A secret buried in the Arctic Ice... a secret that could destroy the world
‘Mindblowing… outrageously exciting’ Literary Review
1944: Near the Canadian border, a group of scientists gather for a clandestine meeting. The atom bomb project has run into problems, and the only sane option is to abandon it. But one scientist, the brilliant Lev Petrosian, has other ideas. Ideas too terrifying to share with his colleagues.
Decades later, British scientist Dr Fred Findhorn lands on an unstable Arctic iceberg to recover secret diaries from the crash site of a Russian military aircraft. A wreckage that also contains the frozen body of Lev Petrosian.
But the diaries could be the ultimate poisoned chalice. Not only are governments and multinationals willing to kill for them; they could unleash an unimaginable catastrophe…Praise for Bill Napier
‘The most exciting book I have ever read’ Arthur C. Clarke (on Nemesis)
‘A stomach-churning thriller… a gripping read’ Scotsman
‘Lots of scientific detail… there’s also a remarkable twist to the tail of this pacey thriller’ Books Magazine
Professor Bill Napier is a Scottish astronomer at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland and an honorary professor at the Institute for Astrobiology of Cardiff University.
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About the Author
Bill Napier was born in Scotland in 1940. He studied astronomy at Glasgow University, and has spent most of his career as an astronomer at observatories in Scotland, Italy, and Northern Ireland. He is an honorary professor in the Centre for Astrobiology at Cardiff University. In his research he has discovered a process which allows life to spread around the Galaxy, taking hold wherever it finds suitable environments—such as the Earth. He now lives in Ireland with his wife Nancy and divides his time between writing novels and carrying out research with colleagues in Wales and California. He likes to cook but faces stiff competition from wife and children.
Read an Excerpt
The Shadow on the Lake
Thursday, 29 July 1942
Out-of-towners. Men with an intense, almost unnatural aura about them. Come from God knows where to the back of beyond. In his imagination, the station master sees gangsters, Mafia bosses come for a secret confab.
It is, after all, a quiet branch line, and he has to occupy his mind with something.
He has no way of knowing that the three men alighting from the Pullman are infinitely more dangerous than anything his imagination can devise.
First out is John Baudino, the Pope's bodyguard. His gorilla frame almost fills the carriage door. He is carrying a dark green shopping bag. Baudino surveys the platform suspiciously before stepping down. Two others follow, one a tall, thin man with intense blue eyes. He is wearing a broad-brimmed pork-pie hat, and is smoking a cigarette. The third man is thin and studious, with a pale, serious face and round spectacles.
The man waiting impatiently on the empty railway platform expected only Oppenheimer; the other two are a surprise.
'Hello, Arthur,' says the man with the blue eyes, shaking hands. He looks bleary, as if he hasn't slept.
'You could have flown, Oppie. A thousand miles is one helluva train ride.'
Oppenheimer drops his cigarette on the platform and exhales the last of the smoke. 'You know how it is with the General. He thinks we're too valuable to risk in the air.'
Arthur Compton leads the way to the exit gate.
The station master gives them a suspicious nod. 'Y'all here for the fishing?' he asks, attempting a friendly tone. It is out of season for the angling. His eyes stray to their unfishing-like clothes and luggage.
'No. We're German spies,' growls Baudino, thrusting the train tickets at him. The station master snaps their tickets and cackles nervously.
In Compton's estate wagon, Baudino pulls a notebook and a Colt 38 out of the shopping bag at his feet. He rests the weapon on his knees. He says, 'Do your talking somewhere quiet, Mister Compton. And not in the cottage.'
'Come on, John, it's a hideaway. Nobody even knows I'm here.'
'We found you,' Baudino says over his shoulder. He is already checking car registration numbers against a list.
Compton thinks about that. 'Yeah.' He takes the car along a narrow, quiet suburban road. After about three miles the houses peter out and the road is lined with conifer forest. Now and then a lake can be glimpsed to the right, through the trees. After ten minutes Compton goes down through the gears and then turns off along a rough track. About a mile on he arrives at a clearing, and pulls up at a log cabin. A line of washing is strung out on the verandah. They step out and stretch their limbs. The air is cool and clear. Baudino slips the gun into his trouser belt.
Compton says, 'You know what I'm enjoying about this place? The water. It's everywhere. It even descends from the sky. After the mesa, it's glorious. You guys want coffee?' Oppenheimer shakes his head. 'Later. First, let's talk.' He leans into the wagon and pulls out a briefcase.
Compton points and they set off through a track in the woods. After half a mile they come to a lake whose far edge is somewhere over the horizon. They set off along the pebbled beach. Baudino takes up the rear, about thirty yards behind the other three, to be out of hearing: what the eggheads get up to is none of his business. His assignment is protection and to that end he keeps glancing around, peering into the forest. Now and then he touches the gun, as if for reassurance.
Compton says, 'Oppie, whatever made you come a thousand miles to the Canadian border, it must be deadly serious.'
Oppenheimer's face is grim. 'Teller thinks the bomb will set light to the atmosphere, maybe even the oceans.'
Compton stops. 'What?'
Oppenheimer pats the briefcase. 'I've brought his calculations.'
The studious one, Lev Petrosian, speaks for the first time since they arrived. His English is good and clear with just a hint of a German accent. 'He thinks atmospheric nitrogen and carbon will catalyse fusion of the hydrogen. Here's the basic formula.' He hands over a sheet of paper.
Compton studies it for some minutes, while walking. Finally he looks up at his colleagues, consternation in his eyes. 'Jesus.'
Oppenheimer nods. 'A smart guy, our Hungarian. At the fireball temperatures we're talking about you start with carbon, combine with hydrogen all the way up to nitrogen-15, then you get your carbon back. Meantime you've transmuted four hydrogen atoms into helium-4 and fired out gamma rays all the way up the ladder.'
'Hell, Oppie, we don't even need to create the nitrogen. It's eighty per cent of the atmosphere. And we've already got the carbon in the CO, not to mention plenty of hydrogen in the water. If this is right it makes the atmosphere a devil's brew.' Compton shakes his head. 'But it can't be right. It takes millions of years to turn hydrogen into deuterium.'
Petrosian says, 'About one hydrogen atom in ten thousand is deuterium. It's already there in the atmosphere.'
'You mean ...'
'God has fixed our atmosphere beautifully. He's made it so it by-passes the slow reactions in the ladder. The rates are speeded up from millions of years to a few seconds.'
'When does the process trigger?'
'It kicks in at a hundred million degrees. The bomb could reach that.'
Oppenheimer coughs slightly and stops to light up a cigarette. 'We could turn the planet into one huge fireball.'
'What does the Pope think? And Uncle Nick?' Compton is referring to Enrico Fermi and Neils Bohr, atomic physicists whose names are so sensitive that they are referred to by nickname even within the barbed wire enclave of Los Alamos.
Oppenheimer takes a nervous puff. 'They don't know yet. I want us to check it out first. We'll work on it overnight.'
Compton picks up a stone and throws it into the water. They watch the ripples before they carry on walking.
'Out with it,' Oppenheimer says.
Compton's tone is worried. 'Oppie, look at the big picture. The U-boats have just about strangled the British. Hitler's troops are occupying Europe from the North Cape to Egypt. Russia's just about finished and I'll bet a dime to a dollar Hitler will soon push through Iran and link up with the Japs in the Indian Ocean. The Germans and the Japs will soon have the whole of Asia, Russia and Europe between them.'
'So then Hitler will be over the Bering Straits and through Canada like a knife through butter. By the time he gets there he'll be stronger than us. We have a two-thousand-mile border with the Canadians, Oppie, it's indefensible, and I don't want my hideaway to be five minutes' flying time from Goering's Stukas.'
Oppenheimer's intense blue eyes are fixed on the lake, as if he is looking over the horizon to Canada. 'That's a grand strategic vision, Arthur. But what's your point?'
'Ten minutes ago that grand strategic vision didn't bother me. So long as we won the race to build the gadget, we'd be okay. But how can we take even the slightest chance of setting the atmosphere alight? I'm sorry, Oppie, but given a straight choice we'd be better to accept Nazi slavery.'
Oppenheimer nods reluctantly. 'I've lost a lot of sleep over this one, Arthur, but I have to agree. Unless we can be a hundred per cent sure that Teller is wrong, the Bomb must never be made.'
There is just a trace of sadness in Petrosian's voice. 'I understand your reasoning, gentlemen. I'd probably think the same if I hadn't lived under the Nazis.'
The new millennium
Death and destruction entered Findhorn's Aberdeen office in the form of a small, bespectacled, mild-mannered Norwegian with an over-long trenchcoat and a briefcase. He claimed that his name was Olaf Petersen, and the briefcase was stamped with the letters O.F.P. in faded gold.
Anne put her head round the door. She was being a redhead today. 'Fred, there's a Mister Olaf Petersen here.'
The red leather armchair had been purchased for a knock-down price at a fire-damage sale but it was all brass studs and wrinkles and it gave the little office a much-needed air of opulence. Petersen sank into it and handed over a little card. He looked around at the photographs which covered the office walls: icebergs, aurora borealis, a cuddly little polar bear, an icebreaker apparently stranded on a snowfield.
The card read:
Olaf F. Petersen, Cand.mag., Siv.ing. (Tromse)
'Coffee?' Findhorn asked, but he sensed that the man had little inclination for social preliminaries. 'Thank you, but I have very little time. The Company would appreciate some help, Doctor Findhorn.' Like many Scandinavians, the man's English was excellent, only the lack of any regional accent revealing that it was a second language.
'Norsk and I have done business from time to time.'
'This particular task is quite different from anything you have done for us before now. Something has turned up. The matter is urgent and requires the strictest confidentiality. We hope that you can help us in spite of the very short notice.'
Findhorn thought of the empty diary pages yawning over the coming months. Petersen was looking at him closely. 'I had hoped to take a few days' break over Christmas.'
Petersen looked disappointed. 'Frankly, I'm disappointed. You were perfect for this assignment.'
Findhorn thought it better not to overdo the hard-toget routine. He said, 'Why don't you tell me about it?'
Petersen, smiling slightly, pulled a large white envelope from his briefcase. 'Do you have a light table?'
'Of course. Through here.'
By labelling the door 'Weather Room', Findhorn hoped to imply that further along the corridor there were other rooms with labels like 'Mud Analysis' or 'Core Sample Laboratory' or even 'Arctic Environment Simulation Facility. Do Not Enter', rather than two broom cupboards and a toilet. The light table, about five feet by four, took up much of the room. They picked their way over cardboard boxes and piles of paper. Findhorn switched on the table and pulled the black curtain over the window. Petersen opened the envelope and pulled out a transparency about a foot square. Lettering in the corner said that it had been supplied courtesy of the National Ice Center and a DMSP infrared satellite.
Findhorn laid the transparency on the table. Down the left, the west coast of Greenland showed as a grey-white, serrated patch except where sea fog obscured the outline. Someone had outlined the limit of the pack ice with a dotted line. There was a scattering of icebergs. Little arrows pointed to them, with numbers attached.
'Do you see anything odd?' Petersen asked.
Findhorn scanned the picture. 'Not really.' He pointed to an iceberg off the Davy Sound, just on the boundary between Greenlandic and international waters. 'Except maybe A-02 here. It's pretty big.'
'Unusually so, for the east coast. The big tabular bergs are usually found on the west of Greenland. They break off from the Petterman or the Quarayaq or the Jungersen glaciers, and drift down through Baffin Bay to the Newfoundland Bank.'
'So where is this one headed?'
'It's been caught up in the East Greenland Current. It may round Cape Farewell and join its western cousins or it may break out into the North Atlantic. But size and drift aren't the issue, Doctor Findhorn. Take a closer look.'
There was a little dust on the transparency, overlying the big iceberg, and Findhorn puffed at it. The dust didn't blow away. He brushed it lightly with his finger but again it stayed put. He frowned.
'Try the microscope,' Petersen suggested politely.
Findhorn swivelled the microscope over the big transparency. He fiddled with the knurled knob, brought the photograph into focus.
The iceberg filled the field of view. A pattern of ripples marked its line of drift through the surrounding ocean. It was surrounded by a flotilla of lesser floes, like an aircraft carrier surrounded by yachts.
Findhorn swivelled the front lens holder. He frowned some more, puzzled.
The specks of dust had resolved themselves into rectangles, man-made structures like huts. Other, smaller shapes were scattered around.
He turned the microscope to its highest setting and increased the intensity of the light shining up through the translucent glass. And then he looked up from the microscope, astonished. 'But this is crazy.'
Olaf agreed. 'Icebergs melt. Split. Capsize. No sane individual sets foot on an iceberg.'
'But a large camp has been set up on this one.' Olaf, leaning over the light table, tapped the photograph with a stubby finger. 'Yes, Doctor Findhorn, this is crazy. These small irregular shapes you see. They're men. On an iceberg which could overturn at any time.'
Findhorn stood up from the microscope. The light from the table, thrown upwards, gave Petersen a slightly sinister look, like a mad scientist in an old horror movie. A vague feeling of uneasiness was coming over him. 'What exactly does Norsk want from me?'
Petersen gave a good imitation of a smile. 'First, we'd like you to fly out to the northernmost rig in our Field Centre.'
'The same. Then, from there, we'd like to fly you out to the Norsk Explorer, our icebreaker, which is currently about three hundred kilometres north of the rig, just on the limit of the helicopter's range. The Explorer will take you to A-02, which is further north again. We want you to climb that berg.'
And now it was happening again, the old, lurching sensation in the stomach. 'Why? And why me in particular?'
Petersen was still smiling, but he had calculating eyes. 'Perhaps I will have that coffee after all.'
'How you gooin ar keed?'
'Okay thanks. Just a bit nervous.'
'Yow never bin on a reeg before?' The man's voice was raised, to penetrate Findhorn's ear protectors.
Findhorn looked out at the dark sea. In the distance, lights were blazing on the horizon. The helicopter was heading directly for them.
'Thought so. What's yow job?'
'I'm just visiting.'
'You joost veezeeteeng?'
Findhorn nodded. The blaze of lights was beginning to take shape. As the helicopter approached he began to make out three illuminated giants wading in the ocean, holding hands.
The Brummie was still probing. 'Not that it's any of my business, of course, yow know what I mean?'
Now Findhorn could see that their upper structures were forested with cranes and big metal Christmas trees. There were pipes and strange projections and tiny men on walkways and platforms. The arms joining the giants resolved themselves into connecting passageways. It was a city on stilts. Its lowest deck was thirty metres clear of the Arctic Ocean: the engineers had planned for a once-in-a-century giant wave. As to the icebergs, however, they relied on statistics and prayer. Against a ten-million-ton berg, Norsk Flesland might as well be made of match-sticks.
'I'm impressed,' Findhorn said.
'Ooh ar, you will be. Yow looking at something taller than the Eiffel Tower. With ten decks and three turbines geeveeng us twenty-five megawatts. We get 'alf a million barrels of crude and three hundred million cubic feet of gas every day. There's 'alf a mile of water between the reeg and the seabed and the well penetrates fifteen thousand feet of mood.'
He's close, Findhorn thought. It's pushing six hundred thousand barrels a day, and they reach it through eighteen thousand feet of Upper Jurassic sandstone.
'But you know,' the man confided, 'for all its size, there's something keeps me listening in the dark, know what I mean?'
'A big berg?'
The man shook his head. 'A meecroscopic crack. Fatigue in a leg.'
'Which one is Alpha?'
The man leaned over Findhorn and pointed a nicotine-stained finger. 'The platform in the middle, that's Flesland Alpha, the living quarters. Beta on the left is drilling and wellhead, and Delta on the right is the gas process platform. We do twelve hours on, twelve off. They like to keep the accommodation separate. There's about fifty metres of corridor joining them.'
'What's it like, working on a rig?'
'Norwegian reegs are breell. Now on Flesland Alpha, yow've got everytheeng you want, from a ceenema to a sauwna. There's a gymnasium, snooker, leather armchairs, escalators between decks, ensuite rooms, fantastic groob. It's like the Hilton. Only the American Gulf rigs can match them, and they have the weather for barbecues. Now the Breetish exploration rigs, they're roobish. Four men to a room, recreation a grotty TV room, canteen groob worse than a motorway stop.'
'I take it you're a Brummie?' Findhorn asked.
The man bristled. 'Naeiouw. I coom from the Black Country, from Doodley, can't yow tell? There's a beeg zoo there.'
'What's your job?' Findhorn asked. The helicopter was beginning to tilt. A long pier jutted out from Delta, and at the end of it a flame fluttered in the wind, throwing a thin orange light on the dark ocean below. Findhorn glimpsed derricks, and brilliantly lit walkways, and a confusing mass of pipes, and then the helicopter was sinking down towards an octagonal helideck, the wind from the rotors rippling water on its surface.
'Oi look after the peegs, ar keed.'
Findhorn decided against asking for a translation.
Excerpted from "Revelation"
Copyright © 2000 Bill Napier.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - The Shadow on the Lake,
2 - Flesland Alpha,
3 - Berg,
4 - Findhorn's Dream,
5 - The Whisky Society,
6 - The Museum,
7 - Fat Sam's,
8 - Camp L,
9 - The Temple of Celestial Truth,
10 - Hot Air,
11 - The Gardens,
12 - Doomsday,
13 - Witch Hunt,
14 - Inquisition,
15 - The Super,
16 - Cult,
17 - Los Alamos,
18 - The Venona Files,
19 - Foucault's Pendulum,
20 - FBI,
21 - Revelation Island,
22 - Papa the Greek,
23 - The Traitor,
24 - Executive Lounge,
25 - Armenia,
26 - Escape,
27 - DNA,
28 - The Archivist,
29 - Matsumo,
30 - Lev Baruch Petrosian,
31 - Instability,
32 - Piz Radönt,
33 - The Raid,
34 - Petrosian's Secret,
35 - The Kill,
36 - Brass Bands,
37 - Steel Drums,
38 - Byurakan,
St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles,
Praise for Bill Napier,