At The End Of The World – Snippet 19
Silent Steve and I had hard days of a different kind: hiking with the captain. Although he gets winded sometimes — more and more, it seems — he can set a pretty exhausting pace for a while. He led us through two lowland valleys to the hunter’s shelters he’d asked about at KEP. Damned if he didn’t have more stashes there. Apparently he’d had some war souvenirs that some of the hunters had been so crazy about that they’d traded away some of their own stuff to get them. So in addition to what we expected to find in each shed — a portable camp-stove, a lot of wood-pellet fuel, blanket, oil lamp, some canned and dry goods — in one of them, he lifted up the floorboards to reveal a .308 bolt-action with a scope. At the other, it was a .44 revolver. The rifle had plenty of ammunition; the pistol not so much. It was a gun for putting wounded animals out of their misery, apparently.
With all the caches pulled in, the captain has become a little more generous with the vitamins and other “fortified foods.” Damned if I don’t have more energy, feel more alert, wake up more quickly.
But it seems to be having the opposite effect on the captain. He’s okay in the middle of the day, but mornings seem to be a little harder for him now, and he racks out a little earlier every night. I never really thought about it, but despite his being as tough as shoe leather, he’s just not that young anymore. Best I can figure, he’s almost sixty.
I’d write more, but there really isn’t anything more to write about. I spend a lot of time looking at Chloe; she spends a lot of time looking at me. We don’t say anything. But Willow spends a lot of time looking back and forth between us and smiling like she was just given a puppy for her fourth birthday.
God, is that annoying. Almost as annoying as knowing that tomorrow, we’re going to get up and work ourselves until we’re falling down tired.
The radio got lively again this afternoon. Same ship and voice, but the transmissions were a lot more clear. They kept repeating that, if they did not get a reply, they were going to steer clear of KEP for fear that the plague had hit there, too.
No one replied.
The captain sat thinking for a long time.
“You think they might be legit?” Blake asked.
He shook his head. “No. They’re trying to be sly.”
Giselle spread her hands. “Blake, c’mon. They’re trying to sound like they are just a scared bunch of fishermen. Who just might be the last ship that could help the staff at King Edward ever get off South Georgia.”
“Wait.” Johnnie was frowning. “I thought people were trying to get to South Georgia, not get away from it.”
Giselle nodded. “Well, they do want to get here — for a while. But eventually, we all need to get off this island. Like the captain pointed out, there’s no way to live here forever. There’s food, but it’s not balanced, doesn’t have all the nutrients we need. And unless we want to burn seal blubber and dried dung forever, there’s no fuel for fires, either. So we might be safe from the plague, but without a way off, we would eventually die because of the environment. And the pirates know that the station team is aware of that. They’re hoping that someone at KEP will get scared and reply, will ask them to come. It will make their job that much easier.”
Which seemed to shoot the captain out of his chair. “They shall find it anything but easy if they decide to test us here. Everyone: you know your jobs. Get to them. I want them done today, so we can start resting up tomorrow.”
“Resting up?” Willow asked. “For what?”
“For giving these brutes a proper reception if they come nosing around here.”
And yeah, we worked. We looped the chains around the pilings that Johnnie had almost hacked through, threw the chains’ other ends over the plant entry’s reinforced I-beam so that each of them lay on one of the platforms. Then we started threading those chain ends through dozens upon dozens of the hole-punched sheets of steel, the way kids make necklaces out of Cheerios or Froot Loops. Or used to, anyway.
The captain disappeared with Chloe for a good part of the morning, and we heard rifle shots — maybe a dozen — up the cut that ran into the mountains behind Husvik. Zeroing the new scoped rifle, I guessed.
When we were done threading the sheet steel on the chains, we fastened their ends to some of the big, rusty try pots for boiling blubber, almost like they were replacement anchors. By the time we were done, the platforms had started to sag under the weight.
Meanwhile, Willow and Steve had been pouring boiled blubber on that part of the pier that was just landward of the pilings Johnnie had been hacking at. Sounds like an easy job, but it’s not. Try carrying a bucket of melted fat, sometime. Then try spreading it around with a couple of old planks.
By that time, the captain and Chloe were back. He oversaw our assembly of some more perforated steel sheeting, but this time, just one or two with a light girder or other steel support sticking up through them. Then we had to load them in the Voyager and all of us took turns dumping them heavy-side down in the shallows, most of them along approaches where a small boat might try to run up to the shore in front of the manager’s house.
It was getting dark by the time the captain had us go to the positions he’d chosen for us, told us what to do, ran us through drills, almost spat in frustration, and told us to go inside and get dinner, get seconds, and then get to bed.
We were pretty surprised. Seconds on food? And a mandatory “lights out?” Willow wondered, purposely loud, why the captain was giving those orders?
“Because you’re going to need all your strength tomorrow. And the next day. And every day until you get it right.”
“Get what right?”
“The drills you failed to perform properly today. Tomorrow you’re going to do it right. And you’re going to keep doing it until you keep getting it right. Every time. Now go.”
We did. We ate. We didn’t talk too much. Because we knew that we were all wondering the same thing:
When will the pirates arrive?
It feels strange to write in a journal, particularly someone else’s. I haven’t written in one of my own since I was eight, or maybe nine.
So. My name is Willow Lassiter and I am writing in Alvaro’s journal because Captain Haskins asked me to. He said that if you want a record of what happened during a fight, then you need to write it down as soon as you can. He says it’s very easy to forget exactly what happened, particularly once you’ve slept on the memories. Fighting is so fast and chaotic that our minds try to make sense of it in retrospect, and so we start remembering things in a more sensible order than they might have actually occurred. So I agreed to write what the captain insists on calling this “after action report.”
The pirates didn’t surprise us. Starting three days ago, Captain Haskins put us on a rotating schedule of watches. One hour each, starting an hour before dawn, and going until sunset. He wasn’t worried about night-time. The possibility that any of the pirates had ever visited Stromness Bay was very low; the chance that they’d be confident navigating it in the dark was about equal to our chances of being hit by a meteor.
Long before they came into sight, we could see the smoke from their ship. They had probably seen ours, too; there really isn’t any effective way to hide it, and we can’t do without it.