Arlan is founder of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, which has worked with the US Government, NATO, and NGOs, providing the unique futurism of science fiction authors to groups that need it most. He has published 500 stories, articles and columns in 100 venues worldwide, including a story ‘Lament for Lost Atlanta’, in Alt Hist Issue 1. He has a number of e-publications including short story collections and novels, now available at Amazon.com and other outlets.
Riders on the Storm
by Arlan Andrews
I will die again in the morning, and I look forward to it. I enjoy dying; dying can be sweet.
I will die again in the morning, in a futile charge against an implacable foe, atop a fortified hill in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862.
For the moment, though, I am resting beside a warm campfire with a dozen of my comrades, enlisted volunteers from the 28th Maine, all General Meagher’s men, the ‘Irish Brigade’ some call it, under a clear dark sky full of stars, enjoying the aroma of rich pipe tobacco, listening to bawdy bar-room ballads sung in faux French accents, to the tune of the Rebs’ song ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’:
Mes amis, raise the halls
Kick Bobby Lee in the fleur de lis
And hang him by his balls!’
We all laugh at that thought, at the images that come to mind. ‘T’would take a mighty big noose to do that there,’ somebody says, his shadowed face unsmiling. ‘He’s got big ‘uns, he does.’ The amusement dies down as the other men nod knowingly. This impromptu parody about Lee’s supposed Frenchie consort provides each man some psychological cover for the genuine fear that permeates them all; for all his gentlemanly ways, Bobby Lee is a ruthless warrior, leading a horde of savages who want to kill us. And has been doing a good job of it the last two days. The reactionary fascists up there on the hill have campfires, too, lots of them. And cannons that look down right at us.
Me, though, I’m not afraid. I’m a Rider. Enjoying all of this, even the Death to come. Especially the Death.
The dancing kaleidoscope of flames and fire-shadows, of smoke and fear, makes young men old, old men wise. They all wonder who amongst them will be alive this time tomorrow, who in Heaven or in Hell, whose limbs will be strewn up and down that hillside, whose intestines puffing steam in the grass, who may live though blind or lame.
They wonder. But I know. I’m a Rider.
From two hundred years in their future, my consciousness squatting inside the brain of a young Union soldier, I know. Who will die, and how, and when. That’s why I chose this body to Ride in. He’s Private John Quincy Hannett, nineteen years old, from the village of Squanmasset, a nice young man fresh from the farm, and tomorrow during the next charge against the stone wall atop Marye’s Hill, his head will be taken off with a direct hit from a Confederate cannonball. I will be Riding when he dies, when his consciousness fades in shock and curiosity. With luck I’ll watch him as he goes Over, and glimpse that for myself.
I‘ve been Riding with ol’ Johnny for two days now, PastTyme. I haven’t much enjoyed the marching and the drilling, but his young body accepts the exercise with ease, and the food, Ghu, but I love the taboo’ed food – grease and butter and fat and beef and venison and ungene veggies and salt and sugar and coffee to die for. I love the food.
And I love the dying; dying is sweet.
UpTime, it took us much of a year, but Trevor, Ditz and I finally saved up enough SocialCreds to visit a RideSite together. We’d done some Rides before, all the cheap turista Sites experienced by the mass millions – the sinking of Maltatlantis, building of the Great Pyramid, some of the Old-Tyme-Religion holiday markers, that kind of thing. They were all great fun, being a mind-Rider in the brain of an Old-Tymer and experiencing the end or the beginning of something historical, but they were not the edgy-raw Rides we’d heard about on the Syb. The best Rides are when you die, and you also get to peek over at the Over. It is sweet; it can be fun. That’s why sites like Pompeii and Hiroshima and Teheran are so popular: no matter who you randomly Ride, they all die in the end, some of them real quick. Lots of Over-seeing in those places.
A lot’s been written about the Over, whether it’s physics or psychs, some kind of AfterLife or just a cop-out as the mind is dying, but since you can’t put real instruments into PastTyme minds, you have to rely on eyewitness accounts, and they are just too, too to be believed. ‘Gotta go Over-see yourself’, everybody says. And so we do.
‘Ditz, Larro,’ Trevor pitched when we met in our very, very private sybilspace chatbar, ‘the newest, novelest, quantest Rides cost some magnum social credit, but they can place you in the Ride of your choice, not just some random Old-Tymer who happened to be on the scene.’ His vertch image flickered the slightest bit; some transmission trouble or other. ‘You know you gonna get to see Over, that way.’ Ditz, she was perfect, as usual, in sybilspace as well as RealEyes, touchable.
‘Up one, Trev,’ Ditz put in, in her sveltest tones, ‘I could be Hannibal, Hitler or Hussein?’
‘Seems so, stonie,’ he answered, ‘but you’d gotta pay much and queue for eterne to get them boys. Sold out for decades to come.’
I shivered. I’d wound up in a lot of dying dead people – we all do, the main reason for Riding – but never backseating a wholesale homicider. I wouldn’t want to see too much Over with them. Their Overs can be pretty bad, or so I’ve sybbed. Most Old-Tymers who died, thought they were going to a better place. I’ve had a few glimpses of Over – we all do– but I can wait my actual turn and time, to find out if they are really real and not just psychological psycho-trauma. That’s why a good Ride is one that ends quickly – you can see more Over, and it kind of sneaks up on you.
‘We get a good list of Rides from this RideAgent?’ I asked, kind of humbly.
‘They got a reel-wheeldeal on a threesome for an American Civil War One upthehill death charge, Larro,’ Trev spouted out in a flat-animate cartoon balloon, ‘which is whyfore I sybilled us here.’
We wuz hooked. Signed up, took a year’s worth of SocialCredit each so we could Ride together back to a fateful day during the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and die together within a minute of each other.
The Rides we’d have! The tales to tell! The Over views! Awl for one and won far all!
I sybilled as much as I could, in my Social Time off, about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Sybb’ed some old flatfilms, some vertched versions, got an idea of what had happened. Racist reactionary fascists had illegally formed a breakaway militia and placed it atop a fortified hill, waiting to ambush the progressive Union Army as it ventured southward into strategic Fredericksburg to free the slaves and end the insurrection of a few warlords, among them the massacrist slavemaster, one Robert E. Lee. A bunch of Union persons had been murdered as they charged up that hill directly into the fire of cannons and muskets and various other Old-Tyme massacre machines.
The RideAgent let us choose our Rides. Ditz had objected, ‘No fighting femmes? Damn-all, but what a backward bunch, and I don’t like the feel of the extra baggage you myn have to carry down there.’ I remembered Ditz spelling on for eterne about some brawling big Greek Amazon she’d got to Ride once, though she hadn’t liked the voluntary mastectomy of her Ride. I do like the impressive upstairs luggage she herself carries in RealEyes, though.
We spent some time looking at the vids of the boys we’d be Riding, life-like holos fetched from PastTyme by the same kind of manipulation of space-time-quantum-ultra-thread-stringy-whatevers that lets us Ride, along with their bios. We wanted to be able to identify each other PastTyme, so we would feel the camaraderie as we all marched off to death together, and hopefully see each other’s Rides.
That’s the one problem with Riding in PastTyme – you just get to sit back and observe and feel. You don’t/can’t get to control the Ride, because of possible paradoxes and interferences. Of course, they didn’t know that thirty years ago when they first learned to Ride, and there were some really stick moments. Somebody went back and messed with old Napoleon, and wound up causing some battles that hadn’t really been fought. And then there was that screw-up when one history professor took a Ride on a dead President who went off his rocker for a few months and had sex with everything that moved, back in the First White House itself. And some old Pharaoh got quantumly screwed up after a Ride by a Fundie preacher – they still have statues of that freak! Things like that.
Probably lots of others, too. I mean, history is full of strange people doing strange things, and some of them act like they were Ridden. Had to be.
Anyway, strict process control parameters stopped all of that PastTyme tweaking so now all we can do is Ride. No memory-sharing, no reins, no controls, no overrides.