prompt: jane, title: nobody told me in (just like) starting over flash fiction

  • June 14, 2023, 6:27 p.m.
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  • Public

Once Reagan “bit the wax tadpole”, as Kurt laconically described the assassination, Secretary of State Alexander Haig stepped in swiftly to seize control of the presidential powers as a “Martial Law Suspension of Peace-Time Rules of Succession”, which didn’t exactly please George H.W. Bush, the sitting Vice-President. Haig had most of the military’s support, Bush the support of the intelligence agencies, low-level law enforcement and most importantly, of the energy industry’s landed gentry, from which he had been sired. That’s where a civil war’s lines began to be drawn. “They were both utter bastards, of course,” opined Mr. Vonnegut, “but Georgie-Porgie had rights on the tenuous technicality of a moderately-free election, I’ll give him that, for what it’s worth.”

“How was any of that your screw-up?” Bobby asked. “I’m providing context, Princeton,” Kurt lit a second cigarette off his nearly-spent first, “Setting scene, for Christ’s sakes, let the actually-old man weave his tapestry.” Phil and Dakota started moving toward them together, Dakota chirping up, “anyone want a coffee? Uncle Phil’s going up for coffee.” “Sure,” Bobby agreed tentatively.

“Why not,” Kurt assented. “Five coffees,” she said, causing Bobby to look at her askance, “one for each of you, two for me, that’s how this works.” Bobby looked around, all their varied vices buffering their personal pains. “I keep great pot in that backpack if we all need the edge off,” he tried not to be obviously manipulative, “strain from Vancouver, they call it Hanoi Jane, it’d calm an obsessive-compulsive elephant,” they just stared at his fixation on the bottomless conveyance so he trailed off, “if you’d, y’know, give me the backpack back.” “Five coffees, Dakkie,” Philip changed the subject then headed off toward a door beyond those mirrors, “back as soon as I can.”

The wars grew and waged on, over the years. Dakota’s mother died trying to get herself and her two children onto the Monmouth Airlift, one of the last seemingly-safe evacuations off the East Coast. Her oldest brother made it, her mother was shot to death protecting her from the guns of one side or another, they couldn’t say which. “Sean’s with our half-brother in London,” she said trying not to emote, “I hear from them by shortwave, now and again. It’s… better than nothing.” Telepathy wasn’t required to see that she felt it not much more than nothing, however.

A bunch of thinkers and scientists had gotten together with a Hail Mary shot for ending the war, mover-shakers and entertainers putting together the funds. Feynman said it might work, Everett said it could work, Hawking said it was better than nothing. Some kind of psionic resonance rig they built in some field in Ohio, hoping to induce a moment where every mind on the continent, maybe even the world, would connect. Would feel each other’s suffering. Would cause them all to drop their armaments all at once. Someone eventually got the nerve to hit the “start” button.

“And that’s,” Kurt said, “where we fucked up big-time.”

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