Colonel McOldentimes’s staggering, pipe-puffing apathy, quite literally in the face of anachronistic freaks charging from his administration office and lighting out for parts unknown, isn’t actually all that surprising in and of itself. That’s the thing about time travel. It tends to be a self-correcting disruption.
The widely-held belief is that going back in time and changing even the tiniest thing – classically it’s stepping on a beetle or killing your grandfather, which really just makes me wonder what sort of people are going back in time in the first place – can have a massive and exponentially cumulative impact on the universe as history unfolds from that event. This isn’t really the case, because … well, in extremely simple terms, the universe’s destiny has such immense figurative mass and inertia that a beetle or a grandad more or less doesn’t really have any effect whatsoever. You might as well say that by even appearing in the past, you’re using oxygen or displacing atoms, and that could affect things in the future. At that point you might as well just give the whole thing up as a bad idea.
Which, you know, it really, really is.
The universe, of course, has a system in place for making sure that normal interference on the time axis doesn’t unravel the whole thing any more than normal interference along the space axis does. This rather hinges on that critical little word normal, but isn’t that so often the case?
There’s plenty of this concept in popular culture as well – the idea that you can’t correct a mistake by travelling back in time, because you will cause a paradox in which there was no reason for you to go back in time in the so-laughably-called first place, or you will wind up being the cause of the mistake, or you will find that there just isn’t any damn way to stop what has happened. Or that every subatomic particle spins off an infinite number of alternate universes with every passing instant to cover every possible probability and outcome so you never know which one you’ve “time travelled” into, creating in the process what I choose to summarise as “a huge mess”.
There are also plenty of theories that revolve around the idea that people are doing things in the past all the time that change the present, but none of us realise it because our memories and awarenesses are also rewritten – even that of the time traveller, who usually finds him- or herself back in the so-laughably-called present, as a non-time-traveller whose grandfather was killed by someone who pushed him in front of a bus so they could stomp on a beetle or something.
 Or in the future, if cause and effect actually works in both directions. Which, you know, it might.
For the most part, though, unless you’re really going out of your way to interfere with a series of events that have some sort of bearing on future history – and indeed, even if you are going out of your way – the universe will just ignore you the way it does when you’re in your own time. A little disheartening, perhaps, but really only logical. The idea of altering the future is something of a human conceit. Even if you can travel through it, you can’t really affect it. Just because you can swim, doesn’t mean you can drain an entire ocean by taking a mouthful. Even if you took a mouthful every day for a trillion years, you’re probably going to find that precipitation and respiration are keeping up with you, and also that your hips are shot so you can’t swim like you used to.
The future will happen one way or another, because that’s what time is. You can probably stop it, in theory, but you might as well try to stop atoms. And no, I don’t mean to say “you might as well try to stop atoms from spinning” or “you might as well try to stop atoms from combining” or whatever. I’m talking about a very basic concept. Stopping the very concept of duration … that’s the sort of thing that can end realities.
The upshot of this is that often a time traveller will come, and go, and only those with exceptional experience and training – like Creepy and myself – will even notice they’re there. This is self-evident if you think about it, because clearly, if time travel is even theoretically possible, sooner or later every moment in history is going to be filled with time travellers, simultaneously. And you’d think we’d notice that, wouldn’t you?
No, the boring truth is that meddlers in the space-time continuum are around, but they’re not relevant. If we see them we, as locals in our own time, just won’t note them as unusual. Their predictions about dire things to come will just be glossed over. And not only by the people who hear them, but by existence itself. Time travellers are the proverbial grit in the oyster, but the thing you need to remember about that is that pearls aren’t really caused by grit. They’re caused by a freak combination of parasitism, intrusion and reaction, and in the majority of cases the intrusion is still just flushed out. And even the pearl, ultimately, is an interesting but non-oyster-changing event.
What you really want to look out for is the pearl fishermen.