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The Corpse de Ballet
[dac] Stephen Maturin looked up from the letter Sir Joseph Blaine had handed him, and raised an eyebrow "The note is indeed most embarrassingly cordial" he said "I can but wonder what he wants of me". Sir Joseph looked hard at his friend. "He is a pompous ass it is true but I would ask you to hear him out Stephen before you make any decision" he replied seriously.

The distant sound of footsteps on the marble corridor slowly, but inevitably got louder. Sir Augustus Cheame strode into the room, as florid as his renowned intemperate nature, and shook Stephen's hand firmly. "My dear Doctor, thank you for agreeing to meet with me"

"To be sure Sir Augustus that is a simple thing" Stephen replied mildly. "I understood you had a favour to ask of me?"

"Quite so", replied Sir Augustus taking the seat that Sir Joseph's secretary offered him, "But one I hazard you will not find too onerous Doctor, indeed I think you will find it is a most interesting proposition" Stephen indicated that the Baronet should continue.

"For many months Horseguards has been concerned about the number of men we can put on a battlefield", Sir Augustus started. "Napoleon is winning simply by volume of troops. My God even before Corruna that was apparent. But now we have had news of a method that may, if it works, allow us to rout Napoleon by sheer numbers of arms. The Regent has had brought to his attention the experiments of a certain Doktor Frankenstein who, and you may well find this hard to believe Doctor, claims that he can re animate a corpse."

A cold shiver went down Stephen's spine. It was peculiar, he would later reflect, back in his room at the Grapes, that the announcement had this effect. He was of course familiar with the name of Frankenstein. But the words of Sir Augustus had set off a much earlier train of memories, what first came to his mind were the stories whispered to him as a child by his nurse, ghost stories of the Sidhe.

"Do you hear me sir, the dead back to life !"

"With the use of a cauldron I presume" Stephen replied to Sir Augustus his cynicism getting the better of him.

"Cauldron? Cauldron? What nonsense is this Sir? Why with electricity."

Now that he came to think of it Stephen found that he did vaguely recall a recent treatise on the movement of frogs legs and their behaviour when introduced to an electrical current. The reality he was suddenly faced with made him shudder, for the implications of this line of research both excited and appalled him.

"Well Sir what do you think?"

"I think" said Stephen slowly and half regretfully, "that the suggestion is an abomination Sir. That there is science and there is sacrilege, there are some things that man should not meddle with."

Sir Augustus agitated, got up and strode to the window, "I had thought Sir to get the opinion of an eminent natural philosopher not the superstitious mumblings of an Irish Catholic"

The cold glare that Stephen focused on the Baronet, made him step back against one of Sir Joseph's glass covered displays. "And I understood from your letter to Sir Joseph," Stephen snapped in a cold voice, "that you requested a meeting ..'because of my experience, and many splendid parts'... as you put it. I was not aware that you only wished to consult those parts that you found conducive to your intrigues at Court Sir!"

Sir Joseph sat looking at the courtier pinned by Stephen Maturin's glare against the case housing his cockroach display, rather enjoying his unexpected if temporary acquisition of a further member of the genus. Regretfully however, he decided that he really ought to release it and intervene.

"Doctor... Stephen, please forgive Sir Augustus, he is under some considerable pressure from the Regent who is quite taken with the idea. There is no question of asking you to champion Frankenstein's work. No....please believe me Stephen, it is a question of funding. If we are to pay for the development of his techniques we need an independent reliable assessment of their worth".

Half an hour later, Stephen left Sir Joseph's offices in Whitehall, in receipt (against his better judgement) of an apology and a task. Neither gave him any pleasure. As Padeen opened the carriage door for him Stephen stopped one foot on the step of the carriage and on a whim turned to his servant, "Do you remember the tales of the Sidhe your mother told you?" he asked.

Padeen puzzled, nodded

"Well they've found a Dagda's cauldron".

Padeen looked thoughtful for a moment, then his eyes widened and he slowly crossed himself.

"Quite" said Stephen as he stepped inside.

[bat] "And that is the whole of it," Stephen said, the wine in his glass still untasted. "I count myself fortunate indeed, Nathaniel, that you are in London, for there is much of this matter which lies within the bounds of theology, perhaps, rather than in the realm of natural science." The small fire had burnt low, surrendering its struggle against the unseasonable coolness which reached in from the damp night.

Nathaniel Martin slowly shook his head. "I am but a simple country parson. This is a question which would daunt the great minds of Oxford or Cambridge or even," he permitted himself a hesitant and affectionate smile, "Trinity. But this all sounds like a wild romance from the fevered pen of a writer with more imagination than science in him. Are you entirely certain that Sir Augustus is not the unwitting transmitter of some fantastical hoax?" Maturin answered only with a single, firm nod. "At any rate," Martin continued, "I am enough of a theologian to wonder whether such a thing would be possible at all. Can a mere man animate a corpse? Is not the creation of a soul the provenance of the Deity alone?"

"Ah, but is it the creation of a soul we discuss, my dear Nathaniel? For surely life can exist without a soul, unless you would assign that essential spark of humanity to every bird and beast and every fish within the sea. Do not your brethren of the cloth reserve at least that uniqueness to man and man alone?"

"True, Stephen, I am no primitive animist such as those we met on the isles of the Pacific. Yet these are human bodies which this Frankenstein purports to animate and I cannot bring myself to disassociate the human mind from the human soul."

"Then, thought is the child of the soul by your philosophy. Although were I to be cynical, Nathaniel, I might observe that I have encountered numerous souls with no hint of thinking about them at all. Jack Aubrey would assure you that the Admiralty and shipyards are principally inhabited by such thoughtless creatures. And thus by application of a formulaic identity familiar, I am told, to any mathematician, then we might confidently also look for thinking beings who are quite soulless. But, pray, I do not mean to be tritely jocular. Yet, even conceding your point, must we then of necessity credit the German with soul creation? Might he perhaps only be plucking existing souls from the void and uniting them with the cold clay?"

"His pride must surpass even that of Lucifer. Whether we speak of creation without God or, instead, of shackling God's creations to the profane product of human hands, I think the world 'unholy' would not be misplaced, Stephen."

"You and Padeen, my dear," Maturin murmured. "You and Padeen are brothers."

[shw] The fire guttered. Neither Stephen nor Nathaniel Martin knew quite how to restoke it, although they had witnessed that operation performed by others many, many times in the past. They talked of the experiments of young Dr. Darwin, ("I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth").

"I have heard these thoughts previously," mused Martin. "Is this from one of Mowett's poems?"

Under the soothing influence of Martin's speech, augmented by a bottle of Prunier "Empire" Tres Veille Grand Champagne Cognac from a hand-blown crystal presentation decanter which fell from Martin's hands and smashed on the floor, followed by an extremely rare 1751 Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey, Stephen fell asleep where he sat. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking into his yellow, reptilian but speculative eyes.

"Have you come, Awkward Davis?" he murmured affectionately. "Naming calls. Reverend Martin and I have been discussing your medical condition since teatime yesterday."

     *   *   *
Suprise, at sea: Captain's Log Seadate August 4:

Last Monday (July 31st) we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed in the ship on all sides, scarcely leaving her the sea-room in which she floated. Our situation was somewhat dangerous, especially as we were compassed round by a very thick fog. We accordingly lay to, hoping that some change would take place in the atmosphere and weather. Dr. Maturin and Reverend Martin have been drinking again. I've never been a hard-horse, but I do detest the scent of alcohol on a man's breath when at sea.

[js]

     *   *   *

Jack finished reading the extract. He gazed round at the elegant interior of White's and wondered yet again how a 20-stone Post Captain in need of a refill could appear all but invisible to the footmen who glided by. It was very trying indeed. He collected himself and continued:

"There, Stephen, ain't you glad I left that out? I have a whole collection of draft entries I thought better of copying into my official log. I would not dish you and Martin so... But there are better ones," he said, rifling through the collection of papers on the table. "Should you not like to hear about Babbington and the Port Admiral's daughters? Or the time young Finlay got into such trouble for..."

"I should not. I beg your pardon for interrupting -- a most uncivil way to conduct a conversation -- but I find that I must remind you that we are to travel with Nathaniel Martin to Herr Venger Frankenstein's Surrey residence. He quitted his native country to carry on his brother's work -- was driven out, by all accounts. I have procured us a carriage and there is not a moment to be lost!" This last was bought out in considerable triumph.
 

As the coach trundled past Box Hill, Jack was insensible to the beauties of the landscape outside. The vehicle shook with his prodigious snores and Stephen and Martin conversed in the gaps between the eruptions.

"My dear... Maturin... does it not... seem to you... that... No, I said... seem to you that...

[dac] "Aaah !" cried Jack as Stephen Maturin's malacca cane prodded him between the ribs. "Brother" Stephen said tersely "If you cannot sleep without resembling walrus I beg you to stay awake. To be sure, you could wake the dead with your noise"

"Perhaps I should petition Horseguards" Jack muttered sulkily as he rearranged his coat and leant back into the corner of the coach. Listening to the conversation.

Why Stephen and Martin found this subject of the soul so fascinating eluded him. He had listened to the pair of them arguing whether the soul was "the vessel of intelligence" or not for the past 4 hours or more. As far as Jack was concerned he could think of plenty of midshipmen that were living proof that if this were the case then the soul could be a very empty vessel indeed.

It was all sophistry in any case, as far as Jack was concerned. He was not by any means the simple fellow he espoused save in his approach to a problem, but in this, as he was very much aware, he resembled their lordships at Horseguards.

"They won't care about souls" Jack thought to himself. "They want to know one thing, Can it use a musket and obey an order? If the answer's yes then the Regent will have his army. A simple soldier could judge that".

"So why is Blaine muddying the water by involving Stephen?" was his last thought as he slipped back to sleep.

[bat]

"But why, Sir Joseph, are you muddying the waters by involving Stephen Maturin?" Colonel Warren asked in his high, piping voice. "I have immense respect for the man, of course -- without him the odious Wray and Ledward even now might not have been unmasked -- but Sir Augustus's proposal seems rather far afield indeed from Catalonia and Ireland."

"You but know Maturin in his garb of intelligence agent, Colonel. I assure you that is merely one part of the man. His papers before the Academy on the skeletal structure of the lesser marsupials and on the flightless avians of the Southern Ocean are models of scientific analysis and description. Why, his knowledge of the lepidoptera of the tropics is unsurpassed by that of anyone except, perhaps, with all due modesty, I assure you, and without the benefit of course of his extensive travels ..." Sir Joseph's voice trailed off as he sought the lost thread of his thought. "Well, I could add he's a remarkably fine marksman too, and that skill might be warranted, Colonel, before this affair concludes." For a moment Blaine wondered whether Jack Aubrey, Stephen's particular friend, would have made some witticism of that last remark, the good sea captain's notion of light wit being constructed somewhat upon the lines of a solid three-decker man-of-war.

"Did you tell Maturin of --?" Colonel Warren completed his question with a double lift of his eyebrows, leaving the heart of his inquiry unspoken.

"Good heavens, no!" Sir Joseph gasped, shocked that the soldier would even make such an appalling suggestion.

Warren nodded his head slowly. "Then I hope the good doctor shall indeed prove himself a man of prodigious parts when he encounters ... well, I think I need not say more, but might I trouble you for another glass of this excellent sherry? I should not wish myself in Stephen Maturin's shoes for all the gold in Spain," he added.

[shw] Jack Aubrey stirred. Drowsy, he was aware of a ravening hunger - they'd passed several inns along the way, but Dr. Maturin was in a hellfire rush on this mission, and was well aware that should they stop for a meal with Captain Aubrey, it would be a prolonged stop indeed. Stephen knew of a roadside quickbite not too much further along the road that limited its menu to hot dogs and beer, calling itself "Frank 'n' Stein."

"Will you tell me, Stephen, a bit about the lady of Herr Venger Frankenstein's Surrey residence? About Miss Jane Wollstonecraft Skinner?" Jack fixed Stephen with his bright blue eye.

Stephen dropped his chin to his chest and read from his notes in a low, barely perceptible, monotonous drone. Skinner was the daughter of a Milanese nobleman. Her mother was a German and had died on giving her birth. The infant had been placed with the good people of Frankenstein to nurse. They had not been long married, and their eldest child was but just born. The father of their charge was one of those Italians nursed in the memory of the antique glory of Italy -- one among the schiavi ognor frementi, who exerted himself to obtain the liberty of his country. He became the victim of its weakness. Whether he had died or still lingered in the dungeons of Austria was not known. His property was confiscated; his child became an orphan and a beggar. Skinner continued with her foster parents and bloomed in their rude abode, fairer than a garden rose among dark-leaved brambles.

It was there that she found a thumb-worn, much caressed volume of literature, called "Master and Commander." Herr Frankenstein was much displeased to see her read such: she remembered well his exclamation: "Ah! My dear Jane, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash." She read it avidly, and its sequelae - she could not help but notice the sad tale of the alterations to the physical condition of those poor souls adrift at sea, completely at the mercy of the Captain and his fiendish bosun's mate, who utilized the odd electrical galvanism device rigged up to the grate to penalize the unfortunate seamen who violated the mysterious Thirty-Six Articles of War, the axis mundi of the seaman's religion. She read all she could find about the device, and attempted to fashion a crude model for her own amusement.

Jack shuddered.

[js] Fortunately, Stephen had not realised how close they were to Dorking, their eventual destination, so they were spared a visit to the Frank 'n' Stein.

As they approached the town, their coachman -- who was local to the district -- spoke up. It was late, it was after dark. He wasn't one to tell them as had paid for his time what to do, but there were some things as didn't ought to be meddled with. Perhaps he could carry them to the White Horse? It was the best of inns -- his wife's sister worked in the kitchens. He was not as who should say refusing to take them to young Master Frankenstein's house, but as the large gentlemen seemed so uncommon clemmed, it might be sensible to go to the inn right away and go a-visiting Doktor F. tomorrow... Tomorrow morning. When it was light.

The White Horse turned out to be a pleasant, sprawling building, with different parts added on at different times. It had clearly been a coaching inn of some consequence for most of the last century, if not longer. The timbered rooms had low ceilings and were odd sizes, but it suited the party well.

Stephen and Martin took advantage of the fine moon, and strolled around the town, revelling in the sweet night air. Jack was sleeping off his supper: two of the three large fowls killed in their honour, most of a cold veal pie and a couple of mutton chops, all washed down with a quantity of Rhenish wine. "How I hope he will not pay for this intemperate consumption in years to come," said Stephen. "The gout can be the cruellest of afflictions."

They walked down the High Street, deciding from the state of the road that it must have been a market day. As they veered off towards the right, intending to walk part of the way back along the river, they passed a church with a fine tower. Stephen whispered suddenly. "Hush: do not speak, but look privily toward the churchyard. Do you not see the light fixed to a headstone?"

As they crept closer, Martin gasped. They saw a

[dac] couple of figures quietly excavating a fresh grave. Listening hard Stephen could just make out the words.

"Make no mistake Mr Burke the Doktor should be pleased with this one."

"Oh quite so Mr Hare he pays well for a nice fresh specimen does our Doktor."

Martin his sensibilities enraged had had enough. Starting up, he was about to climb over the wall and confront the grave robbers when Stephen grabbed him put a hand over his mouth and whispered in his ear.

"Nathaniel, Nathaniel, listen, control yourself, nothing is to be gained at this point by confronting those ghouls, for it is clear they do the Doktor's work. Nothing will come of your interference but to warn the Doktor of our opinions. If we are to stop this ghastly work we must be as scoundrels ourselves, deceive Frankenstein and let him take us into his confidence."

Martin, puce with indignation looked at Stephen, nodded stiffly, and said "You have the right of it Doctor, I beg your forgiveness. I am given understand that Frankenstein not only holds the Parish of Dorking in his gift but that he is Magistrate and Justice of the Peace. We will have no succor from the authorities if we act now."

"Come, we must be back to the White Horse," Stephen whispered, "for what sleep we can muster after this night, for tomorrow we meet the architect of this infamy."

"By George Brother", Jack exclaimed when the doings of the evening previous were recounted to him the following morning. "What a tale to tell a man half way through his breakfast! I confess however I am with you Mr Martin in your reaction. The fiends!"

"You must show none of your feelings about this Jack," Stephen urged later as their coach rattled through the gates of the Frankenstein residence. "We must at least seem to be in agreement with his activities for the moment".

Jack looked at his friend "Aye we'll cut him out quietly we will" he replied.

[bat] The morning sun quickly burnt off the light fog which had shrouded the windows of the White Horse when Jack Aubrey had first awoken. Fortified by several rashers of bacon, a half dozen sausages, a generous bowl of porridge, four eggs, two thick slices of ham, a fried chop or two, half a hearty loaf of brown bread liberally spread with butter and jam, a selection of fruits to cleanse the pallet, and two pots of strong coffee, plus a few bits gleaned from the plates of Stephen and Martin -- they had no proper notion at all about going into the fray with a full belly -- Jack was ready to run athwart Veneer Frankenstein's hawse. "Yes, yes, tace is a candlestick," He impatiently replied to Maturin's repeated caution that they must proceed secretly, quietly. "I'll hoist a false colour, never you mind, so we can dish him proper when the time comes."

The carriage path wound through a stand of spindly oak trees -- "Planted too close together: never get a decent first-rate framing timber out of them," Jack informed his companions -- and brought them to Ingolstadt House, a remarkably cheerless dark pile of stone beneath the unaccustomedly blue sky.

Venger Frankenstein came out to greet them, handsome in spite of a sallowness of skin hardly matched even by Stephen's habitual appearance. "I cannot to you convey in adequacy my delightedness when Herr Sir Joseph's letter to me arrived telling of the imminent arrival to my house of the distinguished eminence of the great naturalist Herr Doktor Maturin and his illustrated companions." He ushered Jack, Stephen, and the Reverend Mr Martin into his parlour. At their entrance, a pale, ethereal woman rose to her feet, placing a book she had been reading upon a side table, and nodded pleasantly at them, all the while her large, luminous eyes sweeping from one to the next. "This embodiment of delicacy here you envision is my foster sister fiancee, Fraulein Jane Wollstonecraft Skinner," Frankenstein told them, and as he introduced his guests, Stephen gazed with curiosity at the title of the book Miss Skinner had been reading: it was the Admirable Critchley's translation of Dante's "Inferno", distinguished both for the elegance of its poetry and the controversial full-colour engravings of the various torments of Hell, depicted in minute and varied, even excruciating detail.

Frankenstein had just finished assuring Martin of his sense of privilege in meeting a member of the heirarchy of the Church of England when another woman entered the room. Easily six-and-half feet tall, with long wavy dark hair shot through with a startling shock of white and with one eye a blue to rival the autumn sky and the other a warm hazel, she advanced with a stately, nearly stiff gait. She wore a dress of deep green and about her throat a choker band of black velvet seemingly disconnected her face from her lush, very lush body. Stephen saw Jack's visage lose its shadow of reserve and dissolve into an embarrassingly naked look of sheer animal lust. "Ah, gentlemen," Venger Frankenstein said, "allow the permit to me to introduce my cousin visitor from New South Wales, Fraulein Babs von ... von Lazurus."

Even Martin seemed mesmerized by Miss Lazurus's very evident attributes and Stephen found his mind momentarily straying into recollections of happy childhood walks among the more spectacular of the peaks in the Pyrenees. There was an odd subtle asymmetry to her arms and hands, as if right and left did not quite mirror, but Maturin's thoughts in this vein were interrupted by her words, delivered in a full, husky voice which unaccountably sent shivers of nervous excitement down his spine: "Gentlemen, how much I look forward to making you all, each of you, your acquaintance." And she slowly ran the tip of her tongue across her full, red, moist lower lip.

[shw] Monday, August 14: My beloved Sophia: A scene has just passed of such uncommon interest that, although it is highly probable that these papers may never reach you, yet I cannot forbear recording it. I write to you, encompassed by peril and ignorant whether I am ever doomed to see again dear England and the dearer friends that inhabit it. I must tell you of our journey to Surrey, but I am dreadfully sleepy now, must close by recounting my deep and abiding love for you, you are constantly in my thoughts. The brave fellows whom I have persuaded to be my companions look towards me for aid, but I have none to bestow. There is something terribly appalling in our situation, yet my courage and hopes do not desert me. Yet it is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men are endangered through me. If we are lost, Herr Frankenstein's mad schemes are the cause.

He put the paper aside, yawning, trying to remember vaguely the previous evening's repast . . .

"I am glad Martin is not here," Stephen had said in Jack's ear. "He could never have approved these licentious postures and wanton looks."

"Perhaps not," said Jack. "For my own part I do not find them objectionable, however."

Jack did not object: not at all; but sleep was rising up with such force that for some time now he had not dared shut his eyes for fear of dropping off and more than off - deep, deep down.

To his extreme confusion he woke to find the whole table smiling at him. Two powerful but cadaverous men, dull of eye but strong of limb, heaved him gently to his feet and led him away. On the threshold he turned, as in a dream, and made his bow. Fraulein Babs with the kindest look, returned it: then there was a warm darkness and these sure hands;

He had rarely been so tired, had rarely gone so very far down; yet he rose up clear and fresh, no muddiness, no staring about; he knew, as a sailor knows, that it was near the end of the middle watch, and the tide was on the turn; he knew that there was someone in the room, and as he sat up a strong arm pressed him back, a warm, scented arm. He was not altogether surprised - perhaps his half-walking mind had caught the scent - nor at all displeased: his heart began to beat violently, and he made room.

Babs smiled. It was an awkward smile - devoid at this hour of paint, her lips were uneven, the musculature in her cheeks had seemed jerky. In the harsh light of day, he observed a jagged scar down her left cheek, now deprived of cosmetic. Her arm jerked spasmodically, knocking a book off the bedside table, a salvationarmyknottedpine replica. He jumped to pick it up, turning it in his hands. It was Batrinque's "A Sea of Curses: A Lexicon and Companion to Dante's Inferno." Fraulein Babs smiled again. "It's breakfast time," she whispered in his ear, "Do you like to eat, my little ratbag?"
 

[js] "But I believe he has interested motives," Sir Joseph remarked.

Colonel Warren did not at first apprehend his meaning.

"The Major's offer of marriage to Miss Skinner. Rejected most discourteously," said Sir Joseph. "She offered to impale him on a marlinspike. Goodness knows where a young lady would get such ideas."

"I must beg leave to disagree," replied Warren. "Major Ball-Supp is the finest agent in Surrey. If he reports these events, they must have happened. Full-grown sheep ripped in two, a whole barn of chickens found with their heads torn off, other beasts mutilated... mutilated in ways I cannot bring myself to mention. The Major reports strange, mismatched footprints leading away from the carnage, and swears that these events occur only on farms adjoining the Frankenstein estate."

Sir Joseph sighed. "You have the right of it, Colonel. We should have told Maturin of these things on hearing the first, incredible rumours." He thought of Stephen; his most prized agent, for whom he felt a particular kindness... and a particular responsibility. His face settled into an expression of the deepest apprehension.

"Blaine - you are as mumchance as the proverbial gib cat!" exclaimed the Colonel. "You need not fret so. Remember that the party is accompanied by Captain Aubrey. Whatever his faults, he is as brave as a lion. He is bound to deal with whatever horrors lie in Dorking... deal with them in true Navy fashion!"

[dac] The blow delivered with some force to Jack's head, meant that he had an opportunity for the second time that morning of gaining consciousness in Herr Doktor Frankenstein's house - this time in the cellar. He tried to move and found himself chained to the wall next to Stephen and Mr Martin.

"Struggling is futile Captain you cannot escape" said Frankenstein from the corner of the room.

"How did you know?" asked Stephen wearily, for Jack had been his last hope.

"You underestimated us Doctor, we were puzzled when one of my servants reported three visitors in the carriage but only two appeared at the door." Frankenstein replied. "And our discovery of Mr Martin sneaking around the grounds made us even more suspicious. But of course we only really were certain of your motives when Captain Aubrey started talking in his sleep. Most unfortunate" he said turning back to the dissecting table.

"Your objections surprise me Maturin" came another voice from the shadows "but then you are only half Catalan".

Stephen sat bolt upright he knew that voice, that whine could only be....

"Gonzalez Boncas da Zimmermann at your service gentlemen"

"Gonzalez Zimmermann of course" thought Stephen, "the eccentric, nay mad Catalan freedom fighter. The man who put the whoopie cushion on Napoleon's coronation throne, organised the Paris mime riots, the insane genius who secretly replaced the eagles of 3 imperial legions with foil covered chocolate replicas... The man who single handed made Napoleon's spin doctors wake up screaming in the dead of night. So he was behind this!"

"Ah Doctor, I see you recognise me" Gonzalez said "I am flattered. Sadly however the Doktor and I cannot risk your report to Horseguards, so regretably you and Mr Martin are destined for the spare parts tub. But you Captain," he said turning to Jack "I have a special fate for you. But more of that later, let me show you our secret weapon that the Regent is so taken with".

Gonzalez Zimmermann rang a bell and through the door pirouetted twenty corpses resplendent in breastplate and tutu performing their points with remarkable skill in their riding boots. "The 17th Heavy Dragoons Ballet Troop" he announced with obvious pride as they pas et deux'd and snapped to attention.

"Troupe" Stephen corrected him

"That sir is a matter for my publicist" Zimmermann replied sharply. He smiled insanely. "And you Captain", he cried "You will lead them, you will be our swan, our Fontaine, our Bussey. Take him away."

Cold fear clutched at Jack as he was lead to the table to be strapped down, He could think of no fate worse, no shame greater. He, an gentleman of the Navy was being forced to join the Army!

[bat] Jack felt the stiff leather restraints cut harshly into his wrists and ankles as he was strapped on to the large wooden slab. Frankenstein fastened a silver metal band about his forehead, clamping his head into immobility. Jack's eyes swept back and forth as he tried to hold back the wave of unreasoning terror which threatened to engulf him. Frankenstein bent over the table, a syringe tipped with a long, glittering needle grasped in one hand. "Soon, very soon, herr kapitan, the tripping light fantastical over the stage you will be!"

Jack Aubrey was not a man much given to introspection or to railing against the Fates, but was this how his life and career would end? A man who had fought the French and Spanish and Dutch with cutlass and carronade? An officer who had parried the heathen sword strokes of half-naked savages on distant seas? A veteran of vicious backroom baccarat games at the Admiralty? Ending in an oversized tutu which wasn't even in his best colour? Without a flag at his mizzen?

The air of the laboratory was rent with a crashing boom as a heavy oaken door sprang back and shattered into splinters against the granite wall. "Nein!" a thunderous voice echoed through the chamber.

"Nine?" Gonzalez ZZimmerman asked, with a puzzled frown. "No, there are twenty dragoon dancers. See? One, deux, drei ..."

"Schtopp!" the same thunderous voice bellowed, bludgeoning Zimmerrman into awed silence. Fraulein Babs strode into the room like a grand, vengeful Valkyrie, her blue and hazel eyes flashing like fireworks over the Danube river on a particularly hellish celebratory night. "Let go of mein cupcake!"

"Babski," Frankenstein chided the massive creature, "we're not hurting the kapitan, we're merely making sure he's YMDCCCXIII compliant ..."

"Don't hand me that line, Doktor. I vasn't reanimated yesterday!"

"Seize her, men," ordered Gonzalez Zimmermaan.

The twenty tutu-clad dragoons stepped lithely forward, then staggered to a halt as the gargantuan blond turned the full force of her charms upon them. Even dead men -- even dead ballet dancers -- were not immune to such majestic attributes so brazen thrust at them. The moment of hesitation was all that Fraulein Babs required. She pushed hard with one massive, asymmetrical hand against the chest of the leading dragoon, knocking him back like a dandelion puff in the mistral. The first dancer collided with the second, toppling him on to the third, who crashed into the fourth, and so on until the floor was covered with a dazed, writhing mass of polished boot leather and delicate sheer fabric. Frankenstein shrank back against the damp stone wall, while Zimmermannn decided this was an excellent moment to go up to his room to review his stock portfolios.

Babs wrenched the leather straps from their buckles and swept up Jack in her beefy arms. Without a backwards glance, she ran with a certain elephantine grace from the room, the stunned Aubrey clasped to her ample bosom. Stephen, still chained to the wall, shouted

[shw] "To a nunnery, go!"

Instinctively, Jack responded "O! What a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" Jack had played Ophelia many and many a time, and never missed his cue. He twisted to glance at Stephen and in doing so, toppled Fraulein Babski in mid-stride. It all came clear to him now. He promptly pinned Babs to the ground, accidentally wrenching off one of her mammaries, which had been but loosely basted in its place.

"What a noble mind is here o'erthrown," he repeated. The tale was now clear in his mind. It was Dr. Frankenstein's mind that Stephen wished to overthrow, he now understood. With one mighty whack, he coldcocked the evil doctor.

There was no time to untie the knots binding Stephen and Mr. Martin. Jack methodically began chewing through the leathern restraints imprisoning his friends. They were not as tasty as the cisterns of La Biche, he reflected, chomping, chomping. His huge jaws bulged with leather, but he noted the sign on the wall above the wristholds, "Please to not be spitting on the floor," so he swallowed the leather, and bit off another chunk.

Stephen wrenched himself free, and untied Nathaniel Martin.

"Sure and I'm not the nautical cove of the world, but these little slipknots do not present me with challenge," he ventured.

Babski awoke and began hastily rearranging her anatomy. While Jack and Stphen watched her shyly, Rev. Martin leaped to his feet, shouting "There's not a minute to be lost!" Stephen turned his attention to Dr. Frankenstein, now beginning to stir.

"Sir," Stephen shouted, "Les joux s'ont fait. Your little game of piquet is over."

Jack Aubrey smiled happily, an incongruous strand of leather dangling from between his front teeth, as he heard a gratefully familiar sound.

"We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors
We'll range and we'll roam over all the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of old England -
From Ushant to Scilly 'tis thirty-five leagues."

Tom Pullings and Barrett Bonden at the lead, Awkward Davis salivating close behind, the door to the cellar burst inward as the Surprises crashed to the rescue, brandishing torches and pitchforks. Pullings and the crew made little work of Frankenstein and his minions, while Babbington happily followed Fraulein Babski to her chamber.

"Not so fast there," commanded the Captain.

"It's quite all right, sir," replied Babbington. "I have protection. They showed Dr. Maturin's Health Education 101 filmstrip in the wardroom just this morning, and I am fully prepared."

* * *

The tide was at its full the following morning when Padeen carried the smiling Babbington aboard, and they set sail for home. Jack smiled happily on his quarterdeck, humming as sotto voce as his gravelly growly basso profundo would allow, "From Ushant to Scilly 'tis thirty-five leagues."
 

The End

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