Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Approaching Titanic

by Gary L. Robbe





Halson rolled over on the hard floor when he heard the words "Last call, Pompeii." A shuffling ensued, bodies pushing against one another to rise up, up from the dead, feet stomping, unintelligible shouts and cries, all in darkness until a door opened shedding light. Someone close said, "This is the crud," and Halson recognized Wilson, the closest thing he had to a friend in this hellhole.

There were forty bodies crammed in a little room. Halson pulled himself up with difficulty passing tangled legs and thrusting arms and fists and stood face to face with Wilson. A handful of prisoners dressed in cheap wool tunics were pushed out of the room into shadows of light.

One bearded fellow fought against the group pushing him, swinging powerful hands that forced a clearing in the crowd. Four guards entered in body armor wonder sticks and wondered the man senseless before carrying him out blabbering.

Halson, looking at Wilson's melon head, lit like the moon and pock marked with craters, said, "Well, we're in for it." The room seemed infinitely thinner. He could breathe even if it was stale and fetid air.

"Do you believe it?" Wilson asked. He stared at the open door, guards milling about on the other side. Wilson's eyes squinted in the light. He kept them squinted when he turned to Halson.

"I don't believe it," Halson said.

"It must be true. Why would they dress us up like this, if they were going to just kill us outright. The law says they can't kill us. It's the law."

"They're going to kill us, that's for sure." Halson studied Wilson's uniform, authentic to the last detail, of a British soldier destined to be dropped in the heart of the Battle of the Somme on its first day. "There's no such thing as time travel. No way they figured out a way to pinpoint a specific moment in the past and drop us there at just the right moment."

"I think they can do it. It's their way to get around what to do with us cons. Gets the job done. They put us in the middle of trouble and let someone or something do the killin' for them." He grabbed Halson's arms. "We have a chance!"

Halson glared at Wilson. They were lifers, cons with no chance of ever getting out of prison, dirty, hungry, beaten men who escaped execution when the government decided it could no longer morally do the job. Then the rumor that scientists learned to navigate the space time continuum. Then the rumor that tests with convict guinea pigs were reasonably successful. Then the rumors that the government was granting mercy to those on death row, the thousands of lifers like Halson and Wilson who rotted away in the massive prisons. They were to be sent back to disastrous moments in time, to be dispatched in an unobtrusive way. Measures were taken to insure the time traveler's demise. These were rumors, deliberately let loose ... All this took place over a period of a hundred years. Halson was a newcomer to the prison--he had been there only sixty three years. Wilson, one of the older convicts, had been there nearly ninety years. With a life expectancy of close to two hundred years, Halson didn't relish the idea of spending a lifetime in an overcrowded prison, but he certainly didn't want to die.

Then from above, "Stalingrad!" More shoving and jostling as a handful of convicts in tattered German uniforms were ushered out of the room. One of the men was crying like a lost puppy. A guard quipped, "Hope you like the cold!"

"How do they do it?" Wilson asked. He looked up to Halson, a man who was educated, knew things, didn't get pushed around by nobody.

Halson stretched. The room was getting roomier by the minute. Looking at Wilson he said, "Don't know. Some kind of new physics. Wormholes maybe. Dimension shifting machines." He could tell Wilson didn't know what he was talking about. "There is no time travel. It's impossible."

"Then what?" Wilson said. All the prisoners in the room were dead silent now. Waiting their turn. Too terrified to talk, Halson thought.

"Maybe virtual reality. We experience the event and our hearts can't take it. We believe we are dying, and we do. The outfits are for our benefit, help convince us we really are going back in time."

"Why go to the trouble?" an inmate eavesdropping asked. The man was Asian, dressed in a khaki Japanese soldier uniform.

"It's how they get around the law. They're not killing us. We kill ourselves."

The Asian man shook his head. "I believe we are really going back. Never heard of Heroshinka," he said.

"Hiroshima," Halson said. "You get an atomic bomb dropped on your head."

"Somme!"

Wilson patted Halson on the back. "I got a chance," he said. He wandered off with a few other men dressed in British uniforms.

Halson nodded. "Yes, you have a chance."

He moved away from the remaining cons, stood against the wall. The rank smell of the dark room was overpowering, this waiting room for death. He looked over his clothes, crude britches and a soiled shirt, typical of a third class passenger on the HMS Titanic. He started to have doubts about his own theories as to what was happening. He was familiar with the Titanic, how the ship went down with most of its passengers in the icy waters of the Atlantic. He wasn't given a life jacket, and if they knew how to pin point where and when he would likely be placed deep in the ship.

Halson smiled. He was in good shape. Even if it was all in his mind, he could figure a way out of the sinking ship. He faced many physical trials here in prison, the icy water just another obstacle to overcome, and if he could make it to one of the lifeboats...

"Titanic!"

He moved to the door, several sobbing men moving behind him.

A guard said, "Hope you can swim!"

Halson said, "I can."


THE END


2017 Gary L. Robbe

Bio: Mr. Robbe has been published in Dark Corners Magazine, Sanitarium Magazine, Deadman's Tome, Bewildering Stories, and Shrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine.

Gary L. Robbe

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