“Get back,” said Nigel, unholstering his gun. “I’m going to give them a taste of The Australian.”

“The Australian?” said Laura as she was hustled away. “Why does he call it that?”

As if in response to her question, the massive pistol in Nigel’s hand sputtered fire at their pursuers:

G’DAY! G’DAY-G’DAY-G’DAY!

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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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“It’s an overstamp. You see this all the time in weapons that have been captured or changed hands.” Mayotte produced a jeweler’s lens from a drawer under the register and studied the rifle intently for a minute. “The overstamp says ‘Flieger-Selbstlader-Karabiner 15,’ which I think means ‘self-loading aircraft-carbine, 1915.'”

“So it’s a German gun? From World War I?”

“I don’t think so.” Mayotte said, still staring intently at the overstamp. “The magazine’s a snail type, but it’s all wrong for the Germans. The caliber, 7mm Mauser, sounds German, but the Germans only used it for imports and captures.”

Keith squirmed. “You’re leaving me hanging in suspense here.”

“Ah, here we go,” said Mayotte. “‘Fusil Porfirio Diaz, Systema Mondragon, Modelo 1908.’ That’s what the Germans stamped over. ‘Porfirio Diaz Rifle, Mondragon System, Model 1908.’ It’s a Mondragon.”

After a short blank stare, Keith cleared his throat. “No offense, ma’am, but that sounds like something that ought to be breathing fire in a fantasy movie more so than a long arm.”

“It’s Mexican,” Mayotte said. She removed a glove and touched the barrel; the first tingling sensations and images began to flow immediately. “The first semiautomatic rifle ever adopted into service. They were made in Switzerland by SIG but the Mexican Revolution and the fact that the rifles don’t much like dirt and rough handling got the order canceled.”

“And the Germans?” said Keith, eying Mayotte’s faraway expression with some unease.

The roar of a radial engine, the howl of the wind with the brutal nip of a few thousand feet altitude… “The Swiss sold them to the Germans,” Mayotte murmured. Her pupils visibly dilated as she talked. “They gave them to observers in two-seater biplanes to defend themselves.”

“And?

Racking the action, taking aim across the sights and the wind and the world at the French bastards, who’d been good enough to paint a bright target on the side of their plane… “Let’s see what she can tell us,” Mayotte whispered.