The launch team kept Ethan in bed for three days, subjecting him to dozens of tests as they tried to determine if he had permanent damage. Ethan let them talk and explain, but he didn’t care at all what they said. He only wanted his next dose of Memnon. It mattered nothing to him that he now had a defibrillator in his chest.
The first time Ethan had told Angie about traveling in time, she laughed. But when he predicted the correct Baltimore Orioles scores three days in a row, she became a believer.
Ethan had struggled with the decision to expose her to this information, but he needed someone to talk to about what he was experiencing and it couldn’t be Churchill’s launch team. He needed help in sorting out his thoughts, not having his brain picked over.
Today, after Angie joined him for lunch in the quadrangle, Ethan turned strangely silent.
“What’s disturbing you, Ethan?”
He told her about . “The men I helped to kill. I was terrified that I’d change everything in the future. But I get back here and nothing is different. At least not as far as I can tell. I wonder if I’ve come back to a parallel universe.”
“Or maybe your fears were overblown?”
Ethan shook his head slowly back and forth. “I once read a science fiction story where a time traveler killed a butterfly far in the past. When he returned to his own time, some of the words in his language had changed.”
“So you thought you’d thrown off the course of history?”
Ethan nodded. “Yes.”
“That’s fiction, Ethan. Think about it. That’s the theory that everything is so interconnected that the slightest twitch has a consequence. But don’t forget about entropy. All energy turns to heat and sifts away to become background static in the universe. I think most events also become background static. Let’s say that butterfly was to have been eaten by a bird five seconds later. Its death would have no impact. Or it lived another week and then fell into the underbrush. What would that matter? Only if that butterfly flew in front of Wilbur Wright and gave him the idea to fly would it have been important. Or if it flew into his eye and caused him to crash.”
“But men aren’t butterflies,” Ethan said.
“There are several ways to think about this. First, maybe the reason you see no change back in this time is that those men would have died anyway. Maybe at Gettysburg or some other battle. No net effect. Second, let’s face reality. Most people’s lives are not important. Yes, one of those soldiers you killed might have had children if he hadn’t been killed; yes, those children would have had children and so on down to the present. There would now be families that don’t exist. But what is the effect of their non-existence? If they became farmers or merchants or whatever, unless they would have done something dramatic, historically, we’d never hear of them.
“And what of the men those soldiers in turn would have killed? You saved their lives. Those who should have been dead now have descendants in this time, but unless one of them has had a society-changing idea, how would it affect us? The fact that there has been no change proves that those descendants have done nothing significant and those who would have been alive also never did anything earth-shaking. Their living or dying hasn’t changed our lives. Or, the time frame is too short to see what effect their existence or non-existence will cause. Maybe in a thousand years you would see an effect, but after a century and a half, nothing has changed. Most events are small events. Most people live small lives.”
“You sound like an expert.”
“I am. I’ve lived a very small life.”
“Are you saying that if a man falls in the forest and nobody hears, then it never happened?
Angie chuckled. “In a way, yes. If you’d killed ’s father, you’d know about it. But most people just settle into the entropy of history. They’re just static.”
“You’re a real humanitarian.”
“You’d never believe I started out as a philosophy major in college.”
“I realized it wouldn’t pay the rent. I became a pragmatist and went into something tangible: nursing. Most people don’t even get fifteen minutes of fame. And those who do make very little use of it.”
“You don’t think your son was important?”
She sighed. “Yes, he was important to me, but I’ve seen the way friends and relatives have forgotten him. For whatever reason, they never mention him. Except in my mind, it’s as if he never existed. It’s sobering, but it’s true.”
Ethan said, “I’ve thought of a more frightening possibility.”
“What if there is no cause and effect? What if it doesn’t matter what anyone does?”
“Sounds pretty existential.”
“What if what goes around doesn’t ever really come around?”
“Then good and evil don’t matter? There’s no karma?” Angie lifted her thick eyebrows.
They both sat in silence pondering the implications.