Life in the Zone is usually either brutal and short or excruciating and seemingly endless, which is why the only folks who venture there are fueled by insanity, desperation, greed, or some combination of the three. By and large the human population of the known world sticks to the civilized parts of the wasteland, border towns and frontier settlements and the like, which these days takes up more and more space on the map, even if travel between all these places is still as dangerous as it ever was. The thing is that we are enjoying a bit of a post-apocalyptic Golden Age, where a person can actually live a full life, even if its a hard and dirty one that could end bad at any moment. You can actually die of old age now, and that used to be a myth about the old world told around campfires and burn barrels. Not too long ago, maybe just a generation or two, there wasn’t even a notion of the Zone, it was all just the wasteland.
The time of the warlords.
In those days of fire and blood you were either a marauder or a victim, and there wasn’t much wiggle room in between. This was a time when the chaos of the apocalypse was still fresh, and the survivors of that global Collapse were thrust into a harsh ruin of a world that they’d had a hand in making. It was total madness, but out of that storm rose individuals who were something more than common marauders, and they certainly weren’t victims. Their presence had a kind of magnetism to it, and people started banding together around these larger than life individuals who refused to be anywhere but at the top of the food chain. These individuals were fueled by ego, courage, and probably a big dose of insanity, but they persevered. As the groups following these individuals grew in size a sort of culture rose up around the men and women at the center of the storm, each culture just as radical and unique as the person it was founded on. So was born the warlords of the wasteland. They had names like Slab Dragon, Immortan Joe, Raven Ripsaw, and King Stitch, just to name some of the more famous warlords that still echo in our oral history. They built empires out of the ashes of the old world, more often than not with big guns and fast cars.
The brutal order they imposed upon their little corners of the wasteland yielded a stability, even if ultraviolent and bizarre, that brought humanity back from the brink. Immortan Joe provided water and protection from the other scary people of the wasteland, but he demanded blind obedience and the occasional harem girl. Raven Ripsaw’s people always had more food and fuel than they could possibly need, but if you didn’t pray to the unexploded Atomic God she insisted on having at the center of her camp then you’d find yourself flayed and left for the buzzards. Scary as all of this was, people could actually live a life, such as it was, and our population started making a comeback. You could actually say that they saved civilization simply by being the bloody evil bastards that they were. Enjoy civilization? Hug a warlord. Well, maybe don’t, the few I’ve seen in the Zone wear alot of spikes.
On a long enough timeline all tyrannical dynasties get their comeuppance, because you can’t rule people with fear and violence forever. Eventually someone else will come along and offer the people an alternative way of life, and have the bullets and badassery to back it up. The trick, for all of us walking the dust today, is to remember that the “better life” gets built on top of the orderly foundation laid down by the very warlords that were cast down. So next time you’re getting tossed out of town by the local constable for being too drunk and too disorderly, try to be thankful that we have things like towns and constables and whiskey, because without the warlords everywhere would be the Zone and we’d all still be living on our own and trying to avoid having marauders peel our faces off.