Sanctum: Twilight Apocalypseby Mark Krawec
Sanctum: Twilight Apocalypseby Mark Krawec
Sanctum: Twilight Apocalypse
by Mark Krawec
"My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet airplane. His son will ride a camel." - Saudi saying
The beginning of the end of the modern world went unnoticed. Somewhere between 2000 and 2008 fell a moment referred to by geologists as "peak oil," the point at which half the oil there ever would be had been extracted. From then on, petroleum availability could only diminish; the few, small new deposits found could not compensate for the decline in existing ones. Like the sea floor sloping to the edge of the continental shelf, the decline was gradual at first. Then it went over the edge.
At the close of the 21st century, the economic map of the world has been turned on its ear. The past three decades have been long years of rolling, global resource wars. The extraction industry plutocrats of the Industrial West ensured that no one prepared for the end of its only energy source. The standard of living of most of its surviving, ragged, hungry citizens is now roughly equivalent to that of present-day Cuba. The former Third World was well used to living on a tiny fraction of the energy used by the consumer nations and has toddled along on solar, wind, water and muscle much as it always had. Two heavyweight nations remain, but they're not the ones who were flexing their muscle in the 20th century.
Humans flew high on cheap energy for over a hundred and fifty years, but now it's time to come back down to earth. The only question is whether the descent will be a slow glide or a nosedive. Nations could reorganize around agrarian lines and form sustainable societies that consume no more energy than they did in the eighteenth century, or the plastic addicts could set off another round of wars to seize control of the last drop of oil. There's no doubt that a new resource war would be the most ferocious yet - and the last ever.
There are Warlocks working to bring about each outcome. Some would like nothing more than decades of worldwide, indiscriminate slaughter, followed by millennia of hunting the survivors through a new Stone Age. Others believe that a settled, orderly society offers much richer opportunities for artful debasement and perversion.
The Superpowers: China and India
China has the world's last industrial economy. A radical new breed of boxcar-sized nuclear reactor has been deployed across the country to provide electricity for trains, factories and electrolytic hydrogen plants that produce fuel for trucks and buses. Electronic gadgets, made from plant-based plastics invented by Da Vinci, and powered by hand-cranked rechargers, are ubiquitous.
Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong remain vital cities. Once black with smog, they've cleaned up considerably since the end of gasoline. This new Golden Triangle is the glittering heart of commercial activity throughout Southeast Asia. The frameworks of many new buildings are actually grown in place using genetically modified bamboo, adapted to feed on the stew of pollutants in the soil. The buildings' roofs are left to leaf out to aid cooling. Nothing is paved, so the living skyscrapers tower over cobblestone streets crowded with vendors, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws, and methane-powered jitneys.
Travel between cities is mostly by train, with scores of people (and, in the countryside, animals and agricultural products) packed into each car. The moneyed elite may travel by airship or book passage on a steamer or sailing vessel, if they're headed for the Indonesian Archipelago or Japan. The truly super-rich flaunt their wealth (and avoid the pirates in the South China Sea) with the world's last airplanes: ultra-light, propeller-driven monoplanes small enough to take off from an estate's croquet lawn.
India is the world's computing brain trust. The few electrical systems still running have to be optimized for efficiency to a degree that's beyond any human's ability, so Indian systems control programmers are vital. The tech capital, Mumbai, juxtaposes a core that's the most wired city in the world against a miles-wide ring of medieval slum.
Political liberty has been extinguished in the region, but the bourgeois don't much care as long as they keep making money, and so little ever changes for the peasantry that they haven't noticed. Breathe a word about an independent press or workers' rights and you'll spend the rest of your (brief) life manually hauling spent reactor fuel into an exhausted coal mine in Shandong. Vocal critics of the government have a nasty habit of vanishing in the night - or if the Party wants to make an example of them, being killed while resisting arrest in plain view of a large crowd.
Overall, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent are a jarring mix of the computing, communications and medical technology of the 2080s, the strongman governments of the 1960s, the transportation of the 1930s, and fifteen-hundred-year-old martial arts - think a "Golden Harvest remake of Blade Runner with Zeppelins set in South Korea under Syngman Rhee." In the course of a single adventure, Sanctum operatives may investigate cyberpunk-style corporate intrigues, dodge highwaymen on a horseback ride along the dirt road to Kowloon, and engage in a pitched wire-fu duel against secret police agents atop a hydrogen airship in flight.
Asia has a long tradition of exclusive, secretive and occasionally louche business organizations like the tongs, zaibatsu or chaebol. In this environment, Sanctum is nothing unusual and so its existence is something of an open secret. Few people know what it actually does, though; most assume it's some kind of charitable organization, an oddball cousin of the Shriners or Rotarians.
Captain Lim Soo May (Sue), Ret.
Formerly a tank commander in the Singaporean army, Captain Lim spent the past few years on one of the camel-riding repair crews of engineers and Linux jockeys that crisscross Australia's Great Sandy Desert maintaining a Vermont-sized solar power grid. She left the country in rather a hurry after the rest of the team was burnt to a crisp. Management blamed it on a malfunctioning collector sub-array, but Captain Lim politely insisted that she had in fact seen with her own eyes that a Warlock incinerated them with his fiery breath and inhaled the ashes. Then, she set sail for home. Sanctum came knocking not long thereafter.
Han is one of China's richest and most famous industrialists. Virtually everyone owns one of his products, and he's famous as a philanthropist and patron of the arts and sciences. What's less well known is that he's also the host for a demon called the Hei Lung Mei (Black Earth Dragon).
Twenty years ago, Han snapped up a struggling chipmaker and within five years had come to dominate the market. Bits of his circuitry are found in electronics wherever current is still flowing. Each of these is part of a gigantic, distributed, geomancy project in service of the Hei Lung Mei. Once the network is completed, Han plans to use complex rituals to stream negative qi to each of its nodes in a brute-force attack on the very energy of the earth itself. If all goes according to plan, the territories saturated with Han's bad vibes will become hives of scum and villainy, churning out enthusiastic new high-tech Warlocks. These disciples will launch new iterations, geometrically expanding the web of evil until the whole world is ensnared, all lands are playgrounds for the Black Earth Demon's progeny, and all mortals are their toys and prey.
The Old World: America and Europe
Depression and famine have radically remade the West, particularly the U.S. Gated communities for the wealthy and their servants have evolved into fortress plantations. Life inside these palaces is a carnival of consumption, with mammoth vehicles, cavernous shopping malls and thousands of 24-hour video channels. On the outside - in the crumbling cities where you're lucky to get five hours of power and running water a day, or on dirt farms in the impoverished countryside - the other ninety percent of the populace live hand-to-mouth. The Reverend President insists, nevertheless, that things are improving, unemployment will be back below 50% soon, and the troops will be home from Operation Venezuelan Freedom any day now. Assuming Operation Brazilian Liberation goes as planned.
Picture Cotton Mather or Oliver Cromwell as President during the Great Depression and you'll have a pretty good idea of life in late 21st century America.
In the U.S., Sanctum works in total secrecy, especially from the government. The official line from the Department of Doctrine is that the Bible guarantees believers victory over the demon world. Sanctum agents, conversely, are well aware that Warlocks aren't in the least incommoded by the name of Jesus or anybody else. That's holding unscriptural theology, a Class A felony and good for a one-way ticket to Gitmo. Teach your heresy to anybody else and you'll be the opening act at the next gay stoning.
Consequently, American Sanctum operatives are organized into small cells and only come together to carry out missions against identified Warlocks. None of a given cell's members knows the members of any other. Only the leader knows how to contact another cell, and even then knows only the other cell's leader. Operating in the U.S. is thus a bit like joining a band of WW II partisans, except that these farmer/mechanic/schoolteacher-commandoes are under the gun from the government and its enemies at the same time.
Sanctum's difficulties are compounded by the fact that the (no surprise) intensely repressive nature of life in the Christian Republic makes it a fertile breeding ground for Warlocks. Lifelong expectation of damnation leads a good many to throw up their hands, say, "might as well be hung for a sheep," and give in completely to their demons after the first offense.
C. Jasper Coombs
C.J., as he's known to his friends, has always been torn between opportunism and altruism. He found his calling when he devised a way to combine them. Heir to a large shipping firm, he went from wealthy to crazy rich when he started special runs overseas for American elites seeking illegal medical treatments like stem-cell therapy or in vitro fertilization. Unbeknownst to the passengers, the crew and servants include refugees and dissidents fleeing the FBI on the way out, and incoming Sanctum agents on the way back in.
Legion remembers nothing of his previous life beyond the fact that he hated his vile, fleshly self with a passion. His attempts to destroy his identity by eating pieces of strangers have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams - every sunrise changes his appearance to that of one of his victims. He's also extremely hard to kill, since what would be a fatal wound for a mortal causes him to break apart into mobile lumps of bone and meat, one unit for each victim consumed, which skitter away and reunify later. To destroy Legion permanently, each bit must be destroyed individually before he reassembles.
The FBI has been tracking Legion's activities for years, but is convinced they're the work of a cannibalistic Satanist cult. Legion does get caught every so often, but he takes advantage of the FBI's unshakable conviction in their power over demons by theatrically "dying" every time, then re-integrating once the coast is clear.
The Squeeze: Africa and the Middle East
Africa was suffering from a chronic shortage of everything but weapons long before the energy crash, and its situation hasn't improved. War is pandemic and continuous across the center of the continent, bringing with it the usual environmental spoliation and epidemics. In many countries, all pretense of national government has been abandoned, replaced by rule of the gun.
West Africa has the additional misfortune of having large deposits of oil and natural gas. Petroleum may be too expensive to burn for fuel, but it's still a vital component of thousands of industrial products. Natural gas provides the ammonia for chemical fertilizers, without which the depleted dustfields of America and Asia would stop producing altogether. The major powers are well aware of this and are working to bring the region under their control. China has several countries heavily garrisoned. The U.S. army already occupies half of three continents; with no one to spare, they struck upon a different solution.
Many of the countries around the Gulf of Guinea are home to encampments of "citizen soldiers," so called because they were promised American citizenship in return for enlisting in its army and helping pacify their own countries. Small numbers of American-born officers command swelling ranks of local enlistees housed in a sort of military colony, some of which have become the de facto governing authority in their area.
Stuck between armies of secular totalitarianism on one side and mercenaries of theocratic fascism on the other, West Africans are becoming very worried indeed that their homeland may become the theatre for one last go-round of all-out resource war ...
The Middle East hasn't made out any better. Thirty years ago, Operation Iranian Justice went a bit sideways with the outbreak of a three-, four-, or five-sided (depending who you ask) nuclear exchange. The ensuing free-for-all turned several large swaths of land into phosphorescent wastelands. Despite radiation levels that will have you sloughing your skin in under an hour, the U.S. and China are still sending bands of "reclaimers" into the heat to drain what oil they can from any field that's even remotely accessible.
Seranika is a well-known praise-singer (a uniquely African combination of bard, psychotherapist and public relations agent). He uses his ability to move in and between social circles to keep an eye out for subtle Warlock machinations among the powerful and watch out for impending rampages among the poor. His extensive study of the lore of Warlocks and demons has brought him closer than anyone else in the world to the truth about them - that demons aren't Heaven's disgruntled employees, but rather spiritual parasites that have been evolving alongside us since the dawn of human self-awareness. Cradle of both our species, Africa is home to many of the oldest and most dangerous demons.
The ruins of Syria are home to Ahmadzadeh, leader of a band of reavers feared throughout the Levant. The heavily armed band swoops down on villages throughout the region, plundering supplies and taking slaves. Occasionally, they'll go for a bigger score and knock over a Chinese or American petroleum recovery installation.
The raiders are able to make their headquarters in the heart of the most irradiated country in the world thanks to Amadzadeh's demonic gifts. He takes the environmental radiation, as well as that absorbed by his followers, into his own body. To the disobedient, he returns their full cumulative dosage all at once. Those who rebel after a long enough service instantly turn to boiling, black slime.
Next Stop: 1950's America for mass hysteria during the Red Scare!