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Allow me to tell you a story. It took place 360,000 years....no; 14,000 years ago. But what is time anyways? For me, it seems like yesterday. For you, it might be tomorrow.

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. They aren't necessarily The Omniscient as you may create your own destiny, but they may often act much like him.

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.)

For characters whose lives are reversed from the normal timeline but otherwise linear, see Merlin Sickness.

A simple way of showing this is Non-Linear Storytelling, 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.

Examples of Non-Linear Character include:


Comics

Fan Fiction

  • In the novel-length Ice Age fanfic Lost in Time Series, the first story of the saga, [[spoiler: 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 travelling 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, on 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.

Literature

  • In the Discworld novels, 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.
    • 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.
    • And then there's 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."
  • Space explorer Winston Niles Rumfoord of the Kurt Vonnegut novel The Sirens of Titan. Travelling 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.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Protector Of The Small series, the Chamber of the Ordeal is this.
  • The Martian "Old Ones" in Robert 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.
  • The eponymous character in The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, by Fritz Leiber, gains this ability as a side effect of messing with time travel.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Live Action Television

  • The Prophets, aka wormhole aliens, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sisko had to teach them about linear time in the pilot.
  • Lost: Desmond qualified as one for some time. Luckily, the effect eventually wore off, allowing him to live a normal live.
  • From the point of view of the Doctor, River Song is very much this. Unfortunately for them both, River and the Doctor continue meeting each other in the wrong order, throughout the entire series. Of course, considering that the Doctor is the one with the time machine, it should technically be considered the other way around.
    • River has her own time machine - a time agent's Time Vortex Manipulator.
    • 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.
  • The fourth season episode of Fringe, "Wallflower," has Peter Bishop popping back and forth through time, caused by a local engineer who's designed a time bubble around his house.

MMORPGs

  • 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 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.

Religion

  • 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).

Video Games

  • 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.
  • Observers in Blaz Blue like Rachel and Terumi are like this.

Web Comics

  • Fae in DMFA are like this, in addition to being kinda' crazy (maybe). Apparently, very high-level Cubi end up like that too, prompting an interesting (and somewhat paradoxical) reaction when Mab runs into Fa'lina during the SAIA arc.
  • The trolls in Homestuck 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. In one case, one of them decides to talk to one of the kids backwards because he accidentally revealed his hate-crush on him the first time (It Makes Sense in Context), prompting him to not troll him in the future where he knows of this.
    • The mysterious uranianUmbra appears to be capable of communicating with the characters of Universe B2 nonlinearly, but she purposely avoids doing this. undyingUmbrage, on the other hand, doesn't care about telling people what they will do in the future.
  • Eight Bit Theater: Sarda. But only when it's funny.
  • 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.

Western Animation

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