I continue to be hypothetical


You do a rather mundane favor for a stranger (helping him find the library, paying for the coffee he ordered but couldn’t afford, something like that) and he is grateful to you beyond all expectations. Such kindness must be rewarded!

The stranger explains to you that he is a visitor from another realm, a land of great magic, where he is a powerful wizard. Favors carry great weight in the land where he comes from, and so he must present you with a gift.

He gives you a gun loaded with a single bullet. This gun, which can be fired only once, will hit anything or anyone anywhere in the present or past. You can shoot Hitler lying in his crib, or you can shoot Kitty Genovese’s attacker just as he lunges at her. You can shoot Constantine while he dreams about the cross, or you can shoot the abusive creep your sister married.

You could, if you wanted, shoot a hole in one of the Apollo landing modules, or into the engine of the Enola Gay. Maybe you could even shoot out the lock holding shut the doors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

You mention, politely, that there is a long storytelling tradition in our world in which magical gifts such as this one always operate in such a way to harm the person using it in an unexpected way. The sorcerer laughs at this in a startled way, as though you’ve said something scandalous, then assures you that such a person would be an infamous criminal back home, and then assures you that there is nothing sneaky or underhanded about this gift. It will perform as described.

Do you fire the gun, and what do you shoot?

17 thoughts on “I continue to be hypothetical

  1. Scott Slater

    I don’t think there is anything or anyone that I could kill/destroy that would make the world a measurably better place. There ripple effect of that kind of action is too big for my mind to encompass/predict.

    Ultimately, the only way I would actually use it would probably be for some kind of personal revenge against someone that had harmed a loved one. Just like it was a plain old gun.

  2. Interesting hypothetical, Harry.

    Since so much flows from it, I am going to borrow from Gregory Benford’s Timescape, and kill Lee Harvey Oswald, 5 minutes before he fires upon JFK in Dallas.

  3. LabRat001


    Kennedy’s head still goes back and to the left and Oswald was “slain by police officers responding to the shooting” try again :)

    Keeping this public rather than personal (as you’re pretty much handing me a time machine to rewrite my life with here) then either:

    A) Scott Walker of Wisconsin, in the centre of the forehead, while he is live on camera where the view is such that it proves that this is a magical judgement bullet from nowhere and not something fired by the cameraman. Hopefully that might make a few people think.

    B) Jack the Ripper 10 seconds after he kills Mary Nichols (sorry Mary but he’s not actually deserving of this until he’s done something) in the hope it would prevent the adulation of serial killers phenomena

    C) Silvio Berlusconi purely for the sleaze.

    D) Eve. (Either religiously if that’s your fiction or Mitochondrial Eve – generally estimated to have lived around 200,000 years ago, most likely in East Africa, when Homo sapiens sapiens were developing as a distinct population.) Let some other guys have a try at this whole history thing we pretty much failed it.

    E) Whoever came up with the exact phrasing used in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States BEFORE he used the phrase. It would act as appropriate punctuation the the consequence of bearing arms and would hopefully mean that whatever ended up in the document had MUCH clearer language.

    Just to add a thought I’m wondering if in fact the person who did perform the mundane favour thought “If only Oswald could have shot straight none of this would ever have happened” before firing the fatal shot back through time.

  4. As much as I despise what Gov. Walker is doing, it doesn’t come anywhere near a capital crime. Seriously? Scott Walker? Berlusconi?

    As for your other ideas, I’m just going to walk by them with my gaze averted.

  5. LabRat001

    It’s the whole time travelling bullet thing that got me. I have no way of predicting the consequences to my existence of killing someone in my past. Kill Hitler before he gains power? The last centuries history gets ripped up and redone, WWII had such pervasive secondary and tertiary effects. That was sort of what sparked the Eve idea.

    Agreed my two current events targets aren’t committing capital crimes (I mean if they were they’d be arrested) they just irritate the hell out of me and the idea of doing it in such a way as to be impossible without magic made me smile. After all if you don’t mind me killing astronauts with your hypothetical toy why be protective of politicians?

    Still as I feel I may have offended which was not my intent I’ll take another stab at it. Historically lets say Heinrich Himmler circa 1922. Currently Kim Jong Il already has a successor lined up, Mugabe’s nearly 90, Bin Laden lives in a cave! Many of the other major oppressive figures aren’t cult of personality types so their deaths wouldn’t change anything much. I might end up shoving it in the kitchen drawer and waiting for a change in current events to trigger a decision but if I did I suspect I’d end up using it on “Whoever is responsible for the disappearance of Madeleine McCann” or some similar anonymous, uncaught, unlikely to BE caught monster.

  6. My list above wasn’t meant to be a list of heroic or moral choices, just a wide range of possible options.

    I wouldn’t kill Hitler, either, mainly because he made so many mistakes in WWII and German anti-semitism was so pervasive that some other leader might have been worse.

    And I wasn’t offended, merely alarmed. :)

  7. Just a point of headshot physics…

    Kennedy’s head going back and to the left means that the *exit wound* was front and right.

    (The jet force action of the relatively slow, relatively massive spurt of blood and brain overpowers the impact action of the relatively fast, relatively light, relatively sharp bullet going in.)

    That doesn’t guarantee that the bullet came from Oswald, but it proves that that headshot didn’t come from the knoll.

  8. A. Nuran

    I’d certainly end up shooting. Who or what would take some serious study and consideration.

    Hitler? No. The world recovered, and despite the Shoah we got Eretz Yisroel out of it. Of course, by that standard shooting Abu Lahab would be even better. Without him there’s a good chance the Jews would have allied with Mohamed.

    Qin Shi Huang Di, Constantine or Lenin? Maybe. It would certainly have thrown a few random numbers into history with a radically different “China”, Mithraism in the Eastern Empire or an unrecognizable Russian Revolution. For similar reasons Candidate Taft is a possibility.

    The Person from Porlock is a definite possibility. The loss of Xanadu is a crime beyond measure. “Saint” Cyril of Alexandria for similar reasons.

  9. Carl Rigney

    I shoot the stranger, of course. If he’s handing out gifts that powerful, he’s going to cause a lot more trouble before he’s done.

    I resist the urge to shoot the stranger in the past, because causality is not to be messed with before coffee.

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