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XCom Project Part 1: Invasion
|This story is a work in progress.|
Either we are alone in the Universe,
Or we are not.Both are Equally Terrifying.” –Arthur C. Clarke
No one could believe it when the word came. This was a dead end assignment, go sit in a hole in the ground in Europe with the bare minimum of electricity and be ready in case Aliens attacked the earth. It was a joke, one the men laughed about daily while playing cards or pool to burn time. Then word came of the projects activation, along with video of strange devices dragging victims into them as people ran screaming in terror, and the joke wasn’t funny anymore.
There was a mad scramble to gear up. For all that no one expected this to ever happen, they at least had the best equipment, advanced full body armor, grenades, assault rifles, the works. All together a pain in the ass to put on in a hurry though, especially when the generators were still warming up to full power and only the emergency lights on in the equipment room. Finally the troops were ready, and four of the men rushed onto the Skyranger.
Central Officer Bradford briefed them on the way over.
“We have reports of Alien activity in Glasgow, UK. Your objectives are to sweep the area and clear it of all hostiles. Good luck.”
As soon as the ship landed, everyone landed rushed out and took cover behind one of the strange devices and a few nearby vehicles.
“I hope this thing isn’t going to turn back on.” Stonegate said as she crouched behind it, peering around for targets.
That’s when the men saw them for the first time. They were small, grey, with large heads and strange orange-glowing bellies, each gripping some sort of green pistol in hand. “Open fire! Guesz yells, and a hail of bullets flies out towards the nearest of the three targets. They scramble for cover, faster than anyone expected, but Hardy managed to nail one of them with a volley, dropping it in a spray of orange blood. The other two took position inside a building, peering out the windows.
Stonegate and Hardy opened up on the Aliens, but they had good cover and went uninjured. Guesz rushed to take cover behind a large armored truck, trying to get a better firing position, while Rhianna circled around to flank. “Shit, got three more!” she called from her new position. She watched while the second group of hostiles moved out of sight. Guesz was peering at the two in the building still when a green ball plasma splashed into the truck right next to his head. “They’re flanking!” He called. Meanwhile the ones in the building repositioned themselves, a member of the second group joining them. One of them stood to its full height, barely half the size of a man, and opened fire on Hardy. The green energy of the gunshot shredded the wall, leaving a gaping hole, and hit Hardy in the chest.
“Hardy!” Stonegate yelled in alarm, but the body armor had saved her, though a large glowing hole was now in her armor and she could feel burns on her chest.
Hardy was now officially pissed. Ducking low, she ran towards the front of the car, then knelt to remove something from her belt. “Grenade!” she called, throwing it through the hole in the wall. Inside, the three ET’s looked at the object curiously for a second before it exploded, shrapnel tearing their bodies apart.
Guesz ran around to the side of the truck so that he was no longer flanked by the enemy. He noticed one of the grey creatures emitting a purple beam towards the one that had flanked him. “Take that one down!” he called, and he and Stonegate opened fire from their new positions, but neither of them managed to land a hit on the creature cowering under its cover. Rhianna, no longer close enough to fire on the new targets after trying to flank the now dead aliens inside, rushed closer towards the enemy. The ET that had previously been flanking Guesz ran closer to Stonegate and opened fire, green plasma splashing across her shoulder Hissing in pain, she ducked back under cover. “I’m alright!” she assured the others.
Guesz, Hardy, and Rhianna all opened fire on the glowing purple creature, and enough of the storm of bullets landed to take it down. Stonegate watched from across the lot of the store as the beam entering the other creature changed color and sank into it. It gave a strange yell, jerking up, all of its muscles tense, then collapsed, dead.
“Satellite readings show no other movement, all hostiles are down. Great job men.” Bradford sent.
Back at base there was an atmosphere of excitement and celebration. As they trooped off the transport, two of them injured but alive, Commander McNair met them, along with all the other soldiers. A great cry rose up as the victorious soldiers entered walked out of the Skyranger, and those left behind rushed forward to pat them on the back. While they were gone everything had been fired up and the base was humming along smoothly now, bright fluorescents lighting the room brilliantly, far better than the emergency lights that had been all that was on before. After a few moments, the Commander motioned everyone to calm down so he could speak.
“Today, we have won an important victory. We have met an enemy unknown to man before now, and defeated them without losing a single man. Caroline Hardy was key in this mission, eliminating half of the foe with a single well placed grenade, and delivering the killing blow to all of the other enemies. As such, it is my honor to grant her this promotion.” Again everyone erupts in shouts of congratulations as the Commander shook Hardy’s hand and she took the new insignia from him. Eventually the cheers died down, and McNair spoke again.
“Although this first mission was a great success, this was just the first battle. There are reports of UFO’s across the globe, and while there have been no more abductions yet, we must be prepared at any moment to respond to Alien activities. Feel free to celebrate tonight, but know that we are the vanguard of Humanity, it’s only hope against this unknown threat. ”
“ET doesn’t stand a chance against us!” Vulpintaur yelled, and the men again cheered. The Commander left then, to let them have their celebration, and to prepare with the labs and engineers. This was far from over, and they’d need every edge they could get if they were to win this war.
Girding for War
March 1, 2014
Commander McNair met with Central Officer Bradford in the Situation room shortly after the promotion of Hardy. Gazing at the map on the giant screen set into the wall, he asked “How bad is it?”
“It could be better sir. Although the council will provide us with any equipment for our soldiers free of charge, and supply us logistically, we’ll be paying for base expansion ourselves, as well as construction of any equipment we learn make from the Aliens. Furthermore, the nations of the council feel that they shouldn’t have to provide direct funding for us if we don’t have satellite coverage to protect them from the Alien threat. Most satellites can’t detect them, only our specially modified ones can.”
Waving at the map, McNair asks “So that means the only country currently giving us monthly funding is the United Kingdom?” At Bradford’s nod, McNair sighed deeply. “I suppose more satellite coverage should be a priority then. What other good news do you have?”
“Well sir, at the moment reports on the ET’s have just started and most people are confused more the worried. However, as things escalate we’ll have to keep an eye on the panic levels around the world. If too many incursions happen in a country without response, the panicking populace will probably cause the government to withdraw its support.”
“Very well, thank you Bradford. I’ll expect to be kept abreast of the global situation at all times.”
“Of course sir, I will sir. Also, you should visit the Labs and Engineering, the Council sent in staff for them.”
“Oh really? I hope they brought some dusting spray.”
The Commander left Bradford and considered a moment before setting off to the labs first. Inside it was brightly lit, with several scientists setting up various pieces of equipment. As McNair walked in, one of the scientists looks up and greets him.
“Commander? My name is Doctor Vahlen, I’m the head of the research team. It is good to meet you.”
McNair shakes her hand. “Good to meet you to. Is everything in working order? We haven’t had a Scientist on the payroll for a year.”
“The equipment is adequate. We found most of it in storage and completely new, it seems my predecessor had little use for it. We have already begun analyzing the artifacts recovered from our first encounter with the Aliens. Based on our preliminary findings, we believe we can use them to develop some new equipment for our soldiers.”
“Good to know, we’ll need everything we can get to win this. What are our options?”
“We recovered several corpses from the battle, and though most were in poor shape, I believe we could gain an understanding of Alien biology that will help us combat them. Another option is to study the recovered artifacts. The Alien’s weaponry seems to self-destruct when the owner dies, so all we have are fragments, but we have enough to learn about either the methods they use to create the weapons, or the hardened material the Aliens seem to use.”
The Commander thinks for a minute. “Those materials, could they be used to improve the armor of our men? In our last encounter the Aliens blasted through the armor in a single shot, we were lucky not to lose anyone.”
“Yes I do believe that would be viable with enough research. It will take some time, but I will be sure to inform you as we make progress.”
After saying his goodbyes, McNair headed to the Engineering Bay. It was mostly a very large empty area, big enough to build anything up to and including satellites or fighter jets. Along the walls where various pieces of large construction equipment being checked over by the Engineers. An older man with balding white hair noticed him and walked over.
“Greetings Commander, welcome to the Engineering Bay. I’m Dr. Shen and I head the work here, we’ll build anything the lab boys cook up.”
“Good to meet you. What’s the staff look like?”
“Well sir, as you know no one really expected an Alien invasion. I only got here today, and only five engineers arrived with me. Everyone’s very good at their jobs, but larger projects will be slow and expensive until we get more men.”
“After talking to Bradford and Dr. Vahlen I’m not surprised, and it looks like we won’t be able to secure more resources unless we expand our coverage. Can you build another satellite?”
Dr. Shen hesitates a moment, thinking. “Yes I believe we can, but it will take most of our current funds and three weeks of work with the staff we have on hand.”
“Do it. Every eye in the sky we have increases the countries willing to send us monthly funds.”
Phil Guesz didn’t stay at the celebration long. Instead, he found himself wandering the corridors. It just didn’t feel right. Sure they had taken out some Aliens, outnumbered and outgunned, without losing a man, but it seemed everyone forgot the video of crowds running in panic, people screaming in fear as they dragged by strange green energy and sucked into a device that should be too small to hold them all. Who knows what happened to those victims, or what the Aliens did to them. Where they dead? Imprisoned? Being experimented on even now like all the crazy “I got kidnapped by Aliens and they did stuff to me!” nutjobs claimed? Those stories weren’t so crazy these days…
He found himself standing outside the infirmary door. Reaching up, he pressed the “Open” button, and it slid open with a whoosh. The infirmary was pretty standard, tiled walls, white floor, the smell of disinfectant and sterilizing agents. Glancing around, he’s surprised to see two beds occupied. One has the privacy curtain pulled around it, and on one across the room sits Caroline Hardy in a hospital gown.
“Hey.” Hardy says, glancing up at Guesz.
“Hey. I thought your armor blocked the shot you took.”
“Most of it. I didn’t want to ruin the celebration, so I just gritted my snuck here while it got started. Why’d you leave?”
“It just doesn’t feel right to celebrate an Alien invasion, no matter how well the first fight goes.”
“Yeah I feel you.” Hardy nods, then grimaces in pain. Guesz looks closer and notices a part of her neck is blackened, just barely visible over the collar of the gown.
“How bad is it?” he asks, concern written all over his face.
“See for yourself.” she motions to the top of the gown and leans back some.
Guesz hesitates, then reaches forward and pulls the collar down just a little more to see. Some sort of strange burn is exposed, covering her collar bones and extending below sight. “Shit…” he breathes.
“Looks worse than it is I’m told. The skin on my upper chest is burned away, but the armor saved my life and the plasma sealed the wound so I didn’t bleed out. Can’t even feel it most of the time, only when I move in certain ways.”
Guesz sits down next to Hardy, then looks over at the hidden bed. “How bad did they get Windscale?”
“Little worse than me, I’m amazed she kept fighting out there. The plasma burned through the armor at the shoulder and ran down her right arm. You could see the burns if Doc hadn’t come and closed the curtains. He hates rushing it, but says we’ll both be in good enough condition to go back out in a week. The council is providing the best medicine in the world for us, and we can’t really afford to wait for scars to fade before we go back out.”
They both stare at the curtain hiding Freya for several seconds, contemplating the events of the day. “A lot of people are going to die before this is over aren’t they?” Guesz said sadly.
“Looks like. I’m amazed either of us lived, and those ET’s we fought today didn’t strike me as soldiers, more like working grunts or scientists. We’ll face worse before the end.”
“Think we’ll win?” They look at each other, the neck of her gown still low enough to show off the blackened skin. “I don’t know.” She responds, her gaze determined. “but we’ll sure as hell put up a good fight.”
March 6, 2014
It was the middle of the night five days later before the shit hit the fan. The alert sounded through the base, and McNair walked out of his bedroom and into controlled chaos.
“Bradford, what’s going on?”
Bradford looked up from the lower area. “Sir we have reports of multiple, simultaneous abduction attacks across the world. We don’t have the manpower or transportation to respond to more than one.”
McNair closed his eyes and leaned his head back, fists clenching. He took a deep breath. “Damn it. Where?”
“Cape Town, South Africa, Fukuoka, Japan, and Toronto, Canada sir!” one of the techs yells.
McNair gazes at the giant 3D globe floating in the center of the room for a long moment. “Send the Skyranger to Japan. We’ll just have to hope the local forces can handle the threat elsewhere.” Even as he said it, everyone in the room knew it would probably be a slaughter.
With Hardy and Windscale still in the infirmary, only two soldiers who had seen the ET’s before could go on the mission. Tiberius Vulpintaur and Alexander Green joined Guesz and Stonegate on the Skyranger, filled with a nervous energy.
“What’re they like? The Aliens.” Vulpintaur wondered.
“Lab boys named them ‘Sectoids’. They look a lot like the grey men aliens you see on TV actually, so I guess myths are loosely based in reality. Don’t underestimate them, they blew a wall down with a single volley. Advance carefully and always be behind cover.” Stonegate responded.
The Skyranger dropped them off in what looked like a construction site. Two green outlines of people who had been dragged into the strange machines, greeted them as they ran down the ramp, and the rookies stared at them as they glowed softly in the night-vision goggles.
“Less gawkin more walkin!” Stonegate told them, rushing past the strange outlines and taking cover behind a stack of something under a tarp. Getting ahold of themselves, everyone found something to duck behind, gazing out for any signs of movement. The construction yard was full of scattered stacks of building materials and large rectangular metal shipping crates, and there was a ramp leading up to a crane that lifted things from the ground way below. After 20 seconds of nothing in sight but some wandering pigeons, Guesz ran forward to new cover against a pair of massive transport crates.
“I see 2!” He called, as two Aliens some distance away rushed behind cover.
Vulpintaur ran forward to take position next to Guesz, while the others stayed back, as there was no other good cover closer to the enemy. Vulpintaur then motioned that he would try to flank the enemy to the left and disappeared around the corner of the metal container, only to curse loudly and rush back behind cover. “2 more on the high ground!”
Green and Guesz opened fire on one of the Sectoids Guesz had spotted, but couldn’t land a hit as it ducked behind the far side of the shipping container. Stonegate advanced to cover next to the ramp and tried to nail one of the two Vulpintaur spotted up on the high ground, but had no more luck than anyone else.
One Sectoid focused on another, a purple aura going from it to its fellow. Seemingly emboldened by its psionic support, it rushed forward at Green and Guesz, who opened fire at it. Vulpintaur ran over to Green and joined them in firing at the approaching Sectoid, and it took several bullets, but amazingly didn’t fall, grabbing a ladder on the side of the crate and climbing up. Meanwhile, Stonegate advanced up the ramp, trying to flank the Alien mentally empowering the other, but it saw her and ran to cover. The other aliens both took cover in a couple half-finished walls, one opening fire at the soldiers, the other casting that strange green energy to its fellow on top of the crate, who dropped down beside Guesz and also fired, but he ducked behind a pile of bricks just in time. Amazingly, none of the aliens managed land a hit, the plasma splashing off the wood Vulpintaur and Green where hiding behind.
Guesz turned and shot the ET next to him in the face before it could get off another shot, and from the way it screamed and fell to the ground it seems that whatever the purple energy was, it only helped so much. Stonegate tried to nail the one on the high ground, but only managed to send a cloud of dust into the air from the cinder blocks it crouched behind. Green and Vulpintaur had no luck either, their bullets just missing one who had advanced to the other side of the shipping crate. One had stayed behind at the unfinished walls and buffed its comrade, who held it’s fire, waiting for the soldiers to try to advance on it.
Up on the high ground, Stonegate managed to avoid the stream of plasma that was fired at her, then rushed forward, and blasted the Sectiod in the face before it could react. A new pair of Sectoids saw her as she ran forward. Green managed to clip the Sectoid hiding behind the storage crate. Guesz, tired of the stalemate, advanced quickly to the ladder, jumping on it and climbing up, getting clipped slightly by the ET as he did so, then running to the other side and dropping down where he could flank it. Guessing his plan, it backed up, trying to get behind something so Guesz couldn’t nail it in the side, but he followed after it. Stonegate opened fire from the high ground, and while it was distracted avoiding her burst, Guesz nailed it, finishing it off. Everyone took a moment to reposition around the last Alien that had been hiding in the half finished walls for a while now and reload their weapons. Vulpintaur was the one who managed to take it down, advancing quickly to nearer cover, then putting a half dozen bullets in its chest when it leaned out to figure out where he went.
“Is that all of them?” Green called. They all stood from behind cover a moment and looked around.
“This is central, we’re still picking up movement, so there should be more of them.” Just then, Stonegate caught sight of one of the pair that had earlier seen her trying to sneak towards her.
“ET on the flank!” she yelled, dropping back behind cover. The Sectiod, realizing it had been spotted, hid behind the ramp leading up to the high ground. Everyone rushed to reposition, Green and Vulpintaur moving towards the ramp, while Stonegate climbed a ladder to an even higher section of the construction site, Guesz climbing a different ladder to take position where she had been. Green saw movement as an ET ran up and he scored a lucky shot, a bullet going into it’s eye. Thinking it was the one behind the ramp, Vulpintaur advanced, but it had been a different Sectoid. The one hiding behind the ramp blasted him with plasma. Screaming in agony, Vulpintaur fell back against another shipping crate, his gun falling to the ground. Snatching his grenade, he threw it at the Alien, who tried to scramble away but wasn’t fast enough, it’s body shredded by the explosion. Guesz, hearing the scream, rushes over, while the others take up position to cover them in case there are more Aliens.
Vulpintaur was in bad shape. His chest-plate was completely melted, and some of the plasma had splashed across his face. He was still screaming, laying against the shipping crate, one of his eyes melting as Phil gazed in horror. Yanking out his medkit, he sprayed it on the injured man. It’s soothing mist caused the plasma to dissipate, and pain killers entered Vulpintaur’s bloodstream. In just a few moments the pain was deadened completely.
“That miracle drug is temporary, it’ll get you back in the action but you’ll be out of the fight for a while once we get back.” Guesz told him. Vulpintaur took several deep breaths, then stood up.
“You should stay down, we can finish off the rest.” Guesz told him.
“No, that really is a miracle drug, I can barely feel it. I’ll give you covering fire.” From the grim stare he gave Phil, enhanced by his now blacked left eye, Guesz knew there was no use arguing.
They advanced slowly to the last small section of the site, eyes peeled for ET’s constantly. Vulpintaur apparently really was completely deadened to the pain, as he advanced with surety, gaze sharp, sweeping back and forth. Stonegate on the high ground watched them advance, waiting for them to get into position before moving to where she could see – and be seen – from the final corner. They found a pair of Sectoids hiding behind some building supplies, but for once luck was with them and Green and Guesz managed to kill them before they could react. That was the last of them, a short search later proved; as did a radio call from Bradford indicating no movement could be detected by local satellites.
The mood was much more somber this time. While they had been clearing out Fukuoka, everyone else had been watching the news in Canada and Africa. As they feared, local forces hadn’t been able to do anything against the Aliens, and a large number of people had been abducted. Panic was rising as the news spread. Although they had again managed to eliminate the enemy without losing a man, Vulpintaur had to be rushed to the infirmary as soon as they got back. None of his wounds were life threatening amazingly, but he would be out of action for a while and probably lose his eye, and the shot Phil had thought merely clipped his armor had burned through during the rest of the battle and he would need attention from Doc as well.
With 8 Aliens dead and everyone accounting for a pair, McNair promoted them all to Squaddie, but with far less fanfare than Caroline’s promotion had. Everyone was exhausted, even those who hadn’t gone on the combat mission, for the klaxons had woken the entire base. Then news of the Aliens successfully kidnapping dozens of people from Canada and South Africa had come in, local policeman and soldiers standing no chance against the threat. There was little conversation as people went to sleep for the last few hours of the night.
March 13, 2014
For the next few days, everyone was tense. In 6 days the Aliens had hit four cities, managing three at once on opposite ends of the world the second time, and everyone was all wound up waiting for the next assault. There are only so many days in a row you can spend drilling, practicing at the firing range or working out before it gets old though. By the end of a week the nervous tension had drained to a dull boredom. Fortunately, the base came with a fully stocked bar, complete with a pool table and a giant screen TV.
This particular evening just about everyone was hanging around in the bar. Zane had just arrived and gotten some beers from Donny, the Bartender, to take to the loveseat where he and Rhianna liked to sit together. As he walked past the pool table he saw the 8 ball go into a pocket and grinned. Copernicus, one of the engineers, had been beating everyone in pool all evening. The council had dug him and a few other engineers up as thanks for the great job at Fukuoka, and he had just arrived.
“This place is awesome. I get to build new tech based on Alien designs, and this is the first military job I’ve gotten that came with its own pool table. Best two out of three?”
Doug, his opponent, grimaces. “Sure, nothing better to do. I’m glad you like it here, I bet no one else in the room volunteered except maybe Donny.”
Cope raises an eyebrow as he racks up the balls. “Oh really? How come?”
“Until two weeks ago, no one had any actual proof Aliens existed, yet a project was made just in case of Alien invasion and stocked with Soldiers. This was a dead end post that you got sent to by pissing off the wrong people. I got drunk and vomited on a Four Star General right before he was to make a speech.”
Several people chuckle. Maximilian, who was playing Cribbage with Alex and Caroline, speaks up. “My stories rather interesting if I do say so myself. I was a Gunnery Officer at a British Navy port, kept all the weapons maintained and was in charge of the warehouses. One day my commanding officer storms in and demands to know where a certain shipment was. Of course I had no idea off the top of my head. It seems he had shipped his private collection of old Flintlocks using military resources, which is against the rules incidentally, and was now upset that they had been misplaced.”
Maximilian pauses a moment to take a swallow from his drink and count up his points. “15 2, 15 4, double run of three for 10 and a pair for 12. Where was I? Oh yes, so after the chap blows his top a while he storms out, and I dig through the records to figure out what the dickens happened. A few days later I find the crate sitting in the back of a different warehouse, and I’m just going to tell the bloke when I get told he’s got me shipped out here. Naturally I forgot to let him know I found his pistols before I left, and a pair of very nice looking ones seem to have vanished when he found the shipment a week later.”
Everyone gets a good laugh out of that, and Copernicus just starts making the rounds after that. “Lost the CO’s Begal.” Alex says. “Knocked out a General when he touched my ass.” Caroline comments while moving her peg. “Slept with the Secretary of Defense’s daughter!” Phil calls out from his place at the bar.
“I wanted to fight Aliens.” Freya announces casually. Everyone stares at her.
“Wait a sec. Until two weeks ago, no one had any proof that Aliens existed, nor that they would start mass kidnappings, yet you still decided to sign up for XCom specifically so you could kill some?”
Freya scoffs. “Course Aliens exist, there’s a half dozen in storage at the labs. What other opponent would be as challenging or exciting as Aliens?”
Doug blinks, shakes his head, then looks around again. “How about you lover boy?” He yells at Zane. Zane looks up and grins from the loveseat. “Rhianna and I got into a relationship. Problem was, she was my CO. We got caught by someone we knew who decided not to turn us in, but it was getting too risky.”
Rhianna picks up the story. “So I did some research and learned this place had its own ranking system, and we’d both start at ‘Rookie’ since neither of us had served in a war. Called in a favor, got us transferred, problem solved.”
Everyone nods and goes back to what they were doing. Cope grins at Doug. “I you lost that bet, they asked to be transferred. How much was it for again?”
Doug snorts. “We didn’t actually settle on a bet, but I guess I’ll buy you a drink.” This being a top secret military base, Donny wasn’t allowed to hire any waitresses, so Doug walks over to the bar to fetch a pair of drinks. At the far end of the bar was a woman he thought he recognized, one of the soldiers, silently sipping at her drink, not participating in the conversation.
“Hey uhh… Hawlsera isn’t it? What’s your story?”
She looks up at him a moment, then back down into her drink. “It’s… personal.”
“Oh come on, everyone else shared. Hell I puked on a fuckin General, that’s as embarrassing as it gets.”
She just shakes her head. Now Doug was intrigued, and he decided to insist. “Look, all the rest of the men I know by name, but I had to think to remember yours. This base is tiny, so you’ve been hiding. Before, it didn’t matter, but now we’re at war and we have to trust each other with our lives. If you can’t trust us with whatever it is that brought you here, do you really want to trust us with your life on the battlefield?”
For a long time Hawlsera doesn’t say anything. Doug’s drinks arrived, but rather than going back to Cope he sit and waits. Eventually he decides she was just ignoring him. “Screw it.” He thinks, then yells out to the room “Hey guys! Hawlsera here listened to all of our amusing, embarrassing, and touchy feely stories, but doesn’t think she can trust us with a little history lesson of her own. What do you think of that?”
Immediately everyone boos her good naturedly. “Cmon, tell us!” Phil calls. “Even if you refuse, if we really want to know we can probably look up your military records.” Alex points out.
Hawlsera finally looks up from her drink. There is a hunted look in her eyes that suddenly made everyone uncomfortable. She takes a deep breath to rally herself, then glares at the assemblage. “Fine. You want a history lesson? I’m TG, or transgender. I was born a guy and miserable most of my life, feeling like I was in the wrong body, wanting to be a girl. My dad found out, and tells me he didn’t raise me to be a pansy and sent me off to the army to become a ‘real man’. I hide it for years, absolutely miserable, before saying fuck it and starting therapy, only for everyone to treat me like a freak once they found out. I got transferred here right after I spent every dime I own on the surgery hoping for a new start as Female and no one knowing. So much for that idea!”
Finishing her tirade, she leans back over her drink sullenly, avoiding the gaze of the somewhat stunned room. After a moment of gazing at her near empty glass, there’s a *thunk* and she looks up to see Donnie’s retreating back, a fresh drink in front of her, next to the money he didn’t take as payment. Suddenly someone hugs her from behind.
“You’ll always just be one of the girls to me.” Freya says.
Doug, feeling like a total jackass, pipes up. “We’re all in this together Hawlsera. It doesn’t matter who or what you are, guy, gal, TG, whatever! We’ve got your back, no matter what.”
There’s a murmur of agreement throughout the room. Phil raises his glass. “Here’s to us: The brothers and sisters in arms who are going to blast those Alien scum back to the hell they came from!”
As everyone raises their glasses in toast, Hawlsera looks at them. They all return her gaze steadily, waiting for her to join them. Finally she raises hers as well. “To us.”
March 14, 2014
“Sir, our satellite has picked up something.”
“What?” Bradford said as he looked up intently at the holo-globe.
“There is something in the air over Europe. It’s causing gravimetric disturbances unlike anything we have in the air.”
“Good work, get Blackwing to his ship.” Bradford commed McNair. “We have a UFO over Europe sir, probably Alien in origin. You’d better get up here.”
McNair, who had been enjoying a nice, leisurely meal at the Biohazard, dropped his food and got up. As he strode purposefully into the Control Room, one of the techs called “Blackwing’s suited up and ready to take off in Avenger-1.” Bradford looked up at McNair, who merely nodded his acord.
It was a tense wait. The UFO was flying about at a decent clip in what seemed to be some sort of searching or scanning pattern, weaving back and forth over areas of Germany. Blackwing took it slow to conserve fuel, which meant that it took several hours before he was anywhere near it.
“You sure it’s up here? Sky’s all clear and I’m not getting anything on radar.” He asked.
“The bogie isn’t showing on any radar, so we’re pretty certain it’s extraterrestrial in origin. You’ll need a visual lock to confirm.”
“Roger.” Another few minutes passed as Blackwing scanned the sky for anything else in the air. “I got something, moving fast, no contrail, moving in.” As he flew closer, he slowly made out what looked like a flying silver disk. The entire thing was rounded and curved, preventing radar waves from bouncing off of it, and the sides glowed an alternating bright blue and darker blue.
“Bogie sighted, sure as hell ain’t Human. Permission to engage?”
“Granted. Good luck Avenger-1.”
He approached from the “Side” of the ship, for a lack of a better word. It was heading west, while he was going north. After a moments thought, he maintained his relatively low speed on approach. No one had taken potshots at a UFO before, so with luck it would ignore him until he got close enough for target lock.
Avalanche missiles, what he had on his fighter, had the most advanced guidance system known to man. It could keep track of a ship at twice the range and with ridiculous accuracy compared to the next best. When he had passed optimal lock distance, then exceeded it by 1/4th of the stated numbers, he cursed to himself. “Fuck it, Leeroy Jenkins time.” Pouring on speed, he shot at the UFO suddenly, shattering the sound barrier and rapidly closing the distance. At less than half the stated range of his weaponry he got a target lock and opened fire. A moment later there was a huge plume of flame and a loud explosion as it impacted the strange craft.
Blackwing was just throttling back and preparing to turn to match the UFO’s trajectory when he saw the blue glow change directions and shoot directly away from him. Quickly readjusting his course, he accelerated as rapidly as he could to keep up with the speeding Aliens.
“Target hit, bogie took off like Superman at closing time. “ He reported. The Bogie was fast, but large. Blackwing closed on it, but very slowly. Suddenly there was a green flash and something arced towards him. Reacting quickly, he did a barrel roll, mostly avoiding it, but took a slight hit on the wing. Regaining his target lock, he fired again, but the missile veered off, passing the UFO by a good distance.
“Takin fire, I thought these things never missed.” His calm tone belied the adrenaline flooding his system. Quickly he fired again, landing a hit this time. Again return fire came, but this time it missed by a wide margin. It seems Aliens are not the best sharpshooters, or at least not this group.
Already the chase had been on several minutes, and at this speed his fuel was rapidly depleting. He had time for one more shot before he had to break off or risk not having enough to return to base. First though, he waited a few precious seconds to ensure a closer target and a firm lock. Rolling past another shot across his wing, he fired, then cut the throttle. As his speed dropped, he watched his last missile hit home. After a moments, he sighed in disappointment as it kept going, although smoke billowed out of it. Then it slowly tilted from it’s straight course, edging more and more towards the ground and beginning to plummet.
“Central, this is Blackwing, we have a confirmed kill on Bogey. I repeat, the UFO is down.”
As everyone started cheering, Bradford commed “Copy that Blackwing, good work. Central out.” Things began to calm down again as he called for a satellite visual on the crash site. Smoke filled the screen, and it took a few magnifications before they could clearly see the UFO.
“Still in one piece.” Bradford said, surprised. One side of it was charred and had a gaping hole from the repeated missile impacts, but otherwise it was intact. “Commander, I recommend we get a strike team to the crash site immediately.”
The crashed UFO was in the middle of a forest in Germany. Fire smoldered in the underbrush in several places from leaked plasma, and trees were snapped like twigs from the fall, trucks lying stretched out on the ground. Wordlessly the strike team took position behind the broken tree’s, then after ensuring there was no ambush waiting for them as they landed, set out into the woods.
Soon they came across debris from the wrecked spaceship. It was hard to tell what any of it used to be, most of it just twisted pieces of metal, some large enough for a man to lean against even standing. Just then Green stopped from his position towards the back. “I heard something; I think there is a group trying to circle around us.” Quickly the group repositioned and advanced slantwise away from the UFO. It took a little bit, but Green spotted the Sectoids across the strewn wreckage and opened fire with his massive machine gun, the bullets shredding his unfortunate target. None of the others could get a clear shot except for Hardy, whose shotgun was useless at the distance the 2nd target was at, so she pulled out her sidearm and opened fire, hitting the Alien a few times but failing to kill it.
Guesz took a risk, rushing across open ground to distant cover, ducking green plasma to slam into a low stone rise, then standing back up as soon as the firing stopped, blowing away the remaining Alien. “Geez Phil, one of these days your luck is going to run out!” Stonegate called out to him.
“It’s my lucky rabbit’s foot!” he called back.
Just then Hardy saw another pair of ET’s off to her right, from the opposite direction of the first group. “Incoming!” she called as the two grey creatures backed up a little to find suitable cover. Guesz fell back to join the others as they found new cover from the direction the new targets approached from. One advanced carefully, being charged by its fellow with that purple energy, then opened fire at Guesz and missed. Guesz returned fire, not hitting it, while the girls circled around to try to get at the Alien channeling into it’s ally. Green wasn’t able to see either enemy clearly, so he merely waited and watched. Thus when the nearer Alien tried to advance closer to Guesz, Green’s LMG blasted it apart.
The second Sectoid, seeing it’s fellow die, tried to retreat. Stonegate and Hardy saw it and ran quickly after it. It managed to duck out of Hardy’s sight at the last second, only for Stonegate to draw her pistol and nail a headshot, killing it.
Everyone was fairly certain the woods were clear then, so they moved on the UFO. It was remarkably intact, about as big as a small house though not as tall as one, almost but not quite circular. It’s sides glowing with some sort of transparent energy field on four sides, while some sort of deep blue shield was on the remaining portions.
“I think that’s some sort of door.” Stonegate pointed at the non-transparent part.
“I see an entrance through that other part.” Guesz commented. After a bit of discussion, they decided they didn’t want to be seen coming, so circled around to surround the large blue “door” of the UFO. Once they were all in position, Hardy hesitantly put out a hand and touched the blue field. Immediately it made a high pitched humming noise and dissipated. For a split second, they saw an orange crystal floating in mid-air. Then something formed around it, a creature seemingly made of a tan metal with black portions giving an impression of a face and emphasizing joints. A rifle materialized with it, and it gazed at the intruders as orange energy sparked from the crystal in it’s stomach.
“Open fire!” They all aimed for the thing, but it was blazingly fast, running to cover before they could react to its sudden appearance. Hardy reacted almost as quickly though, rushing up close to it and unloading her shotgun into it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t tough enough to take a point-blank shotgun blast to the core, and it vanished as suddenly as it appeared, dematerializing into thin air, nothing remaining except the shards of it’s weapon.
March 15, 2014
“Commander we are receiving a transmission from the council for you. Please report to the Situation Room.” A voice over the intercom said.
McNair cracked his eyes open and glanced at the clock. “Oh come on, 12:51?” he thought. Grumbling, he got dressed, taking his time in an attempt to be properly awake before setting out. Stopping outside the room, he took the one last yawn and stretch. As he entered, he hoped he looked fully awake. “Alright patch them through.”
A looming shadowy figure appeared on the screen, basically a silhouette of the man who acted as “Face” of the council. McNair was a bit annoyed, wondering if they were that paranoid, too concerned with appearances to let him see one tired, or if they just enjoyed the atmosphere of secrecy.
“Commander, we have received word that a friend of this Council has come under attack in Nigeria. It would reflect poorly on our efforts if we were to allow our ally to be captured by hostile forces. We'll need you to ensure his safe return to XCOM HQ; we should have further details by the time your troops reach the extraction site.”
“A friend? Could you possibly be more specific?”
“No Commander. Suffice to say this person has been… useful in the past, and may be in the future if you are successful in the extraction. Time is of the essence, as it is uncertain how long he can evade pursuit.”
“Very well, we’ll scramble a squad ASAP.”
“Good.” The screen blacked out. “Sir, we’re receiving coordinates and a dossier. All it has is a name, age, and picture.” The night tech said.
McNair rubbed his temples. “Alright then. I’ll go wake the troops, send all the info to the Skyranger’s onboard computer. It’s going to be a long night.”
No one was particularly happy at being woken, nor about hearing what little information there was on this mysterious person. Eventually Morgan, Stonegate, Guesz, and Hardy were up and on the way.
They landed on a major road of some sort in Nigeria. Everyone was a bit surprised that a third world country had such a thing. Some sort of stone decorative area with plants and statues sat on either side of the road, with walkways going over it in places. Not many details on the target where added on route, just that his name was Hutch, and he had been in a limo when the Aliens attempted an abduction, and had hit some form of panic button that alerted the Council immediately.
Fanning out, they had just begun searching when Hardy saw a tall, thin man in a suit with sun glasses. Thinking it was a body guard or some sort of secret service, she started to hail the figure, when it saw her and dove behind cover, clutching it’s plasma pistol.
“Got a hostile over here, looks Human but has Alien gear.” Hardy called out as she too took cover. Stonegate looked in the indicated direction through her scope and saw the figure stand up to fire. Her bullet landed first, and the creature exploded into a vile looking green gas with a loud agonized hiss.
“Whoa what the fuck?!” Guesz exclaimed.
“Be careful everyone, we have hostiles that are posing as Human. Watch your fire, and be sure of friend or foe before you approach anyone.” Hardy warned.
They advanced carefully to the edge of the stairs leading down to the road, taking cover behind large lights and pots. Gazing down at a stopped car, Guesz saw two men cowering behind it on the near side. “Freeze, identify yourself!” Guesz yelled, aiming at them.
One of them peed his pants and turned so pale he lost his tan, while the other cursed in a foreign tongue and said “We’re friendlies! There are some on the other side of the highway!” Looking up, Guesz saw a Sectoid crouching behind a statue across the way, aiming down at the two men, and Morgan saw two more crouching at the overpass. Stonegate advanced quickly to cover the civilians, while Morgan got a shot and kill on a Sectoid who was caught by surprise. Guesz dropped a smoke bomb to conceal the group on the asphalt.
One of the Aliens was surrounded with a familiar purple glow. Dropping onto the road and taking cover behind an abandoned car, it took careful aim and fired at Morgan. The plasma hit him in the face, and he fell screaming to the ground, convulsing for a moment before he died.
“Shit, man down!” Stonegate called. Hardy raced forward, blood pounding in her head, and got up close to the Alien who had killed Morgan. Another Alien that had been hidden behind cover tried to shoot her as she ran, but missed, and she opened up on the damned thing. Blood spattered everywhere and gaping holes appeared in it’s flesh. It looked up at Hardy and glared, amazingly still up from the psionic enhancement it was receiving. Stonegate’s round penetrated it’s skull and finished it off just as it’s weapon discharged, causing the weapon to fly off, the shots to going wild, missing Hardy from point blank range.
The Sectoid that had been augmenting it’s ally advanced and fired towards Hardy, but also missed. Guesz dropped to the road and took out the one that had tried to shoot her as she advanced, while Stonegate continued to cover Hardy with her rifle. It had too much cover and the bullet missed, cracking into the stone of the ornate light fixture. Hardy moved around so it was no longer flanking her, and it advanced some, ducking behind more cover just as Stonegate’s next round flew past it. “Reloading.” Stonegate called.
Guesz was keeping watch for a flanking maneuver by any other Aliens down the highway. Hardy peeked out and almost got hit by the Alien’s reaction shot. There was a stalemate for a bit longer as it found a new position where Stonegate couldn’t fire with her reloaded rifle and blasted away at Hardy, but then she found an opening and advanced quickly on it, blowing it away with her shotgun as it was reloading.
Everyone took a breather for a moment, as all nearby targets seemed to have been eliminated. They had ended up fairly scattered, and all converged on the two civilians as they reloaded.
“Thanks for the save.” The man who had soiled his pants said, sitting on the ground, leaning against the car, shivering. “If you’re looking for Hutch he fled down the road right after they showed up. I think he’s hiding behind that delivery van.”
Nodding, they all looked at each other a moment, then over at Morgan’s bloody corpse. “He died for nothing if we don’t get Hutch out of here.” Phil commented.
“Should we put him on the transport?” Stonegate asked.
“No time, we might still have hostiles and we don’t want to leave Hutch unsecured or be carrying a corpse when we get under fire.” Hardy pointed out.
Stonegate nodded solemnly. “Then I’ll stay here, cover you, and make sure nothing desecrates the corpse. Once we have Hutch we’ll retrieve Morgan for burial.”
They advanced carefully to where Hutch was hiding. Hardy was the one to approach him, probably a poor choice considering the orange blood spattering her armor and face. Hutch was at first taken aback by her appearance, but recovered quickly. “Thank god you’re here! We’ve got to get out of here before more show up!”
“We got you. Keep close, and stay covered behind cars as much as possible.” She responded.
About halfway back down the highway they spotted the incoming hostile. This time everyone got a good look at the thin, humanish Alien. The resemblance was only passing actually, it was much too tall for any normal person, and it’s wrists and neck had scales that just peaked out of the sleeves and collar. Also helping the identification was it’s aggressive pose and glowing green weapon. Without hesitation they opened fire on it, but it twisted in an unnatural way, as if it had no spine, and the unexpected motion meant the shots missed.
Raising to it’s full height, the Alien spat. A green projectile of some sort flew out and exploded around Hutch into a toxic cloud. Coughing and gasping, he panicked and ran towards the Skyranger. Another volley of shots at the thing, and a few bullets hit, but it hissed in agony and kept standing, firing down at Hardy. She had just been leaning out to fire at it when it shot, the blast catching her in the chest several times.
“NO NO NO GOD DAMN IT!” Stonegate screamed, emptying her rifle wildly at the Thin Man. It’s luck finally ran out, and it exploded like it’s fellow had leaving a thick green mist. As she vented frustration, the rifle clicking on empty, a sudden strangling noise startled her. Jumping up, she whirled around, pointing her now empty gun wildly about. Hutch had run past her while she was distracted and was now just behind her, mere feet from the Skyranger. As she watched, he clutched at his throat, his eyes bulging, his face a strange reddish green, and he collapsed from the toxin. Running over, dropper to her knees next to him, she yelled “Phil get the fuck over here!”
Phil had wandered over in a daze to Hardies corpse. He knew there was nothing he could do, but he tried anyway. He had just finished applying the medkit to her corpse when he heard the scream. Cursing and gazing about wildly, he ran as fast as he could back to the Skyranger. As he ascended the steps, he saw Stonegate there, kneeling next to the already stiffening corpse of the VIP, clutching it like a dead baby or lover. He dropped his gun, and his medkit. And then he began to chuckle historically, and it turned into tears and screams of rage and frustration.
March 15, 2014
They did not have time to mourn. Mere hours after returning from the failed rescue the alert went out: Once more the Aliens were striking across the globe, abducting people in mass in three cities. Everyone was awake despite it being five in the morning, news had spread fast as to the deaths. Most had gathered at the Biohazard to getting the story from Rhianna, who had just finished her debriefing. Looking up at the sound of the klaxon, everyone hesitates, still fixated on the disaster only just befallen them.
“Well, duty calls.” Rhianna said, standing. She was still in her armor from the last mission, having no time to change between the unloading, debriefing, and the questions.
Zane immediately stood up. “If you’re going, I’m coming to.”
Scowling, Rhianna responded. “I don’t need your protection, I’m a better shot than you and have been on several missions without you.”
Calmly, Zane nods. “Yes, you are, but this is war and as has just been painfully proven, any of us can die. If one of us is going down, I want us to be together, either so we can go out fighting together, or so one of us can avenge the other.”
She gazed long and hard at her lover at that. Then she nodded, and together they went to suit him up and retrieve her weapons.
Meanwhile Phil was with the Commander when the alert went out. Immediately he said “Sir, permission to be a part of this mission.”
“Guesz, you just got back from a mission that went horribly wrong and you’re mentally and physically exhausted. You’re in no condition to fight.” McNair pointed out.
“Sir, I’m one of your best men and if this next mission goes wrong moral will be crushed. I took no shots in the last mission, and I want payback. No one else is a better choice.”
McNair thought a while, weighing Guesz’ words. Finally he sighed. “Very well. Be very careful, we cannot afford any more mistakes tonight.”
Alexander Green was chosen as the last member of the strike force. After consulting the global situation they were sent to Mexico. The other nations would have to fend for themselves. The sun was just coming up as they landed outside a large construction zone that the Aliens had taken cover in after their abductions. Quickly the team took cover behind some large construction equipment.
“Targets spotted!” Guesz said, seeing motion inside a large mostly demolished building off to the left. The creatures quickly took cover, and he and Stonegate took position to cover that flank. Brubeck moved behind a large crate filled with a few tons of dirt and peeked out, spotting three more targets almost right on top of the squad. Acting quickly, he pulled his grenade and tossed it at the Aliens as they scattered, killing two of them.
Green, hearing the explosion, looked over. “Got two, another one up!” Brubeck told him, and Green pulled his own grenade. Brubeck motioned to show where the last had taken cover, and Green threw. His aim was true, and amidst the sound of the explosive going off he heard the high pitched keen of the dying Sectoid.
Having eliminated the threat on the right, Green moved forward to one of the large digging machines to help against the other group. Unfortunately he was seen, and one of them took a shot at him as he advanced. The shot landed, splashing across his armor, causing it to melt. “Shit, falling back!” Green said, quickly moving back to relative safety while the rest of the team kept an eye out to make sure nothing could get a second clear shot at him.
Brubeck advanced on the right flank to make sure nothing was trying to make it’s way around to attack from the side. It was fortunate that he did, for he spotted two more which ducked under their cover as he fired at them. One of them advanced quickly, and foolishly. The closer target was an easy mark for Brubeck’s second volley. “Two flanking, got one!” He told the others via his radio.
Meanwhile Phil spotted one of the group of three in the ruined building advancing and opened fire, just missing it as it dived behind a wall. After a moment it peaked out of a window, trying to find Guesz. Guesz had been prepared for this and immediately blasted it, it’s brains spattering the ground. Stonegate moved around the digger she was taking cover behind to where Green had been when he had been shot. Spotting the one that had opened fire at Green, she pulled her grenade and tossed it. The Sectoid was unable to scramble out of the way in time and was blown apart.
Everyone took a moment to reload their weapons. Stonegate, who hadn’t fired yet so had a full clip, kept an eye out in both directions. She spotted the surviving target that Brubeck had seen and opened fire, her second shot eliminating it. After that there was silence for a while. The team was a bit hesitant to advance, as the Sectoids had been happy to run into their gun-sights until now, and although they only knew of one remaining, they had barely advanced into the area and suspected there might be more.
Guesz took point, moving forward to take cover behind one of the strange devices the Aliens had left. Their caution was rewarded, as he spotted two lying in wait for them. Realizing they had been seen, the pair of Sectoids retreated into the shadows. Brubeck repositioned closer to the rest of the group, the three of them eying the darkened building steadily. Green was still hanging back in safety, with his armor compromised he was taking no chances.
Geusz and Stonegate repositioned, Guesz moving forward behind a wall, Stonegate taking Guesz’ previous position. One of the Aliens climbed over a low stone wall and found itself facing all three of them. Eyes going wide, it threw itself flat behind a pile of steel beams as a hail of bullets flew through the space it had been, then scrambled on all fours to hide behind a staircase. Peeking out it fired wildly at Guesz, missing by a wide margin. Again a hail of bullets flew out towards it, but it was either smart or lucky, as it managed to duck behind cover before anyone managed to hit it.
Seemingly emboldened by it’s survival after two volleys from all of the XCom soldiers, it moved up behind a generator, hiding it’s small form behind it. Brubeck managed to clip it, but the shots from the other two missed yet again. Unknown to the XCom team, a second Sectoid had used the distraction to work it’s way all the way around the area and behind them. Leaning out, it opened fire at Guesz back, landing a solid hit. Green, who had been hunkering down at the entrance in safety for a long time, saw the bright green flashes and guessed where the flanking Alien was. Pulling out his rocket launcher, he fired it across the site, obliterating the area he correctly guessed the Alien was in.
The other Sectoid, the one that had the insane luck to survive being a distraction and target practice for the entire team, decided that with a few bullets in it and the giant explosion where it’s friend had been discretion was the better part of valor and tried to retreat. Brubeck, who had emptied his entire clip trying to hit the damned thing, commented “Oh fuck that.” As he saw it retreating. Whipping out his pistol quickly, he finally managed to eliminate it.
Guesz used his medkit to get himself back into fighting form after taking that shot from behind. Then everyone reloaded.
“I think there’s one more.” Stonegate said to the others. Nodding, they all jumped slightly as they heard something fall over.
“Yeah, one more.” Brubeck nodded. Moving cautiously, two of them advanced towards the noise. Suspecting might try to move around behind them like it’s fellow had, Stonegate fell back to work around the outside of the ruined building.
Stonegate found the spot that had been demolished by the rocket, Stonegate ran quickly to take cover behind what remained on the wall. The final Sectoid saw her as she ran past the gaping hole in the building and opened fire, clipping her as she passed. Guesz was right around the corner from the Alien and saw its fire. Moving quickly, he spun around the corner while it was still distracted by Stonegate. It was right next to him, and there was no chance for it to do anything before he killed it.
They cleared the area quickly after that, double checking one last time that there were no more targets. Gathering the bodies and weapon fragments, they headed home. Their arrival was met with muted celebration. The deaths, still only hours old, where heavy on everyone’s mind, but the immediate successful mission afterwards had boosted moral greatly. Only Brubeck escaped the battle unscathed, the rest all requiring a trip to the Infirmary, but none of them were seriously wounded. Soon things quieted down and people started going to sleep. It had been a very long night.
March 19, 2014
“We gather here today to honor two of our finest who died in the line of duty. Each of them was a staunch defender of Humanity and a valued friend. They will be sorely missed.”
They were gathered in the Biohazard for the memorial service. It was a bit cramped since every soldier was there and several non-combatants who knew the deceased, but all of the other locations in the base where either in use, production and research being too important to stop even for a funeral, or to loud or small, such as the various reactor rooms. Someone had found a recording of bagpipe music that was playing forlornly through the bars sound system.
“Corporal Caroline Hardy was truly the best of us. Her great skill and dedication saw more hostiles eliminated than anyone else, and she was a good friend to many of us here. She will be missed greatly. To Caroline Hardy.” McNair raised his glass and everyone echoed him as they raised theirs as well, then they all drank. A few were shaky as they did so, the men had been shocked at the deaths and failed rescue after so many highly successful missions.
“Maximilian Morgan may not have Caroline’s record of extraordinary skill against our Alien foe, but he was a treasured comrade. In many ways he kept us sane during our long vigil in case of the impossible, his stories of his time in the British service entertained us all during times when the world wasn’t facing this great crisis. He brought light and warmth to the world, light sorely needed in these dark times. To Maximilian Morgan.”
Again everyone toasted, draining the rest of the liquid in their glasses. The bodies had been shipped home for burial, so the group surrounded a small shrine that consisted of a table covered in a shroud, which had the XCom symbol on it, pushed against a wall where pictures of the deceased had been tacked up. McNair finished his eulogies and stepped aside so that several others could go up to pay their respects, some saying a few words or leaving a token, mostly odds and ends like old “lucky” shot glasses or knives. Several split into small groups to reminisce quietly amongst themselves.
“I could have salvaged the mission damn it.” Phil says morosely into his glass. He was off in a corner with Tiberius and Freya. Tiberius had finally been released from medical and had the most visible scarring of anyone so far. The blast had struck him on the chest and face, ruining one of his eyes and leaving black scars splashed across the left side of his face, giving him a decidedly grim and intimidating look.
“How so?” Freya inquired. “Half the squad was down and the council’s friend fatally poisoned.”
“My medkit could have saved him, or at least kept him going long enough to get him back to base for medical care. I lost my cool though, ran over to Hardy when she was already gone.” Scowling, Phil drains his glass and pours another shot.
The others took a moment to digest this; for the most part the details of that bitter defeat had been avoided as a topic of conversation even though it was all anyone could think about. Tiberius rallied first. “Don’t sweat it man, shit happens. Live and learn, this won’t be the last time we get our asses kicked, they outnumber and outgun us. We’re just too badass to throw in the towel.” Phil’s grimace only faded slightly as he stared into his glass morosely.
McNair left the Memorial early. While he too mourned their passing, the men needed this time to discuss among themselves without their commanding officer hanging around. Also, sadly, the demands of his position called him away. Thus McNair found himself sitting in his office looking over files. While efforts were going well, the recent deaths struck home the importance of recruitment. With the seemingly random nature of the Alien activity most countries were both eager to offer applications to XCom and reluctant to send veterans when a major attack could happen at any moment. As such McNair had dozens of recruitment folders of promising new blood, skilled enough to be useful but green enough that their homelands would didn’t feel the loss.
“Bunch of damned fools.” McNair grumbled to himself. “As if anyone else has had much luck predicting or responding to the attacks.”
His work was interrupted by his secretary beeping through the intercom. “Yes?”
“Sir, Meyer is here to see you, she says it’s private.”
“Alright, send her in.”
Meyer entered looking nervous. Quickly McNair ran over what he knew of her. She was one of the men who hadn’t seen action against the Aliens yet, not as introverted as Hawlsera but not as outgoing as Maximilian had been. In short, a fairly average soldier that hadn’t made any strong impression on him.
“Sir, recent events have made me… reconsider my options. I’d like to request a transfer back to my homeland.”
“You’re from the Netherlands correct?”
“Yes sir.” She sat stiffly in the chair across from his desk.
“Why? Speak freely soldier.”
“Several reasons sir. No offense sir, but I don’t want to die defending some politician in another country from Aliens. I’d rather die fighting in and for my homeland, not some backwater third world country.”
“Fair enough. You do realize that if you do end up fighting you’ll have a better chance of making a difference here. We have the best gear and the only satellites capable of detecting the Alien ships before they launch an attack.” McNair pointed out.
“You might be right sir, but I feel I can better defend my people if I’m with my people.”
McNair sighed deeply. “An understandable, but regrettable, sentiment. We’re all in this together Meyer, all of Humanity against an unknown threat. If you are certain, I’ll approve the transfer request.”
“Yes sir, I am certain. Thank you sir.” Meyer got up and offered a hand. McNair took it. “It was an honor to have you soldier. Dismissed.” As Meyer left, McNair went back to his folders. It seemed he had one more person to find a replacement for.
March 21, 2014
To the Commanders surprise the Mexican government offered one of their most skilled Soldiers to the XCom project shortly after the Memorial service. Their representative in the council was impressed by the swift reaction so soon after the bitter defeat in Nigeria, so offered the services of Misha “The Fox” Brightleaf, a scarred veteran of the Drug War that had been raging in the country for years. Thus a few days after the Memorial everyone gathered around to meet the new recruit as he got off the Skyranger.
Stepping down from the exit ramp, Misha looked around at the small crowd. ‘Scarred Veteran’ described him perfectly, his face was weathered, with the right ear completely gone, and he had several scars criss-crossing all his visible skin. “All this for little ole’ me? I’m embarrassed.” He commented dryly.
Several people chuckled. McNair stepped forward. Misha, recognizing the Commander bars on his uniform, gave a sharp salute and stood at attention. “Sargent Misha Brightleaf reporting for duty sir.”
“At ease Soldier. It’s good to have you, we’ve lost a lot of manpower lately. I’ve already handled all the paperwork, so for now your time is your own. I’d suggest you go with the rest of the men, they’re certainly eager to meet you and they can help you get settled.“
“Thank you sir. All this fuss, I’m beginning to feel special.”
What followed was a round of introductions. Everyone had to walk up and say ‘Hi’ to the new guy, shake his hand, and tell their name. Misha did his best to remember them all, but found it very hard, especially when he caught sight of some of the unusual black scars caused by the plasma weapons the Aliens wielded. When Tiberius walked up Misha’s mouth actually dropped open at the blackened left side of his face and the eyepatch.
“Damn. You make me look pretty.” Misha said.
“Give it time, I’m sure we’ll all be ugly as sin by the time this is over.” Tiberius responded grinning. “We’ll have to swap scar stories sometime, you seem to have plenty of your own.”
“That I do. I was told not to pack much, all my stuff is in here, and I’ve heard this place has a pretty good bar. How about lets run over there and you can all interrogate me over a cold beer?” As he spoke he shrugged his shoulders to indicate his backpack.
The idea appealed to everyone, so a few minutes later there was an impromptu ‘Welcome to XCom’ party happening. Soon war stories where being swapped, Misha being curious about the Alien menace, it’s capabilities and effective strategies against them, the rest being curious about his own experiences.
“It’ll be nice to know who’s out to kill me by sight. The Drug War, you never know who to trust. Officials get bribed, people join the Cartels just to make money to feed their families, and you finally kill one of the big bosses and you just split it into 50 smaller operations.” Misha reflected.
“How’d you get the nickname ‘The Fox’?” Doug asked from the back.
“Well after a while you get to know when something is up. Some kid runs up to you yelling about how they’re killing his mommy, eventually you just know if he’s really in trouble or if he’s going to pull a gun as soon as you turn your back and shoot you. Got promoted a few times and people started saying I could smell trouble before it came. Somewhere along the way they started calling me ‘The Fox’ and it stuck.”
“I wish I had a nickname. I’d love being called ‘Doug “Xodiac” Linger’.” Doug said.
“You want a name to stick you have to earn it. Hell I didn’t even realize I had one till someone accidentally called me Fox to my face. Liked it well enough I asked about, learned everyone had referred to me by it for months and let everyone know they could use it.”
Rhianna chuckled from her seat next to Zane. “In that case if anyone deserves a nickname it’s Phil. I’ve never seen anyone as lucky as him, he’s been missed by inches a half dozen times!”
“I told you, it’s my lucky rabbitsfoot.” Phil grinned and pulled out said object, a rabbit’s foot on a chain. “Never go into battle without it.”
“So what, that’d make you ‘Phil “Rabbits foot” Guesz’?” Hawlsera asked.
“Sure why not? Fear the Rabbits foot Alien scum!” Phil waved the chain with the rabitsfoot about menacingly. Everyone chuckled at that.
“So wait, you’re “Rabbits Foot”, he’s “The Fox”, my last name is Duck, and Ty over there is named Vulpintaur which is a fancy way of saying four legged fox-man. We’re a regular zoo aren’t we?” Bill commented.
“That we are. Also I noticed that we’ve nicknamed two of the Sergeants, so why not give one to Rhianna to? Anyone surviving against this enemy long enough to make Sergeant deserves one.” Freya pointed out. Everyone looked at Rhianna, who looked a bit bemused.
“Like what?” she wondered.
“How about your favorite animal?” Bill suggested.
“I guess that would be Lynxes, used to see one outside my window in the mountains fairly often as a kid.”
“So Rhianna “The Lynx” Stonegate?” Misha said.
“Sure why not. She’s certainly a tiger in bed.” Zane responded, causing Rhianna to punch him in the side.
“So we’re a group of multinational soldiers brought together to fight an extraterrestrial threat nicknamed after the animals of the world? This sounds like a TV show or a fanfic.” Phil joked.
Alex spoke up in a loud “Opening Credits” type announcer voice. “In the 21st century mankind comes under attack by an Alien Menace. Scrambling to assemble a defense, the nations of the world form an elite group of animal men to defend our planet. This is the story… of XCom!”
The Ides of March
March 31, 2014
“A marvelous device isn’t it?” Dr. Shen commented. He was referring to the newly completed satellite sitting in the engineering bay, which may have been a technological marvel, but it looked like any other satellite, probably to keep it hidden. “There’s nothing else like it the world over. We can launch it to be a dedicated eye for Alien ships, and it has the latest in stealth technology so it’ll hopefully be safe unless we ignore a UFO doing scans of the area. Sadly we don’t have the uplinks for any more, meaning we could put more in the air but wouldn’t be able to receive and decrypt it’s signals. If you want another we’ll have to build more, a costly endeavor.”
McNair nodded. “The month is almost up, we should get fresh funding from the Council then. Establishing detection worldwide is our greatest concern, we can’t constantly be caught by surprise if we’re going to win this war.”
“I’ll get the construction crews ready then sir. We should be able to get new facilities ready in a little over a week once we can pay for the materials.”
“Very good. I’ll head over to the situation room and work out where we most need this.”
Once he arrived, McNair found Bradford in the situation room waiting for him. “Greeting sir, I heard the news about the satellite and have been examining the situation. In my opinion, our best bet is to launch it over Nigeria. They’re dealing with a lot of panic right now, and we might lose their support. If we launch the satellite in that area, they will be able to make a public announcement and greatly calm the country, and it will restore the government’s faith in us.”
“Excellent, we can also transfer Jetfire and an Interceptor to cover Africa.” McNair looked over the situation as he talked. Politics touched everything, even saving the world from an Alien invasion, because if he couldn’t sell XCom to the world leaders and their populace, then they would turn to other means. Fortunately he had the tools he needed, the base was staffed with several information analysts who were examining trends and feelings across the world and posting them in a “Panic” map, showing what areas where most likely to cut their losses and abandon the project. Nigeria was currently a bright red, showing mass panic and a high risk of them cutting all ties with XCom, while most of the rest of the world was in various states of calm depending on if they had actually been hit by an attack yet, and how effective response had been.
“Dr. Shen informs me that we’ll need more hardware to increase are satellite coverage, but once it’s up we can expand further and cover parts of South America. They have medical and interrogation specialists that will be extremely helpful in learning about the enemy.” McNair commented. Bradford nodded, then pointed out that Australia might need reassurance first which would disrupt his plans, and soon the pair where deep in conversation analyzing and predicting as best they could.
A few days later, at the end of the month, McNair was summoned to the situation room to receive a report from the Council. The screen displaying the world map was replaced by the ominous shadowy figure of the Council’s representative.
“Commander, the Council has been extremely impressed with XComs progress, and we do not make this statement lightly.”
“Thank you Sir.”
“You will be pleased to know that your swift response to the concerns of the Nigerian government has reassured them and they have reaffirmed their support. This has led to an increase in the funding we can provide for you. Your many decisive victories overshadow your sole unfortunate defeat by large margin, and we are fully confident in your ability to continue your success in the future.”
McNair nods his thanks as the Councilor’s face is replaced with a summing up of all the reports he had sent in through the month. Looking at it all together it was indeed impressive, with three Alien abduction sites cleared out, a UFO shot down, and only two men lost, with two dozen plus Aliens dead total. Considering they were severely outgunned, he had to agree: the fledgling XCom project was succeeding beyond all reasonable expectations.
The report vanished from the screen after a minute, though McNair could of course pull it up again if need be. He spoke to the representative after he, or rather his outline, had reappeared. “It is an honor to defend Humanity Sir. I’ll be sure to let the men know your sentiments.”
The figure nodded gravely, then saluted McNair. “Good luck Commander.” He said. McNair returned it right before the screen reverted to the report on the global situation.
With the monthly report finished, the project was immediately granted it’s monthly funding, swelling the coffers. McNair immediately gave orders for construction to commence on more laboratory space and a satellite uplink facility, expending most of the funding to vastly increase the capabilities of the base. Money was useless if left lying around, and they needed to make even more progress this month then the last.
April 8, 2014
“Sir we have Alien abductions taking place in the UK, South Africa, and the United States.” Bradford informed McNair as he entered Mission Control, summoned by the alert.
“We can respond the fastest to the UK alert. Are the men ready?”
“Guesz, Brightleaf, Green, and Vulpintaur are boarding the Skyranger now sir. I’ll brief them on the way.” Bradford responded.
They arrived at a large gas station, three rows of pumps with a few abandoned cars scattered about. Gazing about, the men were dismayed at the sight: the only decent cover where the pumps themselves, or the concrete support beams right next to them.
“I’ll flank the building.” Brightleaf said and the others nodded as they found the best cover they could. Guesz, the closest to the building saw movement inside of it as he crouched down behind a car parked at a pump.
“Two Thin Men at the entrance, I think they’ve spotted us.” He called out, then opened fire since the element of surprise was already lost. His volley thudded into one of the Alien’s chest as it looked out the window at him, yellow-green ichor splattering the shelves behind it. To his amazement, it didn’t go down, instead moving hurriedly out of site.
Then the entrance to the station flew open, the two Thin Men shooting out of it, spraying the area with plasma. Green had hunkered down as best he could a potted plant and some garbage cans, cover that proved ineffective as the plasma burned through it and splashed all around him. As he writhed in agony on the ground a well-aimed shot finished the job, silencing his screams.
Guesz also took a hit from the plasma, but was more fortunate, his armor saving him. As the Aliens took cover against the walls by the door he saw flames from the car.
“Shit.” Jumping up he sprinted away from the car and pump, taking cover behind the next pump in line. As he pulled out his medkit to patch his wounds the fire found its way to the gas tank, which exploded, shrapnel piercing the pump and causing sparks so it also exploded, turning the car into a ruined husk and throwing shrapnel everywhere. Fortunately the pumps were spaced out enough not to cause a chain reaction.
Brightleaf had taken cover behind some parked cars near the side of the building. He cursed in Spanish as he saw the Aliens open fire, moving as quickly as he could to the side of the building. Pulling out his grenade, he rolled it to the entrance just as the Aliens ducked back. Just as the pump and car exploded, so too did his grenade, taking out entryway and another wall where the building jutted out. As green toxic mist filled the air from the Thin Man’s death, he saw something through the destroyed wall.
Guesz finished patching up his wounds. Vulpintaur, who had moved past the pumps to a large van in the parking area, was now gazing at the entryway through his scope, having intended to finish off the injured Alien but not having a chance before the grenade went off. As he gazed with his one eye into the wreckage, he was amazed to see movement in the smoke.
“One’s still up!” he called, just making out the second Thin Man, bleeding profusely, pull itself out of the rubble and stand up, gun raising. His bullet caught it before it could bring it to bear, a second quickly following to be sure. It exploded into a second cloud of mist.
Everyone was about to take a second to breath when a new threat appeared. Brightleaf barely had time to open his mouth to yell a warning before the thing he was looking at through the demolished wall shot him, an expertly aimed ball of plasma turning his head into a gory mess. Something shot out of the building, a strange amalgamation of red skinned creature and machine, humanoid but with no legs, just large jetpacks attached to it’s back keeping it hovering a few feet off the ground. Guesz opened fire, his bullets thudding into it, sparks and blood flying as it cringed in pain, Vulpintaur’s sniper shot finishing it off, but then three more flew out, one going into the air to take cover at the top of the building, the other two not bothering with cover as they looked out at the station.
“Run, I’ll cover you!” Guesz yelled to Vulpintaur, emptying his gun at the creatures.
His effort was valiant, but he didn’t last long, the three Aliens able to easily gun him down. Vulpintaur followed his advice, running back towards the Skyranger as fast as he could. As he heard Guesz die, he took cover behind the large pricing sign, the thick steel beam hiding him from the floating monsters sight as they moved up, gazing about for him. Breaking from his hiding place, he covered the last bit of ground, only one of the Aliens quick enough to send a shot flying behind him as he ran. As he ran up the ramp the rest of the Aliens began flying towards the Skyranger, plasma splashing off it’s armored hull as the ramp closed and it took off. One attempted to fly up to the engines and disable the ship, but it accelerated, the backwash from the engines flinging the monster back to the ground.
Back to Nigeria
April 10, 2014
The death of three more soldiers was hard on everyone, but everyone was too busy to attend to it over the next day. Panic was spreading quickly worldwide, with two countries threatening to cut support of the XCom project if they did not receive better aid, meaning McNair was busy the entire day doing as much political damage control as he could. Meanwhile the science and engineering teams did their best to perfect new technology to combat the new deadlier foes encountered in the field. In fact, everyone was so busy, that the soldiers found themselves lost in the swirl of people rushing about with urgent tasks with nothing to do whatsoever except mourn and reflect. Thus when in the wee hours of the morning they were woken with an alert of UFO activity they were almost relieved.
“This one’s a bit bigger than the last sir.” Bradford told McNair as they watched the indicator showing the UFO over Nigeria moving across the holographic globe.
“Jetfire to big sky, bogey is in sight.” The pilot’s voice came over the com system.
“Copy that Jetfire, you have permission to engage.”
Jetfire kept in mind what his cohort Blackwing had told him before he was transferred to Africa. Flying closer, he opened fire, the missile crashing into the UFO. Immediately he swerved, the return ball of plasma he knew would come only clipping his jet, the armor holding. The UFO accelerated as Jetfire shot again, another plume of fire splashing across it’s side.
The firefight continued this way, the Aliens not bothering with evasive maneuvers, relying on sheer speed to escape, while Jetfire used every aerial trick he knew to avoid a direct hit while keeping up with the speeding spaceship. After three more hits, the UFO dipped out of the sky, falling towards a forest, while Jetfire turned to limp back to base, heavily damaged as well.
“Jetfire to base, bogey is down. I repeat, Bogey is down.”
They landed in the forest a few hours after midnight. A bright fire burned near their landing site, a piece of rubble from the fallen spaceship smoldering inside. The group advanced slowly, taking cover behind thick trees at all time. Because of this they hadn’t made it far into the woods when a pair of the flying Aliens shot around a large outcrop of stone several, large enough for a few trees to grow on top, quickly flanking their position. They quickly repositioned, fortunately the Aliens seemed just as surprised to see them, so they managed to maneuver around and get the first shots.
Stonegate pulled out her pistol after repositioning. She had gotten some modifications to it, it now fired higher caliber armor-piercing shots. The large slugs tore into the frontmost Alien, while Enroygal threw her grenade to finish it off in an explosion of gore and shards of metal. Zane deployed his smoke grenade to give them cover as well. Vulpintaur was unable to get a clear shot and could only find a fallen log to take cover behind, so he hunkered down as best he could.
The second Alien fled, leaving behind the ruined remains of it’s comrade. They hesitated a moment, then Stonegate advanced to a large tree in the general direction it had gone. Zane climbed to the high ground on top of the stone rise. Stonegate managed to catch a glimpse of it and opened fire, clipping it.
As they advanced to try to track down the second Floater, the group was approached from behind by a pair of Thin Men. Taking cover behind the stone outcrop, withstood the quick shots by Vulpintaur and Enroygall. One of them spat it’s toxic mist at Vulpintaur, blinding him and disorienting him as he coughed on the poison. Engroyal fired at the area the creatures were hiding behind to try to keep them under cover, but was unsuccessful, one of them finishing off Vulpintaur as he tried to reorient himself.
Zane was trying to figure out how to drop on top of the Aliens without exposing himself to their deadly attacks when one of them climbed up to his location. Quick reactions allowed him to unload a volley into it’s skull before it could react, killing it. Meanwhile Stonegate and Engroygall regrouped together around the other side so the remaining one could no longer fire at them from the heavy cover it had.
Still weary of the flying Alien somewhere in the woods, the Women on the low ground took cover behind trees to watch both the woods and the route around the outcropping in case the either of the known targets tried to attack. Zane moved to the middle of the high ground to take cover behind a tree and spotted the remaining Thin Man. It was unaware of him and flanked, crouching down behind the stone gazing about for targets, allowing him to take his time aiming and insure his headshot killed it.
The first sign of the Floaters return was plasma fire, splashing across Enroygall’s armor. It saved her, and she quickly fell back as Brubeck and Stonegate returned fire, neither of them managing to land a hit. It flew back out of sight, and the pair quickly switched positions, Brubeck on the low ground, Stonegate on the high. This allowed Brubeck and Enroygall to meet up and for him to treat her wounds while Stonegate watched from the high ground.
Stonegate advanced to the edge of the high ground, finally spotting the downed UFO. After a moment examining it through her scope, she saw the Floater fleeing towards it. A single shot finished the injured Alien, and the whole group breathed easier at the news.
“That’s probably all of them in the woods.” Stonegate said, and the others nodded in agreement.
They proceeded to advance on the ship, taking extra care. It was horribly damaged, burn marks and gaping holes covering the sides. Enroygall suddenly noticed two Sectoids trying to rush to one of the holes to reenter the ship. Reacting quickly, she gunned one down, then got the other as it tried to turn around and rush back to cover.
“Very nice!” Zane called over.
The group surrounded the door to the UFO a few moments later. Holding up three fingers, Stonegate gave a silent countdown. On zero they touched the door, guns sweeping the interior but finding no targets. This ship was much bigger than the one room affair that had been cleared out a month earlier. This section was mostly an empty hallway with some sort of console in it, hallways going off diagonally to the left and right.
Enroygall moved around to enter the hallway from the hole the Secoids had been trying to enter through. It seemed there had actually been a doorway there, but the damage had torn out the entire wall there. She covered that direction while the other two proceeded down the other short hallway, again taking cover on either side of the large blow glowing door.
The next room appeared to have once stored a reactor. However, all that remained of it was a large hole in the ground. All of the rooms silvery metal was pitted and scared from the explosion. Seeing no threat, the pair quickly moved to cover the next door. Hawlsera left the hallway she had been covering, falling back to keep up with the other two while still covering their rear and the exit to outside every room seemed to have. Opening the next door, Brubeck and Stonegate the largest room yet, centering on an enclosed area on the left that jutted into the room so that the room was shaped like a half circle, a smaller door then the ones they had seen so far entering it, and an important computer of some sort on a raised area on the right. All the way across the area was another door leading to the other half of the ship, the section that the door Enroygall had earlier covered, but not entered, lead to.
Circling around to the other side of the room they found another door, meaning that you could only enter or exit the enclosed area from the two doors in this room. Enroygall caught up and took cover by the near door, while the other two circled around to the far door. They all coordinated to open the doors at the same time. They looked into what seemed to be the flight deck. Several large computers sat in the room with a holographic map on the wall overhead. A strange red crystal floated in the room, and reacted to their presence, forming into an strange metallic humanoid creature. Enroygall remembered the story of the actions of her fallen comrade Caroline Hardy at the last UFO, and she quickly advanced, getting close to it while it was still gaining it’s bearings and emptying her rifle into the exposed crystal at it’s waist. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared as the crystal shattered into a million pieces.