Moonfall

1.

Cruise Liner Merrivale, eastern Pacific.

5:21 A.M. Zone (9:21 A.M. EDT)

The Merrivale was bound for Honolulu, four days out of Los Angeles, when the eclipse began. Few of the passengers got up to watch the event. But Horace Brickmann, who’d paid a lot of money for this cruise, wanted Amy to understand he was a man with broad scientific and artistic interests. Yes, he’d told her last night while they stood near the lifeboats and listened to the steady thrum of the ship’s engines and watched the bow wave roll out into the dark, total solar eclipse. Wouldn’t miss it. To be honest, it’s why I came. And when she’d pointed out that the eclipse would also be visible across much of the United States, he’d added smoothly that it wasn’t quite the same.

She’d hinted she’d also like to see the event. Amy had been beautiful in the starlight, and his heart had pumped ferociously, bringing back memories of his twenties, which he recalled as a time of romance and passion. It was Horace’s impression he’d terminated the various relationships of his youth, much to the despair of the women; that in those early days he had not been ready for serious commitment. But still there were times he woke in the night regretting one or another of his lost paramours. He wondered occasionally where they were now and how they were doing.

It was an odd sort of dawn, Sun and Moon clasped together in a cold gray embrace. The ocean had grown rough and Horace sat in his chair sipping hot coffee, wondering what was keeping Amy. He tugged his woolen sweater down over his belly and reminded himself that it was dangerous to look directly at the spectacle. Most of the other early risers had brought blankets, but Horace wanted to cut a dashing figure and the blanket just didn’t fit the image.

To his consternation, a voluble banker whom he’d met the previous day appeared before him, greeted him with the kind of cheeriness that’s always irritating early in the morning, and sat down in an adjoining deck chair. “Marvelous experience, this,” said the banker, lifting his eyes in the general direction of the eclipse while extracting a folded copy of the Wall Street Journal from a pocket of his nautical blue blazer. He tried to read the paper in the gray light but gave up and dropped it on his lap.

He began to chatter about commodities and convertibles and price-earnings ratios. Horace’s eyes swept the near-empty decks. A middle-aged man at the rail was watching the eclipse through sunglasses. A steward strolled casually over and offered him one of the viewing devices the ship had been distributing. Horace was too far away to hear the conversation, but he saw the man’s annoyed expression. Nevertheless, he accepted the viewer, waited until the steward had turned away, dropped it into a pocket, and went back to gazing at the Sun. The banker babbled on, fearful that the Fed would raise the prime rate again.

The wind was beginning to pick up.

The steward approached Horace and the banker, holding out the devices. “You don’t want to look directly at it, gentlemen,” he said. Horace took one. It consisted of a blue plastic tube about six inches wide, with a tinfoil disk attached to one end. “Point it toward the eclipse, sir,” said the steward, “and it’ll project the Sun’s image onto the disk. You’ll be able to watch in perfect safety.” The tube was decorated with the ship’s profile and name. Horace thanked him.

She was now twenty minutes late. But Amy had an