the world as it was
In the latter half of the 20th century A.D., after tensions between Eastern Europe and the West began to ease, tensions began to rise between Europe, America, and the Middle East. Early in the 21st century those tensions exploded into a global war.
For the second time, nuclear weapons were detonated during war. There were only a handful of targets. One was enough.
A tactical nuclear device was smuggled into Atlanta, Georgia. The explosion breached the quarantine at the Center for Disease Control, releasing a highly virulent organism which CDC scientists had been studying. It spread first through emergency and rescue personnel, but soon international travelers were carrying the disease home to densely-packed cities. The incubation period for the disease was nearly two weeks. By the time symptoms appeared, thousands had been infected. Progression was rapid after the onset of symptoms, and nearly eighty percent of all who contracted the virus died within 48 hours. Within a few short months of its release, the virus had killed over half the earth’s human population. Those who survived did so because of a genetic “aberration” rendering them partially immune to the virus.
A random mutation produced a zoonotic strain, and soon many domesticated animals were infected as well, dying just as quickly. Disposal of the bodies was a growing problem, and the numbers of unburied dead rose, allowing other diseases to sweep through the remaining population. Crops began to fail for lack of irrigation, fertilization and pest control. Local conflicts broke out over food, clean water and arable land. Over the next decade the earth’s human population would be further decimated by famine, disease and war, eventually falling from over seven billion to less than half a million. Survival became the only driving force and all other pursuits had to be abandoned.
For the next 200 years or so, mankind fought against his own extinction. That first decade became known as the Great Death, and the following centuries are referred to as the Dark Time. Only legends remain of the Dark Time, and even less is known about the world as it was before the Great Death.
the world as it is now
While humankind fell into a barbarism unknown for tens of thousands of years, Mother Earth began to repair herself. Although most species dependent on man, both domestic and wild, became extinct, a few flourished. Some species endangered through lack of habitat were able to repopulate. New subspecies appeared as the result of exposure to both radiation and the mutagenic man-made virus.
Our story begins a thousand years after the Great Death, when humans are just beginning to reassert themselves. Geography dictates the size and shapes of most nations, and regular trading has only recently been established. Each area is largely self-sustaining, providing its own food, water, clothing and shelter, and life is generally difficult, dangerous and short. Without intervention from a shaman or healer, only 1 child in 5 lives to adulthood (age 14).
Religion is a very important part of Sonoran life, giving hope and strength. Beliefs and practices vary wildly, and a few have been carried over from before the Great Death; Christianity is one of these, and so are the tribal beliefs of the Native American nations. It is not uncommon to find belief systems mixed and matched, with elements from many systems patch-worked together into a working whole.
Social systems vary almost as much as Religious systems. In most places, justice is swift and brutal – there is no way to provide for a large number (or sometimes even a small number) of non-productive prisoners. Slavery exists in many places, even as a social foundation is some areas. Most governments are dictatorships, with power falling to the one most able to seize and keep it. Variants on Europe’s system of nobility and monarchy are common. Almost all societies, however, share a fear of technology. Largely taboo, in some areas dabbling in the higher sciences, even questioning why things are as they are, is a death sentence. This is especially true in areas governed by a theocracy.
In the absence of technology two other Powers have been developed: Magic and Psyche. Virtually indistinguishable in effect, they are two very different disciplines. They are also little understood and much feared. In most places anyone showing aptitude for either discipline is believed evil or cursed and put to death. In a few places these people are revered, taught, and placed in positions of power. Tribal peoples all over the world revere their “shamans” and “healers.”
This work by Jean Headley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.