The research station was equipped with heavy black curtains to keep out the sharp light that assailed the grimy windows, but David Brice still found it difficult to keep out the daylight from his racing mind. Just the knowledge that it was out there at midnight played tricks with him, forcing him out of his bed to twitch at the curtains.
Even at midnight the sun was brilliant and skittish, making patterns on the thin blue of the sea ice. The sea ice was a vast, frigid and unforgiving sheet that absorbed the heat of the rays and gave back little in return. It remained below freezing point this close to the pole, even in July.
A brilliant shaft of midnight sunlight spread across the trampled floor, highlighting a mish-mash of boot prints. Brice heard a low moan as Wales shifted in his bed. He quickly replaced the curtain not wanting to incur the wrath of the man mountain who was routinely compared to Chewbacca minus the loyalty.
Wales had a disconcerting habit of letting his firsts do the talking. Brice had stayed out of arguments with him, but felt his vast shadow fell over him the time Wales walked in as he surveyed the big man’s magazine collection. Brice had become side tracked by how many things a woman could do with a cucumber and failed to notice Wales enter the room. He looked up to see the angry lines crossing the man’s granite features and winched for the blow. But Wales merely snatched away the magazine and threw it in a drawer.
Sharing a room with Wales was one reason why Brice was keen to get the Arctic job finished up. He had also been tapped to work on a water sampling project in the Amazon and was looking forward to warmer climes. But the drilling equipment had been quarantined in Murmansk due to another dispute with the Russians and had only arrived last week. The engineers were finally convinced everything was in place and the testing would begin in a matter of hours. Brice wondered if the anticipation sullied with fear of failure as he prepared to finally do what he was being paid for, was keeping him awake.
He rubbed his temples, trying to sooth the low grade headache that had dogged him for the last two weeks. As he started to drift away Wales started to ratchet up his snoring.
It was going to be one of those days.
Brice was up by 5 a.m. the next morning. He liked to be up and out, leaving his complaining team in his slipstream. The sampling station was a dark mass of giant tripods and tubes that looked like an alien craft had landed on the Polar ice. Brice rubbed his gloved hands together and set to work adjusting dials to make the fine measurements. It was a process that would be repeated across different parts of the ice cap over the days to come but Brice would be relinquished in a couple of weeks.
He took down measurements long hand in a book as the engineers powered up the station. It hummed quietly and Brice activated the drop down through the ice. This was one of the deepest parts of the ice layer. It would be 15 feet before they hit water. Every foot down he measured the consistency of the ice, writing down the readings in his notebook and on an iPad. Brice was known for his meticulous nature. He would never make mental calculations at the scene or jump to conclusions. Still after two hours of readings, something was bothering him.
In the afternoon back at the station, Brice fed the figures into his model simulator. The bright red graphs were superimposed over each other and Brice got a sinking feeling in the depth of his stomach. Wales slammed a hot coffee on his desk. It slopped over the papers. Brice thought about yelling at him, but thought better of it. He put off picking up the phone to Roger Davies but every figure he fed into the graph was telling him the same thing.
Finally he dialed the number and the call was picked up in an office at the other side of the research center.
“Roger. I think you should see this.”
He immediately heard the intolerance of the academic in the other man’s voice.
“Can’t it wait?”
“I’m thinking not.” At times like this Brice wished his voice was a lot less Wisconsin and more New York gangster.
He heard Davies sigh and agree to come over. He was looking over his shoulder 10 minutes later.
Brice showed the chief scientist the graphs. Davies said nothing but the sharp strokes he was giving to his beard betrayed his anxiety.
“I assume there’s something wrong with the equipment,” he said finally and unconvincingly.
“There’s nothing to suggest anything’s wrong with the equipment,” Brice replied.
“We can get Arctic Surveyor 2 out there tomorrow to double check.”
“So you don’t think these results are correct?”
“Oh come on David. Are you seriously saying the Arctic ice has gone from 12 feet last year to just six this year? If you are right global warming would be more out of control than we know it is.”
“It’s just one place Roger. We are moving it half a mile north tomorrow."
“Right. Yes. Good,” said Davies.
“Of course if these readings are accurate, it may not even be safe to be here on this station. When’s the chopper back?” Brice asked.
“Not for a couple of weeks. Let’s put in some late nights and get it here this time next week?”
Davies had walked out before the enormity of his words had set in. Brice had been working with him for five years. He had never cut a research project short before.