“Higher, it has to go a little higher John!” Bill said with a strained voice.
“I know dad, I can't move it, it's caught on something.”
“Goddamned thing, this is supposed to be easy. I am letting it down, slow.” Bill lowered the solar array, John slowly copied his movements until it was resting on the ground.
“Can we set it all the way down? I need a drink.”
“Sure, let's just go slow.” Bill and his son slowly dropped the array onto its back until it rested in the grass. As they did so a green army truck buzzed past on the paved road beside their house. They watched it go until it was out of sight. “I hope things are okay.” Bill commented as they went inside. The air conditioner was working overtime today and the kids were gathered around the game console in the living room.
“If they were a few years older...” Bill began.
“Then the array would already be up and you would inside with us?” asked Trisha, handing him a pint of canned beer. “You know that isn't true though if they were a few years older they would have places of their own and we'd be lucky if they were close by at all.”
Bill nodded to acknowledge his wife's words of wisdom then took a long pull off of his beer. John came out of the kitchen with a tall iced tea in his hand he looked at his siblings and said, “No fair that they get to be in here on a day like today, while we are out working in the heat.”
“Hey, they did what I asked this morning, so you let them have their fun. As I recall, you were sleeping while we were out getting the peas in.” Trisha said in defense of the younger kids.
“If I would have known how hot it would be I would have gotten up.”
“Not to cut you off, but any news Trisha?”
“No. The curfew is in effect until further notice, the governor is saying there might be military law he issued an order against hoarding and rioting. The internet is limited to local areas, we have old copies of some websites, but there is nothing new on Fox or CNN.”
“We still have phones then too?”
“Yeah, the government thinks we won't lose cell or land line services, once they figured out how to re-route the calls the phone service came back. We can't make out of state call, but from what I just saw on the news there isn't anyone to call out there anyway. It's lucky Iowa has some major players in the telecom industry based here or we'd be back to sending smoke signals. Oh, the other thing was they called in some technical people to work too. So doctors, fire and safety crews and their IT people have to report in, as well as government officials who coordinate the police and military. All military personnel have been ordered to report to the nearest national guard facility, even if they were retired, I think the governor's exact words were, 'If you can remember being in the military at any point in your life, you need to report in immediately.'”
“Whoa, even the old codgers?”
“Yeah. The pundits on the local news radio are saying that all able-bodied men should form up into militias for home defense from the coming hordes.” Trisha scoffed, “What hordes?”
John and Bill exchanged a brief look, then Bill said “Well, ah, it could get bad. No calls from anyone?”
“No calls from Max you mean? No, but my family is fine.”
“I said anyone, that is what I meant. Your family going to come up here?” Bill asked delicately.
“No, they are going to ride it out in Texas. Dad said if Texas doesn't holdout he doesn't have much hope that Iowa will.”
Bill shook his head, “I don't know, none of these things started in our cities. I heard Austin was in bad shape.”
“Yeah, that was the other reason, a direct route up here is blocked by the Austin horde. I can't...” Trisha was interrupted by the telephone ringing.
Bill was closest to the wall so he picked it up, “Hello? Who? This is Bill, no who are you? Oh. When? Okay, I can be there then. What? Sure John can come. No, I am not bringing Will. The hell you say, I am not having a little kid out there.... Whaddya mean I don't have any choice? Okay, okay you are just the messenger, but he isn't going to be there. All right then I will see you tonight.” Bill hung up the phone then looked at Trisha, “Trish....ah we've just been drafted.”
“What?” she asked the color draining from her face.
“That was a guy, a Major Kimbly, he...and his secretary, are going through the phone book and school records and calling all the families, at the governor's order. We have to meet tonight at the high school gym. He said all men aged thirteen and over have to be there to talk with the military. I am not bringing Will.” Bill looked fondly over at his son, the boy was little more than that, he was late in developing as some boys were, so as an eighth grader he was about the shortest kid in his class. Shaking his head, he said, “No, Will is not coming.”
“No women are going?” asked Claire, who had come in from the kitchen and was wiping her hands off with a dish rag.
“No, just men. The major didn't mention women being invited.”
“Are they...are they taking you away tonight?” asked Trisha.
“I don't know dear, he didn't say, just that it was an informational meeting. A mandatory information meeting.”
John had stopped drinking and was staring at his father, “What do we do?”
“Well, for starters we get that array setup and show your ma how to flip over to it, if the power goes out. The meeting isn't until seven and I doubt they are going to haul us off late at night, they will give us more information and once we have that we decide what to do.”
By the end of the day the solar array was up and plugged in, it was generating power, but not as much as it could because the motion control that automatically faced the array towards the sun was not hooked up yet. The motor was sized for a smaller pipe than the one Bill had cemented in, fixing that was going to be a problem for another day. For now the array would at least generate full power for a few hours during the day, more if they remembered to go out and manually face it towards the sun at times. Dinner was a somber affair, made worse by the call interrupting it from a military man who spoke with Bill.
“Mister Carson, my name is Vernon Stack. I am a sergeant in the United States Army. The civilian authority has said that all males thirteen and over need to be at the mandatory meeting in town tonight. Mayor Kimbly called me and said you were refusing to bring your son, William Junior, is that correct.”
“Will is too young, he hasn't even gone through puberty yet. Some thirteen year olds are big, he isn't.”
“Okay, I understand your concern, but Will needs to be there, the governor was very clear on this. Look, if the boy is as underdeveloped as you say, he will not be going anywhere, we have standards and we are not interested in taking people who cannot do the job we need them to do.”
“What about mandatory military age? I mean even my John can't join without parental consent. What is to stop me from letting either of my sons go?”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“Mister Carson, let me tell you something. There is no more minimum military age, the ink is still drying on that document, which the governor signed this morning before you were even out of bed. We have a better idea of what is going on than you do and until you know more, which you will tonight when you, John and William attend this meeting, you do not have any idea what you are talking about. I am a patient man, I understand you are afraid for your family, but if it came down to your son getting killed with a gun in his hand or clinging like a baby to his mama's skirts, which would you choose?”
“Is it that bad?” Bill whispered into the phone ducking around the corner from where his family was intently watching him from the dinner table.
“Mister Carson, believe me when I say this; the situation is worse than that. So, I will see you three at seven sharp then?”
“We will be there.” Bill hung up the phone and went back to the dinner table with his family.
“Dad?” John asked, “What is going on.”
Bill didn't look at his older son, but at his younger one, “Will you have to come tonight too.”
“No Bill!” Trisha yelled.
Facing her sharply Bill said, “I don't have a choice and after that call I am convinced it is for the best. Hell I would bring little Max now if I could.”
Putting her hand in front of her mouth Trisha said, “You don't mean that. I know you don't mean that.”
Bill's eyes never left his wife's as he said, “I do. He has to come.”
“What did he say? What did that man say to make you change your mind?”
“Things are really bad. I have a feeling if we don't show up with Will they will come out and get him anyway. He might not be going anywhere, he hasn't started growing much yet.”
Will squawked in protest at this bleak assessment of him, but his mother shushed him and asked, “But they might take him too?”
“Yes. He might go. If any of us go; we didn't talk about that. So far as I know tonight is just about getting information.”
“Do you have to bring anything? Clothing or guns?”
“No, he didn't say to bring anything.”
Dinner ended on a much more somber note than it began.
Bill and his boys decided to walk into town, it was about a mile and in the summer heat and humidity it didn't seem like a wise decision. However, Bill was concerned about having one of his vehicles impounded for military use. They made the walk in about half an hour and were drenched through with sweat by the time they arrived. The first thing they did was take long drinks from the water fountain just inside the front doors. At the doors to the school cafeteria was a group of nervous looking young soldiers, clutching their rifles and looking half scared. An older man was holding the door to the cafeteria open for them, “Come on in, you are early and that is good, go on up to the sergeant at the table there, he is expecting you.” There were only about twenty people there, but Bill and his sons had arrived ten minutes early.
“William Carson, with John and William junior,” said Bill.
The sergeant nodded, “I spoke with you on the phone. I am glad you brought everyone you were required to bring. Take these.” he handed them a large plastic baggie with a blank imprinted label on the outside of it, inside there was blank name badge. “Head over to that table there and fill out the name badge, also put your names on the baggies in permanent marker. Put the name badge on your upper left chest, got it?”
“Yes.” Bill and his boys went over to the table the sergeant had indicated and leaned over to do as they had been instructed. They waited another fifteen minutes until the cafeteria was filled to overflowing and the military men started to move them into the gym, at the door, each man was told to put his cell phone and any other electronic devices into the baggie with his name on it and hand it to another soldier, who placed it in a cardboard box sorted by the first letter of their last name. Some of the men ahead of Bill fussed about this, they were moved into the gym for a brief discussion with someone who looked to be in charge, a tall, broad-shouldered man. By the time Bill got to the head of the line no one else was protesting in the slightest. Bill shut his phone off and had his baggie ready before handing it to the soldier working the table. John's bag had not only his phone, but also his old digital camera and mp3 player. Will didn't have his cell phone with him, but had to turn over his video game player.
After another ten minutes or so the gym was filled to capacity. “Geezus.” Bill remarked to his sons, “Even the old guys are here, I recognize Ruben there from the council meetings, he is like, eighty years old!”
At this point a man in a crisp uniform stepped up and called everyone to attention, “Everyone please quiet down, my name is Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Ericson, I am in charge of this presentation tonight. First let me do the talking, after that there will be a chance to ask questions. In general everyone has heard about the troubles of the past week, and I am not going to be able to ease your minds about what is going on. It is easiest just to show you footage.” Earl gestured to another soldier who pressed a button on the computer attached to a projector on the gym floor. The video started simply enough with the governor of Iowa standing with a background of the capital behind him. The image was a little blurry and the before hitting the play button the soldier moved to adjust the projector to bring it into focus against the screen hanging down from the rafters.
“Good evening citizens. It is with much concern that I am reporting to you tonight about the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. The so-called 'zombies' that have caused this disturbance are on their way to Iowa and right now we need every able bodied man to help fight them. Proof of the destruction they have caused is here in this presentation and I have to warn you the footage we have is incredibly graphic. The presenters will be discussing the options of what we need from you after this film.” The video went on to display horrors from both coasts and the devastation from Denver soon after a nuclear bomb was detonated. Bill wished that his boys, even his John, who was almost an adult did not have to see such things as they viewed on this film. Several men and boys had to be led out of the room, many of them retching before they made it outside. When the film ended ten minutes later, there was no further comment from the governor, the filmed faded to black. Bill thought that if he were feeling normal he might have cried, but the graphic violence and the fact that it was not a movie, but real people being slaughtered and eaten on the film just left him in a state of shock, he could see his feeling echoed on the faces of the men and boys around him.
The gym was completely filled on one side, with perhaps three hundred men from thirteen to eighty-five, Lt Colonel Ericson stood up in front of an entirely quiet crowd, “That footage was put together last night, I am going to give you more details on where we stand right now.” Using the computer and a laser prompt Ericson pulled up a map of the Midwest, complete with roads, rivers and icons of green and black silhouettes. “The green are where we have large numbers of zombies reported if you see a green town or city it means that most people in that area are gone. This is our latest information as of about five this afternoon. I am part of the forces that have been tasked with stopping the zombies along western interstate highway eighty. I am sorry to tell you the area is a real mess.” The laser pointer indicated an area in Nebraska around Grand Island, as he spoke moved the laser point around to various parts of the map. “Right now the Nebraskan national guard are trying to hold back a large number of zombies that have come up the corridor from Denver and Cheyenne. They tried to hold them at North Platte, but too many of the things had already gotten behind their lines. We would like to hold the horde at Lincoln, however due to some infiltration in the Omaha area we think we will slowly fall back doing as much damage to them as we can before trying to hold the line at the Platte River crossing west of Omaha first, and then at the Missouri river at Council Bluffs if that plan fails. There are also smaller populations of zombies already behind the lines, some even around Des Moines. Ames was having some problems, but we think we maybe nipped that in the bud with road blocks and the curfew. However for every man we have in a neighborhood patrol we have one less soldier in Hastings, for every man we have on a road block, we have one less man checking refugees coming across the bridge into Iowa on interstate eighty.”
“You are all smart people and you can see where this is going. You are here tonight and we are not calling for volunteers, some of you will be coming with us when we leave. Those of you who do will be heading out west after being given a basic familiarity with your firearms, the rest of you will be organized into a local militia who will be held responsible for patrolling the roads, manning checkpoints and helping to stop out infestations as they occur behind the lines. Okay, any questions?”
“How do you know who is going with you and who is staying here?” called out one man from the crowd.
“I need a hundred men to come with me tonight that’s about a third of you. I have your names on file and took the liberty of printing them all off onto sheets of paper and thrown into the box over there by your cell phones. I am going to call for volunteers first, if I do not get a hundred of them, I will start pulling names from the box until I have my men. The rest of you will be in the local militia and will be required to show up here tomorrow morning at eight sharp.”
“Why aren't there any women here?”
“That decision was made by the governor. He did not give a reason for only calling up men.”
“How long will we serve for?”
“Until it is over, initially you will be pulled in for ninety days, once we reach the end of that time, we will see.”
“Will we get paid?”
“Yes, standard military rates for now. With the collapse of the economy, and if you couldn't tell from the videos, the United States, or even the world economy no longer exists. The currency and money situation will be worked out by the civilian authorities, for the moment we will continue using and paying in good old fashioned dollars.”
“What if we don't want to go? What will happen to us?”
“It is not optional.”
“No, but what happens if we don't go?”
Looking ill at ease the lieutenant said, “Who wouldn't go? You saw the videos. Do you want to sit in your homes waiting for them to come for you? We cannot allow that. No single man can stand against what is coming, we need to be organized and work as a group. No one will refuse.”
“What about conscientious objectors?”
“There are none. There are no clauses to get out of serving, we are dying here. The only chance....the only one we have is to work together and destroy the hordes that are coming.”
Bill found himself rising to his feet, “Lieutenant, I notice you still haven't answered the question. We are facing destruction here at the hands of these things and I think I know exactly what is going to happen to anyone who doesn't do as he is told. I don't care about that if my name is pulled I will go willingly and I think most of us here will. But I don't want you to take my thirteen year old to front lines. He is too young.”
“I understand, this is not a popular decision at any level of the military or government. However, I would stress again to remember what you viewed tonight. Your thirteen-year-old is capable of killing these things, the age chosen was not arbitrary, setting it so low was...difficult. But the governor chose it and we will follow his lead on who we take. Believe me as an organization we will be making every effort to keep the younger soldiers in the militias and off the front lines.”
“But if their name gets drawn you will take them?” the question came out of Bill's mouth before he could stop himself.
“Yes. If their name is drawn, we will take them. Any boys in my unit will fill supply duties first and only in extreme circumstances would I consider using them as soldiers. I cannot speak to how any other officers would assign them and not all of the people here tonight will be assigned to my unit. Next question.”
“So, if we say we are not going to go, what are you going to do with us?” called out another man. Bill, still standing, just shook his head from side to side and sat down.
Sighing the lieutenant said, “Sergeant Stack, what are our orders for men who refuse to comply with us?'
The sergeant came into the room carrying a military rifle. “Sir our orders are crystal clear. We will bring the objector to the front line with the other men from their town. The men in his unit will be responsible for talking some sense into the objector and getting him to co-operate.”
“And if he does not Sergeant, what are the orders, as signed by the governor?”
“We are authorized to use any means necessary, up to and including lethal force as a compulsion method.”
“Would you do this sergeant? Would you kill a man for refusing to come to the aid of his friends, neighbors and country?”
“To defend my friends, neighbors and country I would do what was needed as would any men serving under your, sir. However, if I may speak on the matter a moment sir?”
“By all means sergeant.”
“Thank you sir.” Stack turned to address the men in the bleachers, “You men are smart enough to be scared of what you have seen here tonight, which means you are smart enough to see the threat we are facing and that everyone bears the burden of protecting our innocent women and younger children. No one is exempt from this call to serve in a crisis like this. I expect there will be some who resist, but if you get to the front line you will understand the threat more clearly and you will give us all one hundred percent of your effort. The enemy is unthinking, uncaring and relentless. It doesn't sleep, it doesn't have emotion, it never tires and can take great amounts of damage to destroy each and every one. When you understand that, and I think most of you already do, then you will know you are doing the right thing by fighting them.”
“Thank you sergeant, that was well put and I agree wholeheartedly.”
“Another thing sir?”
“Certainly sergeant,” the lieutenant said on cue.
“Could we bring out the zombie sir? That alone should motivate more them more than even my own poor words.”
Lieutenant frowned, “I was hoping to avoid that, these men seem to realize the level of the threat.”
“Then let's bring it home to them sir.”
“Very well Sergeant, bring her out.”
“Bordner! Linebaugh! Bring out the zed!”
From the back of the gym, where the men's lockers were came two men, each had both hands on a pole, one pole in back one pole in front, where the two met was a metal collar. Wearing the collar was an almost normal looking teenage girl. The girl appeared to be about seventeen, had brown hair and was tall enough for any woman's basketball team in the country. She was wearing a blood stained t-shirt and male boxer shorts that left very little to the imagination as they were shredded into pieces over her crotch. The thing's skin was pale, but had been sun-browned before she died, giving it an unhealthy pasty color with mixed blotches of tan. Her right hand was severely wounded, with just stumps for her fingers, although her thumb on that hand was intact. Her eyes were solid gray cataracts, but she seemed to be quite aware of her surroundings as she was led in, her head swiveled around as the men in the crowd reacted to her. Bill and John did not recoil as the rest of the crowd did and he found himself staring right into Ericson's eyes after glancing at the girl being led in. The two soldiers stepped to either side of the girl, maintaining their grip on the poles and holding her at an angle to the bleachers and their superiors.
“Does anyone want to kiss this beauty?” called out Stack, “No? Does anyone doubt she is not alive? If you do, just come down and examine her closely.” No one moved from the bleachers. “Okay, this is what we are facing. Lieutenant?”
Ericson drew his pistol from his belt holster and approached the woman.
“What are you going to do?” was shouted out from the crowd.
He paused and looked up, addressing the crowd in general, “Do? I am going to prove to you that this thing is not human. This is the thing some of you want to sit in your homes and wait for. This very stupid creature is toxic when it bites you, we believe that it's blood could pass the disease along too, but we don't know yet. In fact, what we don't know could fill books right now. But we do know how to kill them. I am not going to waste this example, I am going to show you what happens when you don't kill them.” stepped forward and lowered the pistol towards the girl, shooting her in the torso. The bullet passed through her and hit the back wall of the gym, leaving a bloody pock mark. The girl was not affected in the slightest. Ericson fired five more times, each shot hitting her in the chest and passing through her.
“Walk her around men, show them she is still just as ready to kill us as she was when we started.”
The soldier's complied and the girl dribbled a bloody path around the gym floor. When she stepped close to the bleachers, she attempted to pull out of the soldier's hands, causing the first two rows of men to scramble upwards away from her and into the legs and laps of the men behind them.
Ericson again spoke, “Any bullet you put in them is a wasted shot if you do not hit them in the head. I am not going to send this one back to hell, not tonight, I think our point here was made. The men are going to hold her over against that wall, anyone who wants to examine her can do so after we get our volunteers. Now many of you fathers have shown concern for your sons that we might be taking with us. Before I call for volunteers I am going to do something that, technically I probably should not do. If it were my son's life on the line, I would hope someone would help me. If any man volunteers to come with me before I have to start drawing names out of the box, I will allow him to remove his young male relative from the pool of candidates. Your younger son or nephew or even cousin will still be a part of the local militia, but I will not be taking them with me when I leave tonight. So volunteers please come down to the floor now, bring the young man you are putting in the militia with you. We will draw from general volunteers first, then from those with younger relatives, then we will draw the remainder from the box.”
Bill found himself rising and turning to his sons, “John, you sitdown and wait if they don't call your name you will go back to the house with Will and take care of things while I am gone.” Turning to Will he said, “C'mon son, I am not letting you have a chance to face that.” Taking his son's hand firmly in his Bill started down the steps.
“No dad! No!” Will said softly, starting to cry, “I don't want you to go!”
Bill laughed, a cheerless sound, “They got me over a barrel here,” he raised his voice, “No real man would let them take their son when he could do something about it. I, for one, was going to volunteer anyway, this just adds incentive.” He and Will were the first ones to stand in front of Ericson. “Well, uh, sir, what do I do now?” Others were slowly following Bill down the steps onto the floor.
“Good man! No hesitation, I like that, you can read the facts and decide on the right course of action, this is what we need! Sergeant make sure that this man...”
“William Carson” supplied Bill.
“Make sure William Carson gets a temporary promotion to 'Corporal' before he walks out of here, and make the next three in line that grade too and bump the next ten up a grade as well. Thank you all for coming down and helping your country. Go over that way to the soldier there, no don't salute me yet, you are not in the military until later.” leaning close Ericson said in a low voice, “Thank you. I want to talk to you after the rest of these men leave.”
Going over to the soldier at the table Bill told him William's name and the man took it out of the ones he was going to toss into the box for volunteers, along with Bill's. After the other volunteers were processed and there were many of them, they were still thirty-three men short of the one hundred Ericson needed.
“Okay, last chance to join, instead of being drafted, anyone?” One more man came down, then the Lt Colonel said, “All right Stacker, please pull another thirty-two men to come with us. John's name was the last one called.