Authors: Cole Connelly
Alive and Fighting: New in Town
The world was a dark place, for many a number of reasons, but currently because the sun hadn't yet risen over Blood Oak. Travis however, was wide awake and preparing for the new day. Slowly and methodically, he walked around his small shop, waiting for the sun to rise and welcome in his clientele, should any choose to risk attack by leaving home. With his crossbow loaded, Travis took a seat and stared out the glass front of his parlor at the Mississippi river with the sun now just cresting the horizon. Just as he was about to turn on his lights a small bell rang, snapping his attention to the door.
"Not since Alamo."
"Well then, Welcome to Travis's."
Travis lowered his crossbow and flicked a switch, illuminating his small tattoo parlor and revealing the woman who just walked in. She wore the signature white hoodie of the Harvesters, but had no red arm band. However, her Auburn-gold hair made up for it in Travis's mind. It was pulled back into a single braid that hung halfway down her back. Travis warmly gestured to a chair, which the woman happily occupied.
"You're out early it would seem." Travis said, gathering his supplies. "And for a tattoo no less…Long day ahead?"
"You could say that. New to the city, need to figure out what I've gotten myself into…Amy, by the way." Amy replied, her attention caught by the wall of designs.
"Welcome to Blood Oak then, Amy…alright, just a couple questions, have you ever gotten a tattoo before?" Travis asked, sitting down on a rolling stool.
"Three, one yesterday actually." Amy responded, turning her eyes to Travis.
"Really? I know I didn’t do it. Was it bad work? Here to fix it?" Travis questioned, preparing his tools.
"No, it's fine, but I'd like something more detailed than what the Harvesters can do with what they have." Amy explained, pushing her right sleeve up over her shoulder, revealing a simple rising sun tattoo.
"Okay, I understand. Yeah, I know the Harvesters like doing their own initiation work in-house. I've offered to do it for them, but that Mr. Williams likes keeping a tight ship…I guess I'd be a loose end to them, someone off the payroll…alright you've had ink before so that answers most of my questions…do you know what you'd like?" Travis asked, rolling over to Amy.
"Yep, got it right here." Amy answered, fishing a tattered paper from her pocket. It looked like it was torn from an old poster, and bore a symbol of two red and black hammers.
"Ah, the marching hammers…it's been a long time since I've seen these. Where'd you like this bygone symbol?" Travis questioned, taking out the proper ink vials.
"Right here." Amy said, pointing to right over her elbow and below the sun.
Travis got to work and for a moment the two remained silent, Amy staring off through the shop front as the sun now broke completely away from the distant river's opposite shore. Travis's work was by no means a rush job, but he certainly didn't drag his feet either. His detailed work provided the two time to talk, and for Amy to indeed figure out what she'd gotten herself into by moving this place.
"So you were in the Alamo Graveyard before this?" Travis asked, dabbing off excess ink.
"Yep, I'd been there…shit, well I guess about twenty years. My dad brought me there when I was two." Amy recalled, wincing as Travis got back to the tattoo.
"Where were you before that? Rushmore, Heartland maybe?" Travis questioned, beginning on the first hammer.
"Here actually, or well, a bit further west. Used to live off Bluebonnet. I think that area's called the Mall District now, passed through it on the way in." Amy answered, stilled for a moment by thought.
"So you must be Pre-fect then?" Travis figured, detailing the handle.
"Yep, I don't remember it, but when things got rough my parents picked up sticks and headed west, figured Texas would be safer." Amy told, reminiscing slightly.
"Was it? I haven't been out of Blood Oak since day one. I was eight when it all hit the fan. This is all I've known…so how's the zombie problem out in the west Texas desert?" Travis asked with curiosity, still working on the first hammer.
"Not awful, the zombies you'd see were bad news, but they were scarce. The real threat was how quickly people started turning on one another. Towns rose and fell in a matter of months. The longest run I saw was Third Dallas and that only lasted three years. What about here?" Amy asked, eager to compare her past to her future.
"Coasters say we got off easy on our zombie problem, but that we're primitive…buncha shit if you ask me. Just because we're called tribes doesn’t mean we're tribal. Shit we've been a relatively unified Blood Oak for over sixteen years…Also most coasters don't live long enough to realize how big an issue Zeroes are." Travis explained, touching up the hammer.
"I'm sorry, but Coasters? Who are they, a tribe?" Amy inquired, overcome by all the information.
"My apologies, people from the east coast, The Coast Graveyard. You see, the coast was way more densely populated when the infection hit so they have more zombies that are constantly killing off, and being killed by survivors. Without a stable zombie population, their zombies never mature into zeroes. So instead of massive swarms of zombies like they have on the east coast, we have smaller numbers of zombies, but they’re better organized, because here they take direction and orders from a Zero. Which, in my opinion is much worse, am I right?" Travis asked, looking up to Amy for confirmation.
"Honestly I couldn’t tell you. People have thrown that word around ever since I crossed through from Texas, but I still don't know what Zero means." Amy admitted, eliciting a chuckle from Travis.
"Heh heh, Well I can definitely fill in the blanks for you. A 'Zero' is shorthand for what we call Patient Zeroes. Pretty much after a zombie has been 'Alive' for long enough they start…changing, some gain strength, some agility…they all get smarter… Can't tell you how it works, only that it's bad news. The way the zombies' minds work is usually a weakness, the fewer of them there are together, the dumber they are, but if a Zero shows up, all the other Zed start attacking as a cohesive unit, they fight longer, and with more cunning. Hear me?" Travis asked, taking a moment from his work.
"Kind of…Back in Alamo we never really saw more than three or four zombies at a time together, granted those few usually took entire settlements down with them…" Amy replied, cringing with the memories.
"I guess it's six to one, half dozen to the other then. Basically, think of the Zero like a queen bee or an alpha male in a wolf pack. If a Zero shows up, the fight is probably lost…We're just lucky enough that these last few years our Zero has been relatively reclusive. Word to the wise though, don’t go out in a storm. That's when he opens the hive to feed." Travis warned, returning to the tattoo.
"That's good to know…What is the zombie/human ratio around here, or does anyone know?" Amy questioned, reconsidering her new home.
"Well, that all depends on who you ask. The Vultures, sciencey research types, they say it's probably five to one. The Great Apes on the other hand, now these guys I trust more, information's their business. They say the ratio is as high as thirteen to one, I don't like believing that number, but it makes more sense." Travis elaborated, switching to red ink to finish the hammer handles.
"Are those groups Tribes?" Amy asked, watching her tattoo's progress
"Yep, them, you Harvesters, and…The Reapers and Klan. None of the Tribes are perfect, but those last two are bad news. Your people can tell you all about the Reapers, they used to be part of y'all. Klan on the other hand, just don't get involved with them, they're nothing but bad news." Travis warned, filling in the red half of the tattoo's background.
"Hmm, so where do you fit into all these Tribes?" Amy wondered, watching as a rag adorned Graveyarder youth passed quickly in front of the shop.
"Ha ha, I'm part of what the rest of the city calls The Unaffiliated. Basically everyone that's more than a simple Graveyarder scavenger, but less organized than a Tribe gets lumped into one big group. Ironically enough, we've kind of pulled together over the years. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be right to leave the Knights out of our history lesson, they aren't exactly a "tribe," but there isn't really a better word for them. Long story short, they're old money, clinging to Pre-fect castes and classes. They use dollar bills and working tech to entice mercs to throw their lives away all so they need never leave their Ivory towers." Travis responded, shaking his head. "Don't get me wrong they aren't all bad people…they’re just misguided is all. You can't have a silver spoon in your mouth when people are dying of hunger outside your walls."
"I take it dollars aren't the preferred currency around here anymore? They still held some value in Alamo…y'all barter or something?" Amy asked, happy she'd spent most of her cash on tangible goods before leaving Alamo Graveyard.
"Few will turn down barter, but we do have currency. The local gunsmiths started up an economy based on spent bullet cases. It promotes making the most of what you've got and gives them a steady supply of fresh materials. Bullets themselves aren't too common either. If someone is willing to shoot, they mean business. And, uh, speaking of cases, I'm enjoying our talk, but this tattoo ain't free, it'll be fifty cases when I'm done." Travis explained, switching to a light gray, the last color of the tattoo, that of the hammers' heads.
"What? I don’t have fifty bullet cases, I doubt I have five! How would someone even carry all those cases reasonably?" Amy realized, alarmed.
"Oh ho, I'm sorry. Forgot to mention, different calibers of bullet have different case worth. A .22 LR is fifty, 9mm seventy-five, I've got a card around here somewhere. The gunsmiths re-evaluate the economy every year and distribute a card with everything's new value. Doesn't really change too much. Usually just one or two bullets losing or gaining five or ten cases." Travis elaborated, finishing the tattoo.
"Thank God, I know I've got some cases in here somewhere." Amy said, reaching into her bag.
"Take your time, still gonna put a small bandage on it. You'll be good to take it off tomorrow." Travis added, applying a small pad and taping it to her arm. "Well, you're good to go, Thanks for choosing Travis's and I hope to see you again!"
"Thanks! Here's a .22 LR, I knew I had one in there. And thanks for telling me all about the area, anything else I should know?" Amy asked, putting the bullet casing into Travis's calloused hand.
"Try to stick to the Old Business Center, North and South Florida. Things get dangerous in The Breakers and The Outcroppings. Should be fine though, Harvester HQ is in OBC." Travis suggested with a smile, pocketing the case.
"What's so dangerous about them?" Amy wondered, readjusting her knife belt over her hoodie.
"Well, in the Outcroppings you're liable to run into some Campus District zombies. They are nowhere near as tame as the ones inside city limits. As for The Breakers, a lot of shady characters live out there, a lot of people you just don’t want to get involved with." Travis added, putting his tools back as a teenager ran into the parlor.
"Travis! Bit of a situation in Arsenal Park, Klan are starting to rally, looking like they might hang someone." The kid said in short breaths, having clearly run to the shop.
"Shit. As I said Amy, pleasure meeting you, but I gotta go." Travis quickly said, grabbing his crossbow and following her and the teen out his shop, quickly locking up.
Amy watched as Travis took off down the street towards a tall building off in the distance. She headed in the opposite direction, the sun now lighting the city more than it had for her walk to Travis's. She had made it half way back to the Harvester's base before seeing another sign of life, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. Shambling across the street towards the alley was the hunched form that even the barren plains of the Alamo Graveyard couldn't make her forget, the undead.