A HISTORY OF PROGRESS
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
“TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS IS LIKE AN AXE IN THE HANDS OF A PATHOLOGICAL CRIMINAL.” -Albert Einstein
Progress. The very word that drove mankind to the breaking point; the very word that enthralled our species for 300 years until it at last betrayed us. Progress. To hear the Saints tell it, it was humanity’s pride and greed that led us to destroy ourselves. Gabriel preaches that God himself is punishing our hubris, our faith in that word: progress. Some days, it’s hard not to believe him.
By the end of the twentieth century, it seemed clear to most people that science and technology were operating on a sort of endless railroad track, moving ever forwards in a straight line, and gathering speed as they went. The idea that this train might reach some kind of final station and run out of track was, well, unthinkable.
In the mid twenty-first century, an international coalition completed construction of a fully functional lunar habitat. By 2100, construction of the Starscrapers, massive orbital colonies, research facilities, and factories, was well under way. Controlled fusion reactors seemed to have provided an answer to the looming energy crisis. New advances in genetics promised to make people stronger, faster, smarter, and, if the cloning hype could be believed, practically immortal. International relations hit an unprecedented high as global prosperity and quality of life seemed to be pointing ever up. So it was that that metaphorical train was hurtling down its course at breakneck speed when something or someone decided to put a penny on the tracks.
It Goes Like This
“WE’RE GONNA TWISTY TWISTY TWISTY ‘TIL WE TURN THE HOUSE DOWN” – Chubby Checker
The science-type folks will tell you it had to be bioterrorism. The religious types will tell you it had to be the hand of God, whichever God they happen to believe in. Most folks just shake their heads and cross themselves and hope it don’t come back. I’m talking, of course, about the Twist. It’s hard to say where the name comes from, at this point – and pretty much irrelevant, I guess. The Twist was (is?) a virus, you see, and it put all others to shame.
The Twist, as anyone who’s met a Mute can plainly see, didn’t just kill you. It got inside you, inside your bones, inside your skin and organs, inside your brain, inside every single cell, and it started making changes. Pretty soon, your body was too busy killing itself to fight back, and with any luck, you died before the changes, and the pain, became too much to bear.
Of course, the Twist didn’t kill everybody. Sometimes, the changes were pretty mild (relatively speaking); heck, sometimes they were even benevolent, in a disturbing way. Eventually, it seems, the Twist ran its course, and then disappeared. Those who survived found that the changes generally bred true, and a new subspecies of humanity was born, commonly known as Mutes, Mutants, or Twists.
The old-timers just roll their eyes when young folk start talking about how the Twist couldn’t have spread worldwide as rapidly as everyone says. The old-timers know the truth as they heard from their parents, and as their parents heard it from the ones who lived through it.
The Twist was everywhere at once, and with nowhere to run and hide, people started to panic. For a little while, governments tried cooperating to quarantine infected areas; international medical groups conducted the most expensive studies in history to find a cure; religious leaders urged people to remain calm and pray for salvation. By the time the end came, it was everyone for themselves.
Various disenfranchised and terrorist groups took advantage of the chaos to deliver their messages on the world stage, using WMDs as often as the mass media. The Starscrapers eventually cut off all communication and trade with the Earth, placing the planet under quarantine. The Gardens, vast underground refuges for those who wished to escape from the violent dog-eat-doggedness of the outside world, locked their doors. As many as could fit crowded into the government bunkers before they, too, shut the world out. The vast majority were trapped on the surface, forced to face whatever horrors might come.
What April Showers Bring
“THERE ARE SOME REMEDIES WORSE THAN THE DISEASE.” –Publilius Syrus
By the spring of 2116, it seemed clear that there would be no cure for the Twist. Yet, where modern medicine had failed, progress had left mankind with many other tools, and plague and panic had left them largely unguarded. On the morning of April 17th, dawn illuminated a world coming apart at the seams. By dusk, the moon and stars were looking out over a dead one.
A-Day had come and gone, and the sky was brown with radioactive dust for months. Temperatures dropped rapidly, and acid rainfall poisoned what land had remained untouched. In short, nuclear winter gripped the earth. For nearly fifty years, snow and radiation attempted to choke back the last remnants of life on earth. When temperatures at last began to rise, only the luckiest, strongest, and most tenacious creatures were left alive.
Today, the world is a harsh and unforgiving place, much of it covered by vast deserts, and many places are still poisoned by chemicals and deadly radiation. But life is finally beginning to creep back in, and human life is creeping with it. Most of the Bunkers, low on food and supplies, have opened their doors within the last decade or so, and there are even Edenites wandering around, refugees from damaged or destroyed Gardens. The Spacers who have ventured down from above report the year to be 2164. The Survivors and the Twists, for the most part, go on as they always have. Food, water, and other resources are mighty scarce, of course, and where there is need and want, there will be conflict. For now, though, let’s just take a look around, and try to get our bearings.
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