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 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 One

zombie_kid

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

His hand trembled as soon as the pen touched the paper. He had noticed the tremors as soon as he awoke, but somehow, committing to the act seemed to make it worse. He took a deep breath and pressed the pen’s tip to the paper harder, hoping the added pressure would steady it. But it still found enough room to wiggle on him, creating a small, indented scribble on the page. Removing it, he dropped the pen in his lap and began scratching at the skin on his left arm. At moments like this, the itching and phantom sensations became worse, and the sight of the prosthetic mounted at the end of it didn’t help.

He grunted as he scratched, trying to vent the frustration. How unacceptable was it that he couldn’t even start this simplest of tasks? Of all the things he had witnessed in recent years, all the things he had been forced to endure, was he really going to be defeated by the simple act of keeping a journal? It seemed stupid to keep one as it was, but somehow, he felt he owed it to Andrews to record the many things he could not convey to him directly anymore.

Grabbing the pen again, he put it to the pad and quickly began writing…

Andrews said I should keep a log, so I’m starting now…

That seemed about as good a place as any to begin, a simple admission of what he was doing. A statement of purpose, which required very little thought or planning. Writing the next line proved equally difficult though. Once he had stated the obvious, it was hard to know what to say next. Looking around him, he chose something equally obvious – the days itinerary:

Sitting in formation, outside Espanola, waiting on the command to move out. We’re clearing the town at last. Plenty of talk about the Whiskeys that still remain there. Some people think we might even find some enemy survivors, the leftovers from when those bastards attacked us. Hoping to find some of our own too. People got left behind when we pulled out, wasn’t good. But we were in a mess after that firefight with our own troops. It was fucked. Looking forward to getting some answers on that soon…

He took a deep breath. The words had begun to flow, but he felt as though he were getting the slightest bit off topic. And his fingers were shaking again. The purpose of this journal was to catalog what he and Andrews used to talk about, not to document their units maneuvers. If he had wanted to do that, he would apply for officer training.

Grinding his teeth, he put the pen back to the pad and did his best to get the words out.

Dreamed about Amanda and Iina again. They were alive. We were out about town, the sun was shining. was carrying her in that chest pouch she had. She was smiling at me, they both were. Laughing too. I can remember what it sounds like when I sleep. Too hard to remember when I’m awake. It was wonderful.

He paused again. His fingers were no longer trembling so much, but he felt a terrible sensation welling up inside him. He was poised on the edge of it now, and it felt like the act might overwhelm and crush him. But he had to finish the entry. He owed Andrews that much, and if he couldn’t write it out, he could at least sum it up succinctly:

Didn’t end well. Never does.

He clicked the pen shut and tossed it against the dashboard. He heard a small rustling in the back too, the sound of Majorca shifting in his sleeping bag. Caught between anger and fear of waking his people up, he sighed heavily and just sat there. Once more, it seemed, he had the hit the wall and couldn’t get past it. Every time he tried, it proved to be too much and he had to pull back, leaving him with the sense that he had failed horribly.

In truth, the entire exercise seemed quite pointless and stupid. What good was it to write about these things, the pictures in his head that kept him up at night and haunted the little sleep he did managed to get? The dreams were always the same. The reality was always the same. They were dead and it was his fault. No amount of talking about it had shaken that conclusion, and being told otherwise never seemed to change it. So why bother with it?

In the end, the only thing that ever seemed to work was to just wait for it to pass. Wait for morning to come, the sun to rise, and the darkness to retreat back inside. Clench his fist until the tremors subsided, and get on with the day. Granted, he knew that next night would be the same, that no amount of exhaustion, liquor or drugs would make it any different.

And sooner or later, he knew he’d be joining them, and that’s what mattered. Eventually, the exhaustion would end, the pain would stop. He would no longer be able to keep moving and would surrender to the darkness. And on the other side of that… who knew? Maybe he would see Amanda and Iina again, maybe not.

That thought always gave him pause. Was it bad that he was thinking that death might prove to be a release? Did that mean that he was somehow hoping for it, or even willing to make it happen?

Can’t be, he thought, shaking his head. He had had enough brushes with death of late to know that it was the last thing he wanted. No matter how hard being awake proved to be, there really seemed to be no part of him that wanted to lay down and die. Not now. Not anytime soon.

Drawing what little comfort he could from that, Dezba looked to the far horizon and noted how the sun was beginning to break there. With his plans to spend some time writing thwarted, he made up to his mind to get out and go for a walk. In no time at all, the entire Battalion would be awake, and he would be forced to contend with another day. Might as well enjoy the cool morning while it was still there.

Grabbing hold of his M4, he checked the chamber and made sure the safety was on. He then carefully opened the cabin door and slid out, putting his boots to the ground and stretching his back. Turning around, he carefully closed the door and stepped back to take a look at his squad’s temporary quarters.

In the back seat, Majorca was still lying against the seat and in his sleeping bag, snoring quietly. Underneath, Whitman had the choice position, sleeping next to a soft, cool patch of earth, his bag enveloping him and keeping him warm. That left Morris and Batista leaning up against the passenger side wheels. Their bags were done up especially tight but were open at the top, keeping out the night-time chills but leaving their faces cool and exposed.

He smiled as he watched them, their faces looking perfectly at peace. Their weapons were where they could get at them in a hurry, if need be. But they really didn’t look too worried about that at the moment. Wherever they were right now, nothing was pursuing them. Nothing was menacing the ones they loved, turning them into monsters, and forcing them to deal with it.

He looked next to the surrounding field, which was slowly being lit up by the advance of daylight. Arranged in a semi-circular fashion, the other vehicles of 1st Platoon sat and waited. In each, or arranged around them at each wheel, their men and women in uniform slept and waited. Here and there, others walked the line and maintained watch, keeping an eye while the others slept. These were the unlucky bastards who had drawn sentry duty for the early morning, the loneliest time of all…

Beyond their platoon, several more vehicular formations were arranged in the same fashion, their crews still asleep until their NCOs and officers roused them. He knew that if he were to get on top of his squad’s Humvee to get a better vantage point, the formations would stretch on for some distance. On high, all the bodies, all the Humvees, and all the armored vehicles and tanks – hell, the entire strength of 2nd Battalion – would be visible to him.

And yet, it was enough to know they were all there. Being in front wasn’t so bad when you knew you had so many behind you. Even if their numbers had thinned since the last time they had assembled like this, even if they were short several important souls, he still drew some relief knowing that what remained of them was all here. It was such that his nerves began to feel calm for a change, and he even considered slipping back into the cabin to get in a few more winks.

“Hmm… Sarge?”

Dezba turned suddenly to the source of the noise and saw Majorca looking at him from the back seat. He noted the look of sudden fear and the way his hands were slowly going up.

“What is it, Corporal?”

“Just… saw you… standing there, sir,” he said, hesitantly. “Why are you pointing that at me?”

Dezba looked down at his M4, which was currently trained on the back door of the Humvee. He quickly slung it behind his back and raised his hand contritely.

“Sorry… you kind of spooked me there.”

“Alright…” Majorca nodded and slowly lowered his hands. “Hope the safety was on.”

“Yeah!” Dezba said, quickly and with a small chuckle.

Slowly, Majorca began to sit up and unzip himself from the bag. Beneath his window, Morris was beginning to come alive too, their conversation having clearly disturbed him. The reaction was spreading to the others as well, with Whitman poking his head out from under the vehicle and Batista rolling over on the ground.

“Shit, what time is it?” asked Whitman.

Dezba checked his watch. “Just shy of oh-four-thirty, Private,” he said. “We should pack up and get ready. We move at oh-five-hundred. The Lieutenant’s likely to be coming around soon.”

Whitman groaned, as did Morris and Majorca. Batista resisting complaining, but was making noises the moment he got to his feet. Slowly, they went about the very tired process of getting their weapons and loading up the Humvee. It wasn’t long before the obvious complaints began to flow.

“Gonna be nice sleeping on a real bed soon. Can’t tell you how sick I am of sleeping in this shit can.”
Whitman scoffed at Morris’ comment. “Yeah, bitch some more, replacement. I was sleeping in this ‘shit can’ when you guys were still a bunch of pussy-whipped civies.”

“What are you trying to say, Billy? That it’s my fault this piece of shit doesn’t have a fold out cot or reclining chairs?”
Majorca was just finished packing his bag up and intervened. “I believe what the Private is trying to say is that this vehicle is his pride and joy. One learns to love this thing and find comfort where one can.”

“‘One’ sounds like he’s full of shit…” replied Morris. Finished with their bags, Majorca and Morris tossed them into the back of the vehicle while Whitman made his way to the driver’s seat. On top, Batista was already busying himself with the .50 cal, applying the lube to the gears and cocking it a few times over to make sure it was running smoothly.

Dezba felt another wave of relief pass over him. Seeing his grunts at work, making such an easy go of their pre-combat prep… Somehow, this made him feel at ease too, which was strange. If he were to stop and think about it for a moment, he might have considered how that expertise had been earned: through countless hours of chaotic engagement.

And now, they were about to get into yet another one. And if they all came out alive, he could assume that this expertise would be enhanced ever further. Dezba surely would have found such thoughts depressing, had he taken the time to think about it. Luckily, he didn’t.

The noise of approaching footsteps caught his attention and he turned to see Rollins approaching them. Clearly, he and his squad weren’t the only ones making an early morning of things. Snapping his heels together automatically, he called to the rest of them to let them know.

“Look alive, grunts. Lieutenant Rollins on approach!”

Everyone ceased what they doing and came about, standing erect and bringing their boots together snapping out salutes. Dezba slung his weapon to his side again and snapped out one as well, receiving one back as soon as she was within spitting distance.

“At ease, squad. Just wanted to see how you boys are doing on this beautiful morning.”

“Alive and well, ma’am,” said Dezba. “Just getting suited up.”

“Well, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Officers have morning brief in five mikes, which means you can expect a platoon brief in about twenty.”

Dezba frowned. “Ah, we expecting changes to the ROE, sir?”

Rollins shrugged. “Not sure. Word is the General got some new intel on the town. Could be big, could be nothing. Won’t know until they tell us.”

Dezba nodded and tried not to think about the implications. Any changes to their plan of attack at this point likely meant that Command wasn’t too confident about finding survivors inside the town. There were few other reasons to hold a briefing at this point, short of the entire op being scrapped.

In the end, Rollins smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to pass on whatever they tell me. In the meantime, smoke em if you got em.”

Dezba nodded and snapped out a parting salute. Rollins returned it and turned to leave without another word. Meanwhile, Dezba went back to watching over his squad while they finished their prep.

“I don’t get it,” said Batista, still working on the guns gears.

“Don’t get what?” asked Majorca.

“Well, we all know Braun was railroaded because he disobeyed orders, right? But why the hell do we get that jagoff?”

“Yeah,” agreed Morris. “Why the hell couldn’t Haynes just promote from within? This platoon’s got plenty of non-coms with more combat experience than that guy.”

“It’s because those same people disobeyed orders with him,” said Majorca. “They all signed off on the LT’s decision. We all did, and getting stuck with a green officer is our penance.”

“Stow it, squad,” said Dezba. “Who’s in charge is not our call.”

“C’mon, Sarge. You telling me you’re not bitter you didn’t get the top spot?”

Dezba glared at Whitman angrily and pointed to the Humvee. Whitman nodded and climbed back inside, checking the radio and navigation console. While he did that, Morris and Marjoca began checking their supplies of ammunition, grenades, and flash bangs, packing some in their pouches and distributing them to Batista and Whitman.

“One other thing I don’t get,” said Morris. “How come Saunders didn’t get the axe too?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Majorca.

“I mean, half the reason the LT got booted was because he was fucking her right? How come Haynes didn’t kill her carreer when he had the chance?”

The words were barely out of Morris’s mouth before the sound of a door slamming caught his attention. Next thing he knew, he was spun around and standing face to face with a particularly pissed off Whitman.

“That woman saved the fucking LT’s life, you prick, not to mention the Sarge’s here and just about everybody else in this fucking squad.”

Morris looked about ready to say something defensive, but Majorca was quickly spun him the other way and began adding his own thoughts to the discussion.

“And in case you haven’t noticed, Private, we don’t exactly have a surplus of combat veterans around here. Case in point, we got fucks like you stepping in when we lose our own. So why don’t you keep your goddamned opinions to yourself?”

Morris quickly nodded and dropped his gaze to his boots. He might have said something equally harsh too, had the others not beaten him too it. But he had an obligation as their NCO to step in at this point.

“Gents, calm your asses down. We got a job to do and we don’t need to fighting over rumors and personal issues right now.”

“Yes, sir,” said Majorca. Whitman echoed the words.

“Private?” he said to Morris, who nodded again and muttered out an affirmative. Quickly, they all went back to getting themselves and their vehicle ready and did not say a further word. This left Dezba alone to contemplate the things he could not speak about, but was nonetheless wondering.

Like just how fucked it was that Braun was no longer leading their platoon. Or how much it really did affect him, knowing that the man he had known and trusted for so long wasn’t be with them on this next offensive. But such thoughts had a way of breeding doubt, and doubts led to hesitation. None of which could be permitted right now.

Such things would have to wait until after they had retaken Espanola, and confirmed that at least of the townspeople they had left to their fate many weeks ago were still alive somewhere. At that point, assuming they weren’t in the thick of yet another fight, there would be plenty of time to bemoan and talk about all the things that had befallen them since that fateful day. The day they had gone from fighting the undead hordes and began fighting their own as well…

Checking his watch again, Dezba turned to head off. Majorca noticed and called to him.

“Sarge? Where are you off to?”

“Piss call, gentlemen. Recommend you do the same. We’re not likely to get another chance anytime soon.”

The Walking Dead – Season 4, Episode 13

The-Walking-Dead-season-4-wallpapers-7This week on the Walking Dead… more pacing, more backstory, more filler! After last week’s bottle episode that focused entirely on Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene in the wilderness, we got a more balanced episode that saw more from that unlikely duo, plus some updates on Beth, Bob and Sasha as they continue to look for Glenn and proceed towards Terminus. And as usual, we got to hear a bit more about their pasts and got another earful about the need to “keep hanging on”.

Throw in some more kills and foraging, and you’ve got yourself another pacing episode as we near the season four conclusion. I know, it sounds like I’m being critical. But in honesty, I found it entertaining and enjoyable.

Alone:
wd4_13_1The episode opens with a flashback on Bob Crowley’s life before he reached the prison. This consisted of wandering through the woods, maintaining a thousand-yard-stare, and then getting picked up by Daryl and Glenn as they found him on the road. As is their custom, they asked him the two big questions: “How many Walkers have you killed?” and “How many people have you killed?” He then joins them, indifferent to what kind of people they might be since he’s sick of being alone.

Flash forward to the present where he, Maggie and Sasha are still searching for Glenn. After fending off a group of walkers in the mist, they proceed to the railroad tracks where they too find a sign showing them how to get to Terminus. Maggie insists they go to this town since she’s sure Glenn would have if he saw the sign, but Sasha thinks its a trap. Grudgingly, they stay together and follow the tracks to the destination.

wd4_13_3Meanwhile, Beth and Daryl continue to track through the woods and Beth is injured when she steps in a small trap. They proceed to a funeral home surrounded by a vast graveyard and put in their for the night, noticing that someone else seems to have taken up residence. As they eat and wait, they continue to bond. Beth is insistent that Daryl accept that there are still good people in the world, but realizes he does because of her.

As they wait for Beth’s leg to heal, a dog comes around to the house and tripping their string of cans. One night, it returns, and Daryl opens the door to find a herd of walkers fighting to get in. Daryl lures them to the embalming room in the basement where he uses surgical tools to kill them while Beth escapes out the back. When Daryl makes it to the road, he sees her bag lying on the ground and a car drive off.

wd4_13_4Daryl runs through the night, following the road, and finds his way to the tracks where he finally collapses. He is then found by a group of armed men who appear to want to scavenge his equipment. A standoff ensues as Daryl points his crossbow at their leader, a man named Joe. We recognize him as one of the gunmen who Rick run afoul of earlier, and he encourages Daryl to come with them and “hurt other people”.

During the night, Sasha suggest to Bob they abandon the search, find the nearest building, and hold up. The next morning, they a wake to find that Maggie has gone on without them. They head along the tracks, hoping to catch her, and find that she’s left a trail of carved messages telling Glenn to go to Terminus. They eventually find their way to a series of buildings and Sasha once again suggests they set down there, but Bob insists they continue.

wd4_13-2Bob challenges Sasha to maintain hope that they find Tyreese and the others at Terminus; but sensing she won’t come, kisses her goodbye. He heads off alone again, and Sasha heads into the tall brick building. Looking out the window, she spots Maggie sleeping below. She accidentally knocks a window pane, which wakes up Maggie and causes Walkers to converge on her. Together, they manage to fight them off.

Maggie tells Sasha that she heard all she said, but that she was still waiting for Sasha and Bob to catch up since she needs them. They come together and eventually find Bob, and proceed on their way to Terminus. Somewhere else along the tracks, Glenn stops to read from a map that points the way to the same location…

Summary:
Compared to last week’s episode, this bit of filler proved to be more entertaining, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of Maggie, Bob and Sasha’s thread. It also managed to hint at what’s coming, thanks to the introduction of Joe and his party of  hunters/marauders. We already know from episodes past that they are some bad news, so I imagine Daryl will have his hands full in the near future.

I also enjoyed the shooting locations for this episode and the action sequences. Maggie really redefined the word badass with the way she used a street sign like it was a battleaxe, chopping and hewing her way through a horde of zombie heads. And that last shot, where she decapitated one of the biters? Holy crap, that was good! And of course, Sasha did pretty good too, wielding a sharpened stick like it was a combination spear/bo staff.

Alas, there were things I didn’t like much about this episode. For one, they seem to be running headlong towards a romantic entanglement between Beth and Daryl. I imagine there are some people out there clamoring for it to happen, but c’mon people! She’s still a child and Daryl is not the type to play the creepy old man! Still, the dynamic between them is very effective, and the budding relationship is touching. I just think it would be better if it didn’t get romantic!

And unlike other episodes, the title wasn’t so double-entendre-y this week. It was very much obvious, and harped on yet another theme that is growing tired on this show. Yes, the message of this week’s episode was more than clear: no one can make it out here alone. And of course this plays into the whole “we got to keep holding on” message that is played at least once an episode.

And what’s also a little bothersome is the fact that next week’s episode looks like more of the same. After hearing from Rick, Carl and James, Daryl and Beth, and now Maggie, Bob and Sasha, we’re about to get a bottle episode dedicated to Tyreese, Carol and the girls.

But there’s only three episodes left and they are already dropping hints as to how its going to wrap up. I predict a showdown between Rick and co. and Joe and his band of very bad men. But we’ll see soon enough!

New Trailer For Papa Zulu

Check out this video trailer for the upcoming sequel to Whiskey Delta, the much-anticipated Papa Zulu! Well, anticipated by some, but they certainly seem dedicated enough. And after schooling myself in the uses of Youtube video creation and the miracles or Shutterstock, I think this one is a big improvement over the first. Check it out, and be sure to comment!

Papa Zulu’s Cover Selection…

zombies-city-and-the-crowdHey all! Its been a busy season thus far, and after many months of slow progress, the editing process for Papa Zulu is just about over. Which means its time for me to start picking out cover designs! Recently, I tinkered with the write-up and then added some of the more recent reviews (these would be the five star ones I’ve been going on and one about lately!). Here’s how it reads:

“Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

In the barren deserts of New Mexico, the war against the Whiskey Delta continues. After years of fighting, the “Mage” and his Rattlesnakes have managed to get the upper hand on the undead, while back at their base, “Doc” Ross Cooper and his team are getting close to producing a vaccine from the Patient Zero strain. But things quickly change when a new opponent enters the arena. Ever since their encounter with rogue forces in LA, the Mage has worried that there are military forces back East, people who owe allegiance to another master and want the Patient Zero strain for themselves…

Praise for Whiskey Delta:
“This was an excellent book from start to finish.” -K.C. Williams

“Great story about soldiers doing solider business.” -John

“This was an absolutely fantastic read. Highly recommend for any fan of the zombie genre.” -Britanny

“This is a badass Zombie book.” -Kellie H.

“I could not put Whiskey Delta down till the end.” – W.M. Morgan

“This book is for all those zombie fans out there!” -The Pragmatic Procrastinator

As for the design itself, I’m a little torn between two contenders. For awhile now, I’ve been working with one that boasts olive borders, orange font, black background, and the photo of a soldier firing tracers into the night. That would be this one:

Pappa_Zulu2But recently I came upon another cool photo and began designing a new cover around it. Much like the other one, it’s an army stock photo, but this one shows a group of soldiers conducting live fire drills during the night. Using high-speed photo, it looks like an eye=popping laser show. Now here’s what that design looks like:

Pappa_Zulu3

What I also like about this one is the way the photo is watermarked into the background. The red tracers are really quite impressive, and the orange font still seems to work since there are traces of orange here too. But dangit if that black and olive pattern from the first one doesn’t still seem totally appropriate, not to mention the way the orange font and black background just blend with the photo!

So I’ve decided to crowdsource this one with a poll. Which shall it be? Cast your vote and help me determine what the sequel to Whiskey Delta is going to look like.