Thursday, April 10, 2008

Morningstar by Jade Falconer

Some said it was the last act of terrorism the human race ever perpetrated on themselves.

Some said it was a stroke of genius that got out of hand.

Some said it was inevitable, merely mankind's vanity and sense of self-importance finally bringing its just rewards.

In the end, it didn't matter what it was.

It was the end of the world as mankind knew it.

It has been said that society is only three meals away from anarchy; it turned out to be truer than anyone knew.

About twenty years into the twenty-first century, someone--speculation ran wild at the time, but no one ever claimed responsibility, and now no one will ever know--apparently planted a virus in the computer that regulated the country's power grid. The delivery of electrical power to the nation had recently become centralized, much to the complaint of conspiracy theorists and the delight of the government, who saw it as a chance to avoid the power fiascos of the early part of the century and ensure an even, regulated supply of electricity to its citizens. In addition, a new generation of supercomputers had been installed to control it, supposedly intelligent, with neural net capability so they could "learn" to handle small crises without human interaction. This was meant to cut out "human error," but in fact played right into the hands of whomever finally took action.

Whether the perpetrators meant to cause all the damage they did remains unknown. If they just meant to cause chaos, or perhaps disrupt comfortable urban lives, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

The virus disabled the central computer almost immediately. Backup systems were of course in place, but these systems weren't intelligent, and shut down the grids themselves when certain parameters went out of the specified range.

Over half of the power providers on the west coast went down in the first wave. The back-up computers tried to re-route the demand for power to other stations, as they were supposed to, but too many had gone down so the load drained all the power reserves. As soon as that happened, the system went into automatic rolling power outages, trying to conserve the power that was left. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough power left for even a reduced load, so the computers started shutting down the entire power network.

Now, nearly a hundred years after the disaster, mankind had barely recovered. The speed at which the world devolved into the dark ages stunned everyone.

The lack of power destroyed much of the perishable food supply. Prices of non-perishables became exorbitant, and costs were so inflated that money itself soon became worthless.

Looting was rampant; the army tried to keep the peace until it was clear that there was little or no government left to pay the army. Very few people were willing to risk their lives when they and their families were starving.

But the biggest problem of all was yet to come.

Tens of thousands of people died in the first days from violence and accidents. Following soon after was anyone dependent upon power to keep them alive. The sick and infirm were next, with no one to care for them any longer. People kept dying as they were denied medicine they needed to stay healthy. Hospitals operated as best they could, but were soon overrun and out of even basic medical supplies. Medicine plummeted back into the dark ages, and people died of even simple afflictions.

Countless toxins and viruses were released when the experimental bio labs lost power. No one really knew just what was released, not that it mattered. There was nothing anyone could do to fight it. People died.

The next problem only became apparent after a few years. There was no organized media anymore, so it was a while before there was widespread confirmation. At least three out of four babies born in the time following were male.

The birthrate had dropped anyway, with the number of miscarriages and stillbirths very high, but that still didn't account for the fact that there were very few girls being born. It could only be assumed that something, some biological agent, was to blame. There was nothing that could be done, except try to protect the remainder of the human race.

Local governments tried to regroup, and succeeded for a while before everything started to wear out. There just weren't enough skilled people to fix everything as it broke, so things like plumbing and social services were but a distant memory for those people who'd made it to the age of thirty.

The rudimentary governments kept some hospitals and labs running, but for the most part people had reverted to the kind of existence the human race had lived a thousand years ago. Those who could, barricaded themselves in compounds, with their own wells, growing their own food, and defending themselves as best they could against marauders. People lived in extended-family groups, and their success varied according to the skills the individuals possessed. Trade was possible, but difficult, as people didn't like to leave their compounds. At least they didn't have to worry about vampires, though. The undead tended to prefer the cities. More readily available food sources.

The cities were in some ways better, and some ways worse, than the country. Trade was easier, with marketplaces becoming more common. The barter system seemed to work, with the few people who were paid (such as the vampire hunters) keeping what currency there was left circulating.

The vampires, of course, had no need for anything but prey, and flourished wherever there were humans. The vampire hunters were the only real police force, as the human race wasn't capable of doing widespread damage to each other any more. Robberies and murders occurred, of course, but they were few and far between compared to vampire attacks.

The presence of vampires among the human race had been a well-kept secret before the disaster. They'd been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But their numbers were insignificant compared to humans, so their existence was officially denied. But now, with so few people, and no real government, the legends were revealed to be the truth. People believed, and the hunters did their job the best they could. To defend those who survived.