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Beyond the Ice Limit
A Gideon Crew Novel
Read by David W. Collins
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That thing is growing again. We must destroy it. The time to act is now…
With these words begins Gideon Crew’s latest, most dangerous, most high-stakes assignment yet. Failure will mean nothing short of the end of humankind on earth.
Five years ago, the mysterious and inscrutable head of Effective Engineering Solutions, Eli Glinn, led a mission to recover a gigantic meteorite–the largest ever discovered–from a remote island off the coast of South America. The mission ended in disaster when their ship, the Rolvaag, foundered in a vicious storm in the Antarctic waters and broke apart, sinking-along with its unique cargo-to the ocean floor. One hundred and eight crew members perished, and Eli Glinn was left paralyzed.
But this was not all. The tragedy revealed something truly terrifying: the meteorite they tried to retrieve was not, in fact, simply a rock. Instead, it was a complex organism from the deep reaches of space.
Now, that organism has implanted itself in the sea bed two miles below the surface-and it is growing. If it is not destroyed, the planet will be doomed. There is only one hope: for Glinn and his team to annihilate it, a task which requires Gideon’s expertise with nuclear weapons. But as Gideon and his colleagues soon discover, the “meteorite” has a mind of its own-and it has no intention of going quietly…
GIDEON CREW STARED at Eli Glinn. The man was standing—standing!—in the kitchen of Gideon’s cabin high in the Jemez Mountains, gazing at him with placid gray eyes. His all-terrain wheelchair—the wheelchair in which Glinn had always sat, virtually helpless, since Gideon had first met him several months before—sat unused ever since he had, to Gideon’s great astonishment, risen out of it minutes before.
Glinn gestured toward the wheelchair. “Forgive this tiny bit of drama. I staged it, however, for an important reason: to show you that our mission to the Lost Island, despite certain regrettable aspects, was not in vain. Quite the opposite: I’m living proof of its success.”
A silence ensued. It stretched into a minute, two minutes. Finally Gideon went to the stove, picked up the sauté pan containing the wild goose breast in a ginger and black truffle emulsion that he had just finished preparing with exquisite care, and dumped it into the garbage.
Without a word, Glinn turned and walked, a little unsteadily, toward the cabin door, using a hiking pole as a brace. Manuel Garza—chief of operations at Glinn’s firm, Effective Engineering Solutions—offered to help Glinn into the wheelchair, but Glinn waved this away.
Gideon watched the two men leave the cabin, Garza guiding the empty wheelchair, the words Glinn had spoken a few minutes earlier reverberating in his mind. That thing is growing again. We must destroy it. The time to act is now.
Gideon grabbed his coat and followed. The helicopter that had brought the EES men to this remote site was still powered up, its rotors whistling, sending ripples of waves through the meadow grass.
He followed Glinn inside the chopper and took a seat, buckling in and donning a headset. The chopper rose into the blue New Mexico sky and headed southeast. Gideon watched his cabin get smaller and smaller, until it was a nothing more than a dot in a meadow in a great bowl of mountains. Suddenly he had a strange feeling he would never see it again.
He turned to Glinn and spoke at last. “So you can walk again. And your bad eye…can you see with it now?”
“Yes.” Glinn raised his left hand, formerly a twisted claw, and flexed his fingers slowly. “Every day they get better. As does my ability to walk without aid. Thanks to the healing power of the plant we discovered on the island, I can now complete my life’s work.”
Gideon didn’t need to ask about the plant. Nor did he need to ask about Glinn’s “life’s work.” He already knew the answers to both questions.
“There is no time to waste. We have the money, we have the ship, and we have the equipment.”
“But before we take you back to EES headquarters, we have to make a little detour. There’s something you must see. I regret to say it will not be pleasant.”
“What is it?”
“I’d rather not say more.”
Gideon sat back, mildly irritated: typical inscrutable, enigmatic Glinn. He glanced at Garza and found the man to be as unreadable as his boss.
“Can you at least tell me where we’re going?”
“Certainly. We’re going to pick up the EES jet in Santa Fe and fly to San Jose. From there we’ll take a private car into the hills above Santa Cruz, and pay a call on a gentleman who resides there.”
“I don’t intend to be enigmatic.”
“Of course you do.”
A small smile—very small. “You know me too well. But since you do, you also know everything I do is with a purpose.”
The chopper left the mountains behind. Gideon could see the shining ribbon of the Rio Grande crawling through White Rock Canyon below them, and beyond that the hills of the Caja del Rio. The town of Santa Fe spread out to his left. As they proceeded over the southern end of town, the airport came into view.
“This talk about your final project,” said Gideon. “You mentioned an alien. A seed. You say it’s threatening the earth. That’s all pretty vague. How about giving me details—starting with why, exactly, you need my help?”
“All in good time,” said Glinn. “After our little excursion to Santa Cruz.”
A LINCOLN NAVIGATOR, driven by an elfin man in a green cap, met them at the San Jose airport. From there, they had driven south along Route 17 into redwood-clad hills. It was a beautiful drive through towering, haunted forests. Both Glinn and Garza stayed resolutely silent; Gideon sensed they were ill at ease.
Deep in the redwoods, the car turned off the highway and began winding its way along a series of valleys, past small farms and ranches, isolated villages, shabby trailers and run-down cabins, through deep pockets of redwoods, meadows, and burbling creeks. The narrow, cracked asphalt road gave way to gravel. The evening was advancing and dark clouds tumbled in, casting a pall over the landscape.
“I think we just passed the Bates Motel,” said Gideon, with a nervous laugh. No one else seemed amused. He sensed a gathering atmosphere of tension in the car.
The gravel road entered another redwood forest and almost immediately they came to a large wrought-iron gate, set into a high stone wall. A wooden sign, once elegantly painted and gilded but now somewhat faded, read:
Below that, an ugly, utilitarian placard had been bolted:
Violators Will Be Prosecuted
With the Utmost Rigor of the Law
As they approached, the gate opened automatically. They passed through and halted at a small gatehouse. The driver in the green cap rolled down his window and spoke to a man who came out. He quickly waved them along. The road, winding through gloomy redwoods, rose ahead. It began to rain, fat drops spattering on the car windshield.
Now the feeling in the car was one of oppression. The driver turned on the wipers, which slapped back and forth, back and forth, in a monotonous cadence.
The SUV climbed to the ridgeline and suddenly the redwoods gave way to a high meadow, many acres in extent. Through the sweeping rain, Gideon thought he glimpsed a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. At the far end, the meadow rose to a high lawn, at the apex of which stood a mansion of gray limestone, in Neo-Gothic style, streaked with damp. Four towers rose to crenellated turrets and battlements framing a grand central hall, its Gothic arched windows glowing dull yellow in the stormy twilight.
They approached the mansion along a curving drive, wheels crunching the gravel. The wind picked up, lashing rain against the windshield. There was a distant flicker of lightning, and a few moments later Gideon heard the delayed rumble of thunder.
Gideon swallowed a crack about the Addams Family as the driver halted under a pillared porte cochere. A red-haired orderly in a white jacket waited on the steps, brawny arms crossed, as they emerged from the vehicle. No one came forward to greet them. The orderly made a brusque gesture for them to follow and turned, walking back up the stone steps. They followed him into the great hall that served as the entryway. It was spare, almost empty, and their footfalls echoed in the large space as the door boomed shut behind them, slammed by an unseen hand.
The orderly pivoted to the right, passed beneath an arched portal, then continued down a long hallway and into a parlor. At the far end stood a carved oaken door, on which the orderly knocked. A voice summoned them in.
It was a small, comfortable office. A gray-haired man with a broad, kindly face, wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, rose from behind a desk. The walls were covered with bookshelves. A fireplace stood against the far wall, logs ablaze.
“Welcome, Mr. Glinn,” he said, coming from around the desk, hand extended. “Mr. Garza.” They shook hands.
“And you must be Dr. Crew. Welcome. I am Dr. Hassenpflug. Please, sit down.” He accompanied this with a gesture indicating the chairs in which they were to sit, arrayed comfortably around the fire. His easy warmth contrasted strongly with the unease that surrounded Garza and Glinn.
A brief silence ensued. Dr. Hassenpflug finally broke the ice. “I imagine you wish to hear how the patient is doing? I’m afraid the news is not encouraging.”
Glinn clasped his hands and leaned forward. “Thank you, but we’re not here to learn about the patient’s condition. As we discussed, our only purpose today is to see the patient. His prognosis is not our concern.”
Hassenpflug sat back. “I understand, but a word of caution might be in order—”
“I’m afraid any such word would be out of order.”
The doctor fell silent, a frown gathering on his face. Much of his amiable air was dissipating under Glinn’s curt and unfriendly tone. “Very well, then.” He turned to the orderly, who had been standing behind them, his hands clasped in front of his white jacket. “Ronald, is the patient ready to receive visitors?”
“As ready as he’ll ever be, Doctor.”
“Please show the visitors into his quarters. You and Morris remain close by.” Hassenpflug turned back to Glinn. “If the patient becomes excited, the visit may have to be terminated. Ronald and Morris will be the judges of that.”
They crossed the parlor and great hall, passing beneath another arch into what had once apparently been a large reception room. At the far end was a door, not of wood, but of riveted steel, and toward this door they headed. The orderly named Ronald paused before it, pressing a small intercom button.
“Yes?” came a tinny voice.
“Mr. Lloyd’s visitors are here.”
The buzzer sounded and the door opened with a click, to reveal a long, elegant marble corridor, lined with ancestral portraits. There was nothing of the air of an institution about this place, although it was now clear to Gideon that it was, in fact, just that. The corridor gave onto an elegant room, ablaze with light. The room was furnished with dark Victorian sofas and armchairs, the walls covered with Hudson River School paintings of mountains, rivers, and other wilderness scenes. But what attracted Gideon’s attention most strongly was the robust man, about seventy years old, with a shock of white hair, seated on one of the sofas. He was wearing a straitjacket. An orderly—Gideon assumed this was Morris—sat next to him with a tray, on which sat an array of dishes, each holding a mound of pureed food. The orderly was spooning dark brown goop into the man’s mouth. Gideon noticed that a bottle of red wine sat on the tray—a Château Pétrus, no less. A plastic sippy cup filled with the wine stood adjacent to the bottle.
“Your visitors are here, Mr. Lloyd,” Ronald announced.
The man named Lloyd raised his massive, shaggy head, and two piercingly blue eyes widened—at Glinn. Despite the straitjacket and the man’s age, he still radiated strength and physical power. Slowly, slowly, the man stood up, staring at them and seeming to swell with a singular intensity, and now Gideon could see that his legs were cuffed and hobbled, rendering him unable to walk except in the tiniest of steps.
He leaned over and spat out the brown stuff that the orderly had just put in his mouth.
“Glinn.” He ejaculated the name the same way he had the puree. “And Manuel Garza. What a pleasure.” His tone indicated it was no pleasure at all. His voice was strange, quavering and deep, shot through with gravel. It was the voice of a madman.
And now those concentrated blue eyes settled on Gideon. “And you’ve brought a friend?”
“This is Dr. Gideon Crew, my associate,” said Glinn.
The air of tension had gone off the charts.
Lloyd turned to the orderly. “A friend? How surprising.”
He turned back to Glinn. “I want to look at you—up close.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Lloyd,” said Glinn, “but you have to remain where you are.”
“Then you come to me. If you have the guts.”
“I don’t think that’s advisable…” Ronald began.
Glinn approached Lloyd. The orderlies stiffened but did not intervene. He halted about five feet away.
“Closer,” Lloyd growled.
Glinn took another step, then another.
“Closer,” he repeated. “I want to look into your eyes.”
Glinn walked forward until his face was only inches from Lloyd. The white-haired man stared at him for a long time. The orderlies shifted nervously and remained close, tensing, it seemed, for whatever might happen.
“Good. Now you can step back, please.”
“Why are you here?”
“We’re mounting an expedition. To the South Atlantic. The Ice Limit. We’re going to take care of the problem down there once and for all.”
“Do you have money?”
“So you’re not only criminally reckless. You’re an idiot, as well.”
Lloyd continued. “It was five years and two months ago when I said to you, when I begged you, when I ordered you, to pull the dead man’s switch. And you, you crazy obsessed son of a bitch, you refused. How many died? One hundred and eight. Not counting the poor bastards on the Almirante Ramirez. Blood on your hands, Glinn.”
Glinn spoke in a calm, neutral tone. “There’s nothing you can accuse me of that I haven’t done the same a hundred times myself.”
“Cry me a river. You want agony? Look at me. For the love of God Almighty, I wish I’d gone down with the ship.”
“Is that why the straitjacket?” Glinn asked.
“Ha! Ha! I’m as gentle as a kitten. They’ve got me in this to keep me alive, against my will. Free one hand and give me just ten seconds and I’m a dead man. A free man. But no: they’re keeping me alive and burning through my own money to do it. Look at my dinner. Filet mignon, potatoes au gratin with Gruyère, lightly grilled cavolini di Bruxelles—pureed, of course, so I won’t attempt suicide by choking. And all washed down with a ’00 Pétrus. Care to join me?”
Glinn said nothing.
“And now, here you are.”
“Yes, here I am. Not to apologize—because I know no apology would be adequate or accepted.”
“You should have killed it when you had the chance. Now it’s too late. You’ve done nothing while the alien has grown, swollen, and engorged itself—”
“Mr. Lloyd,” said Morris, “remember your promise not to talk any more about aliens.”
“Glinn, did you hear that? I’m forbidden to talk about aliens! They’ve spent years trying to rid me of my psychotic talk of aliens. Ha, ha, ha!”
Glinn said nothing.
“So what’s your plan?” said Lloyd, recovering himself.
“We’re going to destroy it.”
“Excuse me,” said Morris, “but we’re not to encourage the patient in his delusions—”
Glinn silenced him with an impatient gesture.
“Destroy it? Brave talk! You can’t. You’ll fail just like you failed five years ago.” A pause. “Is McFarlane going?”
Now it was Glinn’s turn to pause. “Dr. McFarlane has not done well in recent years, and it seemed imprudent—”
“Not done well? Not done well? Have you done well in recent years? Have I?” Lloyd cackled mirthlessly. “So. Instead of Sam, you’ll take others with you, including this poor sap, what’s his name? Gideon. You’ll send them to a hell of your own making. Because you’ve no sense of your own bloody weakness. You figure everyone else out, but you’re blind to your own arrogance and stupidity.”
He fell silent, breathing hard, the sweat coursing down his face.
“Mr. Glinn,” warned Ronald, “the patient is not allowed to become excited.”
Lloyd turned to him, suddenly calm, the voice of reason. “As you can see, Ronald, I’m not the least bit excited.”
The orderly shifted uncertainly.
“I’m not here to justify myself to you,” said Glinn, quietly. “I deserve all of this and more. And I’m not here to ask you to excuse my actions.”
“Then why are you here, you son of a bitch?” Lloyd suddenly roared, spraying spittle and brown flecks of pureed filet mignon into Glinn’s face.
“That’s enough,” said Ronald. “Visit’s over. You have to leave now.”
Glinn removed his handkerchief, carefully wiped his face clean, and spoke quietly. “I’m here to seek your approval.”
“You might as well ask if the lamppost approves of the dog pissing on it. I disapprove. You’re an idiot if you think you can still destroy what has grown down there. But you always were an arrogant shit-eating grifter. You want my advice?”
“That’s enough!” said Ronald, moving in and taking Glinn by the arm, directing him toward the door.
“Yes, I want your advice,” Glinn said over his shoulder.
As Gideon followed the orderly who was gently, but firmly, escorting Glinn from the room, he heard Lloyd hiss out: “Let sleeping aliens lie.”
BACK AT EES headquarters on Little West 12th Street, in the boardroom high above the old Meatpacking District of New York City, Gideon took his place at the conference room table. There were only three of them, Garza, Glinn, and himself, and it was three o’clock in the morning. Glinn, having apparently dispensed with the need for sleep, seemed to expect his employees to do so as well.
Gideon had begun to wonder if Glinn really had changed. He had never seen the man quite so driven, in his own quietly intense way. The meeting with Lloyd in the gigantic, one-man mental hospital had evidently shaken him badly.
The man serving them all coffee silently retreated, shutting the door behind him. The room was dim, the lights low. Glinn, seated at the head of the table, his hands clasped in front of him, allowed the silence to gather before speaking. He turned his two gray eyes on Gideon.
“Well, what did you think of our visit to Palmer Lloyd?”
“He freaked me out,” said Gideon.
“Do you know now why I wanted you to meet him?”
“As you said. To seek his approval, get his blessing. After all, that thing down there cost him a lot of money—not to mention his sanity.”
“That’s part of it. I also wanted to—as you put it—freak you out. To impress on you the gravity of our undertaking. You need to walk into this with your eyes open: because without you, we cannot succeed.”
“You really caused the deaths of a hundred and eight people?”
“Wasn’t there an investigation? No charges were filed?”
“There were certain, ah, unusual circumstances touching on the relationship between Chile and the United States that encouraged both state departments to make sure the investigation was not overly thorough.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
Glinn turned to Garza. “Manuel, will you please give Gideon the necessary background?”
Garza nodded, taking a large folder from his briefcase and laying it on the table. “You already know some of this. I’m going to start from the beginning anyway. If you have any questions, feel free to interrupt. Six years ago, EES was approached by Palmer Lloyd for a peculiar assignment.”
“The same Palmer Lloyd I just saw in Dearborne Park.”
“Yes. The billionaire was planning to build a natural history museum in the Hudson River Valley. He was collecting the rarest, finest, and biggest of everything—money was no object. He had already snagged the biggest diamond, the largest T. rex, a real Egyptian pyramid. Then he got a report that the largest meteorite in the world had been found. It lay on Isla Desolación, an uninhabited island in the Cape Horn Islands at the very tip of South America. The islands belong to Chile. Lloyd knew that Chile would never allow the meteorite to leave. He therefore hired EES, and a meteorite hunter named Sam McFarlane, to steal it.”
“Excuse me,” said Glinn, “steal isn’t quite the right word. We did nothing illegal. We leased mineral rights to Isla Desolación, which allowed us to remove iron in any form.”
“Steal may not be the most apt description,” said Garza, “but it was a deception.”
At this rebuke, Glinn fell silent. Garza continued. “The meteorite was extremely heavy—twenty-five thousand tons. It was a deep-red color, very dense, and it had other, ah, peculiar properties. So under the cover of this iron-ore-mining operation, we outfitted a ship, the Rolvaag; sailed to the island; excavated the rock; and loaded it on board. Suffice to say, this was a challenging engineering project. But we succeeded—quite brilliantly, in fact. And then we were caught. A rogue Chilean destroyer captain figured out what we were up to. He commanded the Almirante Ramirez, the ship Lloyd mentioned. Instead of informing his superiors, he decided to play the hero and chased us southward to the Ice Limit.”
“Ice Limit. You’ve used that term before. What is it, exactly?”
“It’s the frontier where the southern oceans meet the Antarctic pack ice. We played hide-and-seek among the bergs. The Rolvaag was shot up in the confrontation, but ultimately we managed to sink the destroyer.”
“You sank a destroyer? How?”
“It’s a complicated story, best left to your briefing book. In any case, the Rolvaag, carrying the twenty-five-thousand-ton meteorite in its hold, had been badly damaged by the destroyer. The weather worsened. A point came where we had a choice: either jettison the rock—or sink.”
“How do you jettison a twenty-five-thousand-ton rock?”
“We’d installed a dead man’s switch for that purpose, just in case. Throw the switch, and the meteorite would be dropped through a door in the hull.”
“Wouldn’t that founder the ship?”
“No. A large amount of water would come in before the door could slide shut, but the ship was fitted with pumps and self-sealing bulkheads that would have handled it. The crew and captain wanted to dump the rock…” Garza seemed to hesitate, glancing at Glinn.
“Tell the full story, Manuel. Spare nothing.”
“In the end, everyone wanted to dump the rock. Even Lloyd came around. But Eli alone had the code to the dead man’s switch. He insisted the ship could ride it out. They begged, pleaded, threatened—and he refused. But Eli was wrong. The Rolvaag sank.”
Garza glanced at Glinn again.
“Let me tell the rest,” said Glinn quietly. “Yes, I refused to pull the switch. I was wrong. The captain ordered an evacuation. Some got off, but many did not. The captain…” He hesitated, temporarily losing his voice. “The captain, a woman of great courage, went down with the ship. Many others died in the lifeboats or froze to death on a nearby ice island before help arrived.”
“And Lloyd? What happened to him?”
“He was evacuated in the first lifeboat—against his will, I might add.”
“How did you survive?”
“I was in the hold, trying to secure the meteorite. But it finally broke out of its cradle and split the ship in half. There was an explosion. It seemed as if the meteorite, when it came into contact with salt water, reacted in an unusual way, generating a shock wave. I was thrown clear of the ship. I remember coming to on a raft of floating debris. I was badly injured. They found me a day later, close to death.”
Glinn lapsed into silence, toying with his cup of coffee.
- On Sale
- Dec 27, 2016
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