Disclaimer: Hogan's Heroes and its characters are the creative works of others. My abusing them is not meant to reflect on the quality of the work of others. (In other words, even if you don't like the story, don't knock the show.)
Author's note: This is my entry for the Short-Story Speed-Writing contest. The line I used was #7, from "The Wee Free Men", by Terry Pratchett.
We Killed Hitler
Some things start before other things.
I know, I know, that's pretty obvious. I betcha it's just the kind of dumb thing most people would expect me to say. But here's the thing: sometimes those things that start before, seem to start after. It all comes pretty much down to your point of view, you see.
Or, say, where you are in time.
For instance, you can kinda say this particular problem of the war actually started decades after the whole shebang was over and done with.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. Well, my beginning, since as I've just said, when exactly something began can be confusing depending on where or when you… oh, geez, never mind, I'll just get on with it.
So to start off, I gotta confess something here: I'm not quite who I say I am. Oh, most of my story's true, I guess. I really am from North Dakota and my name really is Andrew Carter and I really did train to be a pharmacist once upon a time. And, yeah, okay, some of that "aw shucks" act I put on is just that - an act - but it's not much of one, if you catch my meaning. I still am what other people would call pretty earnest and gullible at times, despite… well, despite what I'm about to tell you.
But getting back to point, I'm not quite who the Colonel and the guys think I am. The Andrew Carter they think I am died of diphtheria when he was three. I know, because he was a relative.
He was my great-grandfather's little brother.
To be honest, I don't know who's hearing this recording, or when, so I don't know how you're taking what I just said. So let me explain a little more:
I'm from the twenty-first century. I'm not gonna bother telling you more than that, mostly cause I'm not allowed to (really, I shouldn't even be talking about this whole thing), but also cause there ain't a whole lot of point. And it could be dangerous. People like me can be targets, so why should I do something as dumb as telling you all when exactly it was that I was a helpless little ankle-biter still sucking my thumb so the bad guys can take me out before I even become old enough to know what I can do? I mean, yeah, I told you my name, but "Andrew Carter" is barely a step up from "John Smith" so good luck with that.
And I'm not gonna bother explaining how I can do what I do. It's too complicated and there'd really be no point anyway. The important thing is why I'm here. Sorry, by that I mean here - you know, in the nineteen-forties. Or in Germany, or at Stalag 13. Heck, take your pick.
I'm here to save Hitler.
Yeah, you heard me. Hitler. I'm here to save Hitler, at least this time.
I suppose that's why I'm breaking all the rules by recording this in the first place. See, I don't like Hitler or anything. I don't want Germany to win. Even if I didn't know what the Nazis did, I'd still want them to lose cause, geez, who wants to be a Fascist? (Yeah, yeah, I know - National Socialists. But c'mon, that's what they were. Fascists, I mean.)
So I suppose you'd say this is kind of a confession. It literally makes me sick to my stomach to think of saving that S.O.B's worthless hide, but time-travel isn't all watching them build the pyramids, you know what I mean?
No, I guess you don't.
What it is, is this: I'm a kind of watchdog. And I'm here to watch the Colonel. And most of the time, that means helping him, or saving him, or even just making sure he's in the right place at the right time to make history unfold how it's supposed to, even if I have to act like a complete screw-up to do it.
But other times…
Geez, I hate this.
See, the thing you gotta understand is, it's all about balance. Sure, when we first started we were full of idealized dreams too. Who wouldn't be? You suddenly find a way to go back in time and it's only natural to think about fixing all of history's mistakes. Brother, we were gonna stop the war and save the Titanic and cure the Spanish flu and put a stop to slavery before it even got going and all kinds of things!
And holy cow, were we idiots.
Cause we did it. We killed Hitler, you know. In fact, we killed him a whole bunch of times. And every time we did - every single gosh-darned time - there was still a war.
And every single time, the Allies lost.
Of course, there were other effects too. And, as a friend of mine pointed out, even if we had prevented the war, we wouldn't have been saving that many more lives than we were erasing. Seriously, there are MILLIONS of people who owe their lives to the war. Maybe number-wise we would've come out ahead without a war, but does that still excuse the erasing of these people? The kids of war brides, or war-widows who met other guys and had kids with them, or kids of couples who just broke up with their first sweethearts for whatever war-related reason and met new people? It's hard, because right here and now I want to save the people in front of me, but at the same time, I know a lot of those born-cause-of-the-war people. Maybe they're only "potential" people in the nineteen forties, and likely trying to save potential people over real, alive-right-now people is kind of screwy to you, but to me it's not. I figure I've got just as much duty to save them as to save the people here, and maybe even more cause they're the ones history says are supposed to live.
But getting back to this Hitler business…
Sorry, yeah, I know I'm a terrible story-teller. You should hear Newkirk tell one - he's great! Me, I'm always going off on a tangent. I'm probably a terrible time-traveller too, not suited for making these big decisions at all, but I'm who you got. What I can do is so rare that the group didn't get to pick and choose - if you could do it, you were drafted. It was as simple as that.
Anyway, here's the thing about Hitler: you kill him before the war (or his father, or his grandfather, on and on till it makes you sick), and the Nazis manage to find someone just a little bit smarter and just a little bit less foaming-at-the-mouth nutty and they win. You kill him and put in someone dumber, the Nazis just kill that guy and put in someone smarter and… well you get the picture. Apparently Adolf Hitler is the only one smart enough (or lucky enough) to hold onto power, but dumb enough to blow it in the end.
And that's where my problem starts.
Because Colonel Robert E. Hogan is smart and good and worse - he is far, far, too lucky for his own good.
And I might have to stop him. And I really, really, don't want to.
I can, you know. I'm really good at my job. Most people (especially my friends, let's face it) tend to forget that fact, what with the whole gosh-golly-apple-pie-falling-over-my-feet act, but I am really good at what I do. Think about it: I've never blown anyone up that I didn't mean to, and when you consider that I'm the only one on the team doing a job he was never trained for, or did before the war, that's actually pretty impressive. There were trained NASA scientists who blew up rockets on the launch pad, after all. Not to mention my job is really the only one that's dangerous in and of itself; the other guys are in danger if they get caught, but when you're working with volatile chemicals, you could be in the middle of Wyoming and still be in just as much danger as you are here. Especially when you're working the junk London tends to drop.
But no matter what the Colonel asks, whatever he needs a bomb to do, I can make it. I can make them big enough to blow up a factory or small enough to fit in your pocket. I can make them explode or implode. I can make them blow up instantly or set it on a timer. I can make them look like a pen or a piece of pie in a box.
And I can make the blast be any size and go in any direction I want.
And isn't that just dandy for me.
Luckily it hasn't come to that yet, and I hope like anything it never does. I hope and pray that I don't have to do what it looks like I might have to. Cause Colonel Hogan's good, too good. He's getting too close to the big stuff, to really changing history, and flubbing things up - like forgetting to take off a lens cap here and there - just ain't cutting it anymore.
And I don't know if I can go through with it. I don't even know if I can make the decision. I mean kill a great guy like the Colonel to save… geez, there's not even a word bad enough for Hitler! Hogan for Hitler - what a decision! It's not the kind of one I'm made for, that's for darn sure. It shouldn't be me making it at all, it should be someone a heck of a lot smarter. Someone wiser and stronger and just a much better person, you know?
But that's war. And history. Most of us never plan on getting the big choices forced onto our shoulders, do we.
Let me tell you, sometimes you gotta have a lot of faith in this life.
You want to know what the real kicker is though? The real sucker-punch to the gut? It's that I've already done it. When I say I don't know if I can make the decision, it's that I don't know if I can make it again.
Time-travel isn't what you think. Turns out it doesn't involve creating quantum universes. Oh, there are other universes, but what we do doesn't... Oops. Sorry - can't go into that. But the point is, I can't console myself with the idea that even if I do...you know, the Colonel will still be alive in some other universe.
No, it's all about re-setting things now.
So what's the problem, I hear you say. If you make the wrong decision, you just gotta go back again and fix it.
Yeah, yeah, easy peasy. A real piece of pie. Look, I'll tell you what the problem is, Mack: these re-sets are killing me!
Forget about the fact that I'm aging, so each time I'm older than the last time. Forget about the fact that I'm exhausted, or that I could be killed and that would mean someone else would have to take over - and by that I mean right from the beginning, coming in as the team's fifth man, so that none of my friends would ever even remember me because it wouldn't be me they'd be meeting.
No, it's knowing. Knowing and hoping against hope that this time it won't come to that. Knowing what I will almost certainly have to do, yet hoping every minute of evry day that THIS is the time where I got it right, that everything will work out without me having to kill him again.
Cause that's the real thing that's killing me: killing him.
Some of us turn into monsters. It's almost impossible to see dead people come to life over and over again and still attach any importance to, well, them anymore. People stop seeming real, and the whole idea of whether they live or die this time matters even less. And to a lot of us, becoming like this is better than the alternative, which is eating your heart out each and every time.
Which is what I'm doing.
Kinch once told me that the definition of 'crazy' is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. "Geez, buddy, you got that right," I told him. (I don't think he was expecting me to agree so quickly.)
So there's the sixty-four thousand dollar question. (Sorry - if you're listening to this in the nineteen-forties, give it ten years or so and you'll get that expression.) Do I keep breaking my heart by hoping till I go crazy, or do I save myself by becoming a psychopath?
What a choice! I bet it puts your problems into perspective, doesn't it, pal?
Or maybe not. Deciding between keeping your humanity no matter what comes at you or protecting yourself by letting your heart go all hard does seem to be a pretty common problem nowadays when there's people shooting at your buddies and bombs dropping all over the place.
Anyway, I figure all I can do is keep hoping. I'm just not built the other way. I mean, maybe this is the time where it all works out, right?
The trouble is, there's only one way history is supposed to go.
So yeah, it's a little weird. And it was a rush job, so I'm not even sure how much sense it makes. But I hoped you enjoyed it anyway.
Oh, and if you're wondering about Carter's 'voice', except for a couple of expressions, I tried to keep it as 'forties' as I could. After all, when Carter commits to a part, he commits to a part.