Earth as we know it is a foul, charred shadow of its former self, encrusted with the sprawl of urban growth, regrowth, and decay. If you didn't die in the war or leave for redder pastures in the Reconstruction—yes, even Mars is more hospitable these days—then you undoubtedly cling with all your feeble might to what shred of life remains here. It is a world filled with layer upon layer of empty catacombs. Empty, that is, but for the burnt corpses of the homeless, the ashes of those killed in raids, collateral damage from a war amongst everyone and no one. Sure, there were politics around it; there always are. But by now, nobody even cares enough to ask why. It's enough to keep your head down and get from day to day, to fight the urge to ask questions, and above all, to avoid getting infected.
It would be irresponsible of me not to introduce myself, but due to that equally irresponsible and inconveniently innate desire of humanity to survive, I think I'll avoid giving my full name. I hope you'll forgive me for not wanting to get shot. Let me tell you: it's not exactly what you'd call a pleasant experience. Anyway, they call me Y.
The disease. We deal with it, for the most part. The infected tend not to last long these days, and you only stand a chance of catching it if you're idiotic enough to go spelunking in the downside, the lower levels. Raiders get it, mostly, the scavengers who subsist on the decaying meat of society that was. Serves the fucking vultures right for getting themselves sick, though it has the unfortunate side effect that a lot of the newly infected are packing heat. Usually they're scared shitless and can't figure out how to make it out of the downside, so they end up blowing themselves up or becoming just another downside wanderer. Circle of life, right?
The best part is that we know where the disease came from, and like the war, it's the fault of nobody and everybody at once. The pre-Reconstruction years were hell on Earth—well, a deeper circle of hell than we're in now, anyway. If you wanted to survive, you had to make some adjustments to your code of ethics. Usually that meant you had to forget you ever had one. If you wanted to eat, you had to eat meat. There was only one way to get it, and only one source of game.
What people didn't realise is that eating human puts you at serious risk for some serious fucking diseases. Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, what fun. It was mostly harmless, though: you got the shakes, you got the laughs, then you shat yourself and died, and life went on around you. If your friends were smart, they didn't eat the leftovers. But the disease, the capital-D fucking infection that's so common nowadays that it's the only disease worth talking about, that was different. At first it looked the same, but it spread so damn fast—it was trying to spread, and doing a damn good job of it, too.
At its core, the disease results in some serious aggression and a serious boost in metabolism. The infected can't think straight, they can't sleep, they're pissed the fuck off about it, and their core temp is just shy of brain-fry, sometimes higher. Their metabolic rate is through the roof, and they'll eat anything they can get their hands on. If they can't get their hands on anything, they'll just eat their hands. And arms. And anything else on their body they can reach with their mouth before they bleed to death.
Why am I writing about this now? What encourages me to reminisce? Well, I'm on the train to work, and the car behind me, formerly containing a good friend of mine, is now a sealed chamber of death because some asshole who didn't know or didn't want to admit he caught the bug decided it would be a great idea to get on a crowded overground. And, frankly, I'm a little pissed off about that.
Man, my dreams are awesome. They don't often have stories that are worth anything, and this is no exception, but damned if they don't create some vivid imagery.