David X. Wiggin spent his childhood wandering the globe and attending schools in places as diverse Japan and Singapore, Russia and Virginia. These days he leads a more settled life in Brooklyn with his wife and two cats; working odd jobs, keeping the house tidy, and generally doing what he pleases. He has previously published stories with Alienskin and Steampunk Magazine and is currently working on a novel set in 1920’s Tokyo.
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You can read the first part of the story for free below. If you would like to read more please order the second issue of Alt Hist.
The Apollo Mission
by David X. Wiggin
The legionnaire awoke, surprised to see that he was still alive. He had dreamt of fire and pain and an endless fall that filled the blue void with screams. Pink light from the rising sun oozed over the darkness of the hut around the edges of the window shades. A knock came at the door. It was time.
He dressed slowly, keeping his mind focused on each individual task. He meticulously double-checked every strap of his armour and carefully avoided the thoughts that made his heart beat like a sparrow’s. A smartly dressed regiment of Rome’s finest awaited him outside. They saluted him in the manner befitting a patriot and he returned their salute in the manner of a man too proud to show his terror. They lead him—silent but for the clank of their weapons and the beat of their sandals upon the dust—and he let himself be led like a docile ox to the slaughter. He looked up at the dawning sky as they marched and saw puffs of cloud aimlessly hanging above like Jupiter’s lost sheep. Soon he would be high above them, looking down at their backs with an eagle’s disdain. Would they look so soft and gentle then? None but the gods and Icarus had ever beheld such a view until now.
Beyond the clouds shone Venus. He beetled his brow in a squint, trying to pierce the veil of distance between them. Would she be so beautiful when she was close by, and would he be damned—like poor Actaeon—for such sights? These questions weighed upon him like great stones, but he knew that they mattered not at all. He was a dutiful Roman soldier, chosen for this honour because of his courage and his strength. He would do as they asked and no less. To act otherwise would mean dishonour, worse than death. His questions would be answered inevitably anyway, regardless of his doubts.
The sun hadn’t cleared the horizon when they reached the camp. The smell of sulphur and offal and other stinks that could not be named clogged their nostrils. They had all been ill the first day but by now they were used to the stench in the manner of a hog to its own reek. The legionnaire studied the rounded arrow-shaped obelisk at the centre of the camp for the thousandth time. Its size was such that he could make out the details—painted prayers to the gods, frescos of griffins, pegasi, and flying chariots—along its shaft. He had smiled the first time he had seen it and joked:
‘This is to be my coffin?’
Now he set his jaw tight. This is to be my coffin.
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3 thoughts on “‘The Apollo Mission’ by David X. Wiggin”
I really enjoyed this story. It is an arresting premise. When you don’t care too much what happens to the payload (or the crew), rocketry is essentially hurling something into the air as forcibly as possible. Recently I’ve been reading Lynn White’s “Medical Technology and Social Change” and is remarkable how technologically stagnant Rome was – that’s what a dependence on slave power will do I guess.