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When the Good Guys Won

Be careful what you wish for.

By Gene LassPublished about a month ago 12 min read
Top Story - April 2024
20
When the Good Guys Won
Photo by Hert Niks on Unsplash

When the pitchforks and torches finally came and those in power cooperated or ceded control, the demand was simple: Do what we know you can do.

There was no room left for compromise, and when it was clear that humanity as a whole was making the request, and examples were made of a few officials who hemmed and hawed, change was swift. Diseases were cured. Funding for annual studies on binge drinking by college students and cat behavior were ended and funds were redirected to the pursuit of medicine and reducing pollution. Redundant, bloated, and largely useless governmental departments were eliminated as bureaucrats became all but extinct – forced to prove their necessity, efficacy, and efficiency on a regular basis.

Corporations were brought to hell, denied a voice through lobbying, campaign donations, or other traditional routes. As with political leaders, it only took a few examples of corporations being crushed by the stock markets, public outcry, and resultant investigations to return their roles to producing and providing quality goods and services to global, national, and local markets, fairly and honestly.

At that point, the leaps and bounds of the 20th century seemed like child’s play as utopian dreams were realized. Commercial, personal, and mass transit vehicles were produced or retrofitted to run on seawater. Drastic reductions in homelessness as addicts, the disabled, and the mentally ill received treatment rather than abandonment and imprisonment. Improved roads, bridges, and other infrastructure as more people were put to work in different industries by choice and necessity, with bureaucracy no longer an option and efficiency and quality put at the forefront of each project.

The true breakthrough occurred when the frontiers of science were given the control and direction they needed and cybernetics, cloning, artificial intelligence, and medicine were combined to bring back those who contributed most to humanity and those who were gone too soon.

It was sagely decided that the first to return would be those who had the vision to warn us along the way – Orwell and Huxley, Bradbury and Dick, Verne and Wells, Asimov and Clarke – that they might serve as the Science Panel, a board of elders, a moral guidepost to prevent the world from going the wrong way again.

Prosperity spread across the globe and quality of life was at an all-time high. With genetic cures for cancer and other diseases readily available, smoking became commonplace again, as did rich diets and enjoyable meals. Joggers still jogged and vegans still ate and avoided eating at their own discretion. But the risks of what one ate, or smoked, were essentially removed, as were the “sin taxes” to prevent such behavior. Taxes in general were drastically reduced, as there were far fewer government departments and officials to support with them. It was the return of Camels at a nickel a pack, as well as the cheap cigar.

There was talk of bringing back great leaders, and it was universally agreed the late president John F. Kennedy should be allowed to finish his term, and have a chance for a second. Patton and Eisenhower were reinstated as leaders of the military, Alexander Hamilton was brought back to run the Treasury he created, and Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Reagan, Adams, and others were placed in various official and advisory positions.

President Kennedy and the Science Panel agreed the next step would be to focus on the creative arts, and there the troubles began.

While futurists Verne and Wells were all too happy to be reborn and continue pondering what the future might bring, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley found the modern world far more horrible than anything they had ever imagined, and thus found themselves unable to write or function. Poe, Van Gogh, and Lautrec, while appreciative of the acclaim their work had received in the wake of their first lives, refused to become mere lecturers on the craft – restored relics on a cultural shelf, and in quick succession, each committed suicide.

Hemingway and Twain chose life, but began railing at the modern world even more fervently than they did at the old world.

“This is no Utopia!” Twain declared in one blog post. “This is a global stupor!”

Hemingway had similar expressions of disgust.

“I’ve seen men slaughtered in wars on land and sea,” he wrote. “I’ve faced death in jungles and on mountaintops. I’ve seen men’s bodies and spirits beaten in the ring, and bulls and matadors die in La Corrida. All of these things seem more honorable and wholesome than the half-witted peach, the nauseating peace loose in the world today. People would rather live without respect for each other or themselves than to fight, or even have a reasonable conversation.”

In an attempt to placate some of the naysaying creators, and to continue giving modern people more of what they loved from the past, musicians and actors were also revived, albeit selectively. Authorities from the U.N., the President, the Science Council, and the Council of the Arts all agreed John Wayne should be left undisturbed, as should former presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson. While they were beloved political and cultural figures, they would in no way cooperate with any part of modern society.

Instead, author and professor J.R.R. Tolkien was revived, enabling him to not only complete “The Silmarillion” and other tales of Middle-Earth, but to work with George R.R. Martin to finally finish his own “Song of Ice and Fire” series, begun decades earlier with “A Game of Thrones.” Meanwhile, Tolkien’s dear friend and colleague, C.S. Lewis, first asked that his wife would also be restored so they could spend time together. Afterward, he opted to continue to write books of apologist spirituality rather than more tales of Narnia or science-fiction.

Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds resumed making action films, and Paul Newman and Robert Redford were able to not only make their third film together, but a fourth and fifth. Similarly, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau reunited, directed by Billy Wilder.

In a major event announced and celebrated by Hollywood, the Science Council, and President Kennedy, two legendary couples were revived, with new films announced for each of them, just in time for Oscar Season. A new film was released by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy Thanksgiving weekend, while Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – young and vibrant once again – debuted their new film Christmas Day to great acclaim.

Once again, Frank Capra worked with Jimmy Stewart, and the world sang along to new music from four living, harmonious Beatles.

Then came President Kenndy’s first defeat.

Hoping for the same massive success he had from the previous Christmas, at a gala event held at the Kennedy Center, the president cheerfully exclaimed that that his close friends, the entire Rat Pack had been reborn and were there to help him announce he was running for reelection.

As the curtain was raised, reveling all five members in immaculate tuxedos, Kennedy crossed the stage to shake Frank Sinatra’s hand, but Sinatra shook his head.

“Sorry, Jack,” he said, stepping up to the microphone, “Can’t do it. The boys and I are glad to be back, singin’ and makin’ movies again, but we don’t forget what you did last time, to me or to Marilyn. Chase all the dames you want, we do the same, but we don’t dig double crossers. As usual, you’re welcome to keep Lawford, I’ve been done with him since ’60. C’mon fellas, let’s scram.”

And with that, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop left the stage, leaving the president standing with actor and brother in-law Peter Lawford, neither of them knowing what to say.

Kennedy and other leaders spoke highly and often of wondrous things going on around the world – Jazz master Miles Davis reunited with John Coltrane and Charlie Parker one week, then collaborating with The Roots another week. Composers from Tchaikovsky to Mozart working with John Williams, Billy Joel, and Paul McCartney. Beethoven, finally able to hear his own work, going into a composing frenzy, daringly merging classical instruments with modern electronic instruments and synthesizers. Ray Charles, alive and able to see, performing alongside both Janis Joplin and Big Momma Thornton. Carrie Fisher starring in a new “Star Wars” film as a member of the New Jedi Order alongside Mark Hamill.

There were successes, but the very public failure of the president’s snubbing by Sinatra and his friends stung, and was compounded by the protests of Hemingway and Twain, who were no longer alone. They were now joined by more icons: Groucho Marx and Johnny Carson.

Tod Appearing jointly on NBC, Carson’s old network, Carson first explained why he would not be returning to “The Tonight Show” or any other daytime or nighttime talk show.

“I said when I retired that I enjoyed every one of the 30 years I spent at that desk. There’s no denying that. But the truth is, I had nothing left in the tank. I was done, and while I’m happy to be back among the living, I won’t return to the desk, or a couch, or a stage of any kind, though I’m considering doing some work behind the scenes as a producer. I’m happy to answer letters and emails, but if you want to see me, I’ll be at the golf course beating Bob Hope.”

Groucho had similar points to make.

“I wish you had talked to me and my brothers before you brought us back. Don’t you people have psychics anymore? Fortune tellers? You could have brought back Houdini or Alexander Graham Bell, or maybe Moses. We would have returned their calls, and I can affirm those guys are a million laughs, we played pinochle together on the other side. As Johnny said, we’re all glad to be alive, but Gummo hated performing years before we ever made a picture. He hated the stage so much he was almost glad to be sent to the Great War. And Zeppo, Zeppon was in some good pictures, and he was a good-looking kid, and a funny guy if you had him over to supper, but he was never a good part of a picture. I said it when I was alive the first time, and I’ll say it now – Zeppo was the juvenile, there to be the young love interest of the pretty girl. He wasn’t there to be funny, and he wasn’t. He was happy to retire and be an inventor, and we went on without him because he wasn’t necessary.

“As for my other brothers – I love Harpo. Everyone loves Harpo. But Chico has been back on this side of the dirt for two months and he’s already broke. We made too many pictures for the sake of paying his bills. People forget about the movies we were in together where we were never on screen at the same time. Who remembers “Love Happy”? I was in it and all I remember is there wasn’t a good line or gag in the whole thing! I’ll be happy to work alone, maybe with others, but you won’t see the Marx Brothers together again except for holiday meals.”

Then came the turning point. After 10 years, Bogart, Bacall, Stewart, Chaplin, Keaton, and others, including writers Harlan Ellison, William Faulkner, and Dorothy Parker, held a joint press conference. They would do no more. Bogart spoke:

“We have quite a motley crew here – different people from different backgrounds, different religions, different political persuasions, all with two things in common. We were all known for our accomplishments in our field, and we are all refusing to do more.

“I had my career. We all had our careers, some longer than others. I’m proud to see ‘Casablanca’ celebrated as possibly the greatest film of all time. Thank you. None of us has bought a drink on our own in years, and I can tell you some of us drink plenty. All we have to do is show our faces somewhere and the toasting begins and it doesn’t stop until we sneak out the back or hit the floor. But I lived and died, and when you defeated cancer, you brought me back to live and work again, and I did. But dammit, what if I die again? Will you bring me back a third time? What if I blow my brains out? Will you find a cure for bullets, or start making shorter buildings with padded sidewalks in case we jump off? How about a cure for drowning? Do I have to be eaten by a shark to finally be left in peace? Will you gather my DNA from every last suite I wore, all my toupees and handkerchiefs, until you’ve cloned me so many times you have an army of Bogarts ready to act for you? Or will you just get robots to do it, or those computer cartoons that look just like people? When will I be another special effect?”

Bogart puffed his cigarette and looked across the crowd, then said, “Today we’re announcing that we here have formed a union. I think I’ll let my friend Mrs. Parker explain the rest.”

Parker, who at 4’11” was short in her first lifetime, was still the shortest person on the stage. With Bogart’s help she adjusted the mic before she spoke.

“Thank you, Bogie. Unlike the others on this stage, I’m less well-known today than I was years ago. I was always better at blowing others horns than tooting my own, but once upon a time I was one of the most well-known writers in New York, co-founding a little magazine called ‘The New Yorker,’ back when we all had to share the same pencil. Those times are gone and those all-night parties and four-martini lunches with the literati are over. My words live on for those who might read them, and I hope they do. Some of those words I’ve written were even good. But I was rarely happy in life and had quite enough of it the first time around, as have others. Thus, as Bogie said, we have formed a union, not to protect workers as unions typically do, but to protect us from work. I don’t want to work anymore. Neither does Bogie, or Harlan, or Fred Astaire. Poor noble Jimmy was done when he lost his wife and his favorite dog. Now he just wants to write poetry, and I can’t blame him. His poetry is far from masterful, but it’s from the heart and I can’t fault him for wanting to write it. Except now he’s young again and people want him to make more films or run for Congress like he did in the pictures.

“Our union seeks to allow us to work when and if we choose. And if we don’t choose to, we need not work at all. Royalties and residuals from our first careers provide some income, and now we’ve all worked enough to never need to work again. And we won’t, unless we want to. Further, if our images are used, or our voices, or our likenesses, or any work is done in any manner claiming to be done by us or with us without our express approval, we will all sue to the full extent of the law.”

Just slightly taller than Parker, Harlan Ellison stepped up to the mic, removed his pipe from his mouth and said, “And as you may recall, some of us have been surprisingly successful with lawsuits in the past. Don’t fuck with us. This time when we’re dead, let us stay that way.”

The Reborn Creators Union press conference, as it came to be known, was a watershed moment. Shortly after, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince released individual comments stating they believed the second lives given to them and others were morally wrong and a violation of their faith. At the same time, broadcast pundits, internet influencers, and social media commenters broke along largely generational lines in favor of or in opposition to what had been done. Members of Generation X, who had been waiting for the world to die in a nuclear flash since the 1980s, overwhelmingly said they didn’t want their lives extended, nor did they want to be revived after their lives ended. Millennials were split on the matter while members of Gen Z were too young to care. The remaining Baby Boomers, however, were deeply vested in whatever advances technology could give them, from reversing diseases, to reversing age, to preventing death, to refreshing their numbers by bringing back as many of their generation as possible.

Faced with a future where members of Congress, Parliament, and other governing bodies who had already been in power for 50 years could be in power for 30 or 50 more, the pitchforks and torches came again.

literaturescience fiction
20

About the Creator

Gene Lass

Gene Lass is a professional writer, writing and editing numerous books of non-fiction, poetry, and fiction. Several have been Top 100 Amazon Best Sellers. His short story, “Fence Sitter” was nominated for Best of the Net 2020.

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Comments (9)

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  • Esala Gunathilake12 days ago

    Congratulations on your top story.

  • Flamance @ lit.24 days ago

    Awesome story I like it congratulations 🎉🎉

  • Karen Caveabout a month ago

    This is quite something. What a vision! I couldn't stop reading... all too possible and felt absolutely accurate!

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    So funny. I love the way that you gave voices to all these famous people. And so the cycle begins again. There was something about the inevitability of things here, Greg that spoke of satire in a blackly humorous way but also this exasperation that things will always return to the same point, over and over again. Great invective and funny. In the best tradition of satirists.

  • Dana Crandellabout a month ago

    Congratulations. Well deserved!

  • JBazabout a month ago

    What an interesting concept and well told. Yes I would love to see Bogart and Jimmy Stewart grace the screen again, but some not so likeable people could make a reappearance and they may not want to go gracefully into the night. Congratualtions on Top Story

  • Anna about a month ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎉 for top story you explained the story very well or in an attractive way

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    Oh, I love this one! All my favourites are back (greatly appreciated the reference to Trane and Miles). And you understand my generation - X - very well (we just want to get on with it). This movie in my head deserves more attention (I'm gonna share it)!

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