The ISF Magazine is proud to present a short story by Lou Antonelli!
Lou published is first short story in 2003 when he was 46. Since then he has had 77 short stories published in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, in venues such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jim Baen’s Universe, Dark Recesses, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), and Daily Science Fiction, among many others. He has received eleven honorable mentions in the annual anthology “The Year’s Best Science Fiction” edited by Gardner Dozois and published by St. Martin’s Press for 2010, 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2004.
THE RETURN OF ALFRED BESTER
By Lou Antonelli
“That’s strange, I thought the nickname ‘Pops’ was used by Americans for an elderly man,” said the Captain. “You don’t look very old at all.”
“Physically, I’m only 35, although chronologically I’m 837,” said Pops. “That’s not where I got the nickname. It comes from an old American frozen treat, the popsicle.”
The Captain stiffened. “I didn’t know you had been resuscitated.”
“That’s okay, I’m glad to be alive,” said Pops. “Of all the ‘criminals’ who were frozen by the American People’s Republic, I was one of the guiltiest. I wasn’t a businessman, I was a traitor.”
“That explains your accent,” said the Captain. “The Texas War.”
“That explains why they stuck me here in this grunt job entering records for my rehabilitation,” said Pops. “You said you could use my help. How could I possibly help you?”
The Captain sat down and laid his cap on the table. “You probably know the Aryan Nation in Idaho is the area most culturally similar to the old United States.”
“Yes, from what I’ve heard, they haven’t learned a thing.”
“They haven’t forgotten a thing, either,” said the Captain. “Have you heard of Doctor Gul-Branson?”
“Yes, the anthropologist at the university in Sallake City,” said Pops. “He comes by headquarters often, although I haven’t seen him in a few months.”
“That’s because he’s in Idaho right now and he’s not an anthropologist, he’s an ethnographer,” said the Captain. “He went into the mountains to do some field research and study their isolated culture.”
“Not to be rude, but what has this got to do with me?”
“The Aryans opened up a little with Dr. Gul-Branson because his specialty is American culture. They seemed to have some sympathy for him, because he knows about their origins. But communications have gotten spotty, and we’re worried about him. His most recent message seemed very stiff and stilted. He won’t set a date to leave.”
“You think he might be under some kind of duress?”
“That’s my gut feeling. He needs to be resupplied, though, so we are taking a small convoy north. I’d like to bring you along,” said the Captain. “You’re the only original American in the Rocky Mountain Republic. The Aryans are a superstitious lot, they might cut us some slack with you along.”
“Is this going to be dangerous?”
“If you don’t want to go…”
“It will be great to get out of this office,” said Pops. “When do we leave?”
“We talked while you off-loaded the supplies,” said Pops. “But he was very guarded in what he said. There were militiamen there the whole time.”
“What did you talk about?” asked the Captain.
“He really probed my background, when I lived before I was cryoed, and my interests. I told him how much I liked classical Motown music, and what a big science fiction fan I had been,” said Pops.
A militia sergeant walked up to them. “Your vehicle has been refueled.”
Militiamen were by the roadside with the transport. The Captain walked up and saluted the Militia Major. “We appreciate the cooperation.”
“Mr. Durham is welcome to visit any time,” said the Major very sternly. “We would be honored to host a real American.”
“Thank you, I will consider your offer,” said Pops.
Dr. Gul-Branson shook the Captain’s hand. “I’ve enjoyed the visit,” he said. “I intend to stay with these patriotic people a lot longer.” He grabbed Pop’s hand. “When you get back to headquarters, tell Fondy I said hello.”
“Sure, you know her, Fondy Bass–Fontella Bass.”
Pop’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that Fondy. Of course, I will.”
Dr. Gul-Branson smiled. “How many people do you know named Fondy?”
“Well, there’s also Fondy Fahrenheit. She’s one hot chick!”
Dr. Gul-Branson raised an eyebrow. “Alfred Bester’s girlfriend?”
Pops winked. “You got it.”
“Your transport is waiting,” said the Militia Major.
Once they were in their own Rocky Mountain Republic transport and on their way, the Captain turned to Pops.
“What was all that about right before we left? Who is the heck is Alfred Bester and Fondy Fahrenheit and Fondy Bass?”
“That was so much double-talk, we both tried to make the bullshit sound natural. His clue was in mentioning the name of Fontella Bass like she was someone I would know.”
“So who was Fontella Bass?”
“An American pop singer who had a major hit back in the 1970s, she was a one-hit wonder,” said Pops. “The hint is that the title of that song was ‘Rescue Me’.”
The Captain rapped on the window behind the driver. “Speed up!”
He turned to Pops. “I’ll get an extraction team ready as soon as we get back to headquarters.”
Dr. Gul-Branson sipped his beer. “I owe it all to you that I was rescued.”
“We never would have guessed they were keeping you because they wanted you to sleep with their women.”
“You should see some of their women, the inbreeding has gotten pretty bad,” said the Doctor. “I’m glad you got the hint.”
“You’re the closest thing to a contemporary I have around here,” said Pops. “We should hang out more.”
They were both a little tipsy. “We were really shooting the shit there, weren’t we?” said the Doctor.
“I thought I followed your lead well,” said Pops. “Those yahoos were none the wiser.”
“Ah, but you were surprised when I got your reference to ‘Fondly Fahrenheit’!”
“I have to admit, that was quite impressive!” said Pops.
The Doctor raised his glass. “Isn’t it true that Alfred Bester left his estate to his bartender to pay his bar tab?”
“Yes, that’s what I heard.”
“A toast then, to an absent friend, Alfred Bester!” said Doctor.
Pops smiled as he raised his drink. “I doubt anyone has toasted him in over 800 years.”
The Doctor smiled and raised his glass higher. “All reet, then, to Alfred Bester!”
Pops laughed. They drained their glasses, called for more, and drank well into the night.
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