The Proteus Operation
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The waiters finished clearing away the dishes and departed, leaving a hot plate with two fresh pots of coffee on a side-table. Winslade excused the bartender and accompanied him to the door, turning the key in the lock after the bartender had left. Then, instead of returning to his chair, Winslade clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing slowly by the windows along one side of the room.

The talk over lunch had been primarily social, to establish a conversational familiarity between the two groups. Despite their puzzlement and curiosity, the guests had refrained from pressing questions in the presence of the hotel staff; now, however, the time had arrived for more serious business. Churchill lit a cigar and sat back in his chair to follow Winslade curiously with his eyes. The room became very quiet.

"Mr. Churchill," Winslade began without looking around as he continued pacing, "I understand that among other things, you enjoy reading the works of H.G. Wells."

"That’s true," Churchill agreed. He stared moodily at his brandy glass and snorted. "I have to admit that for the last few years I’ve had ample time for more leisurely pursuits. Yes, Mr. Winslade, I enjoy Wells’s speculations and prophecies. The ability to foretell the future is an art much admired and, with mixed results, attempted by politicians also. The politician, however, must also be able to explain afterwards why his predictions didn’t come true. But why, pray, do you raise the subject?"

Winslade replied obliquely. "How about his novel The Time Machine? Have you managed to include that in your readings? If so, what did you think of it? Was the premise plausible, do you imagine, or too farfetched to take seriously?"

Churchill sipped slowly from his glass and frowned. Lindemann stiffened visibly in his seat, his mouth clamped tight, while Eden and Duff Cooper exchanged wondering looks. It was clear in that brief instant that such a possibility had already occurred to them. That was as Winslade had intended. He had allowed several days for the notion to sink in and for its impact to dissipate before the meeting. Doing it that way minimized the risk of having to waste half the afternoon convincing an audience too overcome by incredulity to be receptive.

Winslade wheeled around to face the table and brought his hands up to rest on the back of an empty chair. "I trust we have already satisfied you that we are genuine, and that in any case we’re not the kind of people who would attempt a foolish hoax," he said. His expression was earnest. The jovial manner that he had maintained through lunch had gone. "To avoid taxing your patience further, gentlemen—yes, we have come here from a future age. To be precise, we have traveled back from the United States of the year 1975."

Stupified looks greeted his words. He went on, "By that year the world of the Western democracies has been reduced to North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The totalitarian systems that you see rising today have subjugated the whole of Europe, Asia, and Africa, in over thirty years of ferociousness and brutality aimed at world domination. The South American states are already committed to similar ideologies. What is left of the West faces a final conflict that will be waged by weapons of destructive power that few people in 1939 are capable of imagining. The odds against the West are overwhelming. It cannot hope to survive. All it can prepare for is a noble end." Winslade paused to run his eyes around the table. His voice fell to little more than a whisper. "But that is what we have come back to change, if we can."

There was a long silence. Bannering and Scholder waited impassively, while the guests at last faced squarely and grappled with the implications of the truth that they had been putting off in their minds to this moment.

Finally, Lindemann shook his head. "I don’t know. I really don’t know." He glanced from side to side for support from his companions. "Look, I can’t fault any of the evidence that you people have produced, and goodness knows I’ve spent time on little else since Winston showed it to me . . . but I don’t have to tell you how preposterous the whole thing sounds." He tossed up his hands in exasperation. "What happens to causality and common sense if what you’ve said is true? How can you have come from a future that you now say you hope to change?"

Eden was recovering slowly from the trance that had gripped him. "It can’t make sense, can it?" he said distantly. "Supposing that you did manage to change the whole situation in—when was it?—1975 . . . then the future that you came from wouldn’t exist anymore, would it?"

"So where would you have come from at all?" Duff Cooper completed, taking the point and sounding equally mystified.

Winslade seemed to have been expecting the question and answered evenly, "We can’t give you a complete explanation, I’m afraid. The machine employed was built in circumstances of extreme haste and urgency. There wasn’t time for an exhaustive theoretical treatment of the subject."

Lindemann shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "This machine," he said. "What physical principles did its operation depend on? Was it a vehicle of some description, or what?"

The conversation over lunch had already identified Scholder as the scientist. Winslade nodded for him to take it from there, then turned away to stand staring out of one of the windows at the treetops of Hyde Park. Scholder cleared his throat, clasped his hands together on the table in front of him, and began, "The quantum-mechanical wave function is merely a spatio-temporal subset of a more complex entity that exists in a state of continuous transition between additional high-order modes. The collapse of the wave function represents merely the localization of an event in our particular subdomain of this super-realm."

Churchill caught Eden’s eye and gave a baffled shrug, but continued puffing at his cigar without saying anything. Lindemann saw the movement and interjected, "You remember the talks we’ve had on the modern interpretation of atomic particles, Winston. The wave function is a mathematical description of where, with varying probability in space and time, a particle might be observed when an experiment is set up to detect it. When the experiment is actually performed and a definite result obtained, the wave function is said to ‘collapse’ to one of its possible solutions. Until that happens, the position and motion of the particle are indeterminate."

Churchill nodded, but his perplexed expression remained. "So what’s this ‘more complex entity’ that Kurt’s talking about now?" he asked.

"Well, it sounds as if the wave function described by our law of physics—what exists in the familiar universe of space and time that we perceive—is just a part of something bigger . . . a ‘hyper-wave’ function that exists in a state of continuous oscillation between our and other higher-order modes—‘dimensions’ I suppose you might call them. But this hyper-wave function can become localized in a form that manifests itself as a mass-energy quantum—a particle—in our subdomain, as it were, of the whole. Apparently, that’s what we mean when we say that the wave function collapses."

Scholder nodded. "And it turns out that it’s possible to induce relocalization into other subdomains—in other words, physical projection into them. Furthermore, some such projections involve coordinate shifts along the axes of what we perceive as space and time. Hence we have the basis not only for traveling through time, but for covering immense spatial distances as well."

"So . . . let me see. You’re saying what?" Lindemann said. Only the sound of Winslade whistling tunelessly through his teeth while he stared out the window broke the silence. "But all that says," Lindemann objected at last, "is that basic particles are material condensations of vibrating patterns that extend into other ‘places,’ and that those condensations can be ‘evaporated’ and recondensed elsewhere. It doesn’t say anything about sending a macroscopic object from one such place to another. How do you achieve that?"

"Sometimes many quantum events can be made to correlate in such a way that they add up to significant effects at the macroscopic level," Scholder replied. "The track of condensations in a cloud chamber, all caused by the passage of a single particle, is one example. The correlated relaxations of many excited atoms to produce coherent light from a laser is another."


"Oh, I was forgetting. Something I’ll explain another time. Let’s just say for now that the pattern of bound wave functions that defines a macroscopic object can be relocalized simultaneously. In other words, the entire object can be transferred coherently to a different subdomain."

They continued for a while longer, and Scholder finished with an outline of the equipment involved. As Lindemann’s questions became more specific, Scholder seemed to become evasive. Finally Lindemann said, "Without wishing to be offensive, Dr. Scholder, I must say that surprisingly little seems to have been known about the underlying physics. In fact, I’m tempted to express amazement that this machine ever came to be built at all. I do take it you were one of the designers?"

Scholder spread his hands and shook his head. "I’m sorry if I gave that impression. No, I was just one of the—how would you say?—the mechanics, as it were, who worked on the project. A little of the theory rubbed off."

"A quantum mechanic?" Churchill threw in, and guffawed to himself.

"Strange," Lindemann murmured. "I’d have thought that whoever was responsible for the enterprise would have sent somebody who was conversant with the theory. And this other group setting up the return connection in New York—there isn’t a theoretician among them, either?"

"There couldn’t be," Scholder replied. "There was nobody like that available in 1975 who could have been sent. You see, the machine wasn’t designed then. It wasn’t even designed in our world. It was designed in another age entirely, following certain discoveries that didn’t take place until the first quarter of the twenty-first century."

Lindemann was looking bewildered. "I don’t understand," he said. "How could it have been built in 1975 if it wasn’t designed until the 2000s? This is getting ridiculous."

"Because the machine that we built in 1975 wasn’t the first one," Scholder answered. "The first one was built in 2025, and it connected back to a return-gate constructed in Germany in 1926. And that return-gate, gentlemen, is still operating there, over in Germany, at this very moment!"

Winslade wheeled round from the window. "That was how, in spite of the apparent paradoxes which you have so correctly drawn attention to, we have reason to believe that the past can indeed be reengineered," he said. "You see, it seems that it has been done before. That was how the world that exists outside these windows, with all its problems and dangers that you know of all too well, came to be that way. It was interfered with and changed from something else that existed previously."

A strained silence descended. Eden covered the upper half of his face with a hand, shook his head slowly from side to side, and moaned quietly, "Oh, God."

Churchill thrust his lower lip out pugnaciously and stared long and hard, first at Winslade, then at Scholder. Finally he said in a slow, measured voice, "If your intention has been to thoroughly confuse and bemuse all of us for the purpose of making sure that we stay here until we have listened to all you have to say, then I must congratulate you on what I have no doubt is already a resounding success. That being so, I trust that you will now attempt to dispel some of the confusion. Might I suggest that you begin at the beginning, wherever that may be in this bewildering chronological imbroglio, and proceed from there in whatever comes nearest to logical order? I think that would be appreciated by all of us."

Winslade nodded as if he had been expecting it. "Kurt here is actually from the twenty-first century," he said. "Let’s begin with that." Lindemann slumped numbly back in his chair. Eden was still sitting with a hand half covering his face. Winslade smiled. "But first, a refill of our glasses, gentlemen. Allow me."

Winslade moved over to the bar and poured fresh drinks, which were passed around the table. Duff Cooper, whose wide brow had been contorting in knots as he tried to make sense of what had been said, leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers. He composed a businesslike manner and said briskly, "Yes, let’s start at the beginning. Now, Dr. Scholder, where and when were you born?"

"In the city of Dortmund, Germany, on July 15, 1990," Scholder replied promptly.

"And you are how old?"

"This year I shall have been alive for sixty-nine years."

"Having come back from the year 2025?"


Duff Cooper thought for a moment. "But 1990 to 2025 is only thirty-five years."

"I didn’t go back directly to 1975. I went back to 1941, and then, thirty-four years later when it was 1975, went through the process again to arrive here. Thirty-five plus thirty-four is sixty-nine."

"Oh." Duff Cooper’s composure evaporated. He sat back, shaking his head, and looked helplessly from one to another of his companions.

Scholder couldn’t contain a thin smile. "Perhaps it would be best if I began by saying a few words about the world that I am originally from," he suggested. The others waited in silence. He went on, "Its history was identical to this world’s up until the mid-1920s. The Great War ended with the Armistice of 1918 and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles. Germany was reconstituted as a liberal democratic state under the Weimar constitution. The Locarno Pact was concluded in 1925, by which Britain and Italy guaranteed the Franco-German frontier against aggression by either side, and in 1926, Germany joined the League of Nations."

Eden sat up again and listened while Scholder reeled off the events. "But after that it was different? You mean something happened to send everything off in a different direction somehow?"

"Let’s not get our perspectives confused," Arthur Bannering cautioned. He had been talkative during lunch, especially with Eden on topics of foreign affairs, but the technical conversation since then had left him with nothing to contribute. "What Kurt is describing is the way things were ‘originally.’ If anything was sent off in a different direction, it was the world that we’re in now—this one."

"Umm, yes . . ." Eden said. "Of course. I wasn’t thinking about it that way."

Scholder resumed, "Europe continued to recover through the late twenties. Although the crash of the U.S. stocks and securities market in 1929 did trigger a worldwide economical recession, the situation was brought under control before the damage had gone too far."

"Interesting," Eden said. "You mean there wasn’t the same world slump that we’ve just been through? How was it avoided?"

"It wasn’t as bad, anyway," Bannering said. "The German Chancellor in 1930 was Heinrich Bruening, leader of the Catholic Center Party. He joined forces with the industrialist, Hugenberg, of the Nationalists, and—"

"No, I was there that year," Lindemann interjected. "You mean Hitler allied with Hugenberg, yes?"

Scholder shook his head and stared at Lindemann pointedly. "Oh, no, Professor. In the world that I am originally from, Hitler was never more than an obscure figure on the lunatic fringe of German politics. He wasn’t involved in anything that mattered."

Lindemann started to say something more, but Churchill raised a hand. "Let them finish, Prof," he murmured.

Bannering went on, "The Bruening-Hugenberg coalition introduced a series of bold financial policies which led to a cooperative European program for economic recovery. Basically, their program involved extensive aid to the underprivileged, heavy reinvestment in new technologies, and a revitalizing of overseas trade, especially with Asia and the Far East. Japan later became a major partner, too, under the Inukai government."

"Inukai," Eden repeated. "But he was assassinated, wasn’t he? Some right-wing militants were upset about the naval agreement that he signed."

"In this world," Scholder said softly. "It never happened in the one that I’m describing."

Bannering allowed a moment for Scholder’s point to sink in. Then he continued, "The European-Japanese initiative impressed the Hoover administration sufficiently for the U.S. to revise its own policies, and the outcome was a worldwide commitment to cooperation and growth instead of protectionism and ruinous competition. By the middle of the thirties, prosperity had returned on an even wider basis than before."

"Hmm . . . concerning the actual details of the economic measures," Eden began, "what—" He caught a scowl from Churchill and raised a hand quickly. "But perhaps we can go into those some other time."

"Yes, make it some other time, Tony," Churchill grunted. He looked back at Scholder. "And?"

Scholder shrugged. "The effects quickly spread. An ‘Eastern Locarno’ was signed in Warsaw in 1935, guaranteeing the borders of the states between Germany and Russia. With the West visibly committed to settling its differences amicably, Russia’s xenophobia began to relax, and with the easing of tensions, the right-wing reactionary movements that had begun appearing in the West declined—Mussolini, for example, was deposed in 1937. The Soviet Union grew into a superpower rivaling Europe and America, and the resulting competition compelled the gradual dismantling of the European colonial empires. Although local squabbles continued to break out in some places, by and large the never-again idealism of the 1920s was coming true at last. The world was turning away from war as a means of settling its differences."

"Sounds too idealistic," Duff Cooper murmured.

"Apart from anything else, the weapons that became possible in later decades made major wars obsolete, anyway," Winslade said. "The world had to turn to other ways."

Scholder continued, "As societies continued to modernize everywhere in the later years of the twentieth century, technological innovation became the primary source of wealth. Eventually, the successful harnessing of the enormous energy concentrations of the atomic nucleus, together with revolutionary electronic methods for processing information and automating work, advances in the biological sciences, and demonstrations of the feasibility of space travel, put a permanent end to fears of limits to growth and the finiteness of resources."

"So practical application of atomic power is possible, is it?" Lindemann said. "I often used to argue with Rutherford at the Cavendish Lab about that. And the weapons that you mentioned, were they atomic, too? I once estimated that a single device ought to be capable of generating the same explosive power as hundreds of tons of TNT."

"Actually, it works out at tens of thousands of tons, Professor," Scholder said. "And when you move on into thermonuclear fusion weapons, tens of millions."

"Oh, good heavens!"

Scholder resumed, "Through into the twenty-first century, the capitalist world became more socialist and the Communists more commercial as competitive pressures forced retreat from the extremist doctrines of both sides. Global civilization was established. Living standards soared. Opportunity became available to all. Universal education bred freedom, independence of thought, individualism. The political, racist, and religious fanaticisms from earlier eras waned. The mass movements that they had engendered faded as popular support declined. Reason had triumphed over passion. The first true era of the Common Man had arrived." He finished by tossing his hands up in an animated sigh that seemed, strangely, to ask what had been the point of it all.

A short silence followed while the guests digested what they had heard. Then Churchill commented, "It sounds utopian. But you’re saying that somebody interfered with the past in order to change it all? Why would anyone have wished that?"

"The overwhelming majority of people didn’t," Scholder replied. "But there were a few who didn’t see their situation as quite so utopian. The world’s traditional oligarchies and ruling elites were finding that the people no longer needed them . . . or perhaps had awakened to the realization that they never had. Their power and their privileges were being eroded. They were becoming an endangered species."

Duff Cooper nodded as the probable sequence of events became clear. "Then the scientific discoveries that you mentioned earlier occurred," he guessed. "These oligarchs gained access to the new knowledge and used it to alter history in a way that would be more to their advantage. Is that what happened?"

Scholder nodded. "They saw an opportunity to preserve the world in which they had enjoyed the wealth and the status that they considered to be theirs by right," he said. "They saw a chance to learn from, and correct their mistakes. This time there would be no yielding to high-sounding principles of compassion or equality. They would seize total power and use it to resist social change, preserving themselves by ruthlessness, intimidation, and the unrestricted use of force. That is what the Nazi system has been set up to accomplish."

Winslade straightened up from the chair that he had been leaning on and moved forward to stand at the end of the table. "They were a numerically small group, but still influential, even if their fortunes were on the wane," he said. "An international cabal formed mainly from wealthy hereditary ruling groups, drawn together by a common survival instinct. Their organization was called ‘Overlord,’ appropriately. Through confidential contacts that their positions enabled them to establish with the scientific community, they set up the project at a remote location in Brazil. Their machine was known as ‘Pipe Organ’ for secrecy. It could project about a century back into the past—to be precise, to the year 1925."

"And that was where you worked," Lindemann checked, looking at Scholder.


Lindemann looked puzzled. "And nobody else knew what this place was? That seems unlikely. A scientific breakthrough of such a magnitude couldn’t be kept secret, surely."

"The site that housed Pipe Organ was described officially as an experimental facility involved in a revolutionary method for transferring objects through space," Scholder replied. "The time-travel aspect of the physics was suppressed."

"But what about the people who worked there, the scientists? They must have known."

Scholder nodded. "Yes, we knew what the system was, but not what it was being used for. We were told that the far end of the link was a research station established purely to investigate the cause-and-effect mechanism of transfers through time. Only an inner group of the top scientists and officials knew what Pipe Organ was really for."

"So how did they justify the secrecy to the rest of you?" Lindemann asked.

"On the grounds that the possible impact of something as stupendous at time-travel needed to be assessed rigorously before any publicity could be risked," Scholder said. "It sounded like a reasonable precaution to take."

"I see." Lindemann nodded and seemed satisfied.

Churchill drew on his cigar and nodded slowly to himself as he thought over what had been said. "Their objective was to destroy the Soviet Union," he concluded. "They perceived its unchallenged emergence as the root cause of all their misfortunes, so they set out to destroy it. And their bludgeon to accomplish that end would be Germany."

"Exactly," Winslade said.

Eden was puzzled. "So did this, this Overlord organization actually create the Nazis? . . . No, wait a minute, it couldn’t have, could it. The Nazis were around before 1925."

"They exploited them," Winslade said. "There had been the beginnings of the Nazi party back in the Overlord world’s past, but it had never come to anything." He began pacing slowly by the windows again and explained, "Once Overlord had gained control of the technology that could give access to the past, they searched the historical record for a situation which, with the hindsight they now had, might have lent itself to being manipulated to their advantage. And they found one. They found an ideal opportunity in the circumstances that had existed in Bavaria in the early 1920s, after the Great War."

"Aha—enter Corporal Hitler," Churchill murmured.

Winslade nodded. "The region had become a hotbed of political extremism of every kind, and in particular of reactionary right-wing movements hostile to the Weimar government and all that it stood for. All the roving malcontents from disbanded army units were there, the free-corps bands fighting under officers from the Prussian old guard against the Communists, all committed to repudiating Versailles and restoring the old conservatism and authoritarianism."

Winslade tossed out a hand casually, as if acknowledging that the rest hardly needed to be spelled out. "In the course of their research, Overlord uncovered a party called the National Socialists, which since 1921 had been led by a former infantry corporal who had been temporarily blinded in a British gas attack at Ypres in 1918. As a party it was different from the rest—the only one that espoused the aims and ideals of the Right, while it applied the methods of the Left. Hitler had a sound grasp of mass psychology. He had launched himself on the popular tide of antirepublicanism, and he played on Germany’s need to find scapegoats for its defeat and humiliation. At the same time, he understood the Germans’ conditioned dependence on authority figures, and hence the potential appeal of firmness, determination, and violence. And he knew how emotive passions can be roused by the pseudoreligious trappings of ritual, color, pageantry, and most of all, a symbol. Perhaps one of the greatest inspirations of his misdirected genius was his design of a black swastika in a white circle on a bloodred flag as the emblem of the Nazi movement." Winslade stopped pacing and turned to spread his hands in a brief gesture of appeal. "A formidable combination, gentlemen. But not sufficient on its own to turn a tiny, unheard-of, political debating group into a militant force capable of taking over a nation.

"Hitler had the kinds of ideas that Overlord could harness to its own ends, and he had the drive to turn them into action . . . but he was impetuous and inexperienced. His attempt to seize control of Bavaria at gunpoint in 1923 failed dismally. He was arrested and locked up for a year in Landberg, and when he came out he found the party banned and its leaders feuding and falling away. He himself was prohibited from public speaking for two years. Chancellor Stresemann’s policy of reconciliation with the Allies was succeeding, the French occupation troops were leaving the Ruhr, and Dr. Schacht had stabilized the currency. Prosperity was returning, and nobody wanted to hear about Nazism anymore. The Nazis had flourished in the bad times. Hitler was a fanatic and never ceased preaching his ideology of racism and hatred, but he didn’t have the organizing ability to build and hold together a structure that would endure. And as the good times continued getting better through the late twenties, he faded away."

Winslade sighed and gazed at his audience with an expression of mock sadness. "It was such a tragic waste of talent. If only Hitler had know how to recruit, organize, and keep his party intact, he’d have been perfectly situated to take advantage of the bad times when they came back again after the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. Hitler didn’t know what was coming, of course . . . but Overlord did. They’d blueprinted everything he needed to do to prepare for the situation, and their first agents from 2025 arrived in Germany in 1925 to begin his education. Their return-gate was operational by the following year, completing the two-way connection, and everything that’s happened since has been the unfolding of the Overlord plan."

Winslade paused; his listeners were too astounded to respond. He continued, "By various stratagems, what had been merely an economic recession in Overlord’s world was engineered into the worldwide slump that you’ve seen in this one. The Bruening-Hugenberg alliance that we mentioned earlier, for example, was prevented from happening by Hitler’s joining forces with Hugenberg instead. The Inukai assassination was another part of the economic sabotage carried out by three agents sent back from 2025 for the purpose, who left Hamburg on a ship bound for Tokyo in February 1932."

Winslade nodded solemnly in response to the four incredulous stares greeting him from along the table. "Yes, gentlemen," he told them, "the whole Nazi operation as it exists today is being masterminded from almost a century in the future via a two-way transfer channel operating in Germany at this very moment. It has been going on since 1926. And the results require no elaboration. In the world that we have now, Hitler didn’t just fade away at the end of the twenties. When Wall Street collapsed and the world reeled, he was ready and waiting with a thoroughly prepared campaign to capitalize on the people’s disappointments and misfortunes, and on all of postwar Germany’s fears, resentments, insecurities, and hopes.

"Yes, indeed, I think you’ll agree that, with some help from his invisible friends, Corporal Hitler has managed admirably to bring events onto a course much more to his liking this second time around.


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