After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

Jerry had seen rooms like these in museums. Some of the furniture inside, Jan informed him, was original, the rest being authentic-looking reproductions. Only the Interior Department, who managed the show, knew which was which, and they weren’t telling.

A hacker at heart, Jerry had developed the unconscious habit on first entering someone’s house of looking around for computers. He caught himself doing it now; but naturally enough there was not even an electric outlet visible. Having registered this fact consciously, Jerry stood looking at a writing desk equipped with primitive steel-nibbed wooden pens, and a candlestick.

“I guess what you achieve doesn’t always depend on your tools,” he murmured, trying to picture Old Abe at the keyboard of a word processor.

“No! Not at all! Isn’t that beautifully true?” Jan appeared to feel that he had touched on an important point.

“I don’t suppose he wrote the Gettysburg Address at this desk, or anything like that.”

“Certainly not the Gettysburg Address. But some very beautiful and logical prose. He was quite a successful lawyer.”

“After he’d given up his career as an amateur wrestler.”

“Oh yes.”

A narrow stairway brought them to the upper floor, where from behind low anti-tourist railings they considered the Lincoln bedrooms—there had been four children when the family lived here, it appeared. Jan had little to say here, evidently wanting to allow Jerry to form his own impressions. Almost the last stop on the tour was the archaeological site in the backyard where the Lincoln privy had once stood; there was not much to see now, beyond a modest display of nineteenth-century glass bottles.

When they emerged from the house onto the wooden sidewalks again, Jan glanced at her wrist-watch. “We’ve still got plenty of time to see the tomb. Oak Ridge Cemetery stays open until five.”

“The tomb, and the house here, will be among the sites we work on this summer?”

“Oh yes. Definitely.”

They were walking back toward the underground garage. Jerry said: “You know, maybe I missed an explanation or something, but I still don’t get exactly what the Pilgrim Foundation is trying to do. I mean what is your historical research trying to accomplish exactly? And how?”

Jan sighed. “Lincoln is—endlessly fascinating.” It sounded like a preliminary to an explanation, but nothing followed.

Jerry waited until he felt sure no more was coming. Then he said: “To me, ‘interesting’ would be a better word. Lincoln and his times are interesting, sure. But to me nothing in history can be as fascinating as what’s happening now. Something you learn how to do, something that will really change the world. I mean, with all due respect, whatever you find out about Lincoln now is not really going to change much in our world.”

Jan was not at all taken aback. “Modern technology can be applied to history.”

“Well, sure. To research. But I mean… suppose you were able to discover that Lincoln was really George Washington’s grandson. Or that he kept a mistress on the side. Whatever. People nowadays would pretty much shrug and say ‘so what?’ And the world would go on as before. I mean, as far as I can see, all this historical research just isn’t going to change it any.” Then, with the sudden feeling that he might be speaking too harshly about this lady’s pet enthusiasm, he added: “Now come on, your turn. Tell me how I’m all wrong.”

“You’re all wrong.” Jan was smiling, and to his relief she didn’t seem to have taken his argument all that seriously. Then, giving it thought, she became more serious. “Jerry, Lincoln had an enormous input on what our world is today. The United States is still one nation only because of him. And he’s the man who killed slavery; he didn’t do it all by himself of course, but far more of the credit must go to him than to any other person.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“And then, you see, there came along a fanatic;—John Wilkes Booth. ‘A Confederate doing duty on his own responsibility’ is what he called himself. Booth crept into Lincoln’s box at the theater, and shot him in the back of the head, just as the Civil War was coming to an end, in the spring of 1865. Only three months into his second term.” Jan seemed to think that this last point was very meaningful.

“Well, yes, I suppose. Everyone knows it was John Wilkes Booth, right? But I mean, however Lincoln was killed—”

“Can you imagine how much better off our world might be now if he had been allowed to live at least four more years? If he, instead of Andrew Johnson, had been President until 1869?”

“No, can’t say I ever thought about it.”

“Andrew Johnson was rather better than the reputation that some historians have given him. But he simply was not in Lincoln’s league as a politician.”

“Somehow I don’t think of Lincoln that way.”

Jan smiled at him. “He was a politician, take my word for it. And he was a very effective leader, beginning to be recognized as a national hero, with the war winding to a close. Andrew Johnson made some effort to follow his policies, true, but… Johnson was almost impeached.” Jan seemed to despair of being able to convey the magnitude of the difference in the two men.

“Too bad we can’t get Lincoln up out of his tomb, then. We could use him now.”

Jan smiled at him more brightly than ever. “It’s been tried.”


“Some years after the War, there was an attempt to kidnap his body and hold it for ransom. No, I’m not making this up. That’s why there are twelve tons of poured concrete over him now.”

The tomb, a gray stone structure rising out of a green lawn, was bigger than most houses, even if you didn’t count the granite shaft ten stories high that rose from the middle of it like a miniature Washington monument. On the flat roof of the tomb surrounding the central shaft were groups of bronze soldiers in Civil War uniforms, posed in dramatic attitudes, gripping weapons, waving their bronze flag, beating their drums, pointing out the enemy in the distance. Jan and Jerry walked into a marble foyer, where Jan pointed out a scaled-down replica of the seated Lincoln from the Memorial in Washington. There were park attendants on hand in this room, and a few other tourists. Jan led Jerry down a hallway of pink and brown marble to peer over a velvet rope into a chamber of red stone.

The tomb itself, the single stone standing over the actual resting place, was simple. On the wall of rock behind it was carved: NOW HE BELONGS TO THE AGES. And on the single stone the legend read simply:



Information carved into the walls indicated what auxiliary entombments there had been in this room.









“Poor guy didn’t have very good luck with his family,” Jerry observed. “Two of his kids died before he did. One didn’t live much longer.”

“No.” Jan was almost whispering, as if the family had been her personal friends. There was no doubt that she was moved. “No, neither he nor his wife had very good luck that way.”

They drove out through the iron gates of the cemetery shortly before closing time, and only a few minutes later were back in the heart of town. Jan dropped Jerry in front of his hotel; they had agreed to meet in the lobby in an hour to discuss dinner arrangements.

As Jerry showered he thought to himself that he still had learned next to nothing about the Pilgrim Foundation, its organization, financing, goals and methods. Obviously its people somehow planned to glean something from the past by using their tripod machines and a computer network. But his hosts had been avoiding his questions on that subject all day. Well, probably they were waiting until he was confirmed as an employee and had signed something giving them legal protection against his disclosure of their secrets. That was all right with Jerry. He’d do the same, he supposed. But he was growing ever more curious and impatient.

Jan was sitting and waiting for him in the lobby when he came down, promptly on time. She had changed into what he supposed ought to be called an evening dress, of startling red. It looked beautiful on her, and there was nothing at all about it to suggest the nineteenth century. “I’m hungry,” she greeted him. “Do you like Italian food?”

“One of my favorites.”

Jan said she knew a good place within walking distance of the hotel.

He was moderately impressed when they reached the place; more evidence that the Foundation was not going to stint on its expense account. When they were asked if they wanted anything from the bar before dinner, Jerry hesitated at first. He was not ordinarily a teetotaler, nor very much of a drinker either. But when Jan immediately ordered a vodka martini he decided this wasn’t part of the test, and went along—with a better conscience when she launched into a story involving Pilgrim’s preference for something called akvavit. The story raised in Jerry’s mind the question of just what relationship existed between Jan Chen and Pilgrim, other than that of employee and employer. So far he had no sense that there was any.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred