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.

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