The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 30: Hunting grounds
Dr. Frank Larson held up the small radio transmitter, listening carefully to the broadcast. He looked over his map, marking off the route he and his shambling flock were taking.
"I believe we're on the right path," he called back to his colleagues, Drs. Edward Sanchin and Michelle Yarin.
The other two scientists caught up with Frank, checking his map. "Yes, I think so. We should be there in a few days," said Yarin, looking over the inhuman tide that followed them.
Zombies. Thousands of them. They covered the Midwestern landscape like a rotted quilt, their moans filling the air for miles around. But what made these creatures different from their brethren across the Graveyard is they were sporting a unique fashion statement.
Neurological collars that gave the three humans complete control over them.
Michelle and Edward had been experimenting on the undead for months, long after their colleagues at the Future Design Research Center had evacuated. In the midst of this crisis, these two saw an opportunity,to go down in history as legends amidst the tawdry and mundane scientific community.
Green technology. Modular housing. The next wave in cell phone designs. These were what the others toiled on endlessly, a fruitless quest for fame and riches, with no thought to the real puzzles of the world. Michelle and Edward yearned for the bygone days of science, when they were concerned, not with dollar signs and marketability, but with cracking the walls of doubt and ignorance, with discoveries that would affect true change in the world.
Then the dead started rising from their graves, and they knew that era was not yet over.
One aspect of Future Design's research, which Michelle and Edwards had been leading for years, was on using electronic signals to override brain waves, in effect replacing them. The project, which had been kept out of the press releases issued, had shown promise with rabbits and gerbils, and talk was that trials on monkeys were not far off. It took much trial and error. They had to be sure the undead would follow their commands, and so they "recruited" some survivors to act as bait. For, if there was one thing the living dead could not resist, it was the call of fresh meat.
So many lives lost. So much time wasted on useless designs. Ah well, science marches on.
Eventually, though, their persistence and dedication bore fruit. It was late one night when Michelle placed herself in the zombies' cage. Edward begged her to get out, reminded her of her duty to her calling. Tears in her eyes, she looked back and said, "If we cannot succeed, then the calling of science is nothing more than a cackling hyena."
She closed the door as Edwards rushed to the controls, furiously punching commands into the console. The undead rushed towards the lone human female, jaws wide open, rotted fingers outstretched. Michelle pressed a button on the collar's control device. She spoke into the microphone which would relay her commands to the collars, which then transformed those words into electronic signals. "Stop."
And they did.
Michelle looked to Edward, who smiled at his lover and nodded. The devices worked. The living dead were now under their control.
The design perfected, using transistors and circuit boards scavenged from nearby electronics stores, they set to work producing first dozens, then hundreds. It was months later, when the undead had reached the western seaboard, that they set out for the east, to find the source, and learn the secret of the undead.
It was in Maine that they met Dr. Larson. He was shocked to look out his window to see two uninfected humans casually wander the streets, streets choked with the living dead. He watched in utter fascination as those under the control of the two scientists savagely attacked their rotting brothers and sisters, snapping their necks, crushing their skulls, even devouring them.
Truly, he thought, these were kindred spirits.
For hours, for days, the two sat and listened to Larson's theory, that the undead were not some freak accident or a result of bioterrorism, but a new evolution, a step forward. He explained that humans were random, chaotic beings only capable of looking after themselves. The walking dead, however, had only one concern, one driving need. Flesh. They didn't eat, didn't sleep, felt no pain or fear. And in satiating their hunger, they procreated, spreading themselves across the land.
In his unbiased-though at times scatterbrained-opinion, they were perfect, and it was their evolutionary destiny to replace man as the dominant life form.
They agreed with Larson whole-heatedly, and decided then and there that rather than controlling the undead to serve as bodyguards and attack dogs, they would amass an army, one capable of fulfilling their genetic destiny.
And they, they would be its leaders.
The three were a sight to see, and not just because of the thousands of walking corpses behind them. They still wore the clothing of their old lives. Dress pants and shirts, complete with lab coats and identification badges, though the smears of blood and brains did little to heighten the fashion sense. Larson wore a black patch over his right eye, a souvenir of his early experiments with the undead. The lesson learned that day was leather straps do not make an effective zombie restraint.
Their trek across the rotted, festering carcass of what had once been the United States of America had taken many weeks. Originally, their force consisted of only a couple dozen undead, but with such an abundant population in the Graveyard, recruitment proved to be a small problem at best.
As they traveled, they experimented with the undead's ability to process more complicated commands then walking or stopping. Along with its motor functions, a zombie's cognitive ability is limited, though whether by death or the virus that reanimates it has yet to be determined. However, the scientists learned that the creatures have untapped potential: they simply need a strong mind to guide them.
Across The Graveyard, they encountered a multitude of settlements and forts, some recaptured malls and office buildings, while others were government bases boasting armed soldiers and impressive defenses. Each time, the inhabitants fought back against the zombies, and many casualties were suffered.
But in the end, they all fell, and those lost were replaced with the fallen humans.
Larson was particularly proud of the way the military base dubbed Safe Haven was overcome. Knowing the zombies were capable of comprehending concepts like diversions and using themselves as shields for the bomb carrier was indicative of their potential applications. Larson and the others tried a different tactic each time, so as to gauge the ghouls' versatility, and their rotting children had made them proud each and every time.
Now a new challenge awaited them. A new city, a "safe haven," supposedly free of infection, protected, a place where humans-messy, misguided and purposeless-could start a new life.
Larson looked at a road sign as he walked, and smiled as his scientific mind began calculating the body count.