In Harry Turtledove's The Gladiator, the Soviet Union won the Cold War. The Russians were a little smarter than they were in our own world, and the United States was a little dumber and a lot less resolute. Now, more than a century later, the world's gone Communist, and capitalism is a bad word.
For Gianfranco and his friend Annarita, a couple of teenagers growing up in Milan, life in a heavily regimented, surveillance-rich command economy is just plain dreary. The eventual withering-away of the state doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.
Annarita's a hard-working student and a member of the Young Socialists' League. Gianfranco is a lot less motivated--but on the other hand, his father's a Party apparatchik. The biggest excitement in their lives is a wargame shop called The Gladiator, which runs tournaments, and stocks marvelous complex games you can't find anywhere else.
Then, abruptly, the shop is shut down. Someone's figured out that The Gladiator's games are teaching counterrevolutionary capitalist principles. The Security Police are searching high and low for the shop's proprietors, who've not only vanished into thin air, but have left behind sets of fingerprints that aren't in the records of any government on earth.
Only one staffer is left: Gianfranco and Annarita's friend Eduardo. He's on the run, and he comes to them in secret with an astonishing story: he's a time trader from our own timeline, accidentally left behind when the store was evacuated. The only way Eduardo can get home to his own timeline is if Gianfranco and Annarita can help him reach one of the other time trader sites in this world--and the Security Police will be on their tails all the way there.
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About the Author
Harry Turtledove is an American fantasy and science fiction writer who Publishers Weekly has called the "Master of Alternate History." He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Hugo Award for Best Novella, the HOMer Award for Short story, and the John Esthen Cook Award for Southern Fiction. Turtledove’s works include the Crosstime Traffic, Worldwar, Darkness, and Opening of the World series; the standalone novels The House of Daniel, Fort Pillow, and Give Me Back My Legions!; and over a dozen short stories available on Tor.com. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Laura Frankos, and their four daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Crosstime Traffic â" Book Five
By Harry Turtledove
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Harry Turtledove
All rights reserved.
Annarita Crosetti didn't want to get up in the morning. She didn't want to get up most mornings, but today was especially bad. After she killed the alarm clock, she just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. But she couldn't. She knew it. She had a Russian test first period, and a Young Socialists' League meeting after school. That meant she'd be up late with schoolwork tonight, too, and sleepy again tomorrow morning.
Even so, she didn't want to get up.
When she didn't start moving fast enough to suit her mother, she got shaken and pushed out of bed. She muttered and groaned in protest — she had trouble talking till she was really awake, which took a while.
Her mother showed no sympathy ... and no mercy. "Come on. Get dressed," she said. "Breakfast will be ready by the time you are."
"Sì, sì," Annarita said. By then she was standing up. Her mother went away, knowing she probably wouldn't lie down again.
Because there was a meeting, Annarita put on her Young Socialists' League uniform. It made her look ready to change a tire: marching boots, khaki trousers, dark green blouse. But all the Young Socialists — the up-and-comers — would be wearing the same thing today, so what could she do? Not much. Not anything, really.
She put on the crisscross sashes, one with the badges of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin and Putin, the other with badges of Moroni and Chiapelli and other Italian Communist heroes. The badges of the Russians and the founders were edged in gold, those of the Italians in silver. Annarita didn't know how many times she'd put on the sashes, but she'd never even thought about that before. It was as if her own countrymen were runners-up in the race for fame.
She shook her head. It wasn't as if. Italian Communist heroes were heroes only in Italy. Other Socialist people's republics had their own national heroes. You saw them, grim and unsmiling, on foreign postage stamps. But the founders and the Russians were heroes all over the world. They should be, she thought. If not for them, Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism might not have won. And then where would we be?
"Annarita!" her mother yelled.
"Coming!" She knew where she needed to be: the kitchen.
It was crowded in there. The Crosettis shared the kitchen and bathroom with the Mazzillis, who were also eating breakfast. Everyone muttered good morning. Annarita grabbed a roll, tore it, and dipped it in olive oil. A cup of cappuccino was waiting for her. Her mother and father poured down espresso instead, thick and sweet and strong. If two or three of those little cups wouldn't get your heart started in the morning, you were probably dead.
Sitting across the table from her was Gianfranco Mazzilli, who was sixteen — a year younger than Annarita — and went to the same school. He just had on ordinary clothes, though. He didn't belong to the Young Socialists, which made his parents unhappy.
His father used espresso to knock back a shot of grappa, and then another one. That would get your heart started, too. Of course, after a while you might not remember why you got it started, but Cristoforo Mazzilli didn't seem to care.
Annarita's father eyed the bottle of distilled lightning and said, "I wish I could get going like that."
"Why can't you, Filippo?" Cristoforo Mazzilli said. "Doesn't hurt me a bit."
"I should keep a clear head," Annarita's father answered. "The patients need it."
"'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,'" the elder Mazzilli quoted. He reached for the grappa bottle. "I need this." He was a midlevel Party functionary in one of the provincial ministries. No one would get hurt if he came to work a little tipsy, or more than a little tipsy, or if he didn't come in at all. Knowing that might have been one reason he drank.
As soon as people finished eating, they started jockeying for the bathroom. There were apartments — some right here in this building — where families fought like cats and dogs over the tub and the toilet. The Crosettis and the Mazzillis didn't do that, anyhow. Both families had to use the facilities, whether they got along or not. Easier when they did, so everybody tried. It worked pretty well ... most of the time.
Going down the stairs, Annarita carried her books in front of her. Gianfranco carried his under one arm. Girls did the one thing, boys the other. Annarita didn't know why, or how long it had been that way. Maybe, if she remembered, she would ask her mother. Did it go back further than that? She shrugged. She had no idea.
"Spring," Gianfranco said when they got outside.
"Spring," Annarita agreed. Spring here in Milan was a lot more hesitant than it was down in Rome, let alone Naples or Sicily. It stayed cool and humid. It could rain — it could come down in buckets. The sun was out right now. But clouds floated across the sky. If the sun hid behind one of them, it might not feel like coming out again.
Other students were coming out of the building, and from the identical concrete towers to either side. Stalin Gothic, people called them — when they were sure no informers were listening, anyhow.
Not far away stood the Duomo. The great cathedral was Gothic, too, only it was the genuine article. Every line of it seemed to leap for the sky, to point toward the heavens. Officially, the Italian People's Republic was as atheistic as the Soviet Union or any other Socialist state. Officially. In spite of Stalin's cruel joke — "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" — His Holiness Pius XIV still presided over St. Peter's. Some churches stayed open. You weren't supposed to believe any of that stuff, but a lot of people did.
Annarita glanced from the Duomo to the grim, square apartment blocks and back again. The apartments looked as if they'd been run up in six weeks. They probably had, judging by the plumbing. The elevator in her building hadn't worked for years. She and Gianfranco had come down the stairs. They would climb them in the afternoon, too.
The Duomo ... They'd started building it in the fourteenth century, and hadn't finished till the twentieth. That seemed — that was — an awfully long time, but they got it right. Yes, it glorified superstition. So her teachers said, at least half a dozen times a day. But glorify it did.
In the square in front of the Duomo stood a statue of General Secretary Putin. Old Pointy-Nose, people called him. Not counting the base, he stood four meters tall — twice the height of even a tall man. All the same, the cathedral had no trouble making him seem like a midget.
At the moment, a pigeon perched on his outstretched right forefinger. Gianfranco pointed to it. "Looking for a handout," he said.
"Good luck," Annarita said. "The bird better hope that fist doesn't close." Even though Gianfranco grinned and nodded, she wished she had the words back the second they were out of her mouth. Vladimir Putin was seventy years dead, yes, but making any kind of joke about him to a Party man's son wasn't smart. But everybody knew the Russians were so much better at taking than giving.
Fiats and Russian Volgas and smelly German Trabants and Workermobiles from the USA crowded narrow streets that hadn't been built with cars in mind in the first place. A century and more of Communism hadn't turned Italians into orderly drivers. Annarita didn't think anything could. A Volga stopped in the middle of the street to wait for an old woman on the far curb. It plugged traffic like a cork in a bottle. A trolley had to stop behind the Volga. More cars jammed up behind the trolley. The motorman clanged his bell. The drivers leaned on their horns. The man in the Volga ignored them all.
The old lady tottered over and got in. The Volga zoomed away. The trolley got moving, too. The swarm of cars behind it would take longer to unknot.
"There ought to be a law," Gianfranco said.
"There are laws," Annarita said. "People don't pay any attention to them."
"That trolleyman should have photographed the guy's license plate," Gianfranco said. "When they found out who he was, they could have fixed him good."
"Maybe the trolleyman did," Annarita said.
"Yeah, maybe." Gianfranco sounded as if he liked the idea. Annarita wasn't so sure she did. They already had so many ways to keep an eye on you. Who needed a motorman with a camera? Even typewriters were registered. As far as the Italian People's Republic was concerned, they were more dangerous than assault rifles. And computers ... Her school had a couple, which made it special, but only the most trusted teachers and the very most trusted students got to use them.
She thought the progress to real Communism, the kind where the state withered away, would come faster if people could more freely use the tools they had. No matter what she thought, she kept her ideas to herself. What you didn't tell anybody, you couldn't get in trouble for.
While she was thinking dark thoughts, her feet kept walking. She turned right and then left and then right again. She hardly noticed the apartment blocks and shops she passed.
"We're here," Gianfranco said.
"Sì," Annarita said. "We're here. Oh, boy." Gianfranco laughed. He was more likely to say something like that. She was the good student — he just squeaked by. But she couldn't make herself get excited about school today.
Enver Hoxha Polytechnic Academy was named for a Communist hero, but not for an Italian Communist hero. Hoxha had administered Albania for most of the second half of the twentieth century. A lot of Italians laughed at Albanians, their neighbors across the Adriatic Sea. Few did it it where Albanians could hear them, though. Albanians were supposed to have nasty tempers, and to be fond of carrying knives.
Students from other schools jeered Hoxha Polytechnic's soccer and basketball teams because the academy bore a foreigner's name. "Odd jobs!" they shouted. "Odd jobs!" Despite a century and a half of Socialism, Albania remained the poorest country in Europe. Young Albanians sometimes crossed the Adriatic in small boats. Working as farm laborers or handymen — or thieves — in Italy seemed better to them than going hungry back home.
A big black-and-white photo of Hoxha stared down at Annarita and Gianfranco from over the entrance. He didn't look as if he approved of them. He didn't look as if he approved of anybody. Considering what he'd had to do to drive the Fascists out of Albania during the Second World War and then rule the country for so long afterwards, he probably didn't.
"See you," Gianfranco said, and hurried off to his first class.
"Ciao," Annarita called after him. She didn't want to go to Russian. It drove her crazy. Everybody who wanted to be anybody had to learn it. It was the most important language in the world, after all. When the Soviet Union sneezed, the rest of the world started sniffling. But still ...
Annarita had had a couple of years of Latin. She understood the idea of cases, of using endings instead of prepositions to show how words worked in a sentence. Homo was a man as the subject of a sentence. If a man thanked you, he was homo. But if you thanked him, if he was the object, he was hominem. In the possessive, he was hominis. A man's dog was canus hominis — or hominis canus. Word order mattered much less in Latin than in Italian. The same was true in Russian, only more so.
But if Latin's grammar was weird, an awful lot of the vocabulary looked familiar. Man in Italian was uomo, while dog was cane. You didn't need to know any history to see that Latin and Italian were related.
Russian's vocabulary, though, seemed even weirder to Annarita than its grammar did. Man in Russian was chelovek, and dog was sobaka. Worse, the Russians used a different alphabet, so everything looked funny. Man looked like [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]Bek, and dog looked like Co??aka. Some of the letters were recognizable, but others would fool you. C was sounded like "s," P was "r," and H was "n." If you weren't careful, if you absentmindedly thought the way you usually did, Russian could really bite you.
"Dobry den," the teacher said when Annarita walked into the classroom.
"Dobry den, Tovarishch Montefusco," she answered. Good day, Comrade Montefusco. That was polite, but she wondered if she really meant it. How could a day with a test in it be a good day?
He waited till the bell, and not an instant longer. "And now, the test," he said, still in Russian. His accent was very good. He'd spent a long time studying in Russia. Some people whispered that he'd spent some time in a camp there. Annarita had no idea if that was true. Nobody'd ever had the nerve to ask him.
He handed out the mimeographed sheets. Mimeograph machines and copiers were kept under lock and key. Annarita understood that. Counterrevolutionaries could use them to reproduce propaganda harmful to the state. As far as she was concerned, this test was harmful to her state of mind.
It was hard. She'd known it would be. They wanted to find out who was just good and who was the very best. The very best — and the ones with the very best connections — would run things when they grew up. The ones who weren't quite good enough for that would get more ordinary jobs instead.
The ones who didn't measure up would miss out on other things, too. They wouldn't be able to travel abroad. They wouldn't get the best vacation houses by the ocean or up in the mountains. They wouldn't get the best apartments in the city, either. And they would spend years on the waiting list for a tiny, miserable Trabant, with a motor that sounded like a tin can full of rocks and angry bees, instead of getting a fancy Zis or a Ferrari or a Mercedes.
So Annarita knew what was at stake every time she wrote her name — [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] — on a test form. The privileges and luxuries that went with being the very best didn't drive her all that much, though they were nice. But the idea of being at the center of things, being where the action was — that pushed her. So did the idea of proving she really was the best to a world that didn't care one way or the other.
She got to work. Even counting in Russian was complicated. Numbers changed case like any other adjectives. And the nouns that followed them changed case, too, with strange rules. One house stayed in the nominative — the case for the subject. Two, three, or four houses (or anything else) went to the genitive singular — the case for the possessive. Three of house, it meant literally. Five or more houses and you used the genitive again, but the plural this time. Seven of houses was the literal meaning.
"Bozhemoi!" Annarita muttered to herself. That meant My God! It wasn't good Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist doctrine, but it was perfectly good Russian. Comrade Montefusco said it when somebody made a dumb mistake in class. Annarita had heard real Russians say it on TV and on the radio, too. From everything she could tell, Russians were less polite than Italians, or polite in a different way.
She fought through the test. She was still in the middle of rechecking when the teacher said, "Pass them forward, please." She sighed and did. She wasn't sure about a couple of things, but she thought she'd done well.
Analytic geometry next. It was interesting, in a way. Annarita didn't know what she'd ever do with it, but it made her think. Her father kept telling her that was good all by itself. Of course, he didn't have to do the homework and the studying. (He'd done them years before, but Annarita didn't think about that.)
She settled into her chair in the new classroom. Analytic geometry had one thing going for it. No matter what happened, no matter which Party faction rose and which one fell, the answers wouldn't change. Ideology could change history. It could change literature. It could even change biology. But math? Math didn't change. In a world where everything else might, that was reassuring.
Excerpted from The Gladiator by Harry Turtledove. Copyright © 2007 Harry Turtledove. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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