A taste of what’s in store in Maid for the South Pole:
Ice, ice and more ice unfolded below, until the blocky buildings of Davis Station came into view, sitting on the only patch of rock in a sea of white. Eric brought the helicopter down behind the buildings, beside what he said was a lake and the station’s water supply.Jean began to help Eric unload his gear, but Eric waved him away.”They heard us arrive, and I radioed ahead to tell them I have their special Christmas supplies. Give it five minutes and I’ll have more volunteers than I know what to do with, helping me unload. Go report to the station leader for your accommodation assignment before he knocks off for the day.”Armed with Eric’s directions to the station leader’s office, Jean headed inside, out of the cold. He found the office occupied by a woman – definitely not a he. Cautiously, Jean knocked on the open door. “Hey, I’m looking for the station leader?”She gave a tired wave. “That’s me, for my sins. Who’d have believed we could have a water shortage while we’re surrounded by ice? Even with shorter showers, it only stretches so far. I’m Ali, by the way.” She extended her hand across the desk.
Jean shook it. “Jean Pennant, climate change biologist from the University of Washington. Here to finish my PhD research out at Heard Island.”
Ali stared. “Jean? Spelled J-E-A-N? We all thought you were a woman.”
Jean made a show of patting down his chest, then his groin. “No, definitely not a woman.” He grinned. “If it makes you feel better, I was told the station leader here was a man. I guess it’s hard to tell when we’re all dressed alike outside.”
“True.” Ali reached for a folder on her desk and cast her eyes down on the contents. “You’re here for your accommodation assignment, yes? It looks like you’re in luck. You’re housed with the summer Met team in SAM, the Summer Accommodation Module.” She pulled a page out of the back of the folder and marked it with two crosses. “You’re here. Your sleeping quarters are here.” She tapped the paper with her pen. “That’s Living Quarters, where we do pretty much everything else except work and sleep.”
“Sounds pretty simple,” Jean said, craning his neck to look at the map.
“Here.” Ali handed it to him. “I’ll let you get settled in today. Tomorrow, one of the training officers will take you through all our station procedures, so you know what’s what. They’ll schedule you in for the next round of survival training, too, before you go on your expedition. Have fun.”
That sounded like a dismissal to Jean, so he thanked her and headed out.
His boots crunched on the grey gravel road as he trudged up to his temporary home, a big, red barn of a place. As long as it was warm inside, he didn’t care what it looked like. The sleeping quarters were easy to identify because they had people’s names on the doors. Two to a room. He hoped his new roommate didn’t snore, like the geologists he’d shared with on Heard Island last year. If he did, Jean would requisition some earplugs from Stores tomorrow.
Just like on the map, his room was right at the end of a corridor. Jean knocked cautiously, but he received no response from inside, so he cracked the door open. Light flooded through the window, revealing an empty room. Empty of people, at least, seeing as his roommate had already claimed the top bunk and half of the available storage space. A closed laptop sat on the desk, beside a box of tampons.
Jean’s bag thumped to the floor. He knew a few marine biologists who used tampons in their waterproof camera housings to absorb moisture, but Ali had said he was rooming with a meteorologist, not a marine biologist or a photographer. An amateur photographer, maybe?
Jean checked the door. His name was definitely on it, below one that looked vaguely familiar: Audra Zujute. Where had he heard that before?
An image of Doug came to mind. That was right. Doug had talked about someone called Audra. It wasn’t exactly a common name, so it was probably the same woman Doug said had nursed him aboard the icebreaker last year. Probably best to take the crewman’s advice and thank her, then, in case she remembered him later and thought he was an ungrateful asshole. Maybe if he saw her, it might jog his memory of the days aboard the ship. Hey, it was worth a shot.
In the meantime, he decided to check his email, seeing as Ali had given him the station’s wi-fi password. Perhaps Louis had sent through some new corrections on the chapters Jean had emailed him from McMurdo. Sure enough, he had – enough to keep Jean busy for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
He lost track of time, reading comment after comment and making the required changes. The light coming through the window faded to darkness without Jean taking his eyes off his tablet.
It wasn’t until the door handle rattled that Jean’s thoughts strayed from anything that involved penguins. He leaped to his feet, smoothing down his shirt. The last time she’d seen him, he’d been badly injured and probably incoherent. He wanted to make a better impression this time.
As the door swung open, Jean marched forward, sticking his hand out. “Hi, I’m Jean-Pierre, your new roommate. You must be Audra. I believe I owe you for what you did on the Aurora Australis last year.”
Her already large eyes widened as her face paled. “Shit,” she said, before she turned on her heel and strode off.