Rise of Æster

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

PAe 4- PAe6

1866/PAe 4
Complete Æster cover extends to 17 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 6 meters

French, Spanish and CSA forces vie for control of Northern Mexico and the Gulf. The situation becomes clear to the Texans that their southern border is impossible to defend against all three.  Texas takes unexpected action, requesting reintegration into the British Empire; seen by the Texans as the only way to maintain some level of sovereignty, as the British are not vying for control of Central America or Mexico.  Great Britain readily agrees, gaining a large land holding along the Gulf-coast, which heretofore had been unobtainable. The only caveat require of the Texans to be brought under the auspices of the British Empire is manumission, freeing of all slaves.  Agreeing without reservation and officially freeing their slaves within four months, Texas is accepted into the British Commonwealth as the Dominion of Texas.  Although commonly considered as rejoining the Empire, Texans are quick to point out that they were never before subjects of the Empire.  In true Texas fashion, their perspective emphasizes that the Empire is a better place for their entry.  The first act of the newly formed Dominion of Texas is to declare neutrality in the Franco-Spanish conflict over Mexico.

New York State government relocates from Troy to Staten Island.  Weeks later, as lower Manhattan floods completely, New York City civil government joins them.

First on the Eastern Seaboard to evacuate completely, the proud port city of Boston is abandoned by both land and sea. Sailors and ships lead the emigration to Australia, carrying their traditions with them.

The most stunning event in American history occurs on April 16th, when President Lincoln addresses a closed-door session of Congress, proposing reintegration into the British Empire. Reactions to his announcement are predictable, and the resulting chaos takes several days to calm sufficiently for the House and Senate to sit once again, allowing Lincoln to explain his plan. Orating plainly and with calm and measured words, Lincoln brings the situation into sharp clarity; without equatorial land possessions, coupled with the rapid breakdown of order in the northern half of the country, the United States can't weather the ongoing catastrophe alone.

The only possibility to take possession of equatorial lands capable of supporting the population of the United States would be to enter the conflict raging over Mexico and Central America.  The battered United States could not survive a simultaneous fight against France, Spain, and the Confederacy; such action would only lead to the total annihilation of the United States.

Without melodrama or exaggeration, Lincoln illustrates the brutal situation in most honest terms, ensuring that all present recognize the dire threat presented to the citizens of the United States. His address is later dubbed, quite accurately, the "Armageddon Address".

Further closed-door sessions of Congress and heated negotiations fill the weeks following Lincoln's Armageddon Address, in efforts to make this wrenching transition possible. Strong-arm tactics other unsubtle methods bring recalcitrant senators and representatives to see the light of reason. 

Another civil war would certainly result in the United States' demise. To prevent this, the Lincoln Administration bribes, cajoles, coerces and downright bullies members of Congress into a unified front, a task not so herculean as might have been; all parties recognize the growing danger to the nation as a whole.  A single chink in the armor of this unity could bring about a massive schism in American society.  If Civil War erupts anew over reintegration into the British Empire, the United States' obliteration would be unavoidable.

May 30th, with the entirety of the House and Senate standing shoulder to shoulder alongside him, Lincoln announces his intent to the American people.  Lincoln is met with shocked uproar, but not the chaos expected by most.  The dire situation is clearly acknowledged with widespread acceptance by a majority of the populace; that without drastic action, the whole of the United States risks descent into anarchy and destruction.

June 8th, with approval granted by Congress in the form of the "Reintegration Act", President Lincoln sends an official letter to Queen Victoria requesting reintegration into the British Empire.  When this formal request is granted, the British Empire emerges as the largest power on the Earth, with enormous holdings in every hemisphere.

By autumn, the Confederate States of America suffer a refugee onslaught.  Rising seas push shorelines miles inland through summer and fall, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents from coastal cities and towns.  Crops fail when clouds of æster linger along the length of the Appalachian Mountain range, resulting in minimal harvests from northern Virginia as far south as Georgia.  The resulting food shortages throughout Virginia and the Carolinas add hundreds of thousands more to the human tidal wave from the North. The Confederate government is powerless to do anything in the face of such vast numbers of refugees.  Major cities and towns are garrisoned to protect their supplies from the unceasing flow of refugees, now dubbed "locusts" by Confederate citizens.  Such garrisoned cities and towns turn away refugees, sometimes by force. Refugees are directed away from cities and towns to less populated regions, most of which have already been stripped of provisions by previous waves of refugees.

Under this crushing mass of bodies, infrastructure and organization in both Virginia and the Carolinas begins to fail. Throughout the South, the Confederacy begins to crumble.

October 28th, a hurricane devastates the already-inundated eastern seaboard.  Whilst not unusually powerful, higher sea levels and the subsequent ocean surge wreak utter havoc, killing tens of thousands.  From New York to Charleston, low-lying ground is swamped as far as fifty miles inland.

1867/PAe 5
Complete Æster cover extends to 19 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 7 meters.

January 22nd, Britain accepts the United States of America back into the Empire's fold, creating British America.

March 1st, President Lincoln is appointed Governor General for British America.  Thus begins a three-year odyssey to form an American Parliamentary system, melding Federal Government with the British Parliamentary system.  Due to the worldwide crisis, specifically in British America, the Crown gives numerous concessions regarding the "American" version of Parliament.  The Empire opts to concentrate resources on environmental and societal upheaval rather than fight a protracted legal and political battle with American hard-liners.  That the Federal government unified to accept Reintegration at all is nothing short of miraculous.  The Crown is very well aware of the fragility of the coalition.  Too much force applied on embattled Americans to revert completely to British protocols might result in chaos and collapse.  The Federal government had already admitted its inability to cope with rapid changes wrought by the Rise.  The Lincoln administration held control by an unraveling thread.  Over the next three years, the emergency administration sees government frequently teeter near disintegration from a single misspoken word or misinterpreted intention.  This extraordinary set of circumstances forges the American Parliamentary system into a truly unique amalgam of its Masonic and democratic origins, and the centuries-old system of British Parliament.

The Dominion of New England forms as the heart of British America, made up of the most populous and administratively organized states under Federal control. Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa make up this new province.

Nearly from the moment of creation, competition arises between the Dominions of New England and Texas.  Texas legitimately claims to be the first British American Dominion and as such, protests the choice of Philadelphia as the capital and center of administration. The claim is largely ignored as nothing more than bluster, by both the Lincoln administration and the British Crown itself.  Obvious to all, the only facilities capable of administering British North America lie in the old halls of power within the New England Dominion.  Due to this perceived slight, the issue remains unsettled and is still a topic of heated debate to this day...at least with Texans.  The neighboring Dominion of Canada ignores Texan claims.  Canada never left the Empire and perceives Texas as a tantrum-throwing child whose newborn sibling has just arrived.  That Canadians opt to not participate in the argument infuriates Texans. 

Panic spreads, as stories of the coming Darkness propagate and gain momentum.  A reverse migration begins throughout the Mississippi basin.  The Second Acadian Migration reverses course as hundreds of thousands turn to flee back southward.  Now, not only the Cajuns and Creole move, people from every facet of society abandon their homes to flee. Roads and rails are overrun by another tide of humanity fleeing the coming darkness.  The Mississippi River chokes with refugee traffic and movement along its flooding banks slows to a crawl, further exacerbating problems as vital shipments headed upriver are severely delayed or stopped altogether.  Numerous vessels are seized by panicked citizens and forced to turn downriver, often ending in tragedy.  Many vessels are swamped and capsize, overloaded by desperate refugees.  Crews attacked by these mobs are often killed or seriously injured.  Without training or experience, attempts by refugees to pilot the large riverboats frequently result in catastrophic accident.  These poorly controlled ships collide with other vessels, piers and structures along the river. Some simply plow through smaller traffic, run aground or fall victim to fire or steam engine explosions when refugees cannot properly operate them.
During summer, along the banks of the widening Mississippi Bay, thousands die as a result of this southward migration.  By the year's end, Confederate citizens from Tennessee and Arkansas join the refugees. In response, authorities state,

"...there will be no Confederate citizens left north of Atlanta in six months if they continue to flee their homes as they have in the states of Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia".

The death toll grows to staggering proportions along the gulf coast and the eastern seaboard, as virulent diseases spread from the shallow, stagnant waters and through exploding populations of mosquitoes.
This massive migration results in a diaspora of Cajun and Creole populations, who spread throughout and eventually dominate the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

As the situation worsens throughout the Confederacy, displaced populations concentrate near cities and towns.  The forests and fields fill with the dead, dying and those who prey upon them.  Desperate refugees risk seeking shelter near the former cities despite the danger.  It has become so perilous in uncontrolled areas that even formations of Confederate troops are not safe.  Several forces of troops sent into certain areas to investigate reports of ghoulish behavior and cannibalism are never heard from again.  To prevent being overwhelmed by the staggering numbers of people, some cities create vast refugee camps.  In other areas, camps spontaneously materialize as refugees gather together for safety or for access to the few resources available.  

At first, the refugee camps are the only true sanctuaries in the Confederacy.  Former military men, doctors and humanitarians build most of the camps, attempting to ease the suffering of embattled evacuees.  Camps are typically ringed by defensive bulwark, with armed guards and constabularies.  In camps with doctors, the sick are separated and the dead quickly dealt with, primarily by cremation.  Maintaining sanitary conditions becomes a primary concern.  Many of these camps thrive, giving countless thousands a real chance at survival for a period of time.  However, eventually all but a few fall prey to the darkness, starvation, disease or lawlessness of the time.

As the tide of humanity continues to flow from the North, overcrowding in the camps becomes serious. Some larger camps have populations exceeding one hundred thousand people!  Lawlessness, brigandry and looting become endemic amongst the refugees. The unsavory prey upon the defenseless and hide amongst their numbers. As the sheer mass of forsaken swells to an uncontrollable horde, confederate administrators take increasingly desperate actions to maintain control, often imprisoning the displaced multitude behind locked gates. With insufficient sanitation and contaminated water supplies, most refugee camps become death camps, as the evacuees are trapped in close proximity with the diseased, the dead and dying. Uncontrolled epidemics are the most common killers in the camps.

With the warmth of spring, an outbreak of yellow fever grows to epidemic proportions in low-lying areas of the eastern seaboard. The contagion marks one of the most tragic events in both fledgling British American and Confederate history. Even Governor General Lincoln barely survives a brush with the dreaded disease; many in his government are not so fortunate.

Jefferson Davis too, is lucky enough to escape the pestilence alive, but over one quarter of the Confederate government dies of yellow fever over a four-month period, resulting in a catastrophic crisis of leadership. The Confederate federal government never recovers from this loss of core leadership. By default, Confederate states and cities must go their own ways to cope with that nation's difficulties.

After this outbreak, Lincoln orders the seat of British American government moved to Philadelphia, out of the low-lying basins to minimize the effects of devastating disease outbreaks on government.

July 2nd, with great regret, the remains of Confederate Federal Government relocate to Atlanta.  Later in July, confederate authorities order Richmond evacuated, as food reserves run out, rising sea levels render port facilities useless, and the number of refugees becomes completely unmanageable.  The once-proud capital of the Confederate States of America falls, as do so many others, to the Æster.  First abandoned, then stripped of everything useful by desperate refugees, and finally consumed by the rising waters and the darkness.

Spain, seeing an opportunity, grants confederate hardliners territorial rights in eastern Cuba, opening a door for the wealthy and powerful of the Confederacy to emigrate south, away from encroaching darkness and hordes of refugees.  Within a month, a stream of Confederate aristocracy flows from the continent to Cuba.  Freighters, fishing trawlers and even small boat captains rake in tremendous sums within a few short months charging exorbitant fees for passage from confederate coasts to Cuba.

Throughout summer, refugees in the camps grow increasingly restive due to food shortages.  Strained local authorities lose control of many camps and are unable to support both the local population and the throngs of refugees. Tensions boil over, and starving refugees turn to violence and rioting, resulting in a massacre of both refugees and local residents.

In August and September, slave revolts erupt all across the northern edge of the Confederacy, and spread southward like wildfire. Many white landowners, who earlier had resolutely determined to remain behind, are either killed or driven off their lands by angry mobs of slaves looting and burning the estates on which they had served.  Food production in the Confederacy plummets dramatically.

Northern agitators, former Union soldiers and even officers make their way south amongst the refugees, bent on exacting revenge for Union losses in the Civil War.  Not necessarily abolitionists, these men are opportunists with an axe to grind, waging a campaign of vengeance against Confederate institutions, towns and citizens.  In one case, a group of former Union officers and soldiers amassed a small army consisting of whites and freed slaves, leading them on a rampage throughout the South, with devastating effects.

Attempts by the Confederacy to field soldiers to deal with this threat fail.  Refugees press for assistance at every turn, hampering any forces capable of being equipped and put into the field.  Troops must battle refugees just to defend their own supplies.  Only in a single case had a Confederate army group engaged one of the wandering "slave armies", a skirmish which ends in disaster for the Confederates. Lured into battle by a lightly armed and apparently poorly organized slave infantry force, the confederates rushed into battle expecting an easy task. Once fully committed, a cavalry force of both whites and black troops, led by uniformed Union officers, rapidly flanked and surrounded the confederates. Pleas for surrender were ignored and the Confederate column is slaughtered to the last man.

Slaves revolt in Raleigh, North Carolina, bringing widespread, violent rioting. Engulfed in chaos and flames, Raleigh is totally destroyed.  Relief forces arriving later in the week from Greensboro find only corpses and ashes. Evidence of horrific atrocities is widespread throughout the area, and many CSA citizens, white landowners and local government officials are found lynched and mutilated.

Enraged by the revolts, northern agitators and finally the atrocities committed in Raleigh, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest recruits local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan as militia to defend CSA citizens against the "unnatural rebellion" of slaves and incursions by northern agitators into southern territory.

Former Confederate Brigadier-General Stand Watie and his Indian cavalry lead Cherokees and their allies eastward from their relocation lands in the Indian Territory, intent on retaking lands in the southern Appalachians, reversing the Trail of Tears.

In winter, a famine begins to spread, which will last until the following year and kill hundreds of thousands of refugees and locals alike. Cholera, typhus, whooping cough, measles, smallpox, and dysentery sweep through the weakened population and kill tens of thousands more.

1868/PAe 6
Complete Æster cover extends to 21 degrees from the poles, ocean rise at 8 meters.

New reports of dark clouds amassing over widespread regions create growing panic. Cloud sighted over the Appalachian Mountains are joined by reports of clouds building over upstate New York. Sightings from Santa Fe describe vast cloudbanks in the West, spinning off short-lived but violent storms that seem to "walk on legs of lightning". Fort Victoria reports a static pillar of clouds pushing downward to the ground over a period of several days.  No one denies the similarity of these newly forming clouds to those that had spawned over industrial cities and formed the long strands of darkness now blanketing upper latitudes.  Everywhere throughout North America, the clouds continue to darken and spread for years.

Entire cities and towns throughout the South construct defensive walls in response to the violence, lawlessness and desperation now gripping the Confederacy. Those towns failing to do so cannot prevent the starving hordes of refugees from stripping them bare or protect themselves from attack by armies of lawless brigands.

Progressively, CSA territory becomes a scattered agglomeration of walled and defended city-states, surrounded by ungoverned no-man's-land between. Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus and Macon, Georgia; Columbus and Jackson, Mississippi; and Columbia, South Carolina all eventually hold their boundaries through a medieval system of walls and defenders.  For the most part, law only extends the distance of cannon shot from the walls of these cities. Each city becomes an independently governed entity with its own laws particular to the necessities of its location and situation.  Some cities are quite peaceful and egalitarian whilst others degrade to brute despotism. Leadership in such city-states changes constantly, depending on who is the strongest or most ruthless.

At the direction of the British American Parliament, the Dominion of Texas expands its borders to annex the Indian Nation (Oklahoma Territory).  As the Confederacy degrades and the Mississippi Bay grows, it becomes clear that confederate government cannot assist Arkansas and Louisiana. Since massive numbers of refugees were already flooding west from Louisiana, the state appeals for assistance to her immediate neighbor to the west; after short negotiations, Louisiana becomes part of the Texan Dominion.  Faced with the same situation and recognizing a clear degradation of the CSA government, Arkansas follows suit, joining the Dominion of Texas under British rule.

The Confederate Congress chafes at these changes, accusing the British with an attempted land grab; their railing falls on deaf ears.  The Confederates are described in one newspaper as "...farmers crying after the horse has not only left the barn, but left the county".  Infighting begins to tear the Confederacy apart internally as fingers point in every direction. The citizenry blames the Confederate Congress directly for failing to take precautions against the disaster, although no one could have possibly prepared for the Rise. The Confederacy is unfortunately in the perfect position to be hit hardest.  These facts have no effect on public outcry against the CSA government.  At one point, a member of Congress is nearly lynched by a mob on the lawn of his own home.

As usual, slaves have few options throughout the South. Either manumitted to protect city-states or slaughtered to prevent turning against their masters, their only choice is to escape and flee or to revolt. Very few functioning plantations remain by the end of the Rise.

In fewer than three years, millions of refugees die by the roads. Roads line with graves and later, unburied or exhumed corpses. The death toll is highest in CSA Border States Tennessee and Virginia. It is also high in northern portions of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. The Carolinas and Florida are far more dramatically affected by coastal flooding than the effects of migration. Even southern Georgia and Central Florida witness death on an incredible scale when residents attempt to flee the rising seas and die either of disease, starvation or simple exposure along the way. Even beyond the South, almost every major road is punctuated at frequent intervals by stone cairns and minimally marked graves.

Extensive reports of cannibalism are documented throughout the region and dealt with ruthlessly and completely when discovered. However, it is surmised that many instances of these atrocious acts escape detection. Ghouls, those who don't kill but consume the dead, also become common. In some cases, this horrid behavior becomes almost socially acceptable and less severely dealt with.

In June, France invades Cuba, precipitating an offer of emancipation for slaves who will fight against the French invasion and defend fledgling Confederate holdings there.  Slave regiments are raised in Atlanta, Georgia and South Carolina. When news of the slave regiments reaches General Bedford Forrest and his KKK militias, he immediately renounces the Davis administration and claims leadership of the so-called "True Confederacy".  Attacking confederate cities, towns and anyone else believed to support the "Unnatural Uprising" of blacks, Forrest opens a terrible schism in the Confederacy. Full-fledged civil war erupts between Forrest's True Confederacy and the weakened CSA government. The schism adds a horrific chapter to this already awful period of Confederate history.  Countless innocent Blacks, Catholics, Jews and any who are even suspected to aid or defend them are slaughtered. Nathan Bedford Forrest gains the moniker "Butcher Bedford" as his forces rampage across the disintegrating Confederacy.

August 3rd, negotiations are finalized between France and the Dominion of Texas, calling for withdrawal of all French forces from Texan territory. Royal Texan Army forces are assisted in the final stages of the withdrawal by British troops brought in from Canada.

Stand Waitie's Cherokee migration crosses the Mississippi basin, continuing its march east. Thousands of starving, disaffected whites and former slaves join them, seeking any kind of hope.

The Army of the Republic of California pushes south to take the Baja Peninsula, beginning the Franco-Californian Conflict.  A large fleet of Californian warships masses in the Gulf of California to protect their gains and prepare the way to seize the French-Mexican coast of the Gulf.  Only lightly garrisoned by the French, the region is quickly overrun.  Pushed back to the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, the French are entirely out of the Baja Peninsula by the end of the year.

In winter, the era known as "The Quiet" begins.  Estimates vary, but it is generally agreed upon that above 40 degrees North, less than ten percent of the population remain by the end of the year.