Aztec Ruins, 150 miles south of Mexico City, 1100 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 29 days
Quentin McLintock was fighting fatigue and grief. William "Billy" Shakespear, the Native American dervish who pretty much took down a fifty-zombie horde on his own, took one look at Quentin and started processing the bodies. Such a clean word for such a gruesome task. They were joined by the team Mackenzie and Winston sent down to assist in the clean-up of the camp site. Quentin just couldn’t watch their clinical efficiency with the corpses of those he called friends and colleagues. So, he did what he could do to stop this horror from happening again. Quentin grabbed a laptop and went into the temple and started to try and decipher why Giant and his minions attacked the camp.
The temple looked gray as filtered light managed to reach into its main room. The floor was strewn with broken shards of what looked to be clay tablets of some sort. Quentin went to work. As he immersed himself, he barely noticed the gray light turn to amber from the dawn. He didn’t stop. He was making so little progress. Then, Quentin noticed the ambient light in the temple darken. Annoyance flashed through his tired mind. Who was interrupting him now? Don’t they understand how crucial–
"Hello Quentin," said a familiar voice that shouldn’t be anywhere near this temple. Quentin almost dropped the piece of clay tablet in his hands. He was sure his fatigued mind was playing tricks on him. Still, there was the faint glimmer of hope it was true. Quentin turned to see Mateo Cortez standing in the opening with a warm smile on his face.
"What are you doing here?" Quentin asked, his mind still unable to reconcile with what his eyes were seeing. The last time Quentin saw this man was on Skull Island. Mateo was boarding a helicopter and swearing never to have anything to do with zombies or zombie hunting again. Now he was standing in the doorway of the temple in a strange set of armor with an odd rifle hanging at his chest on a tactical sling. Why was he here now?
"Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe," Mateo said, "I’m team lead for the Skull Island Zombie Response Team. It’s a long story we don’t have time for right now." Mateo’s smile vanished, replaced by a determined look. Quentin remembered that look with fondness. Mateo was back and fully in command. For some reason, that gave Quentin a small sense of peace.
"I talked with the guy, Billy, outside, but he says you’re the only one who saw the primaries. What can you tell me?" Mateo asked.
"One guy who looked like he was a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than me. Two more like the prisoner," Quentin answered, "I think they were searching for how the Aztecs created zombies and gollums. Did you ask the prisoner?"
"He’s not talking due to a bad case of death," Mateo said, "Not sure how he managed to suicide, but the body’s off to Mexico City for autopsy. The clean-up crew was nice enough to do some forensic work before it left. I’ve got Collin and The Steve working on that. What have you found here?"
"This is definitely the place where the followers of Xipe Totec created their own versions of the undead," Quentin said, waving his hand around the temple’s main chamber. "Giant broke all of the tablets relating to the process, but I’ve managed to piece enough together. Also found a half-dozen gollum medallions."
"How do you know Giant broke them?" Mateo asked. Quentin held up one of the broken tablets.
"No erosion on the broken edges," Quentin answered. "Giant’s the most likely suspect."
"Were those the ones Giant left, or did he not understand their significance?" Mateo asked.
"I don’t know, Matt," Quentin answered, tiredly, "Maybe if I knew more about how gollums were created in the first place. My guess is Giant left these for some reason. He knew too much about this place not to know about the medallions."
"That makes finding this guy priority," Mateo concluded, "What do you need to find out what he’s after?" Quentin gave Mateo a wide-eyed stare. Did he even begin to understand what he was asking? No, Mateo never did when he made his impossible requests. Yet, they couldn’t be impossible because no one had yet to fail him.
"I need to find out why they smashed up the place," Quentin said, thinking furiously, "No reason to waste time demolishing the place unless they were covering their tracks." Mateo nodded in agreement. Mateo cupped his hand to his ear.
"Jess, I need you and the Brit Boys down here," Mateo said. Quentin watched as his friend’s expression blossom with consternation at this Jess person. Mateo took a deep breath before speaking. "No, he can’t come with you. I gave you an order young lady. Now get down here!"
Quentin stifled the laugh. There was something about Mateo’s face, tone, and posture. Quentin had seen his friend dealing with the antics of some of his teammates, mainly The Steve, but this was completely different. It reminded Quentin of a father dealing with his teenage daughter. Then a blonde-haired, blue-eyed homecoming queen in body armor sauntered into the temple. Quentin almost didn’t notice the two professional-looking men trailing her. The girl couldn’t be more than sixteen. Why in God’s name would Mateo let this little girl be a part of the team?
"Mateo, what’s the problem with bringing Billy down here?" Jess asked with just a hint of whining. The two men who entered the temple with her rolled their eyes and braced themselves.
"Because you’re looking at him like you did that, um, guy from Twilight," Mateo answered, and Quentin wondered what word his friend swallowed. "I need that mind of yours focused on the task." Jess gave him the look of aggravated patience that only teenage girls can throw. Mateo ignored it.
"You three help Quentin with his work here," Mateo ordered, "The rest of the team will be outside doing other investigation." Mateo strode out of the temple. Jess just glared at Mateo as he left.
How to handle this ball of fire? Quentin asked himself.
"He’s gone now girl, you can bloody well drop the act," the taller man said reprovingly with a clear British accent. It was slightly different from the accent of Quentin’s friend, Collin DuBois, but it clearly hailed from the United Kingdom. The man looked at Quentin. Jess shot the man a betrayed look. He ignored it.
"Apologies, Mr. McLintock. You may call me Slim. This is my associate Sport." The shorter man raised a knuckle in salute. "You’ve met Ms. Montgomery."
"Good to meet you all," Quentin said, "How good are you at jigsaw puzzles?"
A few hours later, Quentin emerged from the temple. Mateo walked over and handed Quentin a bottle of water. Quentin savored the cool liquid running down his throat. It was a relief from the dry, dusty, and hot environment. Mateo gently tapped the end of the bottle, a reminder to Quentin to sip the water.
"What have you found?" Mateo asked bluntly.
"The tablets were instructions for creating the undead, but the instructions rely on the reader already knowing the basics," Quentin said, "There was a lot of, for lack of a better term, technical jargon. Things that didn’t translate out properly. I think this was a raid to steal medallions and to destroy any remnant of the knowledge how to create the undead."
"Makes sense," Mateo agreed, "We’re trying to ID the two bad guys here. So far, no luck. Anything else?" Quentin gave his friend a sidelong glance before answering. Mateo picked up on his friend’s discomfort. "What is it?"
"Why did you bring along the kid?" Quentin asked, embarrassed at having to ask Mateo. Mateo took one look at Quentin’s face and laughed.
"Relax, Quentin, she’s my foster daughter," Mateo answered. When that didn’t seem to ease Quentin’s concerns, Mateo gave him a quick rundown of the events surrounding the fight at Forreston.
"So what do you want me to do?" Quentin asked.
"I need you to keep trying to find out everything you can," Mateo answered, "This group of cultists is acting very differently than Xipe Tzin, and I want to know why. Keep Jess with you."
"Are you really worried about her being distracted by Billy?" Quentin asked, nodding to the animated Native American who was busily following the distinct forms of Collin and The Steve.
"Honestly, any other time I would be jumping up and down she was showing interest in a young man," Mateo said, "Jess had a rough time with all of the upheavals in her life. There were some really dark days."
"So what’s the problem?" Quentin asked.
"We’re facing a group of individuals who were willing to kill everyone in this camp to keep the information you found hidden," Mateo said, "I can’t let her mind be distracted when dealing with people like that." The cold bluntness of his words triggered a wave of suppressed grief in Quentin. Mateo realized belatedly the effect of his words. "I’m sorry about your friends. Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I’ll be okay as long as I’m busy," Quentin said, "We need to stop these murderers. I’ve got the feeling the attack here was a small part of whatever they’re up to." Mateo started to stay something, but his mouth clicked shut as he listened to his earpiece. His face grew grim.
"Understood," Mateo said in his command voice. He flicked a switch on his radio and said, "Everyone grab your gear and rally on me." Quentin could see a flurry of action around the camp.
"For the record your new name is Prophet," Mateo said, "Giant and his friends are leading a zombie attack in Mexico City. Transport is fifteen minutes out. You’re with me." As Mateo, turned to brief his team, Quentin’s mind flashed to his friend’s words. Quentin couldn’t tell if his friend was joking with him or cursing him.