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In this special edition of Solutions to Problems, Officer Nassif drops by to advise us on the difference between time travel and time dilation, if you should risk destabilizing the space-time continuum to save your brother's marriage, and whether inter-time relationships can ever work out.
Episode 5: Dangerous and Illegal Time Tourism
Janet: Greetings, most gentle of listeners! We have a special show for you here today at Solutions to Problems. I’m Janet, here with my even gentler co-host Loaf.
Loaf: Hello everyone! I’m happy to be here.
Janet: As always, we’re here to provide counsel for your situations, and today’s situations are especially special! Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can go back in time and bury your question in a time capsule set to be open today!
Nassif: Maybe don’t do that.
Janet: Joining us today is an EXPERT on today’s special topic tiiime travel. Listeners, meet Officer Nassif of the Time Travel and Inter-dimensional Regulations Agency, or TARTI.
Nassif: It’s good to be back.
Loaf: This is the first time we’ve had you on the show.
Nassif: Well, not from my perspective it isn’t.
Loaf: Well… Okay then. How do you like our little studio?
Nassif: It’s a little more crowded than I remember.. And covered in some kind of … residue.
Janet: Oh, you get used to the tingling sensation after extended exposure. Don’t worry about that. But. Um. Don’t touch the antlers. Never touch the antlers.
Nassif: It’s a little difficult not to.
Loaf: I am sorry. The good news is I’ll be shedding them in a month or so.
Janet: Ah, yes, back to the tentacular form we all know and avoid - I mean love. I said love.
Loaf: Anyway, enough about me. Probably too much information for our listeners out there. You know how humans are about acknowledging they have bodies. Why don’t you tell us a little about the man inside the body?
Nassif: Like I said last time, I’ve been with TARTI for almost ten years now. Or, it’s been ten years chronologically since I was trained as an agent. Measures of time become meaningless when you’re chasing down criminals across multiple dimensions.
Loaf: Interesting. So ten years from your perspective, or the universe’s?
Nassif: Ten years from the universe’s perspective. We keep watches on us to track our relative time in accordance to our aging process, so that we can minimize physical damage as much as possible. By that count it’s 11 or 12 years, depending on which frame of reference you use.
Janet: That actually leads us pretty nicely into our first question. Let’s play the tape.
Dear Janet and Loaf,
My mother was a pilot for a pangalactic cruise ship for most of my childhood. Due to traveling so much at high speeds for much of her life, my mother is only 25, whereas I’m just hitting 30. It’s been nice having her home more now that she’s retired from her life as a space ship pilot, but god is it exhausting! My mom thinks she can comment on everything in my life now, from my hair to my parenting choices. Her advice is often anachronistic and relies on services and technologies from my childhood. Having spent most of my life planetside, I’m also more knowledgable about various social niceties. Getting advice from her is like getting advice from an out-dated Ms Manners book. I don’t know how to turn down her advice without hurting her feelings. I like having my mom back, but she’s really being annoying. What do I do?
Missing my Mom but not this much
Nassif: This is clearly not about time travel. This is time dilation.
Janet: Oh, sure, but like, time, is you know, wobbly, and I’m sure you still have some stellar advice! What do you think, Loaf?
Loaf: I mean, the letter-writer’s mother may not have travelled through time, but due to the dilation she’s living in a time other than the one she grew up in. Surely you must have experience with that?
Nassif: I suppose. It’s not completely dissimilar from something time agents sometimes go through after a long assignment.
Janet: But, couldn’t you just return to the time you left from after an assignment?
Nassif: Well sure. Let’s say I spend six months in the past. I can come back to the moment I left, now I’ve lived six more months than my family. Or I can come back six months later, now I’m synced up with my family, but the agency just lost my services for six months for no reason. It’s a tough balance sometimes.
Janet: Huh! How boring! Anyway, our letter. It seems like our letter writer needs to have a heart to heart with her mom. It can be hard to watch your child grow up, I assume? I don’t know. But it seems hard. Because change is hard. Whatever. Loaf, do you have kids?
Loaf: I do have biological offspring, but our family models differ significantly from humans’, to my understanding. Due to the massive number of individuals required to create a child, our offspring are raised in communal nurseries. My gender is traditionally not involved in the child-rearing so soon after hatching.
Janet: Okay. Right. Uh, anyway. Uh, wait- How many- nevermind. I don’t need to know this. Does anyone? Anyway.
Loaf: I think I have twelve. I imagine I’ll meet them all sooner or later. What’s the rush?
Nassif: I don’t have children either. It’s… *sighs* it's not an easy life for a family man. But I would caution our letter writer to try and be empathetic to her mother’s situation. She sacrificed her normal time flow for you, after all.
Janet: What a lovely thought. You know, maybe the letter writer could ask her mother about her experiences instead of asking for advice. I’m sure being a pilot, she has lots of interesting stories to tell! You know, try re-calibrating the relationship to be less about her mothering you and more about you relating to each other as adults.
Loaf: Yes, I like that. You are peers now, regardless of what you would be had she stayed planetside. So make the most of it. On the bright side, you’ll have more time with her than most short-lived species have with their parents.
Agent Nassif sighs deeply, perhaps wistfully, but doesn’t say anything.
Janet: ....Shall we move on to our next problem?
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Nassif: 1-800-WIPE-AWAY?! We’ve been tracking those guys for months. They’re involved in some illegal temporal tampering. Do you have a contact person there?
Janet: Mmm, that really depends on if you can pay us more than our advertising contract is worth.
Janet: I mean, of course. We love the law. The law is more important than capitalism or whatever or my new spa, and that’s fine. I mean, that’s not our sponsor, we have a totally different sponsor today! Loaf, tell them who our real sponsor is for this episode..
Janet: *increasingly more frantic* ThiS EPISODE’S SPONSOR IS... phones! Of course it’s phones. Also microphones. And sofas. Residue-y sofas. Someone will pay us for this, I’m sure. I love sofas. They’re like chairs, but larger, you know? Have you ever looked at a chair and thought - I like that, but it could be bigger? WELL. SOFAS are there. Like chairs, but bigger. Now available with residue. Organic, Gluten-free. All that, let's go! Let’s move to the next letter. Let's do something. Let's get advertising dollars!
Loaf: Are you okay-
Janet: LETTER. LET'S DO IT.
Dear Loaf and Janet,
My brother recently got married to a man he's been dating for several years. His husband is a time agent, and recently while house-sitting I decided to sneak a look at his time machine. I know I shouldn't have snooped on someone else's property. But what I discovered was even worse. He has a whole other family in 1824! I want to tell my brother, and since I have a time machine I want to tell him before they get married. The problem is I'm worried about a paradox - if I prevent their marriage, I'll never have found the time machine and I won't be able to prevent their relationship. What should I do?
Out of Time
Loaf: It is quite the dilemma.
Nassif: No, there is so much wrong here I don’t even know where to start. Co-opting a time machine from a TARTI agent? Having a secret family in 1824, that violates several internal regulations. But let’s start with the question you asked. No. Do not tell your brother before he gets married. That would be illegal and dangerous.
Janet: Ohh, that seems harsh. They’re letting their brother get into a relationship with someone who’s cheating on him!
Nassif: But it already happened. It’s very important, when you are a time traveler, to respect the fact that something already happened.
Loaf: I don’t see why though. I mean, you’re a time traveler. Why look at time so linearly? Plenty of species don’t even perceive it that way.
Nassif: Humans do, and human laws are the laws I’m following. If you stop respecting events that have already happened, all sorts of paradoxes and problems start arising. The paradox the writer mentions about not having access to the time machine that caused the paradox is only the tip of the iceberg. And I know icebergs. I was on the Titanic. This is how whole people and cities stop existing. One of our agents lost two siblings by messing with narrative causality.
Janet: How did they know they lost two siblings?
Loaf: That doesn’t really-
Janet: Right. Paradox, that’s bad. It’s just hard, you know, us non time travelers. Time travel just seems so fuuun. Finally, we can experience the bleakness of the past ourselves!
Nassif: It can be fun sometimes. So can fusion reactors or bouncy castles - but you have to know the rules, otherwise you risk blowing everything up!
Janet: What kind of bouncy castles did your parents get you for your birthday parties?
Nassif: Oh, no, the future is a dark, terrifying place, Miss Clark.
Janet: Oh, I know. Everything is dark and terrifying. OH, I know. Tell us about a fun trip you went on! I’m sure our listeners are dyyyying to know. I mean, in the sense that we’re all slowly dying and anything that distracts us from that fact is a blessing.
Loaf: Uh, Janet-
Janet: Story tiiime!
Nassif: Well. Alright. Since you ask. Have you ever heard of Grover Cleveland?
Loaf: The 23rd century grunge band?
Nassif: No, the other one.
Janet: Oh, oh, from Sesame Street! Obviously. I love him.
Nassif: …. The president.
Janet: What’s a president?
Nassif: You know what this isn’t actually a very interesting story.
Loaf: Um, right. Let’s get back to our letter, shall we?
Janet: Good ole Loaf. Getting us back on track.
Nassif: Well, my advice is to tell him. In the proper time frame.
Janet: UGH, That's so sensible and boring. I say steal the time machine. If it’s a MX 5000 those have paradox predictors installed which make calculating optimal moments for interfering so easy. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that of course!
Nassif: Miss Clark, is there-
Loaf: I wonder if they should tell their brother-in-law’s other family? Not about the time-travel of course, that would be very bad, but about the cheating.
Nassif: Interacting with contemporaries when you haven’t been through specific training is extremely dangerous. I really wouldn’t just -
Janet: JUSTICE IS RELATIVE. Justice. Is. Relative. Follow your heart! Hearts. I don’t know your anatomy. If it’s not an MX 5000, the FD 42 has a probability drive that can be modified to sense diverging time lines which sort of works. Super easy hack. Life pro tip. Loaf, should we move on to our final letter?
Nassif: Before we do that, I really think-
Loaf: Next letter! Let’s hear it.
Dear Loaf and Janet,
I’m something of a time travel enthusiast. I “acquired” a device from an acquaintance, and now I’m addicted! I frequently spend my weekends exploring different historical eras with music I enjoy. I loooove concerts, as well as the various other recreations available in the past. For the past few months, I’ve primarily spent my time (ha) on planet “Eaarth” in the 1970s. While there, I met a lovely young woman who I started seeing romantically. My girlfriend, as they call them on Earth, is very involved in various civil rights movements of her period, particularly related to the rights of women and lesbians. According to the time travel laws, I can’t interfere with the past, but sometimes I just want to sweep her off her feet and into our shinier, less oppressive future! It’s so exhausting listening to her talk about the injustices of her time when the future is only a hop skip away. I know being in a relationship with her is maybe a little bit against the rules, but it already happened and now I’m not sure what to do. Help!
Twisted up in Time
Janet: Wow, I feel like I could’ve written this in college. What shenanigans! Officer Nassif, what do you think?
Nassif: Well, the important thing to remember is that this woman, if she’s an activist, might well have helped bring about the very rights you wish you could share with her. Steal her from the past, and you may find yourself in a less rosy future than you remember.
Janet: Yeah, we all remember that Dr. Who episode with Van Gogh. Or well. They didn’t change anything, did they? Like a different Dr. Who episode. Whatever.
Nassif: You know Dr. Who is but not a president?
Janet: Okay. You keep saying that word, and I think you made it up.
Nassif: Anyway, if we’re going to couch this in terms of vintage science fiction, the original Star Trek is a better reference point. City on the Edge of Forever? Actually, that existed in the seventies. Watch it with your girlfriend. For once, Star Trek gets it right.
Janet: Oh no, please don’t make Star Trek not exist time traveler! It’s responsible for so many of today’s problems and solutions.
Loaf: I sure do love human pop-culture references! I’m not confused by them at all.
Janet: Oh, Loaf, Star Trek is like the Blaoship Sixty Meta of Earth, but it's a little less impressionistic.
Loaf: Ok, sure. That makes sense.
Nassif: Back to the letter-writer’s question. Time tourism is… really not something we generally approve of at TARTI, in part because of situations like this. You form emotional attachments to people in the past and then it's hard to be impassive about their fate.
Janet: Oh, this is why I don’t like getting attached to anyone, ha. Old habits. Or new habits, depending on how you perceive time.
Loaf: So you're saying you think she should break up with this woman?
Janet: I mean, yeah. Inter time relationships neeverrrr work out. No matter how much you think you can make it work, weird shit happens. You end up as your own ancestor, or suddenly you realize that the childhood idol you grew up worshipping was just an older time displaced version of yourself who is just as much of a mess as any other human ha and then it’s like your childhood is built on a huge foundation of lies!
Nassif: Yes, both of those are things that happen sometimes- you seem to know a lot about this, Miss Clark. If you don’t mind my asking-
Janet: I mind so much. Are we out of letters for today?
Loaf: We don’t have any other letters. As with every episode, there are only three Janet. I’m surprised you lost count. I’m not certain we’ve actually solved this person’s problem though.
Nassif: Well, unless her problem is she’s engaging in illegal and destructive time tourism and the solution is simply to stop. Which I suspect it is.
Janet: Ah, to be young.
Loaf: I’m just going to bring up again the possibility that the problem is your restrictive and linear view of time itself.
Janet: Well, human brains are mostly made of mush. It makes it really hard to rewire them.
Nassif: Um, that’s not exactly -
Janet: Anyway, I think that’s all the time we have for today. Haha, unless we have an illegal time machine somewhere, which we definitely don’t. At all. And then that wouldn’t apply to this broadcast! A big thanks to Officer Nassif for joining us here on the show today. It was so fun to have another perspective, even one that's clearly wrong.
Loaf: Officer, before we go, is there any general advice about time travel you want to leave our listeners with?
Nassif: Yes. Please don’t do it. Just don’t. The only time travel you should be doing is forward, at the rate of one second per second. Leave everything else to the professionals.
Janet: Or not! Goodnight, sentient listeners!
Loaf: Goodnight. And we’ll see you… in the future!
Solutions to Problems is written by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Our theme is by Thomas Dwyer. The voice of Officer Nassif is Ramy Abdelghani This episode’s letters were read by Nora Meiners, Aaron Yi, and Emily DeTar Birt. Find out more information about us at stppodcast.com. Also, please leave us a review on iTunes, so we can read them aloud to infants and make them smarter.
Last episode's cryptic question was "How are a clock’s given name, a declaration, a half coppered version of a pickle’s former name, and a group of newly baked cookies all part of Sherlock Holmes?" Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who has played Sherlock Holmes since 2010 is the link here. Big Ben is the clock's name you're looking for, a type of declaration was an edict, a pickle in America was once a cucumber, and to make it half coppered we take away Cu from the beginning of the word as that's the abbreviation for the element copper. A group of newly baked cookies is batch, and if you add these clues together they spell out "Benedict Cumberbatch."
If you got that right, allow yourself to imagine the sensation of snuggling a small mammal. Today's cryptic question is "What do all of these have in common? The wailing of less than half, the reception of a cinquain, abbattoir abbattoir abbattoir abbattoir abbattoir, and the temperature that ends with the state of Puerto Rico." The answer, as well as more questions on our next episode.
Nassif: So you guys do realize I’m obligated to arrest you.
Janet: Say, how would you like a free sample of blank slate memory wipes?
Nassif: I don’t think-
Janet: Hold him down Loaf!
Janet: Someone turn off the mic!