2020 Annual One-Shot Anthology
A selection of very short stories
A/N: Information can be found at the PV Discord if you are interested.
This is a document that will list many one-shot stories from the Premiseverse. The majority of these stories come from the members of the Premiseverse Discord community.
I will lead off with the first tale:
LP: Richard Williams, on the loss of humanity
"Do you ever regret it?"
Richard Williams looked up from the scrolling haptic screen inset into his desk, dark eyes narrowing as he regarded Helga Manswell. As always, she was the image of coiffed, poised perfection – the cold lines of her face and the iron-hard set of the muscles flexing beneath her skin-tight dress only matched by the mechanical grace of the cybernetic arm she held her wineglass with.
But Helga, he knew, was deeply flawed. Traumatized by the elders of her tyrannical family to excel at everything, punished harshly for every deviance from what they considered acceptable, haunted by the brutal unsolved murder of her first lover, and somewhat… odd… in her tastes.
Helga's perfection in presentation, in voice, in how she held herself aloof from both the fray of noble politics as well as the hoi polloi of the masses, was the reflexive and frightened child desperate to please those who sneered at her in hopes of making them like her. It was a denial of the fact that no matter how many awards she won in bioscience, no matter how successful her corporations were, no matter how beloved she was to the masses… that because she was a female, the Manswells dismissed her as nothing more than an accessory to some male.
He snorted. "Do you ever regret being born female, Helga? I suspect the answer is yes… but have you considered what you would have turned out like if you had been born male instead?"
She smiled, crimson lips delicately touching the wineglass's rim as she sipped then set it down. "Hardly. Being female is only a disadvantage in the hall of the Lords of Sol. I found it amusing that the feudal imitation Victor concocted to justify his dictatorship has fallen back into the same medieval idiocy of the original. Sexist, elitist, out of touch with reality, and most of all, arrogant."
She pulled out a silver cigarette case, the outside filigreed with faintly glowing eezo, and withdrew a Cordoba, which she lit using a device in her cybernetic hand. She puffed on the cigarette and put the case away, smiling wider. "But to your unsubtle but certainly accurate point, yes. I would have been the same kind of rake-hell wastrel as Kenneth, or Brandon, or Christ help me Aldrien. Poor, stupid Aldrien."
This time, Richard laughed fully, his massive shoulders shaking as he cut off the reports on his screen, leaning back in the oversized and reinforced leather chair that supported his weight. "Your family is at least understandably arrogant. Their most costly mistake is in ignoring talent because it is attached to a woman. Max, from what I understand, was not always like that."
Helga inclined her head, blowing out smoke as she did so. "Fuck. No, not until grandmother died. Then he became worse than the rest of the idiots." She tilted her head. "So, I suppose I both wish I had been born male and glad I was not. And you?"
Richard closed his eyes, remembering the green, lush hills of Wanderhome, the estate the Williams had built at great expense on Shanxi. It was supposed to be their refuge and the centerpiece of their glory, and instead it became a charnel nightmare.
He remembered his sons, laughing as they played ball, the smell of Ashlana's cooking in the evenings, the cigar smoke from his father's study. He remembered the pride in his eldest son completing the officer's academy, and his delight when his brother had his first child, Ashley.
And then he remembered the fire, and the agony, and the long days of darkness and pain.
"I can't regret it because the man I was before died, Helga. He was an arrogant fool who honestly believed in both humanity and his leaders. He thought that we could improve ourselves morally and did not want to isolate himself from the common people."
He turned the chair, looking out over the Vancouver skyline, the gleam of the arcology field barely visible in the morning's sunlight. "That fool wanted to try and communicate with the spikes, so sure that reasonable, intelligent beings would never resort to violence. He disdained pushing the boundaries of science since that might lead to ethical issues."
His laugh was harsher, more pain filled, and Helga merely watched as he stood, his gargantuan stature blocking out the light of the sun as it framed him, the night-black suit and the silk tie making him look like an outline of shadow.
"Now, I see clearly. The pain and suffering, the loss of sensation and feeling, the destruction of everything I was, the death of most of my family – these are not regrets. They are tools, Helga. They are the building blocks of a greater, more wise man. Nothing in life is achieved via peaceful halcyon days, or by laughter and enjoyment. Nothing of value comes without struggle, without loss, without pain, without determination."
Helga tapped her ashes into the silver ashtray next to her on the small table, crossing her legs and smiling thinly. "Not sure I agree with that. Surely some things can be achieved in life without throwing away that life's enjoyments."
Richard arched an eyebrow, turning to face her, sunlight casting his face into harsh angles. "Can it, though? Can anything matter which can be snatched away in a second, and replaced only with scorn for actions you didn't even take? Can something like 'love' matter in a society where if you marry the wrong person, the Commissars may come along and chemically erase them from your head?"
He folded his arms. "I have seen the other side of the River Styx, and gazed into the face of Death, and that no longer frightens me. I have endured so much augmentation that the core of 'me' isn't even as much weight as a decent dinner, and I have no flesh to burn or to hold, no arms to fight or to comfort with, no legs to go out on me when I drink too much. I have only the hard light of science, cybernetics, and nanites."
He spread his arms, and Helga bit her lip. His voice was still not loud, but it had gone harder. "In life we are all given choices, chances, opportunities. Most people never see them. Those that do, few have the bravery, or daring, to take them. People don't pursue achievement, they chase comfort and mediocrity and being told they are 'good.' I have had to move beyond all of that."
He held up his hand, flexing the fingers. "This looks real. The skin is warm, the muscles look realistic, the fingernails are perfect. But it is not real – and the only reason it looks this way is pretension and deception. People see what they expect, not what is. And that's the greatest lesson being nearly burned to death and brought back has taught me."
He exhaled, and then sat back down, pulling open his cigar box. Taking one out, he cut the tip off with a cigar cutter, then smiled as he glanced up at Helga.
"So… no, not really. I miss some things, but we all have to grow up sometime. And… if we are to succeed, or triumph, over the godless flapping things we are forced to share this galaxy with, humanity can't afford a weak leader, or one who is vulnerable. We need a force that will never tire and never cease."
He lit the cigar. "…So I guess I don't regret it, Helga, because it had to be this way."