Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Days of Nano Past: From Nano 2009 - The Zombie Wrangler!

So, what do you do when you write yourself into a corner...?

One of the characters in my Nano last year was...well...Prometheus.  Or what's left of him, anyway, after all his worshippers died or forgot about him.  Now, his name is Tesla.  And his home base is an incredible museum:

Tesla turned from the storm lashing the window, and returned to his workshop.

And what a workshop it was.  The building itself was massive, but Tesla's lab covered a full three floors, end to end, of the entire building.  Two of the three floors had been almost completely removed to allow the room for display, flight, testing, or simply space to observe.  In the center of the room stood the bulk of a Cray mainframe, constantly cranking away at variables that only Tesla knew or understood.

Centuries of oddities and curiousities inhabited the shelves, from frisbees to Tesla coils, V8 engines to perpetual motion machines, items ranging from the simple and basic but interesting like a Moebius strip to the impossibilities of a half-developed scalar levitation pod.  MP3 music players shared shelves with Rennaisance instruments and Stradivarius violins.  A Gutenberg Bible leaned awkwardly against an Apple II computer, and both were balanced precariously atop a carved stone tablet dating nearly to Hammurabi.  Suspended by strings from the ceiling were a scale model of the Wright Brother's plane and a full-size model of a daVinci Ornithopter, and just between them, an artist's rendering of the fall of Icarus, complete with detached feathers drifting lazily in the air-conditioner-generated wind.

The entire room was a monument to human ingenuity and creativity, and the drive to create something new--the drive to apply science and move technology forward.  The very concepts that Tesla excelled at.

I invented this museum knowing full well that I was very likely going to trash it later in the story.  And when the time came for the fight, what other critter is a Necromancer going to send after the bad guys than a squad of zombies?

There was only one problem.  I had placed the good guys' hideout seventy stories up, and during Nano, you don't have time to go back and rework something because it would be easier later in the story.  You keep on going.

...so...how does one get a battalion of zombies to the good guys when they're hiding on the seventieth floor?


Craigslist ad for "entry level management position" with non-disclosure agreement, couple of interviews, pick the best one...voila!

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet...the Zombie Wrangler.


Jason had been monitoring the Machine, and called them all over.  "You need to have a look at this," he said.  In the distance view, there was nothing worth looking at, but as he zoomed the image in, closer and closer to Tesla's Museum, they could see a narrow band of black dots, looking like nothing less than a steady invasion of ants, slowly but steadily making their way to the building.

"He's finally sending out the zombies," Trevor said.

They barely had time to prepare for the zombies' arrival.  From the same storage room where Tesla had found the net gun, he pulled out a collection of handguns and passed them out to everyone.  They all filled their pockets with spare clips.

"Standard zombie rules apply?" Lewis said, expertly jacking a clip into the handle and cocking the pistol.  Unfortunately, his attempt at bravado and expertise failed miserably, as the slide of the gun came off in his hand.  He stood there for a moment, staring stupidly at the pieces of the gun, until Tesla came over and showed him how to put it back together.

"There are rules to zombies?" Tesla asked in confusion.

"Well, yeah," Lewis replied.  "No points for anything but a headshot, keep your distance or you get infected and turn into a zombie yourself."

"I don't think we'll have to worry about that part," Trevor said.  "This isn't a Resident Evil sequel.  These are magically animated, so I don't think they'll be infectious."

"Guys!" Lewis shouted, pointing.

The elevator had risen to their location, and the doors were about to open.

"Maybe it's the lobby security guards?" Trevor said hopefully.  The doors slid open, and a dozen animated corpses spilled out into the museum.  As the group opened fire on the zombies, the doors slid shut, and returned to the lobby.

Tina opened fire on the lead zombie, missed with the first three shots, and blasted out another plate glass window, before finally landing a hit.  The zombie staggered backwards two steps, half of its head missing, and collapsed.

"Cool!" Lewis shouted.  "Standard Rules!"  He pointed his gun at another zombie, pulled the trigger, and totally lost control of the recoil.  The bullet took out a light fixture on the far end of the museum.  He growled in frustration, held the gun with both hands, brought it to bear on a zombie, and fired, hitting it in the nose.  He cheered in satisfaction as the zombie's head exploded in a shower of gore.

"Tesla," Trevor asked, "I thought zombies were...you know, really stupid...?"  He gestured with his gun at the elevator display, which showed the car was rising again.

Tesla nodded grimly, stepped forward to point blank range, and fired, blasting two zombie heads apart simultaneously with a pistol in each hand.  "They must have the security guard's key card."

Stan Trimbett had decided he hated his job.

He hadn't known what his job was going to be when he applied, of course.  The Craigslist posting said "Entry Level Management" with opportunities to travel.  As an out-of-work burger flipper, he had jumped at the chance, and it wasn't until after he had signed the non-disclosure agreement that he had found out that his REAL job title was "Zombie Herder."

"Zombies are really stupid," he had explained to his girlfriend one day, after just a few too many beers.  "Oh, they're great in a fight; hack off body parts and they keep on fighting, blow out their kneecaps and they crawl after you.  But, when it comes to, say, opening doorknobs, they're totally useless.  So, every time the boss sends out a squad of zombies to take out the opposition, the squad has to have a babysitter along, someone who can open doorknobs as necessary."  He held out the special skull-shaped medallion he always wore around his neck.  "This says 'don't kill me, I'm on your side' to an angry zombie.  Well, to a moving zombie.  Zombies don't get angry.  They don't get happy, or sad, they just move forward, and tear apart anyone who moves.  Except me."

He still wasn't quite sure what he had done to end that relationship, but now that he was single, he was available for a bunch more zombie missions.  Like this one.  Somehow, the gang up on the seventieth floor had seriously ticked off the boss.  Since the boss was supposed to be some hot-shot wizard with gobs and gobs of super magical powers, Stan wasn't quite sure why they didn't just, you know, snap their fingers and teleport the zombies up there.

No, this was a job for the zombie wrangler; and Stan, supposedly the best one there (actually, the only one who had survived more than the first four months since the job was created), was now standing in an elevator, watching as a dozen or so shambled in, all facing the back of the elevator.  He hit the button, got it moving, and then started shouting orders, trying to get them all to turn around and face the door.  Half of them still hadn't gotten the right idea by the time the elevator arrived, but they were dragged along by the rest of them when the doors opened.  He delivered that load, and dropped back down to ground level for the next batch.

Yeah, Stan was pretty sure it was definitely approaching time for a career change.  Granted, he'd probably have a really hard time putting "zombie herder" on his resume, but maybe if he exaggerated just a bit, he could still figure out a way to apply it.  Camp counselor, maybe...?  He was still debating possible fibs when the next load stepped on.

When he arrived with this batch, the doors opened, and people with guns began blasting away as soon as targets were visible.  Stan dove to the floor, fingers in his ears, feeling a steadily deepening of layers upon layers of muck and gore piling up on him.  Then the doors closed, and he reached a shaking hand up to take the car back to the ground floor.

Stan had just barely managed to stand back up again, on shakey knees, when the doors opened and another batch of ready zombies tried to pile in.  About halfway through the load, though, he heard something land on the roof of the elevator car with a loud clunk.  Without even stopping to think, he shouldered his way past the mindless zombies and dove for cover behind the security guard's desk.  He was just in time; the elevator car exploded, shredding most of the remaining zombies, and splattering Stan with another layer of flying muck.

He strode to the door, dropped his skull medallion in a trash can just outside the revolving door, and headed for the local bus station.  Camp counselor in Alaska, that sounded like a decent change of pace.

"I don't get it," Lewis said, as the elevator doors closed again.  "I mean, if he's this super-hotshot wizard and all, why is he sending them up here in tiny batches like this?"

"Unless he's trying to keep our attention," Trevor said.

"A diversion?" Tesla asked.  From what?"

With a horrible sinking feeling, Trevor dashed away from the elevator door.