Chapter 18

Submitted by Zombieman on Fri, 11/24/2017 - 18:51

Shelby’s leg was killing her, she had been injured before in combat, but not shot. Her purple hearts were from getting hit with a piece of shrapnel from a mortar round that had dropped too close to her and from being sliced open by a crazed zed that had broken through the line. That last was how she had ended up a sergeant. The hike east had been a long exhausting slug fest, with human troops taking shots at them and shamblers pressing them forward until they reached the relative safety of their own front lines.

Overall the mission was a success from an intelligence standpoint, but Draper was not happy, the troops arrayed against them were good and their equipment was top notch in comparison to what the Iowan’s had. When Shelby woke for surgery she had another purple heart on the tray next to her hospital bed along with a note that Draper was coming to see her again in an hour.

While waiting for her commander to arrive she was visited by Sergeant Lopez, who was out her armor and carrying only a pistol, she had on clean fatigues and smiled when she saw Shelby. She sat a large brown paper bag on the floor near the doorway as she stepped in. “How’s your hoof, Shelby?”

“Hurts a lot. I’ve been waiting on pain meds for twenty minutes.” Shelby complained.

“Aw, poor baby! Want the skinny on what’s going on?”

“Draper’s supposed to be here in another half hour or so. Yeah, it would be good to be up to date before he arrives.”

“Good, first thing, and you’re gonna find this funny, you didn’t get shot by the enemy.”

“What?”

“Neither did I. You gotta be more careful with your friendly fire. You shot yourself. And me, thanks a lot.”

“No!”

“’Fraid so, sunshine. There weren’t any of their guys left firing at us and it wasn’t a heavy machine gun bullet that hit your leg. Be thankful for that, an hmg round would have taken your leg off. I know you shot me, I saw the rounds come through the zed as you fired and felt one hit me. The bullet in your leg, near as I can tell, ricocheted off the thing’s helmet and back into you. You almost took us both out for them.”

“That can’t be right…” Shelby said, “No.”

“We’re pretty sure. Shitfinger didn’t see a shooter near him and the bullet would have had to have come from his vicinity. It’s alright; we both still got our PH’s.” Lopez took the box with Shelby’s ribbon and looked it over, “Three, huh? My fourth.”

“I shot you and myself? Jesus.”

“I’m okay, the zed took most of the force and my armor nearly stopped it, pretty much just pierced my skin. This is my own fault really. I mean, I’m the one who told you to empty your magazine into any super zombies that came at us.”

Shelby nodded, “I’m not sure that makes me feel better.”

“Draper will probably discuss fields of fire with you. You killed that guy though and were closer to his buddy when I fried him, that means you’ll be part of little eff pretty soon. Do you want the news?”

“Yeah, hit me.”

Lopez pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed. “Okay, we’re going to pull back, scuttlebutt has us going all the way to the Missouri, with little eff launching a series of attacks to try and keep the enemy from seeing that we are pulling back. We pulled out a couple human prisoners and the only reason the Californians aren’t attacking us is that that they have some sort of political thing going on. They guys we got weren’t exactly four stars, so the specifics are way above their pay grade, but it was enough to make sense. Unfortunately, we had a couple of MIA’s too, not in our squad, but one of the snatch teams ran into heavy trouble and didn’t withdraw with all their peeps. Odds are one or both of them are spilling their guts to the enemy right now too. The good news is there weren’t any rumors of us pulling back before the raid, so the little effers won’t be able to tell them much.”

“I suppose I’ll be sent back before that happens.”

“Maybe. How invested are you to working with Draper?”

“Pretty damn invested. I like him, he gets things done and nothing has been boring since I hooked my horse up to his wagon.” Shelby said, “Not to mention his underlings get fast tracked.”

Lopez laughed, “Oh, that’s good. You know why he goes through them so quick, don’t you? His assistants?”

“He promotes them fast, I just said that.”

“He promotes incompetence. The good ones end up in ‘F’ or they did, now they end up in the little effers.”

“So, all those non-coms that he goes through…”

“Are idiots. Or can’t keep their mouths shut. Or don’t display the right amount of initiative. Do you want to stay with Draper?”

“Yes.”

“Then you better get yourself up and ready to go.”

“My leg…”

“Draper or not? If you get ship to the rear, you get a promotion along with it.”

“Fuck, that’s not fair!”

Lopez looked around, feigning confusion, “What? What army are you in?”

“Help me up.”

“That’s better.” Lopez put out a hand and pulled Shelby to a sitting position. “I brought you some boots.” She pointed to the bag on the floor. “Let’s get those IVs out and get you dressed, shall we?”

Lopez left just minute before Draper arrived, he burst through the door with his usual energy, leaving two subordinates in the hall behind him, “Sergeant Wright. At ease.” Shelby stood down, “I was told you had a leg wound?”

“It was a through and through, sir! I am ready to get back to work.”

The man’s eyebrows rose, and he took a quick look around the room, noting the medical tubing and mussed bed.

“I got your note, sir, and wanted to be ready to go.”

“That’s admirable. I have to admit I was expecting to send you to the rear. You don’t strike me as having your heart in working for me.”

“With all due respect, bullshit. Sir. I have worked hard to get into your command and I have never done anything less than stellar work for you these last three months.”

“That’s been office work, Shelby.” Draper’s voice softened, “You went out and got shot.”

“I shot myself, sir.”

“What?”

“Purely accidental, the bullet ricocheted off the zed’s helmet back into my leg, sir.”

“Is that so?” He asked with an amused expression on his face, “Anything else you’d like to tell me?”

“I also shot Lopez, sir. Again, accidental, the bullets passed through the super zombie’s body and hit her. Sir.”

“Let’s have a conversation here, Shelby, drop the formalities. This war, this whole zombie shit, it needs an innovative approach, wouldn’t you agree?”

“If I didn’t I would not have put in to work under you. S-” Shelby bit off the ‘sir’ at the last moment.

“What approach would you recommend with these Californians?”

Shelby hesitated, “Diplomacy, after a bloody nose. Hit them hard with anything we have and then hope for a diplomatic solution. Pull back to a more defensible position immediately after that, leaving mines, a few redoubts and some destroyed bridges in our wake.”

“Why do you think that is a clever idea?”

“They have better equipment and plenty of it. Our main assets are our short supply lines and veteran troops. History has shown that rarely wins wars against an army with near unlimited resources.”

“That sounds almost defeatist. How can you be sure their resources are near unlimited?”

“They keep coming, I hear they have only stopped due to some political situation. If we can knock them on their heels for a bit, we can pull back with less casualties and use the river or the Loess Hills as our next defensive position.”

“You sound like the high command, Shelby. Your strategy sounds like what they want. Tried and true, nothing that will win us the war.”

“I know they will not use nuclear weapons on them, not with them being to the west of us, the fallout would fall over the entire holding. And positronics are out. If we could get F Company back into position, shored up with the little effers…I do have one idea.”

“Impress me.”

“We’re using Jake.” Draper’s face remained a solid surface of stone, so Shelby pressed on, “He and his irregulars are not so useful against higher order zombies; there is always a tug of war when they hit their own, with their supers subverting the less powerful zeds. I would move him to the Eastern border, that side of the war is quiet right now, the warbands of Chicago haven’t given us any problems in months. Jake heads over there, across the Mississippi and we bring the vast majority of our troops to this side of the state and throw them into the battle, push the valley boys back, hurt them.”

“If Jake is working with us, he would have the same problem on the eastern front as he does out here.”

Shelby shook her head, “No, he wouldn’t. The warbands are led by supers, sure, but any given one of Jake’s people is equal to them. If they clash, and I am sure that they would, he would come out on top.”

“One thing, the Californians have used nuclear weapons on us. And have air superiority.”

“They haven’t used nukes on us, only on the group in Wyoming. And why haven’t we pulled out our drones?”

“We lost people in Wyoming too, not the least of which was the woman who ran our drone project. Some of her equipment is still functioning, the powers that be don’t like autonomous machines that decide who to kill and what targets to strike. The squints are studying them and trying to replicate the technology.”

“Then they have to be convinced otherwise. It’s all well and good to have superior tech, but it won’t do us any good when their army is in Des Moines.”

Draper laughed, “I am tempted to put you in planning after this outburst, sergeant. I sent Jake east three days ago. The fresh troops are already digging in position across the river and in the Loess, the bridges have been set for demolition for years, it was always a just in case thing. As for the drones, well, I can’t say I haven’t tried. However I haven’t tried recently and I think shooting down a few of their jets would cool their desire to make sorties with them. I don’t think they have unlimited resources, I think every piece of equipment we destroy is just about as hard for them to replace as it is for us.”

With an exasperated sigh, Shelby said, “Well, Max on a cross, I guess I still didn’t think of anything helpful.”

“I have been arguing for months about using Jake. When a buck sergeant can figure out what we need to do without even consulting other people…that’s what I need. One last question, why haven’t you said anything before this?”

“I am still getting my bearings. Your approach, of talking to a non-com like I’m your equal is jarring and not what my previous command encouraged. Now, well, my life is on the line, the lives of all the people in the real United States of America are on the line.” Draper nodded, and Shelby added, “And you finally asked.”

He laughed again and clapped her on the back, “So tell me the truth, when did Lopez stop by?”

Shelby refused to admit that Lopez had been there, and this was reinforced with the other sergeant just happened by after being dismissed from the hospital. Draper wasn’t buying their story, but they stuck to their guns. Finally, he held up his hands in defeat, “I know what I know, but I don’t have you tagged with tracking devices, so I can’t prove anything. Since you two seem thick as thieves, Sergeant Wright I am assigning you as my official liaison to the Little Effers. In three days we are going to be leading an attack on the Californians and it will be a successful attack.”

“Will the big ‘F’ be around to help out?” Lopez asked.

Draper shook his head, “No. They will be nowhere near our offensive.”