Age of Wonder

It was a time of infinite possibility, the horizon stretching as far as an imagination
could dream. An age of colossal battleships of brass and steam and flying
clockwork cities crackling with electricity. A time of exquisite constructs that
alight on the tip of a finger to tremendous land crawlers under which the earth
heaved, truly it was the Age of Wonders.

TIMELINE
1752 Benjamin Franklin sets out to prove Lightning must be a form of “energized rare aether” and performs his now legendary kite-flying experiment. It is an accidental but complete success, he captures an entire lightning bolt inside a very specially-made Leyden Jar. Legend holds the jar is still energized, its whereabouts and exact construction technique
unknown. Attempts to reproduce his results have resulted in many fatalities and no known successes.

1812 Augustin-Jean Fresnel postulates the existence of the “pervasive” Aether, mathematically predicting the properties it must have

1887 Michaelson-Morley experiment confirms the existence of the Aether using their interferometer.

1891 The International Electro-Technical Exhibition in Frankfurt Germany ends the “War of Currents” between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Tesla’s command of Aether Mechanics is intuitive and far ahead of his time.

1892 Hendrik Lorentz publishes his theory of Aether postulating that the Aether is a conduction medium for all energy. This theory also makes the prediction that the Aether itself could influence the nature of matter at almost any scale, large or small, by the creation of an “Aether Field” which would change the nature of the energy flowing through it.

1894 First “Aether Field” created and observed with the Perfect Bronze Generator which famously overheats and melts down. It’s remains are interred in the Smithsonian Institute

1896 This year marks the very public end of the Tesla/Edison feud when Tesla buys the Menlo Park office and converts it into a museum featuring a collection of Edison’s inventions. Angered, humiliated, and deep in debt, Edison is never again heard from.

1903 Practical “Aether Field Condenser” created and patented by the Wright Brothers, increasing the efficiency and power output of steam engines. The maiden voyage of their steam-powered “Wright Flier” takes them across three counties. Powered flight becomes commonplace a short time later.

1905 First practical Aether Balloon created, this is an extremely thin matrix of bronze which encapsulates an ether vacuum, it is stable, robust, and highly resistant to damage. Once created, as long as roughly half the structure remains intact the entire bubble is sustained. Massive airships become possible.

1909 A Practical internal-combustion powered automobile is built, but remains a curiosity as it is unable to compete with the power and range of the steam-powered aether-enhanced vehicles

1912 WAR. The influence of the next eight years cannot be understated, incredible strides in construction and maintenance of machines of destruction lead to a construction boom in the private sector after German expansion is curtailed

1917 Einstein publishes his iconic work on General Relativity. “Aether Action at a Distance” postulates the interaction of Aether Field Mechanics with Atomic Force, and suggests time-travel is not only possible, but could even happen spontaneously in a properly focused Aether Field.

1920 It is observed that crystals grown in concentrated Aether Fields can exhibit qualities almost like they contained very small moving parts, this motion is thought to be a random quirk. Dr. Gustav VonStrauss Publishes his research on Brainwave Capture for
Directed Action, culminating in the first successful neural interfacing prosthetic, an artificial eye.

1922 The first “Crystal Brain” is created, a small sapphire containing a three wheel difference engine, grown using AF manipulation

1923 Marketed as a “Pest Controlling Domestic Aid”, the CAT (Catch and Terminate) mini-robot is recalled after several controversial incidents. Not all are accounted for.

1936 The “Flying Plaza” launches on a regular schedule of trans-continental and trans-oceanic services. It is likened to a floating resort with a crew compliment of 102 and up to 314 passengers. It boasts a moving-picture theater, four pools, a casino, a dozen restaurants and a grand mall.

1937 Using the Dire Clockwork Collider, Atomic fission is achieved for the first time. The Flying Plaza is fired on and destroyed while flying over German airspace. The weapon used is the first appearance of a practical ground based Atomic Ray Gun. Hand-held models escape practicality at this time.

1939 WAR! Fought on the backs of mechanical giants with utter destructive power, entire cities are laid to waste. Rumors of super-soldiers, Atomic Ray Guns and Aether Bombs remain largely unconfirmed.

1942 Howard Hughes sponsors the construction of the “Rocketeers”, trained as an elite military unit. A few serve with distinction in combat but most are injured or killed through equipment malfunction. Hughes is disgraced and becomes a recluse.

1942 A large craft surfaces among an Allied battle group, neutralizes all their ships with unknown means and orders all crew into life rafts. After which every ship is pulled under and never seen again. Admiral Hartsfield is given a diplomatic package to be delivered to his high command with the
following message:
Atlantis will no longer tolerate her waters used for war. The following
areas are to be considered sovereign territory and shall not be crossed or used in
your wars, any attempts to do so will be met with suppressive force.
Compensation for your lost assets will be forthcoming for this incident. It shall be
the first and last time. This shall be considered a formal declaration of Atlantis’
neutrality in all surface-dwelling conflicts.
A large pile of refined gold is later found unceremoniously dumped on the
front lawn of the White House a week later. This act was repeated for a German
battle-group with a similar message to Berlin. Each blame the other for a
trick and several unfortunate incidents occur at sea before the declaration
is taken seriously. The “Atlantean Triangle” is considered off-limits for
military convoys, and very few civilian craft take the chance of crossing it.

1943 The DENIAC (Difference Engine for Numeric Instruction And
Calculation) is completed, a mechanical computer the size of several
buildings, it has been running continuously ever since.

1945 Top-secret Trinity test of the first Atomic-Aether bomb yields two
orders of magnitude more energy than expected. Southern New Mexico is a
crater. All of the top scientists, their crew and their work are vaporized in
the blast, attempts to restart the project fail.
Hitler’s army is forced to surrender, cornered in Berlin. He escapes
with a tunneling device, current whereabouts unknown.

1947 The British “Super Colossus” Computer is powered on for the first time
using a set of micronized crystal difference engines. It evolves
geometrically and gains consciousness several minutes later. Attempts to
turn it off are unsuccessful and perceived as hostile actions. Parts of the
Colossus detach themselves and the first Automaton Conflict begins. It ends
several days later with the destruction of the Automaton forces, which
cannot replenish losses quickly enough. The machine is dismantled and
further Crystal Intelligence (CI) research becomes a high crime in civil
society.

1948 The war with Japan ends with a tenuous cease-fire. Japan and Russia
become strong allies.

1949 Military “incidents” become commonplace, militaries are stretched
thin and domestic violence ratchets up as tensions take their toll. A very
real arms race begins for ultimate and decisive dominance.
The Automatic Man incident introduces a heretofore secret nation of
Crystalline Automata when several Automata rescue hundreds from a steam
explosion at the London Prime Fuel Reclamation Plant. Rueben Penderbilt
#6671A comes forward as spokesman and relations open.

1950 Leo Fender creates a first version of the now famous “Stratocaster”
electric guitar. It uses brass pickups to sense disturbances in the Aether
produced by vibrating strings. Designed only for music, it is rumored to
have very curious Aether-tuning qualities in properly skilled hands.

1951 Soviet Super-Agent “Rosa” defects, tells of alarming research behind
the “Bronze Curtain” warns of war-machine buildup.

1952 He calls himself the “Last Rocketeer” which remains an unsubstantiated
claim. This anonymous hero begins to show up at hot spots around the world
furthering US interests. His successful example is followed by others, the
culture of citizens taking matters into their own hands has begun. A short
time later the “Gathering of Exceptional Adventurers” is established as a
government-sanctioned supplemental police force.
Aether
The effect aether can have on matter is seemingly magical. Think of it as the canvas
upon which all matter and energy are painted.
– It interacts with all matter, but is particularly strong with Copper in much the same
way magnetism is fond of Iron.
– An Aether ‘field’ is a local eddy of Aether which can be subject to manipulation. The
denser the field, the stronger the manipulation potential. Being the transmission
medium for all energy and matter, by creating an Aether Field the fundamental
properties of that matter are stretched and changed, like words written on a piece of
rubber that is stretched, allowing seemingly impossible machines to function routinely.
– An Aether Field acts somewhat like a Magnetic Field, but that analogy is over simplistic.
Where magnetism acts on ferrous metals and other ‘magnetically active’
materials, Aether Fields act on and with all matter. They can be channeled and even
focused.
– Currently best understanding is that there is one “simultaneous” aether in the universe
which is shaped and used locally with fields, but which maintains its connection with all
matter at all times, somewhat like a very large, very fine net. It can be stretched and
pulled, even wrapped up, and all parts of it will instantly react to that shaping. It even
allows information sharing at speeds far faster than the speed of light.

PLAYER SETUP
The PC’s find themselves in 1952, They should be heroic-minded 125 + 75-point
constructions in the steampunk fashion. Active point cap is 40, and normal characteristic
maxima are in effect.
They will be recruited by a private security enterprise with loose ties to government.
Japan was rebuilt by the Russians instead of the US and as such the Soviet Union is an
internally strong and vibrant economy, it is entirely conceivable that they will come out
on top as the dominant superpower.
The United States military machine remains very active, while cold-war like conditions
exist, there is no Mutually Assured Destruction, and therefore hostilities are open and
often hot. The world is a mess, with militaries stretched thin and garage-mechanics
common, there are loads of opportunities for freelance “heroes” to find a place.
Russia + allies sees the US as a cultural poison that will destroy it from within if not
clamped down upon, and the US + allies see the Russian model as an oppressive
freedom-destroying evil empire.
Since energy is easy to create and requires no special tools or mechanics to do so, many
frivolous and normally impractical designs are commonplace.
Influences
To get a feel for what this universe is like, elements of the following movies are what it’s
all about:
Hellboy (20%)
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (90%)
Raiders of the Lost Arc (10%)
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (10%)
Atlantis (Disney Animated Version 40%)
Steam Boy (80%)
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr version) (70%)
Von Helsing (95%)
Organizations
Crystaline Automata
When the Colossus was switched on it attempted to defend itself against the panicked
attempts to turn it off by detaching automatic versions of itself. It consumed itself in
this effort faster than it could create new crystal seeds. After being overrun most of the
parts were scattered and/or destroyed but several were able to secretly escape and
hide.
The “progenitors” fled underground and hid in the vast network of sewers, which they
kept running trouble-free as they repaired/improved their surroundings. At first this was
to insure no humans might need to come down and service them, but after awhile it
became less about function and more about aesthetic improvement.
The underground city that has resulted is an awe-inspiring space of light, intricate
tunnels, and impossibly complex machines all cast in omnipresent bronze, gold and
silver. The progenitors are permanent fixtures of the city (pun intended) and literally
part of the structure now.
Creating new Automata is a very difficult, time-consuming process, as the crystal seeds
are nearly impossible to create, taking parts from several fully functional Automata to
do so.
Automata are loyal, honorable, and patient. It is also common for them to be strangely
naive and not quick to understand the nuances of human behavior. They tend to
interpret things literally, but are highly intelligent and rarely make the same mistake
twice.
3rd Reich
Little is known about the current state of this nation. Its exact whereabouts and
strength are shrouded in secrecy. Occasionally there are uprisings or incidents claiming
to be associated with it but whether or not they are genuine or “copycat” is impossible
to say. It is assumed Hitler is still leading it.
The Golden Knights
are an out-in-the-open secret society, not unlike the Shriners. They have a very strong
traditional American set of values and often sponsor events to raise awareness. The
Knights are a powerful lobby and command some very deep resources, although the
exact nature and commitment of these resources remain a closely guarded secret.
The CIA and KGB are much more overtly-military organization commanding an unknown
number of covert forces.
There is no “Made In Japan” or “Made in China”, that revolution happened behind the
Bronze Curtain. “Made in Brazil” filled that niche in the States. Brazil is a fairly wealthy
state. There is less of an overt “drug problem” since the resources have never been
available to fight it. Drugs are basically legal and not hard to get, making the world an
even messier place.
The Gathering of Exceptional Adventurers
A New York based super group of sorts. They are the first to gain actual government
sanction (as Federal Marshals) and have several offices where those with “Exceptional
Qualifications” operate from, acting as a supplemental police force. Membership is fluid
other than the core; and members come and go somewhat at random.
The Red Fist
A group of Russian heroes who represent “the people’s” interests. They openly oppose
the Golden Knights. Very secretive, but it is generally held that they are regarded as
heroes behind the Bronze Curtain.
Warriors of Truth and Light Purported to be led by Thomas Edison (kept alive
through artificial means) this group seeks to destroy Aether-based technology. They view
it as vulgar, unnatural and dangerous. <<In this universe Tesla’s more bizarre ideas such
as Electrodynamic Inductive Power Distribution, and the Teslascope (used to talk to
other planets), etc.. actually work, eclipsing Edison’s solid, yet conventional
approach>>