Read The Search For A Cure Online
Authors: C. Chase Harwood
Tags: #Amazing and unique zombie series.
Deighton gave her a good looking over and decided he didn’t like what he saw. “We have more showing up by the hour. Most are armed, all want their country back.” He turned to the others, “Right people!”
He got cheers from the group.
“Now, we are not on a major route north, the bulk of the enemy will flow, as they have so far, up the main highways. We’ve given enough ground. It’s time to hold some.”
Jon said, “Forgive me major. Have you fought these things? They are not insurgents or even suicide bombers. They’re voraciously hungry, feel little pain, and have zero emotion left to appeal to. In fact they love killing. They seem to hunt well in packs and there are millions of them. Oh – and they seem to have some ability to mess with your head.” He nodded at Nikki. “The mansion she is talking about wasn’t breached. They somehow convinced someone to open the door.”
“That might be a stretch,” said Nikki. “That was just one guy losing his cool.”
“No. I saw it. It sounds crazy, but it happened.”
The major broke in. “We have not yet had the pleasure of killing any infected humans, but I am very confident in the town’s plans for defense. We are not concerned with the threat of chemical weapons. We are too small for such a waste of precious resources. It is the job of the foot soldier to root out and kill the enemy.”
Jon decided to try the honest approach, “Be that as it may, sir, you have no right to hold us here against our will. We will not stand and fight with you. If you remain in this place, you will all be dead or infected in two days or less. I can guarantee it.”
This got some of the other defenders
to look around and mumble private worries and I-told-you-sos.
“SILENCE!” yelled Deighton. He turned back to Jon and Nikki, “We’ll let you stew about whether you want to help or not with some like minded folks.” He turned to two rough looking soldiers, “Escort our new guests to the alternate facilities.”
It was Tran’s first helicopter ride. He was only two seats away from one of the door gunners and therefore had a decent view outside. He decided that he liked helicopters. It was the oddest sensation to at one moment feel the weight of the huge machine on the ground, the astonishing noise and vibration of the engines ramping up, and in the next, the wheels lifting off the tarmac. Even though his own weight felt the same, strapped as he was into a fold down webbed seat, he nevertheless got the sensation that he was floating. A sense of glee rose up through his chest, filling his throat and he felt his face grow warm with childlike wonder. Then his organs were pushed down as the g-forces changed. He saw the ground sweep past the window as the Chinook banked to the right, finally leveling off for its primary direction of flight. The flat farmland outside fell away and reduced in scale until it became an uncanny representation of a model railroad world. They crossed the Saint Lawrence about thirty minutes later and Northern New York State revealed its vast sea of trees and small bodies of water. To his left he could see the headwaters of Lake Champlain (the backbone of the new wall that would eventually divide a reclaimed New England from the rest of the country). The flight was downright peaceful as the pastoral scenery moved past the windows. As they crossed over the dairy land that surrounded Plattsburgh, one of the door gunners broke the serenity, yelling out, “Holy fuckin’ shit!”
Those who could, looked outside and gasped. Humans, infected humans, slowly moved north in massive packs. Many simply stopped walking and watched the helicopters go by. Some turned around in useless pursuit. A dairy farm had been overrun, and thousands of Fiends gorged themselves on hundreds of defenseless cattle. One corral was nothing but a sea of moving gore as the infected crawled through blood and guts, coating themselves in the ghastly mixture.
Susan turned away and gagged reflexively. “God help us.”
“I thought God was off the table for you Susan,” said Decker with a sarcastic tone.
Susan’s eyelids became hooded as she turned to Decker. “Let’s not, shall we, Rick? Your charm is more than enough at the office. We don’t need to fill the skies with it too.”
The gunner, Casper Rodriguez, Ghost to his fellow Rangers, turned to both of them. “You better hope that God isn’t off the table.” The soldier had been thinking about God a lot lately. His entire family had holed up at their ranch in Colorado. The big house on two thousand acres had been his ancestral home for ten generations, before the US Cavalry, before Lewis and Clark, before Colorado was Colorado. Seeing the slaughter below made his stomach tighten with the thought of his familia’s horrible end. With the exception of himself and his brother, who was serving with the Marines in Afghanistan, the whole clan Rodriguez: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters had chosen to make a stand at the ranch. It was naturally fortified at a bend in a river with a cliff behind and the water to the front. The open areas that were left were natural kill zones where an attacker was ultimately forced into one narrow choice. The Rodriguez Ranch had withstood many an assault from Native Americans until it was finally accepted as a part of the landscape in the early Eighteen-Hundreds. Fires and flood had been nothing to them. Their beef cattle had become world famous for its quality and the cache´ of its ancient Western roots. The Fiends had overwhelmed the Rodriguez’ in a matter of hours. Casper’s father had called via satellite phone to say good-bye. He could hear the last of the gunfire and the screaming in the background. They were about to be overrun. There were no more bullets. Casper, all the way up in Canada, was filled with more helplessness and rage than he thought he could feel. His mother got on the phone weeping and told him to pray, “Pray every day for our souls, son. Pray that we do not become like them. Pray, pray, pray.” Casper promised through tears and gritted teeth. He told his mother how much he loved her, and then a loud crashing sound came through his phone’s speaker. His mother screamed in horror and he held the phone away from him. He still heard the children’s screams in his dreams. He told himself that God didn’t have anything to do with this, that this was the Devil’s work.
Though Ghost was on a scientific mission to save humanity, science didn’t enter his mind for a minute. When it came to the devils below, this wasn’t science, this was the Book of Revelation. Satan was rising.
Corporal Beau Preston, who was sitting next to Aaron Burnbaum asked, “So why a chicken farm in Florida?”
Aaron turned to the beefy Corporal without looking him in the eye. These people naturally intimidated the researcher and he found himself wishing he could just sleep or look through the notes on his laptop. Instead, he spoke up, offering his lecture tone as a buffer. “We have posited that the original bacterium, which caused the FND-z pandemic, was created, probably inadvertently, at a chicken farm.”
“Yeah? So why a chicken farm?” Aaron tried to smile through lips bent with conceit, and Preston followed up. “I’d like to know why we stopped our re-invasion training and are instead risking our asses to fly all the way to Florida to hunt chickens.”
Aaron looked at the man’s eyes for the first time and saw deep intelligence and a look of genuine interest. He chastened himself, slightly, for being narrow-minded.
“Have you heard of meningitis?”
Aaron wasn’t exactly oblivious about his personality. He could feel his annoyingly pedantic nature unfold from the box that barely contained it. “Bacterial Meningitis is one of the leading causes of death and permanent disability among children. The disabilities may include cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or seizures. In extreme cases, difficulties with limbs may require amputations. In short, it is caused by certain bacteria, the most common being streptococcus, crossing the blood-brain barrier, or meninges, and interacting with the micro vascular endothelial cells.” He paused, “Still with me?”
Preston nodded and several other Rangers leaned in to listen.
“Large-scale inflammation results, due to the body’s own immune response, thereby reducing blood flow to the brain and brain stem. The brain cells are deprived of oxygen and undergo apoptosis.”
Aaron glanced at Robert Tran and noted the amused look on the man’s face.
Tran’s amused look always got under Aaron’s skin. As far as he was concerned, the researcher had no respect for the broader teachings of science. He continued, “Apoptosis is the word for automated cell death, which of course leads to the complications that I just outlined. Meningitis is highly contagious, and is usually spread through the systems that we all have for mucous formation and delivery. In the case of FND-z, or Cain’s Disease, as it has become commonly termed, the frontal lobes of the brain are primarily affected, leaving the more base elements of the organ healthy. We haven’t been able to determine the exact nature of the aggressive response that follows, other than the fact that the more primitive parts of the brain seem to compensate for the loss of higher function; what we might describe as the moral judgment that comes with the development of frontal lobes in Homo Sapiens-Sapiens. These more reptilian instincts are instead pushed into some type of overdrive. Also unknown is the cause for the apparently insatiable desire to kill and eat the flesh of living things. There is of course the evolutionary obvious ideal, that the disease spreads itself through the interaction of bodily fluids. But why then eat the victim? Why not just bite?”
Preston said, “We all gotta eat, Doc.”
This got a chuckle out of the group.
Aidman, Cowboy Johnston spoke up. “So you’re sayin’ some chicken farmer started all this shit?”
Un-amused, Aaron sat back in his seat and nodded at Tran, “Robert, why don’t you finish?”
Tran smiled and said, “We think so.” He raised his voice to be heard better. “It’s our hope, everybody, that if we can isolate the bacteria in its original form, we can, through gene therapy, block the molecule that allows it to pass through the brain blood barrier. We have already achieved this with certain bacteria that cause meningitis. We can then create a vaccine with our new designer mutant gene or perhaps even an antidote for those that come into contact with the infected.”
Preston asked, “So you can cure people?”
"Not likely a cure. More of a stopgap for those that haven’t yet had the bug get into their head. Once FND-z passes the meninges, the brain damage is irreversible, and as we all know, the infection works fast, usually within twenty-four hours, in rare cases within six. However, an antidote delivered early, say within three hours, may stave off the infection and save the victim. A vaccine of course would offer immunity, but would have to be injected before any possible contact with the disease."
Tran observed that everyone was straining to listen now so he continued in an even louder voice, “In regards to the seemingly indiscriminate killing and eating of victims, I suspect that Corporal Preston makes the only logical point. We do, after all, have to eat. Victims of Cain’s have more or less lost their cognitive abilities. They can’t think to go to the grocery store much less grow and harvest food, and naturally occurring plants are inedible to the untrained eye. The infected are really no different from predator fish that only hunt other fish. The land is filled with warm-blooded animals, including people. Think of them like killer whales or better yet, tiger sharks traveling in pods like killer whales; not terribly cunning, less concerned with self-preservation and interested in eating anything that has a heartbeat.” Tran paused for a moment and looked out the window. The countryside had once more returned to tranquility. “It’s estimated that out of a population of three hundred and fifty-nine million Americans living in the lower forty-eight, as well as another fifty-million foreign workers and tourists plus thirty-million Western Canadians - one hundred and ten million of that number made it into the Canadian and offshore safe zones. One hundred million are thought to have perished, and at least fifty to sixty-million healthy people, no one really knows, remain inside the US and Western Canada.”
Preston said, “They say that the chemical bombings of the big cities today will probably kill seventy-million Deadheads, so that would leave two hundred million human sharks roaming around – give or take.”
Tran nodded, “Imagine dumping that many actual sharks into the Caribbean – the food supply would get thin pretty fast.”
Cowboy looked at Tran with confusion. “So you’re saying this Terror Virus isn’t from a terrorist?”
Susan decided to speak up, “I’m afraid gentlemen, as my colleague, Mr. Burnbaum suggested, this horrible pandemic is more than likely homegrown and is simply the result of our own poor understanding of biology, mixed with bad farming practices. Or, to put it more simply, greed has finally killed us all. The farm we are searching for probably misused antibiotic-laden feedstock to fatten their birds and reduce loss to disease. Through the power of evolution, a bacterium was born; one that we can’t stop with any known antibiotic and which has the power to render us into demons.”
Specialist Jordan Jones yawned and stretched, “Guess this mission has to succeed then.” He extended his legs into the aisle and closed his eyes.