Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 2000 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl slid back as the tiny female vampire grinned at him. He brought up his M4. Maybe he could slow her down. The vampire’s form blurred. Stahl’s mind couldn’t keep up with how fast the little form moved. A tiny fist slammed into his chest plate. He felt the ceramic plate crack. A second hammer blow landed, and Stahl’s ribs cracked.

"Where is the bauble human?" the vampire asked casually. "I know you have it. I need it please." She punched him again forcing all the air from his lungs. Stahl gasped for air. Pain wracked his chest. The ribs weren’t just cracked, they were broken. With as much strength as he could muster, Stahl slammed his M4 into the small vampire. She tore the front of his armor off as the blow threw the vampire off. She rolled for a few feet before coming up to a crouch. The vampire hissed and barred her fangs.

Good news, she couldn’t defy basic physics. Bad news, Stahl just pissed her off. Stahl brought up his carbine. The barrel was bent from hitting the vampire. She giggled like a schoolgirl as Stahl transitioned to his pistol. The vampire took sprinted towards him and then froze in midair. It wasn’t just her. The entire clearing looked like time stopped. Stahl could even see the bullets from Montgomery’s SCAR hanging in the air. Montgomery’s wolf trotted out from behind the girl.

"Did you do this?" Stahl asked the spirit wolf pup.

"Wolf does not have that power," said a new voice from behind. Stahl whirled to bring his pistol to bear on the speaker. The wolf leapt next to him. A man walked from behind a tree. He matched Stahl’s own six feet. His features reminded Stahl of the Jordanians he’d worked with some years back. He was dressed in a light gray business suit. He walked towards Stahl as if oblivious to the incongruity of it all.

"Who are you?" Stahl blurted out.

"I am the Metatron," the man answered. His words echoed with power. "The Lord God sent me to speak with you."

"You don’t look like Alan Rickman," Stahl quipped as he tried to recover. Metatron crooked up an eyebrow. "Sorry. Movie reference."

"You stand at a crossroads. Both of this world’s survival as well your own beliefs," Metatron said, ignoring the joke. The man, no angel, pointed at the amulet that hung at Stahl’s chest. "Are you prepared to let the Lord God help you?"

"If I’m not, then the world dies? What kind of BS choice is that?" Stahl demanded.

"You misunderstand. Your choice here will not doom the world. It will push events down one path or the other," Metatron answered emotionlessly.

"So, it’s just my own fate," Stahl shot back. He clamped down on his next words. He was letting his anger cloud his judgment. "Why me?"

"This moment is the sum of your choices," Metatron answered. "I am here because the outsiders have once again challenged the Lord God. He wants you to act as His Champion in this."

"Why the choice? Why not force me?"

"It would make free will worthless. It is free will that allows you to be truly powerful."

"How can I be a Champion of God?" Stahl asked, "I acknowledge His existence, but I’m still unsure of Him being a force of good. Too many unanswered questions."

"Right now, that’s enough. Accept that He exists and He can give you the power to defeat this outsider," Metatron said. Stahl looked around the clearing. The fourteen monstrous vampires loomed over his Zombie Strike teammates and the Truth soldiers. Pretty Boy was bearing down on Montgomery. In a few seconds, the entire team would be wiped out. That was what was gnawing at him. He was given a binary choice. Accept the power and save everyone, or refuse it and the vampires win. Nothing was ever that simple. There were always more options.

"That is why you are such a dangerous individual," Metatron said, startling Stahl. "You are rational and unwilling to accept things as they seem. Even with the Lord God, you are looking for options."

"You can read my mind?" Stahl asked, his anger rising.

"Of course he can, he’s an angel," answered Evans, coming alive. Stahl stood in shock as the Truth soldier walked off the line. Evans gave the angel a smug smile. "This one is still in play, but the Flayed One is willing to foreswear him. If you’re master is willing to just give him the power he needs." Metatron cocked his head, but his face remained an emotionless mask.

"Done." Metatron said. Without another word, the angel spun and walked into the forest.

"How in the hell are you walking about?" Stahl demanded from Evans.

"Xipe Totec. No to explain fully. You have to kill the maestro as soon as time starts back up," Evans answered, pointing at the female vampire. The Truth soldier looked around nervously. "Damn, less time than I thought. Chief, remember, you’re the key." Evans hurried back to where he’d been standing in the line of the prisoners.

Stahl started to ask how he was supposed to kill the vampire when his head exploded in pain and sudden knowledge. For the barest instant, Stahl’s mind was linked to God. He knew everything. He could see all the paths that everyone could take, and how they all interconnected. The instant finished, and he suddenly felt very small. Then his mind found two things. Knowledge and power. Smiling a predatory smile, Stahl walked over to his position. He looked over his shoulder. Evans nodded with understanding. Stahl craned his neck back to see Montgomery’s wolf. The creature nodded and even seemed to smile. It was ready to pounce on Pretty Boy.

Stahl braced and felt time unfreeze. The little vampire screamed down at him. Holding the amulet in hand, Stahl struck.

Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 74