world war z

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For Henry Michael Brooks,
who makes me want to change the world

It goes by many names: "The Crisis," "The Dark Years," "The Walking Plague," as wel as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War Z" or "Z War One." I personal y dislike this last moniker as it
implies an inevitable "Z War Two." For me, it wil always be "The Zombie War," and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the word zombie, they wil be hard-pressed to discover a more
global y accepted term for the creatures that almost caused our extinction. Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these
memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.
This record of the greatest conflict in human history owes its genesis to a much smal er, much more personal conflict between me and the chairperson of the United Nation's Postwar Commission
Report. My initial work for the Commission could be described as nothing short of a labor of love. My travel stipend, my security access, my battery of translators, both human and electronic, as wel as my
smal , but nearly priceless voice-activated transcription "pal" (the greatest gift the world's slowest typist could ask for), al spoke to the respect and value my work was afforded on this project. So, needless
to say, it came as a shock when I found almost half of that work deleted from the report's final edition.
"It was al too intimate," the chairperson said during one of our many "animated" discussions. "Too many opinions, too many feelings. That's not what this report is about. We need clear facts and figures,
unclouded by the human factor." Of course, she was right. The official report was a col ection of cold, hard data, an objective "after-action report" that would al ow future generations to study the events of
that apocalyptic decade without being influenced by "the human factor." But isn't the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Wil future generations care as much for chronologies and
casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history
that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn't the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as "the living dead"? I presented this
argument, perhaps less professional y than was appropriate, to my "boss," who after my final exclamation of "we can't let these stories die" responded immediately with, "Then don't. Write a book. You've
stil got al your notes, and the legal freedom to use them. Who's stopping you from keeping these stories alive in the pages of your own (expletive deleted) book?"
Some critics wil , no doubt, take issue with the concept of a personal history book so soon after the end of worldwide hostilities. After al , it has been only twelve years since VA Day was declared in the
continental United States, and barely a decade since the last major world power celebrated its deliverance on "Victory in China Day." Given that most people consider VC Day to be the official end, then
how can we have real perspective when, in the words of a UN col eague, "We've been at peace about as long as we were at war." This is a valid argument, and one that begs a response. In the case of
this generation, those who have fought and suffered to win us this decade of peace, time is as much an enemy as it is an al y. Yes, the coming years wil provide hindsight, adding greater wisdom to
memories seen through the light of a matured, postwar world. But many of those memories may no longer exist, trapped in bodies and spirits too damaged or infirm to see the fruits of their victory
harvested. It is no great secret that global life expectancy is a mere shadow of its former prewar figure. Malnutrition, pol ution, the rise of previously eradicated ailments, even in the United States, with its
resurgent economy and universal health care are the present reality; there simply are not enough resources to care for al the physical and psychological casualties. It is because of this enemy, the enemy
of time, that I have forsaken the luxury of hindsight and published these survivors' accounts. Perhaps decades from now, someone wil take up the task of recording the recol ections of the much older,
much wiser survivors. Perhaps I might even be one of them.
Although this is primarily a book of memories, it includes many of the details, technological, social, economic, and so on, found in the original Commission Report, as they are related to the stories of
those voices featured in these pages. This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible. Those questions included in the text are only there to il ustrate those that
might have been posed by readers. I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own.

[At its prewar height, this region boasted a population of over thirty-five million people. Now, there are barely fifty thousand. Reconstruction funds have been slow to arrive in
this part of the country, the government choosing to concentrate on the more densely populated coast. There is no central power grid, no running water besides the Yangtze
River. But the streets are clear of rubble and the local "security council" has prevented any postwar outbreaks. The chairman of that council is Kwang Jingshu, a medical
doctor who, despite his advanced age and wartime injuries, still manages to make house calls to all his patients.]

The first outbreak I saw was in a remote vil age that official y had no name. The residents cal ed it "New Dachang," but this was more out of nostalgia than anything else. Their former home, "Old
Dachang," had stood since the period of the Three Kingdoms, with farms and houses and even trees said to be centuries old. When the Three Gorges Dam was completed, and reservoir waters began to
rise, much of Dachang had been disassembled, brick by brick, then rebuilt on higher ground. This New Dachang, however, was not a town anymore, but a "national historic museum." It must have been a
heartbreaking irony for those poor peasants, to see their town saved but then only being able to visit it as a tourist. Maybe that is why some of them chose to name their newly constructed hamlet "New
Dachang" to preserve some connection to their heritage, even if it was only in name. I personal y didn't know that this other New Dachang existed, so you can imagine how confused I was when the cal
came in.
The hospital was quiet; it had been a slow night, even for the increasing number of drunk-driving accidents. Motorcycles were becoming very popular. We used to say that your Harley-Davidsons kil ed
more young Chinese than al the GIs in the Korean War. That's why I was so grateful for a quiet shift. I was tired, my back and feet ached. I was on my way out to smoke a cigarette and watch the dawn
when I heard my name being paged. The receptionist that night was new and couldn't quite understand the dialect. There had been an accident, or an il ness. It was an emergency, that part was obvious,
and could we please send help at once.
What could I say? The younger doctors, the kids who think medicine is just a way to pad their bank accounts, they certainly weren't going to go help some "nongmin" just for the sake of helping. I guess
I'm stil an old revolutionary at heart. "Our duty is to hold ourselves responsible to the people."1 Those words stil mean something to me...and I tried to remember that as my Deer2 bounced and banged
over dirt roads the government had promised but never quite gotten around to paving.
I had a devil of a time finding the place. Official y, it didn't exist and therefore wasn't on any map. I became lost several times and had to ask directions from locals who kept thinking I meant the museum
town. I was in an impatient mood by the time I reached the smal col ection of hil top homes. I remember thinking, This had better be damned serious. Once I saw their faces, I regretted my wish.
There were seven of them, al on cots, al barely conscious. The vil agers had moved them into their new communal meeting hal . The wal s and floor were bare cement. The air was cold and damp. Of
course they're sick, I thought. I asked the vil agers who had been taking care of these people. They said no one, it wasn't "safe." I noticed that the door had been locked from the outside. The vil agers were
clearly terrified. They cringed and whispered; some kept their distance and prayed. Their behavior made me angry, not at them, you understand, not as individuals, but what they represented about our
country. After centuries of foreign oppression, exploitation, and humiliation, we were final y reclaiming our rightful place as humanity's middle kingdom. We were the world's richest and most dynamic
superpower, masters of everything from outer space to cyber space. It was the dawn of what the world was final y acknowledging as "The Chinese Century" and yet so many of us stil lived like these
ignorant peasants, as stagnant and superstitious as the earliest Yangshao savages.
I was stil lost in my grand, cultural criticism when I knelt to examine the first patient. She was running a high fever, forty degrees centigrade, and she was shivering violently. Barely coherent, she
whimpered slightly when I tried to move her limbs. There was a wound in her right forearm, a bite mark. As I examined it more closely, I realized that it wasn't from an animal. The bite radius and teeth
marks had to have come from a smal , or possibly young, human being. Although I hypothesized this to be the source of the infection, the actual injury was surprisingly clean. I asked the vil agers, again,

who had been taking care of these people. Again, they told me no one. I knew this could not be true. The human mouth is packed with bacteria, even more so than the most unhygienic dog. If no one had
cleaned this woman's wound, why wasn't it throbbing with infection?
I examined the six other patients. Al showed similar symptoms, al had similar wounds on various parts of their bodies. I asked one man, the most lucid of the group, who or what had inflicted these
injuries. He told me it had happened when they had tried to subdue "him."
"Who?" I asked.
I found "Patient Zero" behind the locked door of an abandoned house across town. He was twelve years old. His wrists and feet were bound with plastic packing twine. Although he'd rubbed off the skin
around his bonds, there was no blood. There was also no blood on his other wounds, not on the gouges on his legs or arms, or from the large dry gap where his right big toe had been. He was writhing like
an animal; a gag muffled his growls.
At first the vil agers tried to hold me back. They warned me not to touch him, that he was "cursed." I shrugged them off and reached for my mask and gloves. The boy's skin was as cold and gray as the
cement on which he lay. I could find neither his heartbeat nor his pulse. His eyes were wild, wide and sunken back in their sockets. They remained locked on me like a predatory beast. Throughout the
examination he was inexplicably hostile, reaching for me with his bound hands and snapping at me through his gag.
His movements were so violent I had to cal for two of the largest vil agers to help me hold him down. Initial y they wouldn't budge, cowering in the doorway like baby rabbits. I explained that there was no
risk of infection if they used gloves and masks. When they shook their heads, I made it an order, even though I had no lawful authority to do so.
That was al it took. The two oxen knelt beside me. One held the boy's feet while the other grasped his hands. I tried to take a blood sample and instead extracted only brown, viscous matter. As I was
withdrawing the needle, the boy began another bout of violent struggling.
One of my "orderlies," the one responsible for his arms, gave up trying to hold them and thought it might safer if he just braced them against the floor with his knees. But the boy jerked again and I heard
his left arm snap. Jagged ends of both radius and ulna bones stabbed through his gray flesh. Although the boy didn't cry out, didn't even seem to notice, it was enough for both assistants to leap back and
run from the room.
I instinctively retreated several paces myself. I am embarrassed to admit this; I have been a doctor for most of my adult life. I was trained could even say "raised" by the People's Liberation
Army. I've treated more than my share of combat injuries, faced my own death on more than one occasion, and now I was scared, truly scared, of this frail child.
The boy began to twist in my direction, his arm ripped completely free. Flesh and muscle tore from one another until there was nothing except the stump. His now free right arm, stil tied to the severed
left hand, dragged his body across the floor.
I hurried outside, locking the door behind me. I tried to compose myself, control my fear and shame. My voice stil cracked as I asked the vil agers how the boy had been infected. No one answered. I
began to hear banging on the door, the boy's fist pounding weakly against the thin wood. It was al I could do not to jump at the sound. I prayed they would not notice the color draining from my face. I
shouted, as much from fear as frustration, that I had to know what happened to this child.
A young woman came forward, maybe his mother. You could tel that she had been crying for days; her eyes were dry and deeply red. She admitted that it had happened when the boy and his father
were "moon fishing," a term that describes diving for treasure among the sunken ruins of the Three Gorges Reservoir. With more than eleven hundred abandoned vil ages, towns, and even cities, there
was always the hope of recovering something valuable. It was a very common practice in those days, and also very il egal. She explained that they weren't looting, that it was their own vil age, Old
Dachang, and they were just trying to recover some heirlooms from the remaining houses that hadn't been moved. She repeated the point, and I had to interrupt her with promises not to inform the police.
She final y explained that the boy came up crying with a bite mark on his foot. He didn't know what had happened, the water had been too dark and muddy. His father was never seen again.
I reached for my cel phone and dialed the number of Doctor Gu Wen Kuei, an old comrade from my army days who now worked at the Institute of Infectious Diseases at Chongqing University.3 We
exchanged pleasantries, discussing our health, our grandchildren; it was only proper. I then told him about the outbreak and listened as he made some joke about the hygiene habits of hil bil ies. I tried to
chuckle along but continued that I thought the incident might be significant. Almost reluctantly he asked me what the symptoms were. I told him everything: the bites, the fever, the boy, the arm...his face
suddenly stiffened. His smile died.
He asked me to show him the infected. I went back into the meeting hal and waved the phone's camera over each of the patients. He asked me to move the camera closer to some of the wounds
themselves. I did so and when I brought the screen back to my face, I saw that his video image had been cut.
"Stay where you are," he said, just a distant, removed voice now. "Take the names of al who have had contact with the infected. Restrain those already infected. If any have passed into coma, vacate the
room and secure the exit." His voice was flat, robotic, as if he had rehearsed this speech or was reading from something. He asked me, "Are you armed?" "Why would I be?" I asked. He told me he would
get back to me, al business again. He said he had to make a few cal s and that I should expect "support" within several hours.

They were there in less than one, fifty men in large army Z-8A helicopters; al were wearing hazardous materials suits. They said they were from the Ministry of Health. I don't know who they thought they
were kidding. With their bul ying swagger, their intimidating arrogance, even these backwater bumpkins could recognize the Guoanbu.4
Their first priority was the meeting hal . The patients were carried out on stretchers, their limbs shackled, their mouths gagged. Next, they went for the boy. He came out in a body bag. His mother was
wailing as she and the rest of the vil age were rounded up for "examinations." Their names were taken, their blood drawn. One by one they were stripped and photographed. The last one to be exposed
was a withered old woman. She had a thin, crooked body, a face with a thousand lines and tiny feet that had to have been bound when she was a girl. She was shaking her bony fist at the "doctors." "This
is your punishment!" she shouted. "This is revenge for Fengdu!"
She was referring to the City of Ghosts, whose temples and shrines were dedicated to the underworld. Like Old Dachang, it had been an unlucky obstacle to China's next Great Leap Forward. It had
been evacuated, then demolished, then almost entirely drowned. I've never been a superstitious person and I've never al owed myself to be hooked on the opiate of the people. I'm a doctor, a scientist. I
believe only in what I can see and touch. I've never seen Fengdu as anything but a cheap, kitschy tourist trap. Of course this ancient crone's words had no effect on me, but her tone, her anger...she had
witnessed enough calamity in her years upon the earth: the warlords, the Japanese, the insane nightmare of the Cultural Revolution...she knew that another storm was coming, even if she didn't have the
education to understand it.
My col eague Dr. Kuei had understood al too wel . He'd even risked his neck to warn me, to give me enough time to cal 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 artil ery hammering our forces.
Gu and I had been trying to remove shrapnel from the bel y of this soldier not much younger than us. The boy's lower intestines had been torn open, his blood and excrement were al 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 fal ing 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 wel , ours or theirs, we couldn't tel .
Another round hit and we bent over the dying boy. 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 be al 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 control ing 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 al 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 hel 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 al right." That was when I realized that this was not an isolated outbreak. I ended the cal 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 al right."

[Kwang Jingshu was arrested by the MSS and incarcerated without formal charges. By the time he escaped, the outbreak had spread beyond China's borders.]

[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 al 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 initial y a
shetou.1 I was an importer: raw opium, uncut diamonds, girls, boys, whatever was valuable from those primitive excuses for countries. The outbreak changed al that. Suddenly we were besieged with
offers, and not just from the liudong renkou,2 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?
Official y they did. Penalties on smuggling were hardened; border checkpoints 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 stil 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 al 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. Smal -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. Initial y 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 wel -to-do businessman and his wife. He had been bitten.
Not a serious one, you understand, but one of the "slow burns," where al 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 col apse. His wife tried to cal 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 staff final y 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 real y 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 had to work off their bao 3 to the local Chinese mafia. The majority of them simply
melted into the host country's underbel y.
The low-income areas?
If that's what you want to cal 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 man's 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 practical y begged us for the business. Those countries were in such economic shambles, their officials were so backward and corrupt, they actual y helped us with the paperwork in exchange for a
percentage of our fee. There were even shetou, or whatever they cal ed 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
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