SCHMALL WORLD PUBLISHING
“The point at which the number of small changes over a period of time reaches a level where a further small change has a sudden and very great effect on a system…”
Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary
“ONLY ANOTHER FOUR of these trips and we’re done,” Davenport shouted to his friend, as he looked back at the jagged cliffs rising out of the ocean on the bleak leeward side of the Ile de l’Est.
“Thank God! Don’t ever ask me to sign up for anything like this again. After the year we’ve spent down here, I’m sure we’ll both be exempt from having to do any further voluntary research for a while,” Hawthorn replied.
Dawn was just breaking over the windswept isles, as the old wooden fishing boat chugged out of the make-shift port on Ile de l’Est, one of six islets that make up the French Crozet Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean. The sub-Antarctic archipelago – part of the French Southern Territories since 1955 – was uninhabited, except for a small research base on the main island, Ile de la Possession.
“You know Adam, I could think of better things to be doing during my gap year. Monitoring penguins and sea creatures doesn’t feature high on the list,” Hawthorn said, turning the boat towards the sampling zone.
“Don’t forget it’s your turn to update the catalogue with whatever marine samples we find,” Davenport shouted, throwing the well-used notebook across the deck to his friend.
Adam Davenport and James Hawthorn had been based on the main island, Ile de la Possession, along with five other research scientists for the last eight months, and were now embarking on the final four months of their placement as part of an international monitoring team, studying the many different species of penguins, seals, birds, flora and fauna unique to the archipelago. The islands were in fact one large nature reserve, since being declared a national park back in 1938. The two researchers felt long forgotten by the outside world. The monthly food drop, by small plane from the French Kerguelen islands – some thirteen hundred kilometres to the east – was their only real comfort.
The boat’s bow rose up on the crest of a wave as they motored out of the protected inlet toward Ile de la Possession, and the buoy that marked the research area, some two kilometres out from the eastern shore.
“It sure is calm out today,” Davenport said, looking out over the horizon. A group of five petrels circled above the boat as they arrived at the marker buoy. Hawthorn cut the engine, letting the boat drift toward the orange buoy. “Pass the rope so I can tie her up,” he yelled.
Davenport threw him the frayed end of the rope, which he secured to the chain on the buoy. The boat bobbed up and down on the light swell as Davenport went to retrieve his packet of Marlboro’s from the wheelhouse. “How many pots are we supposed to be pulling up today James?” He shouted over to his friend.
“Looks like we dropped eight overboard last week,” Hawthorn replied, flicking through the scruffy, worn notepad which dated back to the 1960s. “It’s going to look like seafood pick and mix by the time we haul them all up.”
Davenport lent over the side of the boat, taking in a deep breath of sea air. He pulled a Marlboro from the packet, licked the end of it, and placed it between his lips. “There’s a very strange smell on the port side,” he shouted to Hawthorn, who was getting the sampling kits ready to drop overboard.
He flipped the top of his Zippo lighter open and struck the flint. Before Hawthorn could answer him, a flash of light and heat exploded around them, completely engulfing the wooden fishing boat.
Hawthorn felt the force of the explosion as he was thrown into the shattered wheelhouse, followed by an instant of agonizing pain, then darkness.
Davenport opened his eyes. He was in the water, surrounded by flotsam and covered in burning oil. He tried to swim through it, but the task was futile. He screamed, and dived under the water. The last thing he felt was a searing pain in his lungs as he sank into the freezing depths.
London, April 15
DR. DALE STANTON sat at his desk in the darkening room of his Russell Square apartment staring blankly at the glowing computer screen, his eyes tired and sore. His face was impassive, except for the visible, nervous twitch in the corner of his mouth, which revealed his gathering thoughts.
He was putting the finishing touches to the presentation that he would be giving to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conference in Oslo, Norway, in a little under a week’s time. Stanton had been working on his current project for almost eight months, and the conclusions he’d reached, he had little doubt, would concern the scientific world. Reaching over, he turned on the desktop lamp and rubbed his eyes, before leaning back in his chair to stretch his aching neck.
Looking back at the monitor, he started reading over the salient parts of his presentation to check it one final time before finishing for the evening. He resumed typing; making what he hoped was the final amendment to his paper.
We know the Ocean Thermohaline Circulation is an important Atlantic current powered by both heat ( thermo) and salt ( haline ) which brings warm water up from the tropics to northern latitudes. Without it, the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and climate of Northern Europe would be much colder. I have been re-analysing all the data amassed by the RAPID-WATCH program and my calculations reveal that the measuring devices have been incorrectly calibrated. Twenty-five of the thirty devices used to measure ocean flow were set by the manufacturers to measure fresh water. When calibrating the data to factor in measurements for denser salt water, the figures revealed…
Stanton jumped, as the telephone on his desk rang. He took a deep breath, and sighed as he reached over his laptop to pick up the phone. “Hello!” There was no answer. “Hello!” Again, silence. He replaced the receiver. His train of thought interrupted, he sat quietly for a moment before completing the final sentence, then saved the amendments and closed the program down. He clicked on his private finance folder to check an insurance policy he knew was about to expire, and as he did, accidentally opened the file containing a copy of his will. Perusing it, he reminded himself to amend the charitable legacies clause in order to make a gift to the team down at RAPID. God knows, they would need all the help they could get.
He’d had the will prepared after receiving a large sum of money from his father two years earlier. A colleague had recommended a local firm specialising in environmental law with a promise that one of the firm’s senior environmental lawyers, a Mr. Robert Spire would be appointed as a co-executor. He closed the file, reminding himself to have the will amended when he returned from Oslo next week.
Stanton reached across his desk and pulled the research book he’d been using from the shelf to double check a couple of facts. He flicked through the pages to a section entitled The Younger Dryas period. Around 12,900 years ago – just as the world was slowly warming up after the last ice age – a rapid descent back to colder conditions occurred in as little as ten years or so, a mere blink of an eye, in climactic terms. A shut down of the Atlantic Ocean Thermohaline Circulation was thought to have been a possible cause of the rapid chill. Stanton’s hair stood up on the back of his neck as he considered the possible ramifications of his latest research.
He closed the book, turned off his laptop, and ran his hands through his lank brown hair. As he got up from his desk, he looked out of his window at a deserted Russell Square and closed the blinds. He realised he’d been working for almost six hours, and it was now coming up to five P.M on Saturday evening.
He enjoyed living alone in his two-bed terraced townhouse apartment in London’s Russell Square, one of only a few private residences left overlooking the park. He had noticed various businesses, as well as the University College of London taking over most of the area during the last twenty years. The district was dotted with restaurants and bars, and in a couple of hours he would be meeting up with an old friend for a well-earned drink in the Hotel Russo, not far from his apartment.
He briefly took hold of the memory stick containing his presentation, before putting it back down gently. The facts, figures and details of his paper were spinning around in his head. He knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until he had given his talk in Oslo. He’d been over the calculations at least ten times to ensure they were correct. He walked into the bathroom. Unbelievable; how could they have failed to check the calibration on the measuring equipment?
Just as he was about to get in the shower, the phone rang again. He picked up the receiver, “Hello!” There was silence on the other end. As he replaced the phone he heard a click on the line. Not again. He shrugged, and stepped under the shower.
Stanton was in the middle of drying himself when a text message came through from Mathew confirming the arrangements. They would be meeting in the Kings Bar at the Hotel Russo; a warm intimate wood-panelled bar, and one of his favourite local watering holes. He finished drying and put on a white linen shirt and glanced in the mirror. He looked and felt tired. He splashed some aftershave on his face, locked the door to the apartment and headed down the hall stairs and wandered out into the warmth of a mild spring evening.
THE HOTEL RUSSO was situated just five minutes from Stanton’s apartment on the opposite side of Russell Square. The park, one of the square’s main features looked empty, but the early evening traffic was picking up, a mixture of late night shoppers and taxis, collecting and dropping off their fares…
Thanks for reading, Si Rosser.