Authors: J.A. Konrath,Joe Kimball
The zombie wave advanced, another dozen forcing themselves into the shed, a tangled, moaning, shifting pile.
There were too many of them, and not enough of us.
“Back way out?” Phin yelled. The doorway was completely blocked with the dead, some moving and some not.
Grandma loaded six cartridges into her shotgun in the time it took me to load one. “Trap door! In the corner!”
We backed up, shooting and reloading. When one went down, the others didn’t devour it, and I suppose I couldn’t blame them. If I were a zombie, I’d prefer the fresh meat too.
Grandma and Phin pushed a sack of sulfur to the side, revealing a wooden door in the dirt floor. She tugged it open, and activated a flashlight on her shotgun mount, pointing it into the ground.
“Thirty yards to the cabin, we can hold them off from there. Talon, you first.”
I didn’t need more prompting than that. I got on all fours and backed into the hole, descending five rungs before my feet touched mud. The tunnel was no more than a meter and a half in circumference, wooden braces every few meters. I crawled for all I was worth, into absolute darkness. I tried tapping my AVCL. The battery was drained, and it would take a while to naturally recharge. So I kept my hand in front of me so I didn’t smack my head into anything.
It seemed a lot longer than thirty yards, but I didn’t fully understand the yard/meter conversion thingy, plus I’d never crawled underground through a black mud tunnel before, so my perspective was probably skewed. After what seemed like a mini-eternity, I reached another ladder, and managed to pull myself up to another wooden door.
I braced my legs and pushed with both hands.
It popped open.
I poked my head through, and saw Alter-Vicki standing above me, raising a cast iron skillet.
“It’s me! Don’t hit me!”
Alter-Vicki helped me up, and then kissed me hard even though I was covered with mud and zombie bits.
“We’re surrounded by the living dead,” she said, breathless, panicked, and if I didn’t know any better, turned on.
Phin came up next, and he helped Jack out of the tunnel.
ed to tempG“Vicki, this is my grandmother, Jack Daniels. Grandma, this is my wife.”
It surprised me how easily I could call Alter-Vicki my wife.
Even more surprising is how it felt after saying it.
It felt natural.
“Pleased to meet you,” Grandma said, slamming the trap door closed. I helped her push the cast iron stove over it. Then I looked around for Sata, but didn’t see him.
“Where’s Michio?” I asked.
Alter-Vicki’s eyes lowered.
“When the zombies came, Sata activated his TEV.” She stared up at me, her eyes pained. “He left, Talon. The bastard hit a button and disappeared.”
The fence was beaten
to hell by weather, neglect, and mistreatment. Made of steel mesh, it stood about twenty feet high, and stretched off in either direction, cordoning off the street. Someone had stuck a large, plastic sheet on the fence, and graffiti announced:
HOME OF THE
“Abandon all hope, youse who enter here,” I said.
McGlade cocked his remaining eyebrow at me. “I was just going to say the same thing.”
I knew that, because I’d already gone through this with him once before, on my earth.
I hoped this time it ended up better.
We chained our biofuel bikes to the fence, and I took a deep, calming breath which did nothing to calm me. Every major metropolitan area had a dissytown. These were the people who didn’t pay taxes, and were kicked out. The abolition of welfare was one of the reasons, though welfare was replaced with workfare programs that allowed those of lesser means or with disabilities to continue being taxpaying utopeons and upstanding members of society.
Bleeding hearts volunteers and human rights crusaders bemoaned the slum-like conditions in many dissytowns. They made frequent trips inside, trying to persuade folks to join regular society, trying to show the children born there that an alternative to poverty and crime existed. And crime did exist. In the absence of police, timecasting, and ID chips, crime not only existed, but it flourished in dissytown. But no taxes meant no votes, no representation, no acknowledgment, so the crimes didn’t actually exist in the eyes of the government.
My personal feelings were a bit right-wing, but years of experience hunting for runaways in Chicago’s dissytown had forged me into a cynic. These weren over, unconscious.
Bci. When “Yes.”’t people whom society had given up on. These were people who had given up on society. If you want a nice place to live, be willing to work for it and follow the rules. If you don’t want to work, or follow rules, a place like this was where you ended up.
But that was déjà vu all over again to me. I’d had those same thoughts before, because I’d been in this same situation before. If my life were a novel, I’d say the writer was being really lazy by recycling the same scene twice.
If things followed the earlier pattern, we’d be confronted by a Bleeding Hearts Volunteer who was an SLP. She would try very hard to have sex with me, then we’d go find Rocket at a bar and he would try very hard to kill me. Neither would succeed, but both would come close.
I didn’t want to relive either experience. But I couldn’t let Vicki down. I couldn’t let this earth down, either.
So we ducked under the fence and strolled into dissytown.
It wasn’t exactly like stepping through the looking glass, but it was close. We left the clean, green, orderly world behind, and traded it for ugly chaos and anarchy. This used to be the south side of town, part residential, part business. Now one hundred percent awful.
There was a shocking lack of foliage, and an even more shocking pileup of trash littering the streets. No recycling, no garbage pickup, so people left refuse everywhere.
The apartment buildings looked like they’d been bombed, not a single window intact. Storefronts had been converted into hovels. The sidewalks and streets were ripped up to shit, but no one had vehicles because there was no fuel.
There were a few people wandering about when we walked in. The stares were either suspicious or hostile. They wore dirty, ripped clothes. The bleeding hearts insisted water mains remain open, so stinky shirts and greasy hair were by choice. Other utilities—phone, electric, gas—were shut off, but like many bigger dissytowns, this one somehow provided electricity for itself. Probably a combination of solar and hydroelectric.
I shook my head, trying to stay focused, trying to remember that even though this already happened, this was still new. I’d done this before, but not here.
“We need to get some intel,” McGlade said, smoothing a hand over his mangy head.
“No need. He’s at Rosie’s.”
“How do you know?”
“Then why do you need me?”
“I don’t remember where it is. And it isn’t labeled on my DT.”
“How do you know that I know?”
“I just do. Just like I know, when we cut through this alley, we might run into a BHV named Yummi. I think that’s her hang-out spot. She’s going to try to sex me up.”
“Must be tough, being yering pizzas.”
ed to rafficipedeGou.”
“I don’t have time to fool around with her, so I need you to do it.”
He grabbed my arm. “Run that by me again, bro.”
“I need you to sex her up while I go find Rocket.”
McGlade grinned, wide as a zebra’s ass. “You’d do that for me?”
“Least I can do.”
“Wow. I take back all of those terrible things I said about you on that online timecasting forum.”
“And those banner ads I have on Facebook, saying you’re a dick. I apologize for those.”
“Apology accepted.” We turned down the alley, and I spotted a shadowy figure coming toward us. “Get ready.”
McGlade unzipped his fly. “I’m here for you, buddy.”
As we approached, I realized something was off. The bodysuit she wore was the same, neon green, made of shiny latex. It matched her hair color, which hung down to her waist.
At least, I thought it was her waist. The previous Yummi was a size two. This one was a size thirty-two. She didn’t have a waist. She had a circumference.
“Tell me this isn’t her,” McGlade said.
“That’s not a woman. That’s an elephant in a bodysuit.”
Yummi stopped a few feet in front of us. It was her, alright, though she had quintupled in width. She was Asian, her bodysuit extending to stiletto boots, so tight you could see her nipples, which were large enough to poke an eye out. She was also wider than she was tall.
“This isn’t funny, Talon,” McGlade whispered to me.
The woman stopped a meter in front of us, and she was so big we didn’t have any room to walk around her. When she spoke, her voice oozed like honey. “Would you gentlemen like to talk about the opportunities available to leave dissytown and becoming upstanding citizens?”
“I can’t run away,” McGlade said out of the corner of his mouth. “Her gravity is pulling me in.”
“My friend here would love to talk about it,” I said, giving McGlade a nudge, bumping him closer to her.
“Talon! You bastard!”
“Take one for the team, Harry. It’s your destiny.”
She looked Harry over and ran her tongue across her upper lip—also painted green. “I’m Yummi. I work for Operation Second Chance. We recruit dissys and digital tabletat
“I’ll call Greenpeace,” Harry told her. “We’ll roll you back into the ocean where you can reunite with the rest of your pod.”
Yummi winked. “You’ve never had heavisex before, have you? I’ll rock your world, cowboy.”
“I’m not into blowholes.”
Yummi smiled, then slapped her thigh. Harry and I watched, transfixed, as the ripple ran up her leg, around her back, across her belly, and settled in her breasts, which shook like giant, floppy maracas.
“Get me out of here, Talon,” McGlade whispered. “Please.”
“She seems like a nice girl.”
“She seems like seven nice girls, all stuck together and wearing the same pants.”
“Be gentle with him,” I said, giving him another shove. “He hasn’t been with a woman in a long time.”
“Untrue! I’m a married man! My wife is at home right now, waiting for me to bring her a pizza!”
Yummi took a quick step toward him, putting her hand directly on McGlade’s crotch.
“I love pizza,” she breathed. “I especially love sausage.”
“I would guess there aren’t many foods you don’t like.”
“Is your wife corpulent?” Yummi purred.
“She’s, uh, a real doll,” Harry said.
“I like your hair.”
“And I like your six chins. But we really have to get going.”
“What’s the rush? Fat is where it’s at, sugar pop.”
“You look hungry,” McGlade said. “How about I give you a few duckets, buy you a burger?”
“I know just what I want to eat.”
“Not me! Please don’t eat me!” McGlade’s eyes sought mine. “Help, Talon. I don’t want to die. Not like this.”
She grabbed Harry by the belt. “Shush, you strange-haired man. Let Yummi make you feel good.”
In one quick motion she had McGlade’s pants off.
“Wow,” I said. Not even Vicki could do that. “She’s good.”
Harry’s eyes went wide with panic. “Talon, please! I’ll be crushed! Smothered! I’ll disappear into her skin flaps and never be seen again!”?” Talon’s wife asked.at
And then Yummi dropped to her knees (I think they were her knees—I couldn’t actually see where they bent) and she sucked McGlade into her chubby cheeks.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Harry cried out.
For a millisecond I was genuinely worried. “Harry?”
“Oh… oh… oh… I’ll meet you at Rosie’s later.”
Harry’s hips were bucking so fast they were a blur. “Can’t… run… away… from… my… destiny. Rosie’s… is… up… ahead.” He gasped, his voice going up an octave, then said in a rush, “Turn right and then another immediate right, follow the street about half a kilometer.”
“Will you be okay? I can try to pull her off…”
“NO! No, it’s okay. I’ll soldier through it. For you, buddy.” He looked down at Yummi. “Could I please ask you to put your, um, put your finger in my—OH SWEET CROM I GROK THIS WOMAN!!!”
I managed to hug the alley wall and get around them. I took the first right, and McGlade began to scream. But it didn’t seem like the type of screaming that he needed help with. I pressed onward.
There were a few people on the street. Peddlers, whores, sk8terz, zonerz, children and old folks. I was met with suspicious stares, hungry stares, hostile stares. Eyes peeked out from shattered storefront windows then quickly retreated. A man with boils on his face asked me for duckets that I didn’t have. A child peeked his head out of a garbage can, some moldering lettuce clenched in his teeth.
Dissytown sucked. The fact that these people chose to live like this was beyond my ability to reason. Sure, you were off the grid, untethered to taxes, to laws, to government. But at what cost freedom? Poverty, sickness, hunger, and violence? Was living without an ID chip and biofuel tax worth this squalor?
I saw Rosie’s in the distance, a P&P bar with a big neon sign that flickered like a lightning storm. My leg muscles locked up, and my sphincter puckered tight. I did NOT want to go in there.
Rocket was too big, too mean, too scary. I barely survived last time. Doing this twice was like giving fate the middle finger and daring death to smite me.
I closed my eyes, pictured Vicki, and forced myself to move.
My legs didn’t comply.
“Come on,” I said through clenched teeth. “Do it.”
I trudged into Rosie’s feeling like I weighed a thousand kilograms. The interior was pretty much the same as it was on my earth. Dingy, in disrepair, low light and dope smoke. Lots of pill poppers, some bored and/or stoned folks having various types of sex, someone at an out-of-tune piano pounding out blues as if anyone cared. I glan
ced in the direction of the music.