Apocalypso: Part 4


by Sami Merchi





The fireball subsided quickly, almost too quickly, the flames dying down within seconds of the explosion in which X-Force's jet, the Nightwing, was blown into hundreds of little chunks of metal. The debris raced downwards in the planet's gravity well, leaving short glowing trails in the black night sky before cooling off, and falling to the silent, sleeping jungle below.

"Everyone get clear?" came Sam's voice, more than a bit breathless, but rapidly calming down, as he took a look around.

"My hero", Tabitha smirked sarcastically as she lounged in Sam's arms, ensheathed with him in his dull orange 'blast field' which enabled Sam to fly, and was nigh impenetrable by physical forces.

"Sunspot, Mirage, Rictor, all in a condition to continue mission", Roberto reported as he hovered in the air, black solar energies crackling around him furiously, overcharged from the heat he had absorbed from the explosion in order to minimize the risk of the debris setting the jungle underneath in fire. His right hand carried Rictor, and his left hand Dani, by the backs of their shirts.

"Says you", Dani groaned, rubbing her temple where her head had impacted onto some part of the passenger compartment. "Give me half a minute and about a million aspirins, and I'm ready to go..."

"What the hell just happened?" Rictor asked, with a dark frown on his face, his hands emitting a light humming sound as the adrenaline pumping in his veins caused him to stockpile power, focusing his mutant vibratory powers in his fists, preparing to unleash his destructive blasts again, after having expended them to blast the Nightwing to bits once they were all clear. Which he had done in order to avoid the screaming mass of metal possibly destroying lots of stuff when it went down.

"We and Shatterstar are clear too, Sam", Doug's voice announced, as he hovered in place as well, his boot-jets activated to keep him from the merciless gravity well's clutches, his left hand carrying the swordsman from Mojoworld by the back of his shirt. "And to answer your question, Ric, our plane just blew up."

"Query: SelfSoulFriendCypherDoug, clarification requested, semantic analysis of SelFriend's sentence, classified as category: humor, sub-category: sarcasm?" asked Warlock's half of Douglock's divided face.

"From my admittedly limited understanding", Shatterstar commented in a sharp, angry tone, his right hand brandishing his double-bladed sword while his left hand carried a sophisticated-looking hi-tech rifle, "that would not be an incorrect assessment, Warlock. However, you are ignoring the true implications behind Ramsey's statement." He paused, his eyes narrowing at Roberto. "Sunspot has betrayed us!"


The jungle was dark. The sun had set. The shadows weren't just long anymore, they were everywhere, covering everything. There was more sound than usual, the explosion only minutes ago on high having stirred up quite a bit of activity under the thick foliage of the verdant rain forest.

Two things that hadn't been stirred up by the explosion, but that had been quite awake even before it, were two reporters. Manoli Wetherell, freelance war correspondent, relentless on-site reporter/technician, and one of the toughest former female captains of the United States Marine Corps. And partner of Neal Conan, freelance war correspondent, dedicated on-site reporter and the man famous for covering the seeming 'death' of the X-Men in Dallas from just a few dozen yards away.

"You remember those things the Sovereigns fought in Gotham?" Neal asked. "These things look kind of like them. You think there's a connection?" He kept looking into the jungle nervously as they trekked thru the growth, his camera pointing this way and that.

Manoli quirked an eyebrow, looking over her shoulder towards Neal, but didn't stop walking, her M-60 machine gun still pointing straight ahead into the darkness. "You sure you didn't get hit in the head?" she asked. "Those things were obvious rip-offs from Hieronymus Bosch's 'Hell' paintings. *These* things are *some* kind of bugs, yeah, but they don't look like Bosch's stuff."

"I'll take your word for it", Neal smiled slightly as he kept following his red-headed partner. "So, any ideas what we're dealing with? Some kind of jungle myth? El Chupacabra, 'the Goatsucker'? An alien invasion? Maybe that thing you shot out there was some kind of a mutant? Magic?"

"Not a clue, kemo sabe", Manoli answered. "I know *one* thing though -- it wasn't a robot. It left one heck of a mess."

"We should have tried to get it along somehow. I bet scientists would have a field day autopsying it. Maybe we could get it named after us."

"Yeah, right. The Conell? The Wetheran? Give me a german shepherd anyday... Besides, are *you* going to carry it? The size it was, we both couldn't *together* carry it. Not to mention that we'd be completely vulnerable if another one attacked."

"You think there'll be other ones?"

"A little caution never hurt anyone."

"Now that's more like your old self", Neal grinned. "I was wondering when you had went and grown all those guts and become the daring and reckless one of this partnership."

"I guess when I married you", Manoli smiled in return. "That took a hell of a lot of guts, doing something that dumb."

"Gee, thanks", Neal grinned, and then frowned a bit thoughtfully. "I wonder if the townspeople know about this stuff... Though with our luck, by the time we get to Palenque, and get a tow truck over to our van, the boogieman's vanished into thin air and we'll get branded 'locos no nativos reporteros'."

"Well, we've got tons of that thing on tape. You sure spent long enough filming it before we headed off from the van."

"Assuming they show up on film", Neal smiled. "So what do you figure that explosion in the sky was all about?"

"Airplane", Manoli routinely replied. "Was coming down, exploded before crashed. Couldn't make out the model though -- too dark."

"Maybe we should go search for debris and see if we could find any clues?" Neal suggested.

Manoli stopped for a moment, and glanced over her shoulder at Neal again. "You know, that's actually a pretty good idea." "Aren't mine always?" Neal grinned.

"Don't push it, Neal." Manoli paused a moment. "Only problem is -- it's really too damn dark to look for anything smaller than a van, especially in this jungle. But if we could find the black box --" she trailed off, referring to the little instrument on most modern airplanes which recorded all flight data for later studying in case of a crash.

"You think there might be a link between the plane and that critter?"

"In my experience, there's no such thing as coincidence", Manoli said, and then her expression turned into a deep frown. "Do you -- Do you hear *drumming*?"

Neal looked curious for a few moments, before concentrating on listening for a few moments. Then, he nodded hesitantly. "Yeah... Maybe they're having a festival of some kind in Palenque?" he suggested.

Manoli shook her head thoughtfully. "The town's that way", she said, pointing in one direction thru the jungle. "The drumming's coming from that way", she then went on, turning about ninety degrees to the left and pointed into the jungle again. "I'd hazard a guess of about a mile, maybe one point five away." She bit her lip, her eyes narrowing. "If I remember the map right, the Maya ruins are down that way..."

"There aren't any festivals held in the Maya city", Neal answered. "It's just occupied by archaeologists and other assorted scientists, pretty much. And tourists, but none of those at night..."

"My nose smells news", Manoli stated.

"Your nose doesn't smell anything but trouble", Neal smiled. "Let's go."


"What's this about, Bobby?" Sam asked sternly as he hovered in midair, Tabitha in his arms. "Shatty's sayin' you got Shaw parts for the Nightwings."

Roberto raised his chin slightly, defiantly. "Not merely 'parts'. The Nightwings were built by Shaw Industries."

"WHAT?" Dani snapped at her ex-boyfriend, not seeming to notice that the only thing separating her from a fall of several hundred feet to the jungle below was his hand, holding the back of her shirt. "How could you *do* that, 'Berto!?!? You *know* Shaw's one of our worst enemies! Spirits, he runs the Hellfire Club! Didn't it *ever* cross your tiny little mind he might *want* to destroy us by delivering a sabotaged plane??"

"And since when have you been so pally with Shaw, anyway??" Tabitha frowned. "If you hang around with people like him, maybe we shouldn't trust you any more than we do him!"

"Yes", Shatterstar added in a hiss. "For all we know, he might be a part of the Hellfire Club already."

"I have always been a part of the Hellfire Club, Shatterstar", Roberto replied with narrowed eyes, "as have Worthington and Braddock. As for whether I am a member of the Inner Circle -- I am not." He shrugged lightly. "The Nightwing was not sabotaged. Trust me, Shaw would not have done that."

"Trust you?" Tabitha asked. "After we hear you're palling around with SHAW, of all people??"

"Meltdown is correct", Shatterstar growled. "Your trustworthiness is not very certain at the moment, traitor!"

"Why you --!" Roberto snarled, his eyes starting to glow brightly with energy, but he was interrupted.

"Hold it!" Sam said sharply. "That was uncalled for, Shatty. We don't *know* anything 'bout Bobby yet, so y'all button up", he commanded. "And as for you, Bobby -- What the heck possessed you t' get planes from SHAW INDUSTRIES, of all people??"

"My reasons are my own, Sam", Roberto simply said, wrinkling his nose at everyone's distrust. "Were there a time when I was accountible to you all over my actions -- and do not delude yourselves to thinking that is the case -- it would most certainly not be in the midst of a mission. We have a job to do. I intend to do it. You may remain behind if you do not trust me."

Doug sighed slightly. (( Why does he have to act like such a jerk anytime someone challenges him? )) he thought to himself. "Look, guys", he interjected. "Me and Warlock checked the two Nightwings before you came to get 'em. We went thru every system in 'em. They were clean. If they were sabotaged, it happened after you guys got 'em." Did he say that because he *had* done that? Or he hadn't, but said it because he wanted to calm the situation down?

"Fekt!" Shatterstar said sharply. "Now they are placing blame upon us!" he claimed.

"Hang on, Shatty", Rictor interrupted. "No one's placing blame here. It could've just as easily have been a ground-to-air attack, right?"

"Affirmative, SelFriendRictor", Warlock's half of Douglock's face reported. "No recorded data prevents possibility of external attack."

"That's good 'nough for me", Sam nodded. "Unless we have any *proof*, Shatty, that's what we're assuming. Ah've known Bobby for years, and Ah know we can trust 'im."

"With all due respect, Guthrie", Shatterstar replied, "your claimed 'friendship' with Sunspot is blinding you from seeing these matters as clearly as I --"

"Shut up, 'Star", Dani said sharply, and looked up at Roberto silently for a few moments. "I may be blinded, too", she then said in a level tone of voice, "but I know what a bastard 'Berto can be. And I know that he wouldn't try to kill us." She paused, her eyes narrowing a bit as they inspected Roberto's. "We can trust him."

Roberto remained silent, as his angry eyes turned to Dani, and maybe calmed down the slightest bit, but not so much so as to no longer be obviously angry. "Well?" he then snapped, looking around to X-Force, ignoring Douglock for the moment. There would be a time to talk to him about what Doug had said -- but not while the mission was still on.

Sam nodded silently, and looked over to Douglock. "Okay, we need to figure out a battle plan. Ah was countin' on us having time to do that on the Nightwing, but that idea's scrapped now, just like the plane. He glanced towards Shatterstar, and the rifle the extradimensional warrior had in his left hand. "Ah see you managed ta salvage something 'fore we bailed, Shatty. Anything 'sides that rifle?" He looked around. "Anyone?"

After no one said anything, Shatterstar gave his report. "This plasma rifle is all I was able to acquire before Douglock evacuated me from the ship", he stated.

"No comlinks", Dani stated grimly.

"Or big guns", Tabitha added. "How are me and Ric gonna fight if we don't have big guns, and can't use our powers?" she asked.

"She's right", Rictor nodded. "Maybe it'd be better if me and Tab stayed behind?"

"No", Sam shook his head thoughtfully. "Without a flyer, you'd have ta take cover somewhere on the ground. And that'd leave you vulnerable to the N'garai. You're gonna come along."

"Hang on, everyone", Dani interrupted. "Before we start making plans, we need to know everything we can about who we're up against -- Doug, do you still have the files on Magnum and Calypso?"

"Sure do, Dani", Doug nodded. "Want the briefing now?"

Dani nodded once, not looking to Sam. "Go ahead."

"Okay, here goes", Doug nodded, and started projecting from his eyes a holographic 3-D projection -- about a foot-high -- of a man hovering before him. "Moses Magnum, presumed to be his real name", he began. "Has mainly worked in the arms business. Has fought Spider-Man, Power Man, the X-Men -- this is the guy that Sean Cassidy lost his powers fighting -- the Avengers, and the Heroes For Hire. Sometimes employs an organization called 'Magnum Force'. Ordinary humans, high tech armaments. His tech level's short of AIM, but not by much. A dozen or so of his people were able to capture the Avengers with the armaments this guy has at his disposal. Has some kind of powers of his own, origin unknown. Has taken on Colossus hand-to-hand, and can fire energy blasts, and can project some kind of 'Magnum power' with which he can theoretically trigger earthquakes or other such phenomena. When he fought the X-Men, he was going to sink Japan by directing the Magnum power to four critical pressure points in the Japan archipelago."

Sam frowned deeply. "How unstable is this part o' the world, geologically, Doug?" he asked.

"Relatively stable", Rictor chimed in. "But there are volcanoes in Southern Mexico. But as a rule, the main problem in Central America is the weather. Up north, there's the US west coast, and down south, there's the Andes, and they're geologically much more unstable than Central America. We're in a safe 'pocket' here."

Doug nodded. "What he said. There have been a couple of major volcano eruptions in this area in the last century or so -- Paricutin in the 1940s and El Chichonal in 1983. There are 33 volcanic mountains in Guatemala alone. But yeah, he's right. The area, even though it has more volcanoes than the US of A, is more geologically stable than the San Andreas faultline. The question, though, is, how much 'more' stable do we *need* it to be. This isn't the geologically *stablest* area in the world... I wouldn't be too surprised if Magnum had come up with 'pressure points' with which to sink all of Central America..."

Dani frowned. "But the N'garai figure into his plans somehow. And Calypso. This isn't his usual modus operandi, is it? Give us the file on Calypso."

"Okay", Doug nodded. "Calypso. Possible real name, Calypso Ezili. Haitian. Mainly connected with Spider-Man, has battled him on several occasions, and was the lover of Kraven the Hunter aka Sergei Kravinoff, one of Spider-Man's worst enemies. Kinda like Kraven's sidekick or gal friday, or something, I think. After Kraven committed suicide years ago, she's surfaced every now and then. There's a new Kraven, the original Kraven's son, Alyosha Kravinoff. Doesn't seem to be on too good terms with Calypso. She's been reported dead a couple of times, but who hasn't, these days? She's a sorceress of some kind, voodoo stuff. Uses drums a lot, for some reason -- I think somehow connected to the voodoo that she do so well."

"Gotcha", Sam nodded, and looked towards Dani. "Ah think we should hit 'em hard and fast. "'Berto can take you and Ric to the center of the ruins, and see if you find anything or draw anything out, and me and Tabs'll wait in reserve and come in if y'all need any help.

Meanwhile, Doug, 'Lock and Shatty can sneak in from the direction of the jungle and try ta look for any kind of command center and get in, nice and quiet, and take it out while the rest of us're out here causin' ruckus."

"Mmmm", Dani nodded hesitantly. "I'm not sure we should put all our poker chips into one attack", she said. "I think I should go in first with a recon team, see what we can find, while the rest of you stay here in reserve. That way we're less likely to get jumped all at once --"

Roberto, meanwhile, had stayed silent, contemplating different approaches, and now looked up towards Douglock while Sam and Dani were conversing. "Bounce off a message via satlink to New York. Tell the Angels to get here ASAP. We're underequipped and off-balance already. Reinforcements -- should they get here in time -- might prove to be an ace in the hole. Additionally, with us going up against a magician, Illyana's Soulsword might come useful, and Karma's telepathic powers could substitute for our lack of comlinks."

"Acknowledged, SelFriendBobbySunspot", Warlock's half of Douglock's face replied, and a techno-organic antenna grew upwards from the side of the head. A few silent moments, and then he reported, "Message transmitted", and the antenna retracted back, fusing back into his head.

Roberto then turned towards Sam and Dani's conversation, interrupting them. "The best way to go about this is three groups. Dani's reconnaissance plan is valid. Shatterstar and Douglock will accompany her to the ruins, as they have stealth skill and capability. Meanwhile, I and Rictor will visit the nearby town of Palenque, and see if the locals have any information that might prove valuable, as we speak Spanish. Sam, you and Tabitha stay here, as shock troops, in reserve."

"We're not your little pet team, 'Berto", Dani said in an icy voice, her recent break-up with the Brazilian still nagging away at the back of her mind and putting her on edge. "You're not in charge here. You left X-Force ages ago."

"'Pet' team?" Doug quirked an eyebrow.

Roberto shrugged faintly. "I merely stated the best course of action. You may, or may not, of course, take advantage of it."

"Calm down, folks", Sam said sharply. "Geesh, we gonna bite our own heads off 'fore Magnum even gets a shot at it?" He looked over towards Roberto. "Okay, Bobby, you've got a good idea, but we don't have any comlinks. How're we gonna keep in touch?"

"The old-fashioned way", Roberto replied. "We don't. That also eliminates the possibility of Magnum listening in on our plans, as he might have been capable of doing should we have used comlinks -- considering the level of technology he has at his disposal, that would have been a valid consideration. Or, he might have jammed our comlinks, and thereby disoriented us. This way, we will have prepared for that eventuality."

"Okay", Dani agreed grudgingly. "I'll take 'Star and Douglock down. We'll check out the place until we run into opposition. When we do, we'll double back if we can, or get a signal to Sam and Tabs if we can't."

Sam nodded. "We'll be circling above the ruins and ready to come in whenever you need us." He looked towards Roberto. "How'll we get a hold of you and Ric, if'n you head to town?"

"Douglock possesses a means with which to contact me", Roberto answered. "Failing that, a sufficiently large time bomb in the sky should alert us."

"About time someone mentioned me", Tabitha grumped.

Dani glanced towards Shatterstar, and then said, "Give the rifle to Tabs, Shatty. We're going in quiet. We don't need it. But Tabs can use it, since she's in the reserve team."

"Very well", Shatterstar nodded, and handed the plasma rifle over to the blonde as Sam hovered close to him and Douglock with Tabitha. Then, he glanced towards Rictor. "Julio, would you like my sidearm?" he asked, patting the holster on his left hip with his now-freed hand.

"Can't do any harm, amigo", Rictor replied, even though he had a dislike for the guns. But he also had common sense enough to realize that the promise of 'from now on, my real weapon will be my mind' he had made to himself a long time ago wouldn't help much against extradimensional demons.

Roberto hovered close to Douglock as well, and handed Dani over to the techno-organic symbiote, while Shatterstar took off his gun belt, leaving his equipment belt with his belt pouches and dagger, and handed it over to Rictor.

"Okay, time ta save the world, X-Force", Sam smiled, and with that, he rocketed downwards, to an altitude from which he could see the ruins. (( At least it's a bright, full moon night... Gives some visibility... ))

Tabitha, in Sam's arms, expertly switched the plasma rifle on, all of X-Force having been trained in the use of their weaponry, and a low hum started to emanate from the rifle as it powered up. "You think these are from Shaw Industries, too...?" she mused thoughtfully to Sam. "We never should have let 'Berto get us all our hardware --" Luckily, she and Sam had already flown out of hearing range from the others.

Dani looked down towards the ruins as well. "Okay, Doug, 'Lock -- let's go bust some heads. Take us down", she said, pointing towards a building. "Behind that one. That looks like a good vantage point to start checking the place out from."

"Gotcha, Dani", Doug replied, the bootjets' flame diminishing slightly, and the techno-organic symbiote carrying Mirage and Shatterstar began descending towards the Mayan ruins. (( Wonder if she's got her head screwed on right -- She and 'Berto are both on edge... Wonder what's happened between them... ))

"Self is engaging cloaking systems, SelFriendChiefDaniMirage", Warlock reported, as Douglock's form blurred, became transparent, and then invisible. (( Self is concerned about SelFriends... Self hopes SelFriendsFallenAngels will arrive soon to provide assistance against common enemy --))

"I can see no activity on the ground", Shatterstar reported, his superhumanly sharp eyes going over the ruins over and over again, looking for any kind of movement that could signify the N'garai threat.

"Be careful", Roberto called out as Dani's team started descending towards the city.

"We will", Dani replied, before her team descended out of hearing range.

Roberto had been expecting and hoping for an 'I will'.


"How was it?" Tabitha asked while her hands almost nervously fiddled with the various sliders, knobs and switches on the plasma rifle. She didn't look into Sam's eyes, forcing her own eyes to remain on the weapon as if concentrating on checking it out and making sure it was in working condition, pretending to be doing small-talk.

Sam blinked slightly. "How was what?" he asked, his attention diverted from looking downwards, as he looked on Tabitha confusedly. "Well...you know", Tabitha answered, as she looked thru the scope, sighting downwards towards the Mayan ruins. "The time with Rahne, and all. Did you two enjoy yourselves?"

"... Yeah", Sam nodded, and turned his eyes back downwards to keep a watch on the ruins. There was an uncomfortable silence for some time, before he asked, "And you and Ric?" in a tentative tone of voice.

"We're so-so", Tabitha answered in a non-committal tone, sounding not so serious about the whole thing. "He's waffling again -- not sure if he wants to see others or not." She shrugged a bit. "But we're okay." She went silent, to see if Sam was going to keep talking. Sam wasn't. He concentrated on the ruins down below, instead of on his ex-girlfriend in his arms. And he tried to keep his mind off the fact that his ex-girlfriend was in his arms. He remained silent.

"So anyway, we went to see Motorhead in Atlanta last month, with Shatty... And Ric, of course, got so plastered we had to carry him back from the concert -- well, not because he was too drunk to walk, but because he first hit on, and then puked on, some goth chick who turned out to be a black belt... And Shatty, of course, thought 'consciousness-expanding substances' were something to heighten his 'warrior instincts'...only then he started thinking he was an orange and tried to peel himself --"

Sam couldn't restrain a small smile as he listened to Tabitha's mouth starting to get running. It had been a while since he had had to suffer that in earnest. They hadn't been very close ever since he had returned from the X-Men and found out Tabitha had been seeing other guys while he hadn't been available. What relationship they might have ever had had pretty much ended when he had become an X-Man.

"-- you know that Donna Karan and Joel Schumacher graduated from Parsons? I wonder if I'm ever going to be as good as she is... I hope I'll even be able to get my BFA...I'm already so much behind in my work I'd have been kicked out ages ago if --" She paused, and frowned, as she remembered who was responsible for her having gotten into as prestigious a school as Parsons. Who was responsible for her still being there, despite her busy schedule and being behind in her work. Who was responsible for funding her studies. Roberto. And she repays him by not trusting him? She fell silent.

"You okay, Tab?" Sam asked, lifting an eyebrow. He knew her well enough to realize she didn't just shut up unless she got hit by a two-by-four.

"Yeah..." Tabitha nodded silently, and then, finally, looked over towards Sam's eyes. "What do you think's going on with 'Berto?" she then asked quietly. "You think he's slipping over to the Dark Side?"

Sam frowned slightly. "I dunno, Tab..." he just replied. "I dunno... Back before you joined the New Mutants, me, Dani, Doug an' 'Lock ended up in a future where he and Amy ran the Hellfire Club. Ah sure as heck ain't gonna let that happen here, if there's anything Ah can do 'bout it."

"And if there isn't, Sam?" Tabitha asked quietly, her eyes glinting worriedly in the moonlight. Several moments of silence passed. "And if there isn't?"

There wasn't an answer, as the two X-Forcers hung suspended in midair, ensheathed in Sam's dull orange blast field, chilling zephyrs swirling about them playfully. Much more playfully than either of their mood suddenly was.


"Touchdown", Shatterstar hissed silently, as he dropped the dozen feet or so from Douglock's hand, his knees bending and cushioning the fall expertly as he fell into a ready crouch, the metal of his double-bladed sword glinting slightly in the moonlight as it slowly waved back and forth in the air before him, as if craving for something to sink into.

"Now let's try for the extra point", Dani mused, as her sharp eyes scanned the surroundings after she took up a position against the wall of the building they had touched down beside, instinctively using it to cover her back while she took in the layout from the ground level and let it mesh with the overhead view she had been seeing while they descended in from the skies.

Douglock remained invisible, cloaked. He touched down as well, and extended his electronic senses, trying to figure out the next move. He wasn't a leader, and he knew it, so he concentrated on simply getting as much information as he could to Dani, so she could work out a plan to get them all thru this. He was the information man. But there wasn't much information available. He registered the lifeforms in the area, screening out familiar signatures like birds, insects, snakes, looking for humans or unknowns. Nothing.

"Okay..." Dani finally said, after a while. "Doug, give me the lowdown on this place. People, places, everything. Give me stuff to work with here."

"Gotcha", Doug nodded under the cover of his invisibility.

"Palenque... Ancient Mayan city. Arguably the most important and most beautiful one in Mexico. There are about two dozen people working here, mostly archaeologists, historians, and their staff --"

He paused for a moment. "I'm not registering any human signatures anywhere in the immediate area except us. Maybe they live in the city nearby, and only come here every day to work?" he suggested. "My files don't say anything about whether they should be here at night..."

"They may have been the first to die", Shatterstar noted grimly.

"Could be", Dani nodded with a frown to Shatterstar's words, before saying to Doug, "Okay, if there aren't any humans nearby, then where are Magnum and Calypso? And what about these buildings?" she asked. "Which ones are important?"

"Let's see -- the most important one's the Temple of Inscriptions", Doug said, and compared the pictures in the files to what his techno-organic eyes were seeing. After a few moments, he pointed towards a pyramid-like structure at the top of which was a room of some kind. "I think it'd be that one. It's the tallest building here, and has the crypt of a powerful Maya priest -- Pa Kal. My files say there are a lot of underground tunnels here. Might be as good a place to start as any", he suggested. "Especially since my sensors can't locate traces of humans, so if Magnum and Calypso are around, they might well be underground."

Dani nodded again. "Any other major buildings I should be aware of?" she asked.

"There's the Temple of the Sun", Doug answered, pointing towards another building. "Its main claim to fame is that it's got a well-preserved roof comb -- that's a false front to make the building look cooler, or something, from what I can figure out. Then there's the Temple of the Jaguar, which has some stuff which some people use to theorize there's been contact between the Mayas and the Southeast Asians -- there's some bas-reliefs there that are pretty much identical to stuff found in Angkor Wat in Cambodia... Those two are the most important ones in addition to the Temple of Inscriptions. They've had the most articles written about them."

"Central America and Southeast Asia, huh?" Dani asked, slight curiosity in her eyes. "Well, I wouldn't ignore that possibility... With the stuff we've seen, the people we know've been pulling mankind's strings behind the scenes for centuries, like the Externals, I could see that happening..." Her eyes fixated onto the Temple of Inscriptions, its ziggurat shape. "Okay, let's go crypt-hopping. Shatterstar, take the point. Doug, I want you to do a fly-over, record the layout. If we go underground, and need to make a quick exit upwards, I want it to be somewhere where we won't destroy anything important. Meet the two of us at the top of the Temple, then."

"Gotcha, Chief", Doug smiled, and then his boot-jets flamed to life, the expenditure of Lifenergy increasing as he had to cloak the two bright flames and generate a counterwavelength to negate the sound of the rockets. Silently, invisibly, he soared off to the sky, to map the city into his memory.

Shatterstar was already taking a few steps towards the ziggurat, when Dani paused for a moment, her eyes locking onto the dagger at Shatterstar's belt. "'Star, is that dagger made of the same material your sword is?"


Rictor fastened the gun belt around his waist, then un-holstered the gun, checked its operation so he would be sure how it worked when he'd have to use it. Then, he slipped it back into the holster, and turned his attention to the jungle flashing by underneath as Roberto soared towards the faint glow some miles away, which undoubtedly signified the town of Palenque. "So... There something wrong with you and Dani?" he asked after several moments of silence.

"<Nothing>", Roberto replied, deciding to switch the language to refresh his admittedly rusty Spanish before meeting the natives. His reply was quick, hurried -- in short, he was obviously reluctant to speak about the topic. He speeded up slightly, covering the remaining distance in just a few seconds, before coming to a halt in the air, and then starting to descend towards the back of a shed of some kind, to land out of public view.

"<You realize>", Rictor commented, taking a glance at the superheroic costumes the two latin lovers were wearing, "<that we are going to stick out quite a bit even if you put us down out of sight?>"

"<I am aware of that>", Roberto replied, and then let his jet-black skin coloration fade into his normal chocolate-brown. His hands both unconsciously and self-consciously made a few brief movements to dust himself off, and straighten some crumples in his costume, before he stepped out of behind the shed, and stepped onto the road before the shed, which seemed to be the town's main street.

Rictor followed him onto the street, glancing at the few bystanders still out after dark, before replying, "<Of course you are>", with a small smirk. "<So what's the plan>, jefe?"

"<We find a bar, seduce a few women, and make them tell us if anything out of the ordinary has happened here lately>", Roberto answered calmly.

"<Why do I get the feeling that the Fallen Angels have much more fun on missions than X-Force does?>"

"<We're not an X-team, though. We don't get to blow up as much stuff.>"

Part 5

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