In 2027 the first unexplained deaths were recorded. Nothing like it had been seen before. There was no overt sign of any struggle in the vicinity of the body, but a number of factors indicated homicide – the victims were in good health, their living standards were high, and the symptoms were consistent in each case, i.e. most strikingly, the victims’ eyes were turned entirely green in each case, as though grisly balls of lichen were staring out of their heads. Tests were conducted for new breeds of toxins, germs and/or chemical agents. The tests proved inconclusive.
In 2028 a series of show trials saw the first murder charges brought against the most plausible suspects – terrorist groups in most instances, with a smattering of religious cults making up the numbers here and there around the globe, according to local prejudice. The suspects were convicted, en masse, regardless of gaping holes in the evidence that might have seen each case summarily dismissed. That couldn’t happen. It was inconceivable. The victims were too high-profile for acquittal to be an option, they were leading citizens of the world’s leading nations. No, that needs rephrasing: they were wealthy citizens of wealthy nations. No, that needs rephrasing: it wasn’t simply that they were wealthy; the first victims were the wealthiest men and women bestriding the planet at the time.
Throughout this period the panic and condemnation provided a feast for the media and for headline writers everywhere: “Into the Gates of Hell”; “Poisoned Apple Corp.s”; “God, Please Save the Queen!”; “Don’t be Evil? Tell that to these Murdering Scum.”
The fatalities were evidently linked, by modus operandi and by the financial status of the victims, but beyond that commentators struggled to see any parallels between the crimes. Was this a serial killing spree the like of which the world had never seen? Who had instigated it and why? How were the killers, so disparate in terms of ideology and geography, organised? Meanwhile the authorities pointed to the swelling number of convictions, to the life sentences that were handed down for the crimes, to the electrocutions and hangings and beheadings, and made assurances that the situation had been contained.
In 2029 the deaths not only continued, they accelerated. In February of that year the world’s multi-billionaires were designated extinct, becoming the first classification of hominid to officially join the dinosaurs in over 50,000 years. Next, the single digit billionaires were remorselessly targeted. By the end of the year the world’s leading multi-millionaires were suffering the same cull.
Security measures had increased exponentially with each passing month. The wealthiest citizens no longer tolerated the prospect of allowing neighbours within a mile-and-a-half radius of their homes. Private armies stood guard over their every move. The crunch of gunfire greeted any visitors not specifically vetted beforehand. Yet still society’s most prominent multi-millionaires were murdered in identical fashion to their illustrious predecessors. The killers came and went as though invisible, leaving no trace. Business empires collapsed. The populace sat glued to their screens, alarmed and enthralled.
By late 2029 laboratory testing had shifted focus: there was unsubstantiated talk of a plague. People began to avoid those they considered dangerously wealthy. There were daily attacks on society’s remaining plutocrats in the media; there were assaults, both verbal and physical. Governments had no option but to intervene, segregating the millionaires and instituting a quarantine of a mile-and-a-half radius around their homes. Despite years of testing and a painstaking process of research and elimination of possibilities, no conventional biological virus, germ or chemical agent had been discovered that could consistently account for the symptoms and fatalities.
In 2030 the breakthrough arrived. Initially dismissed as a hoax, a white paper appeared anonymously, titled Biomorphism: its Technological Manifestation and the Ongoing Evolution of Cross-contamination Between Corporeal and Non-corporeal Sources; from which are taken the following quotes –
- In viruses so called “antigenic shift” occurs when there is a major change in the genome of the virus. When this happens pandemics can result.
- For a virus the conditions related to the environment in which it operates are entirely dependent on the host body; for this reason, all forms of virus are uniquely adaptable and are hard-wired to cross between environments.
- Since its inception, the virtual environment has displayed a susceptibility to viral infection, the results of which have often proved damaging at a societal level but seldom directly harmful to health since there was no available method of cross-contamination to a human host body.
- Surgical implanting of luxury, high-end, smart technology has granted virtual viruses direct access to a new form of hardware, i.e. the human nervous system. Communications and entertainment channels are routinely wired beneath the skin, with links to the optic nerves, eardrums and subcortical regions; heads-up displays are projected onto the retina. The uber wealthy have been provided with instant access and oversight of their portfolios via software located in the enamel of their teeth.
- In this environment a virus was generated, by means unknown, which infiltrated currency markets, financial institutions and bank accounts. When the virus entered its active phase it was responsible for systematically degrading the line of zeroes in any bank account it encountered. Logically, the longer that line of zeroes the greater the contamination of both the financial software and the host hardware.
- The virus was termed “S/L/O/P/E” by the Deep Web community, an alleged acronym for “soon lose our perspective, everyone.” Latest estimates regarding the virulence of the virus claim that the world’s population experienced a 1.4% decline as a direct result of the outbreak.
By 2031 worldwide inequality was reduced by 47%. As income levels attained a new equilibrium the threat posed by the S/L/O/P/E virus receded. While sporadic clusters of contamination were still recorded, after treatment and an extended period of isolation from smart technology, the majority of patients recovered well.
Today, to mark the five-year anniversary of the first deaths attributable to the plague, the world’s great capital cities are united in erecting cenotaphs to memorialise all that was lost. A lasting cure to the S/L/O/P/E virus remains a priority inside the world’s leading medical and technological research institutions.
This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Wordle Challenge #31 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the top of this post. The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used. This time all of the words appear in the story.