A party of scientists can only hope to elude a gang of killers looking to cover up their illegal whaling – and worse – in the Antarctic. But for how long?
Having spent the summer conducting fieldwork on stark Livingston Island, marine biologist Andrew Berrister is looking forward to returning to civilisation. But his final days in Antarctica take an unexpected turn when it becomes clear that he and his small group of scientists are not alone on the island. Deducing that the intruders are a crew of illegal whalers, the scientists face an increasingly desperate struggle for survival when two members of their shore party disappear and their supplies are deliberately sabotaged.
As Berrister and his remaining companions flee across the treacherous, icy terrain, they are pursued relentlessly by ruthless killers whose true reasons for being in the Antarctic are darker and more dangerous than the scientists could ever have imagined.
He went to the cook tent, and found Mortimer already there. The fat glaciologist gave him a haunted look.
‘We’re in a fix here, Andrew.’
Berrister nodded. ‘We’ll ask the Chileans to evacuate us today.’
Mortimer narrowed his eyes. ‘Didn’t you hear what I told you last night? We can’t call the Chileans – neither long-range radio works and the generators are down, so we can’t power them up. We can’t call anyone.’
Berrister recalled very little about the return journey and their arrival back at the camp, assailed as he was with the sense of having abandoned two friends to their deaths. He scrubbed at his face with his hands. ‘Then we’ll repair the generators.’
Mortimer’s expression was grim. ‘I’ve been trying – all night, as it happens. But they’ll never work again. Never.’
Berrister frowned. ‘They were working okay yesterday. What’s the problem?’
‘Sabotage,’ replied Mortimer. Berrister gaped at him. ‘I’m serious, Andrew – someone mixed sugar with the fuel. To put it in layman’s terms, the inside of each motor is full of sticky gunk.’
Berrister shook his head, unwilling to believe it. ‘You must be mistaken. You’re upset over Dan and Freddy—’
‘I am upset, but I’m not mistaken: someone deliberately destroyed our only means of communication. And obviously, whoever it was also stole our food. You clearly think I’m mad, but the facts are that we’re marooned here with no supplies and no way of calling for help. Go and look at the generators yourself if you don’t believe me.’
Berrister went, but it did not take many minutes for him to see that the glaciologist was right. He returned to Mortimer, his stomach churning.
‘Do you think Freddy did it?’ asked Mortimer. ‘Or Dan?’
‘Of course not! Lisa heard a boat, Graham and I found tracks and a cigarette end … but who would want to do this to us? We’re scientists, for God’s sake.’
‘Good question,’ said Mortimer. ‘But two of us are missing, and Graham says he found blood on the beach. Perhaps Dan and Freddy aren’t so much missing as … dispatched.’
‘No,’ said Berrister, stubbornly refusing to believe it. ‘There must be a rational explanation – an innocent one.’
‘Such as what?’
‘I don’t know,’ admitted Berrister. ‘But –’
The tent flap was wrenched open. It was Joshi, eyes alight with excitement.
‘There’s a ship on the other side of the scarp – a little rust-coloured thing, anchored about a kilometre out. It must’ve come in during the night. We’re saved! Now we need to work out how to contact it.’
‘Let’s look at it first,’ cautioned Mortimer uneasily. ‘And if it seems friendly, we’ll let off a flare. I’ll fetch some while you wake the others.’
‘Is it true?’ asked Sarah, as she emerged from her tent. Her eyes were red; she had been crying. ‘Rescue is at hand?’
‘Maybe,’ hedged Berrister. ‘We’re going to look. Coming?’
Graham emerged fully clothed. His hair was matted and his ginger beard was more straggly than usual. There were dark rings under his eyes, and he looked pale and unhealthy. He also smelled of whiskey, and Berrister was not entirely sure that he was sober.
It did not take them long to don warm clothes and begin their ascent, although Berrister, ever safety conscious, was the only one who thought to grab the knapsack containing their emergency supplies. It was a dishevelled, gasping group that reached the top of the escarpment to gaze down at the ship.
She was a curious vessel, red with rust, and with an odd collection of winches and hauling tackle on the afterdeck. Berrister had never seen anything quite like it. He was about to suggest that she was a fishing trawler, when he happened to glance behind him, back down at the camp. Two figures were moving about in it, setting it on fire.