Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2015 by Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel by Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel - Read Online

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Mad Scientist Journal - Jeremy Zimmerman

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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

By Dr. Jankenstein

If there's one thing I've learned in my time as a mad scientist, it is that there will always be people who want to tear you down. It must be a side effect of success, attaining heights of power over your rivals. No matter how far you come, there will always be people who say, Your name is dumb and you only won that reality show on a technicality.

What matters in the end is that you are the one with the $25 million prize, the schloss in Bavaria, and the military contract with the Principality of Liechtenstein. People can hate you all they want. It doesn't matter because you are the one who gets to lie sprawled out naked on your bearskin rug in front of the fireplace in your schloss.

So eat me, haters.

Russell Harrington, who is better known by his pseudonym, Dr. Jankenstein, was the winner of the mad science reality show Do You Even Science, Bro? Though originally the first contestant voted out of the lab, he was named the winner after the other nine contestants were destroyed in a rogue nanovirus incident. When not enjoying his rewards, he is touring to promote his autobiography, I Totally Science, Bro.

ESSAYS

FUTILITY

An essay by Dr. Robert Anstruther, as provided by D. J. Tyrer

Art by Luke Spooner

This is my seventieth day here in this bunker and I am no closer to understanding the true nature of the scourge afflicting mankind. Why are the dead walking the earth rather than resting easy in their graves? What has caused this? What motivates them? These are all questions I swore to answer. These are questions that must be answered if mankind is to survive. Only by understanding the hows and whys may we devise the strategies with which to combat this horror, perhaps discover a cure or a vaccine that can prevent the living from this terrible post-mortem fate, maybe even find a means for the living and dead to coexist.

All we know for certain is that this phenomenon is a new one, at least on this scale. Of course, there are all sorts of legends and folk tales about the dead returning to life, but few that hold any credibility as precursors to this global disaster and none that are comparable in scale. Thus any traditional explanations such as sin, curses, and pacts with the Devil can be rejected. Equally, the drug-induced state of certain Haitian zombies is of no help.

Although apocalyptic pronouncements that Hell is too full or that the dead are rising pending the final Judgement have been made, there is no empirical evidence to back such claims, and they are a poor fit for much observed behaviour.

Thus it is that the most popular explanation is that what appear to be the dead returned to a state of unlife are, in actuality, infected by a virus. Unlike supernatural claims, this possesses scientific plausibility and fits with the evidence that bites spread the infection. Unfortunately, there are many accounts of the dead rising without being bitten, meaning that bites are not the sole vector, if a source of infection at all, and calling into question the entire hypothesis. Unfortunately, any such virus has yet to be isolated and cannot yet explain the dead nature of victims: all the evidence indicates that the walking dead are just that and not infected humans.

In short, I remain mystified.

After initial attempts to isolate a virus went nowhere, I turned my attention to the dead themselves. Our earliest experiments focused upon their physiology. If there was no virus, nor any obvious sign of a parasite, perhaps we could still isolate the cause for their anomalous behaviour.

Ha! Sorry, I don't intend to make light of this, but surely anomalous is no longer the correct word for these? The dead that won't stay dead are the new normal.

But, I digress: they are why we are here.

Vivisection--dissection?--whichever is the apposite term--was our first course of action. Although the bunker is sufficiently isolated and concealed that we are not swarmed by the dead, nor the survivors who attract them, our hunting teams are easily able to bring in new test subjects. When Jackson was bitten, died, and rose again, we were able to follow the development of the transformation, but, although we stripped him down to the bone, we still found no more clues as to the cause. Once again, the bite was touted as the vector of transmission, but without a virus, it remained entirely possible that an infection caused by the rotted state of the mouth led to his death, and the restoration of motor functions had an entirely separate cause.

The dissections and limb amputations proved certain things, however. The first was that their circulatory system and lungs no longer functioned; as a result, they were impossible to anaesthetize, which made operating upon them extremely difficult. The nervous system, however, continues to function. Limbs that are removed are not motive. Whatever else we can say, the brain is the source of their animation; if the head is removed, the body will cease to function, but the head will remain active unless the brain is destroyed.

I have completely skeletonised subjects, and as long as some muscle remains and there is a nerve connection, a degree of activity will remain possible. Brains that have been removed from the skull have evidenced low level neurological activity until decay has rendered them non-functional. However, unlike the rest of the body, the brain decays at a curiously retarded rate for which, as yet, I have no explanation.

Despite this evidence of neurological activity, the amount appears to be too slight to allow for any sort of conscious thought. This fits with the observed behaviour of these walking dead, which is primarily instinctive and reactive. Many stand or wander aimlessly, only reacting when something directly disturbs them. Others repeat rote actions from their life. And, when they attack, their actions are simplistic, never cunning or exhibiting tactical finesse; when they manage to stage an ambush or gain surprise, it is always by accident, stepping out from an unexpected corner or approaching silently, never due to any reasoning or plotting. Few have shown anything but the most rudimentary ability to climb--even stairs can cause them trouble--and when they have managed to open a door, the evidence has always been indicative of it being the random result of fumbling limbs rather than a deliberate act. Further, they exhibit no signs of understanding the written or spoken word, nor of being able to communicate in any meaningful way; a few have vocalised groans or roars, but it is unclear if these are deliberate and, at most, may attract others of their kind by virtue of being a noise rather than imparting any useful information.

Although my tests have yet to prove conclusive, I am of the opinion that, until decay or damage robs them of them, they retain the senses that we have, certainly sight and hearing. In addition, in close proximity, they also appear to possess some additional sense that allows them to detect the presence of the living. I would speculate that this is somehow tied to the electrical activity in their brains, that they can detect the greater electrical energy given off by a living human; although we do not understand this, the fact must be borne in mind when confronting them. How many lives have been lost due to complacency, assuming that because they cannot be seen, they must be safe from the walking dead?

The only other thing that was known for certain from general observation was that these walking dead seemed driven by a mania to attack humans and an insatiable desire to feast upon their flesh. Thus it was natural to assume they were driven by a cannibalistic hunger, which was the cause of their desire to kill, although a few survivors, operating on the assumption that the virus was spread by their bites, suggested their attacks were driven by the urge to reproduce.

With the premise of the latter hypothesis disproved, it is untenable as a theory. The former seems plausible, but tests have shown no marked preference for human flesh over any other food--having placed fresh human limbs alongside animal meat and other foods, those that appeared interested in food seemed disinclined to discriminate or even showed a preference for foods they would have known in life; the remainder showing no interest in eating. Given that the digestive system no longer functions, with anything devoured just sitting in the stomach or falling through rotted flesh onto the ground, any desire to eat obviously has no nutritional advantage. Presumably, as with other observed rote behaviours, such feeding represents a memory of an impulse from when they were alive.

Which leaves the question as to why they attack the living and apparently hunger for human flesh. The former is a question for which I have yet to discover a conclusive answer. Perhaps it is a facet of whatever brought them back from the dead. As for the latter, I think it is a simulacrum based upon our desire to impute meaning to the meaningless. Yes, some feast upon the bodies of their victims, but others show no interest in them once they are dead. Possibly the former are acting upon the same impulses that cause their fellows to eat a burger or attempt to answer a ringing phone--some trace memory of their life. Biting is certainly their primary means of attack, but appears coincident with rather than causally derivative from the desire to eat. Which, again, leaves