By Chris Ryan

Alpha strength Hostage

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Above their heads, irregular, ten-centimetre-thick sheets of sea ice were floating on the surface of the bay like scattered jigsaw pieces. By mid-winter, the jigsaw would be complete and a solid crust of ice up to three metres thick would cover the whole of Hudson Bay and the ocean beyond. Even in October, an unprotected person diving beneath the ice would be dead from hypothermia within minutes, but Amber and Hex were each encased in three layers to insulate them against the killer cold. The outermost layer was a loose-fitting dry suit with moulded boots and latex wrist and neck seals.

She was at her happiest when they were all together. Although she would never dream of telling the others, the fact was that Alpha Force, and Hex in particular, were now the people she loved most in the world. Hex tapped her on the shoulder, making her jump. Amber wiped the smile from her face and scowled at him through her mask. It was a truly ferocious scowl, fierce enough to strip paint, but Hex did not even flinch. He was used to Amber. He stared back calmly, then pointed to his watch to show her that it was time to go.

All her friends thought she was crazy, choosing to work in one of the coldest places on Earth, but Papaluk was a Canadian Inuit and she felt perfectly at home in the vast, icy wildernesses of Hudson Bay. One of her jobs was to keep a check on the large population of polar bears roaming the bay area. The tundra buggy kept her safe when she was outside and, to keep her safe inside, the observation cabin where she lived and worked had been set on top of an eighteen-metre-high tower. The tower had four steel legs, with a strengthening network of horizontal support struts.

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