Saturday, 3 October 2009 - 7:19 pm

Best of it

The last time I went to see the General, he was surprised to see me. This time, he was merely displeased when I walked into his office. He asked me why I waited for the rain, and I told him that it was so he couldn’t kick me out. He grunted at that.

Then he said that he could have me thrown out anyway. I didn’t much appreciate the threat and told him so.

Finally, he asked me what I wanted with him this time around. All of a sudden, my stomach clenched in the face of having to tell him. It was readying itself for another unpleasant battle and I didn’t want to do it.

So I asked him about the bombs. I hadn’t got to those questions last time and it seemed as good a time as any. I wanted to know what happened, who set them off, why, where. I wanted to know what happened to the government and all those meant to protect us.

“And you think I have the answers to all of that?” the General asked me.

“I think if anyone does, it’s you,” I said.

He grunted again and looked at me, and then sighed. “You’re a determined one. All right, I’ll tell you what I know.”


If he could have thought of a reason not to, he wouldn’t have told me anything; that much was clear. I’m not convinced that he told me everything, though. But he told me more than I knew before and I took what I could get.

They’d had only a short warning. A sudden blast over the airwaves from HQ, emergency stations, mobilise everyone. Get as many planes in the air as possible. We’re under attack.

Twenty minutes later, the bombs went off. The planes that had made it off the ground were taken out by the EMP. They never had time to do anything about the bombs. Those on the ground were crippled by the blast’s effect on their equipment and the shockwave that followed. They were cut off from HQ until the electronics guys managed to cobble together a working radio.

Information was sparse, even to them. Entire bases had been taken out – Greenberry’s base was a relatively small one and didn’t merit its own bomb. The larger ones did. The whole country was in darkness, each major city hit, infrastructure torn down. They didn’t get much information beyond the east coast – there was only so far that radio waves could reach and the relays weren’t reliable. Stories came through about parts of the southern states escaping, but there’s no telling how true they might. The General believes that it wasn’t just us that was hit – probably some allies as well. Otherwise, help should have come from somewhere.

Immediately after the bombs went off, the General mobilised his people to patrol the region. Looking for invaders (crippling an area is a good way to soften it up for a ground-level invasion, he said, though that was an archaic way to do it), and also to keep the peace. Looting was a major problem.

And then the rain started. He lost over a third of his people to that first rainfall, and more over the days and weeks that followed. They kept sentries out during the rain-free hours, in case there really would be an invasion, but who would want a land so stripped and poisoned?

Since the rain started, communications have broken down. He hasn’t heard from any other bases for a couple of months now. The rise of the shamblers and the desperation of survivors have destroyed what was left in other places, or maybe they just ran out of power to run the radios. Either way, it’s not a good sign and it leaves us equally on our own.

“Who did all of this?” I asked.

The General shrugged. “We never got a straight answer. No-one took responsibility before the comms went dark. It could have been any of a handful of terrorist organisations. It could be the Middle East mobilising against the Western countries. Hell, it could be the Neo-Nazis trying to resurrect the Fourth Reich or whatever they’re calling it now.”

“You don’t know who might have had the technology to do this?”

He shook his head slowly. “It’s not the kind of intel that we ever got to see down here. The lack of invasion suggests it was a terrorist act.”

Like 9-11. All about damage and bodycount. They poisoned the sky. They warped people past death and into hunger. All to make some kind of point? I’ll never understand that mindset.

It makes me more determined not to submit. It makes this blog, this record of what happened here, more important. It makes me more determined to live through all of this and come out the other side.

The General said that he didn’t know if anyone would come to help us. “We’re not counting on it,” he said. If they could have, they would have come by now. Either the rain or their own problems are keeping them away. “So we have to make the best of what’s left for ourselves.”

I looked at him when he said that and it was an effort for him to meet my eye. He’s made awful compromises to ‘make the best’ of this and he knows it.

“Your men shot at us,” I told him. “And you’ve known it since you picked us up.”

He considered lying to me but he also knew that I wasn’t asking. “Yes.”

“You tried to cover it up.”

“I can’t change what happened.”

“You could apologise!”

“I’m sure my men had their reasons.”

“For shooting at unarmed people while they ran the other way? For gunning down terrified people in the street, while they begged for help?”

He looked surprised, so I carried on.

“We saw it ourselves. People asking for help and being shot down. Your men.”

“They do what they have to to protect themselves out there.”

“That wasn’t protection. If it’s all so justified, why don’t they go out in uniform?”

The General looked uncomfortable and I could see him getting angry. I was pressing him; I knew it would piss him off. But I wanted the truth. I got the district feeling that this wasn’t entirely in his control, though; he was trying to justify something he didn’t agree with. He lived with it but he didn’t like it.

“You have to understand something, Faith. Some of the bases we lost contact with weren’t destroyed by acid, or the undead, or a lack of resources. The men there turned on each other. They killed each other for food, they left to find their families. Some went mad with guns and explosives, determined to meet the end of the world with a bang. They’re just as angry and horrified as you are. To keep the peace here, they need their outlets.”

That awful sick feeling was creeping over me again. First sex, now this. Justified, ratified killing. Not shamblers, not attackers, but innocents. Anyone who gets in their way, or just strays too close.

“I can’t control everything they do out there. What would you have me do?”

I stared at him, aware my mouth was open. It took me a long moment to figure out how to fill it. “Tell them that it’s not okay. Tell them that there are boundaries. Apologise.”

That was the best I had. He looked at me and I saw abruptly that he was very tired. Months of holding this place together while everything else fell down around him, here and at the end of the radio waves – it had taken its toll. I almost felt sorry for him.

Almost. There wasn’t much left to say, so I excused myself to digest what I had learned. It didn’t want to go down; like bitter medicine, I knew I had to swallow it but it stuck in my throat. It prickled my eyes with tears that I blinked back. I had until the rain stopped dribbling out of the sky to compose myself.


I got back to the infirmary to find Matt abusing the laptop. I was so relieved to see him sitting up and looking perky that I didn’t mind about him using up what little battery there is left (there’s really not much). It’s the first time in a while that I’ve been able to hug him properly and we both hung on longer than usual. It felt good, like oxygen.

We’re really on our own here. All we have is this, each other, and the stores stolen from the supermarket depot. Knowing it is harder than suspecting it; it tints everything, like the orange cloudcover.

Make the best of it. I guess that’s all any of us can do now.