13 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 6





The People of the Walkabout World (Part 1)

The premise of the Walkabout setting is a world out of balance.

If quantum physics is right and reality is shaped by the observer, then imagine how dangerous the world might become when the natural side of things is blinded by the ideologies of money, war and fundamentalist religious doctrine.

Would the world literally shift in alignment with the tainted observations of ten billion souls?

Perhaps not, but that’s what a lot of the Quantum Shamans of the post-apocalypse believe.

But for every Quantum Shaman, there is a neo-Christian from the Church of the Third Coming, each holding true to the belief that the tilt was proof of the divine walking on the Earth. These zealots believe that the obliteration of billions in earthquakes and nuclear infernos was the foretold rapture. It didn’t help that swarms of spirits roaming the sky often manifested in the forms of hellish demons or glittering angels. When questioned why they weren’t taken to heaven, the zealots claim that their Lord needs good people to remain on the earth as an example to the wicked…and that their time served here offers a better place in the celestial choir of the afterlife.

There are dozens of other fanatical groups scattered across the world, but to really understand who they are and the reasoning behind their strange ideologies, we need to look a bit further into the history of the tilted world.

Some claim that the pre-tilted world was a golden age; most say that is a lie. We know that the level of technology available in the pre-tilted world was typically beyond that which is available now. Electronics were more reliable, far less prone to spontaneous breakage, and certainly didn’t have the chance of drawing curious spirits when they were activated. Travel through most parts of the world was relatively safe; and the biggest threats in the more dangerous parts of the world were bandits, pirates, religious nuts or serial killers. There were gleaming cities of glass and steel, the majority of people lived in cities without needing to hunt for meat or gather fruit and vegetables. The local stores were rarely out of stock. People could instantaneously hear things occurring on the other side of the world. There were no monsters in the shadows, only the occasional selfish or evil person.

But while things looked good on the surface, there was always darkness in the world. With their needs fully catered, and their wants spiralling out of control, the upper classes of the old world grew greedy. Claiming more from the people beneath them, quelling the insurrection with their private security forces and the government agencies they had blackmailed and lobbied into submission. For an elite few, the world was good. For the rest it was a dreary grind, punctuated by consumerist fashions and “reality TV” where they could see that other people in the world were in a worse condition, or more stupid than them.

It was hardly surprising that when the world turned onto a new axis, the powerful tumbled to the ground.

When the spirits arose, they took the forms of subconscious beliefs. A billion Christians fractured into a thousand different denominations each shared their underlying hopes of “angels” and fears of “demons” with the Muslims and Jews. A billion Buddhists (and agnostic Chinese who had been brought up on the same tales) conjured forth a vast armada of hellish deities. The Hindus of the subcontinent and scattered in their ghettoes around the world awoke spirits in the forms of “Daevas” and “Asuras”. The islands of Japan awoke with protective “Kami” and savage “Oni”. Scattered occult groups brought forth ghosts, faeries and creatures lost to the mists of myth and legend. Young girls had their wishes shattered when glittering vampires walked among them, only to reveal the truth of their insatiable appetites. Conspiracy nuts and horror buffs wiped out huge segments of the population when their fears about “zombie plagues” manifest as reality. Even the most ardent technologically-inclined atheists awakened their darkest nightmares with spirits inhabiting exterminator robots that roamed high tech research laboratories, universities and military encampments.

These were dangerous and chaotic times. There are very few records surviving from the dark days when the earth shifted off its axis. It is said that almost half of the world’s population died within hours of the event, with a large portion of the remainder dying in the chaotic days that followed.

If the word “Megadeth” literally means…

1. Unit of measurement equal to the death of one million people 

…then a Megadeth was occurring on average every couple of seconds during the worst moments after the event. Surviving parapsychologists and occultists believed that there had never been anything like this in the spirit world since the extinction of dinosaurs. Some theorised that the spirits launched themselves into the physical realm to repel an imagined invasion, their original forms inspiring the myths and legends of our cultures. Some claimed that the spirits were actually mortal souls lost or unable to enter heaven or hell due to a backlog, or simply because of the chaos of the times, tormented into primal forms of dream and nightmare. Some said the spirits were aliens, drawn to the psychic maelstrom through the dark dimensions of time and space, manifest in the forms they saw in our collective subconscious (Jung would have loved that). No one really knows, but the effect of the spirits has had a dramatic impact on the face of the planet and the cultures of the survivors.



Those who survived in the cities
The cities were hit hardest by the changing of the world. A lack of computers and electronics meant a lack of communications, reliable transportation and money. This prompted rioting with many cities falling to anarchy or martial law for the forbidding hours until the nuclear holocaust began.

The hundred largest cities in the world, the capitals of almost every nation, and many key trading cities were devastated by nuclear bombardment. Those cities which had drawn on nuclear power as a source of energy now sat on time bombs, as many of their engineers had been killed in rioting or spiritual panic.

The greatest cities of the old world were all but gone. The populations who weren’t killed in the blasts or rioting fled to the rural lands or the surviving smaller cities that had often barricaded themselves. The towers of steel and glass were nothing but rusted and shattered skeletons, standing in radioactive wastelands swarming with spirits.

Small enclaves found shelter in the ruined undergrounds and bomb shelters of a forgotten age; most surviving off canned foods, gradually supplementing their foods with hunted animals like rats and feral animals descended from domestic pets. In the dark years, the vast majority of these city troglodytes died of radiation poisoning and cancerous mutation; but a rare few gained beneficial mutations (perhaps transformed by benevolent spirits through the mutagenic radiation).

Others survived in the outer suburbs of the ancient cities, places where the radiation still deformed the plants and tainted the animals, but where a shortened lifespan due to cancer was a risk worth taking compared to the dangers of surviving in the wilderness. Here they scavenged from the deserted shopping malls, rebuilt their lives with jury-rigged fragments of the past and eventually learnt to replant their own crops amid the mildly irradiated ruins. These are the places bearing the closest resemblance to the former world; where streets are lovingly restored to their former glory, or to a twisted version of their former glory as remembered by the second hand oral histories of bygone generations.

The surviving smaller cities and towns of the world are much the same as these outer metropolitan suburbs, with populations less than a hundredth of their former number, the vast majority of buildings have fallen to disrepair; many cannibalised for wood to burn during the dark times, others ransacked for spare parts that might be used to fortify the vestigial remains of civilisation from the hordes of spirits, monsters and violent refugee city-dwellers roaming the night.



Those who survived in the rural lands
The farmlands of the world did not suffer the rioting or nuclear bombardment felt by the citizens of the cities, but this didn’t mean that things were any better. Spirits ravaged the land, destroying the thousands of farming families without concern, in much the same way that generations of farmers had remorselessly ravaged the land with chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.

Often living dozens of miles from their neighbours, or more, these farmers were unable reach their neighbours or even call for help. Those who kept their old CB radios projected distress calls, only to be answered by swarms of vicious spirits and spectral energies. Those who hid, fared slightly better, but had to wait out the darkness (often dying of starvation in the process).

When the skies cleared, the surviving farming communities brought their produce to the surviving towns. A new economy of barter re-established itself. Those in town who were able to trade services of repair or scavenged parts earned food supplies from the visiting farmers. Weekly markets once again became the hubs of local communication, news and entertainment.

Here the farmers and townsfolk shared the survival knowledge they’d gained through experimentation, hardship and loss; techniques for dealing with spirits, growing crops and making the best in the changed world. Shared theories and beliefs became the new ideologies and religions of the world, competing with the surviving religions and social structures of the past.

A few farmers, townsfolk and city dwellers looked beyond the offerings of their local regions, some thinking that greener pastures might lie among the other surviving parts of the world, some simply seeking to re-establish the old highways and trade routes. Alone they would set off across the new world, few ever being seen again; in groups they stood a better chance of survival. In the early days of the new world, there were tales of utopian lands, cities where the electricity still flowed, the lights still shone brightly during day and night, and the spirits were no threat. In time, these traders ventured across entire continents, never finding one of these fabled cities, and hearing fewer rumours about them. Theirs became a life of travel, and to this day they travel still in vast self-sufficient convoys covered in solar arrays, trucks of livestock, travelling greenhouses. A few took this travelling concept further and fled the earth completely, using balloons of helium and hydrogen to lift homes and entire villages into the sky, only occasionally dropping to the earth every couple of months (or years) when their supplies run low.   
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