The Ashes of Empires Lost
How it all Went Down
The first case of Sudden Mortality Syndrome (SMS) occurred without much notice on August 15, 2015. Scientists are still at a loss to explain how the affliction worked. Pathologists could find no sign of any contagion and autopsies of the victims were inconclusive, at best. Victims simply weakened and died in a matter of hours, as if their vitality simply bled away. More victims turned up as autumn gave rise to winter and panic set in. Tensions rose as doctors continued to prove unable to diagnose or stop the spread of the affliction. Paranoia was the word of the day, as supplies of facemasks and gloves disappeared from store shelves, but nothing stopped the dying. Rumors abounded that SMS was the result of a bioweapons project, some said by America, others by “the Enemy”, but nobody could confirm or deny anything. By New Year’s Day, 2016, when the dead started to rise, SMS had claimed the lives of nearly 10% of the world’s population.
What was that, you say? The dead rising? Oh yeah…that. Funny thing about SMS; after 1/1/16, the victims began to get back up. The panic of late 2015 was nothing compared to the terror of early 2016. The risen dead were hostile towards the living, relentlessly violent, and, apparently, bereft of all but a predatory instinct. They were also infectious, spreading a toxin that triggered SMS symptoms within days of being clawed or bitten. Within weeks, the risen dead had become an epidemic. Police and National Guard were not enough to keep the populous safe or quell the rising zombie population. Major population centers were the hardest to contain, and the greatest cities in the world became quarantine zones, populated only by the dead and the dying. But the horde continued to expand, and soon it became obvious that there was no conventional way to stop them.
Beijing was the first city to burn. Chinese officials signed off on a nuclear strike on domestic soil on June 22, 2017. Calcutta was next, then Moscow, London, Detroit. Consumed in flame as spears of nuclear wrath rained down from the skies. The lucky ones were locked away inside secure military bunkers and shelters. Others escaped into less secure civilian shelter left over from the 50’s and homebrewed shelters built by survivalist “nutcases” over the years, who didn’t seem quite so crazy now. But in the end, the world burned, and a fraction of humanity survived.
Years passed in silence as mankind hid underground. Most shelters failed early on, due to improper sealing, poorly planned stockpiling, or other common mistakes. The big government shelters fared the best, and somehow, mankind survived for over a century. But eventually, supplies dwindled, water purifiers broke down, generators became depleted. And, fearfully, man had to emerge from their bunkers like a groundhog from hibernation. But what we discovered was winter. Nuclear Winter.
Frost and snow lay on the ground as far south as Jacksonville and the Mexican border. Many areas were still radioactive, especially closest to the big cities, and there were constant threats to the newly-emerged survivors. Wild animals, raiders, irradiated snowstorms; the world had become brutally unforgiving. Most shelters lost the first few parties they sent out, but the few that returned brought word of other survivors, who had learned how to live in the winter wastelands. Some shelters learned to cooperate with the outsiders and began to eke out an existence, others became xenophobic, even hostile, to the outlanders. These are the mad days of Winter, when mankind’s flame gutters in the ice and snow, and the howling outside the walls may simply be the wind…or something worse.