Tensions were high in the back of the drop ship. The four vocalists-turned XCOM soldiers sat as far as they could from one another, despite the cramped quarters. This antagonism was merely a continuation of the negative waves that permeated the atmosphere in HQ. Bad blood already put rifts between the four, but the presence of Osbourne’s wife – the Yoko Ono of heavy metal if there ever was one – nearly resulted in the first-ever mutiny in the history of this secret agency. Eventually things were smoothed over. Sharon’s type-A tendencies were channeled towards logistics — a task which the maven took to like a drummer to groupies. Then it was just a matter of keeping the four away from each other as much as possible. Dickinson retired to the gym where he practiced his fencing. Mr. Dio kept to the kitchen where he passed the time brewing various soothing teas. Only Halford mingled with the men, trudging the metallic corridors offering words of encouragement to support staff and rookie soldiers alike.
Ozzy brooded in his quarters until it was time to gear up and ship out. Huddled in the back of the airship en route to China, he was mostly disappointed. These boys ought to be my mates. But we can’t bloody drop the shit and pull it together. He peered out from under his furrow brow to see the other oldtimers getting their minds right for the fight ahead. Bruce, always so blooming fit, sat upright clutching his rifle. Across the aisle Rob hunched behind his safety restraints. And as far from him as possible in this small space the wiry little Dio sat, his knees hopping with hyper-active nervousness. The bad blood between the two of them was thick, clotted and sour. He’d long since given up trying to fjord that river.
The Metallica lesson wasn’t lost on this squad. On touchdown the four aged rockers cast their histories aside and approached the mission as they would a sold out arena show – like professionals. Their contact, Zhang, was a Triad gangster who bore a secret that could prove pivotal to the XCOM mission. Their job was to extract the man and the valuables in his briefcase. They’d move like clockwork. Stick to the set list and everything would be fine. They met the VIP in a graveyard. And as soon as contact was made the aliens made their presence known. There was going to be one hell of a fight before the left this place.
Ozzy took cover behind a tombstone on the far left flank. Dio clambered behind the low cover of another grave just nearby. In the distance the gut-churning chatter of aliens echoed in the mist. “Mate. Mate!” Osbourne called out as loud as he dared. Ronnie turned his way and peered at him from behind a curtain of oily curls. What? His dark eyes seemed to demand.
“I’m sorry, mate. I’m sorry about everything.”
Before Dio could respond a shaft of green death shot out of the darkness and left a burning cloud of red mist where Ozzy Osbourne’s head once was. That’s when Ronnie “James” Dio lost it.
Through the chaos that ensued the remaining squad-members managed to escort Zhang to safety. Rob Halford kept close to their ward, applying healing whenever the enemy managed to singe his expensive suit. Bruce Dickinson kept the line moving forward, flanking and cutting down every invader he encountered. But an ill-timed charge up and around a staircase found Dickinson face to face with the lanky terror of a Thin Man. His teammates heard the electric burst of alien gunfire and the muffled scream as Dickinson’s body was scorched to a cinder. No one heard the words, barely whispered from his lip as the last bits of life escaped him. “When it comes to the time. We’ll be ready to die.”
The extraction was rough, but to Dio and Halford it felt like a deliverance. They’d saved Zhang and his bloody secrets, but at what cost. The criminal turned ally glowered and paced the narrow distance of the airship as they soared above Shaghai. “I’m alive,” Zhang said. “But the life I had is gone now. Funny that life should take such an unexpected path. Turning my back on old friends to defeat a common enemy.”
Dio caught Halford’s eyes. They were steeled, but damp. “Amen to that.”
About the Author:
Gus Mastrapa is a freelance writer from Apple Valley, CA. He doesn't believe in zombies.