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Though everyone across the country has their own individual names for the afflicted, their nature is a universal truth: they are the living dead, the infected, zombies, biters, rotters and more. They were, once upon a time, heralds of the end of modern civilization.


Today, they are a part of life — restless and vengeful corpses, or something near enough as not to matter.


News from the early days of the infection coined it AXN-99, a designation that very few care to recall outside of the handful who still bother to study it. Little was known of the disease when it first received its name, and the time for distributing that information had long since passed by the time anyone anywhere had even begun to understand it.


What remains now is the accumulated practical knowledge of the people who have had to live and fight around it: It is highly infectious even today, spreading most notably through bites and blood. In some instances, it is rumored to have spread through the air, though it's unclear whether or not this is the same 'corpse fever' that has taken dozens of lives over the years since its emergence.


Survivors are chiefly aware of three easily identifiable 'stages' of their development: The first, once the most common variant, is that of an infected and intact human body.


These first victims were far from the slow, ungainly creatures portrayed in media in a time where their existence was fictional; they were fast-moving and aggressive, and although they were unsteady on their feet, their limited capacity to climb and jump caught many desperate survivors unaware. Even so, they did not and do not seem to display any semblance of intelligence.


Many had hoped these initial infected would starve or decay on their own. Those many ended up disappointed when the dead merely regressed into a deeper state of decay.


Rot eventually took the dead's speed and cognition, leaving behind bloated bodies that show severe wear and tear in both their flesh and clothes. Either found in a sickly pale or in greenish-reds, these variations of the dead have swollen due to the expansion of gases in the body and the fermenting of rotting blood below the skin. They are fit to burst, leaving those in close-quarters vulnerable to a highly infectious eruption of viscera and gore.


Some might have figured that the obvious next step to the affliction's progression was eventual decay of the muscles and an end to the virus, but that would not end up being the case.


In the end, the dead who have 'survived' for decades have been skeletonized, showing no signs of stopping; they are undead whose bodies have lost the majority of their mass save for sparse tendons and leathery flesh, beneath which lies hardened and petrified musculature. They are hardier than their predecessors — though their appearance might imply the opposite — protected by decades of calcified flesh and muscle. Their most dangerous trait is their weathered bones, chipped and sharpened into convenient weapons after years of neglect.


Pre-outbreak America was a place of plenty, for those with the privilege to afford it. Anything and everything, almost within easy reach - food to eat, water to drink, medicine to heal, all for sale... all threatening to go to waste, when the world came crashing down. In the early days, all of those resources that did not rot on the store shelves lay in wait, for anyone with the cunning to find them and the courage to take them.. and, for a time, they were sufficient to keep many of the hapless, unprepared survivors that could claim them alive.


That time has long since passed. The vehicles that enabled pre-outbreak life are all but extinct, as is the fuel that ran them, produced now only by a handful of groups with the resources and knowledge to achieve it - many of the electronic devices that were becoming commonplace in the year 1999 are utterly worthless in 2024, a waste of precious electricity if they work at all. Even canned foods, the life-line of every desperate, hard-pressed survivor across the continent, have diminished to almost nothing. Medicine, most of all, has run critically short, even before you consider just how few people remain with the means to practice it.


Weapons like firearms have seen a massive decline over the years, now that the massive surplus of bullets has been utterly exhausted; lead is almost as precious now as gold, and it is used but sparingly against the living or the dead.


Most communities, young or old, large or small, no longer rely on tools like cars and firearms as their primary assets - they tend to prefer those implements that they have the means to produce and repair on their own. Draft animals like horses have taken the place of motorized tractors, and most communities by now save firearms for special occasions, leading the wisest survivors to favor reliability over convenience.


It's been 21 years since over 500 nuclear warheads hit the eastern seaboard - and not a single Air Defense Missile was fired. The threat was not America's sworn enemies, but America herself.


Sworn to protect against all threats foreign and domestic, the role of nuclear command and control was never intended to do the latter, but with the rapid spread of the AXN-99, the options came to a close. Keys turned, submarines surfaced, and F-15's soared above. The campaign lasted mere hours, whilst it's effects have yet to subside.  


Anyone from the east will first tell you that they didn't see the bombs, and don't know anyone who did. The 500 near-simultaneous detonations left only those in deep bunkers alive. The radiation, estimated at 10,000mSv as an average for all targeted epicenters and population centers was enough to kill any soul brave enough to exit their safety in the following days.


As the days turned into weeks - the ground became safe enough to tread, if only to flee. Those caught in the escape experienced several thousand times the recommended radiation exposure, and were sure to feel the effects. Exodus towards safer ground, towards border-states like Kentucky, was their only answer.


Kentucky finds itself just far enough to not have had a nuclear detonation in it's tri-state area, though it's luck just about ends there. The gulf winds carry warmer, Atlantic air further inland, and with it, radioactive isotopes galore. Luckily, by the time the air reaches Kentucky, most of it has decayed past the immediate death level, at and around 1250mSv in the weeks and months following the bombardment of the east. These levels were quick to drop in the coming years, nearly halving a mere year after the seaboard fell, and continuing to slowly decrease ever since.


Kentuckian survivors don't have to worry about breathing, - the worries are less visible than the air. Radiation lingers in the reservoirs, the soil, the forests, the wildlife, and in each and every survivor, increasing their risks for cancer, the severity of normally benign illnesses, and their reading against a background-tuned Geiger Counter.


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