The bright sunlit day created an illusion of warmth and wellbeing, but insidious reality could not be so easily ignored. Beyond the sunny rays, softly rustling leaves, and morning-quiet street, the world was not right.
It was apparent in the lack of people taking their dogs on daily walks, the absence of traffic on the roads, the lonely, empty grocery store aisles, boasting all the produce but none of the buyers. These sights, which had been so common, had slowly disappeared in the past months, and now they were completely gone. Nobody stepped outdoors, nobody drove, nobody shopped in stores. One might think this was all yet another after-effect of the pandemic of 2020, but it’s worse than that – this was a result of the cure.
* * *
Everyone remembers how the pandemic started – the virus that traveled worldwide in a matter of a few short months, with every safety measure enacted after it was too late to control the spread. As a global community, the world was too interconnected to reliably isolate and contain the disease, and the death toll rose daily. In those early days, rife with restrictions and health protocols, all everyone talked about was the vaccine. Scores of pharmaceutical companies worked on developing an effective countermeasure that could immunize the population and defeat the pandemic. Politicians campaigned on promises of the vaccine becoming widely available before the end of the year, and everyone bated their breath and kept sane by thinking about how life would return to normal soon.
But 2021 arrived with little fanfare and delays in the medical trials, and safety measures continued to be the only, if minimally effective, way to curb the virus. Soon, automation replaced most non-emergency essential jobs, with robots stocking food stores and kiosks replacing salespeople. Unemployment grew steadily and the government was forced to offer universal income to stop the daily riots of people who had nothing left to lose. The election in late 2020 had gone in a way nobody could have predicted, and the “elected” government consisted of nobody who had been on the ballot. Everything felt hopeless and returning to normal seemed like a cruel joke that enraged every time it was repeated.
And then, the most unexpected thing happened. After endless delays and countless setbacks that made the whole endeavor seem like a lost cause, a vaccine was approved. The trials had been enormously successful, with 99.9% immunity, and all recorded side-effects were so mild as to seem negligible. Production was fast-tracked worldwide, and lotteries assisted with fair distribution. Within 6 months of vaccine approval, 60% of the world’s population had been immunized, with the rest slated for vaccination before the new year.
2022: The world brought in the new year with rabid excitement, finally able to partake in activities that had been banned for nearly two years. Huge celebrations erupted in all major cities, and people felt like they were truly alive again, as if they had woken from the deepest sleep, Snow White-style. Of course, there were many pandemic changes to adjust to normal world functioning, including employment and education restructuring, governmental role implications, and so forth, but nothing seemed insurmountable after conquering the pandemic.
The death surge was just a trickle at first, scattered across the globe and therefore harder to place within the emerging pattern. But just like the virus, it seemed to spread exponentially. Yet unlike the virus, it appeared to leave no survivors. In short order, communities worldwide deduced that the deaths were associated with the vaccine – but not everyone who had been immunized died, just most of them. The unpredictable nature of the cause-of-death pattern among vaccinated individuals caused a blinding panic. People were used to taking precautions when the threat was outside of themselves, but they had no idea what to do when the danger was already inside.
* * *
The dawn of a new humanity provided chaos, and opportunity. With the majority of the world’s progressive thinkers either dead or banished, the foundations of civilization began to crumble. Religious leaders worldwide preached the evils of scientific progress with a renewed zeal, prosecuting even their own who dared suggest that research had it’s place. Many claimed the death toll was in fact the the rapture, but in reverse – the survivors being God’s chosen.
At an alarming pace, civilians who had not been innoculated turned on those who had, fearing contagion. Unmarked vans began patrolling in the dead of night, violently collecting the vocal few who were so bold as to stand against the church. Camps were constructed for those who had taken the vaccine without complications, victims of a growing certainty that their presence in society was both unholy and dangerous.
As public services ended, cities failed. The once proud monuments of progressive metropoli fell to disrepair, and then just fell. Those who had enough to barter commissioned transport to what the church had deemed Holy Cities, only to arrive to unbridled masses of refugees. Within the massive walls that were being erected, life became a struggle for all, as most of the tech and health care professionals had perished.
The belief that the virus was a boon was soon common, and those who had not yet been infected were so, intentionally. The people who would not submit were murdered or exiled, and their children injected with the disease. Over time, the smell of garbage and death in the streets slowly turned from revolting, to annoying, to normal. In spite of it all, humanity tenuously held on.
* * *
It was subtle at first, undetectable at a young age. The health care professionals that remained had few theories and even fewer answers, and medical discovery as a whole had been all but abandoned. One thing, however, was clear. Something was wrong with the babies.
The mortality rate was disheartening to say the least, and certainly the resurgence of smallpox and polio in the overpopulated cities had taken its toll, but this was different. The first wave of children since covid had spread were happy, healthy, and broken in ways that could never be anticipated.
Few would speak before five years of age. Many lacked the focus to learn to read and write, and most were incapable of basic mathematics. While distressing, the world’s powers declared these children “marked by God”, unburdened by the trivial matters of humanity.
The church, behind closed doors, employed what scientists remained to find the cause. It did not take them long, but their work would never find the light of day.
* * *
A 20% loss in higher brain function in the first generation. That’s what the numbers said. The technology no longer existed to properly account for the drop, but it was heavily theorized that the dormant covid virus was capable of editing the genetic makeup of humans. 20% was horrid, but acceptable. These people were functional, able to complete simple tasks, and didn’t ask many questions; that was, until the second generation came.
The issue was compounded. Children were born unable to breathe, some didn’t know how to blink, or swallow. Parents who were barely competent enough to tend to their own needs couldn’t raise their children, and the death camps that had been deserted for decades reopened as “care centers” for abandoned or difficult cases. Those with all their faculties looked on in horror as millions of children were shipped off to live in captivity as feral animals.
The churches, which had enjoyed relative omnipotence for several decades, fell. Entire generations of people incapable of processing the idea of an all-powerful being led to their demise, and with it, the last semblance of centralized power on Earth. With every sunset, mankind was sliding closer to the brink.
After 3 more generations, people forgot how to use basic technology. 3-more generations after that the use of crude hand tools was practically impossible and cities and infrastructure, no longer being maintained, fell into disrepair and eventually succumbed to the natural environment. Jungles took over cities formerly teeming with human life and
3-generations later, human kind had died off to such an extent that they were in fact outnumbered by many other land mammals on the planet.
Human intelligence had regressed to the point of being less intelligent than the least intelligent of the higher primates. Being outcompeted for food, and shelter, humankind was all but lost.
Humans rooting around in the dirt, two naked Neanderthal like men begin fighting over one half eaten mushroom lying on the slimy ground. Pavement covered with moss and slick algae. Their bare feet making a sick sucking noise as they lift them from the ground and try to obtain leverage on each other. One man, we’ll call him Grunt, grabs the mushroom and shoves it into his mouth quickly. The second man, we’ll call him Groan, grabs Grunt and puts him into a crude sleeper hold. And tries to make Grunt spit out the mushroom.
Which he ultimately does, with a cough and you guessed it, a grunt.
Groan, triumphant, puts the mushroom in his mouth and chews, well… triumphantly. With a huge half-toothy smile on his face he chews and chews. And then he swallows. And nearly immediately his face shows a Neanderthal version of regret. For he was too dumb now to remember. But he realized he just saved his non friend’s life.
Groan, groaned terribly, clutched his stomach and fell over stiffly on the ground. Dead.
Grunt, scared for a moment, approached cautiously. Sniffing the now corpse tentatively he finally grew bold, and took a bite of Groan’s bicep. Chewing happily. Smiling spitefully down at Groan. Once he’d eaten a few bites. He too suddenly got a look of the Neanderthal version of regret on his face.
Clutching his stomach, eyes wide. Grunted one last time before he too began to fall over. BUT, something weird happened.
The next second, Grunt froze mid-air, mid-fall, already basically dead.
“Well that was a huge fat failure wasn’t it Gabriel?” God said with disdain on her face. And a beautiful woman, with flowing black hair, and ebony skin stepped over Groan, in her high heels and pristine white suit, and grabbed the now mostly dead but frozen jaw of Grunt.
“Look at this face. Just look at it… “ she commanded Gabriel. “What do you see?”
Gabriel answered, a chided childlike quality to his voice “Another failure. But Goooooodddd…”
God cut him off with a warning finger wag “No. No more excuses. Covid-19 is a failure. Just like the last 18. Total failures.”
She dropped the lifeless face of Grunt and he finished his now slow, feather-like fall to the ground.
* * *
God Riccardi could be forgiven for having a bit of a superiority complex. Her parents had been belated but zealous converts to the self-esteem movement, and spent most of her childhood impressing on her that she could do great things on the order of the namesake they’d selected. When they succumbed to the pandemic three days apart in the winter of 2021, they left her not only with immunity, but with the financial wherewithal to devote her life to her own interests.
Though only thirteen at the time, she’d excelled in her homeschooled science lessons (her father had been less successful at teaching literature and physical education, but no one was perfect). While most children her age would have had the humility to try a less complicated career, God had learned self-confidence just as well as she’d learned biochemistry. Never having to put her skills to the test against classmates, she believed herself to be smarter than any of her peers.
Little did she know it, but the aftermath of the pandemic had made that largely true.
At a time when most of humanity saw its collective brainpower degrade, God had used hers to seal herself in a well-funded laboratory on what was left of the Florida coast. The loss of technology had come too late to stop the waters from covering much of the state’s former footprint. But as neighbors fled to drier places, she purchased their abandoned units at a fraction of their price, until she owned the top few floors of her parent’s condominium building and knocked down enough walls to make it a multi-tiered workspace. The floor-to-ceiling windows, empty space, and general sterile aesthetic made it look like the headquarters of a late twentieth century supervillain, but God had watched too little television to see it that way.
Like any aspiring scientist, she failed far more often than she succeeded. One corner of the lab still had a big hole in the floor where a would-be love potion proved too acidic to test on human subjects. Every so often at low tide, one could see some of the people who reacted poorly to God’s various experiments, now-empty vessels waiting to be carried out to sea. But trial and error sometimes produced results. The immortality elixir she discovered was intended to be a mere energy booster. It killed the first few test subjects – God was thankful that IQ depletion led to no shortage of volunteers willing to test experimental drugs in exchange for a cool t-shirt – and had some odd side effects on others.
She didn’t realize at first that she’d created a veritable death cure in a vial. When she tried it herself, nothing seemed to happen. But as the years passed, and she lived through generation after generation of dumber and dumber individuals, she realized she’d stumbled into living up to her parents’ perception of her.
Hiring Gabriel had been a mixed bag, but good help was hard to find. It wasn’t fair to call him smart exactly; the thirteen-year-old edition of God would have bested him at most intellectual pursuits. But by the standards of the new world, he was of above average intelligence. And that was all God needed when it came to an assistant who could go out among the stupid populace and test out her newest creations.
Six months in the employ of Dr. G. Riccardi was a full education for Gabe, to say the least.
First of all, Gabe had learned the concept of an internship, where instead of actual money you were paid something the Boss called Xperians. Gabe didn’t know exactly what an Xperian was—in his first six months, he hadn’t actually laid eyes on one—but Dr. Riccardi assured him this was standard in the Old Times, the times B.C. (Before Corona). She was constantly regaling him with stories about the ways things used to be in an era that seemed like thousands, rather than mere hundreds, of years ago.
Another thing Gabe had learned was that when you needed to talk to the Boss in her private office, you knocked first.
“Oh, God… Oh, God… Oh yes, oh God, yes!”
Gabe stood outside the Boss’s door, just listening. He knew he was forbidden to barge in. Standing with his ear to the door probably wasn’t allowed either, but he couldn’t walk away, not without delivering important news to the Boss. So Gabe stood there, silent and motionless, anxiety rising as he debated within himself whether to knock.
“Yes—right there!” cried out the voice within the private office. “Oh, fuck, God, yes, God, fuckkkk, yessss,” the voice moaned.
Gabe’s anxiety ebbed as he began to feel another stirring within him. Whose voice, Gabe wondered. Not any of the men who had visited Dr. Riccardi’s private office in those early months of Gabe’s internship, when Gabe had first learned the need to knock. No, this was a female voice. But it wasn’t any of the Boss’s special friends Gabe had seen cavorting about the office lately. This was someone new.
“Fuck yes God fuck yes God fuck yes God fuck yes,” the woman cried, a forever looping sentence without beginning or end, and then—it was quiet. Gabe cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and at last he knocked on the door, three rapid knocks.
“Come in,” came the cool, businesslike voice of the Boss, and Gabe opened the door.
The Boss was sitting behind her desk, as usual. Sitting on top of the desk was an astonishingly beautiful woman, completely nude, dragging on a cigarette. The Boss was reapplying her lipstick, a cool shade of blue. The naked woman’s massive breasts glistened with sweat, and they rose up mightily as she inhaled. She turned her face to look at Gabe and let out a mouthful of smoke.
“Can I help you?” said Dr. Riccardi, adding, as Gabe stood a moment uselessly stammering, “You know my time is precious.”
“The two new trogs,” Gabe said. “They’re ready.” He cautiously flitted his eyes back over to the beautiful creature on the Boss’s desk. She had olive skin, jet black hair, dark red lips. She had appeared at first to be wearing a dark shade of lipstick, but Gabe saw now that her nipples were the same blood-red color. Her right breast—no, Gabe’s right, her left—was adorned with a tattoo of an mammoth snake, a cobra.
“How rude of me,” said Dr. Riccardi, her tone anything but apologetic. “Gabriel, this is Lucy. Lucy, this is Gabriel, my assistant.”
“Hello,” Lucy breathed. Her raspy voice made Gabe think of the shrieks he had heard from the other side of the door.
His job done, Gabe scuttled off. He was embarrassed, but being embarrassed at work was almost a daily occurrence, and this at least had been a pleasurable embarrassment.
“I have work to do,” said the Boss. “You can find your way out?”
“Mm,” Lucy murmured. “I may have another drink first?”
“Of course,” said the Boss, thumbing her microdevice.
For the first time Lucy looked around for the garment she had carelessly tossed to the floor just about a half hour ago. She found it—a thin, loose-fitting green dress, no underclothes—and lithely slipped it over her body. When she looked around to say goodbye, the Boss had already disappeared.
The Boss thumbed her microdevice and a picture appeared on the screen of two naked savages, one male and one female. She knew them well: she had, almost literally, woven the very strands of their DNA. Immaculately conceived in Petri dishes, gestated in tubes, they were no one’s children so much as they were Dr. Riccardi’s pure creations. Patiently she had waited for consciousness to ping into their vacuous minds. And now, at last, Gabriel’s word: They’re ready.
“Hello,” the Doctor said. “I am God.”
The naked savages looked around in wonder. There was, in their bare white cell, no other creature to speak to them. No window or portal through which a voice could travel. Of course, Dr. Riccardi was not actually broadcasting sound to their cell: her words were being sent from her microdevice directly into the cerebral cortexes of the brutes.
“I have prepared this place for you. It’s good. Enjoy yourselves, have fun! Just one thing: stay away from the Door.”
The savages looked at each other, and then at the plain white Door that stood at the center of their cell. There was no knob, no handle, no obvious way to make it open. The two felt a shudder of fear. It had never occurred to them that the Door could be opened, not until now, the moment they learned it was forbidden.
Suddenly, with a whoosh, the Door slid open. In the doorway there stood a curvy figure in green. In her hand she held a martini glass. The naked savages stared, stupefied, as the green woman strode into the room.
Both of them wondered if this dazzling figure, almost too beautiful to behold, could possibly be the Voice that had spoken to them a moment ago. One of them, the male, spoke: “God?”
“No,” the woman laughed. “I’m someone else.” She held up the glass, filled with pale green liquid, offering it up to the two. “Appletini?”