Revenge of the Giant Robot Chickens

BOOK: Revenge of the Giant Robot Chickens
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This book is dedicated to Mum, Dad and Lucy,
who put up with me. Despite everything.

I stared in dismay as Sam was plucked into the air. Our eyes met and I could see the desperation in them, the fear. Then, with a flick of the neck that I’d become too familiar with, he was tossed backwards and swallowed whole.

“Scatter,” I yelled at the rest of my squad, but they were way ahead of me. From the moment the enormous chicken had burst through their trap they’d gone running in every direction. I stared after them for a moment. I had hoped that at least one would have stood and fought.

Then the chicken turned its attention to me and I sprinted after them as fast as I could.

The ground began to shake as the chicken chased me, its metal wings spread, and it let out the shrill screech that haunted my dreams each night. If I got to the backup position in time I might make it. If not, I’d soon be joining Sam.

I jinked down a narrow side street, the houses beginning to close in about me. The chicken could still fit in, I knew it could, but it would be a squeeze. That would slow it down and give me a better chance.

The chicken entered the street when I was halfway up. Perhaps it was a novice; it didn’t manage the turn properly and crashed into one of the buildings. Bricks
showered down around me and a blossom of dust raced up the street. I held my breath for a moment and glanced up. Any moment now.

There was a shout, and heads appeared in upper windows. The nets we’d developed over the last few months glistened in the air as they were tossed over the beast. If our plan worked as I’d hoped, the nets should stop it. But I kept running anyway.

It was a good thing I did. Even inexperienced, this chicken was deadly. Its head snapped round, eyes glowing red. It dodged the first net and zapped the second with its laser eyes. With the beams still engaged, it swung its head round, cutting through the first-floor rooms around it. I wasn’t too worried; everyone had orders to get out of the way as soon as the nets had been flung. And, as the rapid thumping from behind reminded me, I was still being pursued.

I hadn’t done a lot of running before the chicken apocalypse. I hadn’t really needed to. But when your world has been taken over by giant robot chickens you sort of lose the choice. My new trainers held the ground, pushing me forward. I needed to gain as much distance as I could while the chicken was distracted.

At the end of the street was a little roundabout. I turned left, as I’d practised over the last few days, into another street, wider than the last.

We’d learned a lot in the past two months. Ever since the Battle of Pittodrie – when we outwitted the chickens, taking down their signal mast in Aberdeen – we’d had a little more freedom to plan our defence.

I managed to get through the street and into a small square before the chicken reached the roundabout. Pausing before a long-dead car I stopped and looked back, allowing myself a smile.

The chicken came into the road at a dead run. It was going so fast, it wasn’t able to stop when it saw the trip wires we’d spread across the street. Long ago I’d tried to use one made of rope, wrapped around lampposts. The image of the chicken ripping its way through them was another thing I kept seeing in my dreams. That’s why these were steel cables, attached to the walls.

I thought I glimpsed the moment the chicken realised it had been tricked. I grinned at it, mockingly. It would fall and then we’d trap and disable it.

My grin lasted until it bent its knees and jumped, fire blasting out from under its tail feathers sending it soaring over the street. It landed behind me and I turned in shock. It cocked its head to the side and glared beadily at me.

The others think I’m crazy when I say I can see expressions in the robots’ faces. They say it’s impossible for a solid metal mask to show emotion. But they’re wrong. You can totally tell what a chicken is feeling, and this one was smug. It knew it had won and it was gloating.

Until it heard a faint whining sound.

Kids swarmed out of the side streets, hefting heavy guns: long tubes with the image of a chicken’s face mounted on the front. The eyes glowed, bright cherry red. One of them fired into the ground just by the chicken’s
feet, the laser leaving a smoking hole in the ground.

Yeah, we’d learned a lot in the past few months.

A diminutive figure clambered onto the roof of one of the cars. He stood there, legs spread wide, long coat flapping in the wind. I felt my eyes narrow. Cody.

“Fly away birdie,” he taunted.

The robot looked at him, then around at the kids with their lasers glowing. It spread its wings and began to flap, hopping up and down. I knew that movement.

“No!” I yelled, running forward. But I was too late. In a moment the chicken lifted off the ground. It turned once in the air then headed north, over the rooftops and away from the city.

Everyone around the square relaxed and turned off their lasers. I stormed over to Cody just as he was jumping down from his car-top perch.

“Why did you let it get away?” I yelled at him. “It had Sam.”

He looked at me with expressionless eyes. They had made me shiver the first time I met him and they made me shiver now. I had just learned not to show it. “If we’d taken it down we’d have risked hurting him. We couldn’t do it safely. We had no choice.”

“You could have shot off its legs. You could have done
something
!”

But even as I said it I knew he was right. The chickens didn’t harm their human captives, just kept them imprisoned, so Sam should be fine. Cody seemed to recognise this because he didn’t say anything, just
changed the subject.

“Any word lately?”

All my anger suddenly drained away – my rage at Cody, at the chickens, at everything, suddenly deflating – as I remembered my best friend. “No, not for a day or two,” I said. “But he’ll probably contact me sooner or later.”

“Four days, by my count,” Cody replied, and suddenly I couldn’t meet his eyes. I turned and stared at the kids packing up, laughing together at surviving yet another day. I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Rayna,” Cody said.

I turned, shocked. It was so out of character for him to be sympathetic. I almost thought I’d imagined it. But he was gone, walking back to his team, getting ready to move them to the next stronghold.

I picked up my pack from the car I’d left it in and settled it firmly on my shoulders. Taking a deep breath, I turned south and started walking towards the train station. It would be my job to give his gang the news about Sam.

Man, I really missed Jesse.

JESSE: OPERATION HENHOUSE HUSTLE

Why did the chicken go camping?

He didn’t. Camping is rubbish.

Every so often Dad used to make some attempt to get me to appreciate the great outdoors. This involved random trips to distant corners of Scotland, cut off from a comfy bed, all my favourite television shows and the internet. Without fail we’d be woken at the crack of dawn by birds that seemed to take the idea of us having a good night’s sleep as a personal insult. Dad would get up, stick his head out of the tent and inhale deeply. He’d usually follow this up with commenting on how you didn’t get air like this back at home. If we’d lived in a city, that would make sense, but we didn’t. We lived in Kemnay and the air smelt exactly the same, of bored cows and pigs. But still we’d struggle wearily out of the tent, pack up and set off for another day of trudging up mountains or getting lost in forests.

Thinking about Dad – and Mum – brought a lump to my throat. Would I ever see them again? When the chickens first attacked, they went straight for the adults. In a matter of hours they were all gone, leaving us kids to fend for ourselves. I really missed my family. But I did not miss those camping trips.

The only thing that had made camping bearable was my older brother. Ethan loved it, every minute of it. In
his mind he was preparing for when the world ended. He would point out high hills and say they’d be safe from floods, or talk about how aliens might not check out so far into the Grampian Mountains. One time he got really excited about this glen we found in the Cairngorms.

“We could house people over here,” he said, pointing at a
hut that looked half abandoned. “We’re not that far from a road so we’d be able to bring in supplies. We could build a wall around the valley to keep wandering zombies out and then start planting vegetables. There’s a lake a couple of miles over that way with fish we could eat and I’m sure there’s deer and stuff we could hunt. Maybe we could even keep chickens.”

Ha. If only he’d known. A few months later, chickens were keeping us. Real live chickens inside robotic suits, controlled
by a signal that somehow increased their intelligence.

Ethan never told me if he had a plan for when giant robot chickens attacked our cities and enslaved us. So we’d had to come up with our own: by taking down their signal and freeing Aberdeen from the fowl menace. For like a week or so. The chickens found a way to get their signal working again and they came back in force. One or two at first then more and more as time went on. Each one hungry for more human prisoners. We’d managed to survive so far but it hadn’t been easy. A lot of us had been taken. Little by little they were wearing us away. We had to do something to change that.

Although I hated camping, getting lost, muddy and
tired, our trips with Dad had certainly come in handy these last few weeks.

I threw some more sticks on the fire and looked around. I was currently alone, stuck in a cave at the top of a hill, woods all around. I wasn’t particularly worried about being found. From what I could see, the chickens’ base wasn’t that close to here and the cave should hide the fire pretty well. As for the smoke, I was using old, dry sticks so there wasn’t much of it. A trick my brother had shown me.

I shook my head, trying to stop thinking of him. It didn’t help and it only made me upset. I’d come to terms with his capture long ago. We were right in the middle of Aberdeen when I lost him, running away from a stalking Catcher on the first day the chickens attacked. I hadn’t seen him since. It just made sense to assume he hadn’t managed to get away. It hurt but at least I hadn’t seen him taken. Not everyone was that lucky.

We needed everything we could get our hands on to defeat the chickens. Food, supplies, other children – they all helped. So while the chickens were still attacking in dribs and drabs, our scouting parties pushed out into the more remote areas of Aberdeen, looking for everything we could use. Every so often we came across groups, cut off from the rest of the city with no idea what was going on. Some didn’t even know we’d managed to drive out the chickens for a while. These encounters usually went one of two ways. Either the group would be delighted to find other
kids and join us, or they’d throw stuff at us until we went away. We kept an eye on the throwers and it’s depressing how many of them ended up in a chicken’s gut.

The group we met at Bridge of Don had joined up easily. Their leader had recently left, and a string of bad luck with chickens had told them that they needed to find help fast. We took them, and their supplies of course, back into the centre of town. On the journey they talked about what they’d been through…

“Things went OK at first. We were left alone and managed to negotiate a truce with some of the other groups,” one of the kids was saying, a girl with spiky, ginger hair. “Then one group started picking on the rest of us but they all got caught.”

“So were you able to claw back what was lost?” I said brightly.

They just looked at me for a moment, then went back to talking. I guess maybe they hadn’t got my joke so I started trying to think up a better one.

“Mostly we stayed where we were and tried to keep out of sight. But Ethan wasn’t happy just sitting around. When the chickens didn’t turn up for a while he took a team to investigate. Then a Catcher showed up  two days later.”

I stopped, my train of thought firmly derailed, and turned to look at her. “Ethan? Did you say
Ethan
?”

She looked at me weirdly. “Yeah, that’s his name. Why?”

“Describe him.”

“I said
why
?”

I might have lost my temper a little. The next thing I knew I was holding Hedgehog-head by the front of her jacket, like you’d see in some sort of crime movie. “
Describe him
.”

“Tall, over sixteen, blond hair, glasses, wore boots, had a long brown jacket, seemed sad…”

I must have made an impression because the words flooded out of her mouth in one long sentence. Then Rayna grabbed me and pulled me away.

“Jesse, what do you think you’re doing?”

“She said Ethan. It might be my brother.”

Rayna’s eyes had narrowed. She was the only one I talked to about my brother. She knew enough to realise the description fit.

“Did he talk about zombies?” she asked the girl, who was looking at me with wide eyes. The girl had nodded, still staring at me.

“You’re Jesse?” she said. “He thought you’d been captured right at the start.”

Although I’d suspected Ethan had been taken during the very first attacks, somehow hearing that he’d been free all this time, and I’d missed him by just a few days, was hard to swallow.

That had been a bad day. But it had spurred me into action. My big brother was out there, fighting the chickens. There was a slim chance he was still free. I had to try and find him…

I thought I heard a sound outside my cave hideout and froze, one hand on my knife. It wouldn’t have done
any good against a Catcher but it felt reassuring in my grip. I stood poised for a minute but nothing else happened. Eventually I settled back down beside the fire.

Persuading the council to let me go on my own little mission had been… interesting.

“You want to do what?” Cody had spluttered, glaring at me.

“I heroically volunteer to scout out the land around the chickens’ base for weak points that might be exploitable. The more we know about it the better chance we have to pull a trick on the fowl fiends and catch them with their tail feathers down.”

“But what if you get captured? You might not come back!”

I grinned at him. “I’ll just have to pluck up my courage.”

“Do you even have a plan?”

“Not eggs-actly. But I’m not chicken, if that’s what you think.”

He sighed and paused for a moment. Cody had never warmed to my chicken jokes. “You know what? I like this plan. Either you come back with information or you never come back at all. How soon can you leave?”

So, two days after hearing news of my brother, I’d set out after him.

So far I hadn’t had much luck. Ethan must have had at least a month’s head start on me, maybe more. Dad had tried to teach me the basics of tracking but even if I’d been a master I doubt it would have done any good.
So instead I’d been tracking back and forth across the country, going to places he’d mentioned in different end-of-the-world plans. This cave had been my last hope.

Suddenly I heard a rushing sound, like a plane in the distance. I leapt to my feet, recognising it as the sound of an approaching Catcher zooming somewhere at high speed. They went past every so often and had become part of life. When it didn’t slow down I banked the fire and got into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow would be another day of searching, this time heading towards where the chickens seemed to have their base. I couldn’t think of anywhere else he would be.

My walkie-talkie was inside my backpack, which I was using for a pillow. For a moment I was tempted to pull it out and call Rayna, but I resisted. It was the middle of the night and she was probably fast asleep.

I’d talk to her tomorrow.

BOOK: Revenge of the Giant Robot Chickens
9.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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