The gun bucked in his hand, jerking about like he was trying to hold a handful of bees, palm stinging and a familiar ache settling into his arm. There was nothing quite like it and he grinned, then checked the readout.
The figure clicked up, 134, 135, then stopped. One of them was still alive. That was odd, but he hadn’t known the smart bullets to be wrong before. Looked like the evening wasn’t over quite yet.
He saddled up, holstering the gun in the saddle, then sighed in pleasure as the hover discs purred and he rose into the air. As he rushed over the dust-covered plain, he stared up at the tower block, and shook his head. All this over a couple of thousand homes and half an acre of land that no one wanted. It wasn’t like he hadn’t offered decent cash for it, either.
His eyes went down to the screen set between the handlebars. The last one was still alive, though barely. They came in sight, three bodies clad in slate-grey overalls, freshly decorated with splashes of red. He shook his head as he saw their guns, old-style shotguns. One even still had its wooden stock. That had to be worth more than the three of them put together, but of course, it made no difference, not now.
They called themselves the resistance, but if they meant to resist, surely they knew they had to get better weapons? He shrugged, climbing off the bike and wandering over. The last he came to was staring blankly at the sky, eyelids flickering as his blood ran out onto the barren ground. He knelt next to him.
“The block’s mine. It was mine when I tried to buy it three months ago, and it’ll be mine when every last one of you peasants lies bleeding out on the wasteland. D’you hear me? Take that with you to hell.”
He stood, wincing as his back cracked, then put his boot into the man’s side. He hadn’t the energy to move, but his eyes widened for a moment, then sagged closed. Stait spat, then turned back to the bike. As he passed, he picked up the wooden-stock. He could strip it; the wood was worth enough for the effort. He hadn’t got rich by passing by, or stepping over, opportunities.
He looked up at the tower again, at the lights that flickered through the gloom of the evening, and the dust that filled the air. He needed that block. They were getting smart, learning, and he needed to move, get his family out of the low rise. Stairs were easy to defend. The steel barrier they’d thrown up around the city had done well in the last four years, but he wasn’t convinced it would stay that way. The zombies were growing, in both number and invention, but the city rulers were happy to sit back and let them develop, using the culls to pacify the populace. But not Stait, not a chance. He wanted his insurance, and that block was how he intended to get it.
As he drove back in through the gate, he nodded at the guards, throwing them a smile as he punched the transfer button. He could see them in the rear view, checking their accounts on their wrist readers. Another night, another battle fought, another step forward.
There was a hunt tomorrow. The council called it a cull, but no one else did. They knew better now, that it was only an excuse for rich people to try out new weapons whilst clearing the area for a few weeks, enough to get the crops harvested, and clear the dead out of the city. The freezers were full to bursting. It had been a long, difficult summer, more and more of the dead heading north as the equator warmed up. He still couldn’t figure it, why they hated the heat so much. They were always cold, wasn’t it nice to get a tan?
He sailed into the garage, shutting the bike down and heading upstairs. He was looking forward to the hunt. As much as he loved the smart gun, he was excited about using some of his bigger pieces, some explosive rounds and shatter shells. Sleep came easy and as he drifted down, he thought again about the wooden-stock. So rare. What had they been doing even having it? Surely they’d have sold it long ago. Ah well, their loss. He slipped away.
The shotgun was still on his mind when he woke up, nagging at him like an impatient wife and he headed down to the garage. He pulled the weapon out from where it was slung next to his saddle, and inspected it. It was old, older than anything else around here. If it hadn’t come from the resistance, he’d have suspected that it was from before the changes, but there was no way they had owned such as this. It was a replica, albeit a very good one.
The stock was real though, the wood giving slightly as he dug his finger nail into it. There were flecks of what looked like soil clinging to the grooves, and he grabbed a cloth, rubbing it clean. Within minutes he was absorbed in the task, digging into every crack to rescue the mud and raise a shine on the twin barrels. It was a beautiful piece, really something, and the thought of those scum having it, letting it get muddy, was making his blood boil.
He sauntered into the back garden, and cracked it, pleased to see the shells were still there. At least they hadn’t come to fight him with empty weapons, he hated killing unarmed people. He set it to his shoulder and aimed, squeezing the trigger until it roared, deafening in his ear and sending him a step backwards. His aim was good as always and the plant pot he’d gone for erupted into splinters. He grinned, then paused, eyebrows creasing together as he heard a beeping sound. He stepped to where the pot had been and saw that the bullet had come apart, leaving a tiny module that looked like a flat battery, the kind they used to run the old watches. The very top of it was spinning, a blurring silver disc that emitted a high pitched beep. With a shrug, he lifted one leg and brought his foot down hard, shattering the disc.
Smart bullets were so common these days, and so varied; it was hard to know what they were for, but either way, that one wasn’t doing anything now. He sauntered back into the garage, slinging the shotgun over one shoulder, enjoying the weight of it against his collar bone. It was nice, but the wood was nicer, and he’d need to strip it out soon.
In the few seconds the disc had been spinning, signals had been sent out, high pitched waves of sound that tore through the head of every zombie in the area. They gathered around the cities, waiting for the travellers who risked the wastelands, heading to other cities, or like our friend Stait, sorting out business. The sound enraged them, sending them running at the fences, screaming in their high, tongue-less gibberish. From where he stood in the garage, he heard the screaming, and rubbed his hands together. The hunt was gonna be a good ‘un.
He placed the shotgun on the side, getting together the weapons for the day from his racks. Within the gun, the shot he had fired had set off a reaction, and in the hollow stock, another disc began to spin. The signal coming from this was entirely different, and it spoke to the gates that ringed the city. At precisely nine fifteen that morning, every gate slid slowly open. Staring down from the block, the leaders of the resistance smiled to themselves, whispering quietly the names of the fallen, the three volunteers who had given their lives for this moment. Behind them stretched rooms of food and below them their families huddled in rooms, eyes closed against the horror that was about to befall the city.
Stait’s head jerked up as he set the last piece into his bike rack, the sudden silence in the garage in marked contrast to the screaming. What had caught his ear though was a change. The eerie ululation was still there, but beneath lay a far more human sound, the sound of panic and fear. He gunned the bike, grabbed the shotgun, and raced from the garage.
As he neared the square, the sound of screaming got louder and for the first time, he felt nervous, a sliver of uncertainty crawling into his mind. He slowed the bike, letting it sink down to the road surface and waited. Moments later, a figure came running around the corner, dressed in hunting gear, but carrying no weapon. He was shouting, waving his hands above his head, and was followed by others, all panicking just a much. With a sigh, Stait lofted the shotgun, pointing it up into the air, and fired. The bang this time was accompanied by pain, the most intense agony he had ever felt, and looking down, he realised that the gun was gone, and pieces of it were sticking into his armour and the bike saddle. He also realised, quite abstractly, that his hands were gone, leaving behind stumps that leaked blood like oil from a torn fuel line.
The screaming man had reached him, oblivious to the shot, and rushed past. He was babbling now, an endless stream of invective punctuated by moments of horrible clarity.
“They’re in, the gates are open, they’re in, they’re in.”
The words barely registered as he stared at the wreckage of his hands, waiting for the pain to kick in. When it did, he almost keeled over, biting down so hard he felt his teeth crack and his gums ache. He glanced down the hill to see the first zombie, shambling toward him, arms out-stretched. He scrambled off the bike, falling onto his knees as his balance went. He grabbed for a gun, his stump banging the handle hard enough for him to shriek and vomit.
The pain came in waves and he scrambled to his feet, turning to run back up the hill. Every few yards it would kick in again and he’d stop, moaning and gasping until it passed enough for him to move. He turned around when he heard the slap of bare feet, and the creature grabbed at his heel. He lashed out, but succeeded only in overbalancing and hitting the floor hard. One hand went out to stop him and he blacked out as the pain seared up his arm. He came to only moments later as he felt teeth sink into his foot.
He opened his eyes and saw them, surrounding him, their teeth green and sharp. Then they moved in and the feast began.