Two scenes from “Corporate Zombies,” a short story about a “ex”-zombie-slaying grandmother, her granddaughter, and revenge.
“Ten shares, please.” Mary slid her company ID card across the counter to the barely-graduated clerk. “For my seventy-fifth birthday.”
“Happy birthday, ma’am.” The young man scanned the ID, his eyes popping open a little wider—probably seeing the portfolio of stocks she already owned—before falling into a clickety-click of computer activity.
Like most of the financials, the stock salesroom was on the twelfth floor the company fortress, close under the Chairman’s feet. On the fourteenth—for some long-forgotten reason there was no thirteenth—the Board met daily to discuss the company’s future, decide their votes on national politics, set up cross-hiring quotas, and argue about how best to deal with the zombies outside company property.
Mary suspected that if they spent would more time actually dealing with them, and less time arguing how, the habitation zone would probably be twice as large.
While she waited, her eyes dodged over the posters lining the walls. Bart Nashville-Washington for Senior Boardmember, one read over a picture of a dignified second-gen, one of her contemporaries; Moonpie April Austin-Vegas: Junior Boardmember for all generations had a perky young third-gen with just a touch of grey around her temples.
Someone was hanging a new poster in the corner. Someone with a limp she would know anywhere. “Rose? You’re running? Don’t tell me they’re that desperate.”
Curls dyed company-blue flopped around the woman’s suit-clad shoulders as she turned. Green eyes narrowed. “Well. If it isn’t Mary Phoenix-Pheonix, the inbred, insubordinate janitor. Some of us, you know, retired early and started doing something useful instead of running around and playing with walking corpses all day.”
Retired! What a joke. Mary let her eyes slide down Rose’s impeccable suit to the clunky flats, the only shoes Rose’s foot could handle. “Your retirement? You mean, that screwdriver you ‘stepped on’ right after Norris got bit?” Right after Rose all but killed him, that was.
“Retired. With honors.”
Seeing Rose grind her teeth, Mary smiled and leaned back against the clerk’s desk. “Well. I’ll have to help you enjoy your retirement. Bart will make an excellent Board member.”
“Feh.” The shoe scraped against the concrete floor. Rose grabbed the receipt Mary’s clerk had been offering. The boy tried to stop her, poor lad, but even fifty years later, Rose still had the cleaning-crew edge.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mary reassured the kid before he could wave down the security guard standing in the corner. “Let her look.”
“Five hundred?” Slamming the stub down, Rose glared at Mary. “Who did you kill to steal their stocks?”
“Five hundred and two.” Was she gloating? Well, Rose deserved to have her nose rubbed in it, the old cow. “Every year I purchase ten more, pensioner’s privilege. And each and every one of these is going to Bart.” Cleaning-crew veterans were allowed to buy as many stocks as they could afford, benefit of the job even after giving up the swords and grenades. Mary had saved every bit of credit she could, even downsizing her company apartment, so while most employees retired with fifty or so shares in their names, she would eventually be able to retire in comfort and power.
When she did retire, that was. She wouldn’t be doing that until she was old.
The cow snarled at her. “I don’t want your votes, you little thief. Five hundred shares won’t win the election either way.”
Tucking the receipt away into her purse, Mary bent her knee so her bright green, inch-high heels gleamed in overhead lights. “Five hundred and two,” she reminded again. “Get those fourth-gens to vote for you. I’m sure they’ve got five hundred stocks amongst the entire generation to counter my votes. Always forward-thinking, these kids are, aren’t they?”
Rose couldn’t exactly stomp off, but Mary did have to admit the other woman gave it good try.
It was, Mary decided on the descent down to her apartment on the fifth floor of the company fortress, her best birthday gift ever, even better than the sunflower-orange hair dye she’d bought herself last night to match her new favorite lipstick.
Framed paintings dotted the blue-and-red concrete bulkheads, cityscapes littered with living people walking the streets of ancient cities. The artwork was handiwork of her mother’s generation, and pure science fiction, of course. Mary wagered her descendents would be colonizing Mars before New York was safe again. Pulling out her ultra-media as she waited for the elevator, she logged in for another look at her portfolio.
What a pretty, pretty pie chart. Five hundred and two.
When the elevator hit her floor, she glanced around the corridor before stepping off, instead of hooking herself up to her ultra-media with earbuds like most folk. A relic of her days in the cleaning-crews, she supposed, when the distraction of music could block out the shff-shff-shff of a groanless shuffler, the ones nobody heard until the teeth came down.
Old habits died hard. And in this case, her old habits stopped her from touching the doorknob of her employee apartment.
A sliver of copper edged the stainless steel bottom screw. Some bright star had decided to electrocute her. “Just glorious,” she muttered. “Start a fire, why don’t you? Burn the whole fortress down; feed the zombies cooked food for once. Bah.”
Sliding her rubber welcome matt under the door in case the wire broke loose, she decided the rubber cover on her ultra-media should be sufficient to open the door, and a her old kit should still have…
“I suppose,” she muttered, “I should tell the grandkids first.”
***Fast forward six hours***
“Five hundred! Just think about the dividends next corporate cycle; I’ll be making at least half again my regular salary.”
“Enough with the stocks, already!” Lucy swerved their car into the next lane over, the grill neatly slicing a stray zombie in half, and flipped the wipers from “bug” to “blood.”
“Hmph. Not important now, but you’ll thank me in a few years. Come the next election, we’ll be wined and dined and bribed into the next tax bracket.” She dared a glance at the dashboard. “We’re getting low on gas, sweetheart.”
“I know.” Lucy glanced into the rearview mirror of her Honda Zombrolla. “Maybe you should ask the people following us if they’d be so kind as to wait while we get a refill?”
“Don’t be waspish, dear. This is exactly why I don’t have any great-grandchildren yet.” Another ambulatory corpse shambled right into their path, arms reaching as if it could break through the steel-hard reinforced windows to chomp on the tasty humans inside. The decayed flesh exploded on impact, a fine red haze coating the windshield until Lucy’s wipers squeaked them off. “I know I voted for the candidate that said he supported cleaning the streets. What’s he doing with his time? These zombies are getting out of hand again.” Digging through her handbag, Mary found the tube of lipstick that perfectly matched the orange streaks in her hair. Every woman should be able to apply lipstick in a car; she’d taught both her daughters that, and she’d always made a point of practicing what she preached.
Lucy, the poor little thing, had never quite picked up the talent. She was just too much of a tomboy. “Every candidate promises to get zombies off the streets, grandma; none of them really mean it. And you don’t have any great-grandchildren yet because I’m not getting married until I’ve hit mid-level management.”
Mary checked in her visor mirror to make sure there were no stray orange streaks on her cheeks before sliding the tube back into her purse. “Don’t be silly; you won’t be fertile forever. Your mother almost never had Sarah. Do you want to be one of those girls who has fewer than three kids?”
“For the love of—“ Lucy swerved, and with a splintering of wood, broke through one of the zombie-barriers on an old parking deck. Moans and bones filled the air as the child tore through the gathered herd. Thank goodness for the canned air in the car. That rot-scent really got into the clothes, almost impossible to wash out.
“Now see what you’ve done. You’ve let them loose.” The ones they weren’t crushing were, sure enough, pouring through the wooden slats and out into the streets. “Do you know how much trouble it will be to clean those up?”
“I’m trying to lose your would-be murderers; not really concerned about cleaning up right now…”
Bah. The child did her best, but she’d never fought in the wars. “Just pull over, sweetheart, and let me drive. I’ll be rid of them in a jiff.”
“You know your doctor told you that you couldn’t drive anymore.”
Mary pulled out her driving glasses and checked for smears. “They only say that to give you youngsters a chance. How would you ever learn to kill zombies if we experts did all the work?”
“You haven’t killed a zombie in thirty years!” Lucy cursed in a very unladylike manner as their wheels bounced over a weathered concrete divider, scraping the undercarriage.
Covering her mouth with a hand, Mary held back the rejoinder that her granddaughter probably didn’t need.
By the time Lucy had gotten them to the top level of the deck—I could have done it in half the time—the sleek black Mercedes BoneCruncher had disappeared from the street below, presumably trailing them into the deck. Lucy punched the gas, the wings popping out automatically, and hit the “fly” button. A moment of thrust and aerodynamic lift later and they were airborne, wheels spinning on nothing, until the landing gears extended them into position.
They were angled too low. Pointing at the gyroscopic adjuster, Mary leaned forward against her straps to make sure they were nice and tight. “Nose up, honey, or we’ll bounce.”
“I know how to drive!” Lucy tightened her grip on the wheel but didn’t pull up. The car hit the road with a double-bounce, of course.
“Well, there’s no need to snap. I was just giving a suggestion.” Mary pulled an incinerator out of her purse and set the time. “Mind lowering the back window?”
“What? With the zombies out there? We’ll lose the recycled air and have to smell them.” Her granddaughter spared her eyes from the road long enough to send Mary an annoyed grimace, which promptly turned into a look of panic when she saw what the elder held. “ARE YOU CRAZY?”
Even though it was rude, Mary rolled her eyes. Kids these days. One active incinerator in the car and they freaked out. She hit the manual release herself, cracking the window just enough to toss the device into the path of the now-flying Mercedes.
The resulting ball of fire was disappointingly small, contained by the auto-spray fire retardant, a downside of these better-made new cars. She missed the street-wide explosions of her youth, before the companies began to switch from take-them-with-me zombie-killing attitudes to keep-it-safe habitation-zone sensibilities. But these days the zones were big enough to need to drive from one side to the other, and people now traveled in packs for safety. The solo missions her generation had made their names on were gone to the history books.
Mary closed the window and snapped her purse shut, taking a moment to rearrange her curls…
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