I'm back. He's back. Not sure how he feels about that ;) Chapter One only. The rest is on my site.
October 19th 2013
'Time.' Straker glanced around the Control room before swinging the microphone around and leaning forward to speak. 'All sensors to maximum. All stations Red Alert.' A satisfying silence. No unnecessary noise, no distracting replies, just a well-trained workforce in action. Foster looked up from the satellite image he was studying.
'Here it comes.'
Penumbral lunar eclipse. Not uncommon, but with solar activity rendering the Antarctic satellite system temporarily out of contact, the whole continent was an open target for any UFO fortunate enough to get past the lunar defences. Straker stood there, arms folded and watching as satellite images displayed the lunar surface turning red, Ford concentrating on the sensors, head tilted to one side as if he was listening to some faint, far-away sound, Foster tapping his fingers soundlessly on his thigh. Alec, out of contact at the other end of the world would be listening as well.
They were all waiting.
October 27th 2013
'mnnfh..' A hand reached out, fingers stretching for the source of the noise, then pulling the phone back into the warmth under the duvet. 'Straker.' More of a grunt than a word, but at least he was awake, even if not particularly lucid.
'Alec. You awake Ed?'
It was enough to bring him to full wakefulness, though the chill in the air as he sat up would have had the same effect. Three in the morning and the temperature low enough to make him shiver as he rubbed his face to waken sleep-filled eyes. 'Awake. What's up?'
'Amundsen-Scott weather control found an unusual spike in gamma readings. Reported it to me straight away. I suspect it might be that UFO that slipped in during the communications blackout. Several hundred miles from the pole, and –'
'Can you get a flight out to the area?' Straker was on his feet now and heading for the bathroom.
'No chance. Too mountainous to access by plane. Wisconsin Range; glaciers, crevasses, rock outcrops, you name it. Terrain looks absolutely lethal. We're going to get close as we can by aerocopter but it'll have to be Ski-doos from there. Might take couple of days, depends on the topography and the weather conditions.'
'Who are you planning to take?' He began running water in the handbasin, one hand reaching for the shaving foam. 'Hold that, Alec. I'll get a flight down to you. I want to see what's there for myself. If it's a UFO after so many days without self-destructing, it has to be under the ice. You know what that means.'
'Sure, but I can get out there in two days or less. It's going to take you 24 hours, maybe longer, to get down here to start with. Trust me. I know what I'm doing.' The confidence in the Londoner's voice was unmistakable and Straker paused.
'I know, Alec. That's why you're there, just for this eventuality. But I expected any UFO to use the blackout just as a corridor to get somewhere habitable. Not land in some god-forsaken frozen glacier.'
'Damage from the interceptors? Minto did say he thought he'd hit it.'
'Possible.' Straker put the dry razor down and rinsed the untouched foam from his face. The fine stubble would have to remain unshaven. Not that anyone would notice, not where he was going. 'Hold it anyway. I'll be out as soon as I can. A day at the most. Don't do anything till I get there. And I mean anything.'
'You're the boss.' There was a soft chuckle. 'And, it'll be good to see you. Don't worry, I'll sort transport from Christchurch from this end. Just give me a call when you leave McMurdo so I can get the final details organised.' The phone went dead and Straker put it on the side of the basin, staring at the mirror. Was he doing the right thing, going down to oversee the operation? It would involve a long, tiring journey but as someone, Henderson maybe, had told him when he took on the job, 'It's easy to say yes; it takes leadership to say no.'
Yes, it would be easier to stay here. And probably just as effective, but he needed to be there, to see everything for himself, to put the facts together and hopefully come up with answers.
He spared himself a few minutes to get dressed in the frantic half an hour of arranging a flight to Christchurch, informing Paul of his plans, leaving messages for Miss Ealand and finally packing a few items into a rucksack: thermals, socks, an unused tube of suncream from the summer, sunglasses and notepad, throwing his wallet and passport and iPod in at the last moment. It was quicker to drive himself to the airport, a cold night ahead of him, the weather unusually frosty for this time of the year in London, and it would be far colder where he was heading.
It took him just thirty minutes to get to the airport, the roads mercifully empty of traffic at this time of night, and then he stood in the private Harlington-Straker lounge area watching early flights leave for far-off sunny destinations. The Shadair jet completed its pre-flight checks and rolled out of its hangar and he hurried across the apron and ran up the steps, the door closing behind him as he entered. There was no steward on board to greet him and the crew was reduced to two and busy, but they would be landing at Dubai to change and refuel. There was no need for formal greetings or safety procedures and Straker went to sit in the cabin, fastening his seat belt and waiting for the engines to power up for take-off. Quick and efficient. Just as he expected. There was nothing to do now but try to catch up on lost sleep, and hope that his suspicions were correct. If the UFO was trapped beneath the surface of the ice then it might escape the worse effects of the atmosphere, enough at least for him to take a look inside. And then… who knew what they might find.
There was a crescendo of noise, nothing alarming, just the plane going into supersonic mode and he was pressed back into the seat by the increase in speed. A few more hours and he would be in Dubai. He dimmed the cabin lights and tried to sleep.
Colonel Freeman ticked off another item on the list. 'Fuel, two tents, supplies for three people for ten days.' He watched as the second sledge was loaded with more equipment, shaking his head. 'Easier with just the two of us. Less to carry and a quicker trip. Sometimes Straker seems to enjoy making life more difficult.'
'I'll pretend I didn't hear you say that, Colonel.' The dark-haired man busy counting fuel tablets looked up and grinned. 'The boss might decide to call that insubordination and leave you to overwinter here.'
'Wouldn't bother me much.' Freeman made a note on his list. 'We'd better take extra lip balm and so on. Straker might not have chance to get any.' He tossed a tube into the bag open at his feet and paused. 'Add more suncream will you? Fair hair and all that. How are we doing weight wise with the fuel?'
Sam Morton hefted the bag. 'Just under. If we have to take more we'll need an extra Ski-doo and sledge. It's pushing it already.'
'Let's try to stick with just the two. Otherwise it's extra fuel and space is limited enough. I don't want to have to make more than one trip out there.' Freeman ticked off the last item. 'Okay. We're as ready as we can be. Just a case of waiting. I want to go over the satellite images as well, see if there's a better photograph. I wouldn't mind a closer look myself.' He dropped the checklist on top of the sledge and walked out, muttering to himself about weather and cloud cover.
Dubai was hot, the runways shimmering in the sunlight and passengers sweltering and sweaty as they headed along walkways for the shade and coolness of the arrival lounge. A busy airport and on any other visit he might have enjoyed a walk through the terminal, but he remained on board, watching the activity from the air-conditioned quietness of the cabin. The delay in refuelling was an added annoyance, but there was nothing he could do about it; it was a rush job after all. Instead, he paced the length of the aisle, wondering if perhaps he should have left Alec to deal with the whole thing. But it was important to get out there and see for himself.
Years ago he had taken on this responsibility, and although it was going to be inconvenient, and annoying, and probably unnecessary, he had his duty to perform. The clunk of the fuel tanker disengaging was sufficient notice and he went back to his seat, grabbing a cold bottle of water from the dispenser. The work he had brought with him was completed, Headquarters was running smoothly according to Paul's latest report and he had nothing to do. A rare occurrence. He could not remember the last time he had sat down and…. done nothing. It was a little unsettling.
There was no point in contacting Alec; he was busy enough preparing for the trip and anyway it was late evening by now at the base. They would be getting together in the mess hall and eating. The base had pretty decent food from what he remembered. Good food was a real necessity, working out there in sub-zero temperatures. The thought of food reminded him that he had not eaten since yesterday, more than twelve hours ago and he was hungry. Perhaps there were some sandwiches in the galley. The warning light came on, he strapped up, aware of the grumbling of his stomach and forced himself to relax. There was another four hours to Christchurch and then he would have to take a Galaxy to McMurdo. He would be lucky to get to Alec in the promised twenty-four hours and he just hoped his friend had enough sense to wait for him and not do anything foolish. There was a strong sense that this mission was not going to go as he hoped.