Skull Island, Southern Pacific – 2000 hours Local – 14 July 2009 – Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 2 weeks

Collin DuBois looked at the other two men in the small office. Kenn Blanchard’s ready room was located just off of Skull Island’s command center. Twelve large plasma screens beamed views from all over the island. Kenn was dressed in black fatigues and sitting behind a metal desk. Smoke from a burning Monte Cristo swirled around the infamous “Black Man With A Gun,” giving Kenn a mysterious visage. Mateo, Collin’s team leader, was slumped in a leather chair with a distinct air of self-recrimination. Mateo loosely held a glowing Cusano cigar, but he hadn’t taken more than a few puffs. Mateo’s normally tan skin was pale. Collin didn’t understand the American fascination with cigars. Instead he was nursing a tumbler of a very good Glenfiddich scotch. The former SAS soldier stood with a relaxed ease as he studied one of the plasmas.

“So what happened?” Kenn asked Mateo. Kenn didn’t glower in anger as he asked, but gave Mateo a look of concern.

“Jack just lost it during the fight,” Mateo said flatly, “I can’t figure out how I missed it. I mean Jack was loud and mean to everyone but Sissy on the training ranges, but he always did what we needed him to do. I just chalked it up to his resentment of being forced to come back to Skull Island. I never thought he had a death wish.” Mateo took another puff on his cigar, but didn’t seem to enjoy it.

“He doesn’t Matty, so quit being so rough on yourself,” Collin answered, his normal London cockney replaced with the crisp King’s accent, “Mr. Blanchard, would you be so kind as to replay Jack’s actions this morning, sir?” Kenn tapped on the keyboard, and the three watched the replay of the fight with the zombies. Kenn paused it after Jack was dragged back to the line.

“I must admit Collin, Jack’s sure acting like he’s trying to get himself killed,” Kenn commented.

“Really?” Collin asked, with a soft reproach in his tone. The same kind sergeants always used to rebuke their headstrong officers, “I see a young man breaking free of a role he was never intended to play.”

“Spit it out Collin,” Mateo said, his dark eyes flashing with an annoyance, “Tell us what we’re missing.” Collin’s ivory smile broke his obsidian face. He liked his team leader. Mateo was an odd choice. Unlike so many of the team, Mateo had no military or other professional combat background. He was just a civilian who took some of the combat courses offered in America by private companies. Yet that civilian knew how to listen, and the shorter man took great pains to make sure he didn’t make the same mistake twice. That was head and shoulders above what Collin faced with so many of his officers.

“The plan was good for a normal squad of soldiers, but we don’t have a normal squad of soldiers,” Collin said, “Each member has unique talents and styles of fighting. If we’re going to be an effective team, our plans are going to have to take those into account.” Mateo took a long draw on his cigar as he shot Collin a skeptical look.

“Okay, how long did it take you after we landed back at base to come up with this?” Mateo asked, “Because, if I remember correctly, you were pretty pissed when we left the field. I was half-expecting to need to order Quentin to keep you away from Jack.” Collin shifted under his team leader’s look. Sometimes having a perceptive leader was a double-edged sword.

“Yes, well, heat of the moment and such,” Collin said with an uncharacteristic uncomfortable look, “Still, once away from the field, it’s quite easy to see how uniquely talented young Mr. Winchester is.”

“How is charging into a mess of zombies a unique talent?” Kenn asked, his eyebrow arched quizzically.

“Did you see how many of the walking dead Jack put down before we dragged him off?” Collin asked in response, “The boy may be a bit loose in the head, but his dance of death is the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.” Collin gulped down the last swallow of Scotch and pointed at the monitor. “Look at him. It’s like watching a Hollywood-choreographed gunfight, right up to the two pistols blazing away.”

“He almost got himself killed,” Mateo said. Collin nodded grudgingly.

“Yes, well, I didn’t say it was a perfect thing. Just spectacular,” Collin admitted, “That’s why we have a spread of talent, as it were. If we manage to get all of us working in synch – well, we could very well shake the pillars of heaven.”

“That good, huh?” Mateo asked.

“Quite.”

Skull Island, Southern Pacific – 0930 hours Local – 16 July 2009 – Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 12 days

Collin silently slid through the undergrowth. For the first time in months he felt alive. At his core, Collin was a predator. The slow track built up the tension just waiting for the explosion of action as Collin took down his prey. The SAS were more than willing to hone young Collin’s natural talent for hunting hominids, and they rewarded Collin by dropping him in every hell hole the British commando forces operated. Collin was put to the test against the best of his enemies: the Irish, the Iraqis, the Taliban, and even the bloody Chileans. He missed that constant testing when he joined up with one of the many private security companies operating in the Middle East. If he hadn’t needed the bloody money… Oh well, at least he was back hunting the undead. Compared to the humans Collin had been hunting, zombies were easy to track and had all the survival instinct of – how did The Steve put it? Ah yes – “lemmings on crystal meth.” Yet, they were still the most dangerous hominids Collin hunted. Not individually, but the walking dead was rarely caught alone.

Collin followed the tracks of the zombie horde to a clearing in the normally dense jungle forest. From the burnt ground of the clearing and the new foliage around the edges, this was where Tampa Team did one of their insertions. Bloody Americans – burn everything down, shoot anything that moves, and then figure out the situation. No grace, no finesse. Collin surveyed the scene before him as he reported to the rest of the team.

“Mattie, I’ve stumbled across a few of the buggers,” Collin said in a low voice into the throat mike, “Maybe about thirty or so. Looks like they’ve managed to dig up the odd smuggler band for morning tea.” Collin read off the GPS coordinates.

“Oh good, the Gunny’s been wondering what happened to that group,” Mateo said, “Jack and Quentin, close up on Collin. Sissy, find a spot you can work from. Steve, you’re with me.”

“The Steve, boss-man,” the medic chimed in. Collin could almost hear Mateo roll his eyes.

Collin kept himself occupied studying the zombies before he heard his two teammates tromping through the jungle about ten minutes later. To be honest, they were doing a fair job of keeping the noise to a minimum. They just weren’t up to his standards. Granted, the zombies were making more noise with their constant moans. Considering the undead tended to hunt by homing in on loud noise, this was a good thing. Still, there was the principle of the thing. Collin swallowed the tiny annoyance and put on his game face as Jack and Quentin moved next to him.

“Okay, so there are plenty of them for all of us,” Collin said, nodding to the zombies.

“Let’s not keep them waiting, shall we?” Quentin and Jack mirrored Collin’s own smile. The three spread out along the tree line. Collin crouched and brought up his weapon, a suppressed MP5/10 with a mounted EOTech. He glanced left and right to check on the other two. Satisfied, Collin triggered a burst into the closest zombie. Over the collective moans and half-screeches, the MP5/10 was effectively silent. The three ten millimeter bullets slammed into the base of the zombie’s skull and effortlessly shredded the brain. Collin waited a half-second just to make sure the horde of zombies didn’t suddenly turn and charge the three humans. Satisfied, Collin motioned Jack to attack.

Jack strode out into the clearing with the two pistols clutched in his hands. These weren’t Jack’s precious Brownings. Those were holstered on his thighs. Instead, the Australian wielded a pair suppressed Glock 17’s, each loaded with big 33-round magazines. Jack paused for the briefest moment before he unleashed a pair of double taps at the zombies closest to him. As the first two zombies crumpled to the burnt ground, Jack slid to the right. From where Collin was sitting, it looked like Jack was simply spraying the zombies with random gunfire, but the commando knew the truth. Jack was fully in the zone and letting loose with aimed double-taps at a speed that few competition shooters could hope to match. Collin focused on his own prey and triggered another burst at a zombie that managed to get a whiff of the new humans.

“Team, Jack is on the southern end of the clearing and working his magic,” Collin reported, “Quentin and I are on the west side being a bit quieter.” Collin felt the thump as Quentin took the head off of a zombie with a long hafted twenty-pound sledgehammer. With one hand. Good God, what did the Americans feed their children? Quentin just gave Collin a slow, lazy grin – a split second before slamming the hammer down on another straying zombie. Again with one hand, much to Collin’s private amazement.

“Sissy, cover Jack,” Mateo ordered, “Collin, we’re coming in from the northwest. Let’s backstop Jack.”

“Too bloody right,” Collin said, rising to open fire on a pair of zombies that suddenly turned to walk towards Collin and Quentin. Both were quickly dispatched with bursts to the head. Mateo hit the nail on the head with this idea. Let the close-quarters fighters engage with “quiet” weapons and take full advantage of their mobility against the slow moving monsters. The others were there to provide additional support with the heavier, noisier weapons once the monsters finally figured out they were being attacked.

The unique crack of Sissy’s L96 signaled the zombies were finally aware of the humans putting them down. Jack was bounding back towards Collin and Quentin as another zombie was decapitated by a .338 Lapua round from Sissy. The woman was scary fast with that rifle. Collin wished Sissy had been with his SAS team during that last romp through Ulster. The sudden sound of pistol fire snapped Collin back into the present. The empty Glocks were at Jack’s feet, and the Aussie now held his shiny, nickel-plated Brownings. Collin methodically placed three-round bursts into the zombies drawn into the kill zone by Jack’s movement and gunfire. The thirty zombies were down to maybe a dozen or so when Mateo and The Steve opened on their flank with M4’s. There wasn’t the confusion Collin would have seen in humans. Humans would have scrambled to deal with the new threat and blundered badly. Yet, that lack of reaction made it easier for Mateo and The Steve to pick off zombies with almost a casual ease. Between the six teammates, the dozen zombies lasted maybe fifteen seconds.

“Well, that worked out much better,” Quentin commented as the team regrouped.

“Quite,” Collin said in a stereotypical British understatement. Collin caught Mateo’s eye and nodded. The team was ready to do some zombie clearing.

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Four