It's just after six in the morning, and I still haven't been to sleep. The world is a smaller place than it was yesterday, and it's because of some hard decisions that had to be made.
An interesting thing about the events of the last twenty-four hours: the local zombies have been keeping to themselves. I don't know if the new breed is beginning to understand what weapons and armor mean, but our people barely saw sign of the undead as they staged closer to the edge of the I-64 bridge than we've gotten in days.
The remaining span over the river was where we chose to make our stand, knowing the Exiles would have to take that path if they wanted to hit us with any kind of speed. In this, the enemy did not disappoint. We lost six people in the push to get close to the bridge, their damned snipers on the tops of the cliffs taking a toll on our fighters as our forces moved forward. Our people eventually did get in position, and a few of our own marksmen forced the enemy snipers to retreat.
Our people only beat the Exiles to the bridge by a few minutes. If we'd been a hair slower, I probably wouldn't be alive to type this right now.
The Exiles weren't interested in a prolonged confrontation across the bridge. Apparently worried about damaging it, they didn't use explosives of any kind as they slowly moved forward. Though we put as many people into the field as we could and still be able to defend New Haven, the Exiles outnumbered our forces by a wide margin. Our people did what they could, firing precious bullets with all the accuracy they could muster, but most of the time the volunteer warriors from New Haven had to hide behind armored plates. The Exiles moved across the bridge cautiously but with a constant hail of suppressing fire.
During the agonizing minutes it took the exiles to reach our side of the bridge, New Haven lost another twenty-one people. Three of those were from the group of allies in Shelby county, women we'd rescued from Tennessee. Four were from the new neighbors who've joined with us from the surrounding areas. Seven were soldiers from North Jackson.
Each of those lives lost are a blow to us, measurable in the loss of their productive and protective capabilities, immeasurable for the lost laughter and fellowship that left the earth with them. Their potential is forever gone. That is the price we paid to defend our home. That is the sacrifice those people knew they might make to give the appearance of a united and dedicated front.
Because once the Exiles got to the edge of the bridge, we detonated the explosives.
This was not a small, controlled piece of demolition designed to blow out the middle of the bridge and simply make it impassable. The reason our people got as close as they did was to make a good show, and to take out those snipers. We could probably have been closer, but the bombs were designed to literally rip the bridge apart and to utterly ruin the steep edges of the river valley they were attached to. The mistake the Exiles made was thinking that we wouldn't cut off our own hand to save the body. That we wouldn't destroy our best remaining way across the river. That our appearance at the bridge signified our determination to stop them with their tactics. Self-sacrifice doesn't seem to be a concept they're keen on.
Our best guess is that about forty percent of their people and weaponry were on the bridge when it went. The volunteer fighters from New Haven took withering fire, many giving their lives to guarantee as many of the enemy were on the bridge as possible when we took it out. Even those who survived the rain of bullets have suffered much more than anyone should--seeing friends die before them, splattered with the blood of allies. Having to make sure none of our dead would rise again as zombies. Terrible memories to carry.
But they carry them anyway. And I respect that choice just as much as I respect those we lost in the fight.
One major aspect of this assault we didn't anticipate, however, was that the Exiles would find a way to attack on two fronts. Even as the major assault group left the fallback point, another group about half the size of the first made their move. Maybe the Exiles assumed that the scouts we've had posted on the hills and cliffs around the fallback point would come back to New Haven once it became clear we were going to have to mount a defense.
Leave the enemy base unwatched during an armed conflict? I don't think so.
That was why we knew they'd pulled a trick on us. Will and I, along with many others, have constantly asked why the Exiles would stage so much right in front of our scouts knowing we were watching. The natural assumption is that the enemy had other tricks and deceptions up their sleeves, and we were right. We just didn't know how much we'd missed.
There were three bridges leading across the river right in front of the fallback point. Two of them were elegant arches of concrete before their destruction. They were shattered in such a way that I can't think of any way to repair them or bridge their gaps. Too much open space, and the remains are at steep angles. The third bridge was an old railroad bridge, straight as an arrow and flat. The middle part of it was destroyed, leaving a gap sixty or seventy feet across.
The Exiles hid a military bridge-layer on the far side of the fallback point, where our scouts couldn't see. Will says it was probably an M104 Wolverine, whatever that is. He says given how old the railroad bridge is and how much damage it sustained, he's surprised the weight of the Wolverine didn't collapse the half of the bridge it had to roll across to lay the replacement section.
I mean, the thing used to hold freaking trains, so it had to have been built tough, right?
Anyway, our scouts reported what the enemy was doing even as they were driving the Wolverine out of its hiding place. The remaining people in New Haven got the news, and we were readying to leave, to make our way down the hill to hurl explosives and anything else we could bring with us at the enemy.
Then the Exiles must have had a call from some of the survivors who hadn't made it onto the bridge before we blew it up, telling the people back home what had happened. Because they retreated back across that makeshift span as fast as they could, then retracted it and dug into their new home.
Apparently, there's a difference between being the other half of an attack force, the surprise half, and being the only group left capable of attacking at all. The Exiles left at the fallback point were only happy to give up their secret weapon and fight as long as they thought they had a huge advantage. Once they learned how badly we hurt them, they scuttled back to safety like the cowards they are.
Yes. I'm saying this. Exiles:
You can attack us if you like, but understand what will happen. We will go to any lengths to protect our home. We will do anything we have to in order to assure the safety of our children and loved ones. You can come back across the river any time and we probably won't be able to stop that. But remember when you do what happened to your people. You want to hurt us, to kill us, because you're angry and vengeful. And honestly? You've got every right to feel that way, even though we have done what we've done because our point of view makes you the bad guys.
But remember this: while you're coming after us for revenge, we fight for survival. Tooth and nail, to the bitter end. Whatever it takes to make sure the group endures. So, attack if you want, but remember that we will kill ourselves gladly to take you with us.
I told you before. We are not to be fucked with.
I will also say this, as it comes from our newly elected leader and our even more newly elected council: we're done attacking you. Though we consider you to be a horrendous group of people, murderers, rapists, and thieves as well as traitors and probably worse, we also want to live. So we're offering this truce to you. Stay on your side of the river, forgo assaulting groups of survivors for any reason save self-defense, and we'll leave you alone. Break those terms, and this whole destructive cycle can begin all over.
The future is now in your hands. The choice is yours.
Make the right one for once in your lives.