aviators_icon.gif dajan_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif tau_icon.gif

Scene Title Bleed
Synopsis Team Bravo does it, as they strike out at the military air-field just outside of Antananarivo.
Date December 29, 2009

Antananarivo Air Field

On a scale of one to ten, the disastrous turn of events at the Antananarivo Airport classifies as an easy ten.

The sound of gunfire is wild and heavy in the air, with the roar of a jet engine nearly drowning out all other sounds across the fire-dappled tarmac. Three aircraft hangars resemble little more than pitch black skeletal rib-cages overlayed with sheets of corrugated metal and filled with fire. These exploded remains of MiG hangars fill the rainy skies with choking plumes of coal-black smoke and glowing orange embers.

«Where the hell is Danko!?» The crackling scream comes from where Aviators lays on the ground, one hand holding his earpiece communicator in place, the other blindly firing his handgun into the smoke that rises up from where gasoline burns on the tarmac. «That son of a bitch! That son of a bitch!» Blood pulses freely from Aviators' stomach and right shoulder where bullet woundshave torn him open, leaving him crippled on the ground in a pool of gasoline and his own blood. Shadowing Aviators form, the bullet-riddled frame of a jeep toppled onto its side serves as cover from the Malagasy soldiers firing from the still standing hangars.

«Status Report! Status Report! Ruskin, Gray, Huruma, Tau, Dunsimi what the fuck is going on!?»

Across the other side of the airfield from where Aviators is pinned down by gunfire, the aforementioned members of Bravo team are in no better shape. A hundred feet away, a Russian MiG jet is slowly moving across the runway, under-wing machine guns firing and cockpit slowly closing, shredding vehicles and debris in the path of its takeoff. Hunkered down behind a wall of wet asphalt, Dajan breathes in sharp and quick breaths, blood pumping through holes perforating his ribs and down one side, his eyes staring up blankly at the clouds where he lays across Huruma's lap, one hand shakily trying to stay up on the wall to keep the field of cover he's generated.

Nearby to a body that looks like it was torn limb from limb, Gabriel is hunched down beside that same earthen wall, hearing the loud popping of the jet's guns firing into the dense stone and earth barricade. The body at his feet, one of Rasoul's soldiers, is the one who was repsonsible for injuring Dajan so badly, and the trail of blood leading from his butchered carcass to Huruma's machete explains that gory situation wordlessly.

«I can'no move from m'position.» Tau's voice comes crackling over their ear-piece headsets. «A'do no' have an exit. Soldiers a'everywhere, th' knew we w'comin'! Where is Dajan, a'saw him get hit a secon' a'go!»

Tau is at the entrance to the airfield, serving as backup for Eileen Ruskin, ducked down behind a sandbag wall near the air-field's checkpoint entrance, spraying automatic gunfire from his assault rifle at the soldiers trying to move in towards his position. Eileen, for her worth, is huddled up behind the sandbags, her focus on something more tangible, more useful than a frail young woman with a gun.

Through the smoke rising up from the demolished hangars, the cries of gathering birds can be heard. The call is a far one, a distant command to bring forth her avian companions. While this firefight started only four minutes ago, it has already escalated far out of their control.

«Where the hell is Danko!?»

Aviators cry underlines the sense of furstration and betrayal the team has faced. Danko was to be preventing the arrival of reinforcements to the airport by setting improvised explosives on the road ahead of the air-field, but somehow the armored personnel carriers rolling past the checkpoint and towards where Tau is hunkered down are proof positive that either Danko failed, or Danko abandoned them here to die.

On a scale of one to ten, perhaps this just dialed up to eleven.

The vibrations the machine guns make into their makeshift shelter courses up Gabriel's spine, rattles his head and makes his ears ring. He should probably know by now that Operation: Break Things is prone to going wrong. See Moab for details. Escalation, ammunition, and fire catches as quickly as tempers and panic. The nattering of voices in his ear over the comms system interrupts his collecting a grenade into his hand, pressing his freed hand to his ear, brow tense as he glances towards where Dajan has been pulled over Huruma's lap.

«There's a moving jet cutting off our route to the hangars. I'm going to take care of it but I need some cover in case I'm sighted.» Rolling the grenade into his palm, he's not waiting for a response. If four minutes can bring this down on their heads, what about five? Gabriel moves, veering around the shaped wall of earth and pressing low to the ground in the form of inky and shadow, tendrils out to snag and rush him along as he snakes towards the looming figure of the slow moving jet.

The debris of bullets connecting with the airfield's plane spits and sprays around him, almost invisible in the way raindrops slap the ground and spatter upwards with what appears to be just as much force as much as it doesn't leave dents. Staying flat and agile, sacrificing speed for a degree of invisibility, Gabriel surges on, his radio cut out in this form.

The bloodied machete has been since put back into its belt sheath, but the red squirted all over it and Huruma's arms failed to really go anywhere yet despite the fat drops of rain coming out of the sky. In fitting into a role, Huruma's done a fairly good job; the entire experience from the last few weeks has put her in a place where somehow, she has sought to go through knowing her son and helping to free Madagascar. It started out as hunting that nuke, and now it is much more- and much more dangerous than ever. There is a dull throbbing in Huruma's ears as one arm makes sure to hold the back of Dajan's shoulders lain over one part of her lap. She managed to wriggle a jacket into a makeshift aid, though the pressure applied from her is intermittent, and all the bundle serves to do is largely staunch dripping. In the other hand she holds a heavy pistol, its magazine already half empty. She has others- but-

"«I've got him, Tau.»" Huruma's voice is the first to answer his, as she shifts up against the wall to peer over it and follow Gabriel's course with her eyes. Her responses over time to Tau have gotten more and more easygoing; he wasn't really on her good side when they started out. It's getting better. Probably because of Dajan's trust in the big man. "«Forget Danko, we've bigge'problems, One-eyed Willie.»"

As she takes a quick stock of Gabriel's course and responds in kind, her eyes dart to find some of Rasoul's men, jabbing terror at them as if they were affixed to darts being tossed. The ones that look like they remain in charge, and as soon as they get within range, more strenuous conditions are laid upon the drivers of the various ground vehicles. If she spots any attention her way, of course Huruma is going to lower her eyes and keep against the shield offered her now. Throughout, she keeps that emptied hand on Dajan- somewhere- and her touch feels as if it is giving off a calming effect; not something as serious as Aviators might have gotten lately, but enough to try and slow the pumping of his heart to something less drastic than Panic.

Screams fill the air beyond the falling rain, screams of Vanguard soldiers becoming assaulted by the baleful wrath of a mother protecting her injured child. Dajan is talking, incoherently, babbling to himself as his fingers stay pressed to the raised concrete, breathing in and out wet breaths under the veil of serenity Huruma's touch has imparted to him. His words, spoken in such a low tone, barely reach Huruma's ears over the havoc of battle, but she knows that part of it are lyrics from that song — that song she sang to him when he was but a baby, when they were both but children. Even now, even after everything he has been through he still finds comfort in his mother's arms.

The wall is failing though, chips of stone are shattered away by the rapid-fire assault of the jet's machine guns. These soldiers aren't militia, they aren't hastily conscripted men who serve Rasoul out of convenience or fear — these men are all Vanguard. As Gabriel slithers across the rainy battlefield in a matrix of liquid smoke, he can see the rain pattering down on the gray-uniformed soldier laying dead near the jet, he can see the wolf-head emblem on the shoulder of the uniform. These are the same soldiers he saw in the photographs Edward had in 2018 when the virus wiped out most of the world, these gray-dressed soldiers seated atop tanks.

A loud click-snap-whirr comes from above Gabriel, as one of the missiles under the wing of the MiG arms and locks into place, lights coming on across the casing's side showing that it is armed. The pilot is going to fire a rocket at Huruma and Dajan.

At the entrance ot the airfield, Tau stands up from behind the sandbags, spraying a line of advancing Vanguard soldiers that were fleeing the back of one of the armored carriers with gunfire. He reaches down to his waist, pulling off one of the three rationed gremnades he was given, yanks out the pin, and hurls it into the open back of the carrier before throwing himself to the ground.

The explosion is tremendous in side, sending debris up into the air twenty feet and bouncing the heavy carrier up onto its front tires before crashing back down. The other two vehicles have swerved out of control from Huruma's psychic scream, one plows straight into the aircraft hangar closest to Tau and Eileen and the truck manages to crash head-on into the side of one of the parked MiG jets. The rear door opens, and screaming soldiers clawing at their own heads to try and remove whatever imaginary object of their fear has possessed them from their flesh.

There is so much fear here. So much terror. Gabriel can smell it like a peppery spice on the wind, and it makes him feel unlike he has ever felt before. This much fear is intoxicating.

«Someone stop that fucking jet! The missile's armed! Gray where the fuck are you!?//» Aviators opens fire again with his pistol, the last two trigger pulls coming as clicks, last round expended from his gun. He pulls himelf up onto one knee, watching a trail of fire slowly moving along the gasoline leaking from the jeep he's using for cover, bullets bouncing and ricocheting off of the metal over his head. "I fucking hate this country…"

Gabriel doesn't reply, not while his radio set is currently morphed into the same high energy frequency matrix as the rest of him, lacking definition and function except to contribute to the shadowed mass that skims towards the armed jet. It's a bit like clinging to the underbelly of a shark — hard for its pointier ends to get him, under here. The puddle of shadow he was rears up, gaining shape and collecting its mass together to form a man standing crouched beneath the moving jet, moving with it as a result and gasping once he has the capacity to do so at the stunning shock of fear-scent translating into physical capabilities he's never quite experienced before.

Shoving the still pinned grenade back into a pocket, he shifts beneath one wing, brown eyes quickly taking in the sight of it before he reaches, and lays his hand on the armed thing. There's a sudden shriek of tearing metal as he physically tears it free of its fastenings, the entire jet shuddering along with the movement until it breaks off.

He staggers back when it has, unsure exactly how to feel about a live missile in his arms, and as much as it feels about the same weight as a corgie, it certainly has more than that. So Gabriel moves, using both its weight and the strength coursing through his limbs, from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers, his spine, legs— he turns in a circle, momentum carrying him and missile both before he can fling it far from both himself and the jet, and certainly in the opposite direction of Team Bravo. Instead, it careens at an angled spin towards one of the hangars, Gabriel granted only a couple of seconds to watch its progress before enemy fire in his direction has him ducking, bullets piercing both the jet itself and flesh, enough to have him grunted before flicking the incorporeal switch — his shape remains but rain and bullets both pass through him.

Grenade back in hand, he starts to move once more alongside the jet, swift as much as blood blossoms up from where a bullet has nicked his leg.

As soon as she can tell that her influence was effective, Huruma's hand is finding that bundle of cloth to pressure it against the holes in Dajan's side. She does not allow it to blossom on her face, but she knows that this is as sticky a situation as it can possibly get. In minutes the entire plan was turned on its head, and so was Dajan's prospect in getting anywhere; Huruma's prior disassociation has all but disappeared- she is concerned for him, and that much is clear.

By the time that Huruma peers back over the edge of their wall, Gabriel is putting a missile through a hammerthrow. She has to stare, if just for a split second of something fairly boggled in her features. The arc of it in the air snaps her back, and the pistol in her hand is lifted up past the view to pop off a few shots- in part distraction and in part aimed for those scattered men from the trucks; there is also a nescessity of intermittently putting a prey-like panic to them. A wary terror- hopefully to insert a kneejerk flight of some sort.

The songbirds and passerines are the first to arrive, bulbuls and thrushes darting fishlike from between the branches of the trees on the airfield's periphery, followed by the parrots and their allies, the pigeons and the doves and — finally — Eileen's equivalent of the jet that, until only a few moments ago, had its missile aimed squarely at Huruma and Dajan. The biggest members of the avian telepath's conscription air force aren't necessarily the ones with the greatest aerial precision, but their wickedly-curved feet and slashing beaks make them formidable opponents in the open sky. Bat hawks, kites, eagles and buzzards make up the flock's minority, and yet their silhouettes are the easiest to pick out.

Sunlight reflects off rain-slick feathers, illuminates the mass rising out of the forest and provides a dappled contrast against the shadow the flock casts across the pavement, transforming the field itself into parody of a Rorschach test with hooked claws and wings that encompass friend and foe alike. Behind the sandbag, Eileen's body is unmoving, her breathing shallow, lashes twitching with intermittently as her eyes engage in a series of swift, saccadic movements beneath their pale lids.

The first rule about using any Evolved ability is to know your limits, and although Eileen possesses no memory of went down at Moab Federal Penitentiary, she remembers well enough the blood that gathered in her nose during Vanguard's attack on the bunker a few weeks ago. Maintaining control over a flock this large and diverse requires all her concentration and energy — or at least as much as she can afford to expend while in the air herself. A Malagasy kestrel trailing pied crows scissors past Aviators' cheek and swings around the front of the jeep, narrowly avoiding the bullets that ricochet off its battered exterior.

Her voice crackles in his head rather than over the radio in his ear. Move. I'll cover you.

The scream of birds and the roar of flapping wings like the drum-beats of an approaching Byzantine army send Aviators stumbling back into the exposed under-carraige of the jeep. He watches in both fascination and horror at the way Eileen's ability functions, the way talon and wing of so many creatures are under her control. The screams of the soliders on the airfield are as manifold as the cries of the birds, their flesh rent into by sharp talons. Seeing the rain-diluted gasoline still lighting in irregular puffs of flame, each one growing closer and closer to the source of the fuel, Aviators finally ducks out from behind the Jeep, bravely — or perhaps foolishly — using Eileen's swarm of birds for cover as he moves.

Only to be promptly tossed like a ragdoll by the concussive blast of an explosion in one of the aircraft hangars.

Aviators cartwheels through the air like a boneless chicken, bouncing across the concrete on his shoulder before leaving a bloody trail a few feet from where he lands. The ball of fire and concussive blast comes from the destruction of a MiG parked in one of the hangars where Gabriel had thrown the missile. The sound of its rocket-engine engaging a moment before the explosion was the only clue to be had for the cause of the blast.

Shards of flaming metal rain down from the skies, and Aviators rolls onto his back, then immediately keeps rolling as a burning piece of the jet's fuselage and the structural supports of the hangar crash down where he lay on the pavement. The still taxied jet pivots in place, guns still peppering the stone barricade Dajan had made, even as the pilot confusedly tries to figure out how his missile just destroyed a hangar. Error lights flash on the console inside the cockpit as he tries to arm another missile, and the gunfire peppered across his cockpit is friendly fire from his own men, panicked and terrified from Huruma's psychic onslaught and the very real fear of being eaten alive by birds.

"M'ther…" Dajan murmurs in Huruma's arms, his bloodied fingertips slipping down the broken concrete of the barricade, pieces of stone beginning to fall away from it as he loses his focus. "M'ther…" he repeats, neck muscles working as he tries to swallow, his blood coating Huruma's fingers. Dajan's half-blinded stare focuses up towards Huruma, distant in the way he watches her, and his lips move to whisper words only she can hear as his fingers slip down from the concrete barricade, limply landing on the tarmac as the bullets fired by the jet begin to rip apart what remains of the rapidly crumbling wall.

Kneeling by Eileen, Tau throws his assault rifle to the side, picking her side-arm from her belt, opening fire on the soldiers that advance out of the rear-most APC, one shot dropping each soldier accompanied by a pop of red from the backs of their skulls. Stray rounds are striking Tau in his armored vest, then gun runs dry of ammunition, and the soldiers are still shooting from around cover.

Tau ducks down, hides behind the sandbag wall, lays Eileen out flat on the tarmac, only to hear the clink of a grenade land nearby. One quick kick with his right foot sends it bouncing away behind a small security building, followed by a detonation that sends the wooden shack into flinders, shrapnel from the blast striking Tau in the head, ripping open a cut across his scalp and toppling him to the ground.

Through the cover of smoke, Vanguard soldiers begin to advance on the sandbagged fortification, some firing up into the air at approaching birds, others jumping over the sandbag barrier. Tau grips his discarded rifle by the barrel, rising up with a swing of the butt, crashing into the forehead of one of the advancing men. The enormous man grabs at a knife on that falling soldier's vest, slashing out at another infantry soldier clearing the sandbags. He fails to notice Tau, obscured by the smoke from the explosion, and catches the knife across his throat. Blood sprays in a pulsing arterial spray as he twirls like a lawn sprinkler and lands thrashing on the ground beside Eileen. Tau's grip on the knife turns backhanded, and he crouches down to grab a pistol off of one of the downed men.

«There is ano'tha truck… anoth'a truck comin'…» Tau manages to exhale the warning, hearing the rumble of tires and the roar of an angine on approach.

The click-snap-whirr of yet another missile etting into gear, on top of the machine gun firing towards Bravo's defenses, has Gabriel's attention. Rather than repeat the same stunt, he scans the plain underbelly of the jet, a hand up to touch the curving metal and wishing he could properly see through the metal casing as opposed to the hazy intuition of its make and pieces. Oh, well. The plus side of Operation: Break Things being that it's hard to go wrong. Tearing the pin from the grenade, Gabriel promptly shoves his arm up to where he believes the fuel tank to be, hand and grenade both passing easily through thick metal, hand flicking to release the grenade into the interior of the jet.

Which is about when you run, and Gabriel is, feet pounding solid against the tarmac for as long as it takes for him to hiss through the radio his warning, «Watch the jet,» and he'll feel really silly if this doesn't work. He counts on it, however, shifting back into black ink and fairly leaping down the airfield.

Fortunately for him, it works.

There's the sound of contained detonation, the jet almost lifting up off the airfield a few inches, nose angling upwards, before its sides break open like ribs bursting, metal going black and glass cracking as a fireball breaks free of its confines. It mushrooms up, uncaring of the rain, thick choking black smog pouring out from its broken pieces, rattling ear drums. Twisted metal debris sails whistling through the air, one such jaged piece landing inches from where Gabriel's rolled back into solid form, and goes skipping like a stone on a lake away, still flaming.

On his back, he watches the flaming wreck of what used to be a jet, eyes squinting through the rain as he gets his gun back into his hand.

A hiss of air intakes as Dajan practically gives out what Huruma can hear as a whimper rather than words. Her jaw sets above him as she leans overhead, arms wound under him still; Huruma knows that the title of mother is one hard earned, and the biological part was always there- but until recently there was a huge hole missing from Dajan's probability in meaning it. The whisper that reaches her ear as she is bent protectively over him causes her head to tilt inward to look him in the eyes. The hand clutching freely at the cloth bundled haphazardly over his chest twitches sharply, palm slick with various shades of red when it moves up to Dajan's face.

The crumbling wall that is slowly collapsing inward as a shield makes some last inanimate effort to keep things off of the two. The pings and clacks on it are too much, in the end. Both bullets from panicked men and large guns skate past, and none of them seem to register that instant where there is a hellish wailing in the air- a scream, not unlike some monstrous banshee descending out of the mist of a distant Irish river. The smoke billowing out of several points around the shrinking wall gathers in a bulge around a force of movement inside of it; Huruma sinks into the first two Vanguard soldiers with an explosion of parting black wisps, slamming into the nearest machete-first, her pistol hand swinging around to crack into the skull of his fellow. A bullet keens after him, splitting the skin on his face and burrowing into his head.

Huruma lets out another feral screaming noise, her machete dislodging and coming down multiple times with a measure most spiteful- she draws the blade with long pulls, tearing and hacking rather than just cutting. Blood splashes over her arms and torso again, a fresh coat on the red that she had already acquired.

The human forms within her field, and thus in her vision, experience not only her residual and inherent anger, but the fear setting in as if they had all suddenly fallen through a sheet of Artic ice.

Blood spatters the side of Eileen's face and hair, none of it hers, and accumulates in the space between her lips, slightly parted. Her body is vulnerable on the tarmac, one arm stretched above her head, the other laid across her belly — that Tau is covering her provides the Briton with valuable reassurance. She'll return to it soon, but not yet.

Wind whistles through the kestrel's wings as it rises above the flames and wheels once around the airfield, taking stock of the situation on the ground as well as the one in the air. The soldiers below aren't the only ones affected by the falling debris. Mangled bird bodies drop from the sky, singed beyond recognition, and bounce against windshields, shattering what glass hasn't already been devastated by the explosions. As nimble and quick as her current shape is, it's becoming rapidly apparent to Eileen that she could be playing a more effective role on the battlefield if she traded out for something larger.

She jumps.

In times like these, accuracy is more important than speed. There are hundreds of bodies that she could take, and the moment her consciousness is wrenched from the kestrel's, she enters a freefall with all the gracelessness of a skydiver plunging headfirst from the back of a plane at several thousand feet. Fortunately, there's no such thing as terminal velocity when it comes to displaced psychic energy.

When she comes to land, it's in a fish eagle with a beak chipped by shrapnel, and no sooner does her consciousness take root than its talons close around one of the satchels containing the plastic explosives. It takes several powerful thrusts of the raptor's wings to launch it airborne again, but once it has its bearings it cuts through the choking smog, using the thermals created by the fire to assist its flight, and adjusts its course to meet the oncoming truck head-on.

That thing about accuracy being more important than speed is at the very front of Eileen's mind when the eagle's talons release at what her heart tells her is the correct moment, sending the package plummeting into the truck's back seat.


The driver is steering a look into the back of the truck around when Gabriel is lifting his head, rolling onto his hands and knees and steering a look towards the impressive shape of the eagle darting over the driving vehicle. If he saw the explosives tumble into the backseat, it's only indicative in that he acts — one hand stretches out, honing his attention in on the driver. The man's neck remains twisted around, Gabriel not bothering to take the trouble to right him again, as all he needs are his limbs. The vehicle swerves blindly, tires whining and tearing against the asphalt before he forces the man's foot down upon the accelerator.

It's heading straight into the mouth of the remaining hangar.

Once Gabriel knows the course is true, he releases his psychic hold over the man, who is forced and frozen in place as the truck is swallowed up in the shadow maw of the structure. Getting to his feet, Gabriel claps his hand over his comms device, moving for cover, back bent. «The detonator. Someone hit the detonator!»

Meanwhile, growing fear is almost mania inducing, Gabriel's fist tightening abruptly around his sidearm. The splintering of metal and plastic as the gun pops apart in his hand as him glaring down at it, before throwing the parts aside.

Coughing and spitting up blood as he crawls thorugh the burning wreckage of an entire jet hangar and a recently exploded MiG fighter, Aviators exhales a wet breath and spits a tooth out onto the concrete. The rattling pop and hiss of Gabriel's voice over his miraculously still functional SatCom headset makes Aviators focus his one bleary eye past the sight of a man having his arm chopped off at mid-forearm by what is clearly a berserker, through the shower of blood, and towards the hangar where the truck has crashed. Swallowing noisily, Aviators struggles to get up onto a knee, then regrets swallowing that mouthful of blood and spits it out all over the ground.

"Fucking…" he slurs his words, trying to blink away blood running out from a cut above his rbow into his one good eye, "hate the fucking…" his grimy fingers reach for a green-painted metal cylinder in his jacket, popping a flip-top off and revealing a very simple to understand red plastic button, "country." Like a period on the end of his sentence, Aviators presses the detonator and in a satisfying moment finds the last airplane hangar exploding in a shower of shrapnel and debris, sending black smoke and flames expanding in a mushroom cloud into the rainy skies. Aviators tilts his head back, letting rainwater wash down his face, one eye closing.

Then, as the detonator slips out of his hand, he simply falls onto his side limply, the side of his head bouncing lightly off of the pavement before he becomes perfectly still, surrounded by nothing but burning debris from jets and buildings.

The sound of the explosion and the pangs of psychic terror emanated from Huruma are enough to drive away the Vanguard soldiers from where Tau has been defending Eileen's tine and delicate prone form. Wiping one hand over his face, he throws off a sweat, rainwater and blood mix from his palm, shoulders rising and falling with each deep and fast breath.

What at first seems like victorious revelry at the destruction of the last hangar comes mixed with confusion and horror as he sees Huruma's bloodthirsty rampage, watching her cleaving that machete blade down into the clavicle of a Vanguard soldier, only to rip the blade out and hack down again in the front of his head at the thick bone of the soldier's brow. The rage seems incomprehensible, until he sees Dajan laying motionless on the ground.

«No!» Tau screams, about to leave where Eileen lays helpless, but then hesitates, hearing something on the wind, something carried behind the crackling of fire. It sounds like wings, more wings, like the birds that have come to aid, but these more distant caws and cries seem somehow sharper, and at the same time more distorted.

In that same moment, a handful of the soldiers that were retreating or incapacitated by their wounds begin moving in herky-jerky motion. The fleeing soldiers come to a staggering halt, hands clutching at their heads, and those limbless and dying on the ground don't quite cease their screaming, but find whole new focuses for their reasons to scream.

Huruma dismembers one of the soldiers, sending him staggering back without a hand to hold his gun, only to see something squirming and writhing in the skin beneath his eye. A choking, strangled sound escapes plumped lips, followed by a twitch of motion and a terrible groan of confused pain. Those soldiers woh were retreating in fear are still terrified, still horrified and screaming in that terror.

But now they are running back, on staggering legs, grasping for their weapons with fumbling hands.

The worms cannot feel fear.

Berserker is quite right- though Huruma knows that Dajan is literally hanging on by a thread- Tau doesn't, and that offers a whole new direction to what Huruma is still doing. By now the smacks of blade into manflesh is wet- smack, smack, whack, whack. After a few moments of pause when they begin retreating, Huruma does stop her own movements. There is a film of froth bubbling around her chin and lips, pinkish with splatter when she spits more down her face.

Her eyes are locked onto the soldiers that now fumble for weapons; the worms she is familiar with are the ones in final control- but- they can't fire guns if they have no hands. And so that is what Huruma begins to do, pouncing back into the fray by lopping off limbs at the wrists, slicing at the tendons running along forearms, butting firearms out of her way with teeth snapping. A couple frantic shots go off somewhere- though if they have hit her there is no obvious loss of motor control for her.

Eileen does not linger in the eagle's body any longer than is absolutely necessary. It's strong, but it's big too — and provides a broad target to fire on. With one more shift left in her, she lets go, tosses out her feelers and sinks hooks into the next-nearest bird of a more suitable size. In this instance, it's a magpie robin, small enough to sit in the seat of her palm and adorned with glossy black-and-white plumage that catches the light like an oil slick and reflects it back in iridescent shades of metallic blue and purple.

Tiny matchstick feet are bent against its belly as it flits between pieces of crumpled debris and carves the smoke with its wingtips. Eventually, it alights on Aviators' shoulder, barbed feet clutching at the man's clothing as Eileen attempts to assess his physical condition from the robin's vantage point.

You need to get up, she's trilling. You need to get up now. Something's coming.

It's the weirdest thing. Looks like an underexposed photograph at first, grain or conversion artefacts flecking in the sky, but they sharpen into harsh black points, matte silhouettes that then contuse, bristle cartlidgenous points, arrayed flight feathers, bead-black eyes. It's a sight that any man or woman who's fought beside Eileen long enough has become acquainted with, but the Englishwoman's a narrow-eyed huddle on the ground, the field was taken and the day was claimed, so there is no real explanation for the sudden rise of birds on the jungle's ragged horizon.

Dull-breasted Newtonias and sharp-winged swifts, mingling in egologically nonsensical flocks with stray kestrels and the stubby-winged bulk of darters and other wading birds. An army; of fewer birds and less variegated than the motley swarm that still circles under Eileen's command, but nevertheless, a decidedly large and proportionally unwelcome addition to a sky already choked with grease smoke, raining shrapnel, and the weather itself.

Oil-streaked composite click-clacks. AK-47s to shoulders, dirt-ridged pistols swung up haphazardly onto quivering trajectories on straining arms. War makes men alike, and despite that Rasoul's men adhere to uniformed regularity and disciplined conformity a little less than some military bodies around the world, terror, biological agony and ethnicity are enough to twist them into masks of age-lines, vessel-vined eyes, lips pulled back so wide into rictuses of inscrutable sentiment that the skin literally splits. The same element of weird external control forces their brown-skinned limbs into identically rudimentary shooting stances, discarding the evasive self-preservation out of their gait, all semblence of reflex, muscle memory, and fluidity out of limbs.

For a moment, they look every bit the orphaned and puppeteered sons of the nation that they are. Dajan, at least, had fallen with dignity. Random firing, a chaos of spoken commands and (somewhat more sincere) entreaty— automatic sprayfire and long clips replace accuracy. At Huruma, haloed in the splintering womb scooped out of the hangar's wall, the Mobius wrinkle of Gabriel's ever-changing figure, over even Aviators' fallen form and the tiny presence worrying at his cheek and the blackening soup of his thoughts, past Tau—

They make easy targets, the soldiers, but they take the easy ones, too. Sandbags rip, and sand pops out of the punctured skin, erupts powder in chunky brown relief into the mopstring of Eileen's hair, roughing a splatter against Tau's torso. Five rounds in succession, each one a miss, but the soldier swivels his rifle downward.

At the sound of automatic fire, Gabriel gets down, as much as flat tarmac seems almost designed to expose him to the bite of bullets. Once again, he allows phasing to ripple over his form, ignoring the spray of bullet that pass harmlessly through them as he puts out a hand towards where Huruma has made carnage out of once moving soldiers. Blood gushes from hacked limbs, heads, torsos, spills, snakes thickly through the rain towards his out stretched hand, fingers splayed and then palm curling around the solid hilt he creates from the blood as it clots densely together.

By the time he's on his feet and moving, the sharp-edged short sword of rust-black red weighs heavy in his hand, approaching the nearest possessed soldier who turns that arc of ammo towards Gabriel's approaching form. Another hand goes out, a gesture of fingers curling, and the creature's head snaps back when sudden blindness disables possessed eyes.

Allowing solidity to slam back into his body, Gabriel moves, darting left, and as the soldier follows the sound of foot steps, he brings the sharp edged creation of blood down onto his arm to cleave muscle, slice against bone. In the next motion, he's reaching for the rifle, his own matrix of incorporealness assimmilating the weapon and easily tugged from a groping hand that holds thin air for all it matters. He turns, squeezes the trigger, and lets bullets bite into soldiers that can still see as the sword of clotted blood falls neglected, shattering.

"Fucking bird." It's the first sound of life that Aviators can grumble out, his hair matted down to his face from a shiny mix of rain and blood, bandage over his missing eye half flapping off from the lack of adhesion on his surgical tape, revealing part of the empty socket to the air. His one good eye is red around one side from burst capalaries, brows both furrowed in frustration at the shrill chirping coming from the bird perched on him.

Pushing one bloody and scraped hand down on the tarmac, Aviators pushes himself up to one knee, a gasping breath slipping from him as he tries to struggle up and to a standing position, just in time to feel bullets whizzing past him and see what in God's name Gabriel is doing.

Exhaling a shuddering breath, Aviators staggers to the side, slouching up against a large and mostly stable piece of broken jet, his clothign heavy with water, body cold. His hand moves to his side, where he'd been struck by a bullet, still unable to feel how bad it is. He hasn't bled out entirely yet, so it can't be too life-threatening.

What he does next, seems right in line for his detatched he's become from this carnage, as Aviators drops down to one knee, and begins searching an umoving corpse for a loaded firearm.

Across the tarmac, now under fire from the bolstered force of the worm-puppeteered soldiers, Tau is forced hold his ground and guard Eileen. With knife in one hand and handgun in the other, he takes advantage of their lack of reaction time and uniform movements, wading in to their ranks to draw crossfire from one puppeteered and horrified soldier to the next. The combat knife cleaves thick slices out of flesh, sprays arterial red across the rain-slicked concrete. Tau's bravado, however well it serves to distract the gunmen from Eileen, invariably draws that gunfire to himself. A gunshot against his vest sends him stumbling back into the pawing and scrambling hands of soldiers surrounding his position. Another shot to his leg drops him to one knee, but he's quick to raise his pistol up to shoot under the jaw of the next advancing worm-infested soldier.

Tau stabs at the leg of another moving in, wrenching the blade out and firing a shot into their midsection. Another gunshot strikes him in the shoulder, sending him to the ground on his back, where he opens fire with his sidearm, knife dropped in reflexive pain. Three shots, one soldier goes down, he can barely focus on the men any longer.

Two rapid clicks indicate that he's out of ammo again.

Between the machete hewing half-blind through Things That Should Not Be, and the raucous noise of the sky, it is no wonder that Huruma catches only the tail end of what Gabriel is doing not too far away. Her head cocks in his direction to follow the swishing of Gabriel's shadow, catching the sight in the direction of Eileen and Tau. If there is any way that Huruma is going to have any grandbabies to terrorize, Dajan can't die here- it so happens that Tau is the token key to that- and right now he is being set upon by the worm horde. Her hacking and snarling of Vanguard is diverted- and she tilts, sways, launches forward at the backs of the soldiers heading for the downed Tau, the pistol in her hand popping off shots one at a time.

Huruma has no skills to made blades of blood blossom in midair, but what she does have is her natural ability as a force of nature; not to mention that her son is lying mostly dead on the ground about a hundred feet back. As soon as she is able, the close combat is reassumed, but at this point the blood on her is mixed with cuts of her own, and burning furrows where bullets scraped past her while she was weedwhacking.

The robin pops up as high as its legs will allow, gaze angled toward the sky and the rain that glances off its face, back and the long, tapered feathers of its tail. A deft hop carries it the short distance between Aviators' shoulder and the crown of his dark-haired head. One foot curls toes around his ear for support, the other braces against his temple. Eileen can feel the new arrivals with the same intimacy that connects her consciousness to this flock, but when she pushes against them, snakes her influence around feathered throats like a wire snare and gives it a sharp twist in an attempt to divert their course—


The heat that radiates off the sweltering tarmac ruffles through the robin's feathers, ripples smoke and distorts the air around them while the firelight from the flames themselves casts one side of its diminutive shape in a golden glow. Palpitations in its pea-sized heart rival the pattering rain in tempo and intensity. This is utterly unlike anything Eileen has experienced before.

Order the others to fall back, she tells Aviators, her voice reverberating in the space between his ears. They can't fight this. Neither can I.

The sound of wings snapping into flight so close to the man's head is like another, much smaller explosion, and as the robin disappears into the undulating smoke the other birds under Eileen's command follow. Until now, this had been a battle waged on the ground — the sudden appearance of the second flock, however, ensures that combat take to the sky as well.

A turtle-dove collides with a swift and knocks it out of the air by the virtue of its greater weight alone, though both go spiraling through the smog to their deaths, the swift with a broken neck and the turtle-dove with a broken wing. From the tarmac, it's impossible to differentiate between Eileen's birds and those belonging to the enemy — streamlined shapes flit across the sun in quick succession, chasing one another through the rain, heedless of the gloom that's descended upon the airfield.

The robin banks a sharp left to avoid a blow from a plover's beak and rises higher with a few thrusts of its glittering wings. Up, up, up — Eileen is more at home in the sky than she is in her body, her every movement carefully calculated with expert precision. Feet with toes like fish hooks sink into the eye of that same plover and break away dangling gore. While this perhaps wasn't the best shape she could have chosen to engage the enemy, she will — as always — make do with what she has.

Zombie birds, like zombie men, somewhat lack for fine control; at least initially, aerial collisions like the one that had taken place between unfortunate kestrel and turtledove seem to be the incoming swarm's main discipline of combat. From afar, the crash of birds looks like the meteorological consequence of an Olympian brawl. No thunder. Not yet, at any rate. Instead, in effects that Mediterranean mythology never accounted for, the rain begins to turn red.

White, too. Feathers, snapping bones. It isn't until the herky-jerky motions of muscle control are exchanged for a revv of hormone chemistry that Eileen's birds face retaliation in kind to their own: long toes seizing wing-bones, small eyes rimming white, beaks bearing down to jam their spear-shaped points into the vertebrates. Bird brains are, unfortunately, rather small places, especially ones that haven't been expanded by a telepath's influence.

It takes these birds a few seconds to turn their sights on Team Bravo, but the instant it does, the neurological machinery of flocking instincts turns the path of one into the path of hundreds. Swifts and passerines move quickest in the crowded air and fraught winds: dive at Aviators' kneeling search, Tau's exposed face and flesh, Huruma taking—

—her arm out of a man's torso. The blood pressure drops out from under the soldier's consciousness, and he falls in a slithering slap of wet weight on concrete. At such close range, her pistol literally explodes the first buzzard that comes in with claws outstretched for her arm, leaving two wings toppling all but disconnected to the dirt. A second snares her elbow with talons before its head is summarily abbreviated, fountaining arterial spray as it pinwheels, still-flapping, to collide with a new corpse sloughing off the scab-colored blade in Gabriel's grip.

Freshly dug out of its dying target, there's an eye dripping out of the robin's clenched toes, a grisly trophy of diminutive proportions. Victory lasts an instant before a passing snare of talons as big as any one of the passerine's ribs closes on its left leg and rips it neatly out of its feather-rimmed socket.

The sandbags deliver one final burp of grit onto Eileen's back, and that's it: not another shot fired. Not for her.

Upon hitting asphalt, the blood sword splits, jagged like a rough cut garnet, veined with black. Gabriel's boots crunch through the remains as he runs, now, the autorifle kicking in his hands as he lets bullets lance through the belly of an approaching wormed soldier. Gouges, spills guts, trail of autofire going wild and stealing away its lower jaw in a sudden blast of ruby and wiggling worms. By the time it's clicking on empty, it's only good for getting tossed aside, knife extracted from his boot and gleaming silver as much as a brisk scan determines—

There isn't much more to kill, aside from the swooping tornado of birds descending on them. «Bravo.» His voice crackles over the radio as much as he isn't sure how many people are hearing him. Pivots on a heel, brings up a hand where avian life seems to swarm thick, and the shotgun sound of the concussive blasts ripplies wide up through the air, turning some birds into mere explosions of feathers and gore.

«Retreat,» he states, running again, moving for Eileen's position at a lope that has a tilting limp to it. «Grab the wounded and go

Aha! Immadiately upon finding a gun amidst the corpses, Aviators seems proud of his discovery, only to be beset upon by the slashing talons and snapping beaks of the bird swarm. Recoiling from them, Aviators winds up on his back, unloading an entire unspent magazine into the air from his handgun, shooting at anything with wings in his vicinity. By the time the gun is clicking empty he's cursing the country again and throwing the gun up at the birds in a fit of frustration.

A few slipping footfalls next, and Aviators is up and one his feet, albeit shakily. ne hand continually wipes down across his mouth, eyes wide and brows furrowed as he tries to make heads or tails of the smoking piles of rubble and demolished buildings all around him. The call for retreat, that rattles in his head almost as sharply as Eileen's voice, finally realizing he'd heard that with a quirk of one brow over his demolished eye, the bandage covering it held on only by two strips of tape that doesn't even cover the hole any longer. «You heard him!» Aviators agrees into his headpiece, backpedaling with a swat of one hand towards a black-feathered wing in his periphery.

When blood that is not his own is raining down on Tau, both from the birds battling above and Huruma chopping away at his attackers, the enormous healer struggles to get onto his feet, blinding pain shoots up one leg where he'd been shot, teeth clenched against the searing and white-hot suffering. "Get th' girl!" Tau bellows in roaring quality to Huruma, and he's turning his heels from where Eileen is and moving across the rubble-strewn tarmac, past a piece of burning hangar debris, limping up and over a piece of a jet engine with still spinning fans inside, and then to where Dajan lays on the ground.

A single hand is laid on his chest, giving Tau enough pause to allow one of the birds to careen down in towards him with snapping beaks and raking talons. He takes a claw to the temple, blood flowing freely from the wound, and Tau simply wraps his arms around Dajan and hoists him up onto his back. This time when Tau rises to stand tall, it is with a cry of pain louder than any other he's let loose, that bullet-damaged leg straining under Dajan's bloodied weight.

"You— " Tau hisses thorugh his teeth, "are no'— " one foot in front of the other, get momentum up, don't pay attention to how much it hurts, "tha' heavy." He plows thorugh the debris, stepping around a still burning pool of jet fuel as he hoists Dajan up over his body, backlit by the rippling flames and blurred from falling rain.

But Tau does not have too far to go, only to one of the abandoned jeeps parked on the side of the tarmac, with shattered windows and two flat tires. It won't take them far, but as he lobs Dajan into the back seat with a hurl of his shoulders and a groan of pain, he knows it will get them all far enough.

There is little more to do for a few moments than to bat angrily at various avians assaulting from above with pricking beaks and sharp claws. They sting as badly as anything else, though the birds are just as easy to smash around with long arms. Huruma has spent her gun, drops it, and in favor of it manages to whack birds out of the air in front of her with hands like cat's paws. Smack, smack. Words of retreat hiss around in her ear, the piece there threatening to slip out as she squirms to hear it.

Tau goes for Dajan, after bellowing that order- leaving Huruma to ramble onward to snatch up Eileen's small form into her arms, most of her still littered in sandbag pulp. Everyone seems to be half orange and half gray by now, the light caused by destruction at least giving everything that final apocalyptic glow to go by.

Eileen is falling — or rather, the robin is falling. The woman whose consciousness resides inside it is still sprawled on the tarmac behind the punctured sandbags, fine granules of grit caked to the side of her face covered in blood. There's more of it trickling from her nostrils and from the corner of her mouth where the fluid has leaked down from her nasal passages and mingled with her saliva. The tips of her fingers twitch with erratic movement as the other muscles in her body are seized by a series of spasmodic contractions that cause her back to arch as the robin tumbles head over foot through the air.

Although there might not be such a thing as terminal velocity for displaced psychic entities, the same cannot be said of physical ones. The robin's body cracks against the charred remains of the jet and is consumed by a tongue of flame that lashes out from inside its twisted frame. It feels no pain upon the moment of impact — all that is taken on by Eileen, her death scream rising above the roar of the fire and the cacophony of birds battling for supremacy overhead. If she's ever made a sound like that before, then it hasn't been in Gabriel's presence. What happened in the bowels of Pinehearst was punctuated by the static hiss, crackle and pop of electricity coursing through a human body — there hadn't been any noise then, only other people shouting.

It's over as abruptly as it began. Out of breath and in shock, she grasps handfuls of sand between her fingers, kicks booted feet and writhes on the tarmac until Huruma scoops her up into her arms — at which point she expels the contents of her stomach all over the other woman's front.

A ripple passes through the flock that had been under the telepath's control, now relinquished — all it takes is a few seconds for the birds to come to their senses and peter off in every direction, desperate to escape the roaring inferno that the airfield has become. Some that are injured will survive and bear scars. Most, like the bulbul skipping across the runaway while dragging a busted wing, won't survive the night. Eileen isn't looking much better, her complexion pale and wan, eyes wide open but blind, unseeing. She isn't even conscious.

The last of the worm-riddled men are twitching arrhythmically to unfinished commands on the ground, spitting up a matted mixture of blood, maggots, grasping hands over open wounds, a considerable number of severed limb stumps, and weapons. They're as good as dead. Likely, they know it to.

Overhead, there's still an avian hive of activity. Birds are dying interchangeable deaths, in combat, in fire, by smoke inhalation. As Eileen's telepathic grasp on her flock finally slips loose along with her punished lucidity, their role in defending Bravo's attack— now a retreat— diminishes considerably, leaving them to call in confusion, jostle each other as they fight just to get out of the way of their maniacally aggressive counterparts. Flames send an orange glow up skyward, highlighting throbbing bellies, closed claws, illuminating the peculiar new funnel shape that the flock is taking.

Dwindled by combat, but still far too numerous. The enemy's contingent of feathered units is peeling back. Retract a few yards above the earth, circling high in the air and gradually gathering close, corkscrewing into a mobile column dozens of stories into the churning sky. Circling, gathering momentum.

Bravo's reprieve is immediate and no doubt: brief. A column is a little like a battering ram.

The movement of birds is watched by Gabriel once he steers a look back to the wrecked airfield, before shooting his attention back over his shoulder. Eileen's limp form being gathered up into Huruma's strong arms is understood as much as he doesn't have time to react on a deeper level other than acknowledgment that she's being taken care of. And that the birds pinwheeling above them in that tight tornado of avian bodies is probably not her doing. And he waits— in that waiting consists of hastily backpedaling as he goes in the general direction of a tactical retreat, but keeps his eyes on the Hitchcockian threat with one hand raised aloft.

There's a second of stilled air and wings, a reprieve from the noise of flapping wings, before the birds, in tandem, make their descent, wings angling in their suicidal swooping, rushing air and the harsh sound of feathers cutting through wind.

Normally, the sound of a gunshot would be enough to scatter them. It's what comes after that does instead, a cone of outward energy ripping through air, creating shockwaves expanding out from a splayed palm, and those birds it doesn't crush on its punch through, reducing them to mere clouds of feathers and gnat-swarms of blood drops, the others go tumbling aside, bones breaking from the concussion of energy, useless to the things that host them. That done, Gabriel turns, and he flees.

There's a poem about this, scrawled on a wall somewhere, the presumed last words of a young woman walking off to her death.

The death of birds, it was titled. Here, though, Eileen can't quite see the more gruesome reality of that poem playing out in her mind, not when she is busy emptying the contents of her stomach on to rain and gore-slicked pavement. Feathers, bone, blood and hard little pieces of flesh all rain down from the sky in their retreat, even as the distant peal of thunder finally joins the rain.

Somehow the Jeep that Tau acquired is running, the engine rattling and smoke issuing out from under the hood. It won't get them far, but it will get them far enough. With boots slammingon the pavement, blood draining through cushions in seats, fire crackling where jet fuel and gasoline becomes an accelerant to fire already long burning, the battle for Madagascar finally reaches its closing act.

Smoke winds up in crooked fingers towards the skies, and ashes rain down from their highest points. When Eileen is laid down in the back of the Jeep, the thick flakes of ash cling into her hair, smudge on pale skin and stuck wetly to her forehead. It won't be the last time this happens before the end.

"SatCom Command…" Aviators groans words out into his battered SatCom in the passenger seat as the Jeep begins rolling. Gabriel can walk— swim— ink, and Huruma it hitching on to the back like a koala to a tree, crawling up the rollbars and to where her son lays with his shirt open and blood seeping out of gunshot wounds. Tau's driving, but he'll tend to that the moment they can stop.

«This is SatCom Command, what is your status Bravo-2?»

Aviators closes his one good eye, and he lies through his teeth. "We're fine and dandy Command, eastern SAM sites and air-field are disabled, you're green to hammerdown." He wants to see this country burn to the ground, in a way it will be cathartic, and Aviators can warm his fingers knowing this filthy jungle will be razed flat in a matter of hours.

Perhaps not the ending everyone wants, but they can't take any chances. The Vanguard is an infection, and the infection needs to be burned out.

«Affirmative Bravo-2, hammer-down will commence in 16 hours.»

Sixteen hours. Then it'll all be over.

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