Ice Station J*mba

photograph of the key characters of the Ice Station Jamba saga by A.E. Graves
In the fall of 2008, the company where I am employed had a major physical office reorganization. I was relocated to the Executive Wing, a region of the office in the southern end of the building where only SVPs and their assistants sat. I was the non-executive member of one of the smallest departments in the company; the other smallest department, one guy who shared my boss, was relocated with me to this strange outpost.

Most of our friends would no longer come to visit us. We felt isolated, and alone.

This is my purely fictional account of that experience. It was written on my iPhone during my commute (formatting for e-mail distribution was done on desktop machines).

Navigation: Greetings from Ice Station J | Further Greetings from Ice Station J | Return to Ice Station J | Shopping List for ISJ | Misadventures at ISJ | Voice Mail from ISJ | Dream Jobs Near ISJ | Hatching Time at ISJ | Random Footnotes from ISJ | Election Day at ISJ | IT Support for ISJ | Feverishly ISJ | ISJ Out of Office Proto-Message | What happens in Vegas blows up parts of ISJ | Renovation of ISJ | Season's Greetings from ISJ | Ice Station J-Wait, does this parka make me look fat? | Various Finale Matters of ISJ

Episode 1: Greetings from Ice Station J

It is with heavy heart that Ken and I write to you so long after leaving our homes, friends, and loved ones to relocate to the southern end of the world as we know it. We have been assigned to study a mysterious concentration on hot air emanating from the region, which, it is feared, is adversely affecting our climate. We have been given a small base / scientific outpost to spend the long, dark winter. (It does not look anything like the design drawings.) I was going to name it Ice Station Zebra, but intellectual property lawyers intervened. We will miss you all terribly here as we work in isolation, making notes about the mood and temperament of the wildlife, installing stock market tracking equipment, measuring the chill winds that have been blowing toward us, and participating in lengthy conference calls.

We are not too distant from other outposts in the area, but the inhospitable climate will likely prevent us from making casual trips. Just stepping outside is dangerous, especially without a safety line, or an especially thick fax to weigh one down enough to resist the fierce and random winds of change.

I don't know when this missive will reach you - it feels like months have passed since we last saw you. We will try to give you some idea of what life is like in this alien world so far from home.

Day 1: We tried to convince ourselves that we were given the wrong base. While the location is the best among the three available, it doesn't resemble the model at the sales office at all. It feels more sterile than a lab of this type should. Ken is on the phone with Pottery Barn, hoping to make it feel homey-yet-modern, but the shipping fees are prohibitive.

Also: despite the fact that they are on the drawings and site plan, there is no Jacuzzi, no steam room, and no Arizmendi Bakery. If the Peet's isn't on the map where indicated, I am going to cry.

Day 2: I cried myself to sleep last night.

A chill wind is whipping bitterly outside, so we huddle indoors. While Ken was distracted, I put on the polar bear suit that I'd disguised as one of his file boxes (so he would have to carry it) and when he turned around, he nearly had a heart attack. My defense about how he should not have been alarmed because polar bears only live in the north did not go over well. He wouldn't let me use his espresso machine, and I spent the rest of the day sulking. In costume.

I imagine this means he'll be upset when he finds the seal and penguin costumes I replaced his office supplies with.

Day 3: Rumor has it that a Yeti roams this area. I have been told that everyone here lives in fear of it. While I've seen no evidence that this beast is real, the fear surrounding its activities certainly is. My timidometer nearly exploded as soon as I unpacked it.

Day 4: No one ever told me that penguins can just sit there, staring at you all day with their beady little eyes. By the dozen.

Frickin' penguins.

Day 5: I don't know if I should admit this, but I think I just saw the Yeti. No. I mean... No. It couldn't be. I'm going to go outside into the dark, unarmed, with a candle, to see if I can get a better look. I'll write more as soon as I return. It should only take a few minutes.


Episode 2: Further Greetings from ISJ

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII sssssuuuuurrvvvvvviiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiived theeeeeeeeeeeeeeee YYYYYYYYeeeeetttttttttiiii....

[Fricking mittens!!]

Sorry that another month has passed since our last message to you!! You, with your sunny skies and take out coffee and ksdflkasdjkf... Sorry, my fingers keep freezing up whenever I get bitter. (Ddfdkkkkkccc.)

The outbuilding with our heating system blew away in that last storm. Ken is out borrowing some sled dogs from a neighboring camp to drag it back. (There was something about him getting a hold of the whip that gave him the first really satisfied facial expression I've seen on him since we got down here... I'm locking the doors.) If we can't get the heating system back up today, we'll have to improvise. It looks like we have some massive canisters of compressed hydrogen, some SEC handbooks, some matches, and what looks like a heavily used warp core. I'm sure I could get some heat out of these in some combination.

I havvvvveeee LLTTSSS to ReepoortTTT! I'll write more about our recent misadventures as soon as I can get it up to a few hundred kelvin in here. (I almost typed 'a few thousand kelvin,' but obviously I wouldn't be able to do that for more than a fraction of a second. An unpleasant fraction of a second...) I mean, when it's warm enough to type without mittens over three layers of socks on my poorrr, frostbitttttnnnnnn frrrrrinnggggrrrsss.



Episode 3: Return to ISJ

I can feel my fingers!! Which means it is time for another missive from the frozen south by your lonely and isolated colleagues. When I last wrote, our heroes found themselves tied to a post beside an active lava flow on Iceland's newest volcano, wearing only garish lederhosen, surrounded by a rabid pack of tan, Danish cannibal-lumberjacks who were on the verge of... Wait. I don't think that was where I left off last time. Let me check my notes.

Oh, right. Freezing. Penguins. Frostbite. Yeti. It's coming back to me now. I was stumbling out onto the frozen wastes, in the near total darkness of the Antarctic winter, in a parka and bunny slippers, unarmed, using a dinner candle to light my path as I investigated some suspiciously monstery-sounding noises coming from the treacherous, non- OSHA-compliant shore. With every step closer to the black, ice-encrusted waterline, I risked plunging to a near-certain, hypothermia-induced death, being torn limb from limb by a hostile snow beast, and/or ruining an immaculate new pair of bunny slippers by stepping in penguin poop. (Fricking penguins.)

All three of these unfortunate forms of doom nearly befell me at once!!!

I followed the heart-rending, bestial cries toward the water for several minutes when, to my amazement, my candle blew out. You can imagine my shock! I had thought I could just make out an enormous shape lying prone on the ice when... I was tackled from behind!!

After several minutes of blind aikido battle on the treacherously slick ice, Ken coughed, and we realized that we'd wasted our extensive Kung fu skills on each other, rather than the Yeti. Ken had also heard the mournful sounds, but he'd actually come out to find me, because I had hidden the corkscrew, and he really wanted a glass of white burgundy. (Mmmmm. White burgundy.)

Once we caught our breath, I refused to tell him where I hid the corkscrew until he helped me find the source of the sound. We both opened up our iPhones for light, and realized that our battle had taken us almost to an injured young seal. It was choking on something.

After a few minutes of analysis, we figured out that, by imitating some pro-wrestling moves I'd once seen my mother perform after dinner, we could do a seal-friendly application of the Heimlich maneuver. One two three elbow drop, and out popped... A plastic Hummer emblem.

Ken was just finishing up a speech about the evils of SUVs, when the Yeti pounced on us from behind!

Growling! Snarling! Scary claws! And that just described my participation!!

It was an epic ice battle that went on for half an hour. At that point, my phone stopped playing the old Frosty the Snowman movie, and we were again plunged into complete darkness.

Suddenly, there was a loud splash, and an abrupt eruption of non-fighting.

I fumbled in the darkness for my phone, warmed it up a bit, and got the screen to come back on. It took us a while to piece together what happened. We think that our remarkable Kung fu, combined with the girth of the seal and a conveniently located pile of frozen penguin poop, allowed us to knock the Yeti into the water. Maybe. It's hard to say. But there was a big splash, and the Yeti had disappeared. So we are taking the credit.

After group hugs with the seal, Ken and I returned to base. It wasn't until after we finished off the first bottle of white burgundy that the frozen penguin poop I tracked in started to thaw and become... aromatic.

Frickin' penguins!!

Have I written about the spaceship Ken found, stuck in the ice? With the frozen alien in it that looks like its stomach exploded? NO?? Oh, wow. I'll get to that next time. Those sled dogs Ken borrowed are starting to make the weirdest, most un-doglike sounds I've ever heard, so I'm going to stumble out to the kennel, unarmed, lit on good white wine, and without my glasses to see what on earth might be upsetting them. I'll get right back to you.

Love and hugs,
Empress of the South Pole and all She Surveys, especially that next bottle of burgundy

Episode 4: Shopping List for Ice Station J

Thanks to all of you for the care package!! We appreciate your thoughtfulness. I didn't realize pajamas with feet were available in our sizes!! We love them! And with Winnie the Pooh characters on them, no less. Who knitted the toilet paper cozy? I've got money riding on your answer, so please respond soon!!

I wired money for the next supply crate. Nail this one shut, please: the merchant seamen are a nosy bunch. (Also, they don't smell as fresh as one might hope, though they certainly are friendly.) New items to add to the list you already have:

I'll write more as soon as I get the fuel moat lit again - it keeps blowing out... Really, it should just take part of the morning...


P.S. Have I mentioned that there is more than one yeti? And that they are the least of our problems since Ken woke the aliens up?

Episode 5: Misadventures at Ice Station J

The fuel moat is burning brightly, so I should take this chance to catch you up a bit on events here. I think I mentioned that Ken had borrowed sled dogs from the Norwegian outpost to retrieve bits and pieces of our base which had blown away in a storm. He'd spend the whole day out on the sled, dragging back one room or outbuilding after another. He was out looking for the tool shed, when he found a large vent pipe sticking out of the snow.

He realized it was attached to something big. He returned to base and told me he'd found the wreckage of a Double Rainbow sorbet frigate!! I spent the next week zealously digging, while Ken and the dogs made an igloo to watch me from while they drank coffee.

It was not a sorbet frigate. (I'd like to think that Ken didn't make that up. But just in case he did, I short-sheeted his bed and filled his slippers with Aquafresh toothpaste.) No. It was... A really enormous starship of some kind. It looked like I was digging out the tail end of a submarine, but it was no Jack Kennedy - I mean, no submarine. It was sleek, made with a very smooth metal, and had strange patterns etched into it. Unearthly patterns. (I have read a lot of sci-fi: I know of what I speak.)

Each day we would make coffee, sled up the dogs (sled dogs prefer French roast), and head out to the dig, where Ken and the dogs would bark encouragement from their cozy igloo. Every so often, I would get the feeling we were being watched, and would spy something large, white, and mobile behind a snow drift. Sometimes, the dogs would start barking frantically, but once they were on their third or fourth bowl of coffee, they got a bit paranoid, so that didn't necessarily mean anything.

When we sledded home in the evening, I sometimes felt that we were being chased, but there was nothing in the beam of our lights.

I refused to go out at "night" alone. I wouldn't even go out to take long exposures of the stars by myself, and you know how I am about things like that. Instead I would stay inside, and make Ken re-enact the first kung fu dojo practice scene from the Matrix with me over and over, which was difficult to do in our little main room, but which made me feel safer. (Ken was a really good sport: he'd let me be Morpheus most of the time.)

After several days of digging, I found a door on the side of the spacecraft. It looked like normal airplane/spaceship door, but it didn't have a handle: just a hand-shaped indentation, but for a very, very large hand. With just three fingers and a thumb.

Ken suggested that I could open the door by licking the indentation, but I figured that was just so he could leave me there, stuck to the spaceship by my tongue, because I hadn't done the dishes the last few nights. So I ignored him, stuck my hand in the indentation, with my first two fingers stuck together.

My hand went numb.

When I finally pulled my hand away to thaw it out, the door opened inward, with a hiss.

After Ken dragged me out of the igloo, from where I had dived to hide behind the dogs, we explored the inside of the... wait. Did you hear that? Just now? Didn't it sound like someone gnawing on the front door? No? Oh, well. Anyway, we put on headlamps (C batteries!) and went into the ship.

It was tough going. The ship was pointed at a very peculiar angle, as if it had crash landed there, and so there was a steep slope heading toward what we thought might be the front. Our boots were icy, and so we slipped down corridors quite a bit, screaming all the way down. The walls were like frosted glass, and... Well, I can go into that later. The best/worst part, I guess, is that we found the pilot. The alien pilot. S/He was dead. Its stomach was open, as if it had exploded. It actually look like its stomach was egg-shaped, and the top of the egg had popped off/out of him, but that couldn't possibly be what happened, right? It wasn't human, but was humanoid, but much fatter than even most Americans, and with a strange, elongated upper body. When our lights first caught him, I actually thought he looked a bit like [former executive], but once we were right in front of him, he really didn't look like anyone human.

The second best/worst part was that we found the cargo. It looked like a giant egg crate, and it was filled with giant eggs. The eggs weren't so bad on their own: maybe a dozen of them, each the size of a bull mastiff. The problem was that Ken slipped, and then he bumped into me, and I fell against a switch, and it turned on a light, and the light wouldn't go off. Which freaked us out.

We left. We closed the door to the ship on the way out and went home.

We skipped the next day, because of a storm. We went back the day after that, to finish looking through the ship. And we went back into the egg room. And all the eggs had hatched. And they were... empty. But, there were lots of noises in other parts of the ship.

And the dogs sounded... very unhappy.

Of course, this was before we knew that the aliens could shape shift and... What? Joanne just came back for more ammo. (She goes through clips like some women go through... some stereotypical thing that women typically go through quickly!!) Gotta go!! More when I get everyone reloaded!!

Episode 6: Voice Mail from ISJ

[Audio recording, found on the company voice mail system.]


[Sound of telephone being dropped]

Arlene: Aaaarg! I can't dial in these fricking mittens!


Ken: [just out of phone coherence range]

Arlene: If you bring up armadillos one more time, you're finding a new base camp to live in, Mister... [pause] Hey! You're right! That one does look kind of like an arma--

[sound of phone dropping]

[muffled profanity]

Joanne: [shouting, in distance] Take that, alien freak!! [close range automatic weapons fire] Ha!

Arlene: What is the speed dial number for backup? Let's try this again.

[phone disconnected]

Episode 6.1: Idle Pastimes of ISJ

Smack the Penguin (classic) (

The personnel of Ice Station J in no way endorse violence, neither by Yeti nor against penguins, but have some tolerance for virtual faux-violence. We are especially not endorsing the really gory version of the game. Which can be found here. But it is really icky. Just take my word for it.

Episode 6.2: Dream Jobs Near ISJ

A day in the life of Antarctica's penguin poo sleuths, by Jo Chandler, January 17, 2008 (

Episode 7: Hatching Time At ISJ

[sound of the wind whistling forlornly through faulty weather-stripping on a tiny window, just out of reach, over the stove in the kitchen]

I don't think I've managed to convey how isolated we are here at the Ice Station. Of how tough it is to stay indoors for days on end, and to only see an inky black sky out the tiny windows. It's tough to know that wandering around outside and getting lost in the freezing darkness could get us killed. Of how, even though we aren't that far from the other research stations, we feel as remote as astronauts on some distant planet would. Of how eerie it is to open the front door, turn on a spotlight, and see nothing but beady penguin eyes staring back at you.

It is lonely here. And dark. And painfully, bitterly cold. And when it isn't cold, it smells like penguin poop. [Say it with me: fricking penguins!]

We are thrilled by any connection with the outside world, and this is partly why I had been so very thrilled about the sorbet frigate. (Well, that and I also love sorbet, which is superior to other frozen desserts, and especially superior to ice cream.) That frigate represented treasure: a distraction from the darkness and the cold, a sheltered place other than our chilly little base, and love (because food is a form of love) from warmer, sorbet-making parts of the world.

You can imagine my disappointment when I realized that the frigate was not from Double Rainbow, but from the cold, dark depths of space. And worse than that: it contained no sorbet! There was no sweet, dairy- free, space love inside. [sniffle] Just the big, creepy, hollowed-out pilot mummy and a big, creepy cargo of egg-like things. And that damned light in the cargo room, which we couldn't turn off.

I was pretty sullen about the whole thing. Though it did bring me some new experiences. For example, there is nothing quite like the feeling of standing in the lowest end of a dark, spooky, slippery alien spacecraft which has been buried in Antarctic ice for countless years, and realizing you are in what must be a hatchery, with the heat lamps on, and all the giant eggs sitting in their rack, cracked open, empty and forlorn, while listening to the heavy noises of several things moving elsewhere in the ship.

By "elsewhere" I mean between us and the only known exit.

As Ken and I stared in horror at the empty shells, we could hear scratching and thudding. With a periodic, low, non-mechanical hiss, as if someone was whispering about us. It was surely the wind. It was surely my imagination. It was surely getting closer.

I exchanged wide-eyed stares with Ken. I was about to tell him that our situation really wasn't so bad, but two things interrupted what surely would have been an eloquent speech. The first was my headlamp, the only light I had with me, burning out. (We still had Ken's headlamp, of course. Which was located on his head. And only lit a little circle of whatever he happened to be looking at. Which means it was defective: clearly, it should have been barely illuminating the much more important things, such as what I was looking at, namely the opening in the door where that lizardy hissing sound was coming from.) The other was the distant sound of our borrowed sled dogs up on the surface, barking and yelping as if something unspeakable was happening to them, like they were being eaten alive, or were listening to an unscripted interview of Sarah Palin.

We are still working out the details of what happened next. Here are the parts we agree on:

I think I already told you about the next restless day, hiding indoors at base; about weird things happening to the surviving dogs, and about how, no matter how cold it got, I now know with certainty that I can't cut glass with my shirt off: that whole idea is just an urban legend. (Ken tried, too, with the same results.)

I think I also told you about our frantic conversations with the Norwegians, how pissed they were about the missing dogs, and how they didn't believe us about the spaceship, so they went to have a look themselves... And returned acting like zombies. And stopped wearing parkas. And the rest of their dogs ran away from them, and wouldn't hang out with our surviving borrowed dogs, either....

Oh-oh. "Lars" is back, scratching at the front door again, hoping to maul someone. I'd better radio to Joanne to have her do another sweep with her commando team (oh, another myth busted: commandos generally wear underwear! (Don't ask.)), and then wander outside to try to lure "Lars" into another one of my experimental alien traps, using myself as bait. I'm sure that, unlike all of the other traps I've tested on the Norwegian-zombie-aliens, this one will work!

I'm off to make myself look more maul-able. More soon!!


Episode 8: Random Footnotes from ISJ

1. You know that movie, Happy Feet? It is a fraud. Penguins don't actually have that great a sense of human-style music or rhythm. While waiting for some of the Norwegian-scientist-turned-alien-zombies to find my traps, we did some testing with a boom box and different styles of music. Mostly the penguins just stand there, staring at us. They sometimes twitch randomly to high b.p.m. dance music, as if they are trying to shake something out of their eyes. They leave if we play Liberace. (So I lost a $5 bet right there.) They fall asleep to Thriller. (So I won my $5 back.) Some of them fell over when Ken and I danced to the Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band (recently featured in Semi-Pro), but I don't think they were laughing: I think there were just... wind flurries. That we couldn't see. Which affected some of the penguins more than others.

2. It's cold. Have I mentioned it's cold? I did? Well, it is STILL cold, for your information. Thanks for caring.

3. Ken's investigator's log for what he believes is an effort to ruin the company is starting to look like a good conspiracy-thriller screenplay. I don't follow all of the twists and turns, but it looks... intense. We're looking to option the rights, once we figure out what is going on, and who the villain(s) is/are. Casting will be complicated: suggestions are welcome, but only if they are dishonestly flattering.

4. Norwegian zombies can be attracted into trash compressors with adequate application of warm vanilla pudding. With Necco wafers on top. Just so you know - the wafers seem to make a significant statistical difference. There's also the nudity thing, but I think that just has to do with how much heat one is visibly giving off - I think the zombies have some kind of heat vision. Nudity also attracts penguins. (All questions on how I came up with this idea and how I tested it will be purposefully ignored.) Piping hot microwaveable bean and cheese burritos only attract penguins, who then cuddle with the burritos - it is the cutest thing. Disco ball: no effect, not even with colored spotlights. (Of course we have a disco ball: this is a scientific outpost.)

5. Licking silverware that has been left overnight in the snow: bad idea. (Or, as Ken said, "baaaaaa aahhhhddaaaaa.")

6. One of the surviving dogs nipped me on the ankle, and I feel really... weird. The dog didn't look sick or anything. Though later, it turned into something that looked like a Geiger drawing of an armadillo. Or maybe I hallucinated that. No, I definitely hallucinated that - Ken said so.

I'm suddenly so tired. I'm going to go lie down for a while. Right here. In the snow. Mmmmm, snow.... So... cozy... Oh look, bunnies! Where did those come from? 'Here bunnies...

Episode 9: Election Day at Ice Station J

Vote early! Vote often!

A few summaries of highlights from the ISJ ballot this election:

Proposition A for Alien: Alien domination of all life on earth. While this proposition is certainly persuasive, especially with regard to the fact that they can either take over our bodies and put them completely under their own control, or merely change their own bodies to mimic ours and achieve world domination regardless of the outcome of the election, I encourage you to vote no on this proposition, unless you are already an alien, in which case we did not have this discussion, you do not know where I live, and you have no idea which bed in the not-completely-secure base is mine.

Proposition N: Norwegian saunas for all. While this SOUNDS really great, I don't think it is the government's job to provide or subsidize the purchase of private saunas, no matter how cleverly designed they or nor what environmentally sustainable woods are being used. It's nice to support these industries, but we can do that as private citizens. No.

Proposition P: restrictions on the filming of pornography in the Antarctic, especially near certain specifically named bases. This is so very specific... You don't think they're writing about the films that we were making down here on weekends with the Norwegians, do you? I didn't think of them as porn. I thought of them as... art. I mean, we wouldn't have gone through the trouble of painting the Norwegians' bodies so elaborately after we shaved them if it was just about the sex. Actual porn films don't have set painting budgets. Or costumes as elaborate as mine. How dare they!! My feelings are so hurt right now...

Proposition Z: zombieism is a family of very serious diseases, and it seems clear that government sponsored research is needed, since the private sector is devoting all of its resources to curing impotence and baldness rather than preventing the undead from feasting on the flesh of the living. The wording leaves several things to be desired, and there should be stronger accounting controls, but this is the best we've been able to vote on yet, and so I encourage you to support this important measure.

Proposition EE: energy generated from a spiked wheel which will be turned by members of the Bush Administration in hell for all eternity ("evil energy"). I was pretty keen on this measure, despite the high up-front investment costs for drilling the pipe and installing the gear box all the way down in hell, and then I realized that (1) PGundEvil sponsored this, (2) PGundEvil will technically own all of the power produced and may charge anything for it that they want, and (3) PGundEvil may substitute up to 75% of the promised power from this project by burning kittens in polluting power plants in poor neighborhoods staffed entirely by abused orphans. So... no. Kittens? Little, soft kittens? Tossed into a fire by bruised, crying little orphans? Ohhhh... [sound of crying]

Prop 4: We have voted down similar propositions time and time again. The new language about how we can be compelled to hatch aliens out of our abdomens is creepy and wrong, even though it does appear more fair that both men and women can now harbor and hatch on equally fatal terms. But still. No on 4.

Proposition 8: a big fat NO. Penguins should be able to do whatever the hell they want: this doesn't affect anyone else, and no one is forced to have relationships with penguins if they don't want to. Stand up for freedom, equality, and consensual cuddling among adults, penguin or otherwise. And among Yeti, for that matter. Even if that is uncomfortable to think about. Because of all the fur. Or the smell. Or both.

Have a happy, warm, non-frozen, non-alien-possession filled election day!

Episode 10: IT Support for Ice Station J

I want to give a special shout out to IT for all the snazzy gear that arrived: security systems, an environmental control system, interfaces for all of our kitchen equipment, and even a Yeti proximity detector, all networked together!! This stuff is GREAT!! (Whose budget is this all coming out of? Please say Ken's!)

We are EXTREMELY grateful for all that you sent to us, and the diagrams on how to put it all together. We had no real problems with assembly, and we're very happy with the new features overall. (The coffee maker presets! The jets for the tub! The perimeter motion sensors! A Wii interface for everything!) However, we are afraid that we need to trouble you for a bit of support. There are a few problems with the OS, which is some odd edition of Windows. (We know it's not Vista, because everything turns on.) We tried to look up on-line help, but all we get is a graphic that looks just like the Windows logo, but it's all in red, and appears to have animated flames coming out of it: we get error messages saying that some of the apps aren't compatible with this version of the OS, and they all claim to be Error 0666, which isn't listed in the manual. Anyway, the problems so far:

-We cannot control the temperature AND play video games simultaneously. One server shuts the other off. This adversely affects our scoring in just about every game. Also, we might freeze to death if we're having an unusually competitive night.

-If more than one yeti is detected, the system either crashes, or activates the popcorn popper in the "smart" kitchen and THEN crashes. I'm beginning to freak out at the mere scent of popcorn: I don't think I'll ever be able to go to the movies again.

-It won't let me turn off the "panic indicator" connected to my boss back at HQ. I want to turn it off, because it always reads 100%, and that just can't be right.

-Either the security system randomly fails to recognize my electronic wristband key, generally when I am in urgent need of the restroom, or Ken is intentionally disabling it and watching me on that fancy new display you sent us from the warm comforts of the plumbing-centric indoors. Please review the logs on your end, and let me know which is occurring. Meanwhile, I will work up my vengeance strategy, which may or may not involve Ken's favorite boots, penguin poop, and white phosphorous.

-The proximity graphics display changes resolution every few hours. We can't tell if it is displaying one meter or all of Antarctica. Also, we installed the alien and Norwegian proximity modules you kindly sent, and despite all of our efforts, it still displays me in the same color as the aliens.

-It says we don't have authorization to install our only printer. Can I have root access? PLEASE? Pretty please? And can Ken... not have root access?

-This isn't an OS problem, but... It won't let us turn off the voice alerts. The female Brit not only warns us of Yeti and aliens approaching, it also wakes us up to tell us the time and temperature in Redmond, Washington on an hourly basis, and to tell us that there are new security patches we need to download on the half hour. At full volume. We are beginning to hate her.

Any assistance you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

I'd write more, but there's something wrong with our generator again. It is a really quirky piece of equipment, but I think I have the fix figured out: it involves an electrical socket, an uninsulated screwdriver, a firecracker, a mallet, three ounces of lighter fluid, and a blasting cap with a ten second fuse. I am so totally going to fix it for good this time! And this time, I won't even use any parts of my own body to complete the circuit...

Sparkly hoarfrost greetings!

A (for Awesome) & K (for Key Saboteur Who Is Going To Pay Dearly For Locking Me Out This Morning)

Episode 11: Feverishly Ice Station J

Oh, my head... Either I'm really hung over, I fell into one of my own Norwegian-alien-zombie traps again, the fever is getting worse, or Ken just used that special light from the alien ship on me to cure one of my "little spells." Ughhhh...

I think one of my messages didn't make it out to you, and so you missed part of the story. I think the mail server received some misdirected automatic weapons fire that week... So let me jump back a bit.

You got the part about the alien hatchery, and our escape from the alien ship, the missing dogs, and the skeptical Norwegians who just HAD to see the spacecraft themselves, right? And the part about how the dogs had initially been Extremely freaked out by whatever it was that attacked them, but by the time we got back to base, they were strangely stoic? And passive? And didn't bark at each other? And organized themselves in the kennel into a straight line? No, not like with the sled, harnessed head-to-tail, but side by side, all wearing the same, vaguely sad facial expression, and facing the same way?

I accused Ken of teaching the dogs geometry while he had been out looking for lost base parts. He insisted that Scandinavia has unusually good sled dog schools. In jest, I turned to the dogs and asked them if that was true: they all cocked their heads in unison, 30 degrees to the right.

I did what any right-thinking person in this situation would do: I went into the base, and drank nearly an entire bottle of wine, hoping to sleep off my confusion. Surely all of this would make more sense through a mild hangover in 10 hours or so! This seemed like a great plan to me, and after a couple glasses of wine, Ken began to appreciate the tasty wisdom of it.

But the dogs started making really strange, sad howling noises. They also barked a few times. Which made me think they had just been in shock over that earlier attack that cost them three colleagues, and were just going through the stages of doggie grief, whatever those are, and they were at, um, the howling stage. Or I'd forgotten to feed them. Which was also possible.

I couldn't find my glasses, and have no real night vision to speak of, but the kennel was really close to the back door. Ken was busy building a giant robot to do our cooking and laundry. So I staggered out with a heavy sack of dog chow, threw open the kennel door, and leaned inside, somehow tilting just a little too far under the weight of the chow, and then the floor of the kennel came up to welcome me.

I had a strange dream. In the dream, I was in the ISJ kennel, being dragged across the floor by sled dogs with rather undoglike dexterity, who (while I watched through a dull haze) implanted a strange little electronic device in my left ankle, while a doggie anesthesiologist shone a strange little flashlight on my ankle which, despite what I could see happening, made my ankle feel really good. Pleasant. Warm and cozy. Happy. Like watching Republicans go down in bright flames in an important national election, the light produced feelings of both physical and emotional satisfaction. Then, the dream ended, and I woke up.

It was very dark.

I opened my eyes, and it was STILL very dark.

Something cold and cylindrical rolled up against my hand. It felt like a flashlight, so I picked it up and switched it on. I could see that I still was in the kennel, surrounded by the dogs... who were in a very perfect circle. They looked at me, and then they all looked at one particular dog who, as if on cue, took a step toward me and bit me abruptly on the left ankle.

I yelped and fled from the kennel, closing and locking the door firmly behind me. I limped back into base, woke Ken up, and demanded first aid. After lengthy bargaining, he agreed only to give me second aid. As a result, I got an infection that gave me a fever, and my ankle doesn't look so good: it has a strange, bright green bruise in the middle of the bite mark, which almost looks like it could glow in the dark.

The fever has made me hallucinate: when Ken took a break from fire juggling to [have me] point out which dog had bitten me, I (apparently) kept ranting about how he is a fool because he can't see that they are all one dog; I've been muttering in my sleep about needing some things from the alien ship; through some wacky coincidence, I have been hallucinating yetis passing by shortly before the security system alerts us to their presence; and I woke up from a dead sleep to tell Ken to clean up the place, because Joanne's shipload of commandos was approaching, and then I dropped back into bed. He didn't believe me, of course, and so the base was a total disaster - fire juggling crap, funny hats, and skimpy bodysuits everywhere - when they finally came a'knocking two hours later. Another very weird coincidence. I have no memory of any of that, so there is a chance that Ken is just making it up.

I'm going to take some more DayQuil, and then go back to my shi--- no, wait, I'm going to go back to BED. Here. At base. My base. If the commandos would keep the noise down. Sheesh.

Feverishly yours,
A≈≈Ö. I mean, Arlene

Episode 11.5 Fortune Cookies of ISJ

My colleague Ken wrote:


We just recevied another "airdrop" from [headquarters].

This crate is filled with take-out cartons from Pasta Pomorodo, PF Changs and Chevys.

All the cartons have half-eaten food.

Can they stop sending us their leftovers??

Ken, while the leftovers are... surely intended as kind gestures of thanks on behalf of the leadership team, the packages aren't all bad. The cartons WERE all individually quick frozen for us, which preserved their, um... "freshness" for the long wait until the packages could be sent out with the bi-weekly store mail shipment, and then for the long, economy surface trip here. So some of the food is recognizable. For what that is worth. And the fortune cookies from [one of the restaurants] (which were individually sealed) weren't ALL about how awesome certain [executive-types] are. No more than half of the cookies even mentioned the [executive-types]!

Here are some of the more interesting fortunes from the cookies I've eaten so far:

We also received a bunch of invoices that don't belong to us for approval, which are all dated in 2006.


Episode 12: Out of Office Proto-Message

Dear warm-climate-dwelling-friends, of whom I am so jealous,

The rumors are true: I'm leaving Ken, the sled dogs, and the penguins without adult supervision from November 13th through the 30th to take a vacation. Contrary to the vicious rumors you may have already heard, I am NOT:

Posing for Thrasher in a highly engineered Kevlar bodysuit with my favorite, penguin-skin-covered skateboard. (I would not own such a thing! The latter thing, I mean. Oh, never mind.)

Grant writing for expanded animal poop analysis projects, including analysis of the poop of executives and other strange creatures, to jumpstart Margot's new career.

Getting a "life-sized" tattoo of Hello Kitty's head on my (lower) left cheek.

Performing unethical research on captive Norwegians, zombie or otherwise.

Spending any time with Orlando Bloom. Pristine, Legolas-edition Orlando Bloom. Not that it's a bad idea...

Locking myself in the alien ship to work on some "special projects" that have been coming to me in my feverish dreams. For which I've been working up detailed drawings, using a new CADD interface I invented yesterday during breakfast, which English doesn't yet have the ability to describe accurately, but might in 1500 years.

No really, I'm not even going NEAR the alien ship. Seriously. Stop bringing that up.

Spreading a new religion, or at least a new alien zombie disease, around the world through the glories of recirculated airplane air.

Doing anything Ken claims I am doing. Unless it is flattering to me. (Does this rumor make me look thinner?)

If I have anything worthwhile to report while I am away, I will try to do so from [some email address], so please add this address to your spam filter's list of "safe senders." Because we all know virulent alien zombie-ism cannot be transmitted through e-mail if you are either (a) using a Mac or (b) running marginally-adequate alien-virus protection software, updated with the patch that won't arrive for three years from now. Not that I'm a carrier for that or anything. It's just a joke!! Why do people LOOK AT ME that way when I tell that joke?

I don't know how often I will have WiFi access from... the undisclosed place where I am vacationing, but if anything key happens here - having some unspecified [executive]'s ego implode, for example, or having the company give a handful of free kittens to everyone who works after 11 p.m. - please do send a note.

Snow-dusted hugs,


Episode 12.5: One or more Yetis spotted beyond the outer boundary of Ice Station J

Watch your back! Keep your laser handy!

(Not to be confused with "Trust no one! The Computer is your friend! Keep your laser handy!" Which is a different world.)

Episode 13: What happens in Vegas blows up parts of ISJ

The story that I've been told is rather garbled and contradicts itself in several places. My best guess is that it all started at a craps table in the Luxor Casino in Vegas.

Someone - and they don't really agree on who, though I suspect it was Joanne - had an extremely hot streak at the table.

Someone - and they don't really agree on who, though I suspect it was Joanne - bought was too many rounds of shots for everyone present, including a group of wannabe mercenary former underwear models (having been forced into retirement upon reaching age 25, and having found certain mercenary recruiting posters could be improved with more style, which they could provide), most but not all of whom are male, and all of whom were under contract with Armani, and the owner of a yacht-turned-whale-poo-skimming research vessel.

Right before the casino shut down the table to stem the excessive bleeding of cash, someone... and this time I suspect it was penguin poop researcher Margot, who had been trying to get a grant to rent the poo-skimming yacht for her own poo-oriented research, persuaded the yacht owner to bet his vessel in the game.

The story falls apart completely after that. It involves a huge victory celebration, during which Joanne married a still-undisclosed mercenary, the identity of whom remains a mystery; the hiring of a mercenary coach, to train the retired models for their next career; stylists and a team of fashion photographers, to document same; and Margot convincing the former research crew to take all of the above to Antarctica, using a new form of persuasion now commonly referred to as "Joanne's money." As in:

Ken: Why the hell would I cover myself in seal oil and sing sea shanties near that ice cave to attract a Yeti to resolve your bar bet?

Margot: This pile of Joanne's money?

Ken: Oh, right. Where is the seal oil?

Really, the timing of the arrival of the poo-yacht and its passengers was remarkably, well, timely. See, my many Norwegian alien zombie trapping experiments, while pleasant as performance art (especially those traps employing neon lights, smoke machines, and the quieter, more obscure works of Sibelius as performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields), were not especially effective in actually containing zombies for more than a few minutes. Plus, as my experiments demonstrated and as you can read in my latest article in Alien Management Monthly, the Norwegian alien zombies aren't as dumb as they look. A trap used on one zombie (or two zombies as the same time in different locations) would not only be ineffective against that zombie in the future, but would also be ineffective against all the other zombies. As if they talked to each other about these things over dinner. Which they might do. If any of you receive invitations to dine with the zombies, could you agree and then get back to me with details?

Anyway, the yacht showed up at about the time that the Norwegian alien zombies had figured out how to duplicate themselves, and you couldn't step outside to hide something from your base mate without tripping over two or three of them trying to tunnel through a vent opening to maul us in our sleep. Or to maul us during one of our hangovers. Or to maul us while we listened to loud music on headphones, oblivious to the imminent danger as we rocked out to Abba. Or whatever.

I'm not feeling so well, so I'll go lie down... Not in the snow this time, really... and I'll fill you in on all those explosions I sent postcards of next time.

Arlene & Ken

P.S. The underwear models do NOT like being called "mercenaries." They are kind of sensitive about it. Especially the women. They (collectively) find "commando" to be a superior title. Which led to a silly question from little ol' me about whether or not former Armani underwear models would ever really be said to be 'going commando,' which, in turn, inspired one of them to demonstrate... something. I blacked out then, even though I was sober. But our penguin poo researcher has been walking around in wide-eyed wonder ever since.

I'm just not going to ask.

Episode 14: Renovation of Ice Station J

Dear colleagues,

We have news items to report here at ISJ, where the weeks has been... eventful. More eventful than we can say, really.

First off, we are sending freshly carved penguin ice sculptures to Margot S- and MacKenzie S-, who are apparently (a) the only ISJ correspondents who read ISJ missives on the same day that they are sent out, and (b) the only ISJ correspondents who know how to use radio buttons. [editor's note: there was an opt-in request as a component of Episode 13. The two MSses provided the only replies; although the series was the subject of hallway conversations quite frequently with others, and there were side contributions to the series (not yet included in this edition), silence from the majority spelled the end of the series at that time.]. We think the sculptures will last: we are packing them thoroughly in... um... ice.

Secondly, there are some major renovations occurring here at ISJ. We were asked not-quite-politely to make ourselves scarce from the base while a major expansion project is planned. It seems that our company has decided to build a huge walk-in freezer at ISJ. We asked what the freezer is for, and were advised that there is a plan to suck every breath of fresh air and fun out of the company's headquarters, along with a surplus SVP or two, and freeze them solid in the Antarctic until they may be needed again. We're a little worried: we hear that [unreliable and litigious vendor] will be handling the monitoring to be sure the stored items remain frozen.

[Time-sensitive commentary removed.]

Holiday cheers,
Arlene & Ken

Episode 15: Season's Greetings from Ice Station J

(This was distributed prior to the 2008 winter solstice.)

[Scene: it is early evening on an icy Antarctic plain, with a view of semi-frozen bay, just outside of Ice Station J. Various items of large-scale construction equipment sit idle near a half-built warehouse, abandoned for the winter holiday. Items include a backhoe, a small crane, and, inexplicably, a tunnel boring machine of the sort used to construct the Chunnel. To one side, protruding from the ice for no apparent reason on a tall flagpole, is the flag of Spain. All the equipment is covered with festive icicles of the natural sort. The flag is slightly frayed. Ken and Arlene, wearing matching North Face Gear purchased used on eBay from the set of Smilla's Sense of Snow, bend low to the ground, near a small LED lantern that casts off a festive, yet slightly alien, green light. They are approached by a small gentoo penguin.]

Ken and Arlene [together]: Awwwwwwww!

[The penguin approaches them directly.]

Arlene: Wow. That little penguin sure looks determined.

[The penguin has a piece of red discarded plastic bag around its neck, which, amazingly enough, appears to look like a bow. It stops in front of them.]

Arlene: I think it wants to be our friend!

[The penguin looks Ken and Arlene in the eyes, one after the other, and then... "produces" a small fish from its mouth.]

Arlene: It brought us a present!

Ken: [squinting as a flurry of snow temporarily blinds him] What is it? Is it... a new CEO that will steer our company into the right direction? An office in the City? A bonus? An announcement about the departure of an SVP that none of us were really very fond of?

Arlene: Someday we will have all of those things, Ken, if we have been very good, if there is a Santa Claus, and if reindeer can tolerate the fierce Antarctic summer that our continuity editor is allowing us to have by skipping over many months of narrative complexity, including a major battle sequence, two NSFW steam room scenes, an elaborate Bollywood musical number, and a coherent explanation of how I can now build all sorts of cool stuff that glows green. No, Ken, what the penguin brought us is better than all of those things! It's... a gently regurgitated fish!

Ken: No, seriously, what did it bring us?

Arlene: [throws snowball at Ken] No, this is seriously just a penguin. This isn't a metaphor. It isn't standing in for any characters in the office. It's a flightless waterfowl and it barfed up a fish for us as a holiday gift.

Ken: ...Oh. Isn't that swee-- [turns green]

Arlene: Be NICE. I think we should let the penguin flip the switch to turn on our holiday light display.

Ken: [holds hand over mouth]

Arlene: I'm glad you agree! Here, little penguin, come flip this switch.

[The penguin, which apparently understand both English and the operation of old-fashioned mechanical switches, waddles over and flips the switch with its left flipper. Various eerie green lights all around the base light up, outlining every edge, window, and vent.]

Ken: Is that all?

Arlene: [Huffy.] No, Ken, that is not all. I've also retasked most of the major communication satellites over North America, so that when our friends back in the office look up at the night sky on Christmas Eve, they'll see pretty geometric patterns of flashing reflected light in addition to a sky full of stars. Weather permitting.

Ken: You were supposed to be baking COOKIES!!!

Arlene: I got bored with that, snorted a few lines of Blue Bottle Coffee, and then thought this up. [wipes nose on sleeve, very, very quickly]

Friends of ISJ, have a fabulous Xmas holiday! Enjoy the time off, light show, and finely ground coffee "responsibly."

Love and hugs,
Arlene, Ken, and a cute small gentoo penguin, now wearing a real bow

Episode 16: Ice Station J... Wait, does this parka make me look fat? (Just a Teaser)

Dearest correspondents,

Happy New Year!

A new year brings new challenges, and we may be reassigned to a new base location shortly. They have promised that it is will be remote and inhospitable, but are withholding the remaining details from us so we get on the ship like good kids, before we know what we are in for.

It can't be worse than the Antarctic, right? Wait - don't answer that.

[Time-sensitive content removed]

[Witty commentary that would occupy this space omitted due to trauma of hearing Phil Collins on Emery-Go-Round on this morning's ride in. Oh take a look at me nowwww-howw-howww, 'cause THERE'S just an EMPTY space, and there's nothing LEFTTTT here, to reMIND me, just the MEMory of your [screams of pain]...]

Peace out.
A & K

[Editor's note: the original episode 17 was an in-joke which won't make sense to anyone outside the company, or even those there at the time who can't recall what the big deal surrounding the topic was. We're just going to pretend that 'original episode 17' did not occur.]

More episodes...

I've been stalling on finishing the finale for so long, I'm kind of starting to like the faux-suspense more than the finale. Which is also a cliff-hanger, if you didn't guess.

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posted december 2009

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