Mexico City, 28 June 2010, 0010 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 2 days
Jessica Montgomery’s world was finally falling into place. As she kissed Billy Shakespear, she knew in her heart that she had found her one. The one person she was going to spend the rest of her life with. She didn’t care what Mateo said or what anyone else. This finally felt right, and she wasn’t going to let anyone stop her. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite true.
Jessica was jerked up into the air by the drag handle on the back of her armor. Incensed, Jessica was ready to let her foster father have it. He had kept Billy away far too long. Her tirade died as she looked into the dark eyes of Quentin McLintock. The former linebacker held Jessica up to his eyes. They sparkled with amusement and warmth. Jessica felt her face go crimson with embarrassment. How would this look to Billy? And all of the soldiers?
“Could you do us all a favor and finish this later?” Quentin asked in a calm and warm tone, “We’re in the middle of trying to stop the bad guys.” Jess didn’t know whether to be angry because he was treating her like a child – or even worse – because he was right. Jess hung her head and nodded in meek agreement. Quentin set her down gently. Jess turned back to say something to Billy, but he wasn’t there. Jess searched frantically, and quickly found Billy talking to The Steve. Billy had an embarrassed look on his face, but the two were too far away for Jess to hear their conversation. She followed Quentin to where Collin was talking to the minion.
The minion’s ninja costume was cut away to reveal a very beautiful woman in her early twenties. Jess squelched a tinge of jealously as she looked at the woman’s stylishly cut blonde hair and exquisitely formed pale face. The minion was lying on a stretcher with an IV in her arm. Her left leg was stripped of the tight black cloth. Blood soaked bandages were wrapped around the knee. The minion moaned in pain. Jess felt a pang of sympathy and guilt. This woman nearly killed her, and had killed others. Still, Jess was the one who pumped three rounds into the woman’s knee. It was hard watching someone in excruciating pain that you caused.
“Giant might be powerful, but he knows nothing about how to properly conduct an operation,” Collin DuBois said as he joined Quentin and Jess. The tall former SAS commando matched Quentin’s dark skin, but where Quentin was a gentle giant, Collin was a wiry and cold professional. Collin sounded as if he was insulted.
“Don’t we want him to be sloppy?” Jess asked.
“To a point,” Collin answered, almost reluctantly, “On the good side, he has not a lick of operational security amongst his team. On the bad side, he keeps lashing out at us with small forces when we annoy him. At least if he was acting like a proper professional, we would have an idea of what to expect.”
“Quit whining about it and tell us what she knows,” Mateo commanded as he stepped into the group. Mateo spared Jess a quick glance. The warm look threw her for a loop. She nearly missed Collin’s answer.
“Some of what we already knew,” Collin answered, “The cabal was responsible for all of this destruction.” He motioned to the ruins of Mexico City. “Our enemies are called the Champions of the Truth. A bunch of babble about bringing back Xipe Totec. They’re following the same bloody prophecy Quentin and Jess were nice enough to translate for us. Giant’s heading for a temple near the center of the city. According to the prisoner, an artifact called the key is there. She even had a nice little map in one of her pockets.” Collin unfolded a printout with the directions.
“Any chance this is just a fake to throw us off from what’s really happening?” Mateo asked.
“Possible Mattie,” Collin answered, “I rather doubt it. Morphine isn’t as good as sodium pentothal, but it makes do in a pinch.” Jess didn’t understand what Collin was saying, but the evil smile of his face frightened her a little. Mateo didn’t seem fazed.
“It does sound like what the Coyote told me,” Jess said. By this time, the entire Zombie Strike team had congregated around Collin. All of them were staring at Jess with incredulous looks. She quickly looked down and desperately wanted to shrink into her armor.
“Who told you what?” asked Billy stepping in front of her. His voice was urgent. As Jess looked up, she saw Billy was anxious.
“The giant coyotes that saved me,” Jess said, completely confused. Why was Billy acting this way? “One of them told me that minion would tell us where to go and that we had to stop Giant before daybreak.”
“Coyote’s Pack?” Billy asked. Jessica could hear the capital letters in his voice.
“Yeah, I guess, why?” Jess asked. Billy didn’t answer her. He just reeled back and began muttering in a language she couldn’t understand.
“Would you mind explaining what’s going on to your team lead?” Mateo asked, his voice starting to get that tight control that signaled Mateo’s growing anger. “I thought you said that the dogs were nothing to worry about.”
“I thought they were Wolf’s Pack, not Coyote’s,” Billy answered. The team all looked at him in confusion.
“Start at the beginning Billy,” Mateo ordered. The short Native American nodded, but he still looked like he was in shock.
“Look, I’m sure some of you have heard some of the old Native American legends, and you know that some of the tribes worshipped totem animals,” Billy began, “Well, the totem animals are real. They’re a bit more than Earth spirits, but not quite gods. My family have been spirit warriors for the Wolf for a very long time. Wolf sometimes allows some of his pack to come into the real world to help his warriors in time of great need. That’s who I thought Jess was talking about earlier.”
“But it was Coyote, and not Wolf,” Quentin said, “Why is that so bad?”
“Where Wolf is the warrior, Coyote is the trickster,” Billy said, “The two are brothers, but where Wolf is noble, Coyote is disreputable.”
“Wait a second, I thought the crow was the trickster,” Quentin said.
“Crow is, but he’s the brother of Eagle,” Billy answered, “Look, it gets complicated to explain fully. The point is that if Coyote’s Pack is here, he’s playing his own game. His goal may or may not be the same as ours.”
“But they saved me twice,” Jess protested, “And they called me Little Sister. Why would they do that?”
“Um, probably because you’re Wolf clan,” Billy answered nervously. Jess felt her eyes go wide in astonishment. How was she Wolf clan? As far as she knew, there wasn’t a drop of Native American blood in her.
“So can we trust anything from Coyote?” Quentin asked.
“We can’t answer that,” Mateo snapped, “Slim, are you good to go?” Slim nodded with a fierce determination in his eyes. “Good, I want you and Sport to find which of those Humvees are in the best condition and get them ready to move. Quentin and Billy, help the soldiers finish securing the scene. Collin, The Steve, I want you two to squeeze out every drop of intel you can from that woman without killing her. I’m going to make a phone call, and when I get finished, we’re going after Giant.” Jess followed Mateo as the team broke up to their assigned duties.
“Mateo, I uh—“ Jess started, and then trailed off. How was she going to talk to her foster father? He turned to her and smoothed back her hair. Before Jess could react or say anything, Mateo kissed her on the top of her head.
“Jess, don’t worry. It’s going to be alright. Just do me a favor and concentrate on the mission,” Mateo said calmly and warmly.
“You’re not mad?” Jess asked.
“Oh, I’m furious, but I’m not sure if I should be angry with you, Billy, or myself,” Mateo answered, which just confused Jess even more. “We’ll work this out when we get home. Right now I have to make a phone call.”
“To Kenn,” Mateo answered, “We’ve been bouncing around to every other spirit’s tune, and I’m sick of it.” He reached under his armor and pulled out a small medallion. “I haven’t really talked to God since my divorce. I think it’s about time to ask Him for some guidance.” There was some deep emotion in Mateo’s voice that touched Jess.
“Do you want me to pray with you?” Jess asked.
“Yeah, I’d like that” Mateo answered, “Thanks.”