The Best Alternate History Stories Of The Twentieth Century Part 36
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Even within the thick padding of my gloves, my knuckles hurt like h.e.l.l. "Something that should have been done a long time ago," I murmured.
Cute line. I used up the last of my luck that way. I scrambled at the helm console for several more minutes before I submitted to the inevitable. Like the navigation controls, the engineering subsystem wouldn't obey my commands without the proper pa.s.swords. It was possible that they were written down somewhere, but I didn't have the time or inclination to go searching through the operations manuals, especially since most of them were strewn across the bridge like so much garbage.
We weren't out of options yet. There was still a final alternative, one which McKinnon himself had given us.
It was then that I knew that Captain Future had to die.
"Captain Future is dead!"
The rumbling voice of the big green Jovian s.p.a.ce-sailor rose above the laughter and chatter and clink of goblets, in this crowded Venusopolis s.p.a.cemen's cafe. He eyed his little knot of companions at the bar, as though challenging them to dispute him.
One of the hard-bitten s.p.a.cemen, a swarthy little Mercurian, shook his head thoughtfully.
"I'm not so sure. It's true that the Futuremen have been missing for months. But they'd be a hard bunch to kill."
-HAMILTON, Outlaws of the Moon (1942)
As I write, I'm back on the Moon, occupying a corner table in Sloppy Joe's. It's almost closing time; the crowds have thinned out and the bartender has rung the bell for last call. He'll let me stay after he shuts the doors, though. Heroes never get booted out with the riffraff, and there's been no shortage of free drinks ever since I returned from Ceres.
After all, I'm the last person to see Captain Future alive.
The news media helped us maintain our alibi. It was a story that had everything. Adventure, romance, blood and guts, countless lives at stake. Best of all, a n.o.ble act of self-sacrifice. It'll make a great vid. I sold the rights yesterday.
Because it's been so widely told, you already know how the story ends. Realizing that he had been fatally infected with t.i.tan Plague, Bo McKinnon-excuse me, Captain Future-issued his final instructions as commanding officer of the TBSA Comet .
He told me to return to the s.h.i.+p, and once I was safely aboard, he ordered Jeri to cast off and get the Comet as far away as possible.
Realizing what he intended to do, we tried to talk him out of it. Oh, and how we argued and pleaded with him, telling him that we could place him in biostasis until we returned to Earth, where doctors could attempt to save his life.
In the end, though, McKinnon simply cut off his comlink so that he could meet his end with dignity and grace.
Once the Comet was gone and safely out of range, Captain Future managed to instruct the ma.s.s-driver's main computer to overload the vessel reactors. While he sat alone in the abandoned bridge, waiting for the countdown, there was just enough time for him to transmit one final message of courage....
Don't make me repeat it, please. It's bad enough that the Queen read it aloud during the memorial service, but now I understand that it's going to be inscribed upon the base of the twice-life-size statue of McKinnon that's going to be erected at Arsia Station. Jeri did her best when she wrote it, but between you and me, I still think it's a complete crock.
Anyway, the thermonuclear blast not only obliterated the Fool's Gold, but it also sufficiently altered the trajectory of 2046. The asteroid came within five thousand kilometers of Mars; its close pa.s.sage was recorded by the observatory on Phobos, and the settlements in the Central Meridian reported the largest meteor shower in the history of the colonies.
And now Bo McKinnon is remembered as Captain Future, one of the greatest heroes in the history of humankind.
It was the least Jeri could have done for him.
Considering what a jerk Bo had been all the way to the end, I could have tried to claim the credit, but her strong will persevered. I suppose she's right; it would look bad if it was known that McKinnon had gone out as a raving lunatic who had to be coldc.o.c.ked by his second officer.
Likewise, no one has to know that four missiles launched from the Comet destroyed the ma.s.s-driver's main reactor, thus causing the explosion that averted 2046-Barr from its doomsday course. The empty weapon pod was jettisoned before the Comet reached Ceres, and the small bribe paid to a minor Pax bureaucrat insured that all records of it ever having been installed on the freighter were completely erased.
It hardly matters. In the end, everyone got what they wanted.
As first officer of the Comet, Jeri became its new commander. She offered me her old job, and since the Jove Commerce deal was down the tubes, I gratefully accepted. It wasn't long after that before she also offered to show me the rest of her tattoos, an invitation that I also accepted. Her clan still won't speak to her, especially since she now plans to marry a Primary, but at least her fellow Superiors have been forced to claim her as one of their own.
For now, life is good. There's money in the bank, we've shucked our black sheep status, and there's no shortage of companies who want to hire the legendary Futuremen of the TBSA Comet. Who knows? Once we get tired of working the belt, maybe we'll settle down and take a shot at beating the odds on this whole cross-breeding thing.
And Bo got what he wanted, even though he didn't live long enough to enjoy it. In doing so, perhaps humankind got what it needed.
There's only one thing that still bothers me.
When McKinnon went nuts aboard the Fool's Gold and tried to attack me, I a.s.sumed that he had come down with the Plague. This was a correct a.s.sumption; he had been infected the moment he had come through the airlock.
However, I later learned that it takes at least six hours for t.i.tan Plague to fully incubate within a human being, and neither of us had been aboard the Fool's Gold for nearly half that long.
If McKinnon was crazy at the end, it wasn't because of the Plague. To this day, I have no idea what made him snap... unless he believed that I was trying to run off with his s.h.i.+p, his girl, and his G.o.dd.a.m.n glory.
h.e.l.l, maybe I was.
Last night, some nervous kid-a cargo grunt off some LEO freighter, his union card probably still uncreased-sidled up to me at the bar and asked for my autograph.
While I was signing the inside cover of his logbook, he told me a strange rumor he had recently heard: Captain Future managed to escape from the Fool's Gold just before it blew. According to him, prospectors in the inner belt report spotting a gig on their screens, one whose pilot answers their calls as Curt Newton before transmissions are lost.
I bought the youngster a drink and told him the truth. Naturally, he refused to believe me, nor can I blame him.
Heroes are hard to find. We need to welcome them whenever they appear in our midst. You've just got to be careful to pick the right guy, because it's easy for someone to pretend to be what they're not.
Captain Future is dead.
Long live Captain Future.
"Moon of Ice," Brad Linaweaver's contribution to this volume, was a Nebula finalist story in 1982, and was later expanded into the successful novel of the same name. He has worked almost exclusively in the alternate history subgenre, producing stories such as "Destination: Indies," an alternate telling of Christopher Columbus's journey across the Atlantic, and "Unmerited Favor," which takes a more militant approach to the story of Jesus Christ's life. He is also the author of the novels Clownface, The Land Beyond Summer, and Sliders: The Novel. Winner of the Prometheus Award in 1989, he lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
MOON OF ICE.
If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
- NIETZSCHE, Beyond Good and Evil
To all doubts and questions, the new man of the first German Empire has only one answer: Nevertheless, I will!
-ALFRED ROSENBERG, The Myth of the Twentieth Century
I have seen the man of the future; he is cruel; I am frightened by him.
-ADOLF HITLER TO HERMANN RAUSCHNING.
ENTRIES FROM THE DIARY.
OF DR. JOSEPH GOEBBELS, NEW BERLIN.
Translated into English by HILDA GOEBBELS APRIL 1965.
Today I attended the state funeral for Adolf Hitler. They asked me to give the eulogy. It wouldn't have been so bothersome except that Himmler pulled himself out of his thankful retirement to advise me on all the things I mustn't say. The old fool still believes that we are laying the foundation for a religion. Acquainted as he is with my natural skepticism, he never ceases to worry that I will say something in public not meant for the consumption of the ma.s.ses. It is a pointless worry on his part; not even early senility should enable him to forget that I am the propaganda expert. Still, I do not question his insistence that he is in rapport with what the ma.s.ses feel most deeply. I leave such matters to one who is uniquely qualified for the task.
I suppose that I was the last member of the entourage to see Hitler alive. Speer had just left, openly anxious to get back to his work with the Von Braun team. In his declining years he has taken to involving himself full-time with the s.p.a.ce program. This question of whether the Americans or we will reach the moon first seems to me a negligible concern. I am convinced by our military experts that the s.p.a.ce program that really matters is in terms of orbiting platforms for the purpose of global intimidation. Such a measure seems entirely justified if we are to give the Fuhrer his thousand-year Reich (or something even close).
The Fuhrer and I talked of Himmler's plans to make him an SS saint. "How many centuries will it be," he asked in a surprisingly firm voice, "before they forget I was a man of flesh and blood?"
"Can an Aryan be any other?" I responded dryly, and he smiled as he is wont to do at my more jestful moments.
"The spirit of Aryanism is another matter," he said. "The same as destiny or any other workable myth."
"Himmler would ritualize these myths into a new reality," I pointed out.
"Of course," agreed Hitler. "That has always been his purpose. You and I are realists. We make use of what is available." He reflected for a moment and then continued: "The war was a cultural one. If you ask the man in the street what I really stood for, he would not come near the truth. Nor should he!"
I smiled. I'm sure he took that as a sign of a.s.sent. This duality of Hitler, with its concern for exact hierarchies to replace the old social order-and what is true for the Volk is not always what is true for us-seemed to me just another workable myth, often contrary to our stated purposes. I would never admit that to him. In his own way Hitler was quite the bone-headed philosopher.
"Mein Fuhrer," I began, entirely a formality in such a situation but I could tell that he was pleased I had used the address, "the Americans love to make fun of your most famous statement about the Reich that will last one thousand years, as though what we have accomplished now is an immutable status quo."
He laughed. "I love those Americans. I really do. They believe their own democratic propaganda... so obviously what we tell our people must be what we believe! American credulity is downright refres.h.i.+ng at times, especially after dealing with Russians."
On the subject of Russians. .h.i.tler and I did not always agree, so there was no point in continuing that line of dialogue at this late date. Before he died I desperately wished to ask him some questions that had been haunting me. I could see that his condition was deteriorating. This would be my last opportunity.
The conversation rambled on for a bit, and we again amused ourselves over how Franklin Delano Roosevelt had plagiarized National Socialism's Twenty-five Points when he issued his own list of economic rights. How fortunate for us that when FDR borrowed other of our policies, he fell flat on his face. War will always be the most effective method for disposing of surplus production, although infinitely more hazardous in a nuclear age. We never thought that FDR could push America into using our approach for armaments production.
Hitler summed up: "Roosevelt fell under the influence of the madman Churchill; that's what happened!"
"Fortunately our greatest enemy in America was impeached," I said. The last thing we'd needed was a competing empire-builder with the resources of the North American continent. I still fondly recalled the afternoon the American Congress was presented with evidence that FDR was a traitor on the Pearl Harbor question.
"I've never understood why President Dewey didn't follow FDR's lead, domestically," Hitler went on. "They remained in the war, after all. My G.o.d, the man even released American-j.a.panese from those concentration camps and insisted on rest.i.tution payments! And this during the worst fighting in the Pacific!"
"That was largely the influence of Vice President Taft," I reminded Hitler. His remarkable memory had suffered these last years.
"Crazy Americans," he said, shaking his head. "They are the most unpredictable people on earth. They pay for their soft hearts in racial pollution."
We moved on into small talk, gossiping about various wives, when that old perceptiveness of the Fuhrer touched me once again. He could tell that I wasn't speaking my mind. "Joseph, you and I were brothers in Munich," he said. "I am on my deathbed. Surely you can't be hesitant to ask me anything. Speak, man. I would talk in my remaining hours."
And how he could talk. I remember one dinner party for which an invitation was extended to my two eldest daughters, Helga and Hilda. Hitler entertained us with a brilliant monologue on why he hated modern architecture anywhere but factories. He ill.u.s.trated many of his points about the dehumanizing aspect of giant cities with references to the film Metropolis. Yet despite her great love for the cinema Hilda would not be brought out by his entreaties. Everyone else enjoyed the evening immensely.
On this solemn occasion I asked if he had believed his last speech of encouragement in the final days of the war when it seemed certain that we would be annihilated. Despite his words of stern optimism there was quite literally no way of his knowing that our scientists had at that moment solved the shape-charge problem. Thanks to Otto Hahn and Werner Heisenberg working together, we had developed the atomic bomb first. Different departments had been stupidly fighting over limited supplies of uranium and heavy water. Speer took care of that, and then everything began moving in our direction. After the first plutonium came from a German atomic pile it was a certain principle that we would win.
I still viewed that period as miraculous. If Speer and I had not convinced the army and air force to cease their rivalry for funds, we never would have developed the V-3 in time to deliver those lovely new bombs.
In the small hours of the morning one cannot help but wonder how things might have been different. We'd been granted one advantage when the cross-Channel invasion was delayed in 1943. But 1944 was the real turning point of the war. Hitler hesitated to use the nuclear devices, deeply fearful of the radiation hazards to our side as well as the enemy. If it had not been for the a.s.sa.s.sination attempt of July 20th, he might not have found the resolve to issue the all-important order: destroy Patton and his Third Army before they become operational, before they invade Europe like a cancer. What a glorious time that was for all of us, as well as my own career. For the Russians there were to be many bombs, and many German deaths among them. It was a small price to stop Marxism cold. Even our concentration camps in the East received a final termination order in the form of the by-now familiar mushroom clouds.
If the d.a.m.ned Allies had agreed to negotiate, all that misery could have been avoided. Killing was dictated by history. Hitler fulfilled Destiny. He never forgave the West for forcing him into a two-front war, when he, the chosen one, was their best protection against the Slavic hordes.
How he'd wanted the British Empire on our side. How he'd punished them for their folly. A remaining V-3 had delivered The Bomb on London, fulfilling a political prophecy of the Fuhrer. He had regretted that; but the premier war criminal of our time, Winston Churchill, had left him no alternative. They started unrestricted bombing of civilians; well, we finished it. Besides, it made up for the failure of Operation Sea Lion.
Right doesn't guarantee might. The last years of the war taught us that. How had Hitler found the strength to fill us all with hope when there was no reason for anything but despair? Could he really foretell the future?
"Of course not," he answered. "I had reached the point where I said we would recover at the last second with a secret weapon of invincible might... without believing it at all ! It was pure rhetoric. I had lost hope long ago. The timing on that last speech could not have been better. Fate was on our side."
So at last I knew. Hitler had bluffed us all again. As he had begun, so did he end: the living embodiment of will .
I remembered his exaltation at the films of nuclear destruction. He hadn't been that excited, I'm told, since he was convinced of the claim for Von Braun's rockets-and it took a film for that, as well.
At each report of radiation dangers, he had the more feverishly buried himself in the Fuhrerbunker, despite a.s.surances of every expert that Berlin was safe from fallout. Never in my life have I known a man more concerned for his health, more worried about the least bit of a sore throat after a grueling harangue of a speech. And the absurd lengths he went to for his diet, limited even by vegetarian standards. Yet his precautions had brought him to this date, to see himself master of all Europe. Who was in a position to criticize him ?
He had a way of making me feel like a giant. "I should have listened to you so much earlier," he now told me, "when you called for Totalization of War on the homefront. I was too soft on Germany's womanhood. Why didn't I listen to you?" Once he complimented a subordinate, he was p.r.o.ne to continue. "It was an inspiration, the way you pushed that morale-boosting joke: 'If you think the war is bad, wait until you see the peace, should we lose.' " He kept on, remembering to include my handling of the foreign press during Kristalnacht, and finally concluding with his favorite of all my propaganda symbols: "Your idea to use the same railway carriage from the shameful surrender of 1918, to receive France's surrender in 1940, was the greatest pleasure of my life." His pleasure was contagious.
He propped himself up slightly in bed, a gleam of joy in his eyes. He looked like a little boy again. "I'll tell you something about my thousand years. Himmler invests it with the mysticism you'd expect. Ever notice how Jews, Muslims, Christians, and our very own pagans have a predilection for millennia? The number works a magic spell on them."
"Pundits in America observe that also. They say the number is merely good psychology, and point to the longevity of the ancient empires of China, Rome, and Egypt for similar numerical records. They say that Germany will never hold out that long."
"It won't," said Hitler, matter-of-factly.
"What do you mean?" I asked, suddenly not sure of the direction he was moving. I suspected it had something to do with the cultural theories, but of his grandest dreams for the future Hitler had always been reticent... even with me.
The Best Alternate History Stories Of The Twentieth Century Part 36
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