Above Mexico City, 27 June 2010, 2100 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 3 days
Jessica Montgomery shifted the sling of the unfamiliar weapon as she tried to avoid any more bruising. The L96 was heavier than her accurized version of the team’s ZKC, not to mention being longer and bulkier. Most of all, Jess hated the kick of the L96’s .338 Lapua cartridge. Every time Mateo made her practice with the rifle, she made it known how much she hated the weapon. Jess was ready to let loose with her reasoned argument when Mateo told her to take the rifle on this mission. The words died before she could speak them as she saw the looks on the faces of Mateo, Quentin, Collin, and The Steve. There was such a heartbreaking mix of sadness and hope in their expressions as she hefted the rifle. As much as she hated it, Jess slung the rifle and followed the rest of the team.
Mackenzie and Winston provided Zombie Strike with their ride into Mexico. Jess wasn’t sure where the insurance firm got a tilt-rotor, but her fascination wore off soon after the pilot began flying like a crazed roller coaster. Collin called it "nap-of-the-earth." Jess just gave the experienced man an evil look as she tried to keep her last meal down. Collin tried to explain that it was to keep their approach to the devastated hidden from the various governments converging on Mexico City. He stopped abruptly as Jess used her airsickness bag. Jess felt better for a brief moment. Then, she saw Billy looking at her from across the cargo bay. Jess tried to shrink into her body armor. Oh God, did he see her just puke her guts up? How could she look at him in the face again?
"Everyone brace," Mateo said over the radio, "We’re doing a fast approach on the outskirts. No feds, but there will probably be zombies and maybe some local resistance. Zombies you can kill. Don’t shoot a human unless he’s a threat."
"Are you sure we don’t need Haz-Mat suits?" Sport asked, looking out a window.
"These were orbital kinetic strikes, not nukes," Quentin answered, "The filters in our armor can take care of anything that was thrown into the air by the impacts. For the last time Sport, there is no radiation." The Brit mumbled something, but let the matter drop.
Jess strained against her restraints as the plane plummeted. Her mind raced with terror that they were about to crash. She was slammed back into her seat as the plane screeched into a hover and gently landed. The rear ramp came down. Jess fumbled with the buckles on her harness. She barely managed to free herself from the accursed plane an instant before Mateo motioned for her to run down the ramp. As her feet hit the cracked asphalt, Jess drew her tiny HK MP7 submachine gun. She searched for targets as she ran to meet up with Slim, who was Jess’s partner and spotter for this mission. The tall Brit barely acknowledged Jess as she huddled up next to him behind a low wall. The tilt-rotor screamed out of the area and shot away from the landing zone. The moans were audible as soon as the noise from the tilt-rotor faded out.
Jess peered over the wall. Several dozen zombies were walking or crawling over the ruins of buildings toward the team. At least, Jess assumed they were zombies. Many of the corpses were so badly burned, Jess didn’t see how their brains could still be intact. She was suddenly very glad she puked on the plane. Even after six months of battling corpses on an almost daily basis, the sights and smells of this horde turned her stomach. She pushed back the foul-tasting bile as Mateo issued orders to the team.
"Let them close to twenty yards," Mateo said, "We need to put down this group fast and move. Watch your fire and try to conserve ammo." There was a chorus of double-clicks as the team acknowledged its leader’s commands. Jess extended the stock of the MP7 and squeezed the fore grip. The nightvision picked up the laser’s small dot as Jess aimed at a zombie’s head. The seconds seemed to take an eternity. Mateo signaled the team by firing the first shot.
Jess stroked the trigger. She pivoted just a hair to put the laser on the next zombie’s head. She fired a short burst again and twisted to engage the next zombie in her zone. Her mind assessed the threat as her muscle memory took over the shooting. The horde was maybe fifty strong, but they were spaced out across a fifty-yard wide arc. The eight trained zombie killers divided up the kill zone and methodically whittled down the horde. Jess wasn’t even through her first magazine when she ran out of targets.
There was no celebration or even acknowledgement of their victory. As soon as the zombies were dealt with, the Zombie Strike team hustled across the ruins of what had been a shanty town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Jess struggled to keep up with Slim as he slipped from shadow to shadow with unbelievable speed and smoothness. Where was this side of Slim during all of her training sessions with him? The sounds of a firefight brought the pair to a halt. They were still a couple hundred meters short of the waypoint. From the sounds, Jess guessed the fighting was at the waypoint. Jess holstered her MP7 as she crept around Slim and climbed up some rubble. Jess unslung her rifle and peered through the scope. Two groups were in a nasty gun battle. One of them was the group Zombie Strike was supposed to be meeting.
"Matt, it looks like the soldier boys managed to run into trouble," Jess reported. "I think they’re narcos." She felt Slim snake up next to her. Her foster father let out a string of curses before asking for a report.
"I think we’re looking at maybe twenty hostiles," Jess said as she scanned the area. Slim nudged her. "Oh, and the fight’s pulling in maybe a hundred or so zombies. Those should be hitting the edge of the fight in the next few minutes."
"Help the Army," Mateo ordered, "The rest of us will deal with the horde." Jess swallowed. Zombies were one thing, but Mateo wanted her to kill living humans. Slim noticed her hesitation. With freakish accuracy, Slim hit the core of her fears.
"Jess, those aren’t Mexicans defending their homes. Those are the criminals attempting to increase their territory," Slim said quietly, "Now, target at 3-5-9, 1-9-5 meters." Jess easily picked out the target. The scope’s reticle hovered on the man’s head. It was his face that made Jess’s decision. The target was laughing as he sprayed his AK at the soldiers. Jess barely tightened on the trigger before the rifle slammed against her.
"Hit, target down," Slim reported, "New target. Man with SMG at 0-0-4. Range, 2-0-0 meters." Jess cycled the rifle’s bolt and shifted slightly. The rifle cracked again. This time she saw the man’s body fall. The bad guys were now aware there was a sniper taking them down. Slim swore as the bad guys started ducking behind cover. Jess took down another bad guy when the man poked his head out from behind a wrecked car. Jess missed as another bad guy darted between two rubble piles. His success was short-lived. The man was cut down by a soldier’s burst.
Both sides stopped firing at each other as the first zombies entered the battleground. Jess watched as most of the bad guys tumbled over each other as they scrambled to get away. Normal people didn’t deal well with the undead. Primal panic was the term Quentin used. The Army soldiers formed a ragged line and opened fire at the zombies. Oh yeah. These were definitely the soldiers Zombie Strike was supposed to be meeting. These were members of the Army’s Task Force 11, the American military’s anti-zombie force. It was made up of soldiers who belonged to the very small group of humans who didn’t suffer from the primal panic. Like Jess and her team.
With the criminals running away, Jess reloaded her rifle and joined the fight against the zombies. Something as loud as a firefight brought zombies from miles around. Slim quit playing spotter and joined Jess in taking down zombies. This was so much easier. Jess didn’t have any problems popping the heads of zombies like unwanted acne. She was in the middle of slapping in her second magazine when she felt an icy cold run down her spine. Instinct made her roll a split second before the pistol fired. She felt her armor shudder as stone fragments splattered her. A large Hispanic man with strong Indian features snarled as he scrambled up the pile of ruins. His hand gripped a Beretta. The man fired twice at Slim who was rolling to bring his rifle around. One round hit the rubble as the other careened off of Slim’s armor.
Jess fumbled with her MP7. Why hadn’t she practiced this more? As she scrambled back, Jess felt the rubble pile shift. She had a bare instant to recognize it before the pile collapsed. The three of them tumbled to the concrete below. Jess felt the wind get knocked out of her as her back slammed into the floor. Her head hurt from slapping the concrete, but the helmet soaked up most of the impact. Jess turned her head to look at her teammate. Slim was on his hands and knees, but he was definitely wobbly, and definitely unarmed. A string of loud and angry Spanish drew her attention. Their assailant was already on his feet. His left arm looked broken. Jess’s attention was focused on the gaping barrel of the man’s pistol. She screamed at her body to move, to flee, to do something. All she could do was just lay there as the man loomed over her. She closed her eyes and waited for him to fire. The armor was supposed to be able to handle pistol fire.
Her eyes snapped open at the snarl.