From the author: A man discovers that his whole life has been sabotaged by time traveling agents attempting to prevent his ascension as the next Hitler.
Story originally published on The Unidentified Funny Objects Anthology. Support the only humorous SFF paid pro-market by buying it!
Silent suspicious gazes targeted Terri, a dishwasher and also the only carnivore in the kitchen of a vegan restaurant, as soon as the stench asserted itself. And these suspicions evolved to blame when one of the waiters, who had been referring to him as Hagrid all day even though his hipster beard was longer and bushier than Terri’s, said out loud that the fart smelled like “someone had eaten a corpse.”
Terri didn’t crack that fart, but he did crack his knuckles, and then punched the waiter. He stormed out of About Thyme, while the rest of the kitchen staff tended to the knocked-out waiter, and had only taken a few steps out the door when he heard his name. Thinking it was one of his now former coworkers, Terri picked up the pace, but then a small man slipped into Terri’s path, forcing him to choose between stopping in his tracks or trampling the stranger. He was feeling like the latter but decided for the former.
“Hello, Mr. Normandeau! We have very important matters to discuss!” announced the man. Terri scanned him with an irritated frown. He was a scrawny man with a jittery smile on his face and clad in a beige suit with a flowery bow tie. He was less the classical Southern still found in the streets of Chattanooga and more a mockery of what being classically Southern looked like. The absolute lack of any hint of a drawl in the man’s accent didn’t help. He was also a complete stranger to Terri, who grunted:
“Look, if my mom’s pastor sent you, tell him that I’m not gonna join the Divine Toll Booth to Heaven Church. Now move it.”
Terri tried to walk past the smaller man, but he stood insistently in the way. That’s it, Terri was going to trample him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Normandeau, I’m not interested in your spirituality. I’m here to discuss your successive failures in retaining employment. See, I’m a time traveler—”
Terri barreled through the smaller stranger, pushing him aside. But to his surprise, the stranger simply appeared a few feet ahead of him, the same big grin on his face.
“I understand that it might be hard to believe, Mr. Normandeau, but I’m an agent of the future global government, to be more precise. And—”
Terri pushed through the smaller man again, and this time he trampled him, a big stomp on the smaller man’s chest that was accompanied by a wheezing sound. But the stranger appeared again ahead of Terri as if he had never left him behind, his beige suit not bearing any trait of being stepped on.
“The startup in Atlanta. The consulting company in Montgomery. The assisted living center in Pensacola. The hot dog cart right here in Chattanooga some days ago,” recited the smaller man, this time making a puzzled Terri halt.
“How . . . how do you know all that?”
“My associates and I are the ones behind every single one of your professional and entrepreneurial failures and a few of your social ones too, although, to be fair, you are particularly bad at dealing with women.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Liam, and right now I certainly don’t want to overwhelm you and have you making a scene here in public. Why don’t we go grab a latte and then take a walk? It’s quite a beautiful day and you clearly need a breather.”
Terri was angry, very angry. But he was also very confused and he could use some sort of assertiveness in his life, even if it came from a weirdo stranger.
After Liam fetched his ruby chocolate, half-almond, half-soy milk mochaccino in the overpriced and only coffee shop in Chattanooga’s compact Bluff View art district, he expressed a wish to walk one block down along the district’s Sculpture Garden, which was placed on a leafy slope by the Tennessee River. Liam sipped his drink as he admired the profusion of artwork around him, which consisted of a mixed collection of contemporary and classic sculptures positioned alongside the garden’s winding pathways. Terri, on the other hand, just marched sullenly next to the time traveler. Liam hadn’t yet provided him with any of the answers he was expecting. He even made Terri pay for his ridiculously overpriced beverage, under the argument that, as a time traveler, he didn’t carry money and couldn’t bring anything of value from the future to the past under the risk of disrupting the economy. After a few excruciating minutes, during which Terri had been considering if he should either punch Liam or toss him into the river, the smaller man finally stopped sipping his drink:
“Mr. Normandeau, my associates and I have vowed to prevent terrible outcomes for human history. I don’t want to brag, but our actions have had quite palpable results. We have managed to turn Earth a few centuries from now from a wasteland with poisoned oceans, a plutonium-infused atmosphere, and warring factions on course for mutual annihilation into a global technodemocracy with environmental standards prior to the natural collapse that you’ve been observing at its starting point in your time.”
“Sounds cool, are you hiring?”
“As a matter of fact we are, however our organization can only hire personnel born after the time traveling technology was developed. Also, we have certain standards, and I don’t think the HR department would bother to interview a genocidal brute like you.”
“This might be a shock for you, since you’re quite the underachiever, but—”
“I never killed anyone!”
“Of course not, because we had no choice but to intervene in every endeavor that might get you headed toward becoming a bloodthirsty despot later in your life.”
“So, the fire in my consulting office in Montgomery—”
“It was us, although you made it easy by leaving all that bourbon next to the heater.”
“Are you behind that fake drug test that forced me to shut down my care home for the elderly in Pensacola?”
“What about when I lost that job at American Airlines because Becky sued me for sexual harassment?”
“That was challenging. We had to squeeze her butt while you were right behind her, but not paying enough attention to notice my associate in action for the fraction of seconds it took.”
“The hot dog cart last week?
“Easy-peasy! We just filled it with C-4 and blew it up when you took a bathroom break!”
“Did . . . did you guys just get me fired from About Thyme?”
“No, that was on you, but we were monitoring the situation. You should have held up that fart.”
“I didn’t fart!” yelled a now fuming Terri, as he slapped the cup of hot cocoa from Liam’s hand, who eyed the splatter of pink and viscous liquid on the ground with longing eyes.
“Did you know that ruby chocolate is only available in a very limited span of time that starts in the mid-2010s and ends in 2031, when President Tiffany Trump—"
“What about all these times I got fired for ‘anger issues’?” Asked Terri, now pacing back and forth like a nervous gorilla in his zoo cage.
“That . . . was you, too,” cautiously said Liam, “You are a bit of a bully, you know that, right?”
“If I’m such a danger, why not just kill me?”
“We would never kill anyone. We are all part of time. If we kill someone before their existential cycle ends, we’d be making time disappear, and that would affect all of us, since we all use time. It’s a shared resource yearned for by all the denizens of the universe.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Basically, when you are in the wrong place you tend to do very wrong stuff.”
“But I’m a good person, right?”
“Well, imagine if Hitler never quit painting. Would he be a good person?”
“He would still hate Jews! I don’t hate anyone! I mean . . . I don’t think I do.”
“According to our data you hate your neighbor from apartment 38.”
“I’ve never seen the fucker, but that stoner keeps me awake by talking and laughing out loud non-stop every damn night since he moved from Louisiana, as if he were living by himself in the bayou or something!
“So, you hate him.”
“Yes, but I don’t want him to go to Auschwitz, I just want him to go . . . somewhere else.”
“A different concentration camp?”
“No!” interjected an exasperated Terri, “Like, I want him to move out and go to another building!”
“So, I’m not like freaking Hitler,” said Terri, as he eyed Liam in an almost desperate hope for confirmation.
“I guess you are not. You are making some good points there.”
For a moment neither of the two men said anything. Terri felt that Liam had finally come to terms with his stance. How could he be anything like Hitler? He never even aspired to be at the top of the ladder. On the occasions when he worked for big corporations, he was the guy happily assembling the power point slides, not the one deciding what they would feature. When he tried his hand at startups, he would abide by any demand made by venture capitalists funding his projects, which eventually included taking advantaging of Terri’s above average size and explosive yet compliant nature to terrorize their competitors. Terri abided by the rules and answered on command. His geeky cousin, Larry, who loved RPG games, once described him as lawful evil (and got subsequently punched for that remark). Terri was normal, the most normal of normal men and very proud of his normalcy. But still, he had to ask, just to be sure:
“Then there is nothing wrong with me, right?”
“You are screwed up, quite like Hitler,” was Liam’s nonchalant answer.
“We just talked through that. I—”
“I mean, the havoc we’ve been preventing you from creating was screwed up.”
“What kind of havoc?”
“I’m not here to give you any bad ideas. You know, considering your inclinations.”
“I don’t have ‘inclinations’.”
“Oh, you do.”
“Okay, you know what. I guess I do have ‘inclinations,’ because I want to punch you so bad right now.”
“I’m just trying to be friendly here. And helpful, if you’ll allow me to assist you.”
“You know what, this is BS. I don’t need assistance!”
“Would you rather have your memory of this meeting wiped and have us keep sabotaging every single one of your attempts to join a lifestyle that would lead to a historic hazard with grave social consequences for all humanity?”
“I’m in for the assistance! Assist me, boss!”
“Let’s review your options,” said the agent as he touched his tablet and scanned it before turning his attention back to Terri. “Would you mind living in Alaska?”
“I . . . would. I went to college in Florida for a reason.”
“We need to keep you the hell away from Florida, too many people there are prone to follow your lead into doing stupid, dangerous crap.”
“Fine . . . but . . . Alaska?”
“Would you prefer Canada? Nothing really relevant comes out of that godforsaken wasteland.”
“I take that Canada changed a lot in the future.”
“No, it’s exactly the same cesspool of limited ambition, passive-aggression, and fake friendliness as in your time.”
“I met a Canadian once. He was friendly but it didn’t feel fake.”
“I can assure you that he was tattling about you as soon as you turned your back on him. Do you know how to tell a Canadian is being fake in all that oily friendliness? They smile by raising only their upper lip, like the filthy beavers they are.”
“That sounds . . . racist.”
“That’s rich coming from Hitler!”
“I’m not Hitler.”
“And I’m not racist, I was even married to a Canadian for a while. Sub-only in the sheets, condescending in the streets. Insufferable.”
“I see, it’s personal.”
“It doesn’t matter, on second thought I think Canada is out for you. It would be a hassle to get you papers to emigrate out of the US.”
“Fine, Alaska then. I mean, I guess they have wi-fi and heating there.”
“Well, there’s the thing, you can’t live or even stay close to certain cities in Alaska,” said Liam, as he examined his tablet. “Not Anchorage and certainly not Juneau . . . and . . . I guess Fairbanks is off limits. Hmm . . . would you be okay situated in the Alaskan wilderness, making a living hunting and gathering?”
“No wi-fi then?”
“I don’t like your tone, Mr. Normandeau. I thought you were past the point of intellectually squirming about your doom.”
“I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this!”
“Tell that to the hundreds of mutilated elderly in Pensacola.”
“Nobody, and you know why? Because we sent a fake positive toxicology test to the licensing bureau when you tried to start your home for the elderly there!”
“Man, I really wanted that project to work.”
“Do you want to mutilate seniors?”
“Why would I mutilate seniors?!”
“You tell me, Mr. Normandeau.”
“I wouldn’t! That’s what I’m telling you!”
“Of course you wouldn’t, you would just use your minions to do the dirty work.”
“How can I have minions? I don’t even have friends!”
“What a coincidence, Mr. Normandeau, because every person ever who did have minions happened to not have friends. That’s the very concept of minions, they work for you, they’d die for you, but they are notoriously not quite superb at organizing surprise birthday parties and being there for you with a mug of spiked hot cocoa when you are feeling the blues.”
“This is ridiculous, I don’t want to hurt anybody or . . . have minions. I just want to make a living so I can . . . I don’t know . . . relax at the end of the day, binge watch Netflix or something like that! It’s not too much, is it?”
“You can binge hunt polar bears in the tundra.”
“Look, at least I have a home here in Chattanooga.”
“Not for long, it will be foreclosed in two months and you will be homeless.”
“Ouch. I . . . I don’t think I can survive homelessness.”
“You can’t. But you can survive wilderness,” Liam said, as he took a quick glance at his tablet, “for a while.”
“If I go to Alaska—"
“Alaska’s wilderness. Don’t get even close to the cities or the Canadian border.”
“If I do will you guys stop meddling in my life?”
“That’s the plan.”
“And there is . . . nothing I can do to change that?”
“Doing nothing in the middle of nowhere is what you can do.”
“I mean . . . how could having a hot dog cart in downtown Chattanooga have made any harm?”
“We prevented the Black Weiner’s day five years from now, when every single hot dog cart would explode at the same time, killing millions.”
“How could I—"
Terri sighed, resigned to his fate.
“Fine. I guess I’m gonna go home and start packing.”
Suddenly a small, athletic woman who looked like the meanest kindergarten teacher ever in her mauve cybernetic dungarees emerged from a bush and kicked Liam in the face. Before Liam could react, she produced a banana, pointed it at Liam and zapped him with a laser beam.
“What the hell happened?” a flabbergasted Terri muttered, his eyes locked on the smoking pile of ashes that used to be Liam.
“Agent Samira Hamid, department of quality and control,” answered the woman as she lowered her banana after acknowledging Terri. “I had no choice but to intercept this operation, also I’m legally obligated to disclose that the banana I’m holding is actually a laser gun shaped like a banal object in order to prevent the contact of persons in your timeline with futuristic technology and it should be eaten in case there’s a risk of—”
“Why did you kill him? Was he a bad guy?”
“No, you are the bad guy. Liam was one of our best agents but he had to be stopped. Sending you to Alaska would be a colossal disaster!”
“How could I do anything from there by myself?”
“Not only you—”
“Yeah, I get it, my ‘minions,’ too.”
“Oh, I can see that someone was already machinating inside their devilish head.”
“What would have happened in freaking Alaska?!”
“You and your minions would create the Borealian Reich, a new country in between Alaska and Greenland.”
“You mean, Canada?”
“Once you were placed in Alaska’s wilderness, the neighboring, depraved Canadians would show up in droves to be your eager minions and decisively contribute in your frigid Arctic nation’s project to take over the world!”
“Yeah, I don’t want that.”
“What do you mean you don’t want that? You are a ruthless tyrant in the making.”
“All I want is to go home and watch Netflix, ma’am! And I could use a drink! Also, I worked all day in a freaking vegan restaurant where they treated me like crap, so a big, rare steak would be nice, too!”
“Let me guess, you want all that booze and food served by the children that survived the great mauling of New Hampshire by the Borealian forces?”
“See, I have no idea what you are talking about. I was going to Alaska to avoid all that genocide stuff.”
“Are you suggesting that you are willing to renounce your totalitarian fate?”
“Just tell me what to do! You can trust me!”
“Would you trust Hitler?”
“I’m not Hitler! I can’t kill anyone! You are the one who killed someone and . . . wait! I thought you guys couldn’t kill!”
“Liam and I shared the same timeframe so murdering him won’t affect the continuum of spacetime. What is forbidden is to kill someone from the past, otherwise I would have killed you already.”
“I have no doubt about that.”
“Very well, Mr. Normandeau. There might be an alternative for you. On the coast of Georgia there is a subterranean bunker that has been long forgotten and will remain that way for centuries. If you promise to move there and never leave, I can ensure that the Agency won’t interfere in the course of your life again.”
“I would still be able to go out to fetch food, right?”
“No, but the mold that grows in the bunker is passably edible.”
“Can I get some wi-fi hooked in there?”
“So you can recruit your minions?”
“Who the hell recruits minions online?”
“Anyone seeking minions, duh! Have you ever seen 4chan?”
“Of course you have, what a stupid question.”
“I mean, not like that, I skip the racist stuff and just browse the porn—I mean . . . the—”
“Georgia. Take it or I will erase your memory.”
Unbeknownst to Terri and Samira, one of the many statues in the garden had been observing them. It was a humanoid figure covered in metallic plates with a vague resemblance to a military uniform. Its name was “The South Shall Rise Again,” by area artist, confederate daughters’ local chapter member and baker who refused to cater to gay patrons Lee-Ann Nicholson, although the piece currently standing in the Sculpture Garden wasn’t the original, but a perfect replica sent from the future and filled with a state-of-the-art sentient AI known as N1C0. After analyzing and gauging the temporal risks and opportunities represented by Samira’s actions, the robot decided that the time had come to vaporize her with a laser blast from its cybernetic eyes.
“Greetings, Terri Jackson Normandeau,” said the robot, as it finally moved from the pedestal on which it had been placed for years and approached a disconcerted Terri, who was afraid but also too mentally exhausted to panic and run. “I am a representative of the department of quality and control for the department of quality and control. My name is N1C0, but you can call me Nicoletta. The latter is also personally preferred, although I’m programmed to answer to my manufacturing name despite the post-industrial-centric, meta-sedulous, para-bio-patriarchal normativity that is implied in it and I reject. As for my pronouns, they are—”
“Did you . . . kill her?” said Terri, pointing at the second pile of smoking ashes next to him.
“Yes, Samira’s actions would precipitate a calamitous outcome in the future by giving you access to a network of eager minions vowed to accomplish your objectives of destruction and chaos.”
“In a forgotten bunker in Georgia?”
“You’d have plenty of idle time in there to interact on 4chan.”
“I thought I wouldn’t have access to wi-fi.”
“It turned out that Verizon dug an optic-fiber tunnel next to the bunker.”
“Let me guess, should I go to Antarctica or something?”
“Nice try, Hitler.”
“I’m not Hitler.”
“Antarctica will be the perfect base in a few decades to launch a global domination campaign thanks to all the soon-to-be-discovered biochemical properties of penguin fat.”
“What are the alternatives?”
“There are no alternatives. I’m here to erase your memory so our organization can continue to diligently sabotage every single one of your efforts in life until you die of natural causes.”
“I can’t stand it anymore! If you can’t kill me, just put me in a coma or something!”
Nicoletta stood still for a moment. The robot was processing a new variable that it had not taken in consideration until that moment. And then, it spoke:
“Coma seems like an alternative that will minimize the risks to the fabric of time that your eventual death by either murder or induced suicide may cause. And my hardware possesses a device that can cast such a state upon your body.”
“I see, are you gonna hypnotize me? Or maybe use a chemical from the future?”
“I will hit you really hard in your head.”
“You know what? Fair enough! I’ll take it!”
“Very well,” said Nicoletta, “Whenever you are ready.”
Terri stared at the last rays of sunlight being refracted in the waters of the river, as he felt his eyes getting teary. But before he gave Nicoletta leave to bludgeon him, a plume of water suddenly rose up from the river and splashed both the robot and Terri. When Terri had a chance to dry his eyes, he noticed a rectangular device clasped to Nicoletta’s neck that generated a cascade of sparks and electrical current. The robot seemed to be stunned although, for some reason, it hummed “I wish I was in Dixie.”
“We don’t have much time,” said a voice behind Terri, who turned around to face a scrawny man with a long, ginger mullet and a jittery grin. Of all the agents he was the only one that could pass as a local.
“Oh, great,” said a distressed Terri, “Are you here because the coma will make me control ferrets telepathically and use them as an army that will wipe the world?”
“That’d be rad, but no, Mein Führer,” said the ginger.
“I’m not Hitler! I told it to all the other agents—”
“I’m not with these dorks! And I was just joking, you ain’t like Hitler at all!”
“Well, thank you!”
“You are much better than Hitler, sir!”
“About that . . . I’m not really into that racism stuff and—”
“It’s not about racism, it’s about ethics in work force hiring.”
Before Terri could react, he frowned as he could smell a stench. A familiar stench.
“Did you . . . fart?”
“Yes, sorry about that. I have this issue and . . . you were . . . I mean . . . will be the only one who will take me seriously despite my . . . flatulence. Since the start you knew I was much more than a farty hick from Louisiana who—”
“Were you the one who farted in the vegan restaurant?”
“Yes, I reckon I got some bottled farts teleported in there, but to help you, sir! That job would turn you soft.”
“I needed that job!”
“You can do better, sir!” said the ginger, as he handed a business card to Terri “Here, send your resume to these guys. They are our people. Once you get there it will be a safe space for you from these snowflakes that keep messing up your life.”
Terri glanced at the card. It had a contact for the HR division of “MASKKKULON Cryptocurrency Investments LLC”.
“I . . . I’m afraid.”
“I don’t want to be Hitler.”
“Don’t worry, the psycho barker with the shark tank under the trap doors is gonna be your boss. You’ll be the cool guy in the middle who throws surprise birthday parties and is always there with a mug of spiked hot cocoa when we feel the blues.”
“So, I’m . . . I mean, I will be your friend?”
“Heck, no! Don’t get creepy on me, sir!”
“If I’m not the top guy why did these agents say that I was like Hitler?”
“Because snowflakes think that evil people are all the same, they don’t get that we have different shades of darkness. Also, you are gonna punch the top guy to death and toss his body in the shark tank when he announces that he’s stepping down and calling for democratic elections.”
“Wait, are you saying that I’m gonna kill future Hitler?” asked Terri with a glimmer of hope.
“You are gonna replace him, boss!”
“I’m not a leader, I’m a doer.”
“I know, your first decision as overlord will be to convene the HR department to select a new overlord. That whole process will stress the hell out of you. You are gonna pack on even more weight and punch half of the HR personnel to death until they select someone.”
“That’s not me! I don’t punch people . . . I mean . . . not on purpose . . . I mean. . . . Sometimes I do, when people get me mad, but I stopped being a bully in high school—”
“That was the problem, you should never have stopped doing something you’re good at. But it’s okay, you are gonna get back to using these three hundred pounds of brawn and these ham sized fists for good, I mean . . . for evil.”
“I shouldn’t do something just because I’m good at it.”
“Because I want to be normal!”
“Not sure about you, sir, but all the normal people I know are normal precisely because, given the opportunity, they do things they like and are good at.”
“You will,” said the ginger, amid a guffaw that showed a mouth with no more than three teeth, all of them broken, “And you’re gonna like it.”
Terri frowned, not only for the sight of the toothless mouth, but at the guffaw. He’d heard it before. It was the boisterous one that had been waking him up in the middle of the night. The ginger could only be his neighbor. Terri suddenly coiled his big fist and readied it to punch, only to realize that the damage in that mouth had already been done.
“You know where to find me and my teeth, boss,” suggested the ginger.
This story originally appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects.