Science Fiction alternate history WWII JFK

The Golden Chariot of Oswald Grade 3

By Michael McCormick
Jan 22, 2019 · 7,686 words · 28 minutes

Photo by Oğuz Şerbetci via Unsplash.

From the author: "Lee Harvey Oswald squinted past spaceships parked on the desert outside the dome." So begins the strange tale of Kennedys, Oswalds, mysterious aliens, and a missile crisis.


Lee Harvey Oswald squinted past spaceships parked on the desert outside the dome.  Looking for natives.  But the only things moving out there were more customers streaming off the ships.  Another load of camera-toting Japanese tourists up from the planet to see Pearl Harbor.

Shaking his head, he walked into the bar.  From the gloom and smoke, he heard some low-grade Kennedys call out his name.  His eyes adjusted and he saw the place was crowded.  A couple Jackies and a dozen or so Johns he recognized.  He walked over to the bar to join some young Johnnies.

"You're the first Oswald in tonight," said John Grade 8.  They shook hands. "I think you know most of the guys.”

“Hard to say,” quipped Oswald Grade 3.  “You guys all look the same to me.”

“Like the Japs,” laughed John 8.  His friend John Grade 13 looked around nervously.

A slender, clean-shaven young Johnny reached out a hand to introduce himself.  “We haven’t met yet, sir.”

“Sorry,” apologized John 8, “this is John Grade 96, our newest trainee."

Oswald 3 managed a kindly smile for the new Kennedy.  "96, huh?  I didn't think we were nearly that high yet."  He set his parcel on the bar and tossed some money next to it.  The bartender Crosby nodded and poured a gin and tonic.

"Yes, sir,” answered John Grade 96.  “Three shiploads of us arrived this morning from Salvador Paradiso.  I got my memory implants last summer, but the final cosmetic surgery was just a week ago."

“Stop calling me ‘sir.’  Next month I may be blowing your brains out."  Oswald 3 sipped his gin.  "So, new trainees.  I thought those ships in the desert were just another boatload of drunken Japs."

"Can it!" hissed John Grade 31.  "There’s four Kamikaze pilots in the corner booth."

Oswald 3 glanced at the booth.  Young Japanese pilots in full costume drank sake and glared suspiciously at all the Johns, Jackies, and assorted Texans.

"What are they doing here on Dallas Night?"

"Probably too many GIs in here on Pearl Harbor Night."

Oswald 3 returned his attention to John Grade 96, who looked a little lost.  He remembered the feeling.  What a shock it was arriving on Walt's World twenty years ago.  Memory implants, facial surgery, a dome full of tourists on a desert moon.

"Welcome aboard," he said as nicely as he could.  “How was your ride up from the planet?"

"They told me the hardest part is the gravity.  But I took a G-pill and I feel OK."

"See much on your way down?"

"I saw most of the bigger amusement domes.  History!Dome, Space!Dome, Water!Dome, . . ."

"No!"  Oswald Grade 3 tried not to sound annoyed.  "I mean, did you see much of Walt's World itself?  Notice anything unusual?"

"It's just desert.  I was glad to get inside the air-conditioned dome."

"I went out in the desert once," John 13 chimed in.  "Two archeologists from Salvador Paradiso needed a guide, so I conned them I knew my way around.  We drove around in circles all day.  Never saw any alien pyramids."

"Pyramids!" sputtered John 8.  "Closest thing to aliens around here is the crazy Japs."

One of the kamikaze pilots in the corner booth jumped to his feet.  "Hey, racist white boy President!  Those Japanese tourists you hate are the only reason you got a job!"

"Good thing for you I'm Kennedy, not Truman."

"Shut up," said Oswald 3 quietly.

But the young kamikaze was enraged.  "Big man, Truman.  Can't beat Emperor in a fair fight, so he nukes our women and babies."

The Japanese pilot threw a wild punch at John Grade 8, missed, and connected with Oswald 3's chin instead.  Oswald 3 fell.  People were shouting.  The room went blurry.  Vaguely, like from the wrong end of a telescope, he saw Kennedys and kamikazes gesturing wildly.

Someone gently lifted his head from the floor.  Perfume.  A woman with a familiar face.

"Are you okay?" asked Jackie Kennedy.  Her blouse smelled good.

"Jackie what?" he asked groggily.  "Do I know you?"

"Jackie 137.  I'm new.  Can you stand up?"

"Yeah."  She helped him to his feet.  People were waving fists and shouting obscenities.

"No fighting!" yelled Crosby the bartender.  "Take it outside."

The door opened from the street, and in strode Oswald Grade 1.  He seemed not to notice the mayhem all around him.

"Crosby, tequila," he barked.  He looked bloodshot and unshaved.  "Godammit," he muttered, fishing in his pockets for a cigarette.  He found one, lit it, looked around for a place to sit.  He strode to the corner booth recently occupied by the kamikazes and sat down.

This seem to have a calming effect on the whole bar.  Shouting subsided.  Crosby poured tequila in a glass and brought it to the corner booth.  Oswald Grade 1 drank some, puffed a cigarette, looked around, and spotted Oswald Grade 3.

"Oswald," he said, "let go of Jaqueline Onassis and get over here."

Oswald 3 went to the booth and sat down, still a little dizzy.  "You missed a fight," he said.

But Oswald 1 was lost in thought and cigarette smoke.  Crosby brought fresh drinks.

"On the house."

Oswald 1 finished his first tequila and started on the second.  "You look like hell," remarked Oswald 3.  "Worse than usual, I mean."

Oswald 1 returned him a capillaried stare.  "If I look like hell, it's because I just came from there."

"You mean the show?"

"Of course the show. I'd still be there now, but the damn Administrator sent me home.  So here I am.  Home."

"What happened?  Rifle jam up on you?"

"No," said Oswald 1 with a loopy smile.  "My rifle worked beautifully."

The jukebox started blaring something from 1963.  For two minutes Oswald 3 quietly watched the older Lee Harvey Oswald smoke cigarettes and swig tequila.

Then he asked again, "What happened?"

"I went a little nuts.  Doc Strassborg thinks my implants acted up.  Administrator says maybe it's time for me to retire."

"Jesus.  You didn't load real bullets, did you?"

Oswald 1 snorted.  "No.  And it's a good thing I didn't.  Plenty of people would be dead right now.  I'd be in jail getting a visit from Jack Ruby."

"So, what did you do?"

"I just kept shooting, Lee.  JFK was playing dead, but I couldn't stop all the feelings.  Angry, scared, you know.  All the Lee Harvey Oswald feelings."

"Yeah."

"I shot at Jackie.  I shot at people in the street.  They say I fired fourteen times.  You should have seen the dumbfuck secret service guys!  This wasn't in the script.  They didn't know what to do.  Finally, one of them got the bright idea of taking his gun out and shooting back at me."

"Hell of a show."

"Then the medics showed up.  The real ones.  They were not amused when I pointed the gun at them.  Took it away and gave me an injection.  Something to sedate my implants.  The Administrator came over personally.  I thought he’d say the show must go on, but he told me to go home and think about retirement."

"Retirement?” a new voice interrupted.  “I think that’s a splendid idea."

They both looked up.  Standing by the table was Oswald Grade 2.  He smiled like a lipless lizard.

"Oswald 3, get on your feet," he ordered.  "You’re going to work.  Leave your drink."

Oswald 1 answered first.  "Before you pull rank, Ozzie, maybe you should make sure you've got the rank to pull."

"Save it, granddad.  After today's deranged performance, you’re finished.  The Administrator is already shopping for your gold watch."

"What if he is?" replied Oswald 1 with a hoarse laugh.  "You really think you're next in line for Grade One?  My money is on Lee here.  His shows are the real deal."

He turned to Oswald Grade 3.  "I saw a tourist faint at one of your shows once."

Oswald 2 was turning red.  Once again, he directed himself to Oswald 3.  "On your feet, now.  You are doing the next show in fifteen minutes, by order of the Administrator."

"Stay where you are," said Oswald 1.

But Oswald 3 waved him off.  "Let me handle this.  Why am I doing the next show?"

"Because Oswald 1 here is a crackpot, a ticking time bomb who was rightly relieved of his duties."

"Then you do it.  This is my night off."

"I do not perform evening shows," said Oswald 2 icily.  "It’s written in my contract.  Nor do I care to be associated with today's debacle."

Oswald 1 growled.

"Get Oswald 4, 5, 6, whatever," persisted Oswald 3.  "This is my night off.  What's more, I've been drinking.  I never do Lee Harvey when I've been drinking."

"And Oswald 1 never does it sober," Oswald 2 sneered.  "Now stuff your night off and obey the Administrator's orders.  Or shall I tell him we have yet another mutinous Oswald on our hands?"

Oswald 3 looked at Oswald 1, who just shrugged.  "Do whatever feels right, kid."

Oswald 3 stood up.  He pushed past Oswald 2 and muttered, "Prick."

He could hear Oswald 1 laughing as he walked out the door.

Oswald 3 made sure a few tourists saw him slip in the back door of the Texas Book Depository.  It gave them something to tell their friends -- "I actually saw him go in the building before the motorcade."

He was sweating as he lugged the rifle case up the stairs.  Damn those drinks, he thought.  There's no way I should be doing this show right now.

He entered the familiar room, sat down by the familiar window.  A crowd was gathering down in the street.  He assembled the gun and loaded the blanks.

Evening shows are all wrong, he thought.  That November sun should be blazing out there, shining off the cars.  And those stupid boats are all wrong, too.  From this height he could see the whole Pearl Harbor show nearby.  Boats rocked restlessly on the simulated ocean, lights twinkling.

The motorcade arrived at the far end of the street.  First the motorcycles, then the convertibles.  And there, the governor's car, carrying President John Kennedy.  His heart was already pounding.

It crawled toward him.  Tourists cheered and snapped pictures.  Oswald wiped sweat from his eyes.  A flood of jumbled memories and feelings welled up in him.  I've waited forever, he thought.  Hurry up, hurry up.

He looked through the scope.  Jack and Jackie were waving to the crowd.  He put JFK in the cross-hairs.  He popped off the catch.  In that long moment he felt connected to the real Oswald, to Kennedy, to history.  The archetypal moment when an assassin stands in the shadowy wings of history, points his gun, and touches real power.  Eager to disturb the quiet cycles of war and economics that propel civilization down its well-worn paths.  On yellowing celluloid, they will savor this moment for centuries.

He let the bullet fly.  It struck Kennedy's head in a plume of gray blood, knocking him onto the back of the car.  Jackie leapt after him.  Secret service men ran forward.  People screamed.

Oswald was trembling.  He put down the rifle.  Someone was running up the stairs.  Jesus, they're going to kill me, he thought.

A uniformed man burst into the room.

"Great show," he said.  "They want you downstairs for autographs."

Outside there was a huge explosion.  Oswald 3 looked out the window and saw the attack on Pearl Harbor had started.  Japanese bombers rumbled across the sky.  Tracer bullets streaked up through the gathering gloom.

"No autographs tonight," he said.  "I'm going home."

It was dark by the time Oswald 3 reached his house.  Stars glimmered outside the dome.  Salvador Paradiso poked over the desert horizon, the planet’s wide upper limb like a mottled bald head.  He turned up the front walk to his house.

Someone was sitting on his front steps.  As Oswald 3 approached, she stood, smoothed her skirt, and smiled uncertainly.  She held out a small parcel.

"Jackie 137," he remembered.

"You left this in the bar tonight.  Lucky it has your name and address on it."

He accepted the package thankfully.  "Come inside?"

He unlocked the door and she followed him into the front hall.  They stood together for an awkward moment.

"How do you feel?" Jackie 137 asked.  "That kamikaze, I mean.  He hit you pretty hard."

"I'd forgotten all about that.  I just came from a rough show.  Let's go in the living room and talk."

Oswald 3 turned on living room lights, set down the package, and poured drinks.  Jackie 137 sat on the sofa.

"Actually, I could really use someone to talk to," she told him.

Oswald 3 had been just about to tell her the same thing.  He sat beside her and handed her a drink.

"Today is your first day?"

She nodded.

“A year ago, I was blading Lake Calhoun in uptown Minneapolis.  But I wanted to be in show business.  This deep space gig is my detour to Hollywood.”

"Nobody's first day on Walt's World is ever a picnic.  Give it time."

Jackie sipped her drink.  "Maybe."

He watched her look around at his sketches and paintings.

"Did you draw those?"

"The bad ones," said Oswald 3.  "The rest I bought."

"They’re all pictures of aliens."

"Not aliens.  Natives of Walt's World."

"But they're not real, right?"

"Some scientists think they are.  Or were.  It's kind of a hobby of mine.  Keeps me from turning into Lee Harvey Oswald too much."

"Then it's good," said Jackie 137.  "But as hobbies go, it seems a little creepy."

"The natives aren't creepy.  To them, we’re the creepy alien invaders."

He paused.

"Sometimes I imagine them out in the darkness, outside the dome, watching us bomb Pearl Harbor."

Jackie 137 shivered.  "Or shoot John Kennedy."

"Yeah.  They must think we're insane."

"You talk about them like they really exist!"

He leaned back and sipped his drink.

"Sometimes I wish they did," he said.

Jackie 137 looked at him.

"Maybe the aliens are the only sane, decent thing on Walt's World.  Maybe that makes up for all the rest."

Oswald 3 shrugged.

"I'm not going to like it here," Jackie 137 said.  She shivered again.  "Anyway, I am glad I brought you your package."

"Me too," said Oswald 3.  "Let's open it."

Oswald 3 got up, returned with fresh drinks and the package.  He started tearing it open.

"I got it at the Post Office this afternoon," he explained.  "Just came up from the planet."

A shiny can emerged from the brown wrapping, labeled GENUINE GOLD PAINT.

"What do they mean, 'genuine'?" Jackie asked.

"It has real gold mixed in," he said proudly.  "Impossible to buy up here on Walt's World."

"It must have cost you a month's salary!  What do you need it for?"

"Can you keep a secret?"

She smiled wickedly.

Oswald 3 laughed.  "Come out to the garage and I'll show you."

They tiptoed into the planetlit night, across the yard to the garage.  She giggled.

"Shh!  The neighbors will hear you!"

He unlocked a side door and whisked her into the cool darkness of the garage.  He closed the door and switched on the lights.  In the center of the garage stood an enormous gold chariot.

"I won it in a card game," Oswald 3 explained.  "From a Roman centurion.  It's motorized.  It wasn't gold originally, but I've been painting it."

"Well," said Jackie 137 with a goofy smile.  "It is beautiful.  So painting chariots is your other hobby?  I mean, besides aliens?"

"Maybe it's the same hobby," he said enigmatically.

Her eyes grew wide.  "What are you talking about?"

"When the painting is finished," he replied conspiratorially, “I'm going to ride out into the desert on my golden chariot.  The natives of Walt's World will emerge from their hiding places and proclaim me their new god."

Jackie 137 tried not to giggle again.  "Oswald Grade 3, God of Walt's World?"

"Everyone has a fantasy."

Jackie 137 touched the big chariot, stood on her tiptoes, and peered inside.

"What other fantasies do you have?"  She kicked off her shoes and climbed inside.

"Walt's World is all about fantasies," said Oswald 3 seriously.  "Mine may be unusual, but it keeps me sane."

Jackie 137 returned his gaze.  "You don't have to explain it to me,” she said.  “I love your chariot."

Oswald 3 loved her for saying that.

"Ride out into the desert with me," he said.  "You can rule the natives as my queen."

"Not just a queen," she chided.  "A goddess."

Jackie 137 unbuttoned her blouse.  Oswald 3 climbed in the chariot beside her.  She kissed his neck as he unzipped her skirt.  It fell around her ankles.  He knelt to softly kiss and smell her thighs.  She ran her fingers through his hair.

"My real name is Yvonne Kiablonsky," she whispered.

"We don't use real names here," he whispered back.  "It's a strict rule."

"I don't care," she said with tears in her eyes.  "Tonight I’m Yvonne."

Oswald Grade 3 awoke alone.  The sun was blazing.  He walked into the living room.  Their drinks still sat half full on the table, proof that last night was not a dream.  But no sign of Jackie 137.

He went into the bathroom and saw the note tucked between his razor and deodorant:

 

   Dear Gerald,

   I couldn't sleep.  I love you.  I hate you.  I think my implants are acting up.  Sometimes I see things with her eyes.  Jackie's.  She looks at you and sees her husband's murderer.  She wants you to die.  It is 4 AM, I'm writing this stupid note in your bathroom and I feel sick.  Let's just forget tonight.  Goodbye.

   Love, Yvonne

 

Oswald 3 put on clothes and went outside.  What do I do now? he wondered.  He walked to the garage and went inside.  The golden chariot was empty.

It was mostly painted now, except for the back.  Why wait?  He didn't want to be Lee Harvey Oswald again today.  Or tomorrow.  And the memory implants meant he could never be with Jackie 137 again.

With Yvonne again.

He opened the garage door.  Sunshine flooded in and set the golden chariot ablaze.

"Beautiful!" he shouted, suddenly happy.

He climbed aboard and started the motor.  It sputtered to life, and Oswald Grade 3 rolled his golden chariot down the driveway and into the street.

It was a fine, sunny Tuesday morning.  He drove the chariot down his street (the neighbors looked suitably amazed).  People came out to watch as he drove downtown.  He turned deliberately onto Bermuda Street.

Solemn, regal, he rode his golden chariot past the Bermuda Triangle UFO Lounge.  His friends and coworkers gathered outside to cheer.  He didn’t see Jackie 137 among them.

"Hail, Oswald!" belched a drunken Roman senator in a toga.

Oswald 3 waved imperially and continued on his way.  Soon he reached the perimeter of the dome.  The gate opened automatically.

The golden chariot of Oswald Grade 3 thundered out into the desert.  He drove as fast as he could across the bumpy ground.  Soon History!Dome was just a gleam on the horizon behind him.

He stopped.  It was incredibly hot out here.  He unbuttoned his shirt and turned off the motor.  All around he saw only rocks and sand, blurry with heat shimmer.

"I am King of Walt!" he proclaimed.  "I have come into the desert to join my people!"

No one answered.  He took off his shirt.  At the periphery of his vision, things were moving.  But sweat was in his eyes, so it was hard to be sure.  Heat shimmer?  Mirage?  Or the lost natives of Walt's World, silent and mercurial.

A low humming sound filled the air.  It grew louder.  Something was going to happen, something was coming.  Coming behind him.

Oswald 3 spun around.  Instead of aliens, he saw only an approaching hoverlimo.  It had followed him out from the dome.

The hoverlimo's air jets sighed as it settled onto the sand.  A tinted window slid open.

Inside was the Administrator.

"Good morning, Oswald 3."

"Hello, sir."

"You caused quite a stir on your way out," the Administrator said.  "All the employees are talking about your chariot ride through town.  And some of the tourists, too."

"I'm sorry," said Oswald 3.  "But I'm done with History!Dome."

The Administrator gave Oswald 3 a knowing smile.  "You've worked with us for twenty years.  Worked your way up from Oswald Grade 46 if I remember right.  Why would you change your mind about us now?"

"The implants!" blurted Oswald 3.  "I think something is happening to the implants."

"What do you think is happening?"

"I think the memory implants are starting to fail.  All of them, not just mine.  The doctor can't control them anymore, can he?  I think that’s why you brought three boatloads of new employees up here.  To get a new generation of workers trained and ready before the old generation goes totally nuts.  Like Oswald Grade 1.  Maybe like me."

The Administrator kept that funny little smile.

"I'm right, aren't I?" asked Oswald 3.

"You showed me something today," the Administrator said.  "Something about you that all those psych profs missed twenty years ago."

Oswald 3 sighed.  The Administrator was going to send him back to Salvador Paradiso in a strait jacket.

"I want to promote you," said the Administrator.  "I’ll give you a promotion if you'll return with me now to History!Dome."

Oswald 3 was surprised, but he shook his head.

"To Oswald Grade 2?"

"No," said the Administrator.  "To John Kennedy Grade 1."

The Administrator benevolently surveyed the top-grade portrayers and other dignitaries who crowded into his living room.  Only Oswald Grade 2 had refused to come.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said.  "May I have your attention.  I want to propose a toast.  To the newly engaged couple, our new John Kennedy Grade 1 and his beautiful fiancee Jacquelyn Grade 137.  May God smile upon you tonight and bless your union as I have."

Polite applause.  John 1 sat with some of his admirers on the sofa by the fireplace.  Now he stood up, bowed to the Administrator, and raised his glass to Jackie 137 across the room:

"Lovely Jackie, I know you loved me even when I was Oswald Grade 3.  But, thanks to the Administrator, and a little surgery from the talented Dr. Strassborg, we can now be man and wife, President and First Lady."

Jackie 137 blushed.

"All I can say," John 1 continued, "is ask not what you your husband can do for you --"

Chuckles rippled through the room.  The Administrator laughed too, but he watched closely as John 1's old friend Oswald 1 ambled across the room to Jackie 137 and whispered something in her ear.  The Administrator felt the older Oswald 1 was unreliable, a bad influence on John 1.  Overdue for retirement.

Someone spoke at his elbow.  "You share my concerns about Oswald 1, I think."

Dr. Strassborg.

"You read my mind."

Doc Strassborg smiled.  "We were thinking the same thought.  Of course, your concern is professional, even political, while mine is simply clinical.  He’s my oldest patient.  I’m worried his implants may be the first to overtly malfunction."

"We can't afford another incident with him."

"Then he must retire very soon."

Jackie 137 got up and walked in their direction.

"Sir," she said, extending her hand to the Administrator, "I want to thank you for this lovely engagement party."

The Administrator accepted her hand with a paternal squeeze.  "Nothing is too good for my two favorite Kennedys."

"You made our marriage possible, sir.  I loved him as Oswald 3 but I could never feel comfortable with him.  The implants.  I'm sure Dr. Strassborg understands."

Doc Strassborg bowed.  "Of course, my dear."  He took Jackie 137's offered hand and kissed it.  "No one understood your dilemma better than I.  It was completely natural."

"There’s just one small thing, doctor.”

Another burst of laughter came from the fireplace sofa.  Dr. Strassborg waited until it subsided, then asked, "What is it, my dear?"

"Well, John 1 gets these awful headaches.  In fact, I just found out he has one right now."

Dr. Strassborg seemed genuinely concerned by this.  "It may be related to his new implants," he said.  "We shouldn’t take any chances.  I want to examine him at once."

"You can use my den, doctor," offered the Administrator.

"Thank you, yes.  Jackie, go tell your fiancee to meet me in the den."

Jackie 137 nodded and headed toward the fireplace.  The Administrator and Dr. Strassborg exchanged a glance, then the doctor went off down the hall.

John 1 and Jackie 137 walked together into the den.

"Hello, Jack," said Dr. Strassborg.  "Please sit down."

"I like this room," John 1 said pleasantly.  He sat down in the leather swivel chair behind the Administrator's desk.

"Yes, Jack," said the doctor.  He sat on a chair by the desk.  Jackie 137 stayed by the doorway, looking worried.

"Leave us alone for a few minutes, sweetheart," said John 1.

"All right."

Jackie 137 left, closing the door softly behind her.

"Tell me about these headaches, Jack."

"I’m sorry Jackie even mentioned it to you, doc,” said John 1 unconcernedly.  “They're just headaches.  It feels like a hangover, only I'm not even drunk yet."

"You have a headache right now?"

Jack smiled.  "I'm not letting it spoil my fun."

The doctor smiled too.  He opened his black bag, pulled out a hypodermic syringe, and filled it with clear liquid.

"What’s that?"

"This is a precaution just in case your new memory implants are behind these headaches.  They could be nothing more than stress.  But you’re the first patient ever to receive a second set of implants.  This injection is a kind of booster shot.  To strengthen your implants.  Just in case."

John 1 rolled up his sleeve.  "I want to be John Kennedy more than anything else in the world."

"I know, Jack."  The doctor pressed the needle into John 1's artery and slowly injected the amplifier drug.

There was a knock at the door.  John 1 rolled back his sleeve and put on his cufflink.

"Come in."

Oswald Grade 1 poked his head inside.  "I heard you were in here."

"Yes, we're finished.  Come in."

Oswald 1 entered, followed by John Grade 8, who looked anxiously in John 1's direction while Oswald 1 glowered at Dr. Strassborg.

"What did you do to him, doc?" he demanded.

"Lee, you're out of line," John 1 admonished.  "Doctor Strassborg has my full trust.  In fact, I would like him to be my personal physician."

Dr. Strassborg stood up, holding his medical bag.  "I'm flattered, Jack, but I have to take care of everyone in History!Dome.  Even those who are nearly beyond help."

Oswald 1 turned angry red.  John 8 retreated to a shadowy corner of the den.  John 1, however, stayed cool.

"Of course, Doctor Strassborg, you have your Hippocratic duties to fulfill.  All I ask is a certain medical priority, to be your special patient."

"A great honor, Mister President," the doctor chuckled.  "But you already are my special patient."

He walked past Oswald 1 and out of the room.

"He mocks you," said Oswald 1.

"Yes," John 8 agreed.

But John 1 waved away their concern.  "I like this room," he said again.  "I like this house."

Oswald 1 sat down, fished a cigarette out of his shirt pocket, and irritably struck a match.  "Listen, John.  To Strassborg you’re just a patient, a lab monkey.  And to the Administrator you are just an actor, the top-graded portrayer of John Kennedy, but still just another actor."

"Relax," said John 1.  "I intend to liberate all the Johns, Jackies, and Oswalds.  All the Administrator's puppets, cut his strings.  Then we'll see if he thinks I’m just an actor."

John 8 stepped out of the shadows.  "The Administrator won’t take that lying down.  Nor will the owners of Walt's World."

Oswald 1 nodded grimly.

"You take care of the Administrator," said John 1, "and leave the owners to me."

"You know I hate the Administrator," said Oswald 1.

"Lee, I trust your judgment in this matter.  I am delegating the problem to you, to resolve as you see fit.  Am I being clear?"

The door opened and Jackie 137 walked into the den.  She looked surprised.

"Come on, Jack," she said.  "People want you at the party.  Do you still have that headache?"

"It's almost gone."

It was 2:30 in the morning and the party guests were gone.  The Administrator wandered through the living room, picking up napkins and glasses, emptying ashtrays.  His movements were slow and tired.

A knock came at the front door.  The Administrator set down what he was carrying and went to the door.  He found Oswald 1 and John 8 standing at his doorstep.

"It's damn late, Oswald 1.  Did you forget something?"

"I want to talk about retirement."

The Administrator's frown melted away.

"I'm pleased to hear that, Oswald.  Come inside, both of you."

Oswald 1 stepped inside, followed by John 8.  "He's here for moral support," Oswald 1 said with a nod toward John 8.

"Fine," the Administrator smiled.  He closed the door.  "Well, Oswald 1, you’ve had a distinguished career.  You're eligible for a comfortable pension.  Will you stay on Walt's World, or return to the planet?"

Oswald 1 smiled.  "You misunderstand.  We’re here to discuss your retirement."

"What do you mean?"

John 8 took his hands from his pockets.  He had a gun and a roll of duct tape.

"I mean," said Oswald 1, "we’re taking you for a night ride out in the desert.  A long ride."

The Administrator kicked Oswald 1 and ran into the living room.  But John 8 knocked him down and Oswald 1 tackled him near the fireplace.

"You are crazy, like Strassborg said!"

"Shut up, asshole."

John 8 laughed like a hyena.

"Listen to me," said the Administrator shrilly.  "Oswald, it's your implants.  They aren't right.  They’re making you do this!"

"Did you just figure that out, or was it a lucky guess?"

The hyena laugh again.  John 8 was still laughing as he taped shut the Administrator's mouth.

News quickly spread of the Administrator's abrupt retirement and departure from Walt's World.  The appointment of John Kennedy Grade 1 as his successor caused great excitement.  Thousands of employees, many who crossed the desert from neighboring domes, gathered on Bermuda Street to hear his first public speech.  It was broadcast live throughout Walt's World.

Only a few tourists were on hand, as all shows were canceled five days earlier.

John Grade 1 roared up the street in his golden chariot.  The chariot stopped beside a platform.  He flashed an easy grin and waved, his beautiful fiancee Jackie 137 smiling beside him.  He climbed the platform, strode past the banners and balloons to the podium, and looked benevolently out at his fellow workers.

"Ich bin ein Waltsworlder!" he proclaimed.  A roar of merry approval erupted from the crowd.

"Walt's World from this day forward is no longer divided!" he declared.  "No longer are we performers and tourists.  No longer are we administrators and workers.  Today we are all equal citizens of Walt's World, and anyone who doesn't want that great honor should leave now!"

The crowd bellowed again.

"I am a citizen of Walt's World.  I am not its Administrator.  No more Administrators!  If you want my leadership, then elect me as the first President of Walt's World!"

"Yes!" came a hundred shouts.

"Free elections will be held in one week!"

More applause.

"The freak show has ended!  We will no longer debase ourselves for the amusement of visitors.  No more shows!  This is our declaration of independence.  Walt's World may be a moon, but it is not just a satellite!"

The crowd chanted, "No more shows!  No more shows!"

John 1 waved as he walked back to Jackie 137 in the chariot.  With the people's chant ringing in their ears, they drove off together to their new home.

They walked into the ‘White House’, the old Administrator's residence.  A secret service agent held open the door.  John Grade 1 recognized him from the old Dallas shows.

"Good to see you again," he said.

"It’s good to be here, sir.  We all heard your speech.  This is a great day."

They walked inside, through the living room.

"Maybe you should hang some of your alien pictures in here," suggested Jackie 137.

John 1 smiled indulgently.  "Aliens in the White House?"

"Why not?  I mean, if it really is our house now," she said.  She looked worried.

"I told you, the Administrator gave it to us.  He has no use for it anymore."

Jackie 137 bit her lip.  "You've got another headache, don't you?"

"Yes," said John 1 wearily.  "But Doc Strassborg is dropping by soon."

"I want to be there when he sees you."

"I have a busy schedule today," said John 1.  "I should be in the Oval Office."

"Let me come with you.  I won't be any bother.  I'll just sit quietly."

John 1 frowned.

"Just until the doctor comes," said Jackie 137.  "I need to hear you’re all right."

John 1 shrugged.  "Okay," he agreed. 

They went down the hall together to the ‘Oval Office’, their nickname for the former Administrator's den.

Oswald 1 was waiting there.  He sat by a sunny window leafing through a stack of reports.

"Great speech, Jack," he said.

John 1 walked to his desk and sat down, while Jackie 137 found a sofa in the corner.

"Thanks," said John 1.  He looked at Oswald 1's stack of reports, and several similar stacks on his desk.  "What is all this, Lee?"

"Election arrangements mostly," answered Oswald 1.  "And fiscal reports, telegrams from Salvador Paradiso, plans for reorganizing the administration, even some proposals for a new Constitution of Free Walt's World."

"First things first," said John 1.  "Let's focus on getting elected."

A secretary knocked on the door and walked in.  She put another folder of papers on the desk.

"More telegrams, Mister President."

"I'm not President yet," said John 1 with a wink.  "So just call me Jack.  And hold all my calls for a while."

She turned on her high heels, cast a glance at Jackie 137, and walked out of the office in a swirl of skirts.

Oswald 1 leaned back in his chair.

"Okay, Jack, first order of business is polling stations.  How many, where, and when."

"And the second order of business?"

"Find an opposition candidate."

They laughed.

"Who would make a good Richard Nixon?" John 1 quipped.

The vidphone buzzed.  Oswald 1 nearly jumped out of his chair.

"I told her to hold my calls," John 1 complained.

"Jack, that's the hotline phone!"

"The what?"

"That was the Administrator's hotline to the Walt's World owners down on the planet."

"Now you tell me."

John 1 pushed a button on the vidphone.  A heavy, frowning man appeared on the little screen.

"You're John Grade 1!" he accused.

"You must be Mickey Smirnobyl."

"That's Mister Smirnobyl to you, and why haven't you called me?” the man demanded.  “Didn't you read my telegrams?"

"I have piles of telegrams, Mr. Smirnobyl, but precious little time to read them."

"What the devil is going on up there?"

"I am in charge of Walt's World, pending free elections."

"Elections!" Smirnobyl sputtered.  "You've gone too far.  Where is the Administrator?"

"He retired and left."

"Bullshit."  Smirnobyl's eyes narrowed.  "He is lying dead in the desert."

"That is ridiculous.  He retired and designated me as his replacement.  As for the elections, I assure you it’s just an expedience to regain the employees' trust."

"What about the shows?"

John 1 paused.  "I don't know yet."

Smirnobyl leaned into the video screen.  "Listen to me, you little turd.  Murder the Administrator, lie to me about it, fine.  But you do not interfere with the shows.  We lose millions in revenue every day this charade drags on."

"Then you put me in a difficult position, Mr. Smirnobyl," said John 1.  "I’m in the heat of an election here.  I made certain campaign promises."

"Don't be stupid," growled Smirnobyl.  "Bite the hand that feeds you, you starve.  Or maybe that hand will give you a big slap."

"Is that a threat?"

Smirnobyl leaned back again.  "New boatloads of tourists will arrive soon on Walt's World.  They expect to be entertained.  You do your job as Administrator pro-tem, and I may make the position permanent.  Title, salary, and perks."

"And if I don't?"

Smirnobyl shook his head disgustedly, as if to indicate the question was foolish.  The vidphone went dark.

Jackie 137 stood up.  "It’s true, isn't it?  About you killing the Administrator."

"I did no such thing."

"No, of course not.  He probably did the dirty work," she said, gesturing toward Oswald 1.

"Now Jackie, listen . . ."

"Don't call me that.  My name is Yvonne!"

She ran out of the office.  The two men exchanged looks.

"You're in trouble, Jack," said Oswald 1.

"Keep out of it, Lee.  It's my problem."

"I'm not talking about your woman.  I mean Smirnobyl.  He is dangerous, and he knows too much to be fooled by us."

"Knows too much?"

"He knew exactly what happened to the Administrator.  He could put me in the gas chamber for that."

John Grade 1 gazed out the window at the sunlit yard.  "Then someone tipped him off," he said.  "John 8?"

Oswald 1 shook his head as he lit a cigarette.  "John 8 is loyal.  A little unbalanced, but trustworthy."

"Nonetheless, there is a spy among us.  Someone in secret communication with the planet.  Someone in the inner circle of the administration."

Oswald 1 hesitated, then said it: "Jackie 137."

The secretary knocked and entered again.  She glanced at the empty sofa where Jackie 137 had been.

"Doctor Strassborg is here," she announced.

"Send him in."

Dr. Strassborg breezed into the office.  "Hello, Jack.  Hello, Lee."  He opened his medical bag and started unpacking a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and hypodermic needle.

"Any headaches today?"

"Nothing serious," John 1 replied casually, as he rolled up his shirt sleeve.  "In fact, Lee and I were just marveling over how well this second implant has worked."

Puzzlement flickered on Oswald 1's face, too quickly to be noticed, before he nodded in agreement.

"You know," John 1 continued, "I hardly even remember being Lee Harvey Oswald anymore."

"You were Emperor Hirohito Grade 45," Oswald 1 quipped.

They all laughed.

"That's fine, Jack," said Dr. Strassborg.  "As your physician I am pleased to hear it."

"I have you to thank, doctor.  I am doing very well under your care.  It's Jackie I’m worried about."

"Dr. Strassborg stopped fiddling with his stethoscope.  "What do you mean?" he asked.  "Her implants?"

"Yes," answered John 1 with a note of earnest concern.  "She has complained about them ever since we met.  And now I fear her mental state is growing shaky."

"I noticed it too," Oswald 1 said gravely.

"I’ll examine her," Dr. Strassborg said.  "Perhaps prescribe a new course of injections."

"That’s not good enough, doc," said John 1.  "I love Jackie.  I want her to have the same new lease on life that you gave me.  Fresh implants, and a fresh start."

"New implants?" The doctor looked confused.  "But who else could she be?  With Jaqueline Kennedy’s memories, she is the perfect mate for you."

"How about Marilyn Monroe?"

"I've never designed a Marilyn Monroe," Dr. Strassborg protested.  "It would require a whole new program."

"Then she’ll be the first.  Marilyn Monroe Grade 1."

He came swimming up through shipwrecks from the cold, dark ocean floor.  A Tinkerbell light glimmered far above, and he heard his mother's voice seep down through leagues of water.

"Gerald.  Wake up, it's time for school."

He swam to the light.  But as he swam upward, scattering schools of iridescent fish, the voice changed and a drum beat started.

"Oswald 3.  Wake up, you're late for the show."

As he swam the light got brighter and the woman's voice grew clearer.  The drum beat lured him to the surface.

"Jack.  Wake up, they're calling for you."

John 1 opened his eyes.  He was in bed with Jackie 137 beside him.  It was nearly dawn outside.  There was a banging noise.

"Jack!  The guard is knocking on our bedroom door.  He says Oswald 1 urgently needs to see you."

John 1 sat up in bed.  There was another knock at the door.  "Quit banging and just send him in!" he shouted irritably.

Oswald 1 walked into their bedroom.

"You've got some nerve," said Jackie 137.

Oswald 1 ignored her.  "We have a crisis."

"What?"

"Rockets from the planet.  Five rockets launched twenty minutes ago from Salvador Paradiso, headed in our direction.  We saw it on radar."

"You called the planet?"

"They won't answer."

"I'll go in the office and use the hotline phone."

"I already tried that, Jack.  Smirnobyl's people aren't picking up."

"Guys," interjected Jackie, "it's probably just those boatloads of tourists he threatened to send up."

 They looked at her suspiciously.

"Maybe," said John 1.  "Lee, send a radio message to the planet.  All emergency frequencies.  Tell them to turn those rockets around now, or Walt's World will have no choice but to defend itself."

Oswald 1 nodded and turned to leave.

"Who knows how to operate the dome's anti-meteor missile system?" John 1 called after him.

"John 8 has been studying it."

"Have him meet me in the Oval Office," said John 1.  He got out of bed and started getting dressed.

"It is just tourists!" said Jackie 137.

John 1 finished buttoning his shirt, then sat beside her on the bed.

"Even if this isn't a real attack, I have to call Smirnobyl's bluff," he explained.  "Otherwise he wins, and Walt's World will never be free."

"Save your speech for the crowd.  I think you and Oswald 1 have both lost your minds."

John 1 stood up.  "Get out of bed, Yvonne.  Get dressed.  Stay with Doctor Strassborg until the crisis is over.  You’ll be safe with him."

He went downstairs to the Oval Office.  The lights were on but nobody was there.  He walked to the hotline phone and pressed some buttons.  The screen stayed dark.

"Smirnobyl," he whispered.  "Are you listening down there?  Answer me!  You think I watched a thousand Pearl Harbor shows without learning something?  Call your damn rockets back."

No response.

John Grade 8 walked into the office.  "You sent for me, sir?"

"Yes," he John 1.  "I want you to prepare the dome's anti-meteor missiles.  Lock them onto the five incoming rockets.  Do it quickly."

"They’re designed to take out meteors, sir.  They have limited range."

“Listen to me!" snapped John 1.  "Mickey Smirnobyl has spies up here.  Don't you think he knows who killed the Administrator?  Are you going to let him kill us, retake Walt's World, and turn it back into a slave labor freak show?"

"No, sir.  The missiles will work."

"Good.  If the enemy rockets come within range, shoot them down.  That's an order."

John 8 nodded curtly and hurried out of the room.

John 1 started to leave too when the phone rang.  Startled, he spun back toward his desk.  It was the regular audiophone, not the hotline.

He picked up the receiver.

"This is Doctor Strassborg, Jack.  Sorry to ring you this early, but I just got a hysterical call from Jackie 137.  She says she’s coming over here now, but she wouldn't say what is going on.  Is she okay?"

"No, doc, I’m afraid she isn't," said John 1.  "I want you to take care of her.  I want her to have those Marilyn Monroe implants we discussed."

Dr. Strassborg paused.  "All right, Jack.  You're the boss."

John 1 hung up the phone.  He felt a splitting headache coming on.  He reached for the phone to call Dr. Strassborg back, then stopped.

No, he thought.  All I need is a ride in the fresh air.  On my chariot.  I'll watch the sun rise.

The secret service guard at the door snapped to attention.  John 1 saluted as he walked past, crossed the lawn to the driveway, and found his golden chariot.  He climbed in the chariot and started it.

He drove slowly downtown.  The sun was peeking over the horizon out across the desert.  The streets were empty.

A series of bright flashes lit the sky.  John 1 stopped to look up.  He heard five fast thunderclaps.  But there are no thunderstorms on Walt's World.  Then he realized: the rockets.

Suddenly spaceships hurtled out of the cloudless sky in flames.  Four of them spiraled down to the desert, hit it, and erupted into orange fireballs, shaking the ground.

The fifth rocket plunged directly at the dome, struck it, and exploded.  The dome shattered.  Pieces of glass rained down on the chariot, cars, street, sidewalk, buildings.  A blast of hot air followed.

John 1 looked at his hands.  They were bleeding.  The floor of the chariot glittered with broken glass.

He punched the accelerator.  The chariot careened through glass strewn streets.  People ran out from their houses.

He rode into Dallas, down that familiar street past the Texas Book Depository.  Out of habit he glanced up at the old window.  Nobody there anymore.

It’s going to be all right, he assured himself.  We can rebuild the dome.  I'll be a hero to the people of Walt's World.  We'll go ahead with the elections.

Up ahead someone stood up.  John 1 saw the movement from the corner of his eye.  He turned to look.  He saw the grassy knoll.  He saw too late as Oswald Grade 2 aimed the gun.

A throng of tourists, cameras clicking.  Lead into bone.  A choir of aliens rising from the desert, yellow celluloid, darkness.  That archetypal moment again.

This story originally appeared in Twin Cities Fantasy & Science Fiction.


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Michael McCormick

Mike McCormick writes literary and science fiction in his Batman pajamas