by Steve Kenson
"It's a strange world . . . let's keep it that way."
— Warren Ellis, Planetary
You will believe a man can fly, because on the Earth Infinity knows as "Kirby-2," people can fly, and lift tanks, punch through brick walls, read minds, and melt steel with a glance, among other things. What exists only in comic books on Homeline is reality on Kirby-2, and has been for some time now. What Infinity is only beginning to discover is the existence of so-called "metahumans" isn't even Kirby's most interesting feature. It turns out metahumans may have existed there far longer than even people on Kirby-2 believe, and the very nature of the parallel may pose a grave threat to the Infinite Worlds.
1938; supers exist. Numerous reality quakes since then.
Western (multipolar), Chinese (empire), Japanese (unitary), Orthodox (multipolar).
United Nations (global technocracy, CR2), United States (representative democracy, CR3), People's Republic of China (dictatorship, CR5), Japan (representative democracy, CR4), Russian Republic (oligarchy, CR4).
TL: 8 (plus variable superscience)
Mana Level: normal
Quantum: 5 Infinity Class: Z1 Centrum Zone: Red
Kirby's history is superficially the same as Homeline up until the late 1930s, when the first known metahumans appear. Of course, it's difficult to make any definitive statements about Kirby's history, because there is evidence the parallel's history has changed on occasion: at least three times Infinity knows of, and possibly at a number of other points in the past. The present-day on Kirby-2 was not "always" its present and the overall "direction" of its history has apparently shifted. It's difficult (indeed, meaningless) to say "when" these changes happened, only that they did happen, and there is lingering evidence of them in different places in the present-day of the parallel.
Initially, Infinity researchers would have said Kirby's "revisions" were similar to the sorts of interventions Centrum and the Infinity Patrol staged on echo parallels, except Kirby-2 is not an echo (or at least not like any echo Infinity knows), and evidence suggests the revisions have been going on far longer than either Infinity or Centrum have had parachronic technology, meaning something else is at work here.
There is some debate as to whether or not Kirby-2 should be classified as a "myth parallel" based on one interesting fact: Many of the events and personalities of the parallel are detailed in a series of obscure comic books published on Homeline in the 1960s and 1970s. Infinity researcher (and avid comic book collector) Arvin Mayhew brought this to the attention of the Research Division, which has thoroughly examined the comics.
Published by the now defunct Pyramid Publishing, the books feature remarkable similarities to people and events from Kirby-2. Although the correlations are not exact, they are far too close to be mere coincidence. The involvement of legendary comics creator Jack Kirby with the books is what led Infinity researchers to name the parallel after him.
How is it people and events on another parallel appeared in a series of comic books on Homeline, some them from before they appeared on Kirby-2? Theories vary, but include the following:
- The comics' creator(s) were latent clairvoyants who somehow "tuned in" on actual events happening on Kirby-2 and recorded them in their stories, believing they actually made them up.
- A reality quake (see below) on Kirby-2 -- most likely the one in 1959 -- sent "ripples" through the quantum strata, which certain sensitive individuals on Homeline (and possibly other parallels) picked up as dreams or random imaginings.
- One or more of the individuals involved with Pyramid Publishing was actually from Kirby-2 and writing or drawing fictionalized accounts of real events. As yet there is no evidence of this, nor any motivation for publishing events from Kirby-2 as comic books on Homeline.
- Kirby-2 is an unusual "myth parallel," and the comic books on Homeline actually created it in some way, either bringing it entirely into being or perhaps causing the reality quake that altered Kirby-2 from a close parallel into the weird, unstable reality it has become.
- The comics are artifacts caused by a reality quake on Kirby-2, which spontaneously brought them into existence on Homeline where they didn't previously exist, another example of the parallel's unstable history and its possible (far-reaching) influence on the quantum continuum.
Whatever the case, for now Kirby-2 remains classified as a "weird" parallel and the comics are just another thing Infinity researchers have yet to understand about it (although they continue to study them very carefully). It is interesting to note the Pyramid Publishing comics haven't turned up on any other parallel yet, and all the comics' creators on Homeline are deceased (although with no evidence of foul play in any case).
A significant part of what makes Kirby-2 unique (apart from the existence of metahumans, of course) is the parallel's state of quantum flux. Infinity researchers have discovered Kirby-2 has a greater level of "quantum instability" than any other parallel they have encountered to date (including the various "echo parallels," which are quite unstable in their own right). This means Kirby-2 is far more prone to phenomena like reality quakes, banestorms, and the like. In fact, Infinity has discovered evidence that such things have happened many times in the parallel's history, perhaps accounting for some of its current state of being.
As the research division explained to the Infinity Council, reality in Kirby-2 is far more "plastic" than elsewhere. In essence, the impossible is possible there. Physical laws are more "suggestions" than hard and fast rules, and Kirby's inhabitants break them with alarming regularity. According to the researchers' theory, the parallel's quantum fluctuations account for a number of unusual conditions.
First, and foremost, Kirby-2 features an unusually high level of serendipity. Otherwise "random" events seem to conspire to bring about incredibly unlikely circumstances. What can only be called "dumb luck" runs rampant on Kirby-2, to the point where what would be a fatal accident on Homeline or elsewhere endows someone on Kirby-2 with superhuman powers! This effect cannot be accurately predicted, but researchers suggest a maxim they call "Kirby's Law" which says: "When the going gets tough, things get weird."
Among other things, this means the Luck and Serendipity advantages are incredibly common on Kirby-2. So much so, in fact, that GMs may wish to simply give everyone (or at least all player characters and major NPCs) a level in each for free! It also means the various cinematic options found in the Basic Set all are in full force on Kirby-2.
Powers and Abilities, Far Beyond Those of Ordinary Men . . .
The second, and most obvious, effect of Kirby-2's quantum nature is the existence of metahuman powers, most of which violate known physical laws. When it comes to metahumans, things like the square-cube law, conservation of matter and energy, the speed of light, and other universal constants seem to go right out the window. Super-strong metahumans can pick up tanks (or buildings!) without sinking into the ground, or without the structures crumbling in their grip. They fly through the air at super-sonic speeds without devastating everything around them (or even causing sonic booms in many cases). They engage in battles that level entire city blocks, yet casualties are amazingly light, and no one questions the occasions when the damage seems to disappear overnight.
The currently most accepted theory for these phenomena involves the "observer effect," suggesting metahumans are unconsciously altering reality on a fundamental level, bending the laws of physics through some (possibly psionic) mechanism. In essence, metahumans can do all the amazing things they do because they (and other people on Kirby-2) believe they can. Infinity notes that on occasions when Kirby-2 metahumans have visited other parallels, their powers usually continue to function, suggesting the mechanism is at least partially inherent in the metahumans and not solely the nature of their home reality; however, it may be a combination of the two, since there are realities that apparently retard or negate metahuman powers. Needless to say, researchers are very curious to find out if Homeline is one of these. It is worth noting that Kirby-2 superscience doesn't work reliably on Homeline.
Despite (or perhaps because of) Kirby's quantum instability and reality quakes, some individuals seem to remain fairly constant. It is probably no coincidence that these individuals are metahumans or close associates of metahumans. So far as anyone can tell, these "eternals" (as researchers have dubbed them) have a kind of Temporal Inertia. When Kirby's reality changes, they always exist, in one form or another. Note they do not always exist unchanged; some eternals "reincarnate" after a reality quake in a different, but similar, form or identity. Others remain fairly constant and unchanged by alterations in Kirby-2's history.
There is evidence of two broad types of eternals. The first, called "cyclical" eternals, seem to incarnate with each successive generation or era of Kirby-2's history. For example, there is evidence that the metahuman known as Warrior once existed as an American super-soldier during World War II. The same individual has also been a heartless American government operative in the 1960s, a hard-edged mercenary and agent of the United Nations in the 1980s, and now a current agent of UNISON in the 21st century. Some elements of the Warrior's background have remained constant (he's always been a highly-skilled "super-normal" soldier), while others have changed; he had far more cybernetic parts in the 1960s, none at all in the 1940s; his politics were more right-wing in earlier eras and have become more moderate. Note, however, that no one (including the Warrior himself) recalls these earlier "incarnations." According to Kirby-2's current history, the Warrior wasn't even born until the 1960s. The only evidence of his previous existence can be found in subduction zones and the artifacts recovered from them.
The other type of eternal found on Kirby-2 is the so-called "steady state" eternal, someone whose personal history remains largely unaltered by reality quakes, maintaining a continuity that's unbroken for the most part. The British metahuman John Bull is an example of this type. Although he's well over 80 years old, he still retains a youthful vigor and looks like a distinguished gentleman in his 50s (at most). The hero of Great Britain has a history stretching back to the 1940s, when he first gained his metahuman powers. The only changes involve other people. For example, the same evidence of the Warrior's existence during World War II suggests he and John Bull were both comrades and friendly rivals. However, in present Kirby-2 continuity, John Bull is decades older, Warrior never fought in WWII, and the two of them didn't even meet until recently. Still, their relationship remains similar, although John Bull is now the "elder statesman" and a part of their rivalry is founded in the British hero's long-standing reputation and Warrior's role as a "young turk."
Infinity researchers speculate about one other type of "temporal individual" on Kirby-2, the opposite of the eternal, known for now as a "transient" (also a "fad" by some). These are people with the Unique disadvantage. A reality quake apparently wipes them out of existence entirely, except for any evidence that may linger in subduction zones and the like. Since transients are so thoroughly erased from existence, they remain only a theory, at least until Infinity has the opportunity to actually witness a reality quake on Kirby-2.
Finally, the unstable quantum nature of Kirby-2 makes the parallel extremely prone to various quantum-level disruptions of the space-time continuum. In particular, reality quakes apparently occur on Kirby-2 with greater frequency than Paralabs researchers even thought was possible. Current theory suggests there is a fairly major reality quake or "revision" on Kirby-2 about every twenty years or so; the last "big one" was the so-called Millennium Quake (or "Y2Quake" as some call it). The next is expected sometime around 2020 AD (local year).
A major reality quake can significantly alter the parallel's history (which changes the present accordingly). This is called "retroactive continuity" since changes in the present (the reality quake) cause alterations to the past, which in turn changes the present. The big reality quakes are accompanied by numerous pre- and after-shocks, minor changes or "adjustments" in Kirby's history, a kind of "settling" of the quantum strata.
Note retroactive continuity and the 20-year cycle of reality quakes is just an Infinity theory at this point. This is because no one on Kirby-2 is actually aware anything has changed! The theory is, since the reality quake alters the past, and everyone in the parallel is altered along with it, they remain unaware of the changes. There appear to be some metahumans with extrasensory perception capable of noticing some changes, and Infinity agents have noticed the occasional "continuity error," which first suggested the possibility that Kirby's reality changed on a fairly regular basis. Since then researchers have found subduction zones and other evidence of past reality quakes, strongly suggesting the theory is correct. There's no way to know for certain, however, without a great deal more observation and gathering evidence. It's at least possible some metahumans (particularly those with temporal or dimensional powers) may be aware of changes in continuity. Thus far, the need to preserve the Secret has kept Infinity from finding and questioning any of them.
One thing Infinity (and Centrum) knows with some certainty: Kirby's quantum instability also makes it especially "permeable" to parachronic travel, sort of the reverse of a quantum sargasso. It has also apparently caused Kirby-2 to spawn a number of faint "echo parallels" that exist in very "close" proximity (in a nine-dimensional sense).
Interdimensional visitors are a regular occurrence on Kirby-2. Every major intertemporal power has at least discovered the parallel (despite the best efforts to keep it a secret), and most have visited at least once. There's evidence of Infinity, Centrum, Reich-5, and Cabal presence on Kirby-2. There are also banestorms, parachronozoids, random world-jumpers, and a seemingly endless variety of intertemporal flotsam and jetsam tossed up on the parallel's shores.
The existence of parallel worlds is not widely known on Kirby-2, but the U.N. and UNISON know, as do the major governments. Thus far, their ability to interact with these other realities is limited to a few metahuman world-jumpers and gate-makers. Both Infinity and Centrum are agreed on the fact that Kirby-2 must not develop parachronic technology, although both are also aware they may not be able to prevent it. Infinity is considering the possibility of forging an alliance with UNISON against Centrum, while Centrum is considering the same thing, although Interworld is also floating a plan to deliberately trigger another reality quake on the parallel, to either "regress" Kirby-2 so its inhabitants no longer pose a threat, or even to deliberately destroy the parallel and eliminate the threat it poses to the continuum. For the moment the plan has little support in the Centrum, until the change caused by the quake can be calculated and predicted with greater certainty.
Of great interest to all intertemporal factions is the fact that a form of time-travel also seems to exist on Kirby-2. The parallel has a number of interconnected "echo" parallels reflecting earlier points in Kirby's (current) history. Interventions in these echoes can apparently trigger a reality quake, changing history and the present-day on Kirby-2. Both Infinity and Centrum conveyors can reach Kirby's echoes (one of the reasons researchers believe they are echoes and not the parallel's "true" past). Some native time-jumpers and superscience gadgets can do the same. There is some debate about interventions in the echoes to interfere with Kirby's present. The most terrifying possibility involves a Reich-5 plan to intervene in an echo of Kirby's Second World War to create a "mirror" of their own history.
Worldlines with true metahumans are relatively rare (at least so far as Infinity has explored), however, there is one other worldline carrying the "Kirby" tag and at least two others that deserve it (once they're discovered).
Kirby-1 (Quantum 5, local year 2011) has no metahumans, but does feature rampant super-science, starting with "Edison's War" from 1900-1908: a conflict between the Russo-German-Austrian Axis and the rest of Europe and the United States. Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and other inventors built hovercraft, machine guns, tanks, airships and other technological wonders, and the Allies defeated the Axis with them. Since then, President Teddy Roosevelt's League of Free Nations has assumed a position much like the UN on Kirby-2 or the World Science Council on Gernsback and technology has progressed rapidly.
Kirby-3 (Quantum 5, local year 2008) is very similar to Kirby-2 with one important difference: on the surface UNISON appears to be an organization devoted to peace, justice, and harnessing metahuman powers to improve the lot of all humanity. However, UNISON's public face is just a cover for a far more sinister agenda, and all the accusations of its detractors on Kirby-2 are true here: the United Nations wants to create a totalitarian world government using their monopoly on certain technologies and enforced by metahuman stromtroopers. Essentially, everything "good" on Kirby-2 is "evil" here. Neither Infinity nor Centrum have discovered this worldline yet, and both will be quite concerned when they do!
Kirby-4 (Quantum 4, local year 1941) has just seen the emergence of metahumans as the United States enters World War II. Metahuman powers are generally low-level by Kirby-2 standards, although there are still metahumans capable of lifting tanks. The Allied and Axis powers are beginning to recruit and train metahumans for espionage and combat. Reich-5 would certainly take interest in this worldline and attempt to assist the local Third Reich in achieving victory.
Kirby-2 and GURPS IST
Owners of GURPS International Super Teams may notice similarities between Kirby-2 and the IST worldline. There are a few possible explanations for these. GMs may feel free to use any, all, or none of these as best suits the campaign.
First, it's possible the similarities are just that, parallels between the two worldlines. The IST Earth (or just "IST" in Infinity parlance) may exist elsewhere in the quantum continuum. Infinity may have already discovered it, making it just another Earth with metahumans. Alternately, perhaps Infinity hasn't discovered IST yet, but Centrum has. Some elements of the United Nations on IST would appeal to Centrum, much like the U.N. on Kirby-2 does. Centrum would be (cautiously) infiltrating, looking for opportunities to direct IST's U.N. toward a more Centrum-like worldview. There's also the possibility of an "IST-2" version of IST-Earth where the U.N. is corrupt and rules a world-spanning hegemony backed up by its metahuman enforcers (like Kirby-3). This world also poses opportunities for Centrum and a problem for Infinity (as well as a source of adversaries for Kirby-2 heroes).
Second, the Earth from GURPS IST might have been Kirby-2 at some point! Perhaps the IST-Earth was what Kirby-2 was like in the 1980s and '90s before the millennial reality quake. In GURPS Y2K, IST supers noticed a mysterious "Wall" after January 1, 2000 preventing precognitives from seeing the future beyond that point. This Wall could have been caused by an imminent reality quake; there literally was no "future" to foresee! If this is the case various subduction zones and irruptors related to the old IST world could show up in Kirby-2, and new versions of some existing characters and elements can appear in modern-day Kirby-2 (and, in fact, already do). Perhaps one or more of them hopes to undo the "damage" caused by the reality quake, restoring the world's "true" future (from their point of view). This can pose an interesting problem for heroes. Do they allow the world they know to be erased to restore another reality that no longer exists?
Finally, you can just ignore the similarities. There are certainly stranger things about Kirby-2 to worry about, and enough unusual similarities across the Infinite Worlds in general not to make a big deal about it.
The Golden Age
The earliest discrete "alternate" of Kirby-2's history that Infinity has been able to isolate spans the period from 1939 to 1959 (local year). It, and the other alternates discovered thus far, have been tagged with comic book terms by researchers. Thus this is Kirby-2's "Golden Age."
The first metahumans appeared in late 1939. Their powers were nowhere near as impressive as those of modern-day metahumans, but they were still capable of ignoring bullets, lifting cars, and leaping tall buildings. There may have been a real alien invasion coinciding with Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast on Halloween. A number of masked "mystery men" also appeared, some with low-level metahuman powers or gadgets, others apparently normal humans (or as normal as heroes on Kirby-2 ever get). Metahumans fought on both sides of World War II, although they apparently didn't change the outcome of the war much. Evidence of the Golden Age begins to taper off in the post-war years.
In Kirby-2's current history, the first metahumans appeared around the same time, but their powers were weaker and their existence kept secret. Most worked as agents for various governments or were independent vigilantes. During WWII, metahumans served intelligence and special operations organizations. They had even less overall impact on the war, which followed virtually the same course as on Homeline.
The Silver Age
Scattered evidence suggests Kirby-2's "Silver Age" began with a reality quake that overturned its previous Golden Age history around 1959. Many Golden Age metahumans "reincarnated" in the new continuum, along with many new metahumans. It appears the Silver Age had the highest population of metahumans on Kirby-2 to date. This period also featured the greatest quantum instability, according to Infinity researchers. Irruptors from the time indicated reality in Kirby-2 was, to quote one researcher, "as wacky as a cartoon." Some suggest the start of a pattern to the reality quakes, with Kirby-2 becoming more fantastic (and less stable on a quantum level) from the Golden to Silver Ages, stabilizing somewhat through the Iron Age, then an upswing toward a less-stable quantum level in the present. This may indicate Kirby-2 will become more like its previous Silver Age as time progresses.
Kirby-2's "original" Silver Age featured numerous public costumed metahumans, alien invasions, lost worlds, and many of the fantastic elements found in the Pyramid Publishing comic books on Homeline. How close reality conformed to those comics (or vice versa) remains unclear.
In Kirby-2's current history, metahumans existed during the 1960s and '70s, but where less powerful and more covert. Many of them worked for government agencies during the Cold War as spies. A few others were part of the youth counter-culture, and experimentation with drugs, meditation, and mysticism may have unlocked or triggered some metahuman powers.
The Iron Age
Although the most recent of Kirby-2's "ages," what researchers have dubbed its "Iron Age" also seems to have left the least evidence. It apparently stretched from 1979 to the Millennial quake at the end of 1999 and represented a fundamental shift away from the instability of the Silver Age period. Metahumans became less common and their powers somewhat more limited. There is some evidence of metahuman -- and ordinary human -- vigilantes taking the law into their own hands to hunt down and even execute criminals. Guns and body armor were as common as metahuman powers.
This period seems to have shifted the least in the Millennial reality quake, lending some support to the theory that the historical changes become more pronounced the further back in history one goes from the point of change. In Kirby-2's current history, metahumans were still active in the 1980s and '90s, many of them as vigilantes, and there was a growing consensus among governments and societies that some means of regulating these new "super-powers" was required, similar in many ways to anti-proliferation and regulation of nuclear weapons on other Earths.
The Millennium Quake
Apparently, the last major ontological shift in Kirby-2 occurred on January 1st, 2000 on or around 12:00 A.M. Eastern Standard Time. As it so happens, this was during the time in the present history when a Dr. Paul VanZandt was studying quantum dynamics at Dartmouth. He later abandoned his theories on interdimensional travel when he made a breakthrough in quantum teleportation. Was this parallel version of Homeline's Dr. VanZandt somehow responsible for the most recent reality quake, or even all of them? Needless to say, placing blame on Dr. VanZandt, even a parallel version, is a somewhat awkward position to take in Infinity Unlimited, but some still wonder.
In March of 2000, Kirby-2's Dr. VanZandt discovered practical cold fusion. Keeping his discoveries under wraps, VanZandt contacted a number of associates and presented his findings in a closed session of the UN Security Council. There VanZandt and his scientific and scholarly colleagues offered a most unusual proposal.
The UN accepted and, not long thereafter, issued a startling announcement to the world: Member nations of the UN would outlaw weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and military use of metahumans. In return, they would receive access to the new technology the UN controlled: cold fusion and teleportation for starters, with much more in the works. In addition, member nation metahumans would be eligible to join UNISON, the United Nations International Superhuman Operations Network, and UNISON teams would respond to aid requests from UN members, and act to enforce UN edicts. A number of metahumans were already pledged to work with the new program, and many more signed up.
The world was stunned, but no major nation wanted to be left out in the cold. So most agreed to the UN's edicts. Overnight, the United Nations went from an impotent diplomatic appendage to the world's greatest super-power. Licensing fees from its technology provided wealth far in excess of the dues the UN no longer required, granting it the financial independence to do as it wished.
* * *
Next time: The future is what you make it . . .
Article publication date: August 25, 2006
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