At The End Of The World – Snippet 14
“Damn, I wish! Uh… sir. But a neighbor had one, and we used to hunt together sometimes. But that was, uh . . . a while ago.” She looked away as she said it, and then quickly up at me. Don’t ask me why, but judging from that look, I suspect that as Chloe had come closer to womanhood, her neighbor’s choice of prey had probably undergone a dire change.
The captain tucked the weapon back under his arm. “I’m glad you’re familiar with rifles. You’re going to be familiar with this one, too, by the end of the week.”
Chloe only nodded, but her eyes looked like her brain was yelling, “yippee!”
I could see the mouth of Smolness Bay, now. “Once in the bay, what’s my course, captain?”
“Due west. To Husvik.”
Chloe and I looked at each other, then at him. “Sir, did you say Husvik?”
Giselle had heard and came stumbling over. “You mean the place you told Mr. Keywood we weren’t going to?”
The others started gathering around the pilot house. “Captain, you lied to us!”
He turned on Giselle very quickly. “I did not lie to you. I lied to Keywood.”
“But you told us –“
“I know exactly what I said, and it was this: ‘I told Mr. Keywood that I have rethought that decision, and that we are not going to Husvik’. So, when you asked if we were going to Husvik, I only repeated what I told Mr. Keywood.”
So the captain was not only a ninja; he was a scheister-lawyer, too.
He must have seen the look on my face. “You had to believe it, too, at least until we left the station. Because I couldn’t take any chance that he believed we might still go to Husvik.” He looked away. “Not that it will necessarily do us much good.”
Rod was frowning, but not like he was angry: he was confused. “What do you mean?”
The captain glanced over at me. “He can tell you. He decided to eavesdrop on Larry and me last night.”
Everyone looked at me.
“What did you hear?” Chloe asked.
I told them what the captain had said about the odds of KEP making it to spring without a visit from pirates, and how, since he’d mentioned Husvik to Keywood, that it was now the one place he wouldn’t take us.
Giselle was frowning like Rod by the time I finished. She looked back at the captain. “So, are you worried that Keywood didn’t believe you when you said you wouldn’t go to Husvik? Is that why it won’t do us much good?”
The captain shrugged. “No, Keywood believed me. But by then, it was Hobson’s choice when it came to Husvik. Once I mentioned it, torture would pull it out of him. But even after I denied it, torture will just as surely will make him swear that we can’t be found there. Even a half-brained pirate will wonder if that can be believed. And if I hadn’t said anything? Well, they might have twisted him for other places we might winter over — and again, Husvik would have been high on the list. There’s a modern building there, as well as another original one that’s been kept up. The only inhabitable structures on the island, besides KEP itself.”
“So we were probably screwed, no matter what,” Silent Steve summarized.
The captain shrugged. “When it comes to being found? Possibly. But not when it comes to surviving.” He glanced at me. “Run to the end of the bay. Husvik is the last inlet on the starboard side. Make straight for it.”
I have never been so tired in all my life.
We reached Husvik right before the light started fading four days ago. It is every bit as desolate and dismal as the captain said. Like the other abandoned whaling stations we passed at Leith and Stromness, it’s mostly a pile of rusting tanks and half-collapsed buildings. At Husvik, though, the so-called manager’s house was in good shape, as well as the radio house not too far away, but we couldn’t move in that night. It was too dark and too risky to get things on shore, particularly since falling in the water is an open invitation to hypothermia and frostbite, at least until we get the heat going in the two houses.
If anything, dawn was even worse: Husvik really does look like it’s at the ends of the earth. But we didn’t have enough time to get depressed: the captain was at us right away. And he hasn’t let up since.
As soon as we had moved all the gear and supplies into the manager’s house — which is actually pretty damned nice inside — we started sprawling around, thinking about lunch. Nope. Captain had us back on our feet. First we had to throw together a makeshift launch ramp for the dinghy. Then two of us had to tap eighty percent of the fuel out of Voyager‘s tank and store it in pretty much every container we had, including some of Husvik’s old try pots. He sent another few of us to walk around the perimeter of the old whaling station and make a crude map of what they could see, marking any places with a lot of fallen wood that weren’t completely filled in with snow. And he, Chloe, and Willow went on a nature walk. Translation: they went off to find where the seals, penguins, and other birds hung out.
We didn’t eat until dinner, at which point we were so hungry I suspect we’d have considered chowing down on some of that half-dry wood that the map-makers had prospected. Instead, the captain had bagged a fur seal and found a nest of emperor penguin eggs. By the time we came staggering back from our jobs, he had set up a kind of small furnace in one of the half-collapsed buildings that was mostly made out of steel sheeting. He was using some of the wood for a fire, which was boiling a small try pot of water that had started out as upland snow.
But when we started to huddle around the fire, Chloe came at us with a stick. “What are you, a bunch of idiots? That’s treated wood.”
“What do you mean, treated?” said Blake. He was that ignorant.
“It’s been soaked in creosote or even worse stuff.” When Blake’s expression didn’t change very much, Chloe rolled her eyes. “It’s poison, asshole. Once the fire’s going, you’ve got to stand back or cover your mouth and nose. That’s why captain has covered the pot and has those red-hot iron bars leading straight out of the fire to a little makeshift camp stove: so we don’t all die or become retards.”
“Not very efficient,” Silent Steve observed.
“Plenty efficient if you want to stay alive, geek-boy. Now, get out!”
Captain almost smiled as we filed out.
If he kept up with these displays of emotion, he was going to start weeping at old movies, soon.
* * *
The next two days were very much the same and entirely different. Yes, I meant what I wrote. Our jobs all changed, but we wound up just as hungry and exhausted as we had the day before.
The captain took Chloe and Willow on a bona fide hunting trip, this time on the Voyager, scouting for elephant seals. He set almost everyone else to surveying Husvik, filling in the map and keeping our eyes out for useful metal objects, which was a pretty broad definition. However, Rod and I got the strangest job: crawling up and into an abandoned ship called the Karrakatta.
I gotta say, that was pretty cool. It was an old steamship that dated to the turn of the last century, and which had been laid up on a slipway at some point between the world wars. They just left it there but had cut through the hull in two places to get to the fuel and the boiler, respectively. Despite all that, it was in surprisingly good shape. Our job was to find out what, if anything, had been left aboard. The captain’s hunch was that, when they originally put her up on the slipway, they had probably intended to come back for her: if she hadn’t been seaworthy, it seemed unlikely they would have gone to all the trouble to raise her up out of the water.
You had to be careful in there, though. While everything beneath the weather deck was actually in better shape than the interiors of any of the buildings (the deck of a twentieth century steamship is a whole lot tougher than sheet steel roofing), water tended to pool and there was a lot of junk laying around. Sharp rusty junk, now, some of which was concealed under puddles of slush. And once inside, the captain insisted we use the surgical masks he pulled out of the Voyager‘s medical stores: they used a lot of asbestos back when the Karrakatta was built. On the one hand, I was grateful for the protection. On the other, I had to wonder if any of us were now going to live long enough for mesothelioma or any of the other asbestos-based cancers to catch up with us. But I wore the surgical mask: hell, I’m an optimist at heart.