The Contagion
Chapter 01

The First Day

Maximilian ‘Mad Max’ Milton is lying on his bed reading another report when someone pounds on his door. Before he can put the report down a male voice shouts through the door, “Emergency, all senior officers and equivalents to report to the big conference room, Sir.” Max sighs while getting off the bed. He drops the report into his briefcase, closes the case, slips his shoulder holster on, puts on his coat, and heads for the big conference room, briefcase in hand, while wondering what’s going on. He’s not the first or the last to reach the room.


The commanders and senior officers of all the military organisations in the area are present when the Admiral in charge of the United States Northern Command takes his place at the front of the room. A map of the world is projected on the wall beside him. He says, “We’ve a major war on our hands. A war that’s difficult to fight. I’m sure you’ve all seen the news reports on some odd infection spreading around the world.” A few nod yes, but he doesn’t wait, “No one knows where it started, but most of the world is now affected by the infection. The medical research people are fairly certain it is a virus of some sort. However, no anti-biological agent has yet had any affect on it. They’re still looking into it.” He stops for a drink of water before he continues, “The media reports are clear the infection is the cause of a major heart attack killing the person infected. What has not been reported is the infected dead come back to life as the worst sort of Hollywood zombie somewhere from one hour to twenty-four hours later, and they then seek out others to infect by biting them.”

There’s stunned silence while everyone digests the information. He waits a moment then says, “Experience has shown the only way to kill an infected person is to destroy the brain. Don’t ask me how they know, and if you find out how they know, I don’t want to know. The Infected can’t drown, can’t suffocate, even when dismembered they try to infect people. Cold does slow them down, so does mud, and water. But they continue to walk through anything. They have extremely good hearing, and will home in on any sound to infect the people making the sound. They don’t make any noise, themselves. The only proven way to kill them is to smash their brains, fry them down to skeletons with fire, or to blow their brains apart. There are reported cases of infected people with only half a brain still moving.” He sighs, and turns to the map.

Picking up a pointer stick the Admiral taps Europe, and says, “We’re no longer in communication with anyone in Europe, Great Britain, the Middle East, Asia, or South America.” He touches each place as he names it. He moves on, “There are reported cases from Australia, and some of the other Pacific nations. They report having cleansed their lands, but they’ve also closed their borders. Planes or boats approaching them aren’t allowed to touch their shores, and will be destroyed by fire. Washington has declared martial law, and similar orders have been issued to all the military commanders in Hawaii, and Alaska. There are no reported cases of The Infected from either of those two states, at this time. Canada has some reports from their east coast cites, and their west coast cities. The Canadians are hard at work cleansing their lands, and they’ve also closed all of their borders.”

He turns back to his audience, “The orders from Washington are to protect as many of our citizens as we can. Large sections of the east coast, and some parts of the west coast, have already succumbed to this infection. The southern border fence has huge numbers of infected people pressing on it. The Border Patrol and military personnel near there are killing them as fast as they can, but not fast enough, it seems. We’re ordered to establish protection areas in large car-parks, and to get our citizens into them. Then to defend the barriers we erect. You’re all to organise your people into units to establish these defensive centres, and assign your people to protect our citizens. You research people are to see what you can do to help.” The Admiral moves to his seat, and sits down.

In the stunned silence following the briefing Max says, “What brain dead idiot issued those orders?” All turn to look at him, so he adds, “The border fence is a very well constructed barrier designed to withstand an attack by large numbers of people, yet you just said it’s about to collapse. And they think we can put up temporary barriers that’ll do better! If that’s the best they can come up with, kill all the people now!”

The Admiral is angry, and he’s about to speak when one of the research leaders says, “Max is our generalist, and he’s our major problem solver. He’s also the best damn analyst I’ve come across. Now he’s stated it, I have to agree with his assessment.” He turns to Max, and asks, “What do you think we should do?”

“Imitate the medieval Swiss. Find a huge valley or group of valleys, move everyone we can find into them, and close off all the passes with damn strong barricades and combat positions to keep the enemy out. I’d send the same recommendation to all the other commands. Also, all of the bases that can be locked up tight, like the missile centres, have them take in people, and lock the vault doors. If The Infected can’t see them or hear them they should be safe behind locked vault doors.”

The Admiral writes on the pad in front of him, rips off the sheet, and hands it to a junior officer while saying, “Have these orders sent to all the units under our command, along with the reasons noted. Copy them onto every other command centre you can still reach.” He turns to Max, and asks, “Can you recommend such a place?”

Before he can speak a Marine Major says, “The valley just over the mountain is quite large. If we evacuate everyone to Hartsel we should be able to close off all the entrances with a lot stronger defence than a bunch of long fences in car-parks. If our forces can close the passes in the Rockies, and put a line across the valleys near Las Vegas, they can protect most of Nevada and everyone there with little trouble. I’d like to turn the whole of the Rocky Mountains into a giant fort, Sir. We could evacuate most of the people from the plains into the mountains, and concentrate our combat capabilities into a tighter defensive line.” The Admiral nods his agreement, notes it all down, and hands it to an officer to send out the messages while he hopes it can be done in time to save the people.

The Admiral turns back to Max, “Anything else you can think of?”

He nods, “Move your command into Cheyenne Mountain, and put a plug in the front door by putting up a barricade on the valley entrance of the roadway where it’s hardest for The Infected to go around it. Also make sure you defend any other valley entrances or slopes they can use to climb up to get at you.” He gets agreeing nods from a few other people since the better communications capabilities there will be very useful. “The next two things you won’t like. Use tactical nuclear weapons where you’ve large enough groups of The Infected to justify the cost. The other thing is to set up systems to make noises to attract The Infected so you can get a large enough group together to use the TNWs on.”

The Admiral grimaces, “You’re right! I don’t like it. But it’s probably the best way to fight them.”

“We need to do more research on what they can and can’t do. We also need to find out what the underlying cause is, then find a way to attack it. If it’s a virus we should be able to isolate it to find a way to kill it. We also need to find out how long it can survive outside a host, and if it can cross the species barrier, or not. And if another species can be a carrier vector for it.” He stops, takes a breath, and adds, “We need to establish ways to make our own ammunition, because supplies won’t be replenished until this is over. We also need to develop new weapons that are silent and will still do the job of destroying them. First thing is to move all the people, all the food, all the weapons, all the ammunitions, all the fuel, and all the clothes we can lay our hands on into the safe zone we’re establishing.”

Max gets a few frowns, and adds “We need to feed and clothe a lot of people for an unknown period. We also need all the fuel we can obtain to make weapons to burn the enemy, and to operate our equipment.”

The Admiral takes a deep breath, and says, “Right! Let’s get active. You all know what you’re to do and who should do it, so just get doing it. I want everyone and everything moved into the valley. I want the southern valley passes and entrances barricaded first, then the western ones, and the eastern ones, the northern ones last. Patrols of all passes until they’re barricaded and defended. Get moving.”

One Air Force Colonel asks, “I’ve got a lot of napalm available, Sir. What say I move it by dropping it on The Infected at the border while they’re in such large groups?”

“Good idea, Colonel. Do it. But make sure not to hit our people who are holding the border. Also, be careful to not damage the fence with the heat. You can drop the napalm further back in the pack so it won’t damage the fence.” The Colonel nods yes, and leaves to get that started.

Max says, “Admiral, from what I’ve heard, once we get everyone out of here there should be little or nothing to encourage The Infected to hang around deserted areas. So the sooner we empty the cities and towns the less likely they are to be damaged, especially if there’s no noise here.”

The Admiral nods his acknowledgement before leaving the room.

Research Assignments

Max’s boss turns to Max, and asks, “Any ideas on useful research we can do?”

A smiling Max replies, “Lots of ideas. But damn few we can work on with the people we have here. However, how about seeing if we can get a decent light rail-gun we can work off capacitors powered by solar cells. They’d be good for taking out The Infected quietly. The hard part will be coming up with a frangible round that survives the firing.” His boss nods yes, and starts assigning tasks to various of his staff with him.

Max thinks about the oddity of them being here. He’s part of a think tank group doing a tour of various US military facilities and research centres. They only stopped here since most of them wanted to look at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. They were due to fly out tomorrow, but not now. He also doubts he’ll get back home to Sydney for a long time to come.

Light Research

Amongst the reports Max has are papers by three research groups. They don’t know of the other groups or their work, but the combined work can have some far reaching ramifications. If the first two can be brought together they’ll be very useful. If all three can come together it will provide extremely useful results.

The first report is about a much more compact power cell or battery. The project is all but finished. The only problem is they can’t regulate the power output flow. The system is either all on or all off.

Second is a report on a powerful portable laser. But further research on it is limited due to the lack of a good portable power unit. They test well with major fixed power sources exceeding the project parameters. However, the aim is a man-portable field unit, and the best they can do is a generator that fits in the back of a large pick-up truck, which is too big.

The third project generates forcefields, but the problem is they can only create a partial arc, and the biggest so far is only ten inches, which isn’t large enough to be of much use. The problem is the amount of power needed goes up very steeply after you create the initial half inch sized field. The theory implies an increase of power by four for each doubling of the size, while the reality is an increase in power needs of twelve for the doubling in size. They can’t work out why, which is why the think tank has it, and it’s been given to Max to review.

Max can see using the power cell to operate the laser by running it through a decent sized capacitor bank will work well. Turn the power on to charge the bank, and leave it on while using the laser. Also, he wonders how well using sets of two forcefields can be used to create the lenses for lasers to reduce the weight of the whole unit while giving it more flexibility in the laser size. Maybe using the new power cell technology will provide enough power for the combined project. So he goes looking for his boss to help find local people to bring the three projects together. There’s one person on their team with them who can help with the laser project, but the researchers have to talk to the military staff about military people who might be able to help to make some devices. They end up with three senior technical staff to help them.

It’s mid-afternoon before Max can gather together the four people to explain to them what he wants done, and he offers the advice of using a capacitor bank to help regulate the power flow. He hands over copies of the three reports, and leaves them to get on with making what he wants them to do, if they can do it. His job is to spot ways around problems in projects, not to run the projects. It’s odd, in a way, most of the projects involve concepts and maths he doesn’t understand, but the reports can usually be understood by Max. He can see what they’re trying to do, what they’ve done, and then he can often find a way to bridge the gap between the two places. Not always, but often enough to justify the large salary they pay him.

After getting the laser project going Max goes looking for the two computer programmers on the travel team. He finds the two young men, and leads them outside to find a quiet place to talk undisturbed. He finds a spot in a large lawn with no one near them, and turns his portable radio on. This is a good way to stop people listening to their conversation.

One of the computer programmers smiles at Max’s actions, and asks, “Concerned about listeners, are you, Max?”

“Yes! I am. Because we’re about to have one of those conversations that never happened.” Both sit a little straighter. “First, confirm to me a couple of things about computers. Any computer system can be hacked, is that true?”

The older programmer, Mick, replies, “Yes. Given the time and the connection, any system can be hacked. The best defence is to use a good Intrusion Detection System, and have someone respond to the IDS alert when it detects a hacker. Then the people come on line to trace who it is trying to break into the system.”

Max grins, “This is true of government and military systems?” He gets two nods of agreement. “Assuming the IDS alert is ignored, can you two get into the government and military systems?”

Both look at him for a moment, glance at each other, nod to each other, and Mick turns to Max, saying, “Yes. If the alert is ignored.”

“With the exception of North America, Australia, and some Pacific islands the rest of the world no longer has any organised government, military, or official communications systems. Want to bet there’s no one responding to IDS alerts in any European or Asian countries now?”

Mick responds, “So we can hack into their systems while the comm links and power continues to work! What good does that do for us?”

“Well, we can access their secret information and research data. But the more important task will be to take over control of their nuclear silos to launch the missiles at the major concentrations of The Infected within their own countries and neighbours. Work out the heat wave blast radius, and have them edge up to each other. It’s the heat from the blasts we need to kill The Infected and the virus.”

“What about the survivors in the areas, Max?”

“Anyone still uninfected is only that way because they’ve buried themselves deep, so they should survive the blasts. Anyway, better to go out in a nuke than become an Infected. If we can wipe out the majority of The Infected quickly we may be able to stop this before it wipes out all of humanity. You have to be very careful no one sees what you’re doing, and it never comes out you did it. Despite this being the best way to do this no one is going to like it being done.” Both young men nod their agreement. The three of them continue to talk for a little longer before they head off to get a meal, and to get busy with their other work.

That night Max spends nearly seven hours going over all the reports available on the infection and it’s spread. He can’t prove anything, but he has a damn good idea of how it started before he’s finished and goes to bed to sleep, if he can.

The Second Day

While standing in line for his breakfast Max asks his boss to arrange for him to speak with the senior military commanders. His boss agrees to organise it, if he can. He’s not sure he can, because everyone is so busy.

After breakfast Max goes back to reading the reports with an eye to turning their contents into any weapons they can use in this war. At just before eleven o’clock a Marine Warrant Officer asks Max to go with him. A few minutes later Max is shown into a room with ten people in it: his boss, the Admiral, and eight generals.

The Admiral says, “Mister Milton, you asked for a chance to speak to us all at once. This is it! What is it you have to say?”

Max moves toward the map of the world on the wall while he takes a deep breath and gets ready to speak. He’s quick to touch five major cities in India, one in Pakistan, and one in Afghanistan while he says, “As best as I can make out from the reports the infection broke out in these seven location on the same day.” He touches a dozen more cities in the same countries, “And these locations the next day.” He touches cities in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Cambodia, “With these locations on the third day.” He then touches a string of towns and cities in a circle in northern China, “And three days later all of these places in China.” He turns to the group of officers, “It was another week to ten days before it turned up anywhere else. That delay fits in with the general International travel patterns from the areas of the initial infections.”

One of the general interrupts, “So! What’s this supposed to mean?”

Max sighs, “General, the pattern of the initial outbreak shows it was not a natural outbreak.” He waits for that to sink in. “Based on the cities first infected, I give this a ninety-five percent probability of being an attack on India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by the Chinese government, or a faction within the Chinese government. By severely damaging the economic and military capabilities of those countries they can take over the disputed parts of the Himalayas Mountains. However, it also looks like it got out of control from the Chinese Biological Warfare Research Centre near Yulin. If my analysis is right, the only people who know all there is to know about the infection, and have a way of stopping it, have already fallen victim to it.” He looks around the group. Two very senior ones nod while the rest are thinking about it. Max continues, “To be sure, I’d need some samples to test with, but I’ll gladly forgo that part. I’ve a good reason to believe the infection in the wild requires a direct transfer from an infected person into the blood stream or insides of the non-infected. It doesn’t appear to be able to penetrate the skin, and people wearing breathing masks have worked with The Infected without harm. But any cut or scratch, and it’s all over. This supports the concept of it being a virus and needing access to the interior of the body to get settled in to go to town on you. The reports are clear that very high heat kills the virus. Also, it doesn’t appear to be able to cross the species barrier in it’s current form. There are animals in the infected zones that have been bitten by The Infected, and the animals haven’t shown any symptoms. How long before it mutates is an unknown factor, without knowing how it was first created. It’s just a guess, but, based on the known capabilities of a virus I think it’ll die out in two to four weeks if it has no living host to stay in. If we can kill all of The Infected, clean up the compromised areas, then leave them empty for a couple of months it should be wiped out, except for where the designers have their breeding units.” He stops for a moment, and adds, “Get breathing masks or gas masks to all your field staff, have them wear gloves and cover themselves from head to toe. Bio-hazard suits would be best, but not absolutely required. As long as the people cover themselves up like they’re in a bio-hazard suit they should be safe from catching the infection, as long as they don’t get bitten or scratched. I’d recommend reserving the bio-hazard suits for the clean up crews you assign to dispose of the dead bodies.”

There’s a short delay after Max stops talking, then they start to talk about what he’s said. One of the senior generals walks over to write a longitude and latitude on the whiteboard. He turns to the Admiral, and says, “If you ever get around to throwing some nukes, send one of the new blockbuster nukes to that location. It’s the Yulin Research Centre.”

The Admiral’s eyebrows go up, and he asks, “You know that for sure, General?” He gets a nod yes. He turns to Max, “You know about Yulin?”

Max replies, “I know the centre exists somewhere near there, and what it does, in general, but not the exact location or active research projects. I’ve access to a lot of the highest level security materials on research, but not all of it.”

The meeting moves on to discuss how to protect people: the troops, and citizens. Orders are issued on how to protect themselves from The Infected. When they move to talking about how to get more and more people into the protected zones Max asks for, and is given, permission to withdraw from the meeting, since he has nothing more to add to it.

While at lunch Max passes Mick a note with the location of the Yulin Centre, and the need for a blockbusting nuke to hit it.

Combat Ideas

After lunch Max talks to the officer in charge of moving the fuel from the base to the safe zone. At one point he asks, “Out of all the various types of fuels available which is likely to have the least use by us in the safe zone?”

The Major thinks for a moment, and says, “The gasoline, what you Aussies call petrol. We need the diesel for the trucks and generators. Why do you need to know?”

“One of the most effective weapons in this war is fire. Fuel burns well, and we can put it almost anywhere.”

“True. But how do we get it onto the targets in a useful way?”

“That’s the easy part. Load fire-fighting water tanker trucks with fuel then use the pumpers to spray it out over the crowds of The Infected. The hoses are mostly canvas, and shouldn’t be too damaged by having petrol pumped through them, and if they are, it shouldn’t be much, and it doesn’t matter. The troops doing the spraying should wear the usual fire-fighter gear to be safe from any spray blown back at them.”

The Major thinks for a moment, and says, “Too easy for failure. But we can use the pumper tankers in that way. Sure, we’d have a smaller fuel load on them, but that way there’s only the one vehicle at the attack site for each attack unit. That’s less vulnerable to error or interference. We can shuttle trucks from big tankers further back for a big fight.”

“Sounds good, Major. Can you pass it along to whoever should know. Also, If I were you, I’d empty all the fuel from the underground tanks at the garages first.” The Major frowns. “They need power to work the pumps to get it up and out. While all the above ground tanks will have gravity feeds to empty them. That’s less trouble when the power is off, and a lot less noise than a generator.” The Major nods yes, and smiles.

When the Major starts issuing some orders Max walks off to see what else he can help organise or stir up.

Several minutes later Max is talking with a captain in the base construction unit. Max asks, “Captain, which is easier and quicker to build for a twenty foot length of fence: drill holes for poles and set them, or a trench for the length?”

The Captain replies, “A lot depends on the ground, but a trench is usually easier and quicker to do than several post holes. Why?”

“In the next few days a lot of barricades need to be put up. I’m sure people are thinking of building them on site. But I wonder if it might not be quicker, in most cases, to turn up with twenty foot lengths of fence made at a central location, dig a trench, set the fence in, and pour concrete into the trench to finish it. The fence can be made in a way to stand upright by itself. Then when in the trench with the cement it’ll be immovable. Of course, the fence will have to be tall enough to give the right height above ground as well as the depth of the trench. That way a dedicated crew can focus on making fence segments while other teams can put them in place.”

The Captain grins, nods agreement, and starts talking with a Warrant Officer about what they have available to get what he wants done.

Note: Max later learns both ideas are acted on. During the night reports come in of defence forces at the border using fire trucks to shower The Infected pushing on the fence with fuel, then setting the fuel alight with flares. They report the horrid stench, but it relieves the pressure for a reasonable period while the fire rages, and a bit more before there’s enough of The Infected along that part of the fence to be a problem again.

Also, the idea of local centralised fence construction being shipped to the needed location and cemented into a ditch proves to be much faster than the usual ‘construct on-site’ fencing method. The barricades for the protection zones are going up very fast all over the country.

In some areas where they have a lot of steel shipping containers they move them to where they want to put up a barricade then fill them with rocks, or earth, or anything else to weigh them down. Others are then stacked on top of them, and secured to the lower layer to give more height to the barricade.

Many people aren’t happy about being moved, but they are being moved, and in large numbers. The huge protection zones set up in large valleys are fast becoming big tent cities. Tents for families, and tents for stores being moved, as well. The heartland of the US is emptying very fast.

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