Over at the helicopter he can´t see any sign of the person Janet and Robert were talking about. The lights were definitely on at the runway. That much he can see clearly below the station´s poles as he walks down the first couple of steps. No sign of Walther.
Johnny finishes down the stairs and tramps across the ice with his head down too. He is confused about the runway lights as there was no mention of anyone else arriving tonight. He’s glad the air control centre still has power but decides to meet Harrison halfway to tell him about the power cut at the station. He’s the mechanic after all.
Johnny almost bumps into Harrison who walks with his head down to ward off the swirling snow. He looks up just before Johnny is about to shout at him. “Power outage? I have power in the shop… I´ll have a look at the gennie.” The two hear the door slam shut up on the landing to the main building. At the same time the whoofing of an incoming freight plane overpowers the gusts of snow.
Janet steps out after them. “What’s happening?”
Johnny strains his eyes and ears towards the runway. “A C-17? Maybe. I didn’t realise we were expecting more traffic today.” Then he realises there will probably be a lot of carrying to do to unload the plane. "I’ve got to check over the bird before tonight. Good luck with the gennie, Harrison. " He smiles at Janet and heads off to the helicopter.
“We never get to know what´s going on, do we?” Harrison stomps the snow off his boots as he pass Janet on his way up. Johnny backtracks Harrison´s footsteps to the workshop to get his tools.
Harrison turns right after having reached the landing and starts to open the service door for the main generator. From Janet´s position halfway down the stairs, she can see smoke coming from the workshop´s thin chimney. Most likely Walther and Harrison are burning fuel to get some extra warmth for their greenhouse project. From above, Harrison comments on the incoming plane. “Yup, most likely a Hercules. Let´s hope they have something good to trade with.”
Janet sees the figure over at the helicopter again, now moving farther away from the helipad putting more ground between itself and the compound. She can see the figure is carrying a long object. It looks like a rifle from where she stands.
Reaching the workshop, Johnny soon finds his tool box and is amazed by the temperature in the semi dome. From a small office in the back, the sputtering of the extra generator can be heard. Also, the air in the workshop is tinged with smoke from the small wood stove the guys had built last season. Apparently they had fed it too much fuel and it had seeped out in the large room. Anyway, it beats the hard weather outside.
Johnny decides it’ll seem even colder outside if he lingers too long in the lovely warm workshop. He reckons he might spend some time putting his tools away after working on the helicopter, making the most of the warm workshop and sharing the whiskey with Walther when he turns up. He grabs his tools and goes to have a look at the generator before heading out and walking towards the helicopter.
Janet heads through the snow towards the vanishing figure. “Hey!” She waves her arms at the figure. “Hey, where are you going?” She really doesn’t expect danger or violence around this area so she calls out happily enough more out of curiosity than anything else and certainly without a shred of fear.
Johnny sees Janet waving and jogs up to her, “What’s up Doll? You coming to give me a hand with the bird? It won’t take long.”
“Yeah, that’d be neat,” says Janet. “In truth, I was trying to call out to that guy. I saw him over by the helicopter.” She pauses. “I think he was … I think he was carrying a rifle.” She blushes. “Maybe I shouldn’t have called out to him but I didn’t think about the rifle at the time. I guess I didn’t much think anyone could be armed out here but now that you’ve come back it’s got me wondering….” She bites her lip. “Maybe we should go inside and do a head count or something?”
“Yeah and by then he’ll have gone. We know everyone who’s here and the only person who is missing is Walther. It’s probably him, although what he’s doing by the helipad I don’t know.” Johnny frowns, looking worried for the first time. “Come on, we’d better get him before he goes wondering off onto the ice. I’m sure it can’t be a rifle. Why would he have one? Maybe he’s looking for polar bears!” Johnny walks with Janet, hurrying her along to the helipad, worried now about his precious bird and his friend."
“Wait, we don’t know if it’s Walther. That last group were all killed, right? What if that’s the murderer and he’s kidnapped Walther or has him tied up somewhere? Maybe we should fetch some reinforcements, quickly, and a few weapons and go after him. If it is a rifle and it isn’t Walther, and we go after him alone, we’re screwed. If we take a few minutes, then what do we lose? We can follow his footprints in this snow.”
“And how’s the murderer gonna get here from Station 31? Ski? Anyway it’s all shut down there; the corpses are back at McMurdo’s. And who’s to say they were murdered. Wasn’t there a fire or something?”
Johnny shakes his head, “I’m worried about the bird, if anyone screws around with her then we’re screwed. And I’ll be really pissed off.” He turns to Janet, “Look, you go back, get some reinforcements, tell them what you saw. I’ll go straight to the helicopter, check she’s okay and wait for you there. I promise I won’t go following footsteps without you. In fact I’ll wait inside the cockpit.”
Having overheard the discussion in the stairs, Harrison comments on the possible threat of someone being out there. “Those mercenaries withe that Norwegian guys. They might have returned… Just saying.” He pops his head out the generator room and shuts the door when Janet is reaching the entrance door. “Hey, there´s Walther!” He points toward the garage next to the workshop. Walther is carrying one of the snow shovels that are scattered around the area.
Walther comes jogging, and soon gets up to the landing. “Ah, I heard the call. Was about to greet the crew that arrived. What´s the matter?” He leans the snow shovel against the generator door. “You got the gennie back up? Good work Dwayne!” He pats Harrison on the back and adds. “Let´s get inside, I´m dying out here.”
Meanwhile, Johnny gets over to the helicopter and checks for any trail of the mystery man. Sure enough, there´s a trail leading away from the pad. The trail is leading south west. As Johnny walked over to the helicopter he heard that Walther had been found. The voice of the master trader carried a long way in the strong wind. Johnny doubts they, on the other hand would hear him, if he shouted to them. His words would be lost in the blowing snow.
He takes an inspection round to see all service panels are closed. They seem to be and he comes back from his 360 and enters the bird. The automatic lights don´t start as he has put in an extra fail safe switch, to ensure no one forgets to power off before leaving the helicopter. When the door shuts, a circuit breaks and kills the power. To start the power, a small lever under the pilot´s panel has to be switched on to get the lights working and the radio to power up. Too many times, he has been forced to swap batteries to get the heli operational, due to someone leaving a surge on.
In this climate – a dead battery can kill you. Literary.
Reaching for the switch, Johnny feels he puts his glove in a small pile of snow on the floor. The lights flutter on and on the floor, for sure, is a pile of snow with a footstep in it.
Johnny curses and looks up quickly, he scans the area before bending down to examine the footprint. Is it the same as the ones leading off southwest? He looks around very carefully to see if the man has touched anything or if anything is not as it should be. If it all looks okay he’ll do a dummy run flight check including getting the wings working for a spell; it’s just lift-off he won’t attempt. He also checks the amount of fuel and that the pipes have not been tampered with.
The print is from heavy boots, no way of seeing if it from the same pair of boots as outside, unless he gets out and carefully looks at the treads.
With no trouble at all, Johnny sees that the locker where the sniper rifle is kept is open. And the rifle is missing.
His plan to run a check is postponed. The radio gives away some static.
A quick thought on himself silhouetted in the cockpit and someone with a sniper rifle outside makes him crouch instinctively.
The door of the helicopter closes against his back, giving him some cover.
Johnny reaches over and pulls the door closed, locking it from the inside. Then, trying not consider the penetration power of a rifle and the thinness of the helicopter, he stays crouched, pulls the radio cord over and depresses the button.
“Station 10, come in Station 10, this is Johnny over.”
Johnny tries to contact Robert over the radio. As he does so, he sees all the lights come on again. Power is up.
“That’s something I guess.” He thinks. He tries again “Come in Station 10…this is an emergency… Robert wake up!… This is Johnny at the helipad”
“Robert Bailey at Station 10 here. I read you, Johnny. What’s up? Over.” Comes the reply almost instantly.
“Thank God.” The usually cocky pilot sounds worried and stressed. “Look Robert, there’s an unknown man wandering around out here with a sniper rifle. Janet saw him but I wasn’t sure at first. But he’s broken into the helicopter and stolen the rifle from its locker. Is everyone else back at the station?”
“Bloody hell!” says Robert. “Janet, Harrison, and Walther just came back inside, but I can’t see how they could have slipped a rifle past us without someone noticing. Eric also spotted three people in red parkas outside. I’m not sure how they got here. McMurdo is planning to send a team, but they couldn’t have gotten here already. I’m not sure if anyone else didn’t come back yet besides you. Can you get back inside safely?”, comes over the radio.
“Feck.” Johnny does not relish leaving the helicopter. “Robert, it wasn’t any of our lot. It’s someone else, and I don’t know how the hell they got here. Over the ice from somewhere? I’m worried about the helicopter- sabotage would be a disaster.”
“I was worried about the chopper too,” replies Robert. “We saw someone heading for it earlier, and they might have messed with it already. I don’t know what we can do about it other than inspect it carefully before trying to lift off in it, but if there’s a sniper out there…” All the while, Johnny tries to steal a glance out the door window to see if anyone is approaching.
Only white out there.
Johnny considers checking the bird over now but then there is no way to protect her from further attacks. He depresses the send button, “Robert, do me a favour. I’m going to make a run for it back to the station. If I’m not banging on the door in three minutes then something’s happened to me: send out the search parties will you?” He takes one last look around the cabin while he waits for Robert’s reply.
There is no reply over the coms. Just a rustling and whining noise.
Outside the snow is making it hard to make out the structures of the base. That grants it to be as difficult to use a rifle at any good rate.
Johnny is undecided whether to run or wait for a reply. Surely the message must have gone through?
Something more pressing might be tugging at the radio man.
Staying or going…testing the chopper…?
“Ah …right… careful,” Comes between the noise.
It had gone through.
There is no point in checking the chopper unless there is some way of protecting it from further harm. Johnny considers flying it somewhere but the snow is coming down fast and it would be suicide without a weather report. He turns off the power, opens the door, climbs out and locks the door behind him. He reorientates himself and then walks quickly in the direction of the station, scanning his surroundings all the time.
The time is 16:59.
South of the main building, Johnny starts his jog to reach the same door the trio is standing on. As he gets a bit closer he can clearly see the three figures on the landing. They wear red parkas, if they hadn´t Johnny wouldn´t have spotted them.
To the left of Johnny, hidden by blowing snow he hears the crack of a rifle being readied. Distance to the sound should be ten to fifteen meters. (30-45ft)
Johnny stops. And curses silently. That helicopter rifle is his responsibility and someone is playing silly buggers with it. Or worse. He assumes that the guy with the rifle can see the red parkas and has just loaded a round to shoot at them. (If not them then who else? He’s fairly sure he’s hidden by the snow.) Johnny starts to pad quietly and quickly, curving around to the left of the sound to come up to it from behind, hoping that the marksman will be concentrating on his target long enough for Johnny to surprise him.
Suddenly, Johnny realizes there are only two parkas on the landing. The third is coming at his position down the path, jogging. He´s brandishing a handgun. “Whose There?” he shouts. He swirls around at the direction of the rifle.
At least the parkas have been alerted but that hand gun doesn’t look too friendly and Johnny doesn’t know if it’s friend or foe. He decides to let the sniper and parka fight it out. He pads slowly backwards towards the storage barn, keeping the rifle-sound place between him and the descending parka and praying for continual snow.
From his hiding place Johnny hears a shot go off. It is followed by the sound of an expertly performed reload. Then, a short sprint away from the location.
There´s no sound from the pistol wielding parka….
Snow is continuing to fall. Johnny estimates that both persons carrying guns are between himself and the main building. To cross the deep snow and get to the semi domes would be hard work but should keep him further away from the line of fire. He then could access an emergency trap door below the lab.
Alternatively he can try to hide inside the container he is hiding by. It is lockable from the inside…
There´s always the option to retreat.
The chopper will give him some cover and he has a way to communicate. Even staying behind the helicopter it will make some cover from the wind and snow.
“This is crazy.” Johnny mutters under his breath. His teeth are starting to chatter from the cold. If the bullets don’t kill him, the cold will. He starts to make his way towards the semi domes and warmth, loosely curving into the deeper snow to avoid the gunmen. His pace slows down as he high steps through the powder. It’s strenuous work and keeps him warm but at a price; tiredness and sweat will cause problems if he stays outside.
Johnny trudges on through the snow. Behind him, he hears two shots fired in rapid succession. Then the familiar sound of the station´s front door slamming shut. Now, only his heavy breathing fills his ears.
As he continues on he almost stumbles when there´s a set of deep holes in the snow moving diagonally from his trajectory. Towards the helicopter, from the semi domes.
The upside to this is that it will be easier to wade through the snow.
To the east of the area comes a howling from a dog. It must be a dog right? On a continent with only fish and penguins for wildlife he´s glad to not share the snowy ridges with Polar bears or wolves…
Twenty meters along the crude path lie the three semi domes. Behind them the C-130 the newcomers arrived in. Beacons of light shine through the white of the brewing storm.
Johnny steps slowly into the deep holes and then follows them towards the semi domes. He’s keen to get out of the snow; if he can’t make it to the lab trap door, at least the semi domes will be sheltered. And there’s the chance he might find one of the team there. Johnny is beginning to get a bit freaked out wandering around in the blizzard with two invisible gunmen and an unlikely dog. He remembers the whisky inside his coat and hurries on towards shelter. As he goes he tries to make out if there is anyone on the runway by the light festooned plane.
From what he can see, the runway is void of any movement. As he scans the area surrounding him, three meters away from the row of semi domes, he feels suddenly alone. No gun fire. No shouts. No dog.
Remembering what Arthur had said and how he´d acted, Johnny starts to second guess the entire event that had been played out out here.
Maybe it´s just the mind playing a trick from being exposed to the cold?
Johnny shakes his head, “I’m going crazy out here.” He reaches the semi domes and tries to enter the first one. He’ll lie low for a bit, try to get warm, have a drink and then try for the station again. He’s aware his three minutes must be up but there’s no way he’s going to risk getting shot just yet – or bumping his head like Arthur. He wonders if Arthur might have been right after all.
The doors to the warehouse semi dome open without trouble. An automatic light flickers on and illuminates rows of shelves. To the right side of the dome, a huge tank is located. Johnny shuts the door quickly behind him. From a speaker in the top of the ceiling, crackle as someone is readying a broadcast.
As in all the semi domes, this dome has a small first aid cabinet with band aids, alcohol vials and other necessities. The shelves in the ware house are organized by date the merchandize were received. Something Naumann insisted on. Essentially that makes it almost impossible for anyone but him to find anything fast. On the upside is that almost anything Johnny would need to fix something at the station or the vehicles, he could get it in here.
The respite from the elements feels welcome. Not that it´s a direct difference to the cold nerves in his face, it´s more a psychological relief. The knowledge of not being in direct danger of getting frozen stiff. Or rather, a frozen stiff!
‘Okay, now we’re talking!’ Johnny heads over to the first aid kit area and pulls up a box to sit on. He also looks for a torch to keep handy as he’s paranoid about power cuts. Then he settles down, pulls out the bottle of whiskey from his coat and takes a welcome swig while he listens to the broadcast.
“Evacuate station! I repeat evacuate station! This is Robert Bailey, abandon station!”, comes from the radio. The protocol for hazard situations is to get to the surrounding buildings and await rescue. A beacon message automatically sent to McMurdo base.
The time is 16:59.
On the stairs, just by the entrance door, John Fredricks turns to look at the vista of cold white wastes. The snowing is picking up as is the wind. Good call to go down here at Station 10.
They would not have been able to safely reach McMurdo in this weather.
He, Sondra and Nichols had set off to deliver the finds from the last dig at Lockyear-Smythe. Three crates worth of rubble if you ask him. Whatever gets me a pay, Sondra had said when they had loaded the large crates and set off for McMurdo.
On the landing-
Fredricks is not aware of the figures outside the station. He is absolutely sure, though, that there are a lot of people inside the station. The door is closed but there are movements from multiple locations inside.
Johnny gets all his gear on and opens the front door, again. It has started to get a bit windier than a couple of minutes ago, but nothing major. At the landing, he overlooks the area beneath. To his left, below the stair, comes Harrison walking back from the workshop. He keeps his head down to lessen the wind attacks at his face. He didn´t put on a mask, only the parka and a wool hat beneath.