Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 2020 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days
Steve Mountain ducked into a doorway as the minion shot a bolt of green electricity at him. The luxurious carpet where he’d been standing melted and then ignited. It died quickly in the rain of the compound’s sprinkler system. Steve leaned out of the doorway and fired a burst from his liberated F2000. The minion laughed as the bullets smacked harmlessly on his energy shield. Then, Amanda came out of the room and unleashed a beam from Darius’s Rod. As the two energies met, a deafening roar filled the hallway. Amanda grunted in pain and fell behind Steve. The minion was thrown to the floor. As the Truth’s mystical warrior struggled to get back to his feet, Steve fired another burst. Without his magical shield, the bullets effortlessly tore the minion’s chest apart.
"You okay?" Steve asked Amanda as he changed magazines in his bullpup assault rifle.
"No, but I’ll survive," she answered. She looked up at the water raining down on them. "You know, of all the conditions I’d considered about fighting in a building, dealing with being cold and wet from the sprinklers was not one of them."
"Happens. The Steve’s dealt with it before," Steve said casually. He turned back to the stairwell. "Clear!" The rest of Zombie Strike and a couple of Amanda’s fellow agents bounded out of the stairwell.
"Sport, take the Frenchie and Jim and start clearing rooms," Chief Stahl ordered, pointing at one of Amanda’s men. "Quentin, you, Jess, and Billy get ready to back them up if they manage to find anything." Sport gripped his shotgun and moved to the door across from Steve and Amanda. The French M&W agent swiftly kicked the door open, and the three men entered the room with deadly swiftness.
"At least he’s not doing it with that grenade launcher of his," the chief grumbled as he followed Steve, Amanda, and Kenn Blanchard into the room. "Is there anyone who can turn off the water works?"
"Not from here," Amanda answered.
"Well, thankfully, all of our toys are waterproofed," Kenn said, placing a tablet computer on the room’s main table. The compound’s schematics glowed on the display.
"Okay, we’re here," Kenn said, tapping the room on the fifth floor, "Matt and Robyn are probably here along with Castle and Giant." A room on the fourth floor lit up. "My main concern with this plan is danger to our people. We don’t know where in the room Matt and Robyn could be."
"Not a good way to get intel, but we know Castle and Giant aren’t going to want anything to happen to Matt. They’ll have him good and protected."
"And Robyn?" Kenn asked.
"She’s there as insurance," Stahl said, "So they’ll keep her safe to keep Mateo from doing something stupid. That said, their primary objective is keeping Mateo alive so he can fulfill whatever role he has in their prophecies." The former warrant officer almost spat out the last word.
"Well, gentlemen, let’s not waste time," Amanda said.
"As soon as we’ve got the floor secure, you’ll get to do your thing," Stahl said. Quiet minutes passed as they waited for Sport and his small team to clear the rooms. Steve hated times like these. Boring, exciting, and anxious all at once. He kept his normal cheerful smile plastered on his face as he walked around the room. Maybe he should sing something. That would certainly break up the growing tension.
"Good to go," Sport said in his cockeyed Brit accent. Zombie Strike and the M&W agents walked out into the hallway to get to the target room. They’d walked maybe a dozen yards before Billy growled. Steve turned to where the spirit wolf was pointing. He barely saw the small canister as it sailed out of the stairwell.
"GRENADE!" he shouted as the device bounced on the carpet. Instinctively, the Zombie Strike operatives dove into the nearest doorway. Steve grabbed Amanda and half-threw the woman into the room to their right. The explosion shook the building. Steve heard whistling fragments of metal thud into the wood around them. Someone screamed in pain. Then gunfire filled the hallway. Steve brought the stubby assault rifle up around the corner. These weren’t the guards they’d fought before. These guys knew how to use cover and fire discipline. Steve fired two bursts at one of the new shooters. He ducked back as another returned fire. Well, that was a bit too close.
"Eric, tell your people to put down their weapons," yelled out one of the shooters, "I have no desire to kill all of you." The voice sounded familiar.
"Not going to happen Evan," Chief Stahl yelled back, "Your people get in our way, and they’re going to see their god pretty fast." Steve’s mind locked on the name. Evan was the leader of those Truth soldiers back in Panama. That explained a lot. Those guys were scary good. No magic, but easily as well trained in weapons and tactics as Zombie Strike. Both sides traded gunfire.
"Just so you know, I’m not going to like killing you and your team," Evan shouted.
"Same here," Chief Stahl answered. The chief switched to the team’s radio net, "Sport, use your frags. As soon as those go off, everyone get to the target room." Steve cursed under his breath as the Brit giggled. He actually giggled. Steve pushed Amanda into the room’s bathtub and covered her with his body. She protested until the explosions started.
"Frag out!" Sport said calmly over the radio. The grenade the Truth’s soldiers threw shook the hallway. Sport’s five grenades shook the entire building. Amanda screamed in terror and pain as the concussive shock waves tore through them. Steve felt as his PDA dumped happy juice into his bloodstream. He checked his med readout. Pretty much the entire team was suffering from some injuries from Sport’s inferno-in-a-can grenades. Nothing serious, or at least nothing that a little happy juice wouldn’t take care of.
Steve dragged Amanda out into the hallway. Anything above waist-high was pulverized, either by the massive blasts or the jagged fragments. Steve saw the remains of three Truth soldiers. Amanda gagged at the sight of humans torn apart by high-explosive. Steve just pulled her along. They didn’t have much time before the Truth’s soldiers recovered from what Sport just unleashed on them. An eternity seemed to pass as the two of them dashed down the hall and through the door of the room. Jess and Jim were standing in the doorway with their rifles, waiting patiently for the Truth’s soldiers to poke their heads out. Quentin, Stahl, and Sport were tossing furniture out of the way.
"Hey, the sprinklers stopped," Steve said, noticing the lack of the constant rain for the first time. The others paused just for a moment to look at him. Just enough so they concentrated on him and not their pain. The Steve did his job. Knives came out and tore up the water-logged carpet and padding to reveal the floor boards. The chief pulled out a long gray cord. The former soldier made a circle maybe four feet wide on the floor with the shaped charge. He attached a small detonator and motioned for everyone to get back. The explosion seemed almost quiet after Sport’s grenades. As the smoke and dust cleared, Amanda stepped up to the newly cut hole.
"We were correct," Amanda said, pulling out Darius’s Rod. Castle’s room was protected by some heavy duty magic. Fortunately, they had some heavy duty magic on their side for once. Amanda chanted in Greek. Darius’s Rod glowed, softly at first and then intensified until no one could look at the M&W agent. With a shout of Greek, the room was bathed in brilliant yellow light.
"Go!" Amanda shouted, jumping into the hole. Steve jumped right behind her, followed by Kenn, Chief Stahl, and Quentin. Surprisingly, Billy also followed the advance team. The six of them landed in a lavishly appointed living room. Steve spotted Mateo and Robyn crouching behind an overturned desk behind the team. In front of them stood a very angry Giant.
"I don’t know what you did traitor, but you won’t survive this betrayal," Giant growled. Kenn and Chief Stahl didn’t waste time bantering. The two men brought up their weapons and poured automatic fire into their nemesis. Giant screamed as the bullets slammed into his torso. Steve and Billy fell back to Mateo and Rachel. Before they could reach their field commander, Giant bellowed and a wave of energy knocked all of them off their feet.
Steve rolled over to face their enemy. Giant snapped his whip and the inch-thick cord went rigid. Steve had seen Giant do this with the whip before. He twisted his F2000 around and fired the entire magazine at Giant. The Truth’s head Champion snarled in pain, but ignored the thirty 5.56 mm bullets as they slammed into his legs and torso. Giant was focused on Amanda. The M&W agent was still struggling to get up from the concussive blast. She didn’t have Zombie Strike’s armor or Steve’s happy juice to clear her mind. She shakily got to her feet just as Giant struck. She never knew what hit her. Steve watched as the rigid leather lanced through her head. Her body went instantly slack. Giant flicked his wrist and Amanda’s body was thrown to the side.
"Now Zombie Strike, you will pay for hurting my master."