Skull Island, South Pacific, 11 June 2011, 2215 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 19 days
Steve Mountain’s eyes snapped open as the alarm klaxon blared through Zombie Strike’s headquarters. Steve swallowed four ibuprofen tablets with a swig of an energy drink. This had better not be a drill. The team was already on the ragged edge from the past week. Steve almost slipped the entire team some sedatives just so everyone would get some rest. The alarm stopped mercifully as Steve snatched his go-bag and sprinted down the stairs. The new command center was laid out similar to the old one. The field team had a glass lined conference room in the center with intelligence and command stations surrounding them. Dozens of large flat screens were hung around the room showing everything from satellite feeds to CNN. Kenn Blanchard, Zombie Strike’s commander, was already in the conference room. Dr. Jacobs, Zombie Strike’s chief medical and science officer, was wrapping Kenn’s ribs while Kenn clenched his teeth in pain.
"What’s up, doc?" Steve said as he strode into the room.
"That stopped being funny the second time you said that Mr. Mountain," Dr. Jacobs said firmly. The doc was definitely a hottie, but she needed to find a sense of humor. "As to your question, Mr. Blanchard suffered some bruised ribs at the hands of Giant."
"The Steve wants to know when you and Giant faced off," Steve said to Kenn.
"That’s a good question," Chief Stahl said, storming into the conference room. The rest of the team trailed behind the imposing former warrant officer.
"Gather round and take a seat," Kenn said, waving his hand. Zombie Strike’s field team filed into the room and sat down. Their faces were a mix of careful neutral expressions and wariness. All except Billy. The wolf pup just sat at Jess’s feet. Billy was a cool dude.
"About ten minutes ago, Giant snatched Mateo off the north dock," Kenn said. He held up a hand to forestall the immediate outburst from the team, "He dragged Mateo into the water. Right now, all of our aircraft are taking off, and we’re going to be doing a full search around the island. We also sent a message out to Task Force 11 and to Mackenzie and Winston."
"How did Giant get on Skull Island?" growled Chief Stahl.
"Gunny’s looking into it right now," Kenn said.
"C’mon dudes. There’s so much construction going on right now, it wouldn’t exactly be hard to slip through security," Steve said. "What The Steve wants to know is where’s Giant taking our fearless leader."
"We don’t know, but we’ve got every intelligence asset and analyst working right now," Kenn said. "As soon as we get a tickle, we’re wheels up." Eyebrows were raised around the table. Kenn was planning on tagging along for this little op. The chief started to say something, but a sharp look from Kenn stopped him.
"Any way we can get Tredegar’s plane turned around?" Quentin asked, "We could really use him on the analyst side."
"No, but we’ve got a team of M&W’s best on a fast jet here," Kenn answered. "They should be here in a few hours. Thank God, they were doing some work over in Sydney. Quentin, I need you and Jess working on those prophecies. If the Truth snatched Matt because something in the prophecies told them to, I want to know as soon as possible. The rest of you need to prep the fast jet so we can move as soon as we know something. Are there any questions?" Jess looked around the command center before raising her hand.
Somewhere in the south Pacific, 12 June 2011, 0200 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 18 days
Mateo Cortez groaned as he woke up. He felt like his entire body was out of sync. His limbs and head were slow to move. He was probably shaking off the last bits of being drugged. He looked around. Mateo was lying on a fold-away cot in a metal room with a single fluorescent light blazing away. Other than the cot, the room was empty. The air was cool, but smelled of oil. Mateo felt a thrumming in the floor as he stood up from the tiny cot. It had to be a ship. Mateo remembered Giant dragging him into the water back on Skull Island, but nothing after that. Wherever he was, they’d taken his clothes and gear. He was dressed in rough khaki pants and a blue t-shirt.
Mateo silently walked along the walls of his cell looking for two things – monitoring devices and something he could use as a weapon. The walls were smooth and light gray with a faint smell of new paint. That drudged up an old memory. Mateo’s father spent a good deal of time aboard ships as a Marine. Mateo complained once about having to paint the house, and his father gave him a three-hour lecture about the constant chipping and painting that Chief Petty’s always seemed to find for underperforming sailors and Marines.
The thought stopped Mateo. He hadn’t thought of his father in years. Both of his parents were long dead – father from cancer, mom from a drunk driver just after. Mateo remembered his mother anytime he saw his daughter Mercedes. The little girl looked so much like his mother. A loud clanking snapped Mateo back to the present. The wall opposite the cot slid into the floor revealing another room separated by thick iron bars. On the other side of the bars stood Giant and another man dressed in robes. The new man wore a brilliant headdress of feathers and gold, which pegged him as a sorcerer. Mateo fought down the urge to snarl and kept his demeanor as casual and neutral as possible.
"You’re getting much better at that Mateo," Giant said. "The first few times we met, you just radiated anger."
"What do you want Giant?" Mateo asked.
"I already have what I want. You," Giant answered, pointing a long, thin finger at Mateo, "You’ve come too close to dying these past few months. It’s past time to secure you to prevent you from harming the prophecies."
"Not very prophetic if I can thwart them so easily," Mateo said.
"Be quiet Blasphemer!" the sorcerer hissed, "The Prophecies are the word handed down by the Flayed One. You are not fit to speak of them!" Mateo looked over at the sorcerer and then back at Giant. Mateo’s nemesis shrugged and then backhanded the sorcerer hard enough to send the man flying back. The sorcerer crashed into deck several yards behind Giant. Mateo wasn’t sure if Giant managed to kill the sorcerer until he saw the slight rise and fall of the sorcerer’s robes.
"They get on my nerves sometimes," Giant said, as if in explanation, "Now, where was I? Ah yes. We have decided to keep you safe and under our control until the time comes for you to play your part. Now, after fighting against you for some time now, I know you’re trying to figure out how to escape and kill as many of my people as you can in the process." Giant paused, waiting for Mateo to agree with the statement. Mateo just stared at Giant.
"To keep you from doing something stupid, I will tell you now that you are on a submarine some four hundred meters under water. We should be aboard ship for the next couple of weeks before reaching our destination."
"Diesel or nuke?" Mateo asked flatly. Giant eyes widened in surprise at the question.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Giant asked.
"I just want to know how bad I’m going to pollute the ocean when I sink this boat," Mateo answered.
"That might not be your best option," Giant said. The tall man motioned to a hatch behind him. A hulking man walked into the room carrying a large sack over his shoulder. The man was built like Quentin and dressed as a minion. Giant’s whip snapped through the bars, forcing Mateo to step to the back of his cage. Bars slid into the floor forming an opening just big enough for the minion to come into the cage. He carefully laid the sack on the deck and walked out of the cage. As soon as the minion was through the bars, the wall slid back into place. Mateo opened the sack. It was all he could do to control his rage. He yanked the sack off and carried a bruised and battered Robyn Adams to the cot. For the first time, Mateo didn’t want to kill Giant. He wanted to make the twisted man suffer for all eternity.