A planet devastated by war, no nuclear bombs needed. Cast, the name of the planet and the sole continent it, was torn apart when the people that hated magic and loved machines went to war with the magic empires. The war only escalated in its intensity as it went on, creating massive battlefields and slaughters that were sometimes so large they were visible from space. The war only ended when the magic empires accidentally created magic based zombies out of every corpse produced by the war to this point.

Now eighty years later Idra is growing up in a settlement called The Arch-Makers. She prefers machines to social interaction, everyone around shares a dislike for magic, and her father is pressuring her to put down her tools and join the rest of the family in the fighting against the zombies and retaking the city they are settled outside of.


2. 2: Goes the Clock

I woke up the next morning when Susan knocked on metal outside of my shed. It was morning, from what I could tell. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and reached up to open the tiny window, allowing light to flood into my room. The clock on my wall showed it was about eight o’clock, assuming it was accurate.

I quickly threw on a change of clothes and crawled into the trap door under my shed. The metal walls of the tunnel were still cold from the late night chill, making my belly cold as I crawled along the passage.

Popping back out, I saw Susan waiting with two muffins in hand. Susan was about a year older than I was, making her sixteen years old and by far the kindest of the sisters. When it suited her anyway. Each sister was about a year apart from each other, give or take a couple months. She wasn’t nearly as mean as the other sisters when she was mean, and when she was nice I found her actually okay to be around. But I had learned never to tell her anything important, she would only use it against me when she went back to being mean.

It was a love-hate relationship.

“Here you go,” she said cheerfully in her cutesy voice. Though I noticed she averted her eyes when she saw me crawling out of the trap door. I felt a little nervous now that I was standing outside, not the crippling fear I felt going around the neighborhood but a general sense of uneasiness.

“Thanks,” I said, taking the muffin from her. It was fresh and tasted pretty good, which meant my fourth sister, Nikkie, had woken up early today to make them with the oven I fixed. Not that she'd ever thank me for that.

“Dad wants me to take you to get fitted with your hunting leathers and get your gear.”

“Ah, girls going out to try on clothing, a tale as old as time.” Jason strode into the backyard as he spoke with his hands stuffed in an old hoodie. Susan rolled her eyes and asked,

“What are you doing Jason?”

Jason shrugged uncaringly. “I’m making sure my sister gets the gear she needs. If I allow you girls to pick it all, you might put flowers on it or something.”

“I’m not Nikkie!” Susan protested. Jason waved his hand dismissively and ignored her. I rolled my eyes and let a smile move across my face. I like mornings like this, I only got so many of them.

“Eh, the meet me around the armoury when you two are done trying on clothes,” Jason said with a bored tone as he turned on his heels. Susan rolled her eyes and moved to follow him into the house. Finally glad to get out of the open space, I moved to follow.

Susan took me out of our house and onto the street. The moment we were in public her attitude toward me shifted. She kept a good distance from me, chose to walk down the middle of the street knowing I would be more uncomfortable there, and let a scowl take over her face. She threw a look back at me every now and then. I think it was her way of fitting in with the other sisters, it was the only real way I could justify why she acted nicer when it's just me and Jason.

She took me Utility Street. The people who built the community had an obsession with words like that. Utility, Mechanize, Bolt, Piston, Smithing, Hammering, Fuels. All streets in the community, though the old street signs that had named them had been taken down and kept in storage to preserve them. Utility Street was more or less our version of a street market, with every house on it dedicated to a craft. I had considered attempting to get a place to sell some of my small machines to people, but I would have had to put a request to the council and that meant my father would see it. And if he saw, then my sisters would learn of it. Then even if he approved of it by some miracle, I would have to deal with their harassment. I really didn’t want that.

Besides, I didn’t know what I would do with my profit if I did. Mason jars and mason jar lids were them the most common way to trade for things, though machine parts was an another way if slightly less common. The jars could always get sold back to the Farmers for more food rations as they are always hungering for more jars to add to their canning operation. From what I’ve read in the rare book I’ve been able to find, The Nought Republic used metal tiles as a form of currency before The Push. They were made of cheap metals that couldn’t be used in the war machines. Our jar set up reflected that somewhat.

The Farmers are outside of the gate community, constantly working on their ever-expanding fields. They grew food and raised animals, and then canned everything they could in jars. The Warriors were entitled to the fresh, uncanned food, but it could also be bought if you had the jars. The other jobs in the community was paid for in canned food rations. Families traded whatever food they didn’t need or want, and the empty jars could be sold back to The Farmers.

Susan took me to one of the smallest houses on Utility Street, small because it also had the largest backyard. Perfect to hang drying leather. She led me up to the open garage door where three ladies were standing at a long table that stretched across the garage door space, ready to assist anyone looking for their services.

“Ah, Susan,” an older woman said, stepping around the table to greet her. “You’re father said you would be coming today. I assume this is Idra?” She gave me a cool look, the kind that I had gotten used to seeing. I was the odd, reclusive, rarely seen, rarely talked about, daughter of Beckit born to a different mother than the well known Six Sisters. People didn’t quite know what to make of me, but I knew it was always too much.

I gave her a stiff nod and attempted to give a quick answer only to fail and give a weak squeak as I said, “Yes.”

Immediately her face changed into a slight frown as if I had just shattered her expectations of me. Which I know I have, but it is her fault for thinking anyone with my short mousy build and look could possibly measure up to the Six Sisters.

“Well,” she said, clapping her hands together. “Let's see what we can get you.”

She lead us around the tables set out front and into the house through the garage. While the garage featured many of their completed garments, the inside was more of a workshop. There were six women and two guys working at each station. Some were bringing in the black leather from the backyard, others were cutting it. Some were sowing and others were organizing the final product. If the leather wasn’t such a difficult item to work with it probably would have left us with an overabundance of it with the speed these people shaped it.

“Hmm,” the old lady said as she sorted through a stack of garments. “Do you think you’d rather have a vest or a jacket?”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“The jacket offers less protection dummy,” Susan explained with a condensing tone. “Its thinner and and comes off quicker. The vest is made of harder leather but is harder to take off. It also can be hard to move in.”

“Oh,” I said, taken aback. I forgot we were public, Susan’s comments would be more scathing now. I sighed and said, “A jacket would be fine.”

I didn’t make my choice based on what she said, more that if I was going to be out in the open a jacket would make me feel more covered and protected. I could only imagine my sisters' comments if I choked and stood frozen because I couldn’t move due to my fear. I’d never live it down and my father would be even more disappointed in me. My machines don’t have these expectations of me.

“Alrighty,” the woman said, pulling out a jacket from a stack of others like it. “Try this one on, the sea serpent leather makes it particularly protective.” I took the piece of clothing from her hands and shrugged it on. It was too large for me, not even letting me stick my hands all the way through it. The woman frowned.

“You are a skinny one are you?” She said with a frown. “Our smallest size will probably be still a little big on you, but you’ll grow into it once you put on some muscle.” She turned around and went to fetch the next garment. I looked at Susan who was leaning against a wall and looking bored.

“Did she say sea serpent leather?” I asked, a little trepidation making its way into my voice. Susan rolled her eyes at me.

“You can’t seriously be that dumb?”

I winced at her tone, she rolled her eyes.

“Yes,” she said. “I thought you listened to the old people stories of the war, don’t you know that tale of the sea serpents?”

It sounded vaguely familiar, but there were two issues with the tales from before the war. They were already second-hand accounts unless you found someone who was over eight years old. But also they all came from people who didn’t participate in it. It was incredibly rare to find anyone who actually fought in the war and lived. Each side was too good at killing the other. I shook my head and Susan rolled her eyes again.

“Those magic bastards wanted to even the score from some massive victory we had or something like that, so they released the damnable sea serpents into The Great Bay. Fucking things will eat anything that moves, including each other. Totally destroyed New Port’s export industry. Since then the things have invested every inch of the place. They make for good eating though, and even better leather.”

At that moment, the old lady came back with the jacket she was talking about in hand. Just like she had said, it was a loose fit but not nearly as bad as the last one. She looked pleased with herself and started outfitting mine with all the clothing I was going to need.

Thankfully, I was able to get a pair of pants that actually fit. Along with two belts meant to hold much of the equipment I was going to be given. One went around my waist like a normal belt while another was worn like a sash over the jacket. I was given some combat boots that had some surprisingly soft inside liners, even if the were a size too big.

When she was finished handing me clothing I felt twenty pounds heavier. But I also felt protected, maybe a little more confident as I wore the clothing all my sisters and even my brother wore all the time.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

“Well, all that together would be thirty jars, or half that with the lids and rings.” The old lady said.

“Put it on our tab,” Susan said sarcastically before grabbing me roughly by the shoulder. “Come on, we still got to get you some weapons before you're even close to being ready to go out of the settlement.”

She steered me out of the house before the lady could say anything to her. I shot back a sympathetic look back as I was pushed out the door and back onto the street. Immediately I felt the wide openness creeping around me and making my heart thunder in my chest. I pulled the thick jacket closer around me, attempting to take some comfort in it.

I was was only marginally comforted.

Susan lead me away from Utility street and towards the edge of the neighborhood. Each time I tried to slink away to the edges of the road she stopped me and lead me back to the centre. Occasionally she would make a snide remark about it, but only when there were people around to hear it. Just enough it would grate on me as I attracted stares.

The closer we got to the edge of the community, the more vehicles and Reclaimers I saw. The Reclaimers dressed like me, or like my sisters rather. I was a stranger here, dressing like one of them.

Reclaimers were the official term for warriors. They have a single job, reclaiming the city of New Port. But everyone knew they were more concerned with killing the undead that roamed the streets of the city than actually protecting the people they’ve stationed there.

“Hey,” Jason called, making Susan pause and look around for him. “Over here,” he said, waving from around the corner of a house. Susan made a face at him.

“That’s not a weapon’s shop,” she called back at him.

“Yeah, it's better. Now come on.” He turned and disappeared around the corner of the house before she could respond. She scowled after him a moment before we moved to follow.

I immediately felt a rush of relief as we found him walking down the side of a house where the wall of the next house made things tight and closed off. Jason opened a door that blocked off the narrow walkway on this side of the house and disappeared inside with us closely behind him.

Inside was a gun scrap heap. Through a thick musk of oil and gunpowder coming from piles upon piles of abondoned guns nothing could be smelled. There were guns piled on the floor, guns piled on tables, guns piled under the tables covered in guns. There were guns of all types and sizes with complete disorganization, not a single sense of order found within the garage area. It was almost impressive.

“Welcome to the gun graveyard,” Jason said with a sarcastic wave of his hand. “Here all the broken guns we have ever recovered. Everything is free and you can shop to your heart’s content.”

“Hey moron,” Susan said, crossing her arms over her chest. “We need working guns to fight zombies.”

“No,” I said wistfully, running my hands over the piles of gun cheerfully. “Even the most diverse set of guns would still share some interchangeable parts. They were made that way.”

“Yeah,” Jason said, “Basically, if you happen to be really good with machines then you could probably fix half of the guns in this house with the other half.”

“Not even then,” I said, picking up a twelve shot revolver off the pile. “Guns are so much simpler than an engine.”

“Well, there you go,” Jason said, sounding a little pleased with himself.

“But what do you know about guns?” Susan asked, her tone softening now that she realizes were alone in the house.

“It isn’t that hard,” I answered as I disassembled the handgun with a few quick motions.

“I mean about what you need for combat,” Susan clarified. “Do you even know the seven kinds of ammo?”

“Um, no?”

“Alright, it's simple. Drivers, Shredders, Biters, Chewers, explosive, Elite Drivers, and Stops. Drivers are the most common, they drive through light armour and people fairly easily. Shredders shred through the enemy, all types of shotgun shells are shedders. Biters are your personal handgun type bullets. Compared to a Drivers, they nip or ‘bite’ the target. Chewers are those belts that feed into machine guns, cause they ‘chew’ through enemy forces. Explosive is pretty self-explanatory. Your Elite Drivers are mainly for sniper rifles. Stops are used against any serious armour. Anti-tank rifles or bigger.

“Okay,” I said slowly, taking a mental note. The Republic had been very big fans about streamlining things so I wasn’t surprised the produced things like that. All machines were made with all similar parts as possible, most guns use all the same parts with small variants, and even bullets were interchangeable between most gun models.

“You're going to want two handguns,” Susan said, as she began picking through the piles eagerly. “I’d say machine gun but it would probably knock you over, if there is a light machine gun here you should grab it though. Shotguns are nice when you meet some Borgs and can never go wrong with a good rifle. Not to mention…”

I tuned her out as I picked through the pile. Jason had told me stories of his hunting trips. Most of the time I didn’t listen, but I had picked up a few things from his stories. Mostly, what he complained about. He hated people that were inaccurate. He was always talking about Maddie and Arc who used rapid-fire guns to waste lots of ammo by firing blindly at the dead creatures. I didn’t want to be like that, which left precision guns and shotguns. I didn’t think I had the strength to handle the recoil on a shotgun, no matter how strong I got. I would probably always be too small.

A glint of metal caught my eye from under one of the piles and I quickly went to it. The shining bit of metal turned out to be a shiny part of a machine gun that had lost its covering, but when I pulled it out a little handgun fell out of the pile. Picking it up, I found myself instantly intrigued by it.

It had a classic look to it, with a splintered wooden handle that would need to be sanded smooth. The pistol was break action, spilling open along the top so a single Driver could be slipped into the chamber. I found the size of it reassuring, the long barrel making it a touch longer than most handguns. There was something engraved along the beginning of the barrel, but it was too old and faded for me to make out.

I opened it up and examined the insides closely. It was missing a firing pin and mechanism responsible for the break action looked in poor shape. The firing pin was a quick fix, I just had to pick one out of the other few hundred guns around. The pivot mechanism was a touch harder, but I found a double barrel shotgun working on the same piece and replaced it. When I was done, I turned around to show it to Jason only to find him in a heated debate with Susan.

Or, as heated as Jason got. He seemed more bored by it than anything, casually countering everything Susan said as she held up weapons for his consideration.

“This little machine gun is perfect for her,” Susan insisted.

“If she wants to hit everything but the Shamblers,” Jason said dryly.

“What if there is a hoard of them?”

“Really? Not only does Maddie already use more Chewer rounds than any other Arch-Maker, but hoards like that hardly ever happen.”

“But it could still happen, and the more machine guns the better.”

“Idra isn’t going to want to be in direct combat,” Jason pointed out. “She’ll do better as a sniper.”

“Even snipers can run into zombies up close sometimes.”

“Guy?” I interrupted. “I put together this one?”

“A single shot?” Jason asked, plucking from my hands. “Eh, it's a start.”

“But you should really try these,” Susan said, pushing the pile she had got towards me. “And make sure you get at least one rapid fire, they are so useful.”

They walked me through the rest of the gun choices. Jason favoured shotguns and explosive weapons while Susan kept trying to give me semi-automatic assault rifles and light machine guns. In the end, I picked one of each just to appease them.

For Jason, I found a three-barreled shotgun with such a short barrel it was practically a handgun. In fact, the way Jason showed it to me it was a handgun, it could even fit in a hip holster we found. I didn’t really like the idea of a shotgun. It was unwieldy, inaccurate, and the idea of its kickback made me nervous.

Susan gave me two option to make it easier. The first was a large pistol with a clip holding twenty Biter rounds. She said they wouldn't do much against armour, but was more than enough to shoot through an animal or head. The other choice was a pair of twin pistols with ten Driver rounds per clip. Both choices were semi-automatic.

I went with the latter choice. I found the idea of sacrificing numbers for power to make much more sense, not to mention I was already using a pistol using Driver ammo. Susan seemed satisfied with it either way, which was nice.

As soon as I made my decision I went around repairing the guns with whatever I needed. It was pretty easy, as both Jason and Susan had gone out of their way to find guns in good shape for me. The only thing wrong with the shotgun was the grip missing, which was easily fixed. The barrel was damaged on one of the twin guns, which was the easiest thing to find a replacement for.

Once I was done, I turned to find Jason holding a massive gun out to me. I felt my eyes widen at the sheer size of it. It looked almost longer than me, which in retrospect, wasn’t that impressive but still.

I reached out and Jason deposited in my hands and I nearly dropped it just because of the weight of it. The thing was almost completely solid steel!

“Dominator Mark One,” Jason explained. “Or just Dom1. One of the best sniper rifles ever made. Built-in bipod, collapsible scope, twelve shot clip, bolt action. Fell out of use when the Dom2 came on the line with a semi-automatic function.”

“Why is it so heavy?” I asked as I attempted to turn it over in my hands.

“To make it sturdy,” Jason said dismissively. “You’ll find it on all the older guns, they increased the casing and size to make them last longer. Later on they just stopped caring, making lighter guns with easy repairs. The weight should take some of the recoil off you so your tiny frame doesn’t snap in half.”


I studied the gun up and down. The barrel of it was easily the longest thing on it, being almost twice the size of the main body. The body itself was thick and covered in large metal plating protecting the insides from wear and abuse. The stock didn’t even have padding to it, just a solid metal curve.

Experimentally, I put it up to my shoulder while pointing the barrel at the ground. Oddly, the feeling of the stock was reassuring with the way in perfectly conformed to my frame. I really hoped the weight would take off the recoil like Jason said because the size of this was making me think it had a lot more kick than anything else I was going to use

“Well,” Susan said. “We just have to get you a few more holsters and stock up on ammo and then we can finally head out.”

I groaned inwardly. I had forgotten about that.


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