OPERATION TWISTED PIPE
Lindan opened the office door, wincing at the creaking sound it made. He pulled it open as wide as possible, propping it open with a rock. He walked in as the rest of Siren followed behind, filing into the office building. He glanced behind, wondering if Blacksmith could fit inside. Blacksmith ducked low in Vulcan, trying to squeeze through the small doorframe, and was surprisingly successful.
The squad fanned out inside the building, looking for any survivors. The aliens had razed a whole city block, thought it had been eerily quiet since the Skyranger had touched down. They hadn’t found any aliens, only the evidence of their passing, and they hadn’t found any survivors either. Lindan couldn’t see much inside the building, with only dim light filtering through the windows, and he carefully walked forward as his eyes adjusted to the dark. The squad fanned out through the office in silence, Crimson and OBT taking positions at the windows to observe the street. The office had been wrecked in the attack, with files spread flung everywhere and tables overturned. Squatting low, it looked as if the papers were slightly burnt and had been blown aside, forming a trail. He looked up and saw it led to a nearby door, which looked as if it had been snapped in two. The interior of the closet was completely dark and as he approached it, he flipped his flashlight on only to immediately regret it. He could see the plasma scores on the back wall and the bloodied bodies laid out on the floor, a sick feeling forming in his stomach. He turned the light off and said over the radio, “I don’t think there’s going to be many survivors.”
To his right, he heard a sudden gasp and turned, raising his plasma rifle. The rest of the squad had done the same, looking for the source of the sound, when Lindan saw something move from under a desk. He realized it was a person and immediately moved towards them, saying over the radio, “I need the medic over here!”
Lindan took a knee next to the man and rolled him over, already seeing a shiny wound in his chest. The man was gasping, attempting to say something in Chinese as Hackle Stacker ran over, pulling the aid bag off his back. The wounded man was shaking violently, and Lindan attempted to calm him as Stacker went to work assessing the wound.
“Hey, hey, take it easy, we’ll fix you up, just stay quiet,” said Lindan. This did nothing to console the man as Stacker went to work sealing the wound when the man started to shout in Chinese.
“Keep him quiet!” Talana hissed, though Lindan and Stacker were both unsuccessful. The man continued to shout, when OBT called from the window, “Contacts outside!”
Lindan tried to hush the man when the sound of plasma fire came from outside, shattering a window and striking the wounded civilian. Lindan looked up, feeling the adrenaline flood his body, as OBT shouted, “CONTACT!” and fired his plasma sniper rifle. Lindan took cover behind a nearby cubicle wall when he heard the sound of jet propulsion suddenly fill the office, and 3 Floaters crashed through the windows. It was hard to tell through the darkness, but Lindan suspected that these particular Floaters were more heavily armored than usual. Red and green streaks filled Lindan’s vision as he fired at the nearest alien, the plasma splashing against its propulsion system and sending it careening into the roof. The sheer power of the squad managed to quickly destroy the aliens, but as soon as they were eliminated Lindan heard the sound of propulsion from the front of the building. Through the door, he could see 3 more of the Floaters, and Talana called out, “Into the alley! Get into it!”
Lindan backed up, firing his plasma rifle at the aliens as fired into the office. He heard a ripping sound as Blacksmith tore the rear wall, creating a hole for the squad, and Lindan turned and sprinted through. In the alley he took cover behind a dumpster as the sound of the Floaters came over the roof, flying towards the squad. The first one was killed in a flurry of laser fire, dropping to the ground and landing near Lindan. The next two were more cautious, though flying through the air they were incredibly exposed, falling to the combined fire just as quickly. Suddenly, he felt a wave of heat as a plasma bolt passed by him, and he looked over to see a squad of Mutons attempting to flank them.
“Conctact right!” shouted Lindan, repositioning himself to fire on the Mutons. The squad all adjusted their position, returning fire, but it was ineffective against the aliens’ durable cover who had ducked behind a burnt out delivery truck.
“Lindan! Take Stacker and flank them through the office! We’ll hold here!” Talana shouted from behind. He glanced behind him and saw Stacker already running towards building, and disengaged to follow. They went through the same hole they had come out of, moving as quickly through the office as the debris allowed. They stayed low, under the windows, traveling parallel to the firefight. They followed the sound of the Mutons’ fire, until they were close to the end of the building and the sound of the aliens were right outside. Lindan looked up over the windowsill and saw the aliens directly outside, unaware of the soldier’s presence. Lindan gestured to Stacker, removing the grenade from his belt as he followed suit. Lindan held up 3 fingers, ticking them off before lobbing the grenade through the window as it landed next to the aliens with Stacker’s grenade following immediately after. After the twin detonations, Lindan looked up and saw the Mutons fleeing their cover, getting cut down by the rest of the squad.
“Contacts down!” shouted Lindan, quickly loading a new battery into his plasma rifle. Lindan listened carefully for any new sounds, either those of enemies or those of survivors, but there was nothing, only the unusual silence that filled the block. After a few minutes passed and no further retaliation came, Talana announced, “Let’s keep it moving. Lindan, I want you on point. Keep an ear out for any survivors, that’s why we’re here.”
Lindan stood up, sweeping away the glass from the windowsill before vaulting over it, joining the squad in the street. He jogged ahead, taking point for the squad as they strung out in a column behind, with Blacksmith bringing up the rear. The eerie stillness of the air still bothered him and he couldn’t figure out why, until he realized he couldn’t hearanything. There were usually cars and the sounds of fighting in these urban environments, but there was nothing. No birds, no planes, no anything.
He reached the end of the alley and, checking all visible rooftops, sidled up to the wall on one side as Crimson got on the other, and both soldiers peered out the check the street. Crimson gave a low whistle, indicating a clear, and Lindan did the same. He stepped out into the street, gazing over the ruined buildings along the street, when he saw a flash of movement inside a small, unassuming building. He immediately took a knee, aiming his plasma rifle at the house, expecting the worse, when the door opened and revealed a male civilian.
“We got a civilian!” called out Lindan over the radio, and waved the civilian towards him. He looked nervously down the street, refusing to exit, when Lindan gave an exasperated sigh and jogged towards the house. The civilian opened the door for him as he stepped inside, revealing 3 more scared looking people. Lindan tried to communicate with them, though all of them looked hopelessly at him as Talan said over the radio, “Siren 2, we’re sitting ducks in the street, what’s going on?”
“They’ve got 4 civilians inside here. Do we have a linguist with us? They don’t understand a word I’m saying.”
“No time, we’ve gotta get them back to the Skyranger.”
Doing his best to pantomime, Lindan was able to lead the tentative civilians into the street and towards the squad. Lindan had no idea what to do, but Talana started to rapidly give orders.
“Blacksmith, Lindan, Crimson, you’re the trail team. Stacker, OBT and I will be lead. Double time back to the Skyranger, keep the civilians between us. If we run into any X-rays, the trail team will break off and cover us.”
“Do you think the civilians will make it?” asked Stacker. Talana shrugged and said, “They don’t have a choice. Let’s go.”
The squad took off running back towards the Skyranger, with Lindan nudging the civilians until they started to keep up. Blacksmith’s heavy footfalls precluded any idea of stealth, the squad opting for speed. As the squad started to approach the alley, Lindan heard the sound of approaching propulsion and saw the silhouettes of approaching Floaters in the twilight.
“CONTACT!” shouted Lindan, turning around to aim his rifle at the approaching enemies.
“Cover us!” replied Talana, disappearing into the alley with the civilians. Lindan fired at the approaching aliens as plasma struck the asphalt next to him, forcing him into cover. Blacksmith was out in the open, the heavy sound of his railgun punctuating the plasma fire as Crimson fired a barrage from his laser fire. Lindan took aim and fired at one of the reinforced Floaters, wounding it, when a round for Blacksmith pierced its armor. It fell to the ground in a heap and Lindan turned his attention to the second Floater, only to see it destroyed by Crimson.
“We’re in the Skyranger,” came Talana’s voice over the radio, “Make it when you can.”
The 3 soldiers took one last glance around, checking for any more contacts, before slipping into the alley. They moved through the alley and then the office, getting closer and closer to the Skyranger, constantly wary of any sort of retaliation, though none came. As they approached the craft, they saw that the passenger compartment was jammed with the civilians, and Talana was standing on the ramp. There were a few crates of supplies on the ground, and Lindan looked at them for a moment, knowing what came next.
“We got a linguist from HQ to talk to these folks, and it seems like those were the last of the hostile forces in the area, according to them. We gotta get them back to HQ for debriefing, so…”
“There’s no room in the craft for me,” finished Blacksmith. Talana nodded and said, “Right. The science team is inbound to collect salvage, and local military is coming over to make sure the area is secure. Just sit tight for a couple of hours. Sorry to do this to you, but we don’t have much of a choice.”
Blacksmith nodded and said, “I understand.”
“I knew you would. Stay safe,” said Talana. She walked up the ramp as it started to close, and then the Skyranger ascended and departed, leaving the 3 soldiers by themselves. The terrible silence was broken by the sound of squealing tires and an approaching engine, as Crimson produced a pack of cigarettes from one of his pouches. He put one in his mouth and looked up at Blacksmith asking, “Got a light?”