A Sound of Thunder
SAFARIS IN TIME, INC.
SAFARIS FOR ANY YEAR OF THE PAST
YOU SAY THAT ANIMAL.
WE TAKE IT THERE.
YOU KILL IT.
A hot phlegm accumulated in Eckels’ throat; swallowed and pushed it down. The muscles around his mouth formed a smile as he slowly extended his hand through the air, and in that hand, a check for ten thousand dollars was waved to the man behind the desk.
- Does this safari guarantee that I will return alive?
“We don’t guarantee anything,” said the official, “except for dinosaurs.” – He turned. – This is Mr. Travis, your Guide, on safari to the past. He will tell you what and where to shoot. If he says not to shoot, he doesn’t shoot. If you disobey the instructions, there is a heavy fine of more than ten thousand dollars, plus a possible government case, when you return.
Eckels looked across the large office, in a complete misshapen confusion, of interwoven wires and steel boxes buzzing, at an aurora that now glowed orange, then silver, then blue. There was a sound like a huge pyre burning all the time, all the years and all the calendars, all the hours stacked and set on fire.
One touch of the hand and it burns, instantly, would reverse beautifully. Eckels literally remembered the words of the advertisement. From coals and ashes, from dust and embers, like golden salamanders, the old days, the young years, can jump; roses softening the air; white hair turning black, wrinkles disappearing; but, returning totally to the origin, fleeing to death, rushing to the beginning of everything, the sun rising in the western skies, and setting gloriously in the east, moons devouring themselves in the opposite direction. customary, and everything overlapping, like Chinese boxes, rabbits in top hats, everything and everyone returning to the living death, the death of the seed, the green death, to the time before the beginning. The touch of the hand could do it, the mere touch of the hand.
- Unbelievable. Eckels breathed, with the Machine’s light on his thin face. – A real Time Machine. He shook his head. – It makes you think. If the election had gone bad yesterday, I could now be moving away from the results. Fortunately Keith won. He will be a good president for the United States.
“Yes,” said the man behind the table. – We’re lucky. If Deutscher had won, we would have had the worst dictatorship. There is always an anti-everything man, a militarist, an anti-Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual. The people asked us, you know, as if kidding, but seriously. They said that if Deutscher became president, they wanted to come in 1492. Of course, it is not our business to conduct Fugas, but to organize Safaris. Either way, Keth is the president, now. All you need to worry about now is …
- Hunting my dinosaur – Eckels is over for him.
- A Tyranossaurus rex. The Tyrant Lizard, the most incredible monster in all history. Sign this term. Whatever happens to you, we are not responsible. These dinosaurs are very greedy.
Eckels perked up, nervous. – Trying to scare me!
- Frankly, yes. We don’t want someone to panic at the first shot. Six safari leaders were killed last year, and a dozen hunters. We are here to give you the greatest emotion that a real hunter has ever wanted. Send him back sixty million years to catch the biggest game of all time. Your check is still here. You can tear it up.
Mr. Eckels looked at the check. His fingers twitched.
“Good luck,” said the man behind the desk. – Mr. Tra¬vis, he’s all yours.
They moved silently across the room, taking their weapons with them, towards the Machine, towards the silver metal and the glaring lights.
First, a day and then a night and then a day and then a night, and then it was day-night-day-night-day. A week, a month, a year. one of each! 2,055 a. D., 2 019 a. D., 1 999! 1,957! Match! The machine roared.
They put on their oxygen masks and tested the intercommunicators.
Eckels leaned over the upholstered seat, his face pale, his jaw set. He felt the tremor in his arms, looked down and found his hands steady on the new rifle. There were four other men at the Machines. Travis, the leader of Safari, his assistant, Lesperance, and two other hunters, Billings and Kramer. They sat looking at each other, and the years burned around them.
- Can these weapons handle a dinosaur? – Eckels felt his mouth saying.
“If you hit them right,” Travis said over the helmet radio. – Some dinosaurs have two brains, one on the head and one at the end of the spine. We stay away from these. It is abusing luck. Shoot the first two times in the eyes, if you can, and blind them, and shoot the brain again.
The Machine roared. Time was a film that was reversed. The suns flew and ten million moons behind them. “Think about it,” said Eckels. – All hunters who have never lived would envy us today. This makes Africa look like Illinois.
The Machine slowed down; his cry fell to a whisper. The machine stopped.
The sun stopped in the sky.
The fog that had enveloped the Machine had dissipated and it was an ancient, very old time, three hunters and two safari chiefs with their metallic weapons on their knees.
“Christ is not yet born,” said Travis. – Moses has not yet gone to the mountain to speak to God. The pyramids are still on the ground, waiting to be cut and assembled. Remember that. German; Caesar; Napoleon; Hitler; none of them exist.
The man nodded.
- That. – Mr. Travis pointed out – it’s the sixty million jungle two thousand and fifty-five years before President Keith.
He showed the metal path that crossed the wild green, over a wide swamp, between ferns and palm trees.
And that – he said – is the Way, placed by Safáris in Time, for his use. It floats six inches above the earth. It does not touch at most a grass, flower or tree. It is an antigravity metal. Its purpose is to prevent you from touching, in any way, this world of the past. Stay on the path. Don’t get out of it. I repeat. Don’t leave. For whatever reason! If they fall, they will be fined. And don’t shoot any animals that we don’t approve of.
- Why? Asked Eckels.
They sat in the ancient forest. Distant screams of birds came in the wind, and the smell of tar and an old salty ocean, damp grass, and blood-colored flowers.
- We don’t want to change the future. We don’t belong to the Past. The government doesn’t like us here. We have to pay a lot of bribes to secure our license. The Time Machine is an extremely delicate business. Without knowing it, we could kill an important animal, a small bird, a cockroach; even a flower, thus destroying an important link, in an evolving species.
“That is not very clear,” said Eckels.
“Okay,” Travis continued, “suppose we accidentally kill a mouse here. This means that all future families of this mouse, in particular, will be destroyed, right?
- And all the families of the families, of that rat! With a stomp on your foot, you annihilate one first, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion mice, possibly!
- Then they will be dead; and?
- And? Travis wrinkled his nose. – Well, what about the foxes that would need those mice to survive? For every ten mice less, a fox dies. For every ten foxes less, a lion dies of hunger. For every lion less, insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually, everything falls on the following: fifty-nine million years later, one troglodyte, one out of a dozen worldwide, is going to hunt saber-toothed boars or tigers to eat. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. Stepping on a single mouse. Thus the troglodyte dies of hunger. And this caveman, mind you, is not just anybody, no sir! He’s a whole future nation. Ten children would have come out of it. And of these, another hundred, and so on, to civilization. By destroying this one man, a race, a people, a whole history is destroyed. It is comparable to killing a grandson of Adam. The stomp of your foot on a rat could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our land and destinies throughout time, down to its foundations. With the death of that troglodyte, a billion others still unborn are killed in the womb. Rome may never rise above its seven hills. Perhaps Europe will forever remain a thick forest, and only Asia will grow, strong and healthy. Step on a mouse and crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you will leave your mark, like a Grand Canyon, for Eternity. Queen Elizabeth could never be born. Washington may not cross Delaware, there may never be a United States. So be careful. Stay in the way. Never step out!
“I see,” said Eckels. – So we couldn’t even touch the grass?
- Exactly. Crushing certain plants could cause infinitesimal sums. A minimal error would be multiplied by sixty million years, beyond measure. Of course, maybe our theory is wrong. Perhaps Time cannot be changed by us. Or perhaps it can only be changed in subtle ways. A dead mouse here causes an imbalance of insects there, a disproportionate population later, a bad harvest later, a depression, hunger, and finally a change in social temperament in remote countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps something even more subtle. Maybe just a breath, a whisper, a hair, a pollen in the air, a change so slight that if you looked closely, you wouldn’t notice. Who knows? Who can say that he really knows? We do not know. We’re just guessing. But until we are sure, if our time trips can make a noise or a noise in history, we will be careful. This Machine, this Way, its clothes and body, were sterilized, as you know, before the trip.
We use these oxygen helmets so that we cannot introduce bacteria into this primitive atmosphere.
- How do we know which animals to slaughter?
“They’re marked with red ink,” explained Travis. – Today, before the trip, we sent Lesperance here with the Machine. He came to this particular time and followed certain animals.
- Studying them?
“That,” said Lesperance. – I follow them all their lives, observing which ones live the longest. How many times they mate. Few times. Your life is short. When I see that someone is going to die with a tree falling on him, or one that drowns in a tar pit, every year, minute, and exact seconds. I fire an ink revolver. It leaves a red mark on its sides. We cannot be deceived. Then I correlate with the arrival on the Path, so that we find the monster not more than two minutes from its inevitable death. In this way, we kill only animals with no future, which will never mate again. See how careful we are?
- But if you went back in time this morning, you must have crossed yourself, our safari! How did we do? Did we succeed? Can we all get back … alive?
Travis and Lesperance looked at each other.
“That would be a paradox,” said the latter. – Time does not allow this kind of confusion; a man finding himself. When there is a risk of such situations, time deviates. Like an airplane going through a vacuum. Did you feel the Machine jump before we stopped? We were going through ourselves, on the way to the future. We saw nothing. There is no way of saying whether this expedition was successful; if we caught our monster, or if all of us, that is, you, Mr. Eckels, came out alive.
Eckels smiled wanly.
“Stop this conversation,” Travis interrupted. – All standing up!
They were ready to leave the Machine.
The jungle was tall, the jungle was wide, and the jungle was everyone, forever. Sounds like music, and sounds like tents flying, filled the air, and they were pterodactyls gliding with cavernous gray wings, giant bats of delirium and night fever. Eckels, balanced on the narrow Path, pointed his rifle good-naturedly.
- Stop! Said Travis. – Don’t even aim for a joke, idiot! If the gun goes off …
Eckels flushed. – Where’s our Tyranossaurus?
Lesperance checked his watch. – Just ahead. We’ll be on his way in sixty seconds. Attention to the red paint! Don’t shoot until I tell you to. Stay in the way. Stay on the Way!
They moved forward, by the morning wind.
Strange, ”whispered Eckels. – Up ahead, sixty million years from now, the end of the elections. Keith President. All celebrated. And here we are, lost in a million years, and they don’t exist yet. The things that preoccupied us for months, for an entire life, were neither born nor idealized, yet.
- Release the locks, everyone! Ordered Travis. You take the first shot, Eckels, Billings the second, and Kramer the third.
“I have hunted tiger, wild boar, buffalo, elephant, but now this is incomparable,” said Eckels. – I’m shaking like a child.
“Ah,” said Travis. Everyone stopped.
Travis raised his hand. “Ahead,” he said in a low voice. – In the fog. There he is. There is His Royal Majesty, now.
The jungle was wide, and full of chirps, rustles, murmurs and sighs.
Suddenly, everything stopped, as if someone had closed the door.
A sound of thunder.
Tyranossaurus rex came from the fog, a hundred yards away.
“It’s him,” whispered Eckels, “it’s him …” Psss!
He came on big, oily, resilient legs. Thirty feet above the trees stood a great evil god, folding his delicate watchmaker’s claws close to his oily, reptilian chest. Each lower paw was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, plunged into thick ropes of muscle, covered with a glow of stony skin, like the mesh of a terrible warrior. Each thigh, a ton of meat, ivory, and braided steel. And from the big panting cage of the upper body, those two folded arms hanging forward, arms that could lift and examine men like toys, while the snake’s neck was bent. And the head itself, a ton of carved stone, lifted easily against the sky. His mouth opened wide, exposing a fence of teeth like darts. His eyes rolled, poultry eggs, empty of any expression except hunger. He closed his mouth in a death smile. He ran, his pelvic bones knocking trees and shrubs to the sides, his clawed feet sinking into the damp earth, leaving marks six inches deep wherever he supported his weight. He was running with a sliding ballet step, very upright and balanced for his ten tons. He moved tiredly in a sunny arena, his hands beautifully reptilian groping the air.
- Now, look – Eckels twisted his mouth. – You could reach out and catch the moon.
- Pssst! Travis said nervously. – He hasn’t seen us yet.
- You can’t be killed. – Eckels pronounced his verdict, quie¬to, as if there could be no discussion. He had evaluated the evidence, and this was his authoritative opinion. The rifle in his hand looked like a toy gun. – We were crazy to come. This is impossible.
- Shut up! Hissed Travis.
- Bad dream.
“Turn around,” commanded Travis. – Go silently to the Machine. We can refund half your ticket.
“I didn’t realize how big it would be,” said Eckels. – I miscalculated, that was it. And now, I want to give up.
- He saw us!
There is the red paint on your chest!
The Tyrant Lizard stood up. His armor-like flesh shone like a thousand green coins. The coins, with a mud crust, boiled. In the mud, small insects kicked, so that the whole body seemed to squirm and ripple, even while the monster did not move. Has expired. The smell of raw meat was blown by the wastes.
“Let me out of here,” said Eckels. – It was never like this, now. I was always sure I could make it out alive. I had good guides, good safaris, and security. This time, I was wrong. I found something that surpasses me, and I recognize it. It’s too much for me to face.
“Don’t run,” said Lesperance. – Turn around. Hide in the Machine.
- Yes, – Eckels looked numb. He looked at his feet, as if trying to make them move. He gave a grunt, unable to.
He took a few steps, blinking, hesitant,
- Not around!
The Monster, at the first movement, propelled itself forward with a terrible cry. It covered a hundred yards in six seconds. The rifles rose quickly and lit up with fire. A venal of the beast’s mouth engulfed them in the fedentine of the mud, and aged blood. The Monster roared, teeth shining in the sun.
Eckels, without looking back, walked blindly to the edge of the Way, his weapon loaded loosely in his arms, got out of the way, and walked, inadvertently, through the forest. His feet sank in green moss. His legs carried him, and he felt alone and removed from the events back there.
The rifles went off again. The sound was lost in the scream and the lizard’s shout. The large volume of the animal’s tail launched upwards and sideways. Trees exploded in clouds of leaves and branches. The Monster twisted his jeweler’s hands to caress the men, to fold them in half, to crush them, like berries, to push them into his teeth and his noisy throat. His eyes, like rocks, were level with men. They saw themselves mirrored. They shot metal lids and a bright iris.
Like a stone idol, like a mountain avalanche, Tyranossaurus fell. Thundering, he grabbed trees, and pulled them with him. He grabbed and cut the Way. The men rushed back, and away. The body fell, ten tons of cold meat and stone. The rifles went off. The Monster brandished its armored tail, tightened its serpentine jaws, and froze. A fountain of blood was pouring out of his throat. Somewhere in there, a bag of fluid burst. Nauseating bursts flooded the hunters. There they were red, shiny.
The thunder dissipated.
The jungle was silent. After the avalanche, a green peace. After the nightmare, dawn.
Billings and Kramer swore heavily, their rifles still smoking.
On the Time Machine, face down, Eckels was shaking. He had managed to get back on the path, and he had climbed on the Machine.
Travis arrived, looked at Eckels, picked up cotton gauze, and turned to the others, who were sitting on the Path.
- Clean up.
They wiped blood off their helmets. They started to mumble, too. The Monster lay there like a mountain of flesh. Inside it, you could hear the murmurs and murmurs, while its recesses were dying, the organs stop working, liquids circulating at the last moment, from bag to bag, to vesicle, everything turning off, stopping forever . It was like being close to a bumpy locomotive, or a steam excavator, at the moment of turning off, with all the valves being deactivated. Bones crackled; the tonnage of his own flesh, unbalanced, dead weight, broke his delicate arms on the underside. The meat settle on the shakes.
Another click. Above, a huge tree branch broke from its heavy anchorage, fell. It hit the dead beast.
- Ready. Lesperance checked his watch. – Right in time. That was the big tree that was supposed to fall and kill this animal, originally. – He looked at the two hunters. – Want to take the trophy photo?
- We cannot take the trophy to the future. The body must stay here, where it was originally supposed to die, so that insects, birds, and bacteria can devour it, as they should. Everything is balanced. The body stays. But we can take a picture of you by your side.
The two men struggled to think, but gave up, shaking their heads.
They let themselves be guided along the Metal Path. Sank tired, in the seats of the Machine. They looked again at the ruined Monster, the mound in stagnation, where already strange reptilian birds and golden insects were busy with the smoking armor.
A sound on the floor of the Time Machine made them tense. Eckels was there, shaking.
“I’m very sorry,” he said.
- Stand up! Travis shouted. Eckels stood up.
“Go to the Path alone,” said Travis, with his rifle pointed. He’s not going back to the Machine. Let’s leave it here!
Lesperance grabbed Travis’s arm. – Wait…
- Stay out of this! Travis pulled away from his hand. – This madman almost killed us. But this is not so much. Look at your shoes! Look! He got out of the Way. It ruins us! We will be fined! Thousands of dollars of insurance! We guarantee that no one leaves the Way, and he has left it. Why, the madman! I will have to inform the Government
They may cancel our license to travel. Who knows what he did to Time, to History!
- Calm down, all he did was step on some dirt.
- How to know? Travis shouted. – We don’t know anything! It’s a mystery! Get out, Eckels!
Eckels fiddled with his shirt. – I’ll pay anything. A thousand dollars!
Travis looked at Eckels’ checkbook and spat. – Skirt. The Monster is near the Path. Sink your arms up to elbow them in his mouth. Then you can come back with us.
- This is unreasonable!
- The Monster is dead, you idiot. The bullets! Bullets cannot be left behind. They do not belong to the Past; they can change something. Here’s my knife. Dig them!
The jungle was alive again, full of old tremors and the noise of birds. Eckels slowly turned to look at the primordial carrion heap, that mountain of nightmares and terror. After a long time, like a sleepwalker, he dragged himself along the Way.
He came back, shaking, five minutes later, with his arms soaked and red to the elbows. He held out his hands. Each held a few steel bullets. Then he fell and stood there, motionless.
“You didn’t have to make him do that,” said Lesperance.
- Not? It is too early to say. Travis touched the body with his foot. – You will live. Next time you will not go out to hunt this type of hunting. OK. He raised his thumb to Lesperance. – Start it. Let’s go home.
They cleaned their hands and faces. They changed clothes. Eckels was on his feet again, speechless. Travis looked at him for ten minutes.
“Don’t look at me,” exclaimed Eckels. – I did not do nothing.
- Who can know?
- I just left the Way, that was all, a little mud on my shoes; what do you want me to do? To kneel down and pray?
- Maybe we need that. I’m warning you, Eckels! I can kill you, still. My gun is cocked.
- I’m innocent. I did not do nothing! 1999. 2000. 2055.
The machine stopped.
“Get out,” Travis ordered.
The room was there, just like when they left. But not quite the same. The same man behind the same desk. But the same man did not appear to be sitting directly behind the same desk.
Travis looked around quickly. – Everything in order around here? – he was immediately asking.
- Of course. Welcome home!
Travis did not relax. He seemed to be looking at the air atoms themselves, and the way the sun came in through the high window.
- OK, Eckels, get out. And never come back. Eckels could not move.
“You heard me,” said Travis. – What are you looking at? Eckels stayed, sniffing the air, and there was something in the air, a substance so tenuous, so subtle, that only a faint warning of his subliminal senses warned him that he was there. The colors, white, gray, blue, orange, on the wall, on the furniture, in the sky, through the window, were … were … And there was a sensation. His flesh was tightening. He was drinking that awkwardness with the pores of his body. Somewhere, someone must be blowing on those whistles that only dogs can hear. Her body screamed silently in response. Beyond this room, beyond this wall, beyond this man, who wasn’t exactly the same man who was sitting at that table, who wasn’t quite the same table … there was a whole world of streets and people. What kind of world it was now, there was no telling. He could feel them moving there, beyond the walls, almost, like chess pieces in a hot wind …
But the most immediate thing was the ad painted on the office wall, the same one I had read today when I entered. Somehow, the ad had changed:
SEFARIS NU TENPO, INC.
SEFARIS FOR ANY PAÇADO YEAR.
CÊ DIS QUI ANIMAU.
WE TAKE CÊ WOOL.
Eckels felt himself falling into a chair. He fiddled with the mud on his boots like crazy. He lifted a piece of something muddy, shaking. – No, it can’t be, not a little thing like that, no!
Soaked in the mud, glowing green and gold and black, there was a butterfly, very beautiful, and very dead.
Not such a thing! Not a butterfly! Shouted Eckels.
It fell to the ground, an exotic, small thing that could disrupt balances and knock down a row of small dominoes, and then big dominoes, and then giant dominoes, for all the years through Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. I couldn’t change things. Killing a butterfly couldn’t be that important! Or could it?
His face was cold. His mouth hesitated as he asked, “Who … who won the presidential election yesterday?”
The man behind the desk laughed. – Is playing? You know very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that witty, crazy Keith. We have an iron man now, a chest man! – The clerk stopped. – What is wrong?
Eckels groaned. He fell to his knees. He examined the golden butterfly with trembling fingers. – We can’t – he begged the world, himself, the employees, the Machine. – Can’t we take her back, can’t we make her live again? Can’t we start over? We could not…
It didn’t move. Eyes closed, he waited, shaken. He heard Travis panting in the living room; he heard Travis aim the rifle, unlock it.
There was a sound of thunder.