Black Rose Kate has no problem dispatching history's villains
"Aye, I thought ye'd be at the computer," Black Rose Kate announced. I looked up, startled. There she was, standing in front of my L'Engle books, my semi-fictional pirate friend, looking down at me with her usual air of amused tolerance. It was Thursday night, ten minutes past one in the morning. "Ariel said that you wanted to see me," she explained.
"Hi, Kate," I said. "Yes, I did. But how did Ariel know that?" Our mutual friend Ariel travels in time and between universes, meanwhile attending Croatoan College, which is itself transdimensional.
Kate shrugged. "She reads your blog. You mentioned me in tomorrow's entry. And that black cloth rose of yours was in one of your photos this week, so we knew you were already thinking of me. So tell me. Am I here for a particular reason, or is this a social call only? Did you want my expert opinion on that Johnny Depp movie Ariel has spoken of for the better part of an hour tonight?"
"Oh, I didn't go on about it that long," Ariel said, coming into the room behind Kate. "Hi, Karen."
"Hi, Ariel. And no, it's not about Pirates of the Caribbean. I have a Weekend Assignment to do, and I thought Kate might be able to help. You too, Ariel."
"Oh, one of those," Kate said, looking none too pleased.
I pasted the relevant text into this entry, and let them read it over my shoulder:
Weekend Assignment #168: For reasons best left unexplained, you have been allowed to excise one and only one person from the course of history. Which person would you choose to remove from history and why? That's right: Any one person you think history would be better without, you can now expunge. So who would it be -- and how do you think history would be changed with their absence? See. Told you it was one that would make you think.
Extra Credit: Favorite historical-themed movie. Because why not?
"I see," Kate said as she finished reading. "Because I have dispatched my share of enemies on the high seas and elsewhere, it pleases you to seek my advice before murdering some historical villain before he is ever born. Is that it?"
"Pretty much, yes," I said. "And you're right. I do think that preventing Nero or someone like that from being born is a kind of murder."
"But you don't have a problem with--" Ariel began. I was starting to think she was a mind-reader.
"Shh," I interrupted. "I don't want to talk about that. The point is, I wouldn't have the right to stop someone from ever existing."
"And you think that I, the bloodthirsty pirate, would be more ruthless about such things, and thus could give Scalzi an answer in your stead," Kate said.
"Yes," I said. "And if not, you can at least discuss the idea with me, and I can report on that."
"As I notice ye be doing already," Kate observed.
"Your problem with this is that you lack perspective," Ariel said. "There are plenty of worlds in which there was no Hitler, or no John Wilkes Booth, or no Nero. On the multiverse level, it's not that big a deal."
"It is if you're in a world where he did exist, and now you decree that he doesn't," I insisted. "That creates a whole new universe, right? And that's on top of the loss suffered by family and friends."
"I have known several families," Kate said, "that benefited greatly from the death of a father or brother or son. A woman my own age once thanked me for killing her husband, who had chained her and beaten her. Pick someone sufficiently awful, and the world is certain to benefit."
"Well, I did think about choosing someone whose nonexistence would mean lives saved," I said. "I could go with Adolf Eichmann or Josef Mengele, but that violates the spirit of disallowing Hitler."
"Who were these people?" Kate asked.
"Eichmann helped Adolf Hitler, the ruler of Germany, organize the murder of millions of Jews and Romany and other people," Ariel said. "Mengele conducted horrific medical experiments on some of their victims before killing them."
"Right," I said. "But it's all part of the same horror. And I don't think there is an equivalent person in more recent examples of genocide. Usually it's groups of people killing other groups for the crime of being a 'them'. So I was thinking along the lines of a Richard Speck, or Timothy McVeigh - you know, someone who personally killed a lot of people."
"Aye, that makes sense," Kate said. "But ye didn't need me to figure that out."
"I still don't like it, though," I said. "I still wouldn't do it. Would you?"
"Aye, with hardly a moment's thought, nor any regrets," Kate said. "Oliver Cromwell is another one I would not mind seeing gone from the world."
Ariel was rereading the text of Scalzi's assignment. "You know, I don't think you read this very carefully," she said. "It doesn't specify that one person was never born. It only says excised from history. There might be other ways to do that."
That got me thinking. "Such as?" I prompted. I was starting to have a few ideas, but wondered what Ariel had in mind.
"Lock the person up so he or she can do no harm," she suggested. "Send the person back in time, or forward, or to another universe."
"Where the person can do even more harm in unknown ways," I said. "That's no good. But if we can stop the person from becoming crazy or evil or both, that would take him out of the history we know."
"Mark David Chapman," Ariel suggested.
I nodded. "I suppose I should go with McVeigh or someone like that anyway," I said, "or the older of the two DC snipers, or one of the serial killers up in Phoenix last year. But Chapman...I don't know. If you could catch him young, get him the right treatment, keep him on the right medication and away from the Dakota, that still only saves one man's life, technically."
"Yes, but what a life you'd be saving," Ariel said.
"Whose?" Kate asked.
"John Lennon," Ariel and I said together. "Of the Beatles," I added.
Before I could explain further, Kate pointed at me, a look of triumph on her face. "Aye, that's the one!" she said. "I like the Beatles. Ariel even took me to the Cavern once."
This made me angry. "Why didn't you take me with you? You know how much I want to go."
Ariel shook her head. "We bend the rules quite a bit even just coming to see you, even for a quick conversation. Your version of the world isn't meant to have time travel, and I can't let you go wandering the multiverse with me. We're pushing the fiction boundary as it is."
"Fiction boundary? What's that?"
"It's a way of gauging relationships between realities, and the relative safety of certain kinds of interactions," Ariel explained. "As my supposed creator in the context of this reality, you can receive my visits, as long as they can be passed off as fiction. But the moment you actually go into the past with me, or off into a world in which the Beatles have been reunited for the past twenty years and are currently in the studio, you damage every timeline you touch. Sorry."
"Whereas I have no such restriction," Kate said. "Say the word and I will take this Chapman person from history, my way."
"You know I won't condone that," I said. "Much as I'd like to."
"And anyway, you can't do that either," Ariel told Kate. "John Lennon wrote a song about you. That makes you fictional to him, too."
"He did? When was that?" I asked.
"But he died in 1980," I said.
Ariel looked thoughtful. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Kate does go after Chapman," she said.
"Then that's my choice, if I have to choose someone," I said. "Just don't actually kill him if you can help it."
For a moment Ariel looked tempted. Then she shook her head. "No, sorry," she said. "His death is too well established in your world. But we might be able to do it in another world, a few universes over. Are you game for it, Kate?"
"Aye, always. Let's go, then."
"Bring me back a CD," I said.
Ariel laughed. "Can't do that, either," she said. "but if you're very good, I'll find a way for you to at least hear a later album, at least once."
They left, then, and I was alone again, finishing up this entry. I don't know how serious Ariel was. She could easily have been making up all those rules as she went along. And I'm still a little worried that Black Rose Kate will kill Chapman rather than try to get him into treatment, or at least locked up.
But oh, wouldn't it be something, having another 26 1/2 years and counting of new music by John Lennon?
Oh, drat, I didn't ask my guests about the Extra Credit. I'm not big on historical movies, unless you count Back to the Future or Camelot. Lawrence of Arabia was kind of amazing, although the long version really is too long. Oh, I know. My Favorite Year. That's based on a very specific history period: the days of early television, and the live comedy variety show.