Author's Note: A little over 7 years ago, I started a series of interconnected short stories about me, my friends, and the zombie apocalypse. It was a way of dealing with some issues at the time, namely the collapse of my relationship with the woman who would go on to have my first child. Despite the amateurish writing and the fact that I was mostly drunk the whole time, it turned into something of a phenomenon on JvS. This was mostly because I threw the door open to anyone who wanted to write their own stories in the universe. At any rate, I'm going through some rough poodoo right now, and some folks who migrated to Chaos from JvS seem to remember it fondly, so it seems like a good time to bring it back.
As before, the universe is open to anyone who wants to write their own stories within. Rules are fairly simple. It's set ten years from now. You can write either yourself and friends or original characters (I'm going the second route this time), whatever floats your boat. The zombie plague was triggered by the intentional hijacking of anti-aging nanotech, the exact mechanism being unknown to the characters at the time. For JvS folks, try to keep in mind that Chaos is a little more strict on the graphic violence and profanity thing, so don't do anything that'll land you in hot water. Otherwise, have fun.
"There's no way you can afford all this on a teacher's salary."
I couldn't help but crack a grin. I was rather proud of my armory, and Smith's look of slack-jawed awe told me that the pride was justified.
"True," I said cheerfully. "If I was relying on a teacher's salary to get by, I'd be screwed anyway."
You know those scenes in movies where the good guys walk into a room, and the walls are covered with neat and orderly rows of guns on neat little stands? Yeah, this was nothing like that. I have kids, and while they don't know how to open the door (I don't think), I know better. I use locking gun racks, keyed to an RFID in my wrist.
The armory was one of the larger rooms in the house. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all dull grey concrete, which made a certain amount of sense, given the fact it was constructed like a bank vault. The edges of the room were bordered by large gun cabinets with heavy polycarbonate doors, the contents organized according to an arcane system that's equal parts order and voodoo. I can find my stuff, but anyone else is going to have a bad day. All you need to know is that if it's shorter than 2 feet long, it's on the wall.
The floorspace was occupied by haphazard rows of rifle and shotgun racks. Just like the cabinets, the racks were organized, but good luck figuring out the system if you're not in my head. You might find a Brown Bess musket sitting next to a Barrett .50 next to a Red Rider BB gun, and you're just gonna have to take my word for it that it all makes sense.
Smith, it seemed, was too dumbfounded to notice my careful approximation of chaos.
"How?" he asked weakly. "I'm an investment banker and I don't have this kind of scratch."
My grin grew a little wider.
"Writing, my friend. These days, you don't have to be wildly successful to make a mint, which is exactly what I did."
He nodded knowingly. There was this big thing a few years back when the whole country went mad and rejected intellectualism. Once that wore off, the pendulum swung back the other way, and boy howdy did it swing. Books were now in vogue, and there were publishing companies willing to take just about anything if they thought it would sell. I didn't mention that I made most of my cash from a book that got made into a movie when adaptations were still big.
"It's crazy how that market took off. It's like we stepped out of the dark ages or something."
Smith ambled along the aisles in between the racks, occasionally stopping to take a closer look at a piece. He wasn't a tall man, only about 5 and a half feet tall, but he was powerfully built. And he was a former Marine, which is the only reason we were back here to begin with. My oldest daughter's sweet sixteen birthday party had brought a plethora of teenage girls and a couple of boys to my place, along with a fair few of their parents. Cathy had most of the adults in the lounge, where they could relax while the kids did their thing out in the backyard.
Since I liked most of them about as much as I liked the idea of having my prostate removed through my nose, I was relieved from parent sitting duty. And since the lounge overlooked the large fenced in yard, it wasn't likely that the kids would get too rambunctious. And despite Leigh's objections, the Twins were both there, and they were both packing. Corran and Stephanie weren't actually twins, but until puberty, they were nearly identical and practically inseparable, so folks just started calling them the Twins. At their mother's insistence, both had been training in martial arts since they were old enough to walk, and at my insistence, both were competition level three gun shooters. That last part wasn't well known among their classmates, but they had watched them utterly dismantle enough bullies to get the idea that you just didn't mess with the Twins, or their brothers and sisters.
Needless to say, I wasn't overly worried about the party. So when Cathy had introduced me to Smith and suggested I show him the armory, we both jumped on the idea. The former jarhead apparently liked the other parents just about as much as I did.
"I reckon the bubble will burst at some point," I said. "I can't exactly say when, but hey, it pays good right now. Bought all this." I gestured around the room.
Smith whistled appreciatively, stopping in front of a case on the wall, the one that held an original run LeMat.
"I think I got into the wrong career field," he said, looking longingly at the hybrid pistol/shotgun from the Civil War. Authentic LeMats were some of the most prized collectibles from the era, with firing versions going for well over $30,000. He knew his stuff, I figured, judging by the look on his face that fell somewhere between envy and lust.
"Not too late. They'll publish any old crap these days."
He chuckled.
"They might not have standards, but I do," he said. "Besides, it's not like-"
I raised a hand to cut him off, as my phone made a very peculiar little beeping sound. See, my phone doesn't beep, not normally. It'll buzz, and if I have the sound on the ringtone is the TARDIS taking off, but it doesn't normally beep. Beeping is reserved for a very particular sort of alert.
I could feel the color draining from my face. Smith must have noticed, his hand unconsciously went to his hip. I knew he wasn't wearing a gun, but being a jarhead and all, he must have recognized the look.
"There a problem," he asked cautiously.
"Maybe," I replied as I removed my phone from its clip on my belt. There was no alert on the screen, nothing out of the ordinary save for a little square in the upper right hand corner, maybe a couple of millimeters across.
I swore, then tapped a pattern onto the square.
The words only appeared for a second before everything went back to normal, but that was enough. I swore again, then looked to Smith.
"You normally carry?"
He shook his head.
"Used to, but the wife never liked it. Last few years she'd throw a fit if I left the house. Got to where I'd rather take a bullet than put up with it, so I stopped."
I nodded absentmindedly, mentally planning out the next few minutes. First off, I popped open one of the gun cabinets and rummaged around in a drawer beneath the display case, coming up with a plastic case about the size of a laptop.
"Here," I said as I handed it to him. "Beretta 92FS. Threaded, suppressor's in the box. The can's already packed with grease and sealed, so no first round pop."
His eyes widened as he opened the case to confirm the contents.
"I can't take this," Smith said uncertainly.
"The hell you can't. I can't go into details, but trust me when I say you're going to want to be packing the next few weeks. Best case scenario, you don't need it and you can return it in a few weeks."
That seemed to mollify him a bit, but I could tell he still had questions.
"Look," I said, letting a little frustration seep into my voice. "If I'm wrong, there are going to be a great many very powerful people coming after me before too long. You definitely don't want to know more than you absolutely have to."
Something like a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"If people are going to be coming after you, how am I-"
"Just throw it on my grave," I said, rushing for the exit. "Now get your family and get home."
He nodded in wordless thanks, then took off at a jog. I shut the lights off and bolted the door behind us.
In the movies, an alert like this would be followed by frantic activity as everyone rushed around trying to get to battle stations, but my house is a little more orderly. As most all the women in a long line of exes can attest, I tend to plan obsessively. More often than not, that meant that trips to the grocery store were preceded by a fifteen minute briefing on what everyone was to do in case Godzilla decided to take a stroll through rural North Carolina, but every now and again, it paid off big time.
Cathy and the kids would have all received it by now. Leigh was to keep the kids all in one place and occupied on the party; teenagers were at the greatest risk of panic if something was to go wrong. Stephanie would help.
Both girls mostly took after their mothers, thankfully, though they managed to get my height out of the deal. Standing at 5 feet and eleven inches tall, Leigh was basically the Aryan poster child: blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and cherubic face. Like most girls in my family, she had gone through a chunky phase at the start of high school, but she had been determined to burn that off as quickly as possible.
Her sister, on the other hand, stood at five foot nine and had her mother’s willowy figure and distinctly Filipino facial features. Unlike her mother, however, she was quite pale, leaning towards my end of the spectrum, somewhere between newly fallen snow and liquid paper.
Though they hardly looked like sisters, both girls were devastatingly pretty, and judging by the amount of male attention they garnered, there were days I was pretty sure my arsenal was half as big as it needed to be. Those days were more and more frequent since Leigh had started passing on to Stephanie the lessons she learned from her mother about weaponizing her looks.
Despite the vivid fantasies about culling the teenage male population brought on by the very idea, I was forced to admit that they made a pretty good team when it came to keeping the other kids from paying attention to the outside world. That would come in handy if things were really and truly going to hell.
It was Cathy’s job to keep the parents entertained and, if the need arose, informed. Though you’d be hard pressed to guess from the bright pink hair and tattoos all over her arms, hands, fingers, and other places that weren’t so readily visible in jeans and a T-shirt, Cathy was a psychiatrist by trade. She was also a natural entertainer, not that she needed help to keep this lot in line. All she really had to do was carefully guide things onto the nature of her relationship with me, and the conversation would go on for hours as folks tried to figure things out.
See, despite appearances, Cathy and I aren’t married. We’re not engaged. We’re not even dating. Sure we’ve lived together for the last decade or so, and fine, when we’re not dating anyone, she sleeps in my bed. And not only do we have a child together, I’ve informally adopted her other two. (I’d have legally adopted them, but their biological father is still alive, damn the luck.) Still not dating. Never have, never will.
Confused? So are we. Seriously, we’ve had a decade to figure this crap out and come up empty every time. But hey, it makes for great conversation in a pinch. Knowing her, she’ll have them all so confounded, they wouldn’t notice if a hoard of zombies was to show up on the doorstep.
In the meantime, Corran, along with my youngest son Dillon, would meet me in the melodramatically named Control Room. The kids started calling it that when we first built the place, probably because of the hundred thousand dollars or so worth of communication equipment, computers, and yeah, the controls for the property’s defenses.
What, you don’t have automated defenses at home? Slacker.
The boys were already there by the time I stepped through the door. Corran looked as dour and serious as always. He and Stephanie shared the same mother, so his features had a distinctly Filipino cast to them, and his dark hair, skin, and eyes were hers, but his stocky build came from me. He might only be five foot six, but even at fifteen he was almost two hundred pounds, and most of it was solid muscle.
He carried himself with the ponderous grace of a man who was afraid of breaking delicate things just by being in the same room, which to be fair, could easily happen. The poor kid was kicked off the football team for clapping his coach on the shoulder after scoring the winning touchdown, which seems a bit unfair unless you were there to hear the pop of said shoulder dislocating.
Dillon, by contrast, was a slender, whipcord youth built like a runner. Though he was only nine, he was already as tall as his brother, and if his overlarge hands and feet were any indication, he had a lot of growing ahead of him. He was my son by Cathy, and he shared her heavy-lidded eyes and otherwise delicate facial features.
I have long ago accepted the fact that none of my children look like they’re related. It’s not my fault, honest.
“What’s going on, Dad?” Corran asked.
“No clue, I’ve been down in the armory. Thought you guys would have checked by now.”
“Corran said we should wait,” Dillon piped in, cheerfully. That child does not know how to do serious. “Does this mean I can get my gun?”
“Yeah, sure. Corran, help him get situated while I pull up the feed.”
The elder boy nodded, then pulled a case from off one of the shelves. Inside was a Ruger Mk IV .22 Long Rifle pistol, customized just for Dillon. It had a twelve ounce trigger, Eotech red dot sight, and an enlarged grip that accommodated unique double-stack magazines. Though an individual .22LR bullet might not be much, Dillon had 35 of them in each magazine, and the weapon was a tack driver.
Corran’s own pistol, a Kimber 1911, protruded from a paddle holster on his right hip. For him, the .45 ACP might as well have been a .22; I’ve seen him dump a mag into a circle the size of a quarter in about a second. He didn’t need fancy sights or other gizmos, he was just that good. Better than I ever will be, at least with a semi.
While they got situated, which involved a lot of whining from Dillon and grumbling from Corran, I checked the alert.
It was generated by a computer program that scanned the major news networks constantly looking for certain keywords. Over the years, I’ve amassed a staggering array of contacts in a wide variety of fields and specialties, and we’d all come up with a covert way of notifying one another in the event of impending doom. That usually took the form of certain words and phrases that, although fairly innocuous, would not be likely to be uttered on national television. And since my contacts would either be in position to do the uttering themselves, or write the speech for the folks who would talk to the talking heads.
I pulled up the program, and immediately felt a lead weight settle in my stomach. Brit was on.
Brit was an attractive African American woman of unusual height and staggering intelligence, two features that had endeared her greatly to me when we first dated after high school. Being nearly six and a half feet tall myself, a good looking woman who topped out over six feet was definitely a plus. We had gone our separate ways after a few months, mostly because she was headed to medical school and didn’t have time for a relationship. We had hooked up again after the dreaded ten year high school reunion, and while we didn’t stay together, we did stay in touch.
Bringing her into the network was one of the smarter moves I’ve made in my life.
She was a researcher at the CDC in Atlanta, and since she was easy on the eyes and had a sunny disposition that translated well to television, she regularly spoke for the agency to the media.
If she was the one who dropped the code, we were well and truly screwed.
I gathered my nerve and pressed play on the clip.
“ you’re saying the incident in Seattle wasn’t anything to be worried about?”
“That’s right, Susan.” I knew Brit well enough to know her smile was forced. “We don’t have any reason to believe that it’s anything more than an isolated incident.”
“Could you explain to us what happened?”
“Well, as you know, the Regen nanite treatments are computer controlled, and like all software, a determinedly irresponsible individual can tinker with them. It appears that one of these individuals managed to hack his dose, and somehow turned himself into what the police have described as a ‘zombie.’ The manufacturer assures us that they’ve patched through an update that will prevent future tampering.”
Susan Somethingoranother nodded as though she understood what the hell Brit just said.
“So what you’re saying is that the zombie apocalypse is not around the corner.”
They both laughed. It couldn’t have sounded more fake if was canned and played on a sitcom.
“Of course not,” Brit said. “We’re not about to step into the world of Black Tide Rising.”
The clip cut out at that point, which was probably a good thing. We wouldn’t have heard it anyway, what with Corran swearing in a bastard mix of German, Tagalog, and Mandalorian. The hell of it was, he was managing to make it all conjugate fairly fluidly.
“That bad?” Dillon asked, eyes wide.
“Yeah, it’s bad,” I replied. “As far as z-poc codes go, it’s up there with World War Z.”
Most of our codes took the form of literature references. Made them fairly easy to say on national television without anyone wigging out.
“Worse,” Corran said. “Means its manmade. Think it’s the Regen?”
“Probably. I’ve been saying for years it was only a matter of time before someone hacked the stuff,” I muttered. “Okay, we need to get these people the hell out of here. You two figure out how.”
Dillon looked like he was about to panic, but Corran simply nodded.
“Any ideas, Dad?”
“Either of your sisters have a boyfriend?”
A rare smiled lit up the older boy’s face.
“You know, I think they do.”
“Good, go punch them in the face. I’ll warn Cathy.”
As the boys raced off, I glanced around the room. This place had been my life for the last six years, and damned if I was going to leave it for anything, up to and including the freaking zombie apocalypse.
I had prepared for the worst. I had planned and prepped until my neighbors, my family, and the local, state, and federal governments all had me on watchlists. This house was as secure as any government facility on the eastern seaboard, and quite a bit more than most. We were going to pull through this.
I opened the top drawer on my computer desk and pulled out and old, battered Colt 1851 Navy. It was a replica, the only replica firearm I owned, in fact. It was the first gun I had ever built, and it was my oldest and most faithful companion. I rarely carried it anymore; it couldn’t be concealed, and despite state law, the local gendarmerie had made it clear that I wasn’t to carry it openly if I wanted to avoid trouble.
The walnut and brass grips were worn from years of wear. The once flawless finish had long ago become worn and dulled. The leather holster was similarly abused. Two decades of oil, powder, and lead seeping into it had turned it from brown to a dingy grey. I didn’t care. When push came to shove, this gun had seen me through more than once. It was going to do it again.
“Ain’t no time like bullet time,” I said to no one in particular. I stood up, strapped on the holster, and stretched. It was time to get to work.