After a devastating break-up, scientist Alice journeys to the end of the earth to live on a research base in Antarctica, where she meets James Rooker, a man who, like her, has nowhere further to run, and discovers something that will change her life forever . . . if she survives.
Alice stood at the ship’s rail with her kitbags at her feet.
She had spotted the station in the distance – it was nothing
more than a pair of reddish specks marooned against a vast
expanse of hostile emptiness. Then the clouds of snow and
fog closed in again to obliterate even that much.
The breadth of the land’s desolation made her feel afraid,
even though she had been longing for this moment ever since
the ship had left Chile. She had been abjectly seasick for
three days. The only glimpse she had caught of the Antarctic
coast, when it finally appeared out of seas as high as mountains,
had been through her cabin porthole. Yet now the
moment had come to leave the little ship and the friendly
Spanish crew, she was full of misgivings. She clamped her
hands on the icy rail. The base looked so tiny and she knew
just how remote it was. More than three days’ sailing to
reach the southernmost tip of a distant continent again, then
twenty-four hours of flying to reach home.
Two sailors lowered the flight of metal steps at the ship’s
side. As the ship rolled, the platform at the bottom plunged
under several feet of glassy water, then it rocked up again
with spray cascading off it. One of the sailors drew a finger
across his throat and winked at her. Weakly, Alice smiled
Over the drumming of the ship’s engines, she caught the
higher-pitched note of another engine. At the same moment
a nimbus of light formed in the white murk. The sailors ran
down the heaving steps as confidently as if they had been
a set of stairs in Benidorm. On the platform they unhitched
ropes and waited. A black dinghy, pitched at a threatening
angle, materialised behind the smear of light. A big man in
orange waterproofs swept the tiller in an arc, the boat
crested a wave and landed neatly at the foot of the steps.
One sailor made it fast to the steps, so that ship and
Zodiac rolled in unison. Waves swept over the dinghy and
the platform, and ice-clogged water cascaded everywhere.
The other sailor ran nimbly up the steps again, grabbed
Alice’s luggage and yelled ‘Vamos!’ at her. She let go of the
The metal treads were steep and slippery. With Spanish
instructions and the boatman’s terse commands both unintelligible through the din of engines and surf, she half
scrambled and half slithered down to the platform. Water
immediately submerged it. The man’s orange arm grabbed
her and hoisted as the dinghy flew upwards like a fairground
ride. On the downwards plunge Alice launched herself with
a sob of panic on to the dinghy’s floor. Her bags tumbled
in after her and some nets of more-or-less-fresh vegetables.
The ropes snaked away and the Zodiac roared free from
the ship’s flank.
With his eyes on the white wave caps, the boatman kicked
a red life-vest towards where Alice was cowering amongst
the bags of onions and peppers. The water’s cold sucked all
the breath out of her. ‘Put that on,’ he shouted without
taking his eyes off the sea.
She struggled to get her arms through the holes and fasten
the clasps across her chest. A rogue wave broke amidships
and icy spray stung her face. Even though she was wearing
weatherproofs she felt she was soaked to the skin. Her teeth
Behind her there were two long blasts on the ship’s hooter.
Up on the bridge the captain and the mate were wishing the
English scientist bon voyage.
The dinghy man loomed above her with his feet braced,
one hand on the tiller, the other clasping a radio. He shouted
again and Alice thought she caught the words five minutes.
She huddled on the floor of the dinghy and prayed that they
would either be ashore or dead within that time. She didn’t
even care which, so long as it was fast.
The Zodiac and the waves raced each other to the shore.
She had never been so far from home or felt the effects of
distance so acutely. Nor had she ever been so apprehensive
of what lay ahead of her.
It had happened with bewildering speed. It was barely a
month since she had arrived at Lewis Sullavan’s London
headquarters to be interviewed by Dr Richard Shoesmith.
The walls of the Sullavanco foyer were hung with representations
of Sullavan newspaper front pages cast in bronze
and television screens showed Sullavan TV programmes from
around the world. There were three receptionists with identical
smiles behind a long curved reception desk made of polished
‘The Polar Office? You’ll find it on the fifth floor, if you’ll
take the lift behind you.’
The lift was one of the kind that slides up a glass tube
mounted on the outside of the building and which always
tended to give her vertigo. The carpet of the fifth-floor corridor
seemed to rise up to meet her as she stepped out and
she steadied herself with one hand against the inner wall.
Rosie Thomas is the author of Sun at Midnight, from which this text was excerpted. Copyright © 2004 by Rosie Thomas. Published in 2017 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers Inc. overlookpress.com. All rights reserved.
Rosie Thomas is the author of numerous critically acclaimed, bestselling novels, and has twice won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Born in a small village in northern Wales, Thomas discovered a love of traveling and mountaineering when her children were grown. In the years since, she has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, and trekked in the footsteps of Shackleton on South Georgia Island.