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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 27: Frozen just in time

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ike lili li kama e pakala suli tawa jan lili.
Toki Ponist Pu

Icebergs are mountains too. If only Kathy had been more interested in the colder siblings, she would have found a plethora of additional metaphors for life in these spectacular formations. Traditional mountains originate from slow tectonic plane movements and erosion sculpts them into their current shape. Icebergs break, move, flip and sizzle. A mountain is the epitome of stability, balance, steadfastness and awe-inspiring grandness. An iceberg is treacherous and erratic. Kathy would flaunt the cliche that we only see the tip of the iceberg, the ten percent of the structure that sticks above the water. She would write about how this is also true for our experiences, where most of what goes on hides from plain sight but may come to haunt us. And there she would stop.

But there is more to learn here. We think of a mountain as being in rather stable. But that is only because the dynamic timescale is so large we cannot see anything happen during our holiday visits and trekking. They appear to be immortal, demigods, and more often than not the place gods live. Icebergs operate on a much smaller timescale; they are mortal like the rest of us. Life happens on mountains, bergs are alive themselves.

The moment bergs are born, torn from their parental ice-sheets, they fight for balance. They melt in the warmer waters and grow in the cold. They have to stay afloat in the water. The laws of physics ensure they float, but they have to find a suitable orientation. Faced with water currents, wind, waves, and its own melting and growth, not to mention the visits of birds, bears, penguins and tourists, this is a precarious endeavor. It is not a question if, but when this balance becomes unattainable. Similar to frying balls of doughy pastry, there comes a moment that any disturbance tips the iceberg over. And when that happens, it releases a force that equals or surpasses that of an atomic bomb. For a big enough berg, of course.

Wrapped in special thermal clothing, Tipi sat next to Tessa in the small cargo plane on its way from Christchurch for a six-hour flight towards the frozen continent. “It is typical that the Dutch, living in their temperate and mountainless Netherlands, gave icebergs their name, ijsberg.”

“Bergy bits,” Tessa said to pass the time. Tipi looked out the window to where Tessa was pointing. “Small icebergs,” she explained. Tessa was a person of not too many words, and Tipi could respect that. The more you see and hear from a person, the larger the tip of the iceberg but also the larger the hidden secret bulk of underwater shit that could bite you in your sleep.

An hour later they crossed an enormous ice sheet. “Is that land?” Tipi asked.

“No, it’s one of the largest icebergs ever and it is on its way to a group of islands.”

“That’s nice. How often do you get a visit from an iceberg?”

“Once it arrives, it first destroys the seafloor in a large radius around the island and all the endangered flora and fauna with it. Then it will engulf the island itself, changing its microclimate and making it impossible to reach the place.”

“Wow, that sounds both dangerous and impressive.”

“It is like Death, if you meet Him it is a big deal but also kind of your last.”

“Not much of a guru if you are afraid of Death,” Tipi said.

“Try to keep that attitude,” Tessa said.

The plane landed on the thick ice on a makeshift runway south of the research station. They got out and while cargo was being unloaded, the group of researchers and support crew walked on the ice towards the unsightly charming passenger vehicle that would take them in about half an hour to the station on the nearby island. Tipi saw no difference between the ice and the land, although far away he could see dark tipped mountains.

Tessa took Tipi to their residence, where they unpacked their stuff.

“We’re meeting the rest of my team later in the cafe,” Tessa said. “I will introduce you as my junior research assistant, Dr. Drolberg, Joakim Drolberg.”

“It means Mound of Turds,” Tipi said. “I still don’t get why you have to call me that.”

“It will cheer me up. You wanted to tag along. This is my reward. I get to pick your name, and the people here won’t know, anyway.”

“Fine, I’ve had to deal with worse. At least we both look ridiculous in these bright red thermal outfits, or do you have a special outfit for me?”

“Do not tempt me,” Tessa smiled. “But please, you are Joakim now and no longer Tipi. I am not sure how the military responds to having a cult guru among their people here.”

At the cafe, Tessa introduced Joakim to her research fellows, but he forgot all of their names even before Tessa had uttered them. He was too stressed about being here on an uncertain mission. Tessa explained the men, who had been expecting to see someone else than Joakim, about the situation with her terminal partner. The conversation soon digressed to the current situation on the major continents and the increasing number of deaths. Tessa and Joakim had faced thorough vetting, testing and quarantining in Christchurch before they could come here. Xabat, Tessa’s team member, was concerned. “There is a longstanding treaty that nobody owns this continent. Peace and research reigns here for all countries and nationalities. But such treaties are worth less and less these years, and when the situation gets too dire, some will ogle the safety of this pristine continent. We don’t want to be that haven for the zombie apocalypse everyone tries to get to. Besides, we only have provisions and supplies to last the winter. We rely on the major continents for stocks.”

“Do you think it is a good thing we are in a US base?”

“Perhaps, but realize this is a US Army base and we are researchers. Whenever shit hits the fan in any country, researchers don’t fare too well. When things get too dingy, they will come here with their weapons and so-called people of importance and throw us under the ice without even blinking an eye. Who cares about cryobiology when you need to survive?”

“True, true,” Joakim said, wondering what cryobiology was and why he had not asked Tessa at all about the research they were doing.

Xabat continued. “If this world ending event is man made, an evil psychology genius did it. Whether it is a virus or something else, it exploits our cognitive weaknesses to spread. Its strength sits in our blind spots like exponential growth, long-term planning, discounting faraway events and so on. Governments use these blind spots to implement any policy they want, even if they mean well.”

“I can’t wait to see the night’s sky. I imagine there are people here that study astronomy?” Joakim said to end the rant.

“Yes,” said Xabat, pointing to a tipsy-nosed man in the opposite corner of the cafe. “There’s one, collecting background radiation to understand more about the big bang. It happened, let it rest, I’d say. Focus on things happening now.”

“Such as frozen micro life under the ice?” Joakim guessed what cryobiology meant.

“Yes,” Xabat said, “and trying to give life to them.”

“With such a small population, you know what everyone is doing, right?” Joakim asked, trying to turn this into a conversation that would be useful to his own mission.

“For the most part, yes. Everyone is here with an important mission and wants to impress the others with their work.”

“Except,” the woman next to Marc said before taking a huge gulp from her alcoholic drink. “The tattered three.”

“Who are they?”

“There are three people working around here and nobody knows what they are doing, nor do they wish to talk about it. Some of us have tried to look up their documents to see if we can find their research proposals, which ought to be public.”


“Nowhere to be found, but the authorities allow them to do their work here, so it the end it slips our minds. I mean, we’re all narcistic maniacs when it is about research, we only care about our own. Besides, there are more shady people here that are only here for a short while. We don’t want everyone to be researchers on this station, we need proper cooks, cleaners, maintenance mechanics, and all kinds of support personnel. We even have a station poet.”

“I would very much like to meet this poet,” Joakim said.

“She reads from her work, here, every Friday.”

“Marvelous,” Joakim said. “But these tattered three, do you know where they do their research?”

“Sure, but only the assigned researchers have access to the labs. Don’t think we’ve never tried to sneak a peek inside.”

Xabat finished his drink and grabbed a napkin and a pen. “Look, seeing as you are still green here, why don’t you try to find their lab, so you get a feel of the place. The weather is pleasant outside, a healthy stroll would do you well after the journey.”

He drew a simple map on the napkin and with a few archaic-looking markings added all kinds of landmarks and a route to the infamous research containers on the edge of the town-like station.

Joakim thanked everyone and took the napkin. He never turned down an opportunity for a solitary walk. They advised him to go nowhere alone, but with the current weather forecast it wouldn’t be a problem, as long as he did not venture outside the compound.

And so Joakim walked the icy makeshift streets among buildings with either very creative architecture or no architecture at all. He took the most circumvented route towards where the labs of the three rogue researchers worked.

When he approached the destination, two men approached the containers from the other direction. Joakim jumped behind a wall of metal. The covert part of the mission had now commenced. Joakim had never seen himself as an active spy. Opportunities and events just washed on his shores, often unwanted and unexpected.

He peeked around the corner as the two men dressed in bunny-like arctic onesies approached the entrance to the container. One of them kept looking around to see whether some sort of coast was clear. It wasn’t because Joakim was observing them, but he stayed unnoticed. What are they hiding in there that they have to act so secretive? The other man was fidgeting with the lock. What if they were not the researchers of that container? Could they be other researchers curious about finding out what his fellow researchers were doing there? The way they moved looked familiar, though. And then it struck Joakim. They were the crow people. What were they doing here? He had hoped they would have given up their search when he and Julian had escaped from them. Of course, that was a silly thought. They had been following him for two days on the mountain and they had kidnapped Julian and brought him across three countries for this stupid secret. They were not the types to give up after a few bumps on the road.

There was a dull thud, after which the man on the lookout fell down face first on the ice. The other crow turned around and bolted it. There were two more dull thuds, but no additional bodies fell. The running crow headed towards Joakim’s hideout. When their paths crossed, they interchanged looks, before the kidnapper dashed off between two metal structures. When Joakim dared to peek around the corner again, someone dragged the legs of the other crow out of sight. Joakim felt a hand on his shoulder. He shrieked and froze.

The hand turned him around.

“Alex!” Joakim said out loud.

“Tipi, my friend. Good to see you here, I knew fate would bring us together.” He frowned. “Let’s get away from here. There are strange things happening and we need to discuss it.”

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