Drama Fiction Western

It had been a year since the Solanum outbreak of 2025. As part of a collaboration with the greater Anglosphere, scientists from America, Britain, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand all gathered to study the effects of a new pesticide on several notorious insect species known to be hazardous to crop failures. Each scientist from different regions was tasked with finding and bringing the insects common in that region to a research facility in Alice Springs. The Australian Outback's legendarily unique geography has had a bolstering effect on the evolution of the local wildlife and as a result, some of the most dangerous animals known to Australians would never be found anywhere else in the world.

The purpose of the experiment was to see if the pesticide, when ingested by insects, would cause them to cannibalize and wipe each other out instead of the crops they came to feast on, and there was a reason Australia was chosen: North American winters found in Canada and the Northern U.S. drove the insects away; Ireland was isolated and had very few insect species native to its lands; much of the same for New Zealand; and while both South Africa and Australia are in the southern hemisphere, safety concerns were a commonly cited issue. Thus, Australia was chosen: it was isolated without being inhospitable and had a rich fauna population that could be compared with their other largely Anglosphere counterparts.

The study began in December of 2022. Multiple scientists from each region of their respective countries (that is, ten Canadian scientists representing the ten provinces, five Americans representing the five regions, including Alaska and Hawaii, four British scientists from the four countries of the U.K., etc.) were tasked with collecting and keeping colonies of their regions' native insects and transporting them all to a facility set up in Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. It took several months to develop a prototype strain of Solanum. The foreign and domestic insects were separated by independent and dependent variables. The independent variables (ANZ insects) were tested first under the assumption that Australia's geography made them more resilient than their non-native counterparts. As for the dependent variables, they were given smaller doses of Solanum in their feed.

When the study was published in July of 2023, they noticed that the Aussie/Kiwi insects did cannibalize those in their native colonies, but made a contest of it. Every insect attempted to eat each other in the insect world's version of Battle Royale and once one of the insects came out on top, it's victory was cut down very swiftly, dying of what appeared to be exhaustion. The conclusion drawn from this was that Solanum in insects behaved as a hallucinogenic poison. Due to their simpler biology, the Solanum was said to have poisoned the mind and made them see everyone as prey. Bees clipped the wings and legs of their compatriots and ate their brethren whole. Wasps and hornets tore their comrades apart and consumed them limb from limb then turned on each other until their were only two of each left. Halfway into the meal, the victorious wasp and hornet dropped dead. Centipedes, already notorious predators lashed out in an unexpectedly violent fashion. Moving reminiscently of Greco-Roman wrestlers, the centipedes through their bodies all around the jar and tore each other into pieces, made meals of them and again repeated the harrowing process until one emerged victorious and then died.

Amongst the Australian/New Zealand variety, the study was a success. The next on the list were the American and Canadian insects. Like their Australian/New Zealander counterparts, the insects native to the American south and southwest lasted longer than those found all along the northern states and even the Canadian variants who were found to not have put up a fight. The Irish variants performed the worst as the island is home to no dangerous insects due in part to the climate with the only insects found on the island were wasps, flies and hornets. The only other foreign insect that could last as long as the ANZ study groups was the South African variant, who at times, outlasted the ANZ groups.

The study concluded in September the same year and a patent was filed for the insecticide in each participating country, all under different names and was marketed primarily to farmers and the pest control industry. Patting themselves on the back, the scientists went to work on a new pesticide meant to halt weed growth, but then there was an incident. The oldest of the scientists, 82-year-old Herbert Lange from Halifax, was losing a battle with Parkinson's disease and was asked multiple times to retire. The stubborn old man felt he was still fit enough to continue the studies with his fellow Canadians and begged like a child to be included in the studies.

In February of 2025, a new strain of the Solanum was being developed and Dr. Lange dropped one of the vials in the refrigerator. The puff of smoke got into his lungs and gave him a serious whooping cough that drew progressively copious amounts of blood. He was found an hour later by two of the British scientists, lying on the floor and stuck with his violent, whooping cough. He was escorted to the on-site infirmary under the care of multiple nurses and doctors who did their best to find and eliminate the source of the Solanum in his system complete with the necessary precautions, such as face masks, face shields and hazmat suits. However, some of the doctors and nurses -- whether deliberately or not -- got somewhat careless and traces of the Solanum was found in them, be it a mask and shield gone missing or a tear in the hazmat suit.

After about six hours, Lange sprang up from his hospital bed feeling fine, but collapsed soon after that and reportedly cannibalized the physicians in the room. The same thing happened to the scientists who didn't wear there masks or couldn't due to damage or shortages. On February 28, 2025, the Australian team notified authorities from a safe location and within the hour, Alice Springs Police dispatched investigators to evacuate and cordon off the facility. One of the Aussie scientists warned that they had important research to be salvaged from the facility once they were certain a crisis had been averted or defeated. This didn't come to pass, as some of the scientists, notably those from the U.S., Canada and Ireland had been coughed on by the infirmary nurses who had been infected with Solanum.

On their way back to the city of Alice Springs, Pandora's box flew open as detectives and other investigators had symptoms of the infection and spread it to untold numbers of people around the city before the symptoms were noticeable. They got worse with every new infection found and the entire city of Alice Springs was quarantined by March 14. The next day, the Australian Government put the Northern Territory on lockdown and sent the Australian Army to watch state borders. The Royal Australian Navy maintained a blockade of the state's northern coastline and the Royal Australian Air Force dispatched surveillance planes to give the soldiers an extra set of eyes from the sky.

At the same time, civilians were being checked and monitored as they fled to neighboring states and even countries. The tools to check for temperature at the time weren't readily available to the public and by modern standards, the tools used in the early stages were at best primitive and unsurprisingly, demonstrably inaccurate. People with benign symptoms or were otherwise asymptomatic were given clean bills of health and people with severe symptoms were thought to have had the cold or the flu and then transported by military escort to a neighboring state's nearest intensive care unit.

By April 20, 2025, almost all of Australia and New Zealand were under military lockdown with aid from the United States who curiously has a contingency in place for a scenario like this called CONPLAN 8888. Unbeknownst to them, the Solanum virus strain from Alice Springs had marched into Darwin on the coast and jumped ship northward to the tiny nation of Timor-Leste, then to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. After a month of travelling on the backs of unsuspecting victims, strains of Solanum made its way into mainland Asia, hitting Indochina particularly hard.

By July of 2025, Solanum was on every nations TV and radio stations. Myths and conspiracies about the virus' origins circulated on dark web forums, snake oil salesmen pushed dubious cures for personal gain, most of the governments of the world published their own version of CONPLAN 8888 in leaflets and distributed them all from planes. In the plan, they warned that those who were infected should be kept away from meaty foods as a means to diminish their taste for flesh. Those were in danger of turning into zombies should be kept in isolation and nature be allowed to run its course. Those who can fight back should do what they can to arm themselves and mount their home defenses against the zombies and those who are defenseless should relocate to areas monitored by their nations militaries. As always, military bases and training facilities were in some capacity off limits to the public, instead citizens were moved to temporary camps set up by the military.

Whilst fighting the zombies, pre-existing tensions worsened. Both Koreas blamed each other for underreporting and attempting to weaponize the virus against the other. The European Union strengthened eastern borders pointing towards Russia. Many of the nations of the African continent kept a close eye on each other as much as they did the zombies. Things were somewhat better in the Americas. The U.S. and Canada engaged in joint military operations, pulling double duty fending off the infected horde and safeguarding each other's citizens.

The Solanum outbreak took the world and smashed it onto the floor in millions of pieces. Save for the numerous island territories in the Pacific and elsewhere, even five years after the initial outbreak, every day life hasn't fully recovered. Face masks are worn by the healthy to ward off infected air droplets spread by the sick. Isolated areas like ships, prisons, military installations had to be repurposed or reorganized due to fears of an infection spreading. All commercial vessels now only serve to transport healthcare supplies between neighboring countries. High value individuals such as presidents, governors, general officers, law enforcement directors, senators and other lawmakers and reviewers all travel in armored convoys. People can tell which houses are inhabited from the outside. A miniature fortress that occasionally fires gunshots into the distance has a well-armed family, while an empty house is nothing but a frame. A skeleton, a shell of its former self. Office buildings are completely off limits and several joint operations were undertaken to investigate them under the suspicion that they were nesting grounds for Solanum's most vile variants.

A veteran of one of these operations, Major Cassius Drummond of the Australian Army, led multiple operations in and around his hometown of Perth. How they worked was that squads of 10 to 15 soldiers would enter the premises of an office building, find survivors, take their temperatures and if they were healthy, move them to a secure facility staffed by the Army. If they showed signs of infection, they needed to be taken in for military research so that Army doctors could study the virus and develop a cure. If they'd turned into zombies, whether in early stages or were fully converted, they were given orders to shoot on sight. As commander of a special forces unit, Major Drummond was among the elite of his regiment, a leader of Australian commandos tasked with ensuring the safety of civilians, foreign and domestic and to aid in destroying the virus where it lived.

After a life-threatening injury to himself and the regiment, he was medically discharged from the Australian Army and his command was given to another recently promoted Major, Patrick Stockman. Drummond was grateful for his service to his country and attempted to pass on his knowledge of military operations to his community. His friends and family formed an impromptu group of their own called the Drummond Corps. This corps had a similar command structure to other countries with an established marine corps branch, most notably the United States Marine Corps and the British Royal Marines. Drummond took the leadership role of Commander of the Corps, and established a merit-based community that recognized individual characteristics and skills instead of nepotism or other family ties.

This community had developed a culture unlike its own. There were departments dedicated to entertainment and education, from creative writing to music to video productions under certain regulations in the entertainment department and an education system mimicking the Australian education system. The Drummond Corps had specialized units of fighters for the purposes of defense and offense and the training was monitored by Drummond himself and his chosen second-in-command. This position was initially chosen by former military personnel no matter their allegiance, but with more and more trained fighters, called guardians, coming from the civilian field instead of the military field, this restriction was lifted. A law enforcement department was established to draft and maintain rules in case a crime had been committed and the crimes listed all had rehabilitative elements than punitive ones. Chefs and cooks joined the community to lend their culinary expertise to the group. Doctors and nurses, military or civilian, were welcomed with open arms and set up the community's makeshift hospital.

The community grew as survivors joined them from all around Perth and the surrounding area. A diverse group of people across all fields gave this fledgling community the same status of an ancient Greek city-state and Drummond himself adopted several nicknames. Concerning his military background, he was referred to has Major Tortoise, likening himself to the careful nature of one of the titular characters from the Tortoise and the Hare. Those who saw him as the Drummond Corps Commander called him the Aussie Shogun or the Daimyo of Perth, in reference for the feudal Japanese regional leaders of the samurai classes. Those who were close to him called him the Ambassador or Prime Minister or even President, referring to how well and politician-like he behaved not only to those in his community but to those in other similar communities as well. The Australian Government recognized the good these communities did for the people and listed them as protected spaces under the government.

The world was still fighting off the Solanum virus and its legions of variants the world over by the Fall season of 2026. Unlike Drummond's Corps, other communities didn't enjoy that same sort of fortune as he. Some groups were tyrannical from the beginning and others fell into tyranny over the course of a few months. Some attracted the most toxic groups in existence while others grew to be corrosive and acidic. Some started off well, but expected too much of humanity in a time of crisis and others had low expectations and were in essence mobilized death squads eliminating all signs of life, infected or healthy. But Drummond's Corps was a resilient community. Chefs, lawmakers, entertainers, educators, scribes, chaplains, and others flocked to Cassius Drummond because they saw a secondary leader. If Australia's head of government was the Prime Minister, Drummond was recognized as a deputy prime minister, and the people of his community saw a ticket to freedom and safety from him. He maintained that if he failed, they all failed and he was determined to see his community survive the Solanum outbreak intact.

March 11, 2021 20:37

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