Skull Island, South Pacific, 24 July 2010, 2100 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 7 days

Owen Thomas, better known to his teammates as Slim, stepped into the command center. The twenty or so techs didn’t break their vigils over the various displays and communication equipment as the field team member entered. Slim grinned to himself as he imagined his father’s reaction to such a reception. The Colonel would have had a bloody fit if the lowly techs didn’t properly acknowledge his superiority as an officer. Slim wondered again if his father’s attitude was the reason the General Staff failed to promote him. It was certainly the reason Slim left home at the tender age of sixteen. Slim sat down at his computer station. The Champions of Truth had kept out of sight since the destruction of Mexico City. Not like that wasn’t too hard these days. The constellation of satellites the modern world depended on to run its technology was mostly destroyed. What few were left were almost all under government control. Gone were the days of easy surveillance through electronic means. It was even harder here on Skull Island. All of the communications and Internet systems were satellite-based. Currently, Skull Island and Zombie Strike were dependent on a lash-up system of high-end transceivers mounted on high-altitude balloons, retired cargo ships, and a few towers on atolls to communicate to the rest of the world. Trust the largest and oldest insurance firm to have a contingency plan for nearly everything.

Slim didn’t normally mind the command center, but Zombie Strike was a bit understaffed at the moment. Kenn Blanchard and Mateo Cortez, Zombie Strike’s leaders, were in Washington DC. Something about the American parliament conducting hearings about the events in Mexico City. Nigel Brown, Mackenzie and Winston’s liaison with Zombie Strke, was also there, as was Jess Montgomery, Mateo’s foster daughter. Collin DuBois, the team’s de-facto colour sergeant, seemed a bit under the weather the past few weeks, so Slim offered to pitch in and take a few of Collin’s watches. Slim sipped at his coffee. It would be another hour before the next data dump. All he could do was wait patiently. It looked like another slow night. That was until the building rumbled and the command center was plunged into darkness. Slim let out a stream of curses as the emergency lights cut in.

“What the bloody hell just happened?” Slim asked to the mass of frantic techs, “That didn’t feel like an earthquake.”

“Explosions in the main armory, the electrical plant, and the telecom exchange,” one of the techs reported, “Engineering is on damage control, but right now we’re cut-off and running on batteries.” Slim grimaced at the report. One explosion could have been an accident. Three was sabotage.

“Jane, my compliments to Mr. DuBois, and would you run up and inform him that I need him here, please?” Slim asked another tech. As she darted out of the room, Slim grabbed the attention of another tech.

“I want everyone on this island accounted for,” Slim ordered, “I don’t care if they’re in the loo with the runs. I want them found and in the main dining room.”

“Mr. Thomas, one of the planes is taking off,” reported the first tech.

“Who’s flying that plane?” Slim quickly asked.

“The airfield reports it was Collin DuBois,” the tech answered. Slim stood there dumbstruck as the rest of Zombie Strike began rushing into the command center.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 1600 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez smiled as he watched his daughters play and tried very hard not to punch the man standing next to him. It wasn’t this guy’s fault. It just didn’t occur to Mateo when he asked his ex-wife to come up for a family vacation that she’d bring her new boyfriend. Of course, if Mateo hadn’t been busy jumping all over the world fighting zombies, then he might have known his wife was seeing someone. Ana made this point quite clearly. Ted wasn’t a bad guy. He was just boring. Ted reminded Mateo of every cookie-cutter professional he had met before joining Zombie Strike. There was nothing distinguishing about the man. It didn’t help that Mateo’s daughter liked Ted. At least she didn’t call him daddy. Mateo wasn’t sure how he could have handled that. At the moment, Mercedes was playing tag with Mateo’s foster daughter Jess and Jess’s new spirit wolf puppy Billy. Since Kenn and Nigel were testifying in front of some Congressional subcommittee, Mateo decided to bring the girls to the Mall and wait for his friends to finish. Ted sort of invited himself along for what he called “guy-bonding.” Mateo was pretty sure Maria sent him along so that she could do some shopping on her own. Ted was chattering about the Buccaneers and the Rays. Mateo was ignoring him.

Jess was the one who spotted Kenn and Nigel first. The two men were walking around the Reflecting Pond and heading toward the group. Mateo waved and held up a pair of cigars, much to the dismay of Ted. Ted didn’t smoke, and thought it was a bad idea for Mateo to smoke in front of the girls. Mateo politely told Ted what he could do with his advice. Suddenly, Nigel shoved Kenn to the ground – a split second before his chest exploded in a spray of red mist. The rifle’s report echoed through the Mall. Mateo shot a glance back to his daughters. Jess held a screaming Mercedes on the ground and was covering the five-year-old with her own body. Billy stood over the girls. The wolf pup eyes were locked back at the Lincoln memorial. Mateo could almost see the shimmer of power coming off Billy as the pup protected the girls. Mateo ran through the panicked mass of people to check on Kenn and Nigel. Kenn was knelt over Nigel’s still form, praying for their friend’s soul. Mateo grabbed Kenn and tried to drag the man behind some concealment. Cover was sparse in this part of the Mall. Mateo desperately wanted a gun at the moment. All he had on him was a pocket knife. Kenn shrugged out of Mateo’s grip and knelt back down next to Nigel’s body as police charged towards them.

“Kenn, get behind something solid,” Mateo said, “Someone just tried to take you out.” Kenn looked up at Mateo with sad and knowing eyes. They spooked Mateo.

“Sniper,” Kenn said, “He took his shot and missed. He’ll be evading right now. We’re sort of safe for the moment.” Mateo nodded as the two men were surrounded by police. In the confusion, Mateo completely forgot about Ted.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2100 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

The man Mateo knew as Ted walked onto the Metro Red line. He sat down and pulled out an book reader. He was patient. He had to be. Less than ten minutes later, Collin DuBois casually sat down next to Ted. Collin was dressed in a conservative business suit. At rush hour, he blended into the crowd.

“Good afternoon Mr. DuBois,” Ted said, never looking up from his reader.

“I don’t know how Nigel saw me,” Collin said in a passable American accent.

“Calm down Mr. DuBois,” Ted said, “I did the groundwork. I’ve already told my people that it wasn’t your fault the deal fell through.” Ted tilted the reader so Collin could see the picture of his sister.

“We are all professionals,” Ted told Collin, “We understand these things happen. We still want you to complete the transaction. We still want to deliver your package to you. Unfortunately, we won’t be consulting you this time. Please don’t let a poison pill disrupt this transaction again.”

“I understand,” Collin answered. At the next stop, Collin leapt up and darted out of the train. Ted settled into his seat and waited. Collin DuBois watched as the train roared into the darkened tunnel. The man never suspected Collin was recording their conversation. Collin found a WiFi spot and emailed Mateo the recording and some covert photos of the man. It was the only thing Collin could do to balance his betrayal. As he walked through the Metro station, Collin started to plan his next try at assassinating his friend Kenn Blanchard.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 45]