An epilogue

WASHINGTON D.C.
PILLAR OF NORTH AMERICA

“NO!”

“GENES!”

“FOR!”

“ME!”

Paddon sat on a bench next to Gray, watching the demonstration take place. The protestors had circled around the Pillar of North America, one of five monuments erected to those lost during the invasion. carrying signs that featured pictures of Sectoids with X’s crossed through them.

“That’s the worst chant I’ve ever heard,” said Gray.

Paddon grunted in agreement, watching the lead protestor call into his bullhorn. The chanting reminded him to take his genetic medication, and he dug the orange pill bottle out of his pocket. He poured the pills in his hand and picked out 2 blue ones and a green, popping all three into his mouth at once. He swallowed them, wincing as they went down, and he suddenly regretted not taking a drink of water.

“It’s good that the docs were able to finally get you down to two medications from that mountain you used to have,” remarked Gray. “Makes me glad I never got my trip to the tube.”

“Not to rub it in, or anything,” said Paddon.

“I’m just saying, the first generation gene mods had some issues. It’s the hazards that come with being the first monkey shot into space.”

Paddon grunted again, pocketing the bottle. He looked at his watch and saw that Maxwell was a minute late, which seemed unusual for a man who had a reputation for being punctual. He glanced around the park, wondering what was so urgent that the man had been willing to fly all the way from Germany to meet them. Gray had been the one to get the phone call, but whatever it was, Maxwell had been riled up by something and needed to see them, in person, as quickly as possible.

Suddenly, Paddon felt an elbow in his ribs and Gray said, “The big man approaches. And with a guest!”

Paddon looked up and saw Maxwell walking towards him alongside Lancaster, who was carrying a manila folder. Both men wore intense, worried expressions, and as Paddon and Gray approached, the first thing Maxwell said was, “We need to find a quiet place to talk. Any bad restaurants around here?”

“In D.C.? Are you kidding? There’s tons. Follow me,” said Gray.

The four men set off, with Gray leading the way. Paddon fell in next to Lancaster, who seemed a little less preoccupied then Maxwell.

“How’s Ravenshaw doing? I haven’t heard from her since we settled in D.C.” asked Paddon.

“She’s doing fine. Still heading up XCOM in the Philippines. The whole nature of their mission has changed to more of a training and analyzing role. She hates it, but she’s a true believer. She probably won’t leave that place until she’s dead.”

“That’s good. XCOM can use someone like her,” said Paddon. Lancaster nodded in agreement, and Gray found the restaurant he was looking for. On the outside, it looked like a sandwich shop that had been looked over by the health department, and the interior looked much the same to Paddon. However, it was completely deserted with the exception a surly cashier, giving Maxwell the privacy he wanted.

“I’ll grab us all coffee,” said Gray. The other three sat down in a booth in the corner of the shop, giving Paddon a chance to ask what was going on. Maxwell cut him off before he could say anything, saying, “Not yet. Let me ask you a question, though. When’s the last time you talked to Burning Man?”

Paddon shrugged and said, “No idea. Right before XCOM got restructured and we all went our separate ways. Why?”

Maxwell shook his head, saying again, “Not yet.”

Paddon nodded and tapped his fingers on the table, looking around the dingy shop. Eventually, Gray returned with four cups of coffee and said, “Their coffee only comes in black and, uh, not black. So I hope you like it black.”

Paddon grabbed a coffee as Gray took a seat next to him, and everyone looked at Maxwell expectantly. He took a sip of his coffee, and then looked at Lancaster, who finally opened the manila folder he had been carrying around. He dumped out a stack of papers, all face down, and before he showed them he said, “Just to let you guys know, as of right now, only 5 other people know about this. Myself, Coach, Wolfswift, Ravenshaw, and Maxwell. You two make 7.”

“That’s all fine and good, Lancaster, but we still have no idea what this is about,” replied Gray.

Maxwell nodded, and Lancaster flipped over the top paper. It was a photograph, and Lancaster said, “This photo was taken by authorities in South Africa, shortly following Operation Red Thorn. Coach led Siren to the EXALT HQ, where they assassinated the EXALT commander and razed their command and control center.”

Paddon looked at the photographs, which showed the interior of a building covered in ash and scorch marks. There were computer bays which had been ravaged by the fire, as well as a destroyed hologlobe unit. Lancaster flipped over the next photograph and slid it towards Paddon, saying, “And this was taken about 3 weeks ago, in the same building, in the same place.”

Paddon took the picture and saw that the interior looked the same, but all of the electronics had been removed.

“Someone salvaged all of the computers?” asked Gray.

Maxwell nodded and said, “We don’t know how long ago.”

Lancaster continued, pulling another piece of paper out. “In the past couple of months, there’s been some paramilitary activity in southern and easterm Africa, targeting aid groups that use Meld technology. A single group has taken credit for all of them, proclaiming a rejection of human modification. Pretty awful scenes, few survivors. By all reports, they roll up in trucks, use some hodgepodge of laser and ballistic weaponry, and then take off before anyone can respond. They call themselves the ‘Defenders of Our Humanity’ and have made it their mission to oppose transhumanism.”

Gray snorted and said, “What a stupid term.”

Lancaster continued. “About 2 weeks ago, they bombed a clinic that provided genetic medication for people who had received biological augmentations. There was some CCTV footage available of the attackers, so we pulled it and got a picture of the person we believe to be their leader.”

He slid the photo towards Paddon and Gray, and Paddon felt his stomach tie itself into a knot.

“No way,” he said.

“That’s Burning Man, former lieutenant and Chimera 7 of XCOM,” said Maxwell miserably.

“Christ,” muttered Paddon.

“When I was working within EXALT, they never quite reached XCOM’s level of technological sophistication, I saw them hit some pretty close approximations. We think Burning took a team to South Africa and salvaged EXALT’s HQ to repurpose it for his own needs. It would’ve been easier than starting from scratch,” said Lancaster.

“His intention seems to be to spread his particular brand of philosophy, and continue to target all things ‘transhuman’. Anyone who receives augmentations, anyone who distributes them, anyone who is any way associated with it. If he has taken all of EXALT’s equipment, it’s worrisome for a lot of reasons. We managed to keep the most dangerous technology locked up, plasma weaponry and gene mods mostly, but the EXALT made pretty good progress in reverse engineering it. If he’s got that data…” said Maxwell.

“And, if nothing else, it shows that he’s getting ready to expand his operations. The EXALT had a pretty impressive command and control suite,” said Lancaster.

Paddon sighed and took a sip of his coffee, processing all the information. He stared down at the photo with Burning Man in it, wondering what drove him to this and asked Maxwell, “So what do you want from us? I don’t think you’re here just to share this with us.”

Maxwell nodded and said, “Well, I want you to bring you on board to our agency. We’ll get you on a payroll, we’ll get you spun up for field operations again. We need-“

“Wait wait wait. XCOM isn’t doing this?” asked Gray.

“No. XCOM is purely extraterrestrial. Trust us, we hoped we could get XCOM on board. Ravenshaw was the first person we talked to, but she’s still under the thumb of the Council. She wants to, but there’s no way the Council would allow it. However, we have managed to acquire some special XCOM assets, courtesy of Ravenshaw,” said Lancaster.

“We’ll fly you guys to Germany, get you all trained up, and then send you to Africa to dismantle the group. Wolfswift is on board and already in Germany. We’ll send her out with you guys to find Burning Man when you’re ready to go.”

“So, that’s it? You two just roll into town, ask us to get back into the saddle and go to Africa to hunt down a former member of XCOM?” asked Gray.

“Pretty much,” said Maxwell.

Paddon drained the rest of his coffee as Gray leaned back, staring at the ceiling. He mulled everything over, trying to decide what the right thing to do was, when Gray said “Screw it. I’ll do it.”

“Excellent,” said Lancaster. “Paddon?”

He pinched the nose of his bridge and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.”

Maxwell grinned and said, “Awesome. Both of you, get your personal affairs sorted in the next week. We’ll get in touch, get you flown out to Germany next Friday. We’ll have you on the ground in Africa by the end of the month.”

Lancaster and Maxwell both stood up, putting on their jackets, and Lancaster said, “It’s a relief to know you guys are on board. Wolfswift was worried she’d be going at it alone.”

Maxwell dug out a card from his pocket and handed it to Paddon saying, “That’s my contact information. As soon as you’re ready to go, let me know.”

With that, Maxwell and Lancaster left the shop. Paddon drained his lukewarm coffee and said, “Well, so much for peace in victory.”

“It’s not that bad. Something was bound to come up sooner or later. It’s just unfortunate it’s this. Do you think Burning is doing this on his own?”

Paddon shrugged and said, “Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Sounds like we won’t be able to drink for a while.”

Gray slapped him on the back and said, “Come on man, let’s hit the pub tonight. One last chance to enjoy victory before it all goes to hell again.”

Operation Avenger

XCOM HQ
GOLLOP CHAMBER

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.”

“I hope.”

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.”

———————-

OPERATION AVENGER
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
ENTRANCE

“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.”

———————

OPERATION AVENGER
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
COLISEUM

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.”

———————-

OPERATION AVENGER
TEMPLE SHIP ASSAULT
BRIDGE

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.

Interlude 4

XCOM HQ
SITUATION ROOM

Ravenshaw stood with her arms folded, flanked by Talana and Maxwell. The big screen in front of them was showing multiple live feeds from Tokyo, where an alien terror attack was taking place. One particular feed offered an aerial view from a new helicopter, which Ravenshaw was focused on. The helicopter was flying above a freeway in Tokyo that the aliens had blown two ends off of, trapping what appeared to be hundreds of cars in between.

She felt her mouth dry out as the civilians panicked trying to get out of their cars, some of them packed together so tight that the doors wouldn’t open. She watched the civilians crawl over their cars as they ran towards both ends of destroyed freeway, seeming ignorant that there was nothing left but craters on either end. Suddenly, the camera panned along the highway and Ravenshaw saw a squad of Mutons on one end, firing plasma indiscriminately at the civilians, and she saw the blue exoskeletons of Chryssalids racing ahead of them.

“Oh, no,” said Talana.

The tide of civilians suddenly shifted, flowing away from the aliens. Ravenshaw winced as she saw a Chryssalid pin a civilian to the ground, while the Mutons gunned down several more fleeing civilians. The camera suddenly panned again and revealed a Sectopod deploying at the opposite side of the bridge, firing its cannon and destroying several cars in one go. She tore her eyes away and looked over the rest of the feeds, all of them showing a similar story.

“Turn it off,” said Ravenshaw. The screen suddenly went black, killing the feeds. She turned and stepped away, feeling bile crawl up her throat as Maxwell muttered, “Looks like things are still bad everywhere.”

“We should’ve gone,” said Talana.

“No we shouldn’t have,” replied Maxwell.

“We should’ve been there to protect those civilians!” exclaimed Talana. Ravenshaw turned and said, “No, Maxwell is right. Lose the battle to win the war.”

“But-“

She shook her head and said, “Enough. Both of you, go see to your squads. We’ve only got 5 days until we attack the command ship, be sure they’re ready.”

The two squad leaders nodded and departed the situation room in silence. Once she was alone, she pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, trying to push the images of the slaughter out of her mind. Not wanting to see the other soldiers for the time being, she decided to head over to mission control.

As she walked the passageways towards the mission control, she found herself mulling over the scenes happening in Tokyo. She wasn’t entirely sure if calling the mission off was the right thing to do. She turned the alternatives over and over in her head, wondering if there was something else she could’ve done. Could she have sent Siren or Chimera? She didn’t want to tell them, but the risk of losing a squad leader was too great when victory felt so close. She could have allowed the one of the Bogeymen to lead a squad, but she held doubts about their leadership abilities, though their technical abilities were beyond reproach. And while she held great respect for the soldiers under her command, sending a squad without their squad leader against a Sectopod was out of the question.

“ATTENTION ON DECK!” someone shouted, startling Ravenshaw, when she realized she had wandered into mission control. She looked around the room, still seeing the scars from when the base was attacked, and then addressed the skeleton crew of technicians.

“At ease, everyone,” she said, allowing them to get back to work. She walked towards the hologlobe in the center of the room, looking up at the small symbol that denoted alien activity, when the technician asked her, “Anything I can do for you ma’am?”

“Can you focus on the command ship?” she asked.

“Absolutely, ma’am,” replied the technician, and the globe spun to reveal the purple outline of the alien command ship, still flying off the eastern coast of South America.

“Has it moved at all?” she asked.

“Negative, ma’am. It’s staying in the same exact spot, no activity in that area as far as we can tell. It’s just sitting there.”

Ravenshaw nodded, leaning on the railing in front of the globe. The scenes from Tokyo crowded into her brain once more, and she hoped that the gamble would pay off.

Mission 43

OPERATION VENGEFUL FATHER
OVERSEER UFO RECOVERY
UNITED STATES

Blacksmith leaned forward and fired the mortar on his back, watching to detonate between the 2 Mutons Elite. The explosion peppered them with shrapnel and destroyed their cover, scattering the UFO debris. Despite their wounds, they continued to exchange fire with the squad while moving to a new position, though Ravenshaw was able to cut one down, before the second dug in behind a particularly resilient piece of UFO hull.

“Blacksmith, Vincent, keep it pinned! Gray, Paddon, move up and flush it out!” shouted Ravenshaw. Blacksmith raised his particle cannon and fired at the piece of hull as Vincent laid down continuous fire while Gray and Paddon started to creep around the side. Suddenly, a volley of plasma streamed out from behind the hull and impacted against Gray’s armor, throwing him backwards. Another volley of plasma streamed over Paddon as he flung himself to the ground, and Ravenshaw shouted, “Get Gray to cover! Blacksmith, knock it down!”

Blacksmith called out to Vincent, “Get your rocket ready!” and leaned forward, feeding power into his proximity mine launcher. They Muton was still peppering the ground with plasma all around Paddon, who was attempting to drag Gray to safety, and Blacksmith launched the mine, watching it land directly in front of the alien’s cover.

“NOW!” shouted Blacksmith, and he heard the scream of Vincent’s rocket as she launched it. It impacted directly on the front of the Muton’s cover, obscuring it in dust and smoke, when a second detonation immediately followed as the proximity mine was triggered by the blast. The Muton’s weapon went silent as the entirety of the front of the UFO was hidden by the smoke. Blacksmith kept his particle cannon trained on the UFO, wary of any more contacts. As the minutes passed and the dust started to settle Blacksmith spotted the alien’s body lying 20 feet away, sprawled amongst the debris, as well as Paddon crouched over the body of Gray next to the UFO hull.

“Contact down!” shouted Blacksmith, and immediately Ravenshaw called out over the radio, “Is he alive?”

“Yea, he’s alive,” replied Paddon, “His shoulder is banged up pretty bad, plasma went straight through the armor.”

“Blacksmith, Vincent, maintain the perimeter, Dead you’re with me,” shouted Ravenshaw, standing up and dashing over to the wounded medic. Blacksmith held his position and scanned the forest, his eyes glancing over the Sectopod wrecks. He looked down at the scorch mark the giant robot had left on Vulcan, and was quietly thankful that the engineers had taken the plunge on upgrading to Paladin armor. The area around the UFO was completely still, and Blacksmith guessed that whatever enemy forces remained where holed up on the UFO bridge.

He glanced back to where Gray lie, and saw him standing up with Paddon’s assistance. One of his arms hung limply and his shoulder was mangled mess of metal and blood, though he seemed otherwise uninjured. He awkwardly slung his plasma rifle over his shoulder and unholstered his pistol. They started to move towards the UFO entrance, and Ravenshaw waved Vincent and Blacksmith to their position.

Both soldiers moved towards the entrance as the rest of the squad moved inside through a narrow hatch, and Blacksmith allowed Vincent to go ahead of him. Once she was through, he managed to barely squeeze Vulcan after her, avoiding any damage to the suit or the UFO.

Once he was inside, he was surprised to see decorations adorning the bulkhead, which was a first as far as he knew. It looked to him as if the aliens had mounted a stained glass image inside the UFO that was interiorly lit, depicting some sort of tall, thin alien that didn’t look familiar to him. There was unmistakable air of royalty surrounding the picture, bordering on religious worship, when Vincent said, “What a creepy looking thing.”

“No kidding,” muttered Ravenshaw. Blacksmith looked around the darkened UFO, thankful for the light provided by the strange pictures. It looked different than the typical large scout layout, and he wondered if the bridge was still in the same place. As he tried to wrap his mind around the geometry of the place, Ravenshaw said, “We’ll need to split up. Gray, Blacksmith, and myself will wrap around the left side. Dead, Paddon, Vincent, go around the right path. Call it out if you find the bridge.”

————————————————————————————————

Blacksmith took a deep breath, steeling himself for the breach. Vincent and Ravenshaw had placed themselves on opposite sides of the door while the remainder of the squad gathered behind him. There was only one way in, and it was up to Blacksmith to go in first. As he readied his flamethrower and the rest of the squad made their final preparations, he felt a twinge of trepidation and silently thought that Mendiola would’ve been better suited for this.

Ravenshaw gave the signal and Vincent held up three fingers, silently counting them down until she had a closed fist which she slammed against the energy door. The door started to recede from the bottom up, and immediately a volley of plasma soared through it, narrowly missing Blacksmith.

“GO GO GO!” shouted Talana, and Blacksmith charged forward. He saw 2 Mutons Elite, bearing down on him with their heavy plasmas, flanking a tall, robed alien that looked eerily similar to the pictures in the passageway. The center of the bridge was commanded by large pedestal, holding up a blue orb, and Blacksmith suddenly found himself within flamethrower range. He raised his right fist and sprayed flammable jelly over all three aliens, coating the bridge in it. The jelly stuck, steadily scorching the aliens, as the rest of the squad engaged with their plasma weaponry, cutting down the 2 Mutons quickly. Despite the apparent frailty of the new alien, it proved to be surprisingly resilient, standing under the flaming jelly as well as absorbing a plasma volley. Its robe started to burn away, and Blacksmith caught a glimpse of 4 thin arms before another plasma volley struck the alien, knocking it backwards. To Blacksmith’s untrained eyes, it appeared lethal, but before the alien fell to the ground it suddenly levitated and convulsed, and Blacksmith felt a wave of pain shoot through his head. He heard some other members of the squad shout in pain, and then the new alien fell to the ground, clearly dead.

A few moments passed as the squad recovered their bearing, and Ravenshaw shouted from the rear of the squad, “Anyone hurt?”

No one rogered up, and Ravenshaw muttered, “Good clear.”

The squad moved out of cover and through the bridge. Blacksmith quietly engaged the positive pressure system on his helmet to vent out the smell of the flaming jelly as he looked over the 3 smoldering corpses, watching the flames slowly die out. Ravenshaw and Gray approached the pedestal holding the strange blue orb, and Gray asked, “What isthat?”

“Could be some sort of communication device, like in the base,” replied Ravenshaw.

“Wasn’t that pretty big, though? This doesn’t look like it’s on the same scale as that…”

“Alien black magic, probably,” called out Vincent. Blacksmith and Paddon chuckled, but Gray and Ravenshaw seemed enraptured by the glowing orb. Worryingly, Ravenshaw started to raise her hand up to touch it, and Blacksmith said, “Uh, boss, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

She threw Blacksmith a dirty look, and said, “I know what I’m doing.”

She raised her hand up towards the orb, her fingers hesitating just above the surface of it, before she plunged her hand inside of it down to her wrist. Blacksmith’s eyes widened and Paddon yelled, “Holy &$%#!”

Her hand was only inside for a moment before she yanked it out, screaming and clutching her head as Gray jumped to her side. She fell to her knees, moaning in pain as the squad converged around her. Gray waved them off, kneeling next to her, and Blacksmith stood uselessly aside as watched the scene play out. She grew silent but stayed on her knees, with her eyes clamped shut. The squad stared in concerned silence, waiting for her to move or speak, when she finally muttered, “…in my head.”

“What was that?” asked Gray. She shook her head and said, “It felt like something. Was in my head.”

“That’s not great,” muttered Dead.

“Jesus, that hurt,” said Ravenshaw. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and finally opened her eyes. Blacksmith grimaced as Paddon exclaimed, “There’s blood in your eyes!”

“What?” asked a concerned Ravenshaw, bringing her hand up to her face. She pulled her fingers away, not seeing anything, and then looked accusingly at Paddon, saying, “There’s nothing-“

“It’s inside your eye, Colonel. Subconjunctival hemorrhage, looks like. Turns the sclera red,” said Gray. “It’s not a big deal, though I’d like to check it out at base. Are you feeling well enough to stand?”

“Yea, yea. I think so,” she said, allowing Gray to help her up. He helped her stand up and Blacksmith saw she was uneasy on her feet, though she managed to stay standing. She clutched her head and said, “Man that was a mistake. I think that thing is best left to the psionics. Felt like something was crawling inside my head.”

She walked a few steps, staying on her feet, and then turned to address the rest of the squad. “I’m fine, now, so don’t worry about me. Someone needs to get on the horn with HQ, get the salvage team out here. Let’s wrap this thing up and go home.”

Mission 42

OEPRATION LOST FOG
ALIEN ABDUCTIONS
MACHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM

“Watch the left, watch the left!”

“They’re moving around the shack!”

“Incoming!”

Ran listened to the shouts from the squad as he scanned the area around the shack. It had become the focal point of a pitched battle as the squad engaged two Heavy Floaters and 3 Mutons, though they appeared to be sporting significantly improved armor and weapons. Suddenly, Ran caught a flash of movement from the roof of the shack and saw a Heavy Floater rocketing to a higher altitude.

“Floater, Floater!”

“Take it down!”

The alien brought the full force of the squad, plasma and laser piercing its armor until it was a twisted mass, and it fell to the roof of the shack with an audible thunk. The second suddenly dodged from behind the shack, but was quickly dispatched by a shot from Oranis’s railgun.

“Reloading!” called out Oranis. Taking advantage of the brief reprieve, Maxwell tried to get the squad to fan out amongst the cover provided, saying, “Keep your weapons topped of. Stay alert.”

Ran quickly loaded a fresh plasma battery into his rifle, and he heard the click from Man’s laser rifle as he did the same. Suddenly, one of the Mutons in red armor thrust himself out of cover and attempted to cross the short gap between the shack and the train, but was intercepted by the squad’s fire. Ran watched his plasma bolt connect with the alien, boring a hole through its torso armor and dropping it, but he heard the rapidly fire of a heavy plasma and Oranis shouted, “2 on the right!”

Instinctively, Ran ducked, but saw Burning Man absorb the volley a few feet away. His Titan Armor crumpled under the force of it, small rivulets of metal flying off as he fell to the ground.

“MEDIC!” shouted Ran, adjusting his rifle to get a view on the new threats. He saw 2 of the Mutons on the right side of the building, firing down at the squad, before Ran could retaliate Topnotch had already fired a rocket in their direction, detonating directly on one of the Mutons. For all their armor it clearly stunned the Mutons, allow Comrade to sprint back towards the snipers’ position. Ran fired a plasma bolt at the lead Muton, but was horrified to watch it go wide as the aliens collected themselves and started to reposition themselves behind cover. Thankfully, Maxwell was able to lob a grenade under them, keeping the pressure on. With their cover shattered, Oranis lumbered in front of them and sprayed his flamethrower, dousing the area in flaming jelly. The jellied Elerium stuck to the alien armor as they staggered backwards, screaming as the flames quickly consumed them. They fell to the ground, smoldering corpses inside their armor, and Oranis called out, “Contacts down!”

Ran glanced over towards Comrade and Burning as the squad’s medic pushed the medikit into the wound, injecting the medical compound into it. Burning gasped and started to stir, though he didn’t sit up.

“Chimera 7 is stabilized,” reported Comrade over the radio, “Though he won’t be able to continue on the mission.”

“Roger that. Make sure he’s in a safe place, we’ve gotta continue sweeping the AO.”

Comrade looked up at Ran, confused, and replied, “Sir, I don’t think it’s safe-“

“You’re a soldier first and medic second, Chimera 4. Get him in a safe place and rally on the squad.”

“Roger that.”

Ran dashed over to Comrade and helped him pick up Burning, before moving him into a position behind a stack of pallets. He was barely conscious, muttering to himself, and Comrade placed him gently on the ground, leaving a canteen next to him. The two soldiers ran over towards train tracks where the rest of the squad had gathered and Maxwell made a gesture to be quiet, signalling 3 contacts nearby. Ran quietly slipped into a nearby boxcar that offered a view of the highway that ran under the tracks, and saw 3 Mutons spread out among the cars below. They were obviously alert, having heard the battle that had taken place, and Ran kept a low profile as the rest of the squad moved into position. After a few moments of quiet, he heard the Oranis’s mortar fire as it landed in between the 3 Mutons, spraying them all with the shrapnel. Ran fired with his plasma rifle and dropped one of the Mutons, while a flurry of laser fire dropped another. The remaining Muton sprinted deeper into the highway, trying to flee the squad, but suddenly stopped, dropping its rifle and clutching its heads, before falling to the side.

Ran kept his rifle trained on the alien, waiting for it to get up, before asking over the radio, “Hey, uh, we’ve got a Muton down there playing possum down there, I think.”

“It’s down. I nailed it my, uh, mind, I guess. Psionic stuff,” replied Comrade.

“Right,” muttered Ran, scanning the rest of the highway. He looked for any more signs of movement, but saw nothing. “Anyone see anything else down there?”

“I got nothing,” replied Maxwell. “I think this may be it. Small AO. Chimera 4, collect Chimera 7 and get him back to the Skyranger. We’ll sweep the rest of the site, but I don’t think we’ll find anything.”

Mission 41

OPERATION DEBRIEF

NAME: Black Bell
MISSION: Assault and salvage of supply UFO
LOCATION: United States
DATE: 15SEP2015

FRIENDLY FORCES
Siren 1
Siren 3
Siren 4
Siren 5
Bogeyman 2
Minotaur 2

CASUALTIES
Siren 3 – Moderate plasma burns to torso

OPPOSING FORCES
3 Mechtoids (Destroyed)
3 Sectoid Commanders (Destroyed)
2 Sectoids (Destroyed)
4 Mutons (Destroyed)
2 Berserkers (Destroyed)
2 Seekers (Destroyed)
2 Drones (Destroyed)
1 Unknown (Destroyed)

SUMMARY

Green Squad assaulted a landed supply barge in the western United States. Its mission remains unknown, but due to past intelligence gathered on alien activities, its location in rural farmland, and the presence of specimen tanks onboard, it can safely be assumed that its mission was to gather live specimens. To what purpose they would serve and where they would go remains unknown, due to the elimination of the alien base previously. Attempts at tracking enemy craft have failed and efforts to locate a second base have not gleaned anything of value.

The assault began on the western side of the UFO, with the squad immediately adopting a defensive position on the exterior of the UFO. From this position, the squad was able to successfully engage with and destroy 2 Mutons, 2 Mechtoids, 1 Berserker, 1 Sectoid, and 1 Sectoid Commander. Due to the open nature of the supply compartment of the, the squad was able to easily infiltrate the UFO, though the high hull of the UFO slowed the squad down significantly. It was during this time that a Mechtoid with Sectoid accompanying revealed itself to the squad, firing at and hitting Hackle Stacker. The squad retaliated with the fullest force possible, quickly destroying the Mechtoid. Siren 1 directed the squad into a defensive perimeter as Bogeyman 2 utilized his mimetic skin to scout ahead and discovered 2 Mutons and Berserker waiting in the fore compartment of the UFO, though the directed and controlled use of explosives destroyed them quickly. Bogeyman 2 continued his reconnaissance and discovered an unknown enemy (see attached photo). The new enemy type appears to be some sort of large, bipedal robot featuring heavy, nearly impervious armor and was accompanied by 2 Drones. Mobility and armament, at the time of this report, are unknown. Sensory capabilities seem to be unremarkable, since Bogeyman 2 was able to remain undetected at firing range. Bogeyman 2 judged what appeared to be the enemy’s armament and targeted it, potentially removing its firing capabilities, though the scientist’s report will be able to confirm this. The squad formed a firing line and unleashed its full armament on the enemy, including plasma and laser fire, ballistic rockets, and alien grenades. Its armor stood up to this assault, with each attack appearing to have a minimal effect on it. It finally succumbed to the assault before it could deploy its weapons, though the amount of time it was able to weather the assault is worrisome.

The squad cleared the rest of the compartment before moving towards the UFO bridge. En route, the squad encountered 2 Seekers, which were dispatched with ease. Upon breaching the bridge, the squad encountered 2 Sectoid Commanders who were quickly dispatched through a combination of Minotaur 2’s flamethrower and laser fire from the heavy weapon operators. The bridge was the last section of the UFO cleared, and the science team was called to salvage the UFO, which was largely intact.

The presence of this unknown enemy is both worrisome and a relief. Its size, design, and heavy armor all point to it being a considerable piece of ordnance. I hope that the research department can glean something of value during its autopsy, including its full combat capabilities. It is also a strong signal for XCOM to make the final step towards plasma weaponry, deploying both heavy plasma and alloy cannons, since our current mix of laser/plasma seems dangerously close to being inadequate, especially if we were to ever encounter multiples of them. However, it is worth noting that since it is such a considerable weapon, it is probably the last of the alien forces, meaning that they have now thrown everything they have at us. If we can destroy it once, we can destroy it again in the future. It’s a relief to know that the aliens have no more cards to play.

Signed,
COL Wolfswift

Mission 40

OPERATION DRIVING MOUNTAIN
ASSET RECOVERY
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA

Gray adjusted the Geiger counter strapped to his armor, making sure it wasn’t going to fall off. He glanced around the truck stop, seeing the rows and rows trucks around the gas station, and wondered how long it would take to secure the Elerium.

“Do we know what the truck looks like?” asked Paddon.

“Negative,” replied Gray, “The only thing we know is that it’s radioactive. Thus, the counter.”

Paddon muttered something about a third nipple growing out of his eye as he slammed his fist against another. It rang hollowly, telling the two soldiers it was empty.

Gray sighed and walked past another truck, when he heard the far off explosion of a grenade followed by his earpiece crackling life with Vincent’s voice. “We’ve got Sectoids around. Minotaur 3 just obliterated 3 of them, sent a couple more scattering.”

“Roger that, we’ll keep an eye out,” replied Gray. Up ahead, Paddon slammed his fist against another truck, getting a hollow report. He shook his head and continued down the row as Gray glanced around, watching for any signs of movement. The two soldiers were approaching the end of the row of trucks but as Paddon passed by one, Gray heard the familiar click of a Geiger counter. Paddon moved up and slammed his fist against the truck, getting a dull thud in return, and said, “Hey, I think this is it!”

Gray jogged over to the truck, hearing his counter starting to click rapidly as he closed the distance. Paddon backed away from the truck as Gray called out over the radio, “Pretty sure we’ve found the load. We’re on the east side of the lot.”

“Great,” replied Ravenshaw. “Hold position, keep the truck secure. The rest of will sweep the rest of the AO. Dracula 5, Minotaur 3, have you encountered any more contacts?”

“Negative, Dracula 1. We sent them scattering, no idea where they went after.”

“Roger that.”

Gray and Paddon knelt, facing in opposite directions. Gray’s counter was still clicking slightly, so he moved up a little further, hoping to avoid any unnecessary radiation. From somewhere else in the lot, Gray heard the sound of plasma fire drift towards him and Ravenshaw said, “That’s 2 more down. Anyone else get any eyes on?”

Gray heard something rapidly approaching their row, and whispered into the radio, “Possible contacts heading our way.”

A few moments later, 2 Sectoids trotted across the open space, and Gray fired instinctively. The lead Sectoid crumpled under the plasma bolt, and from behind, Paddon followed it up with another shot, hitting the second alien. 

“We’ve got another 2 down by us,” reported Gray.

“Roger. That makes seven. How does that sound to you, Dracula 5? That about what you saw?

Gray heard the shrug in her voice as she replied, “Sure,” and Ravenshaw said, “That’s a wrap. Let’s get the science team on board to secure the Elerium, and then we’ll bug out. Just keep an eye out for any more contacts.”