The Star and the Rockets

The Star and the Rockets

illustration by chris buzelli

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.

 

And it’s not as if he’s never done this before. Dorothy will be amazed if he does come home early. He’s got a TV set—a Packard Bell, just a year old—in a back room, and a beat-up rocking chair she was glad to see the last of, and a shelf with a few books in case he doesn’t feel like staring at the television. He’s got an old, humming refrigerator in there, too (he thinks of it as an icebox more often than not), with some beer. Except for a bed, all the comforts of home.

When he goes in there, he ducks to make sure he doesn’t bang his head. He’s a great big guy—six-five, maybe 235. Maybe more like 250 now, when he’s not in playing shape. Lots and lots of afternoons in the sun have weathered the skin on his face and his forearms and especially his hands.

He leaves the door to the back room open so headlights will warn him in case anybody does come in. When he turns on the TV, the picture is snowy. He needs a tall antenna to bring it in at all, because Roswell doesn’t have a station of its own, though there’s talk of getting one. It isn’t nine yet. Milton Berle isn’t on. Joe can’t stand the program that runs ahead of him. He turns the sound down to nothing. He doesn’t turn the set off: then it would have to warm up again, and he might miss something. But he does ignore it for the time being.

To kill time till Uncle Miltie’s inspired lunacy, he pulls a book off the shelf. “Oh, yeah—the weird one,” he mutters. Something called The Supernatural Reader, a bunch of stories put together by Groff and Lucy Conklin. Groff—there’s a handle for you.

Brand-new book, or near enough. Copyright 1953. He found it in a Salvation Army store. Cost him a dime. How can you go wrong?

Story he’s reading is called “Pickup from Olympus,” by a fellow named Pangborn. The guy in the story runs a gas station, which makes it extra interesting for Joe. And there’s a ’37 Chevy pickup in it, and damned if he didn’t learn to drive on one of those before he went into the Navy.

But the people, if that’s what you’d call them, in the pickup . . . Joe shakes his head. “Weird,” he says again. “Really weird.” He’s the kind of guy who likes things nailed down tight.

He puts The Supernatural Reader back on the shelf. With a grunt, he heaves his bulk out of the rocker, walks over to the television, and twists the volume knob to the right. When he plops himself down in the chair once more, it creaks and kind of shudders. One of these days, it’ll fall apart when he does that, and leave him with his ass on the floor. But not yet. Not yet.

A chorus of men dressed the way he would be if he really spiffed himself up—dressed like actors playing service-station jockeys instead of real ones, in other words—bursts into staticky song:

Oh, we’re the men of Texaco.
We work from Maine to Mexico.
There’s nothing like this Texaco of ours;
Our show tonight is powerful,
We’ll wow you with an hourful
of howls from a showerful of stars;
We’re the merry Texaco-men!
Tonight we may be showmen;
Tomorrow we’ll be servicing your cars!

Joe sings along, even if he can’t carry a tune in a pail. Texaco is his outfit, too, even more than the Roswell Rockets are. If you’re not a big-leaguer—and sometimes even if you are—baseball is only a part-time job. He’ll get six hundred dollars a month to swing the bat this year, and a grand as a signing bonus. For a guy in a Class C league, that’s great money. But a gas station, now, a gas station is a living for the rest of his life. You get into your thirties, you start worrying about stuff like that. You’d goddamn well better, anyhow.

Out comes Milton Berle. He’s in a dress. Joe guffaws. Christ on His crutch, but Milton Berle makes an ugly broad. Joe remembers how horny he got when he was in the Navy and didn’t even see a woman for months at a time. If he’d seen one who looked like that, he would have kept right on being horny.

Or maybe not. When you’re twenty years old, what the hell are you but a hard-on with legs?

Uncle Miltie starts strumming a ukulele. If that’s not scary, his singing is. It’s way worse than Joe’s. Joe laughs fit to bust a gut. He hope the picture stays halfway decent. This is gonna be a great show.

30 comments
Polaris
1. Polaris
Beautifully written story! Very nostalgic and dreamy. How wonderful. Thank you!
Rafael Penaloza
2. rpenalozan
I cannot download the pdf version :(
(invalid file, it says...)
Polaris
3. jefff
What a great way to start off my morning. Thanks Harry and thanks Tor.
Peter Killinger
4. Marshal_Kilgore
Bug report #2:
When downloading the ePub file I get the mobipocket one instead.
Frank Nagy
5. fjnagy
Downloads are broken. The ePub link points to a .prc file and the
PDF and HTML links are just broken.
Adam Tidball
6. atidball
Bug #3:
HTML link is broken too. Mobi is the only format that's working.
Shuaad Manuel
7. Shoo-z
The art is really awesome... speaks of all things worth dreaming about. Story is great as well. Loved it...
Irene Gallo
8. Irene
@7 - I was thrilled to be able to work with Buzelli. He's a personal favorite of mine and a great guy.
Torie Atkinson
9. Torie
Hi folks,

All the download links should now be fixed. Let me know if it still doesn't work for anyone.
Harry Turtledove
10. HarryT
That _is_ a great illo.

This story has a long genesis. There was talk about the idea on GEnie in the '90s. If you think of Roswell, you think of what happened/probably didn't happen in 1947. If you're a baseball stat geek, when you think of Roswell you also think of Joe Bauman. If you're an sf writer who's a baseball stat geek, you figure there's got to be a connection between the maybe saucer and all the home runs. Before I wrote this one, I e-mailed another writer who'd liked the idea then, asking if he had already done the piece--you can't keep up with everything that gets turned out, however much you try. He told me he hadn't, so I went ahead.

I'm glad the result seems to amuse folks.

(Come to that, when I was doing online research for the story, I came across a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED piece from the '90s on Joe Bauman that wondered if there was a connection between the saucer and his homers.)
Madeline Ferwerda
11. MadelineF
Neat! I liked this piece--great detail of the era. I didn't realize it was historical fiction, too! :)
Irene Gallo
12. Irene
The artist, Chris Buzelli, posted the sketches for this illustration.
Marcus W
13. toryx
Thanks for your comments on the genesis of the story, HarryT. I enjoyed the story very much myself, but I'd never heard of Joe Bauman and to discover that he did have an extraordinary run of homers back then just makes it that much better.
Polaris
14. Echoskye
Very well done! This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Polaris
15. C. Buzelli
Thanks Irene for the opportunity! You bring out the best in your artists. And Mr. Turtldove - Thanks for the great historical fiction to illustrate!
Harry Turtledove
16. HarryT
Thank _you_ for the terrific picture, Mr. Buzelli.
Polaris
17. TonyE
A very Harry Turtledove story - as always, well crafted and worth reading. As someone else here said - a good way to start the day.

Thanks!
Polaris
18. DFDumaresq
Thanks Harry - your story made me feel good! Along about the third paragraph, a grin stole across my chin and by time I'd finished reading, it was making off with both earlobes.
Polaris
19. ChrisC
Love a good story that includes some baseball!
Polaris
20. Just An Observer
Remember the NBC series "Amazing Stories"? The episodes were always uplifting and magical. That's what this story felt like as I read it. Too bad it wasn't put out 25 years ago and sent to Speilberg for his consideration. Maybe Mr. Turtledove would have gone on to become one of the great screenwriters of all time and the recent hit movie "2012" would have his name attached to it instead of Emmerich's and the storyline would have been as touted as the special effects. In a different timeline it happened that way!

Rollin' out the barrels...
Polaris
21. HonorGod
Very, very entertaining, and enjoyable. Thank you so very much.
Polaris
22. skaldicpoet9
@Just and Observer:

I didn't think about it that way until you said something but now that you mention it this story was quite reminiscent of the Amazing Stories series. Thanks for reminding me of that series by the way, I remember watching those and loving them as a kid.

Great story by the way Mr. Turtledove. I have never read anything by you before but I am pleased to say that this was a excellent introduction to your writing.
Harry Turtledove
23. HarryT
Obviously, the cool thing about online stories, as opposed to those in magazines, is the quick feedback. Thanks again, all of you, for your very generous words.

skaldicpoet9, also here on the tor.com site are my "The House That George Built," which has to do with baseball, too, and "We Haven't Got There Yet," which, well, doesn't.

Now that the commercials are over, we return you to the regular broadcast.
Polaris
24. Federico Anibal
It must take a great talent to
tell a story, develop a character
and to make it great, all in five pages.
Thanks for a great story!!
I really enjoyed it
Polaris
25. GeoBrad
Great story Harry!

The "Joe" reminded me of one of the characters from your series about the aliens that invaded near the start of WWII. Also a wonderful work!

Might be interesting to consider an alternate history of what if the Roswell crash hadn't occurred, but instead contact was made...
Harry Turtledove
26. HarryT
@ GeoBrad--That's a perceptive comment. Sam Yeager from the WORLDWAR books is a fictional version of what Joe Bauman was for real: the career minor-leaguer. Bauman was one of the last. The economics and the politics of the game were changing in ways that made having a baseball career but not one in the big leagues more and more difficult and finally all but impossible.
Polaris
27. Leotrak
Great story ^_^ Now I'm tempted to look up some of your other writings... Such a shame I have work to do >_
Polaris
29. Dirt_empire
Amazing way to end my, final, night of rest before finals start up. Thanks go to both H.T. and Tor, for writing and posting such an amazing story.
Polaris
30. Mike Selvey
Great story that really takes me back~! It captures the mood and flavor of the Roswell that I remember. I graduated high school there in 1972, and at the time, NO ONE spoke of "aliens" for fear of being a "rube".

The entire downtown was full of shuttered shopfronts, including the old "Chief" movie theater. The theater is now the "World UFO Museum" and is a major tourist attraction, and rental prices for downtown properties have skyrocketed, due to the "alien tourism" industry.

Thanks, HT, for another fine piece of work. I am amazed at the talent it must take for a writer to go from a multi-book series of alternate histories, to mainstream science fiction novels, to short-short stories like above.

Bravo!
Robert Esckelson
31. Esck86
For someone like me who has ZERO interest in sports (especially baseball) it should come as a real compliment that I couldn't stop reading this once I started. I really enjoyed it!

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