Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 2000 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days
Steve Mountain raised the silenced pistol as he crept towards the minion. She was tall for a chick. Shame. Steve dug the tall ones. He took another careful step closer. He needed to be close to make sure the minion didn’t have a shield up. Most didn’t keep their shields up all the time, but every so often you ran into one that was overly cautious. The three green dots of the pistol’s sights lined up perfectly with the minion’s head.
"Would you please put that pistol away?" the minion said, turning to face Steve. The mask to her balaclava was down. Steve swallowed hard as he saw the familiar face. Waves of memories and embarrassment flowed through him.
"Oh hey, Amanda, what’re you doing here? The Steve thought you were back in Tampa," Steve said. Her huge black eyes flashed with remembered anger. Steve lowered his pistol, but didn’t lose his firing grip.
"Great. You’re the one in control?" Amanda asked, rhetorically, "What happened to your soldier side? Everything else was definitely him." Steve wasn’t sure if he was supposed to answer. His normal impulse was to say something comical. He knew better than to try that with Amanda. The lithe woman stepped up to Steve and grabbed him by the front of his armor.
"Let me be clear on this Mountain, I do not like that I am blowing an entire intel network I’ve spent the better part of the last two years building because your friends managed to get themselves caught by the Truth. I’ve already lost several good agents. This better be worth it."
"Well that explains what you’ve been doing since the last time The Steve saw you," Steve said. Amanda let out a frustrated growl.
"Follow me," Amanda said, "We need to get the rest of your team and my agents out of secure holding before we can go get your team leader. Castle’s holding him and his girlfriend upstairs. We’ll need the manpower to defeat him." She started walking down the corridor. Steve holstered his hush-puppy and trotted to catch up.
"The Steve wants to know a couple of things. Who’s Castle and where’s Giant?"
"Castle is the leader of the Truth. The head priest of Xipe Totec on Earth. Mikhail’s probably with him. We’re going to need everyone we can get to deal with the two of them." Amanda opened an access door in the hallway and strode through impatiently. Two men in waiter’s uniforms were waiting. They straightened up as Amanda walked into the room, but she waved them down. They both looked suspiciously at Steve.
"Have you cleared the way?" Amanda demanded.
"Almost," one of the men said with a pronounced French accent, "Gabriel secured the weapons for Zombie Strike. There was a small problem though at the entrance of the holding cells. Dalton is guarding it." Amanda cursed ferociously. She spun to face Steve.
"You don’t happen to have something in your bag of toys to deal with a high-level Champion?" she asked, using the formal name for the minions.
"The Steve picked this up," he answered, holding out the short gilded scepter. Amanda’s eyes went wide.
"Is that Darius’s Rod? How did you get it from Walter? Give it to me," she said, reaching out to snatch the artifact. Steve whipped it out of reach.
"Finders-keepers," he shot back.
"Do you know how to speak Greek?" Amanda asked.
"I grew up in Tarpon Springs," Amanda answered. Steve had forgotten that Amanda was raised in the heavily-Greek town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Oh yeah, she ordered in Greek that one time after they went to that movie. Reluctantly, Steve handed over the artifact. With the artifact in hand, Amanda turned to the two men.
"Go wait with Gabriel. Be ready when we bring the prisoners to you," Amanda ordered. The two men nodded and dashed out the door. Wordlessly, Amanda motioned for Steve to follow her. She led him through the darkened underground maze for nearly fifteen minutes in complete silence. She stopped suddenly before a corner.
"Dalton’s good, and he was given one of the stronger artifacts. One of Xipe Totec’s actual artifacts," Amanda said, "I’ll deal with him. You just get through the door. There should be a few acolytes inside. Once you deal with them, you should be able to spring your friends." There was a tiny hint of fear in her voice. Anyone else would have just chalked it up to anxiety, but Steve knew Amanda too well. She wasn’t sure if she could deal with this Dalton and survive. Nothing else could break her composure.
Amanda pulled out Darius’s Rod and whispered a string of Greek. The golden rod glowed warmly. She looked back at Steve and nodded. She turned the corner bringing up the artifact. Steve sprinted around her before Amanda launched her mystical attack. The air in the corridor shimmered as a wave of sound tore down at the hulking minion standing in front of the door. Dalton was maybe a smidge under Quentin’s size and he moved faster. He punched at the incoming wave of energy. The corridor boomed as Amanda’s attack was shattered. Steve was thrown against the wall and sank to the floor. Dalton took a step and punched at the air. A whip of sparkling blue power shot out from his fist and snapped across Amanda’s hastily erected shield. Amanda was thrown back and nearly lost her grip on Darius’s Rod. Dalton shot another energy whip from his other hand and lashed at Amanda again. She shrieked in agony as it lanced through her shield and wrapped around her arm.
"Hey Dalton," Steve called out. The minion swiveled his head around just in time for Steve’s baton to smack him in the jaw. Dalton growled as he staggered back from the blow. Steve came in low before the big minion could recover. Five rounds of forty-five tore through Dalton’s side. The minion’s eyes went wide in shock and pain before he collapsed. Steve didn’t wait for Amanda to recover enough to scream at him for deviating from the plan. He charged into the secured room. The three acolytes inside went down with three quick bursts. Steve found the controls and unlocked his friends and teammates from their holding cells. Amanda stormed into the room as the team congregated in the main room.
"Guys, The Steve presents Amanda Kasev, investigator and spy for M&W," Steve said before there was a nasty confusion about the sudden appearance of a very upset minion. The team collectively relaxed. Amanda shot Steve a poisonous glance and turned to Kenn Blanchard.
"Sir, my agents have your equipment. If you’ll follow me, we’ll get you armed and armored up, and then we can get Mr. Cortez and Ms. Adams out. They are being held upstairs by the leader of the Truth."
"Good, then we can kill the bugger heading this up and be done with the Truth," Sport said.
"You can’t do that," Amanda said. "Castle must not be killed." The Zombie Strike members went deadly quiet.
"Listen missy, I don’t know who you’re hoping to deliver this guy to, but I’m not about—" Chief Stahl started before Amanda cut him off.
"You don’t understand. If you kill him now, all life on this world will be wiped out."