Ten miles south of the village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1000 hours local : Countdown: 10 months, 28 days
Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl pointed his M4 at the biggest of the five creatures as they strode out of the tree line and onto the dirt road. They all walked with a precise steady nature. It reminded Stahl of tigers stalking their prey. The primitive part of his brain was screaming for him to run and flee. Stahl suspected the moment he tried, these creatures would pounce.
“How are they walking in sunlight?” Quentin McLintock asked, transfixed by the creatures. “All of the lore surrounding the vampire says direct sunlight will kill them.”
“Let’s try and figure that after we kill them,” Stahl said, “Cortez, we could use a hand up here.” Mateo Cortez, the Zombie Strike field team leader, was busy helping the team members in the truck flipped by the first vampire. Cortez’s head popped out from behind the vehicle. A string of low curses followed. Cortez was almost as good at coming up with new swear words as a SEAL chief petty Stahl worked with once.
“Jess, see what you can do,” ordered Cortez, “Keep them busy for a minute.” Montgomery hopped on top of the overturned MRAP. Her SCAR was already up as she drew a bead on the big vampire. Three against five were not good odds. Stahl hoped Cortez knew what he was doing.
“Everyone, focus on the big one,” Stahl ordered, “Then roll to the one to the left.” A radio click meant Montgomery was ready. McLintock just nodded. The suppressed SCAR gave its distinctive cough as Montgomery placed a 7.62 mm NATO round dead center in the vampire’s head. The vampire’s head snapped back from the impact. The sudden jerk caught the creature off-guard and it tried to keep from falling over. Stahl opened up with his M4.
An M4 would have burned through a standard 30-round mag in a few seconds. Stahl quit using those after nearly running out of ammo on Corsica. He was using a new quad-stack 60-round magazine. The M4 chattered for nearly ten seconds as he dumped every round into the vampire’s torso. The rounds Zombie Strike were designed to cause maximum damage by shredding as much tissue as it could. Stahl was tearing huge chunks out of the creature as he kept the burst stitching across the vampire’s torso. As soon as the M4 went dry, Stahl dropped the magazine and slapped in a fresh one. The vampire took two steps towards Stahl. Then, it burst into a flash of intense heat and flame. The four remaining vampires paused.
“Chief, get down!” Cortez yelled. Stahl dropped into the dirt. Someone fired one of the team’s XM25’s. The rapid thumps were distinctive. Less than a second later, Stahl felt more than heard the string of explosions. He felt a couple of fragments whistle past him. That must have been Sport. That Brit found his calling with the grenade launcher. It was kind of scary how close he could drop those airburst grenades without killing friendlies. Stahl was on his feet as soon as the explosions dimmed to echoes. The other four vampires were reduced to scorch marks on the dirt road.
“Chief, you two alright?” Cortez asked. Stahl looked over at McLintock. The big man was already poking at the scorch marks. Crazy eggheads. Almost as if to prove the point, Tredegar trotted past the chief to join McLintock.
“Yeah, we’re good to go,” Stahl answered. “What about the truck?”
“Well, it works, but we can’t flip it back over.” Stahl looked over the wreck. The MRAP was lying on its back about ten yards off the dirt road. “Even if we could, we don’t have anyone to drive it.”
“What about the Panamanians?” Stahl asked.
“What Panamanians?” Cortez asked in response, “They all booked when they caught sight of the vampires. I’m going to have Jim drive. I want to get up to the village quickly.” Stahl nodded in agreement. The good news was none of the team members riding in the flipped vehicle had been injured. The team spent about fifteen minutes dragging gear to the other vehicle. Well, all except Tredegar and McLintock. Those two were examining the documents they’d got from the priest. They still hadn’t come up with a good intel by the time the team was ready to move out.
Stahl stayed on the heavy machine gun as Jim Colllins carefully drove the truck up the mountain trail. The chief manned the fifty-cal on the basis he had the most time with the weapon. The truth was, until he got some definitive answers on the vampires, he wanted the biggest gun he could find to kill them with. After a few miles, the forest was cleared for farmland. Stahl counted about six or so small spreads. It looked like little more than subsistence farming. At least it wasn’t coca. Stahl hated dealing with narcos.
Another few miles, and the team drove into the outskirts of Redencion. Most of the houses were solidly built, if somewhat primitive. The villagers may not have much, but they knew how to use what was available. These weren’t shanty-town people. Assuming any were still alive. The streets were deserted. There were no sounds or signs of life as the MRAP rolled down the main road. There weren’t even any animals. Stahl looked towards the town’s center. For a moment, he could have sworn there was a spotlight on the church. It just seemed to glimmer.
Collins gunned the MRAP into town center. Stahl saw two more creatures slamming themselves against the doors of the church. Collins saw them as well and swung the MRAP alongside the church. Stahl had a clear line on the vampires without shooting into the church. The two creatures were focused so intently on the church they ignored the big metal vehicle and the gun atop it. With a grin, Stahl pressed the big machine gun’s firing paddle. The big fifty caliber bullets easily shredded the vampires. After a few seconds, the vampires finally screeched and burst into a flash of flame.
The team was out of the vehicle and taking up positions around the church before Stahl finished firing on the two vampires. They braced as they waited for the next onslaught of creatures. The doors of the church swung open. Every weapon was trained on the darkened opening. Out stepped what looked like a miniature version of a Catholic priest holding a cross in one hand and a bottle of clear liquid in the other. The priest gave the Zombie Strike team an appraising look.
“You took longer to get here than I expected,” the priest said in unaccented English. The voice sounded old, but flat with no emotion. It unnerved Stahl.
“Sorry?” Cortez said, unsure if he should be apologizing or demanding one.
“My apologies,” the priest said, “It was a comment, not a criticism. I am Father Rodriguez. Please come in. I’m sure you have many questions for me.” The priest’s head turned towards Stahl. The man’s black eyes bored into Stahl. The former soldier felt ice shoot down his spine. Stahl had the distinct feeling the priest had been waiting for him to arrive in this village. The chief shook his head. That was just ridiculous.
“I appreciate the offer Father, but I think we need to make sure there aren’t any more of those vampires in the village first,” Cortez said. The tiny priest waved his hands dismissively.
“Oh don’t worry. Those two you destroyed were the last two in the village. The rest are out in the jungle,” Father Rodriguez said.
“And you know this how?” Stahl asked, suspiciously. Something about Father Rodriguez was ringing every warning bell in his mind.
“God told me,” the priest answered, matter-of-factly, “Or more to the point, Metatron told me.”
“The bad guy from Transformers?” The Steve asked.
“No, the archangel Metatron, the Voice of God,” Cortez corrected, “Metatron does the speaking because the true voice of God would destroy the mind of a human.”
“Cool, just like Cthulu!” the irrepressible medic replied. There was a long moment as the entire team just stared at The Steve in either shock or disbelief. The Steve ignored it all with his trademark brilliant smile.
“Please excuse The Steve. His mind to mouth filter isn’t always the best,” Cortez said.
“Believe me Mateo Cortez, I know quite a bit about your team,” Father Rodriguez said enigmatically. “I have been tasked by our father to answer many of your questions.” Stahl could feel the undercurrent in the priest’s voice. His fight or flee instincts were screaming at him to run from this priest and the village. He couldn’t flee, so that left fight. The chief slid down the side of the MRAP and strode over to the priest.
“Perhaps you could answer the big questions. How many vampires escaped into our world, and how are we going to seal the crack between our worlds?” the chief asked, trying to keep his voice calm. The priest gave him a knowing smile.
“Those aren’t your big questions, Eric Stahl, but they are important to the team,” Father Rodriguez said. “To answer your questions though, the crack, as you called it, has already been sealed, but not before sixty-six of the creatures escaped into our world.”