An XCom AAR - Two months in hell.
(Written while I played, just because I've never done an AAR before.)
Mission Diary -- James Houndsman
Day One, 1 March 2012 -
I've been re-activated for the X-Com project. After having it sit nascent for close to fifteen years, after the concerns of warfare with alien life were dismissed as nothing more than an enthusiastic exercise for contemplation, the decoded SETI signals and Area 51 evidence both seem to have been proven correct. Some form of malignant alien life seeks our destruction.
It feels strange, being back at the command boards after al this time. After spending so long away -- the old simulations we ran now look like children's games, something to play on a phone, not a computer.
Everything's been upgraded, the Ant Farm is a very different place these days. Dug in under the Nevada desert, it feels good to be back. Elating. Even if the reality of the situation fills me with horror.
As I got off my flight, the old Skyranger heading off for the boneyard to be scrapped in favour of the new breed, the command consoles were lit up already. The Commander had just recieved word from the Council of Nations. Grimfaced, the Commander, so much older than when all this started, was watching a mexican news channel, Central Officer Bradford to one side. Abductions. Some kind of sattelite crash.
Alien contact, in Tijuana, Mexico.
MISSION 1 - OPERATION CRIMSON PRIEST: Alien Abductions, Tijuana Mexico, 11:15 PM.
The team, made up of Charlies Williams, a Canadian, Martha Weber, a stalwart German woman I knew from the old days, Kibwe Okoro, a South African, and Ekwuenme Ondende, a man who was either Nigerian or Egyptian, I can't recall which, had just landed at a construction site.
Immediately they moved in, hearing chittering sounds. Slow going, at first. Cautious. It didn't help. Martha spotted them first. We all saw it on the cams, Doctor Vahlen spoke in awe. We didn't know if we should shoot or offer an olive branch, despite the abduction stories. Who the hell knew? Martha held back, watching for any sign of hostility. But watching wasn't good enough -- the little grey man shot first. Green blasts from the darkness, striking Martha. She was screaming in an instant, crying out, 'Nicht! Get me out of here!', even as she pulled on the trigger, blazing at the alien shapes in the darkness.
First contact. Doctor Vahlen was right. This moment would go down in history -- they shot first.
Ondende moved up, trying to find a firing angle... he moved up to a half-built window, and spotted more of the aliens, this time on the team's far flank. Okoro, edging up on a 20 foot dumpster, caught sight of one of the little bastards peeking around the corner at him. Able to take him in the open. He flung a grenade into the dark, past the little bastard. We all heard screams, too many for just one of the creatures. But Martha was still in the open. Charlie Williams, a hero if there ever was one, moved up beside her, into a digger. He was flanked too, now. Just as vulnerable. But taking his cue from Okoro, he flung a grenade -- Christ, Vahlen bitched about that. 'You're destroying the artefacts we are supposed to be collecting!'
As if Martha's life wasn't worth a thing.
No, the lies of these THINGS weren't worth a thing. Odende flung another grenade out into the rubble, trying to take out two of them. He failed, only got one -- but it seemed rattled. Didn't fire back accruately, he held his cover.
Martha, clutching her face where it'd been damn near blown off, thanked Charlie, and ran on to the next cover. Had her nerve back. Enough to take cover behind that green pod, blowing gas. Somehow related to the cocooned human beings all around... She took her shot, missed. The alien firing at Ondende was hiding behind a wall inside the construction site, amongst the rubble. Ondede, closer, managed to take the shot as the bug peeked out around the corner, to nail him. But immediately, we saw what happened to the thing's arm. Blew up. The gun strapped to its forearm just blew up the moment its head went.
Vahlen, suitably mollified, shut up. The Commander was tense. We all were. At least one more of the greys lurked in the dark. We spotted it as Okoro moved up. Somehow, it'd gotten almost behind the team -- shooting at him, missing him as he ran. In behind the building's corner. God knew how it got there...
Charlie ran up to face it, took a shot. Missed. The bastard moved up toward him, tried blowing a hole in him -- these little green blasts played across Charlie's torso, tore through his armour. We heard a grunt.
We thought the worst.
But Charlie spat blood as he charged ahead, turning as he went -- the alien, intent with operating its weapon, looked up in time to see Charlie spinning in behind it, lifting his assault rifle to fire. But the little thing moved fast, bullets skimmed its body, left it oozing green pus. Ondende had moved up too, trying to corner it between himself and Charlie... but he missed.
Martha, stalwart as ever... she took Okoro's cue. Finished the grey off before it could take out Charlie. By flinging a frag grenade right next to Ondede.
Where Ondede's marksmanship had been suspect, the frag didn't miss. It didn't miss Ondede, either, who lurched otu of there dripping with blood, armour gouged... but alive. Alive like Charlie, alive like Martha.
The sweep concluded shortly after that.. No more aliens heard, or seen.
Just the drip of blood from the troops' bodies, and the bitter taste of victory.
The aliens had shot first.
Our men had barely come out of it alive.
-- MISSION END --
- Aliens killed: 6 - Rating: Excellent!
- XCOM Operatives lost: 0 - Rating: Excellent!
Day One, continued -
Introductions all around, as the Skyranger thundered home, a short hop. I was introduced to the Commander, of course, as well as Central Officer Bradford. That's when he said the thing I'll probably remember the rest of my life -- 'This is a whole new game, Houndsman.'
When they got back, even though Okoro was the only man unwounded, the Commander promoted every single one of them. They were squaddies, now. They were given their new certifications, given some downtime... and, of course, sent to the medbay. Weber heard about it after she woke up from her medically induced coma. She'd been cleared for heavy weapons certs, finally. I and Okoro showed her the LMG we'd checked out of the quartermaster's office for her. Okoro was using one of the new sniper rifles.
It was good seeing Weber again. The circumstances could have been better, her face a mass of raw burns.
Charlie, for his stunt, had been certified for the assault training course. He'd appreciate that, when he got out of medbay. Estimated at ten days. Ondede, awake, was paying careful attention to the doctors as they worked on him. When he got out of bandages, he was lined up for support.
In any case, when that was done with, I wandered after the Commander to the research labs. Vahlen was like a cat in heat over the materials dragged back. Six corpses, and two fragments from the only one of the creatures to have been shot. The fragments were operable, barely. The stuff picked out of the corpses the team had grenaded... those were shards. Unusable for anything but materials analysis.
Maybe Vahlen had had a point about the explosives. There wasn't enough by way of usable fragments to run down the Commander's top priority project -- some kind of body armour. But what there was, were corpses. Enough to immediately dig into the question of what their biology was like.
Afterward I wandered down to Engineering. I met Dr. Shen, our chief engineer. The top question on my mind was, what the hell could we do to try and help our troops keep from dying in the future? He sent a medkit down the assembley line for me, smiling. Mostly prefabricated, he just put the thing together right there in front of me, in minutes with his roboticised production line. Impressive.
But for all that, the first hour back on the job, let alone the first day, had left me concerned. This wasn't the XCOM project we'd envisioned all the way back in the day. We didn't have the manpower we used to, we didn't have the resources we used to, but what was available, what had been pulled out of the mothballs, was sleeker, faster, and far more graceful than I'd expected it to be.
The true nature of the threat against us, well. We had no idea, beyond its danger, beyond the abductions. Beyond the panic starting to grip the world as it leaked onto the news -- something we'd never thought would happen, before.
But here it was. Out in the open.
An alien incursion.
And XCOM was the first, and last, line of defence.
2 March 2015 -
Shit! I had just gotten to sleep. Nervous energy keeping me up at all hours, only for an alert. Major news networks, running what I thought at first were the abduction stories from yesterday. But no, these were new. Global. And the Council had sent us requests for assistance at this wave of abductions.
Osaka, Japan; Port Said, Egypt' and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The level of urgency was marginally higher in Brazil. But the reports coming out there were worse. We needed to impress the Brazillian government, they were sitting on a requisition for more engineers, and to expand the Sattlite Network, Doctor Shen needed the manpower.
But I couldn't help thinking, the people in Osaka would be just as terrified.
And the reports coming out of there, well. They sounded easy.
The Commander, their thoughts unknown to me, chose the difficult path.
Mission 2 - -- ???!
Shit! An admin error just killed God knew how many people.
My fault. Too long away from the command boards.
I thought I'd carried out the Commander's orders, but I'd filed the mission launch request by the old system. It landed up in a junk orders box, the team wasn't sent. We made no response to the abduction reports, or the council requests for help.
I had just clicked the wrong damn button, and maybe doomed this project's start.
Thank God I managed to push the blame for the foulup on one of the junior Mission Control staff. I was that quick-witted, at least.
Tonight I think I'm going to drink myself into a stupor. And maybe think about the lives of our soldiers I've saved, by keeping them away from action. That's the only consolation there is.
6 March 2015 -
A UFO contact was just detected crossing the 51st parallel. Small, unidentified. Raven-1 was just launched after it.
The roar of its engines woke me up.
Two missiles sent the UFO down, Raven 1 mildly scorched. Applause broke out across Mission Control. I'll never forget the moment.
Recon birds showed the UFO was still in one piece. We scrambled a team to deal with it.
Mission 2 - Operation Red Dawn
Rk. Fiona Donaldson (Scottish)
Sq. Kibwe Okoro (South African)
Rk. Carol Dunn (American)
Rk. Karl Haussman (German)
At first the team heard the skittery-screech of the grey aliens. The scientists had started calling them Sectoids. The rest of us called them bugs.
I'd spoken to Haussman a few days before. He'd laughed, after seeing the corpses -- the standard thing to do for bored soldiers at the dead of night was to sneak into the labs and check out the bodies in their freezers. Get an idea of what they were going up against. 'They look small', Haussman had said. 'This war won't last long.'
He'd been so confident.
The advance across the marshy forest, almost a swamp, was quick. Up until the squad spotted the first fragments from the crash... then the downed UFO's hulk. Green sparks of electronics, a huge gouge torn out of its walls... Donaldson and Okoro took the top of a rocky hill nearby, while Dunn and Haussman moved in to check it out.
Haussman heard something moving inside the wreck. He moved up to the gap in the hull, to see what the hell it was... What it was, was sectoids. And some kind of being... Dr. Vahlen, peering over my shoulder, was shocked by the readings. 'That's impossible', she'd said. 'That must be a being of pure energy. It must be.'
I don't know how impossible that was... Pure energy or not, Okoro took a shot at it with his sniper rifle. Missed. Haussman pulled back under cover from Dunn and Donaldson.
We heard strange sounds. Then saw it. A sectoid, glowing with energy. Around its head... some kind of mental thing.
Plasma blasts flew past Okoro's head. The pure energy being, outside the laws of probability, was shooting at him.
"What the hell is it?" he barked at us.
"Outside the laws of nature," Vahlen had murmured.
"Shooting at the outsider!" Dunn cried, but she didn't connect.
The sectoid had taken position next to the Outsider, behind some kind of control panel visible through a hole in the UFO's wall.
Haussman knew what grenades did to sectoids. He didn't expect what happened next, as he flung a grenade behind the aliens' cover.
The sectoid survived. Glowing purple in its wounds... grimacing. But the control panel had been blown away. Everything was open for Donaldson and Okoro to shoot. Okoro nailed the outsider, right in the damn head... but it vanished. Decaying into light...
Donaldson finished off the sectoid, light glowing from its head or no.
The same instant, more sectoids appeared, on the UFO's left flank.
Haussman took the remaining sectoid inside the ship. Moved up to a fragmented support strut, took cover... and dropped it in one beat.
Okoro changed position to handle the sectoids on the flank, got shot, and wailing in terror, returned fire. Despite his broken nerve, and broken arm judging by the medfeed, he nailed the sectoid that'd shot at him right in the eye. He was a sniper, alright.
while he cowered, the rest of the team moved up to support. But not fast enough. The bugs took him out. Dunn and Donaldson freaked out at that, Donaldson trying to grab a little more cover behind her rock, only for Dunn to shoot her in the back. The body-armour stopped the wrost of the shot, but we heard Donaldson grunt. Dunn later claimed she'd been shooting at movement, had mistaken her for the aliens that had shot at Okoro.
It didn't matter.
Okoro was dead, the war's first casualty.
He'd been doing so well, only to die, cowering in fear...
Haussman kept his nerve, moving up... caught a glimpse of the bug, but couldn't shoot. Movedu p into heavier cover. Dunn, eager to make good, moved up to try and reacquire the enemy. The real enemy, this time. Spotted it, cowering in a corner. Fired, missed...
Donaldson moved up. Preparing to flank, despite her broken rib. A quick sprint. But halfway there, the bug spotted her. Shot.
She fell, midstride.
Dunn screamed at the sight of it. Guilt wracking her, she fired at the cowering sectoid again, panicked, spat that her gun had run out of ammunition.
Karl took the opportunity to sprint up into flanking cover. The sectoid moved up, trying to get out of flank... missed at Karl as it skidded to a halt, firing. Karl twisted around, dodging around it. But like Charlie had in the first mission, he'd underestimated the bug's staying power. He'd made himself vulnerable. It leapfrogged back around him, fired at his back from cover. But he shrugged off the burns, played its game, leapfrogged it again... and shot it in the back of the head.
That was that.
Two soldiers dead. Two good people dead.
I'll miss Okoro.
-- MISSION END --
- Aliens killed: 5 - Rating: Excellent!
- XCOM Operatives lost: 2 - Rating: Poor
Rk. Fiona Dolandson - KIA
Sq. Kibwe Okoro - KIA
While Haussman got his coveted promotion, and deservedly, Bradford and I shared a tired look. "It's unfortunate. They were some of our best," he told me.
"It's only going to get worse," I responded.
Dr.s Vahlen and Shen were thrilled. A flight computer, and one of the UFO power sources, both captured intact. They, and Haussman, grinning from his medbed, were the only happy ones. Even the Commander was grim.
9 March 2015 -
The first results from the Xeno-Biology research have come back. Vahlen wants aliens. Live aliens. She's insane, but Dr. Shen agrees that it's work the risk. Bradford saw the point too, then. There was a possibility to interrogate the bugs.
The Commander thinks so, too. Alien Containment just got greenlit, and Vahlen is developing the Arc Thrower's specifications now. It has to work on aliens before Shen builds the damn thing, she'll make sure it does.
16 March 2015 -
Alien Containment's online. Dr. Shen assures us it'll hold a sectoid just fine, but having seen the damn interrogation room... That glass looks fragile, but it's thick enough to contain a rampaging bull. What the hell Dr. Shen thinks we're going to bring into that little cell, I don't know.
21 March 2015 -
Dr. Vahlen's elbow deep in the sectoid autopsies now. Which means that the Arc Throwers are done. I took one down from Dr. Shen to show Charlie Williams and Martha Weber, both recently out of the medical bays. He grinned at me when I showed the damn thing to him, and she did too. 'Maybe next time I wind up behind one of those little bastards', Charlie said, 'He'll have a shock in store for him.'
We laughed about it.
Martha, though... Martha seemed keen for another reason entirely. I think she wants to torture them. All of them. And bringing them back alive, doesn't mean she won't have been busy while the sectoids have been helpless.