The Brown Room

clock“It’s because of the paradox,” I explained.

I fidgeted a bit in the hard metal chair. Government-issue furniture didn’t seem comfortable no matter what country supplied them, or what century. Of course my comfort wasn’t important at all to the middle-aged German police officer listening to me and writing in his small brown notebook. Everything in the room was brown, even the police officer’s suit and hat.

“We found you can’t go back into the past and change it in any important way, such as saving a political figure from being assassinated. We tried that with Archduke Franz Ferdinand and immediately the agent who garroted Princip, the assassin, found himself back at the venture capsule staring at a PATH FAILED mission indicator and only remembering the attempt hazily. He recorded what happened and then returned to base.”

The police officer raised one eyebrow and smiled grimly. “I am no fan of the Nazis, Herr Brummler, but such an astounding story doesn’t persuade me to release you. You are accused of killing Adolf Hitler, a notorious political agitator and admirer of Mussolini, at the house of Herr Hanfstaengl. Do you know we were but a few minutes from arresting that swine when you shot him? You killed him for no good reason. I would like your statement to answer this question. Why?”

I looked around me for a moment to get my bearings. I knew I didn’t have much time left. The clock on the light brown wall of the interview room showed 11:29. But if I persuaded…
“Of course what I’m saying sounds like gibberish. I’m nervous. I need to get back to my small vehicle. You can escort me there. Aren’t you interested how I got here? Where I came from? I promise I only want to open its door, and press one button. One small button. That will signal the computer that I succeeded. Is that so much to ask?”

Officer Ratzinger seemed even more amused. “I’m usually out in the countryside, helping our rural citizens solve mysteries such as missing cattle and non-payment of grain loans. I’m filling in for Officer Meyer, so please excuse my lack of sophistication. I do not believe a word you have said so far.” He leaned back in his own unyielding chair and chuckled. “Tell me who helped you find Herr Hitler. He was on the run from the entire Bavarian State Police after his little rebellion failed. We were set to toss him in prison and let him rot there harmlessly.”

“I’m not making myself clear. So you can’t change the past. But you can change the future. You can go forward, alter events, and there is no paradox.. Do you understand me at all?”

Ratzinger nodded. “I have read a few pieces of speculative fiction, Wells, Verne, and the like. I can see that. Go on, tell me how ‘they’ overcame this problem.”

I wiped my brow and looked at the clock. 11:35. So close, so close. I needed to get the idea into this rural cop’s head. “So they sent the equipment and our team all the way back to 1900, and we were not told what we were supposed to do or why. We were told to perform an unknown mission once a month—simply grab a mission kit, enter a venture capsule, and close the door. It would go somewhere, and to some… date. Because we would be traveling into our future, and knew not what we were supposed to do, we would leave the capsule, close the door, and then try to figure out what change they wanted us to make. Once I knew the date was 11 November 1923, and everyone on the street was talking about Hitler and the NSDAP, I knew. I knew I had to kill him. I did kill him! I prevented the worst war and massacre of the 20th Century. But it will be for nothing unless you take me to my—”

The policeman raised a hand to stop me, smiled, and uncuffed me from the table. My heart raced. He was going to take me there! Then he spoke softly to me while holding my wrists in his firm muscular grip. Ratzinger snapped the cuffs shut on me. “I have enough now. Don’t worry, Herr Brummler. We don’t execute the mentally deranged. You will be treated for your illness and perhaps, in a decade or so, you may be allowed to rejoin us.”

The time was 11:40. My twelve allotted hours were dwindling. Only twenty minutes left. I tried to break away but Ratzinger only smiled broadly. “Don’t make me crack your skull against the table. Behave yourself.” He pushed me into the small cell in the back of the room, and locked the door. He stood outside the grille and looked at me. “I am sorry for you. I think you mean well, but you are totally mad.”

I looked despairingly up at the clock. 11:46. Still time… the venture capsule was only a few blocks away…

Ratzinger disappeared, the cell grille faded, the furniture dimmed, and I found myself standing in the brown room, completely alone, just four walls, a ceiling light, and the clock, the clock must have been slow. My time was up. The brown room faded… and I was sitting in the venture capsule. The numbers glared red: 00:00 and the mission indicator changed to PATH FAILED. I had automatically been returned to 1900.

–William V. Burns

2 comments to The Brown Room

  • Lagibby

    Well done! I am impressed with the way you get across background information while advancing the story, especially with your first paragraph. A metal chair, what a great device for conveying loads of information. Really well done. I’m finding the short story form to be very demanding. I’ll bet you’d be great at haiku.

  • the scrape of a chair
    against the floor in anger
    sheds light on a man

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