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No Butterflies Here

Can one person make a difference?

By Lisa VanGalenPublished about a year ago 10 min read
No Butterflies Here
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

“You have to listen to me!” Greg screamed at FBI Agent Williams, grabbing at the man's arm as he strode past. “You don't understand how important this is. Our entire way of life is at stake!”

Greg's actions resulted in a swarm of security pushing him back to the sidewalk as Agent Williams glared over his shoulder at the crazed man who was now leaping above the blockade, still adamant about talking to him.

“I know about the terrorists,” Greg said, in a final effort to gain some credibility. It had taken him three weeks to close to the agent. Quantico had been decidedly uncooperative in their efforts to relay his message. As he fell beneath the weight of the guards, he tried one last time.

“Look in that briefcase! I've seen the email you're going to send to your boss. They're not going to react fast enough. You have to stop them before September 11th!” Greg's voice tapered off under the barrage of instructions from the men atop him, knees and boots encouraging him to be silent.

Agent Williams watched as the man was dragged into the sombre black SUV idling at the curb. Flanked by two men, only a glimpse of a beige jacket and faded denim jeans were visible before the door closed and the car tore off for the secure facility beneath the local police headquarters. As the disruption settled down and the crowd went about their daily routine, Ken picked up the abandoned case and stood silently brooding over what he had heard. The information he received only an hour previously in a confidential document was eerily similar to the crazy man's statement.

Only how had the stranger known about it? Ken's sources were air-tight. And how could he possibly have read an email that hadn't been written? Agent Williams had more questions than answers. Entering 26 Federal Plaza, Ken rode the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor, exiting into the secure area. Retinal scan complete, he entered his office, locking the door behind him. The documents he needed were ensconced in the vault on a lower level. He secured his side-arm and the stranger's briefcase before exiting to find his boss. Something about this whole thing wasn't right, and he needed someone to listen to his theories.


Across town, Greg sat in his cell and hung his head. This wasn't how he pictured it going. Before he left in February of 2023, he had researched everything he could about the FBI's involvement and who would be the most approachable. It had been hard, looking back through twenty-two years of files and getting documents declassified. Without the newest technology, all of his hard work would have been for nothing. Maybe it would anyway, since he had blown his one shot at talking to Ken Williams.

Rubbing his face, he sighed. All he could do now was hope he had planted enough information for the agent to question and perhaps prompt a visit to the jail. Hopefully, before Greg found himself stashed in a mental facility or hidden away in some black site. Surely, someone would question how he knew about terrorists and emails from the FBI. It wasn't as though they broadcast information like that on the news or the internet. Not in 2001, anyway. It was hard for Greg to keep jumping back and forth. So much that he took for granted didn't exist yet. Maybe it wouldn't at all if he could stop the attacks from happening.

Curious, he leaned back on the bunk and began to ponder the 'what if's. What if his actions stopped the planes from taking off? What if they could find the pilots before they were trained? Maybe he hadn't gone back far enough. It had been so hard to guess what date to choose. Too soon, and Ken wouldn't have enough background to believe him, if he believed him at all. Too late, and it would look like he had access to secret files in this timeline which might undermine the integrity of the documents. Leaks tended to do that, to distract from the true message.

Greg also knew there was a very real chance that being here now meant he wouldn't exist anymore in 2023. The butterfly effect could unravel everything. But if that were true, and the timelines changed, how would he have gotten here to begin with? His head began to hurt with all the possibilities. For now, he would have to hope Agent Williams would be dismayed enough to come looking for him.


Ken Williams tossed a stack of file folders on top of his briefcase. His boss had been unimpressed by his report of the stranger from the front steps. Special Agent Cassidy's response contained a great many expletives and discouraging remarks about crazy people and how they had enough to worry about without their two cents worth. Williams wasn't convinced. Something about the man niggled at him. Punching a button on his phone, he connected with the security office.

“Hey, Doug,” he said. “Wondered if you could pull a tape for me? I'd like to look over the altercation on the front steps this morning?”

“You're not the only one asking,” Doug replied. “Why all the interest?”

“If I claim “National Security”, will you buy that?” Ken laughed.

“Isn't everything around here,” came the sour reply. “Yeah, I'll cut you a copy. Are you coming down to get it? Or should I send someone up to you?”

Ken looked at the stack of papers from SA Cassidy. “I'll be down in ten.” Hanging up the phone, he sorted the files into priority sequence before tucking them into the filing cabinet. This day was strange enough without things going missing. Keys safely in his pocket, Agent Williams strode towards the elevator. Maybe he could get one thing cleared up on his way down.


Greg counted the tiles on the floor of the small room he had been dumped into. Stripped of his notes, identification and shoelaces, he pondered how long it would take for someone to storm back in and question the validity of his driver's licence. Or how it was that all of his ID was dated from the 21st century.

“Stupid rookie mistake,” he berated himself. It was a simple habit to tuck his wallet into his jacket pocket. Reflex. One which might see him incarcerated in some black ops site while simultaneously being a freshman at high school. His brain hurt trying to figure out the implications of being in two places at literally the same time.

The door slid to the side, the silence more impressive than any metal scraping could have been. The figure looming in the light from the flickering overhead fixture flashed in and out of focus.

“You really should change the ballast in that thing. It's going to give somebody a stroke,” Greg quipped, hoping to defuse the tension seeping into his cell.

Agent Williams stepped across the threshold and the metal barricade smoothly locked back into place.

“We need to talk,” the agent began. “Let's start with who you are and how you know so much about AL-Queda?”

Greg swallowed, his throat suddenly as dry as the desert in Afghanistan. Working up a bit of saliva, he forced out a whisper, his hands raised in an effort to convince Ken that he was no threat. Convincing him of the truth would be a harder sell.

“As my ID says, I am not from this century. We don't have flying cars yet, but we have worked out time travel. As soon as I could get locked onto 2001, I jumped at the chance to stop the attacks on the World Trade Center. You need to believe me. There are four planes that will be hijacked on the morning of September 11th, and flown into Towers 1 and 2, as well as the Pentagon. The last one gets taken down by the passengers. That was a fluke. But it's the other three you need to stop. If you don't, this country is going to get dragged into a war in the Middle East that will last for years.” Greg stopped to take a breath, hoping the agent would let him continue and not just drop him into an asylum.

A grim look settled on Agent Williams' face as he picked through the barrage of information. If there was any truth to the statements coming from this..this time traveller..he was obligated to investigate and follow up, as thin as the leads may be. If it weren't for the reams of documents Greg had given him, there would be little to work with. As it was, it took a great deal for Ken to suspend his disbelief. Time travel was a myth, a hint over the water cooler. His contact in Special Projects would neither confirm nor deny the possibility of such an event occurring. That in itself tickled his neck hairs.

“OK,” he began. “Let's say you are from 2023.” The agent lifted his own hand to slow Greg from speaking. “I'm not convinced, but let's just work with that. Why come to me?”

“In the future, there is a record of you writing a memo to your team indicating there is a suspicion that foreign operatives training in American flight schools. I thought if I gave you the proof to substantiate your claim that you – I – might be able to prevent the attacks.” Greg paused. “Over 3000 people are going to die. I had to try.”

Agent Williams stood leaning against the wall, a document folder clenched in his hand. Within it lay photographs of the suspected terrorists, nine of them. Curiosity pushed him to ask for corroboration.

“If you know so much, which of these men are the terrorists that attack the Towers?”

“Just the towers? Or all four that I know of?”

“Start with the towers,” Ken said, handing over the file. He planned to compare the fingerprints later to verify ownership of the documents in the case, but his gut was telling him that Greg was the real deal.

Greg flipped through the dossiers, pulling out the files with the picture of Mohamed Atta and Marwen al-Shehhi. The names were not noted. “These two. Atta and al-Shehhi.” He flipped through the stack and grabbed two more. “And these ones are responsible for the other two planes.”

Agent Williams pushed off of the wall to take the pile from Greg. A shiver ran down his spine. This was credible information. The four individuals had been flagged for various suspected activities against American targets, but nothing this big.

“You know I am going to have to confirm that these people are even remotely involved in flight training or have the capability of flying a Boeing..747?”

“767,” Greg corrected. “And 757s.”

“767,” the agent repeated, possibilities rattling through his brain. It was not easy to learn to fly such a large aircraft. Surely, newly trained pilots would not be able to make such maneuvers as would be needed to strike the World Trade Center towers.

Concerned enough to want verification, he had sent a message to his counterparts at the CIA. They reluctantly agreed that they had heard similar chatter but were convinced the attacks would not be on American soil. At the end of the day, there was simply too much information and not enough facts.

Greg could see the dilemma playing across Agent Williams' face. “Look. I wouldn't believe me either. But, please. At least send the memo. Copy the one in my files if you want. Just don't stop trying.”

Greg's voice began to waver. His connection to the timeline was fading. He had but minutes before he disappeared from this secure facility adding one more mystery to Ken's day.

“I'll know immediately if you were successful, but you won't. Not until after September 11th. That's only two months from now. Good luck, Agent Williams. And God speed.”

Greg's hold on the timeline of the past shimmered and released.

“Time's up,” the computer chimed. “Successfully reentry of Greg Norton. Date achieved: July 10, 2001. Date of return: February 27, 2023. No butterfly effect detected.”

Greg sighed as he looked at the scars on his arms. He'd gotten them pulling survivors out of a bombed building in Kabul in 2007. Some things never change. Hoping something good might have come from his leap through time, he began scanning for footage from 9/11. With a start, he stopped on a solitary image from the streets of New York he had not seen before. Outlined in the smoke, covered in the soot of the destroyed buildings stood Agent Williams, Greg's briefcase in one hand.

A knock at the door brought him back to the present.

“Doctor Norton?” his aide asked. “This was just dropped off for you. It's from an Agent Williams at the FBI.”

Greg looked at the screen before hurrying to grab the parcel. Hastily scribbled across the box was a note: 'To be delivered on February 27, 2023'. Like a ghost reaching through time, Greg could picture the agent standing in front of him, concern and wonder mixing on the man's face. Before Dr. Norton cut the seal on the box, he patted his empty jacket pocket.

His fingerprints stayed in the dust of a thousand stars embedded on the box itself. Greg hesitated. He supposed the dust could be from ground zero. He just couldn't tell without doing an analysis. Inside, wrapped carefully in layers of newspapers dated September 12, 2001, he found his briefcase as well as the dossiers he had handled. And his wallet.

“Well,” Greg mused. “At least I won't have to stand in line at the DMV tomorrow.”

Short StorySci Fi

About the Creator

Lisa VanGalen

I am a panster by nature, discovering my characters as they reveal themselves. To date, my novel writing has involved the paranormal or magick within a more familiar setting, blending it with mysteries, police procedurals, or thrillers.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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  • Flamance @ lit.2 months ago

    Awesome story I love it

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