Next up from Alt Hist Issue 9 – another free extract. On board a sailing ship bound for Bermuda – what could go wrong? Find out in Rick Novy’s “The Bonny Claire“!
by Rick Novy
September 3, 1706, in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Carl Owens stood at the bow of the fishing schooner Bonny Claire, spyglass to his eye. He spent long minutes staring at the moons of Jupiter, with occasional breaks to scribble into a notebook. Owens had developed a technique first proposed by Galileo for determining longitude at sea. The secret he kept to himself. With his reputation for accuracy, Owens’s talents were much in demand.
The waves lapped gently against the wooden hull of the Bonny Claire, and the stars glittered bright in the sky. He finished writing his final notes, then lifted the spyglass to his eye one last time to check his figures. As he stared at Europa, he jumped in response to a hand on his shoulder.
“Beautiful evening, ain’t it?” Owens relaxed at the sound of Captain MacCord’s voice, lilted with a trace of Scottish accent.
Owens collapsed the spyglass and turned to face the captain. “Yes, sir. I was enjoying the cool night air.”
“You work too hard, boy. Come below and have some port with me. Help celebrate another successful catch.” The captain draped his arm over Owens’s shoulders. “You spend all your off hours readin’ that book o’ yers.”
Owens smiled to himself. The old mariners never understood him, or his methods. “I am the most accurate navigator in the business because I read.”
The captain snorted. “Maybe so, but we’ll be busy soon. No time for readin’ when the storm hits.”
Storm? Owens had been to sea many times, and weathered a few storms himself. There was no indication in the sky or the sea of an impending storm. “That must be why Sully asked me to plot a course to Bermuda,” Owens said. “Are you sure a storm is coming, Captain?”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Owens said, “how do you know?”
“Ah!” The captain turned toward the gunwale and looked into the darkened ocean. “The sea, lad. The sea speaks to me.”
Whatever did the captain mean by that? The sea speaks to him? It must be a metaphor, or an old mariner’s sense. Owens had to know more. “What does the sea tell you right now?”
The captain turned around to face Owens, and leaned against the gunwale. The old sailor smiled, and his face softened. “Tonight, she says to take the young navigator below and share a bottle of port.”
The captain took all of this much too casually. A storm at sea was nothing to take lightly. “What about the storm?”
“Not until noon tomorrow at the earliest, lad.” The captain pushed off the gunwale and walked toward the hatch leading into the ship.
Owens followed him down, sticking the spyglass into his pocket so he wouldn’t misplace it. The smell of fish lingered in the air. It overpowered him when he first boarded the Bonny Claire, but was merely a nuisance odor now. The captain went directly to his cabin, and Owens followed at his heels. The cabin was dressed in red, and the furniture of finely crafted wood. By appearances, Captain MacCord had some profitable fishing trips before this one.
A dog rested on the captain’s bunk. This was Heather, the friendliest dog ever to sail to sea. Despite the commotion, the dog simply lifted an eyelid, then went back to her nap.
“Pull up a chair, lad,” the captain said. He walked to a cupboard and retrieved a bottle from a stash of nearly a dozen that Owens could see, including several bottles of port, and two of vodka. The captain returned to the table with a bottle in one hand and a pair of goblets in the other. He sat on a chair opposite Owens, pulled the protruding cork from the bottle with his teeth, and spit the cork on the deck. He poured the ruby liquid into the two goblets and set the empty bottle on the table.
The captain lifted his goblet and said, “To our fine navigator, who led the Bonny Claire to the richest school of halibut this side of Bermuda.”
Owens raised his goblet, clinking it against the captain’s before he sipped the port. He wasn’t convinced the sea really spoke to the captain, but he wanted to know more. “How does the sea speak to you?”
“It just does,” the captain said. “Enough about me. Tell me about the book you’re reading.”
“Shouldn’t we prepare for the storm?” Owens worried. He didn’t know if a storm really was on the way, but the casual way the captain treated the subject made him uncomfortable.
“I told ya, lad, we have until tomorrow at least. We’re sailing for Bermuda full bore. There’s nothing else to do right now.” The captain took another sip of port. “About your book?”
Owens took a deep breath and exhaled before he began about the book. “The book is about optics. It was written by Isaac Newton.”
“Never heard of him,” the captain said.
“Newton is a prominent mathematician.” He could already feel the captain losing interest, but mathematics was something Owens couldn’t stop talking about when asked. “I bought the book mainly for the appendix. In it, Newton discusses a new mathematical technique called the derivative.”
The captain took another sip of port, then said, “What practical use is that?”
“I’ll show you,” Owens said. “Do you have anything I can write on?”
The captain stood and searched his cabin for a moment, then grabbed an oar that was hanging on the wall. He brought the oar to Owens. The captain next opened a drawer and retrieved a scratch awl. “Use these,” he said.
Owens used the awl to scratch a diagram into the paddle of the oar, then scratched some equations next to the diagram. “See, the derivative allows you to find the instantaneous rate of change of any function.”
The captain’s eyes wandered as Owens spoke. “You can keep it, lad. It’s interestin’ to scholars, but has no use to a fisherman.” He picked up his goblet and downed the rest of his port. “You’d best get to bed, lad. We’ve a lot to do come morning.”
Owens pushed out his chair and stood. As he turned to leave, the captain stopped him.
“Take the oar with your scribbles and put it into the launch.” He stood to hand the oar to Owens. “I’ll find another to hang on the wall after the storm.”
END OF FREE EXTRACT
You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.
About the Author
Rick Novy has flown satellites, manufactured surgical implants, tested integrated circuits, and simulated binaural sound. He has nearly fifty published short stories in publications such as Intergalactic Medicine Show and Flash Fiction Online. His books are available in both dead tree and dead electron formats., and his novel Fishpunk will be released on audio format later this year. Learn more: www.ricknovy.com.