- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
"Cold metal, got to be Skeleton of the free "
Keesha driving the dirt buggy, Ruben literally riding shotgun, Lyle in the back, they crossed the desert and found the robot graveyard exactly where the old guidance satellite said it'd be. Keesha's goggles were almost browned out with the dust of the Arizona wasteland, so she had to wipe them with a wetted thumb to be sure. Yeah, there it was, a big old junkyard of robot and automated tractor parts, shining like pirate treasure in the mid-morning sun. And it was treasure, a techno-trove of parts nobody built anymore, pieces she could cobble into working guardians.
They could see great heaps of steel carapaces and connectives rising over the electrified barbed wire fence, metal and glass glancing out thin spears of reflected sun. Jutting three stories over the fenced lot was a square-edged watch tower of some kind, meshed concrete over a metal frame.
She couldn't see anyone in its window. The gate in the scrapyard's outer fence was wide open. And that wasn't how it should be. Anyone that friendly was probably dead.
But maybe that made things simpler.
They'd driven all the way from Base 23, across the desert, night and day, staying clear of roads when possible, trying to decrease the chance of running into braineaters, and they were almost out of fuel. Their only choice was to hope the place wasn't overrun
Keesha spotted a few shamblers off to their right, maybe an eighth mile to the east, unmistakable even at this distance. The dirt buggy would reach the dump—but then what? The gate was open so good chance there were zombies inside. Getting lost in a maze of metal odds and ends with an unknown number of voracious, frustrated braineaters was not part of her plan.
Keesha slowed down as they approached the gate, wondering if there were landmines in the dirt—the open gate could be a way to lure the unwary, trigger a mine. Blow up a traveler, steal their stuff. Some of the more hardcore survivors were capable of it.
No. The zombies would have set off the landmines by now.
She drove slowly up to the gate almost stopping not ready to enter the place yet
"What are you waiting for?" Ruben asked, spitting dust and shifting the shotgun from his left hand to his right; he wedged its stock butt against his right hip so he could fire if a zombie rushed them. He was a sallow fat-cheeked guy, about forty, in greasy jeans and yellowing t-shirt, with two days' growth of dark beard and a sunburned bald spot on his head.
Keesha was a contrast. She was tall and slim, wearing shorts and a tank top, goggles, her black hair cut short.
"Come on," Ruben said, "Christ, more'n a hundred miles trying to get here, let's fucking go in."
Her brother Lyle leaned forward. "She's doing the smart thing, dude, just chill." Lyle was a little younger and shorter than his sister, but the same cocoa color; he wore blue coveralls turning yellow with dust; his corn-rowed black hair was dust coated too.
"Not sure I want to just plunge into this fucking place," Keesha said.
"We got to hope there's fuel here, anyway," Ruben pointed out. "What else we going to do, at this point?"
"I know. I'm just trying to see."
They couldn't see anything move inside; they heard the wind whining in the fence wires, and nothing else.
"Lyle—" she began.
"I'm ready," He said, cocking the pistol. He often anticipated what she was going to say.
Keesha took a deep breath and drove slowly through the gate, squinting against the glare of light off metal and plastic and glass. They drove into the shadow of the watchtower.
She shut off the engine, pulled her assault rifle from its clamp next to the gearshift, and the first of the zombies came shuffling around the corner of a pile of random machine parts.
The braineater wore shapeless rags, was missing his lower jaw and one eye. The zombie's right leg dragged some, and that slowed him down so it was easy to drop the muzzle of the assault rifle and squeeze off a short burst—the zombie's head exploded, black-red blood flying up and back to glitter in the sunlight before he fell, writhing in a second death.
Keesha turned when Ruben fired a round, off to his right; she saw he'd cut a zombie in a bloody party dress almost in half. Sawn through at close range by the eight gauge, the zombie's upper half sagged one way, its lower the other, but it was still connected by entrails and flesh, still moving, trying to crawl toward them. Lyle aimed carefully and shot her in the head.
Lyle murmured, "I always feel like I've done something nice for somebody when I shoot one of them in the head. I mean, something nice for the zombie "
They heard the sounds of other braineaters, somewhere in the junkyard. Groaning, hissing, clunking into obstacles.
"We got no choice but to clear the place out," Keesha said, looking around for more targets. "Gunshots will bring more of 'em from the desert so I better close that gate. We don't have enough fuel to make any kind of serious run for it. You guys cover me." She got out of the dirt buggy.
But Lyle was already jumping out of the back. "I'll close the gate, you stay near to Ruben," He said. "Doesn't seem like the fence electricity's going "
Lyle was trying to protect her but she was better with a gun than he was. Really, it should be her. Too late to insist now, he was running across the open ground up to the gate checking for electricity. The power wasn't flowing so Lyle started to close the gate manually. The gate closed slowly, as he tugged it along, creaking from right to left on a rusty wheel.
"Keesha, behind you!" Ruben barked. She turned, fired from the hip before seeing what kind of zombie it was—it didn't matter anyway, a braineater's a braineater. It was a naked kid, as it happened, or had been a kid, maybe twelve years old, face and hair matted in old dried blood and flecks of rotting flesh, like he'd stuck his whole head in somebody's guts, which he probably had—her rounds missed him except one in the forehead, and he staggered backward, tipped over, fell flat.
"There you go, kid," she said. "You're welcome."
Ruben was firing at another, a squat Mestizo zombie; he used up two shotgun shells before the third took the top of the shambler's head off.
Keesha spun at a yell from the gate and saw that her brother had it shut—but a cyanotic arm poked through, in the narrow space between gate and fence pole, the zombie outside the gate grabbing Lyle's wrist. Before she could move, Lyle fired the pistol through the crack between the gate and the fence, twice, and the grip went slack. The mottled gray hand withdrew. Lyle closed a lock on the gate and turned toward her, grinning, and waving. There was blood running down his hand, curling around his wrist.
No more living dead in the robot graveyard, but there were still some outside the fence. Keesha was surprised there were so many of them this far from a population center, but Ruben said they were probably from a little town he'd seen on the map, small place built around a truck stop about eight miles off.
They waited, but no other zombies came at them. They searched the junkyard, found only the remains of a coyote in one corner of the lot, its head cracked open, brains gnawed out long ago, most of its flesh stripped away by rats and insects.
They called out, and searched—couldn't find the guy who'd set up the junkyard, though he'd been reported alive and open for business just two months earlier.
Under the watchtower they found a bunker, a fifteen-by-twenty foot, low-ceilinged underground concrete room; along one wall were plastic shelves holding crates of food, a box of shotgun shells, and a crate of medical supplies. The food, shells and medical goods made the trip here worthwhile, if nothing else—and in one corner, by a cluttered workbench, was the partly finished body of a preservation bot: the rudiments of an artificial man standing, as if casually waiting, in a rack against one wall. Keesha inspected it, found the nanocrystaline brain in the aluminum skull fully installed, and the limbs and torso nearly complete. Nearby was a crate of synthetic skins to sheath it with, in several shades.
"What the fuck is that, some kind of android?" Ruben asked, addressing Keesha because she was the geek here. Ruben seemed particularly surly now; kept stealing narrow-eyed looks at Lyle as they checked out the bunker.
"Looks like a pres-bot," Keesha replied. "Some survivalist types homebuild 'em, or try to—they're crazy complicated, real Kurzweil stuff. Supposedly they can imprint an entire personality, memories and all, right from your brain. Guess the guy who ran this place was fixing to be immortal. That unit over there by the bot probably copies neural patterns, does the transfer. Took a tutorial on preservation bots once when I—"
"That ain't going to help us out with our mission," Ruben growled. "Base council said we were only to get parts for base protection. Food's a good thing to find—but you think you can locate what we need here for the guardians? We need to get this done and get the hell back, fast as we can. Like right now." He glanced at Lyle again.
"I have to do an inventory," she said, shrugging. "Should be able to hack into the junkyard's accounts computer—see what's listed, probably do a search for the relevant specs and narrow it to—"
"Okay, cool, fine, I get it, you're really smart and all, but the real question is—what's your brother doing there, right about now?" Ruben nodded toward Lyle, who was kneeling by the crates of freeze-dried dinners. "What exactly ?"
"Most of this food is really bogus protein fabrication," Lyle muttered, ignoring Ruben, as he usually did—as most people did. "It'll feed us, though. I think there's some real peas in this one."
Ruben ogled Lyle and shook his head. "Early stages "
"Ruben—what the hell you yappin' about?" Keesha asked, her fingers tightening on the rifle. She wasn't sure why she was shifting her grip on that rifle—not consciously. But some part of her knew, already. So her fingers knew
"I mean," Ruben said, "He got wait." He used his fingers to wipe the thick dust from his teeth—his teeth were still yellow after the dust came off. He spat on the concrete floor. "He got bit on the arm out there."
That got Lyle's attention. He stood up, turned toward Ruben. "You should've worn a hat on the trip here, dude. Fried your brains through that bald spot."
"See there?" Ruben Chuckled nastily. "He's thinking about fried brains!"
"That supposed to be humorous?" Keesha asked.
"Maybe not! We got to tie him up and watch for symptoms. Only I'm not getting near him. You got to do it. Was you, I'd knock him out first."
"The fuck," Lyle said, shaking his head. "Hello? I'm right here, dude! I look like I'm a zombie walking around and biting on people?"
"It's only a matter of time, and not much at that. I can see that cut on your arm there, boy."
"I got that from the fence, trying to yank it. There was a razor wire along the edges—"
"Maybe. But it's a hole in your skin and you shot a zombie almost point blank. I saw a lot of blood on your arm. All of it yours? What if you got Z-blood in that cut?"
"None of its blood got on me!"
"You don't know that and we don't know that and I'm sure as shit not taking any chances." He pointed his shotgun at Lyle.
"Ruben," Keesha said, through clenched teeth. "Put that fucking shotgun down right this second."
Ruben looked at her—then back at Lyle who was starting toward him. Lyle was reaching for the muzzle of Ruben's shotgun.
Ruben tensed, and the shotgun roared. Lyle was kicked off his feet, flung back, arms flapping as acrid gunsmoke choked the small bunker.
Once more, Keesha's fingers decided what to do before she did. She squeezed the trigger on the assault rifle and the burst smashed through Ruben's throat, splashing the concrete wall behind him with blood as he spun and fell, gurgling.
Keesha dropped the rifle, rushed to Lyle, fell to her knees beside him, tears blurring her eyes. He was alive but the shotgun blast had taken him just under the ribs on the left side. He was gushing blood, shaking, eyes rolling back.
"Keesha oh I don't know I'm scared "
She jumped up, stepped over the inert Ruben, snatched the nearest box of bandages from the shelf, tore it open as she hurried back to Lyle, and got the wound staunched. But by the time she was done he was shaking, lips turning blue. She took his pulse—it was feeble and intermittent.
"Keesha bury me head shot don't let them "
"You're not going to die, Lyle."
But she knew he was. She looked at the preservation bot. She looked at Lyle. She looked at the cerebral copy machine
Five months later. The whole world was made of metal, that early morning. The sun, rising through gray haze in the east, off to Keesha's left, cast the desert plains around the robot graveyard in a metallic gray-blue light.
Much of this place was in fact metal. Keesha was up high, standing on the steel platform with Lyle2—the cybernetic copy of her brother Lyle—looking out over the ragged, chunky metal vista of the robot graveyard; the blue-tinged desert beyond. They were standing in the little room at the top of the watchtower. Her assault rifle was nearby, leaning on the metal bulkhead under the window.
She hadn't been able to sleep—sometimes it made her feel better to come up here and pot-shoot some zombies. She was a pretty good long-distance shot by now. She liked to keep them off the electric fence. If enough of them piled up on it their main defense might short out. She'd worked hard getting the power flowing through it again.
It was still chilly from the night, and her thin bare legs were goose-pimpling. She wore shorts and a hoodie and sandals, and her long legs were exposed. "You should put on some more clothes, Sis," said Lyle2, seeing her shiver, saying it just the way Lyle would have. The synthetic voice was only slightly off. She glanced at him—in the shadowy sniper's aerie atop the watchtower the robot's silhouette was just like Lyle's. She could pretend, for a moment, that her younger brother was still alive, standing right beside her.
Grow up, she told herself. You're almost thirty. Lyle's dead and Lyle2 is just a talking wax museum replica. Keesha looked back out at the gray daybreak, wondering where she'd find the parts she needed for the guardians—the defense robots that might save what was left of her family, her few friends and Base 23.
The cybernetic scrapyard was eighteen square acres of metal and plastic parts, big and small parts, most of them randomly tumbled about, some loosely organized according to type. The softly rising wind whined over the fence, brought the scents of mesquite and sage and dust. And rotting human flesh. She could pick out the shapes of widely separated saguaro, out there, stark as crude pictoglyphs, and the occasional short, spiny tree—and between cacti and the trees, things were moving: the living dead, shambling toward the robot graveyard; toward Keesha and Lyle2. Too far away, as yet, for a good head shot. The unsteady silhouettes of the shamblers cast stretched-out, attenuated shadows east to west. Sometimes, when the braineaters hesitated, in this post-dawn dimness, they looked like saguaro themselves—and then the apparent cactus would take a step, and rake its arms at the sky.
The high-voltage electric fence, powered up now, kept the walking dead at bay—in the desert around the robot graveyard was another kind of graveyard, a ring of sprawled, well-cooked electrocuted zombies, brains boiled out of their eyeballs, bodies inert, but some still trailing smoke. Other still-moving shamblers had fingers charred to the bone.
"I should never have come here," Keesha said. "'Cause I'll never get out of here. Big mistake bringing that idiot Ruben."
"You did get a guardian built."
"No way to get it home! Doesn't store enough power to get itself across the desert. And we would travel too slow, anyway. Thought there'd be a truck or "
"Speaking of vehicles, Sis—I do believe I hear one an aerial vehicle," Lyle2 said, peering out to the north.
"Really? I don't hear it. And I don't see it."
"I'm definitely hearing something out there, something like a helicopter."
"Where, dammit?" She was feeling more trapped with every day they spent in this place. A plane, a chopper—that could be a way out.
"North. It's flying low " The Lyle bot had better hearing, better senses in general, than a human. "Too low." He was turning his head, slowly, like a radar antenna. "Coming from oh. I've lost it. The sound stopped "
Excerpted from Z-BOYZ IN THE ROBOT GRAVEYARD by JEFF CONNER, DANIEL BRADFORD. Copyright © 2012 Idea and Design Works, LLC. Excerpted by permission of IDW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.