Saturday, February 02, 2008
The Schemes of Professor Atoz – A Tale by his Protégée, Ghost Writer and Friend; Warren McLaughlin
NOTE Gentle Reader; the following is a short story that is only the beginning of a much larger series of tales and adventures that are told in the Evil Chicken household to reinforce history lessons. It’s a game we play.
NOTE 2.0 – there are hidden messages in this particular blog entry – notes that will be missed by any and all that read it – save for two particular time agents (Chick 1.0 and Chick 2.0).
NOTE 3.0 – This is based on a true story.
I’ll never forget the summer of 1916. So much was going on in the world; the Germans had sunk the Lusitania killing 1,200 souls including 128 American Citizens in the process in 1915 yet our president, Woodrow Wilson still refused to enter the European conflict. He spent his time making mandates such as signing Mother’s Day proclamations and finding ways to remain neutral in the conflict that was to be the Last Great War. Teddy Roosevelt urged Wilson to enter the war calling the Germans “Pirates”. We probably would have too if not for the events that transpired on the evening of July 30; when cooler heads and much more fantastic happenings prevailed. It was the night I met Professor Cornelius Augustus Atoz. It was the night I should have died.
By means of introduction my name is Warren McLaughlin. I worked at the Black Tom Island munitions depot as a longshoreman. I hadn’t been at the job all that long and I was working late into the night. I’ve never been one to complain all that much when a job has to be done so it was late into the night that I worked. My crew and I had just finished loading a vessel bound for Great Britain. The crew had left the ship that we were loading when I saw this shadowy movement out of the corner of my eye near the cabin house. Back in my native Scotland when we see such things we chalk it up to the fairy folk or some other such figment of imagination. I called out towards where the movement happened half expecting a response from one of the work crew. All I got in response was silence; the silence of anticipation of the unknown. Not being one or shirk my duties I moved toward the side of the cabin house and joined the shadows. I slowly made my way down the side of the pilot’s house when I heard muffled voices. Now I’m no student of language but I could have sworn it sounded like German. I hesitated a moment then I stole a peek around the corner. I made out three figures crouched near a now-open deck hatch. They had some device with wires falling from the back into the gaping hatch below. I was petrified. I knew that something had to be done and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. I began making plans to exit the ship and to bring back help. But I wasn’t alone watching the trio on the deck.
“Good evening, gentlemen.” A cheerful voice announced as he stepped from the opposite side of the pilothouse. “Which one of you is Thummel?” This new man was of average height and build. He wore a three-quarter length coat and held what appeared to be a pocket watch in his hand. I could tell that he was not a part of the trio by the look of detection on the others faces.
“Who are you?” one of the men said stepping into the light so that I could clearly see who he was – it was Charlie Thorne. He and I began working together about the same time. It couldn’t have been more than a month. His words were phrased in the King’s English with no German accent whatsoever. “How do you know that name?”
“Oh what’s in a name?” the man asked. “What’s important is that you are working for and are under the direction of one Frederick Hinsch.” I couldn’t help but see the fear rip through the trio as they wordlessly confirmed the question that the stranger had posed.
“Kill him!” Thorne shouted as one of the lackeys reached under his coat and pulled out a revolver.
I could take no more and jumped from the shadows, “Look out!” Suddenly all eyes were upon me. The lackey with the gun pointed it in my direction but instead of pulling the trigger, he began to violently shake where he stood. He collapsed in fits while his gun clattered to the deck and slid over the side of the ship. His two remaining comrades began to spasm and collapsed along side him completely unconscious. One of them almost tumbled into the hold of the ship. I looked to the stranger who had his pocket watch pointing in my direction.
“Who are you?” I asked. It took a long while for him to answer as if some great battle of outcomes were raging in his mind. He took a deep breath and took a look at his pocket watch. I noticed that there was some sort of glowing image hovering between the hinged lid and the watch face itself before he snapped it shut and returned it to his pocket.
“I am Professor Cornelius Augustus Atoz and who might you be?” He asked.
“Warren McLaughlin – I’m a longshoreman. I work here.” I said.
“Thank you for saving my life.” Atoz said.
“Saving your life?” I heard the words coming out of my mouth but they were distant; far off like they weren’t even mine at all. I looked at the figures sprawled on the deck. “…Are they?”
“Alive? – Yes they are, mind you they’ll be a bit out of sorts when they wake up but yes, they are alive.” He motioned me to join him as we moved closer towards their collapsed forms. “Allow me to introduce our tormentors,” he said pointing to each fallen man on the deck, “This is Frederick Hinsch – the leader of a pack of German saboteurs, Theodore Wozniak – the guy with the gun and Curt Thummel – munitions expert.”
“Munitions expert? That’s insane. He’s Charlie Thorne we’ve worked together right here for the last month! We load ships.”
“What do you load?” He asked interrupting my train of thought.
“…Onto the ships. What do you load?”
“Munitions. We are a munitions depot.”
“Exactly. Now where was this ship heading?” He asked. As he did so his facial features lifted as if willing me to see the big picture as to what I was saying. It was a bit infuriating.
“Great Britain.” I said. A sudden lurching in my stomach occurred as I began to connect the dots. “Oh my… If this were to have gone off the explosion would have been…”
“Immense – probably about a 5.5 on the Richter scale. Now let’s see here…” the odd man said as he knelt down and fiddled with the device with the wires. He ripped them from the back and threw the contraption over the side of the ship. “Say Warren,” he said with a smile, “I could use a hand getting rid of the rest of the explosives from the hold and putting these gentlemen somewhere safe.”
“Somewhere safe?” I repeated. Once more the sound of my own voice was distant and adrift.
“Warren. Are you with me?” he asked with a smile.
“Yes. Yes of course.” And with that we got to work. It didn’t take long for us to find the explosives in the hold of the vessel all we had to do was follow the wires. Now as for putting the gentlemen ‘somewhere safe’ – that’s where things began to get strange. The good professor and I dragged them to the inside of the pilothouse.
“So what happens now?” I asked beginning to wonder if Atoz was going to alert the authorities or not.
“What do you know of the nature of time, Warren?” he asked.
“Not much, save that it flies when you’re having fun.” I said.
“Ha! Too true.” He said. “What if I were to say to you that time is a river. It flows from the mountains of creation to the oceans of the future. It exists and has always existed. As finite beings, it is impossible to perceive this concept on the whole – it’s simply too big for our minds to grasp. Unless, of course, you've been on the shoreline.”
“…The shoreline?” I asked.
“Yes – from the shoreline you can watch the river traverse the banks and plunge in wherever – whenever you want.”
“That’s daft.” I said. Though, if the truth be known, I was beginning to have several doubts as to the nature and being of this man called Professor Atoz. “It’s not possible.”
“Just bear with me Warren. Now suppose you could go back and make changes.”
“Yes. Subtle changes here and there to produce better outcomes than the ones that fate, Father Time or the ones who exist outside the river of time have planned.”
“Ones outside the river of time?” I asked meekly.
“Focus Warren, this is not about them – it’s about right now; it’s about you and me and how we just saved millions of lives.”
“What time is it?” Atoz asked.
“I don’t know – you’re the one with that fancy watch.” I said.
“So I am.” He said reaching for his watch. “2:40 AM. Warren, what if I were to tell you that in another timeline we didn’t stop these three.” He gestured at the crumpled trio at our feet. “What if I were to tell you that at 2:11 AM the explosion happened; that it shook the Brooklyn Bridge, that the Statue of Liberty was damaged, that the tremors were felt as far away as Philadelphia and that lives were lost.”
“I’d say that a trip to Bellevue might be in order.” I was beginning to plot my own escape.
“I know that it is much to grasp. That’s why I’m going to show you.” He said and with that he turned to the wall that was behind him blank as the crest of the new fallen New York snow. He tapped his knuckles twice and something odd happened – an arched indentation rippled into existence. Impossibly stonework began to take shape in the archway and a heavy oak door with wrought iron hinges appeared. Atoz grasped the heavy iron latch and opened the door. Light poured into the pilothouse – light from the opening of that impossible door.
“Could you get his feet?” Atoz asked.
“…What?” I asked.
“Could you this one’s feet? They’ll be waking in a half hour or so and I’d like to have them somewhere safe when that happens.
“Where are we putting them?” I asked.
“It’s more like when are we putting them really.” He replied grabbing the shoulders of the first saboteur.
“You mean we are putting them into another time?” I asked. This concept was at once completely foreign and frightening to me.
“Well for the most part.” He said. “It’s really a pocket universe that I discovered for times such as these.”
“Pocket universe?” I asked grabbing the man’s legs and lifting.
“Yes. This particular world is now unpopulated… well, save for three soon to be new citizens.” He said as we, with Atoz in the lead, stepped into the world beyond the door. Of all things we were in a stable. We repeated this twice more, leaving the men there on the floor of the stable. When this was finished I looked at the Professor and as the thought came to my mind he began to speak once more.
“Warren, you are a good man. I am in need of good men for the task that is ahead of me. No doubt as you have probably wondered, it would have been easy to stun you and leave you here to increase the population of this world by one more. But that wouldn’t be very sporting – would it?” He smiled.
“You said that we saved millions of people tonight. How can this be?” I asked.
“Next year Woodrow Wilson will call for war on Germany. The U.S. Congress will declare it on April 6th and then, as they say, the rest is history.” He said.
I shuddered at this. It was as if someone had walked across my grave. Wilson never wanted in the war – he was an isolationist. But by blowing this place sky high the Germans would be pushing him onto a course of action that would throw the world into war. Then I considered our intervention and its repercussions. “I would have died tonight in the explosion – wouldn’t I?”
Atoz looked at me with eyes that just may have watched the pyramids being built or the Celts erecting Stonehenge. An odd figure who has inserted himself both into and out of our known history. “You would have been vaporized at 2:11 AM.” He said.
“So I’m living on borrowed time?” I asked.
“We all are, Warren.” He said. “What do you say we go get a pint and talk about what’s going to happen next.”
I looked at the man before me and thought of all the wonders that I had beheld and at all of the wonders the unwritten future could hold and in an instant my lot was cast.
“Yes. I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”