|“||Wonderful... so are we going through the motions... or are we breaking new ground?||”|
"Time is a very sensitive matter, and manipulating it can change the very fabric of history."
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There are multiple timelines in Continuum. As revealed by Catherine, whenever time travel occurs, a new timeline is created. To help with this explanation, Catherine used the metaphor of a tree. When someone travels back in time, a new branch of the tree grows and events can play out in drastically different ways. Timelines, or branches, can also collapse if too much damage occurs to them.
Note that the "First Timeline" is the first timeline from the perspective of Kiera Cameron and the Liber8 terrorists as presented in the first episode of the TV series. It might not, objectively, have been the "original" timeline, as it is later revealed that there have been other time travel incidents.
- The world’s banking industry nearly collapsed due to some questionable business practices. The governments bailed them out and no corporate CEOs faced charges.
- Canada and the U.S. merge into the North American Union.
- SadTech perfects the Halo bracelet, revolutionizing medical health monitoring. This also enables corporations and governments to more easily gather data on users.
- Vickerdale Enterprises controls all food cultivation. 
- A time of unrest and suffering upon the collapse of the public government. In the years that followed, a new mentality of "everyone needs to do their part to rebuild" took a deep hold over society. Major corporations such as SadTech colluded with remaining governmental forces to began operating large-scale debtor's prisons such as New Pemberton, as well as factory cities in the Union. These facilities are essentially labor camp gulags, where those deeply in debt are formally stripped of their citizenship and implanted with mind-control chips that permanently turn them into mindless factory drones. Many justify this treatment of the poor by quoting the mantra that those in debt are not "doing their part" for society.
- Theseus (Julian Randol) and his zealots launch retaliatory attacks on labor camps across the Union, killing officials and causing the mass murders of tens of thousands of factory workers. Theseus personally leads the assault on New Pemberton. His justification for killing tens of thousands of factory workers (by shutting off the chips in their heads), is that it will send a global message to rise up against the corporations, and ultimately save millions. Theseus does save prisoners who have not yet been implanted with chips, but his justification for killing the factory-drones is that the corporations already functionally killed them when they put the chips in their heads, permanently reducing them to a mindless, zombie-like state.
- Last execution in the North American Union.
- Global population hits 11 billion.
- Matthew Kellog is born.
- The corporate companies "bail out" the failing governments and "sell" them to the people.
- Historical information from previous years are purged from school databases.
- Corporate Rights Act enacted.
- While the lower classes have been disenfranchised for years, the official takeover by the Corporate Congress as the new government is still enough to spark public unrest. Isolated public gatherings by the disenfranchised meet to discuss and protest the GCC, several led by Edouard Kagame. Despite being peaceful assemblies they are brutally crushed by corporate security forces. Soon protests turned violent as many like-minded groups, spanning all classes, joined the cause. Fed up with authoritarian rule by for profit corporations, the rebels organized, branding themselves Liber8. With the goal of a return to democratic principles, Liber8 began launching strategic violent assaults against anything and anyone that stood in their way, showing a complete lack of respect for human life.
- Liber8 led a series of open rebellions against the Corporate Congress in the early 2060s, in the form of mass street protests and urban warfare. However, by 2065, the tide turned and the insurrections were crushed. Liber8 was not outright destroyed, but shifted to new tactics focusing on guerrilla warfare and large-scale terrorist attacks instead of trying to take and hold major cities one at a time.
- The last known elephant dies in India.
- Kiera finds out she is pregnant. Her boyfriend, Greg Cameron, proposes to her and they soon get married.
- Sam Cameron is born. Kiera leaves the military to take care of her son.
- Kiera joins the Vancouver City Protective Services as a Protector.
- Laura Kellog is killed as the CPS Protectors pursue her and her brother, Matthew Kellog. Matthew Kellog is subsequently captured.
- Sonya Valentine is captured, although her capture may have been intentional because she had set a bomb trap for the Protectors.
- Liber8 bombs the Global Corporate Congress, with Travis and Curtis initiating the attack and Garza as backup. This bombing caused the death of 30,000 people in hopes of killing the 20 members of the Corporate Congress.
- Edouard Kagame is captured and brought into prison where he meets with his mentor and Alec's stepbrother, Julian Randol. Kagame also later meets with Alec Sadler who shows him the time travel device then gives him instructions to go back to the past.
- Garza attempts to assassinate Alec Sadler, but he knows that Kagame has sent her. He explains his plans for the time travel device to her, and that he plans to send Liber8 back in time to stop the rise of the corporations. He tells Garza that she is his insurance, tasking her that if he appears to be turning into the corporate dictator he later becomes, or worse, she is to kill him. It isn't clear if this happened before Kagame was captured, or slightly afterwards, while Garza was still acting on Kagame's orders.
- All core eight members of Liber8 are captured through various means in the aftermath of the GCC bombing: Kagame, Verta, Valentine, Ingram, Garza, Kellog, Jaworski, and Chen.
- Six months after Kagame's capture, the Liber8 members are scheduled to be executed. They receive the pieces of the time travel device from the guards chaining them together. They go on to assemble the time travel device with the fusion power in the execution chamber. Kiera sees this and tries to stop them.
- Liber8, Kiera Cameron, Jason, Elena, and possibly others, are transported back in time. Most arrive in the year 2012, though their destination times vary somewhat:
- Kagame was standing slightly further away from the rest of the group, and ended up arriving in 2012 a few weeks after the rest of Liber8.
- Elena was transported back to 1977.
- Jason Sadler, who had been working on the power source for the time travel device below the execution chamber, is caught up in the energy stream and is also sent back in time, but to 1992. While working on the power source, Jason was confronted by the Freelancer agent Warren, but Warren failed to stop the time travel incident.
- "Shortly after" Kiera left her time, time travel technology proliferated, and found its way into the hands of criminals who saw it only as an opportunity to change history for their benefit.
- By around "one hundred years after [Kiera] was born", this abuse of time travel technology escalated into an outright war. Laws were passed and the technology was confiscated, but some damage had already been done.
- It was believed that the only way to prevent further abuses to the time continuum was to put in place a "safety net", built around a common desire to protect history. Thus the organization was created that become known to some as the "Freelancers", and as the "guardians of history" by several of their own members. The Freelancers are dedicated to preventing disruption of history by time travelers, to react to their incursions and to minimize the impact.
- One man - known as "The Traveler" - made the sacrifice to journey back in time 1,000 years to set up the Freelancer organization as a cult of sorts, armed with technology from the 2140's. The Freelancers actually avoid time travel whenever possible, using it only after strict approval for strategic purposes. Most Freelancers are contemporary people, non-time travelers, who are recruited into the organization and then armed with its technology from the future. The Freelancer cult has been recruiting new members in each generation since the original time traveler came back to the mid-twelfth century AD.
- The original time traveler from around the 2140's goes back "a thousand years" to create the Freelancer cult. Most of the group's members in each generation of history are recruited from non-time travelers, stretching back to the first set of recruits trained by that one time traveler in the mid-twelfth century AD.
- Elena arrives from 2077 after being engulfed by a wave from the time travel device activated by Liber8.
- Jason Sadler is brought back in time to this period from 2077, when Liber8 activated the time travel device at the execution chamber while he was working on the power source below the chamber.
- Liber8 and Kiera Cameron arrive in the year 2012 from 2077. Edouard Kagame arrives a few weeks later. It is speculated that the dispersal of different people from the execution chamber was affected by how close they were standing to the time travel device when it was activated.
- Kiera communicates with the present Alec Sadler through her implanted liquid chip's CPS network, which he had just begun developing in this time. She then joins the Vancouver Police Department, posing as a federal agent under Section 6, and is assigned to the Liber8 task force, with partner Carlos Fonnegra.
- Matthew Kellog decides to settle in the year 2012 and begins betraying Liber8 to Kiera.
- Liber8 begins making themselves known to the public and gathers support from other anti-corporate activists and anarchists.
- Kiera meets her grandmother and grandfather, Lily Jones and Jake.
- Julian Randol joins the riots for Liber8 and soon becomes more involved with anti-corporate activities. He and his friends make a bomb and plan on making a statement with it for day one, "Theseus day", but when his father, Roland Randol, is killed right before his eyes, he runs away. He then gets a "Theseus" tattoo and is contacted by Kagame whom he later meets.
- Kiera meets her supposed fellow time-traveler, Jason. He tells her that he has made a working time machine that needs an alloy from the year 2034, which Kiera has through her piece of the time travel device. Realizing that Jason might not actually be so stable anymore, she takes the device and leaves in disappointment.
- Kagame and the present Alec finally meet, and Kagame tries to talk Alec out of his corporate ideals.
- A building in the City Plaza is bombed, thus marking the historic first attack of the revolution.
- Present Edouard Kagame is born, while the Kagame from the future sacrifices himself as the human bomb for the City Plaza attack.
- Alec reads the encrypted message (with the password "Theseus") his future self left for him in Kiera's CMR. He then tells Kiera that his future self sent her to that time period for a reason - apparently because his future self had come to feel guilty about the future world he had built.
- Jim Martin is elected as the new Union President, replacing Nelson Barnes.
- Kiera's mother is born.
- Elena from the future dies.
- After months in prison, Julian Randol is acquitted of all his charges.
- Kiera and Liber8 are kidnapped by Freelancers.
- Alec travels a week into the past.
- The timeline collapses and Kiera escapes into the past.
- Alec arrives from one week in the future to save Emily's life.
- Kiera arrives from one week in the future to find Alec and make sure only one Alec, the one from the her timeline or the one from this present one, survives in order to bring about the Corporate Future.
- The third timeline's Kiera is shot and killed, with the second timeline's Kiera remaining. The unfortunate dilemma is presented that both second timeline Alec (Alec from one week in the future) and third timeline Alec survive. The third timeline Alec's brief but vital experiences urged him to forgive Emily and regret his earlier decisions. Because second timeline Alec never went through these experiences he becomes embittered, spiraling towards becoming the very dystopian corporate CEO that Liber8 said he would become.
Between 2013 and 2039
- In the Second Timeline, a severe economic collapse occurred in the 2030's, during which mega-corporations significantly increased their political power by propping up the failing world governments. This directly led to the Global Corporate Congress outright becoming the government in 2057.
- In the Third Timeline, different time travelers introduced technologies from 2077 decades before society was prepared to react to them.
- Third Timeline Alex Sadler reverse-engineered the CMR chip from the dead Third Timeline Kiera Cameron to bring technology levels ahead by 50-60 years, mass producing Halo medical bracelets and other innovations.
- Matthew Kellog used his knowledge of future events to amass power and resources and rise to prominence within Piron.
- Liber8 terrorists also introduced future technologies they had knowledge of onto the streets, while starting anti-corporate terrorist attacks decades before such revolutions took place in the original timeline. Ironically, their attacks primarily succeeded in accelerating the rate of corporate takeover: government officials were so overwhelmed by anti-corporate terrorist attacks that they resorted to accepting corporate financing and resources in an effort to combat the threat. A major example is how the Piron corporation essentially bought the Vancouver Police Department.
- By introducing too many future technologies too quickly, events accelerated out of control. Instead of an economic collapse occurring in the 2030's, it occurred many years earlier.
- In the First Timeline, national governments had become too weak by the 2030's to deal with the economic collapse, leading to the corporate takeover. Because the economic collapse occurred so much earlier in the new timeline, however, national governments - while weakening - were still relatively strong. They responded to the economic collapse by attempting to nationalize many mega-corporations - particularly because the corporations themselves (in both timelines) had brought about the economic collapse through their reckless deployment of advanced technologies without government oversight.
- At this point, all hell broke loose. Some world governments attempted to nationalize corporations to curb their corruption (which is along the lines of what Liber8 wanted), while others attempted to impose fascist control over their populaces. In either case, they were actually not successful and Liber8 did not succeed in changing the timeline to their ideal vision. The world governments were strong enough to resist easy takeover by the corporations, but had grown weak enough that it was difficult for them to outright dismantle or destroy many of them: the conflict was a stalemate, but the level of violence continued to escalate.
- Mega-corporations violently resisted government attempts at nationalization, using private resources and soon, private armies. Nor did they present a united front against the world governments: with each worried about its own survival, the corporations "cannibalized" each other, breaking up into different factions or "clans", with big corporations violently absorbing smaller ones to control their resources. This was similar to how in 2014 Monsanto staged a chemical attack against the board members of Fermitas, but on a much larger scale, up to actual warfare.
- The conflicts lasted for years, degenerating into chaos. Alliances were made and broken, different factions or individuals changed sides constantly, between the governments and rival corporate factions. After years of war, everyone became focused on their own survival, leading to a complete fragmentation of power between rival groups.
- While in the First Time line major cities such as Vancouver survived the wars of the 2030's and 2060's somewhat damaged but relatively intact, in the Third Timeline by 2039 years of fruitless warfare between the different factions leave Vancouver in ruins. It is described described as dark canyons of metal debris and shattered glass, a lifeless crater.
- In the post-apocalyptic future, Kellog has become a major warlord controlling one of the surviving factions. Vancouver is reduced to a bombed-out ruin.
- Future Kellog (the Third Timeline duplicate of First Timeline Kellog) uses a time machine to send Brad Tonkin back to 2013, with orders to kill all time travelers there - including Liber8, Kiera, and the Freelancers - to prevent further damage to the timeline (or perhaps, to prevent them from stopping his eventual rise to power).
- Brad Tonkin arrives in Vancouver in 2013, but has temporary amnesia. He falls in love with Kiera, and refuses to carry out his mission from Future Kellog. Instead, he ultimately explains to Liber8, Kiera, and Kellog the negative future that their interference created: by using their knowledge of the First Timeline to advance the rise of the corporate future, anti-corporate rebels, and introducing future technologies decades before society is ready for them, the world exploded into chaos. Within 25 years, the world is divided into warring factions and Vancouver is a bombed out husk. Liber8 and Kiera call a tentative truce to avoid this dark future, with all unsure of what their next move should be. Liber8 is disheartened to learn that even if they temporarily succeed, a pro-corporate faction can always just try to send back another time traveler to disrupt their plans.
- Sonya Valentine turns herself into an organic bomb to kill Dylan.
- Kiera and Brad assault the Freelancer base to free Second Timeline Alec. They succeed and kill most Freelancer agents in the base. Chen then kills Catherine, and another guard, so that he can free the Traveler. As Chen explained to Kellog, Catherine was not a "disciple" of the Traveler, the Traveler was being held prisoner by Catherine.
- Second Timeline Alec kills Third Timeline Alec. Kellog assumes control of Piron, having earlier signed over control to himself without third timeline Alec's knowledge. Second timeline Alec and Kiera become convinced to fight the corporate future.
- Brad Tonkin sets off a time beacon, which should alert the future that all is well and disaster has been averted. If the future turned out well, they will take no action. If the future is still changed for the worse, they should send reinforcements. It is unknown if the future people who will receive the signal come from Brad's Third Timeline or a new one, due to the changes he already made in the past.
- Brad Tonkin's time travel created the Fourth Timeline, branching off from the Third Timeline. As when Alec Sadler traveled back in time and created the Third Timeline, the Fourth Timeline started as an exact duplicate of the Third Timeline at the moment Brad entered the past in 2014.
- Due to the branching nature of time travel, the effect for a non-time traveler such as Carlos was that in early Season 3, the TV audience is viewing "Third Timeline Carlos". After Brad Tonkin entered the story the Fourth Timeline branched off, and in late Season 3 the TV audience is watching "Fourth Timeline Carlos", while "Third Timeline Carlos" continues to exist in the alternate universe/timeline that Brad Tonkin comes from, in which Brad's adult self never traveled back in time to 2014.
- First Timeline Kiera traveled back in time into the Second Timeline, then escaped from the Second Timeline's collapse into the Third Timeline. "Third Timeline Kiera" was a duplicate of First Timeline Kiera, duplicated along with the Second Timeline when the Third Timeline was created - because Alec and Kiera only traveled back in time one week. Third Timeline Kiera was later killed, and First Timeline Kiera assumed her place. When Brad Tonkin traveled back to 2014, he created the Fourth Timeline, branching off as a duplicate of the Third Timeline. First Timeline Kiera was also duplicated along with it. Arguably, the "original" First Timeline Kiera is still alive in the continuing Third Timeline in which she never encountered Brad Tonkin. The Kiera that the TV audience sees in late Season 3 after she encounters Brad Tonkin is actually a duplicate of First Timeline Kiera, and thus "Fourth Timeline Kiera", even though she is not "native" to the Fourth Timeline the way that Carlos is as a non-time traveler.
- A response to Brad Tonkin's signal comes in the form of a new group of time travelers who arrive in Vancouver in 2013, outfitted in futuristic combat armor. Among them is "The Traveler", previously seen associated with the Freelancers.
Changing timelines and time paradoxes
The exact effects of time travel are poorly understood. Essentially, from what the Freelancers have indicated, time travel into the past creates an entirely new, alternate timeline which branches off from the original.
It is unknown if the new timeline overwrites the original timeline, or if they branch off from each other, and therefore the original timeline continues to "exist" in some form. The difference is crucial: if the Liber8 terrorists from the First Timeline want to prevent the rise of a corporate-dominated future, they would want to overwrite the past sixty years of history. The other possibility is that by traveling back to the past, they did not affect the First Timeline...it simply went on existing without them, while they created the Second Timeline, a duplicate of the First Timeline (until the point when they arrived in the past and started altering it). Even if Liber8 succeeded in ensuring that the Corporate Congress never formed in the 2077 of the Second Timeline, the 2077 of the First Timeline (if it still exists as a separate branch) might still be dominated by the Corporate Congress. As a result, all of Liber8's attempts to change history within the First Timeline would be futile.
This is what allows time travelers to maintain the Novikov self-consistency principle (which Alec Sadler directly referred to in Season 2). When a time traveler enters the past, they create a Second Timeline. Even if they kill their own grandfather in the Second Timeline, this is not a time paradox, because they are not killing their own grandfather back in the First Timeline, but an exact duplicate created along with the rest of the Second Timeline, as a direct result of their time travel. Kiera Cameron speculates that she and Liber8 have already changed the timeline in so many ways both drastic and subtle that their future selves may no longer be born, yet they continue to exist in the Second Timeline.
Meanwhile, changes to the past which prevent the development of the time travel machine used to send the traveler back to the past in the first place are apparently too much of a paradox for the timeline to sustain, causing the entire universe of that timeline to collapse. When Alec Sadler in 2013 used the time machine to go back one week, he created a Third Timeline...while removing Alec Sadler from the Second Timeline, functionally equivalent to if Alec had been killed. As a result he never lived to 2077, to create SadTech, and to spur development of the very same time machine which was later sent back to 2013 which he then used to "kill" (remove) himself from that timeline. The resulting paradox destroyed the Second Timeline.
The resulting contradiction is difficult to explain: a time traveler can kill their "grandfather" in the Second Timeline because it is really a duplicate of their actual grandfather from the First Timeline. In contrast, a time traveler cannot kill the inventor of the time machine (Alec Sadler) in the Second Timeline...even though it was the inventor in the First Timeline who created the specific time machine they used.
It appears that each new timeline does not overwrite the one a time traveler originated in, but creates an entire new timeline/universe: an exact duplicate of their original timeline up to the point when they enter. For example, when Liber8 from the First Timeline traveled back in time to 2012, they did not go back to the "2012 of the First Timeline". They essentially made an entirely separate, branching timeline/universe. At the very point they arrived, the "2012 of the Second Timeline" was an exact duplicate of the timeline/universe from the "2012 of the First Timeline"...though it instantly started branching away from this due to their presence, not to mention their active attempts to alter how they knew history developed...or rather, would have developed had they not intervened. As a result, the "2013 of the Second Timeline" was already quite different from the "2013 of the First Timeline", with Liber8-inspired anarchist gangs, political assassinations that would drastically alter future events, etc.
It is unknown if travel between alternate branching timelines is possible. Specifically, even if Kiera Cameron's family continues to exist in the First Timeline (in the year 2077), she may never be able to travel back from the Second Timeline to the First Timeline.
From the perspective of 2012, there are at least five alternate timelines by the end of Season 3:
- First Timeline - 2077 is dominated by the Corporate Congress.
- Second Timeline - Unknown. The timeline was destroyed by an unsustainable paradox when Alec Sadler in 2013 removed himself from the timeline (to travel back in time one week to save Emily), because he was not present to invent that same time machine in the future.
- This timeline was destroyed and thus no longer "exists", assuming that separate timelines branch off of each other instead of overwriting.
- Third Timeline - 2039 is a post-apocalyptic warzone in which the elderly Third Timeline Kellog is a major warlord who sends Brad Tonkin back in time to 2013.
- The year 2077 in the Third Timeline is probably drastically different from what it was like in the First Timeline.
- All of the First Timeline time travelers except for Kiera Cameron were destroyed along with the Second Timeline. The Third Timeline is an exact duplicate of the Second Timeline...including the time traveling Liber8 terrorists. This being the case, "Second Timeline Kellog" may never have been born (if his grandmother was really killed, or history too drastically altered so he was never born), "First Timeline Kellog" was destroyed along with the Second Timeline he was in, and "Third Timeline Kellog" is a duplicate of First Timeline Kellog, who will go on in the Third Timeline to become a major warlord by 2039.
- Meanwhile, Second Timeline Alec is the only person originating in the Second Timeline to survive into the Third (eventually, both Third Timeline Kiera and Alec are killed, and their places are taken by First Timeline Kiera and Second Timeline Alec).
- Fourth Timeline - Brad Tonkin's time travel has an unknown effect on the futures of 2039 or 2077. He does inform Liber8 and Kiera Cameron of the negative effects their actions will have by his 2039, convincing them to alter their goals.
- Tonkin's interference apparently led to the formation of the combat-armor wearing agents from the future, observed in the Season 3 finale - but what year they come from in the Fourth Timeline is unknown.
- Fifth Timeline - Unknown. The new timeline that branched off when the combat-armor wearing agents arrived in 2013. What effect they will have on the future of Fifth Timeline 2039 or 2077 is unclear.
Assuming that all of these branches are separate but co-exist, the four surviving branches are:
- First Timeline - Around 2037 the world goes through economic chaos which leads to the eventual rise of the Corporate Congress. In the 2030's, Theseus conducts terrorist attacks against the increasingly powerful corporations.
- Third Timeline - 2039 is a post-apocalyptic warzone, and Third Timeline Kellog (a duplicate of the time-traveling First Timeline Kellog) is a major warlord.
- Fourth Timeline - The future that the combat-armor wearing soldiers come from, created by Brad Tonkin's travel back to 2013.
- Fifth Timeline - Unknown. First Timeline Kiera returns to 2077 in this timeline to reunite with older Second Timeline Alec, only to find that she is now a time travel duplicate, a relic from the First Timeline - a new, Fifth Timeline Kiera was born and had a son in her place (similar to how Second Alec doubled up with Third Alec).
This is theoretically what should have happened, but the TV series is unclear: it treats Bran Tonkin's "dark future" of 2039 as a consistent alternate timeline. Bran's own time travel should have created yet another branch from the Third Timeline, then the combat armored soldiers from the future making yet another incursion should have made a Fifth Timeline (ultimately thwarted by Kiera and Alec, resulting in a peaceful future).
On the other hand, given that Third Timeline Kellog already had access to the First Timeline's time travel technology, he could have spent the next 20 years refining it with a better understanding of temporal mechanics. In short, future-Kellog may have perfected time travel to the point that sending Brad Tonkin back in time was a stable time-loop, as was sending the soldiers back, so that the end result by the series finale is really one combined "Fourth Timeline" after Third Timeline Kellog is defeated. A counterpoint to this is that the elder "Third Timeline Kellog" from 2039 intended to kill his past counterpart to use as an organ donor for himself - specifically citing the earlier principle that it is possible to kill your own grandfather or your own younger self in the "past", because this "past" timeline is really a branching timeline that starts out as an exact duplicate of the original from the point you arrived. That is, it seems the elder Third Timeline Kellog's plan was that sending Brad Tonkin back in time indeed did create a branching "Fourth Timeline", and thus killing "Fourth Timeline Kellog" would not result in his own death.
A possible way to reconcile this discrepancy is that sending back Brad and the combat armored soldiers was considered essentially one "time travel event", comparable to how the initial time travel event at the scheduled Liber8 execution in 2077 did not send people back to the exact same date, but scattered them across several weeks (and in some cases, decades). Thus when Kagame materialized a few weeks after the rest of Liber8 did, due to standing farther away from the time machine when it activated, he didn't create yet another separate timeline. In this case there are in fact four major timelines and not five or more.