Hidden beneath a sheet of ice, Draconis Industries has been working on a powerful new technology.
Harvey Bennett and his new team are sent in to shut them down, but what they find inside is far more sinister than they could have imagined.
Worst of all, an army of Chinese soldiers, also hoping to get their hands on the technology, are at their heels.
The Ice Chasm is the third installment of the fast-paced sci-fi thriller that will have you clinging to the edge of your seat. Enjoy it as a standalone novel, or as a continuation of the series! If you like James Rollins, Dan Brown, Clive Cussler then you will love the whole Harvey Bennett Series.
THE ICE CHASM is a nonstop, action-packed technothriller about artificial intelligence, the unending push toward scientific discovery, corporate conspiracies, and the human condition. This fast-paced action-adventure thriller is the third book in the Harvey Bennett Thrillers series, though it was written to be enjoyed as a standalone novel.
Release date: November 20, 2016
Publisher: Turtleshell Press; 1st edition
Print pages: 548
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The Ice Chasm
HE HAD BEEN ALONE BEFORE, but he had never in his life been exposed to the extreme isolation of the immense, frozen nothingness that stretched out away from him in every direction. The icy cold cut through him like tiny bullets, miniature daggers that exploded on his skin in a million pinpricks of frozen air.
Roald Montgomery fumbled with the zipper on his Canada Goose expedition parka, trying to force it the remaining two inches to the bottom of his chin. Even with the five-fingered ski gloves that allowed enhanced maneuverability, it was nearly impossible to grip the small zipper.
He stopped, his boots packing the soft layer of snow down into a compressed block beneath his feet. Roald inhaled, careful to breath in the frigid air slowly through the layers of protection offered by the balaclava and neck gaiter that he wore over his face.
He checked the thermometer on his watch.
His body didn’t need a reminder of how cold it was outside, but seeing the number seemed to give him an extra boost of energy, and Roald finally pulled the zipper up to its topmost position. Satisfied, he started moving forward again.
Trudging was a better word. He’d only walked about 200 yards, and he was already feeling the strain of exertion. Part of the problem was the wind. The killing wind, as the others back at the station said. He’d never thought walking in a straight line could be so complicated, but then again he’d never been to Antarctica.
Roald had joined his older brother, Scott, only a month ago at the research station, taking a 6-month assignment that he’d fought tooth and nail to earn. It was difficult to get a job at the bottom of the planet, and it was even more unlikely there would be two siblings stationed there at the same time. It didn’t mean anything, except that Roald felt even more scrutinized because of it — he couldn’t mess up. They’d expect him to do his job exceptionally well.
And he intended to. He’d left the Mars-1 Humvee running, as per protocol, but left it at the center of his 100-yard-radius circular route. His mission was simple: walk around and take notes on anything he saw.
It was, admittedly, one of the more mundane tasks the scientists were required to check off their daily to-do lists, but he’d drawn the short straw today. Choose a location, drive the Humvee to it, then park and walk around the vehicle in a pre-defined radius. Then observe the surroundings — weather, snow drifts, anything that catches the eye — and record the verbal data by talking it into a recording device in his jacket pocket.
He’d already taken measurements on barometric pressure, temperature, wind speed, and snowfall since the prior day, and none of that would change by the time he finished his circle and headed back to the monstrous vehicle. He was already looking forward to the heat of the Humvee’s cabin and his sleeping bunk within. His return trip would be tomorrow, first thing in the morning, as he would need to perform the same circuitous route around the vehicle once again twelve hours from now.
Roald picked up his pace. There was no benefit to dragging this out, and the sooner he returned to the Mars-1 the sooner he could strip down to his under layers and jump into the computer strategy game he’d been consumed with lately.
He focused on the crunching sound of the snow. It was a beautiful day — the sun was out, no clouds in sight, and the wind was relatively stable. Not light, but stable. He found himself walking to the tempo of the game’s soundtrack, all the while listening for the crunch, crunch of each boot as it landed —
The sound was different this time. His left boot had landed with a crunch, but there was a deeper sound that came with it. A hollow sound. Roald frowned.
He looked down at his feet, one in front of the other, and lifted his left boot once more. He stepped down, faster this time, and the thud was there, even more noticeable.
“What the —“
The data recording log would have to parse out the speech that wasn’t specific to Antarctic atmospheric conditions, but he didn’t care. How else was he supposed to respond to that type of sound?
He stomped twice more, just to be sure, then bent down and started brushing away the top layer of snow. Within a few seconds he reached the hard-packed snow beneath, and knelt down to start breaking it away.
He worked silently, his breath and the scraping sounds the only noises in earshot. He’d dug a hole nearly a foot deep when he saw it.
In the ice, just beneath the snow.
Roald stood up again and reached around in his pockets for the knife he was carrying. It was a small blade, but it would have to do. He jammed the point into the ice and continued breaking away the layers. He fell to his knees, fully engaged in the task.
The log will wait.
He would have plenty of time to debrief and record an analysis of what he was doing here, but right now he needed to focus on freeing whatever object lay beneath the ice.
Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, and Roald finally found himself staring down at a large, square metal plate. He still hadn’t reached the edge of it, so he continued working for another hour until the sun began to sink farther down on the horizon.
He only had an hour left, and it didn’t seem as though he was making any progress. He dug, pried, and broke chunks of ice and lifted mounds of snow up and off of the plate, and still it felt like the metal scrap was a never-ending section of the ground itself.
He labored in the dwindling light, checking every few minutes to make sure that his Humvee hadn’t inexplicably wandered off on its own. It was a nervous reaction to the isolation and cold, he knew, but he couldn’t help it. Antarctica often brought out the hidden habits and quirks of her inhabitants, for better or worse.
Finally he reached the edge of the square of metal. His knife lifted off a large sheet of ice and revealed a straight, man-made edge, and he stopped for a moment to revel in his work. His fingers were sweating inside the ski gloves, but he thought they could still feel the extreme cold just beyond the fabric as he brushed the metal surface clean. He changed directions, opting to follow the edge of the metal square up and away from him.
A few more minutes passed and he reached a corner. A few more after that, another corner.
He stood and looked down at his work.
He didn’t want to think it, because it made absolutely no sense, but he couldn’t help it.
It’s a door.
THERE, LYING IN FRONT OF Roald Montgomery, at the edge of the Antarctic continent at the bottom of the planet, was a metal door.
He saw a massive hinge mechanism strapped to the side of the door, poking out from beneath an area of snow and ice he hadn’t yet uncovered, but it was easy work to free the hinge — and the two others like it — from the frozen ground.
The door was now fully exposed, a full three-by-six foot slab of metal. A small door, compared to a ‘typical’ doorframe, but a door nonetheless. Other than the hinges on one side of the door, there was nothing on the surface of the metal. No markings, descriptions, or anything else that might identify why there was a door here.
He stood at the foot of the door for another two minutes before a strange thought occurred to him:
Doors lead somewhere. This is a door.
He briefly wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before, but this was, without a doubt, a door, and that meant there was something on the other side of it.
He knelt down again and started prying at the sides of the door, knowing that it would, at best, be frozen shut. I spent all this time, might as well see if it opens.
He checked the Mars-1 Humvee again with a quick glance behind him. The vehicle was idling nicely, the white trail of steam floating upwards in the dusk light. Turning back to the door, he continued working his fingers around the sides of the heavy slab.
He heard a click. It was louder than the sounds he had been making, and — most disturbingly of all — he knew he hadn’t made that sound. Roald stopped working for a few seconds and waited.
The click was replaced by a gentle, soft hissing sound, and he felt the door move.
He knew it moved, but he began second-guessing himself as soon as the thought crossed his mind. The door didn’t move. You must have moved. Maybe you’re —
The internal monologue was cut short by a definite shaking feeling beneath his hands and knees. The hissing increased in volume, then stopped with a loud pop. He held his breath.
Then, against all reason and beyond every logical explanation he could muster, the door opened.
It swung outward and he had to move his hands and lean back to allow the metal sheet to pass by him. The door was automated, a giant gear he could now see just beneath the door’s surface providing the leverage needed to move the huge object. It reached a ninety-degree angle to the ground and stopped.
Roald blinked, not sure what reaction he was supposed to have.
He was looking down into a dark, rectangular shaft. Alone, that fact would have had him retreating back to the Humvee and dutifully recording his findings for the station’s analysis.
But the shaft wasn’t the focus of Roald’s attention at the moment.
Instead, his eyes were locked on the barrel of a gun, pointed directly at him, held by a man wearing an all-white parka and pants, his face completely masked by a snow-white balaclava and ski goggles.
“Do not talk,” the man said. The voice was straightforward, spoken in a way that demanded attention. “If you talk, I shoot.”
Roald swallowed, then nodded.
“Now, come with me.”
“MONSIEUR VALÉRE,” THE VOICE SAID through its computer-simulated vocal processor. “Testing of the array has reached 95% accuracy.”
Francis Valére looked up from his laptop and stared straight ahead into the blank TV monitor mounted on the far wall across from his desk. There was nothing to look at, as SARA’s voice emanated from hundreds of tiny pinhole-sized speakers mounted in the walls surrounding him. The Simulated Artificial Response Array was the best of its kind — the only one of its kind — and it had the hardware advancements to match its futuristic software and firmware.
“Very good, SARA.” He nodded once, grimaced, and reached for a bottle of pills with the Frontier Pharmaceuticals logo at the corner of his desk. It was convenient that he worked in an office dominated by the presence of a massive pharmaceutical firm, but it was even more convenient that the company he worked for owned that pharmaceutical firm. Frontier Pharmaceuticals filled twelve of the floors in the office building, but Francis had reserved the top floor for himself. When he had bought the company and moved in years ago, the general contractor his company had hired asked him if he wanted to keep the designation ’13’ of this floor, or skip it and use ’14’ instead.
The man had claimed that many hotel chains and corporate office developments chose to skip the ‘unlucky’ number altogether, a practice that was now considered standard in the building and construction industry. The superstition of the number apparently ran strong throughout the American population, and though the building would be on Canadian land, it was a question the general contractor was in the habit of asking.
Francis remembered ignoring the question, too busy for superstitions. Every day after that moment he had come in to the same desk, on the same ‘unlucky’ floor, in the same building. And every day he left, completely safe and unharmed.
So much for superstitions.
Francis believed in science, not religion or goofy superstitions. He loathed anyone beneath the intellectual capacity required to admit that science was the only true religion needed by man. It was the 21st century, and people were still praying to a ghost that lived in the clouds.
He forced his mind back to the present, hoping SARA would have correctly interpreted his nod by now.
When he nodded, he had alerted the computer program controlling the entire floor, including his own office, that he not only acknowledged the results she had delivered, but intended for her to initiate the final phase of testing.
On the TV in front of him a face materialized.
“Monsieur,” the man said. “I hope you are well. I am assuming that your call indicates your desire to move forward with the final phase?”
Francis was a man of few words, and that aspect of his character extended to his business dealings. He rarely sent emails or initiated phone calls, except when absolutely necessary.
Today, of course, it was absolutely necessary. This project had been draining the company of money, time, and other resources for far too long. Their setbacks at Yellowstone National Park and in the Amazon rainforest four months earlier had been overcome, but were still felt deeply within the organization. Francis’ own funding had been threatened more than once already, a fact that sent his chronic nervousness gyrating out of control when he thought of it, even though his control over the company had become, of late, nearly absolute.
“Yes,” Francis Valére said. “SARA has just informed me that we are at 95% accuracy. The final phase shall begin immediately, but as is protocol, you are to initiate human trials as soon as possible.”
The man on the screen paused. Emilio Vasquez, a self-made billionaire currently residing in Puerto Rico, stared back at Valére. Francis knew the man had not misunderstood him. His accent was French-Canadian, though he had perfected his English-speaking abilities to the point where many people could not tell it was a secondary language for him.
No, Vasquez was hesitating.
“Mr. Vasquez, you do understand the expectations laid out by the company for the final stage?”
“I do, of course. I’m sorry, I just —“
“We are at an important juncture with this project. Specifically, we are nearing the end of this project, and the beginning of the next era for human life on earth.”
“Of course, Francis. Please forgive my —“
“I do not need to remind you that I am the director, and I have been charged with seeing this project to its completion. I must therefore ensure that at every step of the way you are committed to that goal as well.”
Emilio Vasquez nodded onscreen. Behind him, Francis could see palm trees swaying gently as they brushed at the sides of the man’s estate, a sprawling mansion set on rolling hills that rose from the coast. Francis Valére had never been, but SARA had compiled an impressive dossier on everyone who had invested in or had done business with the company, including Emilio Vazquez. Vasquez was an honest businessman who had made a few lucky investments in his younger years, eventually branching out to dabble in the ‘gray area’ companies that had long intrigued him.
After transferring the required $5 million investment to Francis Valére’s and the company’s control, Valére had requested Mr. Vasquez as a personal advisor and consultant for this project. He had proven his value as a man knowledgeable with the inner workings of the technology industry, a key role that had been missing in Valére’s project hierarchy.
Both men stared at one another for another 30 seconds. Valére knew that SARA was busy sending the man in Puerto Rico terabytes of encrypted video files she had retrieved from the project’s headquarters, and that these video clips were playing on the man’s screen, each file trimmed to the most relevant section to provide a quick overview of test results. Valére watched Emilio’s eyes as they danced left to right on his television screen, consuming the content.
“Well,” Vasquez said, finally looking back at Valére. “If this preview is a relevant snapshot of current trials, I have to admit the results are better than expected.”
Valére finally opened the bottle of pills and grabbed two using an index finger. He popped it into his mouth, impatiently awaiting the shakiness in his limbs to subside. “These results are exactly as I had expected.”
“Right. Well, I have work to do. Is there anything else you will need from me?”
Francis Valére continued his steady gaze into the television screen. “Yes, Mr. Vazquez. There is one more thing.”
Vasquez raised an eyebrow.
“I need you to hire a second security team and send them to Antarctica.”
Vazquez frowned, and his eyes darted to the left for a moment. “There is already a considerable security force stationed at —“
“I am well aware of the quality of the security force we are currently employing there. But this final phase is the most crucial of all. Without these results, we have nothing. And with the events that have taken place over the last few months, it will be in our best interest to ensure the success of those results.”
Vasquez nodded again, as if understanding.
There is much you do not understand, Vazquez. There is much you cannot understand.
SARA, ever present in the room, disconnected the call and checked in with her boss. “I am preparing a transcript now,” she said. “Would you like for me to alert Antarctica about the additional security team?”
Francis leaned back in his chair, his eyes closed as he waited for the pill to take affect. He shook his head. “No, we must keep communications to a minimum, and there is no reason to alert them. The new security team will be traveling with their own equipment and supplies, and there is plenty of room in the facility for additional guests.”
SARA, reading the body language and nonverbal communication cues of her boss, did not audibly confirm the order. She simply disengaged her software link with the room, drifted back into the silent vortex of the innards of the faraway server room she was housed in, and began to work.
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