„Why has no one used this technology to kill Hitler yet?”
Cassian rolled his eyes and suppressed a sigh. There were people like this in every group. Annoying goody two shoes who thought they knew better than the professionals. And it was constantly the same thing. Killing Hitler. Always. Every damn time. As if there hadn’t been countless other dictators before and after him.
“Because” The young man fought the urge to sound condescending “Time travel into the past is forbidden.” He tried to keep his answer as short as possible, bracing himself for the retaliation he knew would follow. You could bet money on it.
“But we could save so many lives!” There it was. The same old uninspired response as always. Cassian took a closer look at the speaker. He seemed young, barely out of his teenage years, but age was a difficult thing to pinpoint these days. Judging by his perfectly structured cheekbones, the defined jaw line, shimmering blue eyes and his perfect broad shoulders and above-average height, Cassian assumed the man had been genetically optimised.
“Of course, he was.” He thought “No one’s face is naturally that symmetric.”
He himself had not been so fortunate. His parents, normal working-class people, weren’t able to afford the customisations for their fertilised egg before implanting it back into his mother.
“Travelling to the past has too many unforeseen consequences for the present. Which is why it was mostly outlawed in 2176.” The same standard answer Cassian always gave to overly motivated wanna-be Saints.
“But isn’t that entirely selfish?” The boy argued. “We could save millions of people. Not to mention all their unborn descendants. But we don’t do it. And why? Because it could slightly inconvenience the present.” He said firmly with smug defiance written all over his picture-perfect face.
Cassian’s glance fixated on the small group opposite him. It wasn’t their youthful optimism he despised. Not too long ago he was very much like them. The time when he reached his age of maturity. Just old enough for everyone to tell him he could change the world, while still so naïve to think this was true.
It was something else that bothered him about the kids. When he scanned their eyes to identification, he noticed the group didn’t just look young, they all had only recently reached maturity. Yet they got to time travel. A luxury which cost exactly seven times Cassian’s yearly salary. It was a cruel irony. Working in the onel amusement park nationwide which offered time travel was his only way to be able to go on the journey. And now it was all he ever did. Day in, day out. Two trips a day, seven days a week.
There were no days off for middle-class people like himself.
Cassian knew it was unfair to instantly dislike them. It wasn’t their fault either that they got to celebrate a new milestone with a trip through space and time, whereas he was immediately forced to start working the second he turned 18. And it wasn’t their fault either that he had been designated to this dump. But still. Cassian could almost feel privilege dripping off them. Did they really have to flaunt it in his face?
“What is your name?” Cassian asked. “I am Xayne, sir,” the other replied. He squirmed at the word “sir”. The employee only a few years older than the costumers, but unlike his them, he wasn’t artificially optimised to age slower. “I understand your concern Xayne, but do you really think you‘re the first one to come up with the idea of “Killing Hitler”? Do you assume no one else has ever thought about this?”
A giggle swept through the group, but Xayne didn’t appreciate being mocked by someone beneath him. A small yet satisfying victory for Cassian.
“Anyway,” he tried to continue with a forced smile on his lips. His supervisor would be livid if he caught him not smiling for even a fraction of a second. The faster he could get them to their destination, the sooner the tour would end.
“You signed up to visit the year 2298, which is exactly 100 years from now.”
He handed each client a small watch. The metal felt cold and heavy under their fingertips.
“What exactly do we have to do?”
It was the only girl among the group who had asked. Since introducing the worldwide one-child policy to fight overpopulation in 2110, men started to slowly outnumber women. Especially afterr genetic modifications became widely available within a few years. Later the global government tried to rectify their mistake by allowing each family a second child, but most couples just sold their rights for baby number two in favour to be able to afford genetic customisation for their firstborn.
Unlike Cassian’s parents. Instead of optimising their son, they opted to have a second child later on. But in a cruel twist of fate, his father died before getting tha chance of having another baby.
And so Cassian grew up without the advantage of modern genology and without a sibling.
“Please put on the watches,” he explained in a friendly tone with his smile still in place. “They have already been set to 2298,” He continued. “I will activate them once you are ready and we will be teleported to the chosen date and place. Once we get there you’ll have exactly one hour to explore. Afterwards, you will be automatically brought back. We cannot come back early. We will need to wait for the time to run out, but we can change locations however often you wish. Do you have any questions?”
“What will the people in 2289 think if we just randomly appear?”, asked the girl.
“People in 2289 are used to time travellers,” answered Cassian “in about twenty years from now cities will start building official time traveller arrival zones, so we can arrive safely.”
“What if we die over there?” asked another customer.
“If you die in the future you are also dead in the present, as we are prohibited from travelling to the past to stop you from travelling to the future.”
“Has that happened before?”, Xayne asked.
“A group of time travellers was once hit by a flying vehicle upon arrival. Hence the designated arrival zones.”
It was not the fact people had died doing exactly what they were about to do that worried the young adults. It was the morbid dryness of Cassian’s voice in which he delivered the news to them.
They put the watches on and fastened them around their wrists. A few more confidently than others. Cassian could see the eagerness disappear in some of their eyes, but no one seemed to have a meltdown. Yet.
What he didn’t notice was Xayne carefully glancing over at him, waiting for any sign to show him his cover had been blown. “Close your eyes. Next time you’ll open them, we will be in the future.”
“He didn’t notice,” Xayne thought to himself.
The instant destruction of the atoms of seven separate individuals only took about a second. The critical part, rebuilding of said atoms in a different time and place took several moments longer. Cassian had gotten used to the feeling. After a few thousand trips, it hardly bothered him anymore. The melodic sound of synchronised vomiting was his cue that they had arrived.
“Most people get sick when they first start time travelling,” he explained before he even opened his eyes.
Frst he noticed the loud sound of explosions. It wasn’t unusual for time travel. What was yet to come was not set in stone, especially not the far away future. Cassian had learned over the years that minor things, like the way a politician looks at another, could derail the outlook on what was going to be. He had fast-forwarded a hundred years countless times and no two trips were ever the same.
It wasn’t the destroyed buildings or the wreckage around him that told him that something was wrong. Thick dust particles hanging in the air made it hard to breathe, loud sirens blaring in the background. Even the screams of terrified human beings running for their lives, none of it was unusual for Cassian.
Nonetheless, something seemed off. But he could not put his finger on what exactly.
“Holy fuck! Has World War IV blasted us back into the stone ages?” One of the teens yelled out. That was when Cassian first noticed planes flying through the sky dropping bombs left and right. He stared at them in fascination. The only time he had ever seen one of those was in a museum and even then, it had been hard to imagine something big and clunky like this soaring through the air like an eagle. Flying was no longer needed in his day and age, was a thing of the past not of the future.
A cold shower ran down his spine. What happened? For the first time in a long time, Cassian felt something other than disdain or boredom.
It started on his hands. A trembling sensation causing them to shake. Cold sweat built up on his forehead while his entire body simultaneously flared up in hot flashes. Something was wrong.
His chest tightened and he struggled to get enough air into his lungs. “This is not the future.” he realised as an armada of tanks slowly drove past.
“Is this freaking Berlin? What the hell are we doing in Berlin?” The girl from before yelled in a panic.
This was the realisation suddenly hit him.
“What the fuck did you do?” Cassian snapped around and grabbed Xayne by his collar. “Is this World War II?”
Xayne was unimpressed by the tour guide’s sudden outburst into violence. The complacent look in his eyes combined with an arrogant smirk. One could almost assume he was enjoying it.
“I changed the date on your watch before you put it on. My friends, I welcome you to Berlin in 1945. Today, we are going to kill Hitler.”
A few seconds of silence, followed by utter chaos.
“I can’t believe it man” Sighed one voice.
“Are you out of your fucking mind bro?” Another exclaimed.
“You gotta bring us back!” Someone sobbed in panic.
Cassian lifted his arm to take a look at the watch dangling around his wrist. April 30th 1945.
“You brought us to the day Hitler died?” Cassian laughed at the absurdity of the situation. “You brought us all the way here to kill Hitler, on the day he kills himself anyway?”
“Why didn’t you at least go further back to kill baby Hitler?” asked one of the other young boys in despair.
“I didn’t remember what year he was born!”
“Dude, just link your mind to the cloud and look it up.”
“You know how I feel about the could. For me it’s all about organic learning, you know?” Xayne dismissed his friend.
“Xayne, I can’t believe how fucking stupid you are.” The girl screamed at his face. “Even if you kill Hitler today, who is that going to help? Everyone dying because of him is already dead.”
“Oh shit Astra, you are right. I hadn’t thought about that.” Xayne’s eyes opened wide when he was finally confronted with his own stupidity.
“You and I, we are done! This is the last time you pull me into your bullshit!”, Astra said in a calm but fierce voice. “Can you bring us back?” She asked Cassian, completely ignoring her now ex-boyfriend.
“Sorry, I can’t. We will have to wait till the time runs out.” Cassian shrugged his shoulders. “I suggest we look for a safe place to hide from the bombs.”
He looked around of what was left of the city. There wasn‘t much around anymore. Most buildings had been destroyed, people were feeing and the Soviet army had brought anarchy to the ruins of Berlin. But still, there had to be a better plan than standing out in the open, waiting for 58 minutes to pass. They needed shelter. If they died here, they would be dead in their own time as well.
Cassian thought about his options. He could not bring them back to the present, but you could use the watch to bring them to a safe place. One that was not currently overrun by soldiers.
“Guys, hold on!”, said another member of the group. “What if it’s not a coincidence we landed here?”
“Of course, it wasn’t. Xayne brought us here.”
“That’s not what I meant. What if we kill Hitler and we make it look like it was suicide?”
“Why would we do that?”, Cassian asked dismissively.
“What if we go back and everything changed because we were the ones killing him all along? And by trying to not change the future we are accidentally letting Germany win the war?”
“Destry, have you lost your m-?”
“Look around.” Cassian interrupted pointing at the debris surrounding them. “He has already lost the war; he is backed into a corner and is going to take the cowardly way out.”
“This is actually so crazy and out there it might even be true,” said Astra suddenly much to Cassian’s surprise. “I mean what’s the worst that can happen if we kill him and make it look like suicide? Nothing would change. But on the other hand, if Destry is right and we ignore him, who knows what terrible effects this could have?.
Cassian thought for a bit. If this had come from Xayne he would just dismiss it. But he had to admit that Astra had a point.
“Cassian, you must teleport us to Hitler’s study. This is where he’s supposed to do it”
The urgency in Destry’s voice made Cassian doubt himself.
What if he was right after all? He couldn’t be. Right? RIGHT?
Cassian closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to clear his mind. He checked his watch, then the faces of the group. He took it all in. The planes, the tanks, the explosions.
And suddenly he realised, there was only one right thing to do.
They had to kill Hitler.