Thursday, March 8, 2012

Altered States

I'm writing this early in the morning, or from my perspective late at night, because I've been unable to sleep. I balance right now, given the last day's events. I don't know where to begin, really.

At the beginning, I suppose. It's old wisdom, but it works for a person in freefall.

Yesterday our woodsmen went out to bring in loads of firewood again. The lumber yard is one of the few places we have to go every day, and is apparently a favorite target of the New Breed. They know we'll go there, that we have to. When our teams arrived, though, there was not a stick of wood to be found.

The New Breed had been busy throughout the night. Our people moved in cautiously, stepping to the edge of the forest to make certain that our supplies hadn't been dragged just a small distance away. It smelled of a trap, a lure to pull my people into the dangerous woods where they could be separated and more easily brought down. The guards didn't allow anyone to make that mistake.

Not that it mattered. As soon as the bulk of our people had spread about the lumbering site, zombies popped out from behind trees and bushes. A hail of thrown weapons came down on our team, chunks of cut wood that knocked a few of them senseless and distracted the rest.

More New Breed moved in, attacking in numbers. Four men were lost immediately, though the guards managed to rally a defense somehow. Several more of our folks were savaged badly by the undead, only one of them surviving the trip home.

That man was looked over by Evans, Gabrielle, and Phil. They agreed that there was nothing to be done. The wounds he'd sustained were too much, and he was going to die. Deep damage to his viscera by zombie fingers would mean a slow, lingering death made worse by the fact that our patient was conscious. I find myself ashamed to admit that I was the one who brought up the point everyone in the room except our patient was thinking about.

What an opportunity for study. Terrible, and a loss to our people, but a chance to understand the change as a person went through reanimation. How much could that knowledge help us down the road?

So, we asked the patient for his consent. We would put him under sedation with enough painkillers to allow him quick passage from the pain of his injuries into whatever lies beyond. I was surprised that he agreed.

What happened next was surprising. I still can't quite wrap my head around it.

We've always assumed that all people, when they die without steps being taken to preclude reanimation, turn into what I call 'old school' zombies. We know beyond doubt that the many structures of the organism that brings us back in a state of undeath already exist in our bodies. We've studied that, we know it to be fact. The organism grows in the living, learning the systems of the body, and after the heart stops and the brain goes cold, it takes over. Usually this process takes a few hours, on rare occasions it only takes a few minutes.

But the assumption has been that the New Breed makes more of itself by turning standard zombies. By infecting them with bites. We've seen many victims of the New Breed rise.

That changed with our volunteer. His death was painless and swift, and his resurrection came within a few minutes. We'd secured him in a cell before even administering his medicines, of course. We aren't stupid. I watched as the change came over him. I had tears in my eyes as I took my notes, and a part of me felt a deep disquiet at what I was doing. I noted every aspect of the change as it came over the subject.

The subject. Jesus. His name was Rick. He was a nice guy.

Rick changed quickly, but it didn't stop. Over a period of several hours of observation, his skin began to change color, losing pigment as it moved toward the tones that so clearly mark the New Breed's tougher hide. It wasn't a complete change, of course. The thick bands of fibrous material beneath the skin will take time to grow as the organism within metabolizes nutrients to fuel the change. But now we know for certain that the New Breed truly is just that--they're capable of infecting living people with their strain of the zombie plague. People can turn into them straightaway.

We imagine it's airborne. There simply wasn't enough time for Rick's organism to be co-opted by the New Breed strain. He had to have already been carrying it.

Which means most of us probably are. The medicos think that the New Breed strain is likely far more hardy and invasive than the original zombie plague. We've seen this thing evolve over the last two years, and it's frightening to realize how we've had to evolve with it. I watched a man die today, helped kill him in fact, so that we could understand the enemy a little better.

I know all the arguments, all the reasoning. I know he was going to die anyway. The logic of the situation doesn't do anything for the hollow place in me that wishes I hadn't agreed to this experiment. I had no idea it would come so far, so quickly.

The damnable thing about the whole situation is that it really is doing a lot of good. I could almost wish that weren't the case, so I could pack up and call it quits. I'm sick with myself that we lost people yesterday, good men, and my first thought wasn't for them or their friends and families.

No, I had to ask, 'How can we use this?'

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