Category: Monday Fiction

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 92

Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 1900 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days

Former Staff Sergeant Steve Mountain slid through the tall grass. He’d spent the last twelve hours playing hide and seek with the Truth’s security forces. After Sgt. Mountain made the sixth guard disappear, the Truth’s people fell back and deployed zombie hordes with minions riding herd. They made the mistake of giving him a few hours to rest, recon, and gather up a bunch of supplies from Zombie Strike’s camp site. Now it was time for Mountain to show those Truth idiots how badly they screwed up.

Mountain froze as the first few zombies staggered past him. His armor was smeared with Nasty Stuff. The mindless undead didn’t even get a whiff of him as they shambled by where he hid. The real concern was the minion controlling the fifty-head horde. Mountain slowly brought up the “hush-puppy,” a heavily modified .45 designed to be almost completely silent. The minion wasn’t even paying attention. He was just directing the horde with a small artifact. Mountain waited patiently as they passed and then continued to slip further into the Truth compound.

The tall grass ended a good two hundred meters from the edge of the compound. According to what M&W’s investigators dug up on this place, it had started out as a luxury resort away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, like Johannesburg and Cape Town. The original owners overextended themselves and been caught flatfooted when everything tanked back in ’08. One of the Truth’s front companies snatched up the property. This was one of their long-time secure places, and they were just a bit too complacent about its security. The folks guarding this place were nowhere near as good as the mercs Zombie Strike dealt with back in Panama.

Mountain tapped his PDA. Five explosions rocked the far side of the compound. As the Truth’s security people scrambled to deal with the diversion, Mountain sprinted out of the grass. They were all looking the wrong way. He grinned at their mistake. Definitely not the varsity team. The fence surrounding the perimeter would probably look imposing to these amateurs. Eight foot electrical topped with concertina wire. Mountain opened a pouch and pulled out a plastic cord. Mountain whipped the cord around one of the tall fence posts. He clicked the switch at the end. The thermite cord burst to life melting the post and wire with its 1,400 degree burn. As the fence collapsed, Mountain dashed into the actual compound. He slid behind a parked truck as a pair of guards emerged from the main building with weapons up. These two were amateurs, but they were smart amateurs. They kept to actual cover and made sure they kept their lines of fire open. Mountain popped around the front of the truck. The lead guard’s chest filled the holographic sight. The suppressed M4 burped. The guard went down. His partner returned the burst into the truck. Mountain could hear the guard calmly reporting the contact and requesting back-up. It was almost a shame to kill someone who was trying so hard to be actually effective. Mountain pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it at the guard.

The guard screamed a curse an instant before dark blue smoke spurted out of the grenade. Distracted and blinded, the guard was cut down as Mountain charged into the building. Two more startled guards went down in the hallway. That was the end of the easy. A minion snapped a mystical shield up and deflected the burst Mountain fired at him. Funny thing about those shields. They were real good about defeating bullets and other high-speed projectiles, but the minions seemed real scared when Zombie Strike poured on the fire or just got a bit too close. Mountain let his M4 drop on its sling and whipped out a collapsible baton. The minion’s eyes went wide as the former special forces soldier slammed the baton against the shield. Purple sparks arched as the metal hit the magical.

“What are you doing? Are you insane?” the minion demanded. His accent was all-American and sounded young. Maybe early twenties. Mountain was leading locals against the Taliban at that age.

“The slow blade penetrates the shield,” Mountain answered, striking the shield twice more.

“This isn’t something out of Dune! This is the power of Xipe Totec!” the minion screeched, shaking his artifact.

“And that’s a shaped charge,” Mountain replied pointing to the small box on the wall. The minion never saw the former soldier slap it onto the wall. He’d just backed away from the constant baton strikes until the charge was inside his shield. As he realized his mistake, the minion tried to flee. He got a step before the explosive turned him into a cloud of red mist. Mountain shook his head to clear the after effects of the concussive blast. Okay, that worked once, but he only had four more of those small boxes of joy. He slinked down the hallway looking for a staircase. If he had to bet, Mateo, Robyn, and the others would be down in the basement. With rare exception, most people stashed their prisoners in basements or underground levels. Call it an unconscious instinct to throw people in the dungeon. Fortunately, the Truth left up the exit signs from the original construction. Some things were so common that they were often overlooked.

The stairwell was unlit. The snapping of a charging handle was all the warning he needed. He dropped to the concrete landing an instant before a small guard team sprayed automatic fire into the open doorway. Mountain flipped down his nightvision as the guards’ weapons went empty. Four of them with those stubby F2000’s. Mountain fired two quick bursts. One guard went down, another screamed in pain before falling back with the other two. Mountain got to his feet. Speed was life. He tossed down a flash-bang, banking the small device off the concrete wall. The startled screams were drowned out by the device’s roar. Mountain quickly dealt with the three guards.

He reloaded his carbine as he charged down the stairs. The door to the basement slammed open under his kick. A dozen zombies moaned and moved to the noise. Mountain used single rounds to put them down. Then, a bolt of brilliant energy slammed into him. As he cleared the sparkles from his eyes, he realized he was on the hard concrete floor. A minion stood back holding what looked like a bronze scepter. Mountain swore as he realized he was facing off against someone wielding Darius’s Rod. The minion stepped back and pointed the Rod at Mountain. The hallway filled with ear-splitting shrieks. It was like a thousand banshees with heavy-duty amps. His normal hearing protection was worthless against the mystical assault. He pushed his body backwards trying to flee the unbearable noise. The minion cautiously advanced keeping the power of the Rod focused on the Zombie Strike operative.

Surprisingly, Mountain felt The Steve beckoning him to go back to his place in the back of their shared mind. The soldier resisted, until the slightly-manic persona showed him what was going to happen. Reluctantly, the soldier fell back, and The Steve was back in control. The noise hurt, but The Steve just smiled. It couldn’t have been worse than that one performance art thing he let that chick in San Fran drag him to. The Steve slid for about another twenty feet and stopped. The minion didn’t notice the subtle changes as the personas switched, but he was smart enough to still be cautious. If he had only been smart enough to look down. The small shaped charge tore the minion apart.

“No power in the verse can stop The Steve now,” he said as he plucked Darius’s Rod from the dismembered hand.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 93]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 91

Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 0700 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days

Steve Mountain kept still as the guard walked closer. Next to Steve, Jess slowed down her breathing. She kept her suppressed SCAR-H on the guard’s chest as the man walked the perimeter of the Truth’s compound. Something caught this guard’s attention. For a few tense moments, the guard swept their area with his F2000 assault rifle. Not seeing anything, the guard went back to his normal patrol route. Steve motioned for Jess to fall back. That was a bit close. The two Zombie Strike field team members slid back through the tall grass. Hidden in a small wooded area, the rest of Zombie Strike waited.

“Well?” asked Chief Stahl.

“A lot tighter than what he told us,” Jess reported. “Bunch of armed guards backed up by minions and hordes of zombies. I don’t see how we’re going to infiltrate that place.”

“Assuming Matt and Robyn are even there,” murmured Sport. The diminutive Brit was the loudest voice of doubt about the supposed mole Zombie Strike rescued in Cape Town.

“Dude, lose the pessimism,” Steve said. “The Steve has a feeling we’re on the right track.” The rest of the team gave him a mixture of odd looks. That was fine. It gave them a momentary break from their worries, and that was what The Steve was all about.

“Download the gun camera and we’ll figure out how we’re going to get them out,” Chief Stahl said to Jess. The girl nodded and moved over to the computer. Stahl turned to Steve. “Do you think he was lying to us?”

“Nah, dude. Activity looked recent. The soldiers were rushing around. Nothing that looked like a standard pattern,” Steve answered. Stahl nodded and walked over to join Jess at the table. Stahl was a good soldier. He had probably been a scary good Ranger. The chief’s big problem was that he still thought soldier. Steve noticed Stahl trusted the former military guys in Zombie Strike more than those who came from the civilian side. That might be a problem in the future. The Steve would keep it in check.

“How’s the little dude?” Steve asked Jim. The cowboy smiled and motioned to one of the team’s spider holes.

“As soon as we got settled in, he curled up and passed out,” Jim answered. Steve gave Jim a thumbs-up and moved deeper into the camp. Unlike Sport, Steve was sure the little man was actually a mole for M&W, the insurance firm that funded Zombie Strike’s operations. Steve had seen faked and real torture wounds before. The injuries on the little man, who still hadn’t given them his name, were consistent with actual torture. Sport read too many James Bond stories. Double and triple agents were rare beasts. Most didn’t live very long. Part of being in Special Forces was acting as an intelligence agent. The Steve emerged during some of those long deep-cover runs back stopping CIA field agents. The Steve was just off-kilter enough that he was trustworthy. Just enough chaos to sell himself wherever he needed to go. After a couple of years, The Steve was habit. After nearly a decade, Steve was The Steve. Well, except for the times when Sgt. Mountain came out from the back reaches of his mind. Fortunately, those were rare.

Steve walked to the back of the small campsite. They were somewhere south of the Kalahari in a grassy savannah land. He watched the tall grass sway in the wind. It kind of reminded him when he spent a few months with that Mongolian tribe. That had been pretty cool. He became a decent horseman. Of course, the tribesman thought he was pathetic. Just because they were on a horse before they walked. Still, they granted he wasn’t too terrible for a round-eye. Steve’s eyes locked onto an odd ripple in the grass. He’d seen that before, in Mongolia. When hunters were stalking prey through the grasslands.

“Intruders to the rear!” Steve yelled, bringing up his M4. He placed the holographic sight over the ripple in the grass. Steve squeezed off a short burst into the grass. He was rewarded with a gollum’s screech of pain. A whip cracked and the illusion fell away. Ten gollums were in the grass with Giant in the center. Steve felt Sgt. Mountain pressing to come forward. He pushed back. Not yet. He could deal with Mikhail.

“Dude, no fair. We don’t have invisibility cloaks!” Steve shouted at Giant before firing a long burst into Zombie Strike’s nemesis. The seven-foot man lashed out with his magical whip. Steve tried to block with his carbine, but felt the leather cord wrap around his neck. Giant jerked Steve to him. Steve felt vertebrae pop as he landed at Giant’s feet. At least the monster hadn’t cut off his air.

“Not cool. The Steve wants to know how you got here. The Steve thought you were in Jo-Burg,” Steve said, reaching for his Kimber. Giant’s whip dragged Steve up to eye level with Giant. Steve just smiled as he stared into Giant’s dark eyes flashing with anger. Gollum screeches mixed with gunfire as the battle really began.

“How did you know we were there?” Giant demanded.

“It’s a secret,” Steve said in sing-song. Giant shook him violently with the whip.

“Tell me!” Giant almost shouted.

“Okay,” Steve said, gasping for breath, “New device. Look down.” Giant tilted his head down and came face-to-face with the muzzle of Steve’s pistol. The medic fired the Kimber as fast as the pistol could manage. Eight rounds of .45 slammed into Giant’s face. The huge man screamed in pain and flung Steve back into the grass. Stars exploded in front of Steve’s face as he slammed onto the dirt. As he staggered to his feet, he triggered pain meds on his PDA. A little of his world-famous Happy Juice in him and the fight was on.

Zombie Strike was fully into the fight. Quentin was battling one gollum with his warhammer. Kenn poured fire into another as Jim snaked up with his big revolver in one hand and a long, heavy Bowie knife in the other. Chief Stahl and Jess were holding back the rest with precision fire. Where was Sport? Almost as if to answer Steve’s question, the Brit stood up with his XM-25 grenade launcher in his hands. He aimed the weapon at Giant.

“Frag out!” Sport yelled. Steve’s eyes went wide an instant before Sport fired all five grenades at Giant. The first two grenades exploded twenty feet from Giant. The blast threw Steve back to the ground. Happy Juice pumping through his veins, Steve sat up just in time for the three heavy grenades to hit Giant’s hastily erected shield. These grenades were designed for use against shielded opponents. Using tiny fins, the grenades popped up at the last instant and detonated nearly straight down.

Giant screamed in pain as fragments tore through him. Steve smiled. Giant in pain was a good thing. He just wished he hadn’t been that close to all of those explosions. Sport tended to over-pack his grenades. Steve was about to stand up when he noticed the sounds of the fight were suddenly quiet. He peered through the tall grass. Dozens of guards were pointing their stubby F2000s at the Zombie Strike team. Steve cursed to himself. Surprise was always the most deadly advantage. He’d completely forgotten about all of those forces at the compound. As Steve looked over to Giant, the big man was completely consumed with plucking the razor-sharp fragments out of his body. Well, surprise could work both ways. As Zombie Strike handed over their weapons to the Truth’s guards, Steve slid back into the grass. As much as he hated to, Steve let Sgt. Mountain take over. It was time for the Truth to learn exactly how dangerous he could be.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 92]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 90

Truth Compound, South Africa, 7 July 2011, 1900 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 24 days

Mateo Cortez held Robyn close as she cried quietly. The promised doctors finally arrived that morning. They brought Robyn in shortly after breakfast. The doctors went over her X-rays and whatever other information the Truth gave them, and then inspected the damage themselves. It nearly drove Mateo mad. He forced himself to keep an encouraging smile on his face as the two doctors talked to each other in low German. Then, came the prognosis. They would have to re-break the legs to properly set them. Probably six to eight weeks with the legs immobilized in heavy casts. Months of physical therapy afterwards. Even then, Robyn would probably not regain the full use of her legs. To their credit, the doctors tried to be as kind as possible delivering the news, but to no avail. Robyn’s hopes were just as shattered as her legs. Worse, she knew her inability to move trapped Mateo in the compound better than if the Truth just put them in a jail cell.

Mateo didn’t tell Robyn about the minion who said he was working on breaking them out. Mateo trusted Robyn, but he was sure the room was bugged. He also wasn’t totally sure the minion could be trusted. Robyn knew he was keeping something from her, and took Mateo’s silence to mean that he didn’t trust her or blamed her. No matter what Mateo said, Robyn sank deeper and deeper into a black depression. All Mateo could do was try and comfort her as best as he could. He raged inside.

The door knocked to signal dinner had arrived. Mateo reluctantly laid Robyn down on the bed and walked over to the apartment’s front door. A man in a porter’s uniform pushed a cart into the apartment followed by three men in business suits. Mateo recognized the two large ones as part of the security team that regularly swept the apartment. Mateo hadn’t seen the last one before.

“Where’s Cassandra?” Mateo asked, expecting to see the diminutive woman storm through the door.

“She became suddenly ill,” the new man said. Mateo eyes froze as he heard the voice. It was the same voice who told him two days ago to prepare for a breakout. The man turned to the porter pushing the food cart. “That will be all steward. We can take care of it from here.” Without another word, the porter walked out of the room. The two thugs started their security sweep.

“What the hell is going on?” Mateo demanded quietly.

“Zombie Strike is in South Africa, but we lost contact with our man in Cape Town before he managed to meet up with them. It could be something mundane, or it could be he was discovered. It’s pushed things up a bit.” The man looked around uncomfortably. “As soon as the goon squad goes into the bathroom, I’ll need you to deal with them.”

“How exactly am I supposed to do that?” Mateo asked. The man’s eyes fell on the covered dish. Mateo took off the metal cover. An HK45 with suppressor was lying on the white china plate. Mateo snatched the weapon and tucked it into the back of his pants. “What are you going to be doing while I’m taking out the boys?”

“Putting your woman into a deep sleep,” the man answered, “It’s the only way we’ll be able to transport her with her injuries.” Mateo understood, but he didn’t like it.

Mateo walked back towards where the two thugs were doing their search of the kitchen. They ignored him as he followed them through the apartment. As soon as both stepped into the bathroom, Mateo smoothly drew the German pistol. They didn’t even notice as he put single rounds into their heads. Mateo was startled by the lack of noise. Normally, suppressors just cut the sound of the gunshot down to a manageable roar. The sound of the slide cycling was louder than the gunshots on this pistol. Mateo quickly frisked the two dead men and came away with a pair of unfamiliar pistols and extra magazines. He wrapped all the weapons in a bath towel. As Mateo came back into the bedroom, the man was wrapping Robyn in a brown blanket. The porter was helping. Mateo bit down a protest. He was committed now. He had to trust his new allies.

“Where did you get this suppressor?” Mateo asked, pointing at his pistol.

“You think the Truth is the only group that can work magic?” the man asked in reply. “Okay, I’m Jack. That’s Porter. The simple plan is he’s going to carry Robyn, I’m going to lead you out, and you’re going to kill anyone I point at.”

“Why I am the shooter?” Mateo asked.

“Because you’re the only one with actual combat experience,” Jack answered as he helped Porter lift Robyn up on his shoulders.

“Who else do we have?” Mateo asked looking at the two men, “The three of us are going to have a hard time once the alarm goes out.”

“Listen, this little rescue is blowing assets M&W spent years getting into place. You’ll excuse me if I keep you on a need-to-know basis. If everything goes Charlie-foxtrot, I’m hoping we can keep some of our assets in place.” Jack motioned for the small group to move out of the apartment.

“One last thing,” Jack said as the three entered the hallway, “If it looks like I’m about to fall into the bad guys’ hands, please kill me. Preferably quick and relatively painless. I know too many of our people in this place.” Mateo nodded. Jack, Mateo, and Porter walked down the hall casually. The hallway looked like it could have come out of any mid to high-priced hotel. Fortunately, it was deserted. Jack motioned for the others to move quickly to a stairwell. Jack held the door open as Mateo cleared the landing. Mateo could hear voices in the stairwell, but they sounded at least two floors down.

“We go down one floor and to room 444,” Jack whispered, “Kill anyone that gets in our way.” Mateo nodded and led the trio down the stairs. He kept the HK45 ready for any threat. The voices below continued to grow softer. Mateo breathing relaxed a hair. They must be going down. Two less people he’d have to kill. Mateo didn’t like killing people, even the Truth’s minions. About the only person he actually wanted to kill was Giant. The stairwell opened onto a nearly identical hall to the one they’d just left. Room 444 was five doors down from the stairwell. Satisfied the hallway was empty, Mateo dashed to the room’s door. Jack and Porter followed as Mateo covered them with his pistol. Jack jammed a keycard into the lock and shoved the door open. Porter and Mateo followed him in.

The room was similar in layout to the apartment, but it was lavishly furnished and decorated. Everything screamed expensive. Porter set Robyn down on the soft leather couch. Jack collapsed into the recliner, clearly exhausted from the stress. Mateo started to clear the small suite. He’d gone maybe a few steps when he heard the faint humming.

“Jack, there’s someone in here,” Mateo said. Jack bolted upright.

“Kelly shouldn’t have beaten us here,” Jack said. Mateo nodded grimly and crept towards the source of the humming. Jack followed quietly behind him. The two came to the slightly ajar bedroom door. The humming was definitely coming from inside. Mateo motioned for Jack to stand back. Mateo slammed the door open with a swift kick and strode into the room. He quickly acquired the source. A small round man in a white bathrobe looked up in surprise. Mateo froze as he recognized the tiny man. He lowered his pistol.

“Dr. de Castilla?” Mateo asked. It had been two years since Mateo had last seen the man. It was Zombie Strike’s first mission when they faced off against Xipe Tzin on an island near Hawaii. Dr. de Castilla was a Spanish archeologist who had become trapped by the zombies. He’d helped Zombie Strike find their way to the temple and then disappeared.

“Mateo?” the doctor asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Come on, we’ve got to go,” Mateo said, motioning for the small man to follow him. Jack burst into the room. His eyes locked onto Dr. de Castilla.

“KILL HIM!” Jack screeched, “That’s—“ Jack was flung out of the room by an invisible force before he could finish his sentence. Mateo whirled on Dr. de Castilla bringing up his HK45. The small man flicked his hand and the pistol was torn out of Mateo’s grasp. Mateo lunged to grab the doctor. De Castilla ducked under the blow and slammed a tiny palm into Mateo’s side. The blow felt like someone took a sledgehammer to his side. Mateo collapsed trying to regain his breath in between spasms of pain.

“Mateo, why didn’t you just stay in your room?” Dr. de Castilla asked his voice full of disappointment.

“Who are you?” Mateo asked between gasps.

“Well, at this point, I guess there’s no point in hiding. It’s not like you’re going anywhere,” Dr. de Castilla said. He bent down to look into Mateo’s eyes.

“I am Castle. I lead the Truth. I am Xipe Totec’s greatest acolyte.”

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 91]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 89

Cape Town, South Africa, 5 July 2011, 1300 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 26 days

Steve Mountain pulled his jacket a little tighter as a cool wind breezed through the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. With Table Mountain in the background and the beautiful architecture around him, this had to be the prettiest harbor he’d seen. Now if it was just a bit warmer. July was winter time for South Africa. It was only supposed to get up in the low sixties for the day. He kept his jacket partially zipped and hoped the butt of his Kimber wasn’t printing. Granted, most of the people sitting around him at the café were oblivious. As far as they were concerned, Steve was just another tourist.

Steve took another swallow of beer and concentrated on the boat some twenty yards down the harbor from him. Actually, it was a very pretty – and very large – yacht. What brought the yacht to Steve’s attention was it was the yacht used by the Truth to smuggle Mateo and Robyn into the country. Steve didn’t know boats – that was what SEALs were for – but he was impressed. The yacht was a sleek fifty-foot job. He’d counted six men walking about it doing what looked like sailor stuff. It looked kind of like what those Navy guys were doing the last time his team had done a fast boat insert many moons ago. He held up the book reader. The covert camera sent a steady stream of video to the team’s safe house. He touched his Bluetooth headset as the phone began to vibrate.

Ja,” Steve answered in German. Like most of the world, Zombie Strike was persona non grata in South Africa. Steve’s cover was Hans Gruber, a German businessman on holiday. The Customs inspector never even raised an eyebrow at the name. Some people had no sense of humor.

“Come on home,” Quentin answered, also in German.

Nein, I should stay and wait and see if Michael shows up,” Steve said. Michael was the cover name the team was using for Giant.

“Michael’s in Johannesburg. He won’t be home in time,” Quentin said.

“Then, let me pay my tab, and I’ll be on my way,” Steve said, carefully packing his book reader into his satchel. He didn’t want the sub-machine gun in the satchel scratching up the device. The techno-wizards back on Skull Island would never let him hear the end of it.

Twelve hours later, Steve drove the limousine up to the yacht’s gangplank. Kenn Blanchard got out of the back. Kenn was dressed in brightly colored local clothing with a big smile on his face. Steve, in a dark suit, hustled over to stand next to the Zombie Strike commander. There were two men visible on the yacht, standing just at the top of the gangplank. Both were in loose floral shirts, khaki shorts, and sandals. One started to walk down the gangplank towards Steve and Kenn. Steve could see the bulge of a submachine gun under the man’s arm.

“Can I help you, sir?” the man asked in Afrikaans-accented English.

“Absolutely,” Kenn said in his best English accent. Fortunately for the mission, Kenn’s best English accent sounded Kenyan. “I am admiring your yacht. What kind is it?”

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know. I’m just security,” the man answered politely, “I’m going to have to ask you to move along.”

“How rude!” Kenn barked, his eyes flashing indignantly as he gestured angrily, “Do you know who I am? How dare a servant talk to me this way?” Kenn whirled back to Steve. “Does he know who he’s talking to?” Steve looked past Kenn. The second guard was down. Quentin threw the body overboard. Steve nodded to Kenn. The Zombie Strike commander smiled and drew his KRISS submachine gun from under his robe. Kenn spun down to a crouch and placed a suppressed burst through the guard’s chest. Steve tossed the man’s body into the water and followed Kenn up the gangplank.

“Status?” Kenn asked Quentin.

“The back of the boat had one guard. Jess dealt with him. We found two guys in the control room upstairs. Chief Stahl and Sport took care of them. Jess, Billy, and Sport were about to go downstairs to ferret out anyone else,” Quentin reported.

“I better go with them,” Kenn said, checking the magazine on his sub gun.

“Nope, you’re staying here. We can’t afford for you to get killed on this boat,” Quentin said, holding his hand up, “Kenn, do you think this team could survive losing both you and Matt? No sense you putting your life on the line unless it’s critical. Steve, the chief wants you to ride herd on the downstairs team.”

The Steve, dude,” Steve answered, drawing a B&T MP9 from under his coat. Quentin waved Steve to the main deck of the yacht. Jess slung her SCAR sniper rifle and was holding an HK MP7 submachine gun. Sport smartly left his grenade launcher back at the safe house. For this operation, he was using a Mossberg shotgun with an AR-style collapsible stock. Billy’s normally white pelt was now a dark gray as he pawed at the door. As soon as Steve joined the three, Jim yanked open the door and the small team entered.

The first room was an empty dining room. Billy leapt past the opulent settings to the door of the kitchen and growled. The three humans traded looks. Jess and Sport stacked up behind Billy. Steve grabbed the door to swing it open. Billy pounced on Steve, knocking him to the deck an instant before a stream of bullets punched through the door. Sport shouldered past Jess and jabbed the muzzle of the shotgun into the door. The short Brit snarled as he pumped shell after shell into the kitchen. Jess managed to yank him back just as his shotgun clicked on an empty chamber.

“You idiot, you could have been killed,” Jess hissed at Sport. The Brit didn’t say anything as he reloaded his Mossberg. Steve kicked the door. Billy and Jess darted into the kitchen with Steve and Sport following. Sport managed to punch a bunch of basket-ball sized holes with his shotgun, including one through another of the Truth’s security people.

“Got the bugger,” Sport said.

“Still not cool dude,” Steve said, “Just stay frosty.” Sport shrugged and brought his shotgun to the low ready. The team walked into the corridor past the kitchen. It was a narrow passageway with three doors on either side. This just screamed Charlie-foxtrot.

Someone started pounding on the furthest door and screaming. The words were muffled to the point of being unintelligible, but the panic in the man’s voice was undeniable. Billy sprinted to the door and started scratching furiously. Steve tried the door, but it was locked firmly. Steve took a step back and examined the door. It opened outward, which meant kicking it in wasn’t going to happen. The guy inside continued to pound frantically.

“Sport, The Steve wants to know if you’ve got some breachers for that scattergun,” Steve said.

“Of course I do,” Sport answered.

“Load three of them. Shoot the hinges first,” Steve said.

“Shouldn’t we get the rest of the team?” Jess asked.

“Relax, The Steve knows what he’s doing,” Steve said. He knocked twice on the door. “Dude, The Steve needs you to stand back from the door.” There were some muffled words. Steve just nodded. “Yeah, back away from the door.” Steve motioned for Sport to get into position.

“Do you actually think he understood what you told him?” Jess asked, gripping her MP7 tightly.

“The Steve thinks we’ll find out in a moment, but it should be just fine,” Steve said. Jess’s eyes went wide in surprise. Steve ignored the look and motioned to Sport. The three blasts of the shotgun rocked the narrow passageway. Steve grabbed the still-warm hole that had been the door’s handle and yanked the door out. Billy leapt past Steve. As the team entered the cabin, they found Billy cornering a minion.

“Please, stop,” the minion said. “I’m here to help you.”

“The Steve thinks you’re full of it,” Steve said, keeping his submachine gun trained on the minion.

“No, I work for MacKenzie and Winston,” the minion said, frantically, “I’m here to take you to where the Truth is holding Mateo and Robyn.”

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 90]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 88

Skull Island, South Pacific, 2 July 2011, 0800 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 29 days

Steve Mountain couldn’t muster his normal cheery smile as he walked into the command center. Steve could feel the tension as the intelligence techs poured over hundreds of field reports looking for the tiniest hint of where the Truth had taken Mateo and Robyn. Everyone in Zombies Strike was on edge. It made sense. Zombie Strike’s field commander and M&W’s liaison had been abducted twenty-two days ago from the very place the team should have been the most secure. So now, the entire operation was running itself to the ragged edge to compensate for a collective guilt and fear.

Steve kept his entrance quiet. A field team member was always on duty to assist the intelligence folks and to get the ball rolling if something developed. Inside the glass-walled conference at the heart of the command center, Chief Stahl paced. Stahl carried a mug of coffee in one hand and reading off the tablet in his other. Steve walked in to join the chief. At least working for one of the largest and oldest global insurance firms had its perks. The coffee was much better than the paint thinner substitute he’d endured in his days with the Army.

“I guess it is that time,” Stahl rumbled as Steve entered the conference room. “Take a seat, Mountain.”

“What’s up, chief?” Steve asked. Stahl’s eyebrow arched up in surprise when Steve didn’t correct the name.

“I think we’re fiddling while Rome burns,” Stahl said, cryptically. “You’ve been on this team the longest, and you’re a former soldier, so I want to run this by you first. I think we need to get back in the field. Tredegar sent us a report on a minion Task Force 11 caught sneaking down from Canada. His little team backtracked the minion to Hong Kong. We have other information that the Truth has a major base in Hong Kong.”

“So you’re thinking we should be hitting Hong Kong and forget about searching for Matt?” Steve asked. His tone was light, but his brown eyes were cold.

“I’m saying the field team needs to get back in the fight,” Stahl said, “We’ve already turned down two priority taskings from TF 11 and the Australians.”

“The problem, dude, is this is not a military unit. If we were back in the teams, or in the Rangers, then I’d be all on that,” Steve said, “This team just doesn’t roll like that. General Allen knows it. That’s why he didn’t get really upset when Kenn told him we couldn’t deal with that mess in Santiago.” Stahl started to say something, but was cut off by one of the Triplets banging on the conference room door. The two field team members shot up right as the diminutive Korean burst into the room.

“We may have found him,” Park said, vibrating with excitement. The Triplets were MacKenzie and Winston’s crack data intelligence team.

“Where?” the two men chorused.

“Cape Town,” Park answered, “Maybe a week ago. One of Toyota’s car carriers reported seeing an unknown submarine rendezvous with a yacht, the Beautiful Truth, about a hundred kilometers south of Cape Town. According to the Chinese, that yacht came back into Cape Town harbor and very discretely unloaded several individuals.”

“I didn’t know we were sharing information with the Chinese,” Stahl said. Park quickly went still and proceeded to stare intently at the floor.

“We’re not. We offered, but the Chinese want to do their own thing,” Steve said.

“You hacked Chinese intelligence?” Stahl asked incredulously. Park visibly gulped and continued to stare at the floor. “Damn, that’s good work. Go clean up any footprints and tell your partners to pack up.” Park looked up confused. Stahl simply smiled as he pressed the recall button on his tablet.

“It looks like we’re going to South Africa.”

Truth compound, South Africa, 2 July 2011, 1000 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 29 days

Mateo Cortez watched Robyn Adams as she slept. It had been another bad night for Robyn. Between the pain from her injuries, and the nightmares of the beatings, Robyn only slept in fits and starts. She’d finally relented and let Mateo give her some of the drugs the Truth’s doctor provided. Mateo knew Robyn was ashamed that she was the anchor the Truth was using to keep Mateo from trying to escape. She was trying as hard as she could to stop being a liability. It wasn’t her fault. The Truth was smart. They knew Mateo wouldn’t leave her behind or do anything to endanger her.

Mateo’s head snapped up as Robyn moaned painfully in her sleep. The Truth hadn’t just beaten her. They’d crippled her. Knees and ankles were destroyed and barely treated. Rachel could barely hobble around the small apartment on crutches. For someone who loved to run, it was beyond cruel. Frustrated at the thought, Mateo shot up from the chair and stormed over to one of the large picture windows. He looked down on the Truth’s soldiers training in the main courtyard and desperately wished he had his rifle.

A knock came at the door. Mateo took a deep breath and forced the grimace from his face. He slowly walked over to the door of the apartment, using the brief time to contain his rage. A round, petite woman in a business suit walked in carrying a professional leather folder. Her gray-streaked brown hair was tied back in a professional bun. Her brown eyes sparkled behind thick glasses as she surveyed the apartment.

“Good morning Mr. Cortez,” Cassandra said, opening the folder, “Is Ms. Adams still in bed?”

“You know she is,” Mateo said, gritting out the words. The day after they’d arrived at this compound, Cassandra showed up at their door. She introduced herself as their concierge with the duties of making their stay as enjoyable as possible, under the circumstances. She’d said the last part so nonchalantly, Mateo nearly punched the tiny woman.

“Please, Mr. Cortez, I am only trying to be courteous. We have a very good orthopedic team being flown in to take care of Ms. Adams’ injuries.” Cassandra paused to give Mateo a neutral look. Giant had been very clear on that point. Robyn would be taken care of as long as Mateo didn’t attempt to escape. If anything, the Truth seemed intent on keeping Mateo and Robyn in a gilded cage until it was time for him to fulfill his role in their prophecies. The apartment was more like a luxury suite in a five star hotel.

“I have the lunch menu for today,” Cassandra said, pulling out a folded paper and setting it on the writing desk. “If you could please ring the kitchen within the hour with your selections, we would appreciate it. The maids will be in here after lunch for cleaning, and we’ll do the security check at that time. Is there anything else you would require?”

“No, thank you,” Mateo said as politely as he could. Cassandra smiled pleasantly and bustled out of the room. Mateo resisted the urge to destroy something. He picked up the menu. As he scanned the choices, he noticed something odd. The number listed wasn’t the number for the kitchen. It was probably just a misprint since it was only one number off. Just to be contrarian, he dialed the number on the menu. It rang twice before someone picked up.

“Don’t say anything Mateo. Just listen,” a hushed male voice said, “I’m a friend. We both work for the same firm. Right now, just focus on getting Ms. Adams healthy enough to move. I’m trying to get your team here. I’ll keep contacting you this way, but it may be sparse for a bit.” The man hung up. Mateo stared at the phone for a moment. It could be just a plot to keep him in line. If they made him think rescue was coming, Mateo should be less like to try something himself. It was possible, but something in the man’s voice made Mateo think otherwise. For the first time in a long while, a real smile crept across Mateo’s face.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 89]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 87

Skull Island, South Pacific, 11 June 2011, 2215 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 19 days

Steve Mountain’s eyes snapped open as the alarm klaxon blared through Zombie Strike’s headquarters. Steve swallowed four ibuprofen tablets with a swig of an energy drink. This had better not be a drill. The team was already on the ragged edge from the past week. Steve almost slipped the entire team some sedatives just so everyone would get some rest. The alarm stopped mercifully as Steve snatched his go-bag and sprinted down the stairs. The new command center was laid out similar to the old one. The field team had a glass lined conference room in the center with intelligence and command stations surrounding them. Dozens of large flat screens were hung around the room showing everything from satellite feeds to CNN. Kenn Blanchard, Zombie Strike’s commander, was already in the conference room. Dr. Jacobs, Zombie Strike’s chief medical and science officer, was wrapping Kenn’s ribs while Kenn clenched his teeth in pain.

“What’s up, doc?” Steve said as he strode into the room.

“That stopped being funny the second time you said that Mr. Mountain,” Dr. Jacobs said firmly. The doc was definitely a hottie, but she needed to find a sense of humor. “As to your question, Mr. Blanchard suffered some bruised ribs at the hands of Giant.”

“The Steve wants to know when you and Giant faced off,” Steve said to Kenn.

“That’s a good question,” Chief Stahl said, storming into the conference room. The rest of the team trailed behind the imposing former warrant officer.

“Gather round and take a seat,” Kenn said, waving his hand. Zombie Strike’s field team filed into the room and sat down. Their faces were a mix of careful neutral expressions and wariness. All except Billy. The wolf pup just sat at Jess’s feet. Billy was a cool dude.

“About ten minutes ago, Giant snatched Mateo off the north dock,” Kenn said. He held up a hand to forestall the immediate outburst from the team, “He dragged Mateo into the water. Right now, all of our aircraft are taking off, and we’re going to be doing a full search around the island. We also sent a message out to Task Force 11 and to Mackenzie and Winston.”

“How did Giant get on Skull Island?” growled Chief Stahl.

“Gunny’s looking into it right now,” Kenn said.

“C’mon dudes. There’s so much construction going on right now, it wouldn’t exactly be hard to slip through security,” Steve said. “What The Steve wants to know is where’s Giant taking our fearless leader.”

“We don’t know, but we’ve got every intelligence asset and analyst working right now,” Kenn said. “As soon as we get a tickle, we’re wheels up.” Eyebrows were raised around the table. Kenn was planning on tagging along for this little op. The chief started to say something, but a sharp look from Kenn stopped him.

“Any way we can get Tredegar’s plane turned around?” Quentin asked, “We could really use him on the analyst side.”

“No, but we’ve got a team of M&W’s best on a fast jet here,” Kenn answered. “They should be here in a few hours. Thank God, they were doing some work over in Sydney. Quentin, I need you and Jess working on those prophecies. If the Truth snatched Matt because something in the prophecies told them to, I want to know as soon as possible. The rest of you need to prep the fast jet so we can move as soon as we know something. Are there any questions?” Jess looked around the command center before raising her hand.

“Where’s Robyn?”

Somewhere in the south Pacific, 12 June 2011, 0200 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 18 days

Mateo Cortez groaned as he woke up. He felt like his entire body was out of sync. His limbs and head were slow to move. He was probably shaking off the last bits of being drugged. He looked around. Mateo was lying on a fold-away cot in a metal room with a single fluorescent light blazing away. Other than the cot, the room was empty. The air was cool, but smelled of oil. Mateo felt a thrumming in the floor as he stood up from the tiny cot. It had to be a ship. Mateo remembered Giant dragging him into the water back on Skull Island, but nothing after that. Wherever he was, they’d taken his clothes and gear. He was dressed in rough khaki pants and a blue t-shirt.

Mateo silently walked along the walls of his cell looking for two things – monitoring devices and something he could use as a weapon. The walls were smooth and light gray with a faint smell of new paint. That drudged up an old memory. Mateo’s father spent a good deal of time aboard ships as a Marine. Mateo complained once about having to paint the house, and his father gave him a three-hour lecture about the constant chipping and painting that Chief Petty’s always seemed to find for underperforming sailors and Marines.

The thought stopped Mateo. He hadn’t thought of his father in years. Both of his parents were long dead – father from cancer, mom from a drunk driver just after. Mateo remembered his mother anytime he saw his daughter Mercedes. The little girl looked so much like his mother. A loud clanking snapped Mateo back to the present. The wall opposite the cot slid into the floor revealing another room separated by thick iron bars. On the other side of the bars stood Giant and another man dressed in robes. The new man wore a brilliant headdress of feathers and gold, which pegged him as a sorcerer. Mateo fought down the urge to snarl and kept his demeanor as casual and neutral as possible.

“You’re getting much better at that Mateo,” Giant said. “The first few times we met, you just radiated anger.”

“What do you want Giant?” Mateo asked.

“I already have what I want. You,” Giant answered, pointing a long, thin finger at Mateo, “You’ve come too close to dying these past few months. It’s past time to secure you to prevent you from harming the prophecies.”

“Not very prophetic if I can thwart them so easily,” Mateo said.

“Be quiet Blasphemer!” the sorcerer hissed, “The Prophecies are the word handed down by the Flayed One. You are not fit to speak of them!” Mateo looked over at the sorcerer and then back at Giant. Mateo’s nemesis shrugged and then backhanded the sorcerer hard enough to send the man flying back. The sorcerer crashed into deck several yards behind Giant. Mateo wasn’t sure if Giant managed to kill the sorcerer until he saw the slight rise and fall of the sorcerer’s robes.

“They get on my nerves sometimes,” Giant said, as if in explanation, “Now, where was I? Ah yes. We have decided to keep you safe and under our control until the time comes for you to play your part. Now, after fighting against you for some time now, I know you’re trying to figure out how to escape and kill as many of my people as you can in the process.” Giant paused, waiting for Mateo to agree with the statement. Mateo just stared at Giant.

“To keep you from doing something stupid, I will tell you now that you are on a submarine some four hundred meters under water. We should be aboard ship for the next couple of weeks before reaching our destination.”

“Diesel or nuke?” Mateo asked flatly. Giant eyes widened in surprise at the question.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Giant asked.

“I just want to know how bad I’m going to pollute the ocean when I sink this boat,” Mateo answered.

“That might not be your best option,” Giant said. The tall man motioned to a hatch behind him. A hulking man walked into the room carrying a large sack over his shoulder. The man was built like Quentin and dressed as a minion. Giant’s whip snapped through the bars, forcing Mateo to step to the back of his cage. Bars slid into the floor forming an opening just big enough for the minion to come into the cage. He carefully laid the sack on the deck and walked out of the cage. As soon as the minion was through the bars, the wall slid back into place. Mateo opened the sack. It was all he could do to control his rage. He yanked the sack off and carried a bruised and battered Robyn Adams to the cot. For the first time, Mateo didn’t want to kill Giant. He wanted to make the twisted man suffer for all eternity.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 88]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 86 – Epilogue

Torelli Family Farm, 300 miles East of Wichita, Kansas, 10 June 2011, 2000 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 20 days

Evan Torelli hobbled into the recliner with the help of his cousin Stacy. His uncle didn’t let anyone sit in his favorite chair, but he’d reluctantly let his nephew. Evan understood how proud his uncle was to even make the gesture, and he was humbled by it. He just wished he felt like he’d earned the man’s respect. With difficulty, Evan lowered himself into the leather chair. Even with all the pain meds running through his system, his body ached. Evan knew he should be in bed. If Dr. Milkens saw him up and about, the old man would’ve had a fit. There were just some things that a family needed to witness together.

The President of the United States was walking to a podium somewhere in the White House. His face was grim. He looked tired as he stood at the podium. His lips pursed tightly. The president didn’t seem afraid of what he had to say to the nation, but with the reluctance of a doctor about to tell a patient he just lost his leg. He took a deep breath and started to speak to an anxious nation.

“My fellow Americans, five days ago one of our great metropolises saw the largest outbreak of undead this nation has ever seen. We were forced to watch as tens of thousands of our fellow citizens were killed in the streets of St. Louis, only to rise again as the walking dead. Yet, even as we despaired for those people, we saw the true heroism of our fellow citizens. We all watched on as brave soldiers and Marines charged in to save every living soul they could. We watched as our fellow citizens fought off undead hordes to protect each other. I was as moved as any of you as I watched Dennis Jones fight off dozens of the undead to protect his stranded family. I mourned with this nation when he was pulled down just moments before a Marine convoy came on scene. Dennis Jones’ family is safe in a Kansas City hospital right now, and I’ve been told, they are in good condition.” The President paused as if letting the nation mourn for a moment.

“Through all of these brave and selfless actions, over two hundred thousand people were brought out of Saint Louis and evacuated to cities all over the Midwest. It has been heralded as America’s Dunkirk. The Miracle on the Mississippi. I can only be humbled by what those men and women, military and civilian accomplished. We have thousands of our own. We will mourn them and pray to God for His blessing upon the fallen and the survivors.”

“Yet in the face of this Miracle, I am forced to make an unenviable decision. By our nature, Americans want to rebuild in the face of such tragedy. Not just repair the damage and go on with our lives. No, we need to make it bigger, stronger, better. We need to prove to ourselves and the world that no matter what is done to us, we will not just recover, but become stronger for it. Unfortunately, this will not be the case with Saint Louis. After consulting with my military advisors and cabinet, I am declaring a quarantine zone of a fifty mile diameter around the City of Saint Louis to be sealed off by the Armed Forces of the United States. I am federalizing the national guards of Missouri and Illinois to assist. Any ships that must transit this part of the Mississippi river must do so in convoy under the protection of Navy and Coast Guard ships.”

“I did not take this step lightly. This is a necessary step, but only a temporary one. At this time, there is no method by which to remove all of the undead from St. Louis. We will keep patrolling the city, looking for survivors. Until we have the forces or the technology to eradicate this horror from our lives, we are forced to take drastic measures. I will be meeting with members of Congress in the coming days to determine how the federal government can best serve those who survived this terrible and horrific tragedy.”

“Thank you, and may God protect us all.” The President left the podium with reporters yelling questions at him. Evan’s uncle turned off the television. The room was deathly quiet as the family absorbed the president’s words. Evan never considered St. Louis his home, but he was still crushed by the president’s decision. Not go back and help? Maybe he should have accepted Mateo’s offer.

Evan still wasn’t sure how the team had made it out of the building. The noise of the explosion drew every zombie for two miles down on them. All of the fighting was a blur of gunfire and explosions. Evan knew he’d been out of ammo for his shotgun when the Marines finally showed up. He nearly shot one of the Marines with his pistol. It was in the LAV he’d finally broken down. His last reserve gone, Evan quietly wept as the Marines evacuated him outside of the quarantine zone. Somewhere along the line, Evan managed to bust up his ankle, a couple of ribs, and had dozens of cuts and bruises all over him. Mateo had come to Evan’s bed that night, and offered the teen a job with Zombie Strike, sort of. It was the same speech he’d given Evan back in the hotel. You should go home to your family, but if you want to come along, there’s a slot for you. Evan turned Mateo down. He’d seen enough. Mateo actually seemed happy about that.

As far as Evan’s family knew, Evan had joined up with one of the small bands of armed citizens that fought to rescue civilians in the two days after the outbreak. Jim drove the teen back to Kansas and told everyone how brave Evan had been. In the small town, Evan was now something of a celebrity. Not that he could enjoy it much. The doc said it would be weeks before he was healed up. Evan got up and hobbled over to the telephone. His family looked at him strangely as Evan dialed one of the phone numbers on the back of a business card.

“U.S. Army, 11th Task Force, General Adam’s office,” the polite, but tired woman said.

“My name is Evan Torrelli. The general told me to call this number if I wanted to join up,” Evan said.

“Yes Mr. Torrelli, I have your name right here.”

Skull Island, South Pacific, 11 June 2011, 2200 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 19 days

Mateo walked out onto the concrete dock and plopped down at the end. In one hand was a lit cigar. In the other was an unopened bottle of Glenfidditch. Mateo bought the bottle of whiskey for Collin some time ago. It seemed right to drink it now. Mateo Cortez really felt like getting drunk. Just for one night stop feeling all of the pain and sorrow. Intellectually, Mateo understood that any one of his team could get killed at any time. It was the nature of the job. They all rolled the dice and took their chances every time they went out. Jack, Billy, Collin, and Slim did this work fully knowing that they might not make it back alive. That didn’t stop each of their losses from cutting Mateo to the bone.

The rest of the team was asleep. They’d been on the go almost constantly for the past week. Slim’s body had been shipped off to England to be buried by his family. Slim’s father, a former general in the British Army, made it quite clear that Zombie Strike was not to come within a hundred kilometers of the family. As much as it hurt, Mateo abided by their wishes. The team had their own funeral for their friend this morning. Tredegar left shortly after. He’d been recalled to head up the investigative group under the growing Task Force 11. What had been a thrown together mix of army personnel capable of fighting the zombies was turning into a massive combined arms unit with full intelligence services provided by the entire alphabet soup of agencies.

Mateo heard boots clomping on the concrete of the dock. He looked back to see Kenn Blanchard walking down the dock. Kenn was Zombie Strike’s commander, pastor, father figure, and a bunch of other stuff. This morning, he’d officiated the Slim’s memorial ceremony. Now, his preacher clothes were replaced with the more familiar black fatigues. Like Mateo, Kenn had a smoldering cigar in his hand. Slung over his shoulder was Kenn’s newest toy, a Kriss Vector sub-machine gun. Mateo preferred his M4, but he was impressed with the bullet hose’s performance on the range earlier. The running joke was that Kenn now needed to update his Browning after updating his Tommy Gun.

“I was wondering where that bottle disappeared to,” Kenn said, sitting down next to Mateo.

“Seemed appropriate tonight,” Mateo said his voice hollow. The two men silently puffed on their cigars for a moment.

“Where’s Robyn?” Kenn asked, “She usually keeps you from going to those dark places.”

“Jess needed her more,” Mateo answered, “I tried to comfort her, but it’s getting harder. It’s harder to tell her everything will be all right when we see so much death around us. I’m thinking real hard on asking her to hang up her rifle.”

“So why don’t you?” Kenn asked, “You let that kid in St. Louis go back home. Jess could go back to the States and go to college.”

“The father in me wants to pack her up and ship her off to Florida. Maria left the girl enough money in her will to go to school,” Mateo said. Kenn’s eyebrow arched up. Mateo let out a tired laugh. “Yeah, that surprised me too. I didn’t think the two had got that close, but there it is.”

“Again, why don’t you?” Kenn asked. “If we need a sharpshooter, we could approach Sissy.”

“Sissy made her position clear. I did enough to that woman,” Mateo said, “Besides, we need Jess more than just because she’s good with that rifle of hers. There’s a reason Wolf decided to foster one of his pups with her. Some of it may have been because Billy was one of Wolf’s spirit warriors or whatever, but I think there’s more to it. We’re treading on some seriously dangerous ground here, and we’re going to need all the aces we can stuff up our sleeves.”

The sudden laughter caught both men by surprise. Mateo and Kenn spun around to their feet. Standing on the dock stood a seven-foot tall man. His normal tight black costume was replaced with a brown hooded robe. The whip in his right hand danced with anticipation. Somehow Giant made it to Skull Island.

“Hello Mikhail,” Mateo said in a casual tone, carefully setting down the bottle of Scotch and placing his hand on his Sig. Kenn already had his Kriss in his hands. “What are you doing on our island?”

“I came for you,” Mikhail hissed, “Come quietly, and I won’t have to kill your friend.” The two men traded sidelong glances. Mateo gave Kenn an almost imperceptible nod. Mateo’s Sig materialized in his hands. The two men opened fire into their looming nemesis. Giant snarled as the bullet after bullet slammed into his torso. Mateo’s pistol locked back on an empty magazine. With practiced motion, he dropped the magazine and went for one of his spares. Giant’s whip lashed out as the two men reloaded their weapons. Mateo felt the mystical leather wrap around him. Giant jerked upward, and Mateo was in the air.

Mateo heard Kenn screaming his name just before he and Giant went into the dark Pacific waters.

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 87]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 85

St. Louis, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 1035 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days

Evan Torelli stared as the fireball lit up the stairwell. Jim yanked the teen down as the basketball-sized orb of fire streaked over his head. Evan winced as the back of his neck blistered from the intense heat. He reflexively tried to gasp in pain, but he couldn’t get any air. Where was the air? Panic flooded the teen. He tried to get up, to run to where he could breathe. Jim’s iron grip held onto Evan’s armor.

“Breathe kid,” Jim said. Evan tried another breath and felt his burning lungs fill up with air. Satisfied Evan had himself under control, Jim rose up and let off a single shot. A female scream split the air.

“Thank God for stupid enemies,” Jim said as he fell back down. Evan peered up and saw two more of the Red Gollums were now standing in front of the female minion. Both were holding long spears and jabbing down at Quentin and Chief Stahl. Quentin batted the steel tips away the first attack with his warhammer. One of the spears slipped by him on the second attack and drove into his chest plate. The big man grunted. The blade didn’t pierce the hard ceramic plate, but Red Gollums were strong. It was all the force of a sledgehammer in a tiny point.

“Over here!” Evan yelled, standing up. The move caught Jim by surprise who grasped at air trying to keep the teen down on the deck. The two Red Gollums stared at him. He could feel their malicious glee as a new target presented itself. Evan placed the bead of his shotgun on the one that stabbed Quentin. The twelve gauge’s booms echoed off the walls as he pumped dart after dart into the monster. He couldn’t even hear its screaming over the thunderous roar of his shotgun. The eight heavy darts punched into the monster’s torso and shredded it. The Red Gollum slumped to the ground.

Evan dove back down to the ground and started slamming shell after shell into the shotgun. It was then he realized Zombie Strike was engaging the other monster. Jim glared at the teen before standing up and firing his big lever action. As Evan looked up he watched the team as it did an odd version of the wave. Sport and Slim who were right behind Quentin and the chief rose up and fired into the monster. They dropped down when their weapons went empty, and the next two followed suit. Three pairs emptied their weapons into the monster before it screamed and went down. Almost before the monster hit the landing, Quentin and the chief were rushing forward toward a bullet-riddled door.

Quentin, Sport, Slim, and The Steve stacked up at the side of the door. Chief Stahl stood on the other side of the door and slapped the handle. The door exploded as another fireball streaked into stairwell. Evan slapped at burning door parts as they rained down on him. The team poured gunfire into the doorway and charged in. Evan followed Jim as the pair ran through the doorway. What had been a very expensive looking lobby was now trashed. The large floor-to-ceiling windows were shattered with large beams of sunshine providing odd contrast to the rest of the suite. The hallway behind the receptionist’s desk was barricaded by a line of riot shields. Four men behind the shields were popping up and firing small automatic weapons. Zombie Strike team members hid behind anything that could give them cover. Behind the shooting men was pitch black. Jim yanked Evan back through the door. They took up positions on either side of the door just before one of the men fired an entire magazine at them.

“Chief, Steve, Sport, on my mark, I want full magazines three feet above their heads,” Mateo ordered. “Quentin, tackling dummies.” The big man gave the team leader a wide smile and a thumb’s up.

“Boss, it’s The Steve,” protested the medic. Mateo shot The Steve an exasperated look, but didn’t say anything. The men sent two more bursts out. Then the room was filled with an odd silence.

“MARK!” yelled Mateo as he brought up his M4. Five automatic weapons emptied their magazines in less than five seconds. That was all the time Quentin needed. There was a reason Quentin was considered a star of West Virginia’s offensive line. He was not only huge, but amazingly fast. The human equivalent of a bullet train with a battering ram attached to the front. Quentin slammed into the center shield, throwing the metal plate back several yards. Without stopping, Quentin spun and whipped his warhammer in a deadly arc. Two of the men collapsed as the hammer shattered their skulls. Two shots rang out and the last two men fell to the carpeted floor. Jess and Slim stood up from behind an overturned marble table. Wisps of blue-gray smoke wafted up from the barrels of their rifles.

“These weren’t mercs,” chief said, toeing one of the dead gunmen. “Just a bunch of the Truth’s little acolytes. Stupid fools. Amateur hour.” The chief froze as screeches echoed out of the darkened hallway. He swung the light on his weapon down the hall an instant before six gollums leapt out into the hallway. Five made it into the lobby, bouncing off every surface as they attacked Zombie Strike. The last gollum was caught between the wall and a shield. Quentin grunted as the creature flailed wildly trying to free itself.

Evan lost track of Quentin as he focused on one of the erratically moving monstrosities. He tried to track the wiry gollum as it bounced around. As soon as it got close enough, the gollum lashed out with its axe. Evan blocked with his shotgun. The black blade screeched as it slid across the shotgun’s receiver. Jim stepped around Evan and placed the muzzle of his monster Smith revolver less than an inch above the gollum’s stone medallion. Evan felt the blast wash over him as Jim fired. The creature fell to the ground lifeless and withered away to dust in a few seconds. Evan looked up from the dead gollum just in time to see it happen. One of the gollums bounced between The Steve and Tredegar. It twisted in midair and managed to push itself off the ceiling. Evan lined up the creature and fired his shotgun an instant too late. Slim never saw the axe as it hit the small critical spot just under his helmet. Slim screamed in pain as the axe bit deep into neck. Evan’s dart slammed into the gollum’s creature and threw it out one of the windows.

“Slim’s down!” shouted The Steve, pushing his way through the melee to his fallen comrade. Billy jumped next to the medic and shielded him from another gollum. The axe blade seemed to bounce off the wolf’s brilliant white pelt. Billy snarled. In an eye blink, the wolf had the gollum’s neck in his teeth. Billy shook the gollum like a rag doll before throwing it into a wall. The gollum withered away in flight and the bones shattered as they hit the wall. Jess stood next to her wolf, taking precise shots at the last three gollums as they bore down on the small group. They ignored the gunfire as the heavy 7.62 mm rounds punched harmlessly through their bodies. Jim snatched one out of the air as it leapt at Jess and Billy. The cowboy used all of his mass to slam the creature into the ground. His revolver boomed again and the gollum disintegrated. Jess dodged an axe swing and butt-stroked the gollum. It staggered back into Mateo’s waiting arms. In three seamless movements, Mateo cut away the gollum’s medallion, flipped the creature, and drove his knife into the gollum’s eye.

The last gollum slipped between the defenders and swung its axe down on the medic. Without even looking up from his patient, The Steve whipped up his Kimber and unloaded the magazine. The first two rounds shattered the gollum’s medallion. The remaining bullets tore its body apart. Slim’s wet gasping was the only sound in the bizarre calm after the furious combat. Jess collapsed next to her friend, grasping Slim’s hand tightly. The Steve was throwing everything he could into Slim’s gaping wound, but blood just seemed to pour down the front of Slim’s armor. Tredegar was screaming into his radio for a medevac. The Steve waved the FBI agent down, his normal shining eyes dull. The medic looked over at Mateo. The team leader nodded silently, his face an emotionless mask. The Steve punched in a code on Slim’s PDA. The Brit’s gasping slowed, and then stopped. Billy whined as Jess’s quiet sobs hovered in the air.

“Keep on coming Zombie Strike. I can keep killing you all day,” the female minion taunted from the darkness. Evan could feel his rage rise from the bottom of his gut. As he looked around, Evan could see the same faces on the rest of Zombie Strike. Even Billy was silently snarling at the hallway. The lone exception was Mateo. The team leader looked at the hallway with an almost impassive mask.

“Everyone else back into the stairwell. Quentin, please carry Slim. Sport you’re with me. Load your special magazine,” Mateo said his voice a tightly controlled neutral. Quentin carefully lifted Slim over his shoulder. Jess placed a hand on her foster father’s arm. Mateo looked down at Jess and smiled. She still looked worried as she followed the rest of the team out of the suite and into the stairwell. Evan yearned to comfort Jess and felt frustrated that he couldn’t think of anything to say. As he stormed down the concrete stairs, Evan found something on which to vent his anger. The zombies finally managed to make it up the stairs. Maybe half a dozen were climbing over the wriggling arms of their fellows and onto the landing. Evan put the glowing bead on the first zombie’s head and squeezed the trigger. The click of the firing pin on an empty chamber seemed to echo loudly. Jim and the chief pushed past Evan and made short work of the zombies.

“Get down!” Jim yelled as he turned back to Evan.

“Why?” Evan demanded. Then the top of the building exploded.

Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 86

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 84

St. Louis, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 1015 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days

Evan Torelli looked at the three-story building with a mixture of relief and anxiety. The relief came from finally reaching the building. From the map Evan had on his PDA, it looked like the building was only a few blocks from where the team killed the Red Gollum. Evan remembered Jim’s chuckle as the teen pointed out that the team was going the wrong way. It was made very clear to Evan that getting to the building was only part of what was needed. The team also needed to avoid as many fights with the zombies rampaging through downtown St. Louis.

“Aren’t we supposed to kill zombies?” Evan asked Jim as the team sidestepped a horde through a small alley.

“Nope, that’s the military’s job right now. We need to get the minions responsible for this outbreak. Can’t do that if we blow all our ammo on walking range targets,” the cowboy answered. “And believe me, we’ll probably need every round we’re carrying to deal with those folks.” Evan kept quiet after that and followed Jim. The team went down side streets and alleys, through buildings, and even hid in a parking garage. The Nasty Stuff helped, but it was mainly a matter of noise discipline. After forty-five minutes of careful movement, the team was spread out along a pair of alleys that faced the minions’ building. At least, that’s what everyone was hoping. That was where the anxiety set in. Evan had never done an assault. All of the horrible ways he could die were flashing through his head.

“Relax kid, you’re gonna hyperventilate and pass out before we even get into that building,” Jim said. Evan tried to calm down, but his body didn’t want to cooperate. “Listen, everyone has felt the same thing the first time. Stop overthinking and just trust your instincts.”

“Easier said than done Jim,” Evan said, his eyes still fixed on the glass double door Mateo designated as the team’s entry point.

“Concentrate on your job. Watch our collective back and making sure that nothing gets Tredegar. Man’s got a sharp mind. Not so good on the shooting bit. You do that and let everyone else do their job.” Evan noticed that Jim didn’t say everything would be alright, but he didn’t say anything. He really didn’t want to know. At Jim’s cue, Evan slipped down the alley to stand just behind Tredegar. If the FBI agent was nervous, he didn’t show it. Evan checked his shotgun one last time and waited as Mateo cued the team.

“Green light, stop. Red light, go. Red light, stop. Green light, GO!” Mateo barked the last order. Quentin, Sport, Jessica, and her dog sprinted across the street. Quentin pushed open the doors with the dog close on his heels. Sport and Jessica were covering them with their weapons. As soon as the quartet was through the doors, Jim, Slim, Chief Stahl, and The Steve dashed across the street. As soon as Mateo motioned, Evan followed Tredegar through the door. Just beyond the doors was an open air lobby. A large fountain dominated the center of the lobby. Huge skylights in the ceiling poured down sunlight. Off to each side were long hallways. The rest of the building was dark giving the whole area a disturbing contrast.

“Any sign we’ve been noticed?” Mateo asked.

“Nothing,” Quentin answered.

“Billy’s got their scent,” Jess chimed in, “Somewhere on the third floor.”

“Gotta wonder what they have waiting for us if Billy can smell them all the way down here,” Chief Stahl said. The former soldier turned to Tredegar. “I don’t suppose you could ask your eye in the sky exactly where the bad guys are?”

“Sorry Chief, it’s not that precise right now,” Tredegar answered.

“Didn’t think so. Okay boys and girls, time to do this the hard way,” the chief said.

“Oh you have no idea!” boomed a melodic feminine voice out of the darkness. The building seemed to shake with the combined hunting moans from what had to be dozens, maybe even hundreds of zombies. Office doors slammed open all around the team and zombies seemed to pour out at the team. Gunfire erupted as Zombie Strike engaged their natural prey. Evan brought up his shotgun and placed the bead on the head of an approaching zombie. He squeezed the trigger. Evan wasn’t using traditional slugs. These were heavy metal darts, essentially scaled down versions of the M1 Abrams’ “Silver Bullets.” At fifty yards, they could take down a man in body armor. At fifty feet, the speeding dart pulped the first zombie’s brain, and then went on to take down four more zombies before embedding itself in some drywall. Evan didn’t see any of this. He was already attacking his next target.

“If you run now, you just might survive,” the voice taunted as the zombies closed on the team.

“Not a chance,” Mateo said at their unseen tormentor. “Chief, stairwell.”

“Got it boss. Sport, Quentin, your with me. Slim, cover us.” The three zombie killers formed a wedge as Slim poured fire down one of the hallways coming off the lobby. The Brit was firing his SR-25 as fast as he found targets. The chief opened up some room with a long burst of gunfire. Quentin led the three team members as they charged into the gap created by the gunfire. Quentin’s warhammer wasn’t as big as a sledge, and the big man whipped it around with unbelievable speed. The chief and Sport covered Quentin’s flanks with gunfire. Evan lost them as he was forced to transition to his pistol. The Beretta M9 felt gargantuan in Evan’s hand, but it was what he had. He fired at the oncoming zombies until the slide locked back on an empty magazine. Maybe another five zombies down. Evan dropped out the magazine. Where were his spares? His hand danced around his waist as he tried desperately to remember where the magazine pouch was.

“Evan, reload that shotgun. I’ll cover you,” Tredegar said, stepping in front of the teen. The FBI agent fired off several bursts from his M4. Evan slammed the empty pistol into its holster and loaded the shotgun as fast as he could. He felt the feed ramp bite into his thumb as he slammed round after round into the tube. Evan chambered the first shell and moved up next to Tredegar.

“FRAG OUT!” hollered Sport over the radio net. Evan almost didn’t get his first shot off. What in the world did that mean? The answer came in an almost deafening roar that shook the building. Evan kept his calm long enough to fire twice more. Good God, didn’t they ever stop coming? It seemed like every time he put one down, three more took its place.

“Everyone into the stairwell!” shouted Mateo over the din before charging to where Quentin, Sport, and the chief were standing. Where there had been a door before, there was only a ragged door frame. Evan followed Tredegar as the pair fled the oncoming zombies. He felt the gunfire crack around him as the rest of Zombie Strike covered their retreat. Evan nearly vomited as he entered the stairwell. It looked like the stairwell had been painted in zombies. Evan’s foot slid out from under him, and he nearly went sprawling into what looked like pulped guts. Jim caught the teen before Evan face planted into the foul-smelling stuff. The team quickly moved up the landing.

“Sport, for the record, never use any of those custom jobs of yours again!” the chief barked at the short Brit.

“Why?” complained Sport.

“Because I nearly got decapitated by the door! Do you even know how to make a proper frag grenade?” asked the chief.

“I followed the cardinal rule. P equals plenty,” Sport answered. The retort was so dead-pan, Evan couldn’t tell if Sport was joking.

“Dude, never let the demo guys plan the entry. That never ends well,” The Steve quipped. Chief Stahl could only nod in resigned agreement.

“Joking’s over. Quentin, Sport, you’re on point. Get us up to the top floor. Sport, don’t you throw another grenade unless I tell you or you see Giant. Is that understood?” Mateo asked. Sport nodded seriously. “Evan, Jim cover the back.”

“What about the zombies coming into the stairwell?” Evan asked, hearing the ragged cacophony of hunting moans.

“Zombies don’t exactly climb stairs,” Jim said, “It’s more of climbing over each other. Best thing is to let them bunch up and then take them out quick. Kind of acts like a dam.” The team moved quickly up the stairs. The second floor landing was clear. That didn’t sit right with Evan. The minions had attacked with so many zombies. They couldn’t keep any to attack the team on the second floor?

The team stopped suddenly just shy of the third floor. Standing at the landing was a woman in a tight fitting black jumpsuit. A balaclava covered her face. In her hand, she was waving around what looked like a long knife. The entire team had weapons pointed at her, but she didn’t seem to care. The look in her green eyes was pure contempt.

“I don’t care what Mikhail wants,” the woman said. It was the same voice that taunted the team earlier. “You’ve killed too many of my friends.” She pointed the knife’s tip at the team.

“Time to die Zombie Strike.” Evan stood unbelieving as the fireball lit up the stairwell.

Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 85

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 83

St. Louis, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 0907 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days

Evan Torelli froze in horror as the monster stepped out from the ruins of a store. The twelve-foot tall humanoid’s grey skin was pebbled and painted with red symbols. The monster’s red eyes glittered as they locked on Evan. Not like a human’s. These were more like when a bull decides it’s going to charge. An overly-wide mouth opened to reveal two rows of dagger-like teeth in a twisted smile. The monster let out a bellow of rage and swung a three-fingered fist at Evan. Part of Evan’s mind screamed at him to bring up his shotgun, but he couldn’t make his body move. He just watched as the fist the size of a turkey whistle down on him.

Evan’s ears barely caught the snarl. An instant before the monster’s fist crashed into Evan’s face, Jess’s dog pounced on the monster, dragging it to the asphalt. At least, Evan thought it was Jess’s dog. The animal was now the size of a mule. The monster flailed at the dog as it savaged the monster with claws and bites. Evan jerked backward as someone yanked the drag handle on his armor. Evan looked up to see Quentin hauling him back with one hand while the other held Quentin’s infamous warhammer in a loose but controlled grip.

“Billy, get clear!” ordered Mateo as the rest of Zombie Strike formed an arc around the monster. Mateo gave a hand signal and the team brought up their weapons. The oversized dog leapt off the monster, landing nearly twenty feet away. The monster struggled to its feet. The team opened fire. The monster howled in agony as bullet after bullet ripped through it. Black blood spurted from dozens of holes. The firing became ragged as various team members reloaded. For a moment, no one was firing at the monster. It tried to take advantage of the lull, and took a step towards Mateo. Its head snapped back as the heavy metal dart slammed into it. A second ripped a gaping hole in its chest. More darts ripped open its torso. After the eighth lanced through the monster’s throat, the creature dropped to the ground. Evan stood frozen, keeping the sights of the semi-auto Benelli on the fallen creature. He didn’t remember scrambling off the ground. He didn’t even remember when he started firing. One moment he was paralyzed with fear, and the next his shotgun was empty and smoking. The rest of the team looked back at him. Evan didn’t even realize he was thumbing in more shells until Quentin put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Evan, you okay?” Quentin asked.

“What was that?” Evan asked, his eyes still fixed on the monster’s corpse.

“We started calling them Red Gollums, but that ain’t quite accurate,” Jim said, walking over to Evan and Quentin. “They kind of look like gollums, but they aren’t nearly as tough. Still dangerous though. Nice to see those new slugs worked.”

“Yeah, nice shooting and all mate, but next time could you try and not shoot over us. Lessens the chance of a minor catastrophe,” Slim said his tone biting. Evan felt his ears burn with embarrassment as he realized what he’d just done. He could have killed someone.

“Lay off Slim,” Jim said defensively, “It ain’t like you haven’t done similar shots.”

“There’s a world of difference between a precision shot with a specialized rifle and rapid firing a bloody smoothbore,” Slim snapped back, “I’ll give him his due. That was very nicely done. He just needs to keep his situational awareness.”

“Enough,” Mateo said with a tone of finality, “I don’t need you chastising him until he hesitates to take a shot.” Slim grimaced, but acknowledged the rebuke with a nod. “As for you Evan, try to be more careful. Those aren’t your hunting loads.” Evan mimicked Slim’s nod.

“I thought we stamped out all of the Truth’s nurseries,” Mateo said, turning back to the monster’s corpse.

“Maybe Alan had a few stashed wherever he fled to,” suggested Chief Stahl.

“If that bugger’s here, I want another shot at him,” Sport said, “I knew I tagged him the last time.”

“Not a chance,” Jim said, his voice full of promised violence, “I still owe him, and I aim to put paid to that debt.” The sudden change in the cowboy made Evan nervous. He didn’t know who this Alan was, or what he’d done to Jim, but Evan didn’t want to be anywhere near when Jim caught up with this man.

“Dude, that guy’s survived two MOABs, gunshots, and getting too close to one of Sport’s grenades. The Steve thinks you’re overly ambitious,” The Steve chimed in. The conversation stopped as the team stared at the medic. If The Steve noticed it, he didn’t show it.

“The Red Gollum certainly means there are sorcerers here,” Tredegar observed. The FBI agent’s face became thoughtful. “If they’re still using magic to control the zombies or any other monsters, we might be able to find them.”

“How? You got a magic detector in all that gear you’ve been lugging around?” Chief Stahl asked.

“No, I have an AWACS,” Tredegar said cryptically. “Searchlight Three-One, Searchlight Three-One, this is Zulu Fox Five. I need to know if you had any distortion near my position.” Tredegar paused as he listened. “Not jamming exactly. Like someone was waving a magnet over your monitor.” Another moment of silence. “Excellent Searchlight. Thanks.”

“I’m pretty sure our targets are here,” Tredegar said, highlighting a building a few blocks from the Ed, the stadium the Rams played in.

“Care to explain?” Mateo asked.

“Oh yeah. Some scientist we tasked to help DOD and DOJ figure out some of the magic the Truth was using. He noticed that when the sorcerers were using magic, you could see some weird distortions in the EM spectrum. Showed up on radars and satellite photos.”

“Okay, and the reason you didn’t bring this little tidbit to our attention?” Mateo asked.

“Hadn’t been verified,” Tredegar said. “Besides, you’d need airborne radar or the big backscatter array to see the distortion. How often do we have an AWACS on station? Mateo, we need to move.”

“Remind me to talk with you again about relevancy of information,” Mateo said to Tredegar. The FBI agent just shrugged. Mateo turned to the rest of the team. “Okay, by the numbers. We’ve got our target. Let’s get there in one piece.” Almost as if on cue, dozens of hunting moans echoed through the streets. The zombies were starting to home in on the sound of the gunfight.

Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 84