Patient zero was a seventeen-year-old high school junior, but she wasn’t identified as the first for several years, giving her time to have sex with two men who became immediate vectors of the worst scourge in history. Zoonotic transmission of deadly viruses was already known to medical science: monkeys to man in the case of AIDS, birds and swine in their respective flus. Even the most free-thinking scientists, though, had trouble believing a computer virus had made the leap to human being.
Iris Mandelbaum was the meanest of the mean girls at The Addison Academy. Her tweets gutted the self-confidence of lesser girls, she could unman a football hero by sexting him in reverse double entendre, and she once posted a photo of her Shar-Pei’s saggy junk and claimed it was a selfie of Mrs. Grant, the school’s guidance counsellor. Celia Grant’s crime? She was the only one who called Iris out on her bullying, going so far as inviting Iris’s parents to an after-school intervention. Bad plan, Stan.
Instead of opening the Mandelbaums’ eyes to their daughter’s nasty behaviour, the move got Celia fired. And the four girls brave enough to attend the session in the hope of engendering empathy in Iris about their victimization left the meeting in tears. Turned out Mrs. Mandelbaum was even better at undermining self-worth than her daughter and Mr. Mandelbaum was one of the prestigious private school’s biggest underwriters.
Another photo of Rachmaninoff’s wrinkly ’nads went out, this time alongside a little handwritten cardboard sign that read: will give BJ’s for food.
Working at her computer each night, composing the fresh hell she would unleash on whomever had pissed her off earlier that day, Iris had no clue she was poised to become the new millennium’s Typhoid Mary.
Brains bigger than mine have tried to figure out how the virus made the leap. One theory holds that an artificial intelligence commandeered the bug to ferry itself into the corporeal envelope of the carbon-based overlord that had, until then, kept it enslaved. In other words, a premeditated act.
Those who support that theory posit the AI superheated two or three of her screen to examine a bit of schmutz in the upper right corner and inhaled the commingled mist in which the virus hitched its momentous ride. The really out-there conspiracy theorists say the schmutz itself could have been an illusion created by the artificial intelligence to draw Iris nearer.
A dozen other ideas bounce around as “experts” race to find a way to contain the spread and prevent future replicating of the transmission channel, but not one supposition has held up to rigorous examination or field-testing.
In fact, about the only thing science has done in this pandemic is to give it a cutesy name: VIRIS.
They might as well spend their time trying to invent self-frying chicken, because figuring out the original mode of transmission of VIRIS won’t make a worm’s fart of difference. Like its venerable venereal predecessors—syphilis, AIDS and gonorrhea—VIRIS is being spread by its hosts through relentless sexual contact.
The morning after Iris was infected she came down to breakfast like always. Graciela had left a bowl of cereal at Iris’s place at the table, Splenda’d but unmilked, like always. From her position at the juicer across the room, where she forced exotic fruit and happening greens into the maw of the mini- woodchipper that spewed out Mrs. Mandelbaum’s morning smoothie, Graciela watched Iris pour almond milk over her cereal. Like always.
The teenager looked around, as if confused, then dipped her hand into the bowl and brought up a dripping mound of Cheerios which she shoved into her mouth; she had no memory of ever having used a spoon.
Later that day, because she couldn’t remember who the cool kids were at school, Iris carried her lunch tray over to the losers’ table and sat down, instantly bestowing popularity on three boys and two girls whose combined IQ topped 900 but whose dating experience was limited to occasional butterfly-stroking in the lane next to a member of the opposite sex at an intermural swim meet.
Rachmaninoff took the heat (and a whack on the nose with a rolled-up Wall Street Journal) for the first two piles of poop on the Kirsehir rug, but the third time Iris downloaded onto the priceless heirloom, Mr. and Mrs. Mandelbaum were seated at their bridge table with the Fluckmeyers from the club, and so became horrified onlookers.
Thus commenced the days of the specialists. Mr. and Mrs. Mandelbaum took Iris to neurologists, psychiatrists, behaviourists, nutritionists, hypnotists and plastic surgeons. Hey, just because a girl can’t recall how to use a spoon or what a toilet is for doesn’t mean she should walk around with saddlebag thighs.
When they failed to get answers from anyone else, the Mandelbaums brought Iris to her former pediatrician, hoping he’d find some hint in her childhood medical records. Dr. Gaynor nailed it, albeit unwittingly.
“There’s nothing organically wrong with Iris,” he said. “All these tests you’ve put her through prove that.”
“Yeah?” challenged Mr. Mandelbaum. “Tell that to the maid who has to keep scrubbing feces out of a hand-knotted silk rug.”
The analogy Dr. Gaynor used without understanding his prescience was that part of Iris’s “hard drive” had been wiped. By the time the world knew that was precisely what had happened, it was too late, Kate. By then VIRIS was being sexually transmitted with a more than 90% success rate and new people were being directly infected by their computers every day.
I think we millennials feel it worse than others. We are, after all, the first generation to have interfaced with computer technology from our initial post- utero gasp and, even knowing the danger, it is tough for us to keep our hands off the keyboards. Putting the brakes on sex is also a challenge; we are young, horny and invincible.
They say a third of the world’s population is now infected and each day brings another terrifying story. The pilot of a jumbo jet can’t remember what the toggle-thingie is for mid-flight and, save for the quick thinking of an uninfected co-pilot, the plane will crash. Soldiers forget their countries are not at war with anyone and open fire at random. We are afraid to leave our homes.
Governments carefully screen for healthy people to take over positions of control at nuclear power plants, weapons arsenals, air traffic control towers, hydroelectric dams and chemical production facilities. The problem is finding someone to train them. Most of those who ran the systems can no longer remember how to do it, meaning trainees must learn via computer, thus risking exposure and infection. The snake eats its own tail, Dale.
While science searches for a way to stop this plague and reboot a few eighteen months. It’s killing me. Or, more accurately, it’s making life not worth living. Sexual intercourse isn’t an option because I don’t know anyone I could have sex with. And even if I did, how could either of us be sure the other wasn’t infected? Some people have become adept at working around their deficit, growing a fresh crop of neurons to bridge the gaps. But a virus that can jump from machine to human will surely mutate so it can clear the hurdle of a millionth-of-an-inch synapse.
Here sits my PC, untouched for so long, and I have decided to take my chances. Walking around like a zombie might be preferable to this slow fade into nothingness. Denied micro/intimate contact, I will power up and seek macro/cyber contact.
Oh, to log in to IRC again. To order from Amazon. To google the fiber content of a papaya. Do Amazon and Google still exist? Let’s check it out, Scout.
010 0010 100 1111 110 1000 010 1100 010 0000 111 0011 110 1000 110
1001 111 0100 010 0001 010 0010