This week’s Metal Tuesday is a little unusual. First, this is not a single song, but a playlist of an album. Plus, it’s not metal, but techno. So, why is it on here?
Because this album helped me write so many action scenes.
Mateo grunted as the speeding van hit another bump in the road. His shoulder protested as his armor jostled from the sudden jolt. Mateo looked at the others in the converted cargo van. The four men from M&W looked like faceless stormtroopers in digi-cam. Under normal circumstances, Mateo was sure it would be impressive to see them charging out with their armor and suppressed carbines. Problem was zombies didn’t impress easily – or at all. It all seemed far too complex for the task assigned to the team.
Mateo and The Steve were contacted by M&W’s armed response team less than thirty-six hours after Mateo left the clinic. The next twenty-four hours were a whirlwind of getting the duo fitted with the armor, checked out on the carbines, and a very quick mission brief before piling into the van that rocketed north to Forreston. The team was being sent in to retrieve M&W’s investigative agents. The agents missed their last two check-ins and weren’t responding to any attempts to contact them. It was enough for M&W to send in the cavalry.
“Ten minutes lads,” announced Collin Pryce, the leader of M&W’s armed response team. The four M&W members were all British. Mateo’s initial impression of the team members was professional, but very cool to Mateo and The Steve. Mateo ignored the coolness. They were probably trying to figure out why Mateo and The Steve were brought in. The Steve was, well, The Steve. That was about the best Mateo could hope for from the gregarious medic. As it was, everything moved so fast Mateo couldn’t remember the other three’s names. He kept them straight by referring to them as Slim, Spiff, and Sport.
“Still no contact with the agents, sir,” reported Spiff, the team’s communications specialist. “There are no signals at all from the village. It’s like they fell off the EM spectrum.” Pryce nodded and touched his forearm bracer. A satellite photo of Forreston sprang up in Mateo’s face shield. The town looked completely deserted. In a town of five hundred souls, that apparent desolation was not a good sign.
“Gentlemen,” Pryce said, drawing Mateo’s attention from the photo, “Our last communication with our agents had them investigating an abandoned grocer’s market. We will secure the building, locate our agents, and extract them. If we run across the smugglers, we will destroy their cargo and attempt to apprehend them.” The satellite photo vanished from Mateo’s view. “Do not hesitate to use lethal force if the smugglers refuse to surrender.”
“Great, what about if your agents aren’t there?” Mateo asked.
“Then we still secure the building until others can determine where we will go next,” Pryce answered with an annoyed tone. Mateo scowled behind his face plate.
The van jolted as it screeched into the supermarket’s parking lot. The driver gunned the van to the entrance, slamming on the brakes just shy of the building. The rear doors of the van sprang open, and a ramp slammed down on the asphalt. Mateo and Slim charged down the ramp. Mateo was acting as point for this operation with Slim backing him up. The supermarket was the familiar concrete block with large windows in front. Mateo slowed as he saw the bullet holes in the glass. His instincts were screaming warnings.
“What are you doing Yank?” Slim said, nearly tripping over Mateo.
“Bullet holes in the glass,” Mateo said, pointing with his carbine, “Your agents may have walked into an ambush. I don’t want to repeat that mistake.” Slim made a noise that could have been a grunt or a growl, but the tall man matched Mateo’s cautious stride. The two men slipped through the broken glass doors and crept into the dimly lit building. Mateo could make out the checkout aisles in the faint light, but the darkness swallowed everything back. A beam of light shot out from behind Mateo. Mateo swore under his breath and scrambled away from Slim. Didn’t M&W teach their people anything about clearing a building? Slim was lucky. No assassins hiding in the darkness rained bullets down on the tall man. Mateo took cover behind one of the checkout stations as The Steve reamed Slim for his mistake. The medic certainly had a colorful vocabulary.
Pryce knelt down next to Mateo. Mateo said nothing as he continued his search of the darkness. There were no unusual sounds or movements, nor any unusual shapes in the faint ambient light. Mateo knew Pryce wanted him to slap on his nightvision and continue forward. Mateo didn’t trust nightvision inside a building. He lost depth perception with the nightvision. Worse, it would cut out the instant Mateo stepped into a part of the building without enough ambient light for the device to work with. The heavy helmet and face plate took away enough of Mateo’s hearing and peripheral vision as it was.
“Would you care to proceed, Mr. Cortez?” Pryce asked, his British accent dripping with sarcasm and annoyance.
“If you mean charging blindly into the darkness, then no,” Mateo answered flatly, “Something’s not right. I can feel it.”
“Listen you bloody piker,” Pryce said in a low and angered tone, “I will not have my team lollygagging around because you have the willies. We may bloody well have agents down.” Pryce turned to Slim. “Owen, you’re on point. Mr. Cortez is afraid of the dark.” The tall man nodded and slapped the nightvision device to his face plate. With his carbine up and ready, Slim began walking deeper into the store.
“Pryce, the store’s too quiet,” Mateo said, grabbing the team leader’s arm, “We should be hearing some human sounds, but we’re not. There aren’t even any sounds from vermin. We’re walking into an ambush.”
“Coward,” Pryce spat at Mateo, shrugging out of Mateo’s grip. Rage flared in Mateo. This idiot was calling him a coward? When did this fool fight back wave after wave of zombies? Mateo barely managed to keep himself from decking Pryce right then and there. Mateo’s hot retort died on his lips as Slim reported.
“We’ve got a bleeder!” Slim exclaimed, “Looks like one of the smugglers. He’s been hurt pretty bad.” Something about the words flashed in Mateo’s head. He shouldered past Pryce and sprinted towards Slim. The Steve was right behind Mateo. The two caught up with Slim and shone their lights on the smuggler. The smuggler was trapped under some collapsed shelving units. His neck and face were covered with blood. The smuggler was desperately reaching out to Slim.
“Don’t!” was all Mateo could scream as Slim bent down to take the smuggler’s hand. The grab took Slim by surprise. The smuggler – now a zombie – jerked Slim off his feet. Slim screamed as the zombie tried to tear into him with savage bites. The zombie’s frenzied biting just couldn’t penetrate the armor. Slim tried desperately to escape, but the zombie held fast.
“Y’know Matt, that’s kind of funny,” The Steve said, pointing at Slim and the zombie. When Mateo didn’t say anything, The Steve shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
“Just kill it,” Mateo said tersely. Mateo snapped on his carbine’s light and searched around. He wasn’t worried about a human ambush anymore. At that point, visibility was more important than stealth. The Steve took aim, and the suppressed carbine coughed. A single round tore apart the zombie’s head. The Steve shouldered his carbine and pulled Slim away from the zombie. Slim tried to get under control as The Steve checked him.
“Relax dude, you’re shiny,” The Steve pronounced. Pryce, Spiff, and Sport hustled up to the trio. Like Mateo, they had their lights on and were busy searching the area surrounding them. Mateo shook his head as he drew his pistol. The team, minus The Steve, jumped as Mateo fired two rounds into the unmoving zombie. The echoes of the thunderclaps bounced around the store. Mateo could feel Pryce’s glare from behind the face plate. He didn’t care. Buried instincts were coming back.
“That should draw every zombie in this store down on us,” Mateo said, “Split into pairs and spread out. Engage anything that doesn’t answer a challenge.” The commanding tone brooked no questions. Pryce took Sport and moved towards the back of the store. Slim and Spiff strode over to the next aisle.
“Welcome back boss-dude,” The Steve said, sidling up to Mateo.
“Head back that way,” Mateo said, pointedly ignoring The Steve’s comments, “You and I better clear the offices.” The Steve answered with a thumbs-up. The two skulked to the front of the store where the offices were located. Mateo didn’t trust M&W’s team to handle a fight with a zombie in the tight confines of an office. As they neared the offices, Mateo noticed the door was shut. That was unusual enough. Then, there was the odd green glow leaking out from behind the door. Mateo pointed to the light and The Steve nodded. This called for quick action.
The Steve shouldered the door in. Mateo charged in behind him with weapon up and ready. Mateo saw the bright flash an instant before his chest was hammered twice. The armor stopped the bullets and absorbed most of the impact. The remaining energy seemed to jump to Mateo’s shoulder. The pain forced Mateo to his knees. The shooter stepped out of his cover and into the green chemlight. Collin DuBois loomed over Mateo with pistol in hand.
[Zombie Strike Part 2 Chapter 13]
If you bound the arms and legs of gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, weighed him down with chains, threw him in a pool, and he sank, you wouldn’t call it a “failure of swimming.” So, when markets have been weighed down by inept and excessive regulation, why call this a “failure of capitalism?”
People are musing on how like the current situation is to prior pandemics – such as the Spanish flu pandemic, the SARS pandemic, or a flu pandemic in 1957 (which I had not heard of).
The more I’ve been watching the responses from the authorities, the more I’m feeling this is less like 1918 and more like 1914. This is where in a short period of time, the world is facing down a threat and all the people in charge can think of doing is the same old responses. Then there’s the fact that the people in charge aren’t exactly the cream of the crop you would want holding the reins of power during a great time of crisis.
Mateo Cortez woke with a start. Pain flashed through his body as he realized he escaped the nightmare. As he lay back in the unfamiliar bed, Mateo decided it was probably time to seek professional help. The nightmares were getting worse. Mateo finally looked around the room. It looked like a hospital room. Some sort of IV drip was hooked up to his left arm. Other unfamiliar machines beeped and displayed what Mateo assumed were his vitals. There was something though that said this wasn’t a hospital room. Could it be an infirmary in the county jail? Mateo could remember the end of the fight with the zombies in the office complex. The men who appeared at the end were definitely cops. Did they arrest him? He didn’t have any restraints on him.
“Yo, boss-dude, glad to see you’re awake,” The Steve said as he entered the room. Mateo relaxed a bit. If The Steve was here, it wasn’t jail. Unfortunately, that meant Mateo had no clue where he was. The Steve ambled into the room with a casual walk. He was dressed in a black t-shirt, tan cargo shorts, and flip-flops. The Steve picked up Mateo’s chart from the foot of the bed and read silently for a minute. Outward appearance notwithstanding, The Steve was an excellent medic – as Mateo could attest to personally.
“Well my man, it looks like you managed to dislocate your shoulder,” The Steve pronounced, “Doc put it back in and knocked you out with some pain killers. You’re shiny. It’s just gonna hurt a lot. You should be out of here, no prob.”
“Where exactly is here?” Mateo asked, “I take it this isn’t Tampa General. Are we even still in Florida?”
“Oh, yeah, we’re still in Tampa,” The Steve answered, putting down the chart, “Mackenzie and Winston rented out one of those medical parks and stashed you. They even had a doc come in and fix you up.” Mateo was trying to forget about being involved with the shadowy insurance firm. Now, they just showed back up when he least expected it. What was that line from The Godfather?
“Exactly how did M&W know about this little incident?” Mateo asked in a controlled voice.
“C’mon my man – zombies?” The Steve said as if that explained everything, “As soon as the cops reported zombies in Tampa, M&W swooped in, plucked you out of police custody, and snagged me to watch over you. I think they’re tracking something.” Mateo arched an eyebrow in a silent question. Zombies showing up in Florida spontaneously was ludicrous. If M&W was involved, then it was likely the zombies Mateo fought were linked to something bigger. Possibly, something world threatening.
Mateo’s stomach dropped as Nigel Brown walked into the room. Mateo had nothing against Brown personally. The representative for M&W had done right by Mateo and his team the last time. That said, the last time Mateo ended up leading his team against an acolyte of an Aztec god, and not everyone made it out alive, in one piece, or even sane. Every instinct in Mateo was screaming the immaculately dressed Brit’s appearance in Tampa boded ill.
“I’m glad to see you’re awake, Mr. Cortez,” Nigel said with a sharp English accent. Brown was smiling, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. Nigel was worried about something. That wasn’t good. Nigel didn’t worry about small things. Mateo decided not to waste time dickering around with pleasantries.
“What do you want Nigel?” Mateo asked, trying to soften the blunt words with a calm tone, “Or more to the point, what does M&W want with me? Enough to do all of this?” Mateo motioned to the room. The bluntness caught Nigel off-guard. His brown spectacled eyes darted around as he collected himself.
“Um, well, yes, I can see how it appears,” Nigel temporized, “Please believe me that M&W didn’t provide this medical care to place you in our debt. You’ve done us a service, and this is the least we could do.” Nigel paused long enough to clean his glasses with a handkerchief.
“As you’ve clearly surmised, there is more to those zombies you dispatched earlier,” Nigel said, “M&W has reason to believe that an unknown party absconded with at least one zombie from Skull Island.” Mateo frowned. Skull Island was the one place on Earth known to be habitated by zombies. It was also home to Zombie Strike!, the reality-slash-game-slash-extreme sport show.
“How did they do that?” Mateo asked. The revenues from the television show and hunting trips, along with M&W’s covert support, paid for highly-trained teams of game wardens to prevent people from snatching a zombie off the island.
“We don’t know. We weren’t even aware of what happened until an outbreak occurred in Panama around the Canal Zone. At that point, we started an investigation and discovered the theft,” Nigel continued, “Now the outbreak here. Needless to say, this has the firm’s attention.”
“So, what?” Mateo asked with a touch of frustration, “You want me to track down a possible smuggler? I’m not a PI. I wouldn’t have any idea of how to investigate something like this.” Nigel was unfazed by Mateo’s retort.
“That part wouldn’t be your concern,” Nigel said, “The firm already has retained some of the finest investigators available. Former members of your Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as some from Thames House.” Those people would be from the British Security Service, also known as MI5. “We already have an investigative team tracking the perpetrators. What the firm requests from you would be to lead the armed response team being assembled to assist the investigators.” Mateo’s eyes narrowed.
“Lead a team again?” Mateo asked with a deadly quiet voice, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“No,” Nigel said shaking his head, “I don’t think you’re ready. Yet, you are one of the rare individuals on the planet who can do combat with the undead, and you have led a team previously into combat with zombies. Those qualities cannot be overlooked. Especially with time being a critical factor. We must stop these perpetrators before another outbreak occurs.”
“C’mon boss-man, I got you’re back,” The Steve said, striking his familiar pose – brilliant smile and both thumbs up.
“I can’t,” Mateo said, “You’re right Nigel, I can face zombies without fleeing in terror, and I can fight them, but I can’t lead a team for you. I’ll help your team out as a shooter. I can do that much.” The Steve looked crestfallen, but Nigel nodded in understanding.
“Will you be willing to be an operator on the armed response team?” Nigel asked The Steve, “Even if Mr. Cortez is not the leader?”
“Yeah,” The Steve said grudgingly, “Someone’s got to show the newbs how things are done.”
“Well then, I will leave you two to catch up,” Nigel said, “The doctor will be by in the morning to check the shoulder. Barring anything unforeseen Mr. Cortez, you should be released shortly after that. Please expect our team leader to contact you within forty-eight hours.” Mateo and The Steve said goodbye as Nigel walked out of the room.
Nigel stepped out into the muggy Florida night. He couldn’t understand how civilized human beings could live in such an environment. The humidity was bad enough Nigel wondered if he would need gills to just walk around. Grumbling, Nigel pulled the phone out of his jacket. He still had one phone call to make before he could retire for the evening.
“I assume you owe me twenty bucks now,” said the deep melodic voice in greeting, “How’s our boy?”
“He dislocated his shoulder during his brief skirmish, Mr. Blanchard,” Brown asked, annoyed more at himself than anything else, “Mr. Cortez should be fine for our purposes. How did you know how he would react to our proposal?”
“My brother, I know my people,” Kenn Blanchard answered. Kenn, aka The Black Man With A Gun, was popularly known as the host of Zombie Strike! and head honcho at Skull Island. Unbeknowst to the general public, Kenn was also M&W’s operational commander for dealing with the growing number of zombie incidents. Kenn liked to see himself as a sort of Nick Fury-like leader of the anti-zombie forces. After being forced to watch some of the American superhero movies, Nigel could see a bit of the character in Kenn’s bearing, but Nigel believed it was the compassionate preacher side of the man that truly allowed Kenn to bring out the best in those under him.
“I won’t deny Mr. Cortez’s ability as a zombie hunter, but I still believe we’re doing him a disservice by bringing him into this operation,” Nigel protested, hoping to change Kenn’s mind.
“Nigel, that man’s been Chosen, with a capital C,” Kenn said with an earnest sincerity, “You’ve read over what we recovered from that temple. You can call it fate if that makes it easier for you, but Matt’s one of the keys. He just needs a nudge down the right path.”
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give the charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
The Wife is going full telework for the duration. Plus our Toastmasters club is going to hold at least one virtual meeting.
Everyone’s talking about toilet paper being scarce, try to find a basic webcam.
Nope, not sick. Not even close. Doesn’t mean I’m not doing things like stepping up my hand washing regimen, keeping some extra social distance, and watching who I go around.
Which is why The Wife, The Brother, and I killed our trip out west later this month. When two of the people you’re supposed to be visiting are in their nineties, and your flight is supposed to go through Seattle…
Fortunately, companies are doing their best to make sure that we stay their customer by making it easy to cancel flights and such. So, all of that money we saved up for our trip will just have to sit in the bank until later this year.
Which, honestly, if this isn’t cleared up by then, we’ll need the money for other things.
Work is making noises about sending my team off to telework for the duration. Which should be interesting – and good for my fuel bill.
I’ll be honest. I’m not worried about catching it. I’m not even worried about surviving it if I somehow do catch it. I am fucking terrified of somehow transmitting it to someone who’s immune system couldn’t handle it.
Take care out there.