Table of Contents [Report This]
Written by Mark M. Dodson
Text version by Victoria Rivers
...So much pain. So much beauty in that happy face, and so little happiness in the woman who now looks so much like her.
The ventilation shaft is cold. I lie on my belly, watching the white-haired man stare down at the photograph, knowing what he’s feeling. I watch his measured, reserved movements and marvel at the sense of power that emanates from him…
Parker sat the photograph of his late wife and baby daughter back down on the desk, listening for the doors to open.
They moved almost silently, the breath of breeze his only cue that someone had entered the room. He did not turn, knowing that the only person who would be stepping through those doors with such authority would be the owner of that elegantly appointed office space.
“You wanted to see me?”
She even sounds just like Catherine. He will never be rid of her, not as long as her daughter is there to remind him of what The Centre has done.
“Angel.” There was gruffness in his voice, and he tried to temper it a little. “Shut the door please.” He cleared his throat, nervous about how to begin. “I thought maybe we could have lunch together.”
He felt her move up behind him to his elbow, knowing she would see that he had been handling the photograph. His hand still touched the cold steel frame.
I can feel the cold from here against my fingers, where it should have been warmed by my touch.
“Is something wrong?”
He worked on controlling his expression. Forcing his mouth into a smile, he turned toward her. “Why does something have to be wrong for a father to ask his daughter to lunch?” He had to make her believe all was well. He was always good at that with her.
“It doesn't, it's just... I'm sorry Daddy, I didn't mean it that way.”
She was always so easy where he was concerned. He could get her to think or do almost anything while she was in his presence. He gave a little shrug. “'S'all right. I probably deserved it. I just thought we could sit down and talk for a while. God knows you've been through a lot.” He touched her hair. She loved little signs of affection like that. He kept her close with those little carrots, and as he petted her and gazed into her eyes, he saw her smile.
“I would love to have lunch with you.”
“Good!” He dropped his hand, carrot accepted, preparing to launch into the next order of business.
But the doors whooshed open, and Raines squeaked into the room, followed by Lyle and Brigitte.
“We need to speak with you… alone!” Raines barked.
This was not what Parker wanted. He had important business with his daughter, and lunch was the first step. “Not now, Raines. It’ll have to wait.”
I can feel his agitation, his plans suddenly awry. But there is urgency here, just short of panic. Raines catches my attention, and I am helpless in the force of his rage. I watch for another moment as Brigitte slithers across the room, withdrawing her sucker for just long enough to offer a candy-flavored kiss.
“Sweetheart,” Parker said, accepting her lips and reaching down to pat the barely rounded curve of her belly.
Miss Parker looked as though she might be sick. “That’s okay, Daddy. I seem to’ve lost my appetite anyway.”
Mr. Parker didn’t look too disappointed. “I’m sorry, Angel. We’ll try another time.” He barely acknowledged her departure with a wave of farewell, and once she was out the door, he turned with a glare to Raines.
This is what I was expecting. A cable snakes along the shaft beside me, connecting the digital camera sitting on a tripod in front of me to a computer in the next office. I have it set for a live feed. I know he’s watching. I press the button to begin recording images and sound.
“I've just received a Priority One intercept from Ellesmere Island,” Raines growled, handing over a copy of the document for Parker to read.
“Our research facility?” Parker asked, just beginning to scan the paper for information.
“There’s been a breach in security,” Lyle volunteered.
Brigitte added, “Someone has compromised the Alpha Project.”
The intercept was long, and Parker half listened as he read.
“It appears to be…” Raines paused, hesitant to go on. “…Major Charles.”
Parker glanced up at the skeletal man, fury glinting in his blue eyes. “Jarod’s father? Jarod’s father was at Ellesmere?”
“Was and still could be,” ventured Lyle.
Parker’s anger was simmering, threatening to boil over at any moment. “Raines, I thought you made an aching void out of the good major a long time ago!” His last words were a vehement snarl.
Raines’ response was little more than an angry, shamed sigh. “So did I.”
“God, if the Triumvirate hears about this!”
“We must proceed with caution but without delay,” Raines advised.
“Find out everything you can about Major Charles and this breach,” Parker ordered. “No matter what it takes, no one is to know what went on there.”
He knows now. He will go there, and he will find more pieces to the puzzle. I can see him, sitting in a dark, dingy place, watching this on his computer screen, and I know how he feels. Elation, to be so close. Despair at being so far away. Now he will have to prepare for the journey. But I still hear those heartless words in my head, knowing exactly what they mean…
“I thought you made an aching void out of the good major a long time ago…”
They tried to kill the father.
Just like they killed the mother. Catherine.
But he will go there, and he will find answers. And I have helped him.
He is my friend.
National Science Research Center
Smitty sat at the radio console, hugging the microphone in disbelief. He sucked a shallow breath of smoke from his cigarette, squeezed the control button and asked, “Repeat, 25 Bravo Tango.”
The static-filled voice replied, “You heard me. I’m dropping off another addition to your little arctic oasis.”
“Check again, Sport. We’re not scheduled for any new arrivals ‘till spring.” It had to be a mistake. No one came to the arctic in the dead of winter.
“My orders say you’re getting a new scientist now. You got a problem, you take it up with someone who cares. I'm outta here! Two hours of daylight's about up and one helluva front's headin’ in.”
“Wah, wah, wah,” Smitty whined into the mic. He stubbed out his cigarette and rolled his desk chair across the smooth floor to the intercom and flipped a switch. “Cap’n, we got company.”
He rose from his chair, grabbed the collar of the snow suit he kept pushed down around his waist and began to shrug into it to greet the new arrival at the front door. He didn’t like this at all. There had been too many visitors to the station in the last six months, and he was beginning to worry that something was dreadfully wrong, even moreso than usual.
The steady beat of rotors above our heads compete fiercely with the scream of angry winds buffeting against the body of the helicopter. Snow assaults the machine like tracers from some heavenly machine gun, and I am starting to worry that we might not make it. The pilot is curious, has barely gotten a glimpse of me since he picked me up, but I decided to just be quiet and get there. I have a lot on my mind.
“This place has quite a history,” the pilot says, trying to engage me in conversation. “It’s built on top of the original station from 1920. That first team, all eight of ‘em, found frozen to death a year later. Didn’t even get the bodies out till the 40’s. It’s been cursed here ever since.”
Something sparks in my head. I decide it would be a good idea to get this guy talking. I push my parka hood back and let him see the face he has been stealing glances at since I boarded. “Let’s just say I have my reasons for being here.” I fish out the photo I acquired of my father, and hold it where the pilot can see. I know he will only get a glance – flying in that weather takes a great deal of concentration. “See this photograph? I know it’s old, but I have reason to believe this man was here recently. Did you bring him?”
There were other pilots at the way station. I should have shown the photo around there, but I was in a hurry to get here and took the first flight out.
“Not me. You're the only person I've seen crazy enough to come up here in months.”
I tuck the photo back into my quilted vest, where I hope it will stay dry and safe. It’s one of the most precious things I own.
Moments later, we land in a clearing in the middle of a scattering of dark buildings, silhouetted in the blue twilight against a background of endless snow. I still love the snowflakes, their delicate beauty, but here, in this storm, I see another face of the ice crystals, and know that, if I’m not careful, beauty can kill me.
“The end of the road,” the pilot says.
As I step out of the helicopter, the wind nearly knocks me off my feet. I’ve flown these things before, and know how dangerous it is to lift off again in the teeth of the storm.
“Maybe you should come in until this blows over. It's getting worse,” I suggest.
He offers me a grim smile and a little salute. “I'd rather take my chances out here in this weather than inside o' that place. Good luck!”
I know that people are rarely superstitious without reason. I am certain this man has been in the station before, and that his sense of disquiet and alarm has forced him to make a hard choice. That doesn’t make me feel good about coming here, in spite of what I hope to find.
“Thanks!” I shout above the wind, and shut the door. It’s so cold I can hardly breathe. If it takes me more than a few seconds to reach the door, my lungs will freeze. I put my hand up to cover my mouth and nose, and race for the door, listening to the chopper lifting off again.
I hope he makes it back in one piece.
The nearest door won’t open when I try it, so I put my shoulder to it, figuring it to be frozen shut. It gives inward with a small shower of ice and snowflakes, and for a moment the warm, orangey brightness of the room blinds me. I blink, and see the dark figure of a man racing toward me.
“Hey, close the friggin' door. It's 40 below out there!” he shouts, moving past me to secure the door.
The cold is making my nose run, but I suck in the warmth of the room with deep, gulping breaths.
“It's actually 85 below with wind chill, but who's counting?” He didn’t need to be corrected, but I just couldn’t help myself. “Hi. My name is Jarod. Jarod Mead.” I extend my hand to him. “You must be the welcoming committee.”
"Nah, I'm Smitty. I run the com. What the hell are you doing here?”
I sense his suspicion immediately, but he’s a naturally friendly sort with an open, honest face.
“I’m a climatologist with Earthwatch. I’m here to monitor weather systems.” I pick up my bag from where I dropped it when I came in. The DSAs are safely stored elsewhere, since I expect this to be a quick trip. The weather may be a blessing, giving me a little more time than I had anticipated. The hounds will be here as soon as the weather allows, and I will have to make a quick exit to avoid capture. Travel by land is an option, but I’ll need help to cross these frozen wastes. Need to look for a snowmobile or other such likely transport.
Smitty heads for the interior, and I follow him.
“Oh, like that El Niņo thing?” he asks.
He doesn’t strike me as a terribly thoughtful man. “Something like that,” I tell him.
A man bursts through the door into this anteroom from the interior. He’s dressed for the outdoors, carrying a bag, obviously agitated.
“Chopper didn’t leave yet, did it?” he inquires breathlessly. The note of panic in his voice is strong. He tries to push past Smitty and get to the door.
“Whoa!” Smitty calls. “Slow down, man! Ain’t nobody going anywhere today. The chopper’s already gone.” He catches hold of the man’s clothes, struggles with him to keep him inside as they wrestle toward the frozen door.
“No! I gotta get outta here!” The man’s voice gets higher, louder, more desperate as he argues with Smitty, some of it unintelligible emotion rather than coherent thought.
Smitty holds him still. “Naw, hey, you’re gonna freeze to death if you go out there, pal!”
The other man hesitates, still desperately undaunted in his quest. “All right, uh, get on the radio and call the chopper back!”
The radio operator is calm, his voice quiet. “I’m not gonna do that, Manny.”
Manny glances to one side with wild eyes. He sees a glass bottle sitting on a nearby tool chest and lunges for it. He grabs it by the neck and smashes the butt against the metal chest, leaving a maw of jagged glass in his hand. He grabs Smitty’s vest with his free hand and aims the weapon at Smitty’s exposed throat.
“You get on that radio, and you call that chopper back now!” Manny demands fiercely.
I can see the fear in Smitty’s eyes. He knows the madness he sees in his friend is genuine and dangerous. Cautiously, he explains, “I couldn’t if I wanted to, man. There’s a storm comin’ in. There ain’t gonna be no choppers for days.”
Manny grimaces with pain. “You’re lying!”
“He’s telling you the truth,” I say calmly. “The chopper can’t come back now.”
For the first time Manny notices me. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Jarod. I can’t get you out now, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get you out as soon as possible.” And I mean it. As soon as the weather clears, I’ll help this man leave as quickly as possible. I know what it’s like to be imprisoned.
Smitty glances toward me hopefully, then regards that jagged glass so close now to his face.
“You can do it?” There is childlike hope in Manny’s voice now, mixed with despair that he will have to wait a little longer.
I nod, resigning myself to this commitment that will slow me down. “Put the bottle down,” I order gently. Manny is panting still, but slowly the desperation is seeping out of him as he accepts the truth. He lets go of Smitty and lowers his hand.
“Hey, I don’t wanna hurt no one, you know? I just don’t… I just can’t stay here.” He drops the bottle, which shatters at his feet. “I gotta get outta here.”
Smitty’s voice is conciliatory now, comforting. “It’ll be okay, Manny.”
I glance at Manny’s palm. “Your hand is bleeding. Is there a doctor here?” If not, I can become one again, though it will require a little explaining. I start working on that instantly.
Manny nods. “Yeah. Um, I’m sorry, you know? It’s just… I gotta get outta here before the Qallupilluit gets me. God!” He pushes off his hat and retreats back into the building, defeated.
Smitty turns toward me, his head cocked way back. “Did he cut me?”
There isn’t a mark on him. “I think you’re going to be okay.” But I’m not so sure about the other guy.
“Thanks, man.” Smitty leads me into the next room, stuffed with boxes and supplies. He points to the wall to my right. “You can hang your parka on a… on a hook there.”
“Thanks.” It’s warm in here, and I begin to shed my arctic gear, eager to get inside and down to my regular clothes. But there will always be a touch of cold here. I’m guessing the comfort zone to hover somewhere in the 60s inside. As Smitty and I undress, I ask him about that strange word Manny said. “Qallupilluit?”
“Yeah. It’s a local legend or somethin’ up here. See, Manny’s a geology tech. He’s a really nice guy, but I think he’s been blastin’ a little too much dynamite lately. I mean, he talks kinda crazy sometimes, but, uh, I’ve never seen him that cranked up.” Smitty’s tone of voice is more nonchalant than he feels. A layer of underlying tension comes through loud and clear. He peels off his coat, pushes his down suit off his arms and lets it hang around his waist. “Well, when you’re done here, I’ll show you the rest of the freak show.”
I hate the sim labs. As I step out onto the landing, I can see a group of maybe a dozen sets of twins of varying ages, all dressed in white surgical scrubs. Dr. Frankenstein is at it again, with Igor helping him as usual.
Sydney asks pleasantly, “Now what letters make a cook dishonest?”
Children’s games. It’s so easy it makes me nauseous. But then everything makes me nauseous these days.
Two blonde women in the back row of chairs raise their hands in synchronization and look behind them to Sydney before they speak. In unison. “Put the ‘r’ after ‘c’ and ‘cook’ becomes ‘crook!’” They exchange a glance, obviously pleased with themselves.
“Very good. And how do you make mice…” Sydney spares me an acknowledging glance. “…cold?”
Broots, pad and pen in hand, strolls close enough to hear me without my disturbing the group. “You know, sometimes you two really scare me.”
He turns toward me, apparently enjoying this little diversion, but Syd addresses me. I guess my voice carried farther than I intended. “We’re studying the effects of aging on memory processing and retrieval.”
“Using identical twins as controls!” Broots finishes for him. Now I’m really starting to worry. Igor is finishing his sentences like they’re sharing a brain.
“Would it be possible for the both of you to stop playing Mr. Wizard long enough for me to ask a question?” I snap. Both of them step closer to the balcony, and I lower my voice further.
“Absolutely,” Syd chimes in.
I lean closer. “Something’s going on with Mr. Raines.”
Syd returns quickly. “When isn’t there?”
I just want to deck him. Through my teeth, I explain, “He slithered into my father's office with Lyle and the Troll. Practically threw me out.”
“Oh, that must've been because of that Priority One intercept that Raines received,” Broots volunteers innocently.
I think I might be developing an aneurism. I glare at him. “What intercept?”
He recognizes his mistake instantly. “I didn’t tell you?”
I come down the stairs and give him the bum’s rush back up to the landing as I chew him out. “Broots, If Dr. Freud can spare you from this sideshow, I want to find out what the other one's about.”
Sydney turns back to the group as we leave.
“Uh, about those mice…”
Smitty obviously is too comfortable with this place. He doesn’t notice that we’re nearing the explosives closet as he pulls out his lighter to fire up his cigarette.
“Now, first thing you learn is, being on top of the world is the last place you wanna be,” he tells me. He glances up as we round the corner.
“Oh, Cap’n. Cap’n, this is Jarod Mead. He's doing… uh, hole in the ozone research.”
The Captain is carrying a sheaf of papers in his hand, and uses them to point at Smitty. “Put that damn thing out, will ya?”
I glance to my right, into an open doorway, and locate the Infirmary. Manny is half lying on a table while the staff doctor sews up his hand. Manny is oblivious, lost in his thoughts, and even though his eyes are on the doctor’s careful work, he’s a million miles away. But the doctor’s quick eyes have sought me out, returned to his work, then back at the drama unfolding in his doorway. I catch a movement and face the captain, a man by the name of Russ Osborne. I haven’t had time to do the proper research on any of these people in my hurry to get here, so all I know is the CO’s name and rank. He has the gleam of a working mind behind those eyes. I’ll have to be careful with him and the doctor.
“Jarod.” The captain reluctantly shakes my hand.
“Hi. How are you?”
“Did I stutter, Smitty? Put it out.” Turning his attention back to me, he continues, “Seeing as how I'm in charge here, you wanna explain why I haven't heard anything about this?”
“You receive scientists from a variety of institutes. I imagine that lines of communication get crossed from time to time.” A lame excuse, but it’ll do for the moment. People will tend to stay busy here, every waking hour, because there are so few of them and so much needing to be done.
“Well, as I learned in the military, it's uh—“
“Cross communications get people killed,” Smitty cuts in.
The captain frowns down at Smitty, now standing at his elbow. It’s a long, unhappy stare.
“Well, you say it all the time.”
Capt. Osborne turns his attention sourly back to me. “What I have here, Jarod, is people who track glacial flow, monitor ocean temperatures and take core samples. What I don't have are any orders for some weather channel DJ.”
I did, at least, take time to forge some official looking papers to give him. Hopefully, they’ll do for however briefly I’m here. I hand them to him. “My authorization papers. I'm here to evaluate the effects of ozone depletion for a Congressional study.” I already did that study years ago, but apparently nothing ever came of it. The depletion is still progressing, even though The Centre knows what will reverse the effects. They’re probably trying to sell them to the highest bidder.
The captain glances over the papers approvingly. “Sen. Bruckmeyer himself?”
“Well, I am gonna check this out. Smitty, for now put ‘im in the, uh… guest quarters.”
He walks off. Smitty gestures me after him as he continues down the corridor crowded with supplies.
“This way, Ozone.”
But my attention is back in the clinic, and I linger as the doctor finishes up with Manny.
“Might wanna wait a few days before you go blasting any new holes outside.” The doctor hands him a tube of antibiotic ointment for dressing the newly stitched and bandaged wound. “Here.”
Manny grabs his hat and the medication and saunters toward me.
“How’s your hand?” I ask him.
“A little sore,” he mumbles gruffly, eases past me and out the door.
I see that the doctor’s attention is now focusing primarily on me, so I go fully into the room and offer my hand and a warm smile. “Hello. My name is Jarod.”
“Raymond Moore. Guys call me Doc.” He rises to return the proffered handshake.
“It’s a pleasure, Doc.”
“I gotta admit, we’re all a little surprised to see you here.”
“By the looks on everyone’s face, you don’t get too many visitors around here.” I’m sure that’s a sad understatement of the truth, but the kind of remark that would be expected.
“Tour of duty’s twelve months. I’m the only one on permanent assignment. I’m not sure if that makes me dedicated or crazy.”
Something pricks at my consciousness. This is, after all, a Centre facility. It makes sense that the one full time staffer would be a Centre employee, but that’s just a supposition. They could also rotate people here every tour. This would be a hard place to stay on permanently. Or it could be that none of these people are Centre agents. I’ll have to keep alert for every possibility.
Smitty ducks back in after me, impatient now. “Hey, Doc. I gotta show ‘im where he’s staying. Come on.”
“Nice to meet you, Doc.”
Smitty slides past more supplies nearly blocking the path, pauses to shove something back onto a shelf. “You know, you gotta excuse our mess.” He glances toward another open doorway, where a man is standing, his voice raised, tense with anger.
“All right. You know what? You can just kiss my butt, all right? Lady, you are so full of it! You know what? I am not a lab rat and I’m sick and tired of you pickin’ my brain, so from now on, you know what you do? Stay the hell away from me!”
He steps back a little, and I can just see the woman on the other side of him. She’s small and brunette, delicate looking, with a deep weariness in her dark eyes. She’s trying. “Joe, look—"
“It's Joe-Taylor. All right? Can you say that? Joe-Taylor!” His agitation is increasing.
The tension in the atmosphere in this place is thick with anxiety and fear. Feels like home…
The woman has had enough of trying with this man. She throws up her hands and turns back into her office, mumbling, “Whatever...”
“Exactly,” Joe-Taylor agrees, and turns toward us. He lingers a moment with Smitty.
“What, is Beth givin’ you a hard time again?” asks the radio operator sympathetically.
“Man, as long as she's breathin! All right?” Joe-Taylor addresses me now. “Yo, so, you must be the new El Nino guy!”
He reaches toward me, swinging his fist downward. I catch it instinctively on the upswing, but after that I’m lost. I know I should have done something else, some other colliding movement, but I zig when I should have zagged, and miss him completely. I’ll have to work on that. I smile in embarrassment, but Joe-Taylor seems to be in a more forgiving mood now that his confrontation with Beth is over. I mumble what I think is an appropriate greeting, hoping they don’t notice the gap I usually fill in with ease. “Yeah, how did you know?”
Joe-Taylor points up at the vents. “Word travels fast in the igloo, what with the echo and all.”
The lights begin to flicker and dim, accompanied by the distant whine of a dying generator. I consider taking a look at it myself. This is not the place to be without heat and light if we want to survive.
But that seems to be Joe-Taylor’s job. “’Scuse me, ladies. I got a generator to check.” He eases between us and moves off down the hall toward the power room.
Smitty pokes his head into Beth's office. “Hey, you weren't asking Joe-Taylor about his feelings again, were ya?”
I see from behind him that she is bending over the computer on her desk. Her mood is none too pleasant, either. “Problem is, none of you guys have any.”
“Cute.” Smitty turns to me now to explain who Beth is, though I haven’t gotten a formal introduction to anyone just yet. “Beth's up here in the freezer doing her doctoral thesis in psych.”
My mind immediately goes to Sydney. “Oh, uh, I have a um, friend of mine who's a psychiatrist.” I’m a little uncomfortable aping the speech patterns of this group. It’s so relaxed, full of pauses and slow thoughts, not as succinct and clear as I’m accustomed to speaking, but I need to blend in.
Beth pauses, glances up at me, suspicion gleaming in her eyes. “Lucky you. You'll need one after you've been up here for a while." She moves out from behind her desk, twiddling a pencil as she speaks, and shuts the door in my face.
Smitty has backed out the door behind me, and is leading the way again. “What's she studying?”
“Us. She's into the cabin fever BS. You know, like why people in Minnesota, they start blowin’ their brains out and killin’ each other when they get snowed in.”
Again, that nagging suspicion of something dark behind their eyes, something that makes them afraid. I see it in all of their faces. “Has something like that happened here? Is that why she came?”
Smitty is very uncomfortable with this subject. “Uh, you know, I... I don't... Uh, she's got some fat grant from some outfit in Delaware.”
Alarm bells go off in my head. I know exactly what that means. Smitty may not know the place like I do, but he’s afraid just the same. So I ask plainly, “The Centre?”
He’s dodging me now. He knows much more than he’s willing to say. “Hey, you know, maybe. I don't know. I'm just the radio geek. Well, here we are. The guest quarters.”
He opens the door to a storeroom, flips on the lights and reveals a storeroom piled with crates and cardboard storage bins. Against the far wall is a bunk with painfully thin mattresses and a stack of folded bed linens at the head. To the left is a desk stacked with papers and a lamp, but as a work space it’ll do.
“Well, uh, it ain't exactly the Westin, but uh, the toilet flushes. Most o' the time.”
I can feel Smitty’s embarrassment at the poor quarters, but it’s better than some places I’ve been. I set my bag on the desk, knowing what he’s expecting me to say. “No wonder you don't get many visitors.”
He fishes his cigarettes out of his pocket. “Well, make yourself at home. I gotta get back to the station.”
“Seems like everyone around here's a little sensitive about that subject. Visitors, I mean.”
He draws a lighter from his pocket and lights his cigarette. "Like Doc said, we don't get no new blood.”
“No one?” I pull the photo of Major Charles out and show it to him. “Has this man been here?”
Smitty barely glances at the photo, but stares hard at me. “You figure out a way to get me south of the 50th parallel, maybe I'll tell you about all the weird stuff that goes on here.”
Smitty knows something. I just have to find a way to get him to tell me, and quickly. When the storm blows over, I need to be on my way out of here. Somehow.
The scent of almonds filled the room. Harry felt the oil slide into his palm, set the bottle down, and rubbed the slippery stuff between his hands. He applied them to the naked feet of the man lying on his massage table, listening delightedly to the blissful, coarse groans of pleasure issued by Mr. Raines. The man certainly knew how to enjoy his hour of massage.
But the insistent ringing of a cellular phone made him moan with irritation. He answered the call.
“Yes? What? Are you sure it's Jarod? On the contrary, this can work to our advantage. I'll tell you when and how to proceed.”
He shut off the phone, and gave himself up to the expert friction and manipulation.
“That's it! That's the spot, Harry!” he cheered.
It hasn’t taken me long to settle in. I know this place is a Centre facility, but not openly. So often they provide covers for branches not doing sensitive research, and the people don’t even know they’re part of the spider’s web. But I have to wonder how much these people know. They’re hiding something, and they’re cautious. That makes it harder for me to find out what I need to know.
I sit at the desk in my new room, watching the video feed Angelo sent me. All I have is brief mention of my father, and this picture I hold in my hand.
"What did you find? And are you still here?” I ask aloud.
There is no answer in this quiet room. But across from me I see the reflection of a young man filled with darkness and pain. And as I do every day, I wonder what happened to my family.
An angry spirit dwells here, and I wonder if that is the source of the legend Smitty and Manny mentioned, the Qallupilluit. I am curious about that, and will find a way to slip it into a conversation later to glean a little more information. But I must step carefully here. Everyone is poised on the brink of an abyss, and I don’t want to be the trigger that sets them off.
...What this place needs is some music, Smitty told himself. He put in a favorite tape of something classical, something soothing that would take his mind to warm climes full of sunshine, women in scanty clothes, and an abundance of daily pleasures, all within easy reach. Life would be full again soon, and he would have a fat bank account to make up for all his sacrifices in that Godforsaken freezer. Soon, he would be home again, and he would never take another tour like this one, ever again.
I have good reason not to trust psychiatrists, so Beth’s office is the first place I begin looking for whatever brought my father here. I wait until I know she’s going to be out for a while, then sneak in and begin my search. The files on the side of her desk yield nothing, so I try the computer.
It doesn’t take me long to break into Centre files. I’ve already stored the codes on my Palm Pilot, and the first place I go is the Alpha Project.
I write in an internal access command on the touchpad of my infrared notepad: ts6762364. I’m in! Downloading begins, but suddenly it’s cut off. They’re onto me. If they didn’t know I was here earlier, they certainly do now. That makes it even more urgent to get out of here quickly. Beth wears soft-soled shoes, but I hear her quiet steps coming and tuck the notepad into my vest. In seconds I have a cover on screen, just as she opens the door. And the map tells me how much longer I might expect to stay.
“Hey! What do you think you're doing?”
I can’t help the smug smile on my face. Doing this sort of thing is fun! “I was just checking the weather.” I fold my hands across my belly as she turns the monitor around where she can see weather patterns dancing on the screen. “Hope you don't mind.” Of course she does!
“Well, I mind if you're using my computer!”
“Well, my terminal hasn't been set up yet, so I thought we could share.” She’s so ticked off, but has nowhere to go with her frustration. Cool!
Beth snarled, “I don't share!”
“You don't smile much, either, do you? As a matter of fact, no one smiles much around here.” Keep her off balance. Get her thinking about something else now.
“You know, even for a psychologist, it must be difficult to figure out who has cabin fever and who doesn't.” Now I show her that I’m already steps ahead, looking back at her. She needs to know I’m smart. It makes the game more challenging.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
She’s angry that I confused her so easily.
“We all share the same cabin.”
I leave without urgency, righteous in my mission, knowing she’ll be checking her files to see where I’ve been. But she won’t find my tracks. They never do, unless I want them to.
There are four of us in the elevator: Lyle, Brigitte, Parker and myself. We have met here on our way to elsewhere. It’s a busy day for all of us, but especially for me.
Lyle is the first to speak, offering his report to his boss. “Major Charles arrived at the station three weeks ago.”
Parker isn’t surprised. “Is he still there?”
“We're not sure,” Brigitte answers for us.
“What about the project?”
I know which project Parker means. It isn’t a good report, but I have to inform him. “The entire file has been accessed. We must assume he knows everything.” And now I drop the other shoe. “There's something else.”
He has his back to the door as he barks out the question. The doors slide open. There are people waiting on the floor to get in, but the moment they see us, they turn away, knowing by the set of our faces that stepping into that small room is a dangerous thing to do right now. Lyle closes the door, hits the button for the next floor, and we wait for the room to seal us in again before we speak.
“Jarod has appeared.”
Parker regards me now with shock. He should have expected that. Jarod always seems to be two steps ahead of us, especially lately.
“He's still there.”
“Jarod? Well, get a sweeper team up there right now!”
“We've been trying, but the weather won't cooperate.”
“What about our inside—“
The doors slide open again, and this time Parker glances behind him. No one out there wants to ride in this car with us, and in a moment we’re on our way again. It doesn’t matter now where we’re going.
“What about our inside people? Are they up to speed on this?”
He always underestimates me. “Totally. I've issued specific orders on how to handle everything, including Jarod. We're covering all of our tracks.”
“We're just waiting to see what Major Charles’ next move is,” Brigitte purrs.
This seems to placate Parker. “In other words, we're a day late and a dollar short.”
She’s so good. A natural talent, that one. I did a good job with her.
Each of them steps off the elevator when the doors part again, not caring which floor they’ve arrived on, or where they’re going. But I know exactly where I’m headed.
And nothing is going to stop me from getting there. My gaze is focused on Parker’s back as he recedes from view.
The music is soothing, and Smitty works without minding the late hour because of the beautiful noise. Most people are either sleeping or cloistered in their rooms by now, so there will be no one to see or hear what happens to the radio operator.
I have my orders. I know what must be done in order to save the project. Our isolation here must be complete.
Smitty sees me as he glances up from his work cleaning his precious equipment.
“Hey! What are you doing down here this time o’ night?”
He is surprised, but not alarmed. I turn up the music, my eyes closing briefly with the pleasure of it. He has good taste. Pity.
I raise the weapon I have brought with me and bring it down upon him, hitting him so forcefully that he is thrown from his chair. He might have felt a brief flash of pain, but not much. Now he will feel nothing, ever again. His pain and loneliness are at an end.
I pick up the can of solvent, splash some on the working surface of Smitty’s crowded desk, making sure the radio equipment is liberally doused, and then light it. I do not look back as I leave the room. I have only done what had to be done to keep the research safe. This will provide distraction enough for Jarod to keep him off balance until the sweepers get here to take him back into custody.
I will not have him threatening what I have worked my whole lifetime to build.
The claxon rings insistently, drawing people from their rooms, most of them still fully clothed. The smell of smoke draws us to the communications center of the station. The captain is in front of me, pushing on the door, but it’s blocked. I grab the fire ax out of instinct as I pass it, shifting back into the temporary persona of Jarod O’Reilly, fireman.
I lay the blade into the door, expertly chopping out the door handle. Capt. Osborne puts his shoulder to the door and breaks through. The room is ablaze with fire, most of it centered on the desk and the wall behind it.
Joe-Taylor rushes in with the fire extinguisher, and in a matter of moments the conflagration is gone, leaving only the thick pall of smoke in its wake, and the charcoal that was once Smitty’s work station.
“Smitty!” Capt. Osborne has spotted a body lying in the floor. “Get the lights! Get Doc!”
I move past him, now an EMT. I bend over the body, but just as I have made brief contact, Doc elbows me aside.
“There’s no pulse,” I tell him. I have had little more than a glance at Smitty’s skull, but I already know the answer here.
Doc confirms my suspicion. “This man is dead.” He glances around the room, eyeing the damage. Must’ve blacked out from smoke or solvent fumes.”
Capt. Osborne accepts that theory, looking at the evidence for support. “Could’ve fallen, hit his head on the table corner, knocked himself out... Died of smoke inhalation.”
I’m not buying it. “That's a helluva head injury for a table corner.” It’s definitely murder, but I can’t explain my knowledge of forensic science as a weatherman, so all I can do is suggest.
But the captain is in charge, and he trusts his own people more than he trusts the word of a stranger. “Doc, listen, I'll feel better if you get Smitty down to the infirmary.” He bends over the cooling corpse. “Give his body a closer look, okay?”
“I'm not a pathologist, but I'll see what I can find out.” Dr. Moore leaves to fetch a gurney to haul Smitty away.
Osborne is all business. “I gotta call this in.” Apparently he hasn’t taken much note of the radio equipment.
But Joe-Taylor has, from his post nearer the doorway, with the whole room spread out in front of him. “Don't even bother. This thing is busted.”
“Oh, that's not good.”
Beth dashes into the room and takes it all in quickly. “Oh, my God! Is he dead? We have to notify the authorities and… and his family...”
The captain is strangely calm, accepting of this nightmare. “We can't. The radio's completely shot.”
There is a brittle edge to Joe-Taylor’s voice. “We have no communication with the outside world.”
Not entirely true. We still have our computers, but I refrain from mentioning that, lest that be taken away, too.
But the idea raises the panic level for Manny. “So no one can hear us scream for help? I told you, the Qallupilluit is gonna get us! It's gonna get us all now!” He dashes out the doorway as if his imaginary demon is breathing down his neck.
I know what that feels like, too.
The friction between Joe-Taylor and Beth resurfaces as he whirls to face her, accusingly, as if this “accident” is somehow her fault. “Trapped in a storm, people are dyin’, no way out... This is like a dream come true for you, isn't it?” He looks her up and down in the doorway in disgust before taking his leave.
She turns to me, but there is nothing I can say to her. I can only hope that she sees the sympathy in my eyes.
Miss Parker’s Office
Her office isn’t quite dark, but there is a cloud of gloom noticeable immediately when Broots and I enter her private domain. She is seated in a chair, enjoying a cup of tea. But rather than the delicacy of cool porcelain in her hands, I note that her choice of tea service is made of florentine finished stainless steel, beautiful in rather an unexpected fashion, and as durable as the woman herself.
I worry about her.
Broots has entered first, eager with his news. I’m not so sure we should give it to her, but knowing her as I do, she would discover it on her own eventually. This, at least, gives me a modicum of control over its presentation and immediate results.
“You're never in your wildest dreams gonna believe this! The intercept Raines received concerns a compromise of a secret Centre research site.”
Her usual note of sarcasm is evident in her quick reply. “Why, let me guess... Jarod!”
“No! Jarod's father.”
That gets a reaction. Just what Broots wanted. The announcement brings her to her feet immediately, with all the grace of a dancer. “Major Charles? Where?”
“Well, uh, I don't know where and I don't know what the project is yet…”
If she were a cat, her ears would be flattening against her head by now. There is a slight growl in her tone of voice, not quite angry, but nearing impatience. “Broots, I think you know how important this is to me.” Her threat is implied, but obvious, even to Broots.
“I do, and I'm going back to work right now.” He clears his throat nervously, and leaves me alone with her. Now the ball is in my proverbial court. While I know I cannot control her, perhaps I can influence her away from rashness.
“I know that you believe that Jarod's father may be responsible for your mother's death—“
“IS responsible for my mother's death!” she interjects as she moves to her desk and sets down her cup and saucer.
I sit in the chair across from where she is now, organizing herself.
“A score I intend to settle.” She opens a notebook, grabs a pen and begins. In her mind she is already there, and I can almost hear him scream.
“Don't let your desire for revenge cloud your judgement, Parker. If we ever find Major Charles, he'll be much more valuable to us alive than he would dead.”
She takes up her phone and dials.
On this, she will not listen to me.
I worry about her.
I’ve waited too long, and I know it from the moment I arrive at the door. Smitty’s body is laid out, arranged so that he looks peacefully asleep, the sheet that covers most of him turned back neatly from his face. Dr. Moore hasn’t heard me come in yet, and my shoes are soundless on the tile and concrete floors.
He turns toward me, some sense other than hearing alerting him to my presence, and he starts, surprised to find someone standing so close to him.
“I didn't hear you come in,” he breathes, obviously relieved to see me and not the corpse upright in his peripheral vision.
Time to start their questions about who and what I am. “I came to offer my assistance with Smitty's autopsy, but I guess I'm too late.” It certainly didn’t take long enough to have been a thorough examination, that’s for sure. Just enough time to make Smitty neat.
“I thought you were a weatherman, not a coroner.”
“Let's just say I'm versatile.” I don’t want to get into anything with him. I just want to get a better look at the body, do a few tests, and confirm my suspicions.
“Someone with more pathology experience should examine the body when we get him outta here,” Dr. Moore informs me as he rises from his chair. He cuts in front of me, heading me off as I approach the body. With a note of finality that I understand completely, he covers the face with the folded part of the sheet. “For now I'm confident that I've been able to establish the cause of death.”
Capt. Osborne swings the door open further, knocking over some metallic trays that make a loud clatter. Both of us turn to face him as he enters the room.
“What'd you find out?” he asks.
“No surprises. Mild concussion, no other signs of injury. Cause of death: accidental, due to smoke inhalation.”
“Accidental!” I know better. I can feel it in my gut. And I’m beginning to doubt Dr. Moore’s medical expertise.
“Better be. If it wasn't, then one of us did it.”
My thoughts must be showing on my face. The captain seems too ready to accept the doctor’s pat explanation. His eyes are on me now, not Doc. But I’m not so willing to give up.
“Jarod, let's talk.”
“In a minute.” I lean over the body and reach for the sheet.
But the captain imposes his authority, which I can’t very well buck at this early stage of the game without causing myself some serious problems. “Jarod! Right now!” he orders. He leads me out of the infirmary, out into the hall and away. “You mind tellin’ me what that was back there?”
I’ll have to be careful how much I say. I’m not sure if I can trust anyone here. At least, not yet. “Smitty's death was not accidental.” We head into the captain’s office, and he closes the door after us.
“Listen, pal. This place breeds cabin fever and paranoia. If the doc says it was an accident, then it was. Case closed.”
He’s apparently unwilling to listen to the truth. For the moment, anyway. “There's more going on here than cabin fever and Smitty knew it,” I remind him. “There's something very wrong here. I can feel it. So do you.” It’s in his eyes.
“If there's something going on here, that just makes the stress on the men that much worse. And it's my job to keep this place from fallin’ apart.” He explains as though I was a small child, ignorant of the ways of the world. In many ways, I still am. But I know what he’s worried about. The pilot said it was 20 years before the first station’s crew went home.
“Someone will come for us,” I tell him softly.
He points to a small television screen on a shelf to my right. It’s a station monitor, displaying the exact spot where the chopper landed when I arrived. Snow-laden wind howls outside, though the volume is muted to a dull moan emanating from the television. “You taken a look out there lately? It'll be days. Not even those crazy Inuits and their dogsleds go out in weather like this, and until then we are stranded. I don't need any loose talk making things worse, you understand?”
I understand more than he can guess. He isn’t expecting an answer, so I don’t give him one before I stalk away. But I came here for a reason, and haven’t really started on my quest. It’s about time I do that. So as I leave his office, I think of the person most likely to answer my questions.
We’re in this together. I see Doc in his office, looking through the medicine cabinet for something. He hasn’t heard me come in, and my sudden presence startles him.
“You scared the hell outta me!”
He’s not the only one scared.
Manny is sitting in the community room that serves as lounge, living room, kitchen and dining room. There is a television in one area, a refrigerator in another – though that seems redundant with all the ice and snow outside. He is pulled up to a long dining table, a bottle of whisky by his left arm, an empty glass in his hand. He’s holding a photograph, and I glance at it as I come into the room.
“You mind if I join you?” I didn’t expect an answer, and didn’t get one. I gesture at the photo of a smiling baby as I park my hip on the table. “Is that yours?”
Manny speaks softly, his mind a million miles away. “My son.”
“Cute. You must be very proud.”
“I never even seen him. My wife found out she was pregnant just after I shipped up here. Got two months left on my contract. They won't let me go home. I'll never even see him.”
“’Course you will. You'll be going home soon.”
“No, I'm not. No one's goin’ home alive.” His moment of respite morphs into pain, then anger. He rises and leaves the room, but I follow him out.
He’s going back to work. We enter an equipment room, and next to a tool box is a large drilling machine, the kind used to pull core samples out of the earth. Manny pulls a wrench out of one of the drawers, ignoring me as I call his name.
“Manny. Manny! Manny. What's a Qallupilluit?” Somehow, I think this is the key to his fear. I listen closely, both to what he says and what lies between the lines.
“An old Inuit story. About an evil creature that lives in the ice cracks. Kills those that get too close.”
Manny has been drilling into the ice. I can see how the legend would affect him, more than the others. But I also know that there may be more truth than he imagines in that legend, when it’s connected to The Centre.
“Smitty said there was a stranger here. Did you see anybody?” He didn’t exactly say he had seen anyone, but I could read it in his face. If Manny thinks Smitty talked about it to me, he might be more willing to open up as well.
“The Qallupilluit is here. It's under the station. I hear him sometimes at night.”
I can see how afraid he is. And now I know for sure. The pilot said this station was built right on top of the old one. It’s probably still there… and possibly still in use. By The Centre.
“Where, under the station?”
“I don't know. I hear him from my bunk. He's in the floor, in the walls, everywhere!”
Manny’s fear is rising, consuming him. He’s not in control of himself. I don’t want to push him, but I have no choice. My time is short and I have to have answers.
I pull the photo of my father from my pocket shows it to Manny. “This man was here. Have you seen him?”
I pushed too hard. “I wanna see—“ Manny hits the drill with his wrench savagely, then brandishes it at me. “-- my son and my wife! You promised you'd get me outta here!”
Joe-Taylor responds to the noise, and rushes in. He knows how volatile Manny is at the moment, and his first instinct is to try to calm his friend down.
“Manny, Manny, hey, hey, hey! Manny, you all right?” He puts his arm around Manny’s shoulders, holds the hand cluthing the wrench to constrain him. Manny drops the wrench, holds up his injured hand, and stares at the bright blood seeping through the bandage.
“Why don't you go to the doc and have him take a look at that,” Joe-Taylor suggests warmly. “Okay? Go ahead.” He urges Manny out the door, and the other man obeys meekly.
Then Joe-Taylor turns to me. “You know, Manny's going through a lot of stress right now, and he doesn't need you makin’ it worse. Okay?”
I put the photograph away. “What's he so stressed out about?”
“S'None of your business. You know, I really don't know who you are, but since you showed up here, things have been going from bad to worse. So why don't you just—“
Manny bursts back into the room, eyes wide, breathless with fear.
“He -- he -- he got Doc! The Qallupilluit -- It got Doc!”
Joe-Taylor orders his friend, “Get the Cap’n.”
I race to the infirmary, which is in disarray. It looks like there’s been a pitched battle in here, though no one heard a thing. And there's blood on the floor.
Captain Osborne rushes in, followed by the others.
“Doc. Doc!” I call, but there’s no answer. By the pool of blood is a surgical tray. I pick up a scalpel, using a small surgical towel to keep from disturbing any evidence that might be on it, and examine the smears of gore on the length of the blade. My eyes go to the trail of blood left behind, a trail that looks suspiciously like a bleeding body has been dragged somewhere. We all follow the trail to a door leading outside.
Into the cold we go, without our gear. We all know we can’t afford to stay out there long.
“The incinerator!” Capt. Osborne suggests.
There’s an incinerator just outside, radiating heat from within, so the cold isn’t so all pervasive and dangerous right in front of it. I use a removable handle to pull the door open, and right in front is the remains of a human body, all the flesh burned away, leaving only the charred skull in full view.
The cold drives us quickly back inside.
“Doc’s death was no accident!” I insist. It’s obvious now that there’s a murderer somewhere in – or under – the station.
The captain challenges me. “You implying that one of us is a killer?”
Beth voices her strenuous, tense opinion. “I warned you that the men were experiencing disturbing levels of isolation stress, that they were at the breaking point!” She glances nervously at Manny.
He reacts, thrusting his finger into her face. “You got somethin’ to say? Say it! All right? It wasn't me!”
“Then why did you go the infirmary when you did?”
He holds up his bloody hand. “I tore my stitches!”
Things are escalating rapidly. They’re turning ugly, fast.
“When?” she demands. “When you were struggling with Doc, or when you threw him in the incinerator?”
Manny can’t believe her accusation, even though he’s been expecting it. “What?”
Joe-Taylor steps in. “Naw, wait a minute, I know what you doing.”
Beth is running away, but Joe-Taylor is hot on her heels. “You put things in people’s heads that don't even belong there. Don't walk away from me!” He’s shouting.
I’m afraid he’ll hurt her.
She feels it, too. “Get away from me! Just back off, Joe!”
He’s turning the tables on her now. “Where were you when we found Doc?”
I have to do something. “Now, everybody, calm down!” Mine is the unfamiliar voice, the voice of reason. I hope they’ll listen to me. Somehow we all end up in the captain’s office.
But now that I’ve called attention to myself by speaking up, I’m also a target. Joe-Taylor turns on me.
“What did you say? What about you? Maybe this is all of your doing.”
“Maybe it wasn't any one of us. Maybe there's someone here with us.” Someone from the Centre, that none of these people even realizes is here.
Or maybe the man I’ve come to find. I want to believe he’s a good man. But he may have killed Catherine Parker. And if he did, he might be another sort of man altogether. A man capable of killing Smitty and Doc.
Joe-Taylor turns away, sneering. “What, like Manny's Qallupilluit?”
Manny’s scared. But he’s not too frightened to hold onto a glimmer of reason. He has taken a seat on the bunk in the captain’s office, half covering himself with the blanket, trying to warm up from the deadly cold we’ve just been in.
“Nah, he’s right, man. I seen someone, a man, coming and going with the Inuits. He was with 'em a couple weeks ago. Joe saw 'im too.”
“No. No I didn't.”
I’m not sure how to read Joe-Taylor’s denial.
But Manny is. He demands the truth. “Joe! Joe, you saw him. You were with me, man!”
The captain has been with these people long enough to know exactly what to expect from each of them. He stands calmly by his desk, his arms crossed, willing to accept nothing but total honesty. “Joe-Taylor, talk to us.”
I see it in his face, then. Joe-Taylor has something to hide, but he’s caught now and knows it. He can’t lie. Now we’ll be able to get somewhere. “I caught a glimpse of ‘im. When they were delivering the supplies.”
“Did anybody see him leave?” I ask.
Joe-Taylor shakes his head. Everyone looks worried.
Capt. Osborne opens a small cabinet, pulls out his service pistol and arms himself.
This doesn’t look good.
The lights dim, and distant engine sounds slow, then come back up. Beth gasps, feeling the tension. She’s at the brink of panic. This is a very dangerous place to be at the moment.
But the captain is still in charge, and starts giving orders. “Joe-Taylor, check the generator then bolt the door to the mechanical room. We lose power in a storm like this, it's a death sentence for all of us. Manny, salvage whatever you can from the infirmary. We may need it before this is over. When you guys are finished, you come back in here. We're gonna stay together till we get some help from the outside.”
I don’t mention that each man should have someone to watch his back. It’s not my place to countermand the CO’s orders.
“If outside help arrives,” Beth adds.
“Shut up!” Manny shouts.
Tempers are starting to fray rapidly.
Joe-Taylor is eyeing the captain suspiciously now. He demands, “Tell me something. Why are you the one that gets to keep the gun?”
Capt. Osborne raises the gun and points it at Joe-Taylor. "Cause I am the one with the gun. Now do what I told ya.”
Manny whispers, “Oh, man! Come on.”
Osborne shuts door after they leave, then turns to me. “I have no idea what the hell's going on around here, but I sure in hell am going to find out.”
Miss Parker’s attention is fixed on the screen of her laptop as we sit in her office. I emailed her the video feed after I stumbled on it, knowing she’d want to see it. I also know what she’ll do when she sees it. That’s why I wanted to be here when she watched it.
I can hear her father’s voice.
“Find out everything you can about Major Charles and this breach...”
She has that intent look on her face. It’s scary, she’s so composed. “Where did you get this?”
“Someone from within The Centre emailed a video of your father's office to an outside location. All I had to do was retrieve the original feed.” I know she’s not interested in the dynamics of my feat, but I think even Bill Gates would be impressed if he could watch me in action. I just wish I was a little more appreciated.
“That's why they made me leave! Good work. Broots, who sent it?”
We’re on the move now, supposed to meet up with Sydney. He’s probably on his way here now. But it's good to hear her compliment, especially since I know she means it.
“Well, it's hard to say. But I know who it was sent to.”
I’m thinking this one’s kind of obvious. Too bad he changes his cyberlocation so often.
“Jarod?” Her voice is positively dripping with sarcasm as she buttons her long tailed jacket.
Man, she’s beautiful! I stumble to keep up with her graceful stride.
“Yeah, from what I can tell, Major Charles found out about something called the Alpha Project.”
We move up a flight of steps. I’m anxious, a little scared. But then, I’m scared every day in this place. Sydney’s just joining us now, still on the move.
“Never heard of it,” she snaps. She’s obviously not in the mood for conversation.
“Neither have we,” Sydney adds.
Jeez, he always sounds so calm. It’s unnerving sometimes.
I think I’m losing her attention, and I’ve gotta get it back. I clear my throat, not sure how she’s going to take the rest of it. “Well, whatever it is, it's being run from an arctic research station funded by The Centre.”
I always tell Sydney first, if I can. Some things just sound better coming from him. “Obviously, Major Charles was there, and may still be.”
Uh-oh. She didn’t shout at me. She’s quiet.
Not a good sign.
When she speaks again, it’s calm, measured and slightly flippant. “Cinch up your long johns, boys. We're heading north.” She leans on the railing on the top landing for a moment, thinking up terrible things, I'm sure. “We're gonna heat things up a little bit.”
We each split off in a different direction. I have to make arrangements for Debbie to be picked up from school, find a place for her to stay until I get home. I also have to make arrangements for the plane and stuff like that. I have no idea how long we’ll be gone, but I hope it’s a quick trip. And I hope I don’t have to watch when she finds Major Charles.
This is my last loose end.
I see Joe-Taylor hovering over the generator, and instinct tells him someone is there. He acknowledges me briefly, unsuspecting. My Number Two trusts too easily.
“So everything is going like you planned? Except for that guy, Jarod. Now he's gonna be a problem.”
No, he’s not. Everything has gone exactly as planned. I have my orders, and he has his. Now his usefulness is ended, and it’s time to crank up the pressure.
Joe-Taylor has his back to me. He’s busy, trying to revive the generator, though it’s a lost cause. I have brought an ice axe with me, and it hides now behind my back. But Joe-Taylor isn’t looking.
“So whaddya wanna do next?” he asks, and starts to turn around.
I know exactly where to strike, how hard to hit, to make his death sudden and as painless as possible. He has time enough just to feel an instant of surprise before being snatched into oblivion.
His body falls to the floor. I could leave him there, but I have my orders. Things have to be set up in such a way that not even Jarod can fix them.
The Centre – Miss Parker’s Office
I wonder if Ellesmere Station has elevators.
From my desk drawer I retrieve the Circle of Fire. The pistol fits neatly in my hand. It’s a big gun, but I have long fingers. Mother used to say they were musician’s hands, but I never…
I have cleaned this weapon thoroughly, polished it as if it was a priceless treasure, because, to me, it is. With this, I will have vengeance from the man who robbed me of my mother.
The door opens, but I do not glance up. I know who it will be.
My father says, “Angel! About yesterday, I w…”
He has seen the gun in my hand.
“What are you doing? Isn’t that the gun that… ah… When your mother was, uh…”
I don’t want to hear what he can’t bring himself to say.
“You here for lunch, Daddy?” I ask him casually.
"Something bothering you?” he asks blithely.
“Yeah.” I shove a clip into the grip, listening to the satisfying click as a bullet slides into the chamber. “Major Charles.”
In my peripheral vision I see him grimace, but he says nothing. He has been waiting for this, I’m sure. Well, now the moment has come, and now he has to face me.
“Why didn't you tell me about this?”
“Well, you've been through enough. I just didn't wanna see you ... like this.”
He can’t be serious. This is how he raised me to react. No one gets the better of a Parker.
I offer him a tiny, plastic smile, humorless and cold. “I'm going to Ellesmere, Daddy.” I put the gun into my briefcase, lying open on my desk.
“We don't even know whether Major Charles is still there!”
Does he think that mere supposition will stop me? I close the case, flash him an arctic glance, and walk around the corner of my desk, pausing just behind him. I want to invade his personal space, make him uncomfortable. He turns slightly toward me, but doesn’t meet my eyes.
“What are you really afraid of? That I may find Major Charles, or what drove him there?”
My voice is soft as silk, cool without a trace of the rage I’m feeling. Daddy taught me that, too.
I walk away, and just hear the breath of a smothered curse.
A little rebellion is good for the soul.
Daddy’s about to experience World War III.
The Captain said we were all supposed to stay together, but here we are, wandering up and down the corridors, retrieving important personal items. It’s just excuses, I know. But things are taking too long. This has all escalated much too quickly. But I’m ready to make my move. I’ve assessed the personalities here, and chosen the one that I believe is not involved in these murders.
I ease into Beth’s quarters. She’s changing her sweater, with her back to me. She doesn’t know I’m here yet as she pulls the sweater down over her body. I should back out and wait until she’s done, but this can’t wait. She needs to know I’m not a threat.
She hears the intentional noise I make, and whirls on me, brandishing a knife that had been on the shelf of her locker. She screams in fright, and I'm instantly sorry to have entered without knocking.
“It’s just me! It’s just me.” I keep my voice soft and warm to engender her trust. I raise my hands, palm outward, in a gesture of supplication.
“What are you doing?” she demands.
“Just calm down. I’m not the killer.”
She slams her locker door, and retreats across the room.
“And I don’t think you are. Could we just talk?”
She collapses onto the foot of her bunk, practically in tears.
I’ve pushed her too far. She may need a little space, but I’ve made my overture. She’ll come to me when she’s ready. I start to leave.
“No!” She puts her hand out toward me, as if to call me to a halt. “Wait! Wait, please don't go. I’m sorry. Um, please sit down.” She gestures me into a chair and I sit. “I just… I think I'm losing it.”
“What do you really think's going on around here?”
Like everyone else, she knows more than she wants to say. But as affected as she is at this moment, I think I can get inside her defenses.
She’s crying now, obviously terrified. “Can't explain it. It's like there's something insidious growing here. Something that's destroying us all.”
She’s trying hard to maintain control over her emotions. “Call it insanity or whatever you want. It's the same thing. You can see it in the eyes of the men. It's the capacity for evil that lies dormant in all of us, only something here is bringing it to life.”
This is a Centre installation. That’s all it takes. Sanity can’t last under a shroud of secrets and lies. But like everyone else here, I think Beth knows something about my father.
“The visitor. The person who Manny saw.” I pull out my photo to show her, hoping she’ll say it’s the wrong guy. “Was he this man?”
She stands, too keyed up to remain still any longer.
“Yeah, that's the guy. I mean, it's a younger version of him, but that's the guy. I saw him talking to the Captain and the captain gave him a package.”
“Beth, do you think he could still be here? Do you think this is the man who killed Doc and Smitty?”
Please, say no. Tell me it could have been anyone else, that you spoke to him and he was gentle and kind. Please. I need to hear that.
My heart sinks.
“I heard Doc tell the captain that he was dangerous and capable of doing anything. Which is why I came to get the knife. I don't trust anyone.” She grabs a second sweater from the bed and starts to put it on. It’s cold in here, growing colder by the moment. “Except maybe you. Maybe.”
That’s comforting. I hope I can trust her as well.
The lights flicker, and we can hear the whine of the generator clearly.
The mechanical room is nearby, and both of us rush there. Joe-Taylor stands upright amid a shower of sparks against the far wall. One of the panels has been pried off the face of the electrical station, and his body is positioned to act as a conduit for the electricity. He dances with the current, and I’m already certain, both from the amount of current rushing through his system and the blood frying against his face, that he’s already dead.
Beth screams. “Oh, my God! Joe!”
She reaches for him, wanting to disconnect him from the electricity.
“No!” I shout at her. “Don’t touch him!” I pick up the nearest non-conductive object I can find and use it as a crowbar to pry him away from the generator. He crumples to the floor amid a shower of sparks. The room smells like burnt flesh and ozone.
Capt. Osborne and Manny rush into the room just as the emergency reds kick in, illuminating the room in a scarlet glow.
I feel for a pulse in Joe-Taylor’s neck, already certain of what I’ll find. “He’s dead.”
Manny rushes to the body, squats beside it, shakes it to try to rouse his sleeping friend in the glare of the captain’s flashlight beam.
“No, man, no! Joe, c'mon! Get up, man! Stop playin’ around, man, get up!” His grief turns instantly to rage. He turns on the captain, points an accusing finger at him. “You did this!”
“Manny, come on now...” Osborne cautions.
“First you killed Smitty, then you burned up Doc...” Manny’s emotions are out of control.
The captain knows it, too. “Manny, stop it right there...”
He’s gone over the edge now. He picks up the nearest equalizer, brandishes it at the captain, who aims his pistol straight at his geology tech.
“Then you sent Joe in here to check on the generator...”
“Manny, please don't make me do this...”
Manny shouts, “I'm not waiting around to be next!”
He rushes Osborne, but before he can cross the small space between them, the gun goes off.
I acted too late. Manny falls back, reaching for his shoulder.
“Crazy bastard! You forced me to do that,” growls Osborne.
Beth and I both move to Manny, and instantly I start checking him out.
“You didn't have to shoot him,” she accuses. “God! Manny, you okay? Look we're gonna take you back to the infirmary.” She picks up a shop rag that looks clean and presses it against the wound in Manny’s shoulder. “This'll stop the bleeding.”
“It's a flesh wound,” I announce, glancing up at the man with the gun. He has the power now, and knows it. “He needs medical attention.”
Osborne sneers, “Is that right?”
The muzzle of his pistol is aimed right at me.
Beth glances up to see the captain aiming at the three of us and snarls, “What are you doing?”
“I know I'm not the killer.”
Beth is quick to correct his erroneous assumption. “Jarod was with me when the power went out. It couldn't be either one of us.”
“Then maybe the both of you did it.”
“Maybe it's none of us,” I suggest. “Now, if you'll let me take a look at Smitty's body, maybe I can tell you who the killer is…” I rise slowly, careful not to intimidate the captain.
“The only thing you're gonna take a look at is the inside of that storage locker,” Osborne growls, “where I'm gonna put you till I figure out what to do. Now get him up!”
Manny’s rage, pain and fear spew out his mouth. “Yeah, you put us in there, ‘cause I'm gonna kill you once I get out! Worse than the Qallupilluit! Don’t let him get you, man, ‘cause I'm comin’ after you...”
We help Manny to his feet, struggling to keep him from trying to rush the captain again. He’s shouting emotion-driven nonsense.
“Let’s go, people! Move!”
“It’s gonna get you good! It’s gonna get you good!”
“Manny, shut up!” Osborne shouts above the geotech’s babble as we are herded down the corridor. “Wait a minute.”
The captain and I both glance at the explosives locker at the same time, and take note of the missing padlock on the door.
“We got a problem,” he says. “I was right here before the power went out. I know I locked this door.” He pushes it wide open. His gun is passive in his hand now.
“What is it?” asks Beth.
Osborne steps out with an empty dynamite box in his hand.
“Dynamite's missing. So either the two of you are lying, or we are not alone.”
Manny is mumbling nonsensically now, lost over the edge of sanity.
We take him to the infirmary. I direct Beth how to care for Manny’s wound while I begin working on the autopsy of Smitty’s body. I know they’re watching me, seeing how expertly I do these jobs, not knowing what to make of this weatherman turned doctor in their midst.
It doesn’t take me long. I check for evidence of smoke inhalation in Smitty’s lungs, estimate the damage done to his skull, and then go back and check a few more things from Doc’s disappearance. The pieces fit.
“That should do for now,” Beth assures Manny as she finishes bandaging his shoulder.
“Thanks,” he says softly, and begins easing back into his warm clothing.
Capt. Osborne comes in from outside with heavy coats over his arm, flashlight in hand. “Both the generators are blown. We're gonna need these coats.” He tosses them down for us. “Manny, we're gonna get outta here now.”
He’s a compassionate man under the gruffness, but I have little time to spare for such sentiments. He turns to me now, wanting my report. “What'd you find?”
“Your Qallupilluit.” I strip off the latex gloves covering my hands.
“If you wanna find the killer, we have to find a dead man.”
He glances at the others, thinking I’ve broken under the strain, too.
On The Centre's Private Jet
We're close. I can feel it, and it feels good. My bumbling henchmen are with me, as usual, one silent and reserved, never giving away a clue to what he's thinking, and the other on a kindergarten field trip.
"Wow, Sydney, look at those clouds!"
"It's an arctic front," the shrink explains.
Broots's enthusiasm doesn't dim. "I've never seen anything like that! Miss Parker, take a look!"
Storm clouds surrounding the airplane I'm in is the last thing I want to see.
"I'll catch it in National Geographic," I intone. But I do want to know what's happening. I pick up the phone to the cockpit and query the pilot, "How much longer?"
"Looks like I may have to put down at a Canadian air base," she says. "Weather's still..."
I don't want to hear the rest of her drivel. Without listening to her continuing explanations, I hang up the phone. "Great."
Sydney offers words intended to comfort me, though why he bothers is beyond me. "If we can't get in, they can't get out."
I roll my eyes, wishing we would just get there already.
It hasn't taken me long to put all the pieces together. Maybe I could've prevented Joe-Taylor's death if the captain had let me do this sooner.
Beth is confused at my pronouncement. "I don't understand. What dead man?"
I check the tissue sample through the lens of the microscope. "No sign of searing or smoke in his lungs. He was dead before the fire because of the blow to his head."
"Why would Doc lie?" Capt. Osborne demands.
"The scalpel we all assumed killed Doc…" I hold up the freezer bag I used for an evidence bag -- "…was covered with O positive blood. But according to his chart, Doc's blood type was B negative."
I take pleasure in showing off how I did things. Sydney trained me to enjoy it.
But Manny doesn't get it yet. "W...we saw the skeleton in the incinerator."
"You mean the laboratory skeleton?" I lead their eyes with a glance at the empty hook across the room. "It's missing." The conclusion is obvious, but I wait for them to make it themselves.
Osborne is the first. "Doc killed Smitty?"
Beth takes it from there. "And faked his own death. But someone had to've helped him."
I should have thought that would be obvious, too. But I take the time to explain. "Joe-Taylor. He was probably helping Doc all along. When Doc faked his own death, he had to kill Joe-Taylor to cover his tracks."
Manny can't quite believe it. "Doc is still here, doing all this? Why?"
Here's where I outdistance them all. "Maybe we should ask the captain."
He knows I know. "What?"
But I have to spell it out in front of everyone. "You know more about what's going on in this place than you're letting on."
"I knew you were a part of this!" Beth announces.
"He's not. But he knew who the visitor was and why he was here. It was you that Major Charles came to see in the first place."
I'm not sure I want to hear what he may have to say. But I have to. I have to.
His eyes narrow in suspicion. "What do you know about Major Charles?"
I'm not sure I want to admit to it. "He's my father."
Osborne's shock and surprise are palpable. That was the last thing he expected.
The Centre's Private Jet
Broots has found a stash of what appears to be Godiva chocolates, and is wreaking havoc on them with great abandon. Miss Parker and I are wilting in our seats. We are waiting. We have been waiting for hours. But at least we aren't in the air with that storm any longer.
The pilot ducks in for a moment, her flight suit dusted with snow.
"Sorry, guys. Still going to be 24 hours before we can get a chopper in there."
We have been offered accommodations at the Canadian Air Base where we landed, but on Miss Parker's orders we have stayed in the jet, waiting for word to take off again. But apparently, we are going nowhere. I offer the pilot a brief smile. "Thank you, Captain."
She leaves. Miss Parker shivers. Even with the plane's heating system going, the arctic chill still seeps into the cabin and reminds us that we are at the top of the world.
Broots notices her discomfort, too. "Are you okay?" he asks her.
"I'm fine," she mouths instinctively.
But I can see that she's not.
"Are you prepared for what or who we may find out there?" It's more a reminder to her that I'm here for her than a rhetorical question.
She nods, and then says, "I'm not sure. This is… surreal. So much of my life, my mother's death, the Centre, Jarod, all leading to this moment. There's a sense of something ominous waiting for us."
"Overwhelming sense of impending doom?" Broots interjects offhandedly.
He feels it, too.
Fortunately, she hasn't really heard him.
Broots shrugs. "Nothing."
But he has actually hit it right on the head. "I just hope we're not too late as well," I add, more to myself than to her. She isn't listening, though. She has quite enough on her mind without adding our concerns as well.
...My revelation has changed everything.
Capt. Osborne is not only willing to talk, but he's also eager. "Your father and I served together in the Air Force. Circle of Fire unit. My wife and I were very close to him and to your mom. We helped 'em search for you for years. Several years after your disappearance, I heard that the major had been murdered. A little over a year ago, your father contacted me."
"To tell me what The Centre had done to him and to his family. You see, Jarod, he never stopped searching for you. When he found out what The Centre was working on here under cover of this research facility..."
"And he asked for your help." Major Charles would have known that he couldn't show himself openly here or at any other Centre facility, and discover what he needed to know. He would need an agent that could work for him from the inside.
"And I agreed. The idea was to expose the plan and hopefully reunite him with his family. With you."
"My guess is there's another research facilty on site. Probably somewhere in here."
"Took me a little over eight months to come to the same conclusion."
I knew before I ever touched down in the helicopter that brought me here, but I don't say so.
Osborne pushes a sturdy storage cabinet aside, revealing a frost covered tunnel with steps leading downward. This was the entrance to the original facility, the one that served as a tomb for the first scientists who came here. And almost certainly, when the bodies were brought out in the 40's, that's when The Centre built this other facility up top… so it would have a secret underground unit to carry on research that would not have been allowed under any other circumstances.
So what were they doing here? What was it that was so valuable to them and to my father?
Capt. Osborne draws my attention back to the tunnel. "It's right down here." He leads the way below. It's cold down here, but as we go deeper below the permafrost, it becomes more tolerable.
Beth takes note of the abandoned quarters just off the main corridor. There's a bunk here, with mussed sheets covered in ice crystals. A nightstand beside it still holds the occupant's personal items, including a black and white photograph of a smiling woman, lovingly displayed in a silver frame. She understands, too. "This must be what's left of the original station from the 20's."
"With a slight modification," the captain adds. "Its own independent power source. I finally found this place several weeks ago. I was able to get the evidence your father was looking for."
We move into another area, where there are banks of computers, all still working. There are other stations and equipment, draped in sheets, no doubt to help keep them dry. I toss one of the drapes aside, and the others join me in revealing the contents of the lab. I know instantly what they were doing here as soon as I see the graphic twirling slowly on the monitor of the screen facing me.
"Evidence of what?" Beth asks.
"What they were actually researching here," the captain answers.
My mind is already working on it, extrapolating theories, and the answer is horrifying.
"This equipment was used for amino acid sequencing," I answer tightly.
"Why would they need that here?" asks Manny, bewildered by the whole idea.
"They were doing genetic research," I explain. "Amino acids are sequenced in an infinite number of patterns. Which, in turn, form the basic building blocks for all life. DNA."
"In this case, human DNA."
I'm already way ahead of him. "Dr. Moore was working on the human genome project."
"More than working," Osborne corrects. "Dr. Moore was a brilliant geneticist. He had completed mapping the human genome years ago."
"While the rest of science attempts what he's already achieved."
"What's a genome?"
"A genetic blueprint for human life." Dr. Moore, working here for The Centre, figuring out how to map out humanity, to add and subtract features until they're able to make designer people. Oh, God…
"You mean he figured out God's cookbook for human beings?" Manny wonders aloud.
"Exactly." My chest hurts. My stomach roils. No…
"But why hide such a significant discovery?" asks Beth. "Unleashing the secrets could be used to benefit mankind."
She obviously hasn't worked for The Centre long enough. "Or unleash a Qallupilluit. What was the Centre planning on doing with this research?"
I think I know. Please let me be wrong.
"I don't know," Osborne admits honestly. "Your father discovered their secret. They're using this research to create a--"
A shot rings out. Beth screams. Capt. Osborne falls. We all turn, looking for the source of the gunfire, and Doc slithers out of the shadows behind us, blocking our only possible exit. He has been watching us, listening through the vents that broadcast conversations everywhere throughout the station.
He smiles, pointing his pistol right at me. "I knew when we met you weren't here to watch the weather."
Of course he did. He works for The Centre. He knows exactly who and what I am.
But I have other things that I need to know at the moment. "What have you done with my father?"
Doc seems to be unhappy about that subject. "Unfortunately, nothing. He found what he came for and left before I was able to stop him. If your father hadn't come, none of this would be necessary."
Now Manny gets it. "You mean, killin' everybody, you crazy S.O.B.?"
"Yes, Manuel," Dr. Moore responds impatiently.
Beth is thinking ahead now, too. "You took the dynamite."
And I know what he's going to do with it.
Dr. Moore has that intent look in his eyes that means death. "No one can ever know what happened here. There's a timer set to detonate in three minutes, but you needn't fear that blast." He turns his gun on Beth.
"Beth, look out!" I shout, and leap across the few feet that separates us, knocking her down and shielding her with my body. I hear the gunshot, but feel nothing, no wound burning into me. Beth seems to be unharmed, and we glance at the shooter. Doc has fallen, and we see now that the captain has his head raised as he lies on the cold stone floor, his own service pistol in his hand.
But I have to make sure there was only one shot fired. "Beth, you okay?"
"He's dead." Manny has checked Dr. Moore for a pulse and found none.
I rush to the captain, who lies dying nearby. "Captain, we're going to get you out of here."
The timer is already ticking off in my head. I've mapped out the shortest route to the surface and outside. We can make it. I hope we can.
But Capt. Osborne is a realist. "No time! Have to get Beth and Manny outta here before it blows. Use this." He's in tremendous pain, but thinking of others under his command. He reaches into his coat and retrieves a small portable radio unit. "My friends in the Inuit camp monitor the same band. They'll help you, like they helped your father."
"My father?" He's safe! He's away from here! Thank God.
"I sent him to my daughter's," Osborne tells me. "You'll find him there. Oh. Oh, God!" The pain is fierce, but he has more to tell me. The counter is ticking. Barely enough time now, if we run.
Osborne reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded photograph of himself and his daughter, outside a flight school that bears their name. Along with that, he hands me a ring that bears the symbol of the military unit that he served in with my father. "Give my daughter my ring and this photo. Tell my daughter I love her."
"I will, I promise you! Captain, what was it that my father found here?"
We should be going. There isn't enough time now. We might be caught in the blast.
"It wasn't just any human genome they were working on," he finishes. "It was yours."
He relaxes in my arms, and I know he is gone. But he can't have meant what he just said. I refuse to believe. Even The Centre wouldn't… couldn't…
I have to ask him again. He has to tell me the truth.
Beth's voice is gentle but firm. "We have to go now."
"C'mon, man, she's right," Manny calls, heading for the tunnel. "We gotta go!"
They start out ahead of me. I hang back for a second, looking around at the monitors with my genetic code scrolling across their screens. And I believe. Evil lives, spreading its tentacles everywhere I go. And now they have the key to unlock Pandora's Box and unleash untold horrors on mankind, using me as their minion again.
I run. But I will never be able to run far or fast enough to get away from what I know.
Moments later a cloud of fire roils up into the night sky in the wake of a deafening blast.
We wait in the freezing cold, taking what shelter we can from the storm in the debris. I have called the Inuits to our aid, and in time, they come.
And as the sun rises in a clear blue sky sometime near midday, we greet the briefly appearing daylight from the warmth of a speeding dogsled, Beth huddled close to me beneath blankets of fur. Manny has gone on a different sled in a different direction, where he can receive the medical aid he needs, and a ticket home to his family.
I have answers now, and a strong lead.
And I am terrified of what this day will bring…