1. The Protector
As far as General Jamieson was concerned, 2012 represented the lowest point in the history of the once great United States of America. Things happened that year that he wouldn’t have believed possible.
Where the fuck could you even start?
In mid-January, there were coordinated uprisings against the U.S. and coalition forces occupying Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.
On January 16th, CNN’s viewers saw the U.S.-appointed Interim President of Iran lynched on camera, dragged through the streets by a Tehran crowd. That same night, those tuned in to CBS got the first sight of hordes of Iraqi Shiites swarming through the streets of Baghdad’s Green Zone, burning down office buildings and engaging startled soldiers in close-range gunfire. By the end of the night, all four networks were replaying Al Jazeera’s footage of Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President of Afghanistan, being shot in the head after a forty-five minute trial by an Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal.
Those first news reports compared it to Hugo’s Friday in Venezuela in 2009 or even to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. The General hadn’t been around for the Tet Offensive, but he’d studied it at West Pointe, and he knew the comparison was ridiculous. Before he went to bed for the night on 1/16/12, he was well aware that the events of that day made the Tet Offensive look like a college football riot by comparison.
If the Tet analogy was ridiculous, the analogy with Hugo’s Friday was absurd. This was bigger by orders of magnitude than a few cities being seized by the last die-hard Chavez loyalists in the Venezuelan countryside.
No one quite knew how 1/16 happened all at once like that, since everyone took credit for setting the wheels into motion. Every piddling little terrorist group, “national liberation movement” or fire-breathing Islamic cleric in the Middle East issued some kind of statement, denying each other’s claims to have orchestrated 1/16 and asserting their own eternal glory. Even Bin Laden put out one last tape, but for once it got lost in the noise of declarations and manifestos and communiques.
None of that mattered.
Like the Tet Offensive, it was easier for the rebels to take the cities than it was for them to hold them. After a couple of months of carpet bombing and guided missile fire, the terrorist sons of bitches had been routed and the stars and stripes were flying from military headquarters in Baghdad and Tehran, Damascus and Kabul, like nothing had ever happened.
The problem was, something had happened. In the last eleven years since the Global War on Terror had brought Uncle Same to extended combat operations first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq and then in quick succession in Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Cuba, the military had tried everything humanly possible to boost enlistment.
“Everything humanly possible” just wasn’t good enough. By two months after the 1/16 uprisings, U.S. Forces, already spread dangerously thin, were sustaining their worst casualties since World War II. There was nothing for it but to activate the Selective Service rolls and get warm bodies, any warm bodies, into those uniforms as fast as at all possible.
The warm bodies, however, were having none of it. When 1/16 should have brought Americans together like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Hugo’s Friday all rolled into one, General Jameison and everyone else got to see just how degenerate the civilian youth had become.
A week after 1/16, anti-war demonstrations in the streets of D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco had a combined attendance of ten million people. It wasn’t just the largest protest in U.S. History, it dwarfed everything that came before.
That was bad, the General thought bitterly, but that was just the beginning. It was like everything worst in the national psyche, all the yellow-bellied cowardice and commie bullshit utopianism left over from the 60s, all came bubbling to the surface.
The unions organized general strikes from sea to shining sea, demanding a repeal of the Domestic Security Act, an end to the emergency labor measures and about a million other impossible things. The college kids were babbling about the kind of “civil liberties” that anyone with their head screwed on straight knew would mean victory for the terrorists.
And those were the moderates. The worst of the worst, the kids who didn’t go to college, the ones with the mohawks and the piercings, the ones who carried really crazy signs at the protest marches, were openly talking revolution.
Then, on the first day of the draft lottery in March, the worst ten thousand or so of those degenerate shits had turned in their protest signs and banners for Molotov cocktails and barricades. By the end of the summer, no one could deny that the United States of America was experiencing was amounted to a long-simmering, low-tech civil war, an intifada on American soil.
When the President resigned in October to “help the nation heal,” General Jameison decided that enough was enough. Another month of economic chaos and the country he had dedicated his life to was going to become another little third world shithole begging for loans from the IMF. The General read the polls, and he knew that the American public was far too demoralized and confused to be trusted to vote in any responsible way in November.
It wasn’t their fault, not really. They had grown insolent and short-sighted because their leaders had ceased to be firm and decisive. The people needed leadership, purpose and vision.
Those were all things that General Jameison possessed in abundance.
On October 15th, the General issued his Declaration of Supremacy. Within a week, when it was clear that there was no other choice, even the Secret Service was on his side. He walked into the White House with some of his best boys from the Special Forces, and they didn’t even have to fire a single shot.
Even the New York Times had the sense to recognize that the choices had narrowed down to General Jameison or the anarchist scum in the streets. When he took command as the Chief Protector, their editorial added up to one long sigh of relief, including only the most cursory note, for the sake of balance, on how important it was that the General keep his promise to return power to the elected government as soon as the people were ready.
His first night in the White House Situation Room as Commander-in-Chief, General Jameison was briefed by CIA, NSA, State and Defense. He didn’t know how the President did these things, but the General was damn well going to put everything on the table and he said so. If he had to carpet bomb New York City to restore order, he’d do it.
Slowly, hesitantly, the men sitting around the table explained to their new Protector that it might not come to that. There were other options. There was a machine, built in a CIA laboratory, that might suppress the uprising all by itself.
People were calling it the Hoffman-Reifen Device, or HRD, after the CIA team that had drawn up the design schematics. It could be used, the Director of Central Intelligence explained, to imprison the entire population of the most troublesome cities without killing anyone or even putting any soldiers on the ground.
General Jameison’s eyes lit up in wonder and confusion. “How the fuck is that possible?”
“As I understand it,” the DCI explained, “once the device is embedded on the ground near a target area, it automatically begins to power itself. Within an hour, it sends out waves of…” The General didn’t even pretend to follow the technical jargon, but he understood the next part just fine. “The upshot of all of this is that everyone in the affected area will be totally physically paralyzed. Better yet, we may be able to use electric stimulation to the joints and tissue of the paralyzed population to propel them in involuntary motion during the period before the effects wear off.”
The DCI leaned in, his face alive with excitement. “In practical terms, if it works out how we hope, we may be able to use the HRDs to direct entire population centers affected by the disturbances into temporary detention facilities. The possibilities boggle the mind.”
General Jameison shook his head in amazement. “You have got to be shitting me, son. You had something that could do all that and you didn’t use it? When they burned down the San Francisco Stock Exchange last week, you could have dropped one of these HRDs and stopped the whole thing?”
The DCI took a deep breath. “That has been, and is, my view, sir, but there are concerns.”
The General gestured impatiently for the DCI to continue. “You have to understand, we only constructed a working prototype three weeks ago. Fifty more have been manufactured as a contingency should a decision be made to put them into immediate use, but we haven’t had time to perform any tests. The effects I just described are highly probable given the simulations we’ve been running, but there’s no way to know for sure what will happen without extensive tests on human subjects. That could take two months, maybe three.
“When a range of scientific opinions were presented to him, President Frist was worried, in particular, by the possibility that the detainees might be accidentally maimed or even killed by the process. On that scale, entire cities…”
“Fuck that,” the General said, simply and firmly. “We all know what’s at stake here. I’m not going to sacrifice the future of this country to a bunch of union gangsters and purple-haired, commie faggot drop outs and the…”
This was boilerplate stuff for General Jameison, but he could work himself into a fury ten or twenty times a day on the subject. Some of the people around the table looked bored and uncomfortable, but at least a few heads nodded in genuine appreciation.
“…because there might be casualties while we round ‘em up and restore law and order. This is an order. I want all fifty of those devices in planes by midnight tonight.”
And that was that.
After the humiliations of 1/16 and the total collapse of civil order over the summer, the General’s heart stirred with joy over the speed and efficiency with which the targets were selected, the devices were prepped and they were dropped from the planes. It was, he thought proudly, the most efficient campaign of one of the worst years of American military history.
If those devices had worked the way they were supposed to, the operation really would have been something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, they did not. Oh, to be sure, they did provide all sorts of interesting electric stimulation to the joints and tissue of the affected population. The CIA boys weren’t wrong about that.
There were, however, all kinds of implementation issues.
For one thing, it was damn near impossible to control the damn things, and there were side effects that no one could have predicted. Even the former President’s concern about accidental deaths seemed trivial by comparison.
The other, far more serious problem was that subjects with functioning nervous systems and good EEG readings seemed to be immune from the devices’ effects. The HRD-waves couldn’t override those normal systems. There were a lot of reports of itching and burning sensations that came and went, but that was it. As a method of detaining rioters, they were a complete bust.
The effect of the HRDs was dramatic, however, when it came to stimulating the joints and tissue of other subjects not characterized by functioning nervous systems or any sort of EEG readings at all.
Put bluntly, they raised the dead.
2. The Anarchist
In 1999, the World Trade Organization met in Seattle and was greeted with massive protests.
Steve Godwin was sixteen years old. Knowing that his parents would never let him go, he simply snuck out of their East Lansing house in the morning and jumped on a Greyhound bus to Seattle. His family was frantic with worry by the time he called, and he felt bad about that, but it was worth it.
As he marched through the streets of Seattle, Steve was elated by the knowledge that he was part of something larger than himself, something that mattered. He breathed in the cool, crisp air of a Seattle evening and marveled in the variety of people he was marching with, the colorful signs and banners and giant puppets people were holding to represent the laundry list of complaints about the WTO’s environmental, labor and human rights record.
“Whose streets?” a girl who looked even younger than Steve screamed into a bullhorn.
“Our streets!” everyone screamed back.
It was like he was part of the great unstoppable wave of humanity demanding justice. It was incredible.
That feeling lasted for about fifteen minutes. Then the teargas canisters were released and the batons came out.
A bunch of protesters were rounded up all at once, quickly searched and shoved in the back of a police van. Everyone was practicing “prison solidarity” that week, not carrying identification and refusing to identify himself or herself, except as “John Seattle” or “Jane Seattle,” to try to force the cops to spring them all in order to avoid the headaches.
Steve exchanged a quietly murmured conversation in the van with a girl about his age, who turned out to be named Shawna Swart. Incredibly, she was from East Lansing too, but they went to different schools and he had never seen her before.
When they got to the jail, the lot of them were shoved into a holding cell so crowded and hastily improvised that the cops didn’t even bother to separate out the John Seattles from the Janes.
Shawna had two tabs of acid that she wanted to get rid of before the cops found them. She took one and gave one to Steve.
He’d never been straight-edged, but if he’d been thinking more clearly he might have thought twice about taking it. Jail plus tripping should, by all conventional wisdom on the subject, equal “bad trip.”
It didn’t. It was beautiful. The long hours of imprisonment flew by. Steve remembered about ten Johns and Janes staring at him as he laughed in helpless wonder and awe, waving his hand in front of him and watching it seem to leave a ghostly trail through the air front of him. For almost thirty seconds, a couple of the prison guards morphed into Darth Vaders with the heads of raccoons. Steve had no idea where that come from, but he loved it. Later that night, he spent forty-five minutes–Shawna clocked him–sitting cross-legged on the floor watching the bars in the window of the jail cell shift back and forth from horizontal to vertical arrangements.
Even coming down, the part that was supposed to suck, was wonderful. The granola bar someone offered him around two in the morning tasted like ashes, and he couldn’t swallow it, but that was the only negative symptom. He felt great.
Granted, that could have something to do with sitting up all night as the stuff wore off, talking and talking with the most beautiful and interesting girl that he had ever met.
Steve, that night in Seattle, was still dressed like a fairly normal kid from Lansing Catholic Central High School, but Shawna…
Shawna was wearing her political buttons and white-on-black anarchy patches over a skin-tight black outfit that looked like it had been painted over her slim figure. Every once in a while, when she really wanted to make a point, she tossed her long blond hair back and Steve’s mind would go blank as it settled back over her shoulders. He would have to ask her to repeat what she had just said, and with a half-smile tugging at the ends of her lips, she would repeat it.
They didn’t stop talking until the sun came up in the morning and the cops decided to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare of identifying and prosecuting them all. Everyone got off with a warning.
An hour later, they were out on the streets, having coffee at a nearby Starbucks. It seemed to be doing pretty good business despite a hole in the window left by a stray rock someone had thrown in the previous night’s fracas.
Steve and Shawna’s conversation ranged over music and movies and LSD, both in the abstract and in terms of last night’s trip, but for the last couple of hours they had been talking about politics.
Steve had shown up to Seattle full of vaguely left-wing ideas, but he’d had relatively little exposure to this kind of thing. He’d been following the lead up to the WTO protest on the web for months before he decided to hop that bus to Seattle. He could rattle off a list of grievances about democracy and labor rights and the environment, but he hadn’t bothered to put anything in a larger context. Before he came to Seattle, he’d never even met anyone who called themselves an “anarchist,” or used the term “anarchy” as anything but a synonym for “chaos.”
Shawna kept on trying to tell him about an anarchist collective she and her friends were trying to start in East Lansing, but he was having none of it. “How can you have an anarchist organization?”
He was honestly confused, but he was also trying to pull her leg. As he waited for her answer, he sipped his coffee. He’d been trying very hard to switch to drinking his coffee black, but it still tasted bitter to him. At least it didn’t taste like ashes like everything had before the acid effects wore off.
“Look,” he went on, “doesn’t having an anarchist organization go against the whole idea of anarchy?”
Shawna shook her head vigorously, her green eyes blazing with enthusiasm as if she hadn’t been awake for two days. “Anarchy isn’t the absence of order. It’s the absence of coercion. Anarchism is about replacing coercive and hierarchical forms of social organization with voluntary cooperation and mutual aid.”
As she went on, Steve sipped his coffee and shook his head in wonder. He wasn’t stupid, and he read plenty. He was a straight-A student, and he’d been reading Stephen King novels under his desk in classes that bored him since freshman year. He got into political arguments all the time, and he was always looking stuff up on the internet.
This girl, though, made him feel like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. As he peppered her with questions, she kept on referring him to books that she seemed to have practically memorized, everything from Kropotkin to Chomsky, Emma Goldman to Abbie Hoffman. Later on, Steve would meet plenty of anarchists who fulfilled every stereotype of the stupid kid who spouted off whatever rhetoric sounded most radical without really thinking it through. Not Shawna.
By the time he got on his bus back to East Lansing and the wrath of his parents, he was a convinced anarchist. Beyond convinced.
Not that it had much impact on his life. Shawna went to East Lansing High, not Lansing Catholic, and their paths only crossed a couple of times in the next two years. His parents kept him on a tighter leash than ever after his “little Seattle adventure,” so he wasn’t exactly running down to campus to hang out with radicals at the student union building. By and by he slipped back into old routines.
By the time he graduated from high school, got out of his parents house and had the leeway to be more active, there wasn’t much left to be active in. By two years after the glory days of Seattle, the anti-globalization movement had lost steam. Then, the first month of Steve’s first semester going to Michigan State, the planes hit the towers in New York and the movement disappeared off the political map entirely for a while.
Steve accommodated, and he focused on other things. When there was a protest, he might show up, if he didn’t have anything going on with his music or his friends or his part-time under-the-counter job making fake ID’s to sell to underage frat boys. When asked, he compared his anarchism to the Catholicism of people who only showed up to Mass on Christmas and Easter.
Then, during the second semester of his sophomore year, the United States invaded Iraq and protests filled the streets. Somebody handed him a flyer at a demonstration for a meeting of something called the “Nighthawk Revolutionary Anarchist Collective” and he showed up.
Shawna was there. She had been kicked out of some college in California, and she was taking a second shot at the whole college thing at Michigan State. That night they renewed old acquaintance, reminiscing about Seattle and catching up on the last four years. That night, they went out clubbing Lansing with a couple of Steve’s handcrafted fake ID’s. They fell into bed together, spontaneously and gloriously, at the end of an unbelievable night.
After that, they were inseparable. Steve never thought of her as his “girlfriend” exactly, and he doubted that she thought of him as her boyfriend. What they had was both more and less than that.
Over the course of the next nine years, they never moved in together, and they never made dinner plans days in advance or anything, but not a day went by when they didn’t see each other for some length of time. The political and the personal, sex and friendship, comradeship and mentorship and play, were all fused into something almost incomprehensible, something that Steve had never wanted to analyze too closely, afraid that it would dissolve into air at the slightest touch.
On October 22nd, 2012, the Nighthawk Revolutionary Anarchist Collective, whose membership now numbered in the several hundred, sponsored a demonstration against General Jameison’s seizure of power. The National Guard tried to disperse it by force, like everyone knew they would, but the NRAC was prepared.
As afternoon darkened into evening, Steve crouched behind a barricade of upturned cars and debris, hand-in-hand with Shawna as he listened to the National Guard commander make an announcement on his bullhorn. They were on the front of the march. At their side was a large, carefully stacked pile of Molotov cocktails their affinity group had made the night before.
“All participants in this illegal demonstration are ordered to disperse immediately, by the order of Chief Protector William Jameison. This is your last warning. Failure to comply with this order will result in execution.”
The wording was much more blood-and-iron than usual, no doubt a sign of the long reach of that Texan clown who had just marched into the White House, but the gist was nothing new. Political demonstrations had been “temporarily” illegal since the Domestic Security Act passed in February, and these bastards never got tired of trying to enforce it.
The Guard barely waited until the warning had been issued. Shots rang out across the barricade. Someone screamed in pain. Steve didn’t even turn around.
He grabbed a Molotov cocktail from the pile. He took out his Zippo lighter. In one motion, he lit up the rag and tossed it across the barricade. Within seconds, he was rewarded with a satisfying bang.
The air filled with smoke. Steve couldn’t see further than Shawna on his right or Andy on his left. It didn’t matter. He lit, aimed, and tossed another Molotov cocktail on instinct.
It took almost three minutes for the National Guard to stop fucking around.
The first grenade went off ten feet from where Steve was standing. There was a hole in their barricade big enough to drive a tank through. Round after round was fired. Screams rent the air. Someone’s blood splashed onto Steve’s face. He didn’t even notice.
Shawna was standing next to him. Steve never saw the bullet. He heard her scream.
When Steve turned around, it was all over. Blood streamed out of a hole in her forehead. Steve saw pieces of what might have been brain.
She was still alive when he turned around. Her lips started to form a word.
He never got to find out what it was. She collapsed onto the ground.
She wasn’t breathing.
People were still shooting at him. In a few seconds, he was going to have to run for cover or die where he stood.
Thirteen years after they met on the streets of Seattle, he left Shawna to live out the last seconds of her life on pavement smeared with blood.
After he found a place to hide, the back room of an abandoned record store downtown, Steve let himself have his breakdown.
He sobbed. He screamed. He broke everything that was handy, CDs and shelves and glass bottles. He rocked back and forth on the floor for almost an hour, letting everything out in an ecstasy of grief and rage.
When he left, he didn’t feel grief or rage or much of anything else. He felt numb, empty. He had itching, burning sensations in his arms and chest, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except for what he was going to do.
He was going to go kill someone.
Like most big anarchist collectives, Nighthawk was divided into “affinity groups,” core groups of five to ten people who trusted each other absolutely, worked together constantly and made all decisions by consensus. With Shawna dead, there might still be as many as five or six members of their affinity group left alive.
Steve made no effort to find out. He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to think about tactics, or being smart or figuring out how anything fit into a larger strategy. Right at the moment, he didn’t care whether he was alive or dead when the sun rose the next day.
Steve might have already killed people. Probably, even. Most of the scattered street fighting since the feds had gotten violent was pretty low level, but even a brick lobbed with sufficient force at the wrong spot can kill someone just as dead as a bullet.
Steve didn’t like that, but he tried not to let it bother him. He was a participant in an uprising that was both justified and necessary, and he did what he had to.
The people whose power and privileges were under attack fought to defend that power. To the limited extent that thought about such things, Steve regarded that last fact as something akin to a law of nature. It was certainly nothing he would have taken personally, and he never would have taken pleasure in the idea of killing someone on the other side.
Now he did.
Shawna was dead, and he was going to kill one of the people who did it. Two or three of them, if he could manage it before they killed him. Just this second, even that last part didn’t bother him.
He never got a chance.
He spent an hour walking up and down Grand River Avenue. He had gotten as far as the old abandoned “Denny’s” on the edge of East Lansing and Okemos before he saw another human being, a guy in a green-and-white MSU sweatshirt walking down the street in the other direction.
Steve grabbed the guy’s shoulders. “What the hell happened?”
“W-what do you mean?” The guy looked confused but not really scared.
“The military? Where are they?”
The guy shook his head slowly. “They left. There was still fighting going on, all over the place, but they just left.”
Steve stared at him in incomprehension. “Why would hey do that?”
The guy shrugged. “I have no idea, but they were in a hell of a hurry.”
Steve let the guy go. Feeling absolutely defeated, he went into the Denny’s. It looked like no one had been in there for a long while, but the door was unlocked.
He went inside, and sat down in a booth by the window. The lights were off. The sun was going down. It didn’t matter. Steve sat in the darkened booth, with his hands folded on the table, thinking about nothing at all.
After a while, the darkness was total. At some point in the night, he must have fallen asleep.
When Steve woke up, the sun had been up for a while.
The only thought in his mind was that he wasn’t dead. He felt somehow that he was supposed to die last night, and he hadn’t. He didn’t feel overjoyed or even relieved, but he didn’t feel sorry about it either. It was just interesting.
He was hungry and he had to piss. The second part was easy enough, since the bathrooms were unlocked, but the first part was trickier.
And those itching, burning sensations had gotten even worse.
A quick check of the kitchen bore out Steve’s initial assumption that the place had been looted clean, probably months ago. Lots, maybe most, of the cafes and restaurants around town had shut their doors in recent months, but there were several that were still in operation, having re-opened as worker-owned cooperatives when their owners left town. Steve wondered if any of those places might actually be up and running again, so soon after the military cleared out.
It was possible. He remembered how much he loved the blueberry muffins at Espresso Royale. If by some miracle they had re-opened, he might stop by and get one, and maybe a cup of black coffee to go with.
As a known hero of the revolution, seen on the front lines in last night’s battle, he might even get his muffin for free.
He smiled, shook his head and laughed for the first time in what felt like years. Still laughing, he went outside and started walking back towards downtown East Lansing.
Lost in his own thoughts, he almost bumped into the woman walking down the street in the other direction. When he saw who it was, he stopped in his tracks and stared.
It was Shawna.
One of her arms was missing. Dried blood clotted around a huge hole in the center of her forehead. She was, however, very much alive.
Time seemed to stop. Steve’s mind went perfectly blank. Then Shawna’s lips opened a crack, and sound came out.
She wasn’t saying anything. She was moaning. It was a primal sound, not pain and not pleasure, just air being pushed through the vocal chords.
She shuffled and stumbled toward him. Thinking she was going to fall, Steve put his arms around her shoulders. Shawna leaned in, looking like she was going to hug him.
Searing pain tore through Steve’s shoulder. Instinctively, Steve pushed away from her with one arm, grabbing his shoulder with the other, rocking back and forth with the pain. When he looked up, he was that Shawna had torn a bloody strip of skin from his flesh. She stuffed it in her mouth. A little trickle of Steve’s blood flowed down her chin as she swallowed.
Steve felt vomit rise up in his throat. He didn’t have a chance to wretch.
“Get the hell away from her, Steve!”
It was Andy. His black beard was uncombed. His eyes were wild. He was pointing a shotgun at the spot where Steve and Shawna were standing. For a second, even as he moved to comply, Steve was in such a daze that he felt a little sore about the shotgun. Dammit, Andy, if you had a shotgun, why didn’t you bring it yesterday?
Andy shot Shawna in the side of her head.
She didn’t fall down. She didn’t cry out in pain. It didn’t even seem to bother her. She turned around and shuffled toward Andy.
Steve stared, his jaw gaping. “What the fuck…?”
Andy reloaded and shot again. Shawna kept coming. Andy fired again.
Andy grabbed Steve, and ran. Still not letting himself process any conscious thoughts, Steve focused on running.
Time passed. Steve had no idea how much. It didn’t matter. They stopped running, and crouched together in an alley. Andy opened up his backpack and started rooting around. He brought out two empty glass bottles, two rags and a sealed plastic jug.
Without needing to be told what to do, Steve assembled one of the Molotov cocktails. That much he could do on instinct. When he was done, he peered out of the alley. Shawna was coming toward them in the distance, but she had a ways to go.
“What is she?”
Andy spared Steve a worried glance, but when he answered, his voice was all business. “She’s a zombie.”
Steve stared at his comrade, his confusion and disconnect finally starting to tie him down to the concrete reality of the situation. “What? What the hell do you mean, a zombie?”
Andy shrugged. “You saw what I saw. I’ve been seeing that for the last seven hours, since a couple of them ate Jake and Linda.” Andy’s voice got ragged, then he focused on his explanation with visible effort. “Last night around three in the morning, everyone who died last night started to come back. It was just a few hours after the army left. They must have known it was coming, but I don’t know how that’s…well, like I said. We haven’t really had time to talk about it. Where the hell have you been?”
“Denny’s,” Steve said, feeling no desire whatever to elaborate. “Is anyone else from our affinity group alive?”
“No.” Andy spared him another glance to gage his reaction. “Look, in about forty-five seconds, Shawna is going to be about the right distance away. Bullets slow them down, but the only thing that seems to kill them is fire.”
He gave Steve a hard look before continuing. “If we both throw at the same time, there’s a good chance we can stop her.”
Steve nodded. He was pretty sure that in a few minutes he would be telling Shawna about this horrible, surreal nightmare he had, but the part of his mind that believed that all of this was really happening was working on autopilot.
Shawna stumbled back into view. Andy gestured at Steve, counting off three fingers. When he hit “one,” they both tossed their Molotov cocktails.
Steve’s hit. Shawna’s hair lit on fire, but she kept moving. The flames spread to the rest of her body. She kept on moving. As her skin turned black, she finally stopped.
Steve looked on, past fear and past heartbreak, as the only woman he had ever loved was reduced to ashes on the street.
For the next six hours, Steve fought like a machine. His only thoughts were thoughts of logistics. How close did a zombie need to get to be within range? Where was the next hiding place? Where could he and Andy get materials to make explosives?
Not fifteen minutes passed in the whole time without another zombie coming into view. Wherever they went, it didn’t matter. He didn’t know what they thought, or if zombies were capable of anything even approximating conscious thought, but they seemed to be drawn to living human beings.
Some of them had died last night. Some of them had died earlier that morning, at the hands of other zombies.
The two zombies coming into range now, a man and a woman, had probably died months ago. Both of their faces had already rotted beyond recognition.
Unlike the rest of the zombies Steve and Andy had been seeing, these ones didn’t even moan. Steve guessed that there wasn’t enough left of their vocal chords. From the looks of them, they’d both had open casket funerals. They looked like they were dressed for church.
If not for those nice clothes they were wearing, Steve would have no way of telling the man from the woman.
Calmly, dispassionately, Steve measured the time it would take until they came into range. They didn’t have any Molotov cocktails left. The shotgun was long since out of ammunition, even if would have done any good.
Steve found a long wooden plank. He demonstrated to Andy, gesturing, his plan to light the tip of it on fire and use it to immolate the old couple once they were close enough.
Of course, he could have used words. It didn’t matter. None of the dozens of zombies they had killed in the last six hours had made any effort to defend themselves. Tey just kept on coming, even if meant they were going to die.
If they cared, there was no way to tell.
Steve took out his Zippo lighter and tried to light up the end of the wooden plank.
The flame never came. The lighter was out of fluid. Andy, standing further back, tossed Steve his own lighter. Steve tried that one, and finally got the flame. The plank wasn’t nearly as dry as Steve had hoped. For a few frantic seconds, he thought it wasn’t going to light. Finally, it did.
It was just too late.
The zombie in the dress grabbed Steve’s arm. The wooden plank fell to the floor. The zombie in the suit grabbed Steve’s neck. It bit down hard, and emerged with some of the flesh from Steve’s neck stuck between its teeth.
For a second, Steve’s world swam in and out of focus. He wondered if he was going to pass out. Some part of him wondered if he was going to wake up again, and if he still cared.
He didn’t pass out. Andy grabbed the wooden plank and used it to pummel the zombie in the suit. It released its grip, and Steve fell to the floor. The zombie in the suit slowly turned toward Andy.
Steve crawled over the floor. It seemed like long minutes were going by. It was probably just seconds. Steve grabbed the lighter he had dropped, and after a few frantic seconds of messing with it, he had a flame.
He brought it up to the head of the zombie in the dress. It took the opportunity to tear another strip of flesh from Steve’s arm. He dropped the lighter, but it had already made contact.
Flames spread throughout the zombie’s body. It let Steve go, and he crashed to the floor.
The zombie in the suit turned its back on Andy, stumbling toward Steve. Andy took the opportunity to bash in its head with what was left of the flaming wooden plank.
It got the job done. In less than a minute, the zombies were both dead.
Soon, Steve would be too. He just wouldn’t stay dead for very long.
He didn’t feel any pain. He was way past that, but he could see the blood rushing out of his neck and arm and pooling on the floor. When he spoke, all he could manage was a distant rasp. He had to fight to stay awake, to keep off the void that wanted to take him.
“Andy, man, how long do you think I have left?”
Andy’s mouth opened and closed. He started to say something, but then thought better of it.
“The truth,” Steve rasped, slowly and clearly. “Thirty seconds? Maybe a minute?”
Andy nodded mutely.
Steve let his eyes wander to the Zippo lighter at his side. Andy’s eyes followed him there, and he shook his head.
“Please.” Steve wasn’t going to beg. Just one word. Please.
Andy nodded again, and picked it up. He lit it with shaking hands.
That was the last thing Steve ever saw.
3. The Historian
The 2162 annual meeting of the Northern Zone Historical Association had record attendance. Thousands of people crammed into the lecture hall in Chicago for the keynote address.
Dr. Fitzgerald counted at least two hundred holograms in the back of the hall, representing colonists in the Outer Rim attending from their vidspheres. She smiled with bitter satisfaction, reflecting that at least half of those colonists were likely to be Djanist partisans, exiled to the colonies after the last parliamentary elections. They were there out of masochism, or boredom, or out of a simple desire to see what she was up to.
Many of them, she knew, suspected that Dr. Fitzgerald’s interests ran beyond academic history, that she was being courted by Alzajantist political bosses, perhaps even that she was planning on running for her old seat in the Hemispheric parliament this fall.
They weren’t wrong about that.
Well, her written address was actually pretty dry, most of it, but once she realized how many people would be attending the meeting she had re-written the opening section, sticking in a bit of political red meat. One might as well give the Djantists something to be outraged about as they sucked on their wretched ration packets out there on the ice.
Dr. Alfonz’s long-winded introduction finally drew to a close, and he gestured for her to approach the podium. Thunderous applause greeted her as she organized her notes, fiddled with her glasses and prepared to speak. A few non-historians in the back, wearing purple and black vests, were clearly only there to cheer for an old political icon. They were already whipping their arms back and forth in the Alzajantist Salute.
That made her want to smile, but she didn’t. This was serious.
When she spoke, it was in measured tones, nothing like the fiery tones of her old parliamentary speeches. She was a historian, and she was here to speak to her colleagues.
“The title on your programs is ‘A Historical Note on the Role of the Anarchists in the Zombie Apocalypse.’ That wasn’t the title of my paper–I will always regard the word ‘apocalypse’ as unnecessarily melodramatic for the purposes of historical research–but it does at least bring us to the area of contention.
“This year’s conference marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Zombie War. No historical event of the last five hundred years has shaped the consciousness of our society as much as that war, and that is as it should be.
“Almost a third of the population of our hemisphere was wiped out in six months time. The annals of history record nothing like it. Analogies are usually made to the Black Plague, or the Nazi Holocaust or even the decimation of the Native Americans. None of these events, however, comes close to capturing the horror of those months.
“No one alive today has not heard, many times and in many different forms, the story of how the zombies spread over North and South America, or of how the armies of Protector Jameison ultimately defeated them. The story is commemorated in thousands of learntapes, in monuments and memorials, academic studies and popular novels. It is one of those stories that tells us things, important things, about who we are and what our species is capable of when our backs are up against the wall.
“Given this level of documentation, however, it is nothing short of incredible that historical revisionism about these events persists to this day. There are those who would like to paint the Protector as the villain of the piece, in opposition to reason and evidence, the memory of the martyred dead and the demands of common sense. They paint the most lurid conspiracy theories according to which the anarchists were innocent victims and the Protector unleashed a zombie plague over his own country for–well–no one has been able to quite supply a motive, have they?
“We all understand, I think, why this nonsense has persisted.” Dr. Fitzgerald leaned into the podium, looking as if she was imparting a secret to a close friend. “From the perspective of a certain party–I won’t say who, mind you–the anarchist rebels who unleashed the zombies don’t look so bad, do they?
“To those who, let us say, do not admire the current Protector, the anarchists seem a trifle misguided, but not entirely wrong.” She shrugged benevolently, as if forgiving such fools with infinite compassion. “What is it, after all, that Overseer Djan advocated, if not that the Protectorate be abolished, and something very much like anarchy be instituted. Oh, they don’t call it that, but when they call for the abolition of the institution that has kept order for one hundred and fifty years, let us fool ourselves about what would result.
“Well,” she went on, finally raising her voice to that old parliamentary pitch, “I think in the last election, we made perfectly clear what the rest of us think about that. Perhaps,” she concluded, staring directly at the rows of holograms in the back of the hall, “certain people should be pleased that we are very–she almost caressed the word–“compassionate these days, and we do not deal with them in the manner favored by Protector Jameison one hundred and fifty years ago.”
Many of the holograms were waving their arms and shouting, although of course they could make no sound. The rest of the hall erupted into cheers. As one, the audience rose in a standing ovation. Even many of the professional historians in their suits and ties joined the purple-shirts in several rounds of enthusiastic Alzajantist Salutes. For at least five minutes, Dr. Fitzgerald could hear nothing but applause and the chanting of “Al-Al-Alzajan, Al-Al-Alzajan” as the cheering and saluting continued. Finally, graciously, she gestured for everyone to sit down.
When the hall was finally quiet, she continued in a more subdued tone. “Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen. I won’t waste your time with tiresome, step-by-step refutations of long-discredited theories. Suffice to say that the rest of this address will be focused on issues of genuine scholarly debate, addressed to those who live in the real world.
“In that world, the United States came under systematic attack for an entire year by anarchist rebels who hated their country enough to build machines that raised the dead, unleashing horrors on the entire hemisphere the likes of which the world had not seen. Protector Jameison defeated the anarchists, and their zombies, and united this hemisphere in a new union. History is grateful to him for that.
“With these preliminaries out of the way, let us move on to slightly more serious matters.”