Welcome to the Zombie Corps

Diallo goes out screaming. Hell is an echo chamber, full of shouts and seawater and clanking metal. Monstrous shadows move along the bulkheads; meshes of green light writhe across every surface. The Sāḥil rise from the moon pool like creatures from some bright lagoon, firing as they emerge; Rashida’s middle explodes in dark mist and her top half topples onto the deck. Kito’s still dragging himself toward the drying rack, to the speargun there— as though some antique fish-sticker is going to fend off these monsters with their pneumatics and their darts and their tiny cartridges that bury themselves deep in your flesh before showing you what five hundred unleashed atmospheres can do to your insides.

It’s more than Diallo’s got. All he’s got is his fists.

He launches himself at the nearest Sāḥil as she lines up Kito in her sights, swings wildly as somewhere nearby, a great metal creature groans and gives way. The floor drops and cants sideways; the moon pool crests the walls of its prison, sends a cascade of seawater down the slanted deck. Diallo flails, knocks the rebreather from the intruder’s mouth on the way down. Her shot goes wide. A spiderweb blooms across the viewport; a thin gout of water erupts from its center even as the glass tries desperately to heal itself from the edges in.

The last thing Diallo sees is the desert hammer icon on the Sāḥil’s diveskin before she blows him away.

*zombiecorps

*

Sound of running water, metal against metal. Clanks and gurgles, lowered voices, the close claustrophobic echo of machines in the middle distance.

Diallo opens his eyes.

He’s still in the wet room; its ceiling blurs and clicks into focus, plates and struts and Kito’s stupid grafitti scratched into the paint. A web of green light still wriggles dimly across the biosteel, but all the murderous energy has been bled out of it.

He tries to turn his head, and fails. He can barely feel his own body— as though it were made of ectoplasm, some merest echo of solid flesh. It fades into complete nonexistence somewhere around his waist.

A dark shape looms over him, an insect’s head on a human body. It speaks with two voices: English, and an overlapping echo in Ashanti: “Easy, soldier. Relax.”

A woman’s voice, and a chip one.

Not Sāḥil. But armed. Dangerous.

Not a soldier, he wants to say, wants to shout. It’s rarely a good thing to be mistaken for any sort of combatant along the west coast. But he can’t speak. He can’t even whisper. He can’t feel his tongue.

Diallo realizes that he isn’t breathing.

The Insect woman (a diveskin, he realizes distantly: her mandibles an electrolysis rig, her compound eyes a pair of defraction goggles) reaches past his field of view, retrieves a tactical scroll and unrolls it a half-meter from his face. She mutters an incantation; it flares softly to life, renders a stacked pair of keyboards: English on top, Akan beneath.

“Don’t try to talk,” she says in two tongues. “Don’t try to move. We haven’t even booted your larynx, much less your lungs. Just look at the letters.”

He looks at the N: it brightens. O. T. The membrane offers up predictive spelling, speeds the transition from sacc’ to script:

Not soldier fish farmer

“Of course. Sorry.” She’s retired the translator; the Akan keys flicker and disappear. “Figure of speech. What’s your name?”

Teka Diallo

She pushes the defractors up onto her forehead, unlatches the mandibles. They fall away and dangle to one side. She’s white underneath.

Is Kito

“I’m sorry, no. We didn’t get here in time. Everyone’s dead.”

Everyone else, he thinks, and imagines Kito mocking him one last time for insufferable pedantry.

“Got him.” Man’s voice, from across the compartment. “Teka Diallo, Takoradi. Twenty-eight, bog-standard aqua— oh, wait; combat experience. Two years with GAF.”

Rising panic. Diallo’s eyes dart frantically across the keyboard:

No only farmer not

“No worries, mate.” The woman lays down a reassuring hand; he can only assume it comes to rest somewhere on his body. “Everyone’s seen combat hereabouts, am I right? You’re sitting on the only reliable protein stock in three hundred klicks. Even twenty meters down, you’re gonna have to defend it now and again.

“Still.” She turns in the direction of the other voice (a shoulder patch comes into view: WestHem Alliance). “We could put him on the list.”

“If you’re gonna do it, do it fast. Got a surface contact about two thousand meters out, closing.”

She turns back to Diallo. “Here’s the thing. We didn’t get here in time. Truth be told we’re not supposed to be here at all, but our CO got wind of Sally’s plans and took a little humanitarian initiative, I guess you could say. We showed up in time to scare ’em off and light ’em up, but you were all dead by then.”

I wasn’t

“Yeah, Teka, you too. All dead.”

You brought me back

“No, we didn’t.”

But

“We gave your brain a jump start, that’s all. You know how you can make a body part twitch when you pass a current through it? You know what galvanic means, Teka?”

“He’s got a Ph.D. in molecular marine ecology,” says her unseen colleague. “I’m guessing yes.”

“You can barely feel anything, am I right? Body feels like a ghost shell. That’s because we didn’t reboot the rest of you. You’re just getting residual sensations from nerves that haven’t quite figured out they’re dead yet. You’re a brain in a box, Teka. You’re running on empty.

“But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be.”

“Hurry it up, Cat. We got ten minutes, tops.”

She glances briefly over her shoulder, returns her gaze to Diallo. “We’ve got a rig back on the Levi Morgan, patch you right up and keep you on ice until we get back home. And we got a rig back there that’ll work goddamn miracles, make you better’n new. But it ain’t cheap, Teka. Pretty much breaks the bank every time we do it.”

 Don’t have money

“Don’t want money, Teka. We want you to work for us. Four year tour; then you go on your way, nice fat bank balance, whole second chance. Easy gig, believe me. You’re just a passenger in your own body for the hard stuff. Even boot camp’s mostly autonomic.”

Not WestHem, Diallo saccades.

“You’re not Hegemon either, not any more. You’re not much of anything but rotting meat hooked up to a set of jumper cables. I’m offering you salvation, mate. You can be Born Again.”

“Wrap it the fuck up, Cat. They’re almost on top of us.”

“Course if you’re not interested, I can just pull the plug. Leave you the way we found you.”

No Please Yes

“Yes what, Teka? Yes pull the plug? Yes leave you behind? You need to be specific about this. We’re negotiating a contract here.”

Yes born again Yes 4 year tour

He wonders why he feels this shiver of hesitation— this tiny voice whispering maybe dead is better. Perhaps it’s because he is dead; maybe all those suffocating endocrine glands just aren’t up to the task of flooding his brain with the usual elixir of fear and desperation and survival-at-any-cost. Maybe being dead means never having to give a shit.

He does, though. His glands aren’t quite dead yet, not yet. He said yes.

He wonders if anyone, ever, hasn’t.

“Glory Hallelujah.” Cat proclaims, reaching offstage for some unseen control. And just before everything goes black:

“Welcome to the Zombie Corps.”

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday November 21 2016at 09:11 am , filed under fiblet . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Responses to “Welcome to the Zombie Corps”

  1. That’s a proper character introduction. Really immersive. Is that an excerpt from a new short story? Or a novel?

  2. Nice. I guess I would signup… given the circumstances. The 4 years ought to go by in a snap.

    >ghost shell

    That an intentional reference? 😉

  3. I have read a lot of your stuff and had wondered how they got people to submit to the Zombie Corps. This fills that in for me, quite nicely. Thanks.

    In the back of my mind I hear, “Four years…rrrright….”

  4. nice work. sounds like a good intro to a good yarn.

  5. Was recently wondering about an imaginary DEFZOM coffee table book as sidequel to the still imaginary vamp one. They’ll have to amend the old “heart can belong to Jesus, but…” saying.

    Hey, people, we got our fix. Not all of 2016 has to be bad.

  6. I can certainly see the angst-ridden blogging teenaged girl appeal in this one.

  7. Will this be for a game?

  8. Lukasz: Really immersive.

    I see what you did there. Short story. Set in the Consciousnundrum timeline.

    Nestor: That an intentional reference?

    More of an intentional resonance. As was the Creatures from the Bright Lagoon.

    Sheila:
    Will this be for a game?

    Nah. Just a standalone story. The only fiction I ever wrote with gaming explicitly in mind is the sunflowers stuff.

  9. I almost thought this was a Rifters continuation for a minute there.

  10. Iain Whitecastle,

    Its mentioned a few times across the two books and over here http://www.rifters.com/echopraxia/recruiter.htm

    When all you know is war or if you’re dead already why wouldn’t you take any chance given to you right

  11. Oh what a teaser you are Peter
    I want to know what happens next please

  12. I thought maybe it was going to be your Dan Brownish Superintelligent Squid novel. Pity it’s just a short story, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. :)

  13. Wonder why they even needed that “yes”, isn’t it much simpler to just catch somebody suitable for work alive and do brainwash than drag dead body through costly and long reanimation procedures? It doesn’t seem like there are ACLU and OSHA watching for rights of zombies.

  14. Just a pedantic quibble, but do you mean Defraction goggles or Diffraction goggles?

  15. Don Reba,

    It does seem sort of YA-ey, but if it were attached to anything bigger I’d expect it to go off the deep end and lose all but the nerdiest teens.

  16. Iain Whitecastle,

    In the back of my mind I hear, “Four years…rrrright….”

    Four years’ subjective time, just like it said in the fine print you didn’t have time to read because you were decomposing.

    Objective time… well, what’s a few decades here and there?

  17. omg you really ARE doing the zombie army thing…!
    Be interesting to see how it shakes out. The storytelling is stellar as yoosz (I think I’m going to dig up my old short story attempts and cry once more over their general shittiness, like I have many times before).

    Re akan / ashanti… those are more like demonyms? Or at least terms linguists like. Colloquially it’s twi or fante, but they might be less… storyesque. (And you’d have to explain how to say the first one, so yeah).

    Ooooh! Ya gotta have snatches of actual dialog! And then don’t translate it at all for the reader. They gotta be contextually guessed at, lol. Just like one or two lines! :-)

  18. Leona: Re akan / ashanti… those are more like demonyms? Or at least terms linguists like. Colloquially it’s twi or fante, but they might be less… storyesque. (And you’d have to explain how to say the first one, so yeah).

    Actually, I deliberately chose Ghana because I wanted to pick your brain. Expect a humble enquiring email.

  19. Good stuff. Want more. Ken Macleod is hot on your heels with his p-zombies. Just sayin’.

  20. Peter Watts: Actually, I deliberately chose Ghana because I wanted to pick your brain.Expect a humble enquiring email.

    If you ever need a brain to pick for Igbo characters (**ahem** Chinedu not Chinedum **ahem**) feel free to holler at me :)

  21. Yep, this is what I come here for.

    I respectfully request more.

  22. Peter Watts: Short story. Set in the Consciousnundrum timeline.

    The Consciousnundrum universe is the best. I wonder what happened to the Colonel’s cat, given the “Echopraxia” ending…

    BMK: Its mentioned a few times across the two books and over here http://www.rifters.com/echopraxia/recruiter.htm

    Yeah, that recruitment ad is brilliant. “I can be augmented and not end up looking like Gunther Hermann? Where do I sign?”

  23. In the spirit of the coming festivities: Please, sir, I want some more.

  24. More Wattsian goodness on the horizon I see. You’ve just made my day.

  25. Anyone know what this green mesh is supposed to do?

    A web of green light still wriggles dimly across the biosteel, but all the murderous energy has been bled out of it.

  26. I would like to know more as the commercial once asked.

  27. Peter Watts,
    All my 10 cent worth tidbits are belong to you.
    In fact were I not living in highly-overrated-but-totally-shit-in-actuality-city, you would be drowning in my “help” right now. Consider yourself extremely lucky.

    (Oh dear GOD I’ve got to get OUT of here).
    And now I’m late for work…

  28. Oge Nnadi,

    Laser, maybe? Green isn’t the best colour for underwater use, but i don’t think it is absorbed too quickly and it does seem to be cheap to make green lasers. The right-hand figure in the illustration (which is the flatbed sub from Abyss, unless I’m much mistaken) has a green light on their helmet, and the flare around it looks like it is supposed to be a laser.

    Not totally certain why you’d project a grid from a laser mounted to a divesuit, but it might let you quickly judge range and scale of a target by eye, no fancy electronics needed, or aim a weapon across an air/water interface (if it wasn’t sloshing around too much). Lets your buddies know where you’re aiming, too, so they’re less likely to get in the way (but that also applies to the things you’re shooting).

  29. Ivan Sakurada:
    Wonder why they even needed that “yes”, isn’t it much simpler to just catch somebody suitable for work alive and do brainwash than drag dead body through costly and long reanimation procedures? It doesn’t seem like there are ACLU and OSHA watching for rights of zombies.

    I’m guessing there are still i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed just in case someone launches a class-action suit on behalf of the zombs. Kind of like those 50,000-word terms of service you agree to every time you visit Amazon; nobody expects anyone to read them, but they cover all kinds of corporate ass.

    RichardW:
    Just a pedantic quibble, but do you mean Defraction goggles or Diffraction goggles?

    Defraction. It’s short for “de-refraction”.

    dhlight:
    Good stuff. Want more. Ken Macleod is hot on your heels with his p-zombies. Just sayin’.

    Shit. Never read him. And now I can’t because if I do, I may lose (as Orson Scott Card put it “the only Mozart-like element in my compositions.”

    Oge Nnadi: (**ahem** Chinedu not Chinedum **ahem**)

    Really? That was actually a fan’s name/handle which I tuckerised. So blame Chinedum.

    Oge Nnadi: Anyone know what this green mesh is supposed to do?

    That’s just wriggling ripple light reflections from the water’s surface. Me trying to be all metaphoric.

    A frequent complaint about my prose is that I was so metaphoric-lyrical I become opaque, and nobody actually knows what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe this is a case in point.

    Ru: The right-hand figure in the illustration (which is the flatbed sub from Abyss, unless I’m much mistaken) has a green light on their helmet, and the flare around it looks like it is supposed to be a laser.

    Good catch. I just photoshopped in the flare.

    You guys got off easy. For the longest time I kept trying to ‘shop disemboweled bodies into the foreground, but I could never get them to look as seamless as I hoped. Plus, somewhere along along the line, it occurred to me that taking pictures of actual dismembered bodies and dressing them up in divesuits for the sake of a fiblet illo might be a tad, you know, insensitive…

  30. You can put this in the references when it goes to print

    Creepy.

  31. Ivan Sakurada,

    Because it makes for a better short snippet?

  32. Oge Nnadi,

    Hehehehehehe. Actually, both Chinedu and Chinedum are correct. One means “God leads” and the other means “God is leading me.” In this case, Watts tuckerized a fan with the latter name.

    😀