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This timeline, Reaction Devices, explores a simple, provocative concept; could the slightest of indirect changes in history lead to the destruction of the world in another timeline? This timeline explores that doomsday and the aftermath. The Point of Divergence in this timeline comes in 1903, when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices, a scientific work detailing the real possibilities and natures by which spaceflight could be achieved through rocket propulsion. Interestingly, he proposed the use of nuclear radiation as a powerful source of thrust.
In our timeline, Tsiolkovsky's work was virtually unknown, and his invaluable contribution to rocketry and nuclear physics went unnoticed for two decades, until Hermann Oberth published his thesis, By Rocket into Planetary Space, which sparked off mass interest in spaceflight, rocketry, and, by proxy, nuclear physics. In the timeline of Reaction Devices, however, Tsiolkovsky's work gains mass recognition when a travelling physicist brings his work back to Britain, where it becomes incredibly popular and spreads throughout the world's scientific community, sparking studies into rocketry and nuclear energy two decades earlier.
Timeline (Before Fallout)
1903 – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's The Exploration Of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices garners worldwide recognition and sparks off increased interest in spaceflight, and, by proxy, rocketry, spurring an exponential improvement of rocket technology.
1911 – Ernest Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus is widely hailed, and work begins all around the world on producing sustainable nuclear fission, seeking a method of propulsion that could launch a rocket into space. As a byproduct, research into the structure of atoms receives a massive burst of funding.
1913 – Alan Tesch, a Canadian nuclear physicist, posits the existence of the neutron. With government funding, he goes on to prove the existence of his proposed particle. Later in the year, a team working under Tesch manages to split the atom for the first time in world history.
1914 – The Great War begins.
1915 – James Chadwick proposes the idea of a weapon that creates a nuclear explosion through a chain reaction via neutrons.
1916 – Alan Tesch, James Chadwick, Ernest Rutherford, and other notable physicists and chemists come together in the United States for the Instrumentality Project, a project dedicated to furthering and weaponizing nuclear technology, believing that the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction would cause world peace.
1917 – The secret German project known as Blitzshwert (lit. “Lightning Sword”) is initiated. The project advances the German nuclear program through means of research, development, and espionage.
1918 – The Great War ends.
1919 – The Blitzshwert Project yields fantastic results as the world's first nuclear warhead is detonated in an underground facility, creating an explosion equal to roughly two kilotons of TNT. Called Gottesfaust (lit. “God's Fist”), it sparks a flurry of improvement in German nuclear weaponry.
1920 – Nuclear research and weaponization is now the most funded project in the entire world. Clandestine word of German success spurs competition and effort in similar projects around the world.
1923 – German physicist Klaus Schmied, a leading developer working on the Blitzshwert Project, puts forward the idea of a weapon based off of nuclear fusion, rather than fission. He calls it a 'helium bomb', due to the production of helium in the proposed hydrogen fusion reaction.
1924 – The first nuclear test in the US is carried out in Vengaza, USA. A warhead called Nova Aurora (lit. “New Dawn”) is detonated in an explosion equal to nine kilotons of TNT.
1925 – The first nuclear rocket is launched from an unmarked silo in Florida, USA. Called Gladius Iustitiae (lit. “Sword of Justice”), the rocket broke up without detonating over the Atlantic Ocean.
1927 – The first successful nuclear rocket is test-launched from a silo in Nevada, USA. Called Prudentia (lit. “Prudence”), the rocket successfully detonates over the Pacific Ocean.
1928 – The world's first helium bomb, called Fliegentod (lit. “Flying Death”), is detonated in a secret German test site, creating a massive explosion stretching into the megatons. Provisions to place the weapon into a rocket are made immediately.
1929 – Alan Tesch, as part of the Instrumentality Project, proposes a weapon that detonates via nuclear fusion rather than nuclear fission. He calls this weapon a “thermonuclear rocket.”
1932 – The first thermonuclear explosive in the USA is detonated off the coast of Florida. Called Percussor (lit. “The Assassin”), the warhead creates a massive explosion of hitherto unseen proportions. Provisions are made for the immediate weaponization of the thermonuclear warhead.
1937 – Nuclear weapons are now prevalent throughout the major powers of the world, though many try to keep their growing arsenals a secret from the surrounding powers. With no idea of the real capabilities of the weapons, no governing body has yet put into place serious restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons.
1939 – The start of the Fallout War.
1944 – With the Allies closing in on Germany and the other Axis powers, Adolf Hitler initiated a radical "Scorched Earth" plan called the Spülenfeuer (lit. “Purging Fire”), the final contingency plan designed during the Blitzshwert project. At his order, the entire arsenal of German nuclear weapons, the largest in the world, were launched at once. This forced the hand of the Axis powers, who had to fall in line or be destroyed. Thousands of nuclear warheads were launched from Axis nations at Allied targets around the world, including those as close as France and Britain. The majority of strikes are centred on the various English powers of Great Britain, the USA, and Australia. Hurried Allied retaliation decimates Asia and Southeast Europe. Hundreds of weapons fly off course due to miscalculated trajectories, dealing great damage to North Africa, Indonesia and Central America. Less than half of the warheads launched reach their intended goal, but almost all of them detonate. The world is consumed in an exchange of nuclear fire. Thousands of targets are struck that were never intended to be struck. When the dust clears, 900 million people have died in the immediate exchange, cutting the world population by more than a third.
Timeline (After Fallout)
1945 – The world is teetering on the brink of collapse. Where they remain, the vestiges of government try to hold on to control, but Earth is falling into anarchy. Millions more have died of injuries, infections, and sicknesses caused by the Spülenfeuer, and radiation sickness all but guarantees the death of millions more. The destruction of industry, the loss of workforce, and the contamination of natural resources, together, have decimated economy and society, causing a global ripple of economic collapse and anarchy in countries less effected by the initial blast, like those in southern Africa and South America.