Authors: Patrick Woodhead
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Two kilometres beneath the frozen icecaps of Antarctica lies a lake, unfrozen and perfectly preserved for twenty million years. Luca Matthews has been tasked by MI6 officer, Kieran Bates, to lead a team of scientists to the site to discover what secrets lie trapped below.
But Bates has a secret of his own, and his actions are not going unnoticed. When mining investigator ‘Bear’ Makuru cannot reach Luca, she starts to dig into Bates’ past – uncovering a plot more sinister than she could ever have imagined.
Bear needs to warn Luca – and fast. But there is an even greater threat tracking Luca across the frozen landscape: a killer who has been waiting through the long, dark months for a single chance to strike.
Luca has only eight days to work out who he can trust. Antarctica is shutting down for the winter and if he doesn’t get out now, he never will.
Patrick Woodhead is a record-breaking polar explorer who spent over a decade travelling some of the most remote places on the planet. He now runs White Desert, a company that arranges luxury expeditions into the interior of the Antarctic. When not in colder climes, Patrick divides his time between London and South Africa.
The Forbidden Temple
The Secret Chamber
AKIRA MANO PRESSED
his arms a little closer to his body, slowly moving from one foot to the other. His boots flattened the same patch of snow that he had been standing on for almost an hour. He turned, spitting a thick globule of chewing tobacco on to the ground in front of him, and grunted.
Where hell are you?’
he hissed in broken English. He cursed again, but this time in his native Japanese. After so long working on the same Antarctic research project, he was even starting to think like the rest of them.
Five miles distant stood a line of mountains, their jagged peaks curving in an arc like a row of teeth. The Englishman, Sommers, had been gone too long. Something was wrong.
A huge, red tractor faded orange by the sun stood directly behind Akira. Its caterpillar tracks were enormous, towering above his head. The engine gave only an occasional splutter, belching out a smudge of exhaust into the otherwise cobalt blue sky. Taking a step backwards, Akira huddled closer to the exhaust, letting the dirty flow of air wash over his back. The fumes were noxious, drying out the back of his throat, but at least they were warm.
There was a glimmer of light – metal winking in the sun. He could see the faint outline of a Ski-Doo making its way towards him, then a few seconds later hear the high-pitched whine of its two-stroke engine. Finally, the hunched figure of Harry Sommers pulled it to a standstill.
‘I was right!’ he exclaimed, the words escaping his mouth before he had even shut off the engine. Pulling a balaclava from his face, he revealed ruddy cheeks, flushed from cold, and a short, greying beard. Striding towards Akira, he clenched his fist in triumph.
‘I bloody knew it!’ he shouted. ‘What do you say to that, Akira-san?’
His thick Lancashire accent made the pronunciation of the Japanese man’s name almost unrecognisable, but Sommers was too excited to notice.
‘I knew there was something past that ridge,’ he continued. ‘I could make out a kind of structure. Whatever it is, it’s definitely man-made, and I’ll tell you something for nothing – it wasn’t our lot that built it.’
Akira blinked, trying to piece together the Englishman’s grammar. A moment passed before he looked up.
‘What do you mean ‘‘so’’? It means that someone else is here on
Akira shrugged, unable to conceal his lack of interest. He was cold, and that was all there was to it. It had been three days since he had last had a shower or even changed his socks. Without replying, he motioned towards the tractor, his shoulders hunching with indifference.
‘Bloody hell,’ Sommers hissed, trying to fight back his annoyance. ‘Look, I don’t know how you do things in Japan, but that structure isn’t on any of my charts. It shouldn’t be there! We should go and investigate.’
Akira scratched the side of his neck, pulling at the Gore-Tex hood of his jacket and revealing the very tip of a tattoo that surged up from his shoulder to his jawline. The indelible ink was intricate and subtle, merging with his naturally dark skin.
‘We here too long,’ he said, refusing to make eye contact. ‘If other structure, then it’s not our problem.’
‘Look, we’ve got to put something in the report. Wouldn’t it be better to know what we’re talking about, rather than running home like a couple of schoolgirls? Another few kilometres around that ridge and we’ll be able to see it.’
Akira turned towards the new route, scanning his eyes across the perfect white landscape. The surrounding mountains funnelled the snow, blanketing the whole lake area in a flat, unbroken expanse. For once, the interminable wind had ceased and Antarctica looked like a different place entirely. It was peaceful, pleasant even.
‘Road OK for Ski-Doo but not for tractor. It too heavy,’ said Akira, before turning back towards the larger vehicle and clambering up on to its steps. Sommers watched as he slowly heaved open the door, before settling himself in the passenger seat without another word.
‘Soft, sushi-eating bastard,’ muttered Sommers, his top lip curling in disdain. He waited for a moment more then, with a shake of his head, stalked back to the Ski-Doo and drove it round to the rear of the tractor. Stamping down on the locking mechanism of the tractor’s tow bar, he secured it tight before following Akira and clambering up into the main cabin.
‘Guess you should learn how to drive the tractor, Akira my old son, if you want to make the decisions around here.’
With that, Sommers wiggled the gear lever out of neutral, finding first with a grinding of cogs. Before powering off, he reached up to the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a squashed pack of cigarettes, jamming one into the corner of his mouth. Almost immediately, the dry filter absorbed what little moisture was left in his chapped lips, breaking the skin. Sommers winced, feeling a bead of blood well out and dribble down across his chin. He ignored it, lighting the cigarette anyway and drawing the smoke deep into his lungs.
Releasing the clutch, he then sent the tractor lurching forward with its steel tracks tearing at the fresh snow. Akira had already turned away from him in protest, but Sommer knew it wouldn’t last long. Jiggling the packet in his direction, he waited several seconds before Akira slowly turned back, taking the last cigarette.
The tractor rumbled on.
The two men were scientists and had been working in Antarctica for the last ten months. It had taken them a long time to become accustomed to the scale of their environment and the time it took to travel anywhere. But now, it was all part of the journey. Conversations would start then naturally fade, before continuing some minutes later. Time was in abundance. The landscape infinite. With the last of the cigarettes gone, Sommers drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he whistled the chorus line of some half-forgotten tune. He knew that both actions would annoy his travelling companion, but they had been working together for too long not to indulge in petty torments.
Craning his neck towards the windscreen, Sommers raised one gloved hand to wipe the condensation off the glass, only succeeding in smearing it a little more. Suddenly, the indistinct outline of a structure appeared on the horizon.
‘There it is!’ he shouted, jolting Akira from his daydream. Stamping down on the brakes, Sommers pulled the mighty tractor to a standstill and threw open the side door.
‘What do ya suppose it’s for?’ he asked, raising an arm to shield his eyes from the blinding glare. ‘Is that some kind of tower to the left?’
Akira craned his neck out of the open window, but didn’t bother to get out. Finally, he gave a soft grunt, but offered nothing more. A few minutes passed with Sommers trying to discern the exact nature of the distant shapes, before his head snapped back round and he glared at Akira like a father might a petulant child.
‘Come on, Akira-san, stop sulking and help me out here. We’ve got to see what this is.’
‘I not sulk,’ Akira protested, suddenly raising himself in the seat. ‘No road! No road! This tractor weighs five tons! It too dangerous to continue.’ He jabbed his forefinger against the windscreen. ‘We need GPS route or no carry on!’
‘Jesus,’ Sommers muttered, rolling his eyes skywards. He had rarely seen Akira so agitated, nor, for that matter, animated.
‘Why don’t we just . . .’ he began, but his voice trailed off. Despite Akira’s quiet demeanour, Sommers knew that he was as stubborn as an ox and, once a decision had been made, there was little point in trying to talk him round. Eventually, Sommers raised his hands in defeat.
‘OK, have it your way,’ he said and, heaving the tractor round in a slow, right-hand turn, he pointed them back in the direction they had come. ‘We always have it your bloody way.’
They continued in silence for nearly two hours, following their own tracks back towards the base. As they reached the end of the lake, a hill led up to a low mountain pass. The diesel engine of the tractor revved higher, sending vibrations across the whole cabin as the machine powered its way through the deep snow. Just as they passed the apex, Sommers finally cracked.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ he asked, waving his hand behind him vaguely. ‘It’s another drill site, right? We should ask the Russians if they know anything about it.’ He reached towards the radio handset, then paused. ‘Better wait a bit, eh? Reception’s bloody rubbish over here. When we get back, I’ll see if . . .’
There was a jolt. Then the nose of the tractor pitched down so violently that both men were flung against the dashboard. The horizon went from sky blue to grey as the entire front end of the machine broke through the snow and down into a crevasse hidden just beneath the surface. Immense walls of ice stretched below them, channelling their eyes down towards the belly of the glacier itself. It was black, like the throat of an enormous beast.
Sommers groaned. He had split the skin above his eye and now blood streamed down the side of his face. His head was crooked against the cold glass of the windscreen and he blinked several times, trying to focus on Akira.
‘You all right?’ he shouted, reaching out an arm, but Akira’s body lay slumped forward. The force of the blow had caved in his right cheek, leaving splinters of bone protruding through the skin. Sommers called again, but there was no response.
‘Oh, shit,’ he said, reaching out and grabbing Akira by the scruff of his jacket. Jabbing two fingers down on to his neck, Sommers tried to steady his own heartbeat and listen. Come on! There had to be a pulse!