Saturday, March 31, 2012


Yesterday morning one of our teams of Beaters (what we're calling the strike teams that are taking out small groups of New Breed) suffered their first fatality. Two of the ten people involved in the actual fight went down when a section of one of the defensive constructs collapsed. Thankfully it happened at the end of the fight, due to a large number of zombie corpses piled on top of it. There were only a handful of New Breed left to swarm the breech. Could have been a lot worse. Would have been, had the failure happened at the start of the fight.

Dave has been worried about this kind of thing happening. The diamonds take constant abuse and damage from the ceaseless trips out into the county as our Beaters do their best to keep the New Breed population under control. Boards crack, metal dents, hinges pop. There are two carpenters who spend half their time every day fixing the things.

But as I sat with Will and the council, interviewing the team of Beaters that lost those people, it became clear to everyone in the room that we need to change tactics here. The people going out to fight are doing it on their own time. And while everyone in New Haven is relatively fit due to the near-impossibility of overeating and the hard work everyone has to do, no one is conditioned for this kind of constant physical abuse.

Will and the council asked my opinion after the interview was over, but I'd been reading Will's notes as we talked to the surviving team members. I know him well, how his mind works. My point of view was exactly what Will's was, and the council's: time for a game change.

As much as it's going to suck to pile more work on less people, the leadership has decided that the volunteer groups of Beaters will be phased out over the next few weeks. We can't stop them all at once without risking an instant boom and probably retaliation from the New Breed, but we can slow down their missions as we work to introduce a team of full-time beaters.

We're going to have two teams of ten men and women. They'll alternate days for being on duty as Beaters, and on their off days they'll be training four hours a day and working the other six. It's going to be brutal, but that's why we're only taking volunteers. We naturally want the people who are out there protecting New Haven with preemptive strikes to be as prepared and safe as possible. More practically, we need them to stay alive, as our recent losses are approaching unsustainable levels.

Dodger and I already have some basic training routines going for the folks that have volunteered. Most of them have already served as Beaters, so they aren't starting from scratch. Over the next few weeks we'll be setting up more specified programs and exercises that will make our new force of Beaters something to be reckoned with.

Hopefully it will be enough to prevent further casualties, or at least keep them to a bare minimum. We're trying to take the approach that the military had really good reasons for training and conditioning troops the way they did, and follow that example.

It's already making the sowing harder, but now that the weather has taken a very lovely (well, not frigid) turn, we're back in the full swing of planting. Jess thinks we'll have all the early-season crops done by Monday morning. And with the Beaters keeping the zombie population in check, we've actually got a good chance of keeping this crop alive until harvest.

I wish I had the skills to put into words how thankful I am for all the people who've risked their lives as Beaters, and to those who lost theirs doing it. Seeing those folks sitting in front of the council, beat-up and tired, was hard. A few of them were so exhausted that they barely stayed conscious for the interview, two more had head injuries that kept them from entering into the discussion much at all. That, combined with their obvious willingness to go back out and do it again, was what spurred this decision. Sending those folks out injured and tired from their normal work isn't just unfair, it's dangerous to the point of stupidity. And we're the ones who made that call.

Better the rest of us work harder so those folks can be well and truly rested when they go out to fight for us. I'll gladly put in the extra hours. At the clinic, on our little farm annex, building the new wall, whatever it takes.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I think one of the most profound truths that we as survivors can recognize is the power of human stories. That's a big part of why the joke-telling Exile guard struck such a chord in me. The guy wasn't doing anything superhuman or amazing. He was just trying to be funny, to connect for a minute with people he had every reason to fear at the least.

Most people around here had a similar reaction, and came to some approximation of the same conclusion: people are strange. Wonderfully so at times. Enemies can kill each other one month and respectfully salute the other side the next. We haven't forgotten (or forgiven) the Exiles for the horrendous deeds they've wrought (I've wanted to use the word 'wrought' in a sentence for a while. You're just going to have to deal with it being there now) but that doesn't mean our attitude toward them is unbending or unchanging.

Now we're starting to see them as individuals instead of a group. Racism and prejudice of all kinds throughout history has been perpetuated because of the path of least resistance--hating groups is easy. Because you can slap all the worst things people in it have done on the whole shebang. None of us doubt that every person with the Exiles has had to do some awful shit, but as I've said (a trillion times), so have we all. But not every person in the group is likely to be at the worst percentile of the psychopath bell curve. We know that intellectually. It just took one guy bucking the attitude of his people, taking a risk in trying to give our watchers a laugh, to make our hearts begin to admit that truth.

And so, we come to this morning.

There's this woman, see. And her husband. And their son, and his wife.

I'm allowed to say that her name is Lori, and that she lives in Minnesota. While I'm sure that Minnesota is a lovely state, I'm baffled as to why any human beings would choose to live there. I like snow and winter as much as the next guy, but not when we're talking about cold that can shatter your will to live and snow so heavy that whole parking lots of cars can get lost under it.

Oh, well. Thinking about that, I guess a lot of the settlers there were originally Scandinavian, so that makes sense. Vikings for the win.


So my post yesterday apparently got Lori's attention. She and her very small group live together, far away from other people. That's by design. Since The Fall Lori and her family have seen a lot of bad things happen, and not all of it by the undead. Human cruelty has been a huge driver for her and the family in keeping away from other groups of people, reinforced by the occasional bands of zombies wandering through.

Something about my post yesterday, or more accurately something about the joker guard yelling into his megaphone across the river--got Lori's attention. She's a savvy lady from what I've gathered in the few messages we've shared since five this morning. She's not nostalgic or easily swayed by overly emotional bubbling (which I may be guilty of from time to time).

It was, she said, the basic humanity displayed by the guard that made her finally speak up and communicate with the outside world. That, and the response by New Haven in general to take the jokes as they were given, no suspicions or fear attached. Just a funny moment.

I didn't feel like it was a catharsis or anything, just a nice thing for the guard to do. Most of us thought the appropriate response would be to accept it in the spirit given. Lori, as an outside observer, sees something more important in the exchange. She says that the fact we can open ourselves up enough to the enemy to accept even a small gift like a joke is important. She says that the enemy's ability to make jokes is indicative of the deeper humanity still alive and well across the river.

Weird, I know. I just thought it was a joke vaguely alluding to blowjobs.

Lori is an interesting person. Though her group is very small, just her family, their progress has paralleled that of other much larger groups in many ways. They've got a farm setup, they have walls around their place (smaller in area but much taller than our own) and even a portable cell transmitter. They monitor things going on around the country but choose not to take part in it. They live quiet and happy lives in their secluded part of the country.

They certainly aren't going to leave all that to risk their lives traveling toward a large group that may or may not give much of a shit about them. It would take a lot more than one moment of good vibrations between people with bad blood to make that happen. But I'll admit to walking on sunshine today, because something I passed on to the world made someone who'd lost faith in that world decide to speak up. It's a small thing, but to me any positive is a great thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Remember a short while ago, when some of our watchers saved the lives of some Exile guards? You probably do, but a refresher: some zombies got the jump on the guards, and our guys picked off the undead with their rifles.

The watchers on duty last night weren't the same ones, but the guards on the Exile side of the river were. Those fellas seem to draw guard duty a lot, and they've become familiar faces to every rotation of our people that man the outposts we've thrown up on our side of the river. It's the same routine at the beginning of every shift--the Exiles walk up to their post, get report from the men they're relieving, then turn to face our side of the river and give a salute to our unseen men and women. It's safe to assume they're thanking us for saving their lives, though I'm surprised they keep up the habit. Their superiors can't be happy about it.

Yesterday was different. The Exiles did their normal thing for the first two hours of their shift, but one of them started to get fidgety. According to our people, he kept looking around across the river as if he were trying to figure out which of the several blinds we've set up were housing our folks.

After a few minutes, the guard got annoyed and pulled out a megaphone. The guy turns it on, fiddles with the controls, and puts it to his mouth. Across the river, his voice carried very loudly. He said, and I'm going to try to get this as close as possible:

"A man walks into a bar with an alligator under one arm. He bets everyone in the bar he can put his balls in the alligator's mouth and it won't bite him. If he wins, he gets a free drink from each person. If he loses, he buys everyone a drink.

The patrons at the bar agree. The man orders a beer, taps the alligator on the head, and places his genitals in the thing's mouth, which slowly closes. The man calmly drinks his beer, and when he's done he smacks the alligator on top of the head pretty hard. The alligator opens its mouth, and the room breaks out in applause.

After closing up his pants, the man jumps on top of a bar stool and points a finger around the room. 'Anyone here brave enough to try it?' he says.

A young blond woman in the back of the room raises her hand and says, 'Sure, but you don't have to hit me with that bottle.'"

Try as they might, our people couldn't help laughing. I don't know if the noise was enough for the guard to see where they were, but they could see him smiling through their binoculars.

The guy kept telling jokes for a while, and people from inside the fallback point started to come out. It was near dusk by the time someone finally pulled the guard to the side and had words with him, and after that he was silent. But he and his partner kept on smiling, even gave a little bow to his unseen audience.

I don't know if this means anything. I don't know if there was an ulterior motive, or if the guy was just bored and maybe realized that our people were probably just as bored. Two years of tension, fear, and mistrust has made me way more cynical than a guy not yet thirty should be, but I find myself hoping that it was a sincere gesture of goodwill.

Not in a large sense. The Exile guard didn't try to broker peace with us or make new inroads to understanding the divide between our two groups. I think that for a little while, he just wanted to be normal. That he understood the people watching him and his home for signs of violence were just that--people. An enemy, sure. But human beings with hope and love and fear and yes--even a sense of humor.

It could be that this is some cunning plan on the part of the Exiles to put us at ease, possibly to make us see them as less of a threat. I admit the possibility, though I can't believe anyone would think we were gullible to fall for something like that. The Exiles are a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them.

I'm going to choose to believe that this was a human moment, maybe a way to thank our people for saving his life and that of his partner. Bringing a smile to someone's face is a gift, especially in times like these. I say we take it at face value and be thankful. Still careful, always cautious, every wary...but thankful. We can all use a few laughs now and again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shotgun Tactics

The sowing is being halted this morning, as the temperature has taken a surprising turn toward freezing off the sensitive bits of every person working in the dirt. We haven't had another frost, but it's close. Jess doesn't want to risk putting anything else in the ground just yet--just in case the thirty seven degree reading outside right now is a harbinger of a deeper cold snap.

So, I find myself with a little extra time to deal with the pile of work that's been slowly accumulating as I've been busy with planting and working in the clinic. One of the things about being Will's assistant is that the papers tend to build up quickly. There are several projects and reports that need multiple sets of eyes on them.

I've been so busy with other things that I had no idea we were sending out groups of people to repeat our performance with the New Breed. Not on the same scale, of course, but no less surprising for that. The brilliant thing about my brother's portable defenses is that you only need three of them as a minimum to set up a working perimeter. Against groups of twenty or thirty New Breed, three of the defensive diamonds and ten solid fighters seem to be plenty.

The fighters are being sent out after receiving word from our scouts. When a small enough group is located, one of three teams will head out and set up, the undead brought to them by the scout team. So far it's working well. It's a bit heavy on manpower and resources, but most of the folks volunteering to do it are using their free time. I can't imagine how tired they must be, working the earth seven hours a day and fighting for another three or four. It's damn impressive.

This has been going on for days. the reports are here for me to see, and I have to say--they look good. Sure, the New Breed will adapt to the tactic eventually or just plain realize it's better for them not to chase down small teams of scouts because of the pointy death waiting for them, but in four days of these kinds of raids, our people have managed to kill another three hundred New Breed here and in surrounding counties.

All of that without the thermite gel bombs. We're keeping the rest of those here at home for now. Eventually we'll make a bunch more of them, but for now our supplies are finite. Not small, by any means, but not easily replaceable in the very short term. We've got some good signs that we'll be able to trade pretty quickly, and there are other varieties of thermite we could make that wouldn't be as effective, but still. Caution is the best way to go.

The end result is that while we'll probably never be able to clear the New Breed out of here, we're keeping their numbers from reaching that critical mass where they feel certain they can defeat us. By hitting them in small, dispersed attacks we're able to maximize damage to them while minimizing risk to us.

Which is awesome, because we need some stability and time to heal, as well as time to build and gather more people here. And if the pile of work waiting for me is any indication (and seeing my brother's handwriting on a lot of it, I'm sure it is) then I have to start looking at ways to make those future plans workable. No time like the present.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Course Correction

I've spent what little free time I've had in the last several days (time when I haven't been scrambling across the dirt in the cold, planting food) at the clinic. I've put off my work with the captive New Breed for the time being. There are too many people in need of medical attention and too much agricultural work to justify spending any time on the undead captives.

I've been trying to do what I can to help out around the clinic. Most of my time has been spent with the folks from the Louisville crew who have taken ill. One person can basically take care of all of them--they aren't helpless. They've got what looked like flu symptoms at first, but that has changed a little. Their fevers have gone down, but they still have the body aches and some difficulty breathing. Evans thinks it's pneumonia. I'm not a doctor, but I tend to agree.

I spent a good portion of the early hours at the clinic. I woke up halfway through the night full of energy and decided to give whoever was on duty a break. The night shift isn't so rough and it gave me a chance to do necessary work that didn't occupy a lot of my brainpower.

Ha. You know me. That shit never works.

I sat there with our ill guests, and I was reminded of all the messages I've had from other survivors since I started this blog. Most of my interactions with people outside of New Haven are mundane: sharing information, planning trade routes, status updates, that kind of thing. A good number of them have been supportive of our efforts here. And then there are the ones that just...aren't any of those things.

A few people have sent me messages pointing out that I sometimes use entire posts examining my motivations or those of my fellow citizens. They have a point, I guess--I could have used that space and my limited time in a better way, maybe. Like jotting down information that might be useful or giving accounts of tactics that work. I can see the point of those scattered critics. People can always do better.

But as I sat there watching over people who were faceless contacts on an email list a week before, I realized a few things. Examining what drives me is important, as is looking at the direction we go as a community and a society as a whole. I've been told in those very same messages that I make some readers feel doubt about some of the hard choices we all have to make. That I make them hesitate.

If that means I've made them think, then I say that's a great thing. In the world as it is now, being decisive is very important. But being aware that your actions may be a matter of choosing a lesser of two evils is equally vital, if not more so. Like ships on the open sea, our lives need course correction and feedback or we risk losing our way completely. If that means I take time now and then to dissect and analyze my actions (and usually feel bad about them) then that's what I'm going to do.

I've said recently that the time to worry about the awful choices we make and actions that follow is when we no longer question them. It wasn't very far into The Fall that I started to lose perspective on what the stakes are. Survival is paramount, but I lost sight on what the limits of my behavior should be.

How is this relevant to sitting in a room lit by a single lumpy homemade candle, keeping watch over sick people? Because I believe that if I hadn't been set straight by the people who care about me, I'd have turned into the kind of person that would have ignored the Louisville crew when they asked for help with their sick. Even now, a small voice whispers that we could be using the food, water, and medicine they're allotted for our own people. That caring for them weakens us ever so slightly.

A small voice, but persistent. The rest of me recognizes the inherent truth in the situation: the Louisville team sacrificed some of their number to help us in the fight against the New Breed. They didn't shy away from danger, and that kind of friendship must be repaid.

I talk about the Exiles sometimes as if they're almost a different kind of being than the rest of us. But those few hours alone in the quiet of the night were enough to remind me that it's not at all hard to slide into that kind of selfish barbarism. It's the same tribe mentality we have here, but on a smaller scale and without compassion for outsiders.

Human beings are animals. That's not a judgment, simply fact. It's our nature to defend our close group and to be suspicious and violent toward others. Compassion, cooperation, gratitude, mutual aid...these things require effort of will. They are choices. And if we fail to assess our choices, to see the awful things as awful even as the need to do them is clear, then eventually we'll stop making the choice to work together. To trust.

If I bore you or miss some piece of errata to make sure we're still questioning our motives, then I apologize. It's necessary and I have no plans to stop.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

To Sow

I've been especially wordy lately. It's not from a deep-seated desire to run my mouth, but springs instead from a need to cover a lot of continuing situations. From hated enemies to intra-community politics to new threats from the zombie swarms.

Today, I will for once keep it short. I always say that, but I really mean it. Today is the seventh day in a row of temperatures above fifty degrees in the morning. Jessica made the call last night: today is the sowing.

That's a big deal for us. Today (and we've been at it for hours. Lunch break for the win!) we plant the first round of crops. Well, the first serious round. These aren't clover seeds or other wild-growth foods. We're putting the seedlings Jess has been cultivating so carefully into the earth.

It's one of the few times almost all of us are working together at the same time. It's not exactly a peaceful, hand-holding lovefest. There are people standing around the area with weapons. Guards patrol the repaired walls of the annex. The occasional shout can be heard, sometimes with the sharp hum of a bow firing, as zombies come too close.

One of the biggest problems people have with the world is what should be easiest: getting along. Planting crops is a microcosm for the larger situation. We gather together to do as a unit what we can't accomplish alone. As we crawl across the rows of plowed dirt, we work next to people we may not know. May not like. There might even be harsh words or silent glares.

So it goes with the work and with our lives. Despite rough edges, bad feelings, or any other factors, we come together. Idealized songs and stories about working together, love, and happiness always seemed empty to me, and far more so now. Not because the sentiment is empty, but because they always seemed to ignore the hard parts. Making things work is, well, work. And honestly, the effort is what makes the rewards truly satisfying.

We aren't singing songs about togetherness. Instead, we're living them.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Post-Modern Medicine

It's a lucky thing our medical staff have a lot of experience handling massive numbers of injured. Rereading that sentence, I recognize just how weird a statement it is.

We expected more casualties, so the numbers we have aren't stressing our resources to the limit or anything. Most of the injuries aren't serious--I'm shocked we didn't have any accidents with the gel bombs--and for the most part people were able to tend to their own wounds.

Looks like a good number of the Louisville crew will be heading home today, but fourteen of them will be staying here. That's a mixed group; several of them are injured, and a couple are sick. Their group doesn't have access to the level of healthcare we do here, which is admittedly far above the average. We're lucky that way. The very least we can do to repay those folks for helping us out and for sacrificing for us is to take care of them when they need it.

Not to downplay the importance of striking against the New Breed or the loss of life that occurred, but there are other things going on that I'd like to touch on.

The most startling development came this morning: we got a message from the Exiles. We know it came from them because our scouts watched a couple of their sentries lob it over the river. Nice little plastic capsule with a hand-written letter in it. They've accepted the terms of the truce. They won't attack us or try to cross the river. They've agreed not to attack anyone. The only burr in the whole thing is their insistence that they accept any other group of marauders that want to settle with them in the fallback point.

We're not idiots, nor do we easily forget. The Exiles are made up of some of our own people who betrayed the trust of New Haven as well as some of the worst and least repentant marauders out there. We know the kinds of things those people are capable of, and killing isn't the most terrible example I can give. We sent word back that we'd abide by those terms, but that if we learned they were keeping prisoners or even catch them preparing to break the truce, all bets are off. So far, no reply to that. We'll see how it works out.

Still, it's breathing room. Communication is a step forward from the silence we've had so far from across the river. I'm not going to hold my breath that one day we won't have to deal with the Exiles again. I'd love for that to never happen, but it's hard to imagine a world where long-term coexistence with those people right next door is truly possible.

On a similar note, we're taking steps to bolster New Haven's population in a similar way. Over the last year or so we've been on the ass end of some severe beatings. We've taken in most of the folks from the smaller communities nearby that have cropped up, but Will and the council want to shift gears and expand as much as possible. The New Breed represent a much more serious threat than old school zombies--despite our victory over them the other day, which they'll likely adapt tactics against--and over the long haul we can't afford to lose even an handful of people to those kinds of battles.

There's a lot of work ahead for us in expanding New Haven's borders again, but with enough people it won't be an impossible goal. The Exiles have the advantage there, since the fallback point has a huge capacity for sheltering a population. We can cram in a lot more people than we currently house, but expansion is going to happen. It has to. That means a new wall around the field on the west side of New Haven, which is our only real option for additional space. All new buildings inside it, which will be custom designed and built. No more adapting pre-Fall houses. My brother has ideas for the whole thing. It's going to be a huge undertaking.

The scope of the project will be enormous. The materials required for construction, defense, infrastructure, and all the million tiny things...that's going to be a big order. We've got raw materials for a lot of it. Just going to take time and effort to make them into things.

I'm doing a few hours in the clinic each day until the patient load goes back down. I'm going to do my best to find out what kinds of ideas the Louisville folks have about defense, farming, everything. Perspective is always good. Then I'm off to the cells to run a few tests on our New Breed captives. Then four hours helping Will work through some of the more important parts of planning the construction, as he has final say in what gets priority. I'm guessing the new wall will be first.

Then home for a bit to eat dinner with the wife, and after a quick scout run. Damn I'm busy. I'll have to find some time to sleep. Some day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


As far as epic showdowns with mortal threats go, yesterday was pretty good.

Our scouts were the first in the field. They ran quite a way ahead to get the attention of the New Breed. The New Breed, as it turns out, has scouts of their own. Apparently they've taken to copying some of our tactics. Our scouts made it back to us without taking any losses. Theirs saw our assembled force and turned back the way they came.

What the New Breed scouts saw was a hundred and sixty people out in the middle of a field. No defensive structures, no large weapons. Only a few vehicles since we left them safely back. The fight was going to be all-or-nothing. No escape routes.

When the main force of Shelbyville New Breed came for us, we still looked like a relatively defenseless group. They were cautious, spreading around us in a very wide circle before getting close. We let the circle tighten, the zombies surrounding us get within about thirty yards before our front ranks dropped to the earth. Every man and woman that dropped hauled on heavy ropes and straps, pulling up custom pieces of metal, each with very carefully designed edges. Most of them were triangular, old pieces of car hoods welded together and unfolding. Our people locked theses devices together, built-in supports swinging out and locking into place.

Diamond shapes all around us. My brother has been working on portable defensive structures for a long time, precisely for this situation. The things aren't tall, five feet at most. But the center seam and the angles made it almost impossible for the undead to climb the things. They were forced in between the diamonds, funneled into small areas where our teams of shield-bearers could hold them off while others mowed them down.

We were worried at first that the New Breed would retreat when they saw our people react with what was clearly a pre-planned routine. To better entice them, we made sure one of the deer our hunters brought in that morning was set aside. The smell of blood and raw meat probably wouldn't do it alone, but the New Breed couldn't smell that and see us, greatly outnumbered, and just walk away.

I didn't get any front-line action in the fight. I was serving as a bowman and unit commander. I was the one who ordered the people in my wedge of our circle to raise their diamonds. I shouted for the shield-bearers to move into position just as the first few zombies rushed forward. The spearmen (and women) behind them didn't need orders--they rushed forward exactly as practiced and set their weapons butt-first in the earth.

The people behind them? They threw the first volley of gel bombs. Becky's nifty invention.

I don't know what the hell she mixed the thermite with to turn flammable dust that's very tricky to ignite into a sticky gel that's hard to wipe off, but she did it. Every gel bomb is a just a water balloon (one of the small ones, about the size of a grenade) filled about halfway up. The things aren't tied at all, because the opening of each balloon has a magnesium fuse in it. Turns out you can make those really easily, and you don't need tons of magnesium to do it. Mixed with some easily flammable dust (mostly scraped from matches), those things light without too much fuss. It's dangerous as hell to light one, but that's unavoidable.

The throwers worked in groups of two. The person in front held their bomb in one hand, over their shoulder. The person behind lit the fuse and gave the throw order. The volleys weren't simultaneous, but the results were awesome. 

Most of the bombs hit their targets. Almost none managed head shots, as our throwers were desperate to avoid accidents that might cause them to lose a hand. But from where I stood, shouting orders and firing arrows into the swarm around us, I saw many bombs splatter unlit into chests, legs, arms, necks. The act of the balloon compressing against a body was usually enough to cause the fuse to hit some small portion of the gel--igniting it.

Even the bombs that hit the ground did damage, as the brief but intense flares of heat were impossible not to step on in the press. Zombies with suddenly useless feet and lower legs fell to the ground, their brothers tripping over them. As I stood on one of the small wooden boxes our archers carried into the field (to get a better view of our targets), I realized that we might actually win this one. Like, decisively win it. Not one of those insane wins that require us to lose a lot of people.

I really thought that as I saw a hundred and fifty gel bombs fly in less than thirty seconds. As I fired arrow after arrow, saw the other archers do the same. Oh, I worried when the zombies in the front got desperate, too close for us to hit with gel bombs, and pushed super hard. Our defense was good, but not perfect--they got through in twos and threes. Our flying companies moved between the breeches, taking down stragglers. I saw a couple people go down. But overall, we held.

Most of our gel bombs had been used when the fight really turned our way. We'd been heavily outnumbered at the beginning, at least three to one. My best guess was that after a scant few minutes, the number of undead left fully functional and attacking was even with our fighters. That was when someone threw a gel bomb that didn't quite make it. The thing bounced off a zombie close to the front line, disintegrating into a flare of white fire as it rebounded, and struck one of the diamonds.

The people stationed near the flaming diamond recoiled from the wave of heat. It probably wasn't enough to hurt them, but the intense light forced the reflex. The zombies there pushed hard in their own terror, and they breached the line.

For a double handful of seconds, chaos followed. Zombies beat our defenders even further back from their positions, widening the gap. I saw New Haven citizens and allies from Louisville fall as they fought to defend each other. In that brief space of time, a dozen people fell.

We'd drilled for that eventuality, though. The person in charge of that wedge called for the fallback, and the defenders parted quickly to leave the invading zombies a path to the center.

That was where our gunmen waited. Fully armed and armored, they surged forward. Each of them a soldier from North Jackson, they moved in careful lines, their weapons rattling in three-round bursts. No shot was wasted: each pull of the trigger took a New Breed in the head. For the dozen bodies the zombies had created, the gunmen paid them back with interest.

They kept firing even as the zombies turned and ran. The sound of gunfire, combined with the profound beating we were handing them and the huge number of disabled undead littering the battlefield, was enough to do the trick.

They turned. They ran. We fired arrows and bullets at them until they were too far gone to be a threat. Then we took stock of our losses, let our noncombatant medical personnel begin triage, and ordered men out to finish off the damaged undead moaning piteously across the scorched field.

I had the men keep a few in reserve. I picked one new test subject.

The lives lost in the fight were precious. Eleven of our allies from Louisville lost their lives. Seven of our own people died, though five times that took wounds ranging from a broken finger to a shattered pelvis. Thanks to my wife's work over the months in making lightweight armored sections, none of the survivors took deep claw wounds, and there were no bites.

It seems like too high a price to pay, but most people I've talked to don't think so. We've stopped this group, basically right next door, from gathering enough momentum in recruiting other zombies to do us damage in the near future. That's a huge plus. Twice that number of New Breed hitting us at home would have been incredibly dangerous.

That, and now we know that we can fight them in the open if need be. We're going to send Becky out with a small team of people to try and find more raw materials for thermite (or anything else she can find that will do the same job). This is clearly an effective weapon. Now that we've got some first-hand data on how these ideas work in practice, we can do the job of improving the portable defenses and gel bombs, and fixing the flaws. It was a tough fight. We paid a hard price for the information we gathered, and for the victory.

But we got them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mad Method

Four this afternoon is zero hour. New Haven is now playing host to a large contingent of volunteers from the Louisville area. Becky has been hard at work, missing sleep and recruiting workers to make as much thermite as possible. We've got a plan, and it's going to be incredibly risky.

The good news is that our scouts have been busting ass to keep tabs on the zombie swarm in Shelbyville. We know where they are, about how many of them we'll be facing, and what the terrain looks like. We're sending seventy people of our own, enough to do a lot of damage when working in tandem with our guests. We're splitting the thermite evenly between home and the folks going out. There should be enough gel bombs for each of us to have one.

I'll explain Becky's genius idea to weaponize the thermite tomorrow. It's not all that complicated, but I'd rather not brag on her behalf before we've used the stuff in the field.

Um. I'll be honest: she told me not to. She doesn't want me to get people's hope up if these weapons fail utterly. She hits hard, so I'm doing what she tells me.

We've actually got a pretty good strategy worked out for the fight. I'm not trying to sound overconfident, but I think we've worked out a good way to engage the New Breed on open ground without losing cohesion given that more than half our force are people we haven't fought with before. Again, that's almost a post by itself and I want to do it justice. Because my brother Dave worked out the logistics of the thing, and it's beautiful. Solves a lot of problems we'd face in dealing with the New Breed on their own turf.

I can tell you why we're confident. Becky's idea for turning the thermite into a useful weapon is part of it. Dave's work with portable defenses is another. But we wouldn't even be considering this move if the results of my tests with our captive New Breed hadn't yielded shocking and frankly amazing results.

You may remember me saying that we would be testing direct and indirect heat on the zombies in question. The indirect heat method turned out to be less useful than I'd have hoped. A flare of thermite had to be within a foot of the test subject to have a serious effect on it. That's not due to any lack of heat--the stuff burns at something like three or four thousand degrees--but more because it burns really fast. A flare going off within a foot will do immediate damage to the zombie. Past that and the zombie's reaction to the white-hot fire is quick enough and the distance great enough that they only take minor damage. That is, within two feet of a thermite flare, they'll lose some of the strength to their toughened skin.

So, if we had tons of the stuff, we'd be able to set traps around New Haven and weaken an attacking swarm. Assuming we could set off the stuff without too much trouble. Really not an option.

Direct heat, however, has a much more useful and interesting effect. Basically, it well and truly fucks a zombie up.

It was a bitch getting one of my test subjects strapped down, but SO worth the effort. I put a very small amount of thermite on the thing's wrist. Smack in the middle of the joint. The amount was tiny, about the size of a grain of rice. Took me a few tries to get it lit, especially because the zombie was trying his damnedest to pull his hand away. When I finally got the magnesium striker to catch the thermite, the burn lasted for about three seconds.

The zombie's hand and arm up to the elbow stopped working. Completely.

That blew me away. I expected it to do some damage to the thing's skin, sure, and to burn through and cause some structural chaos...but at no time did I expect the results I got. I was so stunned that I had to show Evans and Gabby right away. Had to understand what had happened. Because we've done a lot of bad things to zombies before. Even setting them on fire usually takes a while to kill them. This was really fast.

After removing the zombie's arm, I took it to the people with the fancy medical degrees, who dissected and studied it. When you flay open a zombie's body, you can see the tendrils of material that make up the plague organism. The color varies, but usually the fibers of the parasite are a pale purple or a dark red. The test subject's arm contained blackened ash up to the elbow.

Evans thinks the initial burn heated up the portion of the organism under the flesh, which through some mechanism we don't understand tried to shed the heat, causing the temperature of the surrounding tissues to rise. Which caused the newly heated portions to shed the get the idea.

What it boils down to is that a very tiny amount of this stuff on the skin is incredibly damaging to the undead. The huge temperature change over such a short period of time basically cooks the plague out of that area. And if the reaction of the zombie I was testing direct heat on is any indication, this is one of those things that causes great fear in the undead. Maybe not because of pain, since they don't seem to feel it, but maybe by the unnerving experience of suddenly losing a big portion of itself.

After a few more tests, I killed the subject with a shot to the head. Took a few tries, as the thickened skin and underlying fibrous armor (not to mention the skull itself) can take a lot more punishment. In the end, I used a blob of thermite gel (I love you, Becky) about the size a big cherry to manage it. Right on the thing's crown.

Five seconds of burn, no more zombie. That is what we're taking into battle today. If we're insanely lucky, it'll work.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stone Dust

I may have mentioned this once or twice (or a dozen times) but it's worth repeating: Becky is a fucking genius. She's come up with a means to produce truly stupid amounts of Thermite, which is going to be really useful against the New Breed. 

I'm not huge on chemistry, but as Becky and I were talking yesterday I realized how easy it is to miss really important things. She has managed to create explosives and other difficult to manufacture substances where the rest of us scratch our heads like the comparative cavemen we are. I was talking with her about our plans to hunt down and assault the New Breed before they could gather enough numbers to become a serious threat to New Haven. I was frustrated because we have all these stocks of supplies and materials sitting around, but a lot of it isn't that useful. 

I mentioned the huge storehouse we've loaded with various sundries--the old hotel where we liberated some captives not long after The Fall--and started naming off the random items that had no particular use. Keep in mind that we've been making Thermite in small amounts for a while, but the stuff requires metal dust and that's not easy to make in large amounts. The process is time and labor intensive. 

I told her about the huge case of hematite rings we left in the hotel after clearing out the marauders. What use could we have for those things, you know? I'd taken a couple of them just because I liked the shiny black rings, and they brought back pleasant memories of the various ones I'd bought from flea markets and renaissance fairs over the years. 

That was when she stopped me. The look on her face was priceless. You'd have thought I'd told her casually about a store of hidden treasure. 

She explained to me that Hematite is the stuff that goes into a particular blend of thermite intended to cut through steel. We've had some of it before, even. We just didn't know exactly what was in it. Turns out we've been sitting on enough raw materials to make a few hundred pounds of the stuff. Of course, the rings aren't enough on their own. We need powdered aluminum in large quantities. If only we knew a manufacturing center that had such a supply...

So, yeah. North Jackson is sending their next trade caravan to us early. We're doing a bit of separate trading with them, direct instead of utilizing the network we've set up, exactly for situations like this. 

Becky, Will, Dodger, Patrick, Jess, and I are all working today on how to weaponize this stuff. It's going to need some fine tuning and testing. It's not a complex problem to work out. All we really need to manage is a way to deliver the dust to the bodies of the New Breed, and to ignite it without having to be too close. Granted, it's really dangerous stuff and tricky to set on fire, but we've faced this problem before. 

Now that we have a viable way to use heat against the New Breed (and I feel like an idiot for not giving Becky a list of all our supplies earlier. All those hours people have spent filing metals down...) there's a strong feeling of hope around New Haven. In a worst case scenario, the swarm in Shelby county has hidden themselves away and we can't find them. So they attack here. 

That's bad, but we're going to have a large supply of an incredibly effective weapon on hand very shortly. If the New Breed hits us here, we'll be better off a few days from now than we are right now. I'm curious to see what the effects of direct and indirect heat will be on the New Breed physiology. I don't know how much of a weakness the heat will turn out to be. So far we know it weakens their skin and underlying armored layers, but that just means it's easier to fight them. To cut them. 

Becky has prepared a small amount of the new mixture for me to use on two of our test subjects. One is going to get the direct heat treatment, the other indirect. It should be interesting. We've never exposed the undead to this kind of heat in a controlled environment. The results will hopefully help us in determining the most efficient way to utilize our new weapon. 

I've got it in a plastic bag stuffed into one of my cargo pockets. The stuff just looks like black dust. It's crazy to think that the amount in my khakis is enough to cut through most of an engine block. Thousands of degrees of potential heat. Basically stone dust, engineered by human intelligence (again, let's give Becky the credit here) into something useful. That's nuts to me. 

I'm excited to test it out. And I need to get to it before the meeting I have with the others later. It's going to be a busy few days, but with any luck they'll be productive ones. And by productive, I mean we'll be able to kill a lot of zombies with minimal risk. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Empty Cages

My post yesterday acted as a call for help, apparently. We have allies in decent numbers not far away, but I don't talk about them a lot. One, because while geographically we're near each other, in real terms the survivors in Louisville and New Haven aren't that close. Two, they don't like to be talked about. I had to ask permission to write this post. 

After I posted yesterday, some of the Louisville crowd contacted us. They aren't a cohesive group toughing it out in one place like so many people do. In the city that's pretty hard. Instead small clusters of them secure locations, spreading out their numbers into dozens of places. They gather during the days to work together, and break apart again at night. It works well for them, and with the large number of undead wandering the city it's probably best they don't bring too many folks together in one place. 

The gist of the message was simple: the Louisville gang has seen some strange activity lately and my post made them wonder if it was related to the New Breed buildup out in the countryside. Just as we caught wind of the increasing numbers of New Breed far enough away from our usual runs, so too have the Louisville survivors noted rapid changes in their local zombie population. Here, in a much less urban setting, it's not a big deal to go a day or three without seeing any undead. 

In Louisville, it's unusual as hell to see the numbers of them dwindle, much less disappear entirely from some areas. But that's exactly what's happening. Neighborhoods that have seen a constant presence of zombies for months or longer are suddenly empty of them. The mass gatherings in the downtown area are slimmer. Noticeably so. 

Most of those vanishing are old school zombies. I bet you can see where this is going, eh? 

So some of the Louisville crew decided to risk a trip out into the county yesterday, or at least farther than they're used to traveling from their usual stomping grounds. They wanted to confirm that the New Breed was pulling the same trick there that they are here. Given the huge numbers of undead in and around the city, it wasn't hard to spot a group of them. The Louisville crew followed. 

All the way to the zoo. Which had been abandoned not long after The Fall. I haven't been there for probably eight years, but I've been told the folks at the zoo decided to free the animals when it became clear the end was pretty much nigh. I admit to a small amount of personal satisfaction at that--the idea of penguins and tigers and adorable creatures from around the globe wandering around Kentucky makes me smile. While I've always enjoyed zoos, I always felt guilty that those critters didn't have their freedom. Yeah, I'm a softy. Deal with it. 

Anyway, the New Breed is gathering on the grounds of the zoo. The crew was understandably reluctant to make a trip inside the gates, but even from the road (down which they drove very quickly since the New Breed saw them coming) they could see the swarms inside. They'd seen old school zombies dragged or herded in. That's about as much confirmation as any of us need. 

The Louisville group has offered to send a hundred people here for two days to help us locate and destroy the zombies in Shelby county. We've happily accepted the offer, because no one here believes the battle we won last week did much to dent the numbers there. We know the New Breed is smart and able to hold back part of their force, an example of complex tactical thinking. If they hit us with two hundred or better at the silo, then they did so because many more were elsewhere, held in reserve. 

To take out those kinds of numbers we're going to need help. I don't know that another hundred trained fighters will be enough if we have to fight them out in the open, far away from the huge advantages the walls and defenses of New Haven give us. To clarify, even if we did manage to win that fight, there's no way we could do it without heavy losses. 

I have to imagine the Exiles are reading this and getting a nice chuckle from it. They've got the river to protect them from the masses of undead. For whatever reason, we haven't seen large numbers of zombies come for the fallback point. 

Over the next day or two, I'll be busting ass on plans and preparations. We've got a chance to thin the herd enough that it will take the New Breed weeks or months to recover. Without the Louisville crew, it wouldn't be possible at all. Not without also being suicidal. 

Hmm. The thought of zombies filling all the empty cages of the Louisville Zoo has a certain appeal to me. I don't know why my inner smartass seems to find justice in that mental image, but it does. 

If this cooperative effort works, then we may return the favor for the Louisville folks and try to help them do some real damage to the zombies in the zoo. Tactics and planning. That's always the key. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Éirinn go Brách

I've never been a heavy drinker. I mean, when I used to drink it wasn't often. When I did partake, it was usually enough to blind most people. My ancestry is Irish, German, and Welsh with a smattering of other nationalities. I can hold my booze.

Since The Fall, though, I've barely touched the stuff. I certainly didn't plan on starting my day with a glass of expensive Irish whiskey. Jess had other ideas. I don't know where she got it, but I had to drink it. Not because it's St. Patrick's day, though that was why she surprised me with booze. Because it was cold. Ice cold.

Yeah. Actual ice. The novelty of having a very cold drink was enough to entice me into drinking four ounces of Jameson Gold Reserve on an empty stomach. It felt good.

As a rule we try to limit how much the giant refrigerator Dave built is opened. We use it for long-term storage of food, and the less traffic the better. Jess managed to sneak in an ice cube tray. Since she's quickly assuming the role of Grand Poobah of food supply, no one held a little indulgence against her.

It's enough to make me wonder if she read the morning reports before I did, and knew I might need a drink.

We've had scout teams going to Shelby county once a day since our battle with the New Breed there. They do a wide circle to see if any large gatherings of zombies are on the move. Yesterday the scouts did a more intensive round after discovering the stronghold of the people we brought here from Shelbyville in ruins. It was a very secure building, and the ladies locked it up tight before they left. The New Breed still managed to get in and utterly destroy it.

The one weak point was the ladder on the back. It's one of those slide-down deals that has to be snagged with a long hook to pull it down. The New Breed must have piled up to reach it. And though the emergency access on the roof was still padlocked when our scouts found it, the skylight was another story. The cap of plywood was shredded, covered in claw marks and streaks of blood and flesh. God only knows how many New Breed are walking around with useless fingers now.

Once they were inside it was basically game over. It wasn't hard for the zombies to figure out how to remove the bar from the main door and open it up for their buddies to come in. The whole thing is a frightening display of problem solving skills.

Our scouts decided to do a more thorough check of the surrounding areas. You know, since the New Breed had ravaged a safe place and weren't anywhere to be found. Zombies, even smart ones, aren't inclined to do things that indicate emotion. There was no gain for them in destroying the home of our allies. There was no food there. Our team thought that was strange, and so the the rest of us.

Because it looks like an act of rage. Zombies are dangerous for a lot of reasons, but being pissed off has never been one of them.

The team didn't come home empty-handed. They found a large mass of New Breed to the south of the ruined stronghold. Our people watched from a distance as groups returned to the main horde hauling or leading groups of old school zombies with them. I say hauling because the scouts report that many of the old school undead appeared afraid of the New Breed. As if they knew something bad was going to happen to them.

Some of them were eaten straight away, while others were simply surrounded and kept from running away. My guess is that the old school zombies who became happy meals were those who hadn't begun the change into New Breed for whatever reason. Maybe an immunity. Maybe lack of exposure. The scouts didn't stay long enough to see any change take place in the sequestered undead, but I'd bet my last dollar (which is meaningless as we use paper money for tinder now) that the New Breed will have a few new members shortly. Might already have made the change.

I'm planning a few quick tests with Gabby and Evans today to see if we can figure out exactly how the New Breed can tell zombies apart. Almost definitely something to do with smell, but I'd like to know if we can isolate what that is. If we can, then I have a few ideas...

All the signs point to this large group heading this way. I can't believe that the New Breed in Shelby county took the time and effort to destroy an abandoned human settlement and are recruiting more numbers without a reason. We're the largest group nearby, and I doubt they even know about the smaller and newer communities that have cropped up. Those folks are a long way off as the zombie walks. It's got to be us these undead are coming for. It's gonna be a long, long day.

Friday, March 16, 2012


We're experiencing one of those rare calm periods at the moment. Since our fight at the silo, not a lot has been going on around here. We've had a trade caravan come in, that was fun. Becky and Will have been working on ways to take advantage of the New Breed weakness to heat. I've been basically working as Will's assistant full time since I got back. I still manage our experiments with the captive zombies (no new findings there) and deal with the errata that the other community managers need help dealing with. Mostly coordination stuff.

But yeah, mostly helping Will do his job, which is to run this place.

When we came back the other day, exhausted and injured but with our spirits high at not losing anyone, Will made an interesting observation: at least in New Haven, no one seems to take any joy in fighting. Or even in winning against an enemy.

That's kind of big. I mean, you'd think at least the feeling of victory would bring out an uncontrolled reaction. Whooping, high fives, the occasional slap on the ass. I'm probably too much of a nerd, but my thoughts go to Star Wars here. Think about the reaction the Rebels had when they achieved a victory over the empire. God help me, I can't believe I'm using this as an example, but remember the final scenes in Return of the Jedi. Ewoks and our heroes, feasting it up on the forest moon of Endor. Dancing and singing.

Yeah, we don't do that. It's not like anyone is unhappy about winning a battle so much as people around here seem to have a different viewpoint on fighting. Zombies, no matter how vicious and clever, are inherently a little sad. It's hard to hate them when you think about what they were. Where they came from.

Same thing with fighting living enemies. There's really not a lot to be cheerful about there. Marauders especially are a reminder of how bad human beings can be. Killing them even in defense of our home is more of a task that has to be done rather than an event to be celebrated.

Which is a good thing, I think. Violence has always been a big part of human nature, as has hatred in many forms. It's always reassuring to see people understand and control those reactions.

Case in point:

A small group of New Breed tried to attack the Exiles yesterday. The fallback point has undergone some radical changes in recent weeks. They've got some guard stations set up along the beginnings of a wall that encloses a good chunk of area. We've got watchers in various places across the river. One of them saw a trio of New Breed making their way along the river bank, below the line of sight of the men in the nearest guard tower.

When the undead crept up in the long shadows cast by the sunset, they were in a perfect position to surprise the men in the guard station. It was only a raised box with high sides, the floor of the thing about four feet off the ground.

So, when the zombies went to make their move, one of our watchers fired his rifle.

At first the Exile guards thought it was an attack. They spun around and looked across the river, probably searching for a puff of smoke or the next blare of muzzle flash. It was only then that the guards noticed the remaining two zombies that had worked their way up to the station. Even as one of the attacking New Breed leaped over his fallen brother to attack the closest Exile, our watcher fired again. One shot, one kill. Right through the zombie's ear.

The guard at the back of the station pulled himself together and fired his weapon at the remaining zombie, then made sure his partner was alright. They looked across the river for a while, apparently searching for the shooter who'd taken out two of the three undead.

The watcher told me all of this, witnessed through the scope of his gun. He told me how he couldn't help but smile when the two Exiles raised their hands as if to wave, then saluted their unseen savior.

The funny and interesting thing about new neighbors is that you never know what kind of people some of them might turn out to be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ground War (Part Two)

We stood ready, waiting for the zombie swarm to show up in force. From the breastwork it was difficult to tell how many there were, but the lookouts higher up in the silo shouted out estimates. As I stood in my place on a far side of the raised circle of earth, I wondered if it would have been better to try to run. We could definitely have gone faster than the undead in our vehicles, but that brought its own set of risks. One mistake and an overturned vehicle could block the road. That would have been a death sentence.

I was tucked in one of the corners where the silo and the breastwork met. As the zombies coming from the direction of Shelbyville grew closer, a second group came over a hill from the direction we'd been heading. Damn. The New Breed had split their forces, left an ambush waiting.

The main force got close enough for the ladies manning the arrowslits to see things the undead were trying to hide. I heard one of them yell out that the approaching swarm--appearing to be at least a hundred and fifty strong--was dragging several large logs with it. I'd seen that tactic before.

The smart thing to do, the cautious thing, would have been to wait for the enemy to close and fight them from as strong a defensive position as possible. We would figure out a way to neutralize the logs, which would surely be raised vertical and then dropped over the breastwork to make a breach and an easy path upward.

We totally didn't do that.

Whoever was leading the center unit called for firebombs, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a dozen small flames come to life. Disposable lighters are a survivor's best friend. The firebombs, small glass spheres filled with a homemade napalm Becky created, are delicate. They're kept in small bags lined with bubble wrap. No one is allowed to carry more than two. Not that we we've been able to make a lot of them, since we have to make them ourselves and glass-blowing is hard.

A dozen arcs of flickering light sailed over the breastworks, the resulting spread of flames disrupting the ranks of the dead. A round of fire arrows followed as the few archers we had focused on setting the logs aflame before the undead could use them. A few of our braver men stood right at the edge of the defenses, hurling their remaining firebombs at the flaming logs.

It was luck as much as planning that saved the day. Without their logs to use and panicked by the sudden spread of fire among them, the main force of the New Breed lost much of their cohesion. They came at us, but without the typical calculation that makes them such a threat. Our people were ready, turning the edge of the breastwork into a meat grinder.

As the main force crested the breastwork, the spearwomen behind stepped forward, thrusting their weapons  forward with precise motions. At least in my section, every point met the target perfectly--through the bottom of the chin, upward into the cranium. Our spears lack barbs, the heads designed to pull out smoothly. Those women did their part splendidly, helping repel the initial waves and then setting their weapons at an angle, butt against the ground, between each man on the wall. New Breed zombies are smart enough to recognize the danger of a pointy stick, and avoided them. Which funneled the undead right in front of men with shields and weapons, and the will to use them both.

All through the initial assault, archers picked targets beyond the breastworks. Flaming zombies were the first to take arrows, as we couldn't allow them to set fire to the defenses. Based on the number of arrows we recovered from the ground after, there were a fair number of misses, but archery is difficult even under ideal circumstances. Out of three hundred arrows fired at the main force, we counted thirty clean headshots. One in ten. That's pretty damn helpful, from my point of view. Fully a fifth of the attacking waves were brought down from a distance.

Despite that, those of us on the walls grew tired after a few minutes. We'd enraged the New Breed by using fire, and their greater strength and speed was on full display. It was a good thing we'd hauled rifles along with us. Bless the troops from North Jackson for having military-issue assault weapons. Hated to use the bullets, but really--could there have been a better time?

Four people above fired single shots, one after another, picking their targets. A bullet, unlike an arrow, will slow a zombie down if it misses. It's a funny thing about the New Breed in particular: unlike regular zombies, who ignore any damage that doesn't incapacitate them, the New Breed will pause to reorient themselves when they get hit with a bullet or an arrow. I imagine it would work with anything, rocks or whatever.

With snipers and archers pecking away at their forces, lots of the undead were stopping for a second to face the direction the impact came from. Hell, less than a second. That's all the time our people needed. Surprise a zombie by hitting him in the arm or chest or leg, watch him freeze, then put one in his brain pan. Next target.

We'd whittled the main force down by at least half by the time the secondary group hit us. I'd have expected them to get there sooner, but one of the shooters told me later that they'd stopped once they saw the fire and the ensuing mayhem. Even when they finally did choose to attack, only half of them came forward, and they focused exclusively on the small corner where I was stationed. The idea had to have been to force a breach by smashing us as hard as they could in one spot, and it worked. My section of defenders put down ten or fifteen of them in quick succession, but the bodies formed horrible stepping stones for the remainder to use like a ramp. Three of them launched over the breastwork before we could reform our ranks, a heavy push forcing us back and apart.

Those New Breed tried to tear into the people they found standing in the middle of the semicircle of dirt. Tried and failed.

As the defenders at the breastworks slashed and stabbed with renewed vigor, fueled by rage and self-preservation, as the shooters cleared more and more undead from the field, those three zombies got the worst of it. Our reserve, a unit of eight people held back to plug any holes in the defenses, hit them all at once. Two held long spears, two held short ones, two held large shields, and two had guns. I'd stepped back from the line for a few seconds, a nasty set of claw wounds across my forearm where a zombie struck out even as I put my hatchet into her face. As I turned, I saw two long spears transfix undead through the chest, the two shorter spears hit the third zombie, who was in the middle, in the same leg. The gunmen stepped forward behind the guys with shields, carefully firing into the heads of the undead. Three shots, three kills.

It was so smooth I was almost embarrassed for the enemy. Almost.

The remaining undead eventually had the idea that backing off might do them some good. The other half of the secondary force never did attack, just watched us from the sidelines. I'm sure they've got a good amount of information on us, but we can't do a thing about it. We'll just have to evolve our tactics to match.

Of the original force that hit us, only forty or so managed to get away. Once the retreat began our people stopped firing. Waste not, want not and all that folksy wisdom.

We lost no lives. Plenty of us took wounds, but quick action to clean them and sterilize them as best we could should hopefully prevent any serious infections. My own injury doesn't look terrible. Well, it looks terrible because it's a set of bloody gouges, but it doesn't look infected.

I'll be honest, I'm surprised we didn't have any fatalities. You kind of expect them, but our people were meticulous and steadfast, had the high ground, and fought brilliantly. Keeping the enemy off balance was a key to our success, and nothing throws you for a loop like having a shield bashed into your face. We did good.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ground War (Part One)

I went with the caravan yesterday to bring the last handful of people from Shelbyville back here. It was an all-day affair, and there were sixty of us. Two reasons for that: because the group of people (mostly women) who left here to settle in the small fortress left behind at a shopping center there had stockpiled a lot of goods that needed transport, and because the group of zombies Don told us about were a concern.

Given how closely the New Breed in our county have been watching us, and considering the cleverness of their attacks, it seemed like a good idea to take as many people as we could manage. Good thing we did, because things got rough.

We were on the way back this direction, taking a back road to skirt US-60, thinking that if we were going to be attacked it would probably be on the highway we use most often to get between the two places. That, plus the fact that the ladies from Shelbyville had set up a few emergency retreats along that back road. My brother had a hand in that--while the team and I were away, he helped our neighbors. Dave used to live on the very road we used to avoid the highway, after all.

For the first few minutes after leaving we saw no sign of zombies. None of us put our weapons away and assumed all was well, of course, because we're all a little paranoid and we aren't idiots. We were only going fifteen, twenty miles an hour to keep the engine noise from our vehicles as low as possible. If the New Breed swarm really wasn't watching us, we didn't want to give them any more reason to notice us than we could help.

Turns out, we couldn't help it.

Halfway down Dave's old road, we'd passed two of the three emergency shelters he and the ladies had set up. We were about half a mile from the last one, and after that it would have been damned hard to turn around and get to it. Call it a point of no return.

Luckily, our lookouts had a nice dollop of fear working through their veins yesterday, and two of them caught sight of zombies from their perches atop our trucks at almost the same time. Two knocks on the roof--our signal for 'look right' or 'enemy to the right' was all the warning we needed. The caravan sped up, heading toward the last shelter.

It wasn't anything I'd want to stay in long-term, but with some hard work and innovative ideas, Dave and the ladies from Shelbyville managed to turn a big corn silo into a decent defensive position. The silo itself is concrete, with a ground-level door. Just one, because why the hell would you need more than one door in a silo?

Dave and the ladies gutted the place, put in ladders and platforms, knocked a few small holes in the curving wall for archers or riflemen to fire from. The door itself was heavy steel, the area just outside it semicircle of raised earth six feet high with wooden breastworks rising another five feet. The whole area sloped gently down toward the silo itself, meaning men could walk to easily up the rise without too much effort. The entire defensive position wasn't more than forty feet across. A tight fit for so many fighters.

We abandoned the trucks a few dozen feet from the breastworks. We had a few minutes on the New Breed, enough time to get everyone where they needed to be. All but one of the stragglers from Shelbyville were pregnant, and they weren't happy that we wouldn't let them fight. Those ladies freaking stay pregnant, and like old-fashioned settlers they don't stop working until they absolutely have to.

Instead we gave them bows and told them to man the arrowslits. They were happy to comply.

About half my people had shields of one kind or another, most of them made from old stop signs. You can't beat a stop sign for strength, weight, and ease of use as a weapon itself. Patrick makes sure the bottom edge of every one of them is sharpened, and reinforcing strips added to keep them from bending when cutting through a neck.

Those with shields took the front, forming a loose wall leaning up against the wooden portion of the breastworks. Every man held a short weapon--hatchet, hammer, most commonly machetes made for us by the good people of North Jackson. Behind them, the women who had volunteered for guard duty held spears. Most of the women from New Haven have had some spear training with the little group we call our Spartans. Not to be confused with the people of Sparta, who provide much needed fuel.

Well, shit. I've used up all the time I've set aside to write this. Looks like I'll have to continue this tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good News!

I promised you some good news yesterday, and I'm not going to disappoint. One thing that's taking me a long time adjusting to is that New Haven is a big place with lots of stuff going on. Not like I didn't know that, but while we were out on the road things were often much simpler. It was easy to focus on one or two things. Here, there's always a ton of stuff happening, and a lot of the goings on get missed.

I've got some interesting things on the docket, so I'm just going to jump into them.

Getting this out of the way first: to our surprise, we discovered in our experiments the other day that the New Breed's reaction to extremes in temperature does extend past their skin. The bands of thickened tissue that protect their necks and heads, as well as the major joints, softens when heated above a hundred and fifteen degrees. That's going to be incredibly useful information once we figure out a way to use it, since producing large amounts of heat is difficult for us without electricity, and weaponizing cold pretty much impossible.

That information does come with two caveats, however. The skin and underlying protective bands do weaken, but they also firm back up over time. We're still testing the range on that, but it's somewhere in the area of ten minutes so far. The other is that zombies, being essentially cold blooded, take a while to get hot. They aren't starting with a body temperature near a hundred, remember. That makes turning this information to our advantage difficult. But still, it's great news, and I have faith in Will and Dodger to come up with something.

In a big, nay HUGE turn of events, trade between New Haven and the outside world has resumed. It took a while to plan out alternate routes (and for our trade partners to feel sure the Exiles wouldn't cross the river to attack caravans of goods) but we're ready. Not a moment too soon, either, because there's a huge backlog waiting to be shipped about. We've got medicines to send, and Phil is planning on heading out with one of the trade caravans to provide some medical care at some stops. This is due to overwhelming demand for doctors, because there are a lot of places out there with pregnant women. Must have been a very long winter for those people.


We've got a new citizen, which isn't in and of itself strange, but how he came to be here is, a bit. His name is Donald, though he likes to be called Don. He's middle-aged, very personable, and he's been living on his own for the last two years. The crazy part is that he was only about half an hour away.

Don, you see, was living at the abandoned grounds for a local renaissance festival. Makes sense when you think about it, given that most of the place already had a wall built around it, the rest heavily wooded. It was set up to be functional without electricity, and there are different booths and buildings for him to utilize. Don used to work there before The Fall. He's a leatherworker. Beyond knowing how to make leather goods, he can craft armor, shoes, hats, all kinds of things. He's passably skilled at blacksmithing and a dozen other useful crafts. Chalk that up to thirty years of learning how to do all those things working for renfests around the country. The guy turned his hobby into a lifestyle, and that helped him survive.

Our scouts found him because Jess and I realized in all the time we've been struggling to survive, we'd never thought to scavenge the fairground where the renfest was held. That's kind of a huge oversight on our part. So we suggested it, and what do our scouts find when they get there? Don, working on a pair of boots. We're the first living people he's seen since The Fall.

All his other skills aside, everyone here is super excited to have a cobbler. Eventually we'll run out of scavenged shoes, and we'll want more durable footwear. I've always fancied having a pair of knee-high leather riding boots, myself.

There's always bad news, though, and Don did bring some of that with him. He did a lot of hunting out in Henry county, even ranging as far as northern Shelby county. He swears he's seen large gatherings of New Breed zombies in that area, possibly hundreds of them. We've begged for the remaining few people living in Shelbyville, the ladies we rescued from Tennessee, to come here. Most already had when the tensions with the Exiles were at their height, but the last few have been stubborn. Don's news has done what our pleas couldn't, and the remaining holdouts will be heading here this afternoon.

Then we'll have to deal with those zombies, assuming they don't catch us ferrying people from Shelbyville.

Oh, one last bit of news, and then I've got to get to business: Patrick is going to be a dad. Which is crazy, because I didn't know he was even seeing anyone. All the time away and then coming home to so much danger and work, I've kind of gotten out of the habit of talking with my friends regularly. I'm really happy for him. This is a dangerous, scary world to bring a child into, but when has the world been otherwise? A kid couldn't ask for a better dad than Pat, and no fear of zombies or human enemies should stop us from continuing the cycle of life.

Hell, those are the best reasons for doing it. Cheers, brother. If it's a boy, I like Joshua as a name.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Someone posted two very good and pertinent questions the other day, and I'd like to take this post to answer them. I've been talking out a lot of my stress and worry with people the last few days, and doing so has helped me get a grip on our experiments, my other duties, and my place in New Haven in general. I think airing out some things here might do the same.

The first: What's the general feeling in New Haven about keeping live zombies inside the walls?

The general feeling is apprehension. I suppose I should say, the initial feeling was. New Haven is a fairly tight-knit group, and everyone knows that their friends and neighbors will be careful for the good of the group. That being said, I don't think there's anybody here that is ecstatic with the idea that there are active zombies being held inside New Haven.

And no matter how good the security around our test subjects is (and it is) there will always be that buzzing background awareness, a base level of discomfort and fear, that will never be entirely eliminated while the test subjects are still alive. In my opinion that's a good thing. Without a nice, healthy fear of the undead none of us would be here.

The best thing about the citizens of New Haven is that by and large they can intellectualize their fears and reactions. Our people don't like the idea of keeping live zombies here, but overall the feedback we've had is good. No one, including Evans, Gabby, and myself, likes the things we have been doing to our captive undead. No one likes having them here at all. But most people recognize the potential for understanding and gaining an advantage this situation creates. The average citizen makes the conscious decision to deal with it, and moves on. It's really that simple.

Of course, there are always dissenters. I place no blame on them. Some people weigh the danger against the possible information we might gather and decide the risk isn't worth it. Those folks have completely valid viewpoints. It really is a dangerous game to play, and they're right to be worried for the safety of the community.

There isn't a right or wrong, just differing opinions. Recognizing that reality is something most people have a hard time with. We do a pretty good job here for the most part, and that makes me happy.

The other question was: how do people feel about someone they know volunteering to turn into a zombie?

As I typed that out, an intense flash of nostalgia hit me. For a second, I was the me I was before The Fall, just a nerd for whom the present situation was just a thought exercise. The question itself reminds me of all the times my friends and I would get into discussions about comics and ask what superpowers we'd have, and all other kinds of hypothetical situations based on whatever genre struck our fancy.

Coming back to the present, I'm reminded that this isn't a hypothetical.

The answer is simple: Rick made a choice. A lot of people were upset by that choice, but not in the sense that they were angry at him about it. More because they themselves would never want to reanimate, and couldn't understand why he would let it happen. That's where the ability to use logic begins to fail, the fine distinctions of a person's reason faltering against the onslaught of emotion tied to death.

As hard as it is for people to understand Rick's decision (and I'm one of them, I don't think I could have done the same) they don't seem to have any problem accepting the fact that it was his to make. I haven't heard anyone say that it's wrong or anything. I haven't been told we're evil because we're using the resource of his body just as we use all other available resources. Rick was in pain and only likely to stay hurting until he died, and he understood the facts. He knew he wasn't going to get better by some miracle. He was going to die.

Once we started to explain to him the trove of information we might gain by being able to observe the change as it happened, Rick connected the dots. He knew that such an opportunity might not come along again before the New Breed attacked in numbers, if ever. He saw the need, and he rose to the occasion.

So, for the most part, people aren't freaking out about it. It's definitely weird, and I'm extremely uncomfortable working with what used to be Rick. His face is familiar, but the man he was is completely gone. Sort of like seeing a person you know have a brain injury, I guess.

I think a huge part of why I'm able to work with him despite my discomfort is that like most of New Haven's citizens, I know Rick is gone. Whatever vital force was at work within his body, soul or Ka or whatever you want to call it, is gone. What's left behind is a shell manipulated by another living thing. It isn't him in any real sense.

That recognition probably explains why people aren't more upset. While they don't like having zombies "alive" inside the walls and certainly don't think the idea of volunteering to become one is ideal, they don't see Rick's remnant as him. Or as a person at all. I'm not performing tests on someone we knew and respected. Public opinion seems centered around the idea that I'm basically doing an autopsy with an unusually mobile subject.

I'm really trying to get away from focusing on these experiments too much, but I'm glad I did this today. It really did make me feel better (and this is my blog--I'm allowed to be a selfish bastard sometimes) and hopefully gave the current situation a little balance. I hope this post has made a difference with some of you out there who might think we're going too far. I assure you, we're still people of conscience.

Tomorrow, I'll be back with a few pieces of news. All of them good, one of them very interesting.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book 4: The Wild Country

[This is an out of character post. No LWtD post today. Instead I've copied the release post from for book 4. Read on, because I'm giving away stuff. You don't want to miss that, do you? I didn't think so.]

Okay, so here's the deal: Today I released the fourth book of Living With the Dead. I'm ludicrously happy with this volume, and I want people to read it.

The Wild Country, Living With the Dead book four. But read on. There's a test later.

Fourth in a series, you say. Yes, that would normally mean buying three other books to get there. Logic, that inescapable bastard.

AHA! I have a solution! How about I just GIVE AWAY the first three (well, sort of three) books in the series, so you get the best possible deal? Yeah. Let's do that.

So, starting Saturday morning and running through Wednesday, every Living With the Dead book (except the new one) will be free on the Kindle store. That includes:

With Spring Comes The Fall, book one.

The Bitter Seasons, book two.

Year One, which collects book one and two, plus has a TON of bonus material, including five short stories, a behind the scenes look at LWtD, and a whole novella set in the LWtD universe. It's a deal. Especially because it's free.

And The Hungry Land, book three.

Yes, Year One duplicates the material of the first two books. But hey, it's not like your kindle is gonna get full off that. It has all that juicy bonus material in it. So why not just download every freaking one of them?!

No good reason not to. Unless you already own them, in which case you should pat yourself on the back.

Then you can buy The Wild Country, book 4. I'm not telling you to by any means. But hey, it's four bucks. You get all those other books for free, so really if you bought this one you'd be averaging a dollar a book. I'm not telling you to buy it, but I *do* need a new pair of shoes.

I'm just sayin'. You don't want me to write with cold, unsupported arches, do you? That makes for terrible prose.

And hey, if you decide you want free stuff and don't want to buy the fourth book, that's okay too. I'm sure no kittens will suffer terrible mishaps because of it. No baby otters will be orphaned. You'll just be three books richer, and that makes me a happy camper.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hot Box

We can now confirm that the New Breed strain of the zombie plague is airborne. The old school zombie we'd brought in to act study as a control against our captive New Breed has made the change overnight into a New Breed himself.

The change seems to happen faster in zombies that have been reanimated for any length of time. Over at least twelve hours, but possibly as long as eighteen since we didn't look in on our old school zombie very much, the infection has done the majority of its work. The skin is thick and gray, there are the first signs of thickening around the neck and head. The fibrous armor that grows beneath the skin has already made significant progress.

That in and of itself is a change. At first those bands of material weren't visible without removing the skin, but now they're growing thicker and easier to see.

Since we have three New Breed zombies in our holding area, Evans and I along with Gabrielle have decided it's time to take our testing to another level. I still don't feel right about what we're doing, but I'm determined to go on until my conscience absolutely demands otherwise. I could argue about the pros and cons all day, but you probably already know them. The fact that I'm torn is a good sign. The warning bells should only start to ring when I stop questioning the morality of my own actions.

So, today, our newly made New Breed is going to get cooked.

It sounds awful (and it is awful) but we aren't actually going to cook him like a roast or anything. We've got a large hot box set up that will allow us some degree of control over the temperature in it. It looks a lot like a grill, but it really isn't. The highest we'll allow the heat to get to is around a hundred and thirty degrees. Hot, yes, but to a zombie that's not even noticeable.

I can tell you that for sure. One interesting discovery we've made is that zombies don't experience pain the way you and I do. They recognize touch and extremes of hot and cold, but there is no indication that such a thing as discomfort even exists for them. When we were studying the effect of heat on the New Breed's skin the other day, the mounting heat in the room caused no visible reaction in the undead. Hell, we stripped some of his skin off (I shudder at the memory) and got a grunt from him. That was it.

We're going further today mainly to see if the underlying layers of thickened tissue are effected by heat in the same way as their skin. We'll be working in increments. I've got a knot of dread in my belly even thinking about what I'm going to do, balanced out by the buzzing excitement of curiosity.

I've been stuck on our experiments a lot lately. I'm trying to move my focus away from them in my daily life, because the stress of knowing what horrible things we have to do is starting to seriously affect my routines. On that note, other news.

We were hit by rainstorms all day long yesterday, though it was moderately warm the entire time. Jess has doubled down on her work, getting us ready for the planting. One step she's taken that (thankfully) isn't dependent on the weather is sowing a new crop of clover. That stuff is tough, even the seeds are hardy. We're going to collect as many seeds as possible this year, but we've still got (and are still finding) tons of them around the county and beyond. Billions of little seeds.

I spent some time working with Jess yesterday. We even went outside the walls to spread some of the clover seed in the rain. It's strange how circumstances can change a person, and how your perception of the person changes with the circumstances.

Jess isn't a small woman, though in my mind I used to see her that way. She's tall, actually a bit taller than me, and she's very strong. My urge to call her my "little wife" is still there, because only a few short years ago Jess was meek. Quiet. So sensitive to how other saw her that she tried hard not to draw anyone's attention. So sensitive to the cold that even mild weather sent her diving into a pile of blankets to keep warm.  So set in her unique brand of OCD that small changes to her routine threw her completely off her game.

It was strange to watch her wander in the rain, oblivious to the cold drops soaking her to the skin. I watched her toss handfuls of seed out as I followed behind with weapons in hand. When a stray zombie stepped out of the woods a few yards from us, she didn't get scared or freak out. She drew its attention while I circled around to put a few pounds of hatchet in the back of its head.

This, from the woman who ran out of the shower because a spider was up in the corner of the bathroom, yelling at me to kill it, kill it, OMG KILL IT!

It's old news, I know. I just can't help watching her, seeing the self-confidence with which she moves and commands, and thinking about how different she is. We all are, of course, but I'm not married to all of you. I'm not in love with all of you. So I center on her.

Honestly, in the early days of The Fall one of the things I worried about the most was how Jess would manage without someone to watch out for her. I know that sounds sexist or whatever, but at the time she was very much a modern person, never in a fight, never fired a gun. She avoided confrontation like it was herpes. She's a faster learner than I am, though. Once she got over her initial shock and saw what needed to be done, Jess set her jaw and did it.

Now look at her. Strong, sure, and independent to a degree that most people in New Haven envy. I don't worry about how she'd manage anymore even though my current work is as dangerous as work can get inside New Haven's walls. If an accident were to happen in our experiments, Jess would be fine. Hell, I worry more about how I'd manage without her.

When I toss and turn with worry about these experiments, she's the one soothing me. She gives me the love and support I need to deal with...everything. Before The Fall, I was the stable rock that she needed me to be. Now the situation is reversed, and I begin to realize how much she really does for me. I probably would have called it quits already with Evans and Gabby if Jess hadn't been the voice of reason.

She gives me strength when I need it most. I can't express in words how amazing that feels. Now to hold on to that thought as I work with my test subject today. That's the challenge.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Altered States

I'm writing this early in the morning, or from my perspective late at night, because I've been unable to sleep. I balance right now, given the last day's events. I don't know where to begin, really.

At the beginning, I suppose. It's old wisdom, but it works for a person in freefall.

Yesterday our woodsmen went out to bring in loads of firewood again. The lumber yard is one of the few places we have to go every day, and is apparently a favorite target of the New Breed. They know we'll go there, that we have to. When our teams arrived, though, there was not a stick of wood to be found.

The New Breed had been busy throughout the night. Our people moved in cautiously, stepping to the edge of the forest to make certain that our supplies hadn't been dragged just a small distance away. It smelled of a trap, a lure to pull my people into the dangerous woods where they could be separated and more easily brought down. The guards didn't allow anyone to make that mistake.

Not that it mattered. As soon as the bulk of our people had spread about the lumbering site, zombies popped out from behind trees and bushes. A hail of thrown weapons came down on our team, chunks of cut wood that knocked a few of them senseless and distracted the rest.

More New Breed moved in, attacking in numbers. Four men were lost immediately, though the guards managed to rally a defense somehow. Several more of our folks were savaged badly by the undead, only one of them surviving the trip home.

That man was looked over by Evans, Gabrielle, and Phil. They agreed that there was nothing to be done. The wounds he'd sustained were too much, and he was going to die. Deep damage to his viscera by zombie fingers would mean a slow, lingering death made worse by the fact that our patient was conscious. I find myself ashamed to admit that I was the one who brought up the point everyone in the room except our patient was thinking about.

What an opportunity for study. Terrible, and a loss to our people, but a chance to understand the change as a person went through reanimation. How much could that knowledge help us down the road?

So, we asked the patient for his consent. We would put him under sedation with enough painkillers to allow him quick passage from the pain of his injuries into whatever lies beyond. I was surprised that he agreed.

What happened next was surprising. I still can't quite wrap my head around it.

We've always assumed that all people, when they die without steps being taken to preclude reanimation, turn into what I call 'old school' zombies. We know beyond doubt that the many structures of the organism that brings us back in a state of undeath already exist in our bodies. We've studied that, we know it to be fact. The organism grows in the living, learning the systems of the body, and after the heart stops and the brain goes cold, it takes over. Usually this process takes a few hours, on rare occasions it only takes a few minutes.

But the assumption has been that the New Breed makes more of itself by turning standard zombies. By infecting them with bites. We've seen many victims of the New Breed rise.

That changed with our volunteer. His death was painless and swift, and his resurrection came within a few minutes. We'd secured him in a cell before even administering his medicines, of course. We aren't stupid. I watched as the change came over him. I had tears in my eyes as I took my notes, and a part of me felt a deep disquiet at what I was doing. I noted every aspect of the change as it came over the subject.

The subject. Jesus. His name was Rick. He was a nice guy.

Rick changed quickly, but it didn't stop. Over a period of several hours of observation, his skin began to change color, losing pigment as it moved toward the tones that so clearly mark the New Breed's tougher hide. It wasn't a complete change, of course. The thick bands of fibrous material beneath the skin will take time to grow as the organism within metabolizes nutrients to fuel the change. But now we know for certain that the New Breed truly is just that--they're capable of infecting living people with their strain of the zombie plague. People can turn into them straightaway.

We imagine it's airborne. There simply wasn't enough time for Rick's organism to be co-opted by the New Breed strain. He had to have already been carrying it.

Which means most of us probably are. The medicos think that the New Breed strain is likely far more hardy and invasive than the original zombie plague. We've seen this thing evolve over the last two years, and it's frightening to realize how we've had to evolve with it. I watched a man die today, helped kill him in fact, so that we could understand the enemy a little better.

I know all the arguments, all the reasoning. I know he was going to die anyway. The logic of the situation doesn't do anything for the hollow place in me that wishes I hadn't agreed to this experiment. I had no idea it would come so far, so quickly.

The damnable thing about the whole situation is that it really is doing a lot of good. I could almost wish that weren't the case, so I could pack up and call it quits. I'm sick with myself that we lost people yesterday, good men, and my first thought wasn't for them or their friends and families.

No, I had to ask, 'How can we use this?'