Authors: Joseph Picard
A translucent display came to live in
front of her eyes, complaining about not being associated with any
VTag network. Regan fumbled with the buttons on the side of the
goggles’ frame and started browsing the goggles’ interface. It
wouldn’t let her join a network that was apparently in the area
without a password. Fine, she’d start her own. She left the default
name ‘New VTag Network’. The option for ‘private’ came up in the
process. Sure, OK, private sounds good, whatever.
Once she was on her network of one, she
managed to figure out how to place an actual VTag. The middle of
the display in the goggles sported a little crosshair. She lined it
up to one of the sinks, and hit the appropriate command.
Pop! A friendly, circular icon appeared
on the sink. It reminded Regan of a lifesaver. Text below it waited
to be named but Regan just left it at the default ‘VTag01’. Now no
matter how she wished to move, the sink would appear to have the
icon and its text pinned on it. She leaned her head so that a
corner of the wall was in the way, but the display still faithfully
tracked the position. Through walls, through her hand, through the
other side of the planet if need be.
Still wearing the goggles, she looked
at the two paperbacks she’d salvaged from the lockers. They were
trashy things, but they beat staring at the ceiling. She flipped to
the first page of the first one. After half a sentence, Regan
rolled her eyes and dismissed it as crap. She put the book down in
her lap and used the goggles to put a VTag on the book, and labeled
it ‘This sucks’. She tossed the book against the wall, but the VTag
remained where the book had been, hovering just a bit above her
lap. Alright, so VTags don’t track moving objects. That’s
She pressed another button, and
suddenly the wall rushed at her. She yelped in surprise then
laughed at herself. It seemed the goggles also operated as
binoculars. After toying some more she managed to get the game of
zooming in and out.
After picking through some of the more
mundane items she’d obtained, she thought it would be wise to
examine her gun a bit more. She discovered the safety. She wouldn’t
have known where to find it before. Lucky for her it was off when
she needed it to be. She also found out how to switch it from
single shots to full-auto. It hadn’t even really occurred to her
that it might have a setting like that. She was firing single shots
up until now, and that had been enough so far. However she now had
a pile of ammo and access to more, so she flipped over to full
There was some other little plug that
came out on a little wire but it wasn’t labeled, so she left it
alone. On the front end just under the muzzle there was a laser
sight built in, but it didn’t seem to be working.
The need for sleep came calling. She
settled in and glanced at her door barricade. She left the lights
on for safety, but dragged the sleeve of someone’s pullover over
The solitude began to creep up on her
again and she missed her brother. In all the fun of setting up a
safe spot for the night and toying with the VTag goggles, she’d
lost focus a little. She wasn’t even sure she’d find anything at
AutarLabs. For all she knew Harold was out and safe, or worse, got
killed somewhere. Either of those scenarios meant she was risking
her life for nothing.
Harold was the only thing in the world
that meant anything to her. The only real, stable thing. The rest
of her life was just flakey jobs here and there, a couple crappy
relationships... nothing worth remembering, really. But Harold was
always there supporting her, even in her stupid moves, while he
tried to sneak in advice. Or being an ear to whine to, or letting
her crash at his place and mooch. Well, it was time for her to make
an effort for him. He’d never needed help before, and now was her
chance to do something meaningful.
Resolve pushed her hopelessness aside,
and sleep finally claimed her.
Although morning came, the
locker room had no windows, so no new light reached in to wake
Regan. She awoke on her own and looked at her watch. Quarter to
ten. That was the earliest she’d been up in a week. She wasn’t in
the mood to waste time, but she had a perfectly good shower room
here and she didn’t know when she’d get another chance. It wouldn’t
take long. Her clothes could use a wash too, but she didn’t have
the patience to watch them dry, nor did she really want to run
around in someone else’s jogging pants. She’d put up with her
unwashed clothes at least another day. They weren’t that bad all
Once she’d put herself back together,
she dragged the cement pot barrier out of the way of the door and
swung it open. A zombie was standing about four meters away and
Regan yelped. The zombie turned to bear down on her but she managed
to fumble for her P90 and pepper it with bullets rather quickly. It
fell to the ground but kept coming, dragging itself along with its
arms, leaving a trail of blood on the path. She aimed at its head
and finished the job.
Well, it almost seemed a fitting way to
start a morning after sleeping in a bathroom.
She stepped around the body and headed
towards the concession stand. She’d already made noise with
gunfire, why not open it the easy way? She fired on the latch to
the rolling shutter that covered the front and pushed it up, having
to force the damaged metal a bit. The door finally came loose,
rolling up into the ceiling and shedding forth mid morning light on
a colourful treasure trove of junk food. She climbed over the
counter and attacked the nearest bit of chocolate. With the bar
hanging out of her mouth, she examined the rest of the inventory.
Oh, look, a door. If she had walked a little bit farther around the
corner outside, she would have seen it. To add insult it wasn’t
locked. She could have been munching junk food last night instead
of her selection of rations and nutrition bars. Yeah, that would
have been healthy.
With her duffle bag now stocked with a
fresh water bottle and some goodies on top of boring ‘survival’
food, she was ready to head out again. This spot turned out pretty
good. Before she left she got out the VTag goggles again. She
erased the VTags she’d made while experimenting, and put a Vtag on
the little building. ‘JUNK N SHOWER’. Onward.
As he packed his equipment onto his new
little boat, Jonathan Coll couldn’t help giggling to himself when
he thought of what he’d done. Such little effort, such huge effect.
Too bad they don’t give out a Pulitzer for this kind of
Killing Scott was simply too
much fun. He seemed so surprised! What a classical invention, the
knife. The simplicity of the method was an amusing contrast to what
happened to Scott after he died. A heavy dose of immune suppressant
let the nanite chaser do its work all that much easier.
Coll was a little disappointed how easy
the other killings were as well. He figured if his toys were going
to really take the town nicely, he’d have to plant a few more seeds
in different areas.
Simple math told him that the spread
could potentially be very quick, being based on a doubling
exponent, but he knew in practical terms that people weren’t about
to line up to be chomped efficiently. They may as well have though.
Panic had spread so quickly.
Ditching Autar was a matter of timing.
Leave too soon, and he wouldn’t have been able to plant an optimal
number of seed zombies. Leave too late, and the town would have
been locked down. Being officially evacuated tended to leave a
As it turned out, he felt he had found
the optimum time. Surely he’d be presumed dead, and with Scott
being taken out of the picture, there wasn’t much chance of getting
named in this mess.
Except maybe by Mr. Book. That would
have been sweet, if that useless hunk of lard could have been in
Autar for the party. He won’t speak up though. He has his own butt
to keep safe from blame. Oh yeah. Ole’ Book’s gonna want Coll dead,
no doubt. To heck with hiding from the cops, it was time to hide
Chapter 9: Crown of Thorns
Evading the larger mobs was becoming
routine to Regan and not all that difficult. It’s difficult to
overlook a couple hundred walking corpses, even at a block or two
away. Also, they weren’t exactly quick to swarm someone who stayed
mindful of an escape route. It would have been very handy to be
able to put VTags on as many zombies as possible, but of course the
tag would just hang there in the virtual air behind the zombie as
it shuffled along.
No, the large mobs weren’t much of a
problem. It was the lone wanderers hiding in the obscure little
nooks, or small groups like the one milling around behind a parked
van Regan had just passed. Yes, they were a threat.
A bloody forearm which had begun to
stink whipped around Regan’s neck from behind. In reactionary
panic, she yelped and tried to push the arm away. It was inhumanly
strong. She felt it tighten enough to start strangling her. She
heard at least one other shuffling up from behind.
Regan fought off the panic and
trembling enough to bring up the P90. Maybe she could fire a burst
into its shoulder to weaken its grip. Firing in such a sloppy
manner would be risky to her too, but she only had a split second
to think about the risks.
Or less. The zombie holding her bit at
the back of her head. Panic crystallized into rage. She bent
forward and pulled the zombie over her, onto the ground in front of
She hopped away, aware of the threats
still behind her, and turned to face them. There were a total of
three of them. She took a moment to quickly check her wound. The
bite mostly got hair, but she was bleeding and it stung
appropriately. Now that she was facing her opponents and had some
space, it was little effort to send them down with her powerful
little rifle. The one that bit her was getting up. She fired a
burst into his head to put him down for good. The other two
continued forward until they met the same end.
She stopped and stared at the one who
had bit her, while she touched her wound again. Ow. Lovely. Does
this mean she’s infected? She dropped to her knees. Fucking lovely.
It ends just like that. And for all she knew, Harold had gotten out
anyway. That’s fine, that’s fine, we can just leave Regan to die in
the ghost town. Nobody would give a damn except maybe Harold
She slumped down, posture and optimism
melting until she was flat on her back, staring at the azure sky;
ready to become one of them. What was the difference
The midday silence surrounded her. It
pressed down on her and her three zombie buddies. The silence may
as well have been six feet of dirt.
A sound interrupted Regan’s
self-eulogy. Distant. Gunfire? She sat up, and looked towards the
sound. That building she noticed before far off in the distance
seemed to be the source. Wasn’t that building in a different
direction before? She pulled out the VTag goggles and put them on
to make use of the zoom feature. The building had some kind of
structure on it. She zoomed in closer, closer. The smaller
structure had a man in it, and the man had a big gun. It was
mounted into the building somehow and he was firing it down at the
ground. She couldn’t see the target from where she sat, but it was
obvious he was defending himself from zombies. He must be stranded
on that building and..
No, wait... he stopped firing, but his
body language.. he’s very casual about it all. She needed a better
Regan looked around and saw a building
with a glass elevator that reached up nice and high. It looked
zombie-free. The lobby was visible to the street thanks to the
glass panels that made up most of the ground floor so she felt safe
rushing to the elevator. She pressed the button and stood back. The
elevator doors were not glass, and could have been hiding a nasty
surprise. They weren’t.
She got in and pressed the top floor.
As she went up she looked around through the goggles. The Vtag
‘JUNK N SHOWER’ caught her attention as she looked around, even
though her haven itself was obscured by another building. She
turned to the building she had come up here to investigate. The
tops of surrounding buildings were mostly out of the way
There was a very good reason why that
strange building seemed to be everywhere around the outskirts of
Autar. Because it was.
It was a wall, and from where she stood
it looked like it circled the entire city. They had built it all in
the few days since the initial outbreak. She had heard of military
engineers building much, much smaller walls quickly for the threat
of floods and such, but this was a very different scale. This would
hold a lake if it needed to.
So. They had already given up on
reclaiming the city. They just didn’t want the zombies getting
The wall had many of those small gun
posts. Why not just bomb the living snot out of Autar? Not that she
was complaining. She got to live, at least until she started
craving brains. Her wound stung less now. Was that good or
Either way, she was feeling a little
less apathetic. She may as well finish her probably-pointless trek
to the lab. As the elevator went back down, she heard noises above
her. There was a zombie on the roof of the elevator. Frig, was it
there all along?