Mexico City, 27 June 2010, 2312 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 3 days
Jessica Montgomery instinctively went limp as the Humvee was violently flipped. Her body slammed painfully against the restraints. After the first couple of seconds, the violent motions completely disoriented her. Jess couldn’t tell which was up, down, or even left or right. All she could do was feel the pain. She watched helplessly as the soldier sitting next to her bounced between the ceiling and the floor before being flung out the window.
Just as suddenly as it started, the Humvee came to rest. Her body hurt all over. It reminded Jess of the time Mateo let The Steve go all out during a hand to hand combat lesson. Jess managed to access her PDA and trigger the pain meds. Oh, how she wanted to just lie there and wait for the medicine to take effect. Mateo’s relentless instruction over the past several months kicked in. Gingerly, Jess found the releases and undid her restraints. More pain as she fell a short few feet. The truck was upside down. Thank God, she’d kept her helmet on. It could have been much worse.
She crawled to the door of the Humvee. It was partially open from the force of the blast. Jess peered through the shattered glass. In the odd green palate of nightvision, Jess saw the lower half of someone in a minion’s ninja suit. The minion’s casual stride was all female. Slightly behind the minion were half a dozen zombies standing like decaying statues. Jess felt a thump above her and heard the screeching howl of a gollum. This was worse than any of the tactical problems she’d faced in training. Only this time, if she was wrong, she wasn’t going to just get that annoying look from the adults. She would end up a zombie.
Jess slowly drew her pistol. There wasn’t time for an elaborate plan, or even a simple one. She aligned the three glowing dots at the minion’s legs. If Jess was going down, she would at least take that one with her. The pain medications finally kicked in, and she felt the edge of her hurt go numb. Jess felt a predatory smile spread across her face. This must be what Collin felt when he stalked someone. The anticipation of waiting to spring the trap. Jess forgot what she was planning next as the cab of the Humvee exploded with sound.
The soldier riding shotgun emptied his M4. The roar was deafening in the close confines of the vehicle cab. Jess’s head throbbed, and she nearly dropped her pistol. Her hearing protection must have been damaged at some point. Jess shook her head to clear the fuzziness. She needed to get into the fight. A brilliant green beam blew out her nightvision. In fact, it wrecked most of her electronics. Frustrated, she tore off her helmet. A sudden breeze alerted Jess that the front half of the Humvee had been sheared off and thrown at least twenty yards away.
Jess knew she should have been scared. Hell, she should be paralyzed with terror. Instead, a cold rage surged through Jess. Her eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, but the minion’s casual walk and darker clothing drew Jess’s eye. Jess brought the pistol up again. Her finger brushed the trigger in a gentle squeeze. Jess heard the muted scream of pain and surprise. The minion dropped to the ground, writhing in agony. Instantly, the zombies with the minion staggered towards the wreckage of the Humvee. Each let out the unmistakable sound of a hunting moan. Jess had to work quickly. Every zombie within earshot of those moans would now be homing in like a missile.
Jess half crawled, half rolled over the sharp edges of torn metal. The scrapes and cuts burned as sand and dust rubbed into them. Jess did her best to ignore the pain as she came up into a kneeling stance. No longer needing the element of surprise, Jess flicked on the flashlight mounted on her Kimber. She had a good ten yards. Jess took a deep breath, sighted on the closest zombie, and squeezed. The bullet lanced cleanly through the bridge of the zombie’s nose before shredding the brain. The zombie collapsed like a marionette as its strings were cut. Jess was already transitioning to the next zombie. This one went down with a shot straight through an empty eye socket. The third received an unintentional double-tap. Numbers four and five went down with single shots each. Jess laid her sights on the last zombie.
She barely caught the glint out of her eye. Instinctively, Jess ducked and brought up her arm. The obsidian hatchet splintered Jess’s bracer. The force of the blow drove her to the ground. Her pistol skittered across the asphalt. Jess turned to see the gollum above her, holding its axe above its head. The blade came down unbelievably fast. Oh God, this was how Jack Winchester died. Jess closed her eyes. She heard the axe coming down and then stop. There was no pain, not even the dull thud sensation she feared. After a few seconds, Jess opened her eyes. The obsidian axe was hovering six inches above her head. The gollum was frozen like a statue. Its eyes were fixed on something behind Jess.
“We meet again Little Sister,” a deep voice said in her mind. The voice felt warm and safe. The gollum scampered back as the giant dog stepped protectively over Jess’s prone form. The gollum hissed and waved its axe as if to threaten the animal. The dog barked once. The gollum scrambled back. It turned to run, but barely got a few yards before two more giant dogs pounced on it. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch the two dogs savagely dismember the gollum. As each part of the gollum was ripped free, it withered to dust in seconds.
“You have to be more careful, Little Sister,” the voice said again as the dog sat down next to Jess. “You are needed in the future.” The giant animal panted patiently as Jess’s mind processed all that had just transpired. She watched transfixed as four more of the giant dogs emerged from the darkness. Their matty brown coats were strangely easy to see in the darkness. It was almost as if they glowed. Two of the animals hunched over the wounded minion and snarled menacingly. The other two gently pulled Slim from the wreckage of the Humvee and gently laid him on the ground.
“Who are you?” Jess finally managed to say as she turned back to the dog that saved her.
“We are Coyote’s pack. Or at least part of it,” the voice answered. “Listen very closely Little Sister. That one knows where the Foul are going.” The dog nodded towards the moaning and sobbing minion. “You must find the Key, Little Sister. You must have it in your hands before dawn breaks. If you don’t, then there will be much more death before this journey ends.”
“What is the Key?” Jessica demanded, “Why do you have to be so cryptic?” The dog looked sadly down at her.
“We wish we could tell you,” the voice answered, “Coyote only tells us these few things, so that we can tell you. Your pack comes. Don’t forget.” The giant dog bent down and licked Jess across the face. Jess recoiled at the warm slickness. Then, the animals were gone, as if they vanished into thin air. Jess stood up at the sound of roaring engines and screeching tires. She froze in mid-step. She was moving. Her pain wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t any worse than after a hard sparring match. Her hand reached up and touched where the giant dog licked her. What had he done to her?
The area went bright as daylight as several Humvees surrounded the battle scene. Jess blinked at the sudden light. Strong arms enveloped her and lifted her off the ground. She recognized the ferocious hug as Quentin. As he set her down, Mateo greedily snatched her into another hug.
“I thought we lost you there,” Mateo whispered into her ear. She could feel his tears on her cheek. Jess knew she should be mad at her foster father for scaring off the one guy she had fallen in love with. At that moment, she let go of her anger and just reveled in the warm hug. When Mateo let go of her, Jess saw that the Army and Zombie Strike had quickly secured the area. The Steve and an Army medic were tending to Slim. Collin and Sport were holding their weapons on the minion who was having her leg tended by another Army medic. Apparently, everyone had figured out who the bad guy was.
“After your Humvee was hit, zombies just came out of the woodwork,” Mateo said as Jess watched all of the activity. “We tried to get back to you as fast as we could.” Jess’s eyes locked on to Billy. His armor was dented and smeared with fluids that Jess didn’t even want to think about. Mateo was talking about the battle, but Jess didn’t hear him. She had nearly been killed more times than she could count in the space of a little over an hour. Giant dogs saved her twice and then talked to her. She had no idea how or if she was going to survive tonight, but she knew what she needed to do. She stormed away from Mateo. She loved her foster father, but this was it. Soldiers and teammates got out of her way as she crossed the battlefield. Billy turned just as she approached. He started to reach out to her, but stopped as his eyes met Mateo’s. Jess grabbed Billy’s head and forced him to meet her eyes.
“Billy, do you love me?” Jess asked, quietly, but forcefully.
“Yes,” he answered, like he was relieved to finally acknowledge what he felt, “But Jess, we can’t—“ Jess cut off his protest as she yanked down his head and kissed him.