World: The Big Picture

It started with a whimper in a small, dirty nothing of a town in South America. Mother’s Day was coming up, and the nearby airport sent plane-loads of flowers from the fields for hundreds of miles around to shops everywhere in the world in preparation for the big day. The virus started there, in that little town, and spread unknowingly to the rest of the world at a rapid rate.

People infected with the virus started shedding the pathogen within hours of exposure, but they didn’t show any detectable symptoms until between eight and ten days from the moment of infection. Every person who was infected spread the disease through contact with everyday objects like keyboards, door handles, drinking fountains, and personal contact. A handshake or kiss was enough to transmit the virus. It was insidious. It was stealthy.

The first location symptoms became apparent was that small dirty town. It was also the location of the lab hired by the government to create the virus. The townsfolk rose up in revolt and burned the lab, killed the people working there, and paraded the chief scientist around before they forced him to confess and promptly chopped his head off in a gruesome and horrible fashion on livestream. Millions of people watched that broadcast in fascination and without realization that their own end had been foretold. To them, it was just another sensation, another social media moment, another thing to share and like. Too bad for the world. He was the only one who knew how to produce the vaccine. It was lost when they killed him. Lost forever.

An infected person showing symptoms became incapacitated within hours. Very little time elapsed between the first victim in a city falling ill and the entire city collapsing. Communications, power, and water soon stopped.

The rest of the world fell ill quickly. The first cities to fall were the home bases of the cargo airlines that carried those flowers to the waiting shops. Behind them, every major city was infected. Some places were spared for a while. Cities and towns that barricaded their borders managed to keep the spread of the disease in check for a short time, but eventually, most of them suffered the inevitable. The world plunged into the dark ages within a month.

Everyone infected was doomed. People under the age of fifteen or over age forty died. Nothing could be done to save them. Most who were infected by the virus died within a month of being infected. People with a normal muscle mass who received extreme medical care survived to become mere shadows of their former selves. Their identity was lost, their ability to use tools was gone, and they were mutated into creatures with stiff, coarse, black hair, thick, purple skin, heavy hands and feet, and nails that grew out black and thick.

Individuals who were in extremely good physical condition-the athletes, soldiers, fitness buffs-survived. Their brains were burned out to the size of a plum, and they were driven nearly mad by the effects, filled with an unholy rage. They couldn’t forage since they had the intelligence of dogs. They couldn’t use tools or weapons other than their newly acquired claws that were incredibly sharp and lethal. Strong, black, and deadly they were. They were the wolves.

There were pockets of safety–islands that had no airport and took more than two weeks to reach by boat were safe. They were isolated from the world already. If they could return to their agrarian or hunter/gatherer ways of the past, they could survive the new dark age.

From the ISS, the International Space Station, the astronauts and cosmonauts watched helplessly as areas of the globe went dark. Their last communication with mission control told them to stay put and wait until the last minute to return to earth. They had three lifeboats on the station, two crew, and one cargo vehicle that could return a human to earth safely. Two astronauts from the US chose to take the cargo ship back to earth immediately. They made it and were picked up by a US Navy ship that had been spared the infection by their isolation at sea. The remaining four crew members decided to stick it out and wait for the supplies to run out before returning. They reprogrammed one of the crew vehicles to land in Lake Michigan instead of the ocean so that they’d naturally drift to shore after landing. The other ship was designed to land on solid ground in Kazakhstan in central Asia. The Cosmonauts were going to use that ship. One cosmonaut, upon learning via shortwave radio her family had perished, went out on a spacewalk to repair a power supply and didn’t come back. The remaining three people on the ISS managed to keep it together. They could last nearly two years without re-supply with half the crew gone. Their biggest worry would be space debris. Without a global tracking system to warn them of impending collisions, they would have to rely on pure luck to keep from being struck by a spent booster or a stray bolt flying at 20,000+ MPH.

McMurdo Station in Antarctica was spared the infection due to a lucky storm that kept resupply ships and planes from arriving during the critical weeks. Once the infection made itself known, the two hundred fifty scientists riding out the winter managed to keep the infection from contaminating their community. With no logistics, they had to rely on their own resourcefulness to keep from running out of supplies. Their diesel powered generators were the weak link. If they ran out of fuel or failed, they would die a slow and cold death in the long, dark night.

Across the globe, governments became non-existent. Civilization vanished, and the only people left unaffected were those who were naturally immune. Estimates varied, but it was thought that perhaps 1% of the population survived. They tried their best to keep alive by using the remnants of society. Lucky for  them, the fall happened so fast that the billions on the planet hadn’t had a chance to consume the goods in stores and warehouses. It was there for the taking.

The US Navy’s remaining force took on one last assignment and set out to save the nuclear power plants spread across the country. These plants were time bombs waiting to erupt their deadly, radioactive poisons throughout the countryside, rendering millions of square miles uninhabitable for centuries. They divided their forces into small groups and sent them to each and every power plant. With luck and their training they would succeed. It was a suicide mission, yet they went anyway. They retained skeleton crews on the surviving ships and subs in the hope that they could one day help bring back the light of civilization.

Other countries weren’t so lucky. Without an organized effort, their nuclear power plants melted down and poisoned vast tracts of the world. The nucleotides would be detectable in the air and water around the world for centuries. Some future generations, if there were future generations, would find a detectable line in the sediments and likely label it as the boundary between ages, like the K-T line created when the dinosaurs were killed off by an asteroid impact.

The disease died out just as quickly as it had begun. It was fragile and weak, like the humans that were its target. A few reservoirs of infection remained. The asymptomatic carriers would keep the disease active the remainder of their lives. They were Intellectually diminished, but otherwise healthy and could spark the disease to rise again. The pockets of civilization that avoided the illness would have to be on the watch for them or risk destruction.

A lucky few managed to create colonies and retain some semblance of civilization. They varied in size from a small family on an island in the far north of the US, to an organized colony of hundreds on the plains of Colorado, to Corsica in the Mediterranean, and Catalina off the coast of California, which were transformed into safe zones for immunes. These folks cleared the wolves from their territory and kept the light of human culture alive for future generations.

At first, all they had to battle were the elements, survival, and the wolves, but as they got more organized, and the threat from the wolves diminished, the battles naturally started between each other. The age old fight between law and order and lawlessness and chaos would last for many years before eventually, one would win out. That result had yet to be determined.

The vast armies of the world were silenced without a shot. No country launched nuclear weapons, and finally, there was peace on the planet. More than seven billion had died within a month of the first sign of infection. The earth itself wouldn’t miss those billions. The penguins and seals wouldn’t miss humanity. The lions and elephants wouldn’t miss being hunted. The ice caps wouldn’t be melting from an excess of carbon being dumped into the atmosphere. No, the Earth wouldn’t miss those people at all. Maybe, in the time it takes to build back the human race, the Earth would have healed from the misadventures of a thoughtless people. Maybe the second coming of humanity would be more careful and not overrun the earth’s ability to heal itself. People could change, right?