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.