Still in her parka, Sylvia leaned back on the pillows and gazed directly
at the orb-like lens in front of her. Melted snow dribbled off her hood,
and she shook her hair. If Evgeny was the next to come and talk, he’d be
griping about the wet cushions for the rest of the night. She wiggled
her arms so the parka made a shell around her shoulders. Might as well
get comfortable in this nasty little room. Always sweating in no time.
A voice that was definitely the Director’s but had the hollow distance
of a recording: “How does it feel to know your team is winning, Sylvia?”
It never stopped being windy. And it was not the wind from back home
that possessed smells and memories. It reminded her that the earth was a
planet, naked beneath its atmospheric cloak, a garb of rough material
like wearing a curtain. Now looped in her head: How does it feel to
know your team is winning? and There was a time before we were born,
if someone asks, this is where I’ll be.
The only good thing about the Confession Cam was that it was warm and
solitary. Back outside again on the ice, a shudder took hold of her
spine, started at the top and reverberated all the way down until it
echoed in her lumbar, unable to be shaken.
She kicked snow as she walked. Ahead, another team’s trio was standing
in their big coats around a weather balloon that must have just come
down. Maybe it was Alejandro and Paola—it sounded like Spanish being
spoken. But here came the film crew. Her sighs these days were so
decadent. Yelling, now in English, rang in the cold air. The film crew
always had to yell. The researchers, the ones being listened to, always
had to be told to speak up.
Sylvia approached. Paola was unhooking the radiosonde while Alejandro
and Gustavo held the balloon itself, which was gradually deflating. The
Director leaned in close. Even with his sunglasses on and hood up he
looked like a real dirtbag, with big teeth and rustling sideburns.
She was just in time to hear him say, “Say it louder.” When he saw her,
he waved her away.
“I am reading,” Paola began, in obviously a second language, maybe a
third. “The measurements.”
The Paavola Ice Station didn’t look like much. She imagined it from a
drone’s height: too far up to tell the difference between the drab red,
the drab yellow, the drab green of each Team Center, and the uniform
gray tops with frilly antennae that bent in the wind. Of course the
dome, to the slight southeast, wasn’t bad. In her journal she described
the concrete polyhedron, with its reflective windows on a few of its
triangular faces, as “brutalist,” whatever that meant. But from so far
up…how microscopic humans were, in a way. In a way.
The blue of the United States was a tragic color that might have once,
before twenty-four hour daylight, approximated the navy stripes on the
flag. Through doors that always struck her as institutional, like big
elementary-school doors, was the space where she slept and lived and
worked and ate and occasionally lay awake at night. Marveling, in those
bright sleepless hours, that people had been able to come up with Heaven
and Hell without ever having been on top of a glacier.
In other sleepless hours she strained her ears, horrified of the
possibility of detecting the noise of the cameras in the room, all
twelve of them, as if the lenses might make the same wet susurration as
an eyeball in its socket.
Ted was at the table. One window was papered over with large grayscale
printouts depicting wind pressure and direction. The Team Center was
quiet, soundproofed from the gusts, an extreme blessing.
“Did you talk to Joyner?” He asked. He needed to shave.
Getting out of the parka provided a beautiful weightlessness. The
Production Assistant, Joyner, must have been a masochist or an
agoraphobe because he never left the dome, not that the ice sheet was
much of a public place.
“I did. I told him everything, I showed him the graphs.”
“I’ve been remapping. It’s big, Sylvia. We didn’t even realize at
She came and looked. Adjusted to having sunglasses on, the laptop’s
screen made her squint, and she missed the top of what he was scrolling
through. Only numbers, anyway. But he told her to sit down.
A few hours later the shower was running behind a particleboard door and
Sylvia was still looking at the computerized renderings. It was a hole
too big to be there, swallowed a few hundred meters below the glacial
surface. First the drone imaging had found it, that had been Maritza’s
sharp eye. Three hours on the Snow Hawks out there, out to the middle of
literally nothing, the horizon a line like graphite on a clean sheet,
and they had taken readings over a space almost three square miles. The
funny thing was, she and Maritza and Ted were already winning. The funny
thing was, this was exactly the sort of thing they were supposed to
discover. When she told him, Joyner was thrilled. He was disappointed
when all there was to show him was maps and charts. The funny thing was,
it was worse than they’d thought.
Ted came out of the bathroom wearing his ragged Fair Isle sweater and
sat down next to her by the laptop.
“It’s terrifying,” she said, still locked on the 3-D model. To anyone
else, to Joyner, it bore no meaning except lifted ratings, next season’s
Closing his eyes, he rolled his neck back. Opened his mouth as though to
speak. She noticed his jaw, newly shaven, was clenched.
There was no money. That was the easiest part to understand. The network
had all the money, she knew vaguely, and it was more productive to get
money from television moguls than it was the people who ran the country,
or the universities. But it was money for what? To be told to squabble.
That was Joyner’s word, squabble, he’d used it at least twice. She
wondered how to say it in Spanish, Russian, Finnish, French.
The next day the film crew followed them on the Sea Hawks back out to
75.615732, -36.463451, where Sylvia and Maritza gathered ice samples to
bring back to the Station. It was not even really necessary. Fingers of
water moved inexorably in the direction of the Greenland Sea.
Like the sun, the cameras did not go away. When she was a child her
dream had been to be an actress, and then a paleontologist.
“Speak up,” The Director said through his teeth.
“The point of this.” Cleared her throat. “The point of collecting the
samples is so that we can measure the relative concentration of
different stable isotopes of oxygen in the ice crystals.”
Maritza added, “It’s part of how we’re creating a timeline for how
temperatures have varied.”
“You’re alone now.” The Director’s voice was now clear as the air, it
cut the wind. “Ted is back at the Team Center. He’s handsome, you’re
cooped up. Now it’s just the two of you.”
If only there were no sunglasses between their eyes, she could catch
Sickening. Sick of herself and sick of the snow and the ice and the
wind. Below them, vast and indifferent, the ice was turning into water
and leaving nothing in its place. If they crashed through, their bodies
would never be found.
“There are many holes below the ice here at the top of the Utertoq
Glacier.” Raising her voice, Sylvia turned to face the camera. “The one
we’re above now is unusual in its size. Indicating that glacial retreat
is happening faster than we realized.”
“But don’t you think our measurements might be inaccurate?” Maritza
asked, and the Director waved his hand for them to continue, keep going.
Maritza and Ted shared a bed. It was true, he was handsome. Their
scientific goal was stuck in Sylvia’s eye, making her lashes flutter. So
her colleagues were even more winning, viewed from a certain metric. She
awoke sobbing in the earliest a.m., the windows glowing with light.
How bizarre to imagine that anyone, the Director, the Producers, the
Network, regarded this as spectacle. How does it feel to know your team
is winning? And they were only winning due to temperament—Evgeny had
anger management issues, and the Network needed the USA to come out
above Russia. The trajectory was nothing new. In fact the Southern Cone
was the most disciplined team, and if not for the USA’s sheer luck with
the drone then they would have very likely discovered the enormous hole
themselves, Paola and Alejandro and Gustavo. The problem was their
English. It was all a set-up. Even Magnus, from the University of
Helsinki, who spoke with Midwestern flawlessness, was more pink-cheeked
and effete than his name gave the impression of.
Already, though, the Producers were compromising. They expected a Cold
War. Everyone, it turned out, wanted to work together. And everyone was
A few days later in the lab, Paola gave them what they thought they
wanted when she screamed at Maritza. Two women fighting, and the pretty
ones. Sylvia’s eyes stayed to themselves. But it was mostly about
nerves, and later on, when the cameras had lost interest, Paola
apologized and Maritza offered her a cough drop.
“You’re winning,” the Director said, practically breathing in her ear.
“But those South Americans, you’d better watch out.”
Back in the day, a teenage rebel, it was easy to have a death wish. It
was easy waking up angry in the morning, skipping class and smoking
cigarettes. That was the girl inside the woman living currently at the
Paavola Ice Station on the Utertoq Glacier in the Northeast Greenland
National Park, a place with no permanent human population. And the only
comfort was the Confession Cam.
She squeezed in, and waited a long time before she looked back at the
lens in front of her. The Director’s disembodied voice said, as it was
supposed to say, “The USA is winning.”
Winning meant nothing. Win in Greenland, win on TV, then be airlifted
back to the world she remembered where everyone was a loser, her friends
were losers and her little brother and her mom and her dad were losers,
in the long run. She sniffled and hugged her body. What lesson could be
learned? Was this even a universal experience, this dread? Were other
people so terrified of winning, so dubious about it? There was no money
and no time and the ice was melting.
The Director’s voice was copied and pasted. “The USA is winning.”
So she must speak. She sucked her cheeks and said, “I miss my tennis
Bernard Reed lives in Chicago. His work has previously appeared in The Ginger Collect, Chronotope, and Heavy Feather Review, among other places.
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