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Kalfona 1 : Escape the Aviary
by Cass Eastham

Journal Entry of Charlie Banta
Wednesday, October 1, 104

I should be studying.

I'm tempted to review my notes on half-breeds before my history exam even though I know there won't be any questions about them. The Breeds Disease had nothing to do with the fall of the Merkans. We have diaries describing the Last Generation of Merkan survivors still gathering in communes when the Breeds Disease struck. One entry describes 'random refugees dripping in from the abandoned landscape like blobs of mercury' (Nguyen, 413). Others write about building walls around neighborhoods to defend themselves in 'gang wars', yet there is no mention of half-breeds in these journals. Packs of people ran around looting Merkan shopping centers and medical facilities, hauling home every artifact of medicines and tools they could gather, then fought bloody sieges against each other over the stolen resources. I suppose things like penicillin or bullets or rice would be worth killing over if you didn't have anyone in your own camp that remembered how to make the stuff from scratch.

That was the era known as the 'Chaos Years.'

I define it as 'Survival by Having the Most Stuff.'

It is believed these early loot troops were the ones who carried the disease home. Some early History Teams weren't allowed re-entry at all. It wasn't until weeks later that people noticed the wild animals were suffering from the disease too. The symptoms included vomiting, dysentery, and other horrors, but what was always present was the triple-digit fever and the putrid boils polka-dotting the flesh (or fur, depending on the species).

That's what made it apparent that animals on the outside were suffering just as much as the humans on the inside. Seagulls, field mice, and river trout carried the disease just as potently as people did. We know that several entire species were wiped out, like pigeons, bumble bees, and grizzly bears. It is rumored that bald eagles and Bengal tigers are gone too, though intellectuals argue those were wiped out by the Merkans and not the Breeds Disease. Besides, no one wants to go into the wild just to confirm there aren't any of those kinds of animals left.

Without Merkan elements such as medical know-how, a formal scientific community, or the elusive rats nest of information-trading they called the 'Internet', there was no way for young colonies to develop a vaccine. No Vaccine: another proof the disease didn't happen during the time of the Merkans. The fever came and went within two years, yet people couldn't quarantine themselves fast enough to keep the fever from raping their enclosed colonies. All they could do was suffer through it, hang on in spite of it, and, somehow, outlive it.

Many didn't.

But many did.

While it was happening it was just known as "The Fever". It wasn't until the survivors started having babies before it was renamed as the Breeds Disease. Those naturally immune —who never got the fever at all— were the ones who kept having normal babies. Those who survived the fever gave birth to strange mutations.

Human and cat. Human and dog. Human and bird. Human and cockroach. Dog and cat. Dog and mule. Donkey and goat. Deer and cow. The list of combinations is endless. It was like DNA stopped caring what species the parents were before deciding how the shape of the offspring. A human male and human female would somehow create a baby with paws and a tail. A mare and stallion produced a foal with fish scales and antlers. It made no sense. Most fetuses never survived gestation. Miscarriages spiked for a decade. Many died at birth.

But many didn't.

By that point, there wasn't enough Merkan scientific memory to have snowball's chance in Elay to decipher how a virus resulted in the DNA mutations of offspring. But, by that point, everyone was more concerned with surviving tomorrow than fretting about how it all went wrong yesterday. Regardless of the different Merkan calendar systems—or perhaps because of it—the First Generation survivors re-allocated 'the Year After The Fever' as 'Year 1.' It was their way of forcing everyone to work toward the future instead of worrying over the past.

I see it as the human race turning its back on its own history.

It is generally accepted that it was during the Chaos Years —between that Last Generation of Merkan Survivors to that First Generation of Breeds Disease Survivors—that the last chapter of Merkan Civilization was lost in time.

And yet I am compelled to note that the clues don't add up to the formally accepted conclusion.

The growth pattern of crops is very different now than it was in the Merkan Era. Coastal erosion seems to have sped up more than anticipated. We know there was a big earthquake south of us, a volcano erupted east of us, and a forest fire scoured a mountain range north of us, but available data implies that all this happened after the fall of the Merkans.

Besides, those kinds of things, as immense as they were, were still localized. The Merkans on the other side of the planet (originally known as the Asians, Europeans, and Africans) would not have been affected by an earthquake here in Kalfona. Yet most of the nine billion people of Ancient Merka vanished in a short handful of years. All the clues point toward —but not directly at— the same conclusion: nuclear war.

It makes sense. Especially considering all the fiction literature with dramatic stories of destruction, the desperation of survivors, the ravages of nuclear radiation, and the depletion of resources. Yet there are no records of a full-scale war to cover the globe, no eye-witness accounts of an alien invasion, and I'm still not sure what a zombie is.

(Drew chocks it up as God's punishment of mankind for centuries of Renaissance, and that may be true, but I want to know the scientific reason too.)

In the most telling journal entry, a First Generation recalls asking her Last Generation grandmother, "'What happened to the Merkans?'" The grandmother "smiled with a sad clarity in her eyes," and answered, "'A nuclear explosion cleaned them off, baby.'" (Garza, 28) When the granddaughter demanded more detail, worried about the effects of radiation and waning sources of food, the grandmother shooed her away. "'The apocalypse already happened, chicken little. Go play.'" (Garza, 29-30)

I've looked over that entry many times to translate it fresh in my head. Now that we speak a creole of Merkan languages (and yet we still call it English, ha!) all literature that old and older needs to be translated. The entry was written in a Spanglish blend, without the usually prominent Chinese, Filipino, or Australian lexicons, but it still seems odd to me how the grandmother worded her response. It was as though she were dismissing the entire question and placating her granddaughter with an easy answer just to make the kid go away.

The Last Generation profusely passed on the skills of how to save a burn victim, how to build a hydro-electric dam, how to grow cannabis, how to jar vegetables . . . but they seemed to avoid explaining what happened to their own civilization.

What killed the Merkans?

There is still a lot out there to be discovered. The abundance of garbage they left behind suggest early History Teams could not possibly have looted everything. Now that the half-breeds have had a few generations of their own and coalesced into their own talking towns and industries, every once in a while some 'diluted' with a permit will come to campus with an odd gadget for trade. On Drew's first expedition, they found a plastic box of elementary school textbooks buried in a mudslide, so I know in my soul the answer is still out there somewhere. There must be some scribbled journal hiding in a house in which some dying Merkan wrote it down, or some glass tablet that needs the right flavor of electric juice to reveal its 'Internet' secrets. I just need to get out there and look for it. But the only way they'll let me off campus to do that is if I get on the History Team.

I can hear Mom in the back of my mind, 'The apocalypse already happened, little chicken, go breed me some grandbabies.'

I don't want to make babies. I want to study history.

Which I can do as long as I prove my aptitude on the subject on this History Exam.

Which is in one hour.

Maybe Drew can help me study.

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