The Nomad of Time (Michael Moorcock)

Not many people are aware that the Fort Totten station is more than just a transfer point between the Green and Red Lines on the DC Metro. I discovered this one morning as I came up the escalator to a platform unexpectedly open to the sky.

The PID indicated that a six car train was boarding, and, indeed, tethered to the platform was a train of six hot-air balloons with oversized (to me) gondolas bumping against the rumble strips. Morning commuters did their normal slogging through the doorways routine -- heads bowed, some grasping one or another of the free daily sheets, most moving slowly.

That's right folks, Fort Totten is actually a node at which many alternate universes connect.

I boarded a rearward gondola, and the doors closed quickly behind me. The station crew cast off our mooring ropes and we ascended for our trip to the next station: Brookland. I thought my fellow passengers watched me with a little more attention than normally available during the morning rush, but I ignored their stares and sat down beside a woman drinking a soda.

"So, you can drink on the Metro?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. "It is okay to have beverages as long as you are consuming the official Metro product. In this case, the drink is RC - a dominant brand in this line of history."

When I looked behind her at the other passengers, each and every one of them held up a blue can of RC in one hand and The Nomad of Time in the other. I knew then that I had found my Commuter Book Group. I had wanted to begin by discussing the differences in approach between the first section (written in 1971) and the final section (1980). I found it interesting to see how much more violent ten years had made the author, though I was open to the suggestion that he had simply become more depressed about humanity's possibilities.

"So, did anyone else notice --" I started, but was immediately interrupted by an older man in a college sweatshirt.

"Hey, hey, hey," he said, "I noticed something all right. There was some pretty foul language in that book. N* this and N* that. I assume Mr. Moorcock was putting those words in the mouths of bad people, but he could have made the same point without such language, if you ask me."

"I suppose --" I started, but this time I was interrupted by a man carrying perfume samples.

"Look," he said. "You can't sell me on this alternate history stuff. It's just not very realistic."

"Sure --" I was going to agree with him. Generally, alternate history and time travel are two types of fiction with which I'm not comfortable. Unfortunately, I was interrupted again.

"Look around you," replied a woman with a chihuahua in her purse. "Were you allowed to bring pets on the Metro in your universe?"

The perfume salesman just shook his head and shrunk away from the dog. The dog, for his part, didn't seem too interested in the man, but he sure wanted to sample the perfume.

"The thing about alternate histories is that they tell more about the author than he or she perhaps realizes," I state, happy to get through an entire sentence. "I mean, look at this book. In every reality he creates, there is still an America, people are still racists, and England rules the waves. It starts out seeming very open and understanding, but in the end it's still pretty parochial."

"You think you'd do better?" sneered the woman next to me. I was noncommittal. "Well, your little alternate reality seems a bit parochial to me. Not only is there a Metro system, but there's still a Washington, DC, with a rush hour. Sure, you've got your little RC quirk and fetish about the Metro rules, but in reality, you've been just as parochial."

"But, but..." I said, and stood up. The crowd seemed to growl. I moved toward the door.

"And in all your stories," said the chihuahua, "you pretend to think that it's neat to live in community, but all strangers seem somehow menacing, rude, or some combination of the two."

"But, but..." I said. The doors opened behind me and I stepped onto the platform. I tried to think of something original about this timeline. The doors shut as I said, "But, in this world, you're all monkeys!"

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