|A Fable Agreed Upon|
Issue #69 (August 1987)
"What is history but a fable agreed upon?"
Certain portions of the history of Texas would have to be redone.
To argue for the changes, Plentus Mandred had made careful preparations for his presentation to the Alterations Council. He expected no significant opposition to his plan.
Novan Mulky, of course, had objected all along, since a major consequence of the redoing of Texas history, or of any history anywhere, would be his extinction. He didn't mind that so much, but to lose an argument with Plentus Mandred was anathema [quoteright]to his sense of orderliness. Yet, true enough, Mandred's selection of Texas seemed ideal. The desert wastes in the western region of the state were perfect for the Libanians, whose planet was scarcely more than a gigantic ball of silicon compounds. The eastern third of the state, with its humidity-drenched pine forests, would satisfy the needs of the vapor-loving Hydroxians. The Medlians were perfectly suited to the mid-state climate. Several less important groups would want to contract for scavenging in the northern and southern sections of the state. And Mulky could not argue against the fact that only a modest change in Texas history would result in a dramatic lessening of the pressures for sustenance suffered by the Pythian quadrant of the galaxy. But he could not shake the untidy feeling that some other solution could be found closer at hand, something not requiring an alteration of history; something not entailing the usual sacrifice attendant to any historical alteration.
The Alterations Council awaited Mandred's presentation with an air of anxious anticipation. Imminent famine had galvanized the Pythians and the inhabitants of neighboring planets to another urgent cooperation. The representatives who formed the Council had followed the interim reports of Mandred's group with increasing approval; and, true to his reputation, Mandred had found the answer.
Mandred frequently recalled with some pride that one of his distant forefathers had developed the War-Association technique, which premised that any of any planet's history was most quickly assessable from its wars. In the eons following that discovery there had never been a time when Pythian craft were not far afield busily filming the ongoing battles of the ongoing wars. The videos were coded and filed with the people of Computer Section, who — armed merely with a code number — could produce the entire written history recorded by the inhabitants of the planet where the coded battle had occurred. Hundreds of easily accessible battle videos came with the package. Diligently combing this finely detailed system, Mandred's group had narrowed the choices until Mandred himself had found the video of The Battle of the Alamo, which had transpired on an obscure planet called Earth. Before long he knew the demographics associated with the Alamo would satisfy all the parameters of his quest.
In keeping with the strict protocols, each member of the Council had memorized Earth history for a hundred years before and a hundred years following the Alamo battle. Mandred stood before the Council and presented a brief review before outlining the specifics of the plan he would propose. "As each of you is aware," he began, "the Mexicans overwhelmed the Texans at the Alamo, and then were defeated a few weeks later by Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Texas became a republic, and Houston was its first president. Finally, as he had always dreamed, Texas was admitted as a state into the nation known as the United States. A few years later this nation experienced a civil war, a body of the southern states warring against a body of the northern states. At the onset of this war, since Texas was in the South and the northern leader was the president of the United States, the northern leader — one Abraham Lincoln — sent a telegram to Sam Houston asking him to raise a Texas army to assist in the cause of the North and to keep Texas from rebelling with the rest of the southern states. Lincoln had control of the northern states; and the loyalty of Texas in the South, because of its great size and large population of experienced warriors, might stop the rebellion in its tracks; but Houston's age and infirmities due to his old war wounds made him decline — and there was no younger man capable of stepping in for him. So the war was fought; the northern states triumphed; and Texas was incorporated back into the United States with the other states of the South."
Mandred saw that the Council members, by their lack of questions, were fully knowledgeable of the history he had presented. He strode to the viewing screen and gave a signal for the video portion to begin. The screen lit up with a slow motion panoramic view of the last moments of the Alamo garrison. Taking up a pointer, he indicated the northwest corner of the Alamo walls, where William Travis frenziedly fired into Mexican soldiers filling a breach in the north wall. A loaded rifle was handed to him and he fired again.
"This man, William Travis, is our man," Mandred said. "He is eighteen years younger than Houston and is commander of the Alamo forces." At that moment the screen showed Travis leaning over the wall and firing almost straight down with a rifle. Abruptly, his head snapped back and he tumbled backwards down the dirt ramp used to bring the eighteen-pounder cannon into position atop the 12-foot wall. "There is where Travis died," Mandred added. "We have to change that."
The video was halted and the room lights turned on. Mandred took an emphatic stance to present the details of his plan.
"Our Warp Interventionists will prevent Travis's death and also rout the Mexican army. All precautions will be taken to keep the alteration to a minimum. The Mexican general, Santa Anna, will return to Texas with another army the next year, and Houston and Travis will unite to defeat him. In accordance with Houston's dream, Texas will become a republic, and then it will become one of the states of the United States. When those states begin their internecine struggle and Lincoln sends his telegram to Houston, Houston will order Travis to raise an army. By then Travis will be a seasoned politician, with many years as Houston's top aide in war and peace. As events develop — and at Houston's urging — Travis will seal the borders of Texas. Both Houston and Travis see the opportunity to stay out of the war altogether, and with Travis's energetic leadership, Texas resumes its own nationhood, its borders ferociously sealed against even the powerful United States. In the confusion after the war and the reunion of the warring states as one nation, Texas extends its diplomatic connections in all directions. To appease the United States while Texas gains strength, Travis as President of Texas allows three channels of illegal immigration to flow northward from Mexico into Texas. The aliens are tokenly harassed, and kept to their routes in the western, central, and eastern parts of the state. The United States receives the cheap labor appreciatively."
Mandred paused. He could see by the visages of the Council members that his next comment was already anticipated. He delivered the pleasing words forthwith. "Those three channels of illegal aliens from Mexico are an ideal food source. Regular harvests can be made at the several isolated areas along each route, with no danger that any of the Anti-Detection Laws will be violated in the slightest."
A satisfying murmur of gratification and approval issued from the Council members, causing Mandred to venture a partial smile. His fine set of saurian teeth contrasted flatteringly with the bluish-gray hue of his facial skin. He was very pleased. His Stenonychosaurus Inequalus brethren were not always so easy to convince. He hastened to add the final but least pleasant details. "We will require only a few hundred Mechanoids to be warped into the Mexican culture in order to keep it optimally chaotic." As he had expected, a slight altruistic shudder ran through the Council at the mention of this measure.
Mandred glanced at Novan Mulky and paused to assume a proper gravity for the solemnities of the somewhat religious final part of his presentation — the obsequies ritual. He could see by the expression on Mulky's face that he was still recalcitrant, but resigned. Mulky, like all his Inequalus brethren, feared disanimated suspension much more than death itself. Feeling more retribution toward Mulky than he really wanted — Mulky had always been gratuitously obnoxious toward him — Mandred gave the final details: "It has become the turn of Novan Mulky to make possible the Horrible Harvest. He will guide his craft to the Alamo through the appropriate warp projection, as directed, and there will alter the battle. After completing that unspeakable crime, he will tune the control panel of his craft to the preset navigational heading and will rapidly disappear into the consuming interspatial reaches beyond Galaxy MZ368." With a last pause, Mandred swept his reptilian aquamarine eyes over the gathering and then concluded: "Those who are pleased with this plan will raise their right hand; those who are displeased will raise their left hand." All present raised a hand, including Mulky. Not a single left hand showed. Mulky stood to make the offering official. "In exchange for the bounty of Ammon, Pythias offers in sacrifice Novan Mulky. I, Novan Mulky, will see that it is done." Mandred signaled by raising both hands, and the Council shouted in unison, "Ammon prevails!"
* * * * *In the freezing predawn hours of March 6, 1836, William Travis and his Texans had repulsed the second attack Santa Anna had launched at the Alamo walls. The first attack had been conducted with Napoleonic precision, striking from four different directions at the north, south, east, and west walls. The second attack was not as pretty. The whistling icy norther that had suddenly blown in just after midnight caused the Mexican soldiers to want the wind at their backs. Each of the four columns had herded to the north, and the second attack had come brokenly from northerly directions, slanted at the east and west walls and directly at the north wall, with nothing from the south.
After that second repulse, Travis felt it might be all over. The booming flashes of his eighteen-pounder had illuminated an army that had become a demoralized mob, most of whom were dashing to the rear or frantically lying prone and clinging to the bloody ground, or who were thrown singly or in heaps of grotesque dismemberment and finished agony. Not a one had approached the walls closer than fifty yards. The survivors had turned from the maelstrom of long rifles and cannon projectiles and fled in howling disarray to the site of Santa Anna's headquarters 500 yards to the northeast. Hundreds would not halt till they arrived in Mexico weeks later.
'T don't think they'll try again!" Travis yelled exultantly to his cannon crew and the riflemen on the nearby platforms around the inside walls. "0l' Sandy-Andy ain't got no more army. He'll be assassinated if he tries to prod them again!"
While he dispatched and received couriers to and from the various defensive positions, Travis ran over the lines of Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib. "The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold/ And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold/ And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea/ When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."
In the darkness, two eerie events were just then occurring simultaneously in the Alamo environs. First, Novan Mulky had arrived in his Seeker Vehicle and was hovering invisibly over the Alamo garrison, the dynamos of his craft's engines purring and deflecting light to flow unreflectively around his location. His ETA had been fulfilled to the millisecond.
Secondly, Santa Anna was speaking grimly to his angrily summoned cavalry officers, who stood dejectedly with limp hands holding loose reins on the trembling horses. Each officer in turn had told him that the army would not, could not, attack again. He himself knew they were ready to stampede away from the futile carnage. But his military reputation was at stake, and he still had a trump card. In the dim light he lounged in his camp chair and relaxed into a confident smile. "Gentlemen," he said, "you are in the proper mood for the victory stroke." Casually, with the assurance of a man who enjoys complete indifference to human life, he gave the orders. "You will assume every air of defeat as you make your way through the infantrymen, walking your horses back to your men and horses in the rear. The men will see we are not going to attack again. They will relax. You will quietly muster your forces into a cordon behind the infantry, in preparation to herd them forward. Our cannon have made a breach in the north wall, yet we have not reached any part of the wall with even one man. Now, you cavalry men will herd the entire army to one spot, one goal, one destination - to that breach in the north wall. You will beat them, drive them, shoot them, saber them, trample them, herd them to that breach. Once inside the walls, nature and the geometry of war will do the rest. Give only one command to the foot soldiers: 'Arm yourselves and move forward!' In fifteen minutes my bugler will call the signal. Your wall of horses will press this army to bring down the walls of the Alamo! Go!"
Travis was going over Byron's poem again when a bugle call and a calamitous stirring in the darkness caused him to skip a verse. A glimpse to the east showed a thin pale line forming the first signs of dawn against the blackness. He unconsciously murmured a verse of the poem as his attention focused on the growing din approaching on the chilly wind from the north. "For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast/And he breathed in the face of the foe as he passed/And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill/And their hearts but once heaved and forever grew still!"
A din of shrieks, curses, metal clattering against metal, snorting horses, exhortations welled against the north wall. Still not believing Santa Anna could have mounted another attack, Travis nevertheless had the chain-loaded eighteen-pounder aimed at the thick of the noise and fired. The instant of the concussive boom splashed a crimson and white glare over a squirming pandemonium immediately understood by the Alamo defenders. The Mexican infantry was being driven toward the north wall breach by the Mexican cavalry! The tearing gash made by the hurtling chain only caused the mob to dash more swiftly toward the wall. In a few seconds the foot of the wall was packed with nearly two thousand desperate men.
Forced to lean over the wall to fire nearly straight down, the Texans began to be picked off. Travis fired into the horde nearest to the breach and reached back for another loaded rifle. Before he fired again he could see that the breach was already packed, with several Mexicans sliding off the pile and into the huge courtyard. The six-pounder in the middle of the plaza, positioned with the one purpose of protecting the breach, fired a charge of grapeshot. Corpses, body parts, and flailing men tumbled to earth inside the wall. Travis, knowing the end had come, yelled at the top of his voice, "No retreat! No surrender!" He now fired at the mass near the breach inside the wall.
As he reached back for another rifle, he was forced to his knees by an oppressive heat. He struggled upward against it, and was aiming to fire when a hot sting on his brow snapped his head back and sent him tumbling down the ramp of packed earth used to bring the cannon into position atop the wall. Flat on his back, he saw a rapid off-on strobe of light, an uncertain monstrous glob descending on the mass of Mexicans near the breach outside the wall. It was there, but it was not, its pulsations more rapidly and smoothly sequenced than the almost constant flash of firearms. His fingers nudged at the blood on his brow. He saw clearly that a mosquito had somehow been smashed on his forehead. Sitting up, he saw the puzzling there-not-there blob of light surrounded by a sizzling steam. In the same nanosecond he received the subliminal image of a streak of bluish light exploding straight up toward infinity. Then a silence Travis would never forget fell over the Alamo compound.
At noon Travis again inspected the ceramicized circle of earth near the breach outside the earth wall. The Mexican soldiers not vaporized had already been buried in the trenches they had extended nearer and nearer to the Alamo defense. Before the cleanup, the 200-foot diameter of the circle had been antiseptically barren for most of its span. At the perimeter, a ring of sundered and barbecued bodies had been followed by a farther and larger ring of bodies barbecued intact. Several hundred dazed Mexicans had wandered in to surrender, and their trancelike labors had removed the dirtiness of death from the scene.
Standing in the middle of the circle, Travis recalled the strange scene inside the walls when the attack had ended so suddenly. He pictured the men standing around, looking at one another in disbelief. One of them had directed a shaky query at their equally shaken commander. "What happened, anyway?" the man had asked.
Travis turned to go back to his headquarters and write a report to Sam Houston. As he walked he could feel the glazed earth beginning to crumble back to ordinary soil. Once at his desk, pen and paper at the ready, he tried to visualize that moment when death had leapt from the reaping of the defenders to the reaping of the attackers. He shook his head slowly, deciding to forget forever what he imagined he had seen.
Then he wrote: "General Houston: The Alamo is saved. We are completely victorious. I cannot explain the miracle of it, other than to cite the bravery and courage of individuals, and to say, in the words of Byron, 'The angel of Death spread his wings on the blast/And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed.' Yours for the Texas Republic. William B. Travis."
@ 1987 Wes Hight
Wes Hight, Texas Mensan, won an award from the American Poetry Association. Why are so many good poets from Texas?