2021: Has the long-awaited sci-fi dystopia finally arrived?

Sometimes, it seems like we’re living in a bad sci-fi novel.  Plagues, strife, continually escalating violence.  What would some future historian say about this time and where do we go from here?  Perhaps a fictionalized account of the past 15 months can help shed light on the future…

Imagine if you will, some future historian a thousand years from now summarizing the events of the past 15 months.  They don’t have access to all the details, but like we try to piece together the fall of the Roman Empire today, they construct a narrative from the artifacts that survive…

It was an age of conflict, internally and externally.  The different nation states were pitted against both one another and within themselves.  The old world order, an ossified set of treaties and relationships established decades earlier, would soon begin to collapse.  The citizens of the world didn’t know it yet, but an era of relative peace and stability was rapidly approaching a dark end.

Like so many things in history, the original impetus seemed unrelated to the events that came after, occurrences in a distant land that couldn’t possibly have such ramifications for the entire world.  In this case, massive protests erupted in the vassal of a ruthless totalitarian state, the DDQ, with designs on world domination.  The protesters demanded rights and representation long enjoyed, but now suddenly denied.

The government of the DDQ swiftly moved to crush the nascent uprising, as they had all opposition in the past.  They used every means at their disposal, from outright violence to subtle propaganda.  They were aided in their efforts by global oligarchs seeking to appease the totalitarian tyrants and expand their business empires, even at the expense of their own values.

Private organizations ruled by these oligarchs assisted the DDQ, from helping spread the propaganda to denying access to valuable tools relied upon by the protestors to organzie their dissent.  It still wasn’t enough to quell the unrest and passion, and the protests raged on, unceasingly.  The tyrants grew frightened of this new threat to their power and launched a desperate plan, unleashing a plague from a secret laboratory in a remote province.

To cover their crimes, they publicly claimed the new virus emerged naturally, from a common food market and they were doing everything possible to control the spread.

These controls were heavy handed and at times cruel.  The military was called in.  Homes were boarded up with people locked inside, unable to leave.  Communications and travel were halted, the entire province cut off from the rest of the country.  Doctors treating the illness as the people afflicted grew sick and died were assassinated themselves if they learned too much or tried to speak out with the truth.

The rest of the world watched, concerned and wary, but it was a faraway land, foreign, strange, and not unknown to strife.  The tyrants had also lied to the other nation states claiming it could not be transmitted from human contact alone.  This helped convince the people that there was little danger the new disease would reach their shores, all the while it began sweeping the world.

Initially, the other nation states were slow to react once they realized the looming danger.  A combination of complacency and believing the tyrant’s lies led them to assure their populaces there was little to worry from the new plague.  Suddenly, that story changed:  There were new claims that millions could be dead and a dramatic response never before attempted in history was initiated practically overnight, eerily similar to some of the techniques of the tyrants themselves.

The freedoms enjoyed in the world’s most prosperous nation state, the VTB, were revoked by fiat.  Businesses were shuttered.  Rights were suspended.  People were forced to remain in their homes.  Images percolated of once large gathering places transformed into ghost towns, where millions of people would move on a daily basis, there was now nothing.  The sky itself changed, empty of travel, like the Earth itself had become uninhabited.

Objections to these restrictions were met with universal scorn from the ruling classes, and concerns about unintended consequences were dismissed.  While people died from the disease, in hundreds, then thousands, then tens and even hundreds of thousands, societal ills multiplied as well.  Additional deaths from addiction, neglect, murder, untreated illness.

Originally, the people were told these restrictions would be temporary, a desperate attempt to slow the spread of the plague, but soon weeks stretched to months.  As a result, the economy collapsed.  Millions were permanently without work, struggling to feed their families and threatened with losing their homes.

Desperation grew, and the added pressure caused the underlying divisions in the VTB to boil out into the streets.  The people marched, gathering in defiance of the restrictions.  The peaceful marches soon turned violent, and, less than three months later, the shuttered cities were engulfed in flames on an almost nightly basis.

People watched in disbelief as boarded up storefronts were set on fire, torn down, looted.  One remarkable video image survives.  A man, apparently a former peace officer, gunned down and bleeding in the street with no one to help.  The government’s own buildings were also attacked on a sustained basis, a new siege every night until the dissidents disappeared with the dawn.

The local leadership seemed powerless to stop it, even as the very history of the VTB was itself a target and statues of once revered figures were defiled.  A representation of a man considered the Founder of the country had its head severed, tarred, and then burned.

The dissidents were swift, remorseless, and well-organized.  They leveraged new technologies to gather in virtual groups and then sweep upon their targets in the physical world.  Strangely, the same oligarchs that had assisted the DDQ in quelling their protests, supported this mass destruction.

There was an odd, unsustainable, dichotomy.  All rational people recoiled in visceral horror in private, but, in public, it was also a year of choosing in the VTB.  The prosperous nation state would hold its most important election later in the year.  The current leader, known in their language as the ‘President,’ was despised by a significant percentage of the populace, and, after years of plotting his removal, the opposition settled on a new plan.

Seizing on the plague and the continued unrest, they would change the way the elections were conducted, altering the system more than had occurred in the previous century.   The opposition would also seize on the violence in the streets.  Despite concerns, their leaders stoked the very flames and warned that it would continue unchecked until the election or even beyond.

The summer ended in a strange lull.  The plague was seasonal and subsided somewhat heading into fall.  This contributed to a thin veneer of normality as the day of the contest itself approached.  The people took some solace in the regular rituals of the Republic:  Conventions were held, debates were conducted, propaganda aplenty was produced and disseminated, but it was only a thin layer of paint concealing a horror on the underlying canvas.

The contest itself was incredibly close.  Election day came and went with no winner declared as the counting continued.  Five days after the election itself, the opposition party was finally recognized as the victor.  The current President and his supporters, however, strongly disputed that conclusion, believing that the contest was stolen from them.

The battle over the election continued for two months while the plague returned in force.  The bodies piled up, hospitals were overrun, restrictions returned, holidays and celebrations cancelled, businesses shuttered anew, each new day with more dead than the last.

The people were desperate, but throughout it all the business of government somehow went on.  There were multiple tribunals that continually deemed the opposition victorious.  The President and his forces continued to object despite these setbacks, culminating in a rally outside the Representatives meeting to officially certify the results on a tragic winter’s day.

The sun showed clear and bright as hundreds of thousands of people crowded the cold streets of the VTB’s capital to hear the President speak.  The stunning scene was broadcast around the world in real time.  The supporters of the President lined up in their thousands, bearing flags, wearing signature rad hats, waving placards, all to demonstrate their unwavering support, a sea of blue and crimson amid the white granite and marble buildings, slowly seething.

All was peaceful at first, but then things suddenly changed later in the afternoon when the sun was low in the sky and shadows crept in. After the President urged his supporters to show strength, a mob gathered outside the building where the Representatives were voting to certify the results.  The Representatives had no idea the danger lurking right outside, but the crowd pressed against too-thin metal barricades, pressuring their way closer, closer, closer, until nothing could hold them back.

The barricades failed and a horrific event that hadn’t happened in over 200 years unfolded for all the world to see.  The Capitol building, a symbol of Democracy and power recognized throughout the land, suddenly fell, overrun by the mob.  Inside, strange scenes unfolded.  The offices of the people’s representatives were defiled, rioters broke glass, battered down doors, seeking certain representatives. People were killed, a man crushed, a woman shot, others beaten.

It was a visual age, and images of the carnage soon appeared around the world.  The Representatives huddled in their chambers, their protectors with guns drawn.  Strange men with helmets and horns, weird tattoos, a rabble turned riot, turned would be revolutionaries.  Oddly, some even took souvenirs, like they were merely in town for a visit, a strange image of a man walking with a lectern seized upon the imagination.

The response from the government was swift, however, and the rioters were soon swept from the building.  The Representatives met again later that evening, amidst the wreckage, and officially certified the victor.  The loser, the outgoing President finally conceded and urged peace.

Unfortunately, this failed to end the cycle of recriminations.  The outrage at these events poured out from their social networks, flooding screens, dominating the airwaves, and demanding immediate restitution.

The violence and passions leading up to this point were swiftly forgotten and the outgoing President was just as swiftly declared a revolutionary himself, charges were filed that he had incited an insurrection.  The oligarchs responded quickly as well, cutting him off from their communication networks, permanently.  He sat in the seat of power for his last days, isolated and alone, until the transition to new leadership occurred less than two weeks later.

The oligarchs still weren’t satisfied that their will was done and their control over information was complete.  There remained a lone place where the President’s supporters gathered and even that had to be destroyed.  They moved swiftly, declaring this place unacceptable, using their unelected power to wipe the gathering place from existence.  A few objected, but they were ignored.

His supporters remained undeterred, however, promising to take again to the streets that fateful day of transition, just a week away. The world continued to watch, shaken, concerned, wary, waiting.  The fate of the entire world balanced on what might happen next.

Would everyone step back from the brink?  Could the cycle of recriminations and escalations end?  Would their traditional values like free speech and the exchange of ideas be restored?  Could order and sanity return?

Of course, this is a somewhat fictionalized account of events and the future remains unwritten.  The Republic will likely survive, but where we go from here remains an open question that should certainly be on all of our minds.

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