Bewildering Stories


Si vis pacem...

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson


26 March 2004, 9:30 AM.

Jonas woke up from the alarm. Another day in Smoky Bay. Jonas didn’t like it one bit. The day itself wasn’t bad, a bit overcast, but not freezing. He had agreed to help his friend Zweistein with something. It was a matter of life and death for the whole planet, he had told him when he mentioned the scheme first.

Jonas did not doubt for one second that his intentions were good, and he most certainly did not doubt that his friend was in deed a bona fide genius. What he doubted was the nature of his newest invention: the time machine.

Jonas got in his car, and listened to the top 40 on the way over. He never understood exactly why they called it the top 40, as it always seemed to him that they just played the same five songs when he was listening to the radio. It was mind-boggling. Maybe Zweistein could explain it.

When he met Zweistein at the facilities, he was in a very jolly mood. “It really works!” he said to Jonas.

Jonas asked how he knew.

“I went back in time just then, and saw dinosaurs out the window!”

“Did you go out and touch them?” asked Jonas.

“No, no. I wouldn’t want to interrupt the timeline so far back. Chaos theory you know. We might be erased as a species.”

“Okay,” said Jonas, still unbelieving. “What do I do?”

“Ah, the job! It is very complicated. Come in to my office, and I will explain it to you.”

Jonas followed Zweistein into his office, Zweistein held the door and when Jonas was in, he closed and locked.

“What is the most terrible thing that exists on the planet today?” asked Zweistein.

Jonas wondered about the question, and took some time to answer: “Window-envelopes.”

Zweistein grinned. “I was thinking about the bomb, but I agree, we might stand to lose windowed envelopes.” He walked behind his desk. “I am going to send you on a preprogrammed trip around the 20th century. First you must kill Adolf Hitler in 1920, you kill Mussolini in the same year, then you must go and destroy the plans and materials concerning the A-bomb, and kill all the participants. That you must do in 1940. I have it all figured out and planned in detail.”

Aha! Jonas understood what he was going to do: If there was no Hitler, there would be no Nazi party, so logically they could not start the Holocaust, or World War II, for that matter. If there was no Mussolini, there could be no fascism, and if there was no A-bomb, multiple thousands of people would not burn in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and there would be no Cuban missile crisis or a Cold War. It was a stroke of pure genius!

Zweistein explained it all in minute detail to Jonas before he took him to see the time-machine itself. It was as big as a house, but egg-shaped, and had spider-like landing gear near the bottom. On the side was a round door, and steps to it.

Jonas entered the machine, and turned it on. The whole building shook and trembled as the massive machine made reality itself shiver. He retracted the gear, and as the machine hovered in midair, he retracted the steps, waved to Zweistein and closed the door.

And in a blink of an eye all that had happened since 1920 had not happened, but was replaced by something else.

26 March 2004, 9:30 AM.

Jonas woke up from the alarm. Another day in Smoky Bay. Jonas didn’t like it one bit. The day itself wasn’t bad, somewhat overcast, but not freezing. He had agreed to help his friend Dreistein with something. It was a matter of life and death for the whole planet, he had told him when he mentioned the scheme first.

Jonas did not doubt for one second that his intentions were good, and he most certainly did not doubt that his friend was in deed a bona fide genius. What troubled him was the nature of his newest invention. Dreistein had kept it a secret. Nobody was allowed to keep secrets in the Unified Nations of Administrative Councils (UNAC for short). Maybe he should just report him to the authorities and have the CSP get him before he dragged him into some unpatriotic and anti-socialistic scheme.

Jonas walked. He didn’t want to waste his hard-earned cash on an omnibus ride. It was a 90-minute walk, with an obligatory stop at a small shop on the way, to get some whey to drink. He could have bought some seared heads, but he didn’t have the change. The bottle of whey would have to do.

When he finally arrived to Dreistein’s lab, he was nowhere to be found. As it turned out, the Covert State Police had taken Dreistein into custody for suspected treason. He was doing something in the lab that was not in keeping with proper methodology.

After a bit of severe torture he talked, and it was not until after a bit more severe torture that the CSP were totally convinced that he as telling the truth.

“A time machine?” said the head secretary in disbelief.

“Yes. And he proved to us that it worked, by taking us to see the dinosaurs,” said the CSP operative.

“This is marvelous. We can utilize this for the common good. Show it to me immediately, and have the inventor teach me how to operate it.”

The head secretary had always been curious of the past, because he who controls the past, controls the present, or so he had been told. He wondered how he might use this machine to strengthen his hold on power. He mulled it over...

In 1940 there had broken out a great war in Europe, between the acutely miffed Germans and the French. It was in many ways similar to the war that caused the Germans to be miffed, except now they used better tactics, and in the end managed to crush the French. It took many years and a supremely bloody war involving the whole of Europe and American forces before it finally came to an end in 1956. Then, the Soviet Union used Europe’s weakened state to attack, and they engulfed the entire continent, all the way to Greenland, thus obtaining Smoky Bay.

On the far side of the world the Japanese empire expanded, until in 1942 they attacked and assimilated the Hawaiian islands. But that was not for long, and they suffered ignominious defeat because they were simply spread too thin, badly supplied and had wasted far too many resources on the Yamato and swords.

The United States, the enemy of the day, had had some bothersome wars around their border, with Cuba, Panama, and at some further-out places like Korea. It was a near-constant war, always fighting the future that was global-socialist hegemony, that offered equality and peace for all, not war. Word had it they were developing a new weapon that would turn the tides of war in their favour. Intelligence said it would release the very power that lies within the atom.

Everywhere there was strife, and the 20th century had indeed witnessed an unparalleled amount of warfare and slaughter. It would take decades to build Europe up since the Third War, and there were serious problems still in the Middle East. Those damned Arabs refused to conform, for some reason.

The head secretary thought it over, and decided there was too much war, too much killing going on. He, being the philanthropist he was, decided to give them world peace while he was fixing himself up with some extra power. He planned to kill his political enemy’s parents, and then make a short stop to kill Maxim and Gatling, the inventors of the machine gun, and Werner von Braun and that guy Goddard, inventors of the missile. Perhaps he ought to make a short stop to kill the man who invented brass casings?

He took a month to research those who he felt needed killing before he went on his little trip. As it turned out, there was a surprising level of technology needed for just brass casings. All that had to go.

He felt so good as he turned on the machine, and shimmered out into history...

26 March 2004, 9:30 AM.

Jonas woke up when his father shook him. He’d not noticed the rooster. Another day in Smoky Bay. Jonas didn’t like it one bit. The day itself wasn’t bad, but overcast and cool. He had agreed to help his friend Vierstein with something. It was a matter of life and death, he had told him when he mentioned the scheme first.

Jonas did not doubt for one second that his intentions were good, and he most certainly did not doubt that his friend was in deed a bona fide genius. What he doubted was the nature of his newest invention: the time machine.

Jonas had to milk the cow to have something to soften up his breakfast. After work he could get some fish soup. Jonas often wondered how lucky he was he did not live in continental Europe. It had been at war since 1917, with short breaks, and nothing worth anything ever came from there anymore. He often dreamed of moving west, like his brother.

But he was doing all right here now. There was a strain of pneumonia coming, perhaps his father would die of it and leave the farm to him.

Jonas rode his horse to Vierstein, who greeted him with some chewing tobacco and coffee. And Vierstein told Jonas his idea:

“I have invented a time machine, but I have only enough fuel for one trip. We must take it together.”

“That’s nice. How much black death have you been drinking anyway?” asked Jonas, jokingly.

“It is true. It was difficult, but I made it. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff I had to invent to make this machine of mine work,” said Vierstein proudly. Jonas agreed. He didn’t even believe the thing worked in the first place. But he went along with the man, and got into the machine with him.

And Vierstein explained his lofty goal as the machine warmed up: “I am going to rid the world of all violence, by going back in time and removing all the weapons and all the evildoers.”

And then they shimmered out of reality as we know it, and when the shimmering stopped, all went black.

“Ah! We seem to have run out of fuel,” said Vierstein.

“Can I get out now?” asked Jonas.

“Sure. Tell me what you see.”

Jonas opened the door and looked out. He was silent as he peered out, as he could not believe his eyes. But finally he informed Vierstein of what he saw: “I see dinosaurs...”


Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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