Odessa, Ukraine; 4 October 2011, 0900 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 27 days
Quentin McLintock waited patiently in the viewing room. The room was a cold, gray utilitarian thing. It was much like the rest of the museum, a left-over from the dark days of Soviet architecture, where the only positive trait was durability. Maybe not, Quentin thought, as the harsh fluorescent light flickered above.
“Mr. McLintock,” one of the assistant curators said walking into the room. The man was meticulously dressed in an expensive Italian suit. “I’m sure that I don’t have to explain the proper procedures for handling such a rare artifact.” The man’s perfect Oxford English held the perfect note of condescension.
“No, you don’t,” Quentin answered flatly. He didn’t quite loom over the much smaller Ukrainian man, but Quentin made his displeasure felt. The assistant curator gave a weak smile as he backed away. Quentin let the silence linger on a moment past uncomfortable.
“Where is the tablet?” Quentin asked. As if in answer, two guards stepped into the room holding a heavy steel box between them. Grunting, the guards placed the box on the metal table with an audible clank. Quentin donned an apron, mask, and surgical gloves as the assistant curator unlocked the steel box.
“You can leave now,” Quentin said pointedly.
“I’m not comfortable with leaving such a rarity without proper supervision,” the assistant curator said.
“That’s not the deal my employers made with your board,” Quentin said, “The endowment was made on the contingent that I was given full and unimpeded access to anything I wanted.” The assistant curator waved the two guards outside. As soon as the door shut, the small man spun and leveled a small pistol at Quentin.
“I don’t know why Zombie Strike wants the tablet, but you won’t succeed,” the man snarled. Quentin kept his eyes locked with the other man. He needed the man to focus on him.
â€œYouâ€™re not a Champion,â€ Quentin commented. The man laughed. It sounded slightly hysterical. Not a good sign.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m not one of those fools,â€ the assistant curator said, â€œIâ€™m just one of Dr. de Castillaâ€™s friends. Now are you going to surrender peacefully or am I going to have to kill you?â€
â€œNeither,â€ Quentin answered and pointed behind the assistant curator. Sport emerged from the shadows cradling a shotgun.
â€œYou mind not pointing that thing at my mate?â€ Sport asked, â€œOtherwise I might have to end you here.â€ The man was frozen with fear as he stared at the twelve-gaugeâ€™s gaping maw. Quentin snatched the pistol out of the manâ€™s hand before slugging him across the face. Quentin could feel the shattering of the jaw as the man crumpled to the ground.
â€œThat is why I donâ€™t want to spar with you,â€ commented Sport as he slung the shotgun. Quentin placed the handgun on the table and turned back to the tablet. Sport would handle securing the prisoner. Quentin had work to do. The Chekotsy Tablet was maybe three feet long and two feet wide. The hieroglyphs that were etched into its stone surface were radically different than anything else from Mesoamerica. It was used as evidence by all manner of conspiracy theorists from UFO enthusiasts to people looking for Atlantis. Quentin pulled out the small gold medallion Chief Stahl recovered in Barcelona. The tablet and the medallion shared many of the same symbols.
â€œHow did Castle know to come here?â€ Quentin asked himself, â€œWhy did he need to come here?â€ Quentin grunted with exertion as he lifted the tablet out of the steel box. It must have weighed a good hundred pounds. What kind of stone was this made out of?
â€œYou have found the next part of the path,â€ the Guardians chorused, floating through the walls and hovering in the viewing room. The viewing room fell away. As reality came back into focus, Quentin was standing in a hospital room. It reminded Quentin of the museum. Dirty linoleum and neutral walls were lit by sterile white lights. The younger Castle was standing next to one of the six hospital beds in the room. The occupant was covered in bandages from head to foot, almost like a modern-day mummy. Castle looked down at the man with a sorrowful expression.
â€œWhy did you have to try and kill me Michael?â€ Castle asked quietly.
â€œYouâ€™re going to destroy everything,â€ the wounded man said in a painful whisper.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m going to save this world from destruction,â€ Castle said, â€œThereâ€™s just some distasteful things that need to be done before that can happen.â€
â€œThe firm will stop you,â€ the wounded man replied. Castle laughed. A cold, sorrowful laugh that seemed to come almost against his will.
â€œWhy not threaten me with the Knights of Malta?â€ Castle asked, â€œThey have as much a chance to stop me as your precious MacKenzie and Winston.â€ Quentinâ€™s eyes widened in shock. How long had M&W been involved in fighting the Truth?
â€œMichael, weâ€™ve been friends for years. I hate seeing you like this. Let me help you,â€ Castle said, pleadingly, â€œYou donâ€™t want to spend your remaining time in this place, do you?â€ There was a long silence. It was finally broken by Michaelâ€™s quiet sobs.
â€œNo,â€ Michael whispered. â€œDear Lord, Miguel, donâ€™t let me die in this hellhole.â€ Castle gripped his friendâ€™s bandaged hand.
â€œMichael Winston, do you willingly accept service in the Truth and accept Xipe Totec as your god?â€
â€œYes,â€ came the soft reply.
â€œDo you accept the path that is set before you? Will you walk it until the moment of Truth?â€
â€œYes.â€ With that word, Castle pulled out the gold medallion heâ€™d retrieved in Barcelona. Reverently, Castle placed the metal disk on his friendâ€™s chest as he mouthed a silent prayer. The medallion glowed, softly at first but grew in intensity until Quentin couldnâ€™t look at it. As soon as Quentin could see, Michael was hovering over the bed. The other patients in the room were screaming in terror.
Quentin watched transfixed as the bandages dissolved. Michaelâ€™s body was a mess of burns and deep gashes. The glow from the medallion surrounded the destroyed body and pulsed. Michaelâ€™s skin sealed the wounds. The burns melted away to reveal healthy skin. In a few seconds, all of the grievous injuries were completely gone. The pulsing increased. Michaelâ€™s body stretched. New muscle expanded as Michaelâ€™s body grew and reformed. Quentin suddenly realized what he was seeing. The pulsing stopped suddenly. Michael landed onto the tile floor in a crouch. The gold medallion was imbedded in his chest. He slowly rose to his new seven foot height, marveling at his new body. Castle gave his friend a tired smile.
â€œYou are now my Great Champion,â€ Castle said, â€œWelcome to the world Mikhail.â€
[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 103]