you
nag a bit too much for my liking. How do the ladies put up with you?” He
dodged another blow from Sarah.

“You
should know that women are always right. It’s only men who can’t do things
correctly the first time.”

“You
keep on like that and you’re likely to find yourself walking home. And trust
me, it’s a bloody long walk.” He checked the instrument panel and scanned
the area through the vehicle’s icy windscreen. “By my calculations, I
think we’re where we need to be. Now, would Little Miss Perfect like to check
that this mere male hasn’t got it wrong?”

“Very
funny.” Sarah checked the readout against the data in her logbook.
“If you just head over that way about another five hundred yards, we
should be where we want to drill.”

“Five
hundred yards? Five hundred yards? We’re in the middle of bloody nowhere and
you want to move another five hundred yards? Thank God I’ve never moved house
with you. I can just see it: ‘No, just a little more to the left. No, too much.
Just a little more to the right.’ No man in his right mind would put up with
you.” Rob gave her a cheeky grin.

She
grabbed a thatch of hair below his cap and pulled it hard. “Yeah. Just do
as you’re told mister brawn or I’ll start doing this by inches.”

“Ow!
Just for that, I’m only going to go another four hundred and ninety yards. If
you want this bad boy any closer you’ll just have to get out and push.”
Despite his threat, Rob parked as close to the target position as possible.

As
they climbed down from the vehicle, they took a moment to brace themselves
against the biting cold of the wind that was a constant factor on the
continent. They worked silently together, ensuring the stabilizing legs of the
drill piece were in position before they took samples. Satisfied the drill was
ready for operation, Rob checked the mechanics of the machine while Sarah
looked over the drilling requirements for the sample to be taken.

“If
it’s okay by you, I’d like to do a couple of samples about twenty yards
apart.” Sarah held up her hand at Rob’s incredulous look. “I know.
Call me anal retentive, but I want to make sure the data we collect will be
worth the trip.”

“It
better be worth it. Stuck for days having to listen to your voice is enough to
drive anyone to drink.” Rob ducked behind the safety of the drill as Sarah
propelled a small chunk of ice at him. “Okay, okay. I give up. But before
we start, we’ve been traveling over some pretty untidy terrain. Do you mind if
I do a quick test drill to make sure everything’s working? I’d hate to get down
to any sort of depth and have the damn thing seize on me.”

“No.
That’s fine. It’ll give me a chance to assess what the composition of the ice
is like at this early depth. Let me get some photos and data on what we’ve
found at the other sites and I’ll be right with you.” Sarah covered the
ten yards from the drill to the door of the vehicle’s front cabin. Struggling
against the force of the wind, she opened the door and retrieved her backpack.

Not
waiting for Sarah to return, Rob flicked the switch and brought the drill to
life. He checked the blades encased in their titanium cylinder to ensure they
were rotating before he positioned the drill to take its first bite of the ice.

Rob
bore a small hole and was satisfied that the drill had not been affected by the
long journey to the drill site. He raised the drill out of the hole in the ice,
turned the machine off, and removed the test sample from its confines. He
exchanged a surprised look with Sarah.

Sarah
removed bits of a darkened material from the relatively blue-white hue of the
rest of the specimen. “What the hell is that?” She sniffed it and
shook her head before taking a closer look. Bewildered, she turned to Rob.
“What’s wood doing in an ice sample?”

Rob
took the specimen and sorted through it with a gloved finger. “I was just
thinking the same thing. We’re not on a historical site are we?”

Sarah
walked the small distance from the hole, to where her pack lay on the ice. She
removed from her pack the data relating to their drill site. “Have you got
the GPS?” Rob nodded. “Can you do another check of where we are? I’ll
just recheck the maps to make sure I haven’t misread them. There really
shouldn’t be anything in this location.” She scratched her head in
confusion.

They
carefully checked and crosschecked their position, and validated it was
correct. Both of them returned to the small hole and looked down into it. Rob
scanned the immediate landscape for any clues and found none. “If we’re in
the right position, what’s wood doing here? There’re no records of early
expeditioner’s huts in this location. Plus, the depth where the wood appears in
the core sample dates it from at least a century ago. So, come on, woman of
multiple doctorates and child prodigy, what’s your hypothesis?”

Sarah
paced the ice. Possible answers entered her mind but were rationalized and just
as quickly dismissed. She stopped pacing and her eyes widened before she shook
her head. “No, it couldn’t be. That was never substantiated.”

Rob
grasped Sarah’s arm. “What was never substantiated? What are you talking
about?”

Sarah
broke out of the mental check and crosscheck she’d been running through and
turned to Rob. “For as long as I’ve been involved in Antarctica and well
before that, there’s been talk of an expedition that was never proven to have
taken place. It was thought to be the first expedition that ever settled on
Antarctica. Many had circumnavigated the continent before it, but no one had
ever established a base on the ice. It was supposedly headed by an explorer
called Finlayson but nobody’s ever found proof of his expedition.”

Rob
wrapped a well-padded arm around a perplexed Sarah. “I’d say they have
now. I suppose that means no more drilling, hey?”

Chapter
One

My
Dearest Charlotte,

The
meeting of the Sixth International Geographic Congress seems like a lifetime
away and yet it has only been ten months. Do you remember how excited we were,
gaining their blessing in support of my expedition

to be the first person to establish an expedition
base on Antarctica? And here I am, a day’s sailing from our last port of
civilization, heading for the adventure that lies ahead for my faithful crew
and myself. The people of Christchurch in New Zealand were very helpful,
sometimes a little overly so. I have more lamb than I know what to do with;
thankfully it has made cook happy. The New Zealand people’s gracious
provisioning of our coal and oil supplies were of extreme benefit and I shall
not forget them when naming areas of the great white continent, or indeed in my
memoirs when I arrive home.

Oh,
my love, you should have seen the crowds; they lined the wharves ten deep in
places! And the pleasure boats on the harbor, faring us well on our journey,
were a sight to behold.

The
swell rises, my dear, and so I must cut this entry short. I did send you and
Robert junior a short letter before we sailed yesterday and by the time you
receive it we should be well and truly established on Antarctica. My loving
thoughts go out to you.

ERF

Sydney,
Australia—2009

AS
ALLISON SHAUNESSY ran up the well-worn steps of the
Museum Station, she mentally berated herself for her late departure from home.
She was well aware of the Museum’s faculty meeting that morning, not to mention
the items on the agenda. Today the faculty, under the iron guidance of the
Museum’s patron, would decide the key projects to be funded for the upcoming
year.

Securing
a position on the staff of the Flinders Museum of Australasian
Exploration had been no mean feat. The doctorate in Archaeology Allison had
gained from Sydney University certainly held her in good stead. This, coupled
with the entree provided by Rick Winston, her partner of three years, had made
the transition from academia to practical application of her knowledge that
little bit easier. She’d worked hard to establish her own credible niche and,
as time progressed, people ceased to refer to her as Rick’s girlfriend and
instead called her Dr. Shaunessy.

Allison
took the hundred year old sandstone steps of the station two at a time,
stubbornly ignoring the signs that her stamina was flagging. Without
warning, she tripped and instinctively threw out her hands to break her fall.
Almost simultaneously she watched her bag erupt as it hit the stairs, sending a
stream of pens, papers, books, and fruit flowing back down the steps.

Allison
gingerly rubbed the pain throbbing through her shin and hands and muffled an
embarrassed curse. She carefully made her way back down the stairs, picking up
everything and graciously thanking those people who returned to her the
contents of her bag. At the bottom of the steps she found her grapefruit and
orange, their progress halted by a newspaper stand. She shoved her bruised
breakfast into her bag, shaking her head at how late for work she was now going
to be. Deciding she may as well take the time to pick up the morning paper,
Allison glanced at the tabloid flyer on of the newspaper stand and nearly
dropped her bag again. Bold letters declared what she’d sought to prove for so
long:

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