Brisbane was a torrential mess.
Thick rain pelted the rental van in which half of the people from Teufort sat. Wet, sloppy globs splashed and rolled every which way, catching in the second liquid that had coated the van. The strange fluid stuck to the van, only weakening and falling away in small flecks. Wind buffeted both liquids around. The storm rocked the van as it crept away from streets crammed full of businesses. Lightning bore its teeth, thunder gnashing in its wake. The building tempest rattled signs, sending scraps of paper and garbage scurrying in its wake. One newspaper splattered against the van's windshield, smearing black ink across its face as the wipers kicked into gear.
The Soldier scowled. "Why does everything in this goddamn country want to fight us?"
"I don't think—well, that's not important," Miss Pauling shook her head. "Hopefully, the rain will wash this strange gunk off, at any rate."
The Scout screwed up his face. "Looks like blue maple syrup ta me. Or molasses, maybe."
"Oh, sure. Leave it to the Bostonian to think it's molasses," the Soldier taunted. His words were rebuked by a sharp smack to the back of his head. Reverberations from his helmet rang in his ears like a large bell. He turned to find the Scout's mother scowling at him. "Sorry, m'am."
"I hate ta point this out, but we need ta start makin' our next plan. Won't be but two shakes of a lamb's tail before those fellas we knocked out will be wakin' up and callin' in reinforcements." The Demoman brought everyone back to order. He was not focused for long. "Anybody got a—what in the blazes?"
New roars echoed in the sky, but they did not come from the storm. The source of these sounds was obscured in gray, rolling clouds. One caught a flash of lightning off its side. Black, rotating wings carried a burdened helicopter out of danger, pressing onwards through sharp winds and cloud bursts. Across the sky, another vehicle shimmered in the night. Lightning did not illuminate it. A glowing ball was coming from its center, thin lines raking across the storm. The Soldier slammed the van into park, grabbed his binoculars from around his neck. His jaw dropped as the chopper came closer. There were men inside that luminescent bubble.
Miss Pauling raised a finger, pointing to the glowing aberration in the sky. "Are you all seeing that?"
"Ah ha!" The Soldier slammed a fist onto the van's steering wheel in joy. "I know that light from anywhere!"
"Christ, don't tell me ya've been abducted by aliens before," the Scout's mother grumbled.
The Scout patted his mother's hands, bobbing up and down rapidly. "No, Ma! He's totally bein' sane for once! Ah, man! We're in total luck!"
His mother raised an eyebrow. "What? Glinda the Good Witch gonna drop in on us?"
"No, Ma! It's our guys!" The Scout hopped out of his seat. He began pushing forward on the Soldier's shoulders, like his force was going to throw the car forward. "Come on! Mush! Go catch up widdem!"
The Soldier growled back, "I would, if I had an idea about where they were going!"
"D'ya think they were successful? I'd hate ta think that our missin' laddies are stuck out in this storm somewhere," the Demoman pondered.
The Scout screwed up his face, smirking. "Ah, I wouldn't worry about da Sniper. Dat guy finds sleepin' in roadkill comfortable. Da Spy, though? Oh, man!" He snorted with laughter twice. "He bitches when he gets blood on his suit! What makes ya think he could survive out in the—ow!"
The Scout's mother withdrew her hand from the back of her son's head. "Cripes! Gotta upside all yous guys's heads. And I thought dis job would make ya less mouthy!"
"Listen. Until we can confirm the status of our missing men, we need to get somewhere safe. I doubt this storm will get much better anytime soon." Miss Pauling flinched as a cacophonous bolt snapped through the air. She hunkered down. Even the storms in Australia were more boisterous. "At least, I'd feel better if we could get somewhere safe."
"To the hotel, then," the Demoman agreed. He nodded towards the Soldier. The American man twisted the van's clutch out of park, then threw it back into gear. The van coughed as it was kicked back into gear. It flew down eerily empty streets, throwing watery jets in its wake.
Another growl rushed over the van. Passing a towering hospital, the second vehicle in the sky dashed into view. Even without binoculars, the team could see a black dot leaning out one of the sides of the helicopter. The gales had no effect on its posture, but the helicopter bobbed up and down with the wind's currents. The Soldier tapped on the van's horn twice. There was no indication that anyone from the chopper had heard him over the rolling tempest.
The Bostonian woman sat upright. Her brain clicked, something in her gut stirring. That second helicopter was following the flight path of the first chopper. Granted, it wasn't right on its tail, but it was heading southwest. There were a limited number of reasons that both helicopters would be in the air in such terrible conditions. If the Scout's teammates were anything like her son, then they were stubborn as all get out. They were chasing. That had to mean that first helicopter had to have something important. Maybe some valuable artifact. Perhaps water from the Fountain of Life.
Maybe her man.
"Go southwest," the Scout's mother said.
The Scout turned his attention towards his mother. "What? Our hotel's ta th' north!"
"Look! I've been watchin' that damn shiny helicopter. You say it's your boys? Then follow your boys. Dey're goin' southwest, right after dat first chopper, and dey're not landin'! In a storm like dis? Dey've gotta be nuts. Somethin' important's keeping dem in da air!" his mother argued.
The Demoman perked up. "They're hunting."
The Scout's mother nodded. "Dat's right! If it's just material crap dey're after, den whateva. But if it's my man dey're tryin' ta save, den I ain't lettin' him get away!"
Miss Pauling shrugged. It wasn't a safe option, given the weather, but was worth pursuing. At any rate, the Bostonian woman made a strong case for their chase, even if it was merely pathos. If the only non-mercenary in the car was game for a fight, then disagreeing on behalf of their safety seemed less effective. She bobbed her head towards the Soldier. "Fair enough. Mister Doe, if you would."
He gave her a salute, then slammed on the accelerator.
Everything was gray.
The Spy closed his eyes, trying to blot the environment out around him. His arms were getting sore from being bound. They burned against his shoulders. Worse than that was the gleeful cheering and planning that Marian and her men were engaged in. If he was lucky, he could lean back and hear nothing but the storm howling around him. If he was extra fortunate, the wind would toss him out of the craft. It had already bucked a loose barrel out of the back. Perhaps it could take him, too.
It was going to be a disaster. It was only a matter of time. If he did not kill them all tonight, then they would murder him tomorrow. Perhaps his petite as well. The day after that, they'd get down to their nefarious work. Then they'd unsuspectingly unleash this monstrous liquid into the public for mass consumption. He did not know what would be the worst scenario. Global annihilation of first-world countries, international fixation on meaningless aesthetics and devolution into Eloi-like creatures—even mundane disaster scenarios like a city-wide poisoning were enough to raise his hackles. There were going to be scores of dead men, women, and children if he did not act. There was only one thing keeping him from acting—Marian's threat against his paramour.
It was time to call her bluff.
Ignoring the prattling going on around him, the Spy's voice cut through the crowd. "Miss Grey!"
Marian raised an eyebrow, pulling her pen away from a notepad. The men around her hushed up as she smirked. "Yes? I'm busy working, Monsieur, so make it quick."
"You still have your satellite phone, do you not?" the Spy asked.
Marian nodded. "Of course."
The Spy pulled himself upright, opening his eyes. "I wish to speak wiz her."
There was a pause as Marian interpreted the Spy's request. She sighed, smiling. "Oh, of course. Let me get a hold of her for you."
Marian rummaged through a small bag next to her ankles. She paused for a moment as winds rocked the chopper. After the whirlybird stabilized, she pulled out the phone. She drew out her dialing, taking as long as possible with each number. Leaning back, she smiled as the connecting tone chimed in her ear. After thirty seconds, she furrowed her eyebrows. At one minute, her face flushed a dark crimson.
"That can't be. Someone should be at the office," Marian muttered.
Slamming the phone down, she dialed again. Another minute passed with no response. She kept dialing and waiting, growing more impatient with every iteration. The Spy lowered his eyebrows, wondering what was going on. Was she dialing the right number? Was the storm interfering with the phone's signal? Or, if she was correct, then why was no one on the other line?
Marian and the Spy came to the same conclusion simultaneously. She snarled, "What have those bastard associates of yours done?"
From the broad side of the second helicopter, the Heavy hung out of the door frame. The fierce wind and pelting rain did nothing to move him. He was solid, unwavering, a captain at the helm with his thick jaw fixed shut. The little men in the helicopter may have scurried away from the storm's gales, but the Heavy did not flinch. He kept his gaze narrowed into the turbulent night. Their helicopter was closing onto their target's path. It would not be much longer until they would be right on the first chopper's tail.
A soft hand grabbed onto his bicep. The touch was unfamiliar. The Heavy raised an eyebrow as the Sniper braced himself against the massive Russian. Rain splattered across his face, his other hand clutching onto his hat, sunglasses protecting his bright eyes. For such a tall man, he'd always been somewhat ungainly, especially in comparison with the muscle-bound superman that the Heavy was. He hardly looked like a killer now. It was easier for the Heavy to overlook the Australian's transformation if he focused on his teammate's trappings. At least the hat and the glasses remained the same, even if the flesh beneath them had changed.
"We are getting closer, little man. Do you have plan?" the Heavy boomed over a nearby growling cloud.
The Sniper shook his head. "Not a bleedin' idea. Figured we'd improvise."
"Hmm. As always, then. Some things do not change," the Heavy mused. Plucking the Sniper up, he backed away from the door. He dropped his teammate next to the Medic. His German comrade did not appreciate the Sniper's damp clothing soaking into their shared seat, but he didn't complain. A brief, stern glance was exchanged between the Heavy and the Medic, the same worried often face shared between two parents. The Medic snorted, then gave a light nod. He was not to let the Sniper get by the open doors again. Not while he wasn't himself.
The Engineer pulled away from the opposing doorway. He'd been observing the other helicopter's trajectory, using his Wrangler's sight to trace laser paths in the sky. The little light hadn't gotten too far through the clouds. He sat down, putting the safety onto the sentry perched just outside of the door. It beeped three times, then went still.
"I don't think I'll be able to hit their vehicle from here," the Engineer said.
One of the men that had been rescued along with the Sniper piped up. As always, Toaster was running his mouth off. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Were you gonna shoot that chopper down?"
The Engineer shrugged. "Well, we can't ask them ta pull over."
"So, you were gonna crash a chopper full of toxic crap down in the middle of a populated city?" Toaster crossed his arms, then kicked a leg over his opposite knee. "And I thought you were the brains of this operation!"
"Would ya blokes just calm down back there? That helicopter can't go too much further." The pilot's voice rattled from the front of the chopper. "We just follow it ta the ground, 'n then ya blighters can snatch 'em up. Don't sweat it!"
The Sniper peered around the corner, glancing at the city between the gaps in the door and the Heavy's body. He pulled himself to his original position, feeling the Medic's eyes burning into his back. "Ah, sorry. Just wonderin' if I could make a shot from here." He gave a nervous chuckle, then settled into his seat. "Ya know, these legs are pretty strong. Maybe if we get close enough, I could try leapin' ta the other chopper."
The Pyro was oddly enthusiastic about this plan. "Frrk gyea! Errbrsd dr srrd!" He waved the nozzle of his flamethrower in the air, giving the nozzle a squeeze. A blast of oxygen caught both Sensei and Buckaroo off guard. There was a lot for them to be concerned about in regards to that masked man. His passion for erratic plans and peculiar weaponry were only scratching the surface of insanity that was built into the Pyro's very essence.
"Oh, sure, Herr Sniper! Perhaps I can uber you so you vill not die vhen you fall!" the Medic shook his head. He pressed his fingers beneath his glasses, rubbing where plastic knobs braced the lenses against his broad nose.
The Engineer sighed. He thought his troubles with the Sniper were resolved, as far as this mission went. What had been saved wasn't the patient, relaxed man the Engineer had come to know. There was this new drive to the Sniper. Perhaps his transformation had given it to him. Maybe he thought he had something to prove to make up for his absence. Whatever his motivation, the Engineer wished he wouldn't be so eager to put himself in the line of fire.
"Ya alright, Truckie?" the Sniper asked. "Ya look a little pale, mate."
The Engineer shook his head. His mouth went dry. "I'm okay. Don't need ta worry 'bout me none. Just—ah, just a little—cripes, Stretch."
The Sniper's head bounced upright. He knew what that face meant. Sliding away from the Medic's side, he plopped himself next to the Engineer. He grabbed for the Texan's hands. The Engineer raised his eyes to meet the Sniper's face. Holding his left hand—his natural hand—was a common way for the Sniper to reassure him. But his mechanical hand? Almost no one touched that. Sure, his teammates would poke and prod at it like a curious toy, but no one treated it like an actual extension of the Texan. To have the Sniper cradling it in his grasp was peculiar.
"Hey? We're gonna do this, mate," the Sniper said.
"Oh, heck. I ain't worried about that," the Engineer replied.
The Texan's concerns were left unsaid, but the Sniper caught onto them. "Truckie, I ain't gonna break. Look. We're all together, yeah? You, the Doc, the Big Guy, the Dragon, those three gits over there—"
"Hey! I can still hear you jerkwads over the storm!" Toaster interrupted. "Buncha fruits."
The Sniper sighed. "Like I was sayin'. Roight now, it doesn't matter what we've been through. We've gotta get our Spook back."
The rest of his words were shook away by a sudden gust of air. The chopper rocked in the blast. Flinching, the Heavy pulled himself into the helicopter. He slammed the door shut, then sat next to the Medic. The Sniper and the Engineer were startled by the surging current as well. Fingers clutched onto each other, instincts worried more about plummeting than their trivial issues at that exact second. When they were able to return to their original thoughts, they both felt foolish.
"I better get a goddamn medal for all the horse hockey ya put me through," the Engineer laughed.
The Sniper clapped the Texan on the back. "That's more loike it, mate. Tell me when ta shoot, 'n I'll shoot. I ain't some precious little posey that can't hold a gun!"
Another dark chuckle escaped the Engineer. He pushed his fleshy hand beneath the Sniper's hat and ruffled his hair. "Sorry, Mundy. It's hard ta take ya seriously when ya look like ya could be yer own son."
"Oy! Still got my dignity!" The Sniper tucked his hat over his face.
There was a short cough that came from the right side of the vehicle. Both men turned to find the Medic tapping his fingers against his thighs. "If ze frauleins are done wiz zheir little chat, perhaps we can get down to business?"
The Engineer cleared his throat. "Sorry, Doc. Now, what were ya—Oof!"
Any thoughts from the Texan were shook out of his brain. A tumultuous gust had struck the aircraft. The vehicle bucked to the right, slamming any unbuckled occupants into the left side. The aircraft swung for a few moments, rocking back and forth as the pilot fought through the force. Passengers grabbed for their seatbelts, taking the storm more seriously. A burst of thunder boomed as it coursed overhead. With one last nauseating heave, the helicopter leveled itself out.
"Sorry 'bout that, mates. Bit 'a turbulence," the pilot's voice buzzed through the chopper. "Lucky we didn't stall out there, eh? Just give me a moment, and we'll be roight back on—oh, shi—"
The rest of the pilot's expletive language was drowned out by an unearthly screeching. Rotors and gears screamed as the black blades above the chopper met with the side of a skyscraper. Every passenger threw their hands over their heads as glass shattered from windows, both from the helicopter and the building they had crashed into. The chopper thrashed against cement, snapping the vehicle around one-hundred and eighty degrees. Its tail slammed into the build, the back rotor snapping off instantly. Sparks and flame erupted from the torn parts as the chopper plummeted to the ground below, its rotating stumps dragging like claws through wet mud.
The doomed helicopter smashed into the street below with an awful crunch.
Not much to report here. I've got the outline for the rest of the story hammered out. I'll see this story through before the end of July, I think.
It's about time, too. Man. It's been a long time since I've worked on a story for so long. I'm used to pumping out a three or four parter in a couple of weeks.