Just One Second Out of Sync
So you have a powerful piece of Applied Phlebotinum
, but it is too heavy to carry around and you don't want the Big Bad
to lay hands on it? Well, if you are a time traveler, you are in luck: just put it in a little Place Beyond Time
, one second out of sync with the rest of the universe! That was easy, wasn't it? It will be permanently ahead or behind you in time, and is absolutely unreachable until you use your fancy gadgets to summon it back. Extra points are awarded for style
if the object slowly fades away.
This is a bit difficult to figure out with most models of how time works. Let's say time is a horizontal line. In this case moving it to the left or to the right should result in the same line. As a consequence, the object you are trying to hide won't disappear at all, only get a second older or younger. In universes with branching timelines, your precious item may be placed on a different branch, but then again, people in that parallel universe can still interact with it. Possibly, it's analogous to putting it in a different "boat" in the same "river"; you're both traveling through the timestream at the same speed, but it's "ahead" of you, so you can never catch up with it. How that works in the physical world is anyone's guess.
If the geometry of time in your universe resembles a ball
rather than a line, a tree, or a river, forget we said anything.
Possible uses include:
- Hiding something as mentioned above
- Having a little private time (literally)
- Invisibility / Cloaking device
- Playing hide-and-seek with other time travelers
- Planting booby traps
- Hiding 27 Planets
The amount doesn't have to be exactly one second, but as a general rule of thumb, it should fall within the lifetime of the characters involved, so hiding at the beginning/end of the universe doesn't count. (Unless it happened just a second ago.)
Since relativity made the distinction between space and time a rather vague one, "out of phase with space" examples are also acceptable, although they quite possibly involve more than three spatial dimensions. (Extra temporal dimensions may also be used.)
Another theory could be that the phrase refers to time locking, in which such an item is locked into a single second of time. It only exists at that point in time and no other so long as it is out of sync.
Contrast The Slow Path
, Portal To The Past
. Compare Bag of Holding
, Pocket Dimension
, Phantom Zone
, and Invisible Main Character
, especially if invisibility occurs because the character is "out of phase."
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Anime & Manga
- Mahou Sensei Negima! has Chao making herself invincible by using a time travel device to very briefly (as in, milliseconds) jump to a different point in time and then back again. No one is able to lay a finger on her until Negi figures out a way to engineer a similar effect.
- IDW's Beast Wars comic book series used this trope to set their stories within the same setting as the television show without creating continuity issues. The characters in the comic were in a different "time phase" than the characters in the show, allowing them to travel to the same locations while remaining invisible and intangible.
- This was how Thanos kept The Avengers from interfering with him in the storyline that introduced him back in the 1970s.
- In Yoko Tsuno, Monya hides her time machine, the shifter, by moving it to a nearby time spiral (time is shaped like spirals in this comic).
- Kang the Conqueror, a recurring foe of The Avengers, uses this variation of a Pocket Dimension as a gun rack. As a Big Bad from a 30th-century earth that is entirely under his dominion, he's got some pretty startling weapons to stash there.
- In David Eddings' The Elenium series, it is mentioned that different gods have different ways to appear invisible. One of the troll gods uses time in this way.
- In The Demolished Man, Ben Reich had a safe that was "out of phase" with normal space, rather than time.
- Collision with Chronos by Barrington J. Bayley. A criminal in a city of time-twisters is sentenced to exile a second in the past. This is total exile: life only exists in the present moment, with our structures slowly decaying either side of the moving wave of "now".
- Has been used in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novels — in the New Adventure The Also People, for example, the Doctor does it to hide the TARDIS from the advanced race whose Dyson Sphere he's visiting, so they aren't tempted to reverse-engineer it.
- In C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Eldils are ephemeral to us due to this type of reason.
- In Reginald Bretnor's story "The Gnurrs Come From The Voodvork Out", when Papa Schimmelhorn is asked where the gnurrs came from, he explains that they came from yesterday. When someone objects that they weren't here yesterday, he says that, then, they were in the day before yesterday.
- Perry Rhodan has this happen with the entire solar system... twice. First time around, they shift the whole thing "a relative five minutes into the future" so as to be able to avoid an attack without causing unneccessary bloodshed. The second time, they throw in a randomiser (because the Monster of the Week has access to superior technology), meaning the entire solar system keeps randomly leaping and bounding across the timeline (going from a split second to up to twenty minutes into the future).
- In James Patrick Kelly's novellette "Undone", the time-traveling protagonist is trapped by an "identity mine" that keeps hovering five minutes pastward of her.
- This happens to a day in the Stephen King novella The Langoliers (and the miniseries adapted from it). A plane-load of people get stuck a day behind the normal timeframe, and have to escape before they are eaten by the titular creatures.
- Future Times Three written by René Barjavel used a shifting device. It allowed the time traveler to shift one second back and forth, making him unreachable.
- Clifford Simak's signature trope. He loves writing alternative Earths that are between that and alternative history. Other variations have been used too, such as hiding a time machine in a second in the past, rendering it unaccessible without the hero's powers of time control.
- In James Valentine's Jumpman Rule 1: Don't Touch Anything!, time travelers use this concept to remain invisible as they observe historical moments of interest. In theory, staying several milliseconds out of sync with the time zone they are visiting, they will not be seen by the 'natives', and as long as they don't touch anything they won't screw with history. Unfortunately...
- In L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth, the Voltarian Confederacy uses the time-warping powers of harnessed black holes to shift their entire capital city thirteen minutes into the future, rendering it invulnerable because any aggressors would find nothing to target. How local traffic is able to drive in and out of this time shift without incident while enemy ordnance is not is never explained.
- In Isaac Asimov's short-short Shaggy Dog Story "A Loint of Paw", a criminal named Stein uses a time machine to travel forward in time, to avoid his crime's statute of limitations. The judge rules that "A niche in time saves Stein."
- In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, this is described as a common hazing prank in the Chrono Guard which was banned after they lost a cadet there.
- In the Riftwar book Krondor: The Betrayal, which is also the novelization for the computer game Betrayal At Krondor, the Lifestone under Sethanon had been time-shifted in this manner, and the entire invasion plot by the Big Bad Makala was to provide a distraction so that he could bring the Lifestone back into normal time to study and/or steal it. This only happens in the novelization; in the game, the timeshifting protection doesn't exist.
- One of the endings in the Choose Your Own Adventure book The Cave of Time has you end up five minutes out of sync with the rest of the universe. This doesn't make you unreachable, but it does have the effect that others perceive you doing things five minutes after you've actually done them.
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who has used it repeatedly.
- The original use was in the classic-series serial The Keeper of Traken, in which the Master did it to the Doctor's TARDIS to cut off his escape route.
- In The End Of Time, the Doctor hides the TARDIS from The Master this way.
- In "The Stolen Earth", the Daleks use this to create a pocket universe for their multiverse-destroying machine.
- The ATMOS devices in "The Sontaran Stratagem" work as advertised on the surface, but their true purpose is to spew a noxious gas the Sontarans can use to turn Earth into a clone farm. This facet of its design is disguised by hiding the dangerous part one second out of time.
- The aliens in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow" live scant fractions of a second out of phase with the rest of reality.
- In "The Next Phase", Geordi and Ro think they're dead, when they're actually a little out of sync with the rest of the universe.
- A particularly memorable skit from Mystery Science Theater 3000 features the entire cast operating on different temporal lines due to the effect of the SOL passing through a wormhole.
- Star Trek: Voyager uses it a few times.
- "Year of Hell": The Krenim weapon ship exists outside of normal space-time when the temporal core is online. This doesn't render the ship invisible, but makes it immune to conventional weaponry. Also, the crew doesn't age in this state. There's also the more primitive Krenim torpedos, which use a similar effect to bypass shields.
- "Relativity": Seven of Nine is sent through time by the timeship USS Relativity (which is from the 29th century) to save Voyager from being destroyed by a strange device that is "out of phase" with normal time, since she is the only one that can see it due to her ocular implant.
- The 1980s Twilight Zone revival episode "A Matter of Minutes," based on the 1941 short story "Yesterday Was Monday" by Theodore Sturgeon. A young married couple woke to find numerous faceless workers in blue coveralls disassembling their home around them. It turns out that they are the beings responsible for breaking down the minute that has just passed in order to re-use the raw materials to build the minute yet to come. (They actually work with a few hours worth of buffer as a safety factor.) On occasion the time workers muff their stage directions, which is why your car keys will be missing one minute, and back where you left them the next. It's explained that the viewpoint couple have dropped out of synch with their own timeframe, necessitating their disappearance from reality. (It's implied that this has happened to individuals such as Amelia Earhart, Judge Crater and Jimmy Hoffa.)
- The 90's revival of The Outer Limits also had a similar one called "Gabe's Story". A man takes a blow to his head and begins seeing a fellow in blue overalls who keeps doing stuff to mess up his life. He's eventually told the little fellow was supposed to make sure his wife left him, his assistance to a theft was discovered and he went to prison.
- The Outer Limits TOS episode "The Premonition". A test pilot and his wife are trapped 10 seconds into the future. They slowly move back toward regular time at a rate of 1 second per 30 minutes of subjective time. Their problem: they discover that their daughter will be run over by a truck once they return to normal time, and must find a way to stop it.
- Dungeons & Dragons gives us a temporal filcher, a bizarre monster which pulls its victim out of synch. It is a bit different since the anomaly only works for several subjective rounds but the filcher is still alone with its victim until the rest of the party catch up.
- There are also several spells and abilities that function in a similar manner to this, such as the obvious Time Stop spell, or one of the uses of Wish/Miracle.
- This is used in combination with San Dimas Time in Crimson Echoes to explain how the gates work, and why they only exist at one point in time. Specifically, the Entity created the gates for the party to travel through time and save the world, but since the party runs on San Dimas Time, the gates also have to move forward through time at the same rate. This ends up causing problems with time travel when the party ends up out of sync in the Reptite timeline, as no matter what they do, the gates will be off-sync with them, and thus unable to be used.
- Some objects in Singularity are slightly out of phase with the present time. These are detectable with the "chronolight" function of the TMD, and it can also pull them back into sync for your use. Phased things include boxes for puzzle-solving, Renko's footsteps from his last attempt to fix the problem, and even explosive barrels to chuck at enemies.
- This trope occurs in an Achron tactic called "Timewave Dodging". If a unit dies in the past, any passing timewaves will propagate its nonexistence into the present. By time traveling it right across the approaching timewave, you can prevent it from being wiped out of existence. Weirdly enough, you're not hiding from other time travelers; you're hiding from causality itself!
- This is one of the many things that happened to Baxter Stockman in the '80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.
- Clock King did this in Batman The Animated Series when he got his hands on time manipulating technology, placing one on the Batmobile then setting it moments out of sync with time so the on-board trap sensors wouldn't find it.
- This is always happening in reality, since time flows at different rates in different places due to the effects of relativity. GPS satellites, indeed, have to correct for this fact every so often so that they don't get out of synch with receivers on the Earth's surface and lose accuracy. While it does cause things to age at different rates*, it does not "phase out" objects from the rest of the universe or make them unreachable in any sense. Only stuff that falls beyond a black hole's event horizon can be called truly unreachable.
- Technically we all experience events in our environment a very small fraction of a second later than they actually happen, as it takes several milliseconds for the human nervous system to receive input from our sensory receptors and to process that information once it reaches the brain. Our conscious minds are therefore slightly out of synch with the physical universe.