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Go Paleo!

by Louis Evans

So what IS the PaleoBomb™ diet?

While most diets have hard-to-follow rules and arbitrary restrictions, like “don’t eat anything green on Thursdays,” the PaleoBomb diet is real simple. In fact, we can describe it in a single sentence:

If your primitive ancestors didn’t eat it, neither should you!

Every animal’s nutritional needs are determined by the environment in which it evolved, and humans are no different! For modern humans, that environment was the blasted, apocalyptic wasteland that existed in the aftermath of the Cataclysm.

While creationist Beyoncists continue to insist that the Cataclysm was God Bey’s just and wrathful punishment upon a hateful world, which will eventually be reborn with Her glorious return, scientists today agree that, actually, the ancient pagan myths were right all along! The Cataclysm was a global thermonuclear conflagration that occured at the end of the Zero War and ushered in the world we know today!

Armed with this understanding, nutritionists have uncovered the diet that our ancestors relied on as they picked through the rubble of the destroyed civilization of the Dawn Age. And if you adopt this diet, you will have the same fitness success that allowed your ancestors to triumph over the roving bands of mutant badgers, and you, too can once more take your place at the top of the food chain!

The PaleoBomb diet breaks down into three major categories:

90%: Packaged Snacks

In the immediate aftermath of the Cataclysm, vast clouds of dust blocked out the sky, killing all plants. And while we’ve all seen classic pulp illustrations of wasteland survivors bravely hunting down rats, scientists now believe that the Cataclysm-era rats and cockroaches hunted each other into extinction within mere weeks.

With no access to fresh vegetables or meat, our ancestors relied primarily on processed and pre-packaged food from the Dawn Civilization. These food products were rich in dense calories, and would have powered our ancestors through hard days foraging for useful relics and nights fighting for limited room in makeshift underground shelters.

While many heritage snacks and flavored beverages have been lost forever, nutritional scientists believe that some modern snack foods nearly approach the same calorie densities of the Doereeto, or the fabled Twin-key. Make sure to get the vast majority of your daily calories from foods like SEISMOCRYSPS™ and NUKEPUFFS™.

Fun fact! The secret recipe for Coka Coala, long though lost in the Cataclysm, was recently rediscovered when the Ravagers conquered Atlanta to transform it into the “Agony Capital” of their “Empire of Woe”. You can now buy Authentic Dawn-Age Coka Coala POWERBEVERAGE from a RavageMart near you.

Truth in advertising laws require us to mention here that CROGDOR FOODS, the maker of both Seismocrysps and Nukepuffs, is the primary funder for the Paleo Diet Foundation. “Crogdor! The Name You Trust, To Nuke Your Puffs.” And if you can’t trust the geniuses that nuked your puffs, who can you trust?

9%: Cannibalism

Processed, prepackaged foods provided our wasteland ancestors with all the calories they needed, but humans also require proteins and other micronutrients that can’t survive the packaging process. What was their secret?

It is a well-known fact that any nutrient one human needs can be found inside another human. And the anthropological record is clear: our ancestors ate each other, a lot.

Fortunately, cannibalism today is a bit more genteel than the deadly game of cat and mouse played by two ancestral gas-mask-wearing desperados in the irradiated ruins of a city—though think of the cardio benefits! Nowadays, you can get “long pig” from any certified mortuary butcher in most major cities, and nearly every small town.

Fun fact! People used to call pork “short man”.

1%: Radioactive Waste

The final key ingredient of the PaleoBomb diet is radioactivity! While the best evidence suggests that our wasteland ancestors tried to minimize the radioactivity in their diet, today the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction! Because of the Decontamination Projects the average meal today contains literally zero detectable radioisotopes, and that’s far too few.

Many companies today will sell high-quality radioactive supplements at affordable prices, containing all the cesium-137 and iodine-131 your body needs. Or, if your budget is tight, you can just crack open your smoke detector for a quick bite.

[WARNING: Radioisotopes are known to the state of New New New California to cause cancer, birth defects, and Super-Mutant syndrome.]

Is that all?

No way! PaleoBomb’s not just a diet—it can be a whole lifestyle! For example, many people today complain of back pain. But did you know that our wasteland ancestors spent over half their lives hunched over in the subterranean tunnels of their underground shelters? The next time your spine starts aching, just make like a Cataclysm survivor and hunch! And there are countless more lifeways from the Wasteland Era you can adopt, from mutant-hunting to worship of dread atomic deathgods. The sky’s the limit!

PaleoBomb is a journey—from our healthier past, and to a fitter future—that we can all go on together! Remember the PaleoBomb motto: if your ancestors did it, it must be good for you.

~

Bio:

Louis Evans is a science fiction author living and working in NYC. Louis has previously been published in Analog, Escape Pod, Interzone, and other magazines, and is a member of SFWA and of the Clarion West class of 2020/2021.

Food Webs: A Parable

by Geoffrey Hart

Those who survived the early days of the apocalypse received a short, sharp lesson: that there’s an ecology of interlocking food webs in nature, and just because you don’t know the rules that govern such systems, it doesn’t mean they don’t apply to you.

When the zombies began to appear, the government initially assumed it was nothing more than LARPing run amok — never mind the vigorous denials by LARPers once they got over their surprise that the government knew who they were. But as the body count — and the bodies — began rising, living corpses began accumulating in hospital ERs and morgues. It soon became difficult for the government to deny that something bad was happening — not that this prevented them from denial. The final straw came when the first members of the 1% started losing close relatives. Then the government sat up and took notice.

The National Guard was mobilized; then, when they proved insufficiently numerous for the task, the army. The lessons learned from SARS and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 helped slow the plague’s spread, but it took precious weeks before the government understood that this situation was qualitatively different. With outbreaks like SARS and Covid-19, control could be achieved through curfews and travel restrictions. The first zombies were also one-percenters, though with a very different spin on the phrase, and like their wealthier namesakes, they ignored curfews and travel restrictions.

Whatever a zombie’s origin, stopping one required blasting them into tiny fragments. Explosive devices, improvised or otherwise, worked, as did shotguns loaded with buckshot. (Suggestions had been circulating for some time about adopting the same approaches for one-percenters in the original sense of the phrase. Whether that inspired the zombie control program, we must leave to the historians.) Unfortunately, though blasting a zombie into bits stopped the vector, it had little effect on the pathogen; on the contrary, dividing an infected corpse into a great many small bits just spread the pathogen faster. First-responders learned the hard way that the residues had to be incinerated, and quickly. It took time to scale up production of flamethrowers and incendiaries that would be safe for expensive property, not to mention for civilian use, yet still effective for crowd control. Only then did the surviving sanitation workers begin to significantly slow the plague’s spread.

While all this was going on, researchers were doing what researchers always do: competing to be first with the Nobel Prize–­winning solution: isolating the pathogen and figuring out how to block it. The winner — so to speak — was the Romero research lab at Columbia University. Unfortunately, in their zeal to win the race, they failed to follow containment protocols as scrupulously as might have been desirable, and dead scientists are ineligible for the Nobel. (The eligibility of living dead scientists remains a problem for future generations. And it looks like there will be future generations, if we’re lucky and careful.)

By the time the Romero lab’s notes were recovered from offsite backups — the lab itself having been sterilized too zealously by terrified National Guardsmen — several other labs had identified the pathogen — a weaponized, broad-spectrum strain of the entomological zombie fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis with a dash of bacterial quorum sensing thrown in for good measure. Once the geneticists got involved, the footprints of CRISPR technology were unmistakable, but whether one blamed the Iranians, Russians, North Koreans, or Earth First! depended largely on one’s position within the political spectrum; the available evidence provided no smoking guns. When the plague broke out in Russia, then Europe, no one was sure whether this was karma or just plain bad luck.

The mechanism of the disease’s spread was, as is often the case, devilishly simple: Fungal spores blown on the wind were inhaled or entered the body through undercooked food or a wound. They incubated overnight, leading to a raging fever, and by late the next morning, the host was brain-dead or nearly so  — and very hungry. Given the anaerobic nature of the host environment — a living but non-breathing corpse — the fungus had to survive in a metabolically inefficient manner, and therefore needed enormous quantities of energy to function and reproduce. Thus, it drove its hosts to obtain more and ever more food. About the only good consequence was that the enormous energy expenditure made the zombies easy to detect at night; with infrared scopes, they blazed like beacons.

A fortunate side-effect of this macabre infection was that it diverted the host’s metabolism towards feeding and reproduction, and away from anabolism and immune responses. As a result, the host quickly began to decay. Each zombie gradually slowed down as its muscle fibers stopped functioning, leading to rapid depletion of its energy reserves once it could no longer catch and pull down living prey. Finally, when its decayed limbs could no longer drag it along the ground in pursuit of prey, the zombie stopped moving. But as soon as its host became immobile, the fungus shifted strategy towards reproduction, and the host quickly sprouted fruiting bodies. Spores released onto the wind, or consumed by carrion birds and spread via their feces — or by their bites, when the fungus infected them too — renewed the infection cycle. Bites and scratches that broke the skin also worked, and were far more common in the early days of the plague, before we’d learned to find secure refuges and keep the zombies beyond arm’s length.

The spread would have been slower for a non-windborne plague. Sure, you could wear a facemask to exclude the spores, and that worked for a time. It kept me alive long enough to write this. But survivors had their needs too: you had to take your mask off some time, whether to eat, to visit the dentist, to make love with your spouse or a convenient stranger in defiance of death — or just to breathe freely when the claustrophobia the masks created or confinement to our homes overcame the drive towards self-preservation. If you were unlucky, you woke one day as a zombie and had a few minutes or perhaps an hour to realize the horror of what was happening to you. Or perhaps you woke with your loved ones staring hungrily at you out of feverish, already-decaying faces right before they sank their teeth into you. Fungal diseases were notoriously difficult to treat, and this one had been engineered for immunity to the available antifungals, making treatment next to impossible.

The government found a solution. It was the Fish and Wildlife Service, operating with — ironically — a skeleton staff after yet another round of budget cuts, that proposed it. They understood intimately that everything in nature has something that eats it. In this case, they noted that wolves were highly efficient carnivores and had worked wonders in areas such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where they’d been released. Captive breeding of wolves was a proven technology, and unlike most other large predators, wolves were happy to consume dead meat if their preferred prey weren’t available — as was the case when they were released into the country’s plague-stricken cities. Moreover, their immune systems were sufficiently robust to handle the kinds of pathogens that naturally infected the corpse of (say) a moose that had sat out in the sun for the several days it took a pack to consume it. If the wolf cubs were raised on zombie flesh, then once they were released into an urban environment, they recognized the zombies as a food source, and quickly became highly efficient predators of zombies.

Within a year, thousands of wolves had been released into the worst-affected cities, where they rapidly began thinning the zombie population and breeding more wolves. An unexpected benefit of this approach was that, as was the case with their traditional prey, the wolves favored the slow-moving zombies, which were easier and less risky to bring down; this also slowed the spread of the plague by preventing the living dead from progressing to the decay stage, when fruiting bodies would form. There was still no progress on developing a vaccine or an effective antifungal, but at least the rate of new infections stabilized at a survivably low level.

The government had hoped the cities would become livable once more, but they’d reckoned without an inconvenient consequence of their desperation to implement any control mechanism that could give them a fighting chance. Of course, those of us who lived outside the big cities could have told them what was going to happen: at some point, thousands of starving wolves that had been trained to consider upright bipedal organisms as their natural prey would run out of the food they’d been trained to hunt. Then, wolves being clever dogs, they would find a replacement.

But that was a problem for another day.

~

Bio:

Geoffrey Hart works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language publish their research. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 24 stories thus far. Visit him online at www.geoff-hart.com.

What We Leave Behind

by Val Nolan

After work we dig out our rubber boots, pull on our gloves, and we go down to the river to haul up old bollards and dredge garbage out of the watercourse. At the weekends we cycle to the beach with friends. There we fill crates with empty soda bottles and deflated balloons and all the wreckage from a summer’s worth of barbecues and picnics. One year we spent our vacation high in the mountains, bagging up the abandoned tents and beer cans and excrement which obstructs every corner of the base camps. Another time we dove into the ocean to strain endless resin pellets and flip-flops and discarded toothbrushes from its soupy depths.  

Some days we pause to look down on our ruined world from the vantage of the Moon, from lunar toss zones marked by bleached white flags and strewn with preposterous golf balls, empty film magazines, old boots, and bags full of faeces and vomit. We pick our way through used urine collection systems cocked crooked in the dust. We collect wet-wipes abandoned to geological time. Then we gaze upwards again through the polarising filters of long-discarded cameras. We consider a Mars strewn with tattered Bigelow modules and deliberately de-orbited relays, deflated air-beds and sleeping bags frozen in contorted solitude, decommissioned science stations, twisted aerials, plastic cutlery, and equipment abandoned in position.

Even more waste floats in the Jovian cloudtops. Snack packets and candy wrappers and flimsy shopping bags taken wing on supersonic jet streams. Here the plastic yokes of six-packs entangle the smaller animals of this atmosphere, choking them, constraining their buoyancy sacs and causing them to fall far below the level at which they can be rescued, down into the dark where they are crushed into diamonds and then into dust. In the oceans of Europa too, all the strange amphipods and vast leviathans have ingested polystyrene beads and packing peanuts. Fibres and particles now riddle their hindguts and what passes for their intestines. We can no longer remove this material. It is in their blood the way it is in ours.

Even the rings of Saturn are strewn with trash. EVA tethers and pallet assemblies, florescent plastic wigs and human sanitary products. Below this vast unrecyclable arch, discarded fishing gear and lines and abandoned bait bags drift on the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan. There are forgotten baskets and beachballs and mannequin heads. There are swimming donuts and pool noodles. There are ghost nets so vast that they are visible from orbit. There are lone sandals or parasols or bucket-like shapes which no one can identify for sure. Everywhere there are plastic bags of all colours and dimensions bearing the logos of long dead corporations.

This far from the sun, anything photodegradable will last for thousands upon thousands of years. This leaves Neptune a microplastic smog which poisons the filter feeders who need its gasses to survive. On Triton we find continents of used stretch wrap shipped out from Earth to be disposed of in landfills on the edge of space. When we reach Pluto, we find whole regios blanketed by transverse dunes of coffee pods. We discover the coasts of its subsurface seas are buried in disintegrated barrels and fragmented salad domes and the cellulose acetate of a trillion cigarette filters. We weep at how its heart is forever clogged with plastic.

And so we work in teams with litter-pickers to gather what we can. Filling sacks and then upcycled transportation racks. Eventually gathering megatonnes of anthropogenic debris to form huge rubble-pile objects in the Kuiper Belt. We find old zero-g ballpoints and sex toys left behind by lonely astronauts. We find clouds of refuse ejected from interplanetary cruises. Beyond them again, banners and streamers discarded after music festivals and left drift through space like exhausted comets. Finally, at the edges of the termination shock, silent vuvuzelas tumbling end-over-end like the grand old ships in the science fiction we used to dream about.

Here we take a moment to affirm our resolve. Then we go on: outwards to stars circled by single-use planets where we retrieve thermoplastic frames thrown out by colonists who botched their settlement designs. We hold collections for used spacesuit components and old sun visors and bottle caps (always more bottle caps). We hold rallies to clean-up worlds unseen by human eyes and yet somehow strewn with human waste. We petition to outlaw autonomous self-replicators designed to transform whole solar systems into virgin polymers for weaving future habitats or clamshell packaging for burger cartons and descent stages.

We see that the interstellar medium is filled with swirling vortices of sippy cups and cracked shampoo bottles and the broken limbs of androids rendered obsolete by advances in synthetic biology. All we can do is keep gathering this trash. All we can do is keep rocketing home sledloads of anything that can be reused and consigning the rest to the solar incinerators. The work is difficult, but we know we can pace the leading edge of humanity’s colonial wave, right to the boundaries of the Great Galactic Garbage Patch. Dig out your rubber boots and pull on your gloves. Come and help us make this right.

~

Bio:

Val Nolan lectures on genre fiction and creative writing at Aberystwyth University. His stories have appeared in The Year’s Best Science FictionInterzoneUnidentified Funny Objects, and been shortlisted for the Sturgeon Award. His academic work has appeared in Science Fiction Studies and Foundation.