About twenty miles north of Lake City FL, 0800 hours Local, 18 October 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 12 days
"YEEHAW!" The Steve hollered over the roaring engine. The pickup rattled ominously as it sped down the highway. Mateo wondered if the truck would shake apart before the team even reached their objective. That would definitely fall into the "not good" category. Especially considering the pickup truck was holding the precious cargo.
The small convoy – consisting of Mateo and The Steve in the pickup behind two large U-Haul trucks with the four other members of their small team – continued its race to reach the five hundred strong zombie horde as it crept down the highway towards Lake City. Lake City wasn’t one of Florida’s great metropolises, but there were enough people who lived there for the horde to explode exponentially. That many zombies would threaten the entire state of Florida, and possibly the southeast United States. At that point, the United States government would be left one option, and Mateo really didn’t want part of his home state glowing for the next thousand years.
Once out of Forreston’s electro-magnetic black hole, Sport was able to make contact with Mackenzie & Winston’s on-site team. The exchange wasn’t pretty and left the normally quiet Brit swearing with curses that Mateo had never even thought of using. Sifting through the varied connotations, Mateo gathered the M&W leader decided his job was recovery, not defense, and therefore, had advised the local authorities to evacuate Lake City. The local authorities were desperately trying to organize an evacuation, but the town was in pure panic. Regular people didn’t handle zombies well. That left Mateo’s team as the only defense between five hundred zombies and the twelve thousand residents of Lake City.
Following conventional zombie fighting techniques, the team faced two options. First, the team could nibble at the edges of the horde and hope to whittle it down before the zombies reached the city’s outskirts. The second option was the team could try to force the horde into a single engagement. The sheer number of the zombies and the distance to Lake City ruled out the first option, and the lack of shooters and explosives ruled out the second. Fortunately, Mateo had The Steve.
"Boss, that dude’s playing Pied Piper with a tanker truck," The Steve said, "So let’s use it. I’m thinking TB."
"I’m fairly certain you’re not asking me to give a disease to the undead," Mateo replied dryly. "So, what are you talking about?"
"TB. Thermo-baric," The Steve said, "Used to be called a fuel-air explosive. Spray out a cloud of fuel and ignite. The force obliterates everything around it."
The Steve went into a more technical and graphic description, and Mateo’s eyes went wide in shock. Use something casually referred to as the poor man’s nuke? What was his medic thinking? Still, the plan The Steve laid out made a certain amount of sense. Mateo half-wondered if he was becoming as insane as The Steve.
Perhaps the most startling part of the whole plan was that it wasn’t the first time The Steve used it. There were muttered references to, "this one time, outside of Fallujah," as the medic slapped together a bizarre looking device called "the Sprayer." Mateo wasn’t sure how he felt when The Steve promised this time would go a lot smoother than the last time. Something about "not going eighty miles an hour with every SOB unloading an AK at us." For the briefest instant, Mateo could almost understand why The Steve acted like he did, including insisting everyone, including himself, refer to him as "The Steve." The man had done some epic things before he even step foot on Skull Island to compete in Zombie Strike. As The Steve worked through the night, Mateo and the others assembled the needed vehicles.
"Target sighted Mr. Cortez," Slim reported, yanking Mateo out of his reminiscence on the previous night, "Mr. DuBois requests we move into formation." At another time, Slim’s insistence on maintaining formality might have struck Mateo as amusing. At the moment, it grated on strained nerves. Mateo swallowed his angry retort. Slim didn’t really deserve it.
"Do it," Mateo gritted out through clenched teeth. Ahead of Mateo, the two U-hauls closed up and drove side-by-side. Jim, the cowboy who fought beside them the previous night, drove one of the big trucks with Sport riding shotgun. Collin had been forced to drive the other. Of the three Brits on the team, Collin was the only one who had driven on the "bloody damn wrong side of the road" as Collin so eloquently put it. Slim was riding with Collin to provide fire support. The plan was relatively simple. The two U-hauls would clear the path for Mateo and The Steve. Once they opened a space, Mateo would maneuver next to the tanker, allowing The Steve to board and mount the Sprayer. If all went well, the team would recover The Steve, escape, and watch as the improvised TB bomb annihilated the horde. Then, it was just a matter of dispatching the few zombies weren’t vaporized by the big boom. If all went according to plan.
Mateo slowed as the two trucks plowed into the horde. It was like watching the two large vehicles hit a mud pit. They bumped and jostled as they ran down the zombies. Mateo jinked all over the road as he tried to avoid most of the corpses. A pocket opened up, and Mateo gunned the truck. As he came up to the right side of the tanker, The Steve scampered up the side. The tanker was barely making five miles an hour, so The Steve had no trouble running along the top of the tanker to one of the top openings. He cracked open the tanker’s hatch. The fumes slapped him with an almost physical blow.
"Boss we’ve got a bit of a problem," The Steve said, "Do you happen to know if crystal meth is flammable?"
"What?" Mateo asked, startled enough by the question he almost collided with the tanker.
"Doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t burn right anyway," The Steve muttered, "Looks like the Templetons are big into the hillbilly heroin trade boss. This thing’s about a quarter full of liquid crystal meth. Can’t use this to make a TB bomb." Mateo thought furiously as The Steve plinked away at the zombies on the far side of the tanker. The plan just went Tango-Uniform, so what did Mateo have to work with? The two U-hauls, the pickup, The Steve’s useless piece of machinery, six shooters – and the tanker. The idea flashed through Mateo’s mind.
"Okay, who knows how to drive a semi?" Mateo asked over the radio net.
"Mr. Collins says that he can," Sport answered.
"Get Jim into that cab now," Mateo ordered, "Tell him that as soon as he’s in, he needs to floor it until we’re about a mile or so from this horde." There was a moment of silence from Sport.
"What am I supposed to at that point?" Sport asked.
"Learn to drive American. Fast," The Steve quipped, "I’ll clear the cab. Give me a minute." The Steve trotted across the top of the tanker slinging his carbine. Mateo lost sight of The Steve as the medic dropped into the gap between the tank trailer and the cab. The Steve climbed around the side of the cab with a practiced ease that surprised Mateo. The cab door opened violently. The Steve casually grabbed the driver and flung him out onto the asphalt. Mateo grimaced as he watched the driver go under the rig’s wheels. He was hoping to subdue the drive and get information from him.
Sport cautiously edged up to the semi’s cab. The Steve held the rig steady as Jim stepped out off the U-Haul and into the cab. An instant later, the semi’s big diesel roared and the vehicle leapt forward. The zombies tried to keep up with the tanker in an almost comical fashion. The other vehicles matched the tanker and sped away from the horde. Mateo brought the convoy to a halt when they had put a mile’s worth of highway between the horde and themselves.
"So what’s the plan boss?" The Steve boomed as he stepped out of the semi.
"We’ve got three very heavy and very massive vehicles," Mateo said, motioning his team around him, "We’re going to line them up in a line abreast, with the semi in the center. Then we’re going to keep running that horde down until there are no more walkers."
"And after that Matty?" Collin asked.
"After that is the big finale," Mateo said cryptically before explaining the last part of the plan to his team. Their predatory smiles matched their leader’s. The Steve and Collin would drive the U-Hauls with Jim handling the big rig. Mateo, Sport, and Slim would follow in the pickup truck. They would whittle down the horde as the trucks rolled over the horde.
The approach of the convoy was greeted by a ragged chorus of hunting moans by the zombie horde. The trucks’ roared in response and picked up speed. As the rolling phalanx charged at the undead, Mateo and his two shooters set up roughly a hundred yards down the highway. A sickening crunch erupted over the sounds of the engines as the trucks slammed into the zombies. The vehicles staggered for a moment as their wheels momentarily lost traction from the slippery remains of the undead. More zombies were knocked to the side and around the trucks.
"Wait," Mateo said to his shooters, "Wait until they’re standing." The Brits didn’t acknowledge the order, but Slim took down the first zombie that wobbled to its feet. Within seconds, the shooters were unleashing a fusillade of precision fire.
The trucks broke through the horde. Roughly half of the zombies were still walking. They turned en masse to chase the trucks. The rumbling engines acted as the perfect lure for the zombies. The shooters put down another twenty by the time the trucks turned around and came in for a second pass. The trucks reduced the walkers to a little over a hundred. The third pass, and the constant gunfire from Mateo’s shooters, finished the walkers. It was time to finish the job.
The Steve had made the modifications to the Sprayer while the rest of the team was getting the trucks together. Instead of turning the tanker into a TB bomb, the Sprayer was used to coat the crawling zombies with the gasoline from one of the U-Hauls. A strike of the match and the remains of the horde exploded into a wall of flame. The team relaxed as they watched the zombies burn. Mateo let them enjoy the sight as he contemplated his future.
One thing was certain. Mateo couldn’t go back to a normal life. Being a leader, especially a leader of zombie hunters, scared him. The people under him could die, or worse, if he made a mistake. Even with that fear, Mateo couldn’t shrug away his duty. Mateo could feel the dark times coming. It was time for him to step up and embrace his destiny.