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The End Is Near

In this game, the first episode written was also the last -- in terms of chronological order. The other players, from the second to play onwards, were trying to reach this point. The person to finish the game was thus the one who wrote an episode describing events just before the given last move.

There was also a limit of 350 words per move.

The Game

[srz] Surprise swung at her single anchor as the land breeze took hold, bringing with it country smells and the sounds of revelry as from a distance. The sparse lights of Killala shone clear, across the mirrored surface of the calm black water. The two men stood companionably, amidst the faint shadows of spars and rigging cast on the decking by a four-day-old moon, taking their ease in the soft air. "I have often remarked the tendency," Jack mused, "of your true man-of-war's man to overindulge."

"As have I, brother; though I believe in this case it can be condoned as a...as an appropriate response to the exigencies of our recent adventures. Nay, I'll not begrudge the men their grog nor their dalliances alongshore; they have but earned their ease."

A small boy approached, his belly full for the first time in weeks; with fatigue slurring his words he addressed his Captain. "If you please, Sir: Mr. Killick says to come at once or he'll not answer for the toasted cheese, nor the coffee, neither." He crept away, yawning--away to the warmth of his berth and the comfortable prospect of a full night's sleep.

"What say you, Stephen: shall we run through the Locatelli D major? It is a cheerful piece. I feel a need to celebrate our deliverance, after a fashion; and our instruments have not been exercised these many weeks."

"With all my heart, brother; with all my heart."

----The End----

[shw] Captain Jack Aubrey (Lucky Jack) re-read his orders, knuckling his burning eyes and humming the Locatelli octetto he was transcribing into duetto for 'cello and violin. "Not much inteliigence in these orders," he sighed. "For the most part, I'm the supernumerary, merely transporting you and supporting your mission. I don't suppose you'd care to discuss . . . ?"

Dr. Stephen Maturin smiled. "Nothing to discuss, for all love," he replied. "My orders are quite vague. I'm to 'disembark,'" (he gave slight emphasis to the nautical word, grinning knowingly, please to comprehend the term), "I'm to disembark at a place known to you on your naval charts, my dear, and to meet with certain persons whom I'm told I shall recognize on sight, and to discuss matters of their convenience with them, making no commitments on England, of course." He avoided his gaze as Jack pocketed his last, his very last rosin bag. "Should we be leaving within the fortnight? I'd be grateful for some hours to - "

"There's not a minute to be lost!" urged Jack. "The tides in St. George's Channel are tricky this time of year, and Wexford Harbour can be quite difficult if the wind should whip untimely!"

"I hope your midshipman's complement allows room for one more," Stephen ventured. "Young Anakin Baker, a close friend to my Kevin, displays unusual, rare talent in his understanding of diagnoses, and I should like to tutor him, train him, during the course of the voyage."

Stephen thought a moment about the mission:

"Did not you once tell young Mr. Ellis that the pleasant thing about fighting with the Spaniards is that they are never, never ready? Is it also the case thus with the Irish?" he ventured.

"Oh! Ha! Ha! Ha!" roared Jack, wiping his merry blue eye. "It's not that the Irish are never ready! They're always ready, TOO ready. The joy of fighting with the Irish is that their readiness does not apply to the foe. It's that they are as ready to fight amongst themselves as against the foe!"

[bab] ...written orders, forsooth, and we in the Admiralty offices themselves not 36 hours ago. These soldiers have no notion of the demands of intelligence; indeed I was tempted to be harsh with Jack for his loud remarks about St George's Channel and his not scorning to identify our exact destination and we still not out of the chops of the Channel where any mere fishing smack may alert the French.

I also admit to being more sorely puzzled by my mission than I ever have been before - such inconsistencies - can somebody be setting me up to be an informer? An inciter of discord amongst my countrymen? I am half destroyed by the fact that even Jack seems to think me capable of it and had I not last night resorted to doubling my usual dose I believe I should have been jealous enough of my reputation to have challenged him. It is true, alas, that we cannot ever really know another human being. Why, I myself smiled and smiled and was a villain - for within the next 36 hours, I must implement such a strategy, such a diversion as he shall never forgive.

[pb-w] Three weeks of tacking and clawing to windward had brought the Surprise back to the Western approaches. The unseasonable Nor' Easter that blew the vessel far out into the Atlantic had cost Maturin invaluable time. Leaning over the lee rail whilst Jack paced out his morning two miles on the weather side, Stephen smiled bitterly to himself. It was indeed now true that there was not a moment to be lost. Some stratagem would have to be employed to get his mission properly underway---and he could not consider any other feelings or consequences or proprieties.

Just before the noon sighting a cry from aloft told the quarterdeck of a sail to the north west, closing. Within a half hour the sail proved to be a trim and speedy sloop, hove to a couple of cables' lengths from the Surprise. It flew no flag, and did not hail the larger and thus senior ship.

Captain Aubrey was about to interrogate the stranger, when Stephen, gaining the deck and seeing the sloop, cried "I need a boat and a crew to take me across---now, man, now!"

A spluttering Jack, checked on his own quarterdeck, could barely speak. The Doctor harried him yet again, and within a five-minute lowering-away was in hand.

It was a troubled Bonden who reported to a still-furious Jack a half hour or so later. He had taken the Doctor to the sloop. When he had prepared to climb aboard so as to help the Doctor from above, he had been commanded to stay, like a man would speak to a dog. The Doctor had gone aboard. Bonden had heard cries of greeting---in French, no less. And didn't he recognise that slimy talk from past times? All very cheerful, with a 'Mes Amis' this and a 'Tres Bon' that and all, up on deck where he couldn't see.

'Back to the Surprise,' cries the Doctor, popping his head over the rail, and: 'Now, Man, Now!'

Jack watched the sloop dip over the horizon, sailing closer to the wind than Surprise ever could, and making for Ireland, that misty haze to the North. There had been many strange things about Maturin, many odd adventures. In none, though, had such gross behaviour, such intemperance, such---such crassness been evident. Jack feared for their long friendship. Something was terribly wrong. Whatever explanation there may be, damage had been done, and it would not easily be put right.

"Make sail," Jack ordered. "Same course and heading, Mr Critchley."


Neither toasted cheese nor Jack's scraping upon his second-best seagoing violin brought Stephen out of the silence which had engulfed the doctor since his return from the sloop. Jack was pondering whether a venture into witticism might answer for breaking Stephen's quietude -- he had been mentally reviewing the precise wording of a half-remembered joke which involved how many Irishmen it took to change a lamp shade -- when Stephen suddenly rose, strode to the stern windows of the great cabin, and leaned out as if to study the water below. Jack quickly took station by his friend's side, moving with a grace belying his considerable bulk. He was motivated not only by curiosity of what Stephen had found of interest in the dark waves but also by the doctor's oft-demonstrated propensity for falling into any water deeper than a mild dew.

"You know what Thucydides said, do you not, Jack?" Stephen asked without taking his eyes from the sea.

"Lucy Deeds, do you mean? The bumboat woman in Portsmouth? I don't recollect her saying much beyond the price of her wares. A shocking price for tobacco."

"Right, the old Greek wrote, is a question only between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

"Ah, one of your learned coves, was he? I suppose he had it correct if he was talking about us and the French Navy, for suffer they have and suffer they will."

Stephen turned a cold eye upon his friend. "If Thucydides weren't dead these two thousand years and more, I would think he were talking of the English and the Irish." And with that the doctor turned and left the cabin. Perhaps, Jack reflected, it was just as well he had not tried his joke.

[shw] Jack left his cabin and stepped up to the quarterdeck. The bees swarmed instantly to the leeward side, lowering their eyes, averting their stingers (except for an overeager worker bee, showing away his needlepoint technique on the Captain's good left arm). From somewhere on the lower deck, someone was whistling a phrase from "Madamoiselle From Armentiers," and a sheep was baaing mournfully. At the "hinky dinky" part, there was an answering whistle from the forecastle: Jack vaguely recognized "Molly Malone." A sole straggly voice chimed in "And called it macaroni." The strange sloop was completely out of sight, and not a single glass of wine had been passed.

Stephen joined him at once, regretting his cold fish-eye. Jack had undoubtedly thought to divert him with a small stream of wit. He gazed unhappily at the Captain's bluff red face. A lurking calenture was not entirely out of the question. Seeing Jack rubbing a rosin bag as furtively as a hearty, open-souled, genial warlord can be said to be furtive, he rubbed his lancet in the folds of his . . . garment is the most favorable descriptor for what he wore.

"Might we not bear away three quarters of a point more southerly (I mean starboardly)?" Stephen suggested, listening carefully to the sound of the wind in the rigging, closing his eyes to better hear the breeze.

"And honey, I'd venture that if you wuz to set up cross-catharpins on the knees, and re-thrice your larboard gumbrils . . . "

"Which the toasted cheezewhiz has been a'clotting this past bell and more," grumbled Killick under his breath. "Sir," he added slowly.

Stephen's young assistant crept up, saluting left-handed as he came, his list slippers sloshing on the damp quarterdeck. "Donnez-moi le sel, s'il vous plait," he intoned in greeting. A small swarm of bees buzzed in his wake, a drunken sloth staggered not far behind, a goat nickered for her cigar. Jack snagged the boy by his orange neckcloth just as he was about to fall overboard again, and bodily slung him down to the maindeck.

"Was Lucy not the same cove as who said 'The great wish of some is to avenge themselves on some particular enemy?'" he asked Stephen. "Is that what you mean by him speaking of the Irish?"

Stephen drank his coffee, not answering, not looking at his friend. Jack suspected that he'd laid himself by the lee. He thought again about the lamp shade, trying to bring it around to the candlestick and tace, certain that there was something to be said in that line that would bring him back to credit, but the connection wouldn't come clear.

"Are there any changes to our instructions?" he asked Stephen.

"Just only this:


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