Previous: Chapter Nine
Ethne stood in the darkness of the cave and held her breath. She was sure an attack was imminent; she had seen it clearly in her mind’s eye. Could she have imagined it? The others were irritable rather than scared. Voices called out for the generator to be fixed while people searched for sources of light. A faint glow came from the entrance high above their heads. Then around the cavern points of light appeared as torches and headband lights were switched on.
Ethne scanned the cave, searching for Will. She spotted him near the wall of jagged rock that soared over their heads to the mouth of the cave. He was using the light strapped to his head to scan the ropes. He grabbed one and pulled. It was slack. He pulled again. This time it fell and coiled around his feet like a dead snake. He peered into the darkness above his head and raised his walkie-talkie. ‘Petar? Come in.’
Ethne crossed the cave towards him, careful not to collide with any stones or people. Will worked along the ropes, feeding them through his hands to find the ends. Every rope had been cut. Static poured from the radio. He looked up and cupped his hands.
‘Petar!’ he shouted. ‘What’s going on?’
Ethne reached him. She put a hand on his shoulder making him jump in surprise. He turned, blinding her with his headlamp.
She shielded her eyes. ‘We’re under attack.’
Will stared at her in confusion.
‘We have to get out of here,’ she said as calmly as she could manage.
He blinked, registered what she was saying, and then nodded. The rest of his team were gathered behind Ethne, silently waiting for his orders.
‘Okay,’ said Will. ‘Get your kit together. We’re climbing out. There are bolts and camming devices in my bag.’
‘What about the equipment?’ said a man’s voice from behind a torch.
‘Leave the gear, Marcus,’ said Will. ‘We’ll come back for it as soon as we know what’s going on.’
Gunshots echoed around the entrance. As one, they looked up in shock. An explosion shook the mountain, showering rocks and dust into the cavern.
Ethne fled for the stones, surrounded by a frenzy of panic. Several people scrambled up the rock face without equipment, while others screamed, hid in alcoves or ran aimlessly around the cavern.
Ethne scanned the mayhem looking for Will. Where was he?
More gunshots cracked around the narrow entrance. One of the men trying to climb out fell back. He landed on the cave floor in a crumpled heap so twisted it could only mean one thing. Ethne stared in numb shock. Who was doing this? Ana had warned her. She had stood on the pavement with tears in her eyes, pleading with her not to go. It was a trap, she had said. ARK would take her, just like they had taken Michael.
Ethne looked at the impossible stones with their enigmatic script. She watched the terror erupting around her. None of it made sense. Why would ARK give the go ahead to catalogue the stones, pay her a ridiculous sum to decipher the writing, and then attack their own people? Somebody else wanted these stones to remain hidden.
A movement to her right gave her a jolt. Lucy was searching the crates around the stones, oblivious to the chaos. She didn’t have a torch; she didn’t need one. A faint glow emanated from her skin, lighting her way. Ethne stared in disbelief.
Lucy bent over a crate and picked something up. A laptop. In one swift movement it vanished into her oversized jacket. She looked at Ethne, eyes loaded with meaning. Ethne frowned in reply and mouthed: what are you doing?
Lucy flashed a devilish grin and winked. ‘Get ready to run.’
Another explosion shook the cavern and pellets of rock rained down through the dust filled shadows. Ethne threw her hands over her head and crouched against a granite menhir. More blasts reverberated through the stone, humming and buzzing around the spiral. She wanted to wrap her arms around the entire monument and protect the ancient legacy from the destructive insanity being unleashed around her.
Strong arms pulled at her shoulders. Lucy was trying to tear her away from the stones, from her stones. How could she leave them here to be blown to pieces by lunatics?
‘We must leave,’ said Lucy into her ear.
Ethne staggered towards the forbidding wall of rock that stood between her and escape. A feeble twilight glowed at the entrance, sixty metres above her head.
Bodies lay at the foot of the jagged slope. Ethne searched frantically for Will, kneeling beside a man who looked the right size in the gloom. She turned his head and jumped back in horror. Her fingers felt slick with blood. The man’s face was unrecognisable, his brain visible between bony splinters. It wasn’t Will, but whoever it was, had a bullet through his skull.
‘Ethne,’ shouted Lucy. ‘Now.’
She turned, trying to wipe the blood from her hands, fingers shaking. ‘If we climb they’ll shoot us.’
‘We’re not climbing.’ Lucy hooked her arms around Ethne’s waist. ‘Hold on.’
Without thinking, she obeyed and gravity seemed to fail. She wasn’t flying, but falling upwards, as if the laws of physics had become inverted. The rock face blurred as she flew past, and an eerie silence filled her ears. The daylight grew stronger as they approached the mouth of the cave. She could taste the ice and the crispness of the air. They surfaced and the silence ended with a roar as the mountainside erupted around them. Boulders and ash smashed into the ice and tumbled into the cave.
Lucy deposited Ethne onto the ice. She wobbled and turned on the spot to survey the carnage. The tents were torn, flapping and burning in the wind, the snowmobiles a tangle of charred metal. The cave entrance was strewn with bodies, dark blood vivid red against the ice. She ran between them to check for signs of life. She found none.
At the edge of the camp she found snowmobile tracks etched into the ice, leading away onto the glacier. Whoever had cut the ropes and fired the shots that killed these men, was long gone.
‘Ethne,’ shouted Lucy. ‘Jump on.’
She spun round. On the glacier stood a sledge pulled by ten Greenland huskies yipping and hopping from paw to paw, desperate to be moving. Lucy was standing on the sledge, beaming like a queen who has just been given the day off.
Overhead, Ethne heard the distant thrum of an engine. It didn’t sound like the whirring blades of a helicopter or the propellers of the Twin Otter in which she had arrived. It was something else. The whine of a fat wasp. She looked into the limitless sky searching for the source of the incessant noise.
The sun had hauled itself over the horizon but was barely visible. It hugged the line of rocks and ice, throwing the primordial landscape into a shimmering dawn so beautiful it almost made Ethne forget the horrors around her.
The buzzing wasp grew louder. Ethne ran for the sledge, glancing back to see what she thought was a large toy aeroplane flying towards her over the nunatak. It was only once she had clambered aboard the sledge that she realised what it was: a Predator drone.
Lucy set the dogs running with a shout as if she had done it a million times before, and the sledge took off over the ice sheet. Ethne lurched and grabbed the side to stop herself falling out. The ice rumbled past in a cold blur as the dogs powered over the glacier, barking with happiness. She pulled a fur blanket over her knees and watched Lucy guide the dogs. The mystifying woman seemed to know where she was going. Or perhaps the dogs did.
The whirr of the drone followed them. Ethne looked up and had the distinct feeling they were about to be fired upon. Lucy was an oasis of calm, as if she was just taking her dogs for a morning run.
‘They’re not going to let us get away,’ said Ethne. ‘Not alive, at any rate.’
As she spoke, the glacier in front of them exploded in a cloud of ice shards and rock. Ethne screamed and dug her fingers into the side of the sledge. A chasm had opened in the ice. At their current speed they didn’t have time to steer around it, they would be on it in seconds.
‘Hold on,’ shouted Lucy.
Ethne obeyed, crouching as low as she could. Lucy shouted and whipped the reins, goading the dogs to run faster. They hit the edge of the chasm. The dogs took off and the sledge lifted from the ice.
For a blissful moment they were suspended in silence, and the sun glinted from a million ice crystals.
A crash, and the sledge jolted violently as they landed. The dogs continued to run. Ethne sat up. She looked back at the fast retreating chasm, amazed they were still going, and laughed with relief.
Overhead, the drone circled and flew away. Ethne watched and prayed with feverish hope that the attack was over. Perhaps they had run out of missiles and had to return to base, wherever that was. But she was wrong. The drone looped around and flew straight for them. It wouldn’t miss a second time.
Lucy had seen it. She gave Ethne a look so fierce it terrified her more than the Predator flying towards them.
‘Get under the blanket,’ said Lucy. ‘You must cover your eyes.’
Ethne stared at her stupidly. A blanket wasn’t going to stop her getting blown to pieces.
‘Blanket,’ shouted Lucy, making Ethne jump. ‘Now!’
‘What are you going to do?’
Lucy grabbed the fur blanket and threw it over Ethne’s head. ‘Close your eyes. Do not look under any circumstances. Do you understand?’
Ethne nodded and began to tremble. She curled into a ball under the blanket and squeezed her eyes shut. Her heart was beating so hard she thought it would dislodge the blanket, so she clutched at it until her fingers ached. What was this crazy woman about to do?
The sledge powered onwards. She listened to the hypnotic swish of the runners cutting over the ice. Overhead, the scream of the Predator as it plunged down. She had been right about one thing: they had run out of missiles. They were going to crash the drone straight into the sledge. The burr of the engine filled her ears. She held her breath.
Ethne’s mind filled with the image of blue eyes and a crooked smile. Ice crystals glinting in ginger stubble. Will. He was trapped in the cave. She didn’t even know if he was alive.
From under the blanket, through closed eyes, she sensed an immense light, as if the sun had come unhinged and fallen directly onto the glacier. An explosion roared through the air and a searing heat penetrated her fur shield. The dogs barked like it was the end of the world, but the sledge kept moving.
‘Okay,’ shouted Lucy.
Ethne threw off the blanket, the sledge swerving in a wide arc. The Predator drone lay in a burning mangled heap on the ice. Columns of fire and smoke rose into the air. Ethne stared at the wreckage in dumb surprise.
‘What the-’ she said, as a wing dropped off the drone and burst into flames. ‘How did you do that?’
‘Are you hurt?’ said Lucy, looking her over with concern.
Ethne shook her head. Physically she was fine, she was great. She was better than great. She was alive. She just had a few questions. A few million questions.
‘What are you?’ she said.
Lucy laughed. ‘You’ll see.’
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