Fiction - by Larry Hodges
Eva Braun, his wife for one day, lay dead on the sofa, wearing the black dress with red roses at the neckline he so liked. The nauseating smell of bitter almonds filled the stuffy air of his private study in the Führerbunker, eleven meters of concrete below the Hell that was Berlin.
Now it was Hitler's turn. He too had a cyanide tablet, but that was not the warrior way. No, he would shoot himself. He'd arranged to have his body burned so it wouldn't be hung upside down in the streets and stoned and spit on, like Mussolini. He had no recourse, with the Russians moving in. Everyone had let him down--his aides, his armies, his generals, even those rotten traitors Himmler and Goering. Now it was time to die. All Germany must die.
A portrait of Frederick the Great stared sternly down at them, daring him to do so. The great Prussian military leader once said, "The commander who flings his last battalion into the fray will be the victor."
"But now there are no more battalions," Hitler retorted, eyes moist, "only the wreckage of greatness." The clock ticked loudly away and the noisy ventilation system struggled and failed to do its job. For his death, he wore his usual black pants and white buttoned shirt, but didn't bother to comb his hair, so a few oily strands fell over his eyes. He held his Walther PPK pistol to his right temple, his hand shaking, and closed his eyes.
"Hello there!" said a high-pitched voice in German. Hitler opened his eyes. An extremely tall and skinny man stood before him, dressed in an outlandish yellow jumpsuit. His thin head rotating about like a praying mantis as he surveyed the room, eyes wide like a young Hitler Youth in a munition's factory. Around his neck was a fist-sized green medallion shaped like an eagle, with a number of tiny knobs and buttons. His skin was sickly white as if the sun were a nemesis he had never met.
"Who are you and how did you get down here?" Hitler said, staring at the intruder.
"I am Herr Becker, a fellow German from your future. This is great! Oh wow, is that the piercing stare everyone talks about! No wonder none could stand up to you, it's like facing a bazooka! My God, you are magnificent! Can I have your autograph?" He held out a pencil and pad of paper.
"I will call the guards!"
"I'm not sure if you have any real guards left, though I don't remember the exact historical record. This is April 30, 1945, no?" Reluctantly, he put the pencil and paper back in his pocket. "Wow, I can't believe I'm meeting you! I am a time traveler and a tourist--since you're about to die, nothing I do here can change history. I think." He looked about the bunker and saw the body on the sofa. "Oh My God! That must be Eva Braun! I should have come a few minutes earlier. Oh well." He extended his hand toward her and a ring on his index finger flashed. "So this is your private study! Wow, for such a famous dictator you have such a little office and a tiny desk! But such a big grandfather clock!" He extended his hand and the ring flashed several more times. Then he plopped down on one of the three cushioned white chairs around a small table. "I can't believe I am in the presence of the historical Adolf Hitler, the most hated man in history!"
"The what?" Hitler exclaimed.
"But also one of the great conquerors!" Becker quickly amended, jumping back to his feet. "Wow, your hand is really trembling! And your left is even worse, right? That's why you hold it behind your back?" Then he noticed a map and some papers on Hitler's desk and examined them. "Oh My God Again! The Steiner and Ninth Army attack plans, where you ordered non-existent armies into battle! The plans were lost to history, so this won't change anything--I think--can I have them?" Without waiting for permission, he quickly folded the papers up and stuffed them into a pocket, then turned back to Hitler.
"May I shake your hand?" He grabbed Hitler's hand, which still held the pistol and shook from what his doctor had said was early Parkinson's, and vigorously shook it with both of his hands. Hitler felt in a daze, not sure what to do about this intruder. Maybe he should just shoot him. What's one more dead body in a bunker?
"Do you mind if we get a selfie?" Becker said.
"A what?" Hitler asked.
Becker put his head next to Hitler's, who tried to pull back, but the time traveler had put an arm behind Hitler's head, holding it there, and extended his other arm, pointing the ring toward them. "Say Weisslacker!" Becker said. The ring flashed as Hitler blinked.
"You sure keep it cold and dim in here! Now, one last thing, I'd like to do a quick, temporary mind transfer," Becker said. "It'll only take a minute." He pulled a small pair of scissors and a baggie out of a pocket and put them on the table. Then he held up what looked like a flashlight but with lights on both ends. He held it between their heads.
"Say Sauerbraten!" Becker said. He flipped a button, there was another flash . . .
. . . and Hitler was looking at himself out of the tall Becker's eyes.
"Wow," Becker said, looking down at himself. "This is the highlight of my travels! I've done this with the worst of the worst--Mao, Stalin just minutes ago, so many others--but this is the ultimate, the absolute Mount Everest of tourism!" He glanced at the pistol that was now in his hand. "Nice weapon. What is it, a Luger? I'm not really a gun person." He stuck it in a pocket. "Can I have a snip?" He picked up the scissors he'd put on the table and took a small snip of Hitler's mustache--which he now wore--and put it in the baggie on the table.
"You say you are a time traveler?" Hitler asked. "From when? Is this thing on the vest your time machine?" He tapped the green eagle-shaped medallion he now wore around his neck.
"Careful or you might end up in the Mesozoic!" Becker exclaimed. "But you are very perceptive. Let's just say I'm a long time from now."
"You wouldn't happen to have a superweapon I could borrow to change the course of the war?" Hitler asked.
Becker giggled like a child hearing a knock-knock joke and slapped Hitler on the back. "Sorry, I left all my superweapons back home, maybe next time!" He sighed. "Well, I guess it's time to go back. I'll never forget this. Oh, I'll need this." He snatched the flashlight device out of Hitler's hand and held it between them. "Say Mohnstrudel, and see you in a minute!" He pushed a button and the device flashed again, and Hitler was back in his body, once again holding the mind transfer device.
"Well, it's been great visiting you," Becker said. "I'll never forget this! Go ahead and do what you've got to do and history will go on as before and I'll be on my way. Mussolini's next, then maybe Napoleon! Oh, and I'll need that back." He again tried to snatch the mind transfer device that Hitler now held. But Hitler held it firm this time. "C'mon, give it back."
Hitler pulled out the Walther PPK pistol that Becker had put in his pocket and shot him in the chest.
For a moment the time traveler stared down at the hole over his heart as blood trickled out, a surprised look on his face, and then he crumpled to the floor on his back.
"Say Auf Wiedersehen," Hitler said, staring at the body as he placed the pistol on the table. "Dirty Jew." Oops, he thought--his bullet had destroyed the time traveling device on the vest. No problem, he thought, as he examined the mind transfer device, his brow furrowing. Then he put it on the table and paced back and forth, head down, hands clasped behind his back.
This changes everything.
He'd been looking for a miracle for years, confident that providence would provide one. And now it had. It had certainly waited until the last minute.
Stepping over the body of Becker, he went to the door and opened it. "Fraulein Junge! Please come here, I need you." A moment later his secretary entered. Just two days before he had dictated his will to her.
"I am so glad you are alive, Mein Führer! What can I do for you?" Traudl Junge was of average height, with wavy brown hair that stopped just short of her shoulders, a slightly too-large nose, with a small mole on her forehead over her left eye, with a standard tan secretarial dress and blouse. She was as forgettable as the Führer was not. She had a passing resemblance to Eva Braun that the Führer admitted to himself was one reason she had gotten the job.
Traudl saw the two bodies and dropped the pencil in her hand. "Frau Braun! Is she dead? Who is that man on the floor?"
"Yes, Eva is gone, but she will not be forgotten," Hitler said. "Ignore the man on the floor, he is nobody, just a time traveler who gave me this." He held up the mind transfer device.
"A time--a what, Mein Führer? This is confusing and scary."
"Never you mind about any of this," he said. He looked at her and barked, "Understood?"
"Yes, Mein Führer. And what are you holding, a flashlight?"
"Actually, a mind transfer device, but don't worry about that either." He lowered it and picked up the pistol from the table, and held it out to her, handle first. "I need you to take this."
"Yes, Mein Führer," she said, taking the weapon, but holding it between her thumb and index finger as if it were a dead rat.
"Now aim it at my head," Hitler said. He didn't really need to do this, but it would be more efficient once they did the transfer. Plus, it appealed to his playful side.
"No, Mein Führer!" She cried. "I will not be the one to shoot you! The Reich may be in danger, but you must live on!"
Poor child, Hitler thought, shielded from everything. She knows nothing about what the invading Russians and Americans are about to find. There was no living on for him--not as Adolf Hitler.
"I command you!" he cried.
Very slowly and reluctantly she held the gun up only to his chest, her hand now shaking.
"Very good," he said. She had been with him since 1942. Perhaps he would honor her death with a small monument to her valor. "You will not have to shoot me. See this device?"
"The flashlight mind transfer thing?" she asked.
"Let's find out if it works." He held it up between them and was about to push the button he'd seen Becker push when there was a knock at the door. He quickly lowered the device. "Who is it?" he yelled in irritation
"It is me," said the voice of Goebbels.
"Just a minute," he grumbled. To Traudl he said, "I am sorry, Fraulein, it was just a joke. You may lower the gun. Please wait here while I get rid of that pest Goebbels."
Traudl stared at the Führer's back, her heart beating like the Russian machine guns approaching the bunker outside. Had the Führer been joking? If Goebbels hadn't interrupted, would he have ordered her to shoot him? She looked down at the gun in her hand. He is the Führer, and only he could save Germany. She had to save him from himself.
With the Russians just blocks away, Hitler had already said his goodbyes to his staff, and yet some still hoped Hitler could pull out a miracle--new wonder weapons or a last-minute rescue by the armies of Generals Steiner and Wenck. If only this broken old man could again be the vibrant leader of the past, perhaps a miracle was possible.
"Tell Steiner to attack or I will shoot him myself!" screamed the Führer to Goebbels, then he slammed the door. "Idiots and traitors!" He stormed back into his office, past the iron coat-stand that held Hitler's plain gray overcoat and Blondi's dangling leash. Suspicious that Himmler had given him fake cyanide, the Führer had tested the capsules the day before on his German Shephard; they worked, leaving the dog-loving Hitler in tears.
"Raise the gun again and aim it at me," Hitler said. "Now!"
"I will not shoot you!"
"Young woman, I order you!" he barked. "You do not need to actually shoot me." He looked into her eyes with his most piercing gaze.
Slowly she raised the gun again, again aiming it at the Führer's chest in her shaking hand. Then the Führer raised the flashlight device and pushed a button. Instantly she was looking at herself, the gun pointed at her chest. She looked down and gasped, dropping the flashlight device that was now in her hand. She was in Hitler's body.
"What has happened!" she cried in a much deeper voice than normal--Hitler's voice. She stepped back as she stared at the person who looked like her.
The person stared back. "I look a wreck," her twin said in her voice, and shook her head slightly with a sigh. There was something about the way she said it--Traudl recognized the person behind the voice. Hitler.
"You were loyal to the end," Hitler said from her body. He glanced down at himself and smiled slightly. "Yes, I am Adolf Hitler in your body, and you in mine. Now I ask one last task of you, to die for your Führer. It will be quick and painless." The gun was already aimed at her chest, or rather what had been Hitler's chest. He now raised it to between her eyes.
"Mein Führer!" she cried, frozen, her eyes like saucers, her face ashen. "Is that really you? In my body?"
"Goodbye, Fraulein." He squeezed the trigger.
"It is too light--what have you done with the bullets?" Hitler screamed.
"I removed them while you spoke with Goebbels. I thought I was saving you, not me."
"Then you are just another traitor!" he shrieked. He lashed out, striking her in the face with the gun, leaving an ugly gash that bled onto her famous mustache. "Everyone betrays me!"
She threw up her hands--Hitler's hands--and tried to defend herself against the attacking woman. She had never been in a serious fight and cowered behind her arms.
But when Hitler attacked with Traudl's body, she had little power, while Hitler's body, though slightly below average for a man, was bigger and stronger. When Hitler attacked, she threw him aside with ease. But he attacked again.
"Do not make me hurt you!" she cried.
"You hurt me?" Hitler exclaimed. He looked down at himself again and frowned. Then he stepped to the flashlight device on the floor and smashed it with his foot. "You are right, we shouldn't fight. I will leave you to a far worse fate. I will leave you behind, trapped. You are now Hitler, and the Russians will be here very soon. Give my regards to Stalin." He turned and went quickly out the door, slamming it as he left, leaving Traudl alone with the bodies of Eva and the time traveler on the floor.
Even deep in the bunker she could hear the explosions outside. She wouldn't be alone for long.
"We told Americans and British you and Eva Braun commit suicide," Stalin said in broken German to Traudl. "Had your bodies burned."
She was still in Hitler's body, manacled on her back to a table in a hidden, unfurnished and featureless room outside Stalin's office in his Volynskoe dacha, a district of Moscow. Electrodes were attached to various parts of her body. The Russians had reached the bunker two days after the real Hitler's escape. She'd been flown to Moscow, with a bag over her head so nobody would recognize her . . . or rather him.
"You speak German?" Traudl asked.
"I learn some so I could read and discuss original words of Karl Marx," Stalin said. "Let us examine your . . . situation, Herr Hitler. Nobody knows you here. The soldiers who capture you--they have been executed, will tell no tales." He leaned in closer. "What happen to your mustache?" He reached down and touched the famous item. "It look like someone cut off piece as . . . souvenir. My soldiers? That is what I would do. But my mustache much better."
"It was not cut off by one of your soldiers," Traudl said.
"You wouldn't believe me."
"You father of lies, so I will not believe you. It does not matter. What matters when you are tied to table with worst enemy, who will torture you for rest of life?"
"Please don't!" Tears flowed down her face and onto her mustache.
"What an end to great Führer!" Stalin said gleefully. "What happen to great World War I hero, leader of thousand-year Reich? You should killed yourself, you be better off. I see now you are coward. But I believe . . . anticipation worse than torture or death. So first, tell me your last days in bunker. Do not bore me or pain begin." He held up the small box with a button, attached to the electroshock machine by a wire. "What it like knowing we come and you had lost? Knowing what I do to you?"
All was lost. The Hitler she had so admired had left her to this fate, and was now out there, somewhere, pretending to be her. And now all she could do was try to postpone the inevitable. Stalin wanted to be entertained, so entertain him she would.
"I am not Adolf Hitler," she said. "I am Traudl Junge, age 25, Hitler's secretary for the last two and a half years, and a dancer. He used some sort of mind transfer device to trade bodies with me, and then left me in the bunker. When you torture me, you will be torturing an innocent secretary."
Stalin stared down at her in delight. "That is greatest story ever! Now, my dear Hitler--sorry, I mean Fraulein Junge--you fill me in on details between our sessions. First begins now." Giggling slightly, he held up the electroshock button.
The next eight years were, for Traudl, best forgotten.
"Oh God, Please, No!" Traudl screamed as they prepared for another session. And that's when it happened. Stalin had grown somewhat bored of torturing Hitler. Even the hilarity of forcing the former Führer to dance in ridiculous fashion--though he was surprisingly good, in a girlish way--had lost its charm. He was thinking it was time to kill him, slowly and painfully. But if he did that, he'd regret it later when the urge came. At least his German had improved from their talks. As usual, she was babbling in her croaking voice about an imaginary time-traveling mind-swapper. He'd long grown tired of the fixation and wondered, if after all these years of torture, Hitler's anguished mind really believed it.
Suddenly a very tall, thin, sickly-pale man in a yellow jumpsuit appeared next to them, exactly as she had described him, right down to the green medallion shaped like an eagle around his neck.
"Hello there!" said a high-pitched voice in German. "Is this March 1, 1953? Oh wow, it's Stalin himself! I'm Herr Becker. Did you know that next to Hitler, you're my favorite tyrant? You killed even more people than he did! And who is your guest here?" He stepped closer to Traudl. "Oh My God! You have Hitler! The rumors were true--looks like you did capture him alive, and you've been having your revenge on him for the last eight years! Gee, and I was visiting him next, when he's supposed to kill himself in 1945, but now I guess I can't, since that would change history. Or something. Wow, can I shake both your hands?" He stuck his hand out to Stalin, who stepped back, glowering at the newcomer.
"That's . . . him!" Traudl croaked in her usual delirium. Stalin had enjoyed watching Hitler deteriorate over these eight years to the point where the former Führer could not look him in the eye and even struggled to get words out. "You . . . you haven't visited . . . Hitler yet?"
"No," said the man, his hand still extended to Stalin. "Wow, didn't know you referred to yourself third person! I'm working my way backwards in time. You, in 1945, were next on my list, then Mussolini, then Napoleon, or maybe Leopold the Second of Belgium--he's right up there with you two!"
It gradually dawned on Stalin that the man was the time-traveling mind-swapper that Hitler had been babbling about all these years. He'd seen the man materialize out of nowhere with his own eyes. He was a realist. Was the man he'd been torturing all these years really just his secretary?
He'd been staring at the man's extended hand all this time. He nonchalantly extended his own as he contemplated.
"My God, I'll never wash that hand again! Can I have your autograph?" He held out a pencil and paper. Stalin ignored it, and after a moment Becker put them back in his pocket. He went over to Traudl and extended his hand. Then, belatedly realizing that Hitler's arms were manacled down, he leaned down and shook one of those hands with his left. "I'll never wash that hand either!" He pulled out a pair of scissors and a baggy. "You don't mind, do you?" he asked, then snipped off a bit of Hitler's mustache. He put it in the baggy and stuck it in his pocket. "That's going to be tops in my collection!" he crowed. Then he looked toward Stalin. "Yours isn't quite as famous--no insult intended!--but can I have a snip of yours as well?"
"So, you are a time traveler?" Stalin asked with unblinking eyes that tore into the oblivious time traveler.
"So perceptive, no wonder you are the leader of the USSR, you completely outplayed Trotsky. I'm a tourist, you know, visiting all the great tyrants. Oh, you're going to have a brain hemorrhage shortly, go unconscious, and die in a few days, so nothing I do here will change history, I think. Mind if we get a selfie, all three of us?"
"A selfie?" asked Stalin.
"Come over here," and he practically dragged the Soviet dictator over to Hitler's table. After posing them together, he said, "Say Bavaria Blu!" He stuck his arm out, and the ring on his finger flashed. "I can't wait to get this framed! I'm a tourist, you know. One last thing, I like to experience being the actual person. I just did this with Chairman Mao in 1976!" He held up what looked like a flashlight between himself and Stalin. "Say Cambozola!" He pushed a button.
Instantly Stalin was seeing the room from Becker's lofty point of view. The normally steely Stalin had difficulty believing what he was seeing--but seeing is believing. He kept his face inscrutable as he examined himself and his own face, now staring up at him.
"Wow, you are so short!" said Becker from Stalin's body. "Just give me a minute to take this all in. It's so . . . incredible!"
Stalin had already accepted the new reality, but Becker had said this was only temporary, so he decided to wait until he was back in his own body before taking action. He glanced over at Hitler. He'd been torturing the wrong person? That was going to change. He'd been following the meteoric career of Fraulein Junge, the fiery nationalist orator who had once been Hitler's secretary but had recently replaced Konrad Adenauer as Chancellor of West Germany. Now that he looked back, the speeches--yes, as others had observed, they were reminiscent of the deeply emotional, arm-waving speeches of Hitler, even when she attacked the Third Reich's weaknesses and talked of a Fourth Reich. He'd mocked his captive fake Hitler for years, giving her news of Chancellor Junge's rise to power. He'd even met her--or him--once, and remembered the piercing stare she had given him, the stare of a true leader.
"Okay, I guess it's time to transfer back," said Becker. "But the memories will always be with me!" He held up the mind transfer device. "Say Butterkäse!" He pushed the button again and Stalin was back in his own body. It was time to act.
"You are a very irritating person," said Stalin.
"Yeah, I get that a lot," Becker said, shrugging his shoulders.
"And I have no need of you." Stalin pulled a Russian S4M Derringer from his pocket and shot Becker in the chest, destroying the eagle medallion attached there and knocking Becker to the floor on his back.
"No!" Becker cried, staring in horror at the broken medallion that had protected him. Stalin raised the gun to shoot again and Becker tried to defend himself with the mind transfer device. Stalin slammed his foot down on the device, smashing it, and then shot Becker again between the eyes. He went still.
"You . . . you realize you just destroyed the . . . the mind-transfer thing?" Traudl said. "And I'm guessing that medallion you destroyed . . . with all the little knobs . . . was his time travel device."
"I do not care," said Stalin. "But one thing I do not understand--how does this time traveler keep coming back? I thought you said he was killed by Hitler in 1945?"
"Technically . . . you killed him . . . before he had a chance to go back to 1945," she said. "But that . . . didn't really matter. It was only his . . . older self, traveling from the future . . . that was killed. His younger self . . who may already be alive . . . or maybe not yet born . . . wasn't killed, and he grew up . . . in this new timeline to become . . . the older version that came back . . . and got killed again."
"You've had a lot of time to think this over, haven't you?" She nodded. "So, you really are Fraulein Junge, Hitler's secretary?"
"As I've told you . . . for eight years."
He stared at her in Hitler's body. "You are the ugliest Fraulein ever."
"I agree." She took a deep breath and stood up straight, looking Stalin in the eye for the first time in years, which made him uncomfortable. "Now that we know where the real Hitler is, we have the same goal. I've had eight years to plan what we have to do. The first thing is to get another mind transfer device, since you destroyed that one, and that means we have to go both Hitler- and time traveler-hunting. So we'll need bait. But first--didn't Becker say you are about to have a brain hemorrhage? You need to go to the hospital or we are both lost."
Stalin survived the brain hemorrhage--barely. Under his orders, throughout his hospital stay, first-class meals were delivered to his quarters for a strange masked person now residing there. After two months, Stalin returned to his quarters. Traudl spent the time recovering from her own ordeal. Eight years of torture had left her with numerous burn marks, electrical and otherwise, broken limbs that had never quite recovered, and mental wounds that would never heal.
It was time to put her plan into action.
The Soviet Union and China were the two greatest Communist nations in history. With the nationalist Chancellor Junge now leading West Germany, they hoped to bring that country into their new authoritarian axis against America and its allies. So, three months after Stalin shot the time traveler, he met in his office with Chancellor Junge, along with Chairman Mao in his gray Mao suit and his translator, a large, muscular Chinese man in a matching suit in white. The Chinese leader had a big smile on his face and smelled like he hadn't had a bath . . . ever. He was the bait.
Stalin had comfortable, padded chairs brought in, but ever cognizant of home-field advantage, had the guest chairs placed in front of his desk, while he remained behind the desk in an elevated chair. Behind him was a giant map of Europe and Asia. Off to the side was a portrait of Stalin himself--there could never be too many--and the obligatory statue of Lenin.
Traudl remained hidden away in the adjoining secret room, wearing a mask so that the other person in the secret room wouldn't recognize her as Hitler. The second person was an assassin, a short, overweight Russian with a perpetual scowl, with perhaps the strangest instructions ever given to one in his profession. He had two small holes cut in the wall, one to look through, one to shoot through with his Mosin Nagant Model 1891 rifle. At exactly noon, he was to shoot and kill Chairman Mao, his translator, and Chancellor Junge--unless a tall man in a yellow jumpsuit were to suddenly show up.
The assassin ignored Traudl as he spied on the three in the room as they discussed their new alliance. Her hands sometimes trembled as she watched him, until she finally clasped her hands together to stop their shaking.
When noon arrived and no tall man in a yellow jumpsuit appeared, Traudl watched as the assassin shot and killed Chairman Mao, his translator, and Chancellor Junge. She sighed with relief when he made no attempt to kill her.
A short time later Stalin came in and personally shot and killed Traudl, in Hitler's body, with his Derringer. He'd never had any intention of allowing her to live. He had Hitler's body burned and the ashes tossed to the winds.
The assassin spied on the three in the room as they discussed their new alliance. Just before noon arrived, a tall man in a yellow jumpsuit appeared. The assassin put aside his weapon, sat on the floor, and began to read a newspaper.
"Hello there!" cried the time traveler as he appeared in the meeting room. "This is June 1, 1953? I am Herr Becker. Wow! This is when history tells us an assassin will kill Chairman Mao, his translator, and Chancellor Junge at noon, leading to the Big War! I can't believe I'm in the presence of Mao, Stalin, and Junge! This is sensational! And gosh, the wars you are about to start! Nukes galore!"
Mao's translator was furiously translating for Mao, and Mao was yelling in Chinese.
Chancellor Junge leaped to her feet. "Stalin, call your guards! This intruder must be killed!"
"Perhaps," Stalin said. He turned to Becker. "You again? Let me guess, after this you'll be going back to 1945 to visit Hitler?"
"Why, yes, how perceptive! And I also visited you at your death, a long time from now! No wonder you are the leader of the great USSR, so smart! Now, can we all get together for a selfie?"
Stalin held up his hand. "Before your selfie, I have a surprise for you. I will save you the trouble of traveling to 1945. Herr Hitler, come on in!"
Traudl came into the room, no longer wearing the mask. Becker almost jumped in the air in excitement, saying, "Oh wow!" over and over again. Mao leaped to his feet as he recognized the former Nazi dictator. Chancellor Junge began to back toward the door.
"Fraulein Chancellor, the door is locked from the outside," Stalin said. "Or should I say, Herr Hitler?" He turned to Becker. "This would be a much better selfie, don't you think? Me, Hitler, Mao, and Junge?"
"That would be great!" Becker exclaimed, nodding his head vigorously. "Oh wow! And then can I get all your autographs?"
"I have a few questions first," said Traudl. "Herr Becker, where did you get your devices?"
"Oh, these?" He shrugged. "Some time traveler guy appeared one day with a bunch of bothersome questions, then died of a heart attack or something. I probably should have taken him to a hospital. Looked a lot like me though, just really, really old. Pretty boring story, actually. Nothing the great Hitler would want to hear about!"
"And so you just started traveling through time? Didn't you worry about changing history?"
"Of course, of course," Becker said. "There was a manual about this, said something about only visiting people when they are about to die, something like that, but I lost the manual, never did like reading those, nobody does. There was something about a time property where a changed future tends to converge back so the time traveler who changed it is mostly unchanged. Stupid physics or metaphysics stuff, or something like that. I flunked all that garbage in college, who needs it, right?"
"What happens if you go back in time and kill your grandfather before your father was born?"
"Doesn't change anything, just means there'll be two timelines, one where you were born and came back from, and one where you were never born, but may exist since you came from the other timeline. Now, about that selfie?" He waved his ring finger at them. "Wow, this is going to be great!"
"Are you done with your questions?" Stalin asked Traudl.
"I am," she said.
Becker turned to Mao, almost jumping up and down with excitement. "You just finished your land reforms and your crackdown on counter-revolutionaries! Millions died!"
Stalin scoffed. "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic."
"Millions more went to labor camps!" Becker continued. "And you've barely gotten started, with purges and great leaps forward and cultural revolutions and all that coming up! Some think you outdid Hitler and Stalin. And you did it all while lounging in bed bossing people around! Oh wait, am I talking too fast for your translator! I'm so sorry! I so wanted to leave a good impression! Oh, and about those autographs-"
"The Chairman has been listening to your babbling and says he is tired of you," the translator said.
"I am tired of this boring parasite as well," said Stalin. He pulled the Derringer out of his pocket and aimed it at Becker.
"I'll shut up!" Becker cried, his eyes wide like a child in a vegetable store. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, don't shoot me!"
Mao said something in Chinese, and his translator said, "The Chairman also came prepared. I believe the correct term is, 'Allow me.'" Mao pulled his own Derringer out of his pocket and shot Becker twice in the back with both bullets. Becker gasped and crumpled to the floor.
Chancellor Junge leaped toward Becker and tried to smash the mind transfer device with his foot, but a warning shot from Stalin's Derringer stopped her.
"I will take these," said Stalin, yanking the device from Becker's belt, and yanking the medallion off his neck, breaking the chain. He examined the mind transfer device for a moment. "Chancellor Junge, you will stand next to Hitler." When she hesitated, he motioned with his gun, and she stepped closer.
"It's like we were best friends," said Traudl. She stumbled slightly and bumped up against her old body. Hitler reflexively took a step back.
"Say Rossiysky," Stalin said. He pushed the button, and she was back in her body, and Hitler in his.
"Herr Hitler, I presume?" said Stalin, wiggling his mustache as he smiled at Hitler, who stared back, both hands trembling. "Now the real fun begins."
"Perhaps," said Hitler, speaking from his body for the first time in eight years. He lunged at Stalin, ducking as the Russian dictator fired the Derringer's second bullet and just missed. Hitler tackled him to the ground and began pummeling the smaller man with his fists. Stalin reached up and tore off one of Hitler's ears. Blood spattered both of them.
Mao stepped over and kicked Hitler in the head, knocking him off Stalin. His interpreter joined in, and soon Mao and the interpreter each held one of Hitler's arms as Stalin stood, dusting himself off. He spit out a tooth. Blood dripped from his nose.
"You will regret this," said Stalin. "I have spent the last eight years torturing the wrong Hitler. This time I have it right."
"I have a better idea," Traudl said. Stalin glanced back. "While you were in the hospital and I was stuck in your quarters I did a lot of thinking, and I have a new plan, with your agreement, of course.'
"What is this new plan?"
"This." She pulled a Russian TT-30 pistol from her pocket and aimed it at Stalin. "I found this hidden in your desk over there during your hospital stay. When I was about to transfer minds with Hitler, I stuck it in his pocket, which is now mine. Or would that be her pocket, since it was my body?"
Stalin began swearing in Russian.
"Fraulein Junge, I am sorry about what happened in Berlin," said Hitler, rubbing his head where Stalin had kicked him and holding his other hand over the remains of his ear as blood poured out. "I am still your Führer and you were always my best secretary."
She glanced over at Hitler. "Herr Führer, all is forgiven. Together, with me as Chancellor of Germany and you as my main advisor and successor, we will rule the world. But first we must get rid of this," and she shot Stalin," and this," and she shot Mao and his translator, each in the head.
"You are a wonder!" Hitler cried. "We must leave quickly and return to West Germany before they find out what has happened here. We will tell them that the meeting was a trap, that Stalin tried to kill me--you--and use that as our pretext for rearming Germany. If we say this enough times, it will be believed. And it's mostly true!"
"They will think I am Chancellor of Germany," Traudl said, "so I will order a plane to take us to West Germany immediately, before they find out what has happened here. You will, of course, have to wear a disguise, and we'll have to bandage your ear. I have it all planned out."
"If I had generals like you, we would have won the war."
"Yes, you would have." She raised the gun and shot Hitler twice in the forehead.
Then she picked up Stalin's Derringer. She went over to Stalin's desk and opened a drawer, where she had found the extra bullets for the Derringer when she had explored Stalin's quarters. She reloaded it and stood outside the door to the hidden room.
"Herr Ubiytsa!" she called out in broken Russian, using the Russian word for assassin.
The assassin came out of the hidden room, looking agitated--he no doubt had heard the gunshots. She put the Derringer against his head and shot him twice. Then she smashed the mind transfer device under her foot and put a bullet from the TT-30 through the medallion. With her shirt she wiped the fingerprints off the TT-30 and placed it in the dead assassin's hands, making sure to get good fingerprints on it.
"Hello there!" cried Becker, who suddenly appeared once again. "This is June 1, 1953, right? When Stalin, Mao, and the mysteriously reappearing Hitler are all shot to death by an assassin!" He glanced down at the bodies. "Oh, dang it! I guess I came too late. They are already dead! And I so wanted to meet them all, get selfies and autographs and all! Oh well." He took a picture with the ring on his finger. "But, wow! You are Chancellor Junge! The one who survived the shooting, and then led a unified Germany and the rest of the world to greatness and--"
"Oh, shut up and get lost before I shoot you too," Traudl said, pointing the empty Derringer at him. He blanched, and nervously fumbling with the knobs on his medallion, he disappeared.
Now alone in the room, she contemplated her own future. She was the Chancellor of West Germany. She didn't need to escape. She would tell the Soviet authorities that the assassin had killed Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and his translator, and that she had grabbed the Derringer Stalin had tried to defend himself with and was able to shoot the assassin. No one would suspect her. Who would believe a woman would do such a thing?
She would go back to Germany and do whatever was destined for her. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were dead, at least in this timeline, and that was a good thing. And now it was time to go back to West Germany and--what had Becker said about unifying the world to greatness? Even an idiot gets it right sometimes.