Friday, July 15, 2016

Campaign Setting

The scientists loved to speculate about the nature of the universe. They measured it, saw that it was expanding, and figured it would just keep on expanding forever.

They were wrong about that.

It's only been about a thousand years since the universe started contracting. It's weird being on this side of eternity, knowing our universe's days are numbered. Even though it's a long way away, even though each generation knows that the end won't come in their lifetime, we're all taught the important dates: the year and time that the universe will cease to be, of course, but also, more importantly, the moment Earth will cease to be. We won't even see it coming. The stars will look exactly the same, they say. And then: Nothing. Our planet will cease to be.

Even though that's a few billion years away, the knowledge that the world is ending weighs on people. Hope is in short supply. I don't think we ever realized before how much we as a species were banking on eternity. Ever since Hump Day, the population has been shrinking dramatically, and not just due to the stretch marks. Suicide is common, of course. And more than a few people have given up on the concept of civilization, deciding to take carpe diem to its logical conclusion. Most of all, though, many people just stopped having children. After all, what kind of person would bring a child into a dying universe? All due respect to your parents, of course.

Oh right, stretch marks. I should probably explain.

So, the universe was expanding at the speed of light, right? Well, there was a theory that time was connected to the speed of light, and the speed of light was connected to the speed at which the universe was expanding. The theory went that if the universe was steadily expanding slower and slower, we wouldn't notice since the speed of light was slowing and, therefore, time was also slowing. So, we wouldn't perceive it as slowing down.

Are you with me so far?

Well, forget it, because they were wrong about that, too.

On Hump Day, the Universe started contracting at the speed of light, the same speed it had been expanding. Time, so far as we can tell, has continued moving forward at the same rate, more or less.

The "less" part is what we call stretch marks.

Maybe another analogy will help.

Have you ever taken a rubber band and stretched it as wide as it can go? It starts out pretty smooth, but as it expands parts of it stretch out more than others. When you stop stretching it and return it to its regular size, you'll notice that there are parts of the rubber band that aren't smooth anymore. They're wobbly and folded a bit; permanently altered by the expansion.

That's stretch marks. Except, for the universe, the stretch marks are rips in the fabric of reality, doing strange things to space and time.

The possibilities with a stretch mark are endless. They can be any size, any shape, and seem to do pretty much anything. Sometimes they last only a few minutes, some have been around for decades. Some are benign, some... not so much.

I had a friend slip into a stretch mark once. We were curious, heard it from a distance--you always know when one's near. It kinda warbles. Anyway, we saw it shimmering down a slope near a pond. My friend got too close, slipped in. He was only in there for a minute or so, but he came out forty years older. Just like that, half his life was gone. Apparently he really wanted that half, too, since he chased it into oblivion not long after.

That ain't even the worst I've heard about. It's the only one I ever saw with my own eyes, though. When I hear that warble, I walk the other direction. I got rid of my generator, too, just in case.

Apparently we used to have a lot more electricity and even some sort of electronic communication network in place. Unfortunately, large sources of electric power seemed to attract big, destructive stretch marks. We manage to get by with smaller generators; gas, hydro, aero, solar. Those don't seem to attract stretch marks too much. The cities have been mostly abandoned, though, since any power plant big enough to power a city would just invite danger. For instance, the ruins of New York still belong to the dinosaurs, last I heard.

Yes, actual dinosaurs. The stretch marks sometimes pull in people and creatures from other time periods. If it's disorienting to us, imagine what it's like for the people who come through.

I suppose if we were keeping better track of things before Hump Day, we might have known it was coming, in fact. There was this one girl who came through a small stretch mark, I forget her name, but the people who found her took her to a research center. They asked her what she remembered, what year it was before she appeared here, and so on. They managed to track her down; found her missing person case in the microfilm. Disappeared from Topeka, Kansas, in 1964. They never found her at the time; no evidence, no witnesses, no motives.

We've solved several hundred "missing persons" cases in this way since Hump Day. Even got an entire missing airplane once, with a hull full of frightened, confused people. A few hundred more "extinct" species have shown up, too, though most aren't as disruptive as the dinosaurs. Some say it's just nature taking back what we humans aren't using so much any more.

The religious fanatics, what ones still exist, say that the world is ending because we turned away from the gods. It's as good an explanation as any, I suppose. Though, on the other hand, the gods can't be all that omnipotent if they can't keep the universe from dying. Still, it's a nice thought; that something went wrong, and not that this is just the way it was always going to be. After all, if something went wrong, maybe something can go right again.

Even so, watch out for those fanatics. Some are okay, just trying to sooth people's fears by spreading the Gospel of Nihilism. Others, though, seem to want to hurry oblivion along. They'll take your life and consider it a favor, both to you and to their god.

Anyway, I hope all this puts our world in some perspective. I know you're planning to leave the village, and I thought you could use a refresher on what you might find out there. Watch out, though; it's dangerous between towns right now. Raiders, weird creatures, and the like. Fanatics. Dinosaurs. Stretch marks.

Be safe out there. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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