The Fifth World


Every day, the sun rises and travels through the heavens. Every night, it falls below the horizon. As the sky grows dark, the stars shine forth, and circle the heart of the sky. The moon shows its full face, falls entirely into shadow, and shines out again, marking out its cycles with the passing months. The wet season follows the dry season, and the dry season follows the wet. Through the passing of generations even the procession of the equinoxes turns the stars from their usual orbits. All the cycles of time turn like wheels within wheels, bounded inside the circle of the great horizon.

Long ago, though, our ancestors conceived a new idea, that despite all the evidence to the contrary, that time worked not as a circle, but as a line. First they drew a line that arced downward, from a “Golden Age” they had lost, to their fallen condition. Only later did they imagine it as an exponential curve into heaven, leading them to a rapturous destiny where they might “transcend” earthly needs. Even worlds might come and go in their seasons, though. For our ancestors, the end of their world came as an incredible shock. The world betrayed their story of endless progress.

Only a score of centuries has passed since then — the Rusting Ages and the centuries since — but in that short span, much of the direct knowledge about the old world has fallen into myth. The elders tell many stories about how the ancestors’ world came to ruin: overpopulation, terrorism, peak oil, global warming, mass extinction, financial breakdown — a hundred different words that held great power generations ago, but today mean little. Each of these stories tells part of the truth. Each obscures more than it reveals.

Near Future:Our global civilization collapses due to a wide range of related, reinforcing issues. It doesn’t happen everywhere all at once, and seems easier to notice in hindsight a century later than to recognize at the time.
21st & 22nd centuries:The Rusting Ages, a divided era where many people suffer under the rule of neo-feudal post-apocalyptic warlords while others have already begun to live by hunting and gathering and even some horticulture in lands beyond their limited reach.
23rd century:With the waning of the Rusting Ages, everyone lives by some combination of hunting and gathering and horticulture. Families begin developing deeper traditions concerning their purpose in the world.
144,000 days (394.26 years, 1 b’ak’tun in the Maya calendar) from now:The present day in the Fifth World.