07 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 5

To see the earlier parts of this series...
Click here for Part 1: Geotectonics
Click here for Part 2: Weather
Click here for Part 3: Vegetation
Click here for Part 4: Humanity

Technology After the Tilt

Technologically minded shamans believe that radioactivity has traditionally been a sign of weakness between metaphysical realms. They claim that spirits sought out these locations in the past, using them as gateways to move between their realm and ours, and as points of recharge for their powers.

Among the other groups who believe paranormal effects are due to aliens, aware swarms of nanotechnology, or quantum effects manifest in the world due to mass delusion and psychosis, there are other theories linking paranormal phenomena and electromagnetic radiation.

The one thing that is certain in the world is that the most advanced technologies are now risky to use.

The first thing to impact on technology in the tilted world of Walkabout was the series of electromagnetic pulses when the earth shifted off axis. Computer networks went down, telephone grids were shattered, the internet died. Older and more robust technologies fared somewhat better, with electrics surviving better than electronics, valves resisting the electromagnetic shockwave better than integrated circuits.

The second thing to impact on technology was the sheer lack of people to repair or maintain it. If a simple electromagnetic pulse had occurred, then the people of the world might have been able to rebuild using their combined knowledge...this might have taken weeks at best, years at most. But when a power plant requires a team of specialist engineers to operate it, a team of specialist technicians to ensure smooth running, a team of specialist tradesmen to attend to physical damage, and a regular supply of fuel (requiring it's own logistical teams)...one or two missing links in the chain make things difficult to restart, missing most of the chain makes it nearly impossible.

Under a blackened sky, solar power was useless. Wind power was pushed to the limit with the vicious storms swirling across the world, and when electromagnetic static built up in the air it typically sought anything tall and metallic as a conductor to defuse itself. Wind towers became lightning rods with few able to repair them.

Anything that was nuclear powered in the past was now a beacon to the paranormal. Creatures of dream and nightmare flocked to drifting aircraft carriers and battleships, or swam through the inky blackness of the ocean depths to swarm around sunken nuclear submarines. As insects drawn to a bright light. No matter what the intelligence of the paranormal entity, they instinctively knew that the nuclear energy could be harnessed to feed themselves and empower their abilities. These mobile sources of radiation were like drifting cracks in time and space, luring monsters from our side who just wanted to get home, and acting as doorways to creatures beyond our realm...creatures who wanted to visit, raid or conquer. As a result, only the bravest and most foolhardy of humans dared to approach these ancient drifting hulks.

A side effect to this meant that anything transmitting radio waves had a chance to draw the paranormal. Intelligent spirits might have recognised that the radio waves were projected at the wrong frequencies for nuclear energy, but more instinctive spirits often didn't seem to understand this difference. A low powered radio communicator might have emitted enough energy to lure a minor spiritual drone if it was in the area while the communicator was active, while a high powered transmission tower would have acted as a beacon to instinctive paranormal entities within a hundred kilometres (or further). As long as a source of radio waves was active, it acted as a lure. This has meant that most radio communication was kept to short bursts. Even if they hadn't been destroyed in the series of global EMP shockwaves, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi could be used only sparingly if further spiritual trouble was to be avoided.

Fuel and food became a key factor in survival. Transport across the globe was dangerous, so there was no shipping of oil between continents...and this was the final straw for some nations who were teetering on the balance of anarchy. Those groups accustomed to lives of luxury found themselves without their creature comforts (there were many suicides in those days), while those who had survived by the sweat of their brow found it tougher.

In time, the world settled.

The most evolved pre-electronic technologies were redeveloped by the majority of the world. Newly emerged settlements gathered around hydro-electric power stations, steam driven turbines, and bio-diesel engines. These sources of energy typically emitted low levels of electromagnetic radiation from their spinning magnetic dynamos, and their crudely rewired operational computers. But the survivors of the world learned to take these paranormal effects in their stride...some taking the defensive by fortifying their settlements, others negotiating with the spirits who had been attracted to their homes, some worshipping the entities drawn, and others using the power generators as beacons and traps. The earliest days of civilisation's rebuild were a dangerous time.

The most powerful of the new settlements often set up standing armies and militia groups to confront the paranormal visitors lured to their walls. Considering themselves safe within their fortifications and guarded by their soldiers, the leaders of these groups tended to resume their pre-tilt life...turning on their entertainment systems, their lights, their carefully rescued computers...which would in turn draw more spirits and make it harder for the soldiers to protect them, and provide more of a drain on the limited resources available. Yet these settlements often became beacons of hope to the survivors of the land. Shanty towns would grow up around them, and refugees were often granted citizenship within the walls of a town in exchange for their technical skills, military duty, or indentured service. Typically most valued were those who remembered the arts of metalwork, engineering, electronics, and gunsmithing.

It wasn't a time of innovation, it was a time of preservation. Sharing the knowledge of the old world became the most effective way to survive. Those who didn't want to learn had to show possession of their own skills for survival. Those who weighed a community down were ostracised, abandoned, or had to talk very fast.

Gradually the world settled into a new neo-feudal era.

Transport

Most of the settlements in the new world are small. No more than a few thousand people, no more than a kilometre or two across. Within a settlement, the most common form of transport is walking, followed by horseback. Heavy goods are most commonly carried by a cart. A few within a settlement might have a car or motorcycle, in Australia there is a high proportion of vehicles empowered by LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas), and there are enough local gas mines that these would still be a viable option in settlements close to a surviving mine. More likely though, are the vehicles which have been converted to run on bio-diesel or steam. Most vehicles in a settlement are used by militia members to patrol the outskirts and the territories around town.

Transport between towns is a dangerous affair. In the decades immediately after the tilt, a person would rarely reach their destination if they tried to travel more than a hundred kilometres from their home. Even now, it takes careful knowledge of the land and a well equipped convoy it you want to travel between settlements. The most successful travellers have simply become known as "Nomads"; they travel in tribal groups using diesel and steam powered trucks, RVs, cars, and motorcycles. Small nomad groups typically contain ten to thirty members, while large groups might range up to five hundred members. Some nomad groups have claimed the old train lines as their designated travel routes. The majority of trade between communities is handled by the nomads.

The skies of the tilted world are not empty. Diesel aircraft and airships are known to make the journey between settlements, and even between the regions and continents of the world. The majority of knowledge gained about the new world has come from these intrepid aviators in their jury-rigged flying machines. It is also known by the survivors on the ground that there are entire towns of people who have forsaken the earth; drifting in the skies in shanty towns held aloft by dozens of huge balloons filled with helium and hydrogen. Balloon traders descend every now and then, to replenish the supplies of the sky-bound communities, telling tales of the far off lands they have encountered in their drifts.

It is said that there are spiritual creatures capable of opening wormholes through space, capable of transporting themselves (or others) across the world instantaneously...but few among the survivors of civilisation believe these stories.

Communications

Very rarely does someone turn on one of the old transmission towers to project a message across the world with radio waves. Most of the old towers have been torn down for scrap metal. Most of the long distance communication in the world is transmitted by aviators (who commonly double as an air mail service), while medium distance communication is handled by nomads, and local messages are delivered by express horseback riders.

With a connection to electromagnetic radiation, it is said that some spiritual entities are capable of harnessing the communications of radio waves. Some spirits have been known to communicate only through the speakers of radio systems, some trickster spirits are sad to have changed the order of words in transmitted messages to create entirely different missives. To most people, the only reliable message is a hand written one.

A few rare friendly spirits claim to have a psychic link to one another, being able to project conscious thought around the globe instantly. Tribal groups friendly with these spirits may have used this technique of communication, but civilized anthropologists believe this to be smoke and mirrors.

Industry

Beyond agriculture for survival, the recycling of scrap seems to be the main industry of the word. People don't have the time or energy to innovate, so they make do with what they've got. In a few lucky towns, an old factory might provide new parts that can be traded with other nearby settlements. but in most cases, the raw materials are hard to come by, and this means that the factories and workshops lie dormant even if they are functional.

No longer is the world inundated with mass produced goods from China, firstly because it is no longer safe or economical to move goods over such vast distances, secondly because the Chinese factories aren't being supplied with the raw materials from other parts of the world, thirdly because the millions of lowly paid workers have been utterly decimated, and finally because the lands of China are riddled with spiritual activity from the high levels of radiation and residual ancient belief.

Most new goods are made locally, or in nearby towns. They may be hand made, or a craftsman might still have power tools run on solar rechargeable batteries, or they might have a deal with the local hydroelectric (or geothermal, solar, or even coal-fired) power company. Very little is mass produced any more. Items are made to last, because you never know when you might be able to get another one...and the most popular goods are designed to be easily repaired, because things are always at risk of damage or breaking down.

Some spirits (which may be responsible for myths of boggans, goblin cobblers, and tinker gnomes) are capable of producing fine crafts of the own, very quickly and very beautifully. Some collectors seek pieces produced by these entities, others don't trust them, or decry them as "the devil's work".

It is also said that there are a few of the old computer controlled factories, run by complex technologies that have been infused by mechanically minded spirits. These factories are said to produce high-tech robots, beyond anything produced by the humans of the pre-tilt world, each robot a fully conscious entity in its own right.


Health

Just as the factories have all but closed down, the pharmaceutical laboratories also tend to lie dormant. A few labs survive, typically those which were well placed, or connected to military installations; but on the whole, the industrialised medicines of the pre-tilt world are gone.

In some secretive settlements, once housing state-of-the-art hospitals or military operations, there are still remnants of high-tech medicine...cybernetic artificial limbs and implants, genetic retroviruses, biomedical salves and infusions. If there are any survivors in these facilities, they might earn a living by trading their last supplies of these to the outside world (and if they're really lucky they might be able to produce more).

Generally across the planet, herbal and holistic remedies are the key to survival, along with preventative medicine and simply trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Arts such as massage and acupuncture have also gained prominence as medical techniques.

There are also some exotic techniques that have appeared in the world, with spirits able to "lay hands" on the injured to heal their injuries and diseases.

Finance

Electronic currency no longer exists. A lack of centralised governments and banking across the world has rendered paper currency and coinage erratic.

Some settlements still accept the old notes and coins of their former countries, but with the mints no longer producing currency, coins and notes are getting harder to find and more valuable as time passes. Some settlements have developed their own currency, but in general, the order of the day is a barter system.

If something is useful, it is typically considered more valuable. If it is beautiful, and a lot of work has obviously gone into its construction, then is will be more highly sought. If it is from far away, then it has obviously been through a lot to get where it is today...and thus it's value rises. Possessing an object and not using it is a sign of status...such a person is obviously above the mundane activities in life, they have a bit of luxury available to them and this is reflected by pristine items and artworks. These become the items of trade in an age without banking.

Technology Conclusion

So, the advanced technologies of the past still exist at some degree; but on the whole, the world has been pulled back to a steampunk/dieselpunk oeuvre. No more mass produced rubbish cluttering up the lives of the survivors, every item is either a valued possession, is given to someone who will value it more, or is thrown away to be recycled.

Those who possess high technologies will be highly respected (for their ability to maintain such items), feared (because the technologies of the past are strange and powerful), or hated (because those items tend to be spirit magnets)...it all depends who you talk to and what their beliefs are.

Which brings us to the next point...

Next Post...The New Cultures of the World.
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