28 WHATEVERS LATER
The Rage virus was discovered as a side effect of the human genome project.
The virus had hid within the genetic code of humanity and its ancestors for eons, and might well have not been discovered for generations: luck and chance played a major role in its discovery.
Human stupidity played the dominant role in its study, though.
The discovery that this ancient genetic intruder played a major role in the biochemical roots of aggression led some people to think wow, we may have found the key to ending hatred, others to think wow, we’d better not mess with this sucker, and still others to think wow, bet the military would fork out a lot of cash for research into this.
Guess which groups got the funding?
Who the bright boy was that managed to convert the virus into a free-living form remains unknown. However, it was apparently in May of 2002 that it mutated in one of the test animals into a far faster reproducing virus, creating Virus ZR-17, or, as it became popularly known, the Rage Virus. 
The British Disaster broke out late in May.
The timing of the raid by the Radical Wing of the British People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was unfortunate. If they had arrived six days later, all samples and the infected ape would have been moved to a far more secure location in the Scottish Highlands (of course, carrying out bioweapons research in the heart of London had been sort of a dick move to begin with): four days earlier, the Chimpanzee had been rather more docile (at least by the standards of those nasty crotch-biting primates). By the time security arrived and started shooting people, one of the Animal Liberationists had run screaming into the night, leaving behind two dead people and three more badly injured.
Special military forces were sent in within half an hour, and managed to track down and shoot “Patient Zero” before authorized armed police forces caught up with him (Police radio bulletins were already circulating by the time their helicopter landed), but by that time he had infected over two dozen people by bite, spittle, and his own blood. (The effort by a bunch of angry bar patrons to put him down after he hurled a garbage can through the window was… counterproductive). Compartmentalization of information meant that by the time the various necessary clearances and signatures had been collected to carry out the mobilization needed to close down and block off a third of London, it was too late. Geometric progression had begun.
The Rage Virus, as a side effect of its hijacking of the human genome, produces a complex molecule which in its lethality is surpassed only by Botulinum toxin among biologically produced poisons. However, while Botulinum kills through paralysis, the Rage Virus kills by someone beating you to death: rather than interfering with nerve impulses, ZR-17 toxin affects the primitive portions of the brain involved in aggression, and leads to overwhelming, uncontrollable fury, an all-encompassing rage towards everything and everyone that attracts the victim’s attention.
The victim is immediately contagious once the virus is introduced into the bloodstream, and quickly becomes infectious through any body fluid exchange as the virus rapidly multiplies and the amount of toxin in the bloodstream rises. Beyond a threshold level, the toxin has no further effect, so the increasing levels of ZR-17 in the body of the infected do not lead to further mental symptoms, but after a while blackish secretions begin to ooze from the soft tissues of the nose, mouth, ears and the corners of the eyes: these consist mainly of broken cells, viral particles, and the toxin itself. At this stage the infected can be seen as a virtual sack of toxin, which is concentrated enough in the secretions to set off an almost immediate rage attack if the infected bites someone or if the secretions are smeared against an open cut or split lip: the toxin is also of rapid effect if taken orally, passing easy through the soft tissues of the mouth and throat. Sneezing or screaming by the infected sprays particles, making inhalation another vector of contagion: however, unlike such diseases as diphtheria or anthrax, it does not form long-lived spores outside the body, so transfer by contact with items touched or otherwise soiled by the infected is relatively rare: in spite of popular myths, it has never been recorded as being picked up from a dirty toilet seat.
The government was, to its credit, quick in shutting down the Chunnel and ground all airlines, citing terrorism. The extreme rapidity of the incubation of the virus and the immediate effects of an almost imperceptible amount of the Rage toxin, terrifying as they may be to those exposed to the Infected, ultimately proved to be a lifesaver: not too many contracted “slow-burn” infections due to natural resistance or very small numbers of introduced viruses (say, through inhalation in the near vicinity of the infected), and of those who did and got on planes or boats before the shut-down usually spent enough time in queues for the infection to manifest itself before arrival on the continent (one airliner landed in France with the crew locked in the cabin and most of the passengers dead or dying from massive injuries inflicted upon each other) and although a few made it across before manifesting full-blown symptoms, the French government was able to act in time to contain outbreaks at the chokepoints of marinas, airports, and the Chunnel, although it was certainly touch and go for a while. (The traditional French willingness to shoot their fellow citizens helped ).
It seemed at first that the UK government might also succeed in the first hours of the outbreak, but with work impeded by an increasingly panicked population (government instructions to stay indoors and stay calm until the bioterrorism “incident” had been resolved were rarely followed to the letter, especially with increasing numbers of the Infected breaking down doors and setting things on fire) and the fact that the regular army and police were rather slow to follow instructions which essentially boiled down to shooting anyone who “showed an aggressive attitude.” A lack of an organized plan to deal with the outbreak led to severe confusion (after contagious ZR-17 was developed, contingency plans began to be written up, but hadn’t got much beyond the outline level when the catastrophe struck). After the first 48 hours, with increasing numbers of “oozers” creating new infected pretty much with every non-lethal physical contact or even getting with spittle range, the situation rapidly began to spiral out of control.
Current estimates hold that less than 1% of the population is either immune or capable of safely carrying the Rage Virus, but there is some variety in the symptoms shown. The infected population is generally divided into “short-cycle” and “long-cycle” victims: in the “short-cycle” victims, the virus reproduces with particular rapidity, causing cell death and toxin secretion at such high rates that the body is unable to survive the stress, leading to death within a few weeks: “long-cycle” victims show some signs of immune resistance, and can live for months if adequately fed and hydrated. Within “long-cycle” victims there are various degrees of mania displayed: the most severe cases generally die within days or hours, punching in TV screens with their bare hands, jumping onto people from second-story windows, trying to beat up buildings which looked at them funny, etc. The majority of the infected are able to go a fair amount of time between primal screams of rage and maintain enough consciousness to pick up a baseball bat to hit things they’d break their hands on. A very few retain enough self-control to incoherently scream at people to bugger off rather than simply immediately attacking them: it is generally recommended that their advice be taken without hesitation, since being stupid enough to not run will probably piss them off enough to attack you.
The existence of the uninfected seems to almost always bring infected rage to a boil, possibly due to the infected’s envy and resentment of those who do not suffer from their disease. The fact that the infected will often attack the uninfected en masse leads to a false impression of a “community” of the infected: in fact, the infected merely share a temporary common aim and obsession which distracts them from each other. The infected do not like each other anymore than they like anything else in the universe: as long as there are other things to catch their ire, no eye contact, and at least twenty feet of distance between them, the infected (excepting the extreme cases) can co-exist, or at least pass each other in the street without fighting to the death, but random encounters often lead to death or collapse from injuries and combat exhaustion. Once the uninfected is killed, lethal violence will often break out between the members of the previously seemingly united mob as those who did not get a chance to fully participate in the attack take out their frustrations on others, or - with the destruction of the target - will notice that someone has bumped into them or stepped on their shoes.
From initial infection to the collapse of centralized authority in Great Britain took a bit over two weeks, (the government relocated to Northern Ireland) although by that time a number of as yet uninfected towns and villages managed to create some defensive organization with the aid of weapons supplied by the British and other NATO forces. Military bases in areas not densely populated managed to create effective safe points behind wire and loads of machine guns: some offshore islands also provided refuge for the uninfected. Large cities proved essentially indefensible, given the rapid spread of the infection nation-wide by road and rail and the rapid outbreak of fires and mass “swarm” attacks by utterly fearless maniacs.
Once it appeared things were absolutely screwed, the population fled the island by any method they could, ignoring government notices to Not Panic and informational broadcasts re The Infected and You. A program to get people off in an orderly fashion by boat and plane to quarantined (surrounded by armed Europeans) landing points and offshore islands quickly broke down as panic set in. Planes were seized by armed mobs, sometimes without anyone involved who had more than a vague notion of how to fly. People headed to sea in motorboats, sailboats, rowboats, largish rubber duckies. A few made off by balloon. A great many died at sea, more died coming ashore and meeting panicky shore patrols rather quick to shoot anyone who didn’t immediately go flat on their faces when challenged. Others died when their planes failed to respond promptly enough to radio challenges.
By the third week the remaining resident population of Great Britain was about 90% infected and 10% people hiding out or huddled behind the defensive perimeter of various villages and military bases, gripping weapons in sweaty hands and listening for the sound of the next flight parachuting in food and ammo. (Evacuations continued, although only of those locations which listened to instructions and didn’t look like they were about to mob the helicopters). Over the following weeks and days the percentage of the infected steadily dropped, as they died attacking defended positions, in savage in-fighting, of disease and the sheer physical trauma of being constantly, unrelentingly, hysterically furious.
By the time some shmoe awoke 28 Days Later from a coma (having been left behind as the staff fled the fortified hospital by rooftop helicopter a week earlier), badly dehydrated and covered with bedsores, London’s population density, which had dropped precipitously from the start of the outbreak as people fled, had shrunk by better than 95%.
The infected are still partially sapient, but are in most cases so enraged that any sort of complex thought is impossible, and become frustrated with great rapidity. No infected has the patience to use a can opener, and cans are usually smashed open with the nearest available heavy object by food-seeking infected. No infected has been seen to cook beyond the level of burning things over a pre-existing fire or gas stove, and when they occasionally attempt to drive cars, almost inevitably wreck them in short order. This is helpful in combating the infected: most infected will use a gun if one is immediately to hand, but will quickly exhaust the bullets in random destruction if human targets are lacking, and in most cases lack the patience to reload them, much less actively look for bullets.
The extreme levels of epinephrine/adrenalin in the bloodstream of the infected leads to eventual exhaustion, and the infected spend nearly two thirds of their time in a coma-like state of exhausted sleep interrupted by periods of intense activity in which they search for food and violently release their fury against anything that annoys them. During their active periods the infected often display fury-driven strength well beyond the human norm, and few infected last for more than a few weeks before suffering torn ligaments and broken bones as a result of exerting themselves beyond the structural strength of their bodies. The infected do not seem to feel pain, or if they do it simply translates into greater fury rather than immobility. These factors combine to make it rather difficult to immobilize the infected through physical trauma: any injury not immediately fatal will simply increase their determination to kill you, and the effect of Tasers wears off very quickly.
After about three months, with winter closing in and attacks having dropped to near zero, cautious expeditions out of the “safe zones” began, led by the military. The problem of carriers (it was only after a second safe zone was devastated by an outbreak that the forensic specialists were able to trace it to a non-symptomatic carrier) meant that all seemingly uninfected survivors were placed in quarantine at various NATO-run camps: a fair number of said survivors took some violent exception to this. Some, fearing that the government planned to kill any carriers, went into hiding in the empty cities and countryside. Things were further complicated by that the fact that there were still some surviving infected, partially crippled by injuries self-or-mutually inflicted but still perambulating biological weapons, living off what few canned or dry goods that still could be found, fruit growing in abandoned orchards, and each other. And then there were people of wealth/political influence, looking for lost family and friends, and using their pull to command expeditions and search parties with a fine disregard for priorities: adventurers trying to sneak past the blockade to loot abandoned cities: and last but not east, a mob of medical personnel from around the globe looking to crack the problem of a cure for the virus. (Since ZR-17 was considered far too dangerous to let any of the infected, whether carriers or not, off the island).
Exactly how a carrier made it to the continent in December 2002, some 28 weeks after the initial outbreak, remains unknown.
Over the intermediate period, European governments had made preparations to deal with an outbreak, and had spent a lot of time explaining to the public about how such an outbreak would be quickly handled. In response, millions of Europeans took extended vacations in Asia and the Americas that winter, and there was a run on “hunting rifles.”
The French outbreak soon became the German and Low Countries outbreak, with resupply for hastily established “safe zones” and quarantined areas complicated by the relocation of the main source of supplies from the European continent to the USA. Italy, Switzerland and Spain managed to establish with US aid defensive lines in their mountains, and therefore managed to avoid full-blown outbreaks of the Rage, but much of northern Europe was soon infested with highly contagious psychopaths. As before, soldiers and police were initially often reluctant to shoot down in cold blood their friends and neighbors (we are not talking zombies here: just very angry people) – Germans in particular were reluctant to find themselves in a situation of just following orders – but as chaos spread and more and more incidents of Infected savagery were either seen personally or on video (babies smashed into walls, old ladies pulled to pieces, etc.), attitudes hardened.
With the stoppage of all trains, airline flights, and the blocking of major roads, the disease would be limited in its spread to the pace of a brisk walk: unfortunately, a fair number of “slow burn” infected with as yet no obvious symptoms made it well to the East before things were shut down, and German and other forces were forced to deal with outbreaks well to the rear of defensive positions.
Infection spread to Poland and Denmark.
In an example of international cooperation unknown since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania and Russia created a joint command to prevent the infection from spreading eastwards, the Russians sending to Belorussia and Ukraine’s western borders a million troops and a shitload of equipment, much of it old Soviet era issue. By stopping all road and rail and air travel communication with the west, and shooting anyone who tried to cross the border eastwards, a full-scale outbreak was prevented.
The European Catastrophe is generally considered to have come to an end by May, although small-scale outbreaks continued for several months. Several tens of millions of Europeans were dead, and the global economy, which had been badly hit by the British Disaster, was in freefall. The US, in spite of economic difficulties, did its best to help the European pick up the pieces. The Iraq war was temporarily put on hold, a hold which continued until 2007, when an ambitious subordinate blew Saddam to small chunks and made the whole thing rather less popular.
In any event, the US had other things to worry about. Although the US put a tremendous amount of effort and money to make sure no carriers got into the country, in the end the Atlantic wasn’t a big enough barrier: after the Romanian Unpleasantness of late 2003, the Turkish Terror, Russian Panic and Italian Freakout of ’04, the Mexican Massacres broke out in 2005…
As of 2011 there is no cure, the most promising new vaccine still killing about 1% of the experimental subjects. (Which subjects, you ask? Well, that’s what the unknown-to-the-public secret cooperative project with the Chinese government is about: US provides high tech, the Chinese provide experimental subjects). The only fully vaccinated country is North Korea – heck, what’s another 1%? (Fully vaccinated aside from Peerless Leader, who is currently doing Late Howard Hughes impressions in a suite everyone must go through blood testing and full decontamination procedure to enter).
The possibility of a new outbreak haunts people. Tens of thousands of carriers have been identified and remain locked behind barbed wire at various “medical assistance” camps and within “military hospitals.” Some have been there since 2002. Nobody knows how many more are out there that have been missed: the wealthier countries have carrier out programs of universal screening, but undoubtedly some people have slipped under the radar (often deliberately: who wants to be snatched away from all they know and be dumped in an MA Camp for God knows how long, or possibly ""killed trying to escape"?), and of course poorer countries have done much worse at identifying their carriers before outbreaks start, although the developed nations have tried to help out.
Still, ever now and then a new breakout occurs: a carrier can avoid infecting others if they avoid other people or in crowded conditions wear gloves and facemasks and avoid doing, er, kinky things, but accidents happen. (In many countries people normally wear face masks and gloves for fear of infection, allowing blending in). And of course some carriers may not know that they are carriers, until the fateful day comes when they kiss someone or sneeze too close to their face.
Paranoia re carriers are rife, and witch-hunts are frequent: any sort of unusual behavior can lead to suspicion only abatable by a joint trip to the local testing center. Many people have been murdered outright on suspicion of being a carrier, and there is no way to behave “correctly”: if you mingle widely with other people, you are too fearless re infection, and must be an immune carrier: if you avoid people for fear of being infected, you are a carrier avoiding blowing cover by infecting someone.
Another potential pool of disease are the infected: here and there the infected have been captured alive, often at great risk by heroic people trying to save a family member or loved one from being gunned down like a dog. Not much is gained from such heroism. None of the severely infected has been able to survive the wear and tear of their constant fury for more than eight months, although a few of the semi-sane – those able to occasionally use some words of the English language, if in a scream – have been kept alive for as long as six years, with the aid of massive quantities of tranquilizers. Alarmed people greatly object to keeping these dangerous sources of infection alive, but the scientists all agree that live specimens in “full-blown” infection are needed to find a cure for the disease (some countries such as China or Russia find it convenient to deliberately injure the spinal column or amputate limbs to keep the specimens from struggling too much). Sometimes, in less ruthless nations, there are escapees…
Over the past few years, breakouts have been kept small-scale. Attitudes have hardened, and ruthlessness is the order of the day. Through elaborate new paperwork people are tracked and identified to hunt down carriers, while national informational systems tied into everyones’ cell phone allows the US and some other advanced countries to site any outbreaks in time and place from the start. Most buildings and houses now have barred windows and reinforced doors. Once an outbreak is reported, the area is immediately quarantined, tangle-wire barriers in almost every building are thrown across the streets, and public announcement systems inform everyone in the neighborhood to go in doors, sit tight, and don’t let anyone in aside from the Biological Infection Protective Unit people until the all-clear sounds. And, of course, anyone who tries to leave the quarantined area before then will be shot.
So far, the Final Sanction – atomic bombing of an infected area – has not had to be applied.
Rural outbreaks are of course harder to contain, and poorer countries are less well equipped to handle outbreaks of any sort. The major nations of Europe and Asia, as well as the US, maintain special always-ready-to-go long-range flights loaded with high-tech equipment and weaponry to help deal with the problem. Special bombers accompany these flights from Russia and France and the US and China: loaded with bombs filled with special chemicals (the formula a gift from the old USSR) to if necessary wipe out the entire area.
There have been accusations that some of these “outbreaks” taking place in third-world dictatorships been little more than excuses for wiping out local enemies. (Why would even a desperate carrier take refuge in Somalia, of all places?)
The world economy remains sluggish, given the vastly reduced flow of human travelers (the US has completed a monster fence all along the Mexican border) and continued weak confidence in the future, although the perceived need for maniac-proof houses has led to something of a building boom.
The State of Emergency continues under president McCain.
 Yes, I am aware there is a backstory (comic book, I think?) in which this is the fault of scientists trying to cure human aggression. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of stories in which scientists try to do some good for humanity and things go TERRIBLY BAD: bury the meme already.