Arlan Andrews, Sr., has been publishing SF short stories and articles on esoteric subjects, humor and technology for over thirty years, with close to 500 appearances in magazines, newspapers and anthologies including Analog, Asimov’s, Amazing Stories, Omni, The New Scientist, Fate, Atlantis Rising, and many other venues worldwide.
His latest fiction appeared in Analog (Oct. 2010); his latest non-fiction in Atlantis Rising (8/2010). A professional engineer, Arlan formerly worked at White Sands Missile Range, the White House Science Office and other high tech organizations. He is the founder of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, and lives with his wife and small dogs next to a canal on the Texas Gulf Coast.
You can read the first part of Arlan’s story for Alt Hist for free below. If you would like to read more please order the first issue of Alt Hist.
Lament for Lost Atlanta
by Arlan Andrews
Last night was really strange.
First off, our seventh grade American History teacher, Old Man Ill-Used, took us W. T.’s on a night-time field trip out to Stone Mountain to watch the laser light show, all about the hanging of Robert E. Lee.
Bor-ing. Seen it a dozen times and — bor-ing is all I can say about it. Andrei and Bob and I just rolled our eyes when Ill-Used told us about it in class. And besides that, we hated the hot, smelly old buses and the bumpy, dusty old dirt road ride.
(Actually, his name is Mr. Ilyushin, but since I am writing this diary in secret for only myself to read — and maybe somebody else, years from now — I can say these things and call anybody anything I want. Like the way the Feds call the place “Victory Mountain,” but Dad calls it by its true name. Kind of like the way they call our run-down town “Sherman,” and we whisper its forbidden name, “Atlanta.”
The way gross Old Man Ilyushin put it, “Malchiks —”I just hate it when he puts on that uppity Russkie accent, like his great grandparents weren’t just W. T. like us when they shipped over a hundred and forty years ago to fill up our emptied land — “at Victory Mountain we shall see a re-enactment of the final victory of the Federals over the southern terrorists.
“Of course, the events you will see tonight have been compressed a bolshy bit. It actually took a full year for President Stanton and General Sherman to track down and bring to justice the terrorist warlords of the so-called ‘Confederacy’.”
Actually, I am kind of glad the whole thing only takes forty-five minutes and not a full year, but I bet Old Man Ill-Used would rather sit out there in the heat and humidity and mosquitoes and the stinking tobacco smoke for the whole time, as much as he likes to talk about the War of the Terrorists and the way his ancestors got to come over here and take over this land from our ancestors.
Anyway, I am finally out there with the whole freshman class and we are bor-ed out of our minds as the lasers jump and dance in time with the loudspeakers. We all wanted to hear some gnarly bistrock tunes, but of course we just got the usual rah-rah marching songs. And the narrator’s bo-ring old-fashioned voice.
“President Stanton—” (everybody cheers the handsome face the lasers paint on the huge flat rockside of Stone Mountain) “—sent General McClellan — “ (cheers) “—to arrest the traitors Judah Benjamin —” (boos) “—and the arch-villain traitor Jefferson Davis—” (screeching boos and hoots at the Scared Scarecrow Himself) “—and then General Sherman—” (tremendous cheers) “—chased down the King Rat, the self-styled General Lee — “ (this was the big crescendo, the climax of the booing and hissing. It was always a lot of fun, even though I knew that Dad and some of our family thought different about Ol’ Bobby Lee.) “—in his rat’s nest hidey-hole in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.”
The lasers showed a rat-like Robert E. Lee, skittering down into the old Mammoth Cave. And then a giant gloved fist reaching down and pulling him out by his tail.
Our whole freshman class laughed like we usually did, but this one time there seemed to be a weakness in the other folks, hundreds of them, like maybe their hearts weren’t really it in. I couldn’t figure out what was up, but something was different. Old Man Ill-Used tried to make up for it by laughing louder and longer, and so did some other teachers, but it just didn’t work out. Andrei and Bob and I just looked at each other and couldn’t figure it out, so we stayed quiet, unusual for us. It was an uncomfortable moment for everybody.
Things stayed kind of like that for the next forty minutes, all the way through the mass hanging where Stanton gives his famous order, Sherman pulls the trap door handle, and the Four Traitors gurgle and gasp and kick and twitch, their wicked southerners’ souls going to roast and scream in a laser-red Hell, while above them in white robes and wings, the smiling trinity — Lincoln, Grant and Burnside — wag fingers at their defeated, tormented enemies.
By the end of it, most people were once again clapping and cheering and hissing and booing and laughing at the right times, but there was something going on, something that felt strange.
But boy, that was just the beginning of it.
When all the mighty deeds were done being painted on the side of Victory Mountain, we all stood to sing the national anthem. We had barely got to the place of “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored” when all of a sudden a really weird, really big laser image covered, I mean, like the whole mountainside. For a few seconds it looked like one of the old prohibited southern terrorist flags, that one with the red background and the blue diagonal bars and white stars and the stars in them. Only this one, it had a crucified Christ hanging on the bars, like he was nailed to them, diagonal-wise.
There was some noisy yelling in the projection room, and then it sounded like some shots, and then the whole thing went dark and those people who had kept on singing, they got real quiet. A bunch of Feds came while the teachers scooted us over to the smoking, rattletrap buses that took us back to our W. T. mobile homes (we call them “tin-cans”) on the outskirts of Sherman, just a couple miles from Sherman Tech University.
Last night started off really strange, but it got a whole lot stranger.
The strangers were at my home when I got back from the Victory Mountain show. I knew somebody was visiting because of the big old black motorcar parked next to our trailer. For a minute I hoped Dad had bought us a car of our own. Only one or two people in the trailer park had cars that ran, and everybody thought they were real rich.
Three strangers were there inside the little trailer kitchen-living room area when I let myself in, but two of them just sat in the darkness leaning against the wall of the half-lit room, and just kind of waved my way as I walked in.
Dad stood up and introduced the third guy, who looked as old as Dad, meaning he was in his mid-thirties. The man looked a bit different than most W. T. people, not so many wrinkles and more at ease with himself. Taller than me — but everybody is — really dark hair, skin kind of Mexican brown, dark eyes, his jet black hair cut a different way, and clothes not in this year’s style at all, with faded blue denim pants, kind of Western looking, not Down South style at all. I can tell that from the telly, even though I wear second-hand clothes Mom gets at the Welfare Trust Center. Thin as a rail, tough looking, he was. Not from here.
“This is your uncle, Jeff Davis Blythe,” Dad said. “Visiting here from the Republic.” I had heard of the Blythe family, some of our cousins, who had moved away from here about the time I was born, out to the Republic of Texas. Some people said they were kicked out by the Feds.
“Just call me ‘J. D.’, if you don’t mind, son,” the man said, sticking out a hand to shake. As I took it and shook it, he went on, “Damned if you don’t look just like some of your cousins in Pike City.”
I was just a little bit surprised by a visitor from anywhere in the Republic of Texas, especially the capitol itself, which used to be called Austin, according to old man Ill-Used. There had been a lot of fighting after the Removal, until things finally settled down, I think, back in the early Twentieth Century. An undeclared border war went on, too. Then a few years ago, when I was a little kid, some other incidents started up, but I never paid much attention to them. You can get used to the most terrible things if you don’t know they’re unusual.
Then last week a car-bombing incident at a Sherman police station was carried out by Republican terrorists, but most people don’t care about politics unless it affects their own neighborhoods or their jobs. “Times are hard,” Dad keeps saying to Mom and us all the time, “and politics don’t put food on the table.” But all the same he gripes about the government a lot, mainly ‘cause he thinks they are the reason we are so poor.
What they teach us in W. T. school about the Republic of Greater Texas is pretty bad, that they are all mostly terrorists and religious fanatics. So I said knowingly, “Well, Uncle J. D. How are things in Greater Texas?” Dad and J. D. and the two men in the dark exchanged startled looks with each other for a long, quiet minute, but then J. D. lit up with a big smile. “Things are fine over there, son. I’ve just come over here to meet the family who stayed behind, our long-lost cousins from whom we should have never been parted.”
Uh-oh, I knew J. D.’s stay was going to be about Dad’s “politics,” because Dad is always harping on how hateful that old President Sherman had been to kick our family out of our huge plantations and give them to the Russkie immigrants. Like we would be rich today if that hadn’t of happened. “Damned ol’ Yankees,” he would hiss, “I wouldn’t have to work two jobs today to keep food on the table if we still owned half of Fulton County like my great-great-grandpaw did.” I never could figure out, even using the school’s Grannysmith computer, if any of that was true. I did know that over half of the Southron Race was driven out — “they all left voluntarily, they were not forced,” Old Ill-Used tells us, as if he was here when it happened. “That is why my ancestors were brought over from Europe, to provide a much-needed White population to replace the southern terrorists “— Crackers and Blackers is the slang term — “who once occupied this place.”
I didn’t know what the truth was, and really never cared too much. In the afternoons after school, Andrei and Bob and I mostly would just leave the trailer camp and walk down the dirt road a mile and hang out down to the general store, and watch the storefront telly with all of those superstars from Up North with great cars and great girls on it, wishing we could have it all like they do. But I figured that anything happened over a hundred fifty years ago, that’s like ancient history, and I’m looking forward to the future. To finish my education, get a job, get one of those great cars. (They say that some W. T.’s get to go through all ten grades and some even make it to a college like Sherman Tech and get to go work on Reclamation and Recovery all over the Americas. That’s what I tell the counselor I want to do. But really I would like to go to the Moon like Kaiser Billie’s men do.
Like I said, I never really cared too much about politics and the Republic and all. Until last night.
And that’s the strangest part.