Rise of Æster

Imagine a steampunk world of adventure, an alternate history that never was…

PAe -1 to PAe 3

1861 (PAe -1)

Complete Æster cover extends to 7 degrees from the poles, the ocean rises 1 meter.

A series of atmospheric phenomena are reported, of thick bands of yellowish clouds running north-to-south, blocking out sunlight and extending from the northern United States through Canada.  These so-called "darknesses" only last a few days but some linger for up to several weeks, completely masking the sun in shadow.  The strange, dense clouds appear to disregard the wind, remaining stationary in the sky. Flashes of light emanating from within frequently punctuate their darkness, presumably the result of electrical activity. Throughout spring and summer, regions where shadows persist for longer periods of time experience small but troubling crop failures and a general die-off of more fragile plant species.  No explanation for the phenomena is posed at the time, but reports gathered from around the world indicate that those initial north-south streamers can now be considered component to the onset of complete æster coverage descending from the Poles.

1862/PAe 0 - The Rise of Æster
Complete Æster cover extends to 9 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 2 meters.

An extremely disturbing pattern emerges.  Large, sulfur-colored clouds form over industrial cities worldwide.  These thick clouds move pole-ward with no regard for wind or weather.  In America, numerous cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and St. Louis witness the phenomenon, marveling at the strange thickness of the clouds and the near-constant play of lightning amongst them.  The entire northern border of Pennsylvania and much of the southern border of the Great Lakes grow dark as such clouds form over hubs of the American steel industry.  That year, another threat posed by the Rise is fully recognized.  Swelling sea levels begin to inundate coastal regions all over the globe.  What had been thought to be anomaly becomes catastrophe when New Orleans, Washington DC, parts of New York City and many other coastal cities flood despite great attempts to hold back the swelling tides. Dangerously rising waters push inexorably inland along much of the southern coast lining the Gulf of Mexico, dramatically widening the Mississippi River.  Both the Union and Confederate governments barely hold national panic at bay whilst the Civil War continues without abatement.  

In early summer, compasses spin uselessly from changes in the Earth's magnetic field.  By the end of the year, magnetic poles reverse completely; magnetic North now emanates from the southern hemisphere.

In the northern United States, floods, crop failures and resulting food shortages force the Lincoln administration to divert troops from the front lines to ensure order and prevent widespread panic. This loss of manpower and the timid leadership of General George McClellan contribute to a defeat at the Battle of Antietam on September 17th.  Weeks of brutal fighting follow, as the Army of Northern Virginia battles its way to Washington, D.C., defeating Union defenders at the capitol on September 28th. The final three days of fighting take place in the flooded streets of the capitol itself.  On September 29th, President Abraham Lincoln signs Articles of Surrender, ending the Civil War.  It is a staggering loss to the Federal Government, but President Lincoln is a very practical man.  Without the War bleeding off resources, government can now be fully devoted to coping with the catastrophe.

The Federal and Confederate governments draft and sign an unprecedented pivotal document during the end of hostilities, the Treaty of Assistance. In the moment, faced with growing calamity, both governments consider a pledge of mutual support as essential to survival. Although hostilities are officially ended, animosity and violence created by the War still threaten all. Charles Marshall, aide-de-camp to General R.E. Lee, present at the signing states:

"We must ensure some method of returning to brotherhood across the chasm created by war." 

The treaty resolves each side to aid the other in the face of "...a time of unprecedented danger to both the Federal and Confederate governments".  This clause binds the two former enemies to each other's aid, and is held to be the most civilized consideration of the War's end; the Treaty later proves to be the most costly document in American history.

By year's end, disaster grows far worse along all the coasts, but especially along the most populated Eastern Seaboard.  Within the first weeks of 1863, evacuations are underway.

1863/PAe 1
Complete Æster cover extends to 11 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 3 meters.

Other effects of the Æster are reported, but none so widely covered as an enormous bolt of lightning that strikes Denver City in the early hours of April 18th.  The lightning strike and subsequent fires destroy much of Denver's business and industrial districts.  Dubbed an "æster strike" and reported by numerous sources, journalist Joseph Clancy expresses a religious sentiment the strike inspires in so many:  

"It was a pillar of lightning and fire, like a fiery tornado.  It was impossible not to harken back to the demise of biblical Sodom & Gomorrah." 

Many consider the æster strike to be an ill omen, and a large number of citizens flee the city afterwards, never to return.  More churches, chapels and religious institutions stand in and around the Denver City of Light than anywhere else in British America.  Although the electrical nature of æster has been thoroughly investigated and such strikes scientifically explained, to this day the people of Denver prefer to be seen as pious, just in case.

By late spring, general evacuation of population centers such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and New York begin in earnest.

Rising sea levels become truly devastating as low-lying areas lose their struggle to hold the waters at bay.  By midyear, most of New Orleans becomes uninhabitable due to high tide flooding, as the fresh waters of Lake Pontchartrain overflow into the city basin.  By year's end, Lake Pontchartrain directly connects to the Gulf, and becomes a brine lake.  Thousands of Cajuns, Creole and other folk living in the low-lying swamps of the coastal south migrate northward away from the rising waters, forming the Second Acadian Migration.

In autumn, violent hurricanes tear through the Gulf of Mexico.  The island of Galveston evacuates entirely after the first of these Storms of '63.  Galveston is scoured bare and remains little more than a shallow sand bar.  Navigation charts now show it as "Galveston Bank".  These storms seal the fate of New Orleans with floodwaters high as ten feet in many places, largely destroying all that is still standing.  New Orleans is hereafter conspicuously absent from maps of the region, replaced by Gulf waters.

1864/PAe 2
Complete Æster cover extends to 13 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 4 meters.

During mid-spring, the Confederacy attempts to gain possessions nearer the equator, allying with France against Spain to seize Cuba.

The year brings flooding along all coastal riverine deltas at high tide.  When warmer weather arrives, insect populations explode in the stagnant shallow pools covering the coastal areas.  Epidemics of malaria and yellow fever quickly run rampant, spread by mosquitoes.  Death tolls from disease rise all along the coastal regions.  By midsummer, the Second Acadian Migration grows from a trickle to a flood as people flee inundated areas, moving north along the Mississippi basin to escape the rising waters.  These populations further spread diseases and the resulting death tolls climb ominously.

The Treaty of Assistance between the United States and the Confederate States cause both to hemorrhage money, manpower, and resources that neither can afford.  Europe, now dealing with its own catastrophes brought by the Rise, can no longer provide loans to either government. To fulfill its obligation, the Confederate States replace a substantial percentage of its normal cash crops, such as tobacco and cotton, with food crops, causing critical financial shortages. In turn, the Union diverts crucial industrial resources to supply Confederate war efforts to seize Cuba.

Both governments struggle to assist the other, an increasingly untenable effort, as infrastructure and organization break down on each side.  Although well intentioned, the Treaty mires both in obligations of finance and resources. Intertwined thus, real obligation and political folly serve to draw the once-thriving nation of the United States closer to disintegration.

First samples of the atmospheric substance are gathered by a British expedition to the summit of Mt. Logan in the Northwest Territories. During initial analysis and experimentation, Lord Kelvin names the substance "Æster ". 

1865/PAe 3
Complete Æster cover extends to 15 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 5 meters.

Early in the year's onset, the Confederacy reverses alliances, enacting a secret treaty with Spain, intending to dislodge the French from Northern Mexico.  Texas becomes the most logical staging ground for warfare in Northern Mexico.
The Texans see the writing on the wall.  Not only would large numbers of Confederate soldiers march on Texas soil, those soldiers would be squarely in the sights of both France and Spain.  It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that either France or Spain, if not both, might invade Texas to take the strategic territory.  In such an eventuality, the Confederacy would be in no position to assist Texas. From the Texan point of view, the situation poses no positive outcome.  In their usual manner, Texans choose to go their own way.  On April 1st, the State of Texas officially secedes from the Confederacy and becomes the Republic of Texas once again. Although met with fiery rhetoric, the Confederate government is powerless to react to Texan secession, hard-pressed and overextended coping with the refugees, Cuba and Northern Mexico.

Large areas north of the 40th parallel now lie in darkness under the Æster for a majority of the time.  Over sixty percent of crops grown north of the 40th parallel fail.  Famine takes hold, precipitating a human migration southward.  This migration grows dramatically as rumors spread of 'walls of darkness' consuming entire towns, and biblical catastrophes occurring further north.  As entire towns flee, rumors and hearsay worsen the situation.  By late spring, the migration turns into a panic as millions flee from imagined horrors just over the northern horizon.  America isn't the only place this tragic story plays out - it is repeated all over the globe.

The British Admiralty creates the Royal Scientific Expeditionary Corps in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Science and the Royal Geographical Society. In May, expeditions depart from Halifax, Nova Scotia and Victoria, British Columbia to investigate the Æster in northern latitudes. 

The situation in Canada becomes dire with complete crop failures and the onset of hit-and-miss winter conditions that last well into May.  The Governor General sends word to the Crown for guidance in how to proceed. The response was,

"...Do whatever you think is necessary to preserve the lives of our subjects and the Empire in Canada.  Survivors and refugees with nowhere else to go should be given the offer to relocate to Australia". 

He takes this instruction to heart and goes a step further, ordering a complete evacuation of the Dominion of Canada with the exception of the military and those required to keep the government running.  The entire population is migrated to Northern Australia en masse in an enormous seagoing exodus.  The seat of the government relocates to Halifax where British Scientific Expeditionary and Research facilities are located.

French Canadians move in their own direction, reasserting ties with France.  French-speaking populations from Montreal, Quebec City and other French-settled areas migrate to Northern Mexico and Texas, adding manpower to French claims in the region.

Over the course of summer, Native Americans all over North America reassert their claims to lost tribal lands.  Numerous anecdotes from these years describe large groups of Native Americans moving northward, toward the coming darkness, whilst whites fled south away from it.  The first group to do so, the Iroquois Confederacy force whites off reclaimed land.  During the following year, they and their allies drive remaining whites out of northern New York.  In a matter of weeks, the Iroquois retake all lands north of the Mohawk River from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario, and within the northern Adirondack mountains.  Cutting rail and telegraph lines, they isolate all white communities within that area from the outside world.  Those who would leave are allowed to depart, the fate of those who do not is uncertain to this day.  Albany is evacuated when the newly aggressive Iroquois warn of dire consequences for those who remain behind. These cities are taken over shortly thereafter.  The government of the State of New York temporarily moves to Troy.

The combined Sioux Nations and their allies, now known as the Black Hills Nation, are next to drive white settlers from their traditional lands.  Unlike the Iroquois, their campaign to drive all remaining whites from the northern central plain is brutal.  From Yellowstone in the west to the Missouri River in the East including the Black Hills, and almost to the northern border of Kansas, the Black Hills Nation drive whites out with bullets, tomahawks and the points of lances.  

The Great Navajo Nation and its allies including the Zuni, Apache and numerous others move north and east driving out remaining whites in areas around Mesa Verde in Colorado, Chaco Canyon and Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The Great Navajo Nation expands, covering the entirety of northern Arizona, including all of the Grand Canyon, the Four Corners region, and the western half of northern New Mexico as far south as Santa Fe.  Some whites are moved out by words, others by coercion; in the end, the lands now claimed by the Navajo Nation are utterly devoid of white men.

Observing how the Indians of the Black Hills Nation dealt with whites, Mormons in the region make broad overtures of peace to all Native American groups in their area.  Fortunately for the Mormons, no Native Americans appear interested in the land of the unfulfilled Deseret.

The Mexican Government viciously puts down similar Indian uprisings in Mexico, precipitating brutal fighting with the Natives and fanning violence in territorial disputes growing between the Confederates, France and Spain. 

As disasters rage in the East, California's administration surmises the Federal government to be incapable of assistance in any meaningful way.  Facing its own difficulties with flooding as the San Francisco Bay expands inland, it is decided to cope with the catastrophe as an independent entity.  Without enmity, the State of California ratifies a new constitution as the Republic of California, claiming territorial rights to the Oregon Territory and western Mexico surrounding the Gulf of California.  The California Republic and France immediately begin negotiations over disputed territory in western Mexico, talks which drag on for years with little progress. Coping with more pressing issues of larger catastrophes takes precedence over the territorial dispute.

Rising waters finally push the Mississippi River over its banks along its length south of St. Louis, beginning formation of the Great Mississippi Bay.  Once the huge river is free of its banks, flooding occurs with lethal speed throughout the region.  Hundreds of thousands of acres are lost in a matter of days.

Observing tragedy unfold, the Lincoln Administration appeals to Great Britain for assistance and permission for American citizens to emigrate to British possessions in Australia and India. Both requests are granted.  With the blessing of the British Crown, a great many Americans immediately begin a long voyage away from North America, most never to return.

By year's end, outposts of the Royal Expeditionary Corps are established in Victoria and Halifax.  These facilities function exclusively to study and observe the Æster.  The Governor General reestablishes the government of Canada in Halifax at the new facilities of the Royal Expeditionary Corps.