River Of Night – Snippet 41
“I’m getting really tired of all the fucking zombies,” declared Rob Robbins, Sr.
They had departed the ranch shortly after the two bank SUVs had moved out on their delaying mission. Despite difficult roads, Kaplan’s experience to date had improved their navigation and they’d made better time than the original group. One thing that both trips had in common however, was the number of infected that stood in their way.
“This ain’t shit,” Kaplan said. “You shoulda seen New York on the way out. Now that was a lot. This is just the most that we’ve seen so far today. Still not too bad, though.”
The first candidate dam had been a bust. Every fence had been knocked flat, infected buildings with open door and broken windows and what appeared to be fire damage to the critical forest of high tension wires in the switching yard.
Now they’d pulled up well short of the second candidate. The group was able to surveil the Watts Bar installation while remaining hidden from direct view by an old multiple car crash cluttering the state highway on the opposite side of the river. Both men ignored the ever present corpses that were still in some of the vehicles. The light breeze was pleasant since the work of scavengers and months of weather had eliminated nearly all the odors of decomposition.
The state road descended the wooded hill where they were paused, eventually crossing the dam itself. Spanning the blue-green lake visible upstream, the dam bisected the river. Infected were in full view everywhere. Dozens appeared to be combing the near and far banks of the Tennessee. More were in motion near a RV park on their side of the river. Even more were on the dam itself, including the nearside dock mechanism.
“So, think that we could we crush through?” replied Robbins.
“Well, the numbers are pretty dense,” Kaplan said, calculating. “For every infected that you can see, there might be four or five that you can’t. Once we start making noise, those pop up. But take a look at the far side.”
Kaplan referred to unpainted concrete building which bore a large blue TVA logo across the top floor. The three-story structure resembled a blockhouse. Behind it, enclosed in a smaller fenced area, was a large complex of masts, wires and high power lines.
“Well, we aren’t getting across that dam unless we use the trucks,” Robbins said appraisingly. “Lotsa zombies, but it looks like there is a watch tower and a heavy fence. I think that we can make it.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Kaplan said. “No infected in view on the far side of the fence. No broken windows, all the doors are shut, no fire damage. I hate to offer any optimism, but it actually looks intact. Might even be occupied.”
“Hmm,” Robbins raised his binoculars and leaned across the hood of a burned-out pickup while he scanned the far bank. “Yeah. It looks… intact. In fact, look over there, on the right side. The fence extends to the water line.” He continued to look before excitedly adding, “There’s a boat!”
“So… probably occupied,” replied Kaplan. He scratched his chin reflectively and looked at the scene a bit more. “I sure wouldn’t appreciate it if I’d gone to the trouble to set up a defense, maintain the electric plant and then some assholes crashed through my fence and made a ruckus big enough to draw every zombie for a mile in every direction.”
“How do we get in?” Robbins retorted. He gestured back towards their convoy where every able bodied adult was pulling security. “The easiest way in is straight through. Our collective ass is flapping in the wind out here!”
“We approach from the other side,” Kaplan said confidently. “We go around, probably upstream and make an approach. And we ask nicely.”
“Okay,” Robbins replied. “Only let’s not dally. How do you figure the other guys are doing?”
“We would be doing a lot better if Miss Eva would just grow a pair and turn us loose,” opined Dragon AKA Short Round, eliciting a quiet round of dirty sniggering. “Ain’t more than a couple of dudes staying just out of sight. Attack them again, in force, and we push right through. Cost us something, sure, but then we nail ’em! Then we can get back to camp and live a little better!”
A general round of assenting grumbles met his complaint. The Gleaner convoy had been playing cat to the harasser’s mouse. In addition to the man shot at the first bridge, they’d been forced to leave one truck behind when a sudden avalanche had catapulted heavy boulders onto the narrow mountain road. In exchange they had twice wasted ammunition hosing down the suspected locations of their tormentors, each time after only catching the merest glimpse of their enemy.
Circled up in a clearing well away from the main road, they were eating canned rations instead of the hot meals that were the norm in the main base. The intermittent autumn rain wasn’t helping morale, either.
“You volunteering to be the first guy in the charge?” Jason said. He didn’t expect an answer, and Short Round didn’t disappoint, choosing to stare at his bootlaces.
Jason looked over his shoulder at the command car where their leader was looking at two different maps. He hooked a thumb in her direction. “I think that Eva is doing exactly what Mr. Green directed. If she hadn’t stopped at the first bridge, their bomb could wrecked half the convoy. We don’t even know how strong these guys are. They got unlucky twice. Push into them, on their ground, maybe their luck turns.”
“So what’s the point?” the ex-con said, grousing as he slid his blue-gloved hands along his rifle. “What we doing here?”
“We’re looking for where these assholes come from,” Jason said, trying for the confident tone that his old watch commander had used in the squad bullpen. “Then we push, or maybe go back for everyone else.”
“Hmmmf,” was Short Round’s only reply.
“Hnnnnng!” Tom tried to hold still as Pascoe fished around in his shoulder for a bit of a round that had fragmented against a rock where he sheltered before spitting metal slivers into his deltoid. “Stop playing with it and just get it outta me!”
“Heh heh,” Pascoe spit tobacco to one side, then resumed his work. “That’s what she said.”
“How you doing, boss?” Junior said as he walked up. “Sounds kinda… bad.”
“Sssa!” Tom exhaled during a particular deep dig and glared at his helper. “It’s not bad. The armor kept the rounds out. I just caught some jacket metal and Dave here is playing at panning for gold.”
“You know, the more you keep talking and moving the harder this is for me,” the former SF medic said lightly. “I’m a little out of practice though, so I don’t mind trying a few times. Keeps my hand in, like.”
“Okay, I’ll hold sti– gahhhh,” Tom said as the probe returned to work. He resolutely declined to watch what Pascoe was doing. “Just finish already!”
“Anyhow, if we just set a really solid ambush, like I have been saying, we can riddle these dudes,” Robbins Junior said. He had been bending everyone’s ear about taking the offensive. “You don’t have to stay behind to get shot at every time.”
Tom glared sideways. He had tried for a second shot at the bridge and barely ducked in time avoid the large but thankfully diffuse storm of fire that their opponents had use to sweep the ridge where he lay.
“Not up for discussion,” Tom gritted out.
“But, I’m sure tha–” the younger man said as he tried to explain himself.
“What part of not now isn’t clear!” Tom twisted to face Junior. “Owwww!”
A renewed rush of blood stained the formerly white battle dressing that Pascoe had taped under the wound. Tom looked at it and then away, breathing through his nose.
“Is it supposed to bleed like that?” Junior said, observing with keen eyed interest. “You look a little gray.”
Carefully only turning his head this time, Tom leveled a very flat stare on the younger man.
“Why don’t you check the perimeter again, shorty?” Pascoe said firmly. “We don’t want to distract the boss while I’m working. Besides, I might have to practice on you next if you keep this up.”
“Okay, okay,” Robbins Junior said, turning away. “I’m just trying to help. Dad has been teaching me this stuff for years. I swear….”
His grumbling faded as he stepped away.
“Kid might not be wrong, Train,” said Pascoe as soon as the teen was out of earshot. “Pick our ground, set up a nice kill zone, we could bloody their nose enough that they stop chasing.”
“Maybe, maybe not, Davey,” replied Tom. “If we’d a trained group instead of a teenager and Fat Ralph, if we weren’t risking Robbie’s kid, maybe I’d try. All it takes is one slip, one bad roll and we get gobbled up, even by amateurs like this.”
“Only room for one boss, and you’re it,” answered Pascoe. “Ooh, look! There’s a little more jacket metal in the muscle. Gimmee!”