Everything is relative. Without contrast, the reality of our world is bleached by disbelief and incomprehension.
But even if you could see how we used to strive, you'd never believe how far we've fallen.
The advancement of technology never really stops, there's always someone out there willing to go one better, and heh, I guess that's why we're here.
It wasn't really a war. The chain reaction of event's that conspired to create land's scarred of their former magnificence was more mundane than anyone would have guessed.
A factory worker taking a fourth shift in an electronics assembly plant, so tired some of his units had defective fans. He'd been working to pay off an unsecured loan. It could be blamed on him. It could be blamed on the quality control official who skipped a batch of testing for a chance to read a co-workers stash of pornographic magazines. You could blame the technician on the cargo relay, he'd been drinking to drown out memories of his late wife. When the automatic side of the cargo relay shut down, he was too drunk to compensate. You could blame his boss, who refused to stop the shuttles. He'd been pulling for a promotion.
Either way, when something enters the atmosphere un-braked it makes one hell of a mess.
The attrition rate was thirty percent …at first. But itchy trigger fingers have a tendency to salt the wound.
In short, We Fucked Up.
People say that civilisation is two meals away from barbarism. Until the fall I never realised how wrong that was. One meal, you'll have to trust me on this.
By now you may be wondering, who am I and why am I still alive if everything had gone FUBAR the way I'm making it out.
Luck played a part but the deciding factor was preparation. You see I was, am, a member of the zombie survival squad. Admittedly at the time I didn't really believe in the whole walking dead concept, but I played along and it's what kept me alive and sane.
The latter was harder.
The day of fall, I was screwing around in the lecture theatre, not listening not caring. If they don't think it worth handing out already typed, then it's probably non-essential.
I looked out the window in time to see the first wave, time slowed, I heard a chick behind me squeal something about it being a sign. I was already diving for the floor, tackling the guy next to me, trying to get under the window. The reflection of the first explosions left me blinded, around that time the guy below me stopped struggling. I guess he caught up on events. I rolled off him and looked him in the eye's. He said thanks. Then the shock wave hit. Window's blew out and lacerated the rooms interior. The sound of breaking glass scratching on metal filled my world. It was over in a moment. One bloody, breathtaking moment. I can't describe the devastation that awaited me upon looking out the broken window. You had to be there, although I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
I was the only person to walk out of the room that day, just a few inches over the guy I'd tried to save died when the second shockwave propelled a steel rod through his chest. Would've been me, but he was behind me at the time. I try not to think about it; saving someone else and then indirectly sacrificing them. Guilt-trip is hardly adequate.
Everything in the city that isn't powered by bio-muscles, is connected to the steam mains.
I can't remember who came up with the idea of using it for transport. Normally, opening one would scald the skin from your bones but of course in an emergency the steam would vent; If it didn't then you might end up with overpressure, ruptured pipes and screwed up infrastructure. It took me less than twenty minutes to gather what I could from the uni and descend to the stem levels. The pipes were rapidly cooling, but when I got there the metal was still hot enough to scald. Rather than wait, decided it was better to don one of the carbon-canvas pressure suits used to patrol the active pipes. I'd sealed the pipe behind me. My luck didn't change. Cost cutting measures meant that the interior of the pipes were composed of lead. It prevented me from getting my ass irradiated when the resonance missiles took a nose dive.
Resonance weapons, they cause building's to shake themselves apart, leave people debilitated and go through more than eighty five percent of building materials without losing potency. Lead won't resonate.
Why the hell not just use conventional bomb's?
Because partner, it isn't economic; resonance weapons will kill people, destroy complex solids but leave enough infrastructure intact that you can net a gain by annexing the now empty city minus everyone who lived there.
Anyway, memory, a greasy map stuck in the suit's inner pocket and luck saw me through to my destination. The warehouse for the Zombie Survival Squad. If there was going to be anywhere that could deal with something like this, it would be there. I kinda expected to find it buzzing with people in unbuttoned flackjackets sporting scattersear's and Bi-cutters. The warehouse was where we met and where we stored what we didn't put in our "Ready packs" of equipment. When I got there, I cycled through the lock and walked up the basement stairs. Instead of a party of prepared people bustling round, I found a quiet warehouse. Well almost quiet. Lady luck is my bitch. I can't think of any other explanation for why the few people actually in the warehouse were the most hardcore paranoid serious squadmates in the entire goddanmed world. Catiline, well she'd punch you for calling her that, Kat; Well, you know the person at school who noone likes because they beat them without trying? That's her. Photographic memory, Reflexes on a hair trigger, lightning fast and as cold as liquid nitrogen under pressure. Alone She had enough badass factor to outclass three bodybuilders. She was rummaging through a box of ammunition and waved to me. "Do you know where the point three ninety incendiaries are?" She asked. No inquiry about how I got they or how I was, straight to business.
Just having her now would've made me feel like winning the lottery on any other day.
As it was, the two other's there made my day. Bill hutcheson, built like a bear and without a bear's capacity for forgiveness. He'd mastered three martial art's, had degrees in agriculture, engineering and mathmatics. His father was a combat medic, his mother was a chemist. He was king of improvisation, a real dikum mechanist. Could make a time-bomb with a kitchen and four and a half minutes.
His girlfriend, Myrrh, was just as much a knock out, both looks and genius. She was absentminded, but as a mastermind she sat at the top of heap. She'd always come up with a solution that was so far outside the box that the reasoning behind it would be unfathomable even after it worked.
And they had me, special skills, zip. Oh I can do card tricks, throw dice and I'm a dab hand with duct-tape, but that's pretty much it. Oh and I'm lucky, may have already mentioned that. Not quite a skill but so long as I can keep my streak it's as good as.
"I think the incendiaries were moved to the condiments cupboard next to the jam." I told Kat. She straightened up and opened the one I pointed out.
"Who put them here?" She asked, taking one of the boxes and examining the seal's.
"Far as I can tell it was old george, he has some peculiar ideas about 'orderly storage'."
"I ought to geld him."
"Just for that?"
"No, But I'm danm sure he was the one who's been eating peanut butter without a spoon." Kat slid the offending spreads aside.
Silence, myrrh and bill were doing something by the workbenches, didn't seem to be paying attention to us.
"So…" I Searched through possible lines of inquiry in my head. How do you ask something like that? 'Hey how did you survive today's disaster?' or 'what's going on with all the 'sploding things.' Maybe 'Hey, I just narrowly missed being perforated by a steel support beam earlier today, would you please elighten me as to why?'.
I never did reach a satisfactory conclusion, as Kat derailed the locomotive of my thought process. "I'm amazed you made it, I didn't think you were a keeper. But now you have get ready to saddle up prepared. We are moving out in fifteen with the route in Z-plan 12." When I didn't answer she walked up to me and poked me in the chest with a spanner. "You're quick, or you wouldn't have made it here, that or you lucked out; either way I know that you know we can't sit here. This building was in the blast shadow of Shetland hill, which is why we aren't crispy barbeque like the rest of the city. However, there will be people, not very nice ones at that, who have survived. This is a certainty, seeing as I am most definitely not a nice person."
"I never would have guessed." I blurted out on impulse. Prior to then my urges for suicide had been contained to moments when I forgot to use antiperspirant immediately before encountering an attractive member of the opposite sex.
Fortunately Kat (who has a wry sense of humour) merely raised an eyebrow before continuing.
"Be that as it may, my main objective here is to bug out, before the sky falls on this particular haven. Now go pack, you have seven minutes." She added the last after glancing at her timepiece.
I spun ninety degrees on one heel and began to walk, my progress was short-lived as Myrrh intercepted me with a tightly strapped rucksack.
"All your's, standard layout. Often use items front pocket, group items side compartment, the rest distributed by weight." Myrrh trilled. That's the thing about myrrh she trill's or chimes, rather than talks. Don't know if she ever noticed.
"So where we headed?" I asked myrrh, shouldering the pack.
"It's likely the vast majority of the upper city and the lower city is unsafe due to extreme structural damage. Thus we head away from the city. Our first waypoint is forty miles southwest."
I tried to visualise my location. "Wait won't that take us through the city center?"
"Yep, the stuff that was erected recently should be relatively safe to traverse."
"Relative to what?"
"Relative to not going south west and ending up in sandwich of refugees leaving population center's in other directions. Once we are out of the city we can go through the lochman pass and circumvent the drach ocean." Bill told me this as he pressed a perforator into my hand's.
The old perforator series was a joy to handle, silk smooth action, accurate and deadly to boot. It also weighed slightly more than the average wrecking ball.
Bill clapped me on the shoulder heavily. "Good sport, you are now acting as backup guy, we are moving out. Right, Kat?"
Kat nodded and spun the wheel on the rear P door.
We made good time, at first. Kat and the others were anxious to be out of the city before sundown. It had been less than ninety minutes since the city had been hit and they were banking on the assumption that anything living in there would be too shellshocked to make trouble.
The way's were a series of conveyer belt's between building's and around the city in general. We made good time travelling along them, despite the lack of power. Occasionally we'd pass by the remains of passengers.
We'd stopped at a station after the third dead end in a row. I sat mulling over something that had been bugging me.
"Guy's, why's it so empty? We've only seen eighty or so of what I assume to be corpses. There should be a hell of a lot more dead stuff lying around."
Myrrh nodded "The most likely explanation is that something is eating them."
Bill shifted uneasily "What though, would have survived with an appetite for a whole lotta cadavers?"
Kat stood up and dusted off her knees "Biomuscles. The bastard's are immune to resonance weapons. With all the structural damage around here, I really wouldn't be surprised if a few escaped and went looking for food."
Biomuscles. Simple idea. How to turn food into power? Older cultures ran beast's in treadmills. We used biomuscles. A marvel of organic design, stick one in it's new home and connect it up to the feeding tube. Mindless mass of muscly meat. The lack of space wasting organ's or indeed a complex nervous system mean's that to conventionally destroy one involves turning it into a few pounds of meat patty.
Of course in ordinary circumstances owners have remote kill switches that ensure there's no chance of havoc wreaking. The flaw in that particular system became apparent after everybody died. I doubt the dead were unduly worried about that occurrence in any case.
There was a thud further down the lower eastern line.
"The post office is near here. They mount them in frames for heavy lifting. Explains why there isn't any residue." Myrrh volunteered.
"How many do you think?" Kat queried.
"Fifteen to twenty five." Myrrh
"How many could we kill with the ammo we're toating?" I asked
"One less than however many there are." Bill concluded
"Bugger." That summed up my thoughts.
"No use sulking, Just get moving; We'll block our rear." Kat motioned.
"I can place det's now?" Bill asked.
She shook her head "No, I'd like to, but we cannot garantee that whatever path we pick will not be a dead end."
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. "Contact?" I called.
Kat didn't hesitate "Move, Third tunnel from the right; Now!"
Without roaring or snarling, the hulking figure moved from the main line exit. The light caught it and it was definitely an it, red and white sinews rather than flesh. No Eyes or ears or nose. But it could see us. I know, because it bore down on the group with all the cumbersome speed of a growing avalanche. I didn't breathe, feet pounding, the weight of my bags forgotten. Fear forced me forward filling my veins with its furious adrenaline. For a moment I thought the Aberration would catch me, but I stumbled into the narrow way, a hairsbreadth ahead of its grasp. It tried to reach in, but to no avail. It's misshapen form wasn't suitable for the confines of the labyrinthine corridors.
Kat nodded to me. "Well spotted. Now if this Way goes anywhere..."
"How did it.." I paused for breath aware of the scrutiny from my companions "Have a shape, without bones?"
Myrrh just looked at me "I said they put the post office ones in frames, did I not? It's obviously just eaten enough biomass that it now covers said frame completely, giving it something reminiscent of an internal bone structure. As to why it could see us; Why would you make a helper that could not see or hear enough to respond to orders conveniently?"
Kat Frowned "I can't even begin to imagine the biological mechanism that enables said being to operate, but without a proper mind, should it not merely be a shell of protein? Unless it retains some kind of instinct to strive?"
Myrrh dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand "We have two basic scenarios, First and worst is that there is a person alive directing the autonomous organisms with the unknown intent , currently occupied with cleaning out the city; Second is that these things have enough savvy to know what's edible and what isn't on their own. The latter is far better for us seeing as it means we'll be able to escape with relative ease.
Bill, who'd been watching the way we'd come (While I positioned myself at our front, ready to shoot and very probably miss should an assailant approach.) glanced upwards through the curved glass roof of the way. Squinting through the yellowish light, he could almost make out... something, emerging from an opening made by a broken 'way, several floors up. He didn't even have time to holler, before the Biomuscle descended with all the unstoppability of a falling star.
It's momentum took it through the curved roof unhindered, and brought it with a teeth shaking crash onto the narrow walkway. Bill's first shot made a hole the size of a dinner plate in the left shoulder. It's soundless roar echoed through the way, and one giant fist pounded the floor; causing it to buckle. We were running, as the screech of metal supports crumbling deafened me; the floor tipped, first gradually but with a worrying increase in speed.
Kat and myrrh kneeled, digging handpicks into the floor's grating; Bill fired a piton and clipped his beltline to it. I fell, scrabbling for my bootknife, flicking it out and stabbing. It glanced off. I tried again and the blade bit into rubberised brass. My feet dangled over the edge. My companions swarmed up to the top and snaked a line down to me. Unfortunately the muscle who'd severed the walkway was still hanging onto the ledge of the building next door. It couldn't fit through, so as I pulled myself up the line; It jumped from it's perch and scrabbled for a hand hold on the curved roof. The tilted corridor, groaned one final time; before snapping completely, skidding away down the artificial ravine with an ear piercing shriek and a shower of sparks. In freefall I braced myself against both of the corridors glassy walls, shut my eyes and prayed. The severed walkway descended, cleaving through several more of it's kind, before hitting the ground end first. I lost my grip with that final jerk and fell to the ground. My head bounced on the pavement turning my sight black and setting my ears ringing.
Waking up to find yourself not quite dead is an invigorating feeling. On the one hand, most people are pleased at their continued respiration. On the other hand, all of your senses are telling you that you'd be better off not feeling anything right now. Having your lips stick to your teeth isn't really pleasant either.
Pushing myself up, I shook my head; my vision was fuzzy round the edges and the inside of my skull pounded.
They say your brain can't feel pain. Despite all evidence supporting this claim, It's difficult to believe when you find yourself in the possession of an unwanted migraine. Once I'd finished my bout of self pity; I was struck by panic as something brushed my leg. Looking down and scrambling back brought on another wave of dizziness. I had been lucky to survive the fall, a testament to my relationship with miss fortune. Who'd waved her magical wand twice, ensuring i stayed alive once I was on the ground; About a hairsbreadth or two out of reach was my attacker. His failure to digest me was not for lack of trying; A steel I-beam had pinned it neatly to the pavement. The framework that gave the being shape now prevented it from ripping free and it lacked the smarts to realise that it was the beam holding it there.
Rather than wait for it to become unpinned, I immediately assessed my situation. Age, not too bad; still young no Grey hairs yet. Surroundings, dilapidated city space. Injuries, minimal.
Chance of survival without Kat and the others: Less than getting a winning lottery draw on your first go.
I walked. I knew where the rest of the group was heading and I knew equally well that they wouldn't wait for me, much less mount a rescue. So Rather than waste time getting up to the office levels, I continued through the Indus districts. Had I been five minutes slower waking I expect I'd now be decorating a pike with my skull. As it was I saw the ambushers setting up. They didn't see me. I'd rounded a corner and after seeing the movement, skidded behind a mag-lift tram. Unaware of my presence they began arranging a crude barricade across the street, with a number of disc shaped cylinders the size of plates. Landmines. Lovely. They certainly weren't going to be the type of survivor that hands out aid packages, which meant that presenting myself was probably not the best idea.
Such is life and death, since the longer I examined the situation the more it seemed that the only course of action would be to either present myself to them and hope for the best, or kill them both while they were in the open and I had the element of surprise. I shamefully admit that I place a higher price on my own skin than that of my fellow mans. I generally write it off as a 'healthy' instinct for self preservation, which is why I decided on doing unto them before they could do unto me. Raising the perforator, I sighted carefully, switching from one target to the other.
I hoped to dispose of them both without retaliation. Pulling the trigger, the perforator bucked against the recoil dampers; one man exploded into a fine red spray.
His companion swung round, but I was already aiming for him. He was diving for cover when my second shot hit his arm. The impact carried him several meters backwards; He'd been wearing body armour. Otherwise he'd have just had the limb torn off.
Moving quickly, I leapt over the makeshift barricades; avoiding the landmines and running off down the street. There's a technique to running silently, you can't stamp down, you have to let your sole roll forward; meeting the ground with your heel and pushing off with your toes. In the echoingly empty confines of the lower ways, I didn't want to meet any who had survived the way the men I'd pasted had. This was generally where malcontents and all shades of unlawful or almost unlawful activity were maintained.
Maintained, It's an accepted premise; In every society there will be crime. Thus it is better to have it subsidised, ordered. Once organised, it will impede disorganised unlawful activities; Plus this way burglary's were tax deductable. Now that the restraints were gone, I was doubtful that they would remain quite so civil.
As it happened I was right.
Kindwhile, myrrh, Kat and Bill had all taken my loss with the Appropriate level of regret;
The first thing they'd done was retreat from the tunnel mouth and apparently away from danger.
Apparently is the right word, since none of them twigged that the tunnel they had picked wasn't public access, it was a courier express route.
Biomuscles come in many shapes and sizes, Since all you want is to convert calories to ergs; You can shape the sinews around frames to fit whatever task or occupation you might need at the time. However, a skinless, headless four legged courier with hands for feet is not going to win a beauty pageant. The long legged couriers spent most of their time in the older unpowered passageways where no-one important would be meeting them; However sometimes you need them to go up into the populated areas or the powered ways. The way to do that is to get them to go through one of the discrete skybridges or passageway's like the one that the remains of the Zombie survival squad; now surviving but lacking Zombies, were walking down.
There was some small regret about the unexpected advent of my apparent death, after all I'd been carrying the condiments; mustard is the most vital ingredient when turning the inedible, edible. It does it for the reconstituted meat of hot dog stand's, as well as survivors of major cataclysms such as ours.
Kat held up a hand, all three silently halted. Something wasn't right. Checking, floor, left passage, right passage, rear. Ceiling. She looked up. She saw the spindly courier. However even as her figure tightened on the trigger in attempt to turn the threat into a cloud of read mist and minor biological shrapnel, the one behind her tackled. Kat twisted even as she fell, to see the prone forms of both bill and myrrh being hefted by similar assailant's. That sight gave one small shred of comfort; They weren't going to be eaten. At least not yet.