Background: Windows on Lost Worlds

29 Jul

Bit of background here…

In 2040, Professor Thomas Anderson was successful in obtaining the funding to discover if recent theoretical developments in temporal physics could yield practical applications. After much careful research, Anderson was successful in building the first time-space portal generator, using it – at the suggestion of his backers – to link to England in 1815. Unknown to Professor Anderson, his backer, the enigmatic Sir Charles Hanover, believed that time travel would allow a chance to save Britain from what he regarded as cultural and social collapse. Despite Anderson’s protests, Hanover’s agents flooded into 1815 and started selling 2050-era technology and knowledge to the locals, who paid them in gold. The gold was transported back to 2050 and used to fund Hanover’s procurement and political operations.

Unhappily for Hanover, the time travellers could and did change 1815 beyond recognition, but none of their changes actually affected the home timeline (TimeLine A) at all. Hanover’s frustration with repeated failures led to his operation being uncovered by the British authorities, who had become suspicious when Hanover started funding various far-right groups in the UK. Their attempt to seize the portal (operating within Hanover Hall, Hanover’s family’s seat) succeeded, but Professor Anderson – believing that the government intended to suppress his research, used the internet to send details of the portal technology around the world. The cat was thoroughly out of the bag.

Faced with considerable embarrassment, the British Government quietly put Anderson (and a number of other researchers) to work on defining the limits of cross-time travel. Anderson, who had already carried out research on natives of 1815, concluded in 2053 that the opening of a portal caused a tiny, but significant change in the timeline’s quantum signature – effectively splitting a new timeline off from the original. Millions upon millions of alternate timelines could be created and none of them would have any effect on TimeLine A, at least not directly.

Anderson’s research also noted other limitations in the portal technology. Once created, a portal could not be closed, at least not by technology available to 2053. The link between two timelines was indestructible. Second, a portal was linked to the relative position in the alternate timeline; a portal opened in 2053 to 1900 would link to the alternate 1901 in 2054. Third, it was impossible to open a second portal into the same timeline. Fourth, perhaps most importantly, a portal couldn’t be expanded beyond 5metres by 5metres. There were obvious shipping limitations on what could be sent through the portals.

Several other portals were opened up in 2054, leading to the near-disastrous Cuban Epidemic of 2056. The Cuban Government believed that it could open up a portal to 1500, defeat the Spanish and establish Cuba as a world power, but it failed to realise that modern humans lacked any resistance to contemporary diseases. Smallpox made it back through the portal and spread rapidly through Cuba; it was only through an ironclad air-sea blockade of Cuba, once the outside world learned of the crisis, that prevented the disease spreading beyond the island state. Cuba lost nearly 70% of its population and today exists as – effectively – a new American state.

Realising that the next encounter with a long-gone disease could be even more disastrous, the UN convinced most of the world governments to slap limitations on portal technology. There was no attempt to prevent the technology from spreading – which would have been futile – but instead attempts to ensure that nothing spread from the past into the present day. Furthermore, the UN also funded research programs to understand the dangers of portal technology and prepare the present for other ‘past-shocks.’

By 2060, there were no less than 100 alternate timelines known to exist (rumours of secret projects cannot be entirely discounted.) These ranged from a dozen alternate Americas, several different worldwide empires, religious worlds and plenty of others. The past was also being mined for raw materials; there was little point in buying oil from repressive regimes when it could be mined in the distant past of a thousand alternate worlds. There were even a handful of timelines that served primarily as tourist destinations, where present-day people could hunt dinosaurs or meet historical figures in person. The future looked bright and full of promise.

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