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At the End of the World: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, May 25, 2020 19:15 EDT



    June 14

    It’s a good thing I’m enjoying life on Voyager, because we don’t have a lot of interaction with the outside world. No wifi, no phone signal, not even much on the radio. And The Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea is pretty negative about us listening to the radio. As he puts it, we are on the sea to be with the sea. The chatter from the land prevents you from developing your sea legs because, according to him, it keeps your head from getting in tune with the swells.

    I kinda wonder if he says that to all his passengers on what we now call the Misfit Cruise, or if this was just special for us. On a couple of occasions, when he’s turned off the radio really quickly, I’ve wondered if there might be something going down in the Big Wide World that he’s trying to keep from us. Particularly since, for all of his lectures about being in tune with the sea and staying away from the radio, he’s started huddling over that little glowing box a whole lot more during the last few evenings. Which we’re not supposed to know, I guess, but you know how it is: someone has to hit the head and sees the light shining down the aft companionway, creeps a little closer. But either we never got lucky or he has some freaky excellent hearing, because by the time anyone goes close enough to overhear, the radio is off.

    Otherwise, our first two weeks on the Voyager have been pretty uneventful, unless you count the fight I almost got into. Which was unlike any other fight I have been in. Because it was with a girl. Specifically, with Chloe. The whole thing was really stupid. It was all because of knots. Except, not really.

    Okay, I’d better explain. I had started to teach myself all the maritime knots I could find in the Voyager‘s seamanship books. Which I’d finished reading after ploughing through all the other books on the ship: about thirty. That took me about twelve days, so yeah, I am a fairly quick reader. Just lucky, I guess. 

    So, when the Great Ghoul discovered I was not only done with all the navigation guides and handbooks but had made pretty decent progress teaching myself a ton of the more common knots, he decided I was the guy to teach them to others. It didn’t bother me, because it gave me something new to do.

    Anyway, Rodney and Giselle were my first two students. They are the brightest kids on the ship, but the sad fact of the matter was that they are as unfortunate in their knot tying as they were in the names that their parents hung on them.

    Chloe had nicknamed Giselle “Gazelle” within the first seventy-two hours. Giselle has that body type that clearly craves carbohydrates but is unwilling to surrender them up as metabolic fuel. If you get my drift.

    Rodney’s name was simply shortened to Rod, which didn’t seem too offensive on the face of it. He’s long and skinny as a pole, so it seemed to suit him. However, Chloe emphasized it in such a way that you could tell that, every time she said it, she was calling him a dickhead. And unfortunately, poor Rodney is about as socially adept and comfortable as a thirteen-year-old forced to go to a middle school dance with his older sister.

    So today I was teaching them the intricacies of the sheet bend. Giselle was catching on pretty quickly, but Rod was having a difficult time, as he often did. Smart kid, but he suffers from a bad case of nerves which sometimes makes him slow to understand things that are really very simple. Halfway through the lesson, Chloe came along, trailed by her friend-without-benefits, Blake. Chloe saw that Rod was struggling, made a crack about him “having a hard time.” Rod got flustered, and they pretended to talk about him like he wasn’t there, about how he’d probably keep having a hard time as long as he wasn’t the one sharing Giselle’s bunk.

    Rod blushed almost as red as a boiled lobster. It’s pretty much common knowledge that he developed a crush on Giselle within his first forty-eight hours on board. Just to be clear, it wasn’t that Giselle rejected Rod’s interest: she just didn’t know about it. What made it extra cringe-worthy was that the guy she did wind up shagging for a few days — Johnnie — is unquestionably Voyager‘s least intelligent inhabitant. That statement would be no less true even if we had a retarded chinchilla aboard.

    So Giselle sees Rod dying of shame, drops her rope, and tells Chloe to butt out: that it’s none of her business and she’s just being mean. It wasn’t the most eloquent remonstration I’d ever heard, but it certainly got the point across.

    And it certainly got Chloe angry. Her complexion darkened. She looked Giselle up and down and said, “So, little Gazelle, you trying to get torn apart by a lion?” The way she was leaning forward made it quite clear that Chloe was nominating herself as the king — well, I guess the queen — of the beasts on our ship.



    I gotta give Giselle credit: she didn’t back down an inch. Probably because she is Rod’s devoted friend. And more than that, it’s pretty clear that she had a crush on him, too. Which of course he would never see on his own, not unless she did something a little less subtle than blushing when their eyes met. Like maybe tackling him and jumping his bones.

    But given Giselle’s defiance and Chloe’s darkening complexion, I had a suspicion that this confrontation might not end with words. There wasn’t much room separating these two sizable ladies, but I saw — and jumped into — the little bit of daylight still between them and planted myself there. Only then did I realize that I didn’t have any clever lines to go along with my bold move. So all that came out of my dumb-ass mouth was, “Ladies, let’s not fight.”

    That got Chloe to lean back. But not because she was intimidated; she was just surprised. Then she really leaned back — to laugh. “And who’s going to stop us ‘ladies’?” she taunted. “You?”

    I managed not to swallow, even though I wanted to. Not because I was scared, but because the last thing I wanted to do was fight a girl or young woman or whatever you call somebody who’s eighteen and acting like she’s four. And besides, I really do kind of like Chloe, which is stupid and hormonal, but there you go. I was also pretty capable of acting like I was four. Or maybe as old as twelve, on this occasion.

    I just nodded at her. “I’ll stop you if I have to. And I don’t want to have to.”

    Chloe’s eyebrows shot halfway up to her widow’s peak. Then she laughed again and quick — like a striking snake and surprising for her size — she snapped her head forward and yelled, “Then get out of my way, runt!” and she poked her index finger into my chest.

    Except her index finger never got there. Reflex took over before I could even think to just let her poke me. Because this is what you train for in aikido: to be able to react faster than you can think. And that’s what I did.

    I got her index finger twisted so that her wrist had to roll along with it. My other hand came up and grabbed her wrist on the opposite side. I turned it so her palm was facing upward and then bent it towards her hard, the back of her hand facing me.

    If you know what that does in aikido, then you know that despite being both surprised and angry, Chloe was a lot more aware of the profound discomfort in her wrist, with the promise of serious agony lurking right behind it. She went down to one knee, as they usually do, and emitted a surprisingly shrill, “Ow!” After a quiet moment, she said in a low, very serious voice, “I’m going to kill you.”

    What she did next was what a lot of people caught in that position do. She tried to make a grab for my foot with her free hand, trying to pull me over or trip me. But because that’s what an untrained opponent usually does, it’s also one of the moves aikido teaches you to react to. The moment I saw her free hand in motion, I sidestepped, then pushed and twisted her hand some more. From the position she was already in, it was easy to chicken-wing her so that she ended up on both knees, her face more than halfway down to the deck.

    I waited another second. “Are we done now?”

    It was two seconds before she answered. “I’m going to kill you,” she repeated.

    “I don’t think so,” I replied. “At least not from that position. And I’m not going to let you go until you take back that threat. And convince me that you’re not lying.”

    She looked around before she answered, and I realized what was making the situation even more complicated than it already was. Most of the other kids on the ship had gathered around. They were all surprised, some slightly amused, and one or two were kind of scared. Probably because — with the captain still chasing us away from the radio while remaining riveted to it himself — we’re increasingly worried that something bad might be going down back home. And that makes people more sensitive about anything that might ruin the already weak cohesion of our group.

    But right then, Chloe was simply getting darker. “I’m not promising you anything, pipsqueak,” she said.

    I sighed. “Well then, we’ve got a real problem. I’m not going to let you up until you give me your word that this ends here. Because, seriously: you’re pretty strong and pretty dangerous.”

    She paused for a long time. By the time she spoke, her voice sounded a little bit surprised, a little bit grateful, but still a whole lot pissed. “Nice of you to notice,” she said. “Won’t save you, though. You should have minded your own business and let the ladies work it out.”

    “Yeah, well, it looked like your version of ‘working it out’ meant you were going to pound Giselle’s face into the deck. I won’t have that.”

    “Then what you have is a new enemy.”

    “Can’t see as how you were anything but that already, Chloe. Wish it wasn’t like that.”

    She was quiet for about four seconds this time. When she spoke again, her voice was very changed. “Well, isn’t that a shame. Because when you let me go — and eventually you’ll have to — you are never going to know when I might come up behind you and –“

    “Enough,” said a voice that sounded like a rifle going off.

    We all jumped. Except for Chloe that is. She jerked in surprise, which made her yelp: I kept her hand twisted.

    The Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea was glowering at us, standing next to the hatchway from which he’d emerged. “There will be no fighting on board this ship. Especially not between men and women. I see something like this again and I will flog the lot of you.” He managed to say this in a tone of such disgust and anger that I think everybody but me looked down. Chloe had no choice in the matter; I still had her chicken-winged. He stared at me hard for a moment, but then his lower eyelids drooped. Which actually made him look younger.

    “I’m sorry, sir,” I said.

    He nodded, half in acknowledgment and half toward Chloe. “That’s enough,” he muttered. I let her go. She pulled away sharply.

    He glared at her — she looked down again quickly — and then he stared all around the group. “You should all be ashamed.” He snorted disdain. “I don’t care who did what. Or who is right and who is wrong. I will have no more of that shite on this ship. Is that clear?”

    The mumbled replies were vaguely affirmative.

    “IS — THAT — CLEAR?” He shouted each word so that it sounded like a sentence unto itself.

    The other kids all looked up pretty much simultaneously. Almost as a chorus, they answered, “Yes, sir,” quietly but clearly.

    One last undead glower. “Then get back to your work. All of you.” He glanced at me, jerked his head toward Rodney and Giselle. “Are they done learning knots?”

    “Not just yet, sir.”

    “Well then, stop lazing about and get them finished. I need you people to be able to handle a ship. On your own, if need be.” That got everybody moving.

    Except me. Was I — and am I still — the only one who heard something ominous in that last short sentence of his?

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