Fandom: Z Nation
Warnings: Language, major character deaths
Series or One-shot: One-shot
Word count: 2260
Author’s Note: I am a horrible human being, and I apologize.
This was how he originally pictured his 10,000th kill:
The zombie was the mother of all zombies, huge and fast and terrifying. It was smart too. It could track. It could mimic its prey, could speak, could string together coherent sentences. It could even laugh and cry for help. It could walk almost without being heard. It was a Super Z. The way the undead adapted and evolved, he wouldn’t be surprised if a kind like that existed somewhere out there.
After Cassandra, he even pictured this Super Z to look a little bit like Murphy. 10K had told everyone he felt nothing that day, but the truth was he felt too much. Anger, loathing, resentment. He would’ve liked nothing better than to kill that asshole for what he’d done to Cass. Or at least hit him; 10K cared too much about saving the human race to kill the only person that might’ve been the only chance to cure the virus.
Maybe his 10,000th kill would’ve been Murphy, if the guy hadn’t gone and run off all those months ago. For all 10K knew, Murphy was almost full-zombie now, somewhere out there gnawing on some poor dead or dying girl’s arm as he fled.
His blood was no cure after all. Good for nothing but turning a bunch of people into half-zombies.
No. 10K thought of Cassandra. Not just half-zombies. Zombies. They’re dead. Nothing human left in ‘em.
That wasn’t Cassandra he’d killed. It wasn’t Vasquez, wasn’t Addy, wasn’t Warren. The blade of the knife in his hand right now wasn’t lodged in Doc’s skull. Not really. The body slinking to the ground was just that: a body. Doc wasn’t in there anymore. He was gone the second Murphy bit him and turned him against 10K. Just like he’d done to all the others.
Because he knew 10K was coming for him.
Murphy got Vasquez first. He’d wanted to distract Warren from the chase. It worked, but only for a heartbeat. Warren was about to mercy Vasquez on the spot and move on, the second they rounded the corner in that old department store and saw Vasquez standing in the middle of the aisle, his back to them. When he turned around, they saw the undeniable and all-too-familiar bite-mark on his cheek.
But Warren choked. Murphy was smart; he ordered Vasquez to hang back before he attacked, to just look at Warren. To smile. It almost broke her.
10K reached out, took the gun from her hand, and put the bullet through Vasquez’s head just as he – just as the zombie was about to lunge. It didn’t bother 10K as much as it would’ve bothered Warren. He liked Vasquez, but Warren loved him, just like she’d loved Garnett, and 10K didn’t want to have her go through all that again.
10K stayed silent as he fell to his knees now and started digging. He had no shovel, so he used his hands to scoop, toss, and scoop the dirt again, all the while ignoring the fact that his vision was too blurred to really see anything he did.
Whatever the case, that 10,000th zombie, the Super Z – it never would’ve stood a chance. He’d kill it before it ever saw him coming, just like all the rest. Snipe it from the shadows, while the gang looked on, impressed.
That was how it was supposed to go.
Addy went just a few months after Vasquez. Murphy never cared all that much for her sass, and so 10K imagined that the so-called Messiah held no qualms about turning her. He separated her from the rest of the group in the woods, and then sent her running after them that night.
10K was the first to react, the only one ready and alert while the others made camp. He sniped her with his slingshot just as she dove at Warren over the tent she’d been setting up.
He didn’t like to think about Addy, the same way he didn’t like to think about Cassandra. That old feeling was back; he resented Murphy more than ever, and he told Warren maybe it wasn’t a good idea for them to catch up to him after all.
“I’m not promising I won’t kill him,” he told her.
“Me either,” she said, lowering Addy’s body into the grave they dug for her. They hadn’t been able to do the same for Vasquez; there’d been no time, since the gunshot had drawn more Z’s. 10K wondered if Warren regretted that.
After the 10,000th zombie was dead, they were all supposed to break out the alcohol that everyone knew Doc kept hidden somewhere. Maybe some Z Weed too (10K always secretly wanted to try it a little, even though he thought it was a little sick).
And they’d celebrate.
Warren was next. Warren. 10K and Doc heard the whole thing happen, and they couldn’t do a thing about it.
“I don’t want to have to do this to you, Roberta,” Murphy said. The two of them pointed guns at each other, standing in the middle of a barn. 10K and Doc were busy trying to find a way in, but the doors were blocked shut and they couldn’t climb up into the hayloft from outside, since the ladder was missing. 10K just needed one hole in the boards, one hole that he could aim his rifle through and take a shot. Even if the bullet missed Murphy, even if it only grazed his skin or scared him off or made him drop his pistol. “Let me walk away. Put the gun down.”
“You first,” said Warren, her voice unshaking. “Be reasonable, Murph. You don’t want to kill me. Not after everything we been through.”
10K didn’t believe that, and he suspected Warren didn’t either. They weren’t going to turn Murphy in to the scientists. His blood was no cure, that much was true, but the scientists had wanted to keep him anyway, to test and observe him. And Murphy wanted none of that.
Neither did Warren or the others, not even 10K. As much as they resented him, he was still human. Not one of them thought of him as a zombie, even if he looked more and more like one every day. Not one of them believed it was okay for the scientists to test him, to keep him locked up. Not one of them believed he deserved that un-life. They gave him the benefit of the doubt and believed, deep down, that he truly cared about people – or the five of them, at the very least. They told him all this.
He didn’t believe them. And so he ran.
They only wanted to intercept him at first, to convince him of their loyalty. But Murphy didn’t know that. And then he crossed the line once he turned Vasquez. Cassandra was one thing – Cassandra he claimed he’d tried to save. Cassandra 10K could almost forgive Murphy for. Almost.
But he turned Vasquez into a weapon. Addy too. The others didn’t care about intercepting him anymore, didn’t care about loyalty or friendship. They only cared about revenge. They weren’t going to turn him into the scientists, no; they were going to kill him.
And as she stood in that barn, Warren was out for blood.
Of that, Murphy was perfectly aware. He didn’t lower the gun, but instead, without another word, fired. Twice. Warren yelled.
When the doors of the barn creaked open thirty seconds later, she limped out into the moonlight. Her leg and shoulder bled. Her gun was missing. And there, on her cheek, was the mark of Murphy’s teeth. She stumbled, grunting, only barely aware of 10K or Doc standing before her.
Behind her the barn was empty. 10K thought he heard a thump on the opposite side of the barn, where the hayloft was. Murphy had escaped. 10K itched to chase after him. But he had another matter to attend first: Mercy.
Warren’s eyes, that eerie, inhuman, light color of the turned, met 10K’s. Her neck twisted so that she could glance at Doc. She furrowed her brows and opened her mouth.
“Fuck. Off,” she said, speaking slowly. “I win. Let. Me. Go.” It was her voice, her lips, her gnashing teeth, but 10K and Doc both knew the message was from Murphy.
10K aimed the rifle and fired.
After the 10,000th Z, Doc would try to call 10K Jeff, but it just wouldn’t stick. And there was no way he’d go back to Tommy either. He’d always be 10K to them, even after 10K. They’d lock themselves up for a night and party, just the five of them. Maybe give Citizen Z a call on the radio, if Addy was lucky enough to find them a signal with her gadgets. They’d all toast to 10K.
Here’s to the kid who’s always got our backs. Our very own superhero.
They should’ve stopped, him and Doc. They should’ve turned around and called it quits, left Murphy to fate. Doc even said so.
“Is it really worth chasing him down, kid?” he asked just yesterday, as 10K – 24 hours sleepless – kept his eyes peeled for footprints in the dirt, broken twigs, parted foliage. “Murph’s a lost cause.”
“And let him do to more people what he’s done to all our friends?” said 10K, not even stopping to look at Doc while he talked.
“Man, I dunno, I don’t think that’s what Murphy really wants. I think he just wants to get far away and be left alo—”
“I need to do this, Doc.” Now 10K stopped. Now he looked at his friend. His last friend. His last friend. His adoptive-father. “I have to do it. For everyone else. You can either wait here and let me handle him, or you can come with me. But you’re not stopping me.” He knew Doc wasn’t about to let him wander off on his own, and to be honest, he didn’t want them to separate either; the risk of Murphy ambushing one of them once they were alone was too great.
The old man shook his head and shut up.
They were close to Murphy. 10K knew it. His tracks were relatively fresh. But that night, Doc talked 10K into getting some rest before they confronted their prey. Murphy would fight back, and 10K was in no shape for a tussle. The old man had a point. He relented.
“If we don’t run into any Z’s tonight,” he said, lying in the dirt, “he’ll be my 10,000th kill.”
Silence for a moment. And then Doc said, “Does Murphy really count?”
10K had considered this already, thought long and hard about it, and he had an answer. He nodded. “He’s just as monstrous as the rest of them. Worse, even. I don’t even think he really deserves mercy. I want him to suffer.” He rolled onto his side, turning his back on Doc, but continued: “Wanna celebrate with me? When it’s over? Celebrate 10,000?”
He thought he heard a smile in Doc’s voice. “Sure, kid. Of course.”
And with that, 10K slept.
He’d been right: they were close. That night, Murphy snuck into camp and caught Doc unawares.
10K woke, packed up his gear, and turned to find the old man sitting on a fallen log nearby, a circular bite-mark under his eye. He looked up at 10K and smiled sadly.
“Give it up, kid.”
Was it Murphy speaking? Or was it still Doc?
As he swung his knife, 10K yelled, a cry so primal it tore at his throat and burned his lungs. Doc never even had the chance to react, to defend himself, to fight back before the blade sunk into the side of his head and the light left his eyes.
How he wished he’d listened to Doc now.
He’d made no progress in his digging. It was hot and humid, there were no clouds in the sky, and the thin trees stood too far apart from one another to provide much shade. The tiny handmade hole looked more like a makeshift latrine than a budding grave. As 10K wiped the sweat from his forehead and then the tears from his eyes, he tried not to look over at the body beside him. But he didn’t have to look to know what was coming.
The bile rose in his throat, and he could do nothing to stop it. He buried it in the hole and started a fresh hole a little way off, closer to the stream that ran through the woods. But the second his knees hit the ground he crumpled. Wrapping his arms around himself, he pressed his forehead to the dirt and let go. His whole body shook with sobs. How long had he bottled this all up now? A year? A year and a half? He’d lost track of time after Cassandra.
They were all gone.
He barely remembered digging Doc’s grave beside the stream. When he gathered himself, there was a fresh mound of dirt before him, the body was gone, his own arms were covered in dirt up to the shoulders, and his nails were ripped and bleeding.
What next? they would have asked him, after the toast. 10,000 more?
10K pushed himself to his feet, removed the sniper rifle from his back, checked the ammunition, fished in his pockets for extra. Five bullets total. One for Cass, one for Vasquez, one for Addy, one for Warren, one for Doc.
No. Not 10,000 more.