art by Jeffrey Redmond
Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing
by Paul G Di Filippo
Nearly all biohackers agree on one thing concerning the infamous Twaddle virus: it was elegantly scripted. Contagious via mere touch or aerosol dispersal (a sneeze, a cough), the synthetic infection was able to cross the blood-brain barrier within hours of contact with a human host. A retrovirus, it wrote itself ineradicably into the victim's cortical genome, forever altering the sufferer's neurochemistry. As a final insult, the parasite caused the mocking signature logo of its unknown maker to appear upon the brow of each victim, scribed in colorful active OLED nanopixels: a GIF of an obese cartoon duck waddling across a barnyard: what soon came to be known as "the Twaddle duck."
Of course, the well-known primary effect of hosting the virus was something else entirely, and rather more severe and debilitating.
The Twaddle virus caused in each host a continuous logorrhea, a stream-of-consciousness dump, uncontrollable and omnidirectional. The victims resembled Tourette's sufferers, and experts speculated that the Twaddle designer had learned how to tweak that same neural circuitry. But an additional wrinkle obtained: the insidious hacker had built an automatic shuffle function into the bug. The victim's oral spew jumped in unpredictable scattershot fashion among any and all topics available to his or her mind, at such a rate that the Twaddler's pronouncements--"blurts"--were all clipped and relatively short.
The Patient Zero of the Twaddle plague is generally deemed to be one Durst Jacksy, a young Berlin-based musician with a small following in the underground "grey goo" scene. Some have speculated that Jacksy was Twaddle's actual designer. Others, that he merely represented an unfortunate first host to the accidentally escaped, or deliberately released, virus. In either case, data-mining research across the entire internet has definitively pegged Jacksy as the original locus of the disease.
The patrons of the Kurfürstendamm café known as Durchfall's were alarmed to see a wild-eyed, panting Jacksy burst into the establishment one autumn morning, spouting a stream of unprovoked non-sequiturs. One patron recorded the historic incident with her smartphone, and a rough transcription (into English) of Jacksy's historic first blurts is attached here:
"What a sunrise! Can't wait for Harry Potter Meets the Incredibles. Have you seen the price of guitar strings lately? Where's my car keys, I've got an appointment. Elections don't change a damn thing. Mom always loved Uther best. I need new shoes. That sex with Adette was fantastic! Ginger cookies and milk remind me of school days. These pants are my favorite ones. Cancer took my uncle first, then his wife. I wish Lady Gaga hadn't married the American president. Kittens are cute until about a month old. Have yourself a merry little Christmas!"
The video continues to show all of Jacksy's concerned friends clustering around him, trying to calm and help him. (Of course, they were immediately infected, thereby launching the plague across the city, and thence the world.) "Is he on drugs?" someone asks. A despairing Jacksy covers his mouth with both hands, muffling his speech but not stopping it. The spectators recoil in horror when the Twaddle duck emerges on his forehead. Eventually, an ambulance crew arrives and takes Jacksy away. But much, much too late to halt the plague.
The subsequent few weeks followed the standard pattern of all twenty-first-century epidemics: confusion, panic, official reassurances, recognition of the vector, quarantine, analysis of the infectious agent, and ultimately and to much global relief, the creation of a reliable vaccine. But all those developments took nine months, and by then nearly one hundred million people worldwide had been infected. What was worse, they were incurable. The vaccine only protected against initial infections.