Report from Zombie Boot Camp
|OFFWORLD - OTHER|
Heads up, maggots! Richard finds that all recruits are equally worthless in the training-camp of the apocalypse...
The sun blazed in the almost cloudless February sky as we rolled up to the heavy steel gate of an industrial estate some fifteen miles west of England's Worcester region to report for our basic training. A young guard with a severe blonde crew-cut and dressed in heavy body armour waved us through with one hand, the other resting on the stock of a large gun that hung at his side, the black metal accentuated by his bright yellow high-vis vest.
There were eighteen in our group, with another half dozen having arrived from other locations, including a Scottish couple from North Wales and a tall, stocky young lad in a puffer jacket with a bruised face that suggested he'd already seen some action. Nodding politely at each other, we exchanged muted pleasantries as we fidgeted nervously, unsure of what to expect.
At exactly two o'clock a well-built man in combat fatigues appeared and barked at us to form two lines in front of him, which we quickly did, before thanking us for volunteering for this government initiative and welcoming us to zombie boot camp. There had been reports of infected in the area, he said, the diction and volume of his voice suggesting that he'd seen a good amount of military service, but they were being kept at bay by a couple of highly trained units so we shouldn't have anything to worry about.
Asked whether we'd encountered any of the undead on our respective journeys there, or more importantly if we'd come into direct contact with them, we all shook our heads. Seemingly satisfied, the Major (as I had already begun to think of him, his demeanour suggesting such a lofty rank), flanked by four heavily armed soldiers, looked like he was about to wave us through to the kit stores when the kid in the puffer jacket suddenly retched up a mouthful of blood which splattered onto the asphalt at our feet. In a heartbeat the soldiers were on him, dragging him into the back of a battered transit van that was parked nearby, the sounds of their batons hitting him again and again leaving us in no doubt as to his fate.
That done, we were waved through in three groups of eight to be decontaminated by dousing ourselves with white powder before reporting to the Quartermaster who issued each of us with waterproofs, webbing, Kevlar arm and leg protectors, heavy duty boots and weighty riot helmets, all of which, we were informed, were standard army issue.
Having quickly donned our gear under a barrage of the Major's shouted instructions, we were told to sit facing a whiteboard, on which we could see the blueprints for what appeared to be some kind of research facility, along with pictures of some of the infected that they'd previously encountered. We sat in silence, still stunned from the rapid elimination of the kid in the puffer jacket, as the Major outlined the plan for the day, to turn our worthless civilian asses into combat ready reserve troops, and explained that whatever preconceptions we had about the nature of combat in the coming zombie war, they would still fall woefully short of the reality of the day's training.
His opening salvo over, we assembled at the far end of the commandeered industrial unit that was being used for the briefing while a couple of the soldiers demonstrated the basics of close quarters combat, allowing some of us to get our first hands on experience with the round 'Captain America' riot shields and mean-looking batons that we would be issued with soon enough. Having gone through a brief basic drill, a couple of the soldiers suddenly appeared at the door leading a captured zombie with them, thrashing wildly at the end of a short, taut chain around its neck, and giving us our first up close and personal look at this savage new enemy that was sweeping across the country.
After the soldiers demonstrated the safest way to beat it down, the thing was dragged away, defeated, and we were told to report outside to one of two battered vans where we would be transported to either the firing range or the close quarters combat training area. My group was sent initially to the firing range where we were drilled for a good half an hour on how to handle the heavy, semi-automatic paint-ball rifles that would be essential in eradicating the zombie menace. We were taught how to quickly move from a seated position in a car to a combat stance, how to crouch correctly, and each given the opportunity to take control of a small squad of men as part of the exercise, in order to drill home the need to work as a team if we were to stand a chance of surviving.
Thirty minutes later we changed places with the other group and were run through the rudiments of clearing rooms and buildings in pairs, one of us bursting in with a shield and a baton to identify any potential threats quickly followed by the other with a rifle to put down any hostiles. We were also introduced to the full size Armadillo riot shields that we'd all previously seen used on television, but which we never thought we'd need to handle ourselves simply to survive. Split into two groups, four of us were drilled in locking the Armadillos together quickly to repel a simulated charged attack while another four attempted to breach the wall of reinforced plastic before switching over.
Having had a taste of weapons and tactics training, and beginning to realise that despite everything we thought we'd learned from watching George Romero movies and The Walking Dead and reading David Moody novels...that come the zombie apocalypse there was a good chance that we'd quickly end up as lunch, and we were driven back to the main base for a debriefing.
"The Major ordered us to pull no punches because the infected meant business and our lives depended on taking them down by any means necessary before they did the same to us"
Just as we were getting a well-deserved cup of tea down our necks, however, the Major called us all over to the seats and broke the news to us that a group of zombies had breached the compound, and that despite his protestations to the relevant government officials that we simply weren't ready, we had been ordered to engage the enemy.
Deciding that small hit and run teams – snatch squads - were the best way to go, I was allocated to the first group of eight. Issuing half of us with Captain America riot shields, the rest with guns, and all of us with lethal-looking batons, the Major ordered us to pull no punches because the infected meant business and our lives depended on taking them down by any means necessary before they did the same to us.
My squad jumped into the van, accompanied by two of the soldiers, and were driven at speed to the gate of the compound where we could see activity in a couple of the outbuildings. Screaming at us to get into position, the soldiers barked out tactics while we fired at the advancing creatures, trying for the all-important head shots, as the quartet with riot shields tried desperately to link them together as we'd been shown.
"I thought I was done for until one of my squad dragged it off me, raining fatal blows down on it and allowing me to get up, my legs shaking from a combination of adrenaline, exhaustion and the heavy body armour I was wearing"
After initial success in taking down the first small group of zombies we ditched the larger shields and made our way through several outbuildings belonging to the Parasol Corporation (the name was vaguely familiar, I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before...). Bursting out of the far end of the ruined offices, and with the sun in our eyes, creating a kaleidoscope effect through the visors of our riot helmets, we stumbled towards a large group of infected who were sprinting towards us. As I raised my shield and prepared to swing my baton, a zombie in a lab coat crashed into me and I was down, pinned to the ground by his weight, his mouth snapping mere inches away from my exposed throat. I thought I was done for until one of my squad dragged it off me, raining fatal blows down on it and allowing me to get up, my legs shaking from a combination of adrenaline, exhaustion and the heavy body armour I was wearing.
Not wanting to let the squad down I used my shield to deflect a tire that another zombie had thrown at me and then rugby-tackled him to the ground, sweat pouring from my brow and steaming up the inside of my visor as I pummelled him with my baton until, finally, he lay still. Gasping for breath but feeling exhilarated at having successfully dealt with the undead, we were suddenly confronted by an even larger horde that came charging around the corner of one of the outbuildings, at which point the soldiers screamed at us to retreat, sending us sprinting back to the van, and to the base.
As we staggered though the door, breathless, bruised but alive, the other two squads awaiting deployment stared in terror at the state we'd come back in, questioning what we'd seen, how many there were, what tactics to use. Before we could say much, though, the second squad was rushed away into combat and my men and I caught our breath as we relived the terror, excitedly recalling the war stories that we'd have to tell, if we survived.
"After fighting off several zombies outside, including one throwing debris at us from the roof, we ducked into the complex, and into a near pitch black nightmare of deafening sirens, flickering lights and smoke-filled corridors"
As the second, and then the third, squad returned, each of them having fought bravely and somehow bringing everybody back alive, the Major informed us that reports had come through that a scientist was trapped in the central research complex, along with a potential antidote for the outbreak. Being the nearest squads available, we had no option but to get in there and effect a rescue.
Organised once again into squads of eight, four of us were given modified paint-ball shotguns with limited ammunition and everyone was issued with shields and batons and then bundled once more into the van for a breakneck drive to the complex, where we were to enter through a breached door.
After fighting off several zombies outside, including one throwing debris at us from the roof, we ducked into the complex, and into a near pitch black nightmare of deafening sirens, flickering lights and smoke-filled corridors. Tasked initially with working our way down a series of holding cells, some of which held unspeakable mutations, we left a pile of corpses in our wake as we moved towards a terrifying bottleneck that forced us to crawl single file through a long, low, narrow tunnel in order to reach the main areas.
Part way down the claustrophobic rabbit-run I was attacked by a zombie who came through a bolt-hole, but another of my squad quickly took it out, allowing us to all get safely into the centre of the complex. The soldiers accompanying us then issued flash-bang grenades to clear some of the dark, ruined rooms that we made our way through, checking corners and behind and under smashed furniture and equipment for the infected as we went, until we finally made it to the morgue and the main laboratory.
After a final push though another wave of the dead we located the scientist and started making our way out, keeping an eye on him for signs of infection, before emerging in a garage area that led out to where our ride was waiting. Fighting off the last few zombies we piled into the van just as another group of undead appeared from nowhere, running after us 28 Days Later-style and hammering on the back of the vehicle as we sped back to base.
Tired, bruised, but victorious, we handed our scientist over to the Major and prepared to return to normal society, having had the mother of all days and gaining a new found appreciation for what we previously assumed were the hapless, inept actions of many of the literary and cinematic survivors throughout history. We know now that trying to push through even a small group of zombies while wearing heavy body armour and sight restricting helmets is not easy, in fact it's bloody difficult, and that hand-to-hand combat rapidly saps energy reserves.
Think you can survive the coming zombie apocalypse? So did I, but after going through Zombie Boot Camp I'm not so sure I'm anywhere near as ready as I'd hoped, but at least I know more about weapons and tactics that I did before, and I'm more than willing to give it another try in the not too distant future!
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