The village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1210 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days
Eric Stahl stood on the small church’s steps and looked across the plaza. Standing in loose fitting black fatigues was Giant. The leader of the Truth held his infamous whip in his gloved right hand. The whip twitched like a downed power line. The Zombie Strike files were thin on the man, if you could call a seven-foot humanoid who wielded dark powers and could survive whatever destroyed the heart of Mexico City, a man. One thing Stahl couldn’t deny, Giant had presence. Even from a hundred feet away, Stahl could feel the pulsing of energy coming from Giant. It was all Stahl could do to see past Giant to measure the other Truthers he’d brought along.
There were ten of them. Two were definitely minions. They wore the almost standard ninja costume of a tight fitting black jumpsuit with black masks. The taller one was caressing a gold statue of what looked like a Greek hoplite about the size of an Academy Award Oscar. Four others were in jeans with brightly colored capes and feathered headdresses. From what Stahl remembered, the costumes looked suspiciously like traditional Aztec get-ups for their holy men. That made those four sorcerers. The last four looked like mercenaries. They were decked out in jungle cammies with expensive-looking gear, including Belgian-made F2000’s. The mercs had camo-painted faces and floppy hats. Stahl swore under his breath. The presence of the mercs meant the Truth was getting smart.
"Hello Mateo. It’s so nice to see you again," Giant oozed sarcastically. His voice was deep but artificial.
"One of these days Mikhail, I’m going to find something that kills you," Cortez said, using the only other name known for Giant. If the Truth’s leader was surprised by Cortez using the name, he didn’t show it.
"What is Zombie Strike doing here?" Giant asked, ignoring Cortez’s threat. "I was expecting Jesuit monks."
"Someone thought he saw a Sasquatch and asked us to kill it. Oh, look. It was you." Cortez said, bringing up his carbine. The rest of Zombie Strike followed their leader, each drawing a bead on one of the Truth. Stahl placed the holographic reticle of his M4 on the merc leader. Giant and his followers ignored the weapons aimed at them.
"Was that humor?" Giant asked, "I can never tell with you Americans." Stahl traded questioning glances with the cowboy, Collins. Giant sounded like he was from the Midwest. If Giant wasn’t an American, where exactly had he come from? Tredegar looked like he was going to burst with questions. Give the FBI agent a crumb, and he wanted the whole cake. Sometimes his curiosity got the better of him. McLintock kept Tredegar stable on the line.
"You will leave now," Father Rodriguez commanded, striding into the plaza. "You have completed the deed Heavenly Father compelled you to finish. Your role is completed."
"Compelled me?" Giant bellowed indignantly, "Your God has no control over those sworn to Xipe Totec. It was the Flayed One’s own power that sealed the tear. He has told us how to stop the Little Death!" Giant paused in his rant. He looked over the Zombie Strike team.
"So that’s why you’re here, Mateo. This priest brought you in to stop the Little Death instead of the Jesuits. Priest, your resourcefulness is unexpected." Giant’s eyes pulsed with purple energy as he glared at the priest. Cortez fired a single round at Giant. Brilliant purple sparks crackled as the bullet stopped a few inches from Giant’s head. The Truth’s leader tore his eyes from the priest to look at Cortez.
"Giant, I may not be able to kill you, but I can hurt you pretty bad," Cortez said in a neutral, controlled voice. The team tensed as it recognized their leader’s tone. Cortez’s rage was up, and bad stuff was going to happen. Giant cocked his head, as if seeing Cortez in a new light.
"Mateo, please, go home," Giant said sincerely, "It is not time for you to face the Death, even the Little Death. If you go out now, you will die. If you die, so does the world. I can’t kill you, but I can hurt you." Giant’s eyes danced with amusement as he threw Cortez’s words back at him.
"Why don’t I believe you?" Cortez asked.
"Mateo, I’ve seen the prophecies. They are quite specific. Even more than those your God handed down in Revelations. Your role in all of this has already been determined. They also warn against you fighting the Death before it is time."
"I’ve already fought against the vampires, Mikhail," Cortez said, spitting out Giant’s name, "My team’s killed several of them."
"What? How did you do that?" one of the sorcerers blurted out.
"Amazing what can be accomplished with the judicious application of firepower," Stahl said, keeping his weapon trained on the merc leader.
"Mateo, did you kill any of the vampires yourself?" Giant asked. The big man stared at Cortez for a moment and then shook his head. "Thank the Flayed One, no. Your aura is clean. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to raise a small force to deal with the Little Death." Giant turned and started to walk away from the plaza.
"I will not let you defile the bodies of my flock!" the priest screamed. The tiny man started to charge, but Mountain grabbed him. The medic forced the priest to the ground as Sport fired all five grenade rounds out of his XM25. The plaza rocked with thunderous sound as the grenades exploded right behind Giant. These weren’t the normal fragmentation grenades. These were designed to generate incredible walls of pressure and force. The Truth’s energy shields were great for stopping bullets, fragments, and such. They weren’t so good at stopping energy transfer. The shock wave of the five grenades hit the shield and passed through with only a small loss of energy. Giant was thrown off his feet and slammed into the bank building. The minion with the statue held it like a protective ward. The gold statue glowed as the shock wave flowed around them and knocked down the mercs and sorcerers instead.
Collins brought up his lever-action and racked off two rounds. The first round hit center upper mass on the second minion. The minion jerked as the round bisected his spinal cord and fell to the ground. The second round tore the first minion’s right shoulder apart. The .500 S&W round shattered the ball socket and shredded the flesh and muscle to little more than tatters. For a brief moment everyone stopped and stared at the two minions.
The Zombie Strike team recovered first and opened fire. Stahl fired off a short burst at one of the mercs. The man rolled just in time for the three rounds to pass over him. Another merc returned fire, forcing Stahl to dive for cover. Not that there was a whole bunch in the town plaza. Stahl raced behind the MRAP. Bullets sparked and clanged off the big armored truck. Stahl heard the distinctive booms of the cowboy’s lever action and the crackle of lighter small arms. Stahl leaned out from behind cover and fired a long burst at a merc in a doorway. The man ducked back into the building as the bullets shredded the wood around him. Stahl cursed and took a deep breath. He was a better shot than that. Time to calm down and focus on the killing.
"STOP!" The voice was louder than an artillery shell going off. Stahl let go of his weapon as his head rang with sound. As his eyes cleared, Stahl saw one of the sorcerers standing in the middle of the plaza with his hands outstretched. "You imbeciles, we are wasting time!"
"Get out of the way Wallace!" Giant said angrily. His whip was flicking back and forth angrily as he stormed towards Zombie Strike.
"Mikhail, stop. We can’t waste the time to fight these people. Zombie Strike’s appearance changes things." Giant stopped, but his whip continued its angry dance. Wallace turned to Zombie Strike. "I’m offering truce. We need to put our fight aside and join forces, before the Little Death becomes too powerful."