Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Minor Threat

Being away from home for a long time has always been a surreal experience for me. When I was a kid I'd go visit my dad and other family in Illinois for extended periods of time in the summer, and coming back was strange. The house seemed smaller and small changes never ceased to throw me off. 

New Haven is constantly evolving, and that means any given day can bring a change you haven't been aware of. Stay away for months and you're bound to feel like a stranger when you see the new and amazing things your people have done in the interim. 

Hell, just since we've been back there have been a lot of alterations to the fabric of New Haven. War, losing people, gaming the broken system to put Will in charge and then fast-tracking elections to get the dangerously unpredictable councilors out of power. 

Then there's construction, which I've mentioned recently. We've got a functional refrigeration unit that can hold literally tons of food for us. We've got the fishing hut my brother took me to. The annex has been fully cleared and exploited for farmland, and some greenhouses have sprung up there as well. All over our little city on a hill, houses have begun changing as people convert their roofs into gardens where possible. A very large communal living building is going up, capable of housing nearly a hundred people. 

The most stunning change I've come across is the defenses, as I saw first-hand last night near dusk. 

Mother nature, being an insane bitch, hit us with ridiculous cold in the early morning but let the mercury rise all day. By the time the sun got close to the western horizon, it was in the high forties, maybe the low fifties. The sentries were on high alert, given the recent loss of so many people, and were using binoculars to watch for threats. Our people wanted to catch anything long before it could get to us. 

What they saw was a mass of zombies to the south, admittedly the hardest part of New Haven to defend. Far outside of bow range, the undead were too few to pose a threat high enough to justify picking them off with bullets. Estimates ran between thirty and fifty of them, and even from a distance we could tell they were new breed. An interesting aside--the cold weather has apparently been accelerating the change in the color and texture of the new breed's skin, making it much easier to tell them apart from regular zombies. 

The bulk of the group stayed where they were, a common scene among smart zombies. A smaller unit of ten new breed came toward the walls. The head sentry on duty called for the others to hold their fire, wanting to see what the approaching zombies would do. 

By the time the undead had made it to within three hundred feet of the wall, I was there. I watched them get closer, slowing as they moved. Clearly the zombies expected something, and it wasn't for us to just stand there watching them. They were being as cautious as it was possible to be when you're moving on open land toward an enemy fortification. 

Then they hit the first trap.

A lot of work has been done to make New Haven as safe against swarms as possible. One of the strokes of brilliance we had a while back was trying to make weapons that use compressed air as a firing mechanism, since in a worst-case scenario we can hand-pump air if our compressor is offline or the power is out. I had no idea how many people had taken the concept and run with it until last night.

The first zombie to step on a trap hit a switch buried in the matted tall grass, releasing a valve that filled a tube, which pushed a spear of wood straight up from the earth to a height of six feet, impaling the zombie from its crotch and clean out through the side of its neck. Damn thing tilted its head at the last second. But the spring-loaded barbs, a very simple design, popped out after the tip of the spear exploded from flesh and expanded, securing the length of wood in place and keeping the zombie from moving. 

I could almost swear the other undead gave each other looks at that point, as if to say, "Fuck this noise. We're out!". But they moved forward anyway. 

Other traps of similar design were sprung, as well as one of them falling into a well-disguised pit. By the time the remaining three of them got within a hundred feet, the zombies were clearly wary. Their dysfunctional brains, less astute than a living person's but far brighter than that of your average walking corpse, had picked up on the fact that getting anywhere near our wall had cost them the majority of their numbers. And that was just the hidden traps, the ones lurking out of view inside the earth. There were others, more obvious and avoidable, designed to slow down attacking zombies or damage them if they were pushed against them by the crush of a swarm. 

When they crossed that imaginary hundred foot line, the lead sentry gave a hand signal. 

With a hiss like some giant, angry cat, three air cannons let loose at one time. Each cannon aimed at one zombie, and the load of gravel and shrapnel that spread out had enough force behind it to travel that distance and still rip the undead to shreds instantly. It was like watching people explode but without all the pretty flames. 

Those cannons are insanely powerful. And our wall is covered in them. I'm starting to feel a bit better about our chances should the Indiana swarm make their way here. I haven't even touched on a lot of the other stuff, but I can't give away too much about what keeps us safe. We have enemies, after all. 

At any rate, I thought I'd share that. We've had a hard time lately and things are still gloomy at home. I felt uplifted by the show of defenses, not only for the safety they bring us but also because they represent the creativity and power of the human mind operating under terrible circumstances. And that's enough to make me smile. 

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