Vignette, Justice Wing

⎇001JW Vignette: Timeskipper

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Justice Wing Vignettes

Salome made a face. “Can’t you pretend to be enthralled with me and hang on my every word? These interruptions grow tiresome.”


Ridpath opened his eyes, then immediately closed them. Yup. He’d been knocked out. Blow to the back of the head, all right. Concussion? Maybe. Would he recover on his own?

Yeah, it seemed likely he would. All right then. He had a few temporal contingencies to help that along, even when he was in a precarious state like this one.

“Ahhh, Timeskipper,” came a purred voice.

“Salome,” Ridpath murmured. “What a lovely surprise.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you,” the seductive spymaster said. Ridpath opened his eyes again. She was there, all right – beautiful woman. Gleaming skin and brown eyes, with almost liquid-black hair. The original, Biblical Salome was Judean – meaning Persian, Semitic, or something closely related to one or both. This Salome looked like she fit that same criteria. Okay, the original Salome probably didn’t have parahuman enhanced pheromones that enthralled and hypnotized King Herod, admittedly, but still.

“How can you say that?” Ridpath said, testing his bonds – yup, definitely tied up. Definitely rope. “Every time we’ve met I’ve been sarcastic, and yet you keep showing up.”

“Well, this time I assure you it’s nothing personal.” She smiled, malevolently. “I need your abilities, and you will have no choice but to follow my orders.”

“Oh, did you change up your pheromones, somehow? Because so far they don’t seem to be having any more effect on me than they usually do.” Ridpath tensed his leg muscles. He’d been tied to a wooden chair, his legs bound to the chair legs. Decent job of it, too.

“Oh, I’m aware you’re immune to my proper allure, silly boy. Let’s have the casting of aspersions on your manhood as read, shall we?” She turned, lifting a small remote. Clicking it turned on several flat panel displays, showing a number of other people who Salome had apparently tied up in other locations. People Ridpath knew, of course. “Your friends and associates, I believe? Ms. Nordstrom? Ms. McDougal? Mr. Junkin? Doctor Ryder? Do I have your attention?”

“You always have my attention, Salome. You don’t need pheromones or hostages for that. So what’s this all about?”

“Simple!” Salome laughed. “I need you to travel through time, back to before Paragon’s first emergence! It’s a matter of public knowledge that Mason Temple, Amana Juma, and Lynette Hardesty found the ancient Codex, Conduit, and Crucible in Mexico, left behind by the lost Xolchett civilization long before humanity evolved!”

“Don’t monologue gleefully. My head hurts.” Ridpath sighed. “And yes. It’s well known that Temple, Juma, and Hardesty found Xolchett artifacts. If you want me to go back before they were found and steal them, be warned that bringing them back to this century simply connects them to their contemporary versions which automatically shut down the duplicates. The Xolchetts understood time better than we ever could, and they planned accordingly.”

“Yes yes! I know that! Shut up! I’m talking!”

“All right then. Go back in time. And then what?”

“Then divert Juma so she never makes the find. Sabotage the dig if you must. I don’t care how. I, in the meantime, will step into a timeless sphere which will protect me from any changes to history. When you’re finished, I will emerge, go to Mexico, and ‘discover’ those three artifacts for myself! Then, with their power—”

“Hang on a sec.”

Salome made a face. “Can’t you pretend to be enthralled with me and hang on my every word? These interruptions grow tiresome.”

“Yeah, I bet. If I go back in time and prevent Juma from finding the artifacts, meaning Hardesty and Temple never follow up… why exactly do you think you’ll be able to retrieve them now? They were retrieved years ago, remember?”

“…yes, I remember. That’s why you’re going to the past and changing history, fool!”

Ridpath blinked and grinned. “Ohhh – no, I get it. Okay. Right. That’s… not how any of this works.”

Salome frowned. “…what do you mean? And I swear to the powers of Heaven and Hell above and below, if you quote Endgame to me—”

“It’s not like that, Salome. It’s… it’s like this. Time’s a three dimensional construct, the same way space is a three dimensional construct. The two together make space/time and that’s where we all live. One of those temporal dimensions is linear time – that’s what we mean when we say ‘timeline’ or ‘history.’ And all the fundamental particles of time – your chronicos, teleias, tachyotrinos, not to mention the stuff that makes up elemental temporites? They flow through space/time – it’s called four-momentum, because their vector comprises three spatial dimensions and the linear temporal dimension—”

“Oh my God shut up,” Salome snapped. “Sum it up in a way that makes sense!”

Ridpath opened his mouth, then closed it. “Um… right. Let’s go with the usual metaphor. Time is a river, and like a physical river involves particles of water flowing along a riverbed, time particles flow over history. And just like a river, if you skip back through time and throw a rock in, that might make a splash or even disrupt the flow of the river… but the water that’s already gone past isn’t affected. If I go back and prevent the Centurion, Crucible, and Agent Hardesty from finding the Xolchett site, that’ll cause a splash. Things will be different for a while, though even then as that chunk of time flows down the path of history things will settle back into their usual course until you can’t even tell the difference.”


So… if I go back and make that splash, then yeah – Temple and Juma won’t become the Centurion and the Crucible… that time. But the history you and I have lived through’s already happened. The time we’re actually in right now passed over that bit of history years ago. That won’t change just because I go back and splash around the river. Nothing here will change at all!”

“But… but my timeless sphere!”

“Your timeless sphere is very nice. I assume you got it off the black market – it’s a knockoff of a 32nd century temporal observatory. Interestingly? Based on an old Venusian design of all things. But you don’t care about that. That thing will let you bop out of the four-momentum and observe the flow, including the churn of might-have-beens that swirl around the timeline in various short term 4-branes of their own. But it has nothing to do with protecting you from historical changes because your personal history can’t be changed. You’re you. Just like the Centurion and Crucible found the Xolchett artifacts, and Centurion later gave the Conduit to his sidekick and she became Conduit, and then—”

“So wait. If you go back and prevent them from finding the Xolchett artifacts… you’re telling me they’ll still have the Xolchett artifacts in the present?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling. What’s more, unless my time jaunt is carefully set up as a closed-loop temporal construct, then my historical change will only happen that one time. As time keeps flowing over history, it’ll wash away my splash and bang. There’s Juma, Temple, and Hardesty finding ancient artifacts and aggroing the Orgalin all over again.”

“…what… ‘aggroing?’”

“…you can’t tell me you never played World of Warcraft, Salome. You scream Blood Elf Mage main.”

Salome flushed, making a face. “Warlock,” she muttered. “Shut up. We are not discussing that right now, little man!”

“Sorry, sorry. Point’s this. If you want me to go do that, I will… but it won’t actually change anything at all as far as you’re concerned. So. Since your plan won’t actually work and there’s literally nothing you, I, or anyone can do to change that? What do I actually have to do to get you to let my associates go?”

Salome stared at Ridpath. “If that’s true,” she said, finally, “then… what exactly do your powers even let you do, Timeskipper?”

Ridpath chuckled. “They let me skip around through time. And working within the flow of history, my actions become part of the historical narrative. If I work against the flow I cause a splash but it comes to nothing. If something truly massively significant happens, it can cause a temporal fork, leaving two timelines forked off from the original – one where everything’s the same, the other following the diverged history. But that still doesn’t change perceived present in the original timeline.”

“What makes something massively significant? Blowing the Earth up?”

Ridpath snorted. “I’m sorry. Let me rephrase. Massively significant from the universe’s perspective. One planet blowing up? Inside even a few million years no one would be able to tell the difference.”

“…what about the butterfly effect?”

“History doesn’t care about butterfly wing-flaps or bug-deaths,” Ridpath said, with the tired tone of someone who’d explained this way too often. “Think statistically. Yeah, there are changes, but the trend stays the same. The bigger the splash, the longer it takes to get back to normal – but it gets there, eventually.”

Salome rubbed her eyes. “…so all this was a massive waste of time. I took all these hostages—”

Ridpath coughed. “What hostages?” he asked, innocently.

Salome paused. She whirled to look at the screens—

The rooms were all empty. Ridpath had kept her attention on him, of course, so she hadn’t seen Ridpath step into each room, free his friends, and then leave with them. Timeskipping had its uses in the present time – they just weren’t what Salome was asking for.

“How… how did you do that?” Salome asked. After a long pause, she whirled. “Answer me—”

But of course there wasn’t anyone there. Just a few cut ropes and a purple rose sitting on the chair.

“…a purple rose? Really?” McDougal sounded amused. “You’re such a flirt.” She was in a crystal sphere alongside Ridpath, the two floating through the sea of out-time and watching a display on the curved sphere wall. Another one of the Observatories like the one Salome called her ‘Timeless Sphere.’ It was a bit more advanced than hers, of course.

“Always build a brand,” Ridpath murmured.

“So how many times have you gone through this routine in the past year?”

Ridpath chuckled. “Sixteen. My understanding is I’ll be roped into a seventeenth in about four weeks.”

“Well, next time try to leave me out of it? I have things of my own to do, you know.” McDougal frowned. “You never gave me a purple rose, even when I was trying to kill you.”

“Of course not. I was actually interested in you. You’re lucky I didn’t spend every encounter stammering and trying not to stare.”

“‘Trying.’ I’ll give you that. So what’s your followup?”

Ridpath shrugged. “Salome gets arrested in June. She doesn’t really cause too much trouble between now and then. I’m going to call this one good. And for God’s sake change your locks or something.”

“But if I change my locks your enemies won’t ever kidnap me, and how else am I supposed to talk to you? Come on, I’ll drop you off somewhen.”

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4 thoughts on “⎇001JW Vignette: Timeskipper”

  1. So…. just to see if I get this right.

    Because history has already happened, going back in time and “changing” things doesn’t actually affect anything in the present day, because all that already happened. And, even if you did go back in time and, I dunno, blow up the earth, someone else who went back in time would find the earth was still there, because your “changes” wouldn’t stay “changed?”

    Possibly, if you were really, really, really persistent, you could manage to produce enough of a change that you might be able to spawn an alternate universe, but that still wouldn’t actually change the “present.”

    Maybe, if you stuck with the overall trends of history you could make a minor change that actually affected things, and, either way, you can still make changes when you’re in the “present,” but the practical upshot is that you can’t really meaningfully affect the present by changing the past.

    Do I got all that?

    1. Yup! There’s a certain ‘splash effect’ that gets bigger with bigger changes, so it’ll take longer for the changes to be washed away by time, but washed away they will be. So, there would be a ‘splash zone’ where the Earth was gone in the flow of time, but soon enough that event would be washed away, and as the ripples from the splash diminish, the practical effect of the Earth being gone will become less and less, until finally history will continue for that bit of time as if the Earth had never blown up in the first place. It might be after Sol goes nova, but you know — time has its own perspective on these things.

      True lasting change — enough to fork the timeline — can happen, but not generally because of something a single time traveller does hopping through the timeline. And no matter what happens, the time that’s already flowed past that event won’t be changed by a splash or even a divergence.

      Actual historical change comes from within history, but that’s another discussion.

  2. “But… but my timeless sphere!”

    I am sitting here giggling at a monologuing supervillain sounding so disappointed.

    1. To be fair, the resale value on a used Timeless Sphere is really bad. You know how a car depreciates in value the moment you drive it off the lot? These things depreciate in value before the lot was made in the first place.

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