I’m working on building an alternate timeline for my steampunk.
Big surprise, I know, but what I find interesting is how one little event, by a NOBODY, can have a ripple effect. Sometimes these ripples are tiny. Sometimes they’re massive.
Take, for example, a real event in the life of my mother.
Mom gets lost in a paper bag. It’s just a fact of life. By the time I was a teenager, it was a joke in our house that we hadn’t fully moved into a new location until Mom accidentally found the local version of Chinatown.
Let me set the scene: 1983-ish. My dad, a lowly lieutenant in the Air Force, works at Bolling Air Force Base. He is one of the first guys in the office to have a HOME COMPUTER. This was a big deal back in 1983. It also meant there was one – count it – ONE – store in the whole of the 20336 zipcode that carried tractor-feed paper for his printer (if you don’t know what a tractor-feed printer is, look it up on wikipedia).
This store was somewhere in the civilian jungle off-base known as Washington D.C.
My father gave my mother straightforward directions – left here, right there, left again, go straight – and my mother bravely sallied forth on my father’s errand.
And got lost.
She did what any sensible person would still do – find a place that looks reasonably safe and park it so she could figure out where she was and how to get to where she needed to be. She saw a parking structure and turned into it. Easy-peasy.
*** scene change ***
The phone on my father’s desk in the office rings. “Lieutenant Smith, OPS.”
“Lieutenant Smith,” a distinctly UNAMUSED voice comes from the other end. “This is the FBI. How the hell did your wife get in our parking garage? She has no credentials, no valid ID and no one saw her drive in.”
After several flustered moments and the acquiring of a few senior officers to speak to said agent on the phone (who were by this time familiar with my mother’s directional sense) it was accepted by the FBI that she was not some home-grown terrorist or other villain, just a regular woman lost in D.C. …
… Who didn’t notice the sign that said EXIT ONLY when she turned into the FBI’s parking garage.
There were no bars to block entry. No bored guard at a booth flipping through the latest issue of Hustler. Not even tire spikes.
The Entrance had a booth and a guard with a magazine and bar arms and all that.
Not the Exit.
It hadn’t occurred to ANYONE until that moment that the exit could, in fact, be a security problem for the entire garage and nearby buildings.
Six months later my father drove by (I presume to pick up his own damned tractor-feed paper) and noticed that the FBI had installed tire spikes on the exit of their parking garage.
I like to imagine that despite the interdepartmental rivalries that exist between EVERYBODY in D.C., a memo went out and suddenly a contractor got a lucrative deal for installing tire spikes EVERYWHERE in that town within a year. May have even been the best business year of his life.
But now I ask you, dear reader, what would’ve happened if an innocent 28 year-old woman hadn’t taken a wrong turn when she did? Would some mustache twiddling villain have noticed and taken advantage of it? What would’ve been the consequences of that? Did the security team enact regular get-off-your-ass-and-walk-the-rounds-you-lazy-fucktard demands, thereby increasing security’s budget for manpower and possibly defeating the plans of some villainous villain who thought ‘well, okay, I can’t drive into the parking garage anymore, but I can still STEP OVER the tire spikes’?
What would have happened if a car or a van was rigged to explode and parked in that garage in 1984? How would that have altered history?
So many people think that building an alternate historical timeline requires BIG EVENTS.
No, no. They are often the small events that open the door to make the biggest difference in history.