I had a suspicion my career as a journalist was stalling the day I had an article rejected by Doorstop Bulletin. 

Oh sure, the words ebbed and flowed most beautifully, the editor said, but they couldn’t possibly accept an article penned by someone who lacked demonstrable knowledge of weighty inert objects. Whatever would their readers think? I remember being shocked that they had any.
Let’s face it, I hadn’t been quite the success as a journalist that I’d always supposed I would be. I had imagined that by the age of 30 I would be a top international news writer with a couple of major awards and a following on Twitter that numbered more than the detestably named ‘Media Mel’ and that cross-eyed girl from the local chip shop.
In reality though, much like my attempts to start a business selling chewing gum to football managers and my botched plot to grow paw-paws in Brighton, things were not turning out as I hoped.
But none of that mattered now. For I had a plan, one last attempt to stamp my mark on the world of publishing and make all those dreams come true, and it involved a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism in the frozen wastelands of Antarctica.
My arrival in the icy continent was not the result of great foresight. I had been travelling the world sniffing for a decent story when, just as I was at the point of going home and submitting to a life of office drudgery, I came across an inebriated researcher in a bar in Christchurch, New Zealand. Now this particular researcher, as well as regaling me with all the details of how he had bedded his assistant inside a snow fort, let slip that Antarctica’s finest scientists had made a rather singular breakthrough. The boffins, my acquaintance slurred earnestly, were working on cloning a breed of warrior penguin that would mate with Antarctica’s native wildlife to produce a new strain that could not only fly but would also viciously attack any nearby targets. These penguins would be just the first phase of a new form of covert animal warfare that would change the face of 21st century battle.
While this story was doubtless nothing more than the creation of a drunken imagination, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t follow it up. And so, clinging by my fingernails to the coat tails of my career, I made straight off in search of this greatest-ever scoop and handed over a wad of cash to the captain of an ice-breaker heading to the frozen south. Using skills of persuasion I had never known I possessed, I managed to convince the head of Antarctica’s Rasturk research station that I had been commissioned on a series of writing assignments from a complex meteorological report for National Geographic to a tub-thumping piece on international collaboration for Newsweek. I was allowed to stay, and I had my way in.
Antarctica, I quickly discovered, is a weird and wonderful place for many reasons. Did you know, for instance, that the entire continent has only one ATM machine, which would probably lead to lengthy queues in places where you could actually spend cash. The Dry Valleys region is so dry, in fact, that it hasn’t rained in over two million years, while many of the continent’s sea creatures have anti-freeze in their blood to stop them literally freezing to death.
The Rasturk research station also had a personality all of its own. It had surprisingly delicious coffee, for instance. Everyone laughed at strange scientific jokes that were entirely lost on me. We would get hourly playings of Frozen by Madonna and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me by Elton John. And Jack Frost was so frequently spoken of that you could be forgiven for thinking he was a resident scientist.
Antarctica, the experts all agree, is also rather cold. In fact, it’s quite simply the coldest place on Earth, a place where, if you were to wander inadvertently outdoors at the wrong time of year, you would swiftly become an angular ice lolly to be defrosted many aeons into the future and hailed as an archaeological marvel.
I spent the first few weeks of my stay getting to know the scientists, interviewing them for my fictitious articles and generally doing all I could to glean any information about the whereabouts of weaponised penguins. The scientists were an odd bunch, with an intellect far superior to my own, but with that slight hint of mania that comes with being locked away from civilisation for months at a time.
The station was smaller than others I had read about, and many of the individuals I met had specialisms in sciences that I never knew existed or claimed to be searching for new elements to add to the Periodic Table. Though nobody actually went as far as to confirm it, I did get enough hints about shadowy goings on to believe there was something to my story, and one particular site very close to the Rasturk facility was constantly named as the scientists’ research playground.
And so one evening, when the researchers had all turned in for the night, I decided to make my move and examine this site for myself. My heart beating wildly with excitement, I sneaked out with my notebook and video camera in hand, and made off across the ice. I wasn’t unused to the Antarctic conditions, but the temperature felt colder and the wind a little more biting than usual. As I trudged out across the ice, I cut a strange figure making his way into miles of white nothingness. It wasn’t that people didn’t normally make this walk; it was that they didn’t normally do it wearing a designer suit.
I had been thinking about this for some time – what to wear for the day of my big discovery. I didn’t want to smother myself in scarves and jumpers as my video was likely to be the most played piece of footage the world over once I secured that shot of the deadly penguins. No, this was essentially my audition for one of the big jobs in broadcasting, and I needed to look the part. As luck would have it, I had not three months earlier purchased a particularly trendy suit in Australia, together with an equally chic shirt, tie and shoes that I had never had occasion to wear. So I carefully dressed myself in the crisp white shirt, did up the dark blue tie with the top button left open in a very stylish Italian kind of a way, and slipped on the black jacket, trousers and shoes. I had made sure to grow a nice four-day stubble especially for the occasion and I had slicked back my short brown hair in a way that I was quite sure would make me the talk of the media world. Now this was the way to break a story. I could picture the awards ceremony now: And the winner of this year’s Pulitzer prize for journalism – Tam Husband! Brilliant.
It was the Antarctic summer, meaning outdoor activity was perfectly possible for the appropriately dressed visitor, but my attire was to blame for me feeling the cold more than usual on that strange December night. My face felt numb within seconds of stepping out, and I couldn’t have gone a couple of hundred metres before it became difficult to move my fingers. Still I struggled on though, and luckily it was less than a ten-minute walk to the experimental site.
I couldn’t hide my disappointment when I arrived. I panned the camera across the scene, almost begging to be assaulted by a series of battle birds, but instead there was nothing. Not so much as a nano-enhanced gnat. All there was, in fact, was a series of pylons, a couple of sheds containing nothing but what looked like gardening tools, and a picnic bench. I sat down and put my head in my hands. I threw the camera down and cursed my bad luck, scarcely believing that I had put all this time and effort into chasing up a story that clearly had no credibility whatsoever. My journalistic career, it was time to concede, was over.
But now bigger concerns were presenting themselves. The wind had picked up suddenly, and the temperature had noticeably fallen. And unless I was mistaken, a snowstorm was moving in. I quickly awoke from my melancholy and pulled myself to my feet. I had to get back to the research station fast or else the scientists would be making a new discovery tomorrow, in the shape of my frozen cadaver.
I began the trek back, but the conditions were deteriorating rapidly and I quickly became disorientated. I tried to run, but my body was seizing up with the cold and I began to panic as I looked around in desperate search of a clue of where to turn. As I stumbled randomly on, my thoughts started to morph into a microcosmic rerun of my life. My mind was glazing over, and the swirling katabatic winds and floating diamond dust created an otherworldly irreality in front of me. It felt as if I were watching myself through someone else’s eyes as I staggered forward.
I can’t have been walking for long, but I knew I was in deep trouble. It’s difficult to explain the sensation that was running through my body, but brightly coloured lights were now dancing before my eyes. Though somehow I kept moving, I was shaking considerably, and my whole body was in a great deal of pain. I was beginning to stumble now, and I almost fell down several times before I finally did. A moment later, there I lay, face down in the ice, waiting for the darkness to engulf me. And just a few seconds after that, it did.
chapter one