Operation Hercules, Part IV


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Scene Title Operation Hercules, Part IV
Synopsis Wolfhound's operation against the remnants of the Institute runs afoul of an interested third party.
Date January 10, 2019

The forested hills of western California are sparse and fire-damaged pines. During the war, wildfires raged out of control across most of California, and in the years that have passed since the worst of the fires died down new growth has started to spring up in its wake. But the scars of the fires are still ever present.

Two Miles from the rest of Wolfhound’s engagement point, Curtis Autumn and Felix Ivanov move through this once-burned forest, descending a rocky hillside scattered with scrub underbrush and deadfall branches. Through the treeline, they can see the Pacific Ocean coming into view, and a winding coastal highway littered with the demolished remnants of million dollar houses. There is no one living out here, anymore. The once densely populated coastal stretch of California between Los Angeles and Malibu now resembles a desert ghost town.

Between the sparse tree cover and the coastal highway are snaking hiking trails winding down from the hills toward an old campground in a wide canyon. Beyond that, a stretch of asphalt sprouting with saplings was once a parking lot. Now, though, it’s something different.

It’s a landing site.

One Day Earlier

The Bunker

Rochester, NY

January 9th


Satellite imagery of forested hills is projected large on a flat screen behind the right shoulder of Commander Avi Epstein. Carrying a small tablet, he pans the satellite surveillance away from a compound in the hills, past a remote power substation, and to a lonely stretch of highway along the coast.

“Okay, Team IV will consist of Curtis Autumn in command with Felix Ivanov in support.” Epstein motions to the two men, then looks back down to the tablet. “We’ve identified an old parking lot located at the base of the hills that’s seen regular vehicle traffic. We believe that the Institute remnant have been using this location as a landing strip for either choppers or VTOL aircraft to bring in supplies.”

The image over Avi’s shoulder switches to an old Google street view of the parking lot from 2011. Team IV’s responsibility is going to be ensuring that the Institute has no back way out of Sunstone. If they can call in an evac route, we want it closed. We haven’t seen any vehicles on site, and contemporary satellite footage shows no landing strips nearby. So unless they already have a bird en-route before we arrive, this might just be a game of wait and see.”

Epstein steps in front of the screen, tapping his tablet and bringing up the aerial map again. “You’ll be coming straight from the north through the tree cover of the canyon park. Since we’re working with a massive compound, you two will be the furthest split off from the others and without immediate support. The Major will be busy dealing with electronic countermeasures, so I’m going to play backup on this mission. If you two need an evac or air support, I’ll have the Tlanuwa ready to go. But we can’t risk the bird being spotted before the Op, so I’ll be wheels down to the west in the ruins of Oxnard.” Avi taps the screen again and zooms out, showing where that location is in relation to the makeshift landing strip.

“Remember, we want to take as many of these people alive as possible for questioning and trial. But terrain dictates. If you need to go lethal, do what it takes to make it back alive.” Avi taps the tablet again, and turns his attention to the next team.

One Day Later

Canyon Campground

Just Outside Malibu, CA

January 10th

1:24 pm

A thousand feet from their destination and descending from the hills, Curtis and Felix see no immediate signs of Institute activity. They may have been given the least exciting job in the entire operation, though given the panorama of the Pacific Ocean perhaps the most scenic. Roughly six minutes to their destination, and comms indicate the operation is going smoothly.

Perhaps this will make up for all the other clusterfucks in the last few years.

Curtis takes a knee briefly, lifting a pair of compact binoculars to scan the area around the landing pad that they're getting in place to guard. If Felix is close enough for hand signals Curtis will give him an all clear, if not he'll murmur softly into the comms to let Ivanov know that it still looks clear. Then he's back up on his feet, moving through the foliage at a steady but slow pace, wanting to make sure there's as little chance as possible of being seen.

It's a stealth mission this time around, so he's forgone the normal machine gun and heavier equipment. Instead there's the banshee on one hip, and a .45 on the other with a suppressor in a pouch right next to it ready to be screwed on. The .45 is a well worn and well used weapon, though also very well maintained. Nicks and chips show in the outside metal. Twin kukri are sheathed against his lower back, both weapons also old friends. Hanging across his front is an equally well worn AR-15, complete with an extended barrel, high powered scope and a suppressor there as well, geared out to be a marksman weapon today. It's not a day about power, it's a day for surprise. Which doesn't mean he's forgone having a couple of compact grenades on him. Much easier to take down a chopper that's landed if you can tag it with a grenade, but those are last ditch options to stop a bird from taking off. Camo BDU's and grease paint finish the soldier's gear.

Curtis is quiet as they trek, trusting in his partner for the mission. He knows Felix will alert him if he spots anything notable. So there's just the occasional mic tap and waited return to make sure Felix is still there when he gets out of Curtis's line of sight. Otherwise he just moves steadily forwards, his head on a swivel. Sure they're not expected to run into anything themselves but letting your guard down is a sure fire way to get dead.

The years have worn away Fel’s tendency to be a chatterbox on comms. He’s geared up fairly similar to Curtis, though there’s a light machine pistol below his nape, and flashbangs and gas grenades, rather than full on frags. A long knife at his back, and shorter ones in each boot.

He’s got a weird gliding grace to his motion, usually a sign of him letting just a little of his hyper adrenaline dump into his bloodstream. Enough to up his reaction time a bit, without draining things too fast. Also keeping ears and eyes out. The odds over the past years’ve been enough to have him thoroughly distrust anything that looks like luck.

There’s something haunting about urban decay, especially in some place as iconic as California. What the war didn’t wipe out the EMP near its end and the wildfires that followed the war’s conclusion certainly did. The eviscerated homes at the coast are just cellar holes and gray smudges from here, set against the blue platter of the Pacific. But the parking lot is a more familiar decay; the sight of splitting asphalt and new growths of sapling trees and scrub plants. Rusted hulks of derelict cars with no tires or windshields, paint scoured off by flames and yet now overgrown by crawling vegetation and spotted with the yellow of dandelions.

For a time Curtis and Felix have only the cicadas to keep them company, the constant chirping from the trees and shrubs, the distant crash of the surf and the occasional call of gulls. It’s a serene sound, one not undercut by any signs of violence. Sunstone Manor is close enough that gunfire would carry, and that none has erupted from that direction means that this operation is going smoother than any may have anticipated. But, it’s too much like luck.

The distant sound of helicopter blades disrupts the silence. It’s difficult to tell exactly where the noise is coming from as it dopplers over the hills, but eventually the sight of a dark shape moving in from the south over the ocean comes into a blurry focus. Until the vehicle closes in its hard to really get a sense of its scale, but as it comes nearer to the coast it’s a behemoth in the air, dark gray and without any designations. It also isn’t an American military design or any design either Felix or Curtis are familiar with.

The aircraft is easily sixty feet long, with four tilt-rotors spinning at all four corners. The massive vehicle displaces a considerable downdraft, kicking up ash and soot along with sand and dirt as it moves over the land. A dust storm pushes past Curtis and Felix, blows back the vegetation and sends birds scattering. It’s flying low, too low to be picked up by radar due to the hills, and as it comes over the parking lot the underside of the massive vehicle opens into a drop hangar that unspools black cables. Six figures in black uniforms with camera-mounted helmets, ablative armor and rifles that look like a QBZ-03 — Chinese-issue assault rifle typically used by the People’s Liberation Army paratroopers — with an extended magazine.

This isn’t the Institute.

Curtis is… rather content to sit and wait. A quiet mission is not a bad thing at all. So he finds himself a spot to post up once they're in a ready position and settles in, laying down on his front next to one of the trees to give him cover. His AR-15 is settled against his shoulder and he just pans around the AO watching and listening for gunfire. Watching for reinforcements, anything really. Then he hears the sound of the chopper, and his brows furrow. It's not a familiar sound, so he's soon enough up and on one knee, rifle down across his chest again, binoculars up. "Holeeeeshit." He murmurs, then keys his comms.

"Tlanuwa please be advised we have got a biiiig ole bird coming in and she does not look friendly. Nor is she Institute. Chinese I think by the guns they're carrying. Not a make or model I've ever seen. Or heard of. Sixty feet long and fucking huge. We have armed potential hostiles about to disembark please advise." Yeah Curtis does not want to cause an international incident. However he is very quickly dropping the binoculars to his chest and lifting the rifle, sighting through it, finger ready on the trigger, just waiting for the word 'go' from the other end. "Felix. Anything you're familiar with? Cuz my grenades are not going to handle that thing. Feel like I showed up to the party naked now."

As he’s talking Curtis is also moving, in addition to switching to the rifle from the binoculars he’s up and moving at a steady pace. Not full tilt running yet, again not wanting to cause an incident in case these guys are not hostiles, but he also definitely wants to be in place to do something about them if it’s needed. “Think you can flank the landing sight without being seen?” He asks of his super powered speed friend and comrade.

“If you’re asking me if that shit is Russian, buddy, I dunno,” Fel says, blankly. “You see any Cyrillic printing on it?” It’s a legit question, though the Russians are way more likely to be coming over to Alaska, if that’s how they’re gonna tangle. “Fuck, we’d need a MANPAD to even make a dent on that. Something tells me they’re not here to try and sell us Girl Scout cookies.”

“Yeah, I likely can,” he adds, with easy arrogance. He’s learned, on multiple occasions and to his very great chagrin that he can’t dodge bullets. Or even the faster kinds of rockets and grenades. There’s a reason more than a few of his nightmares begin with the hiss of an RPG in flight. “But I’m feelin’ kinna underdressed myself.”

«Ah fuck,» is Avi’s helpful response over the comms. «Stay in visual, advise if we have movement toward the operation zone. We may need you to run interference if they’re going to compromise or reinforce. Keep me informed.»

As Avi lays down orders, the six troopers from within spread out from the drop zone. There’s plenty of space between Wolfhound and these new arrivals, and as they maneuver into position they stop and begin scanning their immediate surroundings. At a distance the soldiers’ movements look odd, their armor unusually boxy and heavy, restrictive in ways even the old FRONTLINE exoskeletons wouldn’t be. But as they fan out and become visible through the underbrush, it becomes clear that it’s not an exoskeleton at all.

One of the soldiers lets out a mechanical whirr-click signal and turns its head so that Felix and Curtis can see a profile view, and it’s— a rectangle. These aren’t even soldiers, they’re bipedal machines.

The massive vehicle begins to land, continuing to kick up a dust storm around it. Landing gears engage, and once the massive vehicle touches down, a loading ramp extends from the open underbelly as nine human soldiers in black uniforms begin hauling out gray plastic storage crates on wheeled carts. They are followed by a trio of… teenage women?

Two brunette women, one of whom is dressed in a ratty fur coat, walk side-by-side with a girl with cotton-candy pink hair. She takes a look over her shoulder, then hurries back up into the vehicle like she forgot something. The soldiers appear to give the girls a wide berth, and from a distance its very hard to tell them apart, they might be related or— triplets? They don’t look military or even paramilitary.

"Flank them then. If we do need to engage we'll want the crossfire." Curtis trusts Felix to have his back errr side. Trusts the man implicitly. He continues to move forwards as he observes. «Well fuck. Commander we have robots on the field. Repeat the soldiers are fucking robots. The bird is touched down and… what in the literal fuck?» Curtis goes quiet for a long few moments as he looks at the three women getting out of the flying fortress along with soldiers and storage crates.

«Tlanuwa we have another 9 soldiers that appear to be human and look like mercs and three teenage girls that look like they mean business but do not repeat do not look military but look a lot alike. They're hauling grey storage containers out of the big bird. Pretty sure they have intentions on our targets. Feeling awfully fucking naked out here. Permission to engage?»

With or without the permission Curtis is still moving forwards, getting ready, getting prepped. He doesn't want to kick something off that doesn't need to go off, but by no means is he going to let a single someone start heading towards their comrades in the Sunspot Manor. As he's moving his hands are moving over his gear, checking to make sure his blades aren't stuck in their sheaths, making sure his pistol's holster is unsnapped, and making sure the banshee is ready too. «Lemme know when you're in position Felix.»

Curtis gets as close as he can without putting himself out in the open, or hopefully making himself a big target for the robots. Or the mercs though he’s more worried about the mechanical soldiers than the flesh and blood ones. “God I miss my armor right now.” This is muttered, though with his com open it can probably be picked up.

Fel’s initial response is hissed over the comms, very softly. Oooh, he hasn’t forgotten all the really terrible words in his cradle tongue. But his actual, official response is a cool «Roger that, Curtis» Knee jerk cursing aside, he’s a pro, if a ragged and battered one, and he apparently shares the other Wolfhound’s sentiment when it comes to offering themselves up as a distraction, rather than let this crew head for their comrades in the rest of the Manor.

He heads off to the proper point, also loosening and unsafing weaponry. Human reflexes he’s not so afraid of - there are very few like him. Robots, however….«This is very weird. They’re unloading some kind of cargo. No markings that I can see, though some of the gear looks like it’s Chinese make.»

«Chinese!?» Avi’s voice crackles over the comms, «Fuck.» The nine human soldiers begin to remove the crate from the cart, setting it down on the ground. One works at a keypad on the side, and after a sequence is punched in the crate unfolds like a flower, hinges once invisible now blatantly obvious. As it opens, a telescoping rod extends up from the middle, followed by a dish that unfolds from around the end like the head of one of the dandelions littering the parking lot. It’s a satellite dish.

«That could be Praxis Heavy, they have a connection to fucking Monroe. Get me eyes on t— »

The comms cut out. It’s not a satellite dish, it’s a signal jammer. Not even Hana will be able to cut through that severance until the hardware is down, which means all of the teams are now flying blind.

«Affirmative. Chinese.» Apparently Avi didn't get that the first time around in the holy fuck there's hostiles inbound moment. It does bring a slight smile to Curtis's lips. The old dog can still be surprised by stuff, though this is hardly a good surprise. Not even slightly a good surprise. «Tlanuwa it looks like they're unloading something from the storage crate I'm really not… looks like a coms device maybe» Curtis is listening to Avi when the comms cut out. "Fucking hell. Why can't anything ever go to fucking plan?" Curtis doesn't have coms to Felix anymore, so he's trusting Felix to have his back and get into position. "On the count of five."

One. Curtis is up and running through, dashing headlong towards the landing pad. He's weaving as he runs though in case he's spotted. Two. He doesn't start shooting right away either, he gives Felix time to get into position while he tries to get closer. Feet pounding on the ground. Three. He leaps over a fallen log, a move that might very well open him up to being fired upon but going around would have taken too long. Four. His AR-15 is lifted to his shoulder though he doesn't bother trying to sight down the scope. "Please use the flashbangs Ivanov. Please." Felix can't hear him but Curtis can hope. Five. Curtis squeezes the trigger on the AR-15 in rapid succession. It's not set up for automatic fire. It's set up for semi auto. Marksman. But damn does he wish he had the machine gun right now. And more than two compact frag grenades.

Squeeze. He fires a shot downrange, aiming for the boxy heads of the robots. Their reaction times are bound to be better than the humans, and he needs to know how tough they are, so his shots are focused on the robots. His path is aiming towards the comms jammer. His grenades might not be able to take down the big chopper but they should be able to knock out the jammer. "FELIX!" A hard bellow leaves his chest as he pours everything he has into his running speed, throwing his aim off to the point that he doesn't even bother firing as he looks for somewhere to take cover against the immediate threat of return fire. "BLIND THEM!"

He remembers the curses from his childhood….and also the prayers. No one can hear him now, the comms dead as a broken Tamagotchi. So they can’t hear him chanting to himself in something that isn’t even Russian, but its ancestor. Each syllable in time with his step as he starts moving.

Fel may not know Curtis’s exact plan, but…he’s worked with enough jarheads to know that their training defaults to ‘direct frontal assault’ without other orders. He catches the beginning of the other Wolfhound’s movement out of the corner of his eye….

…and then his power’s flaring into life, that adrenaline variant sluicing into his bloodstream, raising the fine hairs at his nape and sending an ice water chill racing over his skin. Perception speeds up and suddenly the rest of the world is reduced to a lurching tableau moving in an exaggerated waltz time.

Each flashbang moves with a leisurely grace, like a slow-mo replay, as he pulls their pins and hurls them at the knots of soldiers, both robot and human. Then he’s deliberately slowing himself down, trying to draw eye and aim. Let them focus on him, since Curtis is the one who can deal the necessary damage.

The chaos comes quick and hard. As Wolfhound begins its attack from the treeline, blasts of muzzle flare and shouts accompanying exploding greenery and sparks of ricochets, the black-clad invading force turns its attention on its perimeter. The robotic soldiers move with a stunning fluidity, two of them fanning out with an even gait undisturbed by the uneven terrain, gyroscopic limbs compensating for recoil and stride bounce as they lay down a barrage of suppressing fire in Curtis’ direction.

The first machine Curtis hits with a head shot loses its camera-like head with a lucky shot trained right down the optical lens. Circuit boards, plastic, and metal explode out the back, but the machine stays standing and continues to blindly lay down suppressing fire in short bursts in the direction it was already firing in. Eventually it just comes to a stop after emptying its magazine, dropping into a blind crouch to minimize its profile.

Felix’s movements are far harder for the machines to track. The concussive shockwave and startling explosion of light from the flashbangs sends the already scrambling human soldiers scattering in disorientation. The machines seem less impacted by the flash but jostled by the concussive bang. Two of them train up on Felix and open fire, but he’s not where they’re shooting by the time they train their sights. What both Curtis and Felix recognize is a near instant target acquisition, aim and fire are almost one fluid motion. They must have some sort of predictive software allowing them to anticipate an opponent’s movements. Felix it appears moves so fast that it seems to be making them overcompensate.

The human soldiers fall back into the armor-plated aircraft, firing blindly into the treeline as they do, expecting a larger resistance. As they shout in Mandarin and are joined by the robotic squelches and squawks of the mechanical soldiers, there’s a sound of helicopter blades that isn’t coming from the grounded vehicle. It’s a second vehicle approaching from the south at a higher elevation. It’s moving at a much faster cruising speed and passes right over the landing zone, headed northeast toward where the remainder of Wolfhound is operating.

Trust in your equipment. Curtis has thoroughly tested these vests by now so he knows they'll stop a bullet. He's a little worried about his extremities but those are far less likely to be lethal shots so there's that at least. He's trusting in his equipment, and in the chaos of his and Felix's attack to throw off aims and sow confusion. Curtis's little thrill of victory is short lived when the machine he nailed in the head… keeps shooting. It's blind suppressing fire but hey enough of that can get you a lucky hit.

Curtis hears the roar of another chopper and there's a string of curse words that might just make Avi blush. He's still running as he reaches into a pouch on the back of his belt, fishing out the two compact frag grenades. His target is that jamming device. He primes both of the grenades as he races in. He knows his throw distance. He knows it very well, so he's trying to get as close as he can before throwing the grenades. He's firing as he goes, mostly for supression's sake though, and once he gets within range of his throwing arm he'll drop into a slide on the ground and then hurl the first grenade through the air.

He's not going to throw the second right away. He wants to know if the first will do the job. If it will hit the signal jammer. From his slide he springs forwards into a roll, seeking something to take cover behind so he can drop to a knee and return fire towards the robots. It'll be a few moments while the humans sort themselves out after that flashbang, but the robots are a problem.

He’s not yet at full stretch. No giving it his all, not unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is all but the equivalent of dancing around on the playground in a dodgeball match, daring them to hit him. With his ability in play, he can take (from his perspective anyway) time to aim carefully. The spray of shards from the one Curtis hit is encouraging, and he aims for what looks like an optical sensor. Even if he can’t destroy them utterly, maybe he can help shut them down.

The humans….well, they’ve got blind panic on their side. It may take them a little to figure out that there are only two jackasses rampaging around there, trying to look like like a whole squad. Fel’s keeping his movements in an arc opposite where Curtis is, the better to divide their attention.

But when you’re super human, sometimes two is a whole squad.

Before Curtis’ grenade even lands one of the machines is tracking its arc through the air. It pivots with a surprising grace on one heel, then rushes toward the grenade. The robot picks the grenade up off of the ground and presses it against its chest, then turns away from the jamming dish and manages to take two steps before the grenade detonates. There’s a shower of sparks, dust, earth, and metal shrapnel as the midsection of the machine is eviscerated by the blast. It spins around, unable to hold itself up and crashes down to the ground, sparks and smoke issuing from the middle of its body, legs twitching and flexing and useless. One of its arms is simply gone, the other reaches for the rifle it dropped in the blast.

Another one of the robots is struck by Felix’s well-trained shot, shattering another visual sensor and demolishing it’s entire oblong camera-shaped head. The machine staggers wildly from the shot, then fires blindly at the ground and paws at the spot where its head was. Felix weaves around its faulty trajectory, able to negotiate the patterns of the machines’ firing with surprising ease. But somewhere between a zig and zag, Felix feels his AEGIS armor stiffen at his back a split second before he’s struck in the right shoulder blade by a three-shot burst. The armor prevents penetration and the rounds flatten against the ferrofluid plating, but Felix is thrown by the force of the shot, spun around and knocked down to a knee on the asphalt. The machine Curtis had already beheaded was firing blindly and clipped the speedster.

The remaining three undamaged machines fan out. One remains by the signal jammer, firing at where Curtis has taken cover behind one of the heavy armored crates the soldiers were unloading. Another begins backing up the ramp, not firing but instead scanning the horizon in some sort of defensive or threat-detection mode, defending the human soldiers who fled back into the massive helicopter. The last of the three turns its focus from Curtis to Felix.

Think, assess, then react. Curtis tracks the robot snatching up the first grenade, taking a hit for the team so to speak. The robots aren't dumb. They might not have human level decision making but they recognized the grenade for the threat it was. He sees one of the bots heading for the ramp, intending to protect the soft targets within. Then he sees Felix go down. He can't get to the speedster in time to stop anything from happening. But he can give them another target. "Felix! Soft targets in the chopper!" He shouts to the speedster on his knee and he rises from cover, underhanding his grenade to the speedster, trusting Felix to realize it's not live. As he rises he's firing away, not at the robots, nor at the jammer, but at the soft targets that have retreated into the chopper. Even if he doesn't have angles on them he can fire and hope a ricochet tags someone inside. The robots have threat detection and protection programming, that much is clear. So he's going to give them something to protect.

The magazine clicks empty on the rifle, and though he's got spares he doesn't have the time to swap magazines so he drops the rifle to the ground as he hurdles the crate he was hiding behind, coming down into a crouch by the robot who took the grenade for the team. Curtis steps behind the bot, trying to put it between himself and the other bots in case they've opened fire on him. His hands reach out, one grabbing onto the edge of the back plate of said one armed robot, the other grabbing for it's hip joint. Muscle stands out taut and with a bellow Curtis clean jerks the robot off of it's feet and up into the air. And then he uses that probably hundreds of thousands of dollars machine as one of the simplest tools in human history. He wields that thing like a fucking hammer, swinging it up and over his head, and then slamming it down through the jammer dish. He doesn't let go of the bot though, shifting to the side, trying to keep the body of the jammer between him and the other robots with guns, he'll jerk the high tech hammer up and smash it back down again for good measure, make sure the jammer is well and truly dead.
Curtis deciding that now is a wonderful time to Hulk Smash is in line with Fel’s instincts. He’s pitched forward by that burst impacting the armor. Not all the way prone, though….and he’s up again in an instant. Jinking frantically, trying to make sure the machines can’t predict his movement…just in time to catch that lobbed grenade.

The knowledge that he just caught a grenade in his hand like this is a sandlot baseball game….it’s enough to nearly divide his mind in fractions. That moment of heart-freezing terror at being that close with it, even though he could hurl it on in time enough even if it were live….glee at the chance he’s been given, and pleasure that he and Curtis are sufficiently in sync with one another.

Then he’s pulling the pin on it, before a tiny spate of speed of absolute full stretch - trying to hurl it in past the robot goalie and land it in among the humans in the chopper, then be away before he can be caught by another bullet. Turning like a dancer to bring his gun to bear on the one now targeting him - taking what feels like all the time in the world to aim, and watching the rounds’ wakes in the air.

Sparks erupt from the tangled mess of steel and plastic that was once the jamming device as Curtis bludgeons the machine repeatedly with the torso of the grenade-demolished robot. The machine is likewise destroyed in the savage beating as its remaining arm and damaged head come flying off and skitter across the cracked asphalt. In the same moment, Felix is moving in a blur, kicking up a cloud of sand beside the aircraft, then zipping away with as much speed.

The remaining undamaged machines on the ground struggle to follow Felix’s movements, but one has zeroed in on the slower-moving target. Curtis sees it out of the corner of his eye, pivoting, firing. Two clustered bursts slam hard against his AEGIS, striking his right shoulder, flank, and hip. The armor plating stiffens before the impact, predictive defenses functioning fully, but the force of the shots knocks Curtis off of his feet like being hit by a car. He skids across the asphalt, but he’s had far worse injuries before.

As he pulls himself to a crouch, the machine is circling around one of the plastic crates, firing center mass. A second burst hits Curtis in the chest and flips him backwards and into low brush. He can feel the shuddering stutter of the battery pack indicating it is at minimal levels. He can’t take another shot like that without the AEGIS giving out entirely. All the wind has been knocked from his lungs, his chest aches like he’s been kicked by a horse, and the machine—

A massive explosion tears through the aircraft, sending a billowing cloud of debris and flames out the opened hatch. Whatever the grenade hit inside might have been incendiary, because that blast was far larger than it should have been. The robot inside comes crashing down the ramp on fire, limbs windmilling and a chattering clacking sound echoing from inside of it before it falls limp. A few soldiers come running out on fire as well, throwing themselves on the ground and rolling around, trying to put out the blaze. But only two exit the machine, no sign of the triplets or the other soldiers. Fire laps across the ground, dribble down the damp in liquid flame, perhaps it was a chemical container that blew. But there’s shouts inside, not screams, blasts of white smoke — fire suppressant spray — comes billowing out. Not everyone died in the blast, and it didn’t fill the interior. But no one is trying to get out. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, there’s a high-pitched whining sound as the rotors begin to spin up prepping the aircraft for takeoff.

One of the robots beheaded by gunfire is no longer firing, having gone still. Two yet remain, and with the fire having gone out they return their attention to the Wolfhound operatives.

Curtis makes well and sure that the jamming device is down. The rest of the team CANNOT be left blind and without support or comms. Even if it means him taking a bullet to make sure of it. He does see the movement out of the corner of his eye, but there's no real time to react. If he had Felix's speed maybe, but he doesn't, so all he can do is hope beyond hope that none of the bullets hit him anywhere vital. The shots hammer into him, throwing him backwards. As he pitches over backwards he sees the fire erupt from within the chopper, sees the blur that is Felix Ivanov speeding away. Might need a new name for the donkey now. Felix dun good. If he had the air in his lungs he'd tell Felix to go for the pilot.

But he doesn't have air in his lungs, just the hope that the speedster will realize the importance of keeping that bird on the ground. Curtis hits the ground, hard. Not hard enough though. If there's been one constant in Curtis's life since the day he went undercover? It's been getting the shit kicked out of him by people a lot more powerful than himself. When the second burst hits him though he sees stars. A lifetime of honed reaction has him rolling backwards though, hoping the brush obscures him. He can't breathe yet, and doesn't try despite the burning in his lungs, despite the insistence from his body to get oxygen in him now.

Instead his hand goes to the holster on his hip, pulling free his .45 and rising up to a knee. Center the sights, no need to exhale he has no breath, squeeze the trigger when the sights settle on that boxy head. A second squeeze of the trigger before he's moving again. Diving forwards instead of back, towards the machine, hoping to throw it's aim off. If he can get close enough he'll play wrecking crew with this robot too. Or use it as a shield against the other one that's still fully live.

He’s not carrying arms heavy enough to damage that bird directly. Not likely. But the pilot….possible, possible. There’s a momentary temptation to run *in*…..but that didn’t end so well for him when he tried it all those years ago at that gala. A month or so subject to Danko’s tender mercies was more than enough to teach him the necessary lesson.

He’s circling, though, trying to find the cockpit. Find another way in to shoot at the human passengers….or some part of the aircraft that might be vulnerable to rifle fire. Or even, god help them, a way up on to the fuselage. Maybe he can get the robot after him to help him damage it.

Behind Felix there’s an explosion of wires and metal and Curtis manages to take another one of the robots targeting sensors out. It begins wildly spraying gunfire and walking backwards, the second robot is too busy trying to follow Felix’s hyper-fast movements to bother with Curtis, and the trail of rounds striking the ground continue to rattle out even as the speedster starts weaving a path toward the massive helicopter.

When Felix comes around to the cockpit, he can see a helmed pilot sitting in one seat as well as the triplets standing in view. But his low-caliber rounds flatten against the reinforced glass leaving cracks and chips but no real damage. The loading ramp folds up into the underside of the vehicle, still belching smoke like a wound on a dragon’s belly. His strategy to use the robots against the aircraft plays out better than he’d hoped, however. When the machine gun rounds begin impacting the side of the aircraft there’s a visible reaction from the pilot inside. Another volley of rounds punches through the cockpit and nearly hits the pilot.

The robot’s firing stops long enough for it to eject its magazine, reaching back for a magazine that should be at its side but isn’t. As the machine struggles to get its bearings on where its ammunition is, there’s a flash of rainbow-colored light inside the aircraft cockpit, followed by a reciprocal flash as that pink-haired woman appears in the parking lot with one of her twins. “Be careful, Ivy,” the pink-haired woman says before she disappears in another rainbow-hued flash, leaving behind her sister, Ivy, in not body armor but street clothes.

Ivy takes one look at Felix and starts marching in his direction.

Curtis's roll carries him in tight to the robot who's head he shot partially off. A smooth reholstering of his pistol gives him both hands free. A quick glance towards the chopper shows that… Felix seems to have things pretty well in hand. Also that the robots guns punch through reinforced glass. No wonder they kicked so hard when they tagged his Aegis armor. "Felix!" Curtis shouts as he scoops up the fallen gun from the one he used as a hammer. He fires two shots, one nearly point blank into the chest of the one with the broken head, then hurls the weapon through the air in Felix's direction, hoping that the Speedster will get the idea and grab it. Since it might just be able to down the chopper.

He sees the bright flash of the teleportation, but he needs to take the other combatants off the field first. He steps in behind the one blind firing and scoops the robot up from the back just like he did the one he turned into an oversized club, and then rushes towards the one trying to reload with spare ammo it doesn't have.

It's clobberin time.

With all the strength he can muster, Curtis hefts one of the machines off of its feet and swings it at the other. The power of the collision can probably be calculated in some formula of mass times weight plus velocity or something, but all that matters to Curtis is the devastating crash sound as robot meets robot and steel bends, breaks, and topples over. As the robots fall away entangled in each other, Curtis takes a knee and grabs one of their rifles, firing up at the helicopter.

That might be one of the few power sets to really give the speedster a run for his money, so to speak. Teleportation. He darts over to take the robot’s gun that Curtis hurls to him, and aims it at the girl. She may be young and apparently a civilian, but she’s not offering to surrender. That’s enough for him. No pause to question, and certainly no slowing down at all.

To him it’s a slo-mo *chug chug chug*, the falling brass describing graceful arcs in the air. Can she be gone before the rounds hit? Curtis will have to deal with the helicopter for the moment.

The rifles the machines were armed with aren’t a familiar design to Felix. The Praxis Heavy Industries triangle on the stock indicates their maker alone. When the guns fire, there’s a surprisingly low amount of recoil. The barrel seems to absorb some of the shock in a telescopic motion, as does the stock. It makes for a smooth cadence to the dance of ruin Felix levels toward the brunette. One round impacts her in the shoulder, spins her around as expected. A third round hits her in the side, knocks her off of her feet, and third round goes far over her and disappears into the brush.

Ivy crashes down to the ground, writhing from the impact of the rounds as Curtis fires up at the helicopter. The robots guns, smooth-loading and steady-firing wonders that they are, leave divots and ricochet marks against the rotor duct. Sparks whip around inside the cyclonic downdraft and flakes of ablative armor torn away by the first salvo scatter to the ground. Then Curtis feels the shockwave of something rattle the parking lot.

Felix sees the source moving in slow motion, the girl he’d just fired at. A blast erupts outward from her, kicking up dust and debris and pushing Curtis a few inches away from her. As she rises from what should have been lethal wounds, Felix sees bruises where gunshots should have penetrated her body. A crackling field of light dances over her and then—


Felix flies backwards as he’s struck by a wave of kinetic energy. The blast knocks him out of his accelerated movement, launches him back through the air, skidding twenty-five feet away from where he was standing. His AEGIS armor hardens in that instant to deaden the kinetic shockwave where it covers, but it still feels like being struck by a car. Felix lands with his ears ringing, spots in his vision and head rattling. The concussive force, her resilience to the gunfire, he’s brain is spinning while he’s trying to piece together if he’s missing any pieces.

Curtis turns in time to see Felix flat on his back and the young woman turning toward him, curling her delicate hands into fists. She’s Evolved.

«Can anybody fucking hear me!?» Avi’s voice crackles over the comms. «I just heard from Wendigo-1,” Noa, “she said there’s a fucking Praxis craft somewhere. We’ve got robots at the operation zone! I need a Sitrep!»

Curtis lets a little satisfied smile grace his lips as he watches the damage done to the giant hovering fortress that's busy trying to sail away. He lifts the rifle to his shoulder again, settling the odd gun there. It's lack of recoil is rather nice. He might just keep this thing if he can manage. He lines it up with the chopper and squeezes back on the trigger only to watch as his bullets go wide. Why did they go wide? Because he gets shoved. He realigns on the chopper though and lets loose with a long stream of shots, holding the trigger down on full auto to stream those high caliber rounds up at the attempting to escape helicopter monstrosity.

"Felix!" Curtis bellows over the ground between him and the other downed soldier. "You alive?" He follows up, still firing away with the rifle. If it's easy to figure out how to change clip he'll do it as quick as he can while IVy strides in his direction. "Miss you don't want to do this." Curtis calls out to her, while firing on the chopper. «A little busy here Epstein! We took care of the signal jammer and there are evolved on the ground as well!» Curtis mentioned all the rest like the robots and giant helicopters before the coms cut out so doesn't see any need to expound on those. «How the hell did Noa know they were Praxis? You mentioned they might be but how did she know? Hold on. Felix is down, unknown status and I’ve got a fight on my hands.»

Curtis will keep firing on the big boat for as long as he can, aiming for that same rotor assembly before he drops the gun to meet the advancing Ivy. Curtis doesn't try to punch her, or shoot her. He saw what happened when Felix did. He's not sure what her power is, but it's clear applying force to her is a bad idea. So instead he will fight defensively, trying to block or dodge until he can get a shot at her throat. Not to punch it, or strike it in any fashion, but to grab it. Grip it. Try to choke the girl out. He's met and beaten immovable objects before. Well, Ash has at least. And he knows it takes creativity. The memories might be painful for Curtis considering his friendship with Spalding, but they may just provide him some good insight for taking on a girl that can bounce bullets.

That was not supposed to go like that. The armor mutes some of the impact, but that's still that's more than enough to ring his chimes. Especially someone with a head so severely cracked on more than one previous occasion. The panic chattering at the back of his mind like a whole bag of frightened squirrels is rendered distant, however, by thoughts that stubbornly refuse to cohere.

Balance also refuses to answer, so instead of neatly kipping up and shaking it all off, Fel rolls on to one side, puts out a hand to the cracked pavement. As if to confirm that the ground didn't just start acting like a Tilt-a-Whirl for real, no matter what his inner ear is telling him. Being kicked out of the hyperadrenaline state is enough to have his speech be nominally intelligible, despite what feel like a loose tooth. "Confirm Praxis presence. Craft is landed here, has discharged both human combatants and robots…”

Which is when he realizes Ivy’s heading towards him. Up, get up, get up. And he does, albeit with a drunken sway to him….then he’s reaching for his Banshee, and aiming it at her. What about sonic force? What does that do to her?

Ivy’s caught off guard by Curtis’ approach, turning too late to notice the hand snatching her windpipe. Shock comes over her first, legs kicking, striking at Curtis’ midsection. But he’s strong, durable, and she doesn’t have the strength to wrench him away. Struggles for another moment, then throws both of her arms back toward Curtis and expels a second shockwave that is far stronger than she is, throwing him off of her like a bull throwing a rider. He’s airborne, crashing down to the asphalt and rolling to a stop. It didn’t kick as hard as it did last time, whatever she’s doing she’s running out of juice.

But as Ivy turns back to Felix, she’s staring down the barrel of a Raytech Banshee. She sucks in a breath, hands almost raised, but then the high-pitched scream in a tight beam strikes her. Neither Felix nor Curtis can hear it, but Ivy can feel it in her bones. She lets out a wailing scream, clutching at her ears as her legs buckle and fingers curl into her hair. She staggers to the right, to the left, but she can’t move fast enough to get away from Felix’s aim. Ivy collapses onto her knees, howling, concrete fracturing beneath her as she releases a second shockwave of kinetic energy that breaks the ground apart, but it’s not enough to even reach Felix or Curtis.

The helicopter continues to pull back, rotor smoking but the tank-like aircraft sees fully able to resist the gunfire. Curtis watches as his ears stop ringing as Ivy is dropped to her knees, kept within that tightly focused beam of crippling sound, arms and legs writhing like an animal trying to escape a trap.

«Working theory, we can discuss it later!» Avi delivers over the comms with a sharp tone, «I’m bringing air support to the manor, we’ve got machines on the ground there. Our teams underground haven’t been able to radio out yet.»

Choking works! Curtis once again gets a little smile at the small victory, only to have that smirk thoroughly wiped off of his face as he gets launched. He thuds to the ground with a hard jolt, feeling it through his body. "Well fuck." He groans out after he comes to a stop on the ground. "She doesn't need impact to throw force!" He calls out to Felix as he picks himself up, his line of sight shifting to take in Felix with the sonic weapon. "Why… didn't I think of that."

He pulls his own banshee from his hip and trains it on Ivy. He doesn't unleash it yet though. He doesn't want to kill her. She's a prisoner, with intel. Instead Curtis advances towards the pair, speaking into his mic as he goes, which is miraculously intact. «Can you take that big bird down? I damaged the rear left rotor but it doesn't seem to have slowed it down much. Would be useful to capture it. Even better if we can capture it and repair it for our own use. Might have a prisoner here if she doesn't get herself killed resisting. Do the teams in the manor need backup? I can send Felix in. He'll get in there long before I will.»

Curtis is fast. Olympic runner fast. He can haul ass. But he has nothing on Felix Ivanov. Felix could be there in moments where Curtis would take minutes. Curtis stopped at his AR that he dropped earlier, and removes the shoulder sling from it, pulling the sling itself free of the comfort strap, and steps over near Ivy. "Felix gimme a quick second. She tries anything blast her some more." And once the Banshee has stopped firing Curtis will step over and try to grab Ivy's hands to pull them behind her back and tie them up. "Think those crates are air tight?" Curtis asks, glancing at one of them.

He’s got ordinary adrenaline to boost his own unique variant - high as a kite on it, now. Mouth full of that metallic taste, like he’s had a penny stashed in his cheek. Attention divided between Ivy and the departing bird. “I don’t trust her not to bust right the fuck out of it like the Kool Aid Man.” Is Curtis old enough to know what he’s talking about? “We’d better find a way to put her out, before we crate her.” As if she were a wayward puppy.

Then he’s turning his visor to that aircraft. “We could find a way to fuck the rotors….” His darting gaze lands on the bits of robot shrapnel. “Think you could throw some of that crap in there hard enough to break things?”

«I can be there, if you need me,» he confirms, hoarsely, as he moves around Ivy so he doesn’t catch Curtis in the beam of the Banshee.

There’s a moment of silence over the comms, and then Epstein comes back with a change of tone. «Change of plans, I’m coming to you. Let the chopper go, the boss has plans.»

Even as Avi’s voice comes over the comms, there’s already a high-pitched whine of the Tlanuwa’s engines shrieking in the distance. It won’t take long for that vehicle to make its approach.

Curtis is in mid-haul of lifting Ivy to her feet when that sound comes echoing over the hills. The young kinetic manipulator is still subdued from the agony induced by the Banshee’s powerful sonic beam and is mostly dead weight and subtle, futile attempts at struggling. With Avi on approach, Curtis and Felix both realize this capture may prove to be more likely, as Wolfhound has a small emergency cache of zodytrin — an ability-negating drug — onboard.

In the time it takes for Curtis to get Ivy restrained with zip ties the Tlanuwa covers the distance between its landing zone and this team’s location. By now the enemy aircraft is a distant mark on the horizon and the sleek black outline of the Tlanuwa on approach ensures it won’t be circling back around. The VTOL engines on the Tlanuwa scream to life as the vehicle circles and then slowly lands in the parking lot, kicking up a riotous noise and cloud of dust and debris. As its landing gears touch down, the rear of the jet unfolds into the landing ramp, and Epstein’s broad-shouldered frame is waiting there, one hand gripped onto the met netting on the interior walls.

Button this up and get on board!” Epstein calls from the rear of the vehicle, noticing the woman they’ve restrained. “We’ve got more tin cans up at the manor!”

Curtis isn't harsh with the girl, but nor is he gentle. He makes sure she is good and well restrained, zip ties around both wrists, and then those are zip tied together forming cuffs. The zip ties are snug. «Advise Nambiza capture may have trackers or other bugs on her person. Capture was a little too easy for an operative trusted on a mission like this.» Curtis finishes getting Ivy zip tied and ready to be bundled on board the Tlanuwa.

«And remind me never to go on another Wolfhound mission without some more firepower. Stealth mission my ass.» There's amusement in Curtis's voice when he says that though. He turns his head to shield his eyes as the aircraft lands, then just marches the captive forwards towards the aircraft. "We know. We saw the other one head. S'why I offered to send Felix in ahead of me. We just doing pickup and extraction? Or are we going into the manor?" Curtis calls over to Avi as he looks for the negation drug. Ivy is going to get a dose right quick. Assuming it's dosed out already.

After that and getting the prisoner stowed, Curtis is goes for his heavier gun. The one he left on the fucking aircraft because it was supposed to be a stealth mission. His General Dynamics LWMMG that he got in preparation for Operation Lariat. Because even if they're just playing extraction he might need to shoot some tin cans. And he's going to be ready for them this time damnit. He does however drop the robot's gun he rescued, putting it somewhere secure so it won't rattle around the ship when it lifts off.

Felix is also of that same mind, re: more dakka. Curtis has the girl taken care of, though Felix keeps a wary eye on her. He stashes the weapon he picked up as well, and then he’s hurrying around to get a hold of water, electrolytes and food. IT gets offered to Curtis as he chews methodically on a protein bar.

If they’re on their way to round two, he’s got to refuel as well as reload. More grenades - frags and flashbangs. Recharging the armor, even if only a little bit. Curtis is asking the questions he wants answered, so he’s silent for the moment.

“Won’t know till we get eyes-on,” Avi calls back from the cockpit, “something’s fucky. Ground teams comms are running into some kind of interference, not just the jammer. I’ve got one team on the surface, and they’ve got more of your tin friends here.” As he talks and Curtis rejoins Felix, Avi flips switches on the overhead console, closing the landing hatch.

Ivy, forced down into one of the seats, is restrained with frame-mounted straps intended for this express purpose. She stares, blearily, at Avi and then glances over at Hana before looking up at Felix and Curtis. She doesn’t have the strength to fight, still shaking off the side-effects of prolonged Banshee exposure, likely unable to even hear the conversations that are happening.

“We might need to go in hot, so button up just in case.” Avi turns his attention back to the console and flips another switch, at nearly the same moment there’s an explosion of rainbow-hued light inside of the Tlanuwa. Felix is the only one with quick enough reactions to see where the light came from, spotting a pink-haired woman in a rainbow colored Alpaca fur sweater appear adjacent to their prisoner. By the time Felix is able to move hand to gun, the pink-haired woman smiles sadly, and vanishes in an eruption of colorful light and stuttering after-images of both she and their now former prisoner.

What the fuck!?” Avi shouts, not having seen what happened, just the bloom of light on the inside of the windscreen. He whips around in his seat, handgun out, eyes wide.

"You know. Sometimes I long for the good old days. When people were just people and didn't have crazy powers. Like you know, teleporting into the middle of an enemy aircraft and stealing their fucking prisoner." Curtis sighs as he settles into a seat and straps himself in.

"Same light that we saw when the girl showed up with her… sister? They looked a lot alike. Guessing it was her sister just now that took her. Felix can you confirm? Did you get a look at her?" Curtis asks as he tilts his head back. He's got a good grip on his machine gun so it doesn't go sailing around the cabin when Avi really takes off. "Ready when you are boss." Curtis calls out, settled in and waiting. He's relaxed, at home in the combat environment.

“We grabbed some of their guns, and some ammo. Maybe we can replicate it. Those guns packed some serious punch. Wouldn’t mind having one of my own of it.” As he’s talking he’s checking over his gear and weapons. Just basic checks in case they need to go back into combat. “Epstein. Think you could drop me on one of their birds?” Curtis asks with a wide grin in place should Avi happen to look back over his shoulder again, though really the grin can be heard.

Fel, for his part, was in mid-chew when the girl was stolen….and he nearly chokes on the mouthful. But he’s nodding even as he pounds his chest and coughs, teary-eyed. “Yeah,” he confirms, hoarsely. “‘S the sister. Fuckin’ teleporter.” Then he shudders. “We’re fuckin’ lucky she didn’t beam in, drop a frag, and pop right out again.”

But he’s back to eating and drinking, the latter with half-dissolved electrolyte powder gritty in the mix. “That’s a fast reaction time,” he asides. “Able to get in and out before I could even aim.” He doesn’t sound particularly upset. The emotional stuff is all subsumed in the high of power use, in the recent past and to come.

Exhaling a shuddering sigh to try and calm his nerves after the teleporter was able to get inside the Tlanuwa, Avi shakes his head. “No go, Rambo,” Epstein says to Curtis. “We don’t know what the fuck’s going on here or what kind of other resources they have, the Major’s ordered us to defend but not pursue… for now.” It sounds as though Avi doesn’t entirely agree with the assessment, but manages as he makes preparations for liftoff.

As the rear doors close, the aircraft whines back into movement and lurches forward, then begins to rise straight up off of the ground. “We’ve got hostiles on-site, and… we are fucking lucky we didn’t get blown up there, because if those are the same kids I’m thinking of, that’s the pink-haired son-of-a-bitch who blew up the Yamagato Building and killed a bunch of people doing exactly that.”

Avi looks back to Curtis and Felix, then eases forward on the throttle sending the aircraft skimming over the top of the trees. Beside him, Hana sits in brow-furrowed silence, her eyes flicking back and forth behind closed lids. Whatever it is she’s been dealing with on the immaterial plane of ones and zeroes, it sounds like it’s been as strong a resistance as they’d faced in meat-space. “All Wolfhound Units,” Avi calls over the radios, “This is Tlanuwa-2, we are coming in for air support…”

“Repeat, we are coming in for air-support.”

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