Mexico City, 27 June 2010, 2200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 3 days
Jessica Montgomery’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the animal snarl. Her assailant froze in horror, his wide eyes focused on something behind her. Jess rolled onto her belly and came face to face with the largest dog she’d ever seen. It kind of looked like a German Shepard, but tan and light brown. Oh yeah, and it was the size of a pony. It stared at Jess’s assailant with teeth bared and muscles rippling. The animal should have terrified her, but she just felt very safe.
The gunshot startled her. Jess felt the bullet pass over her. A splotch of red blossomed on the animal’s shoulder. The creature didn’t even shudder from the impact. It almost seemed to smile just before leaping over Jess. The man let out a terrified scream. Jess heard bones crunching and the scream stopped instantly. Jess twisted around. The animal was gone. The man was still on the ground.
"Sweet Savior, what was that monstrosity?" Slim asked as he slumped down next to Jess. She stared at the tall Brit for a moment. She had been so transfixed by the creature, Jess had completely forgotten about her Zombie Strike teammate.
"Are you okay?" Jess asked.
"I’ll survive, but I’m bloody getting tired of being banged about every time we sortie out," Slim answered. The two helped each other up and found their rifles. Jess would have time to figure out the giant dog later. Zombie Strike should have started their attack on the zombies brought by the recent firefight. Jess and Slim found a small building that looked relatively unscathed. The two scaled up onto the roof. The battle was evidently underway.
"Lead, Rifle is back up," Slim reported as Jess set up her weapon.
"Thank God," Mateo breathed over the radio. His command voice returned with the next sentence, "We’ve linked up with the Army. How much more are we facing?" Slim scanned through his scope. Jess took a brief second to make sure Billy was with the rest of the team. There he was, fighting six zombies with a baton in one hand and a Glock in the other. She smiled as she watched him casually destroy the half dozen zombies. He was just so graceful.
"Lead, I’m estimating a couple hundred walkers," Slim said, "They’re too thick for me to get a good estimate on crawlers."
"That’s what I thought," Mateo said, "You’re on over-watch." Zombie Strike and the soldiers formed a loose half-circle. Billy, as one of the team’s close-quarters specialist anchored one end. Quentin, who could have been mistaken for a human wall, anchored the other. The soldiers made up the center. They were pouring a lot of fire downrange. The Zombie Strike team were methodically whittling at the front edge of the zombie horde. Small piles of re-killed zombies grew as the team went about its work.
"Target 0-3-0," Slim said in a low voice. Jess brought her rifle to bear on a zombie that slipped between the Army’s and Collin’s field of fire. She brought it down and cycled the bolt. Slim was giving her new coordinates as she felt the next round chamber. A zombie got too close to Sport. Jess vaporized its head. The fight raged as the humans fought off ten times their number in zombies. She concentrated on taking down the ones that managed to get just a bit too close to the line. The team’s fire shrank the horde until it was just a few pockets of stragglers. Those were quickly finished off. Jess and Slim rejoined their team after picking their way through the ruins to avoid crawlers and possibly buried zombies. Mateo and Collin were talking to one of the soldiers. The Steve was busy tending to the soldiers injured in the firefight against the drug gang earlier. Quentin was opening a crate.
Billy stepped in front of her. The world seemed to stop for a moment as she looked into his dark eyes. Eyes that silently asked if she was okay. Jess answered with a smile. Relief washed over Billy’s face. She felt him take her hand. Even in the middle of a destroyed city, it all felt magical. She heard footsteps behind her. Billy looked up and suddenly went cold. He yanked his hand away. Jess could only stand there stunned as Billy turned and walked off. Anger seethed through her as she put the pieces together. Jess whirled around to face her foster father. Mateo was still glaring at Billy’s back.
"Matt, why did you do that?" Jess asked keeping her arms tucked across her chest to keep from punching Mateo. He looked down on her, and suddenly it all made sense.
"You told him to stay away from me," Jess said in her coldest voice.
"He’s five years older than you," Mateo shot back. He silenced her next volley with a hand gesture. "He’s an adult and you are not. This is not the time or place to discuss this. We will have this talk after we’re through here." His tone made it clear he was speaking as her team leader, not her foster father. Jess seethed, but it wouldn’t do any good to scream at Mateo. It would have been a lot easier if they all weren’t in the middle of trying to stop their shadowy nemesis from fulfilling an ancient prophecy of doom.
"The Army says they’ve seen Giant," Mateo announced as the team gathered around. Jess opened her forearm armor bracer to access the PDA underneath. "Some of the Colonel’s men spotted something matching Giant’s description heading towards this area." A box appeared on the map as Mateo highlighted the area.
"Just Giant?" asked Quentin.
"No, he’s brought some friends along," Mateo answered. The map flipped to an image captured by a nightvision camera. Giant was easily recognized. Four others were dressed in similar costumes. That made them minions. Another six were only wearing loin cloths. The painted runes showed clearly in the image. Gollums. Jess swallowed as she remembered the last time she encountered the nearly indestructible creatures. Ironically enough, it was here in Mexico City during the fight at the museum.
"Bloody hell, six gollums," Collin said, echoing the team’s thoughts, "Well this certainly got more interesting. In the Chinese sense of the word." Jess suddenly understood why the Chinese saying of May you live in interesting times was a curse instead of a blessing.
"What about giant dogs?" Slim asked. The team turned to him. Slim quickly explained to the group. As he finished, Billy barked out a laugh.
"Don’t worry about them," Billy said, "There isn’t time to go into it now, but trust me. We don’t have anything to fear from them."
"Okay, if you say so," Mateo said, "The plan is to find Giant, find out what he’s after, and grab it before he does. If we have to fight, best bet will be divide and conquer." There were no questions. The Army was kind enough to give the team a lift to the target area. It was clear that Col. Allen, the commander of the Army’s anti-zombie force didn’t want his troops going up against Giant and his group. Jess couldn’t blame him. Jess and Slim were loaded into the back of a Humvee. As the convoy sped along the devastation, Jess began thinking about Billy. More to the point, how she was going to convince Mateo to stop interfering. She knew her foster father was trying to protect her. To his credit, her last boyfriend had been killed fighting zombies, and she’d taken it hard. Why couldn’t Mateo see she was stronger now?
Jess was ripped from her thoughts as the Humvee rocked violently and then rolled over.