The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0215 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days
Mateo Cortez squeezed the trigger twice. The zombie’s head shattered as the hammer pair tore through it. Sport and Quentin advanced out of their building with weapons up. Two bursts took down two of the rising zombies. Jess took another one down from her perch. Sport cleared the last two with a pair of short bursts. Tredegar stood paralyzed for a moment as the gunfire surrounded him. The gangly FBI agent swallowed hard as the gunfire ceased. Tredegar, like every member of the Zombie Strike team, was one of those few humans who didn’t panic at the mere sight of the undead. That didn’t mean he did well in a gunfight.
"Edgar, go check the bodies for intel. You have less than four minutes now," Mateo said. Tredegar nodded and hustled into the ruins of the café. Mateo motioned for the team to close up. The experienced zombie hunters moved quietly outside the café.
"Those buckos rose back up bloody quick," Sport said as he kept watch towards the center of the town.
"Makes you wonder what the other team’s going through," Quentin said. Jim grunted in agreement as the sounds of gunfire drifted through the streets.
"Someone’s watching us," Jess stated flatly. The entire team pushed back against the café’s wall. Mateo looked up where Jess was aiming her rifle. At first, Mateo thought Jess misidentified the cathedral’s gargoyles as a target. Then, one of them moved. The minion – it had to be a minion – loped across the sloped roof of the cathedral with an inhuman gait. It was barely visible in the nightvision, almost as if it were slipping through the shadows. Mateo felt an icy chill climb his spine as he watched the minion slip into the bell tower.
"Can you take him down?" Mateo asked.
"No," Jess answered simply.
"Matt, are you sure that was even human?" Quentin asked, with an almost imperceptible tremor in his voice. Mateo didn’t answer the big man’s question.
"Tredegar, grab what you can stuff into your bag. We’re moving." The FBI agent looked perplexed as he rejoined the team, but didn’t say anything. Mateo took one more look up at the cathedral’s bell tower. Mateo couldn’t see the minion, but he could feel the minion watching him. Mateo did his best to ignore the icy tentacles and focused on the plan.
"Jim, you’ve got point," Mateo ordered. "We head down this street for another three blocks, and then we head in towards the town center." Jim trotted down the street. Sport traded his M4 for the XM25 grenade launcher before jogging behind the cowboy. Jess, Billy, and Tredegar were next with Mateo and Quentin bringing up the rear.
"Matt, shouldn’t we deal with whatever that was first?" Quentin asked.
"No, I got a feeling that whatever it is, it’ll come to us." Quentin grimaced but didn’t say anything further. He looked up once more before following Mateo down the street. The team moved through the streets of Rosca. With every twist and every alley, Mateo expected his small team to be ambushed. This was when the team was at their most vulnerable. Any of the townspeople could rain down fire on them. Mateo was startled when the team took the final turn and halted at the edge of the town plaza. He’d fully expected to lose one of the team by now. Mateo’s breath quickened as he felt the paranoia creeping into him.
"That was too easy," he murmured as he scanned the plaza. The town center stood in the middle of the plaza. It was a small, squat building with useless plaster columns surrounding the outside. Mateo guessed it was supposed to give a Greco-Roman feel to the building. Instead, it looked like a Greek version of South of the Border. To complete the useless extravagance, there was a wide fountain some fifty feet in front of the town center with a ten foot tall bronze Neptune jutting up from the center. Surrounding the town center was a cobblestone courtyard. Small kiosks and stands were littered across the plaza, the remnants of the last bazaar.
"Jim do you see anything?" Mateo asked.
"Still as a grave out there," Jim answered warily.
"The other team could have succeeded in drawing off all of the Truth’s forces," Tredegar said. A dark chuckle rolled through the Zombie Strike team. Mateo didn’t join them.
"Jess, what does Billy think?" Mateo asked. Jess knelt beside the spirit wolf pup and placed her hand on the pup’s shoulder.
"Alert and wary Matt," Jess answered, "Not at anything specific. If there’s something out there, he can’t sense it."
"I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse," Jim said, voicing the thought running through the team’s minds. Mateo scanned the plaza once more. He couldn’t tell if his hesitation was reasonable caution or just paranoid fear. Almost against his will, Mateo began to ask himself what Collin would do. Mateo hated the man with an almost blinding fury, but he couldn’t deny how much he’d learned under Collin’s tutelage.
"Jim, Sport, move up to the fountain and take up an over-watch," Mateo said, "The rest of us will mad dash to the building. Then, we’ll cover Jim and Sport as they link back up. Once the team is collected, we bust the door and follow the plan." The team formed up. At Mateo’s signal, Jim and Sport sprinted towards the fountain. The crunching sound of boots pounding on cobblestones sounded thunderous in the still night. Jim and Sport crouched behind the low wall of the fountain. Their weapons swept the edges of the plaza before Jim clicked his radio microphone. It was all clear. Mateo let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.
Hand signals flashed. The team rushed out into the plaza. They hadn’t gone more than ten steps before Billy stopped and started barking. Weapons came up as the team searched for enemies. Mateo heard a light thud from above. He raised his M4 and saw the vague shape of the minion sitting crouched on the top of the town center. The nightvision goggles just couldn’t make out the minion properly. Frustrated, Mateo flipped the goggles up and illuminated the minion with his weapon mounted light. Mateo stopped paralyzed as the white light pierced the night’s darkness. If the minion had been human, it wasn’t any longer.
The creature stood six and a half feet tall easily. It looked like someone had taken a human and stretched until it was barely recognizable. Its elongated body was wrapped in a black and green cloth. No skin was visible, not even around the eyes. Just two slits in the cloth as it wrapped around the minion’s long pointy head. The minion held its rope-like arms in front of its face before it let out a high-pitched screech no human could make. It sprinted across the town center’s roof, fleeing the light’s brilliance. Jess recovered faster than Mateo. Her light tracked the minion for a few seconds before her SCAR coughed. Jess fired three rounds into the minion. The 7.62 mm rounds knocked the minion off balance, and it fell to the roof.
Billy kept barking. Whatever the creature was, three bullets were not enough to put it down. Mateo looked over to Sport. Maybe a grenade would do the trick. Before Mateo could utter a word, the minion leapt up. It slammed a small rod onto the roof. Mateo dropped to his knees as he felt a wave of nauseating power sweep through him. He swallowed hard to keep from puking onto the plaza’s cobblestones. The sensation passed as quickly as it had come. Mateo brought up his weapon. If that was the best this thing could do, someone was going to have a nasty surprise. The loud chorus of hunting moans erupted through the town. Zombies rose from out of the fountain, out of the kiosks and stalls, out of the houses surrounding from the plaza. Instinctively, Mateo turned to face the horde that was now converging on his team. His mind quickly realized two things. One, the reason his team had an easy time was because all of the townspeople were dead. Two, his team was already at the point of crush.