Voyage of the PRION
A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize...
Another Orpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.
Some individuals find themselves square pegs in a world of round holes. When then can they possibly fit? They naturally seek to discover new worlds where they can carve out their unique destinies--the only problem is that such places are few and far between in a world made small and convenient by modern transportation and communications. The search for niches forthe vast majority of such souls is, thus, foredoomed to frustration. Conquistidores in spirit, they cannot be satisfied by anything less than the ultimate challenge to their nerve, stamina, and ingenuity.
Of Earth’s last, few frontiers of discovery on land or sea, Antarctica remained the most inaccessible and stubbornly defiant toward man the intruder. Though climatic changes of global scope had spread its dominant species, Emperor penguins, Leopard seals, and various seabirds such as prions, vastly extending their habitats to include the Patagonian coast of southern Argentina, Southern Australia and Tasmania, and South Africa (though prions, for example, ranged even farther, up the coasts to places like Seattle and Minneapolis and New York), the continent itself remain enclosed in a gigantic defensive moat of pack ice, storms, and blizzards.
Of the two Arctics, the Southern was unique in that it was much, much colder. The Northern was ringed by relatively warm land masses, the Southern by ice and frigid ocean. No mountains could stop the winds in Anarctica, while the Northern polar regions were crisscrossed by many. The winds, uncontrolled, pushed away southeward moving warm air. Then all that sea ice around Anarctica acted like a gigantic deep-freeze insulator, much of it melting in sunmmer but in the process consuming energy that could have warmed things up a bit. Finally, all that ice, three miles thick and covering 98 per cent of its land mass, itself reflected 90 per cent of the sunlight reaching the continent.
All this ferocious frigidity made the South Polar Continent all the more alluring to certain souls--Sir Ernest Shackleton’s, chief among them at the turn of the century. His expeditions, two in all, failed to achieve their objective, the South Pole, but in his attempts he and his men gained undying glory in the annals of polar exploration. Vanishing mysteriously at the start of his ill-starred Third Expedition into East Antarctica, Shackleton left a great legacy, neverthless, preserved in his diaries and the various accounts written of his exploits--but, beyond these, his example proved far more an inspiration, driving men from all quarters of the globe to emulate him if they could. To climb the impossible Peak, to swim the impossible Sea, to--in David Bryan Wyndham’s case--sail a boat across impossible stretches of ice and storm in order to circumnavigate the whole of Antarctica--was inevitably compared to Shackleton and what he had achieved for the human spirit in the way of fighting and never giving up against overwhelming odds.
Yet, in such lonely and sacrificial undertakings, when nothing could be seen most moments in the way of a possible pay-off or meaningful success, the best and hardiest and bravest could seriously wonder if they had not lost their minds in setting out where even angels might fear to go.
Meanwhile, as Wyndham readied his sloop for sail-date, the results of a thermonuclear storm on the Sun finally reached the surface and then raced at 1,000 miles per second toward Earth. Struck by the Red Star in ANNO 1912, the explosion was a million times more massive and violent, tearing apart so many hydrogen atoms that the nuclear fusion engine was deprived in an instant of what it needed to maintain its steady burn. Distabilized, a radical shift from hydrogen to helium began that shouldn’t have happened for several billion years at least for this main sequence star. The protons and electrons from the myriads of destroyed hydrogen atoms racing toward Earth and Wyndham--they were
the stuff that made auroras at both Arctics, as they collided with Earth’s magnetic field and
were drawn irresistably to the ends of the giant magnet.
How beautiful auroras could be as the Sun’s particles collided with Earth’s gases, creating electrical discharges that glowed red and white, green and purple in sky-wide
displays that quivered like filmy, sparkling curtains being shaken or sometimes spun around in slow spirals that looked like the tail of a great green dragon.
Most were just that--beautiful and impressive--like paintings that hang temporarily on the wall, and no more dangerous. Others, tapping vast pooled magnetic energies from the dark side of the Earth,
created substorms that released millions of amperes of electricity, 20 times that of a lightning bolt, which alone could run all the world’s factories. This time, however, the surge would exceed all
former outputs as the phenomenal discharge of vital energy from the hemorrhaging, staggering Sun plugged into Earth’s magnetic socket.
“I have to be a lunatic,” he thought, dismissing the idea when first it came. But it wouldn’t go away, and after a while he knew it had gripped his heart, and he had to obey. But the common sense part of him would not give up. Questions of how sane he was to undertake so perilous a voyage plagued him day and night.
For beginners, who in his right mind would attempt to sail a 32-foot sloop six thousand miles through winter seas and storms to the berg-bristling Antarctic Peninsula? Who would do this, moreover, with no hope of winning a world-class prize as compensation? Who would do it for the sheer personal satisfaction of having done it ALONE, with no one else’s brawn or brain but one’s own?
That Wyndham’s “First Solo Circum-Polar Expedition” was his very own ego-trip, and his family
of two girls and a mother who had divorced him for something more tangible had nothing to lose but a seldom-seen, badly-distracted father and laughingstock of what a husband was supposed to be--well,
he had been a roamer, restless since birth. It was just too bad he had tried to settle down that once, making others regret the decision. But, then, other men like himself with sea water for blood, unable to sink their roots into solid land and middle-class respectability , had made the same mistake and, realizing that living the mistake would not correct it, had run off to their mother the sea.
God help such wild-spirited men! They existed, so God Almighty must have fashioned their souls, but, in their wake, they often left bitterness and desolation in lives of loved ones they could not find it in their hearts to live with.
So, realizing their mistakes, they ran, and they ran, and they ran with the wild waves of the sea--always their breasts breathing regrets along with the joy of being free of the soffocating, confining land! Some days they forgot all regrets entirely, and then they were the happiest men on the globe--but such days were rare. Mostly they sailed, with pain as a life-companion, and pain drove them onward after what their souls most desired: union with the free spirit of the sea.
Such an expanse as the Globe-girdling Sea, the River Ocean--it expanded the soul horizon to horizon, and nothing could possibly confine the human spirit. Compared to this bliss of seemingly infinite possibility, what could human civilization, all its sideshows and circuses, offer? David Wyndham, from the Land of the Long Clouds, the “Scandinavia of the Pacific” or New Zealand, was one who found little attraction in self-indulging, tightly-scheduled, horizonless human civilization. Let wooley-brained Brit Romantic poets like William Wordsworth lose their composure over garden roses on a cottage gate or little rustic maids reaping the wheaten grain in sunlit glades--that was mere silly stuff to a true seafarer. Two minutes spent fighting for your life on a small sloop against a real storm of twenty foot waves and wind like a yard of locomotives coming at you from all directions knocked the Romantic view of Nature on the head! Nature, on the water, was nothing like it was pictured on land by poets! It was majestic, but always terror gave the majesty its reality--for a lovely sunset could turn into a killer- hurricane or typhoon, or that vision of paradise might draw you in, if you weren’t careful, upon a reef in shark-infested waters. Joseph Conrad was about the only writer who got it right, because he had been a seaman first. He said that whatever beauty was there, and the Sea’s beauty was stupendous and omnipresent, it came often with a terrible price.
Perhaps, that was what lured men like David Bryan Wyndham to spend their lives in pursuit of
the Sea--they could never get free, nor did they wish to get free, of the spell of so much beauty and so much terror bound up in one stupendous physical reality.
For years--not counting the several years he made a rather serious marital “miscalculation”--Wyndham roamed the South Seas, supposedly mapping the ancient Polynesian voyage-routes by following their star-charts. He had composed papers for the Royal Astronomical Society in London, which detailed his voyages and what could be learned from the star-charts he devised after long study of Polynesian myths and the oral testimonies of surviving, octogenarian Polynesian seafarers. The knowledge of the stars was a dying art, unfortunately, among the Polynesian sea-peoples, he found. The last transpacific voyages had taken place well over a century before, and only the oldest men could recall any of the “wisdom of the stars” that their forefathers used to guide them to places like Macronesia (or any part of the Indonesian Constellation, with Australia, and New Zealand), Micronesia, Easter Island, Hawaii, New Zealand, the Philippines, and--some would say--Pre-Columbian Peru--places now where their descendants, if there were any, were shivering in winter clothing most of the year.
How much the world’s climate had retrograded since the turn of the century! What had happened to the heralded, widely-accepted world warming trend. The Little Ice Age was supposed to have ended in the late 19th Century--the 1888 killer blizzard in the USA supposed to be its last gasp. A thousand theories had been cococted, but it remained a mystery. Playing on the scientific community’s hope to shed some light on the question, Wyndham had gained some support in the way of badly needed cash gifts and also equipment--it took a lot to provision the PRION for the forthcoming voyage to Anarctica, main factory, it seemed, for the terrible Ice Age that had been attempting to freeze out the world’s human civilization for the past six or seven decades.
Like his New Zealand namesake, that secretive, nocturnal roving, flightless insectivorean called the Kiwi, Wyndham preferred obscurity and the road less travelled by. But even a kiwi has to round up its own grub, and to do that sometimes takes other members of the species, when you are human, that is.
Fortunately, sailing folk, by the very tenuous, hazardous nature of their trade, tend to look out for each other, never knowing when life may depend on it. Help came, not spectacularly, but in the ways you could expect when men of good will think of some favor that was within their power. So Wyndham, Kiwi Dave” to fellow skippers and close friends who passed the word, thereby gaining him some notoriety and some real cash from geographic-minded societies and publications, was gratified that people appreciated his “work,” but it wasn’t work for him, merely a series of ponderings and ruminations over a period of years he spent bumming around the Pacific on the heels of the “Great Polynesian Sea-Trekkers,” as he called them. He had heard from his mother that they had wealthy relations in the British Isles--but what would such have to do with his likes? It was best to let them discover him, rather than the other way with cup in hand.
As for the others, would educated, highly-cultivated people pay for his articles or listen to his papers being read before the learned scholars at the Royal Astronomical and Royal Geographic Societies in London if they had guessed he was nothing but a sea-bum with sand lice in his hair and smelly sneakers on his feet he almost never took off? He hadn’t finished college or university, had never held a job for more than a year, and really couldn’t claim any achievements except the boat he sailed--a Brancusi-elegant steel sloop that was probably the finest of its kind afloat. He had put everything he had into it, and friends had contributed the rest out of a fellow-seamen’s love for adventure. Her Swedish-milled steel hull had saved him from grief on many an unexpected, uncharted coral reef, an advantage his Polynesian mentors with their tipsy, thin-hulled wooden catamarans would have loved to possess. How many Polynesian tribes, actually whole villages setting out, only to have every last soul perish on a shark-ringed reef somewhere in mid-ocean? Even if they didn’t drown or feed the fishes, they might land on too small an island, and there wasn’t enough sustenance, and not enough trees to get them safely off in the shape of seaworthy boats. Then they had the prospect of starving or eating each other and starving later! What a choice!
Cataclysmic storms with mountainous tsunami swept over such tiny bits of land, swamping them with mountainous waves, and in the process they were cleaned of every trace of humans who might have landed there once upon a time. No trace of lost lives, lost dreams, lost homes--nothing remained of the sea-voyagers. This was probably the case with more voyages than could be counted. For every happy native larking about on some idyllic-looking island paradise that the white seafarer discovered, hundreds or thousands of forebears had perished in the attempt to reach that very spot. Woe betide such islands if sesmic disturbances of the earth’s crust ever provoked tusanami of such proportions once again! Highly populated centers of Pacific settlement, from Singapore to Hong Kong, from Tokyo to Manila to Christchurch to Honolulu and even oceanfront West Coast American cities could be made mud holes and swamps--taking tens of millions to a watery doom if there was no forewarning. What if a comet or an asteroid hit the ocean? That is all it would take obliterate everything human in the Pacific and around its vast rim. The whole region was ripe, he felt in his gut, for a major cataclysm to happen. Would it happen in his lifetime, in a year, or a decade to come? Or would he be fortunate not to see it happen?
Such considerations haunted Wyndham throughout his Pacific wanderings, but how could he cook that into serious, scientific-type exposition for the papers he wrote? No records had been kept, after all. He could only make wild guesses of the price the Polynesian sea-peoples had paid over the thousands of years of their epic sea-journeys. A good question, too, was whether they would have set out, knowing how many had died wretchedly before them? Imagine a hundred Roanokes before one successful Plymouth. But, more possibly the case, it could have been a thousand.
So much human death and loss--and the possibility thereof--amidst so stunning a seascape and islands that sang with sheer Edenic beauty as they wafted above the dancing, many-hued waves, fragrant and mountained and ringed with rainbows, above the waves to his gaze by the thousands.
Perhaps, it was the growing sense of the horrific Price already paid and the even more horrific Price-Yet-To-Be-Paid by humanity that drove him finally from the islands of rainbowed death to the grim, perpetually ice-bound, virtually unpopulated Polar South. He had begun to grow uneasy in his spirit, he had begun to even hate the hollow, sirenic smile of the warm sun, which only meant that the beauty could trick you into thinking there was no yawning shark’s teeth reaching for you under the crystal waters! It was not likely the Polynesians had explored those parts into which he felt increasingly drawn--they must have avoided them like poison. This relieved him of the sense of death somewhat. He felt the threat of his own death, but at least he wasn’t reminded of all those who had perished before him--since the Polar South was sought by very few people--a few Norwegian fisherfolk with arms of steel and guts of iron, but mainly explorers and scientists and a veteran sea-gypsy like himself now and then.
Three very different men--one definitely a landlubber--a retired journalist and poet living in a small Pacific Rim city but safely insulated from cataclysms by the Puget Sound, and another an Arctic explorer from Yorkshire, England, and the last, Kiwi Dave, Seafarer Errant. Three vastly different lifestyles, despite links to the common sea, but yet their destinies would interweave in a way they could not have imagined. The threads of their lives would be, despite the gap in age between them, be drawn through the awl of cosmic time, which scarcely reckons time in anything less than a billion years. Together they formed a single enterprise of human spirit, that would send a three-prowed, three-keeled, three-skippered vessel into the depths of the Great Nebula. Percy Shelley must have seen this strange remake of the ARGO, calling it “loftier,” which is a more poetic and politic term for what he actually saw--a triform “Angel of the Contretemps,” or “Angel of the Odd,” that Edgar Allen Poe, another poet, envisoned in a continuation of the same vision.
”August 12, 1972: First Entry in the Captain’s new logbook! The list of things I need to do this
gets longer, not shorter, as the date nears for me to cast off! Where’s it all going to come from?
I can take some odd jobs around here, scraping and painting hulls, but the pay is minimal with so many laid-off cannery workers on the job market, and there’s really no time to get up the amount I will need. I need some critical parts for the self-steerer, and even then I won’t know if it will work to my design until I try her out. I have enough for the new mast, but what good is that if my self-steerer won’t come about in time. I’ve got to get going by the mid of October at the latest, to reach the open water around the continent December through March--after that I’m frozen out of the Antarctic’s ice-box.
“August 12-Nov. 1--Blanks
“November 2: Motored out of Port Oban, Stewart Island, toward A. Peninsula. I can’t understand how she could do it, come and drag the girls all the way to Stewart “to see dear Daddy off.” That was hard. Just like her though, to want to torture me from spite. Got to pay me back! But I’m here, and she’s a back in Auckland. Ah! Pale and green fire across the whole evening sky: Aurora Australis, the southern twin of the northern Aurora Borealis. Bewitchingly beautiful, but I’ve never seen anything so cold-looking. Beware, Wyndham! Knock on wood! Even in a reverse Antarctic summer, you may be in for some nasty surprises up ahead. My plan is simple, thanks to advice from experts--I should head southeast to latitude 60 degrees South, then continue another 2,000 miles, where, about 65 degrees West, I’ll turn due south and sail to Palmer’s Island.
“Nov. 3: Not bad weather so far--absolutely balmy for these parts. My self-steerer (which everyone I know laughed at, thinking it outlandish and sissy and preferring to stand exposed to the cold and ice like dodos!) working like a charm and keeping me out of the elements. I can sit down here and see everything if I want, and am cosy as can be, with tea and biscuits reading the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, in tandem with Gibbon’s Fall of the Roman Empire, a book on Shakleton’s South Polar expeditions, and Cooking a Wolf. Wonder how that last one got in my library! Was that California gourmet cook crazy? She’s the type--not so domestic but could cook--I might have got on with instead of--
“Nov. 4: Blank
“Nov. 5: Crossing 50th parallel. Old Gibbon’s highly overrated. I think he got his thesis dead-wrong: S.S. ROMA never capsized and sank for the reasons he gave, though they must have dragged her down so that she was taking a lot of water. Leaden pipes, Emperor Diocletius’s economic edicts, depopulation and low birth ratio in the ruling classes, immorality, decline of the Army and barbarian subscription--no no! Rather, they’re the same dreary, unglamorous ones that are dismasting and capsizing us today--death of dreams, death of a chance to be different, death of any possible living to be made in stretching the perimeters of human existence...sheer, numbing, unrelenting, daily domestication, that’s what kills men’s souls and ultimately empires like Rome’s and Alexander’s and Britain’s! I’ll have to try wolf when I have a chance. She’s got me interested. Maybe I’ll have to substitute leopard seal--plenty of that where I’m going.
“Nov. 6-10. Blanks and several blots where a chowder mug overturned unexpectedly and tea went airborne, spattering the galley.
“Nov. 11: Gale blew us across the Date Line. The self-steerer nobody in Oban thought would work, has saved me several cases of pneumonia so far--I stay dry, if not warm, as long as the bolts hold this bubble down over my head. Seas pretty bad, breaking completely over PRION now and then. They’re reading my paper today at the Royal Astronomical Society, the one about Polynesian navigational stars in Orion’s Belt. The howling winds seem to give me snatches of it, strangely enough! I imagine I can hear some octogenarian with rosy cheeks and bright eyes reading: “...known also to the Islamic voyagers as Al Ahir al Nahr, the ‘End of the River,’ or Achernar, the ninth brightest in the sky. This star is 88 light-years from Earth and shines 650 times more brightly than the Sun and so the Polynesians naturally turned to it frequently. Yet the Trapezium in Orion was their greater favorite, its stunning luminosity derived from four
extremely bright stars, brilliant white Rigel and the red supergiant Betelguese and M42 the Great Nebula and...”
“Nov. 15. High waves pounding stout-hearted little PRION. Reached the Antarctic Convergence. Can tell it by the fog caused when the cold Antarctic waters plunge beneath the warmer Atlantic and Pacific waters--producing a factory for killer storms. I keep hearing my paper being read--I must be crazy, but the wind seems to be giving me whole chunks of it--obviously a wierd effect of so much wind and tossing about on my hearing and mental state: “...Orion, flaring brightly as a palm-frond torch on a mountain in the eastern sky in November, afforded the Polynesians a wonderful guidepost by which they could always tell the location of East. Just beyond Orion the Hunter lay the hunter’s prey, known as the Hare to Western and Middle Eastern star-gazers of old, but which the Polynesians pictured as a leaping porpoise, since they did not know rabbits and hares existed. Then, following the Porpoise, was the aforementioned Achenor, which illuminated the center of their sky. Drawing a line with a coconut string across a flat deck board on which they had pegged out the various constellations and islands known to them, they could not only fix their present location but determine their navigation to their chosen destination. As for the highly detailed coconut shell charts, they were more for memory aids and to check their position with the one they had just drawn on the deck. And if one or several were washed overboard in a storm, they held several dozen in reserve distributed among the accompany craft. If in the most dire circumstance all boats should be overturned , chances were that several would be washed onto the beaches should any survivors reach them, and they would not lose their navigational aids altogether--the worst thing that could happen on these long voyages. Thus, by simple but cunning astronomical aids such as these, the Polynesians insured their survival as a sea-faring nation for hundreds of years while suffering the most extreme contingencies and hardships...”
“Nov. 16. Reached the dreaded Screaming Sixties, time to turn east for the run toward the Peninsula and Palmer’s island. Just like clockwork. Which bothers me. Things are going too well. Some lazy, hazy summer here! Below freezing in the cabin. Even with three woolen jerseys, a Dacron-quilted flying suit, and padded parka, I can’t move around enough to keep circulation up, and feel the cold. Everything’s damp too. I don’t take anything off, not even my boots to bathe. Spray, snow, and condensation manage to get in somehow, and keep everything clammy. I could cook up a self-steerer, but why didn’t I think of a heater to dry the cabin out? Another gale today. An inch or two of ice over the self-steerer lines, antenna , mast, and my plastic dome. I can see the ice birds, though, riding my wake astern as I climb out with safety harness and line and chip away the ice until my hands are frozen. Then I take antibiotics for the frostbite.
“Nov. 17: Heavier, more-lasting snow showers and a lot of fog, thanks to the Antarctic Convergence. My fresh water tank froze. I have to use the plastic cans’ emergency supply. Even the special imported champagne I was saving for landfall at Palmer’s Island froze and popped the cork. My battery failed, so I can’t get Port Oban. Navigating is hard, nearly impossible, as the sun showed only a moment or two, and my fingers were too cold to work the sextant properly. I can only guess I am heading right. If I could only get a naked eye sighting of Orion, I am thinking. I keep trying trying for hours. Bits and pieces of my paper keep intruding on my thoughts, liable to drive me crazy: “...Orion in Greek mythology, as we all know, was a man of fortune, a roving soldier for hire who gained great renown by fighting off mighty beasts plaguing humanity, but who fell afoul of Zeus the chief god, who hurled a lightning bolt at him as punishment for making advances to his seven daughters and Artemis...” Don’t they ever take an intermission for coffee and cigarettes during the readings at the Society?
“Nov. 18: Seas too rough, breaking over PRION more often now, for me to sleep.
The ice birds have vanished. PRION and I are alone. Another gale, added to the other day’s. This one is worse though.
“Nov. 19-25. Blanks.
“Nov. 26: I don’t know when I’ve slept an hour straight through. Getting exhausted. Haven’t been able to remove my clothing or safety belt or boots the last three days. I think I hear people shouting at me sometimes. A gale is on, at 50-knots. Glad of spending for those steel plates over the windows, or they’d be smashed by now. But every time a giant wave strikes, books and papers and toothbrush and galley pans and utensils go flying in the cabin. I keep PRION under storm jib. Is that right? Vito Dumas circumnavigated Antarctica in the Forties in a yacht this size, and he never took in his jib. But 53 of the 130 vessels that left European ports for the Antarctic Pacific in 1905 vanished in Cape Horn waters. And who can count the capsizings, and dismastings in these waters I am heading into? The 34 foot DAMIEN was rolled three times off South Georgia, same place where Shackleton ended his Second Expedition in going for help for his men stranded back on Elephant Island. No chance to read. Got to keep myself sensible, but I can’t keep a book steady enough in my jittery, frozen hands. Made some coffee, dumped it in my lap. Fried some bacon, and lost it in the bilge water spurting up from the floor. My eggs? They flew and plastered themselves on the cabin ceiling, then came off on my head and shoulders.
“Nov. 27: More of the same. To get my mind off things a bit, I tried to read the Shackleton book, but I always get stuck on the odd lines from some poet the writer begins quoting after describing Shackleton’s breaking through the ice to reach Elephant Island and his stranded crew after 100 days of thwarted attempts. Without saying who the poet could be, he quotes: “It climbs the trackless heights, and scorns the greatest danger to pluck from death--is that lost lamb you?” Now what would make him quote that? Then the text is so garbled after it, you would think the printer botched his job, and type from another book set-up got slapped on by mistake! So I throw the book finally, and I can just hear my wonderful old Ex- saying, ‘See? I told you so! It’s the wonderful bachelor’s life you asked for, and you certainly have it coming!’”
“Nov. 28: Same miserable trampoline existence!
“Nov. 29: Oops! Heaven help us! Bottom dropped clean out of the barometer! We’re in for it now! The previous was just warm-up! This is home of the 100 foot waves, like the one that nearly took Q-M down with 15,000 troops in WWII in the mid-Atlantic. What a nasty fright that must have given the skipper! It would have been the TITANIC all over again, except it would have equalled seven TITANICS in loss of life. Hurricane force 60-knot wind by evening. Seas 40 feet high and growing. PRION still running downwind under her storm jib....”
Running along as usual, everything battened down, suddenly a something with the force of a stick of dynamite exploded on PRION. The sloop crashed on its side, the galley shelves ripped loose and threw everything in them across the cabin. Self-steering vane--gone. Windham went onto the deck in safety harness and rope, blinded by the spray and unable to breathe in the screaming wind. Hauled the jib down and then climbed back to the cabin and shut the hatch.
But the wind kept rising. The sea had turned to sheer white foam. The waves looked like the Snowy Mountains. Then, unable to realize what he saw, one of the mountains fell right over on him! Then the lights connecting him to civilization and human hopes went out, plunging him into Kaushitsup unua, the Polar Night. He felt himself falling, then tumbling about in the cabin, struck here and there.
His only thought, strange and insistent: “That horrible Darkness! A phantom! She is here! Can’t ever escape her! She’s trying to kill me, smash my heart in her hands! It was his ex-wife’s vengeful spirit come to take vengence on him!” For his heart had stopped in mortal terror as he felt himself seized the immense forces, forces of a woman’s hatred that were utterly malevolent and bent on destroying him.
But the phantom behaved strangely. It was more like a serpent, a writhing hydra or python, squeezing him, and the head was, of all places, IN his heart, stuck deep in there as if it were grafted onto himself! How he saw that, he did not know, but the confusion of mental images in those moments of being overturned and smashed up somehow gave him the message he, not anyone else, was the source of the monstrous Thing assaulting his very life.
Now, panicked, he grappled with the Thing, but he could not free himself! It was himself, after all, and he was stuck to it! Doomed! He heard his ex-wife shrieking, “You no good gypsy! fool!” And even in his moment of suspended panic, his heart surged like black bilge with anger, bitterness, and hatred in return--the serpent itself growing and swelling every larger around him with its constricting coils. Something made of glass smashed, showering him with fragments just as he had smashed a bottle in rage during one of their parting fights.
He longed, even in that brief instant as he was suspended between life and death, he longed to pray for help. But no prayer came. Somehow he didn’t feel alone enough. He felt even with death crushing his vitals that he wasn’t totally isolated. Then a thought that spoke, not in words, but in a sense that a Third member of the expedition was aboard, and at the same moment the constraints eased off him so he could get his breath. But who or what had done it? he gasped. He had no idea. God? He had long ago given up that idea--the whole question was laughable, to a post-modern man’s thinking. After all, how could a God permit such atrocties as World Wars, and the Holocaust, and--say--little babies being beaten to death by drunken daddies? God could not exist, or be good in any sense, if He permitted such things to happen when he was capable of preventing them! A moment passed. The unknown Third Party did not give up, and returned, “saying” something like, “There are hills and mountains between us that you must first pass before you see Me.”
Dismissing the message, whatever it was, as silly, Windham considered more practical things: his own survival in the next few minutes.
Was he dead? he wondered. That terrible constriction round his heart, lungs and chest-- had he suffered a heart attack? He lay somewhere, his rib cage shuddering with racking gasps, in the Darkness. Lying in like a rag doll thrown in a deep trash-filled well, he struggled with his hands and tried to find his way to a standing position.
Darkness. Then light straggled into the gloom, right through the gaping forehatch! PRION had been breached! His cabin had been broken into. Then a more terrible thought--had he been dismasted when he was capsized? He fought through the galley contents, sleeping bad, clothing, charts and wood splinters and climbed out on the deck in his safety harness and rope. There was no mast--or rather, the remnants of it were over the starboard side, and the waves were using it to pound the PRION with each roll of waves
He climbed back into the smashed forehatch, found an ax and went back out and cut the mast and the shrouds free, saving only a piece and some sail, and then climbed back, nailing it to the deck while he went to fix the forehatch if he could. All this he did gloveless.
The hinges had been sprung. Using a bosun’s-chair block and tackle, he fastened it down.
Then he turned to the half-submerged interior. Water spurted from between the windows through a six-inch split. The whole side was dented in a full eight feet along the cabin to starboard! What could have done this to 1/8th inch steel hull? he gasped in horror.
His Rolex watch set to Greenwich time for navigation--a gift from a rich yachtsman-friend--was still going. But he found no gloves. He hurried, stuffed clothing in the gap, then seized a bucket, and began bailing for his life.
Hours later, with the sleeping bag, charts, typewriter, and a few books set in place, he suddenly felt the PRION lifted, shaken like one of Ulysses’ crew in a giant Cyclop’s hand, then thrown to kingdom come. When he picked himself up again, the cabin was flooded as badly as before--the gap between the windows spurting salt water directly in his face!
The turned to the pump, but it was broken. Grabbing a bucket, he bailed for his life.
Hours later, worked like a witless machine, he got the water down to the bilge, and he collapsed with exhaustion. But he heard the loosely fastened mast thumping overhead in each crashing wave, and he groaned and climbed out once again. Gashing his bare hands on the tangle of steering wires that clung to the mast, he rigged up a remnant of the mast and sail did what he could to make PRION sail and not wallow helplessly in the seas like a sodden leaf in a lake after a cloudburst.
Trying the stove, he found it wouldn’t work. So that bit of warmth was denied him. Now no hot tea or coffee, no meals either. He had to scrounge some sodden bread to chew. As for his radios, they had shorted out. In the respite he pondered his close call. How near death had come! His daughters, they were nearly left fatherless. With his pathetic sail, and only a mile an hour, the Antarctic Peninsula seemed lost, forever beyond his reach. His reach? His badly frostbitten fingers made him groan with pain, so he stuffed down more antibiotics to drive away infection and took the tiller lines. But the storm, after a lull, continued to rise, so he took down the bit of sail and mast and lashed it to the back.
He was right in taking precautions. Crash! He found himself where he had been hurled into the galley. Everything was once again flooded. Six hours later he had the place dried out. Everything possible, he had lashed down should the PRION take another capsizing. With the barometer fallen out of sight, there would be more killer waves. He tried to finish an entry in the soggy logbook with a shaky hand and a pencil. Wedging his hands between his thighs, he dozed.
He dreamed he saw himself suddenly looking out, from where he sat, shoulders hunched and hands between his legs. The sight was stunning. He was gazing into another world, a tunnel-like
covered walk, at the end of which three horsemen were visible standing beneath some white-flowering trees.
No, there were four, as one rode forward beyond the other three, then dismounted and walked toward him.
Astonished, he waited, and the figure grew in size and impressiveness. Wynham felt himself a savage caveman before the robed visitor, who looked fierce and cultivated--a strange combination--as if he were confronted by a well-trained lion dressed in his trainer’s violet colored cape. The unbidden dream-guest came to a halt, then peered out from the tunnel entrance at Kiwi Dave.
“I am Machsi, and my companions are Umtsudath, Tsinnah, and Usocherah. We have come to help you in your task.”
Wyndham, seeing three other warriors in ankle-length mesh robes of gold-studded dark green, tangerine-red, and quicksilver, snorted in his dream--”Help? You’ve come to help ME? Who are you anyway?”
All this time Wyndham was struggling to waken himself, but he could not get free of the dream, just as he had not been able to free himself from the black python in his breast.
The warrior, for so he appeared, said nothing to him and stepped out into the cabin, which barefly held him, as his head went right through without touch anything. Wyndham, bound by the dream,
could only wait. Climbing out of the cabin by his own means, the guest vanished, and Wyndham found himself released.
Wyndham looked wildly about, but there was no sign of anyone, and the tunnel of light with the three trees and three horsemen were gone, so he knew then it was only a nightmare. After all, he was in bad shape after so much loss of sleep. He was hallucinating, he told himself. Nothing more than that.
Something flashed in the corner of his eye. He turned to the hatch, looking upwards and had just put his head into the bubble to see what was going on, when a much brighter flash of green light--so bright it hurled Wyndham backwards just as he felt the PRION take a sudden nose dive and plunge toward the sea bottom.
It was an upsurge of gigantic energy, pooled in chambers beneath the sea for this very purpose of propelling the craft that contacted it, just as Wyndham’s had without his knowing it, by the first flash of
electromagnetism along his exterior lines. Able to swallow and pull down an entire aircraft carrier that was not equipped to turn the attractive force to a propellant, what was a 34-foot steel-hulled sloop? But the energies involved were so much greater now in response than the dual-collection and channeling vane of the ancient sea-bed system had ever handled. It blew out completely, and the explosion caught the PRION and a good portion of the water around it, propelling it instantly into the sky as if the ocean with all its force of storm-fury had spewed him out.
Like a comet in reverse, frozen within a solid mass of water, the PRION was seized by increasingly more powerful forces with the aurora storm. Tiny, inconsequental in size within the energy-system, its magnetism rushing it along the track of incoming, outgoing protons as if some of the energy--spun off from the collecting vane on the ocean bottom were returning the energy to the source, the Sun--PRION
rode a rising trajectory toward the horizon, and within seconds was free of the Roche Point and
was heading into deep space. Like a sling the Earth’s gravity caught and then gave PRION a further
jolt of acceleration.
Inside the whirling sloop, the dizzy, battered skipper clung to his table, the only thing
he had lashed down strong enough to hold him, and fought to keep ahold of it until the ship
ceased to turn.
His eyes dancing with stars that were his own dazzled eyes, he was blinded for a few minutes as he tried to climb to the hatch’s bubble. Where was he? Underwater, or what?
He pressed his face against the bubble before he realized the blackness was not just
his eye’s blindness.
Plummeting into the darkness, the PRION somehow held a steady course, and gradually Wyndham’s vision cleared, and he saw what he was straining to behold--the outside world.
He saw no world! No water! Just darkness and gleaming studs in the darkness and silence--for
thee was nothing but this black inky silence around him--so strange after the howling of the Screaming Sixties day and night in his ears!
“Oh darling, I must be dead,” he thought, sinking down into the cabin. He slumped to the floor, then
sat there for a while. But the cold was too much to endure, and he fumbled around to look for matches in storage bags, and found a cache he had earlier forgotten. He worked at the Primus until he got it going, and warmed his hands at it for a few minutes and felt better.
Suddenly, as if a wind had got in, the Primus blew out. He lit it again, and again it blew out.
“What the--” Wyndham cried.
He climbed back to the bubble to take a look, to try and make sense of what was happening.
The lights gleaming all around took on familiar configurations, and he realized he was gazing out at the Constellations.
His heart stopped briefly, as he nearly pushed the canopy off in his shock and horror.
He wanted to see exactly where he was, and strained with all his might, but the canopy, despite his pushing, would not life. The ice shield, apparently, was more than a foot thick, and he couldn’t possibly
burst through, he realized, unless he took an ax at it.
Wyndham was crazy enough to do it. He grabbed the ax. But he halted, thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good idea. With the bubble smashed, he had no replacement. So he dropped the ax and
turned back to looking out.
The sight was wonderful, but it made him retch at the same time. What was he doing flying into space among the stars? How could it be happening? Yet it was happening!
A perverse streak made him laugh, and he grabbed the tiller lines. He wasn’t going where he had not chosen to go! Nothing would make him go--nothing!
However which way he yanked, the PRION held steady on course, and Wyndham dropped the lines
with disgust. With the wretched, frozen rag of sail and stick of a mast, the PRION nevertheless hurtled with the velocity of an Atlantean starship toward the Orion base located near the gateway of the Great Nebula.
Yet the nearing destination provoked strange responses in the reluctant star-voyager. He had always aimed to sail where no one else had ventured, or at least do it alone and unaided, but navigation was now taken from his hands, and he was an unwilling and increasingly angry spectator of what was transpiring all around him.
Either he was free, a self-made man doing his own thing, or he would fight his bonds, and
now he chose not to go on any longer as he was going--he seized the ax and began chopping
upwards at the canopy with all his might.
Two chops was all he took and his arm was seized by an invisible force. Turning with a scream that sounded like a crazy man’s, Kiwi Dave swung the ax around with all his strength and buried it in the galley wall. Wrenching it out, he tried to take another swing, and this time he was allowed. Swinging until his arms nearly dropped off, he destroyed the cabin’s interior.
Unsatisfied, he then turned toward the canopy of plastic and ice--his Cyclops’ eye upon the world.
“Why are you angry?” a voice interrupted him.
Too surprised to know what he was doing, Wyndham dropped the ax on his foot, then began to howl with pain, jumping up and down, then falling.
Scrambling up despite his pain, he pushed his face into every corner of the dark cabin. “I heard you, come out! You sneaking thief, come out and talk to me like a man, face to face!”
Screaming his lungs out did no good. No one responded. Feeling utterly foolish, Wyndham groaned and sank down on the sodden mattress in his cabin.
When he least expected it, the voice repeated,
“Why are you angry?”
Wyndham, his tantrum spent, his strength gone, could not resist. “This is my boat. I am the skipper here. Who’s on board? I’ve got a right to know.”
“You saw me in the dream, and you ask who I am?”
Wyndham’s eyes closed, clenched shut for a moment, as he struggled to kee calm and absorb the statement.
“All right,” he said finally. “But you invited yourself, and I have the authority here to throw unwelcome guest overboard.”
The voice moved the next time Wyndham heard it, and it seemed to be coming from outside the hull.
“I will stand guard here then.”
“Oh, you will, will you?” Wyndham cried savagely, seizing the ax again, for he hadn’t given up the right to decide his own destiny.
The voice remained silent, and Wyndham was obliged to start calling. He spoke louder too.
“I said,” he boomed, “I am the captain here! And I don’t allow anyone to stand on my decking either, without my permission!”
He shouted this from just inside the canopy as well, in case his visitor needed his assistance.
But Wyndham could not see anyone and the PRION continued closing in on the glories of the Great Nebula, just as Wyndham, in fact, had seen them pictured in pictures taken from photographic plates from the Palomar observatory before the writing of his first Polynesian Astronomical Papers.
The pictures from the plates were astounding even with their opacity and blurs. The Great Nebula, only one attraction of Orion’s many celestial objects, was considered by most astronomers to be the Universe’s showcase--marvels that you could see no where else abounded in M42.
Taken with the approach of the Great Nebula, Wyndham couldn’t think how he could still be alive, able to breathe aboard the ice-encased boat, much less determine how he came to be in space amidst the stars in the first place.
But what else could he do except witness the event spreading before his gaze, the height and depth and breadth of what no astronomer on clouded Earth could see with even the greatest-sized lens. Faint
stellar images drawn from photographic plates were now intricately complex patterns and shapes that he could plainly see--and his stomach churned at the sight, since he wanted more than anything to
be back sailing his wounded ice bird in raging Antarctic waters, not the depths of space!
Wyndham clenched and reclenched his senseless hands as he beheld what astronomers would have given their lives to behold.
Himself as wounded in heart as the thing he flew was smashed to bits by his ax right to the very hull, Wyndham turned his bloodshot eyes round at the wonders and marvels, uncomprehending and
unable to appreciate a single thing.
Finally, he murmured, and knew he was being heard, even as he said it. “You brought me here, and for what purpose?”
The bitter thought, and the bitter words on his lips, had scarcely died, when there came a response.
“You have fought the Most High, and HE has brought you here, on the wings of your
own heart’s folly--to behold what He has in store for you if you want it.”
The rage that would have risen died instantly as quickly as it arose. For the last phrase, “...if you want it” completely disarmed him.
Unable to find anything to fight in that, Wyndham threw his head back, snickered, then
began laughing. He could not stop for a while, and it was mad laughter, but finally his
sense returned, and his mind cleared. He felt, despite his frozen hands, numb feet, and exhaustion and shock, as if if he were standing poised on the threshold of something great and unknown.
He called out, trying to make contact with someone, anything that might help him.
“Machsi”--was that the dream-man’s name? As for the others, he couldn’t remember.
“Machsi mate,” he pleaded. “I don’t know why you brought me here, or how you are guarding me like this, but what if I don’t want whatever is offered. What if I refuse? Will you be letting me fall deeper into space and finally freeze to death or just run out of air? What will happen to me exactly if I say to tell you and your friends to push off and leave me alone?”
There was a pause, and Wyndham grew desperate, thinking he had insulted the stowaway
beyond endurance, and he would never find out anything more.
But he was mistaken. The response came, in low tones, almost grieved in feeling as Wyndham
“Do you see where you are?”
Wyndham’s eyes nearly popped. He was so taken aback. “Wa-a-a--What do you mean?
Cmon! I see perfectly! It’s Orion. Orion! I know these [expletive] stars like the back of my hand! I’ve written a half dozen papers about them, haven’t I. I--”
He continued sputtering, then lost steam as he realized how ridiculous he was sounding, even to his own ears.
When he settled down, the voice came again, even more gently so that Wyndham grew concerned, knowing that the stowaway was fading, maybe leaving him.
“That is what you may call it. But it is something else, the length of ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world, “ and the height, “Thy faithfulness reaches to the clouds,’ and the breadth, “Even so far as the East is from the West, so have I removed your sins from you,’ and the depth--”
Wyndham already knew, after what he had just experienced in life, something about depths, so he
dared to interrupt. “All right! I won’t argue. You’re absolutely right about it. But what is this thing you are describing, what is the length and breadth and height and depth all about? Tell me that? I have to have something more tangible to understand!”
“It is the Shepherd whom you do not know,”
the unseen stowaway replied, apparently not put off by Wyndham’s cheekiness.
Wyndham felt he was choking at that moment. Everything he could not accept in what was going on, tripped the trap-door somewhere in his personality, and like a Pandora’s box lid everything he had
battened down now leaped out. He simply could not help nor control it.
Astonished, he heard himself shouting the most foul expletives and railing accusations and
profane things imaginable. He wasn’t just shouting them, they were actually coming out of him like filthy,
slimey, black frogs, serpents, bats, and other foul things--shooting in all directions away from his mouth like a geyser or an irrupting sewer.
All this was taking place, strangely enough, as he watched himself flying into the heart of the
Universe’s treasure-chest, which at that moment was lifting its lid as the last barrier of shielding
stars was penetrated successfully by the speeding PRION.
Shocked by the baseness he had exposed in himself, Wyndham’s resistance crumbled.
He grabbed at his mouth, trying to force it shut, and the last filth he could utter he tried to stuff back down out of sight.
There was no more darkness now. The glorious light in a range of hues and sparkling
radiance beyond any known to Earth penetrated the cabin of the boat, flooding it and bathing the
dark, tormented figure at the helm.
Cringing, Wyndham could not bear so much beauty and light, which grew greater with every second
that passed. In a short time he felt that the light was going to kill him, he would be irradiated
to a lump of dark ash if it kept on.
Stranger than anything he had witnessed and experienced, the Light brought another
quality forward than searing pain that Wyndham was expecting--it felt more like a refreshing, antidotal
waterfall upon his thirsty skin on a hot day, spraying him with a delight that he could not believe at first.
He calmed down, no longer feeling like he was going to be incinerated, and just let the
Light flow into him and consume him.
He felt strangely as if the Light, like an X-ray, left nothing in him untouched, and
visited every fiber of his being. What could he do before such a probing Light? He could
not hide anything, for all was known to it--everything. And, oddly enough, in his transparent state, as life-long cynicism dropped its hold on him, he felt the birth of expectation.
What next would happen? What next would he be shown? he wondered.
He pressed his face against the canopy’s eye.
For the first time the PRION changed course a degree, then another degree, turning
The Great Nebula’s walls spun outwards to the widening arch the PRION was
cutting, and the gases that they were penetrating took on a flaming pink color that the magnetized
hull ignited as it painted the sky with its escaping particles, overlapping arch upon arch. And what was the sky-boat circling?
Glowing blue like new stars, the celestial object was at first incomprehensible to Kiwi Dave, but as the circles grew smaller he found himself putting together frame after frame of impressions.
It seemed at first so small, so delicate, he thought he was looking at something concocted of spun glass in a carnival tent. But the arching PRION drew him closer in by degrees, and Wyndham, forgetting to breathe, strained to get the best glimpse he could as he took pass after pass. Why was the luminosity concentrating at the center round the object even as he approached? Why did the purest light gather there as if to shield the thing from him?
His frustration at so tantalizing an object eluding his grasp, so near yet so far, grew
more than he could control. He wanted to stop the PRION. Even if it killed him, he felt he had to find out what the object was. Beyond any doubt, he sensed it was somehow the most precious and elusive
marvel to be found within the Great Cavern of stars and nebulas Orion had to offer.
A--a--? He tried again and again to conceptualize what he was taking in from the most
fleeting images. But his frustration grew all the greater as he saw the object was gradually receding, the PRION taking ever-widening passes as time went on.
Is this the end of it? he thought. Glory after glory, as the PRION retraced its trajectory, no longer impressed Wyndham as his overwhelming heart-desire seemed to be thwarted beyond any thing he could do to resist with human strength.
Even as he thought what a wasted voyage it was, a craft just like his in shape appeared suddenly on his right heading directly at him! He ducked as they collided, but somehow there was no smash-up, just
the sense that something that pictured itself in his mind like a golden series of letters without any spacing entered his being from the fast departing unknown interceptor.
Before he could do anything, yet another craft dove at him from the south, or, rather, the PRION
dive-bombed it, and--and they no sooner touched then they blew apart from each other.
Collapsing, he sank back into the cabin. The PRION and the other ship should have blown to smithereeens. “Hey, Machsi--what is going on?” he mumbled.
Dozing from time to time, he was still mumbling as the blackness closed over his head, and the PRION turned slowly, forcing Wyndham to grab for support or be thrown on his side.
“What--what are you doing to me?” he cried out, furious. “You’re not throwing me back, are you?”
No one answered, or, rather, he could not hear the simple words, “Now you may finish your voyage where you left off,” as the PRION, with her escort of the Four Guardians of the People of Israel began to ride a streaming river of glowing green and purple and white and red.
Where he left off? No, where he began an entirely new voyage into uncharted waters he had never
“Behind” him, the completed stanza sped to its appointed target as the Red Star
and other star-stones and the Atlanteans attacked the Great Nebula and its contents from all sides. Now this was the first battle in the Wars of Orion.
Christchurch. His boat tied up far, far to the south at Port Oban, Kiwi Dave hobbled up the walkway of a suburban apartment house, passing kids who stopped playing to gape at the stranger with the wild, uncut, salt-curled hair, and the gait of a much older man. His fingers nearly frost-bitten off,
he knocked on the door. Suddenly, his prepared speech evaporated, and he didn’t know what to say, or do, or even think.
Julie, his youngest, came to the door, the smile dying on her face and bewilderment taking its place. She found a man whom she had been taught to hate, but still didn’t. He was weeping, trying to say her name.
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