Kalleum, the technical marvel which men believed would raise civilization up to new and dizzying heights became the very thing which caused them to flee in terror and hide far beneath the surface of the sea. Yet still they could not abandon the very cause of their doom, for that which drove them from the open skies also became a tether to survival beneath the dark and turbulent ocean.
I’ve studied the old histories, read all the old clippings. Most of it’s on the old paper, the kind they used to make out of plants that grew landside and not the pressed seaweed we use today.
According to the old reporters, we went from horse and mule, wagon and locomotive, to subaquatic pod and Kalleum-powered rail. Men used to be able to wander the open plains and choose where to set down their roots. Now they must make do where Builders & Co. chooses to put up walls. Well, excepting the bandits who hide out in all the sea caves (and only the gods know where else.)
— Hector Vardan, Professor of History at the University of Rawlwick
Discovery and the Early Days
Those early days must have been heady times. Humanity had stumbled upon a substance so full of power and the potential to change the world. How could they not be excited? With minimal processing, a pound of Kalleum holds more electrical and thermal power than a ton of coal. It could be used to heat water for great steam turbines as easily as it could be harnessed to light the, then new, incandescent light bulbs.
I have read numerous notes and letters between the great minds of the day discussing the various uses and ramifications of the new super fuel. At first, no one considered its use as a tool of war. Why would they? No one would have thought to throw balls of flaming coal at an enemy. The naive scientists of that time considered only its peaceful applications; envisioning a world of ease and plenty for all.
It was only later, when the dust settled and the world began to die, that these minds thought back to what they had opened the world up to and felt shame. Each and every one of those early scientists were found guilty of mass murder. Some were put before the firing squad while others were hung. I understand a few lost their heads to the guillotine.
The world had its vengeance. And yet it still died.
— Hector Vardan
They call it Kalleum. Most likely after its discoverer, though that tidbit was long ago purged from the collective memory; polite folk simply do not talk about it. He must have been mad, this inventor, mad and also something of a genius. How he thought to combine the various metals and minerals which make up Kalleum, or how he figured out just the right process of heat and electrical stimulation to put it through, we will likely never know. Some incautious souls propose that he was highly admired and respected amongst the scientific community, whilst others propose that he was likely an eccentric and an outcast forced to prove himself in the most dire of ways.
But no matter the story, it is, and has always been, called Kalleum. Humanity is ambivalent toward Kalleum, for it is both the thing which makes life for us possible and the thing which could destroy us by its absence. To understand where we are today and why, one must understand how we got here. And that part of the story is not only a part of polite conversation, but also a thing pushed by every schoolteacher in every classroom in every corner of the sea. This is why one does not taunt the gods by delving too deeply into the mysteries of nature, they say.
Once the wonder of Kalleum was discovered, scientists around the world began to experiment with it. On its own, exposed to the air, it is little more than a lump of metallic rock with a rainbow of hues reflecting from its surface.
Attach wires to it, however, and it immediately sends out electrical current. It must be suspended by these wires, otherwise it sends out electrical shocks commensurate with its size. (School children of old used to play a game of “Touch the Kalleum” whereby a thimble-sized piece of the stuff was held by one child while a friend touched wires to its surface; the one to let go first was the loser.)
Placed within water, a lump of Kalleum will begin to heat, causing the fluid to boil and turn to steam in short order. Again, the amount of heat produced is proportional to the amount of Kalleum present. Once the water is gone, the rock reverts to its inert state.
Many experiments were accomplished with the use of this magical substance. Patents were filed and men began to fill their pockets with the sale of wondrous machines. The possibilities were endless and every day the newspapers were filled with exciting new prospects.
On a larger scale, the use of Kalleum paved the way for electrical lighting and cheap mechanical energy. Prototype horseless carriages running on steam were produced, lamps of incandescent lighting began to line the streets of the larger cities. Factories and mills were able to boost output. Industry was booming.
According to the journals of many heads of state, most of which have been retrieved in the past few years by the brave scavenger crews willing to risk landside now and then, the threat of war was long expected. Though they played the threat down to the populace, many had already begun to bolster their militaries. It was not long before the subject of Kalleum as a weapon became a topic of serious discussion.
When the war started they did not use their new weapons straight away. Mostly, I suspect they were uncertain of its effectiveness against the tried and true methods. Once Kalleum weapons appeared, however, the war ended in short order.
— Hector Vardan
As technology spread so did the need for more territory. Kalleum dependent nations sought more and more natural resources, causing tensions to grow. It was inevitable that war would erupt.
In the beginning the war was quite a bloody affair. With the use of steam-driven tanks, the first subaquatics, and more efficient firearms, man had become highly efficient at killing his fellows.
The war began to drag on. In the end, out of desperation, the two largest nations did the unthinkable and began using Kalleum in the creation of super weapons. The death toll skyrocketed. Entire battlefields were devastated in mere minutes. Peace was negotiated shortly after.
The World Dies
Within the library of landside documents are a number of faded photographs, a technology we have since lost, showing the incredible devastation which followed the war. Many are simply greyish-brown blobs that are difficult to make out. One album in particular, however, is fairly well preserved. There are pictures of bodies laying in the streets, bloated and decomposing; wheat fields turned to ash; trees collapsing under their own rotting weight; what appears to be an extended family walking alongside a covered wagon toward a dust-choked horizon, a young woman looking back to glare at the photographer.
We have adjusted quite well here, beneath the sea, but my heart breaks when I think of the hardships faced by those who had to watch their world shrivel up and die, normal people whose only hope lay in a plan of pure madness.
— Hector Vardan
That was not to be the end of it, however. Kalleum could be turned into an effective weapon, certainly, but its release into the atmosphere had a devastating effect upon all life that was exposed to air. Cities that survived the fighting were soon clogged with the rotting corpses of the dead. It laid waste to the countryside, killing off both farmer and field.
The spreading death could not be stopped. Some attempted to go underground or hole up in caves, but the airborne Kalleum still managed to follow. Crops and animal life were dying off as well.
Only one place seemed unaffected: the aquatic realm. The only effect airborne Kalleum had upon the water was to cause small, inexplicable fires to start on the surface and then quickly burn out. Sea life remained untainted by the calamity.
A New Home
The struggling survivors fled beneath the waves, using Kalleum-driven steam engines to carve out tunnels below the sea floor. Techniques were developed to extract air from water, using the electrical charge from Kalleum to split the water via electrolysis. At first they survived off of the sea life itself but eventually new crops were planted in great caverns lit by huge banks of incandescent bulbs. These helped provide more air.
The caves were mined for material to build structures upon the seafloor rather than relying on the sometimes unstable tunnel systems.
Today man not only lives below the surface of the great seas; he thrives.
Steam is ever present in our undersea world. It is piped through the walls to keep us warm in these frigid depths. It is used to turn the great turbines which circulate much needed air between the argodomes and the rest of the inhabited areas. It propels the subaquatics of all sizes, from two-man pods to intercity rail and military vessels.
I have been on numerous expeditions outside my home city of Eridos, and each time I return, I am amazed at the sight of the great domes and tubes of the city encrusted with sea life at every point. But nowhere as much as the great heat sinks, where steam meets ocean cold.
— Kristoph Palomer, Geologist for K&C Mining Co
Two words describe the underpinnings of modern technology: Kalleum and steam. While electricity is used in some narrow ways, such as lighting or electrolysis, it is little understood and mostly feared. Better to trust in devices which have palpable parts that can be seen and easily understood. For that, there is steam. And for steam, there is Kalleum.
The cities and towns of this new world dot the oceans and seas near coastal edges. Some reside along continental shelves, while others are somewhat deeper. Materials technology is not advanced enough to survive the true ocean depths, however.
Seen from the outside, the largest of these settlements are rather magnificent structures. Large domes and rounded rectangles are joined by mile upon mile of cylindrical tubes and pipes. Even the smaller settlements are impressive in what they have accomplished.
With very few exceptions, every settlement has at least one of the following:
- Kalleum, steam, and electrical plant: This is where Kalleum is stored and used to produce power.
- Agrodome: The source of most air and some food.
- Residential zones: These vary greatly, depending on how well off the residents are.
- Environmental processing: Providing air quality, dealing with waste, generating fresh water, etc.
Some also have additional factories, plants, processing facilities, educational institutions, entertainment zones, and areas with much finer residential domes.
The larger settlements tend to be connected by underwater rail, steam-powered subaquatics that travel safely within long steel tubes. Lesser settlements can only be reached by individual subaquatic. The more frequented areas tend to be served by regular passenger transports while the outlying towns are lucky to see the occasional merchant or itinerant traveler.
There are traveling packs of entertainers who make the rounds, slowly bringing news and fresh faces to places who see too little of either, though even they avoid some of the less lawful places.
All underwater vehicles are referred to as subaquatics. They are propeller driven by steam engines heated with small chunks of Kalleum.
The two-man subaquatic pod is as it sounds. The smaller models have one seat in front of the other with bubbled domes on top to allow a view of the surrounding water. The larger ones have the seats side by side and have larger bodies for carrying small amounts of cargo.
Akin to a stagecoach, passenger transports vary in size and can carry half to a dozen people along with their luggage and some extra cargo.
Similar to passenger transport, but designed for hauling cargo. Used for everything from hauling material from the smaller mines to merchandise for traveling salesmen to entertainment caravans.
The most efficient form of transportation, rail is similar to the landside railways but they ride through covered tunnels in order to keep the tracks safe from debris and sea life.
Just like the landside counterpart, rail is good at hauling both large amounts of cargo and passengers. The extensive infrastructure required for their operation limits them to heavily traveled routes, making it a chicken-and-egg problem for settlements that have potential for growth.
Transportation and the Mines
The old tunnels where men first made their homes after traveling to the undersea are still used as bases for mining. The great steam-driven machines continue to churn through the rock, revealing deposits of ore of all types.
Over the years, these tunnels have continued to grow and expand. Many have been left behind and are home to both pirate and vagabond. Security patrols are ever present around the mines themselves to guard against threats, both human and animal. For their own safety, these patrols avoid straying too far from the mines.
Rail exists between many of the mines and a particular city, although some of the smaller operations must rely on cargo transports. No matter the route, they are all plump targets that tend to be heavily guarded.
A few amphibious vehicles have been built which are able to go on land for brief periods of time. The range of each vehicle is severely limited by the amount of air that can be kept onboard. There is a rush to develop filters which could potentially keep out the airborn Kalleum for extended periods, allowing these vehicles a much greater range. As it is, they must remain airtight and be inspected before being allowed near an underwater settlement.
Due to the threat of airborn Kalleum, it is incredibly risky to travel landside. More than one intrepid crew has been lost to a crack in the seals. Some souls are still quick to volunteer, however, for the thrill of seeing something new and the potential for uncovering something of great value cannot be denied.
Outside of adaptations to life under water and the technological marvels of Kalleum and the harnessing of steam, daily life is similar to how it was on land. Beyond that needed to survive, technology has progressed little in the hundred and fifty years since man moved to the undersea and thus is not much different from North American and European technology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Food Production And Industry
August Weerly tapped his cane against the metal fittings on the tunnel wall while he waited for the entrance to the Hallum Agrodome to open. The tune of Milady Besmith had not left his head since watching the stage production of the same name the previous evening. Tap-tap tap-tap-tap tap-tap went the cane as the great, round steel door unlocked and began to turn aside.
Weerly’s man finished with the door and beckoned inside. August entered against the sudden blast of freshly-scented air. As heir to the Hallum Agrodome Operating Co, he had every excuse to make his weekly checks of the facility operations. In truth, he cared little for managing the day-to-day operations; he simply loved the place.
As always, Hugo Cartwell, foreman of the dome, met August just within the entryway. The man nattered on about the usual numbers: production, operating costs, percentages for air production, sales, blah, blah, blah. August simply wandered along, gawking at the sights (though only inwardly; outwardly he appeared the shrewd and hawk-eyed manager.)
Hallum Agrodome continued to be one of the largest and most productive of its ilk. The steel and stone dome rose up high, buttressed by many columns and girders. Very little open space existed within, for every possible space was crammed full of tier upon tier of growing plants, plus all of the many components necessary for such an operation. Great wires of electricity and tubes of nutrient-rich water kept the lights on and the plants happy. Ladders and catwalks allowed workers to see to it all. Great fans driven by steam engines wafted air through the room and out into feeder tubes for the rest of the city.
The trio passed rows of lettuce, cabbage, beets, numerous herbs, and every other kind of crop imaginable. Pleasant, to be sure, but August’s favorite of all were the orchards: full of apples, pears, walnuts, peaches, oranges, and many other varieties. Their branches rose up among the higher rows of crops, intertwining with raised beds of things such as spinach and leeks. Hugo assured him the trees would be trimmed back before the following week.
As usual, August made only a cursory look at the sheep pens and chicken coops. The wool and mutton, eggs and poultry may have added a pretty penny to the family fortune, but its stench overpowered the other, more delicate scent of growing plants elsewhere in the facility and he could never wait to get past them.
The great agrodomes are wonders of engineering. The largest structures in any settlement, they tower above the sea floor. Under their high ceilings great electrical lamps shine down, providing life-giving light to the plants below.
In the larger cities, domes of moderate size have been built and made available for parks, though only the well todo are able to wander and admire the beauty to be found therein.
Despite their impressive size, even the largest of domes are unable to supply enough foodstuffs for the full underwater population. The great bounty of the sea holds more than enough to cover the difference, making up a significant portion of the average diet in the outlying settlements.
A tunnel collapse in the Eastric mines more than a year ago took the lives of nearly 500 men and flooded several adjoining digs before it was brought under control. The widespread devastation was blamed on a lack of planning and poor practices; The Eastric & Sons Mining Co was sued out of existence by its rivals. Many of the nearby mines have only recently come back online, hopefully in time to avert a serious shortage of the much needed minerals for the production of Kalleum.
Meanwhile, workers in the Gantrallic mines attempted to strike against brutal working conditions. This was brought short when Gantrallic & Co sent in a security team to knock heads and deal with the leaders of the short-lived strike.
In other news, the city of Rawlwick is debating sending its military forces into the abandoned Yellowrock mining complex in order to flush out the notorious scofflaw Bernard Gross and his team of outlaws. Bernard has been blamed for the theft and destruction of many thousands of dollars of property, mostly that of the wealthier families of Rawlwick. There is a substantial reward for his capture and incarceration.
Mining is critical to humanity’s continued existence. Without the products of the mines, the settlements and cities would no longer be able to expand and the existing areas would eventually grind to a halt without the constant production of fresh Kalleum. Shortages do occur, generally causing greater hardships amongst the poor and threatening the profits of the rich.
There are less than a half-dozen mining interests, as the investment necessary to begin such an endeavor is way beyond the means of most. Each are run with a strict eye toward profits and a healthy dose of paranoia. There is both great risk and great reward in mining. Without the products of the mines, there is no civilization. Yet mining carries great risk, from collapsing tunnels, leaks, or wasting resources on mineral poor digs. Working in the mines themselves is incredibly rough and full of dangers. The life expectancy of a miner is generally quite low, as is the pay they receive (some are even sent to the mines as punishment for crimes and given nothing but minimal housing and food.) They are, by necessity, a rough bunch.
Many, many miles of abandoned tunnels exist. Rumors abound of outlaw settlements living in such places. To survive, such settlements often resort to theft and piracy, although there are stories of one such place, named Paradise by those who whisper of it, where they are rumored to have the know-how to maintain themselves without such piracy. It is said that the citizens of Paradise live out peaceful lives in a utopia where all are considered equal. Many of the educated class consider it nothing but the fanciful imaginings of poor folk who have nothing else to cling to.
The mines provide the raw materials and the factories turn those raw materials into something useful. The most important, of course, being the production of Kalleum. No single city or settlement exists which does not watch the production of Kalleum closely. This is done for two primary reasons: money and fear. There is a great deal of money to be made in controlling the amount of Kalleum that is produced; making sure there is enough to keep everything running but not so much that it becomes too cheap a component of life. Fear is still a component, for even though none have ever sought to replicate the weaponization techniques of old, it is still capable of producing a great deal of energy and thus could be used to cause great harm to the vulnerable cities beneath the waves.
Outside of Kalleum, the factories produce every material and item necessary for the continuation of life. Without the factories there could be no new settlements or any of the items which make life both livable for all and comfortable for those who can afford such things.
There are three main categories of settlements large enough to be called a city: one of the few original settlements, a major hub of mining and/or manufacturing, and the outlying areas large enough to earn the title yet too small to be served by subaquatic rail.
Four of cities have the distinction of being considered “original” cities: Jenten, Rawlwick, Delan, and Faxton. These four were the first places to become habitable and allow mankind to find his way out of the deep tunnels. Each is the headquarters of the main mining and manufacturing concerns. These are the dwellings of the oldest and most powerful families. Each is a sprawling monstrosity of domes, tubes, and random structures. These cities are also home to the largest gap in wealth. The rich enjoy park domes with manicured grass, extensive flowerbeds, and ornamental trees. Meanwhile, the poor live in squalor, finding what shelter they can amongst the aging structures that were built when the cities first sprung up from the sea floor. One other thing makes these four cities unique: they are the only places with universities. Outside of the elementary education available to most youth, there are very few opportunities for intellectual development. Each of these four cities has a single university, all expensive, highly competitive against each other, and the exclusive purview of the richer families.
For each of the original cities there are at least a half dozen other major cities connected by subaquatic rail. Each one is usually known for a particular specialty. Some supply the mines with men and equipment and are built for refining the extracted materials. Others are built around factories, clusters of agrodomes, or food processing plants. The food processing plants are usually as much about supplying produce from the agrodomes as they are about processing seaweed or packing up fish. The majority of population in these cities are working class folk. Few are rich but there is often enough work to go around and to keep families fed.
The outliers, cities small enough that they are only served by subaquatic pods, live amid hope and fear. Stability can be a shaky thing, for if they don’t produce enough for sale to the other cities, they will see traffic begin to ebb and the populace begin to trickle away. On the flip side, any small city able to garner lucrative contracts with a larger city may soon see the construction of a subaquatic railway and the influx of more trade.
For every city there are at least a dozen smaller settlement. Most struggle to maintain their independence and few have any aspirations beyond mere survival. They tend to feed themselves mainly from the bounty of the sea and are forced to be as efficient with their Kalleum supplies as they possibly can. Poverty and corruption tends to be rampant in these smaller settlements, far away from the reach of the more civilized cities. Despite this, many prefer to live by the strength of their own arms to being near slaves to the rich and powerful of the cities.
Each settlement has its own set of laws and form of government. This can range from election of public officials by the working folk to appointed theocrats followed blindly by the faithful. Visitors to these settlements are often viewed with suspicion. Some are outright hostile to any interloper; it can be a fair trick escaping such a place with one’s possessions, or even one’s life, intact.
One settlement in particular stands out: Jasper, often referred to as “Near Land” due to its proximity to landside and position as a jumping off point for landside explorers.
The biggest threats to life under water come from sea quakes and structural collapse. Some of the smaller settlements have disappeared in this fashion. Even a few of the larger cities have suffered catastrophic damage to limited sections once or twice. To prevent widespread catastrophe, cities sections are separated by huge doors capable of being closed and sealing off floods. The mines, of course, are particularly susceptible to such dangers and a well-run operation takes all precautions to prevent total losses when catastrophe strikes.
- There is always a need for those willing to perform guard duty over the mines and the rails.
- Less than lawful minded PCs will find plenty of opportunities to steal from the rich and the powerful.
- There are reports from sea hunters that some monstrous creature dwells in the depths and has been seen coming closer to the nearest settlement. There’s a bounty posted on it.
- One of the outlying settlements has devolved into a cult certain that humanity was supposed to be destroyed on landside. They are working to recreate weaponized Kalleum and turn it loose upon the various cities.
- A few hardy souls will occasionally brave landside to scavenge amongst the ruins. Up above it is a changed land. Most things are dead but others have been changed. Adventure and reward await the brave, though death is never far behind.
- A few scientists believe that they may be able to reverse the course of the airborne Kalleum on landside. They need some research material left stashed away by one of the original scientists who worked on Kalleum in the early days.