Mexico City, 28 June 2010, 0430 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 2 days
Jessica Montgomery suddenly became aware of the world. Part of that was due to the drugs wearing off. The bigger part was someone was shaking her. Violently shaking her. Sensations roared through her as her mind clawed back from the dark. She needed the person to stop. Her body was still banged up. She stopped herself from opening her eyes. What if it was Giant, one of those scary minions, or another bad guy? Did she really want them to know she was awake? Then her hearing pushed past the thrumming of her heart beat. Jess didn’t know if she wanted to laugh, cry, or murder her new boyfriend. Jess managed to let out a groan of pain. Mercifully, the shaking stopped.
"Jess, are you alright?" Billy asked stark fear in his voice. Jess tried to answer. She felt as Billy pushed the tube from her water pack into her mouth. She sucked greedily. The lukewarm liquid tasted wonderful. Jess opened her eyes. Billy, out of his armor, was cradling her in his arms. Any other time, Jess would have just laid back and enjoyed it. Right now, it looked like the two of them were trapped in a dungeon. The smallish room was made completely out of stone. The only light came from a flashlight Billy set up in the center of the room. One of the walls opened to another room or hallway.
"Billy, I love you," Jess said, reaching up to stroke the sparse stubble on Billy’s chin, "But if you ever shake me like that again, I will kill you in your sleep." The two smiled at each other. The sudden laughter from the doorway startled them. Jess snapped her head to see a man dressed in a minion’s ninja suit standing casually in the doorway. He wore his greying hair in a crew cut. Multiple scars crisscrossed his hard face. Jess wasn’t sure, but she guessed this was the minion who captured Billy and her.
"You are funny, little girl, I’ll give you that," the minion said, his Midwestern accent flavored with just a hint of Southern. The minion looked right at Billy. "If you two manage to survive this, you are going to have fun riding herd on this one." Billy gently slid Jess out of his hands. As the minion strolled into the room, Billy hopped into a fighting stance. The minion stopped and gave Billy a long studious look.
"Now is not the time for that," the minion said in a low and serious tone, "Even if you beat me, which is doubtful, you won’t be in any shape to protect her from the rest of my team, much less all of the rest of Mikhail’s forces. Think about it." Billy dropped into a defensive posture, but still kept himself between the minion and Jess.
"What do you want?" Jess asked, carefully feeling around her armor for any of her weapons. They stripped her clean. Every weapon and bit of ammunition was gone. The minion read her expression and gave her a sad, but knowing, smile.
"I’m here to make sure you’re both alive," the minion answered, "Mikhail is almost to the Key, and he needs you two there."
"What the hell for?" Billy asked, his Brooklyn accent rendering the words almost unintelligible. The minion stared at Billy for a moment, silently translating the word.
"Aztecs had a nasty habit of human sacrifice," the minion answered, "Some might be required to free the Key." The casual nonchalance of the minion chilled Jess.
"Who’s Mikhail?" Jess asked.
"The Great Champion of the Truth," the minion answered with just a hint of sarcasm, "You call him Giant." The minion walked back to the opening. "Two servants will be here in fifteen minutes to collect you. If you are not able to move by then, they will move you themselves. It won’t be pleasant." Without another word, the minion disappeared into the dark.
"Jess, are you able to move?" Billy asked. Jess sat up. She was stiff and sore. With effort, Jess managed to get to her feet. Surprisingly, she felt better once she stood up. A lot of the pain and stiffness seemed to melt away as she went through a simple kata.
"What’s on your mind, Billy?" Jess asked. Billy’s eyes glinted with malicious intent.
"Well, they did leave me my credit card," Billy said in a joking seductive tone.
Almost twenty minutes later, the pair braced as the two minions strode through the doorway. Billy was on all fours with Jess underneath him. As expected, the two minions froze in surprise. These two were regular minions with none of the professional precision her captors displayed. Both held their weapons in loose, casual grips. They weren’t expecting trouble, much less catching the two in what looked like some heavy fooling around. The weapons lowered even more as the two minions leered at the pair. Jess almost pitied them.
The room plunged into darkness as Billy snatched the flashlight off the floor. He launched himself at the left minion. Billy was scary fast when he was in full armor. Out of it, he was terrifying. Humans really shouldn’t move that fast. Billy slammed into his target, driving the minion to the stone floor. The other minion tried to twist to bring his gun on Billy. It was too late. Jess was already in motion.
Jess rolled to the side and leaped at the minion. The minion staggered from the sudden blow, but he out-massed Jess by a good eighty pounds. The minion lunged at Jess with the barrel of his gun. Jess parried the blow and stepped closer. She hammer punched the minion in the neck. She felt the sharpened plastic of Billy’s credit card slice through the fabric and sink into the minion’s throat. The minion dropped his gun as both hands clutched at his bleeding neck. Jess snatched the weapon off the ground and slid back. Her part was done. Billy came up from behind and finished the minion off. The flashlight came back on and illuminated the room.
Jess looked at the two bodies as Billy efficiently searched them. She felt numb inside. Why had it been so easy this time to kill the two minions? Shouldn’t she feel some sort of regret? She remembered feeling regret and guilt when she killed the narcos shortly after the team landed in Mexico City. Billy forced a gun into her hands. Without thinking, Jess examined the weapon. She stared at the gun in surprise. It was her MP7. Billy handed her a half-dozen magazines, knife, and finally her Kimber. Even slipping her beloved handgun back into its holster broke her unease.
"Look at me, Jess," Billy said softly. Their eyes met. His dark eyes were warm. "I need you to stay with me. I can’t do this without you." Jess felt herself harden. Billy was right. She couldn’t let him down. The two crept out of the room. Beyond the room was a long hallway. Billy motioned for the pair to the left. The two hugged the smooth stone wall as they hallway narrowed to an iron door. It was a single slab of rusted metal. Jess couldn’t see how the door even opened.
"Maybe we should knock," Billy suggested. Jess shot him an evil look. The door snapped open with an ear-wrenching screech. A gollum launched out of the doorway. Billy grabbed Jess and half-tossed her to the side. The gollum pounced on Billy. The creature lashed out with blow after blow. Billy parried most, but Jess heard the meaty thwacks and grunts of pain as a few of the strikes landed. Instinctively, Jess jumped on the gollum’s back. The creature howled. She felt fingers dig into her arms as the gollum tried to yank her off. She squeezed tighter as the gollum bucked and jerked. Billy took advantage of the sudden opportunity. There was a glint of steel as Billy drew his knife. Billy darted in. His hand snatched the gollum’s stone medallion. The creature had the barest of instants before the blade effortlessly sliced through the leather cord holding the medallion around the gollum’s neck.
Jess let go as the gollum let out an ear-shattering howl. The source of its invulnerability was now gone. Billy dodged two blindingly fast punches and planted the knife cleanly into the gollum’s chest. The gollum froze in mid motion. It still horrified Jess every time she watched one of the gollums wither away into a skeleton. Billy and Jess turned to the sound of applause. Giant and the four minions that captured Jess and Billy were standing in the door. Amusement danced among their eyes as the five clapped. Giant stepped forward.
"Well, that was much faster than I expected," Giant said, "And you’re right Frank, they are covered in their enemies’ blood." Jess looked down ashamed. The minion’s blood was splashed across her.
"Everything is perfect," Giant mused to the gathered people, "All of the pieces are in place. Now is the time to retrieve the Key." Jess snapped her weapon up and fired a burst into Giant. This time, he didn’t even stagger or grunt in pain. The whip lanced across the distance in a blur to wrap around Billy’s neck. Giant didn’t even look as the young man clawed at the whip. Giant looked only at Jess.
"Stop this stupidity," Giant boomed. "You will come along and play your part, or I will kill the young wolf-cub." Jess hung her head. Billy was too important to her. She couldn’t have his death on her hands. Not when they just managed to get together. Giant saw the defeat on Jess’s face and let out an evil laugh. Then, the hallway shook like the earth itself was having a seizure. Smoke and dust filled the hallway and for a moment Jess couldn’t see anything. As the smoke and dust settled, Jess could see she was surrounded by the familiar forms of the Zombie Strike team.
"I told you P stood for Plenty," The Steve said. He sounded so far away, even though he stood less than three feet from her.
"GIANT!" bellowed Mateo, "It’s time to finish this."