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So you want to visit the future? See how things turn out in 20 years? Maybe hang out with your future self? Will you be rich and successful? Will you be happily married with a large family? Or maybe you'll have to Help Your Self in the Future? Of course, there are the warnings about causing a paradox. But you're cool with that. So here you are in the future. Where's the future you?
Apparently "future you" disappeared about 20 years ago. And man, is everyone surprised to see you now!
That's right, Our Time Travel Is Different. Going forward causes time travelers to be absent from the timeline, at the moment they leave the present until the moment they arrive in the future. Which kind of makes sense; why should a second version of you spontaneously materialize and live your life in the present? (On the other hand, if you were planning to return to the present, wouldn't your return form part of the 20 years of history you skipped over? Of course in that case, you wouldn't be here in the future stepping out of the time machine right now, and... AARRGGHH!)
Everyone assumed you were dead. Any life you had is gone. If you were some kind of superhero or other positive force, don't be surprised if your absence led to a Bad Future. There's a good chance your Arch Enemy has managed to Take Over the World by now. Your true love probably had to marry someone else years ago. Also expect your closest friends, family, and/or party members to be slightly more depressed or cynical than they were before you mysteriously vanished. Because, well, you did technically abandon anyone who ever depended on you (which is exactly how they'll interpret it once they learn you've been alive all this time).
Of course, there's nothing to stop you from visiting yourself in the past. Just be sure to not bring your past self along in the time machine if you don't want to be Ret-Gone, since the "past you" needs to live in the past so that the "present you" can exist.
A sensible time traveler will make it top priority to return to his or her present, thereby undoing this fiasco (and erasing the event from everyone else's minds). That is, of course, unless the time travel is one-way or if the traveler is incapable of returning to the origin time. If a story is narrated by The Ishmael who stays in the present, and the time traveler never returns (Nay, if The Ishmael even realizes the time traveler left at all!), then something bad likely happened.
Note that Unexpected Lack Of Future Me is usually a trope of the kinds of time travel where the traveller pops out of existence in the present and then back into existence in the future. For the forms of "time travel", such as cryonics and time dilation, where the "traveller" is still physically present for every second of the 20 years, Lack Of Future Me is the generally expected outcome.
Can be For Want of a Nail, if the absent time traveler is the nail. Limit examples to instances in which the absence is unexpected or otherwise significant to the plot.
- Happened more than once to Magik in the New Mutants comics--depending on who she brought with on a time jump, the future would be different flavors of bad due to the disappearances.
- There's a Donald Duck comic out there based around this. Donald travels 20 years into the future with Gyro Gearloose's time machine. In the future, everyone assumes that Donald left after Daisy married Gladstone Gander. To his satisfaction, he does discover that his old furniture has become valuable antique. However, after traveling back to the present, he discovers that was just all virtual reality.
- The makers of Back to The Future considered that this could logically happen according to their time-travel rules when Marty and Jennifer went to the future in Part II, but only by some theories of time travel.
- In the Kim Possible movie A Sitch In Time, both Kim and Ron traveled into the future and removed themselves from the time line, allowing Shego to take over.
- The movie version of The Time Machine resulted in this, with the protagonist Stuck In The Future.
- The Time Machine does this. The protagonist whisks away into the future never to be heard from again. This is probably the Ur Example.
- In Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard novels, something like this happening is a very bad sign indeed, because the easy availability and utility of time travel means that no one is ever late for anything, because they can always go back in time in order to arrive when they are supposed to be. When a time traveller "disappears", it means something disastrous has happened to them.
- In the live action television adaptation of The Flash, the hero is accidentally warped into the future and finds his absence leads to a royally screwed up future, with the recurring bad-guy becoming a tyrant Mayor-for-life.
- In the Heroes episode "Don't Look Back", when Hiro breaks space-time to travel to a future New York, it is revealed that he has been a missing person in Japan.
- And yet, the rule was forgotten when Hiro went to the future again and saw his future self apparently betrayed by Ando.
- In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this was the last cliffhanger ending before it got Screwed by the Network. John Connor traveled to the future, only to discover that this version of the future didn't even hear about him (since he wasn't there to become his legendary self).
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Last Man", Col. Sheppard ends up stuck 48,000 years in the future during his search for a missing team member. A hologram of one of his teammates, Dr. McKay, briefs him on what went wrong since he went missing and explains what he needs to do to return to the past to set right what once went (will go?) wrong.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" a ship from the past did this, changing the present into a war with the Klingons. They sent it back and restored the timeline at the urging of Guinan, who could tell that things had changed. (Which kind of doesn't make sense when you realize the war timeline would be the original and the peaceful "original" timeline would be the altered timeline, but whatever.)
Manga & Anime
- The main cast of Fairy Tail ends up seven years into their future to the stasis effect of a mass-protection spell they cast on themselves. In that time, their guild has gone from one of the region's most powerful to its weakest.
- Happened in Blaz Blue to both Hakumen and Relius, but in different forms. Hakumen was sealed away for 90 years but due to confusing time, his former self, Jin, was still born and so on and wasn't apart of the story until Kokonoe took him out of the Void. Relius, on the other hand, fell into a Cauldron during the Dark War and reappeared decades later, but eventually just went back to his original, science-filled ways.
- This is implied, but never directly shown, to be the result of Dr. Wily's time travel in MS Paint Masterpieces. First, the "Too Serious" story arc shows a Bad Future and ends with that timeline getting erased from time-space, presumably because Dr Wily removed himself from history when he traveled to the future. Then the "Greatest Killer" arc shows the near-utopian future that came about in Wily's absence. This timeline also gets erased, presumably because of Wily's return to the comic's present.
- The Mega Man cartoon also had this happen when Mega Man thought he'd accidentally trapped Dr. Light 30 years in the future and went to find him. Naturally, without Mega Man around to stop him all the time, Dr. Wily eventually managed to conquer the world and imprisoned Mega Man's family.
- This trope is the inciting incident for the Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment". Gosalyn accidentally travels into the future, in which her father has become a Knight Templar out of grief over her mysterious disappearance so many years ago. To correct the timeline, she must travel back and simply exist in the present.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Same as it Never Was", Donatello travels to a wrecked future. The other turtles are surprised to see him, having assumed he was long dead. (It could be that an Another Dimension Donatello actually was killed in the past, but this possibility is never explored.)
- In The Powerpuff Girls, the girls once accidentally traveled through time into a dystopian society. They learn that they have vanished several years ago which allowed Him to take over and destroy everything. They fix this problem by going back through time and reinserting themselves into the timeline.
- DuckTales: "Duck To The Future". Scrooge is trying to see his own future, resulting instead in this and a Bad Future. He succeeds in returning to his own time and thus sets things right.
- In the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire accidentally travels twenty years into the future while fighting a villain. Due to her absence, the Teen Titans have all but split up--Beast Boy's become a circus freak, Cyborg's batteries have run out, Raven's been put in an asylum, having gone insane from loneliness, and Robin's gone solo, becoming Nightwing.
- Omi from Xiaolin Showdown wants to go to the future to meet himself to borrow a time-traveling MacGuffin his future self holds, to accomplish this he decides to freeze himself and set an alarm to wake him up 80 years later. He doesn't find out the flaw in that plan until it's too late.
- In the Captain N: The Game Master part of an issue of the Super Mario Bros. comic, Kevin is knocked into a garbage chute. Samus takes a second-or-more-hand time gadget and tries to go forward just a little bit so she can catch him and take him back. But the device is defective and sends her 20 years forward, where due to the absence of Kevin and Samus, Garbageworld is the last place that Mother Brain hasn't taken over, and it's under attack as well, defended only by Kevin and Kid Icarus (Pit in the game, but Kid Icarus here). She eventually warps back in time and prevents the incident, so he can defend Videoland again.
- Happens in Lilo and Stitch: The Series when Lilo, tired of being just a kid, uses an experiment to jump forward ten years, becoming a teenager. She soon discovers that she had gone missing during those years, and later, when she uses the experiment to jump another ten years into the future and become a young adult, she discovers that during the time she and Stitch were absent, Dr. Hamsterveil managed to take over the world. Luckily, Jumba's future self manages to inform her of how to reverse the experiment's power and return to her own time and become a kid again.
- Generator Rex features the protagonist sent a mere six months into the future, which turns out to be more than enough time for everything to go to shit in a way like you wouldn't believe.