May It

"What's your name, soldier?"

"Nathan--Nathan Conroy, sir."

"Well, don't you worry, Nate. You're safe now, and we're gonna get you patched up."

"Thank you, sir... Did my friends make it out?"

Schancer looked away from the wounded squaddie and down the street to where the fires were still raging. Even as his pale blue eyes surveyed the double rows of smashed, smoldering compact autos and mopeds, another apartment building sighed and collapsed, spitting out a great cloud of mortar chips and shattered glass.

"We're gonna try," he lied. What was there to do? This inferno was going to be burning well into next week--besides, the remains of anyone inside the UFO wouldn't amount to so much as a smear on a twisted shard of alloy hull.

"Sir, we've got three dozen civilians over here--what do we do with them?"

"Get them out of here."

"Yessir--um, with what?"

"Use the choppers."

"What about ground fire?"

Annoyed, Schancer barked, "Can't you see? It's over for tonight!"

"Yessir." The subordinate hurried off, having no desire to suffer the colonel's wrath.

A team of medical experts clambered over the wreckage of Schancer's chopper, accidentally stepping on the corpse of the Marine pilot. They quickly attached themselves to the squaddie, stripping off his armor and bathing the ugly scar across his chest.

"This man also!" shouted Schancer, pointing to a corpse at his feet.

A medic sprinted over and evaluated the man.

"I'm sorry, sir. He's dead."

Schancer groaned.

A voice in his ear announced, "Winds are pushing the flames towards you. Clear out, ASAP."

The tall colonel switched on a megaphone strapped to his hip and raised it to his mouth.

"Let's get a move on it! The fire's spreading!" he yelled.

The medics lifted the wounded squaddie onto a stretcher and rushed away. A pair of helicopters flitted off, and the multiple jeeps, humvees, and APCs sprinkled down the street fired up their engines and pulled away.

Schancer found himself alone. He swore.

"Need help with Sergeant Hudson?" asked a voice from the shadows.

"Yeah--Rawlings, where the hell were you?"

A soldier, shorter and armed with a large-bored gun, stepped from the doorway of an abandoned noodle shop. A jagged scar down the side of his left cheek bled.

"Jesus, Jack--you're a mess!"

Rawlings strode over to the dead man and lifted an arm.

"Not as bad as Frank here," he coughed.

Schancer pulled the other arm over his shoulder, and the three, two living and one dead, staggered down the street.

"Seriously, how bad?" asked Schancer.

"Flesh wound," replied Rawlings.

"You should've gone with the medics," insisted the colonel.

Rawlings shook his head and readjusted Hudson's weight.

An electronics boutique, several stories high to accommodate Osaka's urban crush, tottered and collapsed behind them.

"God," said Schancer.

Rawlings grunted.

A few tense minutes, and a few blocks of deserted cityscape, passed before Schancer spoke again. "This could've been avoided," he ventured.

The squaddie smirked. "The bugs could've just left us alone, but no, they had to-"

Schancer cut him off. "No, I'm talking about this--Osaka."

Rawlings was silent.

"If the Japanese hadn't been so arrogant to assume that they could handle this," and Schancer gestured to the blasted out, abandoned mess that had been Japan's industrial heart, "by themselves, we could've had a base here to catch the bugs before they could get so entrenched."

"You're crying over spilt milk, sir," offered Rawlings.

Schancer glared at him. "Do you think that this is the last time the bugs will come to Japan? Don't you wonder why they didn't choose Tokyo or Yokohama, or--hell, like I know the names!"

As always, the squaddie Rawlings was silent.

"Good God, if Commander Larsen would only see that we need to spread out, not concentrate our efforts in the US!"

"You forget that the commander has nothing to do with determining global policy. That is the realm of the Council."

Schancer couldn't help chuckling. "Just a dumb old bodyguard, eh? Jack, you've got to be the most informed grunt in the whole of Bluegrass."

"I read the paper each day, if that's what you mean."

"Oh, don't deny it. You're a helluva lot smarter than me."

"Thank you, sir."

"You just lack the sex appeal," chided Schancer.

"For someone dragging a corpse, you do talk big, sir."

Schancer laughed, salty tears running down his cheeks.


This is why we can keep going, thought Schancer upon stepping off the 'Ranger and straight into the arms of a bombshell blonde.

If it wasn't for the base babes, I'd be six feet under.

"How bad?" asked the blonde.

"The bugs suicided the entire ship before we could take it," he whispered in her ear.

The hugged him tighter. "I hope you weren't too close," she responded.

Schancer remembered the last moments of Sergeant Hudson's life; how he asked, a wiseass grin on his face, "Gimme the binoculars. I wanna see this," and how a fraction of a second later, his old friend's body was flung down like a side of beef onto the burning asphalt of Osaka, cut through by a section of reinforced concrete.

"No dear, I wasn't there when it happened," he answered.

Sharing a parting kiss, Schancer left his girlfriend to her task of recording how much booty had been seized from the corpses of the dead aliens. He pulled off his armor, handing it to a small detail of valets and security personnel, and then he showered. Feeling much better, he donned a tailored jumpsuit and headed for the medical ward to check up on Rawlings.

Smiling like the born politician he was, Schancer ambled towards a deserted corner of the base, slapping backs and dispensing trivial compliments to the few personnel he encountered.

"Nice place you've got here, doc," he grinned to the corpsman on day duty.

"Thank you sir. We try to keep it in fair condition, even though we don't get many visitors."

Schancer eyed the single coat of paint peeling off the damp walls, the iodine stains on the floor tiles, and the unshaven medic in a rumpled, unwashed jumpsuit.

"Makes me almost want to get wounded," offered Schancer.

The scruffy attendant raised an eyebrow. "Sir?"

"-so I can spend a week or two down here," he finished.

The corpsman stared at him, nonplused, before chuckling lightly.

Schancer ran his tongue against his right upper molars, wincing slightly.

"So, where's Squaddie Rawlings?" he asked.

"Down this way, sir," responded the medic, jumping up from his small desk, obviously eager to get out of the colonel's eyesight.

He pointed to the fifth bed in a dimly lit column of shrouded cots. Schancer muttered thanks, walked over, and pushed back the cheap shower curtains surrounding the bed.

A squaddie, deep in a coma, stared at the ceiling a few steps away.

A drop of water ran down the near wall, and slid into a puddle at its base.

"Hey, Jack," whispered Schancer, almost hoping that his friend was sleeping so he could flee from this dank place.

"Sir!" answered Rawlings, pushing back the sheets. He pulled himself up with a creak of the cot's wooden frame and saluted smartly.

"Nice to see that you're awake, commented Schancer, eyeing his comrade.

His gaze immediately fell upon the jagged line of stitches down Rawling's left cheek. It was still raw, and deep purple bruises on either side gave it a most gruesome look.

Schancer shuddered.

"Just another one for the collection, sir," joked Jack upon noticing the object of the colonel's attention.

Schancer tried to smile, but upon considering the overall effect of Rawling's facial features, he failed in his attempt.

Rawlings was ugly, as ugly as any man could be. Short and muscular, he possessed a bland face, accented only by extremely dark eyebrows and a virtual roadmap of scars. Lacking his hair, sacrificed to the razor, a six-inch welt marred his cranium. The new one split his left cheek. A darker patch of skin, recently healed, marked a plasma shot that had nearly cut through his alloy helmet. His right ear was mangled and missed its lobe where another shot had come even closer.

And that was merely his face.

"Sometimes I think that you're stealing my share of the glory," quipped Schancer.

The truth of the remark left the bitter aftertaste of poison in his mouth.

He chewed the tip of his tongue.

The colonel had always been twice as good looking as Rawlings was now ugly. Light golden hair and aristocratic features were the marks of his Southern plantation owner ancestry. True, it could've been his long, lean body that every gal he'd dated was after, but he liked to think that it had been his charming personality.

Being taller than an oak didn't hurt, either.

Jack's ugly face was inscrutable momentarily, but then a crooked little smile blossomed on his lips.

"Hey, it's part of the job," he grinned, and Schancer knew that the trouble was past.

He breathed a sigh of relief and made a mental note to kick himself.

"So, you're going tardy just because of a little scratch?" he joked.

Jack frowned and shook his head.

"Nossir, I would like to be at the base bar just like the next joe," he smiled, "but the doctors tell me that I can't fly or operate heavy machinery until my side heals up."

The colonel frowned. "When did you get banged up like that?"

Jack smiled, the scar on his cheek twitching. "Remember those snipers? I'll be damned, but one of them got a piece of me. That is, before I turned them both into itty bitty grey gibs."

Schancer recalled stepping out of his command chopper and immediately sensing that something wasn't right. The burning wreck of a Japanese APC greeted him, instead of an SDF escort to the UFO perimeter.

The next thing he knew, Rawlings had grabbed him and shoved him to the ground as a sizzling bolt of elerium plasma roasted the hairs on his neck. Hudson, who'd been directing the troops manning the perimeter, started screaming on the tactical channels, "Where the fuck did that come from?"

Then came the gurgling cry of the Blackhawk's gunner getting melted to pieces. Rawlings had rasped "stay down" as the chopper exploded.

Schancer had rolled over, scrambling for his laser pistol, just in time to see Rawlings pull his 30 millimeter grenade launcher from his backpack.

A dozen bolts had straddled the two of them, blasting the pavement to crumbs and blinding Schancer.

Finally, as his head cleared, he remembered the slow, measured shots of the launcher; the eternity between each; and the crash of glass and the rattling of steel and the screams of the greys dying...

Schancer looked at his bedridden bodyguard and nodded.

"Yes, I remember."

Rawlings seemed to think nothing of the colonel's hesitation.

"So, how's the cleanup?" asked Rawlings.

Schancer slipped out of his trance.

"Not good. Half of downtown Osaka's been burnt to the ground, and the SDF is still pulling bodies out of the wreckage."

"They only finding civilians?"

Schancer snorted, a sad grin on his face. It was an unspoken assumption that XCOM agents, alive, dead, or wounded, never be handled by the locals.

"Yes."

"So, how bad?"

The colonel didn't have to think. "Evans, Alder, Paffel, Hopke, Hank, Bill, and Frank," he sighed.

Rawlings swore, his twisted face dark with rage.

"Shit, if the fucking Nips hadn't delayed calling us in-"

Schancer cut him off. "It's not their fault. That was just our base."

Rawlings, surprised, asked, "You mean- there were more?"

That's confidential, a voice reminded Schancer.

Not to Jack, he replied. Not to the man who's risked his life to save mine more than I've ever risked getting my hands dirty to save anyone.

"Two teams from another base were, for all practical purposes, destroyed."

Rawlings looked away. He'd known what that was like.

Schancer glanced at his watch. His bodyguard took the cue.

"Sorry to take up your time, sir."

Schancer waved him off. "I wouldn't have any if it weren't for you. Heal up, Jack. I know you want to get out there and take another lick at the bastards."

"Like a Dilly bar, sir," joked Rawlings.

"See you soon," said Schancer. He saluted with the tips of his index and middle fingers as he backed away.

"Like a fucking Dilly bar," muttered Jack, watching the colonel exit the medical ward.


That's the epitome of an XCOM soldier, thought Schancer as he made his most circuitous way to the commissary hall.

Tough as nails on the battlefield, loyal as Don Quixote's servant--what the hell was his name?

"Hey, Kell. You wouldn't happen to have any beverages handy, would you?"

The Captain of Secondaries shrugged and wore a poker face.

"Why don't you take a look in the back?" suggested Schancer.

By magic or less fantastic means, a portrait of Benjamin Franklin appeared on the C of S's desk. Captain Kell gave it a moments notice before snatching it up in a fat hand.

"I'll see what's available," he drawled, shuffling away.

And they wonder why we're constantly overbudget, mulled Schancer at the sight of the huge man searching the base's industrial size pantry.

Good man, anyhow, continued the colonels ruminations. Damned intelligent--according to his files. I wonder why he got into this military thing.

Schancer's mind drifted back to his earliest recollections of his childhood, of his family, of his father. A Vietnam veteran, Everett Schancer was the latest of a long line of soldiers. His boots had been difficult to fill, and at times Schancer questioned whether it was he or two hundred years of family tradition driving himself.

Wonder what dad would think about this, he thought, nodding to Kell and hefting the keg. He cursed lightly, and quietly prayed for Rawlings to get well quickly. The damn thing weighed more than a ton.

"Davidson, go get the gang," smiled Schancer to the first squaddie he met.

"Yassuh!" laughed the negro. He sprinted off, and Schancer could hear him doing his best 'Uncle Tom' to other squaddies in Schancer's two assault teams.

"...Massuh Ralph da bes damn massuh roun' dis hea base!" he finished as the colonel staggered into the main mess hall.

"Real nice, Mike. But it seems like the only slave around here is me," grunted Schancer.

"Sorry, sir," said the chastised Davidson. He turned to a pale faced rookie sitting next to him and yelled, "Henry! Be a good lad and carry the colonel's... bags."

The entirety of the two teams, now only twenty soldiers, laughed boisterously as the little rookie struggled under the weight of the keg. He did manage to land it upon a table, and other squaddies set to work upon it with a well-worn pump.

Chipped mugs, Styrofoam coffee cups, and Dixie paper cups stolen from the lavatories materialized, and soon every soldier wielded a brimming container.

Captain of Secondaries Carrie Unger drifted over to Schancer. She planted a wet kiss on his lips and handed him an ornate stein. Visions of St. George slaying the Dragon encircled it; Schancer squeezed Carrie's hand while filling the tankard.

He raised the foaming stein; a bit of head dribbled down the side, obscuring the patron saint of Britain. A silence fell over the gathered teams.

Tim Falkner crushed his Dixie in massive hands more fit to hold a machine gun. Laughter broke out, but Davidson handed him an empty mug and the situation was quickly remedied.

The mess hall quiet once again with the exception of the distant hum of environmental machinery.

"We have met the enemy, again. This time, it was Japan," began Schancer.

"Bob Evans, Jessie Alder, Mark Paffel, Maria Hopke, Hank Smith, Bill Waltz, and Frank Hudson were at our sides for the last time in Japan. God knows, these folks did not go in vain; you and I saw to that. The people of Osaka owe them."

He paused.

"For friends gone."

Schancer raised his stein and then took a swig. Most faces were stony and impassive, but here and there, a soldier, perhaps a close squadmate of one of the dead, shed a quiet tear.

The soldiers polished off whatever container they possessed and refilled them. Tears were wiped away or hidden, and the mess hall was quiet again.

"Now for some new business," Schancer spoke, a smile emerging on his face.

"As you all know, Mr. Hirsch has served with our team for several missions. However, he was not given adequate opportunity to display his mastery of weapons."

"Whatever, sir. I say he was just plain chickenshit," roared Davidson. Hirsch looked up, angered.

"But that is not all," continued Schancer, oblivious to the rookie's protests. "In this most massive of battles, Mr. Hirsch was given a timely chance to redeem his past behavior."

"It was about time!" yelled another soldier.

Lopsided grin on his face, Schancer peered at Hirsch. "Tell me, Henry, just what did you do over summer vacation?"

The rookie shrugged his soldiers, at a loss for words. Davidson leaned over to him and whispered, a little too loudly, "The bug, you moron, the bug!"

Understanding dawning on Hirsch's face, he announced, "Well, sir, I killed a grey!"

Schancer, hamming it up, drew back, in shock.

"A grey! My goodness, did it have sharp, pointy teeth?"

Hirsch laughed, at ease. "Nosir, you must be mistaken. This was just a cute little grey."

"A cute widdle grey?" asked Schancer. "You killed a widdle grey, when all it wanted was to hop awound in the forest and eat gwass?"

"Not this one, sir. If you'll pardon my french, this sonuvabitch was trying to blow up a busload of civies. Anyhow, he's so set on watching some Japs burn that he doesn't notice me walk up behind him and toast him right up the wazoo."

Davidson chimed in. "I'll vouch for the 'up the wazoo' shit. Nearly laughed my ass off seeing that bug roast."

Schancer raised his stein for a toast. A bit of foam running down his jumpsuit, he pulled a thin case from his belt.

"Mr. Henry Hirsch, I hereby pronounce thee Squaddie of the order of XCOM, a fine and just cause. May you serve your squadmates well, and grow old with age, living a most long and unnatural life. Perhaps you will have the enjoyment of running your very own squad one day. Perhaps you'll run a base in the course of your service to humanity. But for now, you'll have to settle for some nifty jewelry."

Schancer opened the case and pulled from it a pair of matching gold pins, both the spoked wheel of Sol. He handed them to Hirsch, who replaced his twin X's on his collar. Shaking the squaddie's hand, Schancer raised his stein for one last toast.

"To the victories of tomorrow," he belted. His teams cheered and commenced draining the remainder of the keg.

"May the sun rise forevermore," he muttered, finishing his mug.

A smooth hand clasped his.

"May it," whispered Unger in his ear, her tongue brushing its lobe.

Schancer chuckled and excused himself from his crew, woman in tow and quickly striding towards his private room in the officer's bunks.