<<HEY, THIS IS BIZARRE>> Julian Offer, seconded snow slave, said poking a gloved finger into one of the holes. They were all about two centimetres across and almost perfectly round. <<How could they have formed? I couldn't have done it cleaner with a power drill.>>

<<What are you talking about, power drill?>> Dean Coombes, slumped back in the driver's seat, said sharply. He was too busy staring up at the blue Antarctic sky to worry about holes in a tiny geological probe. <<It was just a storm.>>

Julian orbited the probe, a telephone box on a little tripod (or so it looked to perceptual systems weathered by 12 weeks of black rock outcrops and ice). Some of its panels had been torn off and lay dragging tangles of wire in the wind but Julian was more interested in the holes. There were so many of them, pock-marked over every wall. Maybe a storm came up, that could explain the panels. But what about the holes? All perfectly round. The probe's turned into a sieve!Elt;p> What else happened, the Chinese came and slugged it full of lead?E Dean laughed at the sky. C'mon, we've assessed the damage. I'm sick of you slowing me up.Elt;p> He started revving the sled's engine.

But the holes,EJulian said, and this is the second probe fucked over this month.Elt;p> We'll get a crew from Tuggera to repair it and that'll be it. I don't know why they don't just whack a mine up straight. Come on, let's go!Elt;p> Julian looked back anxiously at the cheese-grater probe. Oh... okay. This is so bizarre.Elt;p> You're fucking bizarre mate.Elt;p>

IT WAS Friday, the social highlight of the week, when a man aching from physical labour in the bitter polar wind could take off his parka, put on a video of the footy and get stuck into a case of piss flown all the way from Australia. By 8pm things were getting pretty rowdy in the common room. Julian didn't like Friday nights that much but they were after all the only outlet he had; sick of lying around in the sleeping quarters he walked into the common room just to say hello. He crept in wearing a shiny new purple vinyl shirt, hid next to the flickering TV. He opened a can of Victorian Bitter, sipped nervously.

<<What do you call an Abo in a Mercedes?>> Nathan Maguire, glaciologist extraordinaire and also Tuggera's new manager, was saying over his sixth bottle of Tooheys Red. He didn't wait for an answer. <<A thief!>> Chuckles from his mate, the old fellow was in fine form tonight. What do you an Abo in a Volvo? A bloody safe thief!Elt;p> Boisterous laughter around the common room, hearty backslaps rattling the wooden chairs and People posters clinging to the walls. Another spill or two on to the lino floor. Which was surprising because they were bad jokes, and racist to boot... Julian should have said something. Too wrapped up in himself to realise timidity was the most aggressive way to attract attention in this kind of environment, he contented himself to listen. A newsflash interrupted the football broadcast concerning trouble in the South China Sea.

Bloody slopes,EMaguire said, and he'd worked in Malaysia for five years. They'll be fleeing to Darwin in boats next, seeking asylum.Elt;p> Dean said, We should just drop a bunch of bombs on the pricks now and save a lot of trouble down the line.Elt;p> Its a complex dispute,EJulian said, unable to contain himself any longer. <<We should let them sort it out themselves, rather than kow-tow to America again.>>

<<I don't kow-tow to anyone>> Maguire said. <<But it would be good if you could kow-tow to me, now and then.>>

<<Pretty shirt>> one of the engineers said.

<<Yeah>> Dean Coombes sneered <<maybe we all should start wearing them on duty, in case we're caught in a blizzard. They're that reflective.>>

<<I wouldn't be caught dead in it>> Maguire said. The footy came back on and, not wanting to provoke another argument, Julian went off to read a book or something.

<<That boy's getting too big for his boots>> Maguire said.

DAMN IT, IT'S JUST NOT FAIR Julian was thinking on an ice sled the next morning, about 12 kilometres north of Tuggera. Only three months here and I'm already sick of the place. It had seemed such a good idea at the time: destined to unemployment as an atmospheric scientest in Australia, desperate to do something positive about ozone depletion, Julian applied to spend a year at Tuggera Station, Cape Poinsett, Wilkes Land, the Australian Antarctic Territory, thinking it would be the experience of his life. But after just one month of studying ozone levels a change of government in Australia also changed Tuggera's priorities from atmospheric research to the more lucrative job of assessing the mining suitability of the entire territory. The station was inundated by mining representatives, oilmen and engineers: Julian suddenly felt outcast as a scientest in a scientific outpost. Never mind he thought, the hot currents in his stomach rumbling again. It's just not worth worrying about.

It was the best morning Julian had ever seen on the continent, nearly minus eight. A mixture of curiosity and defiance drove him to the damaged geological probe he had visited the day before. How the fuck could Maguire officially report it had been damaged in a storm? He took a few unauthorised photos of the holes and slid on to the coast, to a shallow bay almost free of ice. He sat on the edge of a rock shelf between squabbling petrels and looked over an enamal sea to the rusty speck of a grounded Nigerian freighter whose oily legacy still rimmed the shore.

He sat and looked at the freighter and wondered about the holes in the probes and looked north and thought, God, I want to go home.

Something bright flared at the edge of his view and a second later a loud boom rumbled through the rocks and blew away the petrels. A geyser of flame burst from the headland beside him and doubled over in the cold air.

Christ, Julian swaying on his feet, the old fuel dump. He reached for his radio, hesitated as another blast shook the bay, pulled out a pair of binoculars. Training them on the dump he thought he could see a brown figure flitting through the flames. And he thought: The Chinese must have come all the way from Suharto Station to blow up the dump. He crouched behind the shed, saw the figure emerge from the flames dragging something dark... another figure. He/she suddenly saw Julian's sled, slumped its comrade over its shoulder and scurried down the headland.

<<Wait!>> Julian yelled, feeling oddly heroic. The headland was too steep for the sled so he blundered up on foot, trying to keep a safe distance from the fire. The figures dissolved into smoke. Another gesyer of flame shot up and doubled over Julian. Cowering from the heat he lost his footing on a slab of ice and slipped down the headland.

<<...LEX TRIPNO OHWEK HEENI DAGGINZ!>>

Julian turned over on his side and realised he wasn't lying in his bunk in Tuggera. Then he felt a stab of pain in his forehead. <<Reg feenicks bee jivo crickwick.>> He looked up dizzily to see some kind of painting on the roof, penquin-men and seal-women frolicking in ice-green waves, all muraled around a strange blue woman. He followed the roof to a rocky wall and saw two women - no, one was a man wrapped in brown fur - approach him with long, whale-bone spears. <<Bee reg!>> one of them said curtly, but to Julian it seemed melodious, like the sweetest singing.

<<Bee crickwick>> the woman said softly, dropping her spear. Her saucer-green eyes sparkled in the diffuse light of oil-fat lamps. Flicking back her ringlet mane, she pointed earnestly at the mural roof. <<Carafilpa!>> she whispered and the word whooshed through Julian's mind reminding him of a place and a state of being so beautiful, so astoundingly complete, it could only have been a dream.

<<...FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?>> Another painful crack in his forehead. Julian tried to open his eyes and saw through the glare a suspended image of the woman? man? from the mural morph slowly into Maguire's scowl.

<<What... wh' am I?>> he mumbled.

<<Should have left him out there>> someone brawny said.

<<D... Dean?>> Julian's mouth was so dry he could barely get the word out. <<Wha'... happened? Where's... cave?>>

<<Huh?>> Maguire said loudly, and his voice was so macho Julian actually recoiled (talk about his weirding way). <<I don't know what you're talking about. We found you unconscious this morning near the fuel dump. Can't believe you survived the night out there.>>

<<The night...>> remembering achingingly now the slide to the coast, the petrels and the Nigerian freighter and the explosion and then... the cave. <<No. I was rescued. It was beautiful.>>

<<It wasn't that fucking beautiful for us, mate>> Dean said. <<Do you realise the trouble you put us all through? We had six men looking for you all night.>>

<<I must have hit my head>> Julian said (that explained why the room was still spinning). <<Someone blew up the fuel dump. I saw some people, running away... after the explosion. Just like eskimos. They rescued me, took me to their lair. It's utopia.>><<You'll have to turn that shit off>> he said. <<I want to watch this video of the golf.>>

Julian was about to oblige him, but he was so worked up about being suspended by Maguire he said, <<I'm watching this. You'll... you'll have to wait your turn.>>

"The boy's really lost it now," Dean said and another bloke grinned. Maguire said, "We think the explosion was sparked by a faulty valve. You'll have to give an eye-witness to the relevant authorities. But that doesn't excuse you for running off without telling no cunt where you were going. This is a dangerous place, son, that's why we have precautions..." "I'm sorry, sir." "I won't stand for it. I'm terminating your duties for two weeks. Give you a bit of time to think about what you're really doing here, and what you want from this whole assignment." "But what the natives? A new tribe, living right here?" Maguire just laughed. "Mate, I think we should take another look at that lump on your head."

JULIAN SPENT the rest of the day in the sickbay, nursing his headache and wondering what the fuck was going on. On waking his memories of the cave had seemed so real, almost painfully nostalgic, but with every passing minute in Tuggera he grew ever more unsure: it was just too weird. And what about the figures he had seen running from the fire? How could he have imagined that, when he was still awake at the time? And he thought: There's no way he could have spent all night in the Antartic open, even in October, without getting at least a hint of frostbite. Julian's dyed green hair was a nod to the biological obsession of the times, a pronouncement of his environmental consciousness, and it would have won him instant respect at any urban conglomeration on the planet. To the EIS people it just made him look like a freak. And then there was his musical tastes: Julian appreciated any style on its merits but he particularly liked the amphibian scene, particularly the Australian Aboriginal stuff. Most of the younger blokes at Tuggera just liked hard rock. So conflicts were bound to occur. Such as later that afternoon. Taking advantage of an empty common room, Julian slipped a copy of the edited highlights of the Atlantean Grid Activation Ceremony into the video recorder and was chilling with a makeshift pyramid. Halfway through it, a ray of Violet Transmuting Flame anchoring the earth at Uluru and Lhasa, the door opened and before Julian could scurry out from the pyramid there was Dean in the doorway. "You'll have to turn that shit off," he said. "I want to watch this video of the golf." Dean walked across the room quietly, lifted the pyramid and flung it against the wall. <<Come on, you little prick>> he said. <<Let's have it out.>>

Then Dean remembered Julian was suffering from concussion and could therefore be excused piking out of a punch-up. They decided on a mutated form of Australian conflict resolution: a motorised sled race.

It was a ridiculous caricature of the drain drag race in Grease: Dean and Julian neck-and-neck and throttling over the fields of sheen, ice and smoke thrown into white rooster-tails, all they lacked was a nubile teenage girl draping a scarf down her body on the starting line. Dean hurled abuse and occasionally nudged Julian's sled. <<Hey>> he yelled, as Julian rounded a rocky reef <<are you a poofter?>>

<<Are you Neathandal?>> Julian asked, and braced himself as Dean rammed him sideways again.

They were halfway to the finish line; the route looped around an Australian flag before backtracking to Tuggera. The first one home won video rights over the other for the rest of the year. <<You>> Dean waving an obscene finger <<everyone thinks you're a joke. Go back home, you don't belong here.>>

Julian stared steadfastly into the blistering wind, trying to ignore him. As he was staring this patch of ice in front of the sled cracked open and before he had time to brake or evade, the nose of his vehicle slipped into a yawning crevice. The last thing he heard was Dean's urgent cry of <<Fucking twit!>> and the whoosh of a long fall down.

Mitsukete kudasai 2002. Contact the author (alure@catcha.com) for all your platitudes and violence.