By Alistair MacLean
First published in 1959
Tabla de contenido
CHAPTER ONE - Monday midnight 3
CHAPTER TWO - Monday 1 A.M. - 2 A.M. 24
CHAPTER THREE - Monday 2 A.M. - 3 A.M. 50
CHAPTER FOUR - Monday 6 A.M. - 6 P.M. 81
CHAPTER FIVE - Monday 6 P.M. - 7 P.M. 109
CHAPTER SIX - Monday 7 P.M. - Tuesday 7 A.M. 135
CHAPTER SEVEN - Tuesday 7 A.M. - Tuesday Midnight160
CHAPTER EIGHT - Wednesday 4 A.M. - 8 P.M. 183
CHAPTER NINE - Wednesday 8 P.M. - Thursday 4 P.M. 210
CHAPTER TEN - Thursday 4 P.M. - Friday 6 P.M. 236
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Friday 6 P.M. - Saturday 12.15 P.M. 269
CHAPTER TWELVE - Saturday 12.15 P.M. - 12.30 P.M. 305
CHAPTER ONE - Monday midnight
It was Jackstraw who heard it first - it was always Jackstraw, whose hearing was an evenmatch for his phenomenal eyesight, who heard things first. Tired of having my exposed hands alternately frozen, I had dropped my book, zipped my sleeping-bag up to the chin and was drowsily watching him carving figurines from a length of inferior narwhal tusk when his hands suddenly fell still and he sat quite motionless. Then, unhurriedly as always, he dropped the piece of bone into thecoffee-pan that simmered gently by the side of our oil-burner stove - curio collectors paid fancy prices for what they imagined to be the dark ivory of fossilised elephant tusks - rose and put his ear to the ventilation shaft, his eyes remote in the unseeing gaze of a man lost in listening. A couple of seconds were enough.
"Aeroplane," he announced casually.
"Aeroplane!" I propped myself up on anelbow and stared at him. "Jackstraw, you've been hitting the methylated spirits again."
"Indeed, no, Dr Mason." The blue eyes, so incongruously at variance with the swarthy face and the broad Eskimo cheekbones, crinkled into a smile: coffee was Jackstraw's strongest tipple and we both knew it. "I can hear it plainly now. You must come and listen."
"No, thanks." It had taken me fifteen minutes tothaw out the frozen condensation in my sleeping-bag, and I was just beginning to feel warm for the first time. Heaven only knew that the presence of a plane in the heart of that desolate ice plateau was singular enough - in the four months since our IGY station had been set up this was the first time we had had any contact, however indirectly, with the world and the civilization that lay sounimaginably beyond our horizons - but it wasn't going to help either the plane or myself if I got my feet frozen again. I lay back and stared up through our two plate glass skylights: but as always they were completely opaque, covered with a thick coating of rime and dusting of snow. I looked away from the skylights across to where Joss, our young Cockney radioman, was stirring uneasily in his sleep,then back to Jackstraw.
"Still hear it?"
"Getting louder all the time, Dr Mason. Louder and closer."
I wondered vaguely - vaguely and a trifle irritably, for this was our world, a tightly-knit, compact little world, and visitors weren't welcome - what plane it could be. A met. plane from Thule, possibly. Possibly, but unlikely: Thule was all of six hundred miles away, and our own weatherreports went there three times a day. Or perhaps a Strategic Air Command bomber testing out the DEW-line - the Americans' distant early warning radar system - or even some civilian proving flight on a new trans-polar route. Or maybe some base plane from down by Godthaab.
"Dr Mason!" Jackstraw's voice was quick, urgent. "It's in trouble, I think. It's circling us - lower and closer all the time. A bigplane, I'm sure: many motors."
"Damn!" I said feelingly. I reached out for the silk gloves that always hung at night above my head, pulled them on, unzipped my sleeping-bag, swore under my breath as the freezing air struck at my shivering skin, and grabbed for my clothes. Half an hour only since I had put them off, but already they were stiff, awkward to handle and abominably cold - it was a...