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A race of aliens have invaded Earth and they love the dark.

These aliens have caused intense smoke shading to occur so that it is permanently pitch black.

It has been several weeks since it went dark, all major infrastructures are down (no electricity, running water, all communication is down), and as far as you are aware a great portion of the population is dead or missing.

It seems the majority of the invaders keep to themselves at the center of the city. Your small group of survivors have stayed alive thus far by staying on the outskirts of town in the suburban areas near that border the forest. Keeping quiet and using small flames (candles, small torches) as opposed to bright sources have seemed to improve your odds. It is rumored in your group that the creatures can be taken out with silenced weapons without drawing additional attention when needed, although no-one has hands on experience with killing an invader. Because all close encounters with the aliens have occurred in close to pitch black, no one in your group knows what they look like.

After many years of scraping by, you and a small group of survivors have created a self sufficient encampment.

What might this look like?

Key points:

  • There is no sunlight, the group may have some electricity going, but probably nothing crazy as to keep hidden
  • There is no major form of communication (no internet, radio, etc.)
  • There must be some way to produce food
  • Anything too loud or too bright will draw attention to your group (some flexibility here might be required. These aren't the creatures from a quite place)
  • Location is somewhere in the Southern United States or similar so there may not need to worry about cold temperatures
  • It is unknown if the smoke is global or just local to the invader's hub
  • Lastly, it is unknown what the aliens need to survive. There is no other extraterrestrial flora or fauna (other than the invaders).
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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 26 at 12:56

10 Answers 10

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It's Impossible.

All life ultimately depends on an energy input into the ecosystem; for us, that's the sun. Plants convert sunlight into energy that the rest of the ecosystem can use. Without the sun, there are no plants, and no animals can survive.

While there are organisms that live off other sources of energy, like geothermal vents or volcanic Archaea, These critters are not accessible to your survivors, and do not produce food that the remaining humans can eat.

On top of that, without the sun, the world would freeze over into temperatures no animal could survive very rapidly. If a human group has fuel, they might be able to warm a shelter for a while, but there would be no means of getting any more fuel; you can't use plants for biofuel if there are no plants, and you certainly can't start a mining operation if you're hiding from aliens on a frozen earth.


That said, if we disregard hostile aliens, and give humanity decades advance notice that the sun is going to vanish, it may be possible to build a shelter powered by large reserves of nuclear power, including enormous artificial-light chambers for foodcrops. Even then, though, this would only be a temporary state of affairs; the ultimate goal would be to build a functional spacecraft and relocate to a new world with a working sun.

This kurtzgesagt video may be relevant.

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    $\begingroup$ Just because the smoke blocks visible light doesn't mean that there is no thermal energy. If anything the environment will probably get hotter because black smoke would decrease the planet's reflectivity. Normally, smoke absorbs the light and re-emits it as infrared. At the same time, the "smoke" could have all kinds of strange properties because it's really some kind of alien tech. $\endgroup$ May 24 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ @NahomeTesfay thermal energy cannot be exploited unless there is a cold place to put it $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    May 24 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 I wasn't talking about generating energy I was contesting Goblin347's idea that the world would freeze over as if the sun disappeared. Since there's some sci-fi tech going on here the climate can be pretty much whatever the aliens want it to be by reflecting or absorbing sunlight. $\endgroup$ May 24 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ Fungi don't need much light to grow ( maybe a bulb ), and they can be eaten by human beeings and animals alike, they can even be made to fabric $\endgroup$
    – clockw0rk
    May 25 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ @clockw0rk fungi do however need growing plants, fungi are not autotrophs, they are consumers just like you. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 25 at 20:59
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It depends on how dark it is.

Smoke is not 100% opaque; so, chances are you still have some sunlight getting through. How much will decide a lot about how they could survive.

If less than 90% of Sunlight is being blocked.

If the smoke is blocking 70-90% of sunlight, there are still a number of edible plants that will do well. Pretty much most of your leafy green vegetables and herbs like Mustard, Kale, Spinach, Mint, Parsley, Dill, etc. all do well growing in indirect sunlight as will many kinds of root plants like carrots, garlic, and onion. You can further increase the success of plants in low light areas by spreading a thin layer of beach sand over the soil to reflect light back into it.

If less than 99% of Sunlight is being blocked.

However, if it is too dark even for low light plants to survive, then your next best bet is to farm seaweed. Some kinds of seaweed can grow at depths of nearly 100m where ~99% of visible light is blocked. If you were to bring some of this up to the surface, it might be able to grow in shallow buckets of water.

If over 99% of Sunlight is being blocked.

If the smoke is blocking >99% of light, pretty much all life native to Earth is going to die... but the good news is that the Aliens are NOT native to Earth. If they have chosen to terraform Earth in this way it is because their biology is able to support life in this environment. So, your humans may become reliant on raiding alien farms, or actually hunting and eating the aliens themselves.

It may also be possible that the "smoke" itself is actually the primary producer in the the alien's food chain. Rather than being actual smoke, it could be an airborne photosynthetic organism in which case it could be filtered from the air and eaten directly.

If alien life is too inedible, it may turn out that you can eat them indirectly by killing them, and growing edible mushrooms in their corpses, though fungi tend to have a very low caloric density; so, sustaining life this way would not be easy.

Also, moving to a higher elevation may help

Depending on exactly what the aliens are pumping into the atmosphere, it may thin quickly as you move to higher elevations. If we assume that by smoke you mean some carbon based, opaque pollutant, then odds are that the smoke will only settle at lower altitudes once it cools to the same temperature as the rest of the atmosphere; so, even if ground level densities block over 99% of sunlight, you may be able to build a garden on top of the roof of an old skyscraper or somewhere high up in the mountains where light penetration could still be good enough to support agriculture.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer, but living off mushrooms is difficult. They are about 220 kcals/Kg so you need to eat about 10 Kg to get your days energy. $\endgroup$
    – User65535
    May 24 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ @User65535 I'd imaging you'd want to focus on something like Oyster or Shiitake mushrooms which have closer to 340 cal per kg... but yes, you'd still have to make a conscious effort to eat more. The average person only eats 2.5 kg per day; so, you'd have to increase your daily intake by 50-70% to operate just above starvation. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 24 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ 90% sunlight blocked = cloudy day. 99% sunlight blocked = bright indoor office. 99.9% sunlight blocked = nothing grows, yet you still wouldn't say it is really dark. Nighttime is <1 lux, meaning 99.999% sunlight blocked. $\endgroup$ May 24 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @ZizyArcher Yes, for that reason moving to a higher elevation will probably need to be a part of any strategy that does not involve eating the aliens. 99.999% light blocked at sea level may only be 70-90% of light blocked at hundreds of meters above sea level depending on the nature of the smoke. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 24 at 17:35
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Probably Something Subterranean

There's a lot to consider, but right off the bat living underground could really help. Your survivors need someplace to hide and depending on the climate (which can be completely controlled by the aliens) protection from the elements. Living underground could allow the survivors to use hydroelectricity or geothermally generated electricity without getting caught which allows them to grow crops using artificial light (once again underground where the aliens can't see it). If this sounds too high tech their underground dwelling can be a cave system with underground rivers and or geothermal activity. It's only a matter of converting already common generators and either some super sketchy makeshift incandescent bulbs or finding a bunch of LED bulbs (it's still crazy hard, but at least somewhat believable). They can also use all of those dead trees to grow mushrooms. If the ocean is nearby and most of the Earth is not covered in smoke, fishing is also an option.

The Smoke Opens up All kinds of Interesting Options

The "smoke" was created by aliens with technology well beyond ours. This means the "smoke " can have all kinds of properties to suit your needs. You would expect black smoke to absorb more thermal energy from the sun and raise temperatures, the aliens are probably expert geoengineers and can use additional layers of aerosols above the "smoke" to balance out the additional absorption or even make it cooler. The "smoke" can also have handwaving properties like perhaps it makes things look dark, but the sunlight still reaches the Earth's surface so growing crops and the water cycle still work as usual. Does the "smoke" negatively affect breathing like real smoke? Maybe it does the opposite and people feel more alert. Overall, once you fill the air with some mysterious substance created by aliens, you have unlimited possibilities which can shape your encampment in all kinds of ways. You can figure out the plot, motivations, and character development then tweak the properties of the "smoke" to accommodate them. In practice, the behavior of the environment doesn't need to be justified because it's literally aliens. The main thing is to establish clear rules early on so readers can follow along.

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    $\begingroup$ I love the idea of fishing and living in caves/underground. This could give the characters hope that maybe if they can gather enough supplies and prepare enough that maybe they could migrate to a place where the smoke isn't. $\endgroup$ May 24 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ Your supply of fish is likely limited. Working your way down the ocean food chain, at the bottom is plants-- phytoplankton. If there's not enough sun for phytoplankton, then there's no phytoplankton, and that missing food source will cascade up- missing phytoplankton means no food for small fish, which means there's no small fish, which means there's no food for big fish, which means there's no big fish. $\endgroup$ May 25 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderNied if the smoke doesn't cover the globe there could be thriving ecosystems far away from the survivors and fish could originate from there $\endgroup$ May 25 at 19:11
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Geothermal power station could be used for producing electricity that allows to survive by growing plants in some cave. This may have limited capacity but can last for very long time as there are no obvious resources being depleted (air, water remain available). In suitable places like Iceland geothermal power is not so difficult to obtain. The overall setup has no large external moving parts and can be well hidden.

Some underground river may also produce hydroelectric power for producing light, still having all setup completely hidden.

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    $\begingroup$ Places that have underground rivers and geothermal vents tend to also be very bad places to build underground. Since such places are unlikely to pre-exist, it would be very hard to construct such a place after the aliens come without violating the noise constraint. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 24 at 13:52
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Feces.

It may not look it, but there's some kind of ecosystem somewhere. You can breathe the air - there's oxygen from somewhere. The aliens do eat, even if you don't know how. And the planet doesn't freeze, because the sunlight is hitting something. Perhaps they've all moved in their flying fortresses and there are now just countless layers of habitation far above the smoke.

But there's nothing to eat down where you are - the stored food is used or destroyed, and the plants can't grow. Nothing... except huge platters of alien feces.

It's hard to say exactly why you always find the feces on a platter. It's a simple metal; your welder friend says it sounds like cheap iron; looks shiny in the light. The platters seem much too heavy to waft down slowly on their own, but perhaps there is a magnetic effect used to move them? Whatever the reason, the aliens do not do a very good job of digestion. Alien feces seems to contain a roughly balanced diet of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates, mixed in with a number of inert or undesirable components. Your scientist friend keeps talking about finding a DNA sequencer and trying to determine if DNA is present from the digested food, of what type. Hope it's not human ... but does anyone believe it's anything else?

There are many ways to process the feces. Everyone wants a mushroom farm, but they never seem to grow. Feeding it to pigs worked, but they didn't produce piglets, and now there are no more to try. Boiling uses scarce resources and does little but spread the smell far and wide. Mostly, the recommended solution is to hold your nose and hope this time the aliens passed something sufficiently toxic to end it all.

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    $\begingroup$ if the aliens eat humans, you might aswell do the same. $\endgroup$
    – clockw0rk
    May 25 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ thee is no reason to assume an ecosystem, if all plants died tomorrow it would take millions of years to use up all the oxygen. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 25 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @John - great point! The estimated time seems more like 5000 years, but definitely not as short as I was thinking. I should have known better from the percentages, but I've heard the "lungs of the earth" trope so many times from childhood on, I never thought twice about it! $\endgroup$ May 25 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeSerfas most calculation fail to account for most animals also dying, of course if humans keep burning things which is likely that would speed it up by a lot. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 25 at 21:09
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The chicxulub impact didn't immediately wipe out the dinosaurs but rather the events that it propagated.

No sun means no food for herbivores. No food for herbivores means no food for carnivores. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-an-asteroid-caused-extinction-of-dinosaurs.html

If you're focusing on the human's survival then they'd have to hunt and eat these aliens. If you're focusing on the alien's desire to wipe out humans then it's just a waiting game once they release the smoke shading.

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If it is really dark, you can't grow stuff outside. Nothing grows in circumstances you would proclaim to be nighttime. The alternative is to try using electricity to grow stuff. This is less plausible than it seems on the first glance, but it isn't completely impossible.

Ballpark estimates from another stackexchange answer on space (https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/22012/power-to-grow-food-per-person) seems to point to about 500 kWh/person/day. Therefore, for ~50 people and power plant operating 24/7, you are looking at ~1MW of power running all the time. This is approaching "crazy" territory, but let's ignore that and rather ask ourselves - which power plants are suitable for that?

Well, fossil fuels are out, there is no infrastructure to keep supply going. That dead forest you have (no sun=dead trees) is useless too. Solar is obviously out. Wind depends - is the wind still blowing? IF you have 100% darkness everywhere it won't. But if you have only local darkness you might still get some (enough?) wind. Few turbines could be enough for this small group... until they inevitably get clogged by this magic dust or whatever it is. Geothermal and other niche projects are far too rare. Nuclear, one of the plants that won't shut down when cut out of grid, will run out of fuel in few years, but it could be a possible solution in the mean time.

So, the most plausible solution - hydro power plant. It can keep going for a while while the world stopped ... obviously assuming sun is shining elsewhere - otherwise there is no evaporation -> no rain -> no rivers -> no power.

What remains is getting the power to the greenhouse. 1MW power line going to a building is pretty large and probably well-controlled/inspected (you can't just claim to need such power and get it, no questions asked). The easiest option is the one in comments - already existing (legal) farms in buildings. I was unaware there are some existing large scale projects that can feed enough people to meet these needs.

Other solution is that one of these folks is a shady character that claimed to have a cloud storage business (or something else computer-related), so he got a pretty fat power line going to his building for all of that. But instead of (or along) those computers, he operates a marihuana growing facility - so he has all machinery people need to grow stuff in place already. (Yes, it is completely unplausible that nobody else would have noticed this, so you probably need to have him suitably connected; or that he only recently moved his interests so he wasn't actually doing any farming yet. Other businesses that have large energy needs are most likely less plausible to grow stuff on side or be reworked in that way - you can't really move machinery inside a lumber mill without a lot of noise)

Is this plausible? Not really, it is possible though. Once you make it really dark outside you don't really have any viable options beyond just eating all the cans from the supermarket (or all the mushrooms that grew on corpses of humans, animals or trees; it is the same in the end only with higher chance of food poisoning)

Note that flowing rivers (which you need to not die of thirst before food even gets relevant) quickly tell everyone that this darkness is local and that they should probably just keep walking out instead of trying to get a community going in the dark.

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    $\begingroup$ Nuclear Powerplants have far more complex logistic needs than fossil fuels; so, you can scrap that idea too. As for running the powerlines needed, there are plenty of legal businesses with enhanced power needs. A Machine Shop for example may need to run high powered electric kilns, arc welders, grinders, mills, and lathes all at the same time. And while more rare, some cities already have vertical farm buildings operating in them today, totally on the books. Their food costs extra, but they stay in business thanks to the farm freshness they can deliver right into the heart of an urban center $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 25 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Well, most nuclear can't really operate standalone, but there are some plants that can work... until obviously uranium runs out and the plant would need to get refueled. Still, a somewhat viable solution though I would bet on hydro as the only source (obviously requiring sun elsewhere, otherwise no evaporation = no rivers = no power). I didn't know about vertical farms in buildings operating today, very interesting, thanks. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ You can use tidal hydro electric power. They don't require rain, just a moon. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 26 at 15:44
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I don't know if this is appropriate but recently I read the metro books in which life has become hostile above ground and human life needed to hide inside the dark tunnels of the Russian metros. A lot of the key points you mentioned here are touched upon in these books in a somewhat believable manner.

There is no sunlight, the group may have some electricity going, but probably nothing crazy as to keep hidden

Even with the power grid largely offline, humanity wouldn't have to forfeit the usage of electrical lights entirely. Low wattage led lights running on their lowest settings could last days on some AAA batteries. In addition, there are handheld dynamo flashlights. With constant night going on, human eyes would start to adapt, making dim lights overall more preferable. More natural sources of light such as fires can be made to last for quite some time as well.

There is no major form of communication (no internet, radio, etc.)

With no major form of communication possible, it would mostly be traders and smaller travel groups pulling double duty delivering messages from A to B. The problems that this presents is that any piece of information obtained in the morning can be unreliable in the evening and entirely outdated the next day.

There must be some way to produce food

As for the food, some knowledgeable people about mushroom farming could create a decent reliable source of food with those. In addition, there should still be plenty of animals and insects lurking in the dark. For example, rats could act as emergency food. In addition, it wouldn't be to far out there to assume that some farm animals could adapt to the darkness as well. Pigs could possibly be raised though they would likely turn pale and frail. The amount of food output through those means would be rather small and could realistically sustain only smaller groups.

It is rumored in your group that the creatures can be taken out with silenced weapons without drawing additional attention when needed, although no-one has hands on experience with killing an invader.

On a side note, if this paragraph refers to a silencer on a gun, then that would be movie logic. Real guns with silencers on them still are incredibly loud. So silenced weapons in this case would have to be bows, blow darts or slingshots to name a few. Clubs and knifes would work as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ mushrooms need living plants to make new biomass, mushrooms only buys you a little time before there is nothing left to grow them on. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 25 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ I like how this answer covers aspects of the question that others missed such as communication and self-defense. While it doesn't fully resolve issues like long-term food security previous answers were almost entirely about that problem. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 6:39
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This question is straight from a Rimworld smoke extractor Mechanoid cluster. You might wanna farm funghi and use an underground river for electricity :D

Depending on what type of aliens there are, your best chances are to create a big, bright fire ( maybe burn an old factory to the ground ) and hide in the twilight next to it. These aliens, while drawn to light, seem to have a hard time envisioning anything in bright light. A bit like darkvision creatures from DND. So in the first weeks, while you can still find many rations and your powers are not drained due to surviving in darkness , you might just ambush and guerilla aliens. Yes, they will see you standing next to the fire, but now you can see them too, so your odds are even.

It might take a great number of survivors, but the remaining ones can harvest technology from aliens or even eat them, so you'd have a food source until you can manage to climb high enough on a mountain so you'd be above the smoke.

If nothing helps, cannibalism is always an option, especially if you are fighting aliens and have a constant supply of fresh corpses. I don't claim these are the most humane methods of survival, but survival was never pretty, wasn't it?

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Combining points from almost everyone's answers, I think there are only a few options:

Living conditions:

The survivors should probably live underground, or in some sort of a cave system. Electricity can be generated using various technologies. Wind turbines might work if there is wind, but they aren't very discrete. Nuclear and geothermal power might also be an option, but are also not very discrete. A small river might create enough torque on a water wheel to produce enough energy for a relatively small community. Although not enough electricity to grow plants.

Providing food:

- There isn't really a good option for food if the smoke covers the globe:

If the world were indeed completely covered with smoke such that there is no light from the sun hitting the surface of the Earth, all living things (including the aliens presumably) are doomed. No photosynthesis can occur and with that the animals soon die.

Potential survivable scenarios include growing plants underground or indoors, but plants would need a great deal of electricity to sustain even a small population. Mushrooms are probably not sustainable either.

Creating the necessary electricity to product enough light for the plants is complex and would potentially create a good deal of noise (i.e. it isn't likely to create this much electricity in secrecy)

- There are a few options for food if the smoke only covered parts of the globe:

Living near water may be great for electricity generation, but also for food. If the smoke is only local to your area, the survivors could live off of fish while they plan their escape to "greener" grass. Other traveling creatures may be an option (birds are really the only other thing I can think of). It would suck to live completely off fish, but it can be done. You could grow mushrooms to have on the side.

Other notes:

  • Silenced weapons are not a great option. Although, they may seem quiet, they are still a bit loud.
  • Alien dung, if it exists, could be boiled and consumed
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  • $\begingroup$ glad we could help, but consider it is kind of rude to answere your own question and mark it as accepted. you're new, so no big deal. but people trying to help you should be rewarded for their time $\endgroup$
    – clockw0rk
    May 31 at 15:24

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