Darkwind Game Fiction
By T.K. Williamson

Excerpt from a presentation given in special closed door session with world government leaders at the 2016 General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union:

“Based on historical data and long established cyclical patterns, we expected to experience the maximum of the current sunspot cycle around 2013 or 2014.  Instead, we have seen steadily increasing sunspot activity accompanied by increasingly violent solar flares.  Predictive models of solar behavior have been unable to provide any estimate of how long this anomalous trend will continue or how violent the solar activity may become.

“Average global temperatures have risen almost a degree in the past 8 years.  Although the popular press is still laying the blame for our climate shifts on man-made causes, if the current pattern continues, it will become obvious that solar radiation has increased to unprecedented levels and is continuing to increase.”

Straightening from the cramped and contorted position required to reach the bolts on the new exhaust headers, he stepped back to admire his work.  He was looking forward to the weekend and showing off his new pride and joy – a gleaming blue and white Phoenix with a 5 liter V8.  The polished chrome of the exposed air intakes and fuel injection system reflected the sullen sky glow coming in through the open garage door.  Mopping sweat from his face with an indifferently clean bandana, he walked over to stand in front of the fan that kept some air moving in the garage. 

Although it was winter, someone magically transported through time from the previous century might not have recognized the season.  The air was warm and humid.  A tepid rain drizzled down out of an overcast sky.  It wasn’t bad weather if you happened to like living in a tropical rain forest and having mushrooms grow in unwatched corners of your house.  Where the clouds were thinner, a reddish orange glow shone through.  Every winter seemed warmer and wetter than the last and the summers were hotter and drier.  Last summer had been fearsome and this one was likely to be worse.

At a worldly 17 years old, Markus Korivak stood looking out at the orange glow of the overcast sky and daydreamed of a wonderful holiday - lying on his back in a field of cool green clover, just soaking up the afternoon warmth of gentle summer sun.  That had been when he was 8 years old.  Before anyone knew that there was something wrong with the sun.

Interview seen on World News Tonight broadcast:

Host: “With us tonight is Dr. Saul Weinberg, eminent astronomer and specialist in solar storms.  Welcome Dr. Weinberg.”

Dr. Weinberg: “Thank you Paul.  It is a pleasure to be here.”

Host: “So, let’s jump right to the heart of everyone’s worries.  The solar flares have been exceptionally violent the last few months and all over the world we have seen disruptions in electrical power grids, communications networks,…really anything that could be influenced by strong magnetic fields or radiation.  What can you tell us about these phenomena and what is being done about it?”

Dr. Weinberg: “Well, Paul, as we all know, solar activity has been steadily increasing for a number of years now.  We have been developing a lot of new models to better understand the phenomena and we think we have the answer now.  Basically, the sun has a bad case of indigestion.”

Host: “Indigestion?  Could you explain what you mean by that?”

Dr. Weinberg: “Certainly but let me give some good news first.  Based on our models, we are certain that the sun is at or near its maximum.  Within the next two to three years, we will begin to see a decrease in solar activity.

“We are fairly certain that a small but very dense object hit the sun - possibly a small black hole traveling near relativistic speeds.  It hit the sun, passed completely through, and continued back out into deep space.  The passage disrupted normal reactions in the solar core and destabilized the solar magnetic field. What we have been experiencing for the last few years are those disruptions making their way out to the solar surface, the corona.

“As to what we are doing about the current terrestrial problems, we have placed a cluster of solar observation satellites in orbits close to the sun.  These satellites continuously observe and report back current surface conditions on the sun.

“The charged particles of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs as we call them, present the greatest hazards to electrical systems, radio transmissions, and even entire power grids here on Earth.  There are many factors behind the damage potential of any CME, including whether it is directed squarely at Earth or if it is a grazing hit, how strong it is, and whether its magnetic field is oriented the same or opposite to that of Earth.

“The key thing to note is that while the initial radiation from a solar flare travels to Earth at the speed of light, a CME is much slower.  With the advance warning of our solar observation satellites we now have 10 to 12 hours to prepare for the CME.  That means operators of vulnerable satellites, airline officials, radio and television broadcasters, and managers of communications and power grids can expect several hours of warning for any electrical disturbance shot from the Sun.

“When space storms approach, engineers put some satellites into sleep mode, airlines are rerouted away from Polar Regions where more radiation leaks through the atmosphere, and major communication and electrical systems can be shut down to safeguard them against overloads.”

“Thank you Dr. Weinberg.  We have to take a commercial break now but when we come back, I would like to explore the decline of the solar events and what we can expect in the future.”

Across much of the civilized world, sirens sounded and emergency radio and television broadcasts screamed warnings.  Solar observation satellites had detected a solar flare of unprecedented magnitude.  Initial estimates predicted a grazing hit to the southern hemisphere but at intensities that would partially collapse Earth’s magnetic field and open the surface to dangerous levels of ionizing radiation from space.

Twelve hours later, the particle storm arrived.  As the Earth’s magnetic field collapsed, all wireless communications networks broke down.  Unshielded electronics took the electromagnetic pulse hit and died - computers failed and electronics fried.  As the atmosphere ballooned and expanded outward, satellites were dragged out of orbit to fall burning across the sky.

But, humans are clever creatures.  We had installed fiber optic networks that wrapped around the world like some high-tech spider’s web.  We had hardened our electronics against EMP.  As people died from radiation poisoning all across Australia, Africa and South America, the networks still managed to dutifully broadcast every moment in real time and record for rebroadcast – as if seeing it once wasn’t enough.

In the northern hemisphere, the governments finally reacted to the warnings of the scientific community.  Old bomb shelters were restocked and new ones were built.  Railway tunnels and storm water tunnels were rapidly converted into emergency solar shelters. All types of critical supplies suddenly became scarce as both governments and individuals hoarded against the coming Apocalypse.

As Spring approached in the northern hemisphere, the still functional Solar Observation Satellites reported another super flare.  This flare wasn’t as powerful as the one that had sterilized the south but it was going to be a direct hit.  As the warnings went out through the civil defence networks, mobs stormed the inadequate number of shelters looking for a place to hide. Earth was about to receive the full fury of an angry sun.

Tortured beyond endurance, the Earth’s protective magnetic field first collapsed and then underwent a reversal.  As the solar wind ripped away much of the upper atmosphere, the Earth’s surface was subjected to a bath of charged particles and hard radiation.  Plants, animals, and anyone still out in the open died.

In the bunkers and bomb shelters, humanity waited for the sun to quiet and the magnetic field to reestablish itself.  When the blast doors were opened and the protective mounds of soil and rubble were pushed aside, hardly anything was left alive on the surface, and the things that had survived looked like they would have been better off dead. It was a ruined, blighted world.

People glanced fearfully at the sun and at the strange auroras that danced with the rearranged magnetic fields of the Earth.  For the rest of their lives the survivors would live in dread of a sun that burned brighter and hotter than before.

But humans are clever and humans are survivors.  Water wells were dug.  Seeds, carefully shielded in the deepest parts of the bunkers, were brought out and planted.  Animals were carefully nurtured.  And children were born.  To those children, a sky flickering with strange auroral colors would be normal.  Hiding from the sun during its angrier moments would be just a fact of life.  There was enough radiation to slowly wear the survivors down, to make them age faster and die younger. But humanity lived on.

[See Also: The Birth of Deathracing - Creative Fiction]