When the end came, it came as a biting horde. Of course it did; a century of pop-culture inertia behind the zombie meme, I think we wouldn't have accepted any other doom. All the problems of life in the 2030's - climate change showing its teeth; the political instability - that all lost relevance damn fast when people started eating each other. We called it the Blight. It appeared without warning, without clear epicentre. Spread like wildfire. People infected lost their minds, turned into sprinting, blood-vomiting cannibals who would scream apologies as they smashed your head against the wall. People they bit, scratched, bled on - they got the Blight too. One infected could turn a thousand in an hour. The cities became graveyards quickly.
The government fought it, of course. Poured research into fighting the disease, poured soldiers into fighting the infected. But the CDC simply couldn't decipher the strange black substance that seemed behind the epidemic that was eating the human race whole. And there are only so many trained fighting men, so many guns, so many bullets. It was never going to be enough. They knew that. They did the math. They drew a line down the map and said 'this far, no further'. Secretly, they pulled key officials, business people and other people deemed 'high value' to the designated quarantine zone, started building a wall to stick the rest of us behind. Except it didn't quite go entirely as planned. There was a leak, people heard about the secret evacuation of the western United States. They flooded east in their huddled millions towards the Mississippi. The lucky ones made it before the government blew the bridges over the Mississippi and started shooting anyone who came in rifle range of the border wall. The rest of us, we got left behind. Left to the dead.
This was our life for the last five years. The government declared us legally dead to maintain quarantine and set about burning the infection out of their territory. We call their part of the country the Recession, where they retreated. We live in the Loss, because we were written off like a business writes off bad investments; written off as a loss. The boundary is the Mississippi river. Those of us left behind, we gathered together anywhere we could in secure enclaves and tried to weather the storm. Tried to stay alive, tried not to break. Not all of us made it.
Over time, the rage died away from the infected. Turns out having your nervous system hijacked by a possibly-alien pathogen is bad for your health. They keeled over, died for a while when their ape-rage overwhelmed them or made them break their own limbs trying to murder an orphanage. But there's the problem. They got up again after a while. But they were slower, shambling, like poorly-made puppets. Still infectious, still driven with cannibalistic hunger, but more manageable. Small blessings, right? We call these ones Casualties, the dead that walk around. They work like you think zombies work, more or less. Aim for the head, like movies taught you.
But here's the problem with being in the apocalypse: you run out of stuff, fast. Self-sufficiency is a myth. After five years, almost everything we haven't used is about to expire - from the gas in the tank to the meds in the bottle or, hell, even the nastiest of MRE's. People aren't making more ammo, more medicine, more tech. Or at least, they aren't in the Loss. In the Recession, industry and capitalism survives. This is where what we call The Carrion Economy comes in. Say you're sitting pretty over there in the Recession, right? You got out, but the rest of your family didn't and you can't bear that Granny Dearest is out there as a Casualty, eating brains and generally decomposing. You get in touch with someone in the Loss, you make a deal. We put Granny out of her misery and you pay us in Bounty, our cryptocurrency of choice. That Bounty buys us stuff we can't get over here by scavenging, everyone wins. (Except Granny. She gets to die twice.)
The world ended, but capitalism lives on. The government is pushing for a big reclamation effort in the next decade or so; that means they need to be able to prove who died in the Crash - harder than it sounds, lot of information infrastructure collapsed - and who inherits what, what the State can seize. That means papers. So while the government legally doesn't recognise its existence, they've been speculating in the Carrion Economy to get them. It's gotten to the point that the Bounty system is so inter-linked with that government backing that "one Bounty" has set value of "one proof of death" (usually a driver's licence). There's a bubble. It'll pop eventually - but before that point, there's a fortune to be made. And the fastest way out of the apocalypse is to buy your way out of it.
Let's go make some money, people.
How It All Began
Retreat Into Recession