Ice station zebra, p.1
Ice Station Zebra, page 1
Alistair MacLean, the son of a Scots minister, was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. In 1941, at the age of eighteen, he joined the Royal Navy. After the war he read English at Glasgow University and became a schoolmaster. The two and a half years he spent aboard a wartime cruiser were to give him the background for HMS Ulysses, his remarkably successful first novel, published in 1955. He is now recognized as one of the outstanding popular writers of the 20th century, the author of twenty-nine worldwide bestsellers, many of which have been filmed, including The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Fear Is the Key and Ice Station Zebra. In 1983, he was awarded a D. Litt. from Glasgow University. Alistair MacLean died in 1987.
By Alistair MacLean
The Guns of Navarone
South by Java Head
The Last Frontier
Night Without End
Fear Is the Key
The Dark Crusader
The Golden Rendezvous
The Satan Bug
Ice Station Zebra
When Eight Bells Toll
Where Eagles Dare
Force 10 from Navarone
Puppet on a Chain
Caravan to Vaccares
The Way to Dusty Death
The Golden Gate
River of Death
The Lonely Sea (stories)
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First Sterling edition 2011
First published in Great Britain by Collins in 1963
© 1963 by HarperCollinsPublishers
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2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
To Lachlan, Michael and Alistair
Ice Station Zebra
2. Stern Room
3. Nucleonics Room
4. Manoeuvring Room
5. Engine Room
6. Machinery space
7. Passage over reactor
8. Reactor Room
11. Radio Room (port)
12. Control Room
13. Captain’s Cabin (port; Sickbay (starboard)
15. Inertial Navigation Room
16. Electronics Room
17. Crew’s Quarters
19. Medical Store
20. Disposal Chute
21. Periscope (retracted)
22. Torpedo Storage Room
23. Collision Space
24. Torpedo Room
25. Torpedo Tubes
26. Bow caps
ICE STATION ZEBRA
Commander James D. Swanson of the United States Navy was short, plump and crowding forty. He had jet black hair topping a pink cherubic face, and with the deep permanent creases of laughter lines radiating from his eyes and curving round his mouth he was a dead ringer for the cheerful, happy-go-lucky extrovert who is the life and soul of the party where the guests park their brains along with their hats and coats. That, anyway, was how he struck me at first glance but on the reasonable assumption that I might very likely find some other qualities in the man picked to command the latest and most powerful nuclear submarine afloat I took a second and closer look at him and this time I saw what I should have seen the first time if the dank grey fog and winter dusk settling down over the Firth of Clyde hadn’t made seeing so difficult. His eyes. Whatever his eyes were they weren’t those of the gladhanding, wisecracking bon vivant. They were the coolest, clearest grey eyes I’d ever seen, eyes that he used as a dentist might his probe, a surgeon his lancet or a scientist his electronic microscope. Measuring eyes. They measured first me and then the paper he held in his hand but gave no clue at all as to the conclusions arrived at on the basis of measurements made.
‘I’m sorry, Dr Carpenter.’ The south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line voice was quiet and courteous, but without any genuine regret that I could detect, as he folded the telegram back into its envelope and handed it to me. ‘I can accept neither this telegram as sufficient authorisation nor yourself as a passenger. Nothing personal, you know that; but I have my orders.’
‘Not sufficient authorisation?’ I pulled the telegram from its cover and pointed to the signature. ‘Who do you think this is — the resident window-cleaner at the Admiralty?’
It wasn’t funny, and as I looked at him in the failing light I thought maybe I’d overestimated the depth of the laughter lines in the face. He said precisely: ‘Admiral Hewson is commander of the Nato Eastern Division. On Nato exercises I come under his command. At all other times I am responsible only to Washington. This is one of those other times. I’m sorry. And I must point out, Dr Carpenter, that you could have arranged for anyone in London to send this telegram. It’s not even on a naval message form.’
He didn’t miss much, that was a fact, but he was being suspicious about nothing. I said: ‘You could call him up by radio-telephone, Commander.’
‘So I could,’ he agreed. ‘And it would make no difference. Only accredited American nationals are allowed aboard this vessel — and the authority must come from Washington.’
‘From the Director of Underseas Warfare or Commander Atlantic submarines?’ He nodded, slowly, speculatively, and I went on: ‘Please radio them and ask them to contact Admiral Hewson. Time is very short, Commander.’ I might have added that it was beginning to snow and that I was getting colder by the minute, but I refrained.
He thought for a moment, nodded, turned and walked a few feet to a portable dockside telephone that was connected by a looping wire to the long dark shape lying at our feet. He spoke briefly, keeping his voice low, and hung up. He barely had time to rejoin me when three duffel-coated figures came hurrying up an adjacent gangway, turned in our direction and stopped when they reached us. The tallest of the three tall men, a lean rangy character with wheat-coloured hair and the definite look of a man who ought to have had a horse between his legs, stood slightly in advance of the other two. Commander Swanson gestured towards him.
‘Lieutenant Hansen, my executive officer. He’ll look after you till I get back.’ The commander certainly knew how to choose his words.
‘I shall be as quick as I can, Dr Carpenter,’ Swanson said. He hurried off down the gangway and I gazed thoughtfully after him. I put out of my mind any idea I might have had about the Commander U.S. Atlantic Submarines picking his captains from the benches in Central Park. I had tried to effect an entrance aboard Swanson’s ship and if such an entrance was unauthorised he didn’t want me taking off till he’d found out why. Hansen and his two men, I guessed, would be the three biggest sailors on the ship.
The ship. I stared down at the great black shape lying almost at my feet. This was my first sight of a nuclear-engined submarine, and the Dolphin was like no submarine that I had ever seen. She was about the same length as a World War II long-range ocean-going submarine but there all resemblance ceased. Her diameter was at least twice that of any conventional submarine. Instead of having the vaguely boat-shaped lines of her predecessors, the Dolphin was almost perfectly cylindrical in design: instead of the usual V-shaped bows, her fore end was completely hemi-spherical. There was no deck, as such: the rounded sheer of sides and bows rose smoothly to the top of the hull then fell as smoothly away again, leaving only a very narrow fore-and-aft working space so dangerously treacherous in its slippery convexity that it was permanently railed off in harbour. About a hundred feet back from the bows the slender yet massive conning-tower reared over twenty feet above the deck, for all the world like the great dorsal fin of some monstrous shark: half-way up the sides of the conning-tower and thrust out stubbily at right angles were the swept-back auxiliary diving planes of the submarine. I tried to see what lay farther aft but the fog and the thickening snow swirling down from the north of Loch Long defeated me. Anyway, I was losing interest. I’d only a thin raincoat over my clothes and I could feel my skin start to gooseflesh under the chill fingers of that winter wind.
‘Nobody said anything about us having to freeze to death,’ I said to Hansen. ‘That naval canteen there. Would your principles prevent you from accepting a cup of coffee from Dr Carpenter, that well-known espionage agent?’
He grinned and said: ‘In the matter of coffee, friend, I have no principles. Especially tonight. Someone should have warned us about these Scottish winters.’ He not only looked like a cowboy, he talked like one: I was an expert on cowboys as I was sometimes too tired to rise to switch off the TV set. ‘Rawlings, go tell the captain that we are sheltering from the elements.’
While Rawlings went to the dockside phone Hansen led the way to the nearby neon-lit canteen. He let me precede him through the door then made for the counter while the other sailor, a red-complexioned character about the size and shape of a polar bear, nudged me gently into an angled bench seat in one corner of the room. They weren’t taking too many chances with me. Hansen came and sat on the other side of me, and when Rawlings returned he sat squarely in front of me across the table.
‘As neat a job of corralling as I’ve seen for a long time,’ I said approvingly. ‘You’ve got nasty suspicious minds, haven’t you?’
‘You wrong us,’ Hansen said sadly. ‘We’re just three friendly sociable guys carrying out our orders. It’s Commander Swanson who has the nasty suspicious mind, isn’t that so, Rawlings?’
‘Yes, indeed, Lieutenant,’ Rawlings said gravely. ‘Very security-minded, the captain is.’
I tried again. ‘Isn’t this very inconvenient for you?’ I asked. ‘I mean, I should have thought that every man would have been urgently required aboard if you’re due to sail in less than two hours’ time.’
‘You just keep on talking, Doc,’ Hansen said encouragingly. There was nothing encouraging about his cold blue Arctic eyes, ‘I’m a right good listener.’
‘Looking forward to your trip up to the icepack?’ I inquired pleasantly.
They operated on the same wavelength, all right. They didn’t even look at one another. In perfect unison they all hitched themselves a couple of inches closer to me, and there was nothing imperceptible about the way they did it either. Hansen waited, smiling in a pleasantly relaxed fashion until the waitress had deposited four steaming mugs of coffee on the table, then said in the same encouraging tone: ‘Come again, friend. Nothing we like to hear better than top classified information being bandied about in canteens. How the hell do you know where we’re going?’
I reached up my hand beneath my coat lapel and it stayed there, my right wrist locked in Hansen’s right hand.
‘We’re not suspicious or anything,’ he said apologetically. ‘It’s just that we submariners are very nervous on account of the dangerous life we lead. Also, we’ve a very fine library of films aboard the Dolphin and every time a character in one of those films reaches up under his coat it’s always for the same reason and that’s not just because he’s checking to see if his wallet’s still there.’
I took his wrist with my free hand, pulled his arm away and pushed it down on the table. I’m not saying it was easy, the U.S. Navy clearly fed its submariners on a high protein diet, but I managed it without bursting a blood-vessel. I pulled a folded newspaper out from under my coat and laid it down. ‘You wanted to know how the hell I knew where you were going,’ I said. ‘I can read, that’s why. That’s a Glasgow evening paper I picked up in Renfrew Airport half an hour ago.’
Hansen rubbed his wrist thoughtfully, then grinned. ‘What did you get your doctorate in, Doc? Weight-lifting? About that paper — how could you have got it in Renfrew half an hour ago?’
‘I flew down here. Helicopter.’
‘A whirlybird, eh? I heard one arriving a few minutes ago. But that was one of ours.’
‘It had U.S. Navy written all over it in four-foot letters,’ I conceded, ‘and the pilot spent all his time chewing gum and praying out loud for a quick return to California.’
‘Did you tell the skipper this?’ Hansen demanded.
‘He didn’t give me the chance to tell him anything.’
‘He’s got a lot on his mind and far too much to see to,’ Hansen said. He unfolded the paper and looked at the front page. He didn’t have far to look to find what he wanted: the two-inch banner headlines were spread over seven columns.
‘Well, would you look at this.’ Lieutenant Hansen made no attempt to conceal his irritation and chagrin. ‘Here we are, pussyfooting around in this God-forsaken dump, sticking-plaster all over our mouths, sworn to eternal secrecy about mission and destination and then what? I pick up this blasted Limey newspaper and here are all the top-secret details plastered right across the front page.’
‘You are kidding, Lieutenant,’ said the man with the red face and the general aspect of a polar bear. His voice seemed to come from his boots.
‘I am not kidding, Zabrinski,’ Hansen said coldly, ‘as you would appreciate if you had ever learned to read. “Nuclear submarine to the rescue,” it says. “Dramatic dash to the North Pole.” God help us, the North Pole. And a picture of the Dolphin. And of the skipper. Good lord, there’s even a picture of me.’
Rawlings reached out a hairy paw and twisted the paper to have a better look at the blurred and smudged representation of the man before him. ‘So there is. Not very flattering, is it, Lieutenant? But a speaking likeness, mind you, a speaking likeness. The photographer has caught the essentials perfectly.’
‘You are utterly ignorant of the first principles of photography,’ Hansen said witheringly. ‘Listen to this lot. “The following joint statement was issued simultaneously a few minutes before noon (G.M.T.) today in both London and Washington: ‘In view of the critical condition of the survivors of Drift Ice Station Zebra and the failure either to rescue or contact them by conventional means, the United States Navy has willingly agreed that the United States nuclear submarine Dolphin be dispatched with all speed to try to effect contact with the survivors.
“‘The Dolphin returned to its base in the Holy Loch, Scotland, at dawn this morning after carrying out extensive exercises with
‘“The laconic understatement of this communique heralds the beginning of a desperate and dangerous rescue attempt which must be without parallel in the history of the sea or the Arctic. It is now sixty hours —”’
‘“Desperate,” you said, Lieutenant?’ Rawlings frowned heavily. ‘“Dangerous,” you said? The captain will be asking for volunteers?’
‘No need. I told the captain that I’d already checked with all eighty-eight enlisted men and that they’d volunteered to a man.’
‘You never checked with me.’
‘I must have missed you out. Now kindly clam up, your executive officer is talking. “It is now sixty hours since the world was electrified to learn of the disaster which had struck Drift Ice Station Zebra, the only British meteorological station in the Arctic, when an English-speaking ham radio operator in Bodo, Norway picked up the faint SOS from the top of the world.
‘“A further message, picked up less than twenty-four hours ago by the British trawler Morning Star in the Barents Sea makes it clear that the position of the survivors of the fuel oil fire that destroyed most of Drift Ice Station Zebra in the early hours of Tuesday morning is desperate in the extreme. With their fuel oil reserves completely destroyed and their food stores all but wiped out, it is feared that those still living cannot long be expected to survive in the twenty-below temperatures — fifty degrees of frost — at present being experienced in that area.
‘“It is not known whether all the prefabricated huts, in which the expedition members lived, have been destroyed.
‘“Drift Ice Station Zebra, which was established only in the late summer of this year, is at present in an estimated position of 85° 40' N. 21° 30' E., which is only about three hundred miles from the North Pole. Its position cannot be known with certainty because of the clockwise drift of the polar ice-pack.
by Alistair MacLean / Mystery & Thrillers / Biographies & Memoirs / Short Stories have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes