With a Whimper by James Savik

Journal entry of James Savik, dated June 4, 2028

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot from the Hollow Men

How did it happen?  It was an accident of course; the convergence of a million accidents, misunderstandings and bad judgement. It was ignorance of the world of microbes and the arrogance of people that thought it couldn't possibly matter.

It started in the hospitals of all places. The same hospitals ruthlessly scrubbed with antiseptic shining surfaces and all of their protocols to keep infectious agents at bay.

The microbes had been around since before mankind. Those microbes lived out their short lives and reproduced just like they had for millennia. That is until we started trying to kill them on mass with antiseptics and antibiotics.

Oh we killed them all right — by the quadrillions. For what were they after all but mere microbial vermin that could be a nuisance and even a danger. Over and over again except for a very select few. The few survivors were just a little different from the rest. They were genetically different from the rest. 

We had no idea that we were shortcutting millions of years of evol ution. Over the course of a few short decades in human years, we pushed bacterial, fungi and viral evolution further than millions of years of natural selection could have possibly achieved.

Over time those microbes changed in ways both subtle and gross. It was the changes in the cytoplasmic membrane that made the most difference. Most antiseptics and antibiotics attack those membranes to destroy bacteria. We had inadvertently given rise to a new breed of bacteria that were for all practical purposes armor plated. None of our chemicals could affect them. They were impervious to even our silver bullets. Many of our old, well known microbes changed and became something altogether different. Common bacteria that no one gave a second thought soon became destroyers.

We first noticed it in Staphylococcus aureus. It became completely resistant to anything and everything that modern pharmaceutical science could throw at it. It started slowly at first appearing very rarely — killing a few people here and there in hospitals. They called them opportunistic infections. Over time it slowly gained momentum like a malignant wave. In a few years, hospitals became so dangerous no one would go near one.

Then it became like a row of dominoes as old but new again microbial enemies of mankind came back with a roar. Suddenly a skinned knee or a sinus infection just might be a death sentence.

The first mega killer was Streptococcal pharyngitis.It mutated like its cousin into a drug resistant killer and spread across five continents killing seven hundred million people. Suddenly strep throat became one of the most pernicious slayers of mankind in world history.

The next big mega killer was Clostridium perfringens — ancient anaerobic decay bacteria so common that it was ignored. Suddenly it was everywhere and killing people in a matter of a few hours. One point two billion people were dead over four months.

Then came… God only knows what it was. It was a red gram negative bacterium. We never could identify it because it was so different from its progenitor. It was hell's own creation. It went through our people like a buzz saw. It was a horror like none I've ever seen before.

I lived through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. Once again a microbe killed everyone that I cared about. AIDS was a like Sunday picnic in comparison.

It was so fast and so toxic that it was like a surrealistic nightmare. People died so fast we couldn't even study it. Healthy people literally dropped dead. It attacked the red blood cells and excreted a neurotoxin so deadly that just a few micrograms killed in a matter of minutes. It was like seeing people go out like bad light bulbs.

World population crashed in a matter of two years from 7.5 billion to just over 500 million.

I don't really know if it’s over. It might still be going on. What saves us now is our population density is so low that humanity can no longer sustain a pandemic.

Now it is up to the survivors to find the will to go on.

This city that was once so busy and noisy — now all that can be heard is the wind blowing through empty buildings carrying the stench of death.

The End

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