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Monsters


Monsters
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Monsters

by B. L. Tetcher

 

I clicked the play button on my computer, my curiosity spiked about as high as it had ever been. The fact that an old friend had chosen to send digital data through the mail as opposed to a secure link was odd enough.

Then there was the ‘explanatory’ note that had accompanied the device. Cryptic might have been a better descriptor. In it he’d professed to needing my advice, and made some odd reference to an old inside joke from twenty years ago.

That had seemed odd until I tried to access the antiquated flash drive. Turned out, it was encrypted, which had only increased my interest. It took longer to type ‘Not Applicable’ into the password prompt than it had to realize that the joke reference was a clue.

So, yeah, I was finding this more intriguing than any part of the history of . . . well, history. Which is saying something for an historian.

>> 

“My name is Doctor David Voigt, and it is September 22nd,” I said, looking into the camera held by my intern, Jill Spencer. I could only imagine what I looked like: a pasty, thin, middle-aged (or so I kept insisting) man wearing the stereotypical lab coat, standing in front of an apparatus that looked more the random assemblage of junkyard throwbacks than any particular intent. I must have appeared the quintessential mad scientist.

The very thought brought a brief smirk to my face. I covered it by straightening my posture and smoothing my tie down for the tenth time. A little nervous habit of mine.

“This is test seven of my Temporal Translocation Modulator,” I continued. “Initial trials in opening a time rift have been extremely promising, but this will be first attempt at scanning through the aperture. Now, as stated previously, due to the enormous power requirements, the rift will only be a few nanometers wide, not even enough for a virus. It will be opened in ten millisecond bursts designed to cover roughly one half-hour of history.

“As small as that is,” I continued with a wry smile “these setting simultaneously guarantee optimum scanning efficiency, whilst heeding the warnings of popular science fiction in every detail.”

“I would like to take a moment to thank Doctors Jacob Ware, and Mahesh Dhat for their assistance in this project,” I added more formally, gesturing for Jill to pan the camera over to the other two men. The former was a bespectacled, short, tanned, and well-built man about my age wearing his own lab coat. The latter was a tall, thin, Indian man who was easily the oldest person in the entire building. Age had slightly bent his posture, yet his eyes were among the most alive I had ever seen. He was the only one in the room who had foregone the lab coat for a very expensive, exquisitely tailored suit.

“Doctor Ware was instrumental in assisting with many of the more complex calculations required in this project,” I explained, gaining a nod from the subject of the statement. Jake was another physicist at the university.

“And Doctor Dhat was kind enough to travel all the way here from India to assist with the integration of his synaptic scanning and simulation equipment.”

“Not at all, young man,” Dhat replied with a kindly wave. “The prospect of utilizing my neural scanning techniques without enclosing the subject in a sensor helmet was dwarfed only by the opportunity to assist such a groundbreaking project.”

He’d ditched the helmet for much lighter skullcaps over a year before. That was why I’d contacted him about the cost of obtaining some, even as a loan. But when he’d learned of my project, he’d personally delivered everything I’d needed.

“Yes, well,” I replied, perhaps slightly sheepishly “I am still quite grateful. “And lastly,” I continued “I would like to thank my assistant, Jill Spencer.” Jill flipped the camera around, holding it at arm’s length, and waved before turning it back around. She was a tall, young, blond woman who could probably have made it as a fitness model instead of an applied physicist. She rarely wore makeup, and kept her hair restrained in a simple ponytail.

“Aside from her considerable help with some calculations, finding the relevant information I needed, and handling the documentation for this experiment, I am quite certain I would have starved without her constant nagging that I eat,” I said with a grin that offset the sarcasm of the statement. She just waved again, completely unfazed.

I covered the grin her unrepentant attitude so often evoked by stepping aside with a wave to the contraption that was a culmination of ten years of work. Not to mention a lifetime of study.

“In just a moment we will activate the temporal translocator. This apparatus of scanning devices,” I said, waving offhand at the array surrounding the translocator “will scan the environs therein, including the subject’s brain. A virtual environment will then be created from those scans, including a digital representation of the subject with an eighty-nine percent accuracy. I will then enter that environment through the use of a standard immersive reality skullcap and interact with him. The Television behind me,” I added, gesturing to the screen “will relay my experiences from my point of view.”

“Are we ready?” I asked the room in general. In response, Jill placed the camera on its tripod, and moved to her desk, joined shortly by the other two.

I turned back to look at the device, my invention. It suddenly occurred that I should really have come up with some clever catch phrase; something ‘one small step’ worthy. But nothing came to mind. “Do it,” I said instead.

A couple keystrokes and the device was active. It was actually a little anticlimactic; other than the hum of incredible amounts of energy passing through surprisingly small conduits, and the slight smell of ozone there was no indication that anything had changed. Why I had thought that this time would be any different from my initial tests was beyond me.

Perhaps I’d add some sound effect, or maybe a lightshow, to the final product.

Thinking of that made me realize -really realize- for the first time that there would be a final product. It was no longer a probability; it was an eventuality.

Unlike many of my predecessors I’d tried to see how this device could be used, and misused. The potential improvements extended well beyond archeology; the whole criminal justice system would benefit. Investigative journalism might actually become as such once more. Not to mention the social aspects of being able to interview key figures from the past. Which brought us to today’s goal.

“We got it!” Jill exclaimed triumphantly, breaking through my musings. “Building environment now,” she added. I looked back to her desk to see Dr. Dhat leaning over her in a fatherly manner, pointing at various readings.

“The readings came through even clearer than predicted,” Dhat added, about as excited as his years would allow. “Based on this data we should be able to guarantee ninety-two percent accuracy for the subject.”

“That’s three percent higher than your best estimate, Dr. Dhat,” I said, surprised, as I walked over to the chair I would conduct my interview from.

“The result of being born to an engineer is that one is naturally conservative with their estimates,” the man said, following me to the chair to ensure the skullcap was fitted correctly.  He said it as if that three percent was such a minor thing when he knew damned well it was not. Then again, considering the man’s accomplishments throughout his life, it may not have been to him.

He’d been barely thirty-three when he’d stunned the world with its first true immersive reality. The principles were well known today, but back then the very approach he’d taken in scanning and activating a person’s brain cells had been revolutionary. Suddenly, the long anticipated virtual world was within reach. People could lie down on a bed, strap on a helmet, and experience anything. Complete immersion: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste; it was all there.

It had proven an immeasurable benefit during the then raging Zrillahy war as both training tool and practice aid. And, once the war was over, it had exploded into the private sector, revolutionizing everything from entertainment to medical intervention.

The skullcap he was now fitting onto my head represented a vast improvement on that early technology.

“We’re getting a good reading,” Jill said from her desk. Dhat nodded and moved to join her.

I grabbed his arm as he made to step away. “Thank you, Doctor,” I said sincerely. Perhaps even more sincerely than I’d meant to. The advanced neural scanners that had just finished collecting data from the other side of our time rift had been his contribution to this experiment. His one demand: that he be on hand to calibrate them for the initial tests. That was it; he didn’t even want to be mentioned in the paper, a promise I had long ago decided to bend. After all, a footnote is not exactly in the paper. At least, that’s what I planned to say if he confronted me about it.

“Good luck, young man,” Mahesh replied, placing one hand on mine before retreating back to Jill’s desk. I nodded a brief thanks, finding that my mouth had quite suddenly gone dry.

I wasn’t sure what was making me nervous. We’d already proven the technology. The virtual environment technology I was about to hook into was half a century old. It wasn’t the subject of the test; I already knew exactly what to expect from him. And it wasn’t like he could harm me, even should he try. The earliest days of immersive entertainment experimentation had pretty much put to rest the speculative fears of psychosomatic injury.

Yet, I found myself hesitating.  It made no sense. This moment had been the culmination of the efforts of my adult life, yet I felt as if I were standing on a precipice about to jump off.

“Doctor Voigt?” Jill asked, interrupting my surprisingly melancholy musings.

“Yes, yes,” I said quickly, covering my hesitation “send me in.” I closed my eyes to avoid the disorientation that otherwise occurs when one’s environment shifts before their very eyes.

When I opened them, I found myself in a completely different setting, set in a completely different time. The study I found myself in was a wide, tall room. To my right was a long solid wood table running the width of the room. To my left was a three-sided couch wrapped around a small table. And directly ahead was a massive, solid wood desk, centered on a window revealing the moonlit Untersberg in the distance.

The room was dimly lit, the main light source being the lit lamp on the desk. And much of its light was blocked by the figure sitting with his back to me. The figure I’d worked so hard to be able to interview.

It was absolutely perfect; more than I’d ever imagined. I could smell the ink he was using, see the first traces of dust awaiting the cleaning staff in the morning.

By God, I’d actually done it! I was in a complete recreation of the Burghoff mansion, mid-July of 1940. The date had been carefully chosen: the where and when of the planning of Hitler’s biggest blunder: the invasion of Russia.

It was a decision I’d never understood. Stalin may have resigned himself to an eventual war with Germany, but he knew his country was in no condition to fight. His Great Purge had effectively crippled his army by replacing many seasoned officers with inexperienced ‘believers’. On top of a shaky military, the widespread dissent and distrust his radical actions had engendered in the populous had created a political climate not unlike the one facing Tzar Nicholas Romanov II, and Alexander Kerensky two decades prior.

At that point, the biggest threat facing the Russian Empire was Russians. If Hitler had held off Operation Barbarossa for a few years he could have interrupted a civil war. Instead, he’d given Stalin the perfect rallying cry. And, Germany’s brutal treatment of Russian prisoners of war had cemented the ‘the devil you know’ attitude.

No one really knew why he’d done that. The prevailing theory was that his prior string of victories had reinforced his delusions of grandeur to such an extent that he could no longer conceive of the idea that he might fail. To be fair, up to that point, the Nazi war engine had steamrolled over much of Europe unimpeded. It had taken France with very little resistance. It was even making inroads into Africa.

It was a widely embraced theory, but it had that ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ ring to it. Admittedly, history was replete with intelligent people making stupid mistakes, but it was always dangerous to simply assume any mistake was the result of idiocy. And whatever else Hitler had been, he was no fool.

I stood watching as he scribbled away at his next masterpiece of horror. How any man could hide such evil so well as to dupe an entire nation into handing him the keys to their future was beyond me. But today I was going to find out, if only so humanity could learn to identify such men before they could wreak their havoc in the future.

I’m not sure what alerted him to my presence. Perhaps I’d sighed, or shifted my stance.  I don’t know what caused the subject to sit up in his chair, suddenly alert. He slowly covered the pen he’d been working with and placed his hands, one over the other, in front of himself.

“I take it I’ve outlived my usefulness?” he asked quietly, a hint of some emotion I couldn’t place flavoring his words. It wasn’t anger, or fright. It was . . . something else.

It was also the last thing I’d expected.

When I didn’t respond he turned in his chair to look at me. “Did you forget your pistol?” he asked, eyes flitting over me. There was no jocularity in his tone, no reproach. Just a solemn sincerity.

“My pistol?” I croaked finally, mouth standing in for my spinning brain.

“Yes, your gun,” he replied, as if to a small child. “Himmler usually likes to suicide people by shooting them in the chest with a pistol. As if that makes any sense at all,” he added derisively, turning back to his desk.

“Um, Heinrich Himmler?” I asked, my tongue still flailing for a foothold in this unexpected start to a conversation I’d envisioned so many times.

The subject sighed, as if annoyed. “Yes, Heinrich Himmler. The head of the SS. Your boss.” That threw me. The idea that people would want to assassinate Hitler was nothing new. Even in this simulated time, Hitler fearing assassination made perfect sense.

But fearing assassination from his own henchman?

“Why would Himmler send someone to kill you?” I asked finally.

At that question he slammed the pen down on the table and twisted back to me. His jaw was clenched and his eyes had grown even beadier than normal. “I am not amused by this game,” he said before turning back. As if dismissing his would-be assassin. He picked the pen back up and went back to his evil plans.

“I’m not here to kill you,” I assured him honestly. Though I couldn’t help wondering if that statement would have been just as honest if this were more than a simple recreation.

The pen paused as he turned his head ever so slightly. “Then why are you here?” he asked.

I sighed in relief as the conversation steered itself back onto the dialogue I’d prepared. I’d actually spent a fair amount of time considering exactly how to tackle this particular question. No doubt, the truth that I was a time viewing scientist interrogating the avatar of a madman would not have been taken seriously. Accepting that, and desperately wanting to short circuit the inevitable argument, I’d crafted something a bit more . . . ego inflating, for him.

And I was just about to relay the story of being his greatest fan, who had snuck past all of his guards for a chance to meet him when my brain finally processed our interaction thus far. The impact of which paused me, mouth hanging wide, as the realization that any talk about subverting security would only cement the paranoid assumption that I was some sort of hit man sent by the subject’s underling.

I had to say something. Had I been a spy sent on assassination missions, I would no doubt already be spinning a web of lies to suit my purposes.

On the other hand, if I were an assassin, I’d have brought my gun and I wouldn’t need to lie at all.

An almost amusing thought, that, but completely worthless. I could feel the pressure mounting as my mind grasped for anything to say, but all it would present was the truth. Hitler would never buy that.

But he might buy some of it, I realized, brain flashing in epiphany.

“I’m not here to kill you,” I repeated, gaining a dismissive wave from the other man. “I’m an historian from the future,” I continued. “I’ve come back in time to interview you.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure,” Hitler replied dismissively. “I will still be here, should you find your gun,” he added, still scribbling furiously.

I began to simmer in anger as the man continued to ignore my presence. The feeling built on itself, twisting itself around, until I was seething. And then, as quickly as it came, it vanished as the irony of the situation caught up to me.

I’d come into this encounter fully expecting Hitler to say things that would infuriate me. Hell, I’d expected to have to utter some of his antisemitic rhetoric back at him in order to convince him I was a ‘fan’. And here, it was the words he wasn’t saying that had awoken my ire.

I suppressed a grin at how life relished its little tricks and made the gesture that would bring up the simulation settings. I hit the pause command and blinked, closing my virtual eyes yet opening my real ones.

“Well, that went off the rails pretty quickly,” Jill said, beating me to the punch. A way she had.

I ignored it. “Could we adjust the simulation of Hitler to believe I am who I say I am?” I asked hopefully.

Mahesh seemed to consider that for a moment. “We could,” he started slowly “but there would be no way of knowing how that adjustment would affect the rest of his responses. You would be, in effect, sacrificing the integrity of the experiment.

Which was about what I’d figured, but it was worth a shot. I thought a bit more, looking for some other way to convince the subject. Not that I could blame his stark refusal; I’d have reacted much the same.

Not that such understanding helped with the problem at hand.

Or maybe it did. What would it take to convince me that someone had come from the future? A sports almanac would have done the trick. A couple of upset wins later and I’d be begging to see their time machine. Not to mention quite a bit richer.

But I needed something a bit more immediate than the win/loss of Hitler’s favorite rugby team, not that there was any evidence he’d had one.

“We’ve got the next thirty or so minutes, from Hitler’s perspective, canned right?” I asked, thinking out loud. I’d known for some time that a momentary snapshot of a person’s mental landscape would hardly create an accurate model of said person.

“Thirty-seven minutes and thirteen seconds,” Jill read out as she stared at her display.

“I need you to review it for anything I could predict,” I told her.

“To prove to the subject that you are a time traveler,” Jacob stated more than asked.

“Exactly.”

“I can,” Jill replied, clearly already started “but we chose the middle of the night so we wouldn’t have to work with a crowded room. There may not be any distractions.”

“Perhaps there’s another way to attack this problem,” Mahesh said thoughtfully.

“Such as?” I prompted.

“We could create something inexplicable,” he suggested. “Something that you could predict.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Well, the weather was clear, right?” Jacob asked.

I thought back. “I believe so,” I replied thinking back to the moonlit view of the mountain. “At least, the side of manor I could see,” I added, not sure what they were getting at.

“How about a lightning strike?” he asked.

“An excellent idea,” Mahesh replied. “We could have it land in the yard in front of the window.”

“But, don’t have it actually damage anything,” Ware added.

“A nice touch, that,” Mahesh responded.

I rubbed my chin as I considered that. There was no reason we couldn’t add an external stimulus; the environment and the avatar were two completely different things. And while lightning bolts could rarely materialize in clear weather, predicting them down to the strike location was impossible even today.  Factor in the lack of damage and the subject would most likely conclude that I was some sort of wizard, which could work quite well for my purposes.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” I told them. “Thank you,” I said, including both them. Mahesh nodded and moved to help Jill set up his brainstorm.

As the sounds of Mahesh typing filled the room, Jake stepped closer. “Hitler said that Himmler likes to suicide people by shooting them in the chest with a pistol,” he said pointedly.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Well, didn’t Eva Braun try to kill herself that way?” he asked.

“Yes, and Hitler’s half niece succeeded a few years before that,” I replied, still not sure of where he was going with this. People killed themselves with handguns all of the time. One could imagine that realizing someone you cared about was a monster could well be the catalyst for such self-destructive behavior.

“Well, it’s a rather clumsy way to try and kill oneself,” he replied. “You can’t keep a steady grip on the gun at that angle.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I replied, letting my disinterest in anything involving gun cotton show. At this point it was a purely autonomic response to any conversational pathways leading in that direction. Not that it was always successful; sometimes you could not get him to shut up about his guns. I suspected he’d named them, but so far had managed to politely avoid any introductions.

I suppose rubbing elbows with such people was unavoidable when one takes a job at Texas A&M.

“Wait, you’re not really suggesting that Hitler was telling the truth?” I asked as I suddenly realized what he was driving at.

“Given the circumstances, what reason would he have to lie?” Jake shot back.

“To me: none,” I replied. “But he could well be lying to himself, lest he take some of the blame for the conditions that led those women down that path.”

“Or, perhaps those women were murdered,” Jake suggested.

“To what end?” I asked, trying not to let my growing annoyance show. One thing about Jake: he loved a good conspiracy theory. He didn’t necessarily believe in them; he just liked talking about them.

“Look,” I continued in a calmer voice “All historical data suggests that Hitler and Himmler were two peas in a pod. They had the same goals and the same methods. There would be no reason for Himmler to threaten Hitler, even if he’d had that much power.”

“Wasn’t Himmler head of the SS?” Jake asked.

“Yes, at Hitler’s request,” I pointed out. “You have to remember that Hitler had made the Nazis a force to be reckoned with before Himmler even joined. And, at its height, it only counted half a million men. The Wehrmacht numbered in the tens of millions.”

“So you’re saying Himmler would have needed the consent of at least some of the generals in order to turn Hitler into a puppet.”

“Absolutely,” I affirmed. “And any conspiracy that large would be bound to have left evidence. Perhaps not anything anyone could point to at the time, but I’d find it hard to believe that a hundred and fifty years of historical inquiry wouldn’t have turned up something.”

“Okay,” Jake said slowly “then why did the subject attribute those suicides to Himmler?”

“The subject,” I replied “is obviously paranoid. On top of that, many have speculated that he may have been schizophrenic. A healthy topping of guilt could easily have led him to invent this concept of Himmler’s death squads.”

“Though I have to admit,” I continued “I didn’t expect that his grasp of reality would be slipping so early.”

“Well, you’re the historian,” Jake replied with a neutral shrug.

“We’re ready here,” Mahesh called out before I could respond in a manner that I’d have probably regretted later. Jake was a decent enough guy, but he had only a passing interest in history. That combined with his penchant to creatively interpret it could see him become quite irritating on occasion.

“Great, what have you got?” I asked quickly, instead.

“We have two events upcoming,” Dhat replied, gesturing to Jill.

“Exactly one minute and forty-three seconds from resumption of the simulation, Eva Braun will enter the study to check on the subject,” Jill stated, picking up the cue. “He will usher her out, saying that he’s quite busy. Two minutes and twenty-six seconds later, an attendant will enter, sent by Eva, with a tray containing snacks and a pot of tea. As she enters, the tray will get caught on the doorway, but she’ll manage to correct it before the contents can be spilled. She will then deposit the tray on his desk and retreat.”

“Roughly one minute later, the mysterious lightning strike we’ve added will occur,” Mahesh finished.

I did a readback of the events just detailed, to make sure I had them memorized. “Great work,” I told them once they’d affirmed my recall.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I added, laying back in the chair and closing my eyes. A couple of keystrokes later and I was back in the Fuhrer’s study. Strangely, nothing was happening. After a confused moment I slapped myself in the forehead and resumed the simulation.

Life returned to the room. The clocks began moving, bats started flitting about outside, and Hitler resumed his . . . work. I couldn’t help but take a moment to marvel again at my astounding success in transplanting this piece of history.

“You are still here?” the subject asked pointedly, breaking me from my mental back patting.

Right, why I was here. I cleared my throat before asking “What if I could prove I was from the future?”

“An accurate whether forecast would be nice,” he replied, without pause.

I couldn’t help but grin at his dry sarcasm: very British, surprisingly. “I doubt this will take that long to prove,” I replied confidently. “In just under two minutes, your mistress, Eva Braun, will come check on you.”

That got a response. “How do you know about Eva?” he asked nervously, quitting his evil scribbling.

“I am aware you took pains to hide the nature of your relationship but, in the future, it is common knowledge. As well as your relationship with Maria Reiter, for that matter,” I added as an afterthought. Dropping the name of a woman he’d barely dated would probably add some extra oomph to my credibility.

He paused far too long for spontaneity before asking “Who?” again sounding incredibly anxious.

“It’s not important,” I replied, not wanting to get into a ‘yes you did’, ‘no I didn’t’ argument. “What is important is that just over two minutes after you shoo Eva out, she’ll send the maid in with a snack.”

“She usually does,” he replied dismissively. “You could have gotten that information from anyone.”

“I’m sure,” I replied “but in this case, she will clip the doorframe, nearly spilling the tray.”

“An educated guess,” he replied. “The trays used by the help are quite large, so as to accommodate extensive groups.”

“Perhaps,” I agreed, silently thanking Dr. Dhat for his suggestion “but about a minute after she leaves, lightning will strike near the Burghof.”

At that the subject returned to his work. “There will be no lightning tonight,” he declared. “The sky is clear.”

“Be that as it may, it will strike, yet strangely, do no damage.”

Before he could respond, Eva entered, moving straight to the desk. I stayed where I was; we hadn’t bothered to scan any but the subject’s brain, so what was happening here was a recording. Her avatar was essentially a video game non player character, going about a prearranged routine regardless of how the player might act.

The interaction itself seemed fairly routine, which probably helped keep the subject from going off the rails. Aside from a few confused looks in my direction, he stuck to the script.

As I watched the two of them interact, I made a mental note to scan her at some point. There was so much we didn’t know about their relationship. Was it sexual? Did she realize the horrible events he’d set into motion? Did she agree with them? No one really knew.

After the conclusion of the ritual pleasantries, she slipped out, leaving him to work. “How did she not see you?” he asked.

I smiled. “Because I didn’t want her to,” I replied, somehow being both truthful and deceitful all at once.

“She is most likely tired,” Hitler replied, as if to himself, before turning back to his desk. We spent the next few minutes in silence. As predicted, the maid fumbled her tray around the doorframe few moments later, before righting it and delivering the vegetarian treats and tea to its appropriate spot. There was a quick exchange of pleasantries between the two of them and then she was gone.

“Two down, one to go,” I said after she’d gone. Somehow, I refrained from pointing out that the maid hadn’t seen me either, knowing he was thinking it.

The subject looked up at the moonlit mountain again. “It is a clear night,” he said dismissively, before returning to work. A few moments later the room was bathed in a white light as a deafening crack slammed into the building. Honestly, it seemed that Dr. Dhat had overdone it a little. Not that I could argue with the result.

Hitler dropped that damnable pen and scurried over to the window. But, try as he might, he could not find a single cloud in the sky. Then he looked down at the strike spot. “It is not possible,” he muttered under his breath, eyes darting around in search of any damage.

“And yet, it happened,” I said pointedly.

He turned from the window then, to look at me. But, instead of the cursory, dismissive glances he’d tossed my direction in the past, he offered the wide-eyed amazement of a child at a magic show.

“Are you a wizard?” he asked under his breath.

“You might say that,” I replied, not technically lying.

He nodded sagely, that I would try to keep my arcane secrets. He glanced out the window again before turning back to me. “But you are from the future?” he prompted. I nodded, this time managing to lie honestly.

He nodded to himself and gazed back out the window, arms folded behind his back. “Tell me,” he said slowly, as if afraid of the answer to the upcoming question. “Do the Nazis . . . lose this war?” he asked without turning.

“Uh, pardon me?” I stuttered as the phrasing of that question caught up to me. Not that I hadn’t fully expected the subject to ask about the outcome of the largest purely human conflict in history. I just hadn’t expected him to phrase it in a manner that suggested he wanted to lose it.

“Please, tell me,” he almost begged, quickly crossing the room to me. “Do the Nazis lose the war?”

As I stared at his earnest expression the butterflies that had been cavorting in my stomach all day launched into aerial maneuvers that encompassed my entire torso. The realization that he was actually holding his breath, awaiting my answer, did not help the feeling. I felt a pressure in my chest, as if I were being squeezed somehow.

I took a deep breath, reminding myself that I was a scientist first and foremost. It was my job to conduct this experiment as thoroughly and dispassionately as possible, regardless of where the discourse went.

Besides, what I was hearing could have simply been an inaccuracy created by the system’s integrated translation software. That thought seemed to help. The pressure on my chest eased up, at least.

“Yes,” I replied, hedging that he’d be most receptive to an affirmative answer to his question.

He seemed visibly shaken by it. He reached out to grasp the back of the couch I was standing behind as his knees gave out. His breathing was labored as he pulled himself around the arm, as if he were about to hyperventilate.

Now this was the reaction I’d expected. Zealots often expected victory; they have serious trouble coping with defeat. It shakes their faith. I followed him around the couch as he sank into it.

“Thank you,” he whispered with tear filled eyes as I came back into his view. “Thank God.”

I stared at him, stunned. Had Adolf Hitler just thanked God for losing the war he’d started? And he’d thanked me for telling him. Which had done nothing good for the pressure in my chest.

I realized suddenly that, if this were the result of a translation error, he would think I’d just told him the Nazis won the war. His reaction didn’t quite fit what I’d expected from tidings of victory, but that’s why psychology is a practice.

“I’ve worked so hard,” he said through tears. “But it always felt as if nothing I did mattered. I almost gave up so many times.”

“Gave up what?” I prompted, bracing myself for his feelings on ‘purity’.

He glanced at me, a reflexive wariness clouding his tear-filled joy. Then his face relaxed. “The task I have devoted over two decades upon: the destruction of the Nazi party.” I stared blankly at him for a moment. There was no way that had been a translation error.

“Destroy it?” I asked incredulously. “You built it!” I snapped as that damnable pressure ramped up higher than it had been. My breath started coming in quick bursts. I could feel my pulse quaking through my body. I realized suddenly that I was angry, yet I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t the anger I’d felt when he’d dismissed me. It was . . . something else. Something that urged me to do . . . something.

“Erich Ludendorf built it,” Hitler snapped back, reminding me of the task at hand. “I was but one of his unwitting tools. The mortar with which he bound a policy of hate and fear together to serve his own ambitions.”

“Erich Ludendorff joined the Nazi party after you,” I pointed out, suddenly wondering just how tenuous the subject’s grip on reality was. No one had ever suspected he’d been this far gone this early in the war.

“Who do you think cut the orders that put me with them?” Hitler demanded. “Who do you think gave permission for me to be in a political party while still in the military?”

I paused at that. It was true that it had been illegal to be in a political party while serving in the German military. And Erich Ludendorff had been a general in the German Army during World War 1. In fact, he’d been one of the principal authors of the Stab-In-The-Back theory that suggested that German Jews had somehow conspired to cause Germany’s defeat in that war.

But that very loss had virtually destroyed Ludendorff’s standing within the Army. There was little chance of him cutting orders for his dry cleaning, let alone something like this. That realization seemed to ebb that inexplicable pressure in my chest.

Not that I could just point it out. If the subject’s grasp of reality was as tenuous as I was starting to think, he’d simply modify other events to keep his delusions somewhat consistent. He was clearly good at it; somehow this man had hidden his complete breech with reality for decades. Long enough to convince a nation of people to embark on a massive war of conquest while persecuting more than one ethnicity internally. I needed to get to the man underneath to figure out how. I needed to get him to dig a deep enough rhetorical hole that his own internal inconsistency would collapse.

“Erich Ludendorff ordered you to join the Nazi party?” I asked suspiciously.

“Yes!” the subject replied quickly. “Well, no,” he added. “Not directly. He worked through Field Marshal Paul Hindenburg, who ordered my commanding officer, Karl Mayr, to cut those orders.

And, just like that, the pressure in my chest returned. Ludendorff may have been discredited after the end of World War 1, but Hindenburg hadn’t been. He could definitely have issued those orders. That didn’t mean he had, of course. And it didn’t explain why, either.

“Okay, why?” I asked.

“I just told you,” Hitler replied, as if to a small child “so I could mold it into a weapon for his political conquest.”

“Yes, of course,” I replied, trying not to let his tone get to me; if I blew up at him, he’d likely clam up. Then I’d have to start all over. “But what made them think you would help them?” I asked.

“Because they lied to us,” he replied. “They told Mayer that my goal was to raise the party’s profile just enough for them to be known throughout Germany. Then they were to be discredited, ensuring no similar party would take root again.”

Which seemed reasonable, certainly for the time. But it would make Hitler a mole within the Nazi party. Which was just ridiculous.

That was the wonderful thing about conspiracy theories: they were very hard to prove or disprove. And this one was shaping up to be a doozie.

“Alright,” I said, taking a deep breath to try and calm myself. I felt as though this interview were spinning away from me. And not just because of Hitler’s anger; I’d expected far worse from him. It was a combination of things: his attitude, his ridiculous version of events, and this damnable pressure that kept building in my chest.

“So, when did you figure out Ludendorff’s true goals?” I asked.

“After the Beer Hall Putsh,” Hitler replied quietly. “That was supposed to break the party. The leaders were to be jailed. The party was to be humiliated.”

I squinted in derision. “You don’t really think Ludendorff’s acquittal made that much difference, do you?”

“Not that. Because, afterward, they outlawed the Nazi party” Hitler bit out.

“Wasn’t that a good thing?” I asked.

“No!” Hitler almost shouted “it was the worst thing they could do. It lent the Nazis an air of notoriety, whilst making the government seem both fearful and tyrannical. It lent them legitimacy while only forcing them to change their name for a short while. It gave the Nazis everything they needed!”

“Mayr saw it then,” he continued, more subdued. “He knew. He warned me to leave the party then. But I couldn’t.”

“Because you’d become accustomed to the power your roll afforded?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Because it was what Ludendorff expected!” Hitler snapped. “I was to resign in protest after having built his army of fools. Once I realized that, I knew I could not just hand the reigns over to him.

“Of course,” I said again, trying (yet almost certainly failing) to keep the disagreement out of my voice. The idea that everything Adolf Hitler had done was to keep Erich Ludendorff out of power was ridiculous. For one thing, Ludendorff died in 1937, two years before Germany started World War 2. So, who exactly was he trying to keep from power then? And how would starting a war of conquest succeed at that? Answer: it would not.

But I wouldn’t point that out just yet. I needed Hitler to reveal his entire version of events first. I was, surprisingly, a bit curious about the mental gymnastics he would employ to explain how annexing Austria kept Germany out of the clutches of a dead general. Just thinking about it made me feel better, like a mystical salve.

“I assume Mayr warned you about Ludendorff while you were still in Landsberg?” I asked pointedly. “I understand you had many guests.”

“Yes, Ludendorff arranged it,” the subject replied eagerly, as if he were desperate to have me believe his fantasy. “At first, I was grateful to him. But, after Mayr’s warning . . . well, I did actually try to quit. That was when Ludendorff began insisting I write a book.”

“Mein Kampf,” I said, feeling the pressure in my chest lighten further. The more the subject tried to blame Ludendorff, the less it got.

The subject nodded sadly as I uttered that infamous title. “So why write it?” I asked.

“Do you think I did not try and refuse?” the subject asked harshly. “Ludendorff made it clear that there would be . . . consequences.”

“Do you mean he would have had you killed?” I asked.

“No . . . well, probably,” he replied. “But I was not the one he threatened. It was poor Geli that he . . . that,” he started before choking up. He looked away from me for a moment, as if trying to regain control of himself. After a moment he cleared his throat. He retrieved a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and nose, and returned it. “So, I started writing,” he said, not quite looking at me.

“So, you just gave in?” I asked, baiting him. Megalomaniacs like the subject hate the suggestion that their will could be usurped by another. Regardless of the number of twists in the pretzel, there was bound to be some rationalization for it.

I was not disappointed.

“No, I stalled,” he replied. “I began work on that damnable book while working around him to get myself deported back to Austria.” I frowned at that. The timelines didn’t really work there.

“Your deportation hearing wasn’t until just before your parole,” I pointed out.

“Such things take time,” he said simply, with a wave of a hand.

“Granted,” I ceded the point “but how would that have helped?”

“Once out of Ludendorff’s grasp, I could have safely brought Geli over,” he replied wistfully. Then his voice hardened. “But Ludendorff found out and had it blocked.”

“Meanwhile you were writing Ludendorff’s book,” I prompted again. The subject merely nodded. “The one thing I don’t understand,” I continued, not entirely honestly “was why Ludendorff didn’t write his manifesto himself. He was an accomplished writer in his own right. Why did it have to be you?”

“For the same reason he maneuvered me into the Nazi Party in the first place,” the subject replied bitterly. “Because I understand language. That hack wrote dozens of books and essays; no one ever listened to them,” he said, pride showing in his voice. I suppose I couldn’t blame him for that. People are incredibly stubborn, and language is an inherently clumsy tool. It takes a true master craftsman to wield it in such a way that they can convince the average person to change their minds. Now, what that person does with that skill is entirely different.

“Still, you didn’t have to write such an inflammatory script,” I pointed out.

“Yes, I did,” he insisted. “Ludendorff rejected my first attempts. He wanted more hate, more blame. And when I didn’t deliver, he began speaking of my niece’s health.”

“So, you wrote it the way he wanted,” I said.

“No,” he replied, almost convincingly ashamed. “I wrote it so over the top, so insane, that I thought for sure he’d decide I couldn’t write his story.”

“But he published it,” I prodded.

“Yes, he published it!” Hitler exploded, revealing the man from the speeches we’d all come to know and . . . well, hate. “He published all of it. ‘My struggle’,” he quoted, as if an epithet. Then he quieted himself down. “I thought I’d won,” he almost whispered. “I thought that the Nazi party would be finished. But I hadn’t considered how quickly people accept the first scapegoat proffered to them, particularly when they are struggling.”

I didn’t bother asking him why the people of Germany had felt they needed a scapegoat: the short sighted, punitive measures leveled at Germany by the Treaty of Versailles would have made anyone angry. To punish a country simply for fighting well was to breed anger, frustration, and an insular tendency among the residents of that country. It was precisely that environment that the Nazi party had taken advantage of.

Personally, I found it hard to believe that a master orator would not know exactly how well his words would have been accepted.

“So, if you thought you’d won, why not quit?” I asked. “Why continue to build them into a force for world domination?”

He seemed to pause, his eyes going further into the past. “After that book was released, Ludendorff came to see me,” he said slowly. “He thanked me for my efforts, told me that my services were no longer required. He even offered to help me regain my Austrian citizenship. That was when I knew I couldn’t leave.” He seemed to pause there.

“Why didn’t Ludendorff force you out?” I asked.

“He couldn’t,” Hitler said. “He’d made me the face of the party. Most people were not aware of his back seat politicking. He would never have succeeded in wresting it from me.”

“You had to publicly cede it to him,” I finished. “Which you refused to do?”

He took another breath. “I thought I could discredit them from within. I thought if I acted angry enough, insane enough, then the people would dismiss me. But they didn’t. They didn’t.” He took another breath. “They never once reconsidered their allegiance. I demonized right wing politics, left wing politics, and moderate politics, and they didn’t reconsider. I yelled hate, and they did not reconsider. They didn’t, even when I started pushing that ridiculous Aryan race nonsense. I mean, look at me!” he finished, gesturing to his not so six-foot height, not so blue eyes, and not so blond hair.

I couldn’t help awarding him a grin at a reference to what would become a joke at his expense.

“Still, when that didn’t work, you could have quit,” I pointed out.

“By then they wouldn’t let me,” the subject responded. “I had the twin value of being both famous and infamous,” he added, sounding almost disgusted. It didn’t surprise me that his characterization of the behind the scenes manipulators had just done a one-eighty from wanting to force him out to insisting he stayed. I suspected it was the norm for a paranoid schizophrenic.

I know it wasn’t exactly professional, but I found myself anticipating the moment when his fabrication would tear itself down. We were already working into the late 1920s, and early 1930’s; his designated scapegoat had died in 1937. So it wouldn’t be long now.

“So you just let them win?” I couldn’t help prodding.

“Ludendorff didn’t win,” the subject replied with a dark pride.

“What?” I asked, floored.

“I knew he had friends in the military,” he continued. “I knew it would be the second string to his bow. I knew I would need a better force to counter it. So, I enlisted someone to build it,” he finished, even darker than before.

“Heinrich Himmler,” I choked out as that damnable pressure returned with a vengeance. Heinrich Himmler had been the head of SS and the Gestapo, and had easily been the second most powerful man in Germany by the time the war started.

“Yes,” Hitler answered, almost a whisper.

“You had Heinrich Himmler build the SS to counter Ludendorff’s army?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes,” Hitler repeated just as softly.

“Heinrich Himmler!” I howled, as if my throat had become a relief valve. A relief valve that did nothing for the pressure in my chest.

“I didn’t know who he was!” Hitler nearly wailed. “No one did. He was a minor functionary when I met him.  He passed himself off as a moderate, a patriot. I didn’t . . . I couldn’t . . . I,” he trailed off, fighting to control his breathing. It was several seconds before he continued.

I just sat there and watched. It was as if I’d turned to stone. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think. I could barely even breathe.

“When I realized what I’d done,” Hitler continued slowly “I appealed to the General. I promised him my support. But he wouldn’t have it. He said I could sleep in the bed I’d made.”

“What difference would that have made?” I heard myself ask. “They were practically the same guy.”

“No, they were not,” Hitler replied sternly. “General Ludendorff was an accomplished leader and battlefield commander who would never have launched Germany at the world. I believe he cared about Germany. The hate he spouted was a means to an end. But, the hate is Himmler’s end. He is a poisonous snake, a self-centered despot with delusions of grandeur. He would rather set the world ablaze if he couldn’t control it.” Hitler went on like that for several more minutes, his use of language becoming more . . . vibrant as he went. Whatever else was going on, he did seem to hate the other man passionately.

Not that I was paying that much attention to his tirade. I was trying to get my feet back underneath me. But it was hard to think. As if something had turned my brain off.

I didn’t believe for a moment that Hitler and Himmler were at odds on goals. At best, they’d struggled over who was in charge. And, even if Hitler was telling the truth, that would not absolve him of his responsibility for his own actions.

But, if there had been a struggle for power between the two men, then why hadn’t Hitler simply removed Himmler? He was the acknowledged leader of Germany, after all. I asked him about it once his tirade had run its course.

“And who would you recommend I send to arrest the head of the S.S.?” he asked bluntly.

“Well-” I started before the implications of that carefully crafted statement slammed home. “Are you suggesting he would have used the S.S. to protect himself?” I asked.

“The organization is loyal to him,” Hitler replied simply.

“What about the military?”

“I fear that, in a struggle between the two of us, the generals would support him,” Hitler explained. “Some, because they agree with him, others because they fear what the Gestapo would do to their families. And I would be quietly killed, and replaced by one of the many body-doubles Himmler has in his employ.”

I glowered, disbelievingly at the man. Nothing in this interview had gone as I’d expected. I’d thought I’d prepared myself. I’d come fully expecting a certain amount self-delusion, perhaps even denial. I’d expected rage, but never once considered it would come from me. I’d expected wild ravings, but never had I considered that they might have so closely resembled truth. I felt as if I had been backed into a corner by the avatar of this monster. The pressure in my chest had evolved into actual pain. It was as if there was something inside trying to escape. My pulse was pounding in my ears.

The worst part of it all was that his version of events had an internal consistency. Of course, it all hinged on the premise that Hitler and Himmler were opposing forces instead of allies, which seemed impossible. How could over a century of historians have completely missed the back and forth tug of war the subject was suggesting? Surely, there would be mountains of paper to attest to such a struggle?

“Tell me,” he said, breaking into my musings “how does Germany lose the war?”

And with that one, innocent sounding question I realized what was really going on. It was as if the sun had suddenly lit up the room, burning away all the pretense that had held up this façade. I could almost see it all collapsing before me like a house of cards.

The man before me was no mere pawn of some tag team power struggle. This was no story about a statesman whose good intentions had been twisted by the evil of others into a knife held at the jugular of the world.

It was a cold, calculated ploy designed to gain information. Saint Hitler had been nothing more than an act designed to get me to lower my guard, so he could avoid the mistakes he’d made previously. I had to admit, I was impressed by the cunning, thespianism, and pure chutzpa involved in such a deception. I would never have guessed that even he would be so devious.

That realization felt as a breath of cold air. I felt almost giddy, like a kid who’d awoken to realize it was the first day of summer vacation.

He had overplayed his hand, and now I knew what he was after. Yet, there was something he didn’t know: none of this was real. We were not actually in 1940. No information gained by him here would help his dilemma. Which meant I could play his little game back at him.

“Actually, you have the document most historians consider to be the tipping point right there,” I told him, gesturing to his desk.

He followed my gesture to the papers on his desk. “Operation Barbarossa?” he asked, sounding somehow pleased. “Good,” he said, maintaining his charade. “I was afraid Himmler would disallow the whole thing. It seemed to be such obvious suicide.” I nodded in agreement, doing my best not to smirk.

“And what of the Americans?” he asked. “Do they ever stop dragging their feet?”

“Yes,” I told him. “Japan brough The United States into the war by bombing Pearl Harbor, on December 7th 1941.”

“That’s a year and a half from now,” the subject protested. “I’d hoped to involve them sooner.”

I shrugged. “Between the growing peace movement in the United States, and the Isolationists, backed somewhat by Germany- it would have been career suicide for Roosevelt to attempt to bring the US directly into the war until after the attack.”

“Coward,” the subject spat angrily. Then he seemed to calm himself. “Still, at least Ribbentrop’s fascination with Japan paid off.” He delivered that statement with the slightest undercurrent of pride.

“In and among his many blunders,” I murmured. Joachim Von Ribbentrop had been Hitler’s top diplomat for about a decade by this point. And while it was true that he had managed to forge alliances with both Italy and Japan, the man was widely considered something of a dunderhead. The type of person who succeeds just often enough through blind luck to maintain his post.

“His what?” Hitler asked, confused.

“His blunders,” I asserted. “The man was an idiot, after all,” I added.

His eyes narrowed. “Is that how history paints him?” he asked. I nodded.

He just stared at me for a moment. “Joachim Von Ribbentrop is the most dangerous man in the world,” he stated. “He has successfully manipulated it like a skilled puppeteer for over a decade now. He coerced Italy into the Pact of Steel, and got them to keep to it. He convinced Slovakia to become a German protectorate. He browbeat the Lithuanian government into returning Memelland to Germany. He convinced Hungary to do his bidding twice. He managed to get all of Europe to ignore Germany’s rearmament. He even managed to convince the French to sign that phony non-aggression pact.”

“And committed faux pa after faux pa the entire time he was in England,” I pointed out.

“Of course he did,” the subject replied matter-of-factly. “He was utterly opposed to an alliance between us. The only thing that kept him there as long as he was, was his desire to incur enough damage so as to ensure no alliance could be recovered.”

I frowned. “But you were for an alliance with Britain,” I said pointedly, gaining a nod. “So why send him there?”

“Because, I was less interested in gaining an ally in Britain than I was keeping Ribbentrop away from Russia. Do you have any idea how hard it’s been to halt that particular alliance?”

I couldn’t help stare at him blankly. “He’s your diplomat,” I said, a bit harsher than I’d intended.

“He’s Himmler’s diplomat,” the subject replied in kind. “Thankfully,” he continued in a softer tone “Himmler is blinded by his hatred of the Russian people.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, accepting that distinction for the sake of argument “so if he works for Himmler, and Himmler hates the Russians, then why would Ribbentrop try for an alliance with them?” I sat back, stifling a smile at the trap the subject had just set for himself.

“Ribbentrop may be Himmler’s man, but he does not share Himmler’s biases. He is doing what he sees is best for the glory of Germany. And his vision is much less clouded.”

“How so?” I asked. Sure, Russia joining the Allies was a big boon, but it was doubtful that, even with them, the war would have turned out different. It might have taken longer for the Allies to win, but that was all.

“You must understand how the countries of Europe and Asia feel towards one another,” he said in a lecturing tone. “Turkey is currently neutral, but has long played Russia and Germany against one another. With both in the same alliance, the Turks would feel greatly increased pressure to join as well. With Russia and Turkey allied with Germany, Spain would support Germany openly. There is nothing in Africa which may oppose the Axis. With France already under German occupation, that would leave China, Scandinavia, and Britain fighting against overwhelming odds. China would be completely cut off, with two of its three borders threatened by longtime rivals. Russia and Germany would surround the Scandinavians quickly, and Britain would fall shortly thereafter. Lacking a beachhead in Europe, Asia or Africa, it would be very hard for the Western countries to intervene.”

I blinked for a second as I considered what he’d said. Everything I knew about pre-WW2 Europe did support his domino theory. And I had to admit the difficulty it would have created for Western intervention. But that left the question of why they hadn’t pursued it.

“Assuming your analysis was correct, I would expect Ribbentrop to have explained this to Himmler.”

“Logical analysis is a poor salve for racism,” the subject said poetically. “Particularly when I was playing upon that racism to convince him that Britain would be a better ally.”

“But that leads us back to the original question,” I pointed out. “If Himmler was against allying with Russia, why would his man continue pushing for it?”

Hitler sighed, as if collecting himself. “Himmler may be the most powerful man in Germany, but he can’t simply ignore the generals, many of whom have come to the same conclusions,” the subject replied. “I needed Ribbentrop elsewhere while I convinced them that Russia couldn’t be trusted.”

“Thanks to you,” he continued, relaxing into the couch with a smile on his face “I now know that I succeed. Thank you,” he said, looking directly at me. “Thank you for telling me this. I have been so afraid for so long that these hatemongering racists would infect the entire world.”

I blinked at his demeanor; it was not at all what I’d expected. He was supposed to pump me for specifics on how the Axis had lost the war. Instead, he explained in great detail how it might have won it. He was supposed sneer at my foolishness for having given him crucial data. In that haughty speech’s place, he’d thanked me. He was supposed to call the guards when my usefulness had run its course. Yet his lips never parted from their contented smile.

He seemed so calm, almost happy.

I was the exact opposite. As what he’d said struck home, that damnable pressure had returned, stronger than ever, bringing its other symptoms along with it. My breaths came in ragged pants. My pulse was pounding so hard it felt as if my entire body were shaking with it. I felt as if I were one great palpitation, and I didn’t know why.

The one thing I knew for certain was that Hitler was lying. He had to be.

But, as a scientist, I had to prove it. The problem being that his story made a twisted kind of sense. I could find no logical gaps, no flaws. Ribbentrop had been focused on Russia and Japan. In fact, he’d turned Germany’s back on their long-time ally -China- in order to forge those ties.

And, what many didn’t know was that five months after the simulation’s timeframe Ribbentrop would secure his sought after alliance with Russia. If Hitler had not ignored their pledge in favor of Operation Barbarossa, Russia would have joined the Axis powers. Not the Allies. It all fit.

It didn’t fit well but, try as I might, the best flaw I could find in the events he’d related was the fact that it involved an invisible conspiracy by multiple people.

Nor could I believe he’d come up with such a tangled web of lies on the fly. That only left long time, undiagnosed, severe mental illness. Which was about as believable as the conspiracy angle.

I’d mentioned to Jacob that many psychologists had suspected Hitler of undiagnosed mental illness. The truth was that there was a fairly even split in the psychological community. And none would have suggested such a long running, yet somehow hidden illness.

Nor had he acted in the typical behavior of anyone plagued by such an affliction. His answers had been quick and concise. Questioning him had led to few outbursts of emotion. He hadn’t lost track of the discussion. And he hadn’t started arguing with people who weren’t there. Aside from his paranoid assumption that I was an assassin sent to kill him, I’d seen no signs at all of mental illness.

But if insanity didn’t explain it, what did that leave?

I glanced down at the man who’d so expertly trapped me in his maze of lies. He was still staring off into space, that same idiotic grin on his face. His eyes had become glassy, as though he were about to cry.

As I watched him, I realized I hated this man. Not from a cold cataloguing of his vile acts. No, I hated this man.

Hard on that realization’s heels came another. Up until now I’d seen the pressure in my chest as some form of constriction, as if something were trying to squeeze my ribs closed, or burst out of them. But it wasn’t something trying to get out. It was something inside, urging me. Urging me to attack this man. To rend him. To shut him up. Stop him from saying these things.

Of course, I’d disabled physical contact for this simulation. Ironically, because I’d expected him to attack me. But, knowing that did nothing for the pressure in my chest. Indeed, the longer I went without resorting to violence the worse the pressure got.

“NO!” I shouted, startling both of us. Hitler looked up from his musings as I yelled “You are Adolf Hitler, the greatest villain of the twentieth century!”

My accusation seemed to bounce off of him. “Certainly, there will be more villainous people than me,” he responded calmly.

His lack of anger only spurred my hatred of him further. “Six million Jews died by your orders,” I spat.

I gained a small amount of satisfaction as his face jerked up to mine. I could see the color draining from it. “What?” he asked quietly.

I happily elaborated. “From 1941 until the end of the war in 1945 over six million Jews, not to mention three million Russian prisoners, died in your camps.

“No,” Hitler protested, shocked.

I pressed my advantage. “You carried out mass arrests. You instigated shootings. You worked them to death. You herded them into gas chambers.” He jerked, as if each sentence had been a physical blow. A part of me relished his reaction.

“No!” Hitler repeated. “These are not my orders.”

“Yes! We found Himmler’s appointment calendar for the day you ordered him to begin your final solution.”

“Not my solution,” Hitler insisted, almost pleadingly.

“Then who’s?” I demanded.

“You know who,” Hitler replied in a hard voice. He was silent for a moment more, eyes searching frantically for something. “Perhaps it can be stopped,” he said, as if to himself. “It must be stopped,” he added, lurching towards his desk.

“I’ll move up the timetable, bring the Russians into the war sooner,” he said rifling through the sheets of paper he’d been working with.

I’m not sure what form of morbid fascination bade me follow the man, but I found myself doing just that. He seemed to have forgotten all about me as he scratched portions of the text out, replacing them with scribbled notes of far worse penmanship.

“I can assign more guards to the camps,” he said, as he sifted the pages. “Or perhaps less; give them a chance to escape,” he added, finding the page he was looking for.

On impulse I snatched the page out from under his pen and stared at it. It read:

Article VI

Treatment of Prisoners of War

Operation Barbarossa had no such article. The Nazi mistreatment of Russian POWs, while calculated and brutal, was not part of the official plan. But here it was. And it listed everything a conquering army would be expected to provide: food, blankets, shelter, cleaning facilities. It was all there. It did make mention of forced labor, but the quotas were far below what had actually been demanded of those prisoners. There was no mention of the policies that had led to three million horrible deaths.

My hand shook as I read that section over again. This document hadn’t come from the scans we’d taken of Hitler’s brain. An entirely separate device had been used to scan the environs of the study, in order to duplicate it in every detail. This wasn’t some neurosis induced figment of his imagination; this was real. It had existed.

The Hitler history knew would never have penned this. But this one had. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I looked over the document, what other divergences it might contain. As my eyes swept the name something else clicked. Operation Barbarossa’s original name had been Operation Otto. Until Hitler renamed it.

Renamed it after a Roman emperor who had died in a war of conquest.

“You!” Hitler said excitedly, breaking my gaze from the paper in my hand. “You are from the future.”

“Yes,” I said slowly, mind still reeling from the implications of this document.

“You could stop this,” Hitler said, almost frantically. “You could send more people back in time. Surely you have better technology. It would require but a handful of soldiers.”

Two minutes ago, I would have interpreted that request as a trick designed to gain access to advanced technology. But there was no calculation in that face, no deception. Adolf Hitler was pleading with me to stop the Holocaust.

That was when I knew without a doubt: he had been telling the truth. The coming of that realization marked the end of that damnable pressure. There was a hollow spot inside me where it had sat. My heart no longer pounded. My hands still trembled, not from a pounding pulse, but from what felt like sheer exhaustion. I felt as if I’d just run a mile.

I looked at the subject for the first time, this man that had been used as a washcloth for the sins of other men. No doubt he still held some responsibility for the Holocaust. How much was beyond me; I’m a physicist and historian, not a philosopher.

He was still looking at me, pleadingly. Hell, desperately. I had to say something. I suddenly realized I didn’t want to; I didn’t want to tell him. But he deserved the truth, avatar that he was.

“I can’t,” I said softly, ashamed.

“Why not?!” he demanded. “Nine million people,” he added desperately.

I shook my head, trying to figure out what to say. The truth was I literally couldn’t; the technology didn’t work that way. But, explaining that would have required me to inflict one more injury on this man. I found that I just couldn’t do that.

Fortunately, he beat me to it. “Because it would alter the course of history,” he said sadly, with the demeanor of a deflating balloon. I nodded, not trusting my voice. He sank into his desk chair, staring at nothing, but seeing horrors.

“Why did you come here?” he asked suddenly. He looked up at me with hurt eyes. “Why did you have to tell me this?”

“I . . . wanted an interview,” I said. Somehow, it sounded an incredibly childish excuse. “History paints you as the greatest monster of the twentieth century,” I tried to explain. “But for all the books and stories, and analysis, all we have about you is conjecture and hearsay.  No one knows much about you because . . .” I said, hesitating “because you kill yourself just before Allied troops could take your bunker.”

He nodded slowly, showing very little reaction to his impending suicide. But then, he’d also just heard about the atrocities that were to be committed in his name. Perhaps he felt he deserved it.

“So, you came to see what kind of monster I was?” he asked. I nodded, sheepishly.

“What will you tell them?”

My mouth opened to tell him I’d report the truth, but that promise died stillborn. Until this very moment I’d had every intention of revealing my findings to the world. But, until this very moment, I had thought I’d known at least the broad strokes of what those findings would be. I’d never dreamed they would be the sort of thing that would lead to career suicide.

“You want me to tell them you aren’t a monster?” I asked, stalling for time to think.

“I am a monster,” the man replied morosely. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If what you say is true, there will be enough bricks for a long and windy descent.” I nodded agreement, even as I wondered if that could possibly be true. I found myself hoping not.

“What I wish to know,” he continued “is if you will tell them I tried. Tell them I was a fool. Tell them I never meant for any of this.” What had started as a question had turned into a plea.

My head nodded again even as I whispered “I can’t.”

“Why can you not?” he asked dully, as if nothing really mattered anymore.

My mind spun in search of how to explain it to him. It was such a simple question, with such a complex answer. How do you explain the cult of Nazi derision that has arisen in the last century and a half? Not that any decent person could really argue against it. But, in truth, that just made it harder to divert. It was a boulder that had been rolling downhill for over a hundred years. Anyone who stood in its way would be squashed.

“Because no one would believe me,” I said finally.

“Why?” he asked, his voice a weird mix of despair and curiosity. So, I told him. I told him how politicians loved to hurl the obscenity ‘Nazi’ or ‘Fascist’ at each other. I told him how narrow-minded, self-serving people had twisted the definitions of those words so they could be hurled at almost anyone. I told him how Nazis were made fun of in shows like Hogan’s Heroes. I told him about the numerous games and movies where Nazis are the enemies, including the entire Nazi Zombie subgenre. I told him about all the books -fiction and nonfiction alike- that had been written about the many horrors of the Nazi party.

He waited patiently for me to run down. “That is as it should be,” he stated. “But why can you not tell them about me?”

“Because they wouldn’t believe me,” I repeated at a soft yell, suddenly irritated. “They wouldn’t even listen.”

“But why not?” Hitler asked, more confused than hurt.

“Don’t you get it?” I demanded. “The Nazi party has become synonymous with evil. You are the face of that party. You said it yourself. You are inextricably linked to it. If I tried to tell them who you are it would be the same as telling them the Nazi party wasn’t who it was. They wouldn’t listen. I’d be branded as a Nazi sympathizer, a Holocaust denier, and a Neo Nazi. They’d cut my grants. I’d be ostracized from the scientific community. No journal would publish anything I wrote. But that wouldn’t stop a hundred other hack scientist from publishing bad reasons to avoid listening to me. I’d be ruined,” I added, finally winding down.

“So, you are saying that they would not even consider reconsidering?” Hitler asked, as if verifying his understanding of my little tirade.

“Yes!” I nearly shouted, glad he was finally getting it.

His eyes narrowed into a scowl. “Then they are no better than the people who follow me,” he said somberly before getting up and stomping out of the room.

>> 

 

I paused the narrated video of my friend’s experience as it switched back to the somber version of him standing in his lab. I could only imagine the hell he was currently going through.

Dave was a good enough man to want to do what he thought was right. But he was also pragmatic enough to know the odds against any success. And he wasn’t wrong about how many would react to these findings. I’d certainly found watching this a trying experience, and I’d always seen myself as one of the more open-minded scientists out there.

Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as he’d described. On the other hand, it could be worse. Once others made their own edited version of his results known, Dave could end up on the worse end of a professional lynch mob. Hell, it could even become a real lynch mob. I’d seen riots started for less.

I reached forward and resumed the playback.

“I’m at a loss as to what to do,” David said. “Dr. Dhat has promised to corroborate the results of the experiment, but Jacob’s pretty sure he’ll be dismissed because of his age. Jacob would most likely be ignored because of his rather outspoken political views. Not that he’s a Nazi or anything,” he added with a touch of a grin. “And Jill would be in worse shape if she tried. I can’t let her throw her fresh career away.”

“Everything I know says I should just bury this project,” he continued, sounding miserable. “But everything I feel says I have to tell the truth. That’s why I’ve contacted you. You are the wisest person I’ve ever met. You have a way of seeing things others miss. So, I have to ask you . . .” he started before trailing off.

It was clear he felt guilty about involving me in this. About involving the others too. But he was stuck in a moral impasse. I knew what he was going to ask, but it made it no less easy when he finally got it out:

“. . . what would you do?”

 

End

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Meleshira Loutzenheiser
Meleshira Loutzenheiser
Jan 29

This is an amazing story. I like how it makes you think, even if you're not very historically accurate yourself (which is the case for me). You use so many facts from history that I didn't have to look up anything. The possibility of this being true seems very viable the way you present it. Also, as an answer to the question "What would I do?" : I'd interview other historical figures and submit those for review within the scientific community first, gaining considerable notoriety about my accuracy in the field. Then I'd share this Hitler interview, once everyone was secure in their positions. That would allow for people to be more receptive to this revelation, while inciting discussions within several…

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