Read Time of the Great Freeze Online

Authors: Robert Silverberg

Time of the Great Freeze

BOOK: Time of the Great Freeze
Set in the Ice Age of 2300 a.d., when cities have gone completely underground and where the inhabitants have lived for centuries under heavy layers of ice, science fiction has been skillfully merged with science fact to come up with a gripping adventure story of the first few men to explore the earth when the ice begins to melt. How they manage to survive the constant battles against danger and fear as they cross the mighty ocean of ice provides a highly dramatic tale.
To Everett Orr
It was late in the day-or what passed for day in the underground city of New York. Pale lights glimmered in the corridors of Level C. Figures moved quietly down the long hallway. At this hour, most New Yorkers were settling down for a quiet, restful evening.
Jim Barnes paused in front of a sturdy door in the residential section of Level C, and rapped smartly with his knuckles. He waited a moment, running his hand tensely through his thick shock of bright red hair. The door opened, after a long moment, and a short, blocky figure appeared. It was Ted Callison, whose room this was.
"Jim. Come on in. We've already made contact."
"I got here as soon as I could," Jim said. "Is my father here yet?"
"Ten minutes ago. Everyone's here. We've got London on the wireless."
Jim stepped into the room. Callison closed the door behind him and dogged it shut. Jim stood there a moment, a tall, rangy boy of seventeen, deceptively slender, for he was stronger than he looked.
Half a dozen faces confronted the newcomer. Jim knew them all well. His father, Dr. Raymond Barnes, was there. Chunky Ted Callison, capable in his field of electronics. Nimble-witted, blue-eyed Roy Veeder, one of the city's cleverest lawyers. Dom Hannon, small and wiry, whose specialty was the study of languages, philology. Brawny, muscular Chet Farrington, he of the legendary appetite, a zoologist by profession. And Dave Ellis, plump and short, a meteorologist, who studied the changing weather of the world far above the city.
Six men. Jim, who was studying to be a hydroponics engineer, learning how to grow plants without soil or sun, was the seventh. Jim's heart pounded. What these men were doing was illegal, almost blasphemous-and he was one of them, he was part of the group, he shared the risk as an equal partner.
For six months now they had been meeting here in Ted Callison's room. At first, their goal had seemed hopeless, a wild dream. But the months had passed, and through long nights of toil they had put the radio equipment back into working order after decades on the shelf, and now…
"Speak up, New York!" a tinny voice cried out of nowhere. "We can barely hear you! Speak up, I say!"
"It's London," Roy Veeder murmured to Jim.
London! At last-contact with another city!
Like a priest before some strange idol Ted Callison crouched by the table and feverishly adjusted dials, Callison, whose broad face and ruddy light-brown skin told of his American Indian descent, was probably the best electronics technician in New York-which wasn't really saying too much. It was he who had restored the set to working order. Now he desperately manipulated the controls, trying to screen out interference.
Dr. Barnes grasped the microphone so tightly his knuckles whitened, and he leaned forward to speak. A historian by profession and something of a rebel by temperament, he was as thin as his son, but an astonishingly deep voice rumbled out of him: "London, this is New York calling. Do you hear us better now? Do you hear us?"
"We hear you, New York. Your accent is hard to understand, but we hear you!"
"This is Raymond Barnes, London. Barnes. I spoke last week with a Thomas Whitcomb."
A pause. Then:
"He is dead, Raymond Barnes," came London's answer, the words clipped and almost incomprehensible.
"He died yesterday. It was by mischance… accident. He was found by…" The signal faded out, buried by noise. Callison toiled frenziedly with his controls. "…am Noel Hunt, his cousin," came a blurp of sound unexpectedly. "What do you want, New York?"
… to talk!" Dr. Barnes said in surprise. "It's hundreds of years since the last contact between London and New York!"
"… did not hear you…"
"Hundred of years since the last contact! No record of contact since twenty-three hundred!"
"We have tried to reach you by wireless," the Londoner said. "There has never been any response."
"Now there is! Listen to me, Noel Hunt. We think the ice is retreating! We think it's time for man to come up out of these caves! Do you hear what I say, London?"
"I hear you, New York." The London voice sounded suddenly wary. "Have you been to the surface yet?"
"Not yet. But we're going to go! We hope to visit you, London! To cross the Atlantic!"
"To visit us? Why?"
"So that contact between cities can be restored."
"Perhaps it is best this way," the Londoner said slowly. "We… we are content this way."
"If you don't want contact," Dr. Barnes said, "why did you build the radio set?"
"I did not build it. My cousin Thomas Whitcomb built it. He had… different ideas. He is… dead now…"
The set sputtered into incoherence.
"He's saying something!" Jim cried.
Callison scowled, stood up. "We've lost the signal," he said bitterly. There was sudden silence in the room. "I'll try again. But he didn't sound very friendly."
"No," Dr. Barnes said. "He sounded… frightened, almost."
"Maybe someone was monitoring him," suggested Dave Ellis, the short, plump meteorologist. "Maybe he was afraid to say what was on his mind."
"Whitcomb was much more encouraging," Dr. Barnes said.
"Whitcomb's dead," Jim pointed out. "He was killed in an accident."
"I doubt that," Roy Veeder said, in the precise, clipped tones of one who has spent much of his time droning through the dry formalities of the law. "It sounds to me as though Whitcomb were murdered."
Jim stared at the lawyer in shock. "You mean killed deliberately?"
Veeder smiled. "I mean exactly that. I know, it's a strange concept to us. But things like that happened in the old chaotic world up above. And they may still happen in London. I don't think it was an accident. The Londoner was trying to tell us something else. Someone may have deliberately removed Whitcomb. I'm certain that's what he was saying."
Dr. Barnes shrugged. "That may be as may be." He glanced at Callison and said, "Any hope of restoring transmission?"
"I don't think so, Doc. It's dead at the other end. I'm not picking up a thing."
"Try some other channels," Chet Farrington suggested, crossing and recrossing his long legs.
"What's the use? No one else is broadcasting."
"Try, at least," Farrington urged.
Callison knelt and began to explore the air waves. After a moment he looked up, his face tense, a muscle flicking in his cheek. "It's a waste of time," he said darkly. "And the air in here stinks! Open that vent a little wider. Seven people and only air enough for two!"
Jim moved toward the vent control. As he started to turn it, his father said simply, "Don't, Jim."
"Ted's right, Dad. The air's bad in here."
"That's okay, Jim. But we don't really want people to know we're meeting, do we? If the computer registers a sudden extra air flow in Ted's room, and somebody bothers to check, we may all have to answer questions."
Callison balled his fist menacingly and shook it at the air vent. "You see?" he demanded of nobody in particular. "We aren't even free to
down here! Oh, I can't wait to get out! To see the surface, to fill my lungs with real air!"
"It's cold up there, Ted," Dom Hannon said.
"But it's getting warmer!" Callison retorted. "Ask Dave! He'll tell you it's warming up!"
Dave Ellis smiled thinly. "The mean surface temperature is about one degree warmer than it was fifty years ago," he said. "It's warming up there, but not very fast."
"Fast enough," Callison growled. His thick-muscled, powerful body seemed to throb at the injustice of being cooped in a man-made cave far below the surface of the earth. "I want to get out of here," he muttered. "Bad enough that my ancestors were penned down on reservations. But to be boxed up in a little hive underground, to live your whole life without seeing the sky and the clouds…"
"All right," Dave Ellis said with a snort of amused annoyance. "If he's talking about his ancestors, it's time for us to break up for the night. Next thing he'll be painting his face and trying to scalp us, and…"
"Shut your mouth!" Callison erupted. He whirled, amazingly fast for such a thick-set, stocky man, and grabbed the meteorologist by the shoulders. He began to shake him violently. Ellis' head joggled as though it were going to fly loose from its moorings. "I've had enough sarcasm from you!" Callison cried. "If you want to spend the rest of your life huddled like a worm down here, that's all right with me, but-"
"Easy," Ellis gasped. "You're… hurting… me…"
A figure stepped between them and easily separated them-Dr. Barnes, looking fragile but determined as he pushed the chunky Callison away. "Enough of that, Ted," he said quietly.
"It's the air in here," Roy Veeder said crisply. "Stale air makes tempers short."
Dave Ellis rubbed his shoulders ruefully. Still looking angry, Ted Callison began to twiddle the dials of the radio once again, his hands moving in brusque, deliberately jerky gestures.
Jim felt a throb of sympathy for him. The staleness of the air had little to do with the shortness of the tempers in the room, Jim knew. No, it was the tension, the frustration of coming together night after night, of wearily trying to reach someone-anyone-in the outside world, the dull bleak knowledge that you and your descendants to the tenth or twentieth generation were all condemned to spend your lives far under ground, hiding from the ice that had conquered the world. The glaciers that covered the surface were like hands at every man's throat.
Callison shut the power off, after a moment. "Nothing," he said. "We've had our talk with London for tonight."
"Too bad about Whitcomb," Ellis said. He seemed genuinely interested in hearing from us."
"Maybe his cousin is, too," Jim offered. "But he sounded so suspicious… so uneasy."
shouldn't he be?" Callison asked. "Put yourself in his place. You get hold of a radio set that somebody else builds, and you pick up signals from a city nobody's heard from in hundreds of years. They talk about friendship, but do you trust them? Do you trust
? Suppose this other city is just out to attack you? Lull you into confidence, then steal your nuclear fuel supplies? You never can tell."
"Tom Whitcomb seemed to trust us," Jim said.
"And they must have killed him," Callison said. "I'm sure Roy's right about that. He probably went running to the City Council, or whatever they call it there, and said he had picked up radio signals from New York-so they slit his throat right away, naturally. Men like that are dangerous. They're troublemakers."
Dr. Barnes sighed. "
aren't getting anywhere," he said. "Ted, will you keep trying for an hour or so? If you pick up London again-or anyplace else-let us know."
"As for the rest of us," Dr. Barnes said, "we might as well just go back to our rooms."
The group broke up. Jim and his father strode off toward the room they shared, three sections eastward on Level C. Neither of them said much as they walked through the cool, dimly lit corridors. It had been too disappointing an evening to discuss. Hopes that had been high only an hour ago were dashed now.
They had made radio contact with the Londoner, Whitcomb, last week. He had seemed intelligent, alert, a man who enjoyed being alive, a bold and fearless man who welcomed the voice out of the dark. He was dead now. The new voice on the radio had been a more familiar kind of voice, Jim thought-the cramped, edgy voice of fear and mistrust. He knew that kind of voice well.
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