Tag: "alternate history"

EP466: Checkmate

by Brian Trent
read by Mat Weller

author Brian Trent

author Brian Trent

about the author…

I am a novelist, screenwriter, producer, poet, actor, and freethinker who supports both imagination and rationalism. I am an advocate for film and the written word and possibility.

I am a recent (2013) winner in the Writers of the Future contest and have since had work accepted in Escape Pod (“The Nightmare Lights of Mars”), Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the 2013 Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), Clarkesworld, COSMOS, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Electric Velocipede.

about the narrator…

Mat reads stuff. Sometimes he voice acts too. Oh, and he just beat Metroid II for the first time since 1991.

 

Checkmate
by Brian Trent

The black steamrotor chugged noisily beneath the maze of damp brick arches, cutting a frothy wake in the underground canal.  Edward Oakshott stood rigidly at the bow, leaning against his silver cane. The dank stink of London’s forgotten netherworld perspirated over the vessel’s wood, the humidity visibly beading like a spate of glassy insect eyes on the many green lamplights they passed.  Edward drummed his fingers against one clammy hand.  His sense of direction, precise as his fashionable gold pocketwatch, reckoned they must be passing directly below the evening crowd at Charing Cross’ Hungerford Market.

Yet he wondered at their boatman’s skill in navigating these dark, labyrinthine channels.  How often were customers ferried to Thoth’s subterranean bazaar?  Edward grinned in nervous anticipation and peered from beneath the rim of his hat at the constellation of green lamps marking the canal’s many twists and turns.

“We shall be late if this continues,” Sophia Westbury said behind him.  Her folded parasol looked like a pale sword against her shoulder. “Really, Edward, was there no earlier date you could meet him?  It had to wait until the very eve of war?”

“The party shall wait for me.”

“It will be a scandal,” Sophia said, though her bell-like voice belied the smile on her lips.  Edward was already the scandal of the decade. Chessmen were synonymous with shadowy, secret shufflings in the night; living legends who could be your banker, teacher, butcher, parent, or carriage driver during times of peace.  Edward’s public antics had shocked Europe into a buzzing hive.

Sophia sighed and looped her arm round his.  “What do you know about this Thoth?  Any man who dwells like a spider beneath London, spinning mechanical webs beyond the Ministry’s sight…”  She shivered.  “I feel like Faustus!”

“Henry sent a Bishop here last autumn, darling, the one who defended Cornwall.  If Henry says Thoth is trustworthy, that is good enough for me.”

At these words, the boat banked sharply through a new arch, throwing up a huge wake.  Edward steadied himself with pressure to his cane, but cast a ghastly glare at their boatman in the ship’s small cabin.

“Edward!”  

EP417: Southpaw

by Bruce McAllister
read by bdoomed

Links for this episode:

Author Bruce McAllister

Author Bruce McAllister

About the Author…

His literary and genre fiction has appeared in national magazines, literary quarterlies, college textbooks and ‘year’s best’ anthologies. His second novel, Dream Baby, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship winner, was called a “stunning tour de force” by Publishers Weekly. His fiction has been translated widely and received national awards and notable mentions in the New York Times, other U.S. newspapers, U.S. and foreign magazines and journals, and reference works. His poetry and experimental work have appeared in literary quarterlies and anthologies; he has co-edited magazines and anthologies; and his articles on popular science, writing craft and sports have appeared in publications like Life, International Wildlife, The Writer and newspapers across the country. – See more at: http://www.mcallistercoaching.com/#sthash.iZUdcA2z.dpuf.

Narrator and half-committed nudist, bdoomed

Narrator and half-committed nudist, bdoomed

About the Narrator…

Brian Lieberman is a Tralfamadorian disguised as a human, and other times disguised as one of the many horrors over at Pseudopod.  He lives in Florida with his girlfriend and gerbil.  One day he’ll be rich and take over the world … or donate a large sum of money to Escape Artists and other great projects, whichever is easier.

 

Southpaw
by Bruce McAllister

Eventually New York Giants’ scout Alex Pompez got the authorization from their front office to offer Castro a contact. After several days of deliberation with friends, family, and some of his professors, Castro turned down the offer. The Giants’ officials were stunned. “No one had ever turned us down from Latin America before,” recalled Pompez. “Castro said no, but in his very polite way. He was really a very nice kid. . . .”—J. David Truby, Sports History, November 1988

 

Fidel stands on the pitcher’s mound, dazed. For an instant he doesn’t know where he is. It is a pitcher’s mound. It is a baseball diamond, and there is a woman—the woman he loves—out there in the stands with her beautiful blonde hair and her very American name waving to him, because she loves him, too. It is July. He is sure of this. It is ’51 or ’52. He cannot remember which. But the crowd is as big as ever and he can smell the leather of his glove, and he knows he is playing baseball—the way, as a child in the sugarcane fields of Oriente Province, he always dreamed he might.

 

His fastball is a problem, but he throws one anyway, it breaks wide and the ump calls the ball. He throws a curve this time, a fine one, and it’s a strike—the third. He grins at Westrum, his catcher, his friend. The next batter’s up. Fidel feels an itching on his face and reaches up to scratch it. It feels like the beginning of a beard, but that can’t be. You keep a clean face in baseball. He tried to tell his father that, in Oriente, the last time he went home, but the old man, as always, had just argued.
He delivers another curve—with great control—and smiles when the ball drops off the table and Sterling swings like an idiot. He muscles up on the pitch, blows the batter down with a heater, but Williams gets a double off the next slider, Miller clears the bases with a triple, and they bring Wilhelm in to relieve him at last. The final score is 9 to 4, just like the oddsmakers predicted, and that great centerfielder Mays still won’t look at him in the lockers.

 

Nancy—her name is Nancy—is waiting for him at the back entrance when he’s in his street clothes again, the flowered shirt and the white ducks he likes best, and she looks wonderful. She’s chewing gum, which drives him crazy, but her skin is like a dream—like moonlight on the Mulano—and he kisses her hard, feeling her tongue between his lips. When they pull away she says: “I really like the way you walked that Negro in the fifth.”
He smiles at her. He loves her so much it hurts. She doesn’t know a damn thing about the game and nothing about Cuba, but she’s doing her best and she loves him, too. “I do it for you, chica,” he tells her. “I always do it for you.”
That night he dreams he’s in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, at a place called La Playa. He has no idea why he’s here. He’s never dreamt this dream before. He’s lying on the ground with a rifle in his hand. He’s wearing the fatigues a soldier wears, and doesn’t understand why—who the two men lying beside him are, what it means. The clothes he’s wearing are rough. His face itches like hell.
When he wakes, she is beside him. The sheet has fallen away from her back, which is to him, and her ass—which is so beautiful, which any man would find beautiful—is there for him and him alone to see. How can anything be more real than this? How can I be dreaming of such things? He can hear a song fading but does not know it. There is a bay—a bay with Naval ships—and the song is fading away.
Guantanamera . . . the voice was singing.
Yo soy un hombre sincero, it sang.
I am a truthful man.
Why, Fidel wonders, was it singing this?

Book Review: The Mirage by Matt Ruff

Alternate history, by its very nature, is one of the most easily-ploughable fields in genre fiction because literally all one must do is change a single historical event and then logically extrapolate the repercussions. Harry Turtledove has made a career out of doing this.

Sometimes, though, alternate history doesn’t require telling the reader what the crisis point was that got changed. Sometimes, the reader just needs to know things are different. And that’s where The Mirage by Matt Ruff begins.

Book Review: “11/22/63″ by Stephen King

I think most people can agree that the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 was a watershed event in human history. It led to Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and possibly a prolonged Cold War*. Had he not been shot in Dallas on that day, perhaps Vietnam might not have happened, or at least been smaller in scope. Perhaps the Civil Rights movement might have unfolded differently. Perhaps the Cold War would’ve escalated into a full-blown nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

There’s really no way to know what would’ve happened, other than via alternate historical fiction. Which is exactly what Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is all about.

11/22/63 takes place in both 2011 and the late 50s/early 60s. In 2011, high school English teacher (and all-around tall dude) Jake Epping is contacted by his friend, diner owner Al Templeton. Al knows he’s in the end stages of cancer, but he doesn’t want to die before showing Jake the secret of his diner: a rabbit hole in his stockroom that leads to September 9, 1958. Jake takes a quick trip, enjoys a root beer, and then returns to Al’s diner. Only two minutes have passed in the real world — only two minutes ever pass in the real world, no matter how long someone stays down the rabbit hole.

That’s when Al drops the bomb on him: for the past four years, he’s been living in the hole, trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. He’s amassed a notebook full of research, one that he can no longer use because he knows he has very little time left. So Al implores Jake to take on the mission.

Jake, meanwhile, has plans of his own for the rabbit hole. On October 31, 1958, the father of one of his adult education students back in 2011 murdered an entire family, and Jake wants to set it right. That’s when he learns that the past is obdurate — it doesn’t want to be changed. It’ll throw up obstacles to try and stop anyone who does. And if it’s this hard to save one family — a minor part of the tapestry of history — how hard is it going to be to save the leader of the free world five years later?

In general, I’ve enjoyed what Stephen King novels I’ve read, with the exception of The Regulators and Desperation, which I think I may have been too young (at the time) to get the full experience out of. King has written the only book I’m too scared to read again — The Sun Dog, about a Polaroid camera that takes photos of a dog about to attack, and nothing else — and, clearly, he knows his craft well enough to keep putting out bestsellers that are later adapted into TV shows and films. I did enjoy 11/22/63, despite its slow start; clearly the novel was exhaustively researched, and although it does have the requisite Maine scenes, there are a lot of other set-pieces across the eastern half of the U.S. as well. In the past, Jake travels to two towns in Maine, along the eastern seaboard, southwest Florida, and finally to Texas where Oswald is going to shoot Kennedy.

But the book isn’t just about that. Even if Jake does have a mission which will end on November 22, 1963, when he — he hopes — stops Oswald from committing murder, he can’t spend the entire intervening time just doing nothing. I mean, I get bored on a Sunday afternoon if there’s no football on TV, and that’s in 2011 when there’s plenty of other things to do. Eventually, after setting right some wrongs, Jake settles in a small town in Texas — the first truly-friendly place he’s found since coming to the past — and takes up his old mantle as an English teacher.

That, I think, is where the story starts to get good. It more-or-less ceases to be about Oswald and starts being about Jake, and how he conducts his life in the past. And what he learns is that, be it 1961 or 2011, life still goes on. People go to school, go to work, and fall in love, just like in his own time.

On Star Trek, time travel is often used to right a wrong or fix a mistake, or even just to do research into the past. The thing about Star Trek is that, at the end of the episode (or movie), everything wraps up in a neat little bow. Lieutenant Christopher is returned to his fighter jet, the whales save earth, Captain Sisko isn’t killed in an engineering accident, and Harry doesn’t miscalculate and kill the entire Voyager crew. 11/22/63 shows us that that’s not exactly the case — which, I suppose, is what happens with a lot of alternate history and time travel fiction. King reminds us often that the past does not want to be changed, and it will fight any way it can.

And it fights Jake pretty hard, even going so far as to exact revenge upon him for what he does.

I found 11/22/63 to be somewhat of a departure from the King fiction I’ve read in the past — there are no monsters, no supernatural forces, no blood-showers at prom**. Just a rabbit hole in the stock-room of a diner that, when you walk through it, takes you to September 9, 1958 and allows you to change history. The rest of the novel is almost pure historical fiction — a man of today experiencing the past first-hand. It speaks to King’s exhaustive research on the subject, as well as his storytelling skill, that someone like me (whose favorite era of American history is 1875-1930) can pick it up and become immersed in it almost immediately — it’s believable, relatable, and damn interesting.

According to Wikipedia, 11/22/63 was released at the beginning of November 2011 and quickly became a bestseller. I can certainly see why. It’s a doorstop all right, but it’s a doorstop you won’t want to put down. I definitely recommend it.

#

Note to Parents: This is a Stephen King novel. It contains explicit sex and explicit violence, as well as adult language. I don’t think the sex is anything today’s older teens can’t handle, but as for the violence… just remember that King has been doing this for a long time and, unlike in an R-rated film with a fight sequence, King is fond of taking away all hope a character has of escaping unscathed… and then having someone beat the crap out of him. Keep that in mind. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

#

* I wasn’t a history major, but according to the book, JFK was trying to end the Cold War.

** That’s what happens in Carrie, right? I’ve never read it, or seen the film. Sorry.

Science Future: Alternate Actual

Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction have upon each other.

Alternate Actual

Possibilities sometimes dazzle us. Possibility is what makes gambling so exciting (or excruciatingly painful). We think of the future as a sea of possibilities and the past as a list of choices with possibilities discarded. Only, in the realm of science fiction, the past does not have to be so stagnant. In science fiction we have two words: alternate realities.

Photo of a hologram from MIT's Hologram Gallery

The idea of alternative realities is a common theme  in science fiction. The act of writing fiction, is in some ways, creating an alternative to reality, but are alternate realities truly science fiction? The answer may lie in black holes. Not that black holes are gateways to other universes but in the study of black holes. Theoretical studies on the quantum properties of black holes over the last thirty years have led to proposal that the reality we perceive is nothing but a hologram of another. The proposal works on the theory that information (used in the loosest definition of the word) related to the surrounding physics of an area can be stored on the surface area of a black hole, rather than inside it, and that the resulting three dimensional reality that surrounds it is in fact a projection of this two dimensional information. Black holes have been used in science fiction to create alternate realities before, such as in Tom the Universe by Larry Hodges.

It is a hard concept to wrap your mind around, which is why it has taken thirty years for scientist to even propose it. That and the slow advances of science as it iterates and recurses upon itself to better improve our understanding of the universe we can directly perceive. For example science has declared a change in the fundamental constants used in physics. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced revised numbers, leading to the electromagnetic force has growing a little stronger, gravity becoming a little weaker, and the size of the smallest “quantum” of energy is now being known a little better. But only a little. The changes were small, of course, but will no doubt lead to changes in the complex equations used to model the universe, throwing physicists into a frenzy. I doubt they would be frazzled worse if they met their own evil twin with appropriately alternative hair and/or clothing styles.

xkcd: 683: Science Montage

Evil twins originate from anti-matter universes, of course, so we know that they’ll weight just as much as you do, according to the scientists at Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics. They measured the mass of an antiproton to the best of their capability and they have announced that matter-antimatter symmetry has now been confirmed, meaning that the mass of a proton and antiproton is the same. This doesn’t explain how you might one day find a ’76 Goldwater Dime such as the one John Medaille wrote about but we can rest assured that if an alternate universe existed made purely out of anti-matter, it would not different too much on the scales.

Alternate realities will continue to remain a common device used in science fiction mostly to explore the idea of having not spilled coffee on yourself during that last date as well as exploring other aspects of the human condition. Science isn’t close to any particular breakthroughs regarding where your evil twin is hiding but in the mean time scientists will do their best to find them for you.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Albert Einstein

EP286 The ’76 Goldwater Dime

By John Medaille
Read by: Norm Sherman
Originally published in Residential Aliens in July, 2010
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by John Medaille
All stories read by Norm Sherman
Rated G: Coin collecting!

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 278
  • Next week… a taste of time.

The ’76 Goldwater Dime
By John Medaille

I started in 1962, that’s when I became a numismatist. You know what that is? It’s the study of….well, it’s not the study of anything. It’s coin collecting, is what it is.

I was ten in 1962, and Christmas I got my first coin album. I didn’t actually get it. My father gave it to my brother. It was, you know, you’ve seen them, a sturdy cardboard folder with slots punched out that you put the coins in. Behind the slots, the empties, it had a backing of blue felt, I remember that. My dad gave it to my brother, I guess maybe thinking it would straighten him out. But coins, you know, they don’t really have that power. He wasn’t interested. He gave it to me. Me, I was interested.

The album was for Lincoln pennies, 1909 to 1959. I had five cents in the world then and each of the five fit in the slot. It only took me five more days to get the other forty-five. I would do anything for those pennies and slot it in its slot. Anything, anything. When I got my last penny, wow. It was a 1943 steel mint penny, a ‘steelie.’ They had to use steel instead of copper that year cause they needed the copper for all the bombs. I was so proud.

From then on it was just coins for me. My life was coins. I was hooked. They had their hooks in me, boy.

When I was just seventeen I moved by myself down to Washington, DC, cause I got a job there in a coin shop. That was my education. I lived in a one room dungeon in a crumby neighborhood, I loved coins that much.

You know, and I do alright. I made my living. I own my own house. I don’t live in debt like everybody else does. That’s what coins did for me. Coins and specie and spec. I don’t care for paper money, it holds nothing for me.

Me, I’m a specialist. I know generalists, I do business with them, I have to. And speculators, sure. You do what you need to do to survive in the world. But me, I’m a specialist and my friends are specialists. I’ll give an example, I have a friend, he died. But before he died, his specialty was pay toilet tokens. I mean, have you ever seen a pay toilet? In your life? I saw some once in Europe but I don’t even know if they have them there anymore. Anyway, this friend of mine, he spends his life collecting these tokens, these coins, for pay toilets, from around the world and every age. He finds the obscurest pay toilet tokens there are and they’re his. And then he dies alone in his apartment with these thousands of toilet tokens around him. I mean, that’s the way to go. I mean that. To have these objects of joy around you. To you and me, they are not objects of joy, but to him they are. You know, not everybody gets to have that, it’s not something that everyone receives. To have such pleasure from these things, these old things. But he does and I do because, see, we’re specialists. Not everybody understands that.

Other people I know, you know, have their special collections. Any thing you can think of, any given thing and there’s some guy like me out there obsessed with it. I know people, you meet a lot of interesting people in this business, whose specialties are Depression era wooden nickels or peep show tokens, or misprint coins, error coins, or brockage, that’s coins with mirror image stamps on both sides, or obverses or ‘Godless Dollars.’ You ever heard of ‘Godless Dollars?’ Those are dollar coins where the “In God we trust” part got left off. Now, you see, I respect that. Those are people with specialties. They are connoisseurs, like me. Not any old crap will do.

I’ll tell you what I mean. I have a friend, he’s not a friend, he’s a guy I know. And his collection, if you want to call it that, his collection consists of nothing but 1938 pennies. That’s the year he was born, 1938. What I mean is, what is that? Is that a specialty? Not really. It just seems so crude. Do you know how many pennies were minted in 1938? Neither do I, but it’s in the ballpark of two hundred million. This schlub has three million, I think, in his collection. Think of that. Three million 1938 pennies in roles, lying around. That’s no specialty. I mean, I think he also has nickels and dimes and quarters from 1938, but still. I do not consider that a specialty. I consider it some sick fixation. I have no understanding of that. That is not what I do.

My specialty? My specialty is the rarest of the rare, okay? I mean, I have collections and I have collections, but my real collection, the only one that’s not for sale, that’s not in the vault, I’m not even going to tell you where I keep it, guess how many coins I have in my collection. Guess.

I have twelve coins in my collection. That’s twelve. I’ve been doing this for coming up on fifty years and I’ve amassed twelve coins. In my specialty collection. Now you understand my mind.

I brought them here, I got them in my fireproof, waterproof, idiotproof box, just for you. I brought them to show you because I happen to know you will not shoot me and stab me thirty-six times and run off with my pretty little coins. Besides, I paid more money for the lockbox than I paid for all the coins. So, that’s where we are. So allow me to reveal to you, at long last, my specialty.

Okay, this is item number one, this is Exhibit A, okay? I got this in 1981 in my change for a fish sandwich, I kid you not. Don’t smudge it. It’s mint. It’s pristine. It’s almost uncirculated, but in another way, it’s very, extremely circulated. First, before I give this to you, tell me, who’s on the dime?

Very good, FDR’s on the dime. Has been since 1946. Now look at this and tell me, who’s on that dime?

Yes, he’s wearing glasses. FDR wore glasses too but not when posing for coinage. Who is he? No, it’s not Truman. Look closer. Recognize him? That’s Barry Goldwater. Look, that’s him. Yes, I am fully aware that Goldwater was never president. Thank you, Mr. Historian. But that is him and that is a 1976 dime and he’s on it. Now you see. Now you see my specialty.

How did Barry Goldwater get on that dime? I don’t know. That’s not my province. My province is getting that dime in change for my fish sandwich and recognizing it for what it is and keeping it forever. That’s where I come in.

Sure, it could be a hoax. Anything can be a hoax. But I don’t think it is. Because besides me nobody’s looking, besides me nobody cares. That’s a lot of trouble to go to to hoax me, and who’s to benefit? Sure, there are lots of hoax coins, joke coins. It’s an entire industry. Especially in China, but for Chinese coins usually, mind you. You ever heard of a Hobo Nickel? Lots of specialists love those, I deal in them regular. They were big in the twenties and thirties, because of the Buffalo Nickel, you remember that one? Beautiful coin, had a big, fat buffalo on it and on the other side a big indian head with feathers and braids. Replaced the Liberty Head in 1905. Well, what would happen was hobos would get these nickels and, because they have a lot of time on their hands I guess, is they would take these coins and carve them, actually carve into the Nickel. They would give those indians beards, stubble, floppy hobo hats, give them cigars. And some of these things, okay, they’re works of art. So meticulous, these guys, they were true artisans and craftsmen, and these nickels would be little Michaelangelos.

Now, you ask, could somebody have put some glasses on FDR, altered the face a little and put that ’76 back into circulation so I would get it back when ordering a fish sandwich? They certainly could have. But what you have to understand is this: these Hobo nickels, the good ones at least, they take weeks and months of intricate, painstaking work. Scraping and filing and carving. Once you’re done with a thing like that you don’t put it back into the system that wouldn’t appreciate it or know what the hell it was. This is something to be kept and treasured and sold. Plus, the Hobo Nickels always have signs, telltale signs that they’ve been altered. I’ve been staring at coins continuously for half a century, you think I don’t know the signs? Carving the coins like that effects its width, the measurement of the bas relief on the portrait. Believe me, I’ve measured this thing to the micrometer from every angle a thousand times, and it’s spot on, dead set perfect. Nobody’s that good, not even a top of his game counterfeiter. And no counterfeiter would put on a guy who lost the election, either. Not even as political commentary.

No, this is real. I’m convinced of that. I’ve even had it tested and guess what? It’s even radioactive. Calm down, it’s not deadly. It’s in a mylar bag. It’s just more radioactive than the background radioactivity is for such a thing. It’s not fallout, for God’s sake. Don’t worry, it’s not going to mess with your sperm.

What’s it worth? It’s worth ten cents is what it’s worth. It’s worth everything. That’s not the point, is it? It’s only worth something if people want it, and nobody wants it because nobody knows it exists. There’s no market for such a thing. No market but me. Why? Because people aren’t looking for it. You get a numismatist like me, he takes a hard look at every coin he ever gets. He looks at the date stamp, he looks at the quality, the mint mark, the ridges, the condition, the corruption, he looks for errors, misprints, double dies, uncentering, omissions. You know what he doesn’t look at? He doesn’t look at the face of the deceased president, he doesn’t look to see of George Washington’s ponytail has grown in the intervening centuries. He’s seen it a million times. He isn’t interested. Me, I look. Me, I see. So no, nobody else is looking for this, it’s not worth anything. It’s just me. That’s what makes it my specialty.

Okay, okay. Let’s forget that for now. Let’s move to exhibit number two. Take this. Yes, this is a ’72 Kennedy half dollar. Yes, that’s Kennedy on it. But look at that face, look how wrinkly he is. No, that’s not wear, that’s not metal fatigue. Metal doesn’t wear like that, believe me, I know. That’s in the stamp. Which Kennedy is that? That’s not John F Kennedy, that’s Joseph P Kennedy, his father. Look at it. Sure, he ran for president. An anti-Semite, that’s what they said. I’m not going to argue about it now. Give it back. Okay, item three: 1927 penny, Lincoln’s supposed to be on it, but who’s that guy? Look at that beard. That’s John Brown. Number four, 1944 quarter, that guy on it? Eugene V Debs, that commie guy that run for president in 1900. Can you imagine America with a commie president?

Okay, hell with it, look at the rest here:

Huey Long nickel, 1958.

William Randolph Hearst silver dollar, 1969.

Robert E Lee three cent piece from 1888. Don’t be stupid, there was no confederate money in 1888.

1965 dime, that’s Lindbergh on it.

1992 quarter, you know who that guy is on there? Roy Cohn. Took me forever to figure that one out.

1935 penny, Barnum, the circus guy. That one might actually be a forgery, the zinc plating, it’s a little off. Anyway.

1986 nickel, got Herbert Hoover on it. One of the most hated presidents of all time, how’d he get on the nickel?

And lastly, okay, look that this, this is the prize of my collection, 1998 quarter. Who’s on it instead of Washington? That’s Benedict Arnold. I swear before all that is holy. You know, that son of a bitch was a war hero before he turned traitor.

So that’s it. That’s my entire collection right there. Nothing else to show. This is my specialty. You see here my life.

What does it mean? I don’t know the meanings of things. But you know, if you think about these guys who could have been president but weren’t, except for Hoover I mean, that’s their commonality. What I think is that maybe travelers left these coins here. I didn’t say aliens, did I? I said travelers. What I mean is people who travel from other dimensions, alternate histories, that kind of thing. It’s a real thing, with physics and quantum mechanics. I’m a scholar. I read. No, I don’t know exactly how they work, I didn’t say I did. Who am I, Mr. Wizard? But you’re telling me, if you take it as a given that there are such dimensions and that these guys can travel through them, than what? He’s going to check each and every coin he’s got in his pocket for the historical relevancy of the dead, white guy on it? Every time he buys gum or a pair of shoes? People don’t work that way, believe me. That’s the thing with coins, they’re the one thing that everybody gots and nobody sees. Or maybe there are no travelers, maybe the coins themselves are the travelers. Coins get around. Maybe they’re small enough they fall through the cracks on their own. Maybe they plunk down of their own volition onto the sidewalks and in cash registers, world to world to world, I don’t know.

So there you have it. That is my specialty. Alternate reality coins. This is my niche.

What’ll I do with them? What is there to do? I don’t know. I don’t know but I do. I’m going to be buried with them, that’s what I’m going to do. They’re not for anybody else but me. They’re mine now. Thank you, fish sandwich. You know I have no kids, I can’t help thinking the coin thing has some connection with that. Besides, even if I did, do you think they’d be capable of appreciating this? I don’t think they would. They wouldn’t understand.

No, they’re coming with me. Those twelve coins, all in the breast pocket of my best suit with me in the grave in their little mylar bags. That’s where they belong.

These are what I love, everything else can go to hell. I love coins, I’m not ashamed of it. Everybody should be so lucky as this. I don’t feel that I was dealt a bum hand with this…obsession, what you want to call it. I don’t think I was shortchanged in any way. Get it? Not short changed? Anyway, you know, I think that that’s what you’re supposed to do in this life. You find something you love and you never let go. I think that that’s the secret.

EP251: Unexpected Outcomes

By Tim Pratt
Read by: Tom “Devo Spice” Rockwell of The Funny Music Project..
Discuss on our forums.
Originally published in: Interzone
All stories by Tim Pratt
All stories read by Tom “Devo Spice” Rockwell

But the plane just stopped, and hung there, nose tipped at a slight angle, mere feet from the building.

And that’s when the figure — the one people call the Ambassador, or the Doctor, or the Outsider, or the Professor, or a hundred other names — appeared. Just a middle-aged man in a white lab coat, with steel-rimmed glasses and graying hair. His image filled the air above the jetliner, like the dome of the sky had been transformed into an IMAX movie screen.

He said, “People of Earth, I have a message for you.”

Rated PG for ennui and futility of life.

Show Notes:

  • Tim Pratt is serializing a Marla Mason novel, Broken Mirrors at his website. His first anthology is out this summer from Night Shade Books, Sympathy for the Devil.
  • Tom Rockwell’s work can be found at his personal music website, Devo Spice, The Funny Music Project, and his comedy troupe, Cirque du So What?
  • Incidentally, Tom Rockwell, myself, and many other Escape Artist writers and narrators will be at NASFiC next week, so check us out if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area!

Next week… Rescue in deep space. And guitar ballads.