White Ice

The white ice burns his retinas as he breathes in the freezing air that accounts for almost all that the arctic provides for man. It never snows here, but often enough blizzards rage through winter that catapult shards of shattered ice across the ship making the opportunity of trips to the outside rare. In the summer heat, the reactor demands his constant attention. The ship is getting old. To the patrons of this never ending expedition it represents no more than an ever-charging dot on a globe, a series of flickering digits, steeply curving charts and some elementary formulae, but to him, it is an aging titan.

The USSR began the construction of the icebreakers knowing that it was vital to keep the seaways of Siberia clear for transport. Later they would launch tourist expeditions to the very top of the world - gleeful amateur photographers and consumer-explorers, buoyed by the comfort and ease of traveling to the world's most remote point in a few days from a heated plastic cabin. As far as he knows, the once-holy marker they circle, always one-hundred and sixty kilometers starboard, the one so lusted after by the geographic entrepreneurs of old stands untouched in it's place at the pinnacle of the globe, tourists no longer care for the romance of arbitrary geography.

The heat from inside is announcing itself as steam boiling over from the vents that pockmark the deck. These ships were only ever built for this place. Two seventy-five-thousand horse power nuclear reactors that can only be cooled by the Arctic Sea herself lashing and lapping at the hull. He leans over the rails, far below, piping sprays boiling water onto the ice along the channel, churned from the sea, surged through the cooling tanks and released in great sweeping arcs of scolding liquid.

With the servers clicking and humming on the other side of the ship, poured over by less personable people than he, and the reactor being quiet and uncomplaining for now, he takes time to observe the states of matter around him: The ice rarely encroaches on the boat unless they took need to change their orbit. The water (thankfully) stayed under the bow while the steam drifted away into the cold blue air. Here the ship is, ploughing cyclically through the eyes of no-one and leaving a wake of unsettled physics. Perhaps from a distance, a traveler from the past might not think this vessel too alien from steam-ships of old that traveled this region.

The quiet was no longer as foreboding as it was all those years ago when he came on board. The rhythm of the machines on the ship; the trading system and his beloved reactor all kept a time that defined the days in a world of ever-dark and ever-light. Occasionally the reactor would hiccup, or even worse, belch and he'd be roused by a shrieking alarm in his ear and he'd launch himself, ducking under bulkheads to the true heart of the ship to soothe the old lady as she shouldered the burden that her masters put on her.

Of course, she was due for refit - a fusion reactor, a sleek and arrogant machine full of love of its own self-worth, admiring its reflection in the mirrored surface of the Arctic Sea. They'd have to dock. It had been three years since he had last set foot on land and, scanning the horizon one last time before ducking back inside, he wasn't sure how he would cope with the months in some glossy training center, waiting to be aboard again with his new obnoxious charge. Perhaps he could request to stay aboard and sit at his little station, pouring over schematics as he listened to the groans and squeals of ship-heart-surgery around him.