Humanis Falls: Operation Bullwhip


devon_icon.gif francois_icon.gif robyn_icon.gif rue_icon.gif

Scene Title Humanis Falls: Operation Bullwhip
Synopsis A Wolfhound strike team draws the remaining forces of Humanis First! into a fierce battle that takes a turn. Or several.
Date July 22, 2018

It's the war, all over again.

Missiles cut a path, slamming into storm-churned desert ground, felling the strange towers and underground mechanisms theorised to call forth lightning in a reliably constant rhythm of light and sound. In the darkness, Operation Ziptie descend from the clouds like silent sword-wielding angels, while Operation Lariat break off from the main assault to pursue what some people are calling 'ambulatory comms tower' and what others who are less cowardly are referring to as gigantic robot giraffe.

Operation Bullwhip, however, is driven into the heart of the chaos as if on the tip of a spear, escorted by a convoy of humvees and strike vehicles screaming over mud and rock. The occasional pop-pop-pop of automatic gunfire from a mounted weapon seems to herald their arrival, the US military given directive to see them through to the other side of enemy lines.

As rain comes down in fitful stops and starts, Francois is looking out one direction, and swears under his breath as he makes out the sight of something moving in the darkness. Four-legged, ten-foot tall, the loping stride of a Sentinel robot is a surreal and distinct image as it comes in at an angle towards the convoy, a queer fog-horn like wail rising from its charge.

Just visible by its own eerie blue light, trailing steam.

SW Residential Blocks, Fort Irwin

Mojave Desert


Not a moment later, where once was a robot, blooms instead an explosion as a vehicle further back fires off a rocket. Its smoldering remains quickly disappear from view as the convoy rushes on, hurtling over rough, wet terrain, and into the heart of the compound.

Desert ground turns to road. Dark buildings glide by. The humvee whines to a halt. Breakneck entry is met only with a sudden stillness once Bullwhip finds themselves located within the compound, strangely quiet in the way hearts of the storms always are, in cliches.

Equally surreal are the surroundings themselves. There is an ordinariness to it that reminds one of small town America, with proper named streets lined with storefronts and residential buildings, although in this corner, as they step out of vehicles and onto damp concrete, the emptiness and neglect is just as striking. Broken windows that have been allowed to remain as such, years of rain and dust blown through. Weeds push up through cracked concrete and spread in long, dehydrated tendrils, having lived and died and withered.

Their intelligence says that the residential blocks further south and west are populated with the civilian masses, and there lies something of a deadzone between there and the inner workings of the compound. Up ahead, an intersection leads into one of the main road arteries that curls up towards the Weed Army Community Hospital. Here, they have time to prepare, but only just.

What do you see, Bullwhip-2?»"

Having quickly located a vantage point and scaled a rickety, rusted ladder, Rue Lancaster has her sniper rifle, her night vision, and for the time being, a friend in Robyn Quinn to guard her back before its time to get into position. Francois' voice comes in over the comms, his unassuming quiet energy dialed right down after the wild sprint to penetrate Fort Irwin before the enemy could amass a defense.

What Rue sees, they can hear: a coming growl of vehicles that could be mistaken for friendly units.

The lack of sound when everything has seemed to grow calm is nearly deafening at first. The creak and slam of vehicle doors as they disembark to take up position helps Rue to get her bearings again.

There’s something satisfying about assembling her rifle for real use again, even if she’s never enjoyed taking a life. Looking down the scope feels like the best of both worlds between a good pair of binoculars and a combat rifle. Swiveling on the stand, she takes a deep breath and finds the source of the encroaching sound.

“«Bullwhip-1, I’ve got five inbound vehicles approaching from the east.»” There’s a moment of quiet as Rue ascertains whether she’s looking at friend or foe. She confirms the suspicion when the radio crackles to life again. “«They’re not ours. Scanning for further hostiles.»” The last thing they need is to miss one of those damned ‘bots, or even just boots on the ground. Missing the little things can get people killed.

Situated near by to Rue is Robyn, a bit away from the edge where Rue sits in wait with her sniper rifle. When she speaks up, Robyn glances towards where Rue is perched with an amused smirk on her face. She doesn't comment, though - no reason to muddy up the coms quite yet, and as it is, they seem to be clear here for the moment.

Instead, she takes a moment to investigate the satchel next to her, make sure everything inside is still - well, they would know if something was wrong, but keeping a count of everything in her head seems like a prudent idea for the moment.

Otherwise, she keeps her eyes ahead, opting for the strongest of her contacts for today so as to not risk being blinded by explosions or grenades - or abilities, if such bad luck befalls them. One hand tightens on the grip of her Calico M950, resisting the urge to triple check the drum magazine that feeds it. She's more lightly armed than some of the others, opting only for armour and a pair of 9mm handguns…

But that's what the satchel is for, really.

Somewhere, well up ahead of the Wolfhound convoy, is where Devon has been since Bullwhip first penetrated into the city. Amongst the buildings, with a couple hand-picked soldiers from their support, he’s been coordinating a harrying, heel-nipping assault to draw the enemy into the waiting trap. Not all of those explosions have been particularly magnificent or damaging. Often it’s the whistle and flashing crack of a firework and occasionally short-lived exchange of gunfire broken by periods of silence. It’s a tactic he’d employed many times throughout the war, to varying degrees of success, and one he enjoys using.

“«We’re closing in on your location,»” Devon calls into the comms. It sounds like he’s been running — and it’s a safe assumption since there’s enemy vehicles closing in — but he sounds, too, like he’s having a great time playing hide and go seek. He and his soldiers may just be brief marks on the radar, barely caught on Rue’s scope unless she looks for them. They’re on foot, still, but jogging mostly together down side streets — every few meters, one of them will stop long enough to fire a couple of rounds at the enemy to antagonize, but not fully engage — trying to stay ahead of the approaching vehicles.

The enemy shapes behind the headlights are immediately recognisable to Rue as those that chased Keelut off Fort Irwin territory mere weeks ago, built on the bones of military strike vehicles but otherwise adapted for the strange storm-battered terrain of the desert around them, bristling with weaponry. They hurtle through rain-slick streets with reckless abandon, militia clinging to the bars of the rollover cages. The last on the line is equipped with some dark shape that Rue can immediately identify as an anti-tank missile.

Sporadic return in fits of automatic fire sink bullets into brickwork where Devon's shadow last was. The men, just visible behind white headlights and their own muzzle fire, are a ragtag group with only scraps of military uniform and armor between them, more like desert scavengers with too-big guns than the soldiers many of them used to be.

On the ground, blocks away, Devon can only trust that he's running in the right direction, the sound of boots scraping concrete as he and the rest of the unit move at steady, expert jogs through the streets, staying concealed. Daylit, bird's eye view maps of Fort Irwin don't translate readily to the eye as its night time counterpart on the ground, but he's had time to study. Straight ahead, left, straight again, memorised like a waltz.

Because the rest of Bullwhip gives nothing away, silent and waiting amongst dark, empty buildings.

Received, Bullwhip-3,»" Francois says. "«Bullwhip, on my signal. 2, target the drivers. 4, thin the herd on the ground.»"

For once heart stopping moment, Devon and the soldiers race across open road to duck back into cover just as white headlights show them as hard black silhouettes and long shadows.

The French have a term for this. It's called, ruse de guerre. And in war, the ruse only works if it's at least partway real. As shadows chase Devon and his men closer to their waiting location, that flood of white headlights screaming around the intersection, hurtling up the main artery at almost the same time. It's a game of seconds, because a few seconds too soon and Rue will frighten them off the necessary path. A few seconds too late, and the ruse is no longer, and all that's left is guerre.

It's a fine line.

The signal comes on a delay, Francois positioned in the dark crevice between buildings as he raises a grenade gun, allows one vehicle to go hurtling by as he takes aim, and incendiary fire blossoms up from beneath the second vehicle in a sudden brilliant flare of golden light chasing away the shadows. The vehicle swerves right and all but disappears into overgrown parkland, felling brittle trees and grinding to a flaming halt, the dark shapes of thrown bodies landing. The first vehicle swerves, falters, doesn't stop. The third, fourth, fifth all veer wildly in its wake, brakes squealing.

“«Copy, Bullwhip-1.»” Now it comes down to waiting. The minute movements that allow her to follow her target. Counting the seconds to the moment of action. The signal goes and Rue sucks in a deep breath and holds it.

Her finger squeezes the trigger and the report is muffled by the ear protection, but it echoes off the buildings in such a way that it disguises her position. She doesn’t wait to see the result before pulling the bolt action to release the casing and drop the new round in place. She lines up her next shot and fires again, this time drawing a smirk as the windshield splinters in spiderwebs, shaking in her scope from the recoil.

“Hit ‘em hard, Quinnie!”

Rue doesn't have to tell Robyn twice. From the first sound of Rue's sniper rifle, the SESA agent is up from where she had been sitting, sprinting to a better position as she can manage the marginally controlled chaos that is sure to follow.

«Copy, Bullwhip-1,» she parrots after Rue. Hit 'em hard reaches her ears and she grins a positively cheshire smile as she flips open the flap on her satchel. She watches the vehicle veer and slow, picking that moment to peer around the corner and out of the alley so that she can open fire with her Calico. She'd gotten weird looks for bringing such an unusual firearm with her, particularly considering her lack of anything with automatic fire. To her, the almost non existent recoil and 50 round top loaded drum magazine make up for it, allowing her to just never stop shooting.

But, well, hit them hard requires more than plinking a seemingly nonstop stream of bullets at them. Grin widening, she reaches into the satchel and draws out a grenade. A glance down at it allows her to note the bright white piece of tape across it, her short hand so that there's no questions what kind of explosive her colourblind eyes are looking at.

The pin is flicked out, and she sends it skittering across the pavement with a flick of her wrist. She doesn't wait to see the results before pulling out another marked with a black piece of tape and repeating the process, this time sending it flying through the air.

A cackle to herself rings out as she pulls back to the wall, checks her gun, and then resumes firing.

There’s no time to consider those bullets that almost had his name on them. Devon doesn’t think about the what could have happened if those flecks of brick and mortar that hit his armor were lead instead. Nor does he think twice when he and his small unit crosses those headlights, lit up like a deer in the road. But unlike a deer, he doesn’t stop. It’s just all part of the job that he’ll process later, in the privacy of his dorm room back in Rochester.

As an explosion roars behind, he signals his group to peel off and take cover. They’ll have to spread out for now, but it’s a coordinated plan. The group won’t retreat behind friendly lines. Devon and his group remain in the thick of things, out of direct lines but positioned to slow and maybe stop any retreat.

Clinging to the shadows, headlights at this point would give away this part of the plan, Dev finds himself a half wall against a building on the corner of two cross streets to crouch behind. His soldiers will have hopefully found cover similar in nature. His rifle, for the moment, is propped in the corner while he pulls free some prepared C4 and remote detonator, the same as used in High Road. “«Bullwhip-3 in position. Ready with explosives.»”

Down the length of Rue's scope, she sees the dark figure of one car jerk twist with the momentum of sniper rifle, almost thrown out of his seat and slumped still as glass scatters. The vehicle before screams short of collision and the driver takes cover a split moment before his windshield explodes with a riot of edges and glitter. Shouts echo up from the stalled convoy and shadowed figures behind the glare of headlights throw themselves out of the vehicles, using them for cover.

Someone astute angles his rifle for Rue's perch, and bullets shear chunks off brick as it forces her to duck back.


A thrown grenade lands, a waft of thick billowing smoke doing something to obscure where Devon and the soldiers sink into position. Robyn throws the second grenade, and it bounces off concrete between the second and third car. The militia scatter like cockroaches — too late, for some, as the grenade detonates. A shockwave of sound, and Rue's cover is no longer being suppressed as the man shooting at her is thrown off his feet.

Close to his position, Devon sees a man land hard on his front, arms and legs like a ragdoll, back gory with blood, red exposed meat visible through torn fatigues, rifle half-crushed beneath him.

The street is gunfire and chaos and yelling, militia taking fire from Bullwhip's multitude of positions. Bodies rattle, fall; others scamper into more fortified positions. There's a renewed growl of an engine as the front-most vehicle turns a wide arc, hangs back, and lights up with a volley of three rifles aimed at anything that looks like an enemy to them. The back-most vehicle reverses while a figure stands, grabbing onto the mounted anti-tank missile.

Incoming,»" is Francois, over the comms. "«More cavalry sighted southward, a minute out. Bullwhip-3, take out that last vehicle. Bullwhip, prepare to take cover and fallback..»"

The second point is north-west, dogging them back away from civilians, away from Operation Ziptie. They will know where to go, a pre-prepared map of progression, baiting from point to point.

Flecks of shattered brick bounce harmlessly off of the sniper’s armor plates. While that was a close moment, she’s had closer. There’s no sigh of relief when the bullets stop trying to find her position. She simply returns to work. Taking aim, she fires off two more shots aimed to thin the herd, taking grim satisfaction at her own accuracy.

With the order given to move to their next position, Rue packs up her gear with all the swiftness dedicated practice provides. The stand collapsed and stashed in a pouch strapped to her belt and the rifle hangs from her back for ease of access later. She doesn’t yet reach for the sidearm in its holster at her hip. Instead, she trusts Robyn to keep her covered while she makes her descent from her perch to make her way to the next point.

Rue makes a point in the back of her mind to have a conversation with Robyn about how much fun she seems to be having. Later.

Despite that momentary glee Rue observed, there's no hesitation from Robyn as she fires off two last shots before slinking back into the alley. While keeping track of the bullets in her gun is tough due to the oversized magazine, keeping track of what's in her satchel is much more important. She's smarter than to just a bunch of explosives in a bag, with a handful of her black-and-white taped grenades carefully secured in pouch pockets within.

A quick look inside to double check her remaining takes her eyes off Rue and the surrounding area for only a moment, but otherwise she remains focused. Pistol held at the ready, she waits for the sniper to make her way down from perch, and then immediately starts off to their next position - and their next diversion.

"Enjoying this" is a good way to describe how she feels right now, so much as anyone can enjoy what feels back like a throwback to a war that should be over. At the very least, the thrill of it seems to be a welcome change of pace for the SESA agent.

It’s chaos in the ground. At least from anyone looking in from a point of view different than Devon’s. He’s been here before, with explosions and gunfire all around. There’s a strange comfort in the familiar, even if what’s familiar is also the thing of nightmares.

Out of instinct, he covers his helmet-covered head when the second grenade rattles nearby, and he weathers the first explosion behind the half wall he’s crouched beside. Then, as the corpse lands wetly against the street, Dev is snagging his rifle and raising out of his crouch. The small bundle of explosive is Velcro’d to his vest while he steps out from behind the wall. Swift steps take him into the thick of the chaos, and he uses the confusion to his advantage. He isn’t dressed like these men, clearly he’s not one of them, but in the heat of battle it’s too much to think about which is a benefit to him.

While his teammates fire from the fore, Devon works near the back to pick out stragglers and those trying to retreat. He moves almost ghost-like, weaving between vehicles and using the elements of the battlefield to remain obscured until it’s too late for the other guy. His rifle responds in three reports, the triple-tap used to make sure each encounter is stopped quickly before moving onto the next.

As the order comes clear over the comms, Dev adjusts his angle to engage the vehicle. His pace quickens into the practiced, ground covering march of a soldier. His rifle still leads and as he draws closer, three rounds go off in quick succession sent cutting through the air at the man controlling the missile launcher, then another three at the driver.

The man at the missile disappears from view as three efficient bullets plug through camo and leather, Devon hearing the thump of his body hitting the ground on the other side of the vehicle. The driver slumps sideways as rounds pierce torso, flatten against armour, tunnels through meaty neck. Unmoving on its wheels, the engine idles hot beneath the hood, bright white headlights piercing the drift of smoke and hazy rain still coming down, wobbling a little as Devon gets up onto the car.

Handling the driver aside so as to properly clear the car, Devon doesn't get far before he hears the sound of movement from the other side. Rising from not enough blood on the pavement for the three shots delivered to his chest, the Humanis First militia man is staggering to his feet, a drag to one leg, one hand clutching at his chest.

Reaching for a pistol under his jacket, to draw, and to turn on Devon.

In that same moment, the sound of footsteps connecting against the pavement. Through the haze of rain and smoke, out the corner of Devon's eye, he spies a man at a dead sprint, coming for him — blood staining through the front of grey camo where three efficient shots to the chest had felled one of any number of men Devon had crossed paths with in the last fifteen seconds. Rifle lost, the man holds a big hunting knife in one hand instead, wild eyed in the run off of white headlight, and leaping recklessly for the Wolfhound agent, knife raised.


Robyn and Rue move together, the shadows of other soldiers moving in tandem with them. Bodies litter the ground, left and right, from gun fire and frag explosions both. Riding high and giddy, it's almost a cold shock of water to Robyn's system when the ratatat of gun report clatters at her senses at the same time as she sees Rue suddenly pitch forwards as automatic rifle dings her twice across the back. The AEGIS armor absorbs the brunt of it, and looking back, they see one of the Humanis First militia men risen up onto his knees and holding his rifle, his body riddled with bullets, and clutching his rifle in an injured, clumsy way as he brings it around to point at Robyn.

Suddenly, an engine growls. A flood of headlights. The front most vehicle revs, and Rue can see, just, through the shattered windshield, the shape of the driver. Not a new driver, some other Humanis First soldier having taken the wheel — no, the knowledge sinks in that the man now slamming his foot down on the gas is the one she'd shot straight through the heart barely a minute ago. And now, he's tearing the vehicle around to ram directly into herself and Robyn.

Come in, Bullwhip-3»," comes Francois' voice over comms. He'd been anticipating a fireball, and with none incoming— "«What's your status?»"

Gunfire at her back has Rue stumbling forward a few precarious steps before she turns around to find the source. Her eyes go wide and her hand goes for the handcannon at her side. She’s just unlatched it from its holster when she looks up to see the vehicle and its driver coming toward the pair of them.

“Robyn, look out!” Grabbing the other woman by the arm, she drags her and shoves her out of the path while she raises her other arm and fires at the driver again and again, trying to bring a stop to it. “«Bullwhip-1, targets are not down. Repeat, targets are not down!»”

Rue's drag and shove prevents Robyn from making some sort of sarcastic, inappropriate callback to Francois, something along the lines of our status is we're fucked. Robyn's boots skid on the cracked pavement.She doesn't take the time - not at the moment - to be surprised by the gesture, or as mad as she would like to be.

She just does the first thing that comes to mind, which is also probably the most insane thing she could think of. If Eve Mas was a person she wanted to make proud, she almost certainly would be.

A hand dips into the satchel, which only barely hangs on to her arm, and she draws out a small piece of C4 - intended as a backup for Devon in the event something went wrong with one of his.

Instead, she flings it through the air as though it were a grenade - aimed squarely in the direction of the oncoming vehicle.

The nice thing about explosives is that precision is optional.

"Get down!" is screamed as she does so, her other hand drawing out the detonator. Unlike other instances of making use of her explosives, she doesn't look away, steeling herself for the stingingly bright light of what's about to happen.

It's a matter of perfect timing, just like Rue's shot earlier. Precision here lies in the timing of the detonation, rather than the aim of the throw. Too soon, and the point is likely lost. Too late, and it's all too likely that Rue gets caught in the aftermath. The best Robyn can do is try her best, in those forever long milliseconds, to find that perfect moment…

And as she presses the trigger on the detonator, as she hopes for the best - or, at worst, to at least throw the vehicle off course.

«Bullwhip-3, che — Shit. »" If Devon’s swearing, it can’t be good. His all clear is interrupted by the explicative when that movement where there shouldn’t be any draws his attention away from clearing the vehicle. His rifle comes up to shoot the guy again just as more movement requires a look and draws his attention toward another Humanis militia running full tilt straight for him. With a knife.

With eyes pulling back to the first man to come back to life, Dev squeezes off three rounds. Bullets move faster than knives, even knives carried by running men, which makes the Humanis member with a pistol a more immediate danger. He doesn’t wait to see if he’s hit the target — or if the target stays down this time — he takes a short step and pivots to take aim on the running man, intending on putting more holes in him.

Bullets bury into the torso of the gunman, spun and staggered down onto his knees as he breathes through bloodied, collapsed lungs. Hands on the cement, his sidearm scattered aside, saliva-thick blood runs out from his gasping mouth while Devon handles the second assaillant. Bringing a gun around to bear is a harder thing in closer combat, and as his first shot tears a strip out of the man with the knife with a sideways burst of deep crimson, the rest go wild in the necessary defense against the hunter's knife coming down.

The soldier scrapes the serrated edge of his knife across superpowered armor while his hulking form slams into Devon, teeth blood stained and eyes wild. He smells, now, of blood and sweat running thin with adrenaline, and smoke-foul breath.

From the other end of the stalled enemy convoy, a detonation goes off, bone-deep in resonance, hellfire rising.

Light and noise made force. Robyn's vision fills with white.

A shockwave passes over where Rue and Robyn hit the deck as flames engulf the vehicle, thrown not only off course but off its wheels, pitched sideways and rolling into building front with a colossal slam of metal and brick. Fire roars within the lifting blossom of black smoke, and ears ring and whine in the direct aftermath.

As Rue and Robyn gain back their senses, and US soldiers around them get to their feet, they see other figures do the same — Humanis First militia that had been shot and killed, or caught in that frag grenade, getting to their feet now and reaching for their weapons, blood-streaked but not as blood-soaked as they ought to be.

Slowly, the pop of traded gunfire starts again. US soldiers withdrawing in coordination, Humanis First stumbling forward with wild abandon.

Nearer Devon's position, the man at the driver's seat seems to come to with a gasp and jolt, his hand clapping over the narrow tunnel Devon's rifle made from one side of his neck to the other. That initial fount of dark blood has stopped, and he breathes in gasps and halts — but he is alive, and looking now to where Devon struggles with the man with the hunting knife. Clumsily, the driver reaches for his own sidearm, grips to edge of the windshield, rises to stand— and then jolts as his skull scatters beneath rifle fire from somewhere behind both he and Devon, collapsing in a heap in the back of the vehicle.

Francois and the shadows of other soldiers move at a running clip, before a stream of automatic fire from further within the chaos collectively drive the soldiers to take cover. Without doing so himself, Francois breaks from them, running, unable to get a clear shot to pick off the man Devon is contending with from his angle.

“God damn—” Rue throws herself to the ground just before the explosion. She feels it more than anything else, too much heat and light even through tightly shut eyes. Hauling herself to her feet is a staggering affair and she doesn’t need to look to know the vehicle is out of commission for now, so her attention turns to the previous target.

“«They won’t die!»” Rue calls frantically into her radio, panic starting to build as she fires off more shots at the advancing soldiers. How does one defeat an enemy that won’t stay dead? She does what she knows she can do, and right now that’s put herself bodily between Robyn Quinn and the bulk of the incoming fire. If her own vision seems spotty, she knows what must have happened to her old friend. “Stay down!” she cries. “I’ve got you!” Even if no one has her.

Being blind is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence for Robyn. In this case, she specifically did this to herself, and she doesn't regret it for even a second. Even contacts that help filter and control the amount of light she sees can only help but so much against staring into the white light of an explosion and the resulting fires, though.

Robyn reels back, letting out a pained cry as she hits the ground. She's slower to scramble to her feet, but the sound of Rue's voice tells her that her gamble paid off in at least the most minimal sense. Head throbbing and eyes aching, it'll be a moment before her vision recovers, but she does manage to pull herself back up to her feet after a moment.

"Won't die?" she chokes out, even as Rue yells at her. Normally she'd argue, and they both know it, but she needs a moment before she's worth anything to anyone, so for once she actually listens to Rue, and scrambles back down as she searches for cover.

The heavy form crashes into him and Devon goes with the motion, allowing it to carry him to the ground. The impact forces a grunt that’s picked up by the comms, though he sounds unhurt. The hand he has wrapped around the pistol grip of his rifle tightens to maintain control of the weapon. He may not be able to use it on the guy, but like he’ll he’s going to give it up easily. The other is thrown up to push the man’s head back. He might even be trying to sink his thumb into the guy’s eye socket.

It’s a measure to control and distract, not so much to damage the guy he’s wrestling with. All Devon needs is fifteen seconds and then he can make the guy go airborne. Which is easier in theory than in practice. It takes effort to not look around to see who, or what, might be approaching, to trust time is on his side to either see the new threat and adjust, or finish synchronizing first.

Long seconds tick by as Devon wrestles his attacker back, in the interim experiencing the high disconcerting sensation of a large knife attempting to jam itself into his body, deflected by reinforced armouring in the tight lock of the struggle. Up close, the aggressor's face is mottled with adrenaline, and blood oozes between his teeth, smearing scarlet on the inside of his mouth, which Devon gets an upshot of as the man rears his head back when Devon's thumb finds some purchase in his eye socket.

Suddenly, the ratatat of automatic fire comes with the feeling of the larger man on top of him jostle beneath the impact. That jamming of the knife ceases, comes loose, a choking gasping sound sputtering near Devon's ear. He sounds like he's dying. With that many rounds laid into his back, he should be dying.

In the final few seconds as Devon's power syncs up with the man's mass, he feels that arm tense up again in the effort for one last effort to ram knife home — but by then, it's too late, and the bleeding body of the Humanis First soldier goes rocketing upwards under Devon's control.

Francois, nearby, lowers his rifle, and they all hear through the comms, "«Bullwhip, fall back,»" doesn't give much away to his personal feelings, repeating his past order with teeth. "«The squad will cover us. I repeat, disengage to second position.»"

The movement of the soldiers holds true — the squad of men shifting into positions to lay down suppressive fire and begin angling for retreat. It doesn't take long for observant eyes to see the pattern emerge, of militia being felled, of some rising after a few moments, slower and limping but somehow even more deadly than before with renewed abandon. As Rue and Robyn move, they'll see the corpses of enemies left behind — the unmoving ones, brains and skulls scattered across the pavement, or those torn too asunder by grenade and C4 explosion to do little more than ooze.

As Devon has time enough to get to his feet and decide what he wants to do with the Humanis First soldier hooked on his power, Francois ducks nearby, using the vehicle they're huddled by as cover as he returns fire towards enemy forces. "Bullwhip-3?" has the uphooked tone of you good?

“Quinnie, we gotta go.” Bullets ping on Rue’s armor and she nearly stumbles backward into her friend. The repeated order to fall back is a welcome one. It gives her a new goal now that eliminate targets isn’t as obtainable. Once Robyn is back on her feet, Rue is pushing her ahead again. “Go! I’ve got you covered!” Robyn’s stunt with the explosives may have paid off, but it’s not one that she’s eager to repeat.

Walking backward with her rifle held out in front of her now, Lancaster fires from the hip with the intention of at least slowing pursuit if not able to stop it completely. When she blows out the kneecap of the nearest soldier, she finally turns around and runs as fast as she can to give more distance, and to catch up with her colleague.

Her vision is almost clear, but Robyn isn't about to argue with Rue - she is one of two commanding officers here, after all. With a grunt, she practically slams into the humvee that's waiting for them, pulling door open as she turns back to Rue. Having failed to pick up her pistol in her blind hecticness, she curses and reaches to the holster at her side that holds her personal firearm - a CZ75, brought as backup for just a scenario like this.

Her eyes are still spotty, but with a clear bead on where Rue is, Robyn begins to lay down her own covering fire. "Come on!" she calls as Rue gets ever closer, firing until her clip runs out and Rue hustles into the humvee. Robyn doesn't waste any time in climbing in after her, sliding another clip into her gun.

"How are we not dead?" is both a sincere and a joking question, asked as she pulls her satchel into her lap, having managed to keep it clinging to her shoulder and undamaged through all of that.

The armor might save his body, but it’s unnerving to have a knife pummeling against him with murderous determination. Worse is the gunfire that rattles the man. Devon’s whole body tenses in anticipation of rounds pelting him as well. Thankfully the feeling of lead biting against armor and into flesh and muscle never come. Just the sound of a choking, dying man. Which isn’t much better.

Each second he’s on the ground is more dangerous than the last, and it’s almost a relief when that man is pushed into the sky. He’d been about to brace for impact from that knife and change plans. When that weight is finally lifted off him, Devon can’t help but breathe out a strangled laugh.

«Bullwhip-3, checking in.»” Dev’s voice still holds traces of rattled laughter, but he gets to his feet quickly. The knife wielding man is thrown in the direction of the fighting. If he isn’t dead, perhaps he’ll get caught up in the crossfire and finally stay down.

A look is sent in Francois’ direction. He’s given a thumb’s up then a hand motion toward the secondary location. He’s going to be heading that way, even if wading into the tide of reanimated Humanis First seems like a terrible idea. “Let’s leapfrog,” he suggests, hand motioning to the disabled vehicles. “Take the enemy out from behind as we go to the rendezvous.” He’s already raising his rifle to follow words with actions.

Ducking behind the cover of the vehicle's flank and checking his clip, Francois nods to Devon's words — both that he's still fit and fighting, and in affirmation to their plan for progression. If the sight of soldiers rising again in their death throes has shaken him, it only manifests in the tension of active battle already present — expression hard and tense, eyes wide with urgency. He doesn't have to understand it to process it, factor it in as a new variable.

The circumstance has shifted, but the plan holds.

They move. The man with the knife — who no longer has a knife, hand loose — is found crumpled where Devon tossed him, unmoving, at last, where he was dropped like a ragdoll. As they go, Francois fires a single shot into his head for good measure.

As Devon and Francois thread through the crippled vehicles and dark corners, firing off shots with strategic intent, Rue and Robyn are taken in the current of US soldiers shifting the battle where they need it to be. The dark buildings blur by, and a soldier meerkats out from the hatch in the roof to fire off shots at pursuing enemy forces. Over the comms, Rue and Robyn head, "«Bullwhip-1 and 3, headed to rendezvous. Sergeant, what's the status on enemy reinforcements?»"

The voice that crackles over the line next is familiar in the short term — female, coarse, midwestern — if unusual to hear for a team that so often only works within themselves. Sergeant Amy Hester speaks from one vehicle ahead of Rue and Robyn. "«Bullwhip, you have three ATVs and one Stryker coming in from town limits. Ten, fifteen visible personnel. Four Hunter units. ETA, one minute. Sending a team to disable the Stryker on your signal.»"

Copy. Bullwhip-2,»" Francois, slightly out of breath, only speaking in opportune moments, "«stage the welcome party. We do not want them splitting off. Stay off the ground, if you can. The Hunters aren't known for their climbing.»"

He stops, firing off a short burst of suppressive fire as Devon darts ahead to his next location. The pavement under their feet is splashed with blood, scorch marks, riddled with bullet casings, and now a renewed vibration of the coming of reinforcements, the growl of engines heard over the tops of the dusty desert buildings. They're forced to take cover as this latest convoy of enemy vehicles go hurtling up a main street, lighter vehicles splitting off to fan across a large expanse of parking lot, but headed forward where their retreat was last sighted, in roughly the direction of the hospital. The ATVs are swift and agile, with five well armed men hanging off of them, bumping over sun-cracked pavement, and the Stryker, larger, eight wheels and heavily armored, grumbling as it rolls along at the rear.

Four Hunters seem to escort the vehicles, all moving in unison at a heavy, loping run. Big cat shaped, 'eyes' glowing green in the gloom, metal painted rusty desert tones, steam trailing out of their rib cage-like vents in big white plumes. Between their silver fangs extends a long steel needle.

Ahead of this parade, the humvees have stopped to let soldiers and Wolfhound out, mostly concealed behind buildings off the main drag of Humanis First's swift approach. As Rue and Robyn step back out into the cold desert night air, they see the shape of the building blocking their sight of that road, a structure of red brick, with a wooden steeple. The Blackhorse Chapel is a modest affair and apparently infrequently used in the interim years, some windows broken and dust covered. To their left, they see a few soldiers quietly climb the external ladder of a flat-roofed recreation building, and others break away to find advantageous positions.

There isn't much time, but there is exactly one moment to breathe, and a few more to get into position before enemy convoy close in on their ranks.

As they move, Rue starts counting vehicles, then heads. “I’m going to grab a perch,” she points toward the chapel rooftop, “and try to thin things out. I need you to handle that armored vehicle, though.” Her bullets are much more effective against meaty things than plated ones.

Without waiting to see if Robyn’s on board - of course she’ll be on board - she begins to climb. “«Bullwhip-1, I’m going topside to take out the trash.»” It’s a scramble in her armor across the shingled roof and she puts her trust in the grooves between to hold the barrel of her weapon steady when she sprawls out to take aim. Any bit of chaos she can cause down there among the enemy is good right now.

This is ne of those rare moments these days when Rue's assumption about Robyn is right on target - and not just because she's the CO here. Climbing out of the humvee, she takes a moment took around and try her best to asess this situation they find themselves in. As Rue runs off, she eyes the buildings, grimacing.

"«Bullwhip-1, we're moving into position. Will keep ordinance handy for that-»" she stops herself from saying fucking armored death tank, "«the armoured transport.»" Grabbing one of the automatics from the humvee, she turns the remaining soldiers and bids them to follow her. "Come up. Let's get the high ground."

Back pressed against the side of a building, Devon’s head turns just enough so that he can watch the procession of vehicles pass. The Frogger-style run has left him a little winded, and he’s breathing heavily in spite of efforts to control it. He counts, almost silently, each vehicle and militia man that goes by. It’s tempting to start tossing explosives into the parade, but he refrains for the moment. The presence of the Hunters puts a familiar knot in his gut, however he remains focused on the mission.

«Bullwhip-3 to Bullwhip-1,»” he calls quietly into his comms. “«The Hunters, I have an idea to draw them back.»” And with his reputation, it’s probably a very dangerous one.

Once the enemy forces have moved passed, Dev turns to look at Francois. He uses several hand gestures, motioning to himself then four fingers toward the robots then signaling the buildings and abandoned vehicles nearby. He’s going to play the mouse and draw the demon cats back to set them up for an attack. He knows the older man can fill in the rest of the plan.

Easing out into the open, that earlier brick of C4 is removed from his vest. His rifle hangs from its sling, resting lightly against his chest as his feet carry him at an easy jog in the wake of the procession. He counts each footfall, and at 25 he sets his attention on the explosive in his hand. Feet continue to move as Devon waits out the fifteen long seconds before he’ll synch again, hoping it’s enough to catch the attention of the robots, that he has enough time before they reach him. And knowing that he’s going to have to run as soon as the Hunters move.

As Devon darts forwards, Francois splits off himself, keeping to cover while his more Evolved colleague seeks to engage with the Hunters. He runs low and quickly, rifle cradled, his heart pounding with compounding stress as well as a more dangerously excitable adrenaline. He palms a grenade into his gloved hand, moving along the broadside of an old parked truck, windows crusted with several years worth of dust and weather.

From their synchronised lope, one of the Hunters seems to slow as Devon nears, but doesn't hesitate, pause, or twitch like one would expect from the animal it's designed after. The only indication of attention is the fact that its green glowing eyes change to a deep and deadly red, and its heavy stride wings off into an arc as Devon's active power use draws its attention. He can almost feel the impact of its 400 lb form striking the ground with each step as it heads directly for him with the mathematical intent of a homing missile.

A second Hunter's eyes switch from green to red, and peels off at the same moment, several feet behind.

Up ahead, as Rue gets into position, she is rewarded with a straight shot of the four vehicles careening up the road, the more frenetic trajectories of the ATVs just ahead of the steady straight line of the Stryker. White headlights are equal parts obscuring and revealing, and from her angle, enough illumination run off shows up the silhouettes of the drivers and the soldiers still attached as she scopes out her targets.

Visible in one of the ATVs is a man, stood up with an arm hooked around the roll cage, speaking into a receiver as he casts a look over the tops of buildings. In contrast to every other militia soldier hanging off the vehicles, he is not a formidable silhouette, but striking enough in his positioning and air of authority — shock of silver hair, haughty and crooked jawline — that as Rue's scope trains over her potential targets, she takes note. She might not have met him in person, nor is she looking to ID anyone, but a working knowledge of known enemies before and during the war as opposed to only after forces a name to jump out at her.


Alive, or so it would seem, his attention cast upwards rather than only forwards, and before Rue can make a decision about whether to pull the trigger, he issues some command, and the driver of his vehicle suddenly zithers aside, swinging a wider arc away from the convoy with a burst of acceleration, headed more towards where they'd parked their humvees behind the chapel, white headlights spilling forwards.

Robyn climbs into position, the ladder that leads up to the rooftop of the neighbouring rec centre rattling beneath her feet, and the feet of the soldiers accompanying her. As they line up — rifles and rockets, keeping low so as to escape notice from the enemy on the ground and in their vehicles — she notices a flash of light zip up over the edge of the rooftop. Blue, small, strange, it hovers several feet upwards, before darting out of sight with the manic flight pattern of an insect, a soft zztt just audible.

On the road, with exception to Valentin's wilder ride, the two ATVs continue forwards, the Stryker behind. Coming closer, the seconds between now and engagement swiftly dwindling.

“Fuck my actual—” The mutter is aborted in favor of lining up a new target. The first shot she takes is hasty, a victim of her rattled nerves. Again, she curses under her breath, then holds it as she chambers the next round and fires again. Her aim is for heads, hoping that forces her targets to stay dead a little more readily.

“«Bullwhip-1. I just laid eyes on Michal Valentin.»” After everything they’ve seen, that can’t be the most incredible thing she could have said. Her voice trembles as she speaks, watching down her scope the whole time. There’s a tremulous uptick to the last note that says orders? “«Just broke off from the pack. I—»” Hesitated and missed my shot?

She doesn’t finish her thought except to purse her lips and fire at the soldiers with a renewed sense of anger. At herself and this fresh bullshit of a situation.

"Oh, fuck my-" The echoing of Rue is unknown and unintentional, coming first as she watches one of the vehicles veer off, and then cut off by the sight of that unidentified light that streaks across the sky in front of her. She stares at where'd she'd seen it, wrinkling her nose as her eyes trail after it.

"«Bullwhip, stay sharp,»" she remarks across coms. "«Seeing an unusual light, source unknown…»" And she can definitely say it isn't her. She turns her head, peering back towards the back of the building, back where the jeep had headed off, and grits her teeth. "«Going try and keep sight on the breaker.»"

She leaves her satchel for the rest of the troops with her, slipping two grenades out and securing them as she hustles over to the back end of the room, hoping to keep eyes on the jeep - all the while scouting for the strange light. She tries not to let her concentration too split, at least.

“One,” Devon breathes out the word as the first shows signs that it knows he’s there. He keeps jogging, following the parade of vehicles. “Two,” is mumbled as the second follows the first. Two more to go. He picks up his pace, easing closer to run. The C4 stays in hand, fingers wrapped tight around the brick. He needs to keep his power actively connected until there are eight glowing red eyes looking his way — better yet, until they’re coming his way.

The crackle and announcement over the comms causes him to miss a step. Michal Valentin? The thought rattles as he stumbles, feet slapping ungracefully against the wet pavement. Devon catches himself without actually falling, but it’s slowed him down to almost a stop. Shoot him, shoot him now! is what he wants to yell, but it’s a shaky breath he takes instead.

That breath is followed up with the sudden flight of C4, for the back end of the parade. It’s a recklessness he hasn’t shown since his early days with Wolfhound, but he’s decided to make some real noise. Even as it’s sent hurtling, propelled by Devon’s ability, he’s running again. As he runs, his hands grope and eventually find another brick attached to his belt. The jarring thud of each footfall makes it more difficult to begin the synchronization all over again, but he starts anyway. He still needs his power to draw attention.

Suddenly, the night time road becomes as bright as midday.

The concussive force levelled against the Stryker under siege by multiple RPGs, coupled with the detonation of C4 loosed by Devon, is almost enough to trip him a second time, and bright white light within fanning flames makes unnatural shadows for the span of a blink. When the light and the ringing of ears clear, the Stryker is toppled to its side, roaring gusts of flame licking along shattered armor, settling dust from pulverised concrete all aglow with flame.

The air is once again filled with gunshots, muzzle flare, shouts, engine growls.

An ATV — the driver of which no longer has a whole head via sniper fire — goes careening into the chapel, the structure shaking bone-deep, and Rue has to stop her assault to brace herself as roof shingles go sliding by her to break on impact below. Below, militia are disembarking with the frenetic energy of enraged wasps, some beating a retreat to problematic corners on either side of the road, some felled at the knees by fire teams from friendly soldiers.

The ATV just behind it is coming in hot, weaving as bullets punch holes in reinforced metal, returning fire with held machine guns.

Stay on task,»" comes Francois' directive, in the wake of news of Valentin, of the chaos of explosions drowning out sight, noise, thought. Where Devon and Rue's impulse is to kill the man, strong and sudden, Francois call for blood is in the form of an arrest. A hanging, a firing line. His directive is as much for his own focus as theirs as he says, out of breath still from all this goddamn running, "«Lariat and Ziptie are counting on us to keep them occupied. We'll see who still stands when that is done.»"

That third ATV winging around doesn't flinch or divert as it wings around the back of improvised enemy lines, even as the Stryker goes up in flames. Valentin snaps something to one of the soldiers at his elbow, handed an object, and Robyn has just enough time to call out a warning before he levels what appears to be a gun of some kind, and shoots.

A wisp of trailing smoke, a shatter of glass as an object disappears into the dark chapel.


Fire and concussive force fill the interior of the chapel, windows on each wall exploding outwards in a shower of glass, brick, dust, wood. The structure shudders, holds — for now. By the time Rue's senses are returns to her, she feels herself sliding down the slope of the roof. Her rifle is no longer in her hands. The world is spinning as she rolls, feet away from the edge, towards the road where Humanis First militia are still swarming.

Some hundred feet south, Devon can count three as the third Hunter bot pursues its fellows, brilliant red light emanating from its disc-like sockets. It falls into line, feet slamming into concrete, metal tail serpentine and giving strange fluidity to its motions as it races in pursuit of the Evolved it can detect. As it moves by, it pays no attention to where Francois is waiting, crouched, and to where he stands, draws his arm back, and throws.

The grenade falls short, but not too short, bouncing off the concrete one foot behind the Hunter, before an explosion at a six foot radius engulfs the Hunter in flames, sends it buckling and skidding along the concrete with a scream of metal and sparks.

The explosions are nearly blinding, but having one eye closed to begin with helps her make the adjustment to the change in light. It’s a hell of a distraction for the enemy forces. As much as her instincts say she missed an opportunity she should have taken, Francois clears her conscience by ordering them to stick to the plan. “«Copy, Bullwhip-On— Shit!»”

When the building rocks (the first time) from the vehicle impact, Rue drops off the comline and scrabbles for purchase on the gable she’s been ducked behind. She keeps her weapon, keeps her wits. She exhales a shaky breath when her feet stop slipping and she manages to haul herself back up into place.

Her attention focuses back out into the street to fire again and again into the lines of enemy soldiers. Anything to slow them down for the others on the ground. She has no idea what’s coming from the other side.

It all happens so quickly, she doesn’t even register the fear to scream as she begins to spiral off the rooftop. Lancaster comes to her senses in time to reach out and grab the edge of the roof before she can continue the descent to the ground. Only then does she let out a cry of panic as she tries to drag herself back up even as the drain spout she’s clutching to groans in protest. She hazards a glance below to see how bad the drop will be.

It’s what she’d drop into that has her truly concerned.

As Rue's voice is suddenly cut off by the explosive boom that rings out from the church, Robyn's gaze snaps over in that direction, eyes wide. Teeth grit, looking back towards where Valentin's vehicle had gone, then back to the troops on he rooftop, and finally back to the engulfed chapel.

Instincts pull her in every direction. Valentin, dead or alive, would be quite the trophy for her and for SESA. Rue, even with their literal and emotional distance, was still someone she considered a friend and the drive to try and make sure she's okay is strong. And then there's the mission - what they're here to do anyway, and what she's been instructed to stay focused on. For a moment, she's paralysed with indecision, lucky her back was turned as the area around her had become some bombastically flooded with light.

"Fuck!" she yells, before turning back on her heel and moving to rejoin them and engage as she's been instructed to do. She seethes as she tries to focus, pulling the satchel back up next to her as she raises her rifle and joins the firefight. Angrily, she hurls one of her few remaining grenades towards one of those dark corners some of them retreat to, cursing once more to herself.

The explosion nearly takes his feet from him, the force of the back blast nearly catching his feet to send him sprawling. If Dev hadn’t been running, it probably would have had him eating pavement. The chaos that springs up ahead is ignored. Valentin’s presence is ignored. All that matters in his world, in this minute, are those robots.

The newly synched brick of C4 is carried backward on an arm prepared to throw again. When he sees that third pair of eyes he digs deep, abandoning all caution. Just one left, that’s all. The explosion that takes out the newest robot to join the hunt gives him a finely lit target. The brick he carries is thrown in a Hail Mary effort to mimic the grenade and be detonated just seconds after.

As soon as the explosive is sent flying, Devon turns to run headlong at the first of the cat-like bots coming toward him. Another brick is located at his belt and freed, hand whipping out sideways with the effort. He digs deep for more energy, as if that would make his ability shine like daylight for those Hunters, as he begins again with the synchronization.

A second grenade goes off as Francois is quick to fling another at the Hunter he just downed, just as it claws to its feet. This time, it stays down, back broken under the sudden slam of incendiary force that sent it sliding the first time, its red eyes glowing and unseeing as it leaks coolant in stream and puddle, frost rising.

That leaves two.

Francois takes off running, less attention paid towards stealth and secrecy as he radios breathlessly to Sergeant Hester for backup — which is a more constructive use of his time than reciting the Notre Père or swearing, as much as both are tempting options — by the time he sees Devon change course and sprint towards the robots. "Devon!" he yells, things like callsigns and radio channels obliterated from his mind in a split second of panic even as he raises his rifle, stands in the open, and opens fire on the nearer robot, a high calibre clatter that sends sparks off metal flank.

Not to the first, as it races towards Devon as fast and unflinching as a 400 pound robot tiger can. Two red eyes set in feline skull, and a long protruding steel spike of a needle extended and ready between fangs, loaded with god knows what — either flesh-rotting poison or chemical negation would be equally unlucky. Steam comes off its metallic form in both the gusts through its ribcage as well as the superheated, sharp-edged metal of its frame in contact with cool night air.

The only adjustment to its gait, as it comes nearer, is the subtle shift as it goes to leap, and slam all of its deadly force into Devon's body of flesh and bone.


Metal creaks under Rue's weight, clad in its armor, strapped with weapons, her feet kicking in mid air as she strains to look past them. A solid ten foot drop awaits, but a swing to the left might mean that the crashed ATV with its nose buckled into brickwork might break her fall by a few more feet. It's been abandoned by its passengers, by now, save for the deceased driver who at a glance seems to be staying down, head sundered from her own sniper. Smoke is pouring out of the exploded windows beneath and around her, rising, stinging.

Nearby, the crack-thunder of Robyn's grenade shakes the air. As she engages in fire fight, she sees up ahead that one ATV wheeling around in the empty intersection, almost hilariously discarding a dead body as it does. A few of the Humanis First soldiers break cover and run towards it, yelling, in a frantic attempt to get off the ground, and a steady stream of gunfire from friendly forces cut a few of them down. At the same time, she witnesses a crumpled body — one that had fallen during the initial assault — start to pick himself back up, leg dragging, the steady flow of blood from some crippling injury having ceased.

Valentin's vehicle, out of sight.

“Shit! Fuck!” Rue is not above the litany of curses that spring to her mind as she dangles. She pumps her legs to one side, then the other, trying to gain enough momentum before her hold gives way. One more swing and she lets go to drop down onto the crashed vehicle.

The impact is rough, but it could have and should have been much worse. Now without her rifle, she looks to see if the driver’s weapons may have been left behind. Anything that packs more of a punch than her handgun.

Success is found in the form of an assault rifle that’s fallen off to one side of the remains. “You won’t be needing this anymore,” she informs the corpse as she lifts her new weapon. “Sweet.

With her perch gone and no one to take revenge against that earned that dubious honor, she follows the explosions with the intent to rendezvous with Francois and provide extra fire in that fight. Her speed suffers some from being knocked around so thoroughly, but Rue doesn’t give up that easily.

“«Bullwhip-1, I’m en route.»” If nothing else, now Robyn knows she isn’t down for the count.

"«Bullwhip-1, they're still not staying down,»" Robyn practically growls into the coms. Knowing Rue is okay is a relief, but only but so much. She continues to fire down into the soldiers, hoping to permanently fell at least some of them. But really, that's proving to be a fruitless endeavour so far.

So, hey, fuck it. She slips her hand into her satchel and pulls out the last of her fragmentation grenades, and with a moment to try and centre herself, she pulls the pin and heaves it in the direction of that jeep that several of them are trying to escape to. Depth perception isn't really her best suit anymore, so she's not expecting much - but if she can get some of them, that's really all that matters.

"Merde," she curses, frowning as she moves from target to target. "This is botswarf!" Because when you shoot people, they're supposed to stay down. This? This is not what she's used to and it's starting to get to her.

His arm wings back to throw that brick of C4 in the same, well-practiced motion he’s utilized in the last several minutes. Devon doesn’t quite hear Francois’ voice call to him as he half hops to slow his forward so he can throw the explosive at a target that’s suddenly coming at him. His arm slings forward and hurtles the explosive at the leaping Hunter.

He twists, readying himself to run again, but waiting until just the right second. The timing of it is frighteningly narrow, too long and Dev knows he’ll be taken down by the robot, too soon and the explosion will only scratch the surface.

With his thumb pressing the detonation button, Devon throws himself like a runner off the line in simultaneous motion. He doesn’t know if it will work, if the explosive will detonate, or detonate effectively, or if he’s waited too long. But now he’s really become the mouse in his plan, and so he tries to run from the cat-like machine.

As Rue lands in the street, and starts her stilted path towards the sound of where the latest explosions are coming from, she has an opportunity to take stock of her surroundings. Everything is lit in fire and the stutter-flash of distant lightning. Smoke hangs as a haze in the air. The sound of her own breathing is as loud as anything, the scuff of her boots on concrete as she moves through the open. Behind her, she hears fire cracking through the bones of the chapel and still feels its heat issuing out of its windows as she withdraws.

Ahead, and back the way they came, she sees the still flaming corpse of the Stryker. Bodies fallen, and the paint-smear drag of blood where other bodies had fallen and then risen again. Over her shoulder, shadowed figures running, showing up in headlight.

Behind her, Robyn throws her grenade, and with a thunderclap of force, half of those shadowed figures go flying, as do pieces of them. The ATV they were headed towards immediately guns its engines, turns in a circle of screaming tires, and winnows away. In its wake like prone bodies, all of them still — until some of them aren't. Robyn watches the way it happens, the sudden full-bodied jerk, the seizing of muscles, the wet gasping. Men, reaching for fallen weapons, or just trying to stand, as their souls are shoved back into their damaged frames.

This time, she watches as soldiers come out of the shadows, yelling, guns pointing, guns firing at those that make some last ditch attempt at life, others surrendering with their hands empty. She sees the recognisable form of Sergeant Hester among them, her rifle held low, taking stock.

Ahead. Rue sees an explosion anew.

The C4 goes off, Devon caught in the invisible wall of shockwave, and sent flying off his feet — how he lands depends solely on how he prepared. A small fireball blooms behind him as metal is rent and twisted in the flash of a moment. The semi-familiar sensation of flaming robot pieces slamming into the concrete around him follows long seconds after the detonation, ears still ringing, dust and smoke whirling and thick in the air, giving the entire street a sense of dirty pea-soup fog, lit by flames, impossible to see clearly further than thirty, forty feet.

Meanwhile, Bullwhip-1 doesn't reply to either Robyn or Rue. Bullwhip-1 is busy.

Evo or no Evo, that third cat breaks from its blind run towards Devon with calculated grace to pursue the figure behind the gun fire being opened on it — Francois, who immediately breaks from his stance to take off at a dead sprint. He wouldn't mind revising any of this as being a part of a plan as he races back for the idle semi truck he'd been using as cover before. He disappears beneath the bulk of the trailer in a clattering roll of limbs and weaponry and armour just as the Hunter slams under after him, jagged edges catching at the edge as its larger bulk attempts to flatten down in wild pursuit, head tossing back and forth in the hopes that long steel spike of a needle will catch flesh.

Scrabbling backwards, Francois takes out his sidearm, aims between his knees, and fires several shots in succession, sparks flying and glass shattered and bullets ricocheting.

From Rue's perspective, she sees the hindquarters of the Hunter ducked beneath the edge of the truck, its serpentine metal tail whipping to and fro as it digs its hard, rubber-clad paws into the ground and reaches for its quarry hidden beneath.

“Hey, you ugly metal asshole!” The sound of Rue’s voice cuts through the air, trying to catch the attention of the Hunter. She isn’t sure she has the ordinance to take down a ‘bot beyond a lucky shot, but she’s good at those. And all she really needs to do is get it away from Francois.

Squeezing the trigger, she fires on the metallic feline, eyes wide and stomach coiling in knots for the anticipation that this just might work the way she’s intending. “Come on!” she cries, firing again and again. “Over here!” In her periphery is Devon, who she’s hanging her hopes on at the moment to save her ass when the time comes.

Robyn's done her best not to focus on the hunter bots so far, mostly out of fear - few things in the world terrify her like they do. It's probably for the best, making it so she doesn't see the insane stunt Rue has put herself up against. Instead, she remains focused on soldiers and Sergeant Hester. She backs away from her overlook, glancing over at one of the soldiers. She has two smoke grenades left, one of which is quickly drawn out of her satchel.

She motions down to the street - shoot anything that isn't one of us, because she knows she doesn't have to tell them that. Instead, she makes for the ladder back down to the ground, intending to maneuver out into the ruined street and help Hester keep down any more of the soldiers that decide to get back up.

When he feels the inevitable push from behind, the effects of the explosion, Devon lets the shockwave carry him. He tucks, chin to chest and shoulders curled inward, rifle hugged against his torso, and he rolls with the momentum of shockwave and gravity. The force takes him end over once, to come up on a knee still tucked to roll again for a disorienting half heartbeat.

He turns and lifts out of his crouched stance in the second half of the pulse, ready to face the Hunter that remains — only to find it no longer after him but after, “Francois!” The name is barely registered in Dev’s own ears, muffled by the concussion of the explosion and left ringing. He moves for the Hunter, seen as a rough silhouette against the smoke and fire, hands and feet pushing against the ground in his haste to get up. The rain of ruined and heated metal darted through, dodged when it’s in his path, but otherwise ignored.

He’s running like a mad man, hell bent on helping his teammates. Rue’s cover fire draws a glance and he digs deep to find more speed. Devon crosses the dark, slick pavement to an abandoned vehicle, instead of the trailer, and his hands slap hard against the war-scarred body and his feet slide in his haste to stop, threatening to leave him sprawling. After catching himself and an anxious look he sets his gaze on the truck. With brows furrowed and all that energy is thrown into synchronizing, trying to will it to happen faster, so he can throw the vehicle at the Hunter.

From Francois' perspective, he sees nightmare shapes of silver fangs and red eyes, the way the predator readjusts backwards to sink even lower so that it can slither in after him. Metal grind, hydraulics whining, and then— the cacophony of automatic fire as the Hunter suddenly staggers sideways and awkward under the onslaught of Rue and her rifle. Her voice flags thin in all the thunder, but Francois can hear that too.

Regret steels him as the robot's mechanics reverse, and it backs up out from its half-crawl, blind red eyes now steering towards the figure Rue makes on the open street. It doesn't snarl, growl, none of those signs of aggression of the animal it apes, but it doesn't need any of that — she can see the way its limbs move in preparation of a sudden sprint. Rubber-padded paws scrape over concrete as it launches itself forward.

Devon counting in his head thirteen, fourteen, fifteen

The scream of idle tires leave black marks over asphalt as the truck he'd synced into goes winging around in a shuddering arc, slamming with all the grace and efficiency of a hammer into the Hunter, crushing it between truck and bigger truck, the latter of which groans and shudders on its frame. (Underneath, Francois swears, cringing beneath the undercarriage.)

Up ahead, where Humanis First men are variously shot or rolled onto their stomachs, depending on compliance, Hester looks towards where Robyn is making her approach. "Count of four took off on an ATV," she says, but her tone doesn't call for urgency on Robyn's part. "They're headed for the town perimeter. Retreating. I dispatched a tail to make sure they're not regrouping."

The turn of the tide from desperate gunfight to clean up is as simple as that.

"I can spare a ride if your team wants to fall back and await instruction. The civilians are being evac'd right now."

Of course, there'd been three ATVs.

From here, Robyn can't see the rest of her team, visibility low thanks to both the cover of night time darkness and the haze of multiple explosions, dust and smoke both. It's in this fog that Francois appears to Rue and Devon, climbing out from under the truck with a slightly watery-kneed lack of grace. There'd been a whole lot of running and then Devon's life flashed before his eyes and then his own life flashed before his eyes, so forgive him if he's a little out of breath by the time he is on his feet, waving his silent reassurance.

But then, a sound alerts him, drawing him out of his hand-on-knees posture. The thunk-thunk of heavy footfalls of a quadruped, followed by the sight of glowing red. From further south, they see it — the twin glowing eyes of a Hunter cutting through the haze. But rather than running, it's walking towards them, and then stops some thirty feet away. Steam jettisons out of its sides as it slows, stills.

One hand tightens around the grip of her pilfered rifle as Rue makes a decision and stands her ground, counting on her teammate to be prepared to save her from this situation she’s created for herself. She stands there in the street, ready to fire off more rounds as she watches the metal beast prepare to come at her. There is no chance she can outrun a Hunter.

When Devon smashes it with the truck, she’s left standing there in stunned silence for a protracted moment before her body visibly sags with relief. When Francois climbs to his feet, she closes the distance at a jog, slowing when he waves to indicate that he’s fine. (All things considered in this moment.)

Her had snaps up as Francois straightens. Rue’s rifle snaps up too. Her eyes dart around for cover. Something Devon can use as a weapon. Then back to the advancing machine. When it stops, she stares in disbelief. She can feel her legs shaking, but her hands are steady. “Why’s it stopping?” she asks quietly. It takes her a moment to realize she asked the question out loud.

"We'll see what Bullwhip-1 wants to do," is Robyn's quick response, eyes alighting to Hester for a moment before turning to look back up and down the street. "I'd rather go after them, but I imagine that's going to be-"

The sounds of absolute chaos - Devon slamming into a hunter bot and everything that comes with that - turn Robyn's attention away from Hester, eyes wide as she instinctively raises the rifle she's borrowed. "Merde!" she practically shouts as she turns her attention towards where the rest of her group is gathered. She looks up to Hester, offering an apologetic smile before taking off to make sure everything is okay,

Not that she can really do much if it isn't.

The truck goes flying and Devon draws in a shaky breath, holding it until the he sees the little truck crash into the big truck, taking the Hunter with it. That was too close. He takes a slightly unsteady step backward as he blows out the breath he’d been holding, exhausted, then somehow musters enough energy to sprint the remaining distance to Francois. He gets there just a second or two after Rue and claps a hand on the older man’s shoulder, supportively.

His hand falls away at the same time Francois straightens, when he feels the heavy approach in his boots, and looks up. “Oh man, I hate the big robots,” Devon breathes out, watching its slow, steady approach. When it comes to a stop, Dev darts a look to his teammates. Nothing good ever comes from the robots stopping.

Dev’s mind races, eyes traveling from where he and his team stand to the robot, already starting to formulate a plan. “Here.” He removes the detonator from his glove and hands it to Rue. His rifle follows, which goes to Francois. “I’m going to get a better look,” he explains as he points to the trailer. He should be able to climb on top if it and maybe see more. “I’ll report back what I see. If I throw the explosives…” The rest goes unsaid, he just grins at Rue.

Without waiting for confirmation, he jogs back to the trailer to find the access to the roof. Climbing should be easy enough and once on top of the trailer, if he makes it, he’ll pull his two remaining explosives and begin synching with them.

Taking the rifle, Francois nods to Devon, but the majority of his focus is forward, moving to stand alongside Rue as he regards the glowing red of the Hunter. "Come," he says, low to her. "Let's get some distance." In the event of explosions, thirty feet isn't enough to guarantee their safety.

With the semi-truck behind them, this requires a lateral move, Francois headed along in unconsciously slow paced steps — it's hard not to treat these monstrosities as true wild animals with whom it's best to avoid fast movement — until the open road leading back towards the majority forces is behind him. At the sound of boot falls, he peers over his shoulder, tension immediately seizing through him at the slight figure coming through the haze, until he recognises the angles of AEGIS armor. Robyn, from her point of view, sees Francois and Rue emerge out onto the road, and the shape of Devon appearing on top of an idle semi-truck.

She, too, can just make out the twin points of red in the slowly, slowly dispersing fog of smoke and dust.

A few steps more from Francois, drawing back away from the robot. A few variables play out in his head, hingeing on what Devon might report back, but he has the rifle up and pointed towards the glow of red lights.

As Devon hefts himself up on top of the truck trailer, belly down, he hears, as does everyone else, a familiar voice cut through the haze:


And they all see where it comes from. A lone shape approaches, masculine in fatigues but not large, barely hitting 5'8". His boots scrape nonchalant along the asphalt, and his hands are up. He does not come up astride the robot, which doesn't seem to respond to his presence, but a few feet behind it. Michal Valentin stops, poised, hands behind his head, feet set comfortably apart.

Devon sees Valentin. Sees the Hunter bot. Sees the destroyed pieces of the robots destroyed so far, as scattered debris and scorch marks on the road. Sees little else on the street, but the dust is beginning to settle. Although his mad dash to catch up to the action hadn't allowed for much in the way of sightseeing, he thinks he can see a shape that hadn't been there before. Most of the vehicles parked along this stretch are semis, pickups, construction machinery — this one is light, parked out far further down the road, and out of easy visual range from the three Wolfhound officers below.

"Hallo, Wolfhound," Valentin is saying, borderline cheerful in spite of the circumstance. A crooked smile is off-kilter, and even in the low visibility, grey eyes seem to glitter, dark with pure malice. "Bullwhip one, two, tri. I have come to negotiate the terms of my surrender. If your government still recognises such things?"

Flank him,»" is Francois' low direction to Rue and Robyn, inaudible save for through their comms. There is a quiet, keen-edged energy in his voice.

“Yes, sir.” Rue isn’t particularly keen on being descended upon by another ‘bot, nor is she excited by the notion of being caught in the explosion to bring down aforementioned ‘bot. She falls into step with her commanding officer, gun trained on the metal monstrosity in case it should make a move.

Turns out, that’s not the movement that’s going to concern her most in this interaction. Her gun swivels to find a new target when Valentin steps out of the dust and smoke. Her first instinct isn’t to shoot, but to wait for the order. Eyes are bright and alert beneath her helmet.

The order is to move, and she acknowledges with the barest of nods before stepping out, giving a wide berth to the Hunter in order to come up along one side of the supposedly surrendering Humanis First. Her gaze flickers once, almost to where she expects Robyn to emerge, but she catches herself and holds steady on Valentin’s form. If there’s something to be seen, Devon will have the vantage point.

And Lancaster’s certain this is more going on here than what she can see.

"No," is Robyn's muttered, private response to Valentin's inquiry. "We don't." Or maybe she doesn't and she's conflating the positions here. Either way, she takes a deep breath at Francois' instructions and watches. She doesn't immediately start to move into position, though.

She watches the hunterbot for a moment, feeling a bit paralysed. If this is a trap, and they flank it, it's going to know that she, at least, is there before she can get even close to doing anything about it. Which, she's fairly sure, is about nothing - she's burned through her supply of explosives, rendering her with slightly less confidence than she had before.

Taking a deep breath, though she nods, and slips off what she hopes ios out of sight as she moves into a flank - maybe even pincer - position. She has her doubts that Valentin's offer is genuine, given her experience with his type before. She's open to be being surprised, but- well.

No one could blame her if she's not. Which is why she's already trying to figure out what in the world she can do once that bot inevitably notices her.


The word is breathed out, and possibly both description for Valentin as well as curse. Devon holds his position, though every part of him is demanding he take a shot at the man below, eyes sweeping from the man to the machine — all the destruction is taken in. His eyes squint a little when he picks out something that doesn’t quite fit, like perhaps that will help him see through the haze and dust a little better.

«”Bullwhip-3 to Bullwhip-1,”» Devon murmurs into the comms. His voice is barely above a whisper, lest he give away his position. «”I see something — a vehicle. At the end of the road. This may be a trap. Keep him talking, I’m going for a better look.”»

The bricks are returned to his belt before he eases backward. Dev makes the climb down a short one, but tries to keep his feet light on the ground. He’ll need stealth and darkness to be on his side this time while he ghosts between parked or abandoned vehicles to investigate the oddity at the far end of the street.

"Come forward slowly. Away from the Hunter."

Francois' colleagues are used to his voice adopting easy, polite tones, settled somewhere in a range between earnest warmth and cool condescension. Here, he puts a rare snap within his voice, barked across that short distance down the end of his rifle. A distinct tone reserved for those whose wrists are about to be bound in zipties.

Except here, there is distrust, too.

He steps forward, in spite of his instruction for Valentin to do so first, for the sole purpose of attempting to keep the terrorist's attention.

And Valentin doesn't move, head tipped. Come, now. His hands remained sealed in place, but he twists a look that seems to take note of Rue's shadow as she closes off an angle, but otherwise addresses the speaker. "Was that a yes?"

Devon's journey is by necessity the longest route, around the backs of parked trucks, and a dark-windowed building that seems to be some kind of automobile repair warehouse. For long seconds, he is completely out of sight — and likewise, has no sight on his colleagues, Michal Valentin, or the shape he saw in the darkness, trusting in his memory and orientation. Upon approaching the far side of the building, he's able to peer around it, and across the road.

Perhaps 100 feet across, shielded from immediate view from further up the road where a stand off is happening, the parked ATV waits with its headlights down, and from here, Devon can hear the subtle growl of its idled engine. Dark figures, a team of four or five.


Francois is, meanwhile, counting in his head, sharply attuned to whatever Devon's scouting feeds back. "Step forwards and get on your knees, Valentin," he says.

Valentin responds by moving closer, as instructed, slow paced steps, come up aside the Hunter. In front of the Hunter. "If you are intending to shoot me, I'd prefer to die on my feet," he says, dryly sardonic, snakey malice coiled in each enunciated syllable. "Monsieur Wolfhound."

"That's close enough," Francois directs, but Valentin takes another step forwards.

And behind him, the Hunter's head turns, spine curling, as if becoming alive and aware of the movement of prey somewhere behind.

With her approach almost surely noted by her quarry, Rue doesn’t play coy about her role in this apprehension. There’s a quick sweep to ensure there isn’t anyone about to descend upon them, and in this light it’s tough to see. Still, satisfied for the moment, she steps forward.

Gravel crunches under her boot at the sharp swivel that follows the Hunter spurring to life. She doesn’t have eyes on all members of her team. A surge of panic manifests as her finger squeezing the trigger of her rifle, meaning to draw the attention of the beast.

There’s instant regret at her action and she shows it by ceasing her fire immediately and retraining on her original target. Her heart hammers in her ears and she waits for the consequence of her impulsiveness. If she keeps it from chasing after Devon or Quinn, it will have been worth it. Probably.

And that's when the bot inevitably notices her - or at least, like Rue that's what she initially believes. As she sees it move, twist, look around, her eyes widen and she freezes. She feels her heart racing as her grip on her rifle tightens, and she swallows. "«Come in, Bullwhip-1… it's looking right at me.»"

It's not really, but in the moment of paralysing uncertainty that washes over Robyn, it certainly feels like it is. She's sure if Rue or Francois was right there with her, she would be told to stay calm.

Similarly, she's sure she would get told don't move, but she knows that won't help. But once Rue springs into action, she does the same. However, for what little bit of a plan Rue might have thought out, Robyn has even less of one, starting a sprint towards Francois in an effort to head off what she's sure is about to be something rather nasty at the hands of one Valentin and/or his Hunterpet.

If there were telepaths in the area, they would hear her screaming to herself about how much she wishes she could still move unseen, even despite the darkness her invisibility put her in. Not that it'd help her from the hunter bot, but well- it'd be some sort of comfort.

Pressing his shoulder against the cold side of the building, Devon stares at the ATV and its company. If he had Rue’s rifle, this would be easy. If he had his rifle, it would doable. If, if, if. «”Bullwhip-3 to Bullwhip-1. I’ve located my target. Four or five combatants in a dark vehicle, engine running. Might be a trap.”> As he relays the information back to Francois, he pulls one of his remaining bricks of C4 from his belt, to synch with it. An explosion right now would be better than approaching that vehicle with just his sidearm.

Gunfire from down the street almost disrupts his efforts. It does force another vocalized, “Shit!” It’s being one of those days, where the swears come far more frequent than even during his really bad days. Another “Shit!” Follows when he hears the ATV engine begin to rev. His jaw tightens, one hand goes to his sidearm strapped against his thigh and pulls it from the holster, the final seconds count down in his head.

At once, as he hits zero and feels the synchronization lock into place, Devon begins moving. The energy is expelled as he begins moving out of cover, and the explosive is thrown to hopefully land in the vehicle. He keeps moving, purposeful strides bringing him toward the street as he raises his firearm and takes aim, intending to shoot the men in the vehicle beginning with the driver.

Bullets from Rue's rifle flatten and rattle off of the unyielding frame of the Hunter, who reacts by pivoting in place. It launches itself forward in a bounding leap that brings four-hundred pounds of superheated metal slamming onto asphalt, a fluid motion that propels it back up into the air as it hurtles straight for Rue Lancaster, head reared back with the intent to plunge needle into human flesh.

She twists aside only just enough to avoid it even as she feels her feet leave the ground as the full force of the Hunter's weight slams into her shoulder on her way to dodge its attack. Her arm, rendered numb from its tether to a now useless shoulder, has her rifle swing loose on its strap as she slams into the ground, the Hunter landing barely a foot away.

Still in range of one working hand is the detonator she was given as her eyes snap open to see the headlights of the ATV down the road.

With the thunder of Rue opening fire still ringing in everyone's ears, Michal Valentin abruptly surges forwards at almost the exact moment as Robyn makes her run, hands dropping from their clasp behind his head. Hands in fists, fists empty. No, not empty. One fist, clutching something, mostly concealed.

Francois tips his rifle down and squeezes the trigger. Bullets bite legs, Valentin pitching forward, landing on his knees, that one hand clutching close protectively.

No blood running.

Further down the street, they hear the abrupt rev of a vehicle, and see the sudden spill of headlights as an ATV comes surging out from behind the shadow of a building like an enraged bull. From Devon's perspective, it's almost disorienting, but he manages to steer the C4, connected all importantly to Rue's detonator, to attach to the vehicle with an unheard thump.

Devon can see the driver suddenly jerk in his seat as his skull scatters apart from one lucky shot, and hear the scream of another as a bullet finds purchase. The ATV's path wavers, shudders to a stop, and he can enjoy the moment for all of one second before—

The breath leaves his lungs under the sudden punch of automatic fire slamming squarely into his chest, AEGIS armor proving its million dollar worth in its absorption of kinetic force when Devon lands on his back, bearing broken ribs and bruises as opposed to his own insides in his hands. He can feel the telltale buzz from the battery pack of his armor that indicates, urgently, that it can't take much more — if anything.

He feels flecks of loose brickwork pepper down from where automatic fire carves chunks out of the wall directly near him, and hears the sound of boots hitting asphalt as men start to disembark from the stalled vehicle.

As Devon tries to get his breath back, as Rue collects her bearings from where the Hunter knocked her down, as Robyn races for Francois, and as Francois steers his rifle to open fire on the Hunter in the desperate hope it won't turn and kill Rue Lancaster with a casual thrust of its skull, Valentin gets back on his feet. Staggers. Lurches forward, closing in on Robyn and Francois both.

His jacket flagged open, now, from his stumble, the explosives strapped to his chest in plain view.

There’s a strangled cry when Rue hits the ground that she doesn’t register as her own. She knows her arm should be in pain, but adrenaline and confusion keep that from registering too. What she does recognize is that her life is about to end if something doesn’t drastically change in the next few precious moments.

The lights of the ATV bring her into the moment that seems unnaturally protracted. A shape cuts across her field of vision and disappears beneath the vehicle. If it was what she thinks, then it’s now or never. And she’s dangerously close to a whole lot of never.

With a panicked sound Rue scrabbles for the detonator and jams down the button with her thumb.

Registering everything that happens in this moment is tough for Robyn - she's suffering from severe tunnel vision. All she sees is a bot moving and she doesn't even need to know where, she just wants to run away. She sees Valentin moving, and she doesn't know where, she just wants to make sure he stops.

She curses to herself as she runs, only the barest sense registering what's happening to Rue, the sound of gunfire, chaos unfolding in milliseconds all around her. She continues to wish she were invisible. It might ping her stronger on the hunterbot, but maybe that could be an advantage until she gets torn to shreds.

Or, you know, at least then she could punch Michal Valentin without him seeing it coming. Wouldn't that be grand?

"Merde, why do you always make this so hard?" Not specifically Valentin, just these assholes in general. But as she gets closer, as she better able to see what Valentin may be planning, she skids to a stop - better that than run head first into what might be a trap anyway.

With little mind paid to the fact that she's out in the wide open, she drops down to one knee and tries to line up her shot, before pulling the trigger of her rifle.

She'd wouldn't let up if she wasn't worried about also hitting Francois.

Sucking in air through clenched teeth, Devon struggles to reorient himself. He can’t stay on his back in the middle of the street. He’s too much of a target, and besides, it’s no time to be lying down. He rolls to his belly and immediately regrets it when the hot ache of broken bones becomes a fiery pain. He pauses with his hands beneath his shoulders just long enough for a panting breath, then he braces against the sharp reminder that he’s still alive as he gets to his feet.

As he stands, one hand reaches to his belt to retrieve that final brick of C4. It’s the best option he has against the robot, but there’s still the enemy from the vehicle to consider. Which brings his other hand up with sidearm to bear and he takes an almost blind aim on the ATV. He holds up the explosive so he can see it fully, the ATV and its occupants in his field of vision. He’s confident that Rue will have him covered, but it’s good to have a back up plan.

He only needs a few seconds.

As his gun is raised he’s already working to connect for a final time with his last explosive. He crabs sideways, to close the gap between himself and the robot, to widen the distance between himself and the remaining combatants, to find a little bit more of that time he needs. Dev throws everything he can into it, like he might throw himself against a door that he needed open, he strains against his own limitations to make it synchronize faster, stronger. Because as soon as he feels it click into place, he’s sending it flying, first class, to that remaining Hunter.

Several impulses play out for Francois in the ever narrowing window of action as Valentin surges forwards. The familiar sight of explosives is a cold injection of panic that sees him rabbit backwards while likewise clamping down on the equally powerful urge to just recklessly fire at far too close a range. He doesn't see Rue, who could be ravaged beneath the feet of the Hunter; he only abstractly registers the ear drum pounding explosion of C4 detonation further down the street; he does see Robyn run, and drop, and heft her rifle.

"Get down!" he yells on pure instinct in the same moment when he takes his own advice, pivoting on a heel, and all but flinging himself bodily away as Robyn opens fire.

Later, Robyn can play the moment over in her mind, confirm on reflection that she'd passed a bullet directly through Michal Valentin's skull from the way his body had twisted, had collapsed to a hip before the explosion went off, rendering man into a force of fire and concussion, gore obliterated, shrapnel shredding, heat disintegrating, and a piercing weedling high pitched sound nestling within her ears, and Rue's, and Francois'.

Where Valentin was, there is only what looks to be the shredded remains of legs, and pierces of— pieces, on fire.

Francois is prone on the ground like he was thrown, as yet unmoving.

Further down the road, as Devon struggles backwards under the strange dull-sharp pressure of broken ribs, he can see figures dumping down off of the ATV with the intent on crowding nearer, guns drawn, sharp orders to one another — he's over here! — on the wind, before their voices are blown away. The actual thunderous cacophony of the explosion never registers to Devon's ears as his hearing is all but cancelled out save for that one lingering whine of tinnitus as the night time street turns to high noon daylight, and fire engulfs the ATV, and engulfs the men who has just disembarked from it, all erupting into fire and force, rent apart, raining back down unrecognisable.

Devon feels something sharp pierce his leg as night time is restored, in the same moment he sends the brick of C4 jetting away. Flaming twisted metal carves deep beneath his knee, sharp and vital in contrast to the way the explosion has muffled out his senses and rattled his brain. In a way, it wakes him up.

And proceeds to hurt like a bitch.

Up ahead, the Hunter had buckled beneath the explosion from Valentin, but like Rue, is close enough to the ground to avoid the worst of it. With a skreee of metal, it climbs back on its feet. From Rue's perspective, she sees the resulting explosion from her detonation, the blossoming of fire, the flaming debris raining down, and she hears, much closer, the Hunter prowling around in an arc, red eyes once again turning to her on the ground. Before it readies its leap—


A brick of C4 almost comically slams into its shoulder with enough force to make it hesitate.

There’s a terrible ringing in Rue’s ears. Mom always told her not to listen to music too loud, and the explosion of the C4 and the ATV is like music to her ears. The other… less so. She can barely hear the sound of her own panicked breathing over the tinnitus, eyes wide and frantic as she scrambles backward, legs and good arm pushing until she can get enough momentum to push herself to her feet again. Her left hand braces on the pavement, shoving herself up as she stumbles off the block.

“Fuck. Fuck!” Pain is screaming through her body as her right arm hangs uselessly at her side, slapping against her body along with her gun. Or maybe she’s actually screaming. Rue isn’t even sure anymore. She just knows she needs to get enough distance between her and the Hunter, the Hunter and her team. She doesn’t register the Hunter’s hesitation in her periphery or by sound. But the pounding sensation in the bottoms of her feet, radiating into her legs, that comes opposite and in double time the rhythm of her own gait halts. Rue throws a look over her shoulder.

The C4.

In front of her, blue eyes scan for some sort of cover. If she dives and covers her head, will that spare her from the worst? She has her doubts. «”Somebody report! Please!”» Rue abruptly changes trajectory to round the corner of a brick building, hoping to buy time. Hoping someone will squawk back. There’s a fumbled grab for her weapon. The second is more successful. Aiming with her off-hand is not her strong suit, but as she turns around with a feral shout, she’s hoping she can put enough bullets into the damned thing that it won’t matter how good her aim was.

Robyn's vision swirls, and despite not being nearly as close to the explosion as Francois was, she finds herself reeling in its aftermath. She coughs, for a moment not wanting to really pull herself back fully up to her feet. Though it's only moments, it feels like it takes her an eternity to get it together and get back to her feet.

She stares at what can be best described as the leftovers of Valentin, and finds herself uncertain and confused. "Why?" she questions out loud, her hesitation lasting as long as it takes her to see her mission CO laying motionless on the ground, to hear Rue's call out on her radio, to register the chaos Devon is embroiled in.

And of all things, she smirks. It's not a smug or self-satisfied smirk. The motion behind it is less tangible, more elusive. Whatever it is, it's what drives her to pick her pistol back up and book it as fast as she can towards Francois. "«Bullwhip-4, reporting!»" she yells into her coms. "«Bullwhip-1 is down, repeat, Bullwhip-1 is down. And I think he's covered in Valentin.»" She looks over towards Rue, towards the hunter.

Indecision strikes - CO or friend?

There's not really much she can do against a hunter, though, and she doesn't see the C4. So she does what best she can. She raises her CZ and plinks a few shots at it while she makes her way over to where Francois lays. It won't do much besides agitate it, but at least then it's less agitated at Rue.

Eyes narrow against the sudden brightness then burn with resistance to blink away the blinding contrast between bright and dark. Devon’s focus is solid and as soon as he feels the connection, the synchronization, he throws it away. The effort would stagger him if all his sensibilities were caught up to that moment in time. The tinnitus is disorienting and distracting, but the sudden shock of hot metal cutting into his leg takes him down.

He twists with the impact, to land on a hip. It reminds him quiet unpleasantly about those broken ribs and he might be spitting out a few more bad words. He can’t hear but he knows his mouth is moving. A long second passes, his freed hand grips his thigh hard because it might make the hurting stop, and Dev turns his gaze to the hunter down the street.

He has no explosives left, and he’s out of tricks. The fate of the remaining brick is in Rue’s hands; Devon can only hope she’s in a position to fire. And shoot. He raises his sidearm and takes aim at the backside of the robot. Rounds are squeezed off in quick succession, fired in hopes of drawing attention, to give his teammates some of that precious time.

The Hunter braces under impact of gun fire from every which way. Some lucky shot sees an abrupt burst of fluid that strikes the asphalt at its feet and hisses, frost drifting. Under the wild spray of Rue's aim, glass cracks and shatters, one of its glowing red eyes going dead in a spray of pulverised crystal and a short snap of electricity. It turns its head downwards, protecting the intricate needle and pump beneath its throat, bullets ricocheting off desert-coloured steel.

Steam gusts out of its ribcage vents, whorling with something like fury as it re-assesses all it can see within range.

By the by, Rue can make out words spray-stencilled onto one rust coloured flank: FELICIA.

The good news is that Francois is not dead. The bad news is he's still uncertain about this fact as he draws an arm beneath him in the interests of trying to lift his upper body off of the pavement, blood flowing freely from some unknown source — or several. His armor has taken a good deal of the blunt force of the explosion, but his ears are ringing, his vision is blurry, and he feels as though he has been asleep for a week as opposed to a few short seconds.

Armor scrapes along the pavement as he tries to struggle to his feet, unaware of things like the relatively nearby block of C4, of the guns turned on a still active Hunter, or even, really, what happened to Michal Valentin, or himself.

The Hunter makes its decision, turning its shoulder from its pursuit of Rue to focus its attention onto the nearest mutant — Robyn, standing over Francois.

The moment of terror doesn’t pass as glass shatters and lights fizzle out and metallic head bows to protect comparatively softer parts. It doesn’t pass when the beast decides that Rue is not the target it wants to eliminate most.

«“Everybody get down! I’m gonna detonate this bitch!”» Rue drops her weapon, letting it hang from its strap as she retrieves the detonator again and drops down to a low crouch, counting seconds as distance to make sure she doesn’t get caught in the worst of the blast, while making sure it doesn’t make its way back too close to the others.

“Bye, Felicia.” Shutting her eyes tight, Rue presses the button.

The way Robyn slides to her knees as she reaches Francois isn't some attempt at recreating cool movie magic, instead it's simply the quickest way to get down to his level once she's near him. It kind of hurts a whole bunch, but she doesn't spend any time thinking about it. Not right now at least.

Seeing that he's alive - at least for the moment, she lets out a sound of relief. "Dieu merci!" Maybe she defaults to French because she knows Francois of all people will understand it, but context probably would make that one easy to figure out regardless. "Stay down," she hisses at him, before Rue's instructions come crackling over her coms.

That when she registers, for the first time, the hulking metal killbot headed straight for her. Her eyes widen, but this time rather than be paralysed, she moves to cover Francois. Hopefully, this will hurt her more than it will him, considering the shape he's already in.

There’s a billion things Devon could be yelling right now, as he empties a magazine at the robot. He can’t hear any of it. His teammates likely catch something, as some of it’s picked up by the comms. There’s a peppering of swears and some calls for Rue to press the damn button.

The empty magazine is dropped from the gun and thrown, physically thrown, at the robot. A waste of time since even bullets do little to slow it down, but there’s something cathartic in the action. As soon as it’s left his hand, he rips a new mag and slams it into the receiver in quick succession. In nearly fluid motion, Devon racks a new round into the chamber and resumes his suppressive fire on the remaining hunter.

Sparks fly as bullets are wasted upon sharp metal, denting and scratching and ricocheting, and Robyn and Rue and Devon watch as it pivots in place beneath the onslaught, brings itself low, and launches into a wild run. Black marks left behind on the road where rubber-padded robot paws skid and skew, the sound of heavy, dense weight coming down in each stride as it moves with stunning speed for Robyn and Francois, over the smear of gore that is all that is left of Valentin, steam trailing, tail whipping, its remaining red eye impassive and glowing.

Rue presses the button as Robyn throws her weight over Francois, who collapses beneath her those few inches without strength.

All four feel and hear the detonation, metal twisted and rent into debris, a secondary blast from within the broken body of the robot as something within catches and ignites. The shockwave sends flame and force and metal flying. As Rue lifts her head, she sees fiery debris rain down around her, and absolutely nothing where the robot was last seen save for broken, scorched asphalt.

For the first time since the last time their heart rates went up, Operation Bullwhip feels the rain that's been coming down gently all this while, now coming down heavier. As Robyn gets her bearings, she notes the soft whine of her battery pack as the shockwave she took from the blast drains her armor of its resources.

The ringing in their ears slowly abates.

Good arm comes up to shield as more than droplets of water rain down in the aftermath of the explosion. Instinctively, Rue is braced for worse.

And it doesn’t come.

She sags and lets out a deep breath that she didn’t realize she had been holding, bracing her hand against the side of a building to help lever herself back to her feet. In something of a daze, Rue makes her way forward, noting where Robyn is huddled over Francois, searching further down for Devon. When he doesn’t immediately come jogging, she starts to make her way toward him. For all that she feels like her arm wants to fall off and like she’ll need to consume an entire bottle of aspirin to soothe her headache, she’d call this a success.

Robyn is very still for a moment. She equates the sound of that battery whine with the sound of taps playing in the distance - this is it. Nothing left to save her.

Except, like Rue's realisation, that never comes. She's left there, huddled over Francois with the rain beating down around her back.

Slowly she sits up a bit, rising to her knees as she looks down at Francois. "Merde," she says quietly. She wants to just flop over on her back, not move and take in the falling rain, but there's no time for that. "Still alive?" is meant to be taken seriously, but there's maybe a tinge of humour behind it. "Feel free to tell me to get the heck up if so."

With that, though, she turns to her coms. «Bullwhip-1's hurt but alive. Valentin is, uh, a thin red mist.»."

They certainly could be worse off.

From his end of the street, Devon keeps firing until the dark lights up again. He sees the initial flash of the explosive and instinctively brings his arms up over his face, his body kind of twisting to protect vital spots from stray shrapnel. He rides out the shockwave and secondary explosion that way, waiting for fallout that doesn’t seem to be coming.

When he judges enough time has passed that something should have happened, and it hasn’t, he slowly drags an arm from his face for a look. He sees… nothing. Except the shadowy shapes of his teammates made ghostly by the bits of fiery debris from the battle. Devon pushes himself onto his back lets out a celebratory whoop, then decides against a second as his ribs remind him that those actions aren’t acceptable.

His eyes close against the rain, just taking in the moment of respite, the cleansing wash from above, before all the pains come back to him. «”Bullwhip-3, checking in,”» he eventually does say into the comms. Pain and exhaustion are thick in his voice, which still sounds muffled and distant to him. «”With injuries.”»

"Alive, oui," says Francois, voice strained. As Robyn lifts her weight, he rolls back onto a hip, managing to wedge an arm beneath him so as best to survey his surroundings. Heavier rain is bringing down that veil of dust and smoke that had blanketed the street, and he thinks he can see Rue moving away, putting two and two together as Devon's voice comes over the comms. Real relief — an unsettling, bone-deep feeling that makes him almost wish to lie back down again — sets in at the realisation that yes.

Everyone is still alive.

Bullwhip-1, checking in,»" he says, instead slowly climbing to his feet, along with potentially helping Robyn to hers or mostly using her as mutual leverage. "«Situation is clear, over here.»"

Through the rain, the coming lights of vehicles winging back around towards them might be alarming, at first, but it soon resolves into the shapes of friendly trucks coming back for them with an increasing growl of engines. Francois raises an arm to flag them down, immediately swearing short and sharp as some unseen injury twinges, and he bows back down to rest a hand and his weight on a knee with half a laugh. It occurs to him that what felt like ten years possibly all transpired within barely half a minute.

Proceed with Hester for extraction,»" he adds, finally, voice now wearing that weariness, and gladness both. "«Well done, Wolfhound.»

Methodically, each member of Operation Bullwhip is scraped off the pavement, bundled into humvees, clear eyed medical officers lifting responsibility off of their shoulders like a weight. With a lurch of wheels, a few claps to shoulders, the team are driven out from the limits of Fort Irwin, leaving behind the hanging smoke in the air, the flaming remains of battle slowly dying out beneath the rain.

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