Hokkaido Sunrise

Senior Data Tech Sugawara peered at the greenish glow of Assistant Data Tech Unger's radar plot. The Japanese tech glanced at the numbers rapidly scrolling by at the bottom of the screen and then back at the region in question, a section of northern Hokkaido. He reached for the telephone built into the top of the console.

"Sir, an intruder has been detected," he whispered. It was the first time he'd seen such an occurrence over his native soil, and it irked him to think that for the last two years in Bluegrass, the bugs had free reign over Japan.

"Now what?" asked Unger.

The alarms went off, a low whine obscured by the whir of cooling fans. Other techs merely glanced about before returning to their duties.

"Now, we wait," responded the Senior Data Tech.

The alarms jarred Davidson, who was well into the mundane task of picking lint from under his toenails. Swearing profusely, the melancholic sergeant stripped off his jumpsuit and pulled on an armor liner, a sweat-wicking garment that covered the entire body, with the exceptions of the hands and head.

"Move it, men!" he bellowed. Other soldiers, unused to the rapid pace of deployment, lagged behind in donning their liners.

Slipping on a pair of friction sandals to avoid falling on his face, Davidson sprinted out of the barracks, towards the far western end of the main hall where a single set of double doors brought him to the combat prep room.

"SAW, with two spare belts," he yelled at the secondary manning the weapons supply. The guard was slow to respond, and Davidson shouted, "Now, for God's sake!"

The other side of the glorified locker room was the armoring area. Four secondaries, who'd trained in Hokkaido with the First Kansai, waited for Davidson. Ignoring the mad search of the weaponry guard, the black sergeant stood on a low bench, arms raised. Secondaries threw his custom- fitted body armor onto his shoulders and buckled down leg sheaths. Gauntlets of reworked alien composites slid onto his hands. A belt, already bristling with medical equipment, flares, and grenades of various types pulled itself around his waist.

Hopping off the bench, Davidson stretched his legs quickly before returning to the weaponry clerk. He grabbed two boxes of two hundred rounds 5.56 millimeter ammunition and strapped them to his back armor. With an armored fist, he clasped the handle of a twenty-pound light machine gun.

Taking a moment to glance around, Davidson grunted with approval. The other eleven men in his team were in various stages of receiving their implements of war. Hirsch, a relative veteran, rushed over and strapped on a new backpack laser.

"Damn things are lighter," he mumbled, testing his balance. The battery-pack of the laser rested against his lumbar vertebrae, cutting down on shoulder strain.

Davidson ignored his comrade. Colonel Dillan, the most valuable member of the team, was conspicuously absent. The sergeant growled, angered at the apparent incompetency of his commanding officer.

A secondary rushed over, pulling a helmet from its case. Standing on a bench, the man crowned Davidson.

Plucking the headset mike from its position behind the helmet's brow, Davidson cleared his throat and asked, "Colonel Dillan? Colonel Dillan? Your people are waiting."

"I'm in hangar one, hangar one, performing pre-flight with Airtech Bob. Hurry up," replied the American, much to Davidson's surprise.

"The boss-man says 'Let's go!'" announced the sergeant. The other troops of First Kansai looked up momentarily, and then increased the pace of their preparations. Takayasu and Nakagawa, the team's marksmen, hefted their heavy laser emitters. The weapons were cumbersome and only had fifty charges, but at thirty thousand Gillettes of burn power, they could punch a hole in an APC.

Kowada, a Japanese squaddie in Davidson's Alpha squad, tied down three hundred rounds of ammunition to his back and lifted a SAW. Man must be built like a wrestler, thought Davidson, admiring the brawny ex-SDF soldier's strength. The boisterous Beta squaddie who couldn't speak English grabbed the same gear.

Three SAWs, counted Davidson, dispelling his fears that the Kansai teams would be lacking in firepower. With everyone else armed with Standard Microwave Lasers, the First Kansai was ready to do battle. Nightvision goggles were distributed by the sweating secondaries, and the team jogged off to the number one hangar.

"Seven minutes. It's less, next time, or we run in the morning," joked Dillan at the rear ramp of the 'Ranger. On the first day of training, two hours had been consumed learning how to put on armor. The First's best time after two months of training had been ten minutes.

"Safety check!" yelled Davidson. Everyone, including the armored colonel, pulled out their weapons and inspected them, assuring themselves that safeties were on and no rounds were chambered. The laser-armed troops unscrewed the cables to from their backpacks.

The 'Ranger's engines increased their whine. Gamma and Beta squads marched aboard and took their seats, each a spring-loaded metal slab flush with the airframe of the transport. Alpha boarded last, being the first team to debark at the LZ.

"Where to?" inquired Battelene, the nearest soldier to the colonel. Leaning back in his seat, Dillan shrugged and pulled a thin metal case from its holster on his left leg. He opened his PDA.

Hirsch ignored the colonel's frenzied typing, disassembling the fiberglass case surrounding the laser emitter proper. He pulled a chamois cloth from a compartment on his belt, and rubbed off the weapon's inner workings.

Battelene gave him an odd look.

"Just to keep in the habit. A clean weapon means one that doesn't jam, overheat, or malfunction. Isn't that right, Mike?"

Davidson looked up from the chamber of his M-249, casting a bored glance at Hirsch.

"Here we go," crackled the pilot's voice in every earpiece of the First Kansai. Every soldier clutched their equipment tightly, and the 'Ranger's engines roared to full power. The bird lifted off, wobbling slightly and then rocketing up through the hangar door.

A moment of indecision overtook the airframe; the engines switched to horizontal flight and the blue bird was away, screaming out of the bamboo-lined valley and up two thousand feet.

"Twenty minutes out," announced Dillan, examining a series of live-feed radar plots. "Contact has not touched down yet."

"Air Self-Defence Forces engaging?" asked the nearest Japanese sergeant, Takayasu.

"No, Commander wants this one live," replied Dillan.

Davidson allowed himself a thin smile. As much as he disliked getting shot at, UFO assaults beat the heck out of scraping up a mile-long smear of alloy and ash.

Hirsch polished the shutter to his microwave laser and reassembled it.

"What's terrain like?" he asked.

"Could be mountainous, could be forested hills. Contact is circling the interior of the island at low speed, high altitude. My money is that they're looking for a nice smooth spot someplace inland."

Matsumoto slowly leaned over and retched, only a thin trickle of saliva spilling on the 'Ranger's grating.

"Good thing he didn't eat anything for lunch," whispered Battelene to Hirsch. The squaddie just frowned and concentrated on keeping his own stomach stable.

"Order of battle, people," proclaimed Dillan, "will be standard deployment around the 'Ranger; Alpha and Beta squads form the perimeter--keep it at least thirty meters away from the engines, because Bob is bugging out ASAP. Gamma is reserves, until the UFO is located. Depending on the terrain, Fuel- Air Explosives may be used--I'll confer with Bob on that one. The ground might be a bit warm, in other words."

Battelene laughed at the inane jest.

"Don't string out. Stay in you squads, and nobody moves alone. I don't want any friendly-fire shit happening tonight, so pay attention to where everybody is. As you can see, I've got a laser pistol-" Dillan held up his miniature emitter, "-so if it's firing plasma, it's a hostile.

"Keep the machine guns manned; if a gunner goes down, lose your laser and grab that SAW. From experience, I know that the bugs really go after you guys; but don't overheat your weapons, that'll make you dead even faster. If the shit really starts flying, and you're at the receiving end, get under some cover and don't return fire."

Davidson repressed a desire to yawn. Dillan's advice might be useful to the Japanese, but it was all old hat to him.

"Sergeant, I know you've heard this shit a hundred times. But don't ever start thinking that it ain't important. Forget any of this for one second, and you wind up going home in a bag."

The big African American smiled and nodded. Being the team's vet meant taking almost as many jabs as a rookie.

"And people," finished Dillan, looking into every soldier's face for maybe the last time, "I don't want that to happen to anybody here. Dump any shit you have from the barracks out the ramp now; we are the First Kansai and we are a team. Everybody goes home or nobody goes home."

"YES SIR!" bellowed Davidson. A moment later, the entire team repeated the acknowledgment.


"Not bad, not bad," applauded Schancer from the comfort of his office. "I never really got down a good 'all-for-one-one-for-all' speech. The colonel seems to have a fairly decent version."

Rawlings, balancing a carbon-fiber knife from the tip of his right index finger, merely grunted.

"I doubt that Tahara, that monkey, could even understand half of that," sniped Taoka, the occupant of the third folding chair in Schancer's office.

Schancer sipped on his prerequisite mug of java. "Oh, I'm not sure if that's even relevant."

"What do you mean?" asked the lieutenant commander, studying Dillan's field of view. His helmet was rigged for the silver screen treatment. However, it was merely a monitor embedded in the office wall, not the entire girth of the radar room projection screen.

"It's the atmosphere created, not the content of the speech which builds a combat unit's morale," argued Schancer.

"Tahara is far to dense to detect 'subtleties' like that," continued Taoka.

Rawlings flipped the blade with a flick of his finger, catching the knife by its handle.

"Ma'am, I think you'll find Tahara to be more than meets the eye," suggested the bodyguard.

The lieutenant commander glared at Jack.

The twin crashes of the FAEs detonating not too far below reverberated through the Skyranger's airframe. Hirsch crossed himself, just for good luck. Davidson checked his SAW again, for the same reason.

The craft's interior lights died, and the colonel ordered, "Infrared goggles on." Battelene pulled his on, glancing around nervously. This would be his first full combat mission, and he either proved himself to his team, or lost any chance of gaining their trust. Battelene's oversized eyepieces spotted Matsumoto's, and the two rookies shared a moment of mutual understanding.

"Thirty seconds," announced the pilot. Nobody unbuckled their straps; the 'Ranger was still a thousand meters out.

Semi-consciously, the entire team turned ever-so-slightly to face the 'Ranger's rear ramp. Lasers were reconnected to their power sources, and Kowada, Tahara, and Davidson chambered rounds.

"Fifteen," whispered Bob. The bird was now in vertical flight mode, descending carefully into a heavily forested mountain valley.

"UFO is north of us. Follow the streambed," rasped Dillan.

"Ten seconds." The team began to count down silently.

The ramp popped open in mid-descent, greased hydraulics silent.

Hirsch held his laser tighter, one finger on the safety and another on the trigger.


The thunderous boom of a plasma rifle firing broke the night.

Bob held the craft steady. Thirty feet up, but if he botched it and came down too fast, the 'Ranger wouldn't be leaving any time soon. He mouthed "protect me, Lord."

More plasma fire opened up on the transport. A well-placed bolt slammed into the airframe and shook its occupants, but did not halt the bird's progress. Dillan grunted. If the shot had hit an engine; well, that would be another story entirely.

The 'Ranger touched down. In one fluid motion, every soldier unlatched themselves and disengaged their weapon's safety. Ramp completely lowered, Davidson charged out into the monochrome of night. He was followed closely by Matsumoto, Kowada, and Yoshii.

Tumbling off the sides of the ramp, Davidson spotted the muzzle flash of a plasma. He ducked, its bolts catching the trailing edge of the 'Ranger's wing. The sergeant hugged the ground and leveled his SAW at the forest.

Matsumoto hauled a grenade from his belt and pulled its pin. Fuck that, he thought, watching Kowada and Yoshii fire into the forest. Let's finish the motherfuckers.

"Bombs away!" he yelled, pitching the pineapple and diving to the earth.

A plasma bolt geysered humus inches from his right arm. Tingling from the flash burn, it went numb. The grenade's blast lit up the night.

Sakurai and Tahara were the next out, each charging to the edge of the woods. A grey, rifle steaming from repeated firing, shrieked as Tahara jumped into the same bush as him.

A mad tangle ensued. Weapons tossed aside, man and alien grappled with each other, the lithe bug seeking escape. The muscular Japanese caught the grey by his foot and yanked him down. Screaming, the alien scrambled for an ominous bulb tied to a thin belt around his waist.

Tahara gave him no chance, savaging the bug with both fists. The frail alien's jaw and limbs snapped under the barrage, and black eyes rolling back into his skull, the grey died.

A bolt slammed Sakurai before he could reach cover. Thrown a meter by the force of the blast, the Japanese sergeant groaned and pulled himself into the woods.

Suzuki and Nakagawa sprinted from the 'Ranger. Davidson and a bug sniper were engaged in a deadly game of hide and seek; one would shoot, and then the other would fire a volley back. Stopping short of Tahara, Nakagawa spun and burned a flaming hole through a bamboo thicket, eliciting a scream.

Gamma squad rushed from the transport, whose engines readied for lift-off. Nothing the way of plasma impeded its progress.

"What's the tally?" asked Dillan over the tactical channels.

"Sakurai's hit," yelled Suzuki, forgetting about the mike two inches from his mouth.

"Keep it quiet," rumbled Davidson.

Hirsch scanned the forest. In the black-and-white world of IR vision, the dark Hokkaido night wasn't all that disturbing. Henry attributed it to the lack of dead civilians lying at his feet. The Skyranger lifted off behind him.

"It's not bad," coughed Sakurai. Tahara, SAW in hand, and Nakagawa rushed over to their sergeant. Suzuki leaned over him, medikit in shaking hands.

Davidson stood, still crouching, and advanced into the woods. Matsumoto, clutching his arm, followed.

The sergeant nudged a smoking slab of meat crushed under a fallen bamboo. He glanced at the rookie, muttering, "Nice, Ken."

"Beta, let's go," announced Sakurai, standing unsteadily.

Dillan, from behind Gamma squad, inquired, "Sergeant, are you fit?"

"I rolled with the blast, sir," responded Sakurai, marching off.

"Tough cookie," muttered Battelene.

Dillan eyed the pulpy mess of Tahara's bug and then at Davidson, who held a dead grey sniper in his arms. The colonel raised an eyebrow, spotting only a pinprick hole between the bug's eyes.

"Mean motherfucking squad," he mumbled.

Schancer clapped his hands and laughed. "Awfully stupid thing to do, that Tahara, but damned effective."

"He's a brute," muttered the lieutenant commander.

Schancer smiled and asked, "You like that in a man?"

"Only if they save it for the right time," responded a suddenly cheerful Taoka.

The commander ran his tongue over his teeth, deriving as much masochistic pain from the experience as possible. He suddenly wished he hadn't asked Taoka to watch Kansai Base's inaugural ground assault with him. But that's what Jack was here for: a chaperone.

Schancer glanced at Rawlings. His bodyguard was shaking his head, smirking.

"So, Jack," said Schancer, a little too loudly, "What do you make of the First's Beta squad?"

Running a finger down his left cheek's scar, Rawlings answered, "I'll take a yes-man's stance and say that putting four men who'd previously seen action together in the same squad was a very pragmatic choice. They're good fighters who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty--you know I can't stand purebred snipers--and they also work as a team."

Taoka snorted. Rawlings cracked a smile.

Tahara took the extreme left hand side of the Beta's advance, as he did have the squad's machine gun. Nakagawa marched ten meters to his right, and Suzuki and Sakurai were somewhere out there. He skirted the edge of a bamboo cluster, inspecting it carefully.

The greys are fanatics, he thought. Totally unable to avoid attacking, they shoot on sight. That's good. If we ever go up against invaders who fight cheap and dirty, we are dead. If we ever fight invaders who use our tactics, we are dead.

Tahara mulled over the idea. Was honor dead? Did XCOM lack what two millennia of Japanese had tried their utmost to preserve and propagate?

But then he glimpsed that same dull metallic sheen, the same he'd seen crouched where Umeda Station and ten thousand people should've been, and he ceased to ponder such things.

"UFO in sight," whispered Suzuki.

Dillan noted that after Davidson yelled at anyone, they usually didn't make the mistake twice. Between the black sergeant and the four psycho Nips, he had a first-rate assault team.

"Clear the area," ordered the colonel. "Alpha, back them up. Gamma, follow me."

Tahara opened up on something, and a flurry of return fire blasted and flamed the forest around him.

Davidson rushed ahead. If the bugs were using their standard tactics, they wouldn't stop shooting Tahara until they killed him. Only one thing could take away their attention from a SAW...

"Kowada! Spray the right valley wall!" Davidson yelled, running forwards and firing short bursts.

A plasma bolt splintered a large bamboo ahead of him.

Good, thought Davidson, taking dark pleasure in drawing fire.

The other Alpha SAW opened up, pumping a long stream of lead into the woods.

"Watch that ammo consumption," cautioned Dillan.

"Eat-to shit-to ando die," blabbered Tahara. A bug screamed the long banshee wail of an unfinished kill.

Crashing through the brush, Davidson spotted Tahara's prone form. The Japanese squaddie was calmly firing short bursts, oblivious to the steady rainfall of plasma bolts.

"Confirmed kill," reported Suzuki as a grenade went off up the valley.

"Stay together, damn it!" yelled Dillan from closer to the landing zone.

Davidson spotted a muzzle flash and leveled a dozen rounds at the bug.

"Let's go, they can see you!" shouted Davidson at the Japanese squaddie.

Another grenade went off, louder than most.

"Nakagawa is down," mumbled Suzuki.

Tahara fired again. Something uphill died, tumbling down the slope and smacking into bamboo trunks.

The valley was silent. A burst of SAW rounds flew past Davidson.

"Kowada! Watch it!" growled the sergeant. Looking at Tahara, and the most ruined state of the forest in his immediate vicinity, he asked, "You OK, soldier?"

The Japanese grunted, peeling himself off of the only uncharred patch of dirt for twenty feet.

"How bad?" inquired Dillan.

"Tin... can," muttered the wounded sniper.

"His armor is shredded," responded Suzuki. "It has more holes in it than a tin can hit by buckshot."

"Stop the bleeding and give him coag to prevent hemorrhaging."

"The UFO's immediate vicinity is clear, sir," sighed Sakurai. He asked something in Japanese.

Tahara laughed and jabbered back.

Sakurai immediately swore at him in a half angry, half pleasantly surprised way.

Matsumoto chuckled, stepping out of the woods next to Davidson.

"What's so funny?" questioned the African American sergeant.

"Sakurai thought Tahara was dead, and he was asking someone to pick up his body."

Davidson glanced at the Japanese squaddie, who was vigorously wiping dirt from his SAW and conversing with his sergeant.

"It's a damn miracle that he didn't buy it. Didn't he hear the colonel's shit about drawing fire?" asked the Alpha sergeant, conveniently forgetting his sin of the same nature.

Gamma squad rushed by, splashing up the shallow stream that ran down the center of the previously forested valley.

"Sakurai, get your men back to the LZ," shouted Dillan as he jogged by. "Davidson, watch our asses while we take the ship."

"Commander Schancer, how long do you plan to command Kansai Base?"

Ignoring Rawlings' suppressed giggles, Schancer answered, "Until the Council requests my transfer, I suppose."

"So you plan to stay for quite a while?" asked Taoka.

Misjudging the aim of the lieutenant commander's inquiry, Schancer nodded.

"Sir, if you don't mind my asking, don't you have anyone... special... back in America?"

Oh God, thought Schancer, she's got me by the balls now. If I answer yes, then that means Taoka will push for my transfer... if I answer no, she starts hitting on me. And I can't brush this off, because that will make me look like an impotent moron.

"You want me to have a word with the janitors?" asked Rawlings, grinning. "Because the temperature in here is way too high."

Grinding his teeth and lying straight through them, Schancer ignored Rawlings and answered, "No, there's no reason that I should be heading stateside any time in the near future."

Taoka batted her eyes and smiled.

"Go," ordered the colonel. Hirsch swallowed and activated the large scout's door.

The heavy alloy panel slid aside. Standing in the gap, a grey gasped at the sight of Hirsch's armored form.

Laser fired at point blank range, the grey stumbled backwards, charred viscera pouring out of a perforated abdomen.

No remorse, no regret, thought Hirsch, recalling the slogans of the Sixth and Seventh Bluegrass.

He kicked aside the dying alien.

The layout of the large scout was disturbingly familiar to any XCOM squaddie. On one of four wings was a door to the exterior; in the wing opposite, the navigation controls. In the center was the ship's powerplant, accessible from the nav room. And the two remaining wings were the passages between the nav and the entrance.

Hirsch went right. Takayasu went left. Miura went left. Battelene followed Hirsch.

"Time to earn your pay, Dave. Walk point."

The rookie shrugged, and moved ahead.

A single plasma shot sounded from the other side of the UFO.

"Clear," reported Takayasu.

Battelene and Hirsch approached the door that would bring them to the UFO's command room. The bugs would occasionally attempt escape during a landing, but more often, they would suicide their ship by exploding its reactor. The trick was stealth and speed.

"Go," whispered Hirsch. Battelene nudged the door with his foot, and it slid open. The rookie, laser at ready, approached the nav chamber.

A grey, sitting at the controls, reached for the plasma pistol at its belt. Battelene ducked and opened up with his invisible microwave beams. One hit the controls, and they exploded, tossing the alien to the floor. It had its weapon out, neverless, and it snapped off a pair of bolts that singed the rookie.

Hirsch, a step behind Battelene, pulled a phosphor canister from his belt, yanked out its metal ribbon pin, and tossed the grenade at the bug.

"Eyes," he yelled, shoving a hand over Battelene's nightvision goggles. Hirsch clamped his own eyes shut.

The charge exploded in a brilliant flash of light. Hirsch cracked open one eye quite hesitantly, immediately checking on the status of the alien. Roasted and blinded, the bug uncontrollably shivered on the floor.

Battelene brushed aside Hirsch's hand and leveled his laser at the terribly wounded bug.

"No," spoke Takayasu, emerging from another door.

Miura, the female rookie, pulled a whiplike tazer from her belt and jabbed the alien. Twitching momentarily, it drifted into unconsciousness.

"Engine room," mentioned Hirsch. He reached for another stun grenade, but the door to the reactor core slid open.

A grey, plasma rifle at the ready, charged out and fired into Takayasu. Grunting, the sergeant dropped like a stone. The grey turned to kill Miura.

Battelene shot from the hip, laser catching the alien in the skull. Encouraged, the rookie fired again, blasting off a corner of the bug's shoulder.

Then Miura and Hirsch opened up, systematically burning down the last alien. Smoking from its dying eyes, the bug fell to its knees, and then flat on its face.

"The sarge!" yelled Hirsch. Miura rolled over Takayasu, who shook the cotton out of his head, grabbed her by the helmet, and kissed her.

"I've never felt so alive," he sputtered weakly, a chunk of his chest armor welted and burned. Miura smiled, and slapped him lightly.

"Condoms. Lots of condoms," laughed Rawlings.

Taoka and Schancer slowly turned to face the seemingly insane bodyguard. He chuckled again.

"When you stuff over two hundred men and women into a confined space, you don't just say 'Now be good adults.' You frickin' do your damnedest to keep too many people from getting pregnant, and that means giving the base med staff free reign over contraceptives of every shape and size."

The two officers were silent, measuring their chances of subduing the squaddie were he to suddenly attack them.

"I suggest starting with a fishbowl in the combat prep room," added Rawlings. "Say it's there for the troops to keep their weapons clean. Put 'em over the barrels on the way into a ground assault. God knows my 30 millimeter could use one; I dropped that thing ten times in Osaka.

"Of course, this gives any troops who want to sleep in the same bunk a decent chance of staying on the active duty roster. Just sneak an extra every other ground assault, nobody knows the difference."

Schancer raised and eyebrow.

"Jack," he started slowly, "this is another reason that I'm promoting you to sergeant, effective after First Kansai reports home."

"Thank you, sir!" chirped Rawlings.

Taoka rolled her eyes. The rumors about the American transfer troops being drug users and psychotics were true; she only hoped that the commander was not such.

Arms thrown over Hirsch and Battelene's shoulders, Takayasu returned to the edge of the LZ.

Noticing that all were present and accounted for, Dillan smiled.

"Excellent, everybody. A few nicks and scratches, but no deads. I'd have a fucking grin from ear to ear if every mission went this clean."

He looked up at the lightening sky, pulling off his goggles. He rubbed a handkerchief over his sweat-soaked face.

"Now, let's see here. Matsumoto, one; Nakagawa, one; Tahara, two--you really fucked up that first one, mister, and I'll have a helluva time explaining to the commander how we've got an alien dead of blunt trauma--Suzuki, one; Sakurai, one; Hirsch, one kill and one stun; Miura, one; and Battelene, one."

The sky to the east, where a massive hill rose, grew by degrees brighter. The stars blinked off, and dawn was almost upon the First Kansai.

"All around, this was a superb night. Let's back up and let Bob have a clean shot of it."

Nakagawa, swaddled in bandage, was moved fifty meters into the woods. Dillan chatted briefly on the radio, and the last star in the night sky fell from it. Descending on pillars of flame, the team's ride home landed uneventfully.

Davidson ran an experienced eye over the 'Ranger's exterior. There were several nasty scars where plasma had knocked loose ceramic tiles, but overall, the bird was in decent shape. But then again, that Skyranger back in Bluegrass hadn't looked ill the night its engine fell off.

First Kansai marched aboard, lasers unleashed and ammunition belts stowed away. Davidson traded seats with Battelene, who wanted to trade war stories with Matsumoto. Takayasu and Nakagawa reclined in the aisle, making the most of their wounds...

"Saw your little 'above-and-beyond' back there with Tahara," mentioned Hirsch, referring to Davidson's attention-seeking behavior. "The Japanese might be a little too heroic for my tastes."

The sergeant grunted. "It's not the kills that count, Henry. It's the saves. Dead aliens can't watch your back like live squaddies."

"Looks like we have a pair that need some beer," agreed Hirsch. He watched Battelene bragging about his quick reactions inside the UFO.

Davidson nodded, strapping himself in. The 'Ranger powered up and lifted off; another bird would be landing momentarily to salvage the UFO and scrape up the dead bugs. Looking from the single window on his side of the bird, the black man stared down at the Hokkaido valley, hoping to see the other transport land. A series of smoking scars up the streambed paid silent testament to the courage of First Kansai.

The sergeant scanned the stoic faces of the team--his team. He glanced at Takayasu and Nakagawa trading marksman's tips and fluid drips. Sakurai quietly examined the laser emitter that lay in his lap. Tahara slept, nightvision goggles hanging from his neck.

All or none.