World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Page 20


[He grins confidently.]
I started my career trading on the floor of the NYSE, so I can yell as hard and long as any professional drill sergeant. After each “meeting,” I’d expect the call, the one I’d been both dreading and hoping for: “Mister Sinclair, this is the president, I just want to thank you for your service and we’ll no longer be requiring…” [Chuckles.] It never came. My guess is no one else wanted the job.
[His smile fades.]
I’m not saying that I didn’t make mistakes. I know I was too anal about the air force’s D-Corps. I didn’t understand their safety protocols or what dirigibles could really accomplish in undead warfare. All I knew was that with our negligible helium supply, the only cost-effective lift gas was hydrogen and no way was I going to waste lives and resources on a fleet of modern-day Hindenburgs. I also had to be persuaded, by the president, no less, to reopen the experimental cold fusion project at Livermore. He argued that even though a breakthrough was, at best, still decades away, “planning for the future lets our people know there will be one.” I was too conservative with some projects, and with others I was far too liberal.
Project Yellow Jacket—I still kick myself when I think about that one. These Silicon Valley eggheads, all of them geniuses in their own field, convinced me that they had a “wonder weapon” that could win the war, theoretically, within forty-eight hours of deployment. They could build micro missiles, millions of them, about the size of a .22 rimfire bullet, that could be scattered from transport aircraft, then guided by satellites to the brain of every zombie in North America. Sounds amazing, right? It did to me.
[He grumbles to himself.]
When I think of what we poured down that hole, what we could have produced instead…ahhh…no point in dwelling on it now.
I could have gone head-to-head against the military for the duration of the war, but I’m grateful, in the end, that I didn’t have to. When Travis D’Ambrosia became chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he not only invented the resource-to-kill ratio, but developed a comprehensive strategy to employ it. I always listened to him when he told me a certain weapons system was vital. I trusted his opinion in matters like the new Battle Dress Uniform or the Standard Infantry Rifle.
What was so amazing to see was how the culture of RKR began to take hold among the rank and file. You’d hear soldiers talking on the street, in bars, on the train; “Why have X, when for the same price you could have ten Ys, which could kill a hundred times as many Zs.” Soldiers even began coming up with ideas on their own, inventing more cost-effective tools than we could have envisioned. I think they enjoyed it—improvising, adapting, outthinking us bureaucrats. The marines surprised me the most. I’d always bought into the myth of the stupid jarhead, the knuckle-dragging, locked-jaw, testosterone-driven Neanderthal. I never knew that because the Corps always has to procure its assets through the navy, and because admirals are never going to get too fired up about land warfare, that improvisation has had to be one of their most treasured virtues.
[Sinclair points above my head to the opposite wall. On it hangs a heavy steel rod ending in what looks like a fusion of shovel and double-bladed battle-axe. Its official designation is the Standard Infantry Entrenchment Tool, although, to most, it is known as either the “Lobotomizer,” or simply, the “Lobo.”]
The leathernecks came up with that one, using nothing but the steel of recycled cars. We made twenty-three million during the war.
[He smiles with pride.]
And they’re still making them today.
[Winter has come later this season, as it has every year since the end of the war. Snow blankets the house and surrounding farmland and frosts the trees that shade the dirt track by the river. Everything about this scene is peaceful, except for the man with me. He insists on calling himself “the Whacko,” because “everyone else calls me that, why shouldn’t you?” His stride is fast and purposeful, the cane given to him by his doctor (and wife) serves only to stab at the air.]
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised to be nominated for vice president. Everyone knew a coalition party was inevitable. I’d been a rising star, at least until I “self-destructed.” That’s what they said about me, right? All the cowards and hypocrites who’d rather die than see a real man express his passion. So what if I wasn’t the world’s best politician? I said what I felt, and I wasn’t afraid to say it loud and clear. That’s one of the main reasons I was the logical choice for copilot. We made a great team; he was the light, I was the heat. Different parties, different personalities, and, let’s not kid ourselves, different skin colors as well. I knew I wasn’t the first choice. I know who my party secretly wanted. But America wasn’t ready to go that far, as stupid, ignorant, and infuriatingly Neolithic as it sounds. They’d rather have a screaming radical for a VP than another one of “those people.” So I wasn’t surprised at my nomination. I was surprised at everything else.
You mean the elections?
Elections? Honolulu was still a madhouse; soldiers, congressmen, refugees, all bumping into one another trying to find something to eat or a place to sleep or just to find out what the hell was going on. And that was paradise next to the mainland. The Rocky Line was just being established; everything west of it was a war zone. Why go through all the trouble of elections when you could have Congress simply vote for extended emergency powers? The attorney general had tried it when he was mayor of New York, almost got away with it, too. I explained to the president that we didn’t have the energy or resources to do anything but fight for our very existence.
What did he say?
Well, let’s just say he convinced me otherwise.
Can you elaborate?
I could, but I don’t want to mangle his words. The old neurons aren’t firing like they used to.
Please try.
You’ll fact-check with his library?
I promise.
Well…we were in his temporary office, the “presidential suite” of a hotel. He’d just been sworn in on Air Force Two. His old boss was sedated in the suite next to us. From the window you could see the chaos on the streets, the ships at sea lining up to dock, the planes coming in every thirty seconds and ground crew pushing them off the runway once they landed to make room for new ones. I was pointing to them, shouting and gesturing with the passion I’m most famous for. “We need a stable government, fast!” I kept saying. “Elections are great in principle but this is no time for high ideals.”
The president was cool, a lot cooler than me. Maybe it was all that military training…he said to me, “This is the only time for high ideals because those ideals are all that we have. We aren’t just fighting for our physical survival, but for the survival of our civilization. We don’t have the luxury of old-world pillars. We don’t have a common heritage, we don’t have a millennia of history. All we have are the dreams and promises that bind us together. All we have…[struggling to remember]…all we have is what we want to be.” You see what he was saying. Our country only exists because people believed in it, and if it wasn’t strong enough to protect us from this crisis, then what future could it ever hope to have? He knew that America wanted a Caesar, but to be one would mean the end of America. They say great times make great men. I don’t buy it. I saw a lot of weakness, a lot of filth. People who should have risen to the challenge and either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Greed, fear, stupidity, and hate. I saw it before the war, I see it today. My boss was a great man. We were damn lucky to have him.
The business of elections really set the tone for his entire administration. So many of his proposals looked crazy at first glance, but once you peeled back the first layer, you realized that underneath there existed a core of irrefutable logic. Take the new punishment laws, those really set me off. Putting people in stocks? Whipping them in town squares!?! What was this, Old Salem, the Taliban’s Afghanistan? It sounded barbaric, un-American, until you really thought about the options. What were you going to do with thieves and looters, put them in prison? Who would that help? Who could afford to divert able-bodied citizens to feed, clothe, and guard other able-bodied citizens? More importantly, why remove the punished from society when they could serve as such a valuable deterrent? Yes, there was the fear of pain—the lash, the cane—but all of that paled when compared to public humiliation. People were terrified of having their crimes exposed. At a time when everyone was pulling together, helping each other out, working to protect and take care of one another, the worst thing you could do to someone was to march them up into the public square with a giant poster reading “I Stole My Neighbor’s Firewood.” Shame’s a powerful weapon, but it depended on everyone else doing the right thing. No one is above the law, and seeing a senator given fifteen lashes for his involvement in war profiteering did more to curb crime than a cop on every street corner. Yes, there were the work gangs, but those were the recidivists, those who’d been given chances time and time again. I remember the attorney general suggesting that we dump as many of them into the infested zones as possible, rid ourselves of the drain and potential hazard of their continued presence. Both the president and I opposed this proposition; my objections were ethical, his were practical. We were still talking about American soil, infested yes, but, hopefully one day to be liberated. “The last thing we needed,” he said “was to come up against one of these ex-cons as The New Grand Warlord of Duluth.” I thought he was joking, but later, as I saw the exact thing happen in other countries, as some exiled criminals rose to command their own isolated, and in some cases, powerful fiefdoms, I realized we’d dodged one hell of a speeding bullet. The work gangs were always an issue for us, politically, socially, even economically, but what other choice did we have for those who just refused to play nice with others?
You did use the death penalty.
Only in extreme cases: sedition, sabotage, attempted political secession. Zombies weren’t the only enemies, at least not in the beginning.
The Fundies?
We had our share of religious fundamentalists, what country didn’t? Many of them believed that we were, in some way, interfering with God’s will.
[He chuckles.]
I’m sorry, I’ve gotta learn to be more sensitive, but for cryin’ out loud, you really think the supreme creator of the infinite multiverse is going to have his plans unraveled by a few Arizona National Guardsmen?
[He waves the thought away.]
They got a lot more press than they should have, all because that nut-bird tried to kill the president. In reality, they were much more a danger to themselves, all those mass suicides, the “mercy” child killings in Medford…terrible business, same with the “Greenies,” the leftie version of the Fundies. They believed that since the living dead only consumed animals, but not plants, it was the will of the “Divine Goddess” to favor flora over fauna. They made a little trouble, dumping herbicide in a town’s water supply, booby-trapping trees so loggers couldn’t use them for war production. That kind of ecoterrorism eats up headlines but didn’t really threaten our national security. The Rebs, on the other hand: armed, organized political secessionists. That was easily our most tangible danger. It was also the only time I ever saw the president worried. He wouldn’t let on, not with that dignified, diplomatic veneer. In public, he treated it as just another “issue,” like food rationing or road repair. He’d say in private…“They must be eliminated swiftly, decisively, and by any means necessary.” Of course, he was only talking about those within the western safe zone. These diehard renegades either had some beef with the government’s wartime policy or had already planned to secede years before and were just using the crisis as their excuse. These were the “enemies of our country,” the domestic ones anyone swearing to defend our country mentions in his or her oath. We didn’t have to think twice about an appropriate response to them. But the secessionists east of the Rockies, in some of the besieged, isolated zones…that’s when it got “complicated.”
Why is that?
Because, as the saying went, “We didn’t leave America. America left us.” There’s a lot of truth to that. We deserted those people. Yes, we left some Special Forces volunteers, tried to supply them by sea and air, but from a purely moral standing, these people were truly abandoned. I couldn’t blame them for wanting to go their own way, nobody could. That’s why when we began to reclaim lost territory, we allowed every secessionist enclave a chance for peaceful reintegration.
But there was violence.
I still have nightmares, places like Bolivar, and the Black Hills. I never see the actual images, not the violence, or the aftermath. I always see my boss, this towering, powerful, vital man getting sicker and weaker each time. He’d survived so much, shouldered such a crushing burden. You know, he never tried to find out what had happened to his relatives in Jamaica? Never even asked. He was so fiercely focused on the fate of our nation, so determined to preserve the dream that created it. I don’t know if great times make great men, but I know they can kill them.
[Joe Muhammad’s smile is as broad as his shoulders. While his day job is as the owner of the town’s bicycle repair shop, his spare time is spent sculpting molten metal into exquisite works of art. He is, no doubt, most famous for the bronze statue on the mall in Washington, D.C., the Neighborhood Security Memorial of two standing citizens, and one seated in a wheelchair.]
The recruiter was clearly nervous. She tried to talk me out of it. Had I spoken to the NRA representative first? Did I know about all the other essential war work? I didn’t understand at first; I already had a job at the recycling plant. That was the point of Neighborhood Security Teams, right? It was a part-time, volunteer service for when you were home from work. I tried explaining this to her. Maybe there was something I wasn’t getting. As she tried some other half-hearted, half-assed excuses, I saw her eyes flick to my chair.