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?”
“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
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
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
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.”