The deafening grating of ice against ice assaulted Rachels ears as the massive slab slid down the face of the Milne Ice Shelf, sending towering plumes of spray into the air. As the slab splashed downward, it slowed, and Rachels previously weightless body crashed down onto the top of the ice. Tolland and Corky landed hard nearby.
As the blocks downward momentum plunged it deeper into the sea, Rachel could see the foaming surface of the ocean racing upward with a kind of taunting deceleration, like the ground beneath a bungee‑jumper whose cord was a few feet too long. Rising . . . rising . . . and then it was there. Her childhood nightmare was back. The ice . . . the water . . . the darkness. The dread was almost primal.
The top of the slab slipped below the waterline, and the frigid Arctic Ocean poured over the edges in a torrent. As the ocean rushed in all around her, Rachel felt herself sucked under. The bare skin on her face tightened and burned as the saltwater hit. The flooring of ice disappeared beneath her, and Rachel fought her way back to the surface, buoyed by the gel in her suit. She took in a mouthful of saltwater, sputtering to the surface. She could see the others floundering nearby, all of them tangled in tethers. Just as Rachel righted herself, Tolland yelled out.
Its coming back up!
As his words echoed above the tumult, Rachel felt an eerie upwelling in the water beneath her. Like a massive locomotive straining to reverse direction, the slab of ice had groaned to a stop underwater and was now beginning its ascent directly beneath them. Fathoms below, a sickening low frequency rumble resonated upward through the water as the gigantic submerged sheet began scraping its way back up the face of the glacier.
The slab rose fast, accelerating as it came, swooping up from the darkness. Rachel felt herself rising. The ocean roiled all around as the ice met her body. She scrambled in vain, trying to find her balance as the ice propelled her skyward along with millions of gallons of seawater. Buoying upward, the giant sheet bobbed above the surface, heaving and teetering, looking for its center of gravity. Rachel found herself scrambling in waist‑deep water across the enormous, flat expanse. As the water began pouring off the surface, the current swallowed Rachel and dragged her toward the edge. Sliding, splayed flat on her stomach, Rachel could see the edge looming fast.
Hold on! Rachels mothers voice was calling the same way it had when Rachel was just a child floundering beneath the icy pond. Hold on! Dont go under!
The wrenching yank on her harness expelled what little air Rachel had left in her lungs. She jerked to a dead stop only yards from the edge. The motion spun her in place. Ten yards away, she could see Corkys limp body, still tethered to her, also jolting to a stop. They had been flowing off the sheet in opposite directions and his momentum had stopped her. As the water ran off and grew more shallow, another dark form appeared over near Corky. He was on his hands and knees, grasping Corkys tether and vomiting saltwater.
As the last of the wake drained past her and flowed off the iceberg, Rachel lay in terrified silence, listening to the sounds of the ocean. Then, feeling the onset of deadly cold, she dragged herself onto her hands and knees. The berg was still bobbing back and forth, like a giant ice cube. Delirious and in pain, she crawled back toward the others.
High above on the glacier, Delta‑One peered through his night‑vision goggles at the water churning around the Arctic Oceans newest tabular iceberg. Although he saw no bodies in the water, he was not surprised. The ocean was dark, and his quarrys weather suits and skullcaps were black.
As he passed his gaze across the surface of the enormous floating sheet of ice, he had a hard time keeping it in focus. It was receding quickly, already heading out to sea in the strong offshore currents. He was about to turn his gaze back to the sea when he saw something unexpected. Three specks of black on the ice. Are those bodies? Delta‑One tried to bring them into focus.
See something? Delta‑Two asked.
Delta‑One said nothing, focusing in with his magnifier. In the pale tint of the iceberg, he was stunned to see three human forms huddled motionless on the island of ice. Whether they were alive or dead, Delta‑One had no idea. It hardly mattered. If they were alive, even in weather suits, theyd be dead within the hour; they were wet, a storm was coming in, and they were drifting seaward into one of the most deadly oceans on the planet. Their bodies would never be found.
Just shadows, Delta‑One said, turning from the cliff. Lets get back to base.