The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 28: Losing Ground
"Here, here and here," said General Shiro Hasegawa, pointing to cities marked in red. He sighed as he looked over the map of Japan. A map where more and more cities were marked in red, a color not known for its pleasant connotations.
Unless you happened to be one of the walking dead. Then everything was just Jim Dandy.
Colonel Shinju Fuyutski clenched his hands, the nails cutting into his skin. "Every day we lose another city," he said. "When do we start retaking our land from these undead?"
Hasegawa regarded the other man with a deadpan stare. "Right after they remember that they are supposed to be dead. Nothing short of that will save us."
Fuyutski stared at his superior officer in shock. "Sir, that is defeatist talk! We need a plan, not pessimism, sir."
But the general merely shook his head and indicated the stack of reports, which more and more often were just casualty lists. "There is no plan, no counterattack, no strategy," said Hasegawa sadly. "We were outnumbered at the start, and it has only gotten worse since. If the reports we're getting from across the land and seas are at all accurate, it is the same elsewhere. Everywhere."
Hasegawa called up several video files, footage of battles between the living and the dead in other nations. In almost all of them, the dead were triumphant. In England, ships loaded with walking corpses had washed up on countless shores, and since then nearly all the major cities had fallen. One clip showed an air strike that reduced Big Ben to rubble, but did little to slow the zombies' assault. Reports had also come in of soldiers and their families found murdered in their homes, but given the current crisis, no time was spent investigating the atrocities, which were attributed to religious extremists.
In Russia, nearly all communications across the country had broken down. Soldiers found themselves cut off from their commanders, and small guerilla units had formed, troops guarding civilian refugees, searching for a new home, striking at the undead only when they had to. It was clear that help would not be coming.
In China, the vast population had turned on itself, enveloped by the spreading plague of the undead. Seemingly overnight, millions had been corrupted, and a blockade of tanks, land mines and soldiers had been erected to keep the ghouls contained. Even money said it wouldn't last another week.
Hasegawa snarled when he came to the clips from Australia, those showing the refugee transports being sunk by American battleships. By now it was clear the occupants of The Graveyard were no longer content to remain quarantined, and were taking advantage of the chaos oversees to strike back at their former jailers.
But to what end? Was it revenge, or something more? The general had been one of the few to speak against the aerial and naval blockade, going so far as to refuse to issue the orders to bomb the American's airfields and sink their ships. He knew that an enemy with nothing to lose was at its most dangerous.
Hasegawa turned off the display, hearing at least one officer weep with despair. He laid his hands on the table, covered with charts and maps, reports of too few soldiers being dispersed to contain a veritable force of nature. "How goes the evacuation?"
Colonel Fuyutski shuffled through the mountain of reports until he found the one he was looking for. After a brief scan he replied, "Slowly. Contact with the other nations is garbled at best, and we have no confirmation of any safe harbors. The supplies aboard the transports are holding out, but there are too many mouths to feed. We need a solution, and fast."
The colonel looked up from the report and ushered the general into the hallway. Closing the door, the solider looked to his superior, grim determination in his face. "Sir, forgive me for overstepping my boundaries, but I must make a suggestion."
Hasegawa smiled and laid a friendly hand on Fuyutski's shoulder. "I think you can drop the formalities, colonel. What's your idea?"
Shinju paused before answering, and the general knew what came next wouldn't be good. "Sir, I received a communication from the Prime Minister. He orders you to activate our nuclear arsenal, to wipe the infection out, once and for all."
Shiro blinked, though he knew he had heard his old friend clearly. "Has he lost his mind?" he asked, more to himself than the colonel. "We'd be condemning the survivors to death, and reducing our homeland to an inhospitable wasteland."
Shinju nodded. "I know, sir, but the Prime Minister was clear. He prefers to lose Japan by our own hands than watch it turn into another Graveyard."
"There wouldn't be a Graveyard in the first place if we had helped the Americans instead of turning our backs on them. I told them this would happen!" Shiro shouted. "An infection like this can't be contained. It must be destroyed. Had we joined forces, all of us, we could have found a cure, or at least wiped out all the zombies. Now we have infections on every shore, and we're too busy with our own problems to offer aid to anyone else. Get the Prime Minister on the line! I won't just sit idly by and vaporize our nation!"
"I can't," was all Fuyutski could say.
Shinju stopped. "Why not? Are communications down again?"
Fuyutki said nothing, as if he couldn't find the words. He looked to the floor, then the ceiling, searching around for the right thing to say. When at last he spoke, his voice was drained of all life. "Shortly after the Prime Minister contacted me, he took a gun, locked the door to his chambers and...."
Neither of them spoke for a time. All the righteous indignation the general was feeling a moment ago had drained away, and in its place was a cold despair. Wordless, he walked back into the situation room, over to the monitors that showed the battles which raged across Japan. In most, the soldiers were in full retreat. A few pockets of resistance were holding their own, but it was clear now that this was a battle they could not win.
He turned to the communications officers. "Report from the ships?"
One looked to a sheet of reports, then back to the general. "Most of the refugees are aboard the transports, sir, but we still have no word of safe harbors where they can go."
"Have the crew load up on as many supplies as possible, then order the captains to make for the nearest island. Each ship is to go to a different destination. Even if the infection has reached those, the populations are small. Containment and extermination should not be a problem."
The officer nodded, then began relaying the instructions. The general watched as, on the screens, one ship after another, the ships left. Not every island offered safety, and some of the survivors would likely walk into a deathtrap, but by spreading them out as far as possible, the general was hoping some portion of his nation's people would survive.
At least enough to start over
Hasegawa picked up a phone, a secure line to a secret and heavily fortified location. Fuyutski watched as his superior officer muttered a series of code phrases, then placed the phone back on the receiver with a light click.
"Are you sure? The damage..."
"Will be catastrophic," Hasegawa said. "We will lose our land, possibly forever, but the undead will not have it."
"But sir, why? You said earlier..."
Hasegawa turned to the colonel, and the other man shrank away from his superior's glare. "Our Prime Minister has made his dying declaration," he ground out, and Fuyutski noticed tears in the general's eyes. "I will not dishonor him by refusing to carry out his wishes."
"General, colonel," said the communications officer. "It's happening."
On the screens, the soldiers watched as the warheads soared into the sky like magnificent candles, turning in a graceful arc as they followed their preprogrammed coordinates, dropping onto the major cities of Japan, one after another.
On the battlefield, soldiers heard the explosions, though distant. They looked around in confusion. No one had ordered an air strike. The older officers, veterans of more battles than they cared to remember, recognized the sounds, and knew that for them, their war was over.
On the computerized map of the nation of Japan, a land the two soldiers and friends had spent their lives in service of, one black spot after another appeared, expanding outward, encompassing the island like a plague, a pathogen far more destructive than even the undead.
The monitors gave those in the situation room a perfect view of the carnage. The cameras recorded the undead as they were blown to shreds by the blast wave, the remains incinerated by the atomic fire that engulfed the land. The creatures didn't react to their own annihilation, and Hasegawa watched as heads, now bereft of their bodies, continued to function, the jaws opening and closing, the eyes ever-searching for sustenance. The effect was almost comical, and as the heads too were atomized, the general swore he saw expressions of confusion on the ghouls' faces.
The living were not so lucky. Those few remaining soldiers howled in agony as their skin, muscle and organs were set aflame. Some, despite the pain, stood still, accepting their duty and making the ultimate sacrifice with dignity.
The younger officers turned away from the screens, unable to watch as their brother soldiers were annihilated. A few began to quietly weep, and while the soldier in Hasegawa wanted to scream at them for showing such weakness, the human in him would not allow it, for it took all his strength not to do the same.
One by one, the monitors went dark as the cameras were destroyed.
The footage had been recorded, of course. In the years to come, it would be collected, and used to create a documentary of the infection.
The title of this chapter?
For The Honor.
In the now dimly-lit control center, no one moved. No one spoke. The end had come, as so many feared it would. Seconds stretched into minutes, with only the static from the destroyed communications equipment piercing the silence.
"So it's over," the colonel said, the words echoing like gunshots. "All that we have fought for, it's gone."
Hasegawa shook his head. "No. It is not over. Many of our countrymen have survived. They will need leaders to bring about the rebirth of our nation."
He looked around the underground bunker. "You should all be proud," he said. "What has been asked of us this day has not been easy, and a lesser man would have been broken by the burden. But you bore it well, and with honor. You have served your country well."
With that, the general saluted, turned and left. The officers looked at one another, unsure of what to do. Fuyutski hurried out of the situation room, his booted feet ringing off the metal floor. He found the general in his office. Though sparse, the room gave a proper biography of the career soldier's life. On the desk was the portrait of a beautiful woman with two smiling children. The eldest was saluting, his chin bravely thrust forward, pride in his eyes. Shiro held the glass-encased photo, smiling. "They were on one of the first ships to leave," he said, though the colonel couldn't be sure if he was being spoken to or if the general was merely talking to himself. "The privileges of rank."
Hasegawa began writing some notes. "Sir, may I ask what you're doing?" Shinju asked.
"You've done well under difficult circumstances," Shiro replied. "I'm promoting you to brigadier general. I believe this makes you commander of what remains of our military."
The general walked to his friend and warmly shook his hand. "Congratulations."
"Sir?" was all the newly-minted general could say.
"I know you'll lead them well," Shiro said, clapping a friendly hand to Shinju's shoulder. "Just be sure to remind them what they fight for."
The general walked back to his desk and pulled out an oaken box. It was inlaid with gold in a beautiful pattern. He carefully opened the lid, which squeaked on hinges too rarely put to use. Inside, polished and gleaming as if new, was a revolver, nearly one hundred and fifty years old. An heirloom, passed down from father to son, marking a long, proud lineage of military history. Hasegawa cradled the weapon, and Shinju could see in his eyes what the old soldier planned to do.
"Shiro...no," was all he could muster, in a strained voice.
The general nodded. Hefting the weapon, checking to see that rounds had been chambered. "What we have done this day was necessary to cleanse our land, but it was a crime nonetheless. How many soldiers died this day? Will our homeland ever be habitable again? Neccessary, but that does not excuse the punishment we will face in the great hereafter," he said. "I think I'll go on ahead, see if I can't put in a good word for you all."
"General....please...this isn't the answer....the men, they need you to lead them," Shinju said.
Hasegawa smiled. "I think I've done my fair share, don't you? Besides, you're a more than capable leader. You'll do fine. Now please, give me some time alone with my family."
The general saluted crisply, and his comrade and friend found himself doing the same without even thinking about it. He slowly backed out of the office and, bowing deeply, closed the door.
Alone, the general went back to the photograph of his family. He caressed it gently, remembering the time spent together on weekend picnics, holding his wife in his arms, as they watched their beautiful children play in the grass. He remembered taking them to school, reminding them to always show their teachers the proper respect, and to look out for those that needed help. 'That is the very duty of a soldier," he would say to them. "Respect for your superiors, and protection for those that cannot defend themselves."
The privileges of rank. The ship his wife and children had boarded was supposed to be secure, but in all the chaos of the evacuation, no one had seen the lone man boarding, never saw the large bundle he carried, and when the ship suddenly detonated in a magnificent fireball, none were able to make it to the lifeboats.
The privileges of rank.
Well, there was one more privilege available to him.
The privilege of choice.
As the hot white light entered his eyes, he hoped his choices had been wise ones.