"Special Assignments Detail"
A 5-Part Tale of Horror and Heroism Under the Fortuna Glacier
by David Reeder
Episode 1: Deployment
A couple of the guys had been singing since the bird lifted off. They'd been trading verses back and forth the whole time, seemingly unfazed by all the drops, thumps and buffeting turbulence. Like they didn't realize we were in the middle of a blizzard.
"Beat down the walls, begin, believe, behold, begat. Be a better drummer, be an up and comer, CAN YOU PICTURE THAT?" That was Gascon, getting rowdy with his line. He sang the loudest and supplied the words when someone else forgot the verse.
Our team leader came stumbling back from the cockpit, tottering to and fro between the walls with his arms out. He made a cutthroat gesture with the blade of his hands and everyone shut up to pay attention.
"We're going to have about a fifteen minute window of good weather when we hit the target!" he yelled over the circuit. Even with our headphones on, the roar of the Chinook's twin engines and two rotors was almost enough to drown him out. Not to mention the howling winds outside.
"I want you to off-load fast when we hit the ground! Unass the bird as soon as the ramp goes down!"
A murmur of acknowledgements echoed over our comm freq and several of the guys stuck their thumbs up.
We were about twenty minutes out of one of the most barren places on earth. South Georgia Island, part of the Scotia Arc. A British-owned chunk of ice and rock in the middle of the south Atlantic, 54/30 South by 37/00 West (as if anyone cared). Twelve hundred miles east of Argentina and at least a hundred miles south of the Falkland Islands, it's closer to Antarctica than anywhere else, and a helluva a lot colder than anyplace I'd ever care to visit.
"Ten minutes out," the pilot said flatly over the net.
Well. We were closer than I'd thought.
During the days of coal-burning ships, South Georgia Island had been used as a bunkering port for the ships of the far-flung Royal Navy. When the whaling industry was still big, it was also a place they could drop off their catches to have processed. Now all that's left in the bays at the foot of its ice-capped peaks are a handful of old, ancient barges and a lot of rusted out machinery, left for decades in corrugated iron sheds that have been long since corroded by the four inch per day average of snow and rain.
All the more reason for us not to visit, thought I.
O'Kelliher made eye contact with each of us in turn, tugging on his vest to indicate we should all do a last minute gear check. I'd already inspected mine three or four times, and being TL (Team Leader), so had he. Checked mine I mean. Being TL though, he was thorough, and made us do it all anew.
I was good to go and gave him a thumbs up. Eric Gascon, our commo guy, was next and he did the same. The rest of the team followed suit, one after the other -- Albert Graywolf, who O'Kelliher kept calling Gkuipeptai or some damned thing (I'm just guessing that's how you pronounce it; it's Indian or something, and the rest of the guys all shout Gesundheit! when he says it); Steve Guerrande, one of the entry guys; the Redshirt brothers, Johnny and Leroy, whom I still have trouble telling apart; and, of course, Susana Macha, the team medic (and our only female).
My name is Bole Lummel. I work entry too. This was my first deployment with these guys, though I've done a lot of work like it before.
That's all of us. Special Assignments Detail, Detachment Two. We're one of just three Dets assigned to SAD. The rest of the security officers at the university call us the "Goon Squad", mostly for shits'n'grins I hope. I think they're just jealous of all our cool toys and CDI gear.
That's "Chicks Dig It" gear, by the way. It's an important acronym.
Of course, there isn't too damned much of it unfortunately -- our budget's been declining for the past several years.
There was one other person on that Shithook -- which is what anyone who'd been around them calls a Chinook -- with us. William Horton, a haughty and dismissive member of the Dean's Council and, not-so-coincidentally, the biggest reason our budget and manpower have declined so drastically over the last six years.
"Thirty seconds out."
It looked like the boss was right. He usually is. We were going to have a brief window to insert. The big helicopter had leveled out and was no longer getting tossed around by the fierce wind. We were flying hard and fast. I could feel it in my belly, we were dropping rapidly towards the ground.
"All of us are winnin', pickin' and a grinnin', Lordy but I love to jam--"
We hit the ground hard, and even before the bird had stopped moving the rear ramp was going down. The blinding glare of sunlight beating off snow filled the interior and I yanked my goggles down over my eyes. O'Kelliher was already hauling ass through the gaping rear door, with the rest of SADD2 -- and that pennypinching, supercilious sonuvabitch Horton -- right behind him.
The Fortuna Glacier was just what I expected it to be. Bleak and inhospitable. And cold. Off to the west of us were the ice-caked peaks that march right up to the coast, leaving just a little room for civilization (if you want to call it that). There's nothing left to speak of where Leith and Stromness were, and not much more of Grytviken. I guess there's still a British Antarctic Survey team there at King Edward Point, but I'm not sure. Doesn't really matter.
Mark took us fifty meters off the rear of the bird and immediately started sorting us out. He's a tall, lanky fella with close-cropped black hair I'm pretty sure would go curly if he let it. We'd no sooner huddled up around him than the Chinook lifted off and roared away. We were on our own now.
"We'll make straight for the research site," he said. He didn't have to yell now, though he kept using our headsets. It was still loud enough that he had to raise his voice. "Gascon, I want you to keep trying to make contact with the team. Five minute intervals. Maybe now that we're here we'll be able to pick something up. Gkuipeptai--"
"--you've got point. I'll pull your slack. Then I want Gascon, Johnny R and Macha. Lummel--" he was looking at me. "--you keep an eye on Mr. Horton. Guerrande comes next and Leroy has tail-end Charlie. Stay close together, we're not worried about intervals here. I don't wanna lose anyone."
Graywolf slid up front, shotgun at the ready. He's about my size, and leaner. He's Kiowa or Quapaw, or both, and taciturn as hell. He always carries a big-assed knife on his gear. The other guys give him a hard time about it, making jokes about scalping people and pulling it out of a rock to become king of England. His hair is longer than the Doc's.
Beside me, Horton made some kind of deprecating remark under his breath. I ignored him. He was convinced we were making much ado about nothing, and took every piece of equipment we had as some kind of personal affront.
He's tried to get rid of the SAD program twice, you know. Says we're an 'unnecessary manifestation of someone's ego and overabundant testosterone'. If he had it his way, Miskatonic University's Security Department would be a bunch of overweight coffee-drinkers whose sole job was to walk students home after class and lock the campus up at night.
What an asshole.
The rest of us took our places in the file, and Mark walked down the line, popping red cyalume sticks and tucking them in the back of our gear. The glowing chemsticks would help keep us together in the event of a whiteout. After that we were off and moving.
Miskatonic University's interest in the Fortuna Glacier dates back to the mid-eighties. Evidently sometime after the scrap over the Falklands, the Department of Ancient Cultures set up a research facility there, a counterpart to the infamous Starkweather-Moore Site in the Antarctic. That dig went back to the thirties, and had recently been started up again. Whatever they were looking for there, there was more of it on South Georgia Island.
Five days ago, word came to MU that there'd been some kind of trouble at the Starkweather-Moore site. Dr. Sarlowe, the leader of the team there, had called back on a sat-phone and said to pull the team on Fortuna Glacier before someone got hurt. Then we lost commo and didn't get any more out of him other than he was en-route back. They tried to contact the team on South Georgia Island and couldn't reach anyone. Not by satphone, not by e-mail, not by the coastal radiotelephone relay they'd rigged up. It was like they'd vanished.
Having no wish to alarm anyone or involve the Brits at Grytviken, they'd sent us to investigate. Now, I know what you're thinking. A college with a tactical unit? It's not as far-fetched as you might think. All of the big universities have security departments, and a significant percentage of them actually have their own police department (unfortunately, we don't). A lot of those schools have student bodies numbering more than some towns, and the crime to go with it. Take Oklahoma State University, my alma mater -- they have OSUPD and their own SWAT unit.
Given the, ah, unusual nature of some of the studies at MU, it only made sense that the folks at the top end of the academic food chain take steps to deal with potential problems.
Anyway. We got sent down here, and my ass was paying for it. Literally. It's a long flight from MU to Ascenscion, and from there by leased helicopter to a freighter, then from the ship to here. We'd been in the air almost non-stop.
On the good side, we were down. That had by no means been a sure thing. At our final briefing, Mark told us that the Brits had crashed two choppers in this very place when they'd taken the island back from the Argentinians in '82.
That had been good to hear. It was also good to know we'd be operating in temperatures well below zero. We'd all been very happy about that.
But I digress.
Horton was with us to see if the expedition on Fortuna Glacier was worth all the money being thrown at it. Scuttlebutt and common sense said he was also there to gather ammunition to do away with us.
"I never think of money, I think of milk'n'honey, grinnin' like a Cheshire Cat!"
That was Eric Gascon again. He's a stocky blonde guy who can do about anything with any kind of commo gear. Which is, of course, why he's our C3 guy (Command, Control, Communication). I'd heard him on the alternate freq -- we were all scanning, with priority on our channel -- a couple of times now, trying to raise the research facility. So far no luck.
"I focus on the pleasure, sumthin' I can treasure, can you picture that?"
That was Steve Guerrande, back behind me. He can't carry a tune in a tune basket, although I wasn't going to tell him that. He's bigger than the rest of us, and meaner in a sort of nondescript, understated way. He also has some very blunt philosophy when it comes to life and its various aspects. I don't know how or why they'd chosen Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem as their signature song. Like I said, I was new to these guys. I usually work Det 3.
The wind was really starting to shriek when we got to the cave. Snow was whirling around us and the cold was beginning to knife through our clothes. My fingers were starting to go numb, despite the winterweight nomex gloves we all wore. We couldn't put anything else on, or we wouldn't be able to manipulate our gear.
Graywolf took the entryway first, cutting the angle on it until he'd cleared most of the cave, then pushing inside. Our TL, Mark O'Kelliher, slid in after him, nice and smooth. Albert was carrying a Mossberg 590A1, the entry model. It should have been a Scattergun Technologies 870 or a Benelli, but like I said, we have shallow pockets. Mark, like the rest of us (well, except for Macha and Mr. Horton) had a silenced M-4.
He'd insisted on silenced weapons, which was something I'd have never thought of. I suppose that's why he's TL and I'm not. The entire Fortuna Glacier research facility is under the ice, built up in a series of interconnected caves and chambers they'd found inside it. He was worried the noise we'd make (if it came to shooting) might collapse it down on top of us, like an avalanche.
Horton, of course, thought we were being ridiculous.
"Do we really need to go through all this?" he yelled at me snidely. He wasn't included on our net. Had refused one of our ear-mics in fact.
"Bear with us, sir," I shouted back. "They're just making sure it's safe for us to go inside!"
Rumble grumble ridden raddensnatzes. You'd have thought he was Yosemite Sam.
"Clear," came Albert's voice.
We went inside...
On to Episode 2 :Entry
Beneath the Glacier (also known as "A SADD2 Day") is copyright 2002 by
David Reeder. It may not be copied without permission of the author
except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read