Crimson stood in the passageway that led to the Gollop Chamber, with Colonel Wolfswift and Lietuenant OBT behind him.
“You nervous at all?” asked Wolfswift. Crimson licked his lips as his heart pounded away in his chest, replying, “Only a little bit.”
OBT clapped his hand on his shoulder and said, “You’ll be fine.”
Crimson took a deep breath to steady himself and focus. As he inhaled, he felt his head start to clear and his heart slowed down, and as he exhaled he felt himself start to relax. He took several more breaths, feeling relaxation come over him, when the engineer said over the intercom, “We’re totally spun up here. Is the volunteer ready?”
“Yea, I’m ready,” replied Crimson.
“Roger that. Let’s begin the test.”
The door slid open in front of Crimson, revealing the Gollop Chamber inside. He saw the Ethereal Device on the opposite end of the room, and he felt a wash of psionic energy come over him and open his mind. He looked through the window into the control room and saw the faces of the engineers. Path to the device was bordered by pools of water, and Crimson caught a faint whiff of the chlorine.
“Alright Lieutenant, whenever you’re ready,” said the engineer.
Behind him, Wolfswift whispered, “Good luck!” as Crimson took a step into the chamber, feeling the psionic energy increase. He paused for a moment, drinking in the energy, and started walking towards the device. He could feel the power increase with every step, becoming a sort of humming inside his head. As he closed the distance, he started to feel as if electricity was coursing through his body, and he understood how it could have overwhelmed someone who wasn’t psionically trained. He stopped just short of the device, enjoying the energy as it ran through him, amplified by his psi armor, and over the loudspeaker the engineer said, “Alright. Touch the device whenever you’re ready.”
Crimson placed his hand a few inches above the surface of the device, watching tendrils of blue energy wrap around his fingers, and then slowly pushed his hand into the device. He felt his mind open completely as the chamber fell away, replaced by thousands of scenes, all trying to crowd into his brain. He saw a human being vivisected in an alien surgery, a Floater undergoing maintenance, Mutons dragging human corpses. Scenes of death and destruction raced across his mind, and underpinning it all was an indistinct voice. As the shock of sensory overload faded, Crimson tried sorting through the mental images, looking for the source of the voice. It started to become louder, though it was still indistinct, until the image of a helmeted Ethereal crowded out everything else. Instantly, Crimson understood that this was the source of the voice and the source of the invasion. The Ethereal clearly saw Crimson as well as he saw it, and spoke directly to him.
“YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED. WHERE WE HAVE FAILED.”
The Ethereal was gone, and Crimson felt that whatever link had been established was suddenly and violently severed. The images were gone, and Crimson became aware of the Gollop Chamber once more. It seemed unusually dark, so he glanced up at the lights and saw that they were shattered. He looked at the walkway behind him and saw that water had been agitated enough to splash the metal walkway. That feeling of being electrified had not left him, however, and as a test he focused on a nearby pool of water, pleased when he saw it start to swirl around. At the opposite end of the chamber, Wolfswift yelled, “Crimson! Are you alright?”
Turning and walking towards them, Crimson replied, “Yea, I am. I know how to get inside the ship.”
“Good. Ravenshaw wants us in the armory, now.”
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
“We’ve got multiple contacts up ahead!”
Blacksmith rushed towards the end of the platform as Ravenshaw trailed behind, watching the Sectoids scatter throughout the chamber, taking cover behind the strange protrusions from the deck of the ship, when two booming blasts from Maxwell’s alloy cannon echoed through the chamber. A fleeing Sectoid was shredded by the flechettes. Blacksmith caught a glimpse of the dark gray of a Sectoid Commander fleeing, and turned his particle cannon towards it, warming it up. The alien flinched away in pain from the particle beam, but the blast was slightly off mark, allowing it to get away. A volley of plasma from Talana cut it down quickly, when a blue light suddenly filled the chamber. Blacksmith watched a strange blue light materialized around the bodies of the slain aliens, obscuring their figure, until it vanished along with the bodies.
Another spark of blue light appeared deeper in the chamber, revealing a pair of Cyberdiscs with complement of Drones. Gray shouted, “Discs incoming!” as a stream of plasma fire streaked towards one, scorching its exterior. Blacksmith looked between the advancing robots as Sectoids still dashed about the chamber when Ravenshaw shouted, “Blacksmith, shoot!”
Blacksmith was yanked out of his hypnosis and leaned forward, feeding power into his grenade launcher, and fired the mortar at a pair of Sectoids. It was a direct hit, their bodies being thrown by the force of the explosion, but quickly being claimed by the strange blue light. He turned his attention to a damaged Cyberdisc and fired his cannon, blowing a meter of armor off the robot and destroying its interior. It fell to the ground with a crash, detonating, and he turned to the second disc. Before he could fire, a storm of blue psionic energy enveloped it and two Drones, rapidly tearing the robots apart. As the machines were ripped into their most basic components, they were pulled round and round as if caught in a great vortex. The psionic energy dissipated, scattering the parts all over the chamber floor, but those too were quickly claimed by that strange blue light and the chamber was quickly devoid of any signs of alien activity.
“That’s pretty god damn spooky,” said Gray over the radio.
“Where the hell are their bodies going?” asked Ravenshaw.
“It’s the ship. It’s, ah, absorbing them. Their energy,” replied Crimson. “The ship giveth and so forth.”
Autoatically, the squad started start to spread out in the chamber, wary of any more contacts. To his right, he saw Gray moving towards an energy door when there was the sound of plasma fire, and plasma bolt hit Gray in his torso. He swore and returned fire at the out of sight enemy while Ravenshaw shouted, “Gray! Gray, are you hit?”
The medic waved an unconcerned hand and replied, “I’m fine. God damn Sectoid was hiding, but my armor took the hit.”
“Good. Don’t be complacent, let’s finish sweeping the room.”
After the ambush, the squad moved much more cautiously throughout the room. While the two low paths in the chamber had an energy door separating this chamber from the next, Blacksmith eyed a catwalk directly across that looked as if it ran above the next chamber. Once the squad had finished their sweep, they took positions next to the doors as Ravenshaw nimbly vaulted over the ledge of the platform, dropping to the deck of the ship and moved towards the catwalk, and Blacksmith followed behind. Ravenshaw crouched at the top of the ramp with her plasma pistol drawn, waiting for Blacksmith to catch up. Once he was in position, Ravenshaw said over the radio, “Is everyone ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” replied Maxwell.
“Roger that, ma’am,” replied Talana.
“Good. On the count of three, we breach.”
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
Ravenshaw engaged the jets on her Archangel armor, levitating above the platform. They squad had entered a massive coliseum, and down below the squad had engaged with a group of Mutons. Ravenshaw had her pistol drawn and once she was high enough to see the aliens below her, she fired several plasma bolts at an exposed Muton. Maxwell’s alloy cannon shredded the armor of a Berserker charging him while Crimson generated a psionic rift in the center of 2 Mutons who were pinning Talana and Gray down, and Ravenshaw watched as they were slowly pulled apart by the forces buffeting them.
As Ravenshaw drifted up and up, she was afforded a look deeper in the coliseum, where she spied 2 Sectopods lying in wait. She looked back down towards the squad and saw them mopping up the Mutons with ease, and called out over the radio, “2 Walkers on the ground floor! Get to the lip of the platform!”
The last plasma shot rang out, killing a fleeing Muton, and the squad started to rush towards the railing. Ravenshaw holsted her pistol and pulled her plasma rifle off her back, trying to steady herself while she was in the air. She definitely had the Sectopods’ attention as she aimed down her scope, trying to find the delicate circuitry that controlled the weapon. She fired, finding her target and damaging the circuitry as the rest of the squad rushed into a firing position. Crimson laid down another psionic rift, one that started to rip the armor off of the robots, as Talana quickly took the rocket tube off her back. The rest of the squad was raining plasma fire down on the robots, melting away their armor, as Ravenshaw lined up another shot. Talana fired her rocket and destroyed the leg one of the Sectopods, rendering it useless, as Ravenshaw fired once more at the remaining Sectopod. The plasma bolt drilled a hole through the robot as it started to sputter sparks, stumbling around until it finally collapsed.
Ravenshaw took a deep breath, thankful that neither robot was able to fire. She found herself practically bumping her head against top of the dome but able to survey the entirety of the arena. That same strange blue light was surrounding the wreckages of the Sectopods, spiriting them away to some unseen place. There were plenty of spots offering concealment scattered throughout, but she could see the entrance to the next chamber on the far side.
“Keep advancing,” ordered Ravenshaw, “I’ve got full view of the room up here, there’s no movement but plenty of hiding spots. Just get to the far end of the chamber, and I’ll catch up once you’re there.”
She watched the squad vault over the lip of the platform and drop to the bottom, spreading out amongst the strange generators jutting up from the ground. Blacksmith marched up the middle of the room as the rest of the squad fanned out behind, and Ravenhaw scanned the far end, looking for any signs of movement. As she was looking through her scope, she heard the sound of a heavy plasma firing echo through the chamber, and frantically dropped her rifle to see where it had happened. There, on the ground, she saw Maxwell sprawled out on the ground with a Muton Elite standing on a catwalk running parallel, preparing to fire again. She was relieved to see Maxwell scramble to his feet and sprint for cover as the rest of the squad opened fire on it. It was quickly cut down by the barrage of plasma, and on the other side of the chamber Ravenshaw saw another Muton Elite creeping towards the squad. She quickly aimed and fired, killing the alien outright, leaving its body to be claimed by the blue light.
“Chimera 1, are you alright?” asked Ravenshaw.
“Yea, yea. I’m fine. Didn’t go through the armor,” replied Maxwell.
“Good to hear. Keep up the advance,” said Ravenshaw. The squad continued their push through the arena, reaching the opposite side of the chamber with no further contacts. Once they were at the entrance to the next chamber, she floated forward and past the lip of the platform, powering down the propulsion and she gently fell to the floor. Once she landed, she sprinted the length of the chamber, reaching the squad on the far end. Maxwell and Talana were passing a canteen between themselves as Gray leaned against the bulkhead, wiping sweat off his face. Crimson was staring intently ahead, at the entry to the next chamber, and Ravenshaw asked, “Any idea what we’re expecting?”
Crimson shook his head and said, “No idea. Just prepare your mind for something vicious.”
Under normal circumstances, she would have written this off as melodrama, but under the circumstances she couldn’t help but believe him. She looked around the squad, watching them rest and gather their nerves, she hoped that she hadn’t led them into a deathtrap, and that whatever waited for them in the next chamber would be the end of the whole invasion.
After enough time, thinking that they had enough rest, Ravenshaw addressed the squad and said, “Reload your weapons. Blacksmith, I want you up front. Weapons free once we’re inside, let’s not waste any time. Let’s go.”
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
The squad burst onto the bridge of the Temple Ship with Talana on point, and she was surprised to see that the bridge was empty save one alien. A helmeted Ethereal stood on the far side of the bridge in front of a much larger Ethereal device, facing the soldiers. The soldiers froze in place, seemingly hypnotized by the freakishly tall alien, when Crimson shouted, “GET TO COVER!” as that strange blue light suddenly appeared all over the chamber, bringing with it two Ethereals and two Mutons Elite. Talana dashed for a nearby ledge as a plasma bolt from Ravenshaw’s rifle raced overhead towards the helmeted alien, hitting it, and Crimson generated another psionic storm that started to consume the newly arrived Mutons.
“Maxwell, Blacksmith, push into the center!” shouted Ravenshaw, while Crimson yelled, “Focus your fire on the big Ethereal!”
Talana saw bolt after bolt streak overhead towards the Ethereal as Blacksmith and Maxwell rushed the center of the bridge. The Mutons were being torn apart by the psionic energy as the squad concentrated their fire towards the alien, ignoring the Ethereals closing in from the flanks. Talana leveled her heavy plasma and fired a burst at the big Ethereal, but ducked as the plasma bounced off the alien and shot back towards her. She felt the heat of the bolt pass overhead as Gray screamed in pain on the other side of the ramp. She looked over and saw him writhing in pain, trying to resist the mind control of one of the aliens. She stood back up and fired again, the burst striking the helmeted alien. In the center of the room, Maxwell was firing his alloy cannon at the Ethereals that were drifting towards the squad, and Blacksmith shouted, “Talana! Talana, get your rocket ready!”
She saw him lean forward in Vulcan, spooling up the power in one of his launchers. Keeping a wary eye at the Ethereals as they got closer and closer, she pulled the rocket tube off her back and flipped up the sights as Blacksmith launched a mine, sticking it on the platform the large Ethereal was standing on. Getting the alien in her sights, she fired the rocket at the alien. It was a direct hit, detonating directly against the alien, followed by a second detonation as the proximity mine exploded. Suddenly, a guttural scream filled her head, feeling like an icepick was boring its way through her ear, when a voice filled her head screaming the word, “BETRAYAL”.
As suddenly as it had come, the pain and the voice vanished, allowing Talana to open her eyes. She and the rest of the squad had fallen to the deck, overwhelmed by the pain that had followed the explosion, and as she looked around the bridge she saw it was empty. The signs of battle were still present, though any trace of the aliens had vanished. As she staggered to her feet, she heard a rumble echo somewhere deep within the ship as the deck started to vibrate.
“Is everyone OK?” shouted Ravenshaw. The vibration intensified as the squad checked themselves for injury when a trickle of dust fell into Talana’s eye. She blinked hard and looked up, seeing that the ship was shaking itself apart.
“We need to leave! We need to leave now!” shouted Talana, as more pieces of the ship fell from the ceiling.
“Let’s go let’s go! Back to the Skyranger!” yelled Ravenshaw. She stood near the entrance of the bridge, waving people through as Talana crossed back into the coliseum. She was dismayed to see that portions of it had already collapsed, bits of the ship spread out over the wide open chamber. The rest of the squad was passing through when Talana heard Ravenshaw shout over the radio, “Crimson! Crimson, get down here!”
Talana looked through the doorway and saw Crimson sprinting up the ramp to the platform where the Ethereal Device rested, ignoring Ravenshaw. The ship continued to vibrate, slowly shaking itself apart, and as Crimson approached the device he called out over the radio, “Go!”
Talana’s vision suddenly became a blur but she caught the impression of the temple ship racing past her. It only lasted for a few torturous moments before she was in front of the Skyranger, overcome by nausea. She fell to her knees, spilling the scant amount of water in her stomach all over the deck, and she heard everyone else in the squad do the same. She could still feel bits of debris falling on the back of her neck as she struggled to her feet, stumbling towards the Skyranger. The squad followed her, making their way slowly into the Skyranger. Gray was the last on board, and Talana staggered to the pilot and screamed, “Take off!”
There was a lurch as the Skyranger started to ascend that drove Talana into the side, leaving her to grasp for handhold. Looking out the rear of the craft, she saw a whole section of bulkhead cave in on the entrance where the Skyranger had been. In less than a minute, the Skyranger was clear of the Temple Ship, though its massive size still filled the entrance of the ramp. Bits and pieces of it were falling off, splashing into the ocean as the Skyranger sped away, though Talana tried to will the craft faster.
The bottom of the Temple Ship came into view, and Talana realized that it was moving upwards. It was slow, at first, though it quickly gathered speed and ascended into the atmosphere, out of view of the small window that ramp entrance afforded. Ravenshaw and Gray stood near the entrance, craning their necks, when Talana heard a far off explosion and the compartment was flooded with heat and light. She closed her eyes, trying to keep herself from being blinded. Once she felt the light had faded, she opened them and saw flaming debris falling into the ocean.
To Talana, the world seemed unbelievably quiet. All she heard was the steady drone of the Skyranger’s engines and the soft splashes of debris falling into the ocean. Talana felt a sort of numbness take over, and she took a seat on the passenger bench. She looked up at Blacksmith, who muttered, “I can’t believe he did it.”
“It’s over. We won,” said Maxwell.
“We lost Crimson,” pointed out Talana. At this, Ravenshaw replied, “Earth won. That’s why we came here.”
Ravenshaw closed the ramp as the rest of the squad took their seats, trying to process the enormity of the event. One by one, each member of the squad started to laugh and smile, slapping each other’s backs and reveling in the knowledge that the invasion was over.