story concept by Troy DeArmitt
If there was a patient zero, they would never be known because ninety days after the discovery, more than seventy million people were verifiably terminal. It annihilated the middle class in a single sweep. Then it ravaged the poor, the rich, and then the rest. The "first world" was extinct within five months.
The condition emanated from doctors' offices across the United States in what looked like an orchestrated campaign. The number of afflicted grew so rapidly, the Centers for Disease Control appeared years before a new epidemic typically garnered their attention (of course, this early reaction could be tied to the numbers that fell within their own ranks). Given the obvious nature of the affliction, the source was rapidly found. Given the startling effects of the condition, the test arrived equally fast (although when one's DNA stops properly replicating, a person does not require a PhD or a dotted piece of litmus paper to spot a victim).
The findings. It turns out that while a single wireless signal coursing through the airwaves proved completely innocuous, a constant bombardment of those independently "innocent" strands, when voluminous enough, devastated our DNA—the human body's data infrastructure. From conception our cells engage in the constant act of replication. Each duplication creates a new copy of our DNA. With age these copies become more brittle and the process slowly degrades until death. Unless you expose that delicate cellular structure to a relentless bombardment of these invisible strands which interfere with our bodies ever-acting replication process.
Yes, once discovered, of course they tried shutting it all down. While most complied, it was simply too late. The DNA record of the human population had been irrevocably corrupted.
If you are thinking that research had deemed these technologies safe, they had, in theory. Of course the challenge of how to properly structure a test was problem A, and one that would never be solved. Further, while researchers were still trying to figure out how to properly test these wireless signals in any proper form, the infrastructure was growing in exponential bounds outside (and inside) of their labs. Further, though this would never be publicly known, 93% of the published reports in this space were financed by money made from the technology makers being evaluated. The 7% funded elsewhere possessed a common vein, "While we cannot empirically prove these signals are deleterious to human health, we suggest you (a) keep such devices away from your head and (b) turn all such devices off when not in active use." These small voices amid the sea of "All Clear" messaging went unheard, or unacknowledged at least.
Children born into this wireless world were compromised from the start for their DNA never knew an error free replication. This added to the swift, merciless and near simultaneous demise of the race.
What initially seemed like a curse of the condition—the speed in which it appeared and then acted—was also a boon for, as they say, the world did not suffer long. Although, technically speaking, more people died from suicide than from the actual syndrome. But this is nothing more than semantic accounting because once it took hold it was clearly only a matter of time and it became very apparent very quickly that the time left held no joy. Although it is worth noting that a fair number of the people who had committed suicide had not yet been afflicted. This speaks to the importance of hope to the human spirit.
What was clear from the start was that dealing with the rapidly accumulating number of bodies would prove to be the peoples' greatest burden. The good news here was it wasn't a problem for very long because it near immediately became unresolvable as the living were so outnumbered by the non-living it would have taken years to even make a dent in the landscape, and as was already said, no one had years, the future was now discussed using months.
And the animals were not spared. While it hit them later and took longer—given their diet did not consist of McDonalds and Doritos—it still hit them. The domesticated animals that lived in our homes went first, given their proximity to the source of the problems. Then the wildlife who while they lived outside the urban regions still were touched because when the family of five wanted to drive into the hills for a weekend picnic, Dad still needed to check in on work, Mom still had to share her great parental moment with the world (for why else would she go to all the trouble of packing everyone up here to not get a little credit), and of course those kids portables still had to stream their shows and games way up there in the hills. Now all around that meadow were felled wildlife under the cover of trees and slowly dissolving into the pine-needle underbrush.
Three years later the human population sits at 328,486 (down from a high of 11.4 billion). This collection of survivors very much resemble the population the first time the people of this world numbered 328,486. They live in or under earthen structures. Technology to them rarely exceeds a wood-hewn tool or finger-knitted rope. They are the people who even at the peak of human advancement had never held something plastic, heard something ding, or seen something other than a nighttime fire glow. One might say that the human people had just been rebooted.