Cydonia

by scg
Cydonia

This is it, Commander Defoe told himself. The final battle - the outcome of which would determine the fate of the entire human race. The scientists had hinted at a huge fleet of UFOs hidden on Mars; a fleet which was perfectly capable of razing Earth's cities to the ground. And that fleet would surely attack if the aliens discovered the humans were capable of endangering the central intelligence - unless they were halted at the roots. Thus, the only way the human race could be saved was the ruthless destruction of the alien central intelligence. Which meant they had to fight, and win - there were no other options now.
Defoe remembered when he had first joined X-COM - back in early 1998, when the organisation was just being formed. An Extraterrestrial Combat Unit seemed absurd, but he had been out of work and the pay was good, so he had signed up. He really had had no idea what he was getting himself into.
As it turned out, there really was an alien presence on Earth - the lithe alien form entombed in a tank of liquid nitrogen had been enough to prove that. Still, it had all seemed unreal at first - it wasn't until the first ground assault on a UFO, when over half of the squad was wiped out, that he had really realised what he was getting himself into.
He had been one of the first few soldiers X-COM had hired - one of the first ten who, accompanied by a state-of-the-art Heavy Weapon tank, had been chosen as Earth's defence against the alien invaders.
They had been massacred - of the ten men that had fought that day, only four returned, without the HWP tank. The UFO was theirs, and a wealth of alien technology was theirs to research, but it seemed a hollow victory. Defoe, having made the first kill, had been promoted to sergeant, and his rise had continued from there, but he had never forgotten the six comrades who had died at the hands of the aliens.
And now was the day to avenge them. Defoe's hand tightened involuntarily, the servos in the glove of his flying power suit whirring as they performed the movement. He got a glance from Brehme, the Colonel who was second-in-command of X-COM, but he ignored the man and gazed out of the tiny window nearest him.
Stars barely seemed to move as he stared out into the darkness, but he knew the X-COM craft - the Avenger, a combination of Earthly and alien technology - was travelling at phenomenal speeds in order to reach Mars, the alleged location of the main alien base.
Mars. Cydonia, more specifically - the ancient swath of unusual Martian landscape. Strange patterns in it had bemused scientists for centuries, and now they were off to see it first-hand. It seemed oddly appropriate that the different alien species had chosen to co-ordinate their activities from Mars.
The red planet had been visible for the last hour, a tiny dot in space. Augmented vision allowed him to confirm it's presence, but it would be several hours before they could land. Defoe shifted in his suit slightly - state-of-the-art, perhaps, but they were nonetheless uncomfortable - and settled back, preparing for the long hours still to come.

* * *

The Martian surface whipped by beneath the Avenger - they had dropped low to the surface far away from Cydonia in order to avoid detection - as they sped towards their destination. Miles passed by in seconds, and Defoe tried not to think about what would happen if the rear hatch of the Avenger burst open.
Next to him, Squaddie Graham shifted nervously, his shoulder mounted stereo system clanking noisily. Defoe glanced at the set-up with the same bemusement he had previously, when Graham had suggested taking it with him to Cydonia. The idea was that the heavy metal music that would be pounding out of the speakers would act as a rallying point for the humans, and disorientate and confuse the aliens. Defoe had replied that the music would give away their position, but Captain Hudson had pointed out that the aliens would know where they were anyway. X-COM was heading for alien hometown, and if they didn't have damn advanced scanning technology (as X-COM already knew the aliens had - the Hyperwave Decoders proved that) he was no damned X-COM trooper. Besides, he added, as the Commander had frowned at his language, they could always turn it off when they nipped inside to chat with the alien brain. Defoe had given up; the other troopers seemed to like the idea, and he couldn't argue with Hudson's logic.
But that didn't mean he thought it made sense.
Seeing his gaze through the heavily smoked lenses of the power suits, Graham grinned. Although Defoe couldn't see his mouth, he knew Graham well enough to know that the Squaddie's eyes crinkled up when he smiled.
"You okay, Squaddie?" he asked over the closed circuit.
"Sure, Commander," came a gruff reply - Graham was trying to hide his nervousness, and far less successfully than Defoe had. "Just looking forward to a few crispy fried sectoids."
He patted his heavy plasma with a metal palm, and the weapon clanged noisily.
Defoe sighed. "Squaddie, we're wearing elerium-titanium allow suits that weigh in excess of a ton. Don't go patting one of the most destructive weapons in existence with that get-up."
"Sorry, Commander." Came the reply. He didn't sound it.
"I mean that," added Defoe.
"Sure you do, Commander," replied Graham, confident and friendly.
Several of the other soldiers sniggered, the laughs sounding over the closed circuit. Defoe smiled secretly to himself; that little incident had increased the morale of the troops a little. The tension was driving them to near breaking point.
Interrupting his thoughts and the other's chuckles, the pilot of the Avenger (Sergeant Jacques, one of the three psychic troopers) spoke up. "Okay, people, beginning final approach. Suggest you get geared; this is gonna have to be the fastest operation in our whole goddamn two year history"
Several soldiers grinned at the half-joke as they performed routine checks on one another's power suits, and slapped new ammo clips into their weapons: a motley array of plasma weapons, psi-amps and blaster bomb launchers. Each soldier also ensured that their sidearms (a laser pistol in every case) was safely holstered.
Sergeant Jacques stomped back to his seat near the front of the Avenger, after setting the Avenger's computer to bring them in fast and hard. He clanked down into his seat, activated the magnetic clamp restraints, and snatched up his psi-amp and plasma pistol.
They were ready.

* * *

"Out, out, out"
Defoe's voice cut through the deafening silence of the closed circuit as the X-Com soldiers gazed out into the muddy brown-red landscape of Mars. The troopers leapt into action, advancing in twos down the ramp.
"Set up a ten metre defensive perimeter while we get grandma out"
Soldiers scattered around the Avenger, sweeping slowly out over the crimson alien soil. Behind them, a dull rumble tore the eerie silence apart, as the elerium-fueled reactor of the heavy plasma tank roared into life.
The X-Com troopers were slightly awed by the sight of the alien landscape, and the searing knowledge that they were on another planet. But the presence of their comrades, the heavy suits of armour and the comforting shapes of their weapons reminded them that this was just another mission, for the glory and survival of mankind.
The twenty troopers were well dispersed around the Avenger when the first plasma blasts rang out. A brilliantly coloured green bolt sang from the shadows of a nearby pyramid, melting the side of the Avenger, and causing a nearby squaddie to bury her face in the Martian soil. The sergeant by her side returned fire at the attacker - one of the squat grey sectoids - but missed, his three blasts tearing chunks from the pyramid.
The Sectoid ducked back into the shelter of the pyramid, safe in the knowledge that the soldiers outside could not touch it. Instants later, sergeant LeFevre rose from below and tossed a grenade into the pyramid. The sectoid looked down as the brown sphere clanked to it's feet, and then the world went red.
"LeFevre! Get down! You're making yourself a target" Defoe's voice came out loud and clear over the comnet. The sergeant obeyed, dropping his flying suit to drop to the ground. From far across the landscape, another plasma shot was heard, and the bolt came soaring into sight in seconds. It impacted on Lefevre's side, and as the Sergeant screamed, his controlled descent became an uncontrolled one.
Squaddie Rose crawled over to the side of the fallen trooper. Scanning his suits medical readout, she reported that he was still alive. "Evac him to the Avenger," ordered Defoe. "He's not gonna see any more of this fight. The rest of you, keep low! We just lost one-twentieth of our manpower." The reminder of the small size of their force sobered the others.
The heavy plasma tank - or HWP as they were labelled by the military - thundered down the Avengers ramp, following the troopers' examples and keeping low. Its sensitive scanning equipment calculated the origin of the shots that had felled Lefevre, and, zooming in, it spotted a number of sectoids clustered around a cyberdisc.
The tank was possibly the most sophisticated piece of hardware available to X-Com. Even the Avengers couldn't think and act for themselves - but the HWPs developed from alien technology possessed AI that made them the equal of any simple man. As such, its targets failed to anticipate the highly accurate plasma barrage emanating from its twin-barrelled turret. Three plasma blasts thudded into the cyberdisc's heavily armoured side, before a fourth knocked the disc from the air. Following the standard cyberdisc defence procedure, it detonated once the AI computed that all was lost. The damaged AI failed to note the friendly sectoids within range, and the resultant explosion vapourised the nearby aliens.
"Six targets terminated," grated the HWP, affectionately nicknamed "Grandma". "Activating patrol protocol."
"Countermand that," snapped Defoe. "You obviously haven't been informed - uh, programmed - as to the nature of the mission. This isn't a patrol. We're making a surgical incision on the alien command structure. Stick with the main body of the troops."
"Affirmative," replied the machine. It rumbled onwards, following the cautiously advancing X-Com soldiers.

* * *

Defoe ran a gauntleted hand over the muzzle of his heavy plasma rifle. No doubt the weapon would see plenty of action before the mission was over. Patting the barrel gently, he swung his upper body around to see his surroundings. One disadvantage of the elerium-based heavy armour was that the head could not be turned independently of the body, and as a result the entire body had to be turned to see around oneself.
He flicked the comnet's open frequency on, poking the needle with his tongue. "Remember, people," he said, speaking into the tiny microphone by his mouthpiece, "We're looking for some sort of lift similar to those we've seen in the alien bases. Those should take us down below to the alien leaders."
Affirmatives filled the radio waves as he added, "Most likely it's inside one of the pyramids we can see." As he flicked the open frequency back off, a red light flickered on. Someone wanted to speak with him over a private frequency. He toggled it on. "Defoe." He said.
"Commander, this is squaddie Kinlan," came a low voice. Defoe nodded to himself. Kinlan was one of the few human psionics in the squad, and was a skilled one at that. "Continue," he ordered.
"I have probed the structures around us. I believe we are in luck - one of the four pyramids extends below the surface. I have tagged it on the tactical map."
Defoe glanced at the map. The pyramid to their south-east, and a mere two hundred metres from the Avenger. "Good work, trooper." He said, clicking the frequency off and switching back to the open frequency.
"All X-Com personnel, listen up! We know where we're going now. Check your tactical maps, squad leaders, and lead your squads to the marked pyramids. Squaddie Graham! The aliens will know where we are going, and now that we know where we are going, there is no need to keep our position concealed. You have permission to begin our diversionary tactics."
"Yes sir" barked Graham, and a second later the silence was wrenched away by a deafeningly bass beat emanating from the speakers over his shoulders. "Yah, turn it up" jeered a soldier, struggling to make himself heard over the sound of the music.
"LOUDER?" screamed Graham. "LOUDER? I AIN'T HEARING THIS, I'M FEELING IT"
Defoe grinned to himself. They knew where they were going, and the little distraction seemed to be working. The blue blips on his tactical display - aliens detected by the HWP or one of the psionics - had stopped their steady advance on their position and frozen. One alien blip even turned and began to move rapidly in the opposite direction. Sectoids obviously didn't like Earth culture.
"Let's go people" he yelled. "Radio silence from the end of this message until we reach the entrance. Graham, transmit that shit over all the radio bands. I want those aliens disorientated and their communications blocked, now" The squaddie obeyed, and Defoe could no longer hear the comforting murmur of his comrade's voices.
As a group they advanced on the destination pyramid. Defoe, leading the team, gestured for them to spread out - they didn't want one blaster bomb to wipe them all out. Grandma trundled along behind them all, turret swung backwards, sweeping the landscape. It fired volleys of plasma bolts at any possible alien targets it detected, and the occasional scream proved its accuracy.
Sergeants Robinson and Caws stood to his sides as he approached the heavy pyramid door. It was of the usual sliding variety seen on alien structures, and as he approached, vanished upwards.
A withering storm of plasma bolts burst from the darkness within, catching Caws in the face and throwing him back with a short, sharp scream. Defoe didn't need to look to tell the Sergeant was dead. Instead, he gritted his teeth and opened up on full auto-fire inside the pyramid. Sectoids screamed and died, some managing to return fire before they died. A rogue blast took a troopers arm clean off. The trooper fell, crying out for a medic, the words lost in the storm of music and fury.
As the last sectoid slumped to the ground, green blood pumping from the hole in its stomach, Defoe turned to the wounded trooper, motioning for Graham to stop the music. The wounded soldier was Delores.
"Captain Hudson! Take Jones and Delores back to the Avenger. And take Caws with you. We're not leaving anyone here." The Captain was about to argue, but catching something of the fury within Defoe's voice elected not to. Instead, he turned and barked out orders to the squaddies under his command. They would guard the Avenger - and it's wounded occupants - until the others returned. The Avenger would probably have to be shifted to a concealed location on the planet's surface, to prevent discovery by the aliens.
Defoe, fuming within, mentally ticked off the casualties so far. Caws dead. Lefevre and Delores wounded. Hudson and Jones playing sentries. That meant a quarter of their force, excluding the HWP, was gone already. Plus the command structure had been damaged.
"Sergeant Robinson! You are acting captain. Squaddie Rose, you are acting Captain. Take care, people, and those promotions might still be with you when we return."
His words rang hollow, and he knew it. If they returned, they would have been successful, and the alien threat would be gone. Thus, X-Com would be disbanded, and it's peoples scattered.
His stomach knotted up inside him in anger. They were fighting the greatest threat ever known to man, and their only incentive was to be tossed aside by the governments of the world, conveniently forgotten by those in power.
But then his resolve hardened. He was here to kill aliens, for the survival of his species. Theirs must die that his might live. Wordlessly, he stepped into the grav-lift, followed by the X-Com troopers. All fifteen packed inside, and then grandma rolled up outside. The tank could not fit through the doorway. 'Grandma, you'll have to remain on the surface,' ordered Defoe.
"Negative, commander," replied the machine flatly, disappearing from sight.
"What-" began Graham, before a resounding boom cut him off. Then there was a second thump, and a third, and then the walls next to the doorway crumbled away. Grandma trundled through the widened gap, halting before the astonished troopers.
"Awaiting instruction, commander," reported the machine. Defoe shook his head in amazement.
"Okay, people. Get tooled up. Check your ammo levels. Graham, ditch the speakers. We're going down."
And the forces of X-Com descended into the depths of Cydonia, for the cause of mankind.

* * *

It was too quiet when Defoe stepped cautiously from the grav-lift. Far too quiet. Something was wrong...
"Commander, down" someone thundered over the comnet. As he heard the screeching whine approach, his training kicked in, triggered by the warning. He dove to the ground, cursing as the flying suit's bulk winded him.
The blaster bomb whistled over his head, soaring past him. It swung around as it's operator realised it had missed, but mid-flight course changes with blaster bombs are touchy at best, and the egg-shaped missile exploded in the dim interior of some nearby room. The resultant shockwave shook the troopers, and chunks of rubble and alien plantlife came flying from the room - obviously an underground farm.
"Move, move, move! Disperse by twos, now" screamed Defoe, rolling his bulk out of the way of the gravlift doorway. More troopers pounded through, and pairing up, the soldiers operated like the slickly oiled combat machine they were. In seconds, every entry point to the cross-shaped junction was covered.
"Be careful, people. We still have at least one b-b operator out there," warned Colonel Brehme, referring to the alien-built heavy guided missile launchers by their popular nicknames.
"You know the drill, people. Two to a corridor. Fireteam, get those b-b's out and cover the others. Colonel Brehme, captain Robinson, with me. Monitor your teams." He ordered, snapping off the orders quickly and efficiently.
Kinlan spoke again to the commander, this time over the open frequency. "Sir. There is an exceptional concentration of alien forces to the west. It's possible they're guarding something... maybe our target, sir."
"Perhaps," replied Defoe. "But then again-"
"Perhaps they know of our psi-talents, and intend to divert us," said Brehme, finishing the commander's sentence for him.
"We haven't got time to waste debating this, X-Com. The aliens know we're here, and reinforcements can be expected - soon. This is alien town central, remember." Said Defoe, reminding the relaxing troopers of their situation. "Alpha team, stay here. Grandma, you're with alpha. Be ready to lend support to those that need it. Beta and ceta squads, check out that concentration to the west. Kinlan, with them. Scout the b*stards, but don't start a fight unless you have to. There might be too many to handle. Delta, you have north. Command and myself will take south. East is the grav-lift. Everyone happy?"
There were no arguments to the hasty plan of action.
"Good. And watch your back people; the Almighty alone knows what they have in store for us down here."
The squads peeled off, heading down the respective corridors. Colonel Brehme was heading west with the scout party. Captain Heinlein was taking north. That left the newly promoted captain Robinson with Defoe, and- The commander glanced at his second companion. Squaddie Rose, now sergeant Rose. Inexperienced, but like all of X-Com's agents, skilled and reliable. She caught him looking at her, and gave a thumbs-up. He returned the gesture - X-Com's unofficial salute - and then swung around, clanking along to the south. The other two followed, plasma weapons at the ready.
Defoe, being a fan of powerful and reliable firepower, took a heavy plasma gun along with him on every mission. He was a tremendous fan of the alien weapon. Rose preferred the lighter and faster plasma rifle, despite the power armour's strength enhancement systems. Robinson was a real oddity. Tremendously strong, the man could somehow support a heavy laser in each hand. He lugged the clunky weapons - the most powerful available based on terran technology - around with him everywhere. Others had insisted that he take the more efficient plasma weapons along with him, but he had simply grinned, saying, "When you guys are scrounging stiffs for plasma clips, I'll be covering your asses. So don't complain." He had been impossible to persuade, so the matter had been left to lie. Besides, who wants to argue with a man who can bear a hundred kilogram heavy assault weapon in each hand?
A shot rang out from before them, boiling plasma melting the cydonium floor panels just ahead of them. Evidently, the aliens did.
Defoe charged forwards, and, reaching the point where the corridor opened into a larger room, dropped to a knee and brought his heavy plasma into position from which he could sight along it. His gaze, enhanced by the suit's optical systems, swept the room. Robinson and Rose took up positions to either side of him, scanning the room as well. Finally, Defoe stood.
"Room is clear. Sergeant, check the corridor to the left. Captain, check right. I have twelve o' clock." He ordered. "Careful; this place will be crawling."
Standing, they moved cautiously across the room towards the opposite exits. The dull grey corridors stretched away into darkness before them. Defoe moved slowly forwards as the mulchy ground squelched underfoot. An alien farm room, or perhaps even a plant culture.
As Defoe peered carefully into the corridor ahead - all clear, as far as he could tell - Robinson's voice ran out over the comnet- "Commander, look out"
Defoe, sensing the danger even as he heard the warning whirled. Atop the pillar of bio-organic growth before him, a spindly black creature lurked. It shifted slightly, and as the dim light in the room flickered off its carapace, Defoe breathed in sharply. Chryssalid! The most feared of any of the alien species, the chryssalid could scuttle ten metres faster than a man could blink... and should it reach a living organism, it could either rend it apart with wicked claws, or, still worse, implant a chryssalid embryo within it. It gestated in minutes, and an adult chryssalid would emerge shortly, shedding the zombified corpse about it.
The chryssalid was little more than three metres above him, and poised to pounce. Defoe doubted his armour would save him. It hadn't helped De Gautier, back in Paris.
Shining beams of blue light crashed into the bug, heating patchs of it's carapace to a cherry-red. Simultaneously, green plasma bolts soared into it from the opposite side. The chyrssalid was buffeted to and fro, but it would take more than the light firepower of a plasma rifle or laser weapons to drop one of these things.
As the bug's attention was drawn away by it's attackers, Defoe swung up his heavy plasma, the motion assisted by the servos in his suit's arms. A split second later, the room was lit by the blinding flares of light thrown about by the tightly controlled beams of plasma emitted by his rifle. His aim was true, and the distracted chryssalid's innards were torn out, a hole blown straight through it's middle. Green blood and chunks of purplish-crimson flesh splattered wetly on the alien plantlife.
Defoe let his weapon drop down, breathing heavily. He moved to wipe his brow, then realised he couldn't, encased in the flying suit. Shaking his head, he prepared to give out orders to the two accompanying him, but at that moment, a silken voice slipped into his mind. Defoe prepared his rudimentary mind shields, but released them once he realised that the intruder was Kinlan.
Forming the words in his mind, he tried to talk with the psi-trooper. What news? He requested.
I am communicating like this in case they can monitor our radio waves, commander. There are some twenty aliens in this area, gathered vaguely around a terror-machine, the one's we call "sectopods". I think there are ethereals here, too, I can sense their minds- aia!
The mind-link cut off sharply. "What?" muttered Defoe, surprised. At that moment, screams rang out over the comnet. Defoe reacted. 'All squads, report. What is your situation?'
He was answered by another scream, and the faint sound of a few bursts of gunfire. Then-
"Commander, this is colonel Brehme. Squaddie Kinlan was standing still concentrating, when all of a sudden a couple of bugs rounded the corner. They saw us, of course, and we dropped them easily, but then-" he was interrupted by another fusillade of shots. "Then, Kinlan suddenly raised his rifle and blew Harris' brains out! He'd blown open Gaff's stomach before someone had the good sense to shoot him."
"Dead?" asked Defoe.
"I'm afraid so, commander. But we have more immediate problems; the other psi in our squad reports approaching aliens... looks like they're coming for us. There are only three of us left here now, we could easily be-"
The colonel was cut off again by the loud KRUMP! Of an explosion. "Colonel, report" snapped Defoe. "Report, god damn it"
There was gunfire, and screams, over the open frequency, as Defoe patched into it. As he listened on in horror, the remainder of beta and ceta squads were overwhelmed in seconds, and bloodily torn apart by the aliens. The last he heard was Brusey's defiant shouts as he switched to full automatic with his plasma rifle. There was a thumping, pounding noise, followed a short, sharp scream and a gristly crack. Reaper, thought Defoe. There were reapers here too, on top of anything else. The bipedal brown-furred monstrosities seemed helpless - vulnerable to fire and possessing no ranged weapons - but if they got close, they could rip a squad of crack troops apart with ease. It sounded like Brusey had let one get close.
A sense of loss and hopelessness welled up within him. He turned back to Rose and Robinson, who were also standing hopelessly as they imagined the carnage. Then, for a second time, his mind was touched. His mental block was up in an instant, but again he recognised... Kinlan?
The red blossom of death surrounded the psi-troopers aura, and the thought-words faltered and waned, but it was Kinlan. The dying man was trying to tell Defoe something, and he dropped the mental shield. Commander... came the weak thought. Dying now... all dead. Too late for us. You must... must get the... brain. Can sense near here. Above us? Alive. Powerful. Sensed we were here. Attacked me... made me kill- made me kill my friends.
Defoe's fury and grief welled up within him once again, but he forced it down, maintaining his calm discipline, as Kinlan went on. Last chance. X-Com must attack now... humanity lost otherwise. Aliens not risk letting us live now... you have to strike, hard and fast. Now. For humanity. And for us.
With that, the thoughts slipped from his mind, and Defoe returned to consciousness. The entire monologue had passed in seconds. He waved down his two questioning comrades, and clicked on the frequency to alpha squad. Alpha carried the assault teams two blaster bomb launchers. Defoe didn't like using them in enclosed environments, but this was a desperate situation.
"Alpha one and two, I want b-b's dropped at beta and ceta squad's last known positions."
Alpha protested. "But sir, we have men-"
"No we don't." Defoe informed him coldly. "Launch now, or this entire mission will be jeopardised."
The troopers didn't argue, and after feverishly tapping commands into the bulky moulded shapes of the launchers, fired. Twin blaster bombs shot from the launchers, seemingly propelled by the air itself - actually tiny anti-grav systems - and corkscrewed around one another as they flipped around corners, disappearing into the darkness. Defoe couldn't see this, but he had watched many times before.
Abruptly, he thought of something. "Alpha, reprogram to overshoot by fifteen metres. Quickly"
"Already have, sir," came the reply. "Wouldn't want to toast our comrades, sir." Defoe nodded in appreciation at the initiative, although he would have to speak to the soldier about not undermining his authority afterwards - if there was an afterwards. But the choice was correct; all X-Com personnel killed in action would be recovered for military burial. Plus, to justify the move for the government men, those suits they were wearing cost a pretty penny to manufacture.
More dull, cushioned explosions reached him, the worst of the sound filtered out by his suit's ear fittings. The bombs had reached their targets. "Launch again," he ordered. "Clear the whole area. I want nothing alive to remain." Alpha squad obliged, and thirty seconds later, more rumbling blasts shook him.
Defoe switched to the open frequency, finally letting the others know what was happening. "All squads, fall back to Alpha's position. Disengage from any bogies and fall back. We are not retreating, repeat, we are not giving up. I don't want any heroes"
Clicking off, he turned to his own squad. "If you didn't know, beta and ceta just bought the farm," he informed them, grimly. "We're regathering - Kinlan found the 'brain'."
"Brain?" asked Robinson, confused.
"The alien leader," replied Defoe, starting to stride back towards alpha. "He called it a brain. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But it's all we've got. So lets go." Robinson and Rose obliged, following him back up the long corridor towards alpha.
"Here we are," muttered Defoe, as the hazy figures of a couple of alpha troopers sprung into sight, watched over by the bulky shape of the HWP tank. Delta were already there. Blood, green and blue, covered captain Heinlein's armour. No red. Good. That meant dead bugs, and hopefully no dead troopers. He counted the surviving troopers as they grew into sight.
Nine. Nine troopers and a HWP, out of twenty, survived. And they had yet to even catch sight of the thing Kinlan had described as "the alien brain". Still, they had just cleared that dense formation of aliens... and they must have been guarding something.
A decision was needed quickly - and Defoe did not waste any time. Swinging about to face the dark corridor down which the bombs had been flung, he yelled over the comlink, "Follow me, men! Strike fast and hard for the glory of Earth"
It did not matter that his words rang hollow in his own mind - the others were enthused, and followed him as he pounded down the cydonium corridor in his armour. Cheers and war whoops filled the frequencies. Defoe did not order silence; the aliens knew where they were now anyway.
Taking a sharp turn to the right, Defoe came face to face with the awesome metallic shell of the terrifying alien mobile weapons platforms - dubbed 'Sectopods' by X-Com. He almost screamed as he swung up his rifle. Robinson, by his side, grabbed his arm.
"It's dead, sir," murmured the captain.
Relaxing, Defoe waved to the others to follow him. They followed, bar the HWP - it was unable to make it past the vast ruin of the destroyed Sectopod.
The corridor was filled with a thick, acrid grey smoke. Visibility was poor, but the troopers could make out the forms of half a dozen dead humans, lying silent and still in heavy suits of armour. Several suits had been torn open by something - Defoe was unable to look. Instead, he glared with a grim smile of satisfaction at the utterly annihilated alien unit. Perhaps half a score of the aliens lay along the corridor; floaters, ethereals, snakeman and even a few of the tough mutons. Perhaps there had been more of the aliens; as it was, the force of the blaster bombs might have destroyed many of the corpses.
Behind him, a man screamed. Defoe and the two men flanking him - Robinson and another whirled. Behind them, further back the long column of X-Com troopers, a burning reaper had leapt upon the rear guard. It's jaws bit into the mans shoulders, and red blood squirted from the torn limb. He screamed again, before the beast tore his arm from the socket. The fist clenched then relaxed as it's parent arm was ripped away. Behind the reaper, several scuttling bugs could be seen advancing.
Plasma and laser weapons blazed, their fury lighting the dark corridors and whipping the smoke away. The reaper was torn to ribbons in the firestorm, it's bulky corpse collapsing, chunks of flesh whirling away into the shadows. One of the advancing chryssalids was flung to the ground as a crackling arc of plasma thudded into it's chest, but the other evaded the blasts. It leapt for the wounded trooper, was trying in vain to stem the flow of his blood from his arm, as consciousness faded. In desperation, Robinson stepped forward and swung one of his dangerously hot heavy laser rifles at the thing. He caught it a powerful blow and it was physically knocked back a step - enough distance for the others to draw a line of fire to it. It blew apart in a wailing shower of carapace and ichor. Robinson dropped to his knees and set about helping the wounded soldier, as the automatic medikit he pulled from his kit bag applied various drugs to the dying man.
"Leave him," said Defoe. The decision hurt him, but the brain must be destroyed and reinforcements would be arriving soon. Two eager troopers ran on ahead, and as they reached the end of the corridor - which ended in a T-junction - they spotted a green humanoid stooping over the corpse of an X-Com squaddie, which was propped against the wall. Kinlan. He had nearly made it to a small gravlift which led upwards.
Before they could react, the muton whirled and flung something at the two. One of them recognised the object - it was squaddie Kinlan's head. Acting on instinct, one of them dropped his plasma rifle to catch the decapitated head within it's helmet. It thunked into his armoured hands, and as his comrade opened fire at the muton, he peered inside. There was the bleeding ruin of his friends head, but also there was a strange, fist-sized brown object...
"GRENADE" he screamed, before the powerful explosive charge within the grenade detonated. The two squaddies disappeared in a blinding white flash as the rest of the X-Com troopers approached the junction. The photoreceptors in Defoe's suit filtered out much of the blast, but he was still left blind for several seconds - during which he was unable to see the two unfortunate troopers being utterly vapourised by the heat of a fusion reaction. Although Defoe could not be sure, he assumed the muton had met the same fate in the blast.
He glanced around. With three men down and Robinson seeing to one of them, that left five, including himself. He scanned around himself. The T-junction split into two tiny corridors, both of which terminated at a small grav-lift. With him were squaddies Gunter and MacDuff, sergeant Rose and Captain Heinlein. "Rose, with me," he ordered. "The rest of you, take the other lift up. I have a feeling our objective lies above us."
The troopers covered off at the lifts, ready to fling themselves upwards. Across from Defoe, captain Heinlein offered a silent salute to his commander. Defoe returned it, then held up three fingers. Heinlein nodded.
Two fingers.
One finger.
With a heave, the two officers sprung upwards, pushing up with their feet as they flew upwards, assisted by the anti-gravity affect of the lifts. Then they were up through the floor - into a large chamber in which rows of semi-organic seats were arrayed.
Defoe did not have time to take any more of the scene in - at that moment, deadly accurate bolts of green plasma sizzled from a cluster of orange-robed humanoids in the centre of the chamber. Heinlein was catapulted backwards as three bolts struck his stocky body; his mutilated corpse flung back against a wall. Defoe, too, was met with a hail of plasma. Only one bolt struck him, though, and his armour somehow absorbed the blast with little ill-effect.
This is it, he thought, glaring at the five ethereals before him. His heavy plasma crackled three times in succession, and two of the robed aliens dropped to the ground, screeching in fury.
In the corner of his eye, Defoe saw Gunter, MacDuff and Rose appearing through the lifts, and MacDuff torn apart by a hail of plasma from the remaining aliens, but his attention was drawn to the huge, obscene thing that filled much of the end of the chamber.
It was a huge, pulsating, naked brain - Kinlan had been right, there was no other word for it. Writhing grey flesh with cybernetic implants crawling over it's surface... it was disgusting to behold. So disgusting, in fact, that Defoe failed to notice as one of the last three ethereals levelled a weapon at him, and fired.
He was filled with a burning agony in an instant. His chest felt as though it had been filled with boiling lead, such was the furious pain. Glancing down through reddened eyes, he saw the charred flesh hanging from the rent in his suit. He fell to his knees as the oxygen ebbed from his brain and his heartbeat slowed, as the damaged muscles struggled to move.
Lying prone upon his front, he forced himself to stay conscious - to stay alive - as the remaining troopers advanced. His own weapon was three metres away - to far too reach, too painful to crawl too. It was in their hands now.
Gunter and Rose dropped to their knees in true military fashion - the terror coursing through them had forced extreme discipline upon their actions. They unleashed a storm of plasma fury upon the room, tearing apart the last three ethereals in an instant - but not before another had fired. The plasma bolt missed, but flashed into the ground before the two troopers. Liquidised cydonium splashed from the crater, settling on Gunter's left leg. The trooper screamed in agony as his suit was melted aside, the boiling alloy charring his exposed leg to the bone.
Rose, too, was splashed by the alloy, but had escaped relatively unscathed as the small droplets of alloy solidified before melting too far into her armour. Standing, she scanned the room. Nothing was left alive, save her own, perhaps fatally wounded comrades, and the obscene alien behemoth at the head of the chamber. Silently, she let her weapon hang by her side as she stepped forwards, towards the alien brain. "What are you doing" Screamed Defoe, as his life fled from him. "Kill it! Kill the monstrosity" Then he, too, fell silent, as a consciousness the age of a star slipped into his mind.
It began to speak. The voice of the brain, seemingly both mocking and pleading with the troopers, talked of it's power and it's empire. It spoke of the intertwined fates of planet Earth and the alien race, of the ancient civilisation of Cydonia. It spoke of generations of human beings, adjusted for an unknown purpose by the alien species. It spoke of the future. And, finally, it expounded, with grim finality, that the humans could not kill it.
Rose fired.
Searing hot plasma speared through the brain, sending steaming mucus and grey tissue spraying across the chamber. Cables and machines sparked and died as the intelligence that held them together screamed and died, it's reign of many millenia brought to a conclusion.
Rose staggered and dropped her weapon as the dying scream of the brain filled her head, nearly driving her to insanity with it's force and intensity. She slipped to the ground, clutching her head, as blood poured from her nose.
But lying some ten metres back, Defoe smiled in innocent happiness as he saw the vast brain deflate. His task was done. The Earth was saved, the aliens defeated forever. At last, his tortured existence could end without endangering the lives of billions.
Defoe's consciousness slipped into eternal darkness - the eternal gloom of death.
It was over.

Shaun Green, 1999