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(Re-published by kind permission of the Guild of Historians.)
1: The World After The War
After the Ancients destroyed themselves in the Sixty Minute War, there were several
thousand years when Nothing Much Happened. These were the Black Centuries. Mankind
was reduced to a few thousand individuals; scattered bands of savages who hid in
cellars and caverns to escape the plague-winds and the poisoned rain, and survived
on the canned goods they managed to dig up from the ruins of their ancestors' great
cities. It was a savage age, when life was cheap, and most people would happily
have sold their own children for a tin of rice pudding.
Even when the ash-clouds thinned and the sun returned, bringing new growth to
the scorched earth, humanity was still beset by famines, pestilence and other types
of unpleasantness. Vast upheavals and rearrangements of the Earth's surface were
underway. Whether these were due to the lingering effects of the mighty weapons
which the Ancients had used in their war, or were merely a natural process, we cannot
know. What is certain is that mighty new mountain ranges arose (the Shan Guo uplands,
the Deccan Volcano Maze and the Tannhauser Mountains being the prime examples). At
around this time, among other great changes, some violent storm or convulsion in
the planet's crust caused the western edges of the island called 'Britain' or 'Uk'
to sink beneath the Atlantic, while the North Sea drained away entirely, leaving
Britain attached by a land-bridge to the rest of Europe. (This was one day to have
great consequences for a miserable, ruinous city called London, which clung on, barely
inhabited, to a place beside the muddy river Thames.)
2: New Shoots From The Ashes
Life in the Black Centuries was difficult, disagreeable and generally pretty short,
and it would be many thousands of years before anyone had the time or inclination
to set about building a new civilization. In most parts of the world, all knowledge
of the past had been swept away, and human beings lived little better than animals.
Indeed, some were not truly human at all, for lingering poisons from the war had
caused mutant off-shoots of humanity to arise; chief among them the warlike Scriven
and the sinister Nightwights. (Not only that, but a race of semi-intelligent gulls
haunted the Atlantic coastlines, and in the north herds of mammoth-like 'hairyphants'
once more roamed the tundra!)
In Africa, however, where the plague-bombs and orbit-to-earth atomics had not
fallen so thickly, a certain amount of learning had been preserved, and it was here
that the first flowers of civilisation began to bloom afresh. The so-called 'Spring
Cultures' of Zagwa, Ogbomosho and the Tibesti Caliphate eventually grew into great
trading cultures whose merchants and missionaries helped to restore civilisation
to the rest of the world. As millennium followed millennium new societies arose
in Europe and South America, as well as in the remnants of India and China and among
the Thousand Islands of the Pacific. Some fell by the wayside, and we know little
of them now beyond their names - the Raffia Hat civilisation, the Ash Boundary Culture,
the Slate Bowl People. Others, like the great culture of Shan Guo and the Mountain
Kingdoms, have endured into modern times.
3: Of Nomad Empires and the Dawn Of Traction
In none of these new societies did anyone attempt to match the technological achievements
of the Ancients. Most, indeed, prohibited science and the building of complex machines,
which they blamed for the disaster of the Sixty Minute War. Some, such as the Zagwans,
persecuted anyone who tried to preserve scientific knowledge, and destroyed whatever
vestiges of the Ancient World they could find. We can only guess at the loss to
historians which such vandalism has caused!
In the northern part of Europe, however, certain remnants of the old world were
revered, as we can see in those so-called machine-shrines where, in the depths of
the Black Centuries, people prayed and made sacrifices to the battered computer-brains,
toasters and automatic drinks dispensers they had found among the rubble of Ancient
settlements. Slowly, cultures arose which did not just worship the old machines,
but tried to make them work again. The Blue Metal Culture, the Electric Empire with
their earthenware batteries and strange electro-magnetic helixes, and the mysterious
Pyramid Builders of the High Arctic were among them, but all were eventually swept
away by natural disasters (the frequent Ice Ages of the period 10,000 to 3,000 BT),
or by the rise of the Nomad Empires, rowdy hordes of barbarians who used whatever
technologies they could find or steal in their endless wars with one another. They
built armies of 'Stalkers' or 'Resurrected Men', and their mobile battle-platforms
and 'traction fortresses' have been seen as the fore-runners of the Traction Cities
we live upon today. One of these Nomad Empires was the Scriven, a mutant race from
the high north, famous for their speckled skin and spectacular cruelty. As their
numbers dwindled and the climate grew cooler they were gradually driven south and
east out of their old strongholds in Siberia and found their way at last to
London, a squalid trading-post in eastern Uk. They conquered it easily, and ruled
it for almost two hundred years. They were eccentric and tyrannical, yet under their
rule London began to thrive again. Merchants and scholars were drawn to the city
by the relics from the Ancient world which scavengers dug up in great quantities
from the soil around it, and vast advances in knowledge and technological prowess
were made. The Scriven even set up the Order of Engineers, a fore-runner of our
present-day Guild of Engineers, to study and re-use the things they found. But the
Scriven line was growing weak, and eventually they were overthrown in their turn
during a bloody rebellion led by the self-styled 'Skinners Guilds'. There then followed
a brief period of independence for the city, before new nomad conquerors swept in
from the north. These new arrivals called themselves the Movement, and their arrival
marks the beginning of a new age; the Traction Era. For they were led by the genius
who would transform our city, the immortal First Helmsman Nikolas Quirke.
When the notion of Traction Cities first came to him, none now can say. Some
legends that as a young man travelling aboard his nomad Traction Fortress he was
visited by a dream in which he saw an entire city moving across the face of the earth.
Others claim that the idea had first been conceived by the last of London's Scriven
rulers, Auric Godshawk, and that Quirke merely inherited it, but few people nowadays
believe that. Whatever the origin of the plan, Londoners soon came to see its wisdom
- especially when it was pointed out to them that a mobile London need not just flee
its enemies; it could conquer them, and use their raw materials to make itself larger,
stronger and faster-moving!
Over the following few years the city was torn down and rebuilt in the form of
a gigantic vehicle, based on the linked and extended chassis of the Movement's Traction
Fortresses. These were dangerous times, for while all Quirke's energy and resources
were employed in the rebuilding of the city his nomad rivals in the north hatched
plots and alliances to overthrow him and take the city's riches for their own. The
most serious of these crises was the Northern War, in which many rival bands of nomads
joined together and drove south to attack London with Stalkers, armoured mammoths
and their own traction fortresses. But Quirke's genius defeated and obliterated
them, and London moved north to devour their former strongholds.
Today's Londoners would scarcely recognise the city on which their ancestors first
set forth. Far smaller than modern London, it rolled on wheels instead of tracks,
it had no jaws yet, and its three tiers were protected with armour and ringed with
cannon and catapults. It looked more like a giant-sized version of the nomads traction
fortresses than a city. But in the hundred years that followed it was to eat most
of the richer settlements in Uk, and the raw materials it took from them were used
to expand the base-plate, construct the first tracks and add a further four tiers
were added to the city, bringing the total to the seven on which Londoners live today.
Also at this time we see the beginnings of the Guild system, with the groups responsible
for each aspect of London's movements clubbing together to protect their own interests
and educate their children in their own fields of expertise. All the Guilds met
together in council to decide on the city's future course and likely meals. The
Navigators who were responsible for steering it, and the Merchants who helped fund
it quickly came to dominate the council. Historians, while lacking political power,
were greatly respected, for they had already begun to create the London Museum, one
of the greatest centres of learning about the past since the fall of the Ancient
world, and the means by which many Old-Tech devices have been rediscovered, and restored
to every day use.
(It is interesting to note that London's engineers had very little power at that
time. Despite the fact that it was their skills which kept London moving, they were
divided into small groups; the Designers, Axle-Strengtheners, Wheelwrights, Cog-Cutters,
Power-Teams, Duct-Managers etc, etc. It would still be several more centuries before
they achieved the dominion over London affairs which they presently enjoy.
4: The 'Traction Boom'
As London increased its size and speed, and started to look hungrily at larger
settlements on the far side of the old North Sea, other cities began to copy its
lead, either in order to escape London's jaws, or in the hope of emulating its success.
At first Londoners were indignant at what they saw as this poaching of their great
idea. But Quirke-ite thinkers it thus. The Great Quirke, they said, has brought
about a new phase of history. From this time on all civilised people will wish to
live aboard towns which move. Those that are strong and swift will eat up those
which are slow and weak. And in this way the affairs of men will come into harmony
with the natural world, where the fittest survive. The theories of the Ancient philosopher
Chas Darwin had recently been re-discovered in the library of one of the towns London
had eaten, and the new system was quickly labelled Municipal Darwinism.
There then followed the period known to vulgar people as the 'Traction Boom',
during which cities and settlements of every size were compelled to 'go mobile',
or to face being eaten up by others which had. Some added tracks like London's,
other experimented with inflatable wheels, systems of rails, or even, in the case
of the short-lived Pogo-city of Borsanski Novi, some large springs. Others, meanwhile,
rebuilt themselves as rafts and took to the seas. Some, like Airhaven and Kipperhawk,
became airborne, taking advantage of developments in aviation. Even the mountains
can now be gnawed asunder by specialised mining towns in search of ore. Even the
icy polar wastes are traversed by cities, and the floors of the oceans have become
the hunting grounds of submarine towns like Pacifica. Can it be long before Airhaven
is joined in the sky by hunting cities, perhaps ones capable of ascending to the
very fringes of space? The Ancients, as anyone who has looked up at the night sky
will know, built homes and observatories in orbit. It is not inconceivable that
cities may one day evolve to hunt there, too. Like life, our cities adapt to exploit
As Municipal Darwinism spread, the static cultures soon began to wither away.
Today they survive only in mountainous regions, such as Shan Guo, where the warrior-monk
Batmunkh founded his Anti-Traction League. In Africa the degraded remnants of the
Spring Cultures still protect their heartlands against mobile towns, but even with
the League's help their territories grow smaller every year. Despite such League
atrocities as the sinking of Marseilles, most people believe firmly that moving cities
are the future, and that Municipal Darwinism will triumph. Indeed, most city people
nowadays imagine that it is barbarous and even unhealthy to set foot upon the bare
earth. In years to come, the only thing left of the old way of life will be a few
precious relics, preserved in places like our London Museum.