Disassembling the World (4)

MCMTuesday, June 30, 2009

At the end of July, 1889 Books will be releasing The Vector, a science fiction novel about people trying to survive a slow apocalypse. When we start the book, things have already been deteriorating for some time, and no time is wasted explaining why. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to writing a series of background articles here that fill in the back story. You don’t need to read these to understand the book, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to know.

Part IV: Rise of the BioHacker

The prevalence of incubator technology in affluent nations created a sudden shift in many social spaces, but none so dramatic as in medical-related charities. Organizations previously dedicated to research and treatment of disease, when presented with immediate cures, were forced to switch gears to promote the dissemination of vaccines almost exclusively. Fundraising drives dried up as the urgency eased. AIDS charities adapted well, spending their remaining cash on "vaccinate everyone" campaigns that saw a 99% success rate throughout North America, eastern Asia and Europe.

Similarly, a move was underway to "cure the common cold" in many nations. Russia, in particular, used its extensive Free Incubator Network (FIN) in an attempt to diagnose and treat as many incidents as they could find. While experts debated the efficacy of the so-called vaccines that were produced, citizens lined up by the millions to get their inexpensive shots, which they hoped would keep them safe over the winter. Politicians boasted that Moscow was the "healthiest city on Earth!", despite statistics that showed the same level of affliction as previous years.

Despite regulations that limited incubator use to registered pharmacies, wealthy and well-connected individuals got access to their own units, which they used to diagnose and treat all kinds of untreatable illnesses. Armed with instant access, the more eccentric hypochondriacs of the world began trying to vaccinate against headaches, upset stomachs, and fatigue. Tales of miracle cures only accelerated the process, with the promise of a cure for cancer just one click away. It was the panacea of the modern age, with or without concrete evidence.

The biggest shift of the incubator generation began in Moscow. A mystery illness began working its way through the local mob community with terrifying speed, violently killing known criminals, their families, and even random people on the street. It was assumed it was an imported strain like Avian Flu, probably carried in from satellite operations in the east, where the mob had been consolidating efforts of late. The authorities moved quickly to stem the spread by enforcing quarantines with martial law. But when a second unique infection surfaced, it became clear they were not dealing with a natural virus... it was man-made. Police switched gears from protection to investigation, hunting down un-licensed incubators connected to FIN, hoping to stop any further casualties.

A week later, a message emailed to the Vedomosti newspaper clarified the situation: "You think you got us, but you missed some. Let us see how you like your own tricks." Two days later, three of the largest private companies in Russia suffered stunning human losses, with a death toll of over 9,000 in under a week. Death bed admissions by some senior executives suggested they were involved in a turf war with the mob, and this was retribution. Investigators found no trace of actual incubators, but this in itself was deemed suspicious, given their prevalence in affluent circles.

Over the next few weeks, several new virus variants began circulating through Moscow, then Russia, and eventually into other countries like Germany, Austria, Sweden, China and Italy. An air bomb laced with a deadly pathogen was detonated in a crowded market in Bonn, killing not only the son of a local gang leader, but another 1,200 people over the course of 48 hours. It was dubbed "The Bonn Virus", and was diagnosed, disassembled, and cured by international FIN operators almost instantly. The mood among academics was publicly confident, but privately terrified. Many resigned their posts and moved their families to remote areas, hoping to save themselves.

WHO President Jacques Démarain coined the term "BioHacker" in an interview with the BBC, in a public plea to criminals to stop trying to "even the score" with new viruses. Although he claimed he was confident that licensed incubator operators could hold their own, when pressed, he admitted civilization was in serious danger: "If you're asking me if we can be one hundred percent sure, I will say no. You can't stop a faceless enemy who wants you dead. It's simply impossible. These aren't human beings we are dealing with, they are monsters on a grand scale. The only hope we have is that the heroes of humanity can protect us faster than the villains can defeat us." Two weeks later, he was assassinated with an airborne dose of Kiev-1.

Perhaps the most tragic casualty of the BioHacker movement was Africa. Government and private funds previously dedicated to vaccinating the continent shifted towards defending against synthetic viruses. The serum that incubators used to generate vaccines became a precious commodity, and while few officials would admit it publicly, they could not rationalize diverting resources to a distant people when they themselves might need it. 48.3 million people in Africa were infected with AIDS, a striking 99.6% of the cases worldwide... and the political will to save them had evaporated.

A year after the Bonn Virus (now called "Bonn-1"), Hong Kong was struck with a highly contagious infection that killed millions. Beijing's response to the crisis shocked the world.

Note: My short story "The Virus Coder's Girl" covers this period on the ground level. It's free to read at 1889 Books.

All content released under a Creative Commons BY-NC license except the contents of "TV" section, which belong to their respective owners.