Like a plague, they swept across the land overnight. It started with a cough. A tiny, insignificant cough. No one noticed when it first started to spread, everyone went to their work, their home, visited their friends and family, figuring they would take an aspirin or two and forget about it. There is no sign of there being a patient zero. If there was, they died with their name intact.
The year is 2015, on the planet Terra. The virus had an incubation period of six months, at first. Within the first month alone, 70 percent of the world was infected and didn't know it. They carried on their doomed existence in blissful ignorance. The few who remained... human... were those who lived in small towns or villages on the edge of civilization. Even then, many quickly succumbed to the blight. Nobody expected it to go airborne. But then, nobody expected it at all.
Luckily, the virus has rules, or so it seems. It attacks the brain, massively degrading cognitive ability and rationality, unless the infected can maintain a steady diet of living human flesh, organs, or blood. Without this precious yet tragic source of food, the infected's own body will attack itself in a desperate attempt to counter the process, destroying the body even further. Once the brain begins to degrade, the infected is beyond all hope of salvation.
If the victim is kept well-fed, however, they still retain near-human intellect. This is not to say that they are still sane, far from it. The virus instills in them a terrible rage, inconsolable and deadly. They are filled with hate... and cunning.
The few that remain unaffected are either immune entirely, immune to the airborne effects only, or are incredibly lucky. Immune or not, the few humans left alive in the world of the infected are rapidly being hunted into extinction. Although no infected specimen has ever survived for more than 6 months after first exhibiting signs of contamination, their sheer numbers do more than enough to keep anyone still living wary.
And that is where you come in. If you are reading this, you are alive, and you are not here. Wherever you may hail from, please. I beg of you. There are still people here on earth. And we need you now more than ever.
Dozens of those damn leaflets were tacked up anywhere they could fit in the local starport. Tacheon was comfortably seated in the captains' lounge, attempting to enjoy his drink and doing a decent job of it, when two ignorant brutes lumbered up to the bar and proceeded to yammer about the problem on Terra while waiting for their drinks.
"Hey Lem, what you think 'bout them posters they got everywhere?"
"Shoot, Isaac, you know I can't read!"
"Right, sorry. Well, there's some big bug goin' round on a planet called Terra, and they're tryin' to get folks to go down there and help 'em out!"
"I'm scared of bugs, Isaac. You know that too."
"Nah, this is some sort of disease, or somethin'. Anyhow, they're offerin' a cool BILLION to anyone who can sort things out."
The rest of the conversation was lost on Tacheon. He couldn't make out a lot of what the two were slurring about, but apparently there was a billion mark reward involved.
He rose, paid his tab, and headed to the docking bay to prepare for departure.
I.S.A.A.C. quickly scanned over the document, while leaning against the wall he found the flier posted on. People walked down the path past him, many of them giving him curious looks but all of them leaving him alone and continuing whatever their own business was.
ISAAC's exploits with the chronoportation device had led to many interesting discoveries, many of which made him curious to know how much the people he stole the schematics from were utilizing it to their own purposes. ISAAC had initially believed that the device could only be used strictly for the purposes of exploring (but not altering) Earth's own history. However, with enough tinkering and fiddling around, ISAAC discovered that the device could be used for a more general alternate universe exploration.
Although alternate universes are usually regarded as being entirely isolated from each other, it would seem to be that this is not entirely necessarily the case. Unfortunately, it seemed that the further ISAAC went from his reality the harder it was to determine where exactly he would end up and the harder it was to remain synchronized.
Already, ISAAC had lost twelve exploratory androids in other universes, most of which were probably still gathering information about their locations despite knowing they would probably never get back home to synchronize their knowledge with the main consciousness. No doubt that many of them by now had gained an individuality apart from ISAAC.
However, none of that currently concerned ISAAC. Even though he knew that leaving this planet would mean leaving behind the chronoportation return node, which would mean losing his only connection to the main consciousness and perhaps never getting back home, ISAAC really wanted to check out the zombie plague.
It was interesting the things he had discovered, which in his own reality were mostly confined to fantasy and science fiction tales. Although he doubted the feasibility of a zombie infection on his own Earth, he was designing a nanorobot plague which would in essence have a similar function. Perhaps he could learn something which would be useful.
But before going anywhere, ISAAC would have to find a ride. He didn't have nearly enough fuel in his plasma propulsors for interplanetary flight, nor did he know how to get to Terra from...whatever planet he was currently on. He had been on this planet for two weeks already and still hadn't ascertained its name, although to be fair he hadn't really thought of it until this point.
ISAAC was already in the city's spaceport, so certainly there would be flights leaving that he could hitch a ride on. He didn't have any money though, which left out the possibility of purchasing a ride on a public flight or hiring a private flight. He could either find someone willing to give him a ride for free, or he could just steal a vessel for himself. Stealing would probably be the easiest, but he would at least ask around first anyway.
He headed to the nearest space vessel dock, which housed privately owned spacecraft. Approaching the first man he encountered, who appeared to be getting ready for launch, ISAAC asked politely "Sir, might I ask where you are headed?"
As Tacheon was preparing his ship, Thunderbird, for the trip to Terra, he was approached by what appeared to be a man garbed in all black. The lighting was less than fantastic, and it was hard to make out any details at all. Still, the man was polite.
"Sir, might I ask where you are headed?" the dark figure asked.
Tacheon mulled it over. Assuming that this was another bounty hunter or bleeding heart for the Terran cause, they would probably want to hitch a ride. Then they would want to team up, and probably split any possible reward, which Tacheon did not want. On the other hand, if he simply denied the stranger's request, it's quite possible they would simply stow away and likely try to kill him in-flight. There were, of course, millions of other possibilities, but Tacheon liked to keep things simple.
Very well, then. "I'm headed to Terra," Tacheon offered, "If you're going that way, and for the same reason, you're welcome to join me-- but I would appreciate your assistance in preparing my ship, and you'd have to hand over any weapons you have on you for the flight."
Although the stranger would likely object to the last stipulation, Tacheon felt compelled to ask. Hopefully their movements to conceal their weapons further would give Tacheon a hint as to where they were.
Having said his piece, Tacheon returned his attention to the pre-flight procedures, not wanting to waste any time.
What a lucky coincidence it was that ISAAC so quickly managed to find someone both headed to Terra and willing to bring along a passenger. The man was probably a bounty hunter—although ISAAC hadn't seen it on the flier he read, presumably there was some sort of monetary reward involved. Of course, ISAAC didn't care much for money or other material things. He wasn't in this for the reward.
"I am indeed headed to Terra and likely for the same reason as you. Worry not that I intend to take the reward from you, however. You can keep it all for yourself for all I care," ISAAC said, to relieve the man of any possible suspicions he might be having. "Consider it my pay to you for letting me hitch a ride on your craft."
Of course, the man was clever, and clever men are always suspicious of strangers and friends alike. ISAAC had indeed considered possibly just waiting until they had taken off before killing the man and taking his ship, but now he thought perhaps he would not mind having a clever man around for a while. He would make good zombie bait.
As a sign of trust, ISAAC went through the trouble of apparently disabling his weapons by physically removing the plasma canisters from both his armguns. "I'm afraid my weapons are built in, but without these canisters they aren't much more harmful than a stun gun." Technically honest, if you allow for fairly powerful stun guns. "I warn you though, these cells are fairly volatile. I can store them on my own body, where they will certainly be safe, or I can give them to you if that is what you would prefer." He held the two violet plasma cells out, ready to hand them over.
"It's not really much of a concern to me either way. It's your ship, after all. Also I'm afraid the swords can't be removed, so you'll have to just trust I won't try to use them on you. I don't know how to get to Terra myself, so killing my pilot wouldn't be particularly intelligent of me."
ISAAC then looked over at the space vessel. "Although I am not familiar with this kind of spacecraft, I will provide any assistance you need so that we can be on our way as soon as possible."
When everything was set with the outer hull of Thunderbird, Tacheon opened the airlock beneath the ship and motioned for the newcomer to enter. When it did, he climbed in and shut the door behind him. Inside, the ship was magnificent. The sleek black design was subtly lit with laser-green detailing and similarly green UI's, inspired by Tacheon's days with the off-world Terran fleet. Upon entering, the ship greeted its captain and his guest.
"Welcome back, Captain. Welcome also, ISAAC of CORE. You are welcome to all amenities aboard unless stated otherwise." Then, "Captain, you have no new messages at this time, and two friend requests. Would you like to view them now?"
"No," Tacheon sighed. "Cara, set a course for Terra. Open the throttle once we've cleared the Auroran airspace. Try to make it a smooth flight, but haste is of the essence." Tacheon plopped into the cushioned seat at the front of the ship and began to punch commands into the interface there. "Make yourself at home... ISAAC, was it? We may be in here for a while."
The comm channel Tacheon had left open buzzed to life. "You are cleared for departure from Aurora, Captain. Safe travels."
"Thanks," Tacheon mumbled, "but this trip will be anything but safe."
Once the spacecraft was ready for flight, the captain opened up the airlock and ushered ISAAC inside. The captain followed ISAAC into the ship, sealing the airlock behind him. ISAAC looked around at the interior of the craft. He wasn't sure how it compared to similar craft in the same locality and period, but if he had to guess ISAAC would say that the man had a fairly nice ship.
A computer, likely an artificial intelligence of some level or another, addressed both the ship's captain and ISAAC. The computer simply called the man Captain, without giving a name of any sort, but to ISAAC's surprise the computer recognized and greeted ISAAC by name. It also associated him with CORE, which was mostly incorrect but an understandable mistake.
He supposed that in this particular period, it was likely ISAAC's name and description probably existed on at least a few databases that the ship's computer could have access too. He wondered what other information existed about him, so while the Captain was setting the ship's course and getting ready for takeoff, ISAAC started scanning to see if he could connect to any local networks.
ISAAC had also considered hacking into the computer system of the spacecraft, mostly so that he could examine the artificial intelligence. However, not being entirely familiar with the technology would leave open the possibility of being detected. If the Captain caught ISAAC trying to hack into or otherwise tamper with his ship, he probably wouldn't take to it very kindly.
So instead, ISAAC simply settled on establishing a network connection and downloading the information of a few databases here and there that he could look through during the flight. "Say, Captain, how long do you suppose this flight will be anyway?" Not that ISAAC would be uncomfortable or impatient. He was quite content to stand or sit wherever for any amount of time.