At The End Of The World – Snippet 13
Giselle leaned across the table, reached out her hand. Lice just shook her head again.
I have to admit I wasn’t surprised. Ever since we pulled Lice out of the water, she avoided group talks, particularly those which focused on our future. Sometimes, when we were on deck, I’d see her looking at the water and I couldn’t help suspecting that she regretted not having the courage to take a lungful before we got to her. And in just the last twenty-four hours, she’d kind of detached from us. She’d spent most of her time hanging around the station team, who had reached out to her like they were trying to tempt a lost kitten to jump into their car. And now she had.
Blake stared at her, stunned. The two of them had only one thing in common — they trash-talked their parents non-stop — but, at this moment, I’m pretty sure it was their need for parents that motivated them. Staying with the station team meant staying with surrogate moms and dads in a nice, cozy environment. Blake’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. With a helpless look on his face, he turned toward Chloe.
Who, I discovered, was looking straight at me. But “looking” isn’t the right word. It was like she was dissecting me with her eyes. I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing, a bad thing, or a bit of both.
I shrugged, and I guess I smiled as I did it. “Hey, somebody’s gotta keep calling me pequeño behind my back.”
Her face changed really fast; I thought she was on the verge of either laughing or getting angry. But instead, she took a deep breath, got really calm, and looked at Keywood. “I’m going with them.”
“Me, too,” Blake exhaled. He sounded simultaneously relieved and desperate.
“Well, that settles it,” Keywood said through a long sigh. “If you change your minds, you know where to find us. But getting back here might be rather difficult.” That was an insane understatement: without Voyager, return was absolutely impossible until late spring.
The captain stood; we did too. Except Lice. “Alice,” he said, “I promised I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of their decision. But we’re leaving directly. Be sure this is what you want.”
Lice either nodded, convulsed her way through a few silent sobs, or both; she was hunched over so far, I couldn’t see her face.
The captain walked around the table and placed a very gentle hand on the back of her head. “I’m sorry, Alice-girl,” he almost whispered, “I’ll miss you.”
The rest of us murmured something similar and filed out after him.
Last to leave, I looked back: Lice was almost doubled over now and was shaking: whether from tears or terror, I could not tell.
About half of the crew stood at the stern, watching King Edward Point dwindle in the distance. I wasn’t among them. I was at the wheel on the weather deck and was glad to be there.
Despite everything that had happened, this was the moment when it all grabbed me by the balls. Knowing that the world was going down the toilet faster and faster, realizing I’d never see my mom again, learning more practical skills in a few weeks than I’d learned in my whole life, finding myself having to make a life-and-death choice more serious than most adults ever had to: somehow, each of those felt like steps toward the edge of a cliff. But now, I had stepped off and was free-falling into uncertainty. KEP was the last vestige of the old world, and I’d left it. This — whatever was before me — was all that was left. I was so terrified and so aware of being alive that I shook. No, I didn’t want to watch King Edward Point drop behind us: for me, it was already gone.
Getting out of East Cumberland Bay was a dull job. The wind from the east that had brought us in yesterday was now in our faces, so I had to tack my way up to where the east bay met the west bay and then slip out into open water. Once there, we had the wind almost directly athwart the beam, so we picked up speed. We stuck close to the coast, though; the captain was aiming for Smolness Bay by 2 PM, at which point we would only have a few hours of light left.
Lunch was cold fish, which probably had more than a few of us wondering if we couldn’t have stolen some food from the warehouse at KEP before leaving. Snow started as we angled into Smolness Bay. The captain got out a pair of binoculars and started scanning the shore.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“Seal. Elephant, but fur would do. Penguins. Seabirds.”
Willow heard this, came bouncing away from the sheets. “Oooo! Can I see?”
“When there is something to see, yes,” the captain muttered. “But I’m not sure you’ll want to make too close an acquaintance with any of the animals.”
“Captain, I came here to study those species!”
“Ironic. Now you’ll be eating them.”
The captain’s jaw set. “You’re a very smart young lady. I have to believe you’ve figured it out by now. We need more food, and we don’t have a net to fish with or enough fuel to trail one. And we can’t live on fish forever. On the other hand, the animals here are completely without fear of humans. If we take only outliers, and take them quickly, we shouldn’t even scare the others off.”
Instead of recoiling, Willow seemed to lean forward into his words. At the end she nodded. “That’s true: we’ll need some red meat. So, we’ll have to hunt seal. But what about greens?”
The captain nodded, probably more in approval of her rapid shift to practicality than anything she had said. “That’s the tough part. That’s why I haven’t let you young marauders near the power bars and why I’ve locked up the vitamins along with the meds. We’ll have to supplement very carefully. There is some edible — marginally edible — seaweed to be had, but remember: no one planted a colony here because you can’t survive on the local foodstuffs alone.”
Willow looked along the coast. “So: seals. We’re looking for beaches, then. Particularly any that run back into valleys or grassy gaps. They always like a little extra room to waddle.”
The captain looked at her like he’d found a one hundred dollar bill on the pavement. “So, you really have studied South Georgia’s wildlife.”
“Ever since I knew I was going to come down here.” Her smile dimmed. “Although I think my plans to become a marine biologist are pretty much over.”
Captain shook his head. “Maybe, but I suspect that knowledge will benefit more people than it would have before. Not many persons know the habits of these creatures. You do. And we have to be able to hunt them effectively. Starting tomorrow.”
Willow sighed. “Okay. Tell me when your eyes need a rest.”
I caught him smiling as she returned to her position near the mainsail. He caught my eye. “A good pilot only watches the swells and the tell-tales,” he muttered.
“I’m doing so, sir. Question, though.”
“How do you plan to hunt elephant seals, sir? I’m pretty sure I recall reading that the males average close to fifteen feet long and weigh in at over three tons.”
By way of answer, he stalked past me, walking as easily and steadily as if he was crossing his living room, despite the swells. He went down the companionway, emerged from it less than thirty seconds later. In his right hand was a long, smooth-looking rifle with a big, squarish magazine protruding out from under it. “Ever fire one of these?”
“No, sir,” I answered. Which was a true statement whether he meant that particular rifle or any gun at all. Hey, I grew up in New York City and L.A.. Not a lot of legal opportunities.
But Chloe must have been staring back in our direction because she comes flying back from the bow, her lips wide, and her deck-coat flapping. I swear, you could dress her in three layers of shag carpet and you’d still know she was a woman.
The captain looks up, sees her rushing over, frowns, then almost smiles again when he realizes her eyes are locked on the gun.
“A FAL, right? .308. Well, 7.62 NATO. Great gun for deer, even elk or bear if you’ve got some distance and a brass set.”
The captain did not have a wide range of emotions that he displayed. I think this was his version of being “charmed.” “You’ve fired one?”