A man stood at the viewing window, pretending to be interested in all the newborns lying on display. He occasionally smiled at the nurse taking care of them.
He was interested in only one of the babies, though, and when the nurse was occupied with another child the man stared malevolently at the particular baby. He kept one hand in his jacket pocket, fondling the warm weapon there.
He suddenly felt the heat slipping out of his weapon, its titanium housing swiftly cooling. His shoulders sagged and he turned.
In the visitors’ waiting area sat another man, watching the first. The newcomer shook his head.
“Max, the Council said ‘no.’”
“The Council is filled with fools.”
The newcomer grinned. “Since I’m recording this for the Council to review, I’ll pass on offering my own judgment.”
Max did not smile in return. “You know the opportunity we have, Guriel. The millions of people whose lives we can spare.”
“You’re the second person who’s told me that today, Max. That was Dinorah’s line when I found her outside the Hitler home.” He paused as two doctors walked through the lounge. “I deactivated her neutron pistol, too. At least you’ve been kind enough not to throw yours at me.”
Max took his hand out of his jacket pocket; the cold metal was growing offensive to him.
“Who is to say she would have been wrong? Or that I am wrong?”
“The Council is who, and you know it.” Guriel stood. “Come on; let’s go. Every minute we stay we risk interfering with history. I will say this much for the recording: I wish the Council would dismantle that damned time portal. It’s more danger than it’s worth.”
“Today you’ve stopped two people who could have rendered our history far less bloody. The blood of the victims is on your hands now.”
“Dinorah also mentioned that. I’ll have to live with it. Wiping out one potential tyrant only leaves room for another one to replace him and things could be worse. Further, millions who would have lived might never exist. You know this as well as I do.”
Max turned back to the window and the row of babies. He regarded the future tyrant briefly. Then, before Guriel could act, he thrust his hand into his other jacket pocket and pulled out a small, powerful flashlight. He aimed the beam into the face of a child at the far end of the row. The bright light surprised the infant and it began to cry.
Guriel seized Max’s arm and pushed the flashlight down so the nurse wouldn’t see it. When she turned, all she saw were two men looking down at a crying baby. She gave them a smile and picked up the child and walked around the room with it.
Guriel pried the flashlight out of Max’s hand; there was more to it than a light, but a full examination would have to wait. Guriel took Max roughly by the arm and led him away.
“What was that all about?” Guriel demanded. Max chose not to reply. He kept his countenance neutral, which concerned Guriel.
Guriel stopped outside a small conference room. He listened briefly and then took them both in. It was vacant.
“You can explain that little stunt later,” he told Max, who nodded his agreement.
Guriel took out a small boxlike device which Max recognized as a key for the time portal. Guriel pushed the activate button. The device had no power cell of its own; it was powered by the time portal, through time itself.
The lights on the little box remained dark. Guriel frowned and pushed the button again to no better effect.
“There’s no signal,” Guriel said. “How could that be?” He looked up sharply at Max, who was beginning to look smug. “What did you do?” Max remained quiet and Guriel slammed him up against a wall. “What did you do?”
“There is more than one way to kill a baby, Guriel,” Max said calmly. “I found the story in only one source; it must have been largely suppressed. It tells of how the infant tyrant nearly died when, as a newborn in the hospital, he swallowed part of a defective pacifier. It closed off his airway. Only the quick action of a watchful nurse saved him. You’ll recall I gave that nurse something else to do. The transmitter in the flashlight sent false signals through the tyrant’s life signs monitor so no alarm would sound.”
Guriel let go of Max and stepped back, stunned.
Max continued, “I would guess that the time portal was never built, which is why there is no signal from it. And the name Pablo Mokbil Nabul will be known only from an infant’s gravestone and not as the most deadly human ever to live.”
“You’ve altered the course of history … and stranded us here.” He fell back into a chair as his mind began to whirl. “My family … may never have existed. I’ll never see them again.”
Max reached over and locked the door. He reasoned that Guriel, in his grief and anger, might wish to kill him. They would want privacy for that.