Part 1 Simon
On the large LCD screen hanging on the rear wall of the common-room, the world burned. A scene that was also played out on dozens of channels that we had access to. The smaller screens scattered around the room showed some of that choice.
As usual the main screen was fixed on CNN, (or as it had been re-christened, ZNN) the scene this afternoon was Soweto, or what was left of it. The filming was from a SADF Puma circling at around 500 meters. Oily black flames fanned in the afternoon winds burned both the living and the dead although it was clear from the footage that some of the ‘dead’ were still moving. The shacks that had held generations of black South Africans and sheltered them from the excesses of the Apartheid regime, were of little use from a foe that cared not for causes and just wanted you for lunch or dinner depending on what time of the day it was..although that was probably not too important to them either.
Luis dumped himself on the sofa next to me.
“God, haven’t you better things to do but watch this shit, Simon? Don’t be a sap like these jokers!” he waved his arms towards our co-workers some of whom no longer went back to sleep in their rooms and had set up camp in the common-room. Absently I sipped at my coffee and shook my head.
“It’s easy for you Luis, you had no-one outside, most of these people have family out there” I paused “also no one wants to be alone”
Luis had divorced his wife of five years in a particular bitter dispute in which both his and her family sided against him, something to do with three mistresses was the main complaint, especially when one of them was his wife’s sister. The case settled two days before the emergency started. I felt he was glad to rid of them all, and so had no reason to complain about our current situation.
Luis just laughed.
“Simon. Simon. In that case they should be hard at work in the labs trying to help stop this madness! Anyway I came to tell you the latest analysis of the samples brought from Lyons are in”
He got up, glancing at the screen which showed a flight of Cheetah fighter/bombers dropping cluster bombs on the township.
“Christ, I thought it was illegal to use those things in civilian areas!”
Because of his news I rose to the bait
“The UN emergency protocols removed both the cluster bomb ban and the landmine ban you know that..” realising that I had been duped again, as I followed Luis to the lift whilst he chuckled to himself.
Thinking about Lyons (another failed containment exercise, but at least we got fresh samples), brought to mind the French governments disastrous experiment with Paris. The President had declared that the city should be saved for heritage reasons, and so he had authorised the use of France’s neutron bomb arsenal (hitherto a mere rumour), to remove the problem of dead Frenchmen (and women) rising up and trying to eat their fellow countrymen. There would be minimal collateral damage and the decontamination could be sorted out fairly easily.
More dead French citizens (as the government couldn’t or wouldn’t evacuate the city before the strike) and it seemed the risen dead were not effected by the radiation, in fact in some cases it was rumoured that ‘Les Zombies’ in Paris were stronger and faster than those found elsewhere. Luis had joked that it would be easier for snipers to pick them off after dark!
Such thoughts led me to the start of all this barely six months ago…..
The first reported incident was in Egypt about two weeks after the end of Hajj in Saudi Arabia, a man and his two sons had just returned and became sick, they died within a day of their being admitted to hospital in Alexandria. They ‘rose’ about 12 hours later it is thought and the infection quickly spread through the crowded neighbourhoods and then it was just a short hop to Cairo and then the country basically collapsed.
This however was not an isolated incident, similar cases were reported in France, Britain, Holland, most of the Arab world, southern Asia and also in the USA. The sickness always happened amongst Muslims and by the time the various governments realised the link with the Hajj it was too late and things went from bad to worse. Pogroms started in many areas where Islamic communities were based and tens of thousands of innocents we slaughtered but also the contagion was spreading.
Most countries declared Martial Law and containment lines were set up. The UN set up a committee which formed a decision in record time, 24 hours. Worldwide emergency rules were drawn up aimed at containing the contagion. The problem was that it was not only transmitted when someone was bitten but also if they were exposed to any fluids from a walking corpse. Teams were set up in many countries to try and find a cure. One interesting fact was that Romero was right, massive damage to the brain stopped a Zombie in its tracks, decapitation did not always work however and I’d seen reports of a Zombie head still trying to bite someone’s ankles and a headless body still attacking a person even though its head lay a few meters away!
International trade and air travel stopped dead (if you’ll pardon the pun), only tightly screened military flights moved between countries. Then the ‘phantom’ emails started. It became clear that the contagion was one of human origin with a specific purpose to start the ‘End of Days’, some loony Christian sect decided that Muslims were a perfect target to help start the end of the world and used a biological weapon at the Hajj. It was clear from the email that the group knew what the effects would be and was talking about the dead rising, end of the world as we know it etc. etc. The emails are still being sent out so whoever is responsible they’re still out there.
So now we come to the present day, Africa is mainly a wasteland, as is a lot of Asia and SE Asia. Most of the USA is a free fire zone mainly thanks to petty state politics and the refusal of some governors to realise how serious the problem was. South America is still intact and central America is now a firebreak guarded by the Mercosur Military Command. The MMC now also runs South America with a three year mandate. Australia dealt with its problem quickly and intelligently unfortunately this caused race riots which left parts of Sydney and Melbourne in flames.
And Europe? Well there’s not a lot of Europe left to be honest. In the UK, a new Hadrian’s walls was built by the Scots and a similar undertaking was devised by the Welsh but they didn’t get it up in time. Scotland is now an independent country although still a constitutional monarchy with King William sitting above a single chamber of Parliament in Edinburgh. The first Minister is ironically Gordon Brown. Ireland is once again united although only just. Only France maintains that it has an effective government although as a State it is not much bigger than Vichy France. The French have adopted a walled town strategy which they hope they can retake all land lost to the contagion. As to the rest of Europe well there’s not a lot left and the Russians are fighting a losing battle.
Out east things are better. China has enacted even more draconian measures and a new Great Wall is taking shape. The Koreas are still at each other throats but there are signs that North Korea is about to collapse as it is receiving no outside aid. Then there is Japan, for some reason there were multiple hot spots of the contagion four months ago. Now it is a dead zone.
The lift door opening at out labs floor jolted me from the retrospective. The security zone here was quite exacting we had to submit to thermal cameras checking that we had no fever as well as optical and breath scans, just make sure we were ok. If not the room would be flooded with warm Hydrofluoric acid. Passing through the security zone we entered the lab zone. On our floor there are three labs but only ours has a separate elevator to the ‘storeroom’
The hallway beyond the security zone was an inverted capital T each arm ending in an airlock. Beyond each airlock is a robing room leading to decontamination facilities and the labs themselves. Security cameras cover so nothing is missed. The floors of the robing rooms and the decontamination zone are hidden beneath metal grills. The drains that carry all the decon fluids travel many kilometres to a special lab to make the chemicals safe. God help us if they ever break down.
The labs beyond are temples to biochemistry and microbiology, scanning electron microscopes, chromatographs of various types, mass spectrometers the list is endless all reliquaries to our god of scientific knowledge. Our lab is different though it looks more like a morgue, with dissection tables and cold storage.
Luis in his usual imperious manner pushed past me to enter the lab. He wandered over to his ‘space’ and started putting in the request for the first sample.
It suddenly struck me how we had completely dehumanised the subjects of our research, from the Kevlar bags placed over their hands, feet and heads to calling them euphemistically ‘samples’. And of course there was the constant discussion in the common-room whether or not what we did was an autopsy or vivisection. These sort of conversations were in hushed tones as no-one wanted to be removed from the project. This had happened a few times and being dumped outside the main gates with a suitcase and a few days worth of food and a sidearm was not an ideal way to celebrate the right to free speech.
I set about preparing my tools and after around five minutes the service lift opened up revealing a figure laden gurney. The microphones picked up faint groans coming from the figure. Charcoal grey Kevlar bags enveloped its head, feet and hands to minimise possible contagion transfer. Once I had wondered out loud how many aspects of the containment process that made our job easier had been put together so quickly. Luis (who had worked for the Spanish Army as a medical officer) had looked me straight in the eye and said “Why do you think? Maybe they would look better in orange, yes?”
I quickly dropped the matter.
Snapping back to the present I wheeled my trolley of instruments towards the gurney as Luis moved it to the vertical. The sample (which until now had been still) started to move against its restraints. Luis whistled
“Got a live one here! And tonight’s contestant is Jacques! Jacques comes from the lovely city of Lyons and his main interests are eating and wandering around aimlessly.”
A muffled moan came form the bagged figures head
“What’s that Jacques? Yes? Sorry, your favourite food is brainnnnz. Can you say it? Can you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the inanity of the situation especially as the bagged sample writhed against its bonds and Luis kept up his faux gameshow host routine. Once I got the sample trolley next to the figure, I had to take every precaution, as we had found that every microgram of a zombie was a possible vector. Luis’ humour also subsided and he became the consummate professional. Two of his former colleagues had become infected due to sloppy technique. He once told me about it after two bottles of Rioja. He’d shot both of them himself before they could become a danger. One of them he’d known since university.
The sampling process took around four hours and by the end what had once been a normal human being was no more than a collection of sample jars and biohazard burn bags.
Sterilisation took another half an hour and by then I was physically exhausted. However there were still the results of the last couple of sample analysis. Trudging back through the decontamination zone I felt a surge of excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I suppose part of the reason was that I’d been working in these labs for so long. I was a researcher at Saar Biosciences S.A. for three years before the emergency. Back then, the valley had been a remote parkland. We held picnics by the river and the fence was a simple chain link affair carrying a small charge to discourage eco-terrorists. We always had armed guards but they simply had pistols. Now we have a triple layer fence filled with antipersonnel mines with a 50 meter killzone in front, covered by claymore mines. Instead of basic security guards, soldiers of the Swiss army now guard the perimeter, backed up by a couple of wheeled APC’s with auto-cannons and three attack ‘copters. The parkland is now farmland to feed the appetite of the guards and the researchers.
I suppose at the start I’d resented the changes, at the rudeness of the world invading our little slice of paradise. But then we were one of the few labs who had the right balance of facilities especially after USAMRID and the CDC in the USA were overrun (Luis had been working on secondment at USAMRID at the time), and we had a defensible position. But reality sort of rolled over my objections.
Getting back into our offices I noticed that Cecily the English researcher was there. I found her to be a breath of fresh air in here. She refused to throwaway her Goth paraphernalia much to the disgust of some of the more staid researchers. She along with two French researchers Alex and Jean-Pierre were our main biowarfare specialists. We were never told where the Frenchmen came from, but we knew that Cecily had worked at Porton Down.
‘Good afternoon gentlemen I thought I could smell the delicate odour of l’eau de zombie wafting down the corridor!”
“That’s the problem with you stay at home types, not willing to get your hands dirty”
Sniped back Luis.
“A girl like me has to be careful not to get dishpan hands!” Cecily shot back.
Luis humphed and wandered over to his desk, and Cecily’s face broke into a wide smile.
“Ignore him Cecily, he’s not had his normal five cups of coffee today”
A couple of choice words in Spanish floated over from Luis desk.
“Oh he’s fine, just needs the hand of a good woman!”
Feeling awkward as usual I hesitated
“..er yes, so what news from your dredging of the bug labs?”
“Still nothing, but there’s a chance we may get a data upload from Beijing about some ‘old’ research later on today so there may be something there”
“Let’s hope eh?” I said and moved over to my desk. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cecily still looking over at me, silence then fell on the office as we began going over the data from the latest set of sampling
The week progressed slowly as we processed the samples and the other labs did their work as well. By the end each sample was nothing more than a pile of ashes, which was sealed up and placed in a containment area down well below the main complex. Friday was something to look forward too as the management gave us something to drink in the common room.
For the last day or so something had been bothering me. I had been looking at the results that had been coming in from the fresh samples and finally it looked like we were getting close to identifying the contagion. Marcus’ team in lab 2 had isolated a prion they had not seen before and with the goodly amount of samples from Lyon being of various stages of infection (in one case the sample was thought to be a possible patient zero for his area) it was possible to see a rapid mutation in the prion which could relate to the shorter time taken for symptoms to appear compared with six months ago. But something about the shape and makeup of the prion rang a bell with me.
It was Friday afternoon when it all fell into place and everything else started to fall apart.
I was in the process of cutting up the last sample. This one was the poorest in condition and we had left it until last for this reason. Processing had taken little time and after the judicious use of a cold forged chisel (after removed the head bag), we started to cut up the now stilled corpse. Well I say ‘we’ Luis always managed to suddenly ‘need’ to do something important just as it came to fire up the rotary saw. This time it was reporting a dodgy centrifuge.
As Luis wandered over to the computer I started to cut into the corpses left knee, but only remembering to flick down the lexan guard as the disc was halfway into the leg. As the shield locked into place I felt a sharp pain in my right arm. Glancing at the suit it looked intact so I continued on. When I was scrubbing down I found a small piece of bone partially imbedded in my forearm. Quickly I pulled it out and scrubbed at the wound. As there was no blood I vainly hoped that there had been no contamination.
My mind still was working furiously at the prion issue and then it hit me! I had seen the prion before, or at least something very similar and it was here in this lab complex!
Dressing quickly, I headed up to office leaving Luis trailing behind. I tried to move as fast as possible without running so as not to alert the people viewing the security camera feed. My PC was still on, so it took just a moment to log back on.
I had one advantage that almost none of the other researchers had. Having worked here I had access to the company’s old project files. I quickly transferred the prion data recovered from the Lyon samples and compared it with one particular structure. The structure was very much the same, and there, there on the upper left side was the sequence I’d worked on myself.
I caught a glimpse of Luis just about to swipe himself in, so I brought up another analysis I had been working on.
“What made you shoot off?” he asked
“Thought I had an idea, but I was wrong, again! So back to the drawing board, how is the centrifuge going?”
“Maintenance say they’ll get on in tomorrow, I was thinking of going back over the USAMRID databases, as that thing looks man-made to me, in fact it reeks of it.”
“Do you think so?” I asked carefully trying not to let my voice waver.
“Yes but it’s time for drinks so lets get up there before the peons drink the good stuff.”
So saying he turned on his heel, and walked out of the office, leaving me behind for a moment. I switched back to the old research file, switched off the monitor and unplugged my security thumbdrive Ten I got up and followed Luis up to the common room.
When we arrived at the common room it looked like we were the last ones to arrive. Both Luis and I checked our watches, no in fact we were actually early. We looked at each other in askance as to what was the fuss? I looked around and noticed that all the research staff were there including management and the officers of the external and internal security teams. Herr Schmidt who was the Project Director noticed our arrival and coughed the room fell into silence.
“Today colleagues we have achieved what no other facility has done since the emergency begun. We have isolated the causes of the infection which has so troubled the world” he nodded to his PA who brought up an image of the Prion in question.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Dr Mobutu and his team have determined this afternoon beyond reasonable doubt that this is our enemy, and now the project must change. We have to find a cure or at least a countermeasure to this” he waved his hand in the general direction of the image. He looked over to his PA who nodded before he started speaking again.
“To celebrate we have arranged for some champagne and a few other luxuries”
I could hear corks popping and the smell of food. Almost as a single entity we all moved to the tables where the support staff had laid on canapés and opened a number of bottles of Veuve Cliquot. After helping myself I stood next to Luis and looked for three people, all of whom had worked on the same research team as I whilst at Saar Biosciences. I was unsurprised to see them huddled together, casting worried looks at the image on the screen. That only helped confirm my suspicions.
“I wonder how they managed to confirm ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that this is the culprit?” asked Luis
“I don’t know, some form of animal test?” I replied softly
“Unlikely, but if so what species have been found to be infected”
Cecily wandered over to us holding two glasses in her hands, one of which was almost finished. As she reached up she knocked back the almost empty glass and placed it on the floor, luckily it was quickly retrieved by a member of the support staff.
“Good evening gentlemen, how are you both?” asked Cecily smothering a giggle
“At a guess that wasn’t your first glass?” asked Luis. “You need to be careful, around here they don’t seem to like people abusing the grape”
“Luis, you can be such an old woman sometimes” chided Cecily
“Anyway, I’m celebrating. My two colleagues have been recalled, so at last I get to work without them poking their noses around”
I looked at her over the rim of my glass
“I thought you worked well as a team?”
“Not really, I think they were only there to make sure it wasn’t some bug designed in a French lab! They must have found out about Marcus’ results, realised their government was off the hook and were happy to flee the coup”.
Luis looked at her speculatively
“Interesting, you two love birds stay here and converse, I’m going to pump our savior, Marcus for details, Ciao” so saying he wandered off into the crowd.
I laughed in an embarrassed manner “Sorry about Luis, he says stuff just to get a reaction”
“Oh I don’t mind him at all” Cecily replied, her voice sounded husky and I noticed that she was standing quite close to me.
“Luis has known that I fancy you, for a while now, you’ve probably noticed how he tries to leave us alone together”
Realisation dawned on me as several recent incidents clicked into place
“Oh I never realised” I said quite lamely
“I know’ she replied archly “But I ‘m sure you can make it up somehow!”
I swallowed too much champagne and coughed drawing the gaze of a couple of co-workers, as I leant over she quickly kissed me in the ear, darting her tongue around it in a sensual manner. As she did this I fancied I could almost sense the blood coursing through her head.
“Lets say our goodbyes, and then we’ll see about you making your amends” said Cecily taking my free hand and leading me into the pack.
I found myself sitting at a restaurant, it looked familiar, but I seemed to be the only one there. In front of me was a dish of steak tartare and a full glass of what looked to be a fine Burgandy. The walls where white but all the artworks seemed to be scenes of something Hieronymus Bosch would describe, but utilising modern styles. I went to the tartare with a gusto and drank deeply of the wine which was warm, thick and rich.
“Would sir like some more?”
I looked round and there was Luis dressed as a waiter. The scene changed and there was Luis preparing more mince for the tartare but there was a human leg in the mincer and he was pouring blood from a skulls mouth
His face took on a demonic visage.
“Come on, you know you want more of this fine cuisine!”
Then there was a dull pounding on the door and the windows
Luis suddenly was right beside me whispering sibilantly into my ear
“They are calling to you, why don’t you go out and join them?”
Without a thought I stood up stiffly and walked in an ungainly manner towards the door although in my mind I screamed “Stop..I didn’t want to go out”, not to face what I knew I was!
Luis was at the door, and he bowed and gestured me to leave as he opened the door…. suddenly Zombies were everywhere but they were not attacking me, thought they did start to attack three men hung on hooks in the middle of the room (why did I notice them before?)
I could see the suspended mens faces. They were the men I had worked with on the old project! They screamed in pain as they were slowly devoured…….
Things changed again, now Cecily was standing before me in a Gothy style dress complete with a bustier, stockings and spike heeled boots. Her clothes were tattered and he skin had an unhealthy caste.
She held out her arms to me
“Kiss me Simon” she said in a corpselike whisper, opening her mouth but instead of her tongue there was just a mass of maggots writhing around…..
…I woke up sweating with a scream on the edge of my tongue. Cecily leg that was draped over me stopped me from sitting upright.
“What’s wrong?” she said sleepily
“Just a nightmare” I said after a moment to collect my thoughts.
“hmmm’ she languidly stroked my forehead “bad dream gone?”
A few minutes later Cecily spoke again
“Look, I know this is our first night together but can I tell you a secret?”
I dreaded to think what she was going to say, especially after discovering where some of her piercings were in the previous few hours!
She paused again obviously gaining her own courage.
“Okay, I have this fantasy about being eaten alive by one of them whilst having sex”
“What? Are you having a joke?”
“No, now I know it’s strange but it’s a fantasy but after you mentioned you had a nightmare, I thought maybe we should share, you know?”
“Well it is weird don’t you think?”
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy it though..”
I couldn’t argue especially as her hand started to caress my body and she whispered to me her instructions. I could again feel that I could sense the blood flowing through her body and her heart started to sound like a drum beating out a hypnotic cadence.
It was a short while later that the scene was set
“Now bite me, but not too much.” I obeyed and I could feeling her writhe in pleasure but then I took a harder bite breaking her skin
“Simon that hurt!”
Her words then meant little to me as I felt the need, the urge to taste more, and her writhings became those of pain not pleasure, and her voice raised in volume and pitch, panicking not sighing. Her legs thumped against the bed until they stilled and I fed, not caring about my hunger.
I sensed the door to my room opening and I turned around to this next source of warm flesh and blood….