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At the End of the World: Chapter Four

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



June 16

    “So,” the captain resumed the next day in the pilot house, like we’d never stopped talking. “Resources. There are only two people on Voyager who can navigate her. That’s not enough. So you’re going to start training another one today.”

    I had thought about it since yesterday. It didn’t sound so bad, particularly not if it was somebody like Rodney or Giselle. They had pretty good heads on their shoulders, even if the brains inside didn’t always work to get them the best social outcomes. “Sure,” I replied. “Actually, I think that either Rodney or Giselle would –“

    “I asked you to train a navigator, not recruit one. I’ve already done that.” He called down the companionway. “Come up here.” It sounded like he was talking to a misbehaving pet.

    He moved out of the way so that the new navigator-in-training could get up the stairs and past him. It was Chloe.

    I looked at him. And this time he really did grin a little. “Have fun you two,” he said. And left.

    Chloe looked at me and I looked at her. We did that for a while. Strangely enough, she was the first one to look away.

    “Look,” I said in a low voice, “do you have any idea why he –?”

    “You’re asking me?” she said, turning to glare at me. “You’re his Golden Boy. You’d know, if anyone.”

    The notion of being the Great Ghoul’s Golden Boy left me speechless for a few seconds. Then: “Well, if I’m his favorite, he has a damn strange way of showing it. I didn’t know he even wanted another navigator, much less expected me to train one. And I can assure you, if he’d given me a choice of who –” I heard myself and stopped.

    Too late.

    She turned toward me. “The only thing worse than having you teach me is having you near me. So, let’s start with some ground rules. You stay on the opposite side of this chart table. Maybe that way I won’t puke.”

    I should have been able to shrug that off, to just smile, lean back, and say, “Whatever. Let’s get to work.”  But no. Instead, I blurted out the first response that came to mind, a tit-for-tat reflex. “Of all the things you need to worry about, me wanting to get close to you is not remotely among them.”

    She wasn’t out of grade-school ammunition yet. “Why? Because you’re afraid I might pick you up and break you?”

    “No, because you’re a nasty, selfish bitch, and I wouldn’t get with you if you were the last female on earth.”

    Yes, I went there. And yes, I was totally in the wrong. And what had come out of my mouth shocked me speechless.

    Her, too. For a moment I thought the odds were even that she was either going to cry or scream. However, I could see that the odds were much better than either that she was going to smack my face — and I wouldn’t have stopped her even if I could have.

    But she stopped herself. I don’t know if it was a memory of what happened the last time she tried coming after me, her fear of the Great Ghoul, or some still vulnerable part of her that my retort had hit, punctured, and sunk. For a moment, it looked like she might fold in on herself, but then her jaw came forward and locked in place. “Right,” she said. “Let’s get to work.”

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