*Please note that this piece is pure fiction and not an analysis of COVID-19.
In my previous life, I was a viral social media influencer, pushing out content that helped to degrade youth into narcissistic screen addicts. I became famous during the YouTube heyyears of 2015 and 2016. However, my channel suffered a steep decline in engagement in 2017. In an attempt to revive my influence, I died a year later in a prank concerning a flamethrower.[i]
I spent the next two years in an energetic stasis. When it was time to become something other than pure energy, the connected/karmic/ironic (however you want to name it) force of nature transformed me into a retrovirus: a string of RNA molecules that requires a living host in order to reverse replicate its genome. I entered the first human through contaminated bat meat. I then began to invade their cellular network, fusing with a cell, reverse transcribing my RNA into DNA, and integrating my viral DNA into the DNA of the host cell. From there, I virally replicated, wreaking havoc on the host’s organs and biological functions.
I became one of the most feared retroviruses due to my ease of transmission. I would slip into host’s airways via their mouth, nose, eyes, ears, cuts, burns, and sexual organs, infecting hosts from the air they breathe, those they have close physical contact with, surfaces they touch, etcetera. I was so effective that I was compared to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and- for nominal effect- the Black Death. But I didn’t act as indiscriminately as either of these pandemics. I mainly killed youth under eight, those sixty and over, and the infirm. In truth, most infected individuals could have gone about their day unaffected if governments worldwide didn’t enforce strict containment measures.
But normal life was drastically altered, and the economy was hit hard. The stock market tanked and drove the world into a recession. Daycares, elementary schools, and nursing homes were deserted, and hospitals were overcrowded and bleak places to be. By the end of 2020, the entire world population was between eight and sixty, bar a few thousand exceptions[ii] and a few powerful, but small, locations under full quarantine.[iii] Inevitably, many births were terminal, as transmission was common between mother and child during the birthing process. Young offspring who weren’t introduced to the virus at birth were often infected within their first six months of life. Unfortunately, I could survive even the strongest disinfectant, which- in any case- had properties ill-advised for use on children’s products.
So although RETRO-20 (my formal designation) was not fatal for the majority of the human population, I held catastrophic potential for the human race. If only a few infants, toddlers, and young children could survive the virus, the human species could be decimated in a matter of decades. This made societies worldwide consider the inevitability of extinction; and when humanity was faced head on with its potential fade out into eternal nothingness, the solipsistic nature of Homo sapiens drove the masses into action. Global societies began a long-overdue shift to environmental power sources and eliminated plastic and one-use items. Factory farms were banned, fast fashion was illegalized, and factories were shut down en masse as the economy shifted out of corporate capitalism. Consumerism became a thing of the past as communities slowly became self-reliant. Within a year, many families were able to make their own clothes, basic tools, and simple household necessities.
Moreover, the immense progress made in antiretroviral medications from the AIDS crisis thirty-years prior allowed scientists to hastily develop medication for RETRO-20 that was FDA approved for newborns in October 2021.[iv] Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies were making headway on a vaccine that could potentially eliminate the spread of not only RETRO-20, but retroviruses such as HIV and HTLV- 1/HTLV-2 as well.
In essence, humanity was better prepared for imminent extinction. I helped to retro-viral society back to its simpler, prior forms, yet with the increased understanding of science, technology, and emotional awareness. This made the outbreak the most positive-negative event of the millennium.
And- on a personal note- I redeemed my past wrongdoings, becoming a viral sensation that harmed without reason to a viral sensation that harmed with reason.
[i] Which did momentarily revive my channel. The prank- and my subsequent death- went viral until a crackdown ensued on those sharing the graphic video.
[ii] The majority of these exceptions naturally became study subjects.
[iii] (Comprised of the wealthy elite, of course.)
[iv] (And free of charge.)