The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0320 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days
Mateo Cortez watched as the monster slid on its snake-like body out into the corridor. That was the only part of the monster that was even remotely recognizable. Above the snake was a mass of gray flesh crisscrossed with pulsing vessels. Four appendages sprouted irregularly from the torso. Two ended in three finger hands while the other two were more like tentacles. And the eyes. Unblinking human-like eyes of different colors were dotted across the front of the creature. It was the closest thing Mateo had ever seen to the horrors that Lovecraft described.
One of the monster’s tentacles shot out at Mateo. He sidestepped, but he wasn’t fast enough. The tentacle ripped across his bracer and tore the PDA off. Mateo winced. It felt as if he’d just blocked a fast ball with his forearm. The other tentacle punched his chest plate. Mateo fell back as the wind was pushed out of his lungs. He gulped air trying to get his breath back. Before he could get back up, Jim stood over him. The tall cowboy fired his Big Horn .500 as fast as he could into the monster. The booms came fast and furious. It sounded like Jim was firing a machine gun instead of a lever action rifle. The bullets tore ragged holes in the monster. Thick, black fluid spurted out. A noxious odor filled the corridor. The monster made no sound. It whipped one of its tentacles across Jim’s face. The cowboy dropped to the concrete floor and didn’t move.
Mateo raised his M4 and emptied the magazine in one long burst across the front of the creature. It flinched back as a line of black ooze billowed up from Mateo’s burst. Mateo quickly jumped to his feet. He could hear the others firing, but after the concussive blasts from Jim’s big rifle, they sounded far off. It took Mateo a moment to realize they weren’t firing at the creature in front of him. He needed to see what was happening behind him, but Mateo didn’t dare turn away from the monster. Not until it was dead. Both tentacles shot out at him. He ducked the first one, but the second wrapped around his M4. More from instinct than tactical knowledge, Mateo let go of his carbine and drew his pistol. The tentacle yanked on the M4. Connected by the weapon’s sling, Mateo was jerked off of his feet and flew towards the monster. He lined up the Sig’s sights on one of big holes from Jim’s rifle. Mateo squeezed the trigger. The pistol roared once, twice, and kept on firing until the slide locked back on an empty magazine. The tentacle quit pulling on the M4. Mateo fell to the concrete floor. He felt his shoulder dislocate as it took the brunt of the fall. As Mateo changed the magazine on his carbine as fast as he could one-handed. Another thing Collin drilled into him over the past few months. The monster’s left side didn’t seem to be working. The tentacle and hand on that half of its torso hung limply. All of the haunting eyes were fully dilated, to the point they were almost completely black. The other tentacle and arm swung wildly. Mateo aimed the carbine at another hole. His shoulder screamed in pain. Blinking back tears, Mateo fired a two second burst into the hole. The other two appendages froze in mid-swing. The creature slid back into the doorway it had emerged from.
Mateo wanted to sink down to the floor and wait for Tredegar to come and fix him. He didn’t have that luxury. Letting the M4 hang on its sling, Mateo turned to see what the rest of his team was fighting. Quentin, Sport, and Tredegar were fighting a five-foot tall humanoid creature. Humanoid in as much as it had two arms with hands and two legs. It had no head. Two red eyes the size of saucers blinked from the shoulders. A mouth of dagger-sharp teeth snarled from the creature’s midsection. Mateo watched as Sport poured an entire magazine from his MP5/10 into the monster. The bullets didn’t even puncture the thick leathery hide. Billy was facing off with what looked like a red leather saber tooth tiger. Jess was still balled up on the floor.
Billy could probably handle his enemy. Mateo wasn’t exactly sure what Billy’s limits were, but he was pretty sure the pup wasn’t going to hit them facing off with the monster. The others needed his help. Mateo strode over to them, his shoulder protesting every movement. The headless monster jabbed at Sport with a meaty fist. The Brit nearly tripped over his legs as he scrambled back from the punch. Quentin saw an opening and clubbed the creature in its mouth with his warhammer. Two of the teeth broke. A booming scream of pain filled the corridor. Tredegar uselessly fired his M4 at the creature.
“Sport, can you pitch a grenade into its mouth?” Mateo asked.
“Are you bloody insane?” Sport said, “The blast will kill us all.”
“We’re going to die if we don’t kill this thing,” Mateo countered. Sport clearly didn’t like either option, but he plucked a concussion grenade off his chest. Sport fell into a pitching stance and froze. A few seconds passed as Mateo, Quentin, and Tredegar placed shots at the monster’s huge eyes. The bullets didn’t puncture the eyes, but they did hurt the monster. It roared in anguish. Sport hurled the grenade into the monster’s open mouth. The maw clamped shut as the grenade slammed into the back. There was a muffled thunderclap an instant before the team was coated in sticky pieces of monster. Tredegar and Sport both bent over and vomited. Mateo turned to face the last monster. It was already over. Billy had the monster on its back. Fleshy bits were strewn around the spirit wolf. The wolf’s pure white pelt wasn’t even dotted with blood or gore. Billy leapt back over to Jess. He stood protectively over the girl’s still form.
“Well that was disappointing,” Alan said from behind his invisible shield. Mateo stormed to the edge of the shield. Alan met Mateo’s glare and shivered involuntarily. There were reasons Mateo was the leader of Zombie Strike.
“Lower this shield, give us Collin, and I’ll let you live,” Mateo said in a tight, controlled voice.
“I don’t think so,” Alan said.
“The rest of my men will have cleared out your few remaining cultists upstairs and probably have the horde you made out of the townspeople under control,” Mateo told Alan, “We’ve beaten back everything you could throw at us. We can wait you out.” Alan cocked his head like he was listening to an earpiece.
“Right now, the rest of your team is holed up at the edge of town with the zombies surrounding them. I will give those Army boys some credit. They did manage to wipe out the Truth’s forces here before the horde pushed them back into that little store.” Alan looked sincerely impressed.
“I can hold this shield up as long as I need to,” Alan continued, “Which is about three hours. After that, Mikhail and his elite forces will port into the facility and take all of you. So, why don’t you make yourselves comfortable and just wait for the inevitable? I’m sure that medic of yours could patch up that shoulder. It must hurt something fierce.” Mateo snarled incoherently at Alan. The sorcerer laughed.
Mateo hit the floor as the sound of gun shots boomed through the corridor. Alan collapsed to the floor. Behind him, Mateo saw Collin’s outstretched arm fall limply back to his side. The Glock clattered across the concrete floor. The man looked utterly exhausted. He must have expended the very last bit of his energy to shoot Alan in the back. Mateo got up off the floor and walked towards Collin. Pain and purple light sparked across him. The shield was still up.
“Go Mattie,” Collin said breathlessly, “I don’t know how long that shield is going to be up.”
“You know what’s going to happen if we leave?” Mateo asked.
“Better this way,” Collin said. An uncomfortable silence fell between the two men. “One other thing Mattie.”
“Get that warrant officer on the team,” Collin said, “You’ll need him.” Mateo nodded. He already decided to make the offer to Stahl. Collin’s request gave Mateo a boost of confidence. Mateo turned away from Collin, unable to say good-bye to the man. His emotions were still too conflicted. The team didn’t say anything as they collected Jim and Jess and hustled up the steps. Mateo looked back at Collin just before he climbed the steps. Collin simply nodded. Outside the town center, corpses littered the plaza. Mateo could hear the gunfire coming from where the rest of his team fought the zombies.
“Stahl, this is Cortez,” Mateo said over the radio, “Can you be extracted?”
“Yeah,” came the clipped reply, “We’re on the roof right now.”
“I’m calling Blackout,” Mateo told the warrant officer.
“We’ll be ready.” Mateo switched frequencies on his radio. His team had overheard his half of the conversation. They were already getting prepared.
“Blackout. I say again, Blackout,” Mateo said into the radio.
“Confirmed. Blackout,” a neutral voice replied. Mateo signaled to Sport. The man cracked two large chemlights. No visible light came from the two sticks, but they would glow brilliantly in the infrared goggles of the helicopter pilots. Ten minutes later, the night was turned to day by the brilliant halogens from a hovering helicopter. Three black-clad soldiers rappelled down. In less than two minutes, the entire team was secured in the cargo bay. Mateo saw a similar helicopter hovering above where the Stahl’s team was fighting. He closed his eyes as the helicopter roared seaward.
Fifteen minutes after the two teams were extracted, the C-17 Globemaster loitering over the town opened its cargo doors. Two GBU-43 MOAB’s opened their drag chutes and were pulled out of the cargo bay. The designers joked that MOAB mean “Mother Of All Bombs” with good reason. These were the most powerful non-nuclear bombs that the American military had in its inventory. The first bomb dropped quickly and detonated about five hundred feet above the town. Everything standing was obliterated. Then the second bomb pounded into where the town center once stood. It penetrated down into the base’s lower level and exploded.