Interlude 1

XCOM HQ
BARRACKS

“Attention to award!”

There was the click of heels coming together as the gathering of soldiers snapped to attention at Corporal Coach’s command. Holding the paper out in front of him, he called out the names of the awardees in his best, booming voice.

“Captain Silla Thakilla, front and center, to receive the Squad Leader’s Badge for demonstrating superb leadership skills throughout multiple operations while still keeping every member of his squad alive.

“Captain Matthew Mendiola, front and center, to receive the Global Campaign Medal. Captain Mendiola has participated in major combat mission in the American, African, European, and Asian theaters of operations, helping to keep panic low across the globe.

“Lieutenant Anselm Maxwell, front and center, to receive the Urban Operations Pin for successfully completing XCOM’s urban operation course under the required time.

“Squaddie Sans Leon, front and center, to also receive the Urban Operations Pin for successfully completing XCOM’s urban operation course under the required time.”

Mister Coach watched the four soldiers fall out of formation and march to the front of the formation, shaking hands with Ravenshaw as they passed by her. Coach handed her the medals as she went down the line, quickly pinning the medal to the soldier’s uniform. Once all 4 soldiers had their new medals, Ravenshaw turned to address the remaining soldiers.

“Thanks for being here everybody, though I suppose you didn’t really have a choice,” she began, earning a few snickers from the squads. “I know it’s been awhile since we’ve handed out any awards, we’ve just been too busy. It’s important to recognize the good work everyone is doing, both on and off the field. I’d especially like to call attention to Captain Thakilla’s efforts in leading Gold Squad, not taking a single casualty since the restructuring.”

Coach sucked on his top lip, waiting for her to finish talking, when she said, “That’s it. Thanks for coming again, everyone. Carry on with the rest of your day. Mister Coach, Lancaster, I need to talk to both of you.”

The squad fell out of formation, talking amongst themselves as Ravenshaw passed by Coach, gesturing for him to follow. He put the list down, following her out as Lancaster jogged behind him. Once all 3 soldiers were outside, she made sure the door sealed shut behind her and then turned to the two soldiers and said, “I’m removing both of you from your squads.”

Coach practically heard Lancaster’s jaw drop and Coach exclaimed, “What the hellCaptain?”

She held up a hand, silencing him. “Listen to me, both of you. You’re getting removed and placed in to your own section, just the two of you. Things with EXALT are getting hairy, and we can’t afford to keep taking people out for the covert operations, it’s just hurting the squads. We’ll draw on the two of you when we need to take down an EXALT cell.”

Coach’s face broke out in a grin, and Lancaster said, “That’s great news, Captain.”

Ravenshaw gave a weak smile and said, “Yea, it is. But, listen…”

Lancaster said, “There’s a catch.”

“No. Well, yes. Look, have you heard about Dr Vahlen’s theories on genetic manipulation?”

Coach’s eyes went wide and he said, “No.”

“Yes.”

“No,” repeated Lancaster.

“Yes! Listen, this is the requirement. The genetic mods are supposed to… will help you survive during the extraction. We’re not going to send people out without them,” Ravenshaw said.

“How can I blend in with the EXALT whenever I’ve got, I don’t know, alien bug eyes?” asked Coach.

“You won’t!…. Christ, you won’t. The changes, whatever they are, will be completely invisible,” snapped Ravenshaw, clearly becoming irritated.

Coach realized he was treading on dangerous ground, and gave a dejected sigh. Next to him, Lancaster said, “Do we get to keep all of our limbs?”

“Yes, Lancaster, you do. No one will ever know anything is different about you.”

Coach and Lancaster exchanged looks, and Coach knew that he was feeling the same mixture of trepidation and excitement. Lancaster nodded, and Coach said, “Can you give us any more details about it?”

Ravenshaw shrugged and said, “I’m not really clear on the science behind it. I just know Dr Vahlen’s been able to harvest some genes from the aliens we’ve encountered. She’s laid out some templates of the different genes, trying to achieve similar results to nature. For you two, she mentioned something about, I dunno, a leopard and a snake or something.”

“We’re not going to grow fur, are we?” asked Lancaster.

“Invisible!” said Ravenshaw, and Coach winced. He glanced over at Lancaster, and saw that he had the same look of uncertainty on his face. Coach bit his bottom lip before finally saying, “Alright, Captain, I’m in. As long as it’s safe.”

“Me too,” added Lancaster. At this, Ravenshaw brightened and said, “Great! As of right now, Violet Section is now an active component in the roster. Let’s get you over to the lab, Dr Vahlen can give you better briefing than me.”

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