Friday, 10 May 2013

Past Present Future by Isaac Yu


Things are rarely as simple as they seem.

Especially just outside the Führerbunker in 1941.

Things are never simple there.


Two soldiers are outside guarding the door. One is called Franz, the other is called Hans. These are not their real names but don't dwell on that. At the moment there are much more pressing things to worry about.

There is a slight shimmer in the air and out of nowhere a head appears. It was not an unpleasant head to look at as far as heads go. It had short black hair and a pair of glasses with the bland not particularly distinctive features of an accountant, or someone who worked in HR. Unfortunately for the head and the body attached to it, it was not long for this world or even from the one it came from.

The Führerbunker roared with the crack of a gunshot and the not particularly distinctive head shatters into rather distinctive pieces of blood and brain matter. The body attached to the head gives a spasmodic twitch and falls out of the shimmer with a loud thud. Feeling rather ignored the body proceeded to leak blood all over the rich Tunisian rug.

"I thought I was covering left?" the soldier called Franz (although that isn't his real name) asked.

"I'm on the left side so therefore I'm covering left." The soldier called Hans (although that too isn't his real name, it's actually John) said. "It's not exactly rocket science."

Franz scratched his head thoughtfully. "No that'd be the other bunker."

Hans merely grunted and pulled the bolt back on his rifle. "Of all the incompetent, half witted-" a tasteful nineteenth century Prussian vase exploded into expensive pieces. Hans turned to Franz.

"I thought someone was coming through." Franz tried his best to make his Aryan features resemble a puppy.

The file called puppy was not found in Hans's database.

"Why would an assassin teleport INTO A VASE?"

"It's the last place we'd look isn't it?"

The look of withering contempt Hans gave Franz made the dead body rather glad that it was simply a pile of decomposing organic matter. You had to think positive in situations like these.
Hans had to hand it to Franz, he did have a point: time travelling assassins rarely did expect guards to look for them in a nineteenth century Prussian vase. But dammit he was arguing and was mad about things of a vase related nature.

"You think someone with the technology to travel back in time would choose a vase of all places as his entry point?"

Franz was not perturbed by the latent hostility being directed at him. "Well he or she could just jump inside Hitler's chambers and bypass us altogether couldn't they?"

The slowly decomposing body thought this was a rather good point and then lambasted itself for not having thought of this earlier.

The two soldiers looked at each other as they realized this.

"You don't think"

"No Franz it wouldn't make sense."

"But none of this, I mean look at us." Hans looked at the S.S. uniform lovingly stitched together by proud German mothers: the high quality black leather, the silver insignia of the runic S.S., the large skull emblem on his left shoulder. He then looked at the identical appearance of Franz, down to the staring bright blue eyes.

"Surely there must have been one pair of Aryan twins who also happened to be in the S.S.."

"Well I guess when you put it that way." Franz fiddled with the luger on his hip. "So all that aside why exactly are we here?"

Hans thought long and hard about this. It wasn't every day you got sent back to the past. Sure commercial time - flights were every other week but this was different. They had a job to do, they were on a mission. They were highly trained professionals and their shift would be over in about three hours.

"Pays better than the Trotsky gig. Remember how messy the icepick was?" As it turned out the only stores open in Mexico City at three in the morning were backpacking stores. Funny how that is.
Franz gave a shrug. "You know what I don't get."

"Shoot."

The body had now leaked enough blood for a decent sized pool to form on the rug. At this rate by the time the cleaning lady got back from her lunch break the rug would be completely ruined.

"So we went back to prevent people from killing Hitler." The body was getting rather annoyed at this careless neglect. Surely someone should have at least rolled up the rug and tossed it into an incinerator. Cleaning up bodies wasn't part of the cleaning lady's job and she had three kids to look after. "Since they realized that someone killing Hitler would destabilize the time space continuum and unravel our established conventions of space time."

"Franz, I was in the same classes as you. In fact I scored higher on the tests. Why are you explaining this?"

The body whose former occupant had also been in their class but had unfortunately flunked the test due to a family emergency listened eagerly.

"Okay fine, so if Hitler died because he poisoned himself in '45, doesn't that mean that everything we're doing is already predetermined. I mean if someone were to go back in time and kill Hitler time travel wouldn't have been invented since we wouldn't have had all the financial backing from the League of Zion. So that means if they do succeed in killing Hitler time travel wouldn't have been invented and so they wouldn't have gone back to kill Hitler and so this timeline wouldn't exist and Hitler would continue to carry on and die in '45 allowing time travel to be developed."

Hans scratched his head. He had just remembered that the reason he scored higher on the test was because he cheated but that was neither here nor there.

"So you're saying we have ourselves the easiest gig of our career?"

"No I'm saying that none of us have any free will in what we do because everything has already been determined."

At that moment there was a very loud gunshot from the inside of Hitler's chambers.

Things are rarely as simple as they seem.

Hans' well trained instincts took over. Rifle at the ready he barged into the door and promptly bounced off the reinforced frame. Franz' more sensible instincts suggested that he try operating the doorknob. The doorknob hadn't gotten the memo and refused to move.

“Do you have the key?"

"What I thought you had it!"

The decomposing body actually had the key but this was not a point it wanted to raise with the twins. A good assassin is prepared for these sorts of things.

"No I don't recall the bossman giving us a key. I guess he sort of figured we'd be standing outside the whole time."

"Who has two guards stationed outside a locked door and doesn't give them a key." Hans grumbled.

"In fairness we probably should have been inside the chamber since assassins can materialize on any place or point in time."

Hans rounded on Franz. "I thought you just said that everything was predetermined and so it wouldn't matter if we were inside or outside."

"I guess Hitler being assassinated by time travellers is predetermined then."

The decomposing body was rather miffed that its former occupant was denied that privilege and proceeded to sulk by bleeding more into the rug.

"Shut up and give me your luger." Franz handed Hans his luger and took several steps back from the door. It isn't actually a luger as you've probably surmised but WWII era soldiers tend to frown on death rays. The fact it was made by Russians didn't help either.

The doorknob blew apart in a bright flare of red light. Hans was in the room before the doorknob had time to gasp a curse with its last breath. Hans was not a very considerate person.

"Franz take left, I'll take right!" Hans barked in his parade ground roar.

Rifle up and loaded he checked the corners and did a thorough sweep of his side with quick efficient movements. There was no sign of Hitler or his body. Hans made a note to check the oven once the room was clear.

"Franz left is clear, what's your status?"

Franz poked his head from the doorway, "Nothing here just a lot of blood on this really nice rug. I think the cleaning lady is going to be pissed."

"Wait you didn't clear right?" something moved in the corner of Hans' vision. Hans levelled his rifle and fired. Dropping his rifle Hans drew his bayonet and lunged toward the assassin. The assassin's back was turned. Grabbing him by the shoulder Hans moved his arm into a chokehold and raised the bayonet with his other hand.

"Scheiße mein Gott." The assassin gurgled. Zionist assassins rarely spoke German. In fact most Germans rarely spoke German. Sad how these things happen.

A terrible sense of fear gripped Hans.

"Hey!" Franz yelled from the other room, "I found the assassin."

The decomposing body perked up the few remaining pieces of its ears and was duly disappointed. This entire day had just been one big disappointment.

"So let me get this straight-" Hans hated when Franz had that knowing look in his eyes.

"It was a tactical blunder."

"You shoot Hitler in the back, lunge at least a meter and prepare to stab him in the heart with your bayonet when you realize he's the man we're meant to be protecting?"

"I thought he was the assassin." Hitler's body had joined the decomposing body on the rug. The decomposing body was just happy to be noticed.

"So you didn't think to check the room and realize he'd already killed the assassin before jumping to hasty realizations?"

"Franz you were hiding outside with the first dead body, if anything this is all your fault."

"Let's not split hairs now, the important thing is Hitler is dead. Dead prematurely that is."

"Then shouldn't none of us exist because time travel wouldn't be invented so we wouldn't be sent back to protect Hitler from the people who invented time travel?"

The twins stared at each other waiting for the moment when they would no longer exist.

After several minutes they both began to feel rather silly.

"I guess it must be predetermined that Hitler is to be assassinated by time travellers."

"But he's not due to die for another four years."

"Let's just say we're moving up the schedule."

"Shouldn't this have adverse time unravelling ramifications?" Hans was confused by how anticlimactic it all was. "I mean we did just kill Hitler."

"YOU killed Hitler you mean. I had no part in this breach of contract."

Hans briefly considered the time-space ramifications of bayoneting his twin.

"Seriously though should we do something or call someone."

"What about our reputation?"

"You mean my reputation." Hans wiped the blood off the bayonet. It would be so easy, a quick thrust through the chest. He could hear the bayonet whispering in his ear all the life insurance he'd be able to collect.

Franz was lost in thought, "What if we go back in time again to before that point so we can warn our past selves to stop them from accidentally killing Hitler."

Hans begrudgingly sheathed the bayonet. Annoyingly incompetent as he was, he needed Franz to get through this situation. Plus, the bayonet whispered, there is always another day.

 "Wait what is to stop our past selves from killing us when we materialize right in front of them. We're on guard duty for that exact reason."

The decomposing body would have nodded in agreement if pieces of its jaw weren't embedded in the wall. It nodded its head in spirit.

Franz' had a brainwave. "Where's the body of that assassin again?"

The failed assassin wasn't particularly menacing. Being dead didn't help. He looked more like somebody's accountant than anything else. A pleasant middle aged sort of man with glasses and short black hair. He had a luger-that-wasn't-actually-a-luger clutched in his cold dead hands and a neat red hole in his chest that suggested his death wasn't particularly natural.

"You know I'm actually kind of impressed."

"Hans not the time."

"Seriously, speaking as a professional he had a few seconds to pull his luger from his drawer, aim and shoot his assassin in the heart."

"Kind of surprised he bothered to have bodyguards then." Franz shot Hans a pointed look.

"He look sort of familiar to you?" Hans chose to be the bigger man and ignore him. Plus his bayonet was right, there would be another day.

"Not particularly." The other two bodies now entering the first stages of decomposition wondered when the cleaning lady would get back. It was starting to smell a bit.

Hans couldn't quite scratch the feeling of deja vu as the two of them dragged the body to join its slightly smellier friends. The rug at this point if you were wondering was absolutely ruined.

Franz narrated his plan while they worked. "So you're a time travelling bodyguard bit bored at your post. You've got your eyes peeled for an assassin that could appear at any moment." The body landed with a whoompf on top of the others. "Out of thin air a head pops out to take a look and BAM!" Franz banged his fist against the wall. Bits of caked jaw and brain matter wafted down like so much confetti. The body of the assassin which still possessed its head grew concerned.

"And this helps us how?"

"See while the two are congratulating themselves over the first bit of excitement they've had all the live long day, one of us pokes his head through and breaks the vase." On the up side their shift would be over in a little under an hour. "Then you start berating me for shooting at the vase."

"You mean you didn't shoot the vase?"

Franz disengaged the magazine and tossed it to Hans to show it was full. "Why didn't you show me this earlier?"

"Well I just assumed that it must have been predetermined so my drawing attention to it would have derailed what was supposed to happen."

"So if all this was supposed to happen then what we're doing now is meant to happen. So if we were meant to go back in time again to warn our past selves are we the real versions of ourselves?"

The three bodies all groaned in apprehension. Their past selves in the distant timeline felt an eerie chill. Like someone had just dumped their body into a rich Tunisian rug.

"Nonono if we go back again both versions of ourselves can't exist at the same time."

"So if we go back to warn our past selves we become our past selves?"

"No, I mean yes, it's kind of like that," it dawned on Franz that he didn't really have any idea of just what the science would happen. Time travel is tricky like that. "Anyway," he blundered on, ignoring this giant flaw in his plan "so while your berating me for breaking the vase we jump inside the chamber where the assassin is, take him out and then we stop your past self from killing Hitler."

"How? They're armed, we're armed. Not to mention we all bloody look the same."

The three bodies on the rug continued to progress through the earlier stages of decomposition. Enough blood had dripped down the nose of the later-most one for its glasses to slip off.

"If everything is predetermined then your past self will blow open the door, barge in and clear the left. We throw Hitler's body through the doorway so your past self shoots it then does the action hero lunge. When that happens we knock out the real Hitler so he doesn't ruin the whole thing."

Hitler's body, who had otherwise been very well behaved and quiet, scoffed at this. He was the body of Hitler, not some C.S.I. mannequin to be shot and stabbed and god knows what else. He had rights, and lawyers and several scientists conducting rather unethical experiments in his name.

"Hang on if my past self shoots Hitler's body and the real Hitler is knocked out by us. We're still in the exact same situation aren't we? I mean our past selves still think we killed Hitler so what's to stop them from coming to this exact same conclusion and then going back in time to stop their past selves." Hans paced back and forth, visibly agitated. "Doesn't that mean that there is an endlessly recurring cycle where we keep going back to stop ourselves from killing Hitler and knocking out the real Hitler so the time space continuum doesn't unravel?"

"You're overthinking this Hans. Since we both still exist it means that the plan must have already worked and our future selves have already gone ahead and stopped us from killing Hitler." Franz knelt over the pile of bodies and extricated Hitler's. He also stepped on the later-most body's glasses. Franz is kind of a dick sometimes. Franz pointed at Hitler's blood stained face. "See look that's just a time double from our future selves. The real Hitler is unconscious somewhere in the chamber until our shift ends."

Hans was torn by this. On one hand Hans had no idea if that was even Hitler's body what with all the blood and all. On the other hand their shift was almost over and since the time and space hadn't completely imploded on their watch he was tempted to just call it a day. The next two guards could sort it out.

"You know what," Hans stopped pacing and turned to face his twin, "that's a good point. Why don't we just dispose of the bodies and call it a day?"

The three bodies were big fans of this. Frankly the first one smelt terrible, the second one was all covered in blood and the third one no longer had glasses. It'd been a trying day for the three of them and they were eagerly awaiting their non existence.

Hans drew his luger and vaporized the bodies. There was still an awful lot of blood on the rug but that was the cleaning lady's problem not theirs. The cleaning lady's children would be killed by an allied bomber later on that day. Sometimes it takes an awful long time for it to stop raining.

"Right," the twins did a quick check to make sure they had everything, "we off then?"

Franz pulled out an old fashioned pocket watch and adjusted a few dials. "Give it a few more seconds." It was mostly a pocket-watch, the time travel was just a bonus. "Right so drinks at Tachyons?"

"You betcha."

And just like that the two twins vanished.

There was a slight shimmer in the air and another pair of twins materialized. They both had the not particularly distinctive look of accountants. One of them adjusted his glasses. Their last assignment was as Hitler's body doubles during Operation Valkyrie. Apparently Hitler wore glasses then.

"Blood on the rug." The first one said in a clipped German accent.

"Signs of forced entry." The other had a slightly more posh German accent.

The first twin consulted his wrist watch. "VIP no longer at location."

The twins drew their lugers. "I'll jump back and recce the situation. If there is no contact, jump into the chamber and protect the VIP til we can exfiltrate."

"Roger."

The first twin disappeared and five minutes later the other followed.

Things are never as simple as they seem.

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