|QUOTE (Chapter 1)|
[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?
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, 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.