So, I think I've figured out a good way to do this:
A government gray-hat genetic research element went rogue when their department was about to be downsized because public perception of their program became incredibly negative, and proceeded to use their remaining time and funding creating their revenge-the rabids.
The rabids, intended to be release in select locations around the world to cause havoc and only this lab would be able to stop them, thus forcing the government to reinstate and substantially increase funding and positive publicity.
However, the rabids escaped containment en route, being far more clever than their creators had anticipated, which meant that the locations carefully selected by psychologists to make people more willing to help genetic research were not targeted nearly as precisely as had been hoped.
This breach in containment therefore caused mass panic, with looting and vandalism, though nearly all buildings survived at least mostly intact. The rabids spread quickly across every continent, petering out in the far cold reaches, but raging ahead through:
- and were nearly unstoppable
One small batch, having been marked for destruction as "failures," escaped before they could be terminated and destroyed the facility, trashing the place (intentionally) so that no one could find a way to stop them.
Soon, however, the remaining few governments and world leaders began launching nuclear strikes at the rabids (who preferred to remain in dense clusters away from cities, only coming in because killing humans was a strong biological need built in) irradiating much of the earth and causing a huge swath of destruction, while leaving cities mostly intact.
The surviving rabids eventually managed to root out all but the hardiest and most remote survivors, including all world leaders and militaries. But a problem soon emerged: they had been built with a genetic "stop-clock" that would cause the rabids' cells to mutate and cease normal separation and functions after a number of years, effectively killing them.
This took place slowly enough that, over several years, the rabids became increasingly stupid, rotting creatures, that would eventually become so mindless that they only followed their basest biological impulse: kill humans.
Eventually, without a source of food, even these despicable creatures began to die off, becoming almost completely extinct by 2091 (apocalypse began in late 2082, nuclear strikes were early 2085). Having no methods of reproduction, they had no options left; they just died.
Now, in 2267, my story takes place. Humanity began emerging from hiding in the early 2250s, and the population soon began to rapidly grow once again. Each group thinks that they are the only survivors, except for the groups in Antarctica and Patagonia (now ironically called Southgate), who had managed to establish electronic contact with each other due to the relative distance and electrical/engineering skills of both locations.
In addition, there is also a group in Russia (community called Kraques-settled in a glacial ravine), one in Iceland (still Iceland, population completely untouched entirely but the distance was too great for communication with the Antarcticans and Southgaters), and a group in Canada (called the Inyukon community).
It is approximately 1 year before the arrival of the experimental ship Colombia 9.8, equipped with a phantom-field generator, is due to return from its first long-distance voyage and the final test of the long-term deep space survival ability of the ship. The Antarcticans, and by extension the Southgaters, know of this.
In no other place does anyone remember that humanity once made it outside the solar system (the return of the ship was supposed to be received with tons of fanfare and everything-this project was what took the funding from the lab for the final development and deployment). The vehicle launched in the year 2069, and was due to return exactly 200 years after they engaged the drive.
The Antarcticans barely even remembered this until they were reminded in 2267 by a preset and unknown alarm of the impending arrival, and only because the facility there was primarily scientists, researchers, and astronomers, who were there to begin the building of an indefinitely self-sufficient and sustainable community.
I know this is long and convoluted, but it is basically my prologue and 1-5 chapters summed up.