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Just One Second Out of Sync

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"I've put the cookie jar just two seconds out of sync where Garfield can't reach it."

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 one or more 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." See San Dimas Time for another example of time occurring simultaneously regardless of when a character actually is at the present moment. Has nothing to do with foreign dubs where the overlaid dialogue is out of sync with the lip movements; for that, you're looking for Hong Kong Dub and other issues related to Lip Lock.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An equivalent is weaponised in Blackest Night, when Nekron- the ruler of the Black Lantern Corps- is able to send Black Lantern rings after the various resurrected heroes by confronting them with Black Lantern Batman, the sight of their friend in such a state triggering an intense emotional reaction that allowed the black rings to latch on to heroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are able to escape the black rings focused on them by Barry taking himself and Hal a few moments into the future, severing their connection to those rings (although Barry notes that he and Hal will have to take care to stay in control of their emotions so they don't attract any new ones).
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Knothole was shifted three hours into the future when the Ultimate Annihilator hit it. It was supposed to outright destroy it, but Snively modified the weapon to only kill Robotnik. When Robo-Robotnik showed up and decided to forcefully restore Knothole to its proper time (and, thus, destroy it), Sonic strapped himself to a Super Chaos Emerald and used his speed and the emerald's power to stop Robotnik's weapon, with the side effect of turning him into his Sonic Adventure variation.
  • In Stone Cold, a Ninjago graphic novel, a villain known as the Time Ninja lives a second ahead of everyone else because he once exposed himself to the "Chrono Crater" in an attempt to become immortal. As a result, he is unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat and knows everything one will say before one says it. Wu is able to defeat him by setting up a trap that takes longer than a second to escape from.
  • 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."
  • In Eternals (2021), Titano, the fallen capital of the Eternals, is "superimposed between three seconds from now and two seconds ago."

  • This is accidentally done to Calvin, Hobbes, and Socrates in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series when the MTM tries to fast-forward through a boring museum visit. They all end up out of sync with each other, initially causing Calvin to give answers before other people ask the accompanying question. Hilarity Ensues, to say the least.
  • 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.
  • In the Pony POV Series, the Interviewers eventually explain that this is how they operate in relation to the ponies they're interviewing, at least when acting as The Voice.
  • In Next Grand World, Olga is able to prevent the canon destruction of Chaldea by teleporting the entire build - staff and all - into a different second in time, though at the cost of being unable to transform for a good while.


By Author:

  • 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 inaccessible without the hero's powers of time control.

By Work:

  • The time stops in Artemis Fowl take a certain area out of time for up to 8 hours so criminals can be arrested and Muggles can have their memories erased without interference.
  • 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.
  • 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 human structures slowly decaying either side of the moving wave of "now".
  • In The Demolished Man, Ben Reich had a safe that was "out of phase" with normal space, rather than time.
  • The History Monks in Discworld have worked out how to weaponise this. By performing a complex ritual, they're able to displace a training dummy's head by a split-second, resulting in it being blown off.
    • This happens to Sam Vimes; in a time of high stress, either he or his Disorganiser device is displaced in time and space by the merest fraction of a second. Thus by the million-to-one chance, he grabs the one belonging to the Sam Vimes in ther universe next door and learns from its confused commentary how he and all he holds in regard are killed when the Klatchians invade Ankh-Morpork.
  • Doctor Who New Adventures: In The Also People, 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 David Eddings' Elenium, it is mentioned that different gods have different ways to appear invisible. One of the troll gods uses time in this way.
    • It's noted that the explanation is nonsensical, but that since Ghnomb is a god and believes it should work, his belief makes it work.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • This happens in the Stephen King story The Langoliers (and the miniseries adapted from it). A plane-load of people get stuck an unspecified but short time behind the normal timeframe, and have to escape before they are eaten by the titular creatures. In the meantime, their separation from the present means that the rest of the world is entirely empty, the day/night cycle is fading into perpetual twilight, sounds and echoes are deadened, food is tasteless, carbonated drinks are flat, and matches won't light. To top it all off, a horrible chewing noise in the distance grows ever louder as the Langoliers approach. It ends with them being a moment in the future, but it's more tenable since they shift back to the present.
  • 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.
  • 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 unnecessary 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 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.
    • It does, however, exist in the book A Darkness at Sethanon, which the game is a sequel to.
  • In C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Eldils are ephemeral to average people due to this type of reason.
  • 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 James Patrick Kelly's novellette "Undone", the time-traveling protagonist is trapped by an "identity mine" that keeps hovering five minutes pastward of her. If she travels backward a full five minutes, her mind will be mush.
  • Gromph Baenre, the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, has a sanctuary which exists in some ways both in the distant future and the distant past in War of the Spider Queen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who has used it repeatedly.
    • The original use was in First Doctor serial "The Space Museum". The TARDIS "jumps a time track" and deposits them on the museum planet's in this manner. It eventually wears off on its own but while in this state the Doctor and companions are invisible and inaudible to everything around them. The glimpse of the near future they receive while like this is what starts the serial's plot.
    • "The Keeper of Traken": The Master does it to the Doctor's TARDIS to cut off his escape route.
    • 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 Stolen Earth": The Daleks use this to create a pocket universe for their multiverse-destroying machine, hiding their headquarters, the 27 planets they've stolen, and the large nebula they're hiding out in one second out of sync with the rest of the universe. This causes the Doctor some trouble when he's trying to reach Earth.
    • In "The End of Time", the Doctor hides the TARDIS from the Master this way.
  • Eerie, Indiana: In "The Lost Hour", Marshall sets his watch back an hour in spite of the fact that Eerie does not observe daylight savings time and becomes trapped in another dimension one hour ahead of everyone else in Eerie. The only other people in town are a girl named Janet Donner (who has been similarly trapped for a year), a strange milkman who is implied to be Marshall from the future and a dangerous group of garbagemen.
  • A particularly memorable skit from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Prince of Space" features the entire cast operating on different temporal lines due to the effect of the SOL passing through a wormhole.
  • The Outer Limits (1963): In the 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.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • 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.
    • The aliens in the episode "Time's Arrow" live scant fractions of a second out of phase with the rest of reality.
  • 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 and, most importantly, immune to being affected by changes to the timeline. Also, the crew doesn't age in this state. There's also the more primitive Krenim torpedoes, 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 Twilight Zone (1985) 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 sync 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 Twilight Zone (2002) 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • There's the 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has an example in the staff of Orican the Seer, said staff existing half-a-second before the "now". The effect is described that the staff will hit the enemy before Orican even swings it, ensuring a hit. In game-terms, this allows Orican to reroll to-hit dice.
  • Timemaster: Time Corps chronoscooters have "vanish" mode, which sends the 'scooter backwards in time at a rate equal to the current forward rate. In-game, this equates to the 'scooter hovering at the edge of existing until it is called back by the agent.

    Video Games 
  • 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!
    • There's another tactic called echoless sneaking, in which an army approaching an enemy stops immediately before each timewave so that the attack doesn't get propagated to the future, and the enemy doesn't see it until it happens in the present.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers has this occur in a cutscene. Celebi uses this trick to help the current heroes escape from the villains surrounding them. Primal Dialga is present to counter the effect and jolt them back into regular time, but they only needed a few seconds anyway. Later on it is also revealed that Hidden Land, where Temporal Tower is located, was hidden within the parts of a split second.
  • In Crimson Echoes, it's revealed that all Time Gates are moving forward at a constant rate, thus explaining San Dimas Time. If a person gets knocked even one second into the future, no Time Gates for them...
  • In Star Trek Online, the Krenim were mostly wiped out by the Vaadwaur as part of the background to the Delta Rising expansion. During the Iconian War, a Krenim artifact... acquired by a Ferengi trader is the hook for a mission that reveals one Krenim outpost has survived by using temporal technology to hide half a second away from the "regular" timestream.


    Western Animation 
  • In the first episode of the Æon Flux TV series, Trevor uses a special harness that puts him out of phase with the world around him. He uses it to enter a special love nest he built for himself and Aeon, which is hidden inside the body of a kidnapped politician for some reason.
  • 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 one of the many things that happened to Baxter Stockman in the '80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.
  • This happens to Sonic in one episode of Sonic Boom. He puts on a device that Tails developed in order to push him to new heights of speed but ends up going so fast that he phases himself slightly into the future and becomes invisible to everyone else. Tails fixes the problem by joining him at the point of desync and then recalibrating his hardware to bring him back.

    Real Life 
  • 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 ratesnote , it does not "phase out" objects from the rest of the universe or make them unreachable in any sense. Instead, the difference just becomes more 'distance' you have to cross. Only stuff that falls beyond a black hole's event horizon can be called truly unreachable.
    • You can still reach it if you're willing to dive in after it. It just can't reach you.