The Svalbard Airport was small. Everything in Svalbard, with the exception of Svalbard itself, was small. Not many people fly in and out of Svalbard mainly because not many people live there.
Svalbard is cold, even during the summer. It's quite empty too - you would think it's a cold harsh land from some fantasy epic. But even in this, there was a beauty so inexplainable that I had not once wanted to leave Svalbard for good.
My supervisor was present to pick me up from the airport. I had landed in the afternoon and was told that I would start training the very next day; so here she was, waiting to fill me in in her car.
"How was your flight? I'm sorry I had to rush you", inquired Ms. Fiske - always all over the place, trying to immediately get to the next point before finishing the first one.
"It was alright", I said briefly. "And no, no apologies needed. I wanted to come for this. It's what I've been waiting for"
"I know, which is why I called you first. The university isn't too sure about sending you. Of course, you would not be alone. We're planning on sending you with an expert oceanographer - Alvar Skagen, you may have heard of him around the university."
"Of course! Well, I won't lie to you, I am scared. Or rather nervous about this, but it's really good knowing that Mr. Skagen will be accompanying me. I'm not sure what exactly I would be doing there though. So I was hoping you could tell me more about the project."
"Okay. Here's the thing - we want you to go down there and collect some samples of newly formed flora. There's some vegetation down there that is absolutely new - I mean, we have not seen anything of this sort before. A week back, some fishermen found some in their nets, I'll show you tomorrow in the lab. Anyway, sorry, thing is, there has been no record of this kind of vegetation before. Here's when you come in. We want you to go down there and record any data you can get, some samples too. Your research on underwater mutation was phenomenal and it was the only way I could convince the university to give you a chance. Is this something you're interested in?"
"Huh... Yeah, I suppose I am interested. Sorry, I don't mean to be rude or brief. I just never expected to find new or mutated vegetation or to ever be sent down there. It all seems so fast and surreal..."
There was a brief silence. She was letting me fully understand what was going on. And with that, she was parked right outside my house. I bid her farewell and got out of the car, told her I would see her the next day at her office. And just as I turned around, she said,
"Maksim, I know what happened in your final year of study. I wish it hadn't happened. Not only because of the accident, but because you lost an opportunity then. I won't let it happen again. See you tomorrow."
I could do nothing but smile back.
That evening I stayed in. Unpacked everything, cleaned my home and just started getting back to work. After an early dinner, I wanted to get as much sleep as I could for the next day. Lying in bed, I kept thinking about what Ms. Fiske had said as she dropped me home.
I was about to start my final year at the University, a few years back, as a student. We were offered an optional course where we could go underwater and shadow marine biologists and oceanographers and assist them in little ways. It was a very rewarding experience. Obviously not everyone could make it; students needed referrals and had to pass quite the few tests - academic and physical. I had done them all, I had passed and I was the first one on the list to go underwater as part of my studies. We were just waiting for the previous batch to finish their studies and the new year to start.
Unfortunately, a student from that batch had died in a freak accident underwater. He was following the oceanographer and for some reason got disoriented and ended up getting stuck in some seaweed. The rest of the group was unable to find him and it was only two days later that the police divers found him. I wasn't there to see the body, but those who were said that he had broken bones and his body was all tangled up, as though he was struggling to be free - in vain. He had waited for hours before his death, waiting for help or for the darkness in his eyes to take over.
And with his death, the university cancelled the course offering. I never got to go underwater then, but I had the opportunity now. And I'll be honest, I was scared. Of failing, of wasting everyone's time, but above all - of ending up with a similar fate. And with this unhappy thought, the darkness took over my eyes for the night.