time heals all wounds
In the dust and shadows of a tenement alley, the soldier hesitated. He tried to slow his breathing, brace himself for the final act. The pistol felt heavy in his pocket, hand growing clammy around the steel grip. Shoot a baby in the head. The image flashed across his imagination. He pushed the thought away, forced his mind to see all the innocent children that would die gassed and gurgling, their mothers and fathers turned to ash. Death and suffering filling the world, one life for millions. It still made sense to him. Righteous anger took hold, a surge of adrenalin pushing him onto the muddy street in bright daylight, towards the entrance. Horse and cart clattering in the distance. The smell of wood smoke and frying bacon. His footsteps echoed in the dark hallway. Wooden staircase, one floor, two floors. Breathing hard and shallow, he paused at the apartment door.
"This is it!" he thought. Knocking loudly, three slams on the panel door. A chair scuffing, muffled steps.
"Wer ist das?" A female voice, uncertain. He hammered again.
The locks clicked back and the door was cracked open, a short woman peered through the slit. The soldier stepped back and deftly kicked the door with all his might. The woman launched backwards, crashing against a wooden table. A baby in the next room howled with fear at the commotion. The soldier followed the cries. Looming over the low crib, he racked the gun. A pause to aim, baby screaming, the woman groaning on the floor behind. Pistol blasts reverberated as the clip spewed it's seven-load, ears rang with each burst. Blood spatter, cot filled with jagged flesh and gore.
Screaming now of the woman "Mein baby! Mein Adolf!" her eyes wide with revulsion.
He stood rooted to the horror he had created, commotion on the floor above, murmuring growing in the hallway.
A voice crackled in his ear "Get the fuck out of there!".
He ran, pushed past startled residents, down the stairs. Outside into cool air, the mother's screeching grew fainter as he ran.
Soon he was far away, back in the quiet country lane where he had warped in. He vomited generously.
"Gonna turn off the feed while you finish up there Stephen," the voice fizzled again through the receiver hooked round his ear. It went silent while he retched and wrung himself empty. After several minutes, the line clicked back to faint static.
"Gary you still there?" Stephen asked.
"Yep I'm here, how you feeling?" his friend replied.
"Like shit. How's the timeline looking?"
"I just checked twice, it's bad news. I'm sorry buddy, nothing's changed."
"What?" Stephen gasped. "That was Bauer's childhood home, we triple-checked everything for fuck's sake! How is the timeline the same?"
"I'm not sure, there's no change to the records that I can find. And believe me, I'm checking everything. But the address you went to, it's wrong."
Stephen's head churned, his legs quivered as he slumped down in the sandy mud of the backroad.
"But how? We fucking checked it all! I killed a baby!" Stephen wailed in panic.
"I don't know," Gary replied, "But I'm validating some things now."
Distant clicks of furious typing as he searched the databases. "Here it is, a murder reported on the day you warped in, same area. The baby's name is 'Adolf Hitler', matches up with what the mother shouted."
"I don't get it. Who the fuck is Adolf Hitler? We came here to kill Karl Bauer, stop World War II," he trailed off, shivering with cold and despair.
"It's certainly weird," said Gary, his mind whirring with potentialities. "Get back here so we can regroup, need to think this one out. I'll patch you in, don't move."
Stephen was still slumped over when the air pulsed with static discharge and a familiar warphole rent itself open nearby. He stood shakily and stepped through the widening breach.
"I think I have it," Gary said as he leaned back perilously in his swivel chair. "The data scrapes were flawed, corrupted outputs. It's the only plausible answer."
"But we verified it three times to make sure this kind of mistake wouldn't happen!" Stephen hissed as he marched back and forth across the cramped confines of their makeshift base.
"Yeah but we were checking erroneous data!" Gary replied. "I'll make sure it's clean as a whistle next time, quadruple-checked."
"Next time?" Stephen asked.
"Yep next time. What, did you think we were done?" Gary paused to look at his friend and colleague. It was obvious that Stephen was pulling apart under the strain. 'Mein Furher' is still alive my friend. The mission is still active."
Several minutes of silence and pacing, then Stephen replied "I never signed up for this, shooting babies in the god-damned face! It was supposed to be a one-time deal, done and dusted!"
"I'm sorry buddy," was all Gary could say.
The light dimmed as dusk fell over their hidden camp near Salzburg, the rays of an Austrian sun in 1889 no different to those they remembered from their own time and place.
"Ok that should do it," Gary's cheerful confidence masked the jitters he felt before every sortie. "This is 100% correct my friend, cross-referenced with the source several times. I even pulled each line apart to be sure."
Stephen's agitation had been growing each day they worked in close quarters, his unrest almost palpable like an unpleasant aftertaste. The man was breaking down. Gary had seen this happen before to soldiers and it never ended well, unless professional help could be found. But they were several thousand miles and 160 years away from the place they called home. If they returned without completing the mission, Gary doubted that they'd live long enough to try again. This whole thing was off the books, he was certain their superiors would make sure it stayed secret. Only success could give them a chance of a hero's return.
"Run me through it again," Stephen demanded, chewing his rations furiously.
"Ok Bauer the Micro-Fuhrer is 8 months and 3 days old today, large farmhouse near Lengau. You'll see on your map that it's pretty isolated, so should be a quick in-and-out with no risk of any bystanders getting in the way."
"How many residents?" Stephen asked.
"Just Mom-and-Pop-Furher. I think old Grandpa-Furher died last year, but the records are murky. Shouldn't be a problem, the old bastard was pushing ninety."
Stephen gathered up his equipment, loaded the Luger and grabbed his Victorian hat and coat.
"Just a normal day at the office," joked Gary, "when you're ready, I'll patch you over." Stephen wrenched on his coat in grim silence.
The farmhouse looked desolate from this distance, an ark in a sea of green. Stephen marched across the furrowed fields, claggy soil sticking to the soles of his boots. The silence of this bright, cold day felt oppressive, the pale sky weighing down.
As he got nearer, a figure stepped out of the house and stood waiting, stocky and implacable. Bauer's father.
"Wer bist du?" he called forcefully as Stephen approached, a father's instinct responding to danger. Stephen trudged forward sullenly. "Clara! Hol meine Axt," the father called back into the house. "Verschwinde!" he barked at the intruder. The command triggered an unconscious response within the soldier. He drew his pistol, aimed and fired in one sleek movement. The father fell heavily. He stepped over the lifeless body into a deathly silent farmhouse. A clock echoed in the hallway. His footsteps scuffed across bare floorboards as he moved through each large room; dining room, kitchen, back room. The absence of life was disturbing. He walked carefully up the wooden staircase, tried the first door on the landing. An old man sitting up in bed... BOOM! Stephen yanked the door shut as buckshot splattered into wood! "A fucking blunderbuss!" he thought, ears throbbing. Now a baby wailed down the hall, last room. He strode towards it, shoved the door open.
"AAARGH!" an axe thumped into his arm! He reeled as the woman heaved it above her head to swing again. Stephen kicked her in the chest and she smashed back into a cabinet. He unloaded his clip into her, rage overpowering his training. The baby was crying hysterically, a sound that ripped against his sanity. No bullets left.
"Stupid," he thought. He looked around the room. A poker lay propped on the fireplace grill. Picking it up, the weight of metal felt invigorating. He struck it down hard into the crib, blood spraying across white linen. Blessed silence.
One thought trailed through the soldiers mind on repeat "We killed Stein, we got him. We killed Stein..."
"Buddy you there?" Gary's voice called faintly as if across an expanse of endless space. "Hey! Do you read?"
It was a long time before Stephen muttered, "How's the timeline looking...?"
A pause. "You're not going to like this..."