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Women on War
A Zombies vs Robots Anthology
By JEFF CONNER, Ericka Lugo
IDWCopyright © 2012 Idea and Design Works
All rights reserved.
ANGUS: Zombie Versus Robot Fighter
Nancy A. Collins
This time the maze was dimly lit. Not completely dark, but with just enough light to make telling the difference between shadow and zombie tricky. Although Angus had prowled the interior of the maze for as long as he could remember, each time he entered it anew it was slightly different than the last. Sometimes it was brightly lit, or filled with a thick fog. One time it was even flooded with water up to his knees. So it paid to be cautious, the importance of which was drilled into him from the second he woke up to the moment he fell asleep, for as long as he could remember. Even though the maze was a training exercise, the consequences of his actions inside it were very, very real. Every moment could very well be his last.
He was dressed in a black one–piece garment made of lightweight ballistic fiber with molded, reinforced high–impact protection plates built into the chest, back, shoulders, groin, and legs — all the critical bite–zones zombies instinctively went for. He also wore a pair of knee–high steel–toed boots to protect his shins from crawlers snapping at his ankles, Kevlar gloves to keep his hands and fingers safe from snapping teeth, and a full– face helmet to guard against skeletal fingers stabbing at his eyeballs. The helmet was outfitted with an oxygen recycler, which kept his breath from fogging up the shatterproof face guard.
Suddenly an older, masculine voice spoke in his ear, as if the owner was standing right beside him. "Be on your lookout, Angus. You might not be able to see the zombie, but it can track you down, simply by following the scent of your living brain. It doesn't even need eyes to hunt you."
"Yes, I know, Father," he replied, pushing up the visor on the helmet so he could tap the comm–bud nestled in his ear in order to reply. "I'm not five years old anymore."
"No, you are not," Father conceded. "Tomorrow you will be eighteen."
"Shhh," Angus hissed, calling for radio silence. "I think I hear it." Although the walking dead could no longer speak, they were far from mute. As they shambled about, they gave voice to a constant, toneless moaning. It was an eerie sound, like the wailing of a damned soul trapped in the bowels of some nameless hell, but at least it served as a rudimentary early warning system. Angus' name for the noise they made was the Zombie Call.
As he double-checked his weapon — an automatic rifle fitted with a laser sighting system, special explosive hollow–point ammunition, and a detachable chainsaw bayonet for close– quarters combat — a zombie came stumbling out of the shadows to the left of the T– junction.
Although Angus had never met a police officer before, he had seen enough of them on the Feed to recognize their riot gear — or rather, what was left of it. The front of the zombie–cop's bulletproof vest was in shreds, and its face was a mass of dried blood and exposed gum from where the upper lip had been torn away. The zombie walked with its head tilted back, sniffing the air like a hound trying to catch the scent of a rabbit, even though Angus had never seen a dog or rabbit in real life outside the videos in his lesson plans.
The zombie suddenly made a deep, guttural growl, and its head dropped down with an audible snap and swung in his direction. A mixture of saliva and blood poured from the former cop's ruined mouth. It had caught the scent of sweet, sweet brain. Angus quickly lowered his face mask to protect himself from the splatter; all it would take would be one zombie bite, or a single drop of zombie blood entering an open wound in his skin, and it would be Game Over. He had to be careful. After all, he was humanity's last hope.
The laser sights swarmed all over the zombie–cop's torso like angry red bees until they coalesced into a single, blinking red triangle located between its filmy, gray eyes. Angus exhaled as he squeezed the trigger, just as he had been taught when he was five years old. The zombie's head disappeared in a spray of skull fragments, coagulated blood, and clotted gray matter.
A buzzer sounded as the body hit the floor, and the roof of the maze went from opaque to translucent, revealing Father standing in the viewing booth overhead.
"Excellent job, Angus," he said, giving the thumbs–up sign. "When you're decontaminated, come join me in my lab. There is something I must discuss with you."
One of the walls suddenly split in two, and T–1 and T–2 entered the maze. The modified guardbots stood over six feet tall, with dome–like heads that swiveled completely around on their wide, metal shoulders, so that nothing could sneak up on them. They were equipped with long, segmented arms capped with three–digit graspers, and rolled along on a set of all–terrain wheels that allowed them to move sideways and pivot in place, so they never had to back up in order to turn around. They had been Angus' near–constant companions for as long as he could remember. T–1 sprayed an enzymatic compound that liquefied the zombie's remains, while T–2 vacuumed up the resulting toxic sludge. Once they were finished, the undead waste would be transported to the Disposal station, where it would be fed into a nuclear digester.
Angus stripped out of his protective zombie–hunting gear in the changing room and fed it to an incinerator unit, then entered the de–contamination stall, which sprayed him head–to–toe with anti–microbial disinfectant. While the Z–virus was the most virulent microscopic nasty carried by the undead, it was far from the only one. They were walking bags of rotting flesh, after all. Once the scanner–banks deemed him clear, Angus dressed himself in a firesh one–piece jumpsuit and hurried off to join his father in the hub.
As he stepped onto the moving sidewalk that connected the Training Facility to the central dome that housed their living quarters and Father's laboratory, Angus was suddenly aware of motion above him. He looked up, peering through the foot–thick hyper–acrylic tube–way, as a forty–foot giant squid glided over his head. He yawned. Kraken were an everyday occurrence when you grow up in a secret undersea laboratory base.
His father had built the deep sea dome, called the hub, long before the zombie plague became a problem, and in the years since the initial outbreak had added three smaller annexes, connected via tube–ways. The first was the Training Facility, which also housed the zombie pen; the second was the Garden, which replicated a topside greenspace; and the third was the Disposal station, where the liquefied remains of the zombie hunts were incinerated.
Of the three annexes, Angus spent most of his time in the Training Facility. Although Father insisted it was important for him to acquaint himself with the plant life and environment found topside, as this was where he would be transported once he finished his training, Angus found the green, living carpet called grass and the surrounding flowering bushes and leafy trees in the Garden disconcerting. As for the Disposal station, he had never been allowed inside its doors. Father said it was an environment created by robots for robots, and therefore hostile to human life.
Upon returning to the hub, Angus reported promptly to the lab. There he found Father staring into a neutron microscope while busily scribbling notes into a computer tablet with a stylus. He was dressed in his usual combination of white lab coat and black turtleneck sweater and faded corduroys, his cowlick as defiant as ever.
"You said you wanted to see me, Father?" Angus prompted.
"Yes, I do," the scientist said, looking up from his work with a weary smile. "By the way, you handled yourself very well today."
"Thank you, sir," Angus replied humbly.
"You know, when I first proposed creating an elite class of human zombie–fghters to combat the plague, everyone said it was a waste of time — it was too easy for infection to be spread through human agents." Father sighed, setting aside his notes. "Why take the risk when we could send battalions of bots to do the job for us?
"I argued that mankind has a bad habit of relying on technology to get itself out of tight spots — especially those created by technology. Robots are merely tools, Angus. And tools, while useful, have no heart or soul. They simply do what they have been programmed to do, nothing more, nothing less. Ensuring the survival of the human race is just another task for them to complete, no different than loading a cargo ship or recalibrating an engine.
"This is humanity's darkest hour, my son. Now, more than ever, mankind needs a hero, a symbol, to give the people of the world hope. That is why I brought you to this secret laboratory as a baby. That is why I have trained you how to hunt and kill zombies since you were old enough to hold a gun. You know everything there is to know about the undead — both their strengths and their weaknesses, and how to defeat them — than any human alive. The human race needs to see one of its own fghting tirelessly for its survival: a hero dedicated to wiping out the zombie menace not because he is programmed to do so, but because that is what he was born to do. You are that hero, Angus. You are humanity's last hope."
Angus shifted about in boredom, as this was not the first time he'd heard this rant.
"Tomorrow is a special day for you. It is both your eighteenth birthday and your final day of training. If you complete the Final Test, you will finally be allowed to leave the hub and start fight zombies topside."
Angus blinked in surprise. Although he had known this day would eventually come, he had not imagined it would be so soon. "What if I fail the test, Father?" he asked.
"Then you will die and become a zombie, of course."
The moment the door to his quarters irised open, the far wall turned translucent and images from the Feed began to stream across its surface. There was no controlling what appeared on the Feed or shutting it off. It played constantly whenever he was in his room. The Feed was comprised of what Father called "programs," but not like the ones that ran the robots. These programs featured humans of all types doing things like solve crime or cure diseases, or have misadventures involving their friends and family, while invisible people laughed in the background. Outside of Father, they were the only examples of the human race he'd ever seen. The zombies didn't count.
Angus had no memory of his mother, since she died shortly after giving birth to him. At least that's what Father told him when he asked him about her. Angus sometimes wondered what his mother looked and sounded like, as Father had no photos or videos of her. He wondered if she was a zombie now. He had slain numerous walking dead over the course of his training, some of which had been female. maybe his mother had been one of them?
he sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the Feed. It showed a young man and woman walking through a forest, surrounded by grass and trees, like the ones in the Garden, except the trees in the Feed weren't growing in plastic buckets and were more than eight feet tall. Angus didn't like how large they were, compared to the humans. Zombies could be hiding behind any one of them, waiting to strike.
Angus continued to watch the young couple as they took out a blanket and spread it on the forest floor. As he watched, his hands clenched themselves in anticipation of a rotting waitress or a decomposing meter–reader to come lurching out of the shadows. The man and woman began to undress one another, while Angus continued to remain vigilant. Even if there were no zombies in the vicinity, it was still very likely one of them could be infected with the Z–virus. At any moment, they might find themselves possessed of a ravenous hunger for human brains, and turn on their lover. Within seconds their passionate kisses would easily turn into savage bites, their lustful moan warp into screams.
If his eighteen years of training had taught him anything, it was that inside every human was a zombie waiting to get out.
Someone was calling his name.
he looked around, trying to identify the source of the voice. He was surrounded on all sides by towering edifices of bark and wood, a thousand times taller than the stunted specimens Father grew under the artificial sunlight in the Garden. The trees were dark and sinister, like the talking ones in the program about the girl with the ruby shoes.
He turned in the direction of the voice and saw a young woman running through the woods toward a nearby clearing. Her hair was long and loose and the color of gold, and her short skirt and flimsy blouse showed flashes of lithe legs and supple arms. At first he thought she was fleeing zombies, but then he heard her laughter floating on the air. He smiled and gave chase, eager to escape the close confines of the forest.
He found himself on the edge of an open meadow, a hundred times bigger than the carpet of tame grass that lived in the Garden. The young woman was standing at its center, spinning around in a circle, her head thrown back, her arms spread wide as if to embrace the world.
"Isn't it wonderful, Angus?" she giggled. "To finally be free?"
"Free from what?" he asked, staring at her flawless skin and sparkling eyes. Given that she was the only living woman he had ever seen, she was also the most beautiful. His gaze fell to her low–cut blouse, and her bountiful cleavage. Although he knew he should be scanning his surroundings in case of a zombie attack, he could not look away from her perfectly formed breasts, with their erect nipples straining against the gossamer–thin fabric that covered them. His penis thickened and grew heavy, distracting him even further.
"From everything, silly!" she laughed, pirouetting so that she fell into his arms. "From Father, the robots, the zombies, the training — all of it! You're finally firee to live your own life!"
"But I'm humanity's last hope," he replied automatically, as he looked down into her perfect face. Her lips were as pink and finely formed as the petals on the rosebush in the Garden. "I'm a zombie–fghter."
"But is that what you want to be?" she asked, her voice so hushed Angus was forced to lean in close to hear it. She smelled of grass and flowers, and something else, something familiar, yet he could not pinpoint it. As his erection continued to grow and harden, it blocked more and more of his ability to think rationally.
"Who are you?" he whispered.
"Don't you recognize me?" she replied as she reached up and pulled his mouth down to hers. "I'm your mother."
Although Angus felt confusion, shame, and frustration rise within him, his erection remained rock hard and insistent. He knew he should cast her aside, but he could not bring himself to do so. In the eighteen years of his life, he had yet to know the embrace of another human being. He could not remember Father ever hugging him or picking him up, or even giving him as so much as a pat on the back. All he ever did was smile and give Angus the occasional thumbs–up. The yearning for human contact, if only for a moment's consolation, was so strong he was willing to lower his guard in order to embrace the forbidden.
As his mother's mouth closed on his, the mysterious odor Angus had noticed earlier grew stronger and more distinct. With a horrible start, he finally recognized it. It was the smell of the Z–virus as it turned living flesh into walking meat. He opened his eyes to find the beautiful face with its perfect skin had become gaunt and the color of tallow. As he tried to pull away, his mother's eyelids flew open, to reveal the muddied, clouded pupils of the walking dead. He screamed, only to have his mouth instantly fill with blood.
His zombie–mother staggered backward, his lower lip clamped between its teeth, where it hung, pink and bloody, like some pendulous wounded tongue, before being swallowed in a single gulp. The zombie–mother's jaw dropped open and the awful, mindless Zombie Call rose from her deflated lungs.
Excerpted from Women on War by JEFF CONNER, Ericka Lugo. Copyright © 2012 Idea and Design Works. Excerpted by permission of IDW.
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