On Monday, October 7, Chloe had told Max how she’d like to drop a bomb on Arcadia Bay and turn it to f*king glass. Four days later, Friday, October 11, Chloe would gladly die in order to take it all back. She wished she could take back the last five years. But she had only been given the option to undo the last five days.
“I’ll always love you… Now get out of here please! Do it before I freak… And Max Caulfield? Don’t you ever forget about me!”
It wasn’t death that scared Chloe. It was the prospect of losing Max, again, this time forever. But if she was ever going to quit being selfish it had to be now. She owed her mother and David at least this much. And she couldn’t burden Max with the guilt of thousands of deaths just to save her.
As the storm raged, both in Max’s heart and in the bay before her, she looked down at the butterfly photo in her hands…
…and in that moment the universe split in two.
In one universe, Max stared, concentrated, waiting for the flash of white to surround her – but nothing happened. No! My powers… they’re…
In a panic, Max raised her hand, concentrating… hoping yet dreading to see the world around her run backwards, to see the storm reverse course in front of her. Hoping she still had her powers, yet dreading what it would say about her if her failure to make the photojump *wasn’t* because her powers had gone away.
Nothing happened. Max’s powers were gone.
Any sense of relief Max might have started to feel was promptly shattered by a large piece of debris flying almost right at her. Instinctively ducking as the object sailed overhead several feet to one side, Max could only watch in horror as the tornado reached the town and the buildings began to disintegrate in its vicinity, their pieces taking flight into the vortex.
“Max! Max, what’s going on?” Chloe’s frantic voice only dimly registered amidst the howling winds, but her hand on Max’s shoulder abruptly broke the trance, as if freeing Max from being captivated by the horrifying sight of the results of her powers.
“My powers are gone!” Max cried out as she turned to Chloe, looking anywhere but her face, ashamed at what she had wrought.
“Max!?” The shocked disbelief in Chloe’s voice and her two hands on Max’s shoulders forced Max to look up, cringing in failure. As Chloe began to understand that Max’s powers really had vanished, her expression of mixed horror and relief mirrored Max’s own, and both stood speechless until a crack of thunder brought them both back to reality. “Come on, we need to get to the lighthouse!”
Meanwhile, in yet another newly-created universe, Max awoke in her own body five days ago as a shutter clicked and the flash faded to reveal her trusty Polaroid in her hand, spitting out the very familiar image of a blue butterfly that she had just been holding in her hands a few seconds ago.
And at that moment, unbeknownst to Max, the universe split all around her, splitting into dozens of branches all at once, thanks to multiple actions Max didn’t even know she would be taking two weeks from now – but all of which would act on this one fixed point in space and time. The tear in the fabric of spacetime grew another infinitesimal fraction.
In one of those universes, the first only conceptually but tied with all the others chronologically, Max sat down on the floor and wept, powerful and yet powerless as her best friend’s five years of suffering came to an end; her more-than-best-friend who would never discover how much she was loved, never become the selfless hero who would willingly die to save her parents and hometown from a devastating storm. She flash-forwarded to the end of the week and attended Chloe’s funeral, all in a dazed, numb state. A familiar blue butterfly landed on the casket and flapped its wings, as if beckoning to her.
The next several days passed in a blur. Max lived through them as herself, without any rewinds or photojumps, but she might as well have been her autopilot-self the whole time. The more she thought about it – what else could she think of? – the more she began to question how easily she’d bought Warren’s completely unsupported insinuation that this was really the only way to prevent the storm. Hadn’t she seen the storm even before Chloe died for the first time? If she really hadn’t been meant to save Chloe, what was the point of being given these powers in the first place? She never asked for them. In fact, if she hadn’t had them, she wouldn’t have lost so much, because she would never have fallen in love – or rather, discovered the love she’d already had with Chloe even since before they had the words for it.
It was all just too convenient for this to be the right solution. There was no way the universe would give her power to save Chloe and not let her use it. What if Arcadia Bay was meant to be destroyed in the first place, and by preventing the tornado she’d just mucked things up even more, in some way that she couldn’t see yet?
It was crazy, and self-serving, and she knew it, but she couldn’t get these questions out of her head. There were a million more things she could’ve done to try to save both Chloe and the town. Or at least try to get more people out of the way of the storm. In those last hours of her week in hell, the worst and best week of her life, she hadn’t even thought to try to evacuate the town. Maybe she could have saved Joyce and Warren, at least. This time around, she could tell them about a perfectly built storm shelter.
It was too obvious not to give it a shot. Chloe had been noble enough to sacrifice herself. Max owed her at least some kind of assurance that there really had been no alternative.
One week after the funeral, Max sat down at her computer and typed out a series of letters. She would risk just one more use of her power, only the minimum necessary to accomplish her mission. The letters would hopefully do the rest. She hoped the storm might not come if she only used one photo-jump and no rewinds, but if it did, at least some of the townspeople would hopefully escape with enough warning.
One more time, Max focused on the butterfly photo in her hands, willing herself back into the place of her frequent nightmares. Her world faded to white, and once more she found herself with her camera in hand, the most important photo she would ever take falling to the floor in front of her. (Once more, in the universe she’d just left behind, a newly powerless autopilot-Max sat distraught in her room, regretting not having tried harder to make things right while she still had those powers; and now it was too late.)
Quickly, Max snatched up the butterfly photo and pocketed it. Just as quickly she realized that the sealed envelopes with the she’d printed out and kept in her jacket were no longer on her – fine, she had known that was how her powers worked anyway, it’d been only wishful thinking that maybe just this once she could take something through a photojump. She drew her cellphone and began frantically writing her text to David Madsen, an anonymous tip that she knew he would act on because she’d seen the results in another timeline. As the bathroom door clanged open and Nathan Prescott tried and failed to calm himself down, Max double-checked the phone number one last time and hit “Send”.
Tuning out Nathan’s panic just around the corner, Max hurriedly scrolled through her texts to find Warren, her thumbs flying as she warned him to look for snow, or an eclipse, or two moons, telling him that these were signs of a tornado that would destroy the entire town, and that she needed him to get everyone out of Arcadia Bay. Max was still typing when the bathroom door opened again. She froze, and the sound of a stall door banging shut reached her ears. She glanced down at her half-complete text and put it away. Chloe was more important.
Max stepped out right in front of Chloe as she approached the last stall door. Chloe stopped short.
Though Max had arrived with a plan sketched out in her head, she decided she could afford to follow her heart for a moment. She allowed her elation to move her and rushed to embrace Chloe in a bone-crushing hug, which her thoroughly confused and still shocked friend took a second to return.
“Chloe, I’m so happy to see you again…” Max whispered into her ear. “But I only have a minute and I have to tell you some things.”
As Max took a deep breath, relishing the familiar scent of her Chloe and her blue hair, her eyes refocused over Chloe’s shoulder and suddenly as if for the first time she noticed Nathan Prescott staring at her a few feet away, his nervousness long since faded into confusion. Max quickly took a step back and didn’t have to entirely feign her shock as she executed the next part of her plan, to get rid of Nathan so she could give Chloe the secret-tips-from-the-future that she needed to.
“Nathan! What are you doing here!? Get out of the girls’ bathroom!”
For a moment Nathan looked indignant, as if he was about to demand to know what Max was doing there, or accuse her of being part of Chloe’s scheme. For a moment Max tensed, fearing she’d made a deadly mistake trying to embarrass him out of the way. She’d forgotten how unstable the boy was. Fortunately, Nathan seemed to change his mind an instant later, realizing that he couldn’t very well threaten the blue-haired punk out of trying to blackmail him when they weren’t alone – especially not if the only witness was clearly going to be against him. He bit back a possible retort and retreated to the door, sending Max an intimidating glare as he departed.
The moment the door closed Max pulled out her phone, turning to a still confused Chloe to begin explaining the events of the upcoming week.
“Max, where have you been?”
“Chloe, I’m sorry I left, I’m sorry I was too chickenshit to tell you when I got back, but I’m from the future and I need to tell you…”
The universe in which Max texted David the location of the Dark Room, then texted Warren to warn him about the storm, while talking Chloe through all the upcoming events and explaining that she would lose all her memories at a certain time on the afternoon of Saturday October 19, also turned out to be a universe in which a freak tornado claimed the lives of 4,407-and-counting residents of Arcadia Bay, ranging in ages from 5 months to 76 years. About 140 residents had believed Warren (or at least humored him) and taken shelter, using either their own basements or the Prescotts’ storm bunker. Another 700 or so were unaccounted for.
Max checked her texts, hoping everyone she knew had made it through. Her hopes were immediately dashed. During the storm, Jefferson had escaped from his prison transport on the way to his court indictment. During the chaos of the following week, David Madsen was found dead with a gunshot to the head while helping with rescue efforts. The fugitive Jefferson was the obvious suspect, since David’s investigation had played the key role in getting Jefferson arrested.
Max knew she couldn’t let David stay dead and Jefferson free to harm even more people. She would have to try again.
On the evening of Saturday October 19, Max dived back into the butterfly photo yet again, leaving behind the timeline in which Jefferson escaped justice, to create and jump into yet another of the dozens of timelines branching out from that moment on Monday October 7. This time, after repeating her previous actions, she also warned Chloe that Jefferson would escape during the storm. She made Chloe promise to tell autopilot-Max about this, so that they could warn David to prevent Jefferson’s escape.
Max returned to October 19 to find no difference. This time around, David had gone along with his police buddies to escort Jefferson, but a piece of debris thrown by the storm had crushed the prisoner transport and overturned it, injuring all the escorting officers but miraculously sparing Jefferson. There had been a struggle, in which David and another officer were killed and Jefferson wounded. Jefferson was captured three days later on the highway to Portland attempting to hitchhike away from the manhunt zone.
For the third time Max jumped back to October 7 to change things, once again unknowingly leaving an autopilot-Max behind in the universe where Jefferson had been caught but at the ultimate cost of David’s life. Once again, she tipped David and Warren from the bathroom, saved Chloe, and explained to her what needed to be done with her autopilot self to keep everyone else alive.
It was a lot of information to absorb for Chloe, who on October 19 of this fourth timeline, ashamedly admitted to Max upon her return that while passing her instructions to autopilot-Max, she’d forgotten to mention Kate’s possible suicide attempt. David had taken a few hours longer to bust Jefferson so as to delay his scheduled court date (and thus, transportation out of town) by one day and avoid the storm, but that extra day meant that the news didn’t break soon enough to divert attention from Kate’s viral video. Autopilot-Max, having been distracted with Chloe’s instructions to prevent the storm, ended up just seconds too late to save Kate despite discovering and exhausting her rewind powers during the attempt. And once again, despite Warren’s and Chloe’s best efforts to get people out of the path of the tornado, the known death toll stood at over four thousand, with another several hundred still missing and more bodies being recovered from the rubble daily.
Fine. Max will remember it, if it’s too much for Chloe. A fourth photojump into the bathroom on October 7. This time, after tipping David and Warren, and telling Chloe what to watch out for, Max sent an extra supportive text to Kate to let her know she’d be fine if she could just hold on until Wednesday. With David busting Jefferson on Tuesday, that should be enough time for everyone to start being understanding about Kate’s video.
Flashing forward to October 19 for the fifth time, Max awoke in the hospital to discover that her autopilot-self’s attempt to be more supportive of Kate had indeed saved Kate’s life but had also placed Max in the wrong place at the wrong time. Auto-Max had been with Kate in her room on Tuesday evening when the police caught up to Jefferson heading towards his car. In prior timelines Jefferson had been arrested in class, with no chance of escape, but this time Jefferson saw a chance to run and took it. In the resulting chase and shootout, Jefferson was killed, but a stray police bullet had shattered Kate’s dorm room window and left glass fragments in autopilot-Max’s neck, injuring her spine and resulting in permanent paralysis of the right side of her body. Autopilot Max had remembered Chloe’s warning that rewinding might trigger the storm and had agreed to avoid making any changes until “real Max” returned to lend her extra knowledge to the decision. That real Max, in turn, vividly recalled how she had felt upon seeing an alternate-timeline Chloe in a wheelchair, and needed little persuasion from this new timeline’s Chloe to agree that this was not the universe they wanted to live in. Chloe dug through Max’s bag of possessions to retrieve the butterfly photo, handed it to Max and kissed her one last time.
From that particular Chloe’s point of view, Max’s efforts to photo-jump failed, stranding them both in the only timeline so far to not have seen either the storm or Chloe’s death. (What they did not know, however, was that that Max would soon die from an unexpected rare reaction to a new medication prescribed by the neurologists, thereby paying the price in full after all.) But from the time-traveling Max’s point of view, she succeeded in returning to October 7 for the sixth time since making her decision to refuse to sacrifice either Chloe or her town.
Once again in the fateful bathroom, Max decided she would try something different this time. As she snapped the butterfly photo, she pulled out her phone and dialed Chloe, whom she knew to be on her way. Seconds later, as the agitated Nathan Prescott of this universe burst into the bathroom, Chloe was picking up the phone. The moment Chloe answered, Max started talking loudly, in part hoping that Nathan would leave upon realizing he wasn’t alone, in part realizing Chloe might not be that happy to hear from her.
“Chloe, it’s Max, sorry I haven’t called until now but you’re about to make a big mistake. Please don’t do…” Suddenly Max realized that Nathan hadn’t left the bathroom at all, instead he was standing in front of her, glaring, as if expecting her to cower before him and vacate the space he wanted. The days when Max was truly scared of Nathan were long past, but the interruption in Max’s train of thought gave Chloe an opening to show her irritation, just as Max had anticipated.
“Five years without even a text and now you suddenly want to talk to me? What do you want?” Chloe had arrived just outside the bathroom by now, as Max could barely hear her voice through the door as well as from her phone by her ear.
Max played dumb in front of Nathan to try to remove him from the situation. “I’m in the girl’s bathroom and there’s a guy here with a gun. I don’t know what he’s doing here but you better find a different bathroom!”
Nathan startled, turning his head quickly to make sure there wasn’t *another* guy. Then he narrowed his eyes at Max suspiciously. This wasn’t going the way Max hoped at all. With a sigh, she raised her hand and rewound. She knew that would almost certainly trigger the storm in this timeline, but she had to figure out what would make the timeline go well first, then she’d take another photojump and do everything right on that attempt, hopefully avoiding the storm.
It took Max twenty-four more photojumps to learn the optimal words and actions to blow off Nathan, calm down Chloe, bust Jefferson, save Kate, warn Warren, and anticipate and pre-empt all of her autopilot-self’s rewind temptations. The hard part was doing it all within the limited few minutes she could spend in the bathroom with Chloe.
It took three more photojumps to get the entire complicated sequence right without needing any rewinds.
And then, at last, on the afternoon of Tuesday October 22, after spending an entire weekend doing nothing but planning her jumps and reviewing her results each time, Max finally succeeded. Upon flash-forwarding back to her “present”, for the 34th time in the last three days, Chloe confirmed that autopilot-Max had not used a single rewind or photo-jump for the entire fifteen days they had spent together since those stolen moments in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, the storm had still arrived on schedule that Friday morning. And since Max had been focusing all her efforts on minimizing the use of her powers, she hadn’t really tried to push Warren or the others on evacuation efforts. When the storm did come, almost everyone had been killed. News reports showed at least 5,000 known deaths and the only survivors Chloe knew of were herself, Max, and Warren.
Max had no choice but to admit that even her single initial photojump was too much. The only acceptable use of the photojump, it seemed, was the one that Max had done on Friday the 11th, when her purpose had been to end rather than save a life. The Fates would accept this solution, but Max still would not.
“Max,” said Chloe, “you’ve done far more than anyone could ever ask of you. Far more than I could have any right to hope for—“
“No,” Max cut off Chloe, sensing where she was going, “this isn’t the end. If we can’t prevent the storm, we might still be able to save more people.”
“But you said even when you told Warren to raise the alarm, most people still died.”
“Chloe, I’m going to save as many people as I can. But if the most we can save is a hundred and fifty, then that’s all I can do.”
They spent the evening planning a new series of photo-jumps. The goal this time would be to bust Jefferson, save Kate, and get as many people as possible to help with evacuating the town or getting everyone into shelters.
On the morning of Wednesday October 23, for the thirty-fifth time, Max held the photo and jumped back into that Gordian knot of destiny, the Blackwell girls’ bathroom as it stood on the morning of October 7. The moment she’d retaken the butterfly photo, Max rushed out from behind the stall, just in time for Nathan Prescott to burst into the bathroom, stop short upon seeing Max casually walk into a stall right in front of him, and turn on his heel. Even as Nathan hastily left the bathroom, Max was already dialing Chloe on her phone from inside the stall. “Chloe, it’s Max Caulfield, so sorry I haven’t called yet but I got caught up in some business. Please listen to me, I found out what happened to Rachel Amber. Meet me in the girl’s bathroom right now. Let Prick-scott go for now, I’ll explain in a moment.” That was all the words Max could get out before Chloe came rushing into the bathroom, looking for her. Max hurried to pocket her phone and greet Chloe…
…and in her haste to put away her phone, accidentally dropped it right into the toilet like a klutz.
Oh well. Since she was almost certainly going to have to fix this next time around, Max did her best to roll with it and persuaded Chloe to help her text David, then Warren, then Kate, as she explained what Nathan and Jefferson had done to Rachel and the storm that would be coming on Friday. The most important thing was that Chloe needed to survive until Wednesday October 23 to give Max the butterfly photo again in case things didn’t work out.
The bathroom faded out and as Max was surrounded by white, she suddenly felt a jolt of very pleasurable sensations from her nether regions – and out of nowhere she awoke to a powerful orgasm that made her moan out loud. The whiteness faded around her to reveal her old bedroom in her parents’ house in Seattle with Chloe’s head of blue hair between her thighs, licking and fingering her towards a repeat finish. A few minutes later, Max lay gasping as she came down from her high and looked up to see Chloe’s face smeared with her secretions, smiling down at her. “Welcome back, Max!” Chloe teased.
“Wowser. Never had that happen coming back from a photojump…”
Chloe’s expression turned serious as she sighed. “Based on what you told me in the bathroom, me and the autopilot-you figured you were definitely going to jump back and try again. So we figured, since she was about to forget everything in an hour and I won’t remember once you go back…" Chloe shrugged, a bit sheepish. "You not having your phone really made it harder to keep everyone who didn’t know me before on our side. Kate didn’t believe the other you when you told her your phone dropped in the toilet, she jumped. We only managed to persuade a few dozen people about the storm. Most of them left town, but there’s 4700 confirmed casualties so far.”
Max sighed, wishing she could stop and settle for what she had in front of her. The temptation was very strong after Chloe told her that Joyce and David had both made it, and Frank had survived too, though with some broken bones after his RV was blown over by the last of the storm as he fled town. But Max knew she could save at least a hundred and forty people; she’d done it in previous attempts. She’d saved Kate before. She owed all these people her best effort. The nightmares would be worse if she let any more people die than was absolutely necessary.
Only one person has to die, you know, Max’s conscience whispered, but Max shoved down the thought. That one person was the entire reason she was doing this; indeed by this point, was her only reason to keep living at all. You could save five thousand lives. A real hero would. “No, I can’t.” Max had accepted that the storm was coming no matter what.
On the thirty-sixth attempt, Max corrected her mistake, shooing Nathan from the bathroom and getting Chloe’s full attention without losing her phone. After telling Chloe all the same things to tell autopilot-Max yet again, Max texted her tip to David, introduced Warren to Chloe via text and let him know they’d need his help (Warren texted back agreeing to do whatever Max wanted before the photojump was even over), and as things went white around her, squeezed off one last message for Kate.
The results were the best yet, as far as saving people from the storm went. At least three hundred people had evacuated and another 70, including many of the Blackwell students, had holed up with Warren and Chloe in the old Prescott bunker. Kate and Frank had been among them, striking up an odd friendship of sorts as they waited out the storm. But there was one thing wrong: Jefferson had escaped, again, when the tornado blew the roof off the local jail. And, yet again, he had murdered David in revenge for the investigation. And there were still 4,165 confirmed deaths plus likely more among the 500 or so missing, lower than any of Max’s previous attempts but still far more than enough to make her a horrible person for choosing Chloe over all of them.
But there was an opening to possibly improve on this result even further. Warren and autopilot-Max had both spent the whole week trying to spread the word about the storm. Victoria Chase didn’t believe them until almost the last minute, but upon seeing for herself that they’d been right about it, she had regretted not believing it earlier, as her social media presence vastly outweighed the rest of Max’s team and might have reached more of the prominent local citizens.
With Chloe’s blessing, Max made three more photojumps. They decided that her goal would be to save David while still keeping everyone else they’d saved; if Jefferson had to remain at large, they could deal with it. Max could take another selfie after the storm and use it as many times as it took to protect everyone from Jefferson until he was caught.
And at last, upon flashing back to late evening on Wednesday October 23, Max was relieved to learn from an excited Chloe that their plan had largely succeeded. The thirty-ninth photojump was as successful as Max could hope for. Chloe was with her in Seattle, and had persuaded Joyce and David to come up for a visit during precisely the time of Jefferson’s escape. Warren and Kate were safe with their families. Autopilot-Max and Warren succeeded in recruiting Victoria earlier in the week using secrets from the future that only a time traveler could have known, and together they managed to get enough publicity that almost 700 Arcadians had been ready to hide out or flee the town at the start of the storm on Friday morning. Most surviving locals were still living out of their basements or in makeshift tents, helping with recovery efforts where able. Almost everyone else had been confirmed dead, with fewer than 200 unaccounted for.
As the authorities continued hunting for Jefferson, Max took a selfie with Chloe in what felt like the first time in many months. Autopilot-Max had taken several since the bathroom incident, of course, but the “real” Max hadn’t been there for them.
It seemed that SuperMax had finally succeeded in her mission. Sure, she’d ultimately traded 4,047 innocent Arcadian lives to save Chloe and Joyce and David and almost everyone she knew personally. But she would take that guilt over life without Chloe any day of the week.
But then, two days later, on Friday, October 25, out of a clear sky at 11:00am, a freak EF-6 tornado suddenly descended on Seattle, Washington.
There was no warning, no chance to evacuate. There had been no eclipses or double moons, no dead birds or beached whales – the Caulfields’ house right on the edge of the tornado’s path, half torn away, half still standing – Joyce and Ryan both hospitalized with multiple injuries, their spouses coping with each other’s help – and by nightfall, a terrified Chloe and Max huddled together next to one of their parents’ hospital bed, watching the evening news as it reported an estimated 100,000 deaths and more than 250,000 still missing; the death toll rising by the minute as more bodies were recovered.
Chloe offered her life, yet again. Max refused, yet again.
It was time for more desperate, more inventive solutions. Perhaps it was Jefferson escaping justice that had brought divine wrath upon them. But then again, the storm often seemed to have helped Jefferson escape. Perhaps the Prescotts’ corruption needed to be brought down as well? But Sean Prescott was still missing two weeks after the storm passed and looked increasingly likely to have been one of the casualties, the storm shelter on his estate having been found empty and the mansion itself reduced to rubble that would take weeks to finish searching.
Max photojumped back to her selfie from Wednesday, October 23 and told past Chloe their new plan, courtesy of the future Max and future Chloe. They were going to leave Seattle early and hope that whatever supernatural force held a grudge with them would chase them, instead of punishing an innocent city.
Upon flash-forwarding back to October 25, Max found herself with Chloe in a motel room in Portland. There was no storm that night. But in the middle of the night, a section of the ceiling collapsed – right on top of them. Max awoke with a scream, crushed under several heavy wood beams, Chloe unconscious next to her in bed and bleeding from a large dent in her head made by a ceiling rafter.
With a scream, Max rewound until the ceiling fixed itself, grabbed Chloe and rolled them both off the bed, hitting the floor with a painful thump just as the roof caved in. The impact shook Chloe awake, but even if it hadn’t, the shaking of the floor certainly would have.
It had been a low-magnitude earthquake, but the cheap motel’s buildings had been poorly maintained over time.
For the next three years Max continued to save Chloe at least twice a month, sometimes three or four times. Chloe did her best to be careful when she saw how much stress it was causing Max, but there was nothing they could do about their bad luck.
Chloe became accustomed to following instructions from future Maxes several times a month, reporting the updates to her autopilot-Max as appropriate. Every time she took a selfie with Max she would pause, watching for some warning or tip that would save her life. Sometimes Max would shift positions in the blink of an eye, or unexpectedly yell at her to step aside or get down; almost always something dangerous would happen in the space she vacated.
Every time, there was a Max left behind with a Chloe whom death had finally caught up to. But the traveling Max never knew.
The real Max, and her final Chloe, finally ran out of time. Chloe began feeling ill one day and went to the hospital with Max in tow. One CT scan later, at the age of 22, Chloe was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Two months later, Max held Chloe’s hand and kissed her goodbye. Five days later, with all her affairs in order, and letters in the mail to her parents in Seattle and to Joyce and David in the newly reconstructed Arcadia Bay, Max took one last desperate shot.
From her pocket she drew the first photograph she’d ever taken of herself after moving to Seattle at age 13. She had been keeping this photograph with her ever since Chloe’s terminal diagnosis, for precisely this occasion.
Focusing on the picture, Max found herself in her room, 13 years old again – and then picked up her Nokia brick phone and dialed Chloe’s number.
With their lost friendship restored, Max wrote a note to herself, and left a sealed envelope to be mailed to David Madsen seven months prior to her return to Arcadia Bay. It would arrive some weeks prior to Rachel’s disappearance.
Max returned to her own time in 2016 to find herself in an unfamiliar college dorm room. Her phone now included text conversations with both Chloe and Rachel. Ominously, Chloe’s texts abruptly stopped in mid-2013.
Just above Chloe in her texting app was a line for texts from Joyce. Max opened Joyce’s old texts with a sense of dread that was confirmed by the last few messages. Chloe and Rachel had been on their way up to Seattle to visit Max over the summer, planning to drive back with Max to start at Blackwell. A drunk driver had run a red light straight into Chloe’s truck, paralyzing Rachel and leaving Chloe in a persistent vegetative state ever since. Somehow, Rachel had remained friends with Max, despite being blown off by the rest of the Vortex Club at Blackwell.
Max went straight home as quickly as she could, searching her room to find that photo from 2008 to undo the changes she had made. As she hoped, upon bouncing back to 2016, Max found herself back in her hotel room next to Arcadia Hospital, five days after her final goodbye to Chloe, her diary exactly as she remembered it. The photo of the blue butterfly in her pocket, ready for one final use.
One last time, Max created another branch of the timeline from that morning of October 7, 2013.
In this second-to-last one of the dozens of universes that bloomed into being in that millisecond of destiny, Max blacked out within a moment after photographing a beautiful blue butterfly – and never woke up again. This Max’s own future time-traveling self – the other Max just one paragraph above – had returned to possess her. During her blackout, the Max from three years into the future, variously known as “Real Max,” “Main Max,” or “Alpha Max,” moved this Max’s body out of cover, while yelling with this Max’s voice, right behind a twitchy and highly-strung Nathan Prescott with his finger on a trigger. The Max who belonged in this time never felt the massive punch of a semiautomatic bullet, never saw her blue-haired best friend recognize her as she fell. In her place fell the Max of another universe, who knew everything she did plus far more than she should have known. The long suffering of the “real” Max had finally ended, in the same time and place where it had all begun. But her powers lived on… and the “real” Chloe’s suffering had only just begun.
And in the very last one of those dozens of universes, Max photographed a blue butterfly – and then promptly felt her phone vibrating in her pocket. Shocked to see a call from Chloe, who she’d thought had given up on her years ago, Max answered the phone. Chloe’s panicked voice didn’t let her get a word in edgewise. “Max, thank god you’re still there. You have to get out of that bathroom right now. Your life is in danger. Find me in the parking lot and I’ll explain everything, I promise! Hurry. Now! Don’t talk to Nathan, just come find me!”
This last universe was not created by Max. It, too, was destined to split dozens of times over the following five days, giving rise to another tree of divergences. And in one of the offshoots of this universe, five days later, Max was to hand Chloe that butterfly photo as they watched a tornado shred their home. Chloe would not hesitate to throw the photo into the swirling storm without a second glance. There were only fifteen survivors of the freak tornado in Arcadia Bay that day.
Later that same day...
Chloe - the original Chloe who'd been accidentally killed in the original, no-time-travel timeline - awoke surrounded by light and comforting warmth. The last thing she remembered was an overwhelming pain in her stomach after Nathan shot her. I can’t believe that bastard actually had the nerve to shoot me! The pain was gone, and Chloe looked down at herself – no blood, no bullet wound – she felt completely fine, as if nothing had happened. Damn, I must be dead. There’s no way a coward like him actually meant to do that. I really hope his daddy doesn’t manage to buy him out of this one.
Chloe was startled out of her thoughts by a booming voice that vibrated through her whole body.
“Chloe Elizabeth Price, welcome to your final judgment.”
"What the fuck?"