[Humans aren't around any more. They lasted about eight hundred years after the invention of the atomic bomb, and up until it all went horribly wrong, they'd only been used twice. Then, well, it all went horribly wrong.

And afterwards, everything went black for a bit. By which I mean that the dust kicked up by all those explosives blocked out the sun for a few decades, and a lot of the plants died. The mushrooms did all right, though, and the seagulls and cockroaches thrived, and since the skies cleared again everything's been lush and verdant. Perhaps the radiation helped, I don't know.]


A ferin da, a tauni yiz oud, a hab gown wery of wer A grup -

[Translation provided by United Nations Interstellar Advisory Body:]

I fear that, at twenty years old, I have grown weary of where I grew up. It is an insular, petty, and arrogant society, and the worst is that I will never have any means to escape it short of death.

Left to my own devices much of the time, I wonder incessantly what Earth must have been like when my ancestors set off in their own little Noah's Ark. I've heard stories, and seen the electronic re-enactions in the video-suites, but there are so many things I have no experience of. Rain, for one. We're already losing the word, and I doubt my children will use it any more than I use archaisms from Postmodern English. There are so many things in the videos that, only fifteen generations into our journey, I don't even remotely have the words for. When we get where we're going, will we know what to call anything?

Our ark is not a boat, but a ring... but just as claustrophobic as Noah and his family must have felt, and here we are for millennia, not forty days and forty nights. Now the General Council have complete control, they want to destroy the library, for fear of letting the few dissidents - myself, perhaps two others - interfere with their cult. I am certain that this religion of theirs is a recent development, but the ship's log has already been jettisoned into space. Today they will vote on whether to continue the reports to Earth, and if that goes, all is lost. Already they preach that they sailed off to the stars in disgust at the decadence Earth had fallen into; all I read in the library, while such things were still permitted, disagrees, saying instead that we were sent as colonists, but my family and the others are convinced. Nothing I say will sway them. I gave up speaking of the overpopulation and the spreading deserts of our erstwhile home years ago.

I have been growing a few crops in an out-of-the-way nook behind the moisture collectors. I expect they will sustain me for some few weeks, and after that, I have no great optimism for my survival. I will not see whichever planet we choose to set our flag upon; but then, I would not have seen it had I lived to be half a millennium old, and I will choose to exercise whatever mimicry of control I still have over my fate. I will not die at the hands of a fanatical council. When nothing else remains of importance, I will open the airlock door myself and begin the long, cold journey back to mother Earth.


I found a book the other day. I'd never seen a book before. But it told me all sorts of funny things. Like people used to be all mixed up. Goths and Ravers and Rockers and Punks all living together. Made me laugh a bit. Didn't think it would ever work. Guess it didn't, huh?

Folks used to live in "races". Not sure what they were. Friend Luke says they're about colour. Not 'pletely sure what he means. But I think "races" aren't around anymore. Luke says they all got mixed up hundreds of years 'go. Which is pretty funny I think. Like, they all got mixed up. But the proper way of sorting people out was mixed up already. So that sorted itself out. 'slike one of them has to be sorted out. Maybe folks get confused if they're not sorted out somehow.

Luke says there used to be hundreds of "races". Seems a bit silly to me. Think twenty is a much better number. Punks are the best, of course. Told me that when I got my first nose-ring. Makes sense, too. There's more of us than the Mods. Can kick their asses any day.

But I like the Fashion Kids as well. Don't think my family do. They spit at them. They spit at me too, but that's good spitting. Means I'm one of them. When the Fashion Kid came round last week they spat at his feet. Not at his head like they do with me. Means they don't trust him. But I liked his clothes. Turkey feathers and pee-vee-see. Not sure what that is. He liked my boots though. Wanted to buy them off of me. Silly Fashion Kid didn't know Punks can't take their boots off. Fancy not knowing they're nailed on when we're little!

Dad said the Fashion Kids want an "ally ance". I think it means they don't want us to give them any grief. Dad and the rest of the Big Boots are gonna talk about it tonight. He says if we don't give the Fashion Kids any grief then we have to give the Yuppies some grief instead. Says they're not so easy but they've got lots of stuff we want. I'm glad we don't have "races" any more. 's a lot better like this. Everyone knows what side they're on. Stops everyone getting all mixed up, see?


Extract from Arbrecht's History of the Northern States, vol. 3

The Second British Empire lasted for over four hundred years in what was later recognised as a difficult and turbulent period. Only a character of such personal charisma and determination as Ewan Shadwin could have formed the rival county-states of England into a coherent whole; and only such a military genius as Gen. Blaker, Shadwin's second-in-command, could have gone on to lead the new Union into battle in such a short time. The turning point came at Aarhus, when the conquering armies, fresh from the swift subjugation of the Scottish Republics and the remnants of the Irish Commonwealth, brilliantly struck at the core of the northern Scandinavian superstate. The first onslaught was solely on the battleground of the Internet, by then in decline but still an important route of commerce. The Danish response was swift and bloody, but woefully poorly directed; Blaker's diversionary force performed their duties more steadfastly and effectively than any military operation in the previous five hundred years, and by their annihilation allowed the main offensive to crush Stockholm, Orebro and Oslo within a few hours. Carbon nets were set up along the Skagerrak and the Baltic Coast, making any seaborne approach instantly detectable, and the foundations were laid for the first truly global empire in Earth's history.

Shadwin's inexorable march over the continents of Africa, Asia and North America is well documented, and I will not go into here what has been admirably well-covered elsewhere. It is worth noting, however, that the states of Saskatchewan and Montana, by that time both, to different extents, tightly-controlled dictatorships, held out impressively against the tide and were never fully brought under British rule. These were isolated cases, though, and few petty states remained intact. Five and a half years after the Lancashire Alliance, ninety-six percent of the land area of the world was subsumed into the Empire.

The scene was set for a golden age, and it is a matter of some interest that this only partially materialised. Perhaps it is true, as some academics suggest, that the massive bureaucracy involved in a state of such size stifled much of the creativity and drive of the Northern English peoples. However, there is a strong case for the other side of the coin, that after the rule of Shadwin the chiefs of the Over-State allowed too much leeway, that the teeming populous turned from great deeds to small, and let their own comforts replace the heights of endeavour that had characterised the Empire's formative years.

Perhaps the mindset required for great communal works of art and philosophy was already a thing of the past. Miller's much-maligned "Mother-mentality" hypothesis is, I think, vindicated by close study of the trends evident in Imperial State of the Union addresses through the period; compare Shadwin's last St. George's Day Proclamation with the stiflingly diplomatic prevarications of the 27th and early 28th centuries. In short, frightened of overstepping the bounds, the British people and the vast majority of their subjects dared not move at all.

But the downfall of the largest empire of all time was to come from a quite different direction. Military expediency, coupled with the thrust of technological research, came full circle and returned to the cat-and-mouse tactics of large-scale nuclear devices that had prevailed in the 20th and 21st centuries. It was, of course, in the aftermath of the nebulous "World War III" (generally considered a misnomer; according to the great authority of the last century on the period, AJP Soldyer, "no-one knew it had started, no-one knew who was fighting whom, and no-one knew if it had finished until it was ancient history") that Shadwin and Blaker had thrived. Now, returned to warfare's previous state, the British had no visionary leader to take advantage of the rapidly changing situation, and after a few comparatively minor skirmishes, the Empire dissolved into squabbling factions almost as quickly as it had arisen. One of these factions soon rose above the rest. Though initially vulnerable, its prime position and economic wealth gave it an unbeatable edge. Soon, it was inevitable that the Trinity Coalition of Argentina was to become the next in the line of world-spanning superpowers stretching back to the days of Alexander, and beyond.


Time travel was our salvation, our hope and, in a way, our nemesis, in the end. This might seem a bit pessimistic to you, but hear me out. I know whereof I speak, as they say.

It really took off quickly. Seemed like as soon as the first newspaper reports were verified, time-hopper booths sprang up in the well-off bits of every major city, and then it was only a few months before everyone was at it. They tried to regulate it, of course, but some things bureaucracy just can't do, especially if someone's got there four years before and quietly removed the pertinent documents. So, the scene: eight billion people, over half of whom have some way, reliable or otherwise, of cheating Old Father Time and wandering haphazardly around history.

Now, causality should have taken a beating, but somehow it didn't, at least not at first. By this time we had - they had - built supercomputers, miniaturised them, built better ones, miniaturised them too, and ended up with docile, well-behaved machines perfectly capable of understanding what was going on and how it all worked. Thing is, they couldn't explain it to us; the gulf was too much, and the one thing they never got computers to do well at all was explain things. So humanity shrugged its collective shoulders and carried on time-hopping willy-nilly.

(There are some things to be seen, if you have all of time and much of space to travel in. I've seen the hideous, and the beautiful.)

What the computers knew all along, and failed utterly to warn us of, is that time-hopping leaves holes. I don't pretend to understand the maths. But what I do know is that when causality is in conflict with itself - whenever someone travels back or forward in time - it deals with it by developing a discontinuity. Even our leisurely wander forward at a rate of twenty-four hours a day gives rise to the occasional temporal blip, and realising that helped us solve an enigma or two, I can tell you. So you can imagine what four billion regular time-travelling tearaways did to the fabric of space-time, right?

Soon the whole system was a mess. No-one knew what was, would be, will, why, what or wherefore, and of course there was no way we could get out of the computers what we could do to fix it. And still people carried on, until really we were just zapping randomly from isolated shred to isolated shred. The results were... interesting.

This is where we are, uh, now - for want of a better word. Utterly isolated, each in our own way, although we meet each other often enough. It's hard to explain... but as we travel, we relive old experiences of each others' and our own, we pre-live future ones, and concurrently live two experiences from two different lives, until the whole concept of time becomes meaningless from the inside. From the outside, where you are, I suspect you see the whole jigsaw assembled, as it were, but here we're bouncing from piece to piece with never a moment's peace - pardon the pun. That's why you can hear what I'm saying - if you can. From my point of view, the words I've said come back at me from a million different angles, and most I've heard before.

They call this the Narrative Age, and it'll be the last age. It's so called because the only constant thing we have is our consciousness, effectively immortal but incapable of consistent change. Personal experience is about all we have left. It can be fun. It can be otherwise. Perhaps this isn't the last age, but the last-but-one - because while we have our stream of consciousness, the narrative, there's something else to decay. Perhaps once it's all gone to hell, literally and/or figuratively, the fragments will coalesce and then start again from scratch. I haven't seen it happen, not yet, but there's always time. There's always time.

What do you think, did we get it right? Comment here...