“You heard me,” said Travis. “What’re you staring at?” Eckels stood smelling of the air, and there was a thing to the air, a chemical taint so subtle, so slight, that only a faint cry of his subliminal senses warned him it was there. The colours, white, grey, blue, orange, in the wall, in the furniture, in the sky beyond the window, were . . . were . . . And there was a feel. His flesh twitched. His hands twitched. He stood drinking the oddness with the pores of his body. Somewhere, someone must have been screaming one of those whistles that only a dog can hear. His body screamed silence in return. Beyond this room, beyond this wall, beyond this man who was not quite the same man seated at this desk that was not quite the same desk . . . lay an entire world of streets and people. What sort of world it was now, there was no telling. He could feel them moving there, beyond the walls, almost, like so many chess pieces blown in a dry wind. . . . But the immediate thing was the sign painted on the office wall, the same sign he had read earlier today on first entering. Somehow, the sign had changed: TYME SEFARI INC. SEFARIS TU ANY YEEH EN THE PAST. YU NAIM THE ANIMALL. WEE TAEK YOU THAIR. YU SHOOT ITT.Eckels felt himself tall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling.
“No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No!” Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful, and very dead. “Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels. It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it? His face was cold.
His mouth trembled, asking: “Who won the presidential election yesterday?”
The man behind the desk laughed.
“You joking? You know damn well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that damn weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts, by God!” The official stopped. “What’s wrong?” Eckels moaned. He dropped to his knees. He scrabbled at the golden butterfly with shaking fingers.
“Can’t we,” he pleaded to the world, to himself, to the officials, to the Machine, “can’t we take it back, can’t we make it alive again? Can’t we start over? Can’t we…”
He did not move. Eyes shut, he waited, shivering. He heard Travis breathe loud in the room; he heard Travis shift his rifle, click the safety catch, and raise the weapon. There was a sound of thunder.