Most people live within a time stream, where time flows in one direction and effects follow causes. However, there are some characters in fiction that are slightly removed from the time stream and are able to see the past, present, and future all at the same time. These characters tend to exude a mysterious, all-knowing air about them, as they generally know who you are, why you are talking to them, and what will happen if you do what you are planning. As another character might be able to reject their meddling, they aren't necessarily The Omniscient, but they can still act like it.
Such characters will inevitably Mind Screw any character who thinks they can alter their destiny, since they have already seen the end of the story. If there is no possible future other than the one the author has intended, this character may be curiously passive despite their omniscience, since they already know what's going to happen regardless. May be lampshaded if they stop to contemplate what they're about to do next.
If played for comedy, the character may forget what period in time he currently is, sometimes uttering, "When is this again?" For extreme versions of this, go to Unstuck in Time. (You are about to, if you haven't already.)
A simple way of showing this is Non Linear Storytelling or Mind Screw, although that has more general applications; particularly in a Thriller, Mystery or Lit Fic where the author doesn't want the audience to put the pieces together before the end.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka becomes this (among other things) in the ending, and spends most of her "time" in a separate non-temporal dimension. She has memories of everything—or at least everything pertaining to Magical Girls—including the future and all alternate timelines and universes.
- In Attack on Titan any bearer of the Attack Titan can glimpse the memory of people who bear it in the future. As a result they may mention people who have not been born yet or remember things that haven't happened yet. Eren Yeager exploited this ability by imposing his desire for freedom on all past bearers and compelling his father and past self to act when they were hesitating.
- Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan experiences his own past, present, and future simultaneously, though tachyon streams can interfere with this.
- Goblin demons in The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael perceive time like this, in contrast to human souls. This is how one of them knows the plane isn't supposed to be there, and there's something unusual about Ichabod as well.
- Destiny and Death in The Sandman. This is justified, since they exist outside of time.
- Blindfold in X-Men sees all of reality at once, it makes her a bit hard to talk to.
- Empowered has the Caged Demonwolf (currently imprisoned in some power-draining alien bondage gear and kept on the heroine's coffee table,) who has long been known to have some sort of extra-temporal sight. He doesn't really elaborate on this until Volume Seven, when he tells Ninjette, (who is so drunk he knows she won't remember the conversation,) that he can see all parts of his own immortal existence simultaneously, and so even though he can see her inevitable death, he will also eternally be able to see her alive. The speech he gives perfectly sums up the bittersweet poignancy of this trope.
"Long after you are dead, and this city is ashes, and your species is extinct, and this planet is a graveyard, and every star in its sky has gone dark, and all the universe beyond is lifeless and still, I will carry your memory with me, perfect in every detail, into the next universe. And I will see you then exactly as I see you now. Warm and passionate and violent and alluring and misguided and aroused and damaged and alive. From my point of view, you will never truly die."
- Eobard Thawne of The Flash fame is a user and abuser of Time Travel, so his appearances are not necessarily in chronological order. This is especially apparent in The Return of Barry Allen and The Button.
- Jonathan Hickman's X-Men grants an interesting variation of this to longtime mutant ally Moira McTaggart as her hidden mutant power. She's not a non-linear character but a serial one. When she dies, she finds herself reincarnated on her original birthday, retaining full memories of her past lives. She's used this ability to try out multiple solutions to the mutant problem across nine lifetimes.
- She has two restrictions, both explained to her by a precognitive: She will die permanently if she's killed before her mutant power activates in adolescence, and for as-yet-unknown reasons, she will not be reincarnated again after her 10th life — and that's the one she's on.
- In Child of the Storm and its sequels, Doctor Strange's combination of being an immensely powerful Seer and a time traveller means that he tends to give off this vibe, at one point remarking that he lives his life entirely out of order. Unlike most examples, however, rather than simply sitting back and being passive, he actively meddles in the course of events, using his knowledge to try and guide humanity to the most optimal future. The actions he takes to ensure this do not make him the most popular person in the world.
- In the novel-length Ice Age fanfic Lost in Time Series, the first story of the saga, Origins, portrays the life of a supporting character, Hudson the dire wolf, to be one as events unfold and Hudson shows the reality of who he really is - a character Hyperion traveling backwards in time and one who has been to a good future that the herd created, although the way to paving forward that future was through many Heroic Sacrifices on the part of the first timeline's herd; when they go back in time to ensure the safety of another herd, the second herd becomes Non-Linear Characters themselves, resembling Amy and Rory and River in that their memories belong to another timeline and not the one they found themselves in now.
- In the Pony POV Series,
- This is the case with the Alicorns and Draconequi while in their native realm outside of time, able to move up and down the timeline. However, they can't predict the future, merely view the possible futures that await the timeline. The choices in the present are what alter the future. Rota Fortuna, the Goddess of Fate, is probably a straighter example as she created the roads of fate, even though ponies decide which ones they follow. However, some choices and futures surprise even her.
- The Elders exist beyond time period, and have been described as existing at both ends of time at the same time. They're also multiversal singularities and only one of each exists in the multiverse, but is simultaneously existing in all universes.
- Saya in The Obsidian Dawn is a Bronze Dragon but has some trouble remembering when she is at the moment. Besides forgetting that someone is older/younger than she expects them to be, others have to realize how old she is by her speech. Leonardo Withering hears her cursing and guesses that she's an adult or teenager at the moment instead of the five year old she appears to be.
- In The Weaver Option the mutable nature of the Warp means that the Chaos Gods and daemons are not strictly limited to the present. It is entirely possible for such a being to exist before the mortal that birthed it and Chaos Gods can feed on souls that they have yet to claim. This in turn means that daemons can cease to have ever existed if the present is changed such that their mortal self is never born in the future.
- The Heptapods in Arrival perceive time in a non-linear fashion. They have the memories of their entire lives from the moment they are born. Instead of trying to change things, though, they accept the bad that comes with the good. Trying to understand their written language triggers the same in humans. They have come to Earth to give humans the "gift" of their language and this way of thinking. Why? Because they know that, in 3000 years, they are the ones who will need our help, so they are making sure we're ready when the time comes.
- The Reveal in Lake Mungo suggests that Alice is one. She saw her own ghost or corpse before she died, and she was sitting in her room when her mother June came in but couldn't see or talk to her...which we would later find out only happened chronologically after Alice's death.
- By the end of Primer, both of the protagonists have become this, thanks to repeatedly traveling back to either undo or ensure the original, plot-starting events, coming into conflict with one another. Things get confusing very fast.
- In Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People, the wights are like this—they effectively know the 'script' for their entire life from the start. A very few wights, the thunorgs, are instead non-deterministic and can see alternate possibilities: normal wights are traumatised when the 'script' changes and they can no longer 'remember what's going to happen'.
- In Chapter 11 of his Confessions, Augustine struggles to express that God does not lose the past or anticipate the future like man does in any of his many presents, but "rather that in the Eternal nothing passes away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present." After all, why would the Creator of the time be contained within it?
- The clairvoyant Mrs. Cake is a recurring character who tends to leave her precognition on by accident, resulting in awkward conversations where she answers questions before they're asked. If the questions aren't actually asked, she gets a headache.
- In Soul Music, Death is also shown to have a non-linear memory. His granddaughter Susan shares that trait, but she mostly finds it a nuisance. Other source material has remarked that when Death shows up in the world in the stories, there's no knowing whether he's coming from a "different" time; there's no proper time in his realm anyway.
- Old Mother Dismass, a minor character in the Witches novels, has "a detached retina in her second sight". She appears to be a Talkative Loon, but the other witches assume that whatever she says makes sense in some conversation they've had or are going to have.
- Azrael, who owns a clock that tells time what it is instead of the other way around, and whose last line in Reaper Man is "I remember when all this will be again."
- Devera of the Dragaera series hasn't been born yet, but makes appearances and basically exists outside of regular time and space. It probably has a lot to do with her being the product of a coupling between the daughter of a goddess and her distant male ancestor. After making appearances in almost twenty books, her parents finally got around to conceiving her. In a nonlinear interlude in a particularly disjointed novel in the series, so we still have no idea when she'll actually be born.
- Psychics in Good Omens work this way. They can remember events that haven't happened yet, including ones they aren't going to be present at. Many of them have trouble telling the difference between psychic visions and things they've just imagined; Agnes Nutter is the only one who can distinguish well enough to give consistently and entirely accurate prophecies.
- The dragon in Grendel. He remembers Beowulf killing him in the future, but does nothing to prevent his death because as far as he's concerned, the future is as unchangeable as the past.
- During its start-up calibration, the Hitchhiker's Guide Mk. II from Mostly Harmless checks the "direction of causality" among other things, meaning that it can probably jump across time streams as it pleases.
- The Martian "Old Ones" in Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet are so old they have trouble knowing "when" they are. At one point, a regular Martian guide shows an Old One a globe of current Mars to help the Old One locate himself temporally.
- U-Janus Nevstruev in Strugatsky Brothers' novel Monday Begins on Saturday is a borderline case between this trope and Merlin Sickness. This one's time flow isn't linear but is relatively predictable; he lives a day normally, then hops 48 hours in the past. His favourite question is "What did I do/say yesterday?", since for him the past is the future.
- The Tortall Universe's Chamber of the Ordeal lives chronoillogically, as it informs Kel in Protector of the Small. It describes looking into the human timestream as looking at the inside of a fishbowl.
- Kurt Vonnegut:
- Space explorer Winston Niles Rumfoord of The Sirens of Titan. Traveling from Earth to Mars, he enters a "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" phenomenon which transforms him and his dog into wave forms that materialize on planets at different points in the time continuum. As a result, Rumfoord becomes aware of the past, present and future.
- Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse-Five at least believes that he is this, though the narrative leaves it vague whether it's actually true or if he is just suffering brain damage after a plane crash that makes him think that he's constantly being transported into his own past and future. If it is true, then the alien Tralfamadorians that Billy claims - with equally ambiguous accuracy - to have been kidnapped by at one point are an even more extreme version than Billy, since they exist in every moment of time at once and think that the idea of changing anything is inherently absurd.
- Nerissa from The Underland Chronicles is mostly linear, but her visions yank her back and forth down the timestream at random, and its anyone's guess if she'll see the future, the past, or the present but elsewhere. Ripred describes her as "a fish flopping in the shallows of time", and her own people treat her quite poorly for it.
- Bar Karma: Since Bar Karma exists outside of space and time, James, Dayna, Doug, and anyone else who's with them for long enough move through time more or less at random. Someone who enters the bar in 2058 might get there before someone who enters in 1962 from the perspective of those inside the bar.
- Doctor Who:
- The TARDIS (and presumably her sisters) have this trait as well, experiencing the whole fourth dimension simultaneously. Usually this doesn't matter much, because she can only communicate psychically through emotions, but the one time she was turned human, it made things a bit confusing.
- River Song and the Doctor are this to each other. Unfortunately for them both, they continue meeting each other in the wrong order throughout the Eleventh Doctor era and beyond.
- "The Day of the Doctor": The Moment decides to earn the Doctor's trust by taking A Form You Are Comfortable With, appearing as Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf. The only catch is that when this happens, the Doctor hasn't met that person yet. The Moment admits to having a hard time telling past and future apart.
- The fourth season episode of Fringe, "... And Those We've Left Behind," has Peter Bishop popping back and forth through time, caused by a local engineer who's designed a time bubble around his house.
- The Observer more than qualifies. The 12 Observers see all periods of time simultaneously. This causes things like the wounded Observer showing up in the first episodes of the fourth season, but said wound only being inflicted near the end of the season.
- The Haunting of Hill House:
- The House itself. It uses a vision of the deaths of her children to drive Olivia to kill them herself in order to keep them safe.
- The Bent-Neck Lady, aka Nell herself. Her apparently random, terrifying appearances throughout Nell's life — which ultimately led her to go back to the house and end up hanging herself — are revealed to be seemingly uncontrollable times where she dropped into her own life at the moment of death or just before/after.
- Subverted in Lexx - the oracle sees all of time simultaneously, but only because the universe is on constant repeat and we've all been through this before...
- The Prophets, aka wormhole aliens, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sisko had to teach them about linear time in the pilot. Except they've already had that conversation with him, as they experience all times simultaneously. They just needed him to actually give the explanation so that they could remember it earlier...
- Another instance is a Bajoran poet believing himself to be the true Emissary, on account of having technically met the Prophets several centuries earlier then being sent ahead in time to after Sisko took the role. When Sisko finally takes him to the Prophets to settle the matter, they reveal they just yanked the poet out of history to teach Sisko a lesson. Sisko convinced them to put him back.
- Q (and all of the other Q as well) in Star Trek: The Next Generation, as they can travel to anywhere in time and/or space on a whim. It's explored much more thoroughly in the novels, one of which involves Q taking Picard back through certain times in Q's "youth". One scene involves no less than four Qs and two Picards simultaneously witnessing the same event, something which gives Picard a headache.
- The Flash: When the original Harrison Wells from Earth-1 is resurrected on Earth-Prime, he reveals that the method of resurrection has made him this way and given him the ability to time travel to any point in his life: past, present, or future. After helping the team save the world, he opts to go back and relive his life with his wife over and over, unwilling to let her go.
- God, in Abrahamic religions, is traditionally believed to be omnipresent and omniscient throughout all time, while simultaneously existing outside of time (i.e. not being bound by it).
- Invoked by Jesus in the Gospels. He makes a reference to Abraham, and the Pharisees sarcastically ask how Jesus could have seen Abraham, who lived thousands of years ago, when He's barely thirty. Jesus replies, "I tell you the truth: before Abraham was born, I am." Also a Call-Back to God introducing Himself to Moses in Exodus: "I am that I am."
- It should be noted that God's relationship to time is contested thoroughly among Christian philosphers, where some (such as apologist William Lane Craig) argue that He is as temporal as humanity is.
- Merlin is said to have experienced time backwards, so that he could remember things in the future but knew nothing about the past.
- The first act of Three Tall Women features three characters: senile, bitter 92-year-old A, her patient but rather cynical 52-year-old caretaker B, and C, a 26-year-old lawyer looking after A's affairs. Act II reveals what's really happening, namely that A, B, and C are the same woman at three different stages of life. And they're all aware of it, as A and B are scornful of C's naïveté while C is appalled that she ages into angry, pathetic A.
- City of Heroes: Anyone related to Ouroboros, but especially Mender Lazarus, who seems to have lost track of his own timeline.
"Alright, then that means that I'm talking to a you that is not yet you, well 'my' you..."
- In City of Villains, there is a Circle of Thorns contact, Diviner Maros, who does this. Conversations with him can be headache-inducing. Notable instances include him sending the Player Character to secure some information that he just told you (which he knows because you're about to tell him), skipping the boring bits of beating up some Mooks for information regarding where to go, or getting part-way through the (word for word) briefing of the first mission of his arc before realizing you've done that before. A considerable part of the playerbase names him amongst their favorite contacts.
- World of Warcraft: Any and all of the Bronze Dragonflight count. In particular, Chromie will greet players like an old friend then wonder if she's met them yet, declaring that she's in so many times and places that she has trouble keeping track.
- The Venar from The Longest Journey. They perceive all of their life simultaneously. They are aware of everything that has happened to them and will happen to them, from their birth to their death, as if it happened now. Save for a period of time, soon to come, where their perception will be clouded and hidden, which upsets them quite a deal. (And given that they're never upset or surprised by anything ever usually, this means something.)
- Moebius the Timestreamer from Legacy of Kain. As Guardian of time, he is virtually omniscient, enabling him to manipulate time travellers.
- BioShock Infinite: The Lutece Twins, who were responsible for creating the technology that allows the city of Columbia to fly, became Non-Linear prior to the events of the game. Father Comstock decided they were no longer useful and arranged for one of their machines to fail, explosively, and kill them. The explosion instead scattered them across space and time, granting them Quantum Immortality. They spend their time jumping back and forth across space, time, and alternate timelines, experimenting with time, probablitity, and causality, all while trying to prevent Comstock from ever existing in the first place and pulling in as many alternate Booker DeWitts as they need.
- Loki of Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal. In this case, refered as being an "Infinite Existence" as opposed to a "Finite" one, the primary reveal of the series being that Skarsgard Abraxis is really the "Imperator" another Non-Linear Character, even older than the Loki who limited himself to a Finite Existance as part of a plan. In the end, Imperator goes back in time to the start of the series, and sets the plot in motion for himself to have his HeelFace Turn, while an alternate version continues to be the Eldritch Abomination Imperator, and inspires the Big Bad loki into awakening him in the first place.
- The Time Patrollers, including the player character, in Dragon Ball Xenoverse. The omniscience works as a form of breaking the fourth wall and the game only shows a changed version of events instead of showing how they originally played out in the show. Story mode also the order of a pair of fights swapped so that the canonically weaker secondary villains of the arc are fought after the main villain of the arc, and an arc where a character from further in the past fights a character from the future in a setting about halfway through the storyline. On top of that, the nature of the side quests means a player is jumping all over the place in alternate timelines.
- Zero Escape:
- In Virtue's Last Reward, in the game's true ending, from Sigma's viewpoint, the time when Sigma meets Akane in 2028 after his jump is the last meeting they had in the game. From Akane's viewpoint it's their first proper meeting, but from Sigma's viewpoint, they've meet before in his future, which is actually that Sigma's past. Plus with Phi, Sigma first met her at the Mars Mission Test site in 2028, but when they both awake in the Nonary Game in 2074 it's the first time they both actually met, from both of their perspectives. This applies solely to Sigma himself too, since during most of the game he's both a 22 year old and a 67 year old at once, and has therefore technically got an out of line perspective of his own version of events. It Makes Sense in Context.
- By the end of the final timeline of Zero Time Dilemma, Sigma is 22 year old biological father, and Diana is a 20-something year old biological mother, to a 20 year old Phi, a 124 year old Delta, and possibly another 124 year old Phi, despite neither Phi nor Delta being born at any point in that timeline.
- The Vex in Destiny do not adhere to ideas like linear time, and when units are destroyed they simply replace them with other constructs from a different time frame, and one of the goals in the game's main questline is to locate the Black Garden, the Vex's origin point, which is located somewhere outside of normal spacetime. One of the main challenges that the Guardians face is simply keeping the Vex from erasing their accomplishments; one of the game's Strikes involves stopping a Vex Axis Mind from recovering another Axis Mind you killed in an earlier Strike, and a different Strike requires you to prevent yet another Axis Mind from returning the Black Garden to non-linear time so they can repair the damage you've inflicted on it. The game's first Raid, the Vault of Glass, involves entering the titular Vault, which houses "ontological weaponry" which can retroactively erase things from existence, and ends with the Guardians traversing timelines to recover artifacts that allow them to destroy Atheon, a Vex Mind whose purpose is to research methods to make the Vex themselves a fundamental law of physics.
- The G-Man is revealed to be this at the end of Half-Life: Alyx on top of his previously established teleportation abilities. Although the game takes place five years before Half-Life 2, the G-Man here knows what will happen at the end of Episode 2 and has gone into the past to let Alyx save her father and hire her, which plucks her out of the timeline in the changed ending of Episode 2. The full extent of this is unknown, but he states in this game and in others that at times he must act under guidelines by his mysterious employers.
- Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has Kupuna-Wa, the Quantum Mask of Time who is capable of seeing the past, present, and future all at once. She immediately greets Crash and Coco as if they were longtime friends on their first encounter, knows of future developments to come, and even knows when and how the bandicoots will meet their end.
Kupuna-Wa: I'm time! I see everything! And I mean everything.
- Bugbears within the universe of Skin Deep are incapable of being surprised without the help of a special Bugbear talisman. The exact mechanics of this sense have been described as an "internal radar," and whilst Bugbears are not technichally disconnected from time, it is a noteworthy semi-subversion.
- The Multiverse of Homestuck features at least five universes, each with an independent time stream; and the Furthest Ring, where time and space simply don't function in any knowable way. That leads to a lot of this trope.
- The trolls live in a different universe than the main characters, allowing them to witness their entire timeline at once, bug them at whatever point they wish, and give them advice or deride them for the choices they have already made. One troll speaks to a human backwards through the human's timeline after embarrassing himself in an early conversation, while another pesters a human at random points through time.
- uranianUmbra purposely avoids doing this, despite existing outside the human universe's timeline. undyingUmbrage, on the other hand, doesn't care about telling people what they will do in the future.
- The dreamselves are also said to exist in a place less affected by time - this was how Rose's dreamself from the doomed timeline was able to merge with her alpha timeline dreamself, bringing knowledge and memories with her.
- The Cute Ghost Girl Aranea has spent a very long time in the non-linear, multi-universal dream-bubbles of the Furthest Ring, to the point that she considers time utterly meaningless.
- Time in the Heaven and Hell of Jack is said not to exist, which effectively means that those who can travel between planes can pop into any era on Earth. As such the story arcs aren't arranged in chronological order. In fact, the title character reaped himself. At the end of another arc a character is reincarnated and her second life is shown as an old lady at the same time her first was a teenager.
- Lillith in Gaia is able to see time, thanks to nearly having her soul removed. It does affect her sanity a bit though.
- Kill Six Billion Demons:
- Old King Zoss is an odd example, having refined his Enlightenment Superpowers to the point that he has transcended causality and other such illusions of the material universe. As such, getting decapitated in his first appearance doesn't stop him from showing up again later with his head attached, though he is described as a "phantom" in this state. It's implied the comic is a "Groundhog Day" Loop that he is capable of resetting and restoring himself to life whenever he chooses.
- YISUN is often described as interacting with other gods in legends, even though it was their suicide that created them and the universe.
- Ben 10: Alien Force/Ben 10: Ultimate Alien's Professor Paradox, a Expy of Doctor Who, is one of these. However, he seems coherent and aware of multiple timelines.
- Clockwork, a Time Master from Danny Phantom — what you consider past, present, and future are all pretty much parts of a story he's already read/written. To illustrate, he constantly shifts between three different "ages."
Clockwork: You see, for me, time moves backwards and forwards and... oh, why am I bothering? You're fourteen.
Clockwork: The Observants look at time like they are watching a parade: one thing after another, passing by in sequence right in front of them. I see the parade from above - all the twists and turns it might, or might not, take.
- In the 2018 reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, season 4 reveals that Madame Razz seems senile because she is being shunted between two different time periods at random, experiencing them both as the present. Because of this, she gets confused as to what time period she's in and whether she's talking to Mara or Adora.