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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 26: Kondor 50
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Previous chapter: Chapter 25: Hastings 52
By the time they reached Sardic, Evan was on his feet and resuming his normal duties. He, and the entire medical staff, signed on for another run. That left Kondor without a job.
However, he had been thinking more and more about the idea of learning navigation. There was a university in Sardic with an open library, and he spent his mornings poring over the subject, learning the theories and applications of the field, the concept of triangulating your position relative to the stars. He also examined hundreds of maps and charts, seeing how the primary currents flowed in a loop which commercial shipping used to hit major ports along the way.
While he was there, he broke out a few history books, discovering how and when the port cities were founded. The world began to fit together in his mind. It was not the most comfortable nor the most civilized world he had visited, but for the moment it was home, and he intended to enjoy it.
So when he approached Donald a few days later to ask for the open spot in navigation, the chief navigator was impressed with how much he already knew, and agreed to give him the job and train him for it. He moved his gear from the medical quarters to the bay reserved for assistant navigators and copilots, and settled in for the next run. He assured Captain John that he had every intention to stay with the ship past New Haven, as he wanted to learn more about the world. Besides, he said, it would be a shame to have visited Emerald locked in the cargo hold and never to have seen an emerald.
Working navigation was not easier than any other job on the ship. It was often long and strange hours. By day they checked the charts for any islands or reefs which might give them their position. He, as third man of three, was usually sent to the crows nest, which meant climbing the rigging to the top of the mainsail and using the spyglass to search the horizon for landmasses, other ships, shorebirds, and any other clues. On clear days sun sightings were made with the sextant, comparing the angle of the sun to its anticipated latitude to assure themselves that they were on the correct parallel. At night they sighted the stars, often a dozen different stars on a clear night, again determining their own latitude by the angles.
Then about a week out of port, Kondor made a passing comment that changed everything.
"It's really weird how sunrise and sunset get later every day."
"What do you mean?" Donald asked.
"Oh, it's not a mystery; I know why it is. We're moving west, so the sun doesn't reach us as soon; because of the way we're moving, we're sort of stretching the days a little bit. But I set my travel clock to the tower clock in the center of Sardic, and already the time it gives me makes very little sense for today."
Donald stared at him with incredulity on his face. "You have a clock that tells you what time it is in Sardic, even after being at sea for a week?"
"Well, yeah, if I remember to wind it every night. Why?"
"He doesn't even get it," Brian, the other assistant navigator, said. "What an amateur."
"Get what?" Kondor asked.
"Using your clock," Donald said, "you would be able to tell, for example, what time it is in Sardic when the sun comes up here, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. So?"
"So if we know what time it is in Sardic when the sun rises here, and we know what time the sun rose in Sardic, it's a simple matter to work out how many degrees we have traveled around the globe. We will know what no navigator has known in the history of sailing: we will know where we are exactly at one particular instant."
It was Kondor's turn to stare incredulously. "You mean just having a clock that tells time while on a ship is as good as having one of those Global Satellite Positioning System things?"
"Never mind, it's a crazy idea I once heard. So, you don't have clocks like that?"
"The ship rocks, and the pendulum swings erratically. I didn't know anyone had solved it. How is it done?"
"I don't actually know. The guy who made it is probably long dead; my mom gave it to me for my birthday before I joined the army, years ago. It uses something like a flywheel and a set of springs, so gravity has nothing to do with it."
"Fascinating. I'd suggest that you take it apart and see if you can make more–they would be worth a fortune to navigators everywhere–but please don't do it while you're with us, because it will be a godsend to have it on the trip."
Knowing where they were wasn't just a nice thing to know. Kondor had little inkling of the ramifications of this information. It meant that they could plot more direct courses from port to port, as they could give the pilots exact information on which way to go. It also meant that they could more easily avoid navigational hazards such as reefs and shallows and islands, because many of these things were on the maps. It made the navigator's job much easier. Now instead of looking for particular islands, and sometimes even plotting an erratic course specifically so as to pass within sight of such landmarks, they merely confirmed sighting those which were on the way and took a more direct route. They didn't reach New Tempest in record time–winds and weather and currents all played a part in such travel–but they were well ahead of average time when Donald announced that if all calculations were correct they would see land the next day.
The calculations were indeed correct. Captain John was pleased and impressed, and Donald gave Kondor partial credit for the feat.
They lost a bit of time in New Tempest. They were early enough that no one was ready to receive part of their delivery. It took an extra day to arrange things before they were underway again. Navigation wasn't worried. They fully expected to be able to make up for lost time thanks to Kondor's timepiece.
Between New Tempest and New Haven lay the Rough Passage, a not fully charted maze of reefs, rocks, shallows, and other hazards which seemed to shift with time, or so the old sailors said. Navigators were working around the clock for about two weeks, spotting hazards, plotting courses, taking soundings, and otherwise trying to direct the ship to the other side. During this time Kondor was being rousted from bed at midnight and relieved of duty around suppertime, and took his meals standing. He climbed to the crow's nest several times each day, stared over the bow with the spyglass, examined page after page of incomplete charts and reports, and slept fitfully.
As it happened, he was the first one to see their next problem. He didn't report it immediately, as he didn't believe it for several minutes despite getting a good look at it intermittently through the spyglass. However, it clearly was what he imagined, and there was every reason to alert the crew.
They were approaching a sea serpent.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #82: Novel Developments. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: