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Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 96 Epilogue

Nealson Rehabilitation Clinic, 30 August 2011, 1000 hours local; Countdown: 4 months, 1 day

Steve Mountain opened and closed his left hand. He felt all of the little electric motors working as they translated the signals from his brain to the artificial muscles and nerves in his new hand. The docs told him it was all phantom feeling. The actual nanotech and pizeo-electronics were far too small for the nerves in his wrist to detect. As a medic, Steve could intellectually understand it, but he still felt it every time he opened and closed his hand.

“Still feel weird?” Quentin McLintock asked as he walked into Steve’s room. Quentin had been a guest of this same facility when he’d lost part of his right leg. In fact, a lot of the same hardware used in Quentin’s prosthetic was used for Steve’s new hand. Quentin went with Steve to help his teammate adjust to the advanced prosthetic. Steve smiled as Quentin sat down. The gentle giant was more of a help during the real rough times than Steve really wanted to admit.

“The Steve wonders how something can feel so sharp and so alien at the same time,” Steve said.

“Yeah. I imagine it’s stronger in a hand than it was in my leg. Sometimes when I’m standing on a rocky path, I know exactly how many stones are under my right foot,” Quentin said. For how amazing the technology was at the Nealson clinic, there were still limitations to the human sensations the prosthetics could replicate. Touch was the worst. Steve’s hand could tell him the temperature of what he was holding within a thousandth of a degree, give him some sensation of pain if the temperature exceeded what the hand should hold, but Steve would never be able to feel hot or cold like every other person took for granted. The best analogy was to imagine that your eyes were replaced with HD television screens. Utterly precise in their rendering, but not quite the human sense the body was accustomed to using.

“So how did this morning go?” Quentin asked cautiously.

“The Steve did pretty decent. Even assisted in some minor surgery,” Steve answered. “Doc Jewel was mighty impressed with The Steve’s medical ability.” Quentin chuckled.

“Not surprising considering how much experience you’ve had patching us up,” Quentin said, “Not counting your chemistry skills.” Steve just shrugged his shoulders. He’d never admit to Quentin, but the happy juice cocktail had been more of an accident than something he’d meant to brew. One of the nice things about Zombie Strike being based outside of the US. Steve didn’t have to deal with the busybodies from the FDA.

“On a more serious note, we need to get back to Skull Island,” Quentin said.

“The Steve figured as much. Docs don’t like it, but we’re flying out tomorrow.”

Skull Island, 30 August 2011, 0800 hours local; Countdown: 4 months, 1 day

Mateo Cortez stared at the report on his screen. It was starting to blur. He rubbed his eyes and reached for coffee cup. Empty. As he looked at the Styrofoam cup, he felt the last of his adrenaline burst fall away. He was tired. Maybe he should get some sleep. When was the last time? He looked over at the clock. Oh that explained it. He’d been up for about thirty-six hours.

“Why am I not surprised you’re here?” a frustrated female voice said at the door of the conference room. Mateo turned to see Robyn standing in the doorway. Her face was a mixture of relief and anger. Mateo felt a flash of guilt. He promised Robyn he would go to bed around midnight last night, but there was so much to do. Between zombie outbreaks and fighting Truth attacks in the few friendly countries, Zombie Strike was being run ragged. Then there was Mateo’s special project.

“Robyn, I’m sorry. I lost track of time,” Mateo apologized. The anger on Robyn’s face lessened, but it didn’t vanish.

“You’ve been saying that a lot,” she replied coldly. Robyn stopped and took a deep breath. She walked into the conference room. She still needed to use crutches or a pair of canes, but she was able to walk. That was only because of intense surgery and physical therapy combined with her own iron determination. As much as it hurt Mateo to watch her struggle to make it to one of the chairs, he was also incredibly proud of this woman. It surprised him when she more or less forced herself into his life, but now he didn’t want to think about life without her.

“I know, and I am sorry. You’ve been dealing with a lot, and I haven’t been there,” Mateo said. Robyn gave him a surprised look.

“Did you ask what Jess to say to calm me down?” Robyn asked, half-joking. Mateo’s face reddened. “My God, you did?”

“Sort of,” Mateo said, “The feelings are mine, but she did help me with sorting them out and putting words to them. One of the things that doomed my marriage with Maria is I never knew how to talk to her. What she needed to hear from me. And I never took the time to find out. Call it machismo, pride, or whatever. I don’t want to make that same mistake again.”

“Words are all good, but actions speak more,” Robyn said, “I know what we’re facing, but as much as the world needs Zombie Strike, I need you.” Mateo leaned back in his chair. This wasn’t how he wanted to do this.

“You’re right,” Mateo said. He leaned in and took Robyn’s hands in his. Fear gripped him as he looked into Robyn’s eyes. He mentally slapped himself. He’d faced off against all sorts of horror. This shouldn’t be this terrifying.

“Robyn, will you marry me?” he asked softly. Robyn’s eyes filled with sudden tears.

“No,” she answered just as softly.

St. Louis, Missouri, 1 Sept 2011, 1930 hours local; Countdown: 4 months

She’d been called many things in this world. Demon, the Little Death, vampire were all names she’d heard since her master sent her to this horrific world. She hated this world. Nothing made sense. The very laws of this world were so different than those of her home. The master sent her because she could adapt to new worlds and their rules quickly. She was a scout. That was what the master created her to do for her people. It didn’t make this world’s rules any saner.

She looked around at the deserted buildings as she clung to the wall of one of the skyscrapers. The zombie hordes staggering on the streets below never noticed her presence. She hated the horrible things. Dead things should stay dead, not as mockeries of what they once were. Her master would correct that as soon as he and the people came into this world.

“I should be grateful to those horrid things,” she said to herself, practicing the crude communication of this world. “They keep those meddlesome humans away from this place.” The trip to this place was not something she ever wanted to do again. Only being able to travel at night was bad enough. Having to drink the humans’ blood rather than just ripping out their life energies was revolting. She shook in remembered disgust as she climbed from her perch to the top of the building.

The two humans cringed as she returned to her nest. They were dressed similar to those humans she fought when she came into this world. The weapons were the same. Yet, these weren’t knights for one of the deities that nominally claimed this world. They served this odd human notion of a nation. America. What a silly name. She grabbed the skinny one. She needed to contact the master. The human screamed as she carved the symbols into him. Its screams stopped as she opened the portal.

“I have found the place, master,” she said as her mind blissfully met the master’s. He looked into her mind and drew out everything she had seen in this world.

“Not where I expected,” came the reply. The master’s words filled her mind like pure ecstasy. How she hated being separated from him. “You have done well my child. We will soon join you. Your sacrifice will be rewarded.” The portal closed, and the dark coldness of this world enveloped her.

“I will be rewarded,” she repeated to herself. Her thoughts drifted back to the human with the bauble. The one that nearly killed her. She knew what she wanted for her reward. She wanted to take that human apart and savor its pain as she fed from him. The thought of food made her realize she was suddenly ravenous. Well, that’s why she snatched two of the humans.

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 97]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 95

Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 2045 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days

Steve Mountain barely brought up his carbine before Giant’s whip lashed down him. The mystical leather cord sliced through the weapon and the front of his armor like an industrial laser. Steve let the halves of his weapon clatter to the ground as he slid back from the enraged Champion of the Truth. Giant brought the whip back up. Well, Steve wondered how he was going to buy it. A rescue mission was as good as anything else. Jim’s big lever action boomed and Giant was snapped back by the big .500 S&W bullet. The whip missed cutting Steve down the middle. Instead, it took off all the fingers on his left hand.

Steve screamed in pain. The unnatural sound echoed through the room. His old trained reactions took over. Steve triggered the pain meds to dump into his system. He didn’t have a whole lot of time. Suddenly, Jess was helping him take off his gauntlet and glove. Just as he’d shown her time and time again, Jess applied the tourniquet. As Steve looked up, he saw a mountain of white fur between him and Giant. Billy was doing his super-size thing again. Jess grunted as she grabbed his armor’s drag handle and pulled him back from Giant’s whip. Kenn and Jim were pouring fire into their nemesis. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would drive him back. Kenn’s KRISS sounded strange next to the clackety-clack-boom of Jim’s lever action. As those two ran dry, Chief Stahl and Quentin started their turn. It was hard for Steve to concentrate on the action. The pain was barely eased by the drugs running through his system. In the haze of pain, Steve wondered if anyone bothered to pick up his fingers. Maybe if they got them on ice quickly, the docs could sew them back on.

“Boss wants you Jess. I’m to watch him,” Sport said, dropping next to Steve. The Brit slung his grenade launcher and was now cradling his scattergun.

“I can’t leave him like this. What if he crashes? Kenn’s going to have to just fight this one without me,” Jess replied keeping her eyes on the readout from Steve’s PDA.

“Not Kenn,” Sport replied before firing a heavy slug at Giant. He got a bellow of pain for his effort. Jess cursed under her breath. She turned Steve’s head so he could look at her face.

“Steve, I think you’re as stable as we’re going to get here,” Jess told him. Steve nodded, gritting back the effort it took for that much movement. He’d gone a little too heavy on the drugs. Okay, so he wasn’t as immune to panic as he imagined. “I’ve to go see what Mateo wants.” The whip cracked again. There was another scream of pain. Jess’s face paled as she looked up.

“Too bad for the Frenchie,” was all Sport said. Jess sprinted to the back of the room. Surprisingly, Billy stayed where he was between Steve and Giant. Steve could feel his own body rumble as the spirit-wolf pup growled.

“Just accept your fate,” Giant said his voice full of vengeance. “You can’t kill me. All you can do is delay the inevitable. Once you have used up all of your little bullets, I will kill all of you slowly and painfully.”

“Oh don’t worry Giant,” Chief Stahl said, “We brought lots of ammo.” As if to demonstrate, the chief fired a long burst into Giant. “We can keep this up a long time.”

“I will punish you Undecided, and your team will be destroyed!” Giant shouted in frustration. “You will not leave here alive!”

MIKHAIL!” a new voice shouted. Everything went quiet as all Giant and Zombie Strike recognized the voice of Mateo Cortez. The Zombie Strike field leader waited as tension built. Steve watched as Mateo walked up behind his shooters.

“Mateo, you are needed alive, but not necessarily whole,” Giant threatened, his voice dripping with menace. “Take your woman and put yourself in the hands of my Champions. If you don’t, I’ll kill your team – and your woman. While you watch.” Steve watched his friend and leader. The man didn’t as much as twitch.

“Mikhail, as much as it annoys me to do this, I will give you one chance to take Castle and leave,” Mateo said. Giant erupted into an uncontrollable spasm of laughter. Mateo just stood there calmly as the big man brought himself back under control.

“Don’t you understand Mateo? You’ve lost. Your precious team has lost. You are in the Truth’s control, and you will fulfill your role as the prophecies have foretold. Why are you fighting so hard against your destiny?” Giant asked.

“God gave me free will to do as I choose. I don’t believe in destiny. I do believe in the ability of my sharpshooters,” Mateo said. Giant stood straight, confused by Mateo’s statement. “Right now, one is aiming at your precious Castle’s head.” Mateo motioned to the unconscious form of the Truth’s supreme leader and high priest.

“The other is aiming at me,” Mateo said, delivering the line as if he were ordering a meal, “If you don’t cooperate, they’ll both fire. You can shield me or Castle. Not both. Lose your high priest or me. Maybe both.”

“You just told me you don’t believe you have a destiny,” Giant temporized as he looked between Mateo and the limp form of Castle.

“Yeah, but you do. You believe that through every fiber of your body,” Mateo answered. “You know I’ll do it, too.” Long, tense seconds ticked by as Giant and Mateo stared at each other. No one dared move.

“So how do we do this?” Giant finally asked. Mateo’s face broke into a predatory grin.

“First, you’ll send out the Gazelle Two-Seven order,” Mateo said. Giant’s eyes went wide in surprise. Mateo’s smile widened. “Oh yeah, I know all about your little codes. We’ll wait for five minutes after you give it, and then you can pick up Castle and walk right on out of here. Though, before you think you can just rally your folks outside and ambush us, just remember. I still have moles on the inside of your little organization. We’re worse than the old KGB that way. They all have orders to kill Castle if you try to betray me, and they had full access to everything you were keeping in this little resort.”

“You’re lying! I don’t believe you,” snarled Giant.

“Yes you do,” Mateo answered, “Or more to the point, you can’t take the chance I’m telling the truth. Now, give the order.” Giant raised his wrist.

“This is Mikhail. Gazelle Two-Seven. Gazelle Two-Seven.” The team could hear the pounding of foot falls as the Truth evacuated their compound. Mateo looked down at his watch. The rest of the team kept their guard. No sense for some idiot Truther to come barging in and getting everyone killed. As much as he hated to admit it, Steve was kind of glad for the tension as the five minutes slowly ticked by. At least it gave him something other than his hand to focus on.

“Five minutes,” Mateo said calmly, looking up from his watch. Giant carefully lifted Castle’s form and started for the door.

“One more thing Mikhail,” Mateo said just before Giant opened the door.

“What?” he asked, spinning back towards his hated enemy.

“Stay off my island.”

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 96]

Friday Quote – Neil Postman

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be or reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one… Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance… In 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

Living With Future World Problems

I love technology. I love living with smart home devices. I know that there are risks and downsides, but in general, I get more use and enjoyment than not. Then, there are times when it’s not working right.

I bought an eeros mesh system before we moved in to Ward Manor. I had first gen eeros at the old place and my Tampa house. They worked great. Don’t know why but the new eeros just barely worked at Ward Manor. Any fluctuations in power or just oddness, and the whole thing came crashing down. Finally got frustrated with it. So, we talked to the internet company. They upgraded us to essentially a low-tier small business plan. With The Wife and I both working from home, and the MIL moved in, we were pretty much running two small businesses and a house. The internet company’s router seems to be handling all the load, so I’m loathe to get the additional expense of a new mesh system. (Sorry eeros, but if we do, we’re not going with you again.)

Fuck, I have a lot of stuff connected. It’s been a lot of finding things that are connected to the internet and getting them moved over to the new network. (Yes, my security friends, I changed the default name/password on the company-provided router.)

This frustration was on top of the fact that I got a new phone. Which entailed a lot of frustration getting everything switched over and logged in to my applications. When you build up essentially three-years’ worth of workflows from your device, you find all sorts of little issues. Apple is pretty good about helping with that, but there’s still a great deal of frustration.

Welcome to my week.

Gun Safety – Real Life Reminders

Of course, everyone on my side of the blogosphere has been following the investigation of Alec Baldwin surrounding the death of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding of director Joel Souza. USA Today is reporting that the evidence is that a live round was fired by Baldwin. Based on all the reports, this was a horrific accident. For as much as I dislike Baldwin, I would extend my sympathy. It must be horrific to accidentally kill someone. Yet, based on reports of an inexperienced armorer acting in an unsafe manner, several staff quitting due to safety concerns, and the same prop gun being used to plink in the desert prior to the shooting, one can see how such a tragedy would unfold.

We had another reminder of that in my town. The Bradenton Herald details how a man working on his wife’s AR ended up killing her.. Inattention to safety led to one person’s death and another being criminally charged.

If you ever get annoyed by someone being overly cautious when it comes to gun safety, remember why. Fuck-ups cost lives. Fuck-ups destroy futures. Remember:

  1. TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT IS LOADED
  2. KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL READY TO FIRE
  3. NEVER POINT YOUR WEAPON AT ANYTHING YOU DO NOT WANT TO KILL OR DESTROY
  4. KNOW YOUR TARGET AND WHAT’S BEHIND IT

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 9 Chapter 94

Truth Compound, South Africa, 8 July 2011, 2020 hours local; Countdown: 5 months, 23 days

Steve Mountain ducked into a doorway as the minion shot a bolt of green electricity at him. The luxurious carpet where he’d been standing melted and then ignited. It died quickly in the rain of the compound’s sprinkler system. Steve leaned out of the doorway and fired a burst from his liberated F2000. The minion laughed as the bullets smacked harmlessly on his energy shield. Then, Amanda came out of the room and unleashed a beam from Darius’s Rod. As the two energies met, a deafening roar filled the hallway. Amanda grunted in pain and fell behind Steve. The minion was thrown to the floor. As the Truth’s mystical warrior struggled to get back to his feet, Steve fired another burst. Without his magical shield, the bullets effortlessly tore the minion’s chest apart.

“You okay?” Steve asked Amanda as he changed magazines in his bullpup assault rifle.

“No, but I’ll survive,” she answered. She looked up at the water raining down on them. “You know, of all the conditions I’d considered about fighting in a building, dealing with being cold and wet from the sprinklers was not one of them.”

“Happens. The Steve’s dealt with it before,” Steve said casually. He turned back to the stairwell. “Clear!” The rest of Zombie Strike and a couple of Amanda’s fellow agents bounded out of the stairwell.

“Sport, take the Frenchie and Jim and start clearing rooms,” Chief Stahl ordered, pointing at one of Amanda’s men. “Quentin, you, Jess, and Billy get ready to back them up if they manage to find anything.” Sport gripped his shotgun and moved to the door across from Steve and Amanda. The French M&W agent swiftly kicked the door open, and the three men entered the room with deadly swiftness.

“At least he’s not doing it with that grenade launcher of his,” the chief grumbled as he followed Steve, Amanda, and Kenn Blanchard into the room. “Is there anyone who can turn off the water works?”

“Not from here,” Amanda answered.

“Well, thankfully, all of our toys are waterproofed,” Kenn said, placing a tablet computer on the room’s main table. The compound’s schematics glowed on the display.

“Okay, we’re here,” Kenn said, tapping the room on the fifth floor, “Matt and Robyn are probably here along with Castle and Giant.” A room on the fourth floor lit up. “My main concern with this plan is danger to our people. We don’t know where in the room Matt and Robyn could be.”

“Not a good way to get intel, but we know Castle and Giant aren’t going to want anything to happen to Matt. They’ll have him good and protected.”

“And Robyn?” Kenn asked.

“She’s there as insurance,” Stahl said, “So they’ll keep her safe to keep Mateo from doing something stupid. That said, their primary objective is keeping Mateo alive so he can fulfill whatever role he has in their prophecies.” The former warrant officer almost spat out the last word.

“Well, gentlemen, let’s not waste time,” Amanda said.

“As soon as we’ve got the floor secure, you’ll get to do your thing,” Stahl said. Quiet minutes passed as they waited for Sport and his small team to clear the rooms. Steve hated times like these. Boring, exciting, and anxious all at once. He kept his normal cheerful smile plastered on his face as he walked around the room. Maybe he should sing something. That would certainly break up the growing tension.

“Good to go,” Sport said in his cockeyed Brit accent. Zombie Strike and the M&W agents walked out into the hallway to get to the target room. They’d walked maybe a dozen yards before Billy growled. Steve turned to where the spirit wolf was pointing. He barely saw the small canister as it sailed out of the stairwell.

“GRENADE!” he shouted as the device bounced on the carpet. Instinctively, the Zombie Strike operatives dove into the nearest doorway. Steve grabbed Amanda and half-threw the woman into the room to their right. The explosion shook the building. Steve heard whistling fragments of metal thud into the wood around them. Someone screamed in pain. Then gunfire filled the hallway. Steve brought the stubby assault rifle up around the corner. These weren’t the guards they’d fought before. These guys knew how to use cover and fire discipline. Steve fired two bursts at one of the new shooters. He ducked back as another returned fire. Well, that was a bit too close.

“Eric, tell your people to put down their weapons,” yelled out one of the shooters, “I have no desire to kill all of you.” The voice sounded familiar.

“Not going to happen Evan,” Chief Stahl yelled back, “Your people get in our way, and they’re going to see their god pretty fast.” Steve’s mind locked on the name. Evan was the leader of those Truth soldiers back in Panama. That explained a lot. Those guys were scary good. No magic, but easily as well trained in weapons and tactics as Zombie Strike. Both sides traded gunfire.

“Just so you know, I’m not going to like killing you and your team,” Evan shouted.

“Same here,” Chief Stahl answered. The chief switched to the team’s radio net, “Sport, use your frags. As soon as those go off, everyone get to the target room.” Steve cursed under his breath as the Brit giggled. He actually giggled. Steve pushed Amanda into the room’s bathtub and covered her with his body. She protested until the explosions started.

“Frag out!” Sport said calmly over the radio. The grenade the Truth’s soldiers threw shook the hallway. Sport’s five grenades shook the entire building. Amanda screamed in terror and pain as the concussive shock waves tore through them. Steve felt as his PDA dumped happy juice into his bloodstream. He checked his med readout. Pretty much the entire team was suffering from some injuries from Sport’s inferno-in-a-can grenades. Nothing serious, or at least nothing that a little happy juice wouldn’t take care of.

Steve dragged Amanda out into the hallway. Anything above waist-high was pulverized, either by the massive blasts or the jagged fragments. Steve saw the remains of three Truth soldiers. Amanda gagged at the sight of humans torn apart by high-explosive. Steve just pulled her along. They didn’t have much time before the Truth’s soldiers recovered from what Sport just unleashed on them. An eternity seemed to pass as the two of them dashed down the hall and through the door of the room. Jess and Jim were standing in the doorway with their rifles, waiting patiently for the Truth’s soldiers to poke their heads out. Quentin, Stahl, and Sport were tossing furniture out of the way.

“Hey, the sprinklers stopped,” Steve said, noticing the lack of the constant rain for the first time. The others paused just for a moment to look at him. Just enough so they concentrated on him and not their pain. The Steve did his job. Knives came out and tore up the water-logged carpet and padding to reveal the floor boards. The chief pulled out a long gray cord. The former soldier made a circle maybe four feet wide on the floor with the shaped charge. He attached a small detonator and motioned for everyone to get back. The explosion seemed almost quiet after Sport’s grenades. As the smoke and dust cleared, Amanda stepped up to the newly cut hole.

“We were correct,” Amanda said, pulling out Darius’s Rod. Castle’s room was protected by some heavy duty magic. Fortunately, they had some heavy duty magic on their side for once. Amanda chanted in Greek. Darius’s Rod glowed, softly at first and then intensified until no one could look at the M&W agent. With a shout of Greek, the room was bathed in brilliant yellow light.

“Go!” Amanda shouted, jumping into the hole. Steve jumped right behind her, followed by Kenn, Chief Stahl, and Quentin. Surprisingly, Billy also followed the advance team. The six of them landed in a lavishly appointed living room. Steve spotted Mateo and Robyn crouching behind an overturned desk behind the team. In front of them stood a very angry Giant.

“I don’t know what you did traitor, but you won’t survive this betrayal,” Giant growled. Kenn and Chief Stahl didn’t waste time bantering. The two men brought up their weapons and poured automatic fire into their nemesis. Giant screamed as the bullets slammed into his torso. Steve and Billy fell back to Mateo and Rachel. Before they could reach their field commander, Giant bellowed and a wave of energy knocked all of them off their feet.

Steve rolled over to face their enemy. Giant snapped his whip and the inch-thick cord went rigid. Steve had seen Giant do this with the whip before. He twisted his F2000 around and fired the entire magazine at Giant. The Truth’s head Champion snarled in pain, but ignored the thirty 5.56 mm bullets as they slammed into his legs and torso. Giant was focused on Amanda. The M&W agent was still struggling to get up from the concussive blast. She didn’t have Zombie Strike’s armor or Steve’s happy juice to clear her mind. She shakily got to her feet just as Giant struck. She never knew what hit her. Steve watched as the rigid leather lanced through her head. Her body went instantly slack. Giant flicked his wrist and Amanda’s body was thrown to the side.

“Now Zombie Strike, you will pay for hurting my master.”

[Zombie Strike Part 9 Chapter 95]