Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0800 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days

Slim Thomas froze as he felt the slight thrumming. His fist halted Quentin and the soldiers. His eyes scanned the immediate area. The hedge-lined pathway was a straight line for about another five meters before taking a sharp right. On the other side of the right hedge was a cul-de-sac. Slim guessed the minion was hiding there.

An odd shape in the grass caught his attention. It looked like a coin. In fact it looked like a British pound coin. Slim motioned for Quentin and Chief Stahl to move up. As they joined Slim, he pointed at the coin with his weapon. Quentin frowned, but the chief just nodded. Slim popped open his bracer and waved the two men over to read his PDA.

Target behind right hedge. Suggestions? Slim tapped out on his PDA. Chief Stahl pointed to two of his soldiers. Convoluted hand signals flashed from between the chief warrant and the soldiers. The two soldiers slung their M4’s and unstrapped unfamiliar weapons from their backs. They looked like bullpup submachine guns. The two soldiers backed up to the left hedge and aimed their weapons skyward. They braced, clearly waiting for the chief’s signal. Slim felt the thrumming speed up an instant before the fireball erupted from the hedge. Slim turned away from the flash of heat and brilliant flame. Screams of pain and terror filled the air. Slim looked back to see a burnt hole where the two soldiers were standing. Another two soldiers were screaming as they grasped at flesh that looked like melted wax. Slim swallowed the sudden urge to vomit.

The minion dropped into their midst. Slim saw the blue flame flicker in his hand. Instinctively, he snapped off the shot. The minion let out a yelp of pain as the lighter was torn out of his hand. Seeing an opening in the minion’s shield, Quentin and Chief Stahl opened fire. The bullets stopped in mid-air as they hit the minion’s shield. Slim really hated smart minions, especially smart and fast minions.

“All of you are getting too good,” the minion snarled in anger. The minion flicked his wrist. The coin sailed over them and landed lightly in the minion’s hand. He almost looked disappointed as he stared briefly at the coin. Like it failed to fulfill its destiny. Chief Stahl snapped off another burst. The minion glared indignantly at the chief warrant as the bullets smacked harmlessly against the shield. The minion raised his hand menacingly at Chief Stahl. The soldier unflinchingly kept his M4 trained on the minion. Then, the unit’s machine gun opened up. The burst of gunfire caught the minion by surprise. The bullets stopped a good yard from the minion, but the strain was evident. The minion focused intensely on the gunner. Slim and Quentin opened up with their weapons. The minion’s head snapped towards them as their bullets started impacting the shield. Screaming in frustration, the minion backed up through the still burning hole into the cul-de-sac.

Slim, Quentin and the SAW gunner poured fire into the cul-de-sac. The hedge dissolved as round after round tore through it. The chief fired a couple of bursts, but stopped. He plucked a grenade from his web gear. Chief Stahl pulled the pin, released the spoon, and held the grenade in his hand. His mouthed the numbers as he counted off. On three, the grenade sailed over the hedge. The four men dropped to the ground. Slim felt the grenade explode, but the sound was muted. Chief Stahl was up and moving to the hole in the hedge. Slim leapt up and followed the soldier, but stopped as the chief just stood at the opening. Slim walked up next to Chief Stahl. The minion was on the ground, bleeding from a dozen ragged holes. He writhed in pain, but stopped as he caught sight of Slim and Chief Stahl standing at the edge of the invisible barrier. The minion let out a wet sounding laugh. Slim felt an uncomfortable chill run down his spine. If Chief Stahl felt anything, he didn’t show it.

“By the flayed one himself, I didn’t expect that,” the minion croaked. He spat a mouthful of blood. His eyes bore into Stahl while a sincere smile spread across his face. “How did you figure it out?”

“Your little coin didn’t come straight to you,” Stahl said flatly, “Flew up over the barrier.”

“Well, why don’t you jump over my little shield and come get me?” the minion taunted.

“I saw what you did to the Predator,” Stahl said, “We’ll just wait ‘til you lose consciousness from blood loss, and then come get you. You killed two of my men, and seriously hurt another couple. I can be patient. It’s going to be amusing to watch as you spill your guts to our intel people.” Stahl’s flat tone shifted into a controlled rage.

“Long wait soldier boy,” the minion said, “I am gifted with the Flayed One’s own power. These wounds will heal up before I’m in any danger. Then I’ll finish you off.”

“I think you’re bluffing,” Chief Stahl replied.

“Ask the hunter standing next to you. They’ve seen what the Champions of Truth can do. And I’m not one of the weak ones.” Stahl frowned and yanked Slim out of the minion’s sight. The minion laughed as the two men walked away.

“He’s not bluffing,” Slim said.

“I know,” Stahl said, walking over to the SAW gunner. “Evacuate Dwayne and Bill. We can use that hole.” Stahl pointed to the smoking hole where his two soldiers had been killed.

“Already took care of it,” the soldier replied. As if on cue, an MRAP backed up to the hole. Soldiers spilled out of the armored vehicle and swarmed over the two burned soldiers. Satisfied his soldiers were being cared for, Stahl knelt down. For a moment, Slim thought the soldier was praying. Then, he saw the chief was burying something.

“Slim, you and Quentin may want to get in the truck,” Stahl said, motioning to the MRAP.

“I thought we were going to wait for his shield to drop so that we could capture him,” Slim said, his eyebrow arching.

“I’m not that stupid. That one’s too powerful,” Stahl said quietly. “As soon as we’re clear, that one’s going to get a taste of eight inch artillery. See him try and shoot those shells out of the sky.” Slim nodded reluctantly and followed his teammate into the armored truck. The vehicle roared out of the maze. Mere seconds later, Slim heard the distant thunder. Moments later, he watched as the maze was obliterated as the artillery shells rained down.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2345 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez froze in shock at seeing Collin DuBois’ dirty face. The sudden surge of emotions flooded him, and he couldn’t fight it. It was just too much. Then, his rage cut through the internal storm. Collin wasn’t his friend and trusted mentor. Mateo jerked the carbine up. Collin needed to die for his betrayal. Collin saw the shift in Mateo’s eyes and was already moving before Mateo started to raise his weapon. Collin wrenched the carbine out Mateo’s hands. It clattered to the floor as Collin slid behind Mateo. In a few blindingly fast moves, Collin restrained his former team leader. Mateo struggled, but quickly recognized the hold. He wasn’t going to break it, and trying was just going to end up with Mateo dislocating his shoulder again.

The room was suddenly bathed in the brilliant white light of several weapon-mounted flashlights. Collin stepped back and crouched behind Mateo. Agent Tredegar stood in the center of a half-dozen of SWAT agents. Tredegar was bleeding from several places, but he didn’t seem to notice. He kept his pistol at the low ready.

“Collin DuBois, I am Special Agent Tredegar,” the FBI agent shouted, “We have you surrounded. Surrender now and we can help you.”

“Don’t bloody think so, mate,” Collin shot back, “Only Mattie here can help me. Why don’t you bugger off so we can get to work?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Mateo seethed. He managed to crane his head around to glimpse Collin.

“Mattie, it’s not what you think, but I can’t talk with the FBI about,” Collin replied under his breath. Mateo sensed Collin was telling him the truth, and part of him wanted to believe Collin. Then the image of Mercedes in the hospital flashed through his mind. The cold rage swept away any remnants of compassion.

“Listen, Collin, we want to stop the Truth as much as you do,” Tredegar said, his commanding tone melting into an understanding one. Tredegar lowered his pistol. “You wouldn’t have sent Mateo that recording if you weren’t trying to stop the Truth. Let us help you.”

“Listen mate, I’ve read the manual too. I was doing the hostage rescue thing when you were just figuring out that girls smelled nice. We both know what’s going to happen once I let you take me. We don’t have time for that.” Mateo looked at Tredegar. He could tell Tredegar believed Collin. Tredegar was weakening as his need to stop the Truth clashed with his need to bring in Collin. Mateo made his decision. The hold Collin had Mateo in was unbreakable. Unless you were willing to go through a lot of pain. Mateo took a deep breath. Collin realized what was happening an instant too late. The familiar pain shot through Mateo as he wrenched out of Collin’s grip. He felt his shoulder pop as he fell to the floor. Collin released him just before he did some permanent damage.

The FBI agents dog piled Collin. None were willing to take the slightest chance with someone they knew to be extremely dangerous. Mateo met Collin’s eyes as more people swarmed into the house. The look of understanding and sorrow bothered Mateo. He didn’t know why. As the FBI led the manacled Collin out of the house, Mateo dreaded he’d made the wrong choice.

Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 53