Chapter 6 - Training
"Hi James, here's your badge," Judy handed me my badge and smiled, "Welcome to your first day of training."
I smiled back at her and took my badge.
It was an easy choice, really. My parents had died when I was young, and my brother, who pretty much raised me afterwards, died during his military service a few years ago, so I didn't have many connections. Just a friend or relative here and there. Nobody that would worry if I didn't show up for a few weeks, and with time travel, it would be easy to pop up every now and then to stay connected enough. It may seem a bit unbelievably convenient, but that was how my life was.
So I moved to the year 79 TTE, and in the past two weeks, Matthew - Agent Lam, that is - and Judy have been helping me with my move. Moving my stuff from the past into my new apartment here, showing me around town, getting me accustomed to all the new technology, and things like that.
Over the last two weeks, I got to know Matthew and Judy a bit better. Matthew was a friendly fellow - easy-going and always with a huge smile on his face. On the other hand, Judy was shy, but she was a caring person and she had a cute, little smile that would break out when she was happy.
I walked into the busy classroom and took a seat.
Not long after, a man entered and walked to the front of the room, "Good morning, everyone."
The classroom grew quiet and everyone began to direct their attention to the man.
"My name is Dr. Potter. Welcome to your first day of training for new TPA agents."
Dr. Potter continued, "Now, all of you already have combat training, so you won't be needing that. However, what you do need, is training about protecting the timeline. And in order to patrol time travel and protect the timeline properly, you will have to learn about time travel and the surrounding theories first, and that is what this first day will be. For most of the day, we will be talking about time travel, rules and regulations, paradoxes, and the like."
"Your main purpose, as TPA agents, will be to prevent any illegal time travel from happening. Because, let's face it, once a criminal time travels, it is pretty much too late to stop any changes to the timeline. The only exception to that is if someone else manages to jump into the portal as well."
"Now, in order to actually do any time travelling, one would need a time travel device of some sort," Dr. Potter held up a device that looked like the one that was on Matthew's wrist, "Most of them look like this and they are notoriously easy enough to build. In fact, any person with enough education and the right materials can build one. Schematics and designs can be found in textbooks all over the world, as well as on the Internet."
A student raised her hand up and asked, "How can we prevent anyone from just building one of these things then, and using them to do whatever they want to the timeline?"
Dr. Potter nodded, as if he had heard that question a million times before and was waiting for it, "The answer is not unlike what we do with nuclear weapons."
Continuing, Dr. Potter explained, "In order for time travel to even work, we need a special alloy that we aptly call timetanium. This special alloy, when correctly manipulated by these time travel devices, will open a portal through both time and space."
Another student, this one with a mohawk, asked, "What exactly do the devices do to the alloy?"
Dr. Potter smiled and answered, "Well, you would have to take a different class to get the more scientific side of this, but, basically, these devices will cut off a piece of timetanium depending on where and when you want to go. Then, also depending on where and when you want to go, a certain amount of heat and electricity will be applied to the piece of timetanium to get it to react and open a time portal."
The student with the mohawk nodded, and Dr. Potter continued his lecture, "Now, to answer the original question, timetanium is hard to make and hard to find, and each jump will use up the piece of timetanium that was used. Timetanium is very rare and even if you managed to get your hands on a piece of it, you still need very specialized and educated people to even make a time travel device. This makes it very hard for the common person to time travel, but, luckily, this means that it's easier for us to keep track of any possible time travelling. So, in order to prevent any illegal time travelling, one big part of the TPA's job is to monitor the flow of timetanium, and to make sure that none of it falls into the wrong hands."
"Before we jump into the nature of time travel itself, let's go over a couple of basic rules that TPA agents have to follow. Don't leave any technology in the past, don't take any technology from the future, don't tell people what will happen in their futures, minimize any time paradoxes, and if a suspect looks like they will activate a time travel device, use any means necessary to stop them, even if it means killing them."
The room fell silent after that Dr. Potter stated that last rule.
Dr. Potter gave us a moment to digest what he just told us, and then he elaborated, "That last one may sound a bit extreme, but it is necessary. As I said before, if a criminal manages to open a time portal and travel through time, he or she can change the timeline and we wouldn't be able to do anything about it. In the wrong hands, time travel can be the equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction."
Dr. Potter paused and asked, "Any questions so far?"
A student raised up his hand and asked, "What do we do then, if the timeline does get changed? How would we even know?"
"To be honest, sometimes, we wouldn't know, and the perpetrator would get away completely. However, there have been many cases where some agent will be able to remember the original timeline, and he or she would be able to help identify the time paradox that was caused, and what actions would need to be taken to minimize such a paradox."
A student started to raise her hand up, but Dr. Potter stopped her, "Of course, that just raises many more questions, so let me finish this section of the lecture first, and then if I didn't answer any of the questions that you have, feel free to ask them."
The student nodded, and Dr. Potter continued, "First, let's explain what a temporal paradox, or what many call a time paradox, is. To put it in layman's terms, it is when a time traveller changes the timeline in such a way that would prevent him or her from travelling back in time in the first place. A typical example of this would be the grandfather paradox, in which a person goes back in time to kill his or her grandfather. This would, however, mean that the time traveller wouldn't have been born in the first place, so how did this non-existent time traveller kill the grandfather? Following this logic, pretty much anyone that wants to change the timeline will cause a temporal paradox if he or she succeeds. That is because if the timeline has already been changed, then why did he or she want to time travel back in time in the first place?"
Dr. Potter paused to drink from his bottle of water before continuing, "Now that we know about temporal paradoxes, let's talk about a stable time loop. To put it simply, it is when a time traveller travels back in time to ensure that events leading up to the present happen the way they should. This is a loop, because this means that the time traveller's past self will also then need to travel back to his or her past to do the same thing, and that past self's past self will also then need to do the same, and so on. However, in many cases, this will also cause what is called a bootstrap or an ontological paradox. An example of this would be if I found that I didn't have enough change to get a soda from the vending machine. Suddenly, my future self shows up and gives me the rest of the change. Later, when I have the correct change myself, I go back in time to give my past self the correct amount of change, thus, completely my part of the loop. Does anyone see why this can be a paradox?"
I raised my hand up, and answered, "Because that would mean that the future you was given change by his future self, and his future self was given change by his future self's future self, and so on. How did this loop ever get started?"
Dr. Potter nodded, "Exactly. This is the only type of paradox that TPA agents are ever permitted to cause in order to help protect the timeline. An example of this would be telling your past self where a suspect will be at a certain time, ensuring the suspect's capture."
"Another thing that we have to talk about is how changing the timeline in one place can actually cause changes throughout the whole timeline, not just what's in the future. This is because time travellers have been to nearly every single minute of time, which means that the timeline is not a linear set of cause and effect anymore: the effect can take place before the cause."
Dr. Potter took out a stylus and started drawing on the device on the podium, behind him, a line appeared on the huge screen that took up the entire wall, "For example, someone goes back in time to watch a concert, and during the concert, he indirectly causes a chain of events that leads to the lead singer's suicide."
Dr. Potter marked three points on the line and, from left to right, he labelled them 'Concert', 'Suicide', and 'Time Traveller A'. He then drew an arrow from 'Time Traveller A' to 'Concert'. He continued his example, "Now, suppose another time traveller goes back in time to prevent the first time traveller from finding out about the band."
To the right of 'Time Traveller A', Dr. Potter marked a point on the line and labelled it 'Time Traveller B'. Then, he drew an arrow from 'Time Traveller B' to a spot between 'Suicide' and 'Time Traveller A' and marked it 'Prevention'. Then he continued, "Now, the first time traveller wouldn't go back into time anymore, which means that the events leading to the lead singer's suicide wouldn't have happened, and the singer no longer commits suicide."
Dr. Potter then erased 'Time Traveller A' and 'Suicide'. He put down the stylus and looked at the class, "So, to summarize, changing the timeline will not only change the future, but the past as well."
Dr. Potter took a sip of water again before continuing, "Now, what if a paradox has been caused?"
He put down the bottle and continued, "First, let's talk about the effects. And I'm going to be honest here. Even after seventy nine years of study, we still don't have a concrete set of laws for chronodynamics. For those of you who don't know, chronodynamics is the branch of sciences related to time travel. Well, we call it a science, but after collecting 79 years worth of data, we are still no closer to figuring out the laws and rules that govern timeline changes than when we started."
"Usually, the obvious effects remain intact. For example, if you prevent someone from being born, then the timeline changes based on that person's absence. That is generally the only thing that remains consistent across all the timeline changes that we could observe. The real problem is the side effects, the most obvious ones being the effects on people's states of existence and the effects on people's memories. One would think that when the timeline is changed, one would expect that a person's memories would change to fit the new timeline, and his or her state - like the location, the age, whether or not he or she is dead - would also change to fit the new timeline. However, that is not always true or consistent."
"There have been cases where a person's past self gets killed or where a person is prevented from being born, but he or she didn't disappear from the timeline. There have also been cases where people were able to remember a previous timeline. For the majority of these cases, it is a TPA agent that has somehow remained unaffected by a timeline change. It has been theorized that perhaps all the time travel that your average TPA agent has done has somehow given some of them some sort of immunity to timeline changes. But every now and then, a regular person who was able to remain unaffected by a timeline change will show up. We do not yet understand why these anomalies happen, but they happen far too often to be ignored."
"One theory is that each time the timeline gets changed, the rules of time travel get changed as well. Another theory is that it all makes sense, but it's just far too complicated to figure out, since the timeline is such a mess of non-linear causes and effects now. Or, as another theory suggests, maybe we're just trying too hard to apply logic to this - paradoxes don't make sense, so the effects are random as well."
"In any case, please remember that changing the timeline even a little can have unpredictable and random effects. The protocol for dealing with changes to the timeline, and therefore paradoxes, is that the changes should be left alone because we don't know how the original timeline went anymore. Changing the timeline again would most likely just cause more paradoxes and more damage to the timeline."
Dr. Potter took yet another sip from his bottle of water, "So, any questions?"
No one raised their hand, so Dr. Potter continued, "Alright, let's continue then. Besides preventing illegal time travel from happening, TPA agents will also have to accompany those on authorized time travel trips. Most authorized time travel trips will either be a historical observation mission, or a criminal observation mission. This means that TPA agents will accompany either historians or police officers into the past to observe a historical event or a past criminal offense. It should be noted, however, that criminal observation missions are always only used as a last resort in a criminal investigation. This is because if we just allowed the police unlimited access to time travel, it would be the end of any privacy for a normal citizen. We cannot allow anyone to just jump around time, observing whatever they want. So, in order for the police to get the assistance of the TPA, the police must be able to provide the TPA with the exact time and location to travel to, and the relevant clues that led to that conclusion. For all observation missions, you only get one chance to view the events. This is so that we don't have multiple versions of people around the same place at the same time, which would make it far too easy to cause a paradox."
"And with that said, this means that, of course, even TPA agents should not use their time travel devices unless if absolutely necessary. And if you do, be prepared to write a long report detailing why you felt it was necessary to time travel and what you did on the trip." Dr. Potter chuckled a bit at the thought.
"And that ends my lecture, any questions?" Dr. Potter looked around the room, and saw that I had raised my hand up.
"What about the soul, presuming that such a thing exists?" I asked.
"If... a person got erased from the timeline, would their soul be erased as well? Would they get wiped out so completely?"
Dr. Potter chuckled a bit at the question, "I wouldn't know that. That would be more of a theological or philosophical question."
I nodded, indicating my satisfaction with his answer.
"Any more questions?" Dr. Potter looked around the room, and saw that no one had raised their hand. "Good, then class dismissed."