Sunday, February 21, 2016

Passing Time: Mr. Pollard's 4th Hour World History

Passing Time - Episode 1 - Mr. Pollard's 4th Hour World History

This is the first in a planned series of short stories. Each will be set in a classroom in a different Alternate History scenario. In each story, the characters will remain the same, even though their names and some minor details will vary from story to story. 

       Henry Pollard walked down the hallway towards his classroom on the second floor of Roosevelt High School. His shoes clicked on the linoleum floors and the sound echoed a little off the locker-lined hallway. Pollard looked at his watch: 6:45, nearly an hour and a half before class. Gave him plenty of time to make sure his lessons were ready. He reached his classroom, at the end of the hall, and unlocked the large wooden door with inset window, and entered his academic domain. Flipping a switch, his room was quickly illuminated, showing the various maps that dominated the one long wall of the classroom that was opposite the exterior wall, which was almost all windows. On the back wall the portraits of every U.S. President, from Washington all the way to Robert Taft, who somehow had managed to gain reelection in 1956, despite a spirited effort by Adlai Stevenson to unseat him. The front wall held a large blackboard, coated with chalk dust, and had a large selection of pull down maps. Once Pollard set his bag and papers on his desk, he turned his attention to said maps and, after looking for a moment for the right one, pulled down, revealing a map of the North Pacific, showing the far eastern territory of the USSR, the Alaskan Empire, British Colombia, and parts of Washington and Oregon. Before sitting at his desk, he walked through the rows of desks, thirty in all, to make sure they were straightened and that nobody had left any textbooks or papers behind. He normally checked his room at the end of the day, but he had left early to go have dinner with his wife before returning for the evening’s basketball game. The Rough Riders had played a good game against rival Lincoln High, beating the Lynxes 65-52. 
Once at his desk, he began to sort through the papers to give back to the students. Their essays on the chain of events of the March and November Revolutions in Russia had been more or less satisfactory. Pollard sighed briefly as he recalled one exception to that: Neil Hammond. Talking with the boy’s parents, he knew that Neil had been a bright child and excelled at school, until his father had been killed in Korea. Pollard could still see that intellect when Neil chose to apply himself, but he mostly didn’t, in a form of rebellion against his mother and step-father. Pollard hoped he could get through to the boy and help him turn his academics around before he graduated next year, but it was an uphill battle. Once his papers were sorted and ready to return, Pollard took out the text books for his different classes. He had three preps this year: Washington History, U.S. History, and World History. He was on a rotation with Mrs. Gillespie across the hall with Washington and European History. She taught the seniors for three years, and he taught the freshmen, and then they’d switch. Part of him was sad that he wouldn’t be teaching local history next year, but Euro was also enjoyable, and he liked this current group of students and wouldn’t mind having them another year. 
With his lesson materials laid out, Pollard got up and decided to grab a cup of coffee in the lounge. Having stayed up for the game the night before, he needed the extra kick to be ready once the kids came in. When he’d started teaching twenty years ago at 24, he could have pulled an all-nighter and still been able to hit the ground running. “Not any more, unfortunately,” Pollard thought to himself as he walked down the stairs leading to the main floor and one of four teacher’s lounges on campus. As he walked towards the door, he passed Mr. Thompson, the 
“Good Morning Henry! Did you enjoy the game last night?”
“I did Mr. Thomas. Our boys did a really good job. Had me worried there at halftime, but Coach McMillan was able to get them to pull ahead.”
“Yes, he’s building a good team. If not this year, I see them in the playoffs next year for sure.”
“Been a few years since we did that. I think the last time was my second year teaching here, in ’44.”
“That sounds about right. We shall keep our fingers crossed. Oh, and by the way, I wanted to let you know that the city emergency management office called. They’re holding a bomb drill today at noon. They’ve been letting all the schools know.”
“Good to know. Right after lunch. Should we tell the kids?”
“Yes. I don’t want them to panic. What with the news the way it’s been the past week.”
“Very true. Hopefully the Soviets back down in Poland. I’d hate to think what war with them would really look like.”
“Me either, Mr. Pollard. I had a nephew who was stationed in Japan after the War, near Osaka. He said the damage done there by the atom bomb was unimaginable. He took a few pictures and showed us when he got back. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”
“I’m sure it won’t come to that. Bobrinsky will back down. Taft might have to give him something in return, but he’ll manage it. 
Earlier in the week, the Soviet President had increased troop levels in Poland nearly threefold, and stated that either East Prussia had to be given over to the people of Poland, or that Germany had to be divided as had originally been promised by FDR and Churchill in 1944. Since Nazi President Gottfried Feder had been much more worried about the Soviets than the Western Allies, Germany had been able to hold off the Russian horde far better than had been anticipated in 1944, when the Allied leaders had first met, meanwhile the British and American armies had gone smashing straight through Nazi defenses in the West, and didn’t meet their Russian counterparts until they reached the German-Polish border. And then the Nazis in East Prussia held out entirely. With Trotsky’s health in poor condition and weak upper leadership beneath him, the Russians had been forced to agree to only occupy the territory they had actually taken when Germany surrendered in April 1945 after Feder’s capture. Ever since Bobrinsky took power the year before, in 1958, he’d railed against the final post-war settlement, saying that Trotsky had stabbed the Soviet people in the back. 
Pollard stopped his wool-gathering as he entered the lounge. The smell of coffee and the sound of light chatter consumed his senses. Mrs. Gillespie, his hall neighbor, stood at the coffee pot. 
“Good morning Mr. Pollard. How was the game? I wanted to go but I just can’t do those late nights as often anymore.” She’d been in her forties when Pollard had first started working at RHS, and she was now just a year or two away from seventy. She’d told him last year that she wouldn’t leave the classroom until she died. Most days, Pollard still believed her. Some of the kids liked to joke, when they thought no adult could hear, that one day they’d come in to class and find her dead in her chair. He didn’t appreciate the humor, but he didn’t think that they were necessarily wrong either. 
“They played well. I have to agree with what Mr. Thomas just told me: if they don’t make the playoffs this year, they’ll do so next year for sure.”
“Oh wonderful! Just like in 1944, right after you started here, all young and handsome.” She winked harmlessly. Pollard chuckled. The two of them were old friends now. She’d been a mentor to him when he’d first started in this career.
“So it was back in ’44 then? Mr. Thomas and I thought so, but we weren’t for sure.”
She tapped her head. “I might be getting old, but my mind is still as sharp as ever. And I never ever forget a date.”
“Considering what you teach I’d hope not.”
She laughed at an old memory before sharing: “Back years ago, before you started here, we had an old history teacher…he must have been well past seventy at this point, and one day he told his class that Pyotr Baranov SOLD Alaska to America in 1867! They poor students were so confused.”
Pollard laughed at the very idea. “SOLD Alaska to America? That’s the year he retired, after being the first Imperial governor. How in the world did he come up with that date?”
“I have no clue. Poor man retired that year. Had dementia.”
“Ah, what a shame.”
Pollard filled his own cup, and escorted Mrs. Gillespie back upstairs, after greeting a few other colleagues. He looked at his watch when he got back to his room. It was now 7:45. The students would be called to class by the first bell in 15 minutes, and his day would begin in earnest. And so it did. The first bell rang, and students began filing in. His first period Washington History class came and went slowly, like usual. Unlike their teacher, the students were mostly still waking up, and it was a struggle to get them to pay attention. He discussed settlement in the mid 1800s, and how America encouraged settlement to beat the Russians to some of the territory and solidify American control of the region. 
U.S. History was back to back in his second and third periods, and those students were mostly more attentive. Pollard was very thankful, as he was covering the Civil War, something that the students needed to know. Finally, his fourth period arrived. These World History juniors he’d had for the past three years, and they were mostly a good group. First to enter was Sally Hyatt, the Junior Class vice president (as far as school records could determine, only the second female to hold that post since the school opened at the turn of the century), followed by her friend Victoria Fenway. Victoria was in the school drama club, and reminded Pollard as she took her seat that he had until the following Monday to buy his ticket to the school musical. They were performing “Oklahoma!,” and Victoria assured Pollard and whoever else was listening that it would be “an absolute smash.”
A few more students came in, and then James Buchanan and two of his fellow teammates entered the room. “Hey Mr. Pollard, saw you last night! Thanks for coming!”
“Not a problem James. You boys played well last night.”
“Thanks! Felt good to beat the Lynxes, especially after last year.” Last year, the Lynxes had humiliated the Rough Riders with a 78-28 defeat early in the season, and the basketball boys had never quite been able to shake it off for the rest of the season. 
As Buchanan and his mini-posse settled in the back, Chase Rutledge, the son of the Deputy Mayor of Seattle, came in to class, followed shortly by the Pride of Roosevelt High’s first chair drummer, Dillon Gillmore. Pollard liked Gillmore. He was a decent kid that performed well both in class and with his instrument, and was just an all-around good person. Rutledge, on the other hand…..was an acquired taste at best, and one that Pollard was still working on. His father’s position (and money) made him somewhat apathetic towards his scholarship, something that drove Pollard insane at times. 
Lastly, as the tardy bell rang, Neil Hammond strutted into class and drifted back to his seat near the back corner by the windows. Hammond was what some people described as a “greaser,” with the white shirt, leather jacket, and slicked back hair. Pollard hoped he could get through to Neil and get his grade up, but it wouldn’t be easy. 
“Okay class! Good morning, I hope you’re ready to learn, because that’s what we will be doing today. Mr. Gillmore, would you mind telling me where we left off yesterday?”
“Sure Mr. Pollard. We talked about how bad everything was in Russia by 1917, and how the soldiers and city workers revolted against the Tsar in Leningrad and forced the Tsar to abdicate in February of that year.”
“Correct. Now, who can tell me where the Tsar and his family went after Nicholas II abdicated?”
Sally raised her hand, no surprise to Pollard. “Yes Sally.”
“They went to Vladivostok, on the Russian east coast.”
“Correct Sally. Now….” Pollard scanned the room. Chase seemed to be zoning out, so Pollard decided to help him focus, “….Chase, can you tell me why that might be important to us? The Tsar coming to Vladivostok?”
Chase abruptly snapped out of whatever daydream he was having. “Uh..well…I mean the Tsar lives in North America now…so I guess that’s how he got here?”
Pollard was both surprised and impressed. For a kid that didn’t like to pay attention all the time, that was close to a decent answer.
“Correct…more or less. Nicholas II does end up coming to North America, specifically to Alaska. And of course his son is now the Alaskan Emperor, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Everyone take out your books and your notes, and we will begin. Today we are going to talk about how the Tsar of all the Russias ended up on the shores of the New World in 1927.”
The students opened their books, and Pollard had them read aloud different sections of the chapter they were covering, which was all about the Russian Revolution. Through the text and his own extra explanation, he explained how initially Nicholas II tried to flee to England, but had been blocked. Then, in the heated summer of 1917, the Kerensky government suggested that the royal family relocate to Vladivostok to be safe from the violence occurring in some of the core cities.
James raised his hand. “Mr. Pollard, why didn’t Nicholas II just come over to Alaska right then and there?”
“Well, the Russians still looked on Alaska largely as a backwater, a sleepy, less developed and less cultured part of their empire, and remember, back in those days Alaska was only a colony. Vladivostok was, in the minds of the Russian government, a much more developed city, though in reality New Tsaritsyn was probably just as developed and cultured, thanks to its close proximity to the United States.”
“Still, wouldn’t it have been safer?” Asked Dillon.
“Well yes. But Kerensky, and the Tsar himself, didn’t think the royal family would actually spend that much time away from the core of Russia. They didn’t have a clue what Lenin and his communists were up to.”
From there, Pollard went in to detail of how, in early December 1917, after elections failed to bring the Bolsheviks into power by the narrowest of margins, Lenin led his followers in a bloody coup that saw Kerensky and dozens other dead. The December Massacre in what was then Petrograd shocked many Russians, and the wider world. 
“At this point, the Tsar decided to act, and he renounces his abdication and starts to coordinate with the anti-communist resistance. And with Allied, mainly American, assistance, they are able to hold out and keep control of Vladivostok and much of the Russian Far East.”
“Why didn’t we help Nicholas II and his White Army take out the Reds completely?” This was Chase asking. 
“By the time the Russian Civil War really gets going, it’s late 1918, early 1919. What was going on in Europe by then?”
Chase looked unsure. in the middle of the class, Pavel Gorbunov raised his hand. Pollard acknowledged the student.
“World War I was ending. And although America had troops trained and available, people here didn’t want to keep fighting endlessly. Plus, Russia is so big!”
“Correct Pavel, thank you. All of that is true. It was harder to keep justifying American troops fighting an dying in Russia once the rest of the war in Europe was over by 1919. By 1922 the Whites had ground the advancing Reds to a halt about 100 miles west of Vladivostok and things didn’t change. The U.S. was able to convince the Soviets and the Tsarists to meet for a cease fire, and on March 1st, 1923, the Russian Civil War was over. 
Victoria raised her hand. “Mr. Pollard, that still doesn’t explain how the Tsars ended up in Alaska.”
Before Pollard could answer, Pavel spoke out. “A Red tried to blow him up.” Victoria looked back at Pavel, eyes wide, and then back to Pollard. “Really?”
“Pavel is right. In 1926, agents with ties to the Soviet Union set off a bomb at the Royal Palace. Killed several servants and two government ministers, and critically injured Nicholas II. The Imperial family moved across the pacific to New Archangel, and that was that.”
“Mr. Pollard,” Pavel spoke up again, “My father says that the Tsar should never have crossed the ocean. That he should have stayed in Vladivostok. That way, the Americans never would have forced his son to give up the Russian Far East to the Soviets.” Pavel’s father had immigrated to the United States during the Alaskan Independence Crisis in 1938. Like many Russo-Alaskans, he was somewhat bitter about that more recent history. Many in that community accused the United States of betraying it’s Imperial Russian ally by forcing them to give up all claim to Russia itself and consolidate solely in Alaska or face Soviet annexation of the Far East and American annexation of Alaska itself. Some would likely never forgive FDR for that. 
“Well, it’s not quite that simple,” Pollard began delicately, “You see, by the time the 1930s came around, we knew that we would likely need the Soviets in the eventual fight against Gottfried Feder and the Nazis. I was still in high school when all this went down, but I still remember it. We didn’t like the Soviets, and of course people here in Washington are very pro-Alaskan, and there were lots of protests and the like. But in the end, both the United States and the British needed the Soviets to help bring down the Nazis. So that took precedent. Had the government stayed in Vladivostok, maybe we wouldn’t have gone that route. But then again, we might have not had a choice. Or it could have been worse, the Tsar could have refused to relocate and have been captured by the Soviets. THAT would have been ugly.”
“I suppose so, Mr. Pollard. But nobody in my family sees it that way.”
“I’m not surprised. And I understand why and don’t blame them. It was a shady deal, in all honesty.”
Just then, the intercom crackled. “Attention teachers and students. This is a reminder that we are holding students in their fourth period class until after the bomb drill that will commence at 12 noon. Students, you will be released to lunch after the all clear is given.”
Once the announcement was over, Pollard looked around the room. Some of the kids looked suddenly nervous. Neil Hammond, who had actually halfway paid attention to the lesson, asked, “Mr. Pollard, I’ve been listening to my mom and her husband talk about all the stuff in Poland. Do you….do you think the Russians might actually use the bomb.”
Pollard saw that that thought was on the minds of several of his students.
“You know Neil, I hope it won’t come to that. In the end I believe cooler heads will prevail and Bobrinksy will back down. I just am not sure what exactly it will take to get us there. But I’m sure our diplomats will find it. That’s what they get paid the big bucks to do.” 
The students didn’t look entirely reassured. Frankly, Pollard wasn’t one hundred percent there himself. This current crisis could get bad. And it was totally being driven by the Soviet President. That was the only factor that had changed since the post-war agreements were signed in Gdansk. He stopped himself from wool-gathering again and instructed the students to read the next section in the chapter and reminded them they’d have a quiz the day after next. Then he let them pack their things up and be ready to go after the drill. 

When the sirens began to wail across Seattle, Pollard led by example and got under his desk as his students got under their’s. He knew that if a bomb hit anywhere close, this was likely futile, but it was better than nothing he supposed. The wailing continued for what seemed like an eternity before the all-clear sounded. Afterwards, Mr. Thomas came on the intercom and dismissed the students to lunch. Their carefree attitude largely returned. Pollard wished his would bounce back like that. But he couldn’t stop from thinking that one of these days, if things didn’t improve, those siren’s would go off without warning. If the Cold War really did heat up, it was likely that New Tsaritsyn would be a prime target, and Seattle right after it. Pollard knew more than most that history turned in weird ways, often less plausibly and more strange than any work of fiction. He hoped and prayed such a twist was not far off, and that peace would prevail.