In The Icehouse
by Dave Weaver
He could still see Peterson intermittently before him in the blizzard, like a figure in strobelight. The man was as indomitable as he remembered him at Cambridge. If only he'd bloody well stop for a moment, thought Mathers.
Finally, with Blue Base's squat silhouette appearing on the horizon, Peterson did.
His old professor stood waiting for him, barely out of breath as Mathers dragged his sledge up to him.
"Have you thought any more about what we talked about, John?" The bellowed words were torn away on the wind.
"Yes!" He shouted back.
"And..." Mathers struggled for breath. "Don't think can...change my decision...Sir."
Despite Peterson suggesting they use first name terms on the expedition it was usually 'Sir' when his nerves took over.
"Don't think it would... I mean...I realise...the impact..."
The other cut him off. "Do you? Really? You're what, twenty-four? On your first field assignment. My colleagues and I have already had many frustrating years trying to convince the climate-change doubters, John." Peterson was shouting in his ear. "Then just when the eyes of the world are on us..."
He stopped and took a deep breath, resting a hand on Mather's shoulder for balance. Suddenly it gripped hard. "Don't be a bloody fool..."
The young man shrugged away. "Can't we talk about this inside, Sir?"
He stumbled past Peterson. At that moment all he wanted was food and warmth; to get the hell out of that icy blast.
Mathers barely had enough strength to wrench open the base's airtight door before collapsing onto the rubber matting inside. Before he could get up Peterson was helping him to his feet.
"Sorry John, OK?" He nodded. "Be a good chap then and get the new batch put away in the Icehouse, then you can take a shower."
The Icehouse had a separate generator to keep its temperature at a steady -48º so that the long poles of dirty ice they'd drilled wouldn't defrost. Recordings of a distant past when the Earth was very different, they were meant to provide the case for global warming once and for all. That's why the Institute had backed the expedition, and why there was pressure on Peterson and Mathers to provide the "right" results.
The trouble was, the readings had shown the complete opposite of what was expected. Oh, the patterns of variation in thickness and carbon concentration in the thousands of layers in the core samples did not, on their own, prove that current climate patterns were not the result of human activity. But they did show that carbon dioxide levels in the past had varied over a much wider range than the "greenhouse effect" theorists would ever accept... An "inconvenient truth" of another kind.
The young man watched as the other adjusted the thermostat, feeling the warmth from the heat panels prickle his face.
Peterson looked over at him. "Go on, it'll be ready by the time you get back."
Mathers reluctantly went back outside to pull first his then Peterson's sledge around to the Icehouse. He opened its heavy door and proceeded to stack the long metal canisters with their precious contents along the racks inside. When he'd finished the exhausting work and returned the base felt almost snug.
"Have that shower now." Peterson sat at the all-purpose bench they used to work, eat their meals and even play cards at on the long evenings. He was tapping at his laptop.
"OK, I'll do that." Mathers hesitated. "You know, I really appreciate this opportunity...Arthur."
The other gave him a thumbs-up without turning around.
The shower cubicle was a cylinder of thick opaque plastic with a drain to pipe the water outside. Its hot water jets gradually forced the numbness from his naked skin.
"How's that girl of yours, Katy?" Peterson's voice could just be heard above the water pump.
"Cathy. She's fine."
"Missing you, no doubt."
"Hopefully." He dropped the soap and bent to get it.
"You're going to need a good job to support her." It was an odd thing for Peterson to say.
"She'll probably end up supporting me."
"Not if you come and work for me at the Institute."
Mathers straightened up slowly. He saw Peterson's blurred figure move up close to the tube.
"I'm not going to falsify those readings, Sir."
"I've taken care of all that. But I would appreciate your corroboration."
Mathers said nothing.
"Very well. I'm sorry John, you were so promising." The blur moved away.
Suddenly the water was boiling. Mathers swore and flattened himself against the side. He fumbled at the door handle but it wouldn't move.
"Turn it off! Jesus fucking Christ...Peterson...?"
The shower began to fill rapidly and Mathers realised the drain had been blocked. He began to clamber up the concave tube, his arms and legs blistering, the scalding steam blinding his eyes. As his fingers clung to the edge Peterson's hands were already there trying to prise them away. With one final lung-busting effort he pulled himself up and over, falling heavily onto the floor. Immediately fists pummelled at his head then a boot kicked him in the stomach twice, doubling him up in pain. He grabbed at the third kick and twisted so that Peterson fell down beside him.
Peterson was first on his feet. He backed away from him lifting something from a hook on the wall and Mathers saw a flaregun aimed at his head.
He found he was shaking, more from shock than fear. His skin felt like it had been flayed.
As Peterson's finger tightened on the trigger he ducked, turning to see the wall behind burst into flames. Suddenly he was pushing past the older man, grabbing up his clothes as Peterson stared in disbelief at the fire arcing above their heads.
Mathers heard his voice, "I have to save the data...help me John!"
But by then he was already outside pushing one of the sledges up against the door. He saw the Professor's face in the tiny window as the inferno took hold behind him.
"Mathers, you bastard!" He was still mouthing the words when the roof collapsed.
Mathers stood inside the Icehouse. The radio had been destroyed but there were contingency plans for rescue if they hadn't called in after three days. And he'd managed to retrieve some supplies from the burnt out shell of Blue Base.
That just left the problem of keeping warm.
He walked over to the thermostat, hesitated for a moment, then began to adjust the dial.
© 2010 Dave Weaver
Bio: Dave Weaver is a graphic designer living in St Albans. He is a member of the Verulam Writer's Circle. Dave's 'Finding Uncle' short story was published in Hert's University's 'Visions' anthology. His most recent Aphelion appearance was Call For Dave, June 2010.
E-mail: Dave Weaver
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