This really should be considered the second half of Chapter 4, as the chapter presented here is a really, really short one, a snippet that is nothing more than a minor continuation of the earlier. It’s also a prelude, of sorts. Confused? If you haven’t seen where this story is headed yet, you will soon enough. Kinda. If you recall the NightSide series (NightSide and Asynchronous Mud), you might have felt that those two are parts of a larger whole. Still, I’m not giving away much here, am I? Enjoy…
Her hands hurt; of that much she was sure. She looked at her fingers, and the joints in her hands now came to her as the roots of a gnarled oak might – if pushing up through the dry grass of late summer.
“Can this be me,” she gulped, the sight tearing at her mastery of the moment. “These can’t be my hands…can they?”
Yet, when she moved her fingers she felt overwhelming pain, and that searing sense of immediacy pushed aside all other awareness of the moment. She had been on the ship one moment, yet seconds later she had been with Charles in a train – but now…this? She was in a small compartment, at least it looked somewhat like a sleeping compartment, yet she was certain this was no train, and certainly not the ship she’d been on with her father. She sensed no movement here, nothing at all save for a distant humming, and the vaguest impression that air was being pumped into this small space.
Then, she felt more than heard a faint hissing sound – and as she watched a doorway slid open.
A man. She saw a man – in a wheelchair. He seemed familiar too, yet not quite – then she saw a naval officer was pushing the wheelchair, and, oddly enough, he looked familiar to her as well. She remembered the patch on his shoulder…
“Doctor Aubuchon?” the old man in the wheelchair said, his voice rheumy, tired and full of deep sorrow. “Claire? Is that you?”
“Do I…do we know one another?” she asked, now completely taken aback by the man in the chair, and then the naval officer coughed gently before he looked away – as if she had said something embarrassingly untoward.
“Claire? It’s me…Franklin?”
“Roosevelt? You don’t recall anything?”
“You were the president, weren’t you? I seem to remember something about that now.” She paused and looked around the room again. “Where are we?”
The old man wheeled himself over to a porthole of some sort, but there were no dogs on this port to keep a raging sea from pouring in, just a smooth oval of glass perhaps a foot wide, at most nine inches tall. She followed the old man to the window and looked out…
…and fell away when she saw the planet below. The surface she saw spread out beneath this ship was a mottled mass of flowing tans and mauves, and there was a vast ring encircling the orb, the sandy ring casting an immense, oblate shadow on the world below.
“What is this?” she gasped, “Saturn?”
“Yes, that’s right – or so they tell me – but I’m still not sure I believe them.”
Then she felt an inrushing, almost overwhelming pressure gripping her, the unexpected force pushing in from every direction – yet in the pressure she felt entombed in pure silence.
Then she saw the mountain. A vast horn, dark gray in swirling streaks of lighter mist, and she saw an old man watching her – seemingly from within the mist. His eyes glowing with anger, the old man was looking right at her now.
“Where have you been?” the old man asked. “I was expecting you hours ago…”
Yet she didn’t recognize the man, and before she knew what was happening she felt the pressure return, then she was standing beside the lookouts above the deck as the iceberg loomed “dead ahead, Mister Lightoller…”
But this time the rudder bit into the water and the great ship leaned perilously to starboard, and then it was immediately clear to her that the ship was going to miss the iceberg entirely this time. She leaned with the ship and looked down into the sea, and she could see the great white spur beneath them as they passed– and again, she could tell they’d escaped this time – that somehow the Titanic had escaped her fate, that History had come undone…
She was breathing deeply now, and one of the men standing watch heard her and turned to face the sound of her breath.
“‘Ere now, what be the likes of you standing up ‘ere, and in your night clothes and all…”
She looked down at her hands and bare feet – and she recognized her seven year old self, felt the biting cold air nipping at her legs and arms…
“Did we miss it?” she asked, not really sure what to make of the night now.
“Looks like it, Missy. Now, it’s best we get you back to your stateroom…”
One of the men called out and an officer from the wheelhouse came for her, then a steward walked her back to her father’s stateroom…
The kind-faced man knocked on the stateroom door and she heard her father rousing, then coming to the door – yet when the door opened she saw someone else. Someone she’d never seen before, yet this other man smiled when he saw her.
“Claire, have you been out exploring again? And…look at you – with no shoes on?”
“She was up with the lookouts, sir,” the steward said. “Don’t quite know how she got there, but the Captain asked that you try to keep her with you after hours.”
“Of course,” the man said sternly, looking down at her with scarcely concealed scorn in his eyes. “I’ll see to that.”
And she wondered who he was, and why he was here. And – where was her father?
The man held out his hand and without knowing why she took it, and she let him guide her into the room. When the door closed she turned to the man and stared – then: “Where’s my father?”
“Your father? Claire? Don’t you remember?”
“Remember? Remember what?”
“Your father passed three weeks ago.”
She felt the words more than she understood their meaning, but she fought to accept what little she understood of this new place – even as she struggled to find her breath in the moment.
“Who are you?” she said after a long moment studying the man’s oddly recognizable features.
“I’m your grandfather, Claire. I came for you – and for the funeral. You don’t remember?”
She shook her head slowly… “No-o-o,” she sighed, then she thought about all she’d seen in the last few minutes and she intuitively understood she needed to keep these things to herself – lest people think there was something wrong with her. “I think I should go to bed now, Grandfather.”
“Right. Well, yes, but I think you need a hot bath first,” he said as he went to ring a bell for the maid. “Don’t you think so, too?”
“Yes, you’re correct, Grandfather.”
He turned and looked at her again – but shook his head after a moment – as if he had been confused by something. “Are you sure you’re alright,” he asked.
She nodded her head. “Yes, Grandfather,” but in the next instant she was standing in a vast mist – only now the air smelled strange. Like oil…burning oil – only sharper – and her eyes started to burn, then water. A moment later she heard an immense whining roar building in the near distance, and suddenly bright lights split the night so she turned from her quivering shadow and faced the glare, recoiled from the sight of a great winged machine hurtling down a concrete road of some sort, then she fell away when the machine leapt into the sky. Acrid smoke fell on her and she watched in horror as the thing disappeared into the deepening gloom.
“I’ve lost my mind,” she sighed. “I’m crazy. This is what it means to be mad…to see things that have never existed…”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, tried to squeeze these twisted images from her mind…then she felt the swaying motion, the clickety-clack – clickety-clack of the rails below and she opened her eyes again…
Charles was staring at her now, sniffing at the stuffy air in the compartment.
“What is that smell?” he asked. “Like something burning…?”
She shook her head as echoes of a man named Franklin Roosevelt danced in her mind’s eye, then she remembered the naval officer standing behind the president. A patch on his shoulder? She could see it now, more clearly than she imagined possible.
Something called Operation TimeShadow?
Why did that sound so familiar?
(C) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, of course. Oh, the image above is of a 767-300 in the X-Plane flight simulator. It’s fun to keep those IFR skills sharp, don’t you know…