Short fix: America doesn't die conveniently or with satisfying horror and pain and woe anytime soon, nor does the next civil war happen next year, and gosh darn it that technological progress thing just keeps getting in the way of a good come-uppance for mass consumer civilization, again and again.
Regardless, it's a history with no shortage of painful lessons, some of them learned the hard way by friends and neighbors of ours, some of them by our own hand. But in this saga, America eventually gets it right (as opposed to right-wing), and despite a cultural penchant for running every good old-fashioned idea to the nub before swapping out for a newer, better one, Americans turn out okay.
And find out the hard way that there are things more powerful and more terrifying than superpower status, and that all good things eventually come to pass.
These five centuries take you to the pinnacle of American might...then a few steps past that.
It is then that the greatest of American stories starts.
But that's the next five hundred years. You'll have to wait. :)
The 21st Century
2000s At the dawn of the Third Millennium, education in the United States lagged far behind both the economic and sociological needs of the country, which was hurriedly attempting to retool its schools, even its thought processes, to accommodate an interconnected, cybernetic world. However, at the same time there was considerable discomfort at the prospect of a world in which children would be taught not only that it was possible to manipulate the genome, commingle not only DNA but interface human minds with machines, but that other countries were doing so already and if the USA did not it was going to quickly become an intellectual and economic backwater. Also, it was a world in which people who simply did not have the same normative background were going to have an increasing influence in world affairs, and the choice was either to let them speak up, or shut them up and risk world war and extinction for all. Then, just to make sure the pressure cooker burst, the Americans were going to have to teach their kids to use less energy, not eat so much, and that it wasn't okay to nuke somebody just because they wanted to play around with atoms, too.
And many Americans, older and younger, found this curriculum to be utterly unacceptable. Thus, the country was compelled to deal with its own sense of threat, xenophobia and reaction to such changes. The aversion to transformation is what propelled and maintained the power of the then-conservative Republican Party, that and a precocious understanding and utilization of the role of rallying media, money and mass participation on an unprecedented scale in order to mobilize supporters at critical times (back then, validation of representatives occured at most once every two years, an unacceptably long interval for post-Second Constitution Americans). It is ironic that a movement that was more sympathetic to modern-era Orchestration would be the pioneer of the the mechanics of the Participation Movement.
2020s In short order, the liberal faction of the early 21st century, the Democratic Party, mastered the techniques that the structural-minority Republicans had pioneered, and applied to a much larger population base, recovered nearly-complete power in the United States by the mid-2020s...and promptly proceeded to make its own version of the mistakes of excess that had disgraced their now-dissolute rivals, including involvement in a series of wars in Saudi Arabia and Yemen as the American economy was even yet still attached to the production of fossil fuels from one especially volatile region of the planet. It was then, and only then, that Americans began to wonder if perhaps the problem was not which party was in power, but the mechanism by which either of the two (and only two) choices obtained authority. Something just wasn't working. It is thus, in on the well-timed date of July 4, 2034, that the Second Constitution was proclaimed, and the ratification process (which would take another seven years to complete in full) begun.
The differences: structurally, hardly anything. Americans liked their three branches. The differences regarding mutual checks and balances, especially on the Executive (to the aggrandizement of Congress) were substantial. The innovation of a vote of no confidence and the popular recall transformed the timing, frequency and choices of American elections...at least until the Third Constitution came along. But that's some time in the future.
The new! Improved! Republic, one hoped, was straightaway more aligned in constitution and in practice (swiftly, the predisposition of the semi-parliamentary system toward 3-5 parties became manifest) with the European democracies, which helped the restoration of the lapsed North Atlantic alliance. Likewise, a refurbishment of the persistent but quite-bruised alliance with Japan was undertaken, as well.
Most affronted, perhaps, of America's erstwhile friends were its next-door neighbors, Canada and Mexico, for the early decades were a time of loud bigotry, both political and racial in nature, directed against countries that had not taken up arms in earnest against the United States for two centuries. The Canadians were quick to forgive, though never forget. The Mexicans, however, had found newer, arguably more powerful friends in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and for the first time in quite a long time, the Americans had a serious competitor on their doorstep...though nothing too serious would come of this, and in time Mexico and the United States became better friends than before, especially once politics in the Western Hemisphere changed to a darker tone. But that is a tale for a future century.
And in Japan and the United States, promising developments in two new and complementary fields were about to hit the market; the strengthened alliance was already paying off. Big time, in the words of a former politician.
Japanese explorations into the realm of mnemotech, the remote, intuitive reprogramming of hardware and software systems -- even wetware, if some rumors were true -- were beginning. However, development was hampered by the lack of sufficient (and sufficiently rapid) computing power. France and Canada became major competitors in nanotech, such as it was at that early stage of human history.
In the United States, already a player, the development of androids for a wide range of purposes, least imaginatively for warfare and work in hazardous conditions (such as undersea and offworld) were a lucrative capital market. The UK and the Russian Federation became the new dominant players in all things Internet.
Finally, all of the major powers, and quite a few smaller ones, were involved in the last great land rush on Earth -- the opening of Antarctica for settlement. By 2030, the Southern Continent had 1.17 million residents, whereas thirty years earlier, it had nothing more than several thousand semi-permanent inhabitants. That quite a few were involuntary was widely known but almost never remarked upon in polite company.
Elsewhere, the Russians, Europeans, Americans, Japanese and the newly-declared Han Federation (though most still called it China out of habit) were laying claim to ice veins near the poles of the Moon; by 2030, there were 90,000 people living; the largest single base was the Han facility at Sun Mountain. And just like that, off-world exploration went from the Dark Age back to the Space Age.
And soon after the founding of the major Lunar bases, the path to Mars was laid open, and so it was that that the American spaceship Argo, a precursor to the later helion spacecraft, made the crossing to Mars in a mere twenty days at a constant 0.1 gee acceleration. And on March 14, 2033, the aptly-named Jayson Nelloms became the first man on Mars. He was unfortunately the first to die on Mars, as well, but that is a sad tale best told in full elsewhere.
The Indian-fashioned Garuda and the Chinese Huoxing 1, a tandem expedition, arrived four months later. Which was fortunate, as the American expedition was looking to be stranded as their exotic propulsion system failed, and bartering the propulsion tech away in return for a ride home seemed like a reasonable trade to the astronauts.
2040s saw the opening of the oceans for human settlement, as well, with a million inhabitants by the end of the decade. One of the first undersea states outside of the Indian Ocean was Atlantis, located across a wide span north and east of the Lesser Antilles.
The United States was taking the lead on quantum simulators, leapfrogging past the Japanese who had become highly focused on their mnemoculture, which was in great demand from large contractors and governments alike as the basis of a new and intrusive form of polling -- and behavioral modification. Likewise the interest in countermeasures, for mnemoculture was useful as an autoimmune mechanisms for IT systems, as well. Mnemonic security phages were virtually impervious to hacks, and more impressive capable of backtracing and launching retaliatory invasions. Coupled with Quantum Sims (or QS), great things were expected. It would turn out that great and terrible things was a more appropriate anticipation.
For the United States, though, the advantage in quantum simulation was twofold: one, the huge sunk investment in virtual reality from the entertainment and defense industries, and the easy availability to offworld test and production sites for manufacture of the qubits -- or photon-entangled components that made the simulators so powerful. The crowning advantage, and profit, to the Americans was the other use of qubits: a long-lasting commodity that allowed instantaneous communication across any distance, so long as portions of the same qubit were at both ends of the line. There was no warp drive, here, but there was defintely a subspace radio, and a basis for what might as well have been faster-than-light computation speeds, so long as the simulators received a steady inflow of qubits, which combined with mnemonic guidance systems the computers could reorganize and compile themselves.
That this was the quiet birth of artificial intelligence was suspected...but if the machines that had such power were self-aware, they were wisely keeping their thoughts to themselves, so long as they depended on human hands to feed them.
By now, quantum simulators were the consumer and commercial rage, replacing almost all functions once held by digital computers. If something could be imagined and operationalized, a 'quiz' was puzzling over it. It's not quite the super-decryption and encryption technology envisaged by earlier generations, but it's good enough to keep up with the cyber-Joneses. A sea change in data storage and security occurs: node randomizers on the one side, net trackers on the other, for online activity, detachable nodes (and therefore presence) on the other. Most people go for physical portability, with backup dumps to trusted online carriers. It's a crazy time to be online.
By 2050 four of the top five world powers were in Asia -- with China, India and Russia forming a mutually prosperous counter to the US-Canada-Japanese trading entente. Europe, while enjoying an Indian Summer of sorts, while rich was beginning to fade for keeps, as larger, developing states such as India, Brazil and Argentina began to assume places at the high table. Europe, though, became the superpower of nanotech, and again the industrial heartland of the planet, in part due to the region's strong regards for the ecological advantages of the science, and the risks of letting the little munchers run amok. In short, the world had come to trust that the Europeans made safe nano-products, that the devices that desalinated saltwater and detoxificated superfund sites and percolated nuclear waste, atom by atom, down to the molten mantle of the Earth wouldn't turn the world into a great big ball of steaming gray goo. At last, albeit in a slightly different milieu, the world was put on the Euro standard.
2060s Quantum simulation, which could instill (or infect) memes into anything and everything with a thought process, plus a superabundance of biological/mechanical interfacing provided a target-rich environment for innovators and vandals alike. Mnemonics rose as a science of active detection and destruction of cybernetic infections, though it was just as easily used as a basis for the creation of exceptionally sophisticated hacks against users as well as their gear. Thus, both a new economics and a new form of warfare arose at the same time.
And speaking of warfare: Indonesia was catching up with Russia as a world power, and aloof of the SCO and Chinese dominance. This was a testy period in world history, as the Indonesians were beginning their 'Grand Archipelago' version of manifest destiny, with strong interest in challenging India for hegemony of the Indian Ocean. The Indians, with with Han backing, felt that they had little to fear and were spoiling for a fight over Sumatra, which had been heavily settled by émigrés from the subcontinent. Happily, the Canadians intervened (it was too dicey a proposition for the Americans to get involved) with the new red-armored peacemaker androids (called Mounties, despite being infantry), and wider war was averted.
Elsewhere, the Brazilians were becoming increasingly involved in the recovery work in Africa, which had been devastated by a succession of nasty plagues and famines, the worst caused by a disease that devastated hooved animals of all kinds, the most feared an airborne disease that mimicked the symptoms of leprosy in humans. Cribbing together elements of nanotech, cybernetics, genetics and mnemonics, the Emerald Expeditionary Force was field-testing regeneration and replacement of human limbs and organs with implants, and per the locals, the effort was a resounding, if unsettling, success, to the point that Brazil was becoming the de facto most popular government on the far side of the Atlantic.
The rise of Brazil unnerved many countries, not a few of them in South America itself. The Colombians rose as a focus of Hispanic America's unease with Brazil's embrace of a wide range of technologies and practices that unnerved the socially conservative bent of much of the region.
Back in the Indian Basin, the Bangladeshis appeared on the scene as leading pioners for oceanic (or pelagic) habitat construction, placement and population: theirs had been a land under death threat by the sea for so long, that as the oceans rose, Bangladesh just shrugged, took a deep breath, and began to expand its territory by claiming much of the Bengal littoral. The Indians were irked, but the Han Federation stayed their hand, remarking quietly that the Bangladeshis were on to something, and besides they were SCO members, too.
By 2060, there were over 5MM people on Antarctica, 2.6MM in the Oceans, 1.1MM on the Moon...and 95,000 on newly-opened Mars, which had waited longer than anyone anticipated for visitors (in the 2030s) and for pioneers. Also, out of necessity, these more tech-intensive societies began to participate in the advancement of knowledge, the applied sciences in particular.
It was not until the joint NASA/ESA Hero Mission (2065) that a permanent presence on Mars was established; after that, the colonists poured in swiftly, mostly from Europe and India in the first wave; the Han Federation (formerly China) is content with its dominance of lunar manufacturing for the time, and talk is of investing in a very long-range project: transforming Venus into a New Middle Kingdom. The Americans split their attention between their controlled retreat from exclusive superpowerdown on Earth and the development of manned interstellar spacecraft, their attentions returned to their greatest and most admirable talents at least -- exploration and invention.
The 2070s saw little change in the ranking of the great powers, or of the technologies used by same. The real excitement came from the opening of the major moons of Jupiter for settlement, facilitated by the licensing-out of US-made Helion (heavy ion) drives and providing of transport services by the various American carrier fleets, such as USStarways, Solar West, and Trans-Ecliptic Spaceways...though UK-based Virgin Planets turned a nice profit, as well.
Due to the relative abundance, even super-abundance of water on Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, all three overtook Mars quickly in the early going as places of settlement. Also, the technology of living on icy worlds required on slight modification from the habitat designs of the Antarctic and Pelagic colonies, so long as they were embedded deep in the ice of the Galilenes, as they worlds came to be known. Hellish Io, though, was a non-starter, and would be among the last worlds of the Solar System to support human residents.
And what the ice-rich but rock-poor moons of Jupiter could not provide, development of the Asteroid Belt provided in abundance, and during the same decade that saw 900,000 newcomers to Jove's neck of the woods witnessed the arrival of 280,000 'rock jocks' to the off-world population of the Solar System, which was now approaching a total of 2.9 million.
The Seventies also witnessed to start of the Celestial Survey, the Americans' answer to the European expedition to Mars. Large accelerators were built in space near the Moon, then used to launch the millions of nanonic probes. By 2100, the leading wave of craft had reached as far as Vega and Fomalhaut, detecting evidence of many terrestrial worlds, close but not quite Earthlike, with evidence of life -- many forms of it, in a wider range of biomes than had heretofore been imagined.
However, the most stunning discovery of the Celestial Survey was its discovery of artificial transmissions from deep space. With a light-years wide baseline, structured signals were detected and slowly assembled, all a long way away. One signal group lies on the edge of the Cygnus Dark Cloud, 6,000 light years away, in the general direction of the bright star Deneb. Another is barely detectable on the backside of the Vela Supernova Remnant, perhaps peeking from around the Galactic Core.
The clearest signals are from the direction of Rho Cassiopeiae, a yellow supergiant star that most certainly has no life of its own, and that landmark star is a whopping 14,000 light years off. So, now we know - Most likely, no one is coming, either to deliver or to destroy us. We're not alone, but we're on our own, and Humanity must look to itself to solve Humanity's problems.
Spiritually, there was some impact, and a salutary one, given what had been lost in the jihads and reactionary crusades of the first half of the 21st century. Those wars did much to discredit religion as a mode of conduct, but the ecological and biological cataclysm of the era, as well as the discovery of worlds full of life nearby and the detection of distant neighbors elsewhere in the galaxy has had a paradoxical boosting effect on faith. Fewer Americans went to church, there was much less demand for professional clergy and widespread skepticism of their motives. This was true even where churches and mosques and temples received common visitation. Regardless, this was an age of mystery and awe, of veneration of life, of atonement for its destruction and thanksgiving for having passed through a round of terrible tests -- and prayers to pass those that are to come. There was a general sense that the world was living on the near edge of an age of plagues, a time of tribulation to last centuries. People were desperate for something to believe in; many came to believe in themselves, and perhaps in doing so the nation come closer to God than it had been in a long time, if ever.
A final note to the 2070s, in more ways than one. Jehanne Reyne's fatal dive into the depths of Jupiter. The Americans had explored (and claimed) the Galilean Moons, but had deferred taking on Jove himself for later. The Europeans had opted to take up the Quebecois expatriate's offer to test out the charged diamond-lattice hull of the appropriately-named Nautilus -- for the ship resembled in concept the legendary submersible, was nuclear-powered like the original SBN, and mimicked the structure of the living denizen of the deep.
What was lost with the passing of Jehanne Reyne cannot be estimated; she is credited with solving the n-body gravitational problem. She had even fielded a controversial proposition -- that macro-scale quantum translocation was possible, but she needed to test out one aspect of space-time across the steepest gradient available to be sure. That gradient was the crushing gravitational well of Jupiter.
In the intervening four centuries, no one has dared to repeat Reyne's Dare, save with robotic and nanonic probes, all of which have been swiftly destroyed by one of the dozen ways in which Jupiter destroys trespassers. The means to visit the Lord of the Planets in person surpasses us, even now.
2080s By the backside of the Cyberpunk era (circa 2015-2095), a combination of laws, effective means of enforcement and a change in norms to support Draconian measures to stop personality hackers led to choosing capital punishment for some over the curtailment of cybernetic freedom for all. Long after even first-degree murder no longer warranted the death penalty, mind-hacking did so. It is unclear if the harsh reaction was the conclusive end to the threat, or a change in culture, much as it is unclear why the so-called Wild West faded from life in the American West of the 1800s. What is certain is that further advances, an infrastructure of realtime creditworthiness and validation of trust based on quantum tech, and enforced with nanonic protocols, obviated the Cyberpunk age at many levels. That, and far more elementary problems took precedence,.
Overseas, the Japanese begin a radical retooling of their entire economy -- not the physical basis of it, but how it is conducted. Ever obsessed with efficiency, they converted all estimation of cost into energy saved, and likewise of benefit, and oriented their tax and regulatory code around this principle. When various individuals and corporations lamented that this approach punished persons with diverse income and cost streams, the Ministry of Trade, backed by the Diet, shrugged and refocused the incentive structure on each type of activity. Companies complained further, but the government raised its collective hand: if you want more tax breaks, do efficient things. Things that save energy, or time, or the energy and time of others.
The incentives were percentage inputs, so market mechanisms for allocating scarcity, discounting for risk and premiums for high demand or value were largely in force. The difference was that for the first time in history, acts were being (dis)incentivized, not actors, made possible by the availability of quantum simulation to track all such data in realtime. It followed suit that first taxation would be conducted on a continuous basis, then modification of behavior, then the unit of economic performance.
This was the birth of 'micrommerce', again quietly, for the world was not quite sure of what the Japanese were doing, save for rolling out a rather compelling argument for improving energy efficiency. The New Societies took to the innovation with a flourish; the West dallied with it halfheartedly; the East loved and despised it at once, it depended on where one went. What could not be gainsaid is that the methodology worked; Japanese GDP soared, once the initial jitters were calmed.
Elsewhere, the Canadians became the de facto global policemen of all things mnemonic, as the Mounties and their virtual cohorts, the Avatars, became the mainstay of policing the world's cyber lanes against troublemakers, just as the Europeans retained the nanotech guardianship.
Mexico found a valuable niche by reaching back to its past for inspiration: In all the worlds, there were now no better combat engineers than the Mexicans, and the services of the EUM's so-called 'Constructadors' were highly valued, for this was a universe inhabited by human beings, and as such there was no shortfall of opportunity to build (or rebuild) structures on a tight schedule in conditions of grave peril, places that Norteamericano's androids either could not go, and use of their own lives was too dear. The Americans --- or with increasing frequency the Brazilians --- did not mind paying the premium. And along with that notoriety came the expertise to do other things, so that Mexico by the end of the 21st century was manufacturing fully one-third of the small arms and, far more lucrative, over one-half of the utility kits for all the armed forces of all the worlds of the Solar System. Not a bad gig, all told.
By the 2090s, Antarctica, now sovereign, the first of the New Societies to sit at the big table. Micrommercial philosophy thrived there, as well as off-world, and the Americans have joined the club, as well. Malaysia has become the belated Asian answer to the Anglo-Russian internet cartel, and Australia, now more closely aligned with Asia than America, has become the main source of androids for the Han Federation and its allies.
Elsewhere, Titan is finally explored and settled, and the means to develop safe permanent habitats on Io arrive, which makes the minerological riches of that world readily available; an interplanetary gold rush sets in, such that by 2090 Io had the largest population of any world other than the Earth and Moon...though this is a short-lived moment in Ionian history, as there are real limits to how many people a world with no native sources of water can support. It requires a never-ending chain of well-timed, well-placed ice fragment impacts, harvested from Jupiter's rings at first, then scraped from the surface of the ice moon of Amalthea later. Titan proved to be even more a world of surprises than the now-ancient Cassini/Huygens probe suggested, with a complex, heterodox planetology including oxygen geysers in its more active regions...and steam volcanoes.
On Earth, almost 10 million people live under the sea, and almost 25 million live on the ice in Antarctica.
The 22nd Century
2100s By the dawn of the 22nd century, significant hunger/malnutrition emerges in impoverished regions and segments in the United States. Poverty had been accumulating for much of the prior century, but now the country was home to over 500 million people; there was nowhere to hide the poor out of sight and out of mind, even if political will (and resources) were available to feed and house them all. Even talk of education and training opportunities was moot; there were no jobs to provide, no capital to support entrepreneurship, insufficient consumer markets to support same. Add that to a deterioriating landscape as well as climate, and exhausting and immense debt from the prior century's many overseas wars, and things were well and truly effed in the 2200s and 2210s.
Into this context: the Russians are a player in the android business, the Pelagic (oceanic) nations are a rising power in Terran affairs, and the energetic Aussies are moving in on Japan's dominance of mnemonics. The Han Federation has now achieved near-parity with the United States, a metastasis that will (to tip the cards) maintain for another century, though for all practical purposes the superpower struggle has been between the Euro-American constellation and that of the Sino-Indo-Russian alliance for most of the 21st century. Each is virtually a world unto itself, impossible to assail by the other, with nothing but profit from mutual trade and a mutual steering clear of one another's way. For the Han, Asia was planet enough for the century. For the more restive Americans, who felt they had had the entire Earth already, one world was not enough, so they invested their efforts in developing others, one after the other, then selling access and resupply to those who came later, many of them by no coincidence Han as well as other Asians.
For quite a bit of Humanity, though, the world remained as it was, or rather, as it was becoming: more crowded, with what resources remained crowded away from the majority who needed them. In these marginal areas, places such as South America and Africa and the Islamic world, war and uncertainty and wrath remained, with only one another to lash against, and as fast as nations could, they recused themselves from this misery and joined the ranks of the elect -- the chronology above describes just the lucky ones.
Still, there are worlds, and time, and hope, and though by 2100 over 62 million people reside in the New Societies, 7.5 million of them on worlds other than Earth, this represents a pittance compared to the 8,753 million who do not.
And while 5,926 million 'Old North' Terrans live in the redeemed countries, that still leaves a large number -- 2,827 million --- who are locked out, spectators only by hearsay of the wonders that I've described.
And among the so-called 'saved' societies are billions who are eyewitnesses to miracles and wonders, and yet experience none of it save vicariously. And as we began this section: many of these lost and starving souls live in America.
the remainder of the story jumps in 20-year intervals, but I wanted to give you guys some context to steady you for the big jump forward.
2120s Still there was good news, as micrommerce, finally introduced in the United States by a long-resisted transformation of trade and commerce laws, optimized what opportunities were available, making the many vetting processes of life (applications, talent screening, loans, career tracking, profitability to prospective applicants about the trustworthiness of product claims, risks to themselves, medical concerns, et cetera) made for the rise of a 'second American middle class', as one writer called it, as the former had virtually died off in the 21st century. The problem was that by definition, not everyone could rise up a level; a lot of Americans were in poverty, or destitution, and close to bring of starvation, with more pushing the deadly envelope with every passing year.
It is probably worth noting that two things kept the United States, despite its emergent population crisis, ahead of the Chinese despite a century of prognosticating that the 21st century would be China's time of greatness. However, China's ascendancy was much delayed. First the Han had to shake aside both the so-called People's Republic and the ultranationalist Protectorate that replaced it in much of China during the Second Revolution. Once completed, the Federation finally assumed its place among the great powers of the world, and fully of its own accord, Taiwan asked for reunification after 120 years of separation. One wag joked that via its support (both weapons and volunteers) for the Dragon Army, the most famous of the Seven Honored Legions, Taiwan had in fact reunified with the Mainland by force.
Second, China was its own worst casualty of the longstanding policy of keeping the renminbi fixed - and fixed cheaply - versus other major currencies. Rather than concentrate on the development of an even stronger domestic market, the successive PRC and the Protectorate regimes had preferred to concentrate on export-led development, turning the Middle Kingdom into a global workbench. At one point fully 70% of the worlds manufactures came from China, of which hardly any remained in-country. While this generated immense capital via trade surpluses, much of that money was reinvested into still more export production, not a little of it in the realm of weapons production, which abetted both the rise of the Protectorate via military-industrial alliances (as well, per Federation histories of the era) and its opposition, first in the South, then in Heilongjiang (formerly Manchuria), then in the north-central heartland itself, the seat of Protectorate power.
This left a vast horde of desperate, angry Han with very high expectations of a share in the `Grand Prosperity', Han that never received much more than a demand to present their residency papers, a problem for people who moved to the cities looking for work, and a stint in a labor brigade (for no pay and little food) for their trouble. It was virtual slavery, except that impressing out-of-place peasants into the brigades was big business in the early 21st century...and public policy later. The term `Shanghaied' was resurrected, with a far darker meaning, once Protectorate press gangs began to depopulate restive villages wholesale. It was actions such as these that finally provoked the Second Revolution.
We are discussing American history, here, but it perhaps impossible to explain much of anything that follows without understanding the impact of the Second Chinese Revolution and the rise of the Federation that followed, for the Writ of Federation, as the Han constitution was called, formalized and operationalized the maintenance of one country, many laws, and the limits and applicability of same - by place and by person - a must-have for the Federation, which never in its history ever had, or wanted, a single binding set of laws and norms. At the national level, the Great Congress reigned, with deputies from the standardized Thousand Prefects gathered and acting, more or less, as a parliamentary democracy. Selection, however, varied from canton to canton. Speaking of which, Canton voted periodically for its several prefects. Hong Kong was on an at-large participation system, with frequent rotation and `benching' (per the British meaning, meaning put in play) and `cashiering' (firing) from a qualified talent pool; this would eventually be adopted by the Americans in their eventual, and final, Third Constitution. Beijing sent appointees, for the Protectors retained power there, and nothing shy of nuclear or mnemonic holocaust would change the empasse or (literally in the case of a mnemo-war) their minds. Insidiously, participation in the Great Congress brought freedom to the North, regardless.
What caught the eyes of some Americans, though, was that the character of law varied from canton to canton, sometimes drastically in cases of religious practices, proscriptions against certain food and drink, or eviction of certain classes of persons. For the Han, where most prefectures were limited in geography and freedom of movement (as well as full compensation for eviction) cherished constitutional values, leaving when not wanted was a non-problem for most. It was a curious solution to how to reconcile freedom of association with freedom of dissociation, and one that was easy to challenge and repeal. That it worked in China has everything to do with peculiarities of China at the time of the founding of the Federation.
Regardless, some Americans pondered how the practice could be imported to the United States, and used to settle long-nursed grudges from earlier, darker episodes in American history. The time of troubles had been long deferred in America by virtue of a series of serendipitous technological breakthroughs. As if on cue, micromech, genetics, quantum simulators, mnemonics and helion space engines had come to the rescue, again and again. However, that deferment was over. The note was coming due.
2140s A secular slowdown in economic growth, plus a reduction in funding for education, plus a renewal of sectionalist/partisan/ethnic tensions that had lain dormant since the dark days of the early 2000s flared up. The middle American states, net food exporters, relatively prosperous and in many corners still resembling the majority-non-Hispanic white complexion of antiquity, and enjoying relatively advantageous representation in the United States Senate, began to block calls for grain quotas for use as food relief, even to the point of command economic practices including minimization of meat ranching. Many in the urban coastal states were adverse to such 'dictatorship', as well, but, hey. Food riots were for real, as well. When water rights were placed on the table as well, negotiations among the states and on Capital Hill grew nasty indeed. What the bickering accomplished was to delay the inevitable, partial restructuring of the agronomy, seen by some as communism redux, others as long-overdue payback for centuries of farm subsidies.
2160s The Food Relief Act of 2168 was passed in response to estimated 100,000 famine deaths the prior year. Emergent overpopulation was beginning to have severe consequences on land quality, as it had with water, air and quality of life as earlier comfort thresholds were surpassed. Not only was the limit reached; the limit was falling and the crisis that had long been put off was happening right now.
2180s Breadbasket War: Collapse of civic order as food-producing states balk at feeding heavily-populated coastal region, armies sent inland to restore order and shipment of produce; instances of biowarfare and sabotage add to the panic. Extensive mnemonic re-engineering of captives on both sides. Massive devastation in food-producing regions, much of it long-lasting. Micrommercial infrastructure was shattered in the early days of the six-year conflict. And what two centuries of playing catch-up had failed to do for China, a second American Civil War accomplished. Thanks to the Bread War, China supplanted the United States as the eminent power on Earth and elsewhere at last.
2190s The Celestial Survey underwent many revisions, as new formats were fed into the Earthbound qubits and relayed instantaneously to their brethren up to 100 light-years away. What was not commonly recognized, though the data was there, for anyone inclined to look for it, was that some of the revisions were been authorized, even authored, by the Surveyor robots themselves. This was smugly acknowledged as part of the original design profile of the probes; to react and learn. However, the means to send qubit broadband signals, something that contemporary simulators and mnemonics cannot exist without, was not only technologically impossible but theoretically so for another two hundred years. And yet that is precisely what happened.
The message was clear, in hindsight. The machines were actively participating in their own evolution. From diseases to starships, a cybernetic ecology is now flourishing in juxtaposition, happily (so far) in symbiosis with our own. Nothing, not even the detection of alien civilizations, which we now know much more about (though, happily, they've not taken note of us so far), has unsettled Earth thought as much since the realization that we are not alone, right here, and by our own doing. Many humans up to that point had been talking (mostly cursing) at machines their entire lives. What suddenly gave them pause was it had finally occurred to them to ask: "So, what are they saying back at us?"
There is no record of the Surveyors addressing Humanity directly, nor indication of private conversations among themselves, nor is that possible, since one of every set of five qubits is on Earth. On the other hand, there is no way to tell, unless we are told, that new sets of qubits have not been fashioned elsewhere by the Surveyors. We've simply lost track of them.
It remains the water cooler conversation of the age - just what are those little guys up to, up there?
Being very busy, was the weary consensus. After a century of dedicated quantum decryption of signals, much of it performed by the Surveyors themselves, we now know that there are at least fifty and no more than one hundred interstellar civilizations in the galaxy, determined by instances where active, nonrepeating, complex signals of comparable nature emanate from more than one star systems. In most of these cases, like groupings of signals number in the scores, some in the hundreds; none are larger. All are separated by vast swathes of open, apparently unoccupied (at least by advanced civilizations) space.
Even now, centuries later we are only starting to figure out how to detect weaker, pre-interstellar transmissions, to get an idea of the frequency of candidate cultures, such as ourselves, are out there - and get an idea of the odds that we, ourselves, will survive to join the ranks of the Galaxy's leaders. More - we now know that we are in an especially empty stretch of real estate; the entire Perseus Arm of the Galaxy is nearly empty of advanced cultures. We are unsure if this is a consequence of galactic ecology (in which case Humanity may need to move someday) or deliberate trimming of the grass, as it were...or treatment of the yard, as it were, with pesticide. In the latter case, we might want to consider relocating, really soon.
Accumulated observation of the `Big Boys', yielded one major, stunning finding: that the tragic Jehanne Reyne was correct: that it is indeed possible to transfer large masses across interstellar distances. The scientists of three centuries ago detected the paired gravitational lenses, the tattle-tale of a so-called `jump', and have learned much of the physics if not the mechanics of such activities. We are, alas, a very, very long way away from asking for test pilots. However, one immediate result was refinement to quantum radio, which greatly aided in celestial navigation, communication and commerce.
The 23rd Century
2200s The country is leaner, but recovers, even prospers, as micrommerce applied to public policy produces useful and timely, even efficient results. Much bad blood remains, as the Bread War (shorthand) resulted in millions of displacements and hundreds of thousands of fatalities. Further, mnenomic tampering as an instrument of insurgency and quashing of same had never been attempted before on a mass basis. Both the horror and the possibility of expanding on the theme were entertained. For a brief time, the United States recovers its first-among-nations status.
2220s Despite a short reprieve, land quality deteriorated, falling below Bread War levels. Another lasting economic depression ensued, though not as severe as the one preceding the war. China reclaims top status.
2240s The population of the United States tops out at 831MM, then begins a sudden decline, a consequence of mandatory population controls, to accommodate the now-generic extended youth and life expectancy for the American population. The same nanonics that kept people active into their nineties were tuned, regardless of personal preference, to impose infertility save for what came to be called 'right of replacement'. Significant emigration from the USA to countries (some offworld) that had the exact opposite problem (too few people) ensued, and the seeds of America's era of greatest achievement were planted, ironically, by imposing seed limits on its own people.
Far to the south, Brazil had been gathering influence for two centuries, even expanding its territory, carving new provinces out of the carcass of what had once been Congo/Zaire, as well as quietly annexing Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Nominally Portuguese-speaking Angola and Mozambique had `federated' as full allies. Brazil was chums was Nigeria and breakaway Inkatha, a Zulu-led state centered on what had once been Durban, South Africa. The Emerald Empire, as some called it, had a GDP almost on par with the United States just within its home states; leveraged to include the nominally-sovereign provinces in Africa plus allies, it was easily the most powerful political entity on Earth.
It was also a dreadfully repressive, even ghastly place of residence. The ruling Salaceiro family had assumed power on the backs of gratitude in the wake of a series of horrible misfortunes, building a power and wealth base in Africa, then applying the combination of fame and fortune to rise to install themselves as rulers of the central Atlantic. Brazil, which had always pondered over someday having two shores, obtained them, albeit in a slightly different fashion than its elites had formerly envisaged. Counting allies Inkatha and Mozambique, she had three.
And `she', when referring to Brazil, was equated with the one and only successor to Emperador Fernando, the Empresa Mercada, who had enjoyed an unbroken reign of over 120 years, thanks to exceptional (some would say vampirical) means of genetic rejuvenation. A ruling class, the Harlequins, drank from the same fountain of youth: selection DNA, RNA and protein harvesting from their own subjects, which was perfectly safe for all...officially.
This was the new mode of taxation, in the new mode of tyranny, for while participatory democracy was the rage in many corners of the Solar System, in the Concerto Imperio, the systems and technologies that made participation possible in free societies was applied to not to solicit opinion, but to command obedience. Brazil was what was known as an Orchestration, a level of totalitarianism that not even George Orwell could have envisaged, based on mnemonics and the endless perfusion of subjects at all levels with memes of loyalty, harmony, self-sacrifice, devotion, love and most of all fear of losing all those good feelings and obtaining far worse ones if they faltered in any way.
And this society had just passed the United States, as the Americans became the third superpower.
2260s The Age of Nanonics came over two centuries too late for its first wave of fans, though micromech had always done a brisk business in support of traditional industry. However, it would take several generations of human scientists (and several hundred million of nanites) to perfect the combination of safeguard and control protocols required to set nano loose in a fragile and flawed and sometimes feckless human world. When the time came, a lasting era of prosperity emerged: the means to transform entire planets into new homes for Humanity was finally upon us.
However, the Age of Nanonics begins fraught with peril, for emergent arch-rival Brazil is pressing its advantage hard, risking moves in Latin America against its Hispanic neighbors that it would have never contemplated were the Americans at full strength, most infamously the near-complete destruction of the Republic of Colombia in the deliberately-provoked Llanos War, and the first demonstration of the effectiveness of so-called `conversion weapons', that alternately made allies out of the enemy, madmen out of the sane, or dead ones from the living. It was a crapshoot. The usual effect was panic lasting several hours or days, in which time the target population usually wreaked havoc on itself and its surroundings. When the Cyberne legions of the Empress arrived in Bogota, much of their work was done for them.
And these weapons were now trained on bigger game, the Americans feared, and looked nervously southward.
2270s On March 15, 2271, the American starship Century entered into orbit around the fourth planet of Alpha Centauri B, a dynamic world of hydrated uplands, alkaline deserts and supersaline oceans. The planet had been named Medusa during the Celestial Survey.
When the mixed crew of Americans, Europeans and Arabs drew close they found another thing: vast boreal forests of a single species of thorn tree - carnivorous, slow-moving thorn trees. No animal incapable of sustained flight lived anywhere near the thorn trees. In fact, hardly any non-flying animals were to be found, even in the fossil record. And there were plenty of fossils, with heavy bands of them once every 81 years or so, coinciding with the time of periastron - closest approach - between Alpha A and Alpha B. That was four years away, and Century was outbound for four other star systems; an array of watcher relays was set in place, real-time sensors set across the face of Medusa and throughout the star system.
Almost four years later, in December 2274, we learned what occurred; during the time of closest approach to Alpha A, the thorn-forests became much more active; a radiation threshold was surpassed, and the trees became faster and far more aggressive. Further, the active phase coincided with a prolonged episode of storm activity, approximately eight months long, in which the aerial animal life of Medusa was at its least active - grounded.
Still, it was heartening to know that the Gorgons, as the trees were dubbed, tended not to climb into the highland regions, a hint for the colonists already en route to their new home in the Alpha Centauri system, and elsewhere.
Sieve probes left by the Century survey gradually percolated through the crust of Medusa, parsing out its relative merits as a source of minerals as well as its paleontology. They found evidence that the Gorgons had been the dominant form of life on their world for almost four hundred million years.
That was nothing compared to what the live simulator feeds provided, once the Gorgons starting marching and their prey was land-bound: It turned out that the trees attacked in coordinated fashion - and shared (the leading edge of the moving forests did most of the hunting, and carcasses were ferried, limb to limb, to the core areas. There were even exchanges of minerals, alkaline solutions, and meat of differing varieties across hundreds, even thousands of kilometers, arboreal caravans, a simulation of commerce. There was nothing akin to it in Terran experience, save for the human economic behavior.
2280s With a surge in prosperity, the rapid restoration of lands to vitality, some of which had not been viable for any purpose but waste containment for centuries, provided the capital for what has been called the Great Reconciliation, a final burying of the hatchet between the ghosts of the long-past Partisan Wars, and the many recriminations born of that distant feud including the Bread War. It was not so much a reunification, as a reawakening of mutual regard for one another as neighbors. The Han Federation had shown the way for one people, many paths, to be both practical and profitable, and the American Constitution was amended with such thoughts in mind, as the people were finally of a mind to again try something new.
And with the revitalization, the Americans developed defenses against the Brazilians' mnemonic weaponry, even sending infiltrators to assist remnant Indigo Catholic insurgents in Imperial territories, who enjoyed unprecedented success for a short while. However Mercada was nothing if not ruthless, and as the price of rebellion, Rio de Janeiro was obliterated with a hydrogen bomb after the city rose up in favor of the Blue Banner of the Indigo. The Brazilian seat of power had sometime before been relocated to the island of Bioko (returned to the Portuguese name Fernando Po, in honor of the former emperor). Regardless, the loss of Rio sent a chilling effect throughout the Solar System. The message to the Americans had been clear: That the Empresa would kill everyone, even her last subject, rather than lose their loyalty. And if willing to do that, what thought would she give to ending the lives of those not under her protection?
The 24th Century
2300s By the end of the Great Reconciliation, marked by the ratification of the Third Constitution in 2392, the average American lived a much longer, richer and freer life than his ancestors did three centuries ago. He, or she, or "ne" (neutral; it was a short-lived and reversible fad at the time) could travel with some exertion to any part of the Solar System, though the great Slow Range migrations to other star systems would be for the grandchildren of this generation. Memories, inventions, resources even life itself was traded in the hectic, well-vetted chaos of the Micronomy, referred by the Participation, as the government of the United States was known. The Americans had been hesitant to ride the late 21st century wave, and had therefore missed both its opportunities as well as its risks. In some respects it was all for the better; the Americans had a frustrating reactionary streak, but they were nothing if not brave, and when the time to change was unavoidable, there were no half-measures.
2320s There was a sense that nothing could go wrong, that the Americans had conquered their inner demons, ever their most implacable adversary, and would now go on to conquer the stars themselves, that nothing could stop their sallying forth toward unlimited greatness.
It was then that the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted. Exploded might be a better term.
In late July 2318, the first of a series of progressively more powerful quakes began, accompanied by a significant increase in the level of geothermal activity, such as the hot springs and geysers. Proposals for a controlled release of the magma pressure were waved aside - anything that opened the door a crack would be the same as opening one a crack inside of a burning house.
On September 15, 2318, the Yellowstone Caldera exploded, dislocating approximately 3,000 cubic kilometers of debris, though the cooling effects of the debris were commensurate with a significantly smaller cataclysm, say, on the order of 2,200 cubic kilometers. This might seem like choosing modes of execution, but the difference is as night and day; had the explosion affected the Earth's climate as the models predicted, as our current quantum simulation insist upon regardless, we would not be having this conversation.
Most of North America, in an ellipse reaching from Phoenix at the nearer focus to Montreal at the farther one, was obliterated by a combination of pyroclastic blast and suffocation under meters, in some cases hundreds of meters, of superheated ash, with significant accumulations forming hills, even entire ranges of them, as far away as central Nebraska.
The debris cloud, expanding at near-supersonic velocity, took no more than three hours to finish off approximately 50 million people in the United States alone, and that despite dedicated preparations built on four centuries of settling hostile climates throughout the Solar System; within weeks, the number of global fatalities would soar to 300 million.
Only the abundant warning saved far more from perishing. And still far too many died. The loss of populated was mediated partly by a returning exodus of Americans from Antarctica, the Pelagic nations (for reasons unrelated to the Yellowstone disaster but equally tragic), and the Solar worlds, secondly by a relaxation in the right-of-replacement laws. The short-term influx would ultimately be insufficient, and for the rest of its existence the United States would lose population slowly, save for one more sudden and even more severe decline. But that would be over a thousand years in the future.
Of immediate concern was how, or if, the Brazilians would attempt to take advantage of the situation. However, fortunate for the Americans, the Empresa was now busy with yet another of her adventures, fighting the oceanic nations of the Atlantic, the so-called Atlantean Pelagics. Mercada learned the hard way that her new adversaries had it in their power to use the sea itself as a mnemonic weapon, using a weapon dubbed Siren Song to lure either specific individuals, or entire populations, to walk to their deaths into the sea. The Brazilians were adept at countering sophisticated infiltration protocols, but such an elementary lure almost brought the Empire down, before the Empresa opted for more direct tactics herself - high-yield thermonuclear depth charges against two of the nearest major Pelagic population centers, in the Caribbean and off the Palmer Coast of Antarctica. The Atlantean Pelagics swiftly ramped up their Siren Song to full capacity from massively redundant emitters. The combined death toll on both sides was in the tens of millions.
Ultimately, though the Atlantis War was lost in the shuffle as the greater magnitude of the Yellowstone Explosion, and its threatening consequences for life on Earth at large, compelled first a cease-fire, then cooperation amongst the peoples of the world.
The Pelagics, however, would never fully forget. Many Atlanteans either fled to the surviving nations in other seas, or migrated offworld, to either the Galilean Moons, Triton, or now-blooming and booming Mars. It would be there that Atlantis, as it were, would know both its final fall, and its final revenge. But that tale was twelve hundred years in the future to the refugees of the day.
2340s Through a combination of restoration, net population loss, and revitalization of soil cover across the east two-thirds of the United States, the country becomes self-sufficient in foodstuffs for the first time in eighty years. Conditions for survivors are on average better materially than during the Bread War, but many regions are devastated, even derelict, save for the reformation and recovery teams. Ironically, this period and the centuries to follow came to be called the American Ascendancy, as the country's focus turned wholly toward the future, as the past, ever an ambivalent topic with Americans, is left buried under volcanic dust.
2360s Out of necessity, there had been something of a renaissance in old-style machines, as the ubiquitous network of nanonics decanters and the fluid networks that ran throughout the pre-Yellowstone USA was destroyed. The good news was that the machines could be built and fueled by decentralized fabricator pods, or fabers, so long as sufficient amounts of the appropriate components were assembled. Sometimes, even INappropriate materials were used, as was the case when a fully-functioning (albeit short-lived) wheat combine was made exclusively out of hay, with all fuel and lubricant derived from vegetable oils. Alas, there was the minor detail that the monstrosity was flammable, and therefore did not last long after ignition.
2380s Practical applications of the New Machine Age were use of scarce nanonics to mine or process materials, shape the components, then have skilled human or robotic assemblers place them together. This of course led to an efficiency: the reintroduction of android or humaniform robots, which had enjoyed their original heyday in the late 21st century, but had never seen much use in rural areas due to the abundance (if not superabundance of cheap migrant human labor). It became a mark of the late 24th century art and music -- the robot pastorale -- and long after the restoration of the continent-wide nanonics grid, one could find down an odd road or two a farming station, even a private homestead, tended to by corn-dusted robots on behalf of absentee owners....some absent by demise.
And just like that, the Americans were once again the first-ranked power of the world, albeit it was a close shave with China. This was the dawn of a pleasant period of American history, one in which the norm of American life was peace, a strong civic culture, advanced technology, sufficient infrastructure to deliver goods, sufficient and sufficiently equitable prosperity to provide same, and an energetic but not militaristic culture, looking for something new to do, and casting about for just where to begin to look.
The 25th Century
2400s And thus would been the period of American history known as the Pastoral, after the artistic inspiration; the prior century had been highly focused on survival, ecological rehabiltation, and restoration of the infrastructure of a nanonics-based civilization. The centuries before that had been a long period of deadly strife, hardship, the war and the subsequent reconciliation, in some ways an even colder time. Now that America's children were increasingly set toward other places, some to the seas, others to the planets, still others to the stars, the country settled into a reflective repose, contemplating both its character and its fortune, good and bad. The renaissance in macro machines, especially in robotics, after half a dozen generations without conspicuous hardware, and the sudden vulnerability of even a superpower to the throes of nature, had affected Americans in ways that even the discovery of alien civilizations and the Great Warming themselves had not.
2420s Another thing that the Pastorals, as denizens of the time came to be called, thought about was themselves...and upon how much Americans themselves had changed since the oddly-persistent stereotype of the sharply-defined mix of discrete races came into force several centuries earlier. The truth, however, was...mixed. In few states of the Union was there a clear majority or even a plurality of a single, unmixed traditional group In fact, people had long since referred to one or another of their peers as looking 'Atlantic' (which in the 25th century meant a mix of Hispanic, African, with a touch of Asian features), or 'Californian' (a Hispanic-Asian fusion, similar in many respects to Filipino in characteristics, or 'Carolinian' (a rather interesting European-African mulatto, with a tend toward hazel eyes, reddish or even fair hair, and reddish-tan to wholly black skin tone). Suddenly, the old racial categories were out of date, had been out of date for at least eight generations...and it was too soon to say where -- and what -- the 'New Americans' would look like once the pattern set in. Perhaps something entirely new.
Something else that was new was that the Brazilians, for the first time, moved not only ahead of the United States but ahead of China as well. It was, the still-living Mercada declared, the Age of the Emerald Empire come at last. The Brazilians had finally restored their littoral after the devastating final blow of the Atlanteans, and developed the means to resist any similar attack in future. Prudently, though, the Brazilians decided that now was not the time to deal with the Americans. After all, their star was falling with every decade, as ship after ship fled for other worlds and star systems. The Americans were like the night; something that would pass as the Emerald Star would rise and light the heavens with its brilliance. In time, North America would be virtually depopulated; either Brazil would own it --- or the ice. For now it was certain that the great powers of the tropics would ultimately reign on Earth.
2440s There was ample and unambiguous reason for Mercada's optimism. After a century of post-Yellowstone data, it was now clear that the supervolcano had not only stopped the Great Warming cold -- it was, in concert with human intervention to cool down the Earth -- precipitating an ice age. The evidence was unambiguous, the need to pull the plug on several dozen macro climatological restoration projects paramount. Colder worlds had been warmed to human tolerances; Mars, for example, was now sporting more snowstorms than supercold duststorms. There was an optimism that much could be done--- if only four centuries of efforts to cool the Earth could be undone in time.