Covid 23–31 as Seen From the Conterrestrial Pre-Launch Command Center

"Conterrestrial Covid-30 launch sequence" (Illustration by Adam Myers)
"Conterrestrial Covid-30 launch sequence" (Illustration by Adam Myers)

Electoral conspiracy theories and antivax paranoia cross into a bizarre parallel plane in this nightmarish, Ballardesque satire.

I — Covid 23

0.75% of those infected die of complications. Many get well on their own. But a striking 3% of those infected emerge from the disease with more lean muscle mass and what is repeatedly described as “laser-sharp thinking and a new lease on life,” with no degradation of cognitive abilities. 

This 3% quickly take over key industries, then lobby for letting the virus take its course. Through eye-catching, targeted web campaigns they argue that  the new productivity they bring to the world  is worth the 0.75% death rate.  

“We do not wish to be cured,” say the survivors.

II — Covid 24

General sniffles and weight gain. 0.38% death rate, high comorbidity. Boring and ignored by most news media.

III — Covid 25

Outbreak in logging community is squelched when that summer’s super-fires burn a million acres, taking the population and that of a neighboring town with it. 

The President takes full credit, yet also gaslights the state for not managing their forests and for “all the terrible deaths.”

IV — Covid 26

Rotting cavities covered by thin membranes on arms and legs. Very few fatalities without co-morbidities.Survivors lose most language skills and primarily grunt yes, no, food, tired. 

Against the advice of his own aides the President says the new viral variant is a result of unsanitary conditions typical of socialized medicine. 

The news cycle is once again filled with breathless use of the word “co-morbidities.”

V — Covid 27 + H1N1-b flu

This season’s H1N1-b virus counters the new Covid 27 strain, and what looked like the latest pandemic is instead two weekends of headaches and bedrest. 

The economy roars back and the President claims full credit. Lingering symptoms include numbness along edges of right hand. 

Those remaining feel they are the lucky ones, immediately going to work on a series of detention camps to hold … anyone, really. 

In years ahead, scientists show Covid 27 caused brain damage that produced extreme rigidity of routine; a need to sort everything; and deference to authority. 

No one is reeducated in the detention camps, yet most people are considered criminals as more laws are passed. 

Many claim their country is now back on track. Thousands die in detention. The re-elected President announces it is time to put the past behind us and enter a new era of nation-building.

VI — Covid 28

Henry Scarliq Cosmegen finds himself semi-conscious and crammed under a sheet of pavement rising four feet into the air, shielding him from blinding sunlight. 

He knows his name, and must be military because he is wearing a camouflage shirt. He does not know why he’s here. 

He chips at blood caked on his forehead with a curious fingernail. Everywhere is broken urban landscape, withering bodies within the bomb’s blast radius, mapped and doomed by a spark. 

He’s not military, he’s just some guy wearing a surplus Army shirt.

Henry can see a corpse’s hand, snared on a line of barbed wire and still clasped around a radio. Ghost news leaks from its crackling speaker: 

“… but the Enterial Minister said the drop in new cases showed that … over, in the terrible truce of the fusion bomb … waiting. Prevention and control efforts, efforts that are so comprehensive … Port has risen to 355.”

The sun sets quickly and Henry realizes he is losing track of time, then forgets it. 

He moves out from under the chunk of roadway, crawls into the broken front of a store, and lays on the floor before he forgets again what he’s doing. 

The radio fades as he moves, still spewing nonsense from some pre-programmed news hour: 

“An era of official toleration began a few years later, when … Conterrestrial communications throughout the universe. We are now set for the most comprehensive all-sky survey.”

His hand swells and pressure builds in his skull. He can’t remember if yesterday there was an epidemic, or a limited nuclear exchange, and the last savage hope of Empire Regained dissolved into vapor.  

He covers himself with newspapers and waits, eyes closed.

VII — Covid 29

Greyson 12 Cyprostayson addresses the meeting gathered deep under the city, in chambers built to withstand wars planned decades previous. He does not feel like one of the lucky ones. 

“Sgt. Henry Scarliq Cosmegen was our last subject carrying the successful immune response to Covid 27,” Cyprostayson says. “His disappearance greatly impedes our research.”

“The Central Bank is to disinfect and store used banknotes before recirculating them, in a bid to stop the virus spreading,” announces Olivia Pemetelaide, speaking before the latest figures were released. 

Missing her left hand, she uses the remaining fused forearm bone as a handy whiteboard pointer, tapping it relentlessly against the board.

“Do as you need, Ms. Pemetelaide. With the current virus out of control we should turn our focus to Conterrestrial. Port has risen to 355 and two-way communication is again possible during this window. With their influence campaign we can move the election in our favor, as it should be, as it is decreed. We are now set for the most comprehensive all-sky survey.”

VIII — Covid 30

After a limited nuclear exchange, the remaining Iranian scientists reveal two frequencies of their new weapons, which neutralized Covid 30 during initial blasts.  

The war-ravaged country, a Monopoly board of radiation hot spots and flaming oil derricks visible from skyline to skyline, is recast as a safety zone from the brain-eating scourge known as Covid 30. 

Cut to grainy black and white film of three scientists using a compass to draw circles on a map. 

The President, still cloaking his infection from Covid 26 through 29, watches the actors-as-scientists in the late-night movie, and insists he is viewing the Iranian scientists via a spy satellite. 

“Tell the satellite to laser them immediately!” he demands.

Attendants help him to bed and take his phone away.

Conterrestrial ships, many no larger than tennis balls, their occupants tiny, emerge from rifts in the Earth, and from behind the moon, each spraying oily droplets embedded with Covid 31, fecund fruit of a thousand wars. 

Phillip Lawless is an artist and writer in San Francisco who grew up on science fiction and comics. He wrote and illustrated on and off for fanzines, then stopped for years. His observations on the intersection of fiction, collage, and music fuels his creative output. He’s more interested in what makes a fake human than a real one, and why a false narrative appeals more than one that can be verified.

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