Prisoners of the Future

by Arthur C. Carey


“Open your eyes.”

I willed myself to remain motionless. I had regained consciousness only moments before. From the murmurs and rustling about me, I sensed the presence of others. Better to gather information about my enemies while they were unaware.

“You may as well open your eyes,” the voice resumed patiently. “We are monitoring your brain waves and heart rate. We know you are awake.”

Grudgingly, I followed the voice’s instruction. I sat in a reclining chair in a large room. The lights blinded me, but I detected the vague shapes of equipment. Some kind of laboratory. I tensed my arms. There were no restraints I could see, but I was unable to move, imprisoned in an invisible vise.

“Turn off the light,” I demanded, “it is blinding me.”

The glare diminished slightly but the light remained turned on.

“Thank you.”

Thank you! What’s wrong with me? Why am I thanking my captors?

The figure of a man, obscured in shadow, emerged in front of me.

Better to take the offensive. It was one of the few advantages I still possessed. “I demand to know where I am and why I am here. Who is in charge! Bring him to me immediately!” I ordered. “There will be consequences for this!”

“How do you feel?” the figure in shadow inquired, ignoring my angry words. “You may have a headache from the reprogramming, but that should vanish soon.”

I shivered and realized I was wearing an opaque gown of some material I had never seen before. “Where is my uniform?” No response. Useless! None of my questions are being answered.

“All in time,” he said patiently.

“Please! Who are you?” Please! Why am I accommodating these fools? They’ll pay for this! I’ll have all of them hanged from meat hooks and shot!

A thin, elderly man stepped forward into the light. He wore a blue tunic with wide lapels and a black mesh shirt reminiscent of medieval chain mail. He has no eyebrows! His shoulders, thin and slight, slumped. Fatigue? Fear? I might be able to turn that to my advantage. He could be of Slavic origin, I judged, evaluating the man’s features and the shape of his head, but also possibly Jewish. Not a good sign.

“To answer your questions,” he responded, “I am in charge. My name is of no consequence. This is a psyche readjustment center. Your body wrapping will be returned when you are transferred to your point of origin.”

“Readjustment?” I said scornfully. “Is that what you call it? How did I get here? I will...”

Again, he ignored my outburst. “This center is located in another time and place from your own. Its function is to change the anti-social tendencies of selected individuals and to return them to their respective societies to live productive lives.”

I sneered. “A repair shop for the retarded and the defective.” I waited for a reaction, but he refused to be baited.

“Normally we deal with patients suffering severe psychosis. You are our first political leader. You are here because your actions led to a catastrophic war in the 20th century that resulted in the deaths of millions and the creation of a terrible weapon of mass destruction.

The 20th century? Of course, the 20th century! Wait! Does that mean... But I cannot let such infamy stand unchallenged.

“How dare you to ...”

He cut me off again. “Fortunately, the recent discovery of time travel makes it possible to alter your historical role and set your society on a different path.” His voice was soft, almost apologetic, lacking the hard metallic edge of command.

Not military, I decided, despite the strange uniform. A doctor? A scientist?

His eyes held mine. “There are risks involved, of course, and the difficulty and cost are great. But so is the potential gain. That is why you have been brought here for treatment.”

“Treatment...”

“Personality modification. In your case, substituting restraint for impulsiveness, mercy for callousness, empathy for ego.”

I laughed. “What a fool you are! Destiny has chosen me to create a new world order cleansed of imperfection and weakness. Alexander the Great... Napoleon will be judged insignificant after me.” But even as I spoke, I felt uneasy. Something’s wrong!

My interrogator studied me for a moment and nodded to someone beyond the rim of brilliance. “We shall see.”

The light behind him shrank to a pinpoint. Then it vanished completely. I was sucked into a dark hole, spinning helplessly in a vortex that drew me downward... downward...

* * *

“My Führer!”

I started. Before me stretched a long, rectangular table covered with documents and photos and maps. Standing about it were men whose faces I recognized, high-ranking officers in uniforms laden with decorations: war merit awards, 1939 wound badges, Knight’s Crosses. They looked at me expectantly.

“Are you all right?” a beady-eyed man with small round glasses asked, his tone solicitous. “We lost you for a moment there.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where were we?” Sorry! Why am I apologizing to subordinates?

“We were discussing the timetable for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia,” interrupted a general who held a briefing book. He tried – and failed – to hide his impatience. He had the stern, uncompromising eyes of a man used to giving orders but not taking them...or waiting, even for superiors.

Relief washed over me. I am in Berlin! Nothing has changed. The strange laboratory... the fool from the future was a dream, a mental aberration, nothing more! And yet...

I straightened. Never show weakness! “I have given further thought to Barbarossa. It would result in a bloodbath, and much of the blood shed would be German. Cancel the operation. Also, draw up plans for the withdrawal of our forces from France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Greece. We have caused enough pain and suffering.”

The generals exchanged surprised glances. The pale eyes of Himmler, my loyal Reichsführer-SS, blinked, and then impaled me like miniature spotlights.

I gave them no opportunity to object. “We shall request an immediate cease-fire with the British.”

Shock. Astonishment. Confusion.

“Heydrich!”

The Gruppenführer, erect and trim in his tailored black SS uniform, the very model of the new Germany I had molded, came to attention. “My Führer!”

“Issue orders that the concentration camps for Jews, socialists, gypsies, political prisoners, and homosexuals be closed and the inmates released.” The words tumbled out, unbidden, without planning. A shadow lifted from my heart.

But silence as heavy as the cigarette smoke filling the air hung over the room.

“Don’t you see?” I persisted, “our actions have brought death and destruction. Thousands of innocents have died unnecessarily. More are imprisoned and homeless and living in fear. It must end!”

Disbelieving expressions met my gaze. Why are they looking at me like that! How can they not understand? As I wheeled and left the room, muttering rose behind me.

* * *

Himmler gazed out the rain-spattered window. He smoothed the jacket of the rumpled gray uniform that never seemed to drape well over his stumpy frame. The weather contributed to his sour mood. Wind gusted across the plaza, and the few cars in the street with access to petrol sprayed sheets of water on unwary passers-by. So much for spring, he thought. At least the panzers won’t be bogged down in the mud, easy targets for Russian gunners and dive-bombers. Himmler turned away. “Is he comfortable?”

An unsmiling Wehrmacht colonel with a close-cropped, bullet head nodded. He wore the silver aiguillette cord of a general staff officer. “Yes, Reichsführer. The doctors have administered sedatives.”

A fleeting expression of regret crossed Himmler’s face. “Such a tragedy! A fine mind and magnificent spirit lost to the Reich. Lost! Do they know what caused the breakdown?”

The colonel shook his head. “He’s been raving about being kidnapped and sent to the future. He babbles about saving millions of lives and preventing the development of a super weapon.” The colonel shrugged and sighed. “Perhaps with more time...”

Himmler waved a hand in dismissal. “There is no time. Three million men are poised on Russia’s borders. They cannot be hidden. Barbarossa must be canceled immediately before the Russians react. The staff agrees?”

“Yes, Reichsführer,” the colonel said. “Support was never strong for invading the Soviet Union, but Hitler was insistent.”

Interesting, thought Himmler. Hitler... not the Führer. Respect and fear for the little corporal are melting away. Good.

He stubbed out a cigarette. “Well, at least he was correct in rethinking Operation Barbarossa, even if his reasoning was bizarre. Invading Russia would have placed an enormous strain on our manpower and supply capability. Better to use the resources elsewhere.” Himmler carefully avoided any direct reference to Germany’s leader by title. You could never be too careful.

The colonel hesitated. “And the business about emptying the camps and turning loose the Jews, gypsies, and Communists?”

Himmler shrugged. “The order was never acted upon. It was the clearest sign of Hitler’s madness.” His face reflected none of the bitterness he felt. I created many of those camps as head of the SS. They are my contribution to the Reich! How dare he suggest closing them without even discussing it with me!

He straightened. “Does anything else require my immediate attention?”

The staff officer consulted notes. “The foreign office reports the Japanese ambassador keeps pressing for assurances that we will join Japan if it is forced into war with the United States.”

“Make no commitment,” Himmler replied at once. “We have nothing to gain by acquiring another enemy, especially a powerful one. The German-American Bund remains a powerful force in the United States. We may yet acquire the Americans as allies.”

He paused. “If the Japanese and Americans foolishly bloody themselves in the Pacific for the next decade or so squabbling over tiny islands of no value, we can only gain by it.”

He smiled at the thought of two of Germany’s potential rivals for world domination locked in a battle to the death like tarantulas facing off in a pit. The eventual victor would be weakened as a result.

The colonel was silent, awed at the opportunity to hear plans for Germany’s campaign strategy from the Reichsführer himself.

“We shall use the time to consolidate our control of Europe and to drive the English forces from Africa,” Himmler continued. He walked to a map and gestured. “Then we can invade India with the troops reserved for Hitler’s pointless Russian campaign. Can you imagine what a disaster it would be to have dozens of infantry corps and tank divisions trapped in a sub-zero Russian winter?” He shook his head.

“In the Atlantic, our U-boats will strangle the British with a ring of steel and starve them into submission.”

“Yes, Reichsführer!” the officer replied. He snapped to attention. “Are there any other instructions?”

Himmler removed his glasses. He began cleaning the lenses slowly and carefully with a handkerchief, removing minute fragments of dust, holding the glasses up to the light for critical inspection. “Draft an order to provide that scientist fellow — Von Brune... Von Braun... I forget his name — the priority he needs to advance his rocket project. It sounds promising. And we should accelerate work on the superbomb. We don’t want the Americans or British to get it first.”

Recognizing dismissal, the officer nodded and walked to the door. He opened it and turned. “I think I can speak for the rest of the General Staff, Reichsführer, when I say I am relieved to have the future of the Fatherland in your capable hands.” His dismissal of Hitler was implicit.

After the officer left, Himmler sat down behind a massive desk and thought. He was greatly concerned about Hitler’s health. So concerned he had assigned his personal physician, an SS major of unquestioned loyalty, to supervise the patient’s care. It would be necessary to prepare the German people for the Führer’s death, of course.

Should it come by heart attack... in an auto or airplane crash... or perhaps an assassination? Goebbels could make good use of that in whipping up emotions and steeling the resolve of the German people for what lay ahead.

Himmler shook his head. Stress... guilt... fear... some internal weakness, a defect in the genes, perhaps, unrevealed until now, had caused Hitler’s mind to snap. Transported to the future? Mysterious forces setting the present on an inexorable path? What nonsense!

The future wasn’t ordained; the future was what strong leaders made it — what he would make it.


Copyright © 2009 by Arthur C. Carey

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