Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Noble Octopus

I'm almost afraid to say it for fear of urging the universe to make a total dick move and ruin it, but things are...quiet. Good. Calm. Relatively safe and happy.

Nothing? No sounds of battle or sudden waves of zombies? Okay. Dodged a bullet that time.

The only thing of significance going on right now other than Jess being cleared to work some light duty and me being allowed the same is that George and a group of folks are readying the boats to head back upriver. This trip is more relaxed, and we've got scouts out searching all the nooks and crannies they can find in order to locate more supplies of diesel fuel. Eventually, I'm told, we will be able to produce biodiesel, which can apparently be used in regular diesel engines, or so I'm told. Our supplies are going to be low after this trip, the subsequent unloading and transport of supplies, etc. We'll need to stock back up.

But that's about it. Most things are relaxed at the moment, I'm somehow caught up on my work, and Will gave me the day off because he's making some runs out with Dodger to inspect some of our distant hiding spots. Basically, I have the day to write about anything I want, and nothing big is happening. So I'm going to do a post I've been putting off for a long time due to its speculative nature, because I've wanted to do it forever and I'm pretty sure my guesses aren't far from the truth.

To that end: some theories about the zombie plague, and what it has to do with my favorite undersea creature.

The thing that really bugs me about the evolution of the undead over the last two years is how damn quick it happened. Natural evolution takes more years than we can count. Just look at the wonderful, noble octopus. It's a fantastic beast, able to change color and texture to match its surroundings easily. Octopuses (which is an acceptable pluralization, I assure you) have been observed in nature using logical tactics, utilizing tools, and displaying a tremendous array of applications of intellect.

In short, an octopus is a creature that has evolved over thousands of centuries to be an intelligent survivor. So why has the zombie plague adapted and changed so much in such a short time? I think many of you probably have the same idea I've been knocking around in my head for a long time. I think it was man-made.

Granted, I doubt that the extreme adaptability of the plague was intentional. I think someone, probably a government, wanted to make a super-bug to do...something. Maybe kill people, maybe affect their higher brain functions. I don't know. But whatever the case was, no one counted on the thing mutating and spreading the way it did.

Rapid mutations in pathogens aren't uncommon. The HIV microbe is probably the most famous for that. The damn thing changed so much and so often that teams of dedicated researchers around the globe were barely able to keep up with tracking the new strains, much less combating them. The zombie plague is far more complex than HIV, yet right up until The Fall, conspiracy theorists still believed HIV was man-made. The elegance of the disease--wiping out the immune system to let other diseases wreak havoc--even made me wonder from time to time if those folks weren't right.

If you want the bare-bones truth, I'm surprised zombies aren't all smarter than they are, New Breed and Smarties included. Think about it: the plague infiltrates the body, builds tendrils in the brain to copy its basic motor functions. You'd think a person who dies and comes back under the plague's control would have access to the higher functions like reasoning and problem solving. After all, the disease copies what our brains can do, right?

Of course, that's an oversimplification. The human brain works on very small scales and is ridiculously complex. No man-made microbe could hope to capture the totality of the thing. But we've seen it try. The new breed have basic problem-solving skills and are learning to use tools.

The learn. If an octopus can do it, surely the reanimated corpse of the most intelligent animal on earth can manage the same. Maybe the virus (or whatever the plague is) was designed to be limited and dumb in the beginning, making it easier to control and only progressing after several generations of cell division. That's not out of the realm of scientific possibility, though it stretches the boundaries quite far.

A simpler answer is that if someone really did make a designer plague, then something went wrong. I think they meant the thing to adapt to a given host, tiny variables from one person to the next based on age, body chemistry, environment and lots of other things. The thing about creating life is that once you let that genie out of the lamp, you have a hell of a time putting it back in. Make a disease that lurks within, growing and copying the host's functions, give it a capacity to alter itself to fit circumstances. and you've got a recipe for variables and insane alterations in the genetic structure of the thing.

Am I right? I don't know. It makes sense to me that something as pervasive and dynamic as the zombie plague was designed and built by people with a very specific purpose. Does it matter? I don't think it does. Nothing we can do about it now and no one to hold accountable for it. Not that we'd have much urge to do so. We have more important things to do, such as struggling to survive and build again.

Just my two pennies.

If zombies start to develop camouflage capabilities, we should be really worried. Then they'd be even more dangerous and harder to kill, PLUS they'd be horning in on the octupus's territory. And we can't have that.


  1. I'm confused. Did the Exiles just wave as the barge train passed them by? I realize to do otherwise would be asking for war but when has insanity really ever stopped them? How are they allowing you to become so strong?

    Glad to hear of your success, of course. Just curious. You're usually very tricky so I'm wondering if I missed something.

  2. Scar face doesn't allow waves... Be careful. The Exiles have something planned. Don't become too sarcastic(?) about them. Creating a shield so you can't see into the compound does not bode well for you all.

  3. This reminded me of a conversation a dear friend, Todd McCaffrey, and I had about a year before the fall. I don't even know if he is still alive he lives in CA, like you had wondered about an author some time ago, if he's not then I guess I'll never know what happens to the dragons of Pern in his trilogy. Anyways we were having a competition of sorts to see which ones of us knew the most about animal's having sex. The octopus was mentioned and they don't like to really get close to mate so the male takes a sperm ball and hands it over with a tentacled to the female. Makes me wonder how the zombies mutate each other. Like when the smarties were standing around with the normals.
    -reader from dog island