At that very instant I realised that I have made a mistake of disrespecting nature and her flow by taking things in my hands. I was terribly shook seeing the new timeline I have created by assassinating Hitler.
But before I read the article, someone entered the room.
I notice a lady in her late twenties, her hair bunned up gracefully, donning black rimmed glasses with a brown bag in her arms.
“August, can you just pass me that file right there – near the shelf?”, she popped in before I could ask anything.
“But..but who are you? I’m sorry, but I didn’t recognise you, ma’am.”
“This is not the time for your antics brother. I’m already late for my job and midway I realised I missed this file at home.”, she takes a look at her watch worriedly.
“What? What did you just call me? Brother?”, I stood up in shock.
“Obviously. What should I call my brother then? Mr Handsome?”, she mocked as she went ahead to take the file herself.
“What’s your name?”
“Stop it August. You know I don’t have time for this. And why didn’t you go to your lab today? Irene must be fuming.”, she began to leave.
“Wait a minute? Irene works in my lab?”
“Are you high Augustin? You work under Irene in her lab.”
That was it. This would be the lowest I could ever sweep down to. Working under the mentorship of my once upon a time nemesis at her lab.
I’m about to pop out another question, but I feel dizzy all of a sudden. I take a seat on the chair as my head begins to hurt. Memories flood in. Everything starts to blur out. It felt the same way I felt once in my childhood. Painful. Confused. I shout in exasperation.
Visiting my parent’s grave every fortnight.
Meeting Irene at her office.
Working on Chronos at my lab.
Sharing a laugh with Hannah and Raymond over some trivial fact.
“Are you alright August?”, she rushes to my help.
“I don’t know. I feel as if I’m slowly forgetting everything.”, I hold her hand.
“You’ll get well soon. Just cut down on your occasional drug intake.”
She sees my pain and realises that this is something different altogether. Keeping her bag aside, she sits in the adjacent chair.
“I don’t even remember your name. Everything feels anew.”, I decide to take advantage of my concussion, which still hurt. Revealing my real identity and explaining the concept of time travel would result in another headache.
She looks at me for a few seconds, maybe tracing my expressions for any sight of a smile; hoping this would be another one of my lame tricks.
“You sure August? This isn’t a joke right?”, tears welled up in her eyes.
“Yes. I’m dead serious Isa. I feel as if my memory is going corrupt altogether. Rewritten, modified every second.”, I wipe off her tears.
“What else do you remember?”
“I have a few questions Isa. Your answers will help me better my state.”
“Sure. Do ask.”
“What happened to Mom? How did Dad die?”
“Remember the 1940 Paris blasts?”
“Don’t tell me it still happened!”, I felt angry and helpless at the same time.
“What do you mean by still happened?”
“Er..nothing Isa. Continue.”
Keep your emotions in check.
“Those bombings resulted in our Dad losing his life along with 445 others. Mom managed not to add to that number, but looking at her condition, it feels it would have been better if she had.”
I felt hollow on hearing that. The fundamental aim of Project Chronos was seeing my parents alive. Even after murdering the greatest dictator of all time, destiny had this in store for me.
“How did I end up working under Irene Adler?”
“You used to work under other small-time scientists, struggling to invent something, but always in vain. You never found anything groundbreaking. But you were hard-working, dedicated and never gave up. Positive word of mouth, testimonials and recommendations from everywhere you worked. Hence your profile was strong. Irene’s lab had openings this year. You applied with no hope whatsoever. But you were lucky enough to be one among the twenty final selects across Europe. You should be proud of yourself.”
I feel the exact opposite, Isabelle.
“And who is this Alfred Carstens?”, I point towards the newspaper.
“Sir Alfred Carstens.”, she corrects me and indicates to lower my voice.
“Don’t talk about him in public. His men are everywhere. If they spot or hear you discussing the ruler, they’ll directly shoot you down without any further word.”
“Tell me more about him.”
“I’d like to tell you, but I really have to go for now August. It’s a high priority meeting with the client, and I can’t miss it at any cost. Please understand.”
“It’s okay. No issues.”, I fake a smile. I was curious to know more, and Isa was the perfect source to understand the situation of the present timeline.
“I guess Hannah will be back in a while from the grocer’s. I’ll let her know by leaving a note. She’ll help you out.”, her words send in a ray of hope.
“You forgot me, but you still remember Hannah huh?”, she playfully pats me, faking disgust.
Get your act together Augustin.
“Hannah is my assistant at Irene’s lab right? Lives along with us.”, I act dumb, at the same time hoping this would be actually true.
“She’s our housemaid from the past six years.”, she waves a bye before closing the door.
I sit in the same spot, cursing myself for what I did. I totally regret my decision, and no matter what I do to think of a possible solution to this mess, it keeps coming back and reminds me of what I did.
How selfish I am.
I look at my Mom who was still on her bed like a statue, unaware of the storm in my mind. I kneel down, hold her hand and break down.
Ten minutes later, I hear someone entering the house. I get out of the room and have a look.
It was Hannah of course, carrying lots of bags from the grocer’s. She looked tired as she put down all the weight and slumped on the sofa. She notices a note on the table and read its content. Her expressions change slowly as she reached the end. The next moment she sees me upstairs.
“Don’t worry Mr Bernard. I’m here to solve your problem. You can ask me whatever you want to.”
I look at her. She is the same old Hannah. Young, cheerful, full of life, yet somehow incomplete. Thanks to my stupid actions, she is now a generic housemaid instead of a bright scientist.
“I’m sorry Hannah.”, I go ahead and hug her, much to her surprise.
“Everything will be alright.”
“I hope the same.”
“Let’s go to your room. We’ll discuss there. Cool?”
“Oh sure. That’d be better.”, I definitely want to explore the rest of this house.
The second floor housed my room at the corner as expected. The only difference being I had my small makeshift lab here instead of all the document archive as in the original timeline. The room was strictly exclusive to me. I had even caught Hannah trying to sneak in a few times. And now we are here. Chatting together in the very same room.
The room too had a different vibe altogether. It kind of justified why I had the struggler tag here.
No signs of positivity whatsoever.
“First of all, tell me how you came here.”
“I’m actually from Clermont. I went to Bordeaux University for a while, but then my family got into an accident. I lost my Mom. My Dad lost his legs and is still alive. My relatives take care of him. But they didn’t help in my education. I had to make ends meet for myself and send financial aid to them so that they can take care of my Dad. Eventually, I gave up on my education. I started searching for jobs, but since I haven’t completed my graduation, the pay scale was too less. I worked as a clerk in some offices. But those 12 hours a day shift for peanuts got the better off me, and I decided to quit. I got in as a housemaid which had decent pay and a less rigorous routine. A few homes down the lane, a friend of mine suggested trying here since Isabelle was in need of a helping hand. I always wanted to come to Paris, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
I’m sorry Hannah. I really am.
“Who is Sir Alfred Carstens?”
“After the assassination of Adolf Hitler by an unidentified individual in 1938, Sir Alfred Carstens took over the position of the Fuhrer. People thought that the menace finally ended and peace would make a comeback. But sadly, it was the opposite. He led the Nazi Party to consecutive wins in their assembly pollings. He hasn’t lost till date. Through his speeches, public rallies and writings, his fandom grew in numbers. People actually started supporting him since he was an able and a practical leader. But power eventually made him corrupt. With authority in his hands and an aim of unifying all the nations as one, Sir Alfred started the Second World War in 1939. That’s when people realised they’ve made a grave mistake by supporting him.”
But how is this even possible?
“And what happened in the World War? The Allies won right?”
“No. Sir Alfred Carstens cut some deal with the US, and with their support, the Axis Powers eventually won.”
“What happened next?”
“Sir Alfred along with the support of the US and other Axis Powers – Italy and Japan slowly started conquering other European nations as well. In 1960 he attacked the biggest and the most powerful European nation – the Soviet Union. The war lasted nine years and is one of the longest and the deadliest wars recorded in human history. The US was impressed that their main rival has gone down thanks to Sir Alfred. They accepted him as their ruler which eventually led him to be the ruler of both the American continents after some pacts and signings. So currently he is the ruler of Europe, North and South America, South East Asia and Central Africa. He has already set his eyes on China which is the only major superpower left to conquer, and has announced a war on them yesterday.”
“So basically he is the ruler of this planet.”
“Yes, Mr Bernard.”
“No revolts against his rule yet?”
“There have been a few such cases during his rule, but he had brutally shut them down. So no one dares to revolt or oppose him now. He is too powerful.”
First Hannah and now Raymond. A drastic change in their position from the original timeline. Even my standard has gone low here.
Every passing second in this timeline feels like a guilt trip. But I have to be calm and think of something to make it alright.
“Any other questions Mr Bernard?”
“I guess it’s enough for the time being. I have to ponder over your answers now.”
“Okay then. By the way, it’s lunchtime. The kitchen is downstairs on the ground floor. I’ll set it up in a while.”, she stood up to leave.
Hannah’s answer had given me a gist of the current scenario. The entire world is suffering due to one irresponsible act of mine. And believe me, it’s a heavy weight to bear.
I assess my personal life and infer that everyone I knew personally had their lives altered. But the degree of alteration was somewhat on the lower scale when compared to that of Raymond’s.
I’m definitely missing something here.
As I sit and scribble on my notepad trying to think of reversing my effects, I hear someone knocking on the door.
Must be Hannah calling me for lunch.
But as I open the door, I’m gifted the surprise of my life.
Raymond or Sir Alfred Carstens as he is known now stood in front of me along with two of his bodyguards. He still looked like the same Raymond I had met in the original timeline.
“Raymond!”, I smile nervously. I don’t know how he will react.
“Kneel down you peasant!”, his bodyguards knock me down.
“Leave him to me. You both wait outside.”, he orders them before closing the door.
“Raymond! Do you remember me? Augustin Bernard. We worked together on..”
“Project Chronos.”, he completed my silence.
An awkward silence filled the room as I realised he still remembers the original timeline.
“But how? How do you remember the original timeline? And how on earth did you become Alfred Carstens?”
“Why do you ask so many questions? At times, I feel you are a journalist.”, he guffawed.
This was the exact sentence I told to mock him when he had me irritating with his back to back questions when he had joined my lab in the original timeline.
The tables have turned.
“Relax Mr Bernard. You’ll have all the answers to your questions. Oh, how many times I have rehearsed this in my head! This has been such a long and tiring journey. I can’t believe this day is finally upon us.”
I don’t respond although I’m confused like hell. He indicates me to have a seat, and I oblige. He walks to and fro in front of me, smiling like a maniac, pumping his fists in excitement.
“You are a wise man Augustin. I thought you might well figure it out. But I see you couldn’t connect the dots here.”
I shrug silently as I notice him calling me by my first name for the very first time.
“I’ll start from the very beginning then. I’m not Raymond Darcy. I’m not Alfred Carstens either. My name is Peter McClenaghan, and I’m from the year 2040. Let this sink in first.”
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. This can’t be! This definitely means he is a time traveller. My mind rumbles with activity and possibilities.
“I’m from the US, and I led the team which made the very first time machine in 2039.”
“But I made the very first time machine! Not you!”, I stood up to argue.
“Calm down Mr Bernard. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Hear me out.”
I sit back and listen to him in rapt attention.
“I know you made the first time machine, Mr Bernard. I’ve seen it with my eyes. But the world didn’t know about your invention. There were speculations you had invented one, but no one confirmed the fact. So your next question would be what happened to your groundbreaking invention. Right?”
“No. How did the machine not get completed? I did it, and here I am. The Government had no idea about my project. This does not align with what you’re saying.”
“I’ll get there soon.”
“Okay.” I nod passively.
“You toiled day in and day out for years on your machine, and when you were almost at the brink of completing it, the US Government got a sniff of this. They asked you to commercialise it and even offered you funds to mass produce it so that they can conduct further experiments and use it for military purposes. You denied them and didn’t fall to their pressure. Eventually, you had no other option but to dismantle and destroy it. Only you and a bunch of US officials had known about your invention. You hid the research papers very well, and during the early 2030’s some curious people finally got their hands on some parts of it. News spread like wildfire. It was confirmed to the general public that you indeed had made a time machine of sorts. But alas, you weren’t alive to receive all this praise. You passed away in 1995, falling prey to pneumonia.”
I sit still, dumbfounded at the truth. The very thought of me in bed, suffering and finally succumbing to a disease made me shiver for a moment.
“The scientific community took note of this, and a meeting was called. A team of the brightest scientists was formed. They were assigned the task of building the first ever complete time machine. I led the team. The Government splurged funds on us. They didn’t put any limits on our production value and supported us financially without any hint of hesitation. Everyone knew why. History was bound to repeat itself.”
“It took us three years to build a model prototype of the machine. The design was inspired by a blurred and almost indecipherable sketch from your restored papers. And with a lot of failures, roadblocks and issues down the line, it took us another six years to fully complete it. A date was decided to test and launch the machine. We named it Chronos after the Greek God of time.”, he smiled looking at my stunned expressions.
“People were excited about this, and all eyes were set on us. Social media was set ablaze with all the trending topics based on Chronos. But all of them had a common point. They credited you mainly for the completion of the machine and not us; stating that if it weren’t you and your notes, the time machine would not have been even possible. You were everywhere. Your autobiography sales went up. Television channels aired your documentary in parts every day. Radio and podcast channels repeatedly played your famous speeches. You got all the spotlight, Mr Bernard. Whereas in reality, all we got from you were a few mutilated pages from your research diary without which we would have anyways completed the machine – at the expense of a couple of years more than we took. I was pretty miffed at this. My team and I deserved all the credits. You were entitled ‘the father of time travel’ which enraged me even more.”
“The final tests and launch of Chronos were postponed thanks to some activists and revolutionaries revolting against time travel. According to them time travel meant a lot of power in someone’s hand and is against the basic principles of nature. Anyone can go back in time and modify anything for their own benefits, in turn screwing up the timeline.”, he looks towards me, checking my expressions.
I knew that he meant those words for me. I just take my scratchpad and note down his statements; trying to connect the dots.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the Government shuts them down. But they couldn’t take the risk of refusing them straight. That’d only mean losing out on a lot of votes the next election. So on the pretext of controlling these activists, it was decided to form a ten-man committee called the ‘Time Cops’ under the United Nations who will control and monitor time travel. And how will they do so? I floated an idea of the ‘Time Break Detector’ or TBD for short, which would detect any breaks or changes in the time-space continuum. My team wasn’t even interested in TBD because this is not what they signed up for. They were focussed on Chronos, as they should be. But I knew this had to be done. Some of the generous one’s helped me out, but even they ignored after a while. They invested their time in rechecking all the formulae and calculations of Chronos which was actually the need of the hour. Six months later, I managed to complete one unit of TBD. The activists, as usual, didn’t buy it. They said this was all a ploy from the Government’s side to suppress their voices and the TBD was just a namesake metal box to distract them from their tracks.”
I go on writing them down, trying to predict what happens next.
What led him to reach this position?
“This was too much for me to handle. Here I dedicated an entire decade of my life to a project which is a milestone in the history of mankind, and I’m not even entirely credited for it. I was sure the battle between the Government and the activists won’t end soon. I decided to take up things in my hands. I had an idea what I’d do if I get a chance to time travel. After weeks of intricate and foolproof planning, I set out to achieve and get what I deserve. The lab and the machine were heavily guarded 24×7, so I had to be very shrewd on how I go about it. But the fact that I led this entire thing made things easier for me. I enter the machine on the pretext of testing the controls and poof! I time travel to 1936.”
I can see where this is going.
“Once I set foot in 1936 Germany, I knew the game was on. I took the alias of Alfred Carstens and set out to make a mark in the scientific community so that Hitler would notice me. I published papers and theories which were critically acclaimed. I even sent letters to Hitler’s research team mentioning alternative technologies and methods they must use for better productivity and throughput. They did try out my recommendations and were impressed by my efforts. Soon, they sent me a letter to meet them for an interview. I nailed it, and I joined them that very day. I did catch Hitler’s attention for a while, but he was too busy with his politics. So I gave him ideas on strategies and pacts he can use to broaden his impact. This went on for a while, and all of them turned out to work in his favour. Obviously, it did because I knew it would. He posted me as his general advisor and always asked me before taking an important decision. People started knowing me, and the party members treated me with the utmost respect. I spent four years of my life just to get the confidence of the world’s deadliest dictator and his Nazi party. Then came the year 1940 when your parents died. Once the bombings happened, and your parents were dead, my mission was halfway done. Next, I hop on to 1970 and meet you.”
“Why you’d ask. My main aim was to replace Hitler and rule over this planet. I knew I would do way better than him. But I didn’t want to directly go against him and finish him off. That’d mean messing up the timeline by my own hands. And I didn’t want to take such a big risk. I knew you had hatred against the dictator thanks to your speeches and books wherein you never failed to speak against him. I decided to use this to my advantage. You had this urge of assassinating Hitler if you had got the power to do so. The death of your parents motivated you to work towards the successful completion of Chronos. But you were smart enough to consider the implications of murdering Hitler. You were unsure about doing it, and that’s when I chipped in. I manipulated and made you believe that it is perfectly normal and fine to have such thoughts and anyone in your place would have done the same. To put away any suspicion away from me, I tactfully diverted all your doubts towards Hannah and Irene. Time dampeners are so cheap in 2040 that I carried along a unit when I left off. All the backstory about Raymond Darcy was so well weaved that you couldn’t find any loopholes in it. The fact that two guys just barged into your lab, asking me for the dampener cemented that I was an ex-employee at Irene’s factory. But all they did is just act according to the script and get some quick money in return. I have to admit, those cronies did act very well – even punching my nose in the process. Such are the heights to which I went to achieve my aim, Mr Bernard. Heck, I even wrote some twenty-five fake handwritten ‘fan letters’ and sent them to you from different parts of the world so that you will finalise your decision to kill him. Once you time travelled to 1938, the 1970 version of me had completed his job. I got to know you arrived in 1938, thanks to the TBD. I skipped the rally since I very well knew what is going to happen next. Once you assassinated Hitler, the next person to take on the mantle of the Fuhrer was definitely me. You fell right into the trap Mr Bernard. In short, you were just a tool I used to reach my goal.”
I couldn’t just believe I was just a pawn working under a plan orchestrated by this man. All this while when I thought I’ll finally achieve peace by uniting my family. I was just working along on his evil plan. My parents are still not with me, and this is only because of him.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I stand up and hurl the notepad at him, which he catches with ease. Next, I land him a punch. Blocked again. He pushes me back to the chair I was sitting on a few seconds ago. He isn’t agitated by my actions. Instead, he was enjoying the entire act, watching me writhe in anger.
This enraged me, and I hurl the chair at him. He couldn’t escape my attack this time. The chair crashes on his chest, and he fell down with a loud thud.
“This is what you get in return, Mr McClenaghan!”
But he didn’t respond. He laid still with no signs of movement.
Wait. Did I just…
I go near him, and as I was about to check his pulse, he gets up and punches me straight on the face. I was taken aback by this, and before I could get back to my senses, I feel furniture crashing through my back. Yes. He hit me with the very chair I threw at him; this time shattering it into pieces with the sheer force with which he banged it on my back.
“This is what you get in return Mr Bernard”, he pushed me to the wall, “And don’t get so heated up. Believe me, this is just the beginning.”
The chair crash made sure I sat down without any resistance whatsoever. My nose bled and my back hurt like hell.
“You seem in pain, Augustin”, he spoke as he took the flower vase from the table, looking at it as if he is studying the intricate designs on it. I knew the show is not over yet. He is just not here to laugh at my misery.
“You are no different than Hitler. You believe you’ve ruled better? People fear you more than they respect you. They live under a constant threat of terror. You’ve snatched freedom from these people, hampered their growth and still, you dare to say you are a good ruler?”
“I know right. I know I am no different than Hitler. In fact, I am worse! But does this matter Augustin? You clearly seem to miss the entire picture. There isn’t a greater driving force than fear. Once you instil fear among them, you can expect much greater results than they naturally tend to give you. And if they can’t perform as per your expectations, they have no right to survive! Humans are meant to be ruled. Freedom is not a natural human state. The more freedom you give them, the more they will harm; not only themselves but others too whom they come across and in the end, they’ll end up destroying themselves. And I know this from personal experiences Mr Bernard. I come from a time where science has made path-breaking discoveries, but humans are at constant war with each other. I know the natural course of the future, and I can change it now as per my will, and there is no one to stop me. Isn’t this fun? You talk about snatching freedom from people and hampering with their progress? Just look around the world and compare it with your own timeline. Doesn’t the society look like more progressed? I’ve guided them pretty well, and still, you accuse me of hampering progress. This isn’t fair Mr Bernard.”
“You are mentally sick Peter. The end point is that the world is suffering due to my actions and I must be the one to stop you.”, I take out my pistol and point at him in point blank range. But before I could pull the trigger, he kicked the gun out of my hand.
“Not so soon Mr Bernard”, he crashed the vase on my arms before pushing me back to the wall and delivering some punches to my chest. The pain was getting on my nerves, and before I could respond, my head hurt again. The concussion is back, and this time it hurt even more.
Introducing Hannah to my lab for the first time.
Raymond gifting me the time dampener.
Reading the fan letters in my room.
Hannah’s clueless expressions on the day I left 1970.
He sat beside me on the floor, placing his arms over my shoulder as if he is a casual friend of mine.
“Do you even know how much time and efforts I took to reach here Augustin? Everything had to be so perfect. A small mistake would be enough to blow up my cover. It was so tough to behave and gel with you guys according to your time. The language, clothing and all those old bygone technologies. Not even a smartphone for so many years. I had to measure each and every word before I spoke; had to write down everything I did so I just don’t mess up switching between timelines.”
“And then came the Hannah challenge. My plan was so well weaved based on Hitler and you that I didn’t consider much of Hannah during the planning process. What harm can an assistant do anyways? But she grew fond of me and started liking my company to such an extent that she started sharing her deepest secrets with me – secrets which she hasn’t even told you, Mr Bernard. I almost fell for her aura and pure soul, but I knew what all was at stake. I managed to keep myself focused on what I had come for and eventually got it done.”
“I have aged so much during the process. But thanks to all these anti-ageing creams and pills from 2040 which managed to make me look like I’m still in my forties. I know you must be wondering about my time machine, but you aren’t worthy enough to see it. And as far as why you couldn’t see it all this while is because of nanotechnology. New term right?”, he smiled as he pulled out a small box from his pocket.
“And oh how good it feels right now, saying all this to you Mr Bernard. Tearing apart your life to shreds. The phrase ‘my whole life was a lie’ suits you perfectly.”, he laughed like a maniac.
I didn’t get the hi-tech term nor the last part of his monologue which seems to be a joke of some sorts. But I felt a bit better than what I felt a few minutes ago. The pain has set in, and my head is somewhat back to stable.
“Now that you’ve helped me in reaching my goal and I’ve revealed you everything its time you say goodbye Mr Bernard. You are of no use to me now.”, he stood up, pointing a pistol towards me.
I knew he won’t budge at any cost. I have to make a move now, or else I’m dead, and I exactly knew what I had to do.
“Not so soon Peter.”, I jump towards him and knock him to the floor, his pistol going beneath the bed.
I dash towards the door and escape the bodyguards who were taken aback all of a sudden. I rush to the ground floor and charge to the underground warehouse where I had parked Chronos.
But Peter and his guards were quick enough to catch up. As I entered the machine, I see Peter at the entrance of the warehouse, aiming his pistol towards me, ready to shoot any second. His bodyguards ran to stop me from doing what I did. I started Chronos and punched in the dates as soon as I could. I was ready to go. Peter had commenced firing, and the machine had started taking damage. The engine roared to life as his guards manage to reach Chronos and begin punching blows to the glass door, trying to get in. That’s when I see Hannah behind Peter with a frying pan. The next second she knocks the pan on his head, and he fell on the ground, unconscious.
What harm can an assistant do anyways?
The guards who loved their master more than their lives scrambled their way to Peter, to check if the Fuhrer is alright. One of them got hold of Hannah who looked helpless and ready to meet her fate. As Chronos started floating in the air, I look towards her. She too noticed me and flashed a teary-eyed smile.
The next moment, they disappear before my eyes. The visuals make a comeback, and now I finally got to understand most of them. I land in 1938.
Peter woke up in pain after a few minutes.
“How did this happen? Where is he?”, He was angry to the core. This was not how it was supposed to go.
“We’re sorry to say Sir, but he disappeared in that weird vehicle. Here’s the culprit.”, the guards present Hannah before him.
“The only weak link of my plan. Hannah Paul. I’m sorry, but you have to go.”, he pulled the trigger gifting her instant death.
“You think you can defeat me, Augustin Bernard? Even if I lose, I’ll make sure I’ll lose in a way that you’ll regret winning!”