A familiar sound beeped into the ears of the BLOODHOUND unit. Finally the long silent plane ride across the Atlantic Ocean was coming to an end. It had been a few hours since they boarded the MC-130E Combat Talon back on American soil at an undisclosed military base. Each member of the unit had been called in for this mission as it required a special kind of touch. Right now each one sat with their own particular posture, the speed at which they travelled causing the dull vibration that rumbled their seats. Even if they did want to be seen by the others they were right here and now. Most of them had oxygen masks similar to those of jet pilot’s on their faces. Only Phoenix looked different, though the proper adjustments had been made for his unique condition as well. For the past 25 minutes pure 100% oxygen was being pumped into their lungs, effectively flushing all nitrogen from their bodies.
"Listen up BLOODHOUND. Your unit is being sent into Kaysersberg, an isolated French village located near the Franco-German border."
The voice entering their ears was deep and authoritative. Exactly the kind required to give such a potentially dangerous group their orders. For the past twelve years he had seen members come and go, by dismissal or by death. Not many who had been a part of the unit were designated R.E.D. since that distinguished terminology went to those who existed.
"In the last six hours there has been no contact with the entire village. Satellite photos indicate that the streets have had zero activity. Excerpts from a local physician's email to a colleague days earlier listed symptoms that are a common byproduct of nanotoxins in the human bloodstream. We believe it may be nanotech plans that have been stolen and put into action by an unidentified terrorist group. The French believe this is a terrorist attack but are covering it up until they can find out what’s going on themselves. Apparently they’re trying to avoid the embarrassment of their great military appearing vulnerable in the face of rapidly approaching peace."
A soft murmur of a laugh escaped his lips before continuing.
"The French government is sending in their own military unit to investigate the village tonight. Due to the recent development of this incident you will be arriving after them. But their abilities are not as unique as BLOODHOUND's. You should have no trouble avoiding them. Still, the US government would be in hot water should you be identified by them. A lot of pending treaties are at stake if you are discovered on this mission.”
One comment was set aside especially for a certain silver-haired sicko.
“Zero contact. This is no game. Those are your orders."
Seconds later he returned to outlining the mission parameters. After all they were rapidly approaching the insertion point. Drop would happen in less than ten minutes. Hopefully Mountain had been keeping track of his medications just right. Miscalculations could pose serious medical complications to him and everyone else in the unit given the harsh conditions each one was about to endure.
“If engagement is unavoidable, use of lethal force is authorized. But try not to kill any innocent civilians. Use tranquilizer rounds if possible.”
One could almost hear the sound of a cup of coffee being sipped from inbetween the sentences now. From all the talking he had done out of the blue it was no wonder. Now would not be a good time to have a sudden adolescent crack in the old vocal cords.
"This mission is codenamed Operation Balthazar. You'll have two mission objectives. The first is to investigate the village and determine if stolen nanotechnology is involved. The second, if nanotech is involved, is to learn anything you can about it’s capabilities and those responsible."
A moment passed before he decided to cut off anyone curious enough to question him.
“Don’t bother asking about the nanotech. I know just as much as you do at this point other than it’s another stolen black budget project. That’s why the government needs BLOODHOUND to deal with it.”
Now the time had come clarify exactly how these specialists would be landing since the plane certainly was not.
"We’re deploying the entire unit by HALO drop about two miles east of the village into the woodlands. From there on you'll have to infiltrate the village on foot."
Arrival at the village was tricky enough business. Planning had used positioning information to determine when the limited number of French satellites would leave a window of operation for the plane to pass over French airspace undetected. Thankfully their altitude eliminated any fear of radar detection. One fear from the past that always came up was whether or not the pressure would take a toll on Phoenix’s ballistic suit. Tests conducted had proven it could handle these extreme altitudes. . . but there was always room for human error.
"This is a top secret black-op. Don't expect any official support. Rely on each other instead. Work as a unit."
A brief pause came before he spoke again.
“Operation Balthazar, now commencing.”
The large hanger door at the rear of the MC-130E Combat Talon opened to reveal the incredibly distant French landscape below. From the altitude of 35,000 feet most would be hard pressed to see the fine details of the foreign topography. It was dark out as well, unlike the sunny picture from the briefing as night had fallen on the village. Moonlight had barely any clouds to scatter the lunar rays coming down from the starry night sky. For BLOODHOUND the full moon acted as a midnight sun. One by one they jumped out with less than 30 seconds between each member to minimize dispersion across the wilderness.
"Awww. But Sarge," The so called silver haired sicko responded from inside his fully contained suit, "I want to make these Frenchies look like the CIA!" You could hear the disappointment in his voice... and those who knew him clearly knew that there were orders that he wasn't going to follow. A potted plant here and there really helped to make a mission more fun.
Codenamed Young Chameleon was in his special suit, completely self contained. It was highly advanced, both cybernetic and wetwork in design. Good thing that the BLOODHOUND R&D is so effective. It would suck if he had to go down there completely in the nude. And impractical. Now, he had all the human comfurts he needed, like a rod to bite down on, a tight ass suit, radio, audio, video, and all the guns and explosives he could want. And piano wire! Yay!
There was still some thing he would have liked better... Like good quality translaton software for piss's sake! I don't speek fucking Pigmy! Or Chinese or what ever its called. French... Well, He knew one phrase. An insult. Hehe.
"Oh, and Sarge, whats the plan for getting out? Hitch hiking?" The helmeted head scanned across his field of vision, looking at all this 'coworkers'. Which one would screw up first? Which one would screw up the biggest.
Which one would he have to kill?
He hoped one of them screwed up so he would get to kill a team mate again. He liked that.
Once the doors opened, buffeting the group in the cold, upper reaches air, a smile spread across his face, hidden from the view of his team mates. This was one of the times he was glad he had radio. "You know, I practiced my French for this mission. Its really getting good." He stood and made his way to the front. "It goes something like this. Prenez le cul, la chatte!" With that phrase out, he jumped from the plane. Hello France, how will you take it today?
The commander wasn't kidding when he said there was no contact. There was absolutely nothing alive in this town besides him and the team. Even turning on his nanobots wasn't even worth it... But since they ran on body heat, eh. Now to just find the rest of the team. Shouldn't be that hard.
That was about twenty three minutes ago when he landed in the forest. Yep, slow moving. Damn ingrown forests. "I hate this place!"
Having listened intently to the briefing, Phoenix immediately knew his purpose in this mission would be minimal. He was, most likely, a security blanket for the other members of BLOODHOUND that specialized in espionage. Should any fire-fights break out, it would be assumed that he would be required to act. Until then, however, Phoenix, as a presence, was negligible.
At the drop zone, Phoenix secured his immediate perimeter, making sure the French didn't get lucky with sending ground reconnaissance. If he was right, he may be an eighth of a mile, in both directions, from the closest teammate. For the purpose of non-detection, this was ideal. Mobilizing towards the, now, deserted village of Kaysersberg, Phoenix cued his Comm-Link, and in his breathy voice, said, "Phoenix has landed."
His head panned, almost casually, in search of bogeys. The soldier knew he could riddle whatever it was that discovered him with bullets before it could figure out what killed it. He reconsidered the notion quickly, remembering the need for non-detection. A hiss escaped from the side of his helmet; the closest thing to a sigh he could ever manage. Crouching low, behind the last bit of foliage before the village proper, Phoenix awaited further orders from a member of his squad.
For missions like this, BLOODHOUND's entire success hinged on its ability to act separate, but be perfectly coordinated. Rendezvous points were relative, and almost unnecessary. Mountain Feist and Whitesnake were two of the better-suited members for this one; Operation Balthazar. It would be likely that one of those two would take point. Phoenix was sure that he would not listen to neither Young Chameleon nor Lilith.
In many ways, it seemed the core mechanics of BLOODHOUND depended on loose cannons, mental disorders, and chaos tactics. Unfortunately, he couldn't question its effectiveness. Even during his stint in the Green Berets, Phoenix had never worked with a more successful squad that rested in the deepest pits of the Black. The non-existent, a complete point of ignorance to all, but a chosen few. Guinea pigs to a war-like agenda.
The soldier shook his head, clearing the thoughts from himself. He did not specialize in espionage, or even stealth, so his senses needed to be sharp. Resting against the trunk of a tree, Phoenix mentally stared at his comm-link.
A pair of legs. Long, thin, shapely...unmistakably feminine. one lazily folded over the other, the foot at the end of it bobbing slowly in an absent motion. After a few moments, delicate fingers laced together and came to rest in the lap of the legs. Those spare details were the only ones that escaped the shadows the figure has nestled herself in.
She did not sit apart from the group but nor did she take part in any of their conversation. The faint sound of slow, hissing breaths being processed by the mask were her only contribution to the noise they made.
Or at least all the noise one of them in particular happened to be making...His incessant buzzing made her hope that nature would take its course during this mission.
She listened dutifully the words of their Boss. The French. her mind mulled over the possibilities. French was supposed to be a language of love...She was filled with desire then, the desire to make them speak to her.
To hear them scream. To hear them beg. To hear them weep. It sent a shiver down her spine, her body tingling in anticipation...
It was then that the door began to open, drowning out all other sounds except for the whipping of the wind. The moment after the jump-light flashed from red to green, it popped and cracked, the red bulb flickered in resistance briefly, bathing them all red for a few seconds before it succumbed to the dark as well.
After that she stood, slowly rising to her full height, languidly stretching before padding over to the gaping hole in the belly of the plane. Her cloak whipped around her body, snapping in the air.
“Operation Balthazar, now commencing.”
She twisted and dropped from sight.
Her body moved like a nightingale, plunging through the darkness to the even darker depths below. Soon enough, the details of the area's topography began to come into focus. In time, her feet touched the ground and she was sweeping her gaze around her before moving forward, her dark form quickly melting in to the surrounding trees.
The definition of a soldier - the line crossed where he ceases to be a man. It's when it hurts to stop, to sit still - to be anywhere else but in the throes of adrenaline. He aches inside. He finds no peace. He wants none. Peace is death to him and his only drip-feed visceral and from the blood of conquests fair or foul.
Stowing his jump helm, Feist checked his wrist timer. Four minutes and five till the serum wore off. Then his glands would go into overproduction, stockpiling endorphins and pumping adrenaline despite the body's demands. Then his muscles would go tight and he would be consumed by the urge to twist them, to break them, to push and pull them whatever way he could. The rooftops beyond would be his salvation - a slate and concrete anaesthetic for a body out of joint.
How could anyone ask these soldiers not to kill? How could they demand such restraint... when it was all these soldiers had left... all that had not been taken from them?
Keying his wrist device, the man sent a message to the Codecs of his team mates, a rough English whisper numbed by medication. "Mountain Feist on the ground. Moving to 12423275. Phoenix, meet me there."
With his other equipment stowed, he stood in his combat suit and checked that each of his four pistols were tight in their holsters. Then, setting off at a run, he darted between the trees with well-placed vaults. He used the rocks and the tree roots - avoiding leaf litter and dead wood - keeping as quiet as he could as he sprinted a course towards the edge of town.
Do not kill. Do not demolish. Do not fail.
They were weapons - servants called upon to exercise discretion.
Eliah leaned back in the padded seat of the air freighter, chewing his bottom lip as he listened to the relayed instructions. Unlike the others, he was dressed rather lightly, in light cotton combat fatigues and a rather sparsely populated utility belt. He had spent a few hours the night before beating his uniform thoroughly with a steel pipe, softening the material to napkin like consistency. When he first ordered the suit, he had also been adamant (the military was so resourceful!) that they use silk stitching throughout. No leather. It creaked too much when he moved.
So. When he stood up and dutifully filed in line with the rest of them, he made no sound except for the chattering of his pistol belt as it tapped against his chest. Frowning slightly, he adjusted it until it fit snugly to his body. Just before launch he paused to take stock of his team.
His mouth opened downwards in mild disbelief. This wasn't what he was expecting, nor was this what his .. contractors had briefed him about. Mentally, he counted off the list in his head:
1) A perverted battle maniac
2) A drug addicted battle maniac
3) A battle maniac who got off on battle
4) A .. man in a space suit
Before he could look behind him to count the rest, a small shove in the back caused him to lose his balance, tumbling out of the plane. This did not particularly alarm him, and he let his body smoothly take over and smother his initial feeling of panic as it twisted and righted itself, assuming a spread eagle position. Eventually he did engage the parachute - perhaps a little late, as he had a bit of a rough landing. He stood up, taking stock of his surroundings. The confidence that he would, for the moment, not get shot at stemmed from the black infrared paint he had liberally smothered over his body (avoiding joints so it wouldn't chip) before dressing up.
Seams in his arms silently expanded outwards, as his prosthetics elongated themselves at the upper arm. The forearms unfolded, hinged at the wrist, and a dull grey blade - non reflective - noiselessly slid out a fraction before retracting, the whole thing reassembling itself to once again seem like a normal arm. He had not seen fit to mention this to anyone, and did not see any reason to purposely disclose this. Satisfied with the status check, he ducked down again into the grass and pulled out a pair of binoculars - his only other piece of equipment besides a silenced pistol and various other utilities.
While jumping, the only thing on the sniper’s mind was to control his fall, it was comforting not to think about what would happen once he hit the ground. It was a good feeling, when he hit the ground the biggest concern was friendly fire, Whitesnake often wondered what had happened to the military psychiatrist.
The man took the fall swiftly, he had already scanned as best he could for any contacts before hitting the ground, the only thing that he saw was the silhouette of Lilith ahead of him by a few hundred meters.
Once he landed he did away with the parachute and readied his rifle and his night vision, he realized he was close to the edge of the forest, in a small clearing.
“Whitesnake is on the ground, I’m close to a good location to have an overview of the town, I’ll report any contacts.”
He moved on, reaching the edge of the woods he stood on a hill, overlooking the north with his rifle.
A pair of VBCI’s (Véhicule Blindé de Combat d'Infanterie, "Armoured vehicle for infantry combat") drove down the road into the village. Each one carried a crew of nine well trained men ranging from their late twenties to early forties in addition to a pair of drivers. FAMAS weaponry was in the hands of each soldier, varied for their role in the field unit. Beyond a doubt these men would use their weapons to defend a country even if it was not their own. French Foreign Legion soldiers sent in to do the dirty work that Frenchmen apparently did not want to sully their hands with. Unlike BLOODHOUND these men only knew that they were being sent in to investigate the villagers’ disappearance and knew nothing of potential nanotech involvement. Need to know basis had been the cornerstone of their briefing.
Combining the men together, out of twenty-two men there were two of every natural role. A pair of snipers, scouts, infantry, demolitions, and even medics if they all stood together. However there were just a few extra infantry types. Possibilities with a situation as strange as this called for them to be ready for anything as the villagers seemed to have gone entirely missing. Recent thermal black and white satellite scans of the village itself had not shown any heat signatures. And there was certainly no way the nearly 3,000 villagers could vanish into the castle ruins which overlooked Kaysersberg atop a hill dotted with vineyards.
When they had reached the south enterance to the village one of the VBCI's stopped to let out a nine man team which then took to formation. Meanwhile the other one continued to drive on ahead toward the northern border of the village. From inside the vehicle they peered around at the streets lit only by electrical street lamps. Not a single human soul came out to greet them. Various rooftops were actually dotted with ravens. An occasional caw reminded the men of their ominous presence. Was it a warning to turn back? It was though the villagers had become the birds themselves, with so many scattered across Kaysersberg.
Giving the all clear sign, the men exited their VBCI and spread out into formation in the street after a short drive right past the village church. None of the doors or windows had been left hanging open. Buildings in the surrounding area had received no damage whatsoever. Whatever had emptied out the village left no apparent trace aside from the abundance of ravens. However they had yet to search any of the residences or the church. After a few minutes of clarifying how they would perform the first sweep. . . the men started to move out. Only the drivers of the vehicles remained inside the VBCI's now.
Every step seemed to be watched by the birds, who were interested in these brand new visitors to the village. But even more than that it became clear that to disturb the ravens would in some way catch the eye of these French soldiers. Still, they had not quite neared the village's medical center which was located three blocks to the west of the village church which stood ominously tall in the darkness of night. But one specific building meant little to these men who were more interested in a general sweep to locate potential survivors.
Both teams began tp do a building by building search toward the center of town. Each group was escorted by their respective VBCI, which meant any potential hostiles would be up against a mounted machinegun turrent given the proper circumstances. All of the soldiers did their best to stay in line of sight or radio contact with one another. It would be difficult to take one down without the others noticing.
Eliah laid prone on the grass, binoculars in hand. As he swept them over the town, flickers of activity, pulses of thermal signatures, winked on and off in the HUD display embedded in the lenses. Actually, it was almost impossible to do any scouting with all the birds in the way. He raised himself into a crouching position, and his left arm unfolded silently, slipping a blade high up into a nearby tree trunk and pulling him upwards. The servos let out a tiny whine; at this distance it was completely lost in the late night white noise, but it was a sign that they were not really supposed to be doing this. Still, they held steadfast, and soon Eliah was again laying down across a rather thick tree branch, straddling it with his legs so he could hold the binoculars with both hands.
"Eliah here. Two APCs entering town. Can't tell how many people per vehicle .. eight to twelve? They seem to be on a general search and reconnaissance."
Reaching back with one hand while the others held the binoculars to his eyes, he chambered a flare round into his pistol. It would make a harsh screech and flare brightly if shot.
"Copy that." Feist gripped the guttering of the first house, monkey-swinging around the building's edge. Luckily, the design of the French homes allowed plenty of dormer windows, which broke the steep slope of the roofs and gave him level surfaces to work with. The serum was wearing off and Feist already felt his body aching, his muscles longing for strain and punishment. Swinging his legs onto a dormer window, he mounted the roof and rolled over the apex, his body briefly in moonlit silhouette before he dropped into shadow again. Rolling almost to the edge, he righted himself and leapt across the street, landing with a soft thud on the next rooftop.
His destination was Dompteur Square, an intersection of alleys where he would rendezvous with Phoenix. The lights of the French vehicles were making streets glow on the other side of town and he would have to steer clear of these white lines. Running faster, the soldier dashed around the edge of the next rooftop before a second vault sent him onto the adjacent tiles. He rolled, head over heels, and tumbled off the edge, his arms lunging out and wrapping around the balcony of the post office. He dangled there for a moment, catching his breath, then pulled himself up. From the balcony he found a narrow ledge of stone and edged around the upper storey of the post office, coming parallel with the church.
Free running had been his first passion, back in London: a boy of 12 running with the street gangs after his mother died and his father forgot how to be a father. It was a simple idea that drew him to the sport. When you free run, walls are no longer barriers. Streets are no longer tunnels herding you in one direction. Roofs are no longer caps and skylines are playgrounds. When you free run you defy the cities which were built to direct you, to contain you and to identify you. It is the greatest freedom that an urban child can find.
Feist shuffled around the ledge to the south side of the post office, flat against the wall as he surveyed the village. The church and medical centre were the landmarks here, the twin towers amidst the ominous stillness, and it was the latter that had been designated recon priority. Their primary intel was the doctor's email - the last communique from the village before it dropped off the radar. If evidence of a nanotoxin incursion was to be found, it would be in the medical centre.
But he would need Phoenix to cover him as he made his approach.
Gripping the railing of the next balcony, he swung beneath it and dropped into the next street, grabbing the guttering of a smaller, lower house near the edge of Dompteur Square. The guttering creaked a little but held his weight. The old architecture was the best. With sweat beading on his brow and cutting down the contours of his arms, the soldier hoisted himself up till his elbows were over the precipice of the roof.
Then he froze, dangling off the edge as he stared ahead and instantly stopped his breath.
The roof was covered in ravens, more than a dozen of them, perching on the crest and looking back at him with unblinking eyes.
Slowly, even though his whole body was trembling now with heightened adrenaline, he brought his wrists together, keying a new frequency into his codec. 1...4...9..POINT...0...7. His breath was ragged, strained by the effort of hanging off the roof as he whispered. "Lark... got a problem... birds on the roofline..."
"Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto. I'll keep that in mind."
Europe... I hate Europe now. Fucking black forests. Roots everywhere. Hard to get though.
Oh, and now that I got to the village I get told that I need to start at the other end. Fan-fucking-tastic! It was clear that Young Chameleon wasn't having a good time... Or rather it would have been clear if he was not in his suit and powered up. As it was, it would take someone who was actively looking for him to notice him. Which was no one right now. Not yet atleast.
Screw it. Going through. He started walking, the stealth systems making him nearly invisible. Except for a little ripple of air that could be mistaken for heat haze, sight was something that his prey could not rely on. He passed into the town, taking the main road and encountering the APC first. So the frenchy was here. Good.
He got out of sight of the APC quickly though, might be equiped with thermal vision. Now that would suck. Now he would just have to make his way to the objective... and then mind fuck the French.
The sound of a dull thump registered as the woman processed her surroundings before taking off on foot, her dark silhouette lacing through the trees, melting in and out of their dappled shadows. Judging by the sound of the impact that had taken place behind her, it was one of the men on her team.
Oh, wait. That was right. They were all men. How silly of her to forget...
Prior to their dispatch, Lilith had taken time to go over the provided files of the other members of their motley little crew. She had read the important parts and a few of the more interesting parts of the documents - at least what hadn't been ravished by a black marker and a liberal hand. She didn't doubt that her own file didn't look the same.
Their idle chatter drifted in one ear, swirled around inside her brain for a few moments before the unnecessary bits drifted out the other ear. They might have been a unit, but no-one said anything about having to stick to each other like glue. It would be better this way, she told herself. At any rate, her main focus was on the feel of the terrain underfoot, her thin but sturdy footwear allowing her to cross over uneven surfaces easily without leaving the telltale signs of disturbance that boots did. Her soles molded to the feel of soft black earth, small prickly pebbles, rough spongy logs and eventually to the soft scuff of worn cobbles.
The Widow perched in a tree, her dark cloaked form melting into the dappled, trembling shadows of leaves and wild branches. The town truly was empty, from what she had seen. If it were in a different country, all that would be missing were the rolling tumbleweeds. For now, all they would have to tide themselves over with were the empty howling of the wind over stone and through deserted streets. That and the dry quorks and throaty murmurs of the other dark shadowy sentinels that seemed to be perching on nearly every available awning, claiming them for their own secret mission. She eyed the dark wings, moving as smoothly as possible to avoid startling them. The last thing she needed was a black noisy flurry announcing her presence. It was the last thing any of them needed.
After a few more moments of investigation, the woman came to rest in the dark alcove of a balcony, her pale eyes fixed on the vehicles moving in. Her fingers slowly wriggled as she watched the dark shapes of the team file out into view.
Hearing Feist mention his alias, specifically, Phoenix mechanically replied, "Confirmed. En route." If he was correct, that would mean Dompteur Square. He would need to leave the simple cover of shrubbery to get there. Something the soldier did not enjoy. He knew the French would arrive quickly, and that meant getting in as soon as possible. Confirming the lack of presence of military personnel in his immediate area, Phoenix started his trek to the rendezvous point.
Keeping his stance low to the ground, and strides short, he moved quickly to the nearest choke of buildings. The soldier would depend heavily on the cover of architecture. If he moved fast enough, he may be able to make it to the rendezvous point without any problems from the French. Unfortunately, a fellow operative did not improve Phoenix's mood, confirming the entrance of the French into the village. Even if it was a general sweep, the team had to move quick; something Phoenix did not so readily possess.
Maintaining his stance and stride, and abusing the closely-built buildings, he continued his gradual approach to Dompteur Square. He made no attempts to take the high ground, as he was weighed too heavily with ammo, and his HABB-3. Another hiss escaped from the side of his helmet, hearing more chatter over the comm. Phoenix, at this point, was maybe halfway to the rendezvous point. Depending on alleys and side-streets made getting there a large hassle, especially when trying to avoid contact. Of all the things to fear, in non-detection missions like these, birds were one of the worst.
You would assume these men would be more afraid of bullets.
Another five minutes will pass before Phoenix successfully approached Dompteur Square. Cuing his comm, the soldier simply said, "Phoenix on point. Awaiting orders."
The french troops were making very systematic sweeps, seemingly making it easy for his comrades to move in, undetected. However, his own team was moving in to the town without an express purpose. They had already infiltrated the area, but were directionless.
Flashbacks. When you pillage a settlement, where do you go first?
Granary. Police station. Medical.
"See if there are any medical centers in the area."
Eliah swept his binoculars over the town again before determining that long range scouting was nearly impossible. In normal vision he could not see much, and the birds obscured all but the vehicle heat signatures in thermal mode. He slipped the binoculars into a latch on his belt and slid down into the tree. Stay low, he ran at a crouch closer to the town. 500 meters. 200 meters. 100. 50.
Some doors were unlocked, others were. He chose a house that was in between the unit and the French, slipping inside and moving to the second floor. He unlocked every door, every window, and flattened himself against a wall, peering out intently with his eyes, eschewing the binoculars.
As the two separated French teams performed their grid by grid search, they grew steadily closer to the center of Kaysersberg from the outer homes as the minutes passed. Nothing was out of place save for the people themselves. It was as though they had gotten up and wandered out of town in some mass pilgrimage. However it was the team near Eliah which ran into the first sign of trouble. Without warning the ravens in their area suddenly seemed to grow aggitated. Flying over the street behind the VBCI and it's accompanying troops something small could be seen falling from the sky in a formidable quantity. They were definitely dropping something meant to prevent the french from retreating without some sort of consequence. Clinks of metal turned into a chorus drowned out by the vehicle's engine which Eliah's binoculars would reveal as. . . caltrops.
Right about then, someone answered Feist's call.
"Sorry, this is mockingbird. Really man, you should get the woman's frequency right. It's 140.97 alright? Must be bad with numbers or something."
Each teammate had their own monitor that constantly updated their status. Feist’s was blinking furiously all of the sudden just as a fit of barely audible laughter came from down the hallway. Lark arched an eyebrow ever so slightly at the coincidence. In trouble already? Why were the new guys always so fast? Oddly, there was no footage from her codec, only the audio. At most her voice gave away that this was a woman who had definitely passed through puberty some time ago. Certainly not some high-pitched little asian girl who made girly fawning noises over an electrified rodent.
"It’s an unkindness, Feist."
Feist grunted from the exertion of holding himself aloft.
"The collective noun for ravens is unkindness. We have an unkindness of ravens on the roof."
“Still dangling. . . for my life here.”
"Then get down from there, already."
No doubt he was already dropping himself down or possibly even climbing down if he could. Anything for the sake of continued concealment. For some reason the ravens on his end of town were being incredibly docile compared to Eliah's side of town. But had the man taken the time to look more closely at the feet of those ravens he would have seen something unsettling held in those talons. It was in his best interests to ensure they stayed undisturbed. Projecting to the entire unit now, came general advice for BLOODHOUND.
"Keep your eyes open. Ravens aren’t supposed to be active at night, and there’s nothing here for them to feed on."
Cutting back to just her and Feist the Lark started to guide him along through the city using the technology at her fingertips. All sorts of sensitive tactical information could be laid bare after a few simple keystrokes if she willed it. For right now she just wanted to get this mission accomplished just like most of the unit: without a hitch.
"And the ground is where I highly advise you stay for now. Lucky for you I found a temporary blind spot in their search pattern. Head West for 0.3 kilometers, then South on for 0.5 kilometers. When you reach the medical center either search where they keep their specimens which is room 169 or the doctor's office which is room 303. Meanwhile I’m going to see what I can find on open case files involving big raven conspiracies or any mass crow murders.”
Opening multiple maps of the town, as well as grids of sewage and drainage systems she started to look up potential routes in case the others started to run into problems they couldn't handle. From the looks of things. . . power was still flowing just fine. In addition she also started to try and see just how in this world so many ravens would appear in one place. Which would be kind of disenchanting to witness.
Upon arriving at the medical center, Feist would find the large building mostly in continuity with the rest of Kaysersberg. Devoid of any human life. Most unsettling of all about the entire situation was how everything seemed so utterly sterilized in this town. Just like a hospital's operating room. As if humanity were a plague or pestilence upon the earth that had been purged. Yet it still seemed as though life had once existed in the medical center which had old world architecture but mostly up to date equipment. However the lights here were out and there was nobody home to greet him personally.
Whitesnake had stalled his advance into Kayserberg, the sudden arrival of the French legion now posed an obstacle for him, he wasn’t the one to do most of the enemy casualties, but he did the important ones.
He adjusted his weapon’s sights better and scanned up north for hostiles, there were 4 soldiers guarding the town’s main exit, one of the vehicles wasn’t far behind them, he could see other soldiers moving close by, but none were watching for outside intrusion.
“I’ve got hostiles in sight, too many to bother with them, I’ll find a way to bypass them and enter the town.”
He moved down the clearing, taking cover in the bushes and the houses on the outskirts of town, doing his best to not be seen by the guards, it wasn’t hard, all black clothes in the dark of the night, knowing his way around a forest well enough, this was no challenge for him.
Finally he passed a couple of blocks away from the guards and the VBCI’s, entering Kayserberg in what he remembered was just a few blocks away from a medical center, right as Lark began to address the team.
“Whitesnake here, I’m at position Charlie Foxtrot 56, how close am I to a medical center?” he asked.
His arms ached, acid winces making symphony with the adrenal shakes. He didn't like being on the ground... not in a narrow town like this... and not with ravens watching from every eave.
He had followed Lark's directions and was now crouched in the doorway of the medical centre, flattened between the glass panel and the stone archway. And a click and hiss from the east told him he wasn't alone. Returning the signal with a sharp tap on the wall, Feist watched as Phoenix peeled from the shadows of Dompteur Square and jogged across to him. The two men rendezvoused in the darkness of the doorway, Phoenix covering as Feist removed his gloves and readied his pistol... Otterhound, specifically - his silenced and waterproof handgun.
"Had to take another route," Feist muttered as he looked up at the unblinking helm of his teammate. The two men made striking contrast - Phoenix still and featureless, Feist twitching and sweating.
Fixing a flashlight to his pistol, the man keyed his codec. "Eliah, we're at the med centre. Entering from the east."
Nodding to Phoenix, he swung upwards and slipped through the double doors of the centre, moving ahead into the corridor. His flashlight was low, a thin beam that played over sterile walls and abandoned equipment. He moved in zigzag, checking each door as Phoenix covered.
There was nothing here but silence and emptiness... a stillness beyond any aftermath.
A check of seven ground rooms confirmed the expected - nothing of any note... nothing disturbed... no one home. Silently he signalled with his flashlight to the stairwell entrance. Phoenix moved and Feist followed him, rekeying his codec as he did. "Whitesnake, my team is moving to the third floor - doctor's office. I'll leave the specimen room to you."
Judgeing by how the vehicle did not react to him, Chameleon concluded that it didn't have thermal. Now that was a blessing. He called up the Codec frequency for a team wide communication. "This is Young Chameleon, seems that the vehicles do not have thermal. Good thing, huh? Anyway, I'm going to try to keep track of the Frenchies, leading them away from the medical center if I can... What the hell?"
Chameleon watched as something dropped a lot of caltrops behind the vehicle. "Hey, anyone know who dropped the caltrops? It kinda pissed off the Frenchies with the vehicle. Should I wipe them out or what? I'm going to have to stay here." He slowly moved forward, picking up four caltrops and, cupping his hands so that they would be invisible, he placed each one infront of the tires, the points sticking for maximum penetration and blow out.
After that he quickly moved away. Being invisible was awesome.
Little did the somewhat frustrated Fiest realize that his plight was being watched parallel from a concealed vantage point within the local church by a mysterious figure who could hardly contain himself. Right up until the BLOODHOUND unit members vanished into the medical center they were being watched. By both the Ravens. . . and a few other things.
No doubt Whitesnake would notice.
As time ticked by it became ever so difficult to keep restraint when the moment of revelation would arrive. Let alone stay silent since too loud of a noise would ruin the surprise in store for the living who dared to walk these streets. Brilliant strategy was in place and in action. All of it tactically sound. Perfectly planned out right up to who the Americans would send out here to investigate this little staging area. After all. . . it was his plan.
Even though Young Chameleon had alerted the French soldiers to the fact there were caltrops it did not ruin a thing. Rather it inspired just a tinge of fear since they could see their antagonize. One could almost picture little exclamation points above their heads, followed by question marks. Surprise and confusion were valuable assets on the battlefield. Villagers would not attack their own military. . . which left the men convinced that whatever made the townspeople go missing was still very much around.
Quickly they took a defensive position around the sabotaged VBCI which was now just beyond the window where Eliah watched and waited from. Each of them were ready for action, watching for anyone walking the streets that didn’t fit in. A radio communiqué was attempted but it was only met with eerie static. Once it started it wouldn’t stop, as though some supernatural force were getting ready to strike them down.
Meanwhile across the town, the other group had been left entirely alone. No caltrops and no strange static. They knew nothing of the other group’s plight. Instead they continued onward in their slow meticulous search for survivors. Hopefully they would find someone soon and get some sort of answers.
Something in Eliah's peripheral vision caught his eye. Weighing the odds, he slightly leaned past the frame of the window where he was peaking out to get a better vantage point.
"One of the groups seems to have stalled. They have taken up defens - " his words were cut short as he abruptly ducked back to avoid the search beams that swept past his window. Inwardly he tsked himself for getting too carried away with staring - it took one's attention away from the surroundings and made them vulnerable to surprise.
"They have taken up defensive positions around their vehicle. From what I saw, it's not moving ... it's down? Were one of you responsible for this?"
No gunshots. Whatever disabled the vehicle must have been silent sabotage. No EMPs; that left the tires or perhaps some dirt thrown into the engine intakes.
He ducked down, below the window, and made his way downstairs, intent on exiting the building. If he got caught so close to the patrol, it would be a bolthole suicide. All the same, he felt like these people were not the real enemies. They had seemed as surprised as Eliah had when ravens were found to have pretty much replaced the population of the town. A small tingle ran down his neck, and he reached back to swab the bead of sweat.