The Last Outpost: An Antarctic Dystopia

Hannah Ross



Chapter 1

“Antarctica?” Brianna looked incredulous and highly unenthusiastic at the same time. “You expect me to go to Antarctica?”

Scott sighed. This reaction was not unexpected. Being an environmental scientist sometimes felt as though he and his wife live on different planets. Brianna taught third-grade English in their home town of Madison, Wisconsin, and knew very little of different types of ocean algae or the state of the coral reefs near Australia. Once she joined her husband on an international conference in Brazil. While Scott and his colleagues hotly debated the future of the Amazon rainforests, Brianna sunned herself on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and went on shopping sprees.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he told her. “I don’t even know how I got so lucky as to be applied to — but the old overseer of McMurdo Research Station suddenly opted for retirement, and they are looking for someone new to fill his place as soon as possible, and I got a recommendation from Professor McLaughlin — you’ll remember old Jim McLaughlin, Brianna, he went to our wedding.”

“What about your Ph.D.?” Brianna challenged. Scott had completed his Master’s degree some time ago, and had set his eye on a Ph.D. in marine biology. He hesitated.

“Well, it will be a challenge — so much will have to be done long distance — but on the other hand, think of the research opportunities! Actual science is more important than degrees. The local flora and fauna are unique, and I’ve dreamed of traveling to Antarctica for a long time, you know that. If I work there, I won’t even have to pay for passage.”

“But you won’t have too much time for research either. If you are the general overseer, I imagine all your time will be taken up with staff issues, supplies, paperwork, and so on,” Brianna countered.

“Part of the year, yes. But this is a year-round position, and once the station closes down for the winter, things get pretty quiet. I’ll have plenty of time for whatever I might want to do.”

“Well, that’s good for you. But what about me? What am I going to do, isolated on a research station in Antarctica with no sunlight for months on end? I assume job opportunities for English teachers are going to be pretty scarce,” she let out a mirthless chuckle.

“Well, yes,” Scott was forced to admit. “You could teach long-distance via Skype, I guess… provided that the satellite connection runs smoothly. Not that there would be any need to, sweetheart. They are offering me a good salary, about half again as much as what you and I earn together in a year.”

“But I’ll go stir-crazy with nothing to do, Scott. This is unfair. You are only thinking about yourself. What about us? We have just finished paying off the mortgage for this house. I was thinking of remodeling the nursery, and maybe we could finally take a leap and start a family. Do you want to put it all off?”

She was playing a strong card here, and she knew it. Scott and Brianna have been married for five years. Brianna was thirty, Scott was about to turn thirty-four, and he has been talking about a baby for the past two years, ever since they moved into the new house. Until now, Brianna has always dodged these conversations, claiming they need to wait until their financial situation becomes more stable.

He hesitated. “I’m not planning to stay there for the rest of my life, honey. Maybe only a year or two. And, you know, there have been babies born at McMurdo. Of course, it’s a tough place for a family, but…”

“No, Scott. I’m not having a baby in Antarctica. And I’m running late, I have a class at eleven,” she glanced at her watch and reached to pull her coat off the hanger by the doorway.

The dark tweed coat fit her slender elegant figure very neatly. She wore a navy blue pencil skirt that ended just above her knees, and a white blouse with a matching navy blue silk scarf. Her sleek highlighted hair brushed her shoulders, and the heels of her shiny little boat shoes click-clacked against the hardwood floor. As always, Scott couldn’t help but admire her. He took hold of her hand.

“Don’t be angry with me, Brianna. I am thinking about what is best for us, for our family. There is another reason why going to McMurdo’s might be a good idea. With the situation all over the world so unstable, staying away for a while can’t hurt, and I really believe…”

Brianna rolled her eyes. “Not again, Scott. Not your doomsday global war predictions. Really, this is going too far.”

“You shouldn’t dismiss these theories, honey. With North Korea expanding into Russia and threatening to get the upper hand over China, and the Far East all in havoc, nobody in the world can really take their safety for granted.”

Brianna glanced at her watch again. “I don’t have time for this, Scott. We’ll talk when I get back from work.” She leaned in to give him a quick peck on the cheek, turned around, and walked through the door, leaving a faint trail of perfume after her.

The house was very silent after Brianna had left. Scott checked his watch as well. He had a lecture in the university in two hours, which left him more than enough time to get there and prepare. His notes were all ready, and the class was small and undemanding. He stepped into the kitchen, thinking to fix himself a turkey sandwich. He had only eaten one slice of toast that morning, and was starting to feel peckish.

Despite having lived in this house for two years, he felt a little lost in the spacious gleaming kitchen that was, like almost everything else in the house, Brianna’s choosing. There were seemingly endless spotless granite counters, cabinets beyond count, a six-burner chef stove, a sturdy oak table vast enough to sit twelve people. Too much of a house, too much of a kitchen for a couple with no kids, but when they had bought and renovated it, Scott envisioned the spare rooms soon filling with children. It was funny how Brianna chose to bring up the subject now.

His mobile vibrated with an incoming call just as he was reaching into the depths of the shiny fridge for a jar of mayo. It was his sister Laura. Scott smiled as he touched the ‘answer call’ icon.

“Hey, big bro,” he heard his sister’s cheerful voice. “I’ve been wondering if you have any news on your big opportunity.”

He and Laura have always been the best of friends. Laura and her husband Harry had left Madison with their two young children a couple of years ago, to farm forty acres of rural land in South Dakota. They now raised grass-fed beef, pressed cider, and set up an impressive home cannery, and most of their friends from home thought they were crazy. Scott refrained from passing judgment and, in fact, their last Christmas visit with his sister and her family left him a little jealous. Harry sounded so enthusiastic when he talked of his next planned project, building a greenhouse, that Scott felt a fleeting impulse to join him and purchase the nearby parcel of land.

“Buck?” Laura prompted. “Can you hear me?”

Buck was a nickname derived from his surname, Buckley, that had stuck to him since childhood.

“Yes, I hear you. I talked the offer over with Brianna. She doesn’t want to hear of it, which isn’t surprising, taking all things into consideration.”

“Well, I would think she would be more supportive,” Laura said. She never minced words. “It’s a dream come true for you.”

“But it’s an act of madness for most people.” Even as he spoke, he could envision the majestic rocky landscape of Ross Island, and felt a stab of longing. “I mean… you remember how you called me in panic when Harry first talked to you of leaving everything and moving to South Dakota? You had half a mind to rush him to psychiatric evaluation.”

“That was different. Harry was talking of selling the house, taking all our savings and putting them in a piece of land in the middle of nowhere. You lose nothing. If you don’t like it, you can always come back next year.”

“Actually, they are trying to talk me into a five-year contract,” Scott admitted. “I didn’t mention this to Brianna just yet, though. I could, of course, break out of the contract at any time — I would lose some benefits, but that’s about all. Still… it’s the edge of the world. I can’t expect Brianna to share my dream of climbing Mount Erebus, or of discovering new forms of life indigenous to Antarctica. She just wants a quiet life. I can understand that.”

Laura mumbled something indistinctly disapproving, but Scott rather thought he could discern the word selfish. He decided to let it drop, though.

“She also kind of thinks I’m a doomsday lunatic,” he added, “now that I’ve hinted McMurdo might be a safe retreat from all that’s going on in the world.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Buck,” Laura said. “I’d rather not watch the news these days, with the world in such turmoil. It gives me heart palpitations. But if the worst comes to worst, you are welcome to come to our neck of the woods. I think we’re far enough from everything to be pretty safe.”

As she spoke, Scott heard something distinctly resembling a rockslide in the background. “Is everything alright?” he asked, concerned.

“Oh, sure. It’s just Ruthie’s toy cart.” Scott now heard the voice of a whining child. “Sweetie, I’ve told you a thousand times not to haul this thing up the stairs, didn’t I?” La ...

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