Manley's Deposition

by John Possidente
Deposition: 21 April, 2028: Dr. Robert Manley

The convention was going badly, so I was in the hotel bar before noon. It had been
the same thing all morning, in every paper presented. "Of course, we have
insufficient experimental data, but..." and, "If we extrapolate from what little data is
available..." and, "Naturally, this is all speculation, however..." Xenology was like
that in those days. It was pretty depressing. I had just about decided to skip my
own presentation--nobody but bored, brown-nosing grad students would be there
anyway--and take the next transorbital home. I wish I had. Instead, I ordered
another beer and continued sulking.

When that bottle was about half gone, there was a tap on my shoulder. I swiveled
my stool around slowly, scowling. As far as I knew, there wasn't anyone within two
hundred miles I really wanted to talk to. A man I had never seen before stood there
grinning. He was big, he was wearing brown leather, and I was thoroughly
intimidated.

"You are doctor Manley, aren't you?" he said in his huge, deep voice.

"Yes," I said, but I would've agreed if he'd said I was Thomas Jefferson. He was
that big.

"Great," he smiled. It made me feel a little safer that I had made this Slavic-looking
giant happy. "Please come with me. I have a research proposal for you." He turned
and strode self-assuredly out of the bar. Of course I followed him.

I didn't know then that he was an X-COM vet, but there were clues. His dark
brown hair was really short--that chopped-off, military haircut. That was a sort of
trend with the kids, though, so I didn't really think about it. What should have told
me was the way he carried himself. He was totally relaxed, like nothing on Earth
could possibly threaten him, but he seemed to notice everything. He looked both
ways at every intersecting hallway before he stepped out, and he twitched when he
heard the elevator doors slide open. I guess I was too busy wondering what he
wanted from me. I thought I was dealing with some monstrous, overeager grad
student. My primary worry was how I was going to get out of sponsoring his
research without angering him. Neither of us said a word until we were in the
elevator.

"Where are we going?" I asked. He looked down at me as if just noticing that I
was still there.

"My room," he said curtly. "It's secure." I wasn't exactly sure what he meant by
that, but by following him this far I had tacitly agreed to view his proposal. We
didn't speak again until he had locked the door to his little suite behind us. The bed
seemed tiny compared to him. I wondered how he slept on it.

"Doctor Manley, what's the biggest problem facing researchers in your field?" He
had settled himself onto one of the two cane chairs in the room--gently, as if
making an effort not to break it. I hunched uncomfortably in the other one. The
shades were closed, and he had turned on all the lights.

"How about you tell me who you are first," I was emboldened by the discomfort
and the beer, I think, or I would never have asked so bluntly. He didn't seem to
take offense, and I relaxed a little.

"Call me Gregory," he said. That's about when my nagging, half realized suspicions
sort of crystallized. I put two and two together.

"Wait a minute," I sat up straighter. "As in 'Gregory Illych'?" he glanced away
momentarily--answer enough. "As in 'X-COM Captain Gregory Illych'?" I
continued. Now, he started to look uncomfortable. I think I had guessed before he
was ready for me to know. "Renegade X-COM Captain Illych for whom half the
world's security agencies have shoot-to-kill orders?"

"Uh, yeah," he looked down at his scuffed boots. I didn't know why the military
authorities wanted him so badly. Nobody knew. I suppose I just assumed that it
had to be something horrible. At least he wasn't proud of it, I thought. It didn't
really occur to me until later that I had been in a locked hotel room with probably
one of the most dangerous men on the planet. I don't think I could have been more
intimidated, anyway. I mean, he was just enormous, like I was sharing a room with
a truck.

"So, what's your interest in xenology?" I said, more to fill the silence than anything
else. I felt stupid as soon as I had said it. Any soldier from the old X-COM would
just naturally have an interest in alien studies.

"You haven't answered my question," he said simply. I didn't have to think over my
answer for long.

"Well, it's obvious," I began. This was one of my favorite diatribes, and it was
unusual to have a willing audience. "Xenology is a general term covering all the
areas of study relating to things alien, right? Now, before the war, xenological
studies were all speculation. There was no data. As far as the researchers knew
then, there might not even be any aliens at all. That all changed with the invasion
from Cydonia, or so we thought.

"I was in college then, and you can imagine the excitement. Everybody rushed to
major in xeno stuff--biology majors switched to xenobiology, psychology majors to
xenopsychology, and on and on. I was just starting my doctoral studies in
biochemistry, and I certainly wasn't immune to the hysteria. I got my degree in
nonhuman neurochemistry just in time to spend a month doing research in an
X-COM base. I ended up the world's foremost expert on alien nervous system
chemistry." I paused for breath, and Illych just nodded. I guessed he'd already
known all that. If I had thought about it at the time, I would have figured that that
was one of the reasons he'd come to me. In a way, I was an X-COM vet, too.

"After the war, I was really looking forward to a long stretch of productive
research. I would be at the top of one of the highest-profile areas of research. In a
few years, I figured, we would have the aliens' whole brain chemistry mapped out.
Of course, the world military had other plans.

"Everything from every X-COM base and laboratory, every sample of anything
alien, every tiniest fluid stain or integument scrape was confiscated and locked
away. It was all locked away from those who could best use it" I took a few
seconds to calm down. That part always got me mad all over again. What a waste
it had been! "It was a five month fight just to get the recordings from the hyperwave
decoders that we had invented. Even then, at least half of it had been edited
out--censored!

"So that's the problem. The stuff has stayed locked up. They claim that military
researchers have been working on it, but I've seen their reports. They obviously
have no idea what they're doing. Everything in those reports is a repeat of
something we discovered while X-COM was active, or a minor extension of our
work. Meanwhile, the materials are being consumed by the experimental
procedures. I know what was in those bases. I know how much they're hiding from
us. I've been following the research, and I have a good idea how much of the alien
specimens are left. It isn't much. The military broadcast a claim two years ago that
it was almost all used up. They had the gall to ask us to volunteer any samples we
had been hoarding, the cretins.

"So that left the rest of us, the non-military researchers, out in the cold. We couldn't
be re-trained, and there's been no experimental data to work with, no resources.
Some few have turned parasite, leaching what they can off of what information the
military releases. Their research isn't what you'd call stellar. Most of us can't even
do that, though. I need samples to work on; I can't just go on speculation and
extrapolation. All my work for the last few years has been essentially worthless.

"That," I paused for effect, "is the primary impediment to xenological research
today. Now tell me why you care." He shifted around in his chair and it creaked
nervously.

"Aren't there rumors that some scientists have secret access to the remaining
military specimens?" he asked without preamble.

"How did you..." I began. "Wait." I stopped to gather my thoughts for a moment;
this guy was way ahead of me. "Okay, yes, That's a rumor I've heard. Nobody
really believes it, though. What possible reason could the military authorities have
for allowing secret access?"

"You said yourself that they're getting nowhere by themselves," Illych got up and
pulled a beer out of a cooler. It disappeared, engulfed in his hand. I remember
being surprised that someone who was being hunted by several security
organizations would allow himself to drink. "Rather than admit their failure, I say
they'd be more willing to engineer some covert research opportunities." What he
said made sense, but he hadn't dropped his bombshells yet. He pulled some glossy
sheets out of the cooler and tossed them at me. "I know it's going on. I know
where. I know who." He leaned back on the bed with a satisfied smile. "There's
proof."

The sheets were old style 2-D photographs. I recognized the scientists in them, and
they were recent shots. Dr. Baird had shaved off his beard no more than a month
ago, and in the photo he was clean faced. I even recognized one or two of the labs.
What I didn't recognize at first were the specimens. When I did, I said something
I'd rather not repeat.

"You're convinced," Illych said quietly. "Good. Now, we can get down to
business." I was convinced, all right-- convinced, betrayed, and hopping mad. He
got up and reached for the cooler again. I stood, too.

"Hey," I grabbed at his elbow, emboldened by familiarity, I guess. I'd swear I never
saw him move. Just all of a sudden I'm lying on my back next to the window, and
my jaw really hurts. He didn't say anything, just stood there looking at me. I
guessed--correctly, as it turned out- -that that was no time to be showing
weakness. I tried to shrug off the pain. "You never answered my question. Why do
you care?"

He bent over the cooler, "I liked X-COM." A sheaf of papers came out with two
more beers. He threw one to me, then unfolded some kind of map on the bed. I
didn't feel like getting up yet, so I stayed put. "I think we got a bum deal after the
war."

"You were heroes for a while," I chipped in. I knew what he was going to say, but
I couldn't say it for him. I've run into more than a few old vets who weren't too
happy with the way things turned out, and I've learned that the best thing to do is to
help them talk it out--sort of prod them along. The word 'heroes' usually does the
trick.

"Yah," Illych said. "Heroes." He looked down at his hands for a few long seconds.
"That lasted at least a couple of months. Then how do you get a job when your
only real skill is sneaking around frying monsters? You know, that wasn't the worst
of it. I mean, sure, they treated us vets pretty awful. We got some tiny benefits
package and a little fame, then the push off. But what really got to me was how
they treated the X Lady herself." Now, there was a term I hadn't heard in years. 'X
Lady' was how the hardest core, most vicious, meanest, and most successful
soldiers referred to the organization. To them, X-COM was like a mother figure-
-a woman for whom they'd do anything, take any risk. When one of her bases was
invaded, I remembered, all the soldiers fought like demons, but certain men and
women consistently went way over the top. There were even rumors that they stole
alien corpses out of storage and had private, secret barbecue parties.

"Okay," he continued, "I can understand they figured there wasn't any threat left.
Why keep the bases open? I got that part. And yeah, they had to pension us all off
and get rid of the techs and the ships and all. No problem, just sell off everything.
That's respectable. She'd have just faded into glory like an old soldier's supposed
to." He stopped to drink.

"That didn't happen," and I knew what did.

"Yah," he stood and started pacing the room. "That's when it started to get ugly.
The undersea research was the only redeeming part of the next few years. I got to
ride in the prototype of one of the new subs. It was great. But after they sold off
X-COM 1, that was it. No more nothing.

"I guess the real bull started when somebody got the bright idea of selling off the
merchandising rights. Merchandising" He started counting off on his giant fingers.
"Gummy Sectoids, Muton Cola, Chrysalid Malt Liquor, Plasma Pops, Blaster
Launcher Gum," he paused to switch hands, transferring his beer, "toy weapons,
toy craft, fake 'Elerium' crystal charms, Squaddie dolls, alien action figures" Illych
ran out of fingers. "The films weren't so bad, but the comic books" He shuddered
visibly. "Then there were the Hallowe'en costumes, the inflatable Floaters, and that
long, public legal battle with that auto company that named one of their models
'Avenger'. I mean, it was just plain degrading!

"Is that when you got the military after you?" I asked, standing. He looked over at
me without moving his head, and I picked up the chair I'd sat in before and sat in it
again.

"Yeah, sort of. See, my first try wasn't so smart. I got together a bunch of X'ers
and headed for the corporate headquarters of the company that was doing all this.
They didn't like our attitude." He snorted. "Their security goons were probably
pretty good for keeping out terrorists. On our way out, we had to get past some
military. That's when I got this price on my head."

Illych was leaving out the important parts, but I knew all the rest from the news
broadcasts. The public had never found out who had destroyed the Goss Tower or
why, but it had been an awesome spectacle. Fifty stories of burning offices and four
hundred people dead is something that sticks in your memory like a bad dream.
The 'military' he referred to meant the entire Houston police force and all the
National Guard that had been able to reach the site in time, plus several heavily
armed civilians. According to the press, none of the attackers had survived.

"You blew the Goss Tower?" I said, astonished.

"Yah. Only survivor." He sat heavily on the bed and stared at his boots. "Damn
shame, all those people, but we hurt the company bad."

"They told us you were all killed."

"Yep. Chased me all the way to Guatemala." He didn't say it like he was proud,
more as a matter of course. "Always hated jungles," he muttered. He had my
attention now, and I had to keep him from drooping into introspection.

"So what's the plan this time?" I tried to sound enthusiastic, despite the fact that I
had already decided that going along would be suicide. This guy's sanity was long
gone; he was way over the edge.

"I know where they're keeping the bulk of the samples that are left. You want in, I'll
get you in." Illych looked at me, and he was dead serious. "All I want in return is a
promise, but it's a promise I'll hold you to." I knew he would, too. He'd hunt me
down if he had to, and there'd be no way for me to escape. I realized right then that
I had better start watching my step, 'cause I'd gotten myself into a very dangerous
situation.

"What is it?" I asked.

"You do all the research you can. You release everything you find, make it all
public. No secrets." I didn't have to think it over for too long.

"Okay," I committed myself. "You get me in to the alien samples, and everything I
get out of them goes public." Of course, I regretted the decision later.

-:-

Later was two and a half days later, crouched in the dark behind an aluminum shed
at some horribly early hour of the morning. Gregory Illych had gone ahead to recon
the main building. I was left alone, totally incapable of using the weapon he'd left
me with and even less capable of getting myself out of there.

I knew that we were in Brazil, but I had no clue how we had gotten there without
being stopped by the security at the airport or by customs. We were on the
outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, but damned if I knew the way back to the city. I knew
how to get over the fences, I just didn't know what he had done to keep them from
frying us. I knew where the minefield started and ended, but I had no idea how
he'd picked our path through it. I remembered where the three guard posts had
been, but I hadn't even seen what he'd done to the occupants. I had watched him
disarm the motion detection net, but I still hadn't a clue how it worked. I felt a chill
in spite of the humid Brazilian summer.

I was having some fierce second thoughts--and third and fourth by then--but I
followed Illych in. Let's just say my options were limited.

Illych appeared in front of me and smiled a big, white, boyish smile. He slid away
again almost immediately, and I went after him. We slunk quickly across ten meters
of open space, then ducked into a covered doorway. The security light was
conveniently out. The unmarked, battleship grey door was already unlocked, and
we slipped silently through. I had a feeling that Illych had already been here. It
might have been some lingering scent in the hallway, or it might have been the three
unconscious soldiers around the first turn.

Up two flights of stairs and we ran smack into a chain- link security barrier. The
corridor beyond ran straight as a razor and smelled of gun oil. It was ten feet high
and had a single door at the other end, fifteen meters away. I looked up at Illych
and, for the first time, saw consternation on his face. Uh-oh, I thought.

He pulled something from one of his many pockets and bent to the locking
mechanism. It sprung open with a little "ping" after a few seconds. Illych attached a
wire to both the frame and the door itself, then swung the gate as far as the wire
would reach with one gloved hand. I started to follow him down the tiled hallway,
but he stopped me with one outstretched, hairy arm. He motioned me to wait,
pointing to a tiny black box attached to the wall near the door at the end of the
corridor. I'd thought it was the security lock for the door itself, but he seemed to
think otherwise.

Illych flipped some new lenses into his goggles and peered ahead. What he did
next, I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it myself. Backing all the way up past
the security barrier, he took a huge, running leap into the hallway. I'd swear I saw
his back brush along the ceiling at least half the way. He landed not five feet short
of the door, and I saw him make a real effort not to fall forward. With one smooth,
elliptical movement, he flipped open the black box and smashed its contents with
his fist.

He waved me on, and I went in.

The storage facility was a lab like any other. I'd seen hundreds just like it. We
didn't dare turn the lights on, but I knew where the special specimens would be
kept in a setup like this. I stepped through the dark room and into the walk-in
cooler, feeling like I was on my turf for once. As I yanked at the cooler door, Illych
grabbed at my shoulder, but he was too late.

The lights came on.

-:-

You know the rest. Before you all came barging in and shooting the place up I saw
everything. My, what a mess you've made of it. The one opportunity mankind has
ever had to study alien species', and you military types have even botched that up.
The samples in those jars are contaminated; any first year grad student could see
that. They're useless.

That poor, pathetic excuse for a Reaper you've got on life support is almost as bad.
How could you not realize that the implants were necessary to the structural
soundness of its neural system? It's in every damn report that ever came out about
the things! Even if I weren't going to spend the rest of my life in military prison, I'd
never be able to get any valid data out of those pitiful samples, anyway. I might as
well be working on one of the toy figures.

No, I do not have any idea where Illych went. The bastard left me for dead is what
he did. As far as I'm concerned, I hope he never gets out of that damn jungle and
you all never find his body.

                               END OF STATEMENT