1 Prologue: The Timeline Splits

The year was 1942, while the Manhattan project had already been underway for a few months. Robert Oppenheimer woke from a restless sleep, his head pounding in the most rhythmic headache he'd ever had. He kept his eyes shut tight, protecting them from the blinding rays of the sun he could feel trying to prod their way beneath the lids.

'Scheisse.' He silently cursed. 'Did I miss my alarm?' At that disheartening thought he raised his palm to his brow and opened his eyes, in anticipation of the discomforting light of the sun peering through his bedroom window. What he saw was something altogether different.

He found himself lying on a marble slab inside a gleaming white room, a bright electric light aimed directly at him from the end of some strange-looking tube. With a complicated blend of confusion and fear, Oppenheimer let out a choked "Whah!?" sound. He scrambled off the side of the slab, nearly falling to his knees, before backing away from the tube of light that continually followed his progress.

Finding his back quite literally against the wall, Robert finally stammered out a wheezing, "Wh-What is this?"

A clear voice that was as refreshing as a freshwater spring answered back. "It is my vessel. Don't be afraid, Julius Robert Oppenheimer." The voice was warm, friendly even. Still, Oppenheimer couldn't locate a trace of the source. It even knew his full name, a fact that did little to ease his nerves.

Gaining at least enough composure to properly speak, Oppenheimer didn't waste a breath. "Who are you? What do you want with me? And could you please get this damn light out of my face?!"

"Apologies," the voice reverberated once more, and the light dimmed to nothing, the tube it hung on drooping low. At last, without the piercing veil of light, Robert made out a humanoid silhouette wrapped in a glowing aura, holding a relaxed posture against the opposite wall. "You wouldn't understand, but it was necessary. I come with a gift, Julius."

"Stop calling me that!" Oppenheimer bristled at the use of the name. "This is some way to give a gift, kidnapping me in my sleep. Do you know how many hours of sleep I get a night? It already isn't many! Especially lately..." Oppenheimer's weariness permeated every word of his last statement, and he sat down directly on the floor. Looking up at the glowing figure, Oppenheimer bent forward and sighed. "What is it?"

A gaping, toothless smile opened up on the head of the silhouette as it proclaimed with gusto. "Well, toil no more! I offer you the gift of rest, and the completion of your life's work! Observe!" With a flourish, the being waved its hand and suddenly, as if from nothing, a blue device shaped like an orb fell from the air and clattered onto the floor. It slowly rolled towards Oppenheimer before resting against his foot. "With this," The smile on the creature's face subsided, "You will be finished with your atomic bomb overnight. And with this..." The sound of screeching metal echoed as the being took a single step, before stretching out an unnaturally long arm to prod the forehead of the preeminent theoretical physicist. "You will understand the theory."

The leader of the Manhattan Project sat stunned, his mouth agape, his eyes wide, before suddenly snapping back to the moment. He hurriedly snatched up the blue orb and leapt to his feet, "Thank you! How could I ever-!" He was practically shouting, but he couldn't control his excitement upon receiving more knowledge than he could have ever hoped for.

Raising a dark, but glowing finger, the being spoke one last time. "That is all."

Oppenheimer's surroundings shifted in an instant, and he stood alone in his own kitchen. It was still dark outside, barely early morning. Taking note of the change, Oppenheimer marched straight to his bedroom to get properly dressed. "There will be no more sleeping tonight." He told himself. "It's back to the lab for me."

...

In a space between spaces, a silver octahedron floats, inside of which a radiant shadow smiles a toothless smile. "To think this was how it would come... the splitting of the timeline." A sharp cackle escapes its throat before being forcibly halted. "I have to hurry back." With a flash, the vessel disappears from the area, off on its own mysterious course.

...

The day of the first test arrived sooner than anyone expected. The project lead, Robert Oppenheimer, had gotten a sudden burst of inspiration which expedited the process beyond any conceivable timetable that may have been set at the start. Surrounded by awed assistants and partners, Oppenheimer basked in the glory of his coming accomplishment. He was certain that with the knowledge he'd been gifted, success was inevitable on merely the first try.

All the major players were gathered here in Los Alamos Laboratory, from generals to politicians to physicists. All of them were eager to see the resulting power of nuclear fission.

Hours passed, and finally the test was ready to begin. Standing before the button that would trigger the launch, itself a revolutionary weapons technology, Oppenheimer stood with a proud posture. He turned to his observers with a broad grin and encouraged them to count down from ten; a request all were happy to oblige. When the crowd roared "Zero!" Oppenheimer slammed the button that would change the fate of the Earth with his fist.

The missile launched as it was supposed to, far beyond a simple atom bomb, it landed precisely where it was supposed to, more precisely than any weapon in history, and exploded spectacularly. Like everything else, the explosion was unprecedented, so unprecedented they were not prepared. As Oppenheimer watched the tsunami of fire devouring everything on its way to him, a certain Hindi verse entered his mind...

Everyone at the Los Alamos Laboratory was consumed in fire. On the heels of the flame was a radiant blue energy, and though the flames eventually dispersed, the blue wave continued onward, for miles and miles, covering the entirety of the globe. From then on, Earth's upper atmosphere took on a distinctly vivid blue hue, more striking than the blue of its oceans.

The changes at first were subtle. Within a year of the explosion, certain people had become stronger, faster, or smarter, with the lucky ones advancing in all three areas. The war which had raged on for 5 years ended within a few short months, with the advent of superhuman soldiers first taking place in the United States. However, there would be more wars to come, wars fought not by governments with weapons and armies, but by individuals. Far more extreme changes began to emerge, and at a faster rate all across the globe. As more and more people gained the power to rival armies, many sought to shed the shackles of governance and obtain their ambitions through their newfound power. Many others were consumed by their power to the point of losing all reason. A rare few stood to maintain order, most of these barely clinging onto a single city's peace, while everything else burned down around them.

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With individual power eclipsing collective power, the natural order changed. For the governments desperately clinging onto their survival, their last hope was to throw everything they had behind any such powerful individuals who were willing to defend peace and order. In this way, many cities came under the rule of their super-powered protectors, though others were willing to forgo any such political power, and worked in a cooperative relationship with the surviving nation's governments.

The world wallowed in darkness for decades, with only a few beacons of light to hold up the remnants, when another paradigm shift occurred. A powerful champion of peace and order rose from the middle of the darkest parts of the chaos, where Kansas used to be. He never exposed his identity, choosing to mask it under the code-name of Steel Lance, and no government could ever be bothered to even try investigating him as long as he was helping. With his power that seemed to never meet its match, he eventually carved out a thousand mile haven of peaceful life in the middle of the United States, inspiring others around the world to follow in his footsteps. He didn't rule the territory, only protected it, with a ruthless efficiency that gained him the admiration of people who dreamed of a peaceful life, and the hatred of those who fostered their own ambitions.

...

The sky shattered, and everyone screamed. Then the silence became deafening, as everything immediately returned to normal. A silver octahedron slashed through the upper atmosphere as the glowing entity piloting it wiped his brow in mock concern. "My, that was a bit dramatic, wasn't it?" He was boasting to an unseen observer. "What a timeline this is! Who could ever abandon such a beauty?" He cackled, before again forcibly halting himself. "Yes..." He whispered. "My final trick..." His ugly toothless grin was displaying itself brazenly. "Time to ruffle some feathers!" The gleaming vessel darted into the lower atmosphere before cruising only a few meters above the ground, off to the silhouetted entity's planned destination.

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