More than 86 million previously functioning humans simply collapsed. In every country, city, town, village and settlement across the world, daily business was interrupted by the sound of skulls cracking against concrete. Bodies slumped over the wheels of buses and cars. Figures crashed to the floor while toiling at work. Brains emerged from dreams without function. Millions more lost their lives as collateral damage in the immediate aftermath.
As if more perspective was needed, our prior daily mortality rate had peaked at 160,000 but, in one swoop, this condition had felled twice as many as AIDS had managed in 30 years. Not a global epidemic but a global killer. Neurological Zombosis instantaneously struck these people down where they stood.
Until, at least, they started getting back up.
It took between two and three minutes. Victims became threats in an instant. An unexplainable tragedy metamorphosed into our very worst nightmare. If you were in the vicinity of a sufferer of NZ, you will never forget the dead-eyed expression or the ungainly, shambling movements as these things slowly evaluated their surroundings, responding as if experiencing life for the first time. And if you did, you watched one of us become one of them.
I feel the need to reflect on these circumstances because they make our recovery even more remarkable. History has taught us that outbreaks start small and become plagues by virtue of misinformation, lack of resource or plain ignorance. Ebola, Malaria and other such pathogens thrived as a consequence. In stark contrast, here we had the biggest concurrent contraction of disease ever recorded and the method of multiplication was at once unique and inconceivable.
The odds were stacked significantly against us but we took down the Zombies before they could take down us. Eighty-six million of them arrived in an instant and yet now they can only be found in remote pockets or rare, isolated cases. Two years later there is no mass horde and, therefore, no daily battle to stay alive.
We won. It sounds implausible. Despite the inhuman decisions we were faced with, we were ruthless enough to survive. Are we fortunate? It’s tough to tell. Fortune would mean never having to face our mortality at all.
From the perspective of our fight-back, however, fortune, luck, chance… it doesn’t matter. The main reason why we aren’t fleeing for our lives is entirely down to the efforts of a single governing body, in what was unquestionably the most important democratic decision ever employed by mankind.
Imagining a time without the Preservation, even though its founding was just short of two years ago, is in effect imagining the previous world that is extinct. The Blood Turning destroyed our longstanding civilisation and the Preservation has fought to maintain a new version: Society 2.0. The unthinkable truth is this: had the UN not rushed through an emergency resolution to allow the Preservation’s inception, there may not have been a version of Earth left to salvage.
They are heroes to all of us, every single member, from Global Council to mobile infantry units. We would have been lost without the Preservers, who emerged as the most ruthless killing machine ever devised. Wherever Zombies were found, they weren’t far away. In every major population centre they were there, gouging their way through the shambling corpses.
The first wave of Preservers was in the streets within 24 hours of the Blood Turning and was fully operative within a week. To redress the balance, it conducted business with impunity and members of the front line were as unflinching as the Zombies. In the UK, you have seen the giant pits that were excavated in the suburbs, where hundreds of thousands of bodies were piled up and incinerated, leaving nothing but charred bones. I drive past one to get home every single day. It is an important reminder to me that the cleansing was brutal, simply because it had to be.
We all have a very clear image in our heads of the work that the Preservation has done for us and continues to do. But the nature of its humanitarian campaign, coupled with our own desire to restore order to our lives, has unquestionably left a degree of intrigue behind its operations.
When the Preservation Network takes control of our TVs for a broadcast announcement, we know that it is something we must hear. Yet apart from these irregular messages, we are left with a gap in our history. Just as we strove to tell the tale of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany in World War II to subsequent generations, I sought an audience with a senior member of the Preservation to allow us all to properly laud its astonishing efforts in our name.
Let me be clear. The Preservation does not sanction interviews with its members. It communicates with us only when it is strictly necessary but I was privileged enough to be granted time with Sarah Locke, Chief Executive of Policy for the UK. I was thrilled, for she is the personification of that curiosity I mention. She represents our country in all international Preservation meetings, assists in the process of centralising strategy and is, for all intents, our primary protector. If she were an elected official, her approval rating would be most healthy, with a recent poll finding that 75 per cent of UK citizens would vote for her as Prime Minister if they could. She has unquestionably brought a level of security to our lives and her approach to the evolving situation has been as endearing as it is uncompromising.
What makes her achievements more impressive is her mysterious background — she has never been identified in public nor interviewed in person, with the rationale being that her integral role in operations could make her a potential target for extremist groups. Indeed, the Preservation adopts an identical procedure with all members of its Global Council on the grounds of transnational security. Our interaction with these figures comes via our smart devices, TVs or written columns. There is a Sarah for every UN country and for any given population its only connection to the Preservation’s decision-making process comes via its chosen representative. Useful then that, in the UK, we have been bestowed with someone we can trust unequivocally. Sarah is an enigma but one that, for most of us, signifies a peace of mind that has kept the project of Society 2.0 stable.
It is July when I meet Ms Locke at a location I am not allowed to divulge for security reasons. Indeed, I am prohibited from providing any details of my surroundings aside from objects that you would expect to be present — tables, chairs and doors etc. I clamber through a multitude of badge checks and inquisitive guards clutching automatic weapons. As another operative scans me, the loudspeaker in the corner of the room welcomes my arrival and suggests that I may “call her Sarah.”