River Of Night – Snippet 47

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River Of Night – Snippet 47

He was inside the Watts Bar electrical generation station watch office, which was built into a stout concrete blockhouse. Stantz had made it into their command center. All of the usual plant equipment as well as the more recently installed pieces could be monitored and operated from there.

The large observation windows were sealed with several sections of painted plywood that were currently down and latched, but which could be swung up and clipped to the ceiling. Gray rubber weather stripping lined the edges, compressing when closed and preventing any light leaks.

“Any cameras on that part of the line?” asked Brandy Bolgeo.

“Nope,” Detkovic said. “Not that your cameras are worth a sh-.” He cleared his throat. “I mean they don’t work well at night.”

Each coil had been fitted with a very simple tremble sensor. Moving the coil minutely would briefly close a circuit, causing a corresponding light to blink several times. The visual alert was necessary because of the crowded dashboard which confronted Detkovic.

He watched the board carefully.

“I only got a transient motion alert on the mount itself,” he said. “It’s gone now. Want I should test the coil?”

Seated at the central chair of the office, Detkovic’s knees were squeezed under the built in metal desktop that supported myriads of gauges, some computer monitors and several controls, including a scratch built transparent Lucite housing that covered an over sized red button.

He kept his hand well away from that. Next to it, a series of numbered analogue switches had been set into the desk.

“SOP is to give any mount that registers movement a five second shot of juice, and repeat as needed,” he added helpfully.

“I know the SOP,” replied Brandy, briefly clenching her fists. “I wrote it. But I also know Mike. He approves all the live shots.”

Detkovic tapped the desk surface next to the switch labeled thirty two.

Brandy picked up the phone. The answer didn’t take long.

###

“I just wanted to see if it was metal,” protested the meathead.

“You only wa–”

Khorbish didn’t finish his sentence.

He very briefly registered a flash of light and a moment of intense pain before all his awareness stopped and his lifeless body dropped to the ground.

###

“Jesus God!”‘

Even a quarter mile away the loud crackling and buzzing was loud enough to make the overwatch team raise their voices to be heard.

However, the lightshow was the showstopper.

For what seemed like a hundred feet in all directions, eye searing violet-white light snarled and crackled, drawing persistent and jagged lines of light across the sky.

The brilliant display lit the ground around each streamer of electricity. Momentarily they could make out doll size shapes that were outlined as they froze and then fell, vanishing into the shadows at the base of the tower.

“What the fuck do we do?” the sniper yelled into the suddenly quiet night.

The tower had gone dark. It didn’t really matter since every Gleaner that had watched the lightshow was effectively night blind, their vision still obscured by brilliant after images on their retinas.

The Gleaner overwatch lead keyed his radio.

“Khorbish! Hey, Khorbish, are you all right?”

###

Standard operating procedure was to reduce the clustering of new infected by promptly removing any fresh carrion created by Watts Bar’s evolving defenses. Usually the bulldozer operator started the run closer to the main facility, but only the newest coil had fired overnight, so he started there. 

The few people that rotated through dozer duty had really appreciated the closed cab and integrated air conditioner during the warmer days. The Southeast was cooling off during the fall months, reducing temperatures to the point where the pervasive odors of decomposition were merely overwhelming, not physically nauseating.

This was a new one, though. It was worth the nasty smell outside to be sure. He stopped and cracked the cab to confirm what he had found before he called it in.

Then he heard a metallic clang and a moment later the report of a rifle.

###

“Still in rigor,” Brandy said.

“It isn’t how stiff they are that bugs me,” replied Detkovic. “It’s the armor and the guns. These ain’t zombies.”

“No shit,” Kaplan said, squatting on the floor of the small loading dock, looking at the two bodies still cradled in the bulldozers bucket. He pulled one body around and stared hard at the tan fabric that made up the vest of the dead man. There was a label under the pull handle. In all capital letters it read “Durante”.

“Who are these guys?” asked Detkovic.

“Well, this is a Bank of the Americas’ assault vest,” replied Kaplan. “Bought it myself, and two dozen more just like it. And that makes this asshole one of the pricks that we ran into.”

“How did he get your equipment?” asked Brandy.

“Pulled it off my dead friend,” Kaplan said, surprising his audience into silence.

He’d stopped staring at the nametag and was briskly and thoroughly searching every pouch and pocket on the dead man. A small pile of equipment grew in front of him: a radio, a pistol and two magazines, first aid kit, binoculars; the accumulation of pocket plunder was extensive.

He passed the radio to Detkovic.

“What can you do with that?” he asked, pulling out a small spiral notepad and flipping through it.”

“Looks like this crispy critter was scouting dams,” Kaplan said. “Hmm.”

He stepped inside the warehouse, pushing aside the canvas around the door. 

“Did the folks in town call in anything new?” Kaplan asked Stantz and Robbins, who were both looking at spare parts for the Tesla coils.

The reconnaissance probe attack by what appeared to be a Gleaner detachment hadn’t resulted in any casualties, but they’d cut a section of fence which previously kept infected from approaching the TVA generator house proper. At least one Gleaner appeared to be equipped with a decent big bore rifle, but the sniper’s long range accuracy wasn’t great. A few near misses during the early morning was keeping the engineers from repairing damaged coils and fence breaks until night fell.

“Nah, still quiet over there,” Stantz said, examining one of the latest aluminum emitters. “And no more shots from the river side. The newest assholes are still leaving Spring City alone. The shooting has attracted enough infected outside the barrier so anything but a reconnaissance in force is dicey. I’ll stay here when this shift ends. Ask them to send some food over with the night crew.”

“Never thought I’d be glad for more zombies,” Kaplan replied, squinting into the overhead florescent lighting. “But bad guys with guns are worse. If the infected are covering our flank, so much the better.”

Even before the failure of their adversaries to directly threaten the town, it hadn’t been a particularly tough sell to persuade the council that improved defenses were a requirement. The first Tesla coils had been installed there, each providing almost two linear hundred feet of coverage. That seemed like a lot, until Stantz added up the length of the perimeter. 

“Town’s started out with less fencing that we did and we can’t make enough Teslas to cover them and the dam,” Robbins said, still examining one of the toroids awaiting installation. “So they’re trying out the newest bit of kit, courtesy of Jordan.”

“I know she’s your daughter, but your girl scares me just a little, Robbie,” Kaplan said. “Her mod to the zombie grates is genius.”

Resembling the large cattle grates which were used to deter grazing steers from wandering through open gates, the zombie variation was nothing more than a series of parallel steel beams set several inches apart, but close enough to support a vehicle tire. The area under was dug out to a depth of a few feet. These grates had to be traversed in order to access a few choke points on the approaches to key buildings, both in town and soon, at the dam.

“I’d ask you why you were scared personally, but I’m a little proud about that,” Robbins replied.

It was Jordan’s idea to use steel of a gauge sufficient to permit the “zombie grates” to deliver not only lethal current, but destructively powerful current.

“She must get it from her old man,” Kaplan observed. “The test actually carbonized every infected that tried to cross. What was left just fell through the grate and presto, ready for the next customer!”

“Hey!” Stantz objected. “It’s just horizontal fence – not nearly as cool as the coils! No style at all!”

“Hey, do you hear that?” Brandy had been troubleshooting a bench-mounted condenser and listening in the background. “That’s the sound of me rolling my eyes.”

“I like the coils fine,” soothed Kaplan. “But they’re damned fragile, even more so than the existing electrified fence, which enough zombies can both short and knock over.”

Loud chatter distracted all three men. Across the loading bay, Karrin and the other teen refugees were assisting Jordan by unwrapping the heavy plastic weatherproofing from the just delivered condensers. The oldest teen was already wheeling the skidloader back to the truck outside, driving with much more care than she’d shown previously.

“We gonna actually have time to assemble all those into your special?” Brandy asked Mike Stantz. “Or have a need to finish it? We’ve got the coils, the fence, the grates and with the new people, and now we have actual Army men that are decent shooters.”

“That depends on how long we have until those assholes come back,” Stantz replied. “And how may friends they bring along. So yeah, the Big Bad is on.”

###

“Mr. Green will be back eventually,” Eva said to her doctor. “I need to be up by then.”

“I, uh, I’m pretty confident that my repairs will hold,” the doctor said. “And as long as our supply of antibiotics holds out, I, uh, don’t anticipate any complications. But you definitely need to stay off your feet for another week and give the wound time to knit. “

Eva scowled.

The surgeon was sweating as he watched Miss O’Shannesy’s severe expression. Young stood alongside her bed, fully rigged out and lending menace to her mood.

They’d found both Green and Loki gone when their depleted patrol limped into camp only half a day after the disastrous fight. Only a few other trusted Guards remained in camp, the rest having either accompanied Loki or Green on separate tasks. With so much of the Gleaner’s strength away from camp, it was important that Guards project menace, keeping the laborers cowed.

Despite austere medical conditions, their pet doctor had actually saved everyone that they’d brought back and Eva actually woke up on time after her operation.

Of course she wasn’t in a great mood. Or talkative.

“Doctor, make a list of everything that you used,” Young said. “I’ll check that we don’t need to move any items back onto the top of the gleaning chart.”

Eva scowled even harder.

She wasn’t looking forward to explaining her failure to Green. Using up more supplies wasn’t going to strengthen her explanation. That asshole Khorbish wouldn’t let her forget it either.

Even inside the air conditioned infirmary they could hear a vehicle briefly honk as it climbed the hill to their camp. Gleaners had learned to give the gate guards some early warning in order to avoid startling them.

###

“What exactly do you mean,” Jason asked firmly, “When you say ‘a lightning gun’?”

“How many different ways can I say it?” replied Khorbish’s surviving team lead, uneasily shifting his weight from side to side.

Upon stepping outside, Jason had found most of river reconnaissance team debarking their vehicles, instead of Green. After he heard their initial summary outside he dragged the two senior surviving men inside to deliver their report to Eva and the other Guards others as well.

“They were sneaking up on some equipment that the locals are using,” the defiant Gleaner said. “I was watching through my scope. All of a sudden, this thing spat violet lightning in all directions. It was really loud and bright – bitched up our night vision good. When I could see again, it was too dark to make out anything, but Khorbish never answered the radio afterwards.”

“Some kinds of electric fence, maybe?” Jason asked, turning to look at Eva.

“Khorbish wasn’t stupid,” Eva replied. “He’d let someone else try any ‘lectric fence before he did it himself.”

“Ok, so you saw a lightning gun,” Jason glanced back to the survivor. “And afterwards?”

“Next morning we could see two bodies right next to the thing.” the shaken man explained. “Khorbish for sure. A bulldozer came out and I took a few shots but didn’t do anything good. They have lots of these things, at least fifteen we saw. Instead of waiting for them to come after us, we lit out. Figured Green would rather have the info, you know?”

“Go get cleaned up.” Jason said, slapping the man on the shoulder. “Hit the rec hall, whatever.”

He looked first at Eva and then the other Guards.

“We’re gonna need a plan for how to take those things out,” he said. “And we better be ready to move as soon as Mr. Green returns.”

###

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