Mexican Anthropological Museum, Mexico City, 1812 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years,29 days

Beta team was in trouble. Quentin McLintock could see that as Mateo and he stormed into the exhibit. The cowboy, Jim, was on the ground. Blood seeped out onto the tile floor from a pair of nasty gashes on his arm and leg. Two gollums, armed with crude axes with heads of shiny black stone, were trying to close in on their prey, but Collin and Sport drove them back with gunfire. Jim wasn’t moving. He wasn’t dead, according to Quentin’s PDA, but he wouldn’t last long. Jessie was holding off the horde the team had been fighting before the gollums attacked. Mateo paused to survey the scene.

“Quentin, deal with the gollums,” Mateo said in a calm and controlled voice. Quentin didn’t protest. He had heard that voice before. Mateo used it when he was trying to keep his rage under control. Quentin briefly considered getting in close with the gollums, but one look at Jim’s bleeding form nixed that idea. Quentin brought up his carbine and joined the battle.

“Sport, grab Jim and pull him back!” Mateo ordered as he charged to Beta team’s position, “Collin, cover him. Jessie, I’m coming to back you up.” Quentin lost track of Mateo as the team leader attacked the horde. Quentin fired two quick bursts at the gollums, more to grab their attention than anything else. The gollums spun to face Quentin. They were nothing if not predictable. Quentin concentrated on the gollum nearest to him. He aimed at the creature’s dancing medallion and fired a long burst. The bullets lanced through the creature harmlessly, none hitting the critical medallion. The bullets may not have hurt the gollum, but they threw it back and to the ground. The physics of that much kinetic energy transferring into so little mass were pretty absolute. The other gollum leapt at Quentin, bringing its axe down in a speedy attack. Quentin reacted and blocked its strike with his carbine. He felt the axe hammer clunk on the carbine’s plastic receiver. Quentin pivoted, guiding the gollum away from his body and into a wall. The gollum slammed headfirst into the masonry. Quentin dropped the carbine and drew his warhammer. The weapon felt so right in his hands. With a predatory smile, Quentin charged. The gollum jumped to its feet, and straight into Quentin’s crashing blow. The gollum hit the tile floor with enough force to actually bounce. This might have struck Quentin as funny, but he was too busy bringing the hammer down for another blow. The medallion shattered like glass as the hammer impacted it. The gollum screamed with what could be described as horror. It tried desperately to scramble away. It was no use. Quentin knew far too well not to give a gollum any chance to move. The hammer landed in the small of the back. The gollum’s legs stopped instantly, like Quentin had hit a switch. The final blow landed on the creature’s skull. There was a sickening crack of a fragile egg, and the gollum stopped moving. Before Quentin’s eyes, the gollum withered to a skeleton. His combat mind refused the scientist in him a chance to ponder the wonder of it all. There was still another gollum left to deal with.

The second gollum was attacking Sport as the Brit tried to pull Jim back behind the hasty fortifications of broken exhibits. Collin was keeping it busy with constant bursts of fire, but the gollum was fixated on finishing off the injured cowboy. There was something wrong with this fight. Collin was easily one of the best shots of the team. There was no reason he shouldn’t have destroyed the medallion in the time it took for Quentin to deal with the other gollum. Quentin studied the gollum as he changed magazines in his carbine. He grimaced as he saw the problem. Either by luck or cunning, the gollum’s medallion was hanging down the creature’s back. Collin was good, but not good enough to hit something the width of a shoelace on an irrationally moving target.

“Quentin, do you mind giving a mate a hand?” Sport said, struggling with Jim while providing sporadic fire with his sidearm. Quentin moved between the gollum and his two teammates.

“Get him back!” Quentin shouted over his shoulder. Sport holstered his pistol and managed to get Jim into a sitting position. Using the drag handle on the back of the armor, Sport started making progress getting Jim back to the team. The gollum tried to take advantage of Quentin’s momentary distraction. Collin stopped its attack with a long burst of gunfire. With Jim more or less out of danger, Quentin fell into his fighting stance and braced for the gollum’s attack.

“Collin, hold your fire,” Quentin said. The gollum snarled as it bounded at Quentin with its axe waving above its head. Quentin gripped his warhammer and waited for the strike. The gollum snapped the axe down. Quentin caught the axe with the haft of his hammer. Quentin swung out wide, yanking the axe out of the gollum’s hand. The gollum didn’t care it was unarmed. It reached out to claw at Quentin. He grabbed the gollum by its throat. The creature thrashed violently, kicking and flailing as hard as it could. Quentin ignored the flashes of pain. He grabbed the stone medallion. The first yank snapped the gollum’s head to the side, but the leather strap held. Suddenly, Collin materialized next to Quentin with knife in hand.

“Hold it straight, mate,” Collin said as he bobbed around the gollum’s writhing arms. Quentin gripped the cord and held it taut. Collin’s knife flashed and Quentin felt the medallion come free in his hand. Without pausing, Quentin threw the medallion back to Beta team’s position. The gollum unleashed an inhuman howl as it felt its mystical invulnerability evaporate. It tried desperately to free itself from Quentin’s grasp. It needed the medallion. Not as a swordsman needed his shield, but like as an addict needed his drug. Quentin didn’t care. This gollum was a monster. A construct of destruction animated by the power of an evil god. In one fluid motion, Quentin slammed the gollum to the floor, pinned it with his leg, and then brought his hammer down on its head. Movement ceased immediately. The gollum’s body withered away to an aged skeleton in seconds.

Quentin and Collin hustled back to help Mateo and Jess combat the zombie horde. That’s when Quentin noticed the gun fire had stopped. Panic flashed through him. Then he saw Mateo. The team leader was leaning against a marble column. His carbine was hanging on its sling at his chest. Mateo had his helmet off and was puffing away on a cigar. Quentin stopped just to take in the scene – and then just burst out laughing. All of Quentin’s frustration with himself, all of his fear of letting down his friends, all of his insecurity were cleansed as he laughed. He knew that the others were staring at him, and he just didn’t care. Finally, Mateo strode over to Quentin.

“What are you laughing at?” Mateo asked, with a hint of concern at his friend’s sudden laughter.

“Sorry Matt,” Quentin said, “Oh I wish I had a picture of it.” Quentin took a few long breaths to help control his explosions of laughter.

“Picture of what?” Mateo asked, confused by Quentin.

“There you are, in battered armor, sweaty and dirty from fighting, smoking a cigar against this pristine white marble. And above you is a no smoking sign.” Mateo just looked at Quentin with an arched eyebrow, which elicited another round of uncontrollable laughing from the big man.

“When you do manage to get yourself under control, would you go see if you can figure out what Giant and his minions were stealing?” Mateo asked. Quentin could only nod.

“Sport, coordinate with The Steve about medevac’ing Jim,” Mateo ordered, “Jess, I want you to continue to clear the museum. Any group bigger than four you are to call in and wait for backup.” To Quentin’s surprise the girl simply nodded and slipped out of the room.

“Collin, you and I are going to have a talk with Giant,” Mateo said. Collin paled a bit, but nodded stoically. As the two men left to interrogate the person responsible for all of this death and destruction, Quentin began sifting through the wreckage.

“Everyone stop what you’re doing,” Mateo radioed, “Giant has vanished.”

[Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 24]