*SAM is a computer.
The Delta II circled the city of Jerusalem. All three men were glued to the images *Sam was showing. Crowd activity below began to increase around a group of figures being led through the narrow streets. It caught the attention of the crew.
‘Sam, can you focus on the crowd, please. Let’s see what’s going on. Just for curiosity’s sake,’ Dan asked. The computer obliged. ‘Sam, what do you make of this?’ he added
‘Based on the objects some of the men are carrying I believe we are about to witness an execution.’
‘Oh my God. Are you serious?’
‘I think Sam’s right.’ said Kevin.
‘Crucifixion was a common form of punishment during Roman times, so my data tells me.’
For the moment, morbid fascination kept their eyes glued to the screen.
‘Give us audio please, Sam. Perhaps we might learn something.’
The bridge was instantly filled with the sounds of screaming, shouting and wailing. The prisoners’ escort of soldiers was having a difficult job keeping the large crowd at bay. One of the soldiers lashed out viciously with a whip at anyone who got too close. The significance of what they were watching had momentarily escaped Kevin. But as he looked more closely at the unfolding scene he realized with almost apoplectic horror that this was no ordinary crucifixion.
‘Oh, my God. Oh, no. It can’t be. Oh, please, no. Not this!’
Dan and Richard turned to stare at Kevin. They were shocked at the distraught expression on his face.
‘Kevin, what is it?’ Dan insisted.
‘That’s him,’ he said pointing at one of the figures.
‘Him? Him, who? You recognise one of the prisoners?’ Dan couldn’t believe it.
‘You mean you don’t realise what’s going on here? Kevin was aghast.
‘How could we possibly know what –’ Dan stopped. Kevin had gone white; every ounce of colour had drained from his face. ‘What the hell is it,’ Dan said his voice almost a whisper.
But Kevin seemed almost beyond reason. ‘No! This you must not touch or interfere with in any way. If you have no knowledge of what I’m talking about then we must leave it alone. Find some other event to get us back home. I’m warning you, do not touch this. Please, for the love of….just get us away from here, now!’
‘Who said we were going to interfere? Dan said. But now, seeing Kevin’s reaction, morbid curiosity turned to serious concern.
‘Kevin. Look at me,’ Dan insisted. Kevin turned. ‘What is it? Tell me what’s going on down there?
‘No!’ Kevin yelled. Then he leapt out of his seat and stormed off the bridge.
‘What the hell is the matter with him?’ Richard asked. He was also shocked at the vehemence of Kevin’s reaction.
‘Sam, help us out here,’ Dan asked, still staring down the passage after Kevin.
‘I am searching my data banks now, captain. Unfortunately there are few details. Crucifixion was a common form of execution around this period. Hold on. One person is singled out. His name was Yashua. He was the religious teacher Kevin mentioned. A religion called Christianity was founded based on his teachings. It grew to become one of the largest religions on earth. Its followers believe he was either the Son of God or God incarnate. But what is of significance to us is that records show he was put to death in the year A.D.30 approximately. If this is that same man then we have a time frame to work with.’
‘Okay. Let’s assume for the moment that this is the same man. Are you able to begin a preliminary reconfiguration of the drive system?’
‘Yes, captain. I believe I can.’
‘Then start, please. In the meantime we will keep an eye on what’s happening below us. If this pans out we could be home sooner than we thought.’
They turned back to the gruesome scene that was about reach its climax on a desolate looking hill outside the city.
Once the three prisoners and their escort had reached the execution site, a cordon was formed to prevent the volatile crowd, which seemed divided equally between sympathisers and detractors, from interfering. The guards stripped the three men down to their loincloths, manhandling them to the ground. The wooden crossbeams they had carried from the city were placed underneath their shoulder blades.
‘So this is the King of the Jews,’ one of the legionnaires announced. ‘Don’t look much like a fucking king now, does he?’
His cruel jibe drew howls of more derisive laughter from some members of the crowd.
The man in question looked up at the soldier from his prone position on the sun baked dirt. I will not scream or cry out, he thought. I will NOT! Clang! Clang! Clang! The legionnaire hammered home the first nail through the wrist of his right arm, securing it to the wooden beam beneath him. Pain, like white-hot fire, shot up his arm. The man cried out. He could not help himself. The pain was excruciating. He gagged as bile rose in his throat. Rough, calloused hands pulled his left arm straight out at right angles to his body. The hammer smote the second nail through the wrist of his left arm. Again he cried out.
He wore a crude crown of thorns that someone had forced on his head. The razor sharp barbs had cut into his flesh at several points and the deep cuts bled copiously.
The other two condemned men were going through similar agony as him. There was screaming all around him and every cry brought an equally loud cheer from some parts of the crowd.
But the pain seemed to heighten his senses rather than dull them. He could almost taste the sickly sweet smell of body odour, accentuated by fear. And he was not immune to that fear either. Unable to prevent himself he lost control of his bladder. Warm urine soaked his loincloth then ran down the inside of his leg onto the parched earth. It formed a dark puddle underneath him.
One of the soldiers standing above him watched as the urine began to wend its way towards his sandal. He sidestepped then spat at the prone man.
‘Ah look. Wot a shame the King of the Jews has pissed his self!’
There were cackles of cruel laughter from other soldiers who were within earshot. He ignored the insults.
One of the other prisoners let out the most horrible screeching sound he had ever heard. The prisoners eyes rolled so only the whites were showing. Then he threw up all over himself. He began to twitch and squirm like a fish on a line as the last of the nails was driven home.
At that point he passed out.
The man on the first cross turned his head away from the sight, screwing up his eyes in an effort to shut out the horror going on around him.
But his own torture was far from over. His arms, just above the elbow, were tied to the beam. Now firmly secure, four more soldiers lifted the crossbeam and hoisted it upwards where they slotted it into a groove cut out of an upright, four-metre length of timber that was placed in a hole in the ground.
Whilst the soldiers on the ground supported the crossbeam with their spears, another soldier standing on a ladder tied the beam to the upright with rope. The soldier then nailed a small wooden plaque, inscribed with a few details of the crime, onto the cross just above the condemned man’s head. Whilst standing on a small wooden perch, approximately six inches long and three inches wide affixed halfway up the upright, another legionnaire began to climb a ladder up to him. He had a hammer in his belt and a six-inch nail between his teeth. The crucified man had to put one foot on top of the other whilst the legionnaire hammered the nail through both feet to the perch. The nail broke two bones as it passed through his feet.
This pain was too much. For a few moments, he passed out.
Bile rose in his throat. He came to gagging.
The ropes around his arms were untied and he was left suspended from the nails. Before long, sinews and muscles, stretched to the limit, would begin to tear.
Death, often as a result of suffocation, was inevitable. It would be a welcome relief to the horrendous pain.
After nailing his feet to the perch, the soldier climbed down and removed the ladder. With hands on hips, he stared up at the man. His head had already slumped forward and his eyes looked rheumy.
The soldier hacked and spat a large glob of phlegm at the foot of the cross.
‘Stupid bastard!’ He swore in ridicule.
The man opened his eyes briefly and smiled down at him. Not a smile of defiance but more of sorrow. Or pity. In that instant, their eyes made contact and the soldier saw something he had not recognised before. He could not explain it in any rational sense but his cheeks began to redden with shame and understanding. He lowered his gaze. Tears started to course down his cheeks and run into the corners of his mouth. Unconsciously he licked at them, tasting the salt. Then he gave a heart-rending sob. Heads turned in his direction. But he didn’t seem to care who saw him cry. Unbuckling his sword, and then removing his helmet, he flung them viciously to the ground. He looked up at the crucified man once more and yelled at the top of his lungs.
‘You stupid fucking, bastard!’ Only this time he wasn’t sure if he meant the man on the cross or himself.
Wormhole for the Devil. Copyright ©Douglas Pearce