#FridayFlash: British Columbia Must Burn

British Columbia Must Burn

by Tony Noland

The chronoprojection deck filled the room with mottled green and brown, with blotches of white and blue here and there. Standing above the deck, Tyler could make out patterns: swirls, curves, some areas with speckled admixtures, others with concentrations of one color interlaced with another.

"Canada, in all its glory."

Tyler turned to look up from the landscape. "What am I looking at here, Ian?"

"I told you," his friend said, "Canada, in all its glory. From the open expanse of Hudson Bay to the rugged shore of British Columbia."

"I know it's Canada," Tyler said, "I can read the label on the display. But what am I looking at? What are you showing me?"

Ian scrolled his mouse. The view zoomed in, rushing downward from the apparent vantage point of low earth orbit. Brown and green smears resolved into mountains, valleys, forests. In a few seconds, the deck displayed a river, running east to west. It bumped up against a mountain range and turned north. Again, Tyler looked at Ian, who clicked a command. More labels appeared on the deck display. It was the Mackenzie River running into the Mackenzie Mountains.

"Who's Mackenzie?"

"Alexander Mackenzie was a trader and explorer. About seven hundred years ago, back in the 1790s, he led one of the expeditions to find the Old Northwest Passage."

"You mean the one that didn't exist?"

"Right, that one. This was back before the polar ice cap melted. Back then, if you wanted to get from Asia to Europe, you either went west, around India and Africa, or you went east, around South America. If there had been a water route across Canada, Asia and Europe would have had much closer economic ties, much earlier."

"OK, so he was one of the poor bastards who went looking for it, didn't find it, and got a river and a mountain range named after him. So what am I looking at?"

"Notice the timestamp on this projection? It's today. Canada is not only lush, warm and fertile, it's also one of the economic powerhouses of the world."

"Ian, I wish you could do these experiments of yours without being so overdramatic. Of course it is. After the ice caps melted, and the U.S. withered in the heat, Canada became the breadbasket of the world and the crossroads for goods between Asia and Europe. I know the history. Now, for the last time, can you please tell me what I'm supposed to be looking at?"

The scene rose and flew again, settling to a higher vantage point over a spot almost 800 kilometers to the south. "This is the Peace River," Ian said, "and this -" the scene flew to the west "- is Williston Lake, high in the mountains of British Columbia."


"So, there is water passage from Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan running westward all the way up to Williston Lake. This system of rivers and lakes existed in Mackenzie's time, just as they do today. Back then, of course, they were almost primeval. The Native Peoples didn't do any major earthworks, like canals or dams."

"Again, so?"

"Watch." Ian touched his controls and the scene began to flash from green-brown to white and back again, the typical indication of reverse-time scrolling. Tyler watched the increase in flicker until the delta-T was twenty years per second, when summer and winter blurred together. There was an abrupt transition in the early 2200's and much of western Canada became white. "That was -"

"- the melting of ice caps in the Global Temperature Realignment. Yes, I know. How far back are you going?"

"Thirty thousand years. Let me increase the delta-T... there." The scene flickered and slowed to a stop. The mountains were capped with wide expanses of snow. "Now, here comes the fun part." The view rose again, up to the original height that encompassed most of the continent. Ian rubbed his hands together and said, "Watch this." He issued a command and the sun skewed across the sky into the western ocean, leaving what would one day be called Canada in complete darkness. "This part is going to be in realtime, so give it a minute."

"What will be? What did you do?"

"Just watch."

It took more than six minutes of waiting, but when it came, it was spectacular. An enormous fireball exploded past the observation viewpoint, splintering into a hundred massive streaks. They rained down on the continent, blasting into it with horrific force, meteorites the size of mountaintops smashing across the landscape in a line of destruction that stretched for 400 kilometers or more. Even from the high, high viewpoint, it was clear that the impact ripped a series of massive holes in the earth's crust, sending ejecta rebounding up into the atmosphere.

"Wow. Did you speed up the delta-T?"

"No, this is unfolding in real time. See how the shockwaves are setting the forests on fire? Amazing, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's impressive, but so what?"

Ian smiled and nudged the controls. "You, my friend, have just witnessed my latest work of art. I had to alter the orbit of that asteroid very precisely 800,000 years ago to get the timing and location right. Watch this." As the delta-T ran forward, the flicker of the screen gave way to a complete covering of white. "I timed it so that the dust from the asteroid strike would get caught up in the general glaciation trend. It made that ice age come on a bit earlier, but not much. Now, we let the glaciers grind back and forth for a while, and... presto!" The scene slowed and halted.

Across western Canada, a series of crater lakes marched across the  mountains, a straight line of blue circles ranging from huge to tiny. In between, long fissures, ground deep and smooth by the glaciers, connected the lakes in an unbroken line of water running from Queen Charlotte Sound to Lake Athabasca.

"I present to you, the Northwest Passage!" Ian beamed, obviously quite pleased with himself. "From Lake Athabasca eastward to Hudson Bay is trivial. Once the European settlers land and find this watercourse, it won't take long for them to establish direct trade routes to Asia. Theoretically, Canada will become the same economic powerhouse it is now, but five hundred years sooner."

"Theoretically? You mean you didn't check? You don't know for sure what's going to happen?"

"No, of course I didn't check. That's part of the rules of the Alternate Reality Society's annual Consequences of Natural Events competition. You're allowed to make one change to a natural event, then the judges evaluate the impact it has on human history. I'm going to enter this into the Economics division. Since they give extra points for artistry and technical difficulty, I'm a shoo-in for the Most Unlikely Superpower award!"

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I loved the idea of the " Alternate Reality Society's annual Consequences of Natural Events competition." I wonder if he'll live to regret his alteration?

    Good story!

  2. I shared Tyler's impatience, especially early on, wanting Ian to get to his diabolical point already. Lucky for both of us, his diabolical point was very cute.

  3. Fascinating story! Is this something he actually does, or is it all a simulation?

    I think a highly-likely result is that, instead of a civil war, the US goes to war with Britain in the mid-1800s to annex the whole shootin' match. None of that "fifty-four forty or fight" goop, the manifest destiny crowd is gonna want it *all* and they're gonna go all-out to get it. Ian's unintended consequences might lower his grade a little…

  4. So I take it he had a grant from the NEA? :)

  5. As a supervillain myself, I applaud the scheme, if not the intention! Fascinating way to look at history.

  6. Haha, sort of a sci-fi + some tongue-in-cheek super villain humor. Loved the switch in dialogue too!


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