Fort Deadhead, Festus, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0600 hours local; Countdown: 18 hours

Mateo Cortez had barely fallen asleep when he was shaken awake by a thunder clap. Then another jarred him completely awake. What in God’s name was going on? Was the Truth calling down lightning on the base? Out of reflex, Mateo started pulling on his gear. Then, his tired mind finally realized that the Army was unleashing a furious artillery barrage. Now Mateo understood why General Allen looked so amused when Mateo said he was going to try and get some sleep.

"Yep, thought so," Chief Stahl said as he entered Mateo’s room. He shoved a cup of steaming coffee into Mateo’s hands. "Figured the arty would have woken you up. Drink up. I’ve got the team in the prep area."

"We aren’t scheduled to go until noon," Mateo observed.

"Better to have everything ready in case we need to move up the insert," the chief said, "With what the General’s committing to the attack, our window might just come early. Sooner on the ground, the sooner we can start killing Truth bad guys." Mateo nodded and tossed back the scalding liquid. He could feel the burn course down him.

"Okay, let’s do this," Mateo said. He finished buckling on his armor and followed the chief outside. His team was waiting near the MacKenzie and Winston tilt-rotor that would take them into St. Louis. As he looked over his team, Mateo was suddenly struck with the realization there was a good chance that none of them would be coming out of the city alive. He’d known that on an intellectual basis. For some reason, the emotional gut punch of it finally hit him.

"Hey boss, you look terrible," The Steve said, noticing Mateo. The team medic’s face was lit with his almost trademark smile. He was busily stuffing medical supplies and ammo into various pouches on his armor.

"Didn’t sleep much, and then the army started trying to imitate an earthquake," Mateo said. The Steve chuckled at the half-hearted joke.

"You want me to give you some-," the medic’s words were cut-off by a howling scream. The Steve’s eyes went wide. He grabbed Mateo and shoved his team leader to the ground. Before Mateo could ask what was going on, he felt the ground buck while heat and ear-splitting noise wash over him.

"Mortar!" someone screamed. "We’re under mortar fire!" Soldiers were dashing across the fort’s open areas. Some were desperately trying to find cover. Others were busily hunting for their assailants. A dozen of the soldiers disappeared in a geyser of flame, dirt, and concrete.

"Let me up," Mateo ordered, "We need to find who’s dropping those bombs on us." The Steve pushed Mateo back down.

"No, that’s the soldiers’ job. We have to stay good until it’s time," The Steve said. Anger flashed through Mateo, but he could see that The Steve was right.

"Get in the chopper!" yelled a familiar voice, "The base is under attack! We need to get airborne now!" Mateo shrugged off his medic and looked up. Special Agent Tredegar in ill-fitting army field gear was sprinting towards the team. Evan Torrelli was running behind the FBI agent.

"Where’s the Army soldiers we’re supposed to have?" Mateo asked. The general agreed to provide Zombie Strike with some people who could direct air support, artillery, and resupply.

"Busy trying to protect the base. I’m taking over for them," Tredegar said impatiently, "Now get on the bird before they drop a mortar bomb on it!" Most of Zombie Strike was already strapping in as Mateo, The Steve, Tredegar, and Evan bounded up the cargo ramp. Mateo was barely seated when the aircraft leapt into the sky. The team was thrown against their restraints as the tilt-rotor twisted and jinked. The craft vibrated as the engines roared, the pilot clawing for every bit of airspeed he could generate.

"Dear God," Quentin said, barely audible in the cargo hold. Mateo looked where the big man was staring and swore. Thirty of the ten-foot tall Red Gollum monsters were charging into Fort Deadhead. Slain soldiers were scattered everywhere. Outside the walls, Mateo could see the Truth soldiers lobbing mortars and exchanging fire with the base guards. More hideous monsters easily climbed the walls and tore soldiers apart. Cold calculation told Mateo that Fort Deadhead would be overrun in less than two hours.

"At least we’re airborne," Stahl said, as he observed the onslaught. Mateo gave the chief a withering look, but it had no effect on the veteran soldier.

"We can still accomplish our mission," the chief said, "That’s all that really matters."

St. Louis, Missouri, 31 December 2011, 0620 hours local; Countdown: 17 hours, 40 minutes

Castle watched as Mikhail, the leader of the Truth’s Champions, walked across the deserted department store’s floor. Castle read Mikhail’s body language and decided his second-in-command must have good news. Castle forced himself to be patient and leaned back in the leather recliner. Now he understood why the Americans loved these chairs.

"The attack on the American base went off without a hitch," Mikhail said, "The Americans never suspected a thing until things started exploding."

"And Zombie Strike?" Castle asked.

"Their helicopter got airborne as expected," Mikhail reported, "We don’t know who was aboard or who may have been killed in the attack."

"We’ll know soon enough," Castle said, trying to sound calm and collected. "Are your people in place?"

"Yes, my lord," Mikhail answered, "As soon as their helicopter is in range, my Champions will take it down. Then we’ll seize Zombie Strike and have everything we’ll need for the ritual. Poor fools will never see what’s coming."

Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 112