Washington DC Beltway, 27 July 2010, 1200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez ducked as a beam of fire shot overhead. For a second, he could feel his entire body burn. For that eternal instant, Mateo could only concentrate on breathing and holding onto his weapon. The air mercifully returned to normal, and Mateo only felt the echo of the pain. Adrenaline was truly a wonderful thing. Now, if they could just deal with the minion and get off this overpass. Mateo and his Zombie Strike team members were up and firing the moment the beam ceased. Jim, Slim, and Quentin were busy on zombie clearing. Mateo focused on Ted. The minion was standing on top of a semi. Mateo fired another useless burst at him. The bullets smacked harmlessly into Ted’s invisible shield, melted, and dropped onto the trailer. The globs of melted lead and copper sounded like loose hail as they struck the metal roof of the trailer.

Ted paced back and forth. After the first five minutes of the ambush, Ted seemed almost bored with tossing blasts of fire energy. Mateo needed to figure out a way to end this. His team – including the small group of soldiers they picked up – needed to get back to the Washington Hospital Center. Jess, his foster daughter, was there to guard Zombie Strike’s leader, Kenn Blanchard and Mateo’s other daughter. Four calls all resulted in a busy signal. Jess knew to keep the line clear during an operation, which meant something bad was happening. Mateo didn’t even want to contemplate what might be happening at the moment. Slim crawled up next to Mateo. The tall Brit was paler than normal and his brown eyes were bloodshot. From what The Steve said, Slim did very well in the fighting on Skull Island. Slim rose from behind the car they were using as cover. He fired twice before ducking back down.

"Mr. Cortez, approximately how much ammunition do you have available?" Slim asked in his odd, formal tone.

"About another four mags," Mateo answered, "Why?"

"I believe I may have deciphered a way off the bridge, sir," Slim answered, "With your leave, sir, I need to confer with Chief Stahl." Mateo nodded. Slim darted between the abandoned cars to where the Army soldiers were covering Zombie Strike’s rear and flanks. Slim traded a few words with the chief warrant officer before dashing back to Mateo.

"Okay, what’s the plan?" asked Mateo as another red beam of painful heat lanced over the team.

"If the team can keep the minion’s attention for a few seconds through concentrated weapons fire, then I can lob this under his perch and blow it up," Slim said, brandishing a grenade. "Even if the blast doesn’t kill the minion directly, it should disrupt him long enough for us to wound or kill him on our own."

"Not bad, Slim," Mateo said, a predatory smile crossing his face, "Are you sure you can get that grenade under the trailer?"

"Mr. Cortez, I am an excellent cricket player," Slim said, "It should be a trifle of a thing." Slim’s smile matched Mateo’s own.

"Okay folks, here’s how we’re going to play this," Mateo said, "Chief, find us a couple of cars and load up. Quentin, you and Jim are going to unload full magazines at Ted. As soon as you’re empty, fall back to the chief. I’ll cover Slim as he tosses the grenade. As soon as Ted is down, we get back to the hospital."

"My troops and I can’t leave if there are any undead," Chief Stahl said, "We’ll finish up here and meet you up at the hospital." Mateo grimaced, but agreed. He hated the idea of leaving shooters behind, but he hated the idea of leaving an outbreak to spread even more.

"Jim and Quentin, GO!" Mateo yelled. The two zombie hunters sprang up and emptied their magazines at Ted. The minion was surprised by the sudden hail of concentrated gunfire, but unconcerned. He posed dramatically as the bullets slapped against his shield. Mateo took over as his teammates’ weapons went dry. The M4 tore through the thirty round magazine only a few seconds after Mateo squeezed the trigger. It was all the time Slim needed. Mateo saw the matte-black metal ball sail through the air, bounce once off the asphalt and roll under the trailer. Mateo smiled as he saw the explosion of the grenade. Then Mateo’s world went white as the entire trailer exploded.

Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Jess Montgomery picked herself up off the tiled floor. She still felt a bit dizzy and fuzzy, but she needed to move. Billy was still alive. The bond between her and the spirit wolf pup was still strong in her mind. She could feel Billy’s protective fury. Jess took a few steps towards the front of the emergency room. Medical equipment was strewn over the floor. Most of it had been torn off the walls by the same explosion that tossed her halfway across the emergency room. She picked her way through the debris. Jess still had a magazine left in her Glock. Billy needed her, and nothing was going to stop her from helping the pup.

As she crept around the admission island, Jess could see the zombie horde that initially attacked the hospital. They were standing in the huge entranceway. Zombies avoided gollums. If they weren’t moving, it was because the gollum was still in the front of the emergency room. As Jess rounded the desk, she spied the gollum facing off against Billy. Jess blinked as she saw her pup. The animal was normally the size of a large German Shepard. Billy was now the size of a pony, easily four feet at the shoulder. He was still glowing with an angry white light. The two were frozen in place.

The gollum attacked. The obsidian axe whistled through the air. Billy leapt away from the blow and then dashed in with his own attack. The gollum jumped straight up to avoid Billy’s snapping jaws. As the gollum landed, it whipped its axe around. The blade caught Billy in his front left shoulder. Billy let out a wounded yip. The gollum slashed out again. Billy caught the gollum’s arm in his maw and slammed the gollum into a wall. The gollum scrambled to its feet just in time for Billy to land a double-kick with both of his rear legs. The gollum was driven hard back into the wall. It was enough for the gollum to leave an impression in the dry wall. The gollum staggered forward and lashed out with a sloppy swing. Jess was shocked when the blow connected. Then she saw why. Billy let the blow land. In his teeth was the gollum’s stone medallion – the object that gave the creature its nigh-invulnerability. With a short jerk, Billy tore the medallion from its leather strap and swallowed it. The gollum let out an ear-shattering screech. Billy ended the noise as he stomped on the gollum.

As soon as the gollum withered away to a skeleton, the zombie horde started to pour into the hospital. At this range, Jess wasn’t worried about hitting her targets. She lined up her first shot and let the muscle memory take over. Billy darted in between shots to crush a zombie or two. They’d taken down over twenty zombies when the Jess’s Glock locked back on an empty mag. Her eyes darted over the debris on the floor. Maybe there was something there that she could use to take down a few more. Jess felt her phone vibrate earlier. Mateo had to be on his way. All she needed to do was hold out long enough for her foster father to arrive. Someone grabbed her arm. Training and instinct kicked in. In three moves, she had her assailant on the floor. Unfortunately, it was Agent Blackie.

"Get down!" he screamed at Jess, pointing frantically for the door. What was he talking about? She needed to fight to protect her family. Wait, Blackie had a gun. She knelt down next to him and snatched the weapon from his hand. She popped out the magazine and quickly verified it was full. Before she could jump back into the fray, the budda-budda-budda sound of a heavy machine gun roared through the emergency room. The zombie horde was chewed to bits as the heavy bullets vaporized flesh and bone. Jess heard the cracks as bullets whipped over her. The machine gun stopped, and Jess heard the crackle of suppressed rifle fire. Mateo and the others must be here. She jumped up. It wasn’t Mateo. Jess’s mind froze as she saw Collin DuBois finishing off a crawler with a suppressed M4. Collin smiled as he caught sight of Jess.

"Hello Jess," Collin said, "Aren’t you happy to see me?"

Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 56