Undead Story, from out of a dream...


The following was typed to Tess upon waking up...


(8:09:51 AM) Pazi: It started with a zombie outbreak.

(8:11:23 AM) Pazi: At first it was almost just a game. I was at a party, a big event somewhere at a club in the city, and zombies start trying to get in. I need to hold 'em off with some sort of squirt implement. It had some kind of chemical that could re-kill zombies. It was something unusually obvious.

(8:12:34 AM) Pazi: Eventually others start to help me with that, and soon we have a general of some kind on hand (I only know that because I called him a general a few times) and there was a sense that resistance to the undead was growing, getting really organized.

(8:12:49 AM) Pazi: Elapsed time hits.

(8:16:53 AM) Pazi: I hear a narrative in my voice talk about how zombies are only a part of what was unleashed by...whatever force/entity/event it was that caused the undead to show up. We'd seen many manifestations of the contagion by now, with all sorts of different names -- they sprang from a common agent, but it could alter living things in various insidious ways. There were infected snakes called Honey Eaters, which are sort of twisted boas with a stumpy lower half on which they sit, and a twisted upper half. They blend in with trees. They're called Honey Eaters because they'll strike if people happen by in pairs, they can swallow a person whole astonishingly fast, and they only eat one member of the pair. If you weren't looking, the person you walked with could just vanish and you'd have to be sharp to spot the thicker tree stump.

(8:17:21 AM) Pazi: There were various things not unlike orcs and goblins that were mutated from humanity by this contaminant, as well.

(8:17:44 AM) Pazi: All of these creatures, human or otherwise, were just labelled "undead" as they were discovered.

(8:18:28 AM) Pazi: So in this fast-forward version, I'm in something like army training. The sort of low-end boot camp that happens when you try to mobilize a previously-civilian population with a fractured chain of command.

(8:18:47 AM) Pazi: Everyone's a soldier, or at least military support personnel.

(8:19:42 AM) Pazi: I happened to acquire a reputation for quick thinking and observation, and with my science acumen I eventually wound up in the Special Forces. So it was a lot like the Chtorr books in this way. Also, I had de-transitioned for practicality's sake, but I still had long hair.

(8:20:03 AM) Pazi: Elapsed time shifts again.

(8:22:34 AM) Pazi: Now it's winter, snowing, and we've found an underground complex infested by undead. It's an old apartment building, or something equally innocuous, but those can be hives of undead activity because so many people were crowded together, infected and then unable to leave. This one is odd -- we see lots of frozen zombies in the lower entrance (a garage entry, I think), and a number of frozen ogres and goblins (ogres are big, orcs are medium-large, goblins are small, and hobgoblins are some really mutated variant off goblins that are tiny, about half a meter, and nobody knows much about them because they appeared recently).

(8:24:06 AM) Pazi: I've got a camera in addition to my gun, and my squad has jumped ahead by just a couple meters to break into an apartment. And they call me, I show up (looking through the camera) and freeze, gun drawn and pointed straight ahead.

There's a zombie in there wearing a shirt with a joke about Perl and looking like some wisearse hacker kid. Only he's not shambling. He's just looking at me with dead zombie eyes, and surprisingly steady about it.

(8:24:21 AM) Pazi: We've stumbled into a nest of...well, sentient undead. They can talk.

(8:24:26 AM) Pazi: They have us surrounded.

(8:24:31 AM) Pazi: But they aren't hostile.

(8:24:51 AM) Pazi: It's hard to tell who takes whom prisoner. I think both sides were really unprepared for it.

(8:25:00 AM) Pazi: Nobody's shooting. We're even talking amicably.

(8:25:27 AM) Pazi: I go through their kitchen cupboards and determine they're rationing normal human food, which must mean they eat it, or they feed it to something that does.

(8:26:57 AM) Pazi: One of the zombies, the ringleader of sorts, explains that what they're doing there will change what it means to be undead. And he gets into this chamber that I think at first is a rocketship seperated by a door they've manufactured, but was actually an elevator. They apparently had the ability to produce some really advanced tech.

(8:27:08 AM) Pazi: Sleek-looking and custom-made.

(8:29:06 AM) Pazi: They leave a hobgoblin to guard us. He's *tiny*. Some of the squad doesn't even want to believe it. I just say aloud, and to the hobgoblin, that he's been left to guard us -- which means either he can do it, and we don't want to mess with him, or he can't, but the bluff will keep us on our toes long enough to work, or he has some other reason to be doing what they say when we could kill him.

He kind of just looks at me, shrugs, and goes back to it.

(8:31:04 AM) Pazi: When the others get back, he whips out a knife about as big as he is, and blood starts to spray as he kills all his comrades messily. It's brutal, like they're in a food processor -- he just slashes, and then hits them again as they fall. It turns to chaos. The recording goes fuzzy and skips. I can see my squad reacting. I'm moving to respond too, but I don't know what to do... none of my people have been harmed yet, but he's killing the first sentient undead we've ever encountered...

(8:31:09 AM) Pazi: <end>

EDIT: I also recall a detail that's missing from the above IM exchange. After this point, and just as I was waking up, a narrative voice-over that sounded like me was explaining the biology of the undead, presumably to students. While I spoke, I saw video images of all the things I was describing. I mentioned competing theories of undead physiology, how the ones that purported to explain zombies as not actually dead, but merely altered metabolically, failed to account for their lack of appreciable body heat, decay over time, and tendency to freeze if exposed to cold, and comfortably thaw out despite massive tissue damage when the weather warms up again. That zombies ate was the only real problem with the theory; after some years of living with the undead we still had very little idea how they moved their muscles or operated their biosysems, though the notion that they somehow derived ATP from prokaryotic fermentation in their bodies was a popular one. There were still many unanswered questions.

I discussed the case of an undead creature called Amphisbeama; that was another undead snake variant that was surprisingly lively and difficult to peg as dead, other than the demonstrable presence of the undeath agents. Two small boas or pythons can get infected with "ugly" and in the case of that species, their bodies begin to pass chemicals less-discriminately across cell membranes. If stuck by themselves, they'll die -- but if they encounter one another, they fuse at their terminal ends (head or tail, it varied) and their bodies integrate, stabilizing the intake of outside chemicals. They still die, having succumbed to poisoning of their cells, but the undeath mechanisms take over from there, and amphisbaemids are famous for being a boundary case between life proper and unlife.