World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Page 14


[He stabs that finger at me.]
Well, we did! We still managed to do our job and make Zack pay for every fuckin’ inch! Maybe if we’d had more men, more ammo, maybe if we’d just been allowed to focus on our job…
[His finger curls back into his fist.]
Land Warrior, high-tech, high-priced, high-profile netro-fucking-centric Land Warrior. To see what was in front of our face was bad enough, but spybird uplinks were also showing how truly large the horde was. We might be facing thousands, but behind them were millions! Remember, we were taking on the bulk of New York City’s infestation! This was only the head of one really long undead snake stretching all the way back to Times Fuckin’ Square! We didn’t need to see that. I didn’t need to know that! That little scared voice wasn’t so little anymore. “Oh shit, OH SHIT!” And suddenly it wasn’t in my head anymore. It was in my earpiece. Every time some jerkoff couldn’t control his mouth, Land Warrior made sure the rest of us heard it. “There’s too many!” “We gotta get the fuck outta here!” Someone from another platoon, I didn’t know his name, started hollering “I hit him in the head and he didn’t die! They don’t die when you shoot them in the head!” I’m sure he must have missed the brain, it can happen, a round just grazing the inside of the skull…maybe if he’d been calm and used his own brain, he would have realized that. Panic’s even more infectious than the Z Germ and the wonders of Land Warrior allowed that germ to become airborne. “What?” “They don’t die?” “Who said that?” “You shot it in the head?” “Holy crap! They’re indestructible!” All over the net you could hear this, browning shorts across the info superhighway.
“Everyone pipe down!” someone shouted. “Hold the line! Stay off the net!” an older voice, you could tell, but suddenly it was drowned out in this scream and suddenly my eyepiece, and I’m sure everyone else’s, was filled with the sight of blood spurting into a mouth of broken teeth. The sight was from a dude in the yard of a house behind the line. The owners must have left a few reanimated family members locked in when they bugged out. Maybe the shock from the explosions weakened the door or something, because they came bursting out, right into this poor bastard. His gun camera recorded the whole thing, fell right at the perfect angle. There were five of them, a man, a woman, three kids, they had him pinned on his back, the man was on his chest, the kids had him by the arms, trying to bite through his suit. The woman tore his mask off, you could see the terror in his face. I’ll never forget his shriek as she bit off his chin and lower lip. “They’re behind us!” someone was shouting. “They’re coming out of the houses! The line’s broken! They’re everywhere!” Suddenly the image went dark, cut off from an external source, and the voice, the older voice, was back again…“Stay off the net!” he ordered, trying real hard to control his voice and then the link went dead.
I’m sure it must have taken more than a few seconds, it had to, even if they’d been hovering above our heads, but, it seemed like right after the communications line blacked out that the sky was suddenly screaming with JSFs. 4 I didn’t see them release their ordnance. I was at the bottom of my hole cursing the army and God, and my own hands for not digging deeper. That ground shook, the sky went dark. Debris was everywhere, earth and ash and burning whatever flying above my head. I felt this weight slam between my shoulder blades, soft and heavy. I rolled over, it was a head and torso, all charred black and still smoking and still trying to bite! I kicked it away and scrambled out of my hole seconds after the last of the JSOW 5 fell.
I found myself staring into this cloud of black smoke where the horde had been. The freeway, the houses, everything was covered by this midnight cloud. I vaguely remember other guys getting out of their holes, hatches opening on tanks and Bradleys, everyone just staring into the darkness. There was a quiet, a stillness that, in my mind, lasted for hours.
And then they came, right out of the smoke like a freakin’ little kid’s nightmare! Some were steaming, some were even still burning…some were walking, some crawling, some just dragging themselves along on their torn bellies…maybe one in twenty was still able to move, which left…shit…a couple thousand? And behind them, mixing with their ranks and pushing steadily toward us, the remaining million that the air strike hadn’t even touched!
And that was when the line collapsed. I don’t remember it all at once. I see these flashes: people running, grunts, reporters. I remember a newsman with a big Yosemite Sam mustache trying to pull a Beretta from his vest before three burning Gs pulled him down…I remember a dude forcing open the door of a news van, jumping in, throwing out a pretty blond reporter, and trying to drive away before a tank crushed them both. Two news choppers crashed together, showering us with their own steel rain. One Comanche driver…brave, beautiful motherfucker…tried to turn his rotor into the oncoming Gs. The blade diced a path right down their mass before catching on a car and hurling him into the A&P. Shooting…crazy random shooting…I took a round in the sternum, in my armor’s center plate. I felt like I’d run into a wall, even though I’d been standing still. It knocked me on my ass, I couldn’t breathe, and just then some dumbass lobbed a flash bang right in front of me.
The world was white, my ears were ringing. I froze…hands were clawing me, grabbing my arms. I kicked and punched, I felt my crotch get warm and wet. I shouted but couldn’t hear my own voice. More hands, stronger, were trying to haul me somewhere. Kicking, squirming, cursing, crying…suddenly a fist clocked me in the jaw. It didn’t knock me out, but I was suddenly relaxed. These were my buddies. Zack don’t punch. They dragged me into the closest Bradley. My vision cleared just long enough to see the line of light vanish with the closing hatch.
[He reaches for another Q, then abruptly decides against it.]
I know “professional” historians like to talk about how Yonkers represented a “catastrophic failure of the modern military apparatus,” how it proved the old adage that armies perfect the art of fighting the last war just in time for the next one. Personally, I think that’s a big ’ole sack of it. Sure, we were unprepared, our tools, our training, everything I just talked about, all one class-A, gold-standard clusterfuck, but the weapon that really failed wasn’t something that rolled off an assembly line. It’s as old as…I don’t know, I guess as old as war. It’s fear, dude, just fear and you don’t have to be Sun freakin Tzu to know that real fighting isn’t about killing or even hurting the other guy, it’s about scaring him enough to call it a day. Break their spirit, that’s what every successful army goes for, from tribal face paint to the “blitzkrieg” to…what did we call the first round of Gulf War Two, “Shock and Awe”? Perfect name, “Shock and Awe”! But what if the enemy can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but biologically can’t! That’s what happened that day outside New York City, that’s the failure that almost lost us the whole damn war. The fact that we couldn’t shock and awe Zack boomeranged right back in our faces and actually allowed Zack to shock and awe us! They’re not afraid! No matter what we do, no matter how many we kill, they will never, ever be afraid!
Yonkers was supposed to be the day we restored confidence to the American people, instead we practically told them to kiss their ass good-bye. If it wasn’t for the Sou’frican Plan, I have no doubt, we’d all be slouching and moaning right now.
The last thing I remember was the Bradley being tossed like a Hot Wheels car. I don’t know where the hit was, but I’m guessing it must have been close. I’m sure had I still been standing out there, exposed, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
Have you ever seen the effects of a thermobaric weapon? Have you ever asked anyone with stars on their shoulders about them? I bet my ballsack you’ll never get the full story. You’ll hear about heat and pressure, the fireball that continues expanding, exploding, and literally crushing and burning everything in its path. Heat and pressure, that’s what thermobaric means. Sounds nasty enough, right? What you won’t hear about is the immediate aftereffect, the vacuum created when that fireball suddenly contracts. Anyone left alive will either have the air sucked right out of their lungs, or—and they’ll never admit this to anyone—have their lungs ripped right out of their mouth. Obviously no one’s going to live long enough to tell that kind of horror story, probably why the Pentagon’s been so good at covering up the truth, but if you ever see a picture of a G, or even an example of a real walking specimen, and he’s got both air bags and windpipe just dangling out from his lips, make sure you give him my number. I’m always up for meeting another veteran of Yonkers.
[Xolelwa Azania greets me at his writing desk, inviting me to switch places with him so I can enjoy the cool ocean breeze from his window. He apologizes for the “mess” and insists on clearing the notes off his desk before we continue. Mister Azania is halfway through his third volume of Rainbow Fist: South Africa at War. This volume happens to be about the subject we are discussing, the turning point against the living dead, the moment when his country pulled itself back from the brink.]
Dispassionate, a rather mundane word to describe one of history’s most controversial figures. Some revere him as a savior, some revile him as a monster, but if you ever met Paul Redeker, ever discussed his views of the world and the problems, or more importantly, the solutions to the problems that plague the world, probably the one word that would always cling to your impression of the man is dispassionate.
Paul always believed, well, perhaps not always, but at least in his adult life, that humanity’s one fundamental flaw was emotion. He used to say that the heart should only exist to pump blood to the brain, that anything else was a waste of time and energy. His papers from university, all dealing with alternate “solutions” to historical, societal quandaries, were what first brought him to the attention of the apartheid government. Many psychobiographers have tried to label him a racist, but, in his own words, “racism is a regrettable by-product of irrational emotion.” Others have argued that, in order for a racist to hate one group, he must at least love another. Redeker believed both love and hate to be irrelevant. To him, they were “impediments of the human condition,” and, in his words again, “imagine what could be accomplished if the human race would only shed its humanity.” Evil? Most would call it that, while others, particularly that small cadre in the center of Pretoria’s power, believed it to be “an invaluable source of liberated intellect.”
It was the early 1980s, a critical time for the apartheid government. The country was resting on a bed of nails. You had the ANC, you had the Inkatha Freedom Party, you even had extremist, right-wing elements of the Afrikaner population that would have liked nothing better than open revolt in order to bring about a complete racial showdown. On her border, South Africa faced nothing but hostile nations, and, in the case of Angola, a Soviet-backed, Cuban-spearheaded civil war. Add to this mixture a growing isolation from the Western democracies (which included a critical arms embargo) and it was no surprise that a last-ditch fight for survival was never far from Pretoria’s mind.
This is why they enlisted the aid of Mister Redeker to revise the government’s ultrasecret “Plan Orange.” “Orange” had been in existence since the apartheid government first came to power in 1948. It was the doomsday scenario for the country’s white minority, the plan to deal with an all-out uprising of its indigenous African population. Over the years it had been updated with the changing strategic outlook of the region. Every decade that situation grew more and more grim. With multiplying independence of her neighbor states, and multiplying voices for freedom from the majority of her own people, those in Pretoria realized that a full-blown confrontation might not just mean the end for the Afrikaner government, but the Afrikaners themselves.
This is where Redeker stepped in. His revised Plan Orange, appropriately completed in 1984, was the ultimate survival strategy for the Afrikaner people. No variable was ignored. Population figures, terrain, resources, logistics…Redeker not only updated the plan to include both Cuba’s chemical weapons and his own country’s nuclear option, but also, and this is what made “Orange Eighty-Four” so historic, the determination of which Afrikaners would be saved and which had to be sacrificed.
Redeker believed that to try to protect everyone would stretch the government’s resources to the breaking point, thus dooming the entire population. He compared it to survivors from a sinking ship capsizing a lifeboat that simply did not have room for them all. Redeker had even gone so far as to calculate who should be “brought aboard.” He included income, IQ, fertility, an entire checklist of “desirable qualities,” including the subject’s location to a potential crisis zone. “The first casualty of the conflict must be our own sentimentality” was the closing statement for his proposal, “for its survival will mean our destruction.”
Orange Eighty-Four was a brilliant plan. It was clear, logical, efficient, and it made Paul Redeker one of the most hated men in South Africa. His first enemies were some of the more radical, fundamentalist Afrikaners, the racial ideologues and the ultrareligious. Later, after the fall of apartheid, his name began circulating among the general population. Of course he was invited to appear before the “Truth and Reconciliation” hearings, and, of course, he refused. “I won’t pretend to have a heart simply to save my skin,” he stated publicly, adding, “No matter what I do, I’m sure they will come for me anyway.”