Skull Island, Southern Pacific, 23 December 2009, 1300 hours local Countdown: 2 years, 8 days

Quentin organized his notes as he tried not to gag on the low-hanging smoke from three cigars. It didn’t help the conference room’s ventilation was on the fritz. Now, it was not only hot and stale in the room, it was hot, stale, and smoky to the point of almost being unbreathable. None of the other occupants seemed bothered, and Quentin’s competitive streak wouldn’t let him show his discomfort. It was petty, and he knew it. That didn’t stop him from trying to tough it out.

Kenn Blanchard was sitting at the head of the conference table with his favored Monte Cristo smoldering in his hand. In jeans and a polo, Kenn looked more like an executive on casual day than the leader of the largest private sector anti-zombie force on the planet. Kenn looked very calm and collected. That serenity gave Quentin the bit of reassurance he needed. Mateo, Collin, and The Steve were also sitting around the table. The three men were in jeans and tee shirts. Mateo and The Steve were also smoking cigars, but Collin had forsaken the tobacco to indulge in a tumbler of scotch. Quentin didn’t understand these men’s’ need to poison themselves on their downtime. Their jobs were hazardous enough.

The door opened and the final person walked in to the conference room. Nigel Brown was impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit, complete with vest and power tie. Nigel was the team’s liaison with Mackenzie and Winston, the London-based insurance firm that financed the team’s activities. Nigel’s normally implacable face twisted in annoyance as he whiffed the grey blue smoke that swirled around the room.

"Bloody hell mates, this is a new suit," Nigel complained, "Must you attempt to replicate smoke stacks at every attempt? Do you know how much the cleaning will cost just to get the stench out?"

"Shelve the banter for later Nigel," Mateo said, without a trace of humor, "We need to get this meeting over with. Jess and I have a plane to catch." Normally, Quentin would have chalked up Mateo’s grimness to the team’s lack of progress, but he knew better. Mateo was flying back to Tampa to spend Christmas with his two daughters and his ex-wife. There had been some very heated exchanges over the telephone between Mateo and his ex over the trip. It was an open secret on the team, and Mateo showed his appreciation to the team for its discretion and compassion by working even harder. As bad as this trip could be, Quentin was glad Mateo would be taking a break. Nigel nodded to Mateo and slid into his chair without further words.

"Okay Quentin, what have we learned from Mexico?" Kenn asked, setting the meeting in motion.

"In answer to the main question on everyone’s minds, no, we still do not have an identity on Giant," Quentin began, feeling the familiar nervousness of talking in front of people. It lessened as Nigel took over briefly and elaborated.

"The firm’s investigators have been working on this," Nigel said, referring to M&W, "So have Mexican, American, British, and everyone else and their uncle’s intelligence and investigative services. This incident has them all scared, and there’s precious little cooperation. Especially between the governmental services and the firm."

"All of the so-called minions have been identified," Quentin said, taking his cue from Nigel, "All were Americans. None with a known interest in Mesa-American cultures or religious practices, but all had the types of backgrounds and psychologies that would leave them open to a cult. We believe that is why Giant recruited them."

"Still wish we would have captured one or two of them," Collin said.

"We did," Mateo said flatly, "Or more to the point, Quentin did. Then, the SOB suicided before we could get anything out of him." The others simply nodded at the point. "If they were simply following a cult, how did they get powers? From what you said, one of the minions at the dig site tried some sort of mystical power on you."

"That’s true, and that leads into what we’ve discovered from Mexico," Quentin said, "We we’re facing a cult of Xipe Totec followers attempting to bring their god back into this world. This cult spawned both Xipe Tzin and Giant. These two are probably not the leaders of the cult, but more like field commanders. The ones selected to do the work to bring Xipe Totec back into this world and destroy those who stand against them." Quentin gave the others a moment to digest before plowing on.

"What we’ve uncovered between the dig site and the museum are a large number religious writings from the priests of Xipe Totec," Quentin said, "Most of these are just traditional religious teachings associated with Xipe Totec. Except for one set. This one had to deal with the creation of zombies and gollums. It also had some sort of prophecy talking about Xipe Totec returning to stop the destruction of the world. It’s cryptic, but what we have deciphered shows that Xipe Totec left instructions for waking him and opening the gateway that will bring him back. To help his followers, there are allusions to certain individuals channeling a bit of Xipe Totec’s power as well as objects that were infused with this same power. An example of one of these objects would be Giant’s whip." The men flinched with that bit of news.

"The whip is why Giant attacked the dig site," Quentin continued, "It was stored at that temple. It allows Giant to control undead and play with life energies. There may be more, but we haven’t confirmed it."

"So we snatch the whip and the dude’s out of power?" The Steve asked.

"No, he most likely has some power on his own," Quentin answered, "That power is probably what mutated him from a normal person into Giant. We think that the cult is also granting minions some limited power so they can assist Giant."

"Okay, so what was the point of the attack on the museum?" asked The Steve, "Our boy was being too loud and too open with this attack. The Steve thinks Giant would have settled for a quiet raid unless there was some other reason." The Steve might sound insane, especially with his constant referring to himself in the third person, but he was smart.

"We do know he was after gollums," Quentin said, "Some that were already created, and just needed a medallion and a supernatural spark to get them going. There are a few theories as to why Giant chose to attack the museum in broad daylight and in front of cameras. My opinion is that Giant was being dramatic."

"Care to explain that mate?" Collin asked, clearly surprised by Quentin’s conclusion.

"Giant and his minions were wearing ninja costumes," Quentin said, "Not clothes that looked like ninja robes, but actual costumes they purchased from a costume store in Los Angeles. Every time Giant and his minions talk, it’s very clichéd. It’s almost like a B-grade horror flick. The bit at the museum was entirely out of melodrama. It’s the whole letting world know that there are things beyond their control shtick."

"You came up with this?" Mateo asked.

"No, one of my research team members minored in theater," Quentin admitted, "The more I thought about it, the more I agreed."

"Actually, that sounds eerily possible," Kenn said, with a tone that made it clear he was not happy with the possibility.

"There’s been no sign of Giant since he vanished from the museum," Mateo mused, "Do we know where he’s going next?"

"Not yet," Quentin said, "I was working with a group of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians, but that group was dissolved when their home countries began calling them back."

"That matches up with what else has been going on," Kenn said, "The attack on the museum blew the lid off a few incidents the world powers were trying to keep under wraps. Such as the Forreston incident. Things the governments were willing to let us handle. Now that the public knows, the government has to look like it’s doing something. The first thing was to serve us with a cease and desist order for Zombie Strike! As of today, we can’t legally produce the show." Quentin was stunned. Collin and The Steve also looked surprised. Mateo just grimaced.

"What does that mean for our operations?" Collin asked.

"Not much. We will still continue to do our work, and M&W is actually expanding it," Kenn said, reassuringly, "Within the next few months, Skull Island will become a fully function command center for world-wide operations. What losing the TV show means is we won’t have something that shows us in a positive light. It’ll also make finding new talent a bit harder. The nasty is that we may be working against government agencies instead of with them."

"I’m surprised they are even allowing us to continue," Collin said, "I thought we’d be disbanded and returned to service with our homelands."

"Mackenzie and Winston made it very clear that such an action would not be in the various nations’ best interest," Nigel said, "The price for us continuing to operate is that we no longer have the cordial relationships with certain government agencies, and all the benefits those relationships bring."

"Gentlemen, I wouldn’t hesitate to break up this group if I thought our respective governments could fight this threat properly," Kenn said, "If we were fighting terrorists or criminals, all of you would be back to your homes. But we’re not. We’re fighting the undead. Things normal folk can’t deal with. We’re the ones who can. Welcome to the new Zombie Strike." Quentin wondered why Collin looked so uncomfortable.

London, United Kingdom, 1700 hours local, 26 December 2009 Countdown: 2 years, 5 days

Simon West was sitting in his study, sipping on a gin and tonic. In his hands was a crude ceramic mug. It was a present from his youngest. It was so ugly that only a parent could appreciate it. The children were out playing with their new toys, finally allowing West a chance to relax. Then the shadows moved.

Instincts came alive and the ceramic mug was replaced with a Glock. West pointed the pistol at the small man in the blue suit. Then West saw the man’s companion. The person was easily the tallest human that West ever encountered. Even taller than some of the basketball hustlers that worked for him. Like the smaller man, this one was dressed in an exquisite suit. Where had they managed to find a tailor for this person? West put down the Glock. It was useless against these two anyways. West gave another cursory examination of the huge man. So, this was the one referred to as Giant. Well, he certainly lives up to his moniker.

"I assume you have reason to intrude upon my residence," West said as calmly as possibly, "It is a holiday after all."

"The organization would like to know what Zombie Strike knows about our plans," the small man said with a distinctive Spanish accent.

"This couldn’t wait until our regular meeting?" West asked, annoyed at the disruption of his holiday.

"Things need to be set in motion," Giant answered solemnly, "Things best done undisturbed."

"How brilliantly cryptic," West commented sarcastically.

"We are not paying you to know our operations," the small man said brusquely.

"Quite," West agreed. He opened one of the desk drawers and withdrew a folder. "Here’s the transcript and data from the last contact with my informant." The name on the folder was DuBois, Collin.

Zombie Strike Part 4 Chapter 25