In the hours before dawn on the first day of 2019, a major, coordinated terrorist attack is carried out simultaneously in America’s five largest cities. Within weeks, the global economy collapses.
A mutated biological weapon sweeps through the remaining population like the flu. The virus spreads, and becomes a global pandemic. Within a year deaths are in the millions. Most first-world nations adopt an isolationist policy. Immigration and foreign aid stops. The US is officially listed as failed state. The United Nations is suspended.
An environmental catastrophe that was already at our door is hastened, and by the 2030’s the entire planet is in the grips of a heatwave. Populations flee equatorial territories. The EU officially collapses. Britain and Canada become the only G20 members to sustain parliamentary function through martial law. Refugees are turned away at borders, uncountable numbers of displaced people are fired upon. Food shortages are reported all over the world. Riots and street violence become order of the day almost everywhere. Chaos reigns.
In 2042 the flu-like mutagen quietly claims its billionth victim. Shortly thereafter Tunisian scientists find a cure, but the damage is done. The human race has been decimated, and the troubles are really just beginning.
By 2058 the planet in a state of constant global war. Nuclear exchanges are commonplace. The human population is said to be less than half of what it was at the turn of the century. Survivors take refuge in a handful of cities. The age is simply called ‘the Cataclysm’. Radiation sickness claims hundreds of millions more in the coming years.
The human species is withering away, but cosmic chance intervenes at the eleventh hour. In 2060 a joint effort by international scientists discover a way to tap into dark energy and dark matter, through risky experiments in trans-dimensional phase-shifting. A new understanding of physics emerges, and the resulting technologies become the basis for clean, renewable, and unlimited energy.
By 2072 a new “U.N.” is established, named the New League of Nations, comprised of ten remaining cities that have emerged as nation-states unto themselves. London, Berlin, Montreal, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Mexico City, Mumbai, Tunis, and Baghdad each boast populations varying in size from twenty-five to a hundred million, and represent all that is left of human civilization.
Dark matter and dark energy experiments continue to unravel mysteries of the cosmos, and the ‘new physics’ allows applications in nearly every scientific discipline. Advances in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nanotech and robotics offer new promise. Diseases of all kinds are eradicated. For the surviving human population that has lived through a near-apocalypse, it appears to be the beginning of a golden age, but that dream dies quickly. In June of 2079 war is declared between London and Berlin. Even though the so-called ‘Cataclysm’ is over, this war is the first in many conflicts dubbed “the Cataclysmic Wars”.
Each city-state has developed its own version of an ‘Enhancement Program’, a complex, interlocking set of medical treatments, combining genetic and cybernetic enhancements on human subjects, with varying degrees of success. Enhancement science is almost exclusively the province of the military at the beginning of the 2080’s. Many city-states are occupied and in ruins, their populations devastated. Invading armies are comprised of enhanced infantry; grotesque monsters, mutated by genetic manipulation and cybernetic implants. A few city-states forego such abominations, and instead employ armies of androids and robotic drones. It is an arm’s race for a new age, one that mutilates our collective spirit in unimaginably nightmarish ways. Ten long years of horror lie ahead; war like the world has never known.
In 2091 an Armistice Treaty is signed. The New League of Nations declares war itself illegal. The global population of the human race is estimated to be fewer than five hundred million people. For the sake of the survival of the species, all military production stops. Enhanced soldiers are either executed en masse or exiled to ‘the Wasteland’, parts of the world still considered uninhabitable. Enhancement programs continue however, with several breakthroughs happening at once. Genetic and cybernetic modifications become commonplace. Enhancement science becomes the basis for a new economy.
On New Year’s Day 2100, the ‘Contests’ are introduced. A spectacle for the new reigning empires, Bread and Circuses for a new kind of humanity. Each nation presents a few dozen champions to do battle for the entertainment of the masses. There are no rules as to limits of technology, weaponry, or genetic enhancements. Contests are planned by the Contest Initiative, a covert operation led by representatives from all ten city-states, a secret cabal of operatives holding high ranking positions in their own native governments, collectively known as the Contest Initiative Administration. The staging areas, Contestants, and outcomes are agreed-upon by the administrators, and reported by each nation’s press as ‘battles’ between heroes and villains. The Contests themselves are tightly regulated and controlled, but within the arena, anything goes. Entire swaths of Wasteland are game arenas- abandoned cities, bombed-out countryside, dried out sea-beds. What the general population doesn’t know is that the games are rigged, that it’s an elaborate propaganda system designed to satiate the public’s visceral need for bloodsport and wargames. The Contestants do real battle, and in-game injuries and deaths are not uncommon, but for the most part the battles are choreographed, the outcomes pre-determined. Each city-state’s Contestants are considered heroes at home, and villains abroad. Amongst themselves, Contestants consider each other colleagues, even friends. The new global culture that is expressed in these games is one of stark fatalism, born of several generations surviving through brutal conditions, but there is also a new kind of pride, a new patriotism, as each nation promotes itself as a beacon for a brighter future, the path to a better humanity. There is a deep strain of sentimentalism and nostalgia for the lost past as well, pre-Cataclysm culture is revered and paid tribute to. Many of the Contestants are fashioned after heroes of literature, religion, and pop culture, men and women out of movies and myth.
By now, the Contests are the sole focus of post-Cataclysm life. Ordinary citizens believe that these extraordinary people risk their lives to defend freedom for all. Popular Contestants are considered the elite of society, and revered as leaders, heroes, pop stars, even religious icons. Thousands of desperate or thrill-seeking young people sign up for enhancement programs, but very few are deemed physiologically eligible, and of them, even fewer survive the gruelling enhancement process.
Social orders are repressive and strict, ranging from rigid totalitarianism to fragile, repressive democracies. Travel and communication between city-states is tightly regulated and reserved for only the wealthiest and most powerful citizens, but populations are renewing themselves, war is a fading memory. Human suffering has been decreased, but not abolished. Class struggles, disease, and starvation are rare, but not unheard of.
Long-term programs to repair environmental damage and space exploration are the new lofty endeavours of humanity, but the Contests keep the peace, and rule the hearts and minds of all.