One: VAGUE Offers

The heavy booted feet trudged slowly down the dark hallway. Water was dripping somewhere, making the professional tense with every noise that echoed, paranoia overtaking him instantly as his breath slowed and his fingers flexed over the trigger. There was this sensation that he was being followed, but whenever he shifted his view there would be no one in sight.

Carefully, he approached the locked doorway, a hexagonal shaped indentation in the frame. He withdrew the crest that he had pried from a corpse's body and placed it where it belonged. Painfully slow, the door creaked open, and the trained soldier took a deep breath before he prepared to dart into the unknown.

"OVER THERE!" Someone to the right of him screeched, and he jerked towards the left and quickly burst a few rounds from his rapid-fire machine gun. The bullets hit something, and the area glowed, revealing an animated, decaying fiend.

The soldier nudged the body of the undead with the toe of his combat boot, "Zombies," He muttered, amazed. "I knew that government agency undergoing the suspicious viral weaponry tests was up to something vaguely amiss." His majestic dark hair somehow managed to reflect despite the absence of a proficient source of illumination in the underground hall, "Damn! I lost some good men to these scum!"

A low, rumbling groan stopped the one man army's tirade, as the sound of scraping assaulted his ears, "Ughhhh…..arggggkkkk…."

"It's another one," Came the voice to the right of him again.

"Let me work!" The professional argued, as his finger flexed over the trigger yet again, and the zombie that was oh-so slowly approaching was decimated before he even reached the soldier's field of vision.

"Nice," Came a flat, disinterested voice to the left.

The dark-haired soldier grunted in satisfaction, "I love my bacon with a side of fried brains in the morning."

The professional gave a sigh of detached boredom, his posture relaxing somewhat, "Piece of cake-"

But he was cut off! As suddenly, a huge, nine foot tall zombie lunged at the soldier, gripping him from behind and attempting to bite through the soldier's jugular vein.

The professional struggled fiercely to remove himself from the dastardly grip, and eventually the soldier managed to flip the grossly ill-proportioned walking funeral ad over his shoulder. The large zombie landed with a harsh thud, its head snapping back and grey-brain matter oozing onto the cobblestones.

The soldier laughed to himself, rubbing his neck self-consciously, "Perhaps I should stick to a low protein diet." He bantered in a manly fashion.

The room went dark, before in large, day glow, and obnoxious lettering it appeared:

LEVEL CLEARED! BOSS BIG ZOMBIE DEFEATED!

The 'professional' let out a bored sigh as he leaned back into the couch and flipped the video game console controller into the air, "Lame." He muttered flatly.

The annoying voice to his right, who now appeared to be a very wiry ten year old, stuck out his tongue and proceeded to whine, "Hey! Shut up! I spent almost eight hours on this level!"

"You suck." Came the toneless voice to the left, who was a teenage girl drabbed in all-black, dirty clothes and festooned with various ribbons everywhere, as she flipped to a different page on the notebook she had been keeping observations on, "That'll be $9.00, a dollar for every minute big boy over here spent on this."

The professional looked offended, "I am not fat!"

"I didn't call you fat."

"No way! I'm not paying!" Protested the ten year old.

The professional rolled his eyes and looked over to his counterpart, "Gretch?"

The girl in black, now identified as 'Gretch', cleared her throat, "You clearly signed your name on the consent form that stated the conditions of payment rendered for our services, in addition to a bonus payment for every extra level Ben accomplished on your stupid video game." She paused as she scribbled down some more tallies, "And since Ben completed three extra levels than stated in the original contract, you actually now owe us $15.65."

"But that blows!" The youngest member argued cleverly.

Gretch shrugged, "That's business, maybe you should learn the simple button-pushing techniques before you quit and ask for The Professionals."

The professional, Ben to his non-pixilated friends, stood up and outstretched a rather meaty palm, "Fork it up, Tommy." He said exasperatedly.

Tommy grumbled as he dug into his pockets, producing a wadded up ten, four ones, and a stick of gum. "Will gum cover the rest?"

Ben was about to grunt out a 'Yeah, sure', but Gretch stopped him, her eyes narrowed.

"What brand?"

"Um…Zonks."

"Flavor?"

Tommy took a careful whiff of the stick, "I'd say Berry Berry Blast, maybe Strawberry Apple Implosion."

"Hmmm…" Gretch muttered, tapping a finger against her chin, "I'd say we'd need two Berry Berry Blasts to make it an even trade off."

"But everyone knows Berry Berry Blast is the best kind!" Whined Tommy, his hand outstretched and holding the stick of gum like it was the Holy Grail.

Gretch raised her hands in a 'Gee, too bad but no offense' pose, "It's just the politics of capitalism, young Tommy, you'll know more about it when you're older." She paused, "Besides, it's common knowledge that Strawberry Apple Implosion is the best flavor."

Tommy's face was twisted in a sneer as he fished out another piece of gum, "Fine," He surrendered, "But I'm definitely not calling you guys again!"

She shrugged, "That's what they all say, just wait until level nine of Abode Sinister, you'll come crawling back!"

Ben shifted his rather massive bulk from one leg to the other, "Gretch can we please go now?" He whimpered, "The fourth remake of the one movie with gratuitous and grizzled gore will be on in ten minutes."

Gretch rolled her eyes, "Oh no, not the fifth remake of the one movie with the guts."

"I believe I said fourth and gratuitous, grizzled gore." Ben corrected…snootily.

"What's the difference?"

"Impressive vocabulary and alliteration."

Tommy looked at the two with barely shielded disgust, "Can you guys get out of my house now?!"

"Fine, fine, keep your pants on." Gretch muttered, waving her hand as she walked out of the door, Ben lagging close behind her. Tommy immediately slammed the door after they exited and leaned against it. After a few moments of deliberation, he looked around the area for spies then gave the two the finger, giggling to himself at how damn cool and badass he was.

Ben's ear twitched once they were outside, "I think that kid just gave us the finger."

"Never mind that, can you say pay dirt?" Gretch scoffed, flipping through the kid's money. "He didn't even read the contract! There's nothing about a bonus in there!" She cawed.

"You scammed a little kid?"

"I didn't scam anyone! It specifically stated in the contract that there's no bonuses, it's not my fault if children avoid learning and reading at all possible times." Gretch justified herself.

"Gretch."

"What?"

"Your contract had a three point font."

"So?"

"With yellow ink."

"What are you saying exactly?"

"On a white background."

"You're not proving anything, Ben."

"And you had 'NO NEED TO READ' scribbled over it with black magic marker."

"It's just capitalism, Ben, pure and simple."

Ben rolled his eyes as they continued walking, "You really need to stop using the word 'capitalism' as your every excuse. Sometimes it just isn't so, Gretch. It just isn't so."

"My capitalistic ventures just scored us five bucks and two sticks of gum extra." Gretch took a deep inhaling and cleansing breath of the pieces of gum, "Score! They were both Strawberry Apple Implosion!"

Ben sighed heavily as they walked back towards the 'Base Camp'.

Benjamin Goodman and Gretchen Smith were co-owners to one of the most ridiculous partnership businesses in the history of mankind. The company? a website that dealt with the particularly gruesome career field of zombie hunting. The name came from Gretch's inability to title something without rhyming, and Ben's addiction to redundancy. Their mission? To stop evil-doing, decaying, undead minions of hell from taking over the world…as long as they were graphically engineered.

Ben was the actual skill behind the operation. At five foot nine, two hundred and sixty three pounds, he was a force to be reckoned with. As long as said force involved one of the ten video game systems he was a master in. He'd played them all, from Monsters With Earthworms in Their Skulls to Corpses, Zombies, and Loud Weaponry-Oh My!. On the 'net they knew him as The Professional, for he had also owned all major role playing games. It was Ben who did the actual hunting, as well as the occasional walkthrough writing.

On the flip side there was Gretch, the accountant, manager, and overall smart person in the business. Gretch dealt with the books, handled the cash, drew in clients, and harassed all the prepubescent boys out of their chewing gum. She was shrewd, fearless, and a wee bit of a bitch most times. She was handy in most video games, but she paled in comparison to Ben's overall BAMF (Bad Ass but Mother Friendly) quality and appeal.

Now, the most obvious question to answer is the one that is most obvious of course. How on Earth did they manage to con their way into playing video games as an after school job?

Easy enough. It started with the traditional 'Hey I'll buy you copious amounts of caffeine if you mutilate this boss for me' routine from Ben's fellow gaming buddies, but it eventually escaladed like a flesh-eating virus when Gretch, Ben's best friend since childhood, began to threaten the scrawnier ones with physical violence if they didn't cough up cash for Ben's aide. While Ben was against this at first, as he enjoyed the merciless slaughtering of decomposing sacks of flesh for aesthetic and artistic purposes, his opinion was quickly swayed when he discovered he now had enough cash to buy all the game consoles his grubby little hands could get a hold of. Thus, the business began. wasn't exactly as prosperous as it once had been, there truly isn't a large demand for those in their specialty field, and now both the partners were beginning to feel the losses. The only real money came from the walkthroughs, known in the non-gaming world as the 'Strategy Guides for Dumbasses', that Ben wrote, and even that was dwindling. They were in a bit of a financial pinch, and if they didn't recover soon, would be a tiny little bit of raccoon road kill on the epic highway of the gaming industry.

The pair of entrepreneurs walked into the headquarters of their business, Gretch's house.

"Hey dad," Gretch muttered, plopping a piece of Strawberry Apple Implosion into her mouth.

"'Sup?" Came her father's voice from the living room, as he reclined on the easy chair and scratched his almost offensively hairy stomach.

"Killing animated corpses, screwing over whiny preadolescents, the usual." Gretch commented casually.

"No drugs?"

"No, dad. No drugs."

"No sex?"

"With the zombies or with clients?"

"…That's not funny Gretchen."

Gretch sighed and opened the door to the basement, "Ben's here."

"Ben who?" Came her father, still in the living room.

"The only Ben we know." Gretch replied.

"Oh. Hi Ben."

Ben, who had spent the entire time feeling uncomfortable just standing there as his best friend and best friend's father yelled at each other between rooms, didn't exactly know what was going on. So when he heard his name called, he said, "Uh…" As he had not been really paying attention. Silly Ben.

"To the crypt!" Gretch suddenly proclaimed, throwing open the door to her basement stairs with dramatic flourish and bounding down dramatically.

Ben just shrugged, although he didn't really know who to, and walked down after her.

The two's workspace was like any other typical American teen's: dirty, cluttered, and having an odd, vaguely body odorous scent. There were two laptops set up on a nearby table, one for each, and a telephone with a lamp shaped like some sort of Corvette. Gretch's basement also had a few beat up couches, a television, and of course, The Motherload.

The Motherload was a steel bookshelf loaded from top to bottom with zombie paraphernalia from Z to, well Z. There were three of the most current gaming systems, along with all the modern horror games 'for research', dozens of gore-munching films arranged in chronological order 'for fun', and the occasional action figure that Ben had posed in intricate ballet positions 'for kicks'.

As soon as they entered the basement, Ben raced to the sitting area and plopped down on an old sofa, clicking on the boob tube. "Yes!" He proclaimed, pumping a fist in the air for victory, "It's only about five minutes in!"

Gretch, who was making her way towards the computers, rolled her eyes, "What movie was it again?"

Ben smirked, and jacked up the volume, "My Love, My Spleen, only the best Zombie Romance Between Zombies in existence!"

His female partner sighed and turned the power on the computer, "Ben, everyone knows that He Broke My Aorta is the best Zombie Romance Between Zombies."

He looked at her in amazement for a moment before turning back to the screen, "Gretchen, this is why you have no friends."

Her eyebrows furrowed as she logged into her username, back towards him, "Oh, really? I would have thought that having a business run in my basement dedicated to the slaughter of fictional decomposing fiends would have done it." She coughed, "Loser."

There was a pause, "I hate you."

"No you don't, I manage your lame business."

"Oh yeah."

Gretch began to scan through the emails that they had received from their home web site, hoping to find some more clients. Sadly, most of them just seemed to be ratings and comments on the walkthroughs from the automatic bot alerts for ones Ben had written a few months ago. She systematically deleted all of them, not really caring about how 'l33t' Ben was or how much Ben 'pwn'd!'.

Ben relaxed in his chair, watching a well-endowed blonde run through a graveyard screaming as she was pursued by a horde of incredibly slow-paced zombies. "Run bitch run!" He cried loudly, though secretly hoping she would trip over a tombstone and have her intestines chewed like sausages.

"Bah, no job offers," Gretch muttered sadly, preparing to close out of the browser.

"That's lame," Ben supplied, followed shortly by, "Hey, wanna grab me a soda?"

"Get your own damn-" She trailed off as the little icon for 'Mail' flashed in the corner of her screen. She double clicked on it and her eyes widened as she read the message, "Hey, Ben, we got a potential client!" She exclaimed, "A really, really weird one."

"Yeah?"

She shook her head, "I'm not taking it seriously, it's far too formal and grammatically correct to be a gamer."

Ben scratched his stomach, "Well, what's the address of the person who sent it?"

"It's VAGUE."

"Of course it is Gretch."

She let out an annoyed hiss of air between her teeth, "No, come here!"

"But Gretchen, she just tripped-"

"Benjamin."

His eyes widened and he realized that she had just used his entire name. Sluggishly heaving himself up, he made his way over to the workstation, reading over Gretch's shoulder, "Bogus." He muttered.

On the screen was the following email:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It is under grave circumstances that our organization requires your utmost aide and specialty services. Two days ago, there was an unknown and possibly deadly viral outbreak at an otherwise peaceful setting. Those infected have begun to turn hostile and are behaving in a manner that is generally not acceptable to society. Several experts have confirmed that the victims of the affliction had terrible breath, a grayish skin tone, and are, and this term is used with the most diplomacy available for the situation, 'rotting'.

The circumstance is dire, and our sources have gathered information stating that your affiliation is the most highly-regarded in your field. While we are slightly skeptical about the existence of quote, unquote "zombies" there seems to be an uncanny similarity between the descriptions on your web log, albeit poorly worded, and the workers at the now quarantined facility.

We at V.A.G.U.E. are in a desperate bind, a pickle if you will. There is precious little time before the infected break through the hastily built barricades and into a nearby town. This is especially important to national security as the nearby town, whose location will be disclosed to you pending your acceptance of the job, is the only known producer of a very impractical but highly vital item that is of extreme importance to our government.

We are willing to pay exceedingly well for this mission, as it is top-secret and holds a low chance of success and morality.

If you wish to meet with us and discuss the terms of this assignment, we will be waiting at the local Happy Funshine Petting Zoo, near the rabbits, Friday at 17hr00 sharp.

We hope you decide to do what's best for your country.

Sincerely,

The Versatile Action Guard for Unknown Encounters

V.A.G.U.E.

The pair both blinked for a few moments, "Weird." Ben stated.

"Totally," Gretch agreed.

"Why did they type 'quote, unquote' and then use quotation marks?" Ben wondered aloud, shaking his head.

"Weird," She muttered.

"Totally." He consented.

Gretch scratched the top of her head, "So, um, how much money do you think they mean by 'exceedingly well'?"

He shook his head more violently, chins jiggling, "No way Gretch, even if this was a real gig, it says right there that there is a low success and mortality rate."

She squinted at the monitor, "It doesn't say that-"

Ben pointed, "Yes it does! Right there!"

Gretch read where his finger was, and heaved wrathfully before hitting him on the back of the head, "It says morality, moron! That's far more negotiable than mortality!"

Ben rubbed the back of his head tenderly, "You don't need to hit, Gretch!"

"Someone's got to beat the stupid out of you!"

"I happen to like my occipital bone plate!" He spat, indignant.

Gretch's mouth twisted, "Yeah, well, so's your face!"

He sighed, anger gone from that lame comeback, as his gaze went back to the email, "There's no way this is real. I mean, honestly, The Happy Funshine Petting Zoo?"

She tapped her chin, while she inwardly berated herself for that lame comeback, "That is a little stupid for a supposed government agency." There was a pause, and her eyes widened, "Oh my God."

Ben looked at his best friend with worry, "What? What!"

"I just realized…" She paled, "That I'm more skeptic about it being a real source for cash instead of whether or not the existence of movable corpses is actually genetically feasible!" She pointed an accusing finger, "Your geekiness is spreading you asshole!"

"Huh?" He asked bewildered, as she had just sounded like a lot of angry and he didn't catch anything except her calling him an asshole. Silly Ben.

She face-palmed herself, "Never mind." She breathed out slowly, "So, do you think it's worth checking out?"

Ben stared at the email yet again before shrugging , "Dunno."

"Dunno," Gretch repeated in annoyance.

"It's probably just spam, I don't poorly word my blogs," Ben deducted.

Gretch hesitantly nodded, "Yeah, you're right…" Her eyes landed lovingly on the part that stated 'exceedingly well' yet again.

"I'm going to go finish watching My Love, My Spleen now." He concluded, shuffling back towards the couch. He gazed at the screen for a few moments before turning to Gretch, who was still fixed on the email message, "You gonna watch?"

Gretch found herself in quite a mental turmoil. On the one hand, the email was probably just an incredibly pathetic joke sent by an incredibly bored internet addict. But on the other hand… she might as well save it, right? After all, the business was going to sadly end soon, and there was an eensy bitsy chance that this was real. And it promised money! Lots of money!

Well, that just settled it. She saved it, her inner crisis abated, before flickering off the computer and joining Ben on the couch. Her eyes were immediately trained on the screen.

"What's going on?" She asked.

"Just watch the movie, you'll figure it out." He grunted.

"Who's that?" Gretch continued, pointing at a skanky blonde who was running as good as an antelope high on methamphetamine water-skied…which was poorly.

"The hot blonde." His voice was flat as drool leaked out of the corner of his mouth.

"Why do they always have to be blonde?"

"They aren't always blonde."

"Um, yes, yes they are."

"Just watch the movie." His tone picked up irritability now.

There were a few moments of silence before it inevitably came, "Who're they?"

"Those would be the zombies."

"They look stupid."

"That would be the point."

"Why are they chasing the blonde?"

"They're hungry."

"But there's a bunch of schoolchildren right there."

"Too stringy."

"Ah."

There was quiet then, and Ben inhaled tranquilly, thinking Gretch had finally stopped asking questions. It was one of his biggest pet peeves in the whole world when she talked during a-

"Why is her shirt coming off?"

"Marketing strategy," He offered, hoping that speaking in her language would get her to shut the hell up.

"Wearing a mini skirt isn't very practical when you're fighting flesh eaters, it's highly unlikely that-"

"Gretch."

"Yeah?"

"Shut the hell up."

"…I hate you."

"No you don't, you manage my lame business."

"Oh yeah."

The pair continued to watch the not stringy, skanky, and non-practically dressed hot blonde be chased by the hungry, hungry zombies for another two hours. Eventually, the time came for Ben to return to his own sinister abode, so he grabbed his share of the day's revenues, a measly $4.50 as Gretch was a greedy hooker, and decided to make his way home.

"Later Gretch," Ben mumbled, pulling on his jacket and preparing to go upstairs.

"Already?" She muttered, her glazed over eyes still captured by the television.

"My mom." Two words that explained every problem in the universe.

"Shit brick."

"Yes," Whatever that meant, "I'll see you tomorrow."

She gave a half hearted salute, and Ben made his way up the stairs. When he reached the top, he saw Gretch's dad still on the easy chair, his shirt off revealing a massively hairy back. Ben did his best not to mouth vomit as he sprinted to the doorway.