My Future History
At 0600h the next morning Kaitrin was on a flyer headed west to the mountains. Below her, the maglev lines radiated in all directions, while the manufacturing complexes, water and waste recycling plants, distribution warehouses, and all the other support structures of a metropolitan area gave way to ranchlands, to poultry and dairy farms, to fields of soybeans, maize, and sugar beets. Ranks of turbine towers captured the ceaseless sweep of the winds across the plains and anywhere humans lived solar collectors glittered from rooftops. To the north the artificial hill encasing one of the Quadrisphere’s three cold fusion power plants could just be discerned on the horizon. The activities of the twenty-five million residents living in the Okloh/Herinen/New Washinten triangle consumed tremendous quantities of electricity.
During the past 900 years Earth had experienced wild population swings. Earlier attempts to control population growth had failed; by the middle of the 22nd century (reckoning by the old calendar) the numbers had climbed to an unsustainable 11.9 billion and the crash had begun. By the 25th century the population had declined to barely 5 billion and the planet was entering the lowest point of the Second Dark Age. Primary among the complex reasons for this collapse was the exhaustion of petroleum reserves; efforts to divert energy production away from fossil fuels had failed and panicked nations were proving unable to cope with the inevitability of a planet without oil. Competition for trade, land, resources, power, and nationalist bragging rights led to the Economic Protectionist Movement of the late 21st century. It was a time of water famines, water wars, and at the turn of the 22nd century the first of several devastating Plague Panics.
The militant religionist movement that began early in the 21st century resulted in a succession of conflicts known as the Zealot Wars. Fundamentalist believers took over the organizational structures of all ancient religions, which fought openly both among one another and among splinter groups within themselves. The fanatical Romish Letin Revival of the 22nd century led to the first bombing of the holy Islemist and Judish sites in Arbia and Israil. This movement in turn saw its last Pope assassinated in 2310 by a faction of Kristen Scripturists. Later reconstructions of the Middle Eastern holy sites were ultimately obliterated in 2341, not by Kristens but by radiant bombing perpetrated by insane Islemist and Judish tyrants.
In the 22nd century the period known as the Fractures began, when time-hallowed nation-states – the ironically named “Great Powers” – of Earth began to break apart and make war with each other and within themselves. It was the time of the Techno-Warlords – the TWLs – dictators who sought to seize for themselves the remnants of the petroleum reserves and who lived by advancing technology exclusively for the purpose of producing an increasingly horrific war machine.
To add to Earth’s misery, the ensuing couple of centuries saw a series of catastrophic natural disasters. In the year 2290 earthquakes destroyed the civilization of almost the entire western coast of the Old Ammeriken States, while the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted in 2410, spreading a layer of ash over the entire north central and northeastern half of the Ammeriken continent and halting significant agricultural production in that region for nearly a century. Simultaneously, extreme climate alterations, the result of the overuse of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests, were causing the atmosphere to warm and sea levels to rise, changing the configuration of coastlines and drowning the population of many small islands. Ocean currents were reconfigured as the polar caps shrank; Uropia shivered in an unfamiliar chill and the white bear of the north polar regions became extinct, along with many other lifeforms that could not adapt quickly enough to an altered environment. Oceans were degraded by overfishing and by the pollution produced by the technology of too many billions of people; many species of fish either died out or became too laden with toxins to provide a safe food source.
Historians call the last half of the 24th century the “Apocalyptical,” after an archaic religious word for the end of the world. Planet Earth had already endured any number of TWLs, but the worst of the lot came to power in that period: Jean-Jaq Budreau, known as the “Butcher of Strasberg.” He and his minions invented self-replicating nanobot weapons – microscopic pseudo-organisms that proliferated by extracting the proteins from the DNA of the cells of any biological entity they encountered and using them to manufacture more of their own kind. They were lethal to all life in any place where they appeared; their advance was almost impossible to stop except by destroying all living things in their path and even then they simply went dormant and waited in the sterilized soil for some unwitting living organism to wander in. Budreau unleashed this weapon on Uropia, wiping out the Franco-Jerman Federation as well as small independent nations like Nederlend. The use of nanobot weapons spread to other parts of the globe, rendering large swathes of Afrik and of the Western Hemisphere uninhabitable. Only in the two hundred years prior to the 30th century had progress been made in neutralizing the danger of these self-replicating assassins, a process assisted enormously by the Krisí’i’aidá.
The TWLs also used more conventional weapons. Budreau had attacked the Islands of Britan with a pair of radiant bombs. Both Kambridge University, which was conducting research into the neutralization of nanobots, and the storied Old City in the heart of Lunden were destroyed; the seat of British government was wiped out in an instant, killing the last British King. Other TWLs devised even more lethal radiant weapons that left longer lasting effects. Thus, areas which had escaped nanobot assault, like the Middle East and coastal areas of North Ostrailia, had been saturated with a kind of radiation that had a very long half-life. And certain parts of the world, like the east coast of North Ammerik, had received double doses of destruction from both radiant bombs and nanobots.
In the midst of all this was a human population pouring its last energies into the primeval drive to stay alive – existing barely above stone-age level, dependent on the grudging largess of local tyrants. Social, religious, and cultural institutions succumbed, leaving only oral tradition to inform and restrain human behavior. In the 21st century most of the world’s knowledge had been embedded in a complex web of digital hardware, but when the worldwide power grid and satellite system failed in the mid-22nd century, this web turned to smoke and vanished. By the 25th and 26th centuries global communication and intra-global transportation, including ocean and air shipping, had become extinct.
Each region existed as best it could in its own isolated contextual bubble. Certain portions of the Earth were less damaged than others, namely, Midammerik, the Islands of Britan, Ostrailia, parts of Afrik and Southammerik, the Nipon Islands, the North Mediterrian Rim, and far northern regions like Sibera and Scandinave. Elements of PDA culture and technology survived in these areas, providing something to build on when planet-wide communication and transport finally began to come back to life. If this had not been the case, Earth’s civilization might have had no chance of regenerating for many millennia.
However, throughout the Second Dark Age there endured a minority of people who valued reason, compassion, freedom, and order and who never entirely lost their faith in human nature. Overwhelmed by the misery of the time, these people had to go underground, communicating by a primitive shortwave radio relay network in places where parts for the equipment could be fabricated or scavenged. These people had acquired a name: the Underground Archivists, composed of teachers, writers, librarians, scientists, and information technicians. With the educational institutions and most of the libraries of Earth wiped out, the Archivists took inspiration from works of 20th century Fantasists like Fahrenheit 451 and The Mote in God’s Eye and began to collect and secrete any knowledge of the past that seemed to them useful for the future. They would hide books or any format of compressed electronic information that they could acquire; they would even scrounge pencil stubs and stray scraps of paper from old middens and copy out by hand material they thought worth preserving. They placed their hoards in any container that they thought might protect them – oil drums, shell casings, coffins, the husks of now-useless refrigerators and electronic devices – and hid them in old bunkers, caves, bank vaults, abandoned subway and utility tunnels. Then they died, leaving their caches behind for subsequent generations to rediscover.
In the 25th century a mysterious group of humanist philosophers rose from among the ranks of those Underground Archivists. They came to be known by the collective name “Mythmakers” and even in the 30th century they remained anonymous. They composed mainly works of fantasy – drama, fiction, and poetry as well as music and graphic art: works of rare beauty and symbolic power from which emerged a new behavioral code, a new system of morality based not on arbitrary prescriptions of religious dogma but on the humanist tenets of respect for life, the unity of humankind, and personal responsibility.
In the 26th century a movement to codify their philosophy began, inaugurating an era known as the Neo-Religious Period. It was a time when society and technology were reconstituting themselves – a time of few wars but of much social and intellectual ferment, including vehement debate concerning the implications of the Mythmakers’ works, the nature and necessity of religion, and the relationship between religion and science. By the middle of the 27th century, humanism had prevailed and the concept of the scientific had been changed forever. Technology, which the Mythmakers had called “soulless,” had become subordinated to a science with a truer meaning: the hunger for knowledge. It could have hardly been otherwise, given the tenor of the Mythmakers’ thinking, which became crystallized in the Twenty Precepts that formed the foundation of 30th century societal philosophy.
By the middle of the 30th century the population of Earth had recovered to near the level of the year 2000 – six billion human beings. Two hundred years earlier it had been 5.85 billion; EarthGov’s demographic policy of two-child families seemed to be successfully keeping the population in check. Six billion was considered the maximum carrying capacity of an Earth that was still in the process of regenerating. Oceans were beginning to revive; prohibitions on open-sea fishing had even allowed tiny remnant populations of large fish like tuna to return from the brink. However, the Great Ammeriken Lakes were still a lifeless chemical stew and large swaths of the globe continued uninhabitable; Central Frans north to the Baltik Sea and most of tropical West Afrik were still infected with self-replicating nanobots, and the Middle East all the way from the Mediterrian Sea through Northwest Ind was contaminated by radiation of a type that would take centuries to neutralize. Nobody could live on the Alantik Coast of the North Ammeriken continent from Old Nu Ingland to just north of the shrunken peninsula of Flowerida, although small areas had been cleaned up enough to allow teams of archaeologists and archivologists to conduct investigations. The Northwest was also polluted with radiation and nanobots, while colonization of the western coastal regions of the area formerly known as Kalifernia was off-limits because of tectonic instability.
The adoption of Mythmaker principles had led to a remarkable breakthrough: the first full emotional acknowledgment in the history of humanity that all the intelligent lifeforms of Earth are of one species, sharing a common DNA. Based on this biological uniformity, every Earther was affirmed to merit uniform treatment and was equally obligated to submit to uniform laws. This principle led to the drive to unify the planet under one government and one point of view. The 27th century Campaign of Cultural Unification reached a successful climax in the decade following 2690, when the political entities of Earth renounced their sovereignty and ratified the Earth Unification Charter, the Language Accord (establishing Inj as the global tongue), and the Universal Disarmament and Non-Aggression Covenants. Certainly the results of this unprecedented unification were positive, but there was a cost, nevertheless. The perhaps overzealous drive for global unity caused much of Earth’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity to be – not violently but nevertheless willfully – repressed or erased. Certainly, humanity might never have regained and surpassed its PDA level of civilization if these momentous shifts in philosophical outlook had not occurred, yet much of value in the heritage of Earth was lost.
The fundamental truth was that a visceral fear of reverting to the destructive behaviors of their disastrous past motivated Earthers to sacrifice some of their individuality and personal freedoms to achieve and preserve a truly civilized and peaceful existence. And while the global Government of Earth was hardly perfect, it was for the most part effective, rational, obedient to its own laws, and concerned for human freedom and needs. Since it had come into existence, there had been no tyranny or war, the global economy was flourishing, and Earth had experienced the wonder of interstellar travel and of the first contact with extraterrestrial ILFs.
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As Kaitrin continued to glance down from the flyer at the world passing beneath her, the ranks of wind towers persisted even as field crops gave way to hydroponic farms contained in domes of molded glass, a technology introduced from the planet Krisí’i’aid but not yet widely utilized for other purposes. The transparency or translucency of those gemlike constructs could be altered at will, making them perfect for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Agricultural lands spread northward along the Midammerik corridor and into the southern reaches of Noonavik Section, which began at the 50th parallel. Much of the staple crops and animal products consumed within the Northwest Quadrisphere came from these plains. People were encouraged to eat more vegetable protein or to stick with the flesh of smaller animals like poultry and rabbits that were less costly to raise; however humans remained stubbornly addicted to the meat of bovines and pigs. Consumption of the natural produce of most bodies of water remained chancy, but aquaculture was common; the Misipp Basin, reclaimed and now allowed to flood naturally, produced quantities of farmed catfish, shellfish, and even frogs.
Certain items essential for communications and interstellar flight, like molecular informational processing components, carbon circuitry, and temporal quantum drives, were produced in low-gravity clean-stations located in nearby space, at the Earth’s 4th and 5th Longrange Points. The production of more conventional manufactured goods was shared throughout every region of Earth, utilizing whatever raw materials and manufacturing services were best suited to local resources and skills. The resulting products were then distributed around the globe for additional processing. Thus, cotton grown in Ind might be spun in the North Ostrailien Islands, woven and dyed in Nipon, and turned into clothing in Teyhas, while iron smelted in Mitchican/Indipol could be turned into cookware in Spain or rail components in Rus. The process, a product of the social science called World Economic System Theory, could be messy and inefficient at times, but it helped ensure an equitable distribution of economic prosperity.
The regions of Earth that remained uninhabitable were administered as Devastation Zones and populated only by those whose rehabilitative work required them to be there. Other areas, such as the southeast quadrant of the old Ammeriken Union, most of Westammerik, and all of the Amazen Basin, had been stripped of their human population and turned into ecological preserves, which were being coaxed back to their natural state. Aided by the exhaustion of Earth’s petroleum reserves, this three-hundred-year-old project to reestablish both temperate and tropical forest ecosystems was at last beginning to influence the climate. Global warming was being reversed; the permanent ice cap at the North Pole had returned, Uropia was getting warmer as ocean currents regenerated, and some island and coastal regions were even reemerging from beneath the sea.
Algae, methane, and the remaining coal reserves now produced the hydrocarbons required to manufacture certain kinds of synthetics. Wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal sources, along with a few fusion and fission plants and new clean technologies using biofuels, provided most of Earth’s power. Space-based solar power generation, another technology with which the Krisí'i'aidá were assisting, lay in the immediate future. Desalination, careful recycling, and draconian controls on consumption had ensured an adequate surface water supply, allowing depleted aquifers to regenerate. Earth was becoming a planet where the dominant species could again flourish in comfort and even luxury, without destroying the very house in which it lived.