cover [Fiction] Coming 2017 Gabriel travels back in time to the mind of Rourke O’Donnel, a discharged Union soldier who lost his arm at the battle of Rappahanock Station. Gabriel is from a future where the south won the Second Civil War, Lincoln was never shot, and the “Great War” that started in the early 1900’s is still raging 60 years later, having spread across the entire globe. His mission is to kill Lincoln and change his own history.

A retelling of the actual events behind the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Excerpt

Rappahannock Station
November 7th, 1863
 
Profound silence reigned after the cannons ceased hurling chest thumping, thunderous roars at the confederate position. Using both hands to clutch his rifle, Corporal Rourke O'Donnal watched the United States flag flutter in the crisp November evening air, and thought making it home would be mighty fine. Waiting for a conflict to start can make one a deep thinker, he reasoned. The War of the Rebellion had run too long now. Then he shook his head, figuring most everybody on the line felt the same.
The smoke which had belched from each eruption clung to the ground and burned at the noses of the troops, yet nobody seemed to mind—let the cannons work from afar. It was easy enough to see: Rappahannock Station lay pummeled. The rebel batteries were too small, their reach was less than what the Union army had brought to bear.
“That'll flatten the road,” whispered Cameron, standing to Rourke's right, “if it were me your askin'.”
They had served together for over two years in Lincoln's Federal Army and Rourke had learned that his friend ran his mouth before things started. It was his way to settle shaky nerves.
Cameron spit, then nodded towards an officer on a horse reviewing the soldiers, “I'm thinkin' Stowe knows we slipped snakes in his bed and he's bang on upset, acting the maggot and putting us on the front line.”
When the officer's gaze shifted their direction, Cameron tapped the brim of his union blue hat while smiling like they was best of friends. Lieutenant Stowe glared at him for a moment, then continued down the line.
After he passed Cameron mumbled, “No . . . it might be he isn't sure it was us, but his boots are on our back as is. He's missing the thanks for lads such as us, helping a soft man like himself get more comfortable with the land. A few snakes never hurt a soul.”
Rourke said nothing in reply, but fidgeted nervously with his rifle while the golden sunlight faded, his grim smile waning as fear wove its way through his heart. After thinking on it, he decided to keep a close watch for Lieutenant Stowe when the battle engaged. You never knew where a bullet would come from and he'd heard stories of officers 'resolving problems' during the conflict. The prank may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but thinking about it now, perhaps it wasn't the best choice.
Even considering that, he hoped all would go well tonight. It seemed like the brass hats had come up with a good enough battle plan for once. They hoped the Rebels would make for an easier fight after a day of the cannons pounding them. The plan was to come at them in the night, when things were winding down.
Cameron, meanwhile, forced his own smile, and Rourke felt a pang of sadness as he remembered when it was more genuine. His friend had spun a convincing argument nearly two years ago: by joining the Federal Army together they could watch each other's back. They were only sixteen at the time, but nobody paid too much attention. They would be a pair of invincible Irish lads from New York.
His little sister, Rianne, had also promised herself to Cameron. Rourke had no other family besides her, and just by thinking of her a recurring twinge of darkness crept into his thoughts: the factories had been brutal to his family. But he would do anything for his sister, let alone for his friend Cameron—he had become like a brother.
“Agh, damn the waiting,” whispered Cameron. “Rourke, that look is in your eye. We're most ways through our army service, and this will be a fine and easy battle . . . Think on something else. How about this brain tickler to mind your thoughts: What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole its often poked before?”
Rourke tried to smile as an answer came to mind, but he just couldn't make it genuine. The dark thoughts stuck with him—he felt it was not fair. They said it was consumption that took their mother, and there was nothing he could do to help her. But he knew it was because of the factory.
Rianne handled their mother's death worse than he, refusing to talk to anyone for weeks. Instead she just went through the motions of the day, her face lost in a blank countenance. She smiled a lot before mother died, but after, it appeared less. He had to work to get her to smile, and then when it did come, it was fleeting, like a butterfly gracing a flower: beautiful in its careful movement, but quick to fly away if startled.
Glancing at Cameron he saw the concern in his eyes, and was glad. He would be good for her. Rourke forced himself to break from his thoughts and think on the riddle, whispering, “hangs at a man's thigh . . . right, thats it, you're a dog, I daren't speak what leaps to mind.”
Cameron smiled innocently, “and that is?”
Rourke shook his head, unable to be drawn into the jest, but glad for his company. Life changed for the better when Cameron's family moved into the same tenement. Rianne took a fancy to him and even her smiles returned.
That smile could melt the most hardened man, he thought softly, while feeling a bit of pride for his sister.
He took a deep breath to clear his thoughts. Cameron was right, he needed to get his head on straight. The battle was nearly on. Then he remembered the factory foreman walking between the rows of workers, his hard gaze watching for anybody slacking while he shook the ring of keys at his hip, and the answer came to him. He whispered a little smugly, “A key.”
Cameron furrowed his brow, “bollocks! you're some yoke, drawin' me on like that. You heard it already?”
Rourke smiled, this time for real, “Nah, it just took some thinking, you should try it.”
It seemed the sun set more slowly this evening, as if it too was reluctant to proceed with the night's affair. But before Cameron could respond, a bugle sounded, breaking the evening quiet, and shouts erupted from the army around him as they charged forward. His pulse quickened as he rushed forward, focusing his fury and fear into a howling cry that came forth from the troops like one voice.
The whip-crack of bullets filled air once silent as they rushed the confederate redoubt, Lieutenant Stowe hollering behind their ranks while waving a sword from his horse. They broke into the Rebel position to find it a chaos of shouts, crackling gunfire, and screams, all underlain by the fallow, sweaty, stench of tight quarters and over-full latrines. Many soldiers were engaged in nothing better than hand-to-hand brawling. He pulled his bayonet from a Rebel soldier's side, just as Cameron shoved him from behind.
Rourke lost his balance, stumbled and turned to Cameron.
His friend.
His brother.
They locked eyes.
He could barely recall the pain from the hit that shattered his arm, and had no memory of the other that grazed his head, knocking him out.
 
 
Rourke's thoughts were confused as he woke from a chloroform induced delirium while looking up at the surgeon casually wiping blood from his spectacles.
Did I survive?
The surgeon reached down and Rourke felt nothing as the man lifted his arm, then carried it away. A moment later he felt a dull throb where his arm should be, deadened by the medicine, and his lip quivered as he faded back into an induced slumber.
Where was Cameron?
 
Two Derringers
A year later, July 10th 1864
 
A shock, disjointing one's very essence across time, made transitioning through the decades something most unpleasant. Call it time travel, or the as the scientists put it: a relative dimension in space adjustment. Whatever it was, to leave what you knew as your own body, and with a soul thinning stretch snap suddenly into a different body—it was disconcerting to say the least.
Then came the confusion, as you struggled to remember who you even were.
Groaning, Gabriel wanted to lift himself from the wooden floor, but dizziness struck as unusual senses hit him. Noise out of a sorts assaulted his mind, wracking his skull as he adapted to the new environment, followed by fuzzy light and smells drilling into his forehead. Somebody knocked on the door, calling out, but he couldn't make sense of the words. His thoughts would not organize properly. He pushed with his arm, only to find it missing. The prosthetic hook in its place awkwardly slid on the floor. Nothing seemed to fit right, and he couldn't place why.
He had something to do . . . something important.
He knew it was important.
A thought nagged at the edges of his mind, but he could not place it.
He blinked a few times, waiting for the world to stop spinning, then sat upright and wondered at the noose swaying gently back and forth from the ceiling. Using his good left hand he felt through his ragged clothes for a timepiece, then recalled it had been sold—although he didn’t know how he remembered it. He didn't remember selling it, as much as reading that he had sold it.
The pounding on the door stopped, followed by an ominous silence—that quiet time which seemed to exist before something dreadful happened.
With a splintering crash the door burst inward and three men stormed the room. Two wore ragged attire; one sported a derby while the other held his arms up in a pugilist stance, looking ready to box somebody, shouting, “We got'em Ambrose!”
The third man wore a three piece suit and sported a carefully waxed mustache. He pointed a stocky, gentleman's derringer at Gabriel sprawled on the floor and chuckled while speaking in a thick exaggerated drawl, which made it seem as if each syllable became its own word, “Na'ow, the General said to expect trouble, but I think what we have he'yah is no trouble at all.”
He twisted his lips into a rough smile then his voice softened as his finger stroked the trigger, “The South will be free.”
Gabriel had trained for combat, and his confusion fled as cold reactions took over, forged through years of practice. The moves were instant and fluid. They were beyond thought, seated somewhere deeper in the controlled animal fury that came from incessant drilling. He rolled to his side and spun his legs while pivoting on his back. His sudden movement clipped the mustached gentleman, causing him to lose aim just as the derringer fired.
Gabriel felt a thumping as the bullet impacted the floor inches from his head, blasting slivers of wood into his face. The acrid stench of burned gunpowder brought on sudden, confusing thoughts of a battlefront, with bugles, canons, and an image of the confederate flag flying on the enemy battlement.
He forced the distraction from his mind and completed his spin, twisting upright in a tucked position towards the heavyweight thug with a derby who lunged towards him, his arms stretched wide. The two tumbled across a kitchen table, knocking it aside and scattering a bent pot and sundry items as they slid about.
"Go George!" encouraged the pugilist from the background. Gabriel desperately scrambled under the table, and grasped a thin knife just as he was pulled back into the open by the strong thug. He used the movement to his advantage, and curled forward planting the knife deep into the man's side, sliding it between his ribs. George howled and fell to the ground, holding at the knife in his side.
White shone around the eyes of the mustached gentleman--the pugilist had called him Ambrose--and Gabriel couldn't tell if it was because of surprise, uncertainty or anger. As Gabriel recovered his balance Ambrose felt about his pockets with his spare hand while threateningly holding the spent derringer with his other. Gabriel slapped it aside and added a solid kick into the man's gut, causing him to stumble backwards with a violent exhale.
Then almost by instinct he ducked, just as a punch from the boxer behind him grazed his hair. He turned to face the pugilist, who held his arms upright in a fighting position. Obviously the man had some level of skill; perhaps he had even been trained.
But only as a boxer.
Gabriel’s training covered seven forms of martial arts including multiple styles of kung-fu which were not even known in America at this time. He didn't have the luxury to be cautious, to let this man dance and move around as he assessed his skill. Time was not on his side. The clock was ticking. He had something to do, and didn't know what support these men had. Were more waiting outside?
Instead, he took a gamble and simply stood still. The man bobbed from foot to foot, then took the bait and stepped in for a solid punch. Just as he committed weight into his shoulder, Gabriel leaned to his side, slight enough so the punch would miss, then kicked upwards with all his strength into the boxer's groin.
The man's lips went white, his eyes pinched and he dropped to his knees while exhaling in a slow wheeze.
That is not a move you see in the boxing ring, Gabriel thought, and even helped him down, shaking his head while mumbling, “Sorry man. I really am sorry. Take a few breaths, it'll pass.”
Ambrose crawled upright while struggling to cock a second derringer. Gabriel closed, sparing a brief thought about how easy it was for a person to be lulled into the dangerously false sense of confidence a firearm gave a man, especially in this time without automatic firing mechanisms.
Giving up on the derringer, Ambrose dropped it and threw a wide punch. Gabriel used his prosthetic hook to deflect the attack and drove his fingers, locked in a solid position, right into the Ambrose's sternum, forcing him to gasp for air as he struggled to continue the fight, weakly drawing a knife from his boot and wildly slashing it about.
Gabriel stepped inside his swing, grabbed his wrist and twisted, throwing hm face first into the floor with a loud crash which shook dust from the rafters. He lay still, while his two companions moaned and cursed, but stayed down.
Now that his assailants appeared to be otherwise disabled, Gabriel slowed down and looked about. His nostrils flared as he worked to catch his breath in the sour air that reeked of whiskey.
On the table was a letter with a few bills folded inside. He glanced at the letter, it's contents were dark and drawn in shaky handwriting. He took the bills and left the letter on the table, pulled the coat and vest from the Ambrose's comatose form and picked up the derby. The brute--George--must have had a very small head, or Gabriel's new body had a very large head. Either way the derby did not fit, so he tossed it back. Fortunately, Ambrose's coat and vest fit well. He riffled through the pockets to find a timepiece and wallet, which, on a quick inspection, had some coins and bills of various denominations. He paused, put ten dollars back into the letter and returned it to the table. It was his host's last wish, after all.
Looking over the room, an important thought nagged at him again. He came here for a reason, could barely remember his identity, and he had oddly mixed memories. Something wasn't right this time. He knew he was on a mission, but could not recall the details.
He sighed and collected Ambrose's two derringers before leaving.
On the bustling Lower East Side streets of New York—as he walked amidst carriages, horses, pedestrians and even a steam powered wagon which sputtered and huffed with a ferocious rumble—the thought came to him.
I must kill Lincoln.
Lincoln must die.
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