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."