This is the second chapter.
Start at the beginning.
Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 42
They awoke from their slumber and they were very, very hungry.
~ St. Giorgio Romeo, Il Risveglio Morti, circa AD 978.
• • •
“They got it all wrong,” Jessica muttered to herself as she loaded the samples into the DNA sequencer. Safe within the Level 4 Biohazard lab on Galveston Island, Jessica Munroe pushed on for a third sleepless day. They got it all wrong.
• • •
The they in this case was the media, the entertainment industry, the press, anyone and everyone writing about the Zombie Apocalypse. The facts about Zombies had been pretty well established by decades of books, movies, graphic novels, and TV shows. Everyone knew them:
- They went by many names: zombies, the undead, walkers, biters, etc.
- They could not be killed by normal means – only a direct hit to the head would work, either severing the head entirely or at least destroying it.
- Without the de rigueur head shot, a zombie would live forever, regardless of the amount of otherwise traumatic injury it had sustained. A zombie with half its body gone was still a threat.
- Zombies were immune to circumstances that would kill the living, such as drowning. Zombies could wander the bottoms of lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water indefinitely, posing an ongoing threat.
- Zombies, although chronically hungry, did not eat each other (perhaps out of professional courtesy). Only the warm fresh flesh of the living would suffice.
- Zombies were slow and mindless. They shuffle along, stumbling after their victims.
Wrong, wrong WRONG!
• • •
The lights suddenly flickered, dimmed, and then went out. “Shit, what now?” Jess exclaimed aloud to the empty room. Almost as as quickly, the lights came back on again. Thankfully all of the important equipment was connected to the main UPS, but around the room lesser equipment beeped and flashed as it rebooted. Jessica walked over to one of the laptops stationed around the room and pulled up a live video feed of the backup generators. She turned up the volume on the feed. “Thank God these cameras include sound too,” she thought to herself. Visually it was not obvious that that the backup generators were running, but the loud drone coming from the laptop’s speakers confirmed it. “Shit, shit, shit,” she muttered. “How much fuel did he say we had? A day, a week, month?”
• • •
The Level 4 Biohazard Lab had multiple redundant power supplies. The main power supply was actually connected to the CenterPower power grid at two different geographically-separated feed-in locations. These dedicated lines compensated for local grid interruptions. In this way, a blackout would need to be truly wide-ranging to disrupt power to the lab. After this, the first line of defense for both power fluctuations and short term power outages was provided by the massive battery bank located on the level immediately below the lab. The Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and associated power conditioning equipment occupied the entire seventh floor of the CDC’s Special Circumstances Complex. The batteries provided instantaneous switch-over and up to forty-eight hours of conditioned power for the air filtration system, air conditioning, water filters, security systems, and laboratory instrumentation. This allowed time for the backup generators to come on line and provided a power cushion in the event that the generators did not come up immediately or needed to be taken down for service. The generators themselves were safely located on the roof of the complex, beneath the helicopter pad, well away from any possibility of flooding during a hurricane. With respect to hurricanes, the complex was windowless above the second floor Visitor’s Center. No windows to break. Nothing got in or out except through the air locks and the air filters. Without close attention to the clock or the occasional glance at the outside security cameras, time was meaningless.
• • •
Jess stepped into the decontamination airlock and began scrubbing down her isolation suit, face mask, and gloves with disinfectant. It was a long tedious procedure and she desperately needed to pee. Next she stepped through into the UV bath and drying chamber. She closed her eyes tightly as the UV lamps switched on and hot-air drying fans roared to life. She raised her arms, spread her legs, and slowly spun around to make sure that the UV rays and drying air reached every crevice of her suit. She clenched her teeth. “Come on, come on, gotta pee, gotta pee,” she thought as she waited for what seemed like an eternity for the all-clear alarm to sound. She stepped quickly through the airlock door, stripping off the isolation suit as she went. “Hold it … hold it …. just a little bit long…” she walked briskly down the hall and around the corner to the single unisex restroom.
A few minutes later Jessica emerged. “Must … have … coffee …” she muttered aloud to herself. The third sleepless day was already beginning to erect that glass wall of detachment that occurs after too many nights without sleep. The fog of exhaustion was rolling in. The clock on the microwave in the nearby break room flashed 12:10 … 12:10 … 12:10. She walked over to the coffee maker, popped in a fresh coffee pod, rinsed out the nearest coffee cup, and positioned it carefully under the spout. She hit the round blue glowing brew button and fell back onto the nearest chair. “Were is he?” she thought. “What time is it?” … pause … “What day is it?” Then, almost as an afterthought, “how long has he been gone?”
She moved to the other end of the break room to a large flat-panel TV mounted on the wall. It was currently connected to one of the many security cameras installed in and around the complex. The view looked down at the deserted street in front of the main entrance. Shadows on the ground suggested it was mid-afternoon. Grabbing the controller, Jess quickly cycled through the other cameras. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Birds. Nothing. Nothing. Wait, something caught her eye. Back up. She was looking at Galveston Beach through one of the long-range cameras. A pack of Zs (pronounced Zēēs) was running down the beach chasing a hapless dog, no doubt a beloved family pet. The border collie was tiring and the Zs were closing fast. She watched a moment more, then continued cycling through the cameras, in time to avoid having to watch the inevitable kill. She had seen this too many times before.
• • •
Zombie mythology preconditioned all of us to expect an almost slow motion process of plodding zombies clumsily gnawing away at the victim. No one was prepared for the reality. Zs are fast, as fast as their pre-Z human selves, maybe even a tad faster, depending of course on the age and condition of the human stock. They are smart too, not Einstein smart, but pack hunter smart. A Z kill scene looks more like a scene from Jaws or Piranha than anything one sees in the typical Zombie movie. It is bloody and quick. Flesh, sinew, organs, are all stripped from the bones in minutes.
They got it all wrong.
They got it very, very wrong. Zs are smart and fast, but they aren’t immortal, and … they aren’t dead. As Ben once said on Lost… “Dead is dead. You don’t come back from that.” Zs aren’t dead, they are in fact very much alive. But they aren’t really human any more, either. They are infected. Infected in a way that destroys higher brain function, yet maintains and heightens lower functions. If anything, speed and agility are often increased. This, combined with reduced sensitivity (or perhaps no sensitivity) to pain, means that stopping a Z or a pack of Zs requires a lot of fire power. The shotgun is still the weapon of choice for zombie killing. Semi-automatic is good, fully-automatic better, double-barrel better than nothing. The head-shot method still works very well on Zs. Yet other methods also work. Zs aren’t immortal. They can be drowned but it takes longer than for healthy humans. They can be burned, boiled, or otherwise cooked to the point that muscle no longer functions and blood congeals. They can be hacked apart to the point where sufficient blood loss deprives the brain, nerves, and muscles of oxygen and nutrients. There has to be an awful lot of hacking though, since their blood clotting factor is off the charts. Major cuts and amputations seem to heal in seconds rather than minutes. Half a Z can still rip you apart before it dies.
One thing was still true, Zs are hungry … very, very hungry. In addition to shutting down higher brain function, the HZV virus increases metabolism, requiring higher continuous nutrition levels. Zs need to eat. Unfortunately this does not equate to a faster rate of death by starvation. Zs can live an uncannily long time with no food or water before succumbing. Oh, and one more thing, Zs will eventually resort to eating each other if no other food source is available.
• • •
Nothing. Nothing. Jess continued to cycle though the cameras. Nothing. Nothing. Noth … wait … a small blip appeared on the screen. It was a car moving at high speed on the deserted street, racing straight toward the camera. “He’ll be at the loading dock soon,” Jess thought. “Better go meet him.” With that she grabbed one of the shotguns, put on a bandolier of shells, and ran for the stairwell.
• • •