I was a big fan of the World War Z novel and movie. I’ve read the book and listened to the audiobook a few times and I really liked the way that Max Brooks combined the oral history with an outlandish plot idea. I particularly liked the sections near the end which dealt with reclaiming the world and I was taken by the idea of the LaMOEs. (Last Man on Earth). I decided I wanted to write “my story” for WWZ. The whole novel being oral history, I wanted to see if I could emulate the writing and tell an interesting story at the same time. Not sure if I succeeded or not.
For those that haven’t read the book, the text in bold is supposed to be that of the chronicler Max Brooks and the text in regular font is the oral history of whomever he’s interviewing. I’ve tried to match his formatting wherever possible.
Before going further, let me state that I don’t own World War Z in any way and do not claim any rights for any of the related works or artworks on this post.
This story is fiction.
Camp Lejune, North Carolina
[The military barracks at Camp Lejune were home to some of America’s finest warriors. After the reclamation it became the setting for some of the war crimes trials. Brandon Nichols certainly doesn’t seem like a terrorist. He has the look of a computer nerd. I’m told he was once heavyset but the man who appears before me is gaunt and ragged, as though he hasn’t eaten or slept in days. He’s surrounded by drawings and diagrams but the bars that separate us make it clear that he won’t be building anything for quite a while.]
I wasn’t a survivalist. I had seen those guys on TV. It always seemed weird to me. They were planning for some big apocalypse that seemed sure never to come. I laughed like everyone else did. I figured if aliens came down here, or robots rose up against us, it’d just be my day to die.
I guess when it comes down to brass tacks, we all want to live.
Charlotte was a madhouse. When Cornwallis came through here during the Revolution, he called the place a hornet’s nest. That’s why we named the basketball team. Anyway, he was right on because watching a million people try to either get out through the airport, or head for the hills created one of the greatest clusterfucks in the history of man.
Come to think of it, I’m sure it was just as bad in plenty of other places.
When the reports started coming in from Wilmington, I had the sense that it was going to slip away fast. Within a couple of days we’d heard that the government was retreating beyond the Rockies and that’s when the panic set in. My first thought was to get Brittany out.
She always fought me on this sort of thing. I’m sure she saw me as overprotective and there may have been some truth to that. My dad was a cop, so I tend to see threats whether they are there or not. I calculated that trying to get from the North Carolina piedmont to the Rocky Mountains was simply not feasible with all this going on. The main roads would have been filled with Zekes or desperate people, which is really just as dangerous. So, figuring that air was our only option, I headed for the airport. Not Charlotte-Douglas mind you, but a much smaller strip outside of town. Mostly used by rich executives and race teams.
My background is aerospace engineering, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fly. I could design you a decent aircraft, but I never got my pilot’s license. I did have an old college roommate who had two things that I needed: a hero complex, and access to a Cessna. One of the last times my cell phone worked was in a call to him asking him to fly Brittany as far west as he could manage. A C172 theoretically can go over 1000 miles, so I thought, with some luck, they could reach a military base in the Midwest and maybe hop from there to the quarantine zone. It was wishful thinking, but I figured if I could get Brit away from the east coast, she’d be safer.
I never was planning on getting out that way. I knew that the plane would stand a better chance of getting off with only one passenger, and, at that time, I wasn’t exactly light on my feet. I really just wanted her to survive, so I slipped her a sleeping pill on our way to the airstrip (it’s the only time in my life I managed to put anything over on her) and by the time she woke up, she was a few thousand feet over the Tennessee foothills. I had put a note in her pocket saying everything that needed to be said. I always figured love was valuing someone else more than yourself so I figured that was the best I could do for her.
I watched the plane take off, figuring that I’d never see her again and I sat in the car for a while thinking That’s fine. This is how it should be. I sat there and smiled, thinking I’d done all I could to save my fiancé and now I could go and meet whatever fate had in store for me without flinching. It was a beautiful ending to the story.
Of course, the problem was that my story was just beginning.
Not knowing what else to do I headed back to my home in Mooresville. It’s a small town, not much in the way of population or attractions. I did have to roar past some Zekes in the backwoods roads that led home, but once I reached the town, most of it was deserted. It was eerie. Just days ago there had been more than 20,000 people within a few miles of my apartment, but now I saw almost no one. There was the occasional man or woman peeking out from behind a boarded up window, but no one on the street and certainly nothing you could call organized. Once I got back to my place, I took a quick inventory. I had a couple of swords from when I used to collect them, a supply of food that may last a month if I could stretch it, and almost nothing by way of defenses. I wasn’t even on a high floor. The windows to my apartment wouldn’t keep anything out that wanted to get in. It was obvious that if I wanted to live, this wasn’t the place to do it.
Mooresville did have a few things that made it unique and all of them were absolutely necessary for our survival. The town had a Lowe’s home improvement store that just happened to be within a hundred yards of a grocery store. There was a Wal-mart up the street and about a dozen fast food places within a mile of that street. The other trick, and this is the one that was simultaneously the best and worst part was the power plant.
What do you mean?
The power plant was nuclear. I have no idea how a nuclear plant works, but I know that whoever was the last one out when the panic hit left the reactor in some sort of stand-by mode or something because for the most part, we had electricity. The problem was, we had no way of knowing if the plant was dangerous or if we were going to suddenly hear alarm bells going off one day. If the alarms had gone off, every Zeke within 25 miles would be heading right for us, and it would also be a sign that we were going to be irradiated. It was debatable whether you’d rather go out from radiation sickness or a Zeke bite. Essentially that plant was a time bomb that could go off any minute.
How did you establish the camp?
I had figured the home improvement place would be a decent spot to stock up on supplies. When I got there of course I found several other people had the same idea. I was hoping to get a team together, a band of folks who could work together so that when things got bad, we’d have support amongst ourselves. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one with thoughts along those lines.
Within our group of about twenty or so we had three who were carrying shotguns. For the first few days, they were our only line of defense against the Zekes. We didn’t see many in those early days but those guys protected us while we got the initial defenses in place.
I was the first to float the idea of using the grocery store as a base. It had a decent amount of supplies left in the back, though the main storefront had been ransacked and looted pretty good by then. We still had gas in our cars, so we spent a day ferrying supplies to the grocery store. From there we boarded up the windows, secured the doors and basically tried to make the place as zombie proof as possible. My engineering background came in handy a bit and people kept looking to me, but I tried to explain that I was an aerospace guy and that I didn’t know much about construction or weaponry.
Once the main bits were up, we mostly settled into a pattern. We had a few on watch at all times. We sent a couple of scouting parties to the stores and restaurants around to raid their kitchens and grab whatever was left. Food and weapons were the priority. We also came across a few other people now and then and we had a rule that anyone we discovered could join us if they wanted to. I think we only ever found about six or eight folks and of those, only three joined us.
One girl had the bright idea to use the roof of the grocery as a place to grow food. The garden section of the Lowe’s came in handy for that.
During the day, our biggest problem was usually boredom. We didn’t go outside much and we couldn’t afford to make a lot of noise lest Zeke hear us, so we basically sheltered in place. Nighttime wasn’t that much better, but we did tend to go on the roof for an hour or two at sunset. We’d check the plants, see if our ham radio would get any new signals and talk for a while amongst ourselves.
It was actually kind of a nice atmosphere. I’ve heard of survivor complexes where people turned on each other or went to war against the next town over, but it wasn’t like that for us. We were just a band of strangers, but when we looked out the window, we knew that the only way to survive was together. There wasn’t much stealing or fighting. A moderate amount, sure, but everyone seemed to be able to offer something, so there wasn’t much in the way of complaints about this person or that. The rationing was probably the worst of it. Nothing will make people more irritable than an empty stomach.
I’d heard about the Bielski’s in World War Two protecting fellow Jews in Belorussia and the way they took care of their own. Whenever I could, I’d put myself in their shoes and wonder how they coped. Really, all things considered, it could have been much worse.
For the first couple of years we were like a miniature commune farm. We grew our own food, stocked up for the winter and tried to make our defenses as best we could. We kept quiet and hidden whenever possible, but there were times where we had to fight.
Sometime during the third summer is when the power plant alarm finally went off.
It started an hour or so before sunrise. You could hear it blaring like a dinner bell to any Zeke in earshot. North Carolina hadn’t heard anything louder than a birdcall in years, but we had a rock concert going off not ten miles from our camp. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t anyone physically at the plant, just the sound was enough to perk up the ears of every Zeke around, and then of course, they all made calls to the others.
The plan was to keep quiet and keep calm, but that didn’t work out. We had a guy who was scared of the rads that the plant would be spitting out. Seeing him run away did wonders for our popularity with the undead. I never did figure out if he got away clean or not. Never saw him again either way. I kinda hope he made it, even if he did turn our store into Zombies-R-Us for a while.
The horde came down on us slowly over the course of a few days. I had designed plenty of traps and obstacles and between that and the guys on the roof firing, we held out pretty well. When the ammo was gone, we took up station and fought with melee weapons.
Shovels, knives, even those swords I collected came in handy. It was brutal and we lost about half our folks to bites or infected cuts. By the time it was over we had a pile about 3 foot tall outside the storefront. The fires lasted eight days. When the fires died, so did the alarms. It was like the universe was calling a timeout. That was easily the worst week of my life.
We kept looking for signs of rad poisoning, but no one felt any different, so we kind of just let it go after a while. If it hadn’t killed you yet, there wasn’t much you could do. More and more I think we just got very lucky.
About a year after the alarms is when I got the idea to build the probes.
I built rovers in college. Well, me and people more talented than I am. I was part of teams of really smart guys. At any rate, I knew the basic engineering necessary for the programming and construction, and it turned out we had a fair amount of spare parts to scrabble together.
Where did you find robot parts in the aftermath of the swarms?
It’s all about using what you have on hand. The Native Americans could do fifty-seven things with a Buffalo hide before they finished with it. The toy store was actually a lot of help. They had some RC cars gathering dust and that gave me a chassis and wheels right there. After that it’s just a matter of power and control.
It took about a year of gathering and trial and error but I cobbled together 3 probes out of old parts. Each one had a power pack and a camera with a transmitter. The idea was that we’d drive them out as far as we could, scout for Zekes or try to establish radio contact with other survivors. As far as we knew, we were the last on Earth. Some of us actually believed that. I held out hope that there was still an organized government fighting for us, but I was never sure either way until the end.
The probes weren’t exactly marvels of precision or beauty, but they basically did what we needed them to do. We sent two out on Highway 77, one going north, one south. The radios never picked up anything (I think that was more due to my wiring than a lack of a signal), but we did manage to find a cluster of Zekes outside Huntersville.
The southbound probe, Kim,
I look at him questioningly.
They all had girl’s names. It’s a tradition.
Kim was the one we sent south and it found that nest of Zekes. I figured they’d ignore it as it wasn’t flesh, but I didn’t think about the fact that it made noise. The clicks and whirrs of machinery will get a Zeke’s attention just as good as a scream. Kim was surrounded and got to where I couldn’t get it to move. When the battery died after a day or so, I let it go as a lost cause.
One of the other guys in camp had the idea to put explosives on the others. He said that if we’d put them on Kim, we could have taken out plenty of Zekes once it got surrounded. The idea didn’t sound bad to me, and we had some dynamite left over from the construction supplies section. Originally we were going to use it for the alarm attack, but no one knew how powerful it was so we left it alone.
On a rover far away though, we figured it wouldn’t be a danger to us and we’d get to kill Zekes without having them in our face.
The last rover I had, Natalie, we sent it west one morning to check for signs of life or death. We’d done it dozens of times before. We’d drive out as far as half our batteries would let us, turn on the radio, take a look around and drive back before dark.
This time we saw signs of movement along the roads and eventually we figured out that we were looking at an organized force. It was what we’d been hoping to see for years. There were about eight of us left by that point and we hugged and kissed and danced like we’d just found buried treasure.
We didn’t have a way of talking to the troops, but they had noticed the probe. We could see them gathering around the cameras. There was a map which showed the store where we were living and we saw some guy, couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, run with the map back the way they’d come. I guess he was showing it to his commanding officer or something.
A few minutes later the feed went to static. I thought one of the soldiers must have accidentally broken the radio transmitter or something. It didn’t occur to me that there was any real problem because we finally were about to get the rescue we’d been dreaming of.
When they came the next morning they moved like a SWAT team. We were surrounded and had guns pointed at our heads very quickly. There were shouts and I got hit on the back of the head with what I assume was a rifle butt.
When I woke up I was in those plastic wristcuffs that they use and they had me locked in a van.
I never will know what caused the explosion. I know that I didn’t hit the trigger. None of us could have, we were away from the laptop and so excited just to be discovered. We would never have hurt anyone coming to rescue us. If I had to guess, I’d say the probe got hit with radio interference. I hadn’t hardened it against interference because we were trying to pick up any signals we could. No one believes me, but I swear we would never have tried to attack anyone coming to get us.
Pardons were extended to the places where people had “seceded.” That’s a laugh. We never “seceded” from anything. I wasn’t trying to form my own country out of a supermarket. I would have taken the help of anyone who offered, but I was still in America and I’ll always be an American. The army didn’t see it that way though. In their mind we had just attacked them with a bomb and we were a threat to their reclamation of the east coast.
If I had ever thought anyone would be hurt by my designs, I’d never have built them; much less put them in the field.
Still, as a “terrorist” [he scoffs] I was sentenced to fifteen years for the explosion. Looking back, that was more than reasonable from their perspective. They had every right to hang me or shoot me on sight. I spoke for the few folks at the store who had toughed it out with me and I made it clear to anyone who would listen that they had nothing to do with the probes. I wanted it all put on me. It was my design and I’m responsible for anything that happens as a result.
It’s not all prison bars and moldy bread in here though. The military offered me preferential treatment if I’d work for them on new systems. It’s let me use my skills to help. That’s about all I can hope for.