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Zombie Attack! (fiction)

Old Guy

Jr. Member
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Ch 1: An Unexpected Trip

"I don't get it," said Baker.  "Where are the show girls?  The guy said he'd have them here no later than nine-thirty."

A graying pack of men gathered in one corner of the casino.  It was after ten and some of them were already yawning on this, the first night of the Grand Canuck Army-ca Las Vegas Convention at the Grave Manor Mausoleum and Casino.  Few people moved on the casino floor.  In fact, no one was actually moving, except in the Army-ca corner. 

"I don't see no girls," growled Che.  "How much did you pay the guy?"

"Thirty-seven dollars and fifteen cents.  All I had.  Well, all I had except for my buffalo nickel.  I wouldn't ever part with that.  My old grandpa --"  Several Canucks began to groan.  "-- sorry, have I told this story before?"

Che gripped a nearby slot machine lever and gritted his teeth.  "No, you've not told that story more than -- oh -- FIVE HUNDRED TIMES!"  He released the lever, now bent like a pretzel, but still operating.  It rotated back.  The machine clunked and spat out two dollars in nickels. 

"Jeez," said Baker.  "A jackpot!  See if there's any buffalo nickels in that bunch.  You won't find any though . . ."

"Shut up!" yelled Che.  "Shut up!  Just shut up."  He gulped down a handful of blood pressure pills and tranquilizers.  None had any effect whatsoever.

A pale man in dandified evening dress approached the scratching, farting, yawning gaggle of old men.  "Is this the party requesting show girls?"

Baker elbowed Che.  "See?"  He rubbed his hands together.  "Now we'll see some action.  Bring on the babes!"

"Right this way, gentlemen."  The dandy led them toward a side room.

"Privacy!" trilled Baker.  "Oooooh, man!"  The Canucks filed into a dim room filled with padded chairs in a semi-circular arrangement, facing a small stage.  "Where's Mike?  He's missing out."

"He left with that big-chested brunette," said Monk.  "I don't think he's missing anything."

"Take your seat, gentlemen," intoned the pale dandy.  "The show will begin shortly."

The chairs proved to be very comfortable.  So comfy, in fact, that Lance nodded off right away.  Everyone settled down.  Three other parchment-faced men, all in fancy dress, brought in a round of Rolling Rock.

"Man," said Earl.  "This is the life."

"Bring of the babes!" cried Baker.  He drank off half a beer and belched.  "Everybody be suave and debo -- uh, deebo -- be cool with the chicks."  His face became suddenly serious.  Men in nearby chairs leaped to their feet and moved away.  A drawn-out rush of gas ended with a thunderous boom.  The fabric on his chair began to flake away.  "Sorry.  That's gonna stink."  He took another drink and sat grinning.

"For God's sake, nobody light a match," warned Duey.

Curtains at the back of the stage twitched aside and the pale dandy stepped into view.  All the Canucks scrambled back to their seats, regardless of the environmental hazard.

"Gentlemen," he began.  His voice sounded like a deep-toned bell ringing in a distant valley.  Like a preacher reading over the casket of a confirmed sinner.  Like Monk declaiming on the history and traditions of the Old Army.

"That guy looks like a corpse," murmured Slim. 

"Yeah," said Lance.  "Reminds me of my first wife."

The dandy gave no sign of hearing the remarks.  "Tonight we have a special treat for you.  Gentlemen, I give you --"  He swept his arms out wide.  "-- the Zombies!"

"Zombies?" muttered the Canucks.  "What'n hell's goin' on?"

Pale men wearing plaid robes stepped through doors on either side of the chamber.  Each carried a large-barreled weapon.  The barrels were trained on the Canucks.  None of the lads moved a muscle.

The dandy clapped his hands.  "You have been selected for a special task."

Slim leaned toward Duey.  "I told you it was a mistake to book this trip at Halloween."

"Quiet!" snarled the dressy bastard.  "You fools are the last hope of Earth!"

"Then Earth's done for," laughed Che.  His meds were finally kicking in.  "Get on with the show.  We ain't got all night."

"Ah," hissed the dandy, his eyes flaring orange.  "But you do.  You have plenty of time to save mankind.  A week."

Monk put his beer down and clapped.  "Nice special effects, eh, guys?"

One of the men in the plaid robes screeched an eldritch word.  Weird green light flooded from the big-barreled weapons.  As the light touched each Canuck, that man ceased to move.  In seconds, the attack was over.  Pale-face leaned down in front of Monk.  "Nice special effects, eh?"  He motioned to the robed men and spoke in the screeching tongue.  They bowed and trudged out of the room.

Frozen in a strange stasis, the Army-ca conventioneers watched as blue walls rose up around them.  They could see, think, breathe, fear -- but not move so much as a sphincter muscle.  Baker began to bloat up.

An interlude of uncertain duration dragged by on leaden pseudopods.  Tiny squeaks of gas vented, in spite of the stasis field.  In fact, the field interacted with the raw methane, enhancing its stench.  Frozen men blinked seared eyeballs, nose hairs withered.  Then, with a clap of thunder, the stasis field twisted on itself and expired.  Baker's gaseous emissions were too much for it.

None in the room felt any immediate gratitude.  The dying stasis field had wrenched them around mightily and the lingering gas made speech impossible.  Breathing had to be done in a shallow, slow manner, so as not to damage lung tissue.  In the course of ten minutes or so, the stench faded.

"What do we do now?" croaked Monk.

"Get outta this joint!" cried Slim.  His idea was an instant hit.  The lads stampeded toward different doors.

"This way," someone shouted.  "No!  This way, you idiot!" suggested another.  All the doors remained stolidly closed, indifferent to their vile threats and whimpered pleas.

The congregation clumped together in front of the small stage.  Monk smacked his palm with a clenched fist.  "Owww," he sniveled, cradling the wounded hand.  "I say we jump the first Zombie that comes through the door."

"Good idea," agreed Earl.

Baker looked up from his position across the room.  The others had driven him there in a vain attempt to mitigate the effects of his emissions.  "Them Zombie guys will have guns."

"Yeah," smirked Lance.  "But they can't get us all.  We jump the first one through the door."

"Which door?" asked Duey, shuffling around so he could follow one or more of his companions toward any entering Zombie.  The brains of the outfit, he decided, should not be in the forefront of action.

Before much else could be decided, the curtains at the back of the stage were swept aside and a sawed-off, six-legged weasel looking creature waddled in, claws scrabbling as it crossed the floor.  All the Canucks fell back in dismay -- except Baker, of course.  He was already at the back of the room.

"Earthlings!" rasped the thing.  "I, Floxx, greet you in the name of the Imperial Senate!"

"A talking weasel," muttered Che.  He made a mental note to check the dosages on his meds and to refrain from alcoholic beverages for the next hour or so.

"Not a weasel," said Floxx, baring his teeth.  "A werecat, from the planet Engine Failure."  Fellow werecats would correctly interpret the toothy expression as meaning 'move or die!', but the humans took it as a smile.

"Engine Failure?" muttered Earl.  "What kind of mad nightmare are we in?"

Floxx assured them their predicament was no dream.  "Real nightmares are found on Green Hell.  Even werecats won't go there unless sentenced by a court of law -- and then only if forced."  The Canucks responded with blank nods.

"There isn't much time," said the werecat.  "I'll try and explain what's going on and what will happen next."

Che made a disparaging noise.  "What happens next, skunk-cat, is that you open these damned doors and let us out!"  He raised a clenched fist.  "Right, lads?"  Che's 'skunk-cat' remark was occasioned by the twin white stripes decorating the back of Floxx's otherwise gloss black mane.

"Right!" chorused the other Canucks.  They turned to one another, each trying to out-shout his neighbor in the manner of disturbed flocks everywhere.

The werecat did something with a device he held in one front paw.  Both side doors slid open, revealing a vast blackness studded with tiny pinpricks of light.  The flock fell silent.

"The force field keeping your worthless carcasses in this chamber can be turned off if you wish," snarled Floxx.  He held up the control device.  "What is your verdict?  I can leave the way I came in and shut off the force field if you wish.  Or, we can all relax over a cold beer and discuss this like rational predators."

The gaggle fell silent and slipped back into their seats.  Baker was warned to remain at the back.  Floxx agreed with that alteration.  "I'll have a chair brought in for you," he assured the human stink bomb.  "Along with a some air fresheners."

"It's not my fault," sniveled the aggrieved gas machine.  "My wife is always feeding me stuff that causes stomach disorder."

"Yeah," murmured Monk.  "Like plain water."  Spirits restored, the lads had a good laugh at Baker's expense.  Beer arrived, via a delivery chute beside a door, along with cigars, chips and dip, and a box of pine-scented air fresheners.  Baker received a chair, booze and his own supply of chips.  Somewhat mollified, munching chips and swilling cheap beer, he perched at the back, festooned with little green cardboard pine trees.

"As I was saying," rasped Floxx, "as the challenging party, the Zombies had the right to select the challenged party's representatives."  He clasped his front paws behind his back and scrabbled back and forth on the stage.  "I'm going to introduce a bill into the Imperial Senate next session, changing the procedures somewhat.  In choosing you lot, the Zombies have taken unfair advantage, I think, of the entire challenge process."

"Pardon, sir werecat," said Lance.  "But what is this 'challenge' process all about."  Lance was always jumping in three steps ahead of things, muddling the conversation.  His childhood had presented an insurmountable trial for his mother, who eventually gave him to the gypsies.  But that's another story.

"Any planet can challenge another planet for various rights and privileges," said Floxx, not particularly upset by the interruption.  The question would have come up sooner or later anyway.  "Earth is open to challenge because of your lack of progress as a so-called sentient species."

"Ah -- ," Earl held up a hand.  "Sentient?"

"Intelligent.  Capable of rational thought.  By definition, a carnivore or omnivore.  Plant eaters never get above the herd stage."  Again, white teeth flashed.  "Fortunate for us steak lovers, eh?"  An appreciative wave of laughter greeted his remark.

"But what have we failed to do, in proving sentience?" asked Duey, proud of his use of the word 'sentience' in a sentence.

Floxx paused to relight his cigar.  "Most sentient species invent the Qua-coil and figure out how to control gravity sometime after they manage to smelt iron and before the invention of the microwave oven."  He blew a cloud of smoke out over the gang.  "Obviously, you haven't done it yet."

"What's a Quagoil drive?" asked Monk.

"Qua-coil."  Floxx spelled it out.  "It's the power source and drive mechanism for this ship.  The fields generated by the Qua-coil provide the gravity in this chamber and shield us from the rigors of deep space."

Baker choked on his beer.  "We're on a ship?"

"You are.  A beat-up cargo ship hired by the Zombies for the purpose.  Nothing fancy."

Various foreign emotions chased around the Canuck skulls.  Most, having little experience with such things as 'feelings,' simply shrugged and popped the top on another beer.  Duey, however, had once been forced to attend a seminar on a sissy concept called 'commitment.'  Fear pulsed in his frontal lobes, bounced around in the hollow spaces and came out: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

Monk thwacked him with an empty bottle.  Duey sagged to one side.  "Never mind him," said Monk.  "He's been a little off his nut lately."

"More beer for the rest of us," observed Che, deftly twisting the top off a bottle.

Slim drained a beer and mopped the spillage off his face with Lance's shirt tail.  He belched.  "So, guv'nor, we've been hijacked into deep space and are being taken . . . where?"

"To the old Senate Coliseum and Dodgeball court.  You will engage in simulated combat with a select group of Zombies.  The winner gets Earth.  The losers go into stasis."

Earl frowned.  "Um -- stasis -- sounds sort of static.  Sort of permanent."

"It is," agreed Floxx.  "Permanent, I mean.  No race has ever come back from stasis.  But it could happen -- bound to happen, I suppose, sometime in the life of the Universe."

Monk chuckled.  "Ha-ha.  Funny.  Everyone on Earth going into stasis?  That would be a pretty big bundle of stiffs."  Other Canucks laughed along with him, but a nameless dread hovered behind the giggles.

Floxx didn't join in the gaiety.  "A sentient being is placed in stasis as a kernel of energy.  The inhabitants of an entire planet can be compressed into a shape that looks quite like an ice cube."  Now he laughed.  "In fact, some people believe that previous cultures, having been placed in stasis, are often mistaken for ice and used to cool highballs at Imperial Institute social gatherings.  Nonsense, I'm sure."

Nervous laughter dribbled around the room.  Baker whined and cuddled his beer.

Lance leaped in with another of his famous questions.  "Ah -- , Mr. Floxx, why do Zombies look like dead people?"

"What would you expect zombies to look like?" asked Earl.  "Bagpipes?"

The werecat gaped at Earl.  "How did you know?"

"Know what?"

"What Zombies really look like.  How did you know?"

"Ah . . ."  Earl wrinkled his brow, trying to think.  "Zombies look like bag pipes?"

"Indeed they do.  But few people know that."

"Lucky -- ," began Earl, then corrected himself.  "Just something I read somewhere.  I do read, you know."  No one noticed that outright falsehood, because they were too taken with the idea of Zombies as bag pipes.

Floxx went along with it.  "Yes -- well, be that as it may -- Zombies do look like bag pipes.  They appear human to your eyes because they've taken that shape in order to play at zombies."  His gaze swept the uncomprehending crew.  "Some years ago the Bag Pipe People, as they were known, became enamored of ancient 2D motion pictures recounting the exploits of zombies on Earth.  They took up the cult of zombie-hood immediately."

"But those things are all fiction!" protested Che.  He once zealously attended every zombie movie made.  Girls, he found, tended to fling themselves at their male companion when zombies filled the movie screen.  Since few young females would allow him closer than ten feet in any other circumstances, he took a lot of them to zombie flicks.

"Of course they're fiction," said Floxx.  "So what?  The Bag Pipe People found a shape and religion they liked better than their old Bag Pipe Goddess, so they became Zombies."

"But why do they want Earth?" asked Duey, now awake again and crunching chips.

"They think of it as Zombie Home, plus their own world is all torn up, what with all the ceremonial burials and tearing up of the soil caused by the undead rising out of the ground.  The whole place looks like a badly plowed field."

"Well . . ."  Baker looked serious and thoughtful, as if about to fart.  Surprising all his fellow Canucks, he said, "What gives these Zombies any right to Earth?"

"You haven't proven to be a sentient species," said Floxx.  "Non-sentient types can be challenged for rights to their females, their beer supply, for specified mineral supplies, and, of course, for their planet."

Che dredged something out of his vast store of knowledge.  "Zombies usually go for the women.  Especially those with nice knockers."

"Yeah," agreed Monk.  "I've never been able to figure that out."

"The ones with nice knockers are more fun," explained Che, as if to a child.

"No.  I mean, why do they go for the women at all?  What use has a zombie for a female?"

"To make them into the undead, of course," sneered Che.  "Didn't you ever see any of the movies?"

"Nah," said Monk.  "I never had any trouble getting women."

Che's face reddened.  He remembered, too late, that zombies went after anyone.  The undead don't care who they make into more undead.  It was HE that liked the females with big knockers.  For perhaps the millionth time he resolved to Keep His Big Mouth Shut.

"The usual challenge is for beer," said Floxx.  "But the Zombies want Zombie Home and they're teetotalers anyhow."  He flashed his ersatz smile.  "Another sign that they may not really be sentient themselves."  Polite chuckles all around.

The werecat motioned for quiet.  "That brings us to the choice of weapons.  Simulated weapons, of course.  The challenged party chooses.  That's you."

"How 'bout a cook-off?" chirped Baker.  Astonished silence met his suggestion.

"I think Baker meant cooking as in grilling steaks," said Monk.

"No.  I mean like making salads and flower arrangements and . . ."  Baker's voice trailed off.  "Uh -- or maybe not."

"We're all pretty familiar with simulated air combat," said Duey.  "I'll bet Zombies don't know the first thing about air war."  An excited babble greeted his suggestion.  Baker sighed with relief.  Maybe no one would remember his slip of the tongue.

Soon they reached agreement.  Air combat.  Then they had to decide on the situation to be used in the simulation.

"1944, Pacific," said Monk.  "F4U Corsairs."

There was some disagreement, but after Monk held his breath and pitched a tantrum it was decided that, as usual, he would get his way.

"Now," said Earl.  "What will the Zombies fly?"

"Zeros," said Monk.  He held his breath again.

"The choice has to be competitive and historically possible," said Floxx.  "As impartial Senate representative, I have to make that choice."  He watched as Monk turned blue, then purple and finally passed out and began breathing again.  "My decision can be altered by suitable compensation paid into my off-planet account."

"But, that doesn't sound impartial," objected Duey.

"I'm also a Senator, with heavy expenses, a demanding mistress and lots of hangers-on."

"Right.  I understand," said Slim.  "I wish I had a mistress and maybe a hanger-on or two."

"I'm thinking a Zero would be the most correct aircraft for the Zombies," mused Floxx.  "But there are other choices.  The Ki-84 Frank, for instance.  Four 20mm cannon, if I recall correctly.  Fast.  Not as agile as your Corsair, I think."

Monk's eyes popped open.  He scrambled to his feet.  "Not the Frank!  Not the Frank!"

"The Ki-84 is the perfect choice," said Floxx.  "Unless I hear the pleasant swish-swish of credits piling up in my account."

"Slime-ball," muttered Che.  The werecat grinned and executed a credible bow.

"At your service, sir.  A Senator has certain standards to maintain."

"I wish Mike were here," whined Baker.

The grin faded from Floxx's chops.  "Is this Mike a friend of yours?"

"Some friend," complained Slim.  "Went off with a bimbo and left us on our own."

"Yeah.  And look where we ended up," added Earl.  "He'd like it here."

"I'd wonder about him," said Duey, "if he'd stayed with us in lieu of a bimbo."

Floxx resumed his pacing.  "This -- um, Mike.  Does he bear any resemblance to the chap in this image?"  He handed over a Tri-D pad.

Slim eyed the figure in the display.  "That's him.  Younger, though.  Who’s the floozie?"

"A woman at the court of the Pharaoh," said Floxx.  He seemed distracted.  "I forget which Pharaoh."

Earl took the pad and whistled.  "Look at the superstructure on that one!  Well, he does like 'em healthy."  He handed the pad back to Floxx.  "That's him all right.  But what was he doing with a singing group?"

The werecat tucked the pad away.  "What?  No, not a singing group.  Never mind."

"Imagine," said Monk.  "The Imperials have a wanted poster out on Mike."

"He's not wanted!" snapped the werecat.  "I can't have him showing . . ."  He hissed through clenched teeth. "It's not important.  I've made up my mind.  Owing to a lack of fiscal persuasion on your part -- the Zombies will be flying the Ki-84 Frank.  May the best species win!"

"Hey!" cried the Canucks.  Floxx ambled toward the back of the stage.  "Hey!" repeated the gang.  "That's not fair!"

"Fair is for losers!" snarled Floxx.  "You'll be given time to learn the simulation when we arrive.  Then it's a fight to the finish!"  He vanished behind the curtain.

"Jeez," muttered Baker.  "What a skunk."

Duey took out his cell phone.  "Anyone have Mike's number?"

"Put that thing away!" yelled Che.  "We're on a space ship in the middle of everywhere!  There's no service!"

Duey held his phone up so Che could see it.  "Wrong.  Somebody give me the number."  Slim handed over his little black book. 

"I think it's under 'B' for bastard."

"Man!" said Baker.  "I'm sure glad I didn't give that creep at the casino my Buffalo Nickel.  I ever tell you guys about my nickel?"

"Shut up!" screeched Che.  "Shut up!  Shut up!"

"Quiet!" ordered Duey.  "It's ringing."

Ch 2: Shark Island

The Sim Chamber was dark and dusty, with odd bits of electronics peering out of the corners and tangled around support beams.  Lights blinked, displays flashed streams of numbers, gizmos chirped.  It was a geek's paradise.

One of the resident Geeks, a low, sinuous metal and plastic thing with six legs and numerous spindly arms, led them on a quick tour of the place.  The creature moved in an undulating fashion.  One could almost hear the rasp of scales.

It spoke in a sibilant hiss.  "Your podsss."  One arm indicated a pair of man-sized, round chambers with clamshell doors.  The interior of the pods looked horribly mechanical.

"Not worry, citizensss.  Helmetsss ssset for humanoidsss."

"Bloody hell!" exclaimed Slim.  "Where are the controls?  The display screens?"

One metal arm leaped out, grabbed his hand.  "Controlsss."  Another arm tapped his forehead.  "Displaysss."

"Oh, man," whined Baker.  "I don't feel so good."

"Me neither," moaned Lance.  "Can I wake up now, please, please, please?"

"Zombiesss," murmured the Geek.  "For Zombiesss we drill connectionsss.  Not for humansss."

"Thank God for that," muttered Che.  "But the inside of that pod looks creepy."

"Pod grassspsss humansss -- enfoldsss humansss.  Not harmsss.  Not harmsss."

Monk stood to one side, face pale -- probably from lack of oxygen.  His repeated tantrums had moved Floxx not at all.  "Any word from Mike?"

Duey shook his head.  "We ain't been ten feet apart for the last two days, Monk.  You'll know when he calls."

"Has your battery gone dead?" asked Slim.  "Maybe the phone battery is dead."

"The battery is fine.  I just checked it ten minutes ago -- the last time you asked."

"Okay, man.  Okay."  Slim looked at the pods with horror.  "I'm just a little nervous."

"Who isss firssst?  For practissss?"

Earl exhibited his usual lack of foresight and stepped forward.  "I'll go.  Who's going with me?  Duey?"

Seeing no way to refuse, Duey handed his phone to Slim.  "If Mike calls, don't make any promises we can't keep."  He approached the pod indicated by the Geek.  "What do we do?  I mean, how do we run these things?"

"Inssside.  Pod will teach.  Sssit down.  Helmetsss on."

Duey slid into a contour seat molded into the all-encompassing liner of the pod.  The seat moved and slid, adjusting to his shape.  The Geek guided his hands into gloves.  Again, the material molded itself to his fingers.  He suppressed a desire to scream, knowing he'd never be able to stop once the impulse forced its way out.  A helmet slid easily into place.

Pod material moved over his form.  For an instant, gibbering claustrophobia had him in its grip.  Then . . . the sim took him.

Hot, wet air blew off the distant lagoon.  Blue water winked beyond rustling palms.  Coral crunched underfoot.  The wind tugged at his baseball cap.  Duey stopped and turned full circle.  Sun, low in the sky.  Morning.  He knew it without knowing how.  Palms lined either side of a long white runway.  Dirty blue airplanes lurked back under the trees, parked between rows of stacked fuel drums.  The drums were full of sand.  His hands flexed.  He'd helped fill those barrels.

Another man walked across the runway and stopped a few feet away.  "Christ Jesus, Duey!  Reality is a bad copy of this place!"

"Earl!  Look at you!"

"Yeah."  Earl pulled off his ball cap and ran a hand through his hair.  "I ain't had this much hair in years."

"Come on, you clowns!"  The voice came from behind Duey.  He turned.  A tanned man in worn khakis stood in front of a tent marked Ops - VMF-124.  "Inside!  Briefing!"

The two pilots followed him inside.  He stopped in front of a large scale map tacked to a sheet of plywood.  "Simple mission this morning.  Just to get you new guys on track."  He paused and glanced around.  "I know it's been rough, having to help the crews get the new airstrip up and running.  But we didn't have planes for you until this morning anyhow."

Duey remembered then.  Captain Smith, Operations Officer.  Other names plunked into place.  The unit CO was Major Benson.  He'd only seen him the first day.  He and Earl had reported in as 124 left their old strip at Kolumboogiea-something and moved here, to Shark Island.  The last few days seemed a whirlwind of movement, construction work and frenzied activities of all sorts.  But that was all over.  Now he had a plane.

Smith explained the mission.  "Our call sign will be Hotdog.  We'll depart west, climb over the field to 5,000.  Then straight north to Graves Reef."  He touched the map.  "It's a triangular set of small islands.  The airstrip is on the northwest angle.  We'll strafe the field, then loop around to the right and hit any flak guns on the other sides.  One run on the strip, one on the guns.  Keep your eyes open for Nips.  Franks, mostly."

Duey heard himself repeating the attack plan.  "One on the strip, one for the guns."

Smith laughed.  "There's a good rule.  Never re-attack someplace you've stirred up!  We do it anyway, when we have overwhelming force, but that ain't today."  He stepped back.  "Write down the headings and frequencies.  Then let's go to your planes."

A silent corporal in ragged cut-off pants and boondockers drove them down the strip to their birds.  Duey stepped from the jeep and walked to his Corsair.

Oil streaked the fuselage sides.  At one time, the machine had been blue, possibly with a lighter shade underneath.  Now she sported an exhaust-blackened belly, a finish laden with boot-borne grit, patched and primered repair splotches, streaks of corrosion and a host of mystery markings.

From the massive propeller to the weathered tail assembly, she exuded power and menace.  Oil dripped into the crushed coral.  She stank of fuel, gun lubricant, sweat and death.  Duey breathed in the stink of her and fell in love.

Smith was talking.  ". . . plane captain is Dutch.  Dutch!  Get your ass over here!"

Dutch, a ragged specimen in boondockers and the remains of a coverall, spat to one side and jumped down from the left wing.  He nodded to Smith.  "New pilot fer me, sir?"

"Yeah.  Meet Ensign Duey.  Walk him around your crate.  Is she ready to go?"

"Sheeit, yeah.  Me 'n Dortman did a engine change yestiddy.  Lieutenant Crane took her out at first light.  Said she done okay."  Duey knew Crane was the Engineering Officer.

Smith called to Earl and the pair walked on down the flight line.  Duey followed Dutch around his new bird.  They pushed and pulled on control surfaces, opened panels and did all those things she liked before flight.  Duey understood the protocol.  Dutch owned the plane.  He, Ensign goddamn Duey, rented it from the plane captain.  The rental fee was dead Japs.  Eleven Rising Sun flags decorated her side.  His job was to add more.

Finally, he was in the cockpit, touching levers, knobs, switches -- going through the routine he'd perfected during training in the States and back at Pearl.  He heard a jeep slide to a stop on the coral.  The driver yelled, "Dutch!  Captain says to crank 'er up!"

He forgot it was a sim.  The sweat and stink and wind reached into his head and switched off everything but HERE and NOW.  As he checked his straps and adjusted the map board on his knee, he drank in the bark of the big Pratt & Whitney.  The big plane vibrated and shook and moved around him -- a cacophony of metallic voices.  He must learn those sounds.  She would speak to him through the voices.  If he didn't listen, she'd kill him.  Might do it anyway, just out of female spite.  He listened to her gossip and felt a prickle of fear. 

Dutch waved him out onto the coral.  As he braked around to follow the others, his plane captain gave him a thumbs-up, then spat tobacco juice into the weeds.  It kind of took the shine of his first venture into the cauldron of combat.

Earl and another pilot Duey hadn't met took off first.  They were Hotdog 3 and 4.  He and Smith rolled a few seconds later -- Hotdog 1 and 2.  Gear up.  Flaps up.  Engine controls.  He trimmed for a climb and followed Smith in a circuit of Shark Island.  Duey left the hood cracked open.  The air wasn't cool, but at least it was moving.

Down below, at each tip of the island, he could see slim shapes in the water.  Sharks.  Right off the ends of the runway.  The bastards knew where food might be found.

They flew to Graves in a loose finger-four formation.  Duey rehearsed his procedures, touching controls, checking switches.  Memories floated up.  Gunnery practice.  Air-to-air tactics.  For a moment he drifted between the real Duey and Ensign Duey.  The mental images were disconcerting.  He could recall near-death experiences in training, bar-room brawls, standing formation in the hot sun, and a weekend with a blonde named Rita. 

He shook his head and stared at the instrument panel.  Some gauges were missing and one or two didn't work.  To his right a patch of ragged metal covered in fresh paint hinted at violence.  Panels and parts worn down to bare metal spoke more clearly of hard use.

Smith started down about twenty miles south of Graves Reef.  Hotdog 3 and 4 fell back.  Duey eased into position 500 yards behind and a little to the left of Hotdog 1.  Smith leveled at 200 feet and picked up the pace.  Small islands flashed by on the right.  Graves came into view through the sea haze. 

"Well, lookee here."  Duey couldn't identify the voice.  He checked his six.  Two Corsairs in trail -- nothing else.  Left and right -- nothing.  Then he saw Smith's plane turning left and climbing.  Graves grew closer.  Smith turned right.  Smoke streamed in his wake.  Frantic, Duey searched the sky ahead.  There!  Flames blossomed well in front of Hotdog 1. 

"Scratch one Frank."  Now he recognized Smith's voice.  The stricken enemy plane nosed into the sea and cartwheeled into a fountain of spray.  Hotdog 1 called again.  "Heads up, Hotdogs.  I see one rolling on the runway and three parked to the right."

Things started to happen very quickly.  Smith nosed down and fired at the taxiing fighter, which appeared to have just landed.  Duey spotted the planes on the right and lined up on them.  Tracers the size of basketballs zipped over his canopy.  He flinched to one side.  A single thump sounded from aft.  The beach slid by.  More tracers arced up from the left, falling away behind his bird.  Nose down, he dove for the parked aircraft.  Men sprinted across his field of view.  He squeezed the trigger.  The rippling crash of his fifties jarred him.  Bullets struck in front of the first plane and walked forward.  The targets loomed closer.  Too close!  He hauled back on the stick, zooming above the palms.

Tracers criss-crossed above his canopy.  Too high!  Jesus!  He pitched forward, leveling just above the trees.  In an instant he was over the water again.  Hotdog 1 angled to the right.  Duey followed.  One after the other, they sprayed the palms lining the beach on the island lying east of the central lagoon.  He saw no targets and no return fire came up.

Then they were over the water, heading south.  Hotdog 1 began a climb, making a slow turn to the east.  "Any Hotdogs hit?"

"Ah -- something hit Two.  In the tail."

"Roger, Two.  Any problems?"

"No.  Negative.  Seems okay."

"Okay, Hotdogs, let's take it upstairs.  Keep your eyes peeled for Mr. Frank."

"Two."  "Three."  "Four."

The trip back was uneventful.  Landing presented no surprises.  Duey felt as if he'd done it a hundred times before.  He taxied back to the parking area and shut down.  As the big prop windmilled to a stop, he unbuckled and climbed down.  Dutch stood waiting.

"Any hits, sir?"

"In the back, I think."  They walked back and studied the tail section.

"There," said Dutch, pointing at a neat hole punched in the vertical fin.  "12.7mm, I bet.  Nothin' to hit there but sheet metal.  I'll patch 'er up, no problem.  You get any Nips?"

"On the ground.  Two or three."  Duey blinked.  He remembered a flare of fire as he passed over his targets.  "At least one was burning."

"Awright!"  Dutch spat into the dust.  "Let's push 'er back, sir."

Duey leaned into the wing.  The tire began to rotate.  A strange lethargy stole over him.  The light faded to gray, then black. 

He stared up at the looming Geek.  "Aaaaaaahhh!"

"Calm ssself.  Calm.  Practisss endsss."

Metal and human hands helped him out of the pod.  He stared around, eyes wide.  "God!  I wasn't ready to come back!"  He sagged to the floor.

"It's okay, man," said Che.  "We watched on the monitor.  Looked cool as hell."

Duey cradled his head, listening as Earl was dragged from his pod.  "I wanna go back!  No!  It's too soon.  Lemme go!"

Someone handed each man a beer.  Earl grinned at Duey.  "That was a blast!  Those Zombies don't stand a chance!"  He rubbed at his scalp.  "And I had hair!"

Duey nodded.  "Yeah, but . . . damn!  What am I going to tell my wife?"

"Tell?"  Earl glanced around.  "Tell her about what?"

"About the blonde.  Rita.  And the weekend in San Diego." 

Ch 3: Canucks at the Charge

"Respawn!" cried Che.  "Respawn!  Respawn!"

Monk and Duey dragged the struggling Canuck out of his pod.  He continued to struggle and call for respawning.

"Can't do it, Cobra-me-lad," said Duey.  "Just be glad they're not keeping us in stasis between flights."  It took two beers and a shot of whiskey to quiet Che.

When he could talk more or less coherently, Earl asked him what happened.  "We only saw part of the action.  You were chasing a Frank."

"Yeah."  Che chugged the last of his beer.  "My element leader was knocking pieces off a Nip.  I was trying to stay with him, y'know.  Upside down, turning, diving -- man, we were tearing up the sky!  Then, just as he sawed the wing off the Frank, my Corsair blew up."

"Blew up?"  Earl frowned.  "How?"

"Another Nip, I guess.  I was rolling hard left when the world turned to noise and bright lights.  Next thing I know, me and my R-2800 are falling toward the ocean.  I was still holding the throttle lever.  Just the lever.  I tossed it away and pulled my ripcord.  End of story.  None of you guys saw what happened?"

"No," said Duey.  "It went too fast.  The Geeks won't run any replays.  I'm not sure why."

Che cracked open another beer.  "At least the beer ain't running short."

"Monk will be done in a few minutes," said Earl.  "Who's up next?"

Duey pointed to a lump in one corner.  "Baker.  He's the last one.  I better wake him up."

"Keep your distance," warned Earl.  "He's been at the beer nuts and pickled eggs."


Baker laughed out loud as the big fighter accelerated down the runway.  It was just like the others had described.  Shark Island, the palm trees, the ocean -- the whole scene was REAL, with no sim feel to it at all.

He could see the lead Corsair, Vixen 1, black against the morning haze.  Palms whipped by on either side.  The tail came up.  Something dark and fast went by on his right, just above the trees.  "Ah -- Vixen --."  Tracers cleaved the sky.  Black smoke streamed from Vixen 1.  In an eye blink, Baker's element leader vanished in a fountain of flame and white water.

"Aaaaahh!"  As the end of the coral strip sped closer, Baker glanced back.  A quick burst of tracers tore overhead.  Smoke and fire boiled back along the runway.  His plane lifted off.  He jerked around in the seat, hands pawing at the controls.  Gear up.  Flaps up.  Where was the other Jap plane? 

Some semblance of sanity returned.  He turned right and searched the sky.  Nothing.  Back on Shark Island a gout of orange fire and black smoke marked the end of whatever and whoever had attacked him.  He hoped no one on the ground had been hurt -- or worse.

Now he could see another plane, just above the water on the far side of the island, moving very fast.  A Frank -- no doubt.  The Japs had caught them on the roll.  Nothing could be seen of Vixen 1 except a thinning skim of smoke over the sea.  Baker tore his eyes away from that scene and began turning left.  He needed space to build up speed.

The Frank popped out from behind Shark Island, crossing close to the far end of the strip.  Fitful bursts of flak trailed behind the drab fighter. 

Baker was at 700 feet, angling away from the enemy plane.  "That goddamn thing is fast!" he said, to no one in particular.  Stuffing the nose down, he swung to face his attacker. 

Too close!  The Japanese plane tucked under him.  Baker kept the nose down and let the Corsair have its head.  Behind him, the Frank began a climbing left turn.  Both planes were going too fast for hard maneuvering.  Baker stayed level and turned right, aiming for the island.  Maybe the flak gunners could distract the Japanese pilot.

His opponent curved around and approached from the far side of the island.  The Nip rolled inverted and pulled into a shallow dive.  Baker stayed low, pulling hard as he crossed the airstrip.  Guns pounded along the beach.  Tracers lanced toward the Frank.  Fighting to stay conscious, Baker dragged the nose of his Corsair up and over. 

Unfazed by the ground fire, the Japanese pilot snapped upright and started a loop.  But Baker was already a quarter way through his own loop.  Upside down, grunting against the g-forces, he fired as the Frank tried to roll out of way.  Too late.  Tracers from Baker's six fifties filled the sky ahead of and then across the Japanese fighter.  In a burst of smoke and fire, it was all over.

"Jesus!" exclaimed Baker.  He throttled back and scanned the sky.  No other aircraft could be seen.  The scene went gray, then black.

"I got him!  I got him!"  The Geek gently pulled him from the pod.  His fellow Canucks were nowhere to be seen.  Then he saw them, crowded against the back wall.

"Stay back!" exclaimed Monk, as Baker started toward them.  "Stay there."  He waved an ineffectual hand.  "Pickled eggs!  Stay there until it clears out a little, for pity's sake."

"I got the bastard," said Baker.

"No bastardsss in next sssesssssion," hissed the Geek.  "Zombiesss only."

Baker cracked open a fresh beer.  "No sweat.  I'll fix those bad boys too."

"Maybe Zombiesss fix humansss.  Yesss?"

"Not a chanssss, Mr. Geek.  Zombiesss get ssshit ssscattered."  Baker giggled and snorted at hisss own sssilly-asssssed jokesss.

Ch 4: The Duel

The Geek led them to a large, high-ceiling chamber.  Seven pods were arranged along one wall.  Opposite the pods and behind a clear divider the Canucks could see strange creatures occupying an array of spectator areas.  One group sported slender, scaled bodies and darted around in tanks of pinkish liquid.  Beings of organic and mechanical construction clustered in another spot.  Many of those were not good to look upon.

Floxx met them in front of the pods.  "Welcome, Canucks.  I trust your training was adequate?  The food good?  Any complaints?"

Earl and Monk grabbed Che.  "Lemme at him!  Lemme strangle the skunk-weasel!"

"Our friend thinks you've double-crossed us," said Duey.  "He believes the contest will be rigged in some fashion."

"Moi?  Lie, cheat and steal?  Like a human?"  The werecat chortled.  He lit a slim, black cigarillo and blew a long plume of smoke.  He glanced at the Geek.  "Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Zombies have trained just like you have.  Except the Geeks had to drill them for sensory attachments."

"My gut tells me you're lying," said Duey.

The werecat gazed at the still-struggling and cursing Che.  "You and your friend are overly suspicious.  There's no need for cheating.  The Zombies are flying Ki-84 Franks and you're using the Corsair.  They'll slaughter you all in short order."

"I think you better hit the road," snarled Slim.  "Or we'll turn Che loose."

"Pah!  And to think I spoke up for you humans and insisted on this contest when the Zombies filed their claim."  Floxx headed for a side door.  "I just dropped by to cheer you up.  Any last requests from the condemned men?"

Several requests were made -- all anatomically impossible, even for a werecat.

Duey looked at the Geek.  "Is that true?  Have the Zombies practiced just like we did?"

"Isss true.  Zombiesss bad pilotsss.  No sssensesss.  No sssmooth touchesss."

"Then why is Floxx so sure we're going to lose?"

The Geek made a movement very like a shrug, with reptilian overtones.  "Werecatsss, ssstrange creaturesss."

"How soon must we start this contest?"

"Thirty minutesss.  Sssurvivorsss rematch an hour after firssst missssion."

"Right.  Thirty minutes."  Duey gestured for the Canucks to gather around.  "We go in half and hour.  Any last thoughts?"

"Jeez," said Lance.  "Let's try to be a little positive."

"I am," muttered Slim.  "I'm positive this thing is a setup."

"I got a bad feeling," whined Baker.  Everyone backed away.


Takeoff went off without a hitch.  The Canucks formed up in three elements of two.  Baker stayed over the island, circling at 15,000 feet.  The gang figured he might be able to provide support for anyone coming back with a damaged bird or that he could fill out an element if someone got zapped.

"Look at it this way," said Duey during the mission brief.  "You done good in the training.  Damn good.  We need a guy like that to backstop us."

"Yeah," agreed Monk.  "Besides, it's tough to fly behind you, what with that brown gas leaking out all the time."  Everyone laughed at that, even Baker -- from his position outside the briefing room door.

The group cruise-climbed to 25,000 feet.  Spread out in three loose pairs, they motored north, watching for the Zombie menace.  They didn't have to wait long.

"Zebra has bogies, 1 o'clock low."  Earl and Che were on the left of the formation, call sign Zebra.

"Mango has 'em in sight."  Duey and Lance, in the middle.

"Jarhead sees the bad guys."  Monk and Slim, on the right.

"Like we planned," said Duey.  "Try to get 'em to mix it up."  The Ki-84 was at least as fast as their Corsairs, but it was no dogfighter.  Would the Zombies cooperate?

The six planes started a shallow right turn and began picking up speed.

"Look at 'em," said Earl.  "They're all over the sky."

Indeed, the oncoming Zombie flight resembled nothing more or less than a horde of flies.  Individual aircraft darted left and right, up and down as stiff Zombie feet and hands bashed at the controls.  Even as the two groups closed to within a mile, two Zombies ran together and exploded.  The wrecks fell toward the ocean, trailing smoke and flame.

"Mango counts an even dozen left."

"They had twice as many as us!"  Che was still angry at not being allowed to throttle Floxx.  "Twice as many!"

"Cool it Zebra Two.  We can take 'em."

The flights merged.  Each element leader selected an opponent and engaged, angling across their targets.  Zombie pilots jammed at their firing buttons and held them down.  Three Franks fell out of the sky, dragging black smoke.  One exploded.  The other two shed pieces and disappeared into the low-lying haze.

"That was too easy," called Duey.  "What are we missing?"

Zebra turned left, Jarhead right and Mango looped back over the top.  Two miles to the south, Zombies scattered into wild turns. 

"Mango Two took some hits in the right wing.  No problem so far."

"Jarhead took a couple rounds in the engine."  Monk's voice was tense.  "I better head for the barn after this next pass."

"Roger, Mango copies.  Look sharp, people.  Nine left.  Elements spread out."

"Mango, Zebra.  I see one spinning out of control.  These clowns really can't fly."

"Here they come."

This time every Canuck engaged a Zombie.  Four Franks went into the ocean.  The remaining four started their gyrating turns. 

"Monk!  What's up, man?"

No reply.  Jarhead One continued south in a shallow dive. 

"Jarhead, Mango.  Waggle a wing, bro!"

Each man thought the drooping wing signaled a wing-waggle.  But, no.  Monk's Corsair went into a long slow roll and dove ever steeper for the ocean below.

"Heads up, people.  We got four more to kill."

Two Zombies went down to Canuck guns on the next pass.  A third Frank nosed up and spun out, tumbling out of sight.  The last one arced and rolled into another spasmodic turn.

"Where's Lance?  Mango Two, answer up."

No response. 

"Anyone see what happened to Lance?"

"Negative, Mango.  He was trailing behind you that last run."

"Damn!  One left.  Let's take the bastard down!"

In a spread-out gaggle, the Canucks turned to the attack.

Che was closest to the Zombie.  He came in on the Frank's left rear quarter and began chipping away at it.  Earl closed in from behind, in support.

"Three o'clock high!  Crap!  Three o'clock!  More goddamn Zombies!  Mango is attacking!"

A half dozen Franks fell on the Canucks.  Duey met them head-on and burned one.  Slim ducked under the wildly maneuvering Zombies and began a loop in behind them.

"Zebra Two, break right!  Break right!"  Earl pulled hard right as he called.  Che put a long burst into his target, sawing a wing off the Frank.  Then he rolled hard -- right into the path of a diving Frank.  The two planes disappeared in an orange and black cloud.

Slim caught a Frank staggering through a too-slow loop and blew it to pieces.  He nosed over, heading after one of the four Zombies remaining.  "That goddamn werecat sold us down the river!"

"Watch your twelve o'clock high," called Duey.  "Six more coming down."

"Jarhead Two, ro . . ."  Slim's Corsair staggered.  "Ah . . ."  One wing tore loose and the remaining wreckage tumbled down, dragging a long plume of smoke.

"Where are you, Mango?  Zebra's got a mess of 'em cornered."

"Upstairs.  Coming down."  Duey flamed a Frank and snapped away from another.

"Better hurry, man."  Earl said no more.  Duey put a burst into another Zombie and began climbing away from the remaining enemies.  He couldn't see Earl anywhere.  Five Zombies wandered around various quadrants of the sky.

"Mango, this is Windbag.  I'm coming your way.  Twenty thousand."

"Roger, Baker.  Earl may be around.  I'm coming south, climbing through fifteen."

"What's the plan, boss?"

"Kill Zombies.  Hope there ain't any more.  I see four Franks.  There were five."

"Mango, Windbag has you in sight.  I'll hit the top Zombie and work my way down.  Jeez, these guys fly like stevedores!"

"Watch yourself, Windbag.  They've been coming out of the woodwork."

Duey reversed and headed for a Zombie out to his right.  He didn't see the one that staggered up out of the haze and managed to connect with a long burst.  His killer lost control and spun out.  The two planes hit the water at the same time.

Baker nailed his target and dove after the next one.  In a head-on exchange, he blew that one apart, taking several hits in the process.  He rolled right and went for one blundering along on top of the thin cloud layer.  A quick burst finished the Zombie. 

"One more," he said to himself.  But there were none to be seen.  After making a wide circle, he headed for Shark Island.

Oil spattered his canopy and sent streamers back along the fuselage.  Something wasn't right under the hood.  He throttled back and began a shallow descent.  The oil leak got worse.  His engine began running rough.

Time dragged by.  "Hey, Geek," he said to the empty air.  "I could come back anytime now."

Nothing happened.  "Oookay.  Let's see if I can nurse this pig back to the island."

The engine quit about a mile off the end of Shark Island airstrip.  Baker stretched the glide for every foot of distance -- and came up short.  He braced himself and eased the crippled fighter into the water.

Skidding, skipping from wave to wave, the Corsair plowed to a stop about two hundred feet from the tip of the island.  Baker scrambled out onto the wing and stood there, breathing like a long distance runner.  He tossed his helmet aside and pulled the toggles on the Mae West.  His fighter gurgled quietly and tilted forward.

"Time for a swim," he muttered and jumped into the sea.

On his back, paddling toward land, he watched the Corsair disappear beneath the waves.  In the swirl of water he saw two fins appear.  Then two more.

"Ah, crap," he whispered, as if afraid the slim killers might hear him.  "Sharks."

Fear constricted his guts and loosened his sphincter muscles.  A sharp blast blew him backwards.  "Jeez," he muttered.  "That felt good."  More shark fins appeared.  He began paddling backwards.  "Stroke.  Stroke.  Keep the rhythm, Baker.  Stroke.  Stroke."

Behind him, a vile yellow stain began spreading out on the water.  One shark swam into it.  Then two more.  In seconds all three turned belly-up and lay thrashing weakly in the waves. 

"More gas!" panted Baker.  "Please, more gas!"  His system failed to respond, but it didn't matter.  By the time he reached shore, a full dozen sharks lay tossing on the water.  Others, less effected, swam at random, chasing some sort of shark hallucinations.

Baker spilled out of the pod backwards.  He lay gasping.  The Geek eyed him for a moment then pushed a button to start a timer.  "Nexssst sssessssion, one hour."

"Jeez!" cried Baker.  "We've been screwed!  There must have been a hundred of them!"

"Ssscrewed you wasss," agreed the Geek.  "One hour ssscrewed again."

A phone began ringing.

Ch 5: The Pipes, the Pipes

After a frantic half minute search, Baker found the phone lying beside the pod Duey had occupied.  "Hullo?"

"Who the hell is this?"

"Uh -- Baker."

"Baker!  Where's Duey?  I just walked in and found about a hundred messages from him."

"Ah -- well, it's a long story.  Who is this?"

"For Chrissake, Baker!  It's me.  Mike."

"Oh, yeah.  Boy, did we need you."

"I gathered that.  Put Duey on the line."

"I can't.  He's -- um, I think he's in stasis."

"Stasis?  Baker, you better tell me what's going on.  Start at the beginning."

"Well -- I paid this guy thirty-seven dollars and fifteen cents.  Everything I had, except for my buffalo nickel.  Have I told you about my grandpa and the buffalo nickel?"

Twenty minutes later, Mike had a good picture of what was happening.  "That goddamn Floxx!  I shoulda whacked that bastard the last time he crossed me!"

"Look, ah, the timer's running.  In about thirty-five minutes they'll toss me into a pod again and I'll go get killed by a hundred Zombies.  Then Earth gets made into a popsicle."

"Earth PEOPLE get made into an ice cube, Baker.  Zombies get the Earth."  Mike was silent for a moment.  "This is as serious as it gets.  That damn Floxx!  Well, listen up, my lad.  There's only one thing to do."

"Nukes," said Baker.  "I knew it was gonna come to that.  When can you get here?"

"Not nukes.  I can't get there in time to do anything.  You'll have to save our civilization on your own, Baker.  Are you up to a little singing?"

"Singing?  I can't carry a note in a bucket.  Earth's doomed!"

"No it ain't.  Calm down.  Calm down and get something to write with."

"What?  Write?"  Baker glanced around.  "There ain't nothing.  Wait!  Che left his jacket.  Let's see . . .  Yeah.  Here's a crayon.  Will that do?"

"A crayon?  Why would he have a crayon?  Never mind!  Find something to write lyrics on."

"Um -- ah -- just a minute.  The Geek handed me a piece a plastic.  Do Geeks read minds?"

"No.  They're just very, very smart.  Are you ready to write?"

Baker wrote and having writ, was moved to tears.  "I can't sing this!"

"You have to, Baker.  It's our only hope."

The mid-western lad brightened.  "That's a line from Star Wars!  Princess Leia!"

"For pity's sake, Baker.  Stay with me.  Sing the damn song!"

So he sang -- in a cracked squeal that drove most of the spectators away.  Only the scaly creatures in the tank remained behind, either because they liked fingernails-on-blackboard caterwauling or because, for them, there was no escape.

"Good enough," said Mike when he could take no more.  "Now here's what you do."

Ten minutes later, the Geek locked Baker in his pod.  The last thing he said was, "Sssing, Sssimian.  Sssing.  Not here.  In sssky with Zombiesss."

"This ain't gonna work," said Mike to the buxom brunette he'd spent two strenuous days with.  She grinned at the old fart she thought was filthy rich and resumed polishing her nails.  He smiled back and wondered how long it would take the Imperials to get here with their population freezing ships.  Not long enough, considering his age.

"This ain't gonna work," said Baker to Sigurd, his plane captain.

"Yah, sure," said Sigurd.  He pushed the sniveling pilot into the cockpit and helped him strap in.  "Yah, sure, it will work.  Yah."  The big Swede hadn't the foggiest notion of what Baker was gabbling about.  Being electronic in nature, he didn't much care, either.

"This ain't gonna work," whined Baker to his Corsair.  She said nothing, just bored on through the electronic sky, looking for trouble.

And soon enough, she found it.  Baker gulped and began counting the Zombies roaring in at him in a vast cloud of darting, dodging planes.  Several smashed together as he watched.  A couple stalled and spun in.  The Zombies would never be known as good sticks, except in the skeletal sense.

"Here goes," quavered Baker.  His Corsair hummed her Pratt & Whitney power song and waited for the nitwit to do something.

Baker keyed the mike, then un-keyed it and checked to make sure the radio was on the correct frequency.  It was.  Again he pushed the switch.

"Oh D-danny boy, the pipes the p-pipes are calling . . ."  He stopped to clear his throat.  The Zombie hordes zoomed and rolled and dived closer and closer.

"From g-glen to glen and down the m-mountain side . . ."

Half a dozen Zombies planes dove into the sea.  "Jeez, it's working!"

"The summer's g-gone and all the f-flowers are dying . . ."  Baker shook his head.  "Poor flowers."  More Zombie craft stalled and spun in or went twisting down out of the sky to vanish in fountains of spray.  "Hot dog!  I'm killing them!"

In fact, he wasn't killing the Zombies, though music critics might believe otherwise.  What happened as Baker butchered 'Danny Boy' on the Zombie radio frequency was even more diabolical.  Mike knew their secret.  He knew that Zombies, being bag pipes in a previous existence, could not resist the siren song of pipe music, especially when the song insisted that 'the pipes, the pipes were calling.'  Oh, it was a low, nasty human scheme.

"'tis you, 'tis you m-must go and I must bide."  Baker finished the first verse.  All around, Zombies were zapping back into bag pipes and striking up the most infamous bag pipe song in the Known Universe.  Pilotless, the never very stable Franks tumbled into the sea.

"But come you b-back when summer's in the m-meadow . . ."  Tears streamed down Baker's face.  "Jeez.  I love this song."

"Or when the valley's h-hushed and white with s-snow . . ."

The last Zombies crashed and exploded far below.  Baker made a circle, singing the first verse over again -- just to be sure.  Then he headed back to Shark Island.

Below, on the restless waves, a tireless legion of bag pipes stroked toward a distant shore.  As they swam, each tootled a bad rendition of 'Danny Boy.'

Thus ended the direst threat to Earth since Adam wandered out of the Garden and met the daughters of men.

Epilogue: Full Circle

This time there were show girls and they didn't cost thirty-seven dollars and fifteen cents.  No, these cost a lot more than that.  But Floxx was footing the bill, so it didn't matter much.  He sat manacled to a steel-framed chair, sipping a brandy and grinding his teeth as Mike emptied several of his off-planet accounts.

"Quit gnashing your fangs," murmured Mike, deftly tweaking several billion credits out of the werecat's fiscal grasp.  He split the funds into various orphanage, reconstructive surgery and elder care accounts, not forgetting to salt some away in his own banks.  Altruistic he might be, but never one to miss the main chance.  He lit a cigarillo and handed it to Floxx.  "Smile.  You're doing good deeds."  The werecat snarled. 

Booze flowed freely.  The Canucks gambled and never lost, by order of the management.  As mentioned -- Floxx was paying the bill.

Baker got tired of computer poker and settled himself at a corner table.  After a few minutes a well-endowed blonde wandered over and sat down. 

"Hi," she said, blinking bright vacant eyes. 


"Those guys over there --"  She pointed to a smirking Slim and Earl.  "-- they told me you saved our whole planet." 

"Well . . ."

"Gee, it must be neato to save a planet.  I mean, those things are really, really big."  She blinked.  "Aren’t they?"

"Uh -- yeah.  A planet is pretty big.  Real big, in fact."  He could get to like a scientific girl like this one.  "What's your sign?"

She laughed and covered her glossy lips with one well-manicured hand.  "It's Virgo, but my mom says it was a Vacancy sign."  They both chuckled over old mom's sense of pathos.

"Come up to my room," said Blondie.  "We can talk about Area 51 and alien abductions.  I'll show you my Stop! Global! Warming! buttons."

Baker nearly cried.  He was so happy.  "Gosh, I'd like that.  You don't know how hard it is to find a girl who likes science."

Old Guy, nicely done! :salute:  I especially like the part where I proud of "using the word 'sentience' in a sentence."...but the beer bottle to the  melon had to hurt!  :blotto: 

Well written..there are days when I feel like that's actually happening!  ;D