The Checkerboard

They were finally in reach of the Pacific, the sails set to her siren-like waters. The ground of Moby Dick. The final part of their journey.

As he stared out over the crystal-clear waters, it made Starbuck feel sick. He always felt sick these days as if a hollow pit had opened up in his stomach and he was stuck staring up at the pin-point light from the bottom of it. He could see his end within these waves. Yet the crew were blind to it. They carried on in the way they always had, like they were not disobeying God on this hellish journey.

A call of his name broke into his thoughts. ''Mr Starbuck!'' It was Stubb. He was pointing off to starboard, beyond the bow. A great dark mass stretched out in the far distance. For a moment, he saw it as a mighty whale, or a whole herd, a dozen spouts of steam darting into the heavens. Yet, no, it was land, and the spouts were towers of smoke from chimneys.

A delusion told him they had gone the whole world round in a blink of an eye and they were suddenly back in Nantucket. A glance through the telescope shattered that vainly hopeful delusion. The beach was entirely deserted and from what he could see of it, the island was wholly unfamiliar.

As the crew began to crowd to watch, he slipped between them to Ahab's cabin. He already knew what his answer would be.

The Captain was still pouring over those charts, lines on paper that beginning to come to life around them. He was vaguely aware of little Pip behind him, toying with the chess pieces he had become so attached to. Starbuck stayed by the door, as if by stepping any farther into the room he would be infected with the madness he so resented.

''Captain,'' he said in something akin to a whisper. ''Land has been sighted off the starboard bow.'' Ahab continued to trace out the lines likes he was trying to imprint them onto his skin. ''Shall we stop for provisions, sir?''

''No, Mr Starbuck. We are within grasping distance of Moby Dick himself. That is all the provisions we need.''

''Yes, sir.'' He could not help but obey him and it killed him inside. That pit became deeper every time he did until now, he was constantly falling within it. He found he could not move. He stood there still, head bowed to Ahab and back against the door. The old man at last looked up at him.

''What ails ye, Mr Starbuck?'' It was spoken softly but was loud in Starbuck's ears.

''It is not too late, Captain,'' he said weakly. ''It is not too late to stop this insanity – this blasphemy. God will have mercy on you, He will forgive you, if you just end this madness…''

Ahab paused. It was a broken plea, spoken by a broken man who had lost almost all hope but one spark burning deep within some dark place. Yet it was slowly fading. ''Come closer, Starbuck,'' he said. ''You act as though as you are frightened of me.''

Starbuck obediently moved on command, just like one of Pip's little chess pieces. The ship swayed beneath him, pushing him forward to stand before Ahab's desk. Ahab smiled at some hidden thing. ''It would appear the ship keeps pushing us together, Mr Starbuck. We are bound together for this journey – I am the compass, my soul is in the sails, I am the wind guiding this crew yonder. And you must steer by my North.''

Starbuck shook his head, forcing himself to look up into Ahab's eyes. They were lit by some ever-lasting fury, an obsession that lay deep in his bones and life force. He stood over him but felt smaller than Pip. A perfect fit for a pawn. ''I shall no longer –'' he tried. ''Please, sir, we can still turn the ship – we can still sail for Nantucket. We can sail home.''

''Mr Starbuck – I have no home until I have seen Moby Dick spout black blood, until his head hangs from the yardarms.''

''Oh Captain –'' He became painfully aware of the guns in the rack behind Ahab. It would be so quick, a sharp pull of the trigger, the only thing between him and home. In his darkest moments, he had thought of it before. His only hope. Ahab was watching him.

''You think that to kill me would be the last chance of freedom, Mr Starbuck,'' he said. To hear it said aloud broke something within him. In a wave of all-consuming despair, he fell to his knees at Ahab's side, bowing before him like a servant to his master.

''Oh – what evil thing has possessed me that makes me turn to murder!'' he cried. ''Oh my Captain, my Captain, I cannot bear it – it is not too late! It is not too late to cease this insanity!''

He was too deep into that pit to feel any shame for his lack of dignity. He felt like a child again, weeping until it hurt his chest and broke his heart. ''My Captain, my Captain,'' he cried over and over and heard Pip starting to echo him as if in mockery. Ahab's cold voice stopped Starbuck's mutterings. Pip continued in the distance, a crazed soul's babbling. Starbuck wondered how different they truly were.

''Starbuck, by God, man, why do you go to your knees before me? 'Tis madness to be thus enraged –''

The words stung him viciously. In one sweep, a brash reaction, he rose and pulled a gun from the deadly rack. He pressed it just above Ahab's heart, felt the heavy beat through the metal. ''Speak not to me of madness, Captain!''

He knew as soon as he had said it that they had spoken these words before. Yet their positions had been swapped and now, he was speaking what Ahab had once darkly uttered to him. Reciting it like a play rehearsed, a passage from the Bible spoken by heart. He froze in the realisation of it. The gun slipped from his hand and Ahab calmly retrieved it.

''Oh, may God have mercy on me – have mercy on me…'' he pleaded brokenly. Pip echoed him again.

''Return to the deck, Mr Starbuck,'' said Ahab's voice. ''We will not stop for provisions. We sail ever on.''

Starbuck could only nod. ''Y-yes, sir.''

Once again, he did Ahab's bidding. The chess master moved his pieces and he was powerless to his mind and hand. Just a pawn on this terrible checkerboard.

The crew were still watching the land as he returned to the deck. Stubb again came to him. ''Mr Starbuck, do we turn for land?'' he asked, as cheerful as ever.

''No, Mr Stubb. Sail on. Moby Dick will be all our provisions.''

There was no use in it anymore.

Checkmate.

END


I'm not quite sure what it is about Moby Dick fanfiction that makes it so fun to write...

Anyway, this kinda follows the same premise as the other two fanfictions I did but I wanted to try something with more dialogue, especially between Starbuck and Ahab and this is how it turned out. I think I'm pretty happy with it! :) I'll probably do more. In fact, that probably should be a definitely, because it's kind of addictive haha :)

Feedback, pretty please?