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War Wounds

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General Goose
  • General Goose

    Because Jeb Bush is all in my house with disease.

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#1

Posted 20 February 2011 - 02:42 AM

I decided to make a topic for this. Any questions about the subject matter or feedback about the work itself would be great. I've done 4 chapters already, but I'll just post the first two here for now.

QUOTE (Chapter 1)
St. Martinville, Louisiana


[It is a sunny day in Louisiana's largest city, home to an estimated population of 300,000. The sounds of children playing in the streets while their parents practice their marksmanship skills can both be heard distinctly in the background, while the hum of the classical radio station my host is listening to plays at a low volume. My host, Mayor of this town and former US Senator Chuck Soileau, closes the windows of his suburban mansion and turns the radio down to an even lower level before speaking.]


I always had a…maverick reputation. Whether that was a compliment or an insult depended on who was saying it. Like most Louisianan Democrats outside of New Orleans, I was firmly in the centre of the political spectrum. Left and right politics still meant something back then; the party next to your name had a big impact on how people saw you. For better or for worse. And in my case, considering how Yellow Dog Democrats in my state were a dying breed, quickly becoming replaced by Yellow Dog Republicans…it tended to be for worse.

So when nearly every one of my congressional colleagues threw themselves behind the bandwagon of Phalanx without even considering the possibility it may be a placebo, I was torn. When everyone decided that the administration's plan for coping with this new crisis was…well, actually useful, I was even more torn. If I spoke up and tried to get people to slow down, look into what was happening outside our borders more carefully, try and make them realise painful precautionary actions, not placebo drugs and placebo policies, were needed….then I'd lose my election, lose my allies, condemn myself to the political wilderness. Wouldn't be able to help the people of my state anymore.

You understand, I had a tough re-election battle. I'd just supported an unpopular healthcare reform bill, and I'd pissed off even more people when I stated it didn't go far enough. I was a moderate Democrat in a state that was increasingly a conservative Republican stronghold, and my bipartisan reputation and years of experience might not have been able to save me. And if I'd gone around inciting up people's fears about zombies, not terrorists, not budget deficits, not drugs or diseases or hurricanes or whatever, but zombies, sh*t that only existed in my grandson's video games?

Well, no-one wants a fearmongering nutjob in the Senate.

So what did I do? I formed a bipartisan coalition…

With five other Senators?

With five other Senators, yes. [chuckles]. And a few Representatives.

I formed a bipartisan coalition, we read some reports, wrote a few draft bills, made a few low-key press appearances. And then we released our bill. The Emergency Preparation Act. We tried in vain to give it an acronym related to UNDEAD or ZOMBIE or something, but we couldn't, even though two of us were English majors.

It was a…strange experience, just before and just after I'd submitted the bill. I'd spent every morning in the last couple of weeks before submitting the bill to the hopper double-checking this zombie threat was real and dangerous, just in case I was in some sort of hallucination. And of the Senators in the coalition, I was the only one in the class up for re-election in that year, and I was listed as the sponsor of the bill, so I was undoubtedly putting my head on the line the most. I was expecting a PR sh*tstorm.

Boy, did I get one.

I still think to this day that the reason so many people hated me was because I was the bringer of painful truths. When I told the Republicans we need to act like global warming was real for a myriad of reasons, all but the most moderate members of that party stopped looking at me like a potential ally and more like another wishy-washy liberal. When I told my fellow Democrats their plan for climate change was not only ineffective but also damaging to my state, I knew the party leadership wanted me to shut up. When I told everyone fixing the budget required defense cuts, reforming social security and medicare, some tax increases and some spending decreases, everyone looked at me like I was some sort of laissez-faire capitalistic deficit hawk or some sort of wealth-distributing commie.

And when I told everyone we needed to stop this zombie crisis before it was too late, and we needed to respond hard if it already was past the point of no return, I knew even the reminder of my Gang of Six regretting standing behind me. The President called my measures reactionary and unsuitable for the current circumstances. Committee chairmen refused to even read the long title. My polling numbers hovered around the 20s, 30s if I was lucky.

What exactly did this bill do?

A lot, and I forget the details. But I remember a Senator from…Ohio? No, Iowa. Yeah, Iowa. Yeah, I remember the Senior Senator from Iowa in particular lambasting some new regulations I was placing on trade and travel as draconian, anti-free trade and damaging to the economy, not to mention inefficient and unenforceable. Maybe he was right, but I stood by it. Still do.

Then I also had massive amounts allocated towards special response teams, local police forces, research into this phenomenon, preparations for mass evacuations, etcetera, etcetera. The debates over that were particularly crippling. I was accused of blowing up the deficit in a time of massive national debt. I was hoping that, when the dead are walking the Earth, people might have been able to forget about the deficit for five frickin' seconds…but apparently not.

I remember some idiot, a hypocritical Republican who happened to be my Junior Senator. He basically said that "oh, we hadn't responded like this to AIDS. Or swine flu. Or bird flu." That's because people suffering from that disease don't turn into zombies, you hooker-loving diaper fetishist. I think even he realised how stupid and insensitive those statements were.

It took some manoeuvring, but we finally got it to an up and down vote. I think the party leadership helped me get it there just so they could humiliate me in public. 13 for, everyone else against.

I know this sounds wussy, but I cried when I got home that night. I was SO determined I was doing the right thing, to see it all voted down like that so…candidly. It wasn't easy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that bill would have been a cure-all for the oncoming storm, far from it. It was just building blocks, laying the groundwork for true international solutions to this issue.

But alas, it never passed.

Just a hypothetical question; but what if it *did* pass, and the undead outbreak just…well, went away on its own?

Then I would have accepted I'd made a massive cockup. I'd probably have been forced to resign. I don't really like "what if" questions, they distract you from the questions here and now, but believe me, the moment the first ideas for the bill came into my mind, I'd always considered that question.

But, and I know it's cocky, but I, and every other member of my cosy little Gang of Six, plus our House allies, knew it was inevitable. We'd read the reports, we'd seen what was happening abroad, we knew we had to behave more like the Israelis and less like the…I dunno. Nearly every nation since then?

And I'd recently received a report from an old friend of mine in the state legislature. She was just about to be term-limited out of office, when she told me a strange story from her district, which was in Shreveport. And, the first confirmed incident of the outbreak had just occurred in Louisiana. She was a 17-year old girl, only a couple of weeks from her birthday, pretty much expected to get Straight As in virtually all her subjects. They reckon she got it on a visit to Africa. She was obsessed with humanitarian work, you see, and she went to Africa to help build a village a well. Must have drank some funny water or gotten bitten by an infected animal or something.

And that girl, and I hate myself for forgetting her name, was the first of many. And that was just the confirmed ones in my states alone. And, bar an occasional surge of interest and concern in it, it still wasn't high-profile enough until the Great Panic started, and then it never disappeared off the news. I think at first people were just struck by the sheer impossibility of it, but after a while, when it was whole families coming down with it, when more countries began to fall like dominoes, it was denial. Denial by the media, the authorities, the politicians, the American public.

Well, I guess it's unfair against my own nation to claim denial was a purely American problem. Pretty much every country against Israel reacted with denial. And, well, it's the walking dead. Can you blame them?

I lost my election, of course. Zombies were still a relatively low-key issue at that point, Phalanx and the President's reassurances were keeping everyone calm and under control and focused on stupid things like gay marriage and Iran. I was surprised I won the primary, truth be told, and I'm surprised I fared as well in the general as I did. 36%. Much better than the 23% I was predicted. Guess people were finally catching on to what was happening and how big it was. Or maybe they just hated the other candidates enough. That's always a good way to increase your share of the vote, after all.

And after the election, you…?

Returned to my hometown. This place. Bought a nice big house, lots of land around it, on the outskirts of the city you see today. Now, call me a crazy survivalist, I don't care, but I gathered up my closest family and my closest friends, and set to work making myself a miniature fort. I weren't exactly the richest Senator around, I ran a bleeding café before I entered politics, but, once I sold off most of my assets, I was able to buy most of the materials, get a wind turbine or two attached to generate power, make a few impromptu farms. I was a farmer by birth, you know, farming was the easy bit. As was grabbing the guns and ammunition to last me…three years, give or take? I was a gun nut, so that wasn't hard.

Hell, I even imported some of those sniffer dogs. Knew I'd be getting refugees knocking on my door once sh*t hit the fan, and I ain't the sort of person to deny someone in need of asylum. I also ain't the sort of person to let everyone walk in willy-nilly when they very well might be infected and a ticking zombie time-bomb waiting to blow.

Now, being a devoutly religious man, I hate to compare myself to a biblical figure, but at times I felt like Noah. I was, bar a few exceptions, the only individual I personally knew, Louisianan or otherwise, preparing adequately for what was about to happen. Most of the rest of my fellow townsfolk was either getting on with their lives as usual, ignorant of the threat they were in, or preparing in totally inappropriate ways. You know, grabbing a few rolls of toilet paper, a shotgun and a few planks of wood to board up the door.

Strangely enough, I paid more attention to the news as a private citizen than I did as a Senator. Guess I was curious on how the rest of the world outside of St. Martinville was coping.

Not very well, as I'm sure we all know.

When the Great Panic happened, when they finally came in force, I was ready. The fact I'm still here, the fact my family's still here, the fact almost all of St. Martinville's population survived the war should tell you whether my plans were a success or not.

Did you ever get an urge to say…?

I told you so?

Yep.

I had reason to, but I had better things to do than shove my supposed superiority down the throats of people suffering enough already.

How did you feel when the military arrived?

Relieved, quite obviously. A lot of people in the fort had a very low opinion of the military for a majority of the duration of the war, but when they arrived, well, all was forgiven, especially after they dealt with the horde of zombies surrounding our walls. Musta been…I dunno, a hundred-thousand of the poor f*ckers? Completely eliminated future refugee arrivals, as you can probably guess. And after the military declared this area clear…we stayed huddled up in our fort for a while, but, well, afterwards….well, before you knew it, businesses and refugees decided this was a nice place to settle and I was the Mayor of one of the most rapidly-growing cities on Earth. Our first major skyscrapers are being planned, we have one of the best police forces in America, our public transportation is second-to-none, and zombie sightings are at an all-time low.

I hate to boast, but I'm quite proud of what I achieved here. Maybe I just got lucky, but I like to think otherwise.


QUOTE (Chapter 2)
Harare, New Republic of Zimbabwe


[Harare, formerly home to a population exceeding 1.5 million, has been reduced to a fraction of that number by "the South African Crisis", the preferred name for the zombie war in this nation, and the brutal civil wars that followed. However, in recent months, things have improved, the civil war moving away from the urban areas, giving living conditions a chance to slowly improve. Ian Matimba, the curator of the Harare War Museum and veteran of the war, is a polite, friendly, relaxed man.]


The War Museum may have a fairly unoriginal name, but it has an incredibly interesting past, and served as a beacon of hope throughout the Crisis. A ragtag bunch of survivors, led by a schoolteacher of all people, held up in here, and survived mostly intact for the duration of the war, until the cavalry arrived, so to speak. A large part of the Museum is dedicated to chronicling the stories of some of the individuals who held out in this once-unspectacular office building, and the trials they faced on a day-to-day basis.

The stories are varied and give a valuable insight into the darkest hours of Zimbabwe's history; you have stories on how a bunch of schoolchildren on a school trip fought their way to safety using nothing but bicycle pumps. You have a story on how a free-runner ran from rooftop to rooftop to get away from the hordes that had devoured his family and friends. There's one story on how a refugee from South Africa cycled all the way to this country, bypassing obstacles both living and undead alike, only to find more zombies here, and then to fight her way to safety using a golf trophy. I guess I know that last story particularly well because I'm married to her nowadays.

Before the Crisis, we in Zimbabwe already thought this would be our nation's darkest hour. Following the death of our long-time President, who by no means was a great ruler, there was a power vacuum. Half the members of his Cabinet wanted the top job; half the members of the MDC said there should be a fair and democratic election which they were expecting to win. Hyperinflation was rearing its ugly head again, there was an outbreak of cholera that devastated our population, a bad harvest meant the subsistence farmers in our nation had to turn to other sources of income or starve, and it looked like we might soon be locked in a devastating war with Botswana. Our Minister of Defence, who temporarily had secured the top job of President, locked down our borders so he could try and consolidate his power and hold off a civil war without the international community crying foul at the rampant human rights abuses he was authorising.

Of course, he didn't lock down the border well enough. People still got out to buy goods from stores just across the border where the economy was still stable, and every so often someone would attempt to blow the whistle on the various atrocities, conflicts and government-sanctioned stupidities that were going on within our borders. Yes, the border lockdown was doing an abysmal job at keeping people in. But we in the army thought we were doing a good job of keeping people out. I guess that's because up until the Crisis no-one wanted to get in.

I was posted in Mashonaland West, just going along with my orders and fighting a group of violent rebels. They'd retreated to a friendly village, so me and my mate were patrolling the area. That's when I saw my first infected. Maybe the local water supply got contaminated; all sides of the conflict were known to infect supplies of contested areas with whatever disease they could get their hands on. Maybe it was someone who nipped across the border to buy some supplies or do some trading, and got bitten and didn't turn until they got back. Maybe it was a refugee from a neighbouring country who fled to wherever they could go to. I don't really know, and I never will.

All I know was that it was a fresh one, still looked fairly human, about 30 to 40 years old, a male, well-built, bearded. And it was….eating this woman's throat. In the middle of a field. Now, I'd heard of some nasty things going on in this part of the world, but cannibalism? That was a new one. So, we shouted at him, in Shona, "What the f*ck? Hands in the air, don't move!" We both began approaching him, and he noticed us, so got up and began slowly marching towards us.

Up close, he looked…well. He looked inhuman. He had a few wounds on his body, and all of them were slowly oozing this black blood-like substance. He was missing a few fingers, had scars across his face, a bullet-shaped wound in his abdomen. He had this…evil, sinister look in his eyes. We told him to stop, to explain himself. The only reply got was this…frightening, primal groan. I think we both could tell he was going to try to do to us what he did to that poor woman if we didn't stop him. So we gave him one more chance to explain himself and stop, before my friend put a bullet in his brain. We were at close-range, so it wasn't a difficult shot for him. But the stench. That was unbearable.

Then the woman began to twitch. Began to groan as well. We both went over to look at her, asked if she needed any help, but then the blood from her neck began to turn the same tar-like black as the blood from the man, and the only reply we got was this same aggressive, foreboding moan. We both decided to get out of there; we were too stressed out already. Maybe if we'd shot her there and then we may have prevented, or at least postponed, the Mashonaland West outbreak. But we were too scared, too worried to take it any further. We reported it our commanding officer, he laughed it off, and we just didn't pursue it any further.

This was a few days, maybe a week, before the Great Panic in South Africa began to get going. We'd heard rumours, obviously. Rumours we'd dismissed as baseless superstition. Every now and then you'd hear civilians or fellow grunts speculating about it in hushed tones in a corridor, but it wasn't on the news, our commanding officers didn't mention it, and there was no Great Panic in Zimbabwe for quite a few days after the one in South Africa. We in the army were too busy focused on getting our jobs done. We had families to feed. My parents and siblings were subsistence farmers, they'd been devastated by the conflicts, the government policies and the drought. Every pay check I got, I needed to send a majority off it back to them. Kicking up a fuss about some black-blooded cannibals that were the stuff of rumours might have put that pay check at jeopardy.

So I kept my head down. Focused on my job. Just like I'd ignored the internal politics of our country, the external politics of the world at-large and the gossip in the mess hall, I ignored this rumour. Ignored it until we received a sudden u-turn in our orders. Our commanding officer, the same one I reported that incident to, told us that we had new orders to move down to Masvingo, the city, not the province, on the opposite side of the country, in the south-east. It was a fast-growing city before the war, had gone from 15,000 inhabitants in 1970 to over a hundred-thousand at that time.

When we got there, it was chaos. The city was burning; buildings were boarded up and looted from. Every weapon the Zimbabwean Army had, explosives, planes, vehicles, guns, mainly Russian and Chinese, were being lobbed at this enemy I couldn't hit see. Had the Batswana finally attacked, that was my first thought. When I got closer, I just saw big crowds of people, soldiers, civilians and the like, some missing legs or arms, heading rabidly towards any human they saw. None of them had any guns or firearms or grenades. Not even anything like a sword. They were just using their arms and teeth.

We were ordered to quickly run towards this shop where a tiny group of civilians and a small bunch of soldiers had holed up and were shooting at the mass of…people that were swarming the city. Our officer ordered us to aim for the head, before taking out his rifle and shooting alongside us, a rare occurrence, trust me on that. Upon seeing the foe up close and the black liquid they bled, a few others and myself realised what this foe was, and that the rumours were true. A vast majority of us were clueless, and I think we all were scared sh*tless.

It was terrible. Every now and then you'd see a civilian, some carrying children or valuables, run through the street, only to get grappled by one of those…creatures, and have a big mass of them set upon them. I think one of them must have been a loved one of one of the civilians, as upon seeing her get eaten, he yelled out a loud no, and turned his gun on himself. A couple of times, we saw another soldier, maybe even an officer, run towards us, yelling that they needed backup or more ammunition, before they were cornered and devoured. There was this other hold-out just across the street, a teenager was standing on the rooftops shooting at the hordes below, when one sneaked up behind him and threw him to the floor below. It was…gory.

One of us, a younger soldier, must have been in his mid-teens, had seen too much. He was clearly traumatised by what was going on, and he'd just fired several shots into one of them, one even skimming the skull, but with no avail. He just grabbed his rifle and ran out the back-door of the shop. And what happened next made me realise just how…serious this all was. Really dug it home for me. Normally, commanding officers in the Loyalist Army, the army I was in, the army loyal to the current President, the former Defence Minister, took a very hard line on deserters. They were ordered to, without consideration for their personal safety or the safety of others, just shoot anyone who made to desert, shoot them until they needed to reload. It was a brutal strategy, but it made sure we didn't desert because we doubted what we were fighting for or that we reckoned the latest tactics were suicidal. And it was clear our commanding officer loved this policy.

But, this time, instead of turning his gun on the deserter, our commanding officer just yelled for him to come back. He sounded stressed out and angry, but I swear I heard a hint of worry in his voice. He even said it's too dangerous to go out there on your own. That was what drove the seriousness of this situation home for me. But the kid never came back, and he was soon followed by one of his friends, similar age. I like to think they both survived, but I doubt it.

Eventually, our ammo was running out. We'd been fighting for hours; the hordes were getting thicker, and they were advancing on our location. I'd been in some pretty dangerous situations before, but I guess I was too cocky back then to ever feel like my life was at risk. Now, I did. I was literally panicking, I felt sick, I just wanted to curl up in a corner and vomit. Luckily, at that point, the back-door opened, and another soldier arrived. He told us a rescue helicopter had landed in a park a couple of blocks away, and if we hurried we could make it.

So, we and the civilians grabbed our rifles, fired a few last shots at zombies that were dangerously close, and sprinted towards the rescue helicopter. And, with that, we left the Battle of Mosvingo. No-one knows how the outbreak there started, only that it was the first of many. To this day, Mosvingo still lies in ruins. It's still a "dangerous" area, home to bandits, smugglers, rebels and fugitives, not to mention the rather large number of extant zombies there making it a threat for anyone unarmed to visit. No wonder none of the various governments that make up modern Zimbabwe want to claim it as their territory and take responsibility for it. It's effed up, even by Southern African standards.

Following Mosvingo, there were a few more skirmishes, the worst of which was definitely Bulawayo, trying to put down zombie "uprisings" in various areas across the country. By that point, half the world was grappling with zombie outbreaks. And, shortly after the First Battle of Harare, I found myself with no government to work under. It was anarchy. Virtually all the political groups in Zimbabwe were defunct. I reckon the President himself became a member of the mindless hordes. So…me and the remaining members of my squad, we just became drifters. Fought zombies, assisted survivors and looted supplies across the country for a majority of the war. Ain't really anything interesting to say about that, aside from the fact it was living hell.

Of course, later on in the war, political movements began appearing again. There was the New Republic of Zimbabwe, bunch of former MDC politicians who today rule Harare and the surrounding area. A ZANU-PF politician, used to be Minister of Foreign Affairs, he'd survived and started up his own private army to try and take back the nation from the zombie hordes. Those two groups were the biggest. I remember joining the NRZ. Despite my past as a Loyalist soldier, they were happy I could just shoot a gun and wasn't psycho. All the entry requirements you needed to meet.

Unlike a lot of nations, our "clean-up" operation was very unorganised and sporadic. We lacked proper tactics and equipment, and to call the anti-zombie resistance unified would be an extremely liberal interpretation of the word. We had very little cooperation with other nations, and there was no real agreement on which "group" was the proper Zimbabwean government. We had no real "routine" for clearing up areas, which is why whole rural provinces of the country are still high-risk, and partially why it took so long for us to finally mount a proper attack on Harare.

Harare…that was a great battle. I think we did our best job in this city by far. There were by far the most zombies, by far the most nooks and crannies for them to hide in and by far the most survivors waiting for us at the end. We went to each district of the city, began making noise however we could. Leftover fireworks, loud music, I know one squad decided to sing really loudly. We then sat back, in a group, stacks of ammo behind us and took out the zombies one by one as they came to us. Afterwards, we'd scout the area for any stragglers. Yes, it was an unoriginal tactic, yes, we'd unashamedly nicked it, but damn it, it worked.

And after Harare?

Civil wars started back up again, not a single person outside of the nation giving a damn. That's why today Zimbabwe is sometimes called the "Wild West of Southern Africa" or the modern equivalent of renaissance-era Italy, what with all the individual factions and states fighting for dominance. But, the NRZ is treating Harare well. Hopefully soon we'll be back up to 20% of our pre-war population.

Ziggy455
  • Ziggy455

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#2

Posted 20 February 2011 - 05:15 PM

Brilliant Mate! Loving this as you would know.

I'd say you've written too much but you definetly have not. And you've persuaded me to definetly check out other works of Max Brooks. (I bought the Zombie Survival Guide a few years back.) Hope you keep this up.

cookie.gif For you.

General Goose
  • General Goose

    Because Jeb Bush is all in my house with disease.

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#3

Posted 20 February 2011 - 06:00 PM

Thanks! These are the last two chapters I've already finished:

QUOTE (Chapter 3)
Ulan Bator, Mongolia


[I met Sunil Gupta, a British-born palaeontologist who is now a permanent resident and naturalised citizen of Mongolia, in the restaurant of one of the city's most luxurious, famous hotels, the Sükhbaatar Palace, named after one of the most important figures in the nation's recent history. Formed by a successful Mongolian businessman after the zombie war destroyed a vast majority of his business interests abroad, the Palace has a museum within it that commemorates the sacrifices Mongolians made.]

The reason I came to Mongolia in the first place was pretty simple. Central Asia, the Stans, western China and Mongolia, in the opinion of many pre-war palaeontologists possess some of the greatest undiscovered dinosaur fossils in the world. If you want to find a new species of dinosaur, you come here. I know in today's world, where survival is a priority, palaeontology has taken a backseat, and understandably so, but there are very few fields of study that give us a greater insight into how life on our planet has changed over time. It's an incredibly interesting and diverse subject, and I pray that once humanity is back on its feet, people will begin considering it as an area of study again.

I mean, obviously, Ulan Bator is not the place I went to actually excavate dinosaur fossils. Not only are a majority of the more interesting finds in uninhabited, rural areas, but this is a city. You can't exactly just ask people to let you knock down their houses or dug up their basements so you can poke around for fossils. Goes without saying, really.

So, yep, I spent much of my time here in Mongolia in rural areas with a bunch of other excavators and palaeontologists. Multicultural teams from all over the world congregated in Mongolia. A majority of the members of such groups were Mongolian, Chinese or Russian, but there were Americans, Arabs, Germans, French, Australians, everyone.

I'm surprised Mongolia fared so well in the war. I mean, it was still devastated, especially the southern areas that were closer to "Ground Zero" in China and the rural, mountainous areas that this nation's mediocre military haven't really bothered to pour many resources into. But considering the wealth of this nation and the fact it is relatively close to China, this place got by pretty damn well compared to certain other nations.

Winter helped. That was certain. I remember reading something, before the war, that said Ulan Bator is the coldest capital city on the world. Not impossible, considering the terrain and location of Mongolia. And, as we all know, zombies freeze when the temperature drops too low. They thaw, and they're just as fine as they were before, but they still freeze. The first long winter we had couldn't have been timed better, and if you speak to anyone they'll agree it was essential when dealing with the zombies, gave us valuable time to prepare. You know, build up our defences, get as many civilians as possible to safe ground.

The Mongolian government took a very harsh line on refugees. After the Chinese government lost control of the situation, you had refugees and zombies alike pouring out of China in all directions. Now, we couldn't afford to screen every single refugee for infection, so, and this is one of the many brutal, cold decisions taken in the war that sounds harsh now but was necessary at the time, they just crammed them all in refugee camps built away from major urban areas. If you could build your house there on stilts and managed to bring your own sniffer dogs, you'd have a pretty good chance of surviving your time there. You'd at least be safe from zombie outbreaks which were EXTREMELY common in those camps. If you couldn't, well, it was a free-for-all. Very nasty environments, very few citizens of Mongolia were willing to take the risk and help these refugees out.

As a whole, though, I think the refugee camps did what the government intended, and meant that refugees would not put the lives of Mongolian citizens and pre-war legal residents at risk, and that they wouldn't be forced to just turn them away. Most refugee camps were relatively safe, much better than surviving out in the wilderness alone, and bar the Dalanzadgad outbreak, most outbreaks in major refugee camps were dealt with before they could be a major threat to Mongolians and a majority of the refugees.

I think as a whole there were elements of the Redeker Plan in the Mongolian government's plan. A lot of areas were quickly thrown aside as unsalvageable or not worth rescuing unless there was little risk in doing so, and after a while the government said anyone still out there in the wilderness, they have to come to us for protection, not the other way round. I get the feeling a few of the military camps and smaller refugee camps were made specifically for the purpose of distracting the zombie hordes when summer months came, luckily I wasn't in one of those.

I guess it was decided behind closed doors very quickly that refugees would unfortunately have to be at the complete bottom of the ladder. The decision to make camps was partially humanitarian; it was either give them semi-safe accommodation with minimalistic living conditions or turn them away completely, we didn't have the time or resources to take care of them properly. But, from a strategic perspective, it made sense. A lot of those refugees wouldn't have taken being turned away lightly. You hear about what happened in….Long Island, was it? Well, if these refugees were turned away, Mongolia would have faced a situation like that.

What was your first encounter with the zombies?

Luckily, I weren't out on an archaeological expedition when sh*t hit the fan. We'd still been excavating and looking for and digging up bones right up until the Great Panic and things got out of control, and if we had been caught unawares by a group of zombies while excavating, we'd have been buggered. I'm sure there are plenty of stories out there of archaeological teams or camping trips being cut brutally short by a surprise zombie invasion, but I'm, luckily, unable to give you a first-hand account of a story like that.

Instead, I was sitting in my hotel…well; bed and breakfast would be a better way to describe it. It was a regular B&B, family-owned, local, no-thrills, small town in western Mongolia. I was just watching the news and eating my breakfast, reading over some reports from the Natural History Museum in London, where I was sending many of my findings to. The news…well, one guess what the main story was about, and it wasn't the latest football results.

My first proper encounter with a turned infected was just after that. The owner of the place, Tsakhia Ganbold, a kind, friendly, welcoming, wee bit superstitious local man barged into the dining room, ran up to me. He said something about "Oh, there's something really strange going on out there. I know you study dinosaurs, but you've travelled, you've been to universities, you might know what it was about." And I went out there, and three policemen were standing, pointing their guns at a house. I knew the parents of that family pretty well, father was called Batbayar, the mother was called Narantsetseg. They were a really nice couple, and, it turned out, one of the family, them or one of their four kids, had been bitten and had passed it on onto everyone else in the family at night.

And Ganbold, he turned to me and basically said the Mongolian equivalent of "What the f*ck?"

He hadn't heard any of the rumours?

No. And if he had, he'd brushed them to the side as stupid, nonsensical nonsense. As I said, he was a little superstitious, but he wasn't stupid, he wasn't gullible. If someone told you an army of the marching dead were coming from China, how would you react? Before the war, I mean. I mean, he was more of an exception among the townsfolk. Most of them had heard somewhat more substantial rumours or paid more attention to the news; a few had even seen sightings themselves. I mean, people like Ganbold had never seen even a zombie film in their lives; they were hardly the rage in pre-war Mongolia.

So, yeah, I guess it's pretty acceptable for him to not know how to describe what had happened to Batbayar, Narantsetseg and their kids.

What did happen to them? Did they spread it, were they shot?

The police quarantined the area, told everyone to go back inside. We then heard…[counts under his breath, trying to recall the amount] 8…no…9 shots. Dunno if the extra few were because they missed or because they saw more zombies, but I reckon the former. That night, the town was very…pensive. The police made everyone lock their doors and patrolled the town with dogs, and Ganbold sat in the front-room, gun aimed at the door.

Did anything end up happening?

Thankfully not. Not that night, at least. I still cancelled any other archaeological expeditions or visits or whatnot I had. A few days afterwards though, that was when they began coming en masse. We all held up in the town hall. Luckily, within a couple of weeks, the long, brutal Mongolian winters hit in full, and temperature dropped to a level that most of the zombies froze. We were able to use that opportunity to quickly patch up a phone line and call the nearest military base to backup. About a couple of dozen of the townsfolk were dead by then, but only a handful were due to zombies directly. A majority died as of a result of malnutrition, disease or hypothermia. A couple committed suicide. I remember an after-action report saying that only about a half of the deaths in Mongolia were because of zombies directly, a lot of it was because of other causes.

Once in the military base, that was pretty much our home throughout the rest of the war. There were supply shortages, devastatingly cold winters, an occasional infected individual who had to be put down, a couple of cases of fires or violence breaking out in the base. But most of us survived, so I'm grateful for the shelter we had.

Once they had us all in the base, they decided to get us to work, giving us productive jobs to try and improve the chances of Mongolia's survival. Everyone who could farm was made to plant crops, and trees for materials like wood. Everyone who could build was made to plant better fortifications or new infrastructure projects. At first I thought I'd be given a practical job. After all, palaeontologists often have to do a lot of hands-on work like heavy lifting and digging and such. But yeah, all the practical skills I had, they had a hundred-thousand people who could do it better. So I was given a gun and put on guard duty.

Not that I'm complaining. Some nights, you did just spend it sitting around on your arse keeping an eye on everything, but some nights….hell, you had whole mobs of them surround you. That was when you sounded the alarm, got all the guards resting or relaxing out to assist you in clearing them out. A couple of times, we had no more ammo at the wall and we couldn't afford to wait until more arrived, so we just took to throwing crates or chairs at them or pouring boiling oil over them. I remember one guy took this sharpened stick, leant over the walls and began stabbing them in the cranium with it from above.

Did you ever consider returning home?

Well, once the zombies were sealing us in, I didn't have a choice in that matter. But before that…yeah, I considered it. I just never got round to it. Guess I was too caught up in my work, guess I thought it'd all blow over. I mean, quite a few of my "teammates" so to speak left, as did a large number of expats, tourists and the like. They just got calls saying "Oh, come home immediately" or they made up excuses to leave. By the time of the first outbreak, only three other members of my original team were still with me in Mongolia. Harun, Bradley and Ryan. They all were staying in the same B&B as me, so we all ended up going to the same military base. Harun and Ryan got posted on guard duty like me, but Bradley used to be a welder, so he got that as a job.

I think we all missed our old lives. Life in the military base was very much a life lacking creature comforts, and on the few working communications links we had to the outside world, it was virtually always bad news. And, when me, Harun, Bradley and Ryan got together, we spent virtually all our time talking about dinosaurs and fossils and how we missed all that old stuff.

Now, at the time, I had no idea that Honolulu conference was happening, but, it was. We managed to send a representative to it. Our representative voted no on the American President's proposal. You'll have to ask him why; politics has never been my specialty. But, as you know, Mongolia had a pretty weak army; all its forces were focused on defence. So, we had to wait until China had reached its northern border in their own battles, then, in exchange for permission to use this nation's resources once the zombies were gone, they agreed to clear out most of our land.

And palaeontology? I returned to that once most of Mongolia was clear. I mean, I need a permit to venture out, as some areas were still off-limits and in virtually all rural areas there was a consensus palaeontologists needed armed guards. There wasn't a legal requirement for the permits, it was just….well, suicidal not to get one.

I know you've probably read that story. Tale of a Dinosaur Hunter. About that palaeontologist in New York State who uses the war as an excuse to hunt dinosaurs and create his own massive collection without disturbing anyone. Yes, it was "based" of a true story. That means they took a true story and sodomised it beyond belief. That book is singlehandedly responsible for the post-war stereotype of a palaeontologist who enjoys the war and uses it to his advantage. Two major things wrong with that stereotype.

Firstly, we HATED the war. We're still human beings. People being eaten, societies being obliterated, hell, that'll depress anyone, no matter how "obsessed" they are with their vocation. Hell, I went back to Manchester, just after the war was over. Couldn't find a trace of my family. I know I look alright now, but all those years ago, it put me out of work for months, sent me into a spiralling, uncontrollable depression. Secondly, if, as the stereotype suggests, we are all obsessed with our jobs to the point of capitalising on a massive tragedy to learn more about dinosaurs, and that we used the war to work on our research in peace, that ignores the fact that palaeontology was one of the low-profile casualties of the war. Not only were many respected institutions and individuals in the field obliterated, but potential new palaeontologists are once in a blue moon.

Hell, Mongolia as a place of excavating for budding palaeontologists? The past now. Not only is about a fifth of the country still dangerous to step into to perform work, but the Chinese have turned half the countryside into massive oil refineries or super-farms or massive mining complexes. Viable land to excavate is becoming rare to find, and I think I'll be leaving here for, I dunno, Wyoming? Don't get me wrong, I love every aspect of Mongolia, I admire the hardiness of the people, I love the culture, the food, the language, the girls…but, burying myself in palaeontology is my coping mechanism.

And I can't do that here anymore.


QUOTE (Chapter 4)
Chernobyl, Ukraine


[It is a tense atmosphere in the room as the 7-man team of scientists and soldiers prepares for entry into the "sarcophagus" that surrounds the still highly radioactive site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. The members of the team are all covering themselves up with not only thick bite-proof clothing, but also Hazmat suits designed to protect against radiation, and respirators to protect against the dust. My interviewee, Dr. Viktor Petrusiv, undoubtedly one of the most qualified and most respected nuclear experts in Europe, is a short, weary man who is currently fiddling with some fiddly recording instruments.]

This is not a job I think is for the faint-hearted. Unlike in most of the world, where zombies are your only concern, here you also have radiation in some areas that is in the thousands of roentgens per hour, so you have to be really careful where you step, and you have to monitor your dosage frequently, even if you are wearing Hazmat suits. For comparison purposes, the average background radiation in a city is like twenty to fifty roentgens per hour. Sometimes, you have a…acceptable roentgen level, around seventy, turn a corner, jumps to five hundred. Around 200 tonnes of radioactive lava, 30 tonnes of radioactive gas and 16 tonnes of plutonium and uranium were trapped inside the sarcophagus, thus the record-high levels of radiation one will often find there.

That is not to mention the zombies. I do not know how they got in, but I think various cracks in the wall from decay and nature were the most likely avenues of entry. The radiation…we do not yet fully understand the impacts it has on them, and Kiev has refused my requests for further funds to study the issue, and while I admittedly haven't asked around much, I have not found many authoritative international studies on the issue. Obviously, any impact it has on a part of their body that isn't their brain is pretty meaningless, seeing as how their brains are the only thing they need for survival, but, it is still interesting.

Their numbers are drying up. That's definite. The second-to-last time another team went in there, three months ago, they didn't encounter any zombies. The time afterwards did, but it was just a tiny number. The long life-spans of the zombies are infamous, that is without doubt, but I think the life-span of the radiation in there, where it'll still be dangerously radioactive for up to a hundred thousand years, beats it out JUST a little bit.

What is the purpose for your visits into the sarcophagus?

Look at it. Out the window.

[I do, it is crumbling and decaying, with small holes visible.]

The radioactive dust from that place is probably causing more cancer deaths in Eastern Europe than anything else at the moment. And cancer is one of the top five causes of death in modern Eastern Europe. Cancer deaths are rapidly increasing in Eastern Europe, and increasing at slower paces in the Middle East, Western Europe and Central Asia. It's pretty obvious radioactivity is the most likely source for the rise. Smoking has been on a slow but steady decline. Binge eating was pretty much obliterated by the war. I could go on, but it's pretty clear that Chernobyl is killing people.

And that, my friend, is where we step in. Our tasks are simple. Firstly, we must try and maintain the sarcophagus and the plant as well as we can. There are lots of holes caused by decay and weather and even vandalism around the sarcophagus, and they are letting out the radioactive dust responsible for so much trouble. I do not need to tell you that we, a ramshackle group of scientists and soldiers, cannot find every hole, we cannot fix every hole and we cannot afford to fix every hole. But, we try and fix them and other problems in the structure whenever we can. Sometimes we need to bring in machines to fix holes on the outside beyond our reach, but, by going in, we play a vital role in scouting out problems and repairing them.

There is also the whole monitoring the current state and stability of the reactor. The event of another disaster following in the original's footsteps is slim, but we can't risk that. We need to make sure that everything does not fall apart any further, and that there is no chance of a further calamity. Also, we need to make sure the various zombies inside the sarcophagus, the ones who got in, are wiped out safely and securely, and that they themselves do not pose a threat to the fragile stability of the former reactor.

There's also a research factor. We want to closely monitor how the conditions in the sarcophagus develop over the years, so we can learn more about how the aftermath of a nuclear disaster plays out and how the plant decays, and due to the lack of proper research into the subject, Chernobyl is by far our best chance to research what happens to zombies exposed to high-levels of radiation.

Why not use robots?

Ukraine is not Japan. Ukraine is not America. We do not have the levels of economic strength or technological prowess to mass-produce robots capable of not only surviving the conditions inside the sarcophagus and successfully navigating them, but also performing the complicated, varied tasks that need to be performed on a semi-regular basis. Our military does possess a TINY number of robots who are capable of surviving such conditions and performing such fiddly operations, but, tragically, they only lend them to us, on strict conditions, if we complete a sh*tload of paperwork and have an extremely urgent situation on our hands we can prove we need the robots for.

f*cking bureaucracy.

[He lights a cigarette, presumably his last one before entering the sarcophagus.]

Reason we're in this f*cking mess in the first place.

[He pauses, staring out of the window at the sarcophagus and inhaling on his cigarette.]

Are there any plans in place to replace the sarcophagus, as it's obviously not up to the job?


No. There were before the war, funding had been secured and plans were in place, but that f*cking zombie horde interrupted those plans, as you can guess. During the war, no-one bothered to even give the sarcophagus a second glance, and, with the dead walking the Earth, I don't blame them. After the war…that's what pisses me off. No-one's bothered about the sarcophagus. Sellafield should have taught us that, in our clean-up operations while we're moping up zombies, we need to be especially careful of what happens with our abandoned nuclear sites, and that they should be treated with the utmost of care.

Our government didn't get the memo.

The war made the need for a replacement of the sarcophagus even more necessary. Not only was there a complete absence of regular inspections and repairs, and natural wear and tear was allowed to take its toll on the structure with no oversight and without even the most rudimentary of check-ups and repairs, but on the first "trip" we made into the sarcophagus we found quite a few bodies lying dead near the entrance. We don't know exactly how they, or a vast majority of the zombies, got in there, but we can speculate.

I reckon a lot of the corpses we find around the facility are likely survivors…well, were survivors. Maybe ferals or people ignorant of the risks of Chernobyl, and maybe people who thought that hiding in Chernobyl would be a good way to ride out the short-term threat of zombies. We can't ask them, I doubt anyone who made the decision to breach the sarcophagus lived to tell the tale. I mean, that hypothesis is supported by how a lot of the proper entrances to the sarcophagus, when we returned after the war, were damaged and in some cases wide open. A few of them had signs of deliberate damage, showing they'd clearly been breached by a sentient human. Therefore, we can't prove all the corpses were survivors like that, but quite a few were, we know that.

However, that doesn't matter. What does matter is that we know that there are still live zombies within vulnerable parts of the sarcophagus. Hell, we used a camera to scout out some of the inner areas, like the reactor itself…the corridors around it and below it…the room with the elephant's foot…there were zombies there. They'd apparently found a way in, and couldn't get back out again. So they were just wandering around in crumbling rooms filled with corium in the form of stalagmites and stalactites and whatever weird shapes you could think of.

We haven't sent a camera down to some of those rooms for quite a while; we've only checked the rooms with the most volatile piles of waste or the most vulnerable equipment and structures. Zombies might still be stuck in some of them. I do not know. Hopefully, if they still are in there, they do not pose a direct short-term threat to my team's safety or the stability of the plant. We lack the equipment to check for sure, we have to focus on our objectives, the most likely threats Chernobyl poses to the safety of Ukrainians and others.

I'm still lobbying for funds for a new sarcophagus and the scientific equipment to allow us to do a proper sweep of the building, check every last nook and cranny is as well-maintained as can be and every last zombie is purged. Let me tell you this, I hate the new Russia, but when they inevitably assimilate us back, hopefully they'll be able to give us the proper funding to enable us to do our jobs properly and make sure the chances of any future health hazards or catastrophes caused by Chernobyl are minimal.

Do you ever get concerned about the impact your job is having on your health?

I've been doing this job for so long, ever since the war ended. If my high exposure to radiation is going to have an impact on my health, well, I've already received so much radiation that quitting this job now will not only pass on the burden to a less experienced individual, but I doubt it will do much to prevent any future health problems. I knew the history and story of the place, the problems for those who worked there as scientists before the war, when I signed up for this job. I knew the problems I faced, undead and otherwise. I knew the risks, my family knew the risks, my bosses knew the risks, but someone has to do it.

Think of it like being a soldier. You work in the most depressing, devastated environment possible, your friends and workmates constantly die or are taking ill or injured. You have threats around every corner, you could wake up fine one morning and be dead by nightfall. It's a very risky job, but someone has to do it. And, for better or for worse, me and my friends here, we're the someone.

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#4

Posted 20 February 2011 - 10:05 PM

Wow Goose this Is just brilliant! Your very talented and I'm liking the story so far. Probably speaking on behalf of everybody, Please do a Chapter five man icon14.gif ]

Are you still doing that Zombie DLC?

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#5

Posted 20 February 2011 - 11:03 PM

A chapter 5 is under way.

And, while I did do quite a lot of work on that, I never got around to making it good enough to posting.

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#6

Posted 20 February 2011 - 11:09 PM

This is great stuff! I've got the Zombie Survival Guide book (related to World War Z) so I relate to this, really enjoyable and the interview format is really good. Just one question - what exactly is the Sarcophagus? And why is Chernobyl that irradiated? I've seen documentaries with people living perfectly well in it without HAZMAT suits so I was perhaps wondering if something else made it even worse.

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#7

Posted 20 February 2011 - 11:15 PM

QUOTE (El Zilcho @ Feb 20 2011, 23:09)
This is great stuff! I've got the Zombie Survival Guide book (related to World War Z) so I relate to this, really enjoyable and the interview format is really good. Just one question - what exactly is the Sarcophagus? And why is Chernobyl that irradiated? I've seen documentaries with people living perfectly well in it without HAZMAT suits so I was perhaps wondering if something else made it even worse.

WIKIPEDIA TO THE RESCUE.

In response to your second question, there are areas where the radioactivity is relatively mild, but also areas where it randomly spikes up. Also, in my experience, the biggest thread inside the sarcophagus is radioactive dust, thus why you may see old documentaries with Russian scientists poking about with only respirators on. People who worked at Chernobyl often received massively-high doses of radiation.

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#8

Posted 20 February 2011 - 11:18 PM

Ah, excellent! Never knew about that fascinating. As said already by many, I'm loving this and wait eagerly for Chapter 5.

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#9

Posted 21 February 2011 - 10:45 AM

QUOTE (General Goose @ Feb 20 2011, 23:03)
A chapter 5 is under way.

And, while I did do quite a lot of work on that, I never got around to making it good enough to posting.

Good to hear that a Chapter Five Is under way colgate.gif

So have you given up on zombie idea? I will finish the rest If you want. Send me a PM of what you have and I will finish the rest. Post It as a joint concept. Just an idea icon14.gif

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#10

Posted 23 February 2011 - 02:08 PM

Tommy: Well, if you're still up to helping me finish it, send me a PM.

Suddenly, a wild chapter 5 appeared!

QUOTE
Kuching, Malaysia


[Borneo is an island with an interesting history during the war. Home to parts of both Indonesia and Malaysia, and the entirety of the small nation of Brunei, the Indonesian and Malaysian governments, following the devastation of most of Indonesia's other major islands and mainland peninsular Malaysia, they evacuated as much of their remaining population over to Borneo as possible, and successfully held out, bar a few hiccups, for two years, with Kuching, the city I am in today, serving as the emergency capital. However, a series of natural disasters and droughts weakened the island, and within a few months, zombies had breached the island's defences and both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments abandoned the islands. However, the government of Brunei had nowhere to flee to. Ahmad bin Osman (false name used to protect the privacy of the interviewee), a personal bodyguard of the nation's last monarch and one of the few remaining people who remember the Bandar Seri Begawan massacre (the near total destruction of Brunei's capital and largest city), was reluctant to convince to give me his valuable first-hand account of the events, but eventually agreed to a short interview under the condition I used a false name for him.]

The Sultan obviously thought Brunei could hold out. Sure, the Malaysians and Indonesians had to flee the coasts and later the whole island with their tail between their legs, but they'd obviously made mistakes we could learn from. They obviously lacked the determination and skill us Bruneians possessed. And, well, I guess everyone shared the public optimism of the government, the monarchy and the press, everyone thought that we could just hold out, keep an eye on the shores and wait the storm out until either the Malaysians and Indonesians got their sh*t together and came back to help us, or the zombies decomposed.

Well, the fact today Bandar exists as a burnt-out husk and everywhere except the inland urban areas of Brunei are abandoned should tell you we were wrong. So, so wrong.

But, hey, can you blame the Bruneian nation for their cockiness and their belief they would get through the war relatively unscathed? The press reported almost everyday how the Sultan's government had secured enough supplies and weapons to last us five years and had created an industrial and agricultural base to keep on us going for many more. We were told how the "Great Wall of Brunei" our government had rapidly constructed made Israel's wall look like a garden fence, they even included comparison photos. If a wall as puny as Israel's could keep the hordes out, what could ours do?

Looking back, the photos were probably doctored in some form.

Yep, we were told it would be a-okay. We were told it was a terrible thing, and the majority of the world would be devastated, but Brunei would ride through the storm just fine, with only a few dents where people had been stupid or sloppy. The government quickly passed a bunch of new reforms to further reassure the population. You know they have fire drills, and in Japan they have those earthquake drills in schools or workplaces? We had zombie outbreak drills. I doubt procedures like those saved or prolonged many lives when sh*t hit the fan, hell, I've heard rumours that when people went into the designated assembly point it just made them easier to be attacked. But as a morale booster, it worked great.

Sure, some people were fearful; some people made emergency preparations or fled to easily defendable rural areas with their loved ones. Maybe they were just in the know more or were more sceptical of the government's reassurances. But they were laughed at, mocked, regarded as social pariahs or paranoid morons who had an unnecessary lack of trust in the Sultan and his efforts. Some of those people came back. They fled early on in the war, and when they saw how well Borneo as a whole was holding out, they went back to society. There was another surge of people fleeing to safer ground after a majority of Borneo was compromised, but we held out for several months after a majority of the Indonesians and Malaysians had disappeared from the island. Some people decided to come back after seeing how safe Brunei appeared to be.

I guess our leaders may have been onto a winner. We were surviving pretty well, we had very few major problems with shortages of vital supplies and we were able to deal with zombies coming from the waters pretty well. I don't know how or why it all fell apart. I don't think anyone still alive does. It was probably incompetence on behalf of the people keeping an eye on Brunei's borders. A few border villages and refugee camps were probably compromised by clumsy slip-ups, the clean-up crew intending to shush it up probably missed a few zombies out or let a couple escape by accident. Maybe a fisherman decided to ignore the new safety guidelines, got bitten, shrugged it off and returned to his family. It probably all started from a few isolated cases, which were quite common, being handled incompetently and spiralling out of control.

All I know for certain is that, after a few months of relative tranquillity, everything had fallen apart in a few days; most of our settlements were dropping like flies and people were trying, often in vain, to flee to safer ground. We had a few massive swarms heading towards Bandar Seri Begawan. Our military, hardly the most impressive national military, was overwhelmed and was struggling to pull off even the most rudimentary evacuation or defensive efforts. I heard rumours that people trying to get out of the wall, to escape the zombie hordes behind them, blew sections of it up or opened the few gates the wall had. That inevitably just let even more zombies in, and I don't think those who got out had much chance at survival.

During this time, I was standing guard outside Istana Nural Iman, our royal palace, while the Sultan, the Crown Prince, the leading politicians and military leaders, were all cooped up inside discussing what to do. They'd already called over the remainders of our nation's air force, the planes and helicopters we had, and any we could…borrow from private individuals. They'd tracked down this border town, a large group of Bruneians had fled there and, along with the Malaysian natives, and they'd pretty much secured it so it could only be accessed by air. They'd got all the top brass, all the big cheeses of the nation, plus certain government employees, well, as many as they could gather, and told them to bring their direct families to the Palace, so that when the helicopters and planes arrived, we could be evacuated bit by bit to this safe point. A few other people in the know were able to bribe their way onto the evacuation list, but that was a limited time, reservations-only offer.

[He pauses.]

As a bodyguard, were you able to bring your family along?

Yes. Technically. But, my parents were dead. I had no wife, no children. The only relative I had who met their strict definitions of direct relative was my brother. He was a fine man, my brother. But he had his own children, his own wife. And, well, they didn't come into the definition of direct family, so, despite my pleas, I could not bring them for evacuation. My brother…he could come. But not his family. And, well, he refused to come without them, so he just holed himself up in his suburban home and told me he'd wait the war out.

So, it was just me, and I was on guard duty, making sure no zombies popped up and everyone behaved civilly.

As you can guess, a lot of the people holed up in the Palace were crying hysterically. Sure, they could bring their direct families. But what about their friends, extended families, neighbours? I'm not even sure if grandchildren were allowed to be brought along for evacuation. You could understand why they made the decision to implement such harsh criteria for evacuation, but when we arrived there, we found ourselves with such massive surpluses of food and medicine and such that…well, you get the feeling that they were being overly cautious and unwilling to loosen the rules a bit. And people paid with their lives.

Eventually, the helicopters and planes began evacuating civilians and VIPs, starting with the women, children and the important people like the Royal Family. As a bodyguard, I was pretty much as low priority as you could go, so I had to wait and just make sure everyone got evacuated in an orderly fashion. The noise these evacuation vehicles were making, combined with the rumours of a safer place where people were being taken to, caused quite a lot of anger amongst the Bruneian people who were stuck, abandoned, in the city.

Before we knew it, we had angry mobs of people, mainly civilians, surrounding the perimeter of the palace grounds, trying to break down the doors and get inside. They were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails over the barricades, and a few even turned their guns on aircraft coming and going. They were chanting slogans, threatening anyone they could see inside the walls, waving placards about, and pushing each other out of the way trying to get in. A few even threw their luggage across, like they expected to finally be allowed in. I heard stories of desperate parents attempting to throw their children across the barricades. These people were angry at how they'd seemingly been betrayed by their government, and they wanted to get inside by force and intimidation, or maybe just wreck the entire evacuation process out of spite, so we'd all be in the same boat.

Luckily, I weren't stationed on the walls of the palace, so I didn't have to see the protestors. Many were begging for help completely peacefully, at worst attempting to bribe the guards or appeal to their humanity. However, they were mingled together with the people so desperate they'd resorted to violence, and so the same heavy hand was used on them. Unfortunately for them, these newly-constructed walls were designed to be completely impenetrable, and the few entrances were all closely-guarded and barricaded tight.

You mentioned people trying to bribe guards or appeal to their humanity. Did that ever work?

The guards, including myself, were all only human, so yes, it worked quite a few times, in that they managed to convince an individual guard with an open mind to smuggle them or a family member through the gate. Unfortunately, the security measures at the gates were so stringent that they were all caught, and immediately shot both the guard in question and the person, or persons, being smuggled in. I heard rumours that the brass feared that, not only would allowing extra people in lead to supply problems and claims of favouritism by the government, but an infected person might be smuggled through, and going through the hassle of screening them all wasn't an option. Considering how rabid sections of the mob were, our bosses considered that the possibility of them deliberately attempting to smuggle an infected individual in, so as to mess up our evacuation, was a very likely one, and they didn't want to take any risks.

If I remember correctly, there were around 50,000 individuals surrounding the Palace at the worst moments, and only around 1000 guards and civilians inside the Palace, with only a quarter of them actively defending the building. After a while, when cracks were beginning to show in our defences and the threat of them breaking through before everyone could be evacuated was becoming increasingly likely, we decided to try new tactics.

The Sultan, appearing on a big screen that was broadcast to the protestors, attempted to talk everyone away. Tried to say that further evacuation vehicles were coming, and if everyone just went home and holed up with supplies, the government would do everything it could to help them. A few people got that, I saw a few people begin to try and leave and slip out of the crowd. But a lot of people didn't hear the appeal or didn't believe it, or had been treated so badly by us in their attempts to get inside that they were willing to fight on to get revenge. Some of them were probably peer-pressured into staying behind. A few thousand left the crowd, but a majority of them still remained and they were furious.

Shortly afterwards, it was decided that peaceful methods weren't going to solve this problem. The big guns were brought out.

The big guns?

Yep. The big guns. We ripped a minigun off of a police helicopter we were using to evacuate civilians, grabbed some ammo from the store-room, and set it up above the front-gate to the Palace. It was, from a strategic perspective, a great deterrent and definitely….disabled, that was the term we used, a couple of thousand or so protesters until the bullets ran out. From a morale point of view…well, the soldiers who were told to operate it on fear of death…I don't think a single one was able to live with what they'd done. They all committed suicide within a few months. Don't blame them. They all had good hearts, they were all good friends of mine, and being ordered to mercilessly mow down groups of civilians must have been traumatic for them.

That wasn't the only weapon we unleashed on them. Rocket launchers and grenades were fired at impromptu battering rams and trucks laden with explosives that we spotted in the crowds. People on the rooftops of the palace were given shotguns and assault rifles and told to fire into the faceless masses. Don't get me wrong, they stepped up their attacks as a well. Grenades, Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, homemade nail bombs were all thrown at us. Snipers were stationed on the rooftops of nearby buildings. But, bluntly put our firepower and strategic advantages gave us the upper hand, and twenty-five or thirty of them were disabled or killed for every one of us.

And no zombies made their way into the crowd?

We didn't notice many. I saw one zombie ambush one of the protesters' snipers and tear him limb from limb, and I saw a scuffle break out in the crowds as one turned and everyone temporarily united to put her down, but other than that, no. Keep in mind segments of the military, and well-armed members of the population, were still locked in bitter struggles with them in the suburbs and rural areas surrounding the city. There were almost undoubtedly quite a few Infected milling amongst the crowds, but considering the fact both us and the rebels were violent, organised and heavily-armed, I doubt those who did turn caused too much trouble.

Eventually, 95% of the people inside the palace had been evacuated, and only those on defence remained. With the Sultan and his family safely out of the danger zone, I had been given a new duty, to join my colleagues on the walls defending the palace until the final bunch of evacuation vehicles arrived. The hour or so that I waited for my turn to appear was….well, it was eventful, I still lose sleep over it at night, but it wasn't anything radically different from what I've already described to you.

[He pauses.]

I was in one of the last few batches to be evacuated. I was in a…well, it was a helicopter. A fairly big cargo helicopter, don't remember the exact make, had a minigun attached to the side, and I was manning it. I was given orders to fire at the general vicinity of any protestor who appeared to be causing trouble. I was too distracted with my duties to focus on the radio chatter in the background, and it was drowned out anyway by the sounds of the protests and the occasional burst of minigun fire.

But, eventually, I was told to retreat away from the gun, and told that sorting out the protesters was now in the hands of more able sections of the government. And before I knew it, a bunch of bombers, real top-of-the-line, latest tech, stuff I didn't even know we had in Brunei in such numbers, came flying past. And they were dropping bombs. Looking out of the helicopter, this seemed to be the policy they were taking towards the majority of the city. Blowing it to pieces, and if the flames ripping apart buildings and killing my countrymen in droves told me, they were using at least some firebombs.

There was uproar upon seeing this, at least amongst the soldiers and guards in the helicopter I was in. Speaking for myself, I was pretty disgusted. Yes, some pretty nasty things had been done to the protestors, but firebombing almost the entire city, even those who were just trying to defend their homes and their families? That was too much to swallow. Even the pilot, he threatened to land the chopper out of protest, he was that pissed off, especially after all the promises the Sultan gave about how no harm would be done to you if you left the promises and the government will try and help you in the future.

We all turned on Rayan Musa, the highest-ranking person in the chopper, the one who seemed to know the most about what was going on and the one who seemed the least disturbed. We were shouting at him, demanding answers. A lot of us came from that city; we still had loved ones who were trapped in the carnage. I remember Yusuf, the big, tough guy on the helicopter, grabbing him by the collar and threatening to chuck him out of the window.

And Rayan pissed his pants at that. Yusuf was quite a scary guy to have to deal with if he was pissed off or distressed by something. Yusuf was a nice guy once you got to know him, but if he felt something was gratuitously unjust, he liked using his size to his advantage. He was real good at intimidating people, despite their rank or status.

Yep. Rayan pissing his pants was the only good thing to happen that day.

But, we got answers. Rayan began shouting out the official line. He told us to look out of the helicopter. Zombies were becoming much more common in the city, both individually and in groups. It was clear that, despite the valiant efforts of citizens and stranded police officers, Bandar was falling. The big columns of zombies coming into the city were also visible on the horizon. And he said that, from both a strategic and moral standpoint, firebombing was the best option. It would not only eliminate some of the zombies, but also prevent them "recruiting" the doomed survivors in the city. And, the logic was, well, it was better burn to death than to be bitten and torn apart by rabid zombies?

He may have had a point. We all acknowledged that. But there were so many things wrong with the…bigger picture, the whole planning UP to that point that had made firebombing a supposed necessity. And, while he wasn't one of the big bosses of the military, he still had some level of influence, and I guess he was a good way to get our questions answered and let out our frustrations.

So, after pummelling him a bit, we decided, unanimously, with no dissent or hesitation, to tie him up and write a note saying that he was the one responsible for this current situation and attach it to his shirt. We flew the chopper low and dumped him onto a shop awning on a deserted street. He definitely survived the fall. Whether the smoke and flames, the zombies or a group of angry survivors got there first, I don't know. We made up a nice excuse story about how he ordered us to fly low so he could retrieve some jewellery from the house of his mistress, but a zombie got him. And trust me when I say that was something Rayan would do.

And, before you ask, he deserved it. He was a cowardly, perverted, corrupt, bullying, abusive, hateful, incompetent, immoral sh*thead. I heard a story that a soldier who had tried to smuggle in his adopted son…

Wait, you couldn't bring in adopted children?

Not according to some of the officers, who decided that interpreting the already strict rules in an even stricter way was a good idea. But yeah, he caught him, and shot both the boy and the soldier until they were dead. With a smile on his face, so I'm told. He was a real nasty piece of work, and definitely one of the evacuees who was least deserving of a new chance at life. I mean, if it was a nicer, friendlier officer who would have been forced to explain to us how the firebombing was justified, we wouldn't have treated him like that. Nowhere close to that. It was just…well; we had an opportunity and a reason to take that bastard out.

After the firebombing, most of the city was completely destroyed. There was hardly any life, survivor, zombie or otherwise, in 99% of the city. Even Istana Nurul Iman, once confirmation had been received that everyone had got out, was completely levelled in the firebombing. The biggest palace in the world…almost completely removed in the space of a few hours.

The only part of the city which still had some survivors was Kampong Ayer, or the Water Village as it is known in English. Before the whole crisis started, it was home to 39,000 people and consisting of 4200 structures. By the time it was finished, there were still 31,000 people left, mainly residents, but also a good number of refugees from other parts of Borneo. As you can guess from its English name, Kampong Ayer is a cluster of small villages built on stilts. It was known as the Venice of the East, and was the world's largest water village. It was something Brunei could be proud of.

When the possibility of a massive zombie outbreak within Brunei's borders became too big to ignore, Kampong Ayer was chosen for a very important purpose. It was fitted with several modifications to make it more suited for long-term defence against zombies, and it was decided that it would be regularly given supplies by the Bruneian government in exile. It would serve, not only as a clever way of ensuring a larger portion of Brunei's population survived the war, but also it would distract the zombies. They would be focused on trying to get into it, instead of focusing on us and our operations.

Before the massive outbreak, life in Kampong Ayer was actually considered more dangerous than life in most of Brunei. You had zombies coming up from the water every now and then, and, while I don't know what the modifications consisted of, I understand a majority of them were to minimise the chances of that happening. As I understand, most of the modifications that weren't for that purpose were to allow Kampong Ayer to be mostly self-sustaining during the war. Taking into account citizens of Kampong Ayer who had fled the city before that or been killed in the massacre or various other events and disasters, the 25,000 residents of Kampong Ayer who survived the war is a pretty nice figure, and I must give our leaders kudos for that idea. The 6,000 refugees just make it all the sweeter. But, outside of Kampong Ayer, only a few thousand Bruneians survived the war, which is why Brunei today no longer exists as a nation.

We thought we would be one of the winners of the war. We thought, rather selfishly, the war would have, if anything, improved our standing in the world, rather than eradicating most of our population and eliminating our status as a country. Today, the members of our royal family are all either dead or living in America and Europe. Our country is now a sparse, barren province in Malaysia. I have to live under a false name because of a damned bunch of vigilantes who hunt down everyone, from royals to the children of soldiers, who were successfully evacuated during the Bandar Seri Begawan massacre, as some sick form of justice.

f*ck my life.


General Goose
  • General Goose

    Because Jeb Bush is all in my house with disease.

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#11

Posted 08 March 2011 - 11:29 AM

Next chapter. Any suggestions for any locations you want to me visit, please share them.

QUOTE
Liverpool, United Kingdom


[Winter has come early for the UK this year, and I find Dr. Rebecca Thomas, the leading psychiatrist at the Flavio Pescuddu Mental Health Institute, sitting in her office, rifling through the hospital's heating bills. She is only 42, but, as she tells me, the war has taken an impact on her age. Her face is wrinkled beyond her age and her hair is grey, and she pauses every few seconds to violently cough.]

Winter is always a hard time for us. The costs of heating and extra clothing and medicine that winter calls for stretch our already thin budget to breaking point. Add to that the fact that winter is a very popular time of year for the authorities to bring newly-found ferals or quislings to us, and it gets even worse. Not to mention the psychological and physiological problems of a small number of our patients are exacerbated by winter months.

One of our patients, a young man from Egypt, he stays with us only throughout the snowy months, the rest of the year, he's usually only an outpatient. His family were visiting relatives in London when the Great Panic hit Egypt in full force, and so they cancelled their return flights. When the Great Panic hit Britain, his family gathered up all their supplies, fled up north to the Lake District. It was a traumatic time for him. He has flashbacks and loses it whenever he's in a snowy environment, it was that bad. The day-to-day struggle for survival was bad enough, as was the whole accepting the fact he may never see his home again, but I think the catalyst was when his younger brother disappeared for a couple of days just before winter started, in the third year of their journey. When he and his father went out to get firewood…they found him.

He was frozen solid. Massive bite marks on his neck. There was black blood, also frozen solid, on some more recent wounds. It was pretty obvious he had been bitten and had turned, and had frozen as winter started. And, according to this man, without hesitation, his father just swung his fire-axe at his head and killed his brother in one swing. He never really recovered from that incident. By the time the military reached the area and found him and his father, the only other survivor from his family, they were both in a terrible condition, starving, crippled, mentally scarred. His father was definitely more damaged mentally than his son, possibly as a result of being the one to land the killing blow on his youngest son. He committed suicide shortly after he and his son were taken to safety. Guess he'd been hanging on for the boy.

That's just one of many examples of the countless ways people have been psychologically damaged, even though they survived, by the war. I'm sure you've read the reports on how suicide rates, insomnia rates, domestic abuse rates and the like are higher than they've ever been in almost every country on Earth since the outbreak, and the decline since it's ended has been…well, it's been minimal at best, unnoticeable at worst. You also still have thousands of people holding fears from the war, some of them quite rational, some of them not so. I mean, it's public safety advice not to swim in the ocean or go to the forest without protection, but you have people who are scared of going downstairs in the night, when they're living in a safe urban environment, to get a glass of water.

But, they're just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the psychological damage caused by the war. I'm sure you've heard the stories of the quislings. I'm sure you've heard stories of the ferals. We've cared for quite a few of both in the facility, and I'm afraid to say that I'd be distorting the facts if I said we had anything other than a mixed success rate. While their numbers are dropping since the war, we still get new ones found and brought to us, kicking and screaming.

Ferals….we don't have one "set" way to deal with them, at least not in Pescuddu. We approach every case as its own individual problem, as the variables of the case make each case very different. The age they were separated from their parents or guardians, the view they have of other humans, the extent of the tragedies and atrocities they saw, whether they have had encounters with other humans, feral or otherwise. As you can guess, each of these variables, and they are just examples, have a pretty big impact on the patient's individual psychology, and how we go about treating them.

Allow me to give you a couple of case studies. As I said while we were arranging this interview, no names and such, we need to protect the privacy of our patients.

Patient A. We've had…moderate success in rehabilitating him, but he's still got the mental age of a 12-year old despite being in his 20s, and he'll need a lot of education, both social and academic, before he'll be able to be assimilated back into normal society. All I know about his past is that he came from Wales; he was about 4-ish when the outbreak hit his neighbourhood and a short while into the war, and he got separated from adults or competent adults at least. I'm unsure if he was able of surviving by himself at such a young age or if an older survivor, say a teenager or older child took him under their wing.

He was eventually found by the military when they were sweeping through…Norfolk, a seaside town named Gorleston. He was alone, living in what could best be described as a ramshackle treetop fortress. He hadn't learnt basic functions, like proper hygiene, blowing his nose, intermediate grammar, basic maths. From what I understand, it was a pretty brutal fight to take him in. The military tried talking to him; he was justifiably scared and defensive around them. Then they tried tranquilising him from a distance, but they used too little tranquilisers, and didn't want to add much more in case they overdosed.

Eventually, they tackled him to the ground and brought him up to us. Liverpool was one of the first major cities in Britain to be liberated, I mean, we were safe for civilian repopulation way earlier than Sheffield or Birmingham or Bristol or London, and we got started up again before the army reclaimed much of the nation. So, he was brought to us.

The next case study is Patient B. She's out on the streets now, she still visits us for check-ups and such every couple of weeks, and she's got a family, a job, everything. She was from a family of refugees who were living in Liverpool. I don't know what happened to a majority of her family, all searches for them have turned up blank and due to their illegal status there is little official documentation of them. But, she was separated from her family at a young age. From what little she can remember, they went out shopping and never returned. After a few hours, zombies were knocking at her door. Showing incredible initiative for a 5-year old girl who by most measures was academically average and even a bit slow to mentally and physically develop, she barricaded herself in and held out until the food she had in her house had ran out.

Then, she apparently became a hunter-gatherer type figure. By this time, all the evacuation vehicles in Liverpool had long since left town, and aside from a few small groups or individual survivors, it was lost to the hordes.

Argh…by the time she was 12, she was found by a group of survivors. They were all fairly young men, natives of the city. They'd either been mentally wrecked by the way the outbreak destroyed their old lives and forced them to become basically fugitives living on scraps, or they were just bastards attempting to exploit the situation. I don't know when the abuse itself started, but when we liberated Liverpool a couple of years later, she was basically the sex slave for the group. She was abused, frequently forced to do humiliating, disgusting things…

You understand why privacy is so important, especially with this case? Her mental health and mental development was stunted and damaged quite a bit by this drawn-out, traumatic episode, and now she's back on track again, I don't want to make old wounds public and cause her more stress.

Yes. What happened to the group?

As I understand it, a few, some of the only well-armed ones in the group, violently resisted the military, or tried to make off with their loot so they could assimilate back into normal society and be accepted as morally decent survivors, but they were all shot straight dead. The rest were captured with little hassle, and tried and interrogated. Don't know what happened to them after that, and, quite frankly, I don't give a sh*t.

Quislings…they're a different matter than ferals. A vast majority of them are irredeemable. They've been so traumatised by what happened, they've lost every mental trait that's made them human. Unlike with regular zombies, they can be somewhat tamed, their aggressive instincts repressed, but teaching them to talk or recover the majority of their higher brain processes…impossible with a vast majority. Reuniting them with families or trying to recover their memory doesn't help. Best we can usually get is a few one-syllable words or them to operate simple day-to-day equipment like opening chocolate wrappers or switching on light-switches or opening doors.

With quislings, about one in ten still have family members who end up finding them, or, when we believed that reigniting their memory may have a chance of helping treatment, when we found them, and their reaction to the status of their family members varies considerably. Some of them…refused to believe it. Tried to take them home with them. Thought they were still their loved ones. I remember this one case where these two guys both thought this one quisling, who was in a pretty bad state, was their wife, and they ended up getting into a massive fight over whose wife she really was.

Was it resolved?

Nope. She'd changed beyond all recognition due to the wear and tear caused by the war; neither of their wives had any living blood relatives so DNA tests and such were out of the question. They both argued that the woman was their wife, and then got in a massive legal battle over it. Neither side had proof. The argument was only settled when she passed away from pneumonia.

I did some extra research a couple of years after that incident, using information and assets we didn't have at the time. Turned out she probably wasn't married to either of them.

That was an….extreme incident, but you get lots of arguments from family members when it comes to quislings. Some say every little mannerism they do is a sign that their old self is still in there, that they can be taken home and cared for by their family. Some even see a young quisling and say they can serve as "foster parents".

It doesn't work like that.

Quislings can be a threat to both themselves and their communities if they are not treated properly and cared for in the proper facilities by trained professionals. If they are treated as pets, as some of these people seemed to want to treat them as, cruelty issues aside, if they got out of their households, the authorities would be alerted and the peace would be disrupted. People could be hurt.

There has been some significant progress with a small minority of the quislings in our facility. They're a minority; a lucky few. Some of them, I reckon, we could even cure completely and maybe allow them to rejoin society. But, that's just speculation. I never have subscribed to the philosophy that all quislings are beyond help; from what I've seen, some can have their mental damage repaired and a few might even be able to see their "old self" return.

That's only half the problem with quislings though. The local council, the people who provide a majority of the funds for our facility, they want to cut our funding off, or drastically reduce it. They say our quisling-rehabilitation attempts are wasteful and fiscally irresponsible. They want us to scale back, if not completely eliminate, our facilities designed to care for and attempt to assist these poor people. They even say we should euthanize all but the most promising of "specimens", that's the word they used.

But, here I am, rambling about our funding problems. You didn't come to me to hear an old woman rant about local politics; you came here to ask me about the psychological impacts of the war.

Is there anything I've missed…?

[She shifts through some papers on her desk for a couple of minutes, clicking her tongue in frustration at random intervals.]

So…we've touched on quislings, ferals…did we talk about the phobias and suicide rates and all that? Yes, briefly. Yep….hmm. Aside from the rather large numbers of murderous psychopaths the zombie war created, I think we've covered everything. Well…I guess I have to finish this paperwork now.

Thank you for your time.

No, thank you for the publicity. We need it.


General Goose
  • General Goose

    Because Jeb Bush is all in my house with disease.

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#12

Posted 17 March 2011 - 07:42 AM

QUOTE
Tripoli, Libya


[The capital of Libya, one of the brightest beacons of liberal democracy in the new world and home to one of the fastest growing economies, is where I meet Pietro Balducci. An elderly doctor from Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy, Pietro in his youth was a handsome, promising medical genius who rose up to become the head of medicine at one of Pescara's largest hospitals. Like a vast majority of the people you see wandering the streets today, Pietro saw some traumatic things during the war and that is what he is speaking with me about today.]

Italy…geographically speaking, was one of the best countries in Europe to survive the apocalypse. We had mountains to the north, the Alps, and a long stretch of mountains running through the middle of our nation, the Apennines, and there were many more mountains besides in say, Sicily and Sardinia. Perfect place to hide up and hold out despite relatively hostile farming conditions, and I'm pleased to say that the Italian government and large numbers of Italians and refugees recognised that advantage and successfully held out there during the war. And, in addition to the advantage of mountainous terrain, we were surrounded on the other sides by bodies of water.

Now, we all know that zombies can walk through water without the lack of air or the water pressure bothering them, but undeniably water is an advantage when holding out against zombies. Why do you think the French government relocated to Corsica, why do you think the Brits had so long to prepare compared to continental Europe, why do you think it was the Honolulu conference as opposed to the, I don't know, Seattle conference? Because the occasional zombie popping out from the water is much easier to defend against then massive columns tearing through the landscape heading towards your cities.

That was our key advantage.

The Italian government made one crucial mistake.

The government at the time of the Great Panic was a really corporate-friendly, centre-right coalition of parties, led by this really sleazy, adulterous bastard named [name censored for legal reasons.] When the zombie menace first reared its ugly head, our government, like all governments, made the common mistake of ignoring it, not taking it seriously. They focused on the fairly mundane matters of government. Calls to tighten the budget, tackle our catastrophic debt. We didn't want to go the same way as Greece or Ireland after all; we'd been lucky that we hadn't fallen off the edge earlier. There were loud calls to deal with crime, crumbling infrastructure. You had heated debates over mundane social issues, like the pro-gay marriage agenda was beginning to pick up serious steam. You had people demanding the government deal with Roma and immigrants and refugees coming from all over, taking our jobs and ruining our culture, as the right-wing put it. Then there was the day-to-day business of covering up the Prime Minister's latest scandal.

Now, that whole mentality of carrying on as usual…I can forgive that. Nearly all governments, all cultures, took that attitude. And, much like as it is the Japanese way to work even harder during a crisis, or the British attitude to not show it affected you emotionally, or the American attitude to capitalise on it…no offence, but that Phalanx business and all that looting proves that stereotype true…it was the Italian attitude to not give a sh*t.

When the Great Panic hit in full force, the Italian government went into overdrive. They implemented sudden massive cuts in non-essential services, withdrew all their troops from overseas, consolidated their resources, began building emergency evacuation bases on the islands and in the mountains, and began churning out reports and How-To pamphlets and emergency plans and little pieces of ineffectual legislation by the bucket load. Now, during this time, they were, surprisingly, fairly competent and even quite intelligent. All parties were participating in the plans, so you got the best ideas from across the political spectrum.

I'm even quite proud to say our government was quite innovative, actually, and was not hesitant to share their ideas with other nations. For example, after the tragic massacres at Montesilvano and Ostuni, when zombies from the seas came onto land and ate tourists and residents alike, the Italian government spearheaded the efforts to repeal the Ottawa Treaty when it came to zombie defence. It was something that sounds quite simply obvious, but the international community was too busy with other plans to notice that flaw until the Italians pointed it out. Yes, there were concerns, but, it was for the best, and gave many beachside communities a slightly better chance at survival, at least in the short-term.

Didn't nations party to the treaty break it before it was repealed?

Well, obviously. You hear quite a lot of stories of people in Africa or Asia wandering on a beach and then stepping on a mine and waking up in an emergency unit with all their limbs on a separate bed. Those tended to be the governments who never paid much attention to international treaties at all, and, when the zombie menace reared its ugly head, they just plopped down landmines wherever without even bothering to write down where they put them. And then you have the communities within the developed world that, anxious about hordes of zombies and feeling they had to take matters into their own hands, just dumping down improvised landmines or old antiquated ones they found in their attic on the shores. They tended to blow each other up quite a lot.

But, I'm rambling now.

Basically, the reason a majority of the world that had signed the treaty were unable to plop down their own landmines was because the Ottawa Treaty had led them to dismantle their stockpiles, destroy their landmine industry and stop training people on how to use them. Everyone rushed to rebuild their stockpiles after the Treaty was repealed, no questions asked, and trust me, the countries that hadn't bothered with the Treaty were eager to make a quick buck out of the sudden demand for landmines.

Couldn't nations just withdraw from the treaty?

I really don't know the legal procedure for international treaties, and whether they're something you can unilaterally withdraw from. Regardless, repealing it immediately would save everyone the hassle of withdrawing from it one-by-one. It allowed international guidelines to be created for the safe deployment of landmines to battle zombies.

Of course, none of this had anything whatsoever to do with the US, China or Russia. Just the civilised world.

Now, look at me, getting into a tangent about landmines when I'm meant to be discussing Italy's history during the war. Anyway, onto what led our country to be compromised. I mean, compared to many other countries, we got by alright. Compared to, say, the Germans, the Northern Africans, or the Eastern Europeans, we got through the war alright, and recovered pretty quickly. But a majority of our country still ended up being overrun, and millions of Italians are dead. And there were a few mistakes that led to that.

The basic principle is, once things got started and there were strict border controls that basically eliminated the earlier threat of infected refugees or tourists turning while in Italy…there were two main ways for zombies to enter our nation. From the north, and from the sea. Once the border got locked down and European nations began falling like dominoes, the sea was the main entrance. But, we had put down landmines on all our beaches and got round-the-clock patrols there. We had probably executed the biggest conversion of a nation from a democratic republic to an isolated fortress in human history.

I don't know how, but we did it.

If you're a cynic, I guess one of the best lessons the zombie war taught humanity was that success can be really short-lived. One slip-up, even if that slip-up was beyond your control, and it all comes tumbling down.

I guess you are familiar with how desperate refugees can get. When they heard along the grapevines how relatively safe Italy was compared to most of Europe and North Africa, they decided to flock there in their thousands. Once they heard the land borders were relatively secure, they decided to just grab whatever boat they wanted and came onshore. A few were stopped by landmines and patrols, but some got through. And some turned. Eventually, the government said enough is enough. They had enough on their plate. Logistics were running low; famines, diseases, riots and sporadic outbreaks were becoming everyday occurrences. They were fighting a losing battle; they didn't want to juggle the threat of refugees coming from the sea as well. So, they took a controversial stance.

They began sinking the ships. Any ship that they determined was too close to the Italian shore, and they suspected was being used for the illegal transportation of refugees, was sunk.

This…went terribly wrong. They sank every ship they saw. Legitimate refugee ships, for one. But they also sunk fishing boats, yachts home to rich snobs riding the storm out, self-sustaining communities that had been established on chains of boats, boats home to charitable, altruistic aid workers, loads of boats that had no interest in Italy. They even sank boats of people FLEEING Italy, for crying out loud. There were a few reports of boats owned by the French government operating around Corsica disappearing, and they now reckon, judging by the wreckage of some of them, they were sunk by zealous, undiscriminating Italian naval officers.

God, you can bet that's a nasty diplomatic sore point in the new Europe.

But, put aside the brutal direct human costs of this policy. Put aside the innocent men, women and children who drowned in cold, deep waters. But, consider the risks this brutish, kneejerk policy posed to Italy itself.

Say if a ship sunk had even ONE infected individual. Unless their brain is destroyed in the blast, they will reanimate. Water…no problem for them. Now, you have hundreds of ships sunk every month, every week at the peak. Some of them will contain infected individuals. Hell, some of them were already completely lost to the infection. You had massive boats swarming with zombies…boat gets sunk…horde of zombies are now in the water. And there's a good chance they decide to go north or east or west and head towards Italy.

But weren't the landmines and patrols enough to stop them?

You seem to assume our security measures were impenetrable, that they did not have weak points. You also seem to assume the Italian military had the ammunition, landmines and personnel to stop the hundreds of thousands of zombies coming from the sea, control internal outbreaks, police the northern border and deal with civil unrest. To put it bluntly, the Italian military didn't. Eventually, with more and more zombies coming and the morale and supplies of the Italian people breaking, we went into retreat.

I mean, Malta took a much different approach to the refugee problem. The moment normal society broke apart; they quickly barricaded their island up, and somehow spread a rumour that they'd be swamped. Thanks to that, no refugee tried to come near them, and while some of our sunken boat people, for lack of a better term, ended up shambling towards them as zombies, they were in much lower quantities than with our shores. Aside from famine, a malaria outbreak, a draconian dictatorship and a civil war, Malta got by alright.

We didn't.

I still remember my evacuation pretty well.

I was at a hospital in Pescara. The inpatient ward. Some of them had been seriously injured in earlier evacuations and battles, and were incapable of much mobility. Then we had all the regular ward denizens; the old, frail war veterans slowly dying of something we were once able to tackle like flu, the refugee from the south who was dying of malnutrition or blood poisoning, those little 7-year old girls with cancer you always see in the films. Nearly all of them were on clunky life support machines. Many of them, well, they either didn't have families or their families were unable to have got them out before.

There were terrible conditions. Blood and vomit everywhere. A massive furnace was built to burn any bodies just in case they turned. We weren't taking any chances. To be blunt, the hospital was in shambles, no-one knew when they would be able to leave or who was giving the orders or where the drugs and tools and specialists were. Half of the medical staff we had on the site were rural family practitioners who had fled the south and had only referred people in the past for treatment or done the most basic of procedures, or medical school trainees who were being thrown in at the deep end. I swear, a couple of them had no qualifications but a basic first aid course, a good heart and a strong stomach. It was chaos, and the patients were getting it worse than any of us.

You had emergency amputations done to deal with gangrene, no anaesthetic, I must add, right next to orphaned children crying for their parents while they're rigged up to fluids and machines. The hospital was one of the last hold-outs in the city. All the able patients, some luckier infirm ones, as many of the doctors, nurses, porters and other refugees as possible, they were all being flown out, group by group. Ammunition and morale were both running scarce; our emergency generator was running low on fuel, and the hope of even one helicopter capable of carrying our neediest patients out was…running low.

It was…a shock for me. My father used to be a combat medic, and he saw some pretty nasty things, and I'd done some humanitarian work in countries like Uganda at points in the past. Really…basic facilities there, too many financial constraints for a Western doctor to deal with, and some really tragic sights. But, nothing could prepare you for the tense, sickening, frantic atmosphere there was in that hospital. You knew there was very little you could do for this people, except maybe give them false hope, relieve the pain and worry a tiny bit, and cross your fingers and pray for a miracle. Not to mention you always had the constant sounds of choppers, mostly just flying overhead, dealing with other problems, but occasionally flying low to try and save a few more.

And you always had the f*cking groans. In the background. Those f*cking groans. Sometimes it got louder. Sometimes quieter. But the zombies, unless you were in a store cupboard in the deepest part of the building as far away from the windows as possible, you always heard them. Always. An omnipresent terrifying hum.

And you had those military goons wandering around the corridors, carrying assault rifles and shotguns and such. All those expressionless, monotonous soldiers just doing what ever the hell they were told to do, combined with all the screams and blood stains and the smell of death hanging in the air…I hate to invoke Godwin's Law, but it was like a Nazi concentration camp. The hospital used to be so orderly, controlled, well-mannered, clean…we were run by this bureaucratic old guy who, despite his boring personality, had a talent for keeping things in order and maintaining the peace, even when times were hard. But…he didn't come into work one day, wouldn't answer his mobile, and I had to assume he was dead or had long since fled the province.

Hell, one time, I swear I saw a soldier carrying in big boxes of food and ammunition, and I thought…maybe we're the distraction for the zombies? Maybe they intend to keep a small number of fit doctors, nurses and soldiers in here for as long as possible, keep the zombie hordes distracted while they carry out their plans. Now, I wasn't one to raise panic without knowing the full situation, so I asked the commanding officer, HOPING he wouldn't lie to me. And he just said they wanted us to hold out for as long as possible to see if they could evacuate the most vulnerable patients. And, if not…well, they'll take out as many of the zombies as possible and give the patients as good a send-off as possible.

I didn't know what he meant until later.

[He pauses, inhaling a cigarette I had not noticed he had lit.]

What did he mean?


Quite a few evacuation rounds later, there was only a skeleton crew left. A few soldiers, a few medical staff, loads of increasingly vulnerable patients remaining, way too many to be handled efficiently. Many of them just decided to stop being a burden or came to the conclusion it was on their terms now or on a zombie's terms later, said their prayers and their goodbyes, and jumped out of the window, cut their necks with a scalpel, pulled out the plug for their life support machine or deliberately overdosed on spare medication. A couple of nurses and doctors, mainly the younger ones who hadn't even had to handle a car crash before, decided that they couldn't bear the stress anymore, and joined them.

I was in my office, for the umpteenth time. I was just double-checking if there was any hidden vital medication or supplies we could use, or failing that any precious personal belongings I wanted to keep close to me. That was when that same soldier from before, his name was Sergeant Luca Dalcone. One of the unsung heroes of the war.

He basically was running around saying "We've received a message. The final helicopter will be here in less than forty minutes. It will only be able to carry the able people to safety." Able people. That was the euphemism they used to describe everyone who wasn't bedbound and useless. It started off being used by the top brass. Spread down the ranks, then civilians and refugees began using it. We both knew; with no soldiers left, the barricades around the hospital's entrances would fail. If they did not pass away because of their injuries or illnesses beforehand, the zombies would get them. Slow death. Nasty death. Not the sort of thing you would wish on your worst enemy.

He took a unilateral decision. A controversial decision. One that prompted moral arguments from the other soldiers under his command and the more idealistic medical staff remaining at the hospital. One that provoked a few solemn tears and prayers from the older patients, who we decided to inform of the action he'd taken afterwards.

He took a sledgehammer, a toolbox and a scalpel.

Ran to the basement.

Don't know the details, but he ended up breaking many pieces of the emergency generator, meaning that our power supply would be finished completely within minutes.

Then, most bravely of all, he came up, told us what he'd done and explained to us why it was the right thing to do.

"It may not be death on their own terms; it may not be the best way to go. But, it will allow them to die peacefully, to have a few minutes of precious tranquillity, thought and maybe even happiness."

And then, he walked away from the massive panic and heated moral debate that us others were getting into. And he just went around, comforting the patients. Cleaning up their wounds, reading the children bedtime stories, praying with the religious, comforting the crying, trying to help fulfil any last-minute requests in any way we could.

I mean, some of us tried to help here and there. Help some of the patients, ease his workload. But, he did most of it.

I wouldn't go so far to say that he made those people die happy. But he made them die…less horrible deaths. And sometimes, a bad way out is better than a horrific way out.

Do you know what happened to him later on in the war?

Killed while trying to bring in a feral unharmed. During the aftermath of the Battle of Milan. Left behind two sons and a daughter.





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