My name is Leonard. I am a servant of the Lord, Keeper of The History, and Seeker of Ancient Wisdoms. We who are the keepers of the Faith and History have been largely immune from the hubris of the outside world. No one doubts the value of recovering our past during the B.C. times. Even the worst dictator and homicidal criminal can't help but view our quest as a righteous one that sparks the deep fires of curiosity. We move among the world population in saffron-colored robes, insulated from harm, and supported by good wishes for our eventual success. Even our most hardened opponent has nightmares of what calamity befell our species, and whether this particular bogeyman can ever return in the future.
What was it that caught our ancestors so unawares? How could 12 billion sentient beings, at the height of their collective civilization, not have seen portends of the coming catastrophy? Can we, too, ever be so blind?
I don't know who will lay eyes upon this humbly illuminated book, which I have worked on these many years. I can only hope that whoever you may be, that you will carry on the ancient traditions of scholarship and exploration which we have so painfully tried to keep alive until now. We are a proud people of nearly a million-strong, but we suffer from a lack of knowing much about our own ancestors beyond the scraps of information we have been able to accumulate in recent generations. Most of the stories seem farfetched, but in every story that has been passed down to us, we see glimpses of a common historical reality. We count the beginning of our history from a particular week some 287 years ago. During that week, a disaster of nearly unimaginable scope seemed to befall our world.
We know so little of this time. It is hard to know which of the many tales we have heard is fact or merely the prattle of a misguided historian added to the oral story line. We have few written records from this time, and it has been a hard scrabble to piece together the events leading up to the Last Week and beyond. Occasionally, we find bits and pieces of books, rooms filled with mysterious disks of material, and curious cabinets with glass fronts sitting on desks. Only the gargantuan rusting skeletons of denuded buildings survived the ravages of the centuries. So, the few million of us that have survived the long expanse of time must settle for legends and tales told around campfires to reconstruct our past. The passage of time between those ancient events and now seems a vast desert of 287 years, filled with wars, petty kings and empires. We call the time before the Last Week the Before Chaos era, and times since then After Chaos, so today's date is 15 Altun 287 A.C. on a twelve-month calendar system.
Chaos came upon our ancestors like the proverbial bat out of Hell. But it seems that no divination by human Seers could ever have forecast the terrible breadth and scope of the chaos that ensued during the week of 8 Egrat 123 B.C. After an 18,000-year long afternoon, our race was suddenly plunged into a battle for its very existence as a species. Only a few thousand of its 12 billion inhabitants escaped death through acts of bravery, near-bestiality, or shear random luck. When we finally get down to writing our history, chroniclers will no doubt re-write these last moments to reflect our highest ideals and aspirations as a spiritual society. But for now the sting of what Nature did to us, and what some of us had to do to survive within its horrible grip, are still to close for me to offer a balanced treatment of the events.
The occasional book or metal plate recovered from these ancient times suggests that scientists had been anticipating some of the dimensions of this cataclysm for decades. Nature eventually stepped in and delivered its final stroke of doom while our ancestors were still debating what was going on around them.
The first signs appeared in what our ancestors identified as the late 21st century, which in our calendar are the years between 557 and 457 B. C. Ocean creatures called Atlantic Right Whales began to beach themselves. At first only a few dozen each year. Then as the years passed, the beachings outstripped even the local waste management services to haul away the carcasses. It was against international law to tow the bodies back out to sea. Once human hands touched the dead whales, human laws applied to their disposal, unless you wanted the bodies to rot in place and declare it an 'Act of God'. Ships at sea tried to heard them away from the continental shelf, but like lemmings, the whales relentlessly pushed forward and found their ways around the well-intentioned mariners. Within 30 years, the populations of whales had declined to such meager levels that entire whale species could no longer sustain their reproductive capacity. We have recovered the partial skeletons of some of these large animals from buildings known as Museums. By 147 B.C., only a few dozen carefully guarded whales had escaped extinction worldwide.
It appears that for millennia, bird migrations had traveled their familiar tracks across thousands of miles of land and ocean in search of warmer climates, and to out-race the frigid winters of their summertime landfalls. Nature had honed these migrations so that the paths taken were optimal for the endurance and feeding of millions of birds enroute. Deviations by only a few hundred miles could cause death to thousands of birds working at their physical limits in search of food, shelter and rest. Ornithologists began to spot problems in the annual migrations as long ago as the Ancient's 21st century when some bird species already under population stresses, never showed up at their usual winter-over locations in the tropics. Then as time passed, more and more species failed to show up, and the tracking sensors began to record what ill omens had befallen them. Normally, migration hugged coastal routes, but now a new pattern had emerged. The migratory tracks had begun to drift and swerve erratically, in some cases flowing hundreds of miles out to sea, before swinging back to land. Only the hardiest birds had the stamina to follow this circuitous route. By the millions, exhausted and dying birds began to wash up on beaches worldwide. The Ancient's 22nd century went down in history as the Century of the Great Extinctions with thousands of bird species vanishing altogether within only a few decades.
For every major specie that was lost, uncounted minor species also met their fate. First the Monarch Butterfly, then the dragon fly. Some places lost their biota quickly. All mammals heavier than 100 kilograms including elephants and horses vanished within a few months worldwide. The sudden loss of certain bacterial species caused the collapse of many agricultural industries, or drove the expenses for artificial fertilizer to astronomical levels. In a curious twist of fate, it was the loss of the smallest living organisms, not the largest ones, which ultimately drove the world into a wretched cycle of starvation and famine. By the Ancient's 23rd Century no fewer than five major wars had been fought over food-related issues. The famine and population dislocations that ensued further reduced human population levels by tens of millions each year.
What was causing this? Some authorities of the times said that it was merely the natural evolution of entire genres of living creatures which had survived an exhausting 160 million years of life, and were now meeting their fate due to entirely natural circumstances. Other scientists pointed to a more celestial cause having nothing to do with genetics. Since the 20th Century, scientists had watched with increasing concern as Earth's invisible magnetic field went through a series of dramatic changes. Mariners and cartographers since the 15th Century had known of the subtle drift of Earth's magnetic poles. Maps had to be re-drawn every 10 years so that compass bearings for well-known landfalls and harbors would remain intact. The slow steady drift continued for decades and centuries until 1950, when a new regime began to take over. Within 50 years the magnetic pole drift had accelerated to hundreds of miles each year. By 2050 the north magnetic pole stood directly over the true North Pole, and within 50 years it had continued on its way into Siberia. There was far more to this that simply the inconvenience of more frequent map making. Bird migrations, whale navigation and the ability of certain bacteria to find food was altered so fast that each species could not evolve fast enough to keep up with the new rules of navigation. Humans had long since put away their magnetic compasses in favor of satellite navigation, but the animals we relied upon for food, and the diversity of the biosphere, either found a way to adapt or die. Many died. If the movement of the magnetic poles were the only influence, we might have survived to adjust to the New World it ushered in, but Nature chose not to be so kind. Not only were the magnetic poles moving, but also the entire field was weakening.
It started very slowly. Scientists had charted its decline since the 20th Century. For two centuries the decrease seemed slow and steady. This lulled the Ancients into believing, for a time, that it would be some far future generations in the 35th Century that would really have to worry about its consequences. Not them. Such procrastination and denial was a hallmark of our Ancestors. What they hadn't counted on was that nothing is completely smooth in Nature. Sometimes things change in fits and starts like some curious tango on the ballroom floor. Explosions of energy appear suddenly on a calm day and swirling tornado funnels obliterate houses and lives.
In the century before the Last Week, Earth's magnetism changed in many invisible ways. Old textbooks showing toy bar magnets as analogues to Earth had long since become useless models to the far more complex patchwork of magnetic domains that emerged each year. Bubbles of magnetism flowed out from Earth's core. Upon reaching the surface, they annihilated whatever magnetic polarity was already in place. The magnetic energy liberated was of titanic proportions. Superstorms grew like mushrooms over night, spawned devastating lightning storms killing thousands of people in their beds, and then disappeared. Humanity learned to live with the constant threat of personal annihilation. Daily forecasts tried to predict where the next magnetic bubble might emerge, but could often not keep up with the changing conditions and lack of enough data to guarantee more than Toss-of-the-Coin accuracy. While they were trying to go about their normal lives worrying about the prospects of death from below, they were all the while being pummeled by invisible radiations from On High.
Once Earth's magnetic shield had dropped to only 10% of its normal levels, it ceased to be effective in keeping solar storms and cosmic rays from penetrating deep into the atmosphere. The cosmic rays were no longer deflected harmlessly into space, but collided with atoms of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon to produce a steady, lethal rain of radioactivity. For all of human history, we received more radiation from the soils below our feet than from the air we breathed. This steady flow of radiation caused genetic mutations. It was the invisible watchspring that had driven organic evolution on this planet for billions of years. Over 40 years of exposure to this new level of radiation had caused so much genetic mutation in the biosphere that half of all species had become extinct, or so seriously mutated that they were a hazard to humans. Humans managed to protect themselves by living largely underground or inside protected habitats connected by shielded tunnels above ground. Foods were artificially produced, but only a bare 100 million people were supported in this way. The remainder were forced to eke out existence outside, in what was soon called the Netherworld. They foraged for food, dealt with rampant cancers of every description, and seldom lived more than 20 years before dying a miserable and lingering death.
Solar storms and flares, which we normally didn't worry much about during the last four centuries, wreaked their own deadly vengeance upon Earth after millions of years being held at bay. The outrushing particles traveled at millions of miles per hour and scoured the upper atmosphere, blasting billions of tons of our air into interplanetary space. From distant Lunar and Martian colonies, Earth looked like some deathly glowing comet with its outer atmosphere trailing millions of miles into space behind it. The loss of so much atmosphere over the course of 100 years had noticeable effects at sea level. Although Earth had done a good job of balancing atmosphere production by volcanoes with atmosphere loss into space, the tables were so badly tilted that Earth could no longer regenerate its atmosphere fast enough. At sea level, air pressure had steadily dropped until it was now like its former pressure at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Those pitiful souls not living in pressurized villages suffered the worst. If they suffered from any breathing problems, even a simple flu, they died in a matter of days from the low oxygen, gasping for breath like fish out of water. Only coastal regions were inhabited by the hardy individuals who chose to deal with radiation effects. A hike up a modest 9,000-foot mountain was like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen gear. Entire human communities became dislocated and out of touch with their neighbors on the other side of a mountain range. The peak of Mt. Everest itself was now, technically 'in space'.
The lack of oxygen, and the extinction of many species of bacteria also meant that natural decay processes were lengthened enormously. A corpse exposed to the elements would survive nearly intact and unblemished for weeks at a time until someone came by and decided to bury the unfortunate victim.
Because the magnetic field of Earth connected in many important ways to the ionosphere, the decay of the magnetic field disrupted all short-wave communication. Only FM radio survived to tie humans together, or the even higher frequencies of television provided by orbiting satellites. However, these satellites began to decay in orbit and shut down once they were exposed to the full force of the solar wind and solar storms.
The disruption of the ionosphere, and the many superstorms caused by subterranean magnetic bubbles, caused devastating changes in the atmosphere. The normal 8 cycle per second 'Schumann Resonance' was severely changed. This led to massive global changes in everything from local rainfall to thunder storm severity. In a matter of 40 years, this resonance frequency changed to 25 cycles per second, matching the beta rhythm of the human brain. This rhythm is usually seen in the frontal cortex during times of mental agitation. At first, admissions into psychiatric hospitals began to increase as persistently distraught patients were admitted for a variety of manic behaviors. As the atmospheric resonance strengthened, hospitals were unable to provide treatment and patients were forced to deal with their new state of mental anxiety on their own. Only dwellers living in specially designed shielded communities were able to function normally. The Netherworld dwellers fared worst of all. The psychological impacts quickly led to sleep deprivation and schizophrenic behaviors of all kinds.
The energy trapped in the new atmospheric resonance had to go somewhere, and often found its release in continent-spanning storm cells that pumped water from the warm oceans into the atmosphere and raised the water vapor level of the Earth. Water is a greenhouse gas. As this process reached a stable equilibrium, Earth's surface temperature rose to a balmy 96 F globally. All traces of water ice vanished at the poles, and in high-altitude glaciers. The heating of the oceans caused the water to expand, and nearly all sea-level communities became uninhabited within the time span of only a few decades. Many legendary cities such as Tokyo, New York, London, Los Angeles and Boston simply vanished under the oceans. 100 million people were forced to flee inland in a series of steady migrations. These Newcomers to the inland cities were largely unwelcome. Civil law and order rapidly broke down in handling all of the cases of murder, theft and vigilantism spawned by a growing xenophobic reaction and the continual squabbling over food, medicine and shelter.
As the magnetic field slackened, the very structure of Earth began to change. Magnetic energies, which are trillions of times stronger than gravitational forces, caused massive internal re-arrangements within the Earth. As the field slackened, matter was no longer supported by magnetic repulsive forces against gravity with the same stiffness as before. As Earth's field decreased, so did its radius, and the denser Earth began to spin more rapidly. Cave-ins became a severe hazard, and a fatal one for those many humans who had decided to live underground to avert the radiation and climate changes. Volcanoes blasted their debris ever higher into the stratosphere, with energies ten times more violent than before. Like a shaken bottle of soda, the effects were devastating to all living near a volcano or lithospheric plate boundary.
The transformation of so much ice from the Polar Regions into the equatorial zones, caused a terrible change in the rotation axis of Earth itself. Since 1992, scientists had monitored the length of day and the direction of Earth's axis, which every school child was required to know as 23.5 degrees. But the sensitive instruments of the day recorded a 14-month 'Chandler' wobble in this pointing, along with a several-second change in the length of day each time a severe weather system moved across the globe. Even the damming-up of countless fresh-water rivers in the Temperate Zone during the 20th Century, had caused a 0.001 second change in Earth's day. Once the icecaps melted in a matter of a few decades, the Earth had no recourse but to realign its spin to the new realities of the way in which water was now distributed across its surface. For several years, scientists watched as the spin axis changed from 23.5 degrees to 29.7 degrees, and then during the Last Week, a threshold was crossed. The spin axis flipped completely over. Like Venus, Earth was now rotating 'backwards', but with a 'day' now 52.5 hours long. The dramatic change in so short a time produced terrible earthquakes and volcanic activity. Some continental regions were turned into lakes of molten lava as the tremendous energies of a polar realignment had to be dissipated as the laws of physics demanded.
In the decade before the Last Week, and in the century that followed, humanity did not behave in ways that we might find admirable. Luckily, we have few written records from this pivotal era in human history and evolution. Our DNA reveals a 'bottleneck' in our genome where our current makeup was carried by only a few thousand distinct individuals whose mutations allowed the rest of us to survive and carry-on the evolution of homo sapiens. We know that we were once a planet-girding population, with colonies on Mars and Moon. Perhaps someday we will visit these far-flung outposts of humanity in space. In the survivors, will we see a trace of the beings that we once were? Like us, do they have two arms and six fingers? Is sugar a lethal chemical? But for now, space travel remains a dream. We have yet to master the intricacies of what the Ancients called 'Electronics'. The reality of the day now seems so much more focused on survival and mere reproduction, than on what our ancestors called art, music and science.
And that is why we Seekers of the Ancient Wisdoms must follow our calling. We are compelled collect all the scraps we can find of those long-ago Golden Years of humanity. In time we may learn from these scraps how to light the darkness without fire, and how to cast our pictures and stories through the air to far-off lands. Without us, human history ends with our generation, and we find ourselves scarcely different than the poor animals with which we now must share our planet.
Story written by Sten Odenwald
Copyright (C) 2003
The Astronomy Cafe