INTERVIEWER: We have in the studio tonight Dr. Alan Rigby, here to speak to us about a topic some of you may have heard of, that of circular diseases. Thank you for joining us, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Thank you for having me, Chris. I don’t wish to cause panic or even undue alarm, but this is a serious issue that we are only now discovering, and my colleagues and I feel it is important that the public be kept informed.
I: So what can you tell us about these circular diseases, Doctor?
D: Perhaps I should begin with what a circular disease is, I mean why we call it that. It’s really just a bit of jargon that evolved out of our attempts to classify them in relation to other diseases, but the term was useful and stuck. And it illustrates the problem about as clearly as we know how.
Imagine an angle drawn on paper, or rather this whiteboard we have here. A normal disease, the sort we’re used to and have been fighting since Dr. Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine, would be a 90 degree angle like this; we’d now call it a vertical disease. You gradually become sicker over time with the disease’s onset, then you’re quite sick for a while, then your body fights off the infection and you gradually become well again over a period of recovery.
A worse disease, a fatal disease, we could then call a 180 degree disease, or a horizontal disease. Or as some of the more waggish members of my profession might call it, a flatline disease. You become gradually sicker, and then you die.
I: Hmm. So what then would a larger angle represent? If this angle indicates severity… what would be worse than fatal?
D: Ah well you see, this is why we use an angle to illustrate it. You see, once you go past 180 degrees, the angle — or perhaps I should say the arc, the curve described by that angle, begins to curve back the other way, yes?
I: Curve back? I see that geometrically of course, but what does that mean for the disease?
D: In this metaphor, the point where it begins to curve back represents a reversal in the flow of time with respect to the disease.
I: Ah… what? Time?
D: So consider a 270 degree disease. It’s another vertical disease, like the 90 degree one, but only distinguishable by its direction. And in fact, speaking of the disease in reality rather than this diagram, it is almost entirely indistinguishable because here you also suffer a period of gradually worsening health, then maximum illness, and finally you gradually return back to normal. The difference is that it is operating backwards in time. Though it feels the same to the sufferer who is only perceiving time in the ordinary way, the disease progresses in reverse — you gradually get sicker in a backwards recovery, then you’re sick, and then you get healthier again in a reverse onset.
I: So… a 360 degree disease would be… the fatal version of that?
D: Yes. And this is what is so troubling about it. Because unlike a 180 degree or horizontal disease in which you get sicker and sicker and then die, a circular disease kills you first. And there is no warning of it — you don’t experience a backwards recovery phase like in a 270-degree disease, because there is no recovery for someone who is dead. And you don’t get the reverse onset phase either, because from the point of view of us humans moving forwards in time, that would have to occur after you’ve already died. Effectively, a circular disease kills you before you’ve contracted it.
I: But that’s…
D: Absurd? Impossible? Yes, certainly. But here we are.
I: How did this happen? Where did this circular disease come from?
D: At the risk of troubling you and your viewers even more Chris, I should first point out that it is diseases plural. We’ve observed a variety of symptoms in the victims indicating at least four different individual strains. But to answer your question… well, we aren’t entirely sure, but we believe we’ve traced them to an outbreak in an experimental testing facility at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
I: There weren’t any news reports of… when did this happen?
D: The best we can estimate it is between four and six years from now.
I: Is… is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?
D: We’re working on a vaccine, but it’s proving quite difficult as the vaccine would also have to work backwards in time, and so far we’ve been unable to successfully vaccinate someone who is already dead. The best I can offer your viewers is to follow normal disease-prevention protocol. Wash your hands before going to the bathroom, or preferably before touching any object. And if possible, try not to breathe. Or perhaps I should say, try not to be going to breathe.
I: …Thank you for your time, Dr. Rigby.
shoutout to Chris Morris and specifically a bit in the first episode of his 1991 BBC Radio show “On The Hour” for inspiring this