Baltimore, Maryland, 10 February 2011, 2000 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 18 days
Sissy O’Connell nervously smoothed her skirt at the knock on the door. When she’d agreed to this appointment a month ago, it seemed so far away. Now it was here. She wasn’t sure if she had the strength. The door opened. The ivory white smile contrasted with mahogany face. Quentin McLintock filled the doorway, literally. Quentin was a graduate of West Virginia University where he’d been a linebacker for three seasons, and he looked the part. A head over six feet and probably four feet wide at the shoulders, Quentin was a three hundred and fifty pound wall of a man. Sissy hadn’t seen Quentin in over a year. She could see the new scars on his hands. They made her cringe.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. McLintock," Dr. Perez said as Quentin walked into the room. Dr. Ramona Perez was Sissy’s current psychiatrist. The last two just couldn’t handle dealing with the root causes of Sissy’s mental trauma. Dr. Perez was a sharp-faced woman whose strong features could be called handsome at best. Her straight, black hair was cut short and professional. Behind the blue horn-rimmed glasses shone black eyes that flashed with intelligence and passion. Even the normally easy-going Quentin seemed to be taken aback by the woman’s intense look.
"Not a problem, Doctor," Quentin said. The doctor pointed at a chair for him. Quentin sat down cautiously. It was habit for him. Furniture didn’t always survive his mass. The doctor waited for him to get settled before continuing.
"Sissy, it’s time," the psychiatrist prompted. Anxiety swelled from the pit of her stomach. Sissy practiced what she was going to say a dozen times. Looking into those brown eyes the words wouldn’t come. Quentin’s patient face was enough to bring tears to Sissy’s eyes. Quentin always treated her like a sister. He’d never made a pass at her, never leered at her, never treated her like she was only as good as her beauty. She knew what she had done to him was because her reality had come unglued, but that didn’t make the guilt go away.
"Quentin, I’ve been able to piece together what happened when we entered the temple," Sissy said after a few minutes, "I remember giving Matt Jack’s pistol. I remember the beginning of the fight in the temple." She shuddered as the horror shot through her. It was easier now. Not easy, but easier. Sissy swallowed hard and plunged ahead. "I can remember when that gollum jumped us. I lost it and just sprayed bullets all over."
Sissy couldn’t stop the tears. Everything was so clear in her mind. She could feel the MP7 jerk in her hand. She could see the hail of bullets shatter the tiles that lined the walls and floor of Xipe Tzin’s temple. She watched at the stream of bullets hit Quentin. Sissy saw Dr. Perez wave Quentin back. True to form, he was trying to comfort her. Dr. Perez was right. She needed to deal with her tangled ball of emotions.
"I remember shooting you," Sissy said between sobs. She forced herself to meet Quentin’s eyes. How could they be so sympathetic? Why didn’t he hate her for what she had done to him.
"Quentin, I’m so sorry," Sissy blurted out, "I know I wasn’t right in the head. I know." Shame and guilt tormented her. Sissy pulled all of her will together and forced out the words. "I can’t take back what I did to you, but I am so sorry, and I wanted you to know that." Sissy looked over at Dr. Perez. The psychiatrist smiled reassuringly. She’d done it and survived. Now she just needed to survive whatever Quentin did in response.
"Sissy, I want you to see something," Quentin said. He rolled up his right pant leg. The shiny plastic shell of the prosthetic limb gleamed at her. Shame and fascination battled in her mind as she looked over the artificial leg. Quentin just smiled at her.
"MacKenzie and Winston made sure I was well taken care of, and this thing’s saved me a couple of times," Quentin said. She could see the gouges in the outer shell. "More importantly, what the docs learn from my leg, they’re using to build better prosthetics for others." Quentin rolled his pant leg back down.
"You didn’t ruin my life. You didn’t cause me unending pain and misery," Quentin said, "I’m still your friend and I’ll always be here for you." Sissy couldn’t stop. She flung herself into Quentin’s waiting arms. He let out a low laugh and kissed her on the top of her head. He didn’t make it all better, but he did make it more bearable.
After a few minutes, Sissy let go of her friend. Was that right? She took another look at Quentin’s smiling face. Yes, he was her friend. Dr. Perez told her over and over that her friends cared about her. They understood what had happened to her, and they still loved her. The faces taunting her in her dreams were just that – dreams. Reality felt a bit more real in that moment. Sissy stood up and pushed back her hair. She smiled at the psychiatrist.
"Well, Dr. Perez, does this rate noting in your paper?" Sissy asked with a light tone.
"What?" Quentin asked, shooting an angry glance at Dr. Perez.
"Calm down Quent," Sissy said, "Dr. Perezís been real upfront about it." Quentin continued to glare at the psychiatrist.
"Mr. McLintock, just as your experiences with your prosthetic will help the medical community, so will Sissy’s unique experience," Dr. Perez said neutrally. "Sissy is the first person we know of that has ever come back from a psychotic break with reality due to prolonged exposure to the undead. I have been completely candid with her about the need to properly document her process for later publication. I assure you, this is not about my need for self-promotion, but to assist other professionals who might be dealing with a similar situation. That is why we’re supposed to publish, after all."
"How are you going to explain the conditions under which Sissy had her psychotic break? M&W hasn’t released anything about that mission except to a few governments and even fewer individuals," Quentin said, not relenting an inch.
"M&W is fully aware of my work with Sissy," Dr. Perez replied, "I am working with them to determine how to present the paper once it is completed. They understand that you cannot bury this kind of information. Not if you want the world to survive the next few years."
"Quent, stop, please," Sissy pleaded. His mouth snapped shut.
"Are you okay with this?" he asked. She nodded. "Okay. I don’t like it, but if you’re okay with it, I’ll drop it." A wave of relief swept over Sissy. She needed to believe that others would be better because of the hell she went through.
"As to your question Sissy," Dr. Perez said, "Yes, this encounter will definitely make it into my paper. You managed to confront your fears and emotions surrounding what happened to Mr. McLintock. It’s been a rough few weeks, but you did it. You hit a milestone in your recovery." Sissy just nodded. She felt exhausted, even more than after any of her physical therapy sessions.
"I think we’re done for today. I know this was emotionally exhausting," Dr. Perez said to Sissy before turning to Quentin. "You are going to be in town for a few days, Mr. McLintock?"
"Yes. Since I was going to be in town, I’m meeting with some of the folks over in the anthropology department at the university," Quentin said. He turned to Sissy. "There’s a possibility I might be starting on my doctorate here. Would that bother you?"
"No!" Sissy exclaimed, her face lighting up with a smile. Once she’d emerged from her catatonia, her family tried to help, but they just didnít understand. They couldn’t understand. To them, zombies were just things they saw on television. Quentin was someone who would understand. Her thoughts came to a screeching halt. Would Quentin understand? He was one of those few humans who didn’t suffer from the primal panic that overtook the vast majority of humans when they came into contact with the undead. Sissy still wasn’t sure how she’d lasted as long as she did before finally succumbing to it on that island.
Her thoughts came to a stop as the office suddenly went dark. The familiar background noises of the air conditioning and the cooling fans on the computers clicked off. Power outage was Sissy’s first instinct, but that was odd. Power outages weren’t unheard of, but they were uncommon at this time of year. With a start she realized she wasn’t scared. Ever since Sissy woke up from her catatonia, fear was an almost constant companion. Now, here, in a dark so deep she couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face, she wasn’t afraid. It was exhilirating.
A beam of white light split the dark. Quentin tilted the small flashlight towards the ceiling to illuminate the office. For the briefest moment, Sissy was incensed her darkness had been taken away from her. Her mind seized on that fact. Anger, not fear, was her first emotion. Was she finally starting to push through all of her emotional damage?
"Everyone okay?" Quentin asked, pointedly not directing his question at just Sissy.
"I’m fine Quent," Sissy said. She looked over to Dr. Perez when the psychiatrist didn’t immediately answer. Dr. Perez was staring at her cell phone with a confused look on her face.
"That’s odd," Dr. Perez said, echoing Sissy’s initial reaction, "Why would a power outage disable my cell phone?"
"Your phone could’ve just discharged and drained the battery. It happens. Here, you can use mine," Quentin said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He paused as he saw his phone wasn’t working as well. Sissy pulled out hers. A dead screen looked up at her. The three traded looks.
"Do you have a land line?" Quentin asked, his normally light tone gone.
"At the receptionist’s desk," Dr. Perez said, motioning to the door.
"Okay, I’m going to check it," Quentin said. The room went dark as Quentin and his flashlight went in search of the receptionist’s phone.
"How are you doing really?" Dr. Perez asked Sissy in a low, almost conspiratorial tone. Sissy stifled a giggle. How long had it been since she’d done that? Months, at least.
"I’m fine. Really," Sissy answered. The doctor fell quiet. Sissy could imagine the stern, not quite believing face of the doctor at that moment. Dr. Perez always wore that expression when she thought that Sissy was trying to cover up her feelings.
"Okay ladies, we’re leaving," Quentin said as he stepped back into the room. The room lit back up. Sissy couldn’t hold back the giggle. The doctor was wearing the exact expression Sissy imagined. Both Quentin and Dr. Perez stared at her in surprise. Sissy swallowed the rest of her giggles.
"Why are we leaving?" asked Dr. Perez, "If the power’s out, it would make sense to stay here until it comes back on."
"Land line’s out. As one of my friends used to say, ‘Once is an anomaly, twice a coincidence, third time’s enemy action.’" Sissy recognized the words. Collin DuBois told her that when they were training on Skull Island. She suddenly realized she missed the ugly man. Then, Quentin’s choice of words hit her with the force of a punch. Quentin saw Sissy’s expression and grimly nodded. So, Collin was dead. It was a shock, but not really surprising. As was often repeated, zombie hunting wasn’t exactly a safe profession. Collin wasn’t the first friend she’d lost to the zombies. Most likely, he wouldn’t be the last either.
"What do you mean ‘enemy action?’" Dr. Perez asked, her voice tinged with the barest hint of annoyance.
"Something just took out the building’s power and phones and had enough juice left over to knock out our cell phones. That’s not your normal power outage, and it’s not something I want to hang around and deal with," Quentin explained. The doctor didn’t look convinced, but she obediently stuffed her laptop into its satchel. Sissy grabbed her purse and followed Quentin out of the office. Dr. Perez was a few steps behind her. The three walked under the light umbrella from Quentin’s flashlight. At this time of the day, the floor was deserted. That was one reason Dr. Perez scheduled Sissy’s appointments at this time. Now, the quiet was almost eerie.
The three started down the stairs. The stairwell was filled with shadows from the emergency lights. Sissy knew she should be scared, or at least a little frightened. Normal people would have been. Sissy could tell that Dr. Perez, for all stern control of her emotions, was frightened. Not enough to get through her calm, professional façade, but Sissy still saw the fear. Quentin wasn’t so much scared as uneasy. Sissy hadn’t seen Quentin in over a year, but she could still detect the small undercurrents in his voice as he tried to reassure the ladies that the power outage was probably nothing and he was being a little paranoid. It was almost amusing.
Sissy’s amusement came to a crashing stop. Almost forgotten instincts and awareness flooded her mind. She heard something. Maybe an echo, maybe it was just a scuff of feet. All Sissy knew was everything in her was screaming warnings. Long dormant training resurfaced from its hiding places in her mind. Sissy froze and flattened against the wall.
"Quent, stop," Sissy whispered. The big man immediately recognized her tone. He mimicked her and was against the wall. Sissy strained to listen for the faint sound. Dr. Perez started to talk, but fell silent at Sissy’s angry glare. Sissy ignored the psychiatrist’s indignant face. As long as the doctor was quiet. She concentrated and found what alerted her. Two voices talking to each other in hushed voices. They were male, and they sounded conspiratorial. Her mind froze when she finally recognized a word. Zombie. For a brief moment, she was frozen in a surge of fear. Sissy shook her head. Just because whoever was talking said zombie didnít mean any of the undead were actually here. The term was used in normal speech all the time. Sissy had a long discussion with Dr. Perez on that very subject after she had an incident. The word couldn’t hurt her. She took a few deep breaths to calm her galloping heart.
"Quent, there are intruders below us," Sissy whispered. She could almost see the switch flip in his eyes. Intruders meant potential hostiles. This went from a simple evacuation to a possible combat situation. He pulled up his shirt and drew a black handgun from an inside the waistband holster. Dr. Perez gasped as she saw the pistol. Sissy just cocked her head in curiosity.
"When’d you start carrying a 1911?" Sissy asked, "I thought you were a Glock boy."
"I like shooting 10 mm more, and this Colt Delta Elite feels better shooting that than the Glock," Quentin answered, "If you want a Glock, there’s a 33 in my ankle holster." Sissy beamed at the offer. She stooped down and snatched the diminutive pistol from its holster. It had been a long time since she held a weapon. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until she felt the hard polymer in her hand. Quentin handed her a spare magazine. He looked slightly embarrassed as Sissy tucked it into her bra.
"What in God’s name are you two doing?" Dr. Perez demanded, just barely keeping her voice to an angry whisper. "What are you even doing with those? You can’t carry those in Baltimore." Sissy mentally groaned. Like most of her profession, Dr. Perez didn’t like guns. She didn’t even like when Sissy talked about shooting.
"Actually doc, I have a nice card from the Department of Justice saying I can," Quentin said, "Now, if we’re lucky, we can slip out of this building without needing to use these. If we run into trouble, my car is parked right outside. Red Dodge Magnum. There’s another phone in the car as well as an emergency radio. Sissy, get the doc to the car and call in the cavalry." The psychiatrist looked at the two with a mixture of horror and indignation on her face. Quentin ignored it, and motioned for the two women to follow him.
Sissy fell into remembered habits as she slinked down the stairs after Quentin. She listened for the two voices. Either they left the stairwell or they stopped talking. Or she just couldn’t hear them over Dr. Perez’s clomping down the stairs. Sissy knew the psychiatrist didn’t have the training to know any better. Most people didn’t. It was still annoying. After a couple flights of stairs, Sissy finally had enough. She whirled on the psychiatrist. It was time for the older woman to learn a few things.
"DOWN!" Quentin yelled as the stairwell rang with the sound of gunfire. Sissy grabbed Dr. Perez by the hair and shoved the woman to the deck. Sissy heard the throaty booms of Quentin’s Colt and the higher pitched crack of lighter rounds. Probably nine millimeter by the sound. Bullets spanged off the metal railings with brilliant sparks. Sissy spun as fast as she could. She needed to get into the fight. Quentin was squashed against the wall as best he could and still keep his isosceles shooting stance. Sissy darted to his left and saw the men firing at them. Three bad guys dressed in tight-fitting black clothes with matching balaclavas. One was unmoving on the ground, but the other two were firing wildly with semi-auto pistols. Sissy brought the small Glock up. Quentin replaced the crappy Glock sights with an XS Big-Dot. Well, it was his back-up, so of course he set it up for close quarters engagements. Sissy put the huge front dot on the closer bad guy’s head. She stroked the lightened trigger. The bad guy’s head snapped back as he collapsed to the ground. There a brief moment to make sure the bad guy wasn’t getting back up then Sissy turned to engage the other bad guy. Quentin put two rounds into center mass and the final bad guy went down.
"What in the hell are minions doing in Baltimore?" Quentin asked loudly as he replaced the spent magazine in his Colt. Before Sissy could ask what a minion was, another black-masked head popped out from around the corner of the landing. Sissy saw the carbine and whipped her pistol around. The two weapons fired at the same time. Sissy heard the staccato of automatic fire followed by the sound of shattering plastic and Quentin’s grunt of pain. Sissy charged down the stairs and checked the landing. No more bad guys. The last one was lying dead gripping an HK G36C. Sissy looked up at Quentin who was holding his knee and cursing in pain. Blood was soaking through his pants.
Sissy grabbed the carbine and darted up the stairs to her friend. She pried Quentin’s hands off of his wound so she could inspect it. As soon as her hand touched the blood, she knew something was wrong. It wasn’t blood, but some sort of oily-smelling fluid. Then she saw the shards of plastic and circuit board littered the stairs. Quentin nodded as he saw the realization hit her.
"Yep, he destroyed my leg," Quentin grunted, "When I get my hands on the tech who decided to put a pain response into the feedback routines, I’m going to strangle him."
"You felt the pain from the bullets?" Sissy asked.
"Not exactly, but enough pain to let me know the leg’s thoroughly trashed," Quentin said. He turned to Dr. Perez. Sissy looked up guiltily at the psychiatrist. She’d lost track of the woman in the middle of the fight. Dr. Perez looked down at the dead men. Her eyes widened in horror. Her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. Sissy cautiously climbed the few steps.
"Dr. Perez, are you okay?" Sissy asked. She flushed with embarrassment as soon as the words came out of her mouth. The doctor swiveled her head to stare at Sissy with a look of incredulity. Of course she wasn’t okay. Sissy could only nervously look away.
"Um, sorry, Dr. Perez," Sissy said, "Can you look at Quent? He’s hurt." The shock fell from the older woman’s face. This was something she could deal with. The psychiatrist fell back into her professional mode. Dr. Perez gently pushed past Sissy and bent down to examine Quentin. As the two talked in hushed voices, Sissy slipped down and slid through the door to the third floor. The only light came from the few emergency lights. Large stretches of dark filled the gaps between the lights. Sissy slipped into the shadows and walked towards the large window at the end of the hallway. From what she could see, the entire city around the building was dark. That wasn’t a good. She took another couple of steps and froze. An unmarked door opened maybe twenty feet from her, pouring light into the darkened hallway.
"You can’t do this!" screeched a high-pitched male voice, "Castle would never sanction this!" The sound of metal smacking flesh floated out of the door followed by the sound of painful whimpering.
"Who do you think ordered this?" another voice asked. This one spoke with a flat Midwestern accent, but with a controlled menace that made Sissy swallow. She tightened the grip on her pistol and waited patiently.
"Did you actually think you could betray the Truth for petty greed?" the second man asked. "Now quit sniveling on the floor, and come with me. Mikhail is waiting." The first man gasped. The second man chuckled in amusement.
"No, I won’t," the first man said, his voice trembling, "My men will stop you." The second man laughed.
"We killed the ones downstairs," the second man said. "They’ll make decent zombies. Right now, I have six Champions with me. Exactly what do you think your mundane mercenaries will do against Champions?" The first man started babbling incoherently. There was the sound of a hard slap. The babbling ceased. The two men appeared in the doorway.
The first voice belonged to a tall, thin, balding man dressed in a nice, if rumpled, dark suit. His long arms hung loosely at his side, barely moving in time with his gait. The man’s head drooped in resignation. He looked like a man being marched to the gallows. The other man was dressed like the intruders in the stairwell. His dark jumpsuit was pulled tight over his bulky form. He moved with a silent step. Sissy guessed this man had some martial arts or dance training in his background. The second man pressed a pistol the back of the first man’s head.
Well that explained what the bad guys were doing in the building, Sissy thought to herself. The two men walked slowly towards the stairwell exit. Neither saw her crouched in the dark shadows. She brought the Glock up, moving slowly so as not to catch either man’s attention. She held her position and waited long seconds as her target closed. She took a deep breath, let out a little and squeezed. The ball of flame from the Glock’s muzzle lit up the hallway for an instant. Just long enough for Sissy to see that she’d missed.
Tight-suit man flinched an instant before Sissy fired. The .357 Sig round passed by within millimeters of the man’s head before burying itself in a wall. Gangly man was pushed to the ground. Tight-suit man brought his pistol down. He fired a double-tap at where the flash originated, but Sissy was already in motion. She felt one of the rounds tug at the cloth of her dress, but she didn’t feel any pain. She took a snap shot over her shoulder and was rewarded with a grunt of pain. She instinctively dove for the floor as the second man sprayed the hallway with indiscriminate fire. Bullets cracked above her. She heard the window at the end of the hall shatter. She scampered up as the bad guy reloaded his pistol. She fell into her isosceles stance as the man snarled obscenities. He managed to jam his weapon with a bad reload. He threw the pistol at Sissy. She ducked as the pistol slammed into the wall behind her. As she came back up, Tight Suit man dashed past her and jumped out of the window.
Sissy just stared. They were four stories up. Why had he done that? She cautiously walked down the hallway and looked out the window. The man was standing on the sidewalk outside the building. How in the hell did he fall four stories and not splatter himself all over the concrete? He looked up at her. She could feel his smoldering anger. Sissy backed away from the window. The man brought back a terror in Sissy that she’d fought against for the last several months. She took a few deep breaths as she pushed down the fear. Her mind came back into focus. Sissy whirled on the suited man on the carpet.
"Get up," Sissy growled with as much menace as she could squeeze into her voice. The man scrambled to his feet. His eyes never left the Glock in her hand.
"Walk to the stairwell," she ordered.
"Who are you?" the man asked, unsure if he was walking to his salvation or his execution.
"Move!" Sissy said, adding emphasis with her pistol. The man hustled into the stairwell. He stopped as he saw the bodies sprawled across the landing. There was a sharp intake of breath as he saw Quentin training the carbine on him.
"Flayed One," the man breathed, "Quentin McLintock."
"Well that makes you a Truther," Quentin said, gripping the carbine tighter.
"You can’t just kill him!" shrieked Dr. Perez.
"He’s with these folks. You know, the ones that just tried to kill us. Trust me doc, these are evil people," Quentin said. The man brought himself to his full height. He looked like he was ready to face his fate.
"Stop Quent. He’s who these guys are after," Sissy said, putting herself in front of her prisoner. Quentin immediately lowered his weapon. He nodded for Sissy to continue. Sissy quickly related the encounter in the hallway.
"Perhaps you should introduce yourself friend," Quentin said to the man after Sissy finished.
"I am known in certain circles as the Turk," the man answered. Now that he was calm, his voice lilted with a slight Mediterranean accent. "I am, or was, one of the Truth’s logistics people." The Turk shrugged his shoulders. "Apparently I have fallen out of favor. Perhaps Zombie Strike would like to avail themselves of my services." There was a new confidence in the man’s countenance.
"You’re assuming we’re going to survive getting out of here," Quentin said, "What are we facing?"
"Jean mentioned six Champions. I see three dead here. That means three or four more. Plus, the walking dead. I do not how many of those he has brought with him." The Turk shrugged his shoulders. Sissy’s grip on her pistol tightened. She hadn’t even looked at a zombie since coming out of her catatonia. The idea of facing the undead terrified her.
"Let’s go back upstairs and wait for help to arrive," Dr. Perez suggested. Sissy and Quentin looked at the psychiatrist. The calm, collected woman was now a shaking and terrified person. Quentin hobbled up the stairs and laid one of his big hands on the doctor’s shoulders.
"Doc, there is no help coming. The cops will turn and run the moment they see a zombie because of primal panic. The few who might hold their ground will either get slaughtered trying to fight them or will call in the Army. Task Force 11 is stretched thin. Probably take hours to get down here. All the cops can do is cordon the area off and wait. In that time, those minions will do everything they can to find and kill us. Kill us. We have one and only one chance. We have to get to my car. I’ve got weapons, armor, and a direct line to Zombie Strike."
"They want him!" Dr. Perez said, jabbing her finger at the Turk, "Just give him to them and they’ll leave us alone!" The Turk laughed softly at the comment.
"First, I’m not about to hand over a potentially valuable resource to my enemies. Second, I wouldn’t hand anyone over to the Truth. Third, they’ll just kill us any way," Quentin said calmly. "Doctor, you’re afraid and not being rational. That’s understandable, but I need you rational if you want to have any chance of getting out of this alive." Dr. Perez’s mouth snapped shut as she swallowed her next outburst. Satisfied the doc wasn’t going to make any further protests, Quentin turned to the Turk.
"What’s your backup escape plan?" Quentin asked. The Turk started to say something and then thought better of it.
"Follow me," the Turk said, starting to walk back into the hallway.
"Hold it," Quentin said, "You’re the only one who’s strong enough to help me. So you get to play human crutch." The Turk’s face flashed in disgust, but he quickly smoothed his features back to his normal slightly pleasant face. Quentin turned to Sissy. "You still decent with a rifle?"
"I think so. I haven’t really been practicing lately," Sissy answered.
"Here, take the carbine. You’re on point," Quentin said, handing her the German weapon. "Dr. Perez, I need you to take that man"s pistol." He pointed to one of the dead minions.
"Are you insane?" Dr. Perez demanded, "I don’t know how to use a gun. I’m not about to touch that thing." She physically recoiled.
"Doc, we need you to cover our rear," Sissy said, picking up the Beretta. She inserted a new magazine and forced the gun into the psychiatrist’s hands. "If you see anything, shoot it."
"I’ve never fired a gun in my life," the psychiatrist protested.
"First time for everything," Sissy quipped. Dr. Perez glared at the young woman. Sissy glared right back and continued. "Just point this at your target and squeeze the trigger. You’re probably not going to hit anything, but it should give us enough cover to react to anything trying to sneak up behind us." The doctor nodded resigned to her role.
"You could just give me a gun," the Turk noted, waving his hand as if it wouldn’t be a problem for him.
"Not a chance," Quentin said. The Turk nodded, expecting the answer. As the Turk worked at lifting Quentinís enormous frame, Sissy managed to get the magazine pouch for the carbine and a belt off of the dead minion. The black corded belt looked incongruous with her yellow sun dress. Sissy tucked her Glock into the small of her back and hefted the carbine. It was one of the German G36’s, the spec ops version. It took her a moment to find all of the controls. Not bad, but she still preferred an M4, or even better, her old L96. Sissy wondered what happened to her beloved Danny Boy.
"We need to get back to my office," the Turk said, helping Quentin balance on his one good leg. Quentin hugged the Turk with one arm, while keeping his other hand free for his Colt. Dr. Perez held the Beretta shakily, but nodded when she caught Sissy’s eye. One deep breath and Sissy strode into the hallway with the G36 raised. The quartet slowly moved down the hall back into the Turk’s office. The front room had been a well-appointed reception room. Most of the furnishings were either tossed or just destroyed. The Turk looked around mournfully as the team walked past the destruction into the Turk’s office.
"Jean caught me before I could slip out," the Turk explained walking over to a non-descript wood panel. He waved a key fob. The panel slid back to reveal a small elevator car. "Getting all of us in will be tight, but it should be doable."
"Just remember to keep your hands to yourself," Quentin said with a menace Sissy never heard before. The Turk looked offended, but said nothing. The Turk led Quentin into the car and the two men flattened themsleves against the far wall. It was just enough room for Dr. Perez and Sissy. The doors closed and suddenly they were falling. Well, maybe not falling, but it was a quick ride down. The doors snapped open. Sissy froze as her eyes locked on the two zombies.
Sissy heard the others telling her to get out of the car, but all she could do was focus on the two undead as they turned towards the noise. A familiar terror spread across her body. She didn’t have the urge to run, but to just stay in place. To let the two zombies shamble over and kill her. Wait, what? She fought hard to come out of that endless nightmare. Even after she woke up, she forced herself to fight for every day. All because of these things. The G36 was at her shoulder. She looked through the holographic sight. Two quick strokes of the trigger and both zombies were reduced to unmoving corpses. No one moved as she strode out of the elevator. Dr. Perez and Quentin were looking at her with amazed looks. The Turk, on the other hand, just leered at her.
"C’mon, we need to get to Quentin’s car," Sissy said. She knew something inside her had just broken. All of that fear transformed into a burning anger. Sissy had been around mental health professionals to know the anger was something new she’d have to get under control. Right now, she was going to use it to keep her friend and her doctor alive. Maybe the Turk also. The others didn’t say anything as they followed her. The tunnel went a few hundred feet before ending at a stairwell.
"Go up," the Turk grunted from under Quentin’s mass. Sissy hesitated.
"How did two zombies get down here?" she asked, looking for some clue. There was movement from the stairwell. She was moving before she realized the danger. Her reactions were returning. All those training drills Mateo forced on her back on Skull Island. She clamped down on that thought. She’d deal with Mateo later. She crouched in the shadow of the stairwell as someone pulled the charging handle on a weapon. Who waited until enemies showed up to chamber a round?
"Hello Turk," a male voice said from the stairwell. Sissy was sure it was another of these Champions, whoever they were. "Jean thought you might come this way. Using your own dead as a tripwire was a stroke of brilliance though." The man let out something between a gasp and a shriek.
"Is that Quentin McLintock?" the Champion asked.
"No, I’m Shane, from Tuscon," Quentin said. The Champion bounded down the steps. He didn’t even look back to where Sissy was hiding under the stairs. The Champion was dressed just like Jean, but much shorter. He pointed a large silver revolver at Quentin. The tunnel exploded with sound. The Champion dropped to the ground. Dr. Perez stood over the stunned man and fired twice more before Quentin’s meaty hand snatched the pistol.
Sissy stormed out of her hiding hole and up the stairs. If anything followed that Champion, she was going to hose it with gunfire. Instead of another Champion or even zombies, a bearded man in a hunting vest and ballcap peered into the upper doorway. The man gave her a quizzical look. The incongrous sight was enough to stop Sissy from shooting.
"Y’all aren’t one of them," the man said in a strong Southern accent. He looked back to someone. "Rupert, you might need to get over here." Rupert turned out to be a lanky black man with a look that screamed military just barely going to age. He carried a decked-out and suppressed AR. He reminded Sissy a lot of Collin. He took one look at her and his eyes went wide.
"You’re Sissy O’Connell," he said in astonishment, "What are you doing here?" Sissy was taken aback. It had been a long time since a stranger recognized her.
"We were caught in the building," Sissy answered.
"We’ve secured up here, ma’am," Rupert said, "You can come up."
"Who’s we?" Quentin asked, hobbling up the stairs with the help of the Turk and a pale Dr. Perez. Rupert’s eyes went even wider. He actually went to attention.
"Maryland Citizens Anti-Zombie League," Rupert said. Sissy and Quentin traded looks. What in the hell was that? Rupert pointed behind him and made a come-here motion. The bearded man and another came into the stairwell. As soon as they saw Quentin’s injury, the men slung their rifles and respectfully took over supporting Quentin. The Turk started to inch back down the stairwell until Sissy stuck the muzzle of the G36 in his ribs. As the group climbed the stairs, Rupert explained.
"It’s kind of an informal militia for dealing with zombies," Rupert said, "There’s maybe thirty of us, but we knew we were needed when a zombie outbreak was reported in Baltimore. We were doing fine until this guy dressed like a ninja fired a laser and blew up Bubba’s truck. A lot of the guys scattered. Can’t blame them."
"Where are the police?" Dr. Perez asked.
"Weren’t none around when we showed up," the bearded man answered, "We saw a few abandoned cop cars. Figured they high-tailed as soon as they caught sight of them." He motioned to a couple of zombies staggering towards the commotion. Rupert smoothly brought his AR up and fired twice. Both zombies went down. Sissy was amazed at how quiet the carbine was. Rupert grinned.
"Get me to my car," Quentin said. "I can call in for back-up. Zombie qualified help. Plus, I’ve got a few goodies to handle the minions." Quentin quickly rattled off where he’d parked. Rupert nodded and motioned to two others. The men dashed down the deserted street.
"He comes with us," Sissy said, motioning to the Turk with the G36, "He’s what they’re after." The men carrying Quentin looked at Rupert, but the black man just inspected the Turk. Silently, Rupert nodded and motioned for his men down the street. Sissy corralled Dr. Perez as Rupert slid behind the Turk. The group went as fast as they could the hundred yards to the waiting station wagon. The car was a treasure trove. It even had a spare leg for Quentin. The G36 was discarded when Quentin handed her a very familiar black case. She tossed the lid open and squealed. It was her rifle. Her Danny Boy. She gently lifted the rifle up. No, it wasn’t hers, but it was a close-copy.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Quentin said, "Yours was lost in Mexico City. This was the backup you set up back before we went to the island." The rage bubbled up and threatened to overtake Sissy. Her precious rifle was gone? Who was using her rifle? And then lost it?
Deal with it later, she told herself. Quentin thoughtfully brought her working clothes. The men respectfully turned around as she shed her dirty and torn sun dress and quickly donned the heavy pants, shirt, and pads. Quentin got on the emergency radio and called for backup as Rupert found some zip-ties among the myriad of stuff. He efficiently trussed up the Turk and through their prisoner in the back seat of the Magnum. Dr. Perez collapsed in the passenger seat. The poor woman just couldn’t deal with what was going around her.
"What now, Rupert?" the bearded man asked. Then, he was gone in a brilliant flash of light. Quentin was already firing at the trio of Champions or minions or whatever they were called. One holding some kind of jewelry box went down. Sissy recognized Jean as the man spun a heavy sword in front of him. The blurring blade shimmered as Quentin’s bullets bounced off.
"If all of you put down your weapons, I will not kill you," Jean said in a calm, but menacing voice. "I assure you, your obsolete weapons can’t harm me." Then his head exploded in red-gray mist. Sissy worked the bolt on her rifle and fired again before the other ninja-clad guy could react. The men still seemed frozen in place as she sauntered over. Those idiots never even looked as she’d slid across the street.
"If you’re done staring, I think there’s still zombies that need killing," Sissy told them.
Sissy savored the cold water as she drank from the proffered bottle. She splashed the remnants across her face. Baltimore was not a fun city to fight zombies. Quentin sat down next to her. The Army finally arrived and took over from Rupert’s people and the M&W Armed Response Team. Sissy was impressed with the Maryland folks. Even those who retreated from the minions didn’t go far. They quickly rejoined their friends when the zombie fighting started back up.
"It’ll be good to have you back," Quentin said, "You’ll like Jess, and she could really use your help."
"I’m not going back to Zombie Strike," Sissy said.
"Why?" Quentin asked, surprised. "You were great out there. Whatever happened, you were taking down zombies down left and right."
"The fear’s gone, but there’s an anger now," Sissy said, "That’s what I used to keep fighting. It’s still burning inside of me. I can’t go back yet. Not with Mateo still there."
"You still hate him?" Quentin asked.
"Yes, no, I don’t know," Sissy answered, feeling emotionally drained, "All I know is when I think of him, the anger comes back. Until I deal with that, I can’t come back to Zombie Strike."
"So what are you going to do?" Quentin asked. Sissy didn’t say anything for a bit.
"One of the M&W guys told me they were looking for someone to work with all these small militias that are popping up. Helping to train them, find the bad ones, and so on," Sissy said, trying not to meet Quentin’s disappointed eyes. "Please don’t hate me, but I just can’t go back yet." The immense arms wrapped around her.
"Just get better," Quentin whispered, "I’m afraid we’re going to need you soon."