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Slow Thaw

Slow Thaw

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Slow Thaw

113 Seiten
1 Stunde
Dec 8, 2018


Javier Fernandez is a climate scientist living in a research station near the South Pole. Since his husband was killed in a car crash, he's preferred to be alone, and is less than thrilled to have a junior scientist thrust upon him by his rich patron.

Col Steele is a trans man fleeing a bad break-up. He is ready for the next step in his career, and eager to spend Christmas anywhere but at home.

When a crack in the ice separates the two men from safety, they are forced to come to terms with their own losses and each other.

Dec 8, 2018

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Slow Thaw - J. Scott Coatsworth


Chapter One

Bettencourt Station

It was the start of the end of the world, but Col Steele didn’t know it yet.

The rhythmic whomp whomp whomp of the helicopter’s rotary blades matched the beating of his heart.

I’m here. I’m really here.

He pressed his face to the glass, eagerly taking in the landscape below, capturing the view in his phone. There was no cellular network here, of course, and he had his Sony A73 packed away for the real work, but his phone was good enough to record his own personal memories.

The sparkling blue and white of the Ross Ice Shelf spread out before him, almost indescribable in its frozen beauty. The ice seemed to stretch on forever here in the South, as they called it. On the ice.

The copter had left the Southern Explorer a few minutes earlier, taking off from the grey deck and passing over a span of cold ocean water, where a waddle of penguins played in the Ross Sea.

The cliffs of the ice were white enough—and tall enough—to put the cliffs of Dover to shame with their splendor.

Col checked the temperature gauge on the console. It was a relatively balmy Antarctic day, with the temperature hovering just below zero Fahrenheit.

First time? His pilot, Joseph, steered the copter over the ice field with practiced ease.

Yes. Not yours, I assume?

Nope, I’ve done the run to Amundsen–Scott more than a dozen times, people and cargo. Been out to Bettencourt three times now.

Col nodded. Tad Bettencourt was his benefactor—a billionaire who was keenly interested in the science and effects of global climate change.

He picked me. Out of more than two hundred research scientists, the man had chosen Col to be the next fellowship scientist to join Javier Fernandez at Bettencourt Station for a six-month internship.

It was still sinking in.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Col had no desire to be home for the holidays this year. After a bad breakup with David, he was nursing a broken heart and was in no mood for Christmas trees and candy canes. Far better the frozen tundra of Antarctica to match his frozen heart.

The Ross Ice Shelf was much more varied a landscape than he’d expected. The smooth, white ice near the shore gave way to a variety of landforms, the result of the ice being pushed and pulled around by gravity and shaped by wind and snow and rain for millennia.

There were mountains and valleys, the peaks white and the shadows a beautiful blue.

In other places, the windblown snow created long scalloped shapes along the ice.

In at least one spot, a wide, shallow pool of melted water almost glowed turquoise in the sunlight. Not a good sign.

You see a lot of melting out here?

Joseph nodded. "More every year. It's been a slow thaw, but every summer season it goes a bit faster. Lots more icebergs too. Seeing one of those calve off the main shelf is something else. Crack! Thunder! And a great splash of water as it hits the ocean."

Col grinned. I’ve seen it in the Arctic. I spent a year based out of Whitehorse, studying the ice sheets up north.

Never been. Though I hear the girls in the Yukon are wild.

Col snorted. I wouldn’t know. What he didn’t say was that he’d been one of them, once. On the outside, at least.

That was a lifetime ago.

Now this new life was laid out before him, and he just wanted to move forward.

He captured as much of the landscape as he could manage with his phone, awed that he was finally here. Then he tucked it away to just take in the experience.

Might wanna get your phone ready, Joseph said at last. We’re almost there. The pilot pointed off to starboard, and a small speck appeared in the distance, alongside a long line in the ice.

It’s bigger than I imagined.

Joseph’s eyebrow went up. Bettencourt?

No. The Giant Crack.

Joseph laughed. You scientists suffer from a severe lack of imagination.

Col grinned. It’s true. He stared at the Crack. It stretched from one edge of the horizon to the other, a sign of things to come. He’d seen many pictures of it, of course, but seeing it in person was awe inspiring and a little frightening. It had happened two years before, but since then, the shelf seemed to have stabilized again.

It was the reason he was here, as much as his breakup with David.

He snapped a few pics, then looked down at Bettencourt Station.

It was a modest place, maybe the size of a couple RVs hooked together. It was two modules built by Northrop-Grumman to Bettencourt’s specs, brought in by military copter and hooked together. One served as the laboratory and the other as living quarters for the scientific team.

Fernandez was there now. His last lab partner, Astrid Danvers, had departed a few days earlier. It had all been in the briefing email.

Col whistled. It was going to be a tight space for his six-month rotation down there.

Still, it would be worth it. Careers were made by postings like this, and he’d have a chance to put his education and experience to work at something that might actually help the planet.

Fuck you, David.

He took a couple more shots, and then settled in for the landing.

Javier Fernandez scratched his neatly trimmed beard absently. He stared at the results from his latest ice core test, frowning. He’d run it through the Osterberg melter, testing it for traces of minerals, dust, and pollution.

After two years down on the ice, he was part of the five hundred club—the elite group of scientists who had spent more than five hundred days down South. Not that he ever spent any time with the others.

Tad Bettencourt, that crazy billionaire of Silicon Valley fame who had funded the station, wanted him to find out the true age and history of the Ross Ice Shelf. He also hoped to discover if it was likely to break apart in the near future. If it did, it would have potentially catastrophic results for the whole planet.

The Great Crack, not far from the station, was evidence that it likely would. It was just a matter of time.

Unlike other temporary installations, Bettencourt Station was designed to do everything on-site. Other mobile labs had to send their cores off the Ice, taking time and risking contamination as they were shipped from the remote southern location to labs in the northern hemisphere.

She was loaded with all the climate science and research Javier could cram into her, and her satellite connection allowed him to access any new research in scientific journals.

Plus, she was mobile.

The steady thwump thwump thwump of a helicopter’s rotors distracted Javier him from

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