27 - Kill Hitler

An eccentric billionaire finances a young scientific prodigy's attempt to build a time machine, on the condition that he be the first person to use it. The scientist has to unearth the billionaire's motives before she finishes the machine, lest he do something unethical or dangerous.

Mary is a 20-something science prodigy whose work on theoretical physics is widely heralded. In particular, she’s known for proving time travel is theoretically possible. Now, though, she’s viewed as something of a nutjob for saying it’s not only possible, she knows how to do it.

At some point it comes up that the entire reason she’s fascinated with it was because of some toy she had as a little girl.

There’s no good place to put this, but key to her theory is that time is like the surface of a pond - disturbing it causes ripples, which can be big or small, but the more time passes the more things even out to how they were before.

Everybody knows it’s possible, but most think it would take more energy than exists in the solar system to pull it off.

Mary keeps getting rejected for funding, especially considering it would take literally billions of dollars to pull it off. She’s all but given up when Paolo, an eccentric old Rockefeller-type billionaire emerges from seclusion to sponsor her, on two conditions: first, everything happens at his estate in far northern Canada. Second, he gets to use the machine first, unaccompanied and unmonitored. If his health doesn’t allow, he can choose a delegate to go in his place.

Mary is thrilled to have gotten the resources to pull it off, so she agrees - albeit with some hesitation. His request is a little weird, but hey, he is paying for it, right?

She goes to Canada with a small, hand-picked team: her original professor and partner Henri, a talented engineer named Yu, and a computer expert, Amelia. Paolo greets them all and seems super cool and nice, if a little secretive. He definitely likes his privacy, but he’s read up a ton on Mary’s work, and it almost even seems like he’ll be able to help in the actual construction of the machine.

Amelia is suspicious of his secrecy from the beginning, but everyone else thinks Paolo’s just a private guy. Mary likes how invested he is in everything, and how involved he is with the team, but Amelia thinks he seems a little too eager.

A few months go by, and Yu’s father gets really sick. Yu wants to leave to visit him, but Paolo refuses to allow him to go - he’s worried he’ll share secrets about the work, or about Paolo himself. Yu swears he just wants to see his father before he dies, but aolo is adamant. Finally, Henri talks to him in private, and convinces him to send security with Yu to make sure he doesn’t share anything he shouldn’t.

Feelings in the group are pretty mixed after that. Now Paolo’s looking less private and more paranoid.

Yu returns (his father died) and work continues, but they’re not quite as open with Paolo as they were before. Surely he can tell, but he doesn’t do anything about it.

They start trading theories on what he wants to do. Does he want to kill Hitler and stop WW2 before it starts? Everyone disagrees on whether that’d be a good thing or not. Others think he already went back in time - he planted future information for himself, which is how he made his billions. Mary herself isn’t sure what to think.

She brings it up with him one day, trying to be casual. She shares that she really wants to go back and stop her mother from dying in a car accident, but she knows that if she did it could change everything, and so she knows the responsible thing is just to use the time machine for observation for now. Paolo doesn’t tilt his hand at all, which frustrates her. He just muses about the possibility that time is already being influenced by time travelers.

They have a huge breakthrough on the time machine, which seems to kind of depress Paolo. The machine is close to being finished, now, and the fear of what Paolo intends to do is intensifying. Yu is the only one who trusts Paolo; everybody else thinks they need to send someone else with Paolo. It’s not that they don’t want to let him go at all (well, Amelia kind of wants that), but they just think it’s safest that someone stops him from causing too much changes to time and history.

Mary is designated as the bearer of news, but when she goes to see Paolo, he’s dead in bed. He died in his sleep of a preexisting condition.

This is capital-B Bad, because, in his fear that they would try to stop him from using the machine by waiting him out (his health was always bad), part of the contract was that, should he die before getting to use the machine, the machine was entirely his estate’s and all further funding was revoked.

They do everything they can to fight it, but the contract is iron-clad. The machine is confiscated for disassembly, and the team is sent home.

Back home, weeks later, Mary finds out she’s mentioned in Paolo’s will - he left her some blueprints, a note, and one of his old business cards. The blueprints point out the major hole in the machine they’d been struggling with, how to fix it. The note is just a date: May 12, 2018 - two months before he contacted her for the first time. Curious, she calls the number on the card - and Paolo picks up. Not only does he pick up, he’s flabbergasted as to who she is or how she got the number. She tells him he willed it to her, and he insists he couldn’t have, because he’s not dead.

She goes to see him at his estate in Colombia - and finds out he’s 20. When she asks, he says he has an estate in Canada, but he never goes there, too cold. She gets there and talks to him, and he has no knowledge or memory of anything she tells him about. He’s never heard of her or her machine. He makes some inquiries, and finds out it hasn’t been disassembled, and is sitting at his estate in Canada, waiting for him.

Nu-Paolo and Mary both go out to Canada to see what’s going on. There’s a letter from Paolo left there for them: he apologizes for dying when he did, and tells them they have an important task to carry out.

They need to kill Hilter. Not actual Hitler, but future-Hitler. Turns out, in about forty years, Amelia winds up leading a violent revolution that sparks a nuclear war. A billion people die. Turns out, Paolo came back to stop her, and was trying to find a way to build a time machine so he could get home afterwards. They’d just gotten to the point where he could make it work without them, and he was about to kill Amelia, when his health failed. He’s worried the past isn’t mutable, that this is all destined to happen, but just in case it’s not, it’s vital that Mary and Paolo do their best to stop Amelia, even if that means killing her.

Mary and Paolo both freak out a bit. There’s a futuristic laptop loaded with information to verify the truth of future-Paolo’s story, so they’re willing to believe him. But Mary wants to just tell Amelia everything, while Paolo wants to just kill her - “That’s the only way we know for certain she’s stopped. Otherwise, maybe we think we stopped her, but in forty years nothing’s changed.”

Mary won’t have it, but Paolo is the billionaire in the relationship; he has his security lock her down at his Canada estate; she has the run of the place, but she can’t leave. But he doesn’t know she has future-Paolo’s blueprints.

The blueprints that future-Paolo left were intended to dissuade Mary from trying to fix the time machine, but the proof that their method was impossible is actually a huge revelation in other fields, and she thinks she can use it to make the time machine work through a completely different method. And if she can make it work, maybe she can do this peacefully.

She spends a month working on the time machine, and thinks she has it working, when news comes back: Amelia killed Paolo and disappeared. Mary gets in the time machine and goes back to May 12, 2018, and meets future Paolo at the Canada estate. Security tries to escort her off, but she tells him she’s from the future and he needs to hear her story.

She tells him her story. They can’t decide what to do. Do they just kill Amelia in two months when she shows up to work on the time machine? Do they confront her with all of this information? What do they do?

Future Paolo is already a little worried about the fact that a past version of him died, even if it’s now in the future, and it starts to dawn on him how reckless him coming back here was. Turns out, this wasn’t some sort of sanctioned mission; time travel in the future was still thought to be impossible, and he built his machine and the first thing he did was come back to stop Amelia.

He’s not going to back down now, though. He decides the only thing to do is to kill her, but Mary refuses; there has to be a peaceful option. Paolo says there is, but they can’t know if it worked until too late. He offers Mary the invention of the time machine in exchange for her letting him kill Amelia; she came back to before he got them all together, nobody needs to know there was anyone else involved.

Mary agrees, but she doesn’t invent the time machine. She buries her research, even intimates that her original paper proving time travel possible is flawed. She gets a call one day from Paolo that Amelia is dead.

Thirty years earlier, Mary appears in her childhood house. She sneaks into a closet with a bunch of Christmas presents. Takes one - the one that inspired her to get into science in the first place. She replaces it with a doll, and leaves.