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Harry Turtledove

Fiction and Excerpts [10]

Fiction and Excerpts [10]

The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging

Some people will tell you that world-class fame is better than living to a contented old age. Other people disagree. One of those other people might possibly be the protagonist of this tale by Harry Turtledove, master of the counterfactual.

This short story was acquired and edited for by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “The Eighth-Grade Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging” by Harry Turtledove]

Lee at the Alamo

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee strolled through the streets of San Antonio. It was a bright February morning, the air mild and moist: almost a promise of spring. But, as Lee knew from his service on the Texas frontier, such promises were more easily made than kept. Another norther might yet howl down to cover the ground with snow and wrap ice around hopeful young leaf buds.

You never could tell with Texas weather. And you never could tell with Texas politics. More promises there had been made than kept, too. For all his efforts, Governor Sam Houston hadn’t been able to keep his state in the Union. A secession convention had voted Texas out of the Union. Once a referendum ratified that vote, it would join the Confederate States, whatever the Confederate States were or would become.

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Shtetl Days

Jakub Shlayfer opened the door and walked outside to go to work. Before he could shut it again, his wife called after him: “Alevai it should be a good day! We really need the gelt!”

Alevai, Bertha. Omayn,” Jakub agreed. The door was already shut by then, but what difference did that make? It wasn’t as if he didn’t know they were poor. His lean frame, the rough edge on the brim of his broad, black hat, his threadbare long, black coat, and the many patches on his boot soles all told the same story.

But then, how many Jews in Wawolnice weren’t poor? The only one Jakub could think of was Shmuel Grynszpan, the undertaker. His business was as solid and certain as the laws of God. Everybody else’s? Groszy and zlotych always came in too slowly and went out too fast.

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Series: Dystopia Week


This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

The President of the United States looked out of an Oval Office window at Grand Junction, Colorado. The Oval Office was square, but the President’s workplace kept its traditional name. Harris Moffatt III sighed and bent to his paperwork again. Even in Grand Junction, that never disappeared.

Washington, D.C., remained the de jure capital of the United States. Harris Moffatt III had never been there. Neither had his father, President Harris Moffatt II. His grandfather, President Harris Moffatt I, got out of Washington one jump ahead of the Krolp. That the USA was still any kind of going concern came from his ever-so-narrow escape.

Harris Moffatt III was also Prime Minister of Canada, or of that small and mountainous chunk of Canada the Krolp didn’t control. The two countries had amalgamated early on, the better to resist the invading aliens. That, of course, was before they realized how far out of their weight they were fighting.

When the enormous ships were first detected, between Mars’ orbit and Earth’s, every nation radioed messages of welcome and greeting. The Krolp ignored them all. The enormous ships landed. There were still videos—Harris Moffatt III had them on his computer—of human delegations greeting the aliens with bouquets and bands playing joyful music. At last! Contact with another intelligent race! Proof we weren’t alone in the universe!

“Better if we were,” the President muttered. When the Krolp came out, they came out shooting. Some of those fifty-year-old videos broke off quite abruptly. And “shooting” was the understatement of the millennium. Their weapons made ours seem like kids’ slingshots against machine guns.

Seeing how the Krolp wanted things to go, half a dozen militaries launched H-bomb-tipped missiles at the great ships. They couldn’t live through that, could they? As a matter of fact, they could. Most of the missiles got shot down. Most of the ones that did land on target didn’t go off. And the handful that did harmed the Krolpish ships not a bit and the rampaging, plundering aliens running around loose very little.

They weren’t invulnerable. Humans could kill them. Unless somebody got amazingly lucky, the usual cost was about two armored divisions and all their matériel for one Krolp. Back in the old days, the United States was the richest country in the world. All the pre-Krolp books said so. Not even it could spend men and equipment on that scale.

Back before the Krolp came, a fellow named Clarke had written, Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. Harris Moffatt III didn’t know about that. What the Krolp did wasn’t magic. The best scientists in the USA—the best ones left alive, anyhow—had been studying captured or stolen Krolpish gadgets for half a century now. Their conclusion was that the aliens manipulated gravity and the strong and weak forces as thoroughly as humans exploited electromagnetism.

Humans could use Krolpish devices and weapons. They could even use them against the invaders, for as long as they kept working. What humans couldn’t do was make more such devices themselves. The machines weren’t there. Neither was the theory. And neither was the engineering to turn theory into practice.

And so Harris Moffatt III ruled an attenuated state between the Rockies and the Wasatch Range. He understood too well that he ruled here not least because the Krolp hadn’t yet taken the trouble to overrun this rump USA (and Canada).

From everything he’d heard, the United States still was the richest country in the world. The richest human-ruled country, anyhow. And if that wasn’t a telling measure of mankind’s futility in the face of the aliens, Harris Moffatt III was damned if he could figure out what would be.

• • •

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The Star and the Rockets

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

A chilly January night in Roswell. Joe Bauman has discovered that’s normal for eastern New Mexico. It gets hot here in the summer, but winters can be a son of a bitch. That Roswell’s high up—3,600 feet—only makes the cold colder. Makes the sky clearer, too. A million stars shine down on Joe.

One of those stars is his: the big red one marking the Texaco station at 1200 West Second Street. He nods to himself in slow satisfaction. He’s had a good run, a hell of a good run, here in Roswell. The way it looks right now, he’ll settle down here and run the gas station full time when his playing days are done.

Won’t be long, either. He’ll turn thirty-two in April, about when the season starts. Ballplayers, even ones like him who never come within miles of the big time, know how sharply mortal their careers are. If he doesn’t, the ache in his knees when he turns on a fastball will remind him.

He glances down at his watch, which he wears on his right wrist—he’s a lefty all the way. It’s getting close to nine o’clock. He looks up Second Street. Then he looks down the street. No traffic either way. People here make jokes about rolling up the sidewalks after the sun goes down. With maybe 20,000 people, Roswell seems plenty big and bustling to Joe. It’s a damn sight bigger than Welch, Oklahoma, the pissant village where he was born, that’s for sure.

He could close up and go home. Chances that he’ll have any more business are pretty slim. But the sign in the rectangular iron frame says OPEN ’TIL MIDNIGHT. He’ll stick around. You never can tell.

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The House That George Built

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Puffing slightly, Henry Louis Mencken paused outside of George’s Restaurant. He’d walked a little more than a mile from the red-brick house on Hollins Street to the corner of Eutaw and Lombard. Along with masonry, walking was the only kind of exercise he cared for. Tennis and golf and other so-called diversions were to him nothing but a waste of time. He wished his wind were better, but he’d turned sixty the summer before. He carried more weight than he had as a younger man. Most of the parts still worked most of the time. At his age, who could hope for better than that?

He chuckled as his gloved hand fell toward the latch. Every tavern in Baltimore seemed to style itself a restaurant. Maybe that was the Germanic influence. A proud German himself, Mencken wouldn’t have been surprised.

His breath smoked. It was cold out here this February afternoon. The chuckle cut off abruptly. Because he was a proud German, he’d severed his ties with the Sunpapers a couple of weeks before, just as he had back in 1915. Like Wilson a generation before him, Roosevelt II was bound and determined to bring the United States into a stupid war on England’s side. Mencken had spent his working life taking swipes at idiots in America. Somehow, they always ended up running the country just when you most wished they wouldn’t.

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