Everyone thought it was great news, the discovery of the RNA repair technique. Manufacture a virus, give it your *own* DNA to build from, and watch it go. Seemed like a perfect solution. The theory was, it would fight off foreign viruses, cancer, and even slow the gradual effects of aging. The virus-factories worked so well once they were set up that it was possible to give the treatment in free clinics. Governments paid for it, because it’s a lot cheaper to give someone a special shot than to pay for their TB for 20 years while they are on welfare.
It’s too bad it worked a little *too* well. Our DNA or not, viruses are a foreign life form. When the first group of recipients started dying, the viruses didn’t get the memo. So they went right on repairing the cells, rebuilding what was lost. “Dead” no longer quite fit the bill.
Too bad higher brain function was a bit much for the viruses. They kept the lizard brain humming along, but the cerebrum is basically a washout. Random firing, lost connections. You’ve heard the phrase, “the lights are on, but no one’s home?” Well, we can’t say for sure that no one’s home, but if the lights go on, they flicker, and they never stay on in the same room for more than a minute or two.
At first, people thought it was a good thing. Or at least, the beginning of a good thing. “If our bodies stay alive, even after massive trauma,” they reasoned, “maybe we can find a way to get those thoughts back in order!” It became customary for the “deceased” to be kept at home, kept clean and fed, waiting on that miracle drug, that ECT setting, that magical guru to make them all go back to the way they were before.
The problem is, people don’t stop dying just because the last wave is still shuffling around in their bedroom slippers. Overcrowding got worse. Terminal care went back to it’s pre-gene-therapy costs. Families buckled.
But enough of the good news.
Reports started trickling in, slowly at first. The inoculated homeless began taking pets. There were rumors that the younger runaways were afraid to be out at night for fear of being eaten by the older. A meal missed in a suburban family led to attacks on the children by their dead older brother. Tombs started opening from within as people who had been treated without telling they families were mistakenly interred.
It was only a small percentage of cases. The more dead there were, the larger number of incidents made up “a small percentage.” Most people dismissed it, and refused to think of cremating their dearly departed. Doctors and scientists promised that we were just around the corner from the return of consciousness. Immortality in our time!
That was bad enough, but when the “factory” viruses mutated, it was the beginning of the end. A little inactive payload, kept quiet by markers in the tailored treatments, started coming along for the ride. Once an untreated (or differently treated!) host was detected, the factory DNA came alive, and did its job. Sort of. Living hosts were quickly sunk to the same mindless state that had been the lot of the dead. The mutation happened in the CDC lab, where the main research was being done. When they were bitten, we lost 90% of the people in the world who knew enough about it to be able to hope to stem the tide. Once that happened, it was just a matter of time. They had all the time in the world – sooner or later each of us would be one of them. Hell, I was given the shot when I was 3 years old. There’s a Deadhead inside me, just waiting to be set free.
There’s a bit of light in the tunnel, though. It doesn’t look like the treatment passes from one generation to the next. They were very careful about that – non-transmissability. Couldn’t have people’s DNA getting confused. So if the “pure strain” doesn’t mutate, the next generation should be clean. Then they will just need to clean up the mess, and hang on.
If you’re reading this, they must have succeeded. Thank goodness the Deadheads can’t work a lock anymore. These papers should be safe in this fireproof safe until someone who knows how to think finds them.
Good luck, and Godspeed, whoever you are.