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