This excerpt from Rich Shapero’s new book was just released, if you’re curious to read a little before Rich’s appearance here tomorrow.
Confrontation on Mt. Wrangell
Ransom woke in a smaller tent to find Skimmer sitting up, watching him. Erik was dressing, silent and distant. Gloster was muttering outside. The occupants of the other tent were already stirring. Ransom laced his boots and crawled out. Harvey was putting zinc on, Gloster attaching his crampons. Bull stooped over the stove, making breakfast. At the edge of the camp, Yank was tromping the snow.
“Set up nicely,” he said. There was rime on the wands. “Hard, but not too hard–” He turned back to the tents, saw Ransom, and went quiet.
Gloster nodded at Ransom. Harvey glanced in his direction, then turned and put his harness on without a word.
“Perfect,” Ransom said, gazing around. His breath was steaming. The rising sun reflected off every edge and nick of the dome, as if the thousand eyes of Animus were watching.
Bull glanced at Harvey. So did Yank and Gloster. Erik emerged from the tent, realizing instantly something was up.
Harvey flinched. “Damn thing always pinches my nuts,” he laughed, tugging at the harness. “Thought we’d run to the top.”
Ransom nodded. “I’m for it.”
“The group wants to go for the summit.” Harvey gave him a regretful look.
“You mean the North Crater.”
Harvey didn’t respond directly. He glanced eastward, at a tangent to the icefall, to where the serac field gave onto smooth slopes. “We’ll never get up the fall. We’ve got a chance of making it if we do what we originally planned.”
Yank gave Gloster a look of triumph. Erik knelt beside them, watching.
“We could follow that alley,” Ransom pointed. “Get through the rest of these seracs by noon.” He stepped toward the icefall. “That alley there–”
Harvey dove for him, grabbed his parka, and pulled him back inside the safe area. Ransom had walked right between two wands. “There’s not enough time,” Harvey said, eyeing him sadly.
Bull turned to Ransom. “Even the direct way’s a stretch.”
Ransom saw the forces aligning against him. “Maybe we forget the icefall,” he said, facing Harvey’s route. “Take your way to the crater.”
Harvey glanced at the others.
“Shit,” Gloster said.
Erik made a disbelieving sound.
“Come on, Harv,” Yank exploded angrily. “Show some spine.”
Harvey grew morose, upset by the decision he was being forced to make. His instincts as a climber prevailed. “We’re going for the summit,” he said gently.
Gloster stiffened and rose, expecting a harangue from Ransom.
But Ransom just nodded. Was it the conversation of the night before, or his dream? Or something that occurred to him just then? “Alright,” he said.
Harvey tried to smile. “You’re coming.”
Harvey gazed uncertainly at the others. Yank shrugged.
“Ransom–” Harvey’s expression was troubled.
“Go ahead,” Ransom said, understanding. “You’ve put up with a lot.” He scanned their faces with sudden generosity. “It’s the least I can do.”
Harvey glanced at Bull.
“Maybe it’s best,” Bull murmured. The sentiment seemed to seal things.
Skimmer stepped out of the tent. “What’s up?”
Harvey saw his duty. “We’re going for the summit. Ransom’s staying here. What do you want to do?”
Skimmer turned to Ransom, stunned.
“Go with them.” Ransom’s eyes were gentle and forgiving.
Skimmer was speechless.
“Maybe it’s best,” Ransom said, thanking Bull with a gracious smile.
Harvey lifted his pack. “Be back in eight to ten hours,” he told Ransom, “assuming the weather holds. We’ll start down tomorrow morning.”
Fifteen minutes later, the climbing team was winding through the seracs beyond camp. From his position ahead of Bull near the rope’s end, Skimmer glanced back one last time. Then they disappeared around a block. Ransom stood at the edge of the wanded area, watching. His set smile faded.
It had been a simple bit of duplicity, but now that he was really alone, the magnitude of the idea that had struck him fell heavily on him. He wasn’t really sure he was going through with it. No, by dispatching the others, he’d only bought time to consider it. He turned and stepped back to the tent, drawing on his mitts. He found his pack and brushed the drifted snow off. Then, abruptly, he straightened. What was he thinking? It would be dangerous beyond anything he’d imagined. Insane, even for him.
He turned in a half circle in a vague effort to ground himself. The snow beyond the wands glittered with prismatic sequins that shifted magically, winking out and springing to light no matter where he looked. The vacant camp seemed shabby and artificial — the stage set of a play, for which there was no further use. He gazed at the track of the departed climbers, then down the flank of the dome at the lowlands and the coast, realizing how far he’d come, how removed from humanity he was. Instead of giving him the courage to cut loose, it made him want to crawl back, to beg Lindy and everyone else to pardon his foolishness.
Then he saw the steam.
From a blue depression beside the icefall, a white gyre was rising into the sky. Heat! Animus was speaking to him from inside the dome. Calling him.