In Part 2 of The Time Traveller’s Verbs, the Captain and Sergeant Joe explained past tense verbs to Kevin, Mia, and little Zifnat, with some help from Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci. (If you missed the first installment and would like to read from the beginning, you can find Part 1 here.) With little Zifnat now tucked into bed, Kevin and Mia are ready to hear about the future.
The Captain focused her steady gaze on Kevin and Mia. “What we’re about to tell you is something that you cannot share with anyone else. We think you’re old enough to hear this, but you have to understand that the future is not something you can take lightly. Do you swear to tell no one about what you hear tonight, recruits?”
“We swear,” said Mia. Kevin nodded.
“Well, then,” said the Captain. “If the time traveller’s verbs are important, then the future tense is the most important of all. Anything that we do in the past or the present can change the future. Some changes are small, and don’t affect much of anything. But other changes result in a significant shift in the timeline. Most of the time, our job is to prevent these shifts from happening.”
“But sometimes,” said Joe, “our job is to deliberately shift the timeline. Which is what we’ve been doing tonight.”
“To explain all this, we’re going to use the four future verb tenses: simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous,” said the Captain. “This time, I want you to tell me what tenses I am using. Let’s see how well you’ve learned your verb lessons.”
“I’ve seen many different timelines over the years,” said the Captain. “But no matter what changes, there is one event that has always remained the same.
“Several years from now, an alien race called the Kcchx will attack the Earth and will attempt to destroy us.”
Mia made a squeaking noise. Kevin’s eyes widened.
“Kevin,” said Joe, “what tense was the Captain using?”
Kevin stared at Joe. “You want me to think about verb tenses after hearing that? Are you crazy?”
“Kevin!” snapped the Captain. “Show some respect. And have some faith. The story’s not over yet, boy.”
Kevin narrowed his eyes. “It’s the simple future – you’re using will with the base form of an action verb. Duh. Not that it matters, since we’re all going to die.”
“Of course it matters,” said the Captain. “You weren’t paying attention to what I said.”
“You said that they will attempt to destroy us,” said Mia. “Not that they are going to destroy us.”
“Exactly. Those statements are both expressed in the simple future tense, but I use are going to only for definite events. And for a time traveller, the future is never definite.”
“The Captain and I and our fellow time travellers have been working hard to ensure that the Kcchx will not succeed,” said Joe. “We’ve been observing great moments in history, and trying to make small changes in how the human race has approached science and technology. To change the future, we needed to meet the Zardonians before the Kcchx started to arrive. And now we have met them.”
“Of course we have,” said Kevin. “The Zardonians have always been around!”
“Not quite,” said the Captain. “But you wouldn’t remember any differently. When the timeline changes, your memory does, too.”
“Cool,” said Mia.
“Here’s another sentence for you,” said the Captain. “Joe and I will be continuing to make sure that a bad future doesn’t happen. Mia, I’m sure you can spot the tense on this one.”
“That’s easy, Captain. It’s the future continuous tense, which you use to talk about ongoing events in the future. Or, should I say, continuing events,” said Mia. She laughed. “You gave it away!”
“Oh, so I did,” said the Captain. “I must be getting old.” Mia laughed again. Kevin started to look a bit less grim.
“Joe, why don’t you share our time-travelling brilliance with our recruits here, and teach them their last two verb tenses.”
“My pleasure,” said Joe.
“Now that we’ve met the Zardonians, we’re in great shape for the future,” said Joe. “Visiting da Vinci and getting him to think differently about flying machines was the last piece of the puzzle. The rest of our team has been visiting other points in time, and influencing the direction of our technology. So now we have been able to successfully contact the Zardonians. The Zardonians know a lot more about the galaxy than we do. By the time the Kcchx arrive, we will have learned all about them from our Zardonian friends. Do you recognize the tense, Kevin?”
Kevin looked more relaxed. “You’re talking about a future event that will be completed before another event. We’re going to learn about the Kcchx before their arrival. So this must be the future perfect tense!”
“Perfect,” said Joe. “This means we have one more tense left. Mia?”
Future Perfect Continuous
“The future perfect continuous tense,” said Mia. “I think I remember some of this from Mom’s old training program. It said to imagine that you are in the future, looking back on an event that has already started and is still ongoing. You would use this tense to talk about it, with the verbs will have been and an -ing form of an action verb.”
“Wonderful!” said the Captain. “Mia, I am impressed.” Mia beamed.
“By the time the Kcchx are ready to attack us, we will have been working with the Zardonians for many years to improve our capabilities. The Kcchx will be stopped in their tracks,” said Joe.
“So, Earth is safe?” asked Kevin.
“Yes, Earth is safe,” said the Captain. “Joe and I have seen the new future, and humans are doing well.”
“What happens to Kevin and me?” asked Mia. “I know we’re not supposed to ask, but…”
“We can’t tell you that,” said Joe. “But we can tell you that you will make us proud.” Kevin and Mia looked at each other and smiled.
“All right, it’s time for bed for you two. Your lesson is over,” said the Captain. “Joe and I are going to sit out here for a bit before we turn in. Sleep well, recruits.”
With a chorus of goodnights, the two of them left for their portable sleeping cubicles.
The Captain and Sergeant Joe sat next to the campfire in silence for a while. Joe toasted two of the Zardonian berrymallows and offered one to the Captain. She shook her head. Joe ate one and winced. “I guess not everything is better,” he observed.
The Captain sighed and shifted her weight on the anti-grav platform. “You’d think they could have come up with more comfortable chairs. I’m getting tired of this, Joe.”
“Maybe it’s time for you to retire, Captain,” said Joe.
The Captain gave him a look.
“No disrespect intended,” said Joe, and saluted.
The Captain turned back to stare at the dying fire. “I will someday, Joe. But not until I am sure that those youngsters will be safe. You know how easy it is for things to change.”
Joe’s pocket beeped. He pulled out his comm unit and looked at the screen. “Speak of the devil,” he said. “It looks like our favourite King Richard is acting up again.”
“Gah! Not that pompous windbag. Please tell me we’re not going to war.” The Captain and Joe stood up and walked into the darkness.
“Oh, but I know how much you love using a sword,” teased Joe.
“You’d better be careful or I’ll show you how well I can use it, Sergeant. I’m not that old yet.”
Their voices faded away.
There was a flash of blue light, and something changed…
My son, the master artist, provided the picture for today’s story. I think I owe him an ice cream now. 🙂