Saturday, March 24, 2012

Zombie Infection Mistaken for Rabies Infection, Attempt

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[In the same line of reasoning as this idea, but this time in story form..]

[So, be aware that this wasn't really all that thought out beforehand and it was written as I got increasingly tired and unable to think straight. I give you a zombie story, sort of:]
When civilization collapsed I was considering dropping out of college. Even in college I was never a writer. I majored in math. I had to write a couple of papers in classes I had to take for what the school called core requirements, basically what they used to justify to themselves that they were still a liberal arts school as they cut back on everything liberal arts related. I never got the hang of citing sources, I've been told I border on plagiarism, I can't make a bibliography for the life of me. I've been told that I splice with commas, hang participles, run on sentences, and make the baby Jesus cry grammar related tears. Yet somehow it has fallen to me to write history.
Actually I know how it happened, I said someone should write it, and everyone else said that it should be my responsibility. It's not the worst job, but the people who are doing worse jobs don't want this one.
Our library is sparse and eclectic. We have some philosophers that can't be understood without an advanced degree in the subject, and even then I have my doubts. We have really bad paperback novels that I hope future generations will not use to judge us. We have textbooks in math, government, and geoscience. We have a lot of stuff from before the invention of the printing press. Dante to tell us what Hell is like, Suetonius to tell us what Caesars are like, Herodotus to tell us what Persians are like, various other things I haven't really looked at. None of it useful.
Most of the stuff that we do have that applies to this project is in the form of computers. Some people saved news stories, a couple of mailing lists got useful things saved in email programs. Stuff like that. It's always worrying retrieving such information. Electricity is precious, and if the computer shouldn't start it's not as if I know how to fix it. I'd rather someone else be the one to be present when one them finally breaks down.
I looked at some of the books by historians we have, for inspiration, and you know what I found out? Suetonius worked in a library. A fully stocked library. A library fully stocked with useful information. When he wanted to say that there were rumors around he didn't just say there were rumors, he said exactly what they happened to be because somebody somewhere had recorded the rumors and Suetonius could look them up in the library. Good God do I wish I could do the same.
Instead most of what I have to work on is memory, and memories that don't always agree. For example, the start.
While civilization crumbled people were still working to discover the origin of the disease, and they made it back to a single place, but never figured out how it got there. Here's the problem: we don't know what that place was. It was definitely an airport. A hub. But which hub? We don't know. My memory says it was Atlanta. Someone else says it was Detroit. Those two places aren't exactly close to each other, and they don't really sound alike either.
There were no reports of biting there, wherever it was, so no one knows how so many became infected. Some people here insist that it must have been prions. I don't know what prions are. Based on my conversations with the people who say it must have been prions, I am confident that they don't know what prions are either.
However the infection started, it was not noticed or understood. People got on their planes and headed to their destinations all over the world. Thousands of people. And when they got there they seemed fine as fine can be, perhaps slight headaches, maybe a fever, nothing to send anyone into apocalyptic panic.
And then the changes started. I remember symptoms being listed off as anxiety, insomnia, confusion, paranoia, and something else. I don't remember exactly what the something else was. Agitation maybe. Or perhaps irritability. I don't know. No surviving records list the symptoms. If I had to guess, I'd say that paranoia was the biggest problem. Paranoid people tend not to want to go to a hospital and tell authority figures, “There's something wrong with me.”
And then the biting started. People who have been bitten by other people tend to go to hospitals and say, “Some asshole just bit me.” That's when we first realized there was something wrong. In cities all over the world people started getting bitten by other people.
This led to the first recorded use of the word, “Zombie,” regarding the incidents. It survives as a message sent to a newsgroup concerned with baking. It reads, “Dude, it's like a zombie outbreak. We should have a zombie cupcake party.” Subsequent messages are on the topic of what would constituent a zombie cupcake. No one took the idea of zombies seriously. No one had a reason to.
At first the disease was not well understood, and early containment was lacking. Those bitten reached the biting stage much more quickly than those who had been part of the initial infection. Their move to biting was not expected and as a result more victims were created, often the doctors and nurses who had been treating the newly infected.
The disease was misidentified as a previously unknown strain of rabies. It seems silly looking back, rabies can't cause the dead to walk, but the simple truth is that no one had died yet. It seemed like any other disease.
Quarantine was the method for dealing with the problem, and at first it seemed to work, but not everyone was found, not all quarantines held, and at some point it jumped species. I know for sure that the stray dog population of Rome became infected. I've been told that something similar happened in Moscow but no surviving records attest to that. I remember hearing about the rats in one area being infected, but no records survive.
The animals were, of course, put down, but not before they infected many more people. And the disease continued to spread.
We do not have a surviving copy of the Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, but a short excerpt of it survives in the files of a video game installed on one of our computers. It reads:
... In addition to their detrimental health effects on the targeted population, biological warfare agents would likely cause significant impacts on the medical care system. Massive numbers of patients and demands for intensive care would overwhelm medical resources. Special medications or vaccines not generally available in standard pharmaceutical stocks would be required. Medical care providers and laboratory personnel might need added protection, and autopsy and interment of remains could present hazards not commonly dealt with...
That assessment seems prescient. As the world struggled with disease outbreaks in cities and towns around the world hospitals began to buckle under the strain, especially since it was often the case that members of their staff were amoung the first infected.
For my part, I noticed none of it.
I spent the early stages of the infection in school. I missed major news because I was busy studying for a test in linear algebra, for example. People think that's strange but it involved math on matrices and I've never been good at that so it made perfect sense at the time to pay more attention to study than to some health story. It had always been my experience that the health scares on the news never panned out, and it was also the case that the disease didn't seem to be fatal.
That people with it weren't dying off was part of what was overloading the medical system, new infected meant more beds to fill, but the old infected weren't clearing many out. I didn't realize that at the time. I just noticed the lack of bodycount. As I said, I had other things on my mind.
Also the initial news came fast, but it also came inaccurately. It seemed to me that more often than not a story would be reported only to be retracted soon after. It would be said that the infection had turned up somewhere, then it turned out to be a simple case of the flu. Some new breakthrough would be announced, only to just as quickly be unannounced. I figured that I'd catch up on everything once they had things figured out, and so I ignored the immediate news.
That wouldn't be possible for all that long. As the infection spread so too did rumors that increasingly draconian measures were being taken to contain it. When it was reported that an entire city had been cordoned off, a report that no one ever verified, a lot of people from infected areas fled for fear they'd soon be trapped. Naturally they fled to uninfected areas.
Most of them were uninfected, but some carried the infection with them. That increased when the rumors started to include the infected, indeed anyone with a bite, scrape, or scratch on them, being executed. Everything I have seen and heard indicates that these rumors were false, but they were out there, and if you combine that with the fact that people didn't want to be told they were infected anyway, and the fact that paranoia was a symptom, it is probably unsurprising that the infected scattered to the winds, bringing the disease with them.
By this point it was impossible to ignore.
But there was also good news. Symptoms were recognized, precautions were taken, and soon it seemed like disaster had been averted. News of new infections slowed, then nearly stopped. Quarantine seemed to be holding. It seemed like there was nowhere left that hadn't been touched by the infection, but it seemed to be contained wherever it was found.
Looking back we know that this isn't true. In some cases entire towns had already been lost, but these were places that were separated from the media enough to be unprepared, which meant that they were also separated enough to be unable to tell others what had happened to them.
The world could breathe a sign of relief, because it seemed that we had walked back from the edge of the cliff. Then the bottom dropped out.
The infected started dying. Sure, by this point quite a few had died already, but this was the first time they were clearly dying of the infection. At first it was just a few, then waves of them were dying off. Morgues were overcrowded.
And then they woke up.
There are no reports from the initial encounter.
It isn't hard to work out what must have happened. By now hosptial security and the police had a lot of experience dealing with the infected, they presumably tried to deal with these the same way they'd dealt with others. Zombies is simply not the first thought that comes to mind. The quarters were close, by the time they realized the regular method wasn't working the gap would have been closed, and the initial contact must have been a slaughter. Otherwise we would have heard something, and we didn't.
When hospitals were lost the infected, living and dead alike, were no longer contained. Both groups got out, and in some cases the dead were concealed amoung the living. In all cases it was assumed that it was a breach of quarantine rather than a new threat. It was treated as a breach of quarantine in the cases I heard of. It was treated as a breach of quarantine in the cases we have records of. That was a mistake.
Dealing with zombies as if you are dealing with sick people does not work.
At first everyone assumed that they were just particularly resilient, and particularly sick looking, living infected. They were often mixed amoung crowds of the living so it was an easy mistake to make, but it was a mistake that meant we were using all the wrong tactics.
And so, all around the world, ground was lost. More people were infected, and those who were able to fight off the escaped live infected often did not know that disposal of the bodies was a matter of life and death. Those bodies rose again, and more cities fell.
It is at this point that the historical record ends. The internet went dark, contact was lost. Last I heard, every country was being overrun. There were rumors of communities being formed at sea. Seems like a good idea to me, although some of the last video I saw was of what was claimed to be a zombie elephant seal. If that was accurate then I'm not sure I want to be anywhere near the ocean.


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