Skull Island, South Pacific, 2 July 2011, 0800 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 29 days

Steve Mountain couldn’t muster his normal cheery smile as he walked into the command center. Steve could feel the tension as the intelligence techs poured over hundreds of field reports looking for the tiniest hint of where the Truth had taken Mateo and Robyn. Everyone in Zombies Strike was on edge. It made sense. Zombie Strike’s field commander and M&W’s liaison had been abducted twenty-two days ago from the very place the team should have been the most secure. So now, the entire operation was running itself to the ragged edge to compensate for a collective guilt and fear.

Steve kept his entrance quiet. A field team member was always on duty to assist the intelligence folks and to get the ball rolling if something developed. Inside the glass-walled conference at the heart of the command center, Chief Stahl paced. Stahl carried a mug of coffee in one hand and reading off the tablet in his other. Steve walked in to join the chief. At least working for one of the largest and oldest global insurance firms had its perks. The coffee was much better than the paint thinner substitute he’d endured in his days with the Army.

“I guess it is that time,” Stahl rumbled as Steve entered the conference room. “Take a seat, Mountain.”

“What’s up, chief?” Steve asked. Stahl’s eyebrow arched up in surprise when Steve didn’t correct the name.

“I think we’re fiddling while Rome burns,” Stahl said, cryptically. “You’ve been on this team the longest, and you’re a former soldier, so I want to run this by you first. I think we need to get back in the field. Tredegar sent us a report on a minion Task Force 11 caught sneaking down from Canada. His little team backtracked the minion to Hong Kong. We have other information that the Truth has a major base in Hong Kong.”

“So you’re thinking we should be hitting Hong Kong and forget about searching for Matt?” Steve asked. His tone was light, but his brown eyes were cold.

“I’m saying the field team needs to get back in the fight,” Stahl said, “We’ve already turned down two priority taskings from TF 11 and the Australians.”

“The problem, dude, is this is not a military unit. If we were back in the teams, or in the Rangers, then I’d be all on that,” Steve said, “This team just doesn’t roll like that. General Allen knows it. That’s why he didn’t get really upset when Kenn told him we couldn’t deal with that mess in Santiago.” Stahl started to say something, but was cut off by one of the Triplets banging on the conference room door. The two field team members shot up right as the diminutive Korean burst into the room.

“We may have found him,” Park said, vibrating with excitement. The Triplets were MacKenzie and Winston’s crack data intelligence team.

“Where?” the two men chorused.

“Cape Town,” Park answered, “Maybe a week ago. One of Toyota’s car carriers reported seeing an unknown submarine rendezvous with a yacht, the Beautiful Truth, about a hundred kilometers south of Cape Town. According to the Chinese, that yacht came back into Cape Town harbor and very discretely unloaded several individuals.”

“I didn’t know we were sharing information with the Chinese,” Stahl said. Park quickly went still and proceeded to stare intently at the floor.

“We’re not. We offered, but the Chinese want to do their own thing,” Steve said.

“You hacked Chinese intelligence?” Stahl asked incredulously. Park visibly gulped and continued to stare at the floor. “Damn, that’s good work. Go clean up any footprints and tell your partners to pack up.” Park looked up confused. Stahl simply smiled as he pressed the recall button on his tablet.

“It looks like we’re going to South Africa.”

Truth compound, South Africa, 2 July 2011, 1000 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 29 days

Mateo Cortez watched Robyn Adams as she slept. It had been another bad night for Robyn. Between the pain from her injuries, and the nightmares of the beatings, Robyn only slept in fits and starts. She’d finally relented and let Mateo give her some of the drugs the Truth’s doctor provided. Mateo knew Robyn was ashamed that she was the anchor the Truth was using to keep Mateo from trying to escape. She was trying as hard as she could to stop being a liability. It wasn’t her fault. The Truth was smart. They knew Mateo wouldn’t leave her behind or do anything to endanger her.

Mateo’s head snapped up as Robyn moaned painfully in her sleep. The Truth hadn’t just beaten her. They’d crippled her. Knees and ankles were destroyed and barely treated. Rachel could barely hobble around the small apartment on crutches. For someone who loved to run, it was beyond cruel. Frustrated at the thought, Mateo shot up from the chair and stormed over to one of the large picture windows. He looked down on the Truth’s soldiers training in the main courtyard and desperately wished he had his rifle.

A knock came at the door. Mateo took a deep breath and forced the grimace from his face. He slowly walked over to the door of the apartment, using the brief time to contain his rage. A round, petite woman in a business suit walked in carrying a professional leather folder. Her gray-streaked brown hair was tied back in a professional bun. Her brown eyes sparkled behind thick glasses as she surveyed the apartment.

“Good morning Mr. Cortez,” Cassandra said, opening the folder, “Is Ms. Adams still in bed?”

“You know she is,” Mateo said, gritting out the words. The day after they’d arrived at this compound, Cassandra showed up at their door. She introduced herself as their concierge with the duties of making their stay as enjoyable as possible, under the circumstances. She’d said the last part so nonchalantly, Mateo nearly punched the tiny woman.

“Please, Mr. Cortez, I am only trying to be courteous. We have a very good orthopedic team being flown in to take care of Ms. Adams’ injuries.” Cassandra paused to give Mateo a neutral look. Giant had been very clear on that point. Robyn would be taken care of as long as Mateo didn’t attempt to escape. If anything, the Truth seemed intent on keeping Mateo and Robyn in a gilded cage until it was time for him to fulfill his role in their prophecies. The apartment was more like a luxury suite in a five star hotel.

“I have the lunch menu for today,” Cassandra said, pulling out a folded paper and setting it on the writing desk. “If you could please ring the kitchen within the hour with your selections, we would appreciate it. The maids will be in here after lunch for cleaning, and we’ll do the security check at that time. Is there anything else you would require?”

“No, thank you,” Mateo said as politely as he could. Cassandra smiled pleasantly and bustled out of the room. Mateo resisted the urge to destroy something. He picked up the menu. As he scanned the choices, he noticed something odd. The number listed wasn’t the number for the kitchen. It was probably just a misprint since it was only one number off. Just to be contrarian, he dialed the number on the menu. It rang twice before someone picked up.

“Don’t say anything Mateo. Just listen,” a hushed male voice said, “I’m a friend. We both work for the same firm. Right now, just focus on getting Ms. Adams healthy enough to move. I’m trying to get your team here. I’ll keep contacting you this way, but it may be sparse for a bit.” The man hung up. Mateo stared at the phone for a moment. It could be just a plot to keep him in line. If they made him think rescue was coming, Mateo should be less like to try something himself. It was possible, but something in the man’s voice made Mateo think otherwise. For the first time in a long while, a real smile crept across Mateo’s face.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 89]