Ambush, Part I


f_eileen_icon.gif f_gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Ambush, Part I
Synopsis Vanguard strikes back with a vengeance in the early morning hours following Discipline.
Date March 3, 2011

Somewhere in Argentina

Smoke rises in smothering black plumes, darkens a rosy sky and shrouds the jungle at the foot of the Andes in a nebulous cloud of destruction and death. Beneath the haze, the remains of the NATO base camp still smolder, canvas tents ablaze and burning all the shades of red and orange, scarlet and vermillion through to brightest amber. Saplings nearest to the flames wither and die, their branches curling in on themselves as the leaves attached to them blacken, disintegrate and join the suffocating vortex of debris in the air.

There are bodies everywhere, some in uniform, most half-dressed, charred husks of blistered skin and exposed bone that barely resemble the men and women they once were. Others are more intact but no less lifeless as they bleed out into the soil, victims of gaping bullet holes punched through their heads and chests by rounds fired from an M2 Browning machinegun.

The term ambush is an understatement. Massacre would be much more appropriate. No time to react. No time to regroup. No time to respond. In the two minutes and fifty three seconds that have elapsed since the attack began, Hell has literally broken loose — and it shows no sign of ending soon.

Ten minutes earlier, at the heart of base camp…

The only company Gabriel has in his tent, apart from the blood pounding in his ears, are the frenetic wingbeats of a moth caught in the glass lip of his hurricane lantern. Drawn in by the pale yellow glow, it became trapped during his stint at Eileen's and — unlike the erstwhile serial killer laid out on the cot nearby — has yet to figure out that escape means flying back out the way it originally flew in.

She'd asked him to stay. He hadn't.

It's really that simple.

Well if only it were that simple. And this, Gabriel reflects on as he shifts, for the fiftieth time that evening, to find a position more comfortable that might allow him to relax in defiance of turning thoughts. Because very few things about Eileen are simple, and mistakes happen when he assumes she is. It's easier when they're operating as colleagues, or when they simply have to save each other - that's simple. Everything else is less logical. A woman in love turning away from a kiss. What's mathematical about that?

Long legs ease over the side of the cot as Gabriel sits up. Again. Apparently, going eavesdropping and its subsequent events had done little to make him anymore in the mood for sleep. Moth wings bat uselessly against glass, leaving trails off dust in its wake, and Gabriel's dark eyes go up to watch it.

There's a damp chill to the evening, outside, Gabriel shouldering out just enough to toss the very loosely held insect out into the night, having been shaken free of its prison. White wings flare out, flicker like dreamless rapid eye movement, too quiet even for Gabriel's ears, before it spirals away entirely.

Outside, the smell of burnt firewood lingers in the air, compounded by moisture and a palpable sort of thickness that clings to the inside of Gabriel's nose and throat when he breathes. The moth disappears, swallowed by the gaping maw of black that is the starless sky above them, but several feet away from the opening of the tent sit two soldiers — one peering out toward the treeline through a pair of night vision binoculars, standard issue. The other glances over his shoulder when the sound of canvas rustling reaches his ears, and though he doesn't offer Gabriel a smile, there's a tightlippedness about his mouth that suggests an implicit greeting of sorts.

His companion, upon lowering his binoculars, is a little more affable. "Hey, Gray?" he queries, his voice low and hoarse, either out of necessity or because he's smoked one too many packs of cigarettes to take the edge off. "That you?"

Half-sinking back into his tent, Gabriel hesitates when someone puts their greeting to words, before reversing, stepping out fully into the night once more with a final rustle of canvas. After all, he can't sleep. The folds close, shutting off the lamp light inside, but a collection of ambient light still allows things to be seen. The distant campfire still burning at a dull glow provides a brush of orange, the moonlight sending down translucent paleness, and its with this collection of outline that Gabriel's silhouette takes a few casual steps closer.

Camaraderie is a rarity. Even after all these weeks. "Yeah," Gabriel says, gaze shifting up over the two solders' heads and outwards the treeline. He possesses nothing like night vision or X-ray, but a hawk-like telescopic gaze sweeps over the space absently, even as he's asking, "Anything to see?"

"Shaw thinks there's a leopard skulking around, but— s'too small. Howler monkey, maybe. A doe." Even as he speaks, something rustles in the underbrush, causing the leaves to audibly crinkle and twigs to snap. Big cat, primate or deer, whatever it is doesn't seem interested in making an appearance. "My money's on the monkey. No mama in her right mind is gonna come anywhere near base. Back in West Texas, we used to—"

"Knock it off," hisses the less sociable of the two as he roughly seizes the binoculars and holds them up to his face so he himself can get a better look. Shaw, presumably. "I can't hear a goddamn thing with you wagging your tongue at my ear. Christ."

It's then that Gabriel sees it — the silver-haired figure limned in moonlight, defined by square shoulders, a slightly squat build and a complexion like old leather. Kazimir Volken is supposed to be dead, and yet there he is, standing staunch and erect, both his large hands resting on the domed skull of his wolf's head cane.

"It's a cat," Shaw insists. "I saw it. Spots'n'all."

Tense, Gabriel rolls bared shoulders as he recalls that oh yeah, being sociable is boring. Of course, back in the day, people would have argued that he was the boring one, but not so. Inane chatter that did not include him bored him, and Gabriel breathes in a sigh of air that tastes like the jungle and the dying campfire.

Dark eyes cast out towards where Shaw points his binoculars, not bored enough not to search, absently, for this mysterious animal, feline or not. What he finds is cause for considerable more alarm.

Nothing he expresses out loud, half-lit face going still with stoic expression as he moves forward, a few feet past the soldiers, the soft slap of flipflops against the soles of his feet mostly drowned out by the inevitable crunch of grass and dirt underfoot as his eyes narrow beneath a serious brow. Gabriel knows mirages. It's been a long time, of course, all such head entities gone throughout his duration as an inmate.

"Not a cat," he reports, absently, stealing his gaze away from what has to be a ghost of the past, his heart refusing to hammer any faster than it's already going thanks to a certain ability but surely it would have otherwise. Twisting his body enough to look over his shoulder, he asks of the two soldiers, briskly, "Last check on the enemy's position was how far away?"

That is cause for alarm, isn't it? Shaw uses his thumb to adjust the settings on the binoculars and squints against the green light flooding his vision. Although he's staring directly at the spectre of the dead man, it's obvious he doesn't see anything except for branches reaching like gaunt arms toward the pale belly of the moon as it protrudes from blanketed cloud cover. His friend leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands clasped loosely in the empty space that spans between his fatigue-clad legs.

"Eight miles," he says after a long and uncomfortable pause in which he checks, then rechecks his math. "Rough estimate. Nobody gets as close as you or the Ruskin girl. Why?"

It's a rhetorical question. He knows why. The deep lines that crease his forehead and create furrows just beneath the widow's peak of his hairline are more telling than the tentative tone of his voice. In the end, however, such details are insignificant — whatever Gabriel's answer might be, assuming he even has one, it isn't something that Shaw or the nameless soldier sitting beside him will ever get the opportunity to mull over in their heads.

Somewhere in the trees, a weapon discharges. Less than a heartbeat later, and with only a faint twhip to accompany it, a bullet rips through the left lense of Shaw's binoculars and shears his skull apart, splattering the front of Gabriel's wife beater with a chunky amalgamation of blood, bone and brain matter.

Too late to avoid the mess, a forcefield sparks to life, rippling its electrical current-like surface over Gabriel's skin in instinct has his head whips around towards the source of gunfire, back bowing and backing up. In contrast, there's a curse, a thud as the other soldier's body hits the ground in search of cover, and then the hiss and spit of a radio being flicked to life and rapid fire warnings being transmitted as a second bullet goes flying merely inches above the fallen man.

In the same moment, Gabriel allows his own warning to go heard, but only by one person. Alone in her tent, there's no one in sight when a voice sounds clear in Eileen's head, his voice if echoed and distorted through the telepathic means by which it travels. It's only one word, a simple one.


Blue-green light flares bright for a brief two seconds, sweeping and cutting through vegetation and if he's lucky, flesh.

Lasers cleave gracelessly through the foliage at the edge of the camp where the ghostly visage of Kazimir Volken had been standing statuesque less than a minute ago. Branches crash to the earth, entire trees split apart and come booming down, filling the forest with sounds akin to thunder. In what would be a dizzying spectacle during the daylight, hundreds of birds explode from the canopy and into the sky — parakeets and macaws, cuckoos and doves, nightjars and toucans, mingling together in a panicked fury that is bound to draw Eileen from her tent if her ally's warning hasn't already.

A human voice joins the raucous cacophony of avian screams, then goes abruptly silent. Were it not for acuity of his superhuman ears and their ability to detect the wet collapse of a corpse somewhere in the underbrush, then Gabriel would have no way of knowing the sniper in the trees has been taken out.

Elsewhere in the camp, roused by the din, other men are emerging from their tents and other makeshift shelters. Some are armed. Most don't even have a shirt on their backs.

These men know what to do, where to move, who to answer to. For Eileen and Gabriel, it's been a learning process, civilians strung along like dogs on a leash rather than marching alongside. Fine by Gabriel, free to move as he chooses within those confines, rather than stick to rigid rules. It's how he's always operated.

He moves without authority, a cacophony of heart beats as adrenaline charged soldiers begin to teem into the space making it impossible to tell whether more extend beyond that. The slow death of trees behind him is its own symphony also. It would be arrogant to assume that all Vanguard have worked the same way - some are solo artists, some in squadrons.

And some in partnerships. "Ruskin." It's all too easy to default to the way the soldiers speak, so it's her last name she's addressed by as Gabriel approaches at a risk pace, made less authoritative what with flipflops and all. "They're getting brave, finally. Help me see if the sniper brought friends."

There is something inherently comical about a man of Gabriel's size in flipflops, and yet Eileen isn't laughing as she moves to meet him halfway, swift and purposeful. Even if she was, she'd be in no position to tease or offer rebuke — on her harried way out, she grabbed only what was immediately available and is dressed in little more than the barest essentials, including a haphazardly-buttoned jacket that slopes off her left shoulder. She's still zipping up her pants.

Gabriel was right about the Vanguard getting brave. No sooner does he make his command than the reason for the forewarning becomes immediately and painfully apparent.

With enough force to knock out walls and shatter windows, but with no panes of glass or anchored structures to topple, an explosion razes the other end of the encampment before ballooning outward in a ball of flame, searing heat and a black smoke that devours everything in its rapidly expanding radius. The shock wave alone is so powerful that it knocks the initial survivors off their feet and lands Gabriel flat on his back.

They didn't just bring friends. They brought enough C-4 to level Kirby Plaza.


Pieces of flaming debris rain down at high speeds and set fire to what isn't already burning. Those unlucky enough to have been caught in the blast radius are dead. The survivors closest to ground zero are dying. And to add insult to injury, Gabriel's tent has been flattened, an incidental victim of the remains of an engine block that plummeted from the heavens.

So they brought a party. Good to know.

The campfire is long since dead now, the logs blown apart into rolling, burning embers, and the air promptly tastes like ash the next time Eileen will draw a gasp of night air into her lungs, floored just as much by the shockwave as the serial killer. No time to choke on it, by the time a hand grips her arm, and the current of forcefield flows over her body as it does Gabriel's, defense mechanism shared even as he's pulling her up to stand. Debris falls around them like dying birds.

It's horrific. Instant death in bodies on the far side of the encampment. The ripple of instruction for those left alive is retreat, and somewhere close by, there's a roar as a truck is revved to life.

"Mathison!" someone yells. "Get the injured— hey!"

Whoever's driving the car isn't about to stop for men to go back and haul half-burned bodies into the vehicle, it seems, despite a direct order. There's a scream of tires against rugged landscape, a grinding of metal, and its headlights briefly wash over both Gabriel and Eileen as it arcs around to pull away.

Someone out there sees it, and fires.

The rocket is silent to almost everyone's ears except for Gabriel's, who flings out a hand, but there's only so much he can do without steering the trajectory of the thing directly towards him. Instead, it buries into hard packed earth and in a fiery explosion, the truck toppling into pieces and the driver flung from it like a ragdoll. The car barrels like a gigantic fireball into the dining tent that had withstood the first shockwave. Gabriel lifts an arm against the sudden heat and sheer kinetic chaos.

Trust Vanguard to come from all sides, all hellfire and brimstone.

In the end, basic training only prepares you for so much — and Gabriel and Eileen don't even have that. What they possess is field experience, gleaned from years of fighting to survive in an urban jungle, and while the forest around them is entirely unlike what they've become accustomed to, the principles themselves remain the same.

Stand your ground when you think you can win. Go to ground when you can't.

Everyone else must be thinking along the same lines, because those who are still physically capable of it are running away from the flames and toward the treeline, spilling over one another as they swim through smoke and make for the dark promise of the forest beyond.

This is, of course, what the enemy is anticipating.

Taking cover amongst the devastated vegetation, under fallen trees and behind splintered branches, Vanguard reserves open fire on the tide of fleeing soldiers, spitting out volley upon volley, round upon round, mowing down troops with a staccato ratta-tat-tat that drowns out all other sound. Bullets glance off Gabriel's shield and whiz harmlessly away into the black.

There's only one way out of this, and that's through the flames.

Fingers curl around Gabriel's arm and the points of Eileen's nails bite into his bare skin. It would be inaccurate to say that the bird-whisperer is clinging to him for dear life, but her grip belongs to a frightened woman, one who hasn't yet decided which way to run. Hacking coughs wrack her small frame, suffocated by the deteriorating quality of the air. Her face is smudged with soot the same colour as her hair, now peppered by ash, gray-green eyes bright and wet as they tear up to lessen the sting. Maybe it's just as well she can't talk. What would she possibly say?

The hail of bullets he can hear from the treeline is enough to make that electrical shield go back up once more, snapping and crackling over his skin and Eileen in extension. But for how long? They're not going to stop, not until they've crushed their enemy. Between Gabriel and Eileen and the fleet of soldiers, picking at Vanguard and hunting them down in pieces doesn't quite match this tactic of bulldozing.

None of them could even dream of being ready. Gabriel knows victory when he sees it, from either angle, or no angle at all. Just from his own, and, well— Eileen's. Disregarding of whatever scattered, malformed defensive strategy their squadron is attempting to assemble, he holds onto her arm and steers her away from where the gunsmen are mowing down soldiers, leaving behind the machine gun noises and flares of light.

Crawling men turn to dead men turn to pieces of dead men. This is how the terrain changes as both forcefielded ex-Vanguardians run across the encampment, towards flames and heat that can't touch them, Gabriel thinking to snatch up an abandoned rifle with barely a flick of his hand. Presumably not for himself

Sprinting headlong into a wall of flame takes a great leap of faith, and Eileen isn't a religious person. Spiritual, rooted in beliefs entirely of her own making, but not religious. Her first instinct is to falter, to wrench her arm free of Gabriel's grasp and break for the back exit like everybody else, and for a moment the tautness in her muscles and the fear rolling off her in waves suggest she just might.

Luckily, trust is a good substitute for faith. Luckier still, she has plenty of it to spare where Gabriel is concerned. Hesitation comes and goes, banished in the time it takes him to snap up the rifle and for Eileen to steal it from him.

She has no idea what they're doing — only that she'll never ever let him forget about it if they don't survive the attempt. Later, the ludicrousness of such logic will eventually occur to her. Not now.

The worst thing about running through flame is how bright it is. You know, when you don't happen to burn. Feet stumble on ground that's torn to pieces, and the flames flick higher, up to their chests, over their heads. It hurts to keep your eyes open, save for short glances up to the black sky above them. Much like Kirby Plaza, save for at that time, he couldn't even see the sky. Gabriel's hold on Eileen's arm is almost painful, but better that than her slipping and becoming incinerated within moments once contact is broken.

Luckily he's done this before, or else he might be in trouble for running so confidently into burning flames. Of course, he's never done it before with another person, so that was left to theory and finger crossing. She can smack him for it later.

The second worst thing, after the brightness that waters eyes, is the inability to breathe, not really. Fire roars and drains the vicinity of air like a vacuum, making Gabriel's chest go tight, make his run more desperate and staggering but it's over soon enough. Suggest you start shooting at anything that moves, he projects to her as he gains back his breathing, his sight to see what's on the other side.

There are several reasons why Vanguard chose the far end of the camp to detonate its plastic explosives. The first: The high concentration of tents, including that of the platoon's medic, ensured an even higher number of NATO casualties. The second: By blocking off this particular escape route, the fires pushed the survivors back in the opposite direction, to where the men with the M2 Browning's were waiting. The third: Anyone who might miraculously make it past the burning barrier has to contend with the steep drop off on the other side.

Climbing down the incline has never been an issue for anyone attempting to reach the river and fresh running water below. With the right footwear, the right gear and the right approach, the risk of traversing the slope is minimal at worst.

When coming at it full tilt, half-dressed and in either flipflops or — in Eileen's case — no shoes at all, the risks are substantially more significant. You might even call them suicidal.

Gabriel's eyes don't adjust fast enough to process the threat. By the time he's able to see anything, anything at all, he's falling and the world around him has been rendered a kaleidoscope of light and shadow, each turn punctuated by another rock, branch or lump of debris that his body strikes on the way down—



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