9 Chapter 9 Day of the Dead
For the first fifteen minutes, Spartan shooting drills and training exercises proved their worth against the zombie horde standing shoulder to shoulder as it stutter stepped forward. The outer fence would fall in minutes from the press of bodies against it. The longer they could keep the dead off the actual well, the better. Cameron surveyed the killing ground and nodded, more to reassure himself than anything, shouting in to the radio to be heard over the roar of massed gunfire, "Flamethrowers: close up and form on me!"
Even as the men and women of the ad hoc infantry formation came together, reports came in that to the warnings came in that the West wall had engaged, to the South the dead had cleared the defensive perimeter and that fresh undead were testing the northern reaches of the perimeter.
Below the wall, Cameron took stock of the reinforcements that he had: Forty more with hand guns, shotguns and spears. Collecting his five flamethrowers together, they met by the gate and formed ranks eleven abreast and four deep, "Unlock!"
The outer gate was threatening to collapse and Cameron had to marshal his own courage as he stepped out in to the narrow expanse of relatively safe ground. For the undead, it was as if their food was coming to them and they ignored the lead barrage as they redoubled their efforts to bring low the chain link fence and gate causing it to swing dangerous low, "Burn the mother fuckers!"
A screeching whine filled the air as gasoline under pressure screamed from their guns in to the path of the small flame. The clear foul smelling liquid turned in to a stream of liquid fire that set alight dry flesh and tattered clothing. The zombies seemed to feel no pain as the flames erased them from existence. They tumbled to the ground and burned like lighter pools of lighter fluid, some moaning, some trying to drag themselves closer to the fence. More became walking candles, fire eating away at them as they moved until their demonic brain boiled in its own juices.
A cheer sounded from the wall, bullets continuing to rain down. Their inhuman foes simply did not care about their losses and simply paused for a moment, seemingly reforming their line and then pressing forward yet again. The outer gate was not going to hold and the flamethrowers held a very limited fuel capacity.
"Spears!" shouted Cameron. The spears were thrust through the opening in the chain link fence at head height, many finding their mark through open mouth and eye sockets to puree the brain within. Four times the spears were thrust and the bodies piled up around the base of the fence. Suddenly and frighteningly the dead displayed a simple but malevolent intelligence.
Several of the spears that missed their targets were suddenly grabbed and hauled. Caught off balance, the defenders holding them were hauled in to the fence where undead hands as claws cut and tore through the flesh. The sights and smells of a battlefield can be unforgettable, but it tends to be the sounds that are the source of nightmare. The screams he heard were etched on to the hearts of every Spartan who heard them, and Cameron knew that they would haunt his dreams in future. Many hesitated, but some had greater reserve to draw upon as they fired upon their doomed comrades, granting them a quick death as opposed to a long one followed by eternal damnation.
A line of charred and still smoldering corpses marked the temporary gain they had made, but it was not enough. Nothing, it seemed, would be enough o turn back the horde, even if they now had a few extra minutes. Cameron called a retreat and breathed a sigh of relief as the gate clamped down and locked behind them. Clambering back to the parapet, he allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction at the carnage wrought. THE smile only lasted a few short moments, "Ammo check and resupply! This was just the opening salvo…"
His orders were cut short as a near panicked voice filled the radio channel: The West wall with gunfire in the background, "Broken Arrow! West Wall calls Broken Arrow! Outer gate overrun, Wall under siege! West Wall calls Broken Arrow!"
Cameron swore quietly as he acknowledged the request and switched to the seventh channel on the radio, "Mobilize second reserve element to the West Wall!" he ordered. A hand slapped him on the shoulder and he blinked before it clicked that somebody had refilled the fuel tank of his flamethrower. Right now, the weakest point was that western wall, "Flamethrowers: with me! The rest of you know what to do: Kill them all!"
The West wall was chaotic but it was controlled chaos as runners dropped ammunition at predetermined points at the base of the wall, where groups of children were huddled snapping bullets in to empty magazines brought down from the wall tops allowing the defenders to keep up a steady barrage. Cameron was the first to the top of the wall and was joined in seconds by others. Together they sent controlled arcs of incandescence in to the zombies around the gate as the smells of cordite and gunpowder were compounded by those of burning flesh and rendering. Jaira swallowed, grimacing at the charred nauseating taste as she plied flames over the gathered and burning undead, "How long since the outer gate went down?" asked Jaira.
"About three minutes!" came the static laced radio reply. Waves of flame continued to engulf the dead, slowly eating through them until they dropped, well and truly dead. Controlled shots broke skulls and splattered brains and finally, Cameron shrugged off the flamethrower its fuel and all of the reserve fuel supply gone after only a few short minutes of use. The undead were too close now as he cursed, and reached for one of the many spears that dotted the walls, "Spears! Half of you switch to the spears!"
The sight was something almost ludicrous as men and women began stabbing down in to the undead, before yanking out their individual spear to repeat the process on another even thought they missed more often than not. Others continued to fire, having a marginal impact upon the number that would ultimately reach the wall itself.
Higher up, atop the roof top of the tallest building in Sparta, Natalie noted with some concern as those upon the walls plunged their weapons downwards, as the majority of her own snipers ceased fire, unable to gain a bead upon a target without risking a friendly fire incident, shifting their aim farther back to where they could still do some, however little good.
Reports streamed in to Cameron who struggled to juggle his few remaining assets, away from the carnage as he took a brief respite with his salvage team gathered around him. The dead were at the base of all four walls now and just as Brenan had predicted, it was turning in to a modern day siege, but there was no relief, and there would be no surrender.
They were certainly killing them, with a kill ratio in excess of a hundred to one but almost four hours of nonstop combat was taking its toll. Over the long haul, no human can match zombie endurance and determination. More often than not, people were missing shots, and men and women were dragged from the wall in to an ocean of death when they had failed to relinquish their grip in time.
Cameron emptied the contents of a canteen of water in to his hair, letting the water tattoo off his face for a few moments, welcoming the cool relief. He only had a few moments as he received word of a new problem: The bodies of the twice dead were creating an unstable pathway directly to the top of the wall. Already, in some places, it was possible to reach out and physically tap a zombie on the head.
Cameron acknowledged the message with a double tap upon the microphone and wondered what he was supposed to do now. No plan survived contact with the enemy… they had never contemplated this: Corpses turned in to a siege tower He made his way to the east wall alone, Jaira having taken command on the west where she radioed that there was a similar problem in the making. The undead would climb over the walls instead of go through them.
Gunfire still rang out with regular consistency but in more than one place, it had become a melee, spear and blade versus teeth and claw. The undead were bringing their numbers to bear, and it would be a matter of time before they swarmed the parapet atop the east wall. He did the only thing he could, as he fired down in to the carpet of greasy hair less than two feet from the barrel of his handguns.
"This wall is breached!" was the shout from his left. He turned like a tank turret, and fired, taking down one zombie, knocking a second off the wall as the breech on his left handed and then his right handed Glocks locked with their breeches open. A zombie connected with a wild swing on the barrel and managed to burn its hand, not that it cared as it pulled Cameron off balance.
Raising an arm, he pressed in against the creature's throat, thankful he was wearing longs sleeves as it groaned in to his face. Grappling with a zombie was a less than pleasant, its breath rancid with the stench of death. Cameron brought his knee in to the creature's gut, opening a narrow space that let him draw the knife from its sheath before plunging it up through the creature's eye. Satisfied, he kicked it back over the wall.
Thick, semi-dry paint like blood coated his gloved hands as he ducked low beneath the outstretched arms of a zombie and swept up a spear. He rose like an angry god brought it down with all the strength he had like a Samurai flattening in its skull before he retreated as more zombies clambered up the ladder of corpses. He glared at the oncoming horde and raised his reloaded guns when somebody screamed from close by "Broken Arrow! Broken Arrow!
Jaira stood her ground, and like Cameron fought for her life as the zombies closed in from every direction. Unfortunately for them Jaira was the best swordsman amongst the Spartans and she demonstrated it well, wielding a sword in each hand. A zombie stared at the stumps where it once had the remains of human hand for a moment before its head parted company with its shoulders. Blood flowed, weapons boomed intermingled with the shouts and screams of those in the grasp of the dead, the odors of rent flesh, sulfur and gunpowder mingled in the air. Her muscles burned, spots dancing before her eyes as she too retreated from the frontline. Several filled her spot in the line with machete and spear, boxing in and then butchering a trio of zombies.
"Cameron," she panted, "West wall," there came a scream and she looked towards it. The choice had been made for her, "Broken Arrow! Broken Arrow!" she paused, as she sidestepped a clumsy swing and kicked the zombie off the top of the wall to the ground below, "West wall overrun!"
A momentarily lull engulf the stretch of wall where Cameron stood as he quickly ejected spent clips and slapped home fresh ones for the last time, the slides snapped forward, as Brenan hacked down on a fallen zombie with a fire axe, "Third reserve mobilize to parking garage!" he ordered. He slapped Brennan on the shoulder, "Keep them tied up for another minute or so! Be ready to fall back!"
This was it, six hours of carnage and slaughter, and the enemy had clambered over their walls instead of going through them. Two walls were about to fall, the other two could not hold on their own. His movements were sluggish as he joined the third reserve element, urging them in to ranks in the center of Sparta, in the heart of the crossroad at the very center of Sparta. Around him, they formed lines of ten, the first kneeling, and second standing, all with their weapons at the ready, he switched to a general broadcast, "Spartans! General retreat! General Retreat! Fallback to the parking garage!" he shouted.
Jaira was the first off the West wall, hanging from the edge and dropping to the ground. Winded and bruised she regained her footing, half running half scrambling towards the assembled lines of gunmen that Cameron had arranged. Jaira was one of the first to reach the line, panting, holding her side, face a mask of pain as she sheathed her remaining sword. The other blade lost in the head of a zombie. She nodded to Cameron and took charge of the new arrivals, forming them in to additional firing lines.
Atop the East wall, sweat formed on Brennan's brow as he pushed the undead back one last time and made a break towards the stairs. Their lives depended upon how fast they could run as the dead swarmed over the parapet and lunged towards form the wall. He felt it before he saw it as it slammed in to him, knocking him the remaining six or so feet to the ground, the weight landing on top of him. Something cracked and shattered, and then there was a harsh jarring pain in both his legs as something stabbed in to his shoulder, hard and then yanked back with inhuman strength as his flesh tore. Brennan looked over his shoulder in horror, unable to move with the creature pinning him down, blood spurting from his shoulder as the pain overwhelmed him and darkness claimed him.
It could have been seconds or minutes as Brennan opened his eyes, convinced that he had died and was in hell with shattered femurs and it, whatever it was, the disease, the virus coursing eagerly through his bloodstream, corrupting every organ and cell it touched, changing him from within. Blood flooded in to Brennan's eyes as he tried to blink them clear, only to see Cameron holding his uninjured arm, he tried to speak, but all he could managed was a solitary croak, but it was enough as he caught Cameron's eye, and whispered through broken teeth, "You know what you have to do."
Cameron nodded dumbly as he the undead moaned as if they were laughing, openly laughing and mocking him, the few that had rescued Brenan were nowhere to be found, and Cameron wondered why they had done it. They should have pulled the trigger instead of making him do it. But that was probably why they saved him: None of them could bring themselves to what had to be done and pull the trigger.
Cameron did just that and ensured that his…friend would not rise as a zombie. It was a harsh lesson in war: Good people will die. There could be time to mourn later. He grasped around the neck of his friend, pulling the dog tags and snapped the break off portion of the tags, as was military tradition.
The zombies made their way over the walls using the mountains of their own dead to spill in to Sparta. They righted themselves and advanced forward, more than one dragging a broken limb behind them. But they came onwards nonetheless, eager to feast upon the ranks of assembled humans, "Steady!" he shouted, "Hold your ground! Steady!" he shouted yet again as he saw several shaking, several considering fleeing. But there was no where left to run, "Fire!" he shouted desperately.
The ranks of assembled Spartans unleashed a first wave of punishing, concentrated fire, that turned in to a continuous stream of fire as every Spartan shot till dry and the moved to the back of the formation to reload and rest. The concentrated fire would have caused any human army to route, but it only spurred the dead onwards.
They were unstoppable Cameron realized, they just kept coming, without pause or end, driven to find and feed on human flesh as despair filled his soul. There was no point, no reason to keep fighting as he faltered, his Glocks falling from his grip. Their moans maliciously tore small fragments from his already haunted soul and his hands trembled uncontrollably.
Jaira was the first to grab him by the arm, and physically drag him back towards the parking garage that the dead were slowly pushing them back towards anyway. She grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him, enough to bring him round but all he could do was whisper, "There's… there's no point," his words froze is his mouth, the air having frozen him out of everything. The sounds of battle suddenly grew muted, deadened, a dull feeling of hopelessness spreading through him. Brenan was gone, one amongst so many others dying, others already dead whose name that he did not know. It felt as if his soul had already half left his body
Finally slapped some sense back in to Cameron, literally, "It's not over," she ran her hand down his cheek, "there are still a hundred of us, we're still fighting. We have not given up. You have led us this far Cameron," she whispered to him, "We need you to lead us. There's no one else." She hesitated, at war with herself for only a moment, "She would not want you to give up. She would not want you to let everyone down. You don't want to let her down. Don't disappoint her, Cameron. Don't let her down." What those words must have cost her to say, he would never know but at that moment, when he was at his darkest it was the reminder that he needed.
The Spartans had thought themselves well prepared for almost any and all eventualities, but they had in their arrogance, never considered the possibility of the undead rallying the force that they had brought to bear against the Spartans and Cameron knew what had to be done as he stood and made a general broadcast to the surviving Spartans, "General retreat! Retreat to the parking garage!"
Hours later, the only door in to the parking garage had been barricaded by the remaining fifty odd survivors. The Spartans kept an eye upon the heavily barricaded door as what was left of the Council tried to figure out what they should do next. The meeting had barely begun when they noticed one key player absent: Cameron. Jaira didn't wait, setting off to find their taciturn commander while Natalie struggled to answer many of the questions that the council asked, the inevitable questions as to why the Spartans where in this predicament and what they would do next.
Jaira knew where Cameron had gone, the same place that she went to when she needed to be alone: On the roof of the parking garage, smoking a cigarette. She joined him, but stayed silent for a few minutes before opening her mouth to speak, only to be cut off by the proffered pack of cigarettes with the lighter carelessly stuffed inside. She took a cigarette and lit in, cautiously inhaling the cigarette as a non regular smoker. She could however understand why Cameron suffered from the occasional, almost desperate need for a cigarette. She had smoked half before she finally stated why she was here, "The Council is looking for you. They have... a lot of questions."
"The Council has questions? The Council wants to know this, the council wants to know that, the council," he took a hard drag that burned down nearly a third of his second cigarette, "wants a scapegoat," he tossed the cigarette on to the floor causing sparks to fly, "and I'm the perfect one," he stamped down hard, giving his rage an outlet, "To be crucified. That way they can all die fighting with clear consciences."
Jaira shook her head, "They want to know what the plan is."
He laughed, a bitter sound, "They don't get it do they? There is no saving Sparta. The undead number in the thousands out there and we can't fight them off. We don't have the supplies to outlast a siege. Our gates are locked and barred and with the zombies waiting for us, I don't think we can unlock either gate!" he exhaled a dark cloud of smoke, "Even if we could escape the tomb we've built for ourselves, where the heck would we go?"
Jaira ground her cigarette out and stared at him, "It's crazy but at this point, it's the best idea we've got. Almost two dozen vehicles are prepped and ready. If we strike hard and fast, we can break through them... surely the gates have some kind of emergency release on them?"
He was facing away from her, and she didn't see the tear that he shed for those who'd fallen, hastily wiped away, "Not that I'm aware off. The counterweights are locked in place and can't be moved unless you release the clamps... which are under a couple of dozen bodies at this point."
"In my opinion trying and dying, is better than just dying." she pulled another cigarette from the pack that she lit, "Is there a way to move the counterweights?"
He was either ignoring her, or he simply didn't hear here at all, "But I've got, so much blood on my hands," it was a stare that frightened her, "and blood never washes away. Blood... never washes away." She hesitated, as she'd done only once before, and then took his hand in hers, only to have him pull away as if burned by a naked flame, "Why do I have to come up with a plan now? On an island in an ocean of zombies, why do I have to come up with a solution? Don't I have enough blood on my hands?"
Jaira grabbed his hands, pulling them away from his face as she looked in to the obsidian eyes, "You worked with the engineers to design both the inner and outer gates. We don't have to worry about the outer gates – the undead tore those down. What holds the counter weights in place?"
"Steel locks that rest at the top of the wheels that feed the chain that allows the door to slide back and forth on the groove," he replied.
The flash of inspiration came from Natalie, "Just blow the chains. That'll bring down the counterweights and open at the gates. Know any good homemade explosives?"
Cameron shrugged, "Explosives? I'm not a demolitions expert."
"You built flamethrowers and you're telling me you don't know how to make things blow up?" asked Natalie.
"I know how, just don't know how much. Too little will just attract their attention, and too much will probably kill us." Something clicked. Something he had read about, incredibly simple to make, but completely unstable: Solox bombs. On its own , Solox was used as an oxidizer in welding applications to generate the flame and heat. Turning Solox in to an explosive meant adding an energy source, and the most easily available one they had at least a few dozen pounds worth, "I need sugar and as much Solox as we can find!"
Solox was literally "Solid Oxygen." Sugar would provide the energy source for the explosion, and a traditional fuse would provide the heat, completing the fire triangle and create an explosive with the necessary blast yield.
The trio worked quickly but carefully to powder both ingredients as fine as possible before they mixed them at the necessary two to one ratio. Their charges prepped, they rejoined the council, still trying to debate exactly what they should do. There were just over fifty Spartans left, and Cameron knew a few more of them were going to die so that the rest of them would live, even as he stepped forward, "Permission to address the Council."
Jaira looked round and realized that there were quite a few more with weapons drawn, but as she realized that there were five of them, against so many more who had given up hope. It was now up to Cameron to inspire them once again, to pick up a weapon and fight. "There is a way out, but it is dangerous. We're better of trying and dying rather than just sitting here and dying. The explosives are prepared. I will take volunteers driving and riding the rig. We'll draw the dead to us, blow the gates and then it's up to you in small groups to make your own bids for freedom."
"Team up wisely," Jaira said, "You'll be stuck with whoever you, get stuck with." She clapped Cameron on the shoulder, "But I'm you're first volunteer."
Cameron was at once relieved and comforted. He knew that she would be one of the first to stay behind and volunteer, and he was grateful for having someone he could trust to keep the undead from chewing on his back. He was not surprised, when following her example; Natalie stepped forward, followed by the last of their medics, the Russian medical student Anastasia. She stepped forward throwing a wave of reddish hair over her shoulder, "I guess I'll stick around, to patch you up again." Her voice was soft and accented but clear that she was a part of the volunteers,
Cameron winced at the sight of his all woman crew, contemplating which one of them would drive the rig. That question was answered as former Police Sergeant Robert Cross stepped forward, "I'm not sure how many people can drive the rig, and I don't see anyone who can drive the rig amongst the volunteers. I'll drive it if you don't mind."
Steven was the last to step forward, "If you would be willing to have me, as one of your volunteers, I offer my assistance." Considering the suicidal nature of their venture, Cameron studied him, like a scientist peering down a microscope. The white bandage was already soaked through with blood, "I have only a matter of hours to live, and I hope that I when my time comes, my life can end with a measure of dignity, with the assurance that others will live past this day."
Cameron shrugged, "I've never been one for philosophy, but if you want to help, don't screw this up. Else the zombies and I are going to have something in common."
Others moved to the mix of vehicles, all filled with supplies long before the battle begun. Cameron had the unfortunate foresight to plan for this eventuality. Ultimately, the plan was simple. The rig would move ahead, clear a path, blow the gates and then everyone else would make a break for freedom. The explosive charges had been carefully within easy reach of those riding on the forefront of the rig. They would have the task of planting the charges and blowing the gate while the others would have to keep the dead from clambering up the sides of the vehicle.
Cameron closed his eyes for a moment and understood just how the Greek God Atlas must have felt, everyday of his existence, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. One hundred and fifty dead and the remaining fifty were still his responsibility, and there was just this one desperate gambit left. The responsibility was too great, but there was no one to share the burden, "Lock and Load!