Chapter 25: Michaelson Is Fed Up

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Chapter 25: Michaelson Is Fed Up

Space station.

Mads Michaelson stirred his coffee with a swizzle stick and fumed. The Galactic Federation had cut his budget again. That meant that he was going to be forced to use his ingenuity to find alternate sources of funding. He'd spent half the morning designing a t-shirt that was both fire-retardant and wouldn't ride up in zero-g.

The shirt said 'I know 42 urban legends about the Bugblatter Beast of Traal', an obscure reference to an ancient text. At least, it would have said that if the replicator hadn't translated it into Aard'reth. Now he had several gross of unusable t-shirts. Aard'reths didn't wear t-shirts, being an aquatic species with eight tentacles and in no need of clothing.

To distract himself, Mads decided to have a look at the latest query to come through on his feed. He read this with some trepidation.

Well, students of the Mysteries, here's another working hypothesis to explain teleportation: The 3-D-4-D Portals and their random effects. If we are going to use it to explain Rudolph Fentz's disappearance in New York City in 1876, and reappearance there in 1950, we are going to have to stretch it beyond Myron's outline...
Journal of Borderland Research, May/June 1972

'What the…?' Mads sighed. 'Another time traveller? Who the heck is Rudolph Fentz?'

He read the next excerpt sent him by his cousin.

In mid-June, 1950, a man named Rudolph Fentz was hit by a taxi and fatally killed in New York’s Time Square. He was dressed in 1800s clothing, and had in his pockets: a copper token for a beer, a bill for the care of a horse and the washing of a carriage, $70, a letter from 1876 and business cards. All the items shown no signs of aging. An NYPD policemen, confused about the man’s attire and belongings, delved back into history, only to find that a man of 29 had disappeared in 1876.

Source: 'The Internet', specifically something awful called Pinterest. There was a photo, studio-type, of a man in a frock coat standing beside a table. Dunno where they got that.

Mads rolled his eyes so hard he gave himself another headache. He found some aspirin and read on.

Found versions on the internet in Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Hindi, and Vietnamese. It gets better.

The story circulated between the 1970s and 2000s, getting weirder and weirder – there was a man in the New York City telephone book who turned out to be Fentz's son, etc, etc. Finally, somebody decided the story sounded like science fiction, and traced it back to Heinlein – they thought. But they were wrong.

Here's the original: 'I'm Scared', a short story by Jack Finney in the September 1951 issue of 'Collier's'.

The Jack Finney story was obviously the source of the Rudolph Fentz tale. So what? Finney had made up a story about a man accumulating 'evidence' of time travel by various people. But at the end of the Rudolph Fentz anecdote, he'd appended some musings comme ça:

Haven't you noticed, too, on the part of nearly every-one you know, a growing rebellion against the present? And an increasing longing for the past? I have. Never before in all my long life have I heard so many people wish that they lived "at the turn of the century," or "when life was simpler," or "worth living," or "when you could bring children into the world and count on the future," or simply "in the good old days." People didn't talk that way when I was young! The present was a glorious time! But they talk that way now.

One thing he was sure about: Jack Finney thought way too much about time travel.

Michaelson spent the next several hours searching through the works of Jack Finney. Nowhere did he find any references to Izzy Himmelfarb. That was something, at least.

Another thing was clear: 'The Internet' wouldn't give up on a good urban legend even once it was debunked. They'd believe in Rudolph Fentz forever.

'Damn you, Jack Finney,' he muttered as he went off to argue with the replicator some more.

Mads decided that Jack Finney was no time traveller. At least, not anywhere but his imagination. He had too rosy a view of the past.

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