Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 2045 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days

Steve Mountain barely brought up his carbine before Giant’s whip lashed down him. The mystical leather cord sliced through the weapon and the front of his armor like an industrial laser. Steve let the halves of his weapon clatter to the ground as he slid back from the enraged Champion of the Truth. Giant brought the whip back up. Well, Steve wondered how he was going to buy it. A rescue mission was as good as anything else. Jim’s big lever action boomed and Giant was snapped back by the big .500 S&W bullet. The whip missed cutting Steve down the middle. Instead, it took off all the fingers on his left hand.

Steve screamed in pain. The unnatural sound echoed through the room. His old trained reactions took over. Steve triggered the pain meds to dump into his system. He didn’t have a whole lot of time. Suddenly, Jess was helping him take off his gauntlet and glove. Just as he’d shown her time and time again, Jess applied the tourniquet. As Steve looked up, he saw a mountain of white fur between him and Giant. Billy was doing his super-size thing again. Jess grunted as she grabbed his armor’s drag handle and pulled him back from Giant’s whip. Kenn and Jim were pouring fire into their nemesis. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would drive him back. Kenn’s KRISS sounded strange next to the clackety-clack-boom of Jim’s lever action. As those two ran dry, Chief Stahl and Quentin started their turn. It was hard for Steve to concentrate on the action. The pain was barely eased by the drugs running through his system. In the haze of pain, Steve wondered if anyone bothered to pick up his fingers. Maybe if they got them on ice quickly, the docs could sew them back on.

"Boss wants you Jess. I’m to watch him," Sport said, dropping next to Steve. The Brit slung his grenade launcher and was now cradling his scattergun.

"I can’t leave him like this. What if he crashes? Kenn’s going to have to just fight this one without me," Jess replied keeping her eyes on the readout from Steve’s PDA.

"Not Kenn," Sport replied before firing a heavy slug at Giant. He got a bellow of pain for his effort. Jess cursed under her breath. She turned Steve’s head so he could look at her face.

"Steve, I think you’re as stable as we’re going to get here," Jess told him. Steve nodded, gritting back the effort it took for that much movement. He’d gone a little too heavy on the drugs. Okay, so he wasn’t as immune to panic as he imagined. "I’ve to go see what Mateo wants." The whip cracked again. There was another scream of pain. Jess’s face paled as she looked up.

"Too bad for the Frenchie," was all Sport said. Jess sprinted to the back of the room. Surprisingly, Billy stayed where he was between Steve and Giant. Steve could feel his own body rumble as the spirit-wolf pup growled.

"Just accept your fate," Giant said his voice full of vengeance. "You can’t kill me. All you can do is delay the inevitable. Once you have used up all of your little bullets, I will kill all of you slowly and painfully."

"Oh don’t worry Giant," Chief Stahl said, "We brought lots of ammo." As if to demonstrate, the chief fired a long burst into Giant. "We can keep this up a long time."

"I will punish you Undecided, and your team will be destroyed!" Giant shouted in frustration. "You will not leave here alive!"

"MIKHAIL!" a new voice shouted. Everything went quiet as all Giant and Zombie Strike recognized the voice of Mateo Cortez. The Zombie Strike field leader waited as tension built. Steve watched as Mateo walked up behind his shooters.

"Mateo, you are needed alive, but not necessarily whole," Giant threatened, his voice dripping with menace. "Take your woman and put yourself in the hands of my Champions. If you don’t, I’ll kill your team – and your woman. While you watch." Steve watched his friend and leader. The man didn’t as much as twitch.

"Mikhail, as much as it annoys me to do this, I will give you one chance to take Castle and leave," Mateo said. Giant erupted into an uncontrollable spasm of laughter. Mateo just stood there calmly as the big man brought himself back under control.

"Don’t you understand Mateo? You’ve lost. Your precious team has lost. You are in the Truth’s control, and you will fulfill your role as the prophecies have foretold. Why are you fighting so hard against your destiny?" Giant asked.

"God gave me free will to do as I choose. I don’t believe in destiny. I do believe in the ability of my sharpshooters," Mateo said. Giant stood straight, confused by Mateo’s statement. "Right now, one is aiming at your precious Castle’s head." Mateo motioned to the unconscious form of the Truth’s supreme leader and high priest.

"The other is aiming at me," Mateo said, delivering the line as if he were ordering a meal, "If you don’t cooperate, they’ll both fire. You can shield me or Castle. Not both. Lose your high priest or me. Maybe both."

"You just told me you don’t believe you have a destiny," Giant temporized as he looked between Mateo and the limp form of Castle.

"Yeah, but you do. You believe that through every fiber of your body," Mateo answered. "You know I’ll do it, too." Long, tense seconds ticked by as Giant and Mateo stared at each other. No one dared move.

"So how do we do this?" Giant finally asked. Mateo’s face broke into a predatory grin.

"First, you’ll send out the Gazelle Two-Seven order," Mateo said. Giant’s eyes went wide in surprise. Mateo’s smile widened. "Oh yeah, I know all about your little codes. We’ll wait for five minutes after you give it, and then you can pick up Castle and walk right on out of here. Though, before you think you can just rally your folks outside and ambush us, just remember. I still have moles on the inside of your little organization. We’re worse than the old KGB that way. They all have orders to kill Castle if you try to betray me, and they had full access to everything you were keeping in this little resort."

"You’re lying! I don’t believe you," snarled Giant.

"Yes you do," Mateo answered, "Or more to the point, you can’t take the chance I’m telling the truth. Now, give the order." Giant raised his wrist.

"This is Mikhail. Gazelle Two-Seven. Gazelle Two-Seven." The team could hear the pounding of foot falls as the Truth evacuated their compound. Mateo looked down at his watch. The rest of the team kept their guard. No sense for some idiot Truther to come barging in and getting everyone killed. As much as he hated to admit it, Steve was kind of glad for the tension as the five minutes slowly ticked by. At least it gave him something other than his hand to focus on.

"Five minutes," Mateo said calmly, looking up from his watch. Giant carefully lifted Castle’s form and started for the door.

"One more thing Mikhail," Mateo said just before Giant opened the door.

"What?" he asked, spinning back towards his hated enemy.

"Stay off my island."

Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 96 – Epilogue