7: Selective Volunteering
IV: Working With Humans
Make yourself sheep
and the wolves will eat you.
The room was abuzz with nervous energy. Everyone was too excited to remain silent, though not everyone was present.
“What do you think this portends?” Helen, an older woman with long brunette hair and a weary smile asked. She was assigned to Dr. Fredrick’s team, conducting research on the zombie plague and developing and promoting various new agriculture and animal strains.
Jefferson sighed, not wanting to delve into the topic before the meeting began. He’d arrived early, largely to get everyone riled up since he didn’t approve of Thomas’ plan to encourage this madwoman. However, after Thomas assigned him to organize the expedition, he was more introspective, planning how it might work.
“It’s clearly a recipe for disaster,” he warned. “The woman walks in out of the blue, with a mass of undead strong enough to storm over us, and Thomas is ready to roll over and give her whatever she wants?”
“If that’s what you believe, why are you supporting the decision?” Cynthia asked.
“I don’t, I think it’ll be an unmitigated disaster.”
“Yet you were seen arguing with him earlier, after which you reluctantly agreed to something. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect you agreed to go.”
Jefferson bit his lip. His participation in the planning of a volunteer effort wasn’t supposed to be public. Unfortunately, with so few residents, everyone knew each other’s business. With something this important, they noticed everything. Not only were these women survivors: hard-nosed, determined and willing to sacrifice everything to survive, they were clever.
“I’m not saying who’s going, but as the Collective’s military leader, I’m tasked with assigning warriors to their allotted tasks.”
“So a team’s been selected?” Linda pressed. She was the Collective’s veterinarian, though she frequently worked with Fredrick, since he had a more extensive biology and medical background. She, too, had long flowing hair—unusual for survivors, as it’s dangerous in combat—and a beaming smile which seemed out of place in a zombie wasteland.
“Not yet, but as I’m in charge, Thomas needed my advice about how we’ll proceed. Whoever’s selected, it’s my responsibility to decide how we’ll conduct the enterprise. Since I suspect a trap, my role is essential to keeping our men alive.”
Helen swiveled, hands on her hips, glaring at him. “I believe you’re overplaying this whole mortal danger card. As much as men harp on women harboring malicious intent, they don’t scheme and plot the way men do.”
Rebecca, who’d been nearby, was drawn into the conversation by this latest claim. “Wait, you’re suggesting women aren’t manipulative or can’t fight?”
She was a younger woman, with shorter hair and a scar down her left cheek, which she wore proudly. She worked in the agriculture division, maintaining the plants on a daily basis, but desired a more active role, potentially including combat experience. She had lost her family to zombies—as had most others in the Collective.
“No,” Helen said. “None of us would have survived so long if we weren’t willing to fight to the death. Yet that’s not how women think. We’re survivors, yes, but we’re nurturers first. We care for others and willingly sacrifice ourselves for those who trust us.”
“So you’re suggesting this nut-case zombie lover has taken each of these undead under her wing?” Red said, joining the growing private discussion. As usual, he proved a striking contrast to the others. He was shorter than any of the women, though his stature aided him over the years combating zombies. He’d projected less of a target than his companions who hadn’t survived.
“I’m not assuming an unlikely motive,” Helen protested. “It’s more likely she’s working with them. After all, she risked her life to protect them. If she’s as dangerous as you suggest, why wouldn’t she just charge the front gate, or stand back and issue demands. Hell, she didn’t need to walk to our door, alone and unprotected, and ask us to understand how the zombie’s think, if she’s as nefarious as you suspect.”
“Unless it’s a plot to gain our trust before turning on us,” Jefferson cautioned.
“Again, it’s unlikely. The simpler answer is the zombies sought her out because she doesn’t kill them. She may be the Mother Teresa of the undead; benighted by God to care for them, granted the ability to communicate with them and willing to teach us how to cope with them.”
“You can’t possibly believe such nonsense,” Red said. “You don’t command hundreds of blood-thirsty savages by being nice. The only way to control them is through fear and intimidation.”
“Oh, yeah?” Cynthia challenged. “Like you’ve accomplished after a decade of combat? How well do they respond to force? In case you didn’t notice, we haven’t won a single zombie convert, despite years of intimidation and threats. What makes you think one woman is so much more frightening than the combined military might of every man alive today?”
Helen glanced at the door, gauging how many were in the hall before continuing. “Plainly this woman knows something we don’t. I’m not claiming God speaks to her, letting her view the good in the undead’s souls. Yet I consider it unlikely she came here just to trick us. There’s no reason for her to bother. As you said, she doesn’t need to. All she needs to do is stand outside and demand our surrender. We can’t survive for long with a complete blockade.”
“Neither can she,” Red countered. “That many snarling undead will turn on her as soon as they get hungry. The only way she can control them is to continually feed them human flesh. She can’t afford to wait.”
“I’m with Helen on this,” Cynthia said. “As unlikely as her claims are, yours are utterly unbelievable. If she lived in such blind fear, do you think she’d keep them within striking distance every moment of the day? There’s got to be more to this than we’re seeing on the surface.”
Jefferson spread his hands, realizing the current conversation was becoming too confrontational. “That’s why Thomas’ approach, as misguided as I believe it is, is our only logical choice. Whatever this Leza character is up to, she understands much more than we do. If she’s uncovered a method to control the undead, we need to identify it, even if the risk of betrayal is high. Frankly, we can’t ignore this opportunity. If we can uncover her techniques, we can use them to our advantage. If nothing else, we’ll learn enough to counter them.”
“Yeah,” Red chuckled, “by waiting her out until the bloody zombies become restless and she realizes she can’t wait any longer.”
“Are you listening to yourself?” Linda waved her arm, encapsulating the distances involved. “There aren’t enough humans for her to sacrifice in the distance she walked here to keep them quiet. Apparently she’s found some other way to keep them peaceful and compliant. We need to understand what it is, and the only way is to ask her.”
“You may be right,” Jefferson conceded, holding his hand up, forestalling Red before he could object. “Still, it’s safer to plan for the worst. If we don’t, we’ll never survive if something goes tragically wrong.”
“I assure you, there’s plenty wrong with this scenario,” Red insisted.
“So you’re volunteering?” Linda asked.
“You bet I am,” Red said. “I intend to be there the minute she reveals her true colors. I plan to be the one to slip a knife in her side, ending her reign of tyranny.”
“There’s no sign she’s treating them badly,” Helen said. “People don’t exhibit so much trust unless they’re being treated fairly, and undead aren’t known for their trusting natures!”
“You’re not forced to face the cold hard facts of life while discussing seed varieties with Doctor Wackadoodle,” Red said, his distain for the man dripping from his voice. “The man’s never fought for his life. He hides in a lab all day, staring at test tubes. He needs to grow a pair and venture outside to understand how the world works. How he can still believe in such a fantasy world is beyond me.”
“Pardon me,” Helen said. “I’ve worked with the man for the past two years, and I trust I know him better than you. Despite everyone’s insistence he’s some egghead, unconnected with reality, he’s the only one who understands how the zombie plague operates.”
“A lot of good it’s done him,” Red mumbled.
“He’s been as successful as you have,” Linda said.
“Look, let’s not call each other names,” Jefferson cautioned. He was familiar with Red, and the man was reckless. He tended to fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. Things were likely to get testy before the evening was done. “Fredrick is as much a survivor as any of us. While not my first choice in a fight, he’s demonstrated tremendous bravery over the years. He knows how to bide his time, waiting until the proper time to strike, something few warriors realize.”
“How about you, Helen?” Linda said. “Are you going to volunteer for this expedition?”
“Are you nuts?” Red yelled. “Miss Sensitive, who relates to the animals trying to kill her? How about she sits in a room with a few and sees whether they come to a mutual understanding?”
“I hate to burst your bubble,” Cynthia said, “but Leza’s done just that.”
“She must have discovered some root which renders them malleable,” Red suggested. “There’s nothing else which makes sense.”