Chapter Two ~ Seeing Is Believing.
“Zombies? Wait. You mean actual zombies?” Dale Caruthers stared quizzically at Darryl Addams, the latter scarfing down his rations ravenously.
“Mhmph” Darryl confirmed, mouth too full to articulate his response. Crumbs of solidified protien extract floated away from his unkempt beard and he grabbed at them with erratic fingers, depositing them back into his mouth with the same kind of desperate enthusiasm one might observe in a startled squirrel.
“You mean honest to goodness real dead people up and walkin’ and snack’n on the living?” Brad Marconi inquired, mirroring Dale’s incredulity.
“That is correct.” Elana said, taking over the conversation and glancing with slight contempt at her gluttonously non-talkative comrade before scanning the Star Ride’s crew skeptically. “Were you not informed by your mission commander four years ago?”
Captain Raymond broke his silent rumination and addressed the two ISS survivors with his customary air of calm authority. “We were informed. Though part of me thought, and hoped, that Phil was joking... What was the last known condition on Earth, before you lost contact?”
“As Addams told you before, we have not heard from NASA or anyone else in more than a year. The last transmission we recieve was from Roscosmos, sixteen month ago. They informed us that approximately ninety percent of humans on Earth were decimated at that time, and they themselves were running out of ammunition to fend off swathes of living dead. So it is no surprise that we did not hear from them anymore.”
Clint Raymond nodded his reciept of this information, concern written over his suddenly-gaunt features. Her tone was jarringly nonchallant, especially given the dire nature of the discussion.
Jules Verone gestured timidly towards the holster hugging the Russian woman’s severely slim hip. “You have a TP-82 cosmonaut survival pistol? Didn’t they stop issuing those in 2007?”
Elana Mycrovitch raised her sharp eyebrow, surprised at the shrewd man’s obscure knowledge. “Yes, my grandfather is collector of ancient relics and he passed it down to me. He is, or was, how you call, supersituous? It is trinket, for good luck.”
“Is it functional?”
“But of course.” Elana smiled, patting her ‘trinket’ affectionately.
“Well, it’s no use floating around up here twiddling our thumbs and gushing over antiques,” Margo Jessup piped up indignantly, “We’re going to have to go back to Earth and check out the surface for ourselves. Sooner the better. Some of us might have loved-ones down there. Not me. But still.”
“Margo’s right.” Clint agreed decisively, “There’s no question we’ll have to go back eventually, for food and water if nothing else, and there’s no point beating around the bush. Might as well head down as soon as Star Ride’s done refueling. I’m determined to find out exactly what happened to our families while we were gone.”
Darryl gave Elana a nervous glance which no-one else saw.
Clint paused briefly, distracted by worrying about his wife and kids, but then forced his mind to focus on practicality and relay a rational course of action; “Brad, lay in a course for Earth. I don’t have to tell you to take the extreme weather into account. According to the satellite images from this vantage point, most of North America’s surface is covered in snow. We’ll touch down near Houston at the old 2100 landing base, which seems to be a little less icey.”
“Aye aye cap’n.” Brad saluted, heading off through the docking tube to pour over weather schematics in the cockpit of their trusty ship.
“Jules,” Clint continued, “I understand that this isn’t your specialty precisely, but you still know more about biology than any of us here. Any speculative light you can shed on the... science... of the undead situation would be much appreciated.”
“Ah, actually,” Darryl raised his hand as though he were in kindergarten, finally having licked his ration-wrapper into speckless condition and seeming to notice for the first time that he was among other humans. He looked at each of them with wide-eyed apologetic gratitude and shyly professed; “I have a doctorate in chemistry, zoology and microbiology. I was sent here initially to analyze the samples you guys brought back from Mars, to see if they contained any life forms. I’m also a certified field medic, if it is in any way helpful.”
“Good to hear. We’re very glad to have your expertise available, Doctor Addams. No doubt we’ll all be picking your brains on the way down. Welcome aboard.” Clint patted Darryl lightly on his bony shoulder and shook his hand firmly before turning back to the others. “Dale, give Star Ride a once over. A twice-over. Heck, make it a thrice-over. Make damn sure all of Anita’s nuts and bolts are in tip top working order. We can’t afford anything going wrong upon re-entry. Margo, the seven of us might very well be the last surviving vestige of humanity. Someone has to write all this horseshit down for posterity, and I can think of no-one in the whole wide universe whose interstellar recording abilities I trust more. Alright boys and girls, let’s all pretend that we have a smidgen of military training here shall we? Move out!”
April fools... too bad there’s no-one left who’ll appreciate the humor in that ancient tradition. Ironically it feels a little as though some cosmic god has pulled a prank on us. We had a rocky touch down, Star Ride’s docking clamps slipping off the landing pad due to frozen blood lining the area, but Dale said that the damage to Anita’s navigation system was minimal and that we should still be able to use her to lift off again if we need to relocate. We’ve been in our space-suits constantly ever since we landed. It was Jules’ recommendation: modifying the oxygen recyc system to filter out the airborn virus. I can’t say it’s been comfortable sleeping in these clunky bastards, and I needn’t give any details as to the unpleasant waste-management system. Egh. I guess toilet humor doesn’t translate well through a voice-recording meant to chronicle the final hapless days of humanity. But who gives a flying dungpile at this point? No-one’s going to get a chance to hear this anyway. I think I might be going a little crazy... Mycrovitch definitely knows something she’s not telling us, and I think Dr. Addams might be in on it too. I don’t trust them. Heck, they don’t even trust each other. I can’t imagine them surviving those years together on the International Space Station. Must’ve been hell...
Ha. Hell... Heaven compared to this. I kind of wish I hadn’t suggested rushing down from that clostrophobic space-bucket back to Earth.
...It’s so much worse here than I thought. Worse than any of us thought. The planet we used to call home is utterly unrecognizeable. We landed in the middle of the night and the bodies were frozen at first, but as soon as they thawed out around midday they reanimated, attacking anything and everything in their path. This cycle has been repeating daily. During the most dangerous intervals, from around 12 to 7pm, we've been seeking shelter in derelict buildings and taking out the soulless wretches who wander brainlessly into the path of our survival instincts.
Dr Addams speculated that the virus must be altering tissue at the molecular level, reforming each cell into it's own entity which instinctually groups with others in the host organism's original form but is then capable of surviving on it's own when severed from the collective, all the way down to a single-celled lifeform. Jules seems dubious of this explanation though, so we still don't know anything for a fact. It remains to be seen if the virus can alter a living host or whether it preys exclusively on the dead.
In the past two weeks I’ve seen everything. Every disturbing snippet of grotesque horror ever divised by human imagination, amplified threefold and shoved down our throats in sickening doses of reality. To own the truth, I’m glad to wear the suit, if only to guard my nostrils against the smell of rotting flesh which I know must be pervading the air. In the past few days alone I’ve seen a severed hand clawing at the entrails of it’s own headless torso, I’ve seen a dead infant chewing it’s way out of it’s mother’s gaping belly, and the broken-jawed mother biting ineffectually at it’s own offspring’s slippery writhing form. I’ve seen countless pounds of flesh which used to comprise human beings consuming countless others, incomprehensibly continuing to senselessly eat, even when their own digestive tracts are nothing but time-fettered mush. I’ve seen hoards upon hoards of mindless devourers, not seeming to care if they are eating living beings or just gorging on each other. And as soon as I look up from this record entry I’ll see more.
Burning them seems to be the best way we’ve found to dispatch them so far; we’ve armed ourselves with flame-lazers from our archeological equipment accordingly. Dale even put together a makeshift weapon which sprays ethanol at the animated remains, igniting the target with a flame-lazer at the same time. It’s been our most effective attempt at cleansing the area so far, especially against the more mobile corpses whose leg muscles haven’t been completely eaten away or rotted out yet. Those mostly-intact carcasses are different from the rest; terrifyingly fast and agile.
We haven’t found any humans alive yet. And so far it doesn’t look like we will.
The team is on the move again so I’ll have to end the entry here. This is Margo Jessup. Signing off.
*Image for this post is a 1976 postcard painting by talented artist and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (the first man to ever walk in space.)
The prologue and first chapter of this intrepid adventure can be hunted down from here: https://old.theprose.com/post/449214/think-tank-ii