This is a response to a TerribleMinds.com Flash Fiction challenge: a story about a non-traditional apocalypse. Because, you know, most apocalypses are so mundane these days. Anyway, I'm working on one that's a good deal more serious and personal, but it's not ready for prime time. This one's not either, but it was fun to assemble and format (thanks to Nicole for solving a really ugly roadblock). Either a whimper or a bang work equally well in this one, although describing them might be problematic.
The key to beating any disease is not, as many believe, having a cure. Prevention and resistance are the first lines of defense; destroying the ailment after it has been acquired is nothing more than the last resort. We knew this, of course, but it prevention does no good when the attack arrives from an angle previously unimagined.
The most fearsome plagues are those which not only destroy their hosts, but also cripples any attempts to fight back. When we first began to suspect that something was wrong, that we were under attack, it was already too late. The very tools we used to solve the riddle were rendered ineffective almost immediately.
We created some workarounds, crude at first, increasingly intricate as the disease progressed. Our counter-measures were slow, too slow, to halt the progress of the malady, but we live in hope that these works will be the seed which will set humanity, what survives that is, on the road to recovery.
If you'll allow me an aside here, you may well wonder why I am even bothering with committing this account to paper. That is a reasonable question and I have no satisfying answer. I could say that I am documenting the nature of our demise in hope that future generations, if there are any, will learn from it. That's just a sick joke, though, given the nature of this particular plague.
Besides, to be honest, while we have grown to understand the mechanics, the physical manifestation of the illness, we have made no progress in understanding its nature. How can such a thing happen? one theory is that, while we experience what we believe are external symptoms, it is the instruments of our perception which are under attack. That would explain the universality of this plague which manifests in such a localized manner that it beggars belief.
Another theory posits that the attack is not viral, bacterial, or neurological, but rather algorithmic. This is a tidy concept, but it altogether too simple to properly explain how the experience is equivalent, but not identical, for victims in okinawa and Leipzig. If the attack is one based on a set of logical rules, and the rules have been devised so as to work identical in such radically different environments, then that suggests an intelligence behind the attack. That is a proposition to diabolical, not to mention unlikely, to merit consideration.
Regardless of the source of the enigma, it was effective to a degree I would not have imagined possible. While we were able to swiftly identify the pathology of the attack, we were unable to contain the general panic it caused. Even today, it seems unlikely that such an apparently harmless (at least physically so) bug would engender such a violent reaction. Every loss set off riots, even when we reached the point where we could accurately calculate the period between each event. Steady as a clock it was, and yet each of its ticks may as well have been the click of a detonator.
With what we now know, the end was always inevitable. We fought, and fought well. We tested incessantly. If we could know nothing of the source or the cure, then at least we could understand its behavior. The printed word suffered in the most obvious way, but we were more than a little shocked when we discovered that the speech was equally impaired. How could that be so? nonetheless, we created visual meta-languages which could be used to get by, if not to move forward. We used sounds, variations in pitch and tone and rhythm, and we made more progress than you might have guessed, but it was all for naught. We determined much too late that machines were affected in the same way we were.
Whilst humanity is quite resilient in finding new paths when another is blocked, machines are almost entirely devoid of this facility. When the communication between bleeping box and glowing rectangle started to fail, there was no stopping the rot. Soon all manner of devices which relied upon communication were rendered utterly unable to function. not only did media fail, but so did the banking system, the power grid, telecommunications, and ultimately, all governmental authority. Chaos did not do it justice.
I am saddened to report that our better natures abandoned us at this point and all higher creeds and moral codes were replaced by “every man for himself.” A few of us who adjudged ourselves to be the best hope for reversing the disease walled ourselves into bunkers and let the rest of the world fend for itself. It fared poorly. And, if I am to be wholly honest, I would confess that the altruism of our isolation was more of an excuse than anything. we sought safety and if any salvation were to come of it, well, that would be nice as well.
funnily enough, we have never discovered the vector for this plague. It is entirely possible the paper on which you are reading it is infected. perhaps it becomes imbedded in the very language itself, crippling the unsuspecting reader by the mere act of reading. Should that be the case, then it strikes me as extremely unlikely that there is anything to be gained by writing further. The disease will have its hooks in you and, presuming that it progresses as the pace we've previously observed, you will have only a few random letters arranged on an otherwise white page from which to deduce my intent. pity.
So I will leave you now as the prospect that my report will not only fail to serve its purpose, but in fact provide this plague with new victims, depresses me mightily and depression is one thing I have no further need of. Should you, by some miracle, safely decode this, then I hope that it is of some use in preventing the further spread of this dread disease. or, dare I hope it, that the plague itself has been conquered and you are reading this free from the confusion which condemned us to a noisy, wordless fate in the shadow of the remains of a modern tower of Babel.