Corporal Gray felt his whole body tense up as he lined up the shot. He positioned and repositioned his body, trying to find the best way to make it work. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, gathering together all of his focus. When he opened them, he decided he was satisfied with it, and took the risk.
There was a sharp crack as he hit the cueball, and it shot forward to hit 8 ball. It hit it at just the right angle, and the 8 ball shot off towards the corner pocket. Gray held his breath as the 8 ball got closer and closer to the pocket, the felt slowing it to a crawl just as it reached the edge of the pocket. It seemed to hang there for just a moment before dropping down into the pocket.
“YES!” exclaimed Gray, stomping the ground so hard it rolled under his feet, “YES! You owe me 5 bucks.”
He looked over at his opponent, Corporal Vincent, and saw a concerned look on her face. “Did you feel that?” she asked.
“Feel what?” he replied, feeling the ground roll under his feet again. He heard a dull thud deep in the base, and shrugged his shoulder. “Probably one of the generators starting up,” he said.
“I don’t know. It felt different.”
Gray laughed and said, “Look, don’t think this gets you-“
Suddenly, an announcement came over the loudspeakers. “Code Black, Code Black. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill. Code Black, Code Black. All personnel report to your required stations.”
Gray looked up at the speaker, dumbfounded. He exchanged looks with Vincent and said, “There’s no way this is happening.”
Suddenly, the door that led to the barracks slammed open and Lieutenant Coach burst into the lounge. He looked around and the soldiers gathered there, wild eyed, and shouted, “What the hell are you still standing here for? Get to the god damn armory and gear up!”
He disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared. The loudspeaker continued its announcement, and the soldiers remained still for a few more moments before Gray sprinted towards the barracks to get a laser rifle, with Vincent right behind him. He sprinted past racks filled with confused soldiers and made it to the armory to find Coach already there. A few of the other soldiers were already there, picking up laser weaponry, when someone asked, “What about armor?”
“No time! Grab a weapon and go. They’re already inside.”
OPERATION ASHES AND TEMPLES
XCOM HQ DEFENSE
Maxwell was running down the long corridor that led to Delta Section when the door started to close. He picked up the pace, sprinting as fast as he could towards the steadily smaller opening. Both sections of the door were closing and as Maxwell got closer, he lobbed his shotgun through before diving through himself, just narrowly avoiding the door closing on him.
He landed on his stomach and heard the sound of footsteps approaching and rolled over, drawing his pistol out of its holster. He found himself aiming at Colonel Ravenshaw, who had her hands up in the air.
“Easy there, cowboy,” she said, and Maxwell mumbled an apology. He holstered his pistol and picked up his shotgun, and saw Ravenshaw eyeing it. Maxwell shrugged and said, “The store was fresh out of scatter lasers. Who else has made it?”
Ravenshaw walked towards the holographic globe while Maxwell trailed behind. He looked around the section, expecting to see a full squad, but was surprised to see only Mendiola present in Malachite, along with two of the security personnel on a higher platform.
“This is it?” asked Maxwell.
“You sound disappointed, Max,” said Mendiola.
“Well, when death comes knocking on your door, you’d hope for a bit of backup,” replied Maxwell. Suddenly, a bit of debris fell from roof and onto his head, and the automated alarms started to go crazy. “Intruder alert, intruder alert, Delta Section. Intruder alert, intruder alert, Delta Section…”
Trying to make herself over the din of the alarm, Ravenshaw shouted, “Spread out! Max, Mendiola, spread out. You two, up there, don’t do anything stupid. Shoot when you can, hide when you must. Understand?”
Maxwell crouched behind the hologlobe’s projector, looking up at the ceiling. Debris was still falling, bits of dirt trickling down, when suddenly a Chryssalid dropped from the ceiling and into the hologlobe a few feet away. Maxwell fired a pair of close range blasts at the Chryssalid, shredding its exoskeleton. The bug flew off the projector and landed on the deck, when there was a crash from the ceiling, and 2 Mechtoids fell through. They landed with a thud, surrounding the 3 soldiers.
Maxwell looked back and forth between the Mechtoids, a sinking feeling in his gut, when there was a burst of rifle fire from above, striking the nearest Mechtoid. The Mechtoid recoiled, looking up, when Mendiola rushed towards the Mechtoid, taking advantage of the distraction. He turned towards the second Mechtoid and raised his ballistic shotgun when he saw the Mechtoid aiming at him. He ducked as a plasma barrage flew overhead and heard Mendiola shout in pain. Maxwell looked up and fired a blast at the Mechtoid, wincing at how the pellets just bounced off the alien’s armor. Ravenshaw was nimbly moving through the area, firing her laser pistol at the Mechtoid. Suddenly, the door behind the Mechtoid slid open and out stepped Talana, accompanied by 2 more security personnel.
“Talana, Christ, watch out!” shouted Maxwell, and he saw her eyes widen at the sight of the robot a few feet away from her. He watched in horror as one of the security personnel with her was cut down by an out of sight enemy, and the Mechtoid turned towards her. She fired her heavy laser at the Mechtoid as she sprinted for a nearby ladder, narrowly avoiding a plasma barrage. The second soldier that was with her followed her up, and then she was out of sight.
Maxwell unhooked a grenade from his belt and lobbed it under the Mechtoid. The grenade exploded and was immediately followed by a shot from Ravenshaw’s laser rifle, piercing the thinnest part of the armor and sending it staggering. From deeper in the base, within the mech bay, he could hear the sounds of gunfire, when another alarms started to sound and announced, “Intruder alert, intruder alert, rear guard station. Intruder alert, intruder alert, rear guard station…”
Maxwell turned towards the station behind him and saw a wounded Mendiola, standing triumphantly over a fallen Mechtoid. He could hear more crashing sounds drifting towards them, and Ravenshaw yelled, “Both of you, secure the station! We’ll hold it down here.”
Maxwell slipped out of cover, jogging towards the small room, as Mendiola turned towards it. Blood was running down his torso and down to his armor from a couple of plasma burns, but he was still standing. He turned towards the rear guard station as Maxwell passed by him, leaning against the open door. He leaned in to look inside the station and was alarmed to see 2 Cyberdiscs floating in the window. He ducked behind the wall quickly as one of the Cyberdiscs opened up and Mendiola fired two blasts from his railgun, but the Cyberdisc returned with a plasma barrage, striking Mendiola once more in the chest. Maxwell watched in horror Mendiola’s torso seemingly opened up, plasma burning straight through. Mendiola fired a wild shot from his railgun and fell backwards against hologlobe projector, unmistakably dead.
Maxwell leaned out of cover once more and fired two blasts from his shotgun at the open Cyberdisc, and shouted, “Mendiola is down! Mendiola is down!”
OPERATION ASHES AND TEMPLES
XCOM HQ DEFENSE
“Mendiola is down! Mendiola is down!”
Talana heard Maxwell’s voice drift towards her as she aimed at the Muton on the catwalk, firing a barrage from her heavy laser. The lasers struck the alien’s armor, wounding but not killing it, when it fired a retaliatory volley from its plasma rifle. She ducked, feeling the heat from the plasma wash over her as the soldier from base security returned fire, the rounds piercing the Muton’s armor. It fell lifelessly over the edge of the catwalk, and Talana shouted, “Good shot, soldier.”
“Thank you ma- AHH!”
She glanced over at him and saw him clutching his head in pain, and knew what it meant. She scanned the mech bay, looking for the Sectoid Commander, when she saw its sticking out from behind a steel crate. She nervously looked over at the soldier writhing on the ground as she quickly pulled the rocket tube off her back, hope to kill the Sectoid before it could take control completely. As she flipped open the sights and aimed at the Commander, it started to flee deeper into the bay. She fired the rocket and saw it detonate in front of the alien, sending mechanical parts flying and covering the area in smoke. It was impossible to tell through the smoke and the darkness if the alien died, but she saw the soldier slump to the ground, groaning. She dashed over and started to shake the soldier, trying to wake him up. His eyes fluttered open and he groaned, and she said, “Wake up wake up!”
There was a crashing sound deep in the bay and Talana looked up, watching a Muton fall from the ceiling. She heard several more crashes as aliens continued to breach the ceiling, Mutons and Chryssalids falling in as the alarm started to sound. Talana swore and looked down at the barely conscious soldier and shouted, “WAKE UP!” as she slapped his face. His eyes snapped open and she lifted him up, dragging him towards Delta section. The soldier stumbled behind her as they ran towards entryway, and they both came out on a platform overlooking the whole section. The place had been wrecked- computers and servers had been destroyed, and the bodies of aliens littered the place. She could barely make out the silhouette of Malachite on the floor through the globe before her attention turned to a Cyberdisc floating in from the rear guard station. Maxwell was nearby, firing ineffectually at the disc with his ballistic shotgun, while lasers hit it from all locations in the room. Talana helped, firing a burst at it and scorching its armor. Suddenly, the disc fell to the ground near Maxwell, who dived away from it before it had a chance to detonate.
“Multiple contacts in the mechanical bay!” shouted Talana. Ravenshaw looked up at her and said, “How many?”
“Lots. Chryssalids and Mutons.”
“Volkov, Leon, reinforce that room. Talana, keep the high ground on that platform. Max, is the station clear?”
He gave the thumbs up, and Ravenshaw said, “Good. Reinforce the room on the right there. Security personnel, down here with me. We’ll need the help.”
Talana placed her heavy laser on her hip as she swapped in a new battery and the guard with her slipped down a ladder to join the rest of the squad on the low ground. She could already hears shouts and gunfire from the squad below, and steeling herself, she went back through the entryway and to the catwalk.
She dashed towards a solid rail, ducking behind it for cover. As she scanned the mechanical bay, she saw Chryssalids effortlessly sprinting over obstacles in the bay, making a beeline for the squad. Lasers lit up the room with red lights as the Chryssalids were cut down one by one, though some made it dangerously close to the squad. Talana followed one and fired her heavy laser, wounding it, and someone’s follow up shot killed it. Crazily, for a moment, she was struck by how much this seemed like a bad sci-fi movie, when she caught a glimpse of movement directly below her. She looked down just in time to see a Berserker coming up the ramp before it charged through a wall, causing the catwalk to slump dangerously. From below her, she Leon shout, “Berserker’s got Volkov!” before Ravenshaw shouted, “Kill it kill it!”
There was a flurry of laser fire from below Talana’s position, but an approaching Chryssalid distracted her. She fired at it, wounding it, when she heard the blast of Maxwell’s shotgun. She watched the dead Chryssalid fly off the platform before turning to the rest of the aliens in the base. The Mutons were well within firing range now, sending plasma towards the squad. Talana ducked as a volley sailed overhead, creeping down the catwalk to a new position. She popped up and spotted a Muton trying to slip behind a steel container, but was able to kill it before it could reach cover. Another volley of plasma sailed towards her and she ducked again, but not before she spotted a Mechtoid dropping into the base.
“They’ve brought another Mechtoid!” screamed Talana. She wasn’t sure if the squad had heard her, but she replaced the battery of her heavy laser and stood back up, picking a new target from the dozen contacts within the bay.
OPERATION ASHES AND TEMPLES
XCOM HQ DEFENSE
Sans Leon heard the roar of the Berserker before he saw it, but the swarm of Chryssalids rushing the squad was a more immediate threat. One jumped on the platform directly in front of him and Volkov. He quickly fired at it, the lasers piercing its exoskeleton as it slumped to the floor, and Volkov fired at another further away. He heard the heavy thumping of the Berserker coming up the ramp and in a few short moments, it was standing five feet away from the two soldiers.
Before either soldier could shout anything, the Berserker charged straight towards them. Leon fired once before ducking back behind cover when the Berserker crashed through the wall Volkov was leaning against, splintering it. The Berserker had picked up Volkov and plunged its claws through his armor, and Leon shouted, “Berserker’s got Volkov!” while Ravenshaw simultaneously shouted, “Kill it kill it!”
Leon fired twice into the Berserker as it continued to maul Volkov’s body, before throwing him away and turning towards Leon. He backed up, hitting a wall, firing wildly with his scatter laser, when a lance from Ravenshaw’s rifle pierced its helmet, dropping it. Leon made himself as small as possible the massive hulk dropped to the floor when Talana’s voice came from up high. “They’ve brought another Mechtoid!”
“Leon! Push forward with security, hold that line.”
“Roger,” replied Leon. He looked around and saw only two guard remaining, and pointed towards both of them. “Both of you, with me.”
Leon could hear Talana’s heavy laser firing as he stepped over the corpse of the Berserker, moving towards the front of the platform. He could see aliens swarming amongst the heavy equipment and machinery in the bay, getting well within firing range. Plasma fire was already sailing overhead as Leon searched for the closest target, and saw a Muton trying to close the distance to the squad. Leon aimed and fired two quick blasts, obliterating the alien’s armor. He knelt back down and swapped out his laser battery and looked to the two remaining guard. “Keep firing! Your ammo is useless if you don’t spend it.”
As he clicked in a fresh battery, he felt a stake of pain being driven into his head and winced. He had seen what happened to Paddon and knew what it meant, and tried to fight off the Sectoid Commander’s presence. He heard one of the guards shout and was able to look over, and saw one of them on his knees, clutching his head. He could feel the Commander slowly taking control and said, “Ravenshaw, Sectoid Commander out-“
His mouth stopped moving, and he found himself completely without control. He remained on his knees for a few moment when heard the sound of ballistic rifle firing nearby. A red lance arced overhead and into the mech bay, and suddenly the Commander’s presence left Leon’s head. The mental invasion had sapped him of his energy and he struggled to his feet, looking over at the two guard. One of the guards lie on the ground in a pool of blood while the other stood with a horrified look on his face, covered in the other’s blood. Leon tried to get him to focus, but the words came out slurred. Thankfully, Maxwell appeared nearby and shouted, “Hey! Focus! There’s nothing to be done about it now, we’ve still got contacts in the base.”
Leon looked down into the bay and saw the Mechtoid approaching the squad’s position, and fired his scatter laser. It was a hit, the lasers barely scorching the robot armor, and the Mechtoid turned towards Leon. He watched as it raised both cannons towards him, and tried to move out of the way but was still far too sluggish. He heard the sound of the plasma fire and felt the heat of the plasma hit him in his side. He was thrown backwards from the rail and landed on his back, feeling the heat creep up over his head and chest. As his vision started to fade, he heard Talana shout, “Leon is down! Leon is down!” and Ravenshaw replied, “Keep the pressure on the Mechtoid!” as his vision went to black.
OPERATION ASHES AND TEMPLES
XCOM HQ DEFENSE
Ravenshaw watched Leon go down, the plasma barrage hitting him in the side of his armor and throwing him backwards. She could clearly see the Mechtoid standing amongst the metal crates and aimed carefully at it before firing, hitting its Sectoid pilot dead on. Green blood was smeared across the robot’s armor as it staggered around, and seeing no more immediate threats, moved up to take Leon’s position. She paused for a moment, checking for a pulse, but knew it was hopeless. She stepped up to the rail and looked down towards Maxwell and the lone guard, and then glanced up towards Talana’s position on the platform.
“How are you doing on ammo, Talana?” yelled Ravenshaw.
“Running low, but I’ll be fine,” she replied. Ravenshaw nodded and set up her sniper rifle on the rail, getting the whole bay within view. From her vantage point, she could see the rear tunnels clearly. It looked as if the aliens had planted some demo charges on them, completely blowing out the entryways. The red lights mixed with the shadows made it difficult to distinguish things, but she caught a glimpse of a Muton deep within the bay. Without hesitation, she fired a shot, and noted with satisfaction that the alien fell to the floor in a pool of blood. She continued to scan the bay when she saw another Sectoid Commander darting between machines, and she caught it in a gap, scoring another kill. She saw 2 more aliens emerge from the blown out tunnels, and was able to drop them as well.
She was so focused on the far end of the bay that sound of plasma fire directly below her startled her, and she instinctively pulled away from the rail as the volley came up, catching the last security guard in the chest. The sheer force of the blast sent the guard straight up, and Talana leaned over the rail to return fire, but not before Maxwell vaulted over the rail and down into the bay. She heard 3 blasts in succession from his shotgun, and he called out, “Clear!”
Ravenshaw turned her attention to the far end of the bay, keeping an eye out for any more movement in the bay, but as the seconds turn into minutes, and the minutes turned to an hour, there were no signs of movement.
The 3 soldiers kept their positions, even as the announcements started to come, declaring various sections of the base clear. Suddenly, without warning, the lights turned on in the bay and the nearby door opened up, causing Ravenshaw to whirl around with her rifle. She found herself staring at the majority of Dracula, who were all armed and carrying medical equipment. They were being led by Lieutenant Paddon, who held up his hands and said, “Easy, Col- Jesus Christ, what happened here?”
“Is anyone else injured?” shouted Ravenshaw, not intending to. Paddon shook his head and said, “No. Some Floaters and Seekers made their way through the vents, but we took care of them. But what the hell happened here?”
“It looks like the main force converged here,” said Sergeant Gray. He looked over at Ravenshaw and touched his cheek, saying, “Mind if I take a look at that cut, Colonel?”
Ravenshaw didn’t think she had been hurt, and brought her hand up to her cheek. Her cheek felt sticky, and as she pulled her fingers away she saw blood on them. “Don’t worry about me. We’ve got 7 KIA.”
Paddon eyes widen in surprise, and then he nodded. “Roger that, ma’am. Vincent, go out and find Siren, tell them we’ll need help in here. Gray…”
Ravenshaw listened to them talk, but felt exhaustion slowly creep over her. She placed her rifle on the ground and leaned against the rail, taking the canteen off her belt and slowly taking a drink. She felt like she had been awake for 2 days, and her eyes were on fire. She looked down and saw Maxwell coming up the ramp, and hoarsely said, “Hey. Want a drink?”
Maxwell looked up as she dropped the canteen. He caught it and unscrewed the top, taking a drink as he walked up the ramp. He joined her on the rail and passed the canteen back to her. She took a sip before placing it back on her belt, and said, “How you feeling?”
“Bad,” replied Maxwell. “How about you?”
“Probably worse,” replied Talana.