THE PACIFIC OCEAN | 1889
Following the overly rich dinner at which Philomena wisely kept her otherworldly experience to herself, the table dispersed for each party to go best figure out how to digest the meal on their own.
For their part, Fox and Philomena wandered the polished upper decks, finding a crowd of people gathered around a large telescope trained on the comet blazing above them where the Sun had finally given up the fight and conceded the firmament to its bright competitor. A wiry man in a woolen vest and round glasses was holding court next to the delicate instrument.
“This telescope contains the finest lenses available, hand shaped and polished in Vienna!” The man exclaimed. “What a lucky coincidence that I was personally accompanying it to its new home on Mauna Kea.”
Fox had immediately been drawn in, while Philomena chose to gaze out at the comet’s reflection upon the endless expanse of ever darkening Pacific. He had only been gone a moment before he excitedly returned to try and draw Philomena over. “Come and look at this marvel of modern technology, child! It is things like this that will help us better understand His grand vision.”
The girl was slightly taken aback at how quickly Fox could drop into his piety routine. She had been with him for several days now and hadn’t heard one peep about God or any plan that He may or may not have for them. If Fox was privy to any inside information, she truly wished he would let her in on it.
As the bespectacled scientist waved the duo closer, she had to admit that his enthusiasm was infectious. “Right you are, sir! We are making great strides in interpreting the universe around us. Just this summer, my colleagues at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific announced they would award a bronze medal for the discovery of any unexpected comet, and just what do we have above us as if called on cue?”
“Did you discover that one?” Philomena asked.
“If only I had, child,” the man theatrically despaired. “A pair of scientists in California named Doherty and Humphrey discovered it first. Their names will be attached to this heavenly body for as long as it plows the fertile stars … or until it gets too close to the Sun and its wings are melted down just as those of poor Icarus were.”
“Comets have wings?” Philomena asked, still slightly stupefied by the heavy meal and confused by the man’s overblown rhetoric.
“No wings, my child,” he purred, having led her right where he wanted her, “they only have a tail, and a starry crown.” With a flourish, the man motioned to the sky and every head turned.
Philomena, too, followed his lead and craned her head to look at the bright tail of the astral body streaming across the night sky. Fox, although enjoying the show, knew better to trail anything a showman wanted you to watch. The action was always where they didn’t want you to be looking. You can’t fool a fellow professional, he smirked as he scrutinized the man’s every move.
When the astronomer invited the gentlemen and ladies surrounding him to try peering into the eyepiece of the telescope, Fox was sure he was going to catch him lifting a wallet or two, but it never happened; instead the man just dazzled them with theories about where comets were believed to have come from, and what they could possibly be made of.
After most of the assembled crowd had taken a turn looking through the lens, the astronomer motioned to Fox who had been silently waiting for Philomena on the periphery of the scrum while critiquing the man’s crowd work.
“How about you, sir?” he addressed Fox despite the look on his face warning him off. “Wouldn’t you like to take a closer look at one of nature’s greatest mysteries? Why, just think of it, this heavenly body may have come from outside our very solar system to visit us today. How often can you say that you’ve witnessed something from beyond the reaches of even far off Neptune?”
Fox was drawn in by the man’s boundless enthusiasm. “You got me, friend,” he conceded. “Let me take a gander through that fine Viennese glass.” Fox meandered up through the remaining hangers-on milling about the afterdeck. When the astronomer attempted to explain how to use the telescope, he merely waived him off. “I have heard you give those directions at least twenty times, sir. I would think that even a monkey would have it by now.”
The preacher bent down at the waist and floated his eye above the brass eyepiece. That was the last thing he would remember from the evening for quite some time.