While Delta‑Three stayed behind to collect Norah Mangors body and the sled, the other two soldiers accelerated down the glacier after their quarry.
On their feet they wore ElektroTread‑powered skis. Modeled after the consumer Fast Trax motorized skis, the classified ElektroTreads were essentially snow skis with miniaturized tank treads affixed‑like snowmobiles worn on the feet. Speed was controlled by pushing the tips of the index finger and thumb together, compressing two pressure plates inside the right‑hand glove. A powerful gel battery was molded around the foot, doubling as insulation and allowing the skis to run silently. Ingeniously, the kinetic energy generated by gravity and the spinning treads as the wearer glided down a hill was automatically harvested to recharge the batteries for the next incline.
Keeping the wind at his back, Delta‑One crouched low, skimming seaward as he surveyed the glacier before him. His night vision system was a far cry from the Patriot model used by the Marines. Delta‑One was looking through a hands‑free face mount with a 40 x 90 mm six‑element lens, three‑element Magnification Doubler, and Super Long Range IR. The world outside appeared in a translucent tint of cool blue, rather than the usual green‑the color scheme especially designed for highly reflective terrains like the Arctic.
As he approached the first berm, Delta‑Ones goggles revealed several bright stripes of freshly disturbed snow, rising up and over the berm like a neon arrow in the night. Apparently the three escapees had either not thought to unhook their makeshift sail or had been unable to. Either way, if they had not released by the final berm, they were now somewhere out in the ocean. Delta‑One knew his quarrys protective clothing would lengthen the usual life expectancy in the water, but the relentless offshore currents would drag them out to sea. Drowning would be inevitable.
Despite his confidence, Delta‑One had been trained never to assume. He needed to see bodies. Crouching low, he pressed his fingers together and accelerated up the first incline.
Michael Tolland lay motionless, taking stock of his bruises. He was battered, but he sensed no broken bones. He had little doubt the gel‑filled Mark IX had saved him any substantial trauma. As he opened his eyes, his thoughts were slow to focus. Everything seemed softer here . . . quieter. The wind still howled, but with less ferocity.
We went over the edge‑didnt we?
Focusing, Tolland found he was lying on ice, draped across Rachel Sexton, almost at right angles, their locked carabiners twisted. He could feel her breathing beneath him, but he could not see her face. He rolled off her, his muscles barely responding.
Rachel . . . ? Tolland wasnt sure if his lips were making sound or not.
Tolland recalled the final seconds of their harrowing ride‑the upward drag of the balloon, the payload cable snapping, their bodies plummeting down the far side of the berm, sliding up and over the final mound, skimming toward the edge‑the ice running out. Tolland and Rachel had fallen, but the fall had been oddly short. Rather than the expected plunge to the sea, they had fallen only ten feet or so before hitting another slab of ice and sliding to a stop with the dead weight of Corky in tow.
Now, raising his head, Tolland looked toward the sea. Not far away, the ice ended in a sheer cliff, beyond which he could hear the sounds of the ocean. Looking back up the glacier, Tolland strained to see into the night. Twenty yards back, his eyes met a high wall of ice, which seemed to hang above them. It was then that he realized what had happened. Somehow they had slid off the main glacier onto a lower terrace of ice. This section was flat, as large as a hockey rink, and had partially collapsed‑preparing to cleave off into the ocean at any moment.
Ice calving, Tolland thought, eyeing the precarious platform of ice on which he was now lying. It was a broad square slab that hung off the glacier like a colossal balcony, surrounded on three sides by precipices to the ocean. The sheet of ice was attached to the glacier only at its back, and Tolland could see the connection was anything but permanent. The boundary where the lower terrace clung to the Milne Ice Shelf was marked by a gaping pressure fissure almost four feet across. Gravity was well on its way to winning this battle.
Almost more frightening than seeing the fissure was Tollands seeing the motionless body of Corky Marlinson crumpled on the ice. Corky lay ten yards away at the end of a taut tether attached to them.
Tolland tried to stand up, but he was still attached to Rachel. Repositioning himself, he began detaching their interlocking carabiners.
Rachel looked weak as she tried to sit up. We didnt . . . go over? Her voice was bewildered.
We fell onto a lower block of ice, Tolland said, finally unfastening himself from her. Ive got to help Corky.
Painfully, Tolland attempted to stand, but his legs felt feeble. He grabbed the tether and heaved. Corky began sliding toward them across the ice. After a dozen or so pulls, Corky was lying on the ice a few feet away.
Corky Marlinson looked beaten. Hed lost his goggles, suffered a bad cut on his cheek, and his nose was bleeding. Tollands worries that Corky might be dead were quickly allayed when Corky rolled over and looked at Tolland with an angry glare.
Jesus, he stammered. What the hell was that little trick!
Tolland felt a wave of relief.
Rachel sat up now, wincing. She looked around. We need to . . . get off of here. This block of ice looks like its about to fall.
Tolland couldnt have agreed more. The only question was how.
They had no time to consider a solution. A familiar high‑pitched whir became audible above them on the glacier. Tollands gaze shot up to see two white‑clad figures ski effortlessly up onto the edge and stop in unison. The two men stood there a moment, peering down at their battered prey like chess masters savoring checkmate before the final kill.
Delta‑One was surprised to see the three escapees alive. He knew, however, this was a temporary condition. They had fallen onto a section of the glacier that had already begun its inevitable plunge to the sea. This quarry could be disabled and killed in the same manner as the other woman, but a far cleaner solution had just presented itself. A way in which no bodies would ever be found.
Gazing downward over the lip, Delta‑One focused on the gaping crevasse that had begun to spread like a wedge between the ice shelf and the clinging block of ice. The section of ice on which the three fugitives sat was dangerously perched . . . ready to break away and fall into the ocean any day now.
Why not today . . .
Here on the ice shelf, the night was rocked every few hours by deafening booms‑the sound of ice cracking off parts of the glacier and plummeting into the ocean. Who would take notice?
Feeling the familiar warm rush of adrenaline that accompanied the preparation for a kill, Delta‑One reached in his supply pack and pulled out a heavy, lemon‑shaped object. Standard issue for military assault teams, the object was called a flash‑bang‑a nonlethal concussion grenade that temporarily disoriented an enemy by generating a blinding flash and deafening concussion wave. Tonight, however, Delta‑One knew this flash‑bang would most certainly be lethal.
He positioned himself near the edge and wondered how far the crevasse descended before tapering to a close. Twenty feet? Fifty feet? He knew it didnt matter. His plan would be effective regardless.
With calm bred from the performance of countless executions, Delta‑One dialed a ten‑second delay into the grenades screw‑dial, slid out the pin, and threw the grenade down into the chasm. The bomb plummeted into the darkness and disappeared.
Then Delta‑One and his partner cleared back up onto the top of the berm and waited. This would be a sight to behold.
Even in her delirious state of mind, Rachel Sexton had a very good idea what the attackers had just dropped into the crevasse. Whether Michael Tolland also knew or whether he was reading the fear in her eyes was unclear, but she saw him go pale, shooting a horrified glance down at the mammoth slab of ice on which they were stranded, clearly realizing the inevitable.
Like a storm cloud lit by an internal flash of lightning, the ice beneath Rachel illuminated from within. The eerie white translucence shot out in all directions. For a hundred yards around them, the glacier flashed white. The concussion came next. Not a rumble like an earthquake, but a deafening shock wave of gut‑churning force. Rachel felt the impact tearing up through the ice into her body.
Instantly, as if a wedge had been driven between the ice shelf and the block of ice supporting them, the cliff began to shear off with a sickening crack. Rachels eyes locked with Tollands in a freeze‑frame of terror. Corky let out a scream nearby.
The bottom dropped out.
Rachel felt weightless for an instant, hovering over the multimillion‑pound block of ice. Then they were riding the iceberg down‑plummeting into the frigid sea.