Alternative History
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Illinois was the 21st state of the United States of America. The many strategic sites located in the state made the events of Doomsday particularly devastating to it. Today nothing is left of Illinois but a few scattered survivor communities. Parts of it remain hazardous to all life, in particular the radioactive Illinois River flowing through the center of its territory.


Medieval Illinois was the center of the large and vibrant Mississippian civilization: its chief city Cahokia had a population near 40,000 at its peak in the fourteenth century. Cahokia and the urban civilization around it soon declined, and most of the cities were abandoned before the start of European colonization. In the colonial era the region was dominated by the Illiniwek Confederacy, which gave the place its name. Wars and disease took their toll on the confederacy, and at the time of the American Revolution, only about 2,000 Native hunters and a small number of French villagers inhabited the area.

Anglo-American settlers began arriving from Kentucky in the 1810s; Illinois achieved statehood in 1818. Railroads and the steel plow made central Illinois's rich prairie into some of the world's most productive and valuable farmland, attracting farmers from both the United States and Europe.

The future metropolis of Chicago was founded in the 1830s on the banks of the Chicago River, one of the few natural harbors on southern Lake Michigan. Its position as a national rail hub led to rapid industrialization and immigration late in the century. By 1900, industry and coal mining had spurred urban growth and immigration in the central and southern parts of the state as well. Its manufacturing made Illinois a major arsenal in the first two World Wars. The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to Chicago formed a large and important community that created the city's famous jazz and blues cultures.

The later twentieth century saw a boom in the growth of Chicago's suburbs, such that by 1980 over 60% of Illinois's population lived in the six counties defined as its metropolitan area. The growth was a sign of a transition to a post-industrial service economy and was matched by stagnation in the sectors of industry and agriculture. The population of industrial cities, including Chicago, was stagnating, while in some rural areas the population was declining, especially the relatively remote part of the state west of the Illinois River.



The Soviet attacks of the Third World War were utterly devastating to the people, society, and institutions of Illinois. The geography of the state's targets helped to make the events of 25-26 September 1983 particularly gruesome. Chicago was a major target and suffered more than one nuclear strike near the city center; but other strategic sites were spread out in the suburbs around the city. These ensured that the entire area was blanketed with nuclear explosions and that many survivors of the initial blasts had no path of escape.

Making matters even worse was Illinois's heavy reliance on nuclear power. Nuclear plants located near the attacks suffered meltdowns, unleashing catastrophic levels of radioactive contamination into the region. Other plants were under construction and had fuel on site; they would also become hazards when they could not be maintained.

Chicago's location made it a key aviation hub. Northwest of the city was Glenview Naval Air Station, and nearby was O'Hare Airport, a sprawling facility and the busiest in the nation. O'Hare primarily served civilian aircraft, but its potential military application made it a target also. These two blasts destroyed the nearby suburbs of Glenview and Des Plaines and trapped a huge number of Chicagoans inside the city. Further north was the Naval Station Great Lakes, both a training center and an important administrative facility that earned it the nickname "the Quarterdeck of the Navy". The blast here destroyed the cities of Waukegan and North Chicago and triggered a meltdown in the nearby nuclear power plant in Zion.

In the western suburbs of Chicago were Fermilab and the Argonne National Laboratory, two major nuclear research centers that could both trace their roots to World War II's Manhattan Project. Nuclear attacks here, and to the industrial and population center of Aurora a bit further west, served to close off the city's western flank from escape.

The south side also saw nuclear attacks: one missile landing near Midway Airport and one on the city of Joliet, alongside damage resulting from strikes in northwest Indiana. The Joliet blast triggered a meltdown in the Dresden power station, covering much of Grundy County in radioactive material. The nearby Braidwood nuclear plant was still under construction and had not yet gone critical, but in later years leaks of its unsecured fuel would make this region southwest of Chicago totally uninhabitable.

Somewhat further out from Chicago, Rockford, an important industrial city and the second largest in the state, was also struck by a missile. The LaSalle nuclear power plant, southwest of Joliet, shut down successfully, but its crew lacked any means to control the reactor's decay heat. Running the reactors simply to power their own cooling system was a solution that could not last long. The plant succumbed to a meltdown not long after the attacks, devastating much of LaSalle County. All told, the death toll in the metro area was enormous. A majority of the region's citizens were dead within days of the attack.


The center of the state also suffered nuclear attacks. Springfield, the state capital, received a missile, as did the industrial cities Decatur and Peoria. Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, just north of Champaign, was a military target. Burlington, Iowa, was struck, spreading fallout into Illinois to the south of the Quad Cities area. The attack on Saint Louis inflicted direct damage on East Saint Louis, Illinois, and spread fallout into the Metro East region. Another missile to Scott Air Force Base near Belleville destroyed a large part of what was left.

In the heart of the Quad Cities was the Rock Island Arsenal, the United States' largest military manufacturing facility. Its military importance almost surely made it a target in the Soviet war plans - yet the city was spared. It is likely that, as a lower-priority target, Quad Cities' missile would have been fired from a silo that was taken out by the first wave of American missiles. This was doubly fortunate, because this also allowed the technicians in the Quad City nuclear station to safely maintain the reactor, the only plant in Illinois not to melt down.


The state and federal governments were eliminated completely, and most local authorities in Illinois could hot hope to deal with the scale of the emergency. People fled where they could. The roads out of Chicago became choked with refugees, overwhelming the towns along them. As fuel ran out, the survivors walked. Many died along the way from untreated injuries and epidemics as well as a lack of food and clean water.

People in the northwestern suburbs - the "Land Beyond O'Hare" - had a more or less unobstructed path away from the blasts. Camps of survivors appeared in towns around the edge of the metro area; but as more fallout began to drift in from the Rockford blast and the Zion nuclear plant, people abandoned them for safer areas. Many headed for the Wisconsin border: Madison had also somewhat miraculously been spared and was an attractive destination. Much of southern Wisconsin was covered in camps for displaced persons by the time winter set in, many of the inhabitants of which were suffering from radiation burns and sickness that could not be treated. Others headed west, staying in a place until conditions made it impossible, then moving on, trying to put more distance between themselves and the wreckage. A string of towns served as refugee centers as the people moved ever further west.

A second cluster of survivors lived in Chicago's far south side and southern suburbs. Many first tried to flee to nearby areas just across the Calumet River; the town of Homewood briefly served as the center of a refugee community. But a lack of supplies soon led to a total breakdown of social order, and the human tide pushed further south.

Migrants came into conflict with the residents of communities that they entered. Such clashes caused the collapse of the town of Alton, near Saint Louis. In Mattoon, migrants from a number of towns were heading south and organized themselves into a formidable force. This group rushed into the town, driving residents from their homes in an effort to get food.


The Northwest

Illinois had only a few pockets of relative stability. The nuclear destruction and fallout stretched in an almost continuous line from Chicago to St. Louis, cutting the state in two. Army troops stationed on Rock Island believed themselves to be perhaps the last surviving organ of the American state, and they briefly tried to impose order on a regional scale. But the pattern of fallout soon limited their effectiveness outside the immediate area. Travel to the north and south of the Quad Cities was impossible. After two months of trying, the Rock Island garrison had to confine its activity to the Cities themselves.

The garrison commander was profoundly frustrated by the limits to his resources and his area of operation. But it was difficult enough merely to keep the Quad Cities from descending into the anarchy now engulfing the rest of the region. The garrison was small, unable to administer even the metro area single-handedly. And an immediate crisis was looming in the Quad Cities nuclear power station. Much of the army's attention went into stockpiling all the diesel fuel they could find: the nuclear station needed it to keep pumping water over the uranium in its reactors, keeping them cool enough to avoid a meltdown. Arsenal workers ceased military production to focus on building turbines in the locks and dams in the Mississippi on either side of the station, thereby to generate enough hydropower to run the pumps after the diesel ran out.

Further south, below the Burlington blast site, the far western end of Illinois was emerging as another safe pocket. This was the relatively isolated rural area that local activists in the 70s had dubbed "Forgottonia", a reference to the region's being forgotten by the state and national governments and exclusion from infrastructure projects. The counties there at first deferred to the Arsenal for their response to the emergency, but once it became clear that the garrison had absolutely no help to send, the region instead turned to Hannibal, Missouri, across the river, where the state's governor had evacuated and was attempting to organize a new state government.

The Southeast

In the south, local units of the Illinois National Guard were mobilized to make an attempt at holding at least part of the state together. But here too, drifting fallout and black rain soon made much of the region impassible. Some people continued to push south into Kentucky, joined by even some remnants of the National Guard, who organized large convoys to leave the state. Many of these people would eventually return as links grew stronger between Kentucky and Illinois in the coming years.

Nevertheless, the bottom end of the state, to the south of most of the fallout from St. Louis, was the only part of Illinois where civil government did not entirely disappear. The region included two complete judicial circuits and around twenty counties. Leaders from these different levels of government met in the town of Marion some three weeks after the attacks, at which time it was clear that neither the state government nor the National Guard had the capacity to manage the region.

At Marion, the leaders formed an emergency committee for Southern Illinois and set up a number of task forces to confront different issues: resettlement, law enforcement, communication, food production, food distribution. For the moment, the local governments could do little about any of this; yet the existence of the committee helped Southern Illinois to maintain some level of coherence and avoid social breakdown, at least in its core territory in the far south. Further north, some towns were abandoned in the late 80s due to fallout, factional fighting, and supply problems.

Another piece of this southeastern region was the Charleston Emergency Council, which took shape following the fighting in Mattoon in early 1984. Perhaps the first organized city-state to emerge in Illinois during the Aftermath, Charleston was able to provide a structure to govern both natives and refugees.

The Center

The only major city in central Illinois to escape an attack was Bloomington, and accordingly it drew many survivors from Peoria and Champaign. The refugees set up settlements along I-74 on either side of Bloomington. The region suffered from fallout, but McLean County managed to put together an emergency administration that maintained peace successfully - though only for a short while.

In early 1986, fighting broke out in the area, ultimately fueled by tension among different groups of migrants from Champaign. Locals and former University of Illinois students had established separate settlements and competed over scarce resources. Now open fighting exploded up and down the highway, turning many of the refugee settlements into a war zone. Riots and looting spread to the cities themselves. The cities of Bloomington and Normal generally sided with the the students and attempted to restore order, but the violence compounded the already acute problems facing the region. The McLean County emergency government itself collapsed into competing factions. By 1988 it had ceased to exist, and most survivors left the region.

The center of Illinois was largely depopulated, coming under the control of small armed groups occupying the few remaining functional farms. One faction there still calls itself the Illini Republic, descended from the faction of U of I students. Its major rival is "the Chinks," whose core leadership is made up of refugees from Pekin, Illinois, taking its name from the infamous mascot of a former local high school.


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A few years after the attacks, the most successful survivor communities were beginning to organize themselves into new independent states. Illinois ought to have been well placed as a home for survivors. Its farmland was among the most productive in the world, and once fields could switch over from export-driven monocrops to mixed-use farms for local consumption, none of Illinois's communities would have trouble feeding themselves. But the scale of destruction was too great to allow for many large-scale states to emerge. In fact, the geography of the new states attests to how much Illinois had suffered. Most of the new communities emerged along the borders, and all of the major ones had strong links with states on the other side. Illinois was gone, and few people held out any hope of reviving it.


The military government of the Quad Cities came under increasing strain. A new wave of migrants arrived in the late 80s, coming eastward from Iowa and parts even further west. The newcomers questioned the hold that the Arsenal garrison still had on the cities. There had never been more than a few hundred soldiers. Now that the war was over, what were they doing still in charge? The ruling junta was reluctant to give up power. The result was the Plains People Mutiny of 1990. It began when a community of newcomers who had received allotments of farmland refused to surrender part of their crop to the army for redistribution, instead demanding more local control over the process. The movement grew to involve many of the small farmers on the Iowa side of the river.

The Mutiny led to open fighting, and the army officers realized that they were greatly outnumbered. A few weeks in, a group of noncommissioned officers managed to wrest control of the Arsenal from the commander and his supporters. They went into exile, northward into Wisconsin. The remaining army troops and mutiny ringleaders sat down together to work out a new plan for governing the region. This became the Quad Cities Alliance. The QCA was to become largest independent state within both Iowa and Illinois.

In later years, the QCA became a regional hegemon and brought a number of neighboring communities into dependent relationships. Following an escalating series of proxy wars involving nomadic armed groups, the Quad Cities invaded and occupied Iowa City in the mid-90s, installing a friendly government there. In 1998, the Alliance followed this up with a show of force in Dubuque, a town that had been largely abandoned after Doomsday due to infighting and fallout, but which was starting to re-emerge with the growth in local overland and river trade. The Quad Cities campaign ensured that the town government would stay friendly and loyal.

The most prominent Quad Cities dependency within Illinois is called the Lowden Settlements, located along a stretch of the Rock River centered on Oregon. Many refugees from both Rockford and Chicago had settled there in the 80s. Nearby was yet another nuclear plant, the Byron Generating Station; but construction had only recently begun and there was no hazardous material on site; so the area was safe. The survivors' encampments and plantings spoiled much of the valley's natural beauty but managed to build a fairly successful community of survivors, taking their name from a nearby state park and forest. The Lowden Settlements had been part of the Quad Cities sphere since the days of military rule, and this relationship continued after the transition to the Alliance government.

Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois struggled for many years. In fact, for a two-year period the emergency committee did not meet at all, seemingly incapable of managing the problems which it was intended to confront. The region seemed destined to disintegrate into isolated counties and farming settlements. But the fighting in Central Illinois sparked new waves of both migrants and raiders from the north, prompting the committee to re-establish itself in 1989 and try again.

Beginning in the early 90s, the separate county governments accepted the committee as an ersatz state government: the State of Southern Illinois, though it would be years before the administration formally called itself that. The Southern Illinois administration reorganized what was left of the National Guard. It took the lead in distributing farmland to migrants. It resolved disputes among the counties. Its territory actually shrank as outlying communities, most notably Mount Vernon, had to be abandoned; but the state made sure that these inhabitants could be productively resettled, making its remaining territory stronger and more densely populated. For the rest of the 90s, Southern Illinois remained essentially a coalition of county and local governments, but it was developing into a regional force.

There was a good deal of migration and trade back and forth between the Southern Illinois settlements and the communities across the river. These were the Cape Girardeau city-state, the Elizabethtown-based Commonwealth of Kentucky, the State of Kentucky (Mayfield), and the State of Missouri (Portageville). Politically, Portageville and the Kentuckies were considerably more developed than Illinois, with restored democratic governments and administrative systems. During the 90s, the States of Kentucky and Missouri were both part of the Confederate States, a federation that united much of the mid-South and seemed to be the future of the region.

The CS collapsed in 1999, succumbing to political factionalism. But the federation did much to revive regional trade and a Southern regional consciousness, both of which made an impact in Southern Illinois. This part of the state had always been more Southern than not. Not everyone was excited by the idea of a revived Confederacy, but its existence was enough to inspire Southern Illinois to hold its first elections to a new General Assembly.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky stepped in to fill the void left by the former CS. It began, one by one, to admit cities in the region as federalized members. Southern Illinois was a particularly desirable addition. It had underdeveloped state institutions but considerable territory, good farmland, and robust, functional administration at the local level. Kentuckian scouts began to cooperate with the Illinoisans on operations along their northern frontier. Their help was instrumental in a project to resettle Mount Vernon.

This deepening cooperation led Southern Illinois to pass a resolution becoming a state within the Commonwealth in 2005. Kentuckian union led to a more assertive territorial policy. With the Commonwealth's urging and support, Southern Illinois began to incorporate new counties still further north. This alarmed some of its neighbors.


A third substantial state formed in far western Illinois. Under the influence of their neighbor and patron, the State of Missouri (Hannibal), the westerners officially called themselves the State of Illinois and re-created the forms of state government rather quickly. Unofficially, however, everyone called the state by the joking nickname from the old protest: Forgottonia.

The isolation that had given the region its nickname also gave some advantages. The Illinois River had been a barrier before due to a lack of bridges; now, it was thoroughly contaminated due to the pair of nuclear meltdowns a hundred miles upstream, and this made Forgottonia totally inaccessible from the east. Migrants still made their way into the area, especially from St. Louis, but at a relatively slow and controlled pace.

The sparse population also helped the state survive the early years. There was plenty of good farmland that could be given to migrants, though conflict over land distribution was a cause of unrest.

Similar to Southern Illinois, the state's territory contracted as people living on the frontiers moved closer to the center, the river town of Quincy. Macomb had been the cultural center of the region, home to Western Illinois University and the heart of the Forgottonia protests. The town was not completely abandoned, but it found itself on the margin of the state's zone of control. The university itself relocated, moving into the much smaller campus of Quincy College, a private institution that had long since closed. The small agrarian state had not much use for a university, but it never stopped operating on some level, its size much reduced.

Forgottonia was essentially a client state of the larger and better-organized Missouri state government in Hannibal. Completing the trio was the even smaller city-state of Keokuk, Iowa. At first, the three had an aspiration to become a restored United States of America. Before too long, though, it was clear that they were just a small alliance of survivor states with little influence outside their limited territory along the Mississippi. Forgottonia itself grew slowly and steadily over the course of the 2000s, still a poor agricultural state and largely isolated from the conflicts in the rest of the continent.

The re-establishment of the United States in 2010, and the excitement of the American Spring one year later, revived the notion of turning the state into a true successor to the State of Illinois. Forgottonian voters joined their Missourian counterparts in 2013 in passing an advisory referendum in favor of reunion; the state is undoubtedly the most pro-Union in all of Illinois.


The small town of Charleston survived Doomsday and the aftermath thanks to an alliance between the local citizens and Eastern Illinois University. It was probably the first settlement in the state to consciously organize a new political structure after the collapse, and this early start has given it a postwar history of relative stability, though of course still subject to all the difficulties of being an isolated city-state surrounded by lawless prairie. Like Illinois's other substantial survivor states, it formed a cross-border alliance, in this case with the city-state of Terre Haute, Indiana. Starting in the early 2000s, the two towns resolved to resist Kentuckian expansion into the area.

Smaller settlements

Smaller communities are scattered across the lightly populated areas of the state. Most of these were founded by migrants and refugees who finally found safety after their wanderings.

Macoupin County is located about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield and drew survivors from both attacks. They built their camps among the county's small cluster of mining and farming towns, and these camps evolved into new permanent villages. Macoupin is the only county-level government to survive in Illinois outside the far south. (Forgottonia and the Quad Cities have reorganized their local governments and no longer use the old counties.)

Kankakee was one of the longest-lived communities of Chicago survivors, evolving into a city-state even while most other settlements near Chicagoland collapsed or broke up. Over time, fallout and other dangers of proximity to the city caused Kankakee to decline, and the smaller, more southerly town of Watseka rose to prominence to become the regional leader. Watseka is today a small farming community, but it is still the largest settlement anywhere near Chicago and most of its people celebrate their Chicagoan origins.

Fallout from the St. Louis attacks caused the town of Vandalia to be totally abandoned in the 80s. The fallout's dissipation and a growing overland trade led some people to reoccupy it, since it sat on an important crossroads. In the late 2000s, its merchants took the bold step of organizing it as an independent republic with forms of government modeled on the old United States in miniature.

Bands of scavengers and nomads are also present throughout Illinois, especially in the center, though many have begun to move out of the area as more scouts, traders and farmers from the outside intrude on their territory.


The destruction and contamination in the center of the state continues to keep Illinois divided into two distinct spheres.

The northwest has strengthening links to the communities of the Great Plains and Great Lakes. From both of the western states, roads run westward into the states of Lincoln and then Nebraska. Both also have access to the Mississippi River; from the Mississippi boats can travel up the Wisconsin River to Madison and thence to ports belonging to Superior; they can also go up the Minnesota River toward the U.S. states of Minnesota and Dakota. Trade along all these routes is increasing steadily, leading to the growth of towns and villages. The areas lying between major settlements remain wild and often dangerous.

Because of these commercial links, western Illinois is becoming one of the arenas of competition between the USA and Superior. Superior was the first in the area; its close connections to the State of Wisconsin meant that traders from the Lakes were visiting before the end of the 90s. In 2004 an expedition from Superior charted much of northern and western Illinois, including Chicago. These explorations did not immediately lead to any permanent presence, but they helped to facilitate more lively trade between Superior and the Illinois communities, large and small. The USA had no presence in the region before the 2011 American Spring, which led to a surge of Union sentiment in Hannibal and Forgottonia and the appearance of US diplomats. The admission of Dakota in 2012 enabled direct trade between the USA and western Illinois.

In Illinois's southeast, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is of course the major power. Even before Southern Illinois's admission as a member in 2005, Kentuckian traders and scouts were not uncommonly seen throughout the region. After SI joined the Commonwealth, this presence greatly increased; especially noticeable were military units moved to the northern frontier. Many surrounding independent communities are wary of Kentucky's expansionistic policies, in particular Charleston and the Quad Cities.

Beyond Kentucky, southeastern Illinois is fairly well integrated into the wider interaction sphere of the southern United States. The Mississippi provides access to Corinth, Mississippi and other parts of the 90s-era Confederacy. Going up the Ohio, the traveler passes through largely Kentuckian territory until reaching Kentucky's ally Virginia, the most powerful state in the region. Virginia undertook the exploration and charting of southern and eastern Illinois on behalf of the League of Nations.

See also