926: Time Vulture

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Time Vulture
In a way, all vultures are Time Vultures; some just have more patience than others.
Title text: In a way, all vultures are Time Vultures; some just have more patience than others.


This comic is about the time vulture (hence the title), a fictional creature made up by Randall. Cueball notices that his Cueball-like friend is followed by a time vulture, making the exclamation Dude, you've got a time vulture.

The primary food source for vultures is carrion, or rotting meat. A time vulture, as explained by Cueball, is a type of vulture that can live for millennia, spending very little energy and it can even slow down its internal clocks so time speeds past, a kind of forward time travel, to the point where its prey dies. In this way, it can thus always wait long enough for the prey to die of natural causes no matter how long it takes, as seen from the prey's point of view. So in principle they kill their prey by using aging, as Cueball explains, although in fact, like any vulture, they just find prey that has already (almost) died, as from their point of view every living thing is just about to die. But as with other vultures, they do not participate in the actual killing. Time vultures thus just need to locate and find any one living creature (of a reasonable size), then it becomes it’s prey as it then just waits until it dies, spending hardly any energy while it waits. Real soaring vultures can also stay afloat for considerable time spans without actually using any energy as they just float on thermals.

Thus the time vulture will now keep soaring over Cueball’s friends head for the rest of his life, or until they travel on an airplane (airplanes typically cruise at an altitude too high for a vulture to fly over them, although it is of course possible that the vulture could board the plane as well), and then when he dies (whenever and of whichever cause), it will descend and feast on his carcass. This should, in principle, not make any difference to the friend, since most people already live with the knowledge that they will eventually die[citation needed], and that their body will end up being destroyed one way or another. Typically it will not be caused by vultures, but for instance by the fire of the Crematory or by the decomposition caused by small animals and germs in the earth we are buried in.

However, it is not very nice to be reminded of this every living second of the rest of your life thus the consternation of the friend and his question and statement; But what if the prey doesn't die? and I'm not about to die...

At first, the question doesn’t make sense since there are no known examples of terrestrial animals (including humans) that are large enough to matter as prey for a vulture and can survive through the several millennia that a time vulture can wait. The few species that can live that long and grow at least as large as vulture prey, such as the 2,384 acre (965 hectare) "Humongous Fungus", an individual of the fungal species Armillaria solidipes in the Malheur National Forest, thought to be between 2,000 and 8,500 years old[1][2], and a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) measured by ring count to be over 5000 years old.[3], are stationary, such as fungi and plants, or aquatic, such as coral and sponges. Thus, the moving land species large enough to be attractive as prey will always die within the lifespan of the vulture (as Cueball tries to explain).

However, the question actually does make sense, because the prey does not have to outlive the vulture to avoid being eaten by the vulture; it simply has to live long enough to get to an airport, get through security screening, and board a flight that goes either too fast or too high for the vulture to follow. Therefore, the vulture would get to eat the prey only if the prey died on the way to the airport, while standing outdoors in line for security screening, or while walking from the terminal to the airplane (if passengers board outdoors instead of using a passenger boarding bridge (Jetway)). It is possible that the prey might not die this soon, unless security screening lines exceed the maximum human lifespan of approximately 120 years.

And because the time vulture can slow down its internal clock, in its point of view, everyone who ever says "But, I'm not about to die", would say so right before they die; actually anything a person ever says after the time vulture has locked on to that person, happens just before they die as seen from the vulture's point of view. In humans' point of view, it could be many years after the statement was made, but for the time vulture, a human lifespan only lasts a mere moment.

Of course, since a human can travel a considerable distance in this time, even around the world, the human would be traveling at an extremely high velocity from the vulture's perspective, so the vulture would be unable to keep up and the human would escape. In a more extreme fashion, since the vulture’s perception of time is significantly slowed, it would be more simple to buy a rifle and kill the Time Vulture.

It is thus really more of a philosophical comic about the fact that we all have death waiting for us, you could say it soars above our head and just wait for it to happen. And in relation to the deep time of the geology of the Earth or the expansion of the universe, the time it takes for people to live their lives is hardly worth mentioning...

In the title text it is stated that all real life vultures are actually a kind of time vultures, as real life vultures also sometimes spot a dying animal, not quite dead yet, and then wait for this prey to die. But time vultures are able to wait for millennia for their prey to die, whereas regular vultures do not have that kind of time, before they need to feed or land, thus the comment that some vultures have more patience than others.

Real vultures and their preying habits were referenced in 1746: Making Friends, directly in the title text.


[Cueball is watching a large black bird, with apparently fractal wings, which hovers above his Cueball-like friend who walks towards Cueball and now turns to look at the bird over his shoulder.]
Cueball: Dude, you've got a Time Vulture.
Friend: Holy crap! What is it?
[Zoom-in on Cueball who now looks at his friend who are now standing close to Cueball looking up at the bird off-panel.]
Cueball: They're predators that use aging to kill prey.
Friend: Huh? What do you mean?
[The panel zooms in on the Cueball's face. The friends reply comes from off-panel.]
Cueball: They live for millennia and use little energy. They can slow down their internal clocks so time speeds past. To hunt, they lock on to some prey, and when it stops moving, they eat it.
Friend (off-panel): But what if the prey doesn't die?
[Zoom out to Cueball and his friend that now look at each other.]
Cueball: I don't think you quite understand.
Friend: I mean, I'm not about to die...
Cueball: From the vulture's viewpoint, everyone says that moments before they do.

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An obvious reference to death itself, which stalks everyone, usually for decades. This is a "memento mori". 17:33, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

Is this a reference to Dr. Who's Weeping Angels, who also (in a different way) hunt by having their victims live to death? 04:01, 31 December 2012 (UTC)
I doubt it. While there is definitely a similarity, it seems like too much of a stretch to have been intentional. 00:26, 25 April 2013 (UTC)
While the idea of weeping angels seems pretty true on the surface, they get their 'food' from transporting something through time, but this animal doesn't eat time or anything, it just dramatically speeds up how quickly time passes for it- similar to how sometimes a night's sleep feels only like an hour or sometimes a year.
Oh, I want those overnight feels like a year sleeps. I get less of them the older I get. Having a kid pretty much put a nail in that coffin. 14:09, 20 August 2014 (UTC) 16:01, 28 February 2014 (UTC)

Does anyone know if Randell is a Who fan? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I think he is, as there are some references to the Dr. in the comics. But I still think this would be a far stretch on the deep philosophy in this comic.--Kynde (talk) 21:06, 20 December 2015 (UTC)

From the vulture's viewpoint, the carcass will rot (or be buried) in seconds. Hope it can speed up its internal clock when needed. Mumiemonstret (talk) 10:10, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

The logical way to kill this off would be with a shotgun. Problem solved...? Unless the Time Vulture recognises shotguns as a threat. I am glad this thing doesn't exist. -- LuigiBrick (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I'm quite sure a bullet would just pass through it, since it doesn't follow normal time. Also I'm sure it can start speeding time up the instant the prey dies. Else they would never have evolved. Why do you say it doesn't exist. I have seen one over every living creature I know. Most people just call it the shadow of Death ;-) You have to squint and look at it the right way to realize that it looks like an eagle. People have this impression it looks like a skeleton, but as Terry Pratchett's Disc world death makes it clear, it is not Death or time vultures that kill people they are just there when it happens. (Whether it is guns, people, diseases, wars or old age that kill people depends on the time and the peoples luck ;-) --Kynde (talk) 21:06, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
The way I see it is that the vulture doesn't flow through time differently, but merely speeds up it's internal clock. It sees everything speeding by, but we don't. 18:08, 7 January 2020 (UTC)

There has been a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the Category:Multiple Cueballs. In this comic it cannot be said clearly that any of them is more correctly called Cueball than the other. But typically the one named Cueball is either the protagonist or at least the one with the interesting parts and in this comic it would be the one with all the knowledge of time vultures. It may thus be OK to list him as Cueball. So when I changed most of this explanation, adding a ton more information, I also changed this so he would be the one referenced as Cueball (as it is easier to explain when one of them has a name). Then I also made a note that the other guy also looks like Cueball. --Kynde (talk) 21:11, 20 December 2015 (UTC)

The problem with the time vulture is that it'll have to move at very fast speeds - in its perspective - to keep up with its prey. Assuming Cueball will die right as the advent calendar ends in 1577: Advent, that means he will have 16800 days to live, or 1,451,520,000 seconds. If, from the vulture's perspective, it takes 5 seconds from this time for Cueball to die, the speed of time according to the vulture is 290,304,000 times ours. If the average human walks at 5 km/h, the vulture will see it as walking at 300 million times that speed, which is 1,451,520,000 km/h... So the vulture will have to fly at those speeds, not to mention accelerating that fast. Vince7778 (talk) 23:03, 5 January 2017 (UTC)

It’s a lot less obvious of a “citation needed” joke when the explanation accurately points out that MOST people think they’ll die (at least before eternal life). SilverTheTerribleMathematician (talk) 10:57, 10 December 2022 (UTC)

I just shortened the explanation considerably. I guess it's fa beyond the point of explaining the comic by giving tips as for how to evade such a creature by boarding a plane unless you die in the line of the security checks at the airport. I mean... really? Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:31, 3 June 2024 (UTC)