Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 0700 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days
Steve Mountain kept still as the guard walked closer. Next to Steve, Jess slowed down her breathing. She kept her suppressed SCAR-H on the guard’s chest as the man walked the perimeter of the Truth’s compound. Something caught this guard’s attention. For a few tense moments, the guard swept their area with his F2000 assault rifle. Not seeing anything, the guard went back to his normal patrol route. Steve motioned for Jess to fall back. That was a bit close. The two Zombie Strike field team members slid back through the tall grass. Hidden in a small wooded area, the rest of Zombie Strike waited.
"Well?" asked Chief Stahl.
"A lot tighter than what he told us," Jess reported. "Bunch of armed guards backed up by minions and hordes of zombies. I don’t see how we’re going to infiltrate that place."
"Assuming Matt and Robyn are even there," murmured Sport. The diminutive Brit was the loudest voice of doubt about the supposed mole Zombie Strike rescued in Cape Town.
"Dude, lose the pessimism," Steve said. "The Steve has a feeling we’re on the right track." The rest of the team gave him a mixture of odd looks. That was fine. It gave them a momentary break from their worries, and that was what The Steve was all about.
"Download the gun camera and we’ll figure out how we’re going to get them out," Chief Stahl said to Jess. The girl nodded and moved over to the computer. Stahl turned to Steve. "Do you think he was lying to us?"
"Nah, dude. Activity looked recent. The soldiers were rushing around. Nothing that looked like a standard pattern," Steve answered. Stahl nodded and walked over to join Jess at the table. Stahl was a good soldier. He had probably been a scary good Ranger. The chief’s big problem was that he still thought soldier. Steve noticed Stahl trusted the former military guys in Zombie Strike more than those who came from the civilian side. That might be a problem in the future. The Steve would keep it in check.
"How’s the little dude?" Steve asked Jim. The cowboy smiled and motioned to one of the team’s spider holes.
"As soon as we got settled in, he curled up and passed out," Jim answered. Steve gave Jim a thumbs-up and moved deeper into the camp. Unlike Sport, Steve was sure the little man was actually a mole for M&W, the insurance firm that funded Zombie Strike’s operations. Steve had seen faked and real torture wounds before. The injuries on the little man, who still hadn’t given them his name, were consistent with actual torture. Sport read too many James Bond stories. Double and triple agents were rare beasts. Most didn’t live very long. Part of being in Special Forces was acting as an intelligence agent. The Steve emerged during some of those long deep-cover runs back stopping CIA field agents. The Steve was just off-kilter enough that he was trustworthy. Just enough chaos to sell himself wherever he needed to go. After a couple of years, The Steve was habit. After nearly a decade, Steve was The Steve. Well, except for the times when Sgt. Mountain came out from the back reaches of his mind. Fortunately, those were rare.
Steve walked to the back of the small campsite. They were somewhere south of the Kalahari in a grassy savannah land. He watched the tall grass sway in the wind. It kind of reminded him when he spent a few months with that Mongolian tribe. That had been pretty cool. He became a decent horseman. Of course, the tribesman thought he was pathetic. Just because they were on a horse before they walked. Still, they granted he wasn’t too terrible for a round-eye. Steve’s eyes locked onto an odd ripple in the grass. He’d seen that before, in Mongolia. When hunters were stalking prey through the grasslands.
"Intruders to the rear!" Steve yelled, bringing up his M4. He placed the holographic sight over the ripple in the grass. Steve squeezed off a short burst into the grass. He was rewarded with a gollum’s screech of pain. A whip cracked and the illusion fell away. Ten gollums were in the grass with Giant in the center. Steve felt Sgt. Mountain pressing to come forward. He pushed back. Not yet. He could deal with Mikhail.
"Dude, no fair. We don’t have invisibility cloaks!" Steve shouted at Giant before firing a long burst into Zombie Strike’s nemesis. The seven-foot man lashed out with his magical whip. Steve tried to block with his carbine, but felt the leather cord wrap around his neck. Giant jerked Steve to him. Steve felt vertebrae pop as he landed at Giant’s feet. At least the monster hadn’t cut off his air.
"Not cool. The Steve wants to know how you got here. The Steve thought you were in Jo-Burg," Steve said, reaching for his Kimber. Giant’s whip dragged Steve up to eye level with Giant. Steve just smiled as he stared into Giant’s dark eyes flashing with anger. Gollum screeches mixed with gunfire as the battle really began.
"How did you know we were there?" Giant demanded.
"It’s a secret," Steve said in sing-song. Giant shook him violently with the whip.
"Tell me!" Giant almost shouted.
"Okay," Steve said, gasping for breath, "New device. Look down." Giant tilted his head down and came face-to-face with the muzzle of Steve’s pistol. The medic fired the Kimber as fast as the pistol could manage. Eight rounds of .45 slammed into Giant’s face. The huge man screamed in pain and flung Steve back into the grass. Stars exploded in front of Steve’s face as he slammed onto the dirt. As he staggered to his feet, he triggered pain meds on his PDA. A little of his world-famous Happy Juice in him and the fight was on.
Zombie Strike was fully into the fight. Quentin was battling one gollum with his warhammer. Kenn poured fire into another as Jim snaked up with his big revolver in one hand and a long, heavy Bowie knife in the other. Chief Stahl and Jess were holding back the rest with precision fire. Where was Sport? Almost as if to answer Steve’s question, the Brit stood up with his XM-25 grenade launcher in his hands. He aimed the weapon at Giant.
"Frag out!" Sport yelled. Steve’s eyes went wide an instant before Sport fired all five grenades at Giant. The first two grenades exploded twenty feet from Giant. The blast threw Steve back to the ground. Happy Juice pumping through his veins, Steve sat up just in time for the three heavy grenades to hit Giant’s hastily erected shield. These grenades were designed for use against shielded opponents. Using tiny fins, the grenades popped up at the last instant and detonated nearly straight down.
Giant screamed in pain as fragments tore through him. Steve smiled. Giant in pain was a good thing. He just wished he hadn’t been that close to all of those explosions. Sport tended to over-pack his grenades. Steve was about to stand up when he noticed the sounds of the fight were suddenly quiet. He peered through the tall grass. Dozens of guards were pointing their stubby F2000s at the Zombie Strike team. Steve cursed to himself. Surprise was always the most deadly advantage. He’d completely forgotten about all of those forces at the compound. As Steve looked over to Giant, the big man was completely consumed with plucking the razor-sharp fragments out of his body. Well, surprise could work both ways. As Zombie Strike handed over their weapons to the Truth’s guards, Steve slid back into the grass. As much as he hated to, Steve let Sgt. Mountain take over. It was time for the Truth to learn exactly how dangerous he could be.