Saturday 10 April 2010
Death came frame by frame, in grainy black and white.
at the screen of her laptop. It showed the tatty rectangular roofs of
a poor Middle Eastern city. In the centre of the screen a white box hovered
over a truck upon which the letters “UN” could clearly be seen
as it manoeuvred down a narrow side street. A burst of rapid speech in
a language Erika didn’t understand zipped through her earphones. The
truck came to a halt and half a dozen people dropped out of the back. Another
burst of chatter, more urgent this time. And then one word.
silence for a second and then little spurts of dust erupted around the feet
of the group and the figures crumpled.
More spurts. The
bodies were still on the ground now as bullets slammed into them.
laugh. Erika wanted to close her eyes, look away, look anywhere but
at the screen, but she couldn’t. She had to watch. Someone
had taken enormous risks so that she could see this.
The perspective changed as the helicopter circled for a better
look. The shaky rectangle grew wider as the camera zoomed.
One of the
bodies began to move. Miraculously a figure climbed to his feet, and
stooping, shuffled towards the shelter of a building, a leg dragging in the
dust. Climbed to her feet. The figure had long fair hair, light
grey in the image.
A curse. Chatter.
spurts of dust danced around the flailing body for several seconds, a period
as long as the first two bursts combined. Then the body was still. The
white frame lingered over it as radio reports were passed back and forth in
the impenetrable language. The helicopter must be hovering, waiting,
explaining. After a minute Erika could bear it no longer.
She clicked “Pause” and
turned away from the screen. Outside, the last of the daffodils nodded
through the railings of the London square in front of the hotel, dingy yellow
in the light of the streetlamps. It was five am and still dark. She
turned to check the bed where the renowned Greek-American professor of strategic
studies she had met the night before was lying. Asleep. Definitely
The previous evening she had taken part in a public debate on the
subject “Information Has a Right to Freedom” at the
Royal Geographic Society. There were three speakers on each
side: she, of course had been in favour of the motion. It
was one of her best performances. The Greek-American strategic
studies professor had put up a good fight, but the audience had
overwhelmingly agreed with her. So had he in the end. After
dinner and a few drinks back at his hotel.
She had still been feeling the glow of victory four hours later
when she crept out of bed to open up her laptop and check her e-mails.
was gone. It was replaced with horror and disgust.
supposed to be her people.
back to her laptop and pulled up Jabber, the encrypted instant messaging service. They
were all online, waiting for her response.
If she had
to guess Dieter was up late and Nico up early. As for Apex, who knew? He
never seemed to sleep. A bit like Erika herself.
you seen it?
the response, from all three.
that woman who i think it is?
tamara wilton. for sure.
her. the date on the video tallies with the day she was killed. jan
know it’s war but i can’t believe people do that kind of thing.
it makes me sick to my stomach.
Nico: wait till you hear what they are saying. do
you understand hebrew?
Erika: i’m not that kind of jew. As she wrote
those words, Erika wondered exactly what kind of Jew she was. That
was something she would have to figure out pretty soon. did
you get a translation?
Nico: i sent it to an israeli volunteer. she is
sending me back a full transcript. i’ll pass it on
as soon as i get it.
Dieter: please tell me you didn’t send it to israel!
Nico: yeah, but through tor.
Apex: nico, you have to leave that kind of thing to us! anything
going into israel is vulnerable.
Erika: cut it out guys. nico, did the volunteer
give you any idea what the israelis are saying?’
Nico: yeah. the controller tells the helicopter
that some hamas fighters have just fired an anti-tank missile and
jumped into a un truck. the helicopter finds the truck and
asks for permission to engage. it’s given. then
you see the shooting.
Erika: what about tamara wilton? can’t they
see she’s a woman?
Nico: just as they are firing, the controller tells the
helicopter they’ve found the truck with the anti-tank unit. it’s
a different truck. the pilot sees the woman moving and tells
the gunner to shoot her. they can tell she is a woman. the
gunner questions this, but the pilot says they don’t want
witnesses, and besides, the united nations are a bunch of interfering
bastards. then in the chatter afterwards the helicopter tells
the controller that the people getting out of the truck were armed
and one of them escaped with an anti-tank missile launcher.
Erika: but no one escaped!
Erika: i remember this. it was supposed to have
been investigated by the israeli authorities. i’m
pretty sure they cleared the soldiers of any blame.
Dieter: how can they have done that! these guys are murderers. it’s
Erika: and that’s what we will tell the world. we’ll
ream them with this.
The screen was still as the four of them digested what Nico had
said. Behind Erika the professor of strategic studies grunted
and rolled over in the hotel bed. Disturbed by her furious
tapping on the keyboard perhaps.
Nico: what do we do?
Erika: we publish, of course! but we do it carefully. this
is one of those situations where the cover-up is as important as
the crime itself. the israelis will want to squash this,
and if they can’t squash it they will discredit it. we’ll
need full transcription, analysis, verification. release
the video online and the transcript through selected newspapers. the
washington post. the guardian, maybe der spiegel. are
we sure it’s genuine?
Apex: not yet.
Erika: ok, we’ll have to check that out. we
need to be one hundred percent.
Dieter: it’s going to be difficult to do this remotely.
Erika: yes. we should meet somewhere. just
for a few days. get a team together. just like we did
last year in stockholm for the zimbabwe arms leak.
Nico: this is bigger.
Dieter: so where do we go?
Apex: i’m not coming.
Erika: ok, apex. Apex never came anywhere. He
stayed in his room somewhere in a time zone a long way away. None
of them had even seen him apart from Dieter, and that was almost
twenty years before, and no one even knew his real name. Erika
had spoken to him on a voice link over the Internet frequently;
he had a rapid Australian accent. So, no, Apex wouldn’t
They were waiting for her to suggest somewhere. Technically
she was nothing more than the Spokesperson for Freeflow. The
organization had no hierarchy, at least in theory. Most decisions
were taken by the four of them: Apex and Dieter were the technical
guys, Nico did finance and general organization.
In practice Erika was the leader. They all followed Erika. Anywhere.
Erika: what about iceland?
Dieter: but that’s the middle of nowhere.
Erika: when I went with nico in november they were really
friendly. they treated us like stars. and they seem dead
serious about protecting the press.
Nico: iceland might work. we have some
good guys there we can trust.
Dieter: yeah duddi is good. i rate him.
Nico: i’ll organize it. hey you know there’s
a volcano erupting at the moment?
Dieter: cool. i’ve never seen a live volcano.
Nico: i did my masters in geology. i’ll give
you a guided tour.
Erika: guys we won’t have time for any sightseeing.
Nico: you’re no fun erika. so when do we
Erika thought a moment. It was Saturday morning. She could
work on the transcript and do some background research in London
over the weekend. There were people she could stay with whom
she trusted in London, the man in the bed behind her not being
one of them. There were people she could stay with in lots
Erika didn’t really live anywhere. Her few possessions
were strewn all over the globe, in her parents’ place just
outside New York, with Dieter in Cologne, some with Nico in Milan,
some of her most personal stuff with her grandmother in Queens. But
most of what she needed she kept in her small suitcase. And
in her computer backed up and encrypted remotely in several servers
dotted around the world.
She would need to borrow a warmer coat for Reykjavík.
She resumed typing: when can you get things ready nico?
Erika: great. see you all in reykjavik on monday. and
we need a name for this project. see what you can come up
Monday 12 April 2010
Erika wheeled her battered bag through the double doors of the
arrivals hall and scanned the dozen or so people waiting. She
knew Nico would have arranged for someone to pick her up, but
she had no idea who it would be.
a couple of signs in the hall, and one of them had her name scrawled on it,
with a smiley face. She approached the young woman holding the scrap
of cardboard. `Hi, I’m Erika.’
smiled and held out her hand. She was thin with short dark hair, pale
skin and big blue eyes. She was wearing jeans and a thick tan coat. And
a clerical collar around her throat.
said. `Welcome to Iceland.’
led Erika out of the terminal to a beaten-up old Peugeot that needed a wash. Erika
wasn’t entirely surprised by her host – Freeflow’s volunteers
came in all shapes and sizes – but this was the first pastor she had
come across. Certainly the first female one. Erika checked to
see whether anyone was following them; she didn’t think so, but it was
hard to tell.
take you to the house,’ Ásta said in flawless English. `It’s
right downtown. A great location.’
we’ll be going outside much,’ said Erika. `Who does it belong
live abroad. We’ve rented it for a couple of weeks.’
need it that long. A week at most.’ Ásta eased the
Peugeot out of the car park and on to the road to Reykjavík. Forty-six
kilometres, according to the yellow road sign.
very good English,’ Erika said.
`Thank you. You’ll
find most Icelanders speak English, especially the younger ones.’
`Yeah, I remember that from last time I was here,’ said Erika. `Do
you always wear that thing?’
`Oh, no. But
I want to while I’m helping you out. I think what you are doing
is good. There should be more openness in Iceland, and more in the Icelandic
church. I guess I’m making a point. Christians believe in
telling the truth.’
`So do Muslims
and Jews,’ said Erika. `And atheists. Or the majority of
them do anyway: their governments are a different matter.’
Erika was wary. All kinds of people tried to win Freeflow
over to their cause. But independence was everything. Independence
from any one country, any political ideology and any religion.
smiled. `Oh, don’t worry, I won’t try to influence what you
are doing. I saw you on Silfur Egils when you were here last
year, by the way. I was impressed. A lot of people here were.’
Silfur Egils was the biggest TV chat show in Iceland. Erika
had used her appearance to encourage the Icelanders to set up a haven for free
information. The idea seemed to have gone down well. `I’m
glad you remember it,’ Erika said.
`I might have something for you,’ Ásta said.
banks?’ Freeflow received information from all over the world,
some of it big some of it small. They had published the details of loans
of one of the Icelandic banks several months before, but had also received
several pieces of unsubstantiated gossip that they had left unpublished.
the church here in Iceland. Certain things that happened here in the
said. `But, Ásta, if you do decide to leak something to us, you
should do it anonymously. Upload it to our website or mail it to us on
a CD. We go to great lengths to protect our sources, and the best protection
is if we don’t know their identity ourselves.’
you don’t know who they are, how can you tell if they are reliable?’
It was a
common criticism of Freeflow, but one Erika had answered many times. `We
are very careful to check and double check the information we are given. That
works much better than a subjective judgement on whether a source is reliable
`I see,’ said Ásta.
out on the highway now, a long straight strip of black through the barren lava
field that separated the airport at Keflavík from the capital. Checking
behind her, the only vehicles Erika could see were two large trucks: not the
vehicles of choice for surveillance teams. No trees anywhere, no grass. Grey
sea on one side, black mountains beyond the lava on the other. A small
mountain rose up ahead in a perfect cone. Bleak. A sign to the
right pointed to the Blue Lagoon and Erika saw steam leaking out from behind
a fold in the lavascape a few miles in that direction. Erika had seen
the posters at the airport: she could use a long soak in the geothermally heated
of nowhere, as Dieter had said. A long way from Israel.
us the video,’ Ásta said. `It’s going to make quite
a splash when it gets out. There was a lot of coverage here when Tamara
Wilton was shot. It was a big deal.’
will make a splash.’ Tamara Wilton was an ordinary British student
who had decided to spend six months after graduating from university with the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Gaza doing her bit for the Palestinians. Except
she wasn’t ordinary – she was a pink-cheeked, fair-haired English
rose type in the mould of Princess Diana. The world knew that because
she had an identical twin sister Samantha, who looked just like her and who
turned out to be not just cute, but articulate and angry as well. Samantha
Wilton had been all over the papers and TV, not just in Britain, but also in
the rest of Europe and even the States. The story of her sister had touched
all kinds of people, even Erika, who saw something of herself in the idealistic
young woman willing to go to dangerous places for what she believed in. It
had been a public relations nightmare for the Israelis, which they had fought
hard to contain.
But until now no one outside the Israeli Defence Force had actually
seen it happen. More importantly, no one had heard it happen.
spent Saturday and Sunday holed up in an activist’s flat in East London
going through everything she could find on the death of Tamara Wilton. The
Israeli Defence Force investigation had been a whitewash. The recent
Goldstone Report, instigated by the United Nations to examine human rights
abuses by both sides in the Gaza war of the winter of 2008-2009, had found
no evidence to question the IDF’s version of events: that the helicopter
crew’s assumption that the UN truck contained a Palestinian anti-tank
unit was reasonable, as was their action to destroy it.
doubts, accusations, but no proof.
As she looked
out over the broad expanse of brown and grey rubble that had been spewed out
of a volcano several thousand years before, Erika felt the excitement build
inside her. The Icelandic priest was right, this was big. This
was very big.
In the three
years of its existence Freeflow had published many important leaks: it had
started by exposing international inaction in Darfur, then corrupt arms deals
in Africa, cover-ups in Belgium, political shenanigans in Italy and dodgy loans
in Iceland. This video would cause the biggest stir. Which is why
they had to make it objective, hard hitting and above all unimpeachable.
This time their target was Israel.
Erika had always known that at some point Freeflow would have to
publish a leak concerning Israel, and she had no doubt that this
particular leak deserved to be published. But she also knew
what her family would think of it. What Erika was doing would
be a step too far for them.
She took a deep breath. Too bad.
They passed through the newly built suburbs of Reykjavík
into the city centre, a warren of small, brightly coloured houses
with corrugated iron roofs. Ásta drove up a hill towards
the tall smooth swooping church spire that Erika remembered from
her previous visit to the city. From the summit by the church
she could see over the roofs towards a broad mountain ridge dusted
with snow to the north and sea to the west.
Mount Esja over there,’ Ásta said. `It looks different every
time you see it.’
descended a narrow residential road with cars parked on either side, she caught
sight of the street sign: Thórsgata. Ásta parked outside
a white concrete house with a green metal roof. Lights glimmered behind
drawn curtains. `Here we are.’
the house was buzzing. The ground floor was open-plan, essentially a
large living area full of computer equipment, wires, folding tables and chairs,
great to see you!’ Nico, tall, with shaven cranium and unshaven
jaw, kissed her on both cheeks. Dieter looked up from a laptop and waved
a young Icelandic computer science student, came over holding out his hand. Erika
ignored it and kissed him on the cheek. `Hey, Dúddi. Great
to see you again. How’s it been?’
grinned. `It’s been good. It’s great to have Freeflow
`Let me introduce
you to the other two,’ said Nico. He was wearing black designer
T-shirt and jeans, and the familiar diamond earring in his left ear.
volunteers in question were Zivah, an Israeli student who would act as translator,
and Franz, a Swiss video and sound guy. They were both in their early
twenties and, like Ásta and Dúddi, full of enthusiasm.
claimed that it had an army of volunteers all around the world. This
wasn’t strictly true. People certainly put themselves forward to
help, but most of them soon faded away when given the simplest tasks. Erika
hoped that these two would prove more reliable.
everyone, for giving up your time,’ she said. `You’ve all
seen the video. You’ve all seen Tamara Wilton and the four other
aid workers in that truck die. You might think that that is what happens
in war: that’s certainly what the Israeli Defence Force will say. But
it shouldn’t be like that; it doesn’t have to be like that. International
treaties have been signed in the Hague, in Geneva, in Rome to prevent actions
her voice. The little gathering strained to hear her. She knew
the importance of converting her allies to the cause before she tried to convert
saw on that video was a war crime, pure and simple. And governments all
over the world will suppress evidence of war crimes if they can and if the
people let them. Not just bad governments, but good governments too. Freeflow
cannot prevent these war crimes from happening. But we can ensure that
when they do happen the world knows about them. We can shine a bright
light into those dark corners they don’t want us to see. It’s
something we have done in the past and something we will do in the future until
governments around the world finally realise they can no longer cover up these
obscenities against all that our civilization stands for.’
silent for a few moments, letting her words sink in. She scanned her
listeners. She’d got them.
is in a unique position in history. The Internet has given ordinary citizens
such as us enormous power. It is not the power to oppress or censor,
but the power to set information free. Someone has risked a lot to get
this video to us; possibly committed treason in their own country. We
owe it to that person, and to humanity as a whole, to make sure that this work
will have the maximum impact.
`This is possibly the most exciting leak Freeflow has been involved
with. We’re going to have to work hard over the next
few days, but it will be worth it, I promise you. What you
do this week will be noticed throughout the world.’
go!’ said Franz, the Swiss guy, with a cheer.
Dúddi and Ásta looked impressed; the Israeli student a little
anxious. Erika didn’t blame her.
get to it!’ She turned towards the big man standing in the middle
of a tangle of cables, his matted fair hair and scrappy beard streaked with
grey. `Hey, Dieter, don’t I get a hug?’
as he extricated himself from the wires. He wrapped his arms around her
and squeezed. A German computer security consultant, he and Erika had
been through a lot over the last three years. They had first come across each
other on the Save Darfur website. It was Dieter who had suggested
setting up a separate secure site to publish leaked UN documents exposing the
diplomatic dithering over the massacres of refugees in Darfur a few years earlier,
and so Freeflow was born. His technical expertise and Erika’s crusading
drive were at the heart of the organization.
are we to getting started?’ Erika asked.
have all the machines hooked up in another hour or so,’ said Dieter. `But
Apex has a security issue.’
`Not again?’ said
Erika. Apex always had security issues. Erika was never sure whether
they were real, or whether Apex was just paranoid. `Does he know who
it is this time?’
pretty sure it’s the Chinese.’ Ever since 2008, when Freeflow
had published a list of websites blocked by the Chinese government, their network
had come under attack from China. `He doesn’t want us to transfer
the video across until he is sure everything is secure.’
think he’s overreacting?’ Erika asked.
his head. `No. It’s a real intrusion.’
morning at the earliest.’
glanced around the room. `Where’s Gareth?’
a British security analyst, a former employee of GCHQ, the British government
department responsible for collating and analysing electronic intelligence. His
expertise would be vital for interpreting the video and for assessing its authenticity.
come until Wednesday,’ Nico said.
doing some freelance work that he can’t get out of. But he will
be able to analyse information we send him.’
do that securely?’ Erika asked Dieter.
said. `We can use Tor once Apex has given the all-clear.’ The
Tor network allowed encrypted data to travel through a “virtual tunnel” between
two computers that was extremely private. It was Dieter and Apex’s
favourite system and at the heart of Freeflow’s operations. When
layered with PGP or `Pretty Good Privacy’ data encryption, information
was just about as safe as it could be. `It’ll be better than nothing
for a couple of days. It’s not ideal, though,’ Dieter added.
not,’ said Erika.
was giving her his most charming smile. It put her on her guard but
she couldn’t help warming to it. He was an Italian in his late
thirties who used to run a hedge fund in London and had made himself several
million before quitting. He had approached Freeflow the year before,
offering them help, both financial and organizational, and after proving himself
over a three-month trial period, he soon became a vital member of the team. He
claimed he didn’t think like a finance guy, and he didn’t dress
like one, but it was thanks to him that Freeflow hadn’t run out of cash
couldn’t help returning his smile.
security hiccup, we could go and see the volcano. This afternoon.’
not here to sightsee,’ Erika said.
not,’ said Nico. `But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It
would only be a few hours. I told the people we rented the house from
we were Internet journalists here to report on the volcano. It would
be good for our cover if we actually went to see it. And it would be
an excellent way for the team to get to know each other.’
at Dieter. `Are there not things we can be doing in the mean time?’
`Some things, maybe. But it would be safer to wait until
Apex is sure the system is secure. And the volcano would
It would be. Erika had arrived at the house desperate to
get going, but she knew that waiting for Apex to give the all clear
would be painfully frustrating. A few hours wouldn’t
make much difference. And Erika never underestimated the
importance of the team’s morale. She would have preferred
a trip to the Blue Lagoon, but …
She nodded. Nico’s smile broadened, almost like a little
boy’s. It was kind of cute. `How do we get there?’
`Dúddi’s father has a superjeep. Dúddi
can drive us.’
`OK,’ said Erika. `We’ll leave in an hour.’
`I’ll arrange it,’ said Nico.
`I have a feeling, Nico, that you have already have.’
to a dome-shaped mountain whose snowy cap was glimmering in the sunshine. They
were driving through a flat flood plain covered in brown grass. The “superjeep” was
basically a Ford Super Duty on giant wheels, and it held the seven of them
comfortably: Erika, Ásta, Zivah, Franz, Dieter, Nico and Dúddi
who was doing the driving.
Mount Hekla,’ said Ásta. `It’s one of Iceland’s
most active volcanoes, but it’s quiet at the moment.’
is it, then?’ asked Erika. `Can we see it yet?’
ahead,’ said Dúddi.
brown plain met the foot of a long mountain ridge. The ridge itself was
hidden in clouds.
are two glaciers up there, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. The
volcano is on a ridge called Fimmvörduháls just between them.’
the clouds,’ said Dúddi. `For the moment. But this
is Iceland. Clouds come and clouds go.’
going up on the glacier?’ asked Franz, the Swiss guy.
are. That’s why we need the jeep.’
`Is it safe
up there?’ Zivah asked.
it’s safe,’ said Dúddi. `I went up there in this with
my dad last week. It’s an awesome sight, believe me.’
on: to their right lay the Westman Islands, volcanic cubes of rock scattered
like dice across the sea. They crossed a broad river and skirted the
southern edge of the mountain range. Farms nestled in the shelter of
the ridge, and horses dotted the meadows that lined the road. They passed
a waterfall, a broad curtain of white slipping off a cliff edge, before turning
off the main road and heading upwards on a track. Soon they were on ice. The
It was cool,
Erika thought. It was also cloudy. In a moment they were in something
close to a whiteout, snow beneath them and white water vapour all around them. Dúddi
slowed down. He appeared to be following the dozens of tyre tracks spreading
across the ice.
know where you are going?’ Erika asked.
Dúddi. `I just follow the tracks. But I’ve got my
GPS here.’ He tapped the instrument mounted on the dashboard.
and then headlights would appear out of the mist, as a jeep made its way past
them down the glacier.
know something we don’t?’ Erika asked.
the visibility’s not too good up there,’ Dúddi said.
check the forecast?’ Ásta asked.
`Er, no,’ said
Dúddi. His confidence was crumbling.
you check the forecast before you drive up a glacier?’ Erika asked.
Dúddi slowed and turned to his passengers. Erika liked
him; he was one of a small group of students who had taken it upon
themselves to invite her to the University of Iceland the previous
year to speak at a conference on Internet censorship. He
was a good-looking kid with an open, honest face which combined
innocence with intelligence. And doubt. `Look, it’s
not guaranteed we’ll get good visibility,’ he said. `There’s
a chance we might be wasting our time. But the clouds do
come and go in the mountains. And believe me, it’s
worth it. Do you want me to turn around?’
`Let’s go for it,’ said Nico. `We’ve come
`Yeah, let’s go for it,’ said Franz. `This rocks.’
Erika was beginning to wish she had never agreed to the jaunt. And
Franz’s grasp of American college-kid slang was beginning
to irritate her. But if they turned back now, it would be
disastrous as a morale-building exercise. Better to get up
there and see nothing than not to try and never know what they
had missed. `No, keep going, Dúddi,’ she said.
They drove on. The wind was picking up: loose snow skipped
across the tracks in front of them. They almost hit two
snowmobiles which shot out of the mist towards them.
`Hear that?’ said Nico.
Over the roar of the jeep’s engine and the swish of snow,
they could hear a distant crashing, which grew steadily louder.
`Blue sky!’ said Franz, craning his neck against the side
window of the vehicle to look upwards. It was true, above
them rips in the cloud revealed patches of blue, darkening now
that afternoon was slipping into evening.
`We might still get lucky, ‘said Dúddi. `We’re
nearly there. Look at the snow.’ Patches of brown
rock were emerging from beneath the snow and ice. `It’s
the heat from the volcano.’
The cloud thinned ahead of them to reveal a flat section of ice
and rock on which a lone four-by-four and a couple of snowmobiles
were parked. Dúddi eased his superjeep next to the
other vehicle. A man and a woman were sitting inside staring
upwards into the mist.
The team got out of the jeep. It sounded as if an angry monster
was thrashing about just out of sight in the clouds. It was
cold, the wind was biting. Everyone zipped themselves up
in their snow jackets and they walked as a group towards the bottom
of a pile of rubble: Erika was very grateful for the coat Dúddi
had borrowed for her from his sister. Despite the wind, she
could smell sulphur in the air.
Then the curtain lifted.
Erika looked up and saw the most astounding sight of her life. About
three hundred yards ahead the monster was revealed, a churning
mass of orange and red fire, spitting, exploding, pouring up into
the air, with a steady rhythmic crash. It had eaten out the
top of a small dome, creating a bubbling bowl of magma, over the
rim of which a dribble of super-hot lava spilled, an orange river
burning its way through the ice of the glacier down to the side. Steam
spewed out of the cauldron, and from fissures in the ridge all
around them where smaller fires of stone burned.
`Wow!’ said Erika.
`This is so cool!’ said Franz.
`Amazing,’ said Nico, his eyes alight with excitement and
the orange reflection of the volcano. `Can we get closer?’
`Of course. We can climb up there.’ Dúddi
pointed to the pile of rubble ahead of them.
`Are you sure?’ asked Erika. `Isn’t that lava?’
`It is, but it has cooled. Last time I was here it was crowded
with people. Look! There are a couple of guys up there
It was true: there were two people silhouetted against the orange
of the volcano.
They all followed Dúddi up the slope. Erika could
feel the warmth beneath her feet. She picked up some
of the stone in her gloved hand. It was warm and it crumbled. She
was a little nervous that the whole slope would slip away underneath
her, but it seemed to hold. The wind was still blowing, but
Erika didn’t notice the cold.
`I told you it would be worth coming,’ said Nico, grabbing
They reached the top and the view was even better. The volcano
itself was only a hundred yards away. They couldn’t
get any closer: the lava was too soft.
`It looks powerful from here, but this is actually a small eruption,’ Nico
said. `It’s what’s called an effusive eruption. They’re
the pretty ones. Basalt lava gets thrown up into the air
and then flows down the side of mountain.’
`What’s the other type?’ Erika asked.
`Explosive eruption. That’s when the magma explodes
into ash and is flung way up into the atmosphere. They are
nasty: you don’t want to be anywhere near one of those.’
`My, aren’t we the expert?’
`Told you,’ said Nico with a smile. `They say there’s
a chance that Katla will blow, that’s a big volcano under
the Mýrdal Glacier back there. If it does there could
be a real mess – massive floods.’
`Yeah – the eruption melts the ice in the glacier, and the
meltwater surges down the mountain in a series of powerful flash
floods. Jökulhlaup I think the Icelanders call
it – “Glacier Leap”. You really don’t
want to be in the way of that.’
They stared at the convulsions of the volcano in awe.
`You know what? I’ve thought of a codename for this
Gaza video project,’ said Nico. `Meltwater.’
`Not bad,’ said Erika.
They stared a bit longer. `It’s amazing finally to
see an eruption for real,’ Nico said. `Come on! Let’s
take a closer look at the lava flow.’ He led Erika
along the rim.
Ásta was impressed. She had seen Hekla erupting before
from a great distance, but she had never seen a volcano this close. She
had meant to join the thousands of inhabitants of Reykjavík
who had flocked up to Fimmvörduháls over the previous
three weeks, but had just never got around to it. Although
she thought Dúddi was an idiot to drive up on to the glacier
without checking the weather, she was very glad she had come.
As she watched
the volcano thrashing and writhing in front of her, she thought of the line
in Genesis: `In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Well,
that was what she was witnessing, God creating the earth. You could do
that here in Iceland. And it was a magnificent sight.
It was beginning
to get dark. The setting sun slipped behind the volcano, blushing pink
across the whiteness of the Mýrdalsjökull behind them and stroking
the underside of the cloud just above it. A few flakes of snow bit into
excited to be working with Freeflow. She liked the look of Erika. It
was good to meet another woman who believed in something and had the energy
and drive to make a difference. To Ásta’s disappointment,
there weren’t many people like that in the Icelandic church.
learn from Erika. She would need all the inspiration she could muster
if she was to go ahead with her own plans to shine light into dark corners.
thickened ahead of her, horizontal flakes obscuring the volcano. The
sun had disappeared. She turned to Dúddi. `Do you think
we had better get back?’
on a glacier was a really bad idea. Especially at night.
nodded. `Time to go, guys. Where are the others?’ The
visibility was deteriorating rapidly. Dieter, Dúddi, Zivah and Ásta
were all in a group together, but the other three were out of sight.
Nico and Erika are just along there,’ said Dieter, pointing along the
rim. `Don’t know about Franz.’
get Nico and Erika and tell them to come down?’ said Dúddi. `The
rest of you, follow me. We’ll keep an eye out for Franz.’
no longer see their jeep below them. Scrambling down the pile of cooled
lava was unpleasant: the wind seemed to be blowing harder and colder and the
stones slipped underfoot. It was a relief to get back to their vehicle,
and to find Franz waiting inside. The jeep they had parked next to was
gone, only the two snowmobiles remained, as far as Ásta could see.
into the car and waited for Dieter and the others. Dúddi switched
the engine on: the warmth and the shelter from the wind was a relief. Ásta
saw two figures climb on to the snowmobiles and zoom off. The mess of
tyre tracks were still visible, but it wouldn’t be long before they would
be covered in snow. She hoped Dúddi knew how to operate his GPS.
no longer see the volcano, save for a fuzzy orange glow through the whiteness. But
they could hear it.
`Come on,’ muttered
Dúddi to himself as he sat in the driver’s seat. `We can’t
hang around much longer. I’m going back to get them. You
out of the jeep and Ásta watched him bend into the wind towards the
slope of lava.
they are OK,’ said Zivah, nervously.
they’re OK,’ said Ásta.
think they could have fallen into the volcano or anything, do you?’
`No,’ said Ásta,
peering into the bitter white gloom. `Don’t worry. They’ll