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BACTERIA

    Once large parts of the globe fell victim to flesh-eating bacteria.
    Outbreaks of this virulent threat had occurred before, in nearly every generation, it seemed, since humans began living together in groups more concentrated than two families in the same cave. Yet few previous episodes had afflicted so far-flung a geographic range: not simply isolated cities or regions or even whole countries but millions upon millions of hapless individuals found themselves victims of a scourge that with forethought and care could have been eradicated long before it reached such harrowing proportions. Instead, its tyranny over man, woman, and child followed a predictable but stubbornly recurrent cycle, subsiding in one place only to break out with renewed ferocity half a world away.
    As with any pandemic, flesh-eating bacteria attacked the most vulnerable first. Those with a history of trusting their lives and wellbeing to what passed for timeless folk wisdom or to voices extolling remedies on a par with bloodletting left themselves open to the rapidly debilitating course of the infection once it took command of their lives. Unlike regular strains of flesh-eating bacteria, however, this one had undergone an especially pernicious mutation at some point in its transmission that not only increased its virulence but also shifted its focus of attack to the soft tissues of the brain. 
    Although medical opinion was divided on what exactly triggered the change, considerable evidence pointed to a transitional incubation phase in some cold-blooded host species as the most likely explanation. Once sufferers had lost the ability to think for themselves or even to stand on their own two feet as sentient beings, this mutant strain of flesh-eating bacteria, now more accurately identified as brain-eating bacteria, rapidly spread its contagion to new victims.
    From that point on, essentially brain dead and convulsed by rabid movements, what had now been transformed into a staggering ghoul of a creature, no longer even remotely recognizable as human, roamed the streets like the living dead, often in violent packs, setting upon any person with a still-healthy brain in paroxysms of violence appalling for their mindless savagery.
    Desperate appeals to the powers that be to halt the ravages of this onslaught before it was too late and entire societies succumbed to its gruesome force went mysteriously unheeded or, more frequently, led to particularly vicious new outbreaks that defied rational explanation altogether. It was almost as if those who could have put a stop to the carnage deliberately chose not to and in effect promoted it.
    Unless, of course, the utterly unthinkable was true and these very powers that be had themselves been among the first to lose their battle with brain-eating bacteria.