St. Louis, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 1015 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days
Evan Torelli looked at the three-story building with a mixture of relief and anxiety. The relief came from finally reaching the building. From the map Evan had on his PDA, it looked like the building was only a few blocks from where the team killed the Red Gollum. Evan remembered Jim’s chuckle as the teen pointed out that the team was going the wrong way. It was made very clear to Evan that getting to the building was only part of what was needed. The team also needed to avoid as many fights with the zombies rampaging through downtown St. Louis.
"Aren’t we supposed to kill zombies?" Evan asked Jim as the team sidestepped a horde through a small alley.
"Nope, that’s the military’s job right now. We need to get the minions responsible for this outbreak. Can’t do that if we blow all our ammo on walking range targets," the cowboy answered. "And believe me, we’ll probably need every round we’re carrying to deal with those folks." Evan kept quiet after that and followed Jim. The team went down side streets and alleys, through buildings, and even hid in a parking garage. The Nasty Stuff helped, but it was mainly a matter of noise discipline. After forty-five minutes of careful movement, the team was spread out along a pair of alleys that faced the minions’ building. At least, that’s what everyone was hoping. That was where the anxiety set in. Evan had never done an assault. All of the horrible ways he could die were flashing through his head.
"Relax kid, you’re gonna hyperventilate and pass out before we even get into that building," Jim said. Evan tried to calm down, but his body didn’t want to cooperate. "Listen, everyone has felt the same thing the first time. Stop overthinking and just trust your instincts."
"Easier said than done Jim," Evan said, his eyes still fixed on the glass double door Mateo designated as the team’s entry point.
"Concentrate on your job. Watch our collective back and making sure that nothing gets Tredegar. Man’s got a sharp mind. Not so good on the shooting bit. You do that and let everyone else do their job." Evan noticed that Jim didn’t say everything would be alright, but he didn’t say anything. He really didn’t want to know. At Jim’s cue, Evan slipped down the alley to stand just behind Tredegar. If the FBI agent was nervous, he didn’t show it. Evan checked his shotgun one last time and waited as Mateo cued the team.
"Green light, stop. Red light, go. Red light, stop. Green light, GO!" Mateo barked the last order. Quentin, Sport, Jessica, and her dog sprinted across the street. Quentin pushed open the doors with the dog close on his heels. Sport and Jessica were covering them with their weapons. As soon as the quartet was through the doors, Jim, Slim, Chief Stahl, and The Steve dashed across the street. As soon as Mateo motioned, Evan followed Tredegar through the door. Just beyond the doors was an open air lobby. A large fountain dominated the center of the lobby. Huge skylights in the ceiling poured down sunlight. Off to each side were long hallways. The rest of the building was dark giving the whole area a disturbing contrast.
"Any sign we’ve been noticed?" Mateo asked.
"Nothing," Quentin answered.
"Billy’s got their scent," Jess chimed in, "Somewhere on the third floor."
"Gotta wonder what they have waiting for us if Billy can smell them all the way down here," Chief Stahl said. The former soldier turned to Tredegar. "I don’t suppose you could ask your eye in the sky exactly where the bad guys are?"
"Sorry Chief, it’s not that precise right now," Tredegar answered.
"Didn’t think so. Okay boys and girls, time to do this the hard way," the chief said.
"Oh you have no idea!" boomed a melodic feminine voice out of the darkness. The building seemed to shake with the combined hunting moans from what had to be dozens, maybe even hundreds of zombies. Office doors slammed open all around the team and zombies seemed to pour out at the team. Gunfire erupted as Zombie Strike engaged their natural prey. Evan brought up his shotgun and placed the bead on the head of an approaching zombie. He squeezed the trigger. Evan wasn’t using traditional slugs. These were heavy metal darts, essentially scaled down versions of the M1 Abrams’ "Silver Bullets." At fifty yards, they could take down a man in body armor. At fifty feet, the speeding dart pulped the first zombie’s brain, and then went on to take down four more zombies before embedding itself in some drywall. Evan didn’t see any of this. He was already attacking his next target.
"If you run now, you just might survive," the voice taunted as the zombies closed on the team.
"Not a chance," Mateo said at their unseen tormentor. "Chief, stairwell."
"Got it boss. Sport, Quentin, your with me. Slim, cover us." The three zombie killers formed a wedge as Slim poured fire down one of the hallways coming off the lobby. The Brit was firing his SR-25 as fast as he found targets. The chief opened up some room with a long burst of gunfire. Quentin led the three team members as they charged into the gap created by the gunfire. Quentin’s warhammer wasn’t as big as a sledge, and the big man whipped it around with unbelievable speed. The chief and Sport covered Quentin’s flanks with gunfire. Evan lost them as he was forced to transition to his pistol. The Beretta M9 felt gargantuan in Evan’s hand, but it was what he had. He fired at the oncoming zombies until the slide locked back on an empty magazine. Maybe another five zombies down. Evan dropped out the magazine. Where were his spares? His hand danced around his waist as he tried desperately to remember where the magazine pouch was.
"Evan, reload that shotgun. I’ll cover you," Tredegar said, stepping in front of the teen. The FBI agent fired off several bursts from his M4. Evan slammed the empty pistol into its holster and loaded the shotgun as fast as he could. He felt the feed ramp bite into his thumb as he slammed round after round into the tube. Evan chambered the first shell and moved up next to Tredegar.
"FRAG OUT!" hollered Sport over the radio net. Evan almost didn’t get his first shot off. What in the world did that mean? The answer came in an almost deafening roar that shook the building. Evan kept his calm long enough to fire twice more. Good God, didn’t they ever stop coming? It seemed like every time he put one down, three more took its place.
"Everyone into the stairwell!" shouted Mateo over the din before charging to where Quentin, Sport, and the chief were standing. Where there had been a door before, there was only a ragged door frame. Evan followed Tredegar as the pair fled the oncoming zombies. He felt the gunfire crack around him as the rest of Zombie Strike covered their retreat. Evan nearly vomited as he entered the stairwell. It looked like the stairwell had been painted in zombies. Evan’s foot slid out from under him, and he nearly went sprawling into what looked like pulped guts. Jim caught the teen before Evan face planted into the foul-smelling stuff. The team quickly moved up the landing.
"Sport, for the record, never use any of those custom jobs of yours again!" the chief barked at the short Brit.
"Why?" complained Sport.
"Because I nearly got decapitated by the door! Do you even know how to make a proper frag grenade?" asked the chief.
"I followed the cardinal rule. P equals plenty," Sport answered. The retort was so dead-pan, Evan couldn’t tell if Sport was joking.
"Dude, never let the demo guys plan the entry. That never ends well," The Steve quipped. Chief Stahl could only nod in resigned agreement.
"Joking’s over. Quentin, Sport, you’re on point. Get us up to the top floor. Sport, don’t you throw another grenade unless I tell you or you see Giant. Is that understood?" Mateo asked. Sport nodded seriously. "Evan, Jim cover the back."
"What about the zombies coming into the stairwell?" Evan asked, hearing the ragged cacophony of hunting moans.
"Zombies don’t exactly climb stairs," Jim said, "It’s more of climbing over each other. Best thing is to let them bunch up and then take them out quick. Kind of acts like a dam." The team moved quickly up the stairs. The second floor landing was clear. That didn’t sit right with Evan. The minions had attacked with so many zombies. They couldn’t keep any to attack the team on the second floor?
The team stopped suddenly just shy of the third floor. Standing at the landing was a woman in a tight fitting black jumpsuit. A balaclava covered her face. In her hand, she was waving around what looked like a long knife. The entire team had weapons pointed at her, but she didn’t seem to care. The look in her green eyes was pure contempt.
"I don’t care what Mikhail wants," the woman said. It was the same voice that taunted the team earlier. "You’ve killed too many of my friends." She pointed the knife’s tip at the team.
"Time to die Zombie Strike." Evan stood unbelieving as the fireball lit up the stairwell.