River Of Night – Snippet 45
If they continued to pursue, that is.
Tom had gotten lucky. The leg wound was mostly superficial, but he had disinfected and bandaged himself in order to give the wound a change to knit.
Pascoe was worse off. He would probably keep his eye, but wooden splinters from a bullet impact on the trunk they used for a shooting rest had driven into his eyes, nose and mouth. The swelling was comical. When it receded they would know more about his long term outlook.
Tom turned and looked into the back seat while Fat Ralph drove.
“So, how does everyone feel about a leisurely drive straight through to Site Blue?”
His gaze lingered on a glum faced Junior, whose thigh was bandaged. The quadriceps had deep scratches and lacerations from the zombie attack and the opposite calf had caught three shotgun pellets, two of which remained in the muscle.
Pascoe shared the rear seat.
“Hot damn, we’re back in the cars!” Pascoe said jauntily. Beneath the bandaged eyes, his bright white teeth gleamed. “I love a good vehicle patrol! Let’s do this forever!”
“Better than walking around, getting shot and bit,” offered Junior.
“Fuckin’ A,” said Fat Ralph, who kept his eyes on the nice smooth road. “Fucking. A. Love me a road trip.”
Eva had been hit twice, but she lived, which is more than a dozen of her team could say. Her gunshot injury was severe, but Jason personally hooked up a blood expander and disinfected the wound. The Gleaner’s surgeon might be able to save her.
“I’m fucked,” Eva said flatly, eyeing the hole in her gut in the grey light of morning.
“Missed the spine,” replied Jason. “Missed the great blood vessels too, or you would already be dead. Worth fixing, unless you want to stay here?”
“Nah, not that,” the Gleaner lieutenant said from between clenched teeth. “Green. Load me up. Leave the bodies, bring the machine gun they had, maybe I can explain how I fucked this up and he’ll let me live.”
Amazingly, Short Round had lived unscathed, despite his apparent eagerness to close with the shooters. Jason directed survivors of the attack to strip the bodies of the fallen. Intermittently, they had to shoot infected that wandered out of the treeline and followed them back to the trucks.
The dead were left where they lay, but the severe wounds made recovering equipment messy. The fresh carrion was a draw for infected as well.
Jason found Short Round disentangling a Franchi shotgun from the intestines of its previous bearer. This was complicated due to the additional zombie corpse which had two hands full of entrails; apparently it had been killed even as it fed.
“So, still anxious to mix it up with these guys? Jason inquired pleasantly.
“Fuck that noise,” the Gleaner said as he glowered at Jason, who wore an innocent expression. “Let’s get the fuck back to camp.”
“Taking your time, waiting things out a bit always beats staring at your own guts,” Jason replied with a glance at the tangled remains. “Even for a minute.”
“Yeah,” Short Round said as he surveyed the littered corpses and then his ruined blue gloves. “Even for a minute.”
“Remember to be polite, Robbie,” Kaplan said, admonishingly. “I don’t want to have to fight our way out.”
After crossing upstream and pondering the best way to approach the alert and well equipped defenders in Spring City, the survivors had eliminated the obvious. No defender would welcome the approach of a rag tag pseudo military convoy. Protracted daylight negotiations at the foot of the wall of the smallish compound would only result in the inevitable arrival of hungry, less civilized visitors.
Jordan Robbins had suggested to her father that someone use a boat to approach Spring City from the river, in the daylight, unarmed. Then she volunteered.
“Not only no, but hell no. And take a lesson from the Navy,” her father ordered. “Never Again Volunteer Yourself.”
“She has a point,” Kaplan said, interjecting. “If all they see is military age armed males we’ll look like a potential opponent, not an ally. If they see that we have kids and women with us they are more likely to accept our story long enough to let us talk.”
“What part of ‘we aren’t sending my teenage daughter to negotiate’ wasn’t clear, Kap?” said Robbins Senior with a growl. “I can go.”
“Maybe someone with better people skills?” Debbie Robbins said, cutting him off. “And someone who can run the boat.”
Kaplan found himself sitting with Debbie, nodding as she explained the situation to a very skeptical reception committee over welcome mugs of coffee and less welcome, but quite understandable gun muzzles. She had been persuasive enough that the convoy was permitted into Spring City at nightfall. A minor diversion attracted most of the visible infected to a point opposite the gate, and the refugees’ vehicles slipped inside after full dark. The newcomers’ convoy filled most of the open space that remained inside the CONEX shelter walls. Looking around from inside their trucks, the newcomers could see that scores, perhaps hundreds of standardized shipping containers had been adapted into as defense, stacked two high everywhere that an existing structure didn’t already provide a barrier.
During the ensuing negotiation, Kaplan and the Robbins’ made it a point to admire the security at the town, before addressing the real point of their visit. Meanwhile, the rest had been allowed out of the vehicles with the proviso that they leave weapons in the trucks and not wander out of the square.
“Look, my boss will be along in a few days,” Kaplan said, explaining. “But, in a nutshell, he wants â€“ we want – to find a defensible place on the river that can be used to jumpstart the regional efforts at clearing infected and re-establishing some sort of civil framework.”
In addition to Mike and his aide Brandy there were several senior members of the community present. The most influential sat in the first rank of folding chairs that were drawn up in a circle inside the gymnasium of the elementary school. The surviving Methodist pastor, Jon Parrish, was a neatly dressed man with a drawn, wary face. Uniquely among the Spring City group, he didn’t carry a firearm. In that particular he resembled all of the representatives of the convoy who were unarmed as a condition of the meeting.
“We can let you stay overnight, just on the basis of Christian charity,” said Parrish, gesturing to his right. “But our little council extends beyond the concerns of the church. This is Mike Stantz, our expert on defense and technical matters.”
“Howdy folks,” Mike said, nodding amicably. “I already know the basics from our chat with Mrs. Robbins. You’ll understand that our resources are stretched just taking care of our existing population. Frankly, the idea of absorbing a few hundred more people is both electrifying and terrifying. We need people, sure, but it only makes sense if you have something to offer. We have power, water, some security. No one inside Spring City is sick. You are strangers to us; what do you have?”
“Plenty,” Kaplan said with a glance towards Rob. Receiving a nod, he went on. “Vaccine for one thing. A wide array of pharmaceuticals, medical aid and people that know how to use them. A trained, armed cadre that can bolster defense here. Engineering talent. And a plan to start clearing the Tennessee Valley to restore our civilization.”
“What’s the source of your vaccine, Mr. Kaplan?” the pastor asked gently.
“Human sourced,” Kaplan said. He had expected the question and didn’t flinch. “Specifically, the neural tissue of dead infected.”
“We are familiar with this sort of… vaccine,” Parrish said grimly, sitting back with his armed folded across his chest. “It is not my place to condemn such that use it, but as for our community, we will not.”
“Why the f- why on earth wouldn’t you?” Kaplan said, not quite stuttering.
“Please,” Debbie said as she laid a hand on Kaplan’s forearm and turned to face their hosts. “Surely the Lord accepts that saving life is a moral decision?”
“Saving life, yes. Harvesting ’tissue’ from human beings, however ill, no.”
“So even it meant your life, your family’s life, you won’t vaccinate?” Debbie asked softly, looking around the room.
“We do not deny that vaccines work, ma’am,” Mike said. “We’ve engineers here that understand the science, even if we can’t, won’t make that vaccine. However, we choose not to profit from the illness. We fight zombies. We know that they are dangerous, lethal. When necessary, we send them to the Lord. But we won’t harvest people.”
“The infected aren’t just ill. They aren’t people anymore!” Kaplan expostulated. “The disease kills off the part of their brain that made them human. They’re animals. Cannibals!”
“They are still the Lord’s children, Mr. Kaplan,” Parrish said, admonishingly. “As long as you are allowed to shelter here, you will not kill other humans for their flesh. Is that not the very cannibalism that you decry?”
“What are we supposed to do when they attack â€“ negotiate?” Robbins said, contributing to the dialogue.
“Oh, we defend ourselves. And we kill zombies,” Stantz said even as he noted the fixed look that he was receiving from Parrish. “I meant to say, we have sent a lot of the infected to their eternal reward. We have a few tricks up our sleeve and we are working on some interesting refinements. So there is a good chance that we are going to send a lot more of the undead to their final rest, soon.”
He offered the room an electric smile.
Kaplan looked up from his notes and quirked an eyebrow.