“We’ve got to get these people’s heads back into the fight.” I had grabbed Rachel and pulled her close enough for her to hear me. “If we don’t they’re going to start breaking and running and this wall will fall before the train is loaded and out of here.” Rachel didn’t look to be in a much better frame of mind than the defenders, but she nodded and turned to look at me.
“What do you want me to do?” She asked.
“Go east along the wall. Encourage. Use their fear and emotions to get them mad. Right now they’re afraid. Get them pissed off, or at least get them fighting!” Rachel nodded and headed east as I started walking west, Dog at my side.
“We’re holding them! Don’t let up now! We have to buy time for the evacuees! There’s no one but us to do this. Don’t let these fuckers win! We fight together and we can stop them long enough for our people to escape!” I was yelling as I moved down the line, looking up to see that the second stack of containers was finally getting close.
The ex-military heard my words and with looks of resolve started picking up their rifles. The NCOs were also working to rally the shooters and soon sporadic firing started up, but there were still a lot of civilians on the wall and they didn’t look so sure. One burly man dressed like a truck driver stood with a dozen other similarly dressed men and they all stared at the flaming herd. He turned as I approached, fear on his face which quickly turned to anger when he saw me. He stepped forward to meet me, the men pressing in at his back.
“It’s time to cut our losses and get the hell out of here!” He challenged, looking over his shoulders for support from the other men.
The first thought that flashed through my mind was to shoot him in the head and get on with fighting the infected, but just as quickly as I thought it I dismissed it. He wasn’t the enemy, he was just scared. He hadn’t trained for this, had never dreamt of this in his worst nightmares. Until now the most violence he’d probably every experienced was a bar fight or two. I kept walking forward and stopped a couple of feet in front of him, resisting the urge to put my face in his.
“And go where?” I asked him in a calmer voice than I felt like using. I have little patience or sympathy for people who break and run when things get tough and was summoning all of my self-control. “You think that herd out there is just going to go away and not keep coming if you run? What about the women and children in the town? What happens to them if we don’t hold this wall?” Everyone on the wall knew we were just there to buy time, and they also knew loading thousands of people onto a train would take every second of the time we were fighting for.
The man was really scared and was turning that fear into anger towards me. He started to step forward, hands balled into fists at his side. I really didn’t want to fight him, and I was tired of wasting time with him. I was half a second away from pulling my pistol and shooting him when one of the men behind him reached forward and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. He met my eyes and I saw understanding, not anger.
“Rick, it’s time to get it together. We’ve got to help. My wife, daughter and granddaughter are trying to get on that train. The man’s right. We’ve got to hold this wall for a while.” Rick’s shoulders slumped as soon as he knew he didn’t have any support from the other men. After a long moment he lowered his eyes and turned back to look at the herd. Nodding my thanks to the man who had interjected I kept moving down the wall.
I didn’t have to go far before reaching the vertical end of a container that was the easternmost edge of the second stack. A ladder was leaned up against it and I climbed up to the next level. 20 feet really isn’t that much higher than 10 feet when you’re trying to stop tens of thousands of raging infected, but I got an immediate psychological boost from the gain in elevation. Looking at the defenders I could tell they felt the same way. They were already setting back up on the sand bags and sending shots into the infected. Looking towards town I saw four more containers coming my way and I went back down the ladder and headed back to the center of the wall. Damn, but maybe we could hold out long enough.
As Dog and I moved back east I looked out over the wall to the south. Thousands upon thousands of infected had died in the fires, blackened bodies littering the area. But as unstoppable as the sea the infected from farther back in the herd were pushing forward, their crushing feet and the steady downpour turning the dead into a thick, soupy black pulp. The defenders were slowly rallying, the rate of fire picking back up as the next wave of infected approached. Females raced out in front, but the carpet of bodies was so thick and uneven that they had to slow to maintain their balance. This made them easier targets and the shooters were cutting them down well short of the wall. But right behind them was a relentless tide of solidly massed bodies that rifle bullets alone could not stop.
Soon the sheer volume of the herd had pressed to the wall again and we had to repeat the napalm attack. The second stack reached the center of the wall and kept moving east as Jim Roberts and his crew worked without pause. As I watched the results of the napalm from atop a newly installed container I reflexively ducked when there was a thunderous explosion to my right and behind the wall. I spun my head to see the fire truck and trailer full of gasoline fully engulfed in a massive fireball. The defenders on the wall in front of and 30 yards to either side were immediately consumed by the fire, other shooters to the right and left of the fire were running for their lives along the metal containers. One of them slipped on the rain slicked metal and skidded over the wall into a thousand waiting hands.
“What the hell just happened?” I asked no one in particular.
“Lightning strike.” Rachel answered me. She had been standing to my left and facing that direction when the explosion had occurred.
I looked up at the sky, rain washing across my face and said a few choice words. Focusing back on the task at hand I called ready reaction force Delta and sent them to help plug the whole in the defensive line the explosion had created. To my left the other truck finished spraying its load of gasoline and out of the corner of my eye I saw another flare arc across the heads of the infected before igniting a large swath of the herd. I only watched the fire for a moment before looking back in the direction of the explosion. Not only had we lost a lot of shooters caught in the fireball, we’d lost the lights on the fire truck. That quadrant of the battle was now barely lit by light from the fires and what little spilled over from the larger truck directly to my rear. I sent Rachel to tell the firemen to move that truck 50 yards to the right. She passed one of the football players that was an ammo runner and he came directly up to me, panting, soaked and looking exhausted.
“Major, Mr. Hawkins asked me to tell you that we’ve only got about five minutes of ammo left, then we’re out.” I nodded, thanked him and turned back to watch the herd press forward as he raced off. Fuck me, was there ever going to be any good news?
I got on the radio with the NCOs and told them to pull half their shooters off the line to conserve ammo. They weren’t happy about it, many expressing their displeasure the way only an NCO can, but they did what I told them to do and there was a noticeable drop in the volume of fire. More napalm was mixed and used and more gas was sprayed from the fire truck and ignited. Without the fire we would have fallen long ago, but even with it we were only delaying the inevitable. The infected continued to press in and pile up at the base of the wall. Leaning out to check I was not happy to see they were above the point where the upper containers sat on the lower, which meant they were more than 10 feet off the pavement. The rain was finally slackening and the thunder was moving away, now more of a rumble than a sharp crack from every lightning bolt.
A few minutes later Jim Roberts and his crew placed the last container to make a full second row and he drove his forklift over beside the larger fire truck and honked the horn to get my attention. I turned to see him gesturing with a walkie talkie and dug the one his kid had brought me earlier out of my pocket.
“…last one. What’s next? Want us to start a third row?” I caught most of his transmission. Turning to Rachel I asked her to call Sergeant Jackson on the police radio she had to check on the status of the evacuation. It took her a couple of tries to get a response.
“We need another hour.” Jackson shouted over the crowd noise on his end. I had Rachel tell him he had half an hour which she did then stuffed the radio back in her pocket.
“Let’s start a third, Jim.” I said into the radio. “This time split your crew and start at the ends, working your way in. We’ve got to hold for at least another hour so that train can get out of here. Any way you guys can move faster? Are there more forklifts?”
“There’s plenty more forklifts, but I don’t have guys to drive them. I lost a lot of good people to this shit.”
“If I find you drivers that know how to operate a forklift can they operate these monsters, or is there something special about them?” I was starting to feel a glimmer of hope. Surely there were some guys here that had driven a forklift before.
“Nothing special other than just how damn big they are and how careful you have to be with a load this big and heavy, but considering the alternative I’ll take anyone that can drive.”
“Stand by.” I lowered the radio I was using to talk to Jim and raised the radio to put a call out to all the NCOs. “I need forklift drivers. Now. Find me 10 bodies that have driven a forklift before.” I repeated myself a couple of times to make sure all the NCOs heard the call over the weapons fire and screams and snarls of the infected.
Soon a handful of men were trotting towards me and I waved them down the ladder and pointed at Jim, still sitting in the idling forklift. Eight men wound up climbing on and clinging to the forklift as Jim hit the throttle and roared off back to the rail yard. One of them was the burly man I’d had the confrontation with earlier and I was glad I hadn’t shot him. I didn’t think we had time to build a third row the complete length of the wall, but if we could get sections of it raised to 30 feet and concentrate the infected into more of a choke point we might be able to hold them off a little longer.