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  1. #1
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    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.

    Aliens.

    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

    Roster:
    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.

  2. #2
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    ---

    21 March, later -

    Shit. The Council have just been in contact with the Commander. An escaped Abductee has been located by Signal Interception. We need that abductee alive.

    It looks like Charlie's going to get to try out the Arc Thrower sooner rather than later...

    ---

    Mission 3 - OPERATION SECRET STALLION - Port Said, Egypt.

    Roster:
    Sq. Kibwe Odonde
    Rk. Carol Dunn
    Sq. Martha Weber
    Sq. Charlie Williams

    --

    Dunn was especially nervous, setting out. She felt guilty for Okoro's death... felt like she was replacing him in the team, now that Ondede, Weber, and Williams were all back up. A tough role for her to live up to.

    The abductee was within the city. The team were meeting her at a city square. It all should have gone off without a hitch... but it didn't. It never does.

    In the midst of the advance, Dunn spotted what can only be described as... a thin man. We'd heard of them from abduction stories, but we'd never thought there were literal thin men out there. As it scuttled across the streets, Ondede caught sight of it, fired, killed it. It erupted in pestulent gas as it died... but there was no time to consider that further. There were sectoids just ahead, scuttling towards the team. Too far to shoot with his shotgun, and hoping to capture one alive, Charlie Williams hauled out his postol, fired at long range, grazed the bug. But that purple glow appeared again, and it scuttled forward, stronger. More alive. It caught Dunn in the shoulder, just beside Williams. she cringed, but this time, didn't panic.

    The squad advanced. Williams firing ahead with his pistol, hoping to wound, not kill. Martha Weber was right behind him, eager to send ten thousand volts pulsing through the bugs. For her troubles, she took fire -- but it skimmed past her now-scarred face. The sectoid was being boosted by its comrade. Williams, no longer so eager to wrestle it down, with that freakish pu rple glow, leapt forward, unholstered his shotgun... and put the bug down. Martha sprinted ahead, startling another sectoid. Ondede threw smoke, giving her cover, protection, despite moving up into a vulnerable position. She was hell-bent on bringing down the sectoid that had been... thinking at its comrade. Thinking at its comrade, and healing him.

    The sectoid Martha had startled? Dunn killed it. A grenade. She yelled in joy at doing it.

    In the darkness of the smoke, though, from Ondede's viewpoint camera, we saw flashes of green light. Horrified, we checked Martha's feed... she was alive. She'd taken another blast to the face, and she was alive. More than alive. Ondede, moving to cover, tried to help... seeking to wing the sectoid, weaken it. But his shot was too good. He took the sectoid in the face, killed it -- Martha, inches away, screamed in rage. Her opportunity stolen from her.

    The squad moved up, to link up with the Abductee... who was terrified, naturally, after all the shooting. Martha grabbed her arm, and bloody-faced again, dragged the Abductee - Anna - back across the field of battle, towards the Skyranger. As she ran... she screamed, spotting a sectoid. But Dunn, watching out over the route of escape, spotted it. Put it down as it moved, no doubt to fire at the abductee or the squad.

    As she fled to the Skyranger, a thin man appeared... but Dunn, from her firing position, took a shot. Winged it, didn't kill it... which immediately interested Martha.

    Martha handed Anna off to Williams and Ondede, and moved up to join Dunn, while the other two hauled Anna away. But just as the squad got Anna behind a bus, Marhta, running off, trying to find the Thin Man and bring it down... well. The Thin Man saw her first, cackling as it fired. As it destroyed the cover Martha was sprinting towards, and Martha's dead body flopped over the stone dias's rubble, her face a mass of scars and stone shards exploded out of the dias.

    I felt a chill.

    Martha was dead. Martha who I'd known since the old days, my only link... gone. Killed by a plasma blast, while Dunn was screaming 'don't go out there, it's waiting, it's waiting'...

    As it got up to move, Dunn, once again, ripped off the last of her rifle's magazine. And put it down, for good.

    But the Skyranger pilot reported movement.. close to the evac zone. Williams and Ondede slowed, taking cover with the abductee. Creeping forwards, inch by inch. Ondende spotted it first... took aim, fired. The Thin Man bled a poisonous ichor, but remained standing. In fact, as Williams set up behind a statue, planning to rush it, to hit it with the Arc Thrower... it crept forward. Fired at him from the flank.

    Charlie Williams was probably still planning his path to run out and hit it. Another leap forward, out into danger, the kind that he'd survived before.

    Poor Charlie.

    Ondende grit his teeth at the death of his friend, and leaned out, killing the Thin Man just seconds too late.

    That last X-Ray disposed of, the way was clear for Anna.

    Two lives lost, chasing down Dr. Vahlen's pet theory. A live Abductee, rescued.

    I'm still not sure if it was worth it.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 7 - Rating: Excellent!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 2 - Rating: Poor

    Sq. Martha Weber - KIA
    Sq. Charlie Williams - KIA
    Sq. Ekwuenme Ondede - Promoted to Corporal, Covering Fire Certified.
    Rk. Carol Dunn - Promoted to Squaddie, Sniper Certified.

    ---

    At the bar, afterwards, I approached the small memorial wall, already filling with faces, to add an old snapshot of myself and Martha, back in the old days, when all this was theory. Something that might never happen.

    I met Ondede there, already doing it.

    He smiled grimly at me. We were strangers. But as we sat down and got to talking about Charlie and Martha... well. We weren't strangers anymore.

    We visited Dunn in the medbay later. She could barely stand up, once the adrenalin had worn off. But she'd done well. Hopefully she would never let fear get the better of her again.

    I was informed that the Commander was pleased, too. Despite the loss of life, the Council were pleased. They'd agreed to more equipment requisitions, sent five new scientists to us from Geneva, and had apparently managed to calm the Council Members generally.


    ----

    23 March 2015 -
    A new sattelite has just been completed. The Commander is holding onto it for now, intending to launch it later in the month. The Brazillian government are spooked, but not thinking of leaving the project yet. He wants to wait and see what happens before allocating it to one of the nations.

    ----

    25 March 2015 -
    Woken up to alarms. Abduction reports again. The council's members are asking for aid.

    This time, I swear to God I won't click the wrong button again.

    India is the most spooked by recent events, reporting the highest levels of panic. I don't blame them, and the Commander seems to want to reduce global panic as much as possible right now. But from the sounds of it, it's a difficult mission ahead.

    ---
    Mission 4 - Operation Glass Moon, Delhi India

    Roster:
    Rk. Arne Eriksen (Sweden)
    Rk. Mohammed Hariri (Egypt)
    Cpl. Ekwuenme Ondede
    Sq. Karl Haussman

    ---

    Almost immediately upon landing, two sectoids are spotted in a grocery store. Ondede only has time to take cover, behind a truck, but Haussman sets up beside one of the glowing alien bombardment pods we've seen on the news. Immediately opened fire, but missed. The same story for Eriksen.

    The sectoids are insidious. Hariri has moved up to take cover behind a vehicle. The moment he has, one of the sectoids opens fire, setting the vehicle alight. The other, sits, waiting and watching for him to move. Eriksen tries to move up, to distract it... but for his efforts, he gets hit in the gut. Bleeding, he stumbles into cover, and fires. Misses, naturally. But it gives Hariri the chance to get away.

    As one of the sectoids moves from cover to cover, flanking Hariri, Ondede gets off a shot. But he only wounds it, as its compatriot shoots down Hariri. Hariri's bleeding out, and fast, but alive -- we can tell that from his medical telemetry. But Eriksen... Eriksen gets hit again as he looks for an opportunity to open fire. Killed stone dead.

    Haussman opens fire with his LMG. It's a long shot, he's been hammering at the sectoid that's just killed Eriksen for what seems like minutes, but this time, he does it. He kills it, avenges the rookie. Ondede is asked if he wants to scrub the mission. But he chooses not to, rather deciding to play it cautiously. He wants to save Hariri. Too many good people have been lost already, and even though Ondede has the ability to abandon this mission, withdraw, he's also the man with the medkit.

    Hariri's bleeding out fast, and Ondede is forced to move out into the open, but he gets Hariri sprayed with nanosutures at the last moment before Hariri bleeds out. Unfortunately, it proves to be the ultimate sacrifice. Ondede is spotted by anothe sectoid in a nearby bookshop, and cut down immediately.

    The only man left alive is Haussman.

    Crouching behind the burned out wreck of the car set alight by the aliens, now safe, he sits, waits, and watches patiently. Two of the aliens show up, rushing to see what the noise was all about. Haussman eyes them, trying to decide if he can hit them both at once with a fragmentation rocket... but isntead pulls back, unable to hit both and survive.

    One of the sectoids moves up, out of cover, and into the open. into his line of sight... but as he spots it, it fires.

    We hear him grunt. We hear him survive, and haussman grits his teeth, launching the rocket anyway, despite the fact the Skyranger's open ramp is mere feet behind him. The rocket detonates... and Hariri is killed as a nearby car explodes. Haussman doesn't notice, only spotting the next alien moving up to try and kill him. He has better cover than it does, and fires.

    Determined to see it through, even to the last... the last thing he sees is the sectoid moving up to fire, between his shots.

    They're dead.

    They're all dead.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 3 - Rating: Terrible!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 4 - Rating: Terrible!

    Rk. Arne Eriksen - KIA
    Rk. Mohammed Hariri - KIA
    Cpl. Ekwuenme Ondede - KIA
    Sq. Karl Haussman - KIA



    ----

    The Indian government are screaming at the council. Somehow the botched mission made the evening news. They're threatening to withdraw from the project. Panic's increased almost globally, across Asia, Europe, and North America.

    That's all the Commander seems to care about.

    I and Bradford share a drink at the bar, waiting for someone to come by, and say they knew Hariri and Eriksen. Someone to tell us who they were. But nobody does. Bradford shakes his head and gives voice to my own thoughts. "I wish there was something, anything, we could do."

    I wish Ondende had been a stranger, instead of a friend, even if only a new one. I wish this didn't hurt so badly. I drank a shot for him, him and Haussmen. Between them they'd killed eleven aliens.

    They were good men. I'm glad to have known them, even if their deaths hurt me so.

    ----

    29 March 2015 -

    Dr. Vahlen's announced that research has completed on some of the alien materials recovered previously. A new kind of under-armour vest has been developed, constructed from nano-fiber. Too little, too late.

    The Commander just launched his satlelite, trying to appease India and keep them from leaving the project. At least, thanks to the stockpile at Area 51, sending interceptors to be based in Asia is cheap enough.

    The barracks are almost empty. Dunn is still in medbay. Only three other soldiers, all rookies I don't want to meet, in case they're killed, are still there. Thankfully, some new soldiers should be arriving soon.


    ----

    1 April 2015 -

    The Commander is happy. Everyone else should be happy, too, it sounds like. The Council are extremely impressed by the XCOM project's progress, and India, given their sattelite coverage, have remained within the project.

    I can't help but feel like a failure. I can't help but feel like the Commander's head is in the clouds.

    I wept for Weber tonight. She's been dead less than two weeks. We'll never walk beside the Rhine again.

    ---

    4 April 2015 -

    More abductions. The Commander's sending the team, such as it is, to Germany. It's going to be very difficult, the tactical analysis people tell me, but I already knew that. Why Germany? The Commander's hoping to convince their government to send an NCO to join us here.

    He wants more meat for the grinder.

    ---
    Mission 5 - Operation Bleeding Palace

    Roster:
    Rk. Iris Vandermeer (South African)
    Rk. Kathleen McIntyre (Scottish)
    Rk. Thulani Agooda (South African)
    Rk. Eugene Morel (French)

    ---

    Aliens have been sighted around a fast food outlet, of all things.

    I try not to look at the biographies and names of the team as they move up, expecting the worst, but I can't help it. So many friends have died. These soldiers, these rookies, may use the same tactics as those soldiers I'd known, might be the same spec-ops professionals, but I know they're going to die. I can feel it.

    No one will come back alive from this mission. The operation name, Bleeding Palace, randomly generated, is an omen.

    The fast food outlet is one of those free-standing buildings with a drive through. The aliens are in the back. Sectoids. One breaks through into the restaurant proper, and takes a shot at Agooda, just as two Thin Men arrive. Agooda, huddled behind a large display sign, brings down the sectoid in one breathtaking moment. I dare to hope, for an instant, as the telepathically-pumped creature dies.

    Morel and Vandermeer move up, firing at the lone visible thin man, but neither hit it. Even McIntyre fudges the shot, but she seems convinced that the bugs are trying to pull back. A conviction she loses as a second Thin Man pushes up into the restaurant, killing Vandermeer, despite the wall Vandermeer's hiding behind.

    The other thin man spits, damn well spits, at Agooda and Morel. They both choke on the heavy poisonous fumes. Morel, though, bravely dives out, moving to the exact spot Vandermeer was standing, before her body was blown aside. His eyes no doubt stinging from the poison, he flings a grenade into the restaurant, wounding the thin man inside, but, more importantly, destroying its cover. Thulani stays where he is, holding his breath, and fires at the now exposed Thin Man, killing it.

    He, too, is convinced the bugs are starting to pull back, even as he chokes.

    He's wrong.

    Weird new creatures appear, bursting in through and into the restaurant's kitchen.

    They're big, they have no legs, they just float there on plumes of fire from massive jet engines seemingly built into them.

    They're horrific, and they're going to kill everyone. I know it. Making matters worse, as McIntyre moves up to try and frag the new creatures, she disturbs a squad of sectoids, who scatter in all directions. One has a bead on her, ready to kill her where she stands. She runs across the parking lot, trying to find cover behind a litter bin, of all things. Morel and Agooda provide cover in overwatch, as they scream, trying to decide what to do.

    Talk of falling back panics Agooda, he screams that none of this is right. McIntyre is between him and the sectoids. He mistakes her for one of the enemy as she takes cover, riddling her with bullets. She's on her feet, though. On her feet and worried. She edges behind a car, and provides cover for Morel to pull back. He joins her, closer to the evac point. A last stand.

    It seems to work. McIntyre spots a sectoid trying to flank them, and she kils it outright. She and Morel resume overwatch, while Agooda stays where he is. He's poisoned, and convinced he's about to die. Rather than pull back, he takes a desperate shot at a sectoid edging over, trying to see what's going on. But it's out of cover, nd for that, Agooda terminates it.

    Another of the creatures tries to flank McIntyre and Morel, creeping around a truck. They both fire at it as it moves, but both miss. It kills McIntyre, and Aooda runs for cover. In the wrong direction. Morel lines up a shot on the sectoid that's just killed McIntyre, wounds it. Doesn't kill it. One of the creatures inside the restaurant, a floater, perhaps, kills Agooda. Another of the floaters drops out of the sky, behind Morel. Even Morel's nerve has been broken. He fires as he runs up the Skyranger's ramp, wounding the floater before it can fire. He aborts the mission, and I thank God at least one of the troopers survived that nightmare.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 4 - Rating: Terrible!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 3 - Rating: Poor

    Rk. Kathleen McIntyre - KIA
    Rk. Thulani Agooda - KIA
    Rk. Iris Vandermeer - KIA
    Rk. Eugene Morel - Wounded (4 days)

    ---

    The Germans are threatening to leave the project, now. So are the Japanese, Australians and Brazillians. I can see by the look in the Commander's eye that the Commander thinks Morel should have stayed put and died with the rest. He doesn't promote Morel, who's got four days in the medbay to look forward to.

    That night I unholster my sidearm as I sit on my bedside, and contemplate suicide.

    So much death.

    ----

    8 April, 2015 -

    The South Africans want alien corpses for one of their pharmaceutical companies. They're offering money. They get their bodies.

    The Commander is a callous, unfeeling person. I hate them.

    ----

  3. #3
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    11 April, 2015 -
    Another small UFO, like the one we shot down before. We're calling it a small scout, this time, over New Mexico. The Interceptors knock it down, but there's none of the celebration there was on that first intercept.

    I had a drink with Dunn last night. She's back on duty, and today, she's going out to the crash site. We both know what happened last time, and as she boards the ranger, she looks at me sorrowfully.

    The others boarding the skyranger are just faces. Faces without names. I haven't been socializing with the soldiers much, anymore.


    -----
    Mission 6 - Operation Dying Mountain

    Roster:
    Rk. Natalia Guseva (Russian)
    Rk. Eugene Morel
    Sq. Carol Dunn
    Rk. Jengo Cissoko (South African)

    ---

    The fragments on the ground, as the squad land, are extensive. They can't see the UFO, but there's a breadcrumb trail of fragmented pieces of the ship leading them to it. I hope the aliens all died in the crash.

    No such luck. As they advance through a field of wreckage and broken trees, they hear roars. Weird roars. It must be the floaters.

    I'm proven right moments later. Eugene spots them first, but they duck out of his line of sight. He sits and waits, while Guseva moves up. There's a moment of luck, she's caught them both out in the open. It's a good chance to hit them, but she misses. The thing dodged. Morel wings one as it moves up, trying to take cover, and that throws its aim off as it tries to kill Guseva, moments later. The other of the two launches itself into the air, and comes back down behind the squad. Dunn tries to take it out, turning, lining up with her sniper rifle, but the shot fails to connect.

    Eugene Morel makes good a moment later, taking down the floater he'd winged. Guseva pulls back to support the others, but the floater's hiding behind a log. The shots miss... but as it roars out, two Thin Men appear in the distance. Called in to help the floater? Perhaps.

    Morel pulls back, out of sight, and the squad waits, alert. Dunn spots a Thin Man on the move. Her sniper shot plunges into the burning tree it settles into cover beside... a moment later, it lines up its plasma rifle, aims, and with a satisfied smirk, kills Corporal Dunn. There's nothing for the rest of the squad to do but wait. The wait doesn't last long. Guseva spots the thin man moving up again, and gets two rounds into it. She pulls back, waiting for it to move... but Morel sees it going first. Blasts at it, but misses. Guseva sees it a moment later, and manages two more bullets, killing it.

    The squad settles in to wait once more.

    Eventually, after tense moments of waiting, Morel spots one of the floaters moving up. He shoots at it, wounds it. But it dives out of sight a moment later. He pulls back to reload, teeth grit with determination.

    It's a waiting game again. The squad, three remaining, moving one up, while two sit and watch.

    It works. Cissoko spots the Thin Man before it sees him, and fires, wounding it as it huddles beside a tree. Morel pushes up, fires as well, and brings the thin man down. Guseva moves up to join them, waiting, watching. The three stay in place, defending their small patch of ground, only to hear a disturbing, unfamiliar gurgle. I think it's another floater, perhaps the one that got away. Bradford's convinced it's something new.

    The squad resumes their snail's-pace advance. Only for the floater to lunge forward, from the UFO, bleeding. Morel and Cissoko react, firing with no luck, while Guseva holds up behind them. Morel and Cissoko follow up, firing again -- only Morel hits, putting the floater down. The squad wait, and listen, nervously, before moving up again. They hear something moving in the wreck.

    As they slowly advance, I reflect on what's happened.

    Dunn has died.

    My last connection to these soldiers, gone.

    But even as I watch Eugene Morel advance, I feel hope. Small and slender.

    Morel and Cissoko take positions on either side of the weirdly glowing field of the alien door. Morel opens it. An Outsider moves up behind him. Horrified, Guseva moves up, flanking it. The creature is close, now. That weird, all-energy being. Cissoko has the Arc thrower on his belt.

    How many people have died trying to capture a live alien?

    Here's our first, real opportunity, as Guseva fires, blasting holes in the outsider's glowing side. Cissoko moves up beside, and Morel nods in agreement. Grim, determined, he unholsters his pistol, moving up beside Guseva, firing at the outsider. Another glowing hole appears in its shell, and Cissoko unlimbers the Arc Thrower.

    He lunges forward.

    The creature shrivels into nothingness... leaving behind a glowing crystal, pulsing with electricity.

    They've done it.

    They've captured... some kind of alien.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 5 - Rating: Excellent!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 1 - Rating: Good

    Rk. Eugene Morel - Promoted to Squaddie (Support)
    Sq. Carol Dunn - KIA
    Rk. Natalia Guseva - Promoted to Squaddie (Support)
    Rk. Jengo Cissoko - Active

    ----

    23 April 2015 -
    Dr. Vahlen has just finished research on Carapace Armour. Far too late to save the lives of those soldiers we knew. Far, far too late. Worse still, Dr. Shen doesn't have enough engineers on hand to dedicate to work on the project.

    I miss Dunn. I miss Weber. I miss Okoro, and all the rest. I haven't been down to the bar, drinking with the soldiers, but I did sneak down to look at the memorial wall early yesterday morning. It's grown so very much.

    ----

    24 April 2015 -
    Abductions. Again. Someone will die. There's an easy mission available, tactical think that it's not going to be too rough. The egyptians want to send us Engineers, too, and that's the only reason the Commander takes it. The Commander was going to send the men to france -- the french are on the verge of leaving the project, but Bradford pled with the Commander, tears in his eyes. It was only when Dr. Shen reminded him that he needed engineers that the commander accepted the mission in Egypt.

    I really hate the Commander.

    -----
    Mission 7 - Operation Driving Crone

    Roster:
    Sq. Natalia Guseva
    Sq. Eugene Morel
    Rk. Jengo Cissoko
    Rk. Owen Hughes

    ----
    The Skyranger drops them on an abandoned looking highway overpass. Bodies covered in greenish abduction webs lay everywhere. The engines in some of the cars are still running. At first advance, Hughes spots two floaters. He's forced to pull back a ways.

    Morel opens fire, and wounds one of them. Guseva charges forward, edging in behind a truck, while Cissoko takes position, fires, and misses. The Floater launches itself into the air, landing behind the squad. Tricky bastards. Hughes, Hughes is one of the new hires. He doesn't know how Weber and Williams died. He launches himself at the wounded floater, and stuns it.

    I'm gobsmacked. All of the command staff are. Vahlen screeches in joy. A live one. The other, Vissoko spots, and terminates as it edges out of cover, trying to see what happened.

    Two aliens down, no one dead.

    The squad proceeds cautiously, only to spot two more floaters. Guseva huddles beside a truck, and takes a pot shot, but misses the quick-moving creatures. Morel, waiting, watching, fires as one moves, only to miss it. But the creature holds in place, watching, trying to work out where the fire came from.

    The other hops over a car, firing at Guseva. Her screams chill me, as she panics, bleeding, burned... but she pulls back, screaming in horror. It may have saved her life, for a time. hughes and Cissoko creep up, pushing fire on the single visible alien, wounding it in the process. As Cissoko moves, the floater spots him. Fires. Wounds him, but Cissoko doesn't even grunt at the pain. Simply leans over the crash barrier running down the highways centre, and kills it, stone cold dead. Morel spots the second as it moves forward, and kills it before it finishes its leap.

    We're all astonished when no more aliens are found.

    There were only four.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 4 - Rating: Excellent!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 0 - Rating: Excellent!

    Sq. Eugene Morel - Active
    Sq. Natalia Guseva - Gravely Wounded (16 days)
    Rk. Jengo Cissoko - Promoted to Squaddie, certified for Assault.
    Rk. Own Hughes - Active


    ----

    The team are elated by the victory. But global horror is moving faster than can be contained. Mexico, the United Kingdom, and France, are now threatening to leave the XCom Project as well. One slender victory in Egypt has done nothing to convince them of our success.

    I dare to creep down to the bar. I toast Cissoko and Morel. They've done well, even if afterward Cissoko is pulled right into medbay.

    Vahlen is nowhere to be seen. She's in alien containment, poking at her alien. Rumour says she's been sticking probes into the thing's brain.

    I'm glad, if it's true.


    ----

    24 April 2015 - Later -

    The aliens are throwing everything they've got at us. A massed assault against our globe's cities. Just artillery shelling, in Moscow, and in Washington DC. But in Nagoya, Japan, they've actually landed. A terror attack. The squad's tired, barely back. And they're going out again. Morel had only just started to sleep, before the Klaxons. The Skyranger arrived shortly after midnight.

    ---

    -----
    Mission 8 - Operation Twisted Whisper

    Roster:

    Sq. Eugene Morel
    Rk. Youssef Wahid (Indian)
    Rk. Owen Hughes
    Rk. Silvia Pena (French)

    ---

    The first creatures that appear, pushing through a hotel to get at the squad, are strange, four-legged beasts... with centaur-like arms. Huge fangs. The squad react on instinct, firing reflexively as they advance. We have no idea what they are, but as soon as they've appeared, floaters emerge over a nearby rooftop. These new things, these bugs. They're tough. Wahid is the only one to manage to land a solid hit on the two advancing bug-alien-centaurs, but it hardly slows the thing.

    Firing again afterward, Wahid's the only one to deal with it, until Morel appears, leaning on the side of a taxi. He finishes it off, leaving only one, scuttling about, impossibly fast. It vanishes into the shadows, seeminly after the civillians. A floater drops down from the roof, firing as it lands, aiming at Wahid. Wahid ducks back and into cover behind a van's fender, and fires a clean shot, terminating the floater where it stands. The rest of the squad watch for movement. Soon the centaur-bug reappears, the squad firing at it as it comes up. It's unclear who hits it, but with only a graze - Hughes or Morel. The creature vanishes down the street quickly enough. Pena says she sees a civillian down there, but it's too far for her to possibly see. All the same, the job here is to protect them. The squad advances, cautiously. Hughes manages to tag the creature as they chase it, but again, only a wound. This centaur-like bug alien is a survivor.

    Chasing it down, Morel and Pena wind up in the open, only to stare as the centauroid creature kills a civillian, pushing him to the floor, and... tearing out his throat. Pushing something into the man's thorax.

    There's no time to consider it, though. A floater charges from behind this terrible attack, Morel cutting it down mid-air. Taking cover, Pena kills the Centauroid creature with the last of the bullets in her magazine. Morel moves up beside her, reloading. Hughes is out of ammo too. The only one left with ammunition is Wahid... who fires, in horror, as the man the now dead centauroid killed gets up. The bite... seems to have turned the man into a zombie.

    The floater, hanging above the squad, thankfully seems to have no interest in the squad, choosing, instead, to kill a civillian inside the nearby building. Her screams echo long in the night. Wahid, having reloaded, kills the 'zombie'. Pena and Wahid, out of ammunition, unholster their sidearms. It's quicker than reloading, although the pistols are far less powerful. They both fire at the floater. They both miss, but force the floater to duck into the building and out of the line of fire. Right into Morel's sights. The man's lethal. The squad have a moment to catch their breath, as screams burn in the night.

    Soon, they edge forwards. Pena makes a run for it, spotting a civillian, who she waves back into the safety of the Skyranger. Only to hear some creature's movement. Wahid spots it moving - a floater, high above, but fails to hit it with his reflexive fire. Morel flings a grenade up to the roof-top, hoping to hit the creature, but, unseen, it vanishes from sight.

    Pena climbs a drainpipe to the roof, nervously. She spots the floater, and sprints for cover, calling for support. In a flash, Wahid has scaled up beside her. They're on a cafe patio, now, Pena just within a building, Wahid covering her behind some chairs, while Morel and Hughes advance through the building's lower floors, hoping to help.

    The floater on the patio above doesn't notice the two soldiers, instead, firing at a civillian. Pena grenades it, destroying the outdoor tables it's been covering behind, while Wahid dives for new cover. As he reaches it, he opens fire on the floater, and misses, despite it being an easy shot. His nerves must be ragged. Morel backs out of the building, follows the other two up, and in the open, fires, without taking cover. The gamble pays off, killing the floater.

    Moments pass in silence, as the squad resumes cover, and moves off.

    They've beaten back the terror attack. The other aliens have withdrawn to their ship, and fled.

    We're silent in the command room, before a ragged cheer erupts.

    I do not join in.

    -- MISSION END --

    - Aliens killed: 7 - Rating: Excellent!
    - XCOM Operatives lost: 0 - Rating: Excellent!
    - Civilians Saved: 13/18 - Rating: Good

    Sq. Eugene Morel - Promoted to Corporal, Covering Fire Certification.
    Rk. Owen Hughes - Promoted to Squaddie, Sniper Certified.
    Rk. Silvia Pena - Promoted to Squaddie, Sniper Certified.
    Rk. Youssef Wahid - Promoted to Squaddie, Heavy Certification.

    ---

    After the mission, I meet Dr. Shen in the hallway. He's pleased. Told me, 'It seems like they're doing business down there, and without even taking a scratch.'

    Everyone's mood is high, but my own.

    ---

    25 April 2015 -
    I barely got to lay down before the alarms rang out. A UFO spotted, over India. Larger this time. Medium-sized. From the Interceptor's footage, it looked a lot like the small scout... only... larger. The Interceptor took considerable damage, but managed to shoot it down.

    I wasn't on-shift for the following mission, but the same squad went out.

    Hughes was the first to die, choking on a Thinman's spittle after being torn open by a plasma blast. Pena took revenge. Wahid took fire from two sectoids, survived, and in a cloud of smoke thrown by Morel, managed to stun one of the two. Pena near-miraculously took the other out in the murky smoke with a sniper shot. A third, inside the ship, managed to resist being stunned, but Morel finished it off. The outsider in the ship, when found, critically wounded Pena. She's in medbay now, nobody's sure if she'll live or not. It killed Wahid. That's the reward for his bravery.

    Death.

    Only Morel made it out.

    ---

    1 May 2015

    Europe's gone. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany, have all pulled out of the project. Panic levels are high globally. Mexico and Brazil are in all out riot, Canada, Argentina, Russia, and Australia are next.

    I can't do this anymore. I went down to the memorial wall today, and said goodbye to Martha.


    -----

    Final note: Command Controller James Houndsman was found dead, killed by his own hand, at 3 PM local time.

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