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stargate, DanielJackson

Week 31, Title: Within and Without

Posted on 2014.12.15 at 23:16
Tags: ,

The duvet is held over Karen’s raised knees by the weight of the psychology text book balancing in her lap. She clicks her pen open and clicks it closed. Then she turns to Roger who’s lying on the bed beside her. Sensing her gaze he meets her eyes.

“What you thinkin’?” he asks.

“Nothing. This essay is going nowhere.”

“It’s the human reactions to unexpected extraordinary situations one right?”

“Yep,” Karen replies, giving her paragraph on Milgram another skim, “it needs something more, something different. A part of me wants to hypothesise about a zombie outbreak.”

Roger chuckles. “Why zombies?”

“It’s the ultimate skewering of expectations. There are few true certainties in life and death is one of them, no one expects it to be undone. Not even the guys with bunkers in their basements and zombie survival kits under their beds believe that a zombie apocalypse could actually happen.”  


*


No one calls it the end of the world. There have always been earthquakes. There have always been floods. There have always been hurricanes. It’s global warming, or Mother Nature going on a killing spree.

The banks of screens filled with the City Quadrants CCTV feeds are going ignored in favour of the news.

Karen squints at the sevens in her Su-Doku puzzle as though she could stare them into behaving. 

“They’re not letting dogs on the rescue shuttles,” Roger says.

“Yeah, it sucks but I kind of get it,” Karen replies.

“How can you even say that, they’re just leaving the dogs to drown, how can you be okay with it!”

“It’s some fucked up shit, but they don’t even have enough room for the people.”

“Well people are staying behind with their pets, so they’re dying too.”

“Okay, push comes to shove, if you had to make a choice between saving a person and saving a dog, which would you choose.”

“You can’t reduce it to maths. Life isn’t that simple.”

“Most of the time it isn’t, but when the situation gets this bad it really is. It’s like the whole action over inaction thing, not letting someone into the boat is the same as pushing them out of it. No one would push someone out of one of the boats. But leaving them out so everyone can have their pets is okay? I’m just someone who recognises they’re one and the same.”

“You’re both missing the obvious, what they should do is take in more rescue shuttles,” Bob interrupts.

Karen swivels her chair to face Bob lingering in the doorway. “Yeah, they should just magic up some more shuttles, why hasn’t anyone thought of that.” 

“Well I’ve done what I can to help.” Bob shrugs.

“I’m sure your back-pocket change has been so useful.”

“Tiny drops of water make the mighty ocean.”

Karen rolls her eyes.


*


The preachers are the first ones calling it the End Times. Still time to catch yourself a religion before you bite the dust.

Natural disaster follows natural disaster, the death toll rises. And then the dead rise too.

Karen, Roger and Bob decide to stay in the building. Of course a place which handles security needs to be secure itself. It’s the safest place in the city. And fully stocked with supplies.

Airports are shut down, armoured vehicles patrol the streets. There’s panic, riots break out as people try to escape. The undead all crowd together tearing apart anyone within their grasp. Television shows static. Shops are abandoned. The internet is down.

The CCTV is inexplicably still running.


*


They watch. There’s little else to do. The city’s feeds are a game of extremes; either silent but for wind or loud and gruesome and horrifying.

Bob and Roger sometimes go out to bring in struggling nearby strays. Karen goes with them to make sure they don’t get themselves killed.
She counts the additional people and further rations the food, sighing at the diminishing supply. She watches as groups huddle together, dirty and wounded and worn, happy to have found sanctuary in this building.

She clicks her pen open and closed and tells Bob and Roger gently that they can’t take in any more.


*


Karen stands at the door’s barricade, arms folded. Mouth set in a firm line. Five more people have joined since she told them. She’s not gentle this time.

“We can’t take in anyone else.”

Some of the people’s gazes are on that one screen. It shows three people fighting a near hopeless battle against a horde of zombies. Some have their eyes pointed to the ground. They know there isn’t enough food to go around. And then there are a few giving her horrified or angry or grateful looks.

“We might not even need to last that much longer,” Bob argues, “the oxygen initiative…”

“Is a rumour of a plan. It’s a foolish hope. Even you don’t believe we’re coming back from this,” Karen says.

Roger repeatedly turns his head between Karen and Bob, before eventually nodding at Karen.

They watch solemnly as the three outside are dismembered.


*


Karen dreams of three faces. She imagines they mirror her own and Roger and Bob. Who they might’ve been, if circumstances were different. She doesn’t have the comfort of knowing she did nothing; knows inaction equates the same. She’s a murderer. She saved the lives of all inside the building too (no one else is getting in now, no more drain on resources) but it’s a small comfort.   


*


They’ve all perched as close as possible to the screens. Bodies press in on her from behind. Broken people clinging to vestiges of hope. Oxygen masks are falling from the skies.

The people on the screens look around in confusion, but still put the masks on. The zombies of course aren’t capable of such a feat of manoeuvrability.
Clouds of gas fog up the lenses. There’s nothing to watch. No one turns away.


*


The air clears. Gazes are still fixed. Across every screen all the zombies are lying dead. And the humans gloriously alive.

Everyone cheers, hugging and roaring and finding something strong to drink (there’s nothing strong to drink).

Karen runs to the bathroom and vomits up her precious rations.


*


She curls into a corner in an abandoned room. Clicks her pen, click, click, click.

Eventually Roger is there somehow, beside her, he doesn’t look at her like she’s a monster- which seems ridiculous. He unwinds her fingers from the pen and removes it. Her fingertips twitch. His hands around hers still them.

Tears prickle her eyes and she blinks at the sting, “I never expected to be the bad guy.”

Comments:


bleodswean
bleodswean at 2014-12-15 23:32 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, the ZA!!! I love how you dichotomize everything here. There won't be zombies, there are zombies. Pushing and saving can be the same. And then the biggest gapping between savior and murderer. This moves along well considering the time frame between the beginning and the ending. It is complete and has a message. Nice work!
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-16 15:57 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the dichotomizing :).
reckless_blues
reckless_blues at 2014-12-16 11:01 (UTC) (Link)

“Is a rumour of a plan. It’s a foolish hope. Even you don’t believe we’re coming back from this,” Karen says.


I liked this line. Sang a little bit.
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-16 15:57 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked that line :)
lriG rorriM
lrig_rorrim at 2014-12-16 16:48 (UTC) (Link)
Zombies are a hard sell for me - they're just hard to do right, to make personal without too much pathos or too many tropes. And you do it right. This is grounded in choices, in chances, in decisions and then in regret. It's got a great progression, and the ending is perfect.
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-16 16:52 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, so glad you liked how I did zombies :)
suesniffsglue
suesniffsglue at 2014-12-16 17:26 (UTC) (Link)
I am delighted with this. I love the buildup, and your last sentence is sheer perfection.
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-16 17:47 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, so glad the last line worked for you :)
cindy
tsuki_no_bara at 2014-12-16 21:38 (UTC) (Link)
no one expects the zombie apocalypse! so of course there's a zombie apocalypse. heh. (i used to know a guy who claimed to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse to the point of having a machete in the trunk of his car, just in case. he seemed fairly sane, otherwise.) there's some really nice philosophical knottiness under the zombies - who do you save, what's the difference in shoving someone out of the life raft or just not letting them on in the first place - which i enjoyed. i mean, aside from the general apocalypse. :D
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-17 18:01 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the philosophical knotting, I was hoping that would work :)
Jemima Pauler
jem0000000 at 2014-12-17 04:00 (UTC) (Link)
Well done. :)
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-17 18:01 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you :)
i_17bingo
i_17bingo at 2014-12-17 04:15 (UTC) (Link)
"Not even the guys with bunkers in their basements and zombie survival kits under their beds believe that a zombie apocalypse could actually happen."

So true. These guys just hope for one, because then they can stop acting like zombies and go do something important.


She clicks her pen open and closed and tells Bob and Roger gently that they can’t take in any more.

Honestly, who expects a zombie apocalypse to end? How could it? Everyone believes she made the right call. Hell, I thought the oxygen initiative was actually a mass suicide disguised as handwavium.

There was something I wasn't sure of--this was all still theoretical, correct? That's why Karen clicked her pen the whole time, or why the CCTV was still working?
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-17 18:07 (UTC) (Link)
Yep, it's one of those hard calls that everyone knows needs to be made :).

That's an intriguing interpretation. I kind of subscribe to the 'reader is god' notion of what anything in a story means. So if that's what the story is to you, that's great. I didn't intend it that way, for me the pen clicking is a symbolic nervous tick; it's symbolic of her analytic mind, analysing everything- the constant of self following through from theoretical to reality.

Thank you :)

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors
halfshellvenus at 2014-12-18 05:52 (UTC) (Link)
Very nicely done, especially the twist of the prompt in having the villainy be putting your foot down so that the rest have a better chance to make it.

That's an awful situation to be in.
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-18 15:46 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked it :).

Yeah, it's kind of lose lose.
Teo Says
eternal_ot at 2014-12-18 15:19 (UTC) (Link)
Ah! This was Cool..enjoyed the twist..Wonderfully done.Kudos!
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-18 15:46 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the twist :)
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"
roina_arwen at 2014-12-18 16:36 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, this is a very interesting idea - love the gas masks thing!
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-18 16:48 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the idea and the gas masks :)
☾
witches at 2014-12-18 17:43 (UTC) (Link)
this was such an enjoyable read!
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-18 18:01 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you enjoyed :).
dmousey
dmousey at 2014-12-18 21:44 (UTC) (Link)
I could read writes like this all day long. I really liked how this was told with an economy of stark words. Love how the line of right and wrong gets blurred and grey.

I could gush more, LOL, but I won't. :)

swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-18 21:46 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, so glad you found it gush-worthy :)
ArmagedDan
hosticle_fifer at 2014-12-19 01:09 (UTC) (Link)
I like the conversational, almost nonchalant discussion about and during the apocalypse here, instead of the cliched over-the-top reactions one might normally expect. All in all, a fresh take on the human drama in fiction like this!

If I'm not mistaken, there are several concurrent "apocalypses" running here, right? Rising waters, environmental disasters, and then zombies to top things off. I personally don't blame Karen near as much as she blames herself. It is a very real, known thing that too many people grasping at the lifeboat can drown everyone.
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-19 16:50 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, so glad you like my take :).

Yeah, generally everything in the world has gone messy.
rattsu at 2014-12-19 11:13 (UTC) (Link)
There is such a thin line between bad guy and saviour...
swirlsofblue
swirlsofblue at 2014-12-19 16:50 (UTC) (Link)
Yep, and so often the line is straddled.

Thank you :)
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