The year is 1918, and we find ourselves riding mostly westward via rail, but on a path that drifts in directions that make sense to neither Man nor God. The long icy train carrying a cargo of cattle, swine, and leathery human beings wends its way upon tracks bent round mountains, over gorges, and through rocky walls. The almanac had predicted a bitter, harsh winter, but the passengers, being the men and women they were, denied nature’s potency—not to mention the acumen of the lily-white college boys out in Pennsylvania who rejected both war and hardship so that they could publish their preachy little weather books.
As the frost found its way into the train’s bearings, the wheels froze and bound, then split and cracked. Twice, men hired by the United States Railroad Administration—older and invalid men who were unfit to fight in the war—had to exit the train and replace wheels. They even had to leave a freight car on the tracks, knowing that the poor visibility might make a collision with the next train inevitable. They would send word to the home office if they ever arrived, but by then it would be too late.
Some of the cars were heated with potbelly stoves that could burn wood or coal, but most weren’t. In one railcar that wasn’t meant for passengers, the USRA men found a small contingent of vagabonds, who at some point, had burned their shoes for warmth, but then died with their squeezeboxes frozen in hand and harmonicas stretching their mouths into uncanny, flat smiles. The blue bodies of these free men of the rails were deposited alongside the tracks with as much reverence as the dog-tired surviving members of the party could muster.
After a few more harsh miles, the USRA men came to the inevitable conclusion that they were frozen in place and all the mighty men from the Great War, both living and dead, couldn’t move that train another mile. Fortunately, there were only fifty passengers on the train and at least three hundred frozen beasts. They also had a two carloads of coal, and because all of the railcars were made of wood, they could burn some of those if need be. Several of the passenger cars were unoccupied sleepers—few travelers had wanted to splurge on the extra $7 for passage in one of those—but the USRA was willing to bend the rules as long as married couples promised not to flaunt their bliss and there was “no mixing of race nor creed.” They were, after all, hideous times for social affairs.
One rather unpleasant consequence of the rapid freeze is that the livestock, which by all appearances were frozen to death, came back to life as they were thawed for meals. One sizable sow leapt right off of the table where she was being seasoned and ran off into the subzero wasteland (where she probably just froze again). After that, whoever was in charge of dinner also had the duty of double-killing the meat. At the end of this trial, all of the uneaten animals came back to life, and never a hungrier nor sweatier menagerie has ever again been witnessed in these parts.
The westward party survived in this manner quite comfortably until the spring thaw came (five days later) and they rode their train the rest of the way to the west coast.
We’re back in 2018. Global warming has ensured that this scenario is unlikely to happen, but it’s not inconceivable to imagine that we’d find ourselves in some other sort of survival situation. Describe a scenario involving massive amounts of heat and radiation and tell me how you’d survive it.