The wind howled as I hunkered down behind some scrub brush on the outskirts of the city and waited for them to pass. It was almost dusk, though you wouldn't know it by the light. The sky was a shit brown and had been such color, of one shade or another, since it happened. Don't know what anyone else calls it, but I have always liked the sound of The Incident. I guess it calls to my overactive imagination. Before the future turned shit brown, I wanted to be a writer of sci-fi. Some days, usually when I come over all philosophical, I sometimes wonder if I was hit by a car and am really lying in a coma in a hospital somewhere, dreaming all of this. Unfortunately, reality usually kicks in and reminds me my imagination was never this good. I was always better at writing non-fiction, history and political commentary mostly. I just always felt it unfair that I could puncture the biggest blow-hard in Washington or analyze the most arcane manuscripts or give my opinion on the issues of the day with insights nobody outside of the inner circles of power should have, and yet the best I could do was write one lousy short story that nobody would buy.
Anyway, back to The Incident. Since I am what passes for a keeper of history these days, that's what we will call it. It was the simple conjunction of scientific advance, political corruption, and Islamic extremism. Three things the world was learning to live with, with a certain amount of complacency and a negligent arrogance that assumed nothing would ever come of any of it. The Bible-thumpers maybe had it right about scientific advance outpacing scientific ethics, even though it almost pains me to admit that. I was very happily "Other" when the census came around asking what religion I espoused. I grew up in a very Roman Catholic Irish family, which pretty much killed any fanatic inclinations I might have had regarding religion. On the other hand my brother and older sister never missed Church on Sunday, baptized their kids, taught Sunday school, the whole nine yards. I guess every Irish Catholic family needs a black sheep and I was ours. Religion was perhaps the leading cause of what happened. For years, one nut job after another would get in front of a camera, send in an audio tape, or write an e-mail telling the world exactly what they wanted to do with the products of humanity's ingenuity. Everything from nuclear bombs to bio/chem weapons to hijacked airliners were the coveted weapons of the jihadis. But most "enlightened" people dismissed this talk as simply being their way of getting what they wanted from the West, as if the problem of Islamafascism simply needed the right person to talk to the lunatics and they would see the light and we could all sit around the peace table singing Kumbaya. One particularly cunning loon managed to insert someone into Ft. Detrick in Maryland, the home of the Biological Weapons Programs of the United States Armed Forces. Nobody ever really figured out how, but my suspicion was always a mixture of corruption, complacency, and incompetence. What the extremist found at Ft. Detrick was a cornucopia of toys with which he could play with in his march towards the destruction of the Great Satan and martyrdom.
What the sophomoric fanatic stumbled into, however, was not some virulent hybrid virus or genetically engineered bacteria. No, he stumbled into something every government official since World War II resolutely scoffed at whenever someone brought up the subject. For decades the United States government snidely ridiculed anyone who brought up comic book conspiracy theories about "Super-Soldier" programs designed to alter the human body to be faster, stronger, and more resistant to bio/chem weapons and radiation. And that was exactly what Hamdi al-Hassan found himself working on when he was stationed at Ft. Detrick. Of course his commander and co-workers thought he was Juan Vasquez y Guerra, and he looked the part, too. Spoke fluent Spanish, had a perfect Mexican birth certificate, was on the naturalization list for 7 years, and was even given his citizenship by the Chief Justice of the DC Court of Appeals in a fancy photo-op ceremony with forty-nine other immigrants on July 4, 2010.
And on December 8, 2010, he accidently (in my humble opinion, at least) unleashed one of the projects within that program. I have always doubted he knew what he was doing simply because the effects were not predictable. Some documents I got a look at later on one of my forays down to Maryland seem to bear that out, but whether or not I am right will never be known. I can only assume what Hassan did was not what he intended. Some argued at the time that the date was an indicator that it was intentional, it being the Islamic New Year. Many Muslims venerate Muharram as the month in the Islamic calendar when Allah created the universe and when Adam was created as the first man. I still think that if he wanted to destroy the Great Satan with one of its own creations, one of the dozens of known virulent bugs cooked up or studied at Ft. Detrick would have been much better suited. My suspicion of an accident is also abetted by the fact that the two origin zones of The Incident were Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia, home to the Centers for Disease Control, a place Hassan was never traced to.
The poor souls in Atlanta and at Ft. Detrick were the first to witness how bad it would be. The bioengineered hybrid between a retrovirus and nanotech was released at both locations within hours of each other. The specifics were not known, or at least not released, at the time The Incident was first discovered by authorities. The Obama administration tried quarantining both Ft. Detrick and the city of Atlanta, but they were both too late and woefully short on ability to try to manage the release of what was, for all intents and purposes, a biological weapon within one of the largest and busiest cities in the United States. Within hours of the announcement of the quarantine, more hot spots of exposure were being discovered by a suddenly alert and focused media thanks to the presence of Hartsfield International Airport and its use as the hub for Delta Airlines. And with that unfortunate happenstance, The Incident went international quite rapidly, starting in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Mexico City, Panama City, Bogotá, London, Paris, Madrid, and Rabat. From there Asia and the rest of Africa and Europe were infected. Australia was able to keep out the contagion for a long time, but a shipwrecked cargo hauler was their downfall. A few small islands here and there in the Pacific and New Zealand were the last to be effected, but in time, even they would be infected and changed.
The world got to see, live and in real time, the mass mutation of the human species. For that was what eventually happened to just about everyone. The reason we did not have any "Super-Soldiers" was because the lunatics playing god in the laboratories were interrupted in their work by the lunatics rushing to meet Him. The military, despite more than half a century working on a way to make humans stronger, faster, more difficult to hurt, had not quite figured it out. Everything they were working on failed. Spectacularly. Every test subject (read white mice) given their experiments in the early years would begin to mutate into monsters before rapidly decomposing into organic goo. Fifty years of playing with first viruses and bacteria, and then nanotech, had allowed them to keep their test subjects alive long enough to study the results of their failures. By the time our Islamic friend comes along and the world falls apart, the scientists had progressed to the point of trying their work out on pigs and chimpanzees. But still winding up with the aforementioned goo.
What CNN and Fox News and the BBC broadcast on December 8, 2010 was a middle-aged Asian man leaving the CDC offices and walking behind a bank of reporters doing stories and recording footage of the CDC following the murder of the head of the agency by Islamic fundamentalists while he was at a conference of his international colleagues in Ankara. Jason Song Lee, a balding, slightly overweight man wearing a rumpled suit and glasses held together with Scotch tape suddenly stopped behind Anderson Cooper and clutched his chest. People at first thought the man was having a heart attack on live t. v., but he soon shrieked in pain and collapsed. Watching him writhing on the ground, the newshounds tried to both get the man help and cover a story even as they were shocked to see the man's face changing before their very eyes. Spraying blood and spit, Jason coughed all of his teeth out of his mouth only to show a nice set of razor sharp fangs minutes later as his fingernails fell off to be replaced by talons to put any eagle to shame. Fur began to sprout from Jason's face and his eyes turned bloody red. Those gathered around him were shocked into stupidity as they simply stood there watching his transformation as it happened. They watched his muscles bulge and split his clothes at their seams, his feet burst out of their shoes, and his glasses go flying as his skull changed shape. By the time the wail of the ambulance was heard rushing down Clifton Road, Jason Song Lee looked not unlike the werewolves from the American Werewolf movies, minus the elongated snout and plus a handy prehensile tail. Not everyone was effected the same, and Jason's mutation was tame compared to some I have come across, but his was the first and most visible transformation for most of the public. Within hours of the President, his Cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs watching Jason eating a reporter from Bloomberg in front of the poor woman's colleagues, the city of Atlanta was declared a quarantine zone. But as I said before, too little, too late. Both for Atlanta and for Jason, who was shot by CDC guards as he went after another reporter.
It did not take long for basic civil society to breakdown. You know, that line about the worst parts of the Bible from the movies. The military was used to try to keep order, despite posse comitatus in the U. S., but order was quickly a thing of the past. Riots, looting, and general civil disorder swept across the United States and the rest of the world soon followed. Isolated enclaves of "clean" humans tried to protect themselves from being contaminated, but most failed and were either destroyed by those already infected or were infected themselves and joined the chaos.
Between the time Jason devolved live and in living color and when the world finished going to Hell, some of Hassan's comrades-in-arms took down the Pakistani regime and started firing off the Pakistanis' nukes. Tehran, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Ankara, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Colombo, and the outskirts of Moscow all went up in mushroom clouds shortly thereafter. Paris, London, and Berlin were destroyed by suitcase bombs a week later. There was enough of the United States government left for the military and the intelligence agencies to stop New York, Washington, D. C., and Los Angeles from joining them. I am not a scientist, and most of them wound up staying in the cities, so I don't know why the sky turned shit brown between the nukes and The Incident, but the sky never cleared after the nuclear winter was over.
I am not really sure how long things were in the chaos, because I was one of those infected pretty early. I guess it was kind of ironic for me to feel the difference in myself even as I watched the blowhards, pinheads, and slime balls scurrying around Washington, D. C. quickly turn into monsters. I always said those idiots would get far less of what they wanted done if the American people could see their real faces, the faces they showed to their friends behind closed doors. I did not really mean the sort of thing I saw when the Press Secretary started secreting slime and growing foot long claws with which he butchered the press corps even as he gave a briefing on The Incident. Or when I watched five members of the House of Representatives claw and bite at each other fighting over the dead body of the acting head of the CDC who had gone to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress. Or seeing HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan running down Pennsylvania Avenue trying to escape his Deputy Secretary after Ron Sims began mutating and attacked him as they left the White House. At the time I was terrified but, when I think back on it now, I almost want to laugh at the irony.
I suppose I should explain how The Incident worked after civilization broke down, because it was not just a simple matter of humanity being destroyed by their own twisted ingenuity; the scientists seemed to have gotten something right. We did not all turn into goo after changing, obviously, or I would not be here to bear witness to it. In my own case, I guess I came the closest of anyone I have ever encountered to what the U. S. government was actually trying to do at Ft. Detrick. Before The Incident I was a tall, lean, pleasant-looking young man with a rather serious demeanor. I stood six feet, one inch tall, weighed in around one ninety, with most of that being fairly lean muscle, and was a clean-shaven strawberry blonde with hazel green eyes. With a name like Seamus O'Neill, you can imagine for yourself how pale my skin was. I was a graduate of Rutgers University and Texas A & M. My bachelor's degrees were in History and Political Science and my master's degree was in Military History. I was thirty years old when The Incident happened and was working on my doctorate in Military History while writing for various papers and magazines, and appearing on Fox News, the BBC, and occasionally CNN. After The Incident, I grew to nearly seven feet tall, probably weighed in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds, all of it extra muscle and bone mass, and was now a very shaggy strawberry blonde with a perpetual five o'clock shadow (whether I shaved or not), shoulder-length hair, bushy eye brows, and jade green eyes with slit pupils. I was faster, stronger, and never got sick. As a matter of fact, I never changed at all after my first mutation. I never got sick, never aged, never stayed injured for more than the time my body needed to quickly repair the damage I suffered. And I suffered a lot of damage that first year. At times I felt like I was living through every single episode of The Highlander, that is how often I was hurt.
As I said, I came pretty close to what the government was trying to do. Most of humanity was not so lucky. Most went the route that I described in Jason Song Lee or the politicians in DC. They mutated into monsters whose base natures demanded they feed or defend their territory from other monsters. Most cities devolved into territorial fights between alpha males protecting their turf and trying to steal both mates and food from other alpha males. There was very little of their humanity or intelligence left.
A small minority, however, found their mutation much less dramatic. Many simply found themselves growing more body hair or becoming completely hairless with very tough skin, developing acute sensitivities in their senses, becoming faster or stronger or smarter, or their bodies simply morphing. Some found their taste for meat, usually very rare, also increasing. But overall, they were able to maintain much of their humanity and character. As such, they were smart enough to arm up, raid grocery and clothing stores, and get the hell out of the cities. Eventually small communities of these type of mutates formed in the outlying areas, usually in the mountains or more defensible areas. A great deal of technology was lost simply for lack of power and knowhow. Those still struggling to hold onto what it meant to be human found bastions in which they tried to maintain civilization, or as much of it as they could manage.
It was not long before those who left the cities realized that what had happened was permanent. Many dismissed the mutated children who were born within nine months, simply because it is logical that a pregnant mother who is mutated will undoubtedly produce a mutated baby. It was those children who were born nine months to a year later that burst the balloon of hope the "civilized" mutates had been holding. Whilst I was struggling to get out of the DC area, and repeatedly being "killed" by the mutates holding the city blocks against rivals, the first mutants were being born in the Appalachian Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies.
Mutants are what we few academics left in the world began calling that second generation, mainly because you never knew what you were going to get when you bred following The Incident. Most of the time breeding followed the general rules of genetics. If your mother and father, and their mothers and fathers, were "civilized," then there was a good chance you would come out "civilized" as well. If you had a mutate grandparent that went off the deep end and remained in the cities, then there was a much higher chance you would come out "uncivilized," or a savage. At first, most communities in the hinterlands tried to give every child a chance to show they would develop to be "civilized." That lasted just long enough for several mothers to be killed when their children began eating their moms' torsos while breastfeeding. After that, all children were fed from bottles from birth until weaning. At the first sign of being a savage, the child was either killed and burned or banished from the town, depending on how much religion survived in said town.
What was left of humanity learned very quickly that compassion could get you killed, if you let it. We protected our own and drove off the savages, preferably killing them all. It did not take the civilized long to realize how far humanity had fallen, however. Within a few years, those guns and other manufactured goods scavenged on the way out of cities began to break down, and with nobody to fix them, alternatives had to be created. The trucks and generators and guns were gradually replaced with pack animals (read horses, cows, deer, dogs), fires and wind/watermills, and edged weapons.
The automobiles were the first to go. Most were not diesel and so once the gasoline was gone, the truck or car was simply a pile of scrap. A lot of good came from those scraps, but you could no longer venture forth to scavenge around the edges of cities and small towns. You had to stay within sight of the fortified town you lived in or sally forth in force. Most considered it a GOOD THING to be back before darkness fell. To replace the hauling capability of the automobile, the civilized resorted to any pack animal they could find, be it themselves or dogs or the fortuitous horse or cow found on their way to their new homes. Some towns even managed to domesticate deer, though mainly for meat, as they were really too skittish and too small to carry large loads well.
Some towns were founded by fairly smart and foresighted individuals who had grabbed generators on their way out of the cities. Said towns were lucky and many of these were able to keep the generators running as long as they could forage for gasoline. But once the gas was gone, the generators joined the autos as sources of scrap. Fires replaced electric lights. Windmills or waterwheels replaced other methods of powered tools and appliances, with some towns even managing to recreate early industrial applications of water- and wind-powered machinery. These were the towns which quickly became the centers of civilization as it had devolved.
It was the guns, however, which made a real difference in the beginning. Having enough guns to drive off the savages in the early years determined whether or not your town would survive long enough for you to build sufficient fortifications against them, behind which you could retreat each night when many of them became active hunters. Guns also allowed you to hunt much more efficiently, thereby bringing in enough food for your people to survive to build those fortifications. But over time the guns broke down. Springs and firing pins broke and bullets and gunpowder ran out. Without the knowhow to fix them or resupply your ammunition, firearms quickly became weapons of last resort, lest they break or ammunition dwindle too quickly. Humans once again became weaponsmiths. With huge piles of metal sitting around without gasoline, cars and generators were soon turned into swords and axes and spears and the warriors who protected each town were thrown back into the Middle Ages.
And so humanity devolved, both physically and technologically. Residing somewhere between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution, often depending solely on who fled the cities with your town's founders and how well thought out their flight was when they stocked up on supplies. Were their people those with scientific and manufacturing knowledge? Did they think ahead and bring certain types of books with them? Were they interested in the types of activities which required survival skills before The Incident? Silly as it seems, those nut jobs that lived out in the woods with tin foil on their windows were often the same loons that helped some of the first fortified towns get on their feet properly. Why? They had the Boy Scout manuals and Army survival guides and enough supplies to live through World War III. MREs and blankets and knives and camping gear and fishing supplies and hunting equipment. They were ready. For anything. That they were crazy was really not relevant. The patients were now running the asylum.