“Washington declined a third term. Grant was denied a third term. Roosevelt demanded a third term.”
“So don’t I deserve a second term?” Boomed history’s heaviest U.S. President, William Howard Taft.
Pulled from primeval 1912 to the present day, he took up two seats and destroyed our mileage.
“Is he going to complain about Teddy Roosevelt the whole ride?” Travis asked under his breath, shooting me daggers.
“Teddy!” wailed Taft.
“Now we’re going to have to stop for chocolate. Thanks, Travis.” I folded my arms. My prison guard uniform chaffed.
“Why is he here anyway? We don’t need him…”
That’s a little like asking Picasso why the Mona Lisa only has one ear.
“SUBMITTED,” I began, “that our most honorable mission is to mount a Skrull jailbreak from Raft, the prison for superhumans. Taft knows more about breaking out of Raft than anyone — his campaign slogan was ‘Get out of Raft with Taft.’”
“Actually,” Taft twirled his out-of-date moustache, “it was ‘get in a raft with Taft.’”
“That’s the easy part.” I pressed the camouflage button on the hovercraft’s dashboard. Immediately, our vehicle morphed into an exact replica of the prison transport we’d run off that bridge five miles back.
“Taft?” Travis looked back, “This is your last chance to back out.”
His rubicund face contorted thus: “Perish the thought! Teddy’s not the only one as strong as a bull moose! I can handle any burden.” He flexed, and the buttons held.
The prison rose as the temperature fell. Though it was midday, searchlights shone upon the perimeter, illuminating God only knows what. Desperation, fear and a touch of madness emanated psychically over the reinforced walls and turrets. A thousand and one deadly traps lay waiting in the foliage, and the air smelt of decay. Above, the sky was an ugly inky black, and the clouds twisted meanly.
We pulled to a stop. Travis spritzed himself with prison-grade cologne and I rehearsed my lines again, as the drawbridge crashed down over a glowing purple moat. We could not cross, as Travis’s MERE PRESENCE would set off the hypnosis alarm. Guards armed to the teeth with riot gear spilled out, ready for a prisoner transfer.
I climbed out and shook hands with the warden (I assumed he was the warden, he wore only the finest purple linens and silks), clasping his wrist firmly.
“I’m master bounty hunter Mongrel Jones, and this is special agent Perry Nöel.”
“Bonjour,” Travis waved.
“We’re here to conduct the peaceable transfer of one, W. H. Taft, to the prison Raft.” I stifled a chuckle at the rhyming goodness.
The warden frowned at his clipboard. “There are 20 prisoners scheduled for today, but none of them are named—”
“This is the prisoner you’re scheduled for,” Travis declared, briefly flashing a whistling hypnotic spiral with Obi-Wan-like ease. The guards stumbled, almost falling over from the sheer power.
“Is it?” The warden mumbled. The mind-veil had taken! Travis’s aim was improving; the last time this feat had been attempted, there had been no survivors.
“Get up, you great lump!” I commanded of the time-marooned president. Taft shambled out of the backseat, his arms and legs shackled together. As the searchlights hit his orange jumpsuit, sweet memories of James & The Giant Peach floated to the forefront of my mind.
“Stop yelling at me!” Taft shielded his eyes, but I could see he loved the attention. Our needlessly complex plan was ONLY one third of the way completed, but the allure of a job well done kept me on the straight and narrow.
“This is… who did you say this was again?” The warden searched his clipboard. Someone should take that away from him.
“Willy Taft,” I clucked, tapping the president’s back with my plastic baton. “Caught just outside the Shire Sunday night. It took more than an outraged band of halflings to take down this blue elephant,” I pointed to his tusk-like moustache, while simultaneously referencing his left-wing and Republican affiliations. “He gored three hobbits and an orc.”
Taft loudly chewed his own cuds while the warden finalized the paperwork. “What powers does the inmate posses?”
Only those delegated by the constitution, I held back. “Laser breath, microwave eyes, etc.”
The guards nodded, “That’s pretty common.”
“Yeah. Garden variety.”
“I’ve seen bigger.”
“We’ll just be on our way then,” I snapped the completed paperwork from the warden’s still-shaking hands. Travis and I packed back into the camouflaged hovercraft and sped away. Out of the corner of my eye, Taft gave us a covert wink as they slipped a laser-proof drool collar on and led him inside the fortress.
“So what’s the plan now?” Travis asked, clasping his hands tighter to the wheel as we passed safely beyond surveillance range. “Have Taft start a fight while we sneak in through the sewers? Stage a public protest against Taft’s imprisonment and have some incensed hippies tear the walls down? Or do you plan to leave Taft displaced from time in an attempt to ruin Earth’s past to prevent the Skrulls’ arrival?”
I beamed. “The student has become the master. But nay!” I unfolded a map of New York City. “We’re to journey to the Presidential Library of William Howard Taft—”
“B-but there is no Taft presidential library—”
“Bite your tongue, wastrel! The library was constructed in secret almost a century ago — it’s more a vault, really — to house a single envelope which has remained unopened and undisturbed for exactly 96 years tomorrow. Now shut up and FLY!”
Seven hours later, Travis and I returned from the secret vault, having fought past our share of skeletal warriors and solved the riddle of the Spider King. I was exhausted and Travis would soon lose a finger to gangrene, but we recovered the precious envelope. Wars were waged over envelopes such as this. The writing on the front was faded completely, and the stamp had long ago fallen off and withered to dust.
“Mongrel Jones! What a surprise.” The warden didn’t sound surprised, swaggering over as we disembarked from the vehicle. “What brings you back to Raft? Got another inmate for me?”
“We’re here to make a withdrawal, not a deposit,” I spat, using banking jargon to great effect.
“What’s that in your hand?” He half-pointed to the envelope. Couldn’t really be bothered to point fully, huh? Whatever happened to work ethic? Did it just EVAPORATE?
“It’s a blank cheque,” I whipped out my letter opener and broke the ancient wax. “A presidential pardon for William Howard Taft, issued exactly 96 years ago tomorrow — by President William Howard Taft.”
Jaws dropped around the board and the injustice of it all caused more than one guard to exhibit the symptoms of hysterical blindness. When the warden regained his composure the forest was silent for his verdict.
“This is a valid pardon…”
Grown men wept and children danced in the streets at this simple proclamation. Fair maidens hung wreaths around my neck and offered me gumbos and stews laced with the tastiest spices.
Taft rode out the prison gates atop a pygmy blue elephant (tuskless), waving to the masses, and bands played him great fanfare as the timeless president exited to the cheering throngs of humanity.
“Bully for you, I say,” I patted him on the back. “They haven’t yet built a prison — or bathtub — that can hold William Howard Taft!”
Fortunately, they had built a hovercraft which could (hold him). The three of us flew from Raft as if someone had lit a fire under our collective rumps.
“Now…” I slyly slinked as we skinked past the city limits, “Bring them forth!”
As if on cue, Taft shoved his massive arm down his throat. Travis cringed, as with a *GRK*ing sound, the president regurgitated a series of fire-red bricks.
“Skrulls! Taft’s stomach lining shielded them from the anti-shapeshifting rays.”
With a final jerking, the last Skrull-brick was safely stowed away in the overhead compartment and Taft spent the remainder of the ride recuperating.
As we neared my magical workshop, an errant thought came to Travis. “Why did we go through all that trouble when Taft could have pardoned the Skrulls instead?”
When I was finished flogging him, I answered, “The Democrats were monitoring his ink usage. If he’d signed that many pardons — especially for Skrulls! — he’d’ve been discovered and Wilson would have won a large enough mandate to take out the Kaiser on day one. The Progressive Era was known for its suspicion of the goblin-men.”
“What was done cannot be undone and cannot have been done any other way,” Taft spoke wisely. “Now,” he said as the craft slumped to a bodacious halt, “will you maintain your end of our Faustian bargain?”
Clapping my claws, the window rolled down and a winged cherub burst from my lab, carrying a jewel-covered black box with metal hinges and ornate designs beside the hand-forged handles. Hesitantly I opened it.
“Remember to sign your own pardon on your last day in office or you will rupture the very berry fabric of space/time or maybe you won’t because nobody ever tried doing that so it might work,” I rambled in an off-the-cuff run-on sentence that had no right to exist.
He braced himself. “Anything to return to my family and failing reelection campaign.”
I removed a glowing red crystal from the hauntingly slick box. “Then I release you from this century. Whoooooooooo!”
Taft, smiling, evaporated as the crystal broke in half. 96 years ago tomorrow, William Howard Taft, having already cemented his legacy as a staunch anti-Skrull, reluctantly pardoned his past self in the future.
BUT IN REALITY, stories of Taft’s selflessness spread from the Skrull he had rescued. Upon their return home, Taft’s exploits on their behalf circled the Skrull empire. Boy-Skrull and Girl-Skrull with names like “Willy” and “Howie” were common on the Skrull homeword in the succeeding seasons.
The benevolence of a single human helped bring the Skrull to the negotiating table, and a new peace opened between Earth and the goblin-men.
And somewhen, William Howard Taft, armed with the foreknowledge of supercomputers and helicopter rides, was busy helping others — and hoping that the next leap would be the leap home.