Mexico City, 28 June 2010, 0515 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 5 months, 2 days
Jessica Montgomery watched as Giant let Billy slip from his whip. The immense monster of a man looked almost offended by Mateo’s challenge. The minions escorting Giant immediately fell behind their seven-foot tall champion and brought up stubby assault rifles. Billy didn’t even slow down to take a breath. As soon as the whip came off, Billy crouched and rolled next to Jess. The two sat in mirror crouches with their submachine guns aimed at the minions. The Zombie Strike team stared down their enemies. It was just a moment of quiet and calm as the two forces measured the other. The picture of her foster father, her boyfriend (oh my God, he looked good), and her friends training weapons down on the four minions and Giant seared itself into her mind. Without warning, the calm was broken.
The Steve and Sport darted forward towards Jess and Billy as the rest of the team opened fire. Jess felt the snaps of bullets as they streaked around her. Her mind immediately realized the actions. Recover under fire. Jess didn’t have a chance to fire her own weapon before she felt The Steve jerk her back. By the hair. Jess gritted her teeth and tried to lessen the pain by scrambling backwards with The Steve. Sport was using Billy’s drag handle, allowing Billy to cover the four’s retreat. The Steve half-tossed, half-slid Jess behind Quentin.
Giant and the minions fell back into the room holding the Key. Two of the minions were trading gunfire with Zombie Strike team. Bullets shattered the rock of the doorway and the sides of the hall. Jess frowned. The hallway was wide open. The only cover was the small bits of the wall from the team’s entry. None of the team had been hit yet. Either the two minions weren’t the professionals she thought they were, or they were just delaying the team. Considering how the two were using the sides of the doorway, Jess was guessing the minions were delaying the team. Delay wasn’t something the team could afford. Fortunately, Quentin was gracious enough to have brought her rifle with him.
"PALISADE TWO!" Jess yelled over the gunfire. Quentin dropped down to a kneeling crouch, which was still almost as tall as Jess. As she unhooked her rifle, Slim fell in next to Quentin. The team hugged the walls of the hallway and stepped up the fire. She only needed a few seconds. Jess stood up behind Quentin and Slim, extending her rifle in one smooth motion. The sliver of the minion’s face filled her scope. She applied just a bit of pressure. The hallway thundered with the sound of the rifle’s report. The doorway was splattered with bone and blood. The assault rifle clattered to the floor. Jess was cycling the bolt when the other minion stopped firing.
"Illuminators!" ordered Mateo. Sport and The Steve were at the doorway tossing in the baseball sized devices. As soon as the Illuminators landed, their tiny lights brilliantly lit up the room with sterile white light. In an eye blink, Sport, The Steve, Collin, and Mateo were inside the room. Billy leapt into the room and jumped out of Jess’s view. Her heart clenched as she clearly heard Billy’s war whoop followed by the unmistakable screech of a gollum. Billy found a target. Slim led Quentin and Jess into the room. Jess followed Quentin as he loped into the room on his replacement prosthetic.
The room was an almost exact replica of the room Xipe Tzin built when the Zombie Strike team confronted him over a year ago. Jess hadn’t been part of the team then, but she recognized it from the file Mateo had made her study. This one was bigger though. The room was maybe a hundred feet wide and two hundred feet long. The walls and floor glittered as the Illuminators’ light reflected off of the white ceramic tiles. Running through the middle of the room was a trench maybe forty feet wide. Three ten feet wide stone bridges spanned the trench. On the other side of the trench, in the center stood an obsidian obelisk decorated with Aztec carvings. Either that was the Key, or the Key was inside it.
Jess heard the moans as soon as she entered the rooms. Easily two hundred of the walking dead bore down on the team. Jess slung her rifle and drew her Kimber. Two zombies went down with single shots. Quentin opened up a bit of area with a long burst from his ZKC. Jess kept it open while the big man changed magazines. Jess shot a quick glance at her foster father. Mateo and The Steve were busy with another part of the horde. Sport was using one of the corpses as a shield as Collin traded gunfire with the minions. The minions were holding the right-most bridge. Giant was on the other side of the trench and walking to the obelisk. Where was Billy? Jess did a presidente drill across the front of the zombie horde. Eight shots, eight zombies down. Jess made a quick gauge of their situation as she fed another magazine into her Kimber. It wasn’t looking good for the team.
"Mattie, we need to fall back," Collin said, echoing Jess’s thoughts, "We’re about to be overrun."
"No," Mateo answered curtly as he dropped another pair of zombies.
"Mattie, we’re past crush," Collin argued.
"No," Mateo answered with a cold, calm voice. Each member of the team knew that tone well. Mateo’s rage was humming through him. In anyone else, that rage would make him reckless. In Mateo, the rage focused him and strengthened him.
"Billy, finish playing around and get up here," Mateo ordered. Billy leapt up out of the trench. A gollum jumped after him. Billy ruthlessly lashed out with a metal rod. The tip of the rod shattered the gollum’s medallion. Before the gollum could react, the rod crashed down on its head. Without its divine invulnerability, the gollum’s skull shattered. Without even a moment to enjoy his victory, Billy danced through the zombie horde. As Collin often said, the boy was magic. The diminutive Apache slipped through the gaps between the zombies, occasionally widening a gap with a savage strike from the metal rod. Billy slid around Quentin to stand next to Jess. He gave her a smug smile. She punched him in the arm before dropping a crawler that got a little too close to Billy.
"Billy grab the four block from The Steve," Mateo ordered, "As soon as you have it, get across the bridge and destroy that obelisk! Collin, keep those minions off Billy. The rest of us will fall back and form a line to cover your retreat. Billy grabbed the book-sized explosive from The Steve and stood next to Jess as he looked for his opening. Billy sprinted into the horde. As Billy leapt off the line, something primal took over Jess. She darted into the horde after Billy. Every instinct and bit of training screamed at her to stop and go back, but she couldn’t. It was almost as if she was trapped in her own body. The horde of zombies blurred around Jess as she followed Billy through the walking dead. She could see what Billy saw every time he danced in to fight the zombies. Small gaps looked big enough to drive semi-trucks through. The zombies acted more like statues than animated corpses. They just couldn’t move fast enough to catch her. Before she knew it, Jess was through the horde and charging the bridge. What was happening to her?
As Billy neared the obelisk, Giant noticed the two Zombie Strike team members. The whip in his hand danced in anticipation. Billy shot into the air. Giant’s eyes twinkled with amusement. Jess slid down on her knees and unslung her rifle. It wasn’t an aimed shot, but with a distance of less than fifty feet, she didn’t need to aim much. The heavy .338 Lapua round slammed into Giant just as the whip lashed out at the airborne Billy. The whip’s tasseled tip passed within scant inches of Billy. Jess smiled as she scrambled to her feet. Billy landed, rolled, and slapped the explosive at the base of the obelisk. The bomb’s adhesive backing set with the strength of concrete. Giant and his team weren’t getting that off anytime soon. Not before Zombie Strike triggered it. Giant cracked his whip. The room shook with thunder. A wave of force tossed Billy and Jess away from the obelisk. Her rifle slipped out of her hands. Jess watched helplessly as the weapon slid across the tiles and plunged into the trench. Something flickered in the corner of her eye. Jess rolled to the side as Giant’s whip cracked the tiles next to her. Billy sprang off the ground, kicked off the obelisk and drove himself into Giant’s midsection. The surprise blow knocked Giant off of his feet. The two rolled across the tile floor. Billy stood up first.
"Jess, activate the block!" Billy yelled. Jess scowled as she scampered to the bomb. She wasted precious seconds as her memory dug up the procedure. Her fingers danced across the buttons. Four-four-three-nine-seven. The readout blinked and a friendly, lethal green light told her the bomb was active. Jess whirled to call Billy. It was time to go. Giant loomed over Jess. His dark eyes burned with a terrifying rage. Jess took a step back and felt the cold obsidian at her back. There was nowhere to run. Giant’s arm snapped back. The whip tensed into a rigid lance. Jess didn’t even have a chance to take a breath. Giant attacked.
The instant before the tip of the whip struck her chest, it bounced to the side. Pain flashed as the whip lanced cleanly through her left arm. Jess heard the tip smack against the obelisk, and then she felt a surge of power course through her. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the tile floor. Giant looked a little shaken, but it didn’t last long. He took a step towards Jess. Screaming in Spanish, Giant thrust the whip at Jess’s prone form. There was a blur of motion above Jess. Billy materialized between Jess and Giant. Giant’s whip lanced through Billy’s midsection. Jess watched in horror as blood quickly soaked through Billy’s clothing and pooled under him. Giant tried to yank out his whip, but Billy held it in place. Jess felt her entire body go numb.
"I don’t think so," Billy grunted out, "You’re staying put." Jess watched as Billy struggled against Giant. Each tug opened the wound, spilling out more blood.
"How are you doing that?" screamed Giant as he tugged furiously. Billy laughed.
"Jess, there’s a knife across the small of my back," Billy said over his shoulder, "Take it." Jess gingerly drew the blade from its scabbard. It was a plain knife with a simple wooden handle. As soon as the knife was in her hands, she could feel its power. She looked angrily over at Giant. Mateo was right. It was time to finish this. Before Jess could take a step towards Giant, two powerful arms encircled her.
"Took you long enough," Billy said to Quentin, "Get her out of here."
"Vaya con Dios, my friend," Quentin said sadly. The two men shared a look of goodbye. Quentin lifted Jess up.
"No!" Jess screamed as she struggled against Quentin. "Billy, I won’t leave you. Quentin, let go of me." Jess struggled, kicked, and bit. Quentin ignored it all as he stormed across the bridge.
"Love you babe," Billy yelled as Quentin hauled Jess through the door. The next thing Jess heard was the explosion.