Jon F. Merz



Alex Waters brushed a fresh layer of ice from his goggles and looked again.

The opening was there.

Not really a cave so much as a fissure in the frozen rock that jutted out of the barren icescape, reaching up for the overcast sky.

Alex had never seen the fissure before.

Of course, topographical overlays for this part of Antarctica were sketchy at best. Despite the latest advances in satellite topography, the changing snows uncovered as much as they covered. In most instances, yesterday's maps were rendered obsolete after only a week out of the printer back at base.

'You see it?'

Alex turned. He hadn't heard Jim come up behind him. But with the roaring wind rushing in his ears, Jim's shout hadn't startled him, either. Instead of trying to talk back, Alex simply nodded.

'What do you think?'

Another shout. Alex turned and smiled through the sudden whip of wind that sent a sheet of snow horizontally across his face. 'We could check it out.'

Jim smiled back. Of course he did. Jim lives for this shit, thought Alex. The daredevil crazy wanna-be Indiana Jones type of geologist who'd come down to the bottom of the world because he thought it would be cool.


Fuck me, this is stone cold, thought Alex. Even my piss freezes inside my dick.

Jim tapped him on the shoulder and gestured behind them. They'd need to use the Snowcat to get closer to the mountain itself. Trying to walk the distance, even though it was just a few hundred yards, would exhaust them and needlessly subject them to the cold.

Alex followed Jim back and climbed into the cab. Jim gunned the engine and then slid the tracked vehicle into drive. Instantly, the caterpillar treads bit into the ice sheet beneath them and found purchase. With a lurch, the Snowcat thundered forward.

Jim whistled in the steamy cab. Alex cleared his throat.

Jim stopped whistling. 'You think it might lead somewhere?'

Alex shrugged. 'Where could it lead? It's a mountain. Probably only place it will lead us is into rock a few feet in, if that.'

'Yeah. I suppose.'

'What — you looking for something else?'

Jim shrugged. 'Be nice to, you know, find something new.'

'Maybe some cave paintings or something like that?'

'I'm not that naive, Alex.'

'I don't think we'll find anything but more rock.' He grinned. 'But you're a geologist anyway — isn't that what you'd want to find?'

'Looking at rocks gets boring after a while. I'd like to find something that would spice up my stay down here.'

'You've got a few more months yet, pal.'

'Unlike you.'

Alex nodded. His stint at the research station was due to end next week. He could hardly wait to climb aboard the specially outfitted C-130 that landed on giant skis and head back to civilization.

Warm civilization.

'What's the first thing you're gonna do?'

'Lay out in the sun.'

'You can do that here.'

'I want to feel the sun, idiot. Anyone who thinks it's cool to put sun block on when it's minus thirty degrees outside is out of their noggin.'

Jim chuckled. 'I'm telling Mayra when we get back you said that.'

'I didn't mention her specifically.'

'Who the hell else goes out trying to get a tan when the rest of us are trying to stay warm?'

Alex smirked. 'Fair one.'

Jim stepped on the brakes. 'Here we are.'

Alex peered through the windshield that the wipers swept constantly trying to keep clear. Towering in front of them, the mountain seemed even more omnipotent than it had a few minutes before.

'You think we can get up there?'

Jim sucked his lower lip. 'Probably. We gotta try at least. We've come this far. We go and give it a whirl. If we can't do it, we head back.'

'We ought to be heading back anyway. We've been out for a while now.'

'Base control is used to us being out for hours on these exploratory outings anyway. They won't get worried unless we're not back to cook dinner or wash the dishes.'

'Did you bring the rope?'

'In back.'

Alex hopped out and felt the instant stinging of the frigid temperature. He glanced around. Only the specially coated goggles he wore allowed him to distinguish features in the otherwise white terrain.

Antarctica. Jesus Christ, who would have thought he'd end up here? Certainly not anyone back in his hometown of Boise, Idaho. But then again, none of the people Alex had grown up with had shown any degree of ambition whatsoever anyway.

Even Alex had come to this stage of his life late. Following a failed childless marriage that left him without a house or anywhere to go, he'd gone back to school and studied meteorology.

Maybe he'd come here because it was the furthest place he could go to get away from everything he'd left behind.

All the memories. All the sorrow. All the hell.

As much as he was ready to go back to the relative warmth of anywhere else on the planet, Alex admired the peacefulness of the ever-white canvas that surrounded him. Unblemished, unspoiled, unmarred, it was one of the last places on earth man hadn't really screwed over.

He'd leave here changed, he decided. No one who came to the largest continent ever went home the same way again.

And that was fine with him.

A sudden shrill whistle brought him back to reality.

'You done meditating over there?'

Alex hurried over to the base of the mountain. Above them, some ten feet off the ground along a thin lip of outcropping, he could see the fissure more clearly. It reminded him of the way a broken zipper looked on a pair of old pants.

Jim was busy hammering in crampons to the rock. It wasn't much of a height at all, but even a fall from ten feet could be fatal out in the cold of Antarctica.

He glanced at Alex. 'Can you rig the rope?'

Alex bent and started running the line through the crampons that would enable one of them to belay the other on the climb up. Once the first man reached the lip, he would then be able to help the other up.

They finished in five minutes. Jim studied the positioning of the crampons and nodded to himself. 'I'll go first.'

Вы читаете Prey
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату