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The Atlanta Incident
Richard watched the video in fascination. How did they do it, he wondered. He watched the Emerald Cockroach Wasp shove its stinger into the back of the cockroaches head and grab hold of its antennae. The rider of roaches. It controlled the roach using a combination of simple riding techniques and a form of mind control. Richard watched the insect rodeo unfold on the screen. How did they do it?
He pulled back from the screen and pushed his glasses back. No matter how many times he analyzed the video, how many times he examined the wasp venom and DNA, he couldn’t figure it out. And he had to figure it out. If this small wasp could have that much power over another insect, Richard figured he would be able to reverse engineer the method, maybe genetically modify the venom to work on people, to control their thoughts and actions.
At least in theory it would work. Making it work is another story. Figuring out the specific protein that controlled the process was easy enough. Changing it enough to meld with human DNA was a bit more difficult. In fact, making it work on any animal had been difficult. Richard had been pondering this question for four years. Four years he worked on the project.
And nothing to show for it.
Even rats could resist the virus he had engineered. If rats, the normal testing animal, could resist it, he couldn’t even think of testing it on higher invertebrates.
Richard had tried every combination, flipped every genetic switch he could think of but for some strange reason he couldn’t unlock the small insects secrets.
There was one thing he hadn’t tried.
Richard walked out of the laboratory, and went to the employee cafeteria. He entered through the large arch with the name, “National Genetics” etched into it. He bought a cup of coffee and mixed in three packets of sugar and lots of cream.
One more thing to try.
He sipped from the cup, burning his tongue.
Tricky. Against every regulation, but dangerous enough to actually work.
Richard took out the small vial in his pocket filled with a clear liquid. One last thing to try.
Viruses are the world’s best example of Darwinism. Constantly adapting, mutating, changing to meet the constant change of the environment, Viruses provide a look at evolution. Darwin was right when it came to survival of the fittest, and Viruses proved no different.
Richard looked at the small vial, and then at the Cafeteria filled with his friends and co-workers. The people he had alienated in a search for an answer.
Could they be his answer? He asked himself.
One last thing to try...he thought before pulling out the rubber stopper from the vial.
“You ok dad?” Samuel asked, patting his dads back. It was covered in sweat. Raulph laid back down, his hair wet with perspiration.
“Yeah Sammie, I’m fine. Go play with your sister.” Raulph said, messing with Sammie’s dark brown hair. Sammie grinned and ran out of the room. Raulph wiped the sweat off of his forehead. Something was wrong, that much was obvious.
Its probably just stress, he thought closing his eyes, just stress from work. His job was getting to him.
Raulph worked at National Genetics, the leading company in Genetic Exploration and Rewiring. He worked in the experimental division and brought home a six figure salary. He was lucky to work with his best friend, Richard. Worked. Four years of dead ends and genetic mishaps led to Richard being fired and Raulph being thrown into another project halfway. They had almost had it too...
Raulph pulled the bed sheets closer.
So cold. He felt the sheets stick to his body from his sweat. I should feel warm, he thought, bundled under three sheets.
But he felt so cold.
Right after work he started to feel bad. Started to sweat.
Just stress, he thought. Just stress.
So cold. He shivered.
He felt something very light run down out of the corner of his eyes. Like tears it ran down his face, flowed under his chin and dripped onto the sheets. Raulph brought his hand to his face to wipe away the tears, but when his hand came back into focus, they were red with blood. His hand fell back down, and try as he would he couldn’t lift it. He tried opening his mouth to scream, to get help, but he couldn’t.
Frozen to his bed, sweat pouring from his body, Raulph died. His death was sudden, quick, and relatively painless.
So cold, he thought.
He...what an odd word, he thought. What is he? Who is he? What is who? What is what? What...what...what...wha-.....
Raulph got up. The body that was Raulph got up. Raulph died when his thoughts ran out and his brain stopped asking questions.
That was all he could feel. He needed to fill his belly, gorge on food, whatever it may be. He needed to drink, to feel something warm course down his throat.
Raulph walked out of the room, his feet dragging on the wooden floor. He could hear noises. Gibberish, meaningless.
“I’d like to put a house on Park Place”
He followed the sound. It followed the sound, felt a twinge from its body.
Hunger. All other words lost meaning, became useless. He rounded the corner and found the noisemakers.
There were two of them, pale skinned creatures, sitting at a table. They turned to look at him when he entered the room. They made more noise, gibberish.
Raulph studied them, the pale noisemakers. One had short brown fur on its head and fat cheeks. It had blubbery arms and a round belly. The other one has long blonde fur, and was smaller and skinnier. But it didn’t matter, his body felt just the same about both of them.
He could smell them, a mix of bacteria, feces, urine, sweat and emotion. He just knew they would satisfy. He moved closer. He could hear blood coursing through their veins; he could see the red blush that meant they were full.
They continued to make noise as he approached. They neither moved away, nor froze with fear. He found no reason to be afraid of his prey.
He dived for the fat one, using his teeth to tear strips of warm flesh from its neck, from its arms, eating eating, ripping at the skin, and shoving mouthfuls of it in.
Hungry, he was still hungry.
He ripped at the skin, gorged himself on its belly, but left the organs alone. They were too rubber looking, too foreign. The skin, however, was warm and delicious. The blood was as well. The warm flesh brought tears to his eyes as he shoved more and more into his mouth making his stomach burst, but he didn’t care. The other noisemaker was long gone.
But he was still hungry.
The body twitched once before getting up.
It no longer looked appealing. Blood did drip, but it was no longer warm or flowing, no longer appetizing. Its skin was already fading from pink to grey. No longer appealing.
But he was still hungry.
So he looked for more.
More of those tasty noise makers.
Terror at 30,000 feet
“This is your captain speaking. We are now at our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. We will begin our decent into Miami International Airport in four hours. You may now use all approved electronic items. Cell Phones may be switched on, but only if the transmit feature is turned off. I would also like to thank you for flying with United Airlines. We know you have a choice and we thank you for choosing United.”
The body cooler sat in the cargo hold, strapped into place by three Velcro straps. There was a big red sticker stuck on that said, “Take directly to Rabies Research Center” followed by an address.
Raulph sat in the cooler, put to rest by a well placed bullet to the head. The doctor wrote it off as a new strain of Rabies.
And now he was on his way to Miami, land of sun and surf.
The virus was dying. Its only function was to keep the hosts body in workable condition, but without a brain it wasn’t possible. The hosts’ energy was its energy, and with the host dead...the virus didn’t appear to have a future.
Then it mutated. It infected the bacteria that came to eat the corpse, it used the bacteria. But soon it was apparent that the virus could not sustain itself using bacteria. The virus dwindled, began disappearing.
So it mutated again. To something more resistant, more virulent.
It became airborne.
“Excuse me, sorry” Ryan said as he sidled past the little old lady in the seat next to him. He made it to the aisle just as the plane hit some turbulence.
“This is your captain speaking. We seem to be heading into some rough weather,” With a ding, the seat belt lights came on, “For your safety, we ask that you put on your seat belts.” Ryan ignored the captain and made his way down the aisle to the bathroom. When you gotta go, you gotta go, he thought sliding the occupied marker in.
The turbulence had shifted some of the cargo around. The body cooler strained against the Velcro straps.
The plane hit turbulence once again, and for a split second the cooler opened a quarter of an inch before slamming shut again.
That was just enough for the now airborne virus to escape.
Ryan flushed the toilet, watching it zoom into its place in the cargo. He washed his face and hands in the cramped bathroom and switched the sign on the door to vacant before making his way back down the aisle to 27B. He sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.
He shivered. Ryan looked up and went to turn off the air conditioner, but found it was already off. He pulled out the blanket the airline provided, pulled it up to his neck and closed his eyes. Only three more hours to go.
In his sleep Ryan dreamed.
In his sleep Ryan shivered and shook.
In his sleep Ryan passed away.
And then he woke up.
“There isn’t much information on the crash of United Flight 1441. What we do know is that the United Airlines flight took off normally from the Sacramento Airport and for some unknown reason crashed just outside of Atlanta on its way to Miami. The FAA is hoping the black box will offer some clue into discovering what happened and why it crashed. We will let you know more when anything new comes up.
And in other news, a local woman was attacked outside of a 7-11 early this morning. She escaped with a few cuts and bruises and received medical attention for a bite she procured in the altercation. She described the man as “wild” and “covered in blood”. If you have any information regarding the capture of this man, please call crime stoppers at the number below.”
Arthur’s Last Stand
“F***” The bite mark was already turning yellow. “F***, F***, F***!!” Not now... Oh god, not now. Tears mingled with the blood. He closed his eyes. He had been through so much. He opened his eyes again, wiping away the tears. His eyes lost their watery appearance. In its place was a sense of conviction. Calmly, he stood up, hatchet in hand. He could hear them now. His screams attracted them, his blood excited them.
Arthur wasn’t going to be the only one to die.
Seven miles north of Atlanta. That’s what the radio said. Seven miles, Arthur thought. The war had taken its toll on Arthur. He was once a fat jolly man, with a short brown beard. If someone were to look at him, the first thought they would have would be, Holy crap that’s the guy from Home Improvement, Al. In reality, Arthur was far less glamorous. He grew up in Georgia and worked as a plumber straight out of high school. He married the daughter of a restaurant owner, and eventually had his own daughter whom he named Kathy. In the few short weeks that the war had lasted, Arthur was a changed man. He was lean, muscles were beginning to show. His once white shirt was stained yellow with sweat and splattered with brown goop. His beard had lost all of its jolliness. It had become ragged and peppered with gray. At his side he wore a hatchet holster he had made out of a leather belt. Oh how that hatchet had helped him. He patted the hatchet as he walked along.
The sky was gray. It had been gray every day for the past month. The grass was beginning to turn brown, shrivel up and die. Arthur walked along the edge of the highway, the grass crunching beneath his boots. Crunch....Crunch....Crunch....He found the sound to be hypnotic, even melodic. Crunch...Crunch...THUD. Arthur stopped and stood still. Thud...Thud...THUD!
The first one he had spotted in days. He had made it a habit to stop and kill any that he happened across. It was a hitcher. Some poor sap must have picked up a hitch hiker before he turned. Arthur circled the car, slipping the hatchet out from his belt. It was a Honda Odyssey, obviously built for a family. The back window was covered in stickers that had stick figures of family members; a mother, a father, a daughter... even a dog. He could see the streaks of blood smeared across the windows, he saw hand prints from where they had tried to escape, and he saw the yellow crust of bile. He could still see the outline of a small skeleton in the back seat.
It was still in the car, still hungry even after its dinner of three. Four if you include the dog. Its skin hung loose on its bones, hanging like wax. Pale and gray. One eye was fixed on Arthur, following his every move. The other eye was gone, gouged out. What was left seeped this brown bubbly fluid that dripped down its face like molasses. It scratched at the window with bloody nubs leaving even more streaks on the window. Arthur pitied the man. What was left of the man. He tried not to think about it, put a face to the evil. Who was he, what he did before; he tried not to dwell on the past. He tightened his grip on the hatchet and reached for the handle.
He opened the door.
It leaped out like a feral dog to a bone and within seconds it was upon him. It scratched madly as his face, grunting and moaning with what was left of its lungs. Arthur held it by the throat, its jaws snapping madly, trying to taste his sweet flesh. Its one eye glared into Arthur’s as he brought up the hatchet. He looked right into it, right into the yellow bloodshot eye. And he faltered. This was a person... Then he gave himself a mental kick. It WAS a person, not anymore.
The clean metal of the hatchet crushed what was left of the mans head.
“Mommy said we’re leaving in the morning.” Kathy said, holding a small stuffed animal in her arms.
“Yes honey, we’re leaving tomorrow. Try to put all of your clothes into your Dora the explorer backpack.” Arthur said, messing with her Auburn hair. Kathy ducked out of Arthur’s reach.
“Daaad, you know how I hate when you do that.” Kathy said, straitening her hair with her hands. “Can I bring Cuddles?” She asked, looking up at Arthur with her clear blue eyes.
“That won’t work this time.” He said chuckling, “Kathy, honey, please. We can only bring the things we need...”
“And I neeeeeeeeeeed Cuddles.” She said, pulling the stuffed elephant closer to her white nightie.
“Honey we can-‘” He started before he was cut off by a scream from downstairs. He heard the splintering of wood and that incessant moan. He ran out of the room to the top of the stairs just as the front door broke open. They began to pour in, one after another.
“Arthur!” he heard a scream. There. Across the room, on the couch. His wife. He saw them rush towards her, saw them pull at her, saw them...
Arthur screamed sitting up straight, hitting his head on the roof of the car. It was still dark out. Just a dream, he thought.
The sun didn’t rise in the morning; the sky just turned a lighter shade of gray. He opened the door of the abandoned car that he had slept in, his hatchet already in his hand. Another day, he thought. The last one if he made it four more miles. Arthur had been living on his own for three weeks. He stuck mostly to the side roads, slept in the cars that people left behind. The night before he had thought he struck gold. A camper fully equipped with a stove, a refrigerator, and a radio. He quickly learned, however, that he needed a key to get into and use practically everything. Arthur was about to settle down to sleep when he heard a burst of static from the radio. He fiddled with the knobs, until he heard a voice, loud and clear.
“I repeat this is Thomas Hawkins of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve made camp about seven miles north of Atlanta with a few survivors. We are well stocked and secured. Any and all survivors are welcome.” Before Arthur could respond, the transmission cut off, and no amount of fiddling would bring back the southern drawl of the other man.
“Four more miles” he said out loud, as if saying made it a reality. He opened his backpack and took out a small can of baked beans and a can opener. After filling himself with the pitiful and cold meal, and washing it down with water, he set off. He occupied his time with trying to remember every word to his favorite book, Robinson Crusoe. It was long and hard, but it filled the time. He was on the fifth chapter. It was better than what he used to do.
In the beginning of his nomadic existence he spent his time remembering his life. He thought of the dead end job he spent seventeen years in, going nowhere. He thought of his seven year old daughter, who still believed in Santa Claus. He mostly thought of his wife, who stuck with him and his mistakes... This of course, led to many breakdowns, many mistakes, many close encounters, and many thoughts of suicide. It still marveled him that he kept going. He had nothing. No home, No family or friends. Not even a damn dog. Why keep going? It questioned him, every few hours as he tried to remember what came after a certain word, why not just sit down here... and wait for the damn things. Join the ranks of mindless.
Instinct taught him to move, even when his own mind had given up.
Arthur stopped around noon, or what he figured was noon. The sun was still hidden behind dark gray clouds. He took out another can of beans and did a quick inventory. Enough for another day, maybe two. He ate the beans silently, thinking, I should nearly be there. He chewed methodically, savoring each bean, each dollop of gravy. He listened to the buzzing of the insects, the chirping of the birds. He found them soothing. He found them useful. If the birds stopped chirping or the insects stopped buzzing, he was ready. He thought of them as Nature’s early warning system. If he couldn’t hear anything, his hatchet would be ready. Silence rarely meant nothing.
It began to snow. Big flakes of gray began to drift down onto the trees, carpeting the already dead grass, landing on the windshields of cars. Snow. At least, that’s what it looked like. Arthur caught a flake with his hand, rubbing it, leaving a smudge of gray. He looked up at the sky, watching it fall, when it hit him.
It was coming from Atlanta. He could see in the distance the city outlined in red. The city in ashes. Gone. He had known it was bad there, that most were dead...or worse. He didn’t expect the city to go up in flames. He figured the government would save it, for when it was safe again. Then again, he hadn’t heard of any sort of government since the beginning. It was bad news regardless. No city meant no people. No people meant no food for them. No food for them...was a problem. They’d be on the move. He packed up and started on, moving faster than he was moving before. He kept his hatchet out and ready. He passed a car with one of them in it but he kept going. He needed a greater distance between him and them.
He moved so quickly he nearly missed it. A wooden sign, freshly painted, hanging off of the speed limit sign.
PEOPLE THIS WAY à
The sign said, pointing towards the woods next to the highway.
“Thank god,” he said with a sigh, brushing the ash flakes out of his hair. People, he thought, living people. He hadn’t seen any one since...since...no, he couldn’t think about it. He ran into the woods, the camp the only thing on his mind.
He ran straight, following the direction the arrow pointed. He moved so fast through the woods that he missed several things. He missed the log that looked oddly like a decaying body. He missed the insects and birds drift off into silence. He didn’t see the ground that was scrapped and scuffed up, as if something had been dragged through. His mind was only on the possibility of seeing other people.
He could make out the outline of several tents in the distance, bright blue against the background of the forest. He ran faster, ignoring the stitch in his side. He was almost there, almost...
He broke into the clearing. The tents stood in a circle, a fire pit in the center. He looked around, looked for the faces of the people that he would be with, expecting any moment for them to come out of the tents laughing and carrying on as if this war wasn’t going on, as if those damn things didn’t exist. As he waited, he started to notice things. Like the fact the fire pit hadn’t been used, the empty shoe that had some red stain on it, and the large streak of red on one of the tents. His excitement faltered. He finally noticed one of them stumbling in.
His hatchet felt alive, it strained against his hand, wanting to be used. It was a young one, a kid. A girl. A girl with auburn hair...and clear blue eyes. The fight within Arthur faded quickly. He felt a knot in his throat, he tasted bile creeping up.
“Kathy...” he whispered, the hatchet dropping to the floor. She stumbled forward. In the three weeks since Arthur had seen her, she too had changed. Her skin was gray, her mouth hung open. The front of her nightie was rotting away, covered with blood and god only knows what else. Chunks of flesh were missing from her arms. Brown fluid was dripping out, running down her arm, and wrapping itself around her fingers before finally dropping to the ground. She opened her mouth and took in a long breath, a long rattling noise, like wind blowing delicate curtains against sandpaper. Then came he exhale, an inhuman moan that drowned out the silence, drowned out every thought. She lurched forward.
No, he thought, not like this. She couldn’t live...like this. He picked up the hatchet, already blind with tears and stepped forward. This slight movement seemed to flick a switch in his daughter’s brain. Her eyes latched onto Arthur, her upper lip drawn back into a snarl. She rushed forward, teeth gnashing together, swiping with her hands. He tightened his grip on the hatchet. He had a split second to make the decision to raise the hatchet and leave the metal in her head. In that split second, he remembered her face. How she used to climb up onto his lap for stories. How she had to use a stool for the first five years of her life to reach the sink. He thought of the first book she read, green eggs and ham. He thought all of this in that split second. And it was enough to make him hesitate. This was his daughter. In that one moment of weakness the thing that his daughter had become attacked. Instinctively he brought up his arm to defend himself. He felt a brief sense of euphoria, and then blind and utter pain radiated from his arm. He felt needles plunge into his skull, he felt as if salt was being poured into his blood stream. With the little strength he had left, he pushed her back, and swung the hatchet, leaving it embedded in her head. She fell down slowly, to lie still once more.
His arm burned, he could feel his strength ebb away. He took in a deep breath, and then looked. He saw something he had never been able to see before that moment. He could see his bone, gleaming white amidst the torn muscles and ragged flesh.
“F***” The bite mark was already turning yellow. “F***, F***, F***!!” Not now... Oh god not now. Tears mingled with the blood. He closed his eyes. He had been through so much. He opened his eyes again, wiping away the tears. His eyes lost their watery appearance. In its place was a sense of conviction. Calmly, he stood up, hatchet in hand. He could hear them now. His screams attracted them, his blood excited them.
Arthur wasn’t going to be the only one to die.
Arthur slumped over, tired and damaged. He was so pale. So pale. He couldn’t feel his arm anymore, let alone use it. This feeling of nothingness spread to his shoulders, his chest, legs, feet, neck, and finally his head. He knew he existed, he just didn’t know how. He felt free, tied down only by body.
Arthur lay in the center of the clearing, the dead spread all around him. He shivered. It wasn’t cold. But he was cold. Why was it so cold? He wondered, holding himself as he watched mist cover the ground. So cold....so cold...so...hungry.
The Manhattan Project
“Sir, it’s the only option.” General Marcus Peir said. He was a distinguished man, tall in stature. He had a small scar just under his left eye. He never told the story of how he got that scar.
“The hell it isn’t. Those are American people down there. They aren’t some whacked up A-Rab or some stupid Japs. Those are AMERICAN people, MY people.” President Anthony Ashton said, standing up. “That can’t be the only option.”
“Sir, listen to reason. We have the city surrounded, but we can’t draw any more attention to the city, and each day we lose more ground to them.”
“And why the media blackout? Why cant the people know what’s going on here?”
“It would cause hysteria sir, mass hysteria. Look at it this way. The dead are walking. Every god fearing man will run into the streets proclaiming Armageddon.” President Anthony slumped back down into his chair in the oval office and ran his hand through his long blonde hair. He looked at the general through the view screen. He was broadcasting live from the frontlines.
“Are we sure they’re dead? It couldn’t be rabies or something?”
“Sir, I have seen them up close, I’ve watched our troops fight them. They don’t respond to words, they don’t react to pain. I saw one filled with bullets, spine snapped in half, but it kept coming. It crawled on the ground towards the troops until we put a bullet in its head. There is no way those things are alive.”
“So you’re asking me to drop a nuke. A NUKE. On Atlanta, Georgia. On American soil. And then we hope to god that radiation kills those fuckers.”
“Yes sir. Our top think tanks have gone over the situation. It’s the only tactical option left at this point.”
“And the survivors? The ones that made it out alive?” The general shook his head.
“There wasn’t any survivors’ sir. We warned the populace that there was a virulent strain of rabies and to stay indoors.”
“So we killed them. We f***ing signed their death warrants. And if they aren’t dead yet, we’ll kill them with the nuke...” the general stayed silent. There was a long pause before President Anthony continued. “F***” He said, stretching out the word. “Send word to your troops to pull out. I want you guys in the clear within two hours. We drop the nuke in two hours.” President Anthony buried his head in his hands. “God save us. God save us all.”
The plane flew over a vacant suburbia towards the heart of the city. Every undead looked up and watched the metal bird that brought a terrible noise. They watched a small metal object fall out of the belly of the bird before it soared away.
Arthur followed the plane with glazed eyes, his daughters’ body at his feet.
1:33 and 42 seconds
Atlanta was no more.
The president stood in front of the crowd, cameras flashing.
“Today America has received a direct blow. This has been said before, but today will be a day that will live in infamy.
It saddens me immensely to tell you, the American citizens, that we have once again been attacked.
Today America has lost over a million of its finest. Today not only soldiers and firefighters were on the frontline, but citizens were as well.
At approximately one thirty P.M. A nuclear bomb was dropped onto Atlanta Georgia.
At approximately one thirty P.M. one million people died in a fiery blast.
Today is a day that will live in infamy.
We will not rest until we have captured every single person responsible.
Justice will be served.
We will make certain,
That the dead will rest,