Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0600 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days
Slim Thomas emptied his MP-5/10’s magazine into the zombies. Some of the hunting moans were cut short. Most weren’t. Slim needed to open up room between the zombies and his trio of zombie killers. Thankfully, zombies were not very agile creatures. The few that Slim took down with his burst tripped other zombies. The horde slowed as it struggled with the stumbles. Slim darted back to Quentin and Sport. Quentin stood in front of Sport with a submachine gun in each hand. The MP5/10’s looked like oversized pistols in Quentin’s massive hands. Quentin was following Slim’s lead with careful sprays of automatic fire to drive back the zombies as they got too close to their fallen comrade.
Slim dropped next to Sport. The man was flailing about uncontrollably. Slim didn’t know what the minion had done to Sport, but he needed to get his teammate under control. Slim snagged Sport’s left arm and held it tight. A few quick touches and the PDA mounted in the armor’s bracer rebooted. The medical program shrieked at Sport’s condition and dumped painkillers and sedatives into the man’s system. Slim held fast as the drugs took effect. The flailing slowed and then stopped as Sport dropped into unconsciousness. The damage was done though. As Slim looked up, dozens more zombies turned towards them. Another chorus of hunting moans filled the dawning morning.
"Quentin, it’s time to leave. Grab Sport. I’ll cover you," Slim said to his teammate as he inserted a new magazine into the submachine gun and slammed down the charging handle.
"Sure thing," Quentin said as he dropped one of his MP5/10’s. He let the other dangle on its sling as he hoisted the limp form of Sport over his shoulder. Any other time, Slim would be amazed at how Quentin easily scooped up Sport. Now, he was too busy taking out zombies and trying to survive this insanity.
"Where to?" Quentin asked. He used the submachine gun like a pistol and double-tapped a zombie that managed to get within a few yards of the team. The question caused a tingling in Slim’s mind. There was something important he couldn’t quite remember. The team didn’t have time for him to stop and puzzle out what little piece of information was tickling the back of his mind. They needed to move before they hit crush.
"Back to the forest," Slim said. Quentin turned and ran back to the tree line. Slim fired off another quick pair of bursts and followed his teammate. Slim had gone a few yards before he knew he’d made a mistake. Slim didn’t know what it was, but there was the cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. He turned and carefully placed several more bursts, taking down nearly a dozen zombies. Slim ejected the used magazine and slapped in a new one. From the sounds of Quentin’s yells, the big man was in the tree line. Time to leave.
Slim turned to sprint into the forest. He took a few steps and stumbled over what he thought was a clump of grass. He let go of his submachine gun as his arms shot forward to break his fall. The grass was slick, and his hands slid out from under him as they hit the ground. The breath whooshed out of him as his MP5 was driven into his chest. Slim’s mind screamed for him to get back up and run. His body just wasn’t responding. His legs were stuck in something. Then he felt the bite.
Everything came into sharp focus as Slim’s body dumped every last bit of adrenaline into his bloodstream. The pistol was in his hand before he realized he was lining up the front sight on the zombie’s head. The crawler started to moan when Slim double-tapped the Glock. The moan stopped abruptly, and Slim felt the grip on his legs loosen. Panic fueled his mind as he scrambled onto his feet and sprinted the last fifty yards to the tree line.
"What happened?" Quentin asked as Slim slid into the ground next to him.
"My God, that zombie bit me," Slim said in horror. It was a death sentence. Worse than a death sentence. Images flashed through his mind as he realized what had just happened to him. He knew he was babbling, but he didn’t care. It was the worst nightmare of every zombie hunter. There was only one real option. He brought the pistol up
"Stop!" ordered Quentin as his hand clenched down on Slim’s wrist and wrenched the pistol away. Slim saw the rage in Quentin’s face. He didn’t understand why Quentin stopped him.
"The bite didn’t go through," Quentin said forcefully. Slim looked down at his leg. The tight fabric wasn’t punctured or torn. The zombie’s bite was no worse than a bad pinch. Slim felt his legs go wobbly as relief flooded his mind.
"Easy there partner," Quentin said soothingly and braced Slim up against a tree.
"I’m not going to die. I’m not going to turn into one of them," Slim said breathlessly.
"Well not yet anyway," Quentin said, motioning to the oncoming horde. Then Quentin let out a string of curses. Slim gave him a quizzical look.
"We should have run the other way," Quentin said, "The bunkers are back that way." The realization hit Slim. That was what his mind was trying to force him to remember. The bunkers. The heavily reinforced and supplied bunkers used as waypoints when Zombie Strike was only a reality television show instead of the prime zombie hunter force. The bunkers with direct lines back to the complex. Slim barely had time to beat himself up over the mistake before the forest echoed with hunting moans.
They were now surrounded.
Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days
Mateo Cortez barely kept his emotions under control as he sat in the molded plastic chair. Rage, sorrow, and fear flooded his mind. His little girl was hurt. Hurt badly, and she might not see the morning. His best friend was shot and also might not live to see another dawn. His ex-wife was in the hands of his enemies. It was all he could do to just sit in that chair and not fall apart. He felt Jess leaning against him and Billy curled up at his feet. One of the hospital people tried to take away the spirit wolf pup. Someone, Special Agent Tredegar, Mateo thought, made it very clear that the animal would go where it damn well pleased. Mateo knew he should be grateful to the FBI agent, but he just couldn’t work up the emotion.
The last forty-five minutes were a blur for Mateo. He knew seconds after the shot, Mercedes was snatched from him. He watched helplessly as the paramedics worked frantically on his little girl. It felt like both a few seconds and an eternity before the paramedics hustled the little girl into an ambulance. Mateo was ushered into a police car, and the two vehicles shot through the city streets with sirens blaring. The DC Metro police officer calmly disarmed Mateo before letting him into the Washington Hospital Center. Mateo didn’t even realize he was unarmed until he sat down in the chair the nurse showed him.
Mateo was told to wait for the doctor. That was all he could do. Mateo Cortez, the zombie hunter who faced down death countless times and gone up against horrific powers, could only sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair and wait. Shame joined the other emotions, and he could feel his reserve start to crack. A feminine hand pushed a cup of coffee into his hands. The warm cup broke Mateo out of his brooding. He looked up into the worried face of Robyn Adams. Mateo wasn’t sure why the lawyer from MacKenzie and Winston was still there. This was beyond anything her duties demanded of her. Mateo had to admit that her presence was comforting.
"You look like hell," Robyn said quietly as she sat down next Mateo. His usual discomfort around attractive women roared up, but he couldn’t summon up the strength to move away. Mateo did the next best thing and stared down into the black, steaming liquid.
"Special Agent Tredegar has every agent he can find looking for Ted and Maria," Robyn said, her voice calm and soothing, "The hospital pulled in its best trauma teams in to take care of Kenn and Mercedes. It’s time to let other people do their jobs." The last statement caught Mateo off-guard.
"What?" he half-sputtered, almost dropping the cup of coffee.
"You’re beating yourself up because you can’t do anything," Robyn said. Her blue eyes bored unflinchingly into his. "You’re used to being in control, and this is tearing you up." Mateo wanted to scream at her, tell her wrong she was. The problem was he couldn’t.
"She’s right Matt," Jess murmured. Mateo shot up off the chair and whirled on the two women. They were almost mirror images of concern. He couldn’t handle their earnest compassion. He let out a strangled scream and stormed out of the hospital. He stepped into the humid night air. Well, it was humid for the locals. Mateo was from Florida. Days where it was like walking around with a wet towel across your face were not unheard of. Still, the fresh air helped. Some of the pent-up frustration lessened. Mateo was taking deep breaths when he felt his phone vibrate at his waist. The sudden vibration startled Mateo. With the destruction of the satellite constellation, cell service was spotty at best. Still, if you were near a hotspot, most phones could download all of your messages. Mateo stared down and saw a message from Collin. That didn’t make sense. Collin was back on Skull Island. It was easier getting a telegram from there than an email. Mateo tapped the icon and listened to the message.
Stunned shock banished all of Mateo’s other emotions. Disbelief followed. Collin couldn’t be working with the minions. He couldn’t have killed Nigel. He couldn’t betray Mateo like that. Disbelief fell away as the message ended. A cold rage surged through Mateo. As he looked back to the shooting of Kenn and Mercedes, Mateo could see Collin’s style in the attack. His fingerprints were all over it. Of all the things that Mateo kept under control, the most important was his killing side. Now it was completely unleashed. Mateo was going to find Collin and kill him.