I read a blog post by another author (Kaine Andrews) recently where he specifically posted the rules for the fictional world of his book, and I liked the idea so I thought I’d do the same for the post-apocalyptic world of For Those In Peril On The Sea. So without further ado, these are the basic rules under which it operates:
1. In general, the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea is the real world, only with a mutant virus in it that creates the infected (zombie-like humans infected with the virus). As a result, all usual rule of the real world apply. This means if somethings is physically impossible in the real world, it’s also impossible in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, so no leaping tall buildings in a single bound or being able to pop off perfect head shots when you’ve never even held a gun before. Really the main differences are the specific rules for the virus and the infected. These dictate important issues relating to how the virus spreads, the course of the infection, what the infected are and are not capable of, and how they can be killed, and are provided below.
2. The mutated rabies virus which creates the infected is passed from person to person through bodily fluids. This includes things like blood and saliva. It can only be passed if the skin is broken and some bodily fluid from an infected get onto it. It cannot be passed on by swallowing bodily fluids (it would be destroyed by stomach acid – unless a person had something like an ulcer which could let it into the bloodstream before this happened), nor can be passed on through contact with mucosal linings of the body (this means things like breathing it in, or it getting in your eyes), unless this is already damaged (such as might be the case for the nasal passages of regular users of drugs such as cocaine). While the most usual route of infection is from a bite, there are other possibilities. If the infected have bodily fluids on their hands or under their nails, something as simple as a scratch which breaks the skin would be enough. Similarly, if a person has an existing open wound and bodily fluids from an infected get into it, this would be enough to pass the infection on. Finally, like many viruses, the Haitian rabies virus (HRV) is capable of surviving for some time outside of the body. Therefore, it is possible that the infection could be passed on if a person cuts themselves on something that has dried bodily fluids on it, such as a machete that has been used to kill an infected.
3. Unlike the real rabies virus, the HRV version in this world only affects humans. It cannot infect any other animals, and cannot be passed on by them.
4. When someone is infected, there is a period between then and when they will turn. This period can vary in length from a few seconds to up to twenty-four hours. There is no survival, unturned, after infection for more than this time. Most people infected will turn within the first few minutes. This latency rate (the gap between becoming infected and showing symptoms – or in this case turning into an infected) is determined by an interplay between three factors: how much of the virus a person was exposed to; where on the body the person was infected; the strength of the person’s own immune response. A person exposed to a large viral load (i.e. through a lot of body fluid getting into a wound), that is wounded on the head, neck or torso and that has a poor immune response (e.g. a child or an elderly person) will turn almost immediately. A person exposed to a small viral load (e.g. just a few drops of bodily fluids), on a peripheral part of their body (e.g. fingers or toes) and that has a good immune response (e.g. a young, healthy adult) would have the best chance of surviving the full twenty-four hours.
5. Once someone is dead, they remain dead. This means there’s no re-animation of corpses in this world. In this sense, the infected are not true zombies, just zombie-like creatures; this means that if a person is injured badly enough by infected attacking them, they will die through the usual processes of shock and blood loss and most people attacked by infected will die rather than become infected. There are exceptions to this though. If someone is attacked by a single infected, they have a chance of fighting it off. Similarly, if there are infected attacking a large crowd, they may go into an attack frenzy, meaning that they get distracted by all the people running around them. This can mean that attacks on individual people are short and non-fatal as the infected is drawn to other people running away before it finishes any one attack. This attack frenzy is the main way that a lot of people can become infected at once, and can create hordes or swarms of infected in a very short space of time which can over-run all before them.
6. The infected are just humans with a disease. This means that they can only be capable of what the human body is capable of. However, since they are single-minded in their pursuit of the uninfected and don’t feel pain or empathy they can operate at the maximum capacity of the human body. This means that they can run faster and appear stronger than you might think a human might be capable of, much in the way that an athlete on steroids would, but these abilities are not super-human.
7. As stated in rule 6, the infected are just humans with a disease. This means that they will be killed by anything that would kill a human (a shot to the head, being stabbed in the heart, being run over by a car, drowning in water etc). However, since they don’t feel any pain, they might not be slowed by less lethal injuries that would have normal people rolling around screaming (so don’t try kicking a male infected in the groin in a bid to get away, he won’t notice – even if you do it hard enough to do certain things serious damage!).
8. With rabies comes a fear of water, that’s why one of its other names is hydrophobia. In the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, this is less of a fear and more of a reluctance to enter water unless they know it is shallow enough to easily get through (i.e. nothing deeper than a couple of feet at the very most) and if they can sense that some uninfected human are near that they are compelled to attack.
9. The infected retain no consciousness, they are simply operating on innate instincts. This means they can’t work out how to get round any obstacle which requires any kind of thought. For example, to get through a door, they can push it open (if it swings that way) or break through it, but they can’t work out how to turn a handle to open it, or indeed work out if they need to pull rather than push. They can scramble over things, but they can’t climb. Similarly, while they can run (an innate human instinct), they can’t swim (a learned behaviour).
10. If infected fall into the water, they will usually drown because they cannot swim (see rule 9). This makes the water much safer than land. However, this is not always the case. If an infected falls into the water but finds something that floats that it can grab onto, it can survive for long periods of time. Similarly, if they are in a life raft or on a floating object, they can survive. The same applies if they are wearing a flotation device of some kind, like a buoyancy aid. Such infected as known as drifters and form a major threat to those living on water in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea.
11. When uninfected humans are not near, infected people enter a form of stasis which uses very little energy. This means that they can survive for very long periods on very little food. Like a cold-blooded animal, one meal might be enough to see them through many months. However, they cannot survive on no food and will eventually starve to death if they don’t eat. Infected primarily like to eat non-infected humans, even if they have been long dead. They will also catch and kill animals like cats, dogs and birds if they are really in need of food. Whether they will attack and eat each other rather than die from starvation is not clear (i.e. I haven’t decided on this yet!), and it might be that some infected become cannibalistic on their own kind to survive times when there is nothing else to eat.
12. Infected sense uninfected humans through their usual senses, however the range of these is somewhat diminished. Eye sight seems limited to detecting movements and distances of up to 500 yards, but no further. Noise it detectable over a similar range. Smell would operate over a few tens of feet and means that they can tell if uninfected people are within structures such as buildings or cars. This means that you can avoid encounters with infected by keeping sufficiently far away from them. Of course, this isn’t always possible.
So these are the basic rules for the post-apocalyptic world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, and how my particular ‘zombies’ operate within it. They are a relatively simple set of rules but, taken together, I think they make an interesting world to set tales of human survival after the collapse of civilisation, and particularly one based around survival on boats because of the reluctance of the infected to enter water, their inability to swim and the existence of drifters.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.