April 2014


GARRULOUS: So tell us, what will your starting loadout be? Keeping in mind, of course, that the points you earn from your kills can be exchanged for additional supplies, ammunition, and other items.

MAXIMUS: Well, Garrulous, I am taking three weapons with me into the Zone. As my long arm, a long-barrel Ithaca 37 shotgun with an extended magazine tube and a mix of 00-buck and 12-gauge slugs. My sidearm is a post-1962 Browning Hi-Power in 9mm Parabellum with an external extractor. As a backup, a Walther PPK/S in .32 ACP and a bolo machete from Las Ventosas in Manila.

GARRULOUS: Unpack that for our viewers at home a little bit. Why that specific loadout? I note that none of those weapons was made after 1962.

MAXIMUS: It’s all a matter of simplicity, ease of use, ease of repair, and ease of resupply, Garrulous. The Ithaca 37 is a tried and tested design, simple and easy to repair. It can be used ambidextrously with that lovely combination loading/ejection port on the bottom, helping to keep it clean. I carry a mix of ammunition for varied situations, of course, and it’s highly likely that my competitors will carry the same gauge, meaning that scavenging is very, very practical.

GARRULOUS: And the Hi-Power? Most of our competitors, as you know, prefer the .45 M1911A1 or a more modern 9mm Glock.

MAXIMUS: For me, Garrulous, the Hi-Power is the best of both worlds. It has many of the same design features as the 1911, making it very reliable and repairable, while it can chamber the 9mm ammunition that I will find on my competitors’ corpses. The 9mm Parabellum lacks the stopping power of the .45, true, but with nearly twice as many rounds I find it offers me more tactical choices.

GARRULOUS: And, again, we find many of your competitors preferring a revolver for their reserve firearm. Why the PPK/S?

MAXIMUS: If I am in a tight spot and I have to draw my reserve, Garrulous, I want to be able to put as many rounds as I can into the target. The PPK/S is easier to reload under fire, even if it fires a weaker round, and it also gives me the flexibility of having a cartridge that is not likely to be carried by my competitors. In a situation where I need to loan out a weapon, I prefer to strictly control how much ammunition is available.

GARRULOUS: And the Bolo?

MAXIMUS: Best, most lethal cutting tool around, Garrulous. Simple as that.

GARRULOUS: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Maximus Carnage, two-time Zombie Games champion, spilling his darkest secrets! Anything to add for us, Maximus?

MAXIMUS: Don’t read too much into what I say and what I do out there. This is a means of entertainment making use of our large, if contained, surplus zombie population. It’s not a metaphor for anything, and the populace that is cowed into obedience watching me brain the brainless must be very dumb or very cowardly.

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The great old ones, wise but fierce, may live as long as a month. But the young ones, the small ones, the angry ones, they live only minutes or hours. And some are even more ephemeral, a life of seconds in an alleyway or a minute in the dust of a rutted plain.

They speak to each other, using the language of the air, of the spheres, and the resonance of the matter with which they interact. Few can hear these messages; fewer still can understand them. and, it must be said, what they speak of, what the great old ones leave lingering in the molecules of the air for their younger successors, is often dire for those of our kind.

Their primary concern is to leave a mark on the world: to part waves, to move clouds, to scour hillsides, to uproot trees. The more of a mark one makes, relative to its lifespan and abilities, the more its peers consider it a success. And, much as we cannot understand them, they cannot understand us. They see no distinction between a forest and a town, no line between a felled tree and a human life extinguished. To them, matter is matter and its rearrangement is the only sign they can leave of their brief existences.

Scant comfort that must be, though, to those who find themselves in the path of their destructive song.

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The old ocean liner had been bound for the breaker’s yard when the tow line had parted in a gale, casting it adrift in international waters. Fearing for their ship, the tug crew abandoned their work–an action that would have gotten them hauled up before a maritime board if they hadn’t been registered with a fly-by-night, see-no-evil outfit in Liberia.

It was a heavy, nasty old thing, that ship. Started life on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain before being halfheartedly Westernized. The country that built it didn’t exist anymore, the breakers would barely make back their investment in scrapping it, and the return on a Lloyd’s Open Form would be so low that no commercial tug was interested in a tow.

But there was still money to be had. A savvy crew, hired on the cheap, could strip the floating hulk of copper wire, easily removable bits of steel and iron, and anything else not required to keep the ship afloat. That was our plan, at least. Little risk, substantial reward.

A pity it didn’t work out that way.

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“This is Sqeeeck-Chirp, a Common Dolphin and the greatest mind of his generation. Of dolphins.” Professor Ettinger gestured to a harness about the creature’s blowhole. “We use that device to translate Sqeeeck-Chirp’s thoughts and vocalizations into speech understandable to us and vice-versa.

“What observations have you to share, Sqeeeck-Chirp?” asked Brigadier Curnow.

The dolphin received the question as a series of underwater clicks, and responded in kind. A moment later, a synthetic human voice translated his words in an even monotone. “The tuna is a true fish dwelling in salt water, which is a member of the mackerel, or Scrombridae, family–specifically the Thunnini tribe. Its nearest living relatives are the aforementioned mackerels, Spanish mackerels, and bonitos.”

Brigadier Curnow nodded. “Very impressive, Squeeck-Chirp. I see you know your stuff. What about the strategic situation?”

“The tuna is able to maintain the temperature of its body above that of the surrounding seawater, a process known as endothermy,” Squeeck-Chirp continued gravely. “The bluefin tuna has been known to hold a core body temperature of 75–90 degrees Fahrenheit even in waters as chilled as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, though unlike most typical animals capable of endothermy, like myself, the tuna does not and cannot maintain its core body temperature within a narrow range.”

Curnow looked at Professor Ettinger, confused. “What’s he on about?”

“Oh, God, not this again,” the professor muttered.

Unfazed by the reaction to his elucidation, Squeeck-Chirp continued to expound. “The tuna is able to display such endothermy by using a structure called the rete mirabile, the ‘wonderful net,’ which is an interwoven network of veins and arteries in the tuna’s extremities. This allows the tuna to warm the colder arterial blood with heat from the warmer venous blood, which helps to conserve the tuna’s metabolic heat even in a chilled environment.”

“What do you mean, ‘not again?'” demanded Curnow.

“As a result of its endothermy, the tuna is able to heat its aerobic muscle tissues,” Squeeck-Chirp said. “In addition to faster speeds and increased energy efficiency, this leads the tuna’s lean and delicious flesh to have a reddish-pink hue quite distinct from the pale white flesh of most true fish. This is one of several factors that has led tuna to be considered a delicacy amongst many peoples and cultures despite the relative difficulty of catching one without a trawling net.”

“Well, I had hoped to avoid this, but dolphins like Squeeck-Chirp represent a bit of a tradeoff,” said Ettinger. “On the one hand, they possess a vast and keen intellect that is capable of approaching problems in ways that we humans are simply not wired to. On the other, it is extremely difficult to get them to shut up about tuna and other finfish, since that has been, for centuries, the sole topic upon which their vast intellects have ruminated.”

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Exodus had the Burning Bush. Us? We had the Buzzing Bush.

For two weeks every semester, the bush between the parking lot and out building would burst into full bloom. It was on the ugly side of campus, the part built during the 60s when bricking over green spaces and making everything look like a bloated concrete slab was de rigueur, so it was likely the only flowering thing for 500-1000 feet in any direction.

Which, naturally, meant it was the target of every hornet, wasp, honeybee, and bumblebee within approximately that same radius.

The bush buzzed alarmingly during its time in bloom, and anyone who stopped to smell the flowers would quickly find themselves pursued by multiple species of stingy thingy. We all wisely decided to give the thing a wide berth if we could during that time, but there were moments, especially when there was heavy foot traffic, when we found ourselves pushed uncomfortably close to the Buzzing Bush.

It was nothing but an annoyance, with an occasional squawk as someone was divebombed by a hymenoptera, but no stings that anyone could remember. At least until that day in April when we heard a cry that was much more than a surprised yelp.

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Erroi squawked loudly in the usual manner of crows. In response, the owl hooted softly.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He told me that he passed a particularly large and firm pellet not long ago, one that would make his father proud and potential mates swoon,” said Erroi with evident distaste.

The owl hooted again. “What about that?”

“He is sharing the details of other owls in his partliament, in particular the pellets they have been hawking up,” said Erroi. “Really, do I have to keep listening to this fool prattle on? I told you before, owls only seem wise if you don’t speak their language.”

A songbird on a nearby bough chirped in, withdrawing quickly before the owl could swivel about to fix its gaze. Erroi cocked his head. “Let me guess,” I said, “chirping about how big his mate’s eggs are?”

“No,” said Erroi quietly. “He’s seen what you’re after, but won’t speak in the presence of a bird of prey.”

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Johnson stepped in. Vincent took the lanky student in with a quick glance. A moment later, he noticed Johnson’s hand in his coat pocket—curled into a fist around something.

“This is Mr. Gaines,” Bernard said. “He’s as interested as I am in hearing what you’ve found.

As interested as Bernard was in stealing the data and slapping his name on the paper that contained it perhaps. Johnson nodded, but not at what his fraud of a professor had said—it was a gesture of his own resolve.

“I’ve got something else to show you,” Johnson said. His hand tightened around the automatic in his pocket.

In a flash, Vincent saw what was going on, and felt for his .38. Joliet hadn’t asked for it back, and the gun was still slung in a shoulder holster beneath Vincent’s jacket.

“Gilvery says hello,” Johnson grunted. Bernard’s eyes widened at the sight of the gun, and he dropped behind his desk.

Johnson’s first shot was clumsy, blasting a hole in a window frame and showering the room with splinters.

Vincent had his own weapon out a moment later, and fired. A dark spot appeared on Johnson’s shirt sleeve; the student screamed and stumbled backwards, pulling the trigger blindly as he went.

None of his shots found their mark, but Vincent was startled enough to drop behind Bernard’s desk, putting as much solid oak as he could between himself and the attacker.

“Wh-” Bernard whimpered.

“Quiet,” hissed Vincent. He scanned the room, pistol at the ready, but there were no further shots.

Gingerly, he stood up and crept to the door. A brown parcel was on the secretary’s desk, but there was no sign of Johnson. A moment later, Vincent noticed a trail of blood droplets leading out the door and down the hall. The elevator whirred open and clanged shut just as he made the connection.

“Is there a telephone in this office?” Vincent said.

“I…I…” Bernard stuttered.

“Is there?”

The professor continued to blubber, offering nothing coherent. Vincent cursed and jogged for the stairs.

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