Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Ice Fortress

She lay, nude, reclining in the shadow of Mount Terror.
Her skin was heavily weathered from the years spent enduring the frozen blast of the Antarctic wind but the pin-up girl painted on the nose of the B-17 “Miss Direction” continued to gaze out over the snowy waste, waiting for her chance to take to the air once more.
“She’s a pretty fit dame, for being so old. She must be at least fifty. Even I might have a chance,” joked William Lamar, as he surveyed the side of the once-mighty bomber.
Sydney King, walking beside him, rolled her eyes, resisted his weak attempt to make her jealous of a picture, and thought briefly about punching him.
“She’s been here forty-nine years,” said Clue Restacks, trying mightily to conceal her amusement. Sydney and Lamar had been bickering with each other non-stop since they had departed on their current mission. Clue wondered whether or not they would realize that they liked each other on their own, or if she’d get tired of their banter and have to tell them first.
They were here, along with Mr. Mouse, who was currently curled up somewhere in the recesses of Clue’s giant parka, on the volcanic slopes near McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, to salvage “Miss Direction”.
The plane sat upright and majestic above the low drifts that surrounded it. It had been forced down on a secret mission at the height of the Cold War and had been abandoned by her crew. The cold-weather conditions had done a spectacular job of preservation and with only a few repairs, the Troubleshooting Company’s client fully expected Clue and her team to be able to fly it away again. It was easy to believe that. At first glance, it looked as if she only needed a pilot to coax her back to life.
This four-engined Boeing Flying Fortress had been built in 1945, but had been kept flying well past the time that most of her 12,731 sister-ships had been scrapped. When she’d crashed, there had been no pressing need to recover the aircraft. Now, with the rising price of collectable airframes, the cost spent to reclaim her from the ice would be recouped in the millions she would be worth when she rejoined the 58 remaining examples in museum-quality shape.
The adventurers had hiked to the location where Miss Direction had come to rest, within roughly 20 miles of Ernest Shackleton’s historic hut at Cape Royds and the modern research station at McMurdo Sound. The pilot had, all those years ago, managed a gear-down landing, and with the exception of some bent propeller blades and minor wear, the only chores to do were to refurbish the engines, replace the tires, and to clear a runway in the snow long enough for the plane to take off from.
“There’s not much that needs to be done here,” said Sydney, assessing the situation. “And I don’t want to question a good paycheck, but how come we’re the ones that got called in to do the job? Surely there are other people who are outfitted to do this sort of thing. People who are actual mechanics, for example.” She didn’t like the cold.
Sydney had only recently quit her job as a police officer.  She’d been caught up with Clue during an attack by the ruthless Jackson Fortune, Clue’s nemesis. She’d been a cop in the city, though. She didn’t do well with nature, or whatever Antarctica was—the opposite of nature.
“I tried to ask the client the same thing,” said Clue. “He wouldn’t give me a straight answer, just said he’d heard about some of the things we’ve done and thought that this would be right up our alley. Did you happen to see the looks on the faces of those scientists, back at the station?”
“Fear,” said Lamar.
“So it wasn’t just me,” said Clue. “I think that maybe we should do what we need to do here as quickly as possible and get out.”
“Sounds good,” said Sydney. “If only to get warm, again. You don’t think you could heat it up around here with your powers, could you?”
Clue possessed the ability to control wind, temperature, and water. She’d first exhibited the powers during a chase through Rome while seeking a magical treasure, and they’d come in very useful on her subsequent adventures.
“I think I could definitely try,” said Clue, and the air around the group began to warm considerably. “But I have to be careful about upsetting the balance. If we melt too much of the snow and ice, we might not be able to get the plane out of here. We may have to sacrifice comfort for efficiency.”
“Whatever you can,” said a shivering Sydney.
“Alright,” said Clue. “It’s been a long day. Let’s set up the camp, and then we’ll do a quick survey of the aircraft to get an exact picture of what we need so we can start first thing in the morning.”
“Night” and “morning” were, of course, relative terms. During the summer, the sun was up 24 hours a day this close to the pole.
Sydney and Lamar began to set up the tents, and unpack the gear. Clue radioed the research base to let them know that they’d arrived on-site and would be able to call in for an air-drop of supplies the next day.
“What do you think, Mr. Mouse?” she asked him. “Will we be able to fly that thing out of here?”
He emerged from his warm lair and looked at her with a cocked head.
“Fifty-fifty, then,” she agreed.
Then Clue boarded the aircraft for the first time. She looked down the cramped passageway and wondered how men could have fought a terrible war from here.
Everything inside looked to have escaped significant decay, except for the rear gunner’s station that, open to the elements on both sides, had accumulated a large quantity of snow.
She also noted that anything that was not bolted down or solidly mounted had been stripped out. That had probably been done by previous expeditions.
She exited just as Sydney and Lamar were finishing the camp.
The three humans and one mouse entered their sleeping bags and settled in for the night, alone at the bottom of the world somewhere between the twin volcanoes of Mounts Erebus and Terror. 
The morning, such as it was in a land without darkness, dawned crisp and clear. Lamar was the first to rise. He woke the women and they gathered outside to face the day.
Their first task was to remove the four great propellers. In order to do so, they would erect a lightweight but very strong scaffold they had carried with them from the base on sledges.
“Clue, come here for a minute,” called Sydney from the sleds.
Clue made her way across the camp slowly. Running would invite sweat, which could freeze and quickly become a serious problem.
“Look at that,” Sydney said.
“Where?” asked Clue.
“Right here,” said Sydney. She was pointing at an area of disturbed snow on the far side of the sleds from the tent and bomber. “Does that look like tracks to you?”
Clue looked closer at the marks on the ground. “Maybe. Could just be ours, though,” she offered.
“This is fresh,” said Sydney. “Ours have had snow blown into them.”
“There shouldn’t be anyone else around for miles,” said Clue. “No one from the station comes out this way. I still can’t really see tracks, though. Maybe some kind of animal was sniffing around at our gear?”
“The only animals out here are penguins, in a colony down at the coast, and Mr. Mouse,” said Sydney.
“There’s no trail or anything, don’t worry about it. Nothing’s missing from our packs. I’m sure we’ll be fine. Let’s get this stuff over to the plane and get started,” said Clue. “Come on, Lamar’s waiting for us.”
Sydney remained unconvinced, but gathered the supplies and let the matter drop. The sense that she was being watched, however, remained.
While the women had been debating the mysterious maybe-tracks in the snow, Lamar had clambered up on top of the bomber’s wing and was clearing snow off of the top and sides of the aircraft. Somehow, though, once clear of its white covering, the Boeing took on a far more sinister aura, now looking supremely out of place with its all-black fuselage jutting up from the pristine landscape around it.
“I didn’t ask before because I’d assumed that it was an Air Force bird, but it isn’t, is it?” he said.
“No,” said Clue. “Officially, it was registered to a private company. Unofficially, that company was a C.I.A. front.”
“Alien cover-up?” asked Sydney.
“No, Syd, we talked about that. The alien was on a boat, remember?” asked an exasperated Clue. “This was just a reconnaissance flight. They were surveying the area for a transmitter post.”
“Just checking,” replied Sydney, who winked to Lamar. They both took any chance they could to hassle Clue about her past jobs.
“Isn’t the Agency usually fussier about leaving their equipment out in the open for fifty years?” asked Lamar. “The C.I.A. is persistent. They spent billions with Howard Hughes on the ‘Glomar Explorer’, that ship that was meant to pull up that sunken Russian submarine, right?” he pressed.
Despite having only recently arrived in the present from 1910, he was the company’s resident history buff, having seen most of the important events of the past hundred years using his now-destroyed time machine, before he’d met Clue and Sydney.
“There was information in the file the client gave me about two previous expeditions. The first ran into weather complications and gave up. The other had some sort of accident, and they pulled out before much work was done on the plane,” said Clue. “Both of those took place almost immediately after the crash. Then they gave up. It was too difficult.”
Once again, Clue settled the matter. She was beginning to wonder if this whole new “team” concept was going to work. When it had been just her and Mr. Mouse, there’d been way less irritation. Luckily, though, the questions stopped and work was able to continue at a brisk pace.
The next few days were a blur of activity. Lamar proved to be the most useful, having a technical background. He was quite at home with the primitive systems on the Miss Direction. Clue and Sydney could follow the schematics without much trouble, as well. The most difficult part was manoeuvring some of the larger pieces with only three people. Mr. Mouse had decided that he was to be foreman on the project and spent most of his time watching from within the fur liners on the humans’ parka hoods.
Airdrops had delivered four new propellers, tires, aviation fuel, and a small bulldozer to the camp. Soon a 3,500 foot runway was cleared through the drifts.
The old warbird was almost ready to fly again. Clue sat in the cockpit for the first engine test-run and preliminary taxi.
“Everything looks good up here. Go ahead and start them up,” she called to Lamar and Sydney who were outside. One by one the old radials sputtered to life. Soon the fuselage was buzzing and the throaty roar shook the air. Clue released the brakes and the plane hesitated, and then lurched forward. She pushed the rudder pedals slowly and felt the plane slew left and right.
She confirmed that all the instruments seemed to be giving appropriate information and cycled through flap settings and aileron and elevator trim.
The tests were almost complete and Clue was just about to kill power when there was a sudden cough from an engine, then, before she could respond, a loud bang and puff of smoke. She cut the throttle at once and hit the shutoff switches for all the engines, not wanting to risk further failures.
The bomber squatted over the middle of the runway like a large, angry bird, smoke billowing from engine number three.
Sydney and Lamar hurried over with fire extinguishers, but there was no fire when they got within range.
“What happened?” asked Lamar.
Clue explained what she had been doing when the engine quit, but there was no easy solution without waiting for it to cool and then opening it up. They used the tractor to pull the aircraft back to the start of the runway, and then got to work again to find the problem.
“She was close,” said Clue. “I could feel it. She wanted to go. If we can find the cause of the stoppage, we could be off right after.”
“Good,” said Sydney. “The camp has radioed us and said the weather is going to turn, so the sooner the better.”
As if someone had heard her, the radio crackled. The research station’s call sign pierced the silence of the Antarctic airfield.
“McMurdo Station calling Troubleshooters, over,” it squawked.
“This is Troubleshooters,” Clue replied. “Go ahead.”
“We’ve picked up a storm on our weather radar. It is predicted to hit your position at approximately midnight tonight. It’s a big one.”
“Storm approaching, confirmed,” said Clue.
“Troubleshooters, we’re going to shutter the station here and wait it out. We recommend that you evacuate your camp and return here at once.”
“Negative,” said Clue. “We understand, but the bomber is almost ready to go. We should be able to get out before the weather comes in. If we don’t, we might not have another chance at recovery. We’ll be in New Zealand before you make it out here for us.”
“It’s going to be bad,” said the voice on the radio. “You really should come back. We can send a snow-cat for you.”
“Understood, McMurdo,” Clue assured the voice. “We’ll take our chances. We’ll be fine.”
“Confirm you’ll be leaving the continent before the storm, over.”
“Confirmed,” said Clue. “We’ll be on our way.”
“Roger that, Troubleshooters. Stay safe. McMurdo Station, out.”
“Thanks, McMurdo, you’ve been a great help. Troubleshooters, out.” Clue ended the conversation.
“You lied to them, Clue. We don’t know for sure we’ll complete the work before the storm. William, what do you think?” asked Sydney.
“Yes, Sydney’s right,” said Lamar. “We’re taking a dangerous chance turning down their offer.”
“I know,” said Clue. “But if we don’t get this bird out of here now, we might lose it. I don’t want to do that now that we’re so close. We need to find out what’s going on with that engine, and then load our gear and get out of here. We’ll be in New Zealand long before the weather becomes a problem.”
“And if we don’t fix the engine?” said Sydney.
“I control the weather, remember?” said Clue. “Come on, let’s get this done, get out of here, and get paid.”
Then she spun around and walked back towards the plane.
Sydney and Lamar looked at each other.
“I’m not sure if I signed up for this,” said Sydney, as soon as Clue was out of earshot.
“I’m not comfortable with the decision, either,” agreed Lamar.
“Do you think we’ll be ok?” Sydney asked.
“Yes, we’ll be fine. No fire means that there probably isn’t a serious problem. And Clue can protect us from a storm,” he said as the first tiny flakes began to fall from the gray sky.
They rushed to complete the job, but none of them had ever experienced the ferocity of a polar storm. They were successful, but before they knew it, the temperature was plummeting and the wind and whiteout conditions forced them to take cover.
“Would it be better to sit out the storm inside the plane?” asked Sydney.
“Miss Direction’s fuselage isn’t weather-tight and without space to put up the tent, we’d be colder in there,” said Lamar. “Best if we can set up the tent outside and build a windbreak in front of it.”
They piled the earthmoving machine, empty fuel drums, packing crates, anything they could tear down from their camp under the belly of the silent B-17 as a screen and pitched their tent behind the wall in the comparative shelter from the elements. However, mere shelter would not be enough.
Clue struggled to match the intensity of the weather with her powers. Usually overwhelmingly powerful, she realized just how much she’d overestimated them. The most she could manage was a bubble of relatively warmer air around them and some enhancement of the hodgepodge wall blocking the incoming gusts. She slipped into a meditative state. She needed all of her focus to keep them safe.
“This is how Scott died,” said Lamar, referencing the ill-fated explorer who had perished on an expedition to the South Pole in 1912.
“Quiet!” said Sydney. “She’s concentrating.”
Mr. Mouse regarded the situation from Sydney’s coat. Then his ears perked up and rotated toward a noise the others couldn’t hear yet.
Sydney saw him and followed his gaze to the wall of the tent. He was standing stiffly and quivering in the direction of something unseen.
“Look, William,” she told Lamar.
“Mighty strange,” he said. He, too, looked at the empty screen of fabric.
“I think there’s something out there,” said Sydney.
Then they heard a new sound over the maelstrom outside.
“It sounds like somebody’s doing something to the plane,” Sydney whispered. “I’m going to check it out.”
“Wait, Sydney,” Lamar cautioned. “Here, take my coat, too. You’ll last mere minutes out there without it.”
Sydney took his advice and checked her pistol before she exited the tent. Then she stepped out into the blizzard.
Seconds later, Lamar heard her shouting, then gunshots.
She dove back inside through the flap, and twisted so her gun covered the doorway.
“Get the rifle,” she commanded. “Quickly.”
Lamar didn’t wait to be told again. He armed himself and scanned the walls to see if anything was close enough to detect through them.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I saw something,” she said. “Not human.”
“Animal?” he pressed.
“Not animal, either.”
“Listen,” she said forcefully.
The two sat silently beside Clue, who was still in a trance, maintaining their protective environmental sphere.
From outside there was a thump of something heavy landing on snow. Then a bang as something hit the bottom or side of the plane. And then the most chilling sound. Something just outside of the tent, breathing heavily.
Sydney and Lamar both trained their guns towards the noise.
“What did you see?” Lamar asked again.
“I think it’s a yeti.”
“How is it surviving out in the storm?” he wondered abstractedly.
“Because it’s a yeti.” She told him.
The creature was still nearby. They could hear it clambering around their makeshift citadel.
“I think I might have hit it,” whispered Sydney. “It was tearing at the fuselage.”
“We have to stay here with Clue,” said Lamar.
They strained to detect any hint of the creature, but almost as quickly as it had arrived, they lost track of it.
“If it comes back, we’ll have to kill it,” said Sydney.
“If we can find evidence of it, it could be the greatest scientific find of all time,” said Lamar, taking a different track. He could tell Sydney was shaken up and was trying to slowly change the subject.
“If we make it through the night,” said Sydney, as she began to calm down. Her training as a police officer was kicking in and she was able to switch gears in a hurry. “Speaking of, here’s your jacket back. You still want it, I assume.”
“I do, very much,” said Lamar.
“Nothing to do but wait, I suppose,” she said.
“I agree. Do you think we should share sleeping bags to conserve warmth?” he suggested.
“Good try. I didn’t pay a grand for mine so that I would need to share it, it’s rated to minus forty,” she laughed. “But it’s a fine line. We should stay awake, though. If Clue can’t keep it up, or something else happens, if we fall asleep we might not wake up.”
“You’re right, of course,” he said. “We could tell each other ghost stories.”
“Alright,” she giggled a little bit. “You first.”
Even Mr. Mouse thought that they were laying it on pretty thick. He had no qualms about going to sleep, nor was he worried any longer about strange sounds. Now that he knew that it was just a yeti, he could relax. He could probably take on a yeti. He burrowed deeper into the bottom of Sydney’s bag and made himself a fine downy nest.
By morning, the worst had passed. Sydney tucked an exhausted Clue into a sleeping bag. Then she and Lamar left the tent to survey the camp. She half expected to see the Boeing flipped on to its side, or torn to pieces.
But despite a fresh coat of snow, the damage was nowhere near as extensive as she’d feared. The wind had kept the snow from piling up and so the runway was still clear. Clue’s shield had also kept the worst from the area immediately around the plane.
Then she heard Lamar’s voice from the other side of the aircraft.
“They’re gone!” he shouted.
Sydney hustled over.
“What are?”
“There are parts missing from the engine. I can’t tell which ones, but you can see here where something has been torn out.”
“Was it the storm?” Sydney asked, already knowing the answer.
“It was if it could lift the cowling, remove the part, and close it again.”
“Were those really yetis?”
“I don’t know, you’re the only one who got a good look,” replied Lamar.
Mr. Mouse squeaked from his lair in Sydney’s coat.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” she asked him.
He squeaked again.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know you like Clue knows you,” she said.
“He might be trying to say ‘check the other engines, too’,” Lamar suggested from the next nacelle over. “They’ve stripped this one, as well.”
The two remaining engines were checked and both had missing pieces.
“I don’t like this,” said Sydney. “Something’s not right. Why would a wild animal, as mythical as a yeti might be, want engine parts? I know what I saw, though. It wasn’t human. Do you know anything about tracking? We might need to find these things.”
“I don’t. Clue might. We have to look at our options here. We barely survived the night, and we don’t know if that’s the last of the weather. We should call the station and find out if they’re still able to pick us up. Maybe we can source some replacement parts from there, then return to try to finish the job,” mulled Lamar.
“Clue might what?” asked a sleepy voice from near the tent.
“Game tracking, are you familiar with it?” asked Lamar.
“I know of it,” said Clue. “Why?”
Sydney cut in. “You should be asleep, you must be wiped out.”
“I can manage,” said Clue. “Tell me what’s going on.”
They told her what had happened during the night and their strange visitors.
“And you’re sure of what you saw?” confirmed Clue.
“I’m a cop, remember? It was male, about seven feet tall. White fur. Monkey face. There was something strange about the arms though. They seemed too short. Stubby, almost,” said Sydney.
“Ok. I believe you,” Clue assured her.
“We need to call the base,” said Lamar. “I know we’re close to fixing her up, but this bird will be here when we get back. I think we’ve got to start looking after each other.”
To Lamar and Sydney’s surprise, Clue agreed with them about a retreat from the ice. They retrieved the radio and tried to contact the science outpost.
“McMurdo Station, this is Troubleshooters, over,” called Clue.
Her signal was met with static. There was no reply.
“This is Troubleshooters, calling McMurdo Station, please respond if able, over,” she tried again.
Still nothing. She tried another channel.
“McMurdo come in, Anyone on this channel, come in, this is Troubleshooters requesting evacuation, over.”
Nobody answered.
She scanned through all the frequencies on the dial but still did not manage to make contact.
“I think we’re on our own,” she told her partners, grimly. “Ok. We walked in here, so we should be able to walk out.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” cautioned Lamar. “We don’t know the weather. It took us a full day to get here coming in. If we get bogged down by something even half of last night’s severity, we won’t make it exposed and in the open like that. Clue, you saved us once, but do you have the strength to do it all again right away?”
Clue knew she wasn’t ready, certainly not after including a day’s march. “No. I’m sorry.”
She realized they were all looking to her for leadership. Not quite sure herself what they should do, she put forth her best guess.
“I think our best chance right now is to try to track down whatever those things were that stole our parts. If we haven’t found anything after a couple hours, we’ll have to turn back and prepare for another night here. If we do find something, we’ll get what we need, put it back on the plane, and then it’s back to the original plan of flying out of here,” she told them.
The gathered up the supplies they’d need and loaded them on to a sledge that they would take turns pulling.
“Make sure you’re armed,” said Sydney. She had her pistol.
Lamar carried a hunting rifle.
Clue spoke up. “I, uh, didn’t bring a gun. I usually go with my powers.”
“Save your energy,” said Sydney. She reached down into the recesses of her backpack and handed Clue another handgun.
“You brought two?” Clue asked her.
“Always be prepared,” Sydney replied.
“Fair enough. Let’s get moving.”
The team began their search at the edge of their camp, on the far side of Miss Direction. They found that tracking would not be as difficult as they’d imagined, despite being obscured by freshly blown snow, there were still deep footprints visible leading off into the distance.
The three followed in a line, trading off who lead and broke the hard crust on top of the snow, and who pulled the sled, with the person in the middle getting a break from the other, more difficult jobs. They made good time, with Lamar keeping his eye on an elegant pocket watch.
“If we don’t find something in the next ten minutes, we’ll have to turn around,” he said.
The terrain ahead was changing from flat snowy plain into extremely fractured mountainous foothills and rocky embankments.
“I hear you,” said Clue. “But I want to get at least past the first ridge up there. If we can’t see anything from there, we’ll go back. Syd? What do you think?”
Sydney, who was currently pulling the sled, agreed. “We’ve come this far. Sorry, William. I know you’re keeping us to the plan. I don’t want to have to come back out here.”
“Not a problem, pretty lady,” he agreed.
That caught her a little bit off guard. He hadn’t called her that since they’d met him. She looked up quickly to see if Clue had noticed. Clue, who was walking point, did not seem to have heard.
Mr. Mouse, curled up next to Sydney’s earmuffs, had. He rolled his little black eyes. When were those two going to realize?
They kept walking.
It had taken slightly longer than Clue had expected to reach the top of the first hill. Distances were hard to judge in the Antarctic due to a lack of perspective and the mirage-like qualities of the glaring ice. Nonetheless, the extra effort had been worth it.
“Get down! Do you guys see that?” she whispered as she dropped to her belly.
Down in the deep canyon beyond the edge of the rise was some sort of base.
The only way the settlement would have been visible was from almost directly overhead. There were ten to fifteen large buildings and structures, some partially buried in snow, others with a shallow layer of rocks spread over the roofs to aid in camouflage. Wispy streams of vapour from some of the blocks indicated a living presence.
“That’s certainly not on the maps,” said Lamar.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I know where our parts went,” agreed Sydney.
“I’ll believe in yetis,” said Clue. “But I doubt they built that.”
“Maybe they control the yetis?” proposed Lamar.
“Double-secret Area 51?” suggested Sydney.
The speculation ended abruptly. A gunshot cracked across the valley. It puffed into the snow beside Clue’s head.
She scrambled for cover. The others followed her lead.
Gunfire erupted from all sides. The Troubleshooters were completely pinned down.
“Do you see them?” Sydney yelled.
“No. We’re surrounded,” said Lamar.
Clue wriggled out from behind a rocky shield to try to locate their attackers. She saw a flash.
“Over there, two o’clock. See that scraggly bump?” she told Lamar.
He sighted with his rifle. “Got it,” he said. “Do we shoot back?”
More bullets whizzed overhead. Their foes seemed to have terrible aim for the level of surprise they had achieved with their ambush.
Sydney interrupted them. “Guys, I see a different one. Nine o’clock. This one’s a yeti.”
Lamar jumped aside after a near-miss. “There, by the big rock pile, right ahead. Number three. That’s a yeti, too. We need to make up our minds, here.”
Clue was confused. When did yetis get guns?
Mr. Mouse chirped urgently. He’d seen another.
“They’ve got us,” she said. “Put down the rifle. Right now I think we have to surrender. There’s too many. Sydney, drop yours, too. They don’t know I’ve got powers. If we need to, I can blast them. I think I’m recovered enough.”
“I think you might be right,” said Sydney.
Clue laid down her gun and slowly put her hands in the air. Sydney and Lamar did the same. The shooting stopped.
They saw eight wraith-like shapes stand up from the snow around them. The white shaggy fur of the yetis had blended in with the background almost perfectly. Each carried a battered rifle. In that surreal moment, Clue’s first thought was that she recognized the guns from the TV show, “The A-Team”.
The giant beasts closed on Clue’s position. They were communicating to each other with hand gestures. When they were within arm’s reach, they stopped. The one that seemed to be the leader took another half-step closer. Then it raised its hands.
Clue flinched, and readied an electric shock for the monster, before she realized that it wasn’t reaching for her.
Instead, it pulled off its head.
The yeti was a man in mask.
The rest of the erstwhile yetis removed their cowls as well, revealing a grim-faced collection of men and women who were still improbably large.
“My name is Four,” said the first man in flat, unaccented English. “You are now our prisoners and you will come with us. Do not attempt to flee.”
Clue looked at her friends. There was no argument. They fell into line and were marched back to their captors’ stronghold.
The inside of the building that was to be their prison was dim and crowded with crates, barrels, and stacked lumber.  Bare lights fought valiantly against the overwhelming darkness, but with no windows and a low bunker-like ceiling, it was a losing battle.
“Stay,” said Four, as if he was commanding a dog.
The rusted metal door shut with a hollow clang, and Clue could hear a wheel turn to lock it.
“If a storm comes, at least we’ll be better off in here,” said Lamar, trying unsuccessfully to ease the tension.
“It’s ok,” said Clue. “I’ve been in this situation before.” She let Mr. Mouse out of her sweater and directed him towards the door. “Mr. Mouse will just go around, and get the lock from the other side.”
The plan was stalled by the solid concrete walls.
“Worked last time,” she said to save face.
“We need to work this out,” said Sydney. “Did anyone manage to get a look around as we were led in here? I noticed we’re in the middle of the complex. This building seems to be used for storage, but the one next door is either barracks or a mess hall. I heard several voices from inside. I think we might have passed a hangar and some labs, as well.”
“I notice that there doesn’t seem to be any modern technology,” added Clue. “Everything is either analogue or very early electronics. Like 1950s- or 60s-early. And I didn’t see any antennas or satellite dishes on any of the roofs. I don’t think these people have been in touch with the outside world for awhile. Could this place be some sort of penal colony? Lamar, did you see anything?”
“I saw some sentry posts. The gunports pointed out. This isn’t a detention centre. This is a stronghold.”
“What are they protecting?” wondered Sydney.
“They disguise themselves when they leave. And they definitely have an interest in the Miss Direction. They sabotaged it so it couldn’t take off. I bet these guys drove off the other groups who tried to repair her, too. They were scared off by a yeti attack and didn’t want to put something in the official report that would make them seem crazy,” said Clue.
“The scientists back at McMurdo, they were afraid when we told them we were here for the bomber. Now I think we know why,” said Lamar. “Four and the others seem to be actively protecting themselves.”
The incarcerated team had quite some time to speculate amongst themselves. It seemed their wardens had little inclination to return to check up on them. After thoroughly examining the structure and contents of their improvised cell it was clear that an escape attempt at this time was not going to work. They hunkered down to try to conserve energy and stay warm, sleeping in turns with at least one person awake at all times. Mr. Mouse, however, did not sleep. He spent the time doing laps of the room, checking and re-checking every item in it. He had an ingrained aversion to cages.
Hours passed, although it was difficult to tell exactly how many, with the sun never setting. Clue and the others had been stripped of their watches and gear at the time of their capture.
Then the door shuddered and swung open.
“You,” said the man who opened it, pointing at Clue. “Come with me.”
She rose and followed him. Mr. Mouse tried to make a break for the opening, but Clue saw him before the guard and motioned him away with a subtle wave of her hand. She pointed towards Sydney and Lamar. Mr. Mouse understood and crept back towards Sydney.
The man led her along a path between buildings. Without her jacket, the biting cold worked quickly on her. She stumbled as she tried to walk faster to get to where-ever it was she was being taken. She couldn’t use her powers to warm herself without tipping off the mysterious kidnappers.
By the time she got to the journey’s end, only three buildings away, she was sure she’d developed frostbite on 90 percent of her body.
Because of the cold, she barely had the will to object when shoved harshly into a wooden chair and strapped down.
A bright light snapped on, blinding her, and the interrogation began.
“I am Seven,” said a woman’s voice with the same strange non-accent as Four. “What is your name?”
Clue didn’t see much harm in telling her that. “Clue Restacks.”
“Tell me your real name.”
“That is my real name,” said Clue. It wasn’t, but this Seven wouldn’t know that.
“Why did you come here?” the interrogator demanded.
“I didn’t come here. You brought me here.”
Clue barely had time to flinch as something flat and pliable whipped at her head. A belt, probably. Clue couldn’t tell because of the light.
“No games. Why did you come here?”
“The other two hostages and I came to Antarctica to repair that old plane out there and fly it away,” Clue told Seven.
“Why did you invade our territory?” Seven asked.
“You know exactly why we did that. You or your henchmen stole the parts we need. What did you think would happen when you did that?” Clue spat back, bracing for the belt.
Surprisingly, despite her defiance, she wasn’t beaten again.
She sensed, rather than saw, Seven take a step back.
“You intended to take the aircraft,” said another voice. It might have been Four, but with the funny blankness of the voices so far, Clue couldn’t tell for sure. “What is your use with it after all these years?”
“Four?” she asked the voice.
“No. I am Twenty-One,” said the voice. “Tell me about the aircraft.”
Clue was unsure whether or not to reveal her plans. Had some rival hired these people as mercenaries to poach the Boeing for themselves? Wasn’t there something about interrogations where they just tried to get you talking about anything to soften you up for the real questions?
Her silence must have angered her questioners and she got smacked with the belt again. She decided that if they were serious about taking the plane, they already had the capability to do it no matter what she did or did not tell them. Better to play along for now to see what they really wanted.
“What do you want me to tell you?” she said.
“What is its importance to you?” coaxed Twenty-One.
“Somebody hired us to recover it. The airframe is worth enough money now that people are willing to pay for wrecks to restore.”
“Who hired you?” This time it was Seven asking the question.
“His name is Sutter. He owns a museum,” said Clue.
“He is not from your army?”
“What do you mean, ‘my army’? No, he’s not from the army. I just told you, he’s a rich old man who collects planes.” Clue was beginning to warm up, again, and getting tired of circular questions.
“Who will receive the aircraft’s cargo?” asked yet another voice. This time Clue knew it was Four.
“As far as I know,” Clue said, slowly, “the crashed B-17, registration N809Z, to be clear, that is out there on the ice, that we came for, does not contain any cargo. Now either hit me again with the belt or let me go. I’m not answering any more questions.”
She could hear them discussing her, but they kept their voices low and she could not make out what they were saying.
“Very well,” said Four. “We will no longer ask you about the aircraft.”
He paused.
“Tell us about your powers, instead.”
“My what?” asked Clue. Perhaps she had heard him wrong.
“We were at your camp during the storm. Do not think we didn’t notice the conditions. We have lived on the ice for decades. You have no machinery for heat or sanctuary from the elements. If you do not have powers, perhaps we will have to ask the man, or perhaps the other girl,” said Four ominously.
Clue wasn’t ready to give up her ace just yet. She tried to stall them.
“I don’t have powers, we have technology. You might not be familiar with it. It’s back at camp,” she said.
Four stepped between the light and Clue. Her eyes adjusted to the shadow. He waited for her to focus on him, and then leaned forward. “Perhaps you think we are feeble. Maybe you have thoughts of rescue. I can assure you that we are familiar with many things that you do not expect.” He extended his arm to the two others still lurking in the shadows. “Seven, come here.”
The woman stepped closer. Four shut off the interrogation lights. Clue could now see the rest of the room clearly.
Four drew a large knife from his belt. He handed it to Seven. “Demonstrate,” he ordered her.
Seven calmly accepted the knife, then held out her arm and drove the blade through. She didn’t even flinch. When she pulled it out the wound healed almost instantly.
Clue fought the urge to throw up.
Four sensed her discomfort. “Ah, so you truly do not know.” His manner changed ever so slightly. He seemed to relax for a moment. As suddenly as the flicker of emotion appeared, it vanished. Still, he began to speak again. “We are super-soldiers, bred for combat in the worst conditions, against the strongest and cleverest enemies. I do not know the exact nature of the science that created us but we were deemed abominations once those in power saw what the doctors had done.
“We were not naive, and we could foresee what was to come once we were declared expendable. So we escaped. We fled here, to the most remote and desolate corner of the planet. Then we built this fortress, where we could live in peace. Until that aircraft you came for found us. It was only good fortune that it could not continue its flight and that it crashed when it did. Perhaps it had come for us, perhaps not. But it overflew our valley before it went down, and so we must not allow it to leave. It may yet contain evidence of our existence.”
“How long have you been here?” asked Clue.
“We reached this haven on May 20, 1960.”
“Sir,” Twenty-One interrupted.
“Yes, perhaps I have said too, much,” Four agreed with the warning. “It seems this interview has turned,” he told Clue. “It is time, then, for you to return to your cell.”
Clue was roughly released into the waiting arms of Seven and Twenty-One. Four watched dispassionately as she was hustled out the door, back into the Antarctic freezer. This time, however, she did not hold back from using her powers to warm herself as she was dragged back to the detention building.
“What happened?” Sydney greeted her keenly. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Minor beating, that’s all,” said Clue as the door closed.
“What did they want?” asked Lamar.
Clue relayed the proceedings of the inquisition to the others.
“They hit you with a belt?” Sydney repeated angrily. “Monsters.”
“At least it was only a belt,” Clue assured her. “And only a couple times.”
Mr. Mouse was not happy.
Clue patted him gently and he calmed down. He didn’t like it when Clue was hurt.
“Are they going to let us go?” Lamar asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Clue. “I thought towards the end that Four was cracking, but they’re tough. They’ve been here a long time and they’re patient. They’ve prevented folks from getting at that plane for ages.”
“Monsters,” repeated Sydney, but she was distracted. “Do you think they’re responsible for bigfoot sightings around the world? I mean, if that’s what they disguised themselves as to raid the Miss Direction. Maybe they throw on the suits and go around the woods near cities and such for information gathering? They’re all so tall. I don’t think they could blend in on the streets.”
“I think that would require them to leave this continent. I don’t see any way for them to travel. And they seem pretty insular. If they’re willing to watch a wrecked plane for fifty years, they probably don’t have better things to do, like intercontinental cryptid conspiracies,” said Clue. “So probably not,” she concluded.
Lamar thought about it slightly longer. “Perhaps,” was all he was willing to concede. “But back to the task at hand. How can we use this new information to help ourselves?”
“I don’t think he’ll hurt us, now that he knows we’re not specifically after them,” said Clue. “If they’re after my powers, then that explains their terrible aim during the ambush. Or, could be like Sydney says, if they’re after information. We could be their first source of outside news in decades. We may be in for a long stay.”
Sydney spoke up. “You said that they watched the plane, right? And they’re worried that there’s something on it that will trace back to them. If we can get back and find out what that something is, then we’ve got power over them.”
“Escape?” asked Lamar.
“Yes. We’d need to find the engine parts first, though,” she confirmed.
“We’ll need a distraction,” said Clue. “And I won’t be able to come with you. “
“Why not?” said Sydney, with concern.
“Because you two won’t last an hour out there. The conditions are too bad. You’d freeze. I need to stay here to project a shield for you.”
“She’s right,” said Lamar.
“I don’t believe you,” said Sydney. “I’m willing to risk it if you come with us.”
“No. It has to happen this way. Mr. Mouse will be going with you.”
Mr. Mouse was on Sydney’s side of the argument, but he wasn’t strong enough to resist when Clue scooped him up and put him in Sydney’s pocket. He wiggled and scratched at the lining from inside, trying to gnaw his way out.
“Sydney,” said Clue.
“I know,” she said. She opened the flap and removed Mr. Mouse. Then she brought him to her shoulder where he, too, realized that this was how it had to be. He sat quietly and glared at his friend who was going to sacrifice herself.
The trio sat down and began to plan the escape. Plan A required Clue to be called again for interrogation. Plan B was considerably less appealing.
Luckily, it was not long before one of the supersoldiers came back.
“Which one are you?” said Clue.
“I am Thirty-Eight,” she said.
“How many of you are there?” asked Sydney.
The question was met with a blank stare. “That information is classified.”
“I suppose you’ve come for me,” said Clue.
“You are correct. Please follow me.”
Clue was taken to the same room as before. However, this time they did not use the glaring lights and she was not confined to the chair. Instead, there was a desk set up with a single seat in front of it. Behind the desk were three soldiers, Four, Seven, and someone who sat between them who Clue guessed was either Five or Six.
“Sit,” said Seven.
Clue obeyed.
“We have considered your case,” said Four. “We cannot let you leave, but we are willing to allow you to live among us. In time, perhaps, you would accept your place here. Further, we believe your powers to be of great usefulness to our colony. We would ask that you create an ice dome to protect us from the elements and detection.”
“And if I disagree, you’ll either kill us or keep us locked up indefinitely?”
“We have very limited resources. Keeping you prisoner would not be efficient.”
Clue realized that there would be no negotiating with them. Escape would be the only way to freedom. Plan A went into action.
With no warning, she charged the air around her with electricity, throwing bolts from her hands at the three soldiers behind the desk, and the two guarding the door. The effect stunned the guards, and Clue was able to grab the keys to the lock-up from a prone Four.
He watched her but could not move, his spasming muscles paralysing him. He gurgled what was probably a threat, but Clue ignored it. Seven was similarly affected, though she was able to twitch in Clue’s direction. Clue gave them all another good dose, before she returned to her friends.
She made her way back to the stockade, then opened the heavy door and released the rest of the team.
Sydney and Lamar emerged into the glacial air. Their jackets were still confiscated. Clue enveloped them with warmth right away.
“Go find the parts and get out of here. I’m going to find someplace to lay low. Hopefully they assume that we all took off together and that they won’t come looking for me,” she told them. “Good luck.”
She hugged them, then patted Mr. Mouse, and then sent all three on their way, uncertain if she’d ever see them again.
Sydney and Lamar carefully picked their way out of the enemy encampment. Clue had also thought to bring up a localized breeze that caused the dry snow to blow into whiteout conditions. If they could avoid the misfortune of a supersoldier bumbling into them, they could make their way without being seen.
They ran from building to building, trying to ascertain which one the missing parts were in. 
“If there’s a garage, machine shop, or hangar, those would be our best bets,” said Sydney.
“Those buildings would likely be on the perimeter,” Lamar suggested.
“Sounds good, let’s check it out.”
They were both correct, and found the missing pieces in a garage that also contained the soldier’s snowmobiles. Both were of a recent vintage and Sydney suspected they’d been stolen from the research base’s depot.
“Should we take them?” she asked Lamar.
“We’d never get them out of the valley,” he said. “We could waste valuable time searching for a route that allows vehicles.”
Sydney had immediate second thoughts, also. “And we’d be easy targets. They’d make too much noise.”
That settled it. They’d have to hand-carry the heavy equipment with them across more than twenty miles of windswept polar plateau back to McMurdo Station. 
By the time they’d made it hand-over-hand to the top of the canyon walls they were able to truly grasp the magnitude of the trek back.
Twenty miles on foot in the Antarctic couldn’t be taken lightly. Lamar knew that Captain Scott had died only eleven from a supply depot that would have saved him. Most expeditions during the Age of Exploration had averaged roughly ten per day. Modern gear and knowledge meant that the one-day march from the base to the bomber had been possible, but now, without protection from the elements, and weighed down by the engine components, it would be a struggle to get back. He decided not to relay that information to Sydney.
However, she was already beginning to suspect that they could be in trouble. She could feel the intense cold despite Clue’s environmental shield.
The pair were able to follow their tracks from the inbound journey, and held out hope that there would not be a storm before they could reach the safe haven of the research station. Despite being only hours from the Miss Direction, staying with the bomber first would do them no good. They needed to resupply and recover before they attempted to work on the plane.
They stopped at their camp only long enough to deposit the heavy engine parts, and then they continued on.
They kept a steady pace, trudging on, knowing that a pause could kill. They managed to make it halfway before they experienced a significant setback.
“Do you feel that?” asked Lamar.
“Yeah, for the last few minutes. I didn’t want to believe it,” answered Sydney.
“I had been hoping it was just me,” said Lamar dismally.
The temperature was dropping, and the breeze had picked up. Another storm was on the way.
“Can you make it any faster, Bill?” Sydney asked him. He seemed to be slowing up.
“I’m sorry,” said Lamar, “I’m an inventor. Fitness is not usually a prerequisite.”
“You’re a Troubleshooter now. I’ll have to get Clue to rewrite the job requirements when we get back,” she told him. “Come on, we’ve come this far. We can’t let her down.”
Lamar managed to pick up the pace a little. Sydney let him lean on her to help him. Now she was carrying his weight, as well.
The weather began to worsen exponentially. Sydney could almost feel Clue struggling to maintain the life raft of warmth around them. Worryingly, it began to flicker against the power of the blizzard.
“Come on, Restacks, hold it a little longer,” she whispered into the wind. She knew both she and Lamar were beginning to show signs of frostbite, despite the protection.
She checked Mr. Mouse. He had curled into a ball inside her pocket and did not seem to be moving. The only sign he was alive was the small rise and fall of his puffed out fur as he breathed. An ear twitched, and she decided he must be dreaming.
The blowing snow made navigation difficult, also. They’d been able to follow tracks back to the bomber, but the path to the base was less clear. She knew the direction to go, and had kept in line by picking a landmark on the horizon to walk towards, but now the whiteout made that almost impossible. She could only put one foot in front of the other and hope that it was a straight line.
Their forward progress slowed dangerously.
“Sydney,” croaked Lamar. “I—”
“No,” she cut him off. She knew what he was going to say. “Nobody else is staying behind. Just keep moving. We’ll get there.” She had to use her cop-voice now.  “Walk forward.”
The reality, however, was that if they didn’t reach the base soon, she’d have to make a very tough choice. With no way of knowing the distance they’d already traveled, she could only guess that they must be close to the end of their journey.
She was almost about to make that decision when she saw the lights.
“Look,” she said. “There it is. We’re here!”
Sydney could not remember being so happy. Or exhausted.
Lamar managed a weak smile. “Thanks boss,” he whispered, barely able to form the words. He was well beyond exhausted.
They reached the door of the main building.
It was locked. There was no way of summoning anyone from inside. They’d battened down the hatches for the storm. Perhaps they’d even evacuated, if the forecast was severe enough. Nobody would have thought to stay around for people that they’d thought had already gone.
“No!” said Sydney, her gut knotting up. They’d come too far to freeze now. “We need to check the other buildings. Find a shed. Anything.”
“They’ll be closed. Everything will be closed,” said Lamar with finality.
“We’ve got to get inside, soon. We won’t make it out here much longer. Can we break in anyplace?”
“I doubt it,” said Lamar. “But I have an idea. It’s not much further. Follow me.”
He led her through the abandoned outpost, and beyond, towards the sea.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Cape Royds.”
“Shackleton’s hut,” she said, now understanding.
“It won’t be very glamorous, but we’ll be able to get in and find shelter,” Lamar concluded. 
They travelled the distance in silence. The storm had reached its peak intensity, and putting one step ahead of the other was a challenge. Finally, the weathered-white wooden structure rose out of the blinding snow, a beacon of safety in the appalling conditions.
Built in 1907 and used by many explorers’ expeditions over the years, the hut had, like the bomber, been preserved by the freezing conditions and dry air of the extreme South. A long, simple rectangle, it perched awkwardly on the black rocks of the Cape.
Sydney and Lamar wasted no time and jimmied the simple lock on the door to break in.
“Unbelievable,” was all Sydney could get out. The dark of the interior was pierced by her flashlight, revealing a scene directly from another time.
Sledges were still suspended from the ceiling. Old crates, modified into shelves, lined the bare-wood walls. Tins of food and packaged supplies sat out, a veritable pantry left as if the former occupants had just stepped out minutes ago. Beds were arranged around the perimeter, awaiting sleeping bodies who would never return. There were even pants and socks, hung up, waiting to be folded and put away.
“We need to get a fire going,” said Lamar. “Then we can use some of this food for lunch.”
“I don’t know,” said Sydney. “It’s just, it feels wrong to disturb any of this.”
“Shackleton would have wanted it to go to good use, to help save someone. That’s us. We can’t let nostalgia cloud our judgement. We’ll die, otherwise.”
“You’re right, I guess. Still,” she paused. “Is this stuff even any good? Won’t it make us sick?”
“We should be careful,” said Lamar. “It will all be preserved well enough, but anything in tins will have lead contamination. It’s what they used back then to solder the lids on. Stuff in glass bottles or any other packaging should still be edible.”
The two got a fire going in the massive fireplace at the end of the open hall. They’d found some fruit and biscuits to eat. Sydney, still leery of disturbing history, had carefully selected items from behind others, so that at least the room stayed visually the same. They’d also taken a blanket off of one of the beds, and were now huddled together in the warmth of the fire.
“We need to sleep,” said Sydney.
But Lamar was way ahead of her. She smiled to herself as his snoring began to fill the old cabin. She made sure Mr. Mouse was comfortable, then lay her head down and, with the storm still howling outside, slept, too. 
When Sydney opened her eyes, she had no idea how long she’d been asleep. The sun streaming in the clouded window told her that at least the storm was over.
“Would have been nice if they hadn’t stolen my watch,” she grumbled to herself.
“Whassad?” a sleepy Lamar slurred from underneath the blanket. 
“Never mind,” she told him. “You don’t have to wake up yet.”
He grunted.
She knew that today would be a long one. And she still didn’t know how she was going to get back to Clue. She stared at the ceiling and tried to come up with a plan.
But nothing she thought of would work. She couldn’t repair the bomber and then fly it to Clue. There was no runway at the soldier’s camp. She knew time would be limited. Lamar probably wouldn’t last through another storm, or, she suspected, very much more adversity at all. And she knew that Clue’s protective shield against the elements could collapse at any time for a variety of reasons. To be trapped, exposed, on the Antarctic plain would be lethal.
The combination of fatigue and doubt began to affect her logic. Her mind began to drift.
It seemed that the shack was not quite weather-tight. She absently watched a sock, still hanging on a line so many years later, sway slightly in a draft. She fixated on it, not blinking, as it slowly twisted around, like a child spinning a swing, and then, as the breeze stopped, slowly rotate back to its original position. Then the draught would come again.
And then the mental haze lifted. She was inspired. She knew how she was going to get back to save her friend.
Out of habit, she glanced at her wrist to see how long Lamar had slept. When she didn’t see the time, she decided that it had been long enough.
“Wake up! I know how we’re going to do it!” she told him excitedly.
“Ok. I’m up. What?”
“The research base,” she said.
“And?” he asked. He was confused. “They’re gone. It’s empty?”
“They had a helicopter.”
“They didn’t leave in a helicopter.”
“That’s brilliant!” he shouted, too loud for their close proximity. Then he was quiet. He cocked his head slightly. “Can you fly one?”
She grimaced. “Maybe.”
“What maybe?”
“I’m friends with one of the pilots of the police department’s chopper. He used to try to impress me by sneaking me into the flight simulators. I paid fairly close attention to what he was explaining. Managed to land it a few times, even, on my own.”
“Yeah. This is a terrible plan,” said Lamar.
“I know,” she agreed.
“Do you really think you can do it?” he asked her.
“Do you have any other brilliant ideas?” she countered.
He thought for a moment.
“No, actually, not one,” he said.
“If we die, you can have my watch,” she told him.
Mr. Mouse felt slightly overlooked in the whole plan-making endeavour, but since he didn’t have any better proposals either, he resigned himself to operation “Hope Sydney Doesn’t Crash”. 
The trio, lacking any equipment, were soon ready to return to the science station. Sydney took one final look around the cabin.
“Good bye, and thank you,” she whispered to the men who’d left there a century ago.
The journey back, in good weather, was brief. They quickly found the geodesic dome near the airfield that housed the survey helicopter. 
Getting in would be more difficult. Sydney was unable to pick the lock without tools, and Lamar searched in vain for a window to break.
This was where being a mouse came in handy. Mr. Mouse crawled up the side of the building. Roughly half-way up, he found a panel that was beginning to come loose. He pried up enough of an edge to put his teeth into it, and began to gnaw. The heavy plastic, although it tasted horrible, fell quickly to his sharp incisors. He was inside in minutes. Then it was short work to scramble down and find a button for the loading doors.
“Good job!” Sydney told him as she ducked under the still-moving gate.
“Is that one you can handle?” asked Lamar, nodding at the sleek flying machine that sat under the dome. 
Sydney ran up to it and peered inside. “It looks like the cockpit I was in. I’ll make sure it’s fueled up and ready to fly. You take Mr. Mouse and do a quick survey. See if there’s anything around we can use. Jackets, or food—anything like that. Be back here in fifteen minutes. Or, your best guess. You know what I mean.”
“Done,” he said. Mr. Mouse hopped across to his shoulder and they made their way into the darker recesses of the building.
Sydney was glad they went for the diversion. Now, without distraction, she climbed up into the captain’s seat and tried to remember what she’d been taught. She’d been somewhat more confident in the selling of the idea than she really felt.
However, by the time the boys returned, she’d been able to familiarize herself with the controls and had done the pre-flight check and warm-up.
“Did you find anything?” she asked them.
“Yeah, we managed to get in to a workshop. There wasn’t any food, but we found some water, and a couple of coats,” replied Lamar. “Here,” he said, offering her one.
She put it on, grateful for the extra layer. It was too big for her, and she was about to say something when she noticed that Lamar’s, if anything, was even larger.
He saw her look him over. “I know. I think they’re supposed to go over other jackets, possibly.”
“Do you think they have anything to do with the supersoldiers?” she wondered.
He clearly hadn’t thought about that scenario. “I really don’t think so. Remember, they are vehemently isolationist. If they’re willing to kidnap to keep a secret, then they’re not dealing with the scientists here.”
“Good,” she said. “I think this whole thing is making me paranoid. Maybe it’s the abandoned base.”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve got the same feeling.”
They didn’t say anything after that. Sydney led the way into the helicopter and strapped in. Lamar followed, and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Mr. Mouse took the opportunity to once again switch hosts and returned to Sydney’s pocket.
“All ready?” she asked.
Lamar flashed a thumbs-up, and Mr. Mouse squeaked. Sydney could barely hear him over the whirling rotors and engine.
She slowly lifted the helicopter off of the ground and then crept forward until she cleared the doors. The craft wobbled slightly as she brought it to a short hover, and then added power and lifted into the clear blue sky.
Lamar watched quietly. Sydney suspected he had a fear of flying. Or maybe just a fear of her flying.
Sydney had remembered her lessons well and soon they were flying over the black cross of the B-17 against the snow, and their campsite.
“Do we stop here, or continue on to the valley and get Clue?” Sydney asked.
The others did not have to speak. She knew what their answer was.
She continued out past the runway without pause. She noticed that it had been covered in snow from the last storm. They would have to deal with that later.
“Approach the supersoldiers’ hideout from downwind,” Lamar told her. “It will cut down the noise. Maybe we can sneak up on them.”
Sydney did as she was told and swung the course slightly east. She kept the helicopter low to the ground, flying mostly straight, but attempting to keep hills or obstacles between them and any lookouts that might be posted.
When they found a suitable landing area, she slowed the forward momentum, and cut power slowly. The machine began to descend. She was within a few feet from a perfect landing when Mr. Mouse leapt from her pocket and scrambled to the controls. He flipped a switch, and Sydney heard the whirr-clunk of the landing gear lowering.
As soon as the wheels deployed, they hit the ground. Mr. Mouse had prevented a decidedly hard landing, and a possibly catastrophic roll-over.
Sydney breathed a huge sigh of relief, and thanked him profusely as she powered the engines down.
“Cutting it close, are we?” Lamar asked, as the color began to wash back into his face.
“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot about that.”
“No problem, I suppose we’ve survived,” said Lamar. “Let’s go find Clue.”
They made their way to the edge of the canyon and crawled forward on their bellies. The outpost looked the same as when they’d left it. They searched carefully for anybody walking about or on patrol.
“I don’t think they know we’re here,” said Sydney.
“Good. I see the building they kept us in. Hopefully Clue is still in there,” said Lamar.
They were about to crest the ridge when Mr. Mouse nipped Sydney.
“What was that for?” she said.
He jumped out of her pocket into the snow and ran forward a few feet, then in a slow, exaggerated circle, and then back. When he got to within a couple inches of Sydney he stood up on his hind legs and waggled his arms in front of him.
“Ok,” she said.
“Ok, what?” asked Lamar.
“He wants to go first. To scout it out,” she told him.
“Ah, I see. I think that’s a good idea,” he said.
“Alright, Mr. Mouse, if you’re not back in fifteen minutes, we’re coming after you.”
He chirped happily and set off by himself.
Not for the first time was Sydney happy to have met him.
She and Lamar hunkered down and waited.
When she began to shiver, he put his arm around her and drew her closer.
This time, she didn’t resist.
Mr. Mouse was back with minutes to spare. He’d been down into the camp and confirmed that Clue was still being kept in the same building they’d all been in before the escape. However, it took Sydney and Lamar far too long to figure out his message, he thought. Eventually they got it, though, and the three rescuers set off down towards the valley floor.
They arrived at the correct door, and Lamar managed to break the lock. They opened it, and found their friend.
Clue was exhausted. She’d been working to keep up the weather shield since the others had left. Now, they saw that she was barely awake.
“Clue, we’re back,” Sydney told her. She shook Clue softly. “We have a helicopter. We need to go.”
“I didn’t know you could fly a helicopter,” Clue coughed, softly. Then she smiled weakly. “I’m going to stop now,” she said.
They all felt the cold as the barrier collapsed. 
Mr. Mouse chittered at Clue.
“I’m glad, too,” she told him. “I missed you.”
“Come on,” said Lamar. “We need to go before we’re detected.”
Clue was gathered up and they made for the edge of the settlement. They didn’t get far before there was a significant deviation from the plan.
“Halt,” said a female supersoldier, leveling a gun at them.
The Troubleshooters prepared to run, but realized at once that they were surrounded.
“I see that you have come back for your comrade,” said Four. “Noble, but a poor decision. I don’t  believe you’ll manage another trek across the ice.”
None of the group said anything. They knew that they wouldn’t get another chance for escape.
“No more pithy remarks?” Four asked. “Very well. Nineteen, take them back to the holding cells. Put them in separate ones, with posted guards this time. And make sure Miss Restacks is sedated.”
Then he spun and marched off purposefully.
They had just begun to get herded back when there was another surprise. A muffled explosion, and a sharp burst of gunfire, coming from somewhere near the top of the canyon.
“They’ve found us!” somebody shouted. “Get to the defenses!”
The guard covering the prisoners paused, confused for an instant as to what her duties were.
Lamar took the opportunity to tackle her, and wrestled the gun from her hands.
“This way,” said Sydney, and they began to run towards the helicopter, half dragging and half carrying Clue with them.
They stopped when they were close enough to see the craft. Someone had already been there. Bullet holes peppered the canopy and engine bay. The tail rotor had been mangled by an explosion.
“There!” Sydney said, pointing to the attackers.
Clue raised her head. “I know them,” she said. “They’re the scientists from the station.”
“Why are they attacking the soldiers?” asked Lamar.
“Maybe they’re trying to rescue us?” said Sydney.
“No,” said Clue. “They don’t know we’re here.” She paused, then spoke again. “I think Four might have been telling the truth. I think we might be on the wrong side.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sydney.
“They were worried about being found. Now somebody has found them, and the researchers from the base have been sent on a mission against targets that just want to be left alone. The government really is trying to wipe these people out,” said Clue.
“These people—the supersoldiers?” Lamar questioned.
“Yes. I think we need to help them,” Clue concluded.
“After what they did to you? To us?” asked Sydney.
“Can you blame them? We came to work on the Miss Direction, a plane that must have been sent to scout for their camp. They’d have thought we’d come for more evidence. And then we showed up on their doorstep. It makes sense now. They couldn’t let the bomber leave. And then they couldn’t let us leave. Think about it. They didn’t even shoot us when they had the chance. They just want to be left alone,” said Clue. “Come on, we need to go back and find Four. Maybe we can figure out a way to fix the problem.”
Sydney and Lamar were skeptical. Even Mr. Mouse had his doubts. They hesitated.
“He was right, you know, we’re not going to be able to make it back now. We might as well see what else we can do to get out of this situation,” Clue told them.
Still, they kept silent. Clue saw them look at each other suspiciously. She suddenly felt self-conscious giving orders, after what they’d just gone through to save her.
“I know that so far on this expedition I’ve been a bit of a dictator, even when I wasn’t one hundred percent sure of what to do,” she continued. “It’s gotten us into trouble. But right now there’s something happening, and we need to choose a side. I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers, but I think this is the right thing to do.”
Sydney saw a change in her friend. There was something in the vulnerability of admitting weakness that gave Clue the mandate to lead. Somehow it harkened at a stronger core.
“I hope you’re right, because I’ll be with you,” Sydney told Clue.
They both looked at Lamar.
“I suppose if she’s in, then I’m in,” he agreed dryly.
“Mr. Mouse, if we’re going to do it, then we’re going to do it together. What do you think?” Clue asked her friend.
His answer was to exit Sydney’s pocket, and take his old place on Clue’s shoulder.
“Let’s go find Four,” she said.
They crept along the slushy path between the buildings. From above them, on the ridge, they could hear the continued attack by the scientists. Clue suspected that the only reason they hadn’t been wiped out already was because the supersoldiers were not shooting to kill. Even then, everyone had been called to defend the settlement, leaving the main area deserted.
Finally they rounded a corner and found a guard.
She saw them first and whipped around to train her gun on them.
“Prisoners! Why have you returned? To sabotage us while we protect our home?” she barked. “Stay where you are.”
“We’re returned to help you,” said Clue. “We mean you no harm.”
“Perhaps this is a diversion for your comrades on the cliffs?” the solder retorted.
“We need you to take us to Four, or Seven, if you can.” Lamar interrupted the spat.
His direction gave the sentry pause.
“I see,” she said. “Perhaps you are being truthful, if you want to meet Seven again.” She lowered her rifle. “Very well, I will take you to her.”
She motioned slightly with the weapon and Lamar and the others fell into line ahead of her as she marched them towards a low, bunker-like structure on the outskirts of the colony.
They arrived at the door and their escort rapped twice, paused, and then again a third time.
It opened.
Clue could only describe the interior as mission control. There were banks of antiquated monitors, and supersoldiers sat at their stations, evidently communicating with the fighters outside. She heard snippets of orders on the radios. They were directing the battle.
Seven stood with her hands clasped behind her back on a rise at the front of the room. She nodded at two others who were moving pieces around on a large scale model of the surrounding valley and plateau.
She completed the set, and turned her attention to the newcomers.
“You’re back,” she said, frigidly.
“I can help you,” said Clue.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Where are the scientists, now?” Clue asked.
“They are approaching the inner perimeter. Any closer and we will be compelled to respond with lethal force. I suggest that you warn your friends away.”
“We aren’t with them, but we know why they’ve been sent,” said Sydney.
“You do? Really?” said Seven. “And why the change of heart?”
“Because it’s not fair. We understand that you just want to be left alone. You could have killed them, or all of us, already, but you haven’t. You’ve done nothing to deserve an attack,” said Clue. “Show me on the table where they are. I can stop them. No one will get hurt.”
Seven closed her eyes and pursed her lips. She blew out a breath.
“If you betray us, I will make sure that you die slowly,” she told Clue. Then she pointed at some markers on the map. “Here,” she said.
“Pull your people back,” ordered Clue.
“We do not retreat,” said Seven.
“Do it.”
There was no leeway in Clue’s command.
Seven nodded at an operator in the first row of stations. The word went out.
“We are holding behind the internal perimeter.”
“Ok,” said Clue. “I’ve never done this before.”
She concentrated on the area between the combatants. She pictured the terrain in her mind, using the model as a guide.
Clue was still weak from the past few days, but she summoned all her remaining strength for what she was about to do next.
Out in the field, there was a slight tremor in the hard-packed snow, which then began to well up from the ground in a pristine arc. Huge crystals of ice lanced up into the sky, sparkling in the unfiltered Antarctic sunlight. They formed an impenetrable wall, fifteen feet high, around the stunned attackers.
Urgent calls from the front began to pour in. Supersoldiers, even used to their own abnormal existence, were still awed by what they’d just witnessed.
Clue relaxed and shook her head. Then she locked eyes with Seven.
“Call your people back. Then we can go out and end all this,” she told her.
Clue and Seven arrived at the frozen barricade.
Mr. Mouse was riding with Clue. Sydney and Lamar had elected to stay behind in the command center.
The two women were met by Four, who was still wearing the bottom half of the yeti-disguise he and his fellows had been using during the attack.
He and Seven had a quick discussion, while Clue feigned indifference. They came to the conclusion that they would accept Clue’s aid.
After they finished, she joined the conversation.
“Did they get a clear look at you?” she asked Seven. “Without the suit?”
“No,” he replied. “They have only seen beasts.”
“Ok. Let me go talk to them. I think I can sort this out for everyone,” said Clue. “You and the others stay back and out of sight.”
“As you wish,” he told her. Then he and Seven disappeared far faster than Clue expected, camouflaging themselves against the wintery background.
Clue approached the wall. Before she got there she lit a torch and pretended to use it to melt a door-sized portal, to avoid revealing her powers to the people trapped inside. When she got through, she walked into the center of the ring.
The terrified scientists were gathered on the far edge.
“Restacks!” they shouted, recognizing her. “What’s going on?”
“You knew exactly what was going on, I suppose,” she told them. “When did you get the orders? Was it after you found that we hadn’t left with the bomber? Or was it after the storm when you found the helicopter missing? I want to know why you’re all here playing war.”
One of the scientists stepped forward. “When the storm cleared, we came out of the basement shelter. Then during our post-emergency inspection we found the chopper missing. We used a satellite tracking beacon to direct us to its position. When we contacted headquarters and told them we were going so far past the outer markers, they told us to be armed, but wouldn’t say why. Then we were attacked by … things. We didn’t see what. And now we’re trapped in this ice formation. I’ve never seen something like this before.”
“I see,” said Clue. “Does anybody back home know where you are right now? Do they know your exact position?”
“Only the few people that didn’t come with us who are still back at McMurdo. The bosses said to bring along as many as we could.”
“So here’s the story,” said Clue. “The others and I didn’t leave before the storm, obviously. We had some problems and had to leave the plane. When we tried to walk out, we got lost, and then separated. Sydney and Lamar made it back to you, but finding nobody, had to take the helicopter and return to search for me. Unfortunately, the helicopter wrecked. But now, you’ve come out and found us and we can go back to our camp where we’ll fly away from like the original plan. There’s nothing else out here.”
“What were we fighting?” asked another scientist.
“What were you fighting?” she asked him back.
“Yetis?” he answered hesitantly. “I thought I saw yetis.”
Clue laughed at him. “Yetis? Those are mythical creatures! You were probably shooting at rocks and shadows.”
The group began to whisper amongst each other. With no prior fighting experience, a desire to not be embarrassed, and with the adrenaline still flowing, they came to the conclusion that perhaps Clue was telling the truth.
“Why don’t you all head back to McMurdo. We’re fine here, now that the storm has passed and we can make our way back to the Miss Direction. We really are very close to taking off. It’s a shame about your helicopter, though,” she offered.
Again, they conferred, and decided to do as she said. No one had any more desire to fight, or to investigate further.
“We’ll do a fly-by on our way out,” Clue reassured them.
They followed her out of the enclosure. She led the way, and signaled subtly to the supersoldiers to stay hidden. As the erstwhile commandos trudged back out towards home, Clue kept her eye on them to make sure none stayed behind to spy. After they’d gone over the horizon and she was sure they weren’t coming back she called out to Four and Seven, who appeared as quickly as they’d left.
“They don’t know anything,” Clue told her allies.
“And they will not return?” asked Four.
“I think they’ve had enough adventure for the remainder of their lives,” she answered.
“And you?” said Seven.
“I’m up for a little bit more,” said Clue. “And I’ll keep up the rest of my end of the bargain.”
She, Lamar, Sydney, and Mr. Mouse all stood at the edge of the cliffs, looking down on the supersoldier outpost.
“Stand back,” Clue told the others.
Then she raised her arms and an enormous sheet of ice covered the valley. A large oculus at the top of the dome allowed sunlight to continue to shine down. Then, accompanied by a deafening rumble, impenetrable frozen walls grew up all along the approach. She moved her hand slightly and layers of snow blew in, obscuring any remaining patterns or outlines of the buildings down below. 
Then she relaxed, and exhaled.
“Nobody’s going to find your fortress, now,” she told Four.
“Your deeds are appreciated,” he said. “You are welcome to return.”
“I’m not going to lie,” Sydney cut in. “I don’t think we’re coming back.”
Clue saw Four smile for the first time.
“Then perhaps, one day, we should visit you,” he said.
Then, without warning, he turned, and vanished around a corner of the new fortifications.
The Troubleshooters stood for a moment, then mounted the snowmobiles the supersoldiers had lent them.
They soon returned to the B-17.
Miss Direction seemed to be waiting for them. The majestic craft sparkled in clear sun.
“Are you ready to fly again?” Clue asked her.
They parked the snow machines and Clue boarded the plane while Sydney and Lamar repaired the engines.
Clue searched the compartments, and found what she was looking for.
In a sealed box in the bomb bay was a reconnaissance camera. Clue, and everyone else who had ever inspected the plane, had missed it before because it was built into a bulkhead and did not look out of place. The intent of the original mission seemed clear, now.
Clue broke the lock and gutted the delicate instruments. Then she pulled out the film canisters and ripped out the contents, exposing it all to the light and destroying the last remaining evidence of the supersoldier’s hideaway.
She finished her task just as Lamar declared the plane fit for take-off.
“There’s just the runway yet to clear,” he said.
“That’s my job,” answered Clue. “Is everybody strapped in?” 
After a chorus of “yes’s” and one happy squeak, she hit the start toggles and pushed the throttles forward. Miss Direction pulled forward. Clue used her powers to clear the snow from in front of the landing gear, casting a dramatic wave of glittering shards up and over the girl on the nose as they accelerated down the runway.
“Here we go!” shouted Clue above the roar of the propellers. She pulled back on the control column and they were in the air.
Cheers echoed through the cabin.
Clue watched the scattered remains of the camp where they’d almost died fading away behind them. She thought she noticed something white and shaggy moving towards the snow machines.
She waved goodbye. She doubted they saw.
“I’ve got us arriving in New Zealand just before dark,” said Sydney from the navigator’s station.
“Green lights all around,” said Lamar. “Everything looks good.”
He was looking at Sydney when he said it.
Clue couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Sydney, why don’t you just kiss him already?” she asked her friend.
Sydney’s eyes lit up and her cheeks turned bright red. She glanced quickly at Lamar, and then did just what Clue told her to.
Clue turned away, gazing out the cockpit window of the Flying Fortress as soft clouds and the iceberg-dotted sea passed by below. Mr. Mouse crawled up out of her pocket and sprawled out on her shoulder.
“You’re just happy because we finally finished an assignment like we were supposed to,” she told him.
He wriggled around until he got good and comfortable.
He was very happy, indeed.
The End.
Clue Restacks, Mr. Mouse, and The Troubleshooting Company will return in “The Good Doctor”

George Goes Home – For Joolie

Many animals live at the zoo.

George is a chameleon and he lives there.

Yesterday, George was taken by the vets for a check-up.

But they didn’t return him to his home that night.

George didn’t know where he was.

He spoke to the animal in the cage next to him.
“Where am I?” he asked Royal, the lion.

“You’re in the doctor’s office,” said the lion.

“How do I get home?” asked George.

“To get home from here, you need to escape,” said Royal.

So George and Royal escaped.
After he escaped, George found himself in a strange new place.

He would have to ask other animals how to get home.

“Where am I?” he asked Russell, the flat-backed turtle.

“You’re in my tank,” Russell told him.

“What is the fastest way to get home?” George asked him.

“The fastest way to get home is to swim,” said Russell.

So they swam across the tank to get a little bit closer to home.

After he swam, George met Victoria, the puffin.

“Where am I?” George asked her.

“You’re on a cliff,” Victoria told him.

“What is the fastest way to get home?” asked George.
“The fastest way to get home from a cliff is to climb,” said Victoria.
So he climbed up the cliff to get a little bit closer to home.
After he climbed, George met Arsenal, the capybara.
“Where am I?” George asked him.
“You’re in a swamp,” Arsenal told him.
“What is the fastest way to get home?” asked George.
“The fastest way to get home in a swamp is to ride,” said Arsenal.
So George rode on Arsenal’s back to get a little bit closer to home.
After his ride, George met Lewis, the giraffe.
“Where am I?” George asked him.
“You’re in a field,” Lewis told him.
“What is the fastest way to get home?” asked George.
“The fastest way to get home in a field is to run,” said Lewis.

So George ran across the field to get a little bit closer to home.

After he ran, George met Heathrow, the flying fox.

“Where am I?” George asked him.

“You’re in a cave,” Heathrow told him.

“What is the fastest way to get home?” asked George.
“The fastest way to get home from a cave is to fly,” said Heathrow.

So George and Heathrow flew to get a little bit closer to home.

After they flew, George met Angel, the tree kangaroo.

“Where am I?” George asked her.

“You’re in a tree,” Angel told him.

“This looks like my home,” said George.

“You must live close by. We should look around,” said Angel.

So George and Angel explored.

“I see it,” said George.

“There’s my home!” he told Angel.

So George finally made it all the way home.

And that was where the zookeepers found him in the morning.