St. Louis, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 0907 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days
Evan Torelli froze in horror as the monster stepped out from the ruins of a store. The twelve-foot tall humanoid’s grey skin was pebbled and painted with red symbols. The monster’s red eyes glittered as they locked on Evan. Not like a human’s. These were more like when a bull decides it’s going to charge. An overly-wide mouth opened to reveal two rows of dagger-like teeth in a twisted smile. The monster let out a bellow of rage and swung a three-fingered fist at Evan. Part of Evan’s mind screamed at him to bring up his shotgun, but he couldn’t make his body move. He just watched as the fist the size of a turkey whistle down on him.
Evan’s ears barely caught the snarl. An instant before the monster’s fist crashed into Evan’s face, Jess’s dog pounced on the monster, dragging it to the asphalt. At least, Evan thought it was Jess’s dog. The animal was now the size of a mule. The monster flailed at the dog as it savaged the monster with claws and bites. Evan jerked backward as someone yanked the drag handle on his armor. Evan looked up to see Quentin hauling him back with one hand while the other held Quentin’s infamous warhammer in a loose but controlled grip.
"Billy, get clear!" ordered Mateo as the rest of Zombie Strike formed an arc around the monster. Mateo gave a hand signal and the team brought up their weapons. The oversized dog leapt off the monster, landing nearly twenty feet away. The monster struggled to its feet. The team opened fire. The monster howled in agony as bullet after bullet ripped through it. Black blood spurted from dozens of holes. The firing became ragged as various team members reloaded. For a moment, no one was firing at the monster. It tried to take advantage of the lull, and took a step towards Mateo. Its head snapped back as the heavy metal dart slammed into it. A second ripped a gaping hole in its chest. More darts ripped open its torso. After the eighth lanced through the monster’s throat, the creature dropped to the ground. Evan stood frozen, keeping the sights of the semi-auto Benelli on the fallen creature. He didn’t remember scrambling off the ground. He didn’t even remember when he started firing. One moment he was paralyzed with fear, and the next his shotgun was empty and smoking. The rest of the team looked back at him. Evan didn’t even realize he was thumbing in more shells until Quentin put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
"Evan, you okay?" Quentin asked.
"What was that?" Evan asked, his eyes still fixed on the monster’s corpse.
"We started calling them Red Gollums, but that ain’t quite accurate," Jim said, walking over to Evan and Quentin. "They kind of look like gollums, but they aren’t nearly as tough. Still dangerous though. Nice to see those new slugs worked."
"Yeah, nice shooting and all mate, but next time could you try and not shoot over us. Lessens the chance of a minor catastrophe," Slim said his tone biting. Evan felt his ears burn with embarrassment as he realized what he’d just done. He could have killed someone.
"Lay off Slim," Jim said defensively, "It ain’t like you haven’t done similar shots."
"There’s a world of difference between a precision shot with a specialized rifle and rapid firing a bloody smoothbore," Slim snapped back, "I’ll give him his due. That was very nicely done. He just needs to keep his situational awareness."
"Enough," Mateo said with a tone of finality, "I don’t need you chastising him until he hesitates to take a shot." Slim grimaced, but acknowledged the rebuke with a nod. "As for you Evan, try to be more careful. Those aren’t your hunting loads." Evan mimicked Slim’s nod.
"I thought we stamped out all of the Truth’s nurseries," Mateo said, turning back to the monster’s corpse.
"Maybe Alan had a few stashed wherever he fled to," suggested Chief Stahl.
"If that bugger’s here, I want another shot at him," Sport said, "I knew I tagged him the last time."
"Not a chance," Jim said, his voice full of promised violence, "I still owe him, and I aim to put paid to that debt." The sudden change in the cowboy made Evan nervous. He didn’t know who this Alan was, or what he’d done to Jim, but Evan didn’t want to be anywhere near when Jim caught up with this man.
"Dude, that guy’s survived two MOABs, gunshots, and getting too close to one of Sport’s grenades. The Steve thinks you’re overly ambitious," The Steve chimed in. The conversation stopped as the team stared at the medic. If The Steve noticed it, he didn’t show it.
"The Red Gollum certainly means there are sorcerers here," Tredegar observed. The FBI agent’s face became thoughtful. "If they’re still using magic to control the zombies or any other monsters, we might be able to find them."
"How? You got a magic detector in all that gear you’ve been lugging around?" Chief Stahl asked.
"No, I have an AWACS," Tredegar said cryptically. "Searchlight Three-One, Searchlight Three-One, this is Zulu Fox Five. I need to know if you had any distortion near my position." Tredegar paused as he listened. "Not jamming exactly. Like someone was waving a magnet over your monitor." Another moment of silence. "Excellent Searchlight. Thanks."
"I’m pretty sure our targets are here," Tredegar said, highlighting a building a few blocks from the Ed, the stadium the Rams played in.
"Care to explain?" Mateo asked.
"Oh yeah. Some scientist we tasked to help DOD and DOJ figure out some of the magic the Truth was using. He noticed that when the sorcerers were using magic, you could see some weird distortions in the EM spectrum. Showed up on radars and satellite photos."
"Okay, and the reason you didn’t bring this little tidbit to our attention?" Mateo asked.
"Hadn’t been verified," Tredegar said. "Besides, you’d need airborne radar or the big backscatter array to see the distortion. How often do we have an AWACS on station? Mateo, we need to move."
"Remind me to talk with you again about relevancy of information," Mateo said to Tredegar. The FBI agent just shrugged. Mateo turned to the rest of the team. "Okay, by the numbers. We’ve got our target. Let’s get there in one piece." Almost as if on cue, dozens of hunting moans echoed through the streets. The zombies were starting to home in on the sound of the gunfight.