Hanna took it as a bad sign for the expedition’s productivity that they didn’t even make it out of the briefing room before people went, in her estimation, clinically insane.
The news that the dead were regenerating was met with the kind of outcry usually displayed by exceedingly drunk football fans when a referee made an egregious call against the home team. In their defense, Hanna couldn’t blame the assembled scientists from exploding with questions and declarations and, in some cases, pure babbling gibberish. If ever there was an occasion that called for losing one’s mind, being half a world away from home, sleep deprived and at ground zero for what, if things turned out well, would be the world’s first zombie apocalypse seemed like a reasonable candidate.
Dr. Tishone, as ever a practical soul, waited patiently for a few minutes as the research team assembled before her descended into chaos. Once everyone had a good chance to yell and scream their surprised reactions out, she calmly reclaimed their attention by clearing her throat and rapping on the podium in front of her.
When that didn’t work, she took Sergeant Garcia’s pistol and fired it into air three times.
The gunshots, as it turned out, had a remarkable efficacy rate when it came to focusing the scientific minds that were in hearing range (and therefore also firing range).
“Now that we have that out of our systems,” Dr. Tishone began, “If there is anyone who would like to be excused from this expedition please feel free to leave.”
“And go where? An American detention cell?” Professor Ajayi asked. Among the PhD’s in the room Ajayi had managed to retain his composure better than most but his patience was clearly frayed.
“There are dozens of other expeditions leaving today. Some you can still join before they leave for Tokyo and others you can be escorted to,” Dr. Tishone said. “Alternatively we’re generating more primary data, in more disciplines, than any other research effort in human history. Anyone who wishes to stay and help sort through that data before it’s passed onto the more specialized research centers that we have contacts in, well, your efforts will be more than welcome in that regards.”
“We know all that already,” Professor Ajayi said. “But something this big, you must be putting a ban of silence on it. That’s why your military personnel are here are they not?”
“Unfortunately the JSDF unit that provided the original photos of the regenerating dead was accompanied by an embedded journalist. The story of our exotic cadavers is already blazing a path of instant messages and status updates and tweets around the world,” Dr. Tishone said.
“People are gonna go mad,” Hanna said, speaking far more audibly than she’d intended to.
“Which is why we need to get in there and come up with some rock solid facts on what’s happening,” Dr. Tishone said. “Those of you who are willing to bring some sanity back to the world, the exit to our humvees is to your right. Those of you who want to skip investigating the most unexpected scientific find in the last ten thousand years, feel free to stay and do whatever you like.”
An hour later, as the humvees rumbled along Japan’s strangely empty highways, Hanna got around to asking herself if she really wanted to go along with Dr. Tishone’s mad expedition or whether staying back at the hotel would have been such a bad thing after all.
“Why are we setup so far from Tokyo?” she asked, addressing Kimberly, Simon or Kalia, all of whom had wound up sharing the same humvee that they’d been driving in previously.
“You need to get out of your room and mingle more,” Kimberly said. “Nagoya is closer than ninety percent of the scientists want to be to the Effect Zone in the first place, and the other ten percent are certifiable.”
“Which bracket are we in?” Hanna asked.
“Do you want a shorter car trip to get to the site of the most devastating and least understood disaster in human history?” Kimberly asked.
“I wouldn’t mind if we could get there with a little more daylight left,” Hanna said.
“Then I’ll have them start drawing up your certificate,” Kimberly said. “Hang it next to your diploma and you can be a bonafide Mad Scientist.”
“Well, we are going to see radioactive corpses,” Hanna said. “I suppose it doesn’t get more Mad Sciencey than that.”
“Radioactive?” Simon asked. “Dr. Tishone didn’t say they were radioactive.”
“Don’t worry,” Hanna said. “It’s mild, like the granite in Grand Central Station.”
“Grand Central Station is radioactive?” Simon asked.
“Yeah, lots of places are,” Kimberly said. “Just flying here we all picked up a nice big dose of rads.”
“Big being highly relative,” Hanna said. “We not talking Marie Curie working with radium here. More like wearing a glow-in-the-dark watch from the 1950s.”
“Sounds like we don’t need to worry about head shotting any zombies for you?” Kalia asked.
“Probably best to fire a warning shot or two first,” Hanna said. “Odds are any zombies you see out there will be grad students from another team who’ve just been away from their caffeine feeds for too long.”
“Grad school doesn’t sound so different from being in the service,” Simon said. “Half the guys in our unit are completely inhuman before they pour a cup of black tar down their throats.”
“Not just the guys,” Kalia said. “Though what you people will accept as coffee is criminal.”
“If you don’t have to chew it some, I don’t know how it can wake you up,” Simon said.
Hanna smiled and sat back as the others debated the merits of morning beverages and the preparations thereof from around the world. She wasn’t much a traveler, and didn’t have a terribly refined palate, but listening to the other was an enjoyable enough activity to pass the long trip with and it kept her mind off the less pleasant realities of what faced them.
At least until they passed into the Effect Zone.
Hanna wasn’t sure what she’d expected. She’d seen numerous pictures of the destruction, from aerial views, to satellite images, to live footage shot from the ground by the first rescue teams and those who’d followed them. None of that had prepared her for the reality of Tokyo’s obliteration though.
Outside the window of the humvee, the world around her looked like something from an alien landscape. No earthly space held the same mixture of the shattered trappings of civilization and the otherworldly gray crystals.
“This is a lot creepier than I thought it would be,” Kimberly said, voicing Hanna’s thoughts for her.
“And we get to keep driving until we get to graveyard,” Hanna said. It occurred to her for the first time, that, by going to the epicenter of the Phantom Quake, they were traveling to the deepest area of the Effect Zone. If dead did start rising from their graves, the human expedition would have to run the farthest possible distance to escape the weird otherworld they were rolling steadily into.
Intellectually, she knew that zombies were the least plausible of the problems that confronted them. The regeneration Dr. Tishone spoke of was occurring slowly, on a cellular level and, from the initial report that Hanna read while they commuting to the the remains of Tokyo, the “replaced cells” which were appearing within the corpses were as inert as any of the original, dead, cells. No true mitosis had been observed though, instead it was like the new cells were being produced, in their inert state, from nothing at all.
Part of that should have been comforting, but the more she read the reports, the more Hanna began to wonder if having their headquarters was only four hours away in Nagoya was really such a good idea. If she’d had the choice of locations to be based out of, some place slightly farther away, like Mars perhaps, seemed like a more optimal choice.
“We’re here,” Kalia announced, putting the humvee into park beside more than dozen similar vehicles the expedition had requisitioned.
Aoyama Cemetery was one of the most beautiful parks in Japan. Or it had been, according to the outdated tourist infomation that Hanna downloaded during the trip. Looking at the area that remained, Hanna didn’t envy the writer who would be tasked with updating the travel guides for it.
The lovely cherry trees which were one of the cemetery’s most famous fixtures weren’t broken or destroyed, they were gone. As were the rest of the trees that were supposed to enfold the park.
The elaborate tombstones had been reduced to nothing more than dust and all of the features of the land had crushed into a uniformly flat depression in the earth as though a vast weight, kilometers across had crashed to the ground and shattered the bedrock the park rested on.
Here and there, in place of the tombstones that should have marked the grounds, the gray crystals which dotted the landscape stood soaring into the sky far above.
“We can suit up outside,” Simon said, repeating the plan that he’d told them earlier. The hazmat suits were, in theory, a temporary precaution while the expedition took its initial readings in the cemetery. The disaster site was too large an area to worry about the risk of contaminating it, and from the initial rescue crews experience the Ghost Walker Expedition was reasonably sure that there wasn’t anything immediately dangerous lingering in the environment. At least so long as you didn’t go poking things with sticks or digging into places you weren’t supposed to.
The Expedition’s goal, of course, was to poke everything they could find with every sort of stick they could conceive of, all while digging into any and every place that might yield the slightest bit of interpretable data. Given that mandate, the hazmat suits were accepted by everyone as being a necessary part of the job, at least until they had real data that suggested the team was safe without them.
Hanna finished securing her suit last among those who’d been in the humvee with her, but still more quickly than some of the other grad students who’d come along with the expedition.
“You ready to check out the unearthly dead?” Kimberly asked as Hanna affixed the last of her velcro seals in place.
“How do you ever say ‘Yes’ to that question?” Hanna asked.
“You let your curiosity get the better of you,” Dr. Tishone said.
“Didn’t curiosity kill the cat though?” Simon asked.
“Yes, but satisfaction brought him back,” Dr. Tishone said.
“I’m willing to bet it’s not satisfaction that’s bringing these bodies back,” Hanna said, and while she wouldn’t at any point in time consider herself as having won that bet, she was nevertheless completely correct.