In April, I posted my thousandth post on this blog. To celebrate, I will share here all my short stories. Every couple of weeks, I’ll be posting one story from my celebrated Exciting Destinies series for you to enjoy. With over 30 stories so far, I hope you’ll have lots of fun in the coming months!
Today’s story is Shoot The Devil, one of my favorite stories from Infinite Waters.
Click here to read some more free stories.
Shoot The Devil
I froze in my tracks. I thought I could sneak into my destination unseen at this late hour, but this city had more eyes than cobblestones. Act natural, my instructor’s voice whispered in my head. The same thing he had repeated daily during six months of ceaseless training.
I turned slowly around, one hand in the air, the other digging into my pocket for my battered wallet. Since leather was no longer used in the twenty-second century, this was an heirloom brought along specifically for the purpose. I fished out my pass to hand it over to the impatient hand.
A second guard was looking on, a bored smirk on his young face. God, they’re so young, I thought. The countless hours spent training had not prepared me for the stark reality of Nazi Germany. Somehow, I had expected everything to be more cinematic and less… well, less real. That’s the problem with time travel; everything is so similar, yet the smallest detail can seem odd.
I examined the soldier while he studied my pass, his gaze shooting from my face to the folded piece of paper and back. His uniform smelled of wet wool, and I caught a hint of grease from the menacing machine gun hanging leisurely from his shoulder. A sweeter smell, probably hair gel, whiffed from his head, startling me. I stared at his iron helmet, my eyes catching on the twin lightning bolts stenciled on its side. A silver pair on his collar mirrored them, glinting under the faint glow of the streetlight. I wondered if they were made out of real silver, and fought a sudden urge to reach out and rub them with my fingers.
“Come on,” the second guard said in German, shooting an impatient glance at the clock sitting atop the bell tower in the square’s middle. This one’s insignia was dark grey and I tried in vain to remember what, if anything, that meant.
The first guard hesitated for a moment, then handed me back my papers. “Where do you live?” he asked me.
I nodded my jaw towards the aging building around the corner where, according to my papers, I had lived for the past three years. I tried to keep my words to a minimum. The endless hours spent practicing my accent notwithstanding, I did not want to take any chances.
He studied me for a moment and I forced myself to meet his eyes, hoping they did not reflect my terror. “Go,” he said in the end. I nodded and turned slowly away, my boots scuffing and kicking at the cobbles in what I hoped was a display of worry-free indifference. Only after I had turned the corner did I let myself exhale, leaning against a door frame until my knees stopped shaking.
I pulled out a skeleton key to jiggle it into a rusted lock. It clicked softly, and I hurried inside the medieval building, shutting the door behind me as I slipped into a dark corridor filled with the reassuring stench of boiled cabbage. A baby’s plaintive cries attacked me from an apartment to my left, followed by a faint argument. I pulled out a dull grey metal cylinder from a hidden pocket in my thick coat. It hissed when I pried it open, to expand into a two-barreled gun. With a soft whir, a laser sight snapped in place at the top, projecting a red dot on the wall across from me.
Its comforting weight in my hand helped my breath slow down. I started up on the narrow steps when a brown door on the side creaked open to reveal a woman’s ancient face. She threw me a stern, suspicious look as I squeezed the weapon into my pocket.
“Who are you?” she asked me in German, glancing at the bulge under my coat.
“A friend…” I rasped and coughed to clear my clogged throat. “A friend of Dr. Schumann’s. He’s visiting family in Berlin.”
My heart pounded as she took this in, her eyes never leaving my face. Finally, she shot me a venomous look. “Tell him he’s late for the rent.”
“I will,” I promised. Without a word, she slammed the door and I wiped beads of sweat from my brow as I made my way into Dr. Schumann’s apartment.
I slinked inside, wrinkling my nose; the apartment reeked of alcohol. I blinked for a moment before moving any further, my eyes getting used to the low light. “Greetings, doctor,” I said to a still silhouette on an armchair while hanging my coat on a nail by the door. No reply came. Like my intel had suggested, Dr. Schumann lay in his favorite corner of the room, dead as a lanky doornail, the victim of chronic liver failure. His half-open eyes reflected the soft light coming from outside through the dingy, tattered curtains. I padded over to close them, avoiding his lifeless stare.
The soft music coming from the huge radio facing him came to an abrupt end, followed by a yelling announcer. As my heart skipped a beat, I wondered if I should keep the radio on, then decided that my nerves were too fraught for sudden sounds and I turned the knob, welcoming the ensuing quiet.
A thin beam of pale light cut through the middle of the tall window overlooking the small plaza where Hitler would arrive in less than an hour. As I headed towards it, I tripped over an empty bottle and kneeled to plonk it onto a table.
I considered turning on a light as I pried the window open to glance outside. Chances were no one was looking up, but I had already maxed out my luck for one night, and did not want to take any risks. Pulling a nearby chair by the window, I drew my gun out to examine it under the streetlamp’s soft glow. The laser sight whirred and turned as it calculated distance, a red dot pointing at the ceiling.
I lost track of time staring at the twin barrels until a car sped into the plaza and four dark-clad men jumped out. I instinctively drew back into the room’s shadows as they studied the surrounding buildings. After a moment, they disappeared towards the plaza’s four corners, while the driver parked the car under my building. It won’t be long now.
I rubbed sweat off my palms and pulled a pair of gloves from my pocket. The last thing I wanted was to have the gun slip through my fingers as I pulled the trigger; I only had one chance at this. I stared with disdain at my sweaty, shaking fingers as I pushed them into their soft constraints.
The sound of more cars screeching outside made me hurry up, snapping the gloves on my hands. I stole a look outside; three cars had stopped before the City Hall’s entrance. I had no idea what the Fuehrer wanted there at this late hour; my intel did not extend that far. Nor did I need to know, of course. Like countless Jews before me, all I wanted was a shot at the man who had nearly destroyed my people.
With a flick of my thumb, I switched the laser off and stared down the laser sight, focusing on the car in the middle. I almost slammed the trigger as its door flew open and a bodyguard stepped out to glance around, then forced myself to stand still, any sudden movement certain to draw attention to me. When the man stepped to the side, holding the door open, I had him in my sights.
The monster who had been responsible for millions of deaths sprang out of the car with an agility that caught me off guard. I cursed silently, flicking the laser sight on with my thumb. A tiny red dot, clearly visible through the laser sight, danced on the stone steps, trying to lock onto the short man rushing towards the yawning doors of the building. Realizing that in a few seconds he would disappear through them, I panicked and my finger twitched. The bullet exploded against one of the columns adorning the building’s entrance, sending stone splinters to rain against the startled men.
Shit! I drew a deep breath, trying to slow down my pounding heart. I squeezed the trigger a second time, just as the Fuehrer spun around to face me. His mustached lip quivered as he stared at me, bug-eyed. Then his head exploded into countless tiny fragments, spraying warm droplets over his stunned bodyguards. Blood flew onto the steps below like swirling scarlet raindrops, baptizing the marble in his blood, as the Fuehrer’s knees buckled, sending his body to crash against the stone.
Loud yells and shouts shot from outside. A woman screamed as I brought my hand to my mouth to drown a cackle, pulling back into the safety of the dark apartment. I did it! My heart filled with a primal joy as my pulse pounded on my temples. A countdown started in my head; I had to let Zion know I had succeeded. Rotating the buckle on my belt to reveal a small indentation, I clicked it with my finger. The buckle split open and I pressed the inconspicuous button inside, before releasing the breath of relief that had caught in my throat.
Within a few seconds, an agent would travel back in time to stop me from entering the time machine, thus undoing the assassination. It did not matter; I had succeeded. Even better, I had the recording on my weapon, protected by a weak paradox field, to prove it. I shut my eyelids as the room started to spin and fade away.
When I cracked them open again, I was in the middle of a sparsely decorated room, lying down on a silky chair. A warm light filled the white room to reveal my instructor’s smiling face. He stepped out from behind an undersized desk with nothing but a glowing, transparent screen on top.
“Congratulations, son, you did it,” he said and palmed my shoulder. I looked up at him, a wide grin on my face. He wore his usual khakis. A blue beret stuck out from his right shoulder strap.
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s a pity he can’t stay dead.”
He lifted his broad shoulders. “You know we can’t change the course of history. By stopping you before you enter the time stream, we prevent that from happening. Only after you’ve had your fun, though.”
I had to laugh; the man was right. I did have a great time killing Hitler. “But they let JFK stay dead,” I complained, not for the first time.
“You know that’s different. That prevented a nuclear war.”
I scoffed, but did not insist; I was too exhilarated for that. “Now what?” I asked him, and his smile disappeared, his face turning serious. I mirrored his expression as he handed me my own blue beret.
“Now you’re one of us,” he said. “Wear it with pride.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as my fingers caressed the soft fabric. “I will,” I promised, and rushed to my feet. A wave of nausea crashed over me, sending me to collapse back onto the chair.
“Easy now,” my instructor said. “You just came back. Give it a minute.”
I nodded and allowed him to help me to my feet after a moment. “Are you coming?”
“And miss all this paperwork?” He nodded towards the screen on the desk.
I shook his hand. “Thank you. For everything.”
His amber eyes studied me. “Was it all you hoped it would be?”
I never knew my grin could grow even wider. “And more.” I staggered to the door.
“I’ll catch you later,” he said as he slumped behind the desk.
The door hissed open and I waved my thanks. I stepped outside on unsteady legs, almost crashing into a nurse.
“Easy there,” he said, jumping back.
“I’m sorry, I’m just back—”
“From assassinating Hitler, I know.” He pointed at a sign outside the room with the words Post-mission Recovery Room. His eyes met mine and he opened his mouth, then hesitated. “Can I…” he stammered. I raised my eyebrows questioningly and waited. “Mind if I ask you something?” he finally blurted out.
“Sure.” I leaned with my back on the wall.
“Oh, I’m sorry, are you still recovering?”
“No, I’m fine,” I assured him. “Just catching my breath. What did you want to know?”
He pursed his lips. “Why do you do it?”
He cocked his head to examine me. “I don’t get it. Thousands of people traveling back in time to kill Hitler, when you know you can’t really change anything. What’s the point?”
Realisation hit me and my lips curled upwards. “You’re not Jewish, are you?”
He shook his head. “No, Arab.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m sorry, where are my manners?” He extended his hand. “I’m Hasan.”
I squeezed his fingers. “Have you made your Hajj yet, Hasan?”
His face beamed. “Yes. I went last year.”
“Did you perform the stoning of the devil?”
“Ramy al-Jamarat? Of course.”
“Can you describe it for me?”
He shrugged. “We throw stones at the devil, to remember Abraham’s defiance of him.”
“Does that hurt the devil?”
A soft laugh escaped Hasan’s lips. “I guess not.”
“Well, our devil walked this earth, so we don’t throw pebbles at him. We fire bullets.”
“I…” His voice trailed and he chuckled. “I think I understand. Thank you.” He frowned as a siren blared above us. “I’m sorry, I have to go. We have another assassination in five minutes.” He rushed off, waving his goodbyes.
“No problem.” Placing my new beret on my head, I watched him disappear into a lift. He waved at me one last time, then the doors slid shut.
I shut my eyes and the image of Hitler’s skull exploding filled my head. Yes, it was everything I dreamed it would be. I wished I was allowed to relive the experience of killing him, but consoled myself with the thought that nothing could top that experience. Then a wide grin crept onto my face as I remembered my appointment with the Roman Department next week.
In six months’ time, once my training was complete, Lucius Flavius Silva would be met with more than Zealots in Masada.
or get the complete Exciting Destinies collection (over 30 stories) for only $3.99 (FREE with KU)!