The machine, all chrome and bright hard plastic, glittered under the powerful lights, a technological marvel in a manmade underground grotto, designed to take a man back in time, though it could do it only once.
Patterson, his arm tight around Isabel Touring’s shoulder, leaned against the rail and stared at the machine, far below them. Isabel laughed, at what Patterson had no idea and didn’t particularly care. She reached out to place a now empty scotch bottle carefully on a nearby bench. That done, she turned her attention back to him, drawing him away from his contemplation of the time machine. Her lips, pressing against his, were soft and yielding, wonderfully responsive to his own, as if they could mould themselves to the contours of his lips. He knew two other women who could kiss as well as that, and neither one of them was a scientist.
She ended the kiss and said, “Doesn’t it disturb you? You’re going to murder a child. A baby, really.”
He laughed. “I don’t think of him like that.”
She nuzzled comfortably closer. He wondered if it was the booze or the fact that he would soon go back in time on the most important mission in the history of mankind. A little of both, he decided. And maybe even the fact of who he was and what he did for a living; that wasn’t inconceivable.
She held up her face to him; his turn to kiss. It came to Patterson that, since he would not be able to return, this would likely be the last time he kiss or even hold a woman of his own time. He made it a very special kiss. When they broke she looked up at him and smiled wickedly and said, “Your place or mine?”
“You’re drunker than I thought.”
“I’m drunk enough,” she said, moving toward the bench. “I have to sit down a bit. You don’t mind, do you? About me being drunk, that is. I mean, it doesn’t destroy your preconceptions of what women scientists are really like.”
“Doc, any preconceptions I had about women scientists died when I saw you in that dress.”
She smiled deeply and looked down at her legs, which were admirably long. “This skirt is definitely on the short side for a quantum physicist,” she said in a solemn voice. Her eyes cut back up at him and, in tones just as solemn, she said, “Are we going to make love?”
“We are, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “In a few minutes.”
“As far as you’re –? Oh, that’s right, it’s still the woman’s prerogative to decide that, isn’t it. Damnation.”
“You’re in a great mood, lady.”
“Of course. It’s always so busy, busy, busy around here, so serious. It’s not often playtime. Do you know the last time I got this drunk?”
Well, don’t worry about it. It hasn’t been so long I don’t remember how it works.” She started to get up from the bench, fell back to her seated position and knocked her left hand against the empty bottle. It fell over and rolled to the edge of the bench and then rolled across the floor. “Oops,” she said.
It rolled to the edge of the balcony and fell into the abyss. After a time they heard it shatter on the concrete far below.
“We’re too far from the machine for it to have hurt anything,” she said as he turned to look. “Don’t worry about it.
She pulled him back to her. “What were we talking about? Oh yeah. You’re going to murder a child. How will you do it? A gun? A knife? Poison? Some kind of accident?”
“My hands,” he said.
The lightness of her mood dissolved. “Oh, God.”
He let a smile creep over his lips and showing her his hands said, “I’m going to get him off somewhere by himself. I’m going to put these hands around his neck and kill him.”
“You’re going to strangle him?”
“I’m going to snap his damned neck.”
“He’ll be a child, just a child. Five years old. Can you –?”
“I lost family in the holocaust, Doc. Three grandparents, an uncle.”
“I never realized you were a Jew,” she said, slowly. Then, rushing on, “Not that it doesn’t make sense. I mean, they recruited you for your abilities and CIA training. It makes sense they’d recruit for motivation also.”
“I’m not Jewish. I’m Gypsy. Patterson’s an adopted name. Don’t I strike you as a little dark and exotic for an Irishman, darlin’?”
“Gypsy? Oh yes, they were victims of the Nazis too.”
“That’s right. People keep forgetting that, but it’s so.”
“Jesus.” She stared at him as if seeing him for the first time. “You hide your bitterness well. I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it.”
“It’s unimportant,” he said. He took her face between his hands. “You still want to make love?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“You’re starting to sober up. That’s all. A lot of the time what a woman means when she’s drunk, she doesn’t mean when she’s sober.”
“There speaks a cynical man,” she said in a small voice. She stood up. “I meant it.”
Twelve hundred feet of solid rock killed the loud noise of the music and celebration above them: his going away party. Not that he cared about that. He put his hands on her shoulders.
“Here?” she said, as his hands began their exploration.
“I’m game if you are.”
“Jesus.” She smiled a bemused smile and moved closer to him.
He said, “We can do it in your room. I just thought it might be interesting to do it here where we can look out and see that thing, that silver and black giant that’s stirring the hormones of both of us with what it’s going to do tomorrow just the one time for just the one purpose. Right, doc?” His hand struck pay dirt and she moaned.
In a breathy voice she said, “We can do it in both places, can’t we? First here, then my room. Or yours.”
“That would be great,” he said. He kissed her again. She responded, a bit wilder, a bit less controlled, her soft lips rolling and twisting against his own. He lowered her carefully to the cold stone floor.
“Doc,” he said.
“Yeah, I keep forgetting. Not the name of a scientist. Good name for a woman, though.”
“Don’t you wonder what sex will be like in 1894? It’s the Victorian age. Can you cut that?”
He laughed. “I’ll get by. I’m a gypsy, remember? Do you always ask questions when a man’s undressing you?”
“Questions are such a great turn on. “
He finished undressing her and then undressed himself. “Okay,” he said, stretching out next to her. “Ask me one last question and make it a good one. Then I’ll ask one, all right?”
“Is that your big question?”
“No,” she said, laughing. “Question. Okay. If you don’t think of him as a child, how do you expect to think of him? While you’re breaking his little neck.”
“The fuehrer. That’s all. Just the monster who was the fuehrer. I’ll think of what will happen because I break that goddamned little neck. How there’ll be no holocaust, no Second World War, how the Nazi party will be nothing but a minor little pimple on the face of history.”
“You really do believe in all this?”
“Every bit of it. This will be the most expensive single experiment in history. The expenditure alone makes it unlikely there will ever be another time trip. This thing takes believers.”
“But you’ll be the only time traveler.”
“So what I do is important.”
“It sure is,” she said, wriggling close against him. “Now your question, right?”
“Yeah. You’re a physicist, but do you know anything about the historical aspects?”
“I’ve read most of the reports.”
“Okay. I’m curious about one thing.”
“So am I.”
“Not yet, Doc. Isabel. Answer me first. I go back to 1894 when the little bastard’s still a little bastard and I kill him. Who do they figure eventually will fill his place as head of the Nazi Party? Goring? Himmler? Who?”
“No, not one of those. There’s another one. A nobody, really. Some small-time secretary or something. His psychological profile suggests he’ll be attracted to the cause even without Der Fuehrer.” She laughed. “I doubt you’ve ever even heard of Adolph Hitler.”