River Of Night – Snippet 31
Eva didn’t like meetings. She’d say this for the head of the Gleaners, though. Harlan Green kept things short and sharp. Around the table Harlan’s immediate coterie was uncharacteristically attentive. In contrast, Eva’s attitude seemed negligent, one leg propped over the arm rest of her chair, but her notes were comprehensive.
The Virginia state correctional facility that had housed the second set of Gleaner recruits included a womens’ wing. A fair proportion of prisoners had improved their education for the purposes of researching their appeals. Eva had been no different. The self-taught ability to make neat and accurate notes was a natural fit to her new role as one of the Governor’s Guard, as Green had come to style his inner circle of subordinates.
During the early days of the Gleaners she, Khorbish and others had been set to some independent tasks. There had been early and obvious tests for loyalty and applied problem solving. All the successes ended in creative and often violent solutions. The failed tests generally just ended violently.
The half a dozen survivors were by now well past that screening, having long ago received their vaccine. They graduated from running very small teams whose tasks ranged from reconnaissance and zombie removal to independently taking small towns and bossing road clearance labor gangs.
After the haul that her new team had collected during their shake down patrols, she figured that Green would cut her a little leeway. Her boss was all about results.
She looked around the room casually. Khorbish sneered when he noted her glance.
His team had done almost as well as hers.
“You all know your parts now,” Eva listened as Green lectured. “We’ll continue to move north towards our longer term base. Everyone will continue to sweep for useful recruits and laborers. Do not get weighed down with crap. Consult the list of prioritized salvage. Keep the roads that we control clear. Some of our teams will conduct special tasks for me, the rest will continue with the plan. Questions?”
Eva didn’t really expect any questions, but with this group…
“Yeah, I got one,” said Dragon. The burly, smooth-scalped man with the dragon neck tattoo and the thing for blue latex gloves raised a hand. “When and where do we get to finally the place where you give me one of these satripey things?”
Eva could tell that just correcting the pronunciation irritated Green. The boss went on.
“It means the territory that you’ll run for me. As I’ve explained more than once, we will expand, your territory will grow and I’ll assign lieutenants under you. Eventually.”
“Sure, sure,” the questioner replied. “No disrespect Mr. Green, you said that before but what I’m saying is when? My team has found a lot of quality goods, really good loot, but instead you tell us to clean roads or bring you back different kinds of people. What good stuff we find – well, you’re keeping it back here while we hang our asses out there.”
He gestured broadly beyond the room.
“Again, no disrespect, but some of the road crew and lower level people are asking the same questions. We need to know enough to keep the good ones in line and the trim the rest, like you say.”
Green stared hard at the man who returned his look evenly without looking away.
Eva tracked the exchange. Thanks to the map which she had recovered and which Greene had interpreted before showing Khorbish and herself, she knew a little, okay, a lot more than everyone else. She didn’t know for certain why Green wasn’t telling all of them the complete story about the bankers, if that was what they were, who’d shot up their foraging party. It might be as simple as Green’s recognition that knowledge is power.
She watched Green come to a decision. She also noted that Loki was poised, his right hand empty and relaxed.
“Hmmm,” Green said, rubbing his chin. “Reasonable. I can give you a sense of strategy and timing.”
He took a couple steps and wheeled, arms folded against his chest.
“We need a permanent base from which to expand. A base that we can use to establish control. It should have easy access to the things that we need, like water, power and… other survivors. It has to be small enough that we can clear the zombies from the immediate area, persuade and manage the survivors and still be defensible enough that we can hold it against any newcomers. Lastly, it should allow us to expand without moving again.”
He paused and raised one hand upwards.
“As for when; the seasons matter,” he said, pinning his questioner by eye. “I want to establish us in a new base before the first frost. We want to be in position, indoors before the winter weather complicates further gleaning. When spring comes, we’ll need to have the nucleus of the labor force, technicians and soldiers necessary to set our community up for the following year. All that takes precedence over electronics, or gold, or recreational drugs. That is why I want you to bring me high quality recruits and why we keep pushing down the road. Now does that answer your question?”
“Sorta.” Mr. Dragon replied. “For now, I guess.”
Eva smiled. She knew what was coming. It was nice to know a little more than everyone else.
“Gentlemen and lady,” Green said, nodding towards Eva, then tapped on the large map. “There are a number of candidate sites. When I have determined the best options, we’ll move there. Now, if there are no further questions, carry out your tasking.”
“That’s a LOT of zombies,” Brandy said in an artificially normal tone of voice. “How many do you think that is?”
“The way they move around I don’t think that we can get an exact number,” replied Mike in an offhand way. “Call it six or seven thousand. What matters is that many could actually just push the fencing over, if they ever came at it at the same time. The first several ranks would be so much mashed strawberry gelatin, mind. Still, our fence can’t hold that kind of mass. So priority number one is not attracting attention.”
“That many?” Brandy said, looking back across the dam and then back at the road leading south to Chattanooga. “How are you getting seven thousand from that?”
“Count the number in an imaginary box that’s about the size of a football field,” Mike replied, squinting back at the mass of infected. “Then multiply by the number of football fields that are in view.”
The infected were clustering in groups, walking along the fence, across the dam, along the shore – in short, everywhere that the technicians could see. A sort of low growling was audible, like the idling of a distant chain saw. Remnants of uniforms were visible, though most were naked or nearly so. Many of the infected had open sores or partially healed wounds. Skin infections seemed to be common.
“Could be worse,” he said distractedly. “If the H7D3 infection rate in Chattanooga is the same as it is here, then more than two hundred and fifty thousand zombies started out and so far, less than ten percent of them survived to reach this far.”
“So…” his aide said, “You’ve, ah, you got a plan, right? For if they decide that they really want, um, in?”
“Well, what I’ve got is an idea,” the stout engineer said, rubbing his chin. “And maybe some prototypes. You know those really big transformers that we stocked in the repair yard?”
“Sure,” Brady said uncertainly. “Um, so we are gonna repair them to death?”
“Nope,” Mike replied, frowning. “Well, in a manner of speaking. What we do have is a lot of power and no customers. I figure that we can do more with it than we have been.”
“Oh!” Brandy exclaimed. “An electric fence. Duh! I should have through of that.”
“Well, sure,” Mike gave her a little side eye. “Except electric fences are boring. First, we have to see how many really big capacitors we have.”
Tom kept his speed down. The cloudy night was profoundly dark, unlit by either artificial light or stars. Even the dash instruments were turned off in order to avoid glare on the night vision goggles which he wore. In the days since the loss of his second, the depleted convoy had pressed on, driving at night as well as day time, extending the distance between any possible pursuit. Behind him, the emotionally exhausted passengers were squeezed together, sleeping fitfully.
Tom was exhausted too. He knew from experience that he could last up to three days with scant rest. After that, decision making and motor skills would erode past the level of usefulness.
Tomorrow would be the third day.
More than the lack of sleep, more than the anger over the loss of Gravy, the sense of being alone weighed on him. Every decision that he made carried life or death consequences, and there was no respite in sight. Tom couldn’t remember the last time he could just… stop.