In a previous entry I sketched out some ideas for my Gamma World backstory. In particular, I am replacing the Big Mistake with something more meaningful and interesting. At the same time, I want to keep the wild mutations that are in Gamma Terra, because I want to preserve as many player options as I can.
Here's what I came up with.
The Year of the Dragon
While the World That Was had already been in decline for years, the event that tipped the scale and birthed Gamma Terra occurred in 2022. Scientists and astronomers discovered it first: a rogue asteroid hurtling towards the Earth out of the constellation Draco. Over the months that followed, the asteroid – officially christened Draco 12 but known colloquially as the Dragon – was constantly observed amid growing concern over a planetary collision. Some world leaders might have considered trying to keep the Dragon’s existence a secret, but this proved impossible: information was just too easy to obtain, and the world’s hunger for news quickly spread word of the Dragon to virtually every corner of the Earth.
As the asteroid neared, tensions rose among the world’s wealthiest, most populous, and well-armed nations, who began to prepare for the worst by gathering strategic resources. Small wars broke out in many nations, especially those where oil, natural gas, and the rare metals necessary to high technology were located. Meanwhile, in the cities, panic and an increasing awareness of the possible end of the world wreaked havoc with ordinary life. Inhibitions were lowered, and man began to do things he would never before have attempted, from the pursuit of eccentric pleasures to the performance of violent crime or the breaking of ethical and moral boundaries.
As the Dragon came closer, its course could be more accurately measured, and the likelihood of a collision became ever greater. Where before the nations of the world had been content to use mundane arms in their struggles over strategic resources, some of those nations now felt threatened enough to use nuclear missiles and bombs to defend themselves. Armies and capital cities were destroyed in the Middle East, East Asia, and Southeast Asia, but the devastation – while awfully – remained fairly confined to these regions.
Ultimately, Draco 12 did not hit the world, but it came so close – so horrifyingly close – that the damage it did was catastrophic. Global storms, earthquakes, and volcanic activity rocked the planet. Many died, especially those who lived in coastal regions. But in the great plains, hurricanes the size of states raged, and elsewhere earthquakes shook down entire cities, so nowhere was entirely safe.
The years that followed were characterized by the rapid collapse of civilization. The end of global trade, not to mention the effect of the storms and nuclear fallout on climate, resulted in widespread famine, a crisis which wealthy nations tried to address with food stockpiles gathered in the Year of the Dragon and, when these stocks were exhausted, with genetically engineered crops and animals. But in their rush to create new ways to feed a starving population, the bio-engineers of the world over-reached, and their “frankenfood” caused new illnesses and disease in the population, including genetic mutation, cancer and death. Some genetically-engineered species escaped into the wild, causing unforeseen dangers and wreaking further havoc in an already-crippled food chain.
The Man Who Wanted to Save Humanity…
All of this took only a few years, but already it was a commonly-held belief among those who survived that the world was in fact coming to an end – not quickly and all at once, but slowly and painfully. One of the individuals who admitted this likelihood was Dr. Emil Throckmorton, a brilliant geneticist who had managed to survive the ongoing collapse of civilization on an isolated ranch in Mexico. Throckmorton theorized that if the human race could somehow evolve to suit the new post-Dragon world, it might survive. This evolution would have to be by design, since there was no time to wait patiently for natural selection to do its work on the surviving billion humans who still walked the Earth. More importantly, Throckmorton could not imagine a single human species which could survive all the myriad threats now coming together on the world. To survive in the wreckage of the Middle East and East Asia, man would need to be resistant to radiation and intense heat, but radioactive fallout had created perpetual winter over much of the northern hemisphere, and that suggested a human race adapted to the cold and with little need for food or water. When he added in concerns over plague, hostile genetically-engineered species in the wild, and the rising sea level, Throckmorton could only conclude that no one human race would do; he must somehow evolve multiple offshoots of humanity at the same time and allow them all to compete in nature. Only in this way would humanity have a good chance of survival. Over many months, he developed a complex plan which would allow him to design not just one new human race but an infinite number of them, and at the same time distribute this new evolution around the globe.
One of the many experiments which had run amok in the years following the Dragon was nanite technology. One particular nanite colony, originally designed to remove toxic chemicals from the environment, had escaped confinement and gone rogue in a South American jungle. There, the tiny machines were disassembling everything they could find and using the raw materials to manufacture more of their own kind. Throckmorton traveled to the site, where FEMA employees were working hard to contain the “gray goo”, and masquerading as a staff scientist he managed to obtain a thermos-sized colony of the nanites. National security and travel safety had almost totally broken down; it was not difficult for him to bring his sample back to his ranch, where he used his own lab to begin reprogramming the nanites for a new task.
The processing power required for a project of this magnitude was far in excess of what Emil had available, but through his circle of academic contacts he knew of a supercomputer project underway in Austin, Texas. There a large team of the world’s greatest computer engineers were attempting to construct the first quantum computer, a tool which they hoped would allow the management of the entire world’s remaining international resources in order to maximize efficiency and bring the world’s surviving nations together. Throckmorton had great admiration and respect for this project and never considered stealing the quantum computer; it would be enough if he could borrow it. With his nanite canister, he set off for Texas and was able to ingratiate himself to the project team so that they trusted him with access to the facility.
With this access, Throckmorton was able to use the quantum computer to re-program his nanites with an infinite variety of potential human species, a theory which he called the Hyper-Evolved Lifeform, or HEL. With their new programming, the nanites would come into contact with human beings and “put them through HEL,” altering their very genetic structure into something stable but very different than traditional humanity. Throckmorton intended to take the nanites back to his lab and continue his work with them, but he was discovered by FBI agents working undercover at the facility to root out a suspected Al-Jambiya cell. When he tried to run, Throckmorton was shot and died.
While the FBI agents investigated Throckmorton, however, the actual Al-Jambiya terrorist in the facility made off with the thermos filled with nanites. Abdullah al-Wihashi was disguised as custodial staff at the quantum computer lab and had already come to suspect Throckmorton was up to something. Covert spying on Emil’s notes had only convinced Wihashi that the HEL was some kind of virus kept inside the thermos bottle. At this time, Al-Jambiya was in the last stages of a massive bombing plot designed to tip the world over into Armageddon and al-Wihashi, while he knew of the plot’s broad outline, had not been smart or skilled enough to actually be chosen to participate. Resentful of this fact and eager to prove his dedication, Wihashi took the thermos and kept it in secret for 48 hours while he eluded the FBI and his organization positioned itself for its strike on North America.
… And the Man Who Wanted to Destroy It
At noon EST, in twenty cities across the United States, Al-Jambiya terrorists detonated nuclear car bombs. At that moment, al-Wihashi was standing on the roof of the tallest building in Austin. He opened Throckmorton’s thermos and released its contents, hoping to do his small part to destroy the world.
Instead, he may have saved it. Even as Al-Jambiya’s carbombs were going off, the HEL nanites escaped into the air, using raw materials in the environment to self-replicate and seeking out human beings to modify. Abdullah al-Wihashi was their first victim, but millions more would follow. Powered by solar energy, drifting on the wind, and programmed by a quantum computer with the genetic blueprints for countless variations on human life, the HEL nanoplague slowly swept over the world, bringing with itself infinite variety in infinite combination. Al-Jambiya’s nuclear terrorism was the final nail in the coffin for the United States – economic, environment, and social catastrophe accelerated in the months that followed until the federal government ceased to exist, communication broke down, and America descended into a vast inhospitable wilderness punctuated by the occasional village or town. At the same time, animal and plant species around the world were altered by the HEL nano-plague until they bore little resemblance to their original stock. These races – including countless mutated human beings – were better suited to life in Gamma Terra, but stranger than anything which had previously walked the earth.
It took decades for global climate to stabilize, but eventually the rain began to fall once more, birds began to migrate, and flowers began to bloom. But the rain falls on Gamma Terra, not on the World That Was, and somewhere in the ruins of civilization walks Abdullah al-Wihashi, the only man in the world who knows what happened.