CategoryZombie Strike

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 59

The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0215 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez squeezed the trigger twice. The zombie’s head shattered as the hammer pair tore through it. Sport and Quentin advanced out of their building with weapons up. Two bursts took down two of the rising zombies. Jess took another one down from her perch. Sport cleared the last two with a pair of short bursts. Tredegar stood paralyzed for a moment as the gunfire surrounded him. The gangly FBI agent swallowed hard as the gunfire ceased. Tredegar, like every member of the Zombie Strike team, was one of those few humans who didn’t panic at the mere sight of the undead. That didn’t mean he did well in a gunfight.

“Edgar, go check the bodies for intel. You have less than four minutes now,” Mateo said. Tredegar nodded and hustled into the ruins of the café. Mateo motioned for the team to close up. The experienced zombie hunters moved quietly outside the café.

“Those buckos rose back up bloody quick,” Sport said as he kept watch towards the center of the town.

“Makes you wonder what the other team’s going through,” Quentin said. Jim grunted in agreement as the sounds of gunfire drifted through the streets.

“Someone’s watching us,” Jess stated flatly. The entire team pushed back against the café’s wall. Mateo looked up where Jess was aiming her rifle. At first, Mateo thought Jess misidentified the cathedral’s gargoyles as a target. Then, one of them moved. The minion – it had to be a minion – loped across the sloped roof of the cathedral with an inhuman gait. It was barely visible in the nightvision, almost as if it were slipping through the shadows. Mateo felt an icy chill climb his spine as he watched the minion slip into the bell tower.

“Can you take him down?” Mateo asked.

“No,” Jess answered simply.

“Matt, are you sure that was even human?” Quentin asked, with an almost imperceptible tremor in his voice. Mateo didn’t answer the big man’s question.

“Tredegar, grab what you can stuff into your bag. We’re moving.” The FBI agent looked perplexed as he rejoined the team, but didn’t say anything. Mateo took one more look up at the cathedral’s bell tower. Mateo couldn’t see the minion, but he could feel the minion watching him. Mateo did his best to ignore the icy tentacles and focused on the plan.

“Jim, you’ve got point,” Mateo ordered. “We head down this street for another three blocks, and then we head in towards the town center.” Jim trotted down the street. Sport traded his M4 for the XM25 grenade launcher before jogging behind the cowboy. Jess, Billy, and Tredegar were next with Mateo and Quentin bringing up the rear.

“Matt, shouldn’t we deal with whatever that was first?” Quentin asked.

“No, I got a feeling that whatever it is, it’ll come to us.” Quentin grimaced but didn’t say anything further. He looked up once more before following Mateo down the street. The team moved through the streets of Rosca. With every twist and every alley, Mateo expected his small team to be ambushed. This was when the team was at their most vulnerable. Any of the townspeople could rain down fire on them. Mateo was startled when the team took the final turn and halted at the edge of the town plaza. He’d fully expected to lose one of the team by now. Mateo’s breath quickened as he felt the paranoia creeping into him.

“That was too easy,” he murmured as he scanned the plaza. The town center stood in the middle of the plaza. It was a small, squat building with useless plaster columns surrounding the outside. Mateo guessed it was supposed to give a Greco-Roman feel to the building. Instead, it looked like a Greek version of South of the Border. To complete the useless extravagance, there was a wide fountain some fifty feet in front of the town center with a ten foot tall bronze Neptune jutting up from the center. Surrounding the town center was a cobblestone courtyard. Small kiosks and stands were littered across the plaza, the remnants of the last bazaar.

“Jim do you see anything?” Mateo asked.

“Still as a grave out there,” Jim answered warily.

“The other team could have succeeded in drawing off all of the Truth’s forces,” Tredegar said. A dark chuckle rolled through the Zombie Strike team. Mateo didn’t join them.

“Jess, what does Billy think?” Mateo asked. Jess knelt beside the spirit wolf pup and placed her hand on the pup’s shoulder.

“Alert and wary Matt,” Jess answered, “Not at anything specific. If there’s something out there, he can’t sense it.”

“I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse,” Jim said, voicing the thought running through the team’s minds. Mateo scanned the plaza once more. He couldn’t tell if his hesitation was reasonable caution or just paranoid fear. Almost against his will, Mateo began to ask himself what Collin would do. Mateo hated the man with an almost blinding fury, but he couldn’t deny how much he’d learned under Collin’s tutelage.

“Jim, Sport, move up to the fountain and take up an over-watch,” Mateo said, “The rest of us will mad dash to the building. Then, we’ll cover Jim and Sport as they link back up. Once the team is collected, we bust the door and follow the plan.” The team formed up. At Mateo’s signal, Jim and Sport sprinted towards the fountain. The crunching sound of boots pounding on cobblestones sounded thunderous in the still night. Jim and Sport crouched behind the low wall of the fountain. Their weapons swept the edges of the plaza before Jim clicked his radio microphone. It was all clear. Mateo let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

Hand signals flashed. The team rushed out into the plaza. They hadn’t gone more than ten steps before Billy stopped and started barking. Weapons came up as the team searched for enemies. Mateo heard a light thud from above. He raised his M4 and saw the vague shape of the minion sitting crouched on the top of the town center. The nightvision goggles just couldn’t make out the minion properly. Frustrated, Mateo flipped the goggles up and illuminated the minion with his weapon mounted light. Mateo stopped paralyzed as the white light pierced the night’s darkness. If the minion had been human, it wasn’t any longer.

The creature stood six and a half feet tall easily. It looked like someone had taken a human and stretched until it was barely recognizable. Its elongated body was wrapped in a black and green cloth. No skin was visible, not even around the eyes. Just two slits in the cloth as it wrapped around the minion’s long pointy head. The minion held its rope-like arms in front of its face before it let out a high-pitched screech no human could make. It sprinted across the town center’s roof, fleeing the light’s brilliance. Jess recovered faster than Mateo. Her light tracked the minion for a few seconds before her SCAR coughed. Jess fired three rounds into the minion. The 7.62 mm rounds knocked the minion off balance, and it fell to the roof.

Billy kept barking. Whatever the creature was, three bullets were not enough to put it down. Mateo looked over to Sport. Maybe a grenade would do the trick. Before Mateo could utter a word, the minion leapt up. It slammed a small rod onto the roof. Mateo dropped to his knees as he felt a wave of nauseating power sweep through him. He swallowed hard to keep from puking onto the plaza’s cobblestones. The sensation passed as quickly as it had come. Mateo brought up his weapon. If that was the best this thing could do, someone was going to have a nasty surprise. The loud chorus of hunting moans erupted through the town. Zombies rose from out of the fountain, out of the kiosks and stalls, out of the houses surrounding from the plaza. Instinctively, Mateo turned to face the horde that was now converging on his team. His mind quickly realized two things. One, the reason his team had an easy time was because all of the townspeople were dead. Two, his team was already at the point of crush.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 60]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 58

The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Collin DuBois dropped the spent magazine out of his M4 and slapped in a fresh one. These buggers were putting up more of a fight than he expected. Bullets splintered the corner of the building he was using as cover. Collin crouched, spun around the corner, and let out a pair of quick bursts. Screams of pain told him he’d at least wounded the gunmen. He darted down the alley. He needed to get his team back together. Collin had just heard the helicopter. Second part of the operation was underway.

The first part of the operation had gone like clockwork. Collin, The Steve, and Slim along with Chief Warrant Officer Stahl and three other soldiers from Task Force 11 jumped into the night sky and HALO’d in. They touched down in an LZ roughly three klicks west of the village three hours ago. Then, came the slow infiltration into the outskirts of the village. It had been a while since Collin did that sort of thing. With Zombie Strike, sneaking was done more for noise control. This was more like what Collin did when he was in the SAS.

As expected, the bloody cultists were all warm and cozy in their little hamlet. Running a proper guard schedule just wasn’t something they thought about. Why should they? They were safe in this village. The team made contact with the village about thirty minutes ago. The minion and some lesser cultists were taken down before they even realized they were under fire. Some of the villagers brought out their own weapons and attacked Collin’s team. They were brought down in short order. Collin was concerned his little group of shooters would plow through the village’s defenses before Matty and his group arrived. Then, the cult’s own shooters arrived.

The firefight that erupted brought back memories of desperate fights around Belfast in Collin’s early days with the Army. Whoever was commanding the Truth’s militia, as Collin started thinking of them, was bloody brilliant. He’d had Collin’s team in a right nice trap. If Slim hadn’t accidentally run into one of the fire teams, all of them would’ve been wiped out. One of the Yanks unloaded his funny-looking grenade launcher. It was amazing how much breathing room five air-bursting grenades could give you. The team was now strung out in pairs along a line of buildings. From the sounds of the firefight, they were dealing out far more than the militia. That would last only as long as their ammo held out. Collin needed to get them back into action before they were killed off one by one. He couldn’t fail. This was his last chance at redemption.

“Dude, The Steve thought you were a goner,” The Steve said as Collin slid behind the low wall the medic and Slim were using as cover. It was pretty bad when even the medic’s insanity was comforting.

“The thought crossed my mind a time or two as well,” Collin admitted. A hail of bullets cracked into the wall. The old stones held. Slim casually rose up above the edge of the wall and fired twice.

“About six left,” Slim reported as he ducked back down an instant before another stream of bullets trimmed the top of the wall. His tone was professional, but his eyes glowed with hatred as they met Collin’s. Slim was not happy with Collin’s command of the assault team.

Collin was surprised when Matty brought him in to help plan the assault on the village. He’d been absolutely stunned when Matty assigned him command of the first team. Needless to say, not everyone was happy with the idea. As far as Slim was concerned, Collin should have been either locked in a dark, dank cell or swinging from a noose. The team sniper only grudgingly agreed that Collin was the best person available when Mateo directly asked him. Slim also made it perfectly clear that as soon as this operation was done, he would make sure Collin faced some sort of justice. Slim had been vague as to what form justice would take, and Collin just couldn’t blame him. As to the rest of his team, well, they were all soldiers. They’d fought under commanders they didn’t quite trust before. As long as Collin didn’t get them killed, they’d deal with it.

“Stahl, are you able to move?” Collin asked over the radio. Collin was really missing satellites at the moment.

“If we can take care of the guys shooting at us, yeah,” the warrant officer answered, “Right now, we’re just bleeding them.”

“Do you think your group can make it to the butcher shop?” Collin asked, looking at the map on his PDA. The shop was about a block deeper into the town. From there, the Yanks should either be flanking the militia or acting as a blocking force if the militia tried to flank them. At any rate, it would be easier to strengthen their position.

“We could,” the warrant officer, his tone making it clear he was also studying the situation. “It might be better if I moved my group to the jewelry store.” Collin swallowed his angry retort as the warrant officer’s plan dawned on Collin. Risky and bold, but a bloody smart scheme. Oh yes, this American would do nicely.

“I see what you’re after Mr. Stahl,” Collin said, “Will our enemies act as you’re expecting?”

“Already have once, and we wiped out that little group,” Stahl answered calmly, “We just need you to catch up with us.”

“On our way then,” Collin said, and looked over to his two comrades. The Steve understood the plan and gave Collin a thumbs-up. Slim just scowled as he fiddled with the scope on his SR-25 rifle. “Boys, let’s take care of these buggers. I think a Mexico City is in order.”

The three Zombie Strike shooters spread out along the wall. Slim kept the center as The Steve and Collin moved to each side a few meters. The militia figured something was going on and poured more fire at the team. This was going better than expected. All three men lifted their nightvision goggles an instant before The Steve tossed a small grenade shaped device into the street. The “disco ball” bounced twice before landing on little legs. The ball rotated towards the militia and opened up like a flower. The small, but powerful LEDs flashed to light. Reflecting off the flower of intricately designed mirror panels, the brilliant white light illuminated the militia’s side of the street. The militia fire stopped as the men were blinded. The three Zombie Strike shooters rose up and took down the half-dozen militia with volleys of hammer pairs.

“Let’s move mates,” Collin said, leaping over the wall.

“The Steve was hoping he wouldn’t have to use that so early,” the medic said, scooping up the spent disco ball as the team hustled down the street. From the sound of gunfire, Stahl and his men were already moving. “The Steve didn’t bring the European adapter to recharge it.”

“At least you didn’t lose the bloody thing,” Slim commented, “Thousand pounds a pop, Mr. Cortez would be a bit miffed with you.” Collin didn’t join in the banter. For one, he lost the right with his betrayal. For two, he was concentrating on getting his team into place. Chief Stahl’s plan was relatively simple. The jeweler’s shop was at the outskirts of the town, but to get there the Americans would have to advance at the militia and then retreat down a cross street from their current position. The same street Collin’s group was advancing down. From the crescendo of small arms echoing up the street, the Americans completed the first part – hitting the militia hard. The militia was better than the first gunmen the team engaged, but they weren’t professionals. When amateurs got their blood up during a firefight, they had a nasty habit of chasing a retreating enemy. Like the American soldiers retreating back to the jeweler’s shop. Stahl and his boys were leading those militia fighters into a nasty trap. The American soldiers were the anvil. Collin’s group was the hammer – if they moved fast enough.

A pair of stragglers stepped out of an alley. The two men froze in shock as they saw the three Zombie Strike team members. Slim and The Steve took them down without breaking stride. Collin didn’t even spare a glance at the falling bodies. They were less than a hundred meters from snapping the trap shut. Already, he could see black-garbed men advancing down the street in formation. A machine gun opened up. Collin’s ears perked up. That wasn’t the Minimi SAW machine gun the Americans brought with them. That sounded like an FN MAG. Lord knew Collin had enough experience with the weapon from his army days. That bloody thing could tear the Americans apart if Collin didn’t put it out of commission.

Collin took off in a sprint. He’d gone maybe a dozen meters before he slammed into a wall that suddenly appeared in the middle of the street. Collin grunted as he slammed back into the asphalt. The pain was bad enough. Then, the wall moved towards him. Collin’s vision cleared and saw the largest gollum he’d ever seen looming over him. Still stunned from the impact, Collin could only watch as the gigantic monster swung its axe down on him.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 59]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 57

Approximately 20 miles from the village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez gripped the handhold tighter as the helicopter bucked from a sudden updraft. He learned to hate flying in choppers. They were noisy, uncomfortable, and tended to jerk at the wrong moment. Mateo was half-convinced the machines wanted to crash. Unfortunately, there was nothing better for a rapid entry into a combat zone. Another jolt made Mateo wish he’d been able to lead Collin’s part of the mission. Then, he remembered he hated sky-diving more than flying in a helicopter. That was better left to the experienced people.

“Two minutes, Mr. Cortez,” the pilot said over the headphones. Mateo held up two fingers to his team in the helicopter’s cabin. The red light cut out, plunging the cabin into darkness. Mateo took off the headphones and put on his helmet. A few quick attachments and his eyes lit up with the distinctive green of nightvision. Mateo checked his team. Jim was almost hanging out of the helicopter’s door by one hand. The other was firmly gripped on his precious Big Horn .500 S&W lever-action. The team’s resident cowboy demanded to be a part of the offensive, and Mateo was glad to have him along. Sport sat next to Jim, looking almost asleep. Sport was one of those good utility shooters. For this assault, Sport was the team’s grenadier. He carried an M4 and an XM25 20mm grenade launcher the Army lent the team. Sitting next to Mateo was Jess. The girl had become very serious over the last couple of weeks. She pushed herself almost as hard as Mateo. He knew it wasn’t healthy for her. Robyn Adams told him as much the day before. Zombie Strike’s new liaison from M&W practically demanded Mateo leave Jess behind. One look in his foster daughter’s eyes, and Mateo knew that wasn’t going to happen. The girl needed vengeance as bad as Mateo. She caught him looking at her, and she patted the SCAR-H strapped to her chest. She preferred the semi-auto rifle to her previous bolt gun. The team sharpshooter was ready. Billy, the spirit wolf pup looked up from her feet. He was ready as well. Quentin McLintock was pulling triple duty for this operation. Not only was he the team’s close-quarters person, but he was also acting as Mateo’s tactical deputy. Those two roles would have been hard enough, but Mateo knew that Kenn Blanchard, the commander of Zombie Strike, asked the big man to keep an eye on Mateo and act as the team conscience. The last member of the team was a surprise. Special Agent Edgar Tredegar of the FBI was lounging in the helicopter seat. Tredegar was acting as the team medic and intelligence specialist. Apparently, Tredegar made his way into college via the US Army, where he’d been a medic in the 101st. Mateo still thought Tredegar looked out of place in battle rattle with an M4 strapped to his chest.

Gunfire cracked over the sound of the helicopter. From the sound, it was all small-arms fire, and none of it was coming near the helicopter. Collin’s team must have made contact. Earlier than expected, but well within the plan’s parameters. Well, Collin’s team had all of the experienced shooters for a reason. Mateo looked out the opened cargo door. The town’s power had been cut an hour ago. There were a few lights, either from generators or torches. Tracers from the gun battle between Collin’s team and the town’s defenders gave the scene an almost sci-fi feel. Mateo’s stomach revolted as the helicopter dropped out of the sky only to flare to a hover a bare few feet from the dusty ground. The crew chief forcefully gestured for the team to get out. Jim, Jess, and Billy jumped out and sprinted about twenty yards away from the helicopter before crouching down with their weapons up. Sport and Quentin were the next out, hustling across the ground to their positions. Mateo and Tredegar jumped out an instant before the helicopter roared back into the night sky. The downwash pelted the team with stinging dust. Mateo remembered another reason he hated helicopters.

The team was motionless as the dust settled around them. The edge of the town was maybe three hundred yards away from them. The buildings stood in shadows, just barely visible in the team’s nightvision. Mateo waited, and listening for Billy. The spirit wolf pup wasn’t growling, so the team wasn’t in immediate danger. Even so, they didn’t have time to waste. Mateo motioned to Jim. The cowboy gave a short nod and trotted towards the town. The team filed in behind him. Jess and Billy were next, following about ten yards behind Jim. Quentin jogged behind the pair with Tredegar right behind him. Mateo came next with Sport covering their rear. All of the team was anxious as they neared their target. This mission was different than any they had done before. In the past year, Zombie Strike engaged the cult known as The Truth several times, but it was always in reaction to the Truth’s operations. Contain a zombie outbreak here, or try to prevent the cultists from stealing an artifact there. This time, Zombie Strike was on the offensive. This town was one of the Truth’s strongholds, and Zombie Strike was here to wipe it out.

Billy growled an instant before the darkness was broken by the twinkling of muzzle flashes and the distinctive sound of assault rifles from the town. The team instantly scattered as bullets kicked up plumes of dust. There wasn’t any cover on this side of the town, and precious little in the way of concealment. The team managed to duck behind sparse bushes and small rises in the ground. More weapons opened up on the team. Not ARs or AKs from the sound. Probably something German.

“Jess, Jim suppressive fire,” Mateo ordered over the team’s radio net, “Quentin, Sport, we need a hole opened up.” A chorus of double-clicks acknowledged Mateo’s commands. Jim’s rifle boomed over the puny sounds of assault rifles. One of the muzzle flashes stopped suddenly. Jim racked another cartridge and continued firing. Jess was methodically taking out targets. Her suppressed SCAR was essentially silent next to Jim’s thunderous lever-action. The incoming fire lessened as the Truth shooters were either killed or hid from the two sharpshooters. Sport and Quentin sprinted the last hundred yards to the town. Mateo waited impatiently as the two kicked their way into a small building and set up a cross-fire against their assailants.

“Matt, we’ve got them pinned down in a shop catty-corner to us,” Quentin reported after a tense two minutes, “We could use some help.” Mateo leapt to his feet and charged towards the town. The town was essentially a large diamond with several neatly laid out blocks of homes and shops clustered around what Mateo thought of as the town hall. Scattered single buildings, like the one Quentin and Sport were fighting from, dotted the edges of the town. From what Mateo remembered of the town’s layout, the bad guys were using a shop on the edge of one of the city blocks. Mateo and the rest of the team lined up behind Quentin’s building.

“Jess, see if you can get up on the roof and rain down some fire,” Mateo said. The teen nodded. She slipped around the corner with Billy in tow. Mateo wished the wolf pup was coming with him, but he had to admit he felt easier knowing the pup was guarding Jess. Directly across from Mateo was a vacant lot the town had been using as an impromptu dump for large appliances. Discarded ovens, refrigerators, and other junk were scattered across the grass and gravel lot. It wasn’t great cover, but it would have to do. The bad guys opened up with a new fusillade. Mateo ducked into the scrap lot with Jim and Tredegar in tow. A couple of the more observant bad guys saw the three men running and fired bursts at them. Bullets panged off of metal. Close. Too close. That just wouldn’t do. Mateo rose up just enough where the building was in sight. He could see maybe a dozen or so pale green figures in what had been a café across the street. Mateo aimed and squeezed the trigger. The suppressed M4 stuttered like an electric typewriter. The figure collapsed to the ground. Tredegar dropped another. Then, Jess opened fire from her roof perch. Three went down in less than three seconds. Another two went down, victims of Quentin and Sport. The remaining five threw their weapons out into the street and raised their hands. Under the cover of Jim and Jess’s rifles, Mateo ordered the bad guys out into the street.

Four of the five were just townspeople, not active members of the Truth. Mateo didn’t feel any guilt as he watched them zip-tied. These men weren’t innocent people defending their town from invaders. Zombie Strike had good intel the townspeople were willing partners of the Truth. Whether it was because they believed in the Truth’s mad plan or just because they wanted the Truth’s money wasn’t clear. In the end, it didn’t matter. If they were willing to take up arms in defense of the cult, they were targets. If they surrendered, Mateo was willing to tie them up and stash them until the fight was over.

Tredegar had the last man off to the side with his arms bound behind him and lying on his stomach. This one was definitely a member of the cult. He was maybe twenty, if a day, with his brown hair in a fashionable cut. At least, that’s what Jess said. Duct tape across his mouth muffled the unending string of angry protests. Tredegar was busily sorting through the contents of the cultist’s jeans and out-dated web gear.

“Anything useful?” Mateo asked.

“Doesn’t look like it,” Tredegar said. “He’s just a flunky. Probably not even one of their Champions.” Mateo grimaced as Tredegar used the cult’s name for what Zombie Strike called minions. It felt like the special agent was giving the cult respect it didn’t deserve.

“I’ll check the ones that didn’t survive the fight,” Tredegar said, starting to walk to the bodies.

“We don’t have time for an investigation,” Mateo said. Over the past two weeks, Mateo gained a newfound respect for the investigative abilities of the FBI special agent and his colleagues. They could do some amazing detective work, but they did it at a methodical pace. Excellent for preparing a criminal case. Not so much in the middle of an operation.

“Five minutes?” Tredegar asked. Mateo scanned the surrounding area. No sign of additional bad guys. He nodded. Tredegar took two steps towards the café before he stopped suddenly and cursed. Mateo looked back as the dead began to rise.

“Team, we get to kill them twice,” Mateo announced over the radio as he brought up his M4.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 58]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 56

Washington DC Beltway, 27 July 2010, 1245 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez felt something hot and hard pushing on his back. It took a few moments for him to realize he was lying on the asphalt. Why was he on the ground? Oh yeah, that entire trailer went up like a baby nuke. Grunting with effort, Mateo managed to roll over. He couldn’t see any of his team. Come to think of it, the road around him didn’t look like the overpass. He cricked his neck around. Sweet Savior, he was maybe three hundred feet from the overpass. What remained of the overpass, at any rate. Dear God, how had he survived that explosion?

“Finally, you’re awake,” said a familiar voice. Mateo looked up and met Ted’s eyes. The minion was sitting on the remains of a sedan. His ninja suit was riddled with bloody rips. Ted wasn’t even wearing his mask. Mateo’s hand traveled down his side to his sidearm. It wasn’t there.

“If you’re looking for this, I’ll give it back to you in a bit,” Ted said, holding up Mateo’s Sig. “I really wanted to kill you. I really wanted to kill your team. But no, Mikhail said you have to be alive. So, instead of just stepping away when you blew up my truck, I actually had to save all of your hides.” Ted slid off the wreckage and stood over Mateo.

“You know, killing Kenn and your wife and wiping out your little base on that island was supposed to be messages, but you and your team are just too thick in the head to understand,” Ted said. “Let me explain it all to you. You are not going to win. You are not going to stop the Truth. This is prophecy. If you keep trying to stop us, we are going to keep doing horrific things to the people you love. So do us all a favor, quit.” Ted actually sounded compassionate. Mateo grumbled a sentence.

“What did you say?” Ted taunted, bending down to place his ear next to Mateo’s head. Mateo let the adrenaline take over. The blade flashed in the noontime sun a brief instant before Mateo planted it in Ted’s eye socket. The minion let out a horrific scream as blood splattered across Mateo. Both of Ted’s hands flew to his face as he gripped the slippery handle of the blade. The Zombie Strike field commander slowly stood up.

“I said I’m going to stab you in the face,” Mateo said, gritting the words out in pain. He took two slow steps and picked up his pistol. Mateo worked the slide, feeling the bullet slide into the chamber. Pain and stiffness made bringing the pistol up a slow and arduous effort. Fortunately, Ted was preoccupied with trying to get the knife out of his head. Mateo had all the time in the world. The double-tap scattered Ted’s brains across the highway.

Before the body even started to fall, a wave of white energy erupted from Ted. The tidal wave of energy passed through Mateo like a ghost and continued speeding out in a circle. Mateo felt like he had been released from manacles. All of his pain and fatigue dropped away. Mateo felt better than he had in months. Even old injuries long since ignored were healed. As Mateo looked around him, he could see his team members standing up from where they landed. From their exclamations and movements, they too had felt the healing energy. Mateo waved them over. They still needed to get to his daughters. Mateo yanked his knife out of Ted’s lifeless corpse. He did a quick search. The Rod of Fiore was gone. Mateo kept Ted’s wallet and some bits and pieces that looked like they would be interesting to the intel folks. Two engines started. They sounded surprisingly loud against the quiet of the abandoned highway. A Mercedes sedan and a large Ford SUV roared up next to Mateo.

“Where to, boss?” The Steve asked from the SUV’s driver’s seat.

“Washington Hospital Center. And floor it.”

Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1230 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Jess Montgomery stared at Collin for just an instant. Then, she snapped the pistol up. Collin almost looked annoyed as he darted to the side. One strong hand gripped her wrist while the other plucked the pistol from her hand. Jess twisted and jabbed with her left. Collin dodged the punch easily, but he was clearly surprised by the move. He shouldn’t have been. This man had been one of Jess’s teachers for the better part of a year. Collin tucked the pistol in the small of his back before dropping into a loose fighting stance. At least he took her somewhat seriously. Jess fell into a stance Collin drilled into her. His eyebrow crooked upward. She just needed to hold his attention for just a bit longer. Collin realized an instant to late that Jess was just the bait.

Billy pounced on Collin. The spirit wolf was back to his normal size, but that was still huge. Almost three hundred pounds of wolf slammed into Collin. Billy and Collin slid nearly twenty feet across the tile floor before stopping. Collin punched Billy in the side, but the pup didn’t move. Billy just growled.

“Let him up,” said a commanding voice. Kenn Blanchard, dressed in some borrowed scrubs limped into hallway. Jess beamed when she saw the Zombie Strike commander. She dashed over to him. He grunted in pain as she enveloped him in a fierce hug.

“Easy sweetie, I’m not that healed up,” Kenn grunted. Jess chuckled and let go. She motioned to the spirit pup. Billy backed off of Collin. The former SAS commando leapt to his feet. With his head hung, Collin slinked up to stand in front of Kenn. He never saw the right cross. The punch landed with a meaty thwack. Collin staggered back before falling to the floor. Kenn took a step, but an FBI special agent slid in front of him.

“Ease away Mr. Blanchard,” Special Agent Tredegar said. The FBI agent looked uncomfortable in the tactical rig. “Mr. DuBois was not the one who shot you.” Kenn and Jess paused in surprise.

“We also know about the events surrounding the death of Nigel Brown,” Tredegar said. Kenn’s face fell into a sorrowful look. Jess could tell there was something going on that she wasn’t in on.

“What’s going on?” Jess asked of the three men.

“Yes, please, tell us what is going on.” Mateo’s voice boomed through the hallway. Jess saw the glint of anger in her foster father’s eyes as he walked in. Behind him, the other members of Zombie Strike waited with neutral faces.

“Collin came to me a couple of weeks ago,” Kenn admitted, his voice husky, “He told me that he was being blackmailed into killing me. We figured it would be a good chance to get a mole into their operation. We had it all planned out, but then Nigel stepped in front of the bullet.”

“And you didn’t tell me because?” Mateo demanded.

“Neither of us thought you’d be able to pull it off,” Collin said, “Matty, you’re a good leader, but you can’t lie to save your life. We needed to sell it. We weren’t sure what kind of spies Giant and his people have.”

“Wait, if Collin didn’t shoot Mercedes, then who did?” Jess asked.

“The best evidence supports either Ted or another member of the Truth,” Tredegar answered, “Apparently, they didn’t trust Mr. Dubois to finish the job.” Mateo stormed back out of the hospital. Jess chased after her foster father. There was an uncomfortable silence as the members of Zombie Strike stood hard-faced at Collin. Slim was the first to speak.

“You bloody piker,” he said, “You blinded us and disarmed us right when ten thousand of the undead attacked.” Collin’s eyes widened at the number. “You may have left us some supplies and some intel, but we lost people during that assault. People you knew.” Collin didn’t flinch. He just stood there as Slim’s words lashed at him. “What, no pretty excuse to spring yourself?”

“I was told what to do by one of Giant’s minions and when to do it,” Collin said, “I managed to guess the rest, but I had no idea they would use that many zombies against Skull Island. I don’t even know how they could have gotten that many zombies on the island.” Collin shook his head. “What do you want from me, Slim?”

“Vengeance,” Slim said with an air of finality.

“You’ll get it,” Mateo said, rejoining the team. Jess followed behind him. She was trying her best to hide the tears that stained her cheeks and reddened her eyes. Mateo must have told her about Maria.

“The minion we fought today told me that all of this was a warning to us to stay away from them,” Mateo said to the gathered group, “We’ve been fighting this Truth group for nearly a year now. We’ve lost more than we’ve won, but they’ve still gone to great lengths to deal with us. I am tired of playing catch-up to these people. It’s time to make them dance to our tune.”

“Sounds good Cortez, but exactly how do you plan on doing this?” Chief Warrant Officer Stahl asked.

“They had to launch all of this from somewhere,” Mateo said, “We have the resources of the FBI and M&W at our disposal. We’re going to find them. Then, we’re going on the offensive.”

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 57]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 55

Washington DC Beltway, 27 July 2010, 1200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez ducked as a beam of fire shot overhead. For a second, he could feel his entire body burn. For that eternal instant, Mateo could only concentrate on breathing and holding onto his weapon. The air mercifully returned to normal, and Mateo only felt the echo of the pain. Adrenaline was truly a wonderful thing. Now, if they could just deal with the minion and get off this overpass. Mateo and his Zombie Strike team members were up and firing the moment the beam ceased. Jim, Slim, and Quentin were busy on zombie clearing. Mateo focused on Ted. The minion was standing on top of a semi. Mateo fired another useless burst at him. The bullets smacked harmlessly into Ted’s invisible shield, melted, and dropped onto the trailer. The globs of melted lead and copper sounded like loose hail as they struck the metal roof of the trailer.

Ted paced back and forth. After the first five minutes of the ambush, Ted seemed almost bored with tossing blasts of fire energy. Mateo needed to figure out a way to end this. His team – including the small group of soldiers they picked up – needed to get back to the Washington Hospital Center. Jess, his foster daughter, was there to guard Zombie Strike’s leader, Kenn Blanchard and Mateo’s other daughter. Four calls all resulted in a busy signal. Jess knew to keep the line clear during an operation, which meant something bad was happening. Mateo didn’t even want to contemplate what might be happening at the moment. Slim crawled up next to Mateo. The tall Brit was paler than normal and his brown eyes were bloodshot. From what The Steve said, Slim did very well in the fighting on Skull Island. Slim rose from behind the car they were using as cover. He fired twice before ducking back down.

“Mr. Cortez, approximately how much ammunition do you have available?” Slim asked in his odd, formal tone.

“About another four mags,” Mateo answered, “Why?”

“I believe I may have deciphered a way off the bridge, sir,” Slim answered, “With your leave, sir, I need to confer with Chief Stahl.” Mateo nodded. Slim darted between the abandoned cars to where the Army soldiers were covering Zombie Strike’s rear and flanks. Slim traded a few words with the chief warrant officer before dashing back to Mateo.

“Okay, what’s the plan?” asked Mateo as another red beam of painful heat lanced over the team.

“If the team can keep the minion’s attention for a few seconds through concentrated weapons fire, then I can lob this under his perch and blow it up,” Slim said, brandishing a grenade. “Even if the blast doesn’t kill the minion directly, it should disrupt him long enough for us to wound or kill him on our own.”

“Not bad, Slim,” Mateo said, a predatory smile crossing his face, “Are you sure you can get that grenade under the trailer?”

“Mr. Cortez, I am an excellent cricket player,” Slim said, “It should be a trifle of a thing.” Slim’s smile matched Mateo’s own.

“Okay folks, here’s how we’re going to play this,” Mateo said, “Chief, find us a couple of cars and load up. Quentin, you and Jim are going to unload full magazines at Ted. As soon as you’re empty, fall back to the chief. I’ll cover Slim as he tosses the grenade. As soon as Ted is down, we get back to the hospital.”

“My troops and I can’t leave if there are any undead,” Chief Stahl said, “We’ll finish up here and meet you up at the hospital.” Mateo grimaced, but agreed. He hated the idea of leaving shooters behind, but he hated the idea of leaving an outbreak to spread even more.

“Jim and Quentin, GO!” Mateo yelled. The two zombie hunters sprang up and emptied their magazines at Ted. The minion was surprised by the sudden hail of concentrated gunfire, but unconcerned. He posed dramatically as the bullets slapped against his shield. Mateo took over as his teammates’ weapons went dry. The M4 tore through the thirty round magazine only a few seconds after Mateo squeezed the trigger. It was all the time Slim needed. Mateo saw the matte-black metal ball sail through the air, bounce once off the asphalt and roll under the trailer. Mateo smiled as he saw the explosion of the grenade. Then Mateo’s world went white as the entire trailer exploded.

Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1200 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Jess Montgomery picked herself up off the tiled floor. She still felt a bit dizzy and fuzzy, but she needed to move. Billy was still alive. The bond between her and the spirit wolf pup was still strong in her mind. She could feel Billy’s protective fury. Jess took a few steps towards the front of the emergency room. Medical equipment was strewn over the floor. Most of it had been torn off the walls by the same explosion that tossed her halfway across the emergency room. She picked her way through the debris. Jess still had a magazine left in her Glock. Billy needed her, and nothing was going to stop her from helping the pup.

As she crept around the admission island, Jess could see the zombie horde that initially attacked the hospital. They were standing in the huge entranceway. Zombies avoided gollums. If they weren’t moving, it was because the gollum was still in the front of the emergency room. As Jess rounded the desk, she spied the gollum facing off against Billy. Jess blinked as she saw her pup. The animal was normally the size of a large German Shepard. Billy was now the size of a pony, easily four feet at the shoulder. He was still glowing with an angry white light. The two were frozen in place.

The gollum attacked. The obsidian axe whistled through the air. Billy leapt away from the blow and then dashed in with his own attack. The gollum jumped straight up to avoid Billy’s snapping jaws. As the gollum landed, it whipped its axe around. The blade caught Billy in his front left shoulder. Billy let out a wounded yip. The gollum slashed out again. Billy caught the gollum’s arm in his maw and slammed the gollum into a wall. The gollum scrambled to its feet just in time for Billy to land a double-kick with both of his rear legs. The gollum was driven hard back into the wall. It was enough for the gollum to leave an impression in the dry wall. The gollum staggered forward and lashed out with a sloppy swing. Jess was shocked when the blow connected. Then she saw why. Billy let the blow land. In his teeth was the gollum’s stone medallion – the object that gave the creature its nigh-invulnerability. With a short jerk, Billy tore the medallion from its leather strap and swallowed it. The gollum let out an ear-shattering screech. Billy ended the noise as he stomped on the gollum.

As soon as the gollum withered away to a skeleton, the zombie horde started to pour into the hospital. At this range, Jess wasn’t worried about hitting her targets. She lined up her first shot and let the muscle memory take over. Billy darted in between shots to crush a zombie or two. They’d taken down over twenty zombies when the Jess’s Glock locked back on an empty mag. Her eyes darted over the debris on the floor. Maybe there was something there that she could use to take down a few more. Jess felt her phone vibrate earlier. Mateo had to be on his way. All she needed to do was hold out long enough for her foster father to arrive. Someone grabbed her arm. Training and instinct kicked in. In three moves, she had her assailant on the floor. Unfortunately, it was Agent Blackie.

“Get down!” he screamed at Jess, pointing frantically for the door. What was he talking about? She needed to fight to protect her family. Wait, Blackie had a gun. She knelt down next to him and snatched the weapon from his hand. She popped out the magazine and quickly verified it was full. Before she could jump back into the fray, the budda-budda-budda sound of a heavy machine gun roared through the emergency room. The zombie horde was chewed to bits as the heavy bullets vaporized flesh and bone. Jess heard the cracks as bullets whipped over her. The machine gun stopped, and Jess heard the crackle of suppressed rifle fire. Mateo and the others must be here. She jumped up. It wasn’t Mateo. Jess’s mind froze as she saw Collin DuBois finishing off a crawler with a suppressed M4. Collin smiled as he caught sight of Jess.

“Hello Jess,” Collin said, “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 56]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 54

Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1130 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Jess Montgomery stretched her aching body. She was tired, sore, and bored. She felt a little ashamed at admitting the last part, but she’d been waiting around the hospital for hours. After the docs told her about Kenn and Mercedes, there wasn’t much for her to do. Her iPod was at the hotel, and she didn’t have any music on her PDA. Mateo made sure she couldn’t after the first time she’d gone into a training operation listening to Lady Gaga.

Robyn Adams, the attorney from MacKenzie and Winston, was asleep in a chair. Jess wished she was awake, so she could ask Robyn stuff. Living on Skull Island was a little hard for the teen. The women in Zombie Strike always seemed a little intimidated by Jess. Those few who didn’t scurry away from her didn’t want to do anything with her. Jess was glad when Mateo brought her along to DC. Maria was always nice to her. They’d been sort of working out their relationship on the few times they saw each other. Something changed on this trip, though. Jess was sure it had something to do with Ted. She was even more sure since Ted turned out to be a minion.

Ms. Adams appeared to be what Jess wanted to be. She was pretty, successful, and strong. Heck, she managed to stand up to Mateo. Jess was still trying to do that without sounding like a whiny little girl. Jess didn’t know what she was hoping from Ms. Adams. Maybe some help, maybe some comfort, or maybe just a relationship that didn’t involve chasing the undead and evil cultists from one end of the earth to another. Jess let out a humorless laugh. She’d known Ms. Adams less than a day. What was she thinking?

Billy sensed Jess’s darkening mood and leaned next to her. Instinctively, Jess scratched the pup’s head. She could feel Billy’s happiness through their bond. At first, the bond scared Jess. Now, it was a comfort. She missed the pup’s namesake, but the hurt was less now. The nightmares didn’t come as often. The pup helped. Jess wasn’t sure how, but he did. It was almost as if Billy could take her bad feelings out through their bond. Satisfied Jess was a little better, Billy went back to his post. The hospital staff wasn’t too pleased to have a wolf patrolling the halls. Explicit orders from the FBI kept them from saying anything, but the nurses still gave Billy wary eyes as he trotted around the waiting room. Jess giggled as she remembered the one nurse asking when she was going to take Billy outside to do “his business.” Jess didn’t know quite how to explain to the nurse that one of Wolf’s pack didn’t have to do normal things like eat, sleep, or do “his business.”

Jess’s responsible side reminded her why she was still at the hospital. Collin was still out there. Her former teammate tried to kill Kenn twice now. The first time, Collin missed, but managed to kill Nigel, the nice man from M&W. The second time he’d hurt Kenn, but also killed a police officer, and – more important to Jess – badly hurt her little sister Mercedes. She slid her hand down her pant leg until she felt the familiar bulge of the pistol at her ankle. The police took most of her weapons away from her on the ride over to the hospital. She didn’t know if they were even aware she was carrying a back-up pistol.

The FBI posted a couple of their agents in the hospital. The two men looked like they just stepped off an FBI recruiting poster. Both were tall with a hard look about them that could have been handsome. They looked all professional in their dark suits, blue windbreakers with big yellow letters, and barely visible ear pieces. The only real difference was one had black hair, while the other was blond. Jess was calling them Agent Blackie and Agent Blondie. Jess decided after the first hour that she didn’t like either of them. They’d said less than a dozen words to her for the several hours they’d been here. Plus, they didn’t seem to like Billy much. Billy’ ears twitched, and Jess felt the warning through their bond. Billy faced the emergency room doors and growled. Danger was close. Jess shook Robyn awake. The attorney let out a string of murmured curses before looking up at Jess.

“Sorry Robyn,” Jess said, “I need you to go into that supply closet over there. See if you can call for an armed response team.” Mateo taught her a while back the best way to keep the noncombatants out of the line of fire was to give them something to do. Most of the time it worked. If not, Jess was ready to forcibly lock the attorney into the closet. The attorney immediately grasped the situation. Jess casually walked over to Agent Blackie.

“You better call off your dog. He’s disturbing people,” Blackie said dismissively.

“You better call your people,” Jess replied, mimicking the agent’s tone, “We’re about to be attacked.” Jess didn’t wait to listen to the agent’s response. If he believed her, he’d try to keep her out of the fight. If he didn’t believe her, he’d just slow her down. Billy started barking at the doors. Jess knelt down long enough to draw her diminutive Glock 33. She already stuffed two full size magazines into her pocket. As she stood up, she heard the first moans. That’s when the panic started.

People scrambled to flee the undead as the zombies shambled into the hospital. Jess found a small alcove to wait for the mass of humanity to flow past her. Getting trampled wouldn’t help anyone. She couldn’t see Billy, but there was a definite gap in the human wave about where the barking was coming from. She could feel Billy’s fierce protectiveness through their bond. Nothing was going to get close to Kenn or Mercedes without killing him.

“Get down!” Jess screamed as she stepped from the alcove. Several people dropped as they saw her approaching with her pistol raised. The leading zombies were stopped. They found people who couldn’t flee. There was no time to feel any sorrow for the screaming victims. She took aim on her first target and fired. The zombie dropped as the .357 SIG shredded its brain. Jess spared a bare instant to make sure it was down before firing on her next target. Muscle memory and long hours of training took over the mechanics of zombie-killing as Jess assessed the situation. The horde was more than fifty, even before they got a hold of their first batch of victims. That was far beyond what she could hope to hold back on her own. Maybe if Billy joined the fight they could hold the horde at this bottleneck. Why wasn’t the spirit pup moving?

“Don’t worry girl. Help is here,” said a voice from behind. Two men in street clothes stood next to her. They both drew handguns from the waists and fired indiscriminately into the horde. A few lucky rounds managed to take out a couple of zombies. The two hooted as their pistols went empty. Jess was glad she had some help. She just wished it were some people who were a little better trained. Well, it wasn’t like you could predict who would be one of those rare humans who didn’t panic uncontrollably at the sight of the undead.

“Slow down your fire and aim for the head,” Jess ordered. Why was Billy still standing there? The spirit pup stopped barking. That was new. Billy never stopped barking while there was danger. Of course, he never hesitated to join the fight either. Jess ejected the empty magazine out of her weapon. One magazine left. Time to retreat. Before she could shout the order to her two helpers, a familiar screech pierced the sounds of the battle.

The gollum hacked its way through the horde. The desiccated humanoid snarled, waving its obsidian axe at Jess and her helpers. The two men screamed and ran. Jess really couldn’t blame them. The creature was scarier than the zombies. The gollum spied the fleeing men and leapt at them. An instant before the gollum landed on the slower man, Billy slammed into the creature. The two hit the tile floor and rolled for a few feet. Like wrestlers, Billy and the gollum sprang off the ground and backed away from each other. Then, the fight got very bizarre.

The blue runes drawn on the dark gray skin of the gollum start pulsed and glowed. Almost as if in response, Billy began glowing with a soft white light. Billy’s light matched the gollum’s pulse for pulse. The two lights grew brighter. The halos of blue and white expanded with the edges of each crackling and sparking. As the two fields touched, Jess was blinded by brilliant light. She raised her hands to shield her eyes just in time for the wave of force to pick her up and throw her down the hall. The last thing Jess heard before blacking out was Billy’s howl of pain.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 55]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 53

Washington DC, 27 July 2010, 1100 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Slim Thomas’s stomach started to unclench as the odd plane began its final descent into Reagan National. Flying normally didn’t bother him. Flying half-way around the globe in an experimental plane that constantly groaned and rattled did bother him. Where had MacKenzie and Winston dug up this ungainly craft? The insurance firm’s rep refused to answer the question. The plane groaned again followed by a metallic pop. Slim tightened his grip on the useless arm rest. He surveyed his companions. How the soldiers could just nod off as soon as they were strapped in amazed and disturbed Slim.

“Dude, are we there yet?” asked The Steve from the seat next to Slim. As soon as the Army showed up, The Steve reverted back to his normal, slightly off-kilter self. Slim didn’t know whether to be annoyed or relieved. Besides, there were bigger things to be concerned about.

“Coming in for a landing,” Slim answered, “The pilot said we should be on the ground in fifteen minutes.”

“You been awake the whole trip?” The Steve asked. Slim just nodded. “The Steve should’ve given you a nice sedative.”

“It’s okay,” Slim quickly said, “They had an Arsenal match on the telly. Made the time fly right by.”

“You’ve been awake for better than thirty-six hours,” The Steve said, “As soon as we get a chance, you need to grab some rack time. The Steve doesn’t understand why you didn’t pass out with the rest of us.”

“As if I could sleep on this death-trap,” Slim replied, “Did you know we went supersonic on this thing?”

“Kind of the point. Still much better than the time The Steve and his team had to ride in the belly of a B-1. That was not fun.” Slim looked askance at the team medic. Some of his tales seemed overly fantastical. Still, they held the odd ring of truth.

A short time later, the plane slammed down on the runway. Almost as soon as the plane slowed, black SUVs surrounded the plane and directed it into an isolated hangar. As the team deplaned, they were surprised to find their field leader waiting for them. Mateo Cortez walked over to the crowd. His face was an unreadable mask. That was never a good sign.

“How’s Kenn and your daughter?” Quentin asked. Pain flickered across Mateo’s face.

“Kenn was lucky,” Mateo said, “Bullet lanced right through him. Managed to miss vitals and just tore up muscle. Docs plugged him up. He should be up in a week or so. Longer to get fully recuperated. Mercedes is a little more serious.” There was an unspoken command in Mateo’s tone not to ask more. Mateo’s eyes flicked to the soldiers.

“Chief Warrant Officer Stahl, Mr. Cortez. Col. Allen sent us along,” Chief Stahl said, coming to attention and firing off a salute, “He thought you might need the help.” The three other soldiers followed their leader’s example. Mateo gave the four soldiers a long look and then nodded.

“Good, we’re going to need all of the operators we can lay our hands on,” Mateo said, motioning everyone towards the waiting vehicles, “Which leads us to another surprise.” A tall middle-aged man stepped out of one of the trucks. Slim’s eyes widened as he saw the weathered face and black Stetson.

“Jim, what are you doing here?” Slim asked, shocked at the man’s sudden appearance.

“I headed out here when I heard about Nigel,” Jim answered, “Once I arrived, some feds rounded me up, and Mateo gave me the rundown. The feds were nice enough to provide me with some gear.” Jim motioned sarcastically to the vest and web gear covering his normal jeans and cotton shirt. A 1911 was in a drop-leg holster that was mounted a little high. Jim used tactical gear, but he didn’t like it. The cowboy was much happier with his revolver and lever-action rifle.

“We can play catch-up later,” Mateo said, “We’ve got a minion on the loose. Collin’s talking to the FBI. Hopefully, they’ve managed to get something. As soon as we have a target, we’re moving in.” There were nods of agreement. The Zombie Strike team members and US Army soldiers loaded into the SUVs. Mateo, Quentin, and The Steve piled into the first truck. Slim opted for the second truck with Jim. The soldiers took the last truck, kicking out the FBI driver. Slim laughed at the agent’s confused face. Slim was eager to talk with Jim. He hadn’t seen the cowboy for six months. They hadn’t been close, but they fought and bled together in some nasty situations. Slim wanted to know how things were with Jim’s daughter and that lady they met back in Wyoming. Then, as soon as he sat down, all of the built-up fatigue hit him. Slim was out before the small convoy left the hangar.

Slim felt as if he’d just closed his eyes when something slammed into the truck. Adrenaline surged through him, and Slim was instantly awake. At first, he thought they’d been hit by another car. Except for the molten hole where the front passenger had been sitting. The driver was screaming in pain. The man’s suit looked like it had melted onto him. Jim was already out of the truck and moving in between stopped cars with a raised M4. Slim grabbed his bag and followed Jim.

Outside, Slim could see the frenzy. All of the cars were stopped. From the sheer number of cars, Slim guessed they were somewhere on the Beltway. The drivers were abandoning their vehicles and fleeing every which way. Below the overpass was another crowded Beltway interstate. More people were fleeing, but Slim ignored them. Standing on top of a semi was the minion. He was dressed in the black ninja costume and was waving a small rod. The end of the rod glowed with an evil red energy.

“Kill them!” the minion screamed at several hundred strong zombie horde shambling out from under the overpass. Slim stopped and stared at the minion. It was impossible, but the minion was the same height, and was about the same build. How could he have survived all those artillery rounds? How could he have made it to Washington before the team? A strong hand grabbed Slim and yanked him away. Chief Stahl roughly pushed Slim up against an estate car.

“Yeah, I know. Have to figure it out later,” the chief said as he saw Slim’s stunned face. “Right now, we’re kind of in the middle of it. Get on what gear you can.” All of them ducked as a car exploded and sent fragments screaming through the air. One of the soldiers wasn’t quite fast enough. A shard of fiberglass lanced into his chest. The digi-cam went dark as blood poured out of the wound. His comrades leapt into action.

“Medic!” Stahl calmly hollered. In seconds, The Steve was sliding next to the wounded soldier. Slim let out a relieved breath as he watched the medic’s hands dance over the wound. The Steve may be insane, but he was a miracle-worker in the field. Slim dug out his ZKC and ammo pouch. There wasn’t time to don the armor.

“Stahl, I need your people working the other side!” Mateo yelled, pointing to the far side of the overpass. “Get that horde cut down!” Stahl gave Mateo a thumbs-up and signaled to his soldiers to move. In seconds came the distinctive pops of M4’s. Slim ran over to his team.

“Where are the FBI agents?” he asked as scooted next to Quentin. The team was strung out behind a line of cars.

“They scampered as soon as they caught sight of the zombies,” Quentin said. The big man popped up and let out a short burst. As he ducked back down, Quentin looked over at Slim. “Didn’t we kill that guy back on Skull Island?”

“To be fair, it wasn’t like we found a body,” Slim said. He straightened up and took out a zombie as it tried to climb up the embankment to the overpass.

“After that much artillery?” Quentin asked, “I’d been surprised to find a body part.” He joined Slim in attacking the horde.

Mateo Cortez reloaded his M4. He didn’t expect Ted to attack him directly. That was a mistake. Even after everything, Mateo kept underestimating this minion. Was it because Ted seemed so plain when they first met? Ted fired another beam from that rod. Mateo ducked as the beam slammed a car at the front of the overpass. It erupted into fire. Mateo recognized the weapon. He should. He led the team against the minions to stop them from stealing it. Mateo thought they’d destroyed it.

Something wasn’t making sense. The Rod of Fiore was capable of reducing all of them to ash. Instead of simply killing them all, Ted was just causing random damage. Or was he? The first hit was on the car in front of the convoy. Then, other car behind them. Then, the second truck. Ted was trying to corral the team. It didn’t make any sense. They had enough ammo to take out even that sizable horde Ted brought with him. The realization hit Mateo like a hammer. Ted wasn’t trying to kill them. He was delaying them, keeping them from Ted’s ultimate target. Mateo snatched the sat phone from his belt and frantically dialed Jess’s number. Even with the gunfire surrounding them, the busy signal boomed in his ear.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 54]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 52

Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0800 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days

Slim Thomas froze as he felt the slight thrumming. His fist halted Quentin and the soldiers. His eyes scanned the immediate area. The hedge-lined pathway was a straight line for about another five meters before taking a sharp right. On the other side of the right hedge was a cul-de-sac. Slim guessed the minion was hiding there.

An odd shape in the grass caught his attention. It looked like a coin. In fact it looked like a British pound coin. Slim motioned for Quentin and Chief Stahl to move up. As they joined Slim, he pointed at the coin with his weapon. Quentin frowned, but the chief just nodded. Slim popped open his bracer and waved the two men over to read his PDA.

Target behind right hedge. Suggestions? Slim tapped out on his PDA. Chief Stahl pointed to two of his soldiers. Convoluted hand signals flashed from between the chief warrant and the soldiers. The two soldiers slung their M4’s and unstrapped unfamiliar weapons from their backs. They looked like bullpup submachine guns. The two soldiers backed up to the left hedge and aimed their weapons skyward. They braced, clearly waiting for the chief’s signal. Slim felt the thrumming speed up an instant before the fireball erupted from the hedge. Slim turned away from the flash of heat and brilliant flame. Screams of pain and terror filled the air. Slim looked back to see a burnt hole where the two soldiers were standing. Another two soldiers were screaming as they grasped at flesh that looked like melted wax. Slim swallowed the sudden urge to vomit.

The minion dropped into their midst. Slim saw the blue flame flicker in his hand. Instinctively, he snapped off the shot. The minion let out a yelp of pain as the lighter was torn out of his hand. Seeing an opening in the minion’s shield, Quentin and Chief Stahl opened fire. The bullets stopped in mid-air as they hit the minion’s shield. Slim really hated smart minions, especially smart and fast minions.

“All of you are getting too good,” the minion snarled in anger. The minion flicked his wrist. The coin sailed over them and landed lightly in the minion’s hand. He almost looked disappointed as he stared briefly at the coin. Like it failed to fulfill its destiny. Chief Stahl snapped off another burst. The minion glared indignantly at the chief warrant as the bullets smacked harmlessly against the shield. The minion raised his hand menacingly at Chief Stahl. The soldier unflinchingly kept his M4 trained on the minion. Then, the unit’s machine gun opened up. The burst of gunfire caught the minion by surprise. The bullets stopped a good yard from the minion, but the strain was evident. The minion focused intensely on the gunner. Slim and Quentin opened up with their weapons. The minion’s head snapped towards them as their bullets started impacting the shield. Screaming in frustration, the minion backed up through the still burning hole into the cul-de-sac.

Slim, Quentin and the SAW gunner poured fire into the cul-de-sac. The hedge dissolved as round after round tore through it. The chief fired a couple of bursts, but stopped. He plucked a grenade from his web gear. Chief Stahl pulled the pin, released the spoon, and held the grenade in his hand. His mouthed the numbers as he counted off. On three, the grenade sailed over the hedge. The four men dropped to the ground. Slim felt the grenade explode, but the sound was muted. Chief Stahl was up and moving to the hole in the hedge. Slim leapt up and followed the soldier, but stopped as the chief just stood at the opening. Slim walked up next to Chief Stahl. The minion was on the ground, bleeding from a dozen ragged holes. He writhed in pain, but stopped as he caught sight of Slim and Chief Stahl standing at the edge of the invisible barrier. The minion let out a wet sounding laugh. Slim felt an uncomfortable chill run down his spine. If Chief Stahl felt anything, he didn’t show it.

“By the flayed one himself, I didn’t expect that,” the minion croaked. He spat a mouthful of blood. His eyes bore into Stahl while a sincere smile spread across his face. “How did you figure it out?”

“Your little coin didn’t come straight to you,” Stahl said flatly, “Flew up over the barrier.”

“Well, why don’t you jump over my little shield and come get me?” the minion taunted.

“I saw what you did to the Predator,” Stahl said, “We’ll just wait ‘til you lose consciousness from blood loss, and then come get you. You killed two of my men, and seriously hurt another couple. I can be patient. It’s going to be amusing to watch as you spill your guts to our intel people.” Stahl’s flat tone shifted into a controlled rage.

“Long wait soldier boy,” the minion said, “I am gifted with the Flayed One’s own power. These wounds will heal up before I’m in any danger. Then I’ll finish you off.”

“I think you’re bluffing,” Chief Stahl replied.

“Ask the hunter standing next to you. They’ve seen what the Champions of Truth can do. And I’m not one of the weak ones.” Stahl frowned and yanked Slim out of the minion’s sight. The minion laughed as the two men walked away.

“He’s not bluffing,” Slim said.

“I know,” Stahl said, walking over to the SAW gunner. “Evacuate Dwayne and Bill. We can use that hole.” Stahl pointed to the smoking hole where his two soldiers had been killed.

“Already took care of it,” the soldier replied. As if on cue, an MRAP backed up to the hole. Soldiers spilled out of the armored vehicle and swarmed over the two burned soldiers. Satisfied his soldiers were being cared for, Stahl knelt down. For a moment, Slim thought the soldier was praying. Then, he saw the chief was burying something.

“Slim, you and Quentin may want to get in the truck,” Stahl said, motioning to the MRAP.

“I thought we were going to wait for his shield to drop so that we could capture him,” Slim said, his eyebrow arching.

“I’m not that stupid. That one’s too powerful,” Stahl said quietly. “As soon as we’re clear, that one’s going to get a taste of eight inch artillery. See him try and shoot those shells out of the sky.” Slim nodded reluctantly and followed his teammate into the armored truck. The vehicle roared out of the maze. Mere seconds later, Slim heard the distant thunder. Moments later, he watched as the maze was obliterated as the artillery shells rained down.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2345 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez froze in shock at seeing Collin DuBois’ dirty face. The sudden surge of emotions flooded him, and he couldn’t fight it. It was just too much. Then, his rage cut through the internal storm. Collin wasn’t his friend and trusted mentor. Mateo jerked the carbine up. Collin needed to die for his betrayal. Collin saw the shift in Mateo’s eyes and was already moving before Mateo started to raise his weapon. Collin wrenched the carbine out Mateo’s hands. It clattered to the floor as Collin slid behind Mateo. In a few blindingly fast moves, Collin restrained his former team leader. Mateo struggled, but quickly recognized the hold. He wasn’t going to break it, and trying was just going to end up with Mateo dislocating his shoulder again.

The room was suddenly bathed in the brilliant white light of several weapon-mounted flashlights. Collin stepped back and crouched behind Mateo. Agent Tredegar stood in the center of a half-dozen of SWAT agents. Tredegar was bleeding from several places, but he didn’t seem to notice. He kept his pistol at the low ready.

“Collin DuBois, I am Special Agent Tredegar,” the FBI agent shouted, “We have you surrounded. Surrender now and we can help you.”

“Don’t bloody think so, mate,” Collin shot back, “Only Mattie here can help me. Why don’t you bugger off so we can get to work?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Mateo seethed. He managed to crane his head around to glimpse Collin.

“Mattie, it’s not what you think, but I can’t talk with the FBI about,” Collin replied under his breath. Mateo sensed Collin was telling him the truth, and part of him wanted to believe Collin. Then the image of Mercedes in the hospital flashed through his mind. The cold rage swept away any remnants of compassion.

“Listen, Collin, we want to stop the Truth as much as you do,” Tredegar said, his commanding tone melting into an understanding one. Tredegar lowered his pistol. “You wouldn’t have sent Mateo that recording if you weren’t trying to stop the Truth. Let us help you.”

“Listen mate, I’ve read the manual too. I was doing the hostage rescue thing when you were just figuring out that girls smelled nice. We both know what’s going to happen once I let you take me. We don’t have time for that.” Mateo looked at Tredegar. He could tell Tredegar believed Collin. Tredegar was weakening as his need to stop the Truth clashed with his need to bring in Collin. Mateo made his decision. The hold Collin had Mateo in was unbreakable. Unless you were willing to go through a lot of pain. Mateo took a deep breath. Collin realized what was happening an instant too late. The familiar pain shot through Mateo as he wrenched out of Collin’s grip. He felt his shoulder pop as he fell to the floor. Collin released him just before he did some permanent damage.

The FBI agents dog piled Collin. None were willing to take the slightest chance with someone they knew to be extremely dangerous. Mateo met Collin’s eyes as more people swarmed into the house. The look of understanding and sorrow bothered Mateo. He didn’t know why. As the FBI led the manacled Collin out of the house, Mateo dreaded he’d made the wrong choice.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 53]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 51

Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0700 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days

Slim Thomas felt his body shaking apart. Waves of thunder reverberated through him. He barely remembered to clamp his hands over his ears and open his mouth. The pulsing force continued to hammer his body for what seemed like an hour. Then, it stopped, and Slim felt hands grab him. Slim lashed out with kicks and punches as he searched frantically for his weapons. His eyes couldn’t focus on the dark blobs standing over him. Slim aimed a snap kick at one of the blobs and realized he was on the ground. When did that happen? Then he started hearing voices. Tinny, echoing voices. Human voices.

“Stop fighting,” said a voice Slim could finally make out. The voice sounded gruff, but compassionate. To be honest, Slim could have been imagining it. His hearing was coming back slowly. Hands helped him to his feet. His vision focused on the unmistakable sight of American troops surrounding him. Sudden panic hit Slim as he remembered the wall of armored zombies. Then he looked into the maze. Pieces of zombies were scattered around in a blanket of gray flesh and bone. Slim couldn’t even distinguish the zombies that had been wearing the bomb suits.

“Yeah, the captain says sorry about that,” said the soldier holding him up. “The Strykers cut it a bit close with the Bushmasters.” More soldiers were mopping up the few zombies that survived the onslaught of heavy chain gun fire. The high-pitched pop of an M4 signaled another crawler put down. Distant thunder rumbled across the horizon. It was only until the heavy chattering of an autocannon Slim realized the thunder was artillery.

Slim knew he was still out of sorts, but the minion was still out there. As much as he hated to depend on the drugs built into his med system, he knew he didn’t have much choice at this point. Slim opened his PDA and triggered a battle cocktail. Slim felt as the pain killers and stimulants hit his system. His hearing was still tinny, but the vertigo and weakness vanished. Slim gave the soldier a quick once over. Slim couldn’t decipher the chevrons, but from the number of them, Slim figured the soldier was probably a senior sergeant. The familiar horned skull patch of the US Army’s anti-zombie Task Force 11 seemed to grin at Slim. He looked past the sergeant to look at his two teammates. Sport was already strapped to a stretcher. Quentin had the same disoriented but ready to fight look Slim suspected was on his own face.

“Sergeant?” Slim ventured, guessing at the man’s rank.

“Daniels, sir,” the soldier supplied, nodding his head, “Alpha Company, Stryker battalion.”

“Okay,” Slim said, not sure what a Stryker battalion was, “Where is the minion? Do your men have him acquired yet?” Sergeant Daniel’s face went pale. That wasn’t a good sign.

“We were told that your team dealt with the minion in charge of this outbreak,” Daniels said, clearly terrified with the prospect of dealing with a minion. Slim couldn’t blame him. He didn’t want to go another round with that one either.

“We handled the junior one, but the senior minion was responsible for this ambush here,” Slim answered. Slim caught Quentin’s eye and motioned the other zombie hunter over. He needed the big man’s expertise.

“What’s up?” Quentin asked. He took one look at the soldier’s fearful expression and guessed. “Other minion’s still out there.”

“Too right,” Slim answered, “I don’t fancy leaving him about to wreak mischief.”

“You must be feeling better,” Quentin commented, “You’re talking Brit again.” Slim ignored the big man’s jibe.

“Sergeant Daniels, my compliments to your officers, but I will need you and your men to accompany us as we endeavor to ferret out the minion.” Daniels cocked his head, clearly not understanding the order. Bloody colonials.

“He means you need to call your boss and let him know that Slim and I are borrowing your people to hunt down the minion,” explained Quentin. Daniels nodded slowly with dawning understanding.

“Not necessary, Mr. McLintock,” said another voice. The three men turned to see another group of soldiers hop the entrance to the maze. The leader returned Daniel’s sudden salute. Must be an officer, but Slim couldn’t decipher the four squares on the rank insignia. He made a mental note to study American ranks. The leader continued to speak.

“Sergeant, continue mopping up here, and then report back to your company,” the man ordered. He turned to Quentin and Slim. “Gentlemen, I’m Chief Warrant Officer Stahl. You may call me Chief Stahl, or just Chief. My team and I have been assigned to help you.”

“Green Berets?” Quentin asked as he surveyed Stahl’s team. The eight soldiers just looked lethal. It wasn’t just their weapons or gear, which seemed much better than those carried by Sergeant Daniels and his soldiers. It was the way Stahl’s soldiers stood. Relaxed, yet ready to do immediate and brutal violence. They reminded Slim of The Steve during an operation, and of Collin. Slim buried the pang of betrayal. The Steve was right. Vengeance could wait until after they survived.

“We’re Lurps, not Special Forces,” Chief Stahl answered. “All of us have our Ranger tabs if that makes you feel any better. Well, everyone except for Smith. He’s only Force Recon.” From the grins on the men’s faces showed a strong camaraderie. It reminded the two zombie hunters of their own field team.

“Be nice, Chief Stahl,” Quentin warned, “The head zombie killer used to be a leatherneck,” Stahl didn’t rise to the bait. He just gave a knowing smile.

“Very good Chief,” Slim said. He didn’t know what a lurp was, but they had already wasted enough time. “The minion we’re hunting was last seen going deeper into the maze. He can raise a bullet-proof shield, so don’t waste your ammo.” The soldiers nodded at the comments.

“You sure he’s still in here?” one of the soldiers asked. As if on cue, a beam of brilliant purple energy lanced into the sky from deep within the maze. Slim’s eyes tracked the beam into the sky. A burning fireball plummeted to the ground.

“Dear God, I hope that was just one of the Predators,” murmured another of the soldiers.

“Chief, if you and yours want to wait here while Quentin and I settle things with the minion, I would understand,” Slim said quietly when he saw the look of shock on Stahl’s face.

“All of those things they said about the minions are true,” Stahl said. It wasn’t a question.

“Mostly,” Slim confirmed.

“Well, if I wanted safe, I’d have done as my mom wanted and became an accountant,” Stahl answered, “No sense in stopping now. Besides, the colonel would skin my hide if I let you take on that on your own.” Slim nodded. He braced his MP5/10 in a low ready and led the group into the maze. As his hearing returned, Slim could hear the minion’s smug laughter.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2315 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez looked at the screen. He was crouched in one of the FBI’s covert observation vans. In the odd green hues of nightvision, Mateo watched as the entrance team stacked up at the front of the house. Spotters confirmed Ted entered the house some twenty minutes earlier. Mateo felt the rage roar inside of him as one of the monitors watched the average looking man in slacks and a polo shirt walked into the house. One of the techs kept running the footage. Something about getting a clear ID. Mateo recognized the face, and that was enough for the agents. This man was responsible for the kidnapping of Mateo’s ex-wife, and assisting in the killing of Mateo’s friend Nigel Brown, and the near killings of Kenn Blanchard, Zombie Strike’s leader and Mercedes, Mateo’s five year old daughter.

“Team ready,” SWAT’s leader announced, “No movement in the house.” The special agent in charge of the operation looked at Special Agent Tredegar for any last minute information. Tredegar nodded. The SAIC didn’t even look at Mateo. He’d made his opinion on an armed amateur in his command post known quite explicitly. Mateo was surprised there hadn’t been a PowerPoint with all the buzzwords the SAIC threw around during his little speech. A chill ran down Mateo’s spine. Certain it was nerves, Mateo ignored it and focused on the monitor. His entire body was tensed as he waited to hear the command to enter. A stronger chill flashed through him. Not nerves. Something was wrong. He could feel it. Mateo turned to tell SWAT to abort. The explosion picked up the van and slammed it on its side some fifteen feet from where it had parked.

Mateo heard the moans of the injured techs. He ignored them as leapt out of the van. The front of the house was gone. It kind of reminded Mateo of the dollhouse he’d bought Mercedes for Christmas. Open it up and see all of the rooms. Debris and FBI agents littered the lawn and street. Mateo focused on the movement in the house. His weapon was up as his mind immediately recognized the familiar walk of zombies. The first two zombies were brought down by instinct. Mateo’s eyes scanned the house. Maybe twenty or so. Less now as he pivoted and took down two more.

Screams of panic filled the street as the wounded agents saw the first walking corpse emerge out of the shadows. Some of the wounded tried to crawl away from the house, while others could only lie and scream. The noise just drew the zombies in. Right into Mateo’s sights. Undead after undead fell as Mateo placed hammer pairs into their skulls. Mateo was swept up into the familiar, simple action. Spot zombie, shoot zombie, find next target. Reload. Continue process. Mateo’s mind registered the last zombie at the back of the house. Just as he had practiced many times, Mateo advanced into the house. Something trapped the zombie. From the shadows, it looked like the explosion overturned a table. The zombie was just stuck there, unable to pass the waist high barrier. Mateo flipped on his flashlight. He wanted to make sure he finished this one properly.

Mateo froze as the light hit the zombie. He couldn’t move. He could only stare at the snarling face of Maria. Maria the zombie. The weapon came down as Mateo stared at Maria. She uselessly lunged at him. Mateo tried to bring his carbine up. The weapon was almost excruciatingly heavy. How could he do this? Maria was the mother of his child. And, if he was being honest, the one true love of his life. Each time Mateo tried to bring the carbine up his mind was flooded with memories. Maria when he first saw her, on their wedding day, just after giving birth.

The two gunshots shook Mateo out of his reveille. He watched in horror and relief as the two red holes blossomed on Maria’s head. Mateo stood immobile as his wife’s corpse collapsed to the ground. As soon as Maria was on the floor, Mateo whirled and brought up his carbine. A sad-faced Collin stood maybe fifteen feet away with a smoking Glock in his hands.

“I’m so sorry Matty,” Collin said.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 52]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 50

Skull Island, South Pacific, 25 July 2010, 0620 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 6 days

Slim Thomas looked at the oncoming zombies. He could hear the hunting moans behind his small team. Worse, the lightning bolt that knocked out Sport also burned off all of the team’s Nasty Stuff. They were surrounded by some five hundred zombies who were hunting for Quentin, Slim, and himself. Not good odds by anyone’s reckoning. Well, maybe if you were a Spartan. Slim doubted even Leonidas would have faced his three hundred against a zombie horde. The thoughts triggered memories and a quick plan. The reason three hundred Spartans could stand against somewhere between ten and fifty thousand Persians was because the Greeks forced the Persians into a bottleneck. Essentially, the Greeks avoided crush by forcing the Persians to send only a portion of their force at a time. Slim’s father called a defeat in detail.

“Quentin, hold onto Sport and follow me,” Slim said, “We’re heading to the maze.” Quentin gave Slim a questioning look, but he followed the lanky Brit as they ran through the forest. Slim didn’t care if the zombies heard every step. He wanted them to follow him. Slim didn’t have the Hot Gates, but he had something that would work in a pinch. The maze was at the edge of the forest. The Frenchies that owned Skull Island before Zombie Strike planted the maze while they were trying to build a resort. Zombie Strike had better things to do than trim up a hedge maze that was outside the compound’s perimeter. Still, they didn’t want the odd zombie wandering in and making the maze a death trap. So, concrete barriers were placed in front of the two entrances. No one went into the maze, except for one brilliant instance.

Jack Winchester had been a Zombie Strike team member killed on the team’s first mission. Before that, he’d been the sole survivor of a team competition when ZS was a reality show. Slim remembered watching Jack hop over the concrete barriers and hold off maybe twenty zombies with his trademark pair of silver Brownings. The hedges had grown so thick, the zombies couldn’t force their way through, and they couldn’t climb over the concrete barriers. Jack whittled down the horde and then escaped. Slim just needed to hold out long enough for The Steve to send out someone to get them.

Slim and Quentin charged through the forest. Slim could hear as the two groups of zombies started to come together as they trudged after the zombie hunters. There were a few zombies in the forest. These were stragglers from when the main horde of zombies came through on their way to the compound. Slim got most with quick hammer pairs. A couple more were put down by Quentin’s warhammer. The maze came into view. Slim and Quentin sprinted the last twenty yards. Slim slung his submachine gun and vaulted over the four-foot tall barrier. He turned to help Quentin with Sport. It wasn’t needed. Slim stood amazed as Quentin leapt over the barrier with all of the grace and ease of antelope.

“Close your mouth Slim,” Quentin said as he lowered Sport to the grassy ground. “Have you ever tried jumping over an offensive line?”

“What’s an offensive line?” Slim asked, momentarily dumbfounded.

“In football,” Quentin answered, unslinging his MP5/10.

“Football doesn’t have an offensive line. They have forwards,” Slim replied.

“American football,” Quentin snapped with mock anger.

“Oh, that bloody rip-off of rugby you Yanks call a sport,” Slim answered, his tone softening the jab. “It’s almost as bad at that tragedy called hockey you and the Canucks play.” Slim brought his MP5/10 up as the first zombies emerged from the tree line.

“Never insult the glory of the ice!” shouted a voice from behind. Quentin and Slim spun as the black clad minion stepped from behind one of the hedges some thirty feet into the maze. Neither zombie hunter hesitated. The two sub guns stuttered with twin bursts. The bullets slammed into an invisible shield with sparks of brilliant purple energy.

“Don’t worry, I’m not quite as idiotic as that other Champion,” the minion said. Slim could almost see the smirk behind the black balaclava. “Although, I have to admit, you did surprise me. Mr. DuBois should have completely knocked you out of the fight before my zombies showed up. Instead, you have fought hard, slowed and disrupted us, and managed to kill Isaac. One would think you were a bit more than prepared.”

“Maybe Zombie Strike is just that good,” Quentin snarled, keeping his weapon trained on the minion.

“That’s a good possibility,” the minion said, “That’s why I brought my newest toys to finish you off.” The minion stepped back. A line of zombies in bomb-disposal suits walked out. The suited zombies stood shoulder to shoulder and spanned the eight-foot wide path. Slim could see more zombies fill in behind the suited zombies.

“Actually, I have to admit, the idea came from Alan,” the minion said. Slim and Quentin shot each other an uneasy glance at the mention of the powerful sorcerer’s name. “Still, you can try to fight it out here, or face the other zombie horde. Either way, you all should be dead within an hour or so.” The suited zombies began their slow shamble towards the hunters.

“Well, what do you think?” Slim asked Quentin.

“We can’t run,” Quentin answered, “No way we’d make it through that horde with me having to carry Sport. Those zombies in the front are tanks. They’re supposed to make us waste our bullets on them. With those heavy helmets, they can’t bite. It’s the ones behind that are dangerous.”

“I’m not so sure,” Slim began. Before he could utter another word, his world was rocked with unbelievable thunder.

Washington DC, 26 July 2010, 2230 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez walked back into the waiting room and pulled his foster daughter aside. Special Agent Tredegar and Robyn Adams looked up in surprise, but didn’t say anything once they saw the look on Mateo’s face. Jess kept her face neutral as she followed Mateo into a secluded alcove. Mateo hesitated for a second. He didn’t want to tell Jess what was going through his mind, but she needed to know. She was as much a member of Zombie Strike as he was. That meant getting to deal with the bad stuff.

“Collin’s the shooter,” Mateo said bluntly, “He’s been working for the other side for a while.” Jess’s mouth hung open in shock.

“How?” she asked before her voice trailed off.

“He left me a recording of his meeting with Ted after Nigel was killed,” Mateo said, “They’ve got one of his family, and they’re using that as leverage against him.”

“What are we going to do?” Jess asked, horrified.

“You’re going to stay here with Billy,” Mateo said, “I don’t think Collin would try to finish off Kenn here. He’s not that foolish. On the outside chance he doesn’t have any other choice, you’re going to need to be here to protect Kenn and Mercedes. You still have your back-up?”

“Yeah, in my ankle holster,” Jess confirmed, still in shock.

“Keep it there until you need to use it,” Mateo said, “But if you have to, don’t hesitate. Collin’s not our friend anymore.”

“But if they’re holding one of his family hostage—“ Jess started, but Mateo’s glare cut her off.

“Then he should have come to us,” Mateo said, “He’s a professional. He knew that. He made the other choice and betrayed us.” Father and daughter shared a moment of uncomfortable silence.

“I need you to do one other thing,” Mateo said, “Ask Ms. Adams to get a hold of Skull Island. We need the rest of the team here.”

“Where are you going?” Jess asked.

“I’m going to hunt down Ted,” Mateo answered. “I need to save Maria if I can, and Ted’s my best bet for finding Collin.”

“What are you going to do when you find Collin?” Jess asked, her voice quavering. The look on Mateo’s face was all the answer Jess needed. She visibly recoiled from her foster father. She never wanted to see that look on his face ever again. Jess fled from the alcove. Mateo watched as she fell into one of the chairs and hugged Billy. The spirit wolf pup licked her face before scanning the room. Nothing was going to get past that one. Mateo walked back out to the front of the emergency room. There were still some of the Metro Police cars in the parking lot. Which one held his weapon?

“Going after Ted?” Special Agent Tredegar asked softly. Mateo nearly jumped. How did someone as clumsy as Tredegar sneak up on him?

“What are you talking about?” Mateo snapped.

“Ted, the member of the Truth holding your ex-wife hostage, and blackmailing your friend and colleague into assassinating Kenn,” Tredegar said. Mateo couldn’t hide his astonishment.

“Oh come on, you didn’t think we wouldn’t keep strict surveillance on you the moment you landed?” Tredegar answered his voice suddenly assured and confident. “We intercepted the message Collin DuBois sent you.”

“Okay, who are you?” Mateo asked, his voice a dangerous calm.

“Special Agent Tredegar, Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Tredegar answered, “Lead investigator on all actions perpetrated by the occult terrorist group known as the Truth. Probably one of the few people in the government who understand exactly how dangerous the people you’ve been fighting actually are.” Tredegar paused as he looked away for a moment.

“Part of learning about the Truth is also learning about Zombie Strike,” Tredegar said, “Which is why I didn’t keep that message from Mr. DuBois. I knew how’d you react once you’d heard it.” Mateo’s rage deepened. It was taking a lot of willpower not to throttle the federal agent.

“Why was that important?” Mateo asked.

“You wouldn’t have believed me if I told you Collin was the one who killed your friend Nigel,” Tredegar answered, “You had to hear that for yourself. Now, unless I miss my guess, you’re heading to find Ted to get Collin’s location and rescue your ex-wife.”

“Maybe,” Mateo said, the words forced through gritted teeth.

“Well, what say we go pick him up?” Tredegar asked with deadly seriousness, “I have an FBI SWAT team sitting on his position. I’d rather have you on scene when we get him.” Mateo looked at the agent. Dumbfounded, Mateo followed Tredegar as the FBI agent walked to the unmarked police cruiser he was using.

“Oh by the way, your guns are in the back,” Tredegar said as the two men climbed into the car. Mateo could only smile.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 51]

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