Vostok, p.1

Vostok, page 1

 part  #2 of  Loch Series

 

Vostok
 



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Vostok


  VOSTOK

  Other titles by Steve Alten

  MEG SERIES

  MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror/MEG: Origins (Rebel Press)

  The TRENCH (Kensington/Pinnacle)

  MEG: Primal Waters (Tor/Forge)

  MEG: Hell’s Aquarium (Tor/Forge)

  MEG: Night Stalkers (Rebel Press… coming in Summer 2015)

  MAYAN DOOMSDAY SERIES

  DOMAIN (Tor/Forge)

  RESURRECTION (Tor/Forge)

  PHOBOS: Mayan Fear (Tor/Forge)

  GOLIATH (Tor/Forge)

  The LOCH (Tor/Forge)

  THE SHELL GAME (Tor/Forge)

  GRIM REAPER: End of Days (Tor/Forge).

  THE OMEGA PROJECT (Tor/Forge)

  SHARKMAN (Taylor Trade)

  DOG TRAINING THE AMERICAN MALE (Taylor Trade)

  A comedy, written under the pen name L.A. KNIGHT)

  VOSTOK

  STEVE ALTEN

  VOSTOK

  Copyright ©2015 by Alten Entertainment of Boca Raton, Inc.

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN: 978-1-68102-000-6

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2014956795

  Published by Rebel Press, an imprint of Next Century Publishing

  Las Vegas, NV 81948

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  No part of this book may be used nor reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information, email all inquiries to …

  [email protected]

  Printed in the United States of America

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It is with great pride and appreciation that I acknowledge those who contributed to the completion of VOSTOK.

  First and foremost, many thanks to Ken Dunn and the great staff at Next Century Publishing/Rebel Press, with special thanks to editors Shane Thomson and Simon Presland. My heartfelt appreciation to my agent, Melissa McComas, CEO at Tsunami Worldwide Media Productions.

  Very special thanks to Bill Stone, explorer, inventor, and CEO of Stone Aerospace, for providing me with invaluable information regarding his Valkyrie laser robots, which will one day penetrate Vostok as well as the frozen ocean on Europa. Thanks also go to Dr. Steven Greer, the world’s foremost authority on extraterrestrials, as well as his wonderful wife, Emily. As always, forensic artist William McDonald contributed with his brilliant artwork and submarine designs.

  Thanks as always to the tireless Barbara Becker, to whom this book is dedicated, for her editing and her work in the Adopt-An-Author program. And to my webmaster, Doug McEntyre, at Millenium Technology Resources for his excellence in preparing my monthly newsletters.

  Last, to my wife and soulmate, Kim, our children, and most of all to my readers: Thank you for your correspondence and contributions. Your comments are always a welcome treat, your input means so much, and you remain this author’s greatest asset.

  Steve Alten, Ed.D.

  To personally contact the author or learn more about his novels, go to www.SteveAlten.com

  VOSTOK is part of ADOPT-AN-AUTHOR, a free nationwide program for secondary school students and teachers.

  For more information, click on www.AdoptAnAuthor.com

  For my friend,

  Barbara Becker,

  whose tireless work in the

  Adopt-An-Author Program

  has helped so many.

  VOSTOK

  “There is a place, like no place on Earth. A land full of

  wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you

  need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.”

  —Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

  “I fully believe we’re not alone and have not been for many

  years even though at the time I went to the moon it was the

  conventional wisdom both in science and theology that we

  were alone in the universe. We’re just barely out of the trees

  even though we like to think we’re fairly sophisticated.”

  —Dr. Edgar Mitchell, former NASA astronaut

  PROLOGUE

  Davis Station, East Antarctica

  Latitude 68 degrees 35' S, Longitude 77

  degrees 58' E

  2 March

  Thomas Nilsson definitely had his “monk-on.”

  “Monk-on” was Antarctic slang for being in a foul mood, and the fifty-one-year-old marine biologist’s temperament fit the bill. His day—if you could call four hours of sunlight a day—had begun twenty hours and eighteen hundred miles ago back at McMurdo Station with a “Dear John” e-mail from his wife, Keira. She had begun the transmission with, “You know how I’ve been telling you how unhappy I’ve been,” and ended with, “I sold the house. Your belongings are in storage. I left the dog with your mother.”

  Twenty-two years of marriage… deleted in an e-mail.

  In Antarctica, they called it being “chinged.” It happened a lot among the scientists and support staff stationed at McMurdo and the other thirty-seven international bases located around the continent. It wasn’t enough to work in the coldest, driest, windiest, and most isolated environment on the planet. Accepting a research grant to go there, if you were crazy enough to winter on the ice, meant leaving your loved ones for a minimum of six months.

  Like most of the four thousand visitors (there are no indigenous people in Antarctica), Nilsson’s six months had begun at the start of summer, which ran from late September through February. In Antarctica, the difference between winter and summer was literally night and day. When the vernal equinox arrived on March 20 the sun would disappear, casting the continent into six months of frigid darkness, with temperatures plunging as low as minus seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Nilsson was scheduled to fly out on one of the last C-130 transports and had been counting the hours until he would see his nineteen-year-old daughter again, could take his first hot shower of the New Year, and could make love to his wife.

  He would have to settle for two out of three.

  For twenty minutes he had stared at the laptop monitor, contemplating a response. For inspiration, he rolled up his left sleeve and glanced at the tattoo on his forearm. Contemptus mortis, pulchra vulnera amor laudis. “Contempt for death, beautiful wounds, joy for victory.”

  Keira had just stabbed him in the heart; his only response was to find a way to make the wound beautiful.

  His base commander knocked and entered moments later. “Hey, Tom. Heard you’re the newest member of the Ching Club. Been there twice myself. My condolences.”

  “You tell Shaffer the next time he hacks into my e-mail, he’ll wake up bound and gagged in his long johns out on the ice.”

  “It’s a rough gig. The strong relationships survive; the weak crumble. I remember my first winter—”

  “Paul… another time, okay?”

  “Right. I actually came by with an assignment. Got a transmission this morning from the Aussies. They’re in desperate need of a marine biologist out at Davis. You’re one of the few remaining eggheads still left on the ice. There’s a cargo transport leaving in twenty minutes if you want the gig.”

  “Davis? On Prydz Bay? That’s clear across the continent. And why the hell do the Aussies need a marine biologist? Aren’t they studying the Amery Ice Shelf?”

  “A Tasmanian team apparently discovered a fossil or something frozen in a fissure, and they need help.”

  “Field work? In this weather? It’s gotta be fifty below outside. You know me, Paul, I’m a city mouse. Ask the Russi
ans stationed at Progress or Vostok to send one of their “beakers.” Those guys have anti-freeze in their veins.”

  “The Aussies don’t want to involve the Russians on this one. You’d score me serious points with Scripps if you manned up and took the job. Won’t cost you any time on your homeward bound. I’ll have the Chalet director fly you out of Davis as soon as you’re through.”

  Nilsson’s trip had been a rough one, strapped in the cargo hold of a C-130 buffeted by head winds. Their flight plan had taken them east over the Trans-Antarctic mountains, then northeast over the East Antarctic circle—the coldest, most desolate region on the planet. Four-and-a-half hours later, the plane had mercifully set down on an ice field along the coastline of Princess Elizabeth Land.

  Davis Station was located on Vestfold Hills, an ice-free stretch of geology facing Prydz Bay, located just south of the Amery Ice Field. Two other stations shared this gravel-covered rise: Progress Base, operated by the Russians, and Zhongshan Station, which was run by the Chinese. The Australian base functioned as both a scientific research center and a staging area, its primary focus to study the effects of global warming on the Amery Ice Field.

  Nilsson disembarked from the rear of the massive aircraft on wobbly legs, stepping from the relative warmth of the cargo hold into an ice box, the predawn temperature—a snot-freezing minus forty-nine. The scientist was bundled in multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing that covered every inch of his flesh, from his battery-heated thermal long johns to his fleece trousers, sweater, jumpsuit, and parka. Two pairs of socks, two pairs of boots, a pair of skin-tight gloves covered in elbow-high mittens, scarves, head gear, and tinted goggles—and still Nilsson felt the icy wind penetrating his bones.

  It was just after seven in the morning, the night sky conceding a sliver of gray light on the cloud-dense eastern horizon. To the north, Prydz Bay remained frozen as far as the eye could see, its surface reflecting the emerald-green Aurora Australis as it danced across the charged heavens like a slithering ethereal serpent.

  The lights of Davis Station beckoned to the west.

  Nilsson slung his duffle bag over his right shoulder and double-timed it across the runway, targeting the nearest building. Like other Antarctic bases, Davis was a community of rectangular metal buildings linked by generator lines, antiquated sewage systems, and roads crushed into the snow by four-wheel-drive vehicles, the difference here being the snow had receded to a brown gravel-covered earth.

  A relentless gale whipped across Prydz Bay, pelting the marine biologist with “crawlies”—powdery snow particles. Snow blew across Antarctica far more than it fell from the sky, the frigid temperatures keeping it dry and loose, and the wind moving it back and forth like a neurotic decorator. By the time Nilsson reached the drab olive building, every nook and cranny of his clothing was packed with the stuff, forcing him to “degomble”—a term defined as the act of rigorously brushing off before entering a building, thus preventing a future meltdown and sorry mess inside.

  Nilsson tugged open the door and passed through an anteroom that helped prevent the loss of heat, then entered the facility. After stripping off his headgear, goggles, gloves, and parka, he set out to locate his contact—a Dr. Liao.

  The research center appeared empty. With winter nearly upon them, Davis’s population had dropped from a hundred scientists and support personnel to about a dozen. Nilsson was about to give up his search and move on to the next building when he heard music coming from behind closed double doors at the end of a corridor.

  A sign read: COLD LAB. KEEP DOORS CLOSED.

  Nilsson entered a heavily air-conditioned chamber connected to a freezer vault. There were four stations set up with long tables to accommodate ice cores, a cutting tool to shave samples, and a microscope. The lab was deserted save for a female scientist in a white lab coat and gloves who was reloading an ice core into a tubular plastic zip-lock bag.

  When Nilsson saw the woman, his first thought was that he had mistakenly crossed the wrong airfield and wandered over to Zhongshan Station. She was Chinese and quite stunning. A ten—not an Antarctic ten, which was really a five anywhere else in the world—but a legitimate ten. She was in her late twenties, perhaps her early thirties, her long hair brown and wavy, her skin more tan than pale from having spent the summer months “bronzing” out on the ice.

  “Dr. Liao?”

  “Ming Liao, yes. Are you the marine biologist?”

  “Yes. Thomas Nilsson. What’s the emergency? You find the Abominable Snowman or something?”

  “Sorry. What is Abominable… ?”

  “The Yeti. It was a joke… Never mind.”

  “Ah, very funny. No, not the Yeti. Tell me, Dr. Nilsson, what do you study in Antarctica?”

  “Emperor penguins.”

  “I see. No big predators?”

  “You mean like killer whales? Sorry. Just the penguins.”

  “What about Loose Tooth? Are you familiar with it?”

  “Your killer whale has a loose tooth?”

  Her expression soured. “What?” She shook her head as if to erase the conversation from her brain. “Loose Tooth is an ice rift. We have a chopper waiting. I will explain on the way.”

  Thomas Nilsson held on to the seat in front of him as the AS-350BA Squirrel flew with its nose down against the wind, the single-engine five-passenger helicopter soaring over Prydz Bay en route to the Amery Ice Shelf.

  Seated in back next to Nilsson, Liao had to use her headset to be heard over the thunderous rotors. “For the record, doctor, I am a geophysicist assigned to Zhongshan Station. China is working with Australia and the United States on this discovery.”

  “But not the Russians?”

  “The Russians control Vostok. There may be a conflict of interest.”

  “What does Vostok have to do with the Amery Ice Shelf? The lake’s a good eight hundred miles away.”

  “True, but beneath the ice are interconnecting rivers and lakes. You did not know this?”

  “Sorry. I’m not well-versed on the geology of the freezer, just the penguins. Where are we headed?”

  She removed a folder from a mesh pocket behind the pilot’s seat in front of her and opened it, handing him a satellite photo.

  “This is the Amery Ice Shelf. It is over four hundred kilometers long, or about two hundred and fifty miles. We’ve been studying this highlighted area—a twenty-nine-kilometer-long rift nicknamed ‘Loose Tooth’ that first appeared seventeen years ago. It consists of two longitudinal-to-flow crevasses. Two transverse-to-flow rifts formed years later. The fissures had been opening at a rate of three to four meters a day, but the rift has recently accelerated. We anticipate Loose Tooth will calve into Prydz Bay within the next five to seven years.”

  “I’ll alert the Tooth Fairy. Again, why am I—”

  Nilsson hugged the seat in front of him as the helicopter suddenly climbed to a higher altitude. Stealing a glimpse out of the cockpit window, he saw the sheer white cliffs of the Amery Ice Shelf rising a thousand feet above the frozen bay.

  Moments later they were flying over the top of the ice shelf—a flat white plateau of packed snow violated by an immense, jagged crevasse. The fissure was as wide as an eight-lane highway, its sunken crack filled with loose blocks of collapsed snow and blue ice originating from below. The rift seemed to run endlessly to the southern horizon, splitting open the ice desert like the San Andreas Fault.

  “It’s huge. How deep is it?”

  “It drops four hundred meters to the sea—about a quarter of a mile down—but it will thicken to four times that depth as we move away from the bay. Our destination is up on the left.”

  The chopper slowed to hover, the pilot attempting to stabilize the aircraft for a landing. Below was a hastily assembled base camp. Nilsson counted three four-wheel-drive vehicles, each possessing skis for front tires and traction belts rigged to their rear axles. There were also six Ski-Doos—small transports that resembled motorbikes on skis.

&nbs
p; Dominating the scene was a crane that towered three stories over the eastern edge of the rift, its cable attached to something hidden beneath a white tent large enough to conceal two eighteen-wheel trucks.

  The pilot targeted his landing area, adjusted his pitch, and dropped the helicopter. Nilsson’s teeth rattled when the strut hit the ice.

  Liao dressed, speaking quickly. “You are here, Dr. Nilsson, because we found something in the crevasse that is beyond explanation. We need you to identify the species.”

  Suddenly more curious than irritated, Nilsson followed her out of the swaying cabin onto the ice sheet. By now the sun was up, the wind maintaining temperatures of minus thirty. Steam rose from beneath the hoods of the running vehicles, their built-in electric heaters preventing the engine blocks from cracking.

  Liao led him to the tent. She unzipped a door flap and he ducked inside.

  The air was heavy with musk and exhaust from the gasoline generators that powered the lights and hot-air blowers. Perhaps a dozen men—Asians and Aussies and a few members of the Scripps Institute—were busy snapping photos. One researcher hacked at the melting ice with a bog chisel, impatient to reach the coveted tissue samples.

  Thomas Nilsson staggered toward the object, wide-eyed as he stripped goggles and gear from his head. “My God. You say you found this in the crevasse?”

  “Yes. The water pressure pushed it up from the bottom. One of the Tasmanian researchers spotted it three days ago while en route to a GPS station.”

  The object was the remains of not one species, but two, a prehistoric battle preserved in a block of ice. The creature that had been doing the eating was serpent-like and immense. Nilsson estimated its length at perhaps sixty feet. Flaky mouse-gray patches of skin were visible over its exposed skeleton, its girth impossible to gauge accurately as it was coiled around the crushed, unconsumed remains of the second monster—its meal. The tail of this second creature extended out of the terminally open fangs of the first along with part of its left rear leg, which was a skeletal mess, the exposed bones having been damaged long ago by the relentlessly shifting ice. The rest of the second animal’s body was concealed within the serpent’s belly, the cartilage of which had expanded to the size of a sperm whale to accommodate its undigested, life-choking supper, which had caused the attacker’s demise.

 
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