At The End Of The World – Snippet 09
We had following seas and the wind a-stern all the way to South Georgia Island. That was a good, but not great, combo. The wind coming from directly behind meant we had to tack a bit, which, all told, probably cost us an extra day. But the seas became calmer as we edged a bit north, and the grey line of clouds to the south receded. From the Galapagos onward, the captain had warned us that this could be the roughest part of the voyage. But once we were hugging Tierra del Fuego, he added the caveat that the weather and seas had remained mild this year. Which made all of us pretty glad that we weren’t going through in typical weather, because it was still plenty rough and the water was cold enough to kill you in a few minutes if you went overboard.
South Georgia Island’s glacial peaks popped over the horizon just as the light was starting to dim. I eyeballed the distance, added the time it would take to hook around the south end of the island and swing up along the eastern coast. “We could just make it.”
The captain locked off the wheel, stepped down from the helmsman’s platform and opened the pilot house’s starboard door. “Reef the main.” By the time the door was swinging closed, Chloe had gone forward, Rod had started securing the boom, and Willow had gone below to get two of the others on deck to secure the canvas with bungee cords.
Our speed began dropping, and the Voyager heeled a little less. We were obviously not trying for King Edward Point by nightfall. “Risky navigating Cumberland Bay at dusk?” I guessed.
“Daylight is better,” is all he said.
He didn’t speak for the rest of the night. Which, at the outset of our journey, wouldn’t have been too unusual. But ever since we had pulled beyond Tierra del Fuego, the captain had become slightly more talkative, even if he hadn’t become more personally communicative. Instead, he reviewed our seamanship in greater detail and started drilling us on all the features of the Voyager — and I mean all of them.
But this night, as soon as dinner was done, he simply set the watches and went aft to his cabin without another word. That excited some speculation among the others, which kept them busy until midnight.
I just went to my bunk, wrote this, and wondered if we’ll learn tomorrow why he became so quiet tonight.
August 6 (first entry)
As we approached the entrance to Cumberland Bay, the captain jutted his bony chin to the north. “That further gap in the shoreline. That’s the mouth of Stromness Bay. Remember it.”
I didn’t even need to hear his tone anymore to know that he was not going to tell me why I needed to remember it. Instead, I turned us half a point to port and made sure we didn’t need to adjust the rig too much. The foresail swelled slightly; Voyager pushed through the water more briskly.
Almost everyone was on deck: captain’s orders. Most of them were gawking at the towering, snow-blanketed mountain ridge that seemed to fly up out of the water to north/starboard. As we followed that granite-toothed wall southward, I leaned forward over the wheel, craning my neck to get a look at the very top of it, if I could.
The captain shifted in his seat. “Just over thirteen hundred feet at the highest.” He stared at the sails, particularly the tell-tales that fluttered along their edge. “We’ll reach the station in eight minutes. Up ahead, where the mountain sweeps away to starboard, follow its curve. The station is right there.” He reached up, threw the test switch for the boat horn; it glowed green.
I glanced at it.
“You eager to toot the horn?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, sir. Just wondering.”
“Why you intend to announce us ahead of time. If the station has been infected –“
“Then that’s all the more reason to sound the horn. Infected or not, I want to see who — or what — comes out to greet us before we approach the dock too closely. And if they’re still uninfected, I want them to get a good look at us. That way, everyone is less likely to do anything stupid.”
Which made good enough sense to me.
Captain sounded the horn. One short blast, one long.
A few flakes were starting to drift down when we made our long, slow starboard turn, speed dropping as we pulled into the lee of the mountain and I got my first glimpse of King Edward Point. It was larger than I’d imagined. The first building I saw was damn close to a hundred yards long, paralleling the water: the doors looked like it was a combination warehouse and operations site. It, and most of the others, were white with red roofs, all lined up along the edge of a small, flat spur that stuck out from the side of the mountain. It took some careful sailing to swing sharply again to starboard and come up alongside the deep-water mooring at the end of the short concrete pier on the far western side of the base.
Three figures, wearing surprisingly light down jackets, were waiting for us, hands in their pockets.
One of them stepped forward, looked up at the pilot house as the captain stepped out. “Took a chance coming here, you did, Alan.”
“Alan” nodded. “Everywhere is chancy now, Larry.”
The other nodded back. “True enough. Where was your last landfall?”
The man on the shore scanned us kids. “That’s your crew?”
“It is. They are fair enough hands. Now.”
The man shrugged. “Well, you might as well make fast and come in for a cuppa.”
And that was our dramatic arrival at King Edward Point, or KEP, as the folks here call it.
August 6 (second entry)
I had to stop writing because there is some serious shit going down. I thought everyone was done for the day, after catching a drink together in the pub — well, the room the station team has decorated to look like one. But then I heard the captain slip back out of the house where they’ve put us up. So I slipped off my bed and crept out the door after him, toward the outbuildings and the pier.
Okay, I just read what I wrote, and realized it won’t make any sense to anyone else who might read this. Hell, if I read it a few months or years from now, it might not even make sense to me.
Once we’d made the Voyager fast at the end of the pier, we started a walking tour of the station. But the captain missed a step when he heard there were only nine staff at KEP. “Who’s missing?” he asked.
The man who’d spoken to us before — Lawrence Keywood, the station leader — shrugged, “Robertson.”
“The Government Officer? Why?”
Keywood shrugged. “He has family on the Falklands, so when the comms from Port Stanley started getting odd, he packed up and left on Pharos. That was six weeks ago.” He sighed; the snow crunched under foot. “I told him that, to my mind, he was heading the wrong way. But it was his family. He had to try.”
“You never heard from him?”
“No. About four days after Pharos left, the Commissioner’s Office sent a coded general directive over the emergency frequency. No further transmissions from any settlements or bases other than their own station at Port Stanley.”
Our captain just nodded. It was Willow who asked, “Why?”
Keywood tried to act like her uncle and did a lousy job; he’d watched too much Masterpiece Theater, I guess. “My dear girl, they did not say.”
Captain looked sideways at the station leader with the same expression he had used back when we were still making beginners’ mistakes at sailing. “They need the facts, Larry.”
“Larry” got flustered, then annoyed. “The fact, Alan, is that Port Stanley did not say why we were to stop transmitting.”
“They didn’t have to say. You knew.”
Willow looked at the captain. She was getting more, not less confused. “He knew what?”
“That Port Stanley was trying to protect the other communities, keep them from pointing to themselves with radio transmissions.” When the captain saw that half of our group still didn’t get it, he threw a long, bony hand back in the direction of South America. “Plagues breed pirates, bandits. Not the kind who are after money, but who are after resources. And any place operating a radio is a target for them. It’s a place where the infected haven’t overrun everything, a place they might not have found. Nothing is worth more than that, right now.”