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  • Writer's pictureAlister Hodge

Would a zombie outbreak actually escalate to apocalyptic proportions?

Would a zombie outbreak escalate to apocalyptic proportions, or would it be brought under control quickly by the police and armed forces? This is a question that I’ve had a few arguments about over the years, mostly with a mate who has military experience with the Australian SAS. When it comes to discussions on war, weapons and battle tactics, I’m usually inclined to accept his opinion. In this instance, he thinks that a zombie of the mindless, slow moving variety should be easily wiped out by a skilled military force. On face value, this makes total sense. Why wouldn’t a skilled soldier be able to easily eliminate an unarmed, slow moving enemy?

However, I think there’s two key reasons that may prevent a quick resolution to an outbreak in real life:

- Firstly, there would be delay before the new reality is accepted by the government.

- Secondly, it would require a change in the way armed conflict is waged.

I’m sure, as a fan of apocalyptic fiction, you will have your own opinions as to what key pivot points would lead to an all-out disaster, and I agree there are many other factors that would affect a population’s ability to survive. As a starter though, I’m just going to explore these two considerations up front, with a couple of examples of how they might play out.

1. Time taken to accept the new reality:

If you heard a broadcast on the radio or TV, how many of you would actually believe a reported zombie outbreak to be true? I know that I’d be sceptical, and that’s just me as an average citizen. Imagine how much the authorities would struggle to accept the situation. We have governments that refuse to believe climate change is actually a thing, who ignore overwhelming evidence from decades worth of research. So, why would they believe that the dead had risen, until it was too late to do anything about it?

The use of lethal force against citizens could not be mandated without fully understanding the situation at hand. A study of the new infection would take at minimum days or months, rather than hours. By this time, the pandemic would have escalated past a point of no return.

Initially, non-lethal methods, such as water cannon or plastic bullets would be used in an attempt to control an outbreak of violence. Unfortunately, against zombies, these would of course be ineffectual, and lose an opportunity to contain the outbreak while it was still small.

An example of how such a scene might play out is explored in the following novel excerpt. It follows a riot squad police officer named Penny, who is deployed shortly after an outbreak of violence.

The squad was directed to form up at the King Street corner, the twenty officers spreading in a loose line facing south. They’d got there with little time to spare. The street was empty of traffic except for a few parked cars.

The air was hazed with smoke from a fire somewhere nearby, while the sounds of a fight carried from farther ahead. A staccato of small-arms fire echoed, then an order to disengage and fall back. The first officers came into sight as they fell back to consolidate with Penny’s line at the Missenden Road corner. Every second officer stepped back, allowing space for the retreating cops to pass through, before forming up once more. The sergeant in charge of the first group approached Penny’s sergeant, both he and his men were breathing hard, their faces pale, eyes wide.

‘Sergeant Novak?’ he gasped, trying to catch his breath after the retreat.

Penny’s team leader nodded.

‘Damn it,’ he muttered. ‘Command swore they were sending more reinforcements than this.’ He glanced back down the road. ‘When they get here, don’t bother with the usual crowd control measures – just shoot to kill. I’ve already lost four officers to the bastards,’.

‘Are you bloody mad? I’m not shooting people without warning,’ said Novak, aghast at the suggestion.

‘Those things aren’t human anymore. They’re already fucking dead! I just had a mate killed next to me by a woman dragging her own intestines!’

Novak pushed the other sergeant aside and stepped past him, ‘Stay in the back then.’

Penny could now hear the sound of approaching Infected. A multitude of inhuman rasping snarls grew in volume as the first ones came into view. They moved at a walk, lurching forward. They were in various states of undress. The mass of Infected contained bodies that had once been executives, school kids, waitresses and more, of all different ages. Their faces were a pallid grey-white. Many had bloody mouths, fresh crimson staining their white skin. Each showed evidence of an agonizing injury through which they’d been infected. Some were missing hands or limbs; many had parts of the neck, face, and exposed skin bitten away.

The hair on Penny’s neck stood on end, her legs heavy, mouth gummed with stringy saliva. The relentless, slow approach of the monsters was sapping the fight out of the waiting police force before they were even attacked. The Infected stared unblinking at the line of officers; the combined volume of their snarling consumed the air. The numbers of Infected became denser further down the road. They had to number in the hundreds.

A police speaker blared from behind.

‘This is the New South Wales Police. Stop and lie down or force will be used against you. I repeat, stop and lie down, now!’

There was no response from the Infected. They were now only thirty metres away.

‘Cease your movement or you will be fired upon!’ roared Sergeant Novak through the speaker. Again, no response. He dropped the microphone, now addressing the police in line. ‘Bean bag guns, take aim at front runners.’

Penny raised her beanbag gun knowing that it would prove futile, and took aim at a woman twenty metres away. She had dirty blond hair, raggedly strewn about her shoulders, a soiled white business shirt above a knee length black skirt, her feet bloodied and bare. A chef’s knife stood proud from her neck, buried to the last few inches of the wide blade, probably the last act of defiance by the donor of the blood slicked across her mouth. A chunk of flesh was missing from one of her calves.


Penny pulled her trigger. The gun made a hollow popping noise as the wide round escaped the barrel. It hit the infected woman in her left shoulder, knocking her off balance briefly, before she continued forward again. Down the line, the officers had the same experience, with only two carriers of infection momentarily thrown off their feet by the non-lethal rounds.

‘Draw batons!’ ordered Novak.

Long nightsticks appeared in the officers’ hands, held at the ready beside their shields.

The Infected were now on them, hands groping forward, teeth bared and gnashing.

Penny rammed her Perspex shield into a corpse knocking it off its feet. Another took its place immediately, grabbing the upper rim of the shield, ripping it aside to reach her. She brought the baton down in a savage arc onto the extended forearm, and was rewarded with an audible snapping of bone. Oblivious to the injury, it came onwards. Penny’s foot stumbled, her right knee gave way and she was falling backwards, the ghoul following her to the ground. Her shield was lost in the fall. Penny swapped her nightstick to her left hand and reached for her Glock with her right. She managed to jam the baton into the open jaws of the Infected as it fell onto her. She felt its teeth shatter as it clenched down on the weapon, while one of its hands sought the gap between her shoulder and mask into her neck. Jamming the pistol into its chest, Penny fired twice, the torso above her only twitched with the bullet’s passing. It raised itself onto its knees to better get at her upper body, and Penny fired twice more in desperation. The first round went through its neck, the second higher, entering its face between upper lip and nose, blowing a large hole out the back of the skull. The creature slumped off her, dead once more.

Penny dragged herself out from underneath the corpse and back to her feet, sobs of terror exiting her mouth. Her training had led her to shoot centre-mass without effect, and yet the accidental headshot had worked. Jesus; Dino was right, they’re fucking zombies.

The whole line was being overwhelmed. She saw a Newtown officer pulled into the Infected mob and disappear under a tide of reaching hands and mouths. His screams of agony brought bile to Penny’s mouth. Another of her colleagues from the Kogarah station was down, his helmet ripped from his face. Penny took two strides closer, pushed the muzzle against the skull of the Infected monster leaning over him, and fired. Brain matter splattered onto the road as it fell motionless to the ground.

She leant a hand to pull him to his feet. They had to fall back, and thankfully, her sergeant had come to the same conclusion.

‘Fall back! Disengage and retreat northwards,’ Novak yelled, indicating up King Street towards the university.

Half of the group were able to pull backwards and create space, the rest were either dead or being pulled back into the flesh machine and out of reach. The survivors turned and ran as a group. Many of the Infected remained, feasting on the fallen, while others continued their steady, slow pursuit of the riot squad. (Plague War: Outbreak)

2. Change in tactics of warfare

Once our police and armed forces engage a zombie enemy, they will be engaging in a type of warfare that humans have never fought. This would require an evolution of battle tactics. Such a massive change would see troops lost in the adjustment phase, further depleting the armed forces. In the following novel excerpt, a Sergeant discusses these challenges with recruits during a training session, using a caged zombie for demonstration purposes.

‘Take a look at our enemy, one of many that we picked up on the highway for your training purposes. This is but a single example of millions that now swarm our country,’ said the Sergeant. ‘This is what you have joined up to fight, and if you’re anything like me, to exact vengeance for the murders of family that we have all suffered. Take a good look. Although it looks human, it’s not anymore.’ The Sergeant’s voice began to gain volume as the disgust he felt for the creature behind him became evident. ‘It’s dead – whatever made it human is gone. And for us, that’s a good thing. It means it’s dumb as shit and predictable.’ He paused and sighed. ‘But it also means that we’ve had to learn how to fight a different type of war.’

The Sergeant turned back to the Carrier, raised his pistol and shot the creature through the knee. A few recruits jolted in their seats, surprised by the casual violence of their teacher. The Sergeant acknowledged their reaction.

‘This session isn’t about torture, it’s to make a point about how your war will be different to any other we’ve fought, different to any war in human history.’

Behind him the Carrier tried to stand on the damaged knee, however it buckled sideways, sending it to the ground.

‘In any other fight, that injury would have taken the afflicted soldier out of action. It’s what many of our weapons are designed for, to maim and exclude the combatant from future aggression. Every fight is about how much punishment and violence a side is willing to accept before it gives in. And the value of your enemy living through an injury continues for the victor long after the battle is won. The amputee returns to his village, and his family and friends are reminded every time they look upon his crippled body the price to be paid for taking up arms against us. But this bastard virus has changed the rules,’ said the Sergeant as he turned and shot out the Carrier’s other knee.

The ghoul fell to the ground again but didn’t utter a single noise to indicate pain. It merely pulled itself upright on the edge of the cage and continued its attempt to reach the Sergeant.

‘It doesn’t care about pain, because it doesn’t feel any,’ spat the Sergeant. ‘It doesn’t care about dying because it’s already fucking dead.’ He shot it again, this time in the middle of the chest, the body only twitching at the bullet’s passage. ‘And it doesn’t care about injury, because although trauma may alter its ability to move, nothing short of brain destruction will stop it.’

The Carrier pressed its face against the wire, snarling at the Sergeant.

‘Because of this, no confrontation between our soldiers and the Infected will end until every Carrier on the field of battle is dead, and that’s a sobering thought. But for all mindless rage of the Infected, always remember – they’re dumb, predictable and can still be killed. All it takes is for you to remain calm and take out the brain.’

The lesson needed to come to an end. He pressed the pistol’s end against its forehead and pulled the trigger one last time. The back of the skull blew outwards, coating the ground in dry goblets of brain before the Carrier slumped to the ground, immobile. (Plague War: Pandemic)

There would of course be many other reasons why a hypothetical zombie swarm may get out of control. In Australia, reasons might include low personal gun ownership, a small standing police and military force, and a virtual absence of defensive structures such as castles / forts.

In your own community, what reasons do you think would hamper efforts to combat an outbreak?


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