Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Six

Base Camp, Southern Beach of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 2000 hours Local, 25 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Former Staff Sergeant Steven “The Steve” Mountain crawled down into the lower level of the base camp fortification. He looked over at the jury-rigged “command center.” It consisted of a card table with a laptop hooked into the video cameras surrounding the base camp. Mateo was crouched over the computer with a worried expression. The Steve coughed as he neared. Mateo’s head whipped to the sound, and his body relaxed as he saw The Steve standing beside him.

“Dude, you seriously have to relax,” The Steve said, “You are wound up way too tight.”

“How’s Quentin?” Mateo asked, ignoring The Steve’s advice. Staff Sergeant Mountain would have been annoyed if his still novice leader ignored his advice. The Steve, on the other hand, knew better than to get upset. Mateo needed careful nudges, not blunt statements.

“Quentin’s still chatting with some old dude from Arizona,” The Steve answered, “Dude is racking up the bills. Ran the test on his blood when I changed his dressing. He’s cool.” Th Steve gave Mateo his biggest smile. Mateo never asked, and The Steve never said anything, but the silent agreement stood. If any of the team arose as a zombie, The Steve was the one to put them down. If The Steve turned, then Mateo would put the medic down personally. It was cold, calculating, and ruthless, but utterly necessary when dealing with zombies.

“So, Jackie boy’s still being prickly, so Collin sent him to the OP with one of the MAGs,” The Steve reported. The observation post was a small dugout semi-circle with a good view of the most likely approaches. With an FN MAG medium machine gun, even Jack in a bad mood could give the team plenty of warning. Then, there was the small fact of the thirty or so Claymore mines Collin and Sissy emplaced around the perimeter a few hours earlier.

“Collin and the chick racked out. You should probably join them boss,” The Steve said.

“I know, but it’s this new creature,” Mateo said, “It’s like nothing anyone has encountered before. To be honest, I don’t know what to do about it.” The Steve cocked his head back and smiled.

“Sure you do boss man. Bullet to the brainpan. Squish. No more problem.” Mateo smiled at the medic’s lighthearted comment, but completely missed the reference. Mateo put the laptop aside and stood in front of The Steve.

“Okay point made,” Mateo said, clapping The Steve on the shoulder, “Any other sage words of advice, Steve?”

The Steve, boss man” The Steve stressed. He just couldn’t understand how Mateo kept messing that up. “And now that you mentioned it, what are you going to do about Sissy?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mateo answered in a tone that would freeze nitrogen. The cold tone was contrasted by the burning look of warning in Mateo’s dark eyes.

“Whatever dude,” The Steve said, waving a dismissive hand, “But if you don’t clear it up with her, it’s going to be bad for the team. The Steve knows what he’s talking about.” Mateo’s stern look softened as he contemplated The Steve’s words. The Steve agreed with Collin. One of the things that made Mateo a good team leader was his ability to listen to those under him who knew more than him.

“Okay The Steve,” Mateo said, playfully stressing the medic’s chosen moniker, “I’ll take care of it. Not right now, but when we get done with this mission.”

“Shiny,” The Steve said, giving Mateo a thumbs-up.

“Huh?” Mateo asked, arching an eyebrow. The Steve rolled his eyes. Good Lord, didn’t anyone on this team know about the greatest television show ever? The chattering of a machine gun stopped The Steve from educating his team leader. Mountain’s arm shot out and snatched an M4 and magazine pouch from a wall rack. Mateo was already climbing back to the top of the “ice cream cone.”

The main fortification consisted of a cylinder that was twenty feet in diameter and about fifteen feet tall. Its smooth walls sloped slightly outward to make climbing difficult. On top of the cylinder was an armored dome with a narrow balcony that served as a firing position. From a distance, it looked like a grey ice cream cone – hence, the nickname. The Steve strode over to one of the firing slits and slid open the panel. Searchlight beams lanced out into the night. As the beams swept the tree line, The Steve saw the familiar stumbling gait of dozens of zombies. He made a quick mental count. Maybe a couple hundred of them. If reports were right, then every zombie on the island was bearing down on the team. The Steve heard Collin slide down from the upper level. With practiced ease, Collin placed a radio, ear bud, and throat mike on The Steve. A quick double-thump on the shoulder and the radio came to life.

“Jack, fall back!” Mateo half-yelled over the radio, “You aren’t doing anything to them!” Mateo was right. Jack was dropping swaths of zombies with the machine gun, but he was just mowing them across their chests. The zombies simply stood back up and continued their unyielding march. Worse, Jack showed no signs of listening to Mateo’s shouted commands. There was only one chance.

“Jack, look in your left thigh pocket,” The Steve said calmly. The machine gun ceased, and The Steve saw Jack holding the cylinder in his hand.

“What the bloody devil is this?” came the angry voice.

“Twenty cc’s of The Steve’s patent-pending Happy Juice,” The Steve answered, “Slam it into your upper arm now!” Jack hesitated for the briefest instant before jamming the hyperdermic needle into his arm.

“Bloody—“ Jack murmured before he let out a string of pained curses. The MAG started chattering again, but the bursts were ragged. The team joined in attacking the oncoming horde. The Steve counted under his breath. Sissy was using her big rifle. The rest were using M4’s. Zombies were dropping, but not fast enough. The fifteen seconds seemed an eternity.

“Fifteen Mississippi,” “The Steve” said to himself. The MAG fell silent, and for a heartbeat, The Steve questioned his judgment. Did he mix up the Happy Juice correctly? Then, Jack cut down a half-dozen zombies with a long burst that disintegrated their heads. The Steve smiled as he downed his own target. Oh yeah. Jack was back. Mateo didn’t waste any time reacting to Jack’s sudden change.

“Jack keep killing as many as you can for the moment,” Mateo ordered, “Collin, at twenty yards I want you to blow the Claymores. Jack when those mines go off, drop the MAG and move to your left to flank. Sissy, when Jack goes, you cover him. Everyone else, service your targets.” The Steve scowled. The plan was decent, but The Steve promised himself not to give Mateo any more John Ringo books. The team leader was picking up bad terminology. Mateo could’ve just told them to keep killing zombies and everyone would’ve understood just fine.

When not in one of his bad moods, Jack was truly a sight to behold in a firefight. In the few minutes it took for the zombies to shuffle through the twenty yards, Jack took down probably a quarter of them with constant, precise bursts from the machine gun. As the first few zombies crossed the twenty yard line, Jack dropped the machine gun. The Steve could see smaller flashes from the OP. More zombies fell as Jack started with his Glocks. Out of the corner of his eye, The Steve saw Collin clench the clacker to detonate the claymores. Nothing happened. Collin let out a long string of curses as he squeezed the remote twice. No explosions, no scything hail of steel balls, nothing. Collin quickly switched batteries in the remote and squeezed again. No joy.

“Jack, get moving. The mines are a no go!” Collin said. Jack didn’t ask for an explanation. He just scrambled out of the OP firing the two pistols. The Steve focused on his own targets when he saw a dark form leap from behind the shambling wall of decaying flesh. Jack never had a chance as the form crashed down on him. The searchlight illuminated another of the creatures Quentin tangled with earlier. It was naked except for another of those stone carvings it wore around its neck with some kind of rope. The blue and white symbols glittered in the searchlight’s intense beam. It slammed down its wooden club onto Jack’s prone body. The Steve heard the sickening crack over the din of the fight. He aimed at one of the painted symbols on the creature’s black skin and fired. So did every other member of the team. The creature was thrown to the side as five bullets hammered into the creature. It jumped back to its feet. Its rotting face snarled at the humans.

“Sissy, shoot the stone!” Quentin yelled over the radio. Less than a heartbeat, then the creature’s chest disintegrated. The big .338 Lapua round easily shattered the stone before tearing away the soft flesh behind the carving. A second round decapitated the creature. The Steve didn’t even wait for the creature’s body to fall.

“Going for Jack!” The Steve said as he slammed open the door and dashed out into the night. The zombies were maybe fifteen yards from Jack’s body. The Steve sensed Collin running with him and taking out the zombies closest to their fallen teammate. The Steve slid next to Jack’s still form. The blood from the blow to the back of the head coated everything. No pulse. Not good. The Steve unfolded a stretcher and strapped Jack in. Collin dispatched two more zombies before slinging his M4 and grabbing the other handles. The two former soldiers hustled over the ground with their teammates raining down suppressive fire. Collin slammed the door shut and sealed it. The Steve examined their fallen comrade. A quick spray of water revealed the wound. The club severed the spine at the base of the skull. It was a lethal blow. The Steve looked up and met Collin’s eyes. The Steve shook his head. The zombie horde let out a moan. It sounded like gloating.

“Steve, how’s Jack?” Mateo asked between shots.

“He’s gone, sir,” Mountain said with a flat tone. The entire team fell silent. No one noticed the change in their medic. The Steve was gone. Staff Sergeant Steven Mountain awoke from his long-dormant sleep.

“Okay,” Mateo said, “Collin and Steve, engage from down there. Sissy, Quentin, you two are with me. Everyone keep taking out the targets.” SSG Mountain strode over to the nearest firing slit. The horde was maybe ten yards away from the fortification. He placed the holographic reticule over the nearest zombie. He squeezed the trigger. The head was torn in half by the bullet. As he switched to the next target, SSG Mountain fell into a familiar rhythm.

SSG Mountain didn’t notice time. He was a machine. Target. Squeeze. Target. Squeeze. Change magazines. Target. Squeeze. He heard Sissy reporting a second wave of zombies and remembered working harder to beat back a surge. Once, he needed to switch to his Kimber long enough to refill his magazine pouch. Then it was back to the M4. Target. Squeeze. The rumbling moans of the zombie horde did nothing to stop his automated killing.

Then, there were no more targets. Staff Sergeant Mountain searched across the field. Only the unmoving corpses of zombies. The Steve blinked and lowered his weapon. He felt Staff Sergeant Mountain fall back asleep. The darkness was fading with the morning light. The Steve took deep breaths. The air was tainted with the smell of decay and burnt gunpowder. The dirt floor was littered with spent brass. The Steve’s eyes fell on Jack Winchester’s body. Collin, weapon slung, was reciting something in Latin as he placed two copper coins over Winchester’s closed eyes. After Collin crossed himself, the two former soldiers solemnly placed the body into a black bag.

“A helo’s coming to pick up Jack’s body,” Mateo said as he came down from the top, “Our employers are also sending a clean-up crew. From their estimates of the carnage outside, we cleaned out all the zombies on this island.”

“You don’t believe them,” Collin said. It wasn’t a question.

“Quentin told me everything he found out before that horde showed up,” Mateo said, his teeth grinding in fury, “From what he dug up, this couldn’t have been all of the zombies. It may have even been just a small force.”

“Force?” Collin and The Steve asked simultaneously.

“Force,” Mateo answered, “This was a directed attack against us by the person responsible for this breakout. He bet on us being overwhelmed or killing enough to be satisfied.” Mateo squared his shoulders. “M&W wants us off. They’re sure we’re done, and they don’t want us risking ourselves on a fruitless search. I really don’t care. I want this guy, and I want to stop him. I need your support in this.” Collin and The Steve traded a glance. Collin motioned for The Steve to answer.

“I say we aim to misbehave,” The Steve answered with an evil grin.

“Huh?” Mateo asked. The Steve could only shake his head in frustration.

[Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Seven]

Friday Quote – Barry Eisler

The two most important things to do for self-defense are not to take a martial arts class or get a gun, but to think like the opposition and know where you’re most at risk.

Family Dinner Time

My rocket scientist brother and his family moved across the state about eighteen months ago. The sister-in-law and the kiddos were over last weekend. My nephew was telling us about the campaign is running for his new friends. He was explaining how he was using a spider lycanthrope to lure his players into a spooky trap. I turned to The Brother.

Me: I think we did too good of a job.

Remington Shutters Its EBR Wing

According to TTAG Remington shut down Bushmaster, DPMS, and TAPCO.

I noticed it when I was trying to get to the Bushmaster site to get the specs for an ACR. I thought it was a glitch. Not so much.

Metal Tuesday – Within Temptation – Holy Ground

Another strong song off their latest album. And I do so love anime music videos.

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Five

Base Camp, Southern Beach of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1000 hours Local, 25 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Quentin McLintock’s head snapped around to the crack of Sissy’s rifle. Quentin was only a second behind Jack as the two ran to Sissy and Collin. Quentin felt the expected rush as his legs pumped with the familiar rhythm. More than one unwary quarterback had been surprised by the huge man’s speed. Quentin easily overtook Jack. With his new warhammer in hand, Quentin crouched next to the lady sniper. Sissy and Collin were searching the darkened tree line of the jungle with their weapons. Quentin couldn’t see anything that looked like a zombie. Truthfully, Quentin couldn’t see much of anything besides the tall trees covered with leafy green vegetation.

“Collin, what’s going on?” Mateo asked over the team’s radio net.

“Sissy engaged a possible threat,” Collin reported in a flat voice.

“Zombies this close?” Mateo asked, clearly surprised at the prospect.

“Not likely,” Collin said, “Sissy reported something that moved rapidly. I’m thinking one of indigenous threats.”

“I’m telling you it looked humanoid,” Sissy protested to Collin. Over the radio net, Sissy reported, “I don’t know what it was, but it was standing on two legs and moved like lightning.” Quentin looked over at Sissy. Her normal cool voice was shaking. She was breathing hard. What could have spooked her? She was normally unshakable.

“Sissy, I want you to hold where you are. The Steve and I will be joining you,” Mateo said, “Collin, take Jack and Quentin and investigate.” Collin clicked his throat mike twice in acknowledgement. He motioned for Jack and Quentin to follow as he slid through the tall grass. Quentin tried to mimic Collin’s movement, but he just couldn’t move as quietly as the smaller man. It was like trying to follow a shadow.

Collin neared the area where Sissy said the target was, about ten yards into the tree line. The heavy jungle canopy filtered the sunlight. It gave the area an odd coloration. Shadows loomed in odd spots all around the three men. Unfamiliar sounds and scents came from every direction. It was completely different from the forests of Alabama. Quentin decided he did not like the jungle. He suddenly felt very close to his uncle who told harrowing stories of Vietnam. Collin’s call broke into Quentin’s thoughts.

“Over here,” Collin said in a low voice. Jack and Quentin crept over to Collin. The familiar smell of zombie hit Quentin before he saw it. At the commando’s feet was a hunk of rotted flesh. One side was shredded, most likely from a fragmenting .338 round. Collin looked up at the two, and gave a quick smirk.

“I think Sissy did manage to hit something,” Quentin said.

“Too right,” Collin said, “So what is that bloody thing?” Maybe two feet from the hunk was a broken piece of stone. Quentin bent down and picked up the stone fragment. Hints of memory were tickling his mind.

“What’s the matter mate?” Jack asked, his voice growling. Quentin glanced up at Jack. The Aussie was definitely in one of his bad moods. Jack was almost vibrating with impatience.

“The carving on this stone. It looks like something from the Mesoamerican period,” Quentin answered. Quentin was so intently studying the stone in his hand he didn’t notice Collin and Jack staring at him in amazement. “I’m guessing this might have come from the Aztec Empire. The craftsmanship says late fourteenth-century, common era.”

“How in God’s name –“ Jack started to ask. The sudden loud moans caught all three by surprise. Five zombies stumbled out of a patch of shadow, maybe ten feet from the group. All five zombies were intent on the three humans. They shambled forward with all the speed their decomposing bodies could muster. Collin brought up his MP5/10 just in time to bust open one’s head with a burst. Jack drew his two hi-Powers up and wildly blazed away. Quentin swore as he watched the bullets punch uselessly into the zombies’ torsos. With one hand, Quentin grabbed Jack’s shoulder and slammed the smaller man to the ground. Jack was almost useless when he was in one of his bad moods. Quentin whipped his warhammer at the nearest zombie. The lighter weapon wouldn’t decapitate like his old sledge, but it cracked the zombie’s head open just fine. Quentin swung outward and caught a second zombie. The warhammer was also a heck of a lot faster than the sledge. In these close-quarters, speed was life. Quentin brought the hammer around, but the last two were already down. Collin stood over his two kills, changing magazines in his sub-machine gun.

“Fall back,” Collin hissed as he searched the shadows for any other surprises. Jack started to argue, but it died with one look at Collin’s face. Quentin tucked the stone carving in his pocket before turning to sprint out of the jungle. He took two steps before something grabbed his leg. Quentin stumbled, but years of playing football kept him from falling. He swung the warhammer down at whatever grabbed him. A blur of motion shot into the air, missing the low branches by scant inches. As it fell out of the air at him, Quentin caught the form in the side with a swing that would have made Jackie Robinson proud. The creature screamed as the force of Quentin’s blow slammed it into a tree. Quentin’s eyes went wide as it quickly picked itself off the jungle floor.

The decaying and putrid flesh hanging off the small, wiry frame was like a zombie. The quick, jerky movements as it stood upright was completely unlike any undead Quentin fought before. The humanoid thing’s dark skin was covered with strange symbols done in blue and white body paint. Quentin ignored the familiar tickle of remembrance as the thing hurtled itself at him. Quentin sidestepped a moment too slow. There was a burning pain as the thing’s claws raked his hip. It slid past Quentin and dove at him again. Quentin slammed the ball of the hammer’s pommel squarely into the creature’s broad nose. It fell back a few feet and then reached out again like it didn’t even feel the blow. Realization lit in Quentin’s mind. It wasn’t attacking him. It was trying to get at the stone! Quentin stepped forward, exposing the pocket where he tucked the stone. As the thing’s arms reached out, Quentin struck its hip with a powerful blow. As it tried to scamper up from the ground, Quentin whirled the hammer in his hand. The sharp hook of the metal beak easily punched through the thing’s skull. It jerked once and then went limp. Quentin searched around as he fought to catch his breath. He didn’t want another of those things sneaking up on him. Quentin’s body felt like the fight lasted an hour, but experience told him only a couple of minutes elapsed. Collin came out of nowhere and tugged at the Quentin’s sleeve.

“What are you doing? Get out of here!” Collin snapped.

“We need to grab –“ Quentin started, but stopped as he watched the creature dissolve down to a dirty skeleton. Without any of the connective tissue to hold them together, the bones collapsed to the jungle floor. Quentin was too shocked to say anything else as Collin pulled him out of the jungle.

Collin, Jack, and Quentin ran back to where Sissy was crouched in the grass with The Steve and Mateo. The Steve took one look at Quentin’s hip and went to work. Medical supplies appeared in the medic’s hand as he expertly cut away the fabric. The Steve paused for a split second as he examined the wound. Quentin’s hip blossomed with pain as The Steven slapped on some sort of clear gel. The medic quickly covered the wound with a pad.

“What got you?” The Steve asked, completely devoid of his characteristic good humor, “It didn’t look like a bite.” Quentin shook his head.

“That thing scratched me,” Quentin answered, “I don’t know what it was, but I think it was what Sissy took a shot at.” There was an odd relief in the medic’s eyes, and the familiar smile spread across his face. Before Quentin could say anything, The Steve holstered a small pistol. Quentin realized if it had been a bite, the Steve would’ve been the one to put him down before he changed. It was disturbing and comforting at the same time.

Collin and Sissy kept watch over the jungle as the others went back to erecting the pre-fab fortifications. It was hard physical labor, but it let Quentin think about the creature and the stone. Why did the creature want the stone so badly? His thoughts were interrupted as Mateo stopped them at mid-afternoon to rest.

“Quentin, would you come over here?” Mateo asked. Quentin wondered what was going on as he walked over to Mateo. The team leader pointed at his laptop. A slightly distorted picture of the creature was displayed.

“How did you get that?” Quentin blurted out.

“M&W sent us some new advanced video camera. I recorded the whole encounter for debrief,” Mateo answered, “Do you know what that thing was?”

“No, but it was after this,” Quentin said, holding up the stone carving, “And no, I don’t know why.”

“Jack said you knew what that stone is,” Mateo said.

“Actually, I have no clue,” Quentin said, “I recognize some of the markings. I’ve never encountered an artifact like this before.”

“Then, Mr. McLintock, Masters in Anthropology, I think it’s time for you to call in some lifelines,” Mateo said, “Shake whatever trees you need to find out what that is. I have a feeling we’re about to walk into the meat grinder.”

[Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Six]

Friday Quote – Nipsey Hussle

If you look at the people in your circle and don’t get inspired, then you don’t have a circle. You have a cage.

Random Thoughts Part 735

We picked up some Mountain Dew Zero. I like it, at least as much as Diet Mountain Dew. Even better, this is a zero calorie as compared to Diet Dew’s low calorie. But Derek, Diet Dew is only 5 calories per 20 oz. Yeah, but with the quantities I drink on a regular basis, that adds up quick. DON’T JUDGE ME.

I’ve finished listening to the new book The End Is Always Near by Dan Carlin (of Hardcore History fame). How to describe it?

–Never listened to Hardcore History: How are we still alive? –Listens to episodes once, when they come out: How are we still alive? –Listens to episodes repeatedly: Oh, this again?

I still recommend his Hardcore History podcast.

Even after being together for better than two-and-a-half years, and being married for almost a year, it still amazes me how loud my wife’s family gets, and how quickly the volume ramps up. For them, that’s normal. For my family, that volume level is akin to a cobra showing its hood. One last ditch attempt to scare off someone before violence happens.

After almost two decades, I now have a subscription to the local paper. Sunday only. Mostly, it was coupons. Part of it is I’m leaning more to paying for content.

Unpossible!

A felon gets a visit from the local deputies over threatening statements. Then, he told them something interesting.

  • The man showed deputies hazardous materials in a self-proclaimed powder room.*

  • Hazmat and the bomb squad collected suspicious chemicals, many of which were precursors for making explosives. About 2-3 pounds of homemade TATP, a highly sensitive organic peroxide explosive, was also found. The TATP was safely detonated at an east Manatee County gun range that night.*

Please tell me how all the laws surrounding felons from procuring explosives were effective.

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Four

Fifty Miles Off of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1830 hours Local, 24 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 1 week

Sissy O’Connell watched the gorgeous Pacific sunset from the stern of the converted cargo ship. She regretted leaving her long blonde hair down and loose. The downwash from the helicopters kept sweeping it into her eyes. Still, the view was worth the hassle. The orange sun melted into the blue waters highlighted by a sky lit with reds and purples. It was more beautiful than any of the paintings Sissy adored. She watched with constant fascination as the sun slowly dropped under the horizon, and then a bit longer until the natural light was replaced by the blazing white of the lights on the flight deck. The time gave Sissy a chance to get herself centered.

Sissy left the flight deck and made her way down to her team’s rooms. They were two levels below the flight deck and separated from the ship’s crew and M&W’s security people. Sissy was still amazed an insurance company owned and operated its own helicarrier. Mr. Brown, the bespectacled liaison from M&W, mentioned something about the ship being a prototype for the British Navy to convert cargo ships to Harrier carriers during the height of the Cold War. Considering Sissy had been five years old when the Iron Curtain fell, that historical fact meant absolutely nothing to her. What did matter to her was that the technological improvements M&W put into their private warship meant the vessel didn’t need much in the way of crew, and gave the team an inordinate amount of privacy. Sissy was relieved as she finally descended into the empty corridor. She was getting tired of the stares from the sailors.

Her room was the first on the left from the – ladder? Stairs? Ships were so bizarre. Opposite of her room, Sissy heard a pitiful moan from Quentin’s cabin. The former rough and tumble football player was laid low by seasickness. Dramamine didn’t do a thing for Quentin, and the team medic wouldn’t give him anything stronger. Sissy admired Quentin’s grit as he joined the team for exercise and weapons training every morning – even when he looked like death warmed over. Sissy decided to check back on Quentin after she was done with her other teammates. He needed the most attention at the moment.

“Hey Matt,” Sissy said, gently rapping on the open door, “Everything going okay?” Mateo spun in his chair. He clenched the papers in his hand in a death grip as he looked at Sissy. His eyes darted all over his room.

”Um, yeah. I’m just – I’m just getting the final bit of the planning finished,” Mateo half-stammered. His twitching shoulders telegraphed his unease. Sissy stifled the sigh before it escaped her lips. During exercises, Mateo was completely different. He was never uneasy or had any trouble speaking to her. The times when the team wasn’t training, like now, he just looked like he was trying to escape from her. She didn’t know what it was about her that made Mateo so uncomfortable, but she figured she’d try one more time tonight to pull him out.

“Okay,” Sissy said warmly, “Don’t stay up too late. Early morning. Could be a long day.”

“Uh, yeah,” Mateo said, staring at the papers in his hand, “Thanks.” She grimaced as Mateo whirled back to his work.

“Don’t worry too much about him,” whispered a voice behind her. Sissy jumped in surprise, and then whirled on a smiling Steve “The Steve” Mountain. How did he always manage to do that? Frustrated and angry, she punched the smiling medic in the chest.

“Idiot.”

“Relax chica,” The Steve said, ignoring the punch and the insult with his characteristic smile, “The Steve understands the boss man. The Steve sees the signs. Let The Steve handle this.” Sissy looked into The Steve’s brown eyes. There was a steady dedication behind the normally laughing eyes. The Steve may be a bit touched in the head, but he was dedicated to healing the physical and emotional wounds of his teammates.

“Well I guess I better check on Collin and Jack then,” Sissy said.

“Don’t bother,” The Steve said, “Collin racked out fast. That whole grab-sleep-when-you-can thing. Jack’s in one of his bad moods, so The Steve locked him in his cabin until the morning brief.” Sissy nodded in tired resignation. She didn’t even want to contemplate Jack walking around the ship in one of his dark moods. Someone was bound to wind up hurt – or dead.

“Listen, get some rack time. You’re worrying too much,” The Steve said with as much sincerity as the medic could muster. Sissy turned back to her room as The Steve went to his own room. She changed out of her fatigues into a comfortably over-large T-shirt and pajama bottoms. Sissy looked at herself in the small mirror of the room. She finally admitted it. She was terrified. She couldn’t hide from it anymore by taking care of the others. Sissy was scared. Scared that she would die, or she would make a mistake and one of her teammates would die. They reminded her so much of her brothers.

No, she admitted to herself, her fear wasn’t that simple. She knew where her fear came from, but she just couldn’t face it. Sissy snatched Frederick off the bed. The stuffed toy monkey usually chased away the fear. Not this time. As she clutched at Frederick, her eyes fell on the long black case. Her rifle case. Her father’s deep, warm voice filled her ears and heart. Don’t worry Little Bit, everything’s going to be all right. The fear was finally banished for the night. Sissy gently placed Frederick back on the bed. She put on her slippers. Quentin still needed some looking after before the morning meeting.

Fifty Miles Off of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 0630 hours Local, 24 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Sissy watched the water as the helicopter sped towards the target. The island didn’t even have a name, just a long alphanumeric designation Sissy couldn’t remember. The mission was simple. Land and disembark, set up base camp, and then eradicate every zombie on the island. She smiled as she remembered Mateo’s words from the morning meeting.

“Now we all know the saying’s easy. The doing’s going to be a mite bit harder,” Mateo told the group. Sissy didn’t know where that southern accent came from, but it relieved a little of the tension of the team. Sissy closed her eyes and tried to keep calm as the helicopter neared the island.

The distinct buzzsaw sound of miniguns signaled the descent to the island. Two escort gunship helicopters provided a distraction to cover the team’s insertion. Zombies were attracted by loud sounds, and the sound of two helicopters spraying thousands of 7.62mm NATO into the jungle was a very loud sound. Hopefully, it was loud enough to cover the sound of a single helicopter dropping off six people.

The helicopter made an easy descent. Sissy barely noticed the helicopter touching the grassy ground. Collin and The Steve were the first off. The two former military men jumped out of the helicopter with an easy grace. They were already thirty feet from the helicopter with their weapons up and searching before Sissy and Jack were ushered off by the hurried crew chief. Sissy hit the deceptively hard ground, barely remembering to move away from the helicopter. She moved as fast as she could while crouched, keeping the little H&K MP7 submachine gun braced. The roar of the helicopter’s engine meant Mateo and Quentin were off as well. She felt the intense downwash as the helicopter lifted back into the sky.

“Okay team, huddle up,” Mateo said. Mateo held a green plastic device, about the size of a hardcover book. A large screen dominated the top of the device. A map of the island appeared. Their current position on the south end of the island was designated as “Landing Zone One.” The island was roughly circular and was maybe a mile at its widest point. There was a dense jungle in the center of the island with a band of tall grasslands and smaller sprouts of jungle between the center and the beaches.

“Latest intel has most of the zombies still on the north end of the island,” Mateo said, pointing to the grassy area with a small growth of jungle, “Numbers still estimated at a few hundred.”

“Do you believe that?” Jack asked, sarcastically.

“I’m willing to use that as the low figure,” Mateo answered. He took a moment to look at the time display on the device. “We’ve got about nine hours of daylight. Collin, I want you and Sissy to clear the immediate area while the rest of us set up base camp.” Jack scowled and Quentin made a playful groan as the two walked over to the large metal boxes dropped off the helicopter with them. The Steve smiled as he strode behind the two.

“Well lass, let’s get this done,” Collin said, hefting his MP5/10. Sissy folded up and holstered the MP7 and removed her beloved “Danny-Boy” from its protective bag. Sissy worked the bolt and felt the welcome sound of the .338 Lapua round feeding into the chamber. The two strode away from the others. For Sissy, the stride was a familiar hunting walk. The two quietly walked about fifty yards from where the others were erecting the base camp. The edge of the jungle was another hundred yards off. Strange sounds emanated from the darkened forest that stirred up the terror from the previous night. Sissy gripped her rifle closer.

There was a blur of motion from the jungle. She spun to bring the rifle at the dark shape. It was indistinct, but humanoid. The scope did nothing to resolve the form as she brought her rifle to her shoulder in a single fluid motion. Sissy took a quick breath and let it out as she gently squeezed the trigger.

[Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Five]

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