Codex Nekromantia: Section 6

"Listen up, men," General Radcliffe shouted to the assembled men and women around the weathered butt of his cigar. "This isn't some elbow-in-the-face, knee-in-the-dangly-bits bar room braaawwll that we're going into. What we're going into is an engagement. In a bar the only two rules are, stop if the other bastard taps out, and keep that line of bottles on the top shelf ver-tic-i-al. Here, there are a whole lot more rules. This is an American city on American soil and its lawns grow beneath of the shadow of that ol' cherry tree that George Washington couldn't chop down. This is an urban engagement. Any questions?"

One of the soldiers raised her hand. "What's the top shelf liqour in this situation, sir?"

General Radcliffe paused for a moment and gently chewed on his cigar, a sure signal that he was thinking. It was only after he was finished with his braincells and began to act that he went for the leafy tube like a champion bubble gum blower in a time trial.

"I think that the top shelf liqour is the civilians," General Radcliffe said. "Awright, you lot! We're shipping out!"

The soldiers deployed into armored personnel carriers and covered trucks that had soon stretched itself across the midwestern expressway like a languid snake. General Radcliffe studied a map that the wind plastered across his face, making little mountains where his nose and cigar butt stuck out. Several fat, stinky circles drawn in military-grade marker covered a diameter of twenty miles outside of the center of Constantinople.

General Radcliffe hadn't heard of the damn place until today, though General Inman assured him that it was as large as Chicago. He'd been briefed in a roomful of tan-slacked numbskulls who'd never, General Radcliffe wagered, had a friend take a turn holding their rifle while they took a piss up a tree.

All General Radcliffe had to do was to secure the perimeter, said the West Point graduates who'd saluted a little too hard and had chop-sockied their frontal lobes. His superiors emphasaized that nothing gets in or out. Nothing. They said if a baby toddled towards his soldiers that they were to shoot on sight and then drop some incendiary grenades to scorch its pacifier. So all General Radcliffe had to do was fight a million years of evolution and secure a circumference several hundred miles long.

General Radcliffe had chewed his cigar very, very slowly after he'd heard that.

And now a long, drab green caterpillar of army equipment stretched for miles along the highways that bisected the yellowing corn and stubbly, already-harvested fields of soybeans in the breadbasket of the United States. The drone of bugs hitting the windshield sounded like a machine gun heard from miles away. The troops would hit Constantinople from the west, and then two divisions would peel off to the north and to the south. The east was blockaded by what locals called the Lake, but whose full name was the Lake of the Lost Girl. The lake sat at the foot of a small cluster of mountains, so his troops only had to hold three compass directions. Each division of troops would hold an arc comprised of ninety degrees and some-odd number of miles. Trigonometry was never General Radcliffe's strong point.

That's why he had the men and women of the 257th Artillery. Despite the very small and very powerful computers jammed into every missile and mortar, Radcliffe would occasionally drill his men on batches of World War I era artillery - owned by his family, passed down through the generations and personally shined, cleaned and preserved by him - with spotters to destroy a mock enemy emplacements. Of course, this was not an army-sponsored Official Waste of Time, and so his superiors would put an end to it if they found out. Then again, he also wasn't going to let them know about his shocking lack of trigonometric skill. Besides, General Radcliffe reasoned, if he couldn't do trigonometry then shouldn't he surround himself with soldiers who could?

They arrived at an extremely suburban fairgrounds and within hours a command post had been erected inside a pavilion that had recently housed goats. The soldiers began to seal the vehicular arteries that fed Constantinople, his troops filling each with metal sclerosis. The rest of the convoy began to wrap around the circumference of the city limits like a gooey, camoflaged blob. More troops would arrive to reinforce the blockades, but the containment had to begin as soon as possible, and that meant stopping the flow of people into or out of the city.

General Radcliffe chewed his cigar quickly as he delegated. Announcements had to be made to alert the populace.

Of course, all of it was a bit academic to General Radcliffe since his superiors never told him what they were containing, exactly. General Radcliffe had suspected SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up, and so sent out his artillery spotters with their binoculars deep into the suburbs.

When they came back and reported the re-animated dead, General Radcliffe considered the old joke about the difference between a virgin and a lightbulb, and realized that this situation could not be unfucked - rather, the only thing to do was to make sure that her shotgun-wielding father did not get a chance to fire.

The wave of zombies broke onto his columns like the zombified population of a city attacking a series of meager, hastily erected fortifications full of scared soldiers.

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