Here's a world based on the fabulous 'Rifters' trilogy
, a sci-fi series from the early 2000s (naturally, there's a lot of aughts-punk ideas thrown in). Hope you enjoy!
The year is 2050. Welcome to the future! Sea levels have risen to cataclysmic proportions, strange new antibiotic-resistant diseases crop up every 24 hours, swarms of botflies allow unprecedented levels of surveillance, and increasingly totalitarian governments keep their populations in check through pacifying drugs. And this is BEFORE shit hits the fan.
In similar vein to the Roaring Twenties and the Dirty Thirties, the 2000s decade is one embedded in the popular consciousness as the 'Awful Aughts' - an apt moniker, defined as the decade was by terrorism, political scandal, and environmental catastrophe, although many would argue that the past forty years haven't been a great better. This history diverges from our own c. 2002, the PoD being Paul Wellstone surviving his fatal plane crash.
2004 was a far crazier year than IOTL: on February 28, Dick Cheney was involved in a hunting accident, shooting 67 year old sheriff Roland Felton Quayle while participating in a quail hunt at a ranch in Riviera, Texas. Sheriff Quayle died from his injuries the following day (naturally, there was no shortage of jokes about the victim's name on late-night talk shows, and Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' experienced a brief resurgence in popularity). Cheney resigned his position in early March, becoming the third Vice President in US history to do so, and was replaced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (much to Hastert's chagrin).
A few months later, in early June, Marvin Heemeyer demolished over a dozen buildings in the city of Granby, Colorado, using a modified bulldozer (a.k.a. the 'Killdozer'). The vehicle in question never became trapped in a basement, instead causing dozens of fatalities, resulting in the authorization of an anti-tank missile strike. On August 31, the city of New Orleans was devastated by the category 5 storm, Hurricane Frances. Government response was harshly criticized, and Bush's approval ratings took a nosedive.
The final nail in the Bush administration's coffin came in late October, after it emerged that the Department of Homeland Security had been asked to raise the nation's terrorism threat level in the hopes of scaring undecided moderates into voting Republican. Bush and Frist were soundly defeated that November the Democratic ticket of North Carolina Senator John Edwards and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.
April 1, 2005 saw what has become known as 'the Day the Laughter Died', when two brothers stormed Braniff Studios in California, killing eleven people, including South Park showrunners Matt Stone and Trey Parker, in an attack motivated by the foul-mouthed cartoon's previous depictions of the prophet Muhammad, as well as terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. The two brothers were later found to have been radicalized online, leading to some panic surrounding the internet's role in such attacks (social media never really progressed past Friendster). While there was no Columbia disaster, the space shuttle Atlantis disintegrated upon re-entry to Earth on July 4, 2005, killing all on board - the fact that such a tragedy occurred on Independence Day of all days was merely salting the wound.
The assassination of former President George W. Bush was, in many ways, a perfect storm: on October 6, 2006, the ex-President was shot outside a hotel in Columbus, Ohio where he was due to give a speech on foreign policy. Security had been tight, although perhaps not as tight as it would have been had he currently been in office - after all, few had tried to assassinate a former President before. The assailant was subsequently identified as 43 year old Fort Wayne resident and Gulf War veteran Clyde Rutherford McClelland (b. November 22, 1963), better known to the press as Claw McClelland (a nickname he received after losing his left pinky and ring finger during combat).
Like President Bush, Claw McClelland had twin children, Kenneth and Maxine, and shot Bush on his daughter's (and what would have been his son's) twentieth birthday. Kenny McClelland had been killed in Iraq during a bombing raid in August the previous year, with his father holding President Bush primarily responsible for his death. Claw believed it was fate that had brought George Bush to his neighboring state on his late son's birthday, and long after his arrest, maintained that he was a patriot fulfilling God's plan (the fact he himself was born just a few hours before John F. Kennedy's assassination only further cemented these beliefs)
Bush was placed in an induced coma, and died six days later at 1:13 AM, on Friday, 13 October, 2006. A well-liked man in his hometown, Claw McClelland's crime came as an immense shock to his family and friends. His wife, Claudia (nee Kirkpatrick) McClelland, believed that her husband had been at work at the time of the shooting, and was unaware that he had in fact taken the bus to Columbus, carrying a concealed weapon.
She would later testify however, that as soon as she heard the news Bush was shot, she knew that her husband responsible. Claw McClelland was subsequently executed via lethal injection for his crime, and while George Bush had been a hugely controversial figure during his life, all sides of the political spectrum came out in support of him and his family. There has since been an international airport and a major baseball stadium named in his honor.
By virtue of the fact that the assassin survived to testify in court, there have been surprisingly few conspiracy theories surrounding Bush's assassination (some of the more novel suggesting it was Vice President Cheney getting his own back after being fired for the whole 'shooting a sheriff' thing). As with all tragedies, there was no shortage of tasteless jokes in the aftermath, with one shock jock evoking furor after citing McClelland's case as 'proof that disabled people can do anything - even assassinate a President!'.
McClelland's daughter, Maxine, struggled tremendously with her newfound infamy. The afternoon Bush was shot, she had been planning to return home from law school for a quiet celebration of her twentieth birthday. Maxine McClelland sadly took her own life on December 9, 2019, shortly after separating from her husband.
There were, thankfully, no Madrid train bombings, and the 7/7 attacks are successfully foiled by British intelligence services. There was however a bombing in London on 3 May, 2007, resulting in five fatalities, and dozens of injuries. The chief suspect, Jamal Abu Zikri, a British-born man of Syrian descent, was swiftly arrested based on dubious DNA evidence, and later committed suicide in his prison cell. This incident is widely remembered as a gross miscarriage of justice, and sparked numerous protests throughout the Muslim community. Zikri was posthumously exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing, and it was not until early 2010, nearly three years after the attacks, that the bomber was successfully identified.
While President Edwards enjoyed fairly high approval ratings throughout his first two years in office, this was (shockingly) not to last: in mid-2007, in the midst of the McClelland hearings, a 28 White House secretary named Jessica Twelvetrees (1979 - 2038) became pregnant, and claimed Edwards to be her child's father. Edwards initially denied these allegations, and Twelvetrees was subject to much public scrutiny, until the President reluctantly agreed to a DNA test, which ultimately came back positive. Edwards resigned the presidency on November 7, 2007, and his daughter, Zephyr Twelvetrees, was born two months later.
As the affair occurred when the President's wife, First Lady Elizabeth Edwards, was battling breast cancer, Edwards has gone down as one of the most despised Presidents in living memory. Zephyr Twelvetrees would later marry the wealthy Quebec-born politician Vernon Felix Tremblay (b. February 3, 2003), and is, ironically, currently serving as First Lady of the United States.
On June 4, 2008, a disgruntled software engineer named George St. John (b. 1955) crashed his private plane into an IRS building located in Texas. He had removed all additional seats in the plane, replacing them with additional fuel, in order to maximize the number of casualties. Over two dozen IRS employees were killed along with St. John himself, in what was (at that time) the deadliest act of domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing a decade previously.
St. John's suicide note, posted to the internet, detailed the engineer's long history of troubles with the IRS, citing Marvin Heemeyer of 'Killdozer' fame as his inspiration for the attack (indeed, it is believed he intentionally chose the date of June 4 in honor of Heemeyer's infamous rampage). Much like Heemeyer himself, George St. John has amassed a significant number of followers in later years, buying into their stories of one man's struggle against a corrupt system).
The same year, in late September, Great Britain experience a national day of mourning after Prince Harry was killed due to catastrophic engine failure during helicopter training in Afghanistan. Back in the United States, President Gephardt was voted out of office in November, losing to the Republican ticket of John McCain and Olympia Snowe, the country's first woman Vice President.
Late 2009 saw another, far deadlier terrorist attack involving aircraft: on December 25, a date remembered as Black Christmas, multiple planes travelling between the US and Europe were downed using liquid explosives designed as energy drinks. All in all, 911 people lost their lives on Black Christmas, and the wake of this tragedy saw further widespread patriotism in the United States (a constitutional amendment was passed in late 2010 banning flag desecration), and huge growth in anti-Muslim sentiment.
October 2010 saw a failed attempt at capturing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, causing multiple American casualties (with the terrorist subsequently gloating of his near-miraculous escape in a video addressed to the American people). This blunder came less than eight months after the Black Christmas attacks, and President McCain's public image never fully recovered from the incident. Not helping matters was the ongoing recession (although not as severe as OTL's Great Recession), and in November, Paul Wellstone was elected, and was widely expected to serve as the country's 47th President.
Sadly, President McCain passed from a fatal stroke on January 14, 2013, with Olympia Snowe serving the remaining six days of his term. Snowe is the country's shortest-serving President, and as of 2050, remains the only woman to have held the office. Ironically, she was also the longest-lived President, dying on April 20 of this year at the age of 103, beating Jimmy Carter's record (who famously passed away on November 30, 2022, the same day as his wife).
In light of the growing terrorism (both foreign and domestic) seen throughout the Awful Aughts, NAFTA's successor (and N'am-Pac's predecessor), the North American Economic and Security Community, was established early in Wellstone's term, the foundations having been laid by the McCain administration. It was around this time that Osama was (finally!) captured (unlike IOTL, there were photos this time round, although a small minority still believe they dressed a dummy in a turban and fake beard).
The 2010s also saw the rise of increasingly-sophisticated internet worms and viruses. Parasites such as Whiptail and the Clap, which reproduce through what has creatively been termed 'e-sexual reproduction', were a nuisance, but it would not be until the following decade that the first true viral ecosystems were confirmed, eventually rendering the internet almost unusable. The mid-90s to late aughts are generally considered the internet's golden age, with the silver age lasting from c. 2010 - 2030.
'Internet' has been regarded as a quaint, antiquated since the 2020s: up to the 2040s, 'onion' and 'metabase' became the more common terms. Since then, what we know as the internet has become known by the decidedly more accurate name of the 'Maelstrom'. Public bandwidth usage has been legally restricted since the Mercosur Incident of 2031.
Rick Santorum, who was elected along with his running mate Jeb Bush in 2016 and 2020, was the first American President since Clinton to win more than one term in office. Both Santorum's victories were highly controversial - indeed, he remains the only President to have lost the popular vote twice, and at 92 years old, is currently the oldest-living former President, following Olympia Snowe's passing in April.
The 2030s, often called the Wet Decade, brought about a series of widespread conflicts over access to clean water: at the time this conflict was often referred to as the Third World War, but since then, has become largely known as the Hydro Wars, or the H-Wars. The Hydro Wars saw the first usage of nuclear weaponry in almost a century, between Israel and Syria. Russia very nearly collapsed as a result of this conflict, and Japan has become the puppet state of a corporate syndicate. This era also saw the first major issues regarding Kudzu4, a genetically modified plant intended as one of several solutions to the ongoing climate catastrophe, with the plant now covering much of the North American continent.
There was no coronavirus pandemic, although 2038 saw a global outbreak of a highly infectious, asymptomatic strain of encephalitis, which is estimated to have killed between 50 and 80 million people worldwide. Roughly 70% of fatalities were otherwise healthy young adults between the ages of 21 and 34. Some notable fatalities include Jessica Twelvetrees, Claudia McClelland, and Prince William of the United Kingdom (his daughter, Queen Caroline, has served as Britain's monarch since 2044). Since 2038, masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizers have grown ever more commonplace in the west. The phrase 'gone the way of the handshake' has entered common vernacular, to describe something once common, since abandoned due to health and safety concerns.
The late 2030s through early 2040s saw the development of the first-generation smart gels (a.k.a. 'head cheese'), cultured neurons used primarily to firewall online worms and parasites. This year has already seen the first 'murder' of a smart gel by Canadian-born Christian fundamentalist Dylan Leblanc, who argued that their usage was, in his own words, 'desecrating to the human soul'. He was ultimately acquitted in this landmark case (ironically, another smart gel served on, which set the precedent that smart gels do not meet the necessary criteria to qualify for personhood. Public opinion against smart gels had been growing since 2042, when November 9 ('Black Box Sunday') saw 538 Londoners killed after a gel put in charge of a subway system neglected to turn on the ventilators in time.
This was one of many instances of Christian extremism in recent years, having grown significantly over the past few decades in response to humanity's increasing ecological woes. In mid-2009, outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins died in hospital after being stabbed by a fundamentalist named Oliver John Hillcrest, who blamed Dawkins for the 'permeating godlessness of modern civilization' (news of the victim's demise, however, was largely overshadowed by the death of Michael Jackson the same day).
In response to the growing energy crisis, the N'AmPac Grid Authority has constructed numerous deep sea geothermal stations along tectonic rifts, which are staffed by cybernetically-enhanced Rifters. Ordinary people tend to have a hard time keeping it together at such depths, so Rifter recruits are typically persons already used to bouts of intense psychological distress, ranging from hardened criminals to shell-shocked veterans to victims of long-term abuse. While there were no shortage of individuals meeting these criteria, in recent years, the Grid Authority has resorted to some rather unorthodox (not to mention highly illegal) means of producing Rifters, up to and include the implantation of false memories (although for the time being, this is kept carefully under wraps and away from the public eye).
The west coast, popularly known as the Strip, is inhabited by countless refugees (or fugies), where law and order is quickly breaking down, despite flocks of botflies coating the land's more troublesome communities with pacifying drugs. The region is fast becoming dominated by organized criminal syndicates, which (much like many megacorporations) ensure loyalty by GuiltTrip administration. Prior to Tremblay, the last three US presidents were Dennis Leopold Faulkner (b. November 5, 1974, and the first African-American President), Peyton Orville 'Poppy' Prelinger (b. August 12, 1977), and Keith Frances Chenoweth (b. March 9, 1984).
Fashion is odd: zebra/cheetah haircuts are in, as are golden xanthophyll tans. With gengineering increasingly common (although outlawed in many nations), 'Rifter chic' is a growing fad, and deep-sea tours are all the rage. The term 'TwenCen' has come into common usage, to describe ideas and attitudes now seen as antiquated. Virtual reality is a booming industry, from the vrcades of the 2010s to more modern, personalized headsets.
There is also a device known as the Sandman, which allow users to experience intense lucid dreams. Many regard Sandmans as superior to any VR systems ('dream addiction' is fast becoming a problem), although over usage has been known to lead to sleep paralysis, and nightmares far nastier than anything your brain would ordinarily come up with (the Sandman industry has faced a number of hefty lawsuits in recent years, after one or two older customers suffered nightmare-induced heart palpitations).
Most food these days is grown cheaply in labs - vatmeat, or veat, is generally regarded as inferior to the genuine article, with 'true' meat (or natmeat) considered a delicacy. Steve Jobs succumbed to his illness in the early aughts, and flipphones remained commonplace into the 2010s, although have since largely been supplanted with smartwatches that keep constant tabs on users' health.
Cancer-free 'saferettes' were a trend in the '10s and '20s, and exoskeletons are used in a number of professions, and have surpassed wheelchairs as the primary means of enabling mobility in disabled people (although thanks to gene editing, these too are on the way out). There are eyedrops which enable 20/20 vision in anyone sighted, making spectacles a thing of the past.
Public medbooths are found on most street corners, and are used to test for a wide variety of ailments, with in-person checkups largely a thing of the past. Mumps and measles have been eradicated. HIV and malaria are no longer a threat, although many new afflictions have rushed in to take their place (unprotected sex is MUCH rarer). Temperatures continue to rise, although there's recently been a cold snap (the so-called 'Long Winter') throughout the southern hemisphere due to the VEI-7 eruption at Lake Taupo in February of 2047.
The field of manned space travel advanced significantly quicker than OTL: there are a number of space hotels, and orbital vacations are a popular option for the (ever-shrinking) middle-class. Similarly, many nations maintain orbital particle canons, and the Outer Space Treaty is pretty much null and void. The Chinese have put a man on the Moon, and there are several lunar bases under construction. Interest in the planet Mars grew significantly after the popularization of the 'Big Splat' Hypothesis.
First posited in the late 2010s, this theory argued that all (known) terrestrial life originated with 'Martian Mike', an object that collided with Earth aeons ago, introducing the primordial soup that would lead to the first sponges, arthropods, dinosaurs, and eventually, the human species. It has since been discovered that the red planet did indeed host a complex underwater ecosystem prior to losing most of its atmosphere. All exploration of the extinct Martian biosphere has been through conducted robotic exploration - despite the efforts of a number of private companies, there have been no attempts at a manned mission yet.
Weird Martian cults are dime a dozen (the most prominent being the Children of Ares, responsible for one of America's largest mass murder-suicides since Jonestown), which teach that all humans are in fact the reincarnations of long-dead Martians. These are, of course, entirely pseudoscientific in nature - there's no evidence that indigenous Martian life ever made the jump to land, let alone complex brains - although popular sci-fi set involving intelligent Martians has enjoyed a massive resurgence.
For the time being, much of the world remains blissfully ignorant of the fact that while all known life may have originated on Mars, Earth also has its native life forms, far more alien and destructive than anything found in the fossilized seabeds of its planetary neighbor...