A/N: Okay, I'm not likely to update this fic very often. I'm not even likely to write much when I do update, as you've probably noticed by now, but I'll try and keep dipping into it occasionally.
By nightfall, Reilly's team of mercenaries were no closer to catching the assassins than they had been twelve hours earlier. Initially they'd been optimistic when their expert tracker, a man called Garcia, had identified two tracks leading away from the clearing, and they'd hoped that it would be easier to track down two men in the jungle rather than one. However, the hitmen were proving incredibly evasive. In the first hour after the shooting they'd moved far too quickly, and even Garcia was struggling to work out exactly which direction it was they'd gone in. In the end Reilly had decided that they should head in the direction of the nearest city, even though it over thirty miles away, as that was no doubt the destination the assassins were trying to reach.
After they'd been going for several hours without stopping the sun had finally set and cast the jungle into almost complete darkness. Reilly had wanted for them to still press on, as it would hopefully mean they could catch up with their quarry, but he quickly realised that his men were exhausted and it would be almost impossible for them to continue in the dark. Instead, Reilly had ordered them to set up camp and get some rest, but be ready to move at first light. That order wouldn't be hard to follow as the camp was incredibly minimalist anyway: none of them had anticipated how the day's events would turn out and there hadn't been time for them to bring mosquito nets or hammocks. Most of them were now trying to get some sleep on the jungle floor while one of them kept watch - they'd been taking it in turns to look out for whatever threats might be hiding in the jungle; be it jaguars, indigenous tribesmen or other soldiers.
The third man on the roster for the watch was a South American named Rodriguez. He was the youngest of Reilly's men: a twenty-one year old Argentinian who'd spent three months fighting in the Falklands before deciding, like Reilly, that it would be better to go renegade. Despite his relative inexperience, Rodriguez had a ruthless nature and a natural talent for marksmanship that Reilly thought would make him incredibly useful as part of his elite unit of hired soldiers. In the two years since Reilly had hired the Argentinian Rodriguez had continually proved the Captain's decision to be a good one: he was efficient, a crack shot and had shown he was capable of effectively taking out enemies even when outnumbered. All this came of Rodriguez's determination to prove he was every inch as good as the other men, despite being younger than the rest of them by several years, and on this occasion he was as determined as ever not to disappoint. Even though the task of keeping watch in the dark was far less demanding than storming a drugs den to steal the goods, Rodriguez still wanted to perform it to the best of his ability. If he let his concentration on the situation slip just for a minute, then that would no doubt be the minute in which something dangerous or important would happen, so he had to remain focussed.
He'd been keeping watch for about twenty minutes when he did indeed notice something unusual. It wasn't that he'd seen anything – it was difficult to make out any shapes at all through the darkness and the shadows cast by the thick foliage – but he definitely heard something. There were always plenty of sounds of wildlife in the jungle, but Rodriguez definitely thought he'd heard something that seemed out of place. It didn't sound like an animal – if anything it sounded like somebody laughing. Rodriguez thought it had come from somewhere off to his left, and he peered through the darkness to try and make out what it was that had caused it. After several more moments of silence, and realising that it was no use trying to see anything, Rodriguez just dismissed it as being an unusual sounding birdcall that his imagination had exaggerated to make it sound like laughter. There was probably nothing there that he needed to worry about.
After a few more minutes, however, he thought he heard it again, this time from his right and closer than before. He held his breath, slightly nervous, and tried to listen. There didn't seem to be any noise now, and he thought it was probably just a kind of birdcall he wasn't familiar with. He began to relax slightly, but then noticed another sound coming from the same direction. This one sounded different: quieter, and not like laughter at all. It was a clicking sound, similar to that a cricket might make, but it didn't sound quite right to belong to an insect. The pitch and frequency were far too low – it sounded like it was coming from something much larger. Most definitely unnerved now, Rodriguez considered waking the others, but then thought how they'd react if it turned out he'd woken them because he was scared of some tiny, harmless jungle animal. He'd never be able to live it down.
He tried to forget about the noise and focus on listening for sounds he definitely knew to be threatening: footsteps from outside the camp, for one, or the sound of something large moving in the trees overhead, possibly a jaguar. Just as he was contemplating that thought about the Amazon's largest predator, there was the sudden sound of something moving in front of him as the leaves on the bushes rustled loudly. Rodriguez went very still and fixed his eyes on the space in front of him. It was just completely black; he couldn't see anything, but there was definitely something there. Maybe it was a jaguar. Rodriguez thought that would definitely be a valid reason for waking the others, but at the same time he couldn't be certain it was a jaguar at all. It could be something much smaller, something that really wasn't all that dangerous at all, and before risking having the others believe him unnecessarily nervous and jumpy at the slightest thing he had to be sure.
Slowly, he moved his hand inside his jacket to slide out the pistol that was in a holster strapped to his chest. Even if it was a jaguar, he thought he could handle it. The others would surely respect him all the more for it if he managed to take down a threat to the camp without their help. There was a clicking sound as he removed the safety catch on the gun and cocked it, and the noise seemed unnaturally loud against the background noise of the rainforest. Slowly, Rodriguez got up from the mound of earth he'd been sitting on and crept forward, trying to remain as silent as possible. If there was a jaguar there he wanted to surprise it and quickly put a bullet it its brain before it had any chance to attack him. Moving slowly forward into the darkness of the trees, he kept expecting to see the faint outline of a large cat on the jungle floor, maybe with its spots highlighted slightly by the faint moonlight that was filtering in through the canopy. But there was nothing there, even as he went further, and he began to wonder if whatever it was had simply been passing through near the camp and had gone a long way away by now. He was just about to turn back when there was once again the sound of leaves rustling off to his left and he quickly whipped round to face the direction of the noise, his gun held out in front of him. As he looked, once again there didn't seem to be anything there, but he could most definitely see a bush still shaking in the wake of whatever it was that had disturbed it. Judging by the size of the bush, it seemed to be a significant disturbance. Ok, it's definitely a big cat, Rodriguez thought, and continued forward to try and find the feline intruder, gripping his pistol firmly. He knew the first thing he was likely to notice about the jaguar would be the eyes: the lighting was too dim to clearly make out shapes, but cats' eyes had a reflective quality that meant they would amplify the little moonlight there was beneath the jungle canopy. Rodriguez was expecting to be able to make out a small pair of silver orbs at some point as he continued forward, but as he heard the sound of movement behind him once again and spun round, what he actually saw was completely different.
Two red flashes of light, just above head height and positioned in such a way to give the impression of eyes, leered at him through the darkness. They were only there for a second and once they'd disappeared Rodriguez could see nothing where they'd been, but he knew he hadn't imagined them. Panicked, his finger froze on the trigger as he tried to take in what he'd just seen, but as all around him the trees erupted with movement he fired blindly at whatever was there.
He didn't realise he'd been screaming until a flash of light erupted from the darkness and he felt something slam into his chest and knocked him to the floor, forcing the air out of his lungs. His vision blurred and he dropped the gun, but as he blinked and tried to get to his feet again he realised that he was somehow still alive. There was a burning pain in his chest, like something had scorched the skin but still managed to penetrate further into the chest cavity, and he coughed and spluttered as he tried to get up. He could hear sounds of movement coming from the direction of the camp now, and he realised all the noise must have disturbed the others. Grateful that they must surely be coming to rescue him and kill whatever that thing was, he tried to call for help, but breathing was difficult and all that came out was a barely audible gasp. He was still on his hands and knees and was finding it difficult to stand, but as he looked up he saw more flashes of gunfire through the trees and felt hopeful that Reilly and his men were coming.
Spurred on by that thought, he managed to raise his head and straighten his back in a position to get up and he tried to raise himself off the floor. His efforts were further aided by the wire that closed itself round its neck and lifted him upwards so that his feet no longer touched the ground. Rodriguez barely had time to register the sharp sensation of something cutting into his throat or the strange feeling of hovering several meters above the floor before everything went black.
A/N: About the Falklands thing: the canon timeline of Alex Rider is a bit messed up anyway, since Anthony Horowitz has been writing these books for over ten years but Alex has been fourteen in all of them. Since this is set about fifteen or so years before the events of the books, I don't think it's completely unreasonable to assume that this might be happening in the early to mid eighties after the Falklands War. A couple of issues I had trying to decide when to set the story, and therefore messing up facts, have now been smoothed out. It's not really that important to the plot – I just wanted to give Rodriguez a bit of backstory. Not that it matters since he's dead now anyway.
Hope you liked this chapter! I have a feeling future chapters are going to get rather gory, and I'm going to focus more on Hunter and Cossack next time. However, since in a canon-complicit world they can't actually die, if I want to have gory death scenes I'm going to have to kill off the mercenaries. ReillyScarecrowRocks, please don't be offended if I kill off your namesake! (I haven't decided that I definitely am going to yet, but if I do it's nothing personal, it'll just be because it's useful to the story.) ALBANY, I had an Argentine character for you (at least I think you're Argentine, as according to my stats page Argentina is the only Spanish-speaking country I've had hits from.) Sorry that I killed him off so quickly, but since almost all the characters are supposed to die in Predator movies then hopefully you won't be too upset by that.