The Gallant Captain Oates
By Mark A. Rayner
Titus hesitated before committing himself to the blizzard.
He knew what he had to do. It was his destiny. But knowing his fate did not make it any easier. He even knew how they were going to interpret this last act of his.
He would go down in the roll-call of human history as a brave man. A selfless hero, who knew that he was slowing down his comrades. He was going to sacrifice himself so that the others might have a chance to make it to the next supply depot. He could see it now, as if he was reading accounts of it years later.
The wind moaned in the force four gale, lashing the snow like sand against the bruised canvas of the tent. The snow had crystallized when the temperature dipped below minus forty. Dragging the sleds through it had been murderous, excruciating, and Titus could not stand the pain in his feet any more. They were frostbitten, and going to gangrene.
Scott was a foolish explorer, but it had been the weather that killed them as much as his bad planning. Titus understood that now; he could not blame, or resent, Robert Falcon Scott. But there was guilt. Enormous guilt. He staggered to his feet, and walked to the exit.
“I am just going outside and may be some time,” Titus said.
The others did not say anything, though the look in Wilson’s eyes was haunting. They were open, luminescent with fear, and liquid with admiration. Titus felt like a coward, and would carry it with him to the end.
Since they’d lost the race to the South Pole, the fight had gone out of them. They were putting up a good show, naturally, naturally. Jolly brave and all that, but they were going to perish. So now they all knew that Titus was going to be next.
He had long since stopped noticing the raw grandeur of the place. The relentless cold they’d suffered for the past three weeks had torn the last shred of awe from him. That was for the best, now. There wasn’t really anything to see except for the swirl of the blizzard. He closed the tent flap behind him, and staggered out away from the other explorers forever.
It had been a tough mission, and he was glad it was almost over. He was as afraid to die as the others — more. Their collective resilience and stupidity amazed him. He’d only born the suffering because he knew he would get out, in this final gallant act. A light cut through the whiteout, spilling on the ground. A brief lull in the wind. And he was gone.
Back in his own time, the gangrene was easily regenerated. But he never did field research again.