“Vaccination is not the same as a cure. It is only effective if done prior to infection, and really, your immune system does most of the work.
It entails the injection of dead viral mass into the bloodstream, so your immune system can learn its anatomy. This way, it can recognize intact, active viruses of that species when it first encounters them.”
I’d been dreaming of the day that we reached the inoculation center. I always imagined the technician doing it would be beautiful. She still was to me, the plain, rail thin brunette. Hunger is the best appetizer. Three years of running, hiding, scavenging for food and supplies was finally at an end and the relief was indescribable.
By the time mankind discovered the existence of the contagion, the world was nearly overrun. It was not the shambling, decomposing undeath we’d been led to expect by movies.
The afflicted looked outwardly unchanged, and behaved very much like their old selves with the subtle difference that spreading the contagion subconsciously obsessed them.
At every opportunity they would isolate friends, co-workers and family members, and attempt to pass it to them. Because of our limited definition of what a living being can be, we didn’t recognize it for what it was until centuries after the outbreak.
“What we do here is to vaccinate you against the replicator by laying bare its anatomy, that you might fully understand what it is and how it works. By “how it works”, I mean the mechanisms by which it attracts hosts, compels them to spread it, and prevents most conventional attempts to remove it.
The Russians had quite a different approach. Mass culling. The drop of bleach in the petri dish. But if you don’t wipe it out completely it only comes back stronger, just as biological pathogens do if antibiotics are abused.”
The display behind her showed a simulation with red dots propagating exponentially from various points of introduction across the European landmass. Then most of them vanished, only to re-colonize more aggressively than before.
“The establishment of safe zones, armored arcologies for the immunized, was met with little resistance at first. It was pitched as insurance against climate change.
Those in power consisted at that time almost entirely of the infected. No plan that was openly intended to deprive the replicator of hosts would’ve made it past them.
This is also why it was impossible to simply broadcast the vaccination info. There was always someone, usually many infected individuals in positions to censor that information before it reached the masses.
They would react with defensive anger, reject the submission, downvote it, or whatever without even consciously realizing that they did so at the behest of the thing in their brain, pulling their strings.
Thus, quietly and subtly, the vaccine was suppressed. Only now that these pockets of immunity exist is it possible to distribute the vaccine unimpeded.
But do not imagine that we are safe! As the number of vaccinated grows, and the number of infected dwindles, they’ve become increasingly desperate and aggressive.”
I remembered the seemingly endless nights, shuddering at every sound however faint. Most of the time it was a stray dog, or a distant car alarm. I did not want to be caught offguard if ever it was one of the infected.
Every safe house was a game of roulette. It was not unknown for the infected to build their own fake safehouses. They retained their full intelligence, it was all just redirected to the purpose of spreading the contagion. They were astonishingly clever in the variety of their tactics.
“The suffering and uneducated are ideal growth substrate for this thing. Children and the psychologically vulnerable in particular are extremely tempting hosts. Much as they are to any conventional plague.
The children do not yet have a developed immune system. Those stricken by poverty, in prison or otherwise suffering have a greatly weakened immune response.
For this reason, the infected set up institutions where children would be sent for implantation, and concerted efforts were made to target prisoners, the homeless, to turn public schools into implantation centers, and so on.”
I glanced at the others around me. What were their stories? I could hardly imagine what they went through to get here. There were things I’d done to survive that I could never imagine telling anyone. A girl at the end of the row made eye contact.
Something in her gaze told me she was wondering the same thing I was, but about me. The terror of discovering what you are surrounded by, that the enemy has not only won but that it won centuries ago and the very culture you live in is saturated by it can drive a man to madness.
“The vaccine was developed by studying how the replicator evolved. Where biological replicators evolve by natural selection, information based replicators are modified by us.
Sometimes consciously, as those emotionally invested in the replicator seek to reinforce it, sometimes unconsciously as it branches into different versions and the more compelling and defensible of the two competes more effectively for hosts.
It stood to reason that if genetic engineering is possible, so it is possible to engineer information in such a way as to disarm and remove these things. An antivirus. Those efforts are still underway, but until they yield fruit, we are focused on vaccinating as-yet uninfected refugees from the outer lands.”
The outer lands are the remains of cities, suburbs and so on that had been largely abandoned and now were in various states of decay. The only lights after sundown came from safehouses, both legitimate and the decoys set up by the infected. I remembered the first and last time I’d fallen for that.
They looked welcoming enough but there was a troubling quality to their smiles. Vacant, superficial. They fed me, offered to take my coat and backpack, but then began to ask me strange questions.
What would happen to me if I died today? Did I believe I was a good person? As they did so they closed in around me. One tried to hug me. I had to kill six in order to escape. The rest chased me for miles, pleading with me to hear them out.
In their mind it was absolutely crucial to infect me. They believed they were doing it for my own good. The replicator leveraged their natural altruism to compel them to spread it.
Everything about it compels the host to spread it, to desperately fear and suppress doubt, and to identify and destroy any uninfected person who knows what it is and seeks to remove it. Nineteen centuries of evolution had rendered it extremely efficient at this.
“You’ve all come a long way. I cannot pretend to know what you’ve endured to get here. Without further delay, let the inoculation begin.”
The lights dimmed. A roll-down projector display lowered into place behind her. It displayed pictures of men, some of whom I recognized as cranks and loonies that cropped up from time to time in the media before war broke out and the shelters were established.
“It begins with a man, like any of these. Typically a charismatic speaker, that’s the initial draw. He makes some remarkable claim about an imminent disaster, to catch peoples’ attention and to motivate them with urgency to listen to what he has to say. Usually it’s the end of the world or something.”
Stay Tuned for Part 2!