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Out of the Cold

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The glacier was not just cold, but glaringly bright. Ginger kept adjusting the smoked lenses covering his eyes.

He would have expected a glacier to be flat, but as he had learned the hard way, it was not. They'd had a time finding a smooth enough landing field for the skiplane, and now they were trekking through a rough, broken landscape of blue and white ice. Before seeing the place, Ginger couldn't understand how a crashed Russian aircraft carrying secret missile plans could have vanished entirely. Blizzard or no, surely it would have been found when the weather cleared?

But now he understood. The ice was crumpled and rucked up, an eerie moonscape of cliffs and valleys and great jumbles of boulder-sized blocks of ice. More than once they had to detour around a deep, treacherous crevasse. The ice plain was riven with such features, and as far as Ginger could tell, they went down into the heart of the glacier, capable of swallowing a man without a trace.

Because of the dangers, they had roped together: Biggles leading, Ginger behind him, and Algy and Bertie bringing up the rear. It made an awkward procession, but it was better by far than losing time, or something much worse, to a fall.

As they travelled, Biggles paused often, orienteering with his compass and a map while everyone shared around a hot thermos. They had brought skis with them, but it turned out that the rough and broken surface was easier to traverse by walking, so they were using ski poles to probe ahead when they encountered difficulties.

"I don't think there's anything to find out here, lads," Bertie said on one of the stops. "Either the gen's off by a few coordinates or the machine's down some bally crevasse and we'll never get a look at her."

"If it's gone, it's gone," Biggles remarked philosophically, slinging the thermos on his hip. "Best case for us, she broke up and burned on impact. If we can't get the goods, the Soviets can't either."

"You still think they're out here?" Algy asked, glancing around.

"I'm sure I heard engines earlier. Not an aircraft, some form of motorised ice sledge if I don't miss my guess, a snowmobile or the like."

"The one thing we forgot to pack," Bertie said cheerfully. "Would make things faster, what?"

"I wouldn't like to try driving any sort of vehicle in this, sledge or otherwise," Algy said as they started walking again, skirting a jumble of ice blocks taller than a man. "With any luck, if they are out here, they'll fall down a hole."

Ginger thought he heard engines a few times too, as the morning wore on into early afternoon. However, the nature of the place made any kind of noise deceptive, now near, now far. The ice field was down in a sheltered bowl of mountains, and between the echoes off the peaks, and the jumbled ice blocking both sight and sound, it was hard to tell direction or distance.

Confirmation came in the most startling way, when they came around a tumbled patch of ice boulders and found themselves confronted with several men arguing in Russian over a map in front of a tracked vehicle with an enclosed cab. The machine, and the Russians who accompanied it, were separated from Ginger and his friends by the largest and deepest crevasse he had yet seen, a narrow ravine perhaps a couple of yards across, but deep enough that the blue light went quickly to darkness.

Everyone froze on both sides of the crevasse, then scrambled for guns, but it was the Russians who won the draw. There were four of them—to four of us, Ginger thought. He thought about diving behind the cover of the ice blocks, but the Russians already had them covered with small, nasty-looking automatics, and anyway, with the four of them roped together, they would have had to move as one or not at all. Biggles, although he had his hands held meekly in the air, looked strangely unconcerned.

The Russians approached the other side of the crevasse. The one in front, who limped slightly, pushed back the hood of his parka and Ginger's stomach dropped when he recognized their old enemy, von Stalhein.

Biggles's eyes flashed with a dangerous brightness. "Still keeping poor company, I see, Erich," he said softly.

"I should have known you'd be here," von Stalhein said, ignoring this. "If you've found it, hand it over."

"I don't know what you mean, I'm afraid," Biggles said. "We're just out for a stroll, looking for a picnic spot."

"Don't play games. You're here for the same reason we are."

Biggles glanced down at the gaping crack in the ice that separated them. "And do what, throw it across? We can't come over there, and you can't come over here. I'd say we're at an impasse."

"I can shoot you," von Stalhein said sharply.

"You could, but then you wouldn't know what information we have, and where we've already searched. I'm sure you've already searched a good portion of the glacier with that machine of yours, and we've done an aerial survey. Perhaps we could both make our lives easier if we shared gen."

Von Stalhein's face was a picture of incredulity—matched, Ginger supposed, by Ginger's own. Algy was the one who said, "Are you suggesting teaming up? That's mad."

"I'm suggesting temporary cooperation, including putting the peashooters away. All's fair and gloves off at the end, of course, but we all know that we could be out here for days or weeks searching on our own. Long enough for a storm to settle in, and there's no flying out through the mountains under blizzard conditions."

"You're trying to distract me," von Stalhein said. "What are you planning?"

One of the Russians said something, and von Stalhein snapped back at him. There was a brief exchange of heated words, making Ginger nervous, although he didn't understand a word. He glanced back at the others.

Algy leaned closer, his face set. "I can't get much, but I believe the Russian speaker, that big fellow, is saying they should just shoot us and have done with it. He's in charge, I think."

The argument seemed to be decided in von Stalhein's favour, as he turned abruptly away—only for the Russian to thrust out a foot and trip him.

It was clear that he had not expected it. With his quick reflexes, he nearly saved himself, but the ice was too slick and there was too little time.

Von Stalhein vanished into the crevasse.

But it created an instant of disorder among the Russians, a brief distraction that give Ginger and the others time to throw themselves into the shelter of the ice boulders. Ginger had to half-drag Biggles by the rope.

There was a brief flurry of shooting. Bullets tore chips out of the ice, showering them with stinging fragments, and Ginger was fairly sure Bertie managed to wing one fellow in the shoulder. As it became evident that neither side could gain an upper hand with the ice and the crevasse between them, the shooting stopped. Ginger risked a peek out to see the Soviets fleeing back to their snow vehicle and piling into it. The engine started with a roar, and in moments the machine was chugging away over the glacier, vanishing quickly among the jumbled and broken heaps of ice.

"Everyone all right?" Algy asked as the four emerged cautiously from behind the ice wall.

"Right as rain," Bertie said, straightening his scarf. "Er ... what's he doing?"

Biggles had gone immediately to the very edge of the crevasse and went down to one knee to peer over the edge.

"Don't!" Algy and Ginger spoke at once, and Bertie said, "Be careful, old top."

"I am," Biggles said. He leaned over the edge, and Ginger pulled back, taking up slack on the rope. "Von Stalhein? Erich?"

There was no answer. Ginger said, "He's gone, and good riddance, I say."

"No, he's there. I think I can see him on a ledge down there, a little of him anyway. I don't know why he's not calling out."

Biggles stood up with an abrupt, decisive movement and began untying the safety rope from around his waist.

"Here, now," Algy said, alarmed. "What are you doing?"

"This isn't long enough to climb down with," Biggles said, giving the short length of rope a tug. "But we have longer at our base camp, as well as other rescue supplies. You lot, get back there and bring everything you think might help. Rope and first aid supplies particularly. Fast as you can, there's no time to lose, but be careful with yourselves. Don't go falling into any holes yourselves."

"And you'll be doing what in the meantime, old boy?" Bertie asked suspiciously.

"Climbing down, of course," Biggles said absently. Everyone stared at him, while he drew his camp knife from his belt sheath and tested it by thrusting it into the ice. "Yes, this will do. I need more of these, any you've got."

Ginger had another knife of good size. Biggles commandeered it.

"What's the point of that?" Algy demanded. From the look on his face, he seemed to be thinking about throwing Biggles to the ice and sitting on him. "It's terribly dangerous, and for what? Then you'll be down there too."

"He's right, you know," Ginger said earnestly, while Biggles tested the strength of the knife's hilt. "There's not much you can do to help, even if he's still alive."

"He was going to shoot us!" Algy said. "His friends can come back and get him if they want him. There's no need for you to risk yourself."

"Here, let's think about this," Bertie said. "I know that look and I know it means you won't be talked out of this, but there's no need to go off half cocked. One of us needs to stay with you to serve as a lookout at the very least."

Biggles shook his head. "No, I need all three of you to go, because I want one of you to stay with the machine. It certainly won't do to come back and find that our means of getting home has been stolen by the Soviets, will it? And I won't have any of us travelling alone across the ice."

"This is absolute madness," Algy said. "You know he wouldn't do it for you."

"Then that's what makes us different, then," Biggles said. "There's no time to lose. Fastest gone, fastest done, so go and get those supplies. Once you've scouted the way, you should be able to use the skis on the way back, and that'll cut a good deal of time off the trip."

"We should use this rope to tie you up and drag you back to the camp," Algy said between his teeth, but it was clear that the argument was lost. "Be careful, will you? Don't trust him an inch and don't let him keep any weapons. I would say I hope he's at the bottom of that crevasse with a broken neck, except I'm afraid you'd climb down all the way. He's not worth it, but I don't expect you to see reason about that."

"We'll agree to disagree," Biggles said lightly. "I'll be careful and take no unnecessary risks, I swear."

 

***

 

As his friends vanished behind the jumbled ice boulders, Biggles experienced a brief moment of sweeping loneliness. The glacier was shockingly empty and vast. He didn't often experience such feelings, but under the huge and cloudless bowl of the sky, he felt very small and isolated.

But he indulged in it for only an instant, and then practical concerns took over. If von Stalhein was hurt below, or trapped on a crumbling ledge of ice, there was no time to lose.

He hadn't wanted to mention to the others how little confidence he had that he could actually accomplish what he meant to. But as it turned out, the ice wasn't difficult to climb, no more so than a steep, rocky hillside. It was rough and broken, with numerous cracks into which he could wedge his boots or the blades of the knives. There were only a few times when he had to stop to pound in a knife so that he could stand on it while he searched for a handhold.

It was physically exhausting, and his legs and arms were soon quivering with fatigue. He forced out of his mind all thoughts of the drop below him, as well as the near-impossible task of getting back up without a rope.

Occasionally he called von Stalhein's name. It echoed through the crevasse. There was no answer until he was, he judged, just above the overhang and ledge where he thought he had glimpsed the fallen spy, and the ground-out words came from very close to him. "Bigglesworth, stop shouting and leave me alone."

Despite his growing exhaustion, Biggles smiled to himself. He slithered over the last outcrop of ice on little more than sheer nerve, and dropped carefully to the ledge below.

There was not much space. It was unlikely that von Stalhein should have fetched up here and not continued to fall; he must have either rebounded off the opposite side, or hit the outcropping that had given Biggles such trouble just now, and managed to catch hold of it and gain some control of his fall. Biggles wasn't surprised that von Stalhein had managed to retain his presence of mind well enough to save himself even while plunging to near-certain death.

But without assistance, he had done little more than save himself for a slow death. The ledge was narrow, and von Stalhein was at the back of it. Enough light penetrated through the blue ice and came down from above that Biggles could see him well enough. He'd lost his hat in the fall, and he was leaning against the ice at the back of the ledge, glaring at Biggles.

"What is wrong with you?" von Stalhein said between his teeth. "Go back up."

Biggles looked round for a gun, but didn't see one. It must have been lost when von Stalhein went over the edge. It was all for the best if it didn't come to a fight; his muscles still trembled from the strain of the climb.

"Can't," he said. "I don't believe I can get back over that shelf of ice above us until my friends come back with rope."

It was awkward moving about on the ice ledge; he had to crouch. As he crawled into the back, von Stalhein drew away. He made Biggles think somehow of an animal caught in a trap, facing its end with fierce defiance.

"Your fellows left you to die. I've told you before that you should choose better friends."

"Did you come down here to gloat?" Von Stalhein's voice was angry in a tight, brittle way. "Or to finish me off?"

"Does that sound like something I'd do? Let me look at you."

It was increasingly clear that von Stalhein had been battered in the fall. His face was severely scraped down one side, the blood looking blue-black in the dim light. He'd lost not only his hat but also one glove, and the fingers of that hand were scraped and bluish. Biggles took one look at that and pulled off his own glove, grasped von Stalhein's wrist firmly, and tugged the glove over his fingers. The cold immediately bit into Biggles' gloveless hand.

Von Stalhein watched the application of the glove with a dazed, baffled expression. Biggles could feel him shivering.

"How badly off are you?" Biggles asked briskly. "Where are you hurt?"

Von Stalhein took a breath and seemed to gather himself. "My leg," he said. He cleared his throat. "My leg is broken, I think."

"Which?" Biggles asked. He was sitting with his left leg bent at the knee, the right stretched out. Biggles lightly placed a hand on the right knee; von Stalhein flinched. "This one? Where?"

"Below the knee." Von Stalhein wet his lips. He was expending visible effort keeping his teeth from chattering, Biggles could tell. "I haven't examined it closely. I would need to remove the boot and I—hadn't determined how to do that yet."

"No, of course not, leave it on for now," Biggles murmured, his mind whirling. This made things more complicated, but not insurmountable. "We'll have to stabilise your leg before we move you. We must have something we can use for that. A pair of ski poles will do."

Although some of it was the blue light, Biggles didn't like von Stalhein's colour or the continued shivering. Leaning forward, he placed his gloveless hand on the back of von Stalhein's neck, moving his head forward a little. There was another slight flinch.

"Did that hurt?" Biggles asked anxiously. "Did you injure your neck or spine in the fall?"

"No, it's—no," von Stalhein said.

Biggles pulled up the hood of the parka, covering von Stalhein's head. The former German agent would have done it himself if he'd thought of it, which spoke of how rattled he had been in the fall.

"Does anything else hurt?"

"No," von Stalhein said. He sounded sleepy. The energy surge brought on by his astonishment and anger at Biggles' arrival seemed to be draining away now, leaving him exhausted and most likely on the verge of shock owing to his leg and whatever other injuries he had. Biggles did not for a minute believe that nothing else hurt; the blood and visible scraping on the side of von Stalhein's face attested to that, and there was likely a lot of unseen bruising from his fall.

But Biggles could think of little else to do for now. Hypothermia was going to be a great danger for both of them, owing to the difficulty of moving about on the ledge.. He wondered how long it would take the others to reach the base camp and resupply. Not too long, he hoped. In their search, they had quartered the glacier systematically, but the actual amount of straight-line distance covered was not that far. At least he didn't think so.

There were many things that could go wrong, not the least being the presence of three armed Soviets running about on the ice. Biggles made an effort to put it out of his head. He trusted his friends implicitly, and this included trusting to their competence and ability to survive on the ice without him. They would be back as soon as they could.

In the meantime, he laid his hand on von Stalhein's wrist. "Do you mind?" he asked, and when von Stalhein gave a small, baffled headshake, Biggles took off the loaned glove to examine the battered and cold-damaged fingers. Von Stalhein's hand had taken a beating in the fall—it looked like he'd tried to claw at the sides of the shaft, and the fingertips were abraded and scraped, as well as stiff with cold.

But there was circulation in the fingertips, and von Stalhein made some attempt to pull away—not all that forcefully—when Biggles pressed on the pads of his fingers to check the returning bloodflow. Biggles didn't think frostbite had set in yet.

He tried warming von Stalhein's hand between his own, but his hands were none too warm at the moment, so instead he tucked the injured hand up his own sleeve, pressing von Stalhein's cold hand against the warm skin of his forearm. His own fingers were starting to suffer from the cold, so he put the glove back on.

Von Stalhein looked up at him in the omnidirectional blue light of the glacier. There was frost on his lashes and powdered snow in his eyebrows, and he looked dazed and sleepy and confused. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.

"I wasn't going to leave you down here, Erich. I wouldn't leave a dog down here." Biggles was, at the moment, kneeling with his head near the low ceiling of the overhang, and von Stalhein's hand pressed to his arm. It wasn't that comfortable, so he settled a bit more agreeably with his leg resting against von Stalhein's thigh. Biggles gave some brief thoughts to trying to find a way to share body heat, perhaps using their coats together, but he couldn't come up with a scheme that was feasible in the small space and wouldn't result in the two of them ending up even colder than individually.

Instead, he asked, "Can you move your leg? The one you believe is broken."

"I don't believe it, I know it," von Stalhein said between his teeth, but he obediently twitched his thigh, stirring the leg and scraping his boot against the ice. Instantly he blanched, losing what little colour he had. The hand resting against Biggles's bare forearm spasmed and clutched at him, and von Stalhein doubled over a little, gasping.

Biggles rested his free hand against von Stalhein's back. "Well, that settles it, I'd say. Sorry. Can you shift your hips a little? I'd like to get your coattails tucked more firmly underneath, get you up off the ice a bit."

There was no helping the incontrovertible fact that they were both forced to maintain contact with the cold surface underneath, sapping their body heat and strength. But he arranged the tails of von Stalhein's parka to form a passable barrier, and then arranged himself similarly, tucking one of his legs under his other thigh to minimize his own contact with the ice.

Von Stalhein's hand was warming against Biggles's arm. His grip had loosened after the first spasmodic clutch, but his fingers remained loosely curled around Biggles's arm, as if he drew strength from it.

"Stay awake, Erich," Biggles said when von Stalhein's eyelids drooped. "My friends will be back soon. In the meantime, you can tell me what you've found in your search so far. I did suggest sharing the gen we've both gathered, if you'll recall."

Von Stalhein huffed something like a tired laugh, without much humour in it, but he answered readily enough. "We've found nothing, as you must have guessed. Personally, I think it's futile. If there was something left to find, the aerial surveys would have spotted it."

"That was approximately the conclusion we'd come to as well."

"Yes, well, it's not up to us. Our orders are to come back with the plans or proof of their destruction."

Biggles decided to save the lectures on poor bedfellows for sometime when von Stalhein was on top of his game; just now, with von Stalhein as a captive and hypothermic audience, it seemed unsporting. "Once we're back at base camp, I can show you on a map where we've already searched, if you'd be inclined to do likewise."

"And what then?" von Stalhein asked sceptically, seeming a bit more roused. "If we find them together, you'll simply hand them over for me to carry back?"

"Of course not, but you can tell them in complete honesty that they were destroyed. I don't want them either; what we want is for your side not to have them. A lighter will take care of it." Biggles let out an abrupt laugh, a sharp sound. "And this reminds me that I have both cigarettes and the dregs of what was, this morning, a thermos of strong, hot tea, now gone rather lukewarm I'm afraid. We needn't be completely uncomfortable down here."

He extricated von Stalhein's hand and helped him get a glove back on it before unscrewing the top of the thermos. Von Stalhein sipped at it, with Biggles helping him steady it, and then accepted the cigarette Biggles handed him. He was able to hold it without shaking too badly.

"You really think your friends are going to get us out of here," he said, as they smoked.

"Of course."

As if to underscore his point, there was a shout down the crevasse. "Hullooooo!"

"See?" Biggles said. He scrambled to his feet, flicking away the fag-end as he crouched low and crab-walked to the ledge's end. "Bertie? Who is up there?"

"Algy and Bertie," Bertie called down. "We've left Ginger at the camp to guard against Russkies. What do you need? I assume you've found friend Erich all right?"

Biggles looked round as von Stalhein pushed himself out to the edge of the overhang as well, propelling himself with his arms. He looked interested and slightly resentful, a much better look on him than his complacent resignation earlier.

"Yes, we're both down here," Biggles called up. "But we have a few specialised requirements, if you've anything to suggest."

After a few rounds of calling up and down, a rope clattered across the overhang. Tied to the end was a bundle that included ski poles and a blanket, as well as a spare pair of gloves.

Von Stalhein held onto a handful of Biggles's coat while Biggles did a fast and firm field-splinting of his leg. His face was pale and tight, his jaw set, but he was able to help by shifting his weight and moving a little as he needed to. When they had the leg as stabilized as it was going to get, Biggles fixed the rope round von Stalhein's torso. Then Biggles crawled to the edge to lean out and shout up that they were ready. Some more determination of specifics followed.

"If he can't do for himself, old bean, I think we're going to need you up here to pull as well," Bertie called down. "There's nothing to tie off to."

"He's right," von Stalhein said. He still looked faintly resentful, but had shifted into a focused problem-solving mode. "I can anchor the rope down here for your climb; then you can haul me up."

Biggles disliked leaving him there, but he couldn't argue with it. He sank one of the knives into the ice, tied off to that to prevent von Stalhein from being pulled out over the edge, and then used the other one as a climbing assist. Somewhat to his surprise, the climb up was not too bad. The surface crew had tied knots at regular intervals in the rope, and when he reached the welcome sunlight shafting down through the top of the crack, Algy and Bertie were there to haul him up.

Biggles flopped over the edge of the crevasse. He had to lower his smoked shades over his eyes immediately; it was shockingly bright. Looking around, he saw they had brought the inflatable dinghy from the aircraft, carried in case of an emergency water landing, and were using it in lieu of a sledge. They had heaped it with supplies. There were no proper ice crampons, an oversight Biggles was now regretting, but they had used another knife to anchor one end of the line similarly to how Biggles had done it below.

"Are you hurt?" Algy asked, helping him up and dusting off the snow covering him.

"No," Biggles said, but he found his knees swaying and leaned into his friend's support. His hands felt weak.

"Whoa there," Algy said, and Bertie reached around to lend a hand as well. "What is it? A knock to the head?"

"Only cold and exertion. I'm all right. Let's get Erich up and get clear of this place."

He called down instructions to von Stalhein, and a few moments later they were roped together and hauling him up, using the knife-anchor and each other's braced bodies to prevent being hauled over the edge. It was a precarious business, and with great relief Biggles leaned over the edge and felt von Stalhein's hand clasp his arm, then half climb him; they tumbled back and the other two caught them, and Biggles lowered von Stalhein carefully to the ice.

"Von Stalhein," Algy said. "Shame you didn't break your neck."

"Shame I didn't shoot you when I had the opportunity," von Stalhein said through chattering teeth.

"Well, that's the pleasantries done," Biggles said. "Where is that dinghy?"

Von Stalhein looked quietly mutinous at being bundled into the dinghy, but it was clear that he couldn't get anywhere under his own power. He was shivering again, even after Biggles wrapped every blanket they had around him. Biggles was feeling none too well himself, and Algy had to help him on with his skis, of which they had brought a spare pair, while Bertie finished securing a calmly resentful von Stalhein.

"I reckon we'll ski ahead with you bringing up the rear and the old sled behind," Bertie said. "We got the process down on our way over, not without a few staves off the barrel, so to speak, but I think it's down to a science by now. Algy, do you want to take point?"

"Glad to," Algy said, with a concerned glance at Biggles. Von Stalhein was also watching him, Biggles noticed, with a look that was vigilant and intense.

"I'm fine, just cold. I'll be right once we get on the move."

He wasn't, not entirely, but it was true that with the skis and the entire roped chain of them, it was easy enough to be pulled along, doing his bit where he could but otherwise gliding with the rest. Algy and Bertie had marked their route with signal flags from the aircraft's emergency supplies, which they collected as they skied along.

Ginger spotted them coming a ways off, and waved them in. There were greetings all round, von Stalhein largely excepted, and they began untying ropes and unloading gear.

The camp had two tents set up, which they had been sharing, Biggles and Ginger in one, while Bertie and Algy had the other. Ginger had the camp stove going and a kettle of soup heating.

Von Stalhein had started looking drawn and exhausted again on the trip, and he was shivering violently as Biggles slid the dinghy all the way to the mouth of the tent and then helped him in.

Within the walls of the tent, Biggles was finally able to do what he had wanted to do, but hadn't dared to do, in the glacier crevasse. He spread out his and Ginger's sleeping bags to form a sort of nest on the tent's canvas groundcloth, then got to work removing von Stalhein's boot to look at his leg. The laces were frozen; Biggles had to cut them away, and then part of the substance of the boot to get it off over the swollen foot, while von Stalhein endured it in grim silence. The leg of his trousers was also stiff with frozen meltwater, and Biggles sliced it off.

It was, in honesty, not as bad as he had feared. There was no broken bone protruding through the flesh, and little visible deformity. The leg was purple with bruises from the shin to the top of the foot, and von Stalhein hissed when Biggles probed at it. But the circulation in his foot seemed well enough, although the toes were ice cold. Biggles bundled the foot into a dry woollen sock from his own pack, and wrapped up the leg in a set of flannel long underwear that he had brought but hadn't worn, for warmth and comfort, before splinting it once again with ski poles that he hacked off at the ends.

"I don't think you're going to be searching for more lost plans this day, Erich," he remarked as he worked.

"Regrettable," von Stalhein said, on pure rote, it seemed. He was wobbly with exhaustion, and he obeyed pliantly when Biggles removed his coat and got him into a clean, dry jumper and then wrapped him up in a sleeping bag.

Bertie passed a fresh, hot thermos of tea through the tent flap. Biggles drank and helped von Stalhein to drink. There was paracetamol in the first-aid kit, but Biggles dug for the heavier-duty painkillers, now that von Stalhein's temperature and pulse were a bit better.

Ginger crawled in. "Came to get my kit," he whispered, with a glance at von Stalhein, who appeared to be falling asleep. "I'm going to share with Bertie and Algy tonight, as I don't suppose he'll be moving on today."

"No, sorry." Biggles was all too aware that the tremor in his own hands was back. He was startled by Ginger pressing him down into a sleeping bag.

"There's hot soup. I'll bring you some shortly."

"He's in your sleeping bag," Biggles said apologetically, propping himself on an elbow as he watched Ginger gather items in the tight confines of the tent, trying not to trip over von Stalhein.

"How wonderful," Ginger remarked. "Well, we can make two bags into three. We've all shared tighter quarters than this, haven't we? Though not, I have to say, with a Boche spy."

"Former Boche spy," Biggles said.

"Sorry, a Soviet spy, I keep forgetting what side he's on since it changes every ten minutes."

"Nothing wrong with my ears, Hebblethwaite," von Stalhein said sleepily.

"We'll need to set a guard," Biggles said, sitting up. "Actually, if it can be arranged, someone should sleep in the skiplane. We don't know that they won't come back."

"You may be surprised to know that we're ahead of you on that," Ginger said dryly. He sat back on his haunches in the doorway of the tent with his pack. "We've already worked out a watch rota. Which you are not part of, by the way. Someone will be back with soup shortly."

He left in a draught of cold air. Biggles lay back, then sat up again. Ginger's comment about rearranging the sleeping bags had made him realise that he could do the same with their two military-surplus bags, rearranging them from two individual bags into a single shell of warmth around them. Von Stalhein needed it, and Biggle was increasingly aware that he did too.

Von Stalhein, half asleep, barely stirred to mumble sleepy objections when Biggles moved him enough to wrap them both in a double bag with their coats spread out over the top. On general principles, Biggle felt of von Stalhein's coat pocket to be sure that there was no gun, and found nothing.

"Soup," Algy said from the tent flap. "Oh Lord, my eyes."

"It's for practical reasons of hypothermia," Biggles said, sitting up to accept the two camp cups of soup. "How is everyone out there?"

"Everyone is fine. No Soviets so far. Bertie thought he heard an aircraft a few minutes ago, though I can't swear to it myself. If so, they might have left." Algy flicked his gaze to von Stalhein, who was invisible except as a lump bundled in sleeping bags and coats.

"Suppose they found the plans?"

"Nothing we can do about it if they did," Algy pointed out. When Biggles started to struggle out of the sleeping bag, Algy pushed him back down. "No you don't. Stay here, rest, drink up and get warm." He patted Biggles's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Even if I've some doubts about your choice of bedfellows."

"Hey there—" Biggles said, but Algy was already out of the tent flap, sealing it closed behind him.

Von Stalhein stirred sleepily when Biggles nudged him, and accepted about half the cup of soup before he pushed it away. Biggles finished both, then set the cups aside and wrapped himself up in the nest of sleeping bags and coats, leaning carefully into von Stalhein.

Von Stalhein's body was a lean coil of muscle and sinew, relaxed only because he was already sliding into sleep. Biggles rested a hand lightly on his side, very careful, trying not to set off his defences or disturb his rest. He was cool to the touch, but no longer shivering, and when Biggles laid the back of his hand carefully against the side of von Stalhein's throat, he felt a reassuring and regular pulsebeat.

Biggles was warming himself now, more so, he thought, than he would have been able to manage alone. He moved a little closer, and rested his body lightly against von Stalhein's lithe form.

They were going to have to take him along, Biggles thought sleepily, already drifting. There was really no other choice. It wasn't as if they could leave him, hurt, on the glacier, whether they found the plans or not. They wouldn't make him a prisoner, of course; it was unjust, as they hadn't caught him through fair means. They could offer him release in any country of his choice, at least any country readily reached along their departure route.

But he would need recovery time. It might be appropriate, only fair in fact, to offer him a convalescence in Britain, if he would accept it.

Von Stalhein relaxed steadily, sinking into the utter release of the deep sleep that often followed a day of pain and danger. Biggles risked an arm laid gently along the line of his ribs and his lean hip, fingers lightly curled. He turned his face into von Stalhein's shoulder, and felt the other—the spy, the enemy—give a soft sigh and lean back against him.

He was warm here. They were warm. Whatever was to come in the morning could be dealt with then.