At The End Of The World – Snippet 25
He may have chuckled; he just may have been coughing and gurgling. “Fair point. Let’s say things are going to get difficult in a new way.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. The old way was getting boring.”
“I knew you had some cheek in you. But hard facts, now, Alvaro. I’m never leaving the radiohouse.”
“Captain, if you haven’t come down with the virus in a month –“
“Alvaro: think. You’re smarter than that.”
He was right. Deep down, I knew better.
He evidently knew my silence meant I realized he was right. “Don’t feel badly, lad. I knew I was dead when I climbed up the ladder to the stern of that ship.”
“What do you mean? Your wounds aren’t –“
“Alvaro: it has nothing to do with my wounds, although they will accelerate my — my outcome. As it is, you’re going to have to go through all my kit soon, anyway. So when you get back to the manager’s house, go in my room. Go look at the bottles in my medicine cabinet. That will tell you what you need to know. I was the only one who could risk going on their ship, because I’ll be dead before I can, er . . . can ‘turn’. Assuming I’m infected at all.”
“Captain, whatever is wrong with you, you can’t be sure –“
“Yes, I can be sure. What’s wrong with me is not going to get better. And even if I had some miraculous reversal, I can’t risk staying near you lot, lest do I turn. This is the way it has to be. But there’s a harder patch ahead.”
Now I knew what he meant. “Johnnie.”
“Yes. He’s a good lad, but it will be hard having him living in a separate room in the manager’s house. So, when I — no longer have need of my bunk here, this is where he should be.”
“So this becomes the plague house.”
“Yes. So, listen now: here’s what you have to do.”
He talked me through the necessary steps in about five minutes. He had it all thought out, down to the last detail. By the end, he had gotten hoarse. “Now go. Talking makes me tired.”
I heard him shuffle away, deeper into the radiohouse.
When I got back to the manager’s house, I went into his room: everyone stared at me as I did. Everyone except Willow, that is. She just looked real sad.
I learned a lot of things. Like what a bastard I was for calling him the Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea and other smart-ass shit like that. The first of those orange prescription med bottles I picked up had this on its label: “Methotrexate — for advanced Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” I didn’t see the dosage or anything; I didn’t need to. There was Lieutenant — no, Captain — Alan Haskins’ death sentence, written out as calm and plain and small as the bullshit you read on the label of Flintstone’s vitamins.
And then I saw that the bottle was empty, and that the “next refill date” — in Valparaiso — was May 30, 2015. Almost three months ago. So, whatever the captain had heard on the radio by mid-June made him skip going to Valparaiso for his meds. Going through the rest of the prescription bottles (which included interferon, Welbutrin, and a bunch of opioids), I found another empty methotrexate, this one from Port Stanley. Clearly, a pharmacy there was his back-up plan. But by that time, no one was dispensing any meds — or anything else — in the Falklands.
The only bottle that didn’t make sense at first was a prescription for Vyvanse, made out for someone named Phillip Grover. Then Willow walked in and solved the mystery.
Looking over my shoulder, she scanned the bottle and said, “Huh. Sure.”
“It’s why the captain perked up over the last week. That’s some kid’s ADHD meds. Vyvanse is an amphetamine. Must have been left behind on some cruise.”
“Damn it,” I muttered. “The captain, he — he deserved better than this.”
She nodded. “He’s had a hard life. Unfair.”
She shrugged, went to the nightstand. There was an open manila folder on it. “He had me get this out from under his bed last night: all the data he ever collected on the virus that’s causing this plague. But I found something else under there.” She took what looked like an oversized jewelry box off his nightstand, handed it to me.
Inside was a square silver cross. It was hanging from a white ribbon with a purple stripe running down its center. It took me a moment to realize I was looking at a medal. “Holy shit. What do you think it is? The Victoria Cross or something?”
She handed me a much folded letter on royal — royal? — stationery that had gone with the medal. It was the Military Cross, awarded for gallantry to Lieutenant Alan P. Haskins of the —
I looked up. “He’s friggin’ SAS?”
She nodded as I put it down. “I wonder how long we would have survived if anyone else had been the captain of Voyager.”
For a moment, I couldn’t decide whether I felt we were the luckiest people on the planet for having had him with us, or the unluckiest for losing him and never knowing who or what he was until now. I guess if we hadn’t all been such a bunch of self-involved kids with our heads up our asses and obsessing over first-world problems, we might have seen him more clearly.
Tucked under the medal box were letters. The addresses were written in a female hand. Judging from the postmarks, they were probably from the woman Keywood had mentioned. Who seemed to be one and the same as the security operative he had lost on Fortuna Glacier, according to some of the security stamps on a few of the envelopes: evidently, she been assigned to Port Stanley from the Foreign Office. I put the medal box back on top of the letters: I couldn’t open them any more than Willow had been able to when she found them.
We wandered out into the next room. Everyone was there, looking at us. Because now we had morphed into a combined surrogate-captain; we were the ones who shared out the information, set the next course. I thought I might shit my pants right there.
I started to speak. Before I had the first word out, Giselle put up her hand. Yes, she put up her friggin’ hand. I just nodded.
“What about Johnnie? He needs to hear what’s going on, too.”
I answered carefully. “We’ll catch him up. As soon as we’re done here. But captain had some — orders — about Johnnie. And himself.” Which I explained in stomach-sinking detail.
After that, we had to review the new equipment we’d added to our collection. Although a lot of the raiders’ guns had gone overboard, there were the bunch Johnnie had pulled off the ship, and then a few more the captain had stuffed into the bags he’d brought out. There were four Argentine FALs, three Rexio pump shotguns, and two AKs that looked like they had been well-chewed and spat out by the backstreets of half the cities in South America. There were about an equal number of handguns: a few Tauruses and Browning Hi-Powers, but most were .38 Special knock-offs.
The other things that the captain had scavenged for us — mostly food, water, vitamins, medical supplies — were all in sealed plastic: the only reason he had picked them up. In addition to a pair of toolboxes, that was pretty much it.
When I was done, everyone sat for a while. Then Rod looked up. “Okay, but what are we gonna do next?”
I sighed, couldn’t believe I was going to say what I was about to say. “We start getting ready to leave.”
“Whoa, whoa!” shouted Silent Steve — who’d really found his voice in the past twenty-four hours. “That’s not for a few months, though, right?”
I shook my head. “Captain says there’s a change of plans. We leave within the week. Have to.”
“Because of the plague.”
“But we’ve got the captain and Johnnie quarantined. And if they’re okay –“
“We won’t know until it’s too late, Steve. What do you want to do, tape them to their chairs for the next month — assuming that’s long enough? Except how do we restrain them without also getting too close to them? According to the reports, when the infected turn, they turn fast. Really fast. And — worst news — the two people who’ve been exposed and are currently quarantined are also the two largest, strongest people in the group.”
Steve eyed the guns leaning in the corner next to the door.