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by C. Wayne Winkle
Description: Terance Wolfe knew what it was like to lose everything. In the space of six years, he lost his freedom, his business, his wife and son. Then he got his freedom handed back to him. What could he do? In this time of severe water crisis, all he could do was go to work for the one corporation that seemed to be searching for water successfully: The Bennington Corporation, BenCor. And in the only place water could be found: Antarctica. There he faced not only the terrible conditions under which he had to survive, but also the specter of a mercenary army hired by another corporation to seize the water found by BenCor -- and to get the $30,000,000 of government money that went with it.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [450 KB]
Reading time: 287-401 min.
All those who might once have stood behind Terance Edward Wolfe were gone. Six years gone.
Sitting elevated above everyone else, imperious, unflappable, stern, the judge's black robe set the appropriate tone. At least in Wolfe's eyes. The judge adjusted his half-glasses and leaned forward on his elbows. "Terance Wolfe," he began, his voice carrying just the right weight of sadness and professionalism, "there's no way I can tell you how sorry we are to have kept you incarcerated for six years. It's not often I get to give good news to someone standing where you're standing. But today is one of those days. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has directed for you to be released immediately. Again, I can only apologize for this process taking six years. I sincerely hope you find something good for the rest of your life. You are now a free man." He tossed Wolfe a wan smile. "Do you have anything you wish to say?"
Head hanging so the angry tears wouldn't show, hands clenched in front of him to stop the rage-fueled shaking, Wolfe stood still for ten long seconds. Then he lifted his head.
"You convicted me six years ago on flimsy, circumstantial evidence. Took six years of my life. Took my profession from me. Took my wife when she was killed driving to visit me. My son will turn six and a half next month. He doesn't know who I am." Emotion threatened to boil over then, so Wolfe lapsed into silence. A moment later, he went on. "I don't have anything left to lose."
Silence swirled around him as he whirled and stalked from the courtroom.
* * * *
* * * *
Antarctica, Same Day
At the same time Wolfe walked out of the courtroom, Gerald Franks, an employee of the Bennington Corporation, BenCor, raised up from listening to the last breath of one of his tent-mates. He paused there, on his knees, considered a prayer, but decided against it. Not a believer, Franks thought not even God would venture down to the Antarctic in the middle of a storm.
"Jeremy's gone." He turned to his right, facing the third person in the tent. "I've got to get some help for us."
"Can't. Storm's too bad." The words came out slowly, the man's breath bubbly as he uttered them. Spots of blood dotted his lips. Franks knew him only as Jonesy. "Never make it a half-mile."
"Maybe not, but I've got to try."
The team of three had been traveling from exploration site to exploration site for the past week. Their job was to trouble-shoot and problem-solve at BenCor's Antarctic drilling sites. They had made their regular round of the fifteen sites and were headed back to the Forward Station when the storm hit. Wind ahead of the storm literally knocked their helicopter out of the air. Jeremy, the pilot, suffered a head injury in the crash, and Jonesy had a couple of broken ribs. One of those likely punctured a lung, judging from the bubbly sound of his few words. And the blood. Franks was the only healthy one. Somehow, he'd struggled the Scott tent up in the lee of the downed helicopter and dragged the other two inside. That had been twelve hours ago.
Now Jeremy was dead and Jonesy was unable to do much except stay alive. Barely.
The storm did its best to blow the tent down, beating at the sides until all they could hear was the wind. Franks crawled through the cone entrance several times to retrieve equipment they'd need from the helo.
"I've got to try," he repeated to Jonesy. "By this time, the Forward Station knows we're overdue. They may even have someone out looking for us."
"Nobody out in this weather." Jonesy had to pause every few words to get enough breath to go on. "Not 'til the storm stops."
Franks knew he was right. After all, Jonesy had been with BenCor in the Antarctic for nearly a year, and Franks had been there all of a month. Who knew more about what would happen?
"I know you're right. Of course you're right." He could see in Jonesy's eyes that the other man knew what was going to happen. "But I still have to try."
Jonesy nodded without speaking, then lay back with his eyes closed tightly against the pain.
Although it was warm enough to survive inside the tent, Franks knew Jonesy needed extra insulation because of his injury. He'd managed to get his own sleeping bag under Jonesy's, plus the two foam pads they each carried to go under the bags. He turned back to Jeremy, began struggling his body out of the sleeping bag. He knew he was expending precious calories he'd need for warmth later.
"I don't think Jeremy would care if you use his bag." Jonesy opened his eyes as Franks spread the extra sleeping bag over him.
"Yeah. Okay. I'll need it."
Franks fussed over Jonesy for a few minutes. He laid out the water bottles, the gorp in its large plastic container, and half of the chocolate bars where they were in easy reach. He stuffed the other chocolate bars in his pockets. If he'd been totally honest with himself, he would've known this was a way to postpone what he was going to do, also. As it was, he told himself he was making things as easy for Jonesy as he could.
"Okay." He could think of no more to do. "That's all I can do for you here, Jonesy. I'm leaving now."
"Don't go." Those two whispered words almost persuaded him to stay, especially when they were accompanied by the expression in his partner's pain-filled eyes.
"It'll be okay. I'll run into the rescue party on the way. You'll see."
With that, Franks turned quickly before he could change his mind. He crawled out the cone entrance into the lee of the helo. Immediately, he knew the cold was more intense than before the storm. He felt it even through his parka, the wool gloves under the thermal mittens, both pair of long underwear, fleece pants, fleece jacket, wind pants, two pair of wool socks, and bunny boots. And this was even before he got out in the wind! At his back, he felt the helicopter move as the wind blasted it.
Franks made sure the lanyard on the compass was secured to his left wrist. Lowering his goggles, he took a deep breath behind the wool face shield and got to his feet. He felt the hair in his nose freeze every time he took a breath.
One foot in front of the other. That's all it takes. Just one foot in front of the other. This was all he allowed in his mind. That, and the direction he had to keep going. Certainly, he didn't allow any thought of how bad the storm howled or how the ice was blowing horizontally or especially of how cold he was.
When he stepped out of the relative shelter of the helo, the wind literally blew him off his feet. That's when he should have changed his mind.
Franks struggled to his feet against the wind and started out. He counted his steps as a way to keep his mind off the things he didn't want to think about.
When he got to one hundred, he stopped and turned around.
Born in Minnesota, raised part of his life in Alaska, Gerald Franks knew blizzards. Or thought he did. Nothing he'd experienced prepared him for what greeted him when he turned around.
Behind him, there was nothing but white snow blown parallel to the ground. Even his footprints disappeared a few feet behind him. Glances to his right and left showed the same thing. It was as if he existed in a ten-foot bubble inside an Antarctic storm. All there was outside of the ten feet around him where he could see anything was white. The roar of the wind was all he heard. All he felt was the constant shove of the wind he struggled against, just to stand up.
Franks knew going back was not an option now. He turned back the way he'd been walking, took another look at his compass to be sure he was on the same heading, and stepped out.
Another hundred steps passed, this time seemingly slower. The last few steps had been really hard.
I guess I need to rest a minute. Get some strength back. Franks knew not to sit down, so he stood and flapped his arms to get more circulation flowing. So cold, so cold. He shook his head inside the hood of the parka. No! Don't think about the cold. Just do what you have to do.
He started off again. One foot in front of the other. That's all, just one foot in front of the other. Once more, he started counting steps. After a few seconds, the confusion set in. Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-six, twenty-...No, that's not right. Twenty-seven comes after twenty-three. Then twenty-eleven. Franks knew that wasn't right, but couldn't seem to figure out how to make it right. He stopped in mid-step.
Now, where was I? Twenty-twelve? No, that's not even a number. Twenty-twelve would be thirty-two. Yeah, that's it, thirty-two. Then thirty-ten.
He started walking again. Ten more steps and he fell the first time.
Oops. Can't do that! Got to stay on my feet. Can't lay down. Freeze for sure that way. Keep putting one foot in the other. No, no! One foot in front of the other. Yeah. Count the feet, keep putting them one in the other.
The second fall came a minute later. Get up! Get up! Don't be lazy. Everybody waitin' for you at the dinner table. Get up and get there.
Franks sort of recognized his lack of feeling in his feet and hands as the blood vessels constricted to keep more of his blood in the center of his body. The body does this automatically when it gets too cold, so life can be maintained. Hopefully.
He fell the third and last time just a minute later. This time, his legs wouldn't work to get under him and push him up off the snow.
Gerald Franks lay there, snow slowly covering him, his brain functioning slower and slower, until it stopped altogether.
In a very short time, the blowing snow completely covered him. The search party that came out several hours later found Jonesy alive. They didn't find any trace of Franks. He became a part of a slowly moving tributary of one of the ice flows that make the eastern part of the Antarctic.