It is now the 26th century, on the planet Earth.
Over two hundred years ago the worlds’ rich and powerful left Earth in a mass exodus, leaving behind a despoiled husk in their wake. Even prior to being stripped of the vast majority of their resources, the worlds’ economies had all but collapsed. The collapse was furthered through the majority of efforts going towards finding a new place for the “saviours of humanity”. However, this grand plan didn’t include the everyone. However, that was a well-guarded secret, at least until it was too late.
Now, for the first time in centuries, humankind takes it’s first baby steps out of an ocean of pollution and waste.
When it was fully decided that mankind would leave the wasteland that had once been Earth, it was not the most intelligent or prized or even the most worthy population—it was the wealthiest and powerful who headed up the line. Corporations involved with the design, manufacture, and, presumably, the manning of colony ships chartered for new frontiers became governments in their own right, their CEOs reigning over millions like true despots. Shipyards and relevant training facilities everywhere became veritable military compounds; owners spent their fortunes protecting Earth's only avenues to a future that was still highly debatable.
By the year 2220, the debate had been concluded, and the people of Earth would soon be headed to the stars. Using data scoured from unmanned probes, a trajectory of travel was determined and put into place on the theoretical navigation maps of every potential colony, expeditionary, or escort vessel being prepared for planetary evacuation. This information—the possible arc of travel used by the Exodus ships—remained classified for the masses for a variety of reasons. Though proprietary colonial rights seemed foolish to hold over a people threatened by mass extinction, but they remained at the top of many governments' concerns. The next highest reason for secrecy was simple: if it were possible for civilian scientists to debunk their corporate goals, the resulting aftermath would be devastating.
Each day, USE (United States Exodus) Lottery centers broadcasted hundreds of names and numbers. People were randomly assigned to colony ships that were supposedly in their area. Those who felt they should have been in the first phase of qualifiers spoke out against the system, and rumors spread throughout the country that the lottery was completely fixed and the whole project was just to placate the masses. A particularly dark conspiracy group, the Eleventh Hour, ran internet-based public service announcements that claimed the USE project was actually only going to take the first phase—leaving everyone else behind to deal with the aftermath. The government quickly quashed these lines of gossip, continuing to hold and promote the Lottery with pride and patriotism.
The rest of the world dealt with the impending Exodus in their own ways. Poorer countries attempted to export as many of their important dignitaries and personalities as possible to richer nations so they could obtain space on Exodus programs. Isolationist cultures trying to come up with their own Exodus methods managed to create bigger problems for themselves; the cannibalism of an infrastructure for the sake of the far future, as it turned out, was not terribly beneficial for the short-term. Resources suddenly became thin beyond measure, crime skyrocketed, and the gap between the upper and lower classes widened into a chasm.
War after war ravaged the Earth, some small and some massive in scale. Nothing compared to that last battle – the Re-Unification War. It was so vast in scope that most of the military might left in North America was present in some form or another. Machines and men clashed in a final, bloody conflict to determine the fate of whoever survived, and thus, who would govern.
From the Ashes
It was just more than a battered, exhausted populace could take. The people were tired of war. Moreover, they were just incapable of giving or bleeding any more than they already had. General Carter’s assassin had inadvertently discovered to key to world peace by killing the only man on Earth with the will to fight any more. In that vacuum of violence, a citizen’s government sprang up in the fallen Coalition’s shadow.
This was an administration of populists, run by community leaders and supported by survivalists across the continent. The only settlements left, the small self-sufficient ones that never came to the attention of the military complex and so were never ground up to feed its war machines, become the foundation of this new era. Self-sufficiency and a reliance on sustainable technologies evolve from fringe ideas to the status quo.
Making Things That Last
Humanity started to reclaim the world during this time, making a surge against the terrible aftermath of the Exodus. This new era was dubbed the Big Push, taking its name from the populace’s almost fanatical drive to overcome the damage of the past. Old machines are taken apart and refashioned into technologies that work with the environment instead of ravaging it.
This has the enjoyable side-effect of returning industry to the standard of making things with dependability and endurance. Designed obsolescence becomes a thing of the past. Any machine made during this time is created to endure hard use and the abuse that comes from salvage a planet on the brink of collapse. Many devices of this time are created to outlast their users, each new innovation an investment in the future.
Many agrarian innovations also came during this time. New plants are cultivated for their usefulness in removing toxins from the soil and pollutants from the air. These ‘scrubbers’ are planted as widely as possible in the hopes of recovering the land and sky for future generations. Planting these recovery harvests is a gamble but with communities already on the small side, not planting feed crops is considered worth the risk. With environmental concerns finally a top priority, the fledgling government turns its attention to ensuring the survival and growth of its people. Medicine, agriculture and shelter replace defense and bureaucracy as top budget items. With resources turned toward the health and safety of the citizenry, this new populist movement starts strong and continues to thrive. Like its machines, the Big Push seems designed and destined for longevity.
Echoes of Unrest
Unfortunately, the successes of the Big Push are also its downfall. The inevitable result of peace and prosperity surfaces within a single generation. Population levels skyrocket as waves of babies are born to the nation’s productive and protective citizens. Twenty years after the formation of the populist state, its citizenry has grown by nearly ten times.
The gamble with scrubber harvests proves to be a losing one. These environmental reclamation plants have not done their work fast enough, taking decades when they were only supposed to be needed for a few years. There simply is not enough food to sustain the massive population surge. Civil concerns become unrest as the silos start to dwindle and livestock numbers plummet.
The government tries dozens of new initiatives, starting with augmented crops and calorie rationing. The population, having existed in relative harmony for many years, goes along with these plans at first. Drugs come into play, chemical appetite suppressants with wildly variable side effects that make the lower food intake more bearable. While this life is a far cry from the freedom and excesses of before, there is still peace among the populace.
Things Fall Apart
The peace lasts several decades but it is a false one, a calm before the storm. Everything comes to a head at once. Starvation is rampant, the side effects of hunger drugs drive entire settlements into bouts of suicidal depression of violent psychosis and the era’s weaker, less supported law enforcement finds itself completely overwhelmed battling food thieves and maniacs.
Prisons tear open from the inside, disgorging abused convicts into a world that could barely support the citizens it had. These newcomers, hardened in ways the people of the Big Push could not imagine, band together and begin pillaging to survive. While the militaries and police forces of larger settlements are able to drive these marauders off, many smaller towns and outposts are completely eradicated before the raiders are routed and forced into the wilds.
Broken and reeling, the remaining cities and settlements had no time to recover before the final nail in the Big Push’s coffin got hammered home. Environmental concerns banned the use of pesticides early during the government’s decision making. In the short term, it worked and harvests were fine. But with nothing to keep them in check, locusts and other pests began to take their toll on the little crop land that was remaining.
Clouds of insects swarmed what few fields remain, devouring crops and putting an end to any hope of restoring the populist government to power. Society collapsed again and the survivors scattered to the winds, flinging themselves into the distant corners of their ravaged Wilds. This marked the end of the Big Push and the beginning of the Dark Times.