The zombies started showing up in Laramie two and a half days after all communications had been cut off from Casper, the city to the north.
For years afterward, Laramie citizens, or at least those who bothered to return to the town, debated where things had all started. A few swore that it had begun in the hospital. “Musta brung some a the infected down from Casper,” a rugged cowboy would always tell his friends as they nursed beers in a refurbished bar. “Put ’em in the hospital, not knowin’ what they got.” While his friends had heard rumors that the biting had begun elsewhere in town, they all knew that things had started because people had not known what they had got.
That new fancy California-based startup, Nanotech Bionetworks, was the brand new golden boy of Silicon Valley when Richard Rowles, that strange telecom CEO from down in Texas, had his boys enter into corporate deals with the company and start building a research facility up in Casper. Rowles, some veteran of the Provo Virus War and Second Mexican War with powerful family connections and a fancy education, had come into money and turned himself into a billionaire overnight. Rumors flew around Laramie in those days, before the bad times began, that Rowles, as a young man, had gone to the University there.
Records are hard to find for Richard Rowles, both then and now. But money from Rowles’ company, the October Corporation, flowed into Wyoming, even rivaling money from the mining and petroleum boys. October Corp. and the Nanotech company set up an office in Laramie and a much larger operation in Casper. “Government contracts for shady stuff,” people whispered, both townsfolk and college kids. Conspiracy theories flowed like water. Black SUVs with tinted windows and a conspicuous lack of badging were seen throughout Laramie, sometimes in small convoys. Some were seen with government plates.
Newspapermen from the town and the college found out that Rowles and some of his affiliates, often wealthy members of his surprisingly large family, were purchasing properties all over the cities of Laramie, Casper, and even Cheyenne. They had purchased fleets of heavy-duty trucks and SUVs from dealerships in Cheyenne and Colorado. Even for a rumored gun collector, the number of firearms legally registered to Richard Rowles (and his many known associates) were staggering.
Within four years, just as people had begun getting used to idling next to the tinted-window black SUVs, the man drove into that bar in downtown Laramie and started raising hell.
They never found out his name. It was a snowy night, as usual, that winter (weather patterns had changed recently, making snow a godawful frequent occurrence, even for Wyoming) and nobody in their right mind should have been out on the street. Everyone should have been at home by the fireplace, nursing coffee or hot chocolate, and dreaming of a warmer tomorrow.
The pickup slammed through the wall of the tavern at ten minutes after midnight, creating a horrible ruckus. Fortunately, the heavy vehicle had been going slow ‘” perhaps the driver had even tried to stop. When the bouncers hauled him out of the cab he was wild-eyed and ranting about Casper. As bar patrons stared, sneered, and glared, the cops arrived, followed by an ambulance. The unknown man, whose ID was apparently missing, was given a shot of some kind and bundled onto a stretcher by several cops and burly EMTs. Snow began blowing into the bar through the giant hole, and people, done watching the ambulance depart into the night, headed home.
As they wandered to their cars, many of the more sober ones wondered what the crazy man was talking about when it came to the city of Casper. It wasn’t until much later that a few of those bar patrons realized that the last phone call, e-mail, or text message that made it out of Casper, Wyoming had been sent at around 8:30 PM the same night the man drove through the wall of the bar.
“We have made amazing breakthroughs in the area of neuroscience, and particularly psychiatry and behavioral modification,” a Doctor Layman was saying on the television. “Advanced brain mapping has allowed us to determine exactly where electronic nano-chips, or a matrix of such chips, can be best located to properly stimulate damaged or abnormal parts of a person’s brain.” The man, a blonde man with blue eyes and a perfect tan (obviously purchased at an expensive tanning salon), had a Nanotech Bionetwork ID tag clipped to his pristine white lab coat. Next to him was another doctor, a dark-haired man with pale skin and an energetic grin.
“Already in our research facilities we have been able to program nano-chip and nano-cell matrices from a central computer to alter a person’s behavioral problems, allowing them to perform tasks they once could not. Individuals with traumatic brain injuries who have volunteered for our test programs have almost all reported amazing results.”
“And this is unprecedented in this field of research, Doctor?”
“Oh yes. This is perhaps much greater than the discovery of penicillin, even. Nonfunctioning or poorly-functioning regions of a brain can be altered, or even completely replaced, with nano-cells that mimic natural brain neurons.”
“Are there any negative side effects of extensive or large-scale nano-cell matrices in a person’s brain, Doctor? People are bound to be wary of the invasive nature of such new and untested procedures.”
“While testing is still underway, ma’am, we are pleased to report that the nano-cells, due to their limited scope, cause no biological problems individually. They are designed to be inert and not stimulate a body’s immune response. Therefore, so long as the central computer or central program of the nano matrices are not tampered with, the patient is at very low risk of any unexpected behaviors.”
Many people in Laramie had seen the live, televised press conference beamed from the impressive October Corporation building in Midland, Texas ‘” the tallest building between Dallas and Phoenix. Richard Rowles, looking amazingly handsome and immaculately dressed in a tailored suit (his age was not known, but he looked about 40), gave a short speech before letting the doctors, employed primarily by Nanotech Bionetwork, take over the proceedings. University students in the fields of pre-med, biology, and computer science sat rapt with attention in dorm rooms, as well as cheap housing preferred by college kids all over Laramie as computer and television screens glowed and danced.
Forty-four minutes after the live press conference concluded and broadcasting had returned to evening sitcoms, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department and Laramie Police Department were alerted to a flurry of cell phone calls from downtown. Disturbances had broken out and people were behaving violently. First responders thought there were drug overdoses. PCP, LSD, amphetamines, Special K.
“Suspects do not respond to verbal commands and show no response to pain stimuli,” an EMT said in a crackling radio transmission. The radio calls were recorded. Later, no recordings were found.
“This new program allows us to extend that matrix from the cerebrum and cerebellum into the salivary glands,” the man in the black suit announced quietly to the room. “The nano-cells in the salivary glands are ‘Ëœbuilder cells’ programmed to begin a full recreating an entire matrix, with a new brain/salivary matrix being formed within 36 hours.”
“Thirty-six hours seems a bit slow for our goals,” a bearded man in an immense leather chair responded, staring intently at the suited man from behind a massive mahogany table. “Can we speed up the process at all?”
“Perhaps to thirty hours, but not faster. The builder cells are larger and not as many are transferred through each saliva-spreading event.”
“If absolutely necessary, how quickly can the matrix be complete enough to accept radio transmissions?”
“We can reprogram the matrix so that transmission acceptance is a priority. Perhaps 21 hours from event.”
“Should be enough. Please go and continue your work.”
“Sir, we’ve got a situation here ‘” this is definitely no batch of bad drugs!”
“Why do you say that, sergeant?”
“We’ve got people behaving erratically and violently who have home addresses across entire city blocks. No way they’re all drug dealers. These aren’t college kids, either ‘” older people — even kids!”
“Illness, maybe? Virus?”
“It’s gotta be like rabies or something, but no animal could have attacked this many people!”
“Well, why are you calling me from the hospital ‘” aren’t they getting medical care already?”
“There’s too many of them! We brought in three more men who got bitten in some fight after the bars closed.”
“Bitten by another person?”
“They said it was John Wallace, who the front desk said was sent home from here after he got in a scuffle with the idiot who drove his truck through the Buckhorn wall!”
Silence on the line.
“Sergeant, I need to know why you are calling me.” The voice was beginning to tremble.
A sob emerged from the earpiece.
“The patients are starting to bite at people,” the police sergeant said hesitantly. “This may be a bad virus. We need more officers to restrain patients, and fast.”
“Well, how many officers are already there at the hospital?”
“Everyone available, sir. We don’t have any more.”
The line went dead.
The lack of available police officers meant that nobody responded to the security alarm at the October Corporation building on University Avenue. A computerized check reported to the police department, October Corp. headquarters, the Wyoming National Guard, and the Department of Defense that top-secret files had been accessed without authorization.
A second computerized check reported that pieces of hardware had been removed from the building’s power grid, including several experimental radio transmitters and a bank of computers.
The computerized check did not report that three guards had been murdered with a silenced pistol and their bodies stashed in a vacant office. The computerized check also did not report that paper files pertaining to nanotechnology and neuroscience, nanotechnology and neurology, and nanotechnology and psychiatry had been removed from an old filing cabinet in a second office. When the first calls to the Laramie Police Department came in from October Corp. headquarters in Texas, nobody answered the phone.
There was nobody to answer the phone.
An open radio channel crackled from switchboard speakers: “Calling all Laramie, Albany County, state and federal units — calling all Laramie, Albany County, state, and federal units — this is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill — “
Years later the files would say that Laramie was the first town in the world to be hit with the Dead Rising Nanovirus, a staple of a powerful religious extremist group that wished to emulate the Biblical apocalypse by giving the impression of the dead rising from the grave. The world’s fascination with zombie movies gave those infected with the brain-controlling Nanovirus the immediate universal description of “zombie.” Despite its inaccuracy, the name stuck ‘” the infected had no control over their overwhelming need for animalistic and brutal violence. The infected could not reason, felt no pain, and sought nothing but mindless destruction.
The body would die after four days of dehydration if left undisturbed. In the snowy streets of Laramie, however, the infected could survive, covered in moisture, for up to a week. Termination by physical means was the only way to control the spread of the Nanovirus, which could be transmitted by a single pod of “builder nanocells” in the saliva of a fully-infected individual. By the time the October Corporation’s defense contractors finished cleaning up Laramie eleven days after the man drove through the wall of the honky-tonk bar, the city’s population had been reduced by 40%.
The government and the October Corporation, after restoring civilian communications to Laramie two months later, celebrated the successful quarantine of an unprecedented outbreak of Marburg virus. Survivors who tried to argue otherwise often disappeared or were publicly declared mentally incompetent — a tragic effect of the virus on the tissues of the human brain.
That news was overshadowed, of course, by the news that a United States Air Force jet had crashed in Casper, Wyoming, weeks earlier, detonating a low-yield thermonuclear warhead that was on board.
Two weeks after that, another nuclear incident occurred in the vicinity of a mysterious religious group’s compound in the Nevada desert.
Days later, a man in Vladivostok, Russia was attacked in a public square by a bearded man with an oversized syringe the size of an epinephrine pen. The man was promptly taken to the nearest hospital.