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Six Degrees of Separation (complete)

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  • Six Degrees of Separation (complete)

    Six Degrees of Separation

    Oh what a difference six degrees had made.

    Six degrees….smallish things, really, and so much could have been different. Would have been different….especially for me.

    Those six degrees of separation, quite literally changed my life. Odd thing, that. How something as simple as a measure of location….not even an actual location, mind you….simply the measure of location, can have such profound and far-reaching implications on a life.

    Odd, amazing thing indeed.

    My story begins in 1852, in my native England. Largest and most influential of the nations she sat near, I grew up with a certain….almost arrogant shading in my worldview. For the whole of my life, England’s dominance had gone unquestioned. She ruled the seas with absolute authority. She had access to luxuries and trade goods in holdings that spanned three continents. Her military prowess had been tested in the fires of history, and she had emerged victorious. Oh, there had been the occasional setback, to be sure….the wily, upstart Americans breaking free and going their own way among them, but even with that unfortunate incident, there was no mistaking it. Now belonged to England.

    I was proud of the nation of my birth. Proud to be an Englishman.

    At twenty-two years of age, and still uncertain of myself and my place in the world, I, Nicholas Pringle, received a commission in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Corps, and was sent to North Africa for my first assignment. I took my new bride Clarissa with me, and we determined to make a life for ourselves there at the Consulate.

    For two years, I served well, and on occasion, with distinction, but I discovered that life as a low-ranking member of the Diplomatic Corps was not all I had envisioned it might be. Mostly, it consisted of running errands for higher-ranking members, and sweating in the ever-present and relentless sun that loomed over the North African desert like some blazing, unblinking eye.

    I yearned for more….ached for a chance to really prove myself. My stint on the Dark Continent had given me a teaser….a taste….and in that, I caught a glimpse of what might be as I watched the more seasoned members of the Corps hurrying to and fro on their way to important meetings, representing the interests of the Crown in lands with exotic, sometimes tongue-twisting names. That was the life I wanted for myself, and my first two years of service came and went, it began to dawn on me that I would not have such a life if I remained in Africa. It was, at times, interesting work, certainly dizzyingly exotic and full of vibrance and life, but I began to see that Africa was not in my future.

    My direct superior, Captain Bloomburg, could sense my growing dissatisfaction, and it very nearly unhinged me when I received a Saturday afternoon summons to his office. Such things were not unheard of, of course. A member of the Diplomatic Corps works when the work comes, regardless of the day of the week, or even the hour of the day. Nonetheless, in my two years in Africa, I had not once received such a summons, and it worried me.

    Donning my best suit, topping it off with my best hat, I had Clarissa check and adjust my tie as necessary, and was out the door with some trepidation. My nerves made the sun seem even hotter than it already was, and before I had covered half of the three blocks from our bungalow in the Diplomatic Compound to Captain Bloomburg’s office, I was sweating as though I had been laboring all day in the sun.

    Infernal heat I though sourly as I continued on my way. And a fine condition indeed to show up for my first-ever summons….soaked in an entire day’s worth of sweat!

    It occurred to me as I drew closer to the relative cool of the main building that this could well be both my first and last official summons. I didn’t know much about Captain Bloomburg personally, but I knew him well enough to know that he took a dim view of young upstarts who seemed impatient for bigger and better things.

    Not for the first time in my life, I realized that I fit into that category with an almost spooky exactness. By the time I actually entered the building, there was a dryness and thickness in my throat that I could not attribute entirely to the noonday heat.

    I knocked (almost timidly, in retrospect) on the door to the Captain’s office, and was both relieved and surprised when he greeted me with a welcoming smile.

    “Ahhh, Pringle my lad! Good of you to come on such short notice!”

    “I…I serve the Crown, M’Lord Bloomburg.”

    “Yes….indeed you do! And it is that service which has brought you to me today.”

    I waited, afraid to say much of anything, as I still didn’t know where this conversation was headed. I got the sense that I wasn’t in trouble, but you know what they say about assuming.

    Fortunately, Bloomburg was a man made uncomfortable by lingering silences, and so he broke the spell himself, plowing on ahead, and into the heart of the matter. “I know you’re unhappy here, boy. Unhappy and dissatisfied, and in truth, a lad your age, full of life and enthusiasm….your talents are wasted here. And you do have talent….make no mistake about it!”

    Such unexpected praise that I found myself flushing. The combination of the heat of the day and the sudden unexpected kudos made me feel dizzy. As it fully sank in….that my superior had summoned me to his office on a Saturday afternoon (the only time that had happened in two years)….that when I arrived in his office, he began our conversation by praising my work here and telling me I had talent….

    I did my best not to allow so much as a glimmer of hope to well up from me, but couldn’t help it. All the signs seemed to point to one thing. The one thing I had wanted since I began my work in the Diplomatic Corps.

    “….I’m giving you your own office, lad.”

    I blinked.

    Yep…that was it alright.

    When I didn’t say anything immediately in response, Bloomburg cackled and slapped his hand hard on his desk. “Good heavens, I think he’s been struck deaf and dumb!” He said to no one in particular.

    I blinked again. “My….my own office?”

    “That’s right. A steamer leaves here for Japan in two weeks time. You have that long to put your affairs in order here and be on it. Come Monday morning, you’ll have all the pertinent details on your desk….your budget, personnel restrictions and limits….that sort of thing…..unless….you don’t want the commission?”

    I knew I needed to speak up, and the sooner the better, but I couldn’t quite find my voice. The heat and sense of dizziness were all but overwhelming.

    “You know there are a number of people who would jump at the chance you’ve been given.” He prompted. “As it is, I had to pull a string or two and raise a few eyebrows to get this commission approved….what with you being so young and….”

    I found my voice then. “I’ll take it.” I said, and then laughed in spite of myself. “Saints and Angels, I’ll take it!”

    He joined me in my laughter as the reality of it sunk in.

    I was leaving Africa.


    Distant. Exotic.

    Almost nothing was known about the Empire of Japan, save that they had started out on an island, much like my native England, and had grown strong. How strong? No one really knew. They were a nation that kept very much to themselves.

    We had some files on them, and I determined to devour every scrap I could find on them right then and there. I’d have plenty of time to tell Clarissa later….right now, a sense of mystery and discovery was filling up the air just as it was filling up my head, and I knew I’d be useless for the entire rest of the day if I didn’t go dig up what files we had on Japan and start my research and preparation.

    To this day, I can’t tell you what I said to excuse myself from Bloomburg’s office. Probably some half coherent muttering that drew more laughter from Captain Bloomburg as I sprinted for the file room to begin my search.


    Captain’s Log – HMS Majestic – Jonathan Winters Reporting

    June 16th, 1465
    The gale finally blew itself out after nearly a fortnight. Three crewmen were lost to the sea, and we commend their souls to the Maker. The ship’s surgeon tells me that Hobbs will likely lose his leg. Nothing to be done about that, this voyage seems to have been cursed from the outset.

    As further evidence of that, I present the fact that my First Officer came to me bearing the report that during the storm, our sextant had been lost. A careful search of the ship bore his report out. No trace of the device could be found, and I am left to navigate by dead reckoning.

    We shall maintain a westerly course, and pray that my navigation skills are now what they were in my youth.


    Captain’s Log – HMS Majestic – Jonathan Winters Reporting

    June 22nd, 1465
    Land sighted at last, although I cannot place where we are at present. According to my charts, there should *be* no land here….nothing but the open sea. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel a sense of Providence in this. With our supplies running low, and in need of repairs, the islands south and west of us seem to have appeared just when needed. So…although the sighting is clear indication that my navigation skills are not what they once were, it is my hope that my failing there will be seen as a forgivable offense in light of this new discovery.

    More later, we’re launching toward shore just now, and I must take my place.


    “I forgive you, Mate.” I whispered as I pored over the old ship’s log. This was it. This was history in the making. A wily captain tossed about on the sea….ship battered….nothing to navigate with, and the old dog did pretty well. Revisions to the sea charts would reveal that he had only been off course by six degrees.

    Six degrees.

    Enough to have hid an entire nation for centuries.

    A wonderful, accidental discovery, and one that I would soon be reaping the benefits of.

    Eager to know more, I continued my reading.


    Captain’s Log – HMS Majestic – Jonathan Winters Reporting

    June 26nd, 1465
    Met with one of the local Lords today (*Daimyo* is the term they use), and bartered for some pitch and supplies. Also wrangled a sextant out of the man. It seems we’re not the only one who knows a thing or two about navigation. The design is a bit different, but the function is largely the same. We should have no difficulty in making for home now.

    I estimate two weeks to re-supply the ship and complete our repairs, and then we’ll make for home. In the meantime, I’m allowing the men ashore in small groups to explore this new land. I, myself, plan an excursion ashore before departing here, to see what information I can gather about these people.


    Captain’s Log – HMS Majestic – Jonathan Winters Reporting

    June 30th, 1465
    We put to sea tonight, with or without Doctor Hasgood, who still has not reported back.

    Some of the men are missing and feared dead. I do not rightfully know how many. The poison leeching through my body even as I pen this is making my head spin and swim.

    The people of the Empire of Japan are not like us. They are an island in turmoil. Madmen, all.

    Must leave and not return.

    Must not…..(text too garbled to read)


    I looked up from the log, dumbfounded. What on Earth had happened? By the account of the Captain, things had been going well enough. Had there been some unfortunate incident that led to violence and bloodshed?

    Blinking and frowning, I flipped through the remaining pages. Many were stained darkly, and I shivered at the thought of what those dark stains might be.

    Near the back of the log, penned in a different hand with what appeared to be painstaking effort, was one final note.

    Do not return. You are not welcome here.

    ~Daimyo Tokugawa~

    Reading those words, and imagining the effort and understanding it must have taken to write them, chilled my blood as much as the short message itself did. Short as the message was, it spoke volumes about the sharpness of mind of the person doing the writing. To have gleaned sufficient understanding of our language to have written it at all….amazing. Chilling, but amazing.


    According to the official record, the head of Captain Jonathan Winters was returned to Her Majesty’s naval representative in New Delhi, in a box made of cherry wood, with the log, carefully wrapped in oil cloth, sitting beneath it.

    Certainly no mistaking that message, and since that time, no further effort had been made to contact the violently private, keep-to-themselves Japanese.

    Until now.

    Why now? My mind raced and wondered. What changed?

    More research was clearly required. Why indeed? It was blatantly clear that the Japanese cared little for visits from the outside world, so why the sudden interest in sending a representative of the Crown there?

    I wasn’t sure whether I should be honored to speechlessness, terrified, or angry. Honored at being tasked with such an awesome responsibility, terrified at the prospect of having my head sent back home in a box, along with a blunt and to-the-point warning message, or angry at having been tapped for the assignment in the first place. It seemed clear to me that whomever was sent on this mission ran a better than average chance of meeting a bloody, gruesome end. Probably, all of the senior members of the Diplomatic Corps turned their noses up at the notion, and Bloomburg had been forced to scramble to find someone, anyone to accept the commission. And I…so eager to make my mark, had all but leapt in his lap.

    Frowning, and suddenly all the more mindful of the oppressive heat, I decided that perhaps before continuing my research, I should see if my table down at Thatch’s Café was open, and if so, then a spot of tea might be just the thing.


    When I saw him approaching from the direction of the Consulate, I got a little tickle in my gut. The kind of tickle you get just before a storm, big trouble, or adventure. I knew right away then, that this was a guy I wanted to know.

    You don’t get as many scars as I got by playing safe, and after a solid night spent carousing, I was in the mood to kick a little ass. Cairo just didn’t hold any magic for me any more. It was time to move on, and this guy, this young Diplomat with fire in his eyes might be just the thing to jumpstart me on my way to the next big adventure.

    He ambled up the walk, managing to look both utterly lost and thoughtfully competent in the way that only good Englishmen seem to be able to pull off, and we were almost magnetically pulled together.

    Right up to my table and thrusting his hand out….the uncertain gesture of an Englishman trying his best to emulate the good ol’ American custom of the handshake.

    “Nicholas Pringle, at your service.” He told me crisply.

    “Larsen.” I answered in reply.



    When I saw him sitting there, a craggy, middle-aged man, looking self-absorbed and vaguely bored, something clicked familiar. American. I thought. Has to be, with that expression in a place like this. Ruddy complexion, the eyes of a hunter, a scarred face that told stories without words. Right from the start, he fascinated me.

    This was just the sort of man I’d want with me in Japan, I realized. A no-nonsense sort of fellow who knew a thing or two about knocking heads together. A Fixer.

    Yes. That’s exactly what this man was. A Fixer.

    I’d have bet my last shilling on it.

    This was a man who knew how to get things done.

    Almost without thinking about it, I extended my hand in greeting and gave the man my name.

    “Larsen.” Was his gruff, half-grunted reply.

    I liked him already, and I wasn’t even sure if Larsen was his first or last name.

    Or neither.

    Didn’t matter though, I had understanding all the way down in my bones that Larsen was someone I needed to know.


    “Japan…” Larsen said slowly, mulling the word over. “Not much is known about it.”

    I nodded in agreement. “I know….ever since accepting the commission, I’ve been reading what information is available, but I’m afraid there’s precious little….I’ll be going in blind.”

    The American half-smiled. “This wouldn’t happen to be a recruitment speech, would it?”

    “Whatever gives you that idea?” We gave each other The Look, and grinned. I could tell by the gleam in his eyes that I had him intrigued.


    The next two weeks went by all in a blur. I told Clarissa about the new opportunity later that same evening I had encountered Larsen. Spent most of that night celebrating with her and making plans, and the better part of Sunday in the file room digging up what little information I could find on the mysterious and enigmatic Japanese (precious little, as it turned out). Aside from having the point reiterated that they were a private folk, not fondly disposed to strangers on their shores—a thing Captain Jonathan Winters would have dearly loved to know, no doubt—I learned little of real use.

    Monday, I arrived at work scruffy-faced and bleary-eyed, but eager to look at my budget information and other particulars.

    I whistled when I saw the figures. “At least a five year assignment, 2000 pounds a year….it was a fortune! I had money enough to hire a staff of a dozen or more if I desired it! Dizzy with the heat of the day and the excitement of it all, I met with Larsen again at Thatch’s, and he became my first official employee. I hired him into the service of the Crown as my special assistant, and charged him with finding whatever other talent might be needed on the long voyage (according to the local Harbor Master (whom I had swapped rounds of drinks and stories with in the past), the trip was slated to take just over three months….camels overland to the land of the Persians, and thence to the Pacific, and to Japan by steamer), and to set up housekeeping once we arrived. After that, it was to the Tailor’s with me, to commission some new clothes for the occasion, and in keeping with my new station, a series of pretty new dresses for Clarissa, settling up my accounts in Cairo, finalizing the paperwork that floated across my desk, and wrapping things up in general.

    It’s amazing how many details there are in life. Things you don’t even think about on a day to day basis as you go about your business….but when suddenly confronted with a change that forces you to look at and account for every little detail, the sheer number of them can be mind-numbing.

    Two weeks came and went like the light rains that sometimes grace the North African desert. Little more than a teasing mist, it’s there and gone almost before you are aware of its passing.


    (to be continued)
    The list of published books grows. If you're curious to see what sort of stories I weave out, head to and do an author search for "Christopher Hartpence." Help support Candle'Bre, a game created by gamers FOR gamers. All proceeds from my published works go directly to the project.

  • #2
    Clarissa stays behind
    The original plan was for my lovely wife to accompany me across the desert into Persia, and thence to the Steamer to make for our new home, but it was not meant to be, and how it came to pass that she did not accompany us on that voyage is an interesting tale unto itself. It provided me with great insight as to what a superb choice I had made in hiring Larsen.

    Three days before our journey was to begin, however, Clarissa was involved in an unfortunate accident.

    Now, you must understand that my Clarissa is not like most women. Most women would shy away from following their husbands halfway around the world, tromping through bush and mud, enduring endless, withering heat, striking out across gently rolling savannas, and braving poisonous snakes, hippos, rhinos, and sometimes even stranger creatures, but those were things which thrilled Clarissa. In truth, I think she enjoyed them more than I. Under the attention of the constant North African sun, her lovely pale skin took on a bronze hue, which darkened her blue eyes two shades, and bleached out her brownish hair until it was nearly blonde. She was a tall woman…nearly six feet, and the changes in her had made her striking indeed. While I was busy doing the work of the Crown, it was not uncommon to hear that Clarissa had volunteered to help dig a well for some of the semi-nomadic desert dwellers, or put up a fence near an oasis, or help track a rogue lion….she amazed me.

    At first, I thought that her decidedly independent ways would not set well with the Corps, but those fears proved to be unfounded. If nothing else, the members of the Diplomatic Corps that serve the Queen Mother are among the most forward-thinking individuals I have ever met. They applauded Clarissa’s efforts and ambitions. She was something of a role model to the other wives at the compound, and when we heard stories circulating down at Thatch’s Café about the “pale Amazon women” who had bagged a rogue lion, we knew that it had been Clarissa’s influence.

    A remarkable woman.

    Remarkable or no, however, she was only human….a fact I think she sometimes forgot, and so three days prior to our leaving, she went out with some of the other women from the compound to help build a wooden aqueduct to help make the lives of some of their desert-dwelling friends a bit easier, and while clearing some brush to make a path for the trough, she was bit in the calf by a krait….a deadly poisonous snake common in the jungles of far-off China, but almost unheard of here in the burning deserts of North Africa.

    That my wife did not die at once was nothing short of a miracle in and of itself. Perhaps it was the proximity of one of the tribal medicine men that saved her life….God’s truth, I do not know. By the time all these doings came to my attention, she had been gone a day and a half. I was mortified, and the thought of her out in the desert was more than I could bear.

    My first impulse was to strike out at once and retrieve her, but Larsen was quick to point out that there were still a great many details here that needed my personal attention if we were to be ready to depart on time.

    That was true, though it vexed me to admit it, and Larsen volunteered to go out into the wilds and get her for me.

    He and I had been too busy attending to various details to really get to know one another as much as I would have liked, for I sensed in him a steadiness….a sturdy, capable nature that I could easily come to rely on. It pained me that we had not been graced with much time, but I was looking forward to our journey together. Once we were underway, things would be calmer, and the pace less frantic. We’d have our time then, I felt sure.

    In his selfless offer to retrieve my wife from the North African desert, Larsen’s sturdiness and reliability came shining through with a clarity and a brightness that simply shamed other, lesser men. I valued him more in that moment than I can even express.

    For his part, once he arrived at the small oasis, he fashioned a litter (complete with a shade from the oppressive noonday sun), and dragged her the entire distance back to the edge of the city, where he had arranged a hospital wagon to take her the rest of the way to the Compound’s Infirmary.

    Eighteen miles.

    Even now, as I think back on that, I am amazed.

    I have never known Larsen’s exact age, but at that time, when we first met, I’d have pegged him something close to forty. The desert can sap the strength quickly from even a young man in the best physical condition of his life, and Larsen, while being solidly built and barrel-chested, didn’t strike me as a prime physical specimen. Big man, no doubt. Burly and strong, but the desert cares little for those traits, and when he returned to the city, positively drenched in sweat and exhausted, I was amazed that he’d made it back at all.

    “Don’t kill yourself off before we even leave the desert, old man.” I scolded him gently. “Something tells me you’ve got your share of stories to tell, and I am anxious to hear them!”

    He shot me a sour look and muttered, “If we have occasion to test it, I think you’ll find me frustratingly hard to kill.”

    His response took me a bit by surprise, and my first impulse was to question him on it. I had even opened my mouth to do that very thing, when I caught sight of the expression on his face.

    His eyes were closed, and I do not believe he knew I was staring at him. Or, maybe he knew it all along, but was just so amazingly comfortable in his own skin, and with the sharpness of his instincts that he knew my stare wasn’t a thing he needed to be worried over.

    What captivated me was that expression. He was exhausted, gushing sweat from every pore, his muscles simply had to be screaming in pain, and yet, there was a look of….serenity. Peace. Even a tired smile on his face!

    Damnfool American cowboys! I thought somewhat derisively as I shook my head. But I had to admit….I was in awe.



    All too quickly, what time we had remaining passed away, and I was forced to say my final goodbyes to Clarissa at her bedside in the infirmary.

    “I’ll send for you as soon as we’re settled in.” I promised.

    She touched my cheek and kissed my forehead in response. “Do you think they’ll be able to handle a pale Amazon woman in Japan?” She asked, her voice still somewhat thick from the medicines they were giving her.

    “You’ll wow them at every turn, I’ll wager.” I replied, fully believing that.

    She rewarded me with a smile, and then closed her eyes. “I’m just….sorry I can’t go with you.”

    “There, there now…” I said and patted her hand gently. “You’ll be on your way soon enough….”

    A nod, and then she was asleep again.

    Oh how I loathed leaving her in such a condition! But, the duties of the Crown called, and I would heed them.

    With reluctance and a heavy heart, I left the room to join Larsen and the others.

    Like it or not, it was time to begin.

    And so it was that I left the bustling city of Cairo, bound for Persia, and thence to the mysterious land of Japan.

    The list of published books grows. If you're curious to see what sort of stories I weave out, head to and do an author search for "Christopher Hartpence." Help support Candle'Bre, a game created by gamers FOR gamers. All proceeds from my published works go directly to the project.


    • #3
      Or should I say....the end...for now?

      The list of published books grows. If you're curious to see what sort of stories I weave out, head to and do an author search for "Christopher Hartpence." Help support Candle'Bre, a game created by gamers FOR gamers. All proceeds from my published works go directly to the project.


      • #4
        GReat!! I can't wait for more


        • #5
          Absolutely awesome. No other words to decribe how good this is. PLease continue when you have the chance.


          • #6
            More, more, for the love of god more!
            Overworked and underpaid C/LTJG in the NJROTC
            If you try to fail and succeed which have you done?
            If fail to plan, then you plan to fail


            • #7
              Thanks guys! Writing odd bits and scenes in my spare time (between scenario projects, and work on Candle'Bre)...'s a fairly slow day at work t'day, so I've begun the next story in the series....dunno when it'll be ready for prime time, but as soon as it's complete, I'll put it up....

              The list of published books grows. If you're curious to see what sort of stories I weave out, head to and do an author search for "Christopher Hartpence." Help support Candle'Bre, a game created by gamers FOR gamers. All proceeds from my published works go directly to the project.


              • #8
                Excellent stuff, Vel.

                grog want tank...Grog Want Tank... GROG WANT TANK!

                The trick isn't to break some eggs to make an omelette, it's convincing the eggs to break themselves in order to aspire to omelettehood.


                • #9
                  i dont read long stories much anymore, but this was exceptional


                  • #10
                    Vel, great story But you are evil, keeping us hanging on a cliff like that!



                    • #11


                      • #12
                        Up too your usual standards vel! Its was great!


                        • #13
                          Thanks for the comments, guys! As I get time here and there, I'm working on another story now that picks up right where that one leaves off....I'm kinna liking the characters, which makes it fun to write...'specially when I jump around to different perspectives (Larsen, then back to Nicholas). I'm havin' fun with it!

                          The list of published books grows. If you're curious to see what sort of stories I weave out, head to and do an author search for "Christopher Hartpence." Help support Candle'Bre, a game created by gamers FOR gamers. All proceeds from my published works go directly to the project.


                          • #14
                            Good story Vel,looking forward to the next episode.
                            A proud member of the "Apolyton Story Writers Guild".There are many great stories at the Civ 3 stories forum, do yourself a favour and visit the forum. Lose yourself in one of many epic tales and be inspired to write yourself, as I was.


                            • #15
                              My hat is off to you, Velociryx. This is an excellent story, and I am wondering why you elected to cut it short. I would personally like to see it continued... perhaps a sequel for the next contest?