SFReader 2003 Story Contest
Third Place Winner
Francis Morgan, though an accomplished agent, did not much care for the idea of being plucked down at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay an hour before dawn.
He understood all the justifications, of course. The last shipwreck that he could have conceivably came from had occurred on April 8, off the coast of New Jersey; he had reason to believe that there were no genuine survivors who could contradict his claim to employment on that ship.
Furthermore, he had been told, only fishermen would be out at this hour; traders who were more likely to have known the Cecilia’s crew would wait until daylight. Finally, and most importantly, Baltimore was the best major city to arrive in. New York’s present political state was far too antagonistic to his objectives; Boston, so aligned with them that his target would never go there. So it was that Francis Morgan, with some sets of clothing (nothing too fancy for a mariner, of course), a minicomputer packed with vital documents, a gun, a sum (again, keeping with his alleged station in life) of expertly-forged currency and two dead bodies hailed a tiny fishing ship, and eventually wound up in Baltimore. His mission: to kill Thomas Jefferson.
Morgan was lucky: the men who picked him up were reputable, well-established members of Baltimore’s dock community (and avowed Federalists), and with that connection he was able to find decent lodgings without any major effort. He surveyed the small room atop an inn: the thin mattress had a blanket on top, two candles rested on the nightstand, and only a single cockroach visible. He nodded in approval. Much better than he had been led to believe. The old-fashioned revolver was casually concealed within a dirty jacket. A nosy landlady would not have a hard time believing that a mariner would carry it, but all the same, flaunting weaponry was not the way to make allies. The minicomputer presented more difficulty. He toyed with the idea of stashing it inside of the camo, but knew that he couldn’t afford to waste any of that precious material. Ultimately, he decided to simply carry the device with him, next to his skin; if anyone got close enough to see it and remark on it, he would call it the newest fad from England.
Moving down the stairs, Morgan ran through his list of objectives. Killing Jefferson was key, of course. But he also had to establish a viable escape route. The assassination was only the first part of his plan; as he obviously would have no place in an incomparably changed future, he would have to stay here and direct events. There was also the matter of ensuring that his action had the desired effect. Morgan had to let it be known that he despised Republicanism. There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Thomas Jefferson died at a Federalist’s hands.
Morgan noted his surroundings. The common room was rectangular, longer on the side facing the street. A bar ran almost the length of one side; staircases had been placed at opposite corners of the room. Tables were arranged almost haphazardly; some had patrons, some did not, and there seemed to be no pattern to this. Portraits lined the walls.
As he entered the serving area, Morgan found what he most wanted: a heated political debate. Two mammoth sailors were almost screaming at an old man, who showed no sign of backing down. Morgan was about to pity him, but upon closer inspection, he noted thick, wiry muscles and a jagged facial scar on the graybeard. He dropped himself into a nearby seat and tried to pick up the thread of the conversation. This was not hard.
“And you think that good sailors are just going to line up for your Tammany Society–”
“Sir, you will note that I am only here to divide the estate of one of our deceased members–”
“Like hell you are! Like hell!” The table was pounded twice for emphasis. “If you have any idea what’s good for you, you’ll be out of Baltimore like that!” The table once again shuddered under a heavy impact.
The old man’s fingers nervously went to his belt, and Morgan saw a weapon. He didn’t know whether the man was only toying with his gun in a gesture of contempt or about to actually use it. Long before his finger could have felt the trigger, the Republican was lying on the floor, his arms spread out, with Morgan on top of him. “Get out of Baltimore” were the only words uttered for several minutes, though respectful glances were thrown for sometime afterwards.
Word spread quickly. Within days, Morgan had a reputation in Baltimore’s Federalist community. People wanted to know from where this mysterious stranger came, and Morgan did not disappoint. He leaked bits of information, until people had a cumulative portrait of him. Supposedly, he had already traveled the Atlantic as a lowly seaman, visiting all the major ports of North America, as well as London, Paris, Lisbon and Madrid. Bored with his last ship, he had signed onto the Cecilia in Newport, Rhode Island, the great bulwark of Federalism. They had been heading south with a load of cranberries; from what Morgan could figure, the ship was old, the owner a miser, and the sailors had suffered for it. Morgan had launched the dinghy with several of his shipmates, and watched them die. Most of the corpses had been heaved overboard; the two with him when he was picked up were the most recent fatalities. If anyone thought that this was the action of a cold, heartless man, they did not mention it.
Acceptance was quick. Invitations to Federalist rallies and meetings poured in. On a typical day, Morgan’s schedule might look like this:
9:00 A.M: Go to printer, pick up anti-Jefferson pamphlets
1:00 A.M.-12 P.M: Distribute pamphlets to Federalist youth corps, oversee as necessary.
12 P.M.-1 P.M.: Dinner and strategy discussion with other Federalists.
1 P.M.-4 P.M: Stand around noted Republican establishment with a look of menace. Perhaps start a small fight.
4 P.M.-5 P.M: Make sure that arrangements for rally are in order.
5 P.M.-8 P.M: Attend meeting as guard, speaker, or in some other function.
8 P.M.-9 P.M: Clean-up.
9 P.M.-bed: Supper at inn, cards, ale, discussion.
Jefferson would be showing up in just under two weeks, and Morgan was sure that he would have the necessary support to carry out his mission. As he sat in his room reviewing maps of Boston (where, as a rising star in the Federalist movement, he might eventually have to go) a sailor named Dennis knocked at his door.
“News on the docks is that the Republicans are holding a slave auction.”
“Commodore–” Retired Commodore Henry Kitchener, hero of the Revolution, wealthy ship owner and prominent Federalist–“says you should deal with it.”
“Right. Any literature?” Dennis held up a handbill. It read:
22 High-class africans, Incl:
A field-hand, Josiah, 18 yrs. Old;
A cook, Ella, 23 yrs. Old;
A trained caulker, suitable to be hired out, Frederick, 30 yrs. Old;
And many others
April 27, noon
Colonel Jonathon Griffith presiding
“Colonel… Is that an actual military title?”
“Yeah. He came by here back when you were new–you threw him down.”
“He’s a soldier?”
“Used to be. He fought in the war, had a regiment. Apparently he lives on some big farm up in New York.”
“Thank you for your help, Dennis. Would you like to get some of your friends together and break up this auction?”
“Yeah.” Malicious delight gleamed in the sailor’s eyes.
By 11 in the morning, Dennis had a half dozen sailors assembled in the inn’s common room. Each had a club and a bag of rocks; Morgan also glimpsed a few knives, as well as a pair of pistols in one man’s belt. Two of the mariners were throwing dice; one was downing ale, and another was exploring the contents of a bodice. Morgan strode briskly to the head of the room and addressed the crowd.
“Men! Our purpose is to cause terror! We are not going to assassinate the Federalists. We are going to start a fight and create fear. Try not to kill anyone.”
The sailors stalked out. Morgan walked warily behind, in a good position both to give orders and to quickly get away should the column be stopped. With twenty minutes until the auction began on the pier, the mob assembled in a convenient warehouse. Morgan stepped outside to look around; he saw Griffith talking with some other gentlemen, Tammany muscle patrolling nonchalantly, and chained Africans on a skiff. A few obvious customers were circulating, and Keaton was disappointed at their number. He had expected many more spectators to witness his Federalist coming-out party.
Restlessness was the prevailing mood. It had been a mistake, Morgan realized, to bring these sailors out so early for the action. Dennis was trying to keep the sailors calm, but they were obviously ready for violence. Further restraint would not be a good idea, Morgan thought. He had already set events in motion; starting the fight early would not have any drastic results. He turned to the warehouse and gave a signal.
The seven sailors streamed out, each with a rock in hand. Having been told that Griffith was the Republican leader, half of them aimed their stones at his head. Morgan saw two hit their marks, and Griffith fell with a bloody mark on his forehead. In the moment that they needed to grab second projectiles, the Tammany men patrolling the room gunned down all three of the sailors. The sound of gunshots briefly froze everyone on the pier. Then Dennis pulled out his knife and charged; he received a bullet in the chest for his efforts and another in the head a few seconds later. The remaining sailors beat a hasty retreat, with Morgan not far behind.
Every three minutes or so, Morgan would stop pacing in order to reread his instructions on the minicomputer.
“Make yourself known as a Federalist. Assassinate Jefferson. Escape. Meet, in Boston, your fellow agents (for details, click here). If your actions have not started a civil war, make one. Remain in this time to make sure that a prolonged state of anarchy exists, and that the political system is smashed beyond repair.”
It seemed so simple. But now Jefferson would undoubtedly have heightened security for his Baltimore visit. And Morgan was a wanted man. Moreover, today’s events would have untold historical ramifications.
He heard a “beep” in his brain.
Once Morgan had completed his training, his employers had fitted him with a number of augmentations. These included a hand/eye stabilizer which provided perfect marksmanship, a language database that would let him speak in any known tongue, reflex engines to provide lightning-fast response times, powerful enzymes to synthesize any toxin and, essentially, a camera and radio in his head. This allowed anyone with the proper equipment to monitor and communicate with him. Nobody had been sure if it would transcend the bonds of time.
“Anyone there? Hello?” The voice didn’t belong to Jacob, Morgan’s normal communications link.
“This is Morgan. Who are you?”
“Where are you?”
“I am currently in A.D. 1800, North American continent. Yourself?”
“1800! Hot damn…”
“Yes, 1800. Speak of yourself.”
“2177. We just got into an old communications bunker and we’ve been trying all the equipment to see if it’s active. 1800… Who would’ve thought?”
“What do you want?”
“From what we’ve been able to piece together, the world first started going into decline during your year–the month of April. A small dock scuffle between two political factions plunged the country- America–into a civil war from which it never recovered. Now it has no industry or political structure. Some historians say that if it had properly developed, it could have served as a safety valve for Europe. Instead, Europe imploded from population density and has reverted to city-states. There are 78 kingdoms of Italy as we speak.” The speaker slowed slightly. “Do you know if this fight has already occurred?”
“Yes. It has.”
“Jesus.” Morgan could hear hope escaping from this person’s body. “Do you think you can do anything to reverse its effects?”
Pacing was resumed. Morgan tried to think a solitary good thought: he had fulfilled his objective, in a roundabout way. America had broken. Anarchy reigned. The evil two-party system his organization so worked to undermine had never gained a foothold.
But was it such a good thing? An image came unbidden to Morgan: the future world as a massive, unwieldy Laputan machine, filled with gears and cranks and blowing steam out of dozens of pipes. He singled out one sector of this contraption and outlined it in neon, then named it “America.” A sailor suddenly appeared, a big, beefy man with a rock in his hand. He hurled this stone at the “America” section, which sparked and shattered. Without this vital piece, the machine collapsed inwards and exploded into a fiery blaze.
That was what he had done, Morgan realized. With a few thrown rocks, he had doomed the world. If he could figure out how, he would set it back right.
He headed down to the commons room and gruffly ordered ale. His enzyme augmentation would allow him to consume ad infinitum without losing his faculties, a boon for which he was only occasionally grateful. This was one of those occasions: the repetitive motion of lifting the cup, as well as the fiery taste in his mouth, helped focus his thoughts. He mentally created an outline:
I. I have royally screwed the future.
A. But that’s perfectly acceptable, since that was my objective from the beginning.
B. The hell with the objective. Idiot bosses trying to meddle with something they don’t understand. I wish I knew their ancestors so I could stop them from being born.
II. I have to do something about the mess I’ve created.
III. But what? After all, it’s not as if I’m a figure of influence. If I had more time, maybe I could get supporters, try and build a peace movement… no. Things are moving too fast for that.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a street battle. Salty oaths, Federalist and Republican slogans, calls for vengeance, and screams of pain all contrived to keep him from his thoughts. A brick was thrown through the inn’s window; a bloody sailor, Elijah or Jeremiah or someone, limped into the room, using his hand simultaneously as pressure on and binding for a massive facial wound. Rising to pace, Morgan noticed the portraits lining the room. Crude reproductions, for the most part, but with a clear message: this is Federalist territory. Republicans not wanted. John Adams was there, of course (thrice) as well as Alexander Hamilton. John Marshall had his place, as did Secretary of State Thomas Pickering. George Washington was there: politically unattached, he reigned as a symbol of dignity and nonpartisanship; each side desperately wanted to claim him. Most surprising of all was the portrait next to Washington: the Marquis de Lafayette. France was a favorite target of the Federalists, as Morgan well knew. Propaganda had it that Jefferson wanted to turn America into a French vassal. One would not think to find Lafayette in a Federalist bar, but patriotic idealization of the past beat petty partisanship. Patriotism… Morgan began humming and walked towards his room.
America’s Secret Service was founded in 1865 and given the responsibility of fighting counterfeiters. Upon the assassination of President William McKinley, their duties were expanded: they were now charged with protecting the President. As that event occurred some one hundred years after 1800 (although, Morgan thought, it might not happen now) no formal organization existed to protect the President’s well-being. Morgan had no problem slipping around the sleepy Federalist roughnecks patrolling in front of the executive mansion. The two professional guards at the main door provided more of a problem. He could deploy his camouflage, but it had a limited life and he wasn’t sure if he might later need it. Cloaked in shadow, Morgan decided to put a bullet through one’s head. In the moment of confusion that affected the other man, Morgan sprang. He snapped the man’s neck with a single blow and then grabbed the keys off his belt before he hit the ground. The noise of the gunshot had attracted attention; several men were moving warily towards the door. Morgan slammed it shut behind him, then ducked into a nearby, thankfully unoccupied room. Whipping out his computer, he pulled up a plan of the building. He studied it intently, formulated and memorized a route, and smashed the device. When he was captured, he didn’t want anyone finding a strange machine on his person.
The halls were deserted; Morgan guessed that what guards there were had been deployed for crowd control. He found the office easily; no one stood in front. He pulled the door open and sprang back, should a trigger-happy sentry be standing behind the portal. President Adams, however, had no companions. He sat alone at his desk, reading some new bit of legislation.
Morgan entered. He did not wish to waste time with dramatic speech; his only objective was to kill the President bloodily. Pulling a knife that he had liberated from a kitchen, he advanced. Adams saw him. He tried to get up and run, but he had not received the derogatory nickname of “His Rotundancy” unreasonably. Morgan stabbed downwards, and did not stop until Adams’ body had been thoroughly vivisected. He sat back, sighed, and flicked on his language synthesizer.
When burly Federalists broke in, all Morgan said was “La mort aux Federalistes!”
Some people undoubtedly found it strange that Morgan switched allegiances so easily; they said nothing. After all, it was frighteningly easy to be accused of Francophilia. Even the Federalists (most of them) took up French-hating on his account. Unanimous support attended Congress’ Declaration of War against France. Now-President Jefferson may have had his misgivings, but he signed the bill anyway. After some spectacular sea battles, the nation lost interest and did nothing more than send a few Army regiments to fight with the Alliances against Napoleon. All in all, history regained its path, except that the Louisiana Purchase was never made, and the west was won in an astoundingly bloody campaign commanded by Lieutenant Generals Robert Edward Lee and Hiram Ulysses Grant.Share