Scorched Earth, Part II


aviators_icon.gif bing_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif gregor_icon.gif lang_icon.gif rasoul_icon.gif six_icon.gif

Scene Title Scorched Earth, Part II
Synopsis Pending
Date December 30, 2009


In a way this must be like what the end of the world sounds like.

Gabriel Gray has seen that very instance of time enough to know that the way Madagascar looks right now, is not too far a cry from those Apocalyptic moments he's glimpsed. In a manner of speaking, it could be those very insights that have made him the man he is now, those visions of the end of all things, the ruination of man brought about by their own hand as some unassailable wall of finality clamping down on progress. Somehow, he has seen, life survives and finds a way. But every time that moment approaches, there is a palpable sensation of dread that is instinctual, the hearing of the thundering beats of Armageddon hammering soundly the war-drum of the end.

Here it is the sound of bombs falling, of the city of Antananarivo being torn apart at their backs, punctuated by flashing bloom of red and orange that bleeds into black smoke that chokes out the sky. The sound is mixed by the noise of blood rushing in their ears, the ring of tinnitus becoming a bass line to joint he rhythm of falling bombs and pounding heartbeats. Gunfire pops in staccato precision all a round them, muzzle flashes adding highlights to the columns of pyroclastic smoke and falling embers that rain from above.

In the middle of the street up ahead, rolling down from the Royal Palace atop the hill, a column of tanks charge to approach the vanguard of the coming United States military head on. The roar of tank guns firing drowns out all of the other noise, like cymbal clashes in an orchestral piece, launching fire and death ahead of their cavalcade.

No one can hear anything, just the shriek of ringing in their ears, but the frantic waving that Aviators makes at the head of their three-man unit is all the visual cue that tanks on the march cannot afford. Winding down a narrow back alley between burning residential buildings, Gabriel Gray and Eileen Ruskin see the full brunt horrors of warfare. Laundry strung up on lines between buildings is on fire, burning shreds of clothing falling from them like snowflakes across the cobblestone.

Dead soldiers in gray uniforms lay gunned down, bodies twisted and heaped upon one another, spent ammo casings glittering gold as they are kicked aside by the movement of booted feet. Twisting down another byway, Aviators heads up a flight of stairs alongside an apartment complex, running to the edge of a balcony where he does not pause in stride, one booted foot landing atop the railing as he propels himself to the next balcony, landing in a roll and getting up on one knee, waving wildly for Gabriel and Eileen to join him. His lips are moving, hasty screams, tinnitus still reigns in their ears, drowning out his words.

Beyond Aviators, something dark and gray yawns open at the mountainside, a hangar bay door belching smoke like the jaws of some dying dragon. He points towards the entrance, blast doors halfway closed like jaws unable to shut. If they can't go up the main road to the palace, they can come up from beneath.

Muspelheim awaits.

The balcony clangs and groans beneath Gabriel's weight as he launches himself across, rough hands catching metal, levering himself back over the side as opposed to flinging himself all way into its waiting embrace. He's armed once more, looted from dead men as opposed to the stock of the Madagascar freedom fighters, a rifle strapped to his back and weighted heavy, and a pistol in his belt. Clips for both fill pockets, and for right now, it feels like all that Gabriel possesses in the world. And in a way, he's kind of okay with that.

He turns to lend a hand towards Eileen, hands extended out to receive her and haul her over the edge if the smaller of the three can't quite monkey her way over by virtue of physical limitations as opposed to lacking the courage or heart to do so, or so he trusts. He sure hopes Aviators has a plan, as much as he can't hear it right now.

Eileen's booted feet crack against split cobblestone steps, kicking up clouds of pale dust that swirl around her legs as she brings up the rear, AK-47 hanging off her shoulder by its leather strap, sidearm cradled in its holster at her hip. The events of the last twelve hours have left her wan and weak, exhausted to the point of nausea — although there are brightly-coloured birds flitting between buildings and through the smothering smoke, their numbers have dwindled down to the double digits and include only the hardiest, wiriest little passerines.

For every stride that Aviators and Gabriel take, Eileen's small size and build ensures that she has to take two just to keep up. Unlike the weavers and fodies scissoring through the sky, she lacks the wings to carry her. One hand clasps Gabriel's — the one not in the splint — and squeezes cool, slim fingers around his as she heaves herself up and over the edge with his help.

Aviators is there to grab Eileen's outstretched hand on the other side, hoisting her up and over the railing of the opposite balcony with a grunt of effort. Pulling her over the rail, an arm is wrapped around her back and perhaps inappropriately held close for just a moment. Perhaps if he did not having a gaping hole without a bandage to hide it where one of his eyes should be, it may even be a bit welcomed. Right now, he just smells of death and decay and his decided lack of showering.

Letting Eileen go and withdrawing his absconded single-action .45 revolved from a belt holster, Aviators waves Gabriel over with his back to the man, confident that he'll either fall and break his neck or make it across — either way something he can live with. Marching across the balcony, this second floor tier of a three story apartment building eventually comes close to the slope of the hillside. Throwing himself over the opposite side of this balcony, Aviators lands on the roof of a security watch-post, creeping across the roof and leaning over the edge, staring down into the street where bodies of soldiers are strewn left and right. Some Vanguard, some American military.

Finding a ladder on the side of the roof, Aviators climbs down to street level, a perfect path for Eileen and Gabriel to follow as he makes his way out onto the road that leads into the yawning jaws of the Muspelheim bunker. Checking up and down the street, the haunting silence here is unnerving, save for the wailing report of klaxons blaring inside of the fortress, perhaps the death rattle of what was once the Vanguard's unassailed seat of power in Africa.

Between the halfway closed blast doors, Aviators makes his way into a colossal hangar bay, once filled with rows of tanks, assault trucks, armored personnel carriers and all manner of ground vehicles. Now the eighty foot high concrete cathedral is devoid of any motion at all, save for dancing shadows at the strobe of orange light.

A 100-foot wide crawling freight elevator is locked at the top of a thirty foot concrete ramp, flanked by stairs on either side. Finding one of the staircases, Aviators descends down to the ground floor of the hangar, where a horrifying sight is revealed before his eyes. Vanguard soldiers lay everywhere, some eighty bodies toppled down without a single bullet having been fired. The men look like they were ground into paste by a toddler playing with toy soldiers too fragile for his own good. Their bodies are warped and bent at impossible angles, backs snapped, heads flattened, legs turned like corkscrews and fingers split open like banana peels.

Blood covers the floor from one wall to another, two inches thick and slopping with tacky texture. These men were wrung out like wet towels for all their life fluids. Aviators cannot help but swallow noisily as he witnesses that horror, scanning catwalks above on a second floor, a doorway with smoke and flames issuing out of it, and then a lit corridor leading to stairs that go up. Looking back to the mouth of the bunker doors, he reluctantly waves for everyone to follow. Right into the mouth of the beast.

The gore strewn about like toys played with and tossed aside gets Gabriel's attention — enough that he's not volunteering to turn to shadow, to scout ahead. Perhaps when they were a group, but this looks too easy for all the death, destruction and pain that it is. His rifle is swung out of its balance across his back, tucking under an arm and held with both hands as he casts his gaze towards the proposed destination, firelight from the portal they won't be going down catching in bright amber eyes, skin dusty with dirt and grime. Aviators receives a baleful look, as if there were no one Gabriel would loathe more to follow—

But there isn't a lot of choice. He half-lids his eyes and pitches his attention ahead in a general sweep of psychic radar, straining to see past the vivid presence of Eileen and Aviators to do so as he sets about following. Whatever is ahead will have to be met face on, because like following Aviators, of all people, there's little choice involved.

Eileen is in no position to complain about the way her teammates smell — she hasn't bathed in more than forty-eight hours herself, her clothes and hair suffused with the scents of dirt and sweat, smoke and fire, tree sap, scorched wood and earth. If her nose is offended, it isn't until she sets foot in the hangar and is hit with a wave of foulness smelling thickly of blood, urine, excrement. She raises her arm to her face, buries her nose in its crook and squints green eyes against the tears budding in their corners.

She makes a gagging noise in the back of her throat, but does not dribble any more watery vomit from her lips. Either there's nothing left in her stomach to expel or she's developed a better handle on her reflexes since the last time she spat up all over the dashboard — whatever the reason, it gives her the opportunity to take her rifle in her hands and swing it up, barrel trained on the carnage in case anything should twitch to life while she, Gabriel and Aviators are slogging through gore.

Down the long corridor, Aviators follows the yellow and black stripes of emergency exit directions backwards. If the mouth of the bunker was where fleeing soldiers should go, surely the heart of the installation is in the opposite direction. Up a long flight of concrete stairs, the corridors narrow to only allow two-by-two movement, fluorescent lamps set into the ceiling drowned out for the security lightning that stropes like the heartbeat of the beat that is the bunker.

Emerging out on a catwalk that crosses a large expanse of whirring turbines and generators, Aviators is forced to pause for a moment, looking up and down at the sheer enormity of the structure, at the impossible size of the machinery operating here, and that there was no intelligence on its creation. Somehow, that more than anything strikes a suspicious cord in the back of his mind, and when he moves onward after that pause, it is to the doorway opposite the one that opened into the power station.

Back into the darkly lit corridors, the three-man tea find themselves coming upon a laboratory. A tangle of machinery is damaged from an explosion, wires and power couplings dangling from braces on the concrete ceiling. A steel table at the center of the room looks like something out of a Mary Shelly novel, complete with arm and leg restraints spattered with blood, but no one in it. Instead, the only figure in the lab is hunched over on the ground, a battered blonde man in a bloodied lab coat. He wheezes, gasps and chokes on something, wet and rattling in breath.

"Hands where I can see them!" Aviators bellows through the lab, and as the scientist turns, the security lighting reflects blood red in the round lenses of his glasses. The sight causes the one-eyed soldier to hesitate for a moment, watching the man in the white labcoat rise up. The sight, there, is a harrowing one.

"As you— wish." He states in a halting cadence of unusual speech, stilted with a German accent. As bloody palms are raised to the air, it is obvious that Doctor Gregor has been eviscerated, his shirt is unbuttoned revealing his stomach tore wide open. But in one hand, he is holding a scalpel, one that he looks to have done this to himself with. Nearby at his feet, a Vanguard soldier lays dead on the ground, cut open and intestines missing, several other organs leaving that space too wide to be natural.

But the most horrifying portions of this macabre display, is the way these intestines spilling out of Gregor are sucked up into his body, like spaghetti drawn into a slurping mouth. He swallows a mouthful of blood, watching the organs coils themselves up like a spiil of thread into his gut, muscle lacing shut behind them, stomach tissue still hanging with belly fat exposed, trying to reach itself closed.

Aviators doesn't even know what to say.

The first flare up of reaction Gabriel has is jealousy, of all things, as he watches Claire Bennet's ability— or what he presumes to be— writhe the doctor's entrails up as if a coil were tightening and dragging them back into place. His gun is aimed towards the stranger's torso, stilling an itchy trigger figure that wants to find out what would happen if he did this

He doesn't. When Aviators doesn't speak, Gabriel digs up his own voice, forms words after licking his dry lips. "We're looking for Rasoul." His voice is almost quiet, stepping forward, the corner of his heel rippling a pool of thick blood that makes the reflections of lights above wobble in its crimson surface. "Unless you want to find out if you can regrow new parts when they're decorating the other side of the room— " and he probably can— "then you might want to make yourself useful."

There's a moment where the barrel of Eileen's rifle wavers in a counter-clockwise motion, betraying her disgust. The gaunt expression on her face would, too, if it wasn't plastered with curls of dark brown hair and covered in a greasy layer of black ash that leaves only a few patches of bone white skin exposed. Tears that had been previously welling in her eyes carve glossy tears down her cheeks, their texture like melted glass when illuminated by the firelight seeping in from the hall outside.

The soles of her combat leave bloody footprints where she steps and create a quiet squeaking sound as she moves, maneuvering around an overturned piece of lab equipment. Her eyes flick between Gabriel and Gregor, uncertain and cautious. The last time he was in the presence of a regenerator, he lost control — and while she doesn't know whether or not that's what this stranger is, she knows what she's seeing. There are no guarantees it won't happen again.

Only after Gabriel has voiced his request does she pose hers, her tone tired, hoarse but no less firm or resolute. "Bennet, Allard, Sanderson," she says. "While you're racking your memory, you can tell us where they are, too."

"I— " Gregor hisses out at Gabriel's demand, "I am— not your enemy." Stated with the wheezing breath of an athsmatic. "I am simply a— scientist. I hold no loyalties to one side, or— agenda, only my research." Blonde brows lower, and Gregor licks a line of blood from the corner of his mouth. "The— The— General," he sucks in a rattling breath, "he is headed for the command center at the heart of the bunker. The General intends to— launch the nuclear ICBMs to raze the city to the ground. He is— convinced that he will survive the explosion." Gregor doesn't sound quite as convinced, from the lopsided smile he's offering. "Bennet is— dead perhaps? Your Sanderson as well. They were— shot by the General, left for dead. I did not see Bennet— regenerating. She was shot in the head." Gregor's eyes narrow. "I do not know where miss— Allard is."

Dropping the scalpel with a clattering clink of metal to the concrete at his feet, Gregor's blue eyes track to Gabriel, then Eileen, then back to Aviators. "The door— behind me, leads to the command center. Rasoul is not alone, however. He has already— initiated the release of nerve gas into the city as well." Aviators eyes grow wide, mouth hanging open.

"How do we stop the gas!?" Aviators demands, storming over to Gregor and grabbing him by the air, barrel of his revolver pressed under the scientist's chin. Gregor's blue eyes go wide, glasses crooked on his face from the way he's held.

"Stop!" He protests about the gun under his chin, "You— you— cannot stop the gas! Only Rasoul has the deactivation codes!" Wheezing louder now, Gregor's athsmatic breathing comes shallower and more rattling than before. "I will— help you however I can! I promise! But— but you must be aware, Rasoul is not merely a— man, any longer."

Aviators eyes narrow, the gun traced around to Gregor's temple, silently arching one brow to demand that the doctor elaborate clearly and decisively. Gregor swallows noisily, breathing in as deeply as he can and exhaling a wheezing rattle afterwards. "My— My research here, was to follow the research of Heinrich Wagner and Kazimir Volken, follow their— experiments to its natural end. To discover the truth of the— ubermensch project, and how to create the super men." Blue eyes are frantic and wide, Gregor watching Aviators intently. "It was— a rousing, success." There is pride in his red-toothed smile at that.

"Jesus Christ," Aviators utters with a look of horrified revelation on his face, looking around the lab and then back to Gregor. "Where!?" he demands in a roar, "//Where is the Formula! Where is it!?" A yelp rises from the back of Gregor's throat, hands shaking as he tries to lean his head away from the gun, but finds Aviators fingers wound in the Doctor's hair too tight.

"There is no Formula! No serum!" He chokes out the words as loudly as he can. "I infused him with parts from that girl!" That there causes Aviators' mouth to hang open, lower lip quivering for a moment as he considers the implication. "Transfusions and organ replacement and chemical— therapy!" The doctor swallows sharply, "No Formula! The one that your— government sent us as test samples was a— failure and fatal!" Barely able to contain his words, that second layer of revelation makes Aviators let go of Gregor's hair, brows creased and gun wavering as he keeps his aim trained on him.

"What?" The CIA operative asks, almost intoned the way it would require a period more so than a question mark. He looks back to Gabriel and Eileen, then over to Gregor once more. The doctor's eyes narrow, hands lower a bit but continue their bloodied trembling.

"Your— government. The United States, a— government sponsored pharmaceutical company contacted us for— clinical research on Project Icarus." Gregor's brows raise, looking at Aviators a bit puzzled. "That is also how we received— samples of your government's neuro toxin for development of the— nerve gas. They have— known all along about the— research going on here. But they did not know who— Rasoul was, or where his true— allegiances laid. Or— " Gregor smiles bloodily, "I would not imagine."

Gabriel takes a deep breath, which is probably a bad idea, the air heavy with the butcher scent of human insides, gushing blood, harsh lab chemicals and distant smoke and ruin. He doesn't choke, doesn't even snort it out immediately, just stares at Gregor like one might a freakshow, albiet a fascinating one, skin around his eyes tensing at exactly how he achieved that regeneration, head-tilted and bird-like. But Aviators is the one that falls under some scrutiny as the truth behind the operations comes out, Gabriel's mouth twisting into a smirk that's quiet to smooth back out into neutrality.

He jerks the muzzle of his rifle from scientist to the door indicated. "You get to go first. Aviators— stop touching the scientist," he adds, as much as the CIA operative already has backed off, the slight head tilt indicates that he might want to do it some more. "And we can walk and talk."

The muzzle of Eileen's rifle dips down, pointed at the floor. She slides her thumb up the length of the leather strap, adjusting it, and turns her attention back toward the lab's entryway when Gabriel gives Gregor the order to move. She doesn't know what a nuclear ICBM is, but that doesn't particularly matter — she knows well enough what the word raze means in context. If finding Rasoul wasn't imperative before, then it is now.

The scalpel tinkles upon hitting the floor, doesn't get the opportunity to bounce. Eileen is kicking it away before it can, the blade spinning across concrete like a miniature silver propeller that reflects slivers of light with every lurching rotation. Aviators receives a glance bordering on an accusation, brows knit, and nothing more than that. Now is not the time for confrontations with anyone except the enemy.

Reaching down to push his bisceted bellow closed in a way that stitches flesh shut with a latticework of bruising and black coruscating veins, Doctor Gregor offers a polite smile to Gabriel. He buttons his shirt next as he's turning, revealing several bullet holes in the front of the garment; one at chest level and several more in the belly area. Straightening his labcoat, Gregor looks down at his bloodied hands, and begins wiping them rather ineffectually on the front of his shirt as he takes the lead.

Aviators shoots an unfortunately cyclopean stare over at Gabriel, then just a grunt of dissatisfaction with this turn of events as he follows Gregor across the lab with squelching footsteps to the doorway the doctor is headed towards. The pair lead the way through a corridor that resembles a hospital's maternity ward. Through the reinforced glass windows lay plastic incubators the size of full-grown adults, the kind typically in a burn ward. However. contained within them are not children, but full grown pregnant adult women, still hooked up to respirators and chemical-drip IVs. Each of the doors reads «locked» across a keypad and card lock. Gregor looks awkward as he passes through the hall, lips working together in unformed words. "What… the fuck is this?" Aviators asks as he looks left and right to the windows. Gregor just shakes his head, coming to a stop and turning around to motion to the rooms.

"Controlled pregnancy rooms. Not my— branch of research. It is population control for the citizens of the city. The native— Malagasy women are interred here, artificial inseminated with the— General's, genetic information, and then give birth. Any child that is born— " he looks between the three hesitantly, "different," but the obvious truth of Evolved is there, "is fed to the incinerators." Disbelief and horror laces Aviators' expression, wordlessly showing his revulsion to another layer of Rasoul's madness.

"I would not— concern yourself as much with this right now, Sir." Gregor adds that last bit a little facetiously. "There are four nuclear warheads about to be dropped on our— heads and I assure you that what my science has wrought me will not be— enough to survive such an explosion." Clearly Doctor Gregor subscribes to less bravado than Edmond Rasoul. "Weigh your— options."

Aviators swallows noisily, looking back with a wide eye to Gabriel and Eileen, and somehow he seems to be having a crisis of conscience about this whole scenario. It seems that, somewhere beneath the tailored suits and mirrored sunglasses, there was a human being in Aviators all along. What the fuck, his expression wordlessly implies. What the fuck.

"Jesus Christ," Gabriel abruptly snarls — but if it's for the women lying prone in their glass cages, that certainly isn't immediately apparent beyond when that glare is turned towards Aviators. It's not anger for him, but the situation itself. "We don't have time for this." Any of this. Moral dilemmas, consciences, and more importantly, excuses, and this silent sentiment is directed towards Gregor when Gabriel sends a sneer his way. "As far as I'm concerned, a nuclear explosion would be a mercy killing, but I don't want to be a part of it."

Inconvenient, to be the only monster on his team, all of a sudden. Way to not stick to your guns, Aviators. The one-eyed man gets his shoulder knocked into as Gabriel briskly strides down the rest of the hall in what was going to be the doctor's wake, giving Gregor a chin up to indicate that he'd better start moving again.

There is something ironic about Aviators' reaction to the incubators and the story that accompanies them. Eileen has not forgotten the invitation he extended to her when she asked him about her memory loss, but any comparison between what he might have done to her and what Rasoul has effectively done to these women is the furthest thing from the Briton's mind as a spray of bullets shatters the glass that separates the interior of the maternity ward from the attached corridor.

Apparently, someone disagrees with Gabriel's assessment of the situation. Bits of broken glass glittering in her hair and caught in the fabric of her sodden clothes, Eileen uses the heel of her right boot to kick out the remaining shards that jut like teeth from the window's frame, then vaults over the divider, her movements swift, focused and purposeful.

"Ruskin!" Aviators shouts as he watches her blow out the glass and vault into one of the maternity wards. "Fucking Christ— We don't have time for this!" Moving to the window, Aviators stares with one wide-eyed into the room, jerking a look back to Gabriel just as helplessly as he did before, "Get her the fuck out of there!" The CIA operative demands, Even while Gregor watches on with something of a puzzled expression, the strobing orange security lighting reflecting like two pulsing orbs of fire in his round glasses.

«Caution. Launch Sequence Initiated. Repeat: Launch Sequence Initiated.»

The crackling pop of a voice over the internal speakers in the bunker causes Aviators eye to go wide again, and Gregoe to sulk his shoulders just enough to be visible.

«Please exit the silo areas. Repeat: Launch Sequence Initiated.»

"Ruskin!!" Aviators screams, resting a hand down on the window's blasted edge and throwing himself into the room. Boots storm past the incubators and the drugged pregnant women laying in stupefied drug-induced comas, respirators and feeding tubes all operating on sensitive machinery. "Come the fuck on!" He grabs at the stock of her rifle, aiming it towards the ground. "Get the fuck out of here we have to stop him!"

Outside, Eileen's avian sentries see from the air what warnings from below have indicated. Four parcels of land surrounding the mountain that the Royal Palace sits open have begun to slide open like garage doors, manicured lawns pulling back to reveal hydraulics and blast doors concealed beneath. Yellow hazard lights flash around these revealed openings in the ground, and pressurized gas begins wafting up into the air.

At the sound of gunfire and glass splintering at his back, Gabriel's shoulders hunch up and his purposeful stride ceases entirely. Slowly, the horizon of his shoulders relaxes into a slump, eyes roll upwards, and his heels drag as he turns around. They certainly aren't dragging, however, when he vaults towards the window himself, going to and from solid shape as he turns into a mass of shadow for the time it takes for him to leap through the shattered window and spill into the forced maternity ward.

He could force her with him. Extend that higher energy body into her matrix and drag her kicking and screaming where they need to be. Instead, Gabriel growls out through gritted teeth— "Whatever it is you want to do, do it fast," and apparently prepared to follow her lead.

Eileen's lips peel back around a toothy snarl. She's livid, rage manifesting in the pull of her mouth and the creases standing out against an otherwise smooth brow. Her jaw is tight, chin stubborn and eyes wet — apart from the fury splitting cracks in what had been until a few moments ago a calm exterior, she's experiencing a slurry of other emotions that Gabriel, lacking Huruma's ability, is mostly at a loss how to decipher or interpret.

Everyone has a breaking point. Aviators' had been after Gabriel forced him to dig out his own eye with his fingers. This is Eileen's.

"If Munin is here," she's saying, her former codename like bile in her mouth, fresh and bitter, "then all that's lost is Antananarivo. Don't pretend as though you give a shit, either. All your government cares about is stopping the Vanguard from setting her off on American soil." As she speaks, her voice rises in intensity and pitch, fluctuating violently. The hand at her rifle's stock is seized with the same fervor and bites fingernails into the skin of Aviators' wrist. "Maybe Rasoul's right to wipe this city off the face of the map," she spits. "Stop you fucking Americans from taking his research and using it on your own people. Neurotoxins. Nerve gas. We didn't have time to destroy the production facilities — I won't leave these women here for your superiors to stumble upon and do with as they please when they come in to clean up the mess Volken's work left behind."

Gabriel's assent is met with a lapse of silence in which she drops her hand from Aviators' wrist, pulls her sidearm from its holster and points the weapon at Gregor's face. "You want to survive the explosion?" she asks, punctuating her question with the flick of her thumb sliding across the safety. "Tell me how to turn this off and we'll go, but try to trick me into killing them to save some time so you can save yourself and I'll feed you to someone who'll appreciate Bennet's ability more than you do."

«Caution. Launch Sequence Initiated.»

It was the worst time to look in through the window when Eileen levels a gun up at Gregor. The scientist immediately raises his hands and raises one brow at the comment, watching the exchange in the pregnancy ward with modest concern. "Munin?" It's not the first thing that anyone would have expected the doctor to parrot out, but he doesn't elaborate any more than that, just begins typing at keys and clicking buttons until the door to the ward opens and he takes a step inside instead of having to vault the window casing.

"The— " Gregor waves a hand to one of the devices beside an incubator, "three toggles, turn them all to off, that will stop the sedatives. Then the switch here will turn off the respirators, but— they will choke to death if you don't remove their— inbutation." Blonde brows crease together. "These women are all in their second trimester, and there are six more— " he hesitates out of considering the word farm and decides not to, "rooms like this in the lab hall. Do you intend to— unhook them all before they all die from nuclear flame?" Gregor quirks one brow up slowly. "How do you profess to help them all— escape when it will take hours for the— sedatives to wear off?"

"Listen to fucking Mengele Junior here," Aviators demands, about ready to slap her face clean off but you know, Gabriel's kinda' scary and she has a gun so— he decides not to. "We don't have fucking time to save these people! I didn't know about any of this!" A hand is waved frantically towards the women. "I didn't know about any of this!" His voice rings off of the walls, red-faced and furious.

«Caution. Launch Sequence Initiated.»

Gabriel wrinkles his nose, keeping that flat look squared on Aviators as if warning him off doing that very thing he was contemplating. If they live through this, that will be Gabriel's job, later, although it might not be necessary, in the end. "We can come back for them," he states, flatly, not looking at Eileen, though it's otherwise clear he's addressing her. Nor is he retracting his offer, glancing now towards the control panels Gregor indicated situated next to the incubators.

Indecision renders Eileen mute. The gun she has pointed at Gregor lowers, though it does not immediately find its way back to its holster. Her grip on it grows slack and, slowly, what colour had flushed her face pink begins to drain from her cheeks. When she breathes, it produces a thin, reedy rattle that's almost inaudible in comparison to the glass crunching under her boots or the rustle of her clothes as she shifts her attention from Rasoul's scientist to one of the incubation chambers.

She does not know it, but her memories of the past year would be of little comfort to her now. Nothing, not even images of Pinehearst, is capable of taking the edge off the sheer amount of grief, remorse and self-loathing that she's feeling now. She reaches out with her gun hand and smears a thumb across the incubator's transparent lid, leaving a wet smudge of her own blood where she cut her palm crossing the divider.

Munin was a part of this, however insignificant and small. Not the bomb.


It's with silence that Aviators reluctantly pulls away from Eileen's proximity, readying his pistol at his side as he pops out into the hall. A one-eyed look is shot to her, having to crane his head to actually take her profile in. So many curses he wants to mutter under her breath, but right now she's making forward progress while the missiles make their olaunch preparations, this is at least something of a proper direction. Wordlessly, he steps out into the hall, more mindful now of the other rooms filled with artificially inseminated woman designed to birth the new race of humanity.

Gregor is something of a buffer between Eileen and Aviators, careful to keep his bloody hands raised, fingers wiggling every so often as if he were waving to whoever he is facing, doing his level best to not be shot in the back of the head for looking too suspicious — and he doesn't even have a goatee. With Gabriel taking up the rear of the group, the four are forced to leave behind the pregnant women and follow the laboratory corridor down to a T-junction in the halls. Gregor bolts in front of Aviators, turning around to walk backwards, hands still raised in submission and greeting. "This— way."

Moving in a hop-skip step, Gregor seems to have found his breath again and also stopped trailing freshly drained blood from his body, either whatever sort of metabolism he has is now evened out, or he's run out of blood to drain — either implication has differently harrowing consequences.

Following the concrete passage, the team eventually opens out into a large computer lab, where consoles of computer equipment hum in functional status. All of them seem to display the same rotating symbol on the screen, a blue and green double helix logo that is distinctly the Pinehearst Corporation insignia. Nearby to the computers, a row of six foot tall glass cylinders glow with a vibrant blue irridescence, each tube filled with pressurized fluids that look strikingly similar to the drug on the streets known as Refrain. Gregor walks past these tubes and their clear plastic hoses, towards a single computer not displaying the Pinehearst logo. He reaches down for the keys, only for Aviators to shout a warning up to him. "Hey!" The hammer of his revolver clicks back, "Whatt he fuck do you think you're doing?"

Looking for all his worth like he was just told to not pee in the toiler, Gregor stares blankly at Aviators, hands raising again and fingers once more wiggling in a wave. "I was— checking the terminals for remote access. This one," his blue eyes turn to the computer, "indicates that the missiles were not launched from here. Which means that the launch sequence was— directly activated from the missile command." A hand waves towards a closed metal door with a flashing security strobe above it. "There."

Aviators narrows an eye to the door, lips downturning into a frown. "It is one foot thick reinforced steel," Gregor notes with a disappointed tone. "I do not think we will be— getting in." Aviators' expression levels out some as he turns to look back over his shoulder to Gabriel.

"Open it." Because he thinks that Gabriel can rip tanks in half all the time.

Before Aviators' can make one more cycloptic blink, the butt of Gabriel's rifle swings up to connect with his jaw with a cracking thunk of metal to flesh and bone. Patience snapped, over a command barked at him, one he can't follow through, has the kneejerk reaction happening before his brain can completely catch up with his body, and Gabriel lets out a shuddering sigh that indicates he's been longing to do that for a while. "Sit. Stay. Play dead. You do not give me orders," he states, voice level, as he swings his rifle back up onto his back, reaching a hand out to grip onto Aviators' shoulder. "Don't move."

Shadow ripples over Gabriel's body and extends to encompass the other man's thicker frame, and within the same moment, the swatch of darkness big enough to contain both men slides to find a crack in the door and its mechanisms with which to ease on through. On the other side, Aviators is easily tossed out of the shadow as if regurgitated, before he returns for Gregor, deciding to expend enough energy to include Eileen in one touching tendril of shadow, and easy does it, all three are dragged through the door and to the other side.

Eileen implodes back into corporality on the other side of the door, inky black converted to buttermilk pale, the texture of her sallow skin, oily hair and the weave of her clothes coming back into being around the same time her shape does. The metal of the rifle she holds in her hands is the last to arrive under the light, its barrel shimmering with a sheen similar the one that coats her cheeks. One hand reaches up, drags its heel from the corner of one squinted eye down the curve of her jaw before brushing knuckles under the point of her chin, flicking away the wetness there with a quick gesture of her wrist.

She's still in the process of subduing her emotions and putting a muzzle on her fury. You can say okay and not mean it — there's nothing even remotely acceptable about this situation.

Display of Gabriel's power has Gregor watching him like an insect under glass. Spectacles are adjusted, bloody fingers leave messy smudges ont he lenses, and Gregor abruptly forgets what he was so fascinated with as he compulsitvely removes his glasses and begins trying to find a clean spot on his lab coat to smooth the lenses clean. Aviators is perhaps a little less happy with Gabriel, having dropped to the metal grating floor once on the other side of the door, shoulders trembling and revolver out. He's still got that hammer clicked back, ready and waiting for when Gabriel reforms from his last jaunt.

"You son of a bitch!" Aviators' shout causes Gregor to look up sharply, squinting against blurred vision, but the silhouette of a gun is pretty conclusive evidence to his need to sidestep behind Eileen. Yes, he's using her as a human shield, it's okay, he's having a hard time seeing right now.

Boots clank against the catwalk they're all standing on and tunnel vision from his shadow transportation finally widens out to reveal the three-floored command center for the Muspelheim bunker. Banks of computers, security monitors, winding staircases and tiered metal walkways all layer-cake together surrounding a concrete support pillar. It's vaguely reminiscent of the basement of Pinehearst.

"//You son of a— //" A gunshot silences Aviators rather simply, turning words into a strangled yelp as his revolver clatters to the ground and the CIA agent stumbles to the side, spun from the bullet that tore thorugh his shoulder. Blood wipes thick on the short entrayway wall where he impacts, before slouching over the catwalk railing as he drops to his knees, gasping for breath.

Standing at the far end of the catwalk, above a server farm of flashing lights and cables down below. Edmond Rasoul's profile is a narrow one, matte black pistol held out, smoke issuing from the silencer at the end. His dark eyes narrow, staring across the sixty foot span of metal walkway from the three that still stand. "Unbelievable…" he murmurs in disappointment, "I missed."

What Rasoul doesn't get in response is immediate fire— at least not from Gabriel, rifle hanging from its straps without any hands going to grab it. Instead, he only shoots a glance on over across the lengthy metal path, and then snaps an outstretched and empty hand in Rasoul's direction, his fingers curling as if he could somehow wind them around the man's throat or spine from sixty feet away. The grip that wraps around the Vanguard leader is a lot more oppressive, his body rendered as still as a statue — all save for his hand, which abruptly loosens like it were dead.

His pistol swings on lax fingers, slips off and falls with a clatter. Gabriel lifts a chin up in his direction, before glancing at Eileen as if for confirmation.

Team Bravo's medic does what medics are supposed to do and tends to the wounded, taking to a knee beside Aviators, one hand at her rifle, the other applying firm but steady pressure to the bullet wound in his shoulder. Blood runs rivulets between her fingers, dribbles down the length of her arm and forms a dark, sticky substance where it mixes with sweat and dirt, slowing to a fatty trickle that thickens as it flows.

It's been a long time since she last saw Rasoul, but even limited to what she can glimpse of him in her peripheral vision, she has very little difficulty identifying the lines that compose his silhouette. The sound of his voice is even easier. Gabriel's glance is met with an equally short look of affirmation shot across the distance between them. Yes — that's him.

"The deactivation codes, Edmond. Please."

Rigid and stiff in his motions, played puppet by Gabriel's psychic whims, the posture of Edmond Rasoul is no less scarecrow-like than it was a moment ago, save that his gun is on the floor instead of in his hand. The response he utters, though, is decidedly "No." The dictator's assertation comes with all the calmness and composure of someone already assured of his victory. "No I— " brown eyes narrow a touch, discovering the brunette who asked for the codes with a motion of his eyes and a harkening of far off memories.

"Munin?" The second time that term has been bandied about in uncertainty, but Edmond's tone is somewhat less curious than Gregor's was. The aforementioned doctor is slinking behind Gabriel now, head bowed and one hand moving to his stomach. He feels something, difficult to describe really, a feeling of nausea and sea-sickness coupled with a mild feeling of vertigo. Admittedly he has not been feeling one-hundred percent since his pernicious recovery at the lab, but there is a more familiar feel to this nausea.

"I'm fine." Aviators hisses out to Eileen, sliding off the rail and away from her touch, rolling to rest his back against the metal piping, hand clutched to the exit-wound on the front side of his shoulder rather than the exit wound. He swallows, noisily, exhaling a gasping breath at the exact same moment that an expulsion of Gabriel's psychic sonar detects two more bodies in this room than he can see, one moving towards their position and the other stationary, directly below them in the server cluster.

"Munin… I would have thought you'd died alongside daddy." Brown eyes narrow to dark slits, and in that scowling countenance Rasoul shares more similarities with Feng's cold stare than the young and enthusiastic soldier she knew in the Vanguard. "Who's this, your new surrogate source of affection?"

"Sir." Gregor is hissing behind Gabriel the entire time he's trying to focus, "S— Sir. Sir something is very wrong." His voice is a fluttering whisper, almost like someone tensed up in nervous anticipation. "Six is here somewhere." The meaning of the number does not seem to make any sense. "Six is here." Gregor rarely seems to make sense as of recent.

"Just leave him," is growled quietly to Eileen when she sets about tending to Aviators, long-suffered frustration now flaring to the forefront as Gabriel sends a glance her way, before focusing forward on Rasoul, bringing his hands around and forcing the man to mirror his movements. "Enough. Deactivation codes." There's a twee, sickly snap sound that they won't be able to hear from this range, but they can certainly watch as Rasoul curls his fingers around the index of another, and bends it back to breaking. "This hurts you way more than it— "

Gabriel cuts himself off, glancing back over his shoulder at Gregor in a briefly aggravated kind of way. "Six what?" is hissed back, before that glimmer of psychic radar tells him that there are two, as opposed to six. Mad scientist can't count.

"Two people coming up on our position, one below, another— " He steers a look in the vague direction of the second. "I don't know."

Eileen has spent more time than she'd care to admit immersed in reading material related to Norse mythology. Odin and his ravens, Freyja, Thor, Loki and his wife Sigyn collecting serpent's venom — gods, jotnar, shapeshifters, dwarves and dragons. She knows them all. As Aviators moves away from her, she does not pursue and instead hoists her rifle, eyes bright and darting, scouring the shadows of the room for any sign of the two unidentified individuals that Gabriel is warning her of.

Rasoul's barb about surrogate sources of affection hooks into place, digs under her skin, causing the young woman to visibly tense and angle a rueful glance up to where he's standing rigid, bound by the power of Gabriel's puppetry. Kazimir never assigned him a moniker. Maybe she will, if only for the duration of this conversation — as short as it's shaping up to be. "His name is Sigurd," she says to Rasoul. "Slayer of dragons. If you won't give us the deactivation codes, then we'll take them from you. It's your choice."

Six, in grammar thus butchered, sounds like it's referring to a specific individual operative by code. The one who's crashing in through the Westward sequence of walls would probably prefer, somewhat, to be elsewhere if he'd known, but Gregor's warning is only available to those in the laboratory facility and conversational distance.

A half-dozen yards to Bravo's right, the wall summarily ruptures. Plumbing turfs up like entrails and electrical cables embedded in the walls expose copper cores and spitting sparks, dust and mortar blowing down to carve out an awful, post-modern halo around the broad, short-haired shape of an inexplicably Chinese man with mud on his boots, a haggard swoop of a profile, and a powdery cough evacuating out of his throat. He bounces his fists off one another once, flakes brick dust loose, and assesses the situation in one sweep of a glance.

Doesn't say so much of a word before he thunders toward the ragtag swatch of teammates. It's eerie, how fast a man of his musculature can move. His path takes him in an oblique angle, instead of bulldozing right in to engage either the broad-shouldered cyclopse, palm tree, or the skinny girl-whelp who's doubtlessly more than she seems. They wouldn'tve made it this far without being more than they seem.

He locks a meaty fist on the railing of the catwalk, and rips the bridge off its hinges with a facile, twangy flick with which one would uproot an unwanted white hair out of the scalp. Twisting his torso like a shot putter's spin, his boots set hard into the concrete, and he sends the structure swerving an impossible unwieldy arc toward the three. Unbolted bars and corrugated segments are far too unwieldy to make up an attack as sinuously swift as a whip, but the noise and crush of that much buckling metal do nevertheless indicate a certain threat level.

"Lougong!" he hollers. "Zaow ah!"

Rasoul, had he the capacity for mobility, would move at the arrival of the frantic and powerful Chinese Vanguard operative that came barreling through the wall in so much display of shattered infrastructure. Gregor screams a frightened shriek at his arrival. "No!" The Doctor turns back to the locked door behidn them, frantically dialing in numbers into the control panel, trying to determine which security code is keeping the door that leads back and out.

"Bing," Rasoul adds with a snort of his nostrils, struggling against the tethers of puppetry as he considers Gabriel's concentration. "Kill the men, leave the girl alive." His fingers begin to flex, he prays only on Gabriel's concentration breaking in presence of a greater threat. Somewhere on Gabriel's psychic radar, another moving form is headed in this direction from above, slow and purposeful, trying not to be seen or heard, up on the top ring of catwalks.

«Launch Initiated. Repeat: Launch Initiated. Missiles firing.»

Laughing through bloodied teeth, Aviators swings a leg up under himself and gets up on to his feet again, an arm hanging limp and loose at his side, revolver raised. "I am so fucking tired of this bullshit." The gun goes off with a deafening blast from the muzzle, and the one-handed grip sends the gun jerking up. Where the bullet should strike the soldier there is nothing, nothing except a distortion of the sound from the gun's muzzle report and a rippling field of wobbling air. Then, the bullet simply drops from mid-air in front of the man's body with a clink. Aviators jaw hangs open, head cocking to the side as he works his tongue over a loose tooth from where Gabriel hit him. "Well… huh."

«Launch Initiated. Repeat: Launch Initiated. Missiles firing.»

Movement flits in Gabriel's psychic ping beneath the catwalk, something scrambling away from the noise of Bing's arrival like a frightened animal, and the further it moves away the less that feeling of nausea in his stomach is present.

Control wrangling Rasoul snaps around the time Gabriel is diving out of the way of the tangled mess of steel and structure, coming to a crouch and phasing out the greater portion of his body under the onslaught. A piece does catch a slice of solid thigh, sending him tumbling, passing through the railings on the catwalk and near slinging him over the side. The railing shudders when a hand catches it, morphing smoothly into black inky shadow and pulling himself easily back up onto the platform, staggering back into solidity with a slightly pained sneer. That's going to bruise.

Impatience makes his face into a scowling mask as Gabriel brings around his rifle in Bing's direction, muzzle flashing as automatic fire goes clattering down towards the strong man, before jerking a paranoid glance upwards at the feeling of yet another presence. And all the while, the missiles are being launched.

Eileen isn't sure what difference Rasoul's order to keep her alive will make. Nuclear warheads do not discriminate — if Antananarivo is to be razed to the ground and everyone within its borders slaughtered, then she'll be dead too, regardless of whatever grace and mercy her former ally appears willing to extend. Fear crackles electric in the air around her, lending Gabriel a temporary surge of strength siphoned from her terror.

Bing busting through the wall, crushing steel in his bare hands — it's like Rickham all over again, and as she backs up, finger straddling the trigger of her rifle, she finds it impossible to differentiate between this room and Pinehearst's basement. Sense memory burns her nostrils with the smell of singed hair and flesh.

She can attempt to make sense of it later. Right now, they're being attacked, missiles are launching and Rasoul is about to get away. "Gabriel," she hisses, and it's the first time she's called him by that name since they set foot in Madagascar. "Go through. We'll hold him."

"Baat gui!" Bing guffaws, and the reverberation of his laughter through the sheer size of his shoulders is of earthquake-like proportions. As he watches, feeling abruptly at far greater ease with this whole combat situation now that they have resorted to gymnastic powered evasions and firearms use. Firearms! Pfah. He lifts a chunky fist at his side, peels up a single thumb of A-OK for Rasoul across the gulf of space where he'd just pulled up catwalk. Affirmitive. Fired bullets drop from his skin, at least until Gabriel's final shot slams into his shoulder squarely as a baseball bat.

Oomph. Bing's eyes pop wide under a grunted sort of impact; he clamps his fingers tight over the ligaments and musculature of his arm, breathes hard in the shout and clatter of the counter-attack's wake. The sound of falling catwalk is a fluting whistle, ringing of air and steel, before its inevitable crash somewhere in the levels below. However, it's what comes afterward that draws Bing's attention; nothing he can see or even hear between Eileen's tactical calculations, her male counterparts' rapid assaults, or whatever Gregor's up to (that particular baat gui is always up to something), but that queasy gut-level roll through his guts. He almost risks a glance over the railing.

"Lok." Six.

"Shit." English.

Some sort of grim irony: his only way out of here, now, is through the very enemy who insists on pressing forward. Probably should have stayed in the rice paddies. The corners of Bing's mouth turn downward with an oxen sort of irritation. He lunges abruptly at Aviators, ponderously swift amid slow-deescalating dust and flaring coat, reaching to take the man's rifle by its nozzle then summarily swat him into Gabriel with it. Despite the agility and decisive efficiency with which he manipulates his ludicrous strength, Bing fails to notice that the left-side railing seems to have suffered somewhat for all these attentions, taking a moment to couch his weight hard against his hip in it.

The moment those tendrils of control are gone, Rasoul is turning on his heels and running towards the stairs past the bank of computer terminals. Thundering clangs of metal rattle each step up to the second ring, "Get down here!" He shouts to someone out of sight, "Stop them!" Rasoul skids to a halt, something tumbling from his suit jacket as he does. It bounces across the catwalk, catches on a piece of the metal latticework and falls again, then bounces metallic off of the twisted railing where Bing had made his landing, only to hook by a beaded chain and swing free back and forth like a pendulum. It glints silver below where the fight is, hooked by its chain on the railing — a key.

Having given up from his futile search for the access codes, Gregor sees the key that falls, reflected in the round lenses of his glasses. "No! No no no no no!" He scrambles ahead, then slides to a stop, losing his footing and just landing flat on his back on the catwalk. A frantic hand is flagged at Eileen. "The key! It's the— activation key for the warheads!"

Drunk and delerious with pain, head trauma and blood loss. Aviators cracks a smile and swings out the cylinder of his revolver, sending spent shell casings clattering down through the catwalk floor. He removes rounds from bullet bandoliers on his belt, and reloads the six shooter, snapping the chamber closed with a flick of his wrist. "I've got Rasoul," he admits wobbly, and without a great deal of certainty either. The moment Aviators takes a step to move past Eileen, bolts in the catwalk groan, creak, pop and then give way. An entire six foot section of the catwalk breaks apart directly under Aviators, sending him plummeting down into the banks of servers below, bouncing off of the top of one shelving unit to crash to the concrete floor afterwards. The fact that he's still moving is remarkable.

Eilen's fear isn't the only taste that Gabriel has, there is some small measure of fear in Rasoul, more anxiety than true terror, but it's enough to give him that bit of bolstering he needs. A more palpable sense of fear comes from the same floor Aviators is on, where something is terrified and trying to hie as best as it can, and that terror — coupled with Gregor's irrational fear in spite of his regenerative prowess, seems to inflate Gabriel's strength even more so.

Up where Rasoul is speedily fleeing, he passes by that newcomer that Gabriel felt, coming down the second floor stairs, but behind the concrete central support for the room, out of sight. Rasoul keeps headed up, and clearly this mess isn't going to get any better any soon. "The key! The key!" Gregor keeps shouting, even as the portion of catwalk that he, Gabriel and Eileen are on creaks as well, losing its forward end of support and tilting at a 45-degree angle towards the floor below. Gregor rolls onto his stomach, fingers hooked in the metal grating of the catwalk. At the door, where the railing and floor are bolted into concrete, Gabriel can see the metal working its way out of the stone from the stress.

The catwalk pitches down, sending Gabriel tumbling, fingers groping nothing — not a single railing, nor foot hold, his rifle skittering free of his hands and going end over end before spinning off the edge of the precarious perch. About when half of his body threatens to go after it, a far flung reach for railing securing him a place as much as his legs dangle over the edge. The strength surging through him equates to very little strain— the only strain being not to accidentally snap the piping his hand has come to grip.

And just in time to snatch onto Eileen's wrist when she goes skidding past, eyes widening before he glances up towards where Bing is standing. As easily as instinct, another power kicks in, nothing flashy, no visible cues — all except for Bing, as his vision is stolen away from him as easily as he'd plucked up an entire bridge and tossed it.

"Ready?" is all the warning Eileen gets, and hopefully she can fill in the gaps where reassurance should be, before, with barely a flick of his wrist, Gabriel swings and releases her across the six-foot gap between their tilted catwalk and— dubious— safety, but more importantly, the key.

Eileen's fingers catch in the mesh on the other side of the catwalk, crack brittle nails and rip a snarl of pain from her throat as she claws at the metal and swings her legs, using the momentum generated by kicking feet to aid her climb. Her fractured wrist splits further under the strain, bulging against her splint and the shredded gauze that holds it in place. Although she's feeling the hurt now, she has enough adrenaline pumping through her system that she can elbow it aside and focus on reaching the key.

She pulls herself up onto the catwalk between Bing's legs, belly flat against the break, lower half still dangling, and reaches out with her injured hand to snag the chain between her fingers. A swift tug frees it from the railing from which it swings — this is usually the part where she'd be shouting at Gregor that she has it, but she finds herself out of breath when she goes to call for him and ends up croaking out a gasp instead. Twisting a look over her shoulder at the German, she implores him with her eyes, shoulders heaving as she struggles not to slip back down again.

What now?

Bing is blind. X( And he does not take to it well, abruptly locked in-place, his hands splayed with feeble tentativeness out to his sides and his fingers opening and closing like the tiny delicate tentacles of an anemone. His astonishment is such that even his temper is somewhat delayed in following. "Diiiiiu," he finally breathes, his voice grating low as the growl of a bass subwoofer in the barrel-sized chamber of his chest, though it isn't long before essaying into a higher elevation, a distinct whine: "Youmou gaooo chou. No fair ar! Diu."

Hesitantly, he turns, tries to follow the sound of little bird girls flying acrobatically through the air and of Gabriel's shouts, the fall of— he could swear, something just finished falling, but combat shortens his memory somewhat and he can not properly recall; a lot of things have been falling lately. Vaguely, he suspects that his best bet is just to step forward, take a swing, and if he falls — it's not like he can't absorb the worst of the crash. Or that he can get to a door any faster or more elegantly than he can make his own, abandoned by his master or anyone else willing to do eyes for him.

Optimistically, he closes his hands into fists. Approximates at Gabriel's voice and, abruptly, flurries into a leaping bound, arms out to clobber and teeth exposed in a guttural warcry.

While the wild gorilla screaming of Bing is in full roar, Gregor is struggling to pull himself up from the pitched catwalk, and another bolt starts to pop out from the wall. "Computer! Computer!" the athsmatic regenerator hisses out in feverish breathing, but that isn't very specific at all since there's banks of computers on every tier of the command center. But in that German's wild flailings, he wags one hand up towards the second ring, "That computer! There's a— key lock between two monitors! You can— disegage the— " another bolt pops out and the catwalk tilts a little more, sending Gregor sliding down the metal gridwork, clinging on to the only thing he can with any real purchase — Gabriel's left leg.

Swinging off of the serial killer's leg with feet kicking back and forth as he treads on air, Gregor screams up to Eileen. "The key disables the warheads, but the signal has a limited— range! Hurry!" Beneath the collapsing catwalk, something stalks through the space between the servers, bare footsteps slapping on concrete, even as Aviators is pulling himself to his feet.

He staggers, one hand holding the side of his head, looking around for his gun but unable to find it. He looks up, spotting Gregor's legs kicking and the doctor holding on to Gabriel for dear life. There's something really wonderful about that, and as Aviators takes a few wobbly steps to the side, his tongue continues to work at that tooth he feels wiggling. Brown eyes narrow, and he sees Rasoul fleeing up a flight of stairs to the third floor.

"Motherfucker," he splutters out, a few staggering scuffs of his boots across the concrete floor building momentum for a wavering charge towards a doorway that leads the server farm, and Aviators disappears out of sight thorugh the open doorway, flashing orange security lights giving faint outline to his form before he's gone.

Despite his visible disappearance, Gabriel can still feel the general proximities of people around him. The fearful and skulking figure wandering between the shelves of servers, Aviators seems to have found another set of stairs and is going up, and Rasoul is on the third tier now, pausing at something in the support column that Gabriel can't suss out with just the psychic sonar. The other blip of conscious thought he felt is halted on the second floor, and from his point of hanging, Gabriel can't make out who it is visually.

Then, of course, Bing is windmilling his fists and staggering towards the sound of Gabriel's voice. The fist hits Gregor right about head level, and the force of the punch rips Gregor's jaw clear off of his face in a bloody disconnect of tendons bone and teeth that sprays across the catwalk and results in the doctor plummeting down to the server farm below, crashing onto the same metal shelf Aviators did before rolling bloodily down to the concrete floor.

Gabriel's hand reaches up, fingers clawing, and digging into the steel of the catwalk, super strength gauging new footholds. He's in no position to see what became of the good doctor and only trusts that a jaw-less scream probably meant he got a just ending, or any ending at all that means he's no longer clinging to his leg. His hand finding that newly carved purchase, Gabriel pulls himself up the rest of the way, legs clearing from the edge, as little good as that does him with the crazy tilt of the catwalk. Hooking an arm around a railing, Gabriel risks a glance back towards Eileen, then upwards towards where that second presence is. That continual fearful awareness is a nagging at his consciousness as well, and as he sees the metal tug more and more from its fixing in the cement, he has a choice. Go up or down, before it's made for him.

In spiteful defiance of gravity, Gabriel implodes into weightless shadow, its clinging tendrils sealing around shaking railings, leaping up with a kind of anti-gravity afforded this form to snag onto the fixtures of the second tier. It moves up through the grating of the above catwalk, seeping through the crevices in viscous shadow, before reforming into flesh and shape.

In America, there's a widely-circulated motivational poster of ginger kitten clinging to a tree branch with its chin hooked over the limb that reads, in playful white lettering: Hang in there, baby! This is, incidentally, what Eileen is doing right now. She loses her rifle, leather strap shrugged from her shoulder, and does not hazard a glance down to the lower level when it strikes the cement and discharges with a sound comparable to a burst of cannon fire.

Her progress is much slower than Gabriel's is, weighed down by her body's dense bones, aching muscles and shuddering movements. She only weighs ninety-odd pounds, but she may as well be bound to an anchor tossed over the side of a small barge in comparison to the form that he takes. By the time she pulls herself up, staggers to her feet and is climbing the stairs that lead to the second floor catwalk and the key lock Gregor was gesturing to, her center of gravity is wobbling all over the place.

Bing is below. Gregor's location is a mystery. Aviators is in pursuit of Rasoul. Her gut tells her that Gabriel is up here somewhere too, though any further strategizing will have to wait until she finishes fumbling with the key. Her first two attempts to fit it into the slot are reminiscent of a toddler trying to fit a square block into a circular hole — the third, however, slides into place after some frustrated jiggling.

Shoulder braced against the side of the adjacent monitor to prevent tilting too far sideways, she swivels it in a slow but decisive clockwise motion.

Ketsup warmth. Bing open and closes his fist a few times, reassuring himself that he'd managed to actually hit something before some something else bounded off with a sinuous whimper of air fluxing through its deceptively opaque form. He can guess that it was the palm tree man again; stalk thin, bristly-fronded on top, moves in ways that not even Bing, who is an expert at locomotion, could honestly conceive of. He suspects that the girl thing has made the most of her toss and exemption from the kill order and is scurrying around doing other stuff, but can't begin to guess at what.

All right. Time to go. There's only so much a glorified bouncer can do, after all, in a facility full of pregnant broads and little broads and other, somewhat more electrical devices that he isn't supposed to kill while the amorphously-characterized 'everything else' is free game and he's BLIND.

And Bing knew better than most of the Chinese Vanguard, when it was high time to bail. "Rasoul!" he hollers, on the off-chance Rasoul's actually still here. "I'm going!" Stepping past/on/around a bit of ragged doctor, Bing places his boots wide on the catwalk's keening platform, winches his supercharged thigh muscles down into a squat. Mumbles to himself. "Off— I— go." His legs pop straight as if they were springloaded, both arms lashing out once again, a maneuver almost identical to the snatch of arms that had almost caved Gabriel's torso in. This time, thankfully, Gabriel's torso is well out of the way. The catwalk that the man is standing on, however—

Flexes like the surface tension of a tidal wave under a buoy, kinetic force of impact discharged with a rippling Doppler groan of rending screws and snapping tube metal, flinging the man vertically upward.

Amidst the crashing and explosion of one half of the catwalk from Bing's massive strike against the metal framework, Eileen doesn't find any expected announcement to proclaim that the warheads are disarmed, it's not something the entire bunker would need to be notified about in the event of a normal launch. Instead, a green light indicating that the nuclear warheads are indeed armed and ready to be detonated instead turns red, indicating that they have been rendered inert, and that the signal was received by the missiles. Next to where Eileen is disengaging the warheads for Rasoul's missiles, a secondary terminal has been left open. A flashing warning indicating download complete is indicated in one corner, but the information shown on the screen displays something not quite what she expected to find here in the command center.

Depicted on the screens, is technical data on a Russian nuclear weapons program indicated as Project-200. As this information is plucked through on Rasoul's terminal, there is a catalogued photograph on the system of two familiar old man standing in a subway tunnel. One of them, gray hair and glasses, suit neatly pressed, is Kazimir Volken. The other, taller, lankier and more long of face is a fleeting memory from one of Eileen's trips through Germany with Kazimir — Mikhail Wagner. Behind them, a pair of nuclear weapons a displayed. One is an intercontinental ballistic missile, a rocket designed to fire vast distances. The other, is a stubby and rotund bomb that looks so very stereotypically like what one would imagine a nuclear bomb looking like, right out of Dr.Strangelove.

What she can make heads or tails of on the screen is the schematics for a nuclear bomb, not a warhead, based off of a prototype tested in northern Russia. She sees a name, latches on to it, Tsar Bomba. As her green-gray eyes start scanning over the other texts, it indicates the size of the blast radius. A few quick clicks at the keys — simple navigation — she manages to see a green dot that represents the bombs used to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then a slightly larger yellow radius for a tested American bomb from the fifties. Then, expanding outwards like a sun eclipsing a soap bubble floating in the air, is the radius of this Russian monstrosity. A 100 megaton nuclear bomb, capable of creating a five mile wide ball of fire from its detonation, with a 32 kilometer blast radius. The ICBM matches the description of Hugin, which means that they were looking for the wrong bomb all along. It's not a missile at all, it's that thing that could level miles upon miles of land. That is Munin.

Hissing is the first thing Eileen hears after she's turned the key. Hissing coming from both above and right where she stands on the metal grating. At the moment her senses finally admit that the hissing isn't part of the ringing in her ears, she can look up to see where a horrible yellow-white gas is seeping down from spinning canisters up on the third floor. A gigantic cloud of the miasma is settling down in a heavier than air descent through the catwalk grating and towards the second floor. The closer hissing comes from three spinning gas canisters that bounce and clank across the balcony from the pressurized expulsion of their mustard-colored vapors. She recognizes the ability-negation gas when she sees it, but the bald-headed and muscular figure emerging through the smoke is creeping up from behind her.

Using the smoke as concealment and having leveled the playing field by flooding the chamber with the negation toxin, the Butcher of Mandritsara, Lang comes sneaking up behind Eileen, sliding his hunting knife out from his belt sheath, tongue wetting his lips. When he springs, it's with the grace of a hunting animal, palm slapping across her mouth the same moment that the twelve inch length of steel is inserted up between her ribs. Blood oozes out from the wound, fingers clap tight around her lips to muffle her scream, and all Lang can do is press his lips to her cheek and utter, "Shhhhh."

The knife is slid out, blood shaked to the latticewood of metal under their feet, and Lang throws Eileen's bleeding form to the catwalk at his feet with a clang. "Save some for later, sweetheart." Lang offers Eileen, bringing up his knife and licking the blood clean off from one side.

The sound of the gas being released from the canisters snaps Eileen's attention from the screen to the smoke, thick, roiling, canary-yellow. It's the kind of comparison an avian telepath is likely to make, even if she lacks more than a heartbeat to reflect on her choice of descriptor. Lang's hand is over her mouth before she can rasp out a thin warning to Gabriel — wherever he is — and as she throws her weight back against him in an attempt to dislodge his arm, fingers curling around the grip of her pistol in its holster, the blade punctures her side and cleaves cleanly through the intercostal muscles that separate her ribs.

Those same fingers grow slack the next instant, and what remains of her strength leaves her body in tandem with the hunting knife. Her legs go out from under her, knees like wet gelatin — on her way down, she makes a feeble grab for one of the computers as if to catch herself or delay her fall, but this time her grip fails to find purchase.

It doesn't matter what she saw on the screen. She can't see anything anymore.

Gabriel doesn't remember what knocked him on his feet. He rejoins participation upon landing again, belly down and hands flat out enough to break his fall against breaking his regal nose against metal grating, blinking stunned through the steel grating. Spine curving enough so that he can dart a look back towards the sizable dent made in the platform, he shows his teeth in a sneer before tracking his gaze back downwards. Realization sparks stiffness through his whole body, the blossoming of yellow smoke distinctive, tension coiling like a cat realizing it's about to get a bath. It's not reaching him, not all the way up here, but he still jerks up onto his hands and knees, staggers to the latter, up onto feet, and grips onto railing with the former.

He's looking for the strong guy, his sidearm quickly in hand and psychic sonar going off wild until he can sense distinctly two minds clustered close around the time a clang of a body falling to the metal platforms reaches his ears.

Moving without thought, none at all, Gabriel abruptly flings himself over the side of his tier, Bing treated to the sight of a silky shadow flowing over the side like the speediest of waterfalls, monkeying closer, clumsier than before, moving like a demon through the underside of the second tier until it can come spilling down onto the platform on which Lang has found himself. It's not shadow, however, that graces the same space, but 6'1" worth of Gabriel Gray suddenly crashing into his back with enough speed to bruise the both of them.

The sudden force of being crushed under Gabriel's weight sends Lang's hunting knife clattering acros the lattice metalwork of the catwalk. He struggles under Gabriel's weight, rolling onto his back, swinging up a wild punch that connects at the serial-killer's jaw, but somehow Lang's resistance only makes Gabriel harder to get off. "Didn't think we'd get t'meet face t'face," Lang growls into their wrestling match, grinning a toothy — and bloodied — smile at the exchange. "You know what you ain't, though?" Lang asks rhetorically, rolling onto his back and angling Gabriel into a straddling position, "you ain't a lion."

The seemingly incomprehensible sentence comes with a hook of Lang's legs up and over Gabriel's head. In a quick flip of body posture, Lang has reversed their grapple and gone for one of the ceramic knives at his belt, When he lunges for Gabriel's throat, it's the serial killer's strong upper body that keeps Lang's blade from slishing thorugh flesh. Climbing atop Gabriel, Lang drives a knee into his stomach, spitting bloody drops down across Gabriel's cheek as they wrestle for the knife.

"See that 'round m'neck?" Lang strains the question through his teeth, and either Gabriel headbutts Lang or Lang headbutts Gabriel, the end result is the smack of bone and the clang of metal as they both disengage from one another. Lang rolls over and climbs up to one knee, holding up a broken tooth he wears around his neck. "This tooth b'longed to a lion. A'hunted and killed that creature m'self… ain't never seen no bigger game than out in Africa. Not till a'saw you…"

"Bing, Bang Boom!" Lang calls out, "Bully ol' pal, why don't you go see what ol' bossman is up to! Ah' got this." Waggling his ceramic knife back and forth in the billowing clouds of yellow gas, Lang's eyes are tearing up from it. "Ah'm supposed t'be fightin' a war right now." He offers in explanation to Gabriel. "Leadin' tanks? Fuck that shit, son, fuck that shit right in the mouth. Ah' saw you— Midtown Man. Ain't gon' pass that up."

Letting go of his tooth pendant and reaching down for his second ceramic knife, Lang finds only the leather sheathe. His brows furrow, eyes widen, and when he looks down to Gabriel's hand, he sees the serial killer wasn't just letting himself get kicked around. He was getting a tool.

But down at the servers, there is something else going on. Choking back wet and slithering breaths without his lower jaw, Doctor Gregor drags himself shakily across the floor. He can't find all of the pieces of flesh that make up his face, but he can feel his tongue hanging out, but the pain all feels gone, deadened nerve endings or perhaps a tragic result of his stolen ability all coming too flat.

Stalking out from behind one of the servers, looking up frightened at the yellow gas, Six stares down at Doctor Gregor awkwardly. Somehow, in his simple mind, he knows the doctor is hurting, and despite all of the beatings, all of the torturous experiments, he sympathizes with the jawless man. Maybe moreso now that they are both hideous in their own ways.

Six, though, sees the fight going on above, sees the gas creeping down towards him. The gangly and deformed man waves for Gregor to go, pointing to the door Aviators had fled through. "Doc-tor…" Six grumbles, "go… go from bad men." The experiment narrows his coal black eyes, teeth clenched together, "Go."

Still outside of the influence of the gas, Six has something the others don't — his ability. Reaching out with fingers and feelers, seeking the soft and supple feeling of flesh, muscle and bone, Six's ability begins to sink talons into the man who absorbs kinetic energy. He swallows deep that feeling of connective tissue in his mind, and in an unraveling of his ability as Gregor flees, Six endeavors to turn the invulnerable man inside out.

There's a coarse, haggard yelp from above: the stairwell platform, this time, Bing's progress met with a cessation in psychic blindness at about the same moment that the liquefying squelch of Six's ability finds root in his dense limbs and smokestack stature. Six is one of Bing's worst fears realized and he reacts accordingly. Hurls himself into running, unabashed in his retreat now that his aim is restored, his boots skidding short-burst epileptic squeaks of rubbery contact.

He's almost fast enough. Swerving toward the exit, a vehement twitch and eddy of emanating power catches him by the muscle of his back mid-vault, with a buckling pop of vertebrates and sinew rewiring themselves without their owner's consent. His coat contuses once, like a bag around microwaved popcorn, and there's a liquid shriek of Cantonese scatology before the sum total of the Vanguard operative's burly frame vanishes into the unsteady darkness beyond the walls, leaving nothing but corpses, fading mutants, and the runoff waste of spent loyalties.

Gabriel might tell Lang what he did to tanks, if he himself wasn't choking on the yellow smoke clouding around them. It stings, prickling at eyes, the softer flesh around the mouth, burns at each inhale— or maybe that's just him, psychology for you, because the worst thing is that deadening cloak of negation that Gabriel has known in the past. It's why his hand becomes a solid clasp around the blade in his hand, knuckles white with it as he lifts his head enough to see realisation dawn in Lang's face.

He moves first, too, ignoring the ache of fatigue in his joints. Lang's knife is carving a track up his chest in defense as they're flung together again in a grapple, tip of ceramic blade scoring too close for comfort to his throat. By the time it's lancing around again, it finds only Gabriel's forearm, scoring another laceration but Lang's wrist stopping short against his arm when the second blade is coming up, almost secretly, to stab up into the soft flesh of the Butcher's belly. Gabriel's eyes blink rapidly when he feels warm insides flood out from the man above him, spilling and pungent with the smell of iron, and with strength behind a knife having come to stick up in the sterner stuff of Lang's ribcage, Gabriel turns them over again.

The knife is jerked out through cartilage and bone, and descends again to pierce Lang's chest, then his throat, splintering teeth once through jaw and cheekbone, before slipping in between ribcages. The hilt twists, and the abused blade splinters off with a messy snap.

There's a pause, Gabriel studying the gutted man beneath him, before sliding off completely. His movement towards Eileen's unconscious form is clumsy, crab-walkish, tracking thick blood as he goes to lay his hands on her.

Eileen is bleeding out, a puncture wound thorugh her back from Lang's enormous knife is causing her too fragile body to drain lifeblood out in a steady trickle. Gabriel's hands paw at her, pale flesh streaked with blood, brown in places where it has already dried. This is not how it was supposed to happen, not how Usutu's painting said it would go. Picking up Eileen's limp form into his arms, Gabriel feels the warmth of her blood on his lap and on his stomach, her arms hanging like the limbs of a puppet with her strings cut.

His body wants to stop, break apart, die. Yet somehow he finds the strength to lift himself to his feet, carrying Eileen in his arms, her legs hooked around his forearm, back braced, blood seeping between his fingers. This isn't how it was supposed to be at all, and unbeknownst to Gabriel, the woman dying in his arms once more happens to have knowledge of the Vanguard's greatest weapon in her mind.

Stepping out of the gas, he carries her body towards the stairs. They have to get out of here, they didn't come all this way to die. Floors below and now swallowed up int he negation gas, Six lurches and stumbles through the haze of fog, groaning in pain as his ability is stripped from him by the cloying fog. He squeals, in the way a wild pig might, pain lacing over his body in sharp pinpricks from the lack of presence of his power, or what may well keep his deformed body in check.

As he finds the stairwell, Six stumbles thorugh the doorway, outof the gas but still under its lingering effects, tears welling in his eyesm weakly calling out for Doctor Gregor, calling for help. He saved Gregor, so Gregor shouold return the favor, it is how Six's simple mind works.

It is not how Gregor's mind works.

On the stairs, Six stumbles tiredly, a wrinkled hand held to his bald head. There, on the stairs Doctor Gregor waits, blood oosing from the broken bone and muscle tissue where his lower jaw once was. Fat cells sag a disgusting yellow veined with blood red, and his tongue tangles as a torn hunk of meat. Six makes a soft, understanding face and takes a step closer to Gregor, not quite understanding why the doctor does not feel pain.

Whimpering under the effects from the negation gas, Six looks weakly and wearily down at Gregor when the bloody-handed doctor raises a sharp piece of jagged metal up to chin level. He can't speak, not intelligibly, but when Gregor's eyebrows raise and he corners the horrified, whimpering Six at the bottom of the stairwell, the mad doctor brings that sharp piece of metal to bear as a makeshift scalpel. Deprived of his ability, Six can do nothing, save for struggle and let out a blood-curdling scream of confusion and pain as Doctor Gregor takes what he needs so desperately.

Bone dislodges, muscle tears, tissue snaps, and in the dark of the stairwell, Six's gurgling screams eventually quell. Slithering pops and snaps of breaking bones, popping joints and wet slaps of flesh on flesh accompany a scraping of metal on bone. When he steps out of the doorway, looks up the stairs towards the exit to the missile silo, Doctor Gregor brushes his blood-soaked hands over his new lower jaw, feeling where skin sutures itself shut, working it from side to side and clicking his teeth together.

"You always did have such very— nice teeth, Six…" Gregor offers to the bloody corpse behind him laying limp on the concrete. Testing the jaw open and closed again, Gregor uses it to smile, lips spread wide as his hands fall down from the sides of his cheeks, and he begins to take one step after another upwards, a way out, a way to escape somewhere. "After six tries," Gregor muses to himself, "one of those worthless test subjects finally— proved useful in an unexpected way."

His procession up the stairs, takes Gregor away from the noise of the basement. Perhaps it will be atomic fire that awaits him, perhaps it will be freedom.

He lives to continue his work.

And the Work must always continue.

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