Washington DC Beltway, 27 July 2010, 1245 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez felt something hot and hard pushing on his back. It took a few moments for him to realize he was lying on the asphalt. Why was he on the ground? Oh yeah, that entire trailer went up like a baby nuke. Grunting with effort, Mateo managed to roll over. He couldn’t see any of his team. Come to think of it, the road around him didn’t look like the overpass. He cricked his neck around. Sweet Savior, he was maybe three hundred feet from the overpass. What remained of the overpass, at any rate. Dear God, how had he survived that explosion?

"Finally, you’re awake," said a familiar voice. Mateo looked up and met Ted’s eyes. The minion was sitting on the remains of a sedan. His ninja suit was riddled with bloody rips. Ted wasn’t even wearing his mask. Mateo’s hand traveled down his side to his sidearm. It wasn’t there.

"If you’re looking for this, I’ll give it back to you in a bit," Ted said, holding up Mateo’s Sig. "I really wanted to kill you. I really wanted to kill your team. But no, Mikhail said you have to be alive. So, instead of just stepping away when you blew up my truck, I actually had to save all of your hides." Ted slid off the wreckage and stood over Mateo.

"You know, killing Kenn and your wife and wiping out your little base on that island was supposed to be messages, but you and your team are just too thick in the head to understand," Ted said. "Let me explain it all to you. You are not going to win. You are not going to stop the Truth. This is prophecy. If you keep trying to stop us, we are going to keep doing horrific things to the people you love. So do us all a favor, quit." Ted actually sounded compassionate. Mateo grumbled a sentence.

"What did you say?" Ted taunted, bending down to place his ear next to Mateo’s head. Mateo let the adrenaline take over. The blade flashed in the noontime sun a brief instant before Mateo planted it in Ted’s eye socket. The minion let out a horrific scream as blood splattered across Mateo. Both of Ted’s hands flew to his face as he gripped the slippery handle of the blade. The Zombie Strike field commander slowly stood up.

"I said I’m going to stab you in the face," Mateo said, gritting the words out in pain. He took two slow steps and picked up his pistol. Mateo worked the slide, feeling the bullet slide into the chamber. Pain and stiffness made bringing the pistol up a slow and arduous effort. Fortunately, Ted was preoccupied with trying to get the knife out of his head. Mateo had all the time in the world. The double-tap scattered Ted’s brains across the highway.

Before the body even started to fall, a wave of white energy erupted from Ted. The tidal wave of energy passed through Mateo like a ghost and continued speeding out in a circle. Mateo felt like he had been released from manacles. All of his pain and fatigue dropped away. Mateo felt better than he had in months. Even old injuries long since ignored were healed. As Mateo looked around him, he could see his team members standing up from where they landed. From their exclamations and movements, they too had felt the healing energy. Mateo waved them over. They still needed to get to his daughters. Mateo yanked his knife out of Ted’s lifeless corpse. He did a quick search. The Rod of Fiore was gone. Mateo kept Ted’s wallet and some bits and pieces that looked like they would be interesting to the intel folks. Two engines started. They sounded surprisingly loud against the quiet of the abandoned highway. A Mercedes sedan and a large Ford SUV roared up next to Mateo.

"Where to, boss?" The Steve asked from the SUV’s driver’s seat.

"Washington Hospital Center. And floor it."

Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1230 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Jess Montgomery stared at Collin for just an instant. Then, she snapped the pistol up. Collin almost looked annoyed as he darted to the side. One strong hand gripped her wrist while the other plucked the pistol from her hand. Jess twisted and jabbed with her left. Collin dodged the punch easily, but he was clearly surprised by the move. He shouldn’t have been. This man had been one of Jess’s teachers for the better part of a year. Collin tucked the pistol in the small of his back before dropping into a loose fighting stance. At least he took her somewhat seriously. Jess fell into a stance Collin drilled into her. His eyebrow crooked upward. She just needed to hold his attention for just a bit longer. Collin realized an instant to late that Jess was just the bait.

Billy pounced on Collin. The spirit wolf was back to his normal size, but that was still huge. Almost three hundred pounds of wolf slammed into Collin. Billy and Collin slid nearly twenty feet across the tile floor before stopping. Collin punched Billy in the side, but the pup didn’t move. Billy just growled.

"Let him up," said a commanding voice. Kenn Blanchard, dressed in some borrowed scrubs limped into hallway. Jess beamed when she saw the Zombie Strike commander. She dashed over to him. He grunted in pain as she enveloped him in a fierce hug.

"Easy sweetie, I’m not that healed up," Kenn grunted. Jess chuckled and let go. She motioned to the spirit pup. Billy backed off of Collin. The former SAS commando leapt to his feet. With his head hung, Collin slinked up to stand in front of Kenn. He never saw the right cross. The punch landed with a meaty thwack. Collin staggered back before falling to the floor. Kenn took a step, but an FBI special agent slid in front of him.

"Ease away Mr. Blanchard," Special Agent Tredegar said. The FBI agent looked uncomfortable in the tactical rig. "Mr. DuBois was not the one who shot you." Kenn and Jess paused in surprise.

"We also know about the events surrounding the death of Nigel Brown," Tredegar said. Kenn’s face fell into a sorrowful look. Jess could tell there was something going on that she wasn’t in on.

"What’s going on?" Jess asked of the three men.

"Yes, please, tell us what is going on." Mateo’s voice boomed through the hallway. Jess saw the glint of anger in her foster father’s eyes as he walked in. Behind him, the other members of Zombie Strike waited with neutral faces.

"Collin came to me a couple of weeks ago," Kenn admitted, his voice husky, "He told me that he was being blackmailed into killing me. We figured it would be a good chance to get a mole into their operation. We had it all planned out, but then Nigel stepped in front of the bullet."

"And you didn’t tell me because?" Mateo demanded.

"Neither of us thought you’d be able to pull it off," Collin said, "Matty, you’re a good leader, but you can’t lie to save your life. We needed to sell it. We weren’t sure what kind of spies Giant and his people have."

"Wait, if Collin didn’t shoot Mercedes, then who did?" Jess asked.

"The best evidence supports either Ted or another member of the Truth," Tredegar answered, "Apparently, they didn’t trust Mr. Dubois to finish the job." Mateo stormed back out of the hospital. Jess chased after her foster father. There was an uncomfortable silence as the members of Zombie Strike stood hard-faced at Collin. Slim was the first to speak.

"You bloody piker," he said, "You blinded us and disarmed us right when ten thousand of the undead attacked." Collin’s eyes widened at the number. "You may have left us some supplies and some intel, but we lost people during that assault. People you knew." Collin didn’t flinch. He just stood there as Slim’s words lashed at him. "What, no pretty excuse to spring yourself?"

"I was told what to do by one of Giant’s minions and when to do it," Collin said, "I managed to guess the rest, but I had no idea they would use that many zombies against Skull Island. I don’t even know how they could have gotten that many zombies on the island." Collin shook his head. "What do you want from me, Slim?"

"Vengeance," Slim said with an air of finality.

"You’ll get it," Mateo said, rejoining the team. Jess followed behind him. She was trying her best to hide the tears that stained her cheeks and reddened her eyes. Mateo must have told her about Maria.

"The minion we fought today told me that all of this was a warning to us to stay away from them," Mateo said to the gathered group, "We’ve been fighting this Truth group for nearly a year now. We’ve lost more than we’ve won, but they’ve still gone to great lengths to deal with us. I am tired of playing catch-up to these people. It’s time to make them dance to our tune."

"Sounds good Cortez, but exactly how do you plan on doing this?" Chief Warrant Officer Stahl asked.

"They had to launch all of this from somewhere," Mateo said, "We have the resources of the FBI and M&W at our disposal. We’re going to find them. Then, we’re going on the offensive."

Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 57