The Aftermath: Map Nomads

All the pretenses of the old world had fallen away like a whore’s veil. Old belief systems crumbled in a loss of faith, and from its dust thoughts different and new were erected with renewed faith in Mankind. Though civilization congealed in the normalized gravity that was rampant in the zones of moderate psychedelia and synaesthia, many of the people became fiercely nomadic.

Cults of Movement began popping up along the western seaboard, in groups of synchronized dance that pulsed in coastal cities. California was ideal for this because the affected regions there contained peculiar acoustic and physical effects optimal for their purposes. They populated the beaches and rocky crags in sprawling campsites constantly wreathed with smoke and wore bright colored clothing more for display than warmth; they moved with a cadence that was unique to each cult, with swooping movements, frenzied gyrations, or an eloquent elegance. Certain groups just stood still and let the environment move them. Travelers from far and near came to prostrate themselves at the foot of Motion, which was now the law of the world.

Small groups of men and women and their children populated the low gravity zones, and could leap many meters in a single bound. When they passed through zones of heavier gravities, their weakened muscles ached and often, if they could not pull back in time, they crumpled on the ground until they were assisted or died from starvation. More groups chose the color zones and faded into particular hues. On occasion an unfortunate nomad would intersect the path of a fatal zone and flash into a fine dusting of ash in a smell of ozone, or creak slowly into a blue hue until the body stirred into snowflakes. These were not the only horrors to be discovered in these zones; slow deaths were common and sometimes death struck as a silent bursting of the brain’s veins. The fatal zones sometimes obliterated large caravans, lengthy histories, and would be the nomad’s biggest terror for a long time until the Mapmakers pooled their resources.

The slow men, passing time as trees do, stood in their temporal arbor and watched the outside reality unwind like an accelerated film, their leaden gaze reflecting the turning seasons. Forays into faster time—which they called the quickening—would find them catatonic, their nervous systems literally stunned by the change of temporal flow. Nomads from other zones, usually furtively escaping from something, would slip into their slow world and wait shortly before re-emerging into the future where the danger elapsed with time. The slow men were a heavy, ponderous race, and shunned most of the outside zones with the mutual solidarity of distrust.

The gnat people, their lifetimes in the accelerated zones a burst of dust in the wind full of frantic copulations and aimless frenzy, within a few generations had quickly forgotten their history. Because of this, they began to interbreed in the high-speed climate and spawned a multitude of congenital deformities. The nomads who used this zone as a shortcut to other zones regarded the gnats as dumb beasts that were given the same passing caution as the dogs and cattle of the old days. Occasionally a gnat would burst out of the zone’s boundary and stand there stiffly as it tried, uncomprehendingly, to absorb a slowed down world, and grope backwards with increasing panic until it slipped back into the comfort of smooth speed. A gnat who by chance or whim lost their zone wandered the zones in bleak despair, black pupils always moving in the dark circles of their eyes, jerkily, as if still trying to accustom themselves to the inexorable slowness.

One thing in common these people had: map-making. It was a time of exploration, where novelty twisted in the next corner. Centering from the Samuels map,—transcribed during Samuels’ wanderings in the early years of the Event. He was the very first map nomad. The maps he brought plus the techniques he taught greatly reduced the death rate. The original maps, copied time and time over, were retired with honor on display in a moderate zone that held a semblance of constancy—their well-inked maps were filled in with details and references. Friendly travelers meeting on the road through zones took the time to copy, update their maps. They discovered that Samuels’ original hypothesis that the slow drift of the zones circled the planet to return to its point of origin was correct; they named this the Long Year, in addition to the current Solar year, and could calculate the exact position and time of each zone on any latitude and longitude.

Legend sang of a great temple—its location was known, but the area was generally shunned. The nomads that adventured there never returned—that twisted the world into the pulsing and throbbing existence the nomads all knew, and that there was an island in the stream of zones that kept still the qualities of the Old World. In Samuels’ original mapbooks, a torn page haunted historians, and lore suggested this page contained the secret location of the tranquil zone. The bedtime stories of children outlined this eden in much imagination… Utter silence, complete tranquility, absolute motionlessness. Children dreamed of dust collecting on shelves, still grasses, and grey stone animals in the gorse. Their snores bled onto their hempen pillows and smelled of old berries.

Man changed drastically during his time in the Effect, and although the zone residents were of the same species, their appearances became many and varied, to accommodate the environments in which they thrived. But, as always is the nature of Man, they looked up at the twisting and pulsing stars and wondered hungrily what lay ahead.

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