CategoryZombie Strike

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 69

The village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1210 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl stood on the small church’s steps and looked across the plaza. Standing in loose fitting black fatigues was Giant. The leader of the Truth held his infamous whip in his gloved right hand. The whip twitched like a downed power line. The Zombie Strike files were thin on the man, if you could call a seven-foot humanoid who wielded dark powers and could survive whatever destroyed the heart of Mexico City, a man. One thing Stahl couldn’t deny, Giant had presence. Even from a hundred feet away, Stahl could feel the pulsing of energy coming from Giant. It was all Stahl could do to see past Giant to measure the other Truthers he’d brought along.

There were ten of them. Two were definitely minions. They wore the almost standard ninja costume of a tight fitting black jumpsuit with black masks. The taller one was caressing a gold statue of what looked like a Greek hoplite about the size of an Academy Award Oscar. Four others were in jeans with brightly colored capes and feathered headdresses. From what Stahl remembered, the costumes looked suspiciously like traditional Aztec get-ups for their holy men. That made those four sorcerers. The last four looked like mercenaries. They were decked out in jungle cammies with expensive-looking gear, including Belgian-made F2000’s. The mercs had camo-painted faces and floppy hats. Stahl swore under his breath. The presence of the mercs meant the Truth was getting smart.

“Hello Mateo. It’s so nice to see you again,” Giant oozed sarcastically. His voice was deep but artificial.

“One of these days Mikhail, I’m going to find something that kills you,” Cortez said, using the only other name known for Giant. If the Truth’s leader was surprised by Cortez using the name, he didn’t show it.

“What is Zombie Strike doing here?” Giant asked, ignoring Cortez’s threat. “I was expecting Jesuit monks.”

“Someone thought he saw a Sasquatch and asked us to kill it. Oh, look. It was you.” Cortez said, bringing up his carbine. The rest of Zombie Strike followed their leader, each drawing a bead on one of the Truth. Stahl placed the holographic reticle of his M4 on the merc leader. Giant and his followers ignored the weapons aimed at them.

“Was that humor?” Giant asked, “I can never tell with you Americans.” Stahl traded questioning glances with the cowboy, Collins. Giant sounded like he was from the Midwest. If Giant wasn’t an American, where exactly had he come from? Tredegar looked like he was going to burst with questions. Give the FBI agent a crumb, and he wanted the whole cake. Sometimes his curiosity got the better of him. McLintock kept Tredegar stable on the line.

“You will leave now,” Father Rodriguez commanded, striding into the plaza. “You have completed the deed Heavenly Father compelled you to finish. Your role is completed.”

“Compelled me?” Giant bellowed indignantly, “Your God has no control over those sworn to Xipe Totec. It was the Flayed One’s own power that sealed the tear. He has told us how to stop the Little Death!” Giant paused in his rant. He looked over the Zombie Strike team.

“So that’s why you’re here, Mateo. This priest brought you in to stop the Little Death instead of the Jesuits. Priest, your resourcefulness is unexpected.” Giant’s eyes pulsed with purple energy as he glared at the priest. Cortez fired a single round at Giant. Brilliant purple sparks crackled as the bullet stopped a few inches from Giant’s head. The Truth’s leader tore his eyes from the priest to look at Cortez.

“Giant, I may not be able to kill you, but I can hurt you pretty bad,” Cortez said in a neutral, controlled voice. The team tensed as it recognized their leader’s tone. Cortez’s rage was up, and bad stuff was going to happen. Giant cocked his head, as if seeing Cortez in a new light.

“Mateo, please, go home,” Giant said sincerely, “It is not time for you to face the Death, even the Little Death. If you go out now, you will die. If you die, so does the world. I can’t kill you, but I can hurt you.” Giant’s eyes danced with amusement as he threw Cortez’s words back at him.

“Why don’t I believe you?” Cortez asked.

“Mateo, I’ve seen the prophecies. They are quite specific. Even more than those your God handed down in Revelations. Your role in all of this has already been determined. They also warn against you fighting the Death before it is time.”

“I’ve already fought against the vampires, Mikhail,” Cortez said, spitting out Giant’s name, “My team’s killed several of them.”

“What? How did you do that?” one of the sorcerers blurted out.

“Amazing what can be accomplished with the judicious application of firepower,” Stahl said, keeping his weapon trained on the merc leader.

“Mateo, did you kill any of the vampires yourself?” Giant asked. The big man stared at Cortez for a moment and then shook his head. “Thank the Flayed One, no. Your aura is clean. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to raise a small force to deal with the Little Death.” Giant turned and started to walk away from the plaza.

“I will not let you defile the bodies of my flock!” the priest screamed. The tiny man started to charge, but Mountain grabbed him. The medic forced the priest to the ground as Sport fired all five grenade rounds out of his XM25. The plaza rocked with thunderous sound as the grenades exploded right behind Giant. These weren’t the normal fragmentation grenades. These were designed to generate incredible walls of pressure and force. The Truth’s energy shields were great for stopping bullets, fragments, and such. They weren’t so good at stopping energy transfer. The shock wave of the five grenades hit the shield and passed through with only a small loss of energy. Giant was thrown off his feet and slammed into the bank building. The minion with the statue held it like a protective ward. The gold statue glowed as the shock wave flowed around them and knocked down the mercs and sorcerers instead.

Collins brought up his lever-action and racked off two rounds. The first round hit center upper mass on the second minion. The minion jerked as the round bisected his spinal cord and fell to the ground. The second round tore the first minion’s right shoulder apart. The .500 S&W round shattered the ball socket and shredded the flesh and muscle to little more than tatters. For a brief moment everyone stopped and stared at the two minions.

The Zombie Strike team recovered first and opened fire. Stahl fired off a short burst at one of the mercs. The man rolled just in time for the three rounds to pass over him. Another merc returned fire, forcing Stahl to dive for cover. Not that there was a whole bunch in the town plaza. Stahl raced behind the MRAP. Bullets sparked and clanged off the big armored truck. Stahl heard the distinctive booms of the cowboy’s lever action and the crackle of lighter small arms. Stahl leaned out from behind cover and fired a long burst at a merc in a doorway. The man ducked back into the building as the bullets shredded the wood around him. Stahl cursed and took a deep breath. He was a better shot than that. Time to calm down and focus on the killing.

“STOP!” The voice was louder than an artillery shell going off. Stahl let go of his weapon as his head rang with sound. As his eyes cleared, Stahl saw one of the sorcerers standing in the middle of the plaza with his hands outstretched. “You imbeciles, we are wasting time!”

“Get out of the way Wallace!” Giant said angrily. His whip was flicking back and forth angrily as he stormed towards Zombie Strike.

“Mikhail, stop. We can’t waste the time to fight these people. Zombie Strike’s appearance changes things.” Giant stopped, but his whip continued its angry dance. Wallace turned to Zombie Strike. “I’m offering truce. We need to put our fight aside and join forces, before the Little Death becomes too powerful.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 70]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 68

The village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1120 hours local : Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl followed Father Rodriguez into the church. He felt a wash of unfamiliar energy as he crossed the threshold. For a moment, Stahl felt warm, cold, blissful, and alone all at once. It was perhaps the weirdest sensation he’d ever encountered. This, after over a year fighting the undead and their minion masters. The chief looked back at the others as they walked through the threshold. Cortez, McLintock, the Brits, and the cowboy, Collins passed through without any sign of discomfort. Tredegar looked queasy, but stepped through without an issue. The Steve looked as if someone hit him with a live wire. He actually flinched as he stepped into the church. The strangest one was the girl, Montgomery and her pet dog. They just stood at the threshold.

“Come on Jess,” Cortez said.

“Um, I can’t. Neither can Billy,” Montgomery said, motioning to the dog. Father Rodriguez turned around in surprise at the comment. The tiny priest studied the girl for a moment and then shook his head.

“I am sorry, Little Wolf,” the priest said. Stahl could hear the capital letters as he addressed Montgomery. “I wasn’t very specific when I called down the blessing on the church. I was trying to protect my flock, and I only asked for believers to be allowed in.”

“I believe in God,” Montgomery protested.

“Yes, but your loyalty is to Wolf, and you are bonded to one of his sons. That takes precedence,” the priest explained. “I will try to modify the blessing on the church, but it may take some time.” Father Rodriguez sounded contrite over the incident.

“Don’t worry about it,” Montgomery said, “Billy and I will keep watch outside.” Before anyone could stop her, Montgomery and Billy trotted back out into the town’s plaza.

“Mountain, go with them,” Stahl ordered. He didn’t want the girl out there on her own. Granted, that dog of hers was scary, but the chief would feel better with one of the other shooters out there.

“The Steve, Chief,” Mountain corrected. He cocked his head suspiciously at the door way before bulling his way through. The medic let out a yip as he went through the invisible barrier. The boy may not be right in the head, but he was solid enough. Plus, it kept the medic from making another stupid comment to the priest.

“Father, Zombie Strike killed eight of the vampires so far,” Tredegar said, “That leaves another fifty-eight in this world. According to the papers you sent, we need to move quickly to kill them before they grow too powerful.” The priest nodded absently as he led them out of the narthex. The sanctuary was crammed with people. The pews were pushed to the sides so that they could spread blankets on the stone floor. Several of the people rushed up to Father Rodriguez as he led the team across the sanctuary. He blessed them in Spanish and sent them back to their families. The chief felt the villagers’ suspicious eyes on them as they walked. It was obvious they didn’t trust heavily armed men, especially those walking on sacred ground. Behind the sanctuary was Father Rodriguez’s quarters. It was a plain affair, true to the spirit of Jesuit order. The team crammed into the small space as the priest sat on his small cot.

“How did you seal the tear?” Stahl asked after everyone was situated.

“I didn’t. Others did,” Father Rodriguez answered cryptically.

“Who?” Stahl pressed.

“The ones chosen by God to complete that task,” Father Rodriguez said, as if that explained everything. “You have been chosen to remove the host remaining on this Earth.”

“Chief, stand down,” Cortez ordered. Stahl traded looks with his team leader. The chief nodded slightly. He didn’t like it, but orders were like that sometimes. He’d talk it out with Cortez later. “You were saying Father?”

“Thank you, my son. The ones you killed were the weakest of the host. The others fed on some of my flock before I could banish them. Unfortunately, I could not destroy them. They have their link to this Earth, and that is all they need. That, as they say, is the bad news. The good news is that this host is supposed to be the eyes for the rest of them. Spies, if you will.”

“Why does the Truth need vampire spies?” asked McLintock, “They have plenty of human ones.” Father Rodriguez looked at the big man quizzically.

“No, the host holds no loyalty to Xipe Totec or the Flayed One’s chosen acolytes,” Father Rodriguez answered.

“What?” Cortez asked, surprised, “Is this something from Satan then?”

“No, Lucifer follows the plan set out by God,” Father Rodriguez said, “This host is beyond the realm of God or man.” A cold, unsettled feeling ran down Stahl’s spine. As he looked at the faces of his teammates, Stahl could see they were just as uneasy about the priest’s words.

“So how do we stop them?” asked Tredegar. “Your notes aren’t very clear on that matter.”

“Until they change, you can kill them by inflicting many deadly wounds on them. Their corporeal bodies cannot take the stress. Holy power will also cause their Earthly bodies to immolate and destroy themselves.”

“If holy power can kill them, why didn’t you bag any?” Collins asked. It wasn’t accusatory, just a simple question.

“I had a choice. Kill a few of the host or protect my flock,” Father Rodriguez answered. The cowboy nodded in appreciation.

“Okay, so we have to do this the hard way,” Cortez said. “Not the first time. Father, do you know where the vampires are?”

“I can do better than that,” the priest said, digging into his jacket. He withdrew a tarnished locket wrapped with a silver chain. “Let this swing on its chain, and it will lead it to you to the host. When you get close, you must wrap the amulet and hide it away. If you don’t the host will know you are close as well.” Father Rodriguez handed the amulet to Cortez. The team leader reverently tucked the amulet into a pocket.

“Boss, you need to get out here,” Mountain said, over the radio, breaking the solemn atmosphere. Instinctively, the team gripped their weapons.

“What is it?” Cortez demanded.

“Giant’s out here, and he brought along some friends.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 69]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 67

Ten miles south of the village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1000 hours local : Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl pointed his M4 at the biggest of the five creatures as they strode out of the tree line and onto the dirt road. They all walked with a precise steady nature. It reminded Stahl of tigers stalking their prey. The primitive part of his brain was screaming for him to run and flee. Stahl suspected the moment he tried, these creatures would pounce.

“How are they walking in sunlight?” Quentin McLintock asked, transfixed by the creatures. “All of the lore surrounding the vampire says direct sunlight will kill them.”

“Let’s try and figure that after we kill them,” Stahl said, “Cortez, we could use a hand up here.” Mateo Cortez, the Zombie Strike field team leader, was busy helping the team members in the truck flipped by the first vampire. Cortez’s head popped out from behind the vehicle. A string of low curses followed. Cortez was almost as good at coming up with new swear words as a SEAL chief petty Stahl worked with once.

“Jess, see what you can do,” ordered Cortez, “Keep them busy for a minute.” Montgomery hopped on top of the overturned MRAP. Her SCAR was already up as she drew a bead on the big vampire. Three against five were not good odds. Stahl hoped Cortez knew what he was doing.

“Everyone, focus on the big one,” Stahl ordered, “Then roll to the one to the left.” A radio click meant Montgomery was ready. McLintock just nodded. The suppressed SCAR gave its distinctive cough as Montgomery placed a 7.62 mm NATO round dead center in the vampire’s head. The vampire’s head snapped back from the impact. The sudden jerk caught the creature off-guard and it tried to keep from falling over. Stahl opened up with his M4.

An M4 would have burned through a standard 30-round mag in a few seconds. Stahl quit using those after nearly running out of ammo on Corsica. He was using a new quad-stack 60-round magazine. The M4 chattered for nearly ten seconds as he dumped every round into the vampire’s torso. The rounds Zombie Strike were designed to cause maximum damage by shredding as much tissue as it could. Stahl was tearing huge chunks out of the creature as he kept the burst stitching across the vampire’s torso. As soon as the M4 went dry, Stahl dropped the magazine and slapped in a fresh one. The vampire took two steps towards Stahl. Then, it burst into a flash of intense heat and flame. The four remaining vampires paused.

“Chief, get down!” Cortez yelled. Stahl dropped into the dirt. Someone fired one of the team’s XM25’s. The rapid thumps were distinctive. Less than a second later, Stahl felt more than heard the string of explosions. He felt a couple of fragments whistle past him. That must have been Sport. That Brit found his calling with the grenade launcher. It was kind of scary how close he could drop those airburst grenades without killing friendlies. Stahl was on his feet as soon as the explosions dimmed to echoes. The other four vampires were reduced to scorch marks on the dirt road.

“Chief, you two alright?” Cortez asked. Stahl looked over at McLintock. The big man was already poking at the scorch marks. Crazy eggheads. Almost as if to prove the point, Tredegar trotted past the chief to join McLintock.

“Yeah, we’re good to go,” Stahl answered. “What about the truck?”

“Well, it works, but we can’t flip it back over.” Stahl looked over the wreck. The MRAP was lying on its back about ten yards off the dirt road. “Even if we could, we don’t have anyone to drive it.”

“What about the Panamanians?” Stahl asked.

“What Panamanians?” Cortez asked in response, “They all booked when they caught sight of the vampires. I’m going to have Jim drive. I want to get up to the village quickly.” Stahl nodded in agreement. The good news was none of the team members riding in the flipped vehicle had been injured. The team spent about fifteen minutes dragging gear to the other vehicle. Well, all except Tredegar and McLintock. Those two were examining the documents they’d got from the priest. They still hadn’t come up with a good intel by the time the team was ready to move out.

Stahl stayed on the heavy machine gun as Jim Colllins carefully drove the truck up the mountain trail. The chief manned the fifty-cal on the basis he had the most time with the weapon. The truth was, until he got some definitive answers on the vampires, he wanted the biggest gun he could find to kill them with. After a few miles, the forest was cleared for farmland. Stahl counted about six or so small spreads. It looked like little more than subsistence farming. At least it wasn’t coca. Stahl hated dealing with narcos.

Another few miles, and the team drove into the outskirts of Redencion. Most of the houses were solidly built, if somewhat primitive. The villagers may not have much, but they knew how to use what was available. These weren’t shanty-town people. Assuming any were still alive. The streets were deserted. There were no sounds or signs of life as the MRAP rolled down the main road. There weren’t even any animals. Stahl looked towards the town’s center. For a moment, he could have sworn there was a spotlight on the church. It just seemed to glimmer.

Collins gunned the MRAP into town center. Stahl saw two more creatures slamming themselves against the doors of the church. Collins saw them as well and swung the MRAP alongside the church. Stahl had a clear line on the vampires without shooting into the church. The two creatures were focused so intently on the church they ignored the big metal vehicle and the gun atop it. With a grin, Stahl pressed the big machine gun’s firing paddle. The big fifty caliber bullets easily shredded the vampires. After a few seconds, the vampires finally screeched and burst into a flash of flame.

The team was out of the vehicle and taking up positions around the church before Stahl finished firing on the two vampires. They braced as they waited for the next onslaught of creatures. The doors of the church swung open. Every weapon was trained on the darkened opening. Out stepped what looked like a miniature version of a Catholic priest holding a cross in one hand and a bottle of clear liquid in the other. The priest gave the Zombie Strike team an appraising look.

“You took longer to get here than I expected,” the priest said in unaccented English. The voice sounded old, but flat with no emotion. It unnerved Stahl.

“Sorry?” Cortez said, unsure if he should be apologizing or demanding one.

“My apologies,” the priest said, “It was a comment, not a criticism. I am Father Rodriguez. Please come in. I’m sure you have many questions for me.” The priest’s head turned towards Stahl. The man’s black eyes bored into Stahl. The former soldier felt ice shoot down his spine. Stahl had the distinct feeling the priest had been waiting for him to arrive in this village. The chief shook his head. That was just ridiculous.

“I appreciate the offer Father, but I think we need to make sure there aren’t any more of those vampires in the village first,” Cortez said. The tiny priest waved his hands dismissively.

“Oh don’t worry. Those two you destroyed were the last two in the village. The rest are out in the jungle,” Father Rodriguez said.

“And you know this how?” Stahl asked, suspiciously. Something about Father Rodriguez was ringing every warning bell in his mind.

“God told me,” the priest answered, matter-of-factly, “Or more to the point, Metatron told me.”

“The bad guy from Transformers?” The Steve asked.

“No, the archangel Metatron, the Voice of God,” Cortez corrected, “Metatron does the speaking because the true voice of God would destroy the mind of a human.”

“Cool, just like Cthulu!” the irrepressible medic replied. There was a long moment as the entire team just stared at The Steve in either shock or disbelief. The Steve ignored it all with his trademark brilliant smile.

“Please excuse The Steve. His mind to mouth filter isn’t always the best,” Cortez said.

“Believe me Mateo Cortez, I know quite a bit about your team,” Father Rodriguez said enigmatically. “I have been tasked by our father to answer many of your questions.” Stahl could feel the undercurrent in the priest’s voice. His fight or flee instincts were screaming at him to run from this priest and the village. He couldn’t flee, so that left fight. The chief slid down the side of the MRAP and strode over to the priest.

“Perhaps you could answer the big questions. How many vampires escaped into our world, and how are we going to seal the crack between our worlds?” the chief asked, trying to keep his voice calm. The priest gave him a knowing smile.

“Those aren’t your big questions, Eric Stahl, but they are important to the team,” Father Rodriguez said. “To answer your questions though, the crack, as you called it, has already been sealed, but not before sixty-six of the creatures escaped into our world.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 68]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 66

Tocumen International Airport, Panama City, 3 February 2011, 0700 hours local : Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Former US Army Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl walked down the ramp of the small cargo jet. He’d spent a few years in and out of Panama in his twenty years with the US Army. He liked the country and the people, and he was glad to be back. He just wished he’d come here on vacation instead of having to fight a bunch of monsters. Chief Stahl wasn’t quite sure what to make of the transmission from Adams and Tredegar.

The plane taxied into one of the smaller private hangars on the outskirts of Panama’s big international airport. Waiting for them was Adams, Tredegar, and a uniformed Panamanian officer. A colonel by the sigils on his epaulets. The three were waiting by a pair of big armored trucks that reminded Stahl of the MRAPs the Army was using. Adams rushed up to Mateo Cortez as the team departed the plane. The two were doing their little courtship ritual. Stahl didn’t like the idea of the team lead and their employer’s liaison doing this half-on/half-off dating dance, but he kept his tongue. The rest of the team seemed happy about the match. Stahl would wait and watch until it became a problem. Then he’d solve it. That was what he did.

Chief Stahl had fallen into the role once occupied by the now-deceased Collin DuBois. He was the professional mentor of the team lead. After a couple of months, Stahl decided he liked Cortez. The man knew how to handle himself and the team. As much as Stahl hated to admit, he’d seen a marked improvement in Cortez’s performance about the same time he and Adams had started up. Jess Montgomery waited a proper minute or two, and then slammed into Adams with an enthusiastic hug. That was a relationship Stahl approved of. Montgomery was decent with her SCAR rifle, but there was more to life than just killing the bad guys. She needed a good role model for life beyond the scope of her weapon. Adams was somewhere between a foster mother and a big sister for the girl.

Stahl motioned for Tredegar and the Panamanian officer over as the rest of the team unloaded their gear from the plane. Tredegar looked like a casting call for Ichabod Crane. Taller than average, gangly, and with a balding head that made his nose seem even longer. He was wearing a dark suit with a white dress shirt that was plastered to him. His normally pale face had the unhealthy red glow of too much tropical sun. The Panamanian officer was a contrast to Tredegar. The colonel was barely average height, but obviously enjoyed his food. A thick bushy black mustache seemed right on his round face.

“Colonel, I’m Eric Stahl, but you can call me Chief or Chief Stahl,” Stahl said, introducing himself. “If you’ll tell me how you want us to load up, I can take care of it.”

“SEAL?” the colonel guessed in moderately accented English.

“Hardly. Former Chief Warrant Officer with the Army. Used to do some Lurp-Work before I started killing zombies for a living,” Stahl said.

“Oh good,” the colonel answered, sounding relieved. “When I heard this outfit was led by a civilian who’d never spent a day—“ Stahl held up a hand to cut the colonel off. The officer’s eyes flashed with indignation.

“Colonel, that man is one of the most experienced zombie hunters on the planet. He may not be military, or even former military, but the American military listens to him on matters of dealing with the undead. You may want to remember that when you talk to him.”

“Talk to who?” Cortez asked, joining the group. The colonel shifted uncomfortably as an awkward silence fell over the small group. When no one said anything, Cortez turned to Stahl.

“Chief, we’re going to have to brief on the move. Put The Steve, Jim, the Brits, and the extra gear in the first truck. Everyone else on the other.” Chief Stahl almost saluted out of habit. He turned and issued his own orders. In less than an hour, the two trucks were roaring down Panamanian highways towards the mountain village. It was a tight fit in the truck with all of the people, and the dog. Stahl brought up the document Tredegar transmitted to his PDA.

“These aren’t vampires like we know them,” Tredegar began.

“They aren’t sparkly?” injected Cortez. Montgomery flushed at the backhand jibe. She liked Twilight, thank you very much.

“They aren’t even in human form. At least not yet,” Tredegar said, plowing on before anyone else chimed in. “According to the intel from the priest, these creatures are from another time and place. I think that means from another dimension. In this world, they need human life force to survive. Usually through blood. The longer in this world, the more they can adapt and the more human-like they become.”

“How does a priest in a mountain village have all of this?” Cortez asked.

“Not the first time the Jesuits have dealt with this,” Tredegar answered.

“So how do we stop these vampires?” Stahl asked, “We didn’t bring along silver bullets or wooden stakes.”

“Or those nifty UV bullets,” Sport chimed in from the other truck.

“Would everyone please stop making movie references?” Tredegar said, annoyed. “Right now, they’re vulnerable. They haven’t had time to adapt to our world or develop any immunities. Right now, they’re big, nasty monsters that drink blood. Think of them as a variation of the monsters we fought back on Corsica.” Stahl saw a shudder from the team members that had gone down into the Truth’s facility during that battle. “All of that changes in less than twenty-four hours. Then they get stronger, smarter, and harder to kill on an exponential level.”

“Let’s not waste time then,” Cortez said. “As soon as we reach the village, we fan out and look for survivors. Tredegar needs to see anyone who survived so we can try and piece together what happened and how many of these creatures we’re dealing with. If you find one of the monsters, do not engage it by yourself. Call for help. Any questions?”

“Yeah, The Steve wants to know how we’re going to close the hole these vampires came out of,” The Steve said. Stahl reminded himself that under the crazy persona, former Staff Sergeant Mountain was a sharp operator. The man was still talked about among the Special Forces community.

“The papers reference some ritual the Jesuits did last time, but it’s pretty vague.” The trucks jostled as they left the paved roads and started up the trail to the mountain village. Stahl hadn’t even learned the name of the place yet. He thumbed around on his PDA until he found a map of the village. Pretty standard layout. Church and the big merchants close to center with some houses and smaller stores as the village spread out towards the farms and the jungle. Probably no more than a few hundred people all told.

Stahl was torn from his PDA as the first truck was flipped into the air. It looked like an IED hit, but there wasn’t the deafening boom of an explosion. Combat reflexes took over. Stahl shoved a Panamanian soldier aside and jumped up into the turret to grab the Ma Deuce’s controls. As the first truck rolled into the tree line, Stahl saw the cause. The creature was maybe seven or eight feet tall. Its wire-thin body was covered in matty, brown fur. Stahl didn’t even pause to look at the thing’s face before he pressed down on the firing paddle between the machine gun’s handles. The familiar heavy buddha-buddha-buddha of the M2 machine gun filled the air. The heavy .50 BMG bullets tore gaping holes into the creature. Stahl heard its screams faintly over the sound of the machine gun. The creature took a step back, fighting to stay on its feet as bullet after bullet shredded its body. It lasted maybe ten seconds before Stahl nearly removed its lower half with the machine gun. The creature fell to the ground.

Stahl jumped up out of the truck and ran towards the creature with his M4 up. Next to him was Quentin McLintock, the big close-quarters specialist. As they neared the creature, it burst into flames. There was maybe a second of bright flames and intense heat. All that remained of the creature was a scorched outline in the dirt.

“Okay, that went pretty well,” Stahl said to McLintock, “Let’s get back and help the others.” McLintock put a meaty hand on Stahl’s shoulder. The big man wasn’t looking at the scorch mark. He was looking deep into the trees.

“Chief, he wasn’t alone,” McLintock said. The morning air was filled with snarls as several more of the creatures stepped out of the tree line. Stahl gripped his weapon and prepared for the fight.

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 67]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 7 – Chapter 65

Lisbon, Portugal, 1 February 2011, 1800 hours local: Countdown: 11 months

The man known to his followers as Castle was doing what most of the world was doing. He was watching as the last of the new GPS satellites was positioned in space. It was a bit over six months since the Truth’s mystics removed almost all of the satellites in orbit and brought them down on Mexico City. The general populace had been slapped in the face with their dependence on the artificial constellation that had floated in orbit. They demanded their leaders do everything to restore the needed satellites, regardless of cost. That demand provided the Truth with an opportunity for control that was now being realized.

Castle spent years cultivating his infiltrators. They were people in key positions in various sectors: political, social, cultural, and economic. For the last six months, these seemingly unrelated people had either stepped into roles or aggressively taken positions that gave the Truth enormous public influence. After all, it had been his infiltrators that forged a world-wide coalition and promised to rebuild networks and fight the economic depression that resulted from the loss of the satellites. With this last satellite, a large part of that promise returned. Now the Truth had their own secret satellite communications and observation network.

The satellite phone next to him buzzed. Castle picked up the now-working device and looked at who was calling him. He’d expected his infiltrator in the UN to ask to begin her operation. Instead, it was one of Alan’s sorcerers. Castle was going to be very annoyed if the sorcerer just called him to congratulate him on their success. He’d been very clear on that.

“Mr. Castle, we have a tear in Panama,” the sorcerer informed him. Castle didn’t say anything for a moment as suppressed the urge to ask if the sorcerer was sure. They wouldn’t be calling him if they weren’t sure.

“Has it begun already?” Castle asked.

“From what we can see, it just looks like a small fracturing as our worlds come close to each other,” the sorcerer answered. Castle relaxed. The Truth wasn’t quite ready to deal with the Great Death quite yet.

“Why didn’t we know that this might happen?” Castle asked.

“The prophecies were vague about this kind of thing,” the sorcerer said, “To be frank, Mr. Castle, it isn’t like there’s a sentence in the prophecies telling us there’s going to be a tear and where it was going to be. The wording could have been interpreted in a number of ways. In light of this new development, Alan and several of the more experienced sorcerers are pouring over the prophecies to find out how often we should expect tears between our worlds.” Castle bit back his annoyance and frustrated. The sorcerer was doing exactly what Castle demanded – telling him exactly what he needed to know, whether he liked it or not. Castle spent a great deal of time reassuring his people that he had no intention of shooting the messenger.

“I understand,” Castle said, “Have a team of experienced sorcerers meet some Champions in Panama.” Castle put down the sat phone and pressed the buzzer on the intercom at his elbow.

“Have Mikhail join me. I have a job for him.”

Plaza de Francia, Panama City, Panama, 2 Feb 2011 1700 hours local; Countdown: 10 months, 29 days

Robyn Adams fanned herself with a copy of La Prensa, the local newspaper. Even in February, it was hot and humid. She would need to take a long shower when she got back to the hotel. At least she had it easier than her companion. Edgar Tredegar was not only sweating in his light gray suit, but his normally white skin was now a bright pink from sunburn. He didn’t complain, but Tredegar was clearly uncomfortable.

“He’s late,” Tredegar said quietly.

“He could be stuck in traffic,” Robyn said, remembering the cab ride over from the hotel.

“Maybe,” Tredegar said. “I don’t like it. We should have contacted the Bureau.” Like Robyn, Tredegar was a liaison to Zombie Strike. She represented the interests of the team’s primary financial backer, the British insurance firm of MacKenzie and Winston. Tredegar, on the other hand, was an FBI special agent assigned to assist Zombie Strike on behalf of the American government.

“You agreed to keep them out of this. The priest wouldn’t have come otherwise,” Robyn said. Before Edgar could say anything, a cab pulled up at the front of the plaza. A round Catholic priest lumbered out. He waved to the pair as soon as he saw them. Tredegar groaned at the lack of tradecraft. Robyn suppressed a laugh. What did he expect? They weren’t meeting some defecting Soviet spy, like in the FBI’s heyday. They walked down as the priest paid the cabbie.

“You are Father Timon?” Robyn asked as they met the priest.

Si. You are from Zombie Strike?” the priest asked in heavily accented English. Robyn nodded. It was close enough to the truth. The priest let out a string of rapid fire Spanish. It sounded like a lot of thanking God.

“Father Timon, you said you needed Zombie Strike in Panama, but you didn’t say why,” Tredegar said. “We need to know why before we can bring the team in.”

“You are not zombie-killers?” the priest asked, his large dark eyes scrunched in confusion.

“Zombie Strike doesn’t have that many zombie killers,” Robyn rushed to explain, “People like us are sent out to meet with the local contacts to see where the need is greatest.” She didn’t add and to make sure that they weren’t wasting time with kooks.

“Of course. I see,” the priest said, his head bobbing. “About two nights ago, I went to visit my friend, Father Rodriguez, up in the mountains. We were having dinner when it happened.” The priest shuddered with remembered fear.

“What happened?” Tredegar asked.

“We heard screams. We went to see what happened,” Father Timon said, “In the middle of the town, it was like the air had been ripped open. Unholy white light was pouring through. Then the first one came out. It was horrible. It grabbed little Martina and…” Father Timon put his face in his hands and sobbed. Robyn put her arms around the priest.

“Father Rodriguez pulled me back into the church. He shoved this packet of papers in my hand.” The priest pulled out a weathered manila envelope. On the front was a series of odd symbols. Tredegar gasped as he saw the envelope.

“Do you know what this means?” Father Timon asked. “Father Rodriguez wouldn’t tell me. He just pushed me into my car and told me to come back here. He said I needed to call Zombie Strike and give them this.” Tredegar snatched the envelope out of the priest’s hands. He tore the flap open and began searching through the papers.

“Don’t worry Father,” Robyn said reassuringly, “We’ll take care of this.” She escorted the priest back down the stairs. After the priest was in a cab back to his church, Robyn stormed back to where Tredegar was reading one of the papers from the envelope.

“What was that all about?” Robyn demanded.

“Call Mateo and tell him we need the team here,” Tredegar said, examining the paper in his hands. “Make sure he tells Quentin that the Little Death has shown up here.”

“What is the Little Death?” Robyn demanded as she keyed in the radio. With communications satellites out, long distance calls needed to be go through a relay of radio stations. Fortunately, M&W already had a network set up.

“From my best guess, vampires.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 66]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 64 – Epilogue

Tampa Florida, 15 September 2010, 1630 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez watched as his five-year-old daughter was lifted into the backseat of the silver SUV. Mateo buried all of his heartbreak as he waved back at the smiling Mercedes. The two of them enjoyed a very busy day at Busch Gardens, the biggest theme park this side of Orlando. The little girl was still clutching the stuffed animal Mateo bought for her. This was the last time he would see his daughter for some time. Christina, his ex-wife’s sister, almost slammed the car door while scowling at Mateo. He did his best to ignore the woman. She looked too much like Maria when she scowled.

“When will we get the money?” asked the impatient man Mateo had been ignoring for the last few minutes. Tim, Christina’s husband, was an annoying, pathetic jerk of a man. With a pinched, weasel-like face, balding head, and over-priced mall clothes, Tim looked more like a middle manager than an attorney.

“The funds will be transferred to the account set up by the trust company,” answered Robyn Adams as she approached the two men. She pulled a manila envelope from her purse and shoved it into Tim’s hands. “The trustee will call you and set up a meeting. She will explain how to submit child care expenses for reimbursement.”

“That’s not what the judge ordered,” Tim protested.

“The judge required Mr. Cortez to provide for his daughter and place the full extent of his ex-wife’s estate to that end,” Robyn shot back, “If you bother to check the paperwork I’ve just handed to you, you will see the judge has already signed off on the arrangement.” Tim tried to stare Robyn down. Against the tall beauty, he had no chance. Without another word, Tim stormed back to the waiting car.

“What are you doing here?” Mateo asked Robyn.

“You disappeared after the hearing yesterday,” Robyn answered. There was something odd in her voice. Over the past couple of months, Robyn worked closely with Mateo, both in her role as MacKenzie & Winston’s liaison with the Zombie Strike team, and in helping Mateo with the custody battle over his daughter. Mateo finally managed to get over his normal nervousness around attractive women and be able to talk normally with Robyn. He owed her that much.

“I was worried when you didn’t show back up at the hotel,” Robyn said. Mateo’s nervousness surged back as her blue eyes seemed to twinkle in the afternoon sun. “Yesterday didn’t go as well as I hoped.”

“Sorry, I should have called,” Mateo said, “I visited Maria’s grave and then just kind of drove all night.” Robyn smiled, and Mateo looked down at his watch. Damn it, he could face off hundreds of zombies. What about this woman made him so uneasy? Even Maria didn’t do that to him.

“We should head back to the hotel and get packed,” Mateo said, “We’ve got a late flight to catch.” He started to walk towards Robyn’s rental. She stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.

“No need to hurry, I’ve rescheduled the flight until tomorrow,” Robyn said, with a devious smile on her face. “I believe you owe me a tour of this little city of yours.” Mateo’s nervousness vanished as he led her back to the car.

Skull Island, South Pacific, 15 September 2010, 1630 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 16 days

Chief Warrant Officer Stahl, recently retired from the US Army, was getting used to his new home. He’d been surprised by the job offer from Mateo. He talked it over with Col. Allen, the commander of the U.S. anti-zombie task force. Stahl had literally grown up in the Army. His father and grandfather had both risen to master sergeant in this man’s Army. Stahl expected Allen to chew him out for even thinking of leaving. Instead, the colonel encouraged the move. The old soldier expected the battle between Zombie Strike and the Truth cult to heat up after the Battle of Rosca. The ZS team needed experienced soldiers, and the colonel needed someone he trusted on the team.

Stahl had taken to regularly walking the perimeter of the Zombie Strike compound. The old hotel and surrounding buildings had been nearly destroyed during the battle between the Great Horde and the Army. A new complex was rising up from its ashes. This one was built more like a modernized castle, complete with moat, drawbridge, and high surrounding wall. At the center was a fifteen-hundred-foot metal spire. Until the constellation of communications satellites was replaced, radio was once again based on atmospherics and radio towers. That tower could communicate with almost anything in the Pacific, including M&W’s office in Sydney.

As Stahl came onto the new firing range, he could see the girl firing a bench-rested SCAR. Stahl had put away his concerns about women in combat after his LRRP team was sent in to rescue a convoy caught by insurgents outside of Baghdad on the Tampa road. The women soldiers on the convoy proved themselves that day. This girl, Jess, proved herself numerous times, according to the rest of the team. The huge wolf that followed her around was curled up at her feet, ignoring the noise. There was something odd about that animal.

“Nice groups,” Stahl observed as he stood behind Jess. She fired two more rounds before standing up and facing him. Even coated in sweat and cordite, Jess looked better than she had in weeks. She still wasn’t smiling much. The neurotoxin the Truth’s monster hit her with did some pretty severe damage to her mind. She’d only returned from some intensive psychiatric care two days ago.

“Thanks Chief,” she said her voice almost normal.

“Listen, I know you just got back, but the team is going to be doing some field exercises. I think it might be good for you to come along.” Jess turned back and picked up the rifle.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I think it may be time for me to quit this.”

“Why?” Stahl asked.

“Because, it seems like every time I go out there, someone dies,” Jess said.

“And you think you’re the reason,” Chief Stahl replied.

“You think I’m foolish, don’t you?” Jess asked her blue eyes boring into the Chief.

“Nope. I think you’re in the middle of a nasty war,” Stahl answered, “I think you just got hit with an evil weapon that terrified you. And it isn’t going to get any easier.”

“So you think I should quit?” Jess demanded.

“Nope. I think you should want to murder them that did all of this to you,” Chief Stahl said, “I can show you how.” Jess looked warily at the former soldier and nodded.

Keflavik, Iceland, 15 September 2010, 1630 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 3 months, 16 days

Castle strode into the safehouse’s kitchen. He stared at the man busily stirring a pot of that American travesty, chili. The man didn’t seem to notice or care that the leader of the Truth and the Flayed One’s own chosen was impatiently tapping his leather shoe on the linoleum.

“I see you’ve finally recovered,” Castle finally said, breaking the silence.

“Pretty much,” Alan said, ladling up a bowl of the horrid stuff. “I see you finally had time to come and see me.” Castle hated the American’s flippant attitude. If he didn’t need Alan’s incredible skill with the mystic power, Castle would have rid himself of the sorcerer months ago.

“Some of us have better things to do than nearly get themselves killed in a project that they had no business in,” Castle answered. “You were supposed to be working on the Key.”

“I needed to go to the nursery,” Alan said flatly.

“Why?” Castle asked.

“One of the nasty side effects of spending so much time working with magical forces is that sometimes it lets you peek into the future. Sometimes just enough to drive you insane, or sometimes just enough to act.”

“What does that have to do with you being in Rosca instead of Barcelona working on the Key?” Castle demanded. Alan set down the bowl of chili and motioned for Castle to follow him. Alan walked down the stairs into the safehouse’s cellar. It was cold, barely above the freezing outside temperature. In the center of the dark cellar was a crystal cage. Castle saw the man inside huddled under the blanket and gave Alan a quizzical look.

“I didn’t go to Rosca to stop Zombie Strike from destroying the nursery,” Alan said. “I was fulfilling the prophecies surrounding the Flayed One’s return.” The man in the cage turned towards the two. Castle’s eyes widened as he recognized the man.

“I found the Betrayer,” Alan said, motioning to Collin DuBois, “I’m just keeping him safe until it’s time for him to kill Mateo Cortez.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 65]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 63

The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0320 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez watched as the monster slid on its snake-like body out into the corridor. That was the only part of the monster that was even remotely recognizable. Above the snake was a mass of gray flesh crisscrossed with pulsing vessels. Four appendages sprouted irregularly from the torso. Two ended in three finger hands while the other two were more like tentacles. And the eyes. Unblinking human-like eyes of different colors were dotted across the front of the creature. It was the closest thing Mateo had ever seen to the horrors that Lovecraft described.

One of the monster’s tentacles shot out at Mateo. He sidestepped, but he wasn’t fast enough. The tentacle ripped across his bracer and tore the PDA off. Mateo winced. It felt as if he’d just blocked a fast ball with his forearm. The other tentacle punched his chest plate. Mateo fell back as the wind was pushed out of his lungs. He gulped air trying to get his breath back. Before he could get back up, Jim stood over him. The tall cowboy fired his Big Horn .500 as fast as he could into the monster. The booms came fast and furious. It sounded like Jim was firing a machine gun instead of a lever action rifle. The bullets tore ragged holes in the monster. Thick, black fluid spurted out. A noxious odor filled the corridor. The monster made no sound. It whipped one of its tentacles across Jim’s face. The cowboy dropped to the concrete floor and didn’t move.

Mateo raised his M4 and emptied the magazine in one long burst across the front of the creature. It flinched back as a line of black ooze billowed up from Mateo’s burst. Mateo quickly jumped to his feet. He could hear the others firing, but after the concussive blasts from Jim’s big rifle, they sounded far off. It took Mateo a moment to realize they weren’t firing at the creature in front of him. He needed to see what was happening behind him, but Mateo didn’t dare turn away from the monster. Not until it was dead. Both tentacles shot out at him. He ducked the first one, but the second wrapped around his M4. More from instinct than tactical knowledge, Mateo let go of his carbine and drew his pistol. The tentacle yanked on the M4. Connected by the weapon’s sling, Mateo was jerked off of his feet and flew towards the monster. He lined up the Sig’s sights on one of big holes from Jim’s rifle. Mateo squeezed the trigger. The pistol roared once, twice, and kept on firing until the slide locked back on an empty magazine. The tentacle quit pulling on the M4. Mateo fell to the concrete floor. He felt his shoulder dislocate as it took the brunt of the fall. As Mateo changed the magazine on his carbine as fast as he could one-handed. Another thing Collin drilled into him over the past few months. The monster’s left side didn’t seem to be working. The tentacle and hand on that half of its torso hung limply. All of the haunting eyes were fully dilated, to the point they were almost completely black. The other tentacle and arm swung wildly. Mateo aimed the carbine at another hole. His shoulder screamed in pain. Blinking back tears, Mateo fired a two second burst into the hole. The other two appendages froze in mid-swing. The creature slid back into the doorway it had emerged from.

Mateo wanted to sink down to the floor and wait for Tredegar to come and fix him. He didn’t have that luxury. Letting the M4 hang on its sling, Mateo turned to see what the rest of his team was fighting. Quentin, Sport, and Tredegar were fighting a five-foot tall humanoid creature. Humanoid in as much as it had two arms with hands and two legs. It had no head. Two red eyes the size of saucers blinked from the shoulders. A mouth of dagger-sharp teeth snarled from the creature’s midsection. Mateo watched as Sport poured an entire magazine from his MP5/10 into the monster. The bullets didn’t even puncture the thick leathery hide. Billy was facing off with what looked like a red leather saber tooth tiger. Jess was still balled up on the floor.

Billy could probably handle his enemy. Mateo wasn’t exactly sure what Billy’s limits were, but he was pretty sure the pup wasn’t going to hit them facing off with the monster. The others needed his help. Mateo strode over to them, his shoulder protesting every movement. The headless monster jabbed at Sport with a meaty fist. The Brit nearly tripped over his legs as he scrambled back from the punch. Quentin saw an opening and clubbed the creature in its mouth with his warhammer. Two of the teeth broke. A booming scream of pain filled the corridor. Tredegar uselessly fired his M4 at the creature.

“Sport, can you pitch a grenade into its mouth?” Mateo asked.

“Are you bloody insane?” Sport said, “The blast will kill us all.”

“We’re going to die if we don’t kill this thing,” Mateo countered. Sport clearly didn’t like either option, but he plucked a concussion grenade off his chest. Sport fell into a pitching stance and froze. A few seconds passed as Mateo, Quentin, and Tredegar placed shots at the monster’s huge eyes. The bullets didn’t puncture the eyes, but they did hurt the monster. It roared in anguish. Sport hurled the grenade into the monster’s open mouth. The maw clamped shut as the grenade slammed into the back. There was a muffled thunderclap an instant before the team was coated in sticky pieces of monster. Tredegar and Sport both bent over and vomited. Mateo turned to face the last monster. It was already over. Billy had the monster on its back. Fleshy bits were strewn around the spirit wolf. The wolf’s pure white pelt wasn’t even dotted with blood or gore. Billy leapt back over to Jess. He stood protectively over the girl’s still form.

“Well that was disappointing,” Alan said from behind his invisible shield. Mateo stormed to the edge of the shield. Alan met Mateo’s glare and shivered involuntarily. There were reasons Mateo was the leader of Zombie Strike.

“Lower this shield, give us Collin, and I’ll let you live,” Mateo said in a tight, controlled voice.

“I don’t think so,” Alan said.

“The rest of my men will have cleared out your few remaining cultists upstairs and probably have the horde you made out of the townspeople under control,” Mateo told Alan, “We’ve beaten back everything you could throw at us. We can wait you out.” Alan cocked his head like he was listening to an earpiece.

“Right now, the rest of your team is holed up at the edge of town with the zombies surrounding them. I will give those Army boys some credit. They did manage to wipe out the Truth’s forces here before the horde pushed them back into that little store.” Alan looked sincerely impressed.

“I can hold this shield up as long as I need to,” Alan continued, “Which is about three hours. After that, Mikhail and his elite forces will port into the facility and take all of you. So, why don’t you make yourselves comfortable and just wait for the inevitable? I’m sure that medic of yours could patch up that shoulder. It must hurt something fierce.” Mateo snarled incoherently at Alan. The sorcerer laughed.

Mateo hit the floor as the sound of gun shots boomed through the corridor. Alan collapsed to the floor. Behind him, Mateo saw Collin’s outstretched arm fall limply back to his side. The Glock clattered across the concrete floor. The man looked utterly exhausted. He must have expended the very last bit of his energy to shoot Alan in the back. Mateo got up off the floor and walked towards Collin. Pain and purple light sparked across him. The shield was still up.

“Go Mattie,” Collin said breathlessly, “I don’t know how long that shield is going to be up.”

“You know what’s going to happen if we leave?” Mateo asked.

“Better this way,” Collin said. An uncomfortable silence fell between the two men. “One other thing Mattie.”

“Yeah?”

“Get that warrant officer on the team,” Collin said, “You’ll need him.” Mateo nodded. He already decided to make the offer to Stahl. Collin’s request gave Mateo a boost of confidence. Mateo turned away from Collin, unable to say good-bye to the man. His emotions were still too conflicted. The team didn’t say anything as they collected Jim and Jess and hustled up the steps. Mateo looked back at Collin just before he climbed the steps. Collin simply nodded. Outside the town center, corpses littered the plaza. Mateo could hear the gunfire coming from where the rest of his team fought the zombies.

“Stahl, this is Cortez,” Mateo said over the radio, “Can you be extracted?”

“Yeah,” came the clipped reply, “We’re on the roof right now.”

“I’m calling Blackout,” Mateo told the warrant officer.

“We’ll be ready.” Mateo switched frequencies on his radio. His team had overheard his half of the conversation. They were already getting prepared.

“Blackout. I say again, Blackout,” Mateo said into the radio.

“Confirmed. Blackout,” a neutral voice replied. Mateo signaled to Sport. The man cracked two large chemlights. No visible light came from the two sticks, but they would glow brilliantly in the infrared goggles of the helicopter pilots. Ten minutes later, the night was turned to day by the brilliant halogens from a hovering helicopter. Three black-clad soldiers rappelled down. In less than two minutes, the entire team was secured in the cargo bay. Mateo saw a similar helicopter hovering above where the Stahl’s team was fighting. He closed his eyes as the helicopter roared seaward.

Fifteen minutes after the two teams were extracted, the C-17 Globemaster loitering over the town opened its cargo doors. Two GBU-43 MOAB’s opened their drag chutes and were pulled out of the cargo bay. The designers joked that MOAB mean “Mother Of All Bombs” with good reason. These were the most powerful non-nuclear bombs that the American military had in its inventory. The first bomb dropped quickly and detonated about five hundred feet above the town. Everything standing was obliterated. Then the second bomb pounded into where the town center once stood. It penetrated down into the base’s lower level and exploded.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 64 – Epilogue]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 62

The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0310 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez scowled as Alan emerged into the hallway. The tall sorcerer’s dark robes stood out against the concrete gray of the walls and floor. He looked surprised and amused to see the Zombie Strike team. Alan was holding a bloody knife in one hand. With the other he was dragging the rigid form of Collin DuBois. Mateo couldn’t tell if Collin was alive or dead.

Jim stepped to Mateo’s side, his Big Horn lever action at his shoulder. The hallway rocked with the rifle’s booming report. Red splattered the sterile gray wall as Alan spun and fell to the ground. Mateo shook his head, trying to clear the concussive effects of the big gun. He spun to reprimand the big cowboy. Jim had good reason to want Alan dead, but that didn’t give him a reason to deafen the team. Mate froze as Alan stood back up. The smiling face was gone. Alan looked annoyed.

“Nathan, that’s twice you’ve shot me,” Alan said, calling Jim by his old name. Alan’s voice sounded tinny to Mateo’s recovering ears. Jim didn’t say anything. The cowboy just casually worked the lever action and brought the weapon back up. Alan sniffed at the weapon pointed at him.

“Don’t bother, I’ve already invoked a protection spell,” Alan said. To demonstrate, he waved his knife in front of him. Purple energy sparked in the air. Mateo waved his team down. No sense in wasting ammunition.

“I told you to stay away from these people Nathan,” Alan said pointing his knife at the team. “You had the chance to be spared their fate!”

“You really expect me to believe you? Or stand aside if I did?” Jim asked in response.

“I suppose not. I guess I owe Mikhail five euros.” Mateo’s ears perked up. Mikhail, better known as Giant to Zombie Strike, had been the leader of the Truth’s so-called Champions. Zombie Strike still called them minions.

“So he didn’t die in Mexico City. That’s annoying,” Mateo said, trying to keep his voice even and casual.

“You didn’t think something like that would have killed him?” Alan asked, sounding a bit surprised, “Haven’t you figured it out? He is more than just a Champion; he’s the Chosen of Xipe-Totec. The man is immortal.” Alan made it sound like this was common knowledge.

“I’ve seen him bleed. I’ve seen him hurt. If I can hurt him and bleed him, I can kill him,” Mateo said.

“You would need that attitude,” Alan said, musingly. The sorcerer fell silent. Mateo wasn’t sure what to do. Alan had them dead to rights. With that magic knife, Alan could unleash a blast that could incinerate all of them before they could move. They couldn’t do anything against that shield. So what was the sorcerer waiting for?

Billy growled. The sound caught Mateo off-guard. He was turning to look at what Billy was growling at when Jess let loose a string of curses. Mateo heard the quiet pop of her SCAR. At the sound of gunfire, the team moved to face the new threat. Mateo whirled to see the alien-looking creature as it stepped off the stairs. He’d lost track of it during the fight with zombies. He hoped it wasn’t a fatal mistake. Jess kept firing, her hits ranging from center mass to head shots. The creature just absorbed the gunshots. Thick, black fluid oozed out of the bullet holes. If it felt pain, it didn’t show it. The creature lashed out, using its long arms like whips. One arm slashed across Jess’s body. Her SCAR clattered on the concrete floor as she shrunk back to a kneeling position, whimpering in pain.

The creature’s other arm lanced out at Quentin. The big man casually batted the green-wrapped appendage with his warhammer. As big as Quentin was, Mateo sometimes forgot how fast he could move. Quentin charged the creature. He thrust his hammer into the creature’s midsection. It swayed with the blow. Quentin didn’t wait for it to spring back. His arm drove the hammer down into the creature’s foot. The creature let out its unearthly screech. Quentin shoved the creature to the ground. With ruthless determination, Quentin hammered each joint starting from the ankles up. The creature couldn’t even muster a defense. It just writhed on the floor. With each wet crunch of the hammer finding a new mark, the creature screeched in pain. After both shoulders were destroyed, the screeching took on a new tone. It almost sounded as if the creature was crying. Mateo walked up and laid his hand on Quentin. The big man stopped.

“Finish it,” Mateo said. Quentin just nodded and brought the hammer down on the creature’s head. The disturbing sounds stopped. Mateo crouched down next to his foster daughter. She was clutching Billy as if the wolf was a life preserver. He tried to coax her into looking at him, but she just flinched from his touch and gripped Billy tighter.

“What did that thing do to her?” Mateo demanded from Alan. The sorcerer had propped Collin’s still form against a wall and was sitting cross-legged on the ground.

“I really should have considered that you might use that kind of blunt force trauma on Albert,” Alan said, focusing on the still form of the creature. Mateo slammed the shield with the butt of his M4. Brilliant purple sparks of energy cascaded in the air where the gun hit the shield. A startled Alan looked up at Mateo.

“What in the Flayed One’s name do you think you’re doing?” Alan asked, scooting back a few feet.

“What did you do to my daughter?” Mateo asked again, his voice tight with rage.

“Oh that. Enhanced neurotoxin. She’s feeling all of her emotional trauma for the last year or so all at once. From her reaction, I’d say she has had a rough year. I’m going to have to remember that.” Alan looked absolutely pleased with himself. Mateo could only stare at the sorcerer in shock. Alan looked past Mateo.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Alan said to Tredegar. The FBI agent was standing over Jess with an injector in hand. “The toxin reacts poorly to sedatives. It’ll set off every pain sensor in the body.”

“You’re a monster,” Tredegar said, putting away the injector.

“Actually, I’m not. I’m a faithful and powerful servant of the Flayed One,” Alan said. “Those are monsters.” He produced an alarm fob from under his robes. With a press of a button, the other doors in the corridor slid open. The team fell back to surround Jess in a circle of firepower. Billy growled. As Alan giggled, something out of Mateo’s nightmares slid out of one of the doors.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 63]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 61

The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0245 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez took a step back as a zombie grabbed at him. It was too close. Mateo let his M4 fall on its sling and drew his pistol. The Sig 250 barked twice and the zombie fell back. Mateo slid back another few steps as more zombies lunged from the broken kiosk. Mateo took down the first two with double-taps. The third grabbed Mateo’s pistol. Mateo let go of the pistol. He hated close quarters with zombies. Mateo yanked his fighting knife and jabbed it through the zombie’s eye. Mateo jerked the blade out. The last zombie pushed Mateo to the ground. Mateo rolled, trying to bring up his M4. The zombie lunged down.

Billy slammed into the zombie. With one savage snap, the spirit wolf crushed the zombie’s head. Mateo rose to his feet as Jess ran up to her foster father. She took another half-dozen zombies down with a series of shots. Mateo took a second to survey the plaza. His team was fighting the two hundred zombies that attacked from the kiosks and the fountain. From the echoing sounds of hunting moans, hundreds more were boring down on them.

“Jim, you and Sport fall back to the town center,” Mateo ordered. The tall cowboy slammed the butt of his rifle into a fountain zombie and nodded. “Quentin, Tredegar, get over here!” The team’s close-quarters specialist had his warhammer out and in action. A pile of crushed undead laid at his feet. Quentin decapitated two more zombies with a lighting pair of strikes before retreating back towards the team leader. Tredegar followed the big man eagerly. He still looked in shock at the sheer number of the undead. At least he was firing his weapon.

Mateo needed to get his team together where they could hold out against the zombies. The only place to make a stand looked like the town center – the building his team was supposed to be assaulting. Well, the worse that would happen is his team would get pinned between Truth cultists and a horde of zombies. They’d been in worse spots before. As soon as Jim and Sport were at the front of the building, Mateo ordered the retreat. The four humans and one spirit wolf sprinted to the door. The zombies, sensing their prey escaping, let out a chorus of hunting moans and shambled as fast as they could. The horde grew as smaller groups of zombies joined the pursuit. By the time the team joined up at the front of the town center, the horde easily numbered over three hundred – and that was just the first wave. There wasn’t time to dally. Mateo looked over the door quickly. It was a large steel double door maybe ten feet high by six feet wide. The door lock was a key card type, like the hotels used. Probably too strong for Quentin to knock open. That left one other option.

“Sport, blow the door,” Mateo ordered. The Brit nodded and trotted over to the door.

“Wait,” Tredegar said as he fumbled through one of his bags. He pulled out what looked like a credit card. “Try this.” Sport looked over at Mateo. The team leader nodded. Sport slipped the card into the lock. The metallic click was audible over the ragged chorus of hunting moans. Mateo quickly signaled for Jim and Quentin to clear the entryway. As Sport opened the right door, Jim and Quentin charged through with guns up.

“Where did you get that key?” Mateo asked Tredegar as they waited for the clear signal.

“I found it on one of the guys we killed earlier,” Tredegar answered, referring to the firefight when the team entered the town. “It looked kind of important.” Mateo nodded. This was why he’d brought Tredegar along. The man was almost psychic when it came to intelligence.

“Fair enough,” Mateo said.

“We’re clear Matt,” Quentin said over the radio. Mateo hand signaled for the rest of the team to get into the building. Mateo waited until his team was in before he trotted inside. As soon as Mateo was in, Sport slammed the door shut. Mateo was glad they didn’t need to blow the door. Now, he only needed to worry about the cultists in the building. Getting back out might be interesting, but he’d worry about that later. Worse came to worse, they’d Saigon off the roof of the town center.

The room was pitch black. There wasn’t enough ambient light for the nightvision to work. Mateo turned on his weapon light. The rest of the team followed suit. The lobby of the town center looked more like a bank than a town hall. A row of teller windows was opposite of the front door. There was some kind of work space behind the teller windows. On either side were conference rooms. The team had already cleared those. To the right of the teller windows was a door with a sign in Italian. Mateo didn’t know Italian, but his Spanish worked well enough to get a rough translation. “Village Offices.” Or something close to that.

“That way,” Mateo said, pointing at the door. Quentin tried the handle. Locked. Quentin hit it with his hammer. The door slammed open. Two cultists in badly fitted tactical gear squinted as the white beams of high powered lights hit them.

“Alive,” Mateo growled. Jim stepped into the door and slammed his rifle butt into the right cultist’s face. The man went down without a sound. Quentin’s hammer connected with the other cultist’s knee in a wet crunch. The man screamed in pain. Mateo scowled as Quentin clamped his massive hand over the man’s mouth. The screaming went to a muted noise. Tredegar knelt next to the man and injected him with a pain-killer.

“What are you doing?” Mateo demanded.

“Wait,” Tredegar said, holding a finger up. Mateo bit down his angry retort. Tredegar was a professional. Mateo had to trust him to know what he was doing. The screaming lessened as the drug took effect. Tredegar waited for several long moments. Then, Tredegar talked to the cultist in a language Mateo didn’t know. It sounded similar to Spanish. The cultist replied in slurred Italian. The two exchanged a few quick bursts of unintelligible speech. Finally, the cultist leaned back and went still.

“There’s a stairwell at the back,” Tredegar said, “It’s normally guarded, but most of the guards left to deal with Collin’s team. He didn’t know how many more Truth members were down there, but it should be support staff and leadership. Just the people we’re here to apprehend.”

“Thank you Edgar,” Mateo said, and then looked over at Sport. The Brit walked over to the resting cultist, drew his pistol, and placed two rounds into the man. Tredegar let out a strangled cry.

“We’re not here to bloody apprehend these people,” Sport said, “We’re here to wipe out this base and every member of the Truth on this island.” He casually holstered his weapon and stepped back. Tredegar looked pleadingly over to Mateo.

“Sport’s right, Tredegar,” Mateo said in a low voice, “If we can capture any of the high rankers for you without undue risk, we will. Otherwise, anyone who willingly joined the Truth will not leave this island alive.” Tredegar looked to the others in the team. Only Quentin looked disturbed by Sport’s actions, but he didn’t say anything. Defeated, Tredegar didn’t say anything further. The team crept down the hallway. As they approached the stairwell, light began to filter up from the lower level. The team slinked down the stairs with weapons up.

The lower level was brightly lit with rows of fluorescent lights running the length of the ceiling. As the team came out of the stairwell, they were in a corridor some fifty feet in length. At the end of the corridor was some kind of arch. Shadows hid what was under the arch. The floors and walls were unpainted concrete. There were three evenly spaced, metal doors on either side of the corridor. Mateo motioned the team forward. They had gone only a few yards when a wave of power swept the hallway. Mateo hated the nauseating feeling. A familiar voice echoed through the corridor.

“Seriously Collin, you should be thanking me right now,” Alan said as he exited the arch dragging a wounded Collin behind him. The tall sorcerer for the Truth stopped as he saw the weapons of Mateo’s team leveled at him. He was surprised by the team’s appearance, but showed no sign of fear. A devious smile spread across Alan’s face.

“Oh good, I don’t have to go looking for you.”

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 62]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 6 – Chapter 60

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

Collin DuBois always wondered how he was going to die. Getting his head lopped off by the obsidian axe bearing down on him wasn’t one of his preferred choices. Now, if he could just get his body to cooperate and stop the blade. Collin strained to bring up his M4 in front of the axe blade. The blow landed with all the force of a cannon. Collin felt bones crack along his body as he was driven into the pavement. Collin screamed with agony.

Collin’s cry of pain was drowned out by the gollum’s roar of frustration. The monster was not happy it didn’t bury its axe deep into Collin’s chest. Collin gritted back the pain. He wasn’t stunned anymore, but the pain brought a fog all of its own. The gollum swung down again. Collin could hear the blade as it whistled through the still night air. Collin deflected the blow with his battered M4. He felt the shock of blow as it painfully traveled down the length of his body. Collin heard the grinding sound of the obsidian blade sliding across the street’s cobblestones. The gollum roared again. Collin wasn’t sure if he could fend off another blow.

“YEEHAW!” hollered The Steve as he barreled into the gollum. The medic wasn’t a big man, but he had two things going for him – the added mass of his battle rattle and an impressive sprinting speed. The collision knocked the unprepared gollum off of its feet. The Steve didn’t take a moment to gloat. He grabbed Collin and dragged him away from the monster. Collin finally got a look at the creature. Normal gollums were barely five feet tall with tar black skin pulled tightly over a wiry frame anointed with runes in blue body paint. This creature had the same tight black skin, but it was easily seven feet tall with a massive frame. It sort of reminded Collin of his teammate Quentin. Except for the bright red runes painted across its body, and that it was snarling like a rabid dog.

“Where’s its bloody medallion?” Slim asked as he stood next to The Steve. The stone medallion was a gollum’s weakness. Until it was removed or destroyed, the creatures were essentially invulnerable. The medallion was usually worn about the neck on a leather cord. This gollum wasn’t wearing one. Collin watched as the gollum took one plodding step towards the zombie hunter, and then another.

“Shoot it,” Collin ordered. Slim didn’t hesitate. He’d switched from his SR-25 sniper rifle to a tiny pump shotgun. The thing only held four rounds, and Slim made each one count. The creature’s torso erupted in geysers of flesh, bone, and fluid as the dozens of double-ought buckshot tore into it. The creature let out a stifled scream before collapsing to the street. Thick, black fluid oozed out of the dozens of holes. Collin barely kept from gagging from its noxious odor.

“That wasn’t a gollum,” Slim said. His eyes were fixed on the corpse as he reloaded.

“Yes, but I have no idea what it was,” Collin said, “Steve, I’m in a bit of agony. Could you remedy that?”

The Steve, dude,” the medic corrected as he fished out an injector, “The Steve’s patented Happy Juice.” With a small flourish, The Steve slapped the injector into Collin’s arm. “The Steve wonders if you are good to go.”

“Give me a minute for the pain-killers to take effect, and I’ll be golden,” Collin said. The Steve jabbed a finger into Collin’s side. Pain flared and Collin let out a groan.

“Dude, give him your scattergun,” The Steve said to Slim. The tall Brit grimaced, but handed Collin the diminutive twelve-gauge. The Steve dragged Collin to the side of a building.

“The Steve and Slim are going to finish this,” The Steve told Collin. “You are going to sit here and try not to get killed. The Steve will check back with you afterwards.” Collin wanted to protest, but he was still too much of a professional.

“At least give me my carbine,” Collin growled in resignation.

“Dude, that thing nearly broke your gun in half,” The Steve said, “Never seen a receiver bent like that.” The medic gave Collin a quick once over and trotted towards Slim. The two zombie hunters raced down the street. Collin leaned back against the stone wall. He could hear the distinctive bark of Slim’s rifle. The enemy’s machine gun stopped. They might still have a chance of wiping the enemy militia. Or at least dealing it a significant blow.

The drugs started to take effect. The pain-killers reduced the pain to a bearable level as the stimulants cleared away the remaining fog. Collin wanted to get back into the fight, but he waited patiently for The Steve to return. Collin knew he was badly banged up. The pain-killers masked the extent of the damage. If Collin pushed himself to operate normally, he could easily destroy himself. He’d seen more than one fellow SAS do just that. Collin heard a rustling in the alley next to him. He started to roll but a hand shot out of the alley and stopped him. At the touch, Collin felt his body lock up. The shotgun clattered to the ground as it slipped from his hands. A tall, thin man in dark robes emerged from the alley. He looked familiar, but Collin couldn’t place the face. The man knelt down next to Collin and smiled. It was hauntingly eerie in the green tones of nightvision.

“Collin, what are you doing here?” the man asked, feigning concern. As soon as Collin heard the voice, the man’s identity clicked in Collin’s mind. Alan. The American was one of the Truth’s so-called sorcerers. This was the man who kidnapped and twisted Jim’s daughter. Collin struggled against the paralysis. He needed to get to his gun – or even his knife.

“Don’t bother, the spell will last for at least the next hour or so,” Alan said as he watched Collin’s face contort with effort. Alan’s smirk vanished when he saw the unmoving gollum. There was a flash of anger that melted into an expression of annoyance.

“I see you managed to kill off George,” Alan said, his voice tight.

“You gave that monstrosity a name?” Collin asked. He needed to hold Alan’s attention long enough for the others to return.

“Don’t you name your pets?” Alan asked in response. Without another word, Alan drew a large, crude knife from under his robes. Collin’s eyes locked on the blade. He’d seen Alan use that knife to unleash blasts of energy that killed dozens of soldiers.

“Oh don’t worry Collin. I’m not going to kill you,” Alan said. He lifted up Collin’s hand and slashed across the palm. Pain flashed through Collin as blood welled up from the cut.

“Useful little blade. Shame it needs human blood to activate,” Alan said as he looked at the blood-streaked knife. “Time for us to go back to the nursery.” Alan touched the knife to a shadow. The blade slipped into the shadow. Alan grabbed Collin and dragged him through the portal.

[Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 61]

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