Zombie 01 (Hungry)
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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Ex-Los Angeles, Friday Afternoon
Cerberus pounded down the street, chasing after Big Red. Trucks containing hooting Seventeens roared after them, guns firing. Danielle kept a frantic eye on her power levels as the pavement flew beneath the battlesuit's heavy feet, cracking the blacktop with each heavy footfall. In tandem, the titan and the truck lurched onto Western, weaving between dead cars. They had just finished the last of the repairs when the Seventeens had shown up and started chasing them--away from the Mount, Cerberus noted with dismay.

Big Red squealed, tires smoking as Luke stomped on the brakes hard. Shouts came from the back as the guards were thrown forward. Cerberus tried to dodge and smashed her shoulder into the driver's side corner of the truck. Big Red lurched, the fiberglass sides crumpled, and the battlesuit spun away, stumbling over a low sports car and crashing down on the sidewalk on top of a crawling ex. Her screens went gray for a second as the computers tried to keep up with the whirling images. Inside Cerberus, Danielle tried to clear her head. Even with the armor, it had been a hard hit. She blinked a few times and the suit tried to interpret the subtle commands, racing through a half-dozen views and status reports as it tried to get the cameras back online. The flashing screens didn't help her throbbing skull.

"Chains!" shouted Luke. "They've got the whole road trapped!"

A garbage truck shrieked to a halt on Western and a full more bullets pinged off her armor. On its grill, a dead thing twisted and pulled, its eyes locked on Cerberus. She tried not to look at it as the titan pushed itself back up on its feet, the cameras steadying. Another hail of shots rang out. Ty's neck flashed red and he fell back with a thud. Jarvis flung himself to the left just as a second shot sprayed part of his shoulder onto the back of the truck. Lady Bee and the rest dropped behind Big Red's steel lift gate. Cerberus could hear them cocking rifles.

A hooded man crawled from the back of the garbage truck onto the cab. His hoodie was green, with a green bandanna tied over one bicep. His AK was held out, away from his body. Around his feet, the other Seventeens kept their weapons aimed at Cerberus and the once-again crippled truck. "Hey big girl!" he shouted with a grin. He gave her a lazy salute with his free hand. "If you all done running, mind if we talk a minute?"


Cerberus
Cerberus cranked her speakers and her voice boomed across the street. "You wanna talk, be quick. Reinforcements will be here pretty fast."

Monster
The Seventeen barked a laugh and gestured to someone out of sight. Half the chains dropped from the front of the garbage truck. The beast that had been latched to it darted forward, and got yanked back by the remaining chains. Even dead, it was fast. When the ex moved, a silver pendant bounced on its bony neck, half-bound by the leather collar they'd put on it.

Diamint
"Is that what I think it is?" whispered Diamint, another survivor who'd come to help patch the truck.

Cerberus
"Yeah," Cerberus said. There was a metallic hiss to her voice when she whispered. "That's Cairax Murrain. One of LA's heroes before he died."

Seventeen
"You and I both know they didn't hear the radio," the spokesman said, once they'd all taken a good look at the former hero as it stalked around, measuring out the length of chain. "I know y'all took another truck to get out here, but still. We're talking ten minutes for that one to get back and tell everyone what happened and another twenty for it to get back here." He pointed at the beast. "How many people can he kill in that time?"

Cairax Murrain
Cairax lunged again and the garbage truck shook as the chains went tight.

Cerberus
A quick blink shifted her screens and gave her picture-in-picture of the rear-view cam. She could just see Bee's profile behind the lift gate. "Who's hurt?"

Lady Bee
"Jarvis is bleeding pretty bad, but I think we've got it," Bee reported. "Ty...I think Ty's dead. Half his throat is gone." There was a pause. "We've got four guns on Murrain's forehead."

Cerberus
"He's bulletproof," hissed Cerberus. "He's mine. Get Talky."

Seventeen
The Seventeen banged on the roof of the cab with his AK's stock. "You all done whispering over there?"

"You wanted to talk," the titan thundered. "So talk."

"Here's the deal," the Seventeen continued. "They drop all their guns, you get out of that suit, we take everyone hostage, and you all get to live."

Diamint
"Hostage?" Diamint asked, before getting shushed by the rest behind the lift gate.

Seventeen
"Our chief wants one of your people. ANd all the guns you got in your little film-studio fort. Your ninja-woman boss trades the man and the guns for all of you. Everyone goes home happy."

Cerberus
"And then we've got no weapons and you march right in."

Seventeen
He barked out another laugh. "You looked in the mirror, big girl? Your side has all the best weapons. You've got all the living weapons."

"And you've got some dead ones."

"A few," he said, and they could all hear his smile.

Cerberus
Cerberus shifted, her feet scraping on the pavement. "And if we don't feel like being hostages?"

Seventeen
The man turned his hood to look at the straining thing at the front of the truck. "Then I let the demon loose and take anyone it doesn't eat."

"It'll go after your people, too."

He shook his head. "No," he said, amused, "it won't. Any other questions?"

Cerberus
"Yeah." She glanced up at the sky. "What took you so long?"

The Seventeen's spokesman looked up and the air exploded into flames between them.

St. George
St. George landed in front of Big Red, inhaled, and spat a second cone of fire at one a Dodge full of Seventeens, idling to the left of the garbage truck. He leaped back up, twisting in the air over the pickup, and threw more flames down on the people in the truck bed. The Seventeens screamed and leaped from the Dodge. As they did, it blossomed into a ball of heat and light. The tree branches above it caught fire.

Seventeen
Another leap carried the hero back to the garbage truck. Cairax flailed in the air in his direction. Gunfire washed over the street. The rounds chimed as they struck Cerberus and wrinkled St. George's clothes. His new sunglasses exploded into shards of black plastic. The spokesman swung his AK down and emptied the magazine at St. George. The hero's leather jacket shredded apart.

His AK ran out of ammo and locked. He shrugged and tossed it down to the truck. "Give it a rest," he called to his people.

St. George
"So," said St. George, "let's review. You just wasted a bunch of ammo, we did not. We're bulletproof, your people are not. We're near our base, you are not. Did I miss anything?"

Cairax
"I've got the demon," the spokesman threatened.

St. George
"Then set it loose," St. George said. "If you really think a zombie version of Cairax can take two heroes who were better than him when he was alive, go for it."

The hooded Seventeen faltered.

"Just keep in mind that if you do, the kid gloves are off. Right now, you can all walk away. You unleash that thing and we take it, and you, apart."

Seventeen
The two men stared each other down from across the dusty street. A curl of smoke twisted from St. George's nostril. Cairax leaned forward again, snapping the chains tight.

The hooded man nodded. "This one's yours, dragon man," he said. He stomped twice and the huge truck began to back away. "Just remember if Peasy doesn't get his man by--"

Lady Bee
A crack echoed down the street and the Seventeen's hood went flying backwards. He tumbled back into the garbage truck and it came to a halt with a hiss of brakes.

Lady Bee lifted her eye from her rifle's sights.

St. George
Fire flashed inside St. George's mouth. "What the hell was that?"

Lady Bee
She shrugged. "Cerberus said to take him out."

"What?"

"Before you got here."

St. George
"Things changed. They were leaving!"

"So what?" yelled Bee. "They just killed Ty!"

One step put St. George at the truck. He yanked the rifle out of her hands, twisted it into scrap, and she flinched away. "They kill," he shouted at her. "We don't! Not unless there's no other choice! We're the good guys! We're supposed to be better than them!"

Lady Bee
"They killed Ty," she snarled at him. And then her eyes went wide.

Ex-Seventeen
"Hey dragon man," called a voice behind him. The spokesman.

He was back on top of the garbage truck. A gory hole spread over the side of his face. The eye hung low in the shattered socket, and the flesh had peeled back to reveal the ivory teeth set in his jaw. The slow blood was dark and clumpy.

His good eye leered at them from a sunken socket. Without the hood, they could see the chalky irises and wide-open pupil. The eyes of the dead.

"As I was saying," he said, "Peasy gets his man by midnight, or we grind your home into mud. You got me?"

St. George
St. George stared up at the dead thing, calculating how long it had been an ex for. Likely weeks, if not months. "What the hell are you?"

Ex-Seventeen
"New rules, dragon man," said the ex. "We've been playing by new rules for months and you're just finding out now."

St. George landed on top of the garbage truck next to the dead man. Down in the bin, a score of rifles leaped to cover him, but the ex waved them away. Up close, the hero could see the ragged flaps of flesh from Bee's shot, the dark veins under the skin, the smell of decay. The ex grinned at him through the remains of its mangled face.

"Till midnight," it said. "The boss gets what he wants or you all die." It prodded a flap of skin curling over its cheek. "You might want to get in a little target practice before then."

The ex stomped its foot again. The truck beeped as it backed up to Marathon. St. George stepped back, gliding down to the streets. The ex gave a final salute as the trucks wheeled away.

"Till midnight! The King of LA always gets what he wants!"


[Text adapted from Chapters Twelve and Fourteen of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.]