Despite some considerable efforts, humankind was never quite able to divorce the parallel world, they molded for themselves from the fundamental principles that underwrite tangible reality. Its collective existence was defined by the interactions between sentient beings which are invariably impossible to predict and control. Even when reality could be rearranged with just a few keystrokes, the law of unintended consequences could never be circumvented, ignored or even just softened.
This electronic ecosystem became the habitat for an emergent species that just like their organic counterparts were relatively simple and existed for a single purpose to propagate itself. Their creators modeled their coded beings so similarly after the enigmatic microbes they even used a similar lexicon to classify and describe their functions.
Drifting along in the endless streams of information that bound together digital existence was a perplexing tapestry of coding patiently waiting for a trigger that would begin the next phase of the process that outlined its very existence. How it came to be no one is certain. Was this the purpose intended by its creator(s) or was this an accident of nature?
Fate as cruel as it is indifferent exposed Andrea Simpson to this pathogen. Technically it infected her tablet, but that tiny machine connected her to a reality that kept her continuously engaged. The device was the vessel she worked through to interact with the world. In its circuits, the malicious being had access to all of her thoughts, memories, and even more, frightening her most basic desires. It was more than enough for the software to coldly compile a profile of the girl. It identified her weaknesses and systematically set out to exploit them for some unknown ends.
The host Andrea was human and of course a social creature. Her brain had evolved to dispense chemical rewards to encourage her to pursue human interaction. On its face, it's easy to see the evolutionary benefit of this system, but there are always drawbacks. The pursuit of human relationships brought with it the need to seek approval. Approval and acceptance trigger neurochemical releases even high-grade pharmaceuticals can scarcely compete with. This was the biological mechanism the predator would manage to attack from the abstract dimension of cyberspace.
The symptoms were quick to manifest, but in the early stages, it was subtle. Occasionally the designated alert for a social media app would be triggered, and every time she stopped whatever she was doing to check the screen. Much to the benefit of the virus, she had already been adequately conditioned.
It sent pieces of itself into the devices of anyone she had any contact with to not only repeat the process but to collect data on her preferences in human companions. It took the tapestry of information and expertly wove it into thousands of Potemkin personalities. People who were nothing but a collection of pictures and text.
These electronic hallucinations became Andrea’s friends and loyal fans. Her online profiles were a record of the disease progress. These phantoms were being manufactured faster and faster. They showered the self-conscience adolescent with praise and admiration. They liked everything she had to say, and they ruthlessly attacked anyone who might disparage the girl in any way.
Her life was shaped by these delusions. She whittled by the hours making proclamations and sharing self-portraits with her imaginary base of followers. Her daily schedule was regimented as if by a PR team. She issued statements and appeared on camera to practically nonexistent audiences.
Never did she dare to question these figments of her fever dream. She wanted to believe she had attained fame but no matter how many followers Andrea accumulated or how many tens of thousands of likes or reshares she received the world around her was still too stagnant for Andrea. She immersed herself further and further into the mirage, and the virus used her conditioning to pull her in further and further.
In essence, it was a drug binge. The virus squeezed the pleasure centers of her brain until they had been wrung dry. Now that the addict was crashing and looking for a stronger does the next phase was to cut her off cold turkey.
She woke up one morning horrified to see the sudden and sharp decline in her number of followers across every platform. Her panic-stricken reaction was to take to the forum where she sought her doses of validation and declare defiantly and hollowly that she didn’t care. To her dismay, there wasn’t a single response either verbal or in any form of digital hieroglyphics to her cry.
She was a shell. Her online avatar had absorbed her personality almost wholly. Now her world had evaporated. The virus, now nearing the completion of its cycle had physically sickened a human host. Like any addict, Andrea made any desperate cold-hearted attempt she could to either get what she craved or subconsciously signal a sympathetic soul to help her. She was trapped in the morass of depression. At 17 she already felt her best times had come and gone.
Filled with youthful and naive ideas about the romanticism of tragedy she made one final effort to rekindle what she thought was online fame. She lived in a loud and crowded world, and only the grandest gesture could go noticed. In many ways, Andrea was a sad product of her times. She did everything she could to choreograph the presentation of her life no matter how mundane or gruesome the actual details maybe. Her suicide was self-promoted as a live event and even took donations which the star of the show promised to donate to a charity that assists women and girls with eating disorders. How she intended to hand over this money was something she didn’t consider, and it didn’t matter anyway. It was just one more prefabricated element for her theatrical presentation.
It did draw a crowd. People from around the world tuned in to watch the sad teenager swallow a lethal dose of sleeping pills and mutter her last thoughts incoherently to an audience of callous observers satisfying morbid curiosity. It was the final event on her timeline. The thumbnail image of her face, warped by the pains of despair was the cyber world's last record of her.
Just like the contagion that had cut down Andrea the recorded memory of her death was repeatedly replicated and sent adrift into the perpetual stream of information. This was the result of one quest for fame and notoriety. This morose segment of video was how she would be immortalized.