Joe Starr certainly had not expected his final year of school to turn out like this. Distance learning was not going the way his teachers had planned. He missed his friends. And adults who he was supposed to turn to for leadership, from his parents to his president, had joined a pseudoscientific fad that would probably kill more starfish than the virus raging across the seven seas.
For almost a year now, starfish had lived under the specter of a mysterious virus, now widely called the Heineken virus, after Dr. Heineken, the person who first discovered it. At first, the symptoms of Heineken infection looked like standard seasonal illness. This gave starfish plenty of opportunity to underestimate the severity of the situation and pass the disease along to masses of others. By the time the symptoms escalated, vast public damage had been done.
In the beginning, starfish around the world had worked to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing, a practice advocated by Dr. Frost, one of starfish-kind’s leading disease control experts. For a while, it had looked like they would be able to eradicate the virus. But then segments of the population got cocky.
Some starfish thought they were too young and healthy to fall ill. Some thought their gods or goddesses would protect them. Some just didn’t care about the threat of disease in the face of their impending social plans. And still others thought the virus was a hoax designed to stir up discontent with President Donaldson. Joe rolled his eyes at the thought. As if we needed another reason to hate him.
Social distancing was no longer enforced. Parties were being held. The Yellowtail Snappers, though equally hit by the virus as the starfish, were already back in school, huge schools of thousands! Joe wasn’t terribly surprised, given the wild reputation of those in the Floridian waters, but the absolute flouting of safety precautions was still cringeworthy!
But the most disappointing, and quite frankly most terrifying, response to the virus was the “yeeter” fad. Joe cringed just thinking about it. The idea was that, with so many dying, starfish had to ensure survival of their species through “rapid reproduction,” or tearing off all their limbs at once in the hope that they would all regenerate into viable offspring.
The reason it was called “yeeting” was because of a video gone viral that featured some attention-seeking college student (who appeared to be high) ripping off a limb, launching it into a trench, and screaming “yeet for my bloodline!” The trend had really taken with a lot of starfish, who rambled about “preserving their heritage” through their genes and “following in the footsteps of old heroes” from when starfish were a small and inconsequential population.
The problem was that yeeting had already been proven by scientists to be ineffective at both curbing the spread of the virus and producing viable offspring. While starfish did split in half to reproduce, jettisoning all five limbs like the yeeters did tended to result in all of them dying. There was simply not enough of the central disk, which contained the nervous system and other vital organs, to go around after being split that many times. Furthermore, once a starfish was infected, all limbs were infected, so yeeting simply created five infected individuals instead of one.
Why was yeeting so popular, then? Partially because socially deprived starfish wanted any answer other than social distancing. And partly because President Donaldson started strongly advocating it as soon as he accepted that the virus wasn’t a hoax. In fact, he was so convinced that yeeting was the answer that he had threatened to fire Dr. Frost from his position in disease control. And while Frost still retained his job, he had been largely discredited by the media.
Today was the day that Joe’s parents were going to yeet themselves. It was happening in some mass gathering nearby. He’d already said his goodbyes. His mother had been disappointed in his lack of support, and promised one day he’d understand she was doing her sacred duty for the species, if he survived that long. His father had been a little more sympathetic, hoping whatever the right answer to the pandemic turned out to be, that Joe find it and live a long and safe life.
Joe tried not to be too upset by the death of his parents. He was almost full grown; he’d be fine. Besides, they had lived long lives and were near the end of their lifespans anyway. Furthermore, looking at the chaos gripping the seas in the wake of the virus, they might have the right idea by checking out. They had their ways; he had his.
He was surprised when he turned around to face his father! “You’re here! I thought the…yeeting would be over by now!”
“It is. Your mother is already gone.”
“Oh.” Joe shuffled his limbs awkwardly. “And you didn’t go with her?”
“I tried, son, I really did.” His father sighed. “But when I watched the others…there were so many limbs not moving. I…I couldn’t” He looked at Joe sheepishly. “Is…is it too late for me to change my mind?”
Joe smiled. “Of course not!” And it wasn’t. It was just in time to save his life. If his father could swallow his pride and change course, then maybe, just maybe, enough starfish could do the same to truly save the species from this virus.