Two years later…
Gosh, was it the right decision to go to Alaska? Snow, ice and minus twenty two degrees during the day. Thick boots, two shirts, a jacket, two pair of socks, two pair of gloves, long underwear, thermo pants and snow pants. A scarf, a woolen cap extra protection for her ears. She wished, she had something to cover face up completely. How were people suppose to survive in a place like this? Everywhere you looked at was snow and ice and…everything was just white. White huts, white cars, white signs, white sky, everything. And not slightly white, like when you wake up in an early winter morning, it was deep white, covered with at six or seven inches of snow.
It couldn't be more different from her last destination, Peru. She missed the tree of the rain forest, the songs of the birds, the green of the leaves and grass already. The blue sky, the sunshine, animals all around her, some curious who or what she was, some scared of her, the possible predator. Why again did she agree on going to Alaska? What the hell did she think when she agreed on this trip? Not only all those hours in a plane, the change from hot summer into cold winter gave her physical pain. Why? Why did she do it?
The answer was as simple as it was painful. Because her project in Peru was over and she had the choice between going back to the States, back into her old job as a CSI or signing in for another job. She wasn't somebody with a lot of experience, she couldn't choose, she had to take, what they offered her. And all they offered her was Alaska. After four months in Peru they sent her to Alaska – for at least six months. Was she smart or crazy to accept? At the moment she went for the latter one.
How was she supposed to find her destination? Or the place she had to go to. Her destination couldn't be here, couldn't be on a place like here. For a moment the thought of being back in Las Vegas wasn't that bad anymore. At least it was warm there. She had never been a person who liked cold weather. You couldn't do anything when it was cold, you were locked inside your house, saw ugly weather conditions when you looked out of the window and waited for the sunshine to brighten and warm up the day. No, Alaska wasn't her destination, it wasn't her place to be. It was…a choice she made and had to live with now.
You never knew what your choices were good for until you haven't given them a chance.
There was something that looked like a building; under all the snow. If the building of the nature project was the biggest around, it should be this one. And as far Sara knew, all operations were coordinated from here. There was a lab, a headquarter and a place to help injured animals. It made sense when this big building was the place she had to go first. Tell them she was here, get her keys to her hut and…find something hot to drink. Coffee! She barely touched the black liquid in Peru, now she felt how her body craved for it.
"Don't be a wimp! You wanted Alaska, you wanted something else than Vegas, you wanted cute little baby seals…well, you have to take the whole deal and not only cherry pick." Of all things Alaska.
Slipping the last yards on some ice (where the hell did this come from?) she fell more into the door than she knocked on it and opened it. Very comfortable warmth greeted her. Not like in some shopping malls, where they blow hot air in your face, mess up your hair and make your skin dry like a day in the desert, it felt good, made you realize there were some nerves still working in your face and you were able to feel something.
A woman sat behind a little counter and smiled at her. Black curls, black glasses and dark eyes. An interesting contrast to the white landscape outside.
"Terrible cold outside, eh?"
"Yes, it is." Eh.
"How can I help you?"
"I'm Sara Sidle I'm supposed to start my new job here today."
"Lorne. Come with me, I take you to Bruce."
Sara starred at the woman for a second. She didn't get instructions where to go, she got taken to her new boss? That's what she called service. Typical Canadian, very friendly and helpful.
Another thing that amazed Sara about Lorne was, she managed to walk on at least five inches needle thin heels without the attempt to lose her balance for a second or two. Confident and like she walked in her favorite sneakers, the woman walked through an open door and waited for Sara. How did she manage to get to work in these shoes? She should have been stuck in the snow after the first step.
"The trick is, you change shoes." Lorne explained although Sara never said her question out loud. She turned and smiled knowingly at Sara. "You put on your thick boot and as soon as you're at work you change into heels. Never ever try to walk in heels outside, you'll ruin your shoes within the first yards."
"I would worry more about my ankles." Flushing a bit because the woman read her mind Sara noticed even with these heels the woman wasn't as tall as she was.
"Frozen toes too. On your left side you see the area for the guys who work outside most of the day. We are in a nature sanctuary and there're two dozen people outside checking on animals, making sure nobody gets in and hunts. Last year two hunter shot three polar bears and a four dozen baby seals. You see one of them, you better shoot them…I didn't say that loud, did I?"
"I haven't heard anything." Sara smiled.
"Good. Bruce always says you shouldn't say out loud what you think all the time. Especially not when you don't know if the other one gets you."
"People who work here should all get you."
"They should, eh? So what are you specialized in?"
"Materials and elements analysis." That was her CSI life, she should think of her new life. "I'm quite good with cars." Again CSI life, Sara. "…and everything in the lab. I guess." Great, she couldn't even make the front lady believe she was the best for this job. How was she supposed to make her boss and new colleagues believe she was…no disaster? Eh.
"You worked for many years as a CSI, I think you'll be perfect for the lab."
"Thanks." Did everybody here know what she did for a living before she went to Peru? "How many people work here?"
"Around thirty, Two dozen are out, you're four guys in the lab, one secretary, our boss and two people we have no clue what they are hired for but they do everything they get asked to do and are great fun to be with. Plus they're amazing with animals. Oh, there is a vet who also takes care of the animals in town."
Town? What town? Did she talk about this little collection of huts? That wasn't a town, that was a…long term camp side. Only slightly smaller than the camp she had been in before. And much colder. But she established that already.
"And there's a hut at the outer side, further up north, right at the sea. The best place to spot animals. One is there, making sure the only hunter are out there have four legs. Pretty amazing and very lonely job but you see some really great nature spectaculars there. Worth a trip, eh." She knocked on a door and opened it before there was the request to step in. "Got our new woman, Bruce. Don't forget your ten o'clock appointment, eh." Lorne smiled at Sara and pushed her into the room.
Puzzled she found herself in a little office with a man in his early sixties. Great. Gray hair, a beard, she met Grissom's long lost twin. That's gonna be fun.
"Hey, you must be Sara." Not Canadian…something else…
"Have a seat, wanna have a coffee?"
"Yes, please." Coffee sounded like the best word she had heard in a long, long time. Like a child on Christmas Day took it's presents, she took her mug of coffee and sipped on the hot, black magic liquid. Immediately she felt how it ran through her whole body, arrived in her toes and almost made her sight in satisfaction.
"Coffee is always a great help, up here it's essential."
"I can feel my toes again." She smiled.
"You're from Vegas, I assume you're not used to the cold. And before you came here you lived a couple of months in Peru and before that in Costa Rica, both warmer places than this. Why are you in Alaska now, Miss Sidle?"
Because this was the best I could get. "Because they offered me Alaska. The other option was going back to Las Vegas, be a CSI again and I don't feel like working around dead people every night. Frankly, I enjoyed the time in Costa Rica and Peru and if I had the chance to stay there, I had taken it. So it was Alaska or Las Vegas and I picked Alaska." This was the truth and didn't sound as desperate as her thought.
"You're not a fan of ice and snow?"
"Are you?" She turned table.
He laughed. "I'm an Aussie, up from Darwin, the only time we see snow or cold weather is when we turn on the TV and watch a documentation. Over forty years I lived in a place where we barely had less than twenty degrees Celsius…I think it's sixty-eight in Fahrenheit…and we talk about winter nights. I love the snow and the ice. We had a lot of snow the last days, two days ago we couldn't use our cars, had to take the Husky sled to get out, believe me, that's the greatest fun on earth. For no sandy beach in the world I'd change this. But I can understand when people think it's too cold. I think, it's the best temperature to leave your beer in a stubbie holder outside for a few minutes and have a cold drink. Or envy your coffee."
"You leave your beer in what?"
"A stubbie. Wait." He bent down, opened a drawer and took something out, he then gave to Sara. Something…a cover…maybe thermo….for a beer bottle? A can?
"That's a stubbie holder. You put your beer inside and it stays longer cold. Or your mug with coffee and it stays longer hot. They're quite common in Australia and New Zealand."
"This seems to be a very international group. Lorne is Canadian."
"Obviously. Eh?" He laughed. "Yes, we're around thirty people from a dozen different countries. Got a couple Americans, a bloke from Greenland, a Sheila from Iceland, two from Antarctica, four Canadians and a Pome."
"A woman from England."
"Oh." Not only the accent was strange, even the words. "Okay."
"So, let's have a look what you can do here. You know a lot about labs, I think we'll let you help the guys in there out. Means you have to analyses water, examples of soil, flowers or whatever else the guys from the outside need analyzed. Sometimes you have to get out to them, for days like two days ago, we'll train you to drive a dog sled. It will come in handy at one point, winter has only started. You are allowed to carry a gun?"
"I had one as a CSI, for Alaska I need a permission."
"We get you one. We're here to protect the animals, sometimes we have to defend ourselves. From a polar bear that doesn't understand we're a friend and not food or an enemy or from a hunter, who doesn't like us between him and the money he sees in the seals or bears.
Usually we work from eight to four, sometimes we need to get out during the night because bad people prefer to do bad things in the shadow of the night – as you will know. There are always at least two people in one group, better three. If you are asked to work outside you tell Lorne when you leave and let her know when you arrive. She knows how long you're supposed to need to get to your destination, if you haven't called in half an hour after your estimate arrival time and haven't sent her a reason why, she'll send out a team to search for you. So please her know ASAP when there're reasons for delay. Otherwise we waste a lot of time and money.
There's one outer point, a hut, where the Pom…the woman from England works. She stays there permanently. It's a spot where you see a lot of polar bears and seals and therefore a place hunters are attracted to. Twice a day she makes her round, checks on everything, stays in frequent contact with us, works in a little hut to watch the animals. You'll go there too when you and the dogs are ready for the trip. It takes around three hours when the dogs are fast."
"You only use the dog sled?"
"In winter we use it most times. All the technical wonders mankind has built might be fast but the thing you can rely on best are eight dogs and a wooden sled."
"Roald Amundsen made it to the south pole with dogs while his rival Robert Falcon Scott tried his luck with dogs, ponies and motorized vehicles and died on their return."
"So you know some things about cold areas. Yes, it's with the ice like it's with everything. You put something in a wrong environment, it doesn't work out. Our dogs, they belong into ice and snow, they can handle it. You don't find ponies up this north. And the vehicles at that times certainly weren't made for those temperatures. Take the dogs, they are very reliable, look much better and are environment friendly."
"Hey, you teach me how to drive the sled and I won't take anything else anymore." Sara grinned. She liked the idea of driving a sled with eight dogs in front. Who needed reindeers when there were dogs?