Chapter 26

The blade of that dagger lay unsheathed when Jetwind rounded Trolltunga’s ice head-land as high and impressive as Cape Horn itself. It was a Soviet naval squadron. It was a gut-roiling exhibition of the iron fist.

I spotted the submarine. The shape of its elongated fin was the same as I had sighted from Albatros. Now, in addition, I was aware of its strange camouflage colour — bluish mauve, with the hull darker. It was the colour of the Antarctic half-night. It was (so Tideman told me later) a radar picket sub, a Whiskey Canvas Bag class. The odd name sprang from the way the Soviet Fleet had tried to mask the conning-tower from the eyes of Western observers by means of a coy canvas cover.

Moored alongside was a big, deadly Kashin-class destroyer. Even at our distance from the warship the gaggle of four twin missile surface-to-air launchers plus four other single launchers was clearly visible. She mounted heavy guns as well; the snouts of quintuple torpedo-tubes bared their teeth over the ship’s side.

Sheltering under this formidable weaponry was the vessel responsible for the discovery of Molot itself — the oceanographic survey ship Akademik Kurchatov. Her eight heavy masts made her quite distinctive. One was in the bow, two immediately for’ard of the bridge, another immediately abaft with a mass of heavy gear and aerials. Others were sited at various points, but a triangular, gantry-type with a big derrick rigged on heavy cables left no doubt that the Akademik Kurchatov’s work was in the ocean deeps.

Dwarfing the squadron, however, was a massive, square-looking vessel — over thirty thousand tonnes, I reckoned — with a huge steel gantry running athwartships between an armoured, enclosed super-structure over her bow and stern. Her sloping steel anti-splinter upperworks, tall lattice mast for’ard strung with sophisticated search and firing radar antennae, twin SAM missile launchers, and eight 57 mm and 30 mm guns left no doubt that the Berezina could defend herself as well as fulfil her purpose, which was to act as fleet replenishment unit to the Red Navy. Hundreds of men appeared on the super-structure of the Berezina when Jetwind came in sight — Group Condor. ‘Shorten sail! Topsails only!’

It seemed that we were about to join the fleet at anchor. I could not fault Grohman’s handling of Jetwind. Operating the consoles’ controls was Jim Yell, the bo’sun, who had helped me rescue Kay. He had obviously been dragooned into the job at pistol-point: he was new to it, all thumbs. Grohman’s automatic at his back wasn’t a help.

Yell’s handling was not quick enough for Grohman. He gave an oath at the bo’sun’s awkwardness, waved him aside with the gun barrel, and took over the manoeuvre himself. Jetwind edged past the ice cape. Four explosions rang out.

Grohman and the other hijackers’ nerves must have been shot to react so violently. Both dropped into a firing crouch. The shots originated from the ice head-land we were passing. I saw spurts of ice chips fly.

Our escape plan from Molot did not come to mind fully fledged, as had Jetwind’s plan to elude the Almirante Storni. However, the sound of the explosions, the sight of a small naval pinnace moored at the foot of the iceberg, and the formidable array of Red sea-power riding at anchor in the stormy, uncertain light, were the ingredients of the mix. Consciously, it was a daring impossibility; subconsciously, my mind began to free-wheel.

In retrospect, I was not aware of my thought processes. All I noted at the time was a small group of men in heavy clothing emerging from a tent on the summit of Trolltunga and making for the site of the explosions.

‘That’s quite a hero’s welcome for you!’ I told Grohman derisively.

He straightened up truculently. ‘I can’t be too careful. They must be testing something up there.’

Landajo, the radio operator, appeared on the bridge and spoke excitedly to Grohman. Grohman spoke into the ship-to-ship radio microphone. I presume he used Russian. He conversed haltingly and finally nodded.

‘Up helm! Back the fore and main! Stand by to let go the anchor!’ he ordered.

I made a quick check of wind, sea and the nature of the mooring in case I was returned to immediate captivity. The wind had more south than southwest in it. This meant it was blowing almost straight into the Molot entrance. Jetwind had not penetrated far enough into the holding ground to get the full benefit of a lee from the ice cape, situated to port. However, the fleet anchorage, protected by the bulk of Trolltunga, was snug enough. The ice made a huge semi-circular arc, forming an embayment. The place was shallow, as Grohman had outlined — the secret of the jellied fuel dump. Jetwind lay about three kilometres from the fleet. Banks of fog, into which the warships merged and reappeared, drifted across my line of vision. The eastern flank of Molot — the side away from Trolltunga — was obviously the clear-way to the open sea. For at least half a dozen kilometres I could make out small stranded buoys during the momentary fog clearances. They provided natural markers through the shoals like channel buoys. ‘Let go!’ The anchor cable roared out.

‘Senorita!’ Grohman’s eyes were hard. ‘You will come with me!’ He addressed me. ‘You and Tideman will stay here. I have ordered that if you make any attempt to interfere with the controls you will be shot. Is that clear?’ ‘Peter!’ Kay appealed desperately to me.

It was blind rage — and love — and I lunged at Grohman. Maybe he’d been expecting this. The blast from the automatic seemed to go off in my face. I felt the cordite grains sear my left cheek. I spun round, stunned, caught a glimpse of a finned barrel clubbing at my head, and then everything went black.

I don’t know for how long I was out. When I came round Tideman was propping me up. I felt as if the whole of Jetwind’s top-hammer had clouted my head. The bridge was empty except for Grohman’s stooge with his finger on the trigger of his gun. ‘Kay! Where’s Kay?’

‘Take it easy, Peter,’ said Tideman. ‘That was a stupid thing to do. You’re lucky to be still alive.’ I felt sick and dizzy. ‘John! Where is she?’

Tideman hefted me to my feet. ‘There!’ He pointed to the fleet.

The agony in my head was nothing to the sight of Jetwind’s boat heading towards the Akademik Kurchatov, which was moored nearer Jetwind than the rest of the squadron.

He said quietly, ‘I think you should make up your mind to the fact that you won’t see Kay again.’

I staggered to the starboard wing of the bridge and watched the disappearing boat. ‘Did she finally give in?’ I asked at last.

‘She fought like a wild-cat. They had to rope her to get her into the boat.’

Now I had only a distant sight of her receding into the fog. The way to Kyyiv. The way to hell. ‘There are four of them in the boat,’ I remarked.

‘Yes. Grohman took another of his gang along. The fourth is Sir James.’

The mists swirling across my brain resembled those about the fleet. Like them, there were clear patches. ‘Worth a million dollars.’

‘Grohman has gone for orders from Molot Command. We can only wait and see when he returns.’

Another round of small explosions reverberated from Trolltunga. ‘What the hell are they doing!’

‘Explosion seismology is the name for it, Grohman said after consulting HQ,’ explained Tideman. ‘A party of Red scientists are using small charges to measure acoustically the thickness of Trolltunga below the water level.’

I spotted one of the group leaving the pinnace with an armful of fresh charges.

The idea tugged at the back of my mind. ‘How far is that pinnace from Jetwind, John?’

He eyed me. ‘Three cables, a trifle more, maybe.’ ‘Five hundred metres?’ ‘About that.’

‘Explosion — seismology.’ I turned over the words slowly, thoughtfully. Tideman watched me, waiting for an explanation. As yet, my plan was too nebulous to formulate in words.

As we stood, the sun suddenly broke through the storm clouds. The sunset mist swirled and flowed and ebbed like pink foam from a lung-shot. Molot became even more unreal. The ice was blue-white; the grey lengths of the warships were tinged with red, the colour of their ensigns. Soon the long Antarctic summer night would begin, a night which never really got dark.

The boat with Kay vanished behind the Akademik Kurchatov. ‘The sub’s moving!’ exclaimed Tideman.

His keen eye had spotted the narrowing of the sail’s angle against the white back-drop of Trolltunga. ‘She’s coming out,’ he added. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘She’s heading for the fleet replenisher.’

The sub edged towards her big sister. Which warship housed the faceless Molot Command? The sub neared the Berezina. ‘The gantry — look!’ exclaimed Tideman.

My muzziness was passing; I could focus again. The cut from Grohman’s blow was small and did not bleed much but the bruise felt the size of Trolltunga.

A section of the Berezina’s prominent athwartships gantry slid out of its housing to reach over the sea like a horizontal crane. Then, cables with massive hooks attached spilled into the water. ‘Watch!’ said Tideman excitedly. ‘This is something no Westerner has ever witnessed! The fleet’s fuelling! They’re bringing up the jellifjed fuel from the undersea dump!’

Tens of thousands of hectolitres of jellified fuel! Each massive container in itself a bomb big enough to sink a ship! Molot itself — the whole anchorage — a more gigantic bomb still! It only needed a trigger to detonate it! And then my plan was born: I knew how I would attempt it. But it would kill Kay.

That was the thought which lacerated my mind for the nest hour while Tideman and I stood viewing the fleet begin its refuelling operation. The soundless process was punctuated at intervals by the detonation of more seisinic charges from Trolltunga. The mystic half-light of the Antarctic twilight, the swirls of mist and cloud, the ice skyscrapers brooding over the Red Fleet’s secret base in an ocean as remote as the moon’s Sea of Storms, made the scene as unreal in its own way as the one I had witnessed from Albatros. Progress was much slower than I had anticipated. Floodlights sprang up aboard the Berezina and Akademik Kurchatov. Strange reflections flickered off the ice and the blue-grey hulls of the squadron. The artificial light added a further dimension of unreality to the macabre scene — a mother sickling her brood with dragon’s blood. The time to strike was when the babes were at the fuelling teats. Tonight! But Kay! What about Kay!

I jumped off my stool in agitation. By now I had largely shaken off the effects of Grohman’s blow. The sentry followed my movements with his automatic.

‘Cool it, Peter!’ warned Tideman in a low voice. ‘Don’t attempt anything again!’ He broke off, staring at the warships. ‘What is it, John?’ ‘Jetwind’s boat — it’s coming back!’

‘There are several more men in the boat than Grohman left with,’ added Tideman. The craft sheered off its course and made for the scientists’ pinnace at the foot of Trolltunga. Then one of Grohman’s crew made his way laboriously up to the tent party above. It seemed to take an excruciating time for him to reach the summit. Finally he returned to the boat.

‘They’re coming our way! It looks as if Kay and Hathaway are coming back!’ exclaimed Tideman.

The boat finally tied up alongside Jetwind. Now I could go ahead! With Kay back, I would set match to fuse of my plan the moment Grohman stepped on Jetwind’s deck. Kay climbed aboard under guard. Her progress to the bridge along the main-deck took a light year to my impatient senses.

Then she was with me. When a person walks in from the dead, words are not enough. Grohman had no need to guard us at that moment. I did not even notice him.

I came to earth when he ordered abruptly, ‘Take them away — lock them up!’

He snapped something further in Spanish at the sentry, who had a half-smoked cigarillo between his lips. The man sullenly ground out the smoke with his foot.

Grohman addressed us. ‘No smoking — even at this distance from the fuel. Orders from Command. One spark, and up would go the ships. Is that clear?’ Too clear, Grohman. It is the heart of my plan.

He added, ‘Molot Command has even stopped the scientists firing their charges during the operation because of the risk.’ ‘The ships are taking their time about it,’ I remarked.

‘Just you hope for the sake of your skins that it goes on for long,’ was his comeback. ‘Make no mistake, you’re not coming along with Group Condor.’

He cradled the gun and spoke briefly to the guard. You couldn’t call it a smile which crossed his face. He went on, ‘If the English capitalist has his ransom paid, it will be a condition of his release that he keeps his mouth shut.’

‘We have seen the operation, Tideman and I,’ I pointed out. His reply sent my stomach nerves into a spasm. ‘Dead men tell no tales. The rest of Jetwind’s crew will be given the option of cooperating with us and keeping their mouths shut — or else. You two have got till the fleet has finished refuelling.’ ‘How long is that?’

‘Why shouldn’t you know?’ he asked cynically. ‘Operation Molot has been advanced — the squadron sails tomorrow morning. After the stir over Jetwind’s disappearance, Command considers it unwise to delay. The fleet dares not risk detection; there is still the possibility of a chance interception. The attack must and will come like a bolt from the blue. If there is local resistance, the Almirante Storni will support Group Condor in crushing it.’

Kay took a step towards Grohman. ‘You can shoot me along with Peter and John!’ she blazed. ‘I’d rather die than play along with terrorists who are planning to murder innocent civilians and seize their homes!’

Grohman said speculatively, ‘I believe you mean what you say, senorita.’ ‘You can do what you wish, I will not cooperate!’

‘You are a fool, senorita,’ retorted Grohman. ‘Do not love a man like this. Let him go. There are plenty more men. You can save your life — have a good life, even, at Kyyiv.’ ‘That’s my business,’ Kay answered hotly.

‘Take them away!’ he snapped. Then he added something in Spanish to the guard. There was no mistaking the threat in his voice. Nor the way it cowed the man. He repeated it in English for our benefit.

‘I have warned him that if any one of you attempts any funny business, he will be shot tomorrow with you.’