“Eat lead, master race,” Charlie quipped as he pumped three shots into the fuhrer’s chest, another between Hitler’s eyes for good measure.
Hitler’s corpse fell across his desk, dead before he really knew what hit him. Sometimes, Charlie let the fuhrer twist in the wind a little before killing him. Now he usually just shot him. Charlie poured himself some of Hitler’s tea and drank a sip, which he did not like. The fuhrer put too much milk in it. Then Charlie pushed a button on his watch and blinked away.
On the street below, he stuck his hands in his pockets and walked away.
“Nice night,” said a woman strolling beside him. He recognized her as a fellow time traveler. The walkman clipped to her belt gave it away.
“Nicer than it was,” he said as the ambulances came screaming down the road past them.
“What’s it feel like?”
“You’ve never done it?” he asked.
“I’m strictly non-violent,” she said.
“Oh, you’re one of those.” He cracked a smile.
“One of what?”
“Recordists. Watchers. Tourists.” He said the last word with a smirk. “Well, I don’t care what they told you. Any timeline without Hitler is a good one.”
She said, “I’m not a tourist. I just don’t believe in needless cruelty when we have other tools.”
“Ah, so you’re a non-violent interventionist,” he said. “Seems like a lot of work.”
“That’s part of the fun,” she said. “Any idiot with a time machine and a gun can kill Hitler. No offense. I’m Taylor by the way.”
Charlie sized her up. It wasn’t always easy to tell a time traveler’s point of origin. Any traveler with any experience accumulated their own fashion sense. But there were always signs, if you knew what to look for.
“1980s?” he said.
She nodded. “Impressive.”
“It’s the acid wash jeans.”
“1950’s,” she replied, poking him lightly in the chest. “It’s the tie and hat.”
“What’ll happen here now?” she asked.
He shrugged. The moment Hitler had died a new timeline was created, but it was impossible to know where it would lead until jumping farther into its future.
“Do you want to grab a coffee?” she asked.
She picked a coffee shop in in the late 1990s. Charlie got a black coffee, and she ordered a cappuccino. They found a table outside and enjoyed the sunny weather.
“So where’d you get your time travel device, anyway?” she asked.
“Oh, a G-Man.”
“I’ve been an independent operator for a while now.”
“Found mine at a garage sale,” she said. “Don’t ask me how it got there.”
“You could always find out.”
“Life needs a little mystery.” She bit into a cherry pastry, asked while chewing,“How do you know when you fixed it? That timeline?”
“I didn’t,” he said. “You can’t fix history, kid.”
“Kid? Take it easy, dude. You’re like thirty.”
“Thirty-two,” he said. “The thing you learn about time travel is that it’s complicated. Change something, change everything, change nothing. Humans are still humans. So maybe in that timeline there’s no WW2. Maybe there is. Maybe that world becomes better. Maybe it becomes worse.”
“Worse without Hitler?”
“The world is a mess. There’s lots of ways for it to go wrong. Too many.”
“Yeah.” Taylor swirled her spoon in her cappuccino. “I stopped 9/11 a couple of times. Managed to fix climate change once.”
“It was a hell of a lot of work,” she said. “But the timelines are better, but never perfect.”
“No such thing as perfect. When you’ve been at this longer, you’ll figure that out.”
She said, “Then why bother?”
Charlie had asked himself the question many times. He didn’t have an answer. He’d created so many divergent timelines, but never one that didn’t have its problems.
Yet he kept trying.
“I’ll tell you why,” she said.
He stuck a cigarette in his mouth, chewed on it. “Do tell, kid.”
“We bother because we can.”
She reached over and took his hat off the table, dropping it on her head.
“Most everyone spends their days hoping for better tomorrows, ignoring their regrets, thinking that maybe it’ll all work itself out over the next horizon, even though we know it probably won’t. It’s what people do. You and me, we just happen to have time machines.”
“Y’know, most people with time machines just make themselves rich and retire to some island somewhere,” he said.
“Most people,” she replied, leaning forward to put his hat back on his head, which she tilted at a jaunty angle. “But not us.”
Charlie finished his coffee. “Gotta go. Gotta check on a couple of timelines.”
“Yeah, me too.” Taylor sighed. “Who would’ve thought having time machines would make us so busy?”
He tipped his hat to her. “Catch you next time, doll.”
He reached for his watch, but she put her hand over it. “Just putting this out there, but if you want some company and don’t mind joining me on a few alternate realities of my own . . . . ”
“Mind if I stop for a smoke first?” he asked.
She grabbed the lighter from his hand and lit the cigarette. “Sure thing, G-Man.”