“Irene? Come on Hannah, this isn’t the time for jokes!”
“Yes. I learned to play the violin from Irene.”, Hannah replied calmly.
“I don’t get you! Explain!”, Raymond was shocked.
“This took place some 12 years ago when I was still in school, and Irene was based at Agnetz. She had just embarked on her journey as an independent scientist. During those days she used to conduct violin classes for students, 2 and 3 hours a day on weekdays and weekends respectively. I went there for about a month when I had my spring break. That’s it.”
“Doesn’t Mr Bernard know about this?”
“No! I’d be doomed if he comes to know about this now. I never revealed this to him worrying he might fire me because of this past connection between Irene and me. If he had still let me be here, he wouldn’t have trusted me as he does now.”
“Then why did you tell this to me, Hannah? It’s just been a day since we came to know about each other.”
“Say it, Hannah. Why?”
“See, I’ve been carrying on the weight of this secret since the past six years. As the competitiveness between Mr Bernard and Irene went up, things became more difficult for me. I wanted to open up about this to someone, but I don’t have many friends here, and the few I have are busy in their own lives. We rarely meet, and I don’t trust them much anyways. Things became stagnant for a while until the recent meeting between these two rivals. He started doubting me. That’s when things became too much for me to handle. And that’s when you came in as a breath of fresh air, Ray. We connected so well in the few hours that we spent together in the lab, and this eventually led me to open it up to you Ray. I couldn’t hold it anymore.”, she went ahead and hugged him.
“It’s..it’s okay Hannah. There’s no need to worry. It was just a violin class, that too a decade ago. Why should it affect your relationship with your mentor? Practically it shouldn’t unless the connection goes deeper than that.”, he comforted her.
“Promise me you won’t tell this to Mr Bernard at any cost.”
“Why would I? I understand your dilemma, Hannah. Rest assured, I won’t speak a word about this.”
“Thank you for your words, Ray. I just wish you could stay longer here. It’d be much more fun working on new projects by your side.”
“Well, that would just remain as a wish, I guess.”, Ray smiled coyly.
“But why? You can ask Mr Bern..”
“Some things are just not meant to be, Hannah. The sooner you realise it, the better you can handle your life. Always been my motto.”, he slowly let her go and left the room before emotions can get the better of him.
We were just a few hours shy before we’d complete the machine and its pre-launch tests. The very thought of another failure makes me nervous. But deep down I felt that this time, it’ll work. I leave a tip for the waiter and leave for the lab.
As I cross the street and take a right turn, I notice someone behind me. Wearing a brown overcoat, eyes behind black glasses and a newspaper in hand, he slowly followed me from lane to lane.
“Just remember to look around you once in a while.”, I remember Irene’s words.
Is he really a spy from Irene’s side?
But I’ve never noticed him before.
Time to test it out.
As I picked up the pace, he did the same. The next moment I surprised him by taking a sudden U-turn and moving towards his direction. He was startled for a moment before instantly gaining back composure. He went ahead and took a left turn. I jog towards him to look where he goes ahead but in vain. He was long gone.
“Look at the sky. What a starry night!”, Raymond resembled a mesmerised young kid as he stared aimlessly at the sky.
“Yes. It looks so beautiful. Right, Mr Bernard?”, Hannah dragged me into the conversation.
“Oh yes, it definitely is.”, my mind was still stuck on the incident a few hours ago.
“Your mind seems to be somewhere else Mr Bernard. Still thinking about the outcome of tomorrow’s experiment trial?”, Hannah caught me off guard.
“Yes, somewhat. But I had a few questions in mind; and since you are an ex-employee from Irene’s factory, I think you may have the answer to this Mr Darcy.”
“Sure Mr Bernard. Anything for you.”, he instantly agreed, taking off his sight from the sky.
“Do you have any idea how Irene got a whiff of Project Chronos?”
“No, Mr Bernard. If I had an idea, I’d have already told you about it.”
“Does she deploy spies against her rivals? To keep a tab on their activities?”
“Spies? Not sure about that. But Irene does have people at her disposal who would do anything on her command.”
“Why this question all of a sudden Mr Bernard?”, Hannah seemed worried.
“Still curious on how she managed to get the info so precisely correct. I feel she has set spies around me, or maybe even around both of you, tracking every moment and action of ours.”, I sighed.
“That means there’s a chance we are being watched upon currently as we speak. We have to be more careful from now on.”, Raymond spoke out my mind.
“It’s been six years since you worked under Mr Bernard. If I ask you to describe the entire experience in just one word, what will be your answer Hannah?”, Raymond fired another question.
“Overwhelming!”, Hannah smiled as she ran a test on the controller circuits.
“And how was your University life? I heard Mr Bernard offered you this role himself after spotting you at a Science Fair. You were one of the brightest students from Bordeaux right?”
“Yes. That’s true. Before coming here, University was definitely the highlight of my life. All those achievements, scholarships, trophies, etc. I guess it’d have been fun continuing there, learning more, achieving more, undertaking new courses.”
“Then why didn’t you continue your education there? I feel Mr Bernard would have definitely listened to you and waited for a couple of years.”
“Matter of priorities and circumstances.”, she answered vaguely.
That’s when they hear an alarm blaring near the lab entrance.
“What’s that for?”
“It says someone is at the door. The doorbell is connected to this speaker.”
“Oh, that’s nice. I’ll see who it is.”, Raymond left for the door above.
A few moments later, commotion hit the house.
“Where is the dampener! Give it back or else we’ll hurt you bad!”, three men cornered Raymond and thrashed him as they yelled at the top of their voices.
“What dampener? What are you talking about! I don’t understand!”, he helplessly tried to defend himself, only getting more blows in return.
“Where is your master? The famous scientist Augustin Bernard? Where is he? Where is the coward hiding?”, they howled in unison.
“Look right above you.”, I entered with a MAC Mle 1950 semi-automatic pistol aimed directly at them.
“Calm down Mr Bernard and handover the time dampener to us. We know you have it.”, one of them spoke up.
I didn’t reply. I just fired a shot near his shoes to which he scampered away and raised his fist to hit Raymond.
“Touch him again, and the next bullet will go through your head. I promise.”
That made his punch stop mid-air.
“You have the dampener, Mr Bernard. A unit is missing from the factory, and we very well know you came begging for it for some project of yours…”
“Yes. I have the time dampener. The one from Irene’s factory. Do whatever you want to do. I don’t care. Irene – or anyone for that matter – can’t stop me from completing this experiment now. Go and tell this to her.”, I shoot another bullet, this time to the door, signalling them to leave.
“Fine. We’ll leave for now Mr Bernard. But remember, our eyes are always on you – tracking every movement and progress of yours.”
“I don’t care anymore.”
The next second, they shut the door and leave in anger and helplessness.
“Mr Bernard..”, Raymond wailed in pain as he lay down on the floor.
“Hannah, bring in the first aid now!”, I shout as I go near him.
“Thank you for saving me, Mr Bernard.”
“Get up and sit on the chair, here take a hand.”, I help him to sit up.
“My face hurts.”, he winced.
“Your nose is bleeding. Where is Hannah! Hannah?”
“She’s in the lab, Mr Bernard.”, Raymond lets me know.
“Oh, that’s why she didn’t answer. Cons of having soundproof underground labs. You stay still. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Hannah, where are you?”, I search her at F -1.
“I’m here, Mr Bernard.”, a voice emerged from the floor beneath me.
“Take the medkit and go to the ground floor.”
“Medkit? What for? Did you get hurt?”
“Raymond is injured.”
“Oh my goodness! But how Mr Bernard?”, she was all tensed.
“Something just happened upstairs Hannah.”, I flash out the pistol before her.
“Wait a minute! How did you get a hand on that? Why?”, she got tense.
“I always kept this with me – just in case something happens.”
“What happened now?”
“Irene’s men gave us a visit and knocked down Raymond asking for the dampener.”
“Now tell me. Do you feel stealing the dampener from Irene’s factory was a good idea?”, Hannah asked as she handed Raymond a glass of lime tea at the makeshift garden terrace.
“It was worth the risk, Hannah. No regrets.”, Raymond said without any regret in his voice.
“Such a big fan of Mr Bernard huh?”, she playfully punched him on his shoulder.
“Yes. It feels nice to be besides a person who has inspired you for a while. Working with him on one of his most ambitious project ever is icing on the cake.”
“The project might end tonight Ray. What after that?”, Hannah sounded sad.
“I haven’t planned much. Might join another organisation. If that doesn’t work, will focus on setting up my lab here in France.”
“If you need any help, we are just a call away. Remember that.”, she went ahead and hugged him.
“Till Mr Bernard returns from his walk, let’s just take a moment for ourselves and enjoy this beautiful sunset.”
“Reminds me of a quote by someone: sunsets are proof that endings can be beautiful too.”
“Too cheesy, Ray. Too cheesy.”, she retorts to which they share a small laugh.
“So that seems like a wrap!”, I sigh as we complete the final checks.
“Yes, Mr Bernard. It does seem we have finally reached the end.”, Hannah said as she closed the journals and kept them on the table.
“All the connections – done and tested.”, Raymond flashed a thumbs up as he looked at Chronos in awe.
“The first thing we do tomorrow is to test Chronos. I guess we deserve some much-needed rest before the D-Day.”
“Sure, Mr Bernard.”, Raymond yawned.
“Don’t get your hopes up though. No one among us can assure that the launch will be a hundred per cent success tomorrow.”, I remind them.
“Yes. Reminds me of the last time we tried. So much dejection.”, Hannah shrugged.
“Good night team. Sleep well. Hoping tomorrow would be a day to remember for the rest of our lifetimes.”, I bid them the night.
But I very well knew that this would be another tough night of introspection; may be the longest one to date.
It’s already two in the morning, and I just finished reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ which I restarted a few days ago – which in turn only intensified my hate towards him and reminded me of how much harm mankind has suffered due to his atrocious activities.
In front of me lays another book which I have been carefully studying for the past few days – ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ by William L. Shirer. It gives an in-depth review of the Reich and their journey through the World War – what caused it to start in the first place, how Hitler sustained it through victories over neighbouring countries and what resulted in its eventual demise. It also mentioned the assassination attempts on the Fuhrer which eventually failed.
That caught my eye.
“What if I go back in time and instead of just saving my parents, kill the root cause of the issue – Hitler himself?”
This question had kept my mind buzzing throughout this week.
The letters made things worse.
I receive a lot of letters from around the world. Most of them are from upcoming scientists about their field of research and how I inspire them to progress, while some are from students who look up to me as their idol. Most of them are heartfelt and brings a smile on my face. It makes me feel better as an individual and contributes to my positive outlook.
But some letters are sad and mentions the struggles they face. How they still manage to survive the day no matter how tough the circumstances are. These are my personal favourites since they remind me that everyone fights their own battles. Every once in a while life puts out a test to check how mentally strong we are. The struggle through that phase eventually shapes us a person who we are today. Ready for another test life throws at us.
I keep such letters separate from the general bunch. But things went super weird when I started to relate to some of these letters. They had similar struggles like mine – coming in the way of Hitler’s destruction. Such messages made the thoughts of assassinating Hitler even stronger.
One of them went this way:
Dear Mr Bernard,
I don’t know whether this letter will ever reach to you or whether you’ll read it, let alone replying to it, but I’ll write anyway. I want to write this for my own because these very thoughts of mine weigh me down. I want this weight off my chest. You know Mr Bernard, my life has always taught me this thing that there is no such thing as ‘the right moment’. Either you do it now, or you don’t. We never know what the next moment will present us with, so it’s better to do whatever you want to do right away. It might happen that when you feel, it’s the right moment to take action, the very purpose of doing it fades away. I know I sound too philosophical, but that’s what I’ve learned so far – perhaps the harder way. You might be thinking, why am I saying these things to you? Again, as I said earlier, I’m writing these things for myself. I am not even sure if I’ll ever send this to you.
All these years, I was striving for a better future clinging on a fine thread of hope, but it seems now that the thread will break soon. You might think of me as a psychotic, but trust me, I am not. I’m just an old man trying to pen down his experiences with life. Some may say, life is all about living and not just surviving, but from the past 30 years I am doing the latter one. For me, life is living under the constant threat that the very reason for which I survive might cease to exist the very next moment. Life for me is a continual fear of losing my daughter who is under coma for the last 30 years. She is the only purpose for my life since the 1940’s Paris blast in which I lost my entire family. She was the lone survivor, but bedridden in a long slumber, and she still hasn’t woken up yet. My whole life changed overnight just because of a dictator’s dream. His dream that ruined several thousand people’s lives. You’ll relate to my pain as you’re the victim of the same catastrophe. But I don’t understand how do you maintain a positive outlook for life when you’ve been robbed off completely.
“The world isn’t fair, nor is it unfair. It just is! Having said that, whatever happens in your life – if you are happy or not, if you are successful, you are fulfilled. You wake up with energy instead of angry or being disillusioned. You’re positive instead of negative. You enjoy life instead of suffering from it. You are thankful for your lot instead of envious of those that have more or seem to have more. In general, you walk the path of life looking forward to what is to come and make other people look up upon you as someone valuable, insightful and full of life. Everything depends on you and your actions, nobody else!”
This is what you said in your last speech which I attended. To be honest, it made sense to me, but these things are only meant for people who lead a normal life, not for outcasts like us. You are a learned man Mr Bernard. But no matter whatever you hypothesise, whatever progress science makes, it can never bring back the peace this world has lost. It can never join those dreams broken, charred under the tyranny of a sociopath. Sure, we can make the future better but at what cost? You might believe science can bring wonders, but for an unfortunate man like me, science has no meaning if it can’t bring back my family. If your so-called path-breaking inventions can’t end the misery of an old man, and many other people like me, then I’m sorry to say, Mr Bernard, you’ve failed. So unless you’re capable of ending this misery, you’ve no right to instil hope amongst others.
“Hope, they say is a double-edged sword”, a voice came up from behind. I turned to see a man in his mid-thirties with a small kid in a bed having a conversation. The images were translucent, and I could only hear their sounds clearly. I was sure I’m hallucinating again.
He continued, “The same hope which gives a purpose of life to many also becomes a source of pain.”
“But Dad, how can a single thing have both the outcomes? It can either be a source of joy or a source of sorrow. But how both?”, The small kid enquired. I feel I’ve heard this voice before, but I fail miserably to recollect.
“Let me give you an example son. What did I promise you to give if you score well in your end semester exams?”
“You see, that’s the hope I’ve instilled in you. You’re happy because you know you’re going to get a brand new bicycle. You believe me, and I’ve got your hopes high. On the other hand, even after promising, if I don’t give you the bicycle, how will you feel? Devastated right? You didn’t have the bicycle now; you’ll not have in future. Now you’re happy, but then you’ll feel dejected. And why? Because I didn’t fulfil my promise. I got your hopes high and then robbed you of it. That’s how human tendency works, son. If you give others a hope to live by, you must fulfil it.”
“But Dad, what if it is practically not possible to fulfil every promise we make? Or what if doing such a thing requires putting everything I’ve, at stake?”
“Son, life is always full of such crossroads where you’ve to decide whether to do a particular thing or not, what will be consequences and many such questions. At such moments, listen to your inner conscience, if whatever you are doing is for the greater good, even if that requires an unethical way, never hesitate.”
“Enough questions for the day, Augustin, it’s nap time now”.
And the blurry images dimmed before vanishing. It is then I realised that was my Dad talking to my younger self. This was the second time in the last few days such a thing has happened when I don’t remember the conversation happening in my past. But whatever be the case, this has undoubtedly helped me to make my decision.
I know what to do now.
“It’s finally here Mr Bernard, the moment of truth.”, Hannah said nervously.
“Yes, it definitely is Hannah.”, I murmur.
“We are all a bundle of nerves right now.”, Raymond giggled to ease off some tension in the air.
I felt almost the same way I felt a few days ago – when we tested Chronos the last time. But if we fail this time around, I’d sure be taking a small break from this project to refresh my mind and think where we faltered.
“Any guesses how it will feel or look like? The process of time travel?”, Raymond quipped in with a question.
“No guesses on this one Mr Darcy until I see it myself. It might be pitch black. Might be not. Although I remember Tesla claiming that he had found himself in an entirely different time and space window and could see the past, present, and future at the same time, 75 years ago when he claimed to have experienced time travel.”
Anxiety runs through my veins, and a feeling of standing on the verge of creating history made me feel numb for a few moments.
“It’s time.”, I announce as I go ahead and sit on the chair inside the machine.
Hannah handovers the bag with essentials like clothes, food and first aid which I place beneath the chair.
“Engines turned on. Please enter the date.”, Hannah instructed from her table.
Raymond stood beside her, ready to scribble entries in the observation journal.
“November 9, 1938”, I enter on the dial pad.
Hannah looked at me for a split second, apparently surprised at the change of the pre-decided date which was the 2nd of June, 1940 as per the last trial.
“Date locked. Enter the time and the geographical coordinates.”
“03:19 AM, 48°07’49.4″N 11°35’31.2″E ”, I entered.
Another look of surprise from Hannah as she traced the coordinates on her map. Raymond couldn’t help but smile seeing the look on Hannah’s face.
“Are you sure with the entered data Mr Bernard? 09/11/1938 03:19 AM Anzinger Forst, Ebersberg, Germany?”
“You can proceed with the initiation.”
I fasten the seatbelt, turn on the main engine and press the GO button on the dashboard. Chronos slowly roared to life. A few moments later, it floated in the air, a few centimetres above the ground. The indicators were pretty steady this time thanks to the time dampener. The signs associated with the wormhole finder lit up, and that’s when my breathing became rugged.
The next second Hannah and Raymond disappear before my eyes.