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Parnell Air National Guard Base: Memphis, Tennessee, USA
The first interviewee in Chapter 4 is Gavin Blaire, blimp pilot extraordinaire.
He remembers the Great Panic very well since he got a blimp's eye view of the situation.
The highway was congested with cars, and those vehicles were packed with all kinds of passengers.
Junk was everywhere. Gavin even saw a grand piano.
We hope it was used by an old-timey strongman to battle the undead hordes because that would be awesome.
People walked along the side the road desperate to get a ride despite the fact that they were moving faster than the traffic.
A few miles down the road, Gavin saw what the commotion was all about. The zombies were mixed in the traffic, doing what zombies do.
Some people were trapped in their cars, others shooting through the car windows, giving the zombies buffet-like access.
The zombies ate their way through I-80.
Gavin wonders about the people he saw down there that night. Did they think about what they were doing? Did they just go with the crowd?
He relates a story to the Interviewer about a psychologist in Moscow. The man performed an experiment once where he just stood in front of a door. As others walked by, they thought he must be standing in line for something and joined him. He got the line long enough to go around the block.
So, the highways weren't the best way to go. What about the open ocean? According to Ajay Shah, not so much.
When the Great Panic hit, Ajay headed straight for Alang because it was a shipyard, and the ocean seemed way more survival friendly than inland routes.
Reality Check: Alang really is a famous ships' graveyard on India's west coast. Over half the world's maritime vessels end up on the coastline where they are systematically dismantled for their resources (source).
Although boats aplenty harbored at Alang, many of them had been beached ashore to be broken down later. A few ships had anchored off-shore though.
One, the Veronique Delmas, tried to pull the beached Tulip back into the water. Unfortunately, the chains proved stronger than the derelict ship's hull, and they ripped it apart. All the people aboard the Tulip had a really bad time after that. Like Titanic.
Ajay speaks of rational hindsight, but there, that night, no rationale was to be found. Hundreds of people were trying to swim out to the ships off shore, few of them Olympic-class swimmers.
Seeing the investment opportunities of a lifetime, smaller boat owners helped ferry the refugees. Some requested money for passage, others only took women, and still others wouldn't take certain people because of their caste or skin color.
Some—we're guessing too few—were cool and helped whomever needed help.
But let's not forget the dinocrocs. Sorry, wrong horror story. We meant zombies. Lots of refugees reanimated after drowning, conveniently becoming zombies underneath their quarry.
Ajay tried to swim. After running all the way to Alang, swimming to a boat, and dodging the undead, he didn't have enough strength to call for help. Lucky for him, a crewman pulled him aboard the ship.
Ajay's luck proved platinum that day. His didn't have an outbreak of zombie aboard it—unlike many other boats he saw.
Topeka, Kansas, USA
The Interviewer visits the Rothman Rehabilitation Home for Feral Children. He's there to see Sharon, but, before he does, her caseworker, Dr. Roberta Kelner, and the program director, Dr. Sommers, needs to give him the rundown.
Sharon has functional language skills, but due to living alone as a child amongst the zombie masses, lacks social niceties or sanity.
Sharon's story begins at her family's church.
She and her mother were waiting for her father to meet them. Other people she knew were there as well—children with their parents, Mrs. McGraw, and Pastor Dan.
Pastor Dan tried to keep the people calm, assuring them the authorities are on their way.
If you've read any zombie story before now, you'll know how well that'll turn out.
Sharon's mother talked angrily with Mrs. Cormode, Pastor Dan's wife. Then the zombies busted into the church like it was a Country Kitchen Buffet.
While telling her story, Sharon makes eerily realistic zombie moans. The Interviewer, Dr. Sommers, and Dr. Kelner are all really uncomfortable with the noise.
Sharon continues to produce sound effects while telling her story. She even acts out the various roles. Creepy stuff.
The story continues. Mrs. Cormode pleaded with the others not to let the zombies get the children before picking up a girl named Abbie.
Sharon mimics the motion of Mrs. Cormode killing Abbie by throwing her against the wall Because that's the human thing to do?
Her mother grabbed for Sharon, ready to giver her own daughter the what-for against the wall. But a zombie nabbed her from behind before she could go through with the grisly deed.
Another voice, different than her mother's, yells at Sharon to run. She did.
Khuzhir, Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, the Holy Russian Empire
The Interviewer must meet with Maria Zhuganova in a secure room with a large one-way glass in the wall.
If the movies have taught us anything about Russia, it's that the country is brimming with bare rooms outfitted with one-way glass.
Maria's Great Panic story begins before she even knew there was a Great Panic going on.
Her outfit at North Ossetia, Alania, had been put under strict media blackout, effectively cutting the platoon off from the world. They told the outfit the reason for everything was peacekeeping. "They" being the higher ups and some guy who just showed up one day. Maria and her people called him "Rat Face."
Maria's platoon was put on full alert, going through the mountains, searching every village, checking every cabin, questioning every villager, and dotting every i.
They asked the villagers all sorts of questions, but no one knew why.
A member of Maria's platoon, Baburin, was an old solider. His wartime experience gave him the uncanny ability to know when bad things were about to happen, almost like a sixth sense. Well, that sixth sense started tingling.
Baburin stopped drinking and didn't tell his stories anymore. Morale dropped; things got tense.
One day, the platoon swept through a no-name village when they came across a little girl. She acted weird and staggered through the mud.
Rat Face told the platoon sharpshooter, one Petrenko, to shoot the little girl. No, "Oh she's a zombie, not human, don't fret over it."
Nope. Just, "Go ahead and shoot a little girl in the face."
Petrenko argued with Rat Face and Lieutenant Tikhonov, ultimately deciding that putting hot lead through a little girl's head wasn't his thing.
Rat Face walked out there and did it for him.
A woman, probably the girl's mother, broke down crying. Once again, no word on the whole zombie thing, really?
Maria lay awake that night, thinking about the girl, Petrenko, her fear, her questions, and so on. Lucky for her, she worried herself into vomiting and was checked into the infirmary.
She wasn't with the platoon when they went on patrol and only heard the commotion of their return.
Going outside, she saw Arkady, the platoon's machine gunner, in the middle of the crowd. Arkady had a woman with them. She was chained, hooded, and covered in black pus instead of blood. Seems Arkady went all Scooby-Doo and solved that mystery.
Arkady said he wanted everyone there to see the truth. He grabbed the old lady by the throat and removed the burlap sac.
He gave a speech about how these things were at their homes with their families. Then he lost his grip on the babushka zombie, and she bit him. D'oh.
Arkady screamed how he wanted to go home and even got himself a little mob-riot action going.
Arkady took a bullet right in the eye, and tear gas exploded into the crowd. Spetznaz commandos appeared out of nowhere and do what special ops do; they took care of business.
The Interviewer asks if that was the decimation.
Oh, no. That's still coming.
History Snack: Today, we often use the word decimate to signify the complete and total destruction of something, but it traditionally means to take a tenth from something (hence the deci- in the word's beginning).
In Ancient Rome, the term was used to describe a form of corporal punishment in the military that more-or-less went down exactly as Maria is about to describe it. (source)
The Spetznaz had the platoon assemble. Their new commanding officer then gave them a speech on the virtues of duty and honor instead of the dishonor found in betrayal and selfishness.
Maria was taken aback. Such language as "[o]ath to the motherland" were the words of the Great Patriotic military of old, the Soviet Union (4.4.25). Not her generation's Russia. Seems what was old is new again.
Next the decimation. The platoon was broken into groups of ten. Each group then had to pick one of their numbers. The other nine were to take stones and beat their chosen tenth member to death.
Some cried, some begged, but Baburin just knelt silently and watched as Maria brought the stone across his head.
What's the point of this brutality? After that, the platoon became accomplices in their own dirty, dirty secret. After that, they were no longer free citizens or soldiers. After that, they relinquished their freedom for the sake to say they were only following orders.
Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies Federation
The Interviewer finds his next convo partner at Trevor's Bar. Dude's name is T. Sean Collins.
Sean's story starts simply because of his job. He says there is no name for what he does, but perhaps he puts it best when he says, "knowing how to kill some people while keeping others from being killed" is a super marketable skill (4.5.2). Yeah, that'll do.
He worked for an up-and-up mercenary company and found himself guarding a rich guy with some amazing beachfront property. He can't name names, mind you. They might sue.
His client decided to use his wealth to provide shelter for people of influence, those who could raise his image after the war was over.
The list read more like a who's who at a cocaine/ pool party than a survivalist outfit: record mogul armed with AK-47 plus grenade launcher attachment, political comedy guy, actors, singers, and a millionaire bimbo.
And that's just the people Sean's client invited. Those people also brought their people—hairstylists, managers, friends, and sycophants. Then those people brought their people, and the people's people brought their people, and….
The house itself had been outfitted with all manner of survival awesomeness. Back-up generators, solar panels, water purifiers, motion sensors, high walls, and weapons were all present and all top-notch.
But the crazy didn't end there. The client had the whole house outfitted with webcams, ensuring that anything happening in the house was broadcasted to the wide world via the interwebs.
Sean recalls one weird moment when he and the kitchen staff were watching the news, and the news showed the webcam footage happening right in the other room. This news footage showed the celebrities watching another news channel and reacting to shots of survivors fighting zombies in the streets.
Sean took his position, armed and ready to roll, but something was wrong. The zombies were running and fast. And if they could run, they could climb, and if they could climb, then the wall wouldn't be much good.
Sean got in firing position, flipped his sights, and noticed the thermal heat signatures were reading. Translation: these were humans, not zeek-freaks.
Next up: pandemonium. The celebrities attacked the people; the people attacked the celebrities. Some tried to be heroes while others demanded their entourage protect them.
Sean ran. On the way out, he ran into the rich bimbo's rat dog. Both decided to beat feet then and there.
Hey, Sean had been paid to protect these people against zombies, and since the attackers weren't zombies, no breach of contract.
He grabbed a surfboard and paddled for the boat lights on the horizon, hoping to bribe his way on board with a pair of diamond earrings.
Sometimes, Sean wonders why those rich idiots didn't just shut up. They had the means to survive as long as they kept their heads down. In the end, he supposes, "'If you got it, flaunt it.'" (4.5.22).
Ice City, Greenland
The Interviewer meets with Ahmed Farahnakian here because Ahmed has nowhere else to go. During the Great Panic though, he was a Major in the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps Air Force.
Ahmed starts his story by pointing out how strange it was. India and Pakistan. North and South Korea. You knew those countries would go at it one day. But the danger was so obvious, too obvious. Those wars never happened.
No one could have imagined what happened to Iran.
The zombies didn't hit Iran as hard as it did other countries. It's cool, though, since the millions of refugees crossing their borders made up for it.
The Iranians called up the Pakistanis and demand they keep their people and borders under control. No such luck. To be fair to Pakistan, many of the refugees coming through their border came from other places like India. You know, just passing through.
With hundreds of thousands of people crossing the border, bringing thousands of infected with them, Iran had to do something.
They decided that something was blowing up the Ketch River Bridge.
Ahmed flew the mission in his Phantom fighter, destroying the bridge personally.
He prayed the Pakistanis wouldn't seek revenge. No such luck. Three hours later, an Iranian border station got hit. As Ahmed says, it was "tit for tat" (4.6.9).
But did that end things? Nope. Everything escalated form there without any way for the Iranians to contact the Pakistan leaders. Nuclear weapons hit cities on both sides.
Ahmed remembers people thinking such a thing could never happen between them as they were "fraternal Muslim brothers" (4.6.12).
The only person (or being) who could have expected it, well, Ahmed doesn't believe in him anymore.
Denver, Colorado, USA
The Interviewer's train is late, but Todd Wainio doesn't mind. The two shake hands under a mural titled Victory, showing a squad of soldiers looking at Manhattan on VA-Day.
Three months after the Great Panic began, Todd Wainio found himself in Yonkers.
He refers to it as a little suburb just north of New York City despite the fact that Yonkers is the fourth most populated city in New York State.
He and the army were there because the powers that once were decided they needed a knockout victory against the zed-heads, and Yonkers was going to be the place for that.
Todd wonders why they didn't put them on the roofs. You know, guys on the roofs, with guns, against an enemy who can't climb. We're not tacticians, but that seems like the recipe for a sweeping victory.
Alas, the grunts found themselves on the ground, preparing "cover and concealment" (4.7.8). Todd believes the men in charge must have been trained during the Cold War era of warfare.
At least they weren't going alone. They had tanks, humvees, mortars, and surface-to-air missiles. About the only thing they didn't have was a machine that laid bridges for them. Oh, wait, they had that too.
But don't get too impressed. Todd says it was mainly to show off the military's muscles to the press.
The soldiers wore heavy body armor and air masks to protect them. Only instead of protecting them, the body armor slowed their movements while the air masks obscured their vision.
They were also outfitted with a program called Land Warrior, allowing them to see what others soldiers were seeing on the battlefield in real time.
Uh, that sounds like the worst kind of video game ever.
Brain Snack: The Land Warrior system actually did exist. Unfortunately for it, the system proved about as popular with real life soldiers as it did with Brooks's fictional ones (source).
The zombies began trickling in one at a time and then more until they enter the first kill zone. Cue the MLRS rockets and the big boom.
Of the forty or fifty initial zombies, three-quarters died. The soldiers cheered. But, present-day Todd realizes they should have been worried. Since the rockets were destroying the bodies, not the brains, they were using way too much power for such a meager kill ratio.
More ghouls followed. More rockets—Paladins this time—were fired, proving even less effective.
The army kept intensifying the firepower. In Todd's words, it was a "meat grinder" (4.7.32).
Then the big weapons began to run out of ammo. The zombies were still coming, more and more of them.
The initial plan was that Todd and his fellow soldiers were supposed to take out the odd zombie who managed to shuffle to last line of defense.
Now, it was more than just an odd zombie who managed to make it through. They still had most of Manhattan to put down. Todd tried to keep himself frosty, to remember he's fighting zombies and not humans. But his career's worth of training to fight people and his pure terror made it hard for him to keep his head.
Plus, there was Land Warrior. Every scared solider screamed over the system, causing mass confusion. Some guys claimed the zombies were indestructible, sending even more panic and misinformation down the line.
Land Warrior's visual system cued in the sight of one guy being eaten by some zombies who'd been missed in the initial sweep.
Everyone watched as the bloody teeth sank into him. And … that was that.
The soldiers believed their line was broken. Moments later, fighters release a payload into the area. Todd leaped into his foxhole as the bombs went off overhead.
Where the zombies had stood was now a cloud of black smoke. Todd had enough time to take a breath before the zombies came right through the smoke. That was when everyone realized it wasn't their day. The front line broke.
Todd remembers images of the panic but nothing coherent.
He took a round in the chest, but the body armor protected him. His world went white, and the next thing he remembered was arms pulling him. He struggled, but one of the arms punched him. This instantly calmed him down because zombies don't hit.
His buddies dragged him into a Bradley helicopter.
Todd now realizes what failed them wasn't weaponry or training or tactics. It was fear. Zombies don't fear, can't fear. You can't make a zombie afraid of you, no matter how many really, really big guns you point in their direction.
But humans do feel fear. They fear snakes and heights and, oh yeah, the walking dead.
After the defeat of Yonkers, all of America felt that fear—the fear of zombies, not snakes.
Todd believes that without the South African plan, Yonkers might have been the last card dealt in the whole zombie war.