Apocalypse Weird: Reversal (Polar Wyrd Book 1), страница 1
A Polar Wyrd Novel, 1.0
Of Apocalypse Weird
Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Ellis and Wonderment Media
All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without the written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to real people, events, locales or organizations are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are imaginary, and any resemblance to actual places, events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Wonderment Media Corporation
Cover Design by Michael Corely
Editing by Ellen Campbell
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
Chapter 1 – Aurora
“Not quite like that,” Soren said, lifting the rifle from Sasha’s shoulder so that it was pointed fractionally higher. “When you’re shooting at something farther in the distance, you have to aim a little above the target.”
Sasha fired a few more shots at the drawing of the polar bear that Soren had fastened to a snowman and placed a two hundred and fifty yards away on the white Arctic plain. They all went high or wide, or both, which pissed her off.
“Well, if the polar bears mount an organized attack, I clearly should not be on the front lines,” Sasha said. “At this rate, I might as well be shooting blind. Aren’t polar bears bigger than that, anyway?”
Soren took the old wooden rifle and pulled Sasha’s parka hood back up over her head, an intimate gesture that made her breath catch a little. His voice was gruff. “Yup, they’re a lot bigger. But these polar bears are masters of disguise and evasion. In the snow, that little bit of the polar bear might be all you see.” His deep blue eyes met and held hers for a fraction of a second too long, but then he let go of her hood and backed away.
The misty remnants of their exhalations hung silky in the air between them. Late-September on Ellesmere Island and it was already twenty below at 6:30 p.m. Snow had come early and it was unseasonably cold. In thirty short days, it would be dark round the clock.
Sasha cracked what she knew was a goofy smile. Nerves did that to her. “Is it time for dinner yet? I need a drink.”
Soren arched an eyebrow. He seemed to like her like of the drink. “Yeah, it’s probably dinnertime, but don’t think I’m letting you off that easily. I want you back here at the same time tomorrow.” He turned and headed back to the station without waiting, leaving her to scurry behind him. He had been like this since she arrived—a yin and yang of friendly and aloof.
There was probably some polar science station caretaker edict: don’t sleep with the researchers, or too many of them anyway. If the dalliance didn’t work out, days of endless night cooped up together in a tiny station could get pretty tired pretty fast. She still planned, expected, hoped—she was not totally sure which—to sleep with Soren. But it would probably be best to do that towards the end of her stay. She did have research to do, after all, and she usually put her work first. For the most part.
Even though Sasha would only be at the International Polar Research Station for six months, Soren had insisted that she learn to shoot. Polar bears had grown strangely aggressive in the last few years, and he wanted her to be prepared in case she was out alone. She couldn’t imagine being out alone on this desolate plain of ice and snow. They always worked in pairs—the scientists that is: she and Kyle, Edie and Cal, and Amber and Robert. When she had made this point, Soren had asked her what she would do if Kyle was taking a bathroom break, or had his back turned, or he was the one who was attacked. She decided not to respond that sometimes Kyle was such an ass she’d be okay if he got eaten.
Soren, on the other hand, went out on his own all the time, usually with one of the dog teams, but sometimes totally alone. She knew that he had once been a researcher himself, but he had long ago given it up in favour of managing the underfunded and ancient station—affectionately known as the Millennium Falcon among all those in the Polar-know.
Nobody knew for sure how old Soren was. Sasha, Edie, and Cal had all made bets, with Cal guessing Soren was as old as fifty, while Sasha and Edie placed him in his late thirties. Whatever his age, cold air and maintenance work evidently did a body good, and Sasha sometimes found it a little hard to focus on the substance of what Soren was saying during their daily polar survival lessons. Sasha was the only one being subjected to instruction—everyone else had lived at the station before. Edie winked at her every time she headed out with Soren, as if to imply some sort of tryst was all but inevitable.
In addition to shooting, Soren had also taught her to drop and cover, placing her hands around the back of her neck, to reduce her exposure in the event that she was attacked—exposure to the bear, and exposure to the person who might be trying to shoot the bear. He also taught her proper use of an ice axe and how to do rope rescues from a crevasse. After each of Soren’s lessons, Sasha did a review of her sanity for accepting the position as Kyle’s research assistant at the station. There seemed to be an endless array of hazards in the Arctic, but realistically, with some of the civil unrest happening in North America in the wake of the assassination of President Steadman, she could just as easily be killed in Denver.
The icy air caught in Sasha’s throat and burned her exposed cheeks as she and Soren walked over the snowy plain, but the sky was a brilliant mass of stars with a green and purple aurora that haunted the horizon, defiantly beautiful in the stark winter. Edie and Cal were on dinner duty tonight, and Sasha hoped for something better than the beans and hot dogs that Amber and Robert always prepared. Edie and Cal were married and Amber and Robert were dating. Scientist couples. Easier to be away doing polar research for months at a time with your partner. Sasha and Kyle were just colleagues, and half the time they didn’t get along.
When they reached the station, Soren punched the keypad entry code on the door to the cavernous storage bay that housed the dog sleds, fleet of snowmobiles, and the single snow cat, all left over from the glory days of polar research. Only four of the snowmobiles still worked, and tools, parts, and a spray of pink coolant fluid cluttered the snow around the cat.
Soren’s huskies gathered around them, yipping and howling greetings. Sasha adored the dogs, with their black and copper-tipped ears, lustrous coats, and intense eyes. Soren had initially warned her to be careful around them, but had relaxed a bit in the past week.
“It’s a rare thing,” he had said, when he saw how the dogs clamored around her. “Huskies aren’t normal dogs. Usually they smell the faint strands of fear on most of you city folk, no matter how experienced you are with dogs, and they exploit that.”
Sasha wanted to take one of the teams out sledding, but Soren had just laughed and said that was just for the most experienced Northerners. “You’d get behind them, and they’d take off, and you’d be gone. Lost somewhere on the ice.”
“But don’t they know their way home?” she had asked.
“They do. But they generally feel no obligation to show up for dinner, or bring you back with them,” Soren had replied. “So don’t even think about it.”
The garlicky smell of pasta and tomato sauce enveloped them as they entered the inner part of the station that housed a kitchen, office space, a small lab, and sleeping quarters and bathrooms for the researchers.
Edie hovered over a boiling pot of water, the hair on her forehead damp, while Cal uncorked a bottle of red wine. At least, Soren kept the station well-supplied with libations. Sasha had n
At full capacity, the station could hold twenty-four people, but in the past few years it had generally only housed a fraction of that. With temperatures rising and the ice melting, and the economy—and therefore research funding—in the tank, polar research had dropped off in importance. Researchers, if they investigated the north at all, came on ships that, without the pack ice, could easily navigate the Northwest Passage and anchor in sheltered harbors while the researchers did their work.
But the extremely low winter and summer temperatures in the past year, the increasing intensity of the auroras, and the acceleration in the movement of the magnetic North Pole had resulted in a minor renaissance in polar research. And of course, there was the problem of the polar bears.
Amber and Robert, both polar bear biologists, remained bent over their microscopes in the lab off the common room, trying to understand how a nearly extinct species had experienced such a growth in population numbers and had come back bigger, craftier and more blood-thirsty than ever before. Sasha shivered. She did not have any desire to run into one of the new and improved (from the bears’ perspective at least) polar bears.
Soren removed his parka and hung it on the peg by the door. When he turned to her and smiled, Sasha was, as always, startled by the deep sapphire shade of his eyes. She might have to move up her planned date for getting to know him a bit better. He was not a large man, barely three inches taller than her, but he was sinewy and taut from his work on the station, and those eyes seemed to examine her in the minutest of detail. Sasha still worked out every morning in the tiny station gym. She couldn’t afford to get out of shape if she had to bolt from a polar bear or a rogue wolf. Soren found her repeated exertions on the ancient station treadmill amusing.
Sasha took a seat on one of the stools at the kitchen island and gratefully accepted a large glass of wine from Cal. There were no teetotalers at the station. It was probably a rule of Soren’s. She helped herself to several chunks of cheese from the appetizer plate, downed a generous mouthful of the velvety wine, and then nibbled on one of the carrots. They had just received a drop of produce a few days ago, which meant rationing themselves until the next drop in two weeks. Soren retrieved a beer from the fridge and came to stand behind her and to the left. Despite the availability of wine and other spirits, Soren had made it clear that the beer was in limited supply and belonged to him.
Edie brushed the strands of her hair off of her face. “So which machine should we take out tonight? The red one is acting up again.”
Edie and Cal were studying changes in the aurora borealis in relation to the increased sun spot activity that had started about a year ago, which involved a lot of trips out of the research station late at night. Sasha supposed that the good news for them was that in a few weeks they would not have to wait for dark anymore in order to take their measurements.
“Take the yellow one. I’ll have to rip the red one apart tomorrow. It’s probably the clutch,” Soren said.
“And can we take Lupin? That howling really spooked me last night.”
Soren took a swig of his beer. “Sure. Lupin’s not going to do anything a good gun won’t be better at. But if you feel safer, go ahead. Tie him up in the trailer though. If you try running him, he’ll take off.”
“Where’s Kyle?” Sasha said.
“Mmm,” Edie said, noncommittally. “He’s in his room. Said he wasn’t feeling well. Seemed to be pretty grumpy. You two not getting any good data or something?”
Sasha laughed and took another gulp of wine. Only a true scientist would link someone’s mood to the quality of their data. She and Kyle were on the island to do some tests on ice thickness and ground truth some of the remote sensing data that they had gathered a few weeks earlier. Kyle was probably grumpy about what he was usually grumpy about—the fact that she wouldn’t date him and he hadn’t gotten laid in six months. But their data was confounding. The pack ice was definitely on the increase—dramatically so. Kyle had staked his career on the irreversibility and catastrophic impacts of climate change. To see such a sudden turn around in the pack ice undermined years of research and fire-and-brimstone editorials he’d written for national newspapers. The temperatures had been lower, but the response of the pack ice seemed disproportionate to the temperature drops. Still, there was nothing to get too excited about as far as Sasha was concerned. Yet. So maybe Kyle was just mad that she wouldn’t sleep with him. Or at least, she didn’t plan on it. She’d heard months in a polar research station had ways of making even the most geeky of scientists wildly attractive.
She looked over at Soren, who now sat at on the far end of the island. He was staring at the counter with a far-off look in his eyes, the shadows in the dim station highlighting the deep contours beneath his cheekbones. Then again, some people in polar research stations started off wildly attractive.
Soren glanced over his shoulder at Amber and Robert. “Hey, it’s happy hour. Time to come and chill out.” Soren tried to enforce a strict no working between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. policy. He claimed he had seen enough scientists burn themselves out at the station, and that he was just looking out for everyone’s best interests. Sasha wondered if he just got lonely living up here year round and liked the company.
Robert rose from his microscope, shook his head, and came and joined everyone at the kitchen island. Amber remained glued to her scope.
“Sorry,” Robert said, running a hand through his wisp of dark hair and pushing his glasses up on his nose. “We found the strangest thing today.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Soren said.
“Well, polar bears have distinct hunting habits. They can stalk their prey, wait for it, or just be opportunistic. But generally, as long as the prey is plentiful, they are pretty successful hunters. They’ll resort to garbage on occasion, but not often.”
Edie made a friendly “squeaking the rubber chicken” motion with her hand in the air. They were all so used to being university professors that they could get a little longwinded. They all agreed that they would mime the rubber chicken when someone was giving too much background info.
Robert rolled his eyes at her. “Okay, so you know the safety pods with emergency supplies Soren has set up all over this section of the island? Well, Amber and I came across one of those today. It was torn open and the contents were gone, deep claw marks all over the pod, and polar bear prints and scat nearby. But the pods have a double locking system that only something with opposable thumbs can open.” Robert stopped talking and widened his eyes at them, as if expecting a big response.
“So, are you saying polar bears have opposable thumbs now?” Sasha said.
Soren downed the rest of his beer. “Nah, he’s saying that one of the pods must have been faulty. And that the polar bears must be getting hungry to spend their time bothering with the pod so they can get a bit of dried fruit and some jerky.”
Robert frowned. “We never considered that. The pod looked fine. It really looks like the bear opened it.”
Soren shook his head. “There’s no way they could have opened one of the pods unless it was broken. I can barely open those damn things.”
Cal looked up from the pasta pot. “Dinner’s ready. Let’s eat. Edie and I have some stuff to pack up before we head out.”
Amber joined them at the table, her face tight and stormy. She didn’t say anything to Soren, but it was clear that she did not think much of his faulty pod hypothesis. Kyle emerged from his room, his beaky nose red from too much sun a few weeks ago when it was twenty-four hour sunlight, dished up a plate of pasta, and returned to his room. Soren, evidently deciding to make an exception to his “everyone socializes in the evening” rule, said nothing.
They all ate in relative silence, their regular banter subdued.
After dinner, while Sasha did the dishes with her back to the
Amber marched to the lab and snatched up a piece of red plastic and held it out to Soren. “You tell me that these are not polar bear claw marks.” Soren took the plastic and examined it.
“They’re definitely claw marks,” he said. “But could the bear have clawed the pod and then someone came along later and opened it? The two events aren’t necessarily connected.”
“Who else is out here?”
Soren shrugged. “Scientists are out here all the time. They come and go. Some of them are conscientious. Some of them are yahoos, especially the grad students. I’m not always sure what they get up to out there. Maybe someone opened it for something they needed, and forgot to report it.”
Amber did not sound convinced. “Maybe.”
Edie set a duffle bag of supplies on the floor. “Okay, we’re headed off. If we make it as far as the warming hut, we might spend the night there.”
Soren jerked his head up sharply at this. But Edie patted him on the arm. “It’s okay, Dad. We’re adults. We have the radios, food and our bags. The hut’s insulated and I know you keep a stock of wood there. We’ll take good care of your dog.”
Soren’s low baritone rang through the station. “When you’re going that far, I prefer you to be in teams of three.”
Edie looked around the room with a small smile. “Three would be a crowd.” The hut was on the northernmost tip of the island, accessible via a couple hour snowmobile from the station. She and Cal were obviously intending to join the so-called “latitude high” club. Sasha suppressed a snort. The polar air must have a libidinous effect, or maybe it was the lack of anything else to do except research, chat with the same people day in and day out and sleep that caused so many researchers to become preoccupied by sex during their stints up north.