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One way or another, we were on our way.

My sister has retinal KA syndrome. That’s where the filovirus does this massive replication thing in the ocular fluid—there’s some more advanced technical term for it, but personally, I like to call it “eye goo,” because it pisses George off—and the pupils dilate as wide as they can and never close down like they do in a normal person. Mostly only girls get it, which is a relief, since I look stupid in sunglasses. Her eyes are supposed to be brown, but everyone thinks they’re black, because of her pupils being broken.

She was diagnosed when we were five, so I don’t really remember her without her sunglasses. And when we were nine, we got this really dumb babysitter who took George’s glasses, said, “You don’t need these,” and threw them into the backyard, thinking we were spoiled little suburban brats too afraid of the outdoors to go out after them. So it’s pretty plain that she was about as bright as a box of zombies.

Next thing you know, there’s me and George digging through the high grass looking for her sunglasses, when suddenly she freezes, eyes getting all wide, and says, “Shaun?” And I’m like, “What?” And she’s all, “There’s somebody else in the yard.” And then I turn around, and wham, zombie, right there! I hadn’t seen it because I don’t see as well in low light as she does. So there are some advantages to having your pupils permanently dilated. Besides the part where they can’t tell if you’re stoned or not without a blood test when you’re at school.

But anyway, zombie, in our backyard. So. Fucking. Cool.

You know, it’s been more than a decade since that evening, and that is still probably the best present that she’s ever gotten for me.

—From Hail to the King,

the blog of Shaun Mason, April 7, 2037


Getting our equipment past the security screening offered by Senator Ryman’s staff took six and a half hours. Shaun spent the first two hours getting underfoot as he tried to guard his gear and finally got all of us banished inside. Now he was sulking on the parlor couch, chin almost level with his chest. “What are they doing, taking the van apart to make sure we didn’t stuff any zombies inside the paneling?” he grumbled. “Because, gee, that would work really well as an assassination tool.”

“It’s been tried,” Buffy said. “Do you remember the guy who tried to kill George Romero with the zombie pit bulls?”

“That’s an urban myth, Buffy. It’s been disproven about ninety times,” I said, continuing to pace. “George Romero died peacefully in his bed.”

“And now he’s a happy shambler at a government research facility,” said Shaun, abandoning his sulk in order to make “zombie” motions with his arms. The ASL for “zombie” has joined the raised middle finger as one of the few truly universal hand gestures. Some points just need to be made quickly.

“It’s sort of sad, thinking about him shuffling around out there, all decayed and mindless and not remembering the classics of his heyday,” said Buffy.

I eyed her. “He’s a government zombie. He eats better than we do.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” she said.

It took a while for the first Kellis-Amberlee outbreaks to be confirmed as anything but hoaxes, and even after that was accomplished, it took time for the various governmental agencies to finish fighting over whose problem it was. The CDC got sick of the arguing about three days in, jumped into things with both feet, and never looked back. They had squads in the field by the end of week two, capturing zombies for study. It was quickly apparent that there’s no curing a zombie; you can’t undo the amount of brain damage the virus does with anything gentler than a bullet to the brainpan. But you can work on ways to neutralize Kellis-Amberlee itself, and since all a zombie really does is convert flesh into virus, a few captive shamblers provided the best possible test subjects.

After twenty years of testing and the derailment of almost every technical field that didn’t feed directly into the medical profession, we’ve managed little more than absolutely nothing. At this point, they can completely remove Kellis-Amberlee from a living body, using a combination of chemotherapy, blood replacement, and a nasty strain of Ebola that’s been modified to search and destroy its cousin. There are just a few downsides, like the part where it costs upward of ten thousand dollars for a treatment, none of the test subjects has survived, and oh, right, the constant fear the modified virus will mutate like Marburg Amberlee did and leave us with something even worse to deal with. Where the living dead are concerned, we pretty much exist on square one.

It didn’t take long for researchers to connect the health of their “pet” zombies to the amount of protein—specifically living or recently killed flesh; soybeans and legumes won’t cut it—they consumed. Kellis-Amberlee converts tissue into viral blocks. The more tissue it can find, the less of the original zombie it converts. So if you feed a zombie constantly, it won’t wither to the point of becoming useless. Most of the nation’s remaining cattle ranches are there to feed the living dead. A beautiful irony, when you consider that cows break the forty-pound threshold, and thus reanimate upon death. Zombies eating zombies. Good work if you can get it.

A lot of folks leave their bodies to science. Your family skips funeral expenses, the government pays a nice settlement so they won’t sue if your image winds up on television one of these days, and if you belong to one of those religious sects that believes the body has to remain intact in order to eventually get carried up to Heaven, you don’t run the risk of offending God. You just risk eating the research scientists if containment fails, and some people don’t see that as being as much of an abomination as cremation.

George Romero didn’t mean to save the world any more than Dr. Alexander Kellis meant to almost destroy it, but you can’t always choose your lot in life. Most people wouldn’t have had the first idea of how to deal with the zombies if it weren’t for the lessons they’d learned from Romero’s movies. Go for the brain; fire works, but only if you don’t let the burning zombie touch you; once you’re bitten, you’re dead. Fans of Romero’s films applied the lessons of a thousand zombie movies to the reality of what had happened. They traded details of the attacks and their results over a thousand blogs from a thousand places, and humanity survived.

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