17.4.12

48 hours is a long time.

When you spend two days, completely alone, in PTA (or Puretoc anagennmenou) quarantine, wondering if, in a few hours, you'll stop breathing and have to be destroyed, fear and loneliness and desperation can actually change you. The first time I had to endure it, I was changed.
As a kid, I was shy, pensive, fearful almost. I would avoid human contact any time possible, particularly after my mom died. However, the moment I stepped out of that red and white, sterile room, I felt a difference in me. I wanted to hug everyone I saw after that. Harper, my supervisor told me to go home til I was less shocked, and come back with a full report on everything I'd assessed from the live sample.
The desire to constantly be in contact with someone has faded, but never completely gone. I've been in isolation twice since then, once because of a chemical spill and the other because of an injury. All three times, I've come out alive, and each time that panic hits as soon as I escape that tiny room. And each time, I go home for a couple days and the desperation fades.
Thankfully, I don't have to go home to an empty room. All of us who work for the government are assigned rooms. For those who still have family, they have little condos. For singles, like me, there is the equivalent of a pre-PTA hotel or motel room. Mine is on the third floor, with a little balcony, overlooking what was probably, ten years ago, a fantastic theme park, here in Cincinnati Ohio. By the time I moved in, however, the signs were all but destroyed so all you can make out is K------and. There's a sliding door which has had the glass replaced with steel and equipped with an air-tight locking seal. The room inside is beige on beige on beige, with a queen size bed with a worn down comforter (burgundy floral print), a little love seat (burgundy floral print), a small table with two chairs, a dresser with a TV, a bedside table with a lamp, a corner desk, a bathroom (burgundy floral print), and a kitchen equipped with sink mini fridge and microwave. We aren't allowed to keep pets, as it's too easy for them to get outside and infect us, but we're allowed to have someone move in, as long as they pass a few tests, drug tests, infection tests, common sense and priority law tests and the like.

So, for the first few hours after getting home from my first quarantine, I cried and panicked and paced my room, trying to think of how to survive a world like this, and I couldn't sleep, so I started walking. I walked for hours, with my oxygen mask strapped on my face, and finally I made my way around the safe perimeter, and back to the vast parking lot of Kand, that old decaying park across from my room.
I found an old bench and sat, looking at a huge metal wheel. What did they call them? I'd heard them when I was a kid... Tetris Wheel? Terrace Wheel? It'll come to me... I was sitting there staring at this massive construction thinking about loneliness and the human instinct toward community, and out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I wanted to run at first, but then I realized I didn't need to. There was no point in running. If I was meant to be dead, I'd be dead. I had no one to protect, provide for, find the answer for, other than me. So I waited.
The movement got closer and I watched it. Every so often, it would stop, I could feel it watching me back. Then it would start again, making its way closer in the pitch black darkness. Finally, I looked away, up to the stars, and felt a little gloved hand rest on my knee. I looked down and made eye contact with what, at first, appeared to be a scuba diver. I tiny scuba diver. I looked into the mask and saw little eyes peering out. Little blue eyes, so deep they were almost purple, blinked at me.
"I'm tired, miss," said a little girl's voice from out of the scuba helmet. "I've been walking for two days. Could I please sleep here tonight?"
"Out here? On the bench? Where are you from?" I asked.
"Yes, miss. If it's not ok, I'll go on. I'm from Dublin, Ohio," she answered.
Dublin's a good two days walk away from my room. Something about her struck a chord in me, "Have you been disease tested?"
"Yes. I'm healthy."
"Do you have your social identity card?
"Yes, ma'am."
"Follow me, you'll have a real bed to sleep in tonight."
I got up and started walking home, and the girl didn't follow at first, but I guess the dropping temperature of the night time air was making its slow creep to her skin under her suit, because she decided started following me.  I took her to my room, she was processed at the receiving desk, and a quick vial of blood and two hours later, she was settling down in my room, and I gave her the bed, and I slept on the couch.
Within an hour, she was asleep, but before she passed out completely here's what I learned: She had bright red hair and freckles. She was 12 years old. Her name was Belle. Her mother had un-died and killed her whole family, three brothers, a sister and a father, before her local sheriff came and shot them all. She ran away and never looked back. Her story was fascinating, even though it was told in short spurts between dozing off. Her mother had become aggressive in only a week after her original symptoms started.She had come to a few hours after death, just like the rest do, but she had learned at a much faster pace than my live sample or any undead in stories I'd read about.
Forty-eight hours is a long time to spend alone, especially when you know there's no one waiting at home to make you feel better. The only thing that's made it bearable the last two times was thinking of my reason to keep going, to keep looking for an answer: Belle.

16.4.12

My job is to study the undead.

My live sample watched me as my assistants and I dressed in our protective gear. Kevlar and oxygen masks, it feels like being a scuba cop.
It didn't watch either of my assistants. Just me. We stepped into the vacuum-sealed chamber that connected my world with hers. I noticed as the vacuum seal activated, its chest moving. Breathing? Pretending to breath?
"Jerry," I said to my head assistant. "Does it look like she's breathing to you?"
Jerry paused, and said, as the second seal unlocked, "Yeah, yeah I think so. What do we do?"
Daniel looked at us and waited.
"We have to get her tied down. We take the usual samples, then check to see if it's actual breath."
The three of us stepped in, and I watched it watch me and make its gummy smile as the two young men approached it.
They gently took her by the elbows and tied her down. I took blood and tissue samples, checked her reflexes. Her eyes were still working.
"How do we check if she's really breathing?" Daniel asked me quietly.
I took a glass sample dish and held it under her nose. Almost instantly, the heat and moisture made two small patches of condensation. She was actually breathing. I pulled out my notepad and wrote "actual breathing,  day 59."
Then I heard the sound I still have nightmares about. It was like a whining cat, high pitched, and ethereal. I looked up and saw Daniel and Jerry stepping away from it. She was pulling against the restraints, and making a face like she was baring her teeth, except that there were no teeth there.
"Don't release her yet. Let's she if she calms down," I said and we left the isolation chamber.
We ran the usual tests on the samples, and watched her through the corners of our eyes, struggling and pulling on her restraints.
A few hours later, I heard another scream, and I heard something rip. I looked into her chamber and saw that one arm had ripped the restraint out of the lining of her mattress. You could see the snapped bone trying to push through her skin, and she was pulling with the other arm to free herself. Soon enough, she had worked her way out of the restraints, and was pacing the window of her chamber, head tilted to one side, gums bared.
"Jerry, Daniel, take these observations upstairs," I said. They didn't argue.
I suited up, and took half a raw turkey in one hand, my revolver in the other, into the chamber. I stepped into the chamber and tossed the turkey across the floor past her. Her eyes followed it for a split second, then trained back on me again.
She opened her mouth and made this hissing sound, like air escaping a balloon. Then she lunged at me, mouth wide open and her good hand in a claw shape. Her body hit me with the whole force of her 98 pounds, and we hit the floor. I shoved her off of my gear and shot her in the face. One. Two. Three shots to the face. One: Between the eyes. Two: between the lips. Three: the center of the neck.
Just like I had been trained to do on my first day on the job, it hit the floor, it writhed for an eternally long moment, then it died. Some greenish-black gunk filled the bullet holes and scabbed almost as soon as it touched the air.
I sat in the chamber beside her for what seemed like years until Daniel and Jerry returned. All I remember is a lot of yelling, air seals locking and unlocking, and quarantine. Forty-eight hours alone, when all I wanted in the world was someone to hold me.

15.4.12

It's been 10 years since my brother died.

Five years ago, we had the worst outbreak, nearly a third of the world, dead, undead, dead again (hopefully for good). I study them now. I dissect their bodies and tissue and cells like aliens. Try to find cures, treatments, weapons...
By the time they get to me they've died twice, and their tissue is almost goo. I had an undead sample once, and I still have nightmares about the night I had to re-kill her. But she gave me some ground breaking info. Some my supervisor told me to forget.
Their DNA isn't quite human by about 24 hours after becoming undead. And it continues to change as the human  part of them decays.
Also, they get smarter, and I've all but verified it by reports and stories every where from the books of the police to hospital reports to civilian accounts on-line. They don't learn quickly, but it's enough to notice. My subject learned to walk on all fours within 48 hours, two feet by the fourth day. One of the strangest things I noticed was that her eyes were unresponsive, she had no life signs except for on the cellular level, and she didn't need to eat or drink for over a week. Then, all of a sudden, it was like she wasn't looking through me or toward me anymore, but she was looking at me. So, I checked her reflexes again, and, amazingly enough, she was using her eyes, seeing through them.
The next day, she had a pulse, and two days after that she began eating. She tried to eat the coverings on the bunk in her isolation chamber, but her teeth were pulling out. So I tried feeding her different vital human foods, and she would take a bite or two, but wasn't able to digest anything. I tried every food available that humans could eat: fruit, veggies, breads, rice, noodles, cooked meats, everything. I didn't want to accept the possibility that she was going to be like the undead zombies in old movies and eat human flesh, but she was getting weak and I didn't want to lose my only almost live subject, so I started giving her raw meats. She was able to digest fowl, but didn't seem to like it, quit eating it after a while. I tried pork and beef, and finally settled on a rotating diet of the three, so that she wouldn't get tired of them and starve herself.

I studied her for twelve hours a day for nearly two months. I watched her skin deteriorate, I watched her cells change and it is my belief that finally she, no, it, became self-aware. It wasn't a woman anymore, its features were distorted and its hair was rotting off. One day I came into the lab, turned on the lights, and it was just standing at the window of the isolation chamber. There was half a bloody chicken lying by its feet.
It looked at me, slack-jawed, the whole time I was taking off my jacket and putting on my protective gear. Every time I changed task, it would tilt its head to the other side.
Finally, I walked up to the glass, tried to figure out what was happening to it. It raised a nail-less finger to the plexiglass and tapped....
tap...
tap....
tap...
It tapped slowly at first, with a definite rhythm, gradually speeding up, then suddenly, it stopped. finger in mid air, and it opened its mouth, only two teeth left now, and it made a face that looked almost like a smile.
That was the day I had to kill it.

Dead Things Don't Always Stay Dead.

That's what my mom told me, my first memory. I think I was six, maybe seven. It's my first memory of her. She died when I was ten.
They said she was manic. That she saw things that weren't there. That she killed herself.
But I know better. I see them, now. Not the same ones, but I know she wasn't hallucinating. She was seeing the future. I know better than to share that knowledge, though. I'd never have gotten my job if they thought I believed that.There's not much room for belief in ESP in biology. Not right now. The government wants answers. They want facts.
Here are the facts that I remind myself of every morning; here's what motivates me to continue looking for the answers.

A few months after my mother died, people on the news started telling everyone to wear medical masks, that a new flu or something was going around. So my aunt got us masks and we stopped going to the park to play. Soon they told us to stop going to school, and they mailed us packets to work on every week. Then, my brother got sick.
He had gone to the grocery store with my aunt, he had met a girl and, being a sixteen year old boy, he had gone against common sense and direct instruction and he had taken off his mask. He was already sick by the time he came home, and my aunt told me to keep my mask on, even in the house, and he wasn't allowed to leave his room. Or maybe he wasn't able to. All I know is that by the next week, I could smell death, even through my mask. My aunt came in my room as the sun rose, but I'd already been awake by the smell coming from the next room. She told me my brother, Drake, was with our mother. Her eyes and face were wet but she didn't sob. Then she left my room and I heard her make a phone call, her voice trembling with sorrow.
They sent out a crew to get his body, but by the time they got there, we could hear stumbling around in the room, someone bumping into things, groaning, like he was looking for something he couldn't see.
The crew arrived and a nice lady took us out to the lawn. She talked to me, but I couldn't hear her. All I could hear was my brother's groans and the thumping and bumping from his room, so she turned to my aunt and they talked and cried.
I don't remember anything else except for three gunshots and a body bag. I guessed that was why my aunt hadn't been letting us watch the news anymore, when I saw his name on the list of the 'victims.' The dead were not staying dead, just like mom had said.