Thanks for adding your name to the waiting list Below are the first 7 chapters of The Carbon Wars I promised.
The Carbon Wars publishes Earth Day, April 22, 2017.
The Carbon Wars Publishing Countdown
The Carbon Wars
by Paul McGowan
Five hundred and forty kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, gale force wind gusts threatened to topple Professor Carl Satsky from his elevated perch, 300 meters above sea level. With each blast of frigid air he forced himself flat against the island’s rocky spine, gripping the sides of the stone pillar, his eyes and jaw clamped shut. He longed for the safety of his tent but this was too important.
Between gusts, his hammer cleared debris uncovered by one of Greenland’s receding glaciers. He looked in astonishment at a flat, black stone that had been covered for 400,000 years. His gloved hand nervously swept ancient rubble from its impossibly smooth surface. And then the wind again. It started with a low moaning sound across the tarns before funneling up the island’s rock face. Vicious. Bitter cold. Tearing at him. Trying to claim him.
From deep inside his pack he dug his camera, and focused it on the symbols etched into the gleaming, diamond-hard plaque, illuminated by the yellow glow of his headlamp. Slightly less than a meter square, it was attached to the top of a perfectly square stone pillar carved from the granite below. Shot after shot recorded the unthinkable as the sun dipped below the horizon and the relentless wind continued its attack. He fought his way back to camp and uploaded the photos to the Institute—images of a relic nearly half a million years old, whose message he could not read.
On the opposite end of the globe, the phone awakened Will Somer with news of the discovery. He sent an encrypted message back to the Institute’s director. Greenland discovery threatens operations. Remove all evidence.
Strong hands wrenched Satsky’s fingers free of the side seat and hoisted him into the air. The door opened. Wind buffeted him, noise deafened him. The hands lifted him toward the opening. Then he was falling.
Above him, the chopper spiraled away in the distance. Below, the Arctic sea moved closer. As he plummeted toward the frozen water, images of his mysterious discovery flooded his mind.
As Hasin Avram’s plane headed toward McMurdo Station, on Antarctica’s Ross Island, he stared down at the endless frozen sea. How different this endless sea of white from where he had just left; the dry of Tel Aviv. It wasn’t unusual for Avram to travel on a moment’s notice, but he had never been to the South Pole. His large frame filled most of the doorway between the cockpit and the cavernous cargo hold. His dark eyes scanned the five covered pallets and three skids of machinery destined for the South Pole.
When the C17 began its descent, a young airman asked him to strap himself into the webbed seat, in preparation for landing. As its skis met the frozen runway, the plane lurched forward, shuddering under the impact. To brake, the pilot reversed the engines, and their roar climbed to an ear-shattering pitch. They had arrived at Mactown Airfield.
Avram sauntered through the hold and into the cockpit, and gripped the back of the captain’s seat as the plane rocked to a gentle stop. Through the windshield he could see an army of tractor-like loaders, waiting to empty the plane of cargo that no research camp at the South Pole had ever used. The hydraulics of the plane’s rear door hissed as the ramp descended to the ice, exposing the deafening whine of the cargo winch inside.
“Mr. Avram?” yelled a man in a parka, walking up the ramp. “What can I help you with?”
“We need to move this cargo quickly. The pallets and I have to airlift to Aurora on the next transport out. The skids can go later. But I need them there before the end of the week.”
“No problem,” the man yelled. “I’ll arrange for it to travel first thing in the morning. Oh, and Mr. Somer requested you contact him as soon as you arrive.” He handed Avram a satellite phone. Avram heard a series of electronic hisses and chirps—encryption—and, finally, a familiar voice.
“Your team has arrived at Aurora Basin.” Somer’s Texas drawl crackled through the phone.
“I’ll meet with them shortly. Has there been any progress getting the professor back?”
“What? Avram?” More crackling. “Speak louder—I can’t hear you.”
“The professor. Have you arranged to get her here?”
“We’re working on it.”
“Let Van Oren know I’m unhappy with his insistence she be included, but I’ll deal with it. Make sure she arrives soon. We haven’t much time.”
“I’m on it.”
Professor Kathleen Moretti did her best to force her eyes shut. She needed sleep before she went out for the evening. She hadn’t been getting much lately. It was likely all the travel of the last few days, or it might be the fact she worked year round without a break: summers in Antarctica, which didn’t really seem much like summer, getting back to the States just after the Christmas break and in time for what passed as winter in California. 36 hours ago she had hitched a ride from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station to Australia on a windowless military transport–offering more comfort than the 15 hour return Quantas flight to San Francisco, sandwiched between two strangers in a heated political debate.
Tick, tock, tick, tock… the shiny wooden floors of her small Berkeley apartment seemed to amplify the tiniest of sounds. The clock in the hall, the television next door–was it a game show?–her dishwasher churning away in the kitchen–a muffled click and a pop as the little hard cube of dish soap released. It was no use. She cracked open her eyes and looked around the small apartment, refusing to get off the couch and call it quits. To the left she could see herself in the hall mirror–slouched on the couch–a towel still wrapped around her hair, her white bathrobe opened in the front. It was hot in the house and she had already kicked off her slippers. Maybe the heat was why she was having trouble sleeping.
She rose from the couch and padded across the living room in her bright red socks to adjust the thermostat and then checked her voicemail for the fifth time: a request for lunch, now changed to dinner, and three urgent messages from her department chair, but not a word from the Institute. Concern bit more deeply into her stomach. The phone blared again. She was late. Dammit!
She changed her clothing, clicked her phone for an Uber, and rushed for the door–stopping suddenly in front of the mirror. Might it be better to go with a ponytail instead? She pulled back her long black locks and fumbled on the counter for a scrunchy–was that a touch of gray? She moved closer to the mirror and plucked the maverick strand. This close to the glass she could see a small brown stain amongst the few freckles just to the left of her nose; a reminder of the Arctic’s unforgiving cold. Her face was leaner now than the last time she had looked closely in this mirror, and she stood back to examine the rest of her tall–almost lanky–form. Her team in the Antarctic were men who seemed to put on weight during their 6 months at the southern pole, but she mostly lost it. Pre-packaged food, a lack of anything fresh didn’t sit well with her habits. She had missed her daily trips to Whole Foods as soon as she arrived at their ice core drilling camp.
“I’m so sorry,” said Kathleen, her cell phone pressed hard against her ear, “I don’t mean to keep you waiting. I just got in the car, but I’m having second thoughts about even showing up tonight.”
She hoped he’d understand. She hadn’t seen anyone except her landlady, Mrs. McMurtry, since she landed. She had been anxious to get out of her apartment, slip into a drink, and catch up on the six months of news she had missed, but tonight just didn’t feel right. It was good to be back in the first world. Summers spent in Antarctica leading a grubby group of climate researchers was remarkably different than sitting in the back of some stranger’s Prius talking on her cell phone. She enjoyed being back in the world for the first few weeks and before the summer semester started. But it didn’t take long before the quiet and endless beauty of the frozen tundra pulled at her again, and by the time summer in Berkeley was turning to fall, she was planning her return to an Antarctic summer.
“That’s okay,” said her friend. “You’ve just returned from a long trip. I can wait,”
“Perhaps that’s better. I’m worried. A good friend of mine has been missing for nearly a week in Greenland.”
“We don’t know. He sent me a cryptic message about discovering something extraordinary that he thought I would be interested in. Then he vanished. That was a week ago. This afternoon, I got a voicemail from my department chair asking me to call him back right away. He’s been leaving messages all day.”
“Maybe you should call him.”
Yes, of course she should return his phone call, especially if it was as urgent as his message implied. But she couldn’t bring herself to dial the number. Urgent phone calls had always meant bad news and she didn’t think she could handle any bad news right now. The last time she got an urgent phone call was years ago. It had been her mother calling from the hospital, hysterical with the news her father’s days were marked. It hadn’t been much after his death that she began her fieldwork in remote places: first north in Greenland, and finally years spent at the South Pole where there was peace and quiet. And no damn cell phones.
“No, I’m afraid it might be bad news, and I just can’t handle that tonight. I’ll call him when I get up.”
Her phone rang twice more in the car and, later, again, in the quiet of her apartment. She listened to the last message.
“Kathleen, please call me back the minute you get this message. I have to talk with you this evening.”
It must be bad news. Her department chair had never called her at home, not in the 15 years of her tenure at the university, and she knew that it was likely news about Carl Satsky in Greenland. But why call her? And why the urgency? If old Carl had suffered a heart attack–as she suspected he might–or injured himself on the barren rocks of Greenland, why would her department chair have called her? Perhaps it was something else, a problem with one of her team still in Antarctica? Without calling him back she could only guess and she was too tired for more of that. Her head hurt. It had been a long few days.
She clicked the phone off and closed her eyes. It could wait till morning.
It was forty degrees below zero and Avram’s breath froze to crystalline white powder that hung in the air as he stood guard over the pallets. He caught himself as his eyes drooped–it had been a long journey from Tel Aviv. He tried to focus attention on his surroundings: Stark white broken by deep blue sky, ringed with distant mountains to the west. On the tallest, a jagged line of black rocks jutted out of its snow encrusted surface. He couldn’t recall the peak’s name and pulled out the topo map. It appeared he was standing on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which lay pinned along the margins of the Aurora Subglacial Basin. The topological markings on the map pointed to the upland boundaries of where he stood, which was well above sea level. It was clear from the map that his destination, the deepest parts of Aurora Basin, was more than 1 km below where he stood. To the west, where the sun hit the mountain’s face, the glare of ice nearly blinded him and he turned instead to the south, where a bright red snowcat headed towards him. Two long caterpillar tractor treads supported an elevated cab and rear passenger compartment, with a luggage rack on top. The Cat came near, crunching against ice, black puffs of smoke belching from its exhaust.
Avram motioned for the Cat’s driver to attach tow cables to the sleds carrying his pallets and climbed up into the PistenBully snowcat. Inside the warm cabin he pulled off his goggles and parka, and eyed the driver’s deep suntan, intense blue eyes, and smile. “So who are you?”
“Hap Nielsen. I take care of camp in winter.”
The tractor lurched forward and clattered along on rough ice, rocking from side to side. Through Avram’s window, to the east, rose three massive azure buttes, their steep sides forming a V like the bow of a ship. The northerly view through the pitted windshield contained little but white, broken only by windswept ice curls and cavernous cracks, framed by the intensely colored sky—an endless vault of cloudless blue, almost black.
As they approached two marker flags, the driver steered between them, their tattered red fabric limp in a windless calm that belied Antarctica’s temperament, where temperatures can drop to –70°F or lower, and hurricane-force blizzards can cut visibility to mere inches. The engines strained under heavy load of the pallets Avram had brought, as they climbed a small rise. Near the horizon, in a deep and narrow valley, a tightly packed cluster of buildings broke the white sea, illuminated by the sun skimming the horizon. The vehicle crested the rise and chugged down toward Aurora Camp. A long plume of gray smoke from its round central building was all that broke the endless white beyond.
“I hear your team may have uncovered something unusual,” said Avram.
“If you mean the material the ice-core drill ran into, it completely destroyed the bit. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You sure it wasn’t bedrock?”
“Not a chance. The drills we use can chew through any rock without damage.”
As they pulled up to Aurora Basin Camp, 500 kilometers from Casey Station and 2,500 from the Pole, Avram peered ahead. The tiny outpost’s tents, power station, fuel depot, and central yurt didn’t look like much—just a desolate community at the edge of nowhere. The camp was at the base of an extended ridge of white that ran uninterrupted from east to west, but for an opening to the west.
From the bright red yurt emerged a stocky man with a determined walk. “Avram? Ron Hallock. Somer sent a crew for you to engage. We’re ready whenever you are. Shall we unload the skids?”
“Hold on a moment, Hallock.” Hap stepped in. “I’m still in charge here.” He turned his face toward Avram. “What’s the cargo on these skids?”
“Ground-penetrating radar,” Avram answered.
“GPR? I doubt it’ll be much use. We’re drilling over a thousand meters deep. And besides, our drilling team’s left for the winter. Let me call the Institute to clear this before we go any further.”
Avram moved to within inches of Hap’s face. “Look. Nielsen. You answer to me now. I report directly to the Institute’s director, and you report to me. I have my own drilling specialists, and what we need from you is cooperation. What’s on those sleds is an advanced military system that is able not only to penetrate ice to the depths you’ve been drilling, but to produce a three-dimensional image of what it sees.”
“But there’s nothing down there except ice and bedrock. What were you hoping to discover?”
“The truth of what lies below us. Now step aside so my team can unload the skids.”
Casey Station lies on the east coast of Antarctica and overlooks Vincennes Bay. Along the coastline the weather is less extreme than it is closer to the Pole, but it’s brutal enough. The Americans built the first Casey Station in the 1950s, but abandoned it after it succumbed to winter’s relentless ice. The Australians reopened it in 1980 and put up its central structure. Prefabricated in Tasmania, the Red Shed was shipped to Antarctica by sea. It’s the largest single structure on the continent, and it contains a comfortable living area with private rooms, hydroponic vegetable gardens, a climbing wall, and a darkroom.
Ernie Wild tucked his long black ponytail under his balaclava, pulled his hood over his head, and went out the Shed’s front door. He hadn’t had time to tie down the plane after his last flight, and wanted to make sure it had been properly tethered by the new crew chief. Storms often blew in unannounced; he needed to know it was secure.
After leaving the military, Ernie had made a living ferrying hunters, photographers, and outdoorsmen to Alaska’s backcountry, and rescuing them from the wilderness when they got in over their heads, which was fairly often. Flying in Alaska was risky when the weather turned ugly without warning, which was also fairly often. But Alaska paled next to Antarctica. Nowhere on Earth presented a pilot with more challenges. Despite the risks, or maybe because of them, there was nothing Ernie would rather be doing than flying between Casey Station’s airstrip, the Wilkins Aerodrome, and the rest of the continent.
The 70 kilometers between Station and Aerodrome was easily traversed by specially outfitted snowmobiles. Ernie raced over the well-worn track, pushing the Skidoo hard, and as he neared the airfield, an Airbus A319 roared overhead, kicking up billows of snow that blocked his view. With winter only a month away, there wouldn’t be many more large commercial aircraft. Once it set in, no one would come in or out of Antarctica until spring.
Ernie’s tall, wiry frame was hidden by his overstuffed parka and pants. He found his plane secured by steel cables attached to deep hooks drilled into the thick ice. Satisfied, he turned back toward the warmth of the Red Shed and hurtled over the ice on the snowmobile. The winds were picking up, and he headed into them blindly, navigating almost by instinct. Once back inside the Shed’s mudroom, he removed his facemask and started to undress. He’d removed three layers when the radio squawked. He picked up the mike. “Casey Station. This is Wild.”
It was the Hobart dispatcher’s familiar voice. “We’ve got a special pickup arriving tomorrow. You’ll need to provide transport to Aurora. Just one passenger … private jet. Some researcher from the States.”
“What’s his name?”
The dispatcher paused as he fumbled through his manifest. “Dr. Kathleen Moretti. She should land at 1530 hours. Please be there to meet her.”
The summer sun shines nearly 24 hours a day in Antarctica. In winter, it doesn’t rise at all. During Avram’s first night in the cold, the winds and blowing snow sounded like a locomotive thundering through the campsite. Never having expected to be here, he thought about the circuitous route he’d followed to a job that combined his academic background with his skills in intelligence.
He rose early when the alarm on his Resco Patriot began beeping. His father gave him the watch the day he left for Herzliya, determined to quit grad school and join Mossad. One month later, a Palestinian rocket killed his parents as they slept. The alarm was more than a call to get up. It ensured that his first thought every morning was of his mother and father.
He opened the tent flap without wearing eye protection, and the harsh light blinded him. It was bitter cold, again, 40 below, but the wind had quieted. The drifts behind the row of tents were high enough to make the shelters look as if they’d been dug into the side of a giant igloo.
The Randall Geosciences Institute claimed as its mission “the advancement of the geological sciences as an integrated field in the service of mankind.” Avram smiled as he recalled this. He knew what the team working in Aurora Basin did not. The Institute had sent them to collect data and map possible oil fields in the one spot on earth that was most off-limits to commercial enterprises. Funded by Centaq Energy Corporation and under the direction of CEO Sander Van Oren, the Institute served as a front that could engage scientists who would never consider working for an oil company. It sent them where oil companies could not go.
Hap Nielsen was making coffee on a portable burner in the central yurt, the largest structure in the camp. Its red, thick, polyester fabric was fortified with layers of insulation and lined inside with white canvas. He poured coffee from a blue and white percolator as Avram entered through the double doors. “Morning, Avram. Get any sleep?”
“Yes.” After the 48-hour trip from Israel, he’d fallen asleep instantly.
“No. I’ll wait outside.”
The camp lay in a deep, narrow valley flanked on each side by an ice-covered ridge of sharp rocks. Two hundred meters to the south and along the valley floor stood a group of long, tube-like tents, the tallest over two stories. Those must house the core drill, Avram thought. Parked beside them were the sleds with his skids full of equipment.
He walked to Hallock’s tent. “Hallock, assemble the team and meet me in the yurt immediately.” There was no way to know when the next blizzard would thunder through.
When Hallock arrived, Avram pointed to him and Nielsen. “Let’s start in the drilling tent. I’ll observe the entire process.” He turned and marched back outside. Hallock and Hap followed, carrying their mugs. The steam froze as they left the yurt.
The ceiling of the largest drilling tent arched high, not less than 10 meters. Its white walls stretched twice as long as the tent was high before him. Avram inhaled the potent smell of drilling fluid. The source seemed to be near the door—a barrel labeled Forane 141b. The banned chemical destroyed ozone in the upper atmosphere, and drillers had to get permission to use it, and then only in restricted quantities. At the center of the space sat the drilling rig itself, about the size of a two-door Fiat. Its fat black electrical cables ran along the ice floor and under the tent’s side flap to a diesel generator. Along each side of the rig were racks of long, hollow cylinders—ice-core drill bits in their casings, and the chip tubes used to lift the loosened ice chips to the surface.
Hap looked at Avram. “It’s amazing how deep we’ve been able to drill. The ice shelf in Aurora Basin is one of the thickest in Antarctica—as much as 4,000 meters—and our gear is limited to 3,000. But still, the ice that far down is nearly a million years old.” He turned around, faced out the tent’s opening, and spread his arms wide, to span the view of the entire valley. “That’s why we’re in this spot. Where we’re standing is very deep—maybe 800 meters below the Aurora Cap, which sits above the Aurora trench, one of lowest points in Antarctica. That allows us to go farther down than anyone has ever drilled. We might retrieve ice samples that give us evidence of carbon-dioxide and oxygen levels more than a million years ago.”
“What exactly happened before you had to stop?”
“At these depths and temperatures, drilling is a complex art. The drill operator is responsible for every revolution of the bit. If the drill seizes or the chip casing gets stuck, the metering system jumps into the red and we quit. Happens all the time. So no one was surprised when the meter on the drill head shot up rapidly when we got to about 1,000 meters. We shut it down, reversed the drill to free whatever was binding the drive, and tried again.
“Once we restarted, the drill made only two revolutions and seized again; the power meter pegged into the red as if it had been stopped cold. We’d never seen that, and we didn’t want to risk losing the drill and its casing. So we pulled the sections up, one by one, until we got to the bit. It’s over to the side. Take a look.”
Avram looked. Sitting alone on one rack was a mangled tube, the bit nearly sheared off and hanging by a slender thread of metal. “When we cleaned the drill sections, we found an odd material attached to the end: black shards that looked like they’d been carved out of whatever we’d hit. We stopped, called the Institute, and within a couple days someone flew in to retrieve the material for analysis. I’ve been waiting for a report ever since. Perhaps, Mr. Avram, you could enlighten us?” Hap folded his arms and waited.
“Graphene? What the hell is graphene?”
“It’s a crystalline allotrope of carbon that’s stronger than any naturally found substance on earth. It can conduct heat and electricity. It’s pure carbon in the form of a thin sheet just one atom thick. If you layer it, you can create a block of the hardest materials we’ve ever known. It was discovered in 2003, and Geim and Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics for its discovery.” Avram let those facts settle. “That’s why I’m here. It is impossible that graphene lies a thousand meters below the Aurora ice shelf, which hasn’t seen the light of day for nearly half a million years. Yet we’ve confirmed that the samples sent to us are exactly that: graphene.”
Neither spoke. Finally, Hap said, “I’m not a scientist, but I do know there must be a rational answer. This isn’t magic.”
“Nobody here believes in magic.” Avram turned on his heel and started to walk through the double-lock door to the outside. “So let’s find out what’s really down there.”
Sander Van Oren gulped the last watered-down bit of bourbon and swirled the ice cubes in silence. His pudgy index finger pushed the call button next to his chair. “Find out how much longer before we land. And get me another drink.”
The flight attendant scurried off to talk to the pilots.
“You want another?” Van Oren stared across the table at his companion, Jerry Raskin, who declined. Van Oren sat alone on his side of the small table. The plane wasn’t that large, an 8 passenger Gulfstream outfitted with cowhide seats; light brown with white spots. Above the cockpit entrance hung a gold crucifix handed down to him by his grandfather, Ted. Van Oren wasn’t tall, but he was large. His ruddy cheek line pushed up against his little eyes. His dimpled double chin hid an almost nonexistent neck, making his ears look too small for the rest of him.
“Mr. Van Oren,” said the attendant, “the pilot informed me we’ll be landing in less than 30 minutes.”
“That’s fine, Robin. Thank you.”
The flight attendant was new to him, her first trip. Van Oren liked the way she looked: slender, tall with a rounded face and high cheekbones. Most tall women he had known suffered from elongated faces that he found unattractive, reminding him more of a horse than an attractive woman, but Robin was unusual–he liked looking at her, though he knew better than to stare.
“There’s a call for you, Mr. Van Oren.”
She did have a pleasant way about her, though he thought she could have used a darker shade of lipstick than light pink. He’d want to mention something to her about it.
“Who is it?”
“A Mr. Mikos Kerberos. Do you want to take it?”
Van Oren immediately set his drink down. Had he had one too many? He hadn’t expected a call from Kerberos, not now. He and Raskin were on a vacation and he’d left strict orders at the office not to be disturbed. But, it was Kerberos, a man most of his staff feared, though none had ever met him. Kerberos seemed to know when Van Oren was at his weakest and would inevitably cause him discomfort. He cleared his throat. “Yes. Put him on.” He motioned for his friend to move to the other side of the aircraft.
“Mikos? Yes, it’s Sander.”
“Sander, my friend, where are you off to today?”
“We are going hunting.”
It was his annual hunting trip to Vail and he had looked forward to it all year. The elk were said to easy targets this year, what with the drought and lack of food for the animals.
“Ahh, that’s wonderful. I wish you a good kill. Any news on the situation down under?”
“Yes, everything’s in motion. I’ll let you know the minute we find anything.”
Van Oren hadn’t any intention of calling Kerberos back, not on his vacation, anyway. It could wait. The situation at the pole wasn’t yet serious or out of hand, but it concerned him and Kerberos as well.
They settled into their private chalet and enjoyed drinks and conversation before sitting down to dinner in the mountain chalet’s private room. Van Oren and his hunting partner Raskin, declined fresh drinks and ordered right away. “I’ll take the buffalo steak, rare. Very rare. Just wave it over the flame.” Van Oren pointed to the menu. “And make sure there’s nothing else on the plate.”
Raskin chided. “Didn’t your mother tell you to eat your vegetables?”
“Vegetables? That’s what the food eats.” Van Oren laughed and finished his whiskey. He loved saying that joke and couldn’t remember if he’d said it before to Raskin. No matter, it was still funny and Van Oren liked repeating it. He excused the waiter and turned toward Raskin. “I’ll tell you about my mother. She fed us what God intended us to eat—meat. She wanted to make sure her boys were healthy, raised right in God’s eyes.”
Van Oren’s mother, Sandra, preached the glory of God and fear of the Lord to young Sander, and made sure he knew it was for his own good; a ticket to heaven is what she had called it, though she had her doubts he’d ever make into heaven. He seemed to always be in trouble, underfoot, or causing her grief and she threatened him with hell fire and damnation if he didn’t change his ways. She had even elicited the help of their family preacher, Carlton Hagee, who Sander was terrified of. Hagee arrived each Sunday afternoon for an hour of intense study, which meant Sander recited memorized verses from the New Testament, with Hagee towering over him, white birch ruler in hand in case the boy forgot his lines.
Sander was the runt of the Van Oren litter, the youngest of three boys by nearly 10 years, and his mother seemed to dote on the first two. She had joked with Sander that he had been their great oops but she told him she loved him all the same. He rarely spoke to his father, a wealthy Texas oilman, but then his father never spent much time with the family anyway, and his mother had told Sander he hadn’t any reason to feel singled out.
It had been young Sander that had happened upon his mother in bed with Carlton Hagee, though she tried to convince Sander the two had been praying. Even at his young age of 9 years he knew they hadn’t been praying in bed, but was still confused why she was with someone other than his father. He figured she must have just been lonely. Real lonely. Sander and his mother struck a bargain. He would never mention what he had seen in exchange for never having to subject his knuckles to Hagee’s ruler again. It seemed an amicable settlement to a delicate problem. He had kept their little secret safe for all these years and never had to suffer Hagee’s wrath again. Years later he realized it had been Hagee’s lessons that had sparked his passion and devotion to Jesus Christ.
He didn’t see much of his dad when he was younger because Van Oren was in bed before he came home, at least on the nights he had come home. He’d often hear his mother and father arguing in the living room and the fights sometimes ended with a slam of the front door as his father left. Sometimes he wouldn’t return for days, though Sander kept hoping he’d come home and spend time with him. He couldn’t hear what they argued about but he thought it might have something to do with Carlton Hagee, though he had never told anyone else what he knew.
His phone rang. “We’re having dinner. Is it important? Right, yes, okay. Let me know the moment she lands. And Somer, make sure this is kept quiet. I don’t want anything to leak.”
“What’s going on, Sander? Trouble? Asked Raskin.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Van Oren leaned forward. “Look, you know our business is locating new oil fields. We’re on to something big, really big, but I have to keep it on the QT. We’re not supposed to be looking where we’re looking.” He grinned.
“And where’s that?”
“There’re two virgin areas we’ve had our eyes on. One’s on top of the world, Greenland, and the other’s on the bottom, the South Pole. It’s the Pole that’s giving us trouble right now. All the environmental nutjobs in the world want it left virgin, so we have to make sure they don’t get wind of what we’re up to. At least not yet.”
“Sounds tough to drill for oil where you’re not supposed to be,” sneered Raskin.
His friend Jerry Raskin had a mean streak in him and delighted in poking holes in Van Oren’s stories and plans. Comments like that always aggravated him, though he had to admit Raskin had a knack for pointing out the obvious. At least Raskin had the good sense never to cross Van Oren in public. He supposed that was one of the reasons he liked Raskin, though the man might be careful not to push Van Oren too hard.
“Not supposed to be?” Van Oren scoffed. “Look, there’s public perception, and then there’s reality. There is a race for South Pole resources most people are oblivious to. The Chinese are already planning to tow icebergs for fresh water, net krill to feed their hordes, and God only knows what else those godless people are up to. There’s no way Sander Van Oren isn’t getting a piece of that pie. No way at all.”
He had never understood how the non-whites of the world laid claim to an imagined purity of their race–when clearly they had been mutated from their origins. It agonized him that God’s perfection had been defiled, the whites and blacks, yellows and reds, weak and strong, had all mixed together into a malignant stew at the root of humankind’s ills. Eve had taken the fateful bite of the forbidden fruit and from that moment forward we had been cursed, and the thought of that original sin made him sad. He didn’t stay up late at night vexing over those thoughts, but it did bother him, sometimes a lot. He had prayed for guidance and felt at peace with other races for now.
Van Oren sliced into the meat. Red blood oozed from the flesh. With his knife, he waved the waiter away.
Under the Ice
Avram walked into the brilliant light of a crisp Antarctic morning. To his right rose the steep sides of the canyon walls of the Belgica Highlands that lined the Aurora Trench, part of the largest system of Antarctic subglacial lakes. To his left and across the valley floor, the blinding white of the Highland’s walls was contrasted by outbreaks of snow dusted sharp black crags. He walked to Hap Nielsen’s tent at the far end of the camp, unzipped the flap, and peered inside. Hap sat at a small desk, headphones on, tapping his foot. “Nielsen! Come with me.”
Startled, Hap removed the ’phones. He tapped the pause control, put on his parka, and left as quickly as he could. The sun was low in the sky; deep blue to the point of being black. Glancing at the ethanol thermometer on the side of the tent, he saw the temperature had dipped 10 degrees from the day before, to 50 below.
When he walked into the control tent, Avram was on hands and knees, rummaging through the flight cases containing the GPR system.
“Dammit. Can’t find the laptop.”
“You’re welcome to use mine,” Hap said.
“Thanks.” He didn’t look at Hap as he got up. “All we need is access to a browser, to see what the GPR is seeing.”
The layout they’d set up outside was simple enough. The long tent that had once covered the drill rig was gone, the space now occupied by five GPR modules, each the size of a folding chair. The four outer units formed a large rectangle; at the center, a fifth covered the original drill hole. Thick black power and data cables ran in bundles along the ice, connecting each module to the central terminal in the control tent.
The group of five drillers from the institute stood under blue sky and bright sun to hear Avram’s growl–his voice, like gravel, rumbled from deep within his barrel chest. “This morning,” he began, “we’re going to fire up the ground-penetrating radar and take our first look under the ice. GPR works a lot like radar guns measuring speed—we can produce highly detailed three-dimensional images of objects below the ground. The GPR modules are in place, calibrated, and ready to go. We should be able to determine the height, width, shape, and relative density of any object buried as deep as a thousand meters. The deeper the object, the less distinct our view, but let’s take a look and see if there’s anything down there.”
Avram assigned Hap to the control console, and told him to open a Web browser and go to the local address of the scanning equipment. As soon as Hap touched the Enter key, the screen flashed “Northrop Deep Penetration Holographic Imaging System.” Hap whistled under his breath. How’d they get equipment from Northrop Grumman? He clicked on Scan, and the system’s processor began to blink. A counter appeared with the estimated time: 30 minutes.
Avram returned to his tent and called the Institute. The phone connected with a burst of static. “Somer here. Have you started the scan yet? Mr. Van Oren is anxious for information.”
“Yes. We should have some answers in less than an hour.” The call abruptly shut down with Avram’s press of a button. His brow narrowed towards his nose and he began to pace, making a series of low grunts, like the sound of a distant foghorn, that only he could hear.
Hap stuck his head in the tent and Avram stopped in mid step. “The scan’s finished.”
The progress bar had turned green. A new bar, labeled Rendering, was counting down. An image slowly appeared, loading from top to bottom. Four fuzzy shapes began to take clearer form. As the image sharpened, Hap’s eyes narrowed.
“Oh my God! What the hell . . . ?”