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At the End of the World: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 17:00 EDT



August 7

    As always, the captain was as good as his word. Got us all up before there was a glow in the east. Sat us down in the commons room and spelled out the choices: stay at KEP or go with him to some other place on South Georgia where we’d have limited shelter, have to get our own food, and we’d likely have to use up the last of the boat’s fuel for generating heat. We couldn’t live on the boat because it was too dangerous: it wasn’t likely in the last month of winter, but if the shallows froze up, it could be trapped, or even crushed — and us in it.

    It was a pretty bleak picture he painted, and while he painted it, he kept looking over at me. Probably wondered if I was going to say anything about what I’d heard the prior night. But I’d learned this much: when the captain was in his “commander-in-chief” mode, you didn’t speak unless asked to do so. So I didn’t.

    When he finished, he asked if there were questions. Giselle nodded, leaned forward. “What about this place you spoke about with Mr. Keywood — Husvik, I think? Are we going there?”

    The captain folded his hands. “I told Mr. Keywood that I have rethought that decision, and that we are not going to Husvik. If someone comes here and tortures him for information, he could have pointed them at us. Any other questions?”

    There weren’t any. He looked at me again — a long, hard look — and then stood up. “Breakfast in an hour. Don’t be late.”

    We weren’t. Breakfast was served promptly. Barely a word was spoken. When we’d all sipped down the last of our tea, the captain pushed back from the table. “I spoke to my crew about an hour and a half ago. They know the choice they have to make.” He looked around the ring of faces in the room. “If anyone is worried that my presence will exert undue influence, I shall step out.” He looked squarely at Keywood when he said it.

    The station leader pouted, as if considering, then shook his head. “Not necessary. I believe these young people know what is at stake and will speak their minds.” He looked at me. “Mr. Casillas, what do you –?”

    I didn’t even let him finish. “I’m going with the captain.” Chloe, who was sitting across the table from me, blinked, then frowned.

    Keywood nodded. “I understand. Your respect for Lieutenant Haskins is obvious, and he –“

    “Mr. Keywood, I do respect the cap — er, Lieutenant Haskins. But that’s not why I’m going with him. I just think he’s right. On the way down here, I heard some of what was on the radio. People were getting desperate. Crazy desperate. Maybe no one will think to come all the way to South Georgia Island. But I kind of doubt that. And if they make the trip, they’re going to come right here to King Edward Point.” I leaned back, crossed my arms. “So right here is where I don’t want to be.”

    Keywood frowned, then shrugged and went on around the table. Rod and Giselle answered as a couple: they were sticking with the captain, but they didn’t elaborate. Willow said the same. Johnnie just smiled at her and said, “Me, too.” Steve shrugged, then nodded.

    It was Lice’s turn next. She was looking down in her lap and was very pale, even for her. Keywood was about to ask again when she very slowly shook her head.

    “So, you don’t want to go?” Keywood asked.

    “No,” Lice whispered. “I don’t want to go.”



    Giselle leaned across the table, reached out her hand. Lice just shook her head again.

    I have to admit I wasn’t surprised. Ever since we pulled Lice out of the water, she avoided group talks, particularly those which focused on our future. Sometimes, when we were on deck, I’d see her looking at the water and I couldn’t help suspecting that she regretted not having the courage to take a lungful before we got to her. And in just the last twenty-four hours, she’d kind of detached from us. She’d spent most of her time hanging around the station team, who had reached out to her like they were trying to tempt a lost kitten to jump into their car. And now she had.

    Blake stared at her, stunned. The two of them had only one thing in common — they trash-talked their parents non-stop — but, at this moment, I’m pretty sure it was their need for parents that motivated them. Staying with the station team meant staying with surrogate moms and dads in a nice, cozy environment. Blake’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. With a helpless look on his face, he turned toward Chloe.

    Who, I discovered, was looking straight at me. But “looking” isn’t the right word. It was like she was dissecting me with her eyes. I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing, a bad thing, or a bit of both.

    I shrugged, and I guess I smiled as I did it. “Hey, somebody’s gotta keep calling me pequeño behind my back.”

    Her face changed really fast; I thought she was on the verge of either laughing or getting angry. But instead, she took a deep breath, got really calm, and looked at Keywood. “I’m going with them.”

    “Me, too,” Blake exhaled. He sounded simultaneously relieved and desperate.

    “Well, that settles it,” Keywood said through a long sigh. “If you change your minds, you know where to find us. But getting back here might be rather difficult.” That was an insane understatement: without Voyager, return was absolutely impossible until late spring.

    The captain stood; we did too. Except Lice. “Alice,” he said, “I promised I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of their decision. But we’re leaving directly. Be sure this is what you want.”

    Lice either nodded, convulsed her way through a few silent sobs, or both; she was hunched over so far, I couldn’t see her face.

    The captain walked around the table and placed a very gentle hand on the back of her head. “I’m sorry, Alice-girl,” he almost whispered, “I’ll miss you.”

    The rest of us murmured something similar and filed out after him.

    Last to leave, I looked back: Lice was almost doubled over now and was shaking: whether from tears or terror, I could not tell.

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