PremiseVerse 2021 Writecon

Author's Note: So, last year we had a writing competition that resulted in a writer (B.W.) completely obliterating the entire competition, and so I decided to do it again. The themes were simpler this time - expanding on the known lore, building out the culture, people and history.

The 2021 contest actually finished up in the first week of January, but work has literally been on fire until I could take a vacation and get this done. Apologies to all for the delays.



Some of this year's stories, like last years, involve violence, death, sexual situations, drug abuse, criminality, or worse. This is NOT a work for kids.


"I want it on the record -"

"Xiu, there is no fucking record. And I assure you this is a waste of time."

"- that this is exactly what I warned you would happen. Just want that down."

"...I told you so? Really?"

The corridor was plain metal, black as the space visible through thick duraglass windows set every five meters into the sloped walls. Grated flooring reverberated with the footsteps of the two people walking through the corridor. The only lights were dim circles putting forth only enough light to see the floor clearly.

Both were identically dressed – a severe uniform, black leather and dark gray cloth, cut to a martial fashion, with the only splash of color being a series of red stripes along the left cuff and a single, red star on the shoulder. Both wore thick black leather belts with a single holster, holding a large caliber pistol.

There, the similarities ended. The man on the left was rugged to the point of looking battered – an oft-broken nose dominated by hooded eyes, thin lips and a badly cut mane of hair that was either very dirty blond or very faint brown. His jaw and chin were square and blunt, his dark eyes narrowed in furrows of over-tanned skin, from years under the sun. His uniform was wrinkled, with a spot of food and a tear in the leg.

The woman beside him was an antipose in contrast – slender to his bulky muscle, elegant and refined in looks and voice. Her features blended Chinese and Black in an exotic facial shape, arched eyebrows and a charming smile that was not evidenced in her current expression. A fall of long black hair tied into a ponytail trailed down her back, and her fingernails were immaculate. Her uniform had the appearance of being freshly pressed and starched, and a faint nimbus of perfume surrounded her.

The two stopped in front of a circular metal hatch. Stark warnings were etched into the metal frame, all of which were ignored by the pair, as the man tapped in a nine digit code and the hatch scissored open.

The interior revealed was as opulent as the corridor leading to it was spartan. Light gleamed from sun-glass projectors, thick carpets circled the main open space that was paneled in Italian oak. The walls were covered in damask and trimmed with more wood, the far wall a huge duraglass portal looking over the Earth, fronted by a massive desk.

That desk was made entirely of iron, topped with a thick sheet of black marble, and behind it sat a slender, blade-like figure. His gray hair was of the same hue as the desk, grey eyes flicking up as the door opened and then back down to the thin sheaf of papers on the desk. A hand lifted a glass of brandy and the voice was clipped and cold.

"You are late, Rourke. Again."

Victor Manswell looked up a moment later, as neither of the figures replied, arching one eyebrow. Mickey Rourke met his gaze squarely, as he had a thousand times before, folding both his arms over his massive chest. He glanced at the woman next to him, then back at Manswell, his voice tired.

"You're determined to go through with this shit?"

The woman next to Rourke sighed at his use of foul language, but the features of Victor didn't even twitch. "Rourke, despite your affectation of crudity, we both know your views on this planet are worse than my own. Why do you recoil from taking the needed action?"

Rourke gestured to the woman. "This is Xiu Chu-Fan. Our newest recruit, so to speak. She's been monitoring the groups we spoke of." He leaned forward, his voice coming out in a growl. "Victor, the fucking cartels are involved."

Victor's face shifted into a sardonic, almost mocking smile. "Oh dear."

Rourke's eyes narrowed. "You think this is funny? Those bastards are behind the Re-ruption in Ireland and the- "

Victor shook his head. "When have I ever tolerated trash who prey on the weak, Rourke?" He placed both hands on the desk. "If there are cartels involved, it is merely because I am a fan of...let us call it ironic comeuppance."

The multibillionare stood slowly. Despite his age, he had the look of a man in his mid forties, not approaching nearly twice that. "The situation has continued to deteriorate. Ardiente is simply too entrenched, and has been planning this for years if not more. The European Union is fragmented and burning. Greece is on fire. Flooding and the like have drowned Sydney, Lisbon, Jakarta..."

He turned to look out the window. "The nuclear explosions in the Middle East have doomed everything. The meteorologists say the effects may pollute half the planet, and the governments bicker over debts, immigrants, refugees, and every kind of 'ism' under God's sun."

He sighed. "The ugly reality is that the governments are going to fail, unless we prop them up. That has always been a known possibility."

Rourke took a step forward. "Then we should act now! The Commission is prepared to take over police units as we discussed, and your mercenaries can drop and sweep that lunatic 'Emperor' out of power! They'll have to listen to us after we save the damned world."

Victor half turned, his head bowed. "Certainly we could do that, however as for them listening... will they, do you think?"

He gestured to the papers on his desk. "The UN has decided that the Solar Systems Alliance is in 'rebellion' against the 'authorized powers'. Never mind that most of these facilities I built with my own profits. Never mind the governments lined their pockets off of people fleeing, confiscating property and holdings. Now that they need us, they want to nationalize our works."

Victor looked up. "If we step in now, to save the corrupt and bickering children running our world, we will not survive."

Xiu took a deep breath. "But if we do not act now, Mr. Manswell, a lot of the needed infrastructure and experts needed to keep society running will be lost in the chaos of war – and no national framework will remain for us to take over."

Victor smiled a bit more widely. "...I have not been merely sitting around counting my money, miss Chu-Fan." He tapped a control on the inset iPad on his desk, and the flat-screen set into the far wall lit up.

A curved and armored wall breached a cliff side, faint lights visible through a torrential snowstorm. "This is Post Nine-Four-Four-One, set in Nunavut, Canada. It currently houses over three hundred security personnel and five hundred others. Scientists. Biotech researchers. Librarians. Anyone with a skill-set that couldn't get approval to depart on a SSA shuttle, I offered a different choice to."

"It is one of three hundred such...facilities. Some on Earth. A few in orbit or on the Moon. Supplies of construction equipment, concrete, medicines, food, clothing, prefab generators and the like. We'll be quite prepared to 'step in'...but only after the table has been cleared."

Rourke stared at the screen in perplexity, but Xiu's eyes widened. " have already set aside the people for rebuilding... but this... to do that you..."

Victor's voice became almost apologetic. "I knew well ahead of time that Ardiente and his madness would bring down the world. And the cartels, the megacorps, and the corrupt would be involved. Ultimately, they will all die with the corruption they embody."

She almost snarled, even as Rourke turned from the monitor. "I joined the Commission to save China, not to watch it burn and be looted by some feudal-imperialist lǎowài!" She turned to Rourke. "You promised us a chance to intervene!"

Rourke, for his part, was staring at the floor. "...Your projections showed no other way?"

Victor shook his head. "I would say I am sorry, but this fault can only be laid at the door of those in power. For far more than a century they knew about the climate issues. For forty years, the economic ones and the issues with debt balancing. The microplastics, the drugs in even the soils, the... corruption."

Rourke closed his eyes, and Xiu exhaled. "I came because I found evidence that the assets of Manswell Iron and Space were being funneled to various zaibatsu and that these companies were funding groups working with Ardiente. I came here expecting to be told we would roust these criminals and that we could make a difference."

She spat. "You just want to write the world off and start over, and you had to have planned this from the beginning for you have time to build holdfasts!"

Victor nodded. "I began laying out the fragmented groundwork in the 2040's." He shrugged. "I had hoped that things would not come to this...but the governments are more frightened of me than of Ardiente. That has to change."

Xiu spat a second time, on the immaculate floor. "Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài!"

Manswell merely grinned. "Fènnù zhǐ biǎomíng bù chéngshú." He shook his head. "There is a massive debt owed to humanity, and no one wants to pay the price. I am just the guy restructuring the debt to save your sorry asses... and you're arguing that the cost is too high. The alternative is extinction."

Xiu drew the pistol on her hip, the safety coming off with a flick as she chambered a round. "You are under arrest, Victor Manswell. I will remand custody of you to the UN and your corporation can be managed by the Board of Directors."

Victor sat down at his desk and folded his hands together. "I am sorry."

She didn't understand what that meant, until Rourke kicked the gun out of her hands. Before she could even move, he'd spun her around and snapped her neck in one almost languid motion, stepping back as she hit the floor.

Victor closed his eyes. "I regret making you have to soil yourself this way, Rourke."

Mickey Rourke exhaled. "I've killed more men through a scope than I have with my bare hands, and we're both already going to Hell, Victor. One more isn't going to do anything to make God angrier with me than He already is." He paused. "Why didn't you tell me about this..." he gestured at the screen.

Victor adjusted his tie. "Because you have to be focused on your role in the coming...chaos. You cannot get sidetracked in dealing with common criminals, cartels, crooked political slaves, and the like. You have a higher purpose - to reforge a common law and justice – one that is actually fair, actually impartial, one that does not coddle the guilty to placate the foolish or sacrifice security for ignorant concepts like 'privacy' or 'freedom'."

Victor snorted. "You can have all the privacy you want in the grave." He glanced back up. "But mainly because I knew, even if you agreed with the call, it would pain you. That is the entire reason I have wasted time and money on the UN, the US, the Chinese and the idiots in Africa, hoping against hope for a miracle."

He stood. "That, at the last moment, at least some of these cretinous spießig might have some spine, or failing that, some sense. More fool me, I suppose."

He walked around the desk, taking in the still beautiful features of the woman on the floor, her expression set into shock. "Her family is still on board with the plan?"

Rourke nodded. "Yeah. And on your end?"

Manswell shrugged. "All of the pieces in America and Germany and France are in place. The Emperor and the zaibatsu are already on board. The others will be as soon as the situation down there..."

He trailed off, walking back to the window as something had caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Rourke followed, absently stepping over the corpse of his subordinate, and watched as tiny pinpricks of glowing light erupted.

First one, then two... then ten...then thirty...

Manswell closed his eyes. "God in Heaven...forgive us our cruelties, and our ignorance. We have ruined the gift you have given us... but we will make it right again."

Rourke exhaled, fists clenched. "The idiots actually did it." He slowly unclenched his fists, and then straightened. "I need... to get the men ready. I'm guessing the sec force that shows up on the supply manifests and never at our ops is security for these, uh, hideouts?"

Manswell nodded. "They are all isolated and dozens of kilometers from any human habitation. They have the best defenses we could devise. You need only focus on taking down whatever... organizations survive this garbage."

Rourke grimaced as more nuclear explosions erupted below. "...and if nothing does?"

Victor's smile was taut. "You didn't really think Svalbard actually flooded, did you? We have enough...let us say, material... that we can restart elsewhere if we must. As long as we can extract resources from Earth, humanity will survive."

He turned to face him, the gray eyes cold. "That being said... the more we save now, the less we need to do later on. Gather your forces, Mr. Rourke. Once this debacle ends... we will move with alacrity."

Rourke nodded, and turned to leave, pausing at the body of Xiu. "And...the body?"

Manswell smiled. "There will be a micrometeorite impact on section four at .. five fifteen PM. Pity she was in the module at the time. The body was, of course, unrecoverable for proper burial. Convey condolences to the Chu-Fan family and our assistance difficulties."

Rourke's voice was soft. "She had a daughter, that was... a month old, I think."

"Many other children will be orphans in a few hours. But we must maintain an iron will. Iron does not break and does not bend."

Rourke picked Xiu's corpse up, putting it over one massive shoulder. As he left, the door hissed closed, but not fast enough to cut off his final words.

"People aren't iron, Victor."