He stood at the door as Alex gave him a final check, making sure everything was tight and secure. Exposed skin or loose leathers were bad mojo. More than a few punchers died because the zombies found a weak spot and kept digging.
He stepped out into the light and held up an arm for shade as they crowd started to cheer. He walked forward out of the flood light and looked around him. Lots of people were outside the fence, watching the start of the tournament. Punching wasn’t really a spectator sport if you were actually at the venue, but people living out in the mid zones didn’t have a lot for entertainment.
Smith looked at the competition. There were seven of them, Smith had come out last. He recognized two of them, Hiller and Stahl, and they nodded at him. The other five were new or nearly so, as far as Smith could tell. Two of them stood out from the rest.
One was a tanker, somebody who’d opted to layer themselves in armor from head to toe, this one nearly to the point of being spherical. The guy was big, though, at least a head taller than Smith, who was a little over six foot. Someone that big might be able to make the tanker strategy work. He’d be a problem on the wayback.
The other was unique for more or less the exact opposite reason; he was tiny, barely over five feet and slim looking, as far as you could tell beneath the armor. That was fairly rare for a puncher; the game lent itself to people who could mix strength with speed. Small people generally didn’t have enough force behind their punches to get the job done. Generally.
Assuming no major changes to the venue, the tournament would take place in an area two blocks wide, to the end of the town. Roads and alleys were blocked off by fencing, and snipers at the top of the buildings would keep the zombies where they wanted to be. Punching was pretty simple. You were locked in the venue. Somewhere at the other end there were keys. Get there, get them, get out. One key per person.
Smith stepped up to the gate. The man in charge of the gate did a quick scan of the area through the scope on his rifle and turned back to them.
“On your mark”
The gates slid open. The crowd cheer was almost deafening.
The tanker swung a heavy arm at the puncher next to him. The punch drifted forward with the slow certain of a glacier, but it knocked the puncher completely off his feet. Hiller was already moving, a full tilt run. A couple of the other punchers started to sprint. Smith and Stahl left the gate with the same slow jog.
“Move you big dumb fucker.”
Smith glanced over a shoulder. The gatekeeper was aiming at the tanker, trying to get him clear of the gate so he could lock it. The downed puncher was out of it, probably for the duration. Smith noted that he didn’t see the tiny puncher. Worth remembering.
The crowd cheer died down, and Smith heard the zombies. He dropped back from keeping pace with Stahl, trying to get some maneuvering distance. The moan was close, and the moan meant that whatever zombies they had in the area would be attracted to the sound of it.
Smith felt something moving to his left and turned in time to see a zombie coming out of the glass less window of one of the buildings. It landed on it’s feet and began to sprint towards him, faster than it should be.
This was new. Zombies only moved this fast in the first twenty four hours after infection. No venue had ever done that. Smith took off at a dead sprint, aiming to get some distance between them.
He ran sideways, past one of the one of the new punchers, shoving him hard as he went past. The puncher went down hard on his ass, and the runner was on him. Smith heard the dull wet slap of punches, but he didn’t turn around.
He scanned the area. There should be more of them. He noticed movement on the roof across the street from him. No way there were zombies up there. The tiny puncher was running along the rooftop, leaping from building to building.
More zombies were pouring out of the buildings, and they were all runners. Smith counted fifteen of them. The odds were wrong. This was too many runners. The town was basically laid out so that two rows of buildings served as the outer wall, with a row of abandoned buildings in the middle. Smith went for the buildings in the middle. He heard a scream, and saw Stahl go down. Stahl was a hard puncher, but that many runners would get anyone.
The windows on the middle building were covered in plywood, which was new, and they actually had doors. Smith turned and punched a runner as it got within arm’s reach of him. He felt the thing’s jaw shatter under the impact and it hit the ground. He slammed a heel down on its head, once, twice, a full two hundred pounds down on the skull. The thing stopped moving.
Three more were coming in fast and he tried the door. Locked. Figured. He smashed it with his shoulder and stepped inside. He put his weight against and felt the runners slam into. They weren’t afraid of getting hurt, so they hit it with everything they had. Smith slid forward, but he held. Fuck.
The door slammed shut behind him and he dropped to his ass when it did. He took a deep breath and realized that he could see. It was dark out and it should have been pitch black. Instead, a single lamp glowed in the dark. He heard a small whir as a camera in the corner turned to catch him. This what he was supposed to do, then.