[ASH] ASH #84 - Coming Home Part 1: Stormbringer

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Jan 18 11:21:24 PST 2008

     On the cover, Solar Max and Jen Kleinvogel are confronted in mid-air by
an aged and robed Chinese man who is held aloft by the wind, his long white
hair fluttering about in a mad tangle.  The cover copy proclaims, "TRAPPED IN

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #84
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||           Coming Home Part 1 - Stormbringer
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Hong Jia Qong  Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        MISSING!
  (Red Beetle)   "JakZak" Taylor
Jin E          Jen Kleinvogel           Flight, Stealth          MISSING!
  (Golden Swan)


[March 12, 82 C.E. - Mount Tai, Qing Province]

     Consort Song the younger scrambled up the side of the sacred mountain in
the chilly pre-dawn dimness.  Her fine robes were tattered, her knuckles
bruised and bloody, and a feral glow lit her eyes.
     "They will pay, sister," Song muttered under her labored breath.
"Accusing you of sorcery just so that pig of an empress could improve her
position in court?  Giving you over to that," she spat, "eunuch for
interrogation, when your only crime was falling ill?  Ha!  The idiots, making
a false accusation like that...and never realizing that you're not the
sorceror in the family, my dear sister."
     She reached the summit of the foremost of the Five Sacred Mountains of
Taoism and faced the rising Sun.
     "*I* am the sorceror in the family.  And I will pull this corrupt world
down around us before I let them have the satisfaction of killing you!"

               *              *              *              *

[August 23, 79 C.E. - Pompeii]

     As Solar Max rapidly descended from the clouds, he saw only one figure
waiting at the pre-arranged meeting place.  Engaging telescopic zoom on his
helmet's display, he confirmed that it was Jen Kleinvogel, who must have
returned from recon before he did.  He suspected she'd learned the same thing
he did: they were in the vicinity of Pompeii during Roman times, but before
Vesuvius erupted.  Maybe the activity coming from the volcano now was the
countdown to doomsday, or maybe they had arrived decades before that and it
was just the mountain rumbling as it often did.  In any case, he and Jen had
a more immediate problem.
     "I can't say I'm surprised that Triton and Aegis didn't stick around,"
he said as he came in to land on the rocky hillside next to the STRAFE agent.
The Chancellor of Khadam and the Vatican's pet superhuman had been a part of
the desperate plan to seal a temporal rift in Monaco, a plan that had
stranded all four of them in the distant past [as recounted in CSV #28 -
Ed.].  "Did they leave a message, or try to radio, at least?"
     Jen shook her head.  "Vesuvius is causing some static, which *might*
have blocked a transmission, but I'm guessing this was an intentional ditch.
I didn't radio you, since odds are pretty good Triton has hacked our secure
frequencies, and the longer he thinks he's getting away clean, the easier
it'll be to find him again."
     JakZak took off his helmet and sighed.  "Easier than zero, at least, but
not a lot.  Unless your STRAFE translator implant has an education in the
Classics, neither of us speak any flavor of Latin or Greek...or any language
spoken in this time and general region, for that matter."
     Jen shook her head.  "It only has so much space, and modern Greek isn't
important enough to make it onto the implant.  Ditto on Italian, although I
might know enough from street Eurolac to give it a go."
     Solar Max continued, grimly.  "So, we can't really ask around about
Derek and Castor, and even pretending to be from out of town won't work too
well, since we look like we should know at least one of the local languages.
On the other hand, as Aegis, Cas was attached to the Vatican for a while,
there's a good chance he picked up at least some liturgical Latin, plus his
Italian might be comprehensible with effort.  And you can bet Derek read Cato
in the original Latin, not to mention accounts of Alexander the Great in
Greek, et cetera.  They may have trouble blending in, but they'll have a
better shot at it than we will."
     Jen nodded sadly.  "That's pretty much how I figured it as well.
Obviously, our absolute best case scenario...we all work together and return
to 2026 without changing anything in the past...is out the window.  I figure
we have two not-totally-horrible alternatives now."
     "Those being?" JakZak sat down on a rocky spur, but Jen simply started
to pace as she talked.
     "One, Derek still plans for all four of us to go back to 2026, but he
didn't want us in the way while he takes care of business.  He'll find us
when he's ready to go, either because he needs one or both of us...probably
you...to do the time jump, or simply because he'd rather have us in his debt
than abandon us."
     JakZak nodded.  "Of course, the somewhat-horrible aspect of that option
is that whatever he's off doing is something he knows we wouldn't approve of.
Maybe even finding a locus point and altering the future to suit his plans."
One thing both had learned at the Academy was that time travel didn't always
change the future.  Some things were inevitable, while other times your
efforts merely split off an alternate timeline while leaving your own time
preserved.  But every so often there would be a locus point, an event or even
a person where alterations would actually erase the old future and replace it
with the new.  Whatever it was they had been fighting in Monaco before
getting flung into the First Century had probably been trying to manipulate a
locus point.
     "Right.  On the other hand, the other not-so-horrible outcome is only
bad for us personally.  Derek already knew how to get back to 2026 with only
the help of Aegis, and he left while we were out scouting," Jen frowned.  "So
he's not going to alter the timeline at all, he just thought it'd be amusing
to strand us here and make us get home the hard way, or even exile ourselves
to avoid accidentally hitting a locus point somewhere."
     "And any changes we'd make by splitting off into a parallel reality
would just make it all the harder to get home," JakZak added.  "My time
travel ability may be horribly unreliable, but at least it's something I can
probably do.  Interdimensional travel is totally out of my power set."
     "Anyway, those are the GOOD possibilities," Jen sighed.  "Most of the
BAD ones start with the assumption that Derek was lying about his genius
being able to reliably get us home, and he just wanted us out of the way so
he could do something else," she noted, finally sitting down next to JakZak.
     "I don't think he's going to want to do anything *drastic* involving a
locus point, anyway," JakZak shook his head.  "He may be a dick, but he loves
his wife and kids.  He wouldn't risk accidentally erasing them.  If he does
anything with a locus, it'd be small, and *very* carefully planned.  Probably
involving leaving messages for his past self or something.  But if he does
think he's stuck here for the long term, it'd be in his best interests to
rapidly diverge the timeline, so he'd know his family is still safe in
another version of reality, at which point he could act with impunity and
carve out his own little empire.  Or, knowing him, a *big* empire."
     "Oh shit," Jen hissed.  "It'd be just like him to rename himself King
Arthur, wouldn't it?"
     JakZak's eyes widened.  "Damn.  You're right.  I don't think it was ever
really determined when the 'Septimus Artorius' timeline split off," he
realized, referring to one of the many alternate realities that interacted
with their own history back in the Third Heroic Age.  "The captured soldiers
weren't big history buffs, and a lot of their database self-destructed to
keep it out of enemy hands.  But we could be here on the ground floor of that
parallel Earth if Derek's decided to make the best out of being stuck in the
past.  Hell, he could even be planning something convoluted like going into
suspended animation after setting up the timeline, then getting carried
across the dimensional barrier in 1991 and somehow...ow, my brain hurts just
trying to think like Derek."
     A momentary shadow flickered across Jen's face as she remembered some of
the more dire consequences of trying to think like a villain, and how it had
nearly destroyed Dan Tracey [As shown in STRAFE #14 - Ed.].  "So.  What do we
do?" she asked.  "In true supervillain fashion, Derek's grabbed the
initiative.  Unless we get really lucky, there's no way we could catch him
before he does something major, and I don't think there's enough luck in the
world to let us capture him without making a big enough splash that it has an
effect on the timeline.  About all we could do to foil him is beat him to the
punch and derail the future before he does whatever it is he wants to do."
     "There's always that," JakZak shrugged.  "It'd be petty, and might be
shooting ourselves in the foot if one of our almost-best cases is true.  But
I can think of one way to dramatically change the future," he pointed at the
smoking cone of Vesuvius.  After looking at the smoking peak with an almsot
wistful expression for a long moment, he shook his head.  "No.  Hard as it
may be, I don't think we have enough time."
     "To save people?" Jen asked.
     "No, to be sure we *want* a divergence.  My armor's sensors have been
collecting data ever since we got here, and now they're saying it could go
within days.  Unless Derek does something hugely obvious before then, we'd
be back to shooting ourselves in the foot.  But I'm sure Derek's thought of
this too...."
     Jen let the sentence hang there for a moment before chuckling despite
herself.  "Oh, I can just see him saving Pompeii and setting himself up as a
great hero of the Empire.  He's never had a problem with playing at being the
hero, so long as it wasn't really being selfless."
     "So we wait, I guess," JakZak put his helmet back on.  "Leave our radios
on, wait for a call.  If Derek wants us to play some part in his game, I'm
sure he'll find a way to get us there.  Otherwise, if nothing comes up in the
next week, we assume we're on our own...."

               *              *              *              *

[September 2, 79 C.E. - Skies over Chang'an]

     "That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Jen shook her
     By silent agreement, neither had talked about the eruption of Vesuvius
in the past several days, instead focusing on plans for their own future.
They'd talked about the possibility of using time dilation to get home, for
instance, but eventually abandoned it because they had no way to make a
proper spacesuit for Jen.  Then they'd decided to go to China, because at
least Jen's translator implant knew the language...thanks to Premier Niu's
emphasis on tradition and his predecessor's fetish for the past, modern
Chinese had rolled back a great number of linguistic changes and might even
be comprehensible to someone in the Han Dynasty.  A capital city like
Chang'an would be their best bet for finding someone who could understand her
dialect, so they'd used the navigation programs in Solar Max's armor to get
them to the once and future capital of China.
     All of these things had let them avoid talking about Pompeii.
     But Jen was ready to talk about it now.
     "I'm not sure it was the hardest thing I've ever done, watching all
those people die," Solar Max sighed, "but it was damned close.  Anyone I
might have plucked from in front of the pyroclastic flow could have been
potentially important enough to diverge the timeline.  Even knowing that
they'd all be long dead by 2026 no matter what we do didn't make it any
     "What really kills me is that, if Dan's right, we're all doomed to make
choices like this again and again," Jen frowned.  "All of us Academy grads, I
mean.  They knew we'd end up in leadership positions eventually, so they
threw us into horrible and unfair situations like that organlegging
operation, to see who'd crack and who'd make it through.  Because they knew
one day we'd have to decide who lives and who dies."
     Solar Max nodded, facing the blurry shadow that Jen turned into when her
antigravity sheath was active.  "And now we have to decide on not just the
lives of hundreds or millions, but all the billions yet to be born.  It's
almost enough to make me want to thank our 'wise and benevolent' leadership
for putting me through seven kinds of hell in the past few years, 'cause I
don't think I'd be able to handle this burden if I hadn't experienced things
that were almost as bad."
     "I just hope we can find a quiet corner to rest up in, while we get
adapted to this time," Jen said, her expression unreadable behind the
shadows, lost in a pale golden blur of the long hair framing her face.  "From
what little I remember about Chinese history in this era, it's supposed to be
pretty stable.  No obvious tipping points we could get involved in, like
they're going to be getting in a couple of generations."
     Solar Max snorted with mild amusement.  "Boring is good.  I don't think
I'd want to come anywhere near China if we were a hundred years further
along.  The 'Romance of Three Kingdoms' may make for good reading, but it
makes for awful living.  And too many chances to push history down an
unintended path.  Nope, boring old Golden Ages, with no surprises.  I'm all
for that."
     As if fate was choosing to taunt Solar Max for his words, a man suddenly
appeared in a gust of wind and a swirling of clouds.  He wore simple robes,
and his long white hair and mustache were unbound and swirling in the winds.
The staff cradled in his hands was inlaid with pale green jade in abstract
patterns, and he held it more like a talisman than a physical weapon.
     Then he smiled and spoke something that Solar Max couldn't make out.
     "My translator's missing every third word, but I think he's introducing
himself as Qi Feng...Seven Winds, literally," Jen frowned, powering down her
sheath as much as she could without falling, so that the distortion effect it
created would be minimized.
     "We're..." Solar Max started to say, then was interrupted by another
babble of ancient Chinese.
     "He...knows who we are?" Jen frowned.  "He calls us Hong Jia Qong and
Jin E.  Red Beetle and Golden Swan.  And he says that his dreams told him
he'd meet us in the skies over the former capital...."

               *              *              *              *

[March 1, 80 C.E. - Mount Hua, Sili Province]

     "I am returned," Red Beetle announced as he dropped out of the sky into
the courtyard of a simple Taoist monastery.  His Chinese was stilted and
rough, but he was at least able to make himself understood in the language,
after months of struggling.  He took off the helmet of his armor, the
insectoid appearance of which had inspired his new name, and smiled as Seven
Winds and Golden Swan...Jen, with her long blonde hair and graceful flight to
justify the label...came out to greet him.  A few more trips and he'd be able
to navigate his way to Rome without the armor's navigational systems, which
would let him avoid the necessity of hiding the armor in the mountains and
hoping no one stumbled across it.
     "Did you have any luck finding your companions?" Seven Winds asked.  At
least JakZak could understand spoken Chinese better than he could say it
himself by now.  The Taoist wizard had been the main person to teach him, of
course, so he was less successful understanding some of the other monks, who
hailed from different parts of the empire.
     "No, not any sign of them," JakZak frowned, walking inside with the pair
and removing the gauntlets of his armor.  "No sign of any tampering with
time, either," he added in English for Jen's ears.  The wizard knew they were
of strange origins, but they hadn't yet felt comfortable explaining their
true nature to him.
     "How is your Latin?" Jen asked, in that tongue.  Chang'an may not have
been the imperial capital for over a generation now, it having moved to
Luoyang with the establishment of the "Later Han Dynasty", but it was still
cosmopolitan enough to get plenty of foreign trade along the famous Silk
Road.  Which meant merchants who knew Latin, and would gladly earn some coin
teaching it to interested parties during the downtime between caravans,
filling in the gaps in the mainly literary Latin Seven Winds knew.
     "Getting better it is," JakZak smiled.  "Now they think me a Gaulish
barbarian seeking to better himself."
     "You came, you saw, you conquered?" Seven Winds smiled, shifting into
Latin as well.  "Such an ugly tongue, this Roman argot.  But much mystic
wisdom is writ in it.  The works of Simon Magus, for instance."
     JakZak frowned.  Those works would later by found by an Italian
alchemist, who would use the knowledge to eventually become Lord Ebon, one of
the most dangerous men ever to walk the Earth.  Then he shifted back to
Chinese, changing the subject.  "So, what pass here on the Sacred Mountain
while I travel?"
     "The mountain is eternal," Seven Winds smiled enigmatically, as was his
way.  "It is as you left it in the grand things, and as you might expect it
to change in the lesser things.  Golden Swan has learned much from our cook,
however, and he may even be willing to let her learn some of his greater
secrets," the wizard's smile widened.  "There is a sort of magic in a meal
well made...."

               *              *              *              *

[May 23, 81 C.E. - Mount Hua, Sili Province]

     The seasons had turned, and JakZak could see what Seven Winds had meant
about the mountain being eternal.  It had been nearly two years, yet it felt
like he had been there for mere months.  His Chinese was finally adequate for
deep philsophical conversations, however, and he had been having more of
those with the wizard lately.  Including, finally, admitting his true
situation as a temporal exile.
     "I think I begin to see your dilemma, Red Beetle," Seven Winds pulled a
peach tree branch down and sniffed its blossoming flowers.  "You worry that
the Way is infinitely divisible, that once you have fallen off the proper
path you will never find your way home, yes?"
     "That is correct, honored master," JakZak nodded.  Trying to explain
interdimensional quantum physics using First Century Chinese had been giving
both him and Jen a major headache, but they'd finally worked it out.  "Hence
our gratitude at being allowed to stay here in this isolated monastery, where
we may tread but lightly on the path of time."
     "My master was a much more agile philosopher than I am, but one lesson
he taught me has remained, despite my best efforts as an apprentice to forget
anything not related to fighting and girls," Seven Winds grinned, the tails
of his long white mustache quirking upward.  "The Way is neither a single
path nor an untracked wilderness.  Rather, think of it as the branches of a
tree," he released the twig he had been holding, and it snapped back upward,
shedding petals.  "Oh, it *can* split anywhere, in principle, but it only
branches occasionally.  It is as if the life of the world itself can only
stand to be divided so many times."
     "So, only truly great events may cause the Way to branch?" Jen asked.
     "Yes, Golden Swan," Seven Winds nodded, "but it is rarely clear to we
poor mortals what a makes an event, or a man, great.  Still, it likely
matters little if Wu Li the peasant," he gestured down the mountainside at
the village in the valley, "plants turnips or cabbage.  Oh, it matters to
him, but the choice will not cause the Way itself to split.  Perhaps he has
no say in the matter, and the Way insists he will plant cabbage.  That is
what my master believed.  But I am not so sure that the Way leaves so little
room for the small choices...the other Secret Masters think me a fool, of
course, maintaining that if the Way does not constrain us in the everyday it
is not the true Way.  But within a branch of the Way, is there not room for
some choice?  Perhaps here," he touched a low-hanging branch on one side, "is
the world where Li plants cabbage, and here," he touched a spot on the other
side of the branch, "is where he plants turnips.  The Way continues on its
path regardless, but there are two peasants Wu Li journeying down that path
     JakZak nodded.  It seemed a compromise between determinism and a
full-blown "Many Worlds" theory.
     "And here is where it gets interesting, Red Beetle," Seven Winds
grinned.  "Say that, some morning, I leave my walking stick by my side when I
go to sleep, but when I awaken it is propped against the door.  Perhaps
someone moved it, an apprentice tidying the house.  Perhaps I am merely
getting old, and forgot that I left it by the door after all.  But perhaps
the Seven Winds who left his cane by the door is waking up to find it has
mysteriously moved to his bedside, and we two men have changed places in the
night?  So long as we all travel the same branch of the Way, could we not
occasionally slip about?"
     "So, as long as the changes we make now are small," JakZak rubbed his
chin, noticing the stubble that would soon need shaving, "we may return to
our proper place on the tree, although little details may be wrong," he
cradled a peach blossom in his hand.  Then he turned to Jen and reverted to
English, "A locus point would be some place where the branch can be bent
without splitting, and I guess any other significant event would either stay
in the same branch, or cause a split."
     Seven Winds nodded.  He knew that when the two spoke their own language
now, it was not to keep secrets from him so much as it was to try to
understand something in their own terms.  He even understood some of it now,
although he preferred to give them the illusion of privacy by pretending less
knowledge of the language than he had.
     "If Radner is reasonably careful, he could arrange a number of favorable
tweaks to the timeline without diverging it *or* needing a locus point,
then," Jen replied, also in English.  "Unless it turns out he's a living
locus point like Devastator was, which would kinda suck."
     "Of course," Seven Winds interrupted, "like a tree, sometimes it is
necessary to prune back the Way, for the health of the world as a whole.
There is a great demon named Devastation that is such a pruning shear, its
coming heralds the end of a world.  And that is why the Secret Masters exist,
and why we know about the splitting of the Way in the first place.  It is our
task to keep foolish sorcerors from bringing Devastation to our branch...."

               *              *              *              *

[March 12, 82 C.E. - Mount Hua, Sili Province]

     "Red Beetle, Golden Swan, it is time for battle!" Seven Winds announced
as he stepped into the small room the two used for study.  "Some fool has
wrought the great and terrible magics necessary to draw the attention of
     JakZak stood from his calligraphy, nearly knocking the low table over.
     "Mount Tai, a goodly distance to the East," the old wizard replied.
"Your 'navigational computer'," he spoke the two words in heavily accented
English, "should be able to get you there.  I must go to rally the rest of
the Secret Masters and bring them from Mount Song, try to hold the demon back
until we arrive!"
     With that, he leapt upon a cloud and somersaulted over the horizon.
     "Don't just stand there, get armored up," Jen said, pulling off her
robes and rushing into the small chamber abutting the study cell where she
slept.  JakZak tried not to look too closely at her nearly naked body as she
rummaged around her meager possessions...he'd made it clear months ago he
intended to stay faithful to his wife, but temptation was temptation.
     "Isn't your armor in the main armory with mine?" JakZak asked as he
stepped towards the exit.
     "That's a nice suit, and it lets me pass as a man when I need to," Jen
admitted, finally finding what she was looking for and pulling out the
synthetic-spider-silk-lined pants.  "But this is a world-saving job, and I
want to wear my world-saving clothes," she pulled on the bottom half of her
STRAFE uniform.  "Besides," she added somewhat darkly, "if we win but don't
survive it, best not to leave any future stuff behind to confuse the
     "I see your point.  Meet you outside the armory.  Hopefully we won't
have to worry about dying on this mission, though," JakZak said as he left.
     "Well, at this point I think I'd prefer it if Radner *has* managed to
diverge the Way by now," Jan frowned to the empty room as she pulled on her
uniform top.  "That way, if we blow it, at least our own branch of the tree
won't be eaten by Devastation...."


Next Issue:

     Part 2 of "Coming Home" sees a desperate fight to save a reality from
the demon whose whole reason for existence is to destroy realities!  And,
even if they're successful, will our heroes still be trapped in Han Dynasty
China?  Be here for "Devastation"!


Author's Notes:

     Oh, I spent a LOT of time on Wikipedia and other online sources while
preparing to write this arc.  :)  My attempts to find out the date of Consort
Song's suicide in the real world even ended up going to a Library of Congress
information request!  Oddly, despite later being revered as the Empress
Jingyin, the date of the elder Consort Song's death has proved rather hard to
nail down.  As of posting time, I've given up and picked March 12, but if an
answer comes in later I'll adjust if necessary (i.e. if the actual date of
death was March 16, I'm not gonna sweat it :) ).  The Song sisters committed
suicide after the elder sister was tortured by the eunuch Cai Lun at the
behest of the empress, who had falsely accused the elder Song of sorcery.
Cai Lun would go on to invent woodpulp paper a few decades later.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consort_Song has about as much information on
the Song sisters as anywhere.  I also had some help from Yahoo Answers for
the Chinese versions of the names Red Beetle, Golden Swan, and Seven Winds
(even if the responder thought they made for silly names).
     The original plan had been for Tony to write a miniseries involving the
travails of all four stranded characters in the past, but little things like
becoming a successful *paid* writer started to eat into his time, and it
didn't look like that was going to happen any time soon.  So I decided to
split up the groups, so Tony could enact his plans for Triton and Aegis
(which I know about, but won't reveal unless I have to...although Tony's
gonna have to modify them some now) while I brought "my" two home.  You've
already seen that they end up in 1976, and in future issues of this arc
you'll see that story from their side.  But first they need to save the world
in 82 C.E. (Common Era, a more religion-neutral replacement for A.D.).
     The "Septimus Artorius" timeline mentioned in the second scene has
appeared before, in the WarStar miniseries, and is also covered in the
Altiversal Guide (http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/Altiverse).
     I was originally inspired to send the two to China by the fact that 79
C.E. was smack dab in the "Eaters of the Lotus" era of the Shadowfist CCG and
Feng Shui RPG, full of evil eunuch sorcerors, demons, Taoist mages and the
like.  However, when I actually went to do research, I found that the date
must have been picked by the game writers a bit sloppily...69 (the start
point of the Lotus "juncture", which has since moved up to 81 in the card
game timeline) is right in the middle of the Later Han's Golden Age of peace
and prosperity.  The Lotus was more clearly modeled after events of the
"Romance of Three Kingdoms" period nearly a century later, as the Han Dynasty
fell apart and corruption ruled China.  Ah well.  Still some juicy intrigue
in the court to mine for plot points, as Liu Da (posthumously known as
Emperor Zhang Di) was starting to make the mistakes that would lead his
descendants into such turmoil.  Giving too much power to consort clans,
allying with eunuchs against his sometimes power-grabby relatives, etc.  It
worked out okay for him, but the precedent he set was...bad in the long run.
     As for the whole "Way" discussion in the 81 C.E. scene, one thing that's
always troubled me about using a "Many Worlds" interpretation of timelines is
that it robs stories of drama.  After all, for every world where you succeed,
there's one where you fail, and you can never really make things better, just
split off an improved parallel.  I tried to patch this years ago with the
"locus point" idea, where a particular change could echo across nearby
parallels and force similar changes in all of them, but that was only a
partial solution.  I still had the issue of infinitely divisible timelines,
something that would really mess things up in a time travel story.  After
all, a reality in which Solar Max just hung around and watched Vesuvius erupt
was probably going to be different from one where he never arrived at all...
the Butterfly Effect and all that.  I finally found a storytelling approach I
liked, though, and Seven Winds presented it for me.  
     In theory, any action can make the timelines branch and spawn parallel
universes, but it happens only very rarely.  Starting from the "end" of the
Causality Wars around 8600 B.C.E. (Before Common Era), there may only be a
few thousand branches spreading out from that common past, rather than having
a billion branches spawn every moment as people all around the world make
decisions one way or another.  Of course, this limitation means that free
will is nearly as iffy a proposition as it is in an unbranching fixed
timeline, even allowing for Seven Winds's modification to the theory.  But
the question of free will has vexed greater minds than mine, so I'll leave
the matter be for now.  Besides, even if only once in your lifetime a choice
comes up that could split the timeline, you never know which one is "free"
and which aren't, so you might as well live as if all of your choices are
free.  Even though they're really controlled by one of a few cruel gods...er,
writers...in the case of the ASH universe.  MUAHAHAHA!  Dance, my puppets!


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !

     There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at


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