Sousuke pulled down his visor. A freezing gust of wind buffeted against his face suddenly; it made him swivel around like someone had slapped him; he lost his balance and fell on his back. Fresh powdery snow went up in a small silver cloud around him. Fresh snow in Greenland.
Bjorn laughed with hands crossed over his chest and a carefully constructed grin on his face. He helped Sousuke back on his feet and started walking towards the crawler, shaking his head.
Half-way there he paused to pick up the surveyor unit; he brushed some snow off his beard, powered down the panel, folded the telescopic legs and placed the very expensive piece of eqipment across his shoulders. Bjorn worked as a lumberjack before he signed up for this one, back when Hemmeldalen was still green.
He ventured a glimpse at Sousuke; he was struggling to walk upwind; Bjorn shook his head once more, and chuckled. He couldn't for the life of him, understand what made a guy like Sousuke take this job. He knew his geology stuff, but other than that.. Everyday seemed like his first day.
Everyone laughed at the new guy, that much was to be expected. The psychologists on the evaluation team always noted it was a sign of good mental health. A few practical jokes and a some seriously bad efforts at humor were the order of the day at seventy-four degrees latitude.
Except Sousuke had been stationed in Field Zeta for three years, without rotation. It hadn't grown on him; it had made him sick. But somehow he never asked to transfer out; he didn't complain.
Three weeks of leave each year, and that was it. That was his lifeline with the world that despite the climate change and the Disconnect of '33 and the Big Melt of '35, still had beautiful warm beaches filled with young girls in miniscule bikinis. Even in Hokkaido in November.
Three hours by helicopter to Spitsbergen, then a four-hour flight to Murmansk to the Roskosmos SSTO. From there on, it was a three-hour suborbital flight to almost any place on Earth. And still, when it came time to buy that ticket, he always flew to Sapporo. He somehow always wanted to see the half-sunken family house at Nemuro, the cherry treetops grazing the sea surface like dead corals. He tried to remember what the blossoms looked like; a faint memory of a fragrant smell came up instead. And bees. He remembered their sound.
He must've been woolgathering there for a moment; Bjorn was shouting at him to move on. He put on his best effort at a smile and gave a thumbs up to Bjorn.
He wished there was some other way to go about it, but he had committed himself. Everything was going to change, soon enough. For the better. He shouldn't worry too much though; he would do his part and then they would either fail or succeed.
There could be no middle ground, no chance at negotiating or talking things over once it went down. Not even if they wanted to. No failsafe, no human factor. Except himself, of course. And Joussef, Jun, and Richard. They'd all do their part.
Bjorn shouted at him again from the relative comfort of the crawler, a lit smoke already in hand:
“Don't just stand there! Come on! Checkpoints, more checkpoints!”
For a reason that was wholly above and beyond Sousuke's understanding, Bjorn seemed to relish in the job of running around in a snow crawler in the undecided day or night of the Arctic, searching almost blindly for thorium deposits in a faceless white desert.
Perhaps it was the rush of discovery, or the associated finder's fee. Perhaps it was just Bjorn being Norwegian. Robots might have been able to do the job better, cheaper, and a whole lot warmer for any humans involved in the process. But they couldn't be trusted; not like regular folk itching for a chance to live the life. Anything that could transmit and receive couldn't be trusted these days. The Disconnect had made sure of that.
Sousuke jumped inside the crawler, closed the door behind him, reached for his thermo and poured a cup of almost scalding hot tea. He didn't sip, he just held on to it for warmth. Bjorn started the engine and focused his attention on the control panel, waiting for the 'Engine Ready' sign to light up.