Mission 29

OPERATION BRUTAL SLEEP
COVERT DATA RECOVERY
INDIA

Lancaster watched Talana bend low, gathering power in her legs before jumping up, effortlessly clearing the building and landing on its roof. Lancaster immediately followed suit, feeling the energy wind up in his legs like a spring when he finally released it, enjoying the exhilarating feeling of being launched 30 feet in the air, before landing easily on his feet. Talana and had already moved to the roof’s edge, crouched low, and Lancaster followed suit. Down in the street below them, he saw about a dozen EXALT soldiers prowling around, getting into position to ambush the site of the decoder.

“Alright, Siren, there’s about a dozen soldiers in the street. Is everyone in position?” asked Talana over the radio.

“Sirens 3 and 5 in position,” replied Burning Man.

“Siren 4 is near the decoder.”

“Siren 2 and Minotaur 1 are in the alley.”

“Roger that. On my signal, start the ambush.”

Lancaster watched her leisurely remove the rocket tube from her back, and load in a rocket. Taking a knee, she aimed carefully down in the street, and after a few moments, she fired. Lancaster watched the rocket scream into the center of the EXALT squad, destroying a car in the process. Lancaster raised his laser pistol and fired at a wounded sniper fleeting behind a car, dropping the soldier. Lasers from the squad below cut down a few more of the EXALT troopers, punctuated by the blast of Mendiola’s railgun, killing nother trooper before they were able to find cover.

Lancaster kept his pistol trained on what looked like a wounded medic, firing once and scoring a hit. In retaliation, a laser struck the brick directly below him, destroying his cover. He dove to the side as more lasers flew overhead, and Talana fired two barrages from her heavy laser. Suddenly, cries of, “They’re in the building!” drifted up from below, and Talana shouted to Lancaster, “Get down there!”

Lancaster scanned the street below, looking for any more threats. Areklis and Mendiola were firing at a couple of soldiers further down the street, but there were none nearby. Lancaster stepped on the ledge and leaped towards a large delivery truck nearby, landing on it. He swung himself over the edge of it and dropped to the asphalt below. He could hear the sound of intense fighting coming from the building, and as he rounded the corner he saw Arthur Crimson and Burning Man pinned down by some EXALT soldiers that had entered the building. Mendiola was slowly advancing on a pair of Snipers crouched behind a car down the street, and he dashed out of cover and moved behind the MEC pilot, entering the building. He crouched behind a desk and shot a machine gunner pinning Crimson down, dropping him. Lancaster turned to fire at the second EXALT soldier when a stray laser destroyed his cover, splintering the fragile wood. Horribly exposed, Lancaster looked around for another piece of cover when the sniper was cut down by Crimson.

Lancaster gave a sigh of relief and called out, “Thanks. Is that it?”

“Yea, I think so.”

Lancaster looked outside the street, but didn’t see any more EXALT. “Siren 1, the building is clear. Do you see anything from the roof?”

“Negative. Stay alert, they might be flying in reinforcements.”

“Roger dodger.”

Lancaster directed Crimson and Burning Man into better positions, and listened carefully for the sound of approaching helicopters. He moved over to the decoder and pulled his laptop out, connecting the two devices. He listened hard for the sound of any more EXALT soldiers as he tapped away on the laptop. It looked to him as if the decoding was done, and he pulled up the information to see if it contained the location of the EXALT base. He looked it over and swore, calling out over the radio, “Still don’t have the location of the base. I know they’re not in Europe, though.”

“Good work. Let’s get everyone out of here, I think I can hear helicopters coming.”

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Mission 28

SIBERIA

Maxwell listened to the music blaring through Skyranger’s speakers, barely audible over the engine. In what he could only assume was an ironic twist, Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” was the current track playing. He glanced around the cramped compartment, when he felt a sudden bump on his shoulder. Next to him, Coach had fallen asleep on him and feeling annoyed, he nudged him with his elbow, saying, “Come on, man, how can you sleep at a time like this?”

“Don’t wanna die tired,” mumbled Coach, leaning to the other side while pulling his watchcap over his eyes. Maxwell shook his head and looked over at Ravenshaw, and saw her looking intently down at the map she had been given. He leaned over and shouted, “Has the plan changed yet?”

She looked up, obviously startled, before shaking her head and saying, “No. It’s not much of a map, but the base obviously splits. You take Talana and Volkov up one side, I’ll take Mendiola and Coach up the other. Divide and conquer. We’ll capture whatever is leading these things.”

Maxwell nodded, not surprised by her answer, and he asked, “Nervous?”

She gave a weak smile and said, “A little. Wish we still had a medical officer.”

Maxwell nodded and sat back, trying to picture what the inside of the alien base would look like. He had seen some of the surgery units that Dracula had brought back from the abductor UFO, and it was downright creepy. He shuddered a bit, trying not imagine what it felt like to be stretched over one, and checked his gear to make sure he hadn’t lost anything. Thankfully, everything was in the same position it had been the last five times, and he looked around the Skyranger, wondering what else he could to take his mind off things. Ravenshaw was still staring at the map, Coach was asleep, Talana and Volkov were engaged in an intense conversation, and Mendiola stood in his big suit, lost in his own thoughts. Fighting boredom, he walked up to the cockpit and asked the pilot, “How much longer until we’re there?”

“Soon.”

“How soon?”

“I bet if you keep asking me we’ll get there sooner.”

Maxwell growled and left, pushing his way back to his seat. He sat back down, leaning forward on his knees, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Volkov was holding a phone out, with the first move of a chess game already made. Grateful for something to do, Maxwell took the phone and started to formulate a plan.

———————————————————————————
OEPRATION LOST STROKE
ALIEN BASE ASSAULT
ENTRANCE

Mendiola watched the ropes spill out of the back of the Skyranger as the squad fast roped into the base, waiting for his signal. After a few moments, Ravneshaw spoke into the radio, “Go”, and he jumped off the Skyranger, hitting the ground hard. Immediately, he was greeted by the sight of a human floating in tank filled with green fluid. He grimaced, turning away, and saw that some of the other squad members were fascinating, Ravenshaw included. He looked around the massive chamber, and saw that the rudimentary map they had received was somewhat accurate. Rows and rows of the suspension tanks lined the chamber, and two parallel catwalks were raised above, leading to a pair of energy doors. After a few more moments of silence, Ravenshaw’s reverie was broken and she gave commands to the squad.

“Alright. Myself, Mendiola, and Coach will go left. You three, go up right. Move slow, always have 360 coverage, and we’ll breach those doors simultaneously. Any questions?”

No one spoke up, so Ravenshaw nodded and said, “Let’s go. Coach, you’re on point.”

Coach grinned and started to move up a nearby ramp as Talana, Maxwell, and Volkov headed up opposite of them. Mendiola saw Coach’s skin start to shimmer and sort of fade out of existence as he moved further ahead, though never completely. He was impressed at how quiet Coach actually was, in contrast to himself, who’s every footstep echoed around the chamber. He moved as slow as could be reasonable, but knew it was a lost cause. Further ahead, Mendiola saw Coach stop and point his weapon down before saying in a low voice, “Platform down here, all clear. Moving towards the door.”

Coach dashed towards the door, sliding up next to it, and Mendiola reached it shortly before Ravenshaw. He looked across the way and saw the other three soldiers reach the energy door, and Maxwell gave the thumbs up. Ravenshaw sidled up next to the door, and over the radio said, “One the count of three, we breach. One, two… THREE!”

Coach slammed his fist against the energy door, and Mendiola saw it start to recede from the bottom up. As it disappeared, sound from the other side filtered through, and Mendiola heard the awful scrabbling of claws on metal.

There was no chance of calling out a warning before the Chryssalids were on them. They burst through the entryway, 2 of them crashing into Mendiola. He brought his railgun up as one pounced on Ravenshaw. She swore and fired her sniper rifle as she fell backwards, the laser scoring a lucky hit and killing the Chryssalid instantly. Mendiola glanced over towards Mister Coach, and saw both Chryssalids start towards him. He swung out with the butt of his rifle, knocking one off its feet, which Mendiola took advantage of by pinning it to the ground with his foot. It struggled underneath him, its hard carapace holding up under the massive weight of the MEC suit, as he engaged the thruster on his elbow and slammed the hardened steel into the other bug, its carapace splitting unpleasantly under the force. It collapsed, green blood oozing out of the cracks in its armor, and Mendiola looked down at the final Chryssalid, bringing his railgun towards it, when it slipped out from under him and dashed again towards Coach. Coach’s fired, the laser going wide, and the Chryssalid was on him in a flash of claws. They fell to the floor, his rifle clattering away, and Mendiola aimed with his railgun, trying to line up a good shot. The alien pinned Coach to the floor and raised up its scythes when a laser pierced through its back, followed by several more. Underneath it, Coach was shooting his laser pistol up into the alien, green blood flowing over him. The alien collapsed on top of him and the air escaped out of Coach in a groan

The ambush had taken all of 15 seconds. Mendiola looked over at Ravenshaw, who quickly picked herself up and dashed over to Coach. Mendiola stood there with his uselessly large hands as Ravenshaw rolled the Chryssalid off of Coach and asked, “Are you OK? Did it get you?”

Slathered in blood, Coach tried to talk but sucked down a gob of blood instead. He started to cough violently, rolling onto his hands and knees. Ravenshaw crouched next to him, hand on his shoulder in his concern. He coughed and spit, trying to clear his mouth of the disgusting fluid, when there was the sound of running footsteps behind Mendiola. He turned to look and saw the other three running towards him, and Maxwell said, “Jesus Christ! Are you all OK?”

Coach had finally gotten his coughing under control to a ragged sort of breathing, but he still found the energy to give the middle finger salute. He spit once more, and in a harsh voice said, “God, that’s disgusting.”

He leaned on Ravenshaw, taking a couple of deep breaths, and then looked down at his armor. He grimaced, and tried to wipe as much of the viscous fluid off as he could with his sleeves, when Ravenshaw turned to Maxwell.

“We may as well stay together, now. Scout out the room ahead and secure it. We’ll be right behind you guys.”

Maxwell nodded, and the three soldiers moved past Coach, Volkov clapping him on the shoulder. Finally feeling well enough, Coach bent down to pick up his rifle, shaking some of the blood off. He took a deep breath, and said, “I’m ready. We shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

———————————————————————————————————
OEPRATION LOST STROKE
ALIEN BASE ASSAULT
FOOD CHAMBER

Talana peered over the ledge and into the chamber, observing the patrolling Muton team. The squad had managed to take a platform overlooking a massive room that seemed to hold pods of food for the aliens. Coach had pushed further into the chamber, keeping an eye out for contacts, when a patrol of Mutons had wandered in. Next to her, Ravenshaw was instructing the squad, getting them into position to ambush the patrol. Talana watched the aliens intently, tensing up as they passed by the pod Coach was blending into, when they suddenly stopped.

“Oh, no,” she whispered, “No no no.”

It appeared as if the Muton was carefully sniffing at thin air, its head moving inquisitively. Next to Talana, Ravenshaw hissed, “What the hell is it doing?”

“It probably smells the bug blood,” replied Volkov.

“Dammit!” hissed Ravenshaw. The Mutons seemed to be getting more agitated, grunting amongst themselves, as Ravenshaw cobbled together a plan. “Coach, listen carefully. We’re going to hit them with a rocket to start an ambush. You should probably get behind cover soon. Key your mic twice if you understand.”

Talana drew the rocket tube off her back as her earpiece beeped twice, and Ravenshaw nodded towards her. Quickly, Talana stood up, got the center Muton in her sights and fired. The blast of the launch was deafening in the chamber, and Talana saw a flash of violet armor as Coach dove out of the way of the incoming rocket. The missile detonated on target, and the rest of the squad opened up with laser weapons. Mendiola, Maxwell, and Volkov charged down the ramp and onto the main floor as Talana drew her up her heavy laser, resting it on the ledge of the platform. Before she could fire, though, the Mutons were cut down, sprawled out in pools of blood.

Talana’s heart was racing, though her secondary heart slightly out of sync, giving her a small cough. As the rest of the squad fanned out across the chamber, she saw the large energy door open at the end of the chamber as 2 Berserkers filed through, followed by 4 Mutons.

“Mutons! Mutons in the chamber!” shouted Maxwell from the floor. Quickly, the aliens moved out, taking cover as the Berserkers charged forward. Both Berserkers charged through the barrage of lasers as Ravenshaw shouted, “Kill the Berserkers first!”

The sounds of plasma fire rang out as Talana targeted one of the Berserkers and fired a burst from her heavy laser, though the she only succeeded in scorching the floor. Her pupils reacted automatically, her sight flickering slightly as they compensated for the glare in the room, and she fired again, scoring a direct hit. Another laser blast pierced its armor and killed it, dropping it to the floor, as the second kept charging towards Coach. Talana watched Mendiola dash forward and intercept the Berserker, and she looked further down the room towards the Mutons. The plasma fire was already wearing down the squad’s cover, but a thick red lance from Ravenshaw’s rifle pierced one Muton’s cover, dropping it. Talana shifted her focus towards another Muton, firing a burst that only wore down its cover. It attempted to dash away, but was cut down by Volkov.

This left 2 more Mutons on the floor, though cover had quickly become scarce. Maxwell remained hidden behind a stump of a pod while Volkov and Coach moved towards a raised platform on the side of the chamber. Maxwell raised his scatter laser over his cover and fired twice, trying to cover the other two soldiers, as Mendiola fired a massive round from his railgun, blowing through a Muton’s cover and killing it. The remaining Muton seemed to realize the odds were stacked against it and tried to flee back the way it came from, but was quickly cut down by Talana.

The threat dealt with, Talana’s eyes immediately scanned the room for any more threats, but she didn’t see any. The acrid smell of ionization hung in the air from the barrage of laser and plasma discharges, and the chamber had been practically destroyed. Only one pod still remained standing, and the bodies of the aliens were scattered amongst the green blood and the black scorch marks on the floor.

“Is anyone hurt?” asked Ravenshaw over the radio.

“Minotaur 1 up.”

“Chimera 1’s alright.”

“Chimera 3 is up.”

“Bogeyman 1 stinks, but is fine.”

Ravenshaw glanced over at Talana, and she gave a thumbs up. Ravenshaw said, “My God, I can’t believe we got through that unscathed. Top off your weapons, everyone. We’re not done yet.”

———————————————————————————————————————-
OPERATION LONG STROKE
ALIEN BASE ASSAULT
COMMAND CENTER

Coach felt the tingle as his skin adjusted to match his surroundings, and once he was finally concealed he leaned out of cover, looking up at the Sectoid on the platform. It had a noticeably larger head than a standard Sectoid and seemed to be a different color, and it was manipulating a large helical structure that commanded most of the platform. To Coach’s eyes, there didn’t appear to be any sort of interface to interact with, but it was clearly doing something.

“I’ve got eyes on the X-Ray,” whispered Coach into the microphone. He was alone in the control room, with the rest of the squad hanging back near the entrance. Deep within the bowels of the alien base, machinery was thrumming, sounding eerily like a heartbeat. Coach watched as the Sectoid circled around the object and continued to manipulate, when Ravenshaw’s voice came over the radio. “I see it. How close are you?”

“Still on the low ground.”

“Get up there. I’ll hit it, you stun it. We’ll only have one chance, make it count.”

“Roger. Switching to radio silence.”

Coach slipped out from behind cover, moving towards the ramp that led to the platform. He moved silently, being careful to accidentally drag his boots on the ramp. He got into position on the ramp where his head was below the platform, and checking down to make sure his camouflage was still working, he poked his head up. He inhaled sharply when he realized how close he was to the alien. The Sectoid’s head turned sharply in his direction, and Coach remained perfectly still. He started cursing himself internally for being so out of practice moving around aliens, since all he had done for the past month was dupe the EXALT. The Sectoid slowly moved towards him, cocking its head inquisitively, and Coach started to wonder if sweat could short out the camouflage. As the Sectoid got closer, he had a chance to inspect it, and he was surprised by how much larger it seemed than the regular Sectoids. As the Sectoid got unbearably close to him, he chalked it up to him not seeing a Sectoid in a while, when his earpiece crackled to life. “You in position yet? Key twice when you are.”

Moving his arm as slowly as possible down to his radio, staring at the Sectoid the whole time, Coach keyed his radio twice. He winced at the clicking noise it made, unbearably loud in the sound of the chamber, when the Sectoid clearly reacted in response. It jumped backwards, its thin arm raising the plasma weapon strapped to it, when a thick red laser suddenly appeared in front of him. The laser struck the Sectoid in the shoulder, burning straight through its fragile skin, and Coach wasted no time. He pulled the arc thrower off his hip and hauled himself up onto the platform, the camouflage fading as he rushed the Sectoid. It looked up at Coach, and he detected the faintest hint of surprise as he brought the arc thrower in front of him and squeezed the trigger. Lightning filled the air between Coach and the alien, and it started to convulse violently. After a few short moments, it stopped, and the alien fell to the deck unconscious.

“Man,” muttered Coach. He could hear shouting from the squad echo around the chamber, and over the radio Ravenshaw said, “I saw the whole thing. Good job.”

Coach glanced over at the helical device, a little bothered by how it started to hum. Keeping his eyes on the still twitching alien, he fell backwards into a sitting position, enjoying being off his feet. He could hear talking and footsteps as the rest of the squad approached the platform, and he looked behind him as Ravenshaw, Volkov, and Talana came up the ramp. Volkov looked over at the alien and pulled a face, saying, “Man, he looks uglier than normal.”

Coach nodded sagely as Talana and Ravenshaw moved over to the helical structure to inspect it. He called out, “I saw the alien interact with it. No idea what it is.”

“Probably a command and control suite,” muttered Ravenshaw, and Talana nodded in agreement. Coach picked himself off the deck and walked over as Maxwell and Mendiola walked up the ramp, joining the rest of the squad on the platform.

“Is that it, then?” asked Maxwell.

“Probably,” replied Mendiola, “This is the end of the road as far as the base is concerned. Not like there’s anywhere else for them to hide.”

“Hey, Maxwell, get on the horn it the HQ. Let them know we’ve cleared the base, and we’ll need the science team here to pick it apart,” said Ravenshaw. She paused for a moment, looking around the squad, and said, “And good job, by the way. All of you.”

Mission 27

OPERATION PATIENT HAMMER
COVERT EXTRACTION
JAPAN

Coach bent over the desk, brow furrowed, tapping his pen. Due to being a newly promoted Sergeant, Maxwell had saw fit to leave the debrief paperwork up to Coach, and Coach had never known his opinion on someone could change so much in such a short space of time.

Despite there being 7 spots for participating soldiers, he used three lines to write, “Chimera, Bogeyman 1, Minotaur 2,” and then put the pen down. He started down at the report, thinking hard, until he tentatively put the pen to paper and wrote, “On the 14th of July, Corporal Coach landed in Japan to infiltrate an EXALT cell….”

Coach made a disgusted sound and balled the report up, tossing it into a trashcan. He grabbed a fresh sheet and placed it in front of him. He put the pen back to paper, and tried again.

“On the 14th of July in the year 2015, the confident Corporal Coach, the Versatile Viper of Versailles, infiltrated an exposed EXALT cell in Japan.”

He stopped, admiring the opening. He had never been to Versailles, but he liked the alliteration. He said it out loud, and it rolled off the tongue so well that it had to remain. Surely a fellow poet would be able to appreciate it.

“Due to the EXALT experiencing exciting XCOM excursions previously, they were wondrously wary, necessitating nighttime activities aimed at uncovering unusual intelligence indicating the location of the EXALT HQ.”

He paused, frowning at the sentence. He repeated the sentence, loving the way it sound until the end. He stared furiously at the end, knowing that he wasn’t reaching his full potential.

“Unfortunately, being undercover was unexciting until uniformed friends flew forward for…” and he paused. For what? What could he use that started with an F? He thought hard for a few moments, before writing, “Fextraction.”

It was a made up word, sure, but he was on a roll. This was shaping up to be a beautiful report, and he couldn’t understand why the squad leaders always grumbled about doing paperwork. Thinking about how he wanted to end the report, what his coup de grace should be, he finally stumbled upon it. With the confidence of an artist taking a brush to canvas, he put his pen to paper once more and began to write.

“After arrival, an aggressive and accurate assault against adversarial agents arose. Abortive attempts at avenging accomplished aught. Adversaries annihilated, all allies achieved archetypal aims, appeared at abode all able-bodied.”

Coach stopped, admiring his handiwork. He reviewed what he had wrote, feeling a deep sense of pride over the report. He reviewed it, trying to decide what was missing, when he realized he forgot to include the intelligence. Hastily, he scribbled underneath the report, “EXALT HQ not in Europe,” and then added his signature, including as many flourishes as possible.

Pleased with himself, he leaned back in his chair and congratulated himself, deciding to take a well earned nap.

Mission 26

OPERATION BANISHED SUMMER
ALIEN ABDUCTIONS
PARIS, FRANCE

Volkov took careful aim at the Sectoid generating the Mechtoid’s shield bubble, and fired. The laser sailed through the car’s windshield, melting the glass and striking the Sectoid, killing it instantly. Volkov glanced up at the Mechtoid and was glad to see the small bubble around the Mechtoid disappear, though he was horrified to see the Mechtoid raising its twin cannons towards him. He brought his laser rifle up, taking aim at the exposed Mechtoid head, when Blacksmith suddenly rushed it from the side, striking it. This got the Mechtoid’s attention and it turned towards Blacksmith, and the two massive suits started to grapple. With one arm, Blacksmith jabbed the Mechtoid twice, knocking the alien off balance, before engaging the thruster at his elbow. The hardened steel slammed into the Mechtoid, crunching its armor and knocking it into the air. It landed a few meters away, its armor shattered and exposed circuitry sparking.

“Thanks for that, Minotaur 2,” said Volkov.

“No problem,” replied Blacksmith.

Volkov cast another wary look around the park, looking for any more contacts, when I Ran shouted from the rear of the squad, “SQUIDS!”

Volkov whirled around, just in time to see 2 Seekers conceal themselves. Maxwell called out, “Top off your weapons! Don’t let them get the jump on you!”

Volkov glanced down and replaced the battery in his laser rifle, as the rest of the squad did the same. 

“Get closer! Everyone keeps an eye on everyone else!”

Volkov scanned the park, keeping a careful eye out for any movement. HerrComrade looked over at him, and suddenly shouted, “SQUID!” and fired his laser rifle at Volkov. He dropped to the ground as the laser flew over him, and immediately felt something heavy drop down on his legs. The destroyed Seeker had fallen on him, pinning him to the ground. As he struggled under the weight of the robot, he heard more shouting from the squad and looked up to see a Seeker draping its tentacles over Topnotch Garbageman’s shoulder. I Ran fired his laser rifle and destroyed it, and Volkov couldn’t help but notice that the robot didn’t fall on him.

With the threat eliminated, Volkov called out, “Can someone help me over here?”

Comrade ran over to where Volkov lie while Maxwell directed Topnotch and I Ran to go pick up the remaining Meld. Comrade was able to get a firm grip on the slick surface of the Seeker’s body and slowly roll it off of Volkov. Once one of his legs were free, he was able to help out, finally getting the pressure of his legs. Comrade helped him up, and Volkov gingerly tested his legs. His calves felt painful, but he was able to stand.

“You OK, Lieutenant?” asked Comrade.

“Yea, I can walk.”

Volkov picked up his rifle, and slung it over his back. Walking slowly, he moved towards Maxwell, who had been patrolling around, inspecting the dead Mutons. Volkov said, “Those pheromones or whatever they are really give you a rush.”

Maxwell nodded and said, “Yea, they really do. I’ve been having some flank pain, though. Doctor Vahlen said the operation might put me at a higher risk for kidney infections.”

“Seriously? That’s… pretty crappy.”

Maxwell shrugged and said, “Better than losing the war. I’m going back into the tank after we pick up Coach, though. Dr Vahlen didn’t finish with all of the modifications. You ready to pick up Coach, by the way?”

Volkov saw Maxwell looking pointedly at his legs, and Volkov said, “Yea, I’ll be fine. Nothing’s broken, obviously. I can still run.”

Maxwell nodded and said, “Good. You should start thinking about what genetic set you want, by the way. You’ll probably going for a swim in the tank pretty soon.”

Mission 25

OPERATION COLD PROPHET
UFO ASSAULT
UNITED STATES

“Attention to award!”

The formation of soldiers snapped to attention as Lieutenant Paddon called out commands. He held the paper out in front of him, and called out the list of awardees.

“When I call your name, please come to the front of the formation to receive your award. Captain Talana Wolfswift, to receive the Squad Leader’s Badge, front and center.

“Captain Anselm Maxwell, to receive the Squad Leader’s Badge, front and center.

“Lieutenant Dalen Volkov, to receive the Global Campaign Medal, front and center.

“Corporal Xethyr Gray, to receive the Urban Operations Pin, front and center.

“Squaddie Topnotch Garbageman, to receive the Urban Operations Pin, front and center.”

The 5 awardees fell out of formation and assembled facing towards the rest of the soldiers as Major Ravenshaw collected the medals from Paddon and moved down the line, pinning the medals to their dress uniforms. Once all the soldiers had been pinned, she turned to address the soldiers in attendance.

“I understand the timing of this ceremony is a bit odd, since Corporal Coach is out on mission right now, but since we’ve had a string of successful missions I felt it was important to address it. After the catastrophic loss we suffered in Operation Unceasing Stroke, losing one of our most talented squad leaders and half of Gold Squad to the aliens. But XCOM has bounced back, with one of our newest arrivals, Captain Wolfswift, stepping up to command a new squad, leading them on a UFO recovery with no casualties.”

She paused for a moment, seemingly gathering her thoughts, before adding, “And commendations are due to Gray Squad for conducting a UFO assault against a brand new type of UFO, the abductor, and successfully engaging the new Muton Berserker without any casualties.”

Paddon watched her, noticing how she rushed the last bit of her sentence and he gave a slight grin. After she stumbled through the awkward task of congratulating her own squad, she continued.

“Stand at ease, everyone. I’m sure everyone here is fully abreast of what the future holds for us, but I’ll brief you on it anyway. Corporal Blacksmith is nearly done with his, ah, conversion into a MEC pilot, just going through a bit of coordination training currently, and Captain Maxwell has volunteered to be the next subject for genetic modification. Most importantly, though, we’re going to assault the alien base before the end of the month. We’re taking the fight to them.”

Ravenshaw let that hang there for a moment before continuing. “Operations will continue as normal. Blue Squad is spinning up to extract Mister Coach in a couple of days, and we’ll continue to respond to abductions around the globe. Due to the unpredictability of combat operations, the squad that will go won’t be announced until 3 days prior to the assault. The squad will be handpicked, but don’t be offended if you don’t go. We just can’t afford to take any more chances than necessary.”

Paddon quietly wondered to himself if he was going to go, going over the list of possible soldiers who would be picked. Suddenly, Ravenshaw clapped her hands and said, “But that’s in the future! Right now, let’s all extend a big congratulations to our awardees. For all interested, once we’re dismissed, the afterparty will be in the lounge.”

Mission 24

OPERATION BANISHED HAWK
UFO RECOVERY
CANADA

Arthur Crimson gripped the slick body of the Seeker, trying to pick it up. Finding a good grip with both hands, he started to haul the wreckage backwards. He took a couple of steps backwards, dragging his prize with him, when one of the tentacles suddenly convulsed and he dropped it, jumping backwards and shouting, “What the hell?”

“Relax, rookie,” called out Captain Mendiola, “It’s not alive. Well, it never was. But it’s dead now. Keep it moving.”

Crimson glanced over at Mendiola and saw the MEC pilot with a Cyberdisc slung over his shoulder, one massive mechanical hand gripping what served as its tail. He continued to lumber towards the Skyranger, and Crimson looked back down at the Seeker. He knew that it was a robot, but it still looked too organic for him to be comfortable handling it. He had always hated squids at the aquarium.

He picked the body of the Seeker back up and continued to drag it backwards, trying not to focusing on the twitching tentacles. Mendiola had already dropped the Cyberdisc and moved on, but he could hear 2 members of the squad talking intently to each other. As he slowly dragged the Seeker back, the voices of Burning Man and OBT drifted towards him.

“I’m just saying, if we’re told to collect Meld, we can just…. Take our time, or something. It’s unstable anyway, stuff’s probably radioactive. Which is another reason to avoid it.”

“You sound like a crazy person,” replied OBT, “’The government is poisoning us with chemtrails! The Illuminati have a New World Order! They’ve got aliens at Area 51!’”

Crimson had reached the Skyranger, and dropped the Seeker wreck next to the pile of aliens they had killed on the mission. He looked up at OBT and Burning Man and said, “OBT, you do realize-“

“Oh, get off it. You know what I mean.”

Burning Man made a noise of exasperation and turned to Crimson, saying, “You’ve gotta realize how dangerous this Meld business is. Do you want alien genes floating around in your DNA?”

Uncomfortable with being put on the spot, Crimson scratched the back of his head and said, “Well… I’m sure it’s safe. They wouldn’t do anything with it if it wasn’t.”

“Safe?” exclaimed Burning Man. “Safe? They a full squad out on a mission, and only half of us come back, and then they throw even more new people in to replace them and throw us out on this mission. Do you think the command is stressed about safety?”

Having no answer, Crimson dropped his arm, but OBT kept the argument going. “You’re overreacting, man. People die, that’s what happens in combat. You’re making too much of it.”

“No, I’m not! They’re chopping people’s arms off and stuffing them into giant machines, they’re throwing aliens genes into people, they send squads off to die without a second thought. I am not overreacting. This Meld is bad business.”

“What are you going to do? Refuse to collect it?” asked OBT mockingly.

“If I have to!” declared Burning Man, “I just won’t collect it. Let it deteriorate, I don’t care. I have no intention of being turned into some sort of freak, even if it for the ‘Good of humanity’ or whatever.”

“That’s probably not a good idea,” said Crimson.

“Yea, Major Ravenshaw will throw you against a wall and shot,” said OBT.

“They’re not going to do that. That’s crazy.”

“Says the man who thinks the Meld is dangerous,” muttered OBT.

“It is! Haven’t you seen Lancaster and Coach? And how their skin-“

From further off, all 3 soldiers heard the harsh bark of Talana. “Oi! Squaddies! What the hell are you doing over there? We still have salvage to collect, get over here.”

The 3 soldiers exchanged guilty looks, and Crimson called back, “Roger that ma’am! We’re moving.”

Mission 23

OEPRATION BLIND STROKE
TARGET ESCORT
BRASILIA, BRAZIL

“Alright, I’m in position. Go, now. Just like we planned.”

Ravenshaw unslung her rifle off her back, resting it on the ledge of the roof. From atop the observatory, she was able to survey the whole site, carefully scanning the area. She eyeballed a few locations that could easily hide a pod of aliens- a shack, a semi, some HVAC units. She brought her eye down to her scope, fiddling with the focus, as she heard the sounds of running footsteps float up towards her. She glanced down and saw Sans Leon sprinting out of the observatory, towards a stack of crates. He waved, and Blacksmith and Xethyr Grey ran out as well, dispersing among the cover provided. Taking one last look around and not seeing anything, she said into the radio, “Bring out the VIP.”

More sounds of running footsteps and Catherine Vincent ran out, the man in the labcoat right behind her. As they were crossing the open ground, Ravenshaw saw a flash of movement from the shack near Leon as he shouted, “Contact, contact!”

3 Thin Men suddenly dashed out of the shack, and Ravenshaw tracked their movement. Leon fired a blast from his scatter laser, killing one. Ravenshaw got another with her laser rifle, but the last slipped behind what looked dangerously like a hazmat tank. From down below, Leon was directing Vincent to get the VIP to cover while Ravenshaw shouted, “Hold your fire! Don’t pierce the tank!”

Ravenshaw looked through the scope of her rifle, watching the ends of the tank. She steadied her breathing, slowly filling her lungs with air through her nose and exhaling through her mouth. She kept her finger on the trigger, looking for any sign of movement, when there was the unmistakable silhouette of a Thin Man’s arm. She kept herself from shooting, and was glad she did when the arm disappeared back behind the tank.

“One target, eastern side, no danger to any of you. Keep moving the VIP to the Skranger,” muttered Ravenshaw, keeping her eye to the scope. Suddenly, the Thin Man lurched and spit at her, and she instinctively fired. The laser bored a hole through the alien’s head, and she had half a moment to feel relief when the poison barb bounced against her armor, popping and releasing a cloud of noxious smoke.

Immediately, her eyes started to water and she coughed, feeling the burning sensation start to filling her lungs. She started to hack violently and stumbled out of the cloud, waving her hand in front of her face to clear the air. Her earpiece exploded with concern from the squad, and she sputtered out, “I’m fine, keep it moving you idiots.”

Ravenshaw leaned against the ledge, gulping down fresh air and blinking her eyes rapidly. She could feel the foul air being cleared out of her lungs, but heard the sound of plasma fire off in the distance. She looked up through her watery eyes, seeing only blurs. She rubbed her eyes, trying to clear them, while she set up her rifle on the ledge once more. There was the sound of laser fire bring returned and shouting, and she was finally able to see that the squad had run across another pod of Thin Men. Two had already been slain, and she watched Xethyr Gray pop out of cover and fire a laser, killing the remaining Thin Man.

“Good job guys,” Ravenshaw said hoarsely, “Anyone hurt?”

“Negative, Drac 1. We’re all good.”

“Alright. You’re pretty close to the Skyranger, but don’t get complacent.”

Vincent still retained close custody of the scientist while Leon, Blacksmith, and Gray all fanned out in front of her and Paddon pulled rearguard. The squad had cleared ground with impressive quickness, close to the Skyranger, but there was still the matter of the semi. She saw Leon start to approach it, and said over the radio, “Be careful, Drac 4.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” he replied sarcastically, creeping around the corner. She heard him shout from a distance, running back around the semi. The out of sight enemies fired from behind the semi towards Vincent, who shoved the civilian to the ground. The squad tried returning fire to no avail, and quickly Vincent unslung her rocket tube and aimed it at the semi. She fired the rocket and it slammed against the semi, both the ordnance and truck detonating. A black plume of smoke flew into the sky, and with little prompting, Vincent picked up the civilian and made a dash for the nearby Skyranger. They both dashed past the semi and out of sight, but after a few short moments Leon called out over the radio, “The VIP is secure, Drac 1. We’ll hold the area for you here.”

Ravenshaw raised her eyebrows, feeling a mixture of surprise and pride at the squad, before replying, “Roger that. Moving to you now.”