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The Day Abraham Lincoln Didn’t Die: A Time Travel Sci-Fi Short Story

Ron is a former IBM engineer who has been a fan of classic Sci-Fi since his teens.


Dr. Simon Morton leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh of satisfaction. The final set of simulations was done, and he had his answer.

He’d used the supercomputer time allocated to his project to run millions of simulations with all possible combinations of variables, and the result was clear. If Abraham Lincoln had lived to apply his political genius and legendary compassion to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, the history of the nation would be far different. The whole Jim Crow system of discrimination and oppression that was the white South’s reaction to their disempowerment after the war would never have come into existence. The entire nation, and indeed the world, would be far better off.

Most importantly, the simulations showed clearly that the chances of some unforeseen negative impact on the course of history if Lincoln survived were minuscule.

For years Simon had been obsessed with the thought of how different things would be if Lincoln had not been assassinated. And now he could do something about it! He had conclusively proven that he could build a machine that would carry him back in time to that day in 1865 when foul murder claimed the country’s greatest president, and prevent it from happening.

Dr. Simon Morton Was a World-Class Physicist

Now the head of the Physics Department at Stanford, Simon Morton was one of the nation’s foremost scientists, with hundreds of publications to his credit. But no details of the project he was working on now would ever appear in a scientific journal. In fact, if things worked out as Simon hoped, the only person who would ever know would be himself.

He’d already demonstrated the basic principles of displacing objects in time. Now, all that was left was a ton of engineering work to build a time capsule that could deliver a man to the exact time and place he selected.

Simon smiled wryly for a brief moment, thinking of all the time travel stories he’d read as a child growing up in the 1950s and 60s. How did they ever think a practical time machine was possible in the days before supercomputers? Just the fact that the earth’s displacement in time was accompanied by displacement in space as it orbited a sun that was orbiting the center of the galaxy would have made it impossible. Anyone who went back in time without accounting for the fact that the earth had moved in space would end up breathing vacuum. But now he could make those calculations down to the micrometer.

With all the technical details worked out, there was one final factor he had to consider before making his decision. If he went through with his plan, it would be a one-way trip. The mathematical model that allowed him to build a machine for traveling to the past also demonstrated conclusively that travel to the future was impossible. Once he went back to 1865, he’d be stuck in that era for the rest of his life.

Was he ready for that? What would it be like to live in the years immediately following Emancipation as a black man with a PhD from a university that didn’t yet exist? Well, at age 64 he wouldn’t have to endure it for long. Besides, he had grown up in the segregated South; he knew what to expect. With his wife Alicia ten years dead, and no children, there was nothing to hold him in the here and now.

It took Simon another nine months of hard work to complete his calculations and build his machine. He knew exactly where and when he was going. The historical data concerning the day Abraham Lincoln died were complete and precise. He knew exactly where the murderer would be, and the exact moment the trigger would be pulled.

That last morning Simon got up, ate a good breakfast, and read the front page of the New York Times one final time, at least in this century. He then went down to the basement, and sat down at his time capsule console. Taking a deep breath, he initiated the sequence that would propel him through time and space to the destination he had already programmed in: Richmond, Virginia, just after dawn on Tuesday, April 4, 1865.

"Lincoln in Richmond" drawn on site in 1865 by Lambert Hollis

"Lincoln in Richmond" drawn on site in 1865 by Lambert Hollis

History recorded that Abraham Lincoln, with his 12-year-old son Tad and a laughably inadequate military escort, had entered the former rebel capital that day. And as Lincoln passed down the street toward the “Confederate White House” that had been occupied until just a few days earlier by the rebel president, Jefferson Davis, there was a man hidden in a second floor room looking through a window. That man was a rabid secessionist who for four long years had believed every word the rebel press had printed about Lincoln being a usurper and a cruel tyrant. Now he waited by the window for the moment when he would have the victorious despot in his rifle sight.

VIDEO: Lincoln In Richmond

But it wouldn’t happen, not this time. Simon was already in Richmond before the President came ashore from his ship. Armed with his own pistol, Simon went to the address he knew so well, famous in the history books as the presidential assassin’s house, and knocked on the door. It opened to reveal a face Simon knew well from historical photographs. Johnston Armitage was the most reviled man in American history. Simon quickly shoved his pistol into the man’s belly, and threatened to kill him if he made a move.

Simon had come prepared with a length of rope. He sat Armitage in a chair, tied him up, and gagged him. Then they waited. They continued to sit there, glaring at one another as the sounds of the presidential party came and went. Only when he was sure the President must have returned to the ship that brought him to Richmond did Simon get up to leave. He left Johnston Armitage tied to his chair.

Simon had carefully planned his escape from Richmond, and his route to Washington. It took him eleven days to get to the capital city, and he arrived on the afternoon of the 15th. He had memorized directions to a boarding house in the “colored” part of town. As he walked along 10th Street, tired and looking forward to a good meal and some rest, he noticed a man coming toward him who abruptly turned into an alleyway.

That face seemed familiar. Looking around him, Simon realized he was just opposite a theater, and suddenly he knew who the man was. He’d seen that face in photographs while doing his historical research. Booth, that was it. A famous actor named John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth

A smile of satisfaction settled on Simon’s face. With what he had accomplished in Richmond a few days ago, it wouldn’t be long until he and others like him would be as free as anyone to go to Ford’s theater and watch Booth give one of his great performances.

I’m looking forward to that, Simon thought to himself as he hurried on to his boarding house.

© 2014 Ronald E Franklin


Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on May 11, 2020:

Interesting and creative concept :) Thank you for sharing :)

Robert Sacchi on May 05, 2020:

There is a good YouTube video that talks about the timeline in the Terminator franchise. The narrator points out if time could be changed it would cause a fracture in the timeline, The result would be two timelines, one the original and one the changed timeline. The two approaches to time travel in fiction is (1) the past can't be changed (2) the past can be changed.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 03, 2020:

Thanks, Will. About travel being impossible because anyone changing the past would eliminate himself, my story "Final Exam at the Twin Towers: A SciFi Time Travel Story" tells about the Time Patrol which was (will be?) set up to prevent that very thing.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 24, 2020:

Well done my old friend!

Of course a time traveler changing the course of history would be impossible because it would mean that the traveler/changer would no longer exist and therefore, could not alter the past!

The slightest change in the past would alter all of the future events so that the precise moment of conception of the time traveler would be altered out of existence. In fact, his parents may never have met at all due to his actions, so he obviously could not exist.

Fun stuff to ponder!

Hugh Mann on April 24, 2020:

Nice story! Really caught my attention.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 13, 2018:

Thanks, Rodric, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on March 13, 2018:

Nicely crafted and entertaining.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on July 30, 2015:

Thanks, Babbyii. That's a great compliment for the author of a story to hear!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on July 30, 2015:

Christopher Jay T, you've got it. In the story's terms, we are living in the alternate reality that resulted from our hero's attempt to prevent the assassination happening, as his history said it did, in Richmond. It appears that time protects itself, and the new timeline quickly snapped back to the same result as the old one.

Barb Johnson from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on July 30, 2015:

Wonderfully crafted! Had me from beginning to end.

Christopher Jay Thompson from Fort Worth, TX on July 19, 2015:

very good, but I'm not sure if I understand it. does it mean that in this man's timeline Lincoln was assassinated this by this other man, and by stopping that caused our history of booth assassinating him. Does this mean that all he changed, is who the assassin was who killed Lincoln?

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 08, 2015:

Thanks, Robert, I appreciate that.

Robert Sacchi on May 08, 2015:

This was a great read. A good twist in the middle.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 08, 2015:

Thanks, Lee. For some reason the idea of time travel has always fascinated me, and there are many permutations of that idea to explore. For me, that's fun.

Lee Cloak on May 08, 2015:

Fantastic engaging thought provoking piece of writing, a really great read, thanks for sharing this wonderful story, voted up, best wishes, Lee

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 12, 2015:

Thanks, pstraubie48. I have a hunch that history is, as the story indicates, too resilient to allow changes. On the other hand, as I mentioned in answering another comment, the story indicates that we are actually living in a changed history in which Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater, rather than the original "real" history in which he died in Richmond. Start thinking that way, and your mind can go around in unending circles!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 12, 2015:

You know the question that you pose at the end does cause one to stop and wonder. Who knows? Could it have changed things?

Never been very good at second guessing the past myself.

I think of others who after him were assassinated and wonder the same. ...How different things may have been had they lived on...

Very thought-provoking, Ron.

Know that Angels are winging their way to you and yours this evening ps

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on December 02, 2014:

Thanks, cam8510. The what ifs surrounding Lincoln's untimely death are fascinating to speculate about. I'll definitely be reading your story.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on November 30, 2014:

Ron, I wrote a story very similar to this in some respects. I'll get it back up here tonight so you can take a look at it. This idea of Lincoln not dying, but going on to carry out his plans after the war is fascinating. How different would our world have been? My story is called, Abraham Lincoln: Flash Fiction at https://cam8510.hubpages.com/hub/Abraham-Lincoln-F...

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on November 14, 2014:

Hi, Will. I never thought that. To me, figuring out ways to plausibly nullify potential paradoxes and apparent logical inconsistencies like the one you point out is a big part of the pleasure of writing sci-fi stories.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on November 14, 2014:

Hi again Ron, and I too love to write sci-fi time travel stuff, even though I'm sure that it would be self-defeating. I didn't mean to rain on your story at all!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on November 14, 2014:

Thanks, FatBoyThin. I appreciate that!

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on November 14, 2014:

Wonderful story with a totally unexpected ending.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 27, 2014:

Thanks, WillStarr. Good point about changes potentially nullifying themselves. That's really what the story is saying - that history is resilient, and getting any change to "take" would be very difficult. Still, it's fun to speculate.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on October 27, 2014:

Great story!

The problem with going back in history and changing anything at all (much less a presidential assassination!), is that the chances of the one who went back ever having been born are subsequently wiped out, nullifying any chance of going back in the first place. It's a self-defeating dilemma.

Voted up!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 25, 2014:

Thanks so much, aethelthryth. I still have a ways to go before I publish that book, but I appreciate the encouragement. BTW, you speak of alternative history and not knowing. What this story says is that we are actually living in an alternative (or changed) history, but of course don't know it. Could it be...?

aethelthryth from American Southwest on October 25, 2014:

I like time travel stories, but there's not much that hasn't been done already. I want to like alternative history, but it seems so random; does changing one thing about history change one thing or everything and how would you know? You told a clever story and neatly put both my pet peeves to rest. When are you going to publish a book? I would buy it!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 25, 2014:

MsDora, I think that if the writer of a sci-fi story gets the reader's head spinning, he's probably done his job! Thanks for reading.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 25, 2014:

Thanks, AliciaC. I must admit to having always been fascinated with the possibilities of time travel. But the "unforeseen consequences" you speak of would probably make it too dangerous even if it turned out to be possible.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 25, 2014:

Thoughts like these leave my head spinning with questions like "How?" and "What if?" Thanks for the exercise and the pleasant read.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 25, 2014:

This is a very interesting and intriguing story! Time travel would be fascinating, but there could be so many unforeseen consequences. Thanks for sharing your thought provoking hub.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 25, 2014:

Thanks, Eric. That's very encouraging, and I appreciate it.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 25, 2014:

Thanks, phoenix2327. I think we sometimes put too much faith in the ability of our own wisdom or technology to "fix" things. Some things are not in our control.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 25, 2014:

Excellent. Messing with history could have huge effects, and in this scenario well worth it. Ron I just got absorbed in this one, your writing is just outstanding, at least it transported me to the story.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 25, 2014:

This is a well written narrative and I liked the ironic end. It must have been gutting for him to realise all his plans had been for nothing. I suppose some events in history, however bitter, need to happen in order to move forward. There is a lot of food for thought here. Well done.

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