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.