INOCULATION – The Complete Story

While usually here at CHIMERICAL TALES, we’re all about the cliffhanger, sometimes it’s nice to start from the beginning and read until you crash into the end. If you’ve been following our Halloween special, INOCULATION, then here’s a chance to reread it all at once. If you’re just visiting CHIMERICAL TALES for the first time, enjoy “the zombie story to end all zombie stories,” and stick around afterwards to explore some of our other exciting serials!

Also, be sure to come back Monday for STARTING POINTS WEEK, a great jumping-on point for new and lapsed readers!

inoculation

INOCULATION

The CHIMERICAL TALES Halloween Special

October 29, 2013
Massachusetts General Hospital
Necrobiology Research Lab
10:31am

Gary Kinnard rubbed his finger under his nose because now that everyone watched CSI they all expected it. The truth was, Kinnard had long ago lost all olfactory sense of the dead. It was like living with cats, after a while you couldn’t notice the smell if you tried. Still, new interns always cheered when they saw him pretend to rub vapo-rub on his lip, so he always made sure to give them the show they wanted. Three new straight-out-of-med-school wastes of time had gotten assigned to the Necrobio lab and Dr. Edelstein had insisted that they get a full tour of every part of the lab.

“This is the morgue for the cadavers we use in the Necrobio lab, or rather,” he said deadpan, “as we call it, the ‘waiting room.'” A few nervous chuckles from the group of three new residents. Gary pinched his brow. They never sent anyone with a decent sense of humor to the Necrobiology Research lab.

Leading the group past a metal gurney with the latest project failure, Kinnard started the grand tour at the wash station. “This is the most important part of the operation,” he said. “If you don’t keep yourself clean, who know what you’re going to pick up from one of these bastards.” This time, only the tall blonde crewcut jock laughed. The other two–a young Indian man whose impressive lack of ability to grow a mustache hadn’t deterred him from trying and a tiny redheaded slip of a girl clinging to her clipboard like a security blanket–looked a little pained at each other. Yeah, thought Kinnard, I’ll be lucky if I end up with a part-time diener out of the new crew. Everyone always ends up putting in for research. No one respects the guy who cleans up the bodies afterwards.

Deciding to skip ahead to the grand finale first, Kinnard cut across the room to show off the combination positive/negative cold chambers.

That was when the corpse on the gurney rolled to the side and bit Kinnard in the arm.

The expletive Kinnard spat out was fortunately deleted by the high piercing scream that came from the crew cut. The forensic pathologist pulled his arm away and the body twitched for a moment, almost as if deciding whether it was alive or dead, then finally slumped forward halfway off the gurney before slipping with a wet squelch to the floor.

“That is the most…” the Indian with the brow fuzz stumbled for the words. “…awesome thing I’ve ever seen!” he finally concluded. The tiny redhead behind her clipboard nodded.

Gary Kinnard smiled and raised his chin a little proudly. “There are always surprises in the land of the dead,” he said, gesturing grandiosely with his unbitten arm. “Did you know that spontaneous involuntary muscle movement can occur post mortem up to the point of rigor mortis?” Kinnard didn’t, but he wasn’t going to let them know that.

As the four of them replaced the body on the gurney, Kinnard felt flushed. He hoped the feeling would pass before the end of the tour.

11:26am

Outside, the two security guards who provided government-mandated security for the high-risk research lab were busy comparing notes on important security-related matters.

“So, did you see the season premiere of Phoenix Wing last night?” Kent DaSilvo asked his partner.

“Right, like I was going to leave my house without getting current on that?” Mike Bryant said. “Ten minutes on the bus and I heard enough spoilers that it would’ve blown the whole thing. DVRs my ass… until they invent that Cone of Silence, I’m not taping anything.”

“True that,” DaSilvo agreed. The elevator at the end of the hall dinged, then opened.

Gary Kinnard, who everyone called the Mortician behind his back, took an awkward step out of the elevator. His usually neat white labcoat was spattered with blood. His face was pale and his mouth hung open, agape.

“Dr. Kinnard?” DaSilvo asked. “Is everything okay?”

Kinnard let out a low moan and continued shuffling forwards.

“Dude, I think something’s wrong with him,” Bryant said, his hand slowly moving down to his sidearm.

DaSilvo had already begun moving down the hall towards the doctor. “He’s hurt,” he said. “Put in a call–”

The rest of DaSilvo’s instruction was lost as Dr. Kinnard reached out with one preternaturally strong arm, gripped DaSilvo by the collar, and pulled the guard’s neck to his open–wide open now–mouth. Kinnard bit into DaSilvo’s throat like an apple.

Bryant wanted to scream, but he decided instead to fire twelve rounds into the horrible bloody throat-eating thing that had dropped DaSilvo and was even now treading inexorably towards him. Most of the shots hit, blood blooming several new places on the Mortician’s lab coat. It didn’t stop him… it… whatever Kinnard had become. As Bryant lost the last of his courage and turned to run, he saw that other figures were emerging from the elevator. Younger forms, no less bloody, no less implacable, no less dead.

Bryant made it out of the hospital (which many didn’t) but was killed four days later by the reanimated corpse of his neighbor. He was lucky. He would miss the world to come.

October 15, 2032
Five miles north of Los Alamos National Laboratory
Unsecured Zone
3:42pm

Bob watched as the reanimates shuffled forward along the remains of hole nine of the Los Alamos Municipal Golf Course. Behind him, the woman in the windbreaker and the overstuffed backpack clutched her walking stick in both hands, ready to wield it as a last ditch quarterstaff.

Holding one hand up in the universal signal of “stand still and don’t do anything stupid,” Bob waited for the right moment to cross. Reanimates were dangerous but a good guide knew how to minimize that danger. The number one way to do that was to be patient. It wasn’t a skill most of the guided had. That’s why a good guide needed to have the trust of his charge; it was one thing to hunker down and keep quiet when a reanimate was five feet away, sniffing to find you, but it was another thing to sit still for several hours waiting for a break in the traffic.

Needless to say, the woman didn’t like sitting still. She was a doctor of some sort, which meant that she thought she knew everything. It had been a long two months for Bob.

“You know we have a limited time frame, right?” she asked in a whisper too loud.

Bob turned and gave her the “what did I tell you about making noise” wide-eye. She responded with an eye roll but also made a zipping-mouth motion. It wasn’t like Bob didn’t know this was an important portage. Communicating all the way across the country used up a lot of resources that weren’t readily available after the Deadrise. That whomever was left out here in the middle of the desert had hired him to babysit crazy doctor lady all the way from the ruins of D.C. indicated that they had a lot invested in her. It was like hiring a limo to drive you from Los Angeles to Nome.

Finally, after what seemed like several hours but was probably only slightly fewer hours, the endless parade of walking corpses thinned out enough for Bob to feel comfortable crossing the wide open fairway. Gesturing to the doctor, the two crept through the grassy meadow and into the much safer woods to the south. A stream bed wound its way down the hill towards downtown Los Alamos.

Unless you knew them inside and out, urban areas were usually the worst places to try to guide people through. Bob had spent the last ten years working the Washington D.C./Arlington area, which was designed so poorly it made evading the walking dead almost easy. In the early days, several guides had organized a massacre of reanimates by leading them all into one massive confused herd at Seven Corners. Los Alamos was nothing like that. The city had that open, low-sitting Southwest feel.

“Wow, city looks just like I remember,” the doctor said. “I think I can see the Bradbury Science Museum.”

“Totally undefensible,” Bob said. “Museums are the roach traps of the post-Deadrise world. Confusing enough to get lost in with a bottleneck entrance usually right next to a big open cafeteria. Two or three risers could take out a dozen survivors in a place like that. Trust me, I once spent three nights in the Smithsonian.”

“It’s all reanimates with you, isn’t it?” the doctor asked.

“It’s all reanimates with everyone anymore.”

The doctor huffed and dropped the subject. Bob would be glad to get rid of her at the base. Two months trekking across America hadn’t made them friends; it had just made them sick of each other.

Two hours later they had circumvented the entire downtown area and the sun was beginning to set. Bob hated to fudge his usual rule about finding secure night camp the moment the bottom of the sun hit the horizon, but they were literally less than a mile from their destination. It was testament to how badly the doctor wanted to get there as well that she didn’t point out Bob’s hypocrisy when he suggested for the first time in two months that they bend the sunset rule, just this once.

One thing about military bases was that the security was O. M.: original model. There wasn’t a lot of metal siding or overturned cars serving as walls. Bob approached the security gate, hands raised to show he was neither armed nor undead. There was still enough light that whomever was inside ought to see their approach. He smiled when several spotlights suddenly came on and a voice over a loudspeaker addressed him. That meant electricity, and in a world overrun by the risen dead, electricity meant comfort.

“Identify yourselves,” the voice said. “This is a restricted area.”

Bob pulled out the police badge that guides had co-opted as a sign of their guild. He held it upside down, a trick guides used to weed out souvenir collectors who stole badges to impersonate them.

“Bob Romero, Capitol guide, escorting Ms. Leila Zucker on behalf of Colonel Hardesty.”

Doctor,” the doctor said, “Not Ms… Doctor. I earned the degree, I’d like to be addressed with it.”

“You know, I never did ask what you were a doctor of,” Bob said as the spotlights homed in to identify the pair. “Must be something fancy if they want you out here so bad.”

“Nothing that special,” Dr. Zucker said. “I only invented time travel.”

October 15, 2032
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Unsecured Zone
8:55pm

“Stand where you are. An armed escort will be out momentarily to retrieve you,” the voice over the intercom said. Bob Romero didn’t get a chance to ask Dr. Zucker any followup questions.

Still, after two months of being the lookout and the protector, it was almost relaxing to be surrounded by army men and brought into a barracks at gunpoint. Bob and the mad doctor were marched semi-ceremoniously into a large concrete room and seated on rusty folding chairs. Only when they were seated and made fully aware of how many guns were aimed in their direction did Colonel Hardesty step out of the shadows.

“Doctor Zucker, I presume,” said the white haired old man to Bob’s charge. He was an impressive figure, tall and muscular underneath the worn but maintained uniform. He seemed worn, though not so much fatigued as eroded. “You can’t know how good it is to meet you at last. Your correspondence with Dr. Rosenzweig has given us all hope.”

“How is Lynne?” Dr. Zucker asked pleasantly.

“Dead,” Colonel Hardesty said without emotion. “She had a stroke in her sleep three months ago. We lost two good men putting her reanimate down.”

“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Zucker said, though Bob wasn’t sure from her monotone what part she was sorry about.

“We were hoping that with our resources you might be able to implement the plan you and Dr. Rosenzweig came up with.”

“Plan?” Bob asked. “What plan?”

Hardesty looked at Bob the way high school principals used to.

“It’s okay,” Leila said. “He’s okay. We’ll need everyone we can get to make this work.”

“Fine,” Hardesty said. “Let’s meet tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred to move this thing forward. In the meantime, Dr. Zucker, Mr. Romero, I offer what hospitality we can offer. Lieutenant Todmorden will show you to the sleeping quarters.”

What had once been a conference room had been converted into a poor man’s barracks. Several cots were lined up along the far wall from the boarded window. Dr. Zucker carefully laid her backpack against the foot of one of the cots and sat down. Still curious, Bob sat down across from her.

“What the hell did you mean outside that you invented time travel?” Bob demanded.

“It’s classified. Come to the meeting tomorrow morning.”

“Look, I’m only a guide here,” Bob said.

“And I’m only a theoretical anthropologist. Everyone’s got a part to play.”

“Wait, you’re not, like, a physicist or something? I thought time travel was all Einstein and Hawking crap.”

“More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

“Bob,” Bob said. “Three months, I figure you would have at least learned my name by now.”

October 16, 2032
Los Alamos National Library
Presentation Auditorium
8:02am

The next morning Dr. Zucker began the first PowerPoint presentation that Bob had seen in twenty years. It was impressive how much technology they still had working here at Los Alamos. The first slide was a picture of Bela Legosi. Bob recognized the actor from his childhood horror movie marathons with his grandfather, long before Deadrise.

“The plan came to me one night when I was rereading Dracula,” Doctor Zucker began. “It occurred to me that if Dracula were real, his greatest enemy wasn’t Van Helsing or Seward or, really, any vampire hunter. His greatest enemy was Bram Stoker.” Before Bob could ask “who?” Dr. Zucker added, “The author of the book Dracula. You see, in one book he took an obscure eastern European myth and popularized it. Dracula spawned plays, movies, television shows, comic books… Everyone knows it now.”

“What does this have to do with–” Bob started, but Hardesty cut him off with a glance.

“If we were at point zero of a vampire outbreak, we would have a significant advantage. As soon as people showed up desanguinated with bite marks on their neck, we would know what was happening. If we found a pale man or woman lying in a coffin full of dirt, we’d know to stake it, put garlic in its mouth, and behead it. We could contain any vampires using flowing water. We’d use the sun for protection.” Leila paused. “We know all of this because of Bram Stoker’s book.”

Dr. Zucker clicked on the remote in her hand. On the screen behind her, familiar footage from Massachusetts General began to play. It was the “Patient Zero” video. Anyone who had access to the human underground network had seen the clip one way or another; it was probably the most viewed video in the last ten years, primarily because there were almost no ways to watch video any more.

“We know now that the bite of a reanimate corpse causes death and reanimation. We know that gunfire is wasted on a reanimate’s body and that only decapitation or destruction of the reanimate’s brain will put one down. These are the ‘vampire rules’ for reanimates.”

The doctor paused for a moment as the corpse on the video bit Gary Kinnard. Bob winced. Dr. Zucker paused the video.

“What if we knew then what we know now?” Dr. Zucker said. “This is the premise of what Dr. Rosenzweig and I called ‘Project Inoculation.’ Like a biological inoculation, we posited that seeding the past with information about the reanimate threat might stop it from ever happening.”

She pointed to the pale and hapless forensic pathologist on the screen.

“Mistake number one. The bite is seen as a anomalous post-mortem involuntary muscular response. We don’t know what they were doing at Mass Gen that caused the reanimation virus, but this is the point where it begins to spread. If one of us were bitten by a corpse today, we’d know how to deal with it.”

“We’d kill him,” Colonel Hardesty said. “Reanimate containment protocol number one.”

“Exactly. But that’s not what they did. They let the bite fester. They not only let patient zero reanimate, but they didn’t know enough to get themselves out of there. Instead of a contained situation, four reanimates made it out of the morgue.”

Leila zoomed the video forward past the splice to the moment that the elevator opened at the security checkpoint.

“Here,” she continued, “you can see that despite being armed and in a tactically sound position to bottleneck the reanimates, lack of information about what they were facing caused a security failure. One guard was himself reanimated, the other so terrified by the unknown threat that he deserted his post.” Dr. Zucker once more froze the video, this time at the moment Bryant emptied his clip into DaSilvo.

“So wait,” Bob said. “You’re telling me that you can send a message back in time to these people telling them what to do differently?”

“Not exactly,” Dr. Zucker said. “The method I developed to send information back to the past comes from the Australian aborigines and their concept of dreamtime. Ideas, images, cultural archetypes… these are things we can seed. It’s not so easy as just sending back a set of directions. We need to send back a myth.”

Hardesty nodded and handed a thick folder to Dr. Zucker.

“Has anyone here ever heard the term ‘zombie?'”

October 22, 2032
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Research Library
3:41pm

“I don’t know why I have to be the one to do this,” Bob Romero said, looking up from the pile of yellow legal tablets in front of him. “I mean, I wasn’t even a good student in elementary school.”

Dr. Zucker continued writing as she answered. “We were all at the genealogy meeting, Bob. Nobody else on site had as good a potential cultural vector in our ancestry as you did.”

“You mean my great-grandfather George? He was just a b-movie guy!”

“In the twentieth century, cinema was one of the most influential means of spreading cultural information. Only the Internet was more effective, and we all agreed that it didn’t appear long enough before Patient Zero to spread the zombie mythology widely enough.”

“But I’ve been reading this stuff for three days. My head’s about to explode.” Bob reached over and placed one hand on the doctor’s. She immediately pulled hers away. So much for sympathy.

“When we project you back through the Dreamtime, Mr. Romero,” Leila said, “you’re not going to be interacting normally with your ancestor; there won’t be a conversation or message. He’s going to get some kind of vision, an extremely vivid dream. The contents of that dream are going to come from your mind, from what you visualize while the oneiric interface is open. That’s going to be a very short time, and we need to pack as many neural connections into your mental concept of ‘zombie’ as we can.”

“I think I’d rather go back to guiding and killing my reanimates one at a time.”

“Zombie. Not reanimate.”

Bob sighed. “If I survive this, what say we get a cup of coffee together sometime? You know, like a date?” He smiled and looked into the horn-rim shielded eyes of the prickly scientist who had been his only companion for three months.

“No,” Dr. Zucker said and went back to writing out another tablet full of zombie lore.

October 29, 2032
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Ion Beam Materials Laboratory
9:13am

“Ready?” Dr. Zucker asked. Bob was lying underneath some kind of particle accellerator that Leila had sworn wouldn’t kill, mutate, or sterilize him. He only half believed her.

Colonel Hardesty and several other scientists from Project Inoculation stood around him. The fact that all Bob was wearing were his underpants and several dozen EKG contacts didn’t make him feel any more comfortable.

“No,” Bob said, but in his case, the denial was all nerves and lacked the doctor’s dry wit.

“We’re going to put you to sleep, and while you sleep, you’ll dream,” Dr. Zucker continued anyway. She picked up a pair of oversized stereo headphones. “You’ll be given some dream guidance over these headphones. I recorded it specifically for you and it will help you connect to your ancestor through the timeless Dreamtime. Once you meet him, it will be up to you to share what you know.”

“Are you sure we need the, um, ion particle thing?” Bob asked.

“It’s science, Bob,” Dr. Zucker said. “Leave that to us scientists.”

“Are we ready?” Colonel Hardesty asked. “We’re only going to have enough power to do this once.”

“Then does it matter?” the doctor asked as she slid the foam headphones over Bob’s ears.

He couldn’t hear how Hardesty responded. Then he felt a prick in his arm as Dr. Zucker administered the sedative, and Bob’s vision blurred as he fell into a deep sleep.

And dreamed.

February 18, 1967
Home of George A. Romero
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
3:13am

George Andrew Romero also dreamed.

zombie zombie dead rise ishtar and will let the dead go up to eat the living and the dead will outnumber the living ghoul zombi said that a child can raise a dead man zombie witches dead slave haiti voudoun drugs the body in a deathlike state frankenstein magic island in the seabrook the dead live walked with a white zombie west reanimator uncontrollable crave life i am legend richard matheson i am tales from the crypt last man on earth living dead night dawn day survive the zombie start at the beginning global change government ineptitude brains dead stop staying dead zombie respond or fail to respond to zombie slower than growth only the head the dead the bite fight or flight apocalypse apocalypse apocalypse… bob.

George woke in a sweat uncommon for a Pittsburgh February. Clambering out of his bed he stumbled to his desk and twisted the switch on top of the desk light. Pushing aside draft pages from Monster Flick, he selected a blank page and rolled it into his typewriter. The first letter he typed was “N.”

Three days later, though no one knew it, history had been changed.

October 29, 2013
Massachusetts General Hospital
Necrobiology Research Lab
10:41am

Deciding to skip ahead to the grand finale first, Kinnard cut across the room to show off the combination positive/negative cold chambers.

That was when the corpse on the gurney rolled to the side and bit Kinnard in the arm.

The expletive Kinnard spat out was fortunately deleted by the high piercing scream that came from the crew cut. The forensic pathologist pulled his arm away and the body twitched for a moment, almost as if deciding whether it was alive or dead, then finally slumped forward halfway off the gurney before slipping with a wet squelch to the floor.

“Holy crap!” the Indian with the brow fuzz stumbled away from Kinnard and the corpse. “It is a zombie!” he finally concluded. The tiny redhead behind her clipboard raced over to the elevator door.

Gary Kinnard frowned and looked down at the bite on his arm. It had broken the skin and there was already signs of necrotizing skin tissue. “Someone get me a bone saw! We’ve got to cut this off before it turns me!”

As the four of them replaced the body on the gurney, Kinnard felt flushed. He hoped the feeling would pass once the infected part of his arm was removed. Why had he ever thought working in the morgue of a experimental necrobiology lab was a good idea?

11:26am

Outside, the two security guards who provided government-mandated security for the high-risk research lab were busy comparing notes on important security-related matters.

“So, did you see the season premiere of Walking Dead last night?” Kent DaSilvo asked his partner.

“Right, like I was going to leave my house without getting current on that?” Mike Bryant said. “Ten minutes on the bus and I heard enough spoilers that it would’ve blown the whole thing. DVRs my ass… until they invent that Cone of Silence, I’m not taping anything.”

“True that,” DaSilvo agreed. The elevator at the end of the hall dinged, then opened.

Three young residents, their white labcoats spattered with blood, ran out of the elevator.

“There’s a breach!” the tall one with the crew cut yelled. “Your morgue guy just got turned into a zombie!”

“You gotta be kidding me, right?” DaSilvo asked.

“No!” the tiny one with a clipboard insisted. “We tried to save him but he started getting all bitey, so we got out of there and came here to warn you. I mean, it’s an experimental necrotic biology lab, you must have, like, plans for this?”

“Damn straight we do,” Bryant said. “Get ready for the double tap.”

A few minutes later, Gary Kinnard, who everyone called the Mortician behind his back, took an awkward step out of the elevator. His usually neat white labcoat was spattered with blood. His face was pale and his mouth hung open, agape.

Simultaneously DaSilvo and Bryant shot three times at the scientist’s head. It exploded like a Halloween pumpkin at the end of a juvenile delinquent’s baseball bat.

“You keep the body covered,” DaSilvo told Bryant. “I’m calling the head of security to report this in. NecroBio needs to be shut down if they’re aiming to create walkers.”

“Yeah, seriously. Imagine what might have happened if we were as stupid as the people in those movies.”

Enjoy that? Click here to try out today’s newest CHIMERICAL TALES serial and come back Monday for STARTING POINT WEEK!

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved. Header art by Matt Howarth.

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