Stefan paused to let what he had said sink in.
As the explosions far overhead subsided and a lull developed in the bombardment, Hitler studied him intently. This man's scrutiny was every bit as direct as that of Winston Churchill, but there was none of the clean, straightforward, man-to-man assessment in it that had marked the prime minister's attitude. Instead Hitler appraised Stefan from the perspective of a self-appointed god viewing one of his own creations for indications of a dangerous mutation. And this was a malign god who had no love for his creatures; he loved only the fact of their obedience.
At last der Furhrer said,' 'If there are traitors at the institute, what is their goal?"
“To mislead you,” Stefan said. “They are presenting you with false information about the future in hopes of encouraging you to make serious military blunders. They've told you that in the last year and a half of the war, virtually all of your military decisions will prove to be mistakes, but that's not true. As the future stands now, you will lose the war by only the thinnest of margins. With but a few changes in your strategies, you can win.”
Hitler's face hardened, and his eyes narrowed, not because he was suspicious of Stefan but because suddenly he was suspicious of all those at the institute who had told him he would make fatal military misjudgments in the days ahead. Stefan was encouraging him to believe again in his infallibility, and the madman was only too eager to trust once more in his genius.
“With a few small changes in my strategies?” Hitler asked. “And what might those changes be?”
Stefan quickly summarized six alterations in military strategy that he claimed would be decisive in certain key battles to come; in fact those changes would make no difference to the outcome, and , the battles of which he spoke were not to be the major engagements t of the remainder of the war.
But der Furhrer wanted to believe that he had been very nearly a winner rather than a certain loser, and now he seized upon Stefan's advice as the truth, for it suggested bold strategies only slightly different from those the dictator would have endorsed himself. He rose from his chair and paced the small room in excitement. “From the first reports presented to me by the institute, I've felt there was a wrongness in the future they portrayed. I sensed that I could not have managed this war as brilliantly as I have-then suddenly be plagued by such a long string of misjudgments. Oh, yes, we are in a dark period now, but this will not last. When the Allies launch their long-awaited invasion of Europe, they will fail; we will drive them back into the sea.” He spoke almost in a whisper, though with the mesmerizing passion so familiar from his many public speeches. “In that failed assault they will have expended most of their reserves; they will have to retreat on a broad front, and they will not be able to regain their strength and mount a new offensive for many months. During that time we will strengthen our hold on Europe, defeat the Russian barbarians, and be stronger than we have ever been!” He stopped pacing, blinked as if rising from a self-induced trance, and said, “Yes, what of the invasion of Europe? D-Day as I'm told it came to be called. Reports from the institute tell me that the Allies will land at Normandy.”
“Lies,” Stefan said. Now they had come to the issue that was the entire purpose behind Stefan's trip to this bunker on this night in March. Hitler had learned from the institute that the beaches of Normandy would be the site of the invasion. In the future that fate had ordained for him, der Furhrer would misjudge the Allies and would prepare for a landing elsewhere, leaving Normandy inadequately defended. He must be encouraged to stick with the strategy that he would have followed had the institute never existed. He must lose the war as fate intended, and it was up to Stefan to undermine the influence of the institute and thereby assure the success of the Normandy invasion.
Klietmann had managed to ease a few more yards east, past the Buick, outflanking the woman. He lay prone behind a low spine of white rock veined with pale blue quartz, waiting for Hubatsch to make a move on the south of her. When the woman was thus distracted, Klietmann would spring from concealment and close on her, firing the Uzi as he ran. He would cut her to pieces before she even had a chance to turn and see the face of her executioner.
Come on, Sergeant, don't huddle out there like a cowardly Jew, Klietmann thought savagely. Show yourself. Draw her fire.
An instant later Hubatsch broke from cover, and the woman saw him running. As she focused on Hubatsch, Klietmann leaped up from behind the quartz-veined rock.
Leaning forward in the leather armchair in the bunker, Stefan said, “Lies, all lies, my Furhrer. This attempt to misdirect you toward Normandy is the key part of the plot by the subversives at the institute. They want to force you to make the sort of major mistake that you're not really destined to make. They want you to focus on Normandy, when the real invasion will come at-”
“Calais!” Hitler said.
“I have believed it will be in the area of Calais, farther north than Normandy. They will cross the Channel where it's narrowest.”
“You're correct, my Furhrer,” Stefan said. “Troops will be put ashore at Normandy on June seventh-”
Actually it would be June 6, but the weather would be so bad on the sixth that the German High Command would not believe the Allies capable of conducting the operation in such rough seas.
“-but that will be a minor force, a diversion, to pull your elite Panzer divisions to the Normandy coast while the real front subsequently opens near Calais.”
This information played to all of the dictator's prejudices and to his belief in his own infallibility. He returned to his chair and thumped his desk with one fist. “This has the feel of reality, Stefan. But ... I have seen documents, selected pages from histories of the war that were brought back from the future-”
“Forgeries,” Stefan said, counting on the man's paranoia to make the lie seem plausible. “Rather than show you the real documents from the future, they created forgeries to mislead you.”
With luck, Churchill's promised bombardment of the institute would take place tomorrow, eradicating the gate, everyone who knew how to re-create the gate, and every scrap of material that had been brought back from the future. Then der Furhrer would never have the opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation to test Stefan's truthfulness.
Hitler sat in silence for perhaps a minute, staring at the Luger on his desk, thinking intently.
Overhead the bombing began to escalate once more, rattling the paintings on the walls and the pencils in the copper pot.
Stefan waited anxiously to discover if he would be believed.
“How have you come to me?” Hitler asked. “How could you use the gate now? I mean, it has been so closely guarded since the defection of Kokoschka and the other five.”
“I didn't come to you by way of the gate,” Stefan said. “I came to you straight from the future, using only the time-travel belt.”
This was the boldest lie of all, for the belt was not a time machine, only a homing device that could do nothing but bring the wearer back to the institute. He was counting on the ignorance of politicians to save him: They knew a little bit about everything that was done under their rule, but there were no matters that they understood in depth. Hitler knew of the gate and of the nature of time travel, of course, but perhaps only in a general sense; he might lack knowledge of most of the details, such as how the belts actually functioned.
If Hitler realized that Stefan had come from the institute after returning there with Kokoschka's device, he would know that Kokoschka and the other five had been dispatched by Stefan and had not been defectors, after all, at which point the entire elaborate tale of conspiracy would collapse. And Stefan would be a dead man.
Frowning, the dictator said, “You used the belt without the gate? Is that possible?”
Dry-mouthed with fear but speaking with conviction, Stefan
LIGHTNING • 325 said, “Oh, yes, my Furhrer, it is quite simple to ... adjust the belt and use it not merely to home in on the beacon of the gate but to skip through time as one wishes. And we are fortunate that such is the case, for otherwise, if I'd had to return to the gate to get here, I would have been stopped by the Jews who control it.”
“Jews?” Hitler said, startled.
“Yes, sir. The conspiracy within the institute is organized, I believe, by staff members who have Jewish blood but have concealed their heritage.”
The madman's face hardened further in a look of sudden anger. “Jews. Always the same problem. Everywhere, the same problem. Now in the institute as well.”
Upon hearing that statement, Stefan knew that he had pushed the course of history back toward the proper path.
Destiny struggles to reassert the pattern that was meant to be.
Laura said, “Chris, I think you better hide under the car.”
Even as she spoke, the gunman to the southwest of her rose from concealment and sprinted along the edge of the arroyo, angling toward her and toward the meager cover offered by another low dune.
She leaped to her feet, confident that the Buick would shelter her from the man at the Toyota, and opened fire. The first dozen rounds kicked up sand and chips of shale at the running man's heels, but then the bullets caught up with him, tearing into his legs. He went down, screaming, and was hit on the ground as well. He rolled twice and fell over the edge of the arroyo to the floor thirty feet below.
Even as the gunman slipped over that brink, Laura heard automatic fire, not from the Toyota but behind her. Before she could turn to meet the threat, she took several bullets in the back and was thrown forward, facedown on the hard shale.
“Jews,” Hitler said again, angrily. Then: “What of this nuclear weapon that they say may win the war for us?”
“Another lie, my Furhrer. Though many attempts to develop such a weapon were made in the future, there were never any successes. This is a fantasy the conspirators have created to further misdirect the resources and energies of the Reich.”
A rumbling came through the walls, as if they were not underground but suspended high in the heavens, in a thunderstorm.
The heavy frames of the paintings thumped against the concrete.
The pencils jiggled in the copper pot.
Hitler met Stefan's eyes and studied him for a long time. Then: “I suppose that if you were not loyal to me, you'd simply have come armed and would have killed me the instant you arrived.”
He had considered doing just that, for only in killing Adolf Hitler might he expunge some of the stain on his own soul. But that would have been a selfish act, for by killing Hitler he would have radically changed the course of history and would have put the future as he knew it at extreme risk. He could not forget that his future was also Laura's past; if he meddled sufficiently to change the series of events that fate ordained, perhaps he would change the world for the worse in general and for Laura in particular. What if he killed Hitler here and, upon returning to 1989, found a world so drastically altered that for some reason Laura had never even been born?
He wanted to kill this snake in human skin, but he could not take the responsibility for the world that might follow. Common sense said that only a better world could result, but he knew that common sense and fate were mutually exclusive concepts.
“Yes,” he said, “had I been a traitor, my Furhrer, I could've done just that. And I worry that the real traitors at the institute may sooner or later think of just such a method of assassination.”
Hitler paled. “Tomorrow, I shut the institute down. The gate will be closed until I know the staff is purged of traitors.”
Churchill's bombers may beat you to the punch, Stefan thought.
“We will win, Stefan, and we'll do so by retaining faith in our great destiny, not by playing fortune teller. We will win because it is our fate to win.”
“It's our destiny,” Stefan agreed. “We're on the side of truth.” Finally the madman smiled. Overcome by a sentimentality that was strange because of the extremely sudden change of mood, Hitler spoke of Stefan's father, Franz, and the early days in Munich: the secret meetings in Anton Drexler's apartment, the public meetings at the beer halls-the Hofbrauhaus and Eberlbrdu. Stefan listened for a while, pretending to be enthralled, but when Hitler expressed his continued and unshakable faith in the son of Franz Krieger, Stefan seized the opportunity to leave. “And I, my Furhrer, have undying faith in you and will be, forever, your loyal disciple.” He stood, saluted the dictator, put one hand under his shirt to the button on the belt, and said, “Now I must return to the future, for I've more work to do in your behalf.”
“Go?” Hitler said, rising from the desk chair. “But I thought you'd stay now in your own time? Why go there now that you've cleared your name with me?”
“I think I may know where the traitor Kokoschka has gone, in what corner of the future he's taken refuge. I've got to find him, bring him back, for perhaps only Kokoschka knows the names of the traitors at the institute and can be made to reveal them.”
He saluted quickly, pushed the button on the belt, and left the bunker before Hitler could respond.
He returned to the institute on the night of March 16, the night that Kokoschka had set out for the San Bernardinos in pursuit of him, never to return. To the best of his ability, he had arranged for the destruction of the institute and had almost ensured Hitler's distrust of any information that came from it. He would have been exhilarated if he had not been so worried about the SS squad that apparently was stalking Laura in 1989.
At the programming board, he entered the computer-derived numbers for the last jaunt that he would ever make: to the desert outside of Palm Springs, where Laura and Chris waited for him on the morning of January 25, 1989.
Even as she fell to the ground, Laura knew that her spinal column had been severed or shattered by one of the bullets, for she felt no pain whatsoever-nor any sensation of any kind in any part of her body below the neck.
Destiny struggles to reassert the pattern that was meant to be.
The gunfire ceased.
She could move only her head, and only enough to turn and see Chris on his feet in front of the Buick, as paralyzed by terror as she was by the bullet that had cracked her spine. Beyond the boy, hurrying toward them from the north, only fifteen yards away, was a man in sunglasses, a white shirt, and black slacks, carrying a submachine gun.
“Chris,” she said thickly, “run! Run!”
His face twisted with an expression of purest grief, as if he knew he was leaving her to die. Then he ran as fast as his small legs would carry him, east into the desert, and he was smart enough to weave back and forth as he ran, making as difficult a target of himself as possible.