Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0620 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days
Slim Thomas looked at the oncoming zombies. He could hear the hunting moans behind his small team. Worse, the lightning bolt that knocked out Sport also burned off all of the team’s Nasty Stuff. They were surrounded by some five hundred zombies who were hunting for Quentin, Slim, and himself. Not good odds by anyone’s reckoning. Well, maybe if you were a Spartan. Slim doubted even Leonidas would have faced his three hundred against a zombie horde. The thoughts triggered memories and a quick plan. The reason three hundred Spartans could stand against somewhere between ten and fifty thousand Persians was because the Greeks forced the Persians into a bottleneck. Essentially, the Greeks avoided crush by forcing the Persians to send only a portion of their force at a time. Slim’s father called a defeat in detail.
"Quentin, hold onto Sport and follow me," Slim said, "We’re heading to the maze." Quentin gave Slim a questioning look, but he followed the lanky Brit as they ran through the forest. Slim didn’t care if the zombies heard every step. He wanted them to follow him. Slim didn’t have the Hot Gates, but he had something that would work in a pinch. The maze was at the edge of the forest. The Frenchies that owned Skull Island before Zombie Strike planted the maze while they were trying to build a resort. Zombie Strike had better things to do than trim up a hedge maze that was outside the compound’s perimeter. Still, they didn’t want the odd zombie wandering in and making the maze a death trap. So, concrete barriers were placed in front of the two entrances. No one went into the maze, except for one brilliant instance.
Jack Winchester had been a Zombie Strike team member killed on the team’s first mission. Before that, he’d been the sole survivor of a team competition when ZS was a reality show. Slim remembered watching Jack hop over the concrete barriers and hold off maybe twenty zombies with his trademark pair of silver Brownings. The hedges had grown so thick, the zombies couldn’t force their way through, and they couldn’t climb over the concrete barriers. Jack whittled down the horde and then escaped. Slim just needed to hold out long enough for The Steve to send out someone to get them.
Slim and Quentin charged through the forest. Slim could hear as the two groups of zombies started to come together as they trudged after the zombie hunters. There were a few zombies in the forest. These were stragglers from when the main horde of zombies came through on their way to the compound. Slim got most with quick hammer pairs. A couple more were put down by Quentin’s warhammer. The maze came into view. Slim and Quentin sprinted the last twenty yards. Slim slung his submachine gun and vaulted over the four-foot tall barrier. He turned to help Quentin with Sport. It wasn’t needed. Slim stood amazed as Quentin leapt over the barrier with all of the grace and ease of antelope.
"Close your mouth Slim," Quentin said as he lowered Sport to the grassy ground. "Have you ever tried jumping over an offensive line?"
"What’s an offensive line?" Slim asked, momentarily dumbfounded.
"In football," Quentin answered, unslinging his MP5/10.
"Football doesn’t have an offensive line. They have forwards," Slim replied.
"American football," Quentin snapped with mock anger.
"Oh, that bloody rip-off of rugby you Yanks call a sport," Slim answered, his tone softening the jab. "It’s almost as bad at that tragedy called hockey you and the Canucks play." Slim brought his MP5/10 up as the first zombies emerged from the tree line.
"Never insult the glory of the ice!" shouted a voice from behind. Quentin and Slim spun as the black clad minion stepped from behind one of the hedges some thirty feet into the maze. Neither zombie hunter hesitated. The two sub guns stuttered with twin bursts. The bullets slammed into an invisible shield with sparks of brilliant purple energy.
"Don’t worry, I’m not quite as idiotic as that other Champion," the minion said. Slim could almost see the smirk behind the black balaclava. "Although, I have to admit, you did surprise me. Mr. DuBois should have completely knocked you out of the fight before my zombies showed up. Instead, you have fought hard, slowed and disrupted us, and managed to kill Isaac. One would think you were a bit more than prepared."
"Maybe Zombie Strike is just that good," Quentin snarled, keeping his weapon trained on the minion.
"That’s a good possibility," the minion said, "That’s why I brought my newest toys to finish you off." The minion stepped back. A line of zombies in bomb-disposal suits walked out. The suited zombies stood shoulder to shoulder and spanned the eight-foot wide path. Slim could see more zombies fill in behind the suited zombies.
"Actually, I have to admit, the idea came from Alan," the minion said. Slim and Quentin shot each other an uneasy glance at the mention of the powerful sorcerer’s name. "Still, you can try to fight it out here, or face the other zombie horde. Either way, you all should be dead within an hour or so." The suited zombies began their slow shamble towards the hunters.
"Well, what do you think?" Slim asked Quentin.
"We can’t run," Quentin answered, "No way we’d make it through that horde with me having to carry Sport. Those zombies in the front are tanks. They’re supposed to make us waste our bullets on them. With those heavy helmets, they can’t bite. It’s the ones behind that are dangerous."
"I’m not so sure," Slim began. Before he could utter another word, his world was rocked with unbelievable thunder.
Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2230 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days
Mateo Cortez walked back into the waiting room and pulled his foster daughter aside. Special Agent Tredegar and Robyn Adams looked up in surprise, but didn’t say anything once they saw the look on Mateo’s face. Jess kept her face neutral as she followed Mateo into a secluded alcove. Mateo hesitated for a second. He didn’t want to tell Jess what was going through his mind, but she needed to know. She was as much a member of Zombie Strike as he was. That meant getting to deal with the bad stuff.
"Collin’s the shooter," Mateo said bluntly, "He’s been working for the other side for a while." Jess’s mouth hung open in shock.
"How?" she asked before her voice trailed off.
"He left me a recording of his meeting with Ted after Nigel was killed," Mateo said, "They’ve got one of his family, and they’re using that as leverage against him."
"What are we going to do?" Jess asked, horrified.
"You’re going to stay here with Billy," Mateo said, "I don’t think Collin would try to finish off Kenn here. He’s not that foolish. On the outside chance he doesn’t have any other choice, you’re going to need to be here to protect Kenn and Mercedes. You still have your back-up?"
"Yeah, in my ankle holster," Jess confirmed, still in shock.
"Keep it there until you need to use it," Mateo said, "But if you have to, don’t hesitate. Collin’s not our friend anymore."
"But if they’re holding one of his family hostage—" Jess started, but Mateo’s glare cut her off.
"Then he should have come to us," Mateo said, "He’s a professional. He knew that. He made the other choice and betrayed us." Father and daughter shared a moment of uncomfortable silence.
"I need you to do one other thing," Mateo said, "Ask Ms. Adams to get a hold of Skull Island. We need the rest of the team here."
"Where are you going?" Jess asked.
"I’m going to hunt down Ted," Mateo answered. "I need to save Maria if I can, and Ted’s my best bet for finding Collin."
"What are you going to do when you find Collin?" Jess asked, her voice quavering. The look on Mateo’s face was all the answer Jess needed. She visibly recoiled from her foster father. She never wanted to see that look on his face ever again. Jess fled from the alcove. Mateo watched as she fell into one of the chairs and hugged Billy. The spirit wolf pup licked her face before scanning the room. Nothing was going to get past that one. Mateo walked back out to the front of the emergency room. There were still some of the Metro Police cars in the parking lot. Which one held his weapon?
"Going after Ted?" Special Agent Tredegar asked softly. Mateo nearly jumped. How did someone as clumsy as Tredegar sneak up on him?
"What are you talking about?" Mateo snapped.
"Ted, the member of the Truth holding your ex-wife hostage, and blackmailing your friend and colleague into assassinating Kenn," Tredegar said. Mateo couldn’t hide his astonishment.
"Oh come on, you didn’t think we wouldn’t keep strict surveillance on you the moment you landed?" Tredegar answered his voice suddenly assured and confident. "We intercepted the message Collin DuBois sent you."
"Okay, who are you?" Mateo asked, his voice a dangerous calm.
"Special Agent Tredegar, Federal Bureau of Investigation," Tredegar answered, "Lead investigator on all actions perpetrated by the occult terrorist group known as the Truth. Probably one of the few people in the government who understand exactly how dangerous the people you’ve been fighting actually are." Tredegar paused as he looked away for a moment.
"Part of learning about the Truth is also learning about Zombie Strike," Tredegar said, "Which is why I didn’t keep that message from Mr. DuBois. I knew how’d you react once you’d heard it." Mateo’s rage deepened. It was taking a lot of willpower not to throttle the federal agent.
"Why was that important?" Mateo asked.
"You wouldn’t have believed me if I told you Collin was the one who killed your friend Nigel," Tredegar answered, "You had to hear that for yourself. Now, unless I miss my guess, you’re heading to find Ted to get Collin’s location and rescue your ex-wife."
"Maybe," Mateo said, the words forced through gritted teeth.
"Well, what say we go pick him up?" Tredegar asked with deadly seriousness, "I have an FBI SWAT team sitting on his position. I’d rather have you on scene when we get him." Mateo looked at the agent. Dumbfounded, Mateo followed Tredegar as the FBI agent walked to the unmarked police cruiser he was using.
"Oh by the way, your guns are in the back," Tredegar said as the two men climbed into the car. Mateo could only smile.