Darkness was nearly complete. The wind slackened; the sky was clear and filled with stars. A quarter moon hung low and reflected enough light that it was not difficult to see. Island Expedition buried her bow in a large sea, and spray flew aft. Pierce checked his watch in the binnacle’s light. Nearly time to come about again. He was altering course every fifteen minutes, so fine was he determined to be as they crossed that particular location.
As he dropped his watch into his pocket, Pierce had the oddest feeling. He had been on deck since the forenoon watch with only a few short breaks. He had done that many times, and never had he felt as if he had been there forever. He seemed as old as Creation, and yet with every heartbeat he was a newborn. He discovered things, ordinary things, for the first time, and marveled at them. Often near the end of a long day, he would feel as if it had lasted a very long time, but that sensation always passed. This time it was more pronounced and would not depart. It grew stronger.
Below, a baby cried. That Hennessey lad, he thought, calling to mind the one birth that had occurred on the voyage. No one, not even Maggie Hennessey, had known she was with child, although Pierce found it hard to believe that a woman would not know. But she was, in his mind -- and he hated to think that way -- an ignorant, stupid woman, married to an equally ignorant and inconsequential little man. The child had been born between St. Helena and the Cape Colony.
Little Isaac bawled again. He was named after Pierce’s friend, the first lieutenant, who had been the duty command officer when the baby had arrived.
The remaining calf bellowed as if panicked, and the helmsman muttered a low profanity.
“Beg pardon, sir!” Hopkins said. “Ne’er seen nothin’ like it, sir!”
“How’s that?” Pierce asked. His own voice sounded distant to his ear.
“Compass spun completely, like we was boxin’ it, sir. But she’s been steady as can be on course.”
“Right as rain! Beg pardon again. Them kinda words on the quarterdeck, sir.”
“Perhaps you had cause.”
“My God!” Hotchkiss exclaimed. His eyes were wide and a hint of terror flicked about in them. “What in God’s Name was that?”
“A momentarily confusion of the compass, or perhaps the helmsman,” replied Pierce. “I hope it isn’t a sign….”
“No, sir! Not that, sir!” Hotchkiss was nearly beside himself in his fright, and it fast approached a full panic. Odd, that such a slight distraction could affect Pierce’s friend that way. Isaac had always been the cooler of them.
Hotchkiss continued on. “Ed! You didn’t see it?” The use of his captain’s first name on deck attested to the first lieutenant’s growing apprehension and maddening confusion.
“See what, Isaac, my old friend?” Pierce recognized his shipmate’s state of mind and did not correct his lapse of quarterdeck etiquette. Clearly, a more personal and comfortable approach was needed.
“The stars! The stars, Ed! We weren’t just looking up at ’em. We were amongst them. There was the sea, and then there wasn’t. An’ the stars were below us as well! And we were there, right among them, like we were the stars themselves, or the moon, or….”
“I’m sure you saw what you’ve described. Unfortunately, I chanced not to see it, although I have had a strange feeling of timelessness.”
"Hotchkiss' Paradox" Cover art for Beyond the Ocean's Edge
A portion of the above excerpt appears in the back cover blurb.