Chapter 2a: Ad Spatham <Conflict>

Ad Spatham

Never draw fire: it irritates everyone around you.
Murphy's Laws of Combat

The ringing crack of Avery's high-powered hunting rifle cuts through the morning with piercing clarity. The answering chatter of automatic weapons is almost immediate, but more or less ineffective - the three remaining searchers snap off their lights and dive for cover, firing randomly in different directions as they go for cover of their own and try to spot the shooter.

A few bullets whistle sickeningly through the air nearby, but the enemy's aim is basically nonexistent in the chaos of the moment. Splinters gout from a nearby tree trunk to scatter stinging needles across Min and Steve.

The team's ruse has worked flawlessly, and the enemy search squad is demoralized and scattered - and already down one man. But it's not that far back to the landing site, and who knows how many more of these guys are out here… Run or gun, but get it done quickly and get out of the woods.

The Aegis team needs to neutralize the threat from the search party - either by continuing to escape using clever subterfuge and occasional suppressive fire, to get enough distance and cover to run, or by out-and-out dropping these clowns with some Rambo-style jungle warfare.
In either case, the woods thin out to the east after about a half-mile and there's a reasonably serviceable road which runs north-south, and thus could take you to Eden Island if you can break contact long enough to get there.

Round 1

Steve rolls his eyes and pushes himself off the tree, crouching down with his pistol in hand.1 The gunfire breaks for a moment and he grabs Min by the wrist2, the sounds of their retreat engulfed by the wind rushing violently through the treetops.3 "No use trying to stay discreet with that trigger-happy pair around."4 The sound of wood splintering fills the forest again as the search party opens fire again in the direction of their invisible attackers,5 but Steve and Min have already put enough trees between them to feel relatively secure.6

The crashing sound of the pilot dragging the bewildered scientist into a quick retreat through the woods registers on the outside of Avery's sphere of awareness. Steve's muffled hiss is a familiar voice, and Avery quickly decides that the stomping and branch-breaking is friendly retreat and not a new threat. Nothing worth breaking focus for, that is. She doesn't even glance.

The chaos from the shadowy figures proves they have only a vague idea where the threat has come from. One broad-shouldered shadow hoists himself up angrily and lets loose at the spot where Min and Steve were a moment ago, but by the sound of things the two are nowhere near the flying bullets.

Avery almost smiles as she lines up her scope with the wide torso. Someone's been hitting the gym, she thinks wryly. He's only exposed for a couple of seconds, but that's enough at this range. Squeeze.

Min shakes the bits of foliage off her face and frees her hand from Steve's fevered grasp. Then she checks herself, gaining enough of a moment to grasp her surroundings. One delicate hand grabs up for Steve's shoulder and drags at his jacket, hard. He wrenches down, half off-balance, but close enough for her to hiss in his ear, "Wait. I know this area. I've lived here for the past year. I think there's a road…" At this she squints against the rain, trying to gauge the direction of any light through the clouds. "You had a map? If we check our bearings, there's a service road somewhere around here…" Don't lose it now, just focus on finding your placement and let the energy flow through the situation at hand. Avery's rifle splinters the dawn at her heels, but she pays it little heed. I think I remember where we came down… the road seemed to be east of here directly, but if Steve remembers his ground better, I think we can make a clear shot for it… Tracking wasn't her forte, but you didn't live in this area without at least glancing at a map or two, right?

Avery's second shot hammers home into her target, pirhouetting him around and down. Her lips compress into a thin line of disapproval: the shot was aimed for his heart, but he twitched at just the right moment. Still, a .30-06 through the meaty part of the shoulder is never fun. The first trooper dropped by Sloan's rifle lies still in the mud, while the other one, grunting and cursing with the effort, claws his way one-handed to hide behind a live oak.

Fucking shit, I hope those two keep going east till the road.

William looks around the tree he is hiding behind for cover1, and sees the fire line of their assailants. Oddly, this makes him smile.2 Jeez, they are just far out enough that this might work.

William turns to Avery, gets her attention, and starts flashing hand signals.3

North…lure…8 shots…rendezvous…1 klick….east

After seeing her nod, William turns to his cover. An old louisiana oak.4 He glances at the sky. Dark and overcast, raining harder.5 He looks at himself. Brown and mud-covered.6 He cracks another smile. Grabbing a low branch, he climbs up the tree.

Hopefully these idiots wheel their flank north, and close enough to me. Papa wants one of those nice automatics. And dear God, don't let them look up.

Round 2

The snarling burr of the hunters' submachineguns quiet as they find their way to solid cover and out of Avery's immediate line-of-sight, obviously trying to regain control of the situation and stop getting shot to pieces. Additional flashlights - perhaps a half-dozen or so - begin to sear their way through the mist and rain to the south before a shouted command goes out - in German, or perhaps Dutch - and the lights suddenly blink out.

Steve frowns slightly, "Next time remind your neighbors to be more polite," he whispers loudly while the pair shuffle quickly away from the fight.1 His eye shut briefly, recalling the map still stuffed in a jacket pocket somewhere… Road?.2 He glances down at the compass attached to his watch and quickly motions Min east toward the railroad tracks3, "There wasn't a service road on the map, but if we keep moving this way we'll hit the railroad tracks and get closer to the extraction zone."4

A single shot rings out followed by silence, a good sign, Avery must be cleaning up back there…5 Steve thinks before placing his hand on his pistol's grip to reassure himself.6

Min skims over the muck and slosh, moving quickly for someone of her presumably short legs, staying right in Steve's wake like a leech on a dog's leg. She's barely out of breath, though her face is flushed from exertion, and her hair straggles in her face, reminiscent of jellyfish tentacles floating restlessly in the tide. "Yes, I know this. There is a service road that way, I am sure of it. I think, however," she breaks off as she slips over a large root and nearly tumbles headfirst into a thigh-deep patch of water. Wrenching herself free from its sucking embrace, she takes Steve's hand and uses his leverage to pull her left boot free. Behind them, the lights are invisible…either from distance or from Avery's sniping is anyone's guess. Or maybe they got smart and turned off their flashlights so they wouldn't be quite so obvious targets.

Steve's hand caresses his pistol again, as Anchee trots at his side (well, squelches damply, raincoat flapping). "As I was saying, I think there is a lot of water between here and the tracks, which is where the road is, too. Route 11 is just beyond the tracks, and Eden Isle is there. But we might need a boat. I am not sure, because I don't know where exactly we went down, but there is a big part of swamp in this area. Not safe, yes? Unless you are part snakefish."

Avery squints to decipher Will's excitedly flashed hand-signals. Who's climbing where in the what now? … Well, alrighty, she muses, and heads off in the direction he indicated.

The noise of the rain renders it even easier than usual to move without detection. Avery slips off through the trees, pausing to wipe sopping tendrils from her cheeks and scan around to gauge the movement of the newly approaching flashlights. I hope that fool knows what he's up to; he seemed a little banged up earlier, she thinks quickly as Will clambers behind her, but immediately ducks behind a thick oak and takes aim at another bobbing luminescent target. Another lined pick, another bullet. Come on, darlin', this way now… I'm right over here.

From his vantage point, William can see the pursuers line from the south readjusting itself, and wheeling north. He sees the line beginning to advance, each light moving one at a time, east to west.

William watches, counting very carefully. So each man advances for 5 seconds and then stops.

William catches his breath as a pursuer without a flashlight runs forward and dives next to his tree. Alright buddy, just don't look up. William can barely hear the whispered German sentence "Recht, halten."

He risks leaning over and taking a quick glance at his new tree buddy. What he sees disturbs him.

Where the hell did this asshole get a XM8!1,2,3,4,5,6 :-D

William leans back, exhales slowly, and cracks a smile. He begins counting. One one-thousand…

Round 3

Steve smirks as Min and he slip quietly away through the woods, Part snakefish… sure why not? The awkward pair slow down as the approach a deep part of the swap, staying just inside the tree-line. Steve slowly scans the dimly illuminated water before deciding nobody is ahead and motions for Min to circumnavigate toward the south, pulling their feet out of thickening mud with each step. When they've at last rounded the curve, Steve stops and leans up against a tree breathing a bit heavily, "Alright, let's wait for Will and Avery here, anybody headed this way will have to come through this pass*."

As Steve catches his breath he looks Min over seriously instead of as just another passenger for the first time, What the heck is she doing out here?

*(see google map)

Min and Washer settle down to await their companions; unfortunately this gives Anchee a moment to think. Racing adrenaline and the constant staccato assault of gunfire on her senses fray through a good portion of the feeble reserve of willpower and concentration she has left, and she feels her headache starting to come back with a vengeance.

To the west, the menacing advance of the search net continues to close around Avery and William - small, hard-muscled shapes creep through the mud and rain in search of their quarry. Rainfall on leaves blankets the sound of pursuers and pursued, but that in turn seems like utter silence against Avery's thunderous rifle shots, which seem to fire like clockwork - and the occasional answering burst of automatic fire, which has so far failed to hit or strike its quarry. The soldiers, or mercs, or whoever they are seem to be slowing their advance, taking cover more frequently… Will's grin widens as he hears the rising note of near-panic in the voice of one of the troopers slinking by beneath him.

"Jesus, this is so FUCKED… did you see Adler? That's a hell of a sniper… What's going ON here? Who are these guys?"

Min crashes in slow motion against a rough, wet-black patch of bark. Goddess-blessed peace! She lets her shoulders slump under the strap of her slick, hi-tech shoulder case; hidden under a veil of rain, she closes her eyes and trusts Washer to keep watch for a few precious seconds. Her head throbs - the headache has returned complete with down payments and overdue interest. She reaches up to the water soaked bandage and rips it off, wads it up, and throws it over her shoulder in one madrigal-smooth movement. All the ten gods above and their accompanying animal mounts, this job was fucked beyond belief. Wo kao and puk kai. Her eyes slit open against the triumphant crash of the migraine and the rain slides straight in; she meets Steve's considering gaze with a flat, dark eyed reading of her own. The two quietly breathe a few heartbeats of shared adrenaline-tinged downtime, then a stealthy slip of movement breaks the swamp's rhythm. Steve tenses, curling his being around his sidearm; Min becomes whipcord straight against the tree, vibrating and taut, fingers fluttering around her mouth.

She mouths to Washer, as he insinuates his gaze around the edge of their cover, "Who?? Who??"

Steve peaks his head out from behind the tree, peering into the dark rainy forest. Moments later another member of the search party emerges, moving slowly between the trees, flashlight turned off. Steve raises his pistol slowly, closing one eye as he lines up the shot, when he spots another pair of enemies lurking behind.


Steve tucks his pistol away, and makes brief eye contact with Min while holding up three fingers. Let's go.

Anchee gulps a wet breath of rot-tinged air, shoulders her pack (recommended by Avery and so far only a heavy nuisance) and her shoulder case, and then springs at Steve. Breaking from her cover, she grabs his shoulder with her small, white fingers and flat out sprints in the direction of the road - also the only non-swampified path in the vicinity. At least she knows the area, hai? The startled tat-tat-tat of a round of bullets adds a frantic counterpoint to her and Steve's excited getaway; yet, she thinks, there's at least the worth of running from certain death rather than just placidly waiting to meet it. Her brother would be proud. Anchee leaps the knuckles of a large tree and whoops in a stream of pent-up fear gone unchecked; Steve finds the breath to roll his eyes as he crashes through the swamp beside her. The rain falls heavily, impeding their tracks and making it difficult for them to be followed, even with the shots Steve remembers to fire every ten steps or so. "Ahhhhhhhhh!" Anchee screams, adrenaline ruling her excited plunge. She looks terrifed, the whites of her eyes showing as every bullet speeds past her, more and more wild with each gained foot.

Avery shakes her head dazedly, allowing herself one moment to stray from the shock and intensity of the situation. What exactly am I doing here, now, taking orders from a half-crippled fellow waving his hands at me like a deaf man? The thought crosses her mind that taking direction from Will right now probably comes easy because her brothers used to be the ones in charge in the woods. The thought furrows her brow.

Gravity suddenly gives out under the fall of her right foot, like walking up stairs at night and expecting there to be one more — only with a lot more mess. She's stepped in some real sloppy mud. Biting off a curse, Avery struggles to free her boot, which only sank halfway up her boot, thanks to her stealthy treading. Still, though. Pay some god damn attention.

She ducks behind a tree after moving off at what seems a reasonable distance. A lure, eh? She wasn't used to making a spectacle with her shooting, but hopefully these assholes could figure out what direction a bullet came from. Squinting toward the figures bobbing around Will's tree, Avery lines up a shot. Squeeze.

Oops. Not sure it counts as luring if I killed him. She grins, now just barely able to hear the bastards panicked whispers as they elevate in volume. Over here, boys. She lines up again.

Four-one-thousand. With the final count, William leaps at the same time as the crack from Avery's rifle sings out. He lands on top of the poor fool who took cover by his tree, knocking him to the ground. While there are two men on the ground, only one of them is rendered immobile by the other; William completes his assault by threading his arm around his opponents neck, applying pressure to the carotid artery. The man goes limp, and William doesn't bother checking to see if he's alive or not; not his concern. Peeking around the tree, William sees the rest of the line continuing to advance in Avery's direction; oblivious to the mortal struggle that took place on their flank.

Smiling, William rifles through the possessions of his foe. He pockets the radio, takes the man's hip holster plus the 45 it is lovingly carrying, and slings the XMP8 over his shoulder, and three clips of ammunition to feed the monster. After taking a moment to arrange his new found gains to muffle the noise they may make while he moves, William starts to stalk off towards the direction he last saw the crazed pilot and skittish techie.

They do NOT pay me enough for this shit.

Will and Avery slip like cougars through the rising mist of the morning - even in the fury of the impending hurricane, the warmth of the Louisiana summer sun holds some sway - and quickly leave the now-entrenched search cordon behind. Avery stops occasionally to fire a few more lancing shots to keep their heads down and make good her escape, while the smug Hawkwood merely ghosts along.

They come together a few hundred meters from the original firefight and begin heading east in earnest. Ms. Sloan's keen tracking skills easily pick up on the ankle-deep muddy bootprints and other telltale disruptions of Min and Washer's urgent flight, and gestures forward, demanding William join her in hastening after.

'We need to get seriously gone,' she thinks, 'before these guys get their shit together. We got lucky back there.'

Any One You Walk Away From…

Steve and Anchee sprint through the forest until well after the gunfire had stopped, Steve close behind Anchee as she follows twisting fire-roads which to Steve look like the same stream of mud that runs between all the trees. Finally they burst out of the trees (see map). The railroad tracks in front of them have been washed out by the intense rain, and without the trees to block the wind Steve and Anchee have to hurry quickly across the clearing to find cover. "Alright we've got to be close to Eden Isle by now, but if those guys were ready for us in the chopper they're probably at the facility as well… is there anyway you can hack in from outside the facility or something?"

Anchee drops her knapsack with barely a glance at the ground, peering instead through their verdant and raindrenched cover of kudzu and groundbrush. Oh gods above, let them not have followed us. Steve asks about hacking in from outside; she pulls her bottom lip through her teeth and pushes a sheet of black, drenched hair out of her eyes. Think, dammit. Why was everything so very muzzy around the edges?
"To be very honest, Mr. Washer, I am a scientist. I am a biochemist. I am not a hacker. I don't know if I can get us in from outside without being seen." Anchee closes her eyes against a surge of decidedly strident yowling pain from her concussion; she speaks with a hand pressed against her forehead, which is still sluggishly bleeding. "I will need to see the facility first, before I can decide anything further. I do have standard ID badges, and can get in assuming a normal work identity." Anchee opens her eyes; her dark pupils are disconcertingly unequally sized. "But do they know who we are? And would we be correct in going ahead without Avery and William?

"Don't know about correct, but you're damn sure it'd be less fun."

Steve and Anchee both jump and whirl around in time to see a sweaty, panting pair of companions trot out from the forest. The reflexive motion is clearly an immediate regret for the chemist, as she swiftly grabs her temples and bends over as if to vomit.

Will and Avery wince simultaneously. "You alright, sweetheart?" Anchee is too busy moaning to offer a response.

Avery takes a deep breath, and lets it out, as Will takes advantage of the first pause in their sprinting to take a closer look at his new toys. "Well, that was a shit show. Glad we all made it out alright… relatively speaking." She squints up the railroad, noting the rooftops a stone's throw to the northeast. "Where do you guys think we should head now? Personally I'm not feeling real easy about this whole mission into Eden Isle anymore, even if we can get in there."

Anchee digs into her pack, crouching down with a crinkle of slick plastic and rustle of leather against wet foliage. She extracts a handful of painkiller and throws them back dry like a child crunching candies. From her low crouching vantage point, she cranes her neck at her comrades; she speaks slowly, thinking aloud. "We can't go back - our previous way out is gone. If we go forward, we face unknown factors. These factors are an unknown territory of Eden Isle's complex, possibly manned by the same people who shot us down. To assume that they know our heading is a leap, but they did know enough to attack us in the first place; this is a given. To assume that they would know our heading and possibly our mission is not an egregious error. To assume that they would also have people in the complex is not a given. Perhaps they were not meant to fail in our apprehension." She closes the sopping pack and digs her palms into her eyes, kneeling in the verdant brush. "I, for one, am not willing to proceed within these parameters of unknown certainty. The mission has changed, and I am not a fool - nor, I assume, are all of you." Anchee stands with an ease belied by her paleness, the clotting cut at her hairline a dark comma in the gloom. "I do not think we should move into Eden Isle. We should leave. We can go to my apartment and get our bearings, maybe even make contact with HQ, yes? Is there a consensus?"

Steve looks up and shares a look of uncertainty with Will and Avery, "Sounds like as good a plan as any. Let's just make sure we aren't followed."

And there better be some damn beers at her place…

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