Friday, October 31, 2014

The New Barbarians-05

We arrived at the former resort town by the big lake, one big enough to barely see the horizon across the lake. At this point, we had quite the temptation to just root here and hunker down for the Winter. We had access to plenty of food by way of fishing, and access to plenty of tools and fuel to do that. We had our selection of rooms. The cost was that securing them would be a nightmare.

While we restocked supplies, we encountered another group. This lot seemed far more friendly; they were locals from the area that hid away when the disaster hit, and they had a plan. Now they came into town to see what they could scavenge, or if they could set up here for the Winter. The men and I agreed to have to a sit-down with them, and we did that in one of the resort restaurants. The leader was an older man by the name of Bob, a retired boat operator and mechanic.

"Look," Bob said, "my people and I know this area well. We've been working here, living here, and moving around here for years. Some of us have been up here for generations, like my family has, making good money off the folks in the Cities playing at being outdoorsmen. You folks, I see, have some steel in you, but you're lacking in the skills you're going to need to make it long-term."

"You're looking to make a deal?" I said.

"You got it." Bob said, "You teach us to do the fighting. We teach you to do the living."

I saw where this would end up. "Bob, you know where will go, right? You've got some young boys in your group, some girls, and not a lot of folks in their prime. You've got old folks and children about to hit adulthood. This deal ain't a cross-train deal; this is fosterage."

Bob chuckled. "You're as quick on the uptake as I figured. True, it is. A lot of us are on borrowed time. Medications we need to keep our problems in check are running low. We're making do with what we find, but we've cleaned out every pharmacy and doctor's office in three counties that wasn't already cleared out. The old folks, like me, we can dawdle on for a while yet but we're gone by this time next year for sure. We've already buried a few, after taking care of them, if you get me. We have a few of the children who also aren't likely to make it for the same reason. Those that remain, however, are screwed if they can't get with another group."

I nodded. Bob here seemed a good man doing what he can. Seemed. I glanced over to the other men, and then to the women looking out from the kitchen, and they nodded their ascent.

"Okay." I said, "It's a deal."

Bob smiled. We shook on it, and my nascent tribe grew once more.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The New Barbarians-04

The plan was simple enough. The old man and the boys would stay with the women and children as they began to widely circumnavigate the marauders, while the men and I decided to lead the zeds to these jackasses.

Getting the zeds' attention wasn't hard. They were already looking for us, so all we had to do was backtrack just enough to engage them at long range with our rifles. One or two volleys was enough to get them after us, so we just hit and fade against them to string them along, keeping out of whatever range their hive mind uses to shift from shambling to running. A shot or two now and again was enough to keep the zeds coming as we'd want them to go. It was boring, dangerous, and tedious- but a slacking of discipline could easily cost us a man.

When we neared the marauders, we didn't let up; we knew that the rifle fire would be sufficient to bring them out in sufficient force to counter a threat. So, what we did was easy; we lead the zeds up a rise, where there was a deep divot dug into the hill years ago for other purposes, and we would run out along the divot for a quarter-mile or so before getting out. The zeds would mindless go up, over, up, and over and continue on toward the marauders- and force them to deal with the zeds instead of us.

We watched from our safe distance as they engaged the flood of zeds coming over the hill. To their credit, they kept discipline and retreated in good order from the oncoming zeds- maybe they already knew, or they had a bad feeling, and didn't want to risk them getting close enough to charge. We saw someone calling out targets, and we saw them use some homebrewed ordinance to break up the clustered zeds, but they looked like they would be overrun until we saw them get out a replica of a Civil War cannon and bring it to bear. Homemade grapeshot cannisters blew apart the zed horde just as they began breaking into runs. Shotguns used behind barricades finished the job.

We didn't stick around to see if they were still looking for us, or if more zeds would come. Instead we marked the location on the map and headed to meet up with our women and children, which we did by sundown at the point I thought we could reach and secure by then. They were fine, but the worry on their faces made it clear to me that my risk was not appreciated yet. Over dinner that night, I reported to the others what we saw and did during the day. Faces changed, becoming more appreciative, even as they gasped over the report of a working cannon with grapeshot cannisters. That night turned around this exchange:

"But the zeds didn't do what you made them do. They're still there."

"For now. The zeds likely think that they are us, and we know what they want with us now don't we?"

As we used to say, we threw them under the bus. I am fine with that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The New Barbarians-03

This zombie master, whatever it was, had me bothered. It had the other men bothered, which meant that the women were bothered.

I called for a retreat. Even if we won this engagement, sooner or later we'd lose one, and we can't afford to lose a single man at this time. This was self-evident for all of us, and--thankfully--I got no backtalk for my decision. The hard part was deciding where to go and how to get there; at this point, we agreed that north (away from the zeds) was our best option.

Keeping the zeds away was one thing. Organizing a migration was another. Doing both at the same time? Hellacious, even with everyone on board willing and able to pitch in. It wasn't that the zeds were a pressing problem. It was the time. We had to move out, migrate undetected, arrive without incident, and settle in for Winter all within a few short months. This would be bothersome in the best of times, and we were not there.

We were up against an enemy we could not kill. Oh, sure, blow off the heads of the zeds and so on, but that's not enough. Hive minds don't work that way; the best we can do is keep it away, and diverted. So, we went after it while we prepared. We hit sighted groups of zeds at maximum distance for our rifles, fired a few times, and then faded away into the countryside. We hit on one side, then the other, keeping the zeds confused as to where we were. This confused them, until we saw one day that one of them moved with purpose, as if alive. We chose not to engage, but instead to take that as our cue to move out.

We trapped the homestead, rigged it to collapse and burn should they come- and once we moved out, we made them come into the trap. I had no clue if it would work, if it would fool that hive mind, but soon enough it would not matter. We had more pressing problems; we had less-than-helpful folks in the way between us and our destination.

The problem we ran into was the foolish survivalist sort, the folks who think that they could turn marauder after a collapse and succeed, being just as much a predatory presence as the zeds. In other words, they never got the true meaning of Romero's zombie films and instead thought it was an instruction manual. Fortunately we maintained the practice of keeping scouts well enough ahead to warn the rest of us, and warn us our scouts did; stealth and avoidance were our ways in these days, and again they proved their worth.

To deal with them, I had an idea, and it would be dangerous.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The New Barbarians-02

I now lead a raiding band of four men. The women, wisely, stayed behind to handle the children and household matters. Our lives now revolved around keeping our household well-supplied. Fortunately, we could raid ruins for some years yet before we had to rely primarily on our own manufactures, assuming--and, as we now faced a full-on zombie apocalypse, it was a smart assumption--that a recovery was not coming anytime soon. It would be a few years yet before the older boys would be ready to join the men and I on our raids, and this was a fragile time. We presumed that contact with others, living or dead, would be dangerous and should be avoided for now.

The radio I kept was our secret weapon. By now survivor groups either organized or, as I did previously, got rolled over by better ones. However, I also began hearing reports that the zeds weren't just mindless shamblers attracted to noise. Rather, they seemed guided by some form of intelligence and would collude as if controlled by a hive mind. My own encounters lead me to accept these reports as genuine. So, when we made a raid upon a nearby department store to acquire supplies, we took our time scouting the place, on the assumption that these hive-mind zeds would have sufficient presence of mind to ambush survivors at likely locations to raid.

I was right about the scouting, but wrong about the threat. We got into position and saw another band, not so disciplined or equipped--they looked like part of a street gang that somehow escaped the inner city and stayed alive this long, but had damn near gone feral--and clearly unwanted folks in my domain. I signaled to the others to take them down, and in a coordinated maneuver we quickly spotted and beheaded them all. Just to be sure, we also destroyed any mostly-intact heads and torched the corpses.

We cleared the store, located the supplies we sought, and controlled our exit properly. It was on the exit that the expected threat occurred, and we saw the zeds we prepared for. I called for our exit contact plan to go down, and fortunately the men kept cool and did what I told them to do. We escaped and evaded, and when we returned we hunkered down for the planned amount of time just in case. Three days passed, nothing came, so we relaxed and started anew.

We had repeated experiences of this sort. Outsiders, unsuitable for alliance or assimilation, encroaching on our lands often shadowed by bands of zeds. After a few such episodes, which I came to track on a map, I sat the men down after dinner one night and walked them through the notations on the map.

"See this?" I said, "It shows a consistent pattern. Outside bands of near-feral scroungers, often from the cities, shadowed by zeds. They come here, and we put them down. The intervals between episodes decreases with each recurrence. What does that look like to you?"

"The zeds are driving them into us."

"Yep. Someone's certain that we're here, and wants us out. They're looking to nail down where we're at."

Friday, October 3, 2014

The New Barbarians-01

The end, for me, was liberating. Many years of skulking in the shadows, carefully crafting opportunities to cull cancers from the population, now came to an end. No more need to hide away what I really am, and so when the burning ended I emerged ready to carve out my place in this restored world. Using my bolthole as a base of operations, I quickly and effectively terminated--or is it re-terminated--the zeds I encountered within a five-mile radius of my bolthole. Boy, am I glad for all those hours at the range; I got near-perfect one-shot-one-kill ammunition efficiency when engaging zeds.

By the following Spring, I found that I kept my radius clear of hostiles. Food and other supplies were still good, but resupply would become necessary sometime during the coming months because I had not the space to stock for more than a year at a time. During the warmer Winter days, I scoped out some nearby cabins and found them both intact and uninhabited. I found one near a lake, well out of sight, and relocated there before the season turned to Summer. Once I settled in, and dug out a new bolthole, I went about scavenging. Ammunition, fuel, food, and other supplies I managed to recover from other boltholes I established as well as from failed hides that I cleared out. So, when Summer arrived, I was ready to go when an opportunity arises.

I had a radio. I monitored it. I heard from desperate folks within reasonable reach of my location, so I went to them. Typical fools. Unprepared, out of supplies, and freaking out now that their world is gone and somehow they survived it. My conditions were the same: "I'm the boss. You do as I say, and I let you live. Pack your shit up and follow me, or I'm leave you to get eaten."

Twelve interventions I made over the Summer, and three did not come with me. I refused two due to their being human cancers that somehow survived the burning of the world; I kneecapped them and let them suffer the indignity of getting eaten by zeds. One refused me, so I shot the man of the group and that got the rest in line. I put them all to work around the household--and yes, I now lead a household--getting ready additional space for living and storage for the winter.

That Winter took its toll. Foolish women and wimpish men acting like children didn't take well to living as their grandfathers did, so I showed no mercy in punishing them. I made examples of them, and once made I took pains to bind the rest together by blood: I took the best women as wives and began making my own heirs. I coined our household "Lakeside Hold", and when one of my wives addressed me as "Master" I went with it. The old world was dead, and with it the unnatural and toxic ideas that could not live without its artificial substitutes for real life. Natural Law abhorred the decadence I hunted in the shadows, and now once more the world is as it once was: a world where family is all, blood is life, and everyone knew their place- or else.

I remembered an article in a magazine from years before, when this was a nascent movement. "The New Barbarians" they called us then. Well, they're all dead and gone and we are thriving. If this is the new barbarism, then I am the new chieftain of the resurgent clan: Clan Thorson.