THE PAST, IMPERFECT • by Frank Cavallo

“Greetings,” Dr. Porter said. “We are from the future.”

The lone Confederate soldier on the bluff lifted his musket in half-panic, pointing it at the elderly doctor and his assistant. They seemed to have appeared out of thin air.

“You have nothing to fear from us,” Dr. Porter continued. “On the contrary, we have come from the 26th century to offer our assistance to the Southern Confederacy.”

The bald scientist opened his hands, with a smile on his silver-bearded face. His associate Isaac Stuart stood beside him, twenty years younger and just as unthreatening. Both men looked professorial, out of place on a field of battle.

Before the soldier could reply, the staccato thunder of gunshots rang out, echoing from the meadow below.

“Y’all seem no harm,” the soldier said. “But I ain’t got time to see after you with the Yankees on the attack.”

He howled as he charged down the hill, into the thick of the fighting.

“The famous rebel yell,” Stuart said. “Was it wise to speak to him like that, doctor? Aren’t we running the risk of contaminating the timeline?”

“But that is precisely why we’re here, is it not?” Dr. Porter replied.

The rolling green dales beneath them swarmed with smoke and flame. Men in blue and gray charged in every direction; a murderous dance of blood and screams.

“Maryland. September 17th, 1862,” he continued. “Doesn’t it look exactly as you imagined it?”

“Ever since I was old enough to use a holo-globe,” Stuart agreed. “But I never dreamed I’d see it in person. Your time travel device is a true work of genius, doctor.”

“Perhaps, but a useless invention if we fail in our efforts here,” Dr. Porter replied. “Did you bury all of the explosives as I instructed?”

Stuart nodded.

“Right under what now appears to be the very center of the Northern lines,” he said. “Won’t it seem suspicious when half of the Union Army is destroyed all at once?”

“In hindsight, perhaps,” the doctor said. “Historians will likely assume an artillery strike exploded an ammunition depot. But the Army of Northern Virginia will not waste time considering their good fortune. However the advantage arises, Robert E. Lee will seize it and drive the Yankees to defeat.”

“A new end to the Battle of Sharpsburg,” Stuart said. “But are you certain it will change the outcome of the war?”

“History recalls that the Union Army held the field here along the Antietam Creek, enough of a victory for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, elevating a conflict between the states into a moral crusade,” the doctor said.

“Which made it impossible for the British to recognize the Confederacy,” Stuart added.

“Depriving our ancestors of a key ally,” Dr. Porter said. “With the United Kingdom on the Confederate side, they would have forced Washington to enter peace talks, ending the war and securing Southern Independence.”

“Soon none of it will matter. We will change that history forever,” Stuart said.

“There’s one more thing,” the doctor replied, his face grim. “Because of what we’re about to do, altering the timeline so that the Confederacy wins the war, we can never return home. Our world, with one single United States that has lasted for over seven hundred years — will never have existed.”

“It will be an honor to live out my days in the first years of the Southern Republic,” Stuart replied. “Since I was a little boy in Richmond, I’ve dreamed of seeing the Confederacy victorious.”

“As have I,” Dr. Porter replied. “For centuries we’ve said that the South will rise again. After today, it will never have fallen.”

Dr. Porter lifted a silver orb. A holographic image of a control panel opened out of it.

“History now rests in my hands,” he said.

The doctor initiated the detonation sequence on the hologram. But nothing happened. No massive explosion. No cataclysmic hole ripped through the center of the Union Army’s lines. The battle simply went on uninterrupted.

“I don’t understand,” he said, fiddling with the controls a second time. “We did everything exactly right. What could have gone wrong?”

A voice answered from behind them.

“I disconnected your charges.”

They turned. Emerging from the shadows was a man in a black coat.

“Who are you?” Dr. Porter asked.

“I’m from the future,” he said. “My name is Hancock.”

“Have we been betrayed? Did someone send you back to stop us?” Dr. Porter demanded.

“Not quite,” Hancock answered. “You see, I come from a different future. From this future, from a world where the Union lost this battle, and this war. Although I am now quite certain, that misfortune was by your doing alone.”

“But wait,” Stuart said. “You’re saying we did succeed? We changed history to a Confederate victory?”

“In my world,” Hancock answered. “That is why I have come here — to stop you. To return the timeline to what it should always have been, a Northern victory.”

Hancock’s smile faded. From inside his coat he drew a plasma-ray pistol. Dr. Porter recognized the 26th century weapon, a device capable of killing with one shot. Hancock pointed it at them both.

“But why kill us?” Dr. Porter asked. “You’ve foiled our plans. We’re no longer a threat. Leave us here to live out our lives in the nineteenth century.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. You might attempt to alter history yet again,” Hancock said. “I am sorry.”

He pointed the pistol and fired. A beam of blue light vaporized both men in an instant.

“Now the timeline is restored,” Hancock said. “The Union will win this battle, and ultimately the war.”

Just then he heard footsteps behind him. He turned. There was a man standing there in a white coat, wearing a confederate battle-flag patch on his shoulder and pointing a much larger gun at him.

“Greetings,” the man said. “I’m from the future.”

Frank Cavallo‘s short fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Lost Souls and the Warhammer magazine “Hammer and Bolter” from the Black Library. His first novel The Lucifer Messiah was published by Medallion Press.

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