"Mac Ops on Mt. Aurora."
After a while the unbearable cold subsided. Painful pressure lifted from his chest. His hands and feet stopped hurting. Now there was only the lump of the dead hand warmers in his gloves and boots.
Gail was going to get the car. He knew it. As much as he'd tried before he left, she was there and he wasn't. She'd undo everything he'd set up. She wasn't going to be satisfied to let Robert have it. He could see it in her eyes when he left her in the airport, and he could read between the lines in her messages. She wasn't asking for the lawyer's address to send him the papers, she was negotiating for the car.
Damn. That was Robert's car.
He reached for the PTT on his handie-talkie. He could call ahead. Even if he couldn't get through on the simplex channel, he could hit the repeater. He could call Mac Ops and tell them to stop goddamned Gail from going to the lawyer.
If only he could find the radio. It had been on his chest. They made him wear it before he left the hut for the short traverse. Now his hand hit dead air when he reached where the radio should have been.
Dust and snow grains curled around his boots. There was a small mound forming at his heels. He'd been kicking it away. Now he realized the dirt around his feet provided insulation. He let the pile stay. Best to be still.
"...on Mt. Aurora."
Except for times like this, he loved being away. No phones. No e-mail. No TV. No goddamned Gail and her lawyer negotiating for his accumulated wealth like hyenas fighting over a gazelle carcass.
He'd put himself completely out of touch so he could relax and explore. Have an adventure or two outside CNN's sphere. To do that he had to go far away. This was as far as anyone could imagine and up until now he'd managed to keep the harmful radiation of his everyday life from seeping in to his polar excursion.
Where was that handie-talkie? Not only would he appear to be a rank amateur to the rest of the team, he'd be in terrible trouble if he couldn't find it. The National Science Foundation would charge his project for the loss. They were pinching every penny--they'd been extremely happy to take him on as an unpaid volunteer. But he could imagine the federal government charging a princely sum for the field radio and everyone would be angry at him. You knew they were paying as much for hammers as most people paid for automobiles. The university would be slammed with the expense, and that would be so much less field time for everyone.
He probably wouldn't get to come back next year.
The wind made him feel like his clothes were on crooked. He tried to situate himself, but it wasn't working. He was leaning against a boulder, and it seemed to be pressing him forward.
When he touched his thigh he felt his long underwear had become bunched up. He tried to smooth it out. It wasn't working.
"J.T. --Mac Ops on Mt. Aurora."
If he could only find the radio.
Gail probably had a hand in this. She was clever enough, she'd know he was never good with maps. When the glaciologists flashed one at him, all the contours and colors merged into a big blob in front of him. They kept telling him just to walk west and he'd be okay. Around the nose of the glacier, follow the edge straight to the lake.
He was doing that when the glacier disappeared. The cloud came from nowhere. Suddenly, the glacier was gone. Then the wind came up and it was frigid walking straight into it. He turned up his hood and collar the way they taught him in survival school.
Though, in Antarctic survival school he was on ice, not dirt. They told him if he found himself in a storm he could dig a grave-sized hole and crawl into it. The wind would kill him, the ice would save him.
He'd taken two or three swipes at the permafrost with his gloved hands. It was like trying to make an impression on concrete. No one had taught him how to survive if he got caught in a storm on the solid ground.
He thought about Gail.
Then he kept walking. Pulled his zippers up as high as they would go, tightened the drawstring on his hood until he could only see a small circle of light in front of him, and kept walking.
He knew he was still two hours out of camp when the wind got so strong it was hard to walk.
He saw the boulders, and hid behind them.
And the radio kept going off. And he couldn't find it.
Not that it would make any difference, he thought. Because nobody could get out in this storm.
He remembered he should drink or eat. Move. Anything to get warm. But he wasn't cold anymore.
When Gail was young she was lithe and beautiful. Her eyes were dark green and if you looked close you could see tiny stripes of gold. How many times had she said she loved him. Lots of years. Lots of time. Not anymore.
So he kept walking.
Why had he been such an idiot?
He felt for the radio. His hand moved in his mind, but when he looked down, he saw it laying beside him like a part of the landscape. Gone.
The cloud that ate the mountain was nearly upon him. He felt sharp, hard particles of ice against his cheeks.
Then that was gone too.
Now he remembered. The radio was in the pack on his chest. If he could reach it he could call.
But now the white ice cloud encased him, so he closed his eyes because there was nothing else he needed to see.