You lie in bed a while, staring up at nothing, thinking of nothing.
Lacking senses. Lacking orientation.
You sneeze, and notice yourself.
Sniffling and sighing, you drag yourself out of bed, stepping into a pair of bunny slippers. Pink, white, and fuzzy, they were the first thing you’d bought for yourself when you had finally moved out of that glorified basement of an interception base, resolving never again to suffer the indignity of cold floors in the morning. You throw on a bathrobe, too, garishly floral, and stuff your nightstand pistol into the left pocket, suppressor poking neatly out of the hole in the bottom.
Yawning, you trod over to the washroom, where you take a single look in the mirror, and immediately give up on the idea of trying to fight the bird’s-nest tangle claiming to be your hair. You have no plans of meeting anyone today, anyway. Still, you go through the rest of your morning ritual, brushing your teeth and washing your face, letting the cool water wash away the last remnants of drowsiness.
Sunlight peers through translucent curtains, lending a pleasant early-morning glow to the cream-walled apartment. You take a quick detour through the kitchen, emerging back into the living room already munching on a cheese sandwich.
You are just about to flick on the television, when your doorbell rings.
The peep-hole shows … nobody?
You stuff your mouth with the cheddared toast, freeing up a hand to keep your pistol behind your back as you cautiously open the door …
… the hallway is empty. There is a small parcel lying on your doorstep. A cursory inspection reveals a brief message, scrawled in permanent marker:
So it was from Molchanoff. You set it down on the coffee table and sit down to unwrap it.
——your breath catches in your throat.
It is a mug. On its side is emblazoned a familiar black-and-gold flash, gaudy and glorious.
You hold it up in front of yourself, sinking backward into the sofa. Sinking backward into a wave of emotion, despite yourself. It was two years and six months ago when you wore that insignia on your shoulders for the first time. You bore it proudly, as if all mankind’s will and spirit and hopes and dreams were embroidered into those patches and painstakingly ironed onto the sleeves of your beige rookie coveralls. Then you had your first deployment.
… nine months since the last sign of alien activity on Earth. Ten months since the last UFO was intercepted.
Eight since you, now a Captain, were taken off active duty, along with most everyone else on base. A de facto retirement.
Inscribed underneath the insignia is a date. July 7th, 2001. The Avenger program’s first—and final—launch.
How … hare-brained it seems, today. But you remember how tense the atmosphere was. Everyone knew: it was Cydonia or bust. So—a platoon of crack troopies was deployed in the thundering crate that was Avenger-1-and-only, their destination the face of the Red Planet. Nobody knows what happened after that. Only that they must have done something right, because that was ten months ago. Since then … ‘All Quiet on the Martian Front’, as it were.
You wonder how those troopies would feel about being memorialised on a mug.
At least it has a good heft to it. Sacha might do some ridiculous things, but he always does them well. Still, you remark to yourself, setting the thing back down—a mug might be the most concrete memorial those eighteen will ever have. Clandestine beyond clandestine, X-COM has always mourned its dead alone.
You finish the rest of your sandwich in silence.
Needing a distraction, you draw the pistol from your pocket. You drop the magazine and eject the chambered round, setting both down on the coffee table. Turning it over in your hands, you run your finger down the matte-black slide:
MARK 23 Cal. .45 Auto
Despite the civilian markings, it was your service pistol, though thankfully you were never forced to fire it in anger. The suppressor you purchased on your own when you moved out here in Kyoto, in the interest of preserving your ears should you ever need to use it.
Satisfied with its condition, you load the pistol again, making sure to chamber the extra round, and thumb the decocking lever before putting it back in your pocket.
You put the mug back into its box for now, nestled in the packing paper. Dwelling on dead men and the past won’t do you any good.
You think you’ll cheer yourself up with …
[ ] … some range time back at the old base. [ ] … a visit to one of the local watering holes. [ ] Write-in?
… … …
By the way, what did you look like, back in your troopie days?
[ ] Guile hair. [ ] Ponytail.
… … …
New writer. Unfortunately, it's not X-Communist. This thing might start up a little slowly. Please do voice any complaints if you think it's shit.
I hadn't expected this much of a response. Have a bit of flavour text while I write the next update.
[UFOpaedia: Weapons and Equipment]
The standard X-COM pistol is the HK MARK 23. We had to buy the civilian model, because classified this and classified that and USSOCOM are tight-asses. So we suck, and HK hates us. In all honesty, it’s a pretty solid choice—accurate and robust. It’s just that it’s got the weight and form factor of a house brick, and, yes, HK, it's our fault for not having manly Teutonic hands, and I get the feeling whoever decided to buy them was a little entranced by the SEAL on the cover of Rainbow Nine.
The standard rifle, designated the X-9, was developed specially for X-COM. Which makes me feel kind of sad, because it’s gained a truly abysmal reputation among the troopies. It’s based on the M4 carbine, with a 12" barrel, and chambered in .300 Whisper, because we thought UFO crash recoveries were going to be quiet, careful affairs. Yeah. So it’s quiet, and … that’s about it. It’s got about as much power as a hot .45 load and a trajectory somewhat resembling a rainbow, and won’t even cycle without a suppressor.
>>60528 >MK23 >oh boy time to make a mocking post about the Mk23 having the ergonomics of a fucking boat anchor plus a crack about pussies that don't carry cocked and l- >see that post >see that filename
God has smiled upon us today.
[X] … some range time back at the old base. [X] Guile hair.
>Who was that third guy? Was he a faggot too? >was >not is >implying I ever left
Shitposting aside and speaking as that third guy in question, yes, I'll definitely say I'm a faggot, if mainly for posting that shitstorm-stirring update after only consulting Deme instead of Deme and Rabbit. That was smart.
You think you’ll cheer yourself up with… [×] …some range time back at the old base.
You briefly consider seeing what the local watering holes might be able to pitch for you, but you’ve nobody to join you right this morning, and going drinking alone as the first order of the day seems a depressing prospect. You think you’ll swing around base and toss some rounds downrange instead; it has been some time since last you went…
…you smile to yourself. How easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day.
Out of habit, you close the bedroom door behind you…
…and emerge a few minutes later, dressed lightly for May weather in cargo pants and a plain grey tee. After a moment’s consideration, you throw on a jacket, too, and exchange the boat-anchor of an HK for a more reasonable carry option. Now that your bed hair has alleviated somewhat, you also try fixing a loose ponytail. The result is… well; perhaps it is only a reminder of the past, but you feel as if you were two years younger.
You retrieve your rifle cases and range bag from your closet. After some minor difficulty in finding a way to carry everything at once, you exit your apartment.
Equipment loaded in the back, you climb into the driver’s seat—your vehicle a Crown in X-COM beige, ‘borrowed’ from the motor pool. The base is a little over a half-hour’s drive from here, in the hills some distance north of Kyoto. Traffic is a little slow initially, but lightens up immensely once outside the city.
You recall a bit of history that was cleared for you when you’d made Sergeant: the facility in fact originally belonged to Japan’s own Kiryu-Kai, a predecessor program of sorts. It changed management accordingly when the Kiryu-Kai was merged into X-COM, its mission expanding to encompass the rest of the densely-populated Asian Pacific.
It became quickly apparent to you why Japan had taken the initiative in combating the alien insurgency: a disproportionate amount of UFO activity was concentrated over this country. Enough so that the base maintained a flight of helos for vicinal deployments, allowing for more flexible insertions and freeing up the Skyranger for its intended role of long-range response.
You were assigned to the helos. Better survival rate, for sure, but they were primarily Sectoid ships, and Sectoids meant psionics. Though you were hardened against psionic interference, the same could not be guaranteed for any others. It always turned your gut so, seeing someone’s own will subverted by——
——you wrench your mind back to the present; focus on driving.
The access path branches off from the Seryou pass, snaking into the forested hills. A ways in, the fence wall marking the bounds of the base compound cuts across the path with an automated gate, where you I.D. yourself and proceed.
Soon enough, you reach a clearing. Here the vehicle entrance rises out from the sloped ground: a pillbox of pale concrete not yet weathered, incongruous with the bounding foliage. You I.D. yourself once again at the sectional door, and find your informally-designated parking spot in the jaundice-lit garage.
You leave your rifles in your car for now, only shouldering your range bag. Since the war ended, things had cooled down enough to permit the construction of an outdoor range topside.
At the far end of the garage, the concrete turns to the cream beige of security plating, a corrugated blast door serving as the entrance to the lift. Pausing, you take a moment to regard the other vehicles in the lot. It is perhaps only your perception, but the place seems more populated than usual—more populated than last you had visited, anyway.
You exit the lift to the sight of a game of poker in alloy-armoured blue.
Molchanoff is the first to notice you, the beetle-eyed Colonel pronouncing a hearty—and thickly-accented—“Good day!”
“Morning, Colonel,” you return, trying your best not to grin too hard at the undersized dealer’s visor crowning his balding dome. You would buy in, if only you were less terrible at poker. Instead, you simply exchange greetings with the base commandant—and the present active-duty Skyranger team.
“Koeppen,” you nod.
“Captain.” Koeppen’s salutation is… subdued, you should say, so intensely focused as the Sergeant is on the game.
“Winters,” you nod.
“Captain.” The Lieutenant Winters is similarly chilly.
“McWatt,” you nod.
“Captain.” The elder McWatt calmly eyes the younger across the table.
“McWatt,” you nod again.
“Captain.” The younger McWatt returns the stare in force.
“Rookie,” you nod, grinning.
——which you in short order do.
The equipment stores are just past Research and Medical. Passing by the labs…
…you chance to espy a certain scorpion-like braid.
Its bearer: X-COM’s silver-haired Director of Research, Dr. Eri Nonomiya.
“…Hey, Doc,” you greet, blinking away your surprise.
“Captain.” She turns around, dark eyes softening in recognition. “It’s been some time.”
The shade of her hair deceives with regard to her age; in truth, she is not much older than you are. It almost makes you question a few of your life choices, given your respective positions. Almost.
“Sure has.” So things truly have wound down, if she’s back home in Japan instead of up at Central.
She briefly appraises your person. “Keeping well?”
“Not really.” You scratch the back of your head. “Lately I’ve just been sleeping all day.”
“Oh, that isn’t good. You are living proof of my scientific pioneering, you know?”
You huff. “What am I, a lab mouse that survived experimentation?”
Still, you can’t help but chuckle, mock indignity fading away—you consider Eri a good friend of yours.
The ‘experimentation’ in question was X-COM’s first foray into psionics. Of all those with sufficient clearance to be asked, you alone had volunteered. To your surprise, the Director of Research had transferred here to oversee your development personally. Though it ended… poorly, and not a little anticlimactically, the experience provided a necessary foothold for further trials.
The Doc gestures toward your range bag: “Mind if I join you today? I could afford a break.”
“Sure thing,” you nod. “‘A break’? ‘ve you been busy?”
“Busy justifying your reserve pay,” she drawls. “Central’s suddenly all a-shiver over possibilities and loose ends.”
You hum appreciatively. “Commander finally out of hibernation?”
“You’re a fine one to talk about hibernation.”
“I’m conserving my life’s breath,” you counter primly. “I plan to live ‘til I’m a hundred and thirty years old.”
“Oh, ho.” She pushes up her glasses, skillfully obscuring her expression. “Of course; of course.”
Banter aside, there had been nary a word out of the Commander’s office ever since the call of ‘All Quiet’ went out. If that paranoia—that guiding beacon of paranoia that led X-COM through the Martian insurgency—has once again awakened, well…
“…so,” you prompt. “‘Possibilities and loose ends’?”
“Please,” the Doctor sighs, waving a hand underneath her chin, “I’d like to take my mind off of it for a while.”
A furrow forms in your brow. You do your best to suppress it. “If you say so.”
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You enter the equipment stores, continuing into the armoury. As you do, a wide smile crosses your face: the shelves are stocked full as ever with cartouche boxes, spam cans, and even a few cartons of nicer commercial stuff. There is a fair selection, owing to the mess of rifles hastily acquired to replace the lemon that was the X-9.
What do you need to feed today?
[ ] An expensive tack driver with an expensive piece of glass you’d owned yourself and brought with you. — [ ] Intermediate — [ ] Full-powered [ ] One of the various service rifles thrown at X-COM by the funding nations posturing over their militaries. — [ ] Assault rifle — [ ] Battle rifle [ ] You actually like the X-9. It’s fun to shoot.
… … …
I've a few in mind, but suggest specific models if you'd like. Stalling vote because I'm not done drafting the next segment.
Euuugh... Sorry, Had nothing but bad experiences with them.
[x] An expensive tack driver with an expensive piece of glass you’d owned yourself and brought with you. — [X] Intermediate (M4 Carbine, outfitted with Trijicon ACOG sight and PEQ-15 Laser/Flashlight mounted on the top rail. Pressure pads linked and held down onto an Ergonomic foregrip)
AR-15 series is known for its adaptability. Doesn't have to end here. Although frankly, I'd prefer the AK series for CQB, more chance of death by it.
I'm going with the assumption that all rifles are capable of select fire. If not, feel free to provide the next alternative.
Also, another assumption on my end. So feel free to correct me. As I'm not familiar with this style of voting yet. Or the X-COM series in general. I'm going solely based off of my firearms knowledge. So feel free to discard the weapon write-in or add more to it.
Uh, shit, guess it's a little unclear. 'Pick two' means any two second-level choices, disregarding top-level choices.
Only military stock is select-fire. Don't read too much into it; I'll not throw up a bad end because of what gets chosen here. It's more of a way for me to see the 'flavour' of action you'd like to read.
If you're curious, the default models I had lined up for the first two choices were a PE90 and a TRG-21, respectively.
[X] An expensive tack driver with an expensive piece of glass you’d owned yourself and brought with you. -[X] OVERPOWERED. Because it's not a kill unless you bury the fucker under the wall he was hiding behind.
Aw wha? 1999? This changes everything. I'd better-
Wait a minute....
Rail interface systems were invented around the 1990s (Citation needed) Not only that, but the M4 carbine was introduced in 1994, with the SOPMOD coming in a year before. I still have power! Just no lasers and flashlights...
Strange where are all the plasma pistols and rifles? Shouldn't plasma weapons be standard at any base by this point?
Also how did the Lunarians take to the whole "Earth is being invaded by aliens" thing, and ensuing mission to Mars assault? They would've had to have a front row seat to all of it. Well not quite as front row as X-Com.
Looks like one of Korobov’s Bakelite abominations, and makes even less sense. Shoots plasma, meaning our ballistic coveralls might as well be paper. (Rookies don’t have clearance for this entry, right?) On the flip side, they’re just as lethal in our own hands. They’re also invaluable in securing UFO interiors. Kind of like a portable door. Internally . . . the propulsion mechanism is simple enough (in relative terms); what we don’t understand is the step from ‘Elerium’ to ‘glowing green bolt of concentrated hate’. NOTE FROM QM: What this means for troopies is we can’t produce any food for these things, so I’m not issuing them to you unless you prove you can handle them like responsible adults.
>>60558 Wait I thought X-Com could produce ammo for the heavy plasma gun?
Also looking at the entries, are they all from during or early in the Alien War? Because I noticed the Ufopaedia entry mentions "ballistic coveralls" and, IIRC, by the time X-Com can build heavy plasma weapons all its troops are running around in Power Suits or Flying Power Suits. Or Personal Armour (http://www.ufopaedia.org/index.php?title=Personal_Armour) at least.
Have you played XCOM Long War? I just wonder that's all.
I . . . I'd like to be candid, but all I can say is 'please have some patience'. I don't know what you're expecting, and it might not seem like it so far, but there's a reason this story is on this site and not elsewhere. The UFOpaedia posts are mainly for me to explain some technical details or divergences I've not the ability to accommodate organically in a story update.
Personal armour of salvage alium plastic, it bear cost in manufacture, material, and wages of machinist. Total is much and still no protect from stupidity of wearer.
Bad rookie who fall in battle, he cost half this to replace.
Combined the votes as best I could. I'll try to refrain from technical votes like that in future.
… … …
[×] An expensive tack driver with an expensive piece of glass you’d owned yourself and brought with you. — [×] Intermediate (SIG PE90; Hensoldt 4×24) [×] You actually like the X-9. It’s fun to shoot. — [×] Bullet hose (A1 trigger group; gas booster)
Back up topside, behind the vehicle entrance, the clearing opens into into a peculiar valley. All grassy green now and blushing with wildflowers, it seems a calming sanctuary lit by morning sun; if only it were so. You know better, having suffered firsthand its formation by way of a Martian battleship breaching the hangars at three hundred knots.
It was decided that the best way to honour those who fell in defense of the base that day was to use the place as a rifle range.
You sight in the target once more through the scope, the tip of the post reticle lazily meandering about the pitted plate. Exhaling and relaxing, you tighten your finger against the trigger——
The SIG sounds out a crisp report, answered a heartbeat later by jacketed lead striking steel. Brass joins glinting brass on the co-opted picnic table, and the bolt catch engages, signifying an empty magazine. You rest the rear of the rifle on its stock, front angled upward on its bipod, and look to the Doc, waiting for her to finish.
The Doctor prefers an off-hand firing stance, owing to her experience in archery in her youth—elbow raised as if drawing back a bowstring; ‘74-pattern muzzle brake playing the part of arrowhead. Yet the stance is visibly a shottist’s and not an archer’s: legs close rather than astride; support arm twisted so that bone supports bone supports rifle.
The Kalashnikov cracks out a shot . . . and then another . . . then once more, each report underscored by the distinctive sound of its action. The brown-lacquered steel lands just short of your feet. Reaching the end of her own magazine, the Doctor clears the rifle and sets it down on the table.
She waves you an all-clear, which you return with a thumbs-up, and you cross the range together to collect your targets.
In truth, the failings of the X-9 are primarily doctrinal. With a few mechanical adjustments and some familiarity with the ballistics of its cartridge, the rifle is able to become a viable close combat arm. Well, in theory, anyway; you’ve not had a chance to test it as such. It does, however, perform admirably against two-dimensional aliens, which is enough for you for now.
Standing barely twenty-five metres out, you loose round after round into the paper Snakeman, peppering its chest and sneering visage—and, much more frequently, the berm behind it—with two-hundred-forty-grain projectiles. The rifle cracks five, six, seven times with each burst, emptying the magazine in a matter of seconds. Not yet satisfied, you drop the magazine and seat in another, releasing the bolt catch and commencing the barrage anew; then, clicking dry once more, you drop the rifle to hang by its sling and tear your pistol free from its holster to press the assault, ejected brass glimmering on-off in the sunlight——
——the slide locks back.
Noticing yourself, you look sheepishly over at the Doc. She regards you with an odd expression, showing at once a sense of psychiatric understanding and a dash of amusement.
You flush a little in embarrassment. Perhaps you got a touch carried away.
On the other hand, fuck Snakemen.
“You mean Ophidians?”
“Snakemen,” you reaffirm. “And fuck them.”
The Doc folds her hands on the table—presently occupied by a field-stripped SIG. “That was . . . quite the episode, though.”
You shrug, extruding a cleaning patch through the gas tube. “Just cutting a little loose for the finish.”
“Just that?” Ah; here we go again. “I won’t press you, but . . .”
“Really, Doc, I’m fine. No flashbacks, no nightmares, no cold sweats at four in the morning—nothing, okay?”
“That ‘nothing’ is exactly why I’m concerned,” she presses anyway. “It’s abnormal.”
“Doc, please; let’s not start this again. I was fine a year ago, and I’m still fine now.”
“By the time symptoms are visible, it may well be too late.” The Doctor leans in, raising a lecturing finger. “People can be severely destabilised by less than a month of dream deprivation.”
“I won’t ask how you picked up that useful little tidbit.” You exchange the gas tube for the upper receiver and barrel assembly. “Look; have some confidence in me, okay?”
“——not your fault, okay?” you pre-empt, having gone through this script with the Doc many times before. “I signed up for it, didn’t I? Besides, better I’m like this than six feet under in a shoebox.”
“You can’t presume you would have gotten into the same situation——”
“What’s the point in getting into that?” You wave the cleaning rod in frustration. “Look; I’m fine. Can you be fine with me being fine?”
“. . . alright,” she concedes.
A slight scent of banana wafts up to your nose.
“Sorry,” you sigh. You decide to change the topic: “So, ah; what about you; what’s been keeping you so busy?”
The Doc sniffs. “Ah? . . . no need to worry about it, really.”
You wave a finger. “It concerns my reserve pay, doesn’t it? Come on; what’d I miss?”
“Nothing particularly insightful.” She drums her fingers once. “Mars had a specific objective here in Japan;”—you know that; you had to fend them off—“Central wants to know what it was.”
You point the barrel skyward and examine the bore from the breech end. “It’s been almost a year now. Do they know it’s been almost a year now?”
She shrugs. “Hibernating, remember?”
The Doctor goes on to explain.
They had reviewed the UFO tracking logs; overlaid flight paths over a map of the country. The collated flight patterns and landing sites suggested—to admittedly little surprise from anyone—a tightening sweep of the region, in search of . . . well, something.
“And the Commander wants in on it,” you safely hazard.
“In the interest of terrestrial security, of course,” she qualifies; yet admits: “But . . . in so many words, yes.”
And so, in short, Central has the Doc scouring former landing sites——
“——chasin’ ghosts of UFOs past. Doc; Cap’n?”
You turn to look at the newcomer. Newcomers, rather, and three:
“Kerry; Morgan; Patchett.” You raise a hand in greeting. “Been a while.” They were also part of the base’s little Fireforce; you’d deployed together quite a few times.
The Sergeant Kerry returns the gesture as best she can, releasing the two squaddies from the double headlock. “Sure has. What brings ya back?”
You mate upper receiver with lower, locking both solidly into place.
“Ah-hah, figures.” She adjusts her oversized sun hat—Patchett and Morgan, presently muttering to each other, are dressed similarly vernally. “Hey; good timing. Wanna come along?”
You twiddle the rifle’s gas regulator. “Come along where?”
“Providing ground security,” the Doc drawls. “Nice outfits, by the way.”
“Not like anything’s gonna happen,” Kerry waves. “But yeah; ground sec. We get the SEP set up; sweep the place, make sure no civvies or spooky aliens’re around—more of a li’l FTX than anythin’, really—then we’re havin’ a picnic while the eggheads do their thing. Morgan baked lemon loaf!”
The team’s HWP operator perks up at the mention of her name—then looks away abashedly. Sure enough, she has a woven hamper on her arm, complete with red-white tartan blanket.
“So—how about it?”
[ ] You’ll go. You’ll take your usual place . . . — [ ] . . . in the G-Car. (You made Captain for your expertise in battlefield direction.) — [ ] . . . in a K-Car. (You were awarded Captain for your results on the ground.) [ ] You’ll pass. (You were only promoted for seeing too much.)
With the 8M1, we fixed the bulk and weight in exchange for a slight reduction in beam power. Don’t worry; it can still blow up trees and such. Added a giggle switch, too, since the alien-alloy frame can take the heat, and a PEP setting for high-value targets and uncooperative civvies. TRANSCLUDED FROM Heavy Laser: We took the laser cannon and made it smaller (something something chemical versus solid-state), so now all you brown jobs can join in on the PIKLing fun. Unfortunately, it’s stupid heavy. About as heavy as a rifle and a combat load of ammo, all held in your hands, all the time. On the bright side, it can crack a tree in half and blow holes in brick walls. Go try it. Elerium’s a helluva thing. TRANSCLUDED FROM Craft and Armament/Laser Cannon: I won’t pretend to know how this thing works; deuterium-Elerium-something-or-other. But, yes, it’s a laser cannon. Point and shoot. Not a cutting laser; it’s pulsed—ablates the target, causing a plasma explosion. We had issues with UFOs simply outmanoeuvring missile salvoes, leaving our interceptors high and dry since the 20mm is piss against whatever it is they’re made of. Well, let’s see them outmanoeuvre these.
Might as well call it, since I've already started drafting.
>>60570 Not a big deal; there'll be more to this than just oddly-flavoured troopies as soon as I manage to trudge my way there.
… … …
[×] You’ll go. You’ll take your usual place . . . — [×] . . . in a K-car. (You were awarded Captain for your results on the ground.)
“Found ‘em!” Kerry pipes, waving—as you enter the coldly-lit hangar.
Perhaps a section’s count of troopies are present, your own group included. Ordinarily, a flight consists of four helos—the G-car, designated for the CO as well as a single Heavy Weapons Platform and its operator; and three K-cars, smaller birds each accommodating a single stick of four. As you were informed, however, a pair of birds have simply been diverted for the research team, owing to the recent scarcity of aliens.
Off to the right sits the Skyranger, and the interceptors beyond that, all seemingly waiting for a chance to shake the dust off their wings . . . you hope they’ll forgive you, if you prefer the situation leaving them grounded so.
Morgan splits off from the group, headed to the G-car to attend to her “little tank”—christened ‘Clarence’ by her and ‘Morgatron’ by everyone else. The rest of you, save for the Doc, have your places in the one K-car. Out of old habit, you detour to the armoury closet to equip yourself. You get as far as a smoke grenade in hand, when you attempt to place it into a pouch that fails to be there along with the rest of the webbing you’re not wearing.
A hand claps you on the shoulder: Kerry’s; she shakes her head with a carefree grin and hands you a laser rifle, herself cradling her preferred heavy las’.
You sling the rifle—and hold onto the smoke anyway, stuffing it in a pocket.
Back by the helos . . . there’s the Major Morrey, presently seated on a . . . tackle box, it would seem, bucket hat matched with fishing rod and both seeming to be-little him. Well, it wouldn’t do to judge him by his stature; he was a frogman, so you’d heard, making him one of the few actual special forces members that could be spared by the funding nations—that AFSOC puke whose only job was to call in bombing runs on failed crash recoveries notwithstanding.
“Been a while, Major,” you greet, eliciting a nod.
“Sure has, sure has. You know, Sanae started high school last month.” Morrey puffs up with pride. “Glad I could be there for it—missed her middle school ceremony and never heard the end of it from the wife.”
“I can imagine.” You can’t, actually; you really can’t—so boyish the Major looks.
He waves the fishing rod, turning to the G-car: “That said, a little time away with the ol’ boys ain’t bad either, eh?”
“’Course, ’course.” You purse your lips, gesturing toward the rod: “We going to a lake or something?”
“A-yup; roundabout.” Producing a map out of a pocket and unfolding it, he briefs you:
UFO SURVEY SITE UFO-22 CRAFT > FIREFORCE–1
Exercise caution—there may be witnesses in or around the survey site. Mission will be successful when the survey site has been cleared of unauthorised presences. Sample collection and surveying for traces of alien activity can then be initiated. To abort the mission, return to transport vehicle and select [ ] Abort Mission
>>60573 I dunno. It might depend on how much, if any, firsthand experience she has of those horrors. I mean, war is pretty much one of the most horrible thing that humanity has come up it so far, but the fascination for it by people who never experienced it is still very real. (See every piece of entertainment ever that features any kind of war. Like Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Call of Duty... Heck, even this very story you're reading right now.)
If you just hear about it second- or third-hand it might be more intriguing than horrifying.
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The ride is wordless.
The engine drones on, smothering any potential conversation; smothering your vitality. It gnaws at you, wrenches you subtly deep in the pit of your stomach despite yourself. The interior of the helo is as a liminal zone, a boundary and a passageway between this good Earth and that battle-scape so irreconcilably alien. You grasp tightly the intellectual knowledge that you are safe, that you are not to battle today, that the only thing awaiting you at the end of the ride is Morgan’s renowned lemon loaf: so—you—reassure—yourself.
You observe the others in the cabin.
By your side, Kerry keeps in good spirits, the broad straw brimmer now resting on her weapon for lack of room to wear it on her head; noticing your attention, she shoots you an airy grin. Across from you, Patchett sits pale as plaster, eyes lidded and breathing deliberate to keep her air-sickness at bay; by her own side and topping off the stick is that quiet one, Kohler, the medic, dutifully holding onto Patchett’s rifle along with her own. Up at the helm are the two blue jobs Lorel and Kas—pilot and flight technician, respectively; you’d not actually spoken much, but they were generally a reliable pair . . .
. . . you relish in their presence—a reassuring humanity, which guides you back to here-and-now. Exhaling inaudibly, you find it in yourself to return the cheery Sergeant’s smile.
The mountainous Honshu heartland crawls lazily past some dozens of metres below.
The helo begins to descend.
“Blue-won Blue-won this is Blue Leadah.” The Major’s voice buzzes through your headset, a clipped accent affected out of whimsy. “Do you read me?”
You smirk, and modify your own register to respond in kind: “Blue-won reading you fives; go.”
“We are about eight klicks south-wist of the scene echo-tango-alfa three minutes.”
“Copied.” You nod to your stick, each returning the gesture in confirmation.
Shifting over slightly, you pull the starboard-side door open; the whine of the engine is immediately intensified, now underscored by the beating of the rotor-blades. You swing your legs over to sit on the edge of the seat, toes and knees now poking out of the cabin. Kerry in turn sidles up behind you, allowing the flight tech space to man the auto-cannon from the port-side door—yet it seems to be accepted that no air support shall be required today, and so the position goes unfilled.
You lean just slightly forward, letting the cool airflow rush past your face and ruffle your hair: enjoying the sensation, now that it is no longer a prelude to Martian plasma in anger.
The survey site comes now clearly into view, the landmark being a small lake at the junction of three snaking rivers which trifurcate the land; the G-car is already present and circling above.
“Blue-won Blue-two Blue-three this is Blue Leadah I am marking the scene—green smoke.”
A few seconds pass, before a wafting and billowing emerald cloud becomes distinguishable from the foliage.
“Cheers Blue Leadah I have you visual.” Lorel acknowledges the signal, also picking up the affectation, and takes the bird yet lower, still maintaining forward speed; similar acknowledgement comes from Blue-2 and Blue-3.
Then arrives the line everyone is waiting for:
The G-car disappears, the SEP expanding invisibly outward from its position. The sky plunges dead-black for an instant as your helo is engulfed. A dissociation strikes you: severing you from the world and yet birthing you into it, an impossible sensation of simultaneous here-and-not-here——
——in the next instant the front of the SEP is past, the sensation dissipates, and the sky regains its fiery blue.
An area of a hundred metres’ radius and not half so high lies now isolated from the rest of the world. So the Martian SEP dictated the engagement ranges of the alien insurgency: knife-fighting range, figurative outside the UFO and literal within, and the helos forced into the dead man’s curve if any support was to be possible.
Yet a wry grin crosses your face: today, it seems you yourselves are playing the role of UFO—throwing up force fields and conducting shady research. As it is, you’re one dreary paint job away from mantling the proverbial black helicopters.
“Stop-won take an ell-zee to the south I am going to the east. Blue-two Blue-three standby.”
Lorel circles ’round south, dropping lower and lower in a wide corkscrew . . . now decelerating . . . now reaching the landing zone. The helo flares, shedding most the last of its speed and coming into a ground effect hover which kicks up dust and dirt and flattens the grass outward. Impulsively, you jump—landing hard, yet recovering with a fluidity only necessity could teach. The rest of the stop group waits for the helo to settle before following suit, not so caught up in the moment as you are.
Kerry stretches as she walks up beside you, tension releasing audibly in the form of a long sigh. Then she brings her heavy las’ to bear, muzzle-sweeping the trees—“Aah, come out, ya little Greys!”—and giggles to herself, adjusting the brim of her hat. The pair Patchett and Kohler, rather more subdued, form up on your other side to complete the sweep line.
“Alright,” you begin, bringing up a mental image of the lie of the area. “Morgatron’ll be sweeping along the river; leaves a decent bit of ground to cover for just us.” You turn to Patchett: “Haven’t actually had anything come up, have you?”
“Hm?” She shakes her head. “Not so far, no. Wouldn’t expect anyone around this far out in the sticks.”
“Mm. Didn’t see anyone from up there, either . . . alright.” You address everyone: “Spread out—spread out—and just be careful about it; let’s get it in one.”
“Could it be . . . ?” Kerry eyes you teasingly. “Hungry already?”
“Yes,” you declare.
That catches her a little off-guard. She chuckles: “Decommission’s been treating you well, seems like.”
“Sure has.” You roll your shoulders. “’s good—aah—’s good to be out here for a change, though. Huh; didn’t think I’d ever say that.”
“Nor us all,” the Sergeant agrees. “Onwards!”
Your landing zone is in the south, the sweep primarily north-ward toward the lake so that the high noon sun stays out of your eyes. The sweep line stretches to perhaps twenty-thirty metres to a troopie, and you soon lose sight of the rest of the stop group. Near the helo, the forest was sparse; as you progress, however, the hemlocks begin to crowd—enough to restrict visibility, if not movement. You do your best to look through the trees rather than at them, though coniferous foliage always makes it difficult.
“ . . . clear.”
“I watched Heat the other day,” Kerry pipes up.
You chuff. “What, only just?”
“Yeah. Makes me want a li’l Colt of my own.”
“Take one from the arm’ry, then?”
“Patch, those’re CQBRs. I want a 733. ’s different.”
‘Patch’ harrumphs. “That so.”
Kerry elaborates: “Barrel’s eleven-an’-a-half inches, for one—CQBR’s ten-point-three—an’ it’s gotta be a nice A1 upper, an’ the CAR handguard’s thinner, just so, but it’s thinner——”
——eeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeee . . .
. . . fucking . . . you stop and take off your headset to fiddle with your ear, though you know it will accomplish nothing. You have your rookie self to thank for this, of course—you knew the bang-in-a-can was going to be loud, but you lacked a crucial understanding of how loud it was going to be, and now you’ll be paying for it for the rest of your life. The lousy thing couldn’t even breach the hull, either; you had to take the door anyway . . . strange; is it getting louder? . . . there; it’s gone.
“All right,” you call out, tensing a little. “Who’s there?”
. . . alien eyes regard you.
Warning enough. You throw yourself to the side—
—as a bolt of pink screams past your head, raising Hell in your hackles.
It wasn’t tinnitus!
You recover, and bellow into your headset—“Contact!”—as you bring your rifle to bear. Yet the alien leaps sideways out of the line of fire, impossibly fast, and the ringing again intensifies to a scream as it raises a finger and fires again!
It takes all you have to twist out of the way—and again the bolt but grazes you, momentarily flooding your senses with white noise. Immediately, your rifle delivers your response: bright beams of amber tear through the air, leaving brief after-images in your eyes and rent tree-trunks in their wake. None strike home, though each elicits a spike in the humming static noise it seems to be emitting.
You notice belatedly the voice in your headset: “ . . . One, Stop-One, what is happening?”
“Contact; one— one I’ve got, maybe more— Sh-it!”—another near miss screeches past; fire and move; move or die; you remember the silenced Sergeant—“Squad member is U/S, maybe; I can’t— I’m taking fire; I don’t know!”
“Roger. Blue-One stand by for cas-evac; Blue-Two Blue-Three do not take off. Blue Leader will move to support.”
“Looking forward to it. Patch, Kohler,” you address the squaddies, “find Kerry and RV with Blue-One. Don’t shoot at any terrs if you can help it, especially if she’s U/S.”
They voice their assent—and, for a short span, you are alone with the alien.
You curse, ducking down yet lower; pale beams lance overhead, your ‘cover’ but a fallen log or else the forest grasses. The distraction of the previous exchange allowed the alien to entrench itself, pinning you down with grazing fire and preventing you from responding accurately. Your grip on your rifle turns white-knuckled—as if it were an anchor to the world of the living; as if you might else be swept away where neither fiddler nor green await. Yet all it accomplishes is to cause you to jerk the trigger and send your shots wide, and you feel yourself begin to slip . . .
. . . rotor-blades beat overhead: the G-car arrives.
Bolstered by the sound, the tension drains from your body, and you draw smoothly up into a stable firing stance. The dot of the Aimpoint snaps between each lousy tree or stump or bush before you as you deliver a double-tap to each—the drill intended to flush the alien out of wherever it may have sheltered. You succeed, as it rolls away from a now-ruined husk of a tree, reduced to taking pot shots as it attempts to flee.
Rising to your feet, you move to press.
Then the air withers, and next you know, you find yourself in a dead sprint, while the ground begins to explode bare metres behind. Overhead, the auto-cannon slams out twenty-millimetre shells, roaring in a way as could only sound so from before the muzzle.
You scream into your headset: “What the fuck! You’re shooting at me, you shit, cease-fucking-fire!” It takes all the strength in your lungs to make yourself heard over the booming shell-bursts, which set your ears ringing and your heart pounding to rival the twenty-mil’ itself. Infernal half-seconds tick by, each one bringing ignoble death closer by a spit’s distance.
Reaching your limit, you dive into the brush—when the shells are thankfully ceased. You cough and hack and gasp for breath, and roll over to look up at the G-car—
—just in time to witness the gunner thrown bodily out the door by the Major. He lands hard, shrieking as his ankle snaps cleanly against the ground.
You stagger to your feet and storm up to him, glaring spitzers. Seeing you, he scrambles away, choking back screams of pain—a trembling hand held up in a pitiful attempt to ward you off.
“Orrrren.” You draw out his name, voice a rasping growl from exertion. Your mind runs the spectrum between ‘choice words’ and ‘summary execution’; you go as far as bringing a hand to your hip, when a better idea arrives to you. Stopping some paces away, you bounce the forend of your rifle on your palm: “Cover your face.”
“I— I— I-I-I didn’t— I thought you were a Sectopod,” he whimpers. “I mean—”
You bring it into low-ready, and snarl again: “Cover your face!”
He buries himself in his palms. The acrid stench of . . . ‘fear’ . . . touches your nose.
“Marking cas-evac,” you mutter, dialling a generous fuze and enjoying the taste of the next few words: “Chaff-smoke.”
You stalk away, collecting both your thoughts and the bits and pieces of your nerves—as the grenade bursts behind you, dense smoke and white-hot chaff all, underscored by just the sweetest shriek.
“Be right over,” Lorel chirps, and you blink. Sure enough, Blue-One rises up from the treeline—silhouetted against wafting red smoke.
[ ] They did their part; now go finish yours: go after the alien. [ ] Stay here; cover Blue-One’s landing and RV with your stick. [ ]
If you folks'd care for it, I could give this another swing or do something with the material I've got down, but in these formative updates I think I've given off some wrong impressions and it's veered off somewhere I'm not really sure I'm able to handle.