At The End Of The World – Snippet 12
I kept my distance, not wanting to wind up on the captain’s ninja radar. He and Keywood ultimately slipped into the marine stores shed, just a little bit east of the boathouse that fronted on the pier. I went around to the rear of the huge “shed”, eased open the back door.
I had missed the opening part of the conversation, but I had no trouble picking up the topic.
“– so I don’t want to have to pull rank, Alan, but this time, you can’t make your decision as a free agent.”
“You don’t have enough rank to pull, Larry. I’m still in the reserves and since I am the only military authority in the area, I am activating myself. Which leaves us at an impasse. If I’m being charitable.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you haven’t shared all of what you heard from Port Stanley, but I’d be gobsmacked if the Commissioner didn’t declare martial law before he went ’round the bend. Hell, the old girl back in Buckingham might have sent that word herself, for the whole of the U.K. and its territories. In which case, I rank you, Larry.”
Keywood was silent for a long moment. “As you say, we seem to be at an impasse. But I can’t have you corking off about the state of things out there, any more than I can allow you to fill my team’s heads with any of this Husvik nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense, Larry.”
“No? There’s a month of winter left. Don’t know what you plan to do for heat. You can’t have much food left, and I’m not giving you any of our supplies. Might as well throw them in the bay.”
“We’ll be fine, Larry. But we won’t be at Husvik now, so if you and your lot is still alive come spring, don’t bother to look for us there.”
“So where will you be, then?”
“As if I’d tell you, now.”
“You won’t tell me? Why not?”
The captain paused for a moment. Then: “When your visitors from the mainland arrive and you find yourself taped to a chair with one of your snowmobiles’ batteries wired to your balls, you’ll understand why I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Damn it, Alan, that’s paranoid. The odds are at least even that there won’t be any raiders willing to come across a thousand miles of winter ocean. In which case, you and those poor young people will all have died for nothing.” Keywood paused; he may have stepped closer. “Come on, Alan: give it up. She didn’t die because of you, and those helicopters weren’t your fault. It’s time to let that go and stay with us. We have plenty of beds here, plenty of supplies. And come spring, you can –“
“Come spring, anyone who stays here will be dead. It’s a bloody miracle that a boatload of cutthroats hasn’t already arrived from Buenos Aires or Montevideo or some Brazilian pest hole to winter over here and wait out the plague. And your own people know it. Just look at Lewis. He’s barking mad, he is. Playing at the old stiff upper lip until things return to normal. Which they never will. And you know it.”
“Of course I know it. But what would you have me do? For now, that belief is all that keeps them going.”
“That’s total shite, Larry. Deep down, they know that the world is gone. But they’ll deny it to each other and themselves as long as you let them ignore the facts. Right up until the Argies come steaming in and your plan for holding them at arm’s length goes fatally pear-shaped. But you’ve decided to believe your own lies, so this is pointless.”
It sounded like the captain was preparing to leave. Keywood’s voice was urgent. “Very well; so we can’t agree. But I need to know: what do you mean to do?”
The captain paused for a few very long seconds. “Tomorrow, I am going to wake my lot — my crew — up early and tell them they have a choice: stay here or come with me. I will not minimize the hardships they can expect if they come with me. I don’t want any hangers-on who aren’t fully committed to pulling their own weight. They’ll have about an hour to think it over. They’ll tell us what they’ve decided to do right after breakfast. Fair enough?”
“Damn it, you owe them better than that, Alan. If you want to go out into the wilds, to do battle with whatever guilt and demons have been inside you since Paraquet, that’s your affair, your life to lose. But not theirs. They deserve to have a reasonable chance at survival.”
“And that’s precisely what I’m offering them. Goodbye, Larry. Don’t come looking if you change your mind. You won’t find us.”
The captain started moving again. I slipped out the backdoor, tried to make a stealthy getaway and then realized I was totally busted: I’d left footprints in the snow, too.
So I just ran like hell back to the barracks.
As always, the captain was as good as his word. Got us all up before there was a glow in the east. Sat us down in the commons room and spelled out the choices: stay at KEP or go with him to some other place on South Georgia where we’d have limited shelter, have to get our own food, and we’d likely have to use up the last of the boat’s fuel for generating heat. We couldn’t live on the boat because it was too dangerous: it wasn’t likely in the last month of winter, but if the shallows froze up, it could be trapped, or even crushed — and us in it.
It was a pretty bleak picture he painted, and while he painted it, he kept looking over at me. Probably wondered if I was going to say anything about what I’d heard the prior night. But I’d learned this much: when the captain was in his “commander-in-chief” mode, you didn’t speak unless asked to do so. So I didn’t.
When he finished, he asked if there were questions. Giselle nodded, leaned forward. “What about this place you spoke about with Mr. Keywood — Husvik, I think? Are we going there?”
The captain folded his hands. “I told Mr. Keywood that I have rethought that decision, and that we are not going to Husvik. If someone comes here and tortures him for information, he could have pointed them at us. Any other questions?”
There weren’t any. He looked at me again — a long, hard look — and then stood up. “Breakfast in an hour. Don’t be late.”
We weren’t. Breakfast was served promptly. Barely a word was spoken. When we’d all sipped down the last of our tea, the captain pushed back from the table. “I spoke to my crew about an hour and a half ago. They know the choice they have to make.” He looked around the ring of faces in the room. “If anyone is worried that my presence will exert undue influence, I shall step out.” He looked squarely at Keywood when he said it.
The station leader pouted, as if considering, then shook his head. “Not necessary. I believe these young people know what is at stake and will speak their minds.” He looked at me. “Mr. Casillas, what do you –?”
I didn’t even let him finish. “I’m going with the captain.” Chloe, who was sitting across the table from me, blinked, then frowned.
Keywood nodded. “I understand. Your respect for Lieutenant Haskins is obvious, and he –“
“Mr. Keywood, I do respect the cap — er, Lieutenant Haskins. But that’s not why I’m going with him. I just think he’s right. On the way down here, I heard some of what was on the radio. People were getting desperate. Crazy desperate. Maybe no one will think to come all the way to South Georgia Island. But I kind of doubt that. And if they make the trip, they’re going to come right here to King Edward Point.” I leaned back, crossed my arms. “So right here is where I don’t want to be.”
Keywood frowned, then shrugged and went on around the table. Rod and Giselle answered as a couple: they were sticking with the captain, but they didn’t elaborate. Willow said the same. Johnnie just smiled at her and said, “Me, too.” Steve shrugged, then nodded.
It was Lice’s turn next. She was looking down in her lap and was very pale, even for her. Keywood was about to ask again when she very slowly shook her head.
“So, you don’t want to go?” Keywood asked.
“No,” Lice whispered. “I don’t want to go.”