Oscar Mike – Making Progress

Power of WordsHey folks! Back with some good news on the creative writing front. A few weeks ago, I was given a bit of a reprieve when I took a step back from my responsibilities as Communications Manager with my friend’s startup company (Green Water Solution). As you may recall, they are the makers of the the ReFlow grey-water recycling toilette, a device that turns your bath water into toilet water to save about 40% of fresh water consumption.

And after two successful media blitz’s, I told the boss man I would like to step back and relegate myself to helping instead of being in charge. This I did largely because it was cutting into my article writing and teaching, which he totally understood. And with some of the time it freed up, I managed to get a little work done on my two biggest writing projects – Reciprocity and Oscar Mike.

Oscar MikeIn the case of the former, this involved ironing out the plot, selecting an antagonist, and finishing off the first five chapters. In the case of the latter, it meant polishing off a few chapters, and doing some research into where the third and fourth book in the series will go. The credit for this plot-related research goes to a newfound friend, Laurie Snyder.

After joining a Facebook discussion group called “Faith or Fact”, we got into a discussion and I noticed she was with the USAF and served in Colorado Springs. This is a location I was considering for the plot of the third book, so naturally I started asking questions about the armed forces and what life is like where she serves. What she revealed to me was most interesting!

cheyenne_mountainNot only is Colorado Springs home to several major airbases, it is also not far from the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. For those of you who didn’t grow up during the Cold War, see Terminator 3, or watch Star Gate, perhaps some explanations are necessary. Cheyenne Mountain is the site the military installation and nuclear bunker that served as the nerve center for NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) during the Cold War, as well as numerous other defense and emergency services today.

The reason I thought this location might be useful to the plot of Oscar Mike is because of it’s proximity to New Mexico, where the series has been taking place so far. I knew that there were military bases in this city, but when she told me about Cheyenne Mountain, I seriously needed to slap myself upside the head! ***Spoilers ahead, so if you’re planning on reading Oscar Mike, you might want to tune out now…***

post-apocalyptic_soldier2Basically, I decided that for a third story-twist, the Rattlesnakes (i.e. the main characters of the story) would come into some frightening information about how the zombies migrate and the likelihood that they’d be moving north – through New Mexico and the American Southwest – in the near future. However, this information also came with an upside, in that the people who knew of this had also found a potential weakness to the zombies.

For years, military scientists had been working to discern a means of taking out zombie hordes that would not pose a significant risk to civilians. Being such a terrible pandemic, which turned every populated area into a battleground between infected and uninfected, they knew that any weapon of mass destruction – i.e. chemical, biological, nuclear, or incendiary – would cause massive collateral damage and civilian casualties.

shutterstock_102844133However, one weapon proved to be most effective against zombies while sparing humans, provided they had basic protection – nerve gas! Reasoning that the zombie virus infected the nerve stem and turned its victims into atavistic, blood-thirsty cannibals, it seems logical that an agent that attacked the nervous system directly and disrupted nerve signals would neutralize them.

Their hypothesis proved correct, and once the Rattlesnakes (aka. the main characters) learned of this, the task of finding an adequate store of nerve agents became paramount. As a result, the Rattlesnakes set out to establish contact with other military elements that are still active, and not hostile. To the north, Peterson Air Force Base is still believed to be intact, though direct communications had not taken place for some time.

A mission is therefore planned which will send a team of grunts there to re-establish contact, or take possession of the base should it prove to have fallen. Once that is done, they will need to get their assess to Cheyenne Mountain and retrieve the stores of chemical weapons that are believed to still be cached inside. Ultimately, what they find there will tell them much about the war, the pandemic, and the politics that have set in amidst all the chaos.

shutterstock_99981176After the events in Papa Zulu, where military elements out of the east attacked the Rattlesnakes (hoping to steal their research on a vaccine) the Rattlesnakes were left with a whole lot of unanswered questions. And while it was clear that Major General Thur (“The Mage”) knew something about it, he is unable to provide them since he was severely wounded in the attack and remains in a coma. So book three, I am hoping, will fill in all the blanks I’ve deliberately left so far.

And I had to admit, the idea that nerve gas could be a potential instrument for winning the war seemed like an interesting twist too. One of the most heinous and terrible weapons ever created, now offering humanity with a chance for salvation. And naturally, there are those who are thinking of misusing it, allowing their own bitterness and hatred towards the zombies to consume them and commit great evil. What do you think?

At the moment, book three – aka. Oscar Mike – is about half done. I am hoping to get it all done before the summertime and finally put it on the shelves. For those who’ve been following the series regularly (though they are few in number, but strong in their commitment) I feel I’ve kept them waiting unfairly. A writer should never keep his audience in suspense for years on end, even if he is rich enough to get away with it (finish them books, George RR Martin!)

Busy, But Getting Back to ‘er!

Mindfulness-and-Living-a-Busy-LifeHey folks. As you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty absent in recent weeks. And as always, it’s because life intervened. Nothing bad, just a busy schedule with all the new writing assignments. At the same time, I’ve been busy with Tae kwon-Do since the Grand Master was coming for a visit. And on top of that, the wife and I have been house-hunting lately and that’s taken up a lot of our attention.

As you can imagine, this has not left much time for personal writing or blogging. But in and around all that stuff, I have managed to make a bit of time for my works-in-progress. For instance, I finally started making some progress on Oscar Mike the other day. I left that story in the midst of a cliffhanger chapter, so stopping short of completing it was a bit silly on my part.

Oscar MikeAlso, I got back to editing Flash Forward, which I also stalled on, and managed to get a few more stories polished and ready for publication. I was really hoping to have of these stories ready for publication by now, but professional writing and my preoccupation with one other story kind of put a hold on that plan. That would Reciprocity, which I went into some detail about a little while ago.

Ever since I decided to redo that idea this past summer, I’ve been pretty much obsessed with it. This is typical of me, always hopping from idea to idea and becoming fixated the latest one. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I suffer from a peculiar condition when it comes to writing. It’s known as Literary-Attention-Deficit-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder (or LADOCD, for short).

Yuva_coverOr at least it would be, if it were recognized by any medical authority on the planet. But I digress! The point is, I’ve managed to shake myself loose from that story long enough to commit to work that needs my attention more. And I really, REALLY need to get back to my writing group and get the boll rolling again on the Yuva anthology. People are working, and waiting for direction. I cannot abandon them!

Well, that it’s for me right now. What’s up will all you fine folks? What’s new and interesting? Or, failing that, what’s just new? Any plans for the holiday season? And to my American cousins, how’s Thanksgiving treating you?

Oscar Mike 1/3 Complete!

zombies-city-and-the-crowdMore good zombie-related news everybody! With 22 chapters, 116 pages, and over 40,000 words (the length of a conventional novel), Oscar Mike is now one-third complete and on its way towards being finished! Granted, this is just an estimate based on the rough outline I have for the novel, but it’s a pretty good estimate.

And let’s be honest. Given the choice, I would rather not write a book that exceeds 66 chapters, 348 pages, or 120,000 words. I’m not Tolstoy, dammit. I don’t DO epics with more than 500 characters! Anyway, at the risk of previewing things a little, I decided I wanted to offer a brief synopsis of what can be expected in book III:

  1. Zombie Attack: For starters, it picks up shortly after where Papa Zulu left off. During the final chapters of that book, the Rattlesnakes had managed to drive the Eastern Faction (which is what the military units from the east are known as in book III), out of their hometown. However, the violent noise of this attack awoke countless zombies that had been living and hiding in the nearby hills. Now, the Rattlesnakes must deal with the aftermath of this latest assault by the zombie hordes.
  2. Change in Leadership: Major-General Michael Thur (aka. The Mage), was severely injured in Papa Zulu and fell into a coma. In Oscar Mike, his immediate subordinate, Colonel Haynes, has risen to take command of the Rattlesnakes. He is known for being a hard liner and a ruthless man, and his assumption of command will have dire consequences for some.
  3. Braun is MIA: After the events in Papa Zulu, Lieutenant Braun was stripped of his rank and command and sent to Santa Fe to live out his life as a civilian. Naturally, the people of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company are not too pleased with this. But for Braun, it means adapting to a new life, one where he is being compelled to make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.
  4. Danger Approaching: In the aftermath of the assault by the Eastern Faction, a small band of survivors is found. They carry with them a message, and some dangerous knowledge which could alter the course of the war. (Hint: Second Wave!)
  5. Zombie Revelations: For some time, it has been apparent to the people fighting the war against the Whiskey Delta that they are not all that they appear to be. For one, they continue to demonstrate that are capable of more than mere instinctive behavior, even a modicum of intelligence. And soon, a new weakness will be revealed. In addition to learning of a new threat, the Rattlesnakes will realize that they just might possess a weapon that could bring the Whiskeys down!

And that is what’s coming in the third installment of the Whiskey Delta series. Some time ago, I hoped to make it the final installment, but found that I had way too much to say to fit it all in one volume. But I am committed to ending it in five. I’m not George RR Martin either, dammit! Someone tell that guy to get back to work and finish the series!

More to follow on this and other writing ventures. In the meantime, always remember…

zombie_keepcalm

Oscar Mike – Chapter Five

humvee_gunner1

Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

The vehicle began to rumble as Whitman slowed their speed to a cautious crawl. Dezba’s eyes were trained on his sector, spying the junction up ahead through his Starlight. The filter was down and all he could see at the moment was a small circle of morning haze with a target dot in the middle. Behind him, Morris was doing the same with his M16 while Batista monitored from their roof with the .50 cal.

On their nav screen, the junction was marked with a bet, red line. As the first turn on their selected route, it would take them to the gates of Sombrillo, and their First Objective. As the lead element of First Platoon, they were the first to have eyes on the target. Any Whiskeys that popped up would be theirs to kill first.

Behind them, the rest of Bravo Company followed, every platoon arranged two by two – an army of Humvees and fighting vehicles with the armored fist of the Brigade Combat Team holding up the rear. This made the going tense and the anticipation palatable, knowing that they were the spear point on a long, fighting column.

And yet, Dezba felt strangely at ease. He and his squad had done this enough times now to feel composed and natural about it. But given what he had been going through a little over an hour beforehand, it seemed odd. How was it that writing or talking about that night was impossible for him, but something like this came easily? In what world did that make sense?

This one, he reminded himself. Such crap was natural in this world. The only way to make sense of it was to accept that it didn’t make sense, and never would…

“Contact!” yelled Batista. Dezba’s snapped his attention back to the road and began scanning with his scope. He spotted what something about one-hundred meters from the intersection and roaming about. They were just visible in the morning haze, but through his scope, he could discern the telltale signs of rotted flesh and milky-white eyes.

“I got eyes on six – no, eight – Whiskeys at two o’clock,” he said.

“That’s them, Sarge! No other contacts from up here,” replied Batista.

Dezba scanned around the small mass of lurking bodies. Beyond them, the burned out building of the DreamCatcher loomed. To the far right, he could see the walls that encircled the town, apparently still intact and with the gates closed. There were no signs of anyone waving flags of flailing their arms from either. For all intents and purposes, their newfound friends were alone and standing in the clear.

Grabbing the handset from the radio, Dezba keyed the mike and called it in. “Viper One Actual,” he paused after saying it, fighting the influx of bad feelings the designation produced. He could tell the others in the vehicle noticed, and quickly tried to push past it. Now was simply not the time to be lamenting. “This is Viper One-One. We got eyes on eight Tangos outside the objective area.”

Rollins came back a second later. “Roger that, One-One. Do you have eyes on the town, over?”

“Affirmative, One Actual. No sign of civilians. Walls appear to be intact, front door shut and locked.”
Batista called from the roof. “I got a perfect shot, sir. Do I engage?”

Dezba waited for the reply. The Lieutenant was taking his time, no doubt afraid to give the all clear unless he was able to confirm the sighting for himself. A rookie tendency, he knew, and a pain in the ass to deal with. Dezba began to tap his finger against the side of the handset impatiently. Once again, he became aware of how the others might perceive this. Now was not the time to be displaying doubts about their new CO’s competence either.

“Roger that, One-One. Engage.”

Dezba hung up the handset and slapped the side of his door, yelling to Batista. “Light em up!”

He barely got the words out before Batista opened up with the vehicles .50 cal. The gun began popping off, sending empty casings against the roof and a loud thrum through the vehicle. In the distance, the hot, red tracers found purchase in the morning mist. On the receiving end, the roaming Whiskeys were turned into chunked meat, limbs flying, bodies ripped apart, and the haze turning to a maroon-colored mist.

Bastista quickly terminated his fire to conserve round, but it had been enough. What was left of the Whiskeys were spread out on the ground, and only one or two appeared to be moving at all. Dezba and Morris squeezed off a few precision shots when they got closer, taking out the heads of the one’s that remained active. Only single shots, but they made them count. When it came time to make the turn off the highway, none were left moving.

The junction was now upon them and the nav console showed them intersecting with the crooked red line. Dezba grabbed the handset and keyed the mike. “Viper One-One to Viper Actual. All targets are dispatched. Making the first turn now.”

“Roger that, One-One,” replied Rollins.

Whitman brought them about quickly and rolled onto the connecting road. The remains of the eight Whiskeys were now directly ahead of them, arranged in a wide pile of meat, bones and viscera. Whitman gave the vehicle a bit more gas and aimed their wheels directly at the mess. Dezba saw what he was doing and yelled out.

“Private, don’t – !” Too late. They hit the first bump and everyone in the cabin was tossed around. They hit a few more as they mashed the last of the remains that were still large enough to pass under the wheels and complaints followed. As soon as they were clear, Dezba yelled out at their driver. “PRIVATE! What the fuck?! They’re dead already!”

“Just making sure, boss,” he said happily.

“Fucking redneck…” Dezba breathed, though he couldn’t fault him too much for it. Over-zealousness was not a bad thing, not at the moment. Given the alternative, it was downright preferable.

Up ahead, the morning haze was beginning to dissipate and they could clearly see the closed gate standing before them. They were less than 100 meters away now, and still there were no sign of people waving or trying to get their attention. When they finally came to within a stone’s throw, Whitman slowed the vehicle down and brought them to a halting stop.

Dezba waved to Whitman to kill the engine, and something approaching total quiet followed. Carefully, he opened his door and popped his head out the side. Behind them, the vehicles of the 1st Platoon drove up behind them and came to a stop, forming up in a straight line. The near-silence continued, for several interminable long seconds…

“What gives, man? They must have heard the gunshots.”

It was Morris saying this from the backseat. Majorca quickly replied. “Wouldn’t matter. They were radioed, told to man the walls and signal for help. And even if they didn’t get the message, everyone knows the drill by now.”

“Only one explanation,” said Whitman, though he did not say it. There was really no need.

Dezba felt like he should say something, express some optimism. But the outward signs didn’t look so good. Stepping from the vehicle, he got out on onto the road and shut the door.

“Hold tight,” he said. “I’m heading back to talk to the LT.”

Slinging his weapon over his shoulder, he began walking back towards 4th squad’s vehicle. There was no sense radioing it in. At this point, everyone could see for themselves. All that remained was the order to get inside and confirm it.

He got to 4th’s vehicle just as Rollins and Grayson were emerging.

“No signs, huh, Sergeant?” said the former.

“Negative, sir. They’ve had every chance. Even if their wireless was broken, they should have heard us on approach. Not unless they’re all hiding and have got sound-proofed basements and panic rooms.”

Rollins let out a deep sigh and nodded. He looked over his shoulder to the highway, where the balance of Bravo Company and 2nd Battalion was now coming to a stop. The Abrams’ and Bradley’s of the Brigade Combat Team were there too, parking amongst them and looking like a bunch of hungry predators just waiting for the chance to pounce.

Once again, Dezba could sense Rollins’ indecision. He knew the signs of it, a new and untested officer, distressed about not being in control of all the particulars and worrying about making a mistake. He tried to remember that this was the man’s first op and kept his mouth shut. He was sure Grayson would nudge him in the right direction if and when the time came.

Luckily, that didn’t prove necessary.

“Alright, Sergeant,” he said finally. “Take your squad up and find a way over the wall. Once you’re inside, secure the entrance and open the doorway. We’ll move in and secure it for the BCT.”

“Yes, sir,” said Dezba and turned to head back to his vehicle. Behind him, Rollins jumped on his own radio and began calling it in. He could hear the strain in his voice. Not at all sure, but at least he was playing it by the book. On the balance sheet, he was doing okay… so far.

Dezba was back to his vehicle within seconds, his weapon in hand and his feet suddenly itchy. Whatever else might be happening, they had a mission now, and he was feeling eager to get to it. And everyone else was looking eager too, or perhaps they were just anxious to get moving. Either way, it would work in their favor.

“What’s the word, Sarge?” asked Majorca, his SAW raised and ready.

“Word is, get on your fucking feet. We got a wall to scale!”

“Ah crap,” said Batista, squirming within his ringmount and crawling out onto the roof. The others muttered various complaints too. Apparently, they weren’t sharing his adventurous spirit right now. Reaching to his side, Dezba touched his M9 in its sheath and felt another surge of excitement. The thought of piercing some Whiskey heads with his trusty face fucker had a way of doing that to him.

“And remember your bayonets,” he said. “We’ll probably be looking at some close quarters combat once we get inside!”

Oscar Mike – Chapter Four

zombie_briefing

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.

-Confucius

In the distance, the thunderous roar of jet engines could be heard. Their loud shrieks announced that they were flying into the morning sky, soon to descend on their target area and begin softening it up. While they waited for the noise to die down and the briefing to begin, Dezba looked around at all the familiar faces of 1st Platoon. This included Rickson of 2nd Squad, Tate of 3rd, and Saunders standing in for 5th.

Dezba looked to her last and nodded, receiving a smile in turn. Enough time had passed that he knew how to read her expressions. And at that moment, he could tell they were both feeling the same about their current situation. Once more unto the breach, their platoon leading Bravo Company’s charge. But without their CO to lead them.

He also Grayson standing behind Rollins, still the NCO of 4th and still the one making sure that the man who wore the silver bars had everything he needed to get the job done. A good platoon sergeant he was, at no point showing the slightest sign that he was pissed or worried over the shuffle that had taken place.

Perhaps he had the right of it. Dezba knew that whatever misgivings he had right now, there really was nothing that could be done about it. The new Lieutenant was about to be tested, that was certain. But he also knew the rest of them were going to be closely scrutinized as well. Haynes was never one to forget or forgive so easily. And from the top down, just about everyone in the platoon had pissed him off at this point.

Nothing left to do now but do their jobs and hope it all worked out. Maybe they’d get lucky and stay under the radar for this op.

Rollins waited for the noise of the the jets to die down a little more and quickly got to talking.

“Alright, people, listen up because we only got enough time to go over this once. Last night, aerial reconnaissance did another fly over the communities that sit to the south-east of town. Word is, they didn’t notice any sign of civilians, and we know for a fact that they haven’t been using their mobile transmitters for about a week. Command now believes they’ve been compromised, and we’re to proceed accordingly.”

Tate raised his fist. “Sir, does that mean we’re knocking over Sombrillo before hitting Espanola?”

“Negative, Sergeant. Our orders remain the same, confirm the presence of Whiskeys in or around the compound, then clear the front door. The Brigade Combat Team will still be rolling through to sanitize the place once we’ve determined the status of the community. A reminder, those heavy tanks that will be leading the charge will be shooting M1028 canister rounds almost exclusively. Those things can turn an entire horde into pulp, but aren’t exactly known for precision shooting. So we better be sure about the status of those houses. We roll in, we check it out, then we let the heavies do their thing.”

He looked around to see if anyone had any more questions so far. Satisfied, he moved on. “In terms of air support, the 150th is sending a few Spectres our way. They’ll be on station just as soon as we find our way into the town proper. Any spots not currently painted as hostile territory will still be intact, which means we will have the option of blasting them. But I don’t think I need to tell anyone that at that point, confirming the presence of civilians will once again be our priority. Captain Garcia and everyone above him were clear about not wanting any civilians dead. Not by our hands.”

Everyone assembled nodded and grunted an affirmative. Rollins looked around for any more questions. Dezba raised his arm.

“Sir, is the ammo provision still in effect for small arms?”

Rollins looked the slightest bit uncomfortable and cleared his throat before answering. “Yes, Sergeant. The Captain stressed that all grunts are to make sure their bayonets are fixed before we go in. If we can avoid wasting bullets on the undead if and when they get in close, so much the better. And the same holds true for air and heavy tank support. As the current ROE goes, if it is believed that we can take an objective without covering fire, we are to do so.”

“And who’s call is that, sir?” asked Saunders. Rollins looked at her, his discomfort giving way to visible annoyance.

“Mine, Sergeant. And I’ll be with you all every step of the way. So if you’re not sure, you run it by me first.”

Dezba looked to Saunders, noted the same look of annoyance forming on her face. He wanted to say something, intervene with some sound advice of how she shouldn’t be poking the bear. But it just wasn’t possible to get the shit back in the horse at this point. He chose instead to distract Rollins with another question.

“Sir, just how many survivors are we expecting to find inside the town?”

Rollins looked back to him and didn’t seem too surprised by the question. “Well, that’s the good news, Sergeant. The same aerial reconnaissance that declared Sombrillo and the other settlements dead claimed they saw signs of people being dug in on the east and west banks. Which means the horde didn’t get em all.”

Dezba nodded. “That is good news, sir.”

Rollins smiled mildly. “If there’s nothing else, then…” he nodded to Grayson, who immediately started barking orders.

“Alright, get to your Victors and ready your squads. We are wheels up in ten mikes!”

They immediately dispersed, each squad leader heading off to their vehicle. Dezba was sure to stall long enough to get behind Saunders and follow her a few steps. He waited til Rollins and Grayson were out of earshot too, and sidled up next to her.

“Sergeant,” he said, announcing himself.

“Sneaky,” she said, with a roll of the eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be reporting to your Victor?”

“Yeah, but… I kind of wanted to ask you something before we shipped off.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

He stopped her and turned to face her head on. He could instantly tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t too happy to be talking right now, and any discussion on the subject he had in mind wouldn’t go too well. But it wasn’t something he could let slide. Another chance might not come…

“Is your… head in this? I mean, are you looking to end your career in this man’s army or what?”

Saunders looked away and unslung her weapon, cocked it once to check the chamber. “I don’t have time for this. We’re pushing out.”

“Andrea, I miss him too. And we all know it was a shit move, the way he got canned. But we gotta press on, right?”

Saunders avoided his eyes. Even though they weren’t turning red or getting moist at the moment, he could tell she was holding back quite a bit. He couldn’t blame her, he knew what was going through her mind at exactly that point.

“And it’s not your fault, so don’t even go there. Whatever issues Haynes had with Braun go way further back than anything that happened in the past few months. The guy’s pretty much had a hard on for him since the Mage first put him in charge of 2nd Battalion. We’ve all had to deal with him at one point or another, so don’t think this is about you here.”

Saunders began shaking her head. Her face was softening a little, but she was still nowhere near convinced. And naturally, she raised a perfectly valid counter point.

“The guys a hardliners and an asshole, and you’re telling me you don’t have any qualms about following him into battle?”
Dezba sighed. “Yeah, I do… But who amongst us hasn’t had an asshole commander at one time or another? We’ve been lucky, having guys like Braun and the Mage in charge for so long. Maybe we got soft.”

She finally looked up to meet his eyes, reslung her weapon and took a deep breath. “Guess it’s time to get hard again, huh?”

“Maybe,” Dezba said, with a shrug. “You sure you’re up for this?”

Saunders made an irate sigh. “I’m fine, okay. The doc cleared me for duty and the headaches haven’t been coming back.”

“Not what I was referring to, Sergeant.” He looked her straight in the eye and lowered his voice a few decibels. “How are you doing otherwise?”

To that, she emitted a low sigh and looked at the ground. She gave the dirt a few gentle kicks with the toe of her boot.

“I’m sad and I’m pissed. I miss Mill and Jones, and I miss my CO. But what can we do? We have to move on and set our sights on the next thing. Not like there’s anything that can be done about it now, right?”

Dezba nodded. “I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.”

“Right…” she said, looking resolute at last. “Now let’s go kill some ugly fuckers!”

“Leave none undead,” Dezba replied.

Oscar Mike – Chapter Three

STEN

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

-Charles Darwin

The room was flush with the aroma of metal filings and machine grease. And the acrid smell of burnt metal was also there, the telltale signs of forgers at work. The few open windows in the factory shop had managed to keep the air quality bearable, but it did nothing to remedy the heat situation. Whether it was the result of an unseasonably hot summer, or of melting down steel and nickel to make castings, the entire floor was predestined to feel like the eight ring of hell.

Braun’s obsessive face wiping could attest to that. His wet, clingy shirt and the way his khakis were sticking to his legs were another indication. He couldn’t imagine how anyone on the floor could stand the aprons, gloves and protective goggles they were forced to wear. Were it not for the hot metal components they were required to handle, he was sure they would all have stripped down to their skivvies a long time ago.

As they walked between stations on the assembly line, the foreman – the venerable Art Mitchell – showed him the fruits of their operation. Between wiping his face, Braun made entries in his notebook, noting the numbers and models produced.

“Our total haul for this past week was one-hundred and eighteen SMGs, eighty-nine service pistols, and two-hundred bayonets. Our intakes accounted for roughly two tons of recycled slag, a mix of steel, iron, nickel, tin and copper. And we managed to get just enough zinc from you people to fashion the firing pins.”

Braun nodded, making a note of it. He knew an appeal when he heard one, and would have to run that by the higher ups. Ever since they had set up shop, Mitchell and his workers had become the sole source of weapons and munitions for the town militias. His designs were seen on just about every city block now, the proliferation of weapons models that were well-dated, but ideally suited to modern needs.

But as always, expanded production meant that more resources would need to be obtained. The slag heaps and waste materials generated by the war could expect to keep producing plenty of iron and steel for the time being, but rare minerals and chemicals like zinc and chromium were quickly running out. Which meant resource extraction, in the old fashioned sense, would once again need to resume.

There were departmental rumors that some Smithsonite mines was being contemplated south of the capitol. Apparently, it was part a larger scheme to rebuild Socorro now that it too had been repopulated. But he could not say with any confidence that it was true, or assure Mitchell and his people that these proposed mines would become a ready source of zinc compounds, or even that they had a group of chemical engineers on hand that could extract it for him.

Such was the nature of things in his new role. He had learned to become a cog in an apparatus that was simply trying to get things done and see to a rising tide of production and manufacturing needs. At the center of it all was the rapidly expanding population of the region, people who had been fleeing the undead hordes and looking for a safe place to set down. Beyond simple shelter, food and water, all anyone had wanted back then was to know they could go to sleep at night and not spend their days in constant fear.

But now, with the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque resettled and rezoned, and dozens of townships besides, the more intricate matter of how to meet the less basic needs of their inhabitants was always on everyone’s mind. Beyond food, shelter and water, people were once again in need of basic comforts, and had to be organized to produce and distribute them. Braun heard much from each and every group he was tasked with listening to – the Agro Co-Op, Utilities, Weapons, and Materials – and knew much about their problems. But proposing solutions was beyond his pay grade. Gathering relevant information and making recommendations to those who actually had the power to do things, that was what he was he was tasked with. And according to those he reported to, it was a very important task.

Which reminded him – another thing in his job description was to investigate complaints made by other groups and see if he couldn’t find out what the source of the problem was. In this case, it was the people who kept track of weapons distribution that had asked him to inquire.

“I understand you experienced a drop in production back in early April.”

“Ah, yes,” said Mitchell, suddenly sounding grave.

“Okay. Any reason why that would be?”

“It’s simple, really. Our smelters and production lines run on electricity. And when the electrical grid is intermittent, our equipment stops working.”

“Right…”

Mitchell continued, still sounding and looking very much irate. “You may have heard about the brownouts we periodically deal with in town here? I know it’s not as common up north where you were from, but down here, it’s a way of life.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll make a note of – ” he stopped short as his mind backtracked to the one nugget that stuck out in that last complaint. “How’d you know I was from up north?”

“Are you kidding?” Mitchell ran his hand up and down the length of Braun’s profile. “The buzz cut hair, the khaki pants, the way you walk… everything about you screams infantry, son. And people do talk.”

Braun frowned. “People have been talking about me?”

“Yeah. A lot of my workers were happy as hell to know that they were reporting to a former grunt now. They figured having someone who actually understood the nature their work, instead of some pencil-pushing bureaucrat, would make life easier.” The way Mitchell punctuated this with a grunt told him exactly what he thought of the end result.

“Well, as I said, I am new to this.”

“We all are, son. I guess we just do the best we can.”

Braun didn’t reply. Putting his pen to the pad again, he made the note, as promised. If he was going to avoid any such mistakes in the future, he needed to let his superiors know that they needed to do a better job of communicating with other departmental superiors. Otherwise, guys like him were going to wind up looking stupid in front of guys like Mitchell. He was sure to spell it in all uppercase letters and underline it twice.

BETTER INTERDEPARTMENTAL COMMUNICATION.

“Anyway,” Mitchell said, sounding suddenly uncertain. “What happened to get you stuck with us down here?”

“Long story,” Braun said hesitantly.

Mitchell chuckled. “Piss off the wrong person, huh?”

Again, Braun didn’t reply. Eventually, Mitchell nodded and let it drop.

“Shall I show you some of the fruits of our labor?”

Braun shook his head and tapped his pen against the notebook. “No, I think I got all the information I need right here.”

“I meant, would you like to see the firing range. We set one up so we could test fire every weapon that rolled off the line.”
Braun felt suddenly piqued. He hadn’t been expecting a hands-on demonstration. “That would be… lovely.”

A few minutes later, and Braun found himself in a large storage room on the buildings ground floor. The air was much cooler, and the smell immensely improved. Instead of the tangy odor of grease, filings and molten metal, there was the familiar smell of cordite.

They stood together, Mitchell and he, looking down range from a series targets – which in this case consisted of standing two by fours that held up sheets of foam insulation cut into the profile of men. Directly in front of them was a long counter covered with guns and open cases of ammunition. Braun recognized the three models: a short stock semi-auto rifle, a submachine gun that resembled an old STEN, and a Colt automatic.

The sum total of everything Mitchell and his crew had been working on since they first set up shop. Mitchell motioned to the nearest weapon, which happened to be a copy of their standard submachine gun. Braun stepped forward and took hold of the weapon. He noticed an inscription carved on the side.

Freak Killer 2.0

He raised the weapon to his shoulder, tested the sights and the weight.

“You recognize what that is, don’t you?” said Mitchell.

Braun nodded, lowered the weapon to get a better look at the assembly. In essence, the weapon was just a single, long tube of metal, a wiry metal stock, and a magazine sticking at right angles to it. The front end was especially long, thanks to the addition of the built-in suppressor.

“A venerable old design. How did you know how to recreate it so exactly?”

Mitchell crossed his arms. His tone became that of a proud father. “I had a set of the old blueprints at home. Metal working has always been my vocation, and old firearms my passion.”

“No wonder the Council saw fit to put you to work here.”

Mitchell laughed. “Well, the way they saw it, someone needed to be making sure we had a supply or replacement bullets. And no offense to your friends there, but most of our guns didn’t take five-five-six or nine millimeter ammo. Once they formed a militia, it just made more sense to create a standardized set of weapons and ammunition.”

“Hence the Freak Killer?”

Mitchell began speaking in proud tones again. “I was hard-pressed to come up with a model that was both easy enough to produce but reliable in the field, and simple enough to strip down and reassemble that someone could do it with a bare minimum of training. STENs were the perfect concept – designed with simplicity and a minimal number of components in mind.”

“Not to mention minimal expenditure of materials,” said Braun.

“Well observed. Perfectly suited to our purposes, wouldn’t you say?”

Braun raised the weapon again and chambered a round. He aimed at the nearest target, and squeezed. The weapon let off a metallic clack, and a small thunk sounded in the target down range. He took in, and let out, a small breath as he lowered the weapon, an old habit.

“Not bad,” he said. “And quiet too.”

“Stealth is another thing we non-military types take seriously. Loud gunshots have a way of drawing the infected to towards you. Don’t imagine you grunts ever worried about that, huh?”

Braun shrugged. “No. Drawing them in was kind of what we wanted to do. Easier to kill that way.”

Mitchell shook his head. “Well… you’re in our world now. Try to adapt.”

Oscar Mike – Chapter Two

M113_command

In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.

-General Karl von Clausewitz

Haynes gave his spine a quick adjustment, pushing his stomach out and driving his hands into the small of his back. Command vehicles were known for being cramped, but it felt like they had stuffed the entire HQ into the back of the vehicle and brought it with them. In front of him, a small table stacked with papers lay, and beyond that, the crew of the vehicle huddled amidst enough C and C and radio equipment to run a small army.

Appropriate, since that was precisely what they were doing. Sitting just to the rear of the staging area, the rear door down and letting in the morning air, General Haynes found himself surrounded by all the sights and sounds of an army ready to deploy. Though things were relatively calm at the moment, the energy was undeniable. Now was the time before everything hit the fan, when the tanks and troop carriers began to roll out and hit the field full on. It was a time of quiet contemplation, a time to nurse the last-minute thoughts and doubts.

A small clink a few feet away drew his attention away from the maps and assorted papers spread across the table. He looked up to see the eyes of a meek-looking Private setting a cup down before him, the thick brown contents sending steam wafting up towards him.

“Coffee, General?” he said, stepping back from the table.

“Thanks, Private,” Haynes said with a smile, and took a few generous sips. He noted the intense bitterness, but was thankful that it at least had some milk in it. Though they could hardly be accused of growing anything comparable to what had been available in the old days, the local farmers were still to be commended for trying their hand with coffee beans. And it was good to know that some luxuries were still afforded to them these days…

Placing the cup down, he went back to the first of several annotated maps before him. The first was map of the region’s main highway and the various towns that dotted the landscape, with Espanola featured most prominently in the upper right. On the one beneath it and sticking out at the edge, the 200th Infantry Brigade’s staging area was featured, as well as the comparatively small township of Sombrillo, and the first objective of the day. On these and the others that made up the pile, the name Rolling Thunder was scrawled in the lower right hand margin.

Around the map, several aerial photographs lay, all of them rendered in the bright white, black and grey hues of infrared.

The sight of these once again made him sigh, particularly the way the streets showed virtually no traces of heat signatures. None of the bright whites that denoted uninfected, or the mottled greys that usually denoted Whiskeys.

Beyond that, there were pictures taken by the same reconnaissance flight of the hamlets of Cuartelez and La Puebla. These were much the same, appearing dark except for a few patches which appeared to be fires burning themselves out in open areas. In all likelihood, these areas had been overrun, but they were not his main concern right now. Once the main objective had been taken, these areas could be cordoned off, cleared and repopulated with ease.

In the end, the first phase of the operation came down to Sombrillo. As the largest settlement, and the one that straddled the highway and connected several other arteries of traffic to it, it was the gateway. 2nd Battalion was already poised to push back in Espanola by the southern road, but to ensure that they enveloped all the infected inside the town, he needed 1st pushing in from the east. Only then could they expect to deal a permanent and crushing blow on the bastards, and ensure they could not possibly escape.

He looked once more at the image of Sombrillo. From all outward appearances, the walls were still intact, but that didn’t mean the infected couldn’t have found another way in. They were good that way, and it only ever took one…

It was little wonder then why he had organized their advance the way he had. Moving the photos aside, he looked back to the main map, studying the icons and lines of advance that were emblazoned on it. The units that made up the 200th Rattlensakes sat in the lower right corner, their designations printed beneath them. Reaching out, a long series of solid and dotted lines ran, representing the entirety of Rolling Thunder. Its every action and contingency, those that could be foreseen at any rate, planned out in detail.

“Sir?” another voice called to him. He looked up to see the face of Colonel Coombs standing there, his arms crossed behind his back. He knew instantly what he was about to say, but let him say it anyway. At moments like this, one had to respect the procedural details. They made things feel more official. “It’s time, sir.”

“Good,” he replied curtly. “Give the go order to all units. Commander order: Siren.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Colonel, and turned around and stepped to the vehicles open rear door. Poking his head outside, he began barking orders to the communications crews sitting in their radio huts.

“All stations. Command order: Siren!”

The radio operators obliged and began calling the code word in. Within moments, the sounds of engines firing in the distance would be heard – an entire squadron of A-10s and AC-130s powering up their engines and getting ready to enter the target area to provide overwatch and close air support. Since they were based back in the capitol, the planes had a head start, and would begin deploying in waves to conserve fuel and ordinance for the big fight.

He checked his watch to mark the time. 0500 hours, right on schedule.

Within fifteen minutes, he would issue the second code word, Thunder, at which point, the ground forces would start moving.

Haynes took a deep breath and finished the last of his coffee. The charged liquid quickly entered his bloodstream, contributing to his already escalating heart rate. He had to admit, it felt good. After weeks of planning, preparing, and resupplying, the troops were finally committing to their first offensive under his leadership. The transition had been difficult, and he knew the grunts were nursing their own share of worries. But alas, they were his troops now. And watching them enter into their old stomping grounds and liberating it at last would finally silence any and all lingering doubts about who was in command.

I never asked to replace him¸ he thought, thinking at last of his fallen superior. But I will not shrink from the role that has been thrust upon me.

Perhaps, in time, Thur would recover fully and return to his old command. Until such time, Haynes knew he would do the job, and do it right. In his hands, the Rattlesnakes would emerge from this latest setback victorious. He couldn’t let it be otherwise…