Please welcome the second of my guests, K.M. Herkes, to talk about the world in her Rough Passages stories. 🙂
I read the instructions as, “Talk about one of your worlds and worldbuilding. Anything you want to share.” Here’s what came out.
Some worlds begin in stardust. They burst forth from a writer’s imagination in a glimmer of dreams and a sparkle of imagination. Mine? Mine start as raw ore, get hammered into shape through force of will and tempered in my sweat.
The world of my Rough Passages Tales started with the following raw materials: the angry sound of a slammed door, a photograph of a smoking handprint, and the thought, “Damned hot flashes. I am going to burst into flames, I swear.”
The final shining result? A world where a mid-life crisis can cause natural disasters. I twisted history one tiny bit and traced the ripples of consequence forward to a present day that’s a distorted but familiar reflection of our own reality. Here’s how it started:
Between May 26 and May 29, 1943, a huge number of men and women worldwide…change. Instantly, simultaneously, unexpectedly. Naturally, none of them are prepared, and not all of them survive. In the United States, the event becomes known as First Night or Chaos Night depending on whose history books you read, because it begins at 9:21 PM in the Eastern Time Zone.
People freeze themselves solid or entomb themselves in solid rock. Some ignite whole towns and burn them to ash, others wash away coastlines in floodwaters. Some people transform into distorted, unrecognizable forms and go insane from the pain of metamorphosis, other grow wings, tails, fur or scales, and many kill their loved ones with venoms, poisons. Some begin hearing voices or seeing visions and their minds break from the pressure. Others send whole populations into riot by imposing panic upon them or terrifying them with nightmare hallucinations.
No one knows exactly how many people rolled over in that first wave because destruction and turmoil go on for weeks, and the extent of the damages make effective record-keeping impossible. The precise moment is well-documented because a number of guest at a White House state dinner change in dramatic ways and are caught on film. Later census results confirm approximately 5% of the population over 40 ends up changed by the end of 1943.
States activate their National Guards, but the units are overwhelmed and under-equipped to deal with insane, invulnerable giants, panicked, lava-throwing grandmothers, and confused, angry graybeards shaking down whole cities with earthquakes. (to name only a few of the many devastating abilities people can manifest.)
After declaring a national emergency, President Roosevelt mobilizes units of the United States Marine Corps to take over and coordinate the many containment operations. Refugee camps are set up to sequester the changed and house the citizen their actions create, and order is slowly restored.
Why the Marines? At that time the USMC is the only branch of the military he could legally order to move against US citizens on US soil. (see: War Powers Resolution and Posse Comitaus Act for in-depth info.) Use of force by all branches is later authorized by Congress, but the USMC’s head-start and creative battlefield solutions — including immediate recruitment of powered citizens– give it an edge when the time comes to organize permanent systems for handling this new twist on aging.
Let’s fast-forward to the present day world my characters live in. Here’s some trivia:
- One in four people tests positive for a cellular marker that indicates they’re at-risk for a traumatic physical change in their lifetime.
- If it happens, it’s called rollover, and roughly one in fifteen people goes through it. Usually between the ages of forty and sixty they develop elemental powers, gain some other weird ability or suffer some permanent physical change.
- The cellular marker doesn’t behave like a heritable genetic trait, and the blood detection test for it only gives reliable results on those who have entered puberty.
- One in twenty or thirty thousand changes during adolescence instead of middle age. These “early-onset” children also die early, burned out by their powers or trapped in bodies that deteriorate in unnatural, unstoppable ways.
- The US Marine Corps maintains a training and special operations battalion dedicated to the control and containment of people with rollover powers. They are the only military unit permanently authorized to engage in military operations on US soil.
- A federal institution known as the Department of Public Safety oversees the processes of identifying and monitoring those at risk for rollover, and its bureaucracy supports training and reintegration after rollover. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Human institutions are full of flawed human beings.
- The Civil Rights movement happened but it looked very different. Issues of racial and sexual discrimination, prejudice and hatred are complicated by and intersect with changes related to rollover. It makes for a lot of social friction. Good story fodder.
- A chunk of the Asian continent and the Pacific Ocean effectively disappeared in 1945 shortly after Japan’s surrender. An opalescent barrier known as The Wall sprang up one day and cut off all contact. The affected territory includes much of China, Mongolia, the Koreas, and Russia. Some of Southeast Asia and the Himalayan mountains as well as coastal waters are included. Any living creature touching the Wall finds itself instantly translocated back a to distance proportional to its size. No one on this side knows why the barrier appeared. No one knows what’s going on behind it. Nothing alive goes in, no one comes out. Weather systems and water currents are unaffected. Yeah, I’m gonna explore this big mystery someday.
I could go on and on about the potential for conflicts and when people with normal lives find their worlds turned upside down, but the stories do that for me.
Get your Rough Passages stories right here!
K.M. Herkes writes and publishes stories that dance in the open spaces between genres. Damaged souls, triumphs of the spirit, and dialogue loaded with sarcasm are the house specialties. Professional development has included classroom teaching, animal training, aquaculture, horticulture, retail operations, and customer service. Personal development is ongoing. Cats are involved.
She lives in the Midwest and works in a library, and when the weather is warm and fine she will be found in her garden instead of the office. At least once a year she disappears into the woods for a week to disconnect from the modern world.
Bookmark her website, dawnrigger.com, to keep up with the latest news on upcoming stories, check out extras like story-inspired art, and pick up exclusive free reading material. You will also find her social media links there along with blog rants on life, the universe and writing.