TimeRiders

Liam O'Connor should have died at sea in 1912.

Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010.

Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2029.

Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, 'Take my hand . . .'

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1912, Atlantic Ocean

 

‘Anyone left here on deck E?’ cried Liam O’Connor. His voice echoed down the narrow passageway, bouncing off the metal walls. ‘Anyone down here?’

It was silent save for the muffled cries and clatter of hasty footsteps coming from the deck above and the deep mournful creak of the ship’s hull, stressing and stretching as the bow end of the ship slowly dipped below the ocean’s surface.

Liam braced himself against the gradually steepening angle of the floor, holding on to the doorframe of the cabin beside him. The chief steward’s instructions had been clear – to ensure every cabin at this end of the deck was empty before coming up and joining him.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to; the screaming and wailing of women and children that he could hear coming down the stairwell from above sounded shrill and terrifying. At least here on deck E, amid the second-class cabins, there was an eerie sense of peace. Not quite silent, though. Far away, he could hear a deep rumble and knew it was the sound of the freezing ocean cascading into the stricken ship, roaring through open bulkheads, gradually pulling her down.

‘Last call!’ he cried out again.

A few minutes ago he had roused a young mother and her daughter cowering in one of the cabins wearing their life jackets. The woman was paralysed with fear, trembling on her bed with her daughter wrapped in her arms. Liam ushered them out and led them to the stairs to deck D. The little girl had quickly kissed his cheek and wished him luck as they parted on the stairwell, as if – unlike her confused mother – she understood they were all doomed.

He could feel the angle of the floor increasing beneath his unsteady feet. From the top of the passage he heard the crash of crockery tumbling from shelves in the steward’s room.

She’ll be going under soon.

Liam uttered a quick, whispered prayer and craned his neck into one last cabin. Empty.

A loud groan rippled through the floor; it vibrated like the song of a giant whale – he felt it more than heard it. His eyes were drawn to something flashing past the cabin’s small porthole. He saw nothing but darkness, then the fleeting quicksilver flutter of bubbles racing past.

Deck E’s below the water line.

‘Sod this,’ he muttered. ‘I’m done here.’

He stepped back out into the passageway and saw at the end a ripple of water only an inch or two deep, gently lapping up along the carpeted floor towards him.

‘Oh no.’

The lower end of the passage was his only way out.

You stayed too long, Liam, you fool. You stayed too long.

He realized now the girl and her mother had been his fateful warning to get out. He should have left with them.

The ice-cold water met his feet, trickled into his shoes and rolled effortlessly past him. He took several steps forward, wading deeper into the water, feeling its freezing embrace around his ankles, his shins, his knees. Up ahead, round the bend at the end of the passage, was the stairwell he should’ve been climbing five minutes ago. He pressed forward, whimpering with agony as the icy water rose round his waist and soaked through his white steward’s tunic. His breath puffed past chattering teeth in clouds of vapour as he struggled forward.

‘Ah J-Jayzzzusss an’ Holy Mary . . . I d-don’t want to drown!’ he hissed, his voice no longer the recently broken timbre of a sixteen-year-old, but the strangled whimper of a frightened child.

It was getting too deep to wade now. Ahead of him, where the passage turned right for the stairwell, the water had reached the wall lights, causing them to spark and flicker.

The stairwell’s probably flooded.

He realized that round the corner the water had to be lapping the ceiling and at least one flight of the stairs would be completely submerged by now. His only way out would be to hold his breath and hope it would last long enough for him to fumble his way up that fi rst flight to the landing.

‘Ah J-J-Jay-zus!’ His blue lips trembled at the thought of floundering in the darkness, beneath the surface – losing his way, feeling the growing desperation and then fi nally sucking churning seawater into his lungs.

It was then he heard it – the sound of movement from behind him.

 

 

 

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