Day 1 – Early Morning
There was grit behind my eyes as they blinked open. Something pressed heavily on my chest. The world around me was an alien lush green that I had only seen in pictures. A square patch of city sanctioned farmland was the closest thing I had seen to wild vegetation. My wrist was turned an awkward angle. I looked down to see a tan pack tumble from my chest as I took a deep breath. The lovechild of a leather bracer and an mp3 player was strapped to my left wrist. A small square in the upper right of the screen showed my heartbeat.
“Good morning, sunshine.” The message scrawled across the screen. “You have one hour before the zombies are released. Have fun.” The message was replaced with a map.
The word jogged my memory. Ten years ago the world ended. The dead didn’t exactly walk, but a mutant strain of rabies turned everyday people into homicidal machines that lived to spread the virus. Luckily, the resulting fever also cooked the majority of their survival instincts out of their brains. They didn’t have the sense to come out from the cold, or to stop when they had multiple gunshot wounds in the chest. After the first year the zombies weren’t much of a threat, three years in a new world was born. I had been thirteen when the first zombies started running around. I had lived, but I wasn’t one of the blessed few who didn’t have to worry about little things like eating and surviving the winter. There was one way anyone had a chance at living the dream, and that was entertainment.
One island full of zombies, four days, and thirty contestants.
Whoever survived got the prize. Each time it was something different, but one thing stayed the same. If you were the last one standing, you didn’t have to share.
I had a better chance at a good life in these next four days than I did if I spent the rest of my days as another pair of hands, or a strong back. The screen on my wrist was connected to a general server that my handler would use to feed me important information. It was a one-way connection, but if I won, they got a bonus.
The funny thing about the end of the old world was that after a couple years of the pilgrim way of life the technology came back in force with handheld computers, subdermal cellphones, and television screens as thin as paper that could stretch across an entire wall. Everything and everyone was online. Credits replaced cash in the end. Even the guys begging for change on the corner had a biometrically locked credstick. Wonderful things could be accomplished without labor laws and an unending sea of people desperate for credits.
I hadn’t ever been so bad off as to sign a contract with a tech company. Sure, it came with a room and a meal card but that fine print spelled out six eighteen hour days a week hunched over a table assembling gadgets.
Flying cars still weren’t a reality just yet and it was a lot cheaper to have some moron with a wrench changing tires than have it fully automated. I had been one of those morons, last year the entire crew chipped in and watched the big game in the shops lounge. Four days of struggle turned into a six hour block of edge of the seat action. We didn’t buy the pregame, that was just a string of sob stories and a training montage to get people invested. That was before the shop closed.
I wonder if the guys are watching now.
I sat up and opened the pack. It looked like something a kid would wear on the first day of school and was partially filled with basic survival gear: a knife, a pack of gauze with a small suture gun, an empty water bottle, and one fire starter that looked like a stick of shiny gravel. The knife was only sharp on one side and the blade was maybe three inches long. I needed to get to a supply point quick, or I’d be zombie chow.
The readout on my wrist showed three nearby points of interest, but only one was marked for weapons. I slipped the pack on as I stood. It pinched under my arms and made me feel like an idiot, but it wouldn’t slow me down just yet. The closest drop was off to the east. A few taps on my readout and I had a GPS point locked in on. My handler was on the ball.
My left foot slipped as a rushed forward. I righted myself before I tumbled arse over teakettle, but it was a noticeable gaff. The ground was covered in a thick moss and punctuated by a tangle of roots. Hopefully that wouldn’t be on the highlights for the day. There were cameras everywhere on the island, not to mention a couple of satellites trained on our little spot of paradise to capture everything worth watching, but the game wasn’t beamed out live. It was edited for content, meaning they removed the boring stuff in post.
Four days could lead to a lot of shots of huddled contestants as they slowly starved. Or, if the contestants screwed up, it could be one action packed day of thirty people failing to fight off a swarm of zombies. It was tragic, but the prizes rolled over when there wasn’t a winner. Last year had ended in a Mexican Standoff that no one walked away from, which meant that the pot this year was twenty million credits instead of the usual ten.
I checked my readout as I ran and grinned, a green arrow pointed straight ahead. As I ducked through a tangle of branches I wondered if the handlers last year had gotten paid. I pushed onward, the flat top of a cement shack pushed energy through my drug addled brain. They sedated the contestants before placement, that wasn’t part of the pregame that got any airtime.
It wasn’t something a sane person would do, but I dove through the final cluster of bushes. I had to make up for the slip earlier and if they were going to show something of my first day I wanted to look good. Stuff like that wouldn’t help you survive until the end, but if you did people would remember you.
I rolled as I dove, and came to a rest in a runners starting position. As I looked up I become instantly aware that I wasn’t alone. A startled man stood by the door to the squat cement shed. His closely cropped black hair was going white in the temples and he had a scar along the right side of his jaw. He was a good four inches taller than me, but I had at least ten pounds on him. It took me a moment to realize he wore the same faux-fatigues that I had on, they must have dressed us all the same to even the field.
“Woah, there.” He held out his hands in placation. “The first day ain’t one for bloodshed. I just want some supplies.”
He has the same pack as I do, not worth a ruckus.
“Okay.” I nod. “Open the door and let’s see what’s inside.”
I crossed my arms and waited.
“I’m Ross.” He tugged the door open.
“That’s a good name.”
“Thanks.” I stepped forward. “What do we have?”
Ross pulled out a thin green container shaped like a home plate. He unsnapped the top and pulled out a collapsible shovel.
“I think it’s called an entrenching tool.” Ross held it out to me.
“A shovel.” I took it from his grasp and looked into the shed.
There were stacks of MREs, a few bottles of water, and bigger pack piled in the center of the shack. The shovel clacked into place as I extended it. Ross furrowed his eyebrows as he eyed the shovel in my hands. The serrated edge could easily saw through flesh and bone instead of wood. I shrugged and put it down by the door.
“I’ll take your little pack if you want that one.”
Something metallic hit the floor as I pulled the backpack out from the pile. Ross and I looked down at the gun at the same time.
He lunged for it.
My foot flashed out and caught his shoulder. He stuttered back, but recovered quicker than I had expected. I couldn’t get to the gun without going through him. He was closer that I was, all I could do is keep him away from it.
In an inspired moment, I grabbed for the shovel. I gave a wild, one handed swipe. Impact sent an electric shock up my arm as the homerun swing stopped short. My eyes caught up with my arm a moment later. The shovel blade was lodged in the right side of his head just below his eye.
His left eye widened in shock as he started to speak gibberish.
“You could’ve survived this.” I yanked hard as gravity pulled him down.
I tasted bile in my mouth as the shovel came free of his skull. He twitched as I wiped the blade on his shirt. Something inside me switched off as I used the serrated edge to cut the straps to his bag free and transferred the contents to my small pack. I ignored the noise of him slowly dying as I loaded the supplies into the bigger pack. It fit nicely on my back, I kept the shovel out just in case I needed it again, but the gun came with a holster that clipped on my belt.
Ross had stopped making noises as I walked away. Once I was beyond the treeline I stopped to throw up.
29 contestant. Damn.