Chapter 14: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

The moment Jeremy had set foot outside Brynne’s apartment with Cal, he’d regretted it. They didn’t know what they were walking into. Both of them had been to Washington, D.C. before, yes – but that was the D.C. of 1912, which was now history, over 90 years having passed. Jeremy had an uneasy feeling about it, but he didn’t voice any concerns to Cal until they were out on the street and caught a glimpse of what they were getting themselves into. The sheer noise of unfamiliar 21st-century street sounds assailed them first, but the sight of all the cars startled them the most.

Jeremy watched a blue automobile unlike any he’d ever seen zoom past the on the street. “I think that things may have changed a bit more than we suspected,” he said.

People hurried along the sidewalk exhibiting the most curious behavior and clothing. Jeremy and Cal’s first instinct was that they must be in a poor section of the city, for no one was dressed as a proper lady or gentleman. Some men wore suits. Some wore hats, but they were significantly different from what a 1912 gentleman would sport. And the women were completely inappropriate. Not even the boldest prostitutes of 1912 would wear what these 21st-century women wore. Many of them wore pants. Those who wore dresses wore them so short that at least half the leg, if not more, showed. None of them wore coverings for their heads, and many traveled unaccompanied by male escorts.

“Perhaps,” Cal said, responding to Jeremy’s stated observation. Hockley looked around at their environment, momentarily unsure of everything. But he tried to convince Jeremy (and himself) that they were taking the right course of action. “But we shouldn’t let ourselves get too caught up in the details of our situation. We must keep the facts of the situation in mind, and the fact is that it is possible for us to exist and even thrive in this new time period in which we find ourselves.”

Cal’s words did nothing but confuse Jeremy. “Thrive? What are you talking about? We’re not staying here. The words you heard Ms. Larence speak are the very same that I heard. We are going back to 1912. It’s just a question of when.”

“Exactly. We have no idea how long we’ll be here, but while we are, we are going to make the best of it.” Cal raised a perfect brow. “At least I am, anyway. Whether or not you are is up to you. Are you? Are you going to take advantage of a golden opportunity of a lifetime? Or will you turn on your heels and run back up to that apartment to await your return to the same old life that you know is waiting for you?”

“We don’t know anything about this time,” Jeremy said.

“Details, Mr. Bratt. Those are mere details that I’m sure we could easily resolve. Let us look at it this way: if Ms. Larence could so easily infiltrate our own period and live for a lengthy period, surely, we should be capable of accomplishing a similar feat.”

“Your logic is flawed, Mr. Hockley. It’s true that Ms. Larence traveled to our time and lived among us undetected for so long, however she also had the advantage of knowing what she was getting herself into. Our time was history to her. We don’t have that advantage. We don’t know what we’ll find in this time, in this city, or even around this street corner here.”

Hockley brushed aside Bratt’s concerns. “Relax, Mr. Bratt. I think you’re overreacting. If Ms. Larence was able to come to our time, things could not have changed all that much. Yes, the automobiles are faster, apparently, and there are more of them, but that’s one, relatively minor detail in the grand scheme of things. Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime, Mr. Bratt. Don’t miss the chance to change your life.”

To Jeremy, Cal was on the verge of sounding like a madman who was about to start raving about destiny. But his words were tempting, and they had Jeremy’s attention. “Judging from your words, I presume that you have a plan?” Jeremy said.

Cal and Jeremy began to stroll the sidewalk, witnessing more odd behavior. People walked around with strings sticking out of their ears. While passing these people, Jeremy discovered that the strings were attached to earplugs that fit into the ear. He surmised that the plugs must be for the purpose of drowning out all the noise, and the strings must keep the owner from losing the plugs. Interesting innovation, Jeremy thought.

The next peculiarity that Jeremy noticed was more puzzling, and Jeremy was unable to explain this one. Many people held devices to their ears while they walked and spoke into them.

“Surviving in this century won’t be nearly as difficult as you think, Mr. Bratt, if we can judge the rest of the population from this bunch here on the sidewalk,” Cal said, noting the people chattering away on the little devices. “These people must be deranged.”

“Earlier, you spoke of an rare opportunity?” Jeremy said, turning the tide of the conversation back to more important matters.

“Mr. Bratt – think about this for a moment. We have a golden opportunity to make money.”

Money? That’s what he was talking about? “What?” Jeremy said.

“Don’t you see? I know we won’t be here forever; that’s exactly why this plan works. This plan depends upon our returning to 1912. Right now, right here, we know the future – we know what it looks like. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, I can’t believe you don’t see it. We’ve got the advantage over anyone in 1912. We have access to nearly a century of technological marvels and information, particularly, stock market information. When we return to 1912 with that kind of knowledge, we can rule the world, or come pretty close, anyway.” The two men stopped walking. Cal stepped in close to Jeremy. “Don’t you want to be rich, Bratt? I can tell you from personal experience that nothing comes close to the feeling you get from knowing that you can buy anything … or anyone. You won’t have to slave for Andrews or Harland and Wolff or anyone else ever again.”

Jeremy studied Cal skeptically but with a measure of consideration. “I’m not saying that I want to join you in this, but let’s say that I do, hypothetically. How would you go about pursuing this opportunity?”

Cal nodded, sensing that he had won Bratt over to his side. He savored the familiar essence of victory. “To get started, we’ll need a newspaper. That’s where we get our stock information and get an idea about what’s going on in today’s world.” Cal looked up and down the street. “The only problem is that I haven’t seen any newsboys about, and I haven’t a clue about where else to get a paper.”

He spotted a man in a business suit walking down the sidewalk toward them. “Excuse me, good sir, could you tell me where I might purchase a newspaper?”

The man looked at Cal curiously for a moment, eyeing the latter’s outdated clothing. “Yeah, um, there’s a stand a couple of blocks south of here.”

Cal delivered a firm slap to the man’s shoulder. “Good man.” The man walked away, concluding that this encounter would definitely be his weird experience for the day. Cal turned back to Jeremy. “That was simple enough.”

Jeremy and Cal covered the two blocks, observing all manner of strangeness as they walked. They found the stand exactly where the man had said it would be.

Cal stepped up to the counter. “I’d like one copy of today’s paper.”

“Which one?” the vendor asked.

“I beg your pardon?” Cal asked.

“Which one?” the vendor repeated. “We’ve got USA Today, the Post, the Times, the Wall Street Journal.”

“The New York Times?” Cal asked.

“That’s right.”

“I’ll take one of those.”

The vendor placed the current issue of the New York Times on the counter. “That it?”

“Yes,” Cal replied. He reached into his pocket preparing to fish out change to pay the vendor.

“That’ll be 50 cents,” the vendor said.

Cal’s hand froze in his pocket. “50 cents? That’s ridiculous. I only want to buy one copy.”

“Look, mac, I don’t know where you come from, especially in duds like that, but around here, 50 cents is the going rate for a paper. You’re not gonna find a cheaper price, except for maybe some of the low-profile local papers.”

“Well, where I come from, papers cost –”

Jeremy touched Cal gently on the arm, a silent warning. Cal looked at him, as if for the first time, he remembered that the other man was there. He refocused his attention on obtaining the newspaper. He reached into his pocket, pulled a dollar coin, and handed it to the vendor.

The vendor took it and studied it. “How about that? It isn’t too often that people come through here paying with dollar coins.” The fact that the coin was nearly 100 years old was completely lost on him. He handed Cal his change and the newspaper. “Have a nice day, mac.”

Cal and Jeremy stepped away from the newsstand with the paper. Both looked at their acquisition curiously. It didn’t look like any newspaper they’d ever seen before. The layout was completely different, and large color pictures screamed at them from the pages.

The first thing that caught Cal’s attention was the photo of a black man above the fold. “They’ve made a mistake with this photograph. They have a Negro her labeled ‘president of the United States’.”

The two scanned the front page. There was an article about high fuel costs, one about war in some country called Iraq, and one about political elections.

A short article on the right side of the page, just below the fold, caught Jeremy’s attention. “Look at this.”

Cal looked at the article and read aloud, beginning with the headline. “‘Gigantic exhibition marks anniversary,'” he began. “‘Monday, the exhibition of artifacts from the world’s most famous maritime disaster marks the 95th anniversary of the sinking of the White Star Liner Gigantic.” He looked at Jeremy, not quite sure what to say.

“Gigantic was supposed to be the name of the next Olympic-class liner,” Jeremy said. “It’s the third in the set of three.”

“Ah, yes, I believe I remember seeing an advertisement featuring that name.”

Jeremy scoured the little article. “Where is this exhibit?” His eyes finally found the answer at the end of the article. “The Capital City Convention Center.” He looked at Cal. “We’ve got to get there.”

“My goodness, does everyone drive in your time?” Rose, occupying the passenger seat of Brynne’s black two-door, gazed out the windows at all the cars next to the sidewalk.

Brynne chuckled. “Yeah. Most people do. Most everyone has a driver’s license.”

“You have to have a license to drive?”

“There are a lot of rules to learn about driving, to keep you from killing yourself and other people. This thing isn’t just a vehicle; in the wrong hands and the wrong circumstances, this is a weapon.”

The car rolled to a stop at a red light. Brynne had no idea where she was going. Hockley and Jeremy could be anywhere. There had to be a better way than driving around, hoping to spot them by chance. She looked in front of her, and she had her answer.

“Gigantic?” she read.

This earned a look from Rose. “Pardon?”

Directly ahead of Brynne, just past beyond the light signal, was a large billboard advertisement for an exhibit dedicated to Titanic’s sister ship Gigantic.

This couldn’t be a mere coincidence. The Titanic didn’t sink, but Brynne couldn’t understand why there would be an exhibit about the Gigantic.

Riding the subway wasn’t a big deal for Jeremy. For the past few years, he’d been living in Belfast, but he’d often traveled to London for work and for leisure. Before moving to Belfast, he’d lived in New York City. Back then, he’d taken the subway everyday on his way to work.

Cal, on the other hand, could count on one hand the number trips he’d taken on the subway. He’d had plenty of opportunities to ride, but he preferred his own private transportation, as opposed to traveling among the unfettered masses.

Regardless of either of their previous subway experiences, neither of them had ever experienced the 21st-century subway or anything like it before. For one thing, they were surrounded by all types of people, people of varying socio-economic levels and ethnicities. Even more galling to Cal was the sight of these inferior races sitting comfortably while decent white men and women were forced to stand. When he and Jeremy had first stepped on the train, he’d found the very presence of these people absurd. Even more unacceptable than their mere presence was their failure to immediately give up their seats upon Cal and Jeremy’s entrance.

Cal, of course, being who he is, felt the need to confront the first black person he saw, a businessman sitting across from the car entrance. “You – don’t you know your manners? Get up.”

The man spared a single, dismissive glance at Cal and went back to reading his copy of the Wall Street Journal. But Cal persisted. “Hey, boy – I’m speaking to you.”

The man lowered his newspaper just enough to peer over it at Cal. “Do you have a problem, sir?”

The doors to the car closed. “Yes, you people seem to have forgotten your manners,” Cal said.

The man lowered his paper to his lap. “Excuse me?”

Jeremy could feel the tension rising in the car as it began to rock with the movement of the train, but Cal persisted. “You uppity Negroes test my patience incessantly.”

The man shot to his feet. “What did you just say?”

“You heard me.”

The man stepped to Cal. “Man, don’t make me put my foot in your ass!”

“What did you say? How dare you speak to me in such a manner. Do you know who I am? I could make your life incredibly unbearable.”

“I don’t care who the hell you are,” the man said. “You can’t go around talking to people like that. Now, if you open that mouth of yours to spew any more of that mess, I’m gonna kick you into the next century.”

At this point, Jeremy intervened. “Mr. Hockley, I’m sure there are more seats in the next car. Why don’t we go see what we can find?”

“Yeah, why don’t you go see what you can find?” the insulted man repeated.

Cal didn’t want to leave the situation alone, but Jeremy was gently pulling him away toward the next car.

“We’re going to have to be careful here,” Jeremy said once they were in the next car. “Things are obviously different here. They don’t operate as they do at home.” He sat in the first seat they came to.

Cal nodded and sat in the seat beside Jeremy. “Yes. I see that now.” He straightened his coat and tie and smoothed his hair with his hand.

Jeremy eyed Cal cautiously. “If you’re going to follow through with this plan of yours, we’ve got to keep calm, level heads.” Jeremy didn’t actually think Cal’s plan had much merit, but he felt it was safer to play along rather than openly antagonize this man who sometimes showed flashes of unstable behavior.

Rose and Brynne stood outside the convention center, gazing up at the larger-than-life poster of a ship that looked exactly like the Titanic, but instead of that name, the words above the ship read “Gigantic”.

Once they made it past the admission counter and actually walked into the exhibit, Brynne felt as if she were back in 1912. But the exhibit didn’t represent 1912, as she quickly discovered. The introductory panel of the exhibit told visitors in big bold letters that the Gigantic sank in 1913:

The Gigantic, a British passenger liner, struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland on the night of April 14, 1913, and sank in the early morning hours of April 15. The ship, the largest and most luxurious of the period, was on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, carrying over 3,000 people. There were no survivors.

Brynne felt the pit of her stomach sink. The Titanic may not have sunk, but the Gigantic sure did, and with an astronomical loss of life. How the hell did this happen?

As Brynne and Rose moved through the exhibit, both learned a great deal about the fate of Titanic’s younger sister. It followed the nearly identical path that Titanic was supposed to follow. Gigantic had set sail from Southampton on April 10, 1913 with planned stops at Cherbourg and Queenstown. Then she’d set out into the open water, bound for New York. She was 900 feet long, 100 feet wide, and was carrying its full capacity of passengers and crew. There were no lifeboats onboard.

On the night of April 14th, the liner struck an iceberg in such a manner that she’d been mortally wounded. The nearest ship was four hours away, and the water was near freezing. No one survived due to the lack of lifeboats.

“No lifeboats?” Rose said. “How could they have left port with no lifeboats at all, not even collapsibles?”

Brynne, at a complete loss, shook her head. “I don’t know.”

They came to the passenger list, and they both scoured it for familiar names. There was no separation between who survived and who perished because there were no survivors. The passenger list was the list of the dead. Andrews and Astor were gone. So were Ismay, Molly Brown, Captain Smith, the Countess of Rothes, the Duff Gordons – the list was endless. And there were some new additions of people who hadn’t been aboard the Titanic. J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and the Vanderbilts had all perished.

“This thing nearly wiped out all of Edwardian high society,” Brynne said. She turned to Rose, whose eyes brimmed with tears. To her, the people on this list weren’t just names; she’d known most of them. Many had been her friends. “I know this is terrible, but this was never supposed to happen. We’re going to fix this.”

They left the passenger list, making a left turn around a corner. And there they found exactly who they were looking for. Cal and Jeremy stood only a few feet away, captivated by a large schematic of Gigantic’s interior.

Brynne and Rose sidled up to the two men. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Brynne said. “It’s nearly twenty feet longer and ten feet wider, but the untrained eye would swear up and down that it’s the same ship.”

Jeremy didn’t take his eyes away from the schematic. “How did you find us?”

“Once I saw the billboard for the exhibit, it wasn’t difficult. I figured that if you knew about it, you’d probably find your way here. I bet on the fact that you probably would have seen the advertisement somewhere.”

“You were right. I saw it on the front page of the New York Times,” Jeremy said.

“I hope you boys weren’t planning on putting up a fight,” Brynne said. “I’m prepared to take you by force, if I must.” It sounded like a bluff, but it wasn’t. She had a weapon that she would use if she had to.

Cal turned to Brynne. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

Brynne looked to Jeremy for confirmation of his cooperation. He turned to her and nodded. “Yes, he’s right. Forceful measures won’t be necessary. We’ll come with you. You have my word.” He nodded to the schematic before them. “Brynne, what happened? How did this happen?”

Brynne shook her head. “I’m not 100 percent sure. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This is why you have to go back.”

“We caused this?” Rose asked.

“No,” Brynne answered quickly. “In fact, I may be at fault here, actually. I can’t give you a breakdown of everything that was supposed to happen and everything that wasn’t. I do know that this ship – Gigantic – wasn’t suppose to sink, not like this.”

“So, it does sink?” Rose asked.

“Unfortunately, yes, but the circumstances were completely different. That story is … complicated. I’d be more than willing to tell you about it, but we should go somewhere else, first.”

This situation was getting stickier by the hour, it seemed. The Gigantic had sank instead of the Titanic, and that left Brynne with one burning question: What had happened to the Titanic?

 

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