Published by
, February 2005

It was just after Bastille Day, the joyous celebration that marked the singular event that symbolized the French Revolution.  Ben Enterman received the following order from Starship Command. 

“Proceed through Rather Warped Factor T to Paris on July 14, 1793, the fourth anniversary of Bastille Day, and some three months after the formation of the Committee of Public Safety; the Reign of Terror is in its early stages.  Do not interfere with any of the principals at risk of changing the timeline.”

From the starship’s database, Enterman learned that Louis XVI [pronounced Lou-ee Says] had already been executed, and his queen, Marie Antoinette [pronounced Marie Antoinette], would follow on October 16 of that year.  Starship Command’s instructions were clear:  “Observe habits and customs of the populace.  Do not interfere.”

Ben Enterman had been cruising leisurely through the South Bronx at the time, and was rather enjoying the celebration of life as evidenced on the streets of the area [sometimes one is forced to question Ben Enterman’s sanity] when the order came from Starship Command.  He muttered a choice expletive, went through the customary checklist, and proceeded through Rather Warped Factor T to the designated time and place.

The starship emerged from its voyage renamed the Starsedanchaise EnToutMain [literally “in all hand,” whatever the hell that means], and with the assistance of three Ben Enterman clones carried aboard the starship for just such emergencies, the starsedanchaise proceeded through the streets of 18th century Paris.

It would be presumptuous to report that there was anything startling about life in the French capital at the time.  In truth, the Parisiens existed not much differently than their contemporaries in other parts of Europe.  There were the extremely rich, and indeed there were few of these.  There were the quite poor, of which there were a great many.  And there was a growing middle class.  And, oh yes, there were the tumbrels, those seemingly ubiquitous carts used to carry victims to Madame Guillotine. 

As in every society, in every time, Ben Enterman observed a general unrest among the populace.  The blatant wealth of the gentry contrasted sharply with the penury of the peasants.  Caught in the middle, by definition, was the middle class.

The wealthy were more obvious than today’s richer strata.  They had lavish estates, castles, palaces, chateaus, servants.  Today’s scions and hoi-polloi may be better off materially, but most of us have cars, computers, video systems, basic comforts.  Still, unrest is basically a contest of wills between classes.

Today, however, was a holiday, and the people were in a joyous mood, as they celebrated Bastille Day.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time –- singing and dancing in the streets, not to mention quaffing an inordinate amount of wine.

“Look at that dandy,” said one peasant as he spotted a French nobleman being drawn in an ornate carriage through the streets.  “He’s come to mingle with the commoners.”

At that moment, the nobleman, in what must be assumed to be an act of generosity tinged with disdain, casually tossed a few coins into the street.  That simple action caused one of the peasants to reach down, pick up a rock and throw it casually at the carriage; nothing malignant, just a casual flip of a loose paving stone.  Within seconds, a barrage of rocks and garbage was bombarded the carriage from every direction.

One of the horses stumbled, went down.  Suddenly, the crowd was upon the carriage.  The doors were ripped open, and the nobleman, in all his finery, was dragged from the carriage.  Within seconds, he had been stripped quite naked, but was fortunately otherwise unharmed, the crowd being in a generally jovial mood.  The mob stood around roaring its approval.  “How does it feel to be one of us?”

There was Ben Enterman in Paris, circa 1793, along with three clones; it takes four people to carry a sedanchaise, or two men looking for massive hernias.  And there was this nobleman standing in the center of a crowd, stark naked, trying to retain his dignity, but somehow failing to pull it off.

Maybe there are 100, or 103, peasants laughing fit to beat the band [whatever that particular idiom means].  Now this poor gentile, as anyone could plainly see, simply didn’t know which way to turn.  When you’re surrounded, and starkers, it really doesn’t make much difference.

At any rate, our noble genius figures the best thing to do is cover up.  Now this guy shows he isn’t at all stupid.  He covers his face.  How many people can recognize you by your religion, particularly when your religion is in the huge majority?

Still the problem of getting away does present a challenge.  How to escape?  He is in no immediate danger; laughers are seldom dangerous, and his face-saving maneuver has only accelerated the general sense of merriment.

Ben Enterman and the clones are also enjoying the scene, and laughing in unison.  The nobleman is peeking from between his fingers, looking here, there.  The laughers are mostly looking there.

Enterman would like to help, but Starship Command has advised him not to interfere.  But that was in reference to the principals in this time and place, Enterman reasons.  How do I Know this guy is a principal?  Obviously, there is only one way to find out.  I’ll ask.

Ben Enterman sent one of his clones to the nobleman.  You can distinguish the original from the clones because Ben the Original uses a sunlamp while the clones stay out of the sunlight.  Sort of makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

Clone III wends his way through the laughers until he is at the inner edge of the circle.  “Hey,” he hollers suavely, “Where do you teach?”

The nobleman is dumbfounded.  He stares at Clone III through his hands.  The question simply does not register.  It makes no sense at all.  “What?” he replies brightly.

“Where do you teach?”

The question penetrates, but still makes no sense.  What the devil would a nobleman be doing teaching?  He ponders the question behind his hands.  “Teach.  Teach.  Me, a teacher?  My dear sir, don’t be an ass.”  And all the time, he’s starkers and hiding his face from the near-hysterical crowd.

Clone III, who of course has Enterman’s sense of humor, replies, “Ass?  Ass?  Do you want yours saved?”  And Clone III abruptly leaves the inner circle surrounding the naked nobleman and returns to Enterman, Clone I and Clone II.

“He is not a teacher,” reports Clone III.

“Ergo,” responds Enterman, “he is probably not a principal.  Since he is probably not a principal at this stardate, our order fr4om Starship Command does not apply.  We can, as you so succinctly put it, ‘save his ass.’”

“As you so put it,” retorted Clone III.  “I am you.”

“Then how come I asked you for a report?”

“You see,” answered Clone III, rather abstractly, “you can be in several places at the same time, but what you see is not necessarily what you see.”

Not in the mood to pursue what promises to be a circular conversation, Ben Enterman goes into a huddle with Clones I, II and III.  Since they are all Ben Enterman, the discussion is sort of one-sided, but they do develop a strategy.

“The entire problem, as I see it,” expounded Enterman, “is getting that ass into the ship.”

“Starsedanchaise,” corrected Clone III.

“Putz,” responded Enterman.  “If we can get that ass into the star...”  He paused and cast a meaningful glance at Clone III, although he could not really distinguish one clone from another since they chose to dress exactly alike, and tended to move about just enough to confuse Enterman.  

“...vehicle,” he amended, “then we can extricate  him from this crowd.”

“It’s not really a vehicle...” started Clone II, who maybe was Clone II.

“Stuff it,” said Enterman.  Clone II, if that’s who he was, stuffed it.

“Extricate.  Phwew-hoo.  Get him,” said Clone I.

“You have any friends?” asked Enterman, a bit heatedly.

“I am my friends,” said Clone I, smiling his Enterman smile.

“Then go @#$% yourself.”

“I’m you.  Then what would that make me?” asked Clone I.

And here the semantic possibilities, probabilities, combinations and permutations boggled Enterman’s mind.  He gaped at Clone I, eyes bugging out of his head, face a brilliant crimson, sputtering, muttering.  “Pick up the !@#$%^&...”  He paused.  “...sedanchaise,” he said with quiet rage, barely in control.

The clones and Enterman lifted the sedanchaise, with the commander in one of the forward positions.  By this time, Enterman couldn’t even be sure if he was him, or if he was a clone, and the clones were wondering whether they were clones or the original Enterman. 

They started for the inner portion of the laughing circle where the naked nobleman was still hiding his Christian identity behind his slightly splayed fingers.

“Let’s show the entire Eternal City what a real royal pain in the ass is like,” shouted Entermen above the raucous noise of the crowd.  He repeats himself several times before any of the peasants even take notice of the small entourage.

Then Clone II uses a simple playback technique of the Recorder Pack V to throw his voice, so that it seems to be coming from somewhere in the crowd.  “Say, there’s an idea.  Let’s put him in that sedanchaise over there.  We’ll parade him through the streets of the city.”

The naked nobleman was trembling with fear, his skin flushed red with embarrassment.  “Make way.  Make way,” shouts Enterman.  The crowd, sensing the humor in the situation, takes up the cry.  “Make way.  Make way for the sedanchaise.”  

And before he knew what was happening, the naked nobleman had been hoisted into the sedanchaise by two of the clones who, incidentally, had remarkably cold hands.  Then the clones lifted their burden and started down the street.

The crowd parted ready to follow, and the sedanchaise started to fade. Within a few seconds it had disappeared altogether.  The crowd was stunned.  Obviously, they didn’t believe their eyes, and the entire event was later categorized as mass hysteria induced by an overabundance of wine.

What had happened, of course, was quite different.  Once the naked nobleman was safely in the sedanchaise, Ben Enterman had quickly thrown the starship into Rather Warped Factor T, moving the starship briefly backward in time.

The nobleman, fully clothed and totally oblivious to what had happened in the moments to come, is drawn through the streets of Paris in his carriage.  And meaning well, but with just a touch of disdain, he reaches into his purse.  Wait a minute!  “Where’s my purse?” he exclaims aloud.

In order to prevent history from repeating, Ben Enterman had lifted the nobleman’s purse just before letting him disembark, puzzled but fully clothed, from the sedanchaise.  Since the first event had never happened yet, the nobleman had no recollection whatsoever of the events in which he had participated in that other timeline which would now never exist.  

Or, as Ben Enterman reported to Starship Command, “Mission completed – successfully.”

                                                                                       ©2005 Larry Centor