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"THE GRAY DEATH" - a deadly zombie-creating fungus - has spread across the world, killing nearly 90% of the population and reanimating many of their corpses. The remaining people have been forced to survive on the remnants of a desecrated land. Survivors fight each day to stave off ravenous zombies, deadly fungus, and war-mongering forces seeking their demise.
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The deadly fungus is rumored to have originated in the heart of the Amazon. Perhaps it was nature's way of finally telling humanity to fuck off. It began in a little jungle village, and quickly spread through Brazil. Within months, the outbreak reached the United States, Europe, China, and Africa. The whole of the world fell in a year.
Ophiocordyceps Cinereus - or "gray zombie fungus" - is a swift acting fungi spore that will occur when the deadly infection enters the bloodstream. The spores transfer through warm, wet conduits - blood, saliva, sex, even the air. Extreme cold has been known to help stave off the effects, but only for a while. Some believe it resembles the cordyceps that infects bullet ants, caterpillars, spiders, and other insects - only this fungus only affects humans.
- Stage 1 - The infected doesn't start to show symptoms until the 12 hour mark - when a fever begins to rise and the victim's vision starts to turn gray - much like color-blindness. They slowly grow anxious, have insomnia, growing confusion, headaches, and paranoia as well as memory loss. If the infected was bitten, the location will burn and turn gray - the skin around the dying tissue flakes, and will itch insistently.
- Stage 2 - After hour 48, the victim's blood begins to turn dark gray - flooding with fungal spores. It's at this point that the infection is irreversible and the victim is considered a biohazard. The fungus spreads to the organs, muscles, joints, and skin. The whites of the eyes begin to turn black. The fever makes the infected delirious... and hungry. Insatiably hungry. They salivate excessively, their brain begins to hemorrhage until their eyes, ears, and nose bleed.
- Stage 3 - By 60 hours, the infected takes over absolutely. Their heart goes into arrest and pumps wildly. Their brain malfunctions from fever - turning off their sense of conscious thought - leaving them only with a ravenous need to feed. They do become stronger and faster at this point - not quite alive, not quite dead. Feeding their hunger with hot flesh is all they can think of.
- Stage 4 - At 72 hours, the host body is technically dead, though the infestation of the Gray Death keeps it moving. It no longer moves as quickly as the victim's body begins a slight decay. The skin turns gray and takes on a hardened feel - like it's covered in sandpaper. There is some electrical activity in the brain - which allows the host to perform very simple, menial tasks. Once the brain is severely damaged or destroyed, the body ceases movement. Without a host, the fungus and spores still remain active, and can infect others for up to a month.
- Stage X - Those killed before Stage 4 come back as "slow zombies" - with a 10% chance of being "fast zombies" IF they got the false vaccine. They are shambling, hungry creatures seeking warm flesh. The fungus keeps the electrical activity in the brain going, even with extreme damage to the body. If the brain is severely damaged, the fungus can only survive for another week before it dies off as well.
The Hoax Vaccine
At the beginning of "the spread", a mock vaccine was created by one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world - promising safety from the "Jungle Virus". This was when the world believed the plague to be a virus, not a fungus (also thanks to said pharmaceutical company). Only a few dared take the shot at first, but then millions were giving away their life savings for it. It was a hoax. And it was delivered primarily to the military, police force, and medical personnel. Many got sick and never recovered, while others died shortly after... Others, lost their minds and became practically rabid - resulting in "fast zombies" when the fungus claimed their lives.
The Fast Ones
Sprinters. Runners. The fast, brutal fuckers you don't want to mess with. The most dangerous of the undead, they are capable of covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. They are quick, relentless, and tireless. What sets them physically apart is their "jacked-up" bodies - reddened skin, protruding veins, and bulging eyes that seem to catch every sign of movement. Fast as their living counterparts, few can outrun them - for the fast zombies don't slow, tire, or deviate from a meal. A single bullet to the head won't do it - it takes total brain destruction to stop them! Thankfully, fewer than 10% are so swift, though they still remain deadly no less.
The Slower Ones
Walkers. Shamblers. Daddy, grandma, cousin Timmy. These are the more common zombies left in the fall of humanity, and there are plenty of them. They wander aimlessly in search of food - their rotting corpses held upright by the shear will of the fungus that holds them hostage. They pose less of a threat alone, but in groups, they're as deadly as the fast ones. They cannot run, but they can pick it up to a gentle hustle, and since they do not tire or give up, they can eventually wear down their prey. They are drawn to the scent of fresh blood, body heat (or fire), and sound of any kind. While they cannot wield weapons or open doors, there are enough of them to flood an area, break through barriers, and move in herds large enough to flood highways.
The Lurking Ones
Sleepers. Campers. That prick without legs hiding in the bushes. They pose as corpses littering the ground, hiding in the darkest shadows of un-scavenged buildings, and in the murky mudholes in the forests. Most have no legs, but that makes them no less dangerous. While they found moving futile, they still have all their senses, and fight tooth and nail when food comes within reach. They reach out for legs, bite out tendons, and then devour when their prey falls - surprising their victims like a mouse trap and having a snack for a reward. If you can't see brain matter, those bodies may not be truly dead....
The Fungal Ones
Berserker. Covered. Those who are more fungus than human. Only after two years the outbreak have these popped up. Their faces and bodies covered in a sickly gray fungus that have completely taken over their undead host. Prolonged exposure has left them blind, stinking, and deadly. Fungal plates have developed over scarred tissue and can break off - releasing the Gray Death into the air. More aggressive than the fast zombies, they are stronger, faster, and their sense of smell and hearing are unparalleled. They attack and grapple without hesitation, and strangle or crush their meal beneath them. Regular ammo won't cut it against these bastards, as they just regenerate and keep on coming! Thankfully, they are susceptible fire - so cocktail molotivs are your friend! (Picture here.)
**Please note - Much of our zombie inspiration comes from zombie ants and other creatures, as well as Last of Us. If you'd like a feel for the types, please use this video for reference.
The RED Cure
Ribosomal Echinocandin Drug, or RED, is a synthetic antifungal medication that inhibits the growth of ophiocordyceps within living cells. It comes in a vial that can only be administered through an injection - either directly into the bloodstream (preferably straight into the heart if the infection is past 24 hours old), or into an IV.
It stops "the Gray Death" from spreading. Unfortunately, there is no preventive medicine for The Gray Death - only a relief once the infection hits. It's unclear at this state if it's the fungus or the cure that makes it's victim infertile, but the recipient is unable to conceive after surviving the infection.
This antifungal medication is extremely rare, and the ingredients to make it are very hard to come by, but the creator - Jonathan Virgil (in Haven, CO) - has assured the residents of Haven that he'll not rest until the whole world has the cure. He is even in the process of creating an inhaler.
Upon infection, the victim only has 24 hours to take the cure for it to be effective - and even then, there is only a 50% chance that it will work. It does not work after the 25th hour mark.
If a second injection is used after another infection, it is only 25% effective. Should anyone need a second injection, new symptoms begin to show. Some victims take on a few neurosis, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria, and insomnia.
**Please note: If you are infected, the cure can be purchased for 1000 Credits, and you must make dice rolls with your character account for it's efficacy.
We know that fungi can infect humans. We also know that fungal networks exist in most of the world's forests. These mycorrhizal networks have a symbiotic relationship with trees and other plants in the forest, exchanging nutrients for mutual benefit. These networks can be quite large, and there are studies that demonstrate the potential for chemical signals to be transmitted from one plant to another via the mycorrhizal network. That, in turn, means that fungal filaments could perform both vascular and neural functions within a corpse.
This leads us to the following scenario: microscopic spores are inhaled, ingested, or transmitted via zombie bite. The spores are eventually dispersed throughout the body via the bloodstream. Then they lie dormant. When the host dies, chemical signals (or, more accurately, the absence of chemical signals) within the body that occur upon death trigger the spores to activate, and begin growing. The ensuing fungal network carries nutrients to muscles in the absence of respiration or normal metabolism.
Part of the fungal network grows within the brain, where it interfaces with the medulla and cerebellum, as well as parts of the brain involving vision, hearing and possibly scent. Chemicals released by the fungi activate basic responses within these brain areas. The fungi/brain interface is able to convert the electrochemical signals of neurons into chemical signals that can be transmitted along the fungal network that extends through much of the body. This signal method is slow and imperfect, which results in the uncoordinated movements of zombies. And this reliance on the host's brain accounts for the "headshot" phenomenon, in which grievous wounds to the brain or spine seem to render zombies fully inert.
This leaves the problem of zombie metabolism. Where do the zombies get the nutrients needed to perform physical activity, plus the necessary nutrients to fuel the life-cycle of the fungi? This is most easily explained by the zombies' constant, endless drive to devour meat. The fungal network would still need some way to metabolize meat, and zombies seem to be able to function even in the absence of a human digestive system.
It is possible that this particular fungi has evolved a means to extract energy and nutrients from meat in a similar manner to carnivorous plants. The ingestion of meat may actually be vestigial, an unintended result of the drive to bite. In this case, the fungi may draw energy from the decomposition of the host's own organic material, which effectively puts a shelf-life on zombies (in addition to the deterioration of body structures beyond the point where the fungal network can compensate).
Accounts of dismembered parts moving purposefully may be apocryphal.
Now we have established a working theory for fungal zombies. How could such a disease arise? The goal of any biological organism is to live long enough to reproduce, but many pathogens are self-limited by their own lethality. The host dies before it has a chance to spread the pathogen inadvertently. This gives us two pathways for development of the zombie fungus. First, a fungal species existed that used the digestive tracts of mammals to travel. In other words, animals ingested the fungus, including spores. The spores were later defecated out in a new location. Some mutations occurred that caused the spores to gestate while still within the host. However, in most cases, the host's immune system would destroy the fungus. Further mutations could lead to spores that only trigger once the host has died, avoiding this problem.
Another possibility is a fungal infection that was highly aggressive and caused rapid death within the host. That strain was not able to successfully reproduce as often as a mutated strain that delayed activation until post-mortem.
Of course, it's one thing for a fungus to activate after the host dies, and quite another for the dead host to stand up and start attacking things. There are many evolutionary steps in between, which is why a zoonotic origin seems likely.
The precursor fungus could have been ingested by pigs, which are omnivorous. Captive pig populations, subject to overcrowding, would have been perfect places for the fungus to spread and mutate. In some poorly managed pig farms, dead pigs may have gone unnoticed, allowing post-mortem development of the fungus. Dead pigs were likely partially eaten by their living counterparts, allowing the fungal strains with post-mortem mutations to spread back into the population. The method of transfer from the pig population to the human population seems fairly obvious.
The evolution of fully mobile dead pigs probably started with a simple bite reflex that could transmit spores to nearby pigs. A bite combined with a muscular spasm, a sort of lunge, would work even better. After many generations, this developed into full post-mortem mobility. Thus, a dead host went from a drawback to an advantage, becoming a mobile platform for spore distribution. In fact, the zombie hunger drive may have originated as a spore distribution method –- only later was the ability to metabolize meat acquired. We can extrapolate this development to assume the further refinement of the fungal neural system, allowing for zombies which are far more coordinated and can run at nearly full speed.
While this type of behavior modification may seem unlikely, there is precedent for it within the animal world. Several species of parasitic wasps are able to reprogram the behavioral patterns of their hosts (bees, ants and even caterpillars), creating complex new behaviors beneficial to the wasp and detrimental to the host. While the hosts in these cases aren't dead, this does demonstrate that complex chemical overrides can evolve in nature.
If the zombie apocalypse started in Vegas, would it stay in Vegas?