Midnight, Part II


caocao_icon.gif cat_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif raith_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Midnight, Part II
Synopsis Break stuff, save people. All in a day's work for Adam's cr anti-Evolved terrori pro-Evolved t The one Chinese Army soldier with the group is somewhat confounded by his selection of cohorts, but death at twilight was never so competent.
Date January 16, 2010

Antarctica — Amundsen Scott Facility, The Dome

Outside of the dome there is a lot of snow and other things that I described in my setpose.

It's still fucking cold, but at least the massive dome blocks the worst of the wind.

It looks like the bulging eyeball, the last and highest point of exposure, of some huge primordial insect's carcass sinking slow into a clumpy mass of snow. Faceted, pupilless and blind, it points up into the limitless heights of Antarctica's night-time sky, its outline an almost perfect and uninterrupted curve, except for a random antenna dish jutting out of the Northern end. Some terrific force had embedded it in, sending slithering cracks and whistling fissures between the moulded tesselation of the dome's surface. The meeting of the two giant circles below the rounded haloes of crowding stars, the vicissitudes of space above, looks like some sort of bizarre sci-fi genre art.

In the mounded snow, the entrance shows in a square. Elevated by a ramp, but nevertheless bearing the scars and pits of regular shovel and plow maintenance to keep the way clear. Even with equipment having apparently been thrown around with terrific force and Amundsen-Scott's normal activities having ground to a halt since Wagner turned infiltrators against scientists, terrorists against crewman, ended research in a burgeoning plan of nuclear fire.

Behind Team Shield Two, across the trek, the modular buildings, tinny-skinned hangars and Lego-block storehouses look peculiarly peaceful from the outside. From here, it's impossible to tell that back there the concrete floors matted with slow-cooling blood, steam picking ghostly tendrils out of surprised flesh, illusory corpses. So unfeasible! There's one guard in front of the dome, squawking his surprise into his walkie-talkie. He is entirely unaware of the five strangers listening blithely in on his conversation from behind the cover of darkness, snowdrifts, and tarped snowmobile. "—you need assistance? Copy that. Cop—" The wind exhales, stills. "—that. All units hold position.

"Yeah, shuffled the prisoners at 1400 today. Shen's acting out, but Brynhildr's cover is intact for now. No sign of Francis. Hey— Lorne, how many cans are you heating?"

One familiar name— Mei Shen, the Chinese empath Volken had reported during their debrief, but the sentinel's assessment of codename Brynhildr is unfortunately true for Shield Two as well.

Over the course of the last eight minutes, mixing binoculared surveillance with the extrapolations of their own empathic operative and astral projection, the team has identified roughly two external guards, walkie-talkies out and armed, boredly tense. Maybe another two (Huruma sonared maybe three indistinct, pulsating bundles of bellicose nerves; Teo bouncing secondhand perception off repetitively gray walls, extrapolated only one) close within the doors. The PLA soldier with them had appeared to understand the report, but mostly, Caocao seems concerned with making sure his extremities are not within chomping distance of the African woman whose extremities he had bandaged in such an 'unconventional' fashion the other week. He doesn't trust them, but the fact that the majority of the scientists and researchers at the station had been Chinese nationals stands in good stead for why he has to work with them.

Further inside the dome, it's harder for the two sensory abilities to place people with specificity, but the Vanguard's crew seems minimal.

A good thing: they have enough to worry about. A lot of machinery to deactivate or blow up, a maximum of twenty-two Chinese and American visitors to get out before it blows, and both detonators and grenades to handle with the utmost caution.

The prisoners, though. It isn't hard to tell where they are from the outside, though navigating from the inside is bound to be a different challenge altogeher. Catherine's razor memory and Raith's immaculate tactical logic correspond precisely with the oily miasma of exhaustion and anxiety Huruma can feel reverberating over the short distance of weighted tarpaulins, frosted white, the truck and parked snowmobiles. Past this paraphernelia, there's no more cover between the line Shield Two is holding and the Vanguard operatives' guardposts, and they're all of them rather large people. The dome's ramped door— the only door— reportedly locks from the inside.

A good thing they have so many explosives. :D Though of course, waste not, want not.

"Huruma, China-boy and I can go after the prisoners," Teo says, manageably quiet over the radio. His Chinese isn't nearly as fluent as Caocao's, naturally, but enough to make the rescue easier for him than it would be for his other compatriots. Empathy will lend itself just as easily to herding. Also, of course, for the detection of this mysterious 'Brynhildr' character whom all members of Shield Two expect trouble from, but haven't bothered discussing in particular detail or distraught, for no better reason that they don't even have enough information to discuss and are all generally of a ruthless mentality that, upon identification, their options are clear. The world's at sake. They all have things, people worth killing for. "We'll catch up with you two when you start on the generators."

His eyes blink and twinkle-twinkle like a nursery rhyme, picking out Chesterfield's crouching frame and then Raith's, respectively. "Cutting up enough wiring should do it, but we all know which buttons to push on the detonators if it comes to that, right?

"Fuck." Teodoro tends to curse too readily, sometimes inappropriately. This time, 'fuck' doesn't indicate any kind of emergency or immediate pandemonium, yet. Merely, Shield had decided to (Eg., Teo the unfathomably nominated team leader, despite having fewer years or degrees than anyone else in the team, had decided Shield would) use the time-honored technique called 'rock-paper-scissors' to determine which two Shield members would go first, covered by the others. He mumbles his parka, disgruntled, because doesn't get to play just yet, and because it is bitterly, bitterly cold, all slippery powder and air that cuts with the slightest adjustment of pressure.

Raith and the lawyer are up.

"Right," is Raith's simple, and quiet reply back over the radio, "We'll save some cookies for you. Out." Boredly tense may as well mean 'not paying much attention,' but he double-checks through his own set of mini-binoculars just to make sure they haven't moved, and to double-check the approximate construction of the front door. The weather isn't exactly conducive to high visibility right now, and that's all the better. That bit of scout work finished, he shifts his attention back to his partner in this battle. "Two ways we can do this," he says, "Those doors look pretty sound proof and gunshots won't carry too far in this weather. We can take them out from a distance, or circle around and jump them from behind. You better with a rifle or a knife?" Explosives, apparently, are off the table for the time being.

"Come around from behind," Cat opines while herself scoping the targets. "That illusion was for cover. Best to not void it by making noise with guns and explosives to blow the doors if we can pull that off. Could quietly take down one, grab the other and see if he'll get his fellows inside to open up. Or you can pretend to be him for the same reason. Either way, I can use a knife."

Silence follows for some moments, before she muses about overheard things.

"Brynhildr's a valkyrie who disagreed with Odin, punishment was being made human and imprisoned inside fire. She corresponds, also, to the saying about things not being over until the fat lady sings. Does that remind you of anyone in the Vanguard?" Yes, given their taste for Nordic signs, Cat's done a good bit of reading about Norse mythology.

If Teo would have gone to CIA school, maybe he could have termed that in a way that roused somewhat more rah-rah in the ex-Vanguard operative who Cat has, for this first leg, been partnered with. Instead, he's left to glance at Huruma one way, then the so-monikered 'worm guy' — whose ability he still does not fully understand, and suspects he does not wish to — crouching at the other.

"I could try dazing the two on the outside," he answers, finally. "Huruma could maybe throw them for a loop in the same push. Still no guarantee you'll be able to take them completely by surprise even if we pull that off, but it would be something. Wagner didn't pick these fuckers because they don't know how to deal with unconventional warfare." True to his promise, that is— to cover Jensen and Catherine once they are done chewing on their cud and ruminating on tactics, respectively, he takes a knee, making a slight face at the rubbery noise of his pant leg packing down in the granulated white of snow.

"Nimen zhenshi yao sile," Caocao mumbles under his breath. Wry amusement comes off him in waves, tangling into the edges of Huruma's perceptions. Teodoro ignores him.

Three dozen yards off, there's a twittering squeak of report from the clunky black device in the sentry's hand. Neither wind nor its absence are enough to divert and amplify the noise to where Shield Two can hear it, but the man's growled reply divulges the highly-sensitive nature of the shifted conversation: "Six? I'm freezing out here. And what Hell do we need to ration for?" He kicks at snow, sending an electric blue spume of powder up at the night sky, and bobbing his hanging flashlight's numinous shaft across his bootprints. "Come on."

At the other end of the door, his companion gives a coarse chuckle. Turns to light his own torch beam along the dome's sculpted surface. He catches a glare of rotated triangles, geometric shadows.

"Reminds me of a lot of of people in Vanguard," Raith answers to Cat's question, "Circle around on the right. I'll take the left." Before departing on his quest to murder, Raith has one last thing to add over the radio- "If anyone can do something to make sure they aren't interested enough to accidentally hear us moving, now's the time to coordinate a strike. If you could make sure their attention is broken or away from us when we move in, that'd be great too. I'll take mine alive, in case we can use him to get inside. We can deal with him afterward if we need to. Ready?" A quick glance around, and… "Go."

In a low half-crouch, Raith moves away from the team's hiding place, using the distant glow of flashlights to orientate himself as he treks through the dark. His movement is methodical, measured, aimed at moving as quickly as possible without excess movement. If that makes any sense. It may take him a couple minutes to move into position, but that's how these CIA-types roll. Slowly.

She moves in the opposite direction simultaneous with Raith going into action, sliding a knife out and holding it ready to use. Steps are slow and careful, she not seeking to make any more noise than is unavoidable in the approach.

When she reaches the most advantageous spot to strike from, eyes watch for Raith to appear near and behind the opposite guard. It wouldn't do to be hasty and alert him of trouble by seeing his fellow go down.

And when the time is right, she moves. Coming up behind the target with one hand reaching to grab and pull the man's head back while the other hand aims to sink blade into his throat.

Huruma has been positioned in the same place for what seems like forever- for a while one might think she froze there, huddled against the wind with the mini-binoculars in hand against her face, watching, waiting. She does not comment until she hears her name again, eyes flitting past the butt end of the rubber seeing-eye. "I could always make them surprised." Shock, panic, same thing. She turns her eyes back to the lenses, continuing the observation. As Raith begins his trek through the dusk, and Cat follows, Huruma adjusts her place.

The sentries, as far as she can feel, are given a smoothing layer of calm before Cat literally pounces.

"Wait— all right. Look, don't worry about it." The sentry waves his other hand, abruptly more exasperated than angry, pistol muzzle jabbing dark in the air. Of all things, the waves of calm artificially induced by the African empath had begun to sow peace and friendship among the Vanguard operatives, whose dinner-time squabbles had otherwise threatened to warm the frigid summer day of dreary security detail and hostage-driving with the sparks of human irritation. "Sorry, Duds.

"You know, I was just looking out for you: love handles don'—" Unfortunately, before Walkie-Talkie #1 can dispense advice regarding fat rolls, women, dieting, or whatever else was about to characterize his kindness, there's a scrape of snow, a burst of static through his vision and then cold steel sawing hotly into the skin of his neck. Red bursts on blue snow in a curiously patriotic declaration of Cat's arrival on the scene, leaving his walkie-talkie to clatter down, cartwheeling blunt end over stumpy antenna. Catherine's close enough to the gapped doorway now that the warm would cast a tangible tingle on her cheek if she weren't as thoroughly numbed as she is. It's still open.

Quick, quiet and brutal as cats hunting in the night. Raith and Chesterfield do their work well. There's no alarm called, no lock-down. Cat sees a slice of the next figure, standing idly by, below strips of evenly-intervalled sulfur lamps that show the straight corridor through like an airplane runway.

The other sentry's remains with back turned as a bovine sort of serenity coincides neatly with his admiration of the strange quasi-twilight sky, gradiated daylight pressed up translucent over constellations. He doesn't hear Raith coming, not as quietly as the Special Agent moves. When Teo's halved psychic blast comes through, however, there's a jerking sway of his bundled frame, weathered features contorting around surprise; his left knee begins to give, boots sliding in the snow.

And that is just what Raith was hoping for. No knife for the second sentry. Rather, he is pulled the rest of the way to the ground, coming up on top with his back against Raith's chest as they both fall. No accident, but all planned, with the ex-Vanguardian's legs hooked around the present Vanguardian's waist and one arm around his neck with the other cinching it tight in a sleeper hold, limiting potential avenues for struggle while closing off the carotid arteries. The result will be rapid and total unconsciousness as the brain is starved of blood; if the sentry is lucky, he might make it seven seconds before he blacks out, unable even to call for help. Smooth execution; good job, team.

After delivering the knife strike to the man's throat and seeing blood emerge from it, Cat follows up by using her hands and applying weight on shoulders to guide him onto the snow so he can fall forward and bleed out with a boot coming to rest on his back in the hope of holding him down and not allowing any chance to fight free or fire off a shot. Her other foot is used to kick away any weapons which might be in reach for such a move on her part.

Once she is certain that the sentries have been taken care of, Huruma slinks to her feet to pad swiftly across the span of icy ground between herself and where Raith has taken the second down. Her rifle under one arm and trigger in her hand, she tests the door with her free limb, gloved and silent as it presses against the metal door. Her muzzle is the first thing in the door, the tethers of her ability reaching out to pinpoint the other presences just inside the door. The only thing that comes with the rush of air coming in suddenly opening doors are the dark figures against the twilight and the flashing of weaponry firing into the corridor.

The first boon the government of the United States offered its pet terrorists, before the renewal family, freedom from legal chopping blocks for deeds past, and other measures of fulfillment, was good artillery.

The bullets out of Huruma's rifle split greenish light with muzzle-flares, and two bullets plow neatly through layers of thermal padding and thin-panelled kevlar. Though the armor prevents the rounds from tearing pounds of flesh through their bodies out of funnel-shaped exit wounds, the lead stops somewhere inside the bodies, pitted into lung and cracked through bone, reverberating kinetic energy. A yelp; one walkie-talkie falls to the ground, sliding across concrete as the nearest operative crashes instantly from trauma and shock. A dozen yards down, his cohort coughs a bloody curse. Punctured scapula leaves his right arm stringily useless; he drops his rifle and foregoes comm unit in favor of a pistol, whips it up to spring a series of mad semi-automatic shots at Huruma even as he backs into the next set of double-doors, cold light of the dome.

Even without the assistance of wireless communications, however, his shout is going to carry: "BREACH."

There's no hope of locking the doors before Shield Two finishes the cheery jaunt through the corridor and into the dome, so the man doesn't bother; he's fleeing, shouting. Pauses with a gurgle and groan when Caocao blinks into view past Huruma's shoulder and, though dwarfed by Huruma's muscular grace, he's quick enough to get a final shot off. Through the frigid-hinged whine and flick of the rubber-rimmed doors, the split into two wings is familiar to all of the operatives. To the right, the more expansive cells that were once storerooms, now emptied or full of abused fruit and discarded supplies, the finest research equipment, living areas and neglected dormitories; to the left, the architecture of rooms shrink steadily and grow crude, streamlined by purpose: the backup generator space, boiler rooms, surveillance, the kinds of doors marked with AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY and wasp-colored hazard signs.

The sentry retreats left, naturally, seconds before another bullet wangs off the wall near him. Falls back as fast as he can, a hound screaming before the foxes, pistol-grip pressed to gunshot wound.

Huruma's rifle finds her shoulder amidst the layers of clothing, and she moves ahead of the others, following the trail of the fleeing and wounded man. Her free hand finds her comm, flicking it on and skulking forward towards the corner, hovering just behind the turn. "«There are more back there. I think we'll b'dealing wit'a hornet's nest.»" As there are rooms along that corridor, however, they will only need to fight their way back one at a time. Hopefully.

Without waiting for a second response, Huruma moves forward around the turn, immediately firing off into the hall to take down the straggler. She can feel something else back here- something fuzzy against her whiskers. It feels remotely like brushing two fiber optic lamps to her, the static lights of which are moting across her registry.

So much for a sneaking mission. Shifting his hold around, Raith sharply jerks his captive's head to one side and then the other, snapping his neck in two and then shoving the body off of himself before springing to his feet and moving into the corridor, bringing his M-4 up to the ready. Not in time to get any shots off in the first volley, but that doesn't matter. "Keep moving," he says, "Two teams. Laudani, Chinaman, in the back but move forward with us, make sure no one sneaks up on us from the other direction or from outside. Chesterfield, Huruma, come with me. Maintain radio contact." That's all he has to say, years of Army, Ranger and Delta Force training crawling up to the surface, as he moves after his prey. "We have to find him before he puts out the alert."

Weapon at the ready, knife wiped off on the man's back and sheathed, Cat makes her way into the dome. Eyes are alert, she traces steps taken by Huruma. "He already screamed," she states, "and now others may pass word further up the chain. They can kill hostages, take refuge in the target areas. And we still don't know who or what Brynhildr is in this place."

Back to silence, then, Cat moving with Raith. Cover positions are taken along the way; she ducks behind obstacles long enough to be clear of any hostile fire which comes then moves forward to the next suitable spot.

Outside, two men rest easy in the snow, one aureolaed in spilled blood and the other laying with the curve of his skull bucked up at a ludicrous angle and a contusion of bone punctured through the thin skin of his nape. Within the dome's tunnel entranceway, Huruma's first kill lays in a Swisscheesed heap, his spluttering cough finally fading to silence as his eyes regard the ceiling through a sheen of salty glaze.

Teo had thought he was the leader, but such terms were largely honorary in an operation as off-the-cuff, variable, and spontaneous as this one, and Raith's ideas are impeccable from where he's standing. He nods brusquely, pauses with a squint to pitch his astral projection forward, through the concrete warren, tangles a brief, saccadic series of snapshots through the minds of the men waiting ahead. Falls back as he does so, picking up the rear, lest the distraction leave him unwontedly exposed to the enemy's fancy footwork.

He needn't have worried too much about retaliation this soon, anyway. A nicked artery leaves the one runner wheezing and slowing, blood pressure tanking, vision swimming under the algid flicker and glare of iron-barred lights. He hits his knees in the bend where doors begin to appear, huge, constructed of nondescript metal steel marking tool closets and supply areas for fuel bladders and other machinery, but before the generator room swoops into Raith's view, a bullet snips off the ceiling near his head.

Not a warning shot, but meant to startle more than outright kill: a Vanguard operative covering the sluggish retreat of his cohort. The wounded man's making a spaghetti-man job out of running, now, seeming to untangle and slither more than step.

"There's a Chinese girl and a huge motherfucker with a hunchback in there," he says, rapidly, defaulting to the comm unit by habit rather than acknowledgment for the cacophony of fired rounds in small space. "The girl's beaten to fuck. I'd say eight guys— hallway and generator room, three other prisoners cuffed. Surveillance cabin seems empty." He stops extremely abruptly when the sound of gunfire finally penetrates him, retroactively catching up with the reason why he's crouched at the base of the oblique wall, shoulders up. Prickling and pinching, the return of warmth is almost more unpleasant than the crawl of cold.

Huruma and Raith are at the front, effectively making themselves into a wall within the corridor of the dome; Huruma's fire is almost erratic when she fires towards the men in the hallway, as she helps lead the others into a fire-and-duck line, figures popping back against the other doorways of the rooms they are not aiming to make a way into. Not distracted- Raith can handle most of her firing for her- she is trying to pick out the specifics ahead, above the ringing of bullets bouncing off of metal and cracking into flesh and concrete; there are the handful of individuals lingering in the hall, then the generator room.

Several people in that room by itself. Not only can she find those- but there is something else that truly makes her pause in her space tucked against the inside of one of the doorframes, rifle still in her arms. The optics brushing against one another was an understatement- the closer that Huruma gets, the more it feels like coils trying to actually attach to one another. What even happens when empaths go after another one?

If Raith had not already been focused, the bullet snapping past his head would have been all that was needed to focus his attention on the task at hand. Although he has the corner to hide around, he won't get much done from there, so he drops to one knee and leans around the corner and levels his M-4 at… everything, sweeping automatic fire from left to right without bothering to really aim at anything. It's possible, and in fact, extremely likely that the wounded sentry will be put down for good, but the real goal is to check out the hallway while making the bad guys duck their heads, and two seconds of wild, sustained fire, bullets screaming through the air and ricocheting off the walls will almost certainly do that.

Raith ducks back into cover before he surveys the total damage he caused and pulls a grenade off his harness. Not a flash-bang, but one of the offensive concussion grenades he slipped onto his person. "There's a door just around the corner," he says to Huruma, "After the blast, run to it and get inside. You'll be in a better position to melt their brains down. Give me a tap when you're ready."

From her position, Cat follows a strategy similar to Raith. Her weapon discharges rapid-fire into the area ahead, adding to his carnage, and when he displays a grenade she also has one brandished. It's held at the ready where he can see it and know her intention, finger poised to pull out the pin but not actually doing so until he sees and gives agreement verbally or otherwise.

Huruma senses another empath, and in that same stroke of psychic inquest, the other empath senses her. There's a zithering of secondhand on activity through the African woman's limbic system, a prickling on her senses, like a pain-clumsied hand groping on a lifeline with pathetic eagerness.

Mei Shen is weaker than Huruma is, perhaps, either dwindled from the bodily beating she's taken or her ability of a different style and build to the cannibal's 360-degree perceptive field and colliding wave-motions of effect. She exerts little influence over the huge man who's reportedly setting his meaty fists into her, but there's an arpeggio of almost communicative effects to Huruma herself. A visceral tug of curiosity, a steeling of brittle courage. Mei Shen has something she wants to say, and getting slapped around by a misshapen lummox is, in some bizarre way, merely building her conviction. She's being punished for something, that's clear enough.

She doesn't regret it.

"Fire in the hold," Teo says, marking the agile arc of Raith's arm, and then Cat's second throw. He twists his head aside, buries his ear in his arm in time to cut out the worst of the two resounding bangs that rattle through the floor, fragmentation and concussion respectively, the asymmetrical bursts of light that throw together enough numinous energy to needle light spots into the periphery of their vision.

Grenades make noise when they fall on concrete. Not much, but they do. The Vanguard had gotten about point-three seconds' warning, which was about enough time to preserve the faces on their corpses with their hands, for those immediately within blast radius, and not a lot else. Hollering from around the corner: one woman's screaming, further down, Chinese in syllables interrupted by choppy breathing and slimed saliva.

"Jiushi Bing!" Caocao suddenly bursts out, his brow coming out of its thoughtful knit. He reaches to grasp the lawyeress by the arm, abruptly, giving the smaller operative a brattily insistent shake. "Big man— back, hunch?" He swings the skinny black muzzle of his rifle around a buckled bridge shape, describing what he imagines are the contours of the cretin's torso. "Bing. Chinese Vanguard. Hao qiang" Abruptly, he remembers that the white boy over his shoulder actually speaks Mandarin and, with some relief, quits his English efforts. "Ta keyi ba bieren de liliang biancheng ziji de liliang, bu shoushang, zisi"

"He converts impact to superstrength," Teo translates. Squatted in a doorway with finger curled in trigger-guard and chin sunk so far down into his furry ruff that he is getting fibers stuck in the teeth exposed out the hole in his cheek, he resembles a deformed lagomorph, himself. "But only if he's aware of the incoming blows." It takes a few seconds of habituation for the operatives to realize, between the rankling cold, scorched shrapnel, erupted stone dust, and acrid scent of firearm discharge, this segment of the hallway smells faintly of ammonia, human organics: the hostages had been kept here, or not far, and not precisely in the paragon of comfort or hygiene.

A beat. Teo's eyes blink back into focus just as the light around the corner dies with an audible spurt and electrical buzz, wiring effectively shredded. He adds: "few dead, including the one Huruma tagged. The others are… falling back into the generator room," he adds, after a moment, as if not entirely certain why this is happening. "Can these rounds get through drywall?" he asks, after a moment, in a voice like theoretical inquiry. Perhaps in the name of Science. He glances across the assembly of available rifles.

Abruptly, new noise hisses through Shield Two's comm units. Veronica's voice reverberates through loud and clear. "Shield Prisoner finds ten prisoners. Shen is not among them.

"Was taken from group previously."

Teo closes a blunt forefinger and thumb around his own unit, squaring it closer to his broken mouth, switching bands to relay over to the facility where the mainstay of the prisoners are being retrieved by the Company agent's team. "Shield Two has Shen. Retrieval in progress." He releases his comm the next moment, his mouth flattening into a slight grimace; that sounds a lot better than, 'Retrieval stalled because the bad guys and the hostages are all packed into the room we need to blow up.'

At least the surveillance room is clear for destruction. The Sicilian glances up. Calls out: "We could get them through the closet. One of the closets."

Everything starting at the toss-clink of grenades is absorbed in stony silence, as Huruma keeps flattened where bullets will not tear her arm off. There's nothing she can do for Raith, for all his ideas right now- she can't see through walls. Though his proposition of moving her down the hall is taken to heart. "«Split up. Cat- With me- Door. Guys, closets.»" If they will have a fortress, then perhaps it is best to at least surround it.

Huruma assumes much in that Cat will just follow her heels, as she is skirting off into the now dusty air with her gun at the ready, swallowed up by clouds the color of old drywall as she zips down the hallway, shadow flitting past the door of the generator room and spine taking up place just behind the hinged part of the wall, using the half-open door as cover. She is not terribly certain of what to do once she gets there, though her rifle is poised and her empathy reaching in to find the men inside. At least if she sees a man- it will take her just a moment to hit one with something in the ability department.

All the same, Huruma's onto something. A quick communication with Teo reveals that, aside from one, all the hostages are on the ground while all the Vanguardians are standing up. Almost perfect. «Fire are burst through the wall in the corridor, and then duck. Get them to drop the girl, I hope.» It's far from a perfect plan, but they don't have time to think of a better one, and this puts his team in the least amount of direct danger. «We fire through the walls, you move in to clean up when we run empty. Move fast.» While Cat and huruma take up their positions by the door, Raith leads the rest of the team into the closet next to the generator room, quietly sliding the magazine from his weapon, stuffing it into a coat pocket, and inserting a fresh one. They'll only get one shot at this.

Let's rock 'n' roll.

Three men in a closet with giant phallic weapons in their hands. If Ethan were here, he'd make a terrible joke at gay Theodore's expense; there's a crooked half-grin on the Sicilian's face as he and the other men crowd into the industrially-proportioned supply space. When the PLA soldier glances his way, however, he's quick to flatten his expression down to neutral discipline.

Rock and roll.

Watching the door as closely as they were, the Thermopylaean advantage firmly theirs, it comes as a distinct surprise to the Vanguard when the wall starts shooting, even if the initial wave is nothing more impressive than an errant pop-pop of cinema snackfood, a few bullets angled off into walls and corners, nicking into the nearest generator, tearing tube, ripping out a spume of depressurizing gas of no immediately identifiable chemical make. "They're in the closet!" Three coarse, male voices chime in at once; rifles swing over, fingers hooking down hard on autofire and the air goes blind with coursing bulletfire.

They have no way of knowing that their enemy is in a somewhat ignoble sprawl on the floor, cramped into a closet with emptied bladders wadded under their knees and mopstring mingled into their hair, legs up, arms hurled up to protect their faces from the shredding fall of exploded plaster and rent-up balsawood that is produced in a snowblower fashion by the Vanguard's gunmen. There are enough weapons on them that there's almost a perfect line of perforations shot horizontally through the closet's boxed shape above Raith, Caocao, and Teo's heads. Dusty light filters through the holes in the half-second of eerie quiet that follows, afterward, eddying with their breaths, penny-bright casings falling ring-a-ring to the floor around their feet.

Teo blinks, uncovers his face. He says, in little more than a whisper, relief clear as the sky over Antarctica in his voice: "They dropped her."

There's nary an instant to celebrate before Cat and Huruma arrive like thunder. The door, already long since abused by the careless handling of terrorists who expected to spend little time here, bounces off on a twang of severed hinges from a kick of Huruma's foot. Caught off-guard, two operatives are dead before they can do more than begin to fall into a crouch that puts their heads squarely into the paths of swinging autofire instead of their upper-torsos, splitting skulls and shredding faces like so many layers of cabbage clapped neatly apart. Three other men catch rounds in their shoulders, chests, one man's arm ejecting out of its socket from a coincidence of two hits like a section of sausage squeezed off the string.

Bullets stop the instant they strike Bing, however, belying the wisp of blood gleaming on his ribs where one of Raith's shots had scored him. Skip off shimmering distortions in the air around him. He's huge for a Chinese man, bigger by far than even Caocao; like some absurd caricature of superheroism in a film. Leaves him the only Vanguard operative standing above a mess of dirty-faced refugees, a sneer curling his mouth. It's immediately obvious that the malformation of his shoulders is nothing he was born with; there's pain to the way he's holding himself, and an awkward buckle to his laddered vertebrates and the muscles roped around it that indicates the hideous burden is something he's still getting used to. "Americans," he spits. And turns upon the huddle of cuffed prisoners behind him.

The nearest is the girl. They did drop Mei Shen. It takes Huruma no time at all to recognize the other empath, even if even the woman's own mother might have had a hard time identifying that small, heart-shaped face under the mess of blood, snot, and smashed cartlidgenous gristle that's replaced her nose and gaping jaws. She releases a liquid groan and tiny flowers of agony and peculiarly stoic irritation open up under the light of the African woman's perceptions. "Steyr," she tells her rescuers, ignoring Bing's mountainous advance. "J—Jur'ya Steyr.

"Br—" And Bing's vast hand closes over her face.

If there's one thing Huruma doesn't really adore, it's being called an American. No offense to the Americans in the room. It's just a sticking point. Though she has her rifle, it now hangs loose at her side, once everyone aside from the huge man is lying dead on the floor of the generator room. Huruma's lips pull back as he descends on the Chinese woman, a snarl bubbling in her throat. The empaths in the same room do not immediately make some strange feedback- but at least they should be able to feel one another in full; Mei Shen is in terrible agony, obviously, though her stoicism matches something in Huruma- though for the latter it could be classified as pride rather than true disconnection. Huruma feels as irate as she looks, the feral air about her barely an obvious decipher. Her rifle still hanging, her hand finds the long knife on her belt, silver glimmering dully in what light there is.

While Mei utters words that should catch for another, Huruma's assault is concentrated on the giant stooping for her head. Terror, fear, panic- a tsunami washes over his mind, seeping into every nook and cranny that Huruma can reach. Time to back off, gruesome.

"Steyr?" Raith repeats. However, that rapidly becomes the least of his immediate concerns. He yanks the magazine from his M-4 and slams in a new one. It sounds like the fight isn't over just yet. "Any ideas why some of them are still standing up after taking that many bullets?"

While Huruma is moving to deal with the Chinese man still standing, to prevent him from further harming Mei-Shen and hopefully kill him too, Cat keys the microphone to her radio set. She speaks clearly and with urgency. «Julia Steyr is Brynhildr! Find and kill her!»

Moments later Veronica's voice comes through in reply. ««Shield Three under fire. Anyone else or just her?»

In the same tone used for her prior report, Cat answers. «Just Steyr. Intel is she's a researcher turned Vanguardite.»

The lights in the generator room work, at least, casting down upon a dismal spectacle. One nebbish gentleman regards the world through star-shaped fissures in his glasses, and an American female lets out a squawk of shock as Bing's fingers meet Mei Shen's face and heave at her. The skin of the woman's wrist is long since raw and ugly red from the struggle she's put up against her restraints, chained to exposed piping low-set against the wall, among other visible signs of bruises and contusions across the hostages' bodies, but they are by now in far better shape than the Vanguard operatives cast down wheezing, dead, and bleeding on the floor.

Caocao rolls his eyes at Raith, even as he twists his frame— how it is that the Asian among them wound up the tallest, Teo does not know— and jack-knifes upright and onto his feet, loping out of the closet brusquely. He has only one word to say: "Bing." And Bing, it seems, is not a problem to be solved while ensconsced inside the store room. His boots thump a haphazard sprint, looping out into the hallway, and then into the room behind Catherine, meltwater streaking as he skids a few inches across the linoleum. Movement in his peripheral— catching a suspicious twitch of a hand on the ground, he shoots a dying man in the head, entirely ignoring the squeal that elicits from another scientist.

The soldier looks up. Blinks at this strange spectacle: of Bing abruptly backing from Huruma, his beefy grip releasing Mei Shen as carelessly as a ragdoll. The Chinese empath falls to the floor with a wet noise like a particularly pathetic de-bowled goldfish, a sound of mingled disgust, relief, raw exhaustion. She hits the floor on her knees, rabbits a broken, bloodied hand backward across the floor. The other researcher catches hold of her wrist, begins to draw her rapidly into a protective grip. Now, they believe her: about Steyr. Huruma's the only one who can feel her smile.

Setting his rifle butt to the closet floor, Teo scrambles up to his knees, trodding on the edge of Raith's coat as he goes. Bing. "Nice power, eh?" He presses his face to the riven wall, peering through a bullet hole as big as an Oreo. Tastes plaster, smells oxidation, feels the queasy roll and kick of exertion migraine inside the walls of his skull. Sees Huruma moving fast as a shadow in the hard blue light from the ceiling, Bing swinging his ox-like contours to and fro to keep her in his frame of sight, misshapen shoulders hackled, his face hideous from fear. They're almost done here. First objective is nearly done. Nearly.

The shock of psychic energy shoved into Bing's skull is not as powerful as it should be, but it puts a saccadic flutter through his black-rimmed eyelids, slackens his jaws for a moment. He groans, clutches his head which suddenly beats as fiercely as the horrified cadence of his heart; when his eyes slide back into focus, Huruma's still there.

Bing says, "Diu. I need a new club."

Invulnerable men may be so on the outside, but on the inside they are as soft and as pink as everyone else. One hand flashing silver and the other hovering above where her rifle hangs, Huruma is the picture perfect example of why not to recruit mercenaries. They take it way too seriously.

Huruma's assault is steady on him- if she can make it worse- if it slips further in- she will take that. Her features, teeth bared and feet sidestepping circular with Bing as if this were some odd Spanish ritual. No red capes this time- and Huruma provides the human growling, a hiss of breath leaving her as she finally decides on movement; she steps forward to test close combat on him, remembering what she had heard about impact. The knife in her hand is swept broadly at his torso when she spots an opening, moreso to gauge what happens should she draw it over his flesh.

Poking his head out of the closet, Raith assesses the situation with a plain, "Good enough." Shooting gallery's closed. "Huruma's got the opposition busy. Chesterfield, start taking surveillance apart. I think we passed it on the way here. Laudani, Caocao, with me. Figure out how to clear out the remainder and get the hostages out. Soon as it's clear, I'll set the demo. charges. Sooner we do this, the better, so move."

'Move' is more or less what Raith does, exiting the closet completely and entering the next room to take care of the aforementioned goals. How happy that all of them should be in the same place at the same time. First order of business is Bing, and this isn't the sort of business that a liberal application of bullets is going to fix.

No words are used, they don't seem necessary. Cat makes her exit from this room, heading back to the surveillance area. There, barring unexpected opposition, she starts dismantling equipment with gusto. Things are pulled off of shelves and hurled into walls. Some are heaved to the floor and stomped into pieces by boots. Wires are sliced with the knife used to take down the sentry.

Perhaps she's pretending the bits of equipment are persons deserving of severe punishment. Linderman. Angela and Nathan Petrelli (both of him). Ethan Holden too.

Sitrep is exactly as Raith has put it. Already back in the generator room, Caocao is watching Bing face off against Huruma on the space between giant machines with a slightly bemused expression. She's a big woman, mind you; Team Shield Two should be every bit proud of their Amazon, but pitting even her astonishing strength against a man of Bing's caliber seems definitively an undermatch.

Disoriented but nevertheless still game, Teo grips his fingers into the severed drywall and pulls himself upright, finds himself inhaling a lot of mop for a moment before he irritably shoulders the janitorial equipment aside and hauls himself out of the closet space like a walrus leaving sea. He meets Catherine in the hallway, exchanges a polite nod of salutation with her, "Hey," that seems to at the same fail entirely to give this situation the proper recognition and the only conceivable greeting this could require. He steps into the room behind Raith, momentarily ignoring the combatants in favor of cocking a pale eye across the mess of corpses that layer the floor, the researchers huddled by the wall. Each is cuffed to a partner from around the iron tube bolted to the wall.

"Ciao. Hey." A seaman's whistle cuts out from between his lips, deafening. The brunette holding Mei Shen's broken body looks up haggardly, and the rest follow like ducks. "Can we take out the piping? Is it safe to take out the piping, get you guys out?"

Swallowing hard, the woman glances briefly back at Bing. "Y-yes. It's just steam. Water steam— warm."

"Baachi." Bing spits, but his mouth is so dry, nothing touches Huruma at all.

Further down the hall, there's an echoing crash. A television set yanked out of its setting, signalling the start of Catherine's assignment. Her weapons of choice begin to make short work of the surveillance equipment, wires coming apart in her hands like so much rubbery viscera, glass powdering the grooves of her soles. A half-dozen fictional Petrellis and Holdens fall slain under the lawyeress' mounting ire, and the Vanguard's chances of success are rent apart proportionally. Her comm unit crackles in her ear like an infernal cheer. Veronica again. "Brynhildr dead."

The African warrior's blade skims Bing's chest, rending cloth but stopping with an absurd sluggishness before it penetrates through to the substance of his bulky flesh. Harmless. And yet the wadded mass of excess tissue around his shoulders shudders at this touch, and he swats at the knife's scintillating edge like a child; seems not the slightest reassured when the steel bends below his finger, cracks like a frostbitten twig. It's been a long time since the Vanguard was the virulent power he remembered from the other decade. It's been too long. Every new country he retreats to brings fresh disappointments, unforseeable injury. Extermination, negation, deformation, terror.

"Bing for himself!"

Finally, he shows teeth. Hisses like a roach, turns in a sudden shift of column-like legs. Pounds his way toward the wall, arms out, crossed before his head like a battering ram. Caocao shouts, broken English— Get out of way!— and two researchers do, yanking their compatriots along with them, but his foot lands squarely in the stomach of one man, splitting him neatly in half, even as he bores a crumpling hole through the wall, mortar and dust and stone falling into sopping blood and exposed ligamenture in his wake.

Freezing winds spare not an instant before crowding, snow meeting steam with a groan of metal. In some irony, the pipe's broken now, but the researchers barely have time to discern its rupture in the haze of vapor before the ground seizes like the chest cavity of an epilepsy patient. The ceiling lights black first, flush emergency-signal scarlet the next, a klaxxon's lonely whine sounding up from the far end of the compound. With an almost tonal thrum, the backup generators begin to awaken.

Bing for himself- every man for himself. Huruma can at least respect that notion- as now she does not also have to find some way to kill him. Perhaps he will show again- but right now the noise and crimson light around her begs for attention. Her first ministration comes in tossing away the bit of knife hilt and taking up her gun again, boots finding purchase when she is jolted off of one leg by the shifting underfoot. "Someone set th'bombs, we need t'get t'th'other side of th'dome." And find, hopefully on getting there, something to either put these researchers in or somewhere to put them.

There aren't many items left to be destroyed when the ground shakes under her. Cat's footing is compromised, causing her to reach for a shelf and grab to use it as support. Then the lights go out, replaced by red glow and alarms. Even as she steadies herself and begins to move with intent to finish the job on this room, her fun is cut short. The remaining pieces of surveillance equipment have been thrown to the floor and rendered useless.

So it is that Cat emerges. A series of footsteps places her at the doorway where Huruma and the others remain. "Job is done," she reports. "What's left to be done here?"

There aren't many items left to be destroyed when the ground shakes under her. Cat's footing is compromised, causing her to reach for a shelf and grab to use it as support. Then the lights go out, replaced by red glow and alarms. Even as she steadies herself and begins to move with intent to finish the job on this room, her fun is cut short. The remaining pieces of surveillance equipment have been thrown to the floor and rendered useless.

So it is that Cat emerges. A series of footsteps places her at the doorway where Huruma and the others remain. "Job is done," she reports. "What's left to be done here?"

Wetter and wetter. Red clouds choke the generator room and corkscrew gradually out into the open air with the push and pull of Antarctican winds, nightmarish, like watching the ethereal substance of some great primordial spirit escape into twilight. Teo's caught his balance with one hand on the wall, rifle bouncing haphazardly in hand. Thankfully, it doesn't go off until he manages to push and click it back onto safety. By then, Caocao has already stumbled forward, moving to hold Mei Shen by the shoulders and speak loud over the klaxxons. She's still awake. Barely. Struggling through the viscosity that fills her lungs. She understands: her country came for her.

Their countries— they all came for them. Dewy moisture fills her eyes between swollen eyelids; the first that any of her fellow prisoners have seen in awhile. Huruma might understand, however great the differences that bonafide sociopathy might impose on her personality. To empaths, the malleability of emotion makes the ones they choose to acknowledge— particular, different, more acutely self-aware than anything others either Evolved or non-Evolved might understand. "Xiexie." She's lost so many teeth, her thanks come across more like laughter. By the time Caocao's maneuvering her awkwardly to carry, the African giantess has already stepped forward, removing the tiny woman from her care. He's left to eye her for a long moment, as if physically restraining himself from asking if she's going to take a bite.

He turns away. Helps two women to their feet, grimaces slightly at the arterial spurt that fizzes its way across Teo's glove as he stoops to cut the man Bing had squashed off his cuffs, that his companion might go free. "Sounds like famous last words, Raith," the Sicilian shouts back over his shoulder.

No that he doubts the ex-CIA agent's expertise with incendiaries and detonators, of course. The next moment sees the young terrorist hauling a scientist upright with one arm. Rifle dangling diagonal across his back, he raises his other, signalling Cat over in a swipe through the roiling lurid skeins of steam. There aren't many of them, the hostages, but they've been sitting so long their legs have cramped and senses addled even without the complications of unsteady ground, partial starvation, and mortal terror. They tumble out stiff as corpses, their footprints red and smearing stupidly in the snow. The ground shakes again. They need all of the help they can get.

When the denuded twilight sky— dawn, by now, really— finally comes into their view, replacing the erratic blink of the LED lights under Raith's deft digits, their faces change. Eileen had been the same way, once, locked up before. Humanity's enamorment with bustling metropolises, fabrications of dwellings and homes, artificially-created environments never seems so crucial as on the brink of a flooding apocalypse, but captivity is different. Leaves a man thinking, maybe, open sky is all you need.

Only, then, the Shield Two starts to point. The sprawling sinkhole that's eaten up half the base, groaning like Sedna's wicked twin, then the massive chopper on the snowbowl's horizon. They begin to shout: "Fire in the hold. Run. Zou. Go, go go."

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