I feel like I’ve watched a lot of time-travel narratives of late — in particular season 2 of the German Netflix series Dark but also the Netflix superhero drama The Umbrella Academy and even Star Trek:Discovery . So time for some handy advice if you find yourself voluntarily or involuntarily wandering the time streams.
1. Don’t panic
Obviously, finding yourself in the wrong time period can be alarming. The key thing is to chill out. Panic, rushing around or shouting incomprehensible warnings at people is a bad idea. You almost certainly have years to accomplish whatever your mission/destiny is. Getting arrested or sedated is not going to help.
2. Carry a notebook
A notebook is a great bit of technology that will work in any time period. For starters you can write down The Rules for how time travel works in your scenario (we’ll get to The Rules in a moment). You can also keep track of the people you meet in your travels. As some of them are likely to be close relatives this is particularly important.
3. Do NOT kill or have sex with anybody
Just don’t. It doesn’t matter what The Rules are (we’ll get to The Rules in a moment), just don’t kill anybody and don’t have sex with anybody. At the very least check the family tree that you should have drawn in your notebook by now. Do you really want to be the sinister murderer in your family’s dark past? No? Good, don’t kill anybody. Do you want to avoid being your own uncle, grandmother, sibling, second-cousin, great aunt? Yes? Good, then avoid anything that might create self-referential family trees.
4. Listen to that mysterious stranger you meet early on
Honestly, even if you aren’t currently planning to go time travelling, NOW is the time to carry a notebook. When the uncannily familiar stranger and/or your great aunt starts babbling to you about destiny, or how what has been written can (or cannot) be unwritten, get them to pause a moment and ask them to write it down in your handy notebook.
This encounter may be the point where you are told The Rules (we’ll get to The Rules in a moment). Having them written down will make your life so much easier and will also make it easier for you to explain them to your younger self when you meet them when you are disguised as an uncannily familiar stranger.
5. Try and get a handle on what the apocalypse is exactly
I’m sad to say that there is probably an apocalypse. You may already be living in the post-apocalyptic world or it lies in your near future. DO NOT FORGET RULE 1! DO NOT PANIC! There is a good chance that you or your actions in trying to prevent the apocalypse is, in a shocking late twist, the actual cause of the apocalypse. So slow down and get a handle on what’s going on. Understanding The Rules (we’ll get to The Rules in a moment) may help and you may have no choice in the end but hasty action is almost certainly a bad idea.
6. Try to Avoid Becoming a Faction in a Time War
Some people are trying to stop the apocalypse, some people are trying to maintain the integrity of the timeline. Some people are just shit heads. This is how time wars start and how human history gets a secret version that can only be explained by two factions struggling for temporal supremacy. There’s a good chance that a future version of yourself is the secret leader of one of the factions that you are struggling against in another shocking late twist. Don’t forget Rule 3. do not kill or have sex with anybody and specifically do not kill or have sex with a future or past version of yourself. Even assuming that is not what causes the apocalypse, it just makes for very confusing conversations with yourself and you end up filling your notebook with over-complicated family trees.
7. Learn The Rules
A mysterious stranger/fellow time traveller/helpful scientist/a future version of yourself/an ageing version of your own grandchild who is paradoxically your great aunt/your arch-nemesis in the time war/all of the above, will at some point explain The Rules. WRITE THESE DOWN.
The Rules explain what kind of time travel you are engaged in. Specifically the degree to which you can or can’t change what has happened. They may involve a long lecture on the bootstrap paradox and how that relates to your great aunt and why she looks a lot like you. There may be a whole bunch of physics — this won’t matter so much and is mainly gibberish and buzz-words and will have no actual impact on anything. Write it down anyway so that you can check whether it matches what is in your great aunt’s secret research notebook.
8. Learn Some Local History
Probably worth doing this now prophylactically JUST IN CASE you get caught up in a time travel narrative at a later point. This will save you a lot of time when you journey back to the past only to discover that your great aunt’s house wasn’t built back then or that her secret research facility was in a different part of town etc.
9. Pack a sandwich
You might get hungry. Also, a first aid kit and a torch (or a flash light if you are American). A Polaroid camera can be handy for leaving a faded photograph of yourself with your great aunt that you discover many years hence when clearing out her belongs after you were left her house in her will after her mysterious death five weeks before the impending apocalypse.
10. AVOID THE POLICE
Don’t get involved in law enforcement. Whatever your views of police officers happens to be, face facts — this is not a profession that wants to hear an explanation of events that involves violations of causality, Einstein-Rosen Bridges, or how you happen to be your own great aunt. They will either think you are mocking them or that your are mentally unstable and either way you will end up locked away at exactly the moment you need to be at the secret research facility to prevent a younger/older version of yourself having sex with that very attractive physicist who unbeknownst to you is actually your great aunt/yourself/a younger version of your future nemesis/time-war assassin/all of the above.
If you are arrested by the police for looking strange or shouting cryptic warnings at yourself as a school kid, then consider your options:
- Lie: you will get found out by the dogged police officer who will identify the flaws in your story, setting them on a trail that will inevitably lead them into being recruited by the other faction in the time-war (perhaps unwittingly).
- Tell the truth: the police officer will eventually begin to believe your wild story of nested time lines but only when it is too late and there is a good chance that their new found obsession with time-travel will lead them into being recruited by the other faction in the time-war (perhaps unwittingly).
- Blame your confusion on drugs: I don’t know if this works but I haven’t seen anybody try it. Try saying: “I think I must have been drugged because I was under a weird delusion that I was a time traveller and that the physicist I cornered in the supermarket was my great aunt. I’m feeling a lot better now but suffering from a little amnesia. I really just need a quiet lie down .” Maybe fake a big yawn at that point.
Either way, when you escape from the police station or psychiatric facility do try and retrieve your notebook.