art by Wi Waffles
By the Hands of Juan Perón
by Eric James Stone
In 1987 someone broke into the tomb of Argentine dictator Juan Perón and removed the hands from his corpse. An unknown group subsequently demanded eight million dollars in ransom for the hands. Despite an extensive investigation by the Argentine government, the culprits were never identified. As for Perón's hands, they remain missing to this day--in this timeline.
An average Argentine citizen would be almost paralyzed with fear upon opening the door at three in the morning to find two Imperial Police officers. But despite his wishes to the contrary, Tomás Alejandro Perón was not an average Argentine citizen. Even if his father had finally decided it was time to be rid of his troublesome Catholic priest son, there was no point resisting. He got in the car and let them drive him to downtown Buenos Aires.
The car pulled into a rear entrance to the Casa Rosada, where he was given over to the custody of two military guards. Tomás followed them through the unfamiliar corridors of the new imperial wing of the Casa Rosada. It was new to him, at least; though he had grown up in the presidential palace, he had not returned since taking his vows as a Catholic priest, twenty-five years ago.
As the guards escorted Tomás into a large room, Juan Domingo Perón--Emperor of Latin America, Protector of the Southern World--rose from a couch and strode to greet him with a hug. "Tomasito, I'm glad you came."
Instead of pointing out his father had told him never to return, Tomás returned the hug. "You're looking well, Father."
"Not bad for a hundred and ten years old, no? I look younger than you. But we can change that easily enough."
"The Church has not changed its moral position on artificial rejuvenation," said Tomás.
His father turned abruptly and paced to a window. "And what moral position allows your church to kill your brother?"
"Mario?" The news seemed to hollow Tomás's stomach. "Mario's dead? When? How? Is Mamá all right?"
"Yesterday. I've muzzled the press for now. Not even your mother knows, but the news will get out soon." His father turned to look him in the eyes. "It was a public appearance, the opening of a new orphanage run by your church. And when one of the nuns gave him a hug, she burst into flames, right there on the steps of the orphanage. The guards tried to put the fire out, but it was no use. Mario burned to death, screaming."
"And you think the nun did this on purpose?" Tomás sat down as he tried to process the information. "The Church does not condone suicide or murder."
"Still you defend them?"
Now was not the time to argue the point. Tomás said, "What will you do?"
"I cannot stand by and allow them to murder the President of Argentina, my designated successor as Emperor, without consequence."
"You..." Tomás swallowed. "You are not planning to harm the Pope?"
"That frail old man? Kill him and another jumps in his place. No, your Church has deprived me of one son. I feel it only just I take the other in exchange."
"I'm but a humble priest. Killing me will not impress them." Tomás felt no fear, just puzzlement. Had his father gone mad at last?
"Kill you? No, I will appoint you President of Argentina. I will designate you as next in line to be Emperor."
Tomás shook his head. Mario had been the ambitious one.
"But more, I will take your loyalty from them. Oh, how they must have laughed when you turned from me to them. And they did not even give you a position commensurate with your status. A simple parish."
Rising to his feet, Tomás said, "I love the people of my parish, and my calling is sufficient. You cannot bribe me with titles, and you cannot shake my faith. Goodbye, Father."
"Wait. I have proof you must see."
Tomás stopped. "Proof the Church was behind killing Mario?" He did not want to believe it, but sometimes people became overzealous.
"No. Even more than that. You have faith your Pope is guided by God?"
"I have scientific proof he is not."
Tomás frowned. "You cannot prove such a thing scientifically. It is a matter of faith."
"Like the existence of God?"
His father smiled. "I have scientific proof God exists. Can you shut your eyes to such?"
"If you have such proof, why have you not shared it with the world? You hate the Church enough, so why have you not proven the Pope a fraud?"
His father waved a hand dismissively. "The world is not ready for the truth. But you are. Come with me." He marched out the door.
After a brief hesitation, Tomás followed.
His father said nothing as they walked to an elevator. Two imperial guards boarded with them, and one pressed a button that started the elevator descending.
"You remember the bomb plot in 1987, yes?" his father said.
"I read about it." It had happened seven years after Tomás had become a priest. He had tried to see his father in the hospital, but had not been admitted.
"The bomb did not explode completely when I opened the briefcase. But I lost my hands."
Tomás hadn't known that. He looked at his father's hands. "So you grew them back."
"Yes, now we do it all the time. The marvels of Argentine medicine--" His father gave a strange laugh. "--and the wonders of stem cells from the spleen. But twenty years ago, the science was in its infancy. The cells would grow wild without a proper foundation. The experiments were awful. So I needed a pair of hands on which my cells could grow in the proper pattern."
Nauseated, Tomás said, "You stole someone else's hands--"
"No! I am not so monstrous. Besides, I did not want another man's hands. But you know of quantum mechanics, yes?"
What did quantum physics have to do with his father's hands? "Something, yes."
"The theory that there are other worlds, parallel to ours? It is not just theory, it is fact. We have a machine that can travel to these other worlds. That is where my hands came from: the Juan Perón of another world."
The elevator stopped, and Tomás realized they had been descending the whole time. They must be far underground. "And this Juan Perón from another world, he just gave you his hands out of pity?" They stepped out of the elevator into a well-lit white corridor.
"He did not mind. He was dead. Fortunately, his hands were sufficiently preserved that my doctors could use them as a foundation for my living cells to take over."
Tomás wasn't sure what to say.
They stopped in front of a large metal door.
His father said, "Do you know why Argentina rose to become the undisputed world power? The leader in armaments, engineering, medicine, even entertainment?"
"In 1947," Tomás recited from the memory of lessons learned as a schoolboy, "President Perón instituted his first five-year economic plan. The valiant workers of the nationalized industries--"
"What I will show you is not in the schoolbooks. But at least you have the correct year." His father pushed open the door and walked in.
Tomás followed. Beyond the door was a balcony overlooking a cavernous room, in the middle of which there was a thick, hexagonal piece of featureless gray metal, fifty meters across.
"In July 1947, our navy was performing maneuvers in the Pacific. This flying disc crashed and sank in the water nearby. At great expense it was recovered and brought secretly back to our shores."
"A flying disc?" Tomás could not keep the excitement out of his voice. "Were there aliens on board?"
His father nodded. "Three were still alive when we got inside, although two were so wounded that they died within a few weeks."
"And the third?"
"She still lives."
As a boy, Tomás had loved reading science fiction. The idea of a live alien with a flying disc excited him, yet he remained wary. When his father offered someone something, it was always for his own advantage. "And this alien has been giving you advanced technology?"
"Fortunately for her--and for us--the disc crashed in the water, and it managed to maintain its integrity. In the United States timeline, the disc crashed in their territory, but was torn apart on impact. That is why we have the advantage."
"The United States timeline? What advantage? I do not understand." Tomás tried to comprehend the implications of what his father had revealed. Church doctrine did not rule out the many worlds of quantum mechanics, nor the existence of alien life, so this was not the proof his father had threatened.
"The United States timeline is the one where I got my hands. We name the timelines after the dominant power. Come, let us sit and I will explain all to you."
They sat down in a conference room with a glass wall overlooking the flying disk.
"There are not an infinite number of parallel worlds," said his father. "There is only one real timeline. This is not theory, it is scientific fact the aliens have proven."
"But then how could your hands come from another timeline? How can you travel to timelines that do not exist?"
"The aliens believe in God. No, they do not believe--they know. They call him the Prime Observer, because it is his observation that chooses the real timeline from among the parallel worlds."
"This is not a new idea," said Tomás. "The suggestion that God collapses the quantum mechanical wave function for the universe as a whole has been around a long time."
"Yes, but the fact is he collapses the wave function only when he observes the universe. And he has not done so since August of 1945, or possibly a little earlier."
"How can you know that?"
"Because that is when the timelines start to diverge. There are no timelines where Hitler won, or where the United States did not drop the atomic bombs on Japan. There are no timelines where the Roman Empire never fell, or timelines populated by intelligent dinosaurs. But my researchers in the other timelines have found slight differences in newspapers published in September, 1945. The differences become greater the farther you get from August, 1945." His father leaned forward. "Do you not see? God has not paid any attention to our world in sixty years, so he certainly has nothing to do with your Pope."