The files fell from Clara's hands. She'd entered that twilight phase of studying where she began to question her own literacy. Letters and words jumbled together into an incomprehensible soup on the page and for the second time during the flight, she wondered what terrible thing she could do to force the plane down, avoid her responsibilities, run off with a pack of wolves or a particularly friendly polar bear and live out the rest of her days in a cave. If primordial man could do it, she figured, then someone with three PHDs and whole week and a half of camping experience could surely manage.
Clara's seat launched her into the air, and the seatbelt bit into her stomach as the plane hit more turbulence. It had been jostling them about for the better part of the last hour as they neared the island. That far south, it's not just the seas that get choppy, her old professor had told her.
When Clara first got word that she had been selected to head to the research facility off of Prince Port Island in the Artic she didn't know how to respond. Joy at having been regarded so highly that she had been selected for the job in the first place. Apprehension that it meant putting her entire life on hold for fourteen months while she conducted research. And fear. Cold, blind fear of being locked up not just in the facility, but in the bindings tape of restrictions and protocols that came with any scientifically sensitive environment.
In grad school she had interned at a bio-chemical research facility. Only fifteen students had been plucked out of a pool of thousands so, similarly, Clara had been elated. But once there she learned that prestige and ambition had their price. Her hands still hadn't regained their composure after all that scrubbing, and she was convinced they never would.
She rubbed them together in her lap, drew her thumb over the dried out cracked skin. For a month after completing her residency(?) she put what little money she had into moisturizers, hoping to bring a little life back into her hands. But work started up again shortly after, her personal life, well, to say it fell apart was too dramatic for her taste, but proceeded-to-annoy-the-fuck out of her also didn't feel quite appropriate even though it captured the essence of how she felt.
Failed to meet expectations. She scribbled the note in the margins of one of her papers. That was better. Staid and distant. Cold, like her hands. Exactly what someone wants in a partner. Healthy! she wrote below it, signing the note with a hastily scribbled smiley face. Fuck, she started to write, then quickly scribbled it out.
Another bout of turbulence rumbled through the plane. Clara tried joking to herself that she'd prefer if the entire rig went down. It'd save me a lot of trouble. Really her body was already so tied up in knots over her assignment that the fact that the craft sounded like it was coming apart at the seams felt like it would be the thing to push her over the edge and give her that mental breakdown she'd been joking about since high school.
"Alright folks. Listen up." A tall and not entirely unattractive sergeant? stood at the front of the plane. Clara knew she should've been better about knowing who belonged to which branch of the service and what the little lines on their arms meant, but unlike microbiology she couldn't bring herself to memorize the seemingly dozen different ranks that existed between the various branches. She also couldn't imagine ever needing to care. Whether it was a private or a general if they were barking orders at her chances were the world had fallen into insanity and knowing ranks wouldn't make much of a difference at that point anyway. "In addition to your personal luggage every one is also required to take this supply pack. Private Lutz is handing them out now. Please listen while I go through an inventory of what's here, why we put it there, and how and when to use it."
A thin scared looking boy with glasses and army fatigues walked down the aisle pulling a luggage wrack behind him. As he passed by he pointed at bags for passengers to pick up. He couldn't have been a day over twenty-one on account of the fact that he looked twelve.
Or maybe I'm just hitting that disgusting age where everyone younger than me looks like a kid.
The cart rolled past her and Clara had to scramble to clean up her papers and make room for the bag. When she finally cleared off her tray the kid had already leaned over, picked up the bag, and held it over her. She reached out just as he placed in on her tray making her feel like a child that had to be told it was time to eat.
The sergeant--or whatever he was--rattled off an impressive list of inventory. From heat packs and rations, to glow sticks and flashlights. Clara tried absorbing as much of it as she could but a limit had been hit. Words bounced off her brain leaving little to no impression. In her twenties she could push through. She'd made a name for herself among her peers for her marathon study sessions. Now she wondered if she had contracted some kind of adult onset ADHD. One day she sat down and tried compiling a list of potential head injuries she had suffered. When she stumbled upon one, she had been drinking in college and bent over to pick up a beer pong ball and smashed her forehead against the table. It sent her spilling to the floor, laughing. Her friends marveled at how she hadn't spilled a drop of her wine. Dad always said drinking killed brain cells. The following week she had almost called the local hospital on eight different occasions to see if she could schedule a brain scan, but each time she had talked herself out of it.
Fuck, this time she kept the word on the paper, is this just what getting old is?
"Is hat clear?"