Key West. What a trip.
Not just the visit we made when we were little.
It’s the people and the personalities and the attitudes.
Did you know they’ve been an independent nation since 1982?
I mean, damn.
Which meant we actually went through three border checks in about five kilometers.
We drove down Confederacy 1, right, the old highway over the sea?
Well, you go through the Saddlebunch Keys, and just before you leave the land again there’s an exit checkpoint. We sped right through it; getting out is easy.
Then you travel past the Shark Keys, and there’s this weird turnaround thing on one, just towards the end of the bridge. Turns out this is where people who have issues with their United States visas have to wait until things get cleared up.
Then you’re on Big Coppitt Key and you have to stop. I mean, stop. The United States, in the Second Civil War, managed to hold onto Key West Naval Air Station, and so you’re now entering United States territory. They’re not awful abut visas, generally, but it’s a major military base. They are a bit stricter than the Confederacy is about letting people out.
That was fun.
Dad told us kids to not speak, and for once we listened.
Not like they could have asked us anything, anyways. We were all littles, and anything we said would have been thrown out of any court we appeared in if there had been anything.
But Dad’s diplomatic passport shut them up pretty quick.
Now we drove past the base, and through an exit port on the far side of Boca Chica Key. Over another bridge, a little one, and we were on Stock Island. Dad stopped at the entry port, which was a funny looking building with a tile roof and a couple really relaxed-looking guys in shorts and colorful shirts. Eventually one wandered over to the transport and Dad handed him all five passports, which he stamped.
The stamps said, “Conch Republic Entry” and “Stay a While”, with the date.
We were in!
“You want to park that thing at your hotel,” he said. “Roads here ain’t too big.”
“How do we get around?” Mama asked.
“You can rent bikes, scooters, carts. Pretty much anything you want. Or you can walk. It’s only maybe eight kilometers to the other end of the Key.”
“Where are you stayin?”
Dad told him.
“Nice place. Go down 1 past the golf course, turn right at the T and stay on 1, turn right again at Dredgers Key Road, and you can’t miss it. Then, like I said, park this and enjoy your stay.”
Dad thanked him and we drove on.
The rest of Stock Island wasn’t anything special, but then we crossed a tiny little bridge and we were in Key West and it was like a different planet.
Suddenly the air was sweeter and the birds louder, the sunshine brighter; it just felt happier, you know?
Cass, of course, gave us all a history lesson.
The place Dad got for us was a resort, with private villas again. Lovely. Right on the water.
Then we were ready.
To sleep, that is. Long day driving down the coast, right?
The next day, though, was awesome.
Our experience the previous summer with our bodged-together trike thing paid off, and Dad rented us a mini cart, kinda like a golf cart but built for people our size. It was electric, and we were shown how to plug in at certain stands and not others, then we got to go explore!
It didn’t take long to realize one important fact:
Key West is tiny.
I thought our Key West was small, but there’s a huge difference.
See. Key West in the Imperium is a tiny village surrounded by fields for miles in every direction
Key West in the Confederacy is a smallish city on an island surrounded by water.
Drive outside the town? You end up in another town.
Drive outside the island? You better know how to swim.
But we loved it. We puttered all over the island, exploring every place we thought looked interesting, gawking at the tourists. Okay, okay, the other tourists, happy now? There were so many, though! Thousands and thousands, all walking around, and you could tell they weren’t native because of the way they dressed and moved. The islanders, the Conchs, moved deliberately, precisely but also sort of aimlessly. They really seemed to embody the idea of ‘journey not destination’. The tourists moved with a purpose, as if they had to get to everything as soon as they could or else.
For some of them, it was true.
We made it to the west end of the island, and there were two huge cruise ships.
You have cruise ships, right?
I thought so.
History has never been my strong suit. I could tell you all about The Love Boat, but ask me about real cruise ships and I haven’t the first clue.
At least I didn’t.
These things were monsters. Four hundred meters long, and they went up at least 20 decks, they looked like they might eclipse the sun!
I parked the cart and we walked up to one, as close as we could manage and still stay on the dock.
“Wow,” was about as coherent as I could manage.
Aiyana wasn’t much better.
About then one of the crew saw us looking and came over.
“Hi!” she said, brightly. “You really ought to get aboard.”
“What?” I said, ever so helpfully.
“You don’t want to be late. Where are your parents?”
“Back there,” I said, and pointed to the Island.
She frowned. “And you two wandered away?”
“No, they know where we are.” More or less. I mean, we did promise to stay on the Island.
She brightened. “Well, let’s get you aboard. They’re adults and can sort themselves out.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Kendra!” hissed Cass.
“What?” I did my best innocent act, something I had problems with even then.
“We don’t belong on there!”
“So?! We’ll get in trouble!”
“Never stopped us before.”
She didn’t have a good answer.
“Don’t you want to see what it’s like aboard?”
She was hooked. I knew it, she knew it. It was just a question of reeling her in.
“Besides, I’ll bet we can get off easy. Look,” I said, and I pointed to the gangway. “See? They just walk off.”
“Okay,” she said, convinced. “This is gonna be fun!”