Mexico City, 28 June 2010, 0100 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 2 days
Jessica Montgomery felt an odd peace as she walked with her foster father. They were about a hundred yards away from the rest of the Zombie Strike team and the members of the US Army anti-zombie force. Mateo was still finding his way back to faith, and he was reluctant to pray for guidance in front of his team. Jess didn’t understand Mateo’s thinking, but she just accepted it. The two found a pocket in the wreckage of a building. Mateo opened his forearm bracer. He couldn’t just call Kenn Blanchard, the Zombie Strike commander and oft-times chaplain. Most of the communications satellites in Earth orbit were destroyed by the so-called "Champions of the Truth" when they used a lot of the space junk circling around the earth into orbital strikes. Fortunately, MacKenzie and Winston, the insurance firm that supported Zombie Strike, planned for this type of emergency. Jess waited patiently as Mateo navigated the series of relay stations M&W set up.
There was movement out of the corner of Jess’s eye. Jess spun as she brought up her MP7. Zombies were plentiful in the ruins of Mexico City. She snapped on the weapon-mounted flashlight. The form in front of her wasn’t a zombie. Jess froze as her eyes climbed up and up to meet the dark eyes of Giant. Zombie Strike’s nemesis lived up to his name, topping over seven feet tall. He seemed to have an athletic build, but it was hard to tell from the ninja-style outfit Giant had adopted. None of the team had ever seen more than Giant’s dark eyes glaring out from the balaclava-style face mask. Jess aimed her her weapon at Giant’s face.
"Curse you!" Giant bellowed as the high-powered flashlight shone into his eyes. One hand grasped at his face. He lashed out with the whip in the other hand. A thunderous crack blasted across Jess. Her flashlight shattered and the pocket went dark. Jess’s instincts took over as she triggered a burst at the darker than night form of Giant. The muzzle flash lit up the night with an almost strobe-like effect.
"Mateo, it’s Giant!" Jess screamed. Another thunder crack and the MP7 was torn out of her hands. Without pausing, Jess drew her Kimber. Jess was momentarily blinded by Mateo’s weapon light. Just long enough for Giant to dart in and drive a massive fist into her stomach. Her lungs emptied in a great whoosh. Jess slammed into a wall. No, it wasn’t a wall. It was the ground. Giant’s blow sent her airborne. She gasped for air as she struggled to her feet. Pain made everything a bit hazy. At least Jess kept a hold of her pistol.
"I am getting annoyed with you, Mateo," Giant said as he brought the whip down. Mateo twisted to take the blow across his back. The armor shattered. The move kept his carbine from being snatched. Mateo countered by bringing up his weapon and emptying the magazine into Giant’s torso. The huge man screamed in pain as twenty 6.8 mm rounds punched into him. The two men staggered back. Giant was clutching at his chest with one hand. The whip twisted in the other like a cat’s tail. Mateo changed magazines. His movements were stiff and jerky. The blow from Giant hurt him. Jess brought her pistol up and double-tapped Giant in the head. Giant’s head snapped to one side. The whip lashed out. The thick leather wrapped tight around Jess’s throat. Jess dropped her Kimber as both hands clawed at the whip. She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs were on fire.
"Don’t Mateo," warned Giant, looking over at Jess’s foster father, "Or she will die." Giant strode over to Jess. She saw where Mateo’s burst shredded Giant’s outfit, but there was no blood or any other sign of injury. As Giant neared, the whip loosened. Wonderful air filled Jess’s lungs. Giant bent down to look Jess in the eyes. She knew she should be afraid. Whether it was because of the pain that wracked her body or the dizziness from the sudden rush of oxygen, one thought dominated Jess’s mind. Giant wore a lot of cologne, and it wasn’t even good cologne.
"I should just kill you," Giant told her in a low voice, "Coyote has decided to look out for you, and he’s spoiled enough of my plans today. I don’t know what he wants with you, but leaving you to run around would be dangerous." The whip tightened and Jess gagged as she frantically tried to get air. "Shame to kill you so young." The whip warmed, like a comfy blanket. Jess felt tired. Maybe if she just went to sleep, all of the pain would stop. She could dream of Billy.
The war scream pierced the night. Jess’s eyes snapped open just in time to see Billy’s armored form crash down on Giant. Giant slammed to the ground under the force of Billy’s speeding mass. Quentin emerged from the darkness and brought his warhammer down on Giant’s whip hand. Jess could hear a sickening wet crunch. Giant didn’t let go of the whip, but it slid off of Jess’s neck. She fell to the ground. She couldn’t move. She was barely conscious. She was more injured than she thought. Giant grabbed Billy by the neck and hurled him across the pocket. The young warrior crashed into a portion of wall. He wasn’t moving. Jess wanted to panic, to feel something, but she couldn’t push past the haze. Quentin swung his warhammer. Giant caught the speeding hammer in his bare hand. He wrenched it from the surprised Quentin’s hands, flipped it around with a contemptuous ease, and shattered Quentin’s prosthetic leg with the weapon. Giant searched around for more people to destroy.
The pocket exploded with sound as five automatic weapons opened up. The black costume was shredded, and Giant finally bled as the fusillade tore into him. Mateo and The Steve closed on Jess and Quentin as Sport, Slim, and Collin quickly changed magazines. The brief pause in the fire was all Giant needed. The whip came down with a deafening roar. The Zombie Strike team members were thrown to the ground by the wave of pure force. Giant launched into the air and flew towards the earlier battle scene. Collin and Sport scrambled up to their feet and ran after him. The Steve appeared over her with his infamous devil-may-care smile. He plugged a couple of wires into her armor. After a couple of seconds, he shook his head.
"How’d you manage to go and fry all of your electronics?" The Steve asked, "Quentin, are you good enough to help me?"
"Yeah," grunted Quentin as he dragged himself across the ground.
"Cool, we need to get her armor off," The Steve said. The two carefully removed her armor. The Steve did a quick examination. Jess gasped as a sharp pain shot up from her leg. "Relax for a second. The happy juice will hit in a sec." Almost as soon as the words were out of The Steve’s mouth, Jess’s haze vanished and everything came into sharp focus.
"Drop him there boss," The Steve said. Jess turned her head to see her foster father carrying the limp form of Billy in a fireman’s carry. Gently, Mateo laid down Billy.
"Jess?" Mateo asked curtly.
"Would be better if we could evac her, but I can get her going," The Steve said. He almost sounded happy about the prospect of doing a quick patch job. The medic snaked over to Billy and checked his PDA. "This one will be fine once we reset his armor. It locked up when he hit that wall. He’s already coming around."
"Get them both prepped for evac," Mateo said, "She’s already been through hell. He’ll be worthless if he’s worrying about her. I’m going to help Collin try and bring down Giant." The Steve gave Mateo a thumbs-up. Mateo gave Jess one last sad look before sprinting back towards the sounds of the battle.
"Well, it looks like you and your new boyfriend are going to get to sit the rest of this one out," The Steve said without a hint of sarcasm. "About time too, we were getting sick of you two dancing around." Jess felt her cheeks heat. Did everyone know about her feelings for Billy before this mission?
"Give it a rest Steve," Quentin said.
"+The* Steve dude," The Steve reminded Quentin, "And you owe me twenty bucks. I knew this would get sorted out before the end of summer." Jess closed her eyes in complete embarrassment. They were taking bets on her love life? Why couldn’t she just be unconscious like Billy?
"Whatever," Quentin said, "You’ll have to wait—" Quentin’s words stopped. There were two loud thwacks. Jess opened her eyes to see Quentin and The Steve slumped over. Large darts that kind of looked like syringes protruded from each man. Out of the darkness stepped four minions. Two carried F2000’s. The other two carried what looked like air rifles. Unlike the minions Jess fought before, these four moved with practiced efficiency. They reminded Jess of watching Collin and The Steve slink through the jungle on Skull Island.
"Get these two secured to the stretchers," growled one, pointing to Jess and Billy. He acted as if he was in charge of the quartet. "Make sure to put them under, but don’t kill them." One of the minions with an air rifle opened a pouch at his waist and produced two syringes and a bottle of clear liquid. The lead one crouched over Jess.
"I don’t know why you’re so important, but be glad," the man said in a Midwest American accent, "Mikhail said to be especially careful." Jess was still trying to figure out who was Mikhail when she felt the jab of the needle. In a few seconds, everything went black.