The next morning, as we finished the last bites of the surprisingly delicious breakfast that Corinne pulled together for us out of odds and ends of food that she procured from someplace, we put the matter to the vote.
There was brief discussion of voting in secret, but what good would that do? We all knew each other well enough to state our opinions plainly, clearly. None of us feared defending his or her position to the others. There was no real need for any secrecy.
“Go around and bloody spit it out?” Jaspers finally asked, glancing side to side.
Corinne sat immediately on Jaspers’ left. “Safety,” she stated immediately. She didn’t flick her eyes towards Sara, but she didn’t need to do so. We all understood her decision.
“Sergei?” I asked.
Surprisingly, he took a moment to answer, looking down at his interlaced fingers in his lap. “The zduhac should not be loose,” he said softly, after a minute. “We should put a stop to it before it can cause more destruction.”
Jaspers snorted again, so I turned on him. “Oliver, why don’t we hear your vote?” I requested, leaning hard on his first name.
He glared back at me – Jaspers hated being called by that name, claimed it made him feel like a penniless little orphan – but didn’t hesitate. “This thing might have killed billions,” he growled. “We put it in the bloody ground.”
Two for staying, one for safety. “Feng?” I asked, turning to the next team member left of Sergei.
She didn’t look at anyone. “Scary,” she said, very softly.
“What’s that a vote for, then?”
It took her a minute. “Leave.”
I didn’t know if I felt surprised by that decision or not. Feng was almost unreadable at the best of times, and I hadn’t been able to guess which way she might go. Still, the vote was cast, and there was no debating with the slender, fine-boned little sniper.
“Guess I’m up next, then,” Henry said, breaking the lull of silence after Feng’s decision. “And I do have to say that I see both sides of the argument, here. There are good points to be made by both parties, and I think my vote comes down to quite the thin margin-”
“Just spit it out already, Frenchie,” Jaspers snapped.
Henry sighed, rolled his eyes dramatically. Sara, who’d been sitting quietly in the circle next to me and keeping quiet until now, let out a little giggle at his exaggerated expression. “And to think that we ever lost even a single war to you Yanks. I vote that we stay.” He paused dramatically, looking around, but then deflated a little. “What, isn’t anyone going to ask me why?”
He was going to be absolutely insufferable until someone asked. Thankfully, Sara finally piped up. “Why?” she asked.
Henry beamed. “When explosives experts gather, they boast about the biggest thing they’ve blown up. I figure that if I blow up a monster spirit god thing, I’ll always win any competition!”
For a moment, we all just stared at him – and then, suddenly, Sara sniffled. Henry’s face immediately crumpled as he realized, a few seconds too late, that he’d managed to jam his foot into his mouth. “Ah, mierde,” he stammered. “Sara, I didn’t mean to-”
“I think it’s my dad,” Sara sobbed, and we all looked helplessly at each other, totally unsure of how to handle this new live explosive in our midst. “And he’s hurt, and not really himself, but when he reached out for me, it just felt like him, and… and…”
She broke down into deeper sobs, ones that shook her entire little body. Corinne reached out for her, but I was closer, and I awkwardly put an arm around her. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, but the young woman pushed into me, burying her face in my shoulder and throwing her arms around my chest. I felt the warm wetness of her tears soaking through my shirt, making it damp against my skin.
After another couple minutes, Jaspers cleared his throat. “So, not to belabor the point,” he said uncomfortably, “but there’s still the vote. And Brian, we haven’t heard from you.”
Right. I’d almost been hoping that the vote would be so lopsided by this point that my own choice wouldn’t matter. It wasn’t the case, however. I’d spent most of my watch thinking about the choice, and only eventually reached a conclusion. I didn’t like it, but I knew that it was the choice for the greater good.
“I think we should leave,” I said.
As I’d expected, the rest of the team burst out in protest. They hadn’t seen that choice coming. “Are you bloody crazy?” Jaspers thundered, as Henry expressed similar disbelief. “This thing is a menace, a terror, and we need to bloody put it in the goddamn ground!”
“I don’t disagree with you,” I said quickly, holding up the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Sara’s body. “But do you really think that the six of us can manage it?”
“As opposed to what?” Henry challenged.
“As opposed,” I responded, arguing the same thoughts that had played out inside my head the night before, “to the rest of the civilized world.” That made them pause for a second, and I capitalized on it. “Look, we’ve gone way beyond the patrol range of the drones from the ships offshore. No one else even knows that we’re alive, much less what we might have discovered. If we get ourselves killed, there’s no way for them to learn what we’ve found.”
I saw Jaspers and Henry both wince; maybe they’d had that thought as well, or maybe it never quite clicked for them until I spoke it. “I want to figure out what’s going on, like the rest of y’all,” I kept going. With my arm around Sara, I tugged her back slightly so that her head lifted from my chest. She looked up at me, and I felt my heart breaking a little as I gazed into her big, wide eyes. Alexis had – has – eyes like that.
The memory of my wife shook me even further. I kept talking, but I heard the tremor in my own voice. “Sara, I know that this creature… might be connected to your father. But it – or he – might also have hurt many people, and could hurt more. We need to figure out what’s happened to him. And if he won’t stop, or can’t stop, we might need to stop him. Do you understand?”
She sniffled loudly, a little snot bubble blooming in one nostril. “I don’t want him to go away,” she said, barely holding back more tears.
“I know.” I once again held her, letting her fall against me. “And that’s why we need to go back, talk with the others on the ships, and figure out how to proceed.”
The others still looked like they wanted to argue, but we’d agreed to vote. It was a good couple of minutes before Feng, very quietly, cleared her throat.
“Tied,” she said.
“What?” Sergei frowned over at her.
Henry sat up a little. “No, she’s right,” he said, holding up his fingers. “Sergei, Jaspers, and I all voted to stay. Brian, Corinne, and Feng voted to leave. That’s three against three.”
Well, shoot. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Of course, as team member, I could always insist that my vote broke ties, but I didn’t know how well that would currently go over with my hotheaded and obtuse team members-
The word came up from just below my armpit, from a Sara who sat up and wiped tears away from her still-wet eyes. “We stay,” she said, glaring defiantly around at the rest of us, daring anyone to argue against her getting to speak. “If it’s my dad, I want to see him. I want to stay, and you can’t take me away! Or else, I’ll… I’ll run away!”
Everyone’s eyes returned to me. They were waiting to see what I’d do, if I’d challenge her.
I didn’t see how I could. “Looks like we’re staying,” I said.
To be continued…