Monday, December 31, 2012

Will Of The People

Do you know what frightens me? A lot of things do. Only the stupid are fearless. I still feel it every time I face on of the undead or a living enemy. I'm afraid every day that I'll lose someone important to me.

This morning I saw something in a friend that sent shivers right through my bones. Will has always been in control of himself no matter how bad things got. I've seen him a hero, a prisoner, a leader. No matter what life throws at him, Will Price has always remained a solid rock of calm in the storm.

But dear god, not today. Not this morning. He came in hours before dawn--he sleeps very little--in a fury like nothing I've ever seen. I asked him what the problem was, and he screamed. Not words but a formless shout of wrath tinged with the frustration of watching too many good people make too many bad decisions for stupid and selfish reasons.

The cause of Will's anger came out after a few minutes. There exists a small town on the edge of the Union's territory where a group of survivors live. Their community is called Farlane, and this morning they sent a message telling the Union's leaders they were leaving. Joining up with the UAS. The reason was simple enough; the flu has hit their small community hard. Nearly a quarter of their people are sick. The UAS promises to come in and remove the ill people, take them back to their bunker, and treat them for as long as needed. Farlane has jumped ship for the well-being of their citizens. As hard as the pill is to swallow, Will and the rest of us at least understand that motivation.

Damn, it's a morale crusher. Farlane took a vote on it, sick people included, and though it wasn't a landslide the vote wasn't especially close, either. We might not like it but the whole point of the Union is to respect personal choice and the right to do as you choose without harming others. The people of Farlane have promised not to raise arms against us, but you have to wonder if they'll be able to keep that promise in the future. Easy to say now, but what if the UAS finally decides to come for us and tells them they won't get any medical attention or critical supplies if they don't fall in line? There are dangers to selling out, no matter how necessary you may consider that choice to be.

Today Will wants to organize a vote across New Haven (and preferably the Union as a whole) to let people decide if they're going to stick this united government thing out of free themselves from it. The UAS wants to drive wedges between us. The old divide and conquer is way easier when the cracks start at home.

Still, I see both sides of the equation. We don't do politics well, but I know that a decisive action is needed to weed out those who might be wavering and to reinforce those who aren't. People deserve a say in this, and so far the Union has been acting solely on the actions of the leadership of each constituent group. Granted, the people voted for those leaders, but the UAS isn't going anywhere. This is a major change in the way our world works. It's only right to give everyone equal say in how we choose to deal with it.

I know it pisses Will off that anyone would choose the UAS, just as it angers him that we even need to hold this vote. He supports the idea of everyone having a voice. Even in this, he believes in that right. No matter how furious he gets, I know that to be true.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Different Kind Of War

I'd call it a cold war, but given the time of year and the half a foot of snow outside the label seems like a bad joke. You might say instead that what is happening with the UAS at present is a different kind of war instead. Let's not be shy about it; their statement to the Union was clear. They want to form a new, larger government  with us as their citizens.

That itself wouldn't have really been a problem if the UAS had been less intrusive and brash in how they interacted with us initially. I'm all for a larger affiliation of citizens working under a common set of laws. Together we can accomplish things far beyond what our individual communities can manage. I'm behind it in theory all the way.

Yet the UAS isn't proposing a cooperative effort. The thing about the Union is that while we have formed our own tentative government, a larger structure that ties us all together, we did it out of choice. Federalism, if you want to call it that, is a decision on our part. The UAS wants us to join up with them--in fact, to live under their rule--regardless of our say in the matter.

It seems like a weird distinction to make, but there you go. We're happy to cede power and control to leaders of our choosing and to building the Union into something resembling the previous government of the United States. We're much less inclined, after two plus years of fending for ourselves and living through hell, to bend knee to people who've suffered little or not at all.

Beyond that, we've had some suspicions over time that seem borne out by facts. I mentioned a while ago that I had a theory but that I wouldn't share it unless Will and the council gave me permission. I can't publicly disclose the details of the evidence (messages will be sent to everyone who needs to know) but I can tell you the final conclusion.

The Hunters were the military arm of the UAS. There's no question about it.

You remember them, right? The group of people whose compound we assaulted and burned to the ground after they spent a few weeks annihilating small communities and stealing everything that wasn't nailed down? Those guys. They were UAS members.

Even if the evidence didn't prove beyond doubt that this was the case, we were already at war with the UAS. For us the idea of war since The Fall has been one of pure combat. We fight the dead, we fight the living, we protect what belongs to us. Simple. Now things are different. We aren't dealing with people who just want to take what we have. If the above is correct, the UAS has very few soldiers left after the slaughter of the Hunters. Why else send obvious amateurs out to gather critical supplies?

They don't want to fight us. We don't want to fight them. This is a war of politics, of resources, and of willpower. Neither side can afford to be drawn into serious conflict. We have more people and much more experience, they have vastly superior firepower and weapons resources. In any scenario (and I've run through several over the last day) everyone loses. So yeah, I suppose it's a cold war after all.

Here's what you can do if you're out there unaffiliated with any group, or a mobile group like Ketill and his people, or even a small group that remains hidden:

Join up. If you prefer to remain mobile, then we have patrol jobs for you. I'm going to contact Ketill tomorrow to see if his folks would like some work. The Union will pay in fuel and supplies. We'll pay in food and weapons. Whatever your need, we're happy to oblige. Borders are going to be enforced, the enemy will be watched, and we will prevent incursions at all costs .

The undead are quiet throughout the Union, but that won't last. I keep saying that, but I'll drill it into the heads of anyone who wants to pull a John Wayne and fight because the other party deserves a beating. That's how we've operated before, and it's not always a bad thing. But we're evolving into something else, and it's time to put away childish reactions and act like grownups. We must endure insults, previous attacks, and anything short of armed conflict the UAS throws at us. We've got work to do and a short time to do it in. We all need to come together and get it done while we can. When the world begins to thaw we'll face an enemy with a full season of preparation behind them. They'll be plotting and planning, and we have to be ready.

For months shots may never be fired. But make no mistake about it: this is a fight and we intend to win it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Enhance Your Calm

I hate to quote Demolition Man in the title of this post, but it needs to be said. Everyone needs to calm down. Since my post yesterday--on which there are several comments in the same vein--people all over the place have been sending me messages, completely freaking out. Look, I know many of you want to find the people responsible for killing the Exiles. Some of you question the motivation of the UAS to kill so many people so close to New Haven, while others think it makes perfect sense. I've been on both sides of that fence.

The third possibility is that whoever is responsible, UAS or some unknown party, is shooting for exactly this reaction. We're in a period of vastly reduced activity by the undead. The zombies have retreated to the far reaches of the county here and in other places, giving us a chance to make headway on many projects that are of vital importance. Communities all over the Union are reporting the same thing.

Instead of letting our focus waver by gnawing on a problem we can't possibly solve, we should be buttoning down and getting things done. I want justice for the murders beyond the death of the tools that committed them. Many of us want to know the hand that moved those men.

We can argue and discuss it until the end of time but without any further evidence we have to err on the side of caution. None of us can afford to take the word of the murderers here. The possibility exists that they were trying to send us to war with the UAS. Better to bite back the urge to lash out and work on our own problems. We can remain cautious and observant while we do it, but to allow our own lives to suffer because of this horrific act would be a massive failure.

That's the thing, you know? This is the worst time for discord and mistrust among the people of the Union, no matter where they are. With the UAS trying to entice people away with their free clinics, the last thing we can afford is to give people a reason to want to go. Unity and willingness to cope with not knowing the answers when we want them are important.

Before you know it the zombies will be back in large numbers. As we progress through winter, the UAS will grow stronger and more entrenched, bringing the possibility of armed conflict with them closer. So let me say it again so no one misses the fucking point:

We're at a crossroads. We're heading toward a future unimaginable even a year ago. We have the chance to make a serious go at rebuilding what was, maybe even improving on it. There are risks, as detailed above. How we move forward from here is entirely up to you. I can't stress enough that the challenges and risks need to be met by dedicated, focused people. Not warring tribes who demand answers from people with no capacity to provide them. I understand your anger and desire for justice. But it's not an option.

Make the cal yourself and go forward from there.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Subtle Maneuvers

A few people have asked questions regarding the last post. I need to get on to something more vital, so I'll reply quickly:

The dissenters that left New Haven do not need to be rounded up by anyone even marginally associated with the Union, particularly New Haven itself. They're leaving our sphere of influence. What they do from there is entirely on their own. We don't have much doubt that whatever their plans, they'll ultimately be destructive. I suggest leaving them alone lest you risk being seen as collaborators.

As for watching out for poisons similar to what the guards used on the Exiles, I can't be much help. We don't know what it was exactly, though Henry has miraculously pulled through, and so far we're seeing so many complications from the poisoning that we can't be anything close to sure exactly what was used. We do know it was introduced into the water supply, but there are plenty of poisonous substances that dissolve in water. My suggestion is to be cautious and wary, and not to let anyone you don't know and trust implicitly near your food or water supplies.

Now, on to more important news.

In response to recent events, it seems the UAS wants to prove their benevolence. To that end they're setting up clinics on the borders of their land, open to anyone and everyone who wants to use them. They have a lot of medical staff and supplies, they say, and want to help those of us who have suffered without them. No one who uses this service, only available for a short while, will have any obligation to the UAS, nor will they be held or threatened for crossing the borders.

On the surface it seems like a nice gesture, and honestly if they go through with it as described it really will be. Unless they've got far more in the way of resources and manufacturing than we're aware of, this will only cost the UAS valuable commodities they can't easily replace. I don't want to be the guy who gets pissed off that a group is doing something constructive, but the intent behind the act is almost painfully obvious, isn't it?

They want people to know what kinds of services and treatment they can expect as part of the UAS. They want to lull groups into feeling positive about them, either to draw away people by defection or to force populations to vote about joining the UAS. It's not that subtle, I'll be honest, but it scares me as a tactic. The old saying says you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and this is going to be a very sweet deal for a lot of people who have suffered without medical care for several years.

At first the whole thing seemed curious to me. Why do this when you've got so many people on your own team already? The UAS doesn't need more mouths to feed, do they? For the sake of practicality, why on earth would you waste supplies and manpower like this?

Then it clicked. The UAS has military gear and weapons galore. The people that use them are obviously civilians and ones that have been safely away from the kind of experience that forces you to get good at fighting or die trying. They may or may not actually care about those of us who've been living above ground since day one of The Fall, but they absolutely care about themselves. The UAS knows they're weak in the one area that counts: fighting. Specifically the undead. They want to lure in new members who know what the hell they're doing. They need people who've been in the trenches. Maybe to teach their own people how to handle it, but probably as a security force.

And this is winter, don't forget. Even so far south the weather will be enough to at least slow down the undead. It's the perfect time to recruit new people and move them onto the new homesteads they're securing.

I don't have any proof for these theories, but they feel right. It's psychological warfare. It's the one thing we've tried to avoid as much as possible since The Fall: politics. Weapons-grade politics. We can fight an enemy trying to kill or steal from us, but telling people they should ignore the generosity of people and keep on struggling in the cold, dark world...that's a hard job. The UAS is playing a more complicated game than I would have imagined last week.

The worst thing is that it's not a game we're trained to play.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Words

Words don't have to be eloquent or creative to have power. Say the simplest words in the right situation and they can be the line between life and death. Things is, those words can push either way.

This morning I'm thinking about words a lot. Especially my own. When I started this blog, the idea was to track what I thought might be a temporary situation. I wanted to give people some idea of what was going on and perhaps create a stable reference point for them. I started dispensing advice and ideas.

Saying something as simple as, "Shoot the zombie in the head" can save a life. It creates context for the person who hears it. Suddenly you have a frame by which to judge the shambling corpse in front of you and what means are at your disposal to stay safe.

Words can inform. They can inspire. They can make you love, make you hate, even create trust.

I've been writing this blog for a long time now. I have informed, inspired, and all the rest. I know that at times the things I've revealed have caused hardship far beyond the ever-present threat of the undead, but I've always considered myself a positive influence.

My words have done a lot, I can say that without ego or bragging. But my worst error is not seeing the above before now. I didn't understand that people listened to me and believed in me. I realized today that my worst sin was using my words to create trust. At least in that people trust me and I didn't comprehend how deep it went.

Enough putting it off.

My last post was the final straw for some people. My anger resonated with more than a few, and as a consequence an even dozen people left this morning. They wanted to go after the UAS for the deaths of the Exiles. There was a huge fight about it between them and the council. The dissenters wanted backing from our government to send people against the UAS. You can imagine how that went over.

I was called in about it, and when the dissenters asked for me to put in my two cents, I had to be honest. I couldn't agree with what they proposed no matter how much I wanted to. Choosing to attack the UAS would be too damaging for us to deal with. It would mean war on a scale none of us have any capacity to deal with.

They felt betrayed and those twelve people disavowed their citizenship in New Haven. They're leaving--they may even be gone--and they can't come back. What they do once they're outside our walls is entirely on them. As much as it galls me to do this, I have to issue a warning.

To the UAS: we will send you messages with full descriptions of these people. Any actions they might take do not represent New Haven in any way. They are now outcasts, and if you choose to engage or capture them there will be no repercussions on our part. By the same token you won't fault us for their actions. They're dead to us as soon they leave here.

Jesus, I can't believe this crap. Every time I've read a book or seen a movie and someone says something stupid and hurtful, I've thought, why don't they just think about what they're saying?

You'd think I would have learned that lesson and always remembered the consequences.

This is my fault. Maybe not entirely, but I bear responsibility just the same.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fools Rush In

We have ourselves a strange situation. According to our...questioners, the murderers were agents of the UAS. They admitted this fact easily, mostly because we scared off the team that was supposed to pick them up from that house. It was join us or die, in their minds, though our people never made that promise.

Will contacted the UAS yesterday and they flatly denied it. Even if they came right out and took credit, it would be difficult for us to justify any kind of reaction. The Exiles were enemies even if we were experiencing a time of peace. It's hard to understand the motivation behind this horror. Was it a warning? Some kind of strange attempt at winning us over?

Whatever the reason, we can't do much about it. Hard to justify starting a war over dead enemies, especially when we only have the word of a pair of terrified murderers to go on. Frustrating but true.

It would be an awful time for it at any rate. We're still blessedly free of zombies and at critical junctures in several projects. We're on the verge of reaching a huge milestone in autonomy and industrialization. So many goals are in our reach, and going to war again won't bring those people back from the dead. All it would do is risk everything our people have been struggling to build over the last months.

Logically that makes sense. I even agree with it. I say this often, but it still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth to compromise so much. Justice is a tricky bastard when balanced against the needs of several thousand people. I don't want us to risk those folks. They're family now, and their safety and happiness mean the world to me. Yet that angry voice still shouts at me to do something, anything. To make it right. No matter the cost, killers who would coldly annihilate an entire community unprovoked to make some kind of point shouldn't get away with it.

In a better world, perhaps.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Unclaimed

Now, here's a funny thing. Someone commented on yesterday's post, worried that I might have spooked whoever the guards were waiting to meet. That must have been the case, because by late afternoon the two of them had given themselves up to our scouts.

I don't know any details about what they might have told Will and the others who questioned them. If those guys gave up any information it's not public yet. All I do know is that this morning on my jog I saw their bodies being burned. I'm making no judgments on that. I think they had it coming.

As far as I know those two men are still unclaimed by any group. I don't see their execution causing much of a fuss, because anyone that might come forward to give us trouble about them is going to have some explaining to do. I mean, we've done some terrible things. I know that. I'm not blind to it. But we did them in reaction to aggressors or to defend others who couldn't defend themselves. The Exiles were keeping to themselves on the other side of the river. Distasteful as their actions have been in the past, the ones living over there seemed to have learned their lesson. They had abandoned their fellow Exiles--the ones who attacked us--and tried to settle down.

That act didn't earn my forgiveness, though I can't speak for anyone else. It did earn a certain level of tolerance. Enough that we let our differences slide. Live and let live, that whole spiel.

Those two fuckers brutally murdered a bunch of people who weren't hurting anyone. It might have been a different story had the Exiles been planning something, but our people have found zero evidence of that in the fallback point. If anything it looks like the Exiles were truly settling in for the long haul. They had a setup that would have seen them through the winter and enough seeds and tools to make a decent go at farming in the spring. The heavy weapons were stored away, dusty and unused.

Not a group that seemed on the edge of going after anyone, I have to say. We're still watching Henry as he struggles to stay alive. If he pulls through we might get some answers, but the evidence is already strong that the Exiles were staying peaceful. The larger question remains unanswered and is, if anything, more confusing at this point. Why? Why do this? Whose agenda does it serve?

Whoever is behind this, assuming the killers weren't just psychopaths trying to set some kind of record, will have to own a pair of balls so big they drag the ground to own up to it. I don't know which possibility is more chilling.

It's so cold. Give me zombies to fight any day over this kind of insanity. Their need to kill I can understand and easily quantify, but the depths to which human beings with free will of their own will sink continue to amaze and disgust me. Considering the things I've seen and even done myself over the last few years, that's saying quite a fucking lot.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Caesura

A caesura is a complete pause between a line in poetry or music. I remember reading that word for the first time and being amazed that people name so many things. Think about that for a minute. How many words can you think of that represent the concept of nothingness? Of emptiness? Just that one idea has enough words for it that there is one specific to music and poetry.

If that seems wildly out of place as a subject of discussion here, you're right. But for me, today feels like a caesura. Our scouts are still waiting outside the house where the murdering guards are holed up. It's twenty degrees outside, so cold that most people are staying inside. Only critical jobs being done. The undead are quiet.

The world feels paused. For once there's nothing going on at all, and it's weird.

It's the sort of dark anticipation that comes from knowing too much. Enjoying the warmth in my home as I sit next to the stove and write is hard to do when I know what comes next. Whether it's a firefight with those guards or a zombie attack or some new scheme by the UAS, I know it can't last. We've been grinding through hardship after tragedy after terrible calamity. We've made great strides toward creating a better world, but there is always a struggle. Some hurdle or another will trip us up.

If you need any more insight into my mind, my problems (not that most of you probably do), then that's it. Every day is like that for me. I live in a constant state of battle. I try to enjoy the moment while fighting the knowledge that worse times are ahead.

In the world that was, there was a chance I was wrong and that better days waited around the corner. Now, I know beyond doubt things will be dark and painful and terrible.

Even in peaceful, quiet moments like these, I know it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Standoff

A scout team found the two guards that murdered the Exiles. For the last day they've been at a standoff, the two men holed up in a house about thirty miles north of here. Our people have them surrounded but won't attempt to make entry on the house. Rather than put our people in more danger by going in after armed men, our leadership has made the call to starve them out. Or, in this case, thirst them out. The murderers don't have much in the way of drinking water, so in no more than three days and probably a lot less, they'll have to make a choice. 

The strange thing is that they were just waiting there patiently, fire in the fireplace as if they didn't have a care in the world. Maybe they didn't think anyone would come after them. God knows if they'd have kept moving on we would never have found them. The only conclusion we can reach is that they are waiting for someone to show up. If that's true, then the situation may become more complex. 

Henry hasn't come around yet. Whatever poison the guards used appears to have hit him very hard even though it didn't kill him. Phil doesn't have much confidence that Henry is going to pull through, truth be told. I don't know that I want him to. Not because I hate him, though I haven't historically had a lot of love for Exiles or marauders. 

It's just that I'm not totally without compassion for even the worst of people, no matter how much pain they've caused. Bad guys rarely think they're bad guys, and Henry was a part of a community, no matter how messed up. He knew those people, lived with them day to day. He probably had good friends among the dead. People he loved.

All of that is gone. He watched them suffer in unimaginable pain for hours at least. The sort of agony he witnessed and then went through himself aren't the kind of memories you want to carry around with you. They damage you, change you in ways that can be impossible to recover from. Maybe the best thing for him is to pass on in his sleep, immune to the hurt waiting for him in the waking world. 

Some deaths are necessary, cold and heartless. Some are a kindness, and in this case I think it would be the best thing for him. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Henry

I want to tell you about Henry. Until yesterday afternoon he was one of the Exiles living in the fallback point. As of this moment, though the search is still ongoing, Henry appears to be the last member of that group. The last one alive, that is.

He was able to get a message to us, begging for help. He was weeping over the walkie-talkie as our people listened to his pleas. Henry was nearly incomprehensible, but our people could make out his repeated requests for help. At the time he contacted us, a few of his fellow Exiles were still alive, but dying painfully. Our people took a bit to get over the shattered bridges--and yes, of course we had a plan for that--and by the time they arrived only Henry and one other, a woman, were left.

She died on the way to New Haven, after our people figured out how to get an unconscious person over the rope bridge they'd extended over the river.

As of right now we've got a lot more questions than answers, but we know a few things. We know the Exiles were poisoned somehow and that many of them were already sick. We know the two guards our watchers saw yesterday are the likely culprits, for a variety of reasons that aren't important right this second. We know that this had to have been planned for a long time.

We know there are one hundred and seventy-seven dead over there. If there's a mercy to be found in this it's that there aren't many children among the victims. Which is probably the worst silver lining I've ever had to find.

A part of me wants to feel satisfaction. The Exiles are--were--our enemies, and I have hated them with a fierceness that far overshadows anything I've felt for the undead. Though hostilities have waxed and waned, the underlying rage has never completely vanished.

I've heard descriptions of the bodies. Whatever poison killed them, it wasn't pretty and it wasn't nice. Those people suffered agonizing deaths that took hours and probably felt like decades. If push had ever come to shove, I would have killed any of them to protect one of my own. I would have done it without hesitation or guilt, though not without regret. I would have done it quick and neat, with as little pain as I could manage, and that would have been the end of it.

Not this. Dear god, some of those people killed themselves rather than endure the pain any longer. We hope to know more when and if Henry recovers. The bits he told us before he finally passed out were a jumble, but we put enough pieces together to understand that the two guards we saw leave their post vanished minutes after they did so. They weren't subtle about it, announcing their departure and taking a vehicle for themselves.

I want to know what this is all about. I need to understand. The kind of cruelty dealt to the Exiles is beyond the limit of what we can accept. I want to know why. With luck Henry will pull through, and the fact that he's not dead says a lot for his chances, and we can start adding pieces to the puzzle.

For now we'll work on building a more permanent bridge across the river, and we will see to his people. In life they were enemies. In death their sins no longer matter. Whatever killed the Exiles prevented them from reanimating, and we will give them a funeral pyre. Then we will clean and search some more as we reclaim the other side of the river.

Something we have hoped to achieve for a long time now, but the reality tastes like ashes. Ashes and tears.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ringing Silence

Something odd is going on across the river. We've been in a period of peace with the Exiles for so long that any change becomes more noticeable. I mentioned yesterday that they've been more low-key than usual, but this morning there were no guards to replace the ones who left at the end of the shift.

In fact, there were no Exiles to be seen at all. That made our watchers very nervous, so they reported it in. So far the debate at home has mostly centered around how we should try to communicate with them, not whether we should or not.

I decided to mention it here on the off chance that any of them over there can read this. I sincerely hope this isn't a precursor to more violence or some new subterfuge. It may be nothing more than a bout of the flu forcing them to button down due to a loss of manpower. I hope it's something like that. We're not in the same position we were even a few months ago. We have a lot more int he way of people and resources. I don't think it would be much of a fight if that's what the Exiles are planning.

It's such a tired line, but it's a little too quiet. So if anyone over there can read this, please respond. We don't want anything stupid happening because of a misunderstanding.

I'd rather not cloud the importance of this request by going on with a bunch of other stuff, especially my own problems, so I'll leave it there. A short post, I know, but important. Better to err on the side of caution.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Toasty

I don't know about the rest of you out there, but the last two days here have been very warm. T-shirt weather. The local zombies are of course more active because of the moderate temperatures, but though they're taking an interest in the folks that go outside the walls, they aren't making efforts to hit New Haven itself in large numbers.

I'm sitting in the house nice and toasty. There isn't a need for reserve defenders to go out, and while sixty degrees is nice, I'm still bundled up. I haven't been feeling at my best since last night. I really hope I'm not coming down with something.

I invited Jamie over again. He just left. I spent the early part of my morning really catching up with him. We have a lot in common, actually. He's physically crippled, I'm emotionally crippled. Doesn't seem logical but there's quite a bit of overlap there. It was refreshing to talk to someone who understands the mental barriers that come up when you feel useless, helpless, and a drag on other people. Jamie made me feel better, because what he has had to overcome is so much more concrete than my own issues, yet he's happy and strong. It gives me hope that I can eventually get past these bursts of depression and anxiety.

The big takeaway from his visit is that, for me, most of my own problems rise up from external situations. A lot of depression springs from inside. Mine doesn't, really. I fixate on something real that happened or is happening and dwell on it. Tears me up inside. I'm working on it. Hell, I thought I had this thing beat.

Thankfully there isn't a lot to bring me down at the moment. People coming and going from New Haven are capable of protecting themselves, so I don't stress about that. The Exiles across the river are unusually quiet even for them--and they've been keeping a profile so low it has almost been nonexistent lately--so there's another problem off the list.

And the UAS hasn't been making any moves that anyone can see. I'm sure they're still moving some of their people into new areas so they can farm and set up new communities, but we're so far away from them that there's really no conflict for us.

There are even some positives. Jess has figured out how to heat the giant buildings she wants to turn into greenhouses over by the Box. She says that by using a combination of small fires and compost, which heats up as it decomposes, she can make those giant spaces warm enough to grow most anything. She even did some math to show me how it all worked out. I took her word for it. I'm good at a fair number of things, and mathematics is not within light years of that list.

So, we'll have a leg up on planting season when the time rolls around. That's awesome, and after a winter of eating rabbits (usually in the form of stew, and using the whole animal minus the fur) and deer meat along with some preserves and roughage, a more diverse variety of foods will be very welcome. We're just getting into the bitter seasons, and I'm already looking forward to fresh corn and tomatoes.

We're becoming more industrial, too. Patrick has been working hard to make custom pieces for the people over in the Box so they can get their machinery going. That's Pat's main goal, because he's constantly overworked and has to do most of his metalwork by hand. Once the Box gets fully operational, things around here will begin to get a lot better very fast. Not the least being more time off and freedom to choose projects for ol' Patrick. I'm sure he'd like to spend more time with his family as well.

There are a lot of good things going on here, so I guess I can't complain too much. I just feel this sense of detachment. I mean, I wish to god I could just be happy, but the chemistry in my brain makes me nearly incapable of taking personal pride or responsibility for the good things, and only feel guilt for the bad even if I have nothing to do with them.

Fuck it. Sorry about this ramble. I'm really trying, and it's a process. I'll deal. I'll try to change it up and stop bitching tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Visits

I don't get to see a lot of people very often. There are friends like Patrick who live close and others like Will who move around a lot. But other people, even ones I've known for years (ugh, up to decades, now that I think about it...) live here and I never really get much interaction. Hell, my own sister has been moving back and forth between here and North Jackson off and on for months now with the trade caravans, and I rarely see her.

So it was kind of weird to suddenly have old friends knocking on my door yesterday. Elizabeth came by with her husband and kid (!) to see how I was doing. They stayed for a bit, catching up on things, and it was nice. Shortly after they went on their way, Jamie showed up. It has been so long since I've seen him that I almost forgot about him completely. And he was walking around on his false leg and everything. So strange to see so many changes. Jamie has apparently been working exclusively as a sharpshooter for most of this year, perched up in a watchtower. Though we were never best friends, he and I have seen some serious shit together, and it was nice to know he was thinking about me.

Then he started mentioning this blog and how he reads it. Which made me wonder: why would he need to catch up with me? For better or for worse, my life is out here for all of you to peruse at your ledger. I can buy that Jamie was genuinely worried given my last few posts, but I've publicly been through a hell of a lot worse without prompting old friends to come by.
I started wandering around, trying to figure out who was suggesting to old friends that they come see me. I cornered Will first, but he denied it. Will would tell me if I asked him outright, even if he'd never volunteer the truth. I knew Patrick didn't do it; he has been working his ass off at the forge for a few weeks. At night, too, which DOESN'T KEEP ME UP AT ALL, MOTHERFUCKER!

...Sorry. I have these moments where I want to sleep and some people wake me up and I get grumpy about it.

I grilled everyone. Gabby, Phil, Courtney and Steve, anyone I could find who might try to lighten my mood by sending people to visit me. It's not a bad tactic, after all. It worked before. But try as I might, there was no joy. I couldn't figure out who did it. After several hours of hoofing it all over New Haven, from the very far wall of West past the gates of East and the hospital, I ended up at the Box. Jess was working there, and has been for the last few days. She's setting up the first pieces of the greenhouses over in the buildings next to the Box.

I spent a few minutes telling her about my day and how irritating it was for people--however good their intent--to spring visits on me by telling people I might not be quite right. I bitched and moaned that I wasn't an invalid, that I didn't need the attention, that I can deal with my own problems without being a burden to other people.

Then Jess told me she had asked folks to stop by, spread out over a few days. Jess has always been painfully shy, and while she has grown and changed tremendously over the last few years, one consequence of years spent avoiding other people is a unique ability to do without them. It sounds strange, but being pathologically unable to deal with people made my wife's view of the world alter to fit that urge to hide. I wouldn't have thought she would even consider asking people to come see me while she was away. That it occurred to her at all that I might enjoy that is frankly amazing.

It's not that she isn't thoughtful, you understand. She is. She's very caring, but she would be more comfortable around just me and a few others. Uninvited guests are not her ideal way of relaxing. She told me that I've been acting strange around the house. Sad, less accessible. Discouraged. She felt responsible, so she didn't think it would be best for her to try to fix me. So she asked friends. Her line of reasoning was simple; seeing people for the first time in a long while might remind me of better days. Jess wanted to help.

And she's right, of course. If my wife, who sees me every day, thinks there's a problem then there probably is. I trust her judgment above nearly anyone else, and when it comes to me and denial I can always count on her to set me straight. I don't know what it says about me that I apparently didn't think any other person was capable of the same insight when I didn't know it was her that sent Elizabeth and Jamie. That's probably not a good thing.

Questioning yourself in crisis can be fatal. But in peaceful times, for people like me, it becomes a vital diagnostic tool. The Fall and the years since have made inner reflection absolutely necessary. It's easy to be sure of your actions when you're fighting the dead, but those habits and ways of thinking need to be evaluated constantly.

Because we don't just deal with the dead, do we?

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Condition

Yesterday's post basically explained to any of you out there who aren't on one side or another (or who were out of the loop) what the situation is with the UAS and the Union. Frankly these large-scale problems get to me mostly because I'm well out of the decision-making loop. I can suggest, I can persuade, but in the end I'm just another guy.

I'm growing more and more okay with that. Already this morning I've had Will over at the house, bitching about the turmoil among the members of the Union now that the UAS have made their intentions clear. The argument is that allowing them to spread out, even in lands we don't use or even want, gives them a stable base for growth. The UAS acknowledges that they can't deal with us at present. But allowing them to grow and put down roots will eventually come back to bite us in the ass.

And I can feel myself drifting away from the general vicinity of giving a shit. I mean, look, we've faced a lot worse than bureaucrats in our time. We still deal with the undead on a daily basis. Let's keep it real: if these people had soldiers enough to waste on us, they'd have sent them out with the groups trying to hoard resources, right? If there are any members of the military left with the UAS, and I'm assuming there are, then they stay close to home. Defenders of the nest, if you will.

There isn't much of a sense of urgency among the people of New Haven about these folks. We worry about invasions by living enemies, a resurgence of the Exiles or marauders, swarms of the living dead. Our leadership and that of the other communities in the Union are having a nice case of the wiggins (to use a favorite word from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) about it. They're the ones freaking out because some other group has set up far away from here and staked a claim. It's a big deal to Will and his counterparts in communities around the country, and to the councils that advise them, that a bunch of assholes think they're our bosses.

Honestly, it bothered me a lot yesterday. But I slept on it, and this morning it doesn't get to me as much. Yeah, it's stupid and prideful to think that a bunch of people with their heads in the sand have the slightest fucking clue what they're doing out here. I'm just not that fussed. They aren't coming after us any time soon. They are, at very best, a long-term problem. In the near term they're just an afterthought.

It would be easy to get upset at their arrogance. Hell, it was easy for me yesterday, and it still galls today. To allow that anger to blind us to reality would be the real tragedy. We're survivors, people. There isn't a single person among us that hasn't patiently waited in some hidey-hole while an enemy passed us by. We're better people than these folks imagine. We won't give in to a taunt, intentional or not.

And the cool thing is that I think most of you here in New Haven agree with me. No need to provoke the UAS. We can just live our lives and deal with them when and if they become a problem. If it comes to war, we'll fight. But until and unless it does, we will do as The Dude did, and simply abide.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dark Passenger

Did any of you ever read the 'Dexter' books? I watched a bit of the show and read the first book. That feels like years ago. But while I don't feel the overwhelming urge to be a serial killer like that character, I kind of understand how the author described his urge to kill as a Dark Passenger. I've got one of those, too. Except for me it's depression and anxiety (as I've mentioned probably way too much) instead of homicidal tendencies.

It's twenty degrees out this morning, which means we're pretty much zombie free. It was too cold last night for the undead to even attempt scaling our wall, and that should put me in a good mood. It actually does mitigate my mood a bit, but I felt that shadow over my thoughts as soon as I woke up.

That's the fucked up thing about psychological problems, you know? They can sneak up on you at any time and sideline you. I'm blessed because my own issues have never been as crippling for me as they have for other people I've known. I've always been very lucky that way. My heart goes out to anyone who has to deal with the deeper depressions and truly uncontrollable anxiety problems. By comparison my own are small potatoes.

But it never feels that way to the person going through it. For me a particular thought or event becomes persistent in my mind, eating away at me over time and generally pulling me down. For example, I know intellectually that today I'm feeling low because the UAS sent a messenger to one of our allied groups yesterday, and that group shared the message with us. It's way too long to share here in its entirety--it's about thirty pages--but the basic gist of it is why I'm not at my best this morning.

Many of you commented on yesterday's post, explaining what you thought might be happening with the UAS. I have to hand it to you; you were right. They aren't just people from a bunker. Many of them are former officials, a few congressmen and senators, and from what I understand even more important personages than that. Nor are they all from a single bunker. There are members of at least three of them all gathered in one place. Too many, they said, which is why they're expanding outward.

All that is fine and good. I could care less. But the hard pill to swallow is that they don't plan to stop their expansion. The message was long-winded and mostly written in the self-important prose only found in legal documents, but the nuts and bolts of it say that the UAS intends to form a new government. That everyone falls under their authority.

Look, I was not (and am not) one of those anti-government people. I don't have a problem with folk coming together and deciding en masse to create a large structural system of governance. That's totally cool with me. Always has been.

But that's not what this is. The UAS admitted outright that they know they can't force us to do anything. They know we've been struggling out here in the world since The Fall and they know we're better survivors. The resources we're relatively rich in, such as stores of food, they aren't. They're getting by off the remnants of their canned goods and similar items from their little hidey-holes and whatever they can hunt. That's part of why they've been spreading out so far and wide. Takes a lot of game to feed so many damn people.

I have a suspicion about them, but I'm keeping that close to the chest. I want to talk it over with Will before I make any accusations.

The really insane thing about this message is the sheer scope of the cognitive dissonance in it. The UAS says on the one hand that they feel every survivor out here is under their authority. They make that claim despite the fact that there is no government left of any kind. I'd be thrilled if a fully functional federal government suddenly popped up out of nowhere and was capable of curbing the harshness of the lives we live. That would be fucking great.

But that's the other hand. They claim authority over us, but they admit they have no power to enforce that. Yet. They claim power but profess weakness. It's almost an invitation for a fight. It's stupid and careless and enraging. People who've lived in armored boxes most of the time we've been out here are trying to explain to us why they're superior or something. Like I said, it makes my brain hurt.

But for now, we're taking them at their word. No matter how upsetting this is, we aren't making the first move. It's just not in the cards. If this is an act of deliberate provocation, it failed. If it's genuine (and idiotic) communication from people that don't know better, it also failed. There's no chance we'd let ourselves be governed by entitled morons like this.

I just hope it doesn't devolve into something worse. The whole thing makes me sad for a lot of reasons. Most of them relate to disappointment. There are thousands of survivors out there with resources unknown. They could have been a huge boon to us and we to them. There were so many possibilities. Instead of being positive forces for each other, we're dealing with this. It makes me want to curl up in the bed and just drift mentally.

As a matter of fact, I think that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lines On A Map

Well, they aren't the Strangers anymore. In addition to the information about these people I told you yesterday I'd share, some new stuff has come to light. The folks I've been calling the Strangers have given themselves a name. Guess they got tired of me calling them that. For the record, they're calling themselves the United American Survivors. I'm going to shorten that to UAS because it's easy and the name is pretentious.

We got the news yesterday while I was having lunch with a couple named Linda and Troy. They're the folks who took Brian in. They have a nice little apartment kind of place set up over in The Box, and thanks to the almost biblical drop in temperatures over the last few days, it's not very dangerous to travel the short distance from East to the Box. Brian was the one who invited me. He wanted to introduce me to his new family, show me some of the small projects he has been working on. 

Will sent a messenger with the news. Linda, a woodworker and welder, laughed so hard at the name that I though she was going to pass out. Troy just kind of shook his head and went back to cooking. That's his whole job over there, making food for everyone. Guy was a sous chef before The Fall at some nice restaurant in Indianapolis. Nice guy. Don't know how he does what he does in the kitchen with just one hand, but he makes it happen with that hook. 

Linda made if for him. That's kind of how they met. Love is deeply weird but just as deeply awesome. 

At any rate, the other bit of news is that the UAS is drawing lines in the dirt. They don't have the stones to come this way any longer. They aren't going near any of the allies that make up The Union, actually, or even traveling through the vast tracts of land in between. I guess they don't want to chance interfering with our trade caravans and supply lines. They're very cautious, and seem eager to avoid anything that might be construed as an act of war. 

Can't blame them for that. They might have a lot of hardware and gear, but they clearly don't have the experience and willpower to deal with a lot of the same things we've had to handle over the years. Or maybe they do and they're just biding their time. Who knows? We'll take being feared over being underestimated, no problem at all. It saves us a lot of work. 

I'd tell you to ask the Hunters about that, but there aren't any of them left. 

The interesting thing to me, and to all of us here, is that the UAS are patrolling their own little corner of the country one hell of a lot. Don't know if that means they're spreading out and setting up outposts or even founding small communities, but our allies and even our own long-range scouts have seen groups of them moving in repeating patterns all over a huge swath of the southwest. Not all that bothersome for us since we aren't interested in that area. No allies there, no trade routes through it. As far as we're concerned they can take Texas and the areas they're running around further toward us and do what they please with it. Live and let live, and all that noise.

Linda and Troy pointed out that if the UAS are spreading their people around, then that probably explains why they were after so much more fuel. Any large-scale effort to relocate is going to require a lot of fuel. Given the enormous area they're trying to cover with their patrols, Troy suggested that there might be a lot more of them than we originally thought. 

Even Brian said that made sense. Again, not a big concern for us as long as they stay timid and respectful of the fact that we have no desire to deal with them in any way, shape, or form. If so, everything is Kosher and they can form their own little country and do whatever they like, including coming up with self-important names. If not, well...we can always cross that bridge. Or burn it to its foundations, as the situation dictates. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rolling Ones

One thing I'm very happy to see survive the end of the world is role-playing games. My friends and I still occasionally find the time to play Dungeons & Dragons from time to time, and it is thanks to the existence of the game that I can make the reference that is the title of this post. 

In short: when you encounter virtually anything in a role-playing world, you roll a 20-sided die to see how well you deal with it. In this case I'm very specifically referencing traps. When you roll a one, you critically fail. Thanks to Patrick and Dodger, the zombies coming over the walls now critically fail every time they try. 

It's not so much that they don't get over, but that they don't enjoy the trip once they do. There was a heated argument between Will and I yesterday about how we would address the whole problem, and some unkind words were exchanged. Mostly from me. When I get upset and feel I'm in the right and the other person isn't, I tend to lose control of my mouth. It was Dodger and Patrick who saved the day with their brilliant and simple solution. 

We've got nearly the entire interior perimeter of the wall set with traps now. It didn't take very long once the idea was born, not with a thousand people doing the work all at once. We have the buffer on the outside of the wall--the inspiration--and now we have a buffer inside as well. Except instead of being a huge jumble of thick cables, wires, ropes, and cords, this buffer is made up almost entirely of wire strands. We had to cannibalize a lot of the extra power lines we've cut down from the county to use as extras, but stripping the insulation and splitting the wires apart into thin strands was the hardest part. 

After that it was just securing them to the wall in sections. There are bells, scavenged from every corner of town, attached to the wires at regular intervals. When a zombie comes over the wall it has to fall to the ground. The ladders and stairs down are too close to guard posts for the undead to risk using them. They fall into the wires, which does a good bit of damage in addition to tangling them up, and bells sound. Our patrols or sentries and guards hear the bells and go running. The hope is that eventually the New Breed outside the walls will learn that figuring out the weak spots in our patrols and climbing the wall isn't in their best interests and give it up. For now we'll happily take this as a solution since it takes far less people to keep New Haven safe. 

I'm still not thrilled with the leadership's response to this problem. It took a group of us getting together and fighting about it to come to a solution, and the situation never should have gotten that bad. We're supposed to be the people who work together for the common good. I confess myself disappointed. 

But then, we do have a solution, so I can't complain too much. That's very good news considering some reports we've had about the Strangers, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. I want to give any new developments regarding those folks my full and undivided attention.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Long Night

I'm keeping it short and sweet today because I'm bone tired and barely able to keep my eyes open. It was another sleepless one for me. I went out on patrol all night. I wasn't asked and I'm pretty sure Will is going to be angry about it, but we've had enough close calls. I don't want to sit inside my house safe and secure while others deal with the danger inside the walls.

Not that there was any this evening. The New Breed have an uncanny sense for when we're about to lay serious hurt on them. Maybe it's something about the way a few thousand pissed-off humans smell, but there wasn't so much as a sighting outside the walls all night, much less any attempts to go over it. Not that we could see. I must have walked the perimeter of the wall here in Central a dozen times and the only thing I saw was grass and other weary people.

Most people are running short on sleep because of the extra patrols. We're exhausted and worried. It's one thing to deal with assaults from a fortified position. It's another entirely to know a zombie could be hiding just around the corner. We've felt safe on the streets of New Haven for so long that it feels like a violation to be so...vulnerable.

But though the clouds overhead are heavy and grey, the sun is still bright enough to light the land. We can relax for a while now and try to sleep. But while I'm on my normal day off tomorrow I intend to find out what is being done to address this problem. We can't keep doing this. If so many citizens keep losing sleep and productivity, New Haven's functions are going to suffer. Meals will be missed, crafts will get behind, trade shipments will be late.

A few hours of blissful unconsciousness, and then I start pushing as hard as I can to get some kind of action. If no one else is willing, I'll step up.

Story of my life.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gatecrashers

Damn New Breed have been playing us like a cheap guitar. We've killed so many of them, lined them up and driven them into the ground like nails, that it's easy to forget how smart they can be. We've been so careful the last week, watching out for them to prevent attacks as they've slipped over the walls in weak spots. Our victories over them have been so resounding that at some point or another we forgot they're capable of long-term planning.

Last night a small group of them got over the walls in East and somehow managed to evade detection long enough to get to the main gate there. The gate is metal and not exactly a weak point, but the undead managed to damage one side of it anyway by yanking out the pins that held one side of it to the wall and pulling at the whole thing in unison, using the weight of the gate to bend itself once it was hanging mostly on one hinge.

People heard them, of course. And the fight, once the zombies inside were discovered, was short. But the damage was done and seven guards are dead in East, patrol units from around the gate area overwhelmed by the New Breed one by one. We're incredibly lucky that so many people responded to the disturbance, because the massing group of New Breed outside that gate was large enough to do some serious damage if given a free pass inside New Haven.

I've spent most of my morning arguing with anyone who will listen that we've got to open our eyes to the reality that the New Breed might have been playing a longer game with us than we imagined possible. That, or they're getting smarter. Which itself is an idea so frightening that my mind rails against even considering it.

Will doesn't disagree with me, not really, but he's also somewhat dismissive of how urgent the situation really is. I understand where he's coming from, I guess; we've managed to beat back every assault by the New Breed both major and minor, and he thinks we will keep that streak going. I don't doubt our collective strength, but last night we came within a hair's breadth of a full-on assault inside our walls thanks to less than a dozen zombies.

I think that merits some serious consideration. Mainly that we should reorganize--right now and without wasting a minute--how everyone sleeps at night. I've advocated setting up secure shelters for all the kids that they have to enter at dusk and lock themselves into. Shipping containers would be easiest, but I don't care what we use as long as the most vulnerable among us, the ones most likely to be targeted should the next attack succeed, can't be reached by any zombie no matter how strong they are.

Will thinks that's pretty extreme and sends a message that we're living in fear. I don't want to sound like a dick, because I know he's thinking of the Strangers when he says that and wants to project an image of strength, but these aren't terrorists we're talking about. The undead don't know or care what the politics of our reaction appear to be. The Strangers might give some kind of crap about that and choose to attack while they see us as being weak, but they've refused to engage at all so far. Don't know why they'd start now.

Point blank fact is that we need to change things up. Our efforts to prevent incursions like this aren't working out as well as we hoped. We have to be realistic and plan for failure and come up with ways to mitigate that. Otherwise I really believe we're just a stone't throw away from tragedy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

No Child Left Behind

Brian decided to move in with a nice couple that lives over in the Box. I'm glad he found people that he gets along with and shares interests with (Brian has a great interest in woodworking and tools) but it does make me a bit sad that he won't be here. With Jess out most of the day planning the huge greenhouses we're going to be building in the old shops next to the Box, I'm pretty lonely here at home. I admit, I was kind of looking forward to having a kid around. We're basically working at the same level.

I don't feel too bad about the fact that the poor kid, having lost his only remaining family, will be safely behind heavy walls and doors in a building that requires literally no manned defenses at ground level. The chance that he'll lose one of his adoptive parents in his new home, at least to zombies, is slim.

Because those fuckers are hitting us hard right now. Rain came in a few days ago and brought a warm front with it. Not balmy swimsuit weather, exactly, but nowhere near close enough to slow down the undead, either. Like much of the year they drift in across the roads and accumulate in the countryside until they reach some undefined critical mass and come at us.

Only now they aren't coming in waves. I guess the slaughter of such a large group has put the surviving members of that swarm on notice about how to attack us. Instead of massing and slapping us all at once, they've been organizing those among them brave (or hungry) enough to hit the walls alone. Except instead of just one or two a night trying it, there are thirty or forty. Which means a lot of successful attempts, which means a lot of people getting caught off guard in the darkness by hungry undead where there should be none.

So we're working on making streetlamps of some kind at least around the inner perimeter, and until that happens we're running a lot of extra patrols inside the walls. For now people are being told to stay indoors at night unless they have work, and children are to be kept from leaving their homes at all costs until sunrise. I can't help wondering, given the current level of danger inside New Haven, if it wouldn't be a good idea to move all the kids to one secure area until we can get a better handle on this.

Then the ice-cold practical me speaks up and points out that doing so puts all our eggs in one basket. Which is a bad idea.

Still, we have to keep the kids safe one way or another. There are just too many opinions on what the best way is.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Union

When The Fall began--and let's face it, in many ways it's still happening around us--every possible scenario I'd ever envisioned ran through my head. Though it has been a long time since I've mentioned it, the fact bears repeating that I saw the zombie plague coming because I was a nerd fascinated with zombie fiction. I don't say that to make myself sound awesome or anything; many people saw the horrors on the news and realized something was wrong, that the rapidly expanding violence heralded some enormous change, even if it had nothing to do with the undead.

No, the point I want to make is that while I saw The Fall coming, one thing I could never have predicted was living long enough to see so many people beat my expectations and come through the worst to create something resembling a cooperative society.

There are many groups in our collection of allies. We're mostly friendly toward each other, and what differences we have are mostly rendered moot by the distance between us all. We're in agreement about a great many things, though. We all share knowledge freely, from the contents of the Ark to the more immediate kinds of information like weather patterns and zombie migrations. When the undead begin to behave in a way we haven't seen, we all ask questions back and forth to see if others have a better grasp than we do.

You might say that the larger situation--living in a world dominated by the undead--creates a set of conditions that strongly encourage cooperation. We are many, but in all the important ways we're also one. Humanity has been brought low by the zombie plague and even at the hands of our fellow man in the ensuing years, but I admit a lot of pleasant surprise in our progress as a people. Turns out those better angels of our nature Lincoln mentioned outweigh the angry, jealous devils so many cartoons implied (correctly) we all have inside us.

There have been other zombie attacks over the last few days, both by large groups and by single members. We've had no losses, thankfully, but it matters. The fear is there, the worry that at any moment the New Breed will do some clever thing we aren't expecting and kill one of us. Or many. Or all. That gut-wrenching worry is balanced by the fierce dedication we have to each other, especially visible in the heat of combat.

All of that you know. It's stuff I've been talking about for a long time. New Haven isn't unique in this: our allies are just as protective of their own citizens. But now, as of this morning, I can officially tell you that the ink is dry, the treaties sealed, and a new era has begun that's so much bigger and more powerful than anything I could have imagined when The Fall began.

We're keeping it simple and calling the collaborative effort of our allied communities The Union. That's what we are, after all. A group of individual peoples uniting together toward common goals. The Strangers (or whatever they call themselves) weren't the catalyst for this decision, but they helped speed the process along nicely. The idea is that we've all been dealing with threats in a reactive manner and as separate groups for too long. The structure of The Union is designed to make us more efficient and supportive, capable of striking early and at will should a threat rise up.

There are other positive aspects of the deal, but the ability to work as one in light of the activities of the Strangers is a powerful one. Our hope is that simply being a cohesive single group will make the point that none of us are to be fucked with. Before, the Strangers may have thought they could do as the Hunters did and pick off weaker groups or raid with impunity.

So let's be clear: No. Not a bit of it. If any member of the group suffers at the hands of an enemy, then we all react as one. Simple. Easy. And in case you're wondering, Strangers, we take the Israel stance on retribution: repay every act many times over, to discourage you from doing it again.

Years of dealing with marauders have taught us to stop being nice about it. If you want to treat your fellow humans like animals, we'll do the same right back to you. I can't wait for a more stable and peaceful time so we can push the potential of The Union to its fullest limits in ways that don't involve killing people. Hopefully this announcement will help bring that day closer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Child's View

I spent hours with Brian yesterday. I'm not trying to influence him to come stay with us, but I really did want to check in on him regardless of where he chooses to go. He's doing well. I don't mean he's putting a brave face on. I really don't think that's the case. I mean he actually seems to be coping with the death of his mother much better than a kid his age should be.

It isn't preternatural or weird if that's what you're thinking. Brian is, in my estimation, simply a product of his environment and genetics. I've mentioned before how long it seems we've been living in this new world, and it struck me yesterday that to a child, the time since The Fall has to seem like forever. Lifetimes. For adults the change from a world ordered by law and government, regulated by a structured society and an abundance of resources, was stark but understandable. For Brian and many of the younger kids, the world that was has to seem like a distant dream barely remembered upon waking.

Some of this is directly lifted from a discussion he and I had that spanned nearly an hour. He misses his mom, but he went to great lengths to explain that he really was dealing with it. His eyes were not the eyes of a little boy, but the weary (and wary) gaze of a young man who has no childish illusions about the world.

Chalk it up to education--where else but here and when else but now to kids learn long division and how to disable an adult opponent with a pocketknife?--and a lot of time spent watching bad things happen. Brian isn't far off the peak of the bell curve for New Haven kids. He's an outstanding boy in that he is cautious and realistic, but I don't think it's some special quality that gives him his resilience. The grief is there, and real, but it isn't crippling.

I think back to my days at the nursing home, on those occasions when family had the rare chance to sit the deathwatch for one of our residents. Hell, I sat it myself more times than I can recall, waiting calmly for the person in front of me to reach the clearing at the end of the path, as Stephen King would say. We all get there in the end, and while the transition is sad and painful for us, we intellectualize it. We can wrap our minds around it. Adults, anyway.

But Brian is showing us that our perception of what makes a child in the world today is probably wrong in most ways. He saw his family die except for Brianna. He has seen the attacks we've endured just as clearly as anyone. He's not fearless or numb. Brianna made sure to explain to him that in her job as a guard, she was in a position of danger more than most people. Having had the experiences all of us have dealt with over the last few years, her words were no empty lesson to her son.

In fact, the only time I saw him visibly upset was when the alarm bells went off near the end of our chat. He had cried a little when he spoke of his mother, but mostly they were good tears. Memories of all the little ways she loved him, the thousand small kindnesses and whims she catered to. The most vivid, he said, was the day his dad and brothers were killed. Brianna snatched him up and fought through a group of eleven zombies to save her last remaining child.

He remembered how brave she was, and if there was any guilt to be found it was that he became frightened when the bells rang. It was an attack, and the trauma of losing his mother to a zombie made him a little more sensitive than normal to the sound of the bells. He actually said he felt ashamed to not be as brave as she was. I told him that real bravery isn't being fearless, but to feel great fear and to overcome it anyway in order to do the right thing.

He smiled at me and said that Brianna used to tell him the same thing.

Brian is hurting and will be for a long time, but he's not despondent or lost. My heart ached for him, so small and alone for the first time in his life, but I told him how proud I was that he could give his mother such a fitting memorial; to live for her and as she would have wanted him to live. He didn't want pity or to hear how sad we all were for him, and who can blame the kid? No matter how his situation may pluck at our heartstrings, it isn't even in the same universe as the pain he's going through.

He's strong, and made of sterner stuff than any adult I know. If Brian is an example of what the next generation has to offer New Haven and the world, then I'm pretty sure we can't be screwing up completely. I think we'll be in good hands a few short years from now. I hadn't realized how dim my hope for the future had become until Brian shined his light on me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Brian

There has been another zombie attack within the walls. It's a sad truth, but our strongest hope against them has always been that they tend to attack in numbers. No defense is perfect, and it's much easier for one of them to get in unnoticed than for any large group to succeed in an attack on the walls. The New Breed are damn clever when they set their minds to something, and this decision to work individually goes against every behavior we have seen in them. Without a doubt, they're the most dangerous zombies we've ever seen.

This attack wasn't fatal. People are being a lot more cautious inside the walls since Brianna--the first guard who was attacked--died. This go round it was a bite on the arm rather than a neck shot, and the citizen (a leatherworker named Matt) still had his apron on. The one with all the tools. Nothing like losing a couple fingers to put you in the mood to drive a leather punch through the skull of a zombie, I guess. Phil had to cut off Matt's hand, of course, but it could have been worse. At least it was his left hand, Matt being a righty.

Which reminds me about Brian. He's Brianna's son, and for right now he's homeless. He can't stay alone so soon after losing his mother...twice.

Brian had to kill the zombie that killed his mother, driving his blade into its mouth and upward even as the thing tried to chew the wet meat it had torn from Brianna's neck. On top of that, he knew as all children here do that you can't leave someone in her condition alone. She bled out fast, and Brian...

He did what he had to do. That poor little boy made sure to tell the people who ran too late to his mother's screams that he cleaned the blade of his knife off first. More than anything, he wanted them to know that he didn't put five inches of steel into her brain without removing the gore from the zombie first.

Kids think in ways that defy logic, or at least operate on a level that we puny adults can't understand. Hearing that nearly broke my heart, and I've offered to let him stay with us as much as needed. Right now he's not here. He's under observation at the clinic to make sure he's stable (as much as he can be, all things considered) for a little while, but after that he'll crash here if he wants to. I know as much about dealing with that kind of trauma as anyone.

I won't lie to you. I feel a lot of things right now. Proud of Brian for doing as he did no matter how hard it was, angry and upset and sad that his mother was taken from him. Disgusted that a child not even ten years old did something that the Strangers seem unwilling or unable to do themselves: face the enemy head-on.

It makes me sick, all of it. But maybe I can do a little good for the kid, if he decides to stay here. We aren't forcing him, he gets to choose where. There's no shortage of folks willing to take him in. So long as he's comfortable, I can't complain.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Bunker Redux

We know for sure that the Strangers read the blog. I mentioned our long-range scouts in the general area of their home base the other day, and very soon thereafter patrols came out of nowhere to look for them. No worries; we asked the scouts first if it was alright to test the waters that way. They agreed. Our people are too good and have far too much experience to get snagged by these amateurs.

And they are amateurs. Someone commented on a post recently, suggesting that the Strangers might be the people we left alone in that bunker to fend for themselves. While I can say for sure that these aren't the same people, we're now certain beyond doubt that the Strangers have a similar story. The short of it is this: the scouts got close enough to see their home base with their own eyes.

It's what was called a "Three-year" bunker. I have a passing familiarity with them from a lot of research that came up mostly empty. Many large bunkers were built over the years for a lot of reasons. Some were intended to allow people to survive nuclear war. Others were more general-purpose. Some were private, some made by government.

This one was a gift from Uncle Sam, as far as we can tell. It has to be absolutely enormous given the number of people and vehicles we've seen entering and exiting, all of them hauling fuel. I guess the whole "self-sufficient for three years with no outside contact" thing didn't exactly work out for these people. It's hard to gauge how many people live there but Dodger thinks some of the larger bunkers could handle as many as five or six thousand people. When you're building on a budget that doesn't have much in the way of limits and doing it in a salt cavern that might span miles, you can do that kind of thing.

It's hard not to get a little angry at the thought, to be honest with you. We're still fighting the undead every day and planning how to maximize our crops to avert mass starvation by this time next year. I don't have anything against those people for riding out the worst parts of The Fall in safety; how could they know what we face up here, and why would they choose to do the same? No sane person would.

However: my brain can't stop imagining what we could have done with those resources, how far we could have stretched them. The Strangers probably have (or had) seeds in their safe little box in addition to the massive stores of preserved food they've been living on. They have vehicles and fuel and new, clean clothes. I'm not jealous of what they have by any means, but it pisses me off that such wealth has been mismanaged and wasted.

And how do we know that? Because it's called a "three-year" bunker for a reason. Those folks shouldn't have had to open their doors until March at the very earliest, yet they've been out here operating for months at least. They clearly have run short of fuels, but the larger question is this: what else do they need? If they're getting hungry, we're in trouble. There's no fight more desperate than the one you're having with a starving person.

Look at the zombies nibbling away at humanity if you need proof.

This situation with the Strangers isn't as dire as it could be. There seem to be a lot of them, they travel as they please, and they're heavily outfitted, but appearances can throw off an honest assessment. Because they're undisciplined, frightened, and don't coordinate as a single force. They don't want to fight us and have little experience (or so it seems) dealing with threats.

It's almost sixty degrees outside right now, warmer than it was this time yesterday morning. New Breed have decided to be sneaky again, sidling up to our walls in the darkness, spending time carefully worming through the buffer. One of them actually got over the wall--here in Central, at that, which is the safest and mist secure part of New Haven--last night. It watched our patrols and sentries until it found a weak point that wasn't being watched closely enough, then moved.

It killed a woman, a guard who had just come off duty. The poor thing had only stepped out of her house to let the cat in when the zombie struck out at her from the darkness. Her son, only eight, killed the New Breed with a knife to the soft palate even as it went to take another bite.

That's our life in a nutshell. The Strangers don't know what it's like to be thankful for a cold snap because it might mean a few days or weeks without fear of a zombie attack. They don't know how hard you have to make yourself to live through the constant attacks from undead and human beings, from nature, from disease and death and war and every other thing that tries to take you down. Stuck in their hole and living better than anyone on the surface, they can't understand the mindset all of us are in after nearly three years of it.

It's going to truly become winter soon, or that's what we hope for at any rate. When the cold finally does decide to stay a while, the Strangers will go back to their cave and turn on the central heat. They'll curse the need to stop gathering supplies but be thankful for the warmth and safety of their bunker. We, on the other hand, will begin moving outside more and hope that it stays below freezing. Both in the world and in our hearts, I'm beginning to believe that a cold place is best for the work we have to do.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Contrast

Sorry about the hiccup yesterday. Sometimes you just sleep on through, and it was a long night before that. I spent most of the previous evening being useful as heavy labor over at the Box, assisting my brother and his growing team of construction workers in maneuvering a lot of heavy materials and machines around the place.

Which segues nicely into the bits of news I hinted at in my last post. The Box is being outfitted pretty lavishly, all things considered, as a machine and wood shop. There are lots of old-school hand tools that can be run purely through human power. Some have been salvaged and repaired, others fabricated piece by piece. There are also many powered machines in a wide variety. All but one of them are 'dumb' machines--not computer controlled. Just big and powerful and running on a current.

That one exception is a CNC machine, what Dave promises to be the first of several. He wants to program them to make metal parts we have trouble forging or casting, and he has been poring over the operator's manual for a day. He looks pretty confused by the thing, but hey. You never know. He might surprise us all and somehow get it to work properly.

Even if he doesn't, the rest of the equipment here is going to make New Haven capable of a lot of work in very short order. Projects that have been stalled will be able to move forward, and it's thanks to the efforts of many people to move as much of the huge supply of fuel from the northeast down this way. Not just diesel fuel and gasoline, but with so many able bodies we can canvass a lot of area and scour every pound of propane. The Box has a big-ass generator, and it runs on all three of those fuels.

One of the first orders of business to come out of there once production of finished materials can begin is to make what we need to convert the nearby buildings in the little shopping center the Box is in into giant greenhouses. It's going to be a lot of work, but with a hundred people cleaning out those areas every day and modifying the buildings to grow food in, it shouldn't take a prohibitive amount of time. There are all kinds of plans on how to make the shopping center into greenhouses that don't need electricity to stay warm. It'll mean a year-round supply of food. Like, a lot of food.

Which is another segue into more news: we have a few less mouths to feed.

In all the expansions and work being done, it becomes easy to miss things. Central--the original area that the rest of New Haven grew from--has had escape routes built into it for a long time. As we've moved things around and expanded outward, many of those bolt-holes became unnecessary or redundant. Some have been filled in, others repurposed. One or two were forgotten entirely. The one between Central and East was of the last sort. Forgotten.

Until one of the newcomers' children crawled in there while he was playing and set off the trap in the bolt-hold no one remembered. This was a few days ago, and many are still in mourning. It's one thing to lose people to violent humans or ravenous undead, but this was an avoidable situation. Poor kid was only seven.

Worse, the loss of that child pushed Will and the council into action, ordering a comprehensive sweep of all the old bolt-holes and passages, which meant putting a lot of our people in the roughs outside the walls. The few undead that are brave enough to wander about made it a point to harass our folks. They kept at it even when archers started putting arrows through their eye sockets. Persistent fuckers actually got two people before we could cut them down.

On top of that we've had some indications that the tactics and behavior of the New Breed are changing again. The weather has not been kind to them so far, them being less able to deal with temperature extremes than their slower and less dangerous cousins. The New Breed hereabouts have begun to disengage from the swarms, moving in small groups as they did when we first encountered them. They move at night, walking from place to place on the wall, trying to climb in quietly. We've had to triple the number of guards just to make sure none slip by.

We've had good and bad both in the last several days, and with it being so ungodly cold lately, I can't help but feel somewhat negative. I worry that the hard times we've been through aren't over. It's probably the Strangers making me feel that way, ineffective and relatively harmless as they appear to be. They're an unknown, and I hate questions I don't know the answer to. Especially when not knowing the answer is potentially fatal.

God, I need sleep. I'm still not wholly recovered from the flurry of activity over the last several days.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shadowchaser

There are a lot of bits of news to update you on. Exciting things, good things, and all of them have to do with New Haven.

There are a few bad parts, too. Sad happenings, some surprising and some expected. Also having to do with New Haven.

I will tell all of them to you, but not today. Today is about puzzles and how we see them.

The Strangers (yes, I've kinda given up on a better name at this point) have been nipping around all over the country for at least the last several weeks, though we're pretty sure it has been a lot longer than that. Lots of theories about their motivations and goals. There is a lot of confusion about their actions, because based on what we've seen, they just don't make sense as people. Every shred of logical observation we have suggests that these people were civilians before The Fall, yet they drive around willy-nilly in ridiculously high-end military vehicles.

If they've managed to overtake a military installation, then they're crazy dangerous. But if the Strangers have that kind of iron in them, why do they run from fights, even with the undead? It's a mystery. A jigsaw puzzle that--as of this morning--we're just beginning to see the shape of. Just the edges of the pieces so far, but this morning the picture is clearer.

Our long-range scouts made a trip home recently, refueled, and went back out. Because they're dedicated and super sneaky, they were able to follow a group of Strangers all the way back home. Not close enough to see where the Strangers hang their heads, but within a mile or so. And wouldn't you know, that particular group stopped in one of the towns that holds the southern national fuel reserve. Yeah, that's a thing, too.

We don't think it's where they all live, just a small group that moves the fuel around. There have to be a lot of these folks and our scouts didn't see signs of a community big enough to house more than a few dozen. They've got access to a tremendous stockpile of fuel, even larger than the one we've been tapping in the northeast. That's how they've been able to move around so much without worrying about gas.

The problem with having one question answered is that usually that information takes you deeper down the rabbit hole. The mystery gets deeper because things make even less sense. If they're sitting on millions of gallons of fuel (at least potentially; that area of the country is more populated than our neck of the woods) then why on god's green earth do they need even more? What possible motivation could there be to move so far away from home and risk any number of dangers (not that they seem to risk much, the cowards) when they've got so much of what they need near at hand?

Irritating, but there you have it. Observations from the scouts nearly guarantee that these aren't military. They've got minimal discipline while in the outside world. Plenty of caution, but there's very little logic to how they camp and set schedules. They're chaotic but nonviolent. Makes my head hurt. It's like seeing a small herd of bunnies hopping around between a huge pack of rabid dogs but somehow managing to survive.

But for nearly three years? I don't know how that could be possible.

At the very least we know they aren't trying to overthrow any of our allied communities. They've got the gear, they've got the fuel, but they don't seem to have the fighting spirit to have a go at us. I guess it's possible they don't have plans in that direction, but they have to know that stealing from other survivors is tantamount to firing the first shot. We don't take to that kind of shit well at all.

Confusing, curious, and maddeningly interesting to me. I'm open to thoughts and ideas. Hit me with theories. Maybe we'll stumble across something that makes sense. I feel like I'm chasing shadows at dusk, trying to figure this out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shirts and Skins


I don't know why, but when Ketill first told me this story, I laughed. Just the idea of it, the sheer absurdity and brilliance of the act, made me chuckle. Most of us have had to slap some zombie goo on ourselves in an emergency. 

These guys went above and beyond, and I asked Ketill to write about it for you. Here you go:

Okay, first off introductions. My name is Ketill and as Josh pointed out a couple of posts ago I'm the leader of a small group of survivors that basically roam around the country looking to help those that have decided to settle down in one location or another. Survivors, mind you. Not Marauders. Everyone in my group is ex-military in one way or the other and together we have managed to accrue an impressive amount of firepower. I could tell you about a few of the more daring events that we've been caught up in the past, but I'll save those for another time.

What I wanted to tell you today is that since I've been in contact with New Haven's leaders (and Josh of course), we were asked to help run interference for the convoy to North Jackson. Well, we have done that in a most peculiar manner. We used camouflage to deter the Strangers.

Now, I know you're probably wondering someone along the lines of "if you used camouflage, then how did you deter them"? The answer to that would be deviously evil if we weren't using already dead things. A few of my group members were in special ops and infiltration units back when the world needed them, and devised something sinister for the Strangers. What they did was caught and killed a couple dozen zombies (a few of them New Breed) and showed the rest of us how to carefully "...strip the skin off the body" so that it could be worn. I will have a serious talk with those guys when I get the chance, as I really didn't know that about them.

Well, after getting about twenty of our people in the "zuits", short for zombie suits (disgustingly evil, I know), the rest of us (minus our scouts) hid ourselves and waited. A few minutes later, we heard the sound of engines coming and knew the Strangers (you really need a new word for them, Josh) were approaching. As soon as they saw our little zombie herd they stopped. I know Josh has recounted sightings of them just turning tail at the sight of Zombies, but I guess we found a curious scout patrol. They walked up to our zombies (because our people were just standing there doing nothing) until they were within a hundred yards or so. That's when we sprung our trap.

The "zuit" units raised their guns and leveled them at the Strangers just as the rest of us came out of hiding between them and their vehicle. There was nothing for them to do. They dropped their weapons and put their hands up. Thing is, we didn't capture them. We stripped them and their vehicle of anything useful and sent them packing, with a message. We told them that if their group valued their lives, they would leave New Haven, its populace and its allies the hell alone or we would come down there and give them a reason to question their actions. The look on the driver's face was priceless as he drove off. I bet he was thinking that if we were crazy enough to do what we did with the dead, then what would we do to the living?

Turns out they broadcast what happened to the rest of their group, because later we heard reports of a dozen vehicles turning tail and going somewhere else. Guess it pays to have a few crazies on our team.

Now to go deal with them....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reserves

Now that our people are moving out in force, I can tell you a few secrets. For the record, I've been given full permission to do this, because it's nearly impossible that the Strangers are unaware given the reports we've had of multiple groups of them spotting our people moving north.

For quite a long time now, we've been receiving large shipments of fuel from North Jackson. New Haven and NJ have taken great pains to hide that fact, because we didn't want people outside our group of allied communities realizing what we were doing.

Not long after Jack himself founded NJ and brought his people together, they began regular runs to a particular set of towns in the far northeast of the country. New England has very few people left, at least after that first brutal winter without the niceties of modern technology, and most of the people we've encountered there have chosen to move on. The reason NJ makes regular runs to that area is because of the Northeast Fuel Reserve.

Several million gallons of fuel, from gasoline to diesel to a particular kind of heating oil. We haven't made much of a dent in that supply, nor have the people who still manage to struggle through the harsh weather in the area. We've given them first call on the supply there, and from what I gather they've been trucking barrels of fuel out for days. I hope they've moved enough for their immediate needs, because even though what we've taken so far and what we plan to take very soon doesn't account for nearly a majority of the fuel, we're now certain that the Strangers are going to hit the reserve with everything they have.

The groups of Strangers we've seen have sometimes peeled away and retreated when faced with any kind of threat. Some have run back home, others merely falling back and finding different, safer routes. So far we've been fortunate; they haven't struck the reserve with great numbers. Now that NJ soldiers are nearly there with their trucks and tankers, we're hopeful that our own people will be able to join them soon and present too large a threat for the Strangers to handle. If all goes well, we should be able to move many tens of thousands of gallons of fuel with the huge fleet of vehicles we've put together.

I realize that by posting this blog I'm giving away one of our great secrets, but the truth is that the only people who matter that might not have known about this are the Strangers themselves. Our allies all knew because we were hiding shipments of fuel inside every trade caravan. And now that the...I hesitate to call the Strangers enemies, because they haven't attacked us, but they certainly aren't friends...

Now they clearly know about the reserve without my help. There's nothing for it but to move as much fuel as possible and hope for the best. My question is this: if they're so desperate for fuel, how and why are they travelling across so much of the damn continent to get it? They can't be so low on gas that they need it so badly, or they wouldn't be traversing a dozen states or more to steal it. It's curious, and only made worse by the fact that they're not desperate enough to fight for the prize.

They don't act like most survivors I know, and that bothers me. It's cold here and magnitudes colder in the north, which is slowing the zombies down all around. But even the thin bands of the undead able to combat the frigid air are enough to turn away the Strangers.

When you think that I went for a jog at dawn this morning, running outside the wall from the main gate of Central to the north secondary gate of East--killing two straggling zombies along the way--and no one found that odd or dangerous, you have to wonder at these people. I mean, sure, I was wearing light armor since I'm not an idiot, and I'd checked to make sure the way was relatively clear. But what kind of people in this world are so terrified of the undead that they won't drive their big-ass armored trucks anywhere close to them?

I've got theories, of course. But I'll save them for another post. I'm likely to go on for another thousand words on that subject alone of I don't stop now. It is extremely curious, though. Maybe I'll invite Will and a few others over for lunch and we'll have a palaver about it.