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The Butterfly Effect

By Edward Ashton
Jul 17, 2019 · 1,336 words · 5 minutes

From the author: This story includes Nazi elephants. If that doesn't hook you, I honestly don't know what will.

First Human Trial: August 12th, 2023.

Well, today’s the day.

I’ve done everything I can think of to verify the stability and safety of the system. The test bot has been through and back six times, with a maximum temporal displacement of 12MY. No ill effects observed, and it brought back some sweet video from the last jump of this big-ass ostrich-looking thing with a beak like a battle axe. Mutt and Jeff have been through three times in three days, at displacements of 1Y, 1kY, and 1MY, respectively. They don’t seem to like me as much as they used to—Jeff actually nipped my thumb when I pulled him out of the cage after the last jump—but their appetites are fine, they appear healthy, and they’re running the maze just as quickly as they did before.

Today’s test is a proof of principle, not an actual expedition, so I’m going to stay conservative for now. One year back, returning after ten minutes subjective—just long enough to place a bet on last year’s Super Bowl. Ha ha! Just kidding! Butterfly effect, right? I mean, I did have the bot seek out and murder an actual butterfly on its last trip back, just to see, and I don’t think anything changed upstream, but there’ll be plenty of time for shenanigans once I’ve proved that I can get there and back without dying.

I really hope I don’t wind up dying.

If I do, though, make sure somebody takes care of Mutt and Jeff. Don’t give them to those assholes in the bio department. They’ve been real troopers, and they don’t deserve to wind up getting dissected by some dipshit freshman.


This is it, I guess.

Time to go.

So that was anticlimactic.

Turns out the temporal displacement itself is instantaneous and painless, so I don’t know what Jeff was so pissed off about. I sat down on the floor under the field generator. The timer counted down. There was a… flicker, I guess? And then the lab bench was on the other side of the room and the field generator was scattered around the lab in half-built chunks.

It occurred to me then that I was actually in significant danger of running into my one-year-younger self, which would have been weird. I didn’t show, though. I was probably either in the bathroom picking bits of lunch out of that stupid hipster beard I was wearing then, or down the hall, trying to convince Kate to take a chance on dinner and a movie with me.

If I weren’t worried about the butterfly thing, I would have left a note to myself, to let me know that she wouldn’t say yes until I shaved off the damn beard.

Speaking of Kate, I’ve gotta go find her now. She promised me that if I actually managed to pull this off, she’d owe me a coke.

Okay, so… there may be a problem. Kate doesn’t like me anymore.

Ordinarily, that wouldn’t ring too many alarm bells. Plenty of women have decided that they don’t like me over the years. Also, though, Kate’s a Nazi now. Also, there are swastikas all over literally everything, and there’s a big red and black Nazi flag flying in the courtyard in front of the building.

It’s possible I may have butterflied things.

Yeah, verified now that I have butterflied the shit out of this place. Germany won World War II here, and we’re now the biggest, dumbest province in the German empire. Japan owns most of Asia, and apparently Italy got to take like three Greek islands—not the nice ones, but I bet the Greeks are still pretty upset. Also, Kate is now a gigantic jerk, and I don’t like what she’s done with her hair.

I did this.

I don’t know how, but I definitely did this.

I did this, but I can fix it. I’ve got the world’s only temporal displacement field! What’s the first thing that literally everyone says they’d do if they had this kind of power?

I’m going back to before this world took a left turn, and I’m gonna make sure it turns right instead.

Screw the butterfly effect.

I’m gonna murder Hitler.

Second Human Trial: August 12th, Reichsjahr 77.

So that didn’t exactly work out.

To be clear, the murdering part went just fine. At first I was thinking I’d have to hatch some kind of elaborate assassination plot in the middle of the war, but then I realized I didn’t actually have to kill Adult Hitler. It would be way easier to just jump back to 1890 and kill Baby Hitler instead. I know, I know, ends can’t justify the means, he’s just an innocent baby, etc., etc., but this is Hitler we’re talking about.

Anyway, I thought that would fix things, but when I came back, the University was still crawling with Nazis.

I mean, they were elephant Nazis with hands at the ends of their trunks, but still. Not cool.

Question: on that first run, I only went back one year. How the hell did I wind up changing the outcome of World War II?

Hypothesis: I’m starting to think I might not have built a time traveling machine at all. I think I may have built a time splitting machine, which is a totally different thing. If I’m right, then every return trip is actually a jump to a different timeline altogether. It would explain a lot. For example, that could be why Jeff turned into such a putz after his last jump. The rat in my lab now could be my Jeff’s evil, alternate-reality twin.

Maybe that’s why he came back with that tiny goatee?

Anyway, if I’m right, I can’t go back and fix what’s wrong here.

I just need to keep jumping until I find a reality that doesn’t suck.   

Third Human Trial: August 12th, Year of the Tusk 4017.

Took a longer jump this time, just to see what would happen. No Nazis, but now I’ve got velociraptors running around the building in business suits.

I feel like things are are starting to get out of hand.

Fourth Human Trial: August 12th, Nineteen Dickety Seven.

Nuclear apocalypse.

Fifth Human Trial: August 12th, Year of the Mutant.

Zombie apocalypse.

Sixth Human Trial: August 12th, Gaaaaaaahhhh.

Alien apocalypse. Jesus, how many apocalypses are there in this stupid multiverse?

Seventh Human Trial: August 12th, Yaar 0.

No apocalypse. No elephants. No velociraptors. No aliens. No Nazis.

Kate still doesn’t like me, though.

I think I’ll give it one more shot.

Eighth Human Trial: August 12th, 2023.

I swear to God, I only went back, like, ten seconds this time. Just enough to give things a tweak, right? When I returned, the lab was just like I left it. I stepped out into the hallway. No swastikas. So far, so good. Walked down the hall, and poked my head into the optics lab. Kate was there, parked in front of her workstation, watching streams of numbers fly by. I cleared my throat. She turned to see me.

“Mickey,” she said. “Hey. What up?”

“Uh,” I said. “Nothing? Just wanted to…”

Her face broke into a grin.

“We’re still on for tonight, right? You’re not backing out on me?”

“Oh no,” I said. “No. Definitely not backing out.”

“Great.” She stood up and walked over to me, took my hands, rose up on her toes and kissed me. “It’s gonna be soooooo much fun.”

We spent three hours in a club downtown, jamming to a polka band. Turns out we all like polka now. Beyonce plays the accordion. MTV shows polka videos 24-7.

Kate’s lips taste of kielbasa.

You know what? I’ll take it.

This story originally appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

Edward Ashton

Edward Ashton writes people-centered science fiction, or science-centered people fiction, depending on the day.