Jimmy climbed up on the log he had spotted a minute or two before. It was covered in moss and the wood was rotting through. It was several feet thick so he was hoping it would hold his weight.
He edged forward gently. The trunk creaked causing his to pause. He swore to himself. He was beginning to hate the jungle with a passion.
He had leapt from the back of The Sentinel as he saw Amara and Rahne fall and plummet through the canopy of trees below. He had activated his flight powers and managed to steer himself through the canopy.
The bouncing around through the trees as he came to land drove him further away from the girls than he already was. He had spent the last hours searching through the jungle as best he could.
The air was thick and wet, his hair and shorts clung to him. The worst of the situation was he was topless and in bare feet so the insects of the rainforest were having an all you can eat mutant buffet.
He sniffed deeply as he paused. He was trying to pick up on a scent of Rahne or Amara but he was getting nothing. The jungle was packed with thousands of smells he had never encountered before. Then when they all mixed together, his nose was useless.
He edged forward again pushing the thick bunches of leaves and vines which obstructed him out of the way. He inhaled deeply as he cleared the veil of vegetation and found himself staring down.
Hundreds of feet below him was a churning pool of water which lead off into a stream. The trees below filled his vision blocking out everything else with their encompassing canopy of green.
Warpath was not used to these situations. He had grown up in the middle of America all wide open spaces where he could see for miles around. He edged closer to the end of the fallen trunk with his arms stretched out at 45 degree angles. His large knives held in each hand to aid his balance. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to look through the leaves in some way to spot some sign of his two friends.
He searched the canopy and then caught a glimpse of something in the distance, a brief flicker of light like something reflecting the sun as it moved. The trunk creaked suddenly and then screamed as the rotten wood gave way to his huge mass. The trunk snapped in half and dropped Jimmy from it.
He growled as he tumbled down. He span in the air powered by his self propulsion and jammed both of his Vibranium knives into the cliff face. The knives sunk into the cliff face and began to carve up great chunks of the rock as Jimmy fell. A stream of rubble and dust exploded behind him as he hurtled down.
He seemed to be sliding down the cliff face forever when really it was only a minute or two. He roared with annoyance all the way down before slamming hard into the water below and being dragged under the surface with the force he hit.
He exploded from the water a second later and burst into the front crawl and made it to the shale covered bank. He climbed to his feet slowly and growled loudly “I F**King hate this jungle!” He finished his own protracted growl of anger as he slammed his fists into the earth only to find that one was continuing.
The growl turned and twisted into a series of barks before becoming a growl again. Jimmy’s ears twitched, he scanned the jungle before him and launched forward towards where he thought the noise was coming from.
Not too far away…
Rahne growled as she raised her hackles. She was baring her teeth and barked a couple of times for good measure. She was locked into pacing a circle against her enemy.
He was a large male adolescent Jaguar. His hackles were equally raised and his teeth bared. The sting from a fresh bite from the wolf he was up against was fresh in his shoulder while his claws were stained with blood from the slash he’d managed to put in the strange beast’s side.
He lunged forward quicker on the ‘draw’ than the lupine foe he was facing. He was however not more agile. The wolf shifted somehow and took on a new form. She planted her hand on the beasts head and flipped over him dragging her claws down his back as she went.
She landed on her two hind legs and was instantly tackled by the beast which shifted it’s position quickly. She raised her knees and tossed the cat over her head before rolling to her feet. “C’mon ya beastie,” she growled loudly and savagely “I’ve been looking for a reason to cut loose.”
The two launched at one another taken by some animalistic urges. Their claws swung madly at one another slashing flesh and fur before bouncing away. They landed at the same time and quickly turned to one another growling again.
Rahne slobbered as she bared her teeth. She was prepared to take a chunk out of the cat’s throat if needs be…she even relished the idea. She had been through so much recently including the loss of the man she loved and she was angry, her anger showed in the way it always did through her animal side.
They growled as they prepared to launch into a fight again.
The lower canopy of leaves exploded outwards as the form of Warpath hurtled through the air in mid leap. He landed on his hands and rolled into a crouch. His knives were drawn instantly.
The Jaguar and Wolfsbane both shifted to glare at him. The Jaguar was on edge and defensive especially due to the injury it had just received so he did something very stupid. The spotted creature launched forward. Warpath caught him easily with his left arm.
He held the creature out at arms length by the scruff of it’s neck letting it twist and scream uselessly as it tried to claw at him. “You done with this?” he asked to Rahne as she began to shift back to human from her long snouted were-wolf look.
“Aye, ah am.” She tilted her head away from James shamefully. He simply tossed his arm out and unleashed the cat sending it screaming through the air and through the canopy. He heard it growl as it landed before taking off through the undergrowth knowing when it was outclassed in the food chain.
“You okay Rahne, I heard what was going on. You could have ended that fight, you’re faster and stronger…yet you chose to fight. You seem wilder than you used to be.”
“Yeah one to talk? Aye?” She glared at James.
“Message received. I don’t make observations and neither will you.” He nodded his understanding. He didn’t want to talk about his problems and Rahne didn’t want to talk about hers. That arrangement was fine with him.
“Any sign of Amara?” Rahne asked. She was trying not to make eye contact with James.
“None that I can see. You not come down anywhere near her?”
“I hit the branches of a tree. Shifted form and managed to bounce down…haven’t been able to pick up a trace.”
“I bow to your superior nose,” James held up his hands. Rahne had the superior sense of smell and tracking ability. Rahne shifted to her wolfen form, James noticed the deep cuts in her body were already scabbing over.
She sniffed the ground in a few directions and then the air before shifting back to her human form. “Nothin'”
James was about to complain about the jungle again when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end. The earth was shaking very gently beneath his feet. The birds in the trees let off cries before bursting into the air as the shaking increased.
“I think we found her,” nodded James to Rahne. They at least knew she was alive but finding her from a tremor would be next to impossible.
A blast of energy shot into the sky through the canopy above them. The two looked at each other while Rahne shifted to wolf form and they both launched forward.
They hurtled through the jungle both taking huge leaping bounds and bouncing from rocks and trees as they went. They were both following their noses now, the ionised smell of the air from whatever the blast was stuck out like a sore thumb even amongst the thousands of smells in the jungle.
They burst through the undergrowth after a minute or two and a couple of energy blasts and found themselves in a small clearing.
Magma stood in the centre. Her head was bleeding. Rocks were jutting from the ground at random angles obviously yanked up by her powers. Flame licked from her hands and across her back.
Her eyes were scanning the undergrowth, she didn’t even acknowledge her friends. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the greenery.
“Amara? What’s going on?”
“There’s something here…metal, it shot at me.” She tightened her hand and let the flames turn blue around her fist.
“‘Mara you’ve been hurt. You’re not thinking straight.”
“I didn’t imagine it! It was here!” Amara shot a glare to Jimmy. She was the mutant there with the least experience of super heroing but she knew an attack when it was launched at her.
“Yes there is something here…we can both smell a laser blast but I was talking about you licking around with flames in the middle of the Jungle. One stray spark and you burn the place to the ground.” James motioned to Amara’s hands. “You grew up in the Jungle right? Think of the harm you could do.”
Amara fixed her gaze on Jimmy for a second before nodding and shutting off her flame in an instant.
The second her flame was snuffed a blast shot out from the undergrowth and struck her in the mid-section. A second launched from the same position at James. He unleashed his knife before it hit him and then took the full brunt of it in his chest driving him to the floor like Amara seconds earlier.
Rahne hunched forward ready to pounce when the brush ruffled and a large metal thing stumbled forward. It was sparking from a metal stump which seemed to be one of it’s legs. It stumbled forward and landed on it’s side.
Rahne recognised it from pictures instantly. It looked like the head of a sentinel but miniaturized and put on spiders legs. James hurtled over her head with a roar and swung down his blade through the shell of the robot.
The brush around them was suddenly filled with rustling. Amara climbed to her feet and backed towards the other two. Several more of the creatures scuttled forward and the paused, they seemed to be waiting for something.
The thing they were waiting for made themselves clear as two humans walked through the bushes into the clearing. They were mostly human at least. Glowing circles of energy in their chests, glints of metal in various places on their body and glowing eyes signalled they weren’t totally human anymore.
The second thing they may have been waiting for became clear as well as the canopy above them opened with a groan as the wood bent and broke. A giant Sentinel peered down on them. It’s eyes glowed white hot as it spotted them but instead of speaking only crackled static from it’s voice box.
Jimmy smiled. He had been looking to take his frustrations out on something. he pointed to the giant with his one remaining knife. “Dibs!”
“Shaw this isn’t one of our stupid little games. It’s not the way it used to be…I couldn’t care less about secret cabals….I’ve stayed out of your way and let you run things your way. This is important…yes, yes. That’s right you have the details. Ring me when you have anything.”
Roberto sighed as he unconnected his ear piece and slumped back in his chair. He’s pulled T-shirt on over his naked torso. He rubbed the lower half of his face with his hand. He had so far not made any headway in trying to track the destination of The Sentinels.
He blamed himself, he had brought them here to Brazil and he had took them to the beach. It was his fault Leong and Nga were at the beach when the Sentinels attacked and it was his fault the other three were taken.
His thought drifted to the question he’d been thinking about maybe even more than the Where?
He had changed much over the years, time would be that he would rush head long into any danger with no thought over what the consequences could be or what the causes of the situation could be. He however had changed much, as he grew he suffered a lot. He fell out with his father and then had many many adventures in the X-world with the New Mutants and X-Force…they would age anyone. Then his father died. One of the most shaping factors of his young life was the time he spent with Gideon.
Gideon was an External, an ‘immortal’ mutant who took Roberto under his wing when he thought he was the same. He tutored him in the ways of business, he was taught how to read a situation and subtly make his move more than the militaristic X-teams could ever do. His time at the Hellfire club taught him to decipher every word and gesture other people could possibly make at any given moment…it was that or get stabbed in the back.
It was these trials and tribulations which had shaped Roberto into who he was now. The question which was weighing on his mind was Why?
Someone had sent the Sentinels after them he was sure of it. He didn’t believe in coincidences that they just happened to be swimming past and pick up Mutant signatures. But who? It was no secret that they had made enemies in their time, but who would strike at them now. The next why was why take the children? Leong and Nga it was true did have the potential to be mutants…or they once did. Their older siblings both had mutant powers and when they had been aged artificially they gained some powers but they were years away chronologically from even reaching the point…there was no way of testing for latent mutations that Roberto knew of. If the Sentinels were after mutants why did they only take the children and none of the actual mutants present.
“Roberto!” Jorge slammed his hand down on the desk. “You’re not even goddamn listening to me!” Jorge was telling the truth. Roberto had not been listening. He’d been off in his own thoughts and had missed anything his friend had been saying.
“Have the numbers got back to you yet?”
“Yes, but Roberto I need you to listen…”
Jorge exhaled gently, he had joined Roberto’s business from one he had set up himself when he was a teenager. Da Costa had bought him out and offered him a job at first he thought it was massive step down until Roberto showed him the portfolio of information on the financial and business plans of the company. Jorge had jumped on board, he enjoyed the money and he enjoyed the challenge. He was a brilliant man and he was not used to being ignored in this way.
“We can possibly give them a 5% cut. Anything else wouldn’t make any sense.”
“Can we cut it anymore? I want to know what is the biggest cut we can give them and break even. That’s all I want to know.” Roberto leaned forward. He was not used to having his demands argued with.
“Roberto what is my job?” Jorge unbuttoned his jacket and leaned forward to Roberto.
“You work for me, you do what I…”
“I do what is best for this company. I don’t work for you I work for the shareholders and the employees of this company.” Jorge pushed his palm held electronic device towards Roberto across the table.
“I’m the majority shareholder in the company.”
“I couldn’t give a crap Roberto. I can’t in good conscience let you go ahead with this move to reduce our profit for your friends. You would be putting this company in risk. It’s illegal for God’s sake!”
“It’s worth it!” Roberto stood to his feet and leaned on the desk so he was now towering over the seated Jorge. “You have a wife and children Jorge? What if they were in danger?…I’m sorry that’s unfair…What about your sister and your nephew?”
Jorge stared at Roberto. “What has that got to do with anything?”
“It has everything to do with it. I have known Rahne Sinclaire and Amara Aquila since I was 14 years old. We for all intents and purposes we are family. They are my sisters and they are missing…Xi’an too. Leong and Nga Coy Manh I have known since they were 5 years old and I have watched them grow. I consider them family and I will let nothing happen to them…I’ve already turned my back on enough family.”
“That’s what this is about isn’t it? Your father and mother? You never got to say goodbye to your father and you haven’t seen your mother in how long? So you’re risking the company to appease your conscience?” Jorge stood up also, he was naturally taller than Roberto and so now towered over him.
“Its not just about them. I turned my back on The New Mutants and on X-Force first with Gideon and then with The Hellfire Club and it got me where I am today. It’s about time I made it up to them.”
“I won’t let you do this! If you try to push on this deal I’ll be forced to resign Roberto.”
Roberto stopped and he stared hard at Jorge. Jorge was an integral part of his company. He didn’t know how he’d run the company without his closest advisor.
There was a knock on the door and Melissa peered her head around. She had changed from her bikini into a white shirt and some black trousers. She closed the door behind her and slipped into the room as Roberto nodded, this meeting was about to end anyway.
The two men looked at her as she crossed the room. She had tried to reapply her makeup but it had not went too well as you could still see the large red marks trailing down her cheeks and the bloodshot quality of her eyes. “I saw Danielle, she asked me to give you this.” She handed over a small sheet of paper.
Roberto opened the sheet and read it carefully. He thought for a second and then nodded. “Jorge take care of this…” Roberto stopped for a second and looked at his friend. “I don’t want to lose you. I will try everything I can before I push the deal through for 15%…I will of course provide you with a generous severance package and a reference which will let you walk into any job you want.”
Jorge took the sheet of paper and looked at the instructions. He stood up and held out his hand. “It was both a pleasure and a challenge Roberto…I’ll see you at my daughters birthday party regardless?”
Roberto shook Jorge’s hand. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Jorge turned and left the room typing into his electronic device.
“Oh God Roberto!” Melissa practically leapt into Roberto’s waiting arms. He held her tightly and kissed the side of her neck. The tears were again flowing from her eyes. “I tried…I tried to save them but I couldn’t they were just too strong. They’re giant robots…how could I fight them.”
Roberto rubbed his hand through her hair. “No one blames you Melissa. We all know what its like going up against those things…you had no way of fighting.”
“X’ian blames me. She blames me for it.”
Roberto was silent for a moment. “She doesn’t blame you not really she’s just angry. Angry at herself. You have to understand that those children are her entire life she would die for them without a second thought so she’s angry and blames herself…have you ever loved something so much that of anything happened to it you didn’t think you could carry on.”
Melissa hugged Roberto tightly. “Only once.”
Xi’an was at on her the lowest bunk which belonged to her sister. She held in her hands a T-shirt which Nga wore for bed. She sniffed it deeply, it smelled faintly of her or rather the perfume she had decided at 12 she wanted to wear.
There was a brief wrap at the door and Dani walked into the room without waiting for a reply. They were beyond pleasantries, out of all the New Mutants it was Xi’an and Dani who shared the closest bond as adults as equals. Dani and Rahne had shared an empathic link and were as close as sisters (as were Dani and Xi’an) but they were more like an elder and younger sister. Xi’an and Dani were equals, they comforted and relied on each other not through necessity but through want.
“We’ll get them back” Dani embraced Xi’an as she dropped onto the bed. The Vietnamese mutant turned and rested her head on her shoulder while she continued to keep tight hold of her friend. She had lost enough that day she didn’t want another person moving away from her.
“Roberto is doing everything he can and Justin is already calling in every favour the army, FBI, CIA and SHIELD has to offer him for his work. Hank McCoy & Pym are already bugging Tony Stark and Henry Gyrich for any help they can give….they’ll give us a lead and we’ll find them I promise. I dare say Rahne already has their scent and is tracking them herself.”
“No…” Xi’an shook her head. “I know, everyone is trying. Everyone will do their best to find them. How could I let this happen?”
“Xi’an it’s not your fault…you can’t blame yourself.”
“I can and will. Xi’an pushed away from her friend and wiped a tear. I know you’re trying to help but don’t tell me how too feel Dani. I’ve lost everyone from my parents, I killed my own brother and now this…how many times have I let my brother and sister be kidnapped? They’re supposed to be my responsibility but I keep letting things get in the way. Mutant problems…what’s the point of any of it if they’re not around to see the new world. I’ve lost everyone! You couldn’t know what that feels like.”
Xi’an turned to Dani to find her gaze averted. Xi’an was having a tough time so Dani was biting back a comment but she was getting sick of people telling her she couldn’t understand situations she’d already been through in her life. “Dani, I’m sorry. I never thought…your parents and your grandfather. You were even younger than I am and you dealt with it…you do know what it’s like to lose everyone.”
Dani shook her head and stood to her feet. She moved to Xi’an. “I did lose my parents and my grandfather but I didn’t lose everyone…neither have you. You have all of us. We will not rest until Leong and Nga are back.”
They embraced and then Dani pulled back. She thrust her hand into her jeans pocket and pulled out her vibrating cell phone. “It’s Beast.”