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World War Z, Page 2

Max Brooks

  My colleague Dr. Kuei had understood all too well. He’d even risked his neck to warn me, to give me enough time to call and maybe alert a few others before the “Ministry of Health” arrived. It was something he had said… a phrase he hadn’t used in a very long time, not since those “minor” border clashes with the Soviet Union. That was back in 1969. We had been in an earthen bunker on our side of the Ussuri, less than a kilometer downriver from Chen Bao. The Russians were preparing to retake the island, their massive artillery hammering our forces.

  Gu and I had been trying to remove shrapnel from the belly of this soldier not much younger than us. The boy’s lower intestines had been torn open, his blood and excrement were all over our gowns. Every seven seconds a round would land close by and we would have to bend over his body to shield the wound from falling earth, and every time we would be close enough to hear him whimper softly for his mother. There were other voices, too, rising from the pitch darkness just beyond the entrance to our bunker, desperate, angry voices that weren’t supposed to be on our side of the river. We had two infantrymen stationed at the bunker’s entrance. One of them shouted “Spetsnaz!” and started firing into the dark. We could hear other shots now as well, ours or theirs, we couldn’t tell.

  Another round hit and we bent over the dying hoy. Gu’s face was only a few centimeters from mine. There was sweat pouring down his forehead. Even in the dim light of one paraffin lantern, I could see that he was shaking and pale. He looked at the patient, then at the doorway, then at me, and suddenly he said, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to he all right.” Now, this is a man who has never said a positive thing in his life. Gu was a worrier, a neurotic curmudgeon. If he had a headache, it was a brain tumor; if it looked like rain, this year’s harvest was ruined. This was his way of controlling the situation, his lifelong strategy for always coming out ahead. Now, when reality looked more dire than any of his fatalistic predictions, he had no choice but to turn tail and charge in the opposite direction. “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.” For the first time everything turned out as he predicted. The Russians never crossed the river and we even managed to save our patient.

  For years afterward I would tease him about what it took to pry out a little ray of sunshine, and he would always respond that it would take a hell of a lot worse to get him to do it again. Now we were old men, and something worse was about to happen. It was right after he asked me if I was armed. “No,” I said, “why should I be?” There was a brief silence, I’m sure other ears were listening. “Don’t worry,” he said, “everything’s going to be all right.” That was when I realized that this was not an isolated outbreak. I ended the call and quickly placed another to my daughter in Guangzhou.

  Her husband worked for China Telecom and spent at least one week of every month abroad. I told her it would be a good idea to accompany him the next time he left and that she should take my granddaughter and stay for as long as they could. I didn’t have time to explain; my signal was jammed just as the first helicopter appeared. The last thing I managed to say to her was “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.”

  Lhasa, the People’s Republic of Tibet

  [The world’s most populous city is still recovering from the results of last week’s general election. The Social Democrats have smashed the Llamist Party in a landslide victory and the streets are still roaring with revelers. I meet Nury Televaldi at a crowded sidewalk cafe. We have to shout over the euphoric din.]

  Before the outbreak started, overland smuggling was never popular. To arrange for the passports, the fake tour buses, the contacts and protection on the other side all took a lot of money. Back then, the only two lucrative routes were into Thailand or Myanmar. Where I used to live, in Kashi, the only option was into the ex-Soviet republics. No one wanted to go there, and that is why I wasn’t initially a shetou. I was an importer: raw opium, uncut diamonds, girls, boys, whatever was valuable from those primitive excuses for countries. The outbreak changed all that. Suddenly we were besieged with offers, and not just from the liudong renkou, but also, as you say, from people on the up-and-up. I had urban professionals, private farmers, even low-level government officials. These were people who had a lot to lose. They didn’t care where they were going, they just needed to get out.

  Did you know what they were fleeing?

  We’d heard the rumors. We’d even had an outbreak somewhere in Kashi. The government had hushed it up pretty quickly. But we guessed, we knew something was wrong.

  Didn’t the government try to shut you down?

  Officially they did. Penalties on smuggling were hardened; border check points were strengthened. They even executed a few shetou, publicly, just to make an example. If you didn’t know the true story, if you didn’t know it from my end, you’d think it was an efficient crackdown.

  You’re saying it wasn’t?

  I’m saying I made a lot of people rich: border guards, bureaucrats, police, even the mayor. These were still good times for China, where the best way to honor Chairman Mao’s memory was to see his face on as many hundred yuan notes as possible.

  You were that successful.

  Kashi was a boomtown. I think 90 percent, maybe more, of all westbound, overland traffic came through with even a little left over for air travel.

  Air travel?

  Just a little. I only dabbled in transporting renshe by air, a few cargo flights now and then to Kazakhstan or Russia. Small-time jobs. It wasn’t like the east, where Guangdong or Jiangsu were getting thousands of people out every week.

  Could you elaborate?

  Air smuggling became big business in the eastern provinces. These were rich clients, the ones who could afford prebooked travel packages and first class tourist visas. They would step off the plane at London or Rome, or even San Francisco, check into their hotels, go out for a day’s sightseeing, and simply vanish into thin air. That was big money. I’d always wanted to break into air transport.

  But what about infection? Wasn’t there a risk of being discovered?

  That was only later, after Flight 575. Initially there weren’t too many infected taking these flights. If they did, they were in the very early stages. Air transport shetou were very careful. If you showed any signs of advanced infection, they wouldn’t go near you. They were out to protect their business. The golden rule was, you couldn’t fool foreign immigration officials until you fooled your shetou first. You had to look and act completely healthy, and even then, it was always a race against time. Before Flight 575, I heard this one story about a couple, a very well-to-do businessman and his wife. He had been bitten. Not a serious one, you understand, but one of the “slow burns,” where all the major blood vessels are missed. I’m sure they thought there was a cure in the West, a lot of the infected did. Apparently, they reached their hotel room in Paris just as he began to collapse. His wife tried to call the doctor, but he forbade it. He was afraid they would be sent back. Instead, he ordered her to abandon him, to leave now before he lapsed into coma. I hear that she did, and after two days of groans and commotion, the hotel start finally ignored the DO NOT DISTURB sign and broke into the room. I’m not sure if that is how the Paris outbreak started, though it would make sense.

  You say they didn’t call for a doctor, that they were afraid they’d be sent back, but then why try to find a cure in the West?

  You really don’t understand a refugee’s heart, do you? These people were desperate. They were trapped between their infections and being rounded up and “treated” by their own government. If you had a loved one, a family member, a child, who was infected, and you thought there was a shred of hope in some other country, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get there? Wouldn’t you want to believe there was hope?

  You said that man’s wife, along with the other renshe, vanished into thin air.

  It has always been this way, even before the outbreaks. Some stay with family, some with friends. Many of the poorer ones ha
d to work off their bao to the local Chinese mafia. The majority of them simply melted into the host country’s underbelly.

  The low-income areas?

  If that’s what you want to call them. What better place to hide than among that part of society that no one else even wants to acknowledge. How else could so many outbreaks have started in so many First World ghettos?

  It’s been said that many shetou propagated the myth of a miracle cure in other countries.


  Did you ?



  [Another pause.]

  How did Flight 575 change air smuggling?

  Restrictions were tightened, but only in certain countries. Airline shetou were careful but they were also resourceful. They used to have this saying, “every rich mans house has a servant’s entrance.”

  What does that mean?

  If western Europe has increased its security, go through eastern Europe. If the U.S. won’t let you in, go through Mexico. I’m sure it helped make the rich white countries feel safer, even though they had infestations already bubbling within their borders. This is not my area of expertise, you remember, I was primarily land transport, and my target countries were in central Asia.

  Were they easier to enter?

  They practically begged us for the business. Those countries were in such economic shambles, their officials were so backward and corrupt, they actually helped us with the paperwork in exchange for a percentage of our fee. There were even shetou, or whatever they called them in their barbarian babble, who worked with us to get renshe across the old Soviet republics into countries like India or Russia, even Iran, although I never asked or wanted to know where any of the renshe were going. My job ended at the border. Just get their papers stamped, their vehicles tagged, pay the guards off, and take my cut.

  Did you see many infected?

  Not in the beginning. The blight worked too fast. It wasn’t like air travel. It might take weeks to reach Kashi, and even the slowest of burns, I’ve been told, couldn’t last longer than a few days. Infected clients usually reanimated somewhere on the road, where they would be recognized and collected by the local police. Later, as the infestations multiplied and the police became overwhelmed, I began to see a lot of infected on my route.

  Were they dangerous?

  Rarely. Their family usually had them bound and gagged. You’d see something moving in the back of a car, squirming softly under clothing or heavy blankets. You’d hear banging from a car’s boot, or, later, from crates with airholes in the backs of vans. Airholes… they really didn’t know what was happening to their loved ones.

  Did you?

  By then, yes, but I knew trying to explain it to them would be a hopeless cause. I just took their money and sent them on their way. I was lucky. I never had to deal with the problems of sea smuggling.

  That was more difficult?

  And dangerous. My associates from the coastal provinces were the ones who had to contend with the possibility of an infected breaking its bonds and contaminating the entire hold.

  What did they do?

  I’ve heard of various “solutions.” Sometimes ships would pull up to a stretch of deserted coast-it didn’t matter if it was the intended country, it could have been any coast-and “unload” the infected renshe onto the beach. I’ve heard of some captains making for an empty stretch of open sea and just tossing the whole writhing lot overboard. That might explain the early cases of swimmers and divers starting to disappear without a trace, or why you’d hear of people all around the world saying they saw them walking out of the surf. At least I never had to deal with that.

  I did have one similar incident, the one that convinced me it was time to quit. There was this truck, a beat-up old jalopy. You could hear the moans from the trailer. A lot of fists were slamming against the aluminum. It was actually swaying back and forth. In the cab there was a very wealthy investment banker from Xi’an. He’d made a lot of money buying up American credit card debt. He had enough to pay for his entire extended family. The man’s Armani suit was rumpled and torn. There were scratch marks down the side of his face, and his eyes had that frantic fire I was starting to see more of every day. The driver’s eyes had a different look, the same one as me, the look that maybe money wasn’t going to be much good for much longer. I slipped the man an extra fifty and wished him luck. That was all I could do.

  Where was the truck headed?


  Meteora, Greece

  [The monasteries are built into the steep, inaccessible rocks, some buildings sitting perched atop high, almost vertical columns. While originally an attractive refuge from the Ottoman Turks, it later proved just as secure from the living dead. Postwar staircases, mostly metal or wood, and all easily retractable, cater to the growing influx of both pilgrims and tourists. Meteora has become a popular destination for both groups in recent years. Some seek wisdom and spiritual enlightenment, some simply search for peace. Stanley MacDonald is one of the latter. A veteran of almost every campaign across the expanse of his native Canada, he first encountered the living dead during a different war, when the Third Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was involved in drug interdiction operations in Kyrgyzstan]

  Please don’t confuse us with the American “Alpha teams.” This was long before their deployment, before “the Panic,” before the Israeli self-quarantine… this was even before the first major public outbreak in Cape Town. This was just at the beginning of the spread, before anybody knew anything about what was coming. Our mission was strictly conventional, opium and hash, the primary export crop of terrorists around the world. That’s all we’d ever encountered in that rocky wasteland. Traders and thugs and locally hired muscle. That’s all we expected. That’s all we were ready for.

  The cave entrance was easy to find. We’d tracked it back from the blood trail leading to the caravan. Right away we knew something was wrong. There were no bodies. Rival tribes always left their victims laid out and mutilated as a warning to others. There was plenty of blood, blood and bits of brown rotting flesh, but the only corpses we found were the pack mules. They’d been brought down, not shot, by what looked like wild animals. Their bellies were torn out and large bite wounds covered their flesh. We guessed it had to be wild dogs. Packs of those damn things roamed the valleys, big and nasty as Arctic wolves.

  What was most puzzling was the cargo, still in their saddlebags, or just scattered about the bodies. Now, even if this wasn’t a territorial hit, even if it was a religious or tribal revenge killing, no one just abandons fifty kilos of prime, raw, Bad Brown, or perfectly good assault rifles, or expensive personal trophies like watches, mini disc players, and GPS locaters.

  The blood trail led up the mountain path from the massacre in the wadi. A lot of blood. Anyone who lost that much wouldn’t be getting up again. Only somehow he did. He hadn’t been treated. There were no other track marks. From what we could tell, this man had run, bled, fallen facedown — we still could see his bloody face-mark imprinted in the sand. Somehow, without suffocating, without bleeding to death, he’d lain there for some time, then just gotten up again and started walking. These new tracks were very different from the old. They were slower, closer together. His right foot was dragging, clearly why he’d lost his shoe, an old, worn-out Nike high-top. The drag marks were sprinkled with fluid. Not blood, not human, but droplets of hard, black, crusted ooze that none of us recognized. We followed these and the drag marks to the entrance of the cave.

  There was no opening fire, no reception of any kind. We found the tunnel entrance unguarded and wide open. Immediately we began to see bodies, men killed by their own booby traps. They looked like they’d been trying… running … to get out.

  Beyond them, in the first chamber, we saw our first evidence of a one-sided firefight, one-sided because only one wall of the cavern was pockmarked by small arms. Opposite that wall were the shooters. They’d been torn apart. The
ir limbs, their bones, shredded and gnawed… some still clutching their weapons, one of those severed hands with an old Makarov still in the grip. The hand was missing a finger. I found it across the room, along with the body of another unarmed man who’d been hit over a hundred times. Several rounds had taken the top of his head off. The finger was still stuck between his teeth.

  Every chamber told a similar story. We found smashed barricades, discarded weapons. We found more bodies, or pieces of them. Only the intact ones died from head shots. We found meat, chewed, pulped flesh bulging from their throats and stomachs. You could see by the blood trails, the footprints, the shell casings, and pock marks that the entire battle had originated from the infirmary.

  We discovered several cots, all bloody. At the end of the room we found a headless… I’m guessing, doctor, lying on the dirt floor next to a cot with soiled sheets and clothes and an old, left-footed, worn-out Nike high-top.

  The last tunnel we checked had collapsed from the use of a booby-trapped demolition charge. A hand was sticking out of the limestone. It was still moving. I reacted from the gut, leaned forward, grabbed the hand, felt that grip. Like steel, almost crushed my fingers. I pulled back, tried to get away. It wouldn’t let me go. I pulled harder, dug my feet in. First the arm came free, then the head, the torn face, wide eyes and gray lips, then the other hand, grabbing my arm and squeezing, then came the shoulders. I fell back, the things top half coming with me. The waist down was still jammed under the rocks, still connected to the upper torso by a line of entrails. It was still moving, still clawing me, trying to pull my arm into its mouth. I reached for my weapon.