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The Butterfly Device: A Tale of Time-Travelling Butterflies, & The Men Who Love Them

This story is the proud recipient of the Character Writer of the Week award, 09 AUG 08. Thank you to all of the readers, who helped to make it happen!

"First, I would like to thank you all for coming."

It was silly, of course. Nobody was there as a personal favor to the man in the white coat.

"The crusades of the middle ages..."

Already, they were restless. They were not interested in the crusades. NOBODY was interested in the crusades. Most only recognized it as part of the title of an Indiana Jones movie.

"The atrocities of the Holocaust."

Slightly more interesting and relevant...but still, nobody was here for a history lesson. Many were already regretting their appearance at today's event.

"The bombing of Hiroshima."

A bulb flashed. Probably an accident...some photographer's finger had slipped.

"Nine eleven."

THERE it was. 9/11. The attacks had happened more than a decade ago, but 9/11 still sold newspapers. It still sold 30-second spots in the nightly news. It was better than sex...some people objected to sex on TV. Nobody objected to 9/11.

"These are just four examples...four dark moments in history. There are plenty more to choose from. Slavery. Genocide. Even catastrophic natural disasters. What do these have in common?"

He waited. Naturally, nobody bothered to even think of a response. It was rhetorical...and besides, they were being paid to ASK questions, not to answer them.

"They were all preventable. Simply different choices made...different people in charge...different weather conditions...different..."

He produced a single, beautiful butterfly, seemingly from nowhere.

"Different flaps of a butterfly's wings."

He released the butterfly, which landed on the podium.

"I am sure you are all familiar with the so-called butterfly effect...how a butterfly flapping it's wings on one side of the world can change weather patterns and create a tsunami on the other side. But the problem with the butterfly effect, of course, is that it's all hypothetical. Or...rather...it was."

"Ladies and gentlemen...may I present to you...the Butterfly Device."
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CountArach said:
Is this butterfly device some sort of giant mechanical butterfly? If so, I am ready for reading!
We can but desperately hope. There are far too few AARs featuring giant mechanical butterflys so frankly we're overdue one.
(Thanks for all of the comments! Sorry to disappoint...the Butterfly Device is not, in fact, a giant mechanical butterfly...and thus we are all clearly sitting on a goldmine. :D )

The Butterfly Device, like every previous invention that had permanently changed the world, started as a failure.

Specifically, a failure of the tourism industry.

The idea was simple enough...with Richard Branson already making travel to the moon and space station a near reality...and the deepest of the deep sea was just around the corner...Johann Braun-Kennedy came up with an idea so brilliant...so cutting edge...so pure gold...that he immediately dropped out of the ivy league and moved to Silicon Valley to find the necessary funding and technicians.

His invention, as you have no doubt already surmised, was the creation of an entire new industry.

Past Tourism.

For a fee...no doubt one only billionaires would be able to afford at first, but eventually, perhaps as cheap as a coach ticket on the airlines...you too could experience history as it happened.

It was crazy, he knew that...but so was the automobile. So was the airplane. So was the internet...vaccines...even electricity. All impossible, until someone found a way to make them happen.

This time, that someone would be Johann Braun-Kennedy.

It had been a disaster.

The time travel portion had actually proven to be shockingly easy. With the right minds and enough money, it turned out that literally anything could be invented, including a method of travelling into the past.

The problem...the terrible, tragic, devestating problem...was that travelling BACK was much harder.

Naturally, they found this out the hard way.

Worst, it was lead engineer, Juvenal Quintus, who had insisted on trying it himself. After all, the entire project was dependent on his calculations...if he were wrong, he wouldn't be able to live with the destruction he had caused.

He had been wrong. He had never returned.

But in their efforts to find him and bring him home, Johann's team had reached a deeper understanding of their invention and the inherit rules of such a device.

First...nothing had changed. That had been the biggest concern...that even the most earnest attempt to not change anything could be futile. Breaking a single blade of grass...or, far more likely, introducing some kind of disease that modern humans were now immune to but would devestate previous generations...it could alter the present in some unpredictable and horrifying way.

But despite the fact that Juvenal Quintus was presumably wandering around somewhere in the past, doing all kinds of accidental damage in his attempt to get home, nothing had changed in the modern world.

Further research showed that the reason for this was that, as many philosophers had theorized, there were in fact multiple realities. In sending Juvenal back, they had created a new divergence point. A new history. And a new "modern day" that was completely unrelated to their own.

Several billion dollars later, a method was developed to actually track an alternate history. It required only the deposit of a single microchip at the divergence point. Of course, with no way to ensure their return, Johann could not risk sending another human to leave the chip. He would have to find another way.

As you would no doubt expect, by this time, historical tourism had been ruled out. It was simply too dangerous. And with no historical tourism, there was no future income to be expected. And with no future income...meant no new investors.

The money had run out.

And when research begins to run out of money...with no feasible application to the average man...there is only one place to turn:

The government.

It was the President...a survivor of the concentration camps in World War II...who had championed the project as a way to "change" history.

And with his support, Johann Braun-Kennedy finally found an actual use for his project:

Send a single butterfly back in time, carrying the tracking device. The butterfly itself, as the theory goes, would have a random effect on history, which could be tracked.

And if it reached all the way to modern day...and the alternate world had somehow proven better than their own...

Johann's team had developed a way to accept the alternate world, and merge the two.

And so it was that the Butterfly Device finally came to fruition.

God, apparently, was not amused.
Actinguy said:
(Thanks for all of the comments! Sorry to disappoint...the Butterfly Device is not, in fact, a giant mechanical butterfly...and thus we are all clearly sitting on a goldmine. :D )

Awh, you spoiled the fun for me :(

Estonianzulu said:
Awh, you spoiled the fun for me :(
Not just you. Frankly this had now better be a stunning AAR to make up for the lack of metallic Lepidoptera. :p
Thanks as always for the comments...hope I can overcome the disappointment about the lack of mechanical butterflies in this story. :D

Figured I'd take a time-out to explain a little about my plans for this story, so that when I don't achieve them, we can at least look back on this post with fond memory. :rofl:

First, I had to go back and edit two parts:

1) I changed the 9/11 reference so that it happened a little OVER a decade ago, instead of ALMOST a decade ago. Originally, I planned for the "modern day" part of the story to take place in 2008...when I wrote the second part, and came up with the government's involvement...well, it didn't seem the sort of thing President Bush would be interested in. So I came up with the President being a holocaust survivor...but I also want this to be OUR timeline, and given that neither McCain, Obama, nor Clinton are even Jewish, much less survivors of the holocaust, and it seems unlikely that either one will choose a holocaust survivor as their VP, I have to bump the timeline to 2012. I have no current plans to fill in the blanks from 2008 - 2012...assume nothing wildly crazy has happened. You know...other than time travel. :D

2) I realized (belatedly) that a holocaust survivor would make an unlikely President of the United States, if only because of the 2nd article of the Constitution. This WILL be explained later in the story.

Anyway, my intent with the story:

The "olden days" part of the story will be standard AAR fare, probably...showing how the appearance of one butterfly sends history off on a different course than it did in our world. I'm also playing with the idea of showing just what happened to Juvenal Quentis (LOVE that name...the product of a random name generator), but I haven't figured it out yet.

But every 25 game years or so, I'll show what's happening in the "modern" world. The difference will be much slower...perhaps a couple weeks = 25 game years...showing the world's reaction to the Butterfly Device, etc. I've already got a few storylines in mind...I've even got an idea for the ending, though that's probably premature. ;c)

Anyhow...on with the show!
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Winter, 1066 - Northern France

Baldwin's father was dead.

He'd been dead for some time now, but still Baldwin was struggling, somewhere between depression and acceptance.

But he needed a sign.

A sign from his father...a sign from God...a sign from somebody on how to proceed. How to proceed as the new count of Guines, but more importantly, how to proceed in his father's footsteps.

And then...despite the foot or so of snow on the ground...there was a butterfly.

Had it been there before? Had there been an out-of-season butterfly there before, and he was just noticing it now?

Almost certainly, of course. There was nothing that terribly strange about a butterfly, after all. It was simply a case of...

It was gone.

It was gone...he'd just been staring at it, and now it was gone.

Where did it go?

Count Baldwin scanned the pasture, dug through the snow...he couldn't be losing his mind, could he? He was certain there had been a butterfly, and now...

There it was again. This time, he was certain of it...it had literally appeared out of nowhe...

It was gone again.

Mystified, Baldwin waited again...and this time, within a few seconds, it reappeared once more.

But rather than disappear...it began to fly. Towards the watch tower.

And Baldwin, Count of Guines, chased after it.

Chased after this sign from God...this miraculous butterfly.
(Lest Enewald be forced to resort to verbs. :D )
Winter, 1066 - Northern France

"Brother! What is it? What's wrong?"

"Reinel! Come quickly! We have to catch that butterfly!"

Reinel, the youngest of the de Guines family at 15, stopped in his tracks and watched his brother take off in full pursuit of the butterfly. He knew Baldwin had taken their father's passing hard, of course, but he had appeared to be making progress. Now, here he was, attempting to capture some poor, defenseless butterfly for reasons Reinel could only imagine. It was...

Oh God.

Reinel ran as fast as his legs would take him, until he reached the base of the watch tower.

"Brother! Brother, what are you doing?"

Baldwin was clinging to the exterior of the tower, at least 15 feet above Reinel's head.

"I already told you, Rein. I have to catch this butterfly!"


"Because it just appeared out of nowhere! I think it's a gift from..."

His foot slipped, briefly, before the Count regained his foothold.

"Brother...I think you should come down. It's not safe."

"Don't be silly, Rein. I've almost got him...hey. There's something on him. Something tied to his..."

He slipped again...it was so icy up here.


"It's...it's okay. He's just within my reach. I...damn it!"

"What? What is it?"

There was no response. He couldn't even see Baldwin anymore...the snow was coming down so hard...it was blinding."

"Brother? Brother...are you alright?"

"I'm fine Rein...it's just...the butterfly. He disappeared again."

"He flew away? Okay...that's alright. Just come down now."

"No, he didn't fly away. He just...wait! I think I see something! That...thing...that was tied to the butterfly. He dropped it on this ledge up here. It's shining like gold...but perfectly flat, maybe the size of a woman's fingernail...I can almost..."

"Look...you're practically at the top of the tower now. Why don't you just climb down? I'll go up the steps to the roof and then climb down and get it."

"Stop worrying, Rein! I used to scale this tower every day when I was your age. I know I'm not a kid anymore, but I'm hardly..."

Count Baldwin de Guines was flying like a butterfly.

Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at it.
Winter, 1066 - Northern France

The body of Count Baldwin de Guines lay in a pile of snow at the bottom of the watch tower. He had fallen more than fifty feet. Generally speaking, it had been an unpleasant experience.

But he was alive.

Breathe in...breathe out...no pain. That was either very, very good...or very, very bad.

He lifted one arm, then another. Still there. Still functioning. Good. Slowly now...slowly stand up. Left leg, right leg. Yes! Two working legs!

He hadn't just survived...he had barely a scratch on him. Two miracles, back to back. Surely...

He was surrounded.

It seemed the entire county had somehow seen his fall and come running. There were hundreds of them, all talking at the same time.

"Are you okay?"

"Sire! What happened?"

"Are you hurt?"

"She's going to kill them all."

"Can you walk okay?"

Baldwin blinked for a second, then waved, to silence the crowd.

"Wait...wait. What did...somebody just said..."

They were all still talking at once.

"Can you walk okay?"

"She's going to kill them all."

"Are you hurt?"

"Brother! Brother! Praise God, I thought you were dead!"

It was Reinel, having finally arrived by his brother's side. For just a brief second, a strange thought occured to Baldwin.

What the heck took him so long?

How was it that hundreds of people had reached the watch tower from town in the time that it took his brother...who had seen him fall...run maybe ten feet?

But it didn't really matter. He was far more concerned about the voice he'd heard that...

"Who said something about a woman...killing..."

"What? Brother? Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes, yes. Now, quiet for just a moment."

Baldwin found a large stone, and climbed to the top of it so that he could be seen by the entire crowd...a crowd that continued to shout questions at him, while in the periphery, he could still hear:

"She'll kill them all."

"Silence! Silence, everyone, please!"

Yet they grew louder. They weren't ignoring him...they were speaking directly to him. Why weren't they...


He could see Reinel staring at him in shock, but the rest of the mob continued to shout questions.


Finally, silence.

Then, a single voice.

"She'll kill them all."

"There! There! Who said that? Point him out to your liege, and you will be richly rewarded!"


Then...from the other side of the crowd.

"She'll kill them all."

"Who said that? Who is saying that?"

Then another voice...and another...and another.

And then...the entire crowd was chanting.

"She'll kill them all. She'll kill them all. She'll kill them all."

Baldwin began to shake...first his hand...then his entire body. This was madness...pure madness. To defy their liege! There was only one way to handle this.

He reached for his sword...until a hand stopped him.

Reinel's hand.

"Brother...there's nobody there."


"...We're alone."
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Spring, 1067 - Northern France

They thought he was crazy.

He knew that, of course. He knew because of the way they treated him like he was an injured child. He knew because of the way they looked at him. He knew because of their disinterest in his tales of a magical butterfly and a whisper of things to come.

They said he had hit his head in the fall...that something had shaken lose.

But...how did they explain the butterfly?

He had seen it before the fall...and Reinel had verified it's existance to the townspeople. Sure, Reinel had not personally seen the butterfly conducting miracles, but even by confirming that the butterfly had existed, didn't that prove Baldwin wasn't crazy?

Didn't it?

The voices in his head seemed to think so.

And they also said it was time to gather his cabinet, to directly face this threat of a mysterious woman who was destined to kill them all.
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Spring, 1067 - Northern France

Baldwin's brother had disappeared.

Not Reinel...no, Reinel had been by his side the whole night, quietly urging Baldwin to calm down and not overreact.

It was William, the middle Guines brother, who had disappeared.

He had only been gone for six or seven hours...but when you are the Count of a province in the Middle Ages, and can not find the Marshal of your army...that can be a problem.

So when Marshal William finally arrived at the castle, his robes torn and muddied, he had some e'splainin to do.


Reinel ran across the court, embracing William.

"Brother! What happened to you?"

Before he could answer, Count Baldwin rose from his throne, slowly walking until he stopped directly in front of his marshal.

"Yes, William. Tell us where you were. We were...concerned."

William caught his older brother's tone, and stumbled for a moment, then began his explanation.

"I was attacked, brother. Attacked and robbed by thieves! Scoundrels!"

"Thieves? Within my walls? This will not stand. You had a good look at these thieves, did you, William?"

"Yes. One was tall, with a flowing beard, in a red cape. The other one was a bit smaller, but..."



"Two? There were two thieves?"

"Well, yes, brother. Two thieves. One held me at sword-point while the other..."



"You're telling me the marshal of my armies was attacked by two meager thieves within my walls, and they not only survived...they actually managed to rob him?"

"Well, brother, these were large men. Each the size of..."

"You said one was small."


"You said one was small. One was tall, one was small. Your words."

"When I said 'small', brother, I meant by comparison to..."

"Where were you, William?"

There was silence in the court. They were in shock. They knew their liege was losing his mind...but at the same time...the marshal's story was hard to believe. They breathed a sigh of relief when Annelies, Baldwin's wife, arrived and tried to defuse the situation.

"Husband, what's wrong?"

"It seems we have a traitor in our midst, Annelies."

"A...a traitor? Who?"

"My dear brother William, it seems. The trusted marshal of my armies. Would you care to share your tale of woe with the Countess, William?"

"Lady Annelies...I do not know what my brother goes on about. You know that he has been ill..."

"SILENCE! You will tell her your lies, or you will tell her nothing at all."

"Your husband believes that I lie, but I was attacked by two thieves just hours ago, here within the city walls."



"You forgot to tell her they were giants."

"They were not giants, brother. But one was extremely tall, and the other was also tall, but just a bit smaller in comparison to the taller one."

"Annelies? What do you have to say to his story?"

"I'm...I'm not sure what to say, husband. I'm not sure what is happening here right now. But I'm sure that whatever you believe is certainly correct and...and..."

Annelies was at a loss for words. She didn't like the way Baldwin was suddenly staring at her.

"You...you don't know what is happening here?"

"Well, no, husband. I only just arrived, and..."

"Yes. Of course. You did just arrive."

Annelies breathed a sigh of relief.

"And yet, I'm wondering something, Annelies. At first, I was faced with one of two options. Either William had told the truth, and was robbed by two thieves within our city walls...or he was lying, for reasons unknown."

"I don't..."

"But now...my wife...the trusted leader of my information network...says she doesn't know what is happening."

"Husband, you have not been feeling well. You know that I love you, and your brother loves you, and..."

"And I'm wondering, Annelies, how it could be that the trusted leader of my information network is unaware that we have two reportedly-gigantic thieves wandering through my town's walls."

"Please, husband, you're scaring me."

"So if you are unaware of these thieves, then William, of course, must be lying. Most likely, in an attempt to seize the county for himself."


"And yet...if this is true...how does my spy master know nothing of his plan? Why have I had to figure this out for myself?"

"Baldwin, I'm sorry. If it is true...if William really is plotting against you, then I am sorry that I failed you as spy master. If you want to appoint someone else..."

"Where were you, Annelies?"


"Where were you? You just arrived, moments after William reappeared. Where were you?"

"I...I went for a walk. To the river."

"At this hour?"

"I couldn't sleep, husband. You know how I've had trouble sleeping, ever since you haven't been feeling well, and..."

There was silence as Annelies' voice dropped off. Baldwin stared at his wife. Stared at his brother. Stared at his wife.

"Were I any other man, I would think you two were having an affair."

"No! Please, Baldwin, I swear to you. With God as my witness, I have never..."

"I know, Annelies. I know it isn't true."

"Oh...oh, praise God. Oh, how you scared me, husband. I thought for a moment that you actually believed..."

"She'll kill them all."

Annelies stopped mid-sentence. She had heard the phrase before, of course. Heard it nearly non-stop, as her husband had been mumbling it to himself for months now, ever since he had hit his head.

But he had never said it quite like that...and never said it while staring directly into her eyes.

"Baldwin...husband...please. Please. You can't possibly think that I..."

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@ Iamwhoa: Thank you! As for the lack of comments...I actually started strong here, comments-wise, but support appears to have dissolved over my decision to make the butterfly non-metallic. :D