Welcome!  Enjoy an excerpt from The Butterfly Inevitability, J.D. Stimpson's fourth novel!

Chapter I

February 25, 2051. Long Beach, California

Edward Nakayama stared out at the crowd of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, philanthropists, musicians, architects, doctors, and world leaders. This was not an easy crowd to speak to, when you really thought about it. There was a large timer at his feet, its glowing red numbers steadily progressing down from twenty-two minutes, making progress whether or not Edward did. The curator of TED shifted uncomfortably in her seat to Edward's left on the stage. Ten more seconds drew by. The audience seemed concerned that something was wrong. Edward continued his pose of thinking, staring back at the audience, silent, as if they were supposed to understand what was going on. The curator shifted again as the clock ticked past twenty-one minutes, and Edward glanced at her to make sure that she wasn't about to get up and kick him off the stage. It was time. Edward drew in a deep breath, and began to speak.

“Sixty seconds. Sixty thousand milliseconds. One minute. That's all that just passed,” he said with a wry, slightly arrogant smile on his face. He motioned toward the curator. “And yet she was ready to kick me off the stage.” The crowd laughed, likely more out of relief than out of humor. “My name is Edward Nakayama, and I'm a mathematician. I'm here today at TED to talk to you about my wish, the wish that made me lucky enough to win this year's TED Prize.” He paused for dramatic effect. “My wish is to have that minute back.” He paused again, smiling slightly. This was going to go well.

The speech was complex, mathematics woven together with physics, quantum theory, and a touch of humor here and there. But the roar and the standing ovation that followed his closing let Edward know that he had just changed the world. He had discovered the secret to time travel. It was almost accidental, in reality. He had spent twelve years studying ways to get humans as far away from the Earth as possible. People knew for sure now that they had tipped the scale too far; the world was going to collapse under the devastation that humans had caused to the environment and planet's ecology. In 2039, a Great Extinction was occurring that spurred Edward into his frantic research. It started from the most unlikely of places, which in retrospect, seemed obvious. In 2032, the last member of two apex predator species, the polar bear and the great white shark, died, the bear by starvation due to global warming and the shark by being shot for attempting to take a fisherman's catch. The result was a population boom in the species that these two predators would normally hunt. The most aggressive survivors of those prey species began to dominate unchecked, resulting in unbelievably rapid predation to extinction for a number of other species, and extinction by starvation for yet more species. By 2039, a Great Extinction was underway; by the time of Edward's speech, nearly 35% of species on the planet had gone extinct, a snowball effect that Edward himself predicted would reach more than 60% of species by the time it righted itself. Millions of humans were dying of starvation now because of the extinctions; Edward predicted when he began his research in 2039 that the extinction would cause the human population on the planet to be cut in half by 2075, and his prediction was right on track as of 2051. Desperate, Edward and thousands of other scientists from all over the world looked for ways to either turn the planet around or permanently move somewhere else.

Edward's goal was a wormhole. He wanted to figure out the mathematics involved to send people over very long distances in no time at all by wrinkling the fabric of space. In Einstein's model and in quantum models, space and time were mixed entities, so in theory if one could figure out a way to affect one without affecting the other, you could travel through space without time passing, maybe at all if it was efficient enough. What he ended up figuring out was exactly the opposite. Stumbling through some calculations late one evening, his exhausted mind suddenly realized that although he couldn't seem to solve for the space variable relative to time, he could do so the other way around. He couldn't believe his luck, and simultaneously that he hadn't seen it earlier. He'd been so focused on trying to solve for one specific thing that a world-changing discovery had been sitting right under his nose for years without him noticing it. The mathematics were laid for time travel. The trick, of course, was actually building it.

Edward was not an engineer, he was a mathematician, and he knew immediately two things: that he had an absolute gold mine on his hands, and that he wouldn't be able to build it himself. Now he had a problem. He was going to have to share this discovery with the world before he was able to complete it himself, and he didn't know anyone whom he could trust enough to share it safely. So he decided to take a big risk. He would announce it to the whole world at once, and to the highest bidder would go the spoils. He would make more than enough money selling the plans to fund his own continued research for the rest of his life, and he could continue his life in peace. He was not really interested in a time machine, after all. He wanted to build a wormhole, and like he couldn't see past that to make his discovery until years later, he also would never be able to see past it as his goal in life. He was a focused mind, and his focus was space travel, not time travel.

The bids were staggeringly large. Edward hadn't realized how much the idea of time travel sparks the human mind's imagination and desire. Everyone wanted these plans. He quickly realized he had one of the most lucrative ideas ever conceived. And because of that fact, it was one of the most dangerous as well. The largest bids came from governments, and so did many of the threats. Within weeks it felt like the world was on the brink of war surrounding the plans. Edward quickly decided and make his declaration clear to the world that he would not sell the plans to any government body because he would not incite a war. Corporations offered less money, but they were also less intimidating. After turning down the two highest bids because they were government contractors, Edward went with the third bid, selling the plans to a huge technology research and innovation conglomerate. This meant that the plans went to a number of different companies at once, which made Edward a huge amount of money and made the companies a little safer and less of a target. Within $79 billion now in the bank to fund his research, Edward's job was done.

Chapter II

May 3, 2052. Undisclosed location, Ohio

Dr. Tyra Elling sighed and rubbed her temples. She looked at the young man next to her. They were almost completely diametrically opposite each other in looks. He was tall, probably six foot five, and thick, maybe two hundred and seventy pounds. She was less than an inch over five feet tall and slender. He wore glasses, which he was constantly adjusting, which she found funny since it was very rare for people not to have Lasik eye surgery anymore. She had never naturally had great vision, but like almost everyone else in America she relied on science to give her perfect vision rather than wearing cumbersome glasses. His pale Caucasian skin looked extra light in the glowing LED lighting in the laboratory. Her coffee-colored African skin glowed in the bright room. He always wore a lab coat no matter what they were working on, wanting the front pockets for pads of paper and pens and the like. She always wore business dress, even working in the lab. He was a few years from thirty. She was a few years from sixty-five. But they were both Americans, and they were both scientists, and that allowed them to talk about things that they didn't always feel comfortable talking about with the rest of the team. She stared at him. “This is just not a good idea Nathan.” He breathed out deeply and adjusted his glasses.

“I believe in you, Dr. Elling. So does the rest of this team. We're close, and we all have the same goals. We knew what this was when we got into it.” Tyra looked at him, her lips drawn.

“For the millionth time, Nathan, don't call me Dr. Elling, even if you're trying to make a point. You'd get upset at me if I referred to you Dr. Eades all the time.” Nathan smirked before replying.

“Dr. Eades is not the team lead on this project.” She smiled at him humorlessly.

“Yes, well, Dr. Elling isn't sure that she's capable of being the team lead for this sometimes.” She reflected for a minute. “I believe in our cause, Nathan, I really do. But I don't know how we're going to get away with it, and I also don't like doing what we're doing to the government.” Nathan pursed his lips, scratched his head, and adjusted his glasses.

“Well, in all fairness, we're doing the same thing to the Chinese government.” He paused for a second as he realized his mistake. “I'm sorry Tyra. That was supposed to make you feel better about it. A miserable failure on my part.” She laughed ruefully.

“Ironically, that apology was the first laugh I've had all day. You're right, you know. The team is international for a reason, and they're an amazing group of scientists and engineers, and they all believe in what we're doing, even if the American and Chinese governments wouldn't be thrilled. Besides, if we are going to win this race, we need the money from both of them. Come on, let's get back to the others.” They stood up and walked out of the side room they were in and back to the main laboratory of ChronoTech.

ChronoTech was an international company consisting of just a few very talented engineers and scientists, who had been trying together to build a time machine since the company was founded in 2041. They believed that a time machine would be capable of allowing them to use the butterfly effect in time travel to their advantage. At the risk of their lives, if they could alter things in the past just enough to prevent some of the world's most horrible things from happening, they could perhaps create a world that was not about to collapse. They knew the risks, that they could end up with unforeseen consequences of their actions, but they were prepared to take those risks based on the idea that the world was collapsing around them as is, and it was much more likely, mathematically, that they would make things better than worse. But their endeavors seemed very far off in 2041, and until a decade later, they had struggled to find enough funding just to stay in business. But when Edward Nakayama made his speech at TED, the company was able to glean a large enough loan from a venture capitalism firm to put their name into the conglomerate of buyers of the plans. Now they had the plans, but also a huge debt to repay and not nearly enough money to actually figure out how to construct the machine and do so.

So they went to governments with pleas for money. Governments all over the world were desperate to pay into companies to help fund the project after Dr. Nakayama decided he would not allow governments to purchase the plans. Each nation hoped to be the one to fund the company that actually succeeded in building the first working time machine, and ChronoTech was in a great position to take advantage of their desperation. But the research they were working on was something completely new, something complicated and unprecedented and, above all, expensive. The company signed a contract with the United States government, and quickly found that what they were being funded wasn't nearly enough. They made their case for more money, but the U.S. had a lot of spending decisions to make and they were brushed aside multiple times. And when a new offer came in from the Chinese government, ChronoTech took it without telling either government about the other.

Now they were close. Aggravatingly, painfully close. Their vision, their professional career goal, was right on the doorstep of completion. Tyra looked at the great minds who turned to look at her when she came into the main lab. She smiled and nodded to them. Every corner of the world, it felt like, was represented here, and it was beautiful to see her team so close to the successful end of its mission. Dr. Aalia Nasser, a beautiful and brilliant Egyptian engineer who Tyra had assigned as her engineering lead, made her way over to them as they entered. Nathan smiled at her, the kind of smile that someone gives when they have a crush on someone and want to embrace it and pretend it doesn't exist at the same time. She returned the smile smoothly in the way people do when they have gotten used to receiving attention from as early age, and turned to Tyra. “Tyra, we have an issue. We got a call this morning from a member of the Chinese intelligence agency. I think they know about the American money.” Tyra took a deep breath. She knew this was coming eventually. She tried to stay composed as she spoke to her lead engineer.

“Thanks for letting me know Aalia. Will we still hit our target date of completion?” Aalia bit her lip, reading Tyra's mind.

“Yes. I'll make sure of it.” Tyra smiled as reassuringly as she could at both of them.

“Okay. I will buy you the time. We are so close. Let's make this happen.”

Chapter III

May 12, 2052. Undisclosed location, Ohio

Tyra wanted to find words, to be the leader that her peers trusted her to be, but there were no words for this. She had bought them the time, but counted on them being done on time. The Chinese government was bearing down on them, and to make it worse, they had called the United States government for permission to visit the ChronoTech facilities to ensure that nothing strange was going on, which alerted U.S. intelligence to what the company was doing as well. This was treason, by the definition of both governments, and a friend close to Tyra had already called her late that night to let her know that the U.S. had issued a warrant for their arrest. They were down to hours. But they had done it.

The time machine was complete. For the first time ever, humans would be able to travel in time. And it worked. They had two successful tests to both the past and the future. Or at least four tests where the matter had disappeared. But they were out of time, and that counted as successful as far as they were concerned. The mechanics for a human were simple. The machine itself was simply an instrument to massively accelerate or decelerate space-time and doing so without gravity, so as to isolate space and time as two elements, and wrinkle the layer of time in either direction. Once complete, the machine was gone, and with the human being was a single device worn around the neck that acted like a homing beacon, providing a trip back to any point in time during which the machine exists. From there, they were on their own. Ready to change the timeline for better or worse.

Tyra took a deep breath and drowned the phones around the lab that were ringing off the hook, the United States government giving them one last chance to give themselves up willingly. Her heart was pounding faster than she had ever felt it go. She was about to travel in time, to escape this world as she knew it, to completely erase what had happened and write a new line of history, to act out the butterfly effect that terrified people about time travel. The phones stopped ringing. They were on their way. The team was out of time. She looked around at her colleagues, turning to face them. It was time for goodbyes. She stepped to the first person in line.

Dr. Jesse Autry looked back at her, his weathered Australian skin looking more weathered than it had been yesterday. He put out his strong hand, and she pushed out of the way and wrapped her arms around him. He closed his strong arms around her, his powerful chest hard against her cheek. She remembered running with him as he trained for races; he insisted that now that he was over forty, running was the only thing keeping him young. She pulled back and stared hard at him. “You have what you're supposed to have?” He smiled and patted a pouch at his side.

“Cloaking device. Translator. Good to go.” She nodded. They would each bring a common cloaking device, which allowed them to appear as though they were of whatever race and time they wanted to be. They also would each have a translator implanted in their ear, allowing whatever they were saying to be translated into the language they wanted as they were saying it, and also translating anything they head back into whatever language they preferred. They agree to bring nothing else; no weapons, nothing that would make them stand out or allow them to vastly alter the timeline once they were where they were going to go. They were all terrified enough of what they were about to do. All of the literature had warned about the butterfly effect, that anything they touched could completely alter the timeline and end not only their lives but everything on Earth. Some scientists even said that time travel to the future was possible and not time travel to the past, because the paradoxes created were so dark and mysterious. Well, the math allowed them to do it, and butterfly effect be damned, they were going to do it. Each one of them also had a mission, a personal goal that they set for themselves, some horrible thing in time that they wanted to alter to try to prevent the devastation that people had wrought upon this world. Tyra looked back up at Jesse.

“You know where you're going, yes?” Jesse laughed slightly.

“Yes, mum. Relax. I know what I'm doing. Claire and I, we're headed to the beginning of the second industrial revolution. We intend to stop the Bessemer process.” Dr. Claire Livingston, standing tall and statuesque at Jesse's side, piped in, her British accent differing only slightly from Jesse's Australian accent, creating an interesting combination in conversation.

“We both feel that the creation of mass produced steel opened the doors to the massive technology revolution that followed and the environmental devastation that we have caused to this planet.” Tyra put her hand on Claire's shoulder with a warm smile.

“A great idea, and a noble cause. Good luck to you both. Please, take care of each other.” She moved her way down the line, and Dr. Eugene Klaus fixed his stoic German gaze on her. She looked at him for a moment, tearing up. His hard face softened and he stepped into her, holding her close as she melted against him. About her age and a brilliant scientist, both she and Eugene were widowed, and they had been dating for almost three years. She loved him very much, and the thought that she would never see him again, even though they had both prepared for it, was devastating. She tried to speak through the tears to get them to stop. “Please be safe. I will miss you so, so much.” He ran his fingers through her hair as he held her.

“I love you. I will miss you too, and I will dream of you while we're gone.” She pushed away just enough to kiss him and stare into his eyes.

“Where are you going to go?” He raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath.

“China. The ninth century. I think the invention of gunpowder is what brought us to this point, and I will do everything I can to undo that invention.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“That's so dangerous. But I know you can do it. I love you.” He broke her embrace and held her at arms length, his own eyes teary, but trying to steel his face to remind her of what they have to do, and quickly. She took a deep breath and moved on. Nathan's giant frame stood in front of her. He was moving his glasses around to wipe tears from behind them. She embraced him, her face barely reaching his ribcage. He put his arms around her, gently, as was always his way. He was always kind of awkward with social interaction anyway, so it suited him. “Where are you going Nathan?”

“I'm going to stop World War I. It's going to take a long time to do it, so I'm headed back to way before the war, but if I can stop that war from happening, then it will stop World War II as well, and I think that's as much as anyone can hope for.” She sniffled and smiled up at him.

“I'm proud of you.” He smiled warmly back at her and adjusted his glasses.

“Thanks.” She looked around him, where Dr. Christina Orlov was almost hidden behind him. Christina did not look like the stereotypical Russian. She was barely as tall as Tyra, and curvy. She was the youngest member of the team, six months younger than Nathan. She was one of the most brilliant minds Tyra has ever encountered, and she had been so happy to have someone so talented on the team who was short like her. Christina smiled shyly at her. Tyra smiled widely at her and gave her a friendly hug. “I'll miss you, Christina. Thank you for everything. Where are you going?” Christina looked back at her, an excited gleam in her eye.

“One hundred and thirty B.C. The Roman Empire. About that time, the Romans for the first time were on the cusp of the plebeians gaining complete democratic power, the kind of power they held in Greece. I believe that the subsequent reaction of the Senate, the patricians, and eventually the empire that ensued, created the foundation for democratic empires to exist where the haves completely dominate the have nots, and pretend they are represented in government when they are not. It may take us back to worldwide isolationism, but I believe that's better than where we are today where people are deceived into thinking they are represented when they are not.” Tyra nodded approval and gave her another hug. She walked to her team. They would be joining her on her own mission, and thus they would be the first to travel, along with her. She wished she didn't have to put that sort of risk on them, that she could do it herself, but she knew their conviction was as great as her own. Aalia and Dr. Carla Flores looked at her, strength written in their faces over the fear, and she tried to return a reassuring smile at them. They were headed to feudal England, in the 1500s, to try to control the advent of capitalism and adjust its tenets, which they believed was the start of taking greed and coercion international, fostering the European empires that destroyed so many civilizations and either killed or enslaved so many people. If they could stem the power of those empires, they could preserve the way of life for so many innocent civilizations that were crushed under the fist of expansion and capitalist exploitation. Tyra took a deep breath and looked at her compatriots.

“Are you ready for this?” They looked at each other. Carla nodded at Aalia and smiled. Aalia pulled her in and kissed her. Tyra realized that they were going to have to struggle to conceal their love for each other while they were in a devastatingly closed-minded 1500s England. She let them have their moment, turning and getting her cloaking device and putting in her translator. They rested their foreheads against one another, Carla speaking softly in Spanish to Aalia, something she loved. Then they shut their eyes and turned back to Tyra, ready to join her.

Together they walked toward the time machine and stepped inside. The mercury alloy door slid closed gently, and the lights inside the machine activated. Tyra, her heart in her throat and her hands shaking, made sure that they were traveling to the right time of day and year to put them in England. The system could take advantage of the Earth's rotation and its rotation around the sun to move them across the planet while it took them back in time, but the power of the system to physically move people was much more limited than its time travel capability, so they would each do everything they could to choose a time of day and time of year that minimized such travel as much as possible to ensure accuracy. Everything was set. She turned to look at Aalia and Carla. They nodded to her. She shut her eyes and said a prayer for the rest of the scientists outside on their missions, and for the three of them. Silently, she made her peace with herself and flipped the protective pad up to reveal the bright red glowing button that would execute the command. She softly moved her thumb over it to make sure she had it, and shut her eyes again. Gritting her teeth, she flexed her shoulder and shifted her hand downward, her thumb firmly pressing down the execute button.