Greetings

"What the hell happened to the car I sent for you?" screamed Schancer.

"Car?" scowled Hirsch. "There wasn't any car."

"Um, I'll sleep on the couch," yawned Rawlings. He tossed his huge duffel bag behind the door, staggered over to said furniture, and collapsed upon it.

"You have a shower in here?" asked Battelene, opening the door to the suite's large bathroom.

"Get out of there!" snapped Schancer. "Of course there was a car--black luxury vehicle..."

Davidson yawned, covering his mouth with a big black hand. "All I know, sir, is that the squad and myself have spent more'n a day getting here... just how we did, that we can sort out over rice cakes..."

"If the auto didn't meet you, then how is it you're standing in my doorway?" inquired Schancer.

"It's a long story, sir," started Matsumoto. "I had to hail two cabs, and since Dave over there- "

Battelene finished pulling off his jumpsuit. He was clad only in boxers.

"What are you doing?" screamed the exasperated commander.

"...or whatever they eat," mumbled Davidson, scratching his neck and looking for a place to sleep. He wandered over to an apolstered chair.

"Taking a shower!" replied the unclothed rookie. "There was this old Japanese woman sitting next to me, and you know how us soldiers smell-"

Matsumoto continued, "Me, Jack, and Henry got here fine, but Dave and the sarge got stuck in traffic, so their cab driver was really lost, and they were running out of money,"

"He had the damn meter running for the whole time!" added Battelene, stepping into the shower stall.

Schancer threw up his arms. "Incompetent bastards! Why do you think I sent you a car? Maybe because I don't have enough room or money or food for all... how many of you are here?"

"Uh, six, counting yourself, sir." sang Battelene from a steaming shower.

"Whatcha got on the TV, boss?" asked Hirsch, plopping himself down on the bed and firing up the HDTV. A rapid succession of unintelligible commercials flashed by.

"Did the commander get the good channels?" asked Matsumoto, joining Hirsch. He picked up a thick television guide.

"Do you know the kanji for... heh heh... porn?" yelled the man in the shower.

"What did I warn you, Dave?" bellowed the half-awake Davidson. "Sir, Rookie Battelene seems to be enjoying himself too much..."

Seething, Schancer went to close the door. He noticed that the occupants of every room on the floor were looking out their doorways. Blushing, he shut the door.

"Guys, shut up. You're going to get us--me--kicked out."

"Some of us want to SLEEP!" reminded Rawlings. "I should've kept that goddamn pistol, so I could SHUT UP some lousy f-" Jack checked himself.

"I'll make that an order. Nap time, children," declared Davidson.

Matsumoto wrestled the remote away from Hirsch and muted the set, turning on English subtitles in the process.

"English? Wussing out so soon?" teased Hirsch.

Matsumoto glared back. "My Japanese is a little rusty."

Battelene shut off the shower and walked out, whistling.

Schancer covered his eyes; Hirsch and Matsumoto looked away immediately.

"Dave, you forgetting something?"

"Damn," muttered Battelene. He reentered the bathroom, this time returning with a towel wrapped around his waist.

"Do not... pull that again, soldier," ordered Schancer, still looking away.

"Hey, I don't have anything to be ashamed of," he replied.

"For someone who's going steady with his right hand, you do talk big," sniped Rawlings.

"Fucker," whispered Battelene.

"Cool it," intervened Schancer. "Battelene, get something more on. You and Hirsch and Matsumoto can sleep on the floor or the remaining chair. There should be some spare sheets in the laundry closet."

"Fight ya for it," joked Battelene as Hirsch eyed the spare chair.

Matsumoto found the sheets and tossed a few armfuls to the other rookie.

"Lights going off," he whispered, throwing his bedding in a corner near the door.

"Make it so," mumbled Davidson.


Schancer rubbed his eyes and glanced around his hotel room. The furniture was back in order, there were no bundles of sheets on the floors, and he couldn't see any olive green duffel bags piled in the corner near the door.

"What the..?" he slurred, glancing at the numbers on his chronometer. It was nine-thirty; he'd overslept. Pulling on his pants, he scratched the bristles on his chin and yawned.

Toying with the notion that last night's calamity had been a fevered dream, Schancer wondered why his fantasies couldn't be something more alluring, such as anything about Carrie. Five tired and uncouth soldiers rummaging around one's chambers wasn't the commander's idea of a wet dream.

Schancer plugged in his electric razor and shaved off his beard. He'd considered growing a moustache, but it was an old family habit for male Schancers to wait until they became fathers to grow out their whiskers.

He slapped water on his face and looked at the reflection in the mirror.

"Damn, forgot a spot," he whispered to himself, plugging in the razor again. He finished off the removal of his stubble.

Where was I? he wondered. Looking himself over in the mirror, Schancer ran a hand through his hair, pulling on it gently to see if his scalp was malleable. He whetted his hands and pushed his mildly long hair back.

That hairline is moving, I swear to God, he sighed.

"Mmm, Rogaine?" he wondered aloud.

Applying the lightest touch of cologne, Schancer pulled on a clean white undershirt and then selected a slightly-wrinkled dress shirt. He donned it, buttoning all but the nearest one to his throat. Tucking it in, he looped a belt around his thin waist and grabbed a suit coat.

Wallet, room key, government ID, he checked off, dumping the various items in his pockets. He stepped out the door.

"Morning, sir," saluted Battelene, rising from a chair pulled up to the doorway. A few crumbs of a croissant fell from his lap.

"Uh, same to you," mumbled the commander. Apparently, last night's proceedings had been quite firmly rooted in reality.

Arriving via elevator in the hotel lobby, Schancer noted Rawlings and Matsumoto inconspicuously observing the light scattering of other hotel guests from behind Japanese newspapers. Davidson and Hirsch did much the same from the hotel restaurant.

"Did you find the room satisfactory, sir?" asked the sergeant.

"Um, yes," replied Schancer, ordering a light breakfast of bagels and coffee. "But, heaven help me, why in hell are you and Hirsch and Jack and those rookies acting this way?"

Davidson raised an eyebrow. "We were sent to watch your back, sir?"

"No; if you'd taken the time to find that limo driver, you'd be training with the Japanese recruits."

The big black looked crestfallen. "So... we don't get to stay here?"

"Of course not! This isn't a battlezone, soldier! This is the Tokyo Radisson."

"Japanese recruits?" asked Hirsch, sipping on a large mug of strong coffee.

"There's a whole... facility packed with them, and I need you people to beat them into shape."

Davidson rose, pushed in his chair, and wandered off.

"We shouldn't discuss this here," snapped Schancer.

A few tense minutes passed, and the waiter returned, landing a plate of hot blueberry bagels swathed with cream cheese along with a cup of coffee. Schancer wolfed them down. He touched his back pocket after a few moments, however.

"Damn."

"Sir?" inquired Hirsch.

"I'm not sure if I have the cash for this."

"Sir, I hope you won't be offended, but the sarge and the rest of us guys dumped whatever yen we had left from the taxis into your wallet... seeing as we thought you were going to cover our hotel stay."

Schancer pulled out his billfold, eyed the new additions, and slid the leather wallet back into his pants.

"Thanks, soldier. I do have a few credit cards, you do know," he said.

"The sarge noticed, sir. But, heck, we're going to the training camp anyway. I don't think we'll be needing cash there."

"I'm afraid you're right." Schancer was already regretting his quick dismissal of these five.

Rawlings, Matsumoto, Battelene, and Davidson filed in and took seats near the commander. Schancer had the odd impression of being the target of a police sting operation, as all the soldiers wore the same drab grey overalls, marked only by a painted name on their breasts.

"Guys, either I'm going to have to shell out for a whole closet full of suits, or we're going to have to leave this morning."

"That bites, sir. The 'wide' shows are just starting," mumbled Battelene.


A hurried ride in the standard black sedans of the Japanese government brought the six men from the glitz of downtown Tokyo to the stolid industrial wasteland of Yokohama. Through a barbed wire gate they rode and past the inconspicuous bunkers of the covert government installation. Moments later, the luxury automobile halted before a huge, rusting warehouse.

"Edo Machineworks," mumbled the driver.

The XCOM soldiers piled out, and the black car peeled out, tossing up a thick cloud of yellow dust. Hirsch coughed. Schancer walked over to a shoddy door to the warehouse interior.

"This is the commander. Five transfers are with me," he spoke into a cracked plastic panel mounted next to the door.

"Come on in, sir." The door opened; an austere black-clad secondary opened the door.

Davidson, Hirsch, Battelene, and Matsumoto followed Schancer in, with Rawlings taking up the rear.

"Good morning, sir," saluted another secondary. Rawlings eyed the man warily; clad in a black jumpsuit with a Heckler-Koch submachinegun hanging lazily from a strap, the security man conjured up visions of the dread 'stormtroopers' of the 'New World Order' that so many kooks feared.

"How many troops we have in here, sir?" asked Davidson. He, too was tense--a squad of unarmed Japanese marched by, and he nearly dove for the floor.

"This is the primary training facility at the time being," responded Schancer, leading the Americans up a flight of stairs. "The Self-Defence Forces are going to lend us some land up on Hokkaido in a week or so. Until then, we must make do with this..."

The balcony atop the stairs gave an impressive view of the entire warehouse. More than fifty recruits conducted exercises on the main floor; others lingered amongst thick rows of bunks and hammocks, and a few were conducting basic weapons training with low-powered lasers.

"Shit, the Japs are really going with both barrels," swore Davidson.

"Those 'Japs' are going to be the rest of your squad," proclaimed a female voice. The tall African American turned around and squinted at the small frame of Taoka.

"Hello, ma'am," he said, offering a hand.

"That's Lieutenant Commander to you," she snorted, trotting off.

Davidson watched her leave. "What a bitch," he whispered to Hirsch.

"I suppose I should get you introduced to your squadmates," suggested Schancer.

Down the stairs, under a tower of scaffolding and through a maze of wooden cots, the commander led the American transfers to a small group of ex-SDF soldiers lounging around and talking quietly. Rawlings looked them over; there were six men and two women. The women could've been twins; along with short black hair framing a round face, they were the same five and a half foot height. Both wore the crosshairs patch of an XCOM marksman.

Two of the men also had the patch, one of them being a sergeant. Rawlings guessed that Schancer had promoted most of the more experienced soldiers from Osaka just to even up the ranks. But it was the other sniper, and his three companions, who presented the most enigmatic portrait.

The sniper was bald, his hair shaven to his scalp, much as Jack had done. However, he sported thick porkchop sideburns down to his jawline. Hair an inch long shot out from his face, giving his head a very wide appearance.

The squaddie sitting next to the marksman was likewise shaven, except he had substituted the sideburns with a thin moustache looping around his mouth. A subtle goatee completed the effect. The man next to him had the same haircut, but a wider nose and a pierced ear.

The other sergeant was taller than his comrades and sported a single lock of brownish hair thrown back over the center of his shaven scalp. He looked up from the cigarette he nurtured in his hands.

"Who do you bring, sir?" he asked, a soft Japanese accent intruding only slightly.

"The rest of your squad, Sergeant." Schancer motioned for the group to stand.

"Ichi-ban Kansai, meet your other half," he said. "Sergeant Micheal Davidson, Rookie Kenneth Matsumoto, here are Squaddie Yoshiaki Kowada and Rookie Fumiko Yoshii. You are Alpha Squad."

"Sergeant Rentaro Takayasu, Squaddie Kimiko Miura, your squadmates are Squaddie Henry Hirsch and Rookie David Battelene. You are the First's Gamma Squad."

Schancer pointed out the remaining four soldiers. "Sergeant Kazutoshi Sakurai, Squaddie Kenichi Tahara, Squaddie Keisuke Nakagawa, and Squaddie Hideya Suzuki are Beta Squad."

To the Americans, Schancer explained, "All of your teammates were crack Self Defence Forces antiterrorist troops. They were on the front line in Osaka, and have seen the same messes that XCOM troops met there; only differences are that they were armed with M-16s and didn't have any armor. If you'll excuse the expression, ladies, it takes some real balls to do that."

The commander then spoke to the Japanese. "These transfer troops are all from Delta Force--the best soldiers the United States has ever trained. Don't underestimate these folks, they are very, very good. Davidson himself has seen a lot of action, so ask him whatever you want to know."

"Well... take a few minutes to fraternize. Lunch is in an hour."

Schancer began to walk off, Rawlings in tow.

"Excuse me, commander," asked Sakurai, pointing at Rawlings, "but who is that man?"

"I'm the commander's bodyguard," answered Jack, looking over his shoulder. "I keep the boss alive."

Sakurai nodded.


The handshakes began.

"Call me Mike, pleased to meet you."

"I'm Dave, nice meeting you."

"I Tahara. Nice day."

Hirsch looked over the bearded squaddie. "I thought all SDF troops could speak English better than us Yanks," he remarked.

"Do not criticize Tahara," cautioned Sakurai, shaking a finger. "Tahara is a very fast man."

"Fast my a--" A carbon fiber knife appeared in Tahara's hand.

Battelene whistled. "Yep, he's fast."

The Japanese squaddie laughed, and the blade dissolved into thin air.

"So, how'd a bunch of clean-cut troops like you wind up in XCOM?" asked Davidson to Takayasu.

"The call went out, and we volunteered," he replied.

"You might have 'volunteered,' " sneered Sakurai. "We were ordered to sign the papers."

"It is unlike you, Kazutoshi," glared back the sniper sergeant, "that you obeyed."

Hirsch cleared his throat, attempting to disarm the situation. "Uh, I take it that you two aren't from the same unit."

"The distinguished Sergeant is from the Forces' anti-terrorist ranks," growled Takayasu.

"The honorable Sergeant was a Forces sniper," muttered Sakurai, spinning the glowing cigarette between his thumb and his forefinger.

"So, who's our CO?" asked Davidson, hoping to draw the conversation away from the sergeants.

"Colonel Dillan," answered Takayasu, sneaking an evil glance towards Sakurai.

"Good guy?"

"Very American," snorted Sakurai.

"And the other officers?" inquired Davidson.

"They are all competent," muttered the sniper sergeant, looking away.

"More than," mumbled Sakurai, fixating on his smoke.

"Talk about a one way conversation," whispered Hirsch to Davidson. The black grunted.

The other goatee-wearing squaddie tapped Sakurai on the shoulder and asked something in Japanese. The sergeant shrugged and continued sucking on his cigarette.

The squaddie, Suzuki, spoke up.

In a quiet, even tone he began. "Lieutenant Commander Taoka and Captain Yoshii were low- ranking Self-Defence Forces officers. They were not liked by their male peers, who were jealous of Taoka and Yoshii's skills. So their units were sent to Osaka as reserves... we were in the first wave, and we could not stop the aliens. They mowed us down like hay to the scythe, and the reserves had to fight them.

"Yoshii, who was a lieutenant in the Forces, halted the aliens before they could take a station in the subway ring that surrounds downtown Osaka. Her platoon met twenty aliens and four UFO tanks; almost everybody in her unit was killed, but the bugs were stopped. Not one soldier in Yoshii's platoon ran, even when the tanks would fly over a machine gun crew and crush them with its... weight. There were many, many casualties. Captain Yoshii is a very good, very brave leader.

"She is not like Taoka, who is here because the Forces do not want troublemakers like her. Lieutenant Commander Taoka is very... abrasive on her subordinates. That is why she does not command an assault team; they would not obey any commands. Her skills are those of the conference room-"

"-and some say, the bedroom," muttered Takayasu. A glacial glare from Sakurai shut him up.

Suzuki coughed, and continued.

"Taoka will bring us money and weapons from anyone she can sit down and talk to. I do not like the lietutenant commander, but I respect her abilities.

"But we understand the Japanese officers... we know them, and what they have done. Commander Schancer and Colonel Dillan are much like men we have met before in the SDF. They are good officers who will treat us fairly."

Suzuki paused, and sipped from a canteen hung from his side.

"Aren't you forgetting Captain Wilkes?" asked Battelene.

Sakurai lit up another cigarette, sucked on it, and said, "Wait. Hideya is not done."

"We have met Captain Wilkes before," started Suzuki.


The commando scurried forward, assault rifle in hand.

"All clear," he rasped in Japanese.

Another two soldiers, scrambled out of the gutted ruins of a department store. They dragged a fallen comrade between them. Underneath their new cover, an overturned light truck, the ranking man, a second lieutenant, placed his dirty, blackened fingers on the prone man's throat.

"Sergeant Kikuchi is dead," he flatly stated. The other two looked away for a moment.

A fourth man, limping slightly, tumbled out of the debris, and joined the remnants of his platoon.

"Kikuchi!" he yelped.

"He is dead," grunted the lieutenant.

The fourth man, a sergeant, muttered profanely in Japanese; but then he pulled the remaining grenade from the corpse's belt. Following his lead, the other three scoured the body for ammunition clips.

Checking his M-16's magazine, the lieutenant declared, "Let's go."

"Go where?" asked the newcomer.

"These demons arrived in a spaceship," he stated. "They will leave in that ship." All four consciously ignored the possibility that the aliens were on a suicide mission.

"We are going to take their ship?" asked the incredulous sergeant.

"Do you propose that we join our comrades?" asked one of the original three. For emphasis, he pointed to the corpse at their feet.

"We could attack the aliens from their rear," muttered the man.

"And promptly die from our comrade's bullets?" smirked the lieutenant. "We will take the ship. There will be no 'friendly fire' from that. And when reinforcements arrive, they will praise us for our daring."

The unspoken words: We will die.

"We must do something," demanded the lieutenant.

"Let's go," agreed the sergeant.

The Japanese commandos crept 'forwards' through the hellish pockmarked venues of downtown Osaka. Avoiding the small fires that seemed to crop up everywhere in the wreckage, the four desperate soldiers approached the epicenter of the destruction: Umeda Station. The ranks of the dead swelled; shopkeepers in their starched white shirts, salarymen on the way home after a long day of nicotine and caffeine, and schoolchildren, in their characteristic uniforms, lay littered everywhere. Sprawled through windows, trapped in burnt-out cars, piled like heaps of dirty laundry at the locked doors of buildings; the stench of burnt meat was nauseating. One of the soldiers knelt down to a dead woman and wept softly.

"Hideya," whispered the lieutenant. The soldier composed himself and staggered on through the wasteland.

But some of the corpses weren't civilians. They wore not cottons or wools but metal and ceramics; their faces weren't of panic or desperation, they were of grim determination. These were soldiers, armed and trained for this. But they were dead.

"Who are these?" asked the sergeant.

The lieutenant shrugged and pointed to an odd sight.

Standing amidst the carnage was the distinct skeleton of an airplane. Wings torn off, its remaining oversized engine smoldering slightly, and the radar cone within the nose blasted beyond recognition, it never the less was an aircraft, planted in the middle of an Osaka boulevard. A corpse hung out of the crushed cockpit.

"Fuck that, what is that monster?" asked the squad's sniper. He gestured to the squat two-story grey metallic behemoth planted where Umeda Station should've been. Fires raged around its base, where leaking gas and smashed automobiles contributed to the blaze.

"We're going in there?" asked the sergeant to the lieutenant.

"God, no," he whispered. "I don't even know where the door is."

Regrouping at the edge of the intersection which had led to the train station, the four soldiers discussed plans.

"I say we radio for evacuation," suggested the sergeant.

"The choppers can't find us, they'll be shot down!" argued the sniper.

"We're going to withdraw to the river; Forces should be holding the bridges; if they haven't blown them.

"And what then?" asked the sergeant.

"We swim. The aliens can't be everywhere."

"You're fucking insane!" shouted the sniper. "Have you seen them? They're all better shots than any of us. Two steps, and each of us is dead."

"Guys! Fuck it, I found one!" yelled Suzuki.

The other three crept from their refuge and to their comrade.

"Which one?" asked the lieutenant.

"That one," said the corporal, pointing to an armored soldier lying underneath a corpse. "He's trying not to move, but he breathed a few seconds ago."

"I'll check on him," whispered the lieutenant. He cautiously crawled over to the man's side.

"Trying not to move?" repeated the sergeant, his left eyebrow twitching.

The soldier looked to be bad off, but the lieutenant noticed that most of the blood splattered over him was dried, and there didn't appear to be any wound on the man--but he'd have to fully inspect the man. The SDF commando shoved aside the dead body covering the man's chest...

"Won't fucking take me alive, won't fucking take me alive," rasped the wounded soldier. The lieutenant cocked his head; his English, while good enough for simple conversation, wasn't on a par with Suzuki's. He put down his rifle and shoved the corpse again. The body slid aside.

The downed man, clutching a satchel of high-explosive to his chest, released the package's firing pin.

"Fuck!" gasped the lieutenant, falling backwards, trying to get away.

A flicker at the corner of his eye was the sergeant, leaping over the corpses and snatching away the bag full of plastique. A desperate heave of his arms sent the explosive hurtling into the air...

The lieutenant threw an arm over his eyes. The blast kicked him back a meter, and he felt his uniform rip.

"Sergeant?" yelled the sniper. Suzuki, weapon at the ready, charged over to the three soldiers. The dread report of a plasma bolt sounded; the mad squirrel chatter of automatic rifle fire responded.

"We gotta go!" shouted the sniper, who was firing bursts at something across the intersection.

"American?" asked Suzuki in English. The dazed soldier nodded.

"Shit shit shit," moaned the sergeant. The lieutenant grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back towards the safety of the buildings.

"What is it?" yelled the lieutenant. Suzuki and the American staggered by; a plasma bolt geysered asphalt meters behind them.

"It's a fucking tank! Run, fuck it!" screamed the sniper. He ejected a clip and slammed in a fresh cartridge.

The sergeant grunted and stumbled to his feet. He clutched a bloody patch on his arm; but he still grasped his rifle.

A steady hail of plasma bolts began to fall. The Self-Defence Forces commandos and the American retreated into a derelict bookshop; a panicked sprint through rows of charred paper and dead clerks found them at the back door. They piled out, into an alley.

The American pulled a strange-looking grenade from his belt, yanked the pin out of it, and tossed it back into the store.

"Motion-sensor," he mumbled to Suzuki. The soldiers fled on, the various crunches and crashes of the tank plowing through the store spurring them on. A sudden blast elicited an unholy scream from the shop.

"Eat shit and die," snarled the American, a thin trickle of blood running down his cheek.

"Ea-to shitto an-do die," mimicked the sergeant.

Spotting the black X over the white O on the American's armored breast, Sakurai grinned. This, this was what he wanted to be when he grew up.


"No announcements today, people. You lucked out," announced Colonel Dillan. "Dig in."

"Etadakimasu," rose the chorus. Buckets of rice were passed around, and lunch began.

Rawlings peered uneasily at the wooden chopsticks set before him. He picked up a set, fumbled with them, and dropped one to the floor. He was about to search for it, but a cocinary secondary noticed his distress and dumped a plastic fork on his plate.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

Rawlings scanned the assembled columns of fold-out tables, all crowded with rookies, squaddies, and sergeants. He was seated at one end of the head table, next to Wilkes, Taoka, Schancer in the middle, Dillan, and Yoshii. A captain of secondaries sat at the far end, wolfing down bowl after bowl of rice.

Schancer was speaking, as he was prone to. "In the base proper, we'll rarely get the chance to eat together like this," he managed between mouthfuls of rice and fish. "Ordinarily, assault team leaders will eat with their crews for breakfast and the evening meal, with a power-lunch stuffed in between."

"What will the team rotation be?" asked Wilkes after downing a pint of water.

"First two weeks or so, the three original teams will take eight hours on call, eight hours free time, and eight hours sleep. I'm afraid we, the officers, won't get much chance to confer; at best, one of us will be half-awake and another half-asleep."

Dillan dropped in. "That's going to be hell on the troops, sir. I don't think the teams will be ready to break-up and re-form after two weeks... the fatigue will just kill them."

"Fatigue, perhaps. But hopefully, it won't be the bugs. Shoot me down if I'm out of line, Ma'am, but the SDF isn't picking up all that much the way of UFOs these days, is it?"

Taoka responded, "Back in 2001 and 2002 we had substantial scouting expeditions in the northern islands, but for the past four years, there simply hasn't been that much, excepting Osaka."

"Good," Schancer said, pushing aside a finished rice bowl. Another steaming heap was placed before him. "But I think the entire war is at a turning point. Too many of the bigger UFOs are showing up, and not just in their old hunting grounds over the US and the Ukraine. The bugs are stepping up, and it's about time XCOM set up the bases to counter these incursions. We're going to see a helluva lot more action in the developing nations."

"Do we have the translators?" asked Wilkes in a typically remote voice. "I want the local cops to know we're on the side of the angels."

Schancer frowned. "Delta didn't train too heavily for Far East languages. Spanish and all the other Romance tongues are heavily pushed. Does the SDF have many experts in local languages?"

"Korean, Chinese, yes," answered the lieutenant commander. "Even some Russian. But nothing like the stress we place on English."

"Speaking of other nations," interrupted Dillan, "which non-funding countries can we operate in?"

"Jesus, that's going to be difficult for the council," swore Schancer. "They can't hit on the leaders of too many developing nations; the leaks would drive the whole organization into the public eye. That's entirely their realm, though; deciding on just what nations have enough military power to threaten our people if we have to take the bugs on their turf."

"Which nations?" repeated Captain Yoshii.

Schancer raised an eyebrow, but he continued, "Russia, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia-- although that is a bit far--Taiwan, Singapore, any small islands in the Pacific, maybe Vietnam and maybe Indonesia."

"I notice that the PRC is absent," half-whispered Wilkes.

Schancer lowered his eyes. "They've been reducing funding to near zero for the last two years. I'm really worried about them."

Rawlings mulled over the possibility of the People's Republic of China, the most populous nation in the world, having fallen to alien control. He was vaguely uneasy, and neglected finishing his meal.

The truth, however, was greater than the sum of his fears.