They called it “the Great War”. It was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” and it was no euphemism. Never before had men had the power to inflict such damage, to kill so many and so fast. Never before had conditions been so dire on a battlefield.
No words could ever do justice to the psychological pressure and trauma of being trapped day after day in these gloomy alleys of mud. The same landscape every day. No other sound than the occasional rifle or bombing. No other news but the death of friends and camarades. No other hope of escape than leaving one day towards the no man’s land. Nothing to do but wait for death.
In the trench, death was always there, more present than the higher-ups. Rare were the days where the fall of someone, if not witnessed in its glorious atrocity, was at least announced through the regiments. It changed you. How could it not? To survive in these circumstances, you had no choice but killing away the part of you that felt something. As the list of casualties increased, so did the numbing of your soul, until the death of your friend was no more surprising than the lack of food for dinner.
Coming back to civilization after that was… surreal. Like a far away dream, never fully consistent or substantial. There were those who went stark raving mad, and those who plunged back into the dullness of ordinary life as a mean to soothe their souls. But most of them were stuck trying, trying to go back to the normal life, trying to help rebuild the country, while being haunted by the too vivid images in their memories. Permanently taunted by what they had lived. Barely less empty than walking ghosts.
No more! They would say. That thought had kept them going through the hardships. They repeated it secretely to themselves while falling asleep. No more. This was the one to end it all. Nobody should have to go through that ever again.
But it wasn’t so simple, and in their desilusioned eye they could see sadly that the dark side of mankind was still alive. Sure, on the front, everybody welcomed the peace and proclaimed their good intentions. But many were those with a bitter heart, and the spark of aggressivity kept burning in their eye. It rarely showed. Sometimes it would be a few lines in a political speech, sometimes a domestic argument in the next door. But when you had seen war, you knew how to recognize the seeds of conflict. Men were men, battles would rage on, deadlier and deadlier. The cycle would continue.
That thought was just a fleeting worry, but it grew in him to be an existential anguish. He could see the signs everywhere. The situation was not getting better. Something had to be done, something big, to make the world and mankind change once and for all. Something big enough to print its mark in the minds of people, deep enough to transform human nature. And as days passed and nothing was happening, it became to him clearer and clearer that he was going to be the one to have to do it.
Inertia is a powerfull force, and noone seemed concerned about the situation. People would sympathize and nod, but send him off with a reassuring pat on the back. “Get those thoughts out of your head”, he would be told. “Stop worrying”. “It was the last one”. “Never again”. But seeing everywhere the seeds of the destruction that haunted his dreams prevented him to turn a blind eye. Somewhere deep inside, he just knew it couldn’t be true.
But who to turn to to discuss the future when everyone was so busy with the present? He had the habit of going every now and then to see that psychic in his old town. Before the war, she would advise him for his personal life, and never once had she been proven wrong. That could be a start.
When he entered, she picked up at once on the weariness clouding his gaze. The tone of her voice shifter from a happy reunion to a friendly concern. She had him sit and brought him tea.
“This time, he announced. I’m not coming about little old me. I’ve changed, that matters little to me anymore. This time I’d like you to read what the future has in store for us all. For our country, for our world…”
She bit her lip and gave him a compassionate look.
“The war did leave its scar…”
He didn’t answer. There was no need to. The situation was perfectly clear in the heavy atmosphere of the little cosy room.
“Very well, she continued. That’s a little unusual, but I suppose I can take a look.”
Her favorite tool was tarot and that’s where she started. She drew the cards as he had seen her do plenty of times, but as cards after cards unveiled he watched her face turn into a perplexed expression he had never witnessed before.
“Wait, this can’t be right…”
She gathered all her cards in a shaking hand and started over. Her movements were more rushed, her breath more jerky.
“I must be mistaken…” she whispered in disbelief.
“What? he asked. What is it? Is it bad?”
“Oh it is bad… really really bad indeed.”
In more and more precipitation, she proceeded to other attempts, using other decks of cards and other patterns that he could not comprehend. She brought out dusty books and scrolls that he had no idea she posessed. But every time she grew more concerned and panicked. She fetched other tools, crystals and powders, but nothing seemed to appease her turmoil.
“For god’s sake woman, what is it?” he ended up snapping.
“No matter how I look at it, no matter how I try, it’s always the same. Chaos, destruction. Rising from the east. Engulfing the world. And then… the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything here seems to tell me that mankind is nearing its last hours. That the war is far from over. That Man will doom itself and take the world with him.”
Followed a long and heavy silence that none of them dared to break, as they were each pondering what it could mean and what could be done.
“I’m sorry I could not comfort your fears… she whispered. Quite the opposite.”
He took a deep breath, and something in him filled him with resolve.
“Don’t be. It may not be too late. Maybe there’s something we can do. Maybe we can stop the chaos.”
“We’re only people. We’re so little… What are we gonna do?”
“Does it say anything about the hows and the when, in all your books and predictions?”
“Sadly, no… It’s vague, but it is near. The stars cannot tell me anything more precise.”
It figured. But that did not matter. He would keep looking. Keep talking, keep asking around. His best friend, who was quite fond of Schiller, had warned him sceptically:
“You’re starting to sound like Wallenstein… You know that astrology is just a bunch of hokum.”
He had heard him loud and clear: he needed more information. He started to browse libraries, to ask professors and knowledgeable men.
Everything seemed to confirm his worst fears. It turned out, when you pay attention, that a remarkably high number of studies and prophecies indicated that the 20th century would be the last. How could that be a coincidence? How could centuries-old auguries, millenia-old calendars from all over the planet just concur this way by chance?
He read the book of revelations, talked to religious zealots, historians and theologians, in hope to find something, anything that could disprove his theories and put his mind at ease. But every time, he was only adding more oil on the fire of his concerns.
He became more and more obsessed, more and more worried. He lost sleep over it and ate very little. But his friend was right. It was just a lot of vague warnings. An outrageous amount, yes, but nothing actionable. Nothing concrete. And more importantly, nothing determined. There had to be a way to escape this doom.
If he wanted anything more precise, it was clear that he had to turn to science. After all, the rise of technology had put mankind next to the precipice, it’s only natural that it was the only key to solve the situation.
He started to talk to physicists and mathematicians, but none of them had any clue what he was talking about. Their discipline were not divination, they would say. They were just stating what is. Fortunately, some scientists were more prone to predictions, and his research led him to economists and statisticists.
It turned out that a Mr. Lotka had spun some pretty interesting ideas about modeling population dynamics with mathematical laws, and that the results were already really impressive. Some people were exploring this area, trying to boil down the behavior of mankind into a few equations.
“See, it is way more simple than you think, explained Jakob von Uexküll when he visited the University of Hamburg. It’s a known fact that the world we live in is deterministic. Everything can be predicted, taking into account a good enough number of factors. Why would psychology and history be any different? Sure the reality is complex and exhibits many small variations. But the underlying trends are actually very simple. The more people there is, the more the population grows. The higher risks of conflicts. The fewer ressources.”
“What happens at the end?” he dared to ask in return.
“Well things always find a way to regulate themselves. I suppose mankind could spread to other worlds…”
He began to dive into this domain, to understand the various mathematical models at work. Soon he was able to add precisions here and there, correct some shortcomings. It was not widely publicized, because it went drastically against the idea of free will that had always been a major part of their society. But that did not matter.
He was moving forward. Little by little, the figures started to make sense. The earth had a threshold for the number of people it could support. Most natural ressources had an expiration date. Ethnic groups, countries, politics became lines and scribbles on his blackboard. He began to glimpse into the future of mankind, and what unraveled before his eyes was not good.
He had his work double checked by scientists, of course, but no matter how many time they repeated the simulations, they always came to the same conclusion.
“Technology will keep getting more and more impressive, to the point where mankind will be able to destroy the whole planet by the press of a button.” He and Jakob bitterly concluded.
“And it will happen soon, too. Do you think there’s any way to stop it?”
“If you look at the charts, Jakob answered, it seems pretty clear that it’s going to happen in the middle-east. Considering how important oil is and is going to get, there is going to be major economic stakes going on there. Furthermore, if you look at the local populations, the different ethnies and religions, I think it’s pretty obvious. Everything points to America using the Jew population as an outpost to enforce economic claims to the area ressources. There will be a battle of influence with Russia. More importantly, religious and economic tensions will exacerbate, and little by little, descend into a frenzy that will bring the whole world into chaos.”
He didn’t want to believe it, but the equations were pretty clear. This was the doom from the east he was chasing after. Somehow, being able to pinpoint it was a little relief. He knew now what he had to face against.
“Alright, he said determined. So how do we stop it?”
“How to stop the march of mankind, you mean? Do you see any place in the simulation for a stop? It’s impossible, it can’t be done.”
“You’re thinking too small. We need something bigger. We need to change the world. We need to break this chain of causality so hard that the future will be protected. Surely there must be something we can do.”
A heavy silence fell on them as they considered every option. A frontal assault was out of question. There had to be a weak link in there, somewhere they could put pressure upon. They had to throw in a pebble to derail the massive wheel of time. No matter what it took, he was determined to protect the future of mankind from itself.
And then, almost at the same time, they came to a realisation. They found the weak spot. Their gaze crossed, terrified by what they were about to say. They could see on each other’s face that they were thinking the same thing.
“It would be a huge sacrifice…” he whispered. He swallowed his saliva in the vain hope to relieve the lump in his throat.
“But I’m afraid that it’s the only way… Without support, they won’t be able to advance. I know it’s awful, but it’s the smallest possible sacrifice. It’s the only way to avoid the war and to save mankind from total self-anihilation… And noone else can do it.”
The voice paused for a second. He did not want to hear it. The following words would cut the air like a cold blade. He knew that the end of that sentence would seal for ever his destiny. That he would be bound by this few words, until the day he died, for the sake of humanity.
“Adolf, you must kill the jews.”
Afterword: Since this is the internet I feel obliged to state clearly that this is a work of fiction and not an endorsement of anything. I’m not used to writing short stories so it was more of an exercise for me ^^