Research Vessel Icefall
88 Miles off the Coast of Antarctica
Karl Selig steadied himself on the ship’s rail and adjusted the binoculars. There was definitely something sticking out of the iceberg. It looked almost like… a submarine. But it couldn’t be.
“Hey Steve, come check this out.”
Steve Cooper, Karl’s grad-school friend, tied off a buoy and joined Karl on the other side of the boat. He peered through the binoculars. “A sub?”
“What’s under it?”
Karl grabbed the binoculars. “Under…” He panned to the area under the sub. There was something else. The sub, if it was a sub, was sticking out of another metallic object, this one gray and much, much larger than the sub. But unlike the sub, the gray object didn’t reflect any light; it looked more like waves, the kind that shimmer just over the horizon of a warm highway or a long stretch of desert. It wasn’t warm though, or at least it wasn’t melting the ice. Just above the structure, Karl caught a glimpse of some writing on the sub: U-977 and SS Kreigsmarine. A Nazi Sub. Sticking out of… a structure of some sort…
Karl dropped the binoculars to his side. “Wake Naomi up and prepare to dock the boat. We’re going to check it out.”
Steve rushed below deck, and Karl heard him rousing Naomi from one of the small boat’s two cabins. Karl’s corporate sponsor had insisted he take Naomi along. Karl had nodded in the meeting and hoped she wouldn’t get in the way. He wasn’t disappointed. When they had put to sea five weeks ago in Cape Town, South Africa, Naomi had brought aboard two changes of clothes, three romance novels, and enough vodka to kill a Russian Army. They had barely seen her since. It must be so boring for her out here, Karl thought. For him, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Karl raised the binoculars and looked again at the massive piece of ice that had broken off from Antarctica nearly a month ago. Almost 90% of the iceberg was underwater, but the surface area still covered 47 square miles — 1.5 times the size of Manhattan.
Karl’s doctoral thesis focused on how newly calved icebergs affected global sea currents as they dissolved. Over the last four weeks, he and Steve had deployed high-tech buoys around the iceberg that measured sea temp and salt water-fresh water balance as well as took periodic sonar readings of the iceberg’s changing shape. The goal was to learn more about how icebergs disintegrated after leaving Antarctica. Antarctica holds 90% of the world’s ice, and when it melted in the next few centuries, it would dramatically change the world. He hoped his research would shed light on exactly how.
Karl had called Steve the minute he found out he was funded. “You’ve got to come with me—No, trust me.” Steve had reluctantly agreed, and to Karl’s delight, his old friend had come alive on the expedition as they took readings by day and discussed the preliminary findings each night. Before the voyage, Steve’s academic career had been as listless as the iceberg they were following as he floated from one thesis topic to another. Karl and their other friends had wondered if he would drop out of the doctoral program altogether.
The research readings had been intriguing, and now they had found something else, something remarkable. There would be headlines. But what would they say? “Nazi sub found in Antarctica.” It wasn’t inconceivable.
Karl knew the Nazis were obsessed with Antarctica. They sent expeditions there in 1938 and 1939 and even claimed part of the continent as a new German province — Neuschwabenland. Several Nazi subs were never recovered during World War II and not known to have been sunk. The conspiracy theorists claimed that a Nazi sub left Germany just before the fall of the Third Reich, carrying away the highest ranking Nazis and the entire treasury, including priceless artifacts that had been looted and top-secret technology. The conspiracies grew grander with every passing year, but there it was: a Nazi sub in an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica.
At the back of Karl’s mind, a new thought emerged: reward money. If there was Nazi treasure on the sub, it would be worth a huge amount of money. He would never have to worry about research funding again.
The more pressing challenge was docking the boat to the iceberg. The seas were rough, and it took them three passes, but they finally managed to tie off a few miles from the sub and the strange structure under it.
Karl and Steve bundled up tight and donned their climbing gear. Karl gave Naomi some basic instructions, the long and short of which were “don’t touch anything,” then he and Steve lowered themselves to the ice shelf below the boat and set off.
For the next 35 minutes, neither man said anything as they trudged across the barren ice mountain. The ice was rougher toward the interior and their pace slowed, Steve’s more than Karl’s.
“We need to pick it up, Steve.”
Steve made an effort to catch up. “Sorry. A month on the boat has got me out of shape.”
Karl glanced up at the sun. When it set, the temperature would plummet and they would likely freeze to death. The days were long here. The sun rose at 2:30 AM and set after 10 PM, but they only had a few more hours. Karl picked up his pace a little more.
Behind him, he heard Steve shuffling his snow shoes as fast as he could, trying desperately to catch up. Just before he reached Karl, Steve tripped, fell, and began rolling toward a large ravine. The ice broke under him, and he was slipping quickly into a massive crack in the ice.
“Steve! Hang on! I’m going to pull you up—”
“Don’t,” Steve yelled.
“What? Are you craz—”
“There’s something down here. Lower me, slowly.”
Karl thought for a moment. “What is it?”
“Looks like a tunnel or a cave. It’s got gray metal in it. It’s blurry.”
“Ok, hold on, I’m going to let some slack out.” Karl let about 10 feet of rope out, and when he heard nothing from Steve, another ten feet.
“Stop,” Steve called.
Karl felt the rope tugging. Was Steve swinging? The rope went slack.
“I’m in,” Steve said.
“What is it?”
“Not sure.” Steve’s voice was muffled now.
Karl crawled to the edge of the ice and looked over.
Steve stuck his head out of the mouth of the cave. “I think it’s some kind of cathedral. It’s massive. There’s writing on the walls. Symbols — like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m going to check it out.”
Steve disappeared again.
A few minutes passed. Was there a slight vibration? Karl listened closely. He couldn’t hear it, but he could feel it. The ice was pulsing faster now. He stood up and took a step away from the edge. The ice behind him cracked, and then there were cracks everywhere — spreading out quickly. He took a step back and ran full spee
d toward the widening fissure. He jumped — and almost made it to the other side, but he came up short. His hands caught on the ice ledge, and he dangled there for a long second. The vibrations in the ice grew more violent with each passing second. Karl watched the ice around him crumble and fall, and then the shard that held him broke free, and he was plummeting down into the abyss.
On the boat, Naomi watched the sun set over the iceberg. She picked up the satellite phone and dialed the number the man had given her.
“You said to call if we found anything interesting.”
“Don’t say anything. Hold the line. We’ll have your location within two minutes. We’ll come to you.”
She set the phone on the counter, walked back to the stove, and continued stirring the pot of beans.
The man on the other end of the sat phone looked up when the GPS coordinates flashed on his screen. He copied the location and searched the satellite surveillance database for live feeds. One result.
He opened the stream, then panned the view to the center of the iceberg, where the dark spots were. He zoomed in several times and when the image came into focus, he dropped his coffee to the floor, bolted out of his office, and ran down the hall to the Director’s office. He barged in, interrupting a gray-haired man who was standing and speaking with both hands held up.
“We’ve found it.”
Autism Research Center (ARC)
Dr. Kate Warner awoke to an eerie feeling: there was someone in the room. She tried to open her eyes. She was so groggy. And sore. The room smelled musty… dank, almost subterranean. She was sleeping on something hard, a couch maybe; definitely not her bed in her 19th floor condo in downtown Jakarta. Where was she?
Another footfall. Almost silent, like tennis shoes on carpet. “Kate.” A man’s voice. A scratchy whisper. Someone testing to see if she was awake.
Kate managed to open her eyes a little more. Above her, faint rays of sunlight filtered in through metal blinds that covered short, wide windows. In the corner, a strobe light pierced the room every few seconds, like the flash of a camera snapping a photo incessantly.
She tried to move, but her body wouldn’t respond. She took a deep breath and sat up quickly, seeing the man for the first time. He reeled back, dropping something that clanged and splashed on the floor.
It was Ben Adelson, her lab assistant. “Jesus, Kate. I’m sorry. I was, I thought if you were up, you might want coffee…” He bent to pick up the remnants of the shattered coffee cup, and when he got a closer look at her, he said, “God, you look like hell, Kate.” He stared at her for a moment. “Please tell me what’s going on.”
Kate rubbed her eyes. She had been working day and night for the last five days, virtually non-stop since she had gotten the call from Martin Grey: produce results now, any results, or the funding goes away. No excuses this time. She hadn’t told any of the staff on her autism research project. There was no reason to worry them. Either she got some results, and they went on or she didn’t, and they went home. “Coffee sounds nice, Ben. Thanks.”
The man pulled his black face mask down. “Use your knife inside. Gunfire will draw attention.”
His assistant, a woman, nodded and pulled her face mask down as well.
They exited the black van and walked to the door. The man reached for the door with his gloved hand, then hesitated. “You’re sure the alarm is off?”
“Yeah. Well, I cut the outside line, but it’s probably going off inside.”
“What? Jesus! They could be calling it in right now.” He threw the door open. “Let’s move.”
They ran inside, slamming the door behind them. Above it, a sign read:
Autism Research Center
Ben returned with a fresh cup of coffee, and Kate thanked him. He plopped down in a chair opposite her desk and said, “You’re going to work yourself to death. You’ve slept here for the past four nights. And the secrecy, banning everyone from the lab, hoarding your notes, not talking about ARC-247. I’m not the only one who’s worried.”
Kate sipped the coffee. Jakarta had been a difficult place to run a clinical trial, but working on the island of Java had some bright spots. The coffee was one of them.
She couldn’t tell Ben what she was doing in the lab, at least not yet. It might amount to nothing, and more than likely, they were all out of a job anyway. Involving him would only make him an accomplice to a possible crime.
Kate nodded to the flashing fixture in the corner of the room. “What’s that strobe light?”
Ben glanced over his shoulder at it. “Not sure. An alarm, I think—”
“No. I made rounds when I got here, it’s not a fire. I was about to do a thorough inspection when I noticed your door cracked.” Ben reached into one of the dozen cardboard boxes that crowded Kate’s office. He flipped through a few framed diplomas. “Why don’t you put these up?”
“I don’t see the point.” Hanging the diplomas wasn’t Kate’s style and even if it were, who would she impress with them? Kate was the only investigator and physician on the study, and all seven of the staff knew her CV. They received no visitors, and the only other people who saw her office were the two dozen staff who cared for the autistic children in the study. The staff would think Stanford and Johns Hopkins were people, long deceased relatives maybe, the diplomas perhaps their birth certificates.
“I’d put it up, if I had an MD from Johns Hopkins.” Ben carefully placed the diploma back in the box and rummaged around in it some more.
Kate drained the last of the coffee and set the cup down. “I’ll trade you for another cup of coffee.” Ben’s coffee made Starbucks taste like motor oil.
“So I can give you orders now?”
“Don’t get carried away,” Kate said as Ben left the room. She stood and twisted the hard plastic cylinder that controlled the blinds, revealing a view of the chain-link fence that circled their building and beyond it, the crowded streets of Jakarta. The morning commute was in full swing. Buses and cars crept along as motorcycles darted in and out of the tight spaces between them. Bicycles and pedestrians filled every square inch of the sidewalks. And she had thought the traffic in San Francisco was bad.
It wasn’t just the traffic. Jakarta still felt so foreign to her. It still wasn’t home. Maybe it never would be. Four years ago, Kate would have moved anywhere in the world, any place that wasn’t San Francisco. Martin Grey, her adoptive father, had said, “Jakarta would be a great place to continue your research… and… to start over.” He had also said something about time healing all wounds. But now she was running out of time.
She turned back to the desk and began clearing away the photos Ben had taken out. She stopped at a faded picture of a large dancing room with a parquet floor. How had it gotten in with her work things? It was the only photo she had of her childhood home in West Berlin, just off Tiergartenstraße. Kate could barely picture the massive three-story home. In her memory, the home felt more like a foreign embassy or a grand residence from another time. A castle. An empty castle. Kate’s mother had died during childbirth, and while her father was loving, he was mostly absent. Kate tried to picture him in her mind’s eye, but she couldn’t. There was only a vague recollection of a cold day in December when he had taken her for a walk. She remembered how tiny her hand felt inside of his, how safe she felt then. They had walked all the way down Tiergartenstraße, to the Berlin Wall. It was a somber scene: families placing wreaths and pictures, hoping and praying for the Wall to fall and their loved ones to return. The other memories were flashes of him leaving and returning, always with some trinket from a far-away place. The house staff had taken up the slack as best they could. They were attentive, maybe a little cold. What was the housekeeper’s name? Or the tutor who lived with her and the other staff on the top floor? She
had taught Kate German. She could still speak German, but she couldn’t remember the woman’s name.
About the only clear memory of the first six years of her life, in West Berlin, was the night Martin came into her dance room, turned the music off, and told her that her father wasn’t coming home — ever again — and that she would be coming to live with him.
She wished she could erase that memory, and she’d just as soon forget the thirteen years that followed. She had moved to America with Martin, but the cities ran together as he rushed off to one expedition after another and she was shipped off to one boarding school after another. None of them ever felt like home either.
Her research lab. It was the closest thing she had ever had to a real home. She spent every waking moment there. She had thrown herself into her work after San Francisco, and what had started as a defense mechanism, a survival mechanism, had become her routine, her lifestyle. The research team had become her family and the research participants her children.
And it was all about to go away.
She needed to focus. And she needed more coffee. She pushed the pile of photos off the desk and into the box below. Where was Ben?
Kate walked out into the hall and made her way to the staff kitchen. Empty. She checked the coffee pot. Empty. The strobe lights were going off here too.
Something was wrong. “Ben,” Kate called out.
The other research staff wouldn’t be here for hours. They kept strange hours, but they did good work. Kate cared more about the work.
She ventured out into the research wing, which consisted of a series of storage rooms and offices surrounding a large cleanroom lab, where Kate and her team engineered gene therapy retroviruses they hoped would cure autism. She peered through the glass. Ben wasn’t in the lab.
The lab was eerie at this time of morning. So quiet and empty. Not quite dark, but not light either, as shafts of focused sunlight poured into the hallways from the windows in the rooms on each side.
Kate’s footfalls echoed loudly as she prowled the cavernous lab, peeking into each room, squinting to see through the bright Jakartan sun. All empty. That left the residential section — the housing units, kitchens, and supporting facilities for the study’s roughly 100 autistic children.
In the distance, Kate could hear other footsteps, faster than hers — running. She began walking more quickly, in their direction, and just as she turned the corner, Ben reached out and grabbed her arm. “Kate! Follow me, hurry.”
Manggarai Train Station
David Vale stepped back into the shadow of the train station’s ticket counter. He studied the man buying a New York Times from the newsstand. The man paid the vendor, then walked past the trash can without throwing the paper away. Not the contact.
Behind the newsstand, a commuter train crept into the station. It was packed to the walls with Indonesian workers coming into the Capital from the outlying cities for the day’s work. Passengers hung out of every set of sliding double doors, middle-aged men mostly. On the roof of the train, teenagers and young adults sat, squatted, and stretched out, reading newspapers, fiddling with smart phones, and talking. The bursting commuter train was a symbol of Jakarta itself, a city bursting at the seams with a growing population struggling to modernize. Mass transit was only the most visible sign of the city’s struggle to accommodate the 28 million people in its metro area.
The commuters were fleeing the train now, swarming the station like shoppers on Black Friday in America. It was non-controlled chaos. Workers pushed, shoved, and shouted as they ran out the station’s doors, while others fought to get into the station. This happened here and in other commuter train stations throughout the city every day. It was the perfect place for a meet.