1617: Time Capsule
Title text: Oh no, I changed the future and now I'm disappearing! Wait, never mind, it was just my hat slipping down over my eyes.
Cueball is watching Ponytail who has unearthed a time capsule, that must have been buried in the ground many years ago. A time capsule is a historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists or historians. However, when she manages to open the capsule Beret Guy turns out to have been hiding inside while the capsule has been buried. It turns out that he has mixed up the purpose of a time machine and a time capsule; when Ponytail asks him where he came from he tells her: The past! I traveled here in this time machine. He cannot explain how he got there, but he claims that he could not have prevented it. This is a reference to the fact that you cannot avoid being pushed forward through time, see 1524: Dimensions. Beret Guy has also previously traveled to the future in a similar manner, see 209: Kayak.
Beret Guy claims he has been eating newspapers to survive; newspaper clippings are a stereotype content of time capsules. He also managed to live underground in the time capsule, which would typically be an airtight sealed box, for what must be assumed to be at least several years. Although some time capsules are meant to be opened after just a few years (10 or 25 years for instance) the plan should be that it is not opened for at least several years after it is created. So this comic is one more example of the strange powers of Beret Guy - i.e. living by eating paper and without breathing oxygen. But he has before displayed patience enough to sit still for five years in 1088: Five Years.
Beret Guy mentions he got inside his "time machine" to attempt an assassination of Adolf Hitler (using the hammer he is holding). Traveling to the past in a time machine to assassinate Hitler is a common trope in speculative fiction, as a way to try to prevent the Second World War - however the scheme only works via travel into the past, to some time before Hitler rose to power and started the war, rather than "into the future" as Beret Guy did. Of course, when Beret Guy entered the "time machine" Hitler may still have been alive. If it was realized early enough what kind of threat Hitler was posing, a plan could have been devised, where Beret Guy traveled to a future time where it would become possible to kill Hitler, and where it would still make a difference if he did (however, it would have been more practical to just wait, though Beret Guy is never practical). Possibly, this is Beret Guy's origin story, and he came to the time of these comics in a "time machine."
Since he did not travel into the past, but forward in time by letting time pass normally, and since he did not get out until long after Hitler's demise, Ponytail can tell him that Hitler has been dead for a long time (70 years at the time of the comic's release). So if the capsule was opened on the day of the release of the comic, then he was 70 years too late. But of course the comic could be set at any time after the war, also in the future, as long as it would make sense to say that Hitler died long ago.
The fact that Hitler is already dead does not bother Beret Guy, on the contrary he is pleased, as he just realizes his job has already been done. What he thus fails to realize, is that he was probably supposed to kill Hitler before he got the Second World War started. This was the same type of failure made by Black Hat in 1063: Kill Hitler. Black Hat did actually travel 67 years back in time and killed Hitler, sadly it was in the last days of the war in 1945 just before Hitler would have died anyway, so it had no effect on history either, and the time machine was a one shot thing.
When he finds out that his job is done he asks Ponytail if they should get some sandwiches. It is a known feature of Beret Guy that he likes bakers and bread, though not specifically sandwiches. Realizing he is in the future he suddenly becomes aware that this concept may have been forgotten, and he asks if they still exist in this future. This is a reference to another comic where Megan has traveled through time in the same way as Beret Guy; see 630: Time Travel. It may also be a reference to the new version of Star Trek, in which Scotty's response to learning someone is from the future is "Do they still have sandwiches there?"
In the title text, Beret Guy becomes afraid that he will now disappear because he has changed the future in a way so he would no longer exist. A typical example would be to go back and kill your parents before you were born (or just prevent them from falling in love as in the movie Back to the Future). This creates a paradox where you will never be born, and thus cease to exist. Of course the paradox is that you could thus not have prevented your birth in the first place, if you did not already exist. (Another good example of how this might feel is displayed in the movie Timecop). However, it turns out that in Beret Guy's case it was only his sight that was "disappearing", and that was only because his beret had fallen over his eyes. In any case the fear is baseless since he only traveled forward in time, not backwards, and thus could not have changed his own past. It is also unknown how his hat could slip over his eyes, as it is stapled to his head.
Time machines have been referenced in many xkcd comics, see the Time travel category.
- [Cueball is watching and Ponytail is about to open a time capsule that has just been dug out. A shovel is stuck in the ground next to a heap of dirt on the right side of a hole in the ground. Cueball is standing on the other side and Ponytail is in the hole, proceeding to lift up the lid of the box that makes up the time capsule.]
- Ponytail: All right, let's open the time capsule.
- [Slight zoom in on Ponytail and the box, without Cueball but still the shovel and dirt, when Beret Guy comes out of the capsule looking up at Ponytail who takes a step back up.]
- Beret Guy: Hi!
- Ponytail: Where did you come from?!
- Beret Guy: The past! I traveled here in this time machine.
- [Frame widens to include Cueball, in the same position as in the first frame. Ponytail relaxes a little and Beret Guy turns in the capsule to face Cueball.]
- Cueball: How did you... get here from the past?
- Beret Guy: I dunno. I couldn't not.
- Cueball: But... what did you eat?
- Beret Guy: Newspapers, mostly.
- [Zoom in again in a bigger frame with Ponytail and the capsule, shovel and dirt. Beret Guy faces her again, but now he is holding a hammer.]
- Beret Guy: Anyway, I'm here to kill Hitler.
- Ponytail: But he died long ago!
- Beret Guy: Oh, good! That was easy.
- Beret Guy: Want to get sandwiches?
- Beret Guy: Do you still have sandwiches?
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