[Wellington is one of the Southern Hemisphere's success stories. I traipse up the stairwell, showing my smartcard to the guards. Across the hall, Colonel Robert Maguire sits up in bed, ravaged by the rad dose that he received during enforcement of New Zealand's controversial 'triage' policy]
I know that there are some people out there who hate me, mostly those who lost family within the Australian theatre of World War Z. Unlike other states that enforced a cordon sanitaire, such as South Africa and Israel/Palestine, we had a sea border to control and protect and a long coastline.
Despite that, New Zealand didn’t suffer as badly as our neighbours. We didn’t get off scot-free. Auckland is being resettled, but we had to concede it for a while. Christchurch was impossible to control, so we had to use chemical ordinance there.
Australia. Unlike us, they had Indonesia’s myriad islands to their north and when the China pandemic went critical, there was a cascade effect down South East Asia. Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea fell within a fortnight. Legions of zeds disembarked from fleeing and panicking ASEAN boat flotillas and spread out across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, which led to our National Unity Government’s controversial decision.
We had the Auckland epidemic under cordon sanitaire under control, but we couldn’t take any more ‘useless mouths’, to use the New Zealand Treasury’s designation of people outside a particular skill base- we needed the farmers, agricultural scientists, medical practitioners and nurses, IT professionals…and anyone else was surplus to requirements. We’d let intact families in, as long as no-one was infected.
You want to know why I resigned? Okay. It was this final mission. We experienced a windfall due to the fact that we had a reasonably intact infrastructure and an experienced SAS special forces contingent. They were tasked with recovery and location of former combattant naval vessels. So it was that I was in charge of the HMNZS Clark, when we came across this particular rudderless vessel, with about twenty onboard.
Yeah, there were problems. For starters, there was a surviving father and his turning daughter. One look at her and we realised that we’d have to take drastic action, but he didn’t accept the situation. We got the kid just as she rose from the blanket and snarled her intent, but the dad rushed at us. In the good old days, we would have had nonlethal containment, but we had no other choice. He had a machete.
Of the eighteen left, about ten had identification that meant that they were in the strategic skill set and were infected. That left another eight- a nun, a fat and drunken former Australian federal politician, a hair dresser, an elderly couple, a building labourer and a surfie. The politician was behaving angrily and tried to pull rank when we selected and triaged the lucky ones and confirmed that they were virus-free. We weren’t having that and the XO told him to stay where he was. He offered fistfuls of worthless Aussie money and swore profusely, screaming racist epithets at one unfortunate Chinese-Australian IT specialist who fitted our skillset criteria.
If I’d been quicker, I’d have realised that the old bastard had been bitten, possibly staving off the effect by some genetic quirk, but then the corneas of his eyes started to redden, a telltale sign of the onset of the Zed virus. As it was, we thought he was having a heart attack and the nearest soldier reached down to help him to his feet. He jerked like a bloated meat puppet and you could almost see the light going out inside his mind. With a bestial snarl, he was on her and ripped out her throat. We opened fire and that was his first and last kill.
That left seven others. The XO was sobbing as the nun came up, nodding her agreement, stating that she accepted that we’d done what was neccessary to protect the innocent and that she’d pray for the soul of our fallen colleague. At that point, I had to break the bad news and the XO was heartbroken- Kelly was a Catholic. She asked the nun to absolve her and the cassocked sister did so. The elderly bloke came forward and asked whether we had euthanasia pills, like it was rumoured that the Triage Guard carried. The nun sighed, but nodded, adding that while she couldn’t take that option, she wouldn’t stand in the way of anyone else who felt the need to do so. We saw that they both had a good meal and their choice of music for their sendoff.
The nun, hairdresser, building labourer and surfie were left. The nun asked whether the oil rig they’d passed was deserted and cleared territory and asked what the situation was if they accepted that they couldn’t disembark on our side of the Tasman. The surfie was skin and bones, but the labourer took it surprisingly well. He shrugged and said that he understood. He’d served in Afghanistan and realised we had to make difficult decisions. The hairdresser was looking at images of crowded resettlement camps and crying dirty children and gently said: “I had a little girl like that. I understand too. Do what you have to do.”
We weren’t barbarians. We left them atop a bluelighted former drilling rig and enough provisions to last a month. After that time had elapsed, we boarded the rig, to silence. The nun lay in a corner in a sleeping bed, her face gaunt and yet restful. She had starved herself to prolong the lives of the others. The brickie was nowhere to be seen, but we found a note. He’d started to get sick with rad poisoning and had jumped off the gantry. The hairdresser was in bed, with an empty blister packet of pills and bottle of white wine. She had a photograph of her daughter on the bedside dresser. There was smudged lipstick where she’d kissed it for one last time.
Some would argue that karma had the last laugh. We weren’t aware of it then, but each of the Triage Guards had received a lethal dose of radiation from the Iranian/Pakistani nuclear exchange. Of course, some of us couldn’t live with what we’d been ordered to do in the name of national secuirty and public safety. My XO Kelly hung herself about three months later.
Can I live with myself over what we were forced to do out there? If enough Aussie survivor vessels had made it ashore and they’d carried infected, then we would had loss of life and our national infrastructure would have collapsed. Even if they hadn’t, people still starved to death in New Zealand during the winter that followed the Southwest Asian War, and we couldn’t have taken that many extra mouths.
For that act, I am praised by some, pilloried and hated by others, who call me war criminal. And my own opinion? It doesn’t matter. I’ve just been told that my latest remission has ended and it’s probably the last time. I envy that young hairdresser and nun their serenity and peace of mind.
[Colonel Robert Maguire, Republican New Zealand Army, ONZ, died a month later, having taken suicide pills when his allocated amount of palliative medicine ran out under the New Zealand Pharmaceutical Allocation Scheme (Radiation Survivors). As I’m electrotaxied to the Wellington International Air Terminal, awaiting my flight back, I catch sight of one of the protestors placards from his state funeral:
TRIAGE OR ZOMBIES: WHAT WAS THE REAL MONSTROSITY?