One

Venezuela - Sierra Imataca Nature Preserve, South America

Private Neil Cacot gripped onto the cargo netting for dear life. Inside Shield's twin-engine transport, his fingers bled from the tremendous G forces acting upon them. Roaring wind swept in from the hole near the aft ramp, melted shrapnel still oozing and hissing along the interior bay. Just before the world went black, Neil heard a call for help go out from the cockpit, an emergency mayday from Hawkeye to the Helicarrier a thousand miles away. A loud snap of a tree branch smacked against the hull, then nothing. Blackness

The first sense to return seemed to be hearing. Why is there a radio in my bedroom? Why are there people in my apartment?

Why does my bed feel so…

My bed?

Wait.

Like an old projector which took a few tries to flicker on, Neil's eyes opened and reality came rushing back. Trees? Greens so green he swore they looked fake, swaying gently in the forest canopy high above. Laying on his back on the forest floor, his right hip felt like a truck rammed into it at full speed.

"Private Cacot, how are you feeling?" Soft and throaty, Black Widow's voice soothed even the most disturbed, incensed, or injured. Not far away, she sat on the ground with pieces of tactical equipment scattered around in a semi-circle. Dressed in her standard black uniform, she looked ragged compared to the image the press often portrayed. Her red hair lay in a mess, unevenly spread along her shoulders,

"I'm ok, side feels a bit hurt…" Neil trailed off, realizing that even responding to her seemed pointless. Black Widow asking how I am? Unbelievable...but who cares? I'm nobody.

In a recruitment initiative after the attack upon New York six months ago, Neil submitted his application into the job pool; being a part time National Guardsmen no longer seemed adequate. The sight of aliens coming to Earth and the Avengers beating them back energized and ignited the patriotism in most military and civilian units. Seems like a long time ago, but in reality, just a few months. And now… on my first assignment… we've crashed… Neil spun his head around looking at their current situation. Somewhere not far off, the wreckage of the transport aircraft smoldered, a sense slow to return, he now smelled the fire, the burning material a few hundred feet away.

Tutono, another Private assigned to the unit shifted closer, his black helmet cracked from the severe impact.

"Yo Cacot. Sergeants dead man. Just you, myself," Tutono glanced around, keeping his voice low enough for just their ears. "... Ryan is dead. Omar is dead. Just you, me, Black Widow and Hawkeye…. Maybe Ziszue, but, it ain't good. He's still in the wreckage, trapped man. Hawkeye been tryin' to get him while you were sleeping, I was there helping. I dunno if he's gonna make it."

Past Tutono, Black Widow glanced up at both of them before returning to her itemizing of rations, supplies, and equipment he didn't immediately recognize.

"Fuck me. What happened? I remember we got hit, that's it."

Tutono shrugged his shoulders before rising to his knees, pressing hard on a thigh and struggling to stand.

"We did get hit." Came Black Widow's reply, dry, not bothering to look up at either of the two men. "We were about five kilometers from the L.Z., close to the Curiapo village. We ended up overflying it and now we are here, inland in the Nature Preserve."

Originally consisted of one Sergeant, a corporal, and four privates. The SHIELD team received orders by Nick Fury to assist the two Avengers in their investigation. Being a lowly Private bestowed no authority to ask what precisely the mission objectives were, only to obey and load into the transport.

"Excuse me...uh… Black-"

"Romanov will do." Head down, tinkering with a machine the size of a football. "You probably want to know what is going on."

From the direction of the smoldering twin-jet, Hawkeye's feet flattened some deadfall before coming into full view through the foliage.

"He's gone…dammit," tossing his First Aid kit to the ground. "Radio is out, but I'm pretty sure our mayday got through before we hit the ground." Dirt, blood, and bruises covered the right side of his cheek, but his posture gave Neil hope that the injuries were only skin-deep. "How's it going with the bio-scanner?"

"We need Tony to look at this, it's busted pretty bad." Bio-scanner? What are they looking for? Tutono glanced over to Neil with a concerned look. Ya, I'm thinking that too buddy. What are we doing here? Romanov tossed the black circular device a few feet, cursing it more than once. "We can't use it, but we can head to Curiapo. The Venezuelan military says they engaged some targets just before we left. I think we need to bury the bodies, and get going."

One Hour Later

Walking along the jungle floor at the northern tip of the world's most lush rainforest wasn't the same as taking a stroll through a rural pathway cleared by a municipal forestry service. Instead of a path used by cross-country skiers in the winter and dog walkers in the summer, here, no trail existed. In all directions, trees whose roots seemed to climb the very trunks that bread them, twisted and turned skyward, disappearing into the canopy a hundred feet above. No visible track kept the direction steady, often presenting near impossible blockages or ankle-breaking holes.

Neil didn't know quite how far they managed to travel, but he didn't mind the view one bit. When not cranking his neck trying to locate a strange animal call, he kept pace with Romanov. That big butt shifting from side to side just ahead.

Those pants have never been happier. I wonder if she has a man? A woman? He couldn't help but laugh, keeping the small chuckle under his breath, the self-deprecating joke known only to him. Crash-landed in South America, hiking through some real thick shit… and all I can think about is smashing this woman from sundown to sunrise. A woman who would never look at me once, let alone twice. Get a grip idiot. Get a grip. Ahead of her, Clint kept the pace steady, using his bow to break some thin branches for the rest. Tutono brought up the rear, keeping quiet except for the occasional observation about some strange tree or animal.

"Did you hear that?" Clint raised his hand to gesture an all-stop. He turned back and kept his finger pressed to his lips. Birds, leaves, wind… what else am I supposed to-

Gunfire. That's gunfire. Fully automatic.

Everyone exchanged a look, starting at the front and finishing at the back. Magazines were re-checked and slapped back in, knives pulled and sheathed, and grenades inspected.

"A few miles at most, maybe less in this crap," Clint pointed at the foliage wall ahead. "It's hard to tell how far a gunshot can travel in this, let's keep going." Romanov nodded and then turned back to Neil,

"Listen carefully, I'm going to talk low but you should know what we are doing." Neil listened intently for the next ten minutes as the broken squad moved forward. "When the Chitauri attacked New York, it took us all by surprise. The cops, military, Avengers, everyone. Those huge flying whales with armor came through, the alien soldiers came through. And… what we thought were Chitauri animals came through. Giant slugs with legs, two feet long." She held up her hands to show the size, "...Tony figured they were the offspring or parasites from the flying whales. Sort of looked similar, except with legs and a much bigger mouth. Think of a piranha on land. We found them near the harbor, in this bus-sized… sack. A few more were dead inside, and another one, bigger, like the Hulk but with strange arms and legs. It was dead too, the giant sack hit the side of a building on the way down."

Gunfire rattled through the underbrush, still distant but at a much slower pace. A few dull booms followed the shooting, then a few more, and then nothing. Somewhere the sun lowered into the sky, causing shadows to stretch longer along the ground. Neil hoped they would reach the target before nightfall, his infrared goggles destroyed in the burnt-out husk of the twin-jet.

"...anyway. So that's what we thought. Just part of the act you know? But soon we started having problems. People reported mutated-crocodiles in the sewers. Ground crew missing at job sites… Strange stuff. Turns out, that sack wasn't carrying Chitauri war animals, but other things. Tony ran tests, lots of them. We don't think these things are part of Loki's army."

A small chill crept from the bottom of Neil's neck, down his shoulders and into his arms. What in god's name came down? A shadow danced a second too long, blood pressure spiked, his head turning a little more than a minute ago.

"...Tony checked all the cameras and satellite images. We then figured it out. A portal within a portal. As those Chitauri were coming through, there was a massive electrical storm, and a single thing… a pod came through. We think Thor's lightning hit it, causing it to collide with a building. It rolled and finally stopped on Pier 3. By the time we got there, we don't know how many escaped. But… the pod was alive. Like a living creature. Weirdest thing I've ever seen." Natasha turned her head to emphasize the next point. "We tried to find everything that slithered and crawled but we missed some. We have been looking for them. We've only found a few, Cap killed one in Pittsburg last week, we think it swam. Some of them had wings, and a cop down near the pier said he saw one flopping like a fish until it fell into the East River. We never found it. This place we are going, this village reported some strange creatures in the surrounding jungle. Taking locals and some visitors." She pointed ahead while walking, the gunshots fading to no more than a few cracks a minute. "... we've been listening to this for over an hour. Notice how there is less and less? Either the Venezuelan army is winning, or there is no one else left to pull the triggers."

Fuck me. Holy Jesus. And we are here? Looking for these things!?

Romanov read Neil's face even in the low light and took an extra few seconds to try and relieve his fears.

"Clint says our emergency signal got out, and these trackers," pointing to her wrist, "should let Cap and Tony find us. Just keep an eye out, ok?"

Neil nodded without saying a word, his eyes shifting left, right, up, anywhere and everywhere for movement.

"So… these … aliens? We are looking for them? That's what the bio-scanner was for?"

"Exactly, it helps us locate them, sort of. It's not perfect. You have to get pretty close, and ya, aliens. But Tony decided on a name for them. Sylvester Tyranis was the New York sewer worker who spotted a crocodile-thing before he went missing. So we call them Tyranids."