"The Choice

by Denise Horner

The Admiral has a terrible,

life or death choice to make.

Either way, there is loss.

Does he have the courage to make it?


How does one lose a sister, of the same blood, sinews, flesh? Even among ships, there had to be some ghostly feeling of 'loss.' There was the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Britannic - two of these three sister ships met unfortunate ends.

Looking over some old photos and newspaper reports, Admiral Nelson shook his head at the calamity represented by the Titanic. To be in New York sooner than any other ship had ever been, to cross the fitful Atlantic on a dove's wing - that was the goal of the ship's master who went down with her. A never-ending party in Captain Edward Smith's honor, and to celebrate his record-breaking speed, had been going on that night of April 14, 1912. The captain didn't stay long at the party. He went to the bridge, and then retired early to bed, though wireless messages concerning the dangers from icebergs had been pouring in from other vessels in the area.

1:40 p.m. April 14, 1912
SS Baltic to RMS Titanic

Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving . . . icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N, longitude 49.52 W . . . . Wish you and "Titanic" all success.

The Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m., April 15, 1912.

7:30 p.m.
SS Antillian to RMS Titanic

. . . latitude 42.3 N, longitude 49.9 W. Three large bergs five miles to southward of us.

9:30 p.m.
SS Mesaba to RMS Titanic and all eastbound ships

Ice report: in latitude 42N to 41.25 N, longitude 49 W to 50.3 W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs, also field ice. Weather good, clear.

9:35 p.m.
RMS Titanic to SS Mesaba

Received, thanks.

11:00 p.m.
RMS Californian to RMS Titanic

Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice.

12:17 a.m. April 15, 1912
RMS Titanic to any ship

. . . SOS Titanic position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We struck an iceberg. Sinking.

At last, this message came from the sinking ship.

Between 2.15 a.m. and 2.25 a.m.
RMS Titanic to RMS Carpathia

SOS SOS . . . Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic.

Seaview, the largest and best-equipped marine research vessel in the world, was making good time through the Atlantic seas. There were four more hours to go before she reached the coordinates of the largest concentration of blue whales yet spotted by this year's crop of dedicated whale watchers. The largest mammal ever to live on the earth, weighing up to 200 tons and living for about 90 years, the blue whale migrated annually to western Icelandic waters in the spring to feed all summer long on tiny plankton and krill. Seaview's current study involving the blue whale was a follow-up of last year's research. Unlike the minke whale, the blue was decreasing from Icelandic waters and the N.I.M.R. had accepted the task from the scientists at the Hafrannsoknastofnunin, or the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, to find out why.

With almost four hours to kill, and having done all he could in his lab in preparation for the blue whales, Admiral Nelson sat reading in his cabin. Reflecting that today was April 14th, and tomorrow, the sixtieth anniversary of the luxury liner's sinking, he had dug up the old reports and pictures of the Titanic from the ship's vast library. The old photos, though black and white, were excellent. Looking at them now, he saw the ship in his mind's eye - its luxurious appointments for the rich, the saloons and first class cabins and promenades. Then he thought of the least fortunate of the many passengers who had died on the Titanic - those in steerage class. Forgotten, who mourned them?

Did Capt. Edward John Smith, master of the Titanic, know of their struggles to go to America, the land of freedom? Did he feel their hearts lift on seeing the seabirds wheeling overhead, free and flying above the waves? Did he sigh with the same anticipation as westerly stars came out, shining brightest? Had he seen them carry their scant belongings belowdecks in baskets? Had he seen how they draped shawls over their children's shoulders in the long cold night of third class and try to warm themselves at coal stoves? Had he seen the hope that lit their faces when his liner at length pulled out of Cobh, Ireland? Cobh was the Titanic's last landfall before heading out to open sea. If Smith had known, or if he had seen, he gave no sign later that night on the bridge. Though there were reports of icebergs in the area, he set the watches and maintained his speed, imperiling not only the lives of rich and famous, but of poor and lowly alike. He felt lucky. Though only sixty-two, he was retiring soon and this huge boat was truly the best, from bridge to keel. He once bragged that cut in half, the Titanic - or, that is, each half - would still float! Indefinitely!

Why once he even said, "Even if the engines and boilers . . . were to fall through" its bottom, the Titanic "would remain afloat." She would not give him any trouble. Nor would the icebergs.

12.25 a.m.
R.M.S. Carpathia to R.M.S. Titanic

Shall I tell my captain? Do you require assistance?

12.26 a.m.
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia

Yes, come quick!

12.32 a.m.
R.M.S. Carpathia to R.M.S. Titanic

Putting about and heading for you.

12.40 a.m.
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia

SOS Titanic sinking by the head. We are about all down. Sinking. . .

At 2.20 a.m., the Titanic sank 41.46 N 50.14 W, according to the Carpathia in a message to the Olympic. Many of the crew who went down with the Titanic, including her captain, had served aboard her sister ship, the Olympic, before signing onto the ill-fated Unsinkable (fated to prove that man is not invincible, and neither are his toys).

If he, Nelson, had been her captain, it would have been different. He would have heeded warnings - those iceberg reports - and even the information of his own senses more carefully. Something would have been troubling him that night. He would have had to have known that this was a doomed ship, a doomed night, and most of all, that he was a doomed man.

Had Capt. Smith any premonition of the disaster? He was a sound enough man, advanced in his career and a mariner of the first water - or the charge of such an expensive, new ship would not have been his. The nagging he must have felt - as a sound mariner of years - that something could happen to his ship, that night, why hadn't he given any heed to it, before he himself was perishing in the sea? Nothing though made him change his course and speed. The huge ship plowed on into the night to her doom.

"Truly sad. So many lives lost," the admiral muttered to himself.

Rubbing his tired eyes, the admiral of the Seaview had just reached out to turn off the light on his desk when he sensed he was not alone. He looked up and over at his cabin's bunk niche. There sitting on the actual bunk was a man of a certain odd shape, a man more out of shape than odd, really. Wearing an old-fashioned Victorian, plaid sporting jacket with velvet lapels, the portly, older man stood up and faced the tired reader behind the desk, who started at sight of the intruder.

"Pem?" asked the admiral, measuredly. "Is that you? But you're -"

"Dead, dear Admiral?"

Nelson, despite himself, nodded. He was dumbfounded. The last he had seen of Pem was - the last he had seen of Pem! Pem had died in the reactor room months ago. How had he come back the second time? He had come back once before when Nelson thought he had been electrocuted. The born menace that was Mr. Pem, the stab to the jugular vein, that irreverent time traveler, had almost cost the Seaview and her crew their lives on two occasions. Now there he was. Standing before Nelson in his own quarters aboard the sub.

"Admiral, speechless?"

Nelson acted, or rather reacted. He pressed a button on his speaker-phone. "Master at Arms, this is the admiral. Come to my cabin right away. Three men, on the double, well-armed."

"Admiral," said the intruder, his thick, syrupy voice so condescending. "You know that in order for me to be here at all, I've had to perfect another time device."

"Is that what you're holding in your hand?" asked Nelson, nodding at it and feeling his gut twist. He was very wary of this evil bundle of genius.

"I am. Do you really think that before your men get here, I can't transport you back to the Paleolithic era?"

"I know I see you," the admiral informed him. "But what I don't know - yet - are you're limits, Pem. Paleolithic may be beyond even your scope this time."

"You expected me to be, ah, dead, admiral. Yet here I am. What limits do you think I have?"

"Perhaps none," said Nelson disagreeably, realizing the truth. Pem had been thought dead. Now there he was!

The intercom on the admiral's desk buzzed. "Admiral Nelson, this is Crane. I heard your call. What's the situation up there?" Nelson hit the button and spoke. "We have an old friend visiting us, Lee. It's Pem. He's made another time device."

Lee, in the control room, suddenly shuddered. It couldn't be real. Not Pem again. He clamped down on the mike button. "I'll be right up, Admiral. Wait for me."

"Lee, you better hurry. Pem is beginning to talk saber-toothed tigers!"

Lee didn't reply and Nelson knew he was on his way. He turned back to Pem, having kept one eye on the oily man the whole time. "What now, Pem?"

Suddenly there was a knocking on Nelson's door. Pem started, as if not expecting Nelson to receive help so soon.

"Shall I open it?" the admiral asked, suddenly all confidence again.

Righting himself, Pem replied, "By all means, do, dear boy. But all that those men will find when they burst in on us is an empty cabin."

"What do you mean?" Confidence slipping, again.

"If you call them in, we will simply vanish to a place where we can have our little chat in private."

The knocking became louder when the admiral didn't answer. Lee's voice now added to the din.

"Admiral! Admiral! Can you hear me, are you alright?"

"I am, Lee," said Nelson, swallowing hard. He knew when he was beat. "I can't open the door right now."

"Is Pem with you?"

"He is."

"Be careful, admiral."

"Thanks, Lee. I will. Stand fast, but hold off trying to get in for awhile. Now, Pem," said Nelson, turning back to his cabin guest. "I suppose you have some sort of plan behind this visit?"

"I have, Admiral. You see I've been here in the dark for some few moments, listening to you."

"To me! I haven't said a word!"

"Oh, but you have, Admiral. You don't realize it, but you talk to yourself. You spoke of the Titanic, and how sad it was that so many lives were lost." Pem stepped closer to the desk and Nelson took a short step back - into the framed schematic drawings of the Seaview on the wall. He could plainly see Pem's features now and didn't like to admit it, but Pem looked like the very devil in the single, spectral light of the small desk lamp.

"So you have been curious about the lost ship. Brought these files up from your computer library?"

Nelson nodded again.

"Then you are curious about where we're going!"

"Going?" echoed Nelson, rather hoarsely. "Not the Titanic. You don't have the nerve."

"I do have the nerve, Admiral," said Pem, acting hurt. "You constantly underestimate the force of my hatred for you. Twice you've nearly buried me. And I thought the last time you had!"

"I wish I had. I won't fail again, Pem, to dispose of you and your menace, once and for all." Pem usually made the admiral hot under the collar and Nelson's voice had risen in pitch.

Lee spoke up again from outside the door. "Admiral, what's the situation in there? Is Pem really aboard?"

"Poor, dumbfounded captain," said Pem. "Such a realist. He knows I'm aboard, because you told him so, but still he has doubts. Well," said Pem with the same unctuous smile he always used with Nelson, "he won't for long!"

"Pem!" yelled Nelson, before he felt a familiar whisking-away feeling. Suddenly he felt lighter than air, and almost airborne, floating above the ether, in the clouds, into space. He wanted to cry out, but his voice wouldn't come. He could not shout or call out in anyway, but then gradually a heaviness, an earthy weight, began to return to him and he felt himself gently lowered. He was no longer in space -- or wherever he had been floating. Again, he was on solid ground. Yet when he opened his eyes and looked around, he realized that 'ground' hardly described where he was. A cabin, surely, but not his own. He lay on a bed and when he arose to try to walk after the numbing floating experience, he found he had traded a sterile, functional set of submarine quarters for a lavishly wooded and wainscoted captain's cabin. There was a huge, high quality mirror, whereas the small over-the-sink mirror in his quarters served his needs every morning. A wardrobe stood off to one side, one of the finest antiques Nelson had ever laid eyes on. The bed was fitted with curtains and luxuriously sized. A room fit for a king - or for the master of a floating palace.

The Titanic! He had been transported back to her. Now he was in Captain Smith's own cabin. He made sure by crossing over to the writing desk. A small paperweight bore the captain's name, Edward John Smith. Several pieces of stationary lying loose actually bore the words R.M.S. Titanic. Nelson picked up a piece of the White Star writing paper and turned it about in his hand, marveling.

"Pem, you've done it again," he murmured aloud to himself. He heard a sudden laugh and whirled around. "Pem!"

"That's right, Admiral. I'm here, too, though not indeed for long," said the buttery-voiced man. "I don't intend on going down with the ship, though you will." He smiled and tilted his head to one side just to watch the admiral's reaction.

"Take us back to Seaview. I demand it!" said Nelson. Putting one finger down inside his suddenly tight collar to loosen it, he knew he didn't fancy the watery grave waiting for him aboard this ship!

"Would you rather I sink the Seaview for you - for you will drown tonight, Admiral."

"You're as mad as ever!" Nelson said violently. "As mad as ever." He made a quick dash forward to seize the time device out of Pem's hand, a hand shaped like a fat dove.

Pem, who had been sitting in the captain's armchair, suddenly disappeared. He had pushed the winder button on that small, old-fashioned chronometer he held in his hand - he liked making time devices out of watches - and he was gone, just like that.

"Pem!" Nelson stood about the room calling for the man, but got no response. Suddenly there was a knocking at his door, or rather, Smith's door. Nelson moved to answer it, hoping to see Lee Crane standing there. Lee, a dark-eyed younger man, would look fixedly at him to see if the admiral had been hurt in any way, or had simply popped his cork in claiming to see Pem's ghost!

A young officer indeed stood there, not Crane, but a man looking very worried in his own kind of dark way.

"Yes?" asked the admiral, almost timidly. He was holding the door open only slightly. "Can I help you?"

"Moody here, sir. We've gotten a disturbing radio report, sir, sighting icebergs on our general heading. Officer Murdoch would like you to come to the bridge, sir."

"I'll be right there, thank you - Moody." Nelson remembered something dim. Moody was the name of the sixth officer, James Paul Moody. His body had not been recovered by the Carpathia crew.

Nelson closed the door on Sixth Officer Moody, presuming he would go back to the bridge.

"Well, Admiral," said Pem, visiting the captain's cabin again, "you handled that well. Now are you going to the bridge, too? And, if so, what will you wear?"

Nelson looked down at his regular uniform, plain tan pants and shirt, and thought about it. "I guess the Captain would not show up in a submarine uniform."

"I doubt he would, Admiral." Pem, sitting again in Smith's sizable wood and leather armchair, clapped his hand on his knee. "You see, dear Nelson, you're already beginning to think like a native. I thought you'd be shouting, Get me off this ship! But no, you're actually thinking of going up there on that bridge. Do you think the crew will wonder what happened to the real Smith?"

"What did happen to him?"

"He's safe. He's you. Or rather, you're him. The officer just here didn't see through you. He thought you were Smith. You can fool the others."

"But why should I have to?"

"You are in the position of captain of one of the greatest ships ever afloat. You cannot stay in your cabin all night, Admiral. You must go."

"You mean, Pem, that I look like Smith?"

"No, of course not, Admiral. He was older, more grandfatherly than you. Although there may be just a touch of gray in your red, my good fellow." Pem laughed that cloying laugh of his again, smiling broadly in a broad face. His eyes twinkled in the dim electric light of the cabin. "But you have taken his place in the minds of the crew. It's a new feature of my latest time device. I had to work extra long nights at it. Nobody will be able to tell you aren't their captain. They will all think you're he."

"You are mad. I can't go up to that bridge, even in the captain's own uniform, and fool those trained observers!"

"Sure you can. I'm banking on it. You will fool them, or else they will pitch you off the side of the boat and I'll have to go back to long hours of work on that aspect of my time device, the hallucinatory aspect."

"Pem, why don't you just leave me alone?"

"That's hardly a question to ask of me, Admiral, seeing as how you've killed me twice. Couldn't I repay you, at least once?"

The admiral thought about it, saying, "If they already think I'm Smith, then I won't need to change!"

"Ah, but you must, Admiral. You must 'feel' the part. If you look like Smith, you'll behave like Smith. The crew will surely not doubt you then. Mind you, Admiral, the ability of my time device to create hallucinations in the crew is only rudimentary. You'll need all the acting ability you possess to fool them."

"Why should I bother? Why not just tell them about you?"

"Admiral, think. In a few hours, the crew will have enough to do just pumping water out of the bilge, without worrying what happened to their captain."

"I hadn't thought of that. Well, at any rate, I don't plan to go through with it. I'll stay in the cabin and let 1st Officer Murdoch handle the ship - he probably would have done a better job originally than Smith."

"Don't be too hard on Smith, Admiral. He was only striving to retire a famous man, by getting his wondrous ship to port in New York City in record time."

Again, there was a knocking. Sixth Officer Moody must have been waiting to escort the Admiral - or Captain Smith - to the bridge.

"Sir? Are you coming, sir?"

The admiral gave a quick glance about the room, seeking an escape avenue. He might as well have been at crush depth on the Seaview for all the options of escape he could see. Pem had gone again.

"Coming, Moody," he called out, flinging open the wardrobe and at the same time beginning to unbutton his shirt. In five minutes, he was garbed exactly as Captain Smith would have been, in austere blue-black wool, his tunic carrying braid and stripes. Pem had made sure Captain Smith - wherever he was - had left behind him his uniform, to give the admiral 'authenticity.'

Nelson opened the door bravely and faced the young officer, seeing the eager expectation on the smooth face of a born helper. Moody almost caught up his arm to lead him to the bridge, but at the last minute, he reasserted himself and just saluted. The admiral, now the Titanic captain, returned the salute and led the way. He had studied Titanic diagrams on so many occasions, he knew the ship by heart. He knew where the bridge was.

So far, so good. He had fooled Moody. But would Murdoch, or Lightoller, or any other higher-ranking officer be as easy to fool?

At the bridge, Murdoch gave him the reports of several ships' sightings of icebergs. He looked them over, having already read them that night - back in his cabin on the Seaview. Everything that could be known about that night, he knew. Seaview's library was quite complete on the subject of the sunken ship. Nelson looked at the reports anyway, making his way to the front of the bridge for a glance at the water.


Heading given. The quartermaster at the wheel looked over at the captain as he spoke.


"Twenty-one knots, sir."

The admiral had to think quickly here. He knew the speed of the Titanic had climbed to twenty-two point five knots before grinding across the iceberg. If he dropped the speed, there was a chance of saving the ship. If he did save her though, he faced the dilemma of changing history.

What a dilemma he faced! Of course, one only Mr. Pem in his crabby evil-mindedness could conceive. How could the Admiral, a true mariner, allow a ship to founder, taking with her to the bottom over fifteen hundred souls, when he could save her! He knew what was going to happen that night at 11:42, or was it 11:43? He knew the iceberg would rip open the bottom of the vessel. He'd bring the Titanic to an all-stop, but then urged on by Ismay to get going again, he'd pass along the order to start the engines. Forward movement would rip out rivets and widen vertical seams. The Titanic could have rested on the iceberg waiting for help, pumping out water, floating, actually, on her pumps. Help would have come. Moving the ship consigned her to the bottom and a thousand and a half people to their deaths.

Could he bring himself to duplicate Smith's orders, could he allow himself to utter the orders that he knew would bring the ship to her doom, could he do this knowing how many would die? Or that he himself would never reach port alive, either?

What was history, but unfolding events? Couldn't events have unfolded in any other way? Why not let the Titanic survive, just this once? All the movies had her go down. He remembered one with Barbara Stanwyck, the one where she lost both her husband and her son (what was his name?), and also where the sober priest (at last) had gone down into the boiler room to save souls (now, what was his name?) - why not change film history, too, while he was at it? An interesting line of inquiry. Nevertheless, if the liner didn't sink, would his beloved Seaview be there in the future? Hard to say, but one thing was clear. No two vessels could have been more unalike than the Titanic and the Seaview! What had the two boats to do with each other? They were both big, not to mention grossly expensive and hard to supply, and that was it. If the Titanic sank or didn't sink in the cold North Atlantic, how would that affect Seaview or her crew? The Admiral knew the answer to that before he had stated the question in his mind. Any change, no matter how slight, to the way things were supposed to go, and those future events might just not happen at all, or happen so differently that the world changed. Maybe for the worse.

If -

"Begging your pardon, Captain," said a man at the admiral's elbow. "We just got another report of that iceberg sighting." Now it was a particular iceberg. A definite problem was shaping up. This situation was becoming grave. Did he say 'grave?'

"Give me the coordinates." The admiral bent to the task with Fourth Officer Boxhall, a thin man with a nervous pair of watery eyes. Dark and of a sloping forehead, Boxhall looked, in a word, consumptive. Luckily for him, he survived the sinking of the Titanic and was the first to tell Captain Rostron on the bridge of the Carpathia, the rescue ship, of the Titanic disaster. Later in life, an aged man, he died of simple poor health, made worse by his long night at the oars of (the two-thirds full) Lifeboat 2. Nelson knew Joseph Groves Boxhall had earlier asked Capt. Smith if everything was going to be alright, to which the Titanic captain replied, "The ship'll sink within an hour to an hour and a half."

"Keep on the same heading as before," said the 'captain.' "I'm going to be in my quarters."

"Should you really leave the bridge?" asked Murdoch, confidentially moving over to stand next to the admiral. "I mean, sir, the crew's jumpy tonight."

They're jumpy! exclaimed the admiral, the victim of Pem's evil trick, in his own mind. What about me?

"I have one matter to attend to, and then I'll be back. Don't - ah - hit anything before I return."

Murdoch's face became ghastly white in the dim light of the night-time bridge. "No, sir," he said, faltering back a step. "Wouldn't think of it, sir."

"Good man," said the admiral, hoping that if he found Mr. Pem, he could persuade him to take him back to the Seaview before he had to decide on changing history or not.

Back at his quarters, which he found with no trouble, he looked at the captain's beautiful wall-clock, mahogany and teak and gold. Ah, there was glamour in those days. Truly.

What the admiral saw on the clock's face made his heart stop beating for a least a full minute. He had to reach out and grab the back of the captain's desk chair before he fell. It was past 11 o'clock in the evening on the fatal night the Titanic hit the 'berg. He had less than thirty minutes left. What did he hear, was that music playing in one of the salons? No way he could have heard that - he must have been imagining it from all the stories told of how the Titanic's big parties continued while the ship plowed on to be wrecked.

"Mr. Pem! Pem!" the admiral called nervously into the air. He kept his voice moderately low, for fear of sending any 'listeners' into a tail spin.

Pem appeared, jolly as ever, like the rogue he was. He could laugh while the admiral sweated through being the Titanic's captain! He could sit there, and mincingly smile and smile, a dapper rattler.

"Yes, dear Admiral?" Pem suddenly looked concerned, but it was a fake, rattlesnake concern. "You don't look well around the gills."

"I'm not, Pem. To be honest with you, I can't go through with this charade any longer. I'm not Smith. I couldn't make the same lame-brained mistakes he made that night! I won't wreck this ship! Did you hear that?"

"You're shouting so, Admiral, of course I heard you. Half the boat could hear you. I'm sure Lightoller and Murdoch on the bridge heard you -"

"Oh, Pem, shut up, will you. Try to be serious."

"I assure you I am, Admiral. I'm always serious where you're concerned." That oily smile again.

"In just a few moments, this ship will hit an iceberg. Maybe not you, but I'm going to die. Leaving that out of the equation, a lot of other people are going to die, too."

"Why, Admiral, you act as if I had caused the original sinking of the Titanic. I assure you I had only been born a few years before it happened."

"Don't mix me up, Pem. You know what I mean. We have to do something - I have to do it, to stop this boat from hitting that iceberg!"

"Admiral, you're humanity becomes you, as usual. But consider, if you do alter this boat's course or change her speed, or do both in time to save 'er, then you'll be changing your precious history. What if I were to tell you that you can't save the boat without making some drastic changes to your own future life?"

"What future life? I'll die right here on the Titanic!" The admiral was getting a little past reason.

"But you would be born, Admiral Nelson, in two years' time. Your life would continue. Something else you must know."

"What's that?" The admiral ran his hand through his hair again - for the fortieth time that night. He always did that when he was nervous at some quirk of the Seaview's or her crew, and usually had to keep reminding himself to stop it. Take up gum-chewing or nail-biting instead. He was afraid he was losing his hair.

"When I mentioned before that some drastic changes would occur to your own future life, I meant it, Admiral. I'm talking about Lee Crane."

"What about Lee Crane? He's not even here." No, thought the admiral, he's safe aboard Seaview probably asleep in his bunk.

"That's right. He's not here, and he won't be here - not ever."

"What are you babblin' about, Pem?"

"On earth, I mean. You see, my dear Nelson, some one is on this ship right now, a young man of German extraction who will live on to fight in the First World War if you prevent the Titanic from going down."

"So? A lot of Germans fought in that war. Or so I think," said the admiral, very snidely. He knew his history.

"That's right, but this particular German will shoot Captain Crane's father and that will put a damper on the prospects of your good captain's - and friend's - ever existing."

"You're lying."

"I am?"

"You're saying if I save this boat, then a German on board lives, fights in the war and kills Lee's, I mean, Captain Crane's, father?"

"Precisely. You do catch on so fast, admiral."

"Pem. You're a big blowhard. Get me off this ship and nothing that shouldn't have happened will happen, or nothing that should happen, will - I don't know what I'm saying."

"Calm, Admiral. Calm. The ship has ten minutes to go. Don't you want to be up there with your crew?"


"Your crew, they look up to you so."

"Yes, I'd better get up there. I just want to say, Pem, you've finally beaten me. A worthy opponent always deserves respect." The admiral made a move to the leather easy chair where Pem was sitting again. He extended his hand.

"Why, Admiral," said Pem, rising and grinning broadly again. "I'm touched. You do respect me? You're not just saying that, hoping that I'll remit your death sentence on this ship?"

The admiral swallowed hard at those last words, 'death sentence,' but came forward anyway with hand out. Pem switched his ubiquitous time device to his left hand in order to take Nelson's right. Nelson suddenly dove for the time device, flinging them both back against one of the portholes of the cabin. Both men turned their attention to the sight of a huge block of ice drawing near. Suddenly there was pounding on the 'captain's' door and Moody called in.

"Sir, begging your pardon. Come, quickly, the lookouts have sighted a big 'berg. We're running close to it, Captain."

"Admiral, there you go. Panic in the situation, but trust in you. How can you let the young officer down?"

Nelson's mind was a-whirl. He looked again and saw the sight that would have given even Horatio Nelson pause.

"I'm coming," he yelled, and started to take his hold off the time device in Pem's hands. "Alright, I'm coming," he added, more for Pem's benefit than Moody's at the door.

The admiral disengaged himself from Pem and turned away abruptly. Suddenly, he swung around again and landed a fist against Pem's jaw, knocking the other man across the back of the easy chair. As he tumbled to the floor, Pem's fingers depressed the winder on the old-fashioned watch that was his time device. Several things happened at once. Not all of them were good for all people. The true Captain Smith 'returned' to his quarters just as Moody slowly opened the door, checking to see that his 'captain' was indeed on his way. The admiral and Mr. Pem were transported back to the time device's last known coordinates, the admiral's cabin aboard Seaview. The Titanic sunk and many people died. Seven hundred and five survived, picked up by the Carpathia a couple of hours later in several small lifeboats, a few of them under-filled.

Mr. Pem had a swollen jaw to go with his swollen ego. He didn't have enough power to transport himself, the admiral and poor Captain Smith all over again - so he had to leave the Seaview rather a broken man.

"Are you telling us that you actually went back to the Titanic?" asked Lee, incredulous upon hearing the admiral's story.

"I did," said Nelson, sipping his coffee in the observation nose of the Seaview, relaxing with his senior officers while the ship moved gracefully through the deep undersea waters. "I don't know if I would have been able to give those orders Smith gave that night. He wrecked his ship and lost all those lives, including his own. I'd like to think I would have had the courage, though, to go through with the sinking. Your father's life, too, Lee, was in the balance. But I don't know. Up there on the bridge, I could see the faces, hear the music, if only in my mind. I never met any of the passengers. Never had time. Some of them would have torn my heart out. Especially -"

Here the admiral stopped, thinking of the faces of children in steerage class, bright and giddy, eagerly looking forward to a new land. And their parents -

"Could I have given them over to the sea?"







A lot of information for this story came from two websites:



1. A memorial plaque to James Pell Moody was placed in the Church of St. Martin on the Hill, Scarborough, England. It reads: "Be Thou Faithful Unto Death and I Will Give to Thee a Crown of Life."

2. Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic plied the waters for many years after the Titanic sank in the cold North Atlantic that night in April 1912. Another ship in the Olympic class as well, the Britannic, hardly survived its first year afloat when she too went down "hard by the bow" - in only fifty-five minutes - after hitting a floating sea mine during the First World War. Having been refitted as a hospital ship in that war, the Britannic never carried a fare-paying passenger, and the Titanic never carried another one.




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