Welcome to the Jungle


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And very briefly:

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Scene Title Welcome to the Jungle
Synopsis During an aimless trudge through the jungles of Argentina, Team Alpha come face to face with the infamous monsters of Cerro de Hierro Negro, and it's nothing they (or most of them) expected. Now with a pinch of epilogue.
Date December 3, 2009

Argentina: Subtropical Jungle

The dark, vine-laden greenery that defines the swath of jungle growth in Cerro de Hierro Negro's shadow is not really lush so much as it is resilient. Ancient trunks wind crooked under thick mats of cool moss and the same damp litter of decay that makes the ground soft underfoot, with brambled undergrowth and brackish stream beds just sparse enough to be navigable if one is careful about where they step. Rumbling passages of thunder stir often through the rustle and sway of branches thatched far overhead, but the rain that should accompany it has been scattered in recent days. Crawling insects are common despite the chill wind off the mountain ahead, and every so often the shrill keen of a persistent predator splits the night or the springy passage of ungulate hooves whispers invisible along an unseen game trail. To the northeast, the flutter and burble of running water is occasional audible with gentle turns in the wind.

5:35 AM. Time to break camp; time to get moving again. The majority of Dahlia's group branched off an hour earlier to weave their way in a slightly different direction, leaving two sets of tracks and trails for any pursuit to waste their time sussing out. Now the inscrutible murk of pre-dawn blues and greys is gradually sorting itself out into black shapes discernible as individual trees, or vines, or fellow government-sanctioned vigilantes.

It was a cold night and it's shaping up to be a cold morning. Foggy breath puffs past gloved fingers and chilly mud sucks cold at boots damp from last night's drizzling rain as the group moves along, sometimes in silence, sometimes with the murmur of half-hearted, groggy conversation to keep them occupied. Dahlia's joined Ross and the rest of Team Alpha, raising their total number to 8.

Every so often, the wind kicks up enough to sway twisted trunks on either side of the winding game trail they're on now. And every so often that same wind brings with it a low, droning buzz, vaguely reminiscent of a pulsing electrical current. Or one very large, very angry bee.

Just ahead of Our Heroes, those paying particular attention might notice that the trail is widening out into an area of sparser vegetation. Hard to tell whether it was a camp at some point or a naturally occurring break in the forest, but a few isolated tatters of color flag and flutter amidst ungulate hoofprints when the trees move. Near the back of the procession, the crackling crunch of someone's boot trodding too heavily over a dead branch sends a deer the size of a giant old lady purse springing away and out of sight.

Agent Sawyer walks near the rear of the group, weapon drawn in case there are any surprises along the way. One thing she hates is not knowing where she's going and another thing she hates is not knowing her superiors — so it's a crappy morning, all around. She doesn't know Ross well enough to trust him, and now Dahlia is their new leader of sorts, and she knows Dahlia even less.

The agent's dark eyes flicker here and there, watching the brush that surrounds them for any motion. "What's that noise?" she asks quietly, glancing up. "Sounds like power lines." This is tossed forward lightly toward Dahlia, who Veronica suspects might know — everyone else would be hazarding guesses, as she is.

"That was the smallest deer I've ever seen," Gillian muses in a low raspy voice from her place where she quickly looked at the sound of something moving. After all, it could be that giant cat with glowing red eyes! Though she'd never heard it the times she saw it, and she's sure it would only make noise if it was planning to do as Raith described… The way he made that motion makes her think of a raptor. Surely there's not raptor cats out and about in Argentina…

She tugs the upper layers of her clothes tighter around her, to ward off some of the chill, as she keeps close to the person she's been sleeping closest to the last few nights. Veronica. The other woman. Besides Dahlia, of course. The other youngish woman. "I thought it was a big bee or something… They don't have power lines out here, do they?"

Wearing his rain poncho that matches his dark-green cargo pants for any water that might be blown from the trees, Magnes has been having some issues since his talk with Kazimir. Now that he keeps thinking about it, he's so aware of the air, and it keeps dragging him down. For the first time since they've been on the trip, he appears to be getting almost exhausted. "Maybe it's a personal electricity generator, it'd make sense this far out…"

There's a shadow moving in the jungle not too far from the group, passing over gnarled roots and wet earth at first and then sweeping over the wider trail, wings spread as if it were the shadow cast by a bird circling overheard. Only, of course, there is no bird up there. Or at least not one that matches the shadow.

Richard Cardinal's keeping an eye on the group's perimeter.

Brows furrowed when the deer bolts into the underbrush, Peter looks down at his gloved hands and flexes them open and closed. It's the third such animal on this trek that's ran from his presence, half of the forest is trying to recede away from him wherever he goes; from the bugs dropping dead when they land on him to the birds scattering from trees that he walks near. Even the vegetation in the forest looks to shrink back and away from him, even if it's more of a wilt than an actual retreat.

"There's a lot of things out here you might not expect…" Peter explains quietly from the back of the group, slowly starting to make his way forward more, even if at a distance. "These mountains are scattered with old abandoned facilities from the end of the second world war." Blue eyes sweep the treeline. "Argentina may not have actively fought battles like in Europe, but it had an important role in the post-war world." Stepping over a branch, Peter adjusts the way his backpack hangs on one shoulder.

"After the fall of Berlin, escaping members of the Nazi party took U-Boats out of Germany and other entrenchments around the world, and most of them fell back here to Argentina. They brought resources with them — weapons, food, gold." A dark brow perks up at that last bit. "They hid out here, until the Argentinian government buckled to global pressure and this place turned over from being a Nazi haven. But a lot of what they left behind… the really hidden stuff…"

Stopping at one point in the trail, Peter glances down at the ground, then looks off into the treeline. "It's still out here."

A branch snaps back into position behind Dahlia as she pushes through it, springy and russling and in danger of whapping someone in the face if she was less careful than she is. Ross is somewhere beside rather than behind her, tramping determinedly through jungle and swatting flies away. He glances sidelong when the woman leading them through the jungle allows for a pause, swiveling back towards the group as she uncaps her canteen.

Head tilted, Dahlia listens, once she steals a gulp or two of water. "No power lines," she confirms, before her jaw sets, back straightens. "We— " She darts a look leftwards, as if she could see her own team through the jungle beyond, but by now, they've spread out far enough that there aren't the distant signs of movement beyond. "We need to give moving."

Briskly, she turns, and starts at a quicker speed along the trail, into the clearing. The only explanation she offers is, "It's an omen. We are too close to the roads. Move."

Just as the group is too close to the roads, there is something else in the area that moves too close to Peter's head. So close, in fact, that it bounds off of it without much noise or even much force; more of a 'squish' before it flops onto the ground. A very overripe passion fruit from the heavens, or from the trees. The tree, specifically, that Jensen Raith spent the night in, off the ground and, in the darkness of the jungle, out of sight. It's probably not a good idea to risk spooking everyone like this, but it's Raith; he doesn't exactly have a history of doing the smart thing over the thing that he finds the most amusing.

His only reply to anyone that happens to look up at him in to raise two fingers to his lips and blow them a kiss. "Nice to see all of you again." Details can wait for later.

In this case, if Peter is to be believed, the silky red pair of thong panties caught fluttering on a slender stick in the mud near the clearing's maw might have once belonged to Adolf Eichmann. They look a little fresh for that, though, hardly faded. The lace is even still intact.

There are other relics, too. What looks like it was once a tent before someone or something rent it into fluttery strips. A discarded sidearm with wiry grass growing up through the trigger guard. A tennis shoe. A moldering little cardboard box of what may well be 50 .45 rounds, if the label is to be believed.

The buzzing is still far enough away that it doesn't weigh too heavily on those listening for it, rising and falling in and out with a mechanical regularity independent of the small treasure trove of random human detritus represented here.

"Thanks for the history lesson," Sawyer tells Peter a little wryly before Dahlia begins to speak.

"The natives are restless," the agent murmurs under her breath to Gillian at Dahlia's obvious tension. "That doesn't bode well. She's worried." The agent cocks her head in the direction the woman had looked — she holds her weapon in that direction as she listens to the buzzing. "I don't think it's a bee. Mechanical sounding. I can't help but think of those metal ribs we saw." She had told Gillian about the find last night.

"I don't like the sound any of that," Gillian says, looking toward the woman closest to her, and then sliding her eyes back over to Peter. "I kinda wish we all had body armor or something…" There's many reasons she doesn't want to get shot or whatever might be happening out there in the distance. "I think I'll stick close to you, but I'll only really be useful with Magnes." She says that as if it's an unfortunate thing. "If he tries to fly off with me, I'll kick him," she mutters under her breath.

"Think there might be electric fences or something? On that road she mentioned? That could explain it." They make a lot of noise in movies, that she can remember.

"This bag is so heavy, hard to concentrate." Magnes complains to himself, trying not to bug anyone else, but whoever's close could easily hear. He tries to stay alert, but seems incredibly distracted. "This place just gets worse…"

There's a buzzing sound, which doesn't sound good to Cardinal. It could just be something on the road, as Dahlia says, but it's definately ominous. The shadow glides back closer to the gathering, his voice stirring from the grass, "What the hell is this, a garbage dump? There's somebody's underpants over there."

Jerking his head up and fumbling for his rifle in the way someone who isn't proficient in its use would, Peter gapes upwards at Raith. Blue eyes go wide as he hisses out, "Raith you— " Then, with a rather immediate wince and a slow softening of his features, Peter cants his head to the side and lets his eyes narrow. His tone is much more level now, less surprised and more disapproving; like Raith's reproachful father.

"Jensen," he intones flatly, "get out of that tree before— "

Something catches Peter's attention, not so much Jensen's lounging in the tree, but more the fact that Dahlia is moving quickly. He hadn't heard her call, hadn't noticed her haste until just now. But then, it's not Peter's voice that speaks up to follow her. "He's right, compadre…" It's a husky man's voice coming from the jungle, rough and worn like old leather. Moving out from behind Jensen's tree, a tall man in a camouflage uniform with a simple olive-drab jacket that looks like it is at least four or five decades old comes into view. He's a slightly unshaven but weathered looking hispanic man, narrow eyes and a black beret with a steel pin on the front bearing the symbol of a wolf's profile. The cigar in his hand trails a thin tendril of smoke.

Peter is rendered speechless by his presence, and also the eyepatch that covers where one brown eye should be. "You look like you have seen a ghost, signor." Rico Velasquez is many things, nearly literal ghost one of them. "My little sister is right. Something is wrong, we can share stories on cheating death later." A pointed look is afforded from Rico to Peter as he passes by the blue-eyed man, and offers a friendly wave towards the others gathered around. Velasquez may not be a familiar face to most, but he certainly is to those who paid attention to the briefing about the Vanguard aboard the USS George Washington — he was listed as a member killed in action in New York.

"Come on Jensen, enough monkey-play." Rico adds as he starts moving with the group, offering only a side-long stare to the underwear, then the shredded tent. "Dios mio…" There's a shake of his head and a frown that comes with the proclamation as he moves.

Peter finally looks at the remnants of that camp, the discarded scraps of clothing and supplies, down to the gun exposed to the elements for too long to be use to anyone. Blue eyes flick up to Raith, then to the treeline, then Gillian, as if he is reconsidering dismissing her presumedly delerious rantings about a monster…

Even Dahlia's speedy pace slows as the relics begin to dot the immediate terrain, her hard expression going even steelier before her attention veers upwards and over towards Raith, back down towards where Rico ambles into view. There is no sisterly greeting, apart from slight relaxation in her guard - barely a fraction. Her shoulders roll beneath the straps of her backpack as she looks about the group. "No fences, no lines. None of those that came to meet us had a generator. I don't know what it is, but I know what it could mean." A glance towards the tent rendered into strips of canvas, lip curling. "And so did they, perhaps. Come, we move."

She turns, boots crunching through the earthy terrain underfoot. "There is a site a few hours from here, where we can rest. Then we can negotiate your passage back to El Paleqnue, si?"

"Si," is Ross's quick agreement. The sooner out of these jungles, the better. Taking the long route to avoid danger— workin' so great thus far— is beginning to chafe. Still, he tosses back a suggestion, "Someone check the gun," as he removes hat from bald head to fan his face with it. It's good to be the guy who's job is to tell you what to do.

With agility perhaps fitting a monkey (although a very large and rather ungainly one), Raith drops to hang from his branch, swinging towards the trunk before he releases his hold. The tree serves to break his fall, a temporary wall to push against, before he allows himself to fall backwards and away from it, landing and rolling backwards over his shoulders before rising to his feet and dusting himself off. His fatigues have seen better days, now dirty and ripped in a couple places. Perhaps of greater interest is the aged belt that he's acquired, showing signs of long wear, as has the sheath suspended from his left hip. The machete inside the sheath probably isn't in much better shape, and neither is the holster at the right. The pistol peeking out of the holster, however, looks to be in fairly good shape, or at least the grip and butt are. It's probably best to blame Rico for these acquisitions.

"Ross, I need a word with you," the leader of what remains of Vanguard in New York says very directly, "Immediately. Intel."

"Great. Someone else I don't know," Veronica mutters, eyes moving to Rico, to Dahlia, then Peter. No one's too upset to see Rico, so the agent isn't too worried, if tense. Instead she focuses on the order given by the boss, as pointless as it may be. She heads over to the gun, lifting it and inspecting it, to see if it's too weather-beaten to do anyone any good.

Veronica doesn't get even that far. The gun hasn't lifted more than a quarter inch before there's the lightest hairline tug of resistance somewhere at the grip, and in a blur of displaced mud and moss and sad little hoofprints, something that looks a lot like a bear trap clamps solid 'round the Company Agent's wrist.

It all happens quicker than the human eye can register — a jetted puff of coolant and a metallic clank as a cuff locks seamless behind the knobbled join of hand and arm. A twitch of adjustment to release too-tight pressure and a pin prick stab of pain through Veronica's wrist later, the twiggy steel arms of the trap fall away with the single fetter of the cuff fixed firmly in place.

"I met him last— " That was what Gillian was saying to the other woman as she stays nearby to let the woman check the firearm. She might feel a little better if more people had usable guns, though she'd trust the shadow man with it more than herself. She doesn't get that far. She doesn't even finish what she was saying about the guy dropping out of trees. What she does get to say is a sudden and sharp, "Fuck." The sound, the sudden appearance of something around her friend's wrist. "What is that?"

Magnes is rushing over to Veronica as soon as he notices what's happening, and hunches down to take a look. "Crap, I don't know what to do, it could be a double trap or something, so I don't wanna just break it…"

There's a moment's shocked silence thayt follows the sudden clack of the band about Veronica's wrist, a shadow passing over her briefly and ending up across her shoulder and part of her upper body and arm so that Cardinal can get a better look at what it is.

"Well. Shit." After a moment, "…anyone see any giant metal t-rexes yet?"

Back to El-Palenque? Peter's blue eyes narrow as he moves in a hasty trot down the path, assault-rifle now out and held close. The moment that pneumatic hiss-click-clank of the trap is sprung, Peter's reactions seem almost planned. Save for the horrified look on his face, he's movements are sharp and precise. He doesn't move to help Veronica, plenty of other people are doing that. "Move!" Rico shouts as loud as he can on seeing the bracelet, "Hack your hand off or move!" There's a shove from the hispanic man to Veronica's shoulder to get her moving, not to stay and wait, just to not stop. An immediate, horrified look is delivered to Jensen.

Peter stops, about twenty paces up the trail and looks back at Rico and without even saying anything just tosses the assault-rifle backwards towards him. Rico doesn't even need to break a stride to snatch the M16 out of the air with both hands and bring it down into a readied position. The old guerilla fighter looks over his shoulder back to Jensen, hearing that whirrrr getting louder in the jungle floor. Dark eyes sweep from one side of the woods to another, and Rico spreads out from Peter, who's now carefully taking off his gloves and folding them in his back pockets, waiting for Raith to move up past him and catch up to Ross before forming the rear guard of the group.

There's something oddly fluidic and mechanical about the way the three of them seem to work together. Expectations met, actions predicted, they seem to know where each other is without having to use verbal or even visual signs. It's like they've been at this for a while, but that just doesn't make sense.

Just off the trail and moving through the woods as if it were just as clear as the path Dahlia is trailblazing for them, Rico lifts up the M16 and checks the safety, pulls out the magazine and feels the weight and then snaps it back into place. It's lifted up to check the scope, play with a dial, and then held back in a lowered position. Putting his back up to one tree, he makes eye contact with Peter, offering a nod, then waits for Peter to pass him before switching duties as rear-guard of the group.

When Peter passes by Rico, he reaches down to the hispanic man's waist and removes his six-shot revolver from his hip holster. The old .45 looks vintage, and unfortunately Rico's ammo belt is empty. Peter had best make those six shots count.

And Dahlia is already running.

Ross barely sees her out the corner of his eye, shouting an indignant, "Hey!" when he sees the wiry woman take off without a word, seeing only panic on her expression in the time he takes to glance. Ross is not moving, and if what keeps him with Team Alpha is loyalty, it stays fast in the face of the Branded's unbranded leader suddenly disappear through jungle brush as fast as her boots can carry her.

"Jesus Christ— everyone, calm down. Sawyer, are you hurt?" His gun is out, now, as much as he's—

He seems to be backing away from Veronica. He doesn't vocally suggest that she just camp out here while the others, uh, do recon, but he kind of wants to, all of a sudden.

Well, this is just great. Just beautiful. At Rico's shout to cut or run, Raith is charging over to Veronica just as the others are. The difference is that anyone who gets in his way- in this case, Magnes- gets shoved out of his way. Roughly, he seizes the agent-lady's wrist and brings the cuff up to his eye level. Just fucking beautiful. "Bend your wrist down," he orders- not says, but orders Veronica, drawing his Glock and yanking the slide back to chamber a round. "If someone can shape metal, speak now or we're blasting it off." Trying to blast it off; Raith has doubts that this plan, already mind-numbingly unsafe, will work, but it's still less brutal than whipping out his machete and hacking away.

When the cuff clamps on, Veronica jumps, then winces, growing pale as she sees the cuff is like that seen last on their skeletal friend that Magnes raised out of the muck. She's already getting up when everyone rushes to her aid, raising the cuff closer to her eyes so she can inspect it, but being careful not
to touch it with the free hand.

"Fuck," she hisses, giving a bit of a glare to Rico when he pushes her as if she's purposely slowing down the group. Nice to meet you too, pendejo.

"Is it a tracker? There was a needle prick — is it poisoning me? Do you people know what this is, because it'd be good if you told us. I'll split from the group, lead them in the wrong direction, if …" if she's dead anyway.

When Raith grabs her wrist, she winces but does what he says. "Back up," she adds to the others. Any remaining color drains from her face. "Shoot down," she adds to Raith, angling her fingers back. It's the ricochet that is the problem. "Magnes, any … gravity shit that might help?"

On a sinister delay, somewhere amidst the nervous tramp of booted feet that have rushed to Gillian's aid there is a very distinct fwip pshhhh clank that is the sound of a second trap flinging its arms up through the leaf litter and mud to lock solid around Magnes's ankle, trapping pant leg and all.

…Fwip psshhh clank. Still another trap leaps up to close on empty air after Raith's advance, narrowly missing the heavy tread of his heel. Fwip pshhh clank — a fourth claps itself up into place just beneath Gillian's calf when she happens to backstep onto Eichmann's painties. Suddenly every inch of earth in this clearing is suspect: every thread of drifting laundry or boxed boon. There's even a granola bar's foil package aglint just behind the sway of the tattered tent's flap. Who's hungry?

The little LED on Veronica's band blinks a pleasing shade of green, once, twice, thrice before it settles in polite contrast to the trickle of bloody red dripping down her arm. Yes, most definitely green. :D Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the drone and buzz of something may have gotten somewhat louder. Or the wind's just blowing a little harder — difficult to tell. Especially difficult once the light on Magnes's new ankle band blinks red and a warning klaxon belches froggily across the treetops from no direction in particular.

It sounds bad.

Everything is happening so fast. Running away sounds like a good plan, but abandoning her brother's fiance isn't exactly an option right now. The idea that the guy who jumps out of trees is going to shoot something off of her friend might be why Gillian took a step back. To avoid bullets, perhaps. And then she looks down and winces at the feeling of the needle jabbing into her ankle. Wearing chainmail is starting to look like a good idea in this place. There's that sound, and she raises her hands up a bit. "You know it would've been absolutely fucking awesome if anyone would've told us anything at fucking all about what's going on in this fucking jungle." Cause she's got this thing on her now and she's pissed.

Magnes' eyes widen, then he winces with the prick of the needle. But then there's the lights, first he spots Veronica's; green, then he spots his; red. "Shit, shit!" Yeah, he's swearing and panicking. "It's testing us!" He hasn't seen Gillian's, but he's pretty sure! "They've probably got some sort of Sentinel! You all saw that metal rib thing, it'll probably only chase the positive bracelets." He leans down after stating his entire and possibly insane conclusion, touching both halves of the bracelet and attempting to raise them both to around a ton, trying to make it pull itself apart. "Start running and I'll catch up when this thing is off! Gillian, you stay and I'll get yours off too!" He's assuming her's is red.

BZZZZRRRTTTTT. At close range, this sound is much more readily intelligable than the one humming at a distance: it is the sound of Magnes's kicking new accessory electrocuting him with enough kick to sit a full grown bull down on its meaty hinder.

"Oh yeah."

Cardinal's voice stirs from where he's draped over Veronica in ephemeral darkness. "That isn't good at all. I think 'running like hell' is a good plan right now."

"Rico!" Comes the immediate cry from Peter when he sees Gillian get snapped by one of the traps. "What the hell is this!?" Blue eyes are wide and wild, the calm and composure drained out of him as he wheels around, aiming that revolver held in a two-handed grip in different directions, not sure what to expect from the sounds. For all his worth, Rico has disappeared into the jungle. He sidles up to one tree, then springs behind the cover of another, two logs are bounded across, and he's vaulting himself up to wrap around the branch of a tree like a monkey and pull himself up without hardly losing any speed. For a man pushing fifty he is remarkably spry. Crouched on that branch, Rico waves a hand sign to Peter and just shakes his head. He's just as clueless.

For a moment Peter has no idea what the hand-sign meant, but it's the sudden dawning look of revelation and stoicism that cools his anxiety which comes next that seems more welcomed in his own expression. "Stick together," Peter informs the group, trying to shout over the sound of the klaxons, looking to Raith over his shoulder and then down to Magnes' floating and unconscious form as two little sparks of electricity dance over his wrist at the bracelet.

"Stay calm, stay together, this could just be a scare tactic!" Please just be a scare tactic. Regardless, Peter isn't running until the rest of the team runs, he's not about to abandon them to the jungle.

A scream abruptly sounds out from the jungle. In the direction Dahlia fled.

Several moments later, there's the sound of her foot steps pounding earth back towards them, furiously tearing through the jungle, her rifle useless on its strap as it bounces bruises against her back, hands out to shove, slap, claw through low branches and vines. Her voice breaks through first, a screeching, "RUN! GO! RUN!" of pure, unadulterated terror as she comes careening into the clearing with no sign of stopping. She shoves pasts a floating Magnes, who drifts to the left as a result.

Then, the thunderous sound of what could be described as galloping a heavy footed creature making an even more destructive path through the jungle.

It bursts out of the brush a moment later at a leap, a set of glowing green eyes staring out from a skull the colour of rusted red, and in the pre-dawn light, they glow brilliant. It lands with such impact and weight that the immediate ground near shudders, and mechanical hisssss followed by a sharp click follows. Hoof-like feet make tracks in the dirt when it skids to a stop, sinking into soft dirt and dead leaf.

Before them is a skeleton, a monster, a big cat— all of these things at once and made of metal toned that same dark, rusty red with glimmers of black and silver beneath. A tail of clicking metal joints swishes to and fro, and as its head lifts in a sharp, insect-like twitch, a long, sturdy needle protruding past metallic fangs glints in the minimal sun.

It turns its unblinking, glowing gaze to the cluster of men and women. Whrrr-click. Ross is already barreling off in Dahlia's direction by the time it makes a jerky motion to crouch— and leap forward in a swift sprint. Hundreds of pounds of steel and iron threaten to bowl the group down like pins should they not scatter on their own. Scythe-like blades extend off lifted forearms, spattered with mud, among other fluids.


What words could possibly be used to describe what Raith is seeing? 'Jaguar from Hell?' 'Death rendered in steel?' Or how about, 'Holy fuck holy fuck what is that thing holy fuck?' Nothing comes to mind, is the thing. Jensen Raith is a soldier. He's a damn good soldier; he doesn't lose his cool. But when confronted by something straight out of a nightmare, something that no amount of 'spent a little too long in the nerve gas exercise' could concoct, even the best soldier loses their cool. And for the first time since Panama, Raith loses his cool and falls back to training and instinct; all he can think about is getting away, and keeping his people alive. "Move it!"

He takes off after Ross and Dahlia, and it's only by a twisted miracle that the more primitive parts of his brain tell him to grab the floating Magnes, slinging him over a soldier like a sack of potatoes as he bolts into the trees. Maybe in a minute, when the rational part of his mind has a chance to catch up to his body, he'll have the chance to think of a genius plan to get them all out of this mess and kill that thing. If that's even possible.

"Run or die!"

"Shit, move," Veronica hisses when she sees Dahlia, followed by that horrific thing coming their way. She grabs Magnes by the scruff of the neck to drag behind her, pushing Gillian in front of her to run as well. Her free hand wraps around the rifle, useless as it may seem — perhaps shooting it in one of the joints might work to at least disable it? But she can't run and push the gravitokinetic at the same time. "Dammit, Magnes, wake up, make that thing float away or something," she says. "Can someone try to shoot it in the joints?" But then Raith has him and frees her up.

Turning and running backwards for a few seconds, she fires quickly, two shots, one for each front leg, hoping to throw the proverbial wrench in the works of the joints of the creature. She turns forward, not waiting to see what damage she has done, to put more distance between her and the creature-robot. She really hates being right.

Run or die. Like there's much a choice there. There's those eyes. The glowing red eyes. Gillian knew she wasn't imagining things, but the sight of it as a robotic creature straight out of a scifi movie catches her by surprise. But then all she can really think of in her head is what Jensen described to her last night. It doesn't take much more to get her running than the mental image of her slashed through by a killer robot cat.

Well, Vee helps, honestly. The shove gets her moving, the next few steps get her running. Shooting the creature isn't an option. No gun. No useful offensive ability.

There's some words that sting rather heavily as she runs. What is going to happen if she gets electrocuted like Magnes just was? Either way, for now, she's going to try to run. As fast as she can. Which is faster than usual, considering the alternative would be or death.

Magnes groans getting jerked around on Raith's shoulder, eyes starting to groggily open as he spots the beast chasing them. It takes a moment for the situation to register, and as the energy returns to his limbs (Though he still keeps his gravity lowered for Raith's sake), he starts saying, "Stick… I need a long stick… or a long knife…" He's sure as hell not gonna try and stop the thing with his bare hands, gravity or not.

There were a lot of possibilities that were working their way through Cardinal's thoughts, from unmanned Predator drones to local patrols homing in on their location - even missiles locking on to the coordinates of the bracelets, or underground explosives about to go off.

'Giant Robot Cat' was not one of those possibilities that he thought of. Somehow, he suspects even Ray would've had difficulty guessing this one.

"Holy Mother of God!" A startled observation, "Fuck shooting at it, get the fuck out of here, Sawyer!"

Shoot it in the joints. Rico can hardly keep the thing in his scope long enough to commit to a shot. Already up a tree, the Puerto-Rican catches the running beast in the scope of the M16 and opens fire. The loud pratter of automatic gunfire rips out from the tree, throwing confetti-like shreds of leaves with it. But the loud ping-pong-clink and sparks of bullets harmlessly bouncing off the mechanical predator draw out a curse from Velasquez.

Peter too levels his revolver up, already having seen Rico's gunfire deflect off of it. He trains the gun, steady, waiting for it to move into his line of fire as it charges towards the bracelet-bearers. One loud bang follows another bang as the .45 caliber rounds from the revolver shoot out. The first shot misses completely, it's too fast. The next one hits it in the rear flank harmlessly, causing it to skid to a stop and angle its head towards Peter. Bang, bang, bang, bang go the remaining four bullets in the cylinder. Each one strikes the machine, twice in the back, once in the head sending it staggering a half step to the side with fluidic motions, like a real living animal, and then one shot to the back that flattens against its armored form.

The hunter widens its predatory stance and looks back at Peter, and then ignores him and continues charging after the cuffed people as if he were not even there. "Shit!" Peter's completely helpless here, for all the life-siphoning powers he has, none of that is going to help him against a machine.

"Velasquez!" Comes the return of that sharp and clipped tone. No, Peter you are not helpful in this situation. "Use your grenades!" As Rico comes dropping out of the tree, shouldering his rifle and running out to the road, all he can do is shake his head sharply.

"None," Rico says a bit hesitantly as he comes to stand at Peter's side and look up at him, making solid eye contact for a moment as if to ask is that really you? Peter meets the stare, breathing in a deep breath and shaking his head. "I know I thought I'd never say this, but I didn't think I'd need them."

Nodding sharply into the treeline, Peter reaches down to nab the hunting knife off of Rico's vest and hands him back his revolver. The silent exchange between the two ends as Peter bolts off into the woods, knife held backhanded as he sprints through the woods, trying to cut around and get ahead of the creature.

Vee is running. See Vee run. Vee runs fast — thanks to running five miles a day most days of the week for the past eight or so years. Veronica pulls out the hatchet from her pack that she was given, and moves to hand it to Magnes. "It's not long and it's not a blade, but it's … something," she says, panting as she runs. "Any ideas?" Her eyes skim the landscape for anything else that might help.

Gillian's band is the last to blink, blink, blink red, and there's a second klaxon to round off the falling action of the first, but the beast that sleeps but does not sleep is already awake and very much upon them. The warning wail is all but lost over the sound of panicked voices shouting out orders at close range — one last trap springs off apparently on a delay in the abruptly abandoned clearing, leaping at nothing at all with a hiss and a clamp close to the area where the rigged gun initially resided.

The intricate feline composition of rusted black iron and stainless steel that has just arrived bounds impossibly at their heels, lifeless green eyes bobbing like headlamps in jouncing rhythm with its sprawling tread. Out of the clear and into the woods, its progress becomes less fluid; raised roots catch at its hocks and its razor ridged spine shreds through low slung branches, puffing blasts of charred leaf litter into the brush churning in its wake.

Turning to shoot proves to be ill-advised: while there is a satisfying clank and buckle at one forelimb that forces the creature into an awkward quick-quick-quick cockroach sidestep to avoid careening into a tree, in the next shambled gambol it manages on three legs, it's raking past Veronica. More accurately, it's raking through her, much as it's been slap-chopping its way through the undergrowth. Armored plates honed to bladed edges slice through skin and meet little resistance in carving deep into the meat of her thigh, cauterizing as it cuts, filling both of their nostrils with the scent of blackened burning before it's past her.

Blank eyes starved, never blinking, needle quivering sleek and wet, the thing does not flinch against the hail of bullets plinking and plonking smudges of lead and miniature arcs of sparking light off its exoskeleton. It recovers after a few gimping, hobbled paces; recalculates the distribution of its own weight with a hissing jet of steam from one shoulder and vacant stare back at Peter.

For those that ran and kept running, even though the creature has picked up its pace again, it seems to be well behind them, now. It slows and eventually slinks out of sight — out of the path beaten down by their boots and back into the shadow swaying serenely on either side of it, whirring and clicking softly to itself as it goes.

Ahead, the forest is thinning out again. More abruptly this time, and with patches of red-brown earth visible through the trunks. It looks like a road, and the bass hum that buzzes through the pulse of blood in bramble-torn ears sounds a lot like the sound they were hearing before, only much, much louder.

Raith glanced back over his shoulder repeatedly as he ran, and as he glances again… what were they running from? "Stop! Stop!" he barks, coming to a halt and depositing Magnes on the ground. The man sucks in a deep breath to steady his nerves, and then listens. Even with that humming, there'd be no mistaking the sounds of being chased by that, thing. The humming is distressing, but so is the fact that somewhere along the way, they seem to have lost some of their people. Not good. But that road thing isn't good, either. "We're not safe here," he says plainly. They're missing a lot of people. "Stay together, and if that thing shows up, stay in the trees." Popping the magazine out of his Glock to make sure he didn't empty it in his panicked flight, Raith ensures that a round is chambered and sets his sights in the direction they came from.

"I'm going back."

There's a hiss of breath as the blade slices through Veronica's leg, and she throws herself to the side to get away from the beast, but it's already beyond her, clearly not concerned with her and her green-lit cuff. She rolls a few feet and then manages to get to her own feet again, stumbling with pain but able to walk, more or less.

To make things worse, her plan didn't work — it seemed to for a moment, but then the robot corrects itself. This is more than just some metal-kinetic person controlling the robots. This is … science fiction. She's out of her element. She should have paid more attention to those movies Magnes made her watch, dammit. The agent watches the robot disappear. "Where'd it go…" she murmurs, but it's mostly to herself since she's now a bit behind every one else. She begins to move in a limping run, much like the lopsided gait the creature itself had just used. Alas, she cannot auto-correct herself. Fucking science fiction.

The clicking thing on her ankle goes unnoticed for the most part, until Gillian finally hears the barked orders from the man who likes to appear out of nowhere. She does stop, dropping down so her hands are on her knees, breathing heavily as she looks around, counting the people who've made it as far as they have— Wait, someone's missing…

"Where— where's Vee?" she asks, between breaths, looking back as the stealthy man says he's going back. She's too strained from running to go white in the face, but there's an expression of worry. "Did it— is she okay?" For a few moments it looks as if she may intend to follow Raith right back to where he's going.

Magnes, having had a bit to get his head together, checks himself until he finds the hunting knife. It's not the long knife he was hoping for, but it'll have to do. "It jumped out and chased us, and now we're here. I think it wanted us here. That noise is louder, I think whatever's here might be a lot worse. I told them there was a freakin' Sentinel. I don't care how much they say this isn't a comic, some crap just makes sense. Gillian, stay near me." He apparently has a plan, moving so he can stand back to back with her and increase their field of view. "If there is something worse, it might have projectiles. I don't know what we're gonna do if that's the case, but if this thing comes back, or if something new comes, and they're purely melee, I'll have a chance. Whatever you do, don't augment me unless I say so."

"Just keep moving, Sawyer…" A hiss in her ear as she stumbles on her wounded leg, Cardinal still 'riding' her back, "…don't bother looking back, I've got an eye behind you. Just catch up to everyone else, you need to get medical care for that leg as soon as you can. Focus on one foot in front of the other."

Coming barreling out of the woods ahead of Veronica, Gillian and Magnes, Peter skids to a halt on the dirt path, combat knife held out and shoulders rising and falling quickly from the rapid breaths he's taking. "It's circling around!" He shouts out, a white-knuckled grip on that knife. The whirring sound that's approaching, they heard it before the thing attacked, and with how quick it moves it has to be trying to cut them off. But what's he planning to do with a fucking knife?

Running down to find the back side of that small group, Rico drops to one knee on the dirt trail and looks up and over to Gillian. "Buenos dias seniorita," he offers with a lopsided smile before training the assault rifle up the opposite side of the path in the direction Raith ran up. It looks like the three of them might have a plan, or maybe they're faking it really well.

"Stay behind me," Peter insists, "right behind me." Then, looking over his shoulder and seeing Magnes is standing, Peter adds. "Varlane…" Dark brows furrow, and Peter's scar creases. "I'll distract it, you get rid of it. Remember what you did to the air, to the water. Just don't take me with it…" Peter turns back to the path.


It's getting louder.

The Thing in the road is an altogether different breed of animal, literally and perhaps in other ways as well. There is nothing stealthy about its progress. Nor is it in any hurry. It carries on at a deliberate, almost careful pace, one impossibly long leg touched down or lifted off at a time, body held well up above the ground in a polished cage of mock ribbing that looks remarkably similar to what Magnes dredged up out of the mud a few days back. Minus one corpse and several weeks worth of rust.

Altogether details are hard to make out while there is still some distance between jungle growth and its termination at the roadside, but from the glimpses of it that are available, it looks to be huge. Nearly two meters tall at the shoulder and with an S-curved neck that rises some ways above that, it vaguely resembles a horse. …Very vaguely. Hefty servos buzz and drone their drawling dismay at every twitch of movement that jolts the beast another step forward, all the way up until it stops.

It cannot see them, surely — not with the distance that remains between here and there, but it is nearly parallel with their position when it halts and sets to buzzing in place instead. The neck cranes; lifts. Seems to turn a head hidden by the thick branches of a tree that looks just like every other tree here.

Back along the path beaten by Team Alpha's hasty retreat, there is a more muted series of polite whirrs to contend with while the cat snakes its way still further from pursuit, mashing alien tracks into the muck between thatches of moss and broken stone.

The last thing Veronica will want is something ambushing her. As she makes her uneven gait away from danger, or whatever direction safety happens to be, there's the sound of four feet clomping against forest ground, the shifting of branches, the rustle of leaves— and Dahlia staggers out from the brush, breathing almost too hard to speak. Behind her, the V on the man's face identifies him as her people, as much as it's hard to see past it and see his own identity.

It's rather than point. "Senorita," is a breathless greeting, the unbranded leader moving towards her, offering out a strong arm to take. There are tears, either ones of fear or frustration or anger in Dahlia's eyes, or the sheer physical exertion of running for one's life. Rapid-fire Spanish, that Veronica can understand, instructs the young man she's returned with to go on ahead and locate the others.

Ross? Ross is going places. Somewhere. Neither on the road nor visibly, immediately ahead of the group in the jungle, it seems as though their navigator has all but disappeared, or, ironically, gotten himself hopelessly lost.

With Magnes and Gillian now aided by Peter and Rico, Raith sets off, back the way they came, at as full a sprint as the jungle floor and the foliage will allow him to. The good news is that, without a doubt, this makes it that much easier for Dahlia's companion to locate him as he comes crashing towards them, having decided that the, Thing is not interested in him to begin with. "Are we missing anyone else?" he asks, half-breathless. Although not as old as Rico, he's not more than a few years younger, and still doing things that would probably leave the lungs of others on his team aching.

But doubtlessly more important to Veronica and Cardinal than Raith's physical fitness is this simple fact; even with a robotic death machine roaming the area, he came back for them.

"Working on it," the agent tells Cardinal, though she is thankful for his presence — someone to keep her moving. "So you're right, stupid to shoot. It worked, for half a second," she murmurs, watching the path as she sets one foot down and the other more gingerly in front of it — a slow, limping jog.

And then the two Argentinians are upon them. "Thanks," Veronica breathes out, gripping Dahlia's arm, and moving forward along with her before she finally looks up — having looked only at her feet, one foot in front of the other, for the past few moments — she sees the new giant thing looming ahead behind the trees. "Oh, my God. What are these things…" she whispers, her leg buckling a bit, in both pain and fear.

Her eyes meet Raith's as he comes toward them and she nods her thanks to him for checking back. Her eyes skim the landscape. "Ross?" is both her answer and her question, finding everyone else or what she thinks is them.

The rather crazy instructions from the gravity manipulator earn a hesitant nod, and Gillian stops trying to follow back, but she still looks over at him and gives a frown. There's a lot that she doesn't like about his plan, and his way of looking at the world. But it was some kind of monster thing that attacked them, and may have killed Vee, for all she knows… But she does know her biggest use is at Magnes side. She can make him stronger. It's what she does…

There's a relieved exhale when Peter appears, and she nods and stays behind him, looking around as much as she can… and then regretting it.

"Okay, when you said Nazi things left behind, you didn't mean fucking robotic crazy ass animal things, did you? Cause if you did you should have told us before we came across them." Her voice is soft, and she looks towards Magnes, as if to let him know she'll augment at his signal, just in case. Then again she's having a hard time keeping it all knotted up… But considering Peter's the closest one, it's another 'or Death' situation.

"Damnit, way to put me on the spot…" Magnes barely has a grasp of what Peter's asking him to do, if anything, he's been thinking of it so much it's been affecting the normal use of his ability. "Gillian, whatever you do, don't touch me." he warns, allowing Peter to distract the thing as he starts to concentrate, hard.

While they're behind Peter, his fists are balled up as wind starts slowly flowing into the air, away from him. "God, how am I supposed to avoid him…" he mutters, straining hard, he had no idea how much air is required to actually hurt something, he's had no time to even think of using it that way. But after a certain point, his nose starts to bleed, and that's when he realizes just what's looming over Peter and the things head. "Peter, jump, run, something!" he exclaims, then as if the hand of god were falling down to punish the monster, branches and leafs start snapping as some invisible force of tons of condensed air starts falling, the gravity-manipulator trying to force it down on to the robot and not his girlfriend's uncle!

She would probably not approve of that.

"I'm here," Cardinal reports in his shadowy form as Raith makes his appearance — observing curtly, clinically, "She took a bad hit to the leg, Jensen, she may need some help walking. The others scattered, I'm not even sure where they went…"

Peter's frozen like a deer in a hunter's sights when the two meter tall machine comes lumbering through the jungle. Barely able to make it out through the dense foliage, his body grows more tense as he clutches the knife. Magnes and Gillian can see the tension in him as he watches the gigantic machine, and he slowly begins to back away from where it is. "It doesn't see us," he whispers as his grip on the knife loosens, "I— don't think it sees us."

Rico watches up the trail, watches Dahlia like a hawk, but no words are exchanged between the pair, only awkward silence. "Sir," Rico's talking to Peter, and that's disconcerting. "What're we doing?" It's a good question, one Peter wishes he could answer immediately and not sound like a stammering moron. For all he wishes he had that sudden calm, right now he doesn't, right now it's all Peter, and he's wishing for someone else to take charge.

Finally, after a moment he answers back in a sharp whisper. "Let's… go. Just— get out of here. Before more show up. Anywhere— away." Away from Ross too, apparently.

In the face of a barrage of — what seems to be approximately everything in one vast, crushing weight, the lumbering mass of the voyuerbot shudders, creaks and groans under the stress like a ship raking up against an iceberg on its way to resuming its daddy long legs advance. Not towards Team Alpha, but on down the road.

Maybe it has an appointment. …To be somewhere else. Right now.

A sweeping, slithering tether of metallic tentacles wriggles briefly into sight behind the skeletal ridge of the neck, tasting and testing the air. But it's leaving, and the jungle is still and oppressively quiet in its wake.

No more sirens, whirr-clicks, screams. Just weary foot steps and hissing voices by the time the group reformulates, minus their guide, the scattered Branded helping shepherd the brokedown Team Alpha back together with Dahlia slinging one of Veronica's arms across her shoulders to help the limp hinder them all a little less.

"I can take you away," is Dahlia's promise to Peter. By the time they reach the river, which will be some hours from now, the sun will be high in its noon position, sparkling light off ice cold water, and even that is cheerless when Cerro de Hierro Negro looms its silhouette like a promise.

They leave tracks behind, assortments of human feet. Later, when a V-branded Evolved follows its way back, he crouches to inspect the hooflike prints that trail among them.

In a Cave With a Box of Scraps:

"Oh — damn. No. No, no no. Hang on, hang on. I've got it here somewhere…"

Hector is talking to himself.

Hector is talking to himself and toggling switches, the vast majority of which seem to do nothing of tremendous importance, as nothing much changes in the sprawling panorama of black and white (and color) screens splayed out over the panel before him. Only when he closes his eyes and draws in a slow breath, left hand poised over the console, does he seem to reorient himself despite the familiar shadow looming stolid and silent at his back. His middle finger finds the appropriate switch; he flips it, taps an automatic series of keys into the numpad in his lap, and all of the screens switch at once into a single, multifaceted view.

Various members of Team Alpha are painted in shades of red and gold against a backdrop of blues and greens on some screens. Those same members are hardly visible amidst the black and white waft of foliage in others. Still more screens rail off lists of chemicals — of smells. Human sweat and fear and something that might be a toucan. ZanBot confesses in its codedly, somewhat coldly apologetic way that it cannot be sure toucans even live in South America and it would really be nice if someone would take the time to update his avian library.

Remote control effectively acquired, Hector impolitely ignores the behometh in favor of reaching to take hold of a joystick fixed among various other lever-shaped things, blue eyes turned briefly down from the controls while he better situates the keyboard on his lap with his left hand.

"Structural integrity should hold so long as they…stay over there.”

Some few feet behind him, Hector Steel has a shadow. It's a tall and broad shouldered shadow, three-dimensional as much as his expression is drawn into blank neutrality as he watches on with lazily hooded eyes. Iago Ramirez isn't a man of many words or many sentiments, and as much as everyone might lack in the latter, Hector makes up the former. He's dressed in camouflage, with one rugged boot strapped to the foot that stands solid against the ground.

He's tapping his other foot, slowly, rhythmic impatience. It makes a metallic click each time.

Thanks to this, Hector will hear more than feel or see Iago's approach as the Vanguard leader comes close, with a soft mechanical ease of joints. There's the smell of both bourbon and cologne when Iago leans in to view the monitors, mouth drawn in a line. "Are you sure it doesn't have projectiles?" he asks, in deeply graveled disapproval.

Able to breathe a little easier now that things are under control, Hector keeps his touch on the joystick light as he forces the sentry into a methodical retreat down the long and winding road. Away from crushing external forces and away from increasingly familiar faces. Violently red readouts creep back into black and white with the reduction of pressure, and the beastly robot's stride lengthens itself back out again.

He registers belatedly that Iago has asked him a question, and it is only with some effort that he manages to suppress immediate comment in favor of looking at the other man sideways once he's thumbed a headset away from his ear. So far as looks go, it may be toeing the line in that it is both skeptical and unappreciative — the look of a seasoned IT specialist who has just been asked why you have to plug something into the wall if it's supposed to be wireless — but he gets no further than that.

Iago is Iago; Hector is Hector.

"Reasonably," is his answer. He is reasonably sure that it does not. At current. Have projectiles. As per their agreement upon the original design. That there is a thread of hesitation to the way he pauses before toggling the mechanism back into autonomy is suggestive of his realization that said agreement might have changed since then.

Disappointment doesn't register on Iago's face, in that not much does. He idly scratches some stubbly bristle at his sloping jaw, studies the monitors one by one in a lazy crawl of gazing, before his back straightens. He snorts once, like a wolf rejecting a scent or a horse in all its restlessness. "We will need projectiles," he eventually states, accent slogging the words out thick.

The hand that claps down on Hector's shoulder is firm, solid, and not entirely reassuring. With that, the sound of scraping boot sole and metal follows Iago's way out, now that the screens are showing only jungle and rock, and no longer the sport they have ahead of them.

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