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Thousands of years ago, an insane Atlantean Archmage tried to resurrect her dead lover, using the Device, an almost incomprehensibly powerful magical artefact that could overwrite an entire reality with another.
She failed to overwrite reality, but she did manage to fragment it. Or perhaps she simply brought an existing alternative reality into closer proximity with her own.
This is the story of that reality.
The history of London-Alterna largely followed the pattern of our own reality. Deep in prehistory, the Heretic Pharoah Akhenaten built a great mortuary Temple complex that never existed in the "real" world, but that didn't have much lasting significance until it was rediscovered in 1939.
The first known divergence with our history took place in 1666, when the Great Fire of London failed to happen on schedule. Although this didn't have much of an impact on world events, beyond giving London a lasting reputation as a "plague city", its impact on the shadow history of the city itself was profound. Without the cleansing flames to do the Temple's work for it, Mercadier retained power until 1744 by adopting a virtually open-door policy towards the Morbus, who flocked to the city to take advantage of the plague and other endemic illnesses. Robert de Courcey discovered Thomas Wyncham's treachery in 1697, and Wyncham fled to Southampton and the protection of the Eagle, while Matilda de Bray retreated to York. In 1692, Mercadier and de Courcey discovered the Beshilu, and formed an uneasy alliance with them, further reinforcing their position even as it attracted the enmity of the Uratha. With the Invictus driven out of London and largely based in the Eagle's domain along the south coast, the primary Kindred presence in London was the Seer and the Circle of the Crone. Although Mercadier and De Courcey actively hunted her, she and her oldest followers were simply too personally powerful to deal with. The few Sanctified who actually found her didn't survive the discovery. Meanwhile, the Mages infiltrated mortal institutions like the Royal Society and Parliament, while the Uratha Iron Masters and Shadow Lords took an ever-greater role in London's mercantile community. Mercadier didn't realize that the Temple's Mage and Uratha members were operating without the sanction of their respective leaderships, and conducted a low-level shadow war against both Poli. This essentially forced their hand and drew them into the conflict en masse.
The strategic and tactical genius of the Eagle, combined with the physical and occult might of the Uratha and Mages, eventually won out. The attack, when it came, was years in the making, but lasted only a single day and night. Most of the Sanctified vampires, including Mercadier himself, were destroyed by the sun when combined groups of Uratha and Mages broke into their havens and dragged them into the daylight. When night fell, the Eagle's Invictus moved in, with the Seer, Hugh Marlowe and Thomas Wyncham at their head.
The almost century-long struggle to destroy Mercadier left the three major supernatural factions with far greater knowledge of each other - and far closer bonds - than in our reality. The Kindred, evenly divided between the Invictus and the Circle, were also far stronger than the depleted remnant left by the Great Fire. To avoid conflicts over the spoils of victory, the leaders of all three groups agreed to formalize their present rather ad hoc arrangements for dealing with each other via the Temple, and formed a body they called the Curia Regis, where issues affecting more than one supernatural group could be debated and agreed.
The next major divergence with "real" world history took place in 1918, when the Allies chose not to cripple a defeated Germany with war debts at the Treaty of Versailles. A complicated chain of economic circumstances allowed Altera to escape the Depression and hyper-inflation that led to World War II, and Hitler died of complications of alcoholism in 1949, never having got close to power.
In 1952, Stalin attempted to annexe a large proportion of Eastern Europe, triggering a three-year war with the West. Without any World War Two to provide the Soviet Union with captured German scientists, however, his rocketry capabilities were far inferior to those of the Allies, a factor that ultimately proved decisive. The rocket attack on Moscow in 1955, though widely condemned later in much the same vein as the bombing of Dresden in our history, ended the war and is presumed to have killed Stalin, although his body was never found and sightings of him still rank second only to those of Elvis. The Soviet Empire was broken by the conflict, although its immense natural resources have recently led to a minor revival in the fortunes of the Russian Federation that succeeded it. Its government, nominally democratic, is actually a corrupt oligarchy, heavily infiltrated by organized crime syndicates.
In the wake of the war, Germany formed the European Economic Community, which ultimately developed into the quasi-federal European Union, economically dominated by Germany but with a large French contingent in its bureaucracy. Britain stood outside this venture, preferring to concentrate attention on its imperial possessions and its alliance with America. In the 1956, the British Empire evolved into the British Commonwealth, ironically part-based on the federal European model. Although its governments remain independent (this was a non-negotiable demand from India), they act as one in trading negotiations with outsiders, and have a functional military alliance with a Commonwealth Army, Navy and Air Force. In the 1980s, the United States responded to the competition from these two powers by forming the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).
In 2008, these three great groupings dominate the globe, with the United States the pre-eminent power. Britain's leading position in the Commonwealth - a market of some 400-500 million people - and geographic location has made it a major trading hub and given it far greater national wealth than in our own reality. All three trading blocks compete economically but all share a mutual concern over the rise of China and a possible resurgence of Russian nationalism, and all are worried that their position will be eroded over the coming decades by the rising Asian powers.
With no World War Two to destroy it, the League of Nations never collapsed, and still exists, fulfilling a function almost identical to the United Nations in our own reality.
London-Alterna has an almost 1930s ambience, filled with colourful, art deco buildings. It's a crowded, self-confident, bustling city, with a population of ten million, not counting the huge transient population that comes from its status as the Commonwealth's premier trading hub. With no Great Fire and no Blitz, almost all of its medieval architecture has survived, notably Old St Paul's Cathedral, whose spire was reinforced and extended a decade ago. Unknown to the mortal population, Archbishop Simon Mercadier's secret haven beneath the Cathedral has also survived, and serves as the meeting place of the Curia Regis and the public forum for the city's shadow community. The Houses of Parliament are completely different from those of our reality - in Alterna, rather than reconstructing St. Paul's, Wren's genius found expression in a new Parliament building, a great edifice of white marble somewhat similar to the US Capitol building, but boasting two great domes linked by a broad concourse.
The police and security forces in Alterna parallel those of our reality for the most part. One positive for its supernatural denizens is that the Islamist terror attacks of 2001 and 2004 never took place in Alterna, so the attitude of the mortal authorities is somewhat less paranoid and security around public buildings somewhat less rigorous. CCTV coverage is less extensive than in our world, but DNA more widely used.
Decimalisation never took place in Alterna. Britain continues to use the old Imperial currency - pounds, shillings and pence.
In London-Alterna, there is no Temple; instead, there is the Curia Regis. Unlike the Temple, this body does include the leaders of all three factions and therefore is empowered to make decisions on behalf of their respective communities. This makes its meetings a lot more fractious and political than those of the Temple, but it also allows the Big Three to act far more effectively as a corporate body.
Another consequence of this is that London's Mages, Uratha and Kindred are all far more aware of each other than their counterparts in our world, where contacts tend to be limited to the Temple. Almost all of them know who leads the others' Poli, and many have personal contact with each other. Familiarity has occasionally bred, if not contempt, then at least dangerous friction, but the Curia Regis keeps any such conflicts firmly in hand.
The Kindred are dominated by the Invictus, led by Prince Hugh Marlowe and his Seneschal, Thomas Wyncham, and the Circle of the Crone, led by the Seer. The Lancea Sanctum is a weakened and chastened fragment of its former self, with almost no political power. The Carthians are a minor faction; the mortal zeitgeist was turned firmly against anything left-wing as a result of the Soviet War, and the Invictus are capable administrators with a shrewd knack for spreading the wealth around, so there's little discontent for the Carthians to exploit.
In London-Alterna, Stoker's Dracula was never published, with the result that the Ordo Dracul remained a secret society. It now operates much like a Kindred version of the Freemasons, counting several prominent Invictus and Crones as members.
Viking mythology speaks of three goddesses of fate, the Norns. The three were Skuld ("future"), Verdandi ("present") and Urd ("past"). Since the seventeenth century, London's Kindred have informally adopted this nomenclature to describe the tripartite leadership of the Circle of the Crone
Unquestionably the first of the Norns is the Seer herself, identified with Skuld, and the Crone archetype. The second is Susanna Thane, identified with Verdandi, and the Mother archetype. The third is Diana Harrington, identified with Urd and the Maid archetype
During the protracted war against Mercadier, the Adamantine Arrow assumed a position of dominance that it has never really lost, much to the irritation of the Silver Ladder, who act primarily as powers behind the throne. They serve, so the joke runs amongst Mages, as very traditional Grand Viziers, with all that that implies. Like the Carthians, the Free Council have suffered from the widespread feeling against left-wingery, and act as a type of "loyal opposition", while the Guardians of the Veil act as complimentary allies to the Arrow. The Mysterium, as is its wont, rises above the fray. The Hierarch, Mjöllnir, is a decorated veteran of the Soviet War but a political moderate, inclined to lead by consensus and charisma rather than diktat.
Of all the Big Three, the Uratha of London-Alterna are most like the ones in our world. The Storm Lords are more heavily involved in business, either in collaboration or competition with the Iron Masters, than their counterparts in our reality, and the Hunters in Darkness have a larger presence, with Blood Talon / Hunter in Darkness packs a common phenomenon. The Bone Shadows remain the spiritual leaders of the wolves, but they have a larger political role by default, simply by being the Tribe most comfortable dealing with the Kindred. Caspar Van Lutyens, Diana Gallow and Gareth Jones sit together as the Uratha representatives in the Curia Regis.
The technological level of Alterna is comparable to that of our own reality. Alterna missed out on the advances in medicine and early computing stimulated by the Second World War, but the Soviet War created a similar spur to scientific development, leaving the two realities evenly matched again by the early 1980s. Alterna may in fact be slightly ahead of the real world in the field of applied human genetics, due to the continued respectability of eugenic theories in the latter. Air travel is also if anything more prevalent than in our reality. The Commonwealth Airport, completed within the last two years on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary to relieve congestion at Heathrow and Gatwick, is still no more than a pipe dream in our world. Rail travel is similarly more developed, with wide-gauge Continental-style tracks providing high-speed bullet train links between major conurbations.
There is a small but significant variation in the field of personal computing. The worldwide web exists in Alterna, and is referred to by that name. Personal computing is at least as widespread as in our reality. In Alterna, however, this market is totally dominated by Apple; Microsoft was never founded. Apple's personal communications and entertainment technologies are essentially identical to those of our reality despite the company having invested a greater share of its resources into conventional computing - its larger size has allowed it to pursue both ventures successfully.
CCTV coverage in Alterna is substantially less developed than in the real world, perhaps thanks to a political culture more resistant to state activism. Against this, however, DNA is even more widely used, with DNA profiles routinely recorded in hospital records and available to the police by Court Order
Automotive technologies are roughly similar as well, although Japanese models are less in evidence; British and German companies dominate car manufacturing in Britain. Alterna has retained a larger industrial manufacturing base on the British mainland than in the real world.
In Alterna, Britain remains a Constitutional Monarchy. Interestingly, the abdication crisis still occurred there despite the lack of the Nazi regime in Germany and Edward VIII's controversial closeness to it, so perhaps those ties may have played less of a role in the crisis in our history than some have supposed. Without the stress of the Second World War to encourage his smoking habit, however, George VI did not die until 1966. The then-Princess Elizabeth had time before his death to establish a reputation as a formidably energetic charity worker with strong ties to the Church of England, which may partially help to explain the latter's more socially prominent position in Alterna and perhaps the slightly more socially conservative bent of the population (see "social attitudes" below). Her marriage to Prince Phillip also occurred in Alterna and their children all have counterparts in our reality. The next generation of the monarchy, however, is different. In Alterna, Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 1971; their marriage has produced three sons, Princes Henry ("Harry"), George and Phillip. None of the three possess the popular touch of Princes William and Harry in our world, but the greater social defence prevalent in Alterna somewhat compensates for this.
The structure of government in Alterna is superficially similar to that of our world. There is a bicameral Parliament, with an elected House of Commons the primary legislative chamber and a partially hereditary and partially appointed House of Lords serving as a revising chamber. The government is formed by whichever party can command a majority in the House of Commons. Unlike in our world, the hereditary peers have not been removed from the Lords, Under the so-called "Calder Ordinance" (passed in 1974), however, only those hereditary peers with a minimum of five years service in the military, government, or a registered charity, are permitted to vote in the chamber.
For some reason, the so-called "strange death of Liberal Britain" didn't happen in Alterna. Although the Labour Party gained increasing prominence after World War One, it failed to displace the Liberals completely. Up until the 1950s, the Conservatives were the largest party in Parliament, with the Liberals and Labour dividing the remaining seats fairly evenly between them. The Soviet War saw a sharp decline in the popularity of the Labour Party and it now occupies a position similar to the Liberal Democrats in our reality - a dustbin for protest votes with no serious prospect of taking power.
In Alterna, the Liberal Party is strongly identified with personal freedom, unfettered capitalism, and a minimalist state. The Conservatives, by contrast, are presently dominated by their "one nation" tradition and a paternalist attitude which is somewhat more sympathetic to state intervention - although, it should be noted, less so than the present Labour Party in our world, since its large aristocratic minority apparently resents interference in their local fiefdoms and thus pushes it towards localism rather than centralisation at Westminster.
The present government - first elected in 1997 - is a Liberal administration headed by the Right. Hon. Judith Chamberlain, MP. The country is presently experiencing an economic boom and the Liberal Party seems set to be returned at the next election, due in 2010, although Chamberlain herself is coming under increasing pressure to step down from up-and-comers in her own party.
Social attitudes in Alterna might best be summarised as a curious mixture of the 1930s and the 1980s in our world.
Both social deference and religious observance, though in decline, remain more widespread than they presently are in our reality, for several reasons. First, Britain's position as the leader of the Commonwealth trading bloc and resulting consequence in global affairs have engendered a greater self-confidence amongst the population - the country never went through an economic decline in the 1970s and was never labelled "the sick man of Europe". Britain in Alterna exhibits a measure of "can-do" optimism about the future more commonly associated with the United States in our world. Second, a higher rate of employment - partially but not wholly attributed to the relatively greater survival of manufacturing industry - avoided some of the social breakdown experienced in our reality and the resentments which this has bred. Third, the grammar school system remains intact in Alterna. While this has caused a greater measure of social stratification, it has also engendered a much higher level of social mobility. Vocational and technical training in Alterna is also of a higher standard than in our world, partly as a result of the country's greater wealth and central position within the Commonwealth trading bloc. Fourth, Alterna has a smaller and less interventionalist welfare state than our reality, and the Church of England has been active in performing charitable functions which in our world have been largely co-opted by state agencies, increasing both its popularity and its relevance. It is also a focus for patriotic sentiment thanks to its close association with Queen Elizabeth II
Youthful rebellion does exist in Alterna, of course, but it never experienced either Punk or the Age of Aquarius. In Alterna, both fused into a curious movement called "paganism", that enjoyed its high water mark in the mid 1990s. Lacking both the pacifistic overtones of the 1970s flower children and the morbid nihilism of the Goth subculture, paganism was characterised by minimalist clothing - preferably black leather and red silk, with bare arms and midriffs, but fully covered legs and boots with elaborate scrollwork - silver jewellery in Celtic style, and blue face-paint and/or tattoos - again supposedly a Celtic influence. The movement shares the flower children's predilection sexual freedom and minimal social restraints, but replaces the Goth movement's preoccupation with death with an aggressively "Carpe Diem" approach to living. It's preferred musical style has been described as "folk music with a capital U". The Glastonbury festival is a common feature of both realities.
The somewhat more repressed social atmosphere has bred a larger and more active underground subculture than in the real world, which is concentrated in the area around Soho and secondarily, in certain sections of the redeveloped East End. These underground clubs are almost exclusively the domains of the Kindred, although some younger Mages and Uratha have been known to frequent them.
Capitalism in Alterna is mostly of the testosterone-charged, 1980s, "greed is good" variety. London and New York remain locked in a fight to the death for the title of the world's pre-eminent financial centre, but in Alterna, the Commonwealth trading bloc gives London a significant edge. Social inequalities are significant, but are blunted by an activist Church (whose vigorous promotion of a moral message tends to place it in opposition to the blatantly capitalist City, the business community and the Liberal party, and align it more with the paternalist Conservatives), and by the so-called "Guilds".
The Guilds are literal survivals of the old thieves and beggar's guilds from medieval times. They have a virtual stranglehold on organized crime within the city. The Uratha of Alterna regard the Guilds as part of their protectorate and have done for at least the past four centuries. They have suppressed any attempt to encroach on their operations by either foreign criminal syndicates or renegade members of other Poli, frequently with extreme prejudice, but they don't exert more than a minimal influence on them beyond that. The Guilds perform a kind of social-welfare function in parallel to their criminal activities, in a manner analogous to the feudal model. The Guilds have no religious or political objectives; like labour unions, their sole concern is the well being of their own members. Although capable of extreme violence when provoked, they do not generally go looking for trouble.
Alterna displays a somewhat less enlightened attitude towards minority rights than our world. Blatant racism has if anything been even more vigorously stamped out, but sexism is more widely accepted, and the alternative sexualities much less socially acceptable except amongst certain subcultures (such as the literary and theatrical professions). Without the example of Nazism to bring it into disfavour, eugenics remains scientifically respectable, resulting in a slightly higher abortion rate. This remains a significant point of controversy between Britain and the US, where anti-abortionist sentiment is strong.
Although Nazism never gained power in Alterna, a large measure of anti-Semitic sentiment did exist in Germany in the 1940s and 1950s. A significant number of Jews emigrated to Britain from Germany and, following the Soviet War, Russia. Britain now has the largest, wealthiest and most politically powerful Jewish community anywhere outside the US, and as a result, anti-Semitic attitudes are strongly frowned upon. The Jewish community tends to lean, politically, towards Conservative paternalism rather than Liberal free-marketry, and is prominent in most campaigns to give more equal rights to minorities.
Israel exists in Alterna, but its history took a slightly different path than in our own world. The rise of modern political Zionism, beginning with the First Aliyah in 1881 and Herzl's publication of Der Judenstaat in 1886, and ending with the Fourth Aliyahs between 1924-1929, happened in exactly the same way in both realities.
With no Nazism and no Second World War, however, the Fifth Aliyah didn't happen in the 1930s as a result of German Jews fleeing Hitler, but in the late 1950s as a result of Russian Jews fleeing the chaos of the disintegrating Soviet Empire after the rocket attack on Moscow ended the Soviet War in 1955.
Up until that point, Britain had retained in control of Palestine under the Mandate, fighting off increasingly vicious terror attacks directed by the Irgun. Behind the scenes, the wealthy and influential Jewish community in Britain were pushing the case for the establishment of a Jewish state, but they were in an awkward situation because the Irgun was killing British soldiers, and anything that smacked of an equivocal stance towards them could lead to accusations of divided loyalties and lack of patriotism. America's Jewish community was less restrained (and like the Irish-American community with the IRA, tended to romanticise the terrorists as "freedom fighters"), so America was in the pro-Zionist camp by default.
In the late 1950s, the massive influx of Soviet Jews - an invasion by any other name - made the continuation of British rule essentially unsustainable. A combination of an upsurge of Irgun terror attacks as the Soviet Jewry provided them with a vast pool of new recruits, overt American pressure, and covert pressure from its own Jewish community - many of whom were wealthy and politically influential - made holding on to the mandate more trouble than it was worth, and the State of Israel was formally established in 1961. There wasn't an attack from its Arab neighbours - who were weaker and more dependent on US support with no Soviet Union playing in their backyard - but Israel has basically been under continuous siege from terrorists with covert support from the surrounding states ever since.
There was an Iraq war but it was different from the one in Primus. Saddam Hussein took power in Iraq using the same thuggish methods he used in Primus. Without the Soviet Union, however, he was ironically dependent on US backing, which was granted in exchange for lucrative oil contracts.
The Iranian Revolution also took place in Alterna. In the 1990s, Iran invaded Iraq, seeking to expand its local sphere of influence and curtail American influence on its neighbour. The US had never trusted Saddam, and with no Soviet Union Iraq had precious little military hardware worth mentioning, so Iran had great success overrunning large swathes of the country. (It had quietly using its oil wealth to upgrade its own military for years, while Saddam had been constrained from doing the same by the US).
Moved by the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people (and not, it insisted unconvincingly, the threat to its oil interests), the US secured a League of Nations resolution and invaded Iraq. Their superior military technology defeated the Iranians in relatively short order, but they then had problems when the Iraqis stopped seeing them as rescuers and started seeing them as invaders. A rough-and-ready Parliamentary system was established, and most US troops withdrew, leaving a number of heavily fortified bases to defend US oil installations and (when they had the spare time), Iraqi democracy.
With no Soviet Union, there was no Afghan invasion to radicalise a young Osama Bin Laden, and no al-Quaeda, so 9/11 never happened. There are, however, pan-Arab-nationalist and Islamic terror groups spurred by the existence of Israel, who may start striking in the West within a few years.