At The End Of The World – Snippet 26

“Really?” I asked. “You think you could shoot either of them? And do you think they’d make it easy?” I thought I might throw up. “Captain thought this through. Winter is just about done down here. In a week, if the weather is good, we start out. If not, we wait for it to turn, watching the ocean from Leith Harbor.”

“And what?” Giselle gasped. “Just leave the captain and Johnnie here?”

I sighed and looked straight at her. “That’s what the captain says. And if you have a better solution, one that allows us to keep them with us, but safely in quarantine, I am all ears.” I kept myself from adding, I don’t like this any better than you do. Probably a lot less.

Giselle’s chin came out: she wasn’t going down without a fight. “There’s the other ship. We could put them on that.”

I shook my head. “It’s a good thought, but it won’t work. Running that ship requires a lot of hard work and a lot more than two crew. Unfortunately, the captain can barely hold a teacup. And Johnnie — well, he’d need a lot of hands-on guidance.” In order to make that sound better, I added. “Any of us would.” Which was true enough. “Look: the captain is right. We can only take one ship: Voyager. So we refuel her from the raider’s tanks, and take as much more as we can hold in the containers we have. But all of that is for emergencies: for close maneuvers, outrunning bad weather, whatever. We aren’t experienced sailors like the captain, but he taught us a lot more than the basics. As he pointed out, we ran the ship on our own from the time we got around Tierra del Fuego.”

Chloe frowned. “Ugh. I’m not looking forward to going back through there.”

I smiled at her and her frown went away. Hell, she even smiled back. “You won’t have to. Because we aren’t going that way.”

Rod nodded. “If we head northeast, we can ride one current after the other over toward Brazil. Then we can coast-follow all the way up to the Caribbean.”

“To do what?” Steve asked. “None of us have any spent any real time on the East Coast. The West Coast is all we know.”

Willow shook her head. “Actually, Steve, we don’t know the West Coast. Not anymore. Every place is an unknown, now. But if we tried sailing back to California, we’d have headwinds for a thousand miles to the west and then a hard tack up along South America’s Pacific coast. But if we go north, we can follow the Benguela Current up to the South Equatorial Current and catch a ride all the way to the Spanish Main and the Caribbean.”

Steve smirked. “Yeah, just in time for hurricane season.”

Chloe shrugged. “Hey, if you know a perfectly safe place these days, tell me and I’ll go. But if not — damn, there are a lot of ports up that way. A lot of places to look for survivors.”

I nodded. “And the captain pointed out that there are a lot of sub pens that face on the Atlantic. If anyone in the world got away from this virus, it would be sub crews. So we want to get up there and get our radio in range: not just to pick up their transmissions, but to trade information, join them.”

Giselle sighed. “We’re not the only people who will go to the Caribbean. Which, if I recall my history, was a hot spot for pirates until the last century.”

I smiled. “Well, we certainly don’t have a shortage of guns or ammunition this time. We even have enough to get in some practice.”

“On the open ocean?”

“Could. Or if we scout out some of the islands that have remained uninhabited. We might make landfall there.”

Steve screwed up his face. “What uninhabited islands?”

“There are some everyplace you go. Usually small ones that don’t have any springs or rivers of their own and are so small that any decent hurricane will put them underwater for a while.”

“So we’re going to stop there just to practice shooting?”

I shook my head. “Fish gather in their shallows. There are fruit trees. We get a chance to feel our feet on the ground. And yes, we also get to practice our marksmanship.”

Rod nodded. “Captain really did have it all figured out.”

I smiled, didn’t let on that the last couple of ideas were my own. Then I noticed Willow smiling a Mona Lisa smile at me. Well, yeah, okay: she knew they were my ideas. After all, she’s friggin’ Willow.

It was she who got up first. “I’m going to go tell Johnnie.”

No one volunteered to come with her, to talk through the door to tell the biggest, most good-natured of us all that we were going to maroon him here with a dying SAS lieutenant who just might go whacko and kill him before the first week was out.

I felt like a shit.

August 29

Just when you think you’ve got things under control, you realize that control is an illusion. Because the world takes all your fine ideas and solutions and flushes them down the crapper.

Here’s how it happened.

I was one of the first people up. We’d ended the prior day making some initial preparations for the journey, figuring out how many and what kind of rations to leave behind for the captain and Johnnie, which weapons, how much ammo. Made us feel lower than dogs the whole time we were doing it. And we stayed up pretty late. Except Willow. She participated through dinner then went to her bunk. She looked depressed or maybe very thoughtful or — hell, I don’t know. Because: Willow.

So next morning, as soon as I pulled on my clothes, I went to check on the captain. No response to a light knock and no snoring. Either he was still sleeping or he had died, which was always on our minds, now. But I calmed myself down and walked back to the manager’s house, figuring it was time for us to bite the bullet and eat some more of those godawful penguin eggs. They were protein and they wouldn’t stay good forever, so what the hell.

When I walked in, Chloe and Rod were already up. He was heating water. She had already grabbed one of the penguin eggs from our makeshift “fridge” outside.

I sidled over to Chloe. “Hey.”

She smiled sideways at me. “Hey.” She leaned close enough that our bodies were touching all the way down the side. It felt great. Then it felt more than great. Her smile widened. “So,” she asks, all innocent as she changed the unspoken subject, “where’s Willow?”

“What do you mean?”

Chloe’s smile dimmed. “She’s not with you, checking on the captain?”

Giselle’s head popped out from under her blankets.

“No, I went there alone –“

“Damn it!” shouted Giselle, who leaped out of bed and ran down the hall to the room at the end of the hall, the one with a separate outside entrance. Johnnie’s room.

She hammered on the door. “Johnnie, Johnnie? Is Willow –?”

“I’m in here,” Willow said through a loud yawn. “And we’d like to sleep a little more.”

Johnnie actually giggled when she said the word ‘sleep.’

Giselle nodded, walked away from the door and started to cry. Rod held her, and I’m not sure his eyes were dry either.

Chloe had grown very pale. “No,” she whispered. “This can’t be happening.”

“Oh, it’s happened all right,” muttered Steve. “Shit.”

*     *     *

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. We all felt that way, particularly Giselle who was the only one of us who had noticed that Willow always seemed to find extra time to spend alone with Johnnie. On the surface of it, you’d think there couldn’t be a more mismatched couple, but in a crazy sort of way, it made sense. Although Willow was arguably the most grown-up of us, Johnnie was the most uncomplicated and comfortable with himself. Which we had sometimes mistaken for stupidity, I guess. Granted, he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but what we were really seeing was that Johnnie wasn’t a worrier. He took things as they came and always with a cheery attitude. That’s just who he was, and when someone was cruel to someone else, you always got the sense he didn’t quite understand it — as if we were behaving like people from another planet.