At The End Of The World – Snippet 08
The last crewmember is Lice. Which is short for Alice, but she spends so much time scratching at the dark brown rat’s nest on her head that I had almost forgotten her real name. Lice is how she introduced herself, and she seems to take pride in that, along with the other weird behaviors and clothes that kind of make her emo and punk at the same time. Unfortunately, that combo means she never tells you — or even shows you — what she really thinks. She rolls her eyes at everything. Especially anything that involves her parents. I figured the odds were equal that she’d feel personally liberated by the death of the world, that she’d fold in even more, or just wouldn’t care.
We sat there for at least half a minute, staring at the deck and sneaking glances at each other, before Steve observed, “So, this is pretty much like The Walking Dead.”
The captain, whose English accent was becoming more pronounced all the time, closed his eyes patiently, started with, “Now don’t be daft. The infected haven’t died. They’re just –“
Blake jumped up. “Don’t shit us, man. Don’t shit us. It’s like Steve says. Whether they’re dead or not, we are in the middle of The Walking Dead. Wherever we get off this boat, they’re going to be there, waiting for us. Ready to eat us. Probably won’t have had any fresh meat in weeks or –“
The captain had never touched any of us, for any reason, until that moment. He grabbed Blake by the arm and pulled him off the deck. “Leave off,” he snapped. “This isn’t a bloody TV fantasy. This is real. If you kill the infected, they stay dead. And the rest can’t roam around forever. We can ride this out. And we won’t be the only ones. There’s no end of ships that might have –“
“Captain,” said Willow.
“Damn it — what?”
“Alice is gone.”
When no one was looking, she had just gone to the side and climbed over.
Using the engine for the first time in weeks, it took less than three minutes to get to her. Even so, she was damn near frozen by the time we did.
I’ve wanted to write in this journal for a while now, but we’ve been short-handed. It’s been so busy that I just fall asleep as soon as I hit my bunk.
Lice only got back to work today. Captain kept her below deck since we fished her out of the ocean four days ago, shaking through the borderline hypothermia before she finally went limp as a rag. Since then she hasn’t done much of anything except stare at the bulkhead in her cabin. She eats, drinks, follows simple instructions (which is a change for the better, actually), but that’s it. He never said it, but it’s pretty obvious that this was the closest thing to a suicide watch that the captain could manage on a small working ship like Crosscurrent Voyager. It’s hard to tell if Lice is really any better — she was never much of a talker — but now she’s gone mute and there’s a lot of work to do.
Part of that increased labor is because of the captain himself: he seems even more gaunt, if that’s possible, and I think he’s getting weaker. What I do know is that he spends more time catching his breath and talking us through increasingly complicated sailing maneuvers and skills rather than showing us by example.
I don’t know if the others have noticed it yet. Everyone except Willow has burrowed into themselves since we learned of what Rod has dubbed The Walking Non-Dead. We had just started to really work together as a team when the apocalyptic shit hit the fan and short-circuited whatever bonds were growing between us. Besides, the days down here are grey and quiet, and with the southern hemisphere’s winter deepening, the high seas and the constant cold don’t put anyone in a particularly cheery mood.
It was getting on toward dinner when I dropped by the pilot house, nodded at the captain, glanced at the charts. What I saw there made me check again.
The captain looked away.
“Captain, aren’t we going to the Falklands?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because if we wanted to get to Port Stanley, we should have pulled up out of the Antarctic circumpolar current.” I eyeballed the map more closely. “At least a day ago. Sir.”
“Two days,” he corrected. “You read a chart passably well.”
I laid my hand upon the wheel. I suppressed the wild vision of heeling us over to port, regardless of the wind, and heading north toward the Falklands, the equator, to anywhere other than the endless grey peaks and troughs of the winter waves. “Sir, what are we doing?”
“Making for South Georgia Island.”
“But that’s –“
“– over a thousand miles away across open ocean. Yes. I’m surprised you didn’t suss it out sooner, while you were playing teacher with Chloe in here.”
The derisive tone he’d slipped into when he said ‘playing teacher with Chloe’ was like a slap in the face. The captain wasn’t a warm man, but he was never sarcastic — or hadn’t been until now. “Not much of our work is in navigation anymore, sir. Mostly reading and writing.”
My tone was stiff enough to make him look up. When he did, his eyes were angry, but as I met them, his glare thawed into something like sadness. “I was a right pillock just now, Alvaro. Don’t mind me. You’ve done a fine job helping Chloe.” He looked out at the next high swell the Voyager would have to climb.
I nodded. “Why are we skipping Port Stanley, sir?”
“Because the Falklands have gone completely off the air. There were three different radio operators there in the past week, out in smaller towns and coves. Each one started out by sending distress signals but ended by going mad as a hatter. And now, dead air for the last forty-eight hours. Not even a carrier wave. They’re done.”
I scanned along the revised course he had plotted. “So, King Edward Point?”
The captain rubbed his lower lip. “Maybe. I hope so. Depends upon whether the last supply run by the Pharos included infected crewpersons or not. If not, then — well, we’ll see. The staff at King Edward Point may not be as welcoming as we’d like.”
“You mean, they might think we’re carrying the virus?”
He looked out over the waves again. “They shouldn’t. They’re a research outpost, so they should have heard and understood what I have: that the asymptomatic contagion phase is, at most, about a week and a half. We haven’t met up with anyone since leaving the Galapagos in early June, so there shouldn’t be any worry that we’re a plague ship. But I know some of the personalities at King Edward Point. They might have a different — perception of their duty, in these circumstances.” Still looking out over the waves, he moved his body so that his back was facing me.
I wanted to ask what different sense of duty might prevail at King Edward Point, and how he had such detailed knowledge of its staff, but his body language told me that, for now, our conversation had ended.
I went below to help Chloe cook dinner. She isn’t a half-bad cook, but, like all the rest, her taste buds run toward white-bread bland. I’m the guy who has to sneak in a little adobo, recito, or just a dash of cayenne and cumin when no one else is looking.
And then they wonder why it tastes better.