December 16, 2003
The moon was at the full, nearly obscured now by a flying wrack of clouds that presaged the storm. As the cold wind cut across the bay, a young man emerged from the shadows of the cliff face and turned up his collar against the icy drops already beginning to fall.
Mist rose from the choppy waters and met the falling sleet, limiting his visibility. Reluctantly he stepped from the protection of the rocky overhang and crossed the narrow beach to the dock, peering out into the night. Still there, thank God. He sighed in relief at the sight and moved quickly back to the shelter of the rocks. A sudden sound startled him, and he whirled about, losing his balance in the process.
“Easy there, mate,” said a disembodied voice, and a strong hand reached down to pull him to his feet.
“Jack, you sod!” Johnny snapped. “Coming up behind a bloke like that–now I’m soaked through!”
“Well, you would be anyway, out here in this weather. Should’ve worn a weatherproof like me.”
“Doesn’t matter, mate,” Johnny shot back. “It’s your watch now, isn’t it?” He looked over his shoulder to the roiling waves breaking hard on the shore. No doubt about it; his watch was ending just in time. While Jack froze his balls off for the next four hours, he’d be in the Tavern’s great room, warm and dry and nursing a beer. “Eight bells and all’s well.” He giggled, temper gone.
Jack shook his head. “Now you’re beginning to talk like him.”
“And the rest of us aren’t? Didn’t I hear the sheriff yelling ‘for all love!’ and ‘damn your eyes, you nanogoo cur!’ two days ago when Sid tried to rewire the projector in the media room to play ‘Virtuosity’ over and over again?”
A moment’s silence as the two contemplated that horror of horrors–all Sid, all the time.
“And what about Dr. Wigand?” Johnny continued, a note of deference creeping into his voice. After all these years, he was still a bit intimidated by his elder brother’s intelligence and education. ” I’d like a VB for every time I’ve heard him say ‘Just so’ when he really means ‘yes.’ Even Terry asked John yesterday if he ‘smoked’ something or other…and he wasn’t talking about a ciggie either, mate!”
“You’re right. Another month of the Captain, and we’ll all be wearing ruffled shirts and tight breeches and singing ‘Rule Britannia.’ “
Gloomy silence. Both liked and admired Jack Aubrey, but neither had any desire to emulate him–except for his way with the sheilas. As they huddled against the slight protection of the cliff, a noise drifted toward them through the increasing sleet–a dim, disjointed crackling.
“Bugger, bugger!” yelled Johnny. They bolted across the shingle beach, ran up the ramp and went pounding down the dock.
The Surprise lay moored at the end of the pier, held fast against the choppy waves by her best bower and the kedge. All was dark, except for the golden glow of light coming from the wide sweep of windows at her stern, but even as the two brothers watched, the warm light was shattered by a blue-white flash, like bottled lightening.
“No, not again!” Jack moaned.
Johnny made a move toward the ship, obviously intending to board, but a hand on his arm stopped him.
“No. We all agreed. We can’t go on board without Jack’s permission, and he hasn’t given it. Besides, it’s too late. He’s already gone.”
They stood for a long moment, depressed and speechless, until the relentless sleet and cold drove them back to the meager shelter of the rocks.
“Guess I’ll head on up to the Tavern and report the latest,” Johnny finally said. “Doesn’t seem to be much point in you staying here, though.”
“I’ll stay. It’s my watch. And you never know, he might come back early…”
Johnny shook his head. “He never comes back early, Jack. He always stays to the bitter end.” And we all know he’d stay there forever if he could. As he trudged up the path leading to the Tavern’s back door, he wondered: would Captain Aubrey come back this time? And what would happen to the Point if he didn’t?
(Work in Progress)