The story, as far as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are concerned began in 2022. Strange outbreaks of cannibalistic madmen occurred in several places on the west coast and mid-western states of the U.S.A. There were reports that those infected didn't respond to police commands to halt nor stopped when fired upon until struck in the brain. The CDC soon realised that they had to quarantine the affected area but there were still numerous fatalities as police tried to handcuff the attackers. By the ninth incident, the quarantines were as absolute as in the movie 'Quarantine' with the CDC securing the area and slowly releasing each individual one by one into specially prepared armored vans when they were kept under observation for 24 hours.
The government tried to minimise awareness of the precise details of these bioterrorist attacks even among its own ranks but within the first year nearly all CDC personnel were brought into the truth so that they could be more efficient.
In the second year, twelve more outbreaks occurred though still in secluded areas where they were easily quarantined. There were concerns that they were merely practice for a more wide spread release of the disease.
While the CDC tried to manage and research the outbreaks, performing a range of tests on the infected (those with living bodily functions) and the zombies (those whose heart has stopped), the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) located a conspiracy. Terrible signs of some ancient monstrosity worshiped on American soil that turned humans into the hungry dead using a bizarre virus specially created in foul rituals. The closer the EIS got, the more the conspiracy pushed back and they were capable of some terrible things.
Then it got worse.
They soon learned that this wasn't just happening in the United States of America. There was one minor outbreak in the warmer climates of Canada. There were dozens more that occurred in India and the Philipines. The Philipines didn't manage to contain the threat quickly enough and in 2024 they were over run until only a few desperate islands were left. The nearby countries sent blockades to prevent any survivors ships from getting out due to fears of infection.
Canada successfully cracked down on the cult which had a lesser presence in their country. The eradication of their branch of the cult, known as the Cult of the Pale Rider, revealed that they could draw on an ancient ritual designed by some awful demon thought to be Death Incarnate, which is some traditions is also Pestilence (though in other traditions Pestilence has replaced Conquest). The icon of their worship was a small horse carved from the petrified wood of an unknown species of tree. Subsequent research has indicated that the demon in question might well be Azrael itself. The media managed to release part of this information to the public which quickly dubbed the disease as the 'Pale Rider' and the victims as 'Ridden', 'Ride-lost', or the 'Ridden Dead'.
Mexico reinforced the fence between the two countries for fear that migration patterns would reverse. They tried to close their borders as best they could but the U.S.A. intimidated them into allowing their people through, for fear that if one group held them at bay than others might choose to do the same.
It wasn't until 2024 that the United Nations really took the zombie threat seriously as it took two years worth of data for the politicians to even begin to consider that their beliefs in a scientific reality were false. Despite the very real dangers present, the governments of each nations were damaged in their efforts by every Mage, Vampire, Werewolf, Fallen and human conspiracy desperate to keep the Masquerade intact. This slowed down the efforts almost as much as the bureaucratic bungling, rising paranoia, and inability for politicians and scientists to dismiss their preconceived notions.
During all of this, the EIS kept tracking the threat, sending field workers overseas, while the CDC collaborated with other world health organisations to find a cure.
They never found a cure but they did find a way to prevent the transmission of the infection.
Irradiated flesh couldn't be infected.
They also learned other things:
- The infection would override a person's brain even while they still lived and the infected would maintain normal bodily functions until injury or over use caused the internal organs to fail. At that point they became a more stereotypical zombie until something external caused enough trauma to the brain stem. Think 28 Days Later infected that will eventually become Walking Dead zombies.
- Once 'dead', their rate of decomposition were about a tenth of the natural rate as insects and carrion eaters avoid them while most strains of bacteria either didn't survive on the flesh or found their growth hampered by some unknown aspect of the infected flesh.
- The zombies seem to hibernate when temperatures drop below 0 degrees Celsius.
- Neither infected nor zombies feel pain.
- The infected and zombies have rudimentary skills and memories but no personality.
- Neither of them have any sense of self.
- The infection lives in the bodily fluids and these fluids continue to be generated even when other parts of the body cease to function. Salivary glands continue to work and blood doesn't coagulate in the veins. If removed from the body, the blood takes weeks to coagulate.
- The infection can only be caught if the virus enters the bloodstream. Swapping saliva with one wouldn't affect you unless you have abrasions in your mouth or lips.
- The infection is viral and can be isolated. There is no scientific mechanism behind how it affects the body beyond death. It is now thought that the virus provides a sympathetic link to the Pale Rider.
On December 31st, 2026, dozens of viral outbreaks were timed to coincide over hundreds of sites in India and along the west coast and mid-west states of the U.S.A. The U.S. government declared martial law but it was a close call and there were fears the infected would spill over as seemed to be the case in India.
No one's quite sure who started firing nuclear weapons at the American and Indian hot spots. Some wonder if it was the American government itself. Or perhaps some frightened military bunker. Some blame North Korea. Others think it was a collective action by the United Nations. There is so much misinformation out now that no one's quite sure what happened. India was nearly wiped off the map. Now no one goes there. The U.S.A. had a lot of holes punched into it creating highly irradiated zones.
Over the years, the U.S.A. can be roughly divided into Fall Out style micro-governments in irradiated zones, abandoned territories filled with roaming zombie packs, tightly controlled safe zones with rigorous blood tests and decontamination protocols, and the east coast states that are divided from the rest of the country by a hastily erected wall.
The cult has yet to resurface but the remnants of the CDC and the EIS has now had 26 years to prepare and they will be ready. They know more now. They have head hunted and absorbed many of the Loyalists of Thule and Null Mysteriis left alive in America. In the confusion, some of the temporarily leaderless Task Force: Valkyrie units signed up as well although their technology rapidly malfunctioned when they refused to return three years later when their previous leaders tried to recall them.