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September 20 , 2007

A Last Chance


Part 1: The Test of Time Icy winds have been blowing continuously for nine days. Jon walked slowly towards the drilling site, slapping his shoulders to keep warm. Normally he was clean shaven, but he was now thankful for having grown his beard. It has been eight hours since he last felt the warmth of the heated office, back at the base camp. ‘Now would be the time for a nice mug of steaming hot coffee,’ he thought. Through the snow, which started as a blizzard at 5:00 a.m. but had now thankfully dwindled to a steady fall of snow with visibility reduced to ten meters, Jon heard the distant faint rumble of the Powertech drilling machine. The drilling had started in the morning of the fourth of November, thirteen days ago. When they started, the weather forecast had been favorable with prospects of clear weather holding for at least the remainder of the month. Four days into the drilling their luck had changed for the worse, the weather turned, without warning, into a snow blizzard within a matter of hours. It had taken Jon and his two-man crew the best part of two hours to try and secure all equipment. Because of the extreme windchill factor of -49°C, they were not successful in locking down all equipment and machinery. This had resulted in the loss of one of the two snowmobiles. The gusting wind had been so strong that it became impossible to properly secure the twenty-meter-high mast of the drilling machine. During the blizzard it had toppled forward and fallen onto the two snowmobiles that were their only means of transport in this barren stretch of snow- and ice-filled land known as Antarctica. In the past few days, Jon has managed to use parts from one of the snowmobiles to render the other serviceable. ‘How did this all start?’ he thinks back. It’s Jon’s fifty-first project with the South African company Eneco Holdings (Pty) Ltd., the company founded and run by his best friend and major shareholder Jason Menton. In his twenty-six years of service with the company, Jon had seen it grow from a small research company with limited resources to presently the largest oil and energy company in South Africa. They specialized in offshore oil drilling, but on occasion, they also extended their expertise to projects like this one. At moments like these Jon wished that he had remained on his game farm in the Northern Province, back home in South Africa, because he did not have to be here. In all his years with the company, he had received stock options every Christmas. Looking through the financial figures of last year, presented to him and all other shareholders, he once again realized that he could have stopped working twelve years ago, when the company found oil in the Atlantic Ocean near Walvis Bay in Namibia. The Company had nearly gone bankrupt then and had poured its last reserves and $14 billion from bankers and other investors into this venture. Within four months of drilling, they found the biggest and most lucrative oil field of the southern hemisphere. Jon became an instant multimillionaire, but was never able to give up working. He tried it for a short period of time and bought a game farm in the Northern Province of South Africa. After eight months he got bored and started to hunger for the thrills of his previous vocation. Leaving the game farm in the care of his sister and brother-in-law, he returned to his former employer and best friend. Now he was stuck here in this unforgiving ice-covered landmass. He had not felt his fingers for the past six hours, but Jon realized, ‘This is what I enjoy, here I feel at home.’ Because of his profession, Jon spent up to 80 percent of the year away from home. This had led to a difficult divorce from his high school sweetheart, Adel. She could not adjust to the lonely days and nights, and soon after their marriage, she began to enjoy her life by having relationships with other men. Soon she found what she called “the perfect husband and playmate.” He was a young Itali
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