CategoryMonday Fiction

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 4 – Chapter 25

Skull Island, Southern Pacific, 15 February 2009, 1000 hours local Countdown: 1 year, 11 months, 15 days

James “Jim” Collins silently urged the team in front of him to get moving. The zombie horde was reaching crush, the point where the sheer numbers of the horde would overwhelm anything the defenders could throw at them. Smart zombie fighters knew to retreat and maneuver before crush. This team hadn’t quite gotten to that point yet. They were about to get overrun. Those who fell would be added to the population of undead that roamed Skull Island. Jim took a closer look at the team leader. The man was so busy shooting the zombies in front of him that he wasn’t watching the horde as a whole. It was time to intervene and save them before they were lost.

Jim gave his horse a nudge. It had taken a couple of months, but Seminole was finally able to overcome its fear of the undead. Animals, like most humans, fled from the undead. Jim spent his recovery from his recent injuries during the battle in the Mexican museum training this horse. Jim walked Seminole behind the line of fighters and unslung his new rifle. He took aim at one zombie that seemed to be moving the quickest. The rifle boomed. The top half of the zombie’s head vanished into mist as the .500 magnum bullet vaporized brain and bone. The distinctive report of the rifle drew every team member’s attention. They stopped firing and all turned to look at him. Jim’s stomach plummeted. If he didn’t get these folks out of here quick, the zombies would swarm them.

“Retreat through the woods!” Jim ordered, “Get to the secondary position.” To punctuate his command, Jim casually worked the lever on his rifle and took down another zombie. The second gunshot galvanized the team. With practiced fluidity, the team performed a fighting retreat. Satisfied the team would make it to the next line of defenses, Jim took down another two zombies before riding back up the trail to the observation post. Jim could feel his horse’s relief as the gap between them and the zombies opened. Jim was surprised to see Slim at the observation post as he rode up. Slim approached with a slow and careful stride. The other man’s wound was still very tender. Well, that wasn’t all surprising. Slim had been run through with the equivalent of a lance by Giant, Zombie Strike’s nemesis. The lanky Brit damn near died. The very fact the Brit was up and moving was a testament to the power of modern medicine and the raw determination of Slim. Jim tipped his hat in greeting as Seminole trotted next to Slim.

“Mr. Cortez sends his regards and asks that you join him at the command center,” Slim said. Jim was sure the man had been a British naval officer in his previous life. Slim sounded exactly like the characters out of Horatio Hornblower.

“Who’s going to watch the kids?” Jim asked, nodding his head at the monitors. The team from the Texas Rangers managed to reach the second defensive position and was engaging the horde. They’d be fine for the moment, but they still hadn’t got the hang of realizing when crush was happening.

“I believe Mr. Blanchard has tasked the Gunny to take over the minding of the trainees,” Slim answered. Those poor, poor trainees. Jim didn’t envy them one bit.

“Go ahead and let them know I’m on my way,” Jim said. Jim nudged the horse down the trail back to the main compound. Seminole wanted to run, but Jim restrained him back to an easy cant. It wouldn’t do either of them a lick of good if a wayward zombie surprised Seminole. It was a good way to get thrown from the saddle. Jim had just finished healing up from the last mission. The older he got, the harder it was to come back from those injuries.

The main compound was dominated by what was once Skull Island’s hotel. Fifteen stories of luxury accommodations for guests and staff. There were still some guests, but the majority of the people on Skull Island belonged to Zombie Strike, a privately operated anti-zombie unit financed by the world’s largest insurance firm. Jim rode through one of the gates in the fifteen foot concrete walls. The stable was a haphazard affair. Jim and some of his team mates managed to slap it together out of spare building materials. It was functional, but the riot of colors and textures from its mishmash construction would never be anything but ugly. Seminole didn’t seem to mind. The horse just cared it was warm, zombie-free, and stocked with food.

Jim left Seminole in the hands of the stable master, a maintenance tech in his day job. These days, most everyone was wearing more than one hat. Jim was not only part of the training cadre on Skull Island, but he was part of Zombie Strike’s field team. It was in that role Jim was being summoned. He got into one of the gilded elevators, put in his identification card, and braced against the still unfamiliar sensation as the elevator dropped. The command center was below the hotel – several stories below the hotel. It was the main nerve center of Zombie Strike’s operations. The room was stuffed with roughly twenty intel analysts and their workstations. In the center of the room was a conference room where the field team met.

Mateo Cortez, the field team leader, was watching one of the large displays as Jim entered. Collin DuBois, who acted as Mateo’s second in command, was lounging with his boots on the conference table. Jess, Mateo’s foster daughter and the team’s sniper in training, was sitting quietly at the table, loudly ignoring the young man standing in the far corner. If Billy noticed her disdain, he wasn’t showing it. He was concentrating on the same display Mateo was watching. The Steve, the team medic and resident lunatic, was typing away at a laptop.

“Jim, take a seat,” Mateo said without turning around, “We need to get started.”

“What about Quentin and Sport?” Jim asked as he sat down.

“They’re already en route to the AO,” Collin said.

“The what?” Jim asked. Like every other former military in Zombie Strike, Collin used to many acronyms. It was confusing.

“We have a zombie outbreak in Wyoming,” Mateo said. Jim felt a cold shock run through his spine. He felt paralyzed as Mateo continued talking.

“Initial report of the outbreak had the zombies overrunning a rest area on the interstate. The horde is heading towards a small town called Salem,” Mateo said, “Our people intercepted a report of some guy in all black who seemed to be leading the horde.”

“Giant?” Billy asked, extremely interested. The young man felt as if he had a personal score to settle with their enemy.

“Not from what the state trooper reported,” Collin answered. With deliberate ease, Collin swung his legs off the table and stood up. “We may have ourselves a minion, mates.” Jess perked up at that bit of news. The Steve looked up from the laptop for a brief moment before he promptly went back to typing.

Jim felt a crushing terror. He could feel the karmic wheel starting to roll over him. Why couldn’t the past just stay in the past? Well, it had been almost twenty years ago, Jim’s rational mind reminded him. They probably weren’t even looking for him anymore. Besides, it wasn’t like he even looked like he did back then. Years of hard labor in the outdoors had done their damage on Jim. His black hair was thinning and gray. His face weathered and creased. Plus he would be wearing armor. No one would know. Not even her.

Mateo gave Jim a concerned look. Jim quickly buried all of his fears and smiled at his team leader. The two looked at each other for an uncomfortable moment. Mateo broke eye contact to address the team. What did Mateo see in Jim’s eyes for that brief moment? The possibilities rattled Jim. The only way to go now was forward.

“The US government is sending its new anti-zombie unit to deal with the outbreak,” Mateo said, “Officially,Zombie Strike is not supposed to be there. Unofficially, we’ve been asked to assist. The military wants veterans in the field to make sure their troops avoid the mistakes we’ve already made. Quentin and Sport will be setting up the initial contacts and find out exactly what this anti-zombie force needs from us. They’re also there to find ways for us to operate without this force’s knowledge.”

“Let me guess,” Billy said, his thick Brooklyn accent giving his words a sarcastic slant, “You guys want us to snatch the minion.”

“Gold star for the young man,” Collin said, “We are wheels up in twenty.” That was the signal the meeting was over. The team dispersed to get their gear. Mateo grabbed Jim’s elbow as he tried to leave.

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” Mateo asked. One look at Mateo’s face, and Jim knew he could tell him everything without judgment. Mateo would probably even understand. It just wasn’t enough to overcome twenty years of secrecy.

“No Matt. Nothing at all.”

[Zombie Strike Part 4 Chapter 26]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 24 – Epilogue

Skull Island, Southern Pacific, 23 December 2009, 1300 hours local Countdown: 2 years, 8 days

Quentin organized his notes as he tried not to gag on the low-hanging smoke from three cigars. It didn’t help the conference room’s ventilation was on the fritz. Now, it was not only hot and stale in the room, it was hot, stale, and smoky to the point of almost being unbreathable. None of the other occupants seemed bothered, and Quentin’s competitive streak wouldn’t let him show his discomfort. It was petty, and he knew it. That didn’t stop him from trying to tough it out.

Kenn Blanchard was sitting at the head of the conference table with his favored Monte Cristo smoldering in his hand. In jeans and a polo, Kenn looked more like an executive on casual day than the leader of the largest private sector anti-zombie force on the planet. Kenn looked very calm and collected. That serenity gave Quentin the bit of reassurance he needed. Mateo, Collin, and The Steve were also sitting around the table. The three men were in jeans and tee shirts. Mateo and The Steve were also smoking cigars, but Collin had forsaken the tobacco to indulge in a tumbler of scotch. Quentin didn’t understand these men’s’ need to poison themselves on their downtime. Their jobs were hazardous enough.

The door opened and the final person walked in to the conference room. Nigel Brown was impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit, complete with vest and power tie. Nigel was the team’s liaison with Mackenzie and Winston, the London-based insurance firm that financed the team’s activities. Nigel’s normally implacable face twisted in annoyance as he whiffed the grey blue smoke that swirled around the room.

“Bloody hell mates, this is a new suit,” Nigel complained, “Must you attempt to replicate smoke stacks at every attempt? Do you know how much the cleaning will cost just to get the stench out?”

“Shelve the banter for later Nigel,” Mateo said, without a trace of humor, “We need to get this meeting over with. Jess and I have a plane to catch.” Normally, Quentin would have chalked up Mateo’s grimness to the team’s lack of progress, but he knew better. Mateo was flying back to Tampa to spend Christmas with his two daughters and his ex-wife. There had been some very heated exchanges over the telephone between Mateo and his ex over the trip. It was an open secret on the team, and Mateo showed his appreciation to the team for its discretion and compassion by working even harder. As bad as this trip could be, Quentin was glad Mateo would be taking a break. Nigel nodded to Mateo and slid into his chair without further words.

“Okay Quentin, what have we learned from Mexico?” Kenn asked, setting the meeting in motion.

“In answer to the main question on everyone’s minds, no, we still do not have an identity on Giant,” Quentin began, feeling the familiar nervousness of talking in front of people. It lessened as Nigel took over briefly and elaborated.

“The firm’s investigators have been working on this,” Nigel said, referring to M&W, “So have Mexican, American, British, and everyone else and their uncle’s intelligence and investigative services. This incident has them all scared, and there’s precious little cooperation. Especially between the governmental services and the firm.”

“All of the so-called minions have been identified,” Quentin said, taking his cue from Nigel, “All were Americans. None with a known interest in Mesa-American cultures or religious practices, but all had the types of backgrounds and psychologies that would leave them open to a cult. We believe that is why Giant recruited them.”

“Still wish we would have captured one or two of them,” Collin said.

“We did,” Mateo said flatly, “Or more to the point, Quentin did. Then, the SOB suicided before we could get anything out of him.” The others simply nodded at the point. “If they were simply following a cult, how did they get powers? From what you said, one of the minions at the dig site tried some sort of mystical power on you.”

“That’s true, and that leads into what we’ve discovered from Mexico,” Quentin said, “We we’re facing a cult of Xipe Totec followers attempting to bring their god back into this world. This cult spawned both Xipe Tzin and Giant. These two are probably not the leaders of the cult, but more like field commanders. The ones selected to do the work to bring Xipe Totec back into this world and destroy those who stand against them.” Quentin gave the others a moment to digest before plowing on.

“What we’ve uncovered between the dig site and the museum are a large number religious writings from the priests of Xipe Totec,” Quentin said, “Most of these are just traditional religious teachings associated with Xipe Totec. Except for one set. This one had to deal with the creation of zombies and gollums. It also had some sort of prophecy talking about Xipe Totec returning to stop the destruction of the world. It’s cryptic, but what we have deciphered shows that Xipe Totec left instructions for waking him and opening the gateway that will bring him back. To help his followers, there are allusions to certain individuals channeling a bit of Xipe Totec’s power as well as objects that were infused with this same power. An example of one of these objects would be Giant’s whip.” The men flinched with that bit of news.

“The whip is why Giant attacked the dig site,” Quentin continued, “It was stored at that temple. It allows Giant to control undead and play with life energies. There may be more, but we haven’t confirmed it.”

“So we snatch the whip and the dude’s out of power?” The Steve asked.

“No, he most likely has some power on his own,” Quentin answered, “That power is probably what mutated him from a normal person into Giant. We think that the cult is also granting minions some limited power so they can assist Giant.”

“Okay, so what was the point of the attack on the museum?” asked The Steve, “Our boy was being too loud and too open with this attack. The Steve thinks Giant would have settled for a quiet raid unless there was some other reason.” The Steve might sound insane, especially with his constant referring to himself in the third person, but he was smart.

“We do know he was after gollums,” Quentin said, “Some that were already created, and just needed a medallion and a supernatural spark to get them going. There are a few theories as to why Giant chose to attack the museum in broad daylight and in front of cameras. My opinion is that Giant was being dramatic.”

“Care to explain that mate?” Collin asked, clearly surprised by Quentin’s conclusion.

“Giant and his minions were wearing ninja costumes,” Quentin said, “Not clothes that looked like ninja robes, but actual costumes they purchased from a costume store in Los Angeles. Every time Giant and his minions talk, it’s very clichéd. It’s almost like a B-grade horror flick. The bit at the museum was entirely out of melodrama. It’s the whole letting world know that there are things beyond their control shtick.”

“You came up with this?” Mateo asked.

“No, one of my research team members minored in theater,” Quentin admitted, “The more I thought about it, the more I agreed.”

“Actually, that sounds eerily possible,” Kenn said, with a tone that made it clear he was not happy with the possibility.

“There’s been no sign of Giant since he vanished from the museum,” Mateo mused, “Do we know where he’s going next?”

“Not yet,” Quentin said, “I was working with a group of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians, but that group was dissolved when their home countries began calling them back.”

“That matches up with what else has been going on,” Kenn said, “The attack on the museum blew the lid off a few incidents the world powers were trying to keep under wraps. Such as the Forreston incident. Things the governments were willing to let us handle. Now that the public knows, the government has to look like it’s doing something. The first thing was to serve us with a cease and desist order for Zombie Strike! As of today, we can’t legally produce the show.” Quentin was stunned. Collin and The Steve also looked surprised. Mateo just grimaced.

“What does that mean for our operations?” Collin asked.

“Not much. We will still continue to do our work, and M&W is actually expanding it,” Kenn said, reassuringly, “Within the next few months, Skull Island will become a fully function command center for world-wide operations. What losing the TV show means is we won’t have something that shows us in a positive light. It’ll also make finding new talent a bit harder. The nasty is that we may be working against government agencies instead of with them.”

“I’m surprised they are even allowing us to continue,” Collin said, “I thought we’d be disbanded and returned to service with our homelands.”

“Mackenzie and Winston made it very clear that such an action would not be in the various nations’ best interest,” Nigel said, “The price for us continuing to operate is that we no longer have the cordial relationships with certain government agencies, and all the benefits those relationships bring.”

“Gentlemen, I wouldn’t hesitate to break up this group if I thought our respective governments could fight this threat properly,” Kenn said, “If we were fighting terrorists or criminals, all of you would be back to your homes. But we’re not. We’re fighting the undead. Things normal folk can’t deal with. We’re the ones who can. Welcome to the new Zombie Strike.” Quentin wondered why Collin looked so uncomfortable.

London, United Kingdom, 1700 hours local, 26 December 2009 Countdown: 2 years, 5 days

Simon West was sitting in his study, sipping on a gin and tonic. In his hands was a crude ceramic mug. It was a present from his youngest. It was so ugly that only a parent could appreciate it. The children were out playing with their new toys, finally allowing West a chance to relax. Then the shadows moved.

Instincts came alive and the ceramic mug was replaced with a Glock. West pointed the pistol at the small man in the blue suit. Then West saw the man’s companion. The person was easily the tallest human that West ever encountered. Even taller than some of the basketball hustlers that worked for him. Like the smaller man, this one was dressed in an exquisite suit. Where had they managed to find a tailor for this person? West put down the Glock. It was useless against these two anyways. West gave another cursory examination of the huge man. So, this was the one referred to as Giant. Well, he certainly lives up to his moniker.

“I assume you have reason to intrude upon my residence,” West said as calmly as possibly, “It is a holiday after all.”

“The organization would like to know what Zombie Strike knows about our plans,” the small man said with a distinctive Spanish accent.

“This couldn’t wait until our regular meeting?” West asked, annoyed at the disruption of his holiday.

“Things need to be set in motion,” Giant answered solemnly, “Things best done undisturbed.”

“How brilliantly cryptic,” West commented sarcastically.

“We are not paying you to know our operations,” the small man said brusquely.

“Quite,” West agreed. He opened one of the desk drawers and withdrew a folder. “Here’s the transcript and data from the last contact with my informant.” The name on the folder was DuBois, Collin.

[Zombie Strike Part 4 Chapter 25]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 23

Mexican Anthropological Museum, Mexico City, 1812 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years,29 days

Beta team was in trouble. Quentin McLintock could see that as Mateo and he stormed into the exhibit. The cowboy, Jim, was on the ground. Blood seeped out onto the tile floor from a pair of nasty gashes on his arm and leg. Two gollums, armed with crude axes with heads of shiny black stone, were trying to close in on their prey, but Collin and Sport drove them back with gunfire. Jim wasn’t moving. He wasn’t dead, according to Quentin’s PDA, but he wouldn’t last long. Jessie was holding off the horde the team had been fighting before the gollums attacked. Mateo paused to survey the scene.

“Quentin, deal with the gollums,” Mateo said in a calm and controlled voice. Quentin didn’t protest. He had heard that voice before. Mateo used it when he was trying to keep his rage under control. Quentin briefly considered getting in close with the gollums, but one look at Jim’s bleeding form nixed that idea. Quentin brought up his carbine and joined the battle.

“Sport, grab Jim and pull him back!” Mateo ordered as he charged to Beta team’s position, “Collin, cover him. Jessie, I’m coming to back you up.” Quentin lost track of Mateo as the team leader attacked the horde. Quentin fired two quick bursts at the gollums, more to grab their attention than anything else. The gollums spun to face Quentin. They were nothing if not predictable. Quentin concentrated on the gollum nearest to him. He aimed at the creature’s dancing medallion and fired a long burst. The bullets lanced through the creature harmlessly, none hitting the critical medallion. The bullets may not have hurt the gollum, but they threw it back and to the ground. The physics of that much kinetic energy transferring into so little mass were pretty absolute. The other gollum leapt at Quentin, bringing its axe down in a speedy attack. Quentin reacted and blocked its strike with his carbine. He felt the axe hammer clunk on the carbine’s plastic receiver. Quentin pivoted, guiding the gollum away from his body and into a wall. The gollum slammed headfirst into the masonry. Quentin dropped the carbine and drew his warhammer. The weapon felt so right in his hands. With a predatory smile, Quentin charged. The gollum jumped to its feet, and straight into Quentin’s crashing blow. The gollum hit the tile floor with enough force to actually bounce. This might have struck Quentin as funny, but he was too busy bringing the hammer down for another blow. The medallion shattered like glass as the hammer impacted it. The gollum screamed with what could be described as horror. It tried desperately to scramble away. It was no use. Quentin knew far too well not to give a gollum any chance to move. The hammer landed in the small of the back. The gollum’s legs stopped instantly, like Quentin had hit a switch. The final blow landed on the creature’s skull. There was a sickening crack of a fragile egg, and the gollum stopped moving. Before Quentin’s eyes, the gollum withered to a skeleton. His combat mind refused the scientist in him a chance to ponder the wonder of it all. There was still another gollum left to deal with.

The second gollum was attacking Sport as the Brit tried to pull Jim back behind the hasty fortifications of broken exhibits. Collin was keeping it busy with constant bursts of fire, but the gollum was fixated on finishing off the injured cowboy. There was something wrong with this fight. Collin was easily one of the best shots of the team. There was no reason he shouldn’t have destroyed the medallion in the time it took for Quentin to deal with the other gollum. Quentin studied the gollum as he changed magazines in his carbine. He grimaced as he saw the problem. Either by luck or cunning, the gollum’s medallion was hanging down the creature’s back. Collin was good, but not good enough to hit something the width of a shoelace on an irrationally moving target.

“Quentin, do you mind giving a mate a hand?” Sport said, struggling with Jim while providing sporadic fire with his sidearm. Quentin moved between the gollum and his two teammates.

“Get him back!” Quentin shouted over his shoulder. Sport holstered his pistol and managed to get Jim into a sitting position. Using the drag handle on the back of the armor, Sport started making progress getting Jim back to the team. The gollum tried to take advantage of Quentin’s momentary distraction. Collin stopped its attack with a long burst of gunfire. With Jim more or less out of danger, Quentin fell into his fighting stance and braced for the gollum’s attack.

“Collin, hold your fire,” Quentin said. The gollum snarled as it bounded at Quentin with its axe waving above its head. Quentin gripped his warhammer and waited for the strike. The gollum snapped the axe down. Quentin caught the axe with the haft of his hammer. Quentin swung out wide, yanking the axe out of the gollum’s hand. The gollum didn’t care it was unarmed. It reached out to claw at Quentin. He grabbed the gollum by its throat. The creature thrashed violently, kicking and flailing as hard as it could. Quentin ignored the flashes of pain. He grabbed the stone medallion. The first yank snapped the gollum’s head to the side, but the leather strap held. Suddenly, Collin materialized next to Quentin with knife in hand.

“Hold it straight, mate,” Collin said as he bobbed around the gollum’s writhing arms. Quentin gripped the cord and held it taut. Collin’s knife flashed and Quentin felt the medallion come free in his hand. Without pausing, Quentin threw the medallion back to Beta team’s position. The gollum unleashed an inhuman howl as it felt its mystical invulnerability evaporate. It tried desperately to free itself from Quentin’s grasp. It needed the medallion. Not as a swordsman needed his shield, but like as an addict needed his drug. Quentin didn’t care. This gollum was a monster. A construct of destruction animated by the power of an evil god. In one fluid motion, Quentin slammed the gollum to the floor, pinned it with his leg, and then brought his hammer down on its head. Movement ceased immediately. The gollum’s body withered away to an aged skeleton in seconds.

Quentin and Collin hustled back to help Mateo and Jess combat the zombie horde. That’s when Quentin noticed the gun fire had stopped. Panic flashed through him. Then he saw Mateo. The team leader was leaning against a marble column. His carbine was hanging on its sling at his chest. Mateo had his helmet off and was puffing away on a cigar. Quentin stopped just to take in the scene – and then just burst out laughing. All of Quentin’s frustration with himself, all of his fear of letting down his friends, all of his insecurity were cleansed as he laughed. He knew that the others were staring at him, and he just didn’t care. Finally, Mateo strode over to Quentin.

“What are you laughing at?” Mateo asked, with a hint of concern at his friend’s sudden laughter.

“Sorry Matt,” Quentin said, “Oh I wish I had a picture of it.” Quentin took a few long breaths to help control his explosions of laughter.

“Picture of what?” Mateo asked, confused by Quentin.

“There you are, in battered armor, sweaty and dirty from fighting, smoking a cigar against this pristine white marble. And above you is a no smoking sign.” Mateo just looked at Quentin with an arched eyebrow, which elicited another round of uncontrollable laughing from the big man.

“When you do manage to get yourself under control, would you go see if you can figure out what Giant and his minions were stealing?” Mateo asked. Quentin could only nod.

“Sport, coordinate with The Steve about medevac’ing Jim,” Mateo ordered, “Jess, I want you to continue to clear the museum. Any group bigger than four you are to call in and wait for backup.” To Quentin’s surprise the girl simply nodded and slipped out of the room.

“Collin, you and I are going to have a talk with Giant,” Mateo said. Collin paled a bit, but nodded stoically. As the two men left to interrogate the person responsible for all of this death and destruction, Quentin began sifting through the wreckage.

“Everyone stop what you’re doing,” Mateo radioed, “Giant has vanished.”

[Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 24]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 22

Mexican Anthropological Museum, Mexico City, 1735 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 29 days

Quentin McLintock heard the stacks of crates crashing down as the corpses inside them came alive and thrashed to get out. He knew in short order there was likely to be forty or so zombies bearing down on him and his three fallen team members. He wasn’t worrying about those zombies. Quentin’s entire attention was on the hand of one of those team members gripping his forearm like a vise and the moaning emanating from the body. Then Quentin’s logical mind finally broke through swirling emotion and terror. Those weren’t undead moans.

Quentin looked down at the arm. Slim’s PDA was blinking furiously. Its owner was dying – not dead – and the armor’s computer was doing everything it could to protect Slim. The PDA was desperately sending Slim’s vitals to the rest of the team. Including the Beta team. Quentin heard the crashing of glass and the sound of someone sliding down a rope. By the time Quentin turned around, The Steve was shoving him aside. The team medic was pulling a variety of supplies from all over his armor. Quentin’s mind was desperately trying to understand how The Steve got to them so fast.

“Quentin, would you do The Steve a favor and keep those zombies busy?” The Steve said with his normal light tone. Quentin looked up. The first of the zombies had freed themselves of the crates. They let out hunting moans and staggered towards the living. An odd sense of relief swept through Quentin. This was something he could understand. This was something he didn’t feel inadequate to handle. Quentin snatched his carbine off the ground. He fell into the fighting stance and brought the weapon up to the nearest zombie. With the reticle on the zombie’s head, Quentin squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened.

“Don’t get frustrated,” Quentin whispered to himself, as the zombie shambled closer and let out a hunting moan, “Tap, rack, bang.” As he spoke the words, Quentin slapped the end of the magazine, pulled the charging handle, felt the fresh round chamber, and squeezed the trigger. The ZKC coughed as it fired a suppressed burst into the zombie. The moaning was cut off as the rounds shredded the zombie’s head. Quentin didn’t wait to watch the zombie fall. He was busy twisting to bring the carbine on the next zombie. A second burst dropped a second zombie. After the third burst, the weapon locked back on an empty magazine.

Quentin dropped the magazine out of his weapon and felt around for a new one. As his hand grasped an unfamiliar pouch, Quentin remembered the spare magazines were further back. As he fumbled with a new magazine, the chorus of moans grew louder. From the sound, Quentin judged the horde was about to hit crush – the point when the sheer numbers of the horde would overwhelm the actions of the defenders. Quentin inserted the new magazine and released the bolt. Before Quentin could open fire, metal glinted out of the corner of his eye, and an axe screamed over his shoulder to bury itself in a zombie’s head.

Billy Shakespear leapt onto the loading dock with a pistol in one hand and a collapsible baton in the other. The zombies tried to turn to attack the new prey, but Billy was in motion. Billy double-tapped the nearest zombie with the pistol. As the zombie fell, Billy slammed the corpse and threw its weight against two others. Zombies, by their nature, tended to be unable to maintain balance if anything strong collides with them – especially 150 pounds of decomposing flesh, muscle, and bone. The two zombies collapsed. Billy didn’t seem to notice He already was attacking another with a precise flurry of blows with the baton. Broken leg, broken arm, shattered skull. The zombie went limp and collapsed.

Quentin started on the opposite edge of the zombies from Billy. Walking zombies were priority. Quentin took down two of the walkers. He brought his weapon to bear on a third zombie. The creature dropped out of his sight as Billy slammed its legs out from under it. Quentin immediately lowered his carbine. Without stopping, Billy brought down the baton onto the creature’s head and twirled to find his next target.

“Billy, calm down,” Quentin said, “You came into my line of fire.”

“I don’t ‘calm down’,” Billy said arrogantly, as he charged at a newly emerged zombie, “I am William Who Shakes the Spear. My father is a Chiricauau Apache whose grandfather rode with Geronimo and great-grandfather fought alongside Victorio.” The zombie’s outstretched arms were shattered by a pair of hammer blows. Billy paused for the briefest instants before sliding to the zombie’s left and slamming the baton into the back of the zombie’s head.

“Top it all off, I grew up in the toughest city on the planet,” Billy continued, “So, don’t think for a moment that I’m ever going to slow-” Billy stopped in mid-motion. The baton and pistol fell out of his hands. He stood there motionless as two zombies shambled towards him. Quentin shouted Billy’s name, but there was no response. Without warning, Billy collapsed to the ground.

“Damn kids always push themselves beyond their limits,” grumbled Mateo as he staggered to his feet, “Quentin, go get him.” The team leader looked weak, but Mateo held his carbine in a firm manner. Quentin nodded to Mateo and lifted himself up onto the docks. He focused on Billy’s still form about thirty feet away, ignoring the quiet staccato behind him and the crack of bullets around him. Quentin easily hoisted Billy up over his shoulder. Quentin ignored the moans of nearby zombies and charged back to where Mateo was providing cover fire. Quentin jumped down off the docks. There was the unique and slightly unsteady sensation of feeling the shock of landing on one foot and one knee. The prosthetic didn’t betray him this time. Or was he finally acclimating to it under stress? Quentin gently lowered Billy to the ground. A quick check of the young man’s PDA showed weakened but steady vitals.

“What happened to him?” Quentin asked, pointing at Billy.

“Fool kid recovered a bit from Giant’s attack and thought he was good to go,” Mateo said, taking down another zombie, “Didn’t think there might be an after effect of that whammy Giant slapped on us. He should be fine in a minute or two.”

“So, what now Matt?” Quentin asked.

“Collin, are you busy?” Mateo asked over the radio.

“Just a bit, Matty,” Collin answered in his calm understated manner, “Managed to run across another patch of the buggers. Dealing with it, but they’re acting a bit odd.”

“Giant is fleeing out the first floor,” Mateo said, “Can you intercept him?” There was a pause before Collin answered.

“Negative,” Collin said, “He’s up here. He’s got those blokes in black with him. Looks like they’re rooting around for something. Oh bloody hell—“ Collin cut off. Mateo checked his PDA, but the faceplate prevented Quentin from seeing his team leader’s face. The quiet string of curses from Mateo worried Quentin. Mateo snapped up his carbine and unleashed a string of bursts that brought down five zombies in less than ten seconds. Mateo let go of the carbine and drew his pistol. With an aggressive fury, Mateo drilled the remains of the zombies with precise fire. Quentin belatedly joined Mateo with fire from his own carbine.

“What is Slim’s status?” Mateo demanded as he reloaded his pistol.

“Critical. That big dude really effed him up,” The Steve answered, not looking up at Mateo, “We need to get him out of here stat.”

“Wake up Sleeping Beauty and have him help you get Slim out,” Mateo ordered, motioning to the unconscious Billy, “Extract to a local hospital and call in for more medical help. Then, I need the two of you back here ASAP.” Mateo turned to Quentin.

“Quentin, you’re with me,” Mateo said as he replaced the magazine in his carbine, “Looks like Collin’s team ran into a pair of gollums.” Mateo tried to keep the neutral command in his voice, but Quentin heard the hint of true fear. The fear a father felt watching his child walk into an inescapable danger. Quentin refused to contemplate the torrent of emotion running through his friend.

The two charged through the museum. Mateo ignored the few stray zombies meandering through the ground floor of the museum. As they charged up the main stairwell, Giant and his minions appeared. The two groups froze in mutual surprise. Mateo and Quentin snapped out of it first and brought up their carbines. The two minions fumbled with pistols tucked into their robes. Giant just stood there with a perplexed look in his eyes.

“How did you get here?” demanded Giant, with a thunderous roar, “Why aren’t you near death?” Mateo responded by shooting one of the minions. Giant lashed out with his whip. Quentin was stunned by the booming crack of the whip and the sickening wave of energy that washed over him. The whip struck Mateo in the head. The faceplate cracked as Mateo’s head snapped back. Mateo staggered back a half-step before regaining his stance. Mateo fired two quick bursts. One hit Giant squarely in the chest and drove their enemy back. The second burst dropped the other minion.

“Quentin move!” Mateo shouted. Quentin didn’t think. He just acted. He stormed up the stairs. Giant loomed over him as he reached the top of the stairs. Quentin didn’t have a chance to be afraid. He lowered his shoulder and aimed for Giant’s stomach. Giant never moved. He stood there like one of Quentin’s old tackling dummies. Quentin felt the familiar crush as his body slammed into the larger man. Quentin lifted Giant off of his feet before tossing him back several feet.

Giant looked at Quentin with a wide-eyed stare, as if he just couldn’t believe Quentin dared to strike him. Quentin felt a sudden rage. He let his carbine fall on its sling and drew his warhammer. Giant scrambled to get to his feet, but Quentin slammed him back to the ground. The hammer came down on Giant’s knee with a wet crunch. Giant let out an unearthly scream. A second blow pulverized the other knee.

“Leave him,” Mateo said, grabbing Quentin’s shoulder, “He isn’t going anywhere, and we need to help Collin.” Quentin’s anger faded. Mateo continued to rush to their teammates’ aid. Quentin gave the screaming Giant a final look before following Mateo.

He hoped they would make it to Beta Team in time.

[Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 23]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 21

Mexican Anthropological Museum, Mexico City, 1715 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 29 days

Quentin McLintock needed to run away. The shrill howls of the gollums triggered a flood of emotion and memory. Memories of pain and terror. Memories of his friend going insane and destroying his leg with an errant burst of gunfire moments before he was swarmed by gollums. He could clearly remember those leathery fingers digging into his skin.

“Lights on!” barked Mateo, his calm, commanding voice yanking Quentin out of the nightmare and back into the fight. Four beams of dazzling white light pierced the darkness. The four gollums at the end of the hall hissed as the beams illuminated them. The gollums’ withered, leathery skin was decorated with blue-painted symbols. They wore simple leather flaps as loin cloths and clutched carved wooden clubs. Quentin noticed this, but didn’t care. His eyes focused on the stone medallions hanging around the gollums’ necks by leather strips. Until those medallions were destroyed, the gollums were essentially invulnerable.

“Billy. I need into those docks,” Mateo said, “Get me there.” Quentin could feel the small man’s smile. Billy’s beam disappeared. The snicker sound of two batons extending were replaced by an unearthly yell. William Shakespeare, descendant of a Chiriquaua Apache warrior who rode with the infamous Victorio, attacked with the full fury of his ancestry. Quentin saw glimpses of Billy as he danced amongst the beams of light. The dull thuds of wood hitting armor were intermingled with the wet crunch of a metal baton slamming into bone. One person fighting four gollums was, at best, suicidal. Gollums were stronger, faster, felt no pain, and most importantly, invulnerable as long as the medallion around its neck was intact. Suicidal, if you were fighting to defeat them. Billy was just buying time for the team.

“Into the docks!” Mateo yelled over the noise of the fight. Quentin followed his team leader as the man charged into the narrow opening provided by Billy.

“Don’t fight them until we have more room,” Mateo commanded as the gollums reached out from behind the wall of blows provided by their teammate. The door opened to an open-air loading area. The sudden sunlight blinded Quentin. He stumbled forward as his eyes strained to adjust to the brightness. Quentin heard Mateo and the Brit charge past him. Why couldn’t he be as good as he was on that island? Why was he stumbling around like some newbie? Finally the room around him came into focus. The loading docks turned out to be a large concrete room with stacks of crates. The stacks were of uneven height, and in the sudden light, looked like a miniature city skyline. Or decent defensive positions, Quentin’s tactical memory reminded him. He scrambled to set up behind the crates.

“Billy step in and cut right,” Mateo ordered. Billy retreated into the docks, still trading blows with the gollums. As soon as he was through the doorway, Billy rolled to the right to come up in a fighting stance with his batons ready. The gollums charged at the team, but stopped short at the doorway. It was like they hit an invisible wall. What stopped them?

“Take them down,” Mateo said, before placing a burst into the chest of one gollum. Two rounds lanced harmlessly through the gollum’s withered body. The third impacted the medallion. The 6.8 mm round easily shattered the stone. The gollum let out an unearthly scream as the shards of the medallion fell to the ground. Its torment was cut short as Mateo fired again. Devoid of its supernatural protection, the gollum was violently torn apart by the bullets. Slim dispatched a second gollum with the same efficiency.

Quentin took aim at a third gollum. The chevron in the holographic sight lined up on the medallion. He knew he missed the moment the rifle rocked back with the recoil. He rushed the shot and jerked the trigger. Quentin could feel how out-of-step he was in the fight. The gollum snarled as the rounds punched through its stomach. Enraged, the gollum threw its club at Quentin. The heavy wood club slammed into Quentin’s shoulder as he tried to duck behind cover. Quentin felt the blow as the club slapped harmlessly against his shoulder armor. No pain, but the force of the blow was enough to throw Quentin off-balance. Old football reflexes took over as he slid his right leg out to keep him upright. His new leg just couldn’t move as fast as he needed. Quentin felt his breath rush out of him as he hit the concrete. He heard his weapon clatter off the dock. Quentin stayed on the ground for a second, annoyed with himself. What a stupid way to go down. Especially since his team needed him in the fight.

“Quentin, are you okay?” Mateo called out, between bursts. Quentin couldn’t answer for a moment. His frustration gripped him like a vice. Mateo called again, more concerned this time. “Quentin, you with us?”

“Yeah, just tripped over myself,” Quentin growled, finally finding his voice, “Lost my gun.”

“Go get it while we deal with these two,” Mateo said. Quentin rose to a crouch and walked to the edge of the dock. Mateo, Slim, and Billy could handle two gollums that couldn’t even come into the room. Why couldn’t they come into the room? The question nagged his mind. The rear of the loading area was a pit that allowed trucks to back up to the docks and roll out their crates without the need of a ramp. It was safer for the precious cargo. Quentin’s rifle was a few feet from the edge of the docks in the middle of the pit. Quentin jumped down, picked up his weapon, and inspected it. It didn’t look too bad. Just some scrapes and scuffs on the housing.

Quentin head snapped around as he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Giant stood at the corner of the building with about twenty zombies behind him. He was still dressed in the black ninja suit. His dark eyes were wide in surprise. Giant was trying to trap the team, and he wasn’t expecting to find Quentin out of the trap. Quentin had an instant to bring up his weapon.

The crack of the whip boomed with the force of a concussion grenade in Quentin’s face. The sheer ferocity was enough to stun Quentin. He didn’t even feel the whip as it wrapped around his neck. His mind was barely aware he couldn’t breathe. He felt the dimness around him.

Four loud barks of a pistol snapped Quentin back. He saw Giant flinch as four spurts of blood erupted from his chest. The whip loosened a bit. Quentin’s head swam as blood rushed back into his brain. The primal need for survival awoke a part of Quentin’s mind he tried very hard to keep locked down. Rage flooded him. He grabbed the whip. A cold, sick energy rippled up his arm. Quentin didn’t have time or emotion to care. With every bit of his strength, he yanked on the whip. Giant was strong and powerful, but physics still ruled. Giant flew off his feet and into Quentin’s waiting fist. There was no art or technique to the blow. It was pure and simple savagery.

Giant’s head snapped back. The blow would have killed a normal person. It should have, at the very least, dazed the man. Quentin felt the whip slither off his neck like a dead snake. He heard the sound of suppressed fire as Slim and Billy engaged the zombies. Mateo landed next to his friend with pistol in hand. Quentin felt a small rush of relief. Then, Giant stood back up without a hint of any injury. Even the bullet wounds were gone. What was Giant?

“Drop the whip!” Mateo yelled at Giant, rising to his favored Weaver stance.

“Mateo Cortez. You aren’t as tall as I expected,” Giant said, his voice flat and cold. The accent was odd. It sounded American, Spanish, and European all at the same time. “You are not supposed to be here.” Mateo answered by unloading his pistol into Giant. The seven foot tall man jerked back with each impact, but showed no pain. As the slide on his Sig locked back, Mateo dropped the magazine. The whip tagged Mateo as he was slapping a new magazine in. The team leader dropped without a sound. Quentin moved between his fallen friend and Giant. Slim and Billy jumped down next to him with their rifles raised. They made relatively quick work of the zombies with Giant. Quentin could feel their rage at not being fast enough to protect their leader.

“I didn’t kill him. It’s not allowed quite yet,” Giant answered, “Still, you have managed to annoy me.” The whip shot out and knocked the rifles out of Slim’s and Billy’s hands. Giant flicked the whip out to the side. The long cord froze rigidly. Before Quentin’s mind could comprehend what was happening, Giant ran the whip through Slim like a lance. The tall Brit was slammed into the wall of the pit as blood poured out of the tiny wound.

Giant flicked his wrist and the whip went limp. Another flick and the whip curled back to Giant. Quentin fumbled for his medical kit. He needed to stop the river of blood pouring out of Slim’s unmoving form. Quentin heard a sick crack and looked back in time to see Billy lying in a heap in front of Giant. The man locked eyes with Quentin. There was no amusement or even annoyance in those dark eyes. They were filled with a fire Quentin couldn’t decipher. The moment was broken as Giant leapt over Quentin and his fallen team. As the man strode into the museum, he cracked his whip once again.

The crates on the dock began to rattle as the familiar moan of zombies echoed through the loading dock. Quentin’s mind raced, trying to figure out what to do. Then, Slim grabbed Quentin’s arm, and moaned.

[Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 22]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Over Mexico City, 16300 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 29 days

Quentin McLintock swallowed down a wave of nausea as he caught sight of the ground speeding under the helicopter. Motion sickness was one of his curses. Quentin swore under his breath. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to concentrate on something else. Like the new gear Mateo foisted upon him before bundling the team onto the helicopter.

The armor was comfortable. In fact, it reminded Quentin of the pads and protection he had worn as a linebacker. The base was simply a version of the popular Lycra sports garments Quentin had worn for years, except this stuff was tear-resistant. That meant it was also very hard to bite through. Then came a harness for the electronics, including the radio, sat phone, GPS, and a few other things Quentin wasn’t sure how they worked. They all tied into a PDA that reminded Quentin of a very rugged iPod. A Camelback went on next. The shoulder, chest, and gut protection was articulated polymer over Kevlar. The arms and legs were protected with leather augmented with plastic at the joints. All of his gear was stored in a series of rigid pouches scattered around the outside of his armor. The helmet was perhaps the strangest piece of the armor. The actual helmet was styled similarly to an American combat helmet with a flip out mount for enhancements. A tinted face shield attached to for a seamless wraparound bucket. Quentin caught a reflection of himself, and felt like the ancient ancestor of an Imperial stormtrooper.

The carbine, at least, was relatively normal. The “Zombie-Killing Carbine”, or ZKC as the team called it, started out as a Bushmaster ACR. The rear of the weapon retained the familiar controls and stock. An ACOG-type sight graced the top of the weapon with a flip-up bracket to attach additional enhancements, such as nightvision or a thermal imager. The front of the weapon displayed none of its lineage. It looked like a single piece of molded plastic with an integral suppressor, high-powered white light, laser, and flip-down vertical grip. The whole package was somewhere between combat functional, tacti-cool, and futuristic. Mateo swore the “ZKC” was an easy weapon to master, but Quentin wished he had more time to work with it.

“Okay, the bad guys are in the Mexican Museum of Anthropology,” Mateo said over the team’s radio, “The place emptied out fast once the zombies showed up, but intel says at least ten to thirty civilians were turned.”

“Where are we getting intel?” asked Collin DuBois from the other helicopter.

“Local control says there are a couple of Mexican police on scene who haven’t run,” Mateo answered, “They’re keeping their distance, but trying to watch what the bad guys are doing. Best estimates are fifty or so zombies, two guys in dark clothes, and Giant. The non-zombies are hunting for something while the zombies are keeping away the humans.”

“Sounds like a party,” Billy Shakespear interjected.

“Glad you think so,” Mateo answered dryly, “Control wants us to eliminate the outbreak.”

“I know that tone, Matty,” Collin said, “What’s the real op?”

“Giant and his two minions are in there for a reason. They need to be captured to find out what their end game is,” Mateo answered, “That’s Alpha team’s job. Quentin, myself, Slim, and Billy are on Alpha. Collin, you have everyone else for Bravo. Standard zombie clearing, but be ready to come to the rescue.” There was a chorus of mike clicks as the team acknowledged Mateo’s orders.

The two helicopters flared to a hover before dropping to the ground. The first out were the professionals – Collin, The Steve, and the Brit Boys. The rest of the team followed them onto the museum grounds. Mateo flashed hand signals. Quentin couldn’t remember what they meant. It didn’t matter. He just had to stick with Mateo.

Collin and the rest of Beta team moved into the museum’s shattered entryway. Debris and discarded items were scattered over the marble floor. There were no zombies, but the wrecked exhibits left a clear trail. Beta team cautiously moved in. Mateo didn’t wait for them to disappear into the museum. He pulled the four members of Alpha around him.

“The police focused on the zombies, so we don’t have a clear idea of where our target is,” Mateo explained, displaying the museum’s floor plans on his PDA, “Suggestions?”

“The museum was the main recipient of the artifacts we were digging up,” Quentin said, “They’ll probably be searching the labs and offices for the more recent artifacts.” The others nodded.

“Okay, Billy you’ve got point,” Mateo ordered, “Quentin, you’re next. You know the place better than we do, so you’re navigator.”

“Matt, I’ve never been here before,” Quentin protested.

“You know the back side of a museum,” Mateo answered, “Good enough for now.” Quentin knew better than to argue the point. Mateo didn’t care if he was asking for the impossible again. He just expected Quentin to perform. As Billy led them through the museum’s entrance, Quentin studied the information on his PDA. The best place to start would be the receiving dock. Quentin drew a line on his PDA from Alpha’s position to the dock and uploaded it to everyone else’s PDA. Okay, the technology was pretty impressive. The question was how much was it going to help against someone like Giant?

Quentin winced at the sound as Billy smashed open the door leading to the back. For such a small person, Billy could deliver a lot of force when he wanted to. The corridor was a main access hallway. It was lit by flickering fluorescent lights. The off-color walls and linoleum highlighted the eeriness of the empty and quiet hallway. Quentin felt like he was walking into the set of a horror flick. It was a straight shot of maybe three hundred feet to the docks. Mateo flashed urgent hand signals and the team entered the hallway with trepidation.

About halfway down the hallway intersected another. Quentin’s heart pounded in his chest as Billy slid against the wall towards the intersection. Billy popped around the corner into the other hallway. Endless seconds passed as Quentin strained to listen for the faint sound of suppressed gunfire. He almost longed for action – any action. Anything to break the nervous tension. Billy slipped back around the corner and motioned. Nothing. Maybe the way was clear.

Quentin felt a little better as the team neared the door to the docks. He didn’t expect to find his target in the docks. Maybe something that would give Quentin an idea of why Giant had come to the museum. He started thinking on this as the team skulked towards the door. What had they come for? What could they need from this museum they didn’t find at the dig site? The team was maybe thirty feet from the door to the docks when it all went dark.

“Welcome to the trap gentlemen,” came the familiar voice of the man dubbed Giant, and Quentin’s stomach plummeted. The next sound was the familiar howls of gollums.

[Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 21]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 19

Aztec Ruins, 150 miles south of Mexico City, 1100 hours local, 2 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 29 days

Quentin McLintock was fighting fatigue and grief. William “Billy” Shakespear, the Native American dervish who pretty much took down a fifty-zombie horde on his own, took one look at Quentin and started processing the bodies. Such a clean word for such a gruesome task. They were joined by the team Mackenzie and Winston sent down to assist in the clean-up of the camp site. Quentin just couldn’t watch their clinical efficiency with the corpses of those he called friends and colleagues. So, he did what he could do to stop this horror from happening again. Quentin grabbed a laptop and went into the temple and started to try and decipher why Giant and his minions attacked the camp.

The temple looked gray as filtered light managed to reach into its main room. The floor was strewn with broken shards of what looked to be clay tablets of some sort. Quentin went to work. As he immersed himself, he barely noticed the gray light turn to amber from the dawn. He didn’t stop. He was making so little progress. Then, Quentin noticed the ambient light in the temple darken. Annoyance flashed through his tired mind. Who was interrupting him now? Don’t they understand how crucial–

“Hello Quentin,” said a familiar voice that shouldn’t be anywhere near this temple. Quentin almost dropped the piece of clay tablet in his hands. He was sure his fatigued mind was playing tricks on him. Still, there was the faint glimmer of hope it was true. Quentin turned to see Mateo Cortez standing in the opening with a warm smile on his face.

“What are you doing here?” Quentin asked, his mind still unable to reconcile with what his eyes were seeing. The last time Quentin saw this man was on Skull Island. Mateo was boarding a helicopter and swearing never to have anything to do with zombies or zombie hunting again. Now he was standing in the doorway of the temple in a strange set of armor with an odd rifle hanging at his chest on a tactical sling. Why was he here now?

“Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe,” Mateo said, “I’m team lead for the Skull Island Zombie Response Team. It’s a long story we don’t have time for right now.” Mateo’s smile vanished, replaced by a determined look. Quentin remembered that look with fondness. Mateo was back and fully in command. For some reason, that gave Quentin a small sense of peace.

“I talked with the guy, Billy, outside, but he says you’re the only one who saw the primaries. What can you tell me?” Mateo asked.

“One guy who looked like he was a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than me. Two more like the prisoner,” Quentin answered, “I think they were searching for how the Aztecs created zombies and gollums. Did you ask the prisoner?”

“He’s not talking due to a bad case of death,” Mateo said, “Not sure how he managed to suicide, but the body’s off to Mexico City for autopsy. The clean-up crew was nice enough to do some forensic work before it left. I’ve got Collin and The Steve working on that. What have you found here?”

“This is definitely the place where the followers of Xipe Totec created their own versions of the undead,” Quentin said, waving his hand around the temple’s main chamber. “Giant broke all of the tablets relating to the process, but I’ve managed to piece enough together. Also found a half-dozen gollum medallions.”

“How do you know Giant broke them?” Mateo asked. Quentin held up one of the broken tablets.

“No erosion on the broken edges,” Quentin answered. “Giant’s the most likely suspect.”

“Were those the ones Giant left, or did he not understand their significance?” Mateo asked.

“I don’t know, Matt,” Quentin answered, tiredly, “Maybe if I knew more about how gollums were created in the first place. My guess is Giant left these for some reason. He knew too much about this place not to know about the medallions.”

“That makes finding this guy priority,” Mateo concluded, “What do you need to find out what he’s after?” Quentin gave Mateo a wide-eyed stare. Did he even begin to understand what he was asking? No, Mateo never did when he made his impossible requests. Yet, they couldn’t be impossible because no one had yet to fail him.

“I need to find out why they smashed up the place,” Quentin said, thinking furiously, “No reason to waste time demolishing the place unless they were covering their tracks.” Mateo nodded in agreement. Mateo cupped his hand to his ear.

“Jess, I need you and the Brit Boys down here,” Mateo said. Quentin watched as his friend’s expression blossom with consternation at this Jess person. Mateo took a deep breath before speaking. “No, he can’t come with you. I gave you an order young lady. Now get down here!”

Quentin stifled the laugh. There was something about Mateo’s face, tone, and posture. Quentin had seen his friend dealing with the antics of some of his teammates, mainly The Steve, but this was completely different. It reminded Quentin of a father dealing with his teenage daughter. Then a blonde-haired, blue-eyed homecoming queen in body armor sauntered into the temple. Quentin almost didn’t notice the two professional-looking men trailing her. The girl couldn’t be more than sixteen. Why in God’s name would Mateo let this little girl be a part of the team?

“Mateo, what’s the problem with bringing Billy down here?” Jess asked with just a hint of whining. The two men who entered the temple with her rolled their eyes and braced themselves.

“Because you’re looking at him like you did that, um, guy from Twilight,” Mateo answered, and Quentin wondered what word his friend swallowed. “I need that mind of yours focused on the task.” Jess gave him the look of aggravated patience that only teenage girls can throw. Mateo ignored it.

“You three help Quentin with his work here,” Mateo ordered, “The rest of the team will be outside doing other investigation.” Mateo strode out of the temple. Jess just glared at Mateo as he left.

How to handle this ball of fire? Quentin asked himself.

“He’s gone now girl, you can bloody well drop the act,” the taller man said reprovingly with a clear British accent. It was slightly different from the accent of Quentin’s friend, Collin DuBois, but it clearly hailed from the United Kingdom. The man looked at Quentin. Jess shot the man a betrayed look. He ignored it.

“Apologies, Mr. McLintock. You may call me Slim. This is my associate Sport.” The shorter man raised a knuckle in salute. “You’ve met Ms. Montgomery.”

“Good to meet you all,” Quentin said, “How good are you at jigsaw puzzles?”

A few hours later, Quentin emerged from the temple. Mateo walked over and handed Quentin a bottle of water. Quentin savored the cool liquid running down his throat. It was a relief from the dry, dusty, and hot environment. Mateo gently tapped the end of the bottle, a reminder to Quentin to sip the water.

“What have you found?” Mateo asked bluntly.

“The tablets were instructions for creating the undead, but the instructions rely on the reader already knowing the basics,” Quentin said, “There was a lot of, for lack of a better term, technical jargon. Things that didn’t translate out properly. I think this was a raid to steal medallions and to destroy any remnant of the knowledge how to create the undead.”

“Makes sense,” Mateo agreed, “We’re trying to ID the two bad guys here. So far, no luck. Anything else?” Quentin gave his friend a sidelong glance before answering. Mateo picked up on his friend’s discomfort. “What is it?”

“Why did you bring along the kid?” Quentin asked, embarrassed at having to ask Mateo. Mateo took one look at Quentin’s face and laughed.

“Relax, Quentin, she’s my foster daughter,” Mateo answered. When that didn’t seem to ease Quentin’s concerns, Mateo gave him a quick rundown of the events surrounding the fight at Forreston.

“So what do you want me to do?” Quentin asked.

“I need you to keep trying to find out everything you can,” Mateo answered, “This group of cultists is acting very differently than Xipe Tzin, and I want to know why. Keep Jess with you.”

“Are you really worried about her being distracted by Billy?” Quentin asked, nodding to the animated Native American who was busily following the distinct forms of Collin and The Steve.

“Honestly, any other time I would be jumping up and down she was showing interest in a young man,” Mateo said, “Jess had a rough time with all of the upheavals in her life. There were some really dark days.”

“So what’s the problem?” Quentin asked.

“We’re facing a group of individuals who were willing to kill everyone in this camp to keep the information you found hidden,” Mateo said, “I can’t let her mind be distracted when dealing with people like that.” The cold bluntness of his words triggered a wave of suppressed grief in Quentin. Mateo realized belatedly the effect of his words. “I’m sorry about your friends. Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay as long as I’m busy,” Quentin said, “We need to stop these murderers. I’ve got the feeling the attack here was a small part of whatever they’re up to.” Mateo started to stay something, but his mouth clicked shut as he listened to his earpiece. His face grew grim.

“Understood,” Mateo said in his command voice. He flicked a switch on his radio and said, “Everyone grab your gear and rally on me.” Quentin could see a flurry of action around the camp.

“For the record your new name is Prophet,” Mateo said, “Giant and his friends are leading a zombie attack in Mexico City. Transport is fifteen minutes out. You’re with me.” As Mateo, turned to brief his team, Quentin’s mind flashed to his friend’s words. Quentin couldn’t tell if his friend was joking with him or cursing him.

Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 20

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 18

Aztec Ruins, 150 miles south of Mexico City, 2200 hours local, 1 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 1 month

Quentin McLintock faced one of the worst scenarios a zombie hunter could encounter. He knew it as soon as the first arm shot out from the ground. Quentin recognized the familiar ring from his Alma mater, West Virginia University. These were his friends and colleagues. They’d been murdered by a mysterious giant of a man and his four minions. Two of those minions fled with the giant. A third was starting to rise with the familiar shamble of the undead. The last was tied up after losing a fight with Quentin.

Quentin looked into the face of his academic mentor, Dr. Eli Stone, as the undead corpse freed itself from the dirt. Painful guilt wracked Quentin. He knew the moaning creature was no longer the kind man that looked past Quentin’s jock facade to challenge the burgeoning anthropologist underneath. He knew it was a monster that would kill him and turn him into a member of the horde. Yet, Quentin just couldn’t make his finger squeeze the trigger on his M4.

Quentin did the only thing he could do. He ran. He ran as fast as he could from the animated corpses of those he labored with in this cursed place. He sprinted into his tent. At the bottom of the trunk that held all of his weapons was a satellite phone. He needed help. Quentin clipped the phone to his vest and jerked the trunk up onto his shoulders. There were too many goodies Quentin didn’t want falling into the hands of the giant and his minions. He rushed out of the tent to the pre-fab building at the center of the dig camp.

The last minion was where Quentin left him bound with copious amounts of duct tape. The minion’s eyes laughed at Quentin as he slammed down the trunk. Quentin was sorely tempted to throw the bound man in the odd ninja costume to the zombies. Quentin squashed the thought and fumbled with the satellite phone. One of the buttons was blinking a friendly green. Quentin mashed it as he heard the hunting moans of the newly risen horde.

“Mr. McLintock are you all right?” asked a beautiful, melodic woman’s voice with an unmistakable British accent. “My name is Seraph. Help is on the way.”

“What?” Quentin asked, his mind jarred by the warm calmness in Seraph’s voice.

“I’m with MacKenzie and Winston, Mr. McLintock,” Seraph said, referring to the multi-national insurance firm covertly fighting zombie outbreaks around the world. They also covertly funded the archeological dig Quentin joined, hoping to find answers behind the outbreaks. Seraph continued, “One of our armed response teams were dispatched to your location when you opened the weapons locker.”

“Turn them around!” Quentin said, “There’s a zombie outbreak here! I need you to connect me to Kenn Blanchard! I need zombie hunters here as fast as possible.” Seraph didn’t say anything. Quentin worried that he scared the woman off. Just as he felt he was alone, Seraph’s lovely voice returned.

“Skull Island has been notified Mr. McLintock,” Seraph said. “However, the team will be unable to reach your location for quite some time. One of our armed response lads is Zed-qualified. He will be at your current location within the half-hour.”

“I got a feeling I’ll be surrounded by the time your boy gets here,” Quentin said, looking out the window at the mass of undead stumbling and moaning towards Quentin.

“Might I suggest you evacuate the area or engage your opponents?” Seraph said without a hint of condescension.

“Neither is a real good option,” Quentin temporized. Quentin just couldn’t confess to this warm and assuring voice he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the corpses of his friends and colleagues. At least not right then.

“I understand your reluctance to engage the zombies Mr. McLintock,” Seraph answered, her voice conveying warm and compassionate understanding, “They were our friends and colleagues. If you can’t fight, what prevents you from retreating?”

“Because I have a prisoner related to the individual who caused this outbreak, and I’m not going to surrender him unless I have no choice,” Quentin said with deadly calm. Seraph was quiet for a long minute.

“I have relayed your situation to the responding individual,” Seraph said, “He should be joining you in approximately five minutes, so do try to avoid shooting him.” Quentin arched an eyebrow in a silent question. How was someone from an armed response team twenty to thirty minutes away suddenly appear in five? The moans of the undead tore him away from the quandary. The pre-fab building wasn’t the best fortification. The horde could probably push through the thin walls once the mass built up. Quentin peered out through a large window next to the front entrance. The shambling mass of animated corpses were staggering straight to the building. It was a loose horde, not the densely packed groups that were easier to whittle down and stop. It looked like every person in the camp except for Quentin and his prisoner were among the horde. It would take less than five minutes for the horde to swarm the building. Quentin took a deep breath. He hated it and was sure it would haunt his dreams for a long time, but he had to do what he was put on this Earth to do.

Quentin opened the front door. He brought up his M4 and sighted at the closest zombie. It was Kathy Walker. The cute little undergrad zoomed around the dig with a hyperkinetic need to help everyone do everything. Now she was a moaning, staggering undead with only a partially caved-in head to show how she died. She hadn’t even had time to decompose. Vibrant memories flashed before Quentin’s eyes. He heard the muffled laugh from the bound and gagged minion behind him. Sudden anger flared through Quentin’s body. Hot, seating rage boiled through his veins as the minion continued to laugh at Quentin’s inability to put down his former colleagues and friends. It was these intruders who killed these people and desecrated their bodies by turning them into zombies. The anger became too much. He snapped the rifle up and placed a round into the bridge of Kathy’s nose. The zombie toppled back and stopped moving.

Next was Jeffrey who hero-worshipped Quentin because of Quentin’s football career. He went down with a shot through the right eye. Then Autumn, the girl who feigned being a princess before getting her hands dirty with the rest of the crew. Marisol, who was hoping to find some link with her Aztec ancestors. Each shot bled a bit of Quentin’s rage and strengthened his guilt. The bolt locked back on an empty magazine. His rage spent, Quentin dropped the weapon. He couldn’t think what to do. He just looked at the oncoming zombies with faces that taunted and tormented him.

Quentin barely heard the loud, high-pitched screeching, but he saw the small armored figure barrel into the horde with a pair of clubs. Four zombies went down amidst a flurry of blows before the horde even noticed the speeding figure’s presence. The person buried the clubs into two more zombies before drawing two small Steyr TMP submachine guns. The zombies nearest the hurtling figure fell as the chattering of gunfire started. New memories flashed in Quentin’s mind as he watched the figure slide away from two lunging zombies an instant before putting both down with an impossible double shot. Memories of angry Australian whose dance of death defied the laws of nature and statistics. There was the same synergy of violence and motion, of grace and brutality. Quentin was transfixed.

It was danger that snapped Quentin out of his haze of guilt and memories. Not personal danger. The armored figure zigged when he should have zagged, and the corpse of Paul Jones snatched him off the ground. Paul Jones, the only person in the camp who even came close to matching Quentin in sheer muscle. The former star wrestler for California who was often mockingly called SOG, or Son Of Governor, in deference to California’s former-movie star chief executive. Quentin’s hand snatched the pistol out of the holster and double-tapped the zombie before Quentin even realized he was acting. The corpse of the once mighty man collapsed. Wordlessly, the armored person shucked off Paul’s lifeless corpse and finished off the last three zombies.

The person, Quentin really couldn’t tell the gender under all that armor, holstered the two TMPs before coolly walking into the midst of the carnage to retrieve the clubs. Quentin managed to pick up his own carbine and reload it as the armored figure strode back to Quentin, the featureless plate of armor hiding the face. The plate slid up as the person neared. A young face with distinctly Native American features. The man tucked his two clubs under his left arm and stuck out his hand.

“Hiya,” the young man said with a thick Brooklyn accent, “The name’s William Shakespear.”

Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 19

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 3 – Chapter 17

Aztec Ruins, 150 miles south of Mexico City, 1730 hours local, 1 December 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 1 month

Quentin McLintock desperately wanted to scratch the itch on the bottom of his right foot. There was just one problem. His right foot wasn’t there anymore. Everything from the knee down had been amputated after Sissy O’Connell put a burst of 4.6mm bullets through his knee during the battle with Xipe-Tzin. During the long rehab, the doctors warned about phantom itches. For the most part, Quentin could ignore them. When he put in a hard day’s work excavating recently discovered Aztec ruins, the itch was bad enough he had to focus to get them under control.

Quentin didn’t complain. He was lucky. More so than Sissy. The poor woman was still in a mental hospital, and probably would be for the rest of her life, according to the doctors. She didn’t even acknowledge Quentin’s presence the last time he visited. She just sat staring at nothing. Quentin, on the other hand, was almost back to his former self. Mackenzie & Winston, the insurance firm that recruited Quentin to fight zombies, hired the finest doctors, prosthetics designers, and physical therapists to help him. The result was three months of hell that made him strong enough to work on the archeology project. M&W even footed part of the bill for the expedition.

“Itch started up again?” asked Dr. Stone. Kevin Stone was Quentin’s academic advisor for Quentin’s doctoral program. Quentin nodded stoically. During his undergraduate years, Quentin had been part of West Virginia’s powerful offensive line. He could endure the phantom itch. Dr. Stone clapped the massive man on his shoulder. “Well the Californians found something last night that they’re having trouble identifying. They’ve asked us to take a look, if you can believe that.”

“Oh?” Quentin asked, his curiosity piqued. The contingent from the University of California had been more than a little condescending to Dr. Stone and his little group of Mountaineers for the entire expedition. They tended to avoid Quentin altogether. It was annoying to deal with, but Quentin couldn’t deny the Californians’ expertise. If they couldn’t identify what they unearthed, it would have to be something truly rare. Quentin just hoped it wasn’t what he feared finding in these ruins.

Quentin followed Dr. Stone to the UC building. The prosthetic leg felt both alien and natural at the same time. Even after the intensive work, Quentin still wasn’t as nimble on his feet as he once had been. His pride mourned that loss. He knew he shouldn’t. The doctors kept telling Quentin his recovery was amazing considering the extent of his injury. In the darkest hours of the night, Quentin still felt weak, and then felt guilty about feeling weak.

The sun was setting as Dr. Stone and Quentin stepped into the prefab building. The sudden chill of the air-conditioner felt good after the long day in the Mexican sun. The two senior Californian archeologists were inspecting the object under a large magnifying lens. Dr. Stone traded good-natures quips with the pair as Quentin inspected their find. Quentin’s body froze as his eyes locked onto the small stone medallion. It was a flat disc maybe three inches in diameter and a quarter inch thick. The carvings were barely visible after centuries of erosion, but Quentin could make out the familiar runes. Old instincts flooded through his mind. Quentin’s hand grasped for a weapon that wasn’t there. Memories of terror flooded his mind. Desperate battles on a small island against almost unstoppable creatures.

“Where did you find this?” Quentin asked, flatly. His eyes were transfixed on the talisman.

“Grid three-two, by the temple,” answered the younger archeologist. He walked over to where Quentin was inspecting the medallion. The archeologist had the look of a man with a newborn child. “The carvings are extremely faint, but it’s not like anything else we found around that area. Completely unlike any of the other artifacts. Almost as if it’s from another period of Aztec history. It’s fascinating.”

“I need to inspect everything you extracted from the temple and the surrounding area,” Quentin demanded, his normal jovial tone replaced by a cold and commanding voice. Dr. Stone and the two archeologists stared at him with shocked looks. They didn’t know how to handle the sudden shift in the man they assumed to be the prototypical gentle giant.

“Doctors, that wasn’t a suggestion,” Quentin said, forcefully, “Get me what I asked.” Something in the look on Quentin’s face scared the two Californian archeologists. They scurried to comply with Quentin’s orders. Dr. Stone cautiously approached Quentin, looking as if he were about to stick his hand in a beehive.

“Quentin, what in God’s name are you doing?” Dr. Stone asked, in a low whisper, “You can’t order full professors around like undergraduates on their first dig, much less look at them like you are about to eviscerate them if they refuse. You’re going to ruin your career before you have one. What is going on?”

“I think we may have stumbled onto what we were looking for on this dig,” Quentin answered.

“Wait, what do you mean ‘what we were looking for?'” Dr. Stone asked.

“Why do you think we got that last minute donation to fund this expedition? It’s related to how I lost my leg.” Dr. Stone froze for a moment. The doctor didn’t have all the details surrounding the loss of Quentin’s leg, but he pieced enough together to know it wasn’t in the automobile accident that Quentin told everyone else.

“Okay, now I understand why you were pushing so hard for our team to join this dig. What I don’t understand is how this dig connects to zombies,” Dr. Stone said, quietly. The doctor’s conclusion surprised Quentin. It never occurred to him that the doctor could possibly know what Quentin was really hunting for.

“Not zombies exactly,” Quentin said, carefully choosing his words, “I think the Aztecs had methods of creating different types of undead. From some stuff I found, I think this site is where they created them. I needed to find it before someone else did.” Dr. Stone looked as his student with a look of stark terror on his face. Just being close to an ancient place tied to the undead was enough to evoke the familiar primal horror in the experienced archeologist. Quentin was lucky, or cursed, to be one of the small percentage of humanity who didn’t experience that terrifying panic when dealing with the undead.

“What are we going to do?” Dr. Stone asked. His eyes darted about, looking for places to hide. Quentin laid his hands on the man’s shoulders.

“Don’t worry Doc,” Quentin said calmly, “Remember, this is why I came here. I just need to confirm my suspicions, and then I make a phone call. The problem gets dealt with.” Dr. Stone nodded, but there was no comprehension in his eyes. The doctor was still trying to process the sudden revelation.

At that point, the two UC archeologists returned with a laptop. Quentin sat down to look through the items excavated near the medallion. Most were simple everyday items. Pottery, tools, and such. Nothing that appeared to be linked to the creation of the undead, or worse, the gollums he fought on that Pacific island. Quentin flagged a few items so he could go back and study them in more detail. Quentin opened the files to examine the human remains. Then, someone hit him over the head.

Buried reflexes came alive as Quentin lashed out against his attacker. He felt his fist connect against flesh and bone and heard a grunt of pain. Quentin fell into a fighting stance, but nearly collapsed when he misjudged his prosthetic. As he stumbled, Quentin clearly saw his assailant for the first time. His attacker appeared to be an average height and build man, but it was hard to tell through what looked like a bad ninja suit. The man was armed with what appeared to be an old-style police billy club. A tonfa, an old memory supplied. The wannabe ninja took advantage of Quentin’s misstep to strike with the tonfa. Quentin blocked with one of his massive arms. There was pain, but it was dulled. Years of being in the crush of the offensive lines, followed by rigorous training allowed Quentin to soak pain that would cripple lesser men. The assailant was stunned when Quentin shrugged off the blow. He never saw the punch coming. Quentin’s fist crashed into the side of the assassin’s head and drove him to the ground. The assailant half-bounced off the floor before crumpling into a heap. Quentin did a quick check. The man was alive, but unconscious. So, where was Dr. Stone and the two UC archeologists?

Quentin opened one of the toolboxes in the stacked against the wall and found a roll of duct tape. A few strips later and the assailant was secured. Quentin took several deep breaths as he thought about what he needed to do. Quentin was sure the assailant wasn’t alone. The dig site had no security beyond the numerous cell phones amongst the students. Well, that and the few items Quentin stashed in his tent. Quentin crept out of the building. The camp area was dark and deathly quiet. Quentin cursed silently. There were always students around campfires to BS about the day and do other things young men and women did when far away from home. Quentin barely made out a few shadows darting about the dig site around the temple. Best guess was at least three other individuals around the temple. Quentin needed to get to his tent.

Quentin stepped out into the night. There was no sign the intruders noticed him. His breathing slowed to a familiar rhythm as he dashed to the nearest tent. Quentin snapped a glance towards the temple. Still no reaction from the shadowy figures. Emboldened, Quentin dashed to his tent some forty yards away. For the first time in months, he felt like his old self. Charging into his tent, Quentin tossed the clutter hiding his “special” trunk. He punched the combination into the pad and threw open the lid. The weapons somehow managed to gleam in the almost nonexistent light.

The rig took a few minutes to put on. It had been some time since the last time Quentin wore this gear. The warhammer was a familiar weight. It went into its scabbard on his back. The Glock was holstered at his waist. Finally, Quentin picked up the M4. The weapon always felt so tiny in his hands, but it was effective. He had expected to need the weapons in the crate against narcos. He didn’t know who the intruders were, but they damn sure weren’t narcos. Quentin stalked out of his tent towards the temple with his M4 up and ready.

The nightvision showed Quentin the camp wasn’t quiet, it was deserted. Quentin knew when he was working, he was mostly oblivious to the rest of the world. That said, how did fifty people vanish without Quentin hearing a sound? Quentin suspected the three individuals rooting around the temple held the answers. Quentin crouched about thirty yards from the three intruders. The three were dressed in dark clothing from head to toe. More ninja costumes like the assailant trussed up back in the lab? They weren’t talking, just frantically digging around the temple in silence. They didn’t even seem to notice Quentin’s presence. Quentin didn’t see any weapons other than the small spades the intruders were using.

“Freeze!” yelled Quentin, breaking the silence. There was an instant of embarrassment at his choice of challenges, but he forged ahead. The three intruders were looking directly at him, as they were also wearing nightvision. “Lose the shovels and get on the ground!”

“Leave interloper,” the nearest said with a coldness that brought a touch of chill to Quentin’s bones. The speaker paused, as if to watch his words have their desired effect. When Quentin didn’t move, the speaker drew something from his sleeve. Quentin wasn’t sure what it was, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He squeezed the trigger. The area rocked with the sound as Quentin placed a burst into the speaker’s chest. The other two charged before the first’s body hit the ground. Quentin lined up the carbine on the closest.

“Stop!” boomed a voice. The two intruders stopped in their tracks. Quentin swiveled to where the voice originated. An impossibly huge person walked out of the temple. He was easily seven feet tall and dressed in the same black ninja-like clothing as the other intruders. Gripped in his right hand was a long whip. This new person strode out into the open with an unnatural grace.

“This one killed two of you,” the giant said to his two minions, “I’m sure he is wondering where all of his colleagues went. Let us answer his question.” The giant cracked the whip. The sound echoed eerily through the camp. Quentin was suddenly queasy from what felt like a sudden wave of sickening power. The three intruders walked away from Quentin. He knew they were dangerous, but Quentin just couldn’t bring himself to shoot a human in the back. Quentin stood up to tackle them, or anything he could to stop them.

Quentin stopped cold when the first hand shot out of the ground.

Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 18

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 2 – Chapter 16 – Part 2 Epilogue

Skull Island, South Pacific 1000 hours local 31 October 2009 Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 1 day

Mateo stepped off the boat on to the concrete dock. Maybe fifty feet down the pier, Kenn Blanchard was greeting the latest contestant for Zombie Strike! Memories flooded Mateo’s mind as he remembered when he first came to this island some eighteen months ago. It seemed so long ago. Mateo turned back to help his companion off the boat.

“Welcome back my brother,” Kenn said as he walked up to Mateo. The handshake turned into a warm hug. “Who’s this you brought us?”

“Kenn Blanchard this is Jess Montgomery, my foster daughter,” Mateo introduced. The teenager smiled shyly as Kenn quirked an eyebrow.

“It’s a long story,” Mateo said, “Short version, her parents were killed during the fight at Forreston, and she didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Mateo looked back at Jess with a smile. Kenn could see some of the emotional wounds were healing, just very slowly.

“So you took her in,” Kenn finished with a smile, “The Steve said you had some personal business to take care of. Never mentioned you’d be bringing back a new daughter.” Kenn looked back at the boat and frowned.

“Where’s Collin?” Kenn asked.

“He isn’t here?” Mateo asked in surprise, “He left Florida with The Steve, Jim, and the Brits.”

“The Steve said he dropped them off at the airport,” Kenn answered, “Collin told him that he had to help you with some unfinished business.”

“I never saw him,” Mateo said, suddenly worried about his friend. Kenn read the younger man’s face and clasped his shoulder reassuringly.

“I wouldn’t worry Matt,” Kenn said, “Collin probably had something come up. What was he doing in Florida anyway?”

“I thought you sent him,” Mateo said, surprised by the question, “He said he was there to provide support for M&W’s investigative team.” The two men stopped and looked at each other with mirroring concerned looks. The unspoken questions hung in the air between them. What was going on with Collin?

Mobile, Alabama 2000 hours local 31 October 2009 Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 1 day

Collin Dubois’s mind was alert to the danger around him as he strolled casually into the dive of a pub. It had taken a week to track his prey. Difficult, but not as challenging as hunting Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially not as dangerous as his time in Ulster. The denizens of the pub noticed the tall black man as he entered, but didn’t consider him much of a threat. Bloody fools.

Collin’s target was sitting with the remains of his family. Collin almost laughed at how they looked and acted like stereotypical American bikers. He strode to their table as he unbuttoned his long coat. The target’s companions began to stand up, but he waved them down.

“Don’t see many black limeys,” Morris Templeton said, without a trace of his normal condescending sarcasm, “I also don’t see my money.” Collin sat down, ignoring the barb as well as the five other toughs trying to look intimidating. They wouldn’t have lasted a day in the paras.

“You lost the shipment,” Collin replied, “You should be happy I didn’t tell Mr. West exactly how you lost his drugs.” Collin was impressed. Templeton didn’t even flinch. “Needless to say, Mr. West was most displeased with your failure to fulfill your end of the agreement.” Collin’s flat, empty tone made Templeton sit up straight. A faint expression of worry and fear crossed the criminal’s face.

“I don’t want Mr. West unhappy,” Templeton said, matching Collin’s tone, “What can we do to make this right?” Collin smiled inwardly as the opportunity presented itself.

“Who was Keenan smuggling that zombie for?” Collin asked. Templeton’s eyebrow arched, surprised at the question. Then, Templeton swallowed a gulp of beer from the mug at his elbow. The man looked nervous, but he put up a brave façade. Collin and Templeton stared quietly at each other as the question hung in the air. Templeton finally folded in the silent battle of wills after a minute of quiet tension.

“Some guy named Castle,” Templeton answered, “Never heard of him before, but he fronted me a quarter mil to facilitate, so to speak.” Templeton paused. That explained Templeton’s reluctance to divulge what he knew. Simon West wasn’t known for being kind to his associates that went “off the reservation” as the American said. Collin watched as Templeton’s eyes went wide.

“Mr. West’s not going to blame me for that craziness back in Forreston!” Templeton said.

“I think you should worry less about that and more about preparing the next shipment,” Collin said, rising from the table. None of the Templeton family noticed the small box Collin attached to the underside of the table. Sometimes perfect tradecraft was wasted on boorish amateurs. They would never appreciate the subtle grace of a truly gifted operator.

Collin was two hundred meters from the pub when the bomb detonated. The front of the pub shattered in a shower of wood, plaster, and glass. Collin waited for two minutes to see if anyone emerged from the wreckage. No one did. Collin turned and walked down the darkened street. After about ten minutes, Collin pulled out a phone from his jacket.

“Yes?” intoned the cultured voice.

“It’s done, West,” Collin growled into the phone, “Time for you to bloody well hold up your end.”

“Of course, Mr. DuBois,” West answered with an excruciatingly polite tone, “Your sister’s debt is discharged. Yours, however, is still in effect. I expect you to honor the terms of our arrangement.” Collin didn’t answer. He cut the call off and walked to Mobile Bay. Collin tossed the phone into the black waters. It sank beneath the small waves like a rock. That unpleasantness was finished. For the moment, at least.

Collin retrieved his rental car from the small private lot some five blocks away. He drove back to Florida to catch a military flight from a former comrade. It wasn’t technically legit, but old favors went a long way. Part of him just couldn’t understand how he managed to get into this mess. Part of him wanted to hop the first plane back to London and put Simon West into a watery grave. Still, in the end, Collin knew he would do what was necessary until the opportunity presented itself. He could only hope that he wouldn’t betray his friends too badly before he could settle his accounts.

Zombie Strike Part 3 Chapter 16

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