ASH/SOURCE: The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Tue Jul 6 17:16:20 PDT 2010

                    The Future Ain't What It Used To Be
                         An ASH Sourcebook File
                    copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

     (Archival note: this file was originally posted July 6, 2010.)

     Twelve years ago today, an event changed the world.  All worlds along a
rather large chunk of the worldtree, in fact.  July 6, 1998 marked the end of
the world for a potentially uncountable number of alternate realities,
although we've only seen the details in a few of those worlds.

     But this piece isn't about the way the world changed on that day.  It's
about how it changed (or didn't change) on January 1, 2026, and what that's
done to the various stories set in years after the 2020s.  In the Original
Timeline (OTL), January 1, 2026 was the date when Chris Kelsey's powers went
out of control and pulled the entire city of Milwaukee into a timeless void.
When an adult Chris Kelsey came back in time and prevented this from
happening, it was a significant enough event to affect the worldtree and
possibly prevent the old future from ever coming to pass!

     This article will consist of three parts.  First, I'll summarize what's
known about the OTL future (and what isn't known, or isn't reliably known).
Then I'll cover what the Impossible Five hoped to accomplish in "Four to
Never" on April 15, 2026.  Finally, I'll speculate on how the New Timeline
(NTL) might look, although to avoid nipping future stories in the bud I'll
present possibilities rather than establishing a firm answer.

     Note: the "tree branch" metaphor for timelines is explained in ASH #84, (scroll to the May 23, 81 C.E.
scene).  TL;DR version - there aren't an infinite number of alternate
timelines, it takes a major decision point to split off a new reality.
Otherwise you just tweak the details.

I. OTL Future

     One thing to keep in mind about most of the times listed below is that
we only have a fairly narrow and biased view of the world available.  The
world is filtered through a limited number of viewpoint characters, most of
whom are expected to be unreliable narrators for one reason or another.  Part
of this is simply the natural provincialism that affects almost everyone.
Ask a person from Brooklyn and a person from Beijing to describe the real
world of 2010 and you'll get rather different tales.  Thus, there may be
inconsistencies between eras that simply result from the different
viewpoints, before you even consider that a lot of the viewpoint characters
are villains and may lie to inflate their rep.

     2052 - A generation on, the CSV is a major world power.  To hear its
members talk, it sounds like they're the main world power, having defeated
all opposition.  Led by Jesterling (who may be the Chinese anarchist of the
2020s or the son of Triton, it was not revealed), the CSV is definitely a
major power even if its members inflate their importance.
     Some time between 2026 and the 2040s, Timeslip escaped from the ghost
city of Milwaukee and resumed his life in realtime.  2052 was his first
attempt at traveling backwards in time, however, and he was strictly a minor
leaguer within the CSV.
     The woman who would call herself Never after traveling back to 2026
served the CSV in some kind of advisory role, possibly a "den mother" of
sorts, helping give direction to some of the more feckless members.
     According to the 2108 Omnipedia, the four public members of the
Impossible Five were powerful but never amounted to much.  They simply used
their powers to satisfy their whims without building anything significant.
If they were typical of their generation of villains, it's possible that the
reason the world wasn't ruled by villains in 2135 was simply that the second
generation of the CSV was a bunch of slackers who talked a big game but never
really accomplished anything with their powers.

     2112 - This is the era of The Rush.  It is fairly certain that they were
part of the CSV's future, although it's unknown if the NTL version of 2112 is
substantively different.  What little is known about 2112 comes from the
viewpoint of cyborg gang members in the underclass of society.  
     Paranormals do exist, but are apparently rare enough that they form a
distinct minority within the gangs (possibly a leadership class, although the
fact that the only definite paranormal in The Rush was an "album" leader
shouldn't be taken to mean that all leaders were paras).  The rarity of
paranormals might be due to a "Reverse Owens Effect" in which people actively
wanted normal kids and therefore fewer supers were born.  Memories of the
2052 era might explain this.
     An "Omnipedia" exists that seems to serve a similar purpose to the real
world Wikipedia, although you have to pay more to get access to more detail
on a topic.  The "cheapo" version doesn't have a lot of detail on the 2020s,
but it has enough broad strokes to indicate no massive loss of information in
the intervening century.  

     2135 - The Time Capsules framing sequence is set here.  However, due to
the insulated nature of academia, it's hard to tell if, for instance,
superhumans rule the world with an iron long as universities are
largely left to their own devices.  However, it seems that the world is
increasingly cosmopolitan on the interstellar level while being fairly short
on superhumans.  Some of the mundanity may be a result of a cyborg crisis in
the 2110s leading to both a strengthening of the existing Reverse Owens
Effect (even fewer superhumans born) and heavy regulation on cybernetics
(fewer superhumans built).
     Here's a few things we do know about the era, organized by the issue of
Time Capsules that established it.  Note that most issues of Time Capsules
were written before I decided to derail the timeline, so there's no
intentional clues in those issues.
     #0 - Doorknobs are uncommon, at least among those from the economic
classes that go to college.  "Everybody" uses automatic doors.  1950-2050 is
sometimes called "The Apocalyptic Age," although that may be a rough cut and
2052 could be considered part of that era.  Or maybe 2050 started a new age
that the CSV2052 was a signal of.  Either way, the fact that it was even
called the Apocalyptic Age suggests that the public has less than fond
memories of superhumans, which would reinforce the Reverse Ownes Effect.
Baseball still exists in 2135, and the balls have stitches.  American
Football did not survive, dying out some time after about 2030.
     #1 - The first public statement by the CSV is still part of "public
records," consistent with the previous suggestion by the Omnipedia that there
was no massive information loss.  Archaeology of the Apocalyptic Age is more
about digging up the bits that weren't in the public record, either the
secrets or the personal stories.
     #3 - News coverage is not obviously propagandistic in 2135, at least
from the viewpoint of a college student.  It at least seems more open and
free than the 2023 press, so either the government isn't particularly
oppressive, or it's very subtle about it.  Eurolac has settled into a single
tongue that's strongly influenced by English, meaning that there isn't a
single world language yet.
     Annual #1 - The Pranir still trade with Earth.  And they love Circus
Peanuts.  The optical internet in use in the 2130s was first developed in the
2020s.  No indication is given of how long it took to go from initial
development to actual use, however.
     #5 - There are orbital habitats ("the Orbs"), and a place called
"neoIbiza" that suggests that the original Ibiza didn't survive.  New York
City is a bustling metropolis again in 2136.  The Twin Trade Towers still
stand, eerie and abandoned, as a memorial.  The Cloisters also still stands,
back to being a museum after a strange history.
     #6 - The gods do not interfere with mortals in the 22nd Century.
     #8 - The has either been some Santari intermarriage/immigration or it
was fashionable in the early 22nd Century to give Santari names to babies.
     #9 - The "Heroic Age" appelations are also known to and used by
archaeologists, in addition to the overall "Apocalyptic Age" title.  English
units of measure (feet, pounds, etc) have finally been abandoned, at least by
the educated classes.
     #12 - Large lecture halls are largely a thing of the past, with
telepresence tech being used for such purposes.  No doglike aliens have been
encountered.  Much of the Levant is still contaminated by the nuclear
exchange that occurred around 1999-2000.

     38th Century - Probably the most extensively-portrayed future setting,
although pretty much everyone involved is military and that applies its own
filters.  People in both the United Worlds and the Santari Empire know about
the "superhero age" of the distant past, and know it was a dangerous time,
but the average person doesn't know any details.  As a result, the Spear
Carriers stories could be the same in several branches of the worldtree...or
the branches could re-combine some time in the centuries before then.
     Superhumans still exist, but they tend to be limited in number and
generally either telepaths or "ubers" with enhanced physical attributes.
It's likely that interbreeding with the Magene-less Santari has diluted the
potential to the point where Fenris-Wolf-level supers are almost never born
anymore.  Of course, "almost never" averaged over several hundred populated
planets means that once in a while you do get someone dangerously powerful,
such as the Santari psi who woke up the Weregild.
     The Santari warship Fornax definitely came from the OTL version of this
era, as it was part of the machinations of "Four to Never".  However, the
only other interaction between the 21st Century and the 38th took place
"before" the divergence and also involved the intervention of a god, so it's
impossible to say if the Spear Carriers series was OTL, NTL or happens in
both. covers a fair amount on the
setting, so I don't feel the need to replicate it all here.  Suffice to say
that by the 38th Century known space is dominated by Terrans and Santari
split into two main factions: the United World and the Santari Empire.  Some
time between 2135 and the 2600s, the Planetary Confederation collapsed,
Terrans went to the stars and took over much of the old PC space.  Humans
interbred with the remarkably-similar Santari on many worlds, and while the
United Worlds was culturally Terran in nature, by 2800 or so most people had
some ancestors of both races.
     The ascendancy of the United Worlds eventually spurred the remnants of
the "genetically pure" Great Houses of the Santari to unify into the new
Santari Empire, and war erupted around the year 3000.  While there were
periods of peace here and there, much of the next 700 years consisted of war
between the two sides as each expanded slowly away from their border into new
territory.  By 3732, most of the original Planetary Confederation is
considered border territory, with systems changing hands every so often and
most of the stable population living outside the old Confederation.  Earth
itself is largely depopulated and given over to monuments and parks, and is
defended mostly due to its symbolic nature than for any real strategic

II. Four To Never

     When Timeslip prevented Milwaukee from being lost, he derailed more than
his personal timeline.  The effects were detectable in OTL 2052, at least to
those expecting treachery from him, and it must have seemed to have an
apocalyptic effect.  Four next-generation CSVers and the elder advisor who
came to call herself Never managed to use some means (supertech or magic) to
follow Timeslip back to 2026.  While not shown, it can be presumed that they
found themselves unable to return to their 2052, reinforcing the idea that
their timeline no longer existed.
     They decided that it was theoretically possible to restore their "lost"
future if they acted quickly enough.  It wouldn't be exactly the same, but if
they could make enough big changes it would be a "other side of the same
branch" effect rather than a bent branch or a split branch.
     Never determined that a city lost to time was a core element of
preserving her timeline, and the power involved in causing such an event
could be harnessed via magic to make most of the other details fall into
place.  Timeslip was captured and his power used to create a temporal trap
that split Monaco into four threads.  If successful, the spell would have
"broken" spacetime around Monaco and thrust the city into a void similar to
the one Milwaukee had been saved from, and as reality healed around the hole
the Impossible Five would be able to reweave it to their liking.
     It is unknown if the plan would have worked even without interference
from ASH, STRAFE, EUROPA and the CSV.  It's possible it would have bent time
an entirely different way, leading to another NTL that still differed from
OTL.  In any case, while it drew elements from the OTL future into 2026, it
failed in its primary purpose and the NTL continued to diverge.

III. NTL Future?

     There's two main possibilities in play.  Either the branch of the
timeline was simply bent and the OTL future no longer exists, or there was a
split and there's simply something making it hard to cross over to the old
branch.  Either way, it's non-trivial to return to the OTL 2052.

     If the OTL is completely gone (bent branch), that suggests that Time
Capsules and Spear Carriers were part of NTL all along, or that the future
"heals" by 2135 and things are much the same so that those stories still
happened the way they would have OTL.  The fact that the Impossible Five felt
a need to evacuate to 2026 suggests that even if OTL wasn't destroyed, the
time ripples certainly made it look like destruction was imminent.
     The bent branch option does limit future stories somewhat, and may
require retconning a few existing ones in small ways, but for the most part
the OTL future wasn't developed in enough depth that this would be a big
problem.  It really just means that the Impossible Five and the Rush really
can't go home.
     Additionally, even if bent, the branch could conceivably curve back onto
the original path.  Details would be different, the history books would
include different things, but by 2135 it wouldn't matter in any big way.
Temporal inertia at work.

     The split branch theory has one major obstacle, and that's the fact that
no one has managed to dimension-hop to the OTL.  However, that's not as big a
problem as you might expect.
     Firstly, while weakened, the Barrier still exists.  Barring massive
exependitures of energy as seen in Four to Never, it's hard to get around
it.  Time travel within a reality is hard, and it's much easier than
interdimensional travel.  It's possible that no one who wants to travel
between OTL and NTL has the power or skill to manage it.
     Secondly, Four to Never might have had the effect of making such travel
even harder than it would otherwise have been, with ripples extending into
the past and future.  As sometimes happens in time travel stories, this sets
up a circular chain...they tried Four to Never because they couldn't get back
to their own timeline, and they couldn't get back to their own timeline
because of the side effects of Four to Never.
     Thirdly, none of the Impossible Five is really an expert in the required
technology or magic...Never is probably the closest they have, guiding
Matrioshka onto the engineering side of things or suggesting spellcraft from
Chiaroscuro.  It's entirely possible that the whole thing is a dodge on her
part, deliberately keeping the team in the past because she thinks she has a
better shot at world domination in 2026.  After all, in OTL, the four legacy
villains never amounted to much, something Never had to realize was going to

     It's worth noting that Superconductor of the Rush considers the split
branch theory more likely than the bent branch theory.  While he's hardly an
expert either, he's basing his opinion on the interdimensional incursions of
the Second and Third Heroic Ages, so he may have reasonable precedent on his

     As with the bent branch, it's possible that by 2135 the "inertia of
time" has smoothed out the differences and both branches run parallel so that
they're indistinguishable at first glance.  You'd have to look into the
history books to tell which branch you were in.  The forces that collapsed
the Planetary Confederation wouldn't have been affected much by events on
Earth, and assuming a lack of superhuman tyrants it can be expected that the
United Worlds would develop much the same way in the NTL as in the OTL
(assuming it wasn't always NTL).  It's possible that the 38th Century in the
OTL would have been significantly different from the future seen in Spear
Carriers, but this isn't likely to matter in any stories any time soon.

     In any case, the future of ASH ain't what it used to be.



     I stole the OTL/NTL terminology from the "Grantville" books by Eric
Flint and others.

     While some form of CSV 2052 plot had been kicking around since 2002, it
didn't actually make it to the page until 2007, so there was some amount of
false foreshadowing.  If you want to get really cosmic, you could call these
backwards-propagating ripples of Four to Never.  :)

     "Information loss due to atomic war" was, for a long time, DC's standard
line for why characters in their future stories didn't know about what
happened in the 20th Century in any great detail.  So, for instance, the
Legion of Super-Heroes couldn't just solve the Manhunter mystery by looking
it up on their Omnicoms.  I strive to avoid this.


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