In Harms Way
Remember when we had that global pandemic that we couldn't contain even by mostly shutting down the entire global economy, and then got bored and said fuck it throwing off our masks and out our middle fingers to all the dead and dying, before having our hands and arms lopped off, begging the burnt-out-beyond-repair ER nurse you just assaulted to help you with the zero available staff and supplies?
It wasn't that long ago that complete strangers would long-eye you on the street just for appearing in a pair. You had to go out of your way to overtly express your relationship to avoid someone calling the cops on you for associating with those outside your own household.
Between then and now we had learned a great deal about the virus we were so afraid of, and the news was far from good. It turned out the virus was constantly evolving to evade our all-too-slow advances. Like other debilitating viruses predecessors like smallpox and HIV, this one would lead to long-term disability in 1-in-10 people. Worse, the more you catch it, the more likely you are to have blood clots, heart attacks, dementia, diabetes, strokes, not to mention crippling fatigue and soul-ending depression. Even cases with “mild” or no symptoms spread the virus, and can contract long-term post-virus illness. It also immediately kills about 1 in 100 people it infects, regardless of population-level vaccination campaigns, or prior “mild” infections.
Corporate interests desperate to get us back to normal, destroying ourselves and each other to boost their quarterlies. At all costs they must regain control from powerful social acronyms like CERB and BLM.
They built a pressure cooker, stuffed it hundreds of thousands of layoffs, systemic racism, unbridled greed and the guilt of intentionally destroying the planet. A global case of the shack-whackies blew the lid off.
The bomb took out most of the public health authorities, the non-scientific press, and most severely, common sense in general. All that remained in place of Public Health officials and mainstream new were the cockroach brands and executives lulling us back to work with more hours and less pay, while every one of their friends has their hands deep inside our pockets, grabbing for more than loose change.
The experience leaves you violated and traumatised, whether you realise it or not. The softest hand of the billionaire, its frictionless caress soon ignites the forests of life itself, dooming all to a torturous death.
Today, total strangers will single you out at the grocery store and publicly drain their confused and impotent rage upon you, for you wear a respirator when you grocery shop. These people aren't angry at you... they're terrified, of being wrong.
As a kid I saw an advertisement that showed dishevelled masses of grey-sweated near-zombies through a smog-strangled dystopian America, all wearing hospital-grade N95 respirators. A child struggled to lift a scavenged quarter into the slot of an oxygen machine on a filthy street corner. I had many questions for my parents, to which they answered their best.
“In other places, like China, the air is so dirty that people can barely breathe. The factories make so much pollution that it makes people sick. Sick people get sick from flu and pneumonia, so they wear masks to keep their germs to themselves.”
Oh, that sounds horrible! But that's kinda like wearing a gas mask, which seemed cool to my toddler mind.
“That machine makes clean air, but many people can't afford it.”
But... they have so many factories, so they must have so much money!
“Canada is so full of trees that with our factories, the air we breathe is very clean. Except for very near the individual factories. We live very near an oil refinery, which is that stinky smell that's always there unless the wind comes from the west, in which case we smell the Pulp mill instead.”
But we're healthy, and no one I've ever seen has worn a mask.
“This is a commercial about what could happen in the future. It's not that bad anywhere right now. Except in LA, maybe” he laughed. LA (in the decade prior) featured prominently in at least two of my favourite TV shows, and ditto of my parents. I knew it and it's associated tropes well.
Thirty-eight years old, wearing a mask to the government marijuana shop because it's not safe to breathe the air was not what my child-mind had conjured up. It couldn't have possible.
But a great number of science fictions writers I read did. They endless warned that the writing would be on the wall, in 20 foot high neon sans-serif capitals in every language: Heed thy warning or face thy doom.