Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ruins

Jamie, Mason, and their team have found a mobile cell transmitter. They looked at a few fire departments and emergency management centers but found nothing. In the early days of The Fall, the cellular networks were slammed with millions of people, myself included, trying to get in touch with their loved ones. 

If we'd have thought about that beforehand, we could have saved a lot of time. As it is, it took most of the morning for the team to get to the spot near Louisville where they found it. 

Or, I should say, them. 

It looks like the safe zone the military tried to set up included a major communications center. There are two large cell trucks, and three smaller trailer units. Jamie reports that they are going to be hard to get to, surrounded by discarded and damaged equipment. It's enough for now that his team found them. We'll worry about moving what we need later, when we can spare the manpower to get through the labyrinth of bodies and heavy gear scattered through the safe zone. 

I'm hoping that this trend of good news will continue. It seems as though the storm fronts that have been wracking us nonstop have finally let up. The storms must have damaged some of the cell towers in the deep south where some of our allies live, because we haven't heard from them in a few days. Other than that, things here are going pretty well. We're able to field a lot of people on the farms to try to catch up on our planting. 

I'm pretty envious of the people of North Jackson for their luck in having that big contingent of soldiers join with them. A dedicated force of guards would leave the rest of us to do other things. On the other hand, they'd also leave us with a lot of extra mouths to feed. 

As time goes by and groups of survivors join together and pool their resources, we'll get stronger. Some communities will get bigger in bursts that way. Some, like us, will eventually even out and have to grow slowly. The amount of people we can absorb and support has reached its limit unless we can find enough time to expand our resources. 

It's fine with me. I'm hoping that the spring storms have finally passed, and that there will be opportunity for us to strengthen our reserves. 

It's funny to realize that the means of our continued communication with the outside world was sitting right there in the ruins of what should have been a haven for people. We've been past that fallback point a dozen times, but all we saw was a sad remnant of the efforts of our government to save people. We didn't see it as anything other than another sad sight. 

Which just makes us stupid, really. We didn't see anything useful there, since most of the weaponry and easily removed supplies had already been fleeced. We won't make that mistake again. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Beautiful

For right now, we've got regular power going to the cell tower. It's going to have to do until and unless Jamie can find a portable unit we can take back to the compound. That's why my post is so late today--we've had people wiring new solar panels up and setting up a small wind turbine.

It's been a nice day. We've missed a lot of work time out on the farms because of the constant rain, so today we made as much makeup progress as we could. It was so nice out that I think most people just enjoyed the change in the weather and the chance to socialize as they worked. Pretty much everyone was out working...

It's going to take a while to fix all the storm damage. The wall is functional if not pretty right this second, and roofs are being patched. There's no handy replacement glass for all the windows that were shattered by the debris the tornado kicked onto us, so for now it's whatever we can find to cover them.

So that's it for updates.

Looking outside isn't easy at my house. We took some pretty extreme measures early on to safeguard ourselves, which means that when I'm at home and working, it doesn't matter what the outside looks like. My office is always the same.

But I'm sitting on my front porch right now, looking at the sky. I'm seeing beautiful streaks of red and gold across the bottoms of the clouds, all mixed with blue. It's a lovely sight.

I don't want to get too philosophical on you. I know it gets old.

But this is important to me. I look up at this sky, a vision that has no meaning in and of itself. I see the sun passing through the atmosphere and bouncing off the clouds, and I recognize something important. Life is full of a thousand little things that have no base emotional value. They are wonders only because we make them so. We love the striations of a sunset, and we want to share that sense of awe.

Sunsets. Babies coming into the world. The gentle grace of a deer. Small, simple things.

And well worth fighting for. Staying alive in and of itself if vital. Feeling alive is something that we have to always remember to work for...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ray of Light

This morning is sunny. It's the first time in more than a week that we've had the slightest break in the clouds. During that time the longest stretch we've gone without rain was about two hours. About ten between thunderstorms.

It's been clear all morning, and we've had people following the instructions Google gave us for looking at the nearest cell tower. Fortune seems to be smiling on us, because it is a power problem as far as we can tell. The base of the tower has a small building that houses the batteries that get charged by the solar cells that sit around it. It isn't much for communications, really, maybe a couple of kilowatts, but enough to get us on the internet here and there. Some of the panels have been pretty badly damaged by the storms, and Google has several options for us.

The first is obvious: repair. We've got unused turbines and spare solar panels. We could, assuming that the zombie swarms were thin enough, put up new panels and build props for the turbines, turn them into wind turbines. It would be a lot of work to provide minimal power to the cell tower closest to us.

Another option that I wasn't even aware of until this morning is a lot more appealing.

Major communications companies had been providing mobile disaster relief communications for a while before The Fall. Some towns' fire and police departments have trailers that carry what is essentially a mobile cell tower. Some have an even larger version that is itself a truck. Sort of like those vans that supply a satellite signal to news agencies in the field.

Frankfort doesn't have one of those. Part of why the cellular companies were allowed to put their towers right up next to some of the local fire stations was due to the fact that they built expensive fail-safes into those towers for emergency communication. Which is why I've been able to write this blog and keep in touch with people over the last year plus.

I think it's time to make some changes. Jamie has volunteered to take and extended scout trip to look for one or more of these things. If he can find one, we're planning on basically stealing all the batteries from the closest cell tower, the one we're working on, and setting the whole shebang up inside the compound itself. We'll actually get more and better communications with the mobile unit than we do sitting right on the edge of this tower's area of service.

This may not seem like a big deal to a lot of you, but it is to us. Knowing that we can quickly take down and protect our means of communication with the outside world is hugely appealing. I think most of you out there can get that. We're all survivors, regardless of the specifics that got us to this point. Every one of us knows the loneliness and deep discomfort that comes from living in a safe zone surrounded by the walking dead. Human beings by and large need news and interaction with the wider world. It's just a part of who we've become.

I'm hopeful that since we live in a rural area not known for its generous cellular coverage that Jamie will be able to find one of these things. He's only taking three other scouts with him, one of them being Mason. I'm hoping that they can find one soon and get back home safely.

There's enough work to do here that we can't spare them for long.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Signal Loss

I'm going to try to post when I can, but we're in a bad situation here. As I said yesterday, there's a lot of damage around the compound to take care of, the wall first and most important. We're very fortunate that the rain continued on last night since it kept to many zombies from getting near the wall and seeing how easy it would have been for them to force a breach. We've had people working nonstop to patch and repair, and my brother is working with a group of folks right now to get new panels and boards made for the damaged parts.

It's a lot of work, but nothing I haven't had to organize before. I even offered to help by going out and working myself, but I was shot down. I was told that there had to be someone to run the show, to act as a go-between for all the different groups of people working to make this place whole again. It isn't as wonderful as it sounds. I basically just report what I'm told and allocate men and materials where we need them.

The repairs to the compound are actually proceeding pretty well. That's not why I might not be able to post consistently over the next few days. The problem there is that the cell tower just down the road has been losing signal strength. I've talked to some of the folks at Google and a few engineers in North Jackson, and they're working on theories. The first few responses I got from them seemed to imply that at first glance it was just a power issue.

Which would be about the best scenario we could hope for. Since that cell tower was built to serve as an emergency backup for communication during disasters where the power grid failed, it's been running on the minimal power that the backup systems provide for a while now. We've got solar panels and spare turbines to use if needed, but that will have to wait until we get some kind of response from the people who know more about it than I do.

If the problem is something more complicated, we might be in trouble. No one here has the level of technical expertise needed to repair electronics that sophisticated. At least, I don't think so. Let's all cross our fingers and hope that the solar cells that run the tower are just misaligned or something. I don't want to think about being stuck without even minimal communication with the outside.

OK, I'm getting back to work now. My brother apparently needs me to talk to the council soon to see if he can go ahead and dig one of those trenches I talked about last week outside of the western wall. He thinks it will keep the zombies at bay while we get the repairs done and reinforced. Sounds like a good idea to me...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shambles

It's been raining and storming around here so much lately that I'd kind of gotten used to it. Except for the dogs whining at the sound of thunder, the bad weather had been largely ignored in my house as we got used to the ceaseless wind and rain.

Yesterday, or more properly late last night, we couldn't ignore it any longer.

The constant downpour has had some pretty damaging effects on the compound itself, washing away huge swaths of the freshly tilled earth that we've planted in. It's probably a good thing that so much or our soil is heavy with clay, because I think that's the only reason we didn't lose the majority of our food plants. The farms are a little better off since each row of plants is on a tiny rise, letting the water trickle (and then torrent) away in the valleys between.

The storm last night was really powerful. More rain, and more strong winds, but not quite as bad as others I've seen in sheer ferocity. What last night's storm had that others didn't was actually two things. The first was about two minutes of hail the size of quarters, which beat the hell out of everything. The second was a tornado. I'm not an expert on weather, but it seemed pretty big. Thankfully it didn't hit us directly, but it came pretty close, about a hundred yards outside the western wall.

That's an area where we store lots of the stuff that we can't fit in the compound and don't need year-round. Right now it's primarily used as a place to put the stacks of firewood.

The tornado slung hundreds (maybe thousands) of pieces of firewood all over the area. The wall took an awful beating from them, and there are damaged houses and vehicles all over the place. A few people were injured, but those were minor, mostly from broken glass and the like. One good thing about a storm is that most people go inside, where it's safe.

The worst casualty of the tornado and its mad scattering of debris was our solar panels and wind turbines. Several of the panels I have set up at my house were cracked, two of them totally broken. The turbine at the clinic didn't get hit by anything, but the one of the supports broke from the constant strain of holding up in this insane storm season and it toppled. Shredded itself when it hit the driveway there.

The few other solar panels and turbines around the compound have almost all taken some kind of damage. I don't have a full report yet, but the outlook isn't very bright. Fortunately my house batteries are full right now, so I can write this. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be using my phone to do this in the near future, since the tiny solar charger I have for it is safe inside the house.

The one silver lining in all of this is that the zombies seem to have decided to back off while the weather is so nuts. Very few of them have been seen from the sentry posts on the wall, and even when the weather breaks for a while (as it's doing right now) they don't show up in big numbers very quick. Maybe some primal fear deep in their brains keeps them huddled in the woods. Maybe they just don't like getting wet, I don't know. It's handy, and it's good for us.

And given the sheer amount of damage around the compound right now, we're looking for any good news we can find.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hindsight

Painkillers are a beautiful thing.

Except for the part where they make me incredibly nauseous, of course. Evans did the best he could with my tooth, but it's not pretty. Can't blame the guy for not having dental training, but the job's done. Time will tell if I lose or keep the damn thing, but for now it's still firmly attached to my skull. The filling isn't world-class, but between him and Becky they got the job done.

This minor emergency reminds me that for all the speed with which we managed to put together many parts of the compound, there are always going to be things we overlooked. I mean, the first wall we built was basically just made of cars parked around the outside of the place, the cracks filled in with whatever we could find. When more and more people started to show up, all our efforts went to getting a permanent wall in place. You've seen how well that went--it's falling to pieces in some places.

The same goes for farming. While every person in the compound is responsible for caring for the plants that we have growing in what used to be our yards, last year we pretty much raided every farm we could find around here for the crops already growing. It was only after the shepherds and farmers from out east came to settle with us that plans were made for large-scale farming outside our walls.

Every step of the way, we've had to deal with the fact that each mistake we make will eventually become a bigger problem. The zombies outside the walls may fluctuate in numbers, but they're never going to go away. At least they haven't yet. Every repair, every change of plans, every ounce of wasted effort, means risking attack. We're a strong group, but there isn't a day that goes by where I don't worry that it will be the one where we're overrun.

I look back at the very first days of The Fall, and I realize how lucky we were. Jess and I worked like crazy to fortify the house while every other person in this neighborhood except for my mom packed up and left or was killed. So many people funneled into supposedly safe areas guarded by the military. So many dead along the way to those areas...

We got really lucky. Many members of my family benefited from the early warnings I gave them. I lost far more of them than managed to survive--aunts, uncles, cousins by the score. Part of why we examine ourselves so hard here in the compound is because we've collectively lost so much. There isn't a lot of room for error.

I think the painkillers are making me a little loopy. I'm going to go before I make an ass of myself. I just worry about everyone so much...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Comfort Measures

I have a toothache. It's not your average small pain, but a deep and powerful throbbing over my upper left front tooth. I can feel every beat of my heart in it, each strike of my pulse sending waves of pain through my head.

For that reason, I'll keep this short. We don't have a dentist. It's one of those things that doesn't really come up until you need it, but of all the strange and useful skillsets among the survivors here, the zombie plague seems to have kept us from having even one dentist among them.

The closest we have is Becky. Both of her parents were dentists, and that was her eventual goal. She had been going to school since I met her, and she worked in her dad's office as a dental assistant when time permitted. That said, she admits that she doesn't have anywhere near the skills or knowledge to do the job.

So, I'm going to let Evans stick a needle in my gums and see if he finds any fluid in there. The consensus seems to point toward an abscess, which probably means they'll have to cut the tooth out. I'm not really looking forward to that.

There's an abandoned dental surgery suite not too far from the compound. We've got generators. If we have to, we'll plug the equipment there up and I'll let the docs do what they have to. Evans swears he can make me a new tooth if he has to cut this one out. Again, not too excited about that.

Alright, off to the clinic. I can't work like this.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Strand of Web

I saw a piece of dandelion fluff this morning. It was stuck to a single strand of spiderweb, tenuously strewn between two walls of my enclosed porch. As I noticed it thrumming back and forth in the breeze, a powerful thought struck me.

Life is just as precious and fragile. Though circumstances have changed in a way that dramatically shows this by contrast, it's as true as it has always been. The zombie plague has thrown the eventual survival of humanity into question. Those of us left behind are like the piece of dandelion fluff, a seed that holds the possibility of survival for humankind.

The dead walk among us, hungry and terrible. They are to be pitied as much as they are to be feared. They are the breeze that shakes us, one of many things that threatens all we have worked toward. The recent storms and the damage they've wrought serve to show us that there are many things to fear beside the undead. The rage of nature is always an obvious terror, as are the zombies themselves. But just as dangerous are more subtle threats--disease, despair, darkness of the human soul.

What we are and what we face are two of the more obvious parts of this weird realization. The fluff, a piece of potential that faces the wind which threatens it. The most powerful part of that single moment for me wasn't seeing the struggle of we human survivors against powerful forces in that one image. It was realizing that what kept the fluff safe, what held it aloft in defiance of the wind, was a strand of something so thin that it was invisible yet so strong that it couldn't be broken.

What is it that keeps us going? What is the name of the force inside all of us that has driven humanity to survive through all of the horrors and disasters throughout our history? I once said on this blog that I had read somewhere that all the billions of people alive had come from a near-extinction event that left a mere six thousand of us alive. My god--what sheer force of will it must have taken those six thousand to struggle on. to hunt and farm, to make the awful choices they likely faced. Where did it come from? Where did they find the strength?

An animal will, if injured badly enough, lay down and die. Some people will too. So many of us, however, will choose to fight. Clawing and scratching for every moment of existence. We do it for ourselves on one level, and for those we love on another. I think that deep down, below all that, we find wells of determination and grit that spring from the simple urge to see our species survive. I don't know if that makes us unique in the animal kingdom, but it does make me proud.

It's almost profound in its simplicity, and enormously complex in its implications. Life is persistent and powerful in all its many forms. Human life is difficult and frightening, especially now, yet we do not lay down and accept that it can overwhelm us.

What holds people together is impossible to see until something comes along and shakes us. When we are under strain from something awful, the edges of what binds us can just be glimpsed. It is that resistance that shows us that our bonds are real. Call it hope or determination or whatever you like--it's something that all of us share with each other, making a net so strong that only total destruction of our species could break it.

Only a day after the last storm, and that single strand of web was there. Did it survive the wind and rain? Did some enterprising spider decide to rebuild it so quickly?

We have rebuilt. We have survived storms.

A thought, from a single strand of web.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tempest

I  thought the storms we had last week were bad, but the one we had overnight was the worst I've seen in a long time. Admittedly, it wasn't whole magnitudes worse than last week's, but it did more damage.

At least a dozen houses have large swaths of shingles missing. Many of the additions we've built onto some of the houses, like enclosed porches, have had their walls broken. The worst of it is the observation tower that rises from the middle of the big hill. It got hit by lightning. Not damaged enough that it fell, thank god, and there was obviously no one in it when the strike hit, but it isn't usable right now.

One of the main legs of the tower is cracked and splintered about three-fourths the way through. If it breaks and comes apart, the whole thing will fall and probably topple onto a house. We've evacuated the surrounding homes for the time being, which makes for tighter quarters than usual.

My brother estimates that with a team of decent carpenters he can completely repair the tower in about three days. That's not so long for the folks that live nearby to hunker down and double up in beds. The problem is that there are other, more vital fixes that need to be seen to.

The tower took the worst damage, but the largest threat is the beating the wall took. The storm came in from the west, and that section of the wall is riddled with small breaks and missing boards. At first glance none of them are large enough for a zombie to get through, but now that it's daylight a better look can be taken at the integrity of the thing. My guess is that for every obvious gap, there's probably a cracked board or loose log that couldn't be seen in the dark. I'm wondering if we didn't get hit by the edge of a tornado given how much debris is laying around.

It's a lot of work, and I seem to be saying that a lot lately. The spring storms here are stronger than most years, and that's causing us a lot of grief. As always, we'll put forth some extra effort and get the repairs done as best we can.

I'm just hoping the April showers are nearly over. Our people need a nice, long period of calm to rest up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Progression

All three of Jess's students are still under Gabby's care at the clinic, none of them showing signs of infection yet. Gabby is a wound specialist, and that training includes dealing with burns. It's actually lucky that none of the burns are over large areas. The biggest is about the size of a quarter. That's important because it means that each burn only has to heal itself. The prognosis is just on the positive side at the moment.

I'll try to keep you updated on their condition, but the world spins on...

I've gotten updated and more detailed information about the earthquake in Japan. It happened quite a lot longer ago than I was originally told. There's some good news to be had out of that situation, however: a large number of survivors there have been confirmed alive in several of the smaller communities on the main island. They've managed to set up a transmitter powerful enough to talk with others in the area. I'm still sifting through the details, but it looks good for them right now.

Every morning when I go through my messages, I hope to find something game-changing. I couldn't tell you what that might be, but it's sort of like the high-strung expectation you got as a kid on Christmas morning. The sense of potential and anticipation I feel when I open my mail or check my phone is powerful. I've yet to get that piece of mail that could have life-altering ramifications for all of us...but this morning I got some interesting news that has more potential than most.

The news about the soldiers that joined forces with the people of North Jackson has predictably spread among the known groups of survivors like wildfire. NJ is now the largest known group of survivors anywhere, and their leadership is putting out daily reports via email about how things are working out there.

I have to say, the news is pretty cool. It's awesome to read about so many half-finished (or barely started) projects that were going on while I and the other refugees stayed there finally having the manpower to get finished. The fence to the hydroponics bay? It'll be done in a few days. Clearing out several more acres adjacent to the main complex? A week, tops. With so many soldiers willing and eager to get on the walls and defend in order to give the civilians of NJ a chance to work on other things, just about every idea and pet project is getting some attention.

Of course, it doesn't take four hundred people to guard the wall. Even split into three shifts, it doesn't take that many. They post a hundred guards per shift three times a day, leaving about a hundred of them left to work on improving defenses, constructing new walls, and the like. NJ is going to quickly turn into a very interesting place to live, I bet.

I'm a little envious of them. I think of all we could have accomplished if the Richmond soldiers had taken the path of reason and just asked to come live here, and it rubs me the wrong way. The proof of what could have been is in stark black and white on my screen.

That's life in this new world, though. It's impossible to predict how fortune will favor you, or fate cheat you. All you can do when life gives you challenges is meet them or fail. Other options just don't exist. Pining away at lost opportunities just wastes time and effort. I remember how hard I used to wish to win the lottery--and now I wish that I'd spent that time in pleasant imagining learning some skill that I currently lack. Oh, yes, I would trade millions of dollars for the ability to properly dress a deer. I'm still not good at that.

I don't know if the changes going on in NJ are going to be the game-changers I hope for them to be. My imagination is pretty good, and I see a lot of possibilities. With such dedicated protectors, maybe NJ will become a center of trade and commerce. I can see them becoming a society that trades technology to many smaller communities.

Maybe they'll become a highly militarized group, and work tirelessly to produce technology that will help them expand in order to make room for ever more citizens.

Maybe they'll become evil marauders who rape and pillage. I doubt that one.

Really, my best guess is that for the time being, the people of NJ new and old alike will struggle and scratch to get by. There will be hungry times and moments of plenty with so many mouths to feed. But people are a resource like any other, and they've got a nice surplus. If anyone can make that work to their advantage, the people that Jack gathered together can. I know that.

We'll be here to help them in any way we can. Just as they would do for us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Splashback

One constant that seems to follow human beings through their lives is that we make mistakes. Whether we're victims of overconfidence or just pure error, there's no way to avoid it. Yesterday was a sad day for a few of the girls women that work with Jess. This time, it was overconfidence that played us for fools.

Most of Saturday afternoon and early Sunday, a small group of us worked like mad to make molds for the plastic granules. Me, Jess, Pat and his girls, and Jess's students spent hours working on designs and comparing materials. In the end we decided on using a stock of clay we'd refined and stockpiled from the tons we've had to move around as we farmed the compound. The good thing about clay is that it's abundant and we can make new molds from a master easily.

In the end we made three clay molds. One for small medallions of plastic that we could work into scale mail. One for long plates to cover the limbs. One for wide plates of various sizes to cover the torso. Everything was going fine until we took the full molds out of the fire.

Three of Jess's students went to take the torso mold out of the fire (we had to use the makeshift forge we built for Patrick) when the thing disintegrated, showing them with molten plastic. I've never seen anything so awful in all my life, and I include watching people being ripped to shreds by zombies in that statement. I had heard stories from old friends at the factory about people who had gotten the stuff on their skin. I've even seen scars on one guy who had it happen.

Seeing it happen right in front of me was so much more than I was prepared for. I could smell the flesh and hair burn as the plastic washed across them, breaking into droplets. Not being total idiots, we'd gotten buckets of water ready in case something bad happened, and it was only a few seconds before we'd doused them.

The damage had been done at that point. One of them lost an eye as a drop of scalding plastic burned right through it. All of them screamed as Gabby and Phil pulled the cooling stuff from them, wide swaths of skin coming with it.

I'm told that if the medical staff can keep them from getting infections, the students will live. They'll carry scars with them for the rest of their lives, however long or short they may be. From something as simple as a clay vessel and melted beads of plastic.

We've become so used to making our ideas work that we've sort of gotten tunnel vision. We don't think about the consequences of our failure sometimes. It's a grim reminder that caution has to be our constant companion. Even then, we'll still fail.

I see those women every day as they work with Jess. I'll be reminded every time they come into my home the price of working too quickly. In their faces all of us will see the need to be thorough and careful. There just aren't enough people left for us to be anything less.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Protection

There has yet to be a point where I'm not surprised at the ingenuity and creative force of those who have survived along with me. Granted, some out-of-the-box thinking is a downright requirement for surviving as long as we have. More and more lately people are coming up with better or new ideas to solve problems.

One big issue we've run into is armor. At first we started cobbling together anything we could find to keep the people that had to go out into the open safe. We've used heavy martial arts Gi, chainmail, baseball pads...anything and everything we could find that worked.

Since it's a slow news day, I thought I'd share an idea that Jamie had. Jamie is our lead scout, and lately he and the scout units have had to travel pretty far and wide to look for useful items. One place that we've pretty much left alone was the small industrial complex on the other side of town. Most of what's there are factories that don't really have anything we can easily use. We've been over that way a few times to salvage metal from some of the machines along with plexiglass (which always comes in handy).

Jamie went over the the factory where Jess (and myself, years ago) used to work, before The Fall. The place was pretty empty of zombies, so Jamie and his crew had a look around.

He found a hundred little things we could use at the compound. Not because the rest of us didn't notice them, but because his mind was looking at otherwise normal objects from a totally different point of view. Where the rest of us ignored the dozens of boxes of plastic granules, Jamie saw a trove of incredibly useful materials.

Those tiny bits of plastic, ignored by the rest of us, might mean life for many of us.

Jamie hauled back a truck full of them, along with all of the technical manuals he could find. In them are everything we need to know about the materials in question. Jamie isn't a specialist in designing armor, but after a year of doing it and teaching others to...Jess is.

She and all her students are buzzing about it. All of them are in the other room right now, chattering ideas at one another about how best to design the molds. Jess knows a lot about this stuff--she worked with it a lot longer than I did. She knows how strong it is, how light it is, and how much more versatile it is than the bulky chainmail we've been using.

That's the big one. Being able to make molds to mass-produce identical blanks for the various shapes we'll need is critical. We can outfit a lot of people with armor that will be lighter, protect better, and best of all...it won't look idiotic.

To understand why this is important to me, look back at my post titled "Homemade Hero". Once you've armored your body with toilet paper and parts of toilets, you get an appreciation for good looking gear.

I'm rambling. I know this is a bit out of the blue and chaotic, but I had to share. We're all really excited about it. That alone should tell you how eager for a distraction we are.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Joining Forces

Back in the fall (I'm so used to capitalizing The Fall when I refer to the initial outbreak of the zombie plague and the worldwide chaos that followed that it takes an effort not to do it...) there was a huge swarm of zombies that threatened the place now known as North Jackson. You may remember that we sent Will Price and a contingent of other people there to help with the fight.

There was also a helicopter. During one of the largest assaults, it came from nowhere to deliver ruination on the zombie swarm. None of us knew where it came from, and haven't seen it since. Early today the people of North Jackson learned the truth behind that little mystery.

All over the country, small groups of soldiers who managed to survive the early waves of violence have banded together. Well, they were small at first. The helicopter that swooped in to help the folks of North Jackson was only passing through, killing what zombies they could before their munitions or fuel ran out. The men that were in that chopper moved on for another two hundred miles toward another group of soldiers they'd been in contact with.

Many such groups came together slowly over time. The men who helped North Jackson met with others. More joined over time to bring their total to more than four hundred. Each group had hoarded MRE's and many other supplies in much the same way the rest of us have--by looting the hell out of any cache we can find. The difference is that while many other groups of survivors put down roots in one place and tried to rebuild, these soldiers moved around, amassing a huge reserve of supplies and taking it with them as they went.

Those four hundred made it to the gate at North Jackson today. The email I got described their caravan as a line two vehicles wide, stretching so far that the end of it curved out of sight. The soldiers had several tankers carrying diesel fuel with them. All were nearly empty.

When their fuel began to get low, they made the choice to go to a place that they knew had a sizable population. Somewhere they knew was defensible and with enough infrastructure to handle their numbers. I'm proud to say that those four hundred soldiers stopped at the gate and asked for permission to enter, offering their services as full time guards for the walls of North Jackson.

NJ accepted happily. Though there will be a lot of additional planting needed (which will mean clearing and securing more nearby land) the people there are thrilled to have so many new faces. With the extra population, they will be able to mount an effort to clear the areas near the main complex in no time.

We've had bad experiences here with soldiers, but I want to give that some context. The Richmond soldiers weren't as bad as they could have been. Yes, they took our home through force, or at least the threat of it, but overall they were more restrained than your average marauder. There weren't constant rapes (a few, as I've mentioned before, but that happens in every group of people) and they didn't oppress the remaining citizens here, really. They were hungry men who had nearly run out of food. They were desperate, and lost their way.

I've always had a great respect for the military. I can't say enough about the pride that comes to my heart when I think about men and women making the willing choice to protect others. To serve their homeland. Soldiers are people like anyone else, and like any other person some of them lost their way after The Fall. How could they watch their brother and sister soldiers die and be eaten in front of them and not be scarred? How could they not be changed?

But also like other people, many of our surviving servicemen and women have adapted. The vast majority of those that live are stronger for it. The frankly huge hoard of supplies the new citizens of NJ brought with them is enough to feed the thousand or so people there for a few weeks by itself. Those brave soldiers collected all of that so it wouldn't go to waste. They had always planned to join up with a stable group of survivors, and thought that they might need bargaining chips to assure acceptance.

It wasn't necessary, but the folks at NJ appreciated it. Would have been hard to feed so many new people without it.

I'm happy for our friends to the north, and thrilled that so many of our men and women in uniform have managed to survive. It's a good day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Simple Plan

I had an interesting time yesterday. I spent the second part of my day with Patrick, who was nice enough to teach me some of the basic principles of metalworking. Not that I'd dare try my hand at it alone or anything, but I know a lot more now than I did yesterday. I get a warm fuzzy going on when I have new knowledge floating around my brain. It's a good feeling.

My trainees did a nice job on the rest of my work yesterday, and all of them are coming along nicely. There have been enough challenging situations lately that they've been pretty thoroughly tested. I think any one of them could fill in for me on a given day safely, though we've yet to find any person that could take Dave's place. My brother is a very unique guy: super smart with an intuitive ability to assess problems and solve them in the simplest way. I don't mean that as a negative--his ideas aren't simple, but the methods we have to fix things around here are. It's a testament to his ability that he can work with what we have at our disposal.

Which brings up an interesting topic. The small trench and berm that he started on out at the farms has been pretty damn effective in keeping zombies from wandering onto our land so quickly that they can mass. He's eager to do something similar at the compound itself, and it's a big enough project that the council itself will have to vote on it, since it will require a lot of our reserve of diesel fuel to run the big equipment. There's a few people working on a biodiesel setup, but it will be a while before we'll be able to produce anything in quantity.

The outside of our wall, as of right now, is a mixture of traps, pits, and stakes that slow down the zombies that  seem to constantly wander around outside. To a smaller degree, it slows down swarms as well, though given recent events it's clear that the defenses aren't adequate for larger groups.

Dave wants to ring all of that with a trench about six feet deep, with a berm of dirt on the outside. It's a good idea. Also, a LOT of work.

But, I think it would be a good thing. One problem that has been slowly creeping up on us is the sheer emotional exhaustion of living in fear all the time. The last few big zombie attacks have been repelled successfully, but they've also made us more afraid. Actually seeing the dead manage to get inside the wall was enough to make most people start toting weapons at all times. We're a determined bunch, tough as nails, but only idiots aren't scared when their lives are in danger.

We feel like that almost all the time. It's draining. Living under the threat of a breach is awful, and Dave's idea would help many of us feel safer. It isn't just psychological--we would actually be safer. The cost/benefit analysis of it seems to lean toward doing it. I think it would be worth the fuel spent, but I'm just one voice on the council. We'll see how it goes tonight at the meeting, and I'll let you know the outcome.

If any of you out there are feeling the same weight on your shoulders, I hope it helps to know that there are others out there who share your burden. I know it won't make things completely better, but anything you can do to make yourselves more secure will help, I promise you.

Be safe. But also, feel safe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Half Day, Half Blog

It's a nice morning. A little more crisp than I care for, but overall it's pretty good. The sun is shining, the sky is clear. There are less zombies at the walls than usual. Hell, I've even gotten through a big portion of my work. What's left can be handled by the trainees. I think I'm going to take a day and spend it learning something. Maybe Jess can teach me chainmail. Might go to the forge and see if Pat can make me less of a ten-thumbed jackass with a hammer-flailing fetish.

Something different, anyway. It's pretty rare since we've been back in the compound that I have free time to spend on other things. Yeah, I know we had our little party, but even that was done in a carefully scheduled period between regular shifts. I want to get out of the office and add something to my repertoire.

I don't think just having a good time when you can is the most productive thing for us to do. I mean, there's nothing wrong with blowing off some steam now and then. It's almost a physical need for us. I'm just saying that ONLY doing that in your spare time won't help the compound out in the long run. People need to spend some free time learning other skills and trades. Many people have already done so, including my trainees. I've got a pretty wide skillset to begin with, but I feel like I've fallen behind a little.

Since we managed to get so much done yesterday, I won't feel bad about not going to the farms.

I wonder what I should go work on...something new, or something old that I need to practice. It's just too good a chance to pass up...

I'll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Ever Changing Wind

The last two days have bought us storms of unusual intensity and amazing duration. The winds have been the worst part by far, so powerful that the zombies outside the walls have been knocked over. More and more of them have started acting strangely when the wind comes up, tucking their heads and stopping in place. It'd be an excellent chance to put some arrow in them if the damn wind weren't so strong that it throws off the aim of the archers on duty.

Our reservoirs of water here in the compound, as well as the big one up the road that feeds this side of town, are full. That's good, since spring in Kentucky tends to be very wet and then very, very dry. We're hoping to build a few more cisterns and get some new water barrels in place by the time the next rains come. Jess actually came up with a good idea for easy water storage: garbage cans. There are plenty of unused ones around, from the big stores around here, and we can clean out others that we bring in from neighborhoods. I'm hoping we can just use those for holding irrigation water. I don't fancy drinking out of a container that might have once held dirty diapers, no matter how much it's been cleaned.

The worst part of the storm is that the bridge on the west side of the compound, the little one over the creek that we blocked up to create a reservoir behind it, has finally given way. It was severely damaged before, but we managed to fix it and make it usable for travel. Not so much anymore. The dam we built against it to hold that part of our water reserves is mostly intact, but the bridge itself is done for. The winds knocked over a huge tree onto it, and the weakened supports just couldn't hold out. more than half of it has caved in under the weight, and it doesn't look like we'll be able to repair it any time soon.

Before The Fall, that damn bridge caused all kinds of trouble in this neighborhood. It was damaged often and had to be repaired by the county, sometimes twice a year. Big chunks of asphalt would break off, exposing the steel beneath. Years and years of that all lead up to this, which is a total failure.

It sort of underscores the fact that while we've been extremely lucky in some ways, there are still things that are going to be beyond our means to fix for a long time yet. The bridge is an obvious and recent problem, but remember that most of the dwellings in the compound are houses. Old houses at that, which means that there are constantly things going wrong with them. Shingles coming off here, a door off its hinges there. My brother has taught a lot of basic carpentry and repair to the people here, and we've looted supplies and materials for most of the last year.

But none of it will last.

Nature beats its fists on us, hammering us with gusts of air that can topple men alive and dead. Ceaseless water invades the cracks and crevices, wearing away seals and rotting wood. It's as if the world is trying its damnedest to destroy what was, to make us build something new. Maybe something better.

In practical terms, it means that what would have been easy repairs before The Fall have become major annoyances. In time, I can see us razing the homes here and building structures more adapted to a world without the economy, production capacity, and infrastructure to make the traditional frame home really work. Lacking power enough to heat or cool our houses is frustrating, and we'd love to build in a way that is more efficient and that doesn't need electricity to accomplish it.

If we manage to survive that long, we'll eventually have to do it. The homes we have will crumble around us or be heavily damaged, and we will run out of the things we need to fix them at some point.

You know, the tree that hit the bridge was one of the last inside the compound. We cut down most of them over the last year to make sections of the wall and to use for firewood now and then. The copse of trees right next to the bridge was hit hard, but a few older ones were left.

Today, that patch is bare. Now it matches the rest of the place. I wouldn't say we took our vengeance on the trees or anything, but then I wouldn't not say it either.

Well, I'm off to the farms with a lot of others who are going to put in extra shifts. Time to make up for the planting we missed because of the weather. Eight hours of labor on top of my already full day of work here. Pinch me, I must be in heaven.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

Early this morning, one of the five men from Mason's team pulled into the compound in a truck that looked like it had been rolled down a cliff. Mason was with him, unconscious and injured. They were the only two survivors of the excursion north to try and help the trapped survivors near the Ohio border.

By that I mean that none of the group they went up there to help made it either. The guy that managed to get back here is asleep right now, completely exhausted, and Mason is still out cold. Looks like he got a pretty bad thump to the head at some point. Before Darryl, the guy who escaped and brought Mason with him, dropped off to sleep, he gave us the bare bones of what happened.

Our people got there and observed for a few hours, set some traps, and then tried to draw groups of zombies away from where the survivors were holed up. Long story short, it was working until some smarties caught the pattern in what Mason and his guys were doing, and caught them all by surprise. Darryl isn't sure how it happened, but apparently somehow the other truck we sent North got out of control and slammed into the building the locals were shut up in to stay safe from the swarm. He said you could hear the people scream from where he was, nearly a quarter mile away.

I'm not sure what happened to Mason exactly, but Evans says he'll be fine.

I'm glad that those two made it back, but I and most people around the compound are stricken by the outome of their trip. It's hard to lose people, even one. Four at one time is extremely rough emotionally, and every one of us feels it a little differently. No, the men we lost weren't related to any of the rest of us by blood. Blood can be important, but so too is the bond that grows from living in close quarters. Giving of yourself for the betterment of the tribe.

They were good men, strong fighters, and decent human beings. In my job, I have to be cold and calculating at times, like figuring the loss of the truck that crashed into the apartment building of the people that they were trying to save. The weapons and fuel inside. Even the work that can't be done by the men we lost, or by Mason and Darryl until Evans gives them the go-ahead.

Make no mistake, though. I see every lost brother or sister as a blow to the compound, and to all the people in it. It isn't made any easier to know that they were lost in service to strangers that we owed nothing to, however noble that may be. We've undergone (and, I suppose, are still undergoing) a strange evolution. We've been hard as coffin nails when the need arose, practical and pragmatic in our assessment of the world around us and what we have needed to do to survive in it. We can take pride in the fact that our lost citizens gave their lives during the act of living in accordance with their ideals--the protection of those who wish no harm on others, who can't defend themselves.

Still, that hard-nosed bitch called realism has to step in. The plain truth is that had we not sent our men north, they'd probably all still be alive and healthy. Given that our people were the ones who breached the safety of the apartment building, it's safe to say that the chances of the whole group of survivors there being killed would have been a lot lower if our boys had stayed home.

There isn't anything to be done for it, though. We'll cry our tears, have a service, and then move on. Our men might have died heroes' deaths, for all I know, but they're still dead. It's going to raise some interesting points of debate at council, whether we should allow these kinds of outings in the future. We've been pretty liberal with running out of town and even out of state to help others. Maybe the time has come to look at how feasible that is in the long run. Even of we only lost a person every other trip, the attrition rate on our population will end up being awful.

The attrition of our spirits would be just as bad, if not worse. And that's the last thing we need.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Minus Six

So...have I mentioned recently just how scary Mason is?

Don't want to sound like a broken record or anything, but the guy is unbelievably fearless. He and five others have gotten the council's approval to head north to try and help the small community of survivors with the huge mass of zombies that have surrounded them. Half a dozen people aren't enough to do any real good in a straight up fight against a thousand or so zombies, no matter how good Mason is.

His military training and experience make him one of the most dangerous people I've met since The Fall, but the fact remains that he's just one man, and he's human. He can't go toe to toe with that many zombies and manage to accomplish anything. I've seen him outside the walls, clearing away twenty or thirty undead at a go, but those zombies were spaced far apart, not in a roiling mass of dead flesh. And cutting that many necks and bashing that many heads wears a person out, no matter how good their physical condition is.

But, Mason swears that with the five people he's taking with him, he can do through trickery and creative tactics what blunt force alone can't accomplish. He's being given two modified trucks to use, extra fuel, and a fair amount of weaponry. We can't spare the Tank, so the trucks he's taking are modified with armor only, and even that isn't all that heavy.

I worry that we're getting too much in the habit of trying to save people. Granted, I've been supportive and active in most of the rescue efforts we've organized, but this soon after suffering such bad losses, I think risking even six people for a group that seems hopelessly outnumbered is just a bad idea. We want to help where we can, but for all that Mason seems to be an expert in exactly these sorts of situations, he also seems to have a pretty big blind spot in regards to the reality of what he's trying to do.

I've seen groups of a dozen men falter and get ripped to shreds by half their number in zombies. All it takes is one error at the wrong time, and it's game over. I don't have a lot of worries that Mason will screw up or take unnecessary risks with the people under his command, but fate is a hateful bitch sometimes. You never know what she's going to toss in your path.

I can't spend all morning worrying about it, though. There is a lot of work to be done here. The weather is looking a bit nicer right now, warm in the last few days in a way that makes the air taste like summer. Right this second it looks like rain will be on us shortly, which will slow the work at the farms as well as the repairs on the wall, but we need to top off our water supplies, so it's welcome.

Hopefully it will hold off long enough for Mason and his people to get on the road...

Hmm. I guess my brain is going to be stuck worrying about them no matter what I do to try and distract myself. I'm going to be really pissed at Mason if he gets himself and/or the people going with him killed. He's a resource for knowledge and strategy that we can't afford to lose, and his five best students are going along on this trip. Six people don't seem like a lot to risk, but the potential they carry is worth more than you can imagine.

Jesus, I just read over that. When did I start seeing people as numbers in an equation and not as friends or fellow citizens? God, I feel like crap.

Of course I want them to survive for other reasons, not just for what they can do for us. They're good people, worthy of respect and love just as much as anyone here. They're individuals that each add something unique and wonderful to our community, and losing any of them would be tragic and heartbreaking.

Well. That sounded trite and forced, didn't it? Maybe I'll take a few minutes and go see them off. Just to show I care...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tough Call

This morning, we had to turn down offering aid to a group of survivors. We'd never heard of them before, but they are located not far from the epicenter of the zombie plague, on the Kentucky side of the river across from Cincinnati. They've kept to themselves over the last year, even though they had phones and access to the internet. They've followed this blog, and known there were options. 

Some of the things I've written about have put them off contacting us. They've had the luxury of not being attacked by marauders and having a large cache of supplies to keep them going, so they decided that coming to a place as dangerous as the compound wasn't worth the risk. I don't blame them, as we've had to do awful things to survive and protect each other. 

Now they're facing a swarm of zombies bigger than anything they've ever dealt with, including a lot of smarties, and they can't hold out. They need a large force to help them, and we just can't field it. Given the numbers of undead they're talking about, we would need to send at least fifty people to have a chance at saving them. That's weapons, transport, gas, food, water...and most important, the men and women we would send themselves. We've just gotten to a point where we're able to staff our walls and farms without making people work twelve hour shifts. We can't risk losing that many. 

It was a hard decision to make, but the council was right to do it. There were a few dissenting votes, but even those council members knew the incredible and unjustifiable risk we'd be taking if we sent so many people. 

A very small group might be sent, but that's going to be a separate vote. I don't fancy the idea of a dozen of our people going against a swarm estimated around a thousand, but those who will be going (if they get approval) will be elite scouts and fighters who've faced these kinds of numbers before. Maybe they'd be able to distract and drive off part of the swarm. I don't know. That's the sort of thing that Will and Dodger will have to figure out. I'm not sure how twelve people will be able to help, but I have faith that those two will figure out a way, if it's possible. 

I'm out. Too much frustration for me today, and the emergency meeting we had to call to vote on this means I didn't even get breakfast...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spears

For several weeks, Will price has been working closely with Dodger on several defense projects. One of the most important has been a plan to better safeguard the farms from intrusion by the local zombie population.

My brother Dave, you may remember, lead a group of workers in digging simple trenches and lines of stakes. Others have taken samples of...discharge from the zombie the Bald Knob folks caught, using the stuff to line the boundaries of one of the farms. While only temporary and not available in large quantities, that stuff works perfectly to repel other zombies. So well that Evans and Phil are working on ways to try and infect other zombies with whatever strain of the plague it is that gives that weird zombie the ability to mark its territory with its own vomit. I have my doubts that it'll work, but it's surely worth a try.

One idea that Will has endorsed for a very long time, along with many others in the compound, is hunting groups of zombies near the farms down and taking them out before they can organize close enough to us to be a threat. The scouts did a little of this after the cold set in, killing hibernating zombies in their sleep. Once the Richmond soldiers invaded, that practice stopped. And of course, most zombies developed resistance to the cold, which made it far too dangerous for our people to attempt, with their advantage taken away.

Since we've been home, we've been short on able bodies. But Will managed to convince Dodger that training a small group of people to work together as a unit would work as a means of depopulating swarms. Like most of the training in different areas people have been doing, the twenty of them have been working on this in their own time, and after about two weeks of hard drills, they went out for their first test in actual combat yesterday.

They're basically doing it like the Spartans did--shields (most made from old pieces of cars, usually hoods) and spears, which are probably the easiest weapon for us to make. Spears are awesome for killing zombies, being piercing weapons, and a lot of force goes into that point when it hits a skull. More than enough to break bone and ruin the brain.

Will and Dodger went with them, Will wearing his shackles as he has to do outside the compound. Jamie went as well, acting the part of scout for the group, and found a horde of the undead not far into the woods nearest the farm right next to the compound itself. Not a huge group, only about fifty, but our untested spearmen (and women) were outnumbered more than two to one.

Shields locked together in a phalanx, spears angled up and out, ready to be driven forward in one swift thrust, they waited at the edge of the wood for Jamie to bring the zombies running right into them.

He did. Our little Spartans stood their ground and methodically killed every zombie that came at them. Oh, there were mistakes; a dropped shield here, a broken spear there, missed thrusts and close calls with undead that got inside the reach of their weapons. But each man and woman, tempered by more than a year of fighting for survival, reacted well to those problems and kept one another safe. They killed almost forty of the zombies that came at them before those that were left turned and left them alone after seeing the piles of bodies that had been created in just a few minutes.

It was a good practice run, and showed Jamie, Dodger, and Will what needs to be worked on and what seems to work well. There are probably a hundred little details that need to be fixed just right, but it's a promising start. If we're lucky and don't lose too many citizens, we might be able to field as many as three trips a week for our spearmen, solely for the purpose of breaking up swarms.

For the first time since The Fall began, we've got real prospects for taking the fight to the undead. It's an idea still in its infancy, one that has to be nurtured and guided carefully, but it's beautiful nonetheless. I wish I had the time to train for it myself. Maybe I will, some day down the road when my trainees are fully capable of taking over for me...

But I can't risk it until I'm done training them. As much as I want to stand in that line, shoulder to shoulder with men and women I trust, making the world safer one push of the spear at a time, I can't.

Yet.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rising Sun

This morning we got some pretty awful news. More than a week ago, an earthquake rocked Japan, followed by a tsunami that destroyed most of the northern coast.

Since The Fall, there has been very little in the way of international communication. The internet is mostly functional because of cellular signals, and most of what is usable here in the USA is run by Google. It pains me to hear so late that such a tragedy has hit Japan, and the repercussions of the earthquake have been worse for the survivors there than The Fall itself.

I've heard bits and pieces from my contacts at Google about how other countries have weathered the zombie plague. India was hit harder by the undead than almost any other place because of the population density there. The people of the middle east took drastic and severe measures to curb the viral spread of zombies, leaving themselves in better shape than most places.

Japan, I hadn't heard all that much about. I knew that many survivors had moved to places at the foot of mountains, where they might still be able to farm but could run to the safer places in the foothills if needed. Most of what we knew about Japan we learned a few months in, well after the metropolitan areas of that country were abandoned.

The consequences of the earthquake are severe. The tsunami triggered by the quake smashed one of their nuclear power plants to bits, and while it had been shut down since shortly after the zombie plague destroyed most of the civilized world, there was still a lot of waste there, and the area around it has been horribly contaminated.

All along the coast, huge swaths of land have been totally destroyed. There were a fair number of survivors that chose to stay near the coasts, fishing for their food and living on boats. Others farmed close by, I'm told, since that is the best soil for it by far. There's no telling how many survivors, precious human beings that are the remnants of our race, were lost to such a violent act of nature.

My heart goes out to the remaining people of Japan. I've always had a fascination with their culture, and a deep love of their dedication to perfecting themselves. It saddens me that such a unique people should have to suffer such heartbreaking losses yet again. I know that their spirits are bruised right now, and that they may be cursing the fates that have brought down so much misfortune upon them.

I know that they will struggle, and that they'll fail at times. I also know that the core of the Japanese mindset is a rugged determination. That kernel of willpower has always been the driving force behind their martial arts, which is the first thing that comes to mind for me, since I practice three Japanese arts. It's also what drove the geisha to become flawless artisans, their smiths to make weapons of beauty and efficiency. It's what made their artists so talented, and later made their technology so much more advanced. That spirit of perfection lead the Japanese from the darkness of World War 2 into the modern age, a nation of warriors who embraced peace and drove themselves to make ever-larger leaps toward the future.

It is that spirit that has given them the will to survive The Fall, and the will to overcome this most recent tragedy. They will overcome it, be certain. They will carry on and become stronger as a people because of it, as they have always done. They are the shining example that the rest of us strive toward. I only wish that I could be there to help them.

Ganbatte Ne, surviors of Japan. Good luck.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Strikes

Got about an hour of sleep, and that was between nine and ten last night. I've been up the rest of the time, and I'm running on fumes. Most of us are.

Damn smart zombies hit another section of the wall last night that's been under repair. We weren't caught off guard this time, thank god, since the last attack taught us a lesson about not putting extra guards on weak spots. Still, this attack was different, and I think pretty important.

They hit us in groups. None were very large, maybe fifty or sixty at a time, but they kept coming. Every time an assault would end, another would attack just as we were getting ready to withdraw. I don't know if they were gauging the time it would take us to give up and decided that the assault was over, or if they were just trying to weaken us. I'd kill to know how the smarties communicate with the lesser, dumber undead. It isn't verbal from what we can tell. It's also fascinating to me.

Last night, I found a book that I'd bought a while ago and never started to read. It's called "The Warded Man", by Peter V. Brett. I was tired and one of my trainees had found it and set it out on my desk, I thought it would be a nice way to unwind, reading something new.

I won't get into too many details, but it's a good book. In it, humanity is constantly assaulted by hordes of demons every night, held back from destroying mankind by magical wards painted or carved on things. I naturally found myself wishing for such an easy solution to our problems, but that's fiction for you. It takes us somewhere that has solutions to problems that the real world just can't offer. It's a nice escape.

It just makes coming back to reality that much harder. I wish we had something like Brett's wards to use against the zombies as they probe our defenses. I suppose we'll just have to do as we always have, which is the best we can with what is in our hands.

I'm going to finish up some work that can't wait, and then I'm taking the day off to sleep.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Facing the Wind

I'm not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the events involving Harry and Will Price. You can go back and read that if you want to. Long story short, Harry got whipped. Three lashes. One for the assault on Will, one for the recklessness of putting himself in danger by doing large amounts of a dangerous drug, and one for putting the rest of us in danger. On top of that, Harry now has to cover Will's old job driving the honey wagon around and picking up people's buckets of excrement. He has to keep doing it until Will is healed up, though Will is in good enough shape to continue his work with Dodger on the defenses.

Moving on...

We've seen a big change in the weather around here since my last post. From a hard frost last week, we're now in relatively balmy temperatures in the high sixties. The down side is that the wind has picked up a lot, and that makes working outdoors difficult. Kentucky is usually pretty windy in early spring, but the gusts have been unusually strong.

This has had an interesting effect on the local zombie population. I stood on the walls earlier this morning, checking the placement, number, and sharpness of the stakes we planted in rows to slow the zombies that wander toward the walls, and I saw several of the undead as they were buffeted by the wind. About half of them would just stop when the wind hit them hard, tucking their heads down toward their chests until it eased up. This was such weird behavior that I can't even begin to theorize on what caused it. I've seen plenty of zombies in my time, in many different situations. Wind is a pretty common occurrence, but this reaction to it is totally new to us.

One thing that we've learned to accept and watch out for is the fact that the undead seem to evolve continuously. Or rather, the fungus or bacteria that animates them does. We've seen a small number of them become more intelligent, those we call the smarties. We've seen them develop a capacity to ward off the hibernation-inducing effects of cold in a matter of a few months. We've seen one of them develop a sort of territorial marking reflex, but just that one being used by the folks out in Bald Knob. The search is still on for others, but our time and resources are limited.

Those are just the obvious bits of evolution that we've been able to witness. There are other implied changes that we suspect might have happened in the zombie population over time. One of those seems to be the capacity to store a lot of the flesh and blood they consume in their stomachs, preserved for future consumption in presumably the same manner that their flesh is preserved. It seems to be the most logical explanation for why they can go so long without feeding.

What's the point of this? I don't know that there is one, aside from making it clear that we have to keep our eyes open for any changes we see. I've talked many times over the last thirteen months about how we humans have had to push ourselves hard to grow and change, but it's just as important to note that the primary threat to us, the zombie hordes, do this as well. The best weapon we have against them is caution and knowledge, to arm us against whatever survival mechanisms that may grow in them over time.

I hear the creaking axles of the honey wagon coming through. I plan on giving Harry a big smile when I hand over my bucket. Maybe this punishment will teach him a lesson, and help him to grow.

The sad thing about people is that we're just not as consistent as zombies are. They WILL adapt and change, while we have to hope for the same results. It's almost funny, if you think about it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blow

We had an unfortunate thing happen here yesterday. A guy named Harry, one of the cooks who run our mess halls, did several lines of cocaine and beat the hell out of Will Price.

I don't know where he found the blow, but it isn't hard to imagine. We've rifled through more than half the houses in Franklin county, and almost every one of us has been on a trip to do it. I'd guess Harry found it somewhere and kept it for a rainy day. Yesterday was a hard one, as we lost a bunch of our crops just after we'd planted them. Maybe that was what made Harry want to get high, the thought of the constant hunger that goes with not having quite enough.

For the moment, I'm going to ignore the incredible stupidity of dulling your brain with a substance as powerful as coke. I'll also ignore the further idiocy of doing so when zombies could attack in force at any time. I'm not going to talk about how that would have made him a threat not only to himself, but to everyone else as well. It's been made clear what we do with threats.

No, I'm pissed about what he did to Will. Most people are, even a lot of the folks that wanted to see Will executed for handing the compound over to the Richmond soldiers. Will lives under a lot of punishment, which I've described before--the only food he eats has to be given to him by a citizen. The only way he sleeps indoors is if someone invites him, though for the sake of convenience he's been sleeping on the floor of Dodger's office while he works on defense projects. Will has to do any task he is asked to do, unless he's working on orders from the council, as he is right now.

Will was just walking by the house that Harry shares with several other cooks. Harry was out of his mind at that point, and his hate for Will overcame his already fuzzy judgment. He just attacked Will for no reason.

Will took every punch and kick. He curled up on the ground to protect himself, and though the beating only lasted long enough for people to reach them and stop Harry, Will took a lot of damage.

This is simply not acceptable. Will lives under constant punishment, and he is a criminal found guilty of treason, but we still have rules around here. His punishment is severe, but that doesn't give anyone the right to commit unprovoked violence against him. He's still a human being, and one whose life was spared because most of us still see value in it. In him.

Harry's in some serious shit, and I've got the feeling that the council is going to make an example of him. No one can be allowed to walk away from this thinking that this sort of chaotic behavior won't be severely punished. If we were to give Harry a slap on the wrist, people would start to think that it wasn't such a bad thing to do. Which could eventually lead to people thinking that it wasn't wrong at all. It's a slippery slope that leads to utter havok and to the land of do-as-you-please.

That's how marauders do things. Not us.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ice Age

I'm going to try to keep it short this morning, because there's a lot of makeup work to do today. We've been having some pretty dramatic fluctuations in the weather lately, but the need to get a lot of our seeds and sprouts in the ground made us take the risk of a hard frost. 

We'd hoped that we had managed to avoid that, but this morning the ground was (and still is) covered in a thick mantle of the stuff. There are people out right now in force, trying to do everything they can to save what we've planted. We're lucky, really, because much of what we've got in the ground right now is cold weather food, meant to be planted early. About thirty percent of it, though, isn't. Which means a lot of scrambling about, trying to determine what we'll lose and what will live. 

I'm taking Becky out with me today. She's going to play the part of personal assistant since I've got my trainees busy with other things, as well as being my second set of eyes for zombies, since we'll be out in the open. Becky has been quiet the last few days, not really wanting to leave the house. So far I've avoided giving her a work assignment, since she's still recovering from the arduous trip here. Given how well she handled her liquor over the weekend, I'm guessing she's able to work. 

The problem is, I want to utilize her skills. She's got a lot of knowledge floating around in that massive brain of hers, but her sharpest talent is keeping people alive and putting them back together. She's reluctant to take a spot in our clinic, though, because we're flush with staff there, and she's got some...issues with providing any kind of medical care at present. Just talking about it sets her trembling, and from what I can gather that's due to her terrible journey here. I can't imagine how hard it was for her, trying to keep so many companions alive on the way to the compound, only to lose every last one. 

Some took infection from wounds despite her best efforts. Others from trauma she couldn't mend. I think her experiences since The Fall have accumulated in her mind, giving her the same sense of futility about trying that many of us have felt at one point or another. 

Gaaaaah. I want to keep this brief. Anyway, I'm going to take her with me, partly because she needs to get out of the house for a bit, see some other people and visit the farms for the first time, and partly because her judgment is still sound, her brain quick. I value her opinion and her skills as a problem solver. Maybe she can come up with some ways to keep any future frosts from killing what we plant. 

Seems like the only way this Winter is going to die is if we chain it down and stab it in the heart...