Home is…south? Gotta be. Everything’s south.
Which way is south? Can’t smell it anymore. Damn compass froze, it’s so cold.
Cold didn’t bother me the first 250 miles. Neither did the glare of the sun. Or the endless white. Or the total lack of smells. Someone told me there’d be weird smells up here. There aren’t any. Not this far north. There’s the smell of the ocean, humming beneath this glacier. I could smell the snow at first. That stopped after a few hours, after my mind got so use to the smell of white that it got blocked out. The winds don’t howl like I thought they would. They wouldn’t this time of year, anyway. But they whisper. The glacier surface is so flat I can hear conversations back in Mantinac Bay. They come to me when I let my mind rest, when I lay down to sleep. That’s not like in-country. You lay down in-country, any thing’s got legs uses you for an LZ, a runway. The ice surface is uneven, though. Up close it’s uneven. That’s like in-country. But nothing crawls over you. Nothing living, nothing but the wind.
I don’t sleep that much anymore. The monitor’s attached to my chest. Physically attached. They sowed it into me where the skin is thickest. So I can’t sleep on my stomach and when I sleep on my back I can see this damn little red light blink blink blink. Blink blink blink. Keeps you up all night, you know? Blink blink blink.
How much farther? I use to be able to do this in my head when I started. Mantinac to the Pole is nine-hundred sixty klicks. I’ve gone four-hundred. What does that leave?
It’s a long trip. Some nut told me the ice would smooth out. This from a guy with a Ph.D. in cold weather research. Guy learned from a book. That was back at USAACRREL: United States Army Arctic and Cold Regions Research and Environmental Labs in Hanover, New Hampshire. New Hampshire can get cold, when the Montreal Express comes in the from the north and we get a Nor’Easter heading in from the Maritimes. One year we had a snow squall New England style. That’s a hurricane in winter. It got cold. Not like this. This is a dry cold. They didn’t modify me right. I can feel it. Right up my legs to where my willy used to be. I can feel it.
I started with just over nine-hundred kilos of supplies. Stupid bastards. Over nine-hundred kilos in the sled, my body weight just under a metric ton. Oh yeah. They figured this one right. Each time my feet splayed, the fishtails on my soles picked up little slivers of ice that worked their way in. Deep. Kind of like shin splints that itch. I’ve only used a third of the supplies. That part of the design went right, anyway. Big as I am, I don’t need much food anymore. How ’bout that, mom? Mother never raised no tiny children, she used to say. What you think of your poor boy now, momma? They took what you and papa made one night and made me something no woman will look at again.
Everybody thinks they find test subjects in jails. He’s a lifer, he’ll do this to get out. Maybe a college student who needs extra beer money. Oh, and there’s this one, where they volunteer some private to go hazard. You know how Garrett got to be The Flash? Fricken’ lightening hits his lab bench and douses him with chemicals. Fricken’ Bruce Banner would have a tumor the size of a football if he ever sat in a gamma ray like they said. Remember ‘When Captain America throws his mighty shield’? The next line should have been ‘That ninety pound wimp gets a dick as hard as steel.’
Used to read comics all the time. Can’t remember too many of them now.
How much further do I have to go?
Got this thing in the side of my head. They said it was like what they did to help me walk after Charlie sent me a baseball as I jumped off the Rome. I never walked right. They said they would fix all that, too. Make me a fricken’ Steve Austin. Fuck. This thing in my head, under this plate, it listens to me and signals some satellite where I am and how I’m doing okay.
I’m doing okay, whoever’s listening. I’m doing okay. Got this little red light says I’m doing okay. Blink blink blink.
Anyway. This thing in my head keeps me pointing north. Not this ninety degree west bullshit they told me about. You get far enough north and compasses go worthless because they always point ninety degrees west. So, can’t you figure it’s pointing west and go north just the same? Fricken’ geniuses.
Hey, genius, you know what you got up here? You got snow. You got snow, white snow, crunchy snow, soft snow, hard snow, good snow, fricken’ snow snow snow.
You know what else you got? You got cold and ice.
The ice. It doesn’t smooth out. You get far enough north the ice becomes a layer of rubber that bounces you along the ocean. Seven to thirteen centimeters thick. Not much. But it’ll support you. Even at a tonne and baggage. Got my bags packed. Going to fly me home. I thought ice was like ice and you see it in a drink or a lake and its hard, you know? No, arctic ice is like a skin on the ocean, at least between the leads. It’s like a skin and you’re some bug and the earth is just waiting to scratch.
It scratches when you don’t expect it. There’s thunder under your feet and the ice snaps open. It doesn’t break. It snaps like an elastic wound too tight around a pack of cards. It snaps, you go down and they never told you what to do or that it could happen. I felt the thunder before I heard it. Started to move off the ice but fell in anyway. Me and the sled. I’m so damn big I must’ve looked like a whale with a backpack getting out. I’m going down deep and thinking, “Hey, you guys got an implant for this?” Finally thought to flatten myself out and let the ridges in my skin get me up. The ridges trap air so you stay warm. Hey, guys, they let you float, too. First bath I had in over a year. Just kept on walking and let the sun dry me off.
I’m usually walking by the time the sun comes up. Well, the sun doesn’t come up. It kind of climbs up, bleary eyed like after a night at Jason’s. It hangs half on the horizon. I can look at it, red and swollen like that, because of the changes to my eyes. It looks like me when I’d come home stinking and try to remember where I was. You hang on the sink and never get your face more than half in the mirror, kind of like eyes peering over the hill, because you see your shit and drive the porcelain school bus.
I used to drive the school bus. Those kids, once they found out, they were cool. I was a real hero then. One day I’m some fuckbag, driving the bus and getting spitballs in the back of my head, next day they’re wanting to touch me and giving me their twinkies.
I like Twinkies. Liked ’em, anyway. Two-legged twinkies, you know?
Shit. Last year, last time before they wouldn’t let me out anymore, I went to Jason’s for some ass. Didn’t have the implants then. I was big, but I was always big. Feet hadn’t changed, and I could still shake hands. I used to bounce for Jason. This big guy starts picking a fight with somebody. Kind of guy plays pro ball and lifts, you know? Big. Hell, I never would’ve tried before.
Now I figure, what the hell? They’re not going to let me out again. I got an arm like a fricken’ Ben Grimm. This guy comes to just under my nose, hits me in the gut. I’m wearing a long coat they gave me, hides everything. It’s like hitting fricken’ concrete. Guy tries to knee me in the balls. I got no balls no more. He starts going wild. He knows he’s dead. He’s hittin’ me with everything he’s got. His hands are bleeding, you can hear his bones breaking because he’s hitting me and he’s so scared. The guy starts crying. I just look at him. “Go outside,” I said. He near kills himself getting to the door.
I’m heading back to my booth. I’m not going after him. Then I notice everybody watching me. I never raised a hand and they’re looking at me. I could smell them. They told me my nose would get more sensitive, and now I can smell these people in the bar. I reached into my coat pocket to pay my tab and the coat’s sticky. It’s blood. Not mine. This was red and mine is almost black by this time. Jason goes, “It’s okay, Len. I got it.” Yeah, I know. Len, get your things and get out.
I could pull this thing out of my head. Nobody’d know where I am. Have to pull this case off my chest, too. Aw, what the hell. I can make it.
You know what they do this for? Land’s too valuable. You don’t want to fight a war on land anymore. You blow up a city, you blow up manufacturing and you need manufacturing. You blow up roads and you blow up transportation. What good is manufacturing without transportation, right? So you blow up fields. Can’t do that because most people can’t feed themselves now anyway. So, where you going to fight? Up in the cold, Len.
You know what they said? Said, “You’re going to be the first, Len. You’re going to be a hero.”
That’d be cool, I said.
Fricken’ geniuses. Saw a tank specially designed for arctic warfare. It didn’t work. Didn’t work here, didn’t work there. I know. I remember. I used to build LZs deep in-country for the medevacs to lift out wounded. Never thought I’d be wounded myself.
I drove the Rome-plow, fricken’ big bulldozer. War took too long. Hell, one day, it was quiet. Charlie’s nowhere. One of the tank drivers asks me for a tug of war, Rome’s hydraulics didn’t even strain.
The guy gets real pissed. I see him swinging the 80mm around, so I swing hard and bring up my blade. Caught the 80mm coming down and just let the Rome chug forward. Driver couldn’t get the tank into gear quick enough and I rolled it over with the blade. I told them, “War’d be over if you got a couple of dozer-jockeys to level the place first.”
Fricken’ geniuses decide we don’t need a few big tanks in the cold, we need lots of little ones. Oh, here’s a good one. I’m reading this guy’s paper on cold regions combat. You know what an ‘unarmed arctic tactical ballistic projectile’ is? Fricken’ snowball. You got no more rounds, no blade, they want you to get into a fricken’ snowball fight.
They used to throw snowballs at the school bus when it passed. You can’t make snowballs up here. You got lots of snow, but you got no sticky snow. You can’t even make an iceball. Got no balls no more.
When I reach the pole, sub’s suppose to get me. Going to break through the ice and take me home. I’m a metric ton, thirty-five fricken’ cubic feet of mutated shit. Ain’t one hatch on the whole damn sub I can fit through. How they going to take me home?