Today in a series of replies to FAQ (frequently asked questions) sent to me by fans (and sometimes not so much), I answer the question: “What is the Time Saving Agency?” Go on – admit it: – you’re just dying to know!
When I started writing the Quantum series in 2005, one of the questions I asked myself after introducing – of all things, a walking, talking alien plant called Fred – was “what the heck could I do next” to make the storyline more interesting and above all, entertaining?
The answer leapt out at me – time travel!
Inwardly, I groaned.
Like most young people of my generation, I’d grown up reading sci-fi classics like “The Technicolor Time Machine” by Harry Harrison and “The Door Into Summer” by Robert Heinlein. I’d watched sci-fi flicks like “The Time Machine” (both versions), and enjoyed (and grasped, surprisingly) time-hopping adventures in Star Trek, Quantum Leap, Back to the Future and even the Terminator movies! The trouble was, I thought – it’s all been done before, and it’s been done to death!
But then, it had never been done by me before – and I have a unique way of doing things 😉
The end result of that first foray into time travel sci-fi was “The Time Saving Agency” , followed shortly afterwards by “Dead Man’s Hammer” – another story in which time travel played a crucial part! Time travel again plays a central pivotal role in the two latest titles in that series, “Prodigal Sun” and “High Steaks” – and will do so in the next sequels as well.
In writing time travel into the Quantum series, I was treading tentatively onto new ground – and time travel isn’t as simple or as cut-and-dry as people might be tempted to think! If I made it too simple, it probably wouldn’t hold readers attention – too complex again, and I’d risk confusing and alienating readers! I tried to keep the concept of time travel as simple and straight-forward as possible.
I’m one of those people who gets put off rather easily by complex time-travel in stories, especially when people put so many complicated loops and things into them that the audience starts to lose track of what’s going on, or what the actual point is! It gives me a headache! Actually, the way Gary Beck feels about time travel theory and practice is just about how I feel about it!
I think, looking back, that my decision to use time travel turned out to be an important feature of “The Time Saving Agency” and a few subsequent stories – and by dealing with it logically, creatively and intelligently, it worked out just fine. Adding humor to it, made the whole thing work really well.
The mechanics of the Time Saving Agency’s time travel is fairly simple and easy to grasp once it’s all laid out and cleared up – but just in case, you may want to pop a couple of headache pills (and chase them with a shot of vodka) before jumping in!
A Little More Detail
The Time Saving Agency is a super-secret clandestine organization which is introduced to readers of the Quantum Series in book two in that series, and bearing the same title. The TSA is a kind of government-run agency reminiscent of organizations like the CIA or FBI, but instead of conducting espionage or law-enforcement work, the TSA is charged with policing time!
Where does the TSA come from – or when? Since I didn’t want to be pressed to give specific dates in a rigid framework that I’d be forced to adhere to, I decided to create a loose framework that would allow greater freedom of movement. The TSA is an orgaization which technically exists outside of the time stream – which means the agency is not part of the past, present or future – but independently of all three concepts. The Agency itself, the reader learns, was created in some distant future time – but exists outside of time itself. Also, in the ranks of employees working at the Agency, there are people from all walks of life – AND from different time periods throughout Human history!
If the Agency exists outside of time, it exists within a bubble that isolates it from the time-stream, and also insulates it from the reality outside it. This ‘bubble’ is called “the Buffer“, and it’s purpose is to prevent changes to the time-line from reaching and affecting the TSA! (This comes in very handy in preventing changes to the time-line that could cause the TSA to cease to exist by never having been invented in the first place!)
This of course begs the question “what sort of forces would change the time-line?” Well, since the TSA was created in some distant future time, there are several different probable answers: the first being, Time Terrorists! Ever since the advent of time travel – whenever that is – people have longed to change the past – or perhaps more to the point, to change the past in order to change the future. Why would anyone want to do that – assuming they even had the opportunity? The reasons aren’t new I suppose – but I’m sure the jargon of the TSA is!
Whether it’s FNR (for noble reasons) such as to prevent a war or wide-scale disaster from happening, or FSR (for selfish reasons) to save the life of a loved one who died – or for PPG (plain personal gain) – such as to get next Saturday’s winning lottery numbers, or to influence factors to win an election that should’ve been lost, the TSA exists to ensure that History prevails!
History is often described as a chain of events – and if broken down, it becomes obvious that one thing leads to another… and if something happens to change one event in a day, the rest of the day is likely to become something different to how it was originally supposed to be. To give you an example, let’s say you have three fat pillar candles stacked on top of each other to form a column. Each candle in this example represents an event, with the first one at the bottom – let’s call that “A”, then the next one in the center “B”, and the one on the top, “C”. In the normal time-line, one happens first, then the next one, and then the last one – do you follow? Good, good… let’s continue.
Now, supposing someone – a time terrorist, or a time agent – was to modify any aspect of any of these events, but not seriously enough to derail the time-line – imagine someone lightly touching the column of candles so that they tremble and move very slightly to demonstrate the effect. But let’s say someone interfered enough with the time stream – for instance if they wanted to completely block or undo event “B”, that would completely remove event “B” from the column – causing the whole column to collapse!
If you got “you can’t remove – or stop event “B”, because then event “C” wouldn’t happen” from this explanation, you’d be correct. If, on the other hand, all you got out of that was “if you pull the middle candle out, the top one comes down too!”, please take a break, grab a cuppa Joe, and some more headache pills when you pass the fridge! Or another vodka.
Right, to continue, preserving the time-line is what the Time Saving Agency is all about! Time Terrorists are a diverse lot – and although they fit into various categories set by the TSA, they all have their own reasons for working to alter the time-line. Although some – like the infamous yet groovy Brad Xyl – worked for themselves and had their own agenda, some work co-operatively or for competing organizations persuing their own nefarious agendas intent on changing History for whatever reason!
In the story, the reader is familiarized with a few of the characters – chiefly Time Agent Johnathan Scrooby, his supervisor Guy Krummeck, and his assistant, Jim Rusche. Readers are also given a crash-course in the basic systems, technology and terminology used by the agency.
Agents of the TSA use various pieces of tech to access the time-stream and to exert influence or control over it. There’s the Remote – a pocket device that looks a little like a TV or VCR remote, which Agents carry with them on away missions into the time-stream. This is a multifunction device which Agents use to control their own movement in and out of Time, often using it to bring people from other time periods (Native Times) to the TSA itself. People living in other times are referred to by the TSA as “Time Natives“. It also serves as a communications and tracking device for the Time Agent.
The Jump Platform is a small stage in an Operations Room where individual missions are staged from. Although it’s not a necessity for the operation of the machinery, the Jump Platform is the usual departure and arrival point into and out of the Time Stream.
The Projector allows agents at the TSA to view time and events without making any changes to the Time Stream – to make changes remotely, they’d need an Editor for that.
On a typical mission, the time agent assesses the effects of changes made to the time-line by a time terrorist by reviewing the differences between the two time-lines using the Projector. If corrections can be made using the Editor remotely, this can be done – but usually if there’s an adversary involved, direct action is required from the Agent! A plan is conceived before embarking on an away mission.
Of course, things don’t always work out the way the TSA intends – not at the first try, at least! That’s what’s called an Unforseen Time Event (UTE) – a.k.a. a screw-up, and just means that the Time Agent has to TAL – or Try Again Later.
The agent transports themselves to the appropriate time, and is observed and assisted remotely by their assigned Operator, who acts as the agent’s ‘anchor’. The nature of a TSA mission into the time-line can be extremely diverse, and while people from another time visiting diverse time periods can sound very risky, and could stand out by a mile – the Wardrobe Dept. ensures that Time Agents a dressed as appropriately to the time period as possible. Interaction with Time Natives is frowned upon and is kept to a minimum.
Explanations of time travel – or being inappropriately dressed for the period in question – are best kept simple and preferably diplomatic… and the very last thing an agent should do, is to try to explain time travel to an Inquisitor in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition (or the planet Ursa Minor to anyone wearing a uniform)!
If possible, time terrorists should be captured and returned alive to the TSA for processing – which typically includes a lengthy debriefing period, followed by a brief trial for the crime of Tinkering With The Works, which usually ends in a one-way ticket to a rather nasty alternative dimension called the Limbo Practicale as punishment to teach them not to mess with Time!
The damage done to the time-line has to be either reversed or prevented in a way that restores the native flow of events – so that the time-line remains unviolated and History continues as before. Whether it means hiding in the branches of a tree to drop an apple on the head of a fella napping below – just because his name is Isaac Newton – a Time Agent will do it – no matter how many TAL’s it takes!
After – or often between TAL’s – agents… and sometimes several instances of the same ones, take a break for coffee or something stronger at the TSA’s in-house diner, called “Dinner Time”. In the story, the name of this diner means something different in the distant future, and is considered very funny for some reason – but probably not as funny as the waitresses whose hair lights up and changs color while patrons try to decide between the Double-Black Coffee and Triple-Brain-Screw-Skull-Hammers!
There you have it, folks – a broad, simple explanation of the Time Saving Agency… and (probably) a headache!
Where can you get “The Time Saving Agency“?
For South African readers, Kobo lists all available titles in South African currency!
I hope this answers this question to your satisfaction!
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.