River Of Night – Snippet 38
In order to ward off the infected while he was making with the stabby-stabby, Paul also built a plywood shield. It didn’t have to resist other weapons but merely keep the teeth and lethally dirty finger nails of the infected away long enough for the deep, broad wounds he planned to inflict to bleed out his targets. A jury rigged steam box helped him shape quarter inch plywood into a form akin to a Roman kite shield. More scavenged material, this time the thin metal thresholds from the doors of destroyed homes, served to protect the edges of the shields and improve their stiffness.
Covered from throat to shin, a line of shield-bearing men could hold off infected across a narrow front, while using over-hand stabs of their assegais to mortally injure or outright kill infected.
Paul had trained the few remaining BotA security staff into the nucleus of his recovery team. A few dry runs had been followed by testing the concept in very low concentrations of infected. With sufficiently heavy clothing, gloves and face protection, even a large number of infected really struggled to kill or seriously injure the fighters, so long as they kept their heads. Of course, if the fight went for a ball of chalk – as his old boss used to say – then they could fall back on firearms and shoot their way clear.
Paul felt that close quarter shooting was best left to the professionals, and didn’t want to use that as a fallback unless in dire straits. What he needed now was to expand the group and broaden his shield wall as well as protect his flanks.
It was time to go back to Acting Administrator Kohn for another favor.
Kendra looked up when she heard his voice. It was Paul’s turn to deliver the Security Committee’s report. She’d stopped seeing him after he criticized her support of Kohn. She hadn’t been certain if their connection was purely situational, a by product of stress and fear. It might have been more than that, but Kendra was scared of being vulnerable, of relying on any part of the plan that had so clearly come apart. She folded her arms across her chest and shoved the memory of his arms around her away until the ache of missing him faded.
She watched Paul stand and update the usual figures for a few minutes.
“Our supplies of ammunition and spare parts are not unlimited,” Paul said, completing his otherwise routine presentation. “But the infected represent a limited risk as long as we can select the ground and avoid getting buried in a large mob. Edged weapons and shields are much more cost effective and using them in other than emergencies will prolong the supply critical items, especially ammunition and weapons parts.”
“Is the risk to your team quite high if you only use swords and shields, Paul?” asked Kohn. “Although the camp population is healthy, there are only so many people which are emotionally and physically qualified for such a role.”
“Well, pikes and shields actually,” Paul said, ever the pedant. “And no, it isn’t without risk, Ms. Kohn. Nothing we do, including just sitting on our hands, is risk free. We’ve already lost a few people using existing methods. This plan has the benefit of reducing the friendly fire rate since it is a lot harder to accidentally spear someone than it is to shoot them. However, whatever number we dedicate, the training will have to be physically rigorous. Additional food will be needed for the participants – at least those that stay with it.”
“We are all subject to rationing, Paul,” Kohn said reasonably. “Forming an elite cadre and rewarding them with more rations seems counter to our message that all should contribute equally. That all benefit equally.”
“Well…” The former intel officer drew out the first syllable, something that Kendra knew was a precursor to his infuriating habit of lecturing. She knew that Paul was about to step into a philosophical minefield which could only derail his real purpose at the meeting. She mentally grimaced as Paul continued.
“It isn’t about rewarding the deserving, Administrator Kohn. Using a shield and a spear will require very heavy conditioning. For example, we’ll improve leg strength and overall cardio by requiring trainees to advance in a line with their shields interlocked as they shove heavy boxes full of rocks along a dirt track. We’ll have them thrust weighted spears into hay bales for hundreds, perhaps thousands of repetitions every day.”
“And how long do you propose to train?” followed up a skeptical Christine. The former refugee had become an integral part of Kohn’s growing team.
“Several hours a day,” replied Paul. “I’ll be happy enough if we retain half of our initial volunteers. Despite the difficulty, we’ll realize several advantages in the long run, not the least of which will be a big reduction in friendly fire incidents.”
Several refugees had been either rescued with existing gunshot wounds or had suffered gunshots during clearance and salvage operations. Paul had told Kendra that, the state of training being what it was, the danger from friendly yet panicked fire was at least as great as the actual risk from infected. He routinely forbade his teams to patrol with a round up the spout. Sometimes they even listened.
“How will you ensure that we have diverse representation on these teams who you propose to award greater rations?” Christine queried puckishly. “It sounds like your physical requirements are designed to favor men.”
“Attacking zombies only come in one flavor,” Paul said. “The hungry-all-the-time, largely oblivious to normal levels of pain and hysterically strong variety. They aren’t sorted into ‘great big zombies’ for big men to fight, ‘medium sized zombies’ that anyone can fight and ‘teeny tiny baby zombies’ that even a bureaucrat ca–“
“That is not helpful, Paul!” Kohn said, sharply cutting across his reply. She paused and composed her voice. “What if we lose the only formally trained security staff that we have? Where do we replace them?”
“We have lots of wa – sorry, townies added to our team,” Paul said. Kendra immediately noted a few audible inhalations and several angry looks. “What? What did I say?”
“The respectful term for recently arrived refugees who are sheltering in the camp is displaced persons,” Christine replied acidly. “To use that other label is to deny them their humanity and unperson them. Disgraceful!”
In addition to her role as chair of the Education Committee, Christine had been the founding member of the Site Blue Diversity Council. As more local refugees had joined the camp, it had begun to skew the demographics of the original urban transportee population towards a more rural mix. The council was established to address that troubling change, among others.
“It was this committee that changed the nomenclature from the original “walk-ins,”‘, which was perfectly descriptive,” Paul said in protest. The temperature in the room perceptibly dropped as Paul’s use of an even more forbidden word sparked additional audible inhalations of outrage.
Kendra knew that Paul had really put his foot in it. She’d gone on a few scavenging runs outside the camp. Out there, some brutal realities never stopped demanding a survivor’s attention. Inside the camp, away from the horrors that Paul had described, alternative viewpoints had flourished. Based on emotion and identity, these popular positions were an occasionally frustrating, if perfectly understandable dynamic. She didn’t buy all the way in, but she sympathized.
Well, a little.
“We’re not going to accept the labeling conventions of the now thankfully extinct white male dominated patriarchy–” Christine said, launching into full tirade mode before Paul cut her off.
“Are you serious? First, the zombies don’t care about color, they just want fresh meat,” he said, waving one dark-skinned forearm in the air. “Second, black guy here? One of the few left around? Like I was saying, we can ask for help from the new folks and incorporate them in the training, but that will mean time away from other projects.”
“You’re just participating in the system that–“
“Christine, one moment,” Kohn said, cutting through the angry hubbub on her side the table. “Paul, thank you. The Committee will take your request under advisement. Prepare a list of potential additional recruits and continue training with the people that you have. For the moment let us refrain from requirements that cut into our supply situation. Leave the list of required resources with us after the meeting. In a broad sense, I think that your concept makes sense…”
Kendra noted that a few of the Administrator’s erstwhile allies shot Kohn some side eye at that last statement. Kohn didn’t react, but Kendra knew from experience that Kohn somehow seemed to notice everything.
After the meeting, Kendra approached Rune. It was time. She grabbed her sorrow and screwed it down tightly, to get through this.
“Hi, Paul,” she said simply.
“Hi, Kendra!” Paul said, smiling warmly. “Hey, I’m free, do you want to grab some dinner? I could use the company after that crazy meeting.”
“I’ve got some things to do,” she replied, watching his face fall. “I just wanted to tell you that you’re doing a good job and I appreciate it.”
She leaned forward to give him a short, hard hug, and feeling her eyes blur with tears she quickly stepped away. She left him looking entirely confused and oblivious to the medallion that she’d just returned to his pocket.
As oblivious he was to Kohn, still shuffling papers and making notes, while her eyes flicked about the large meeting room.