Rookie Pattersons First Mission

Rookie Patterson set down his foot, dry leaves crunching. He glanced about furtively, and continued forwards. Laser rifle at the ready, he peered through the dim underbrush of the northern Idaho forest.

Ten meters to his left, Squaddie Fuller gave the hand signal for 'down' and Patterson obliged. Dropping to the forest floor, he held his breath and scanned the trees before him.

A tense moment passed before Fuller gave the hand signal for 'continue.' Patterson rose, being sure not to snag himself on any thorns.

This was his first ground assault, and he was eager to prove himself... but he wasn't crazy. Patterson had seen the bodies in the base morgue--charred, twisted skeletons. He'd nearly lost his lunch when the captain showed him one unfortunate guy who'd been cut clean in half by the bug weapons.

Patterson remembered the dead man's face. XCOM didn't have any profesional embalmers, and nobody'd bothered to shut the man's eyes on the flight home, so the corpse's face was frozen in the most hideous state of shock--its mouth, a dark hole with the thinnest trickle of dried blood painted down its chin; its eyes, sickeningly wide open...

Fuller gave the down signal again. Patterson dropped, landing in a tangle of rasberry thorns. He'd grown up in a big Eastern city and he'd never learned to enjoy the outdoors.

He pushed a vine away from his face. It whipped back, and hit him in the face, leaving a line of red pinpricks across his paint-smeared visage.

"Fuck," he muttered.

A thunderclap sounded. Plasma, superheated particles propelled by a gravitron pulses, streamed through the air, blasting through trees like paper. A dozen more beams rolled over Patterson's position. He grimaced and tried to press himself into the ground.

His tactical radio headset squawked. "Strength of opposition?" it asked.

"Unknown, sir," responded Patterson.

Fuller gave the 'forward' signal, and the rookie, groaning, crawled towards the source of the plasma beams.

A lone shot hit a tree meters from Patterson. He shielded his face with his arm. He was hit by smattering of burning splinters for his trouble.

He continued to squirm forwards.

Fuller started attracting fire. A blast geysered the ground at his feet, and the squaddie screamed in pain as his boots charred. Another few beams ignited the dry leaves and pine needles about him and felled nearby trees. Fuller cradled his left leg, a nasty streak of blood smeared down it.

Patterson looked over to his squadmate. There was nothing he could do, except find the bugs before they finished Fuller off. He redoubled his progress.

Pulling himself behind a stout fir tree, the rookie spotted his first alien ship. It was a squat, metal construction, utterly lacking grace. He tapped on his tactical radio.

"Pat here. I am on the west side of the UFO. Fuller is down."

"Continue--clear west and south sides UFO," ordered his captain.

"And Squaddie Fuller?" asked Patterson.

"Disregard. Area must be cleared first."


Patterson swore. Fuller was his squadmate. But the captain and most of the Alpha and Beta squads would die also if the bugs weren't taken before nightfall.

"Sorry, bud," he muttered.

Peering around the fir tree, Patterson spotted his first alien. Short grey men with big craniums and deep black eyes, the bugs were the enemy. Kill them before they kill you.

Patterson sighted one and squeezed the trigger.

"This means, of course, that you will no longer be considered a member of the US Army."

The kid nodded.

"If you die, nobody will know about it. If you live, nobody will know about it."

The kid nodded again.

"You don't have to volunteer, you know."

Patterson looked up and frowned. As a member of Delta Force, the finest antiterrorist commandos ever to exist, he was used to the mind games his commanders would play to weed out those not suitable for the most demanding combat. However, this constant bullshit of "you don't have to volunteer" was testing his nerves.

"I'm well aware of that, sir," he stated.

"Just checking," said the officer, a wan smile on his thin lips.

Patterson signed the few forms and saluted. He filed out, and the commander's secretary made to call in the next recruit.

"Hold on for a moment, dear."

"Yes, sir."

Schancer ran a manicured hand through his sandy blond hair, rubbing his scalp. I'm going bald, he thought, an uncontrolable shudder running through him.

"Did I ever tell you how much I hate this?" he asked the other man.

Pale white skin contrasted with midnight black hair. "It is necessary," he responded.

Schancer looked at the door to his office. "It may be. But I still don't like it."

The other man frowned.

Schancer picked up a stack of papers, Patterson's resting on the top. "Two hundred," he said, weighing them.

The other man was silent.

Schancer looked out the window onto the bustilng street below. Cars and lorries, jammed together, people milling about on the sidewalks, packed together like cattle in a stockyard...

"Good God," he swore, "how many do we have to sacrifice?"

The grey went down with naught a scream. A blistered black scar between its shoulderblades was the only visible sign of injury.

Patterson carefully crawled down a mild embankment to the body, being extremely careful not to make excessive noise.

"Got one," he whispered in his tactical radio.

Laser rifle at the ready, he nudged the body with the tip of his boot. It rolled over, eyes wide open and mouth struggling to speak.

The rookie panicked and fired point-blank into the wounded alien. A spray of mucus and boiling viscera caught his legs, but the alien died without a sound.

Patterson swore, glancing around for any other aliens. Satified, he wiped the greenish slop from the shutter of his microwave laser.

"Pat, three aliens south and east of UFO. Take them," ordered the voice in his ear.

Tapping the alien's carcass again, Patterson sauntered off, in search of more kills.

The first day had been the hardest, and the worst part of that whole day was the changing of the flags.

The officer had delicately pulled down the big stars and stripes that hung in the mess hall. He'd folded it neatly, and then stuffed it in a women's shoe box. Replacing it was a garish black flag with a white X crossing a red O.

"I'm sorry, men," was all he'd said.

A few troops in the back of the room swore.

One of the older Delta men near Patterson suppressed a sniffle.

Patterson didn't mind so badly. They might fly the flag of communist Russia for all he cared-- just as long as he was fighting for the United States of America, mom back home, and apple pie.

But this flag troubled him. It bore no resemblance to anything he'd ever seen, with the hideous exception of the banner of the Nazi party. Flag of the United Nations Special Forces? he wondered.

The shoulder patches were just as ambiguous. A white X, they looked curiously like a leaning crucifix. Many more men swore over this, feeling more like they were being branded with the sign of the beast than simply being transfered to another command.

However, Patterson liked the collar pips. Brass X's, they were simple yet elegant.

Patterson held his head with his hands. I traded the United States for some crappy jewelry, he moaned.

There were three of them, quite obviously. The only question was how to kill them all before one could turn and shoot him.

Patterson licked his lips, a habit that never failed to annoy his squadmates. He pulled a grenade from his belt. It weighed heavy in his hands, a ripe fruit.

He pulled the pin from it, not being eager to wreck his immaculate teeth by playing Rambo.

Never needed braces, thank you God, he thought absentmindedly.

Patterson glanced around the edge of the UFO again and let fly with the grenade. He immediately crouched and lined up his sights with the nearest bug.

The bomb went off, reducing the furthest alien and his gun to ribbons of meat and shredded metal. Patterson burned a hole through the closest; the bug screamed and grabbed his chest where green blood oozed.

The remaining alien was fast; Patterson granted that. It spun and loosed a burst of wild shots at the rookie, but all went wide.

Not feeling like taking a hit, Patterson dove behind the UFO. A bolt tore up the soft earth at his heels.

He swore and fell, the plasma singing his feet. He looked at his boots. His right one was missing its heel.

Patterson rolled over to the cool metal side of the alien ship, where he rested in its shadow. He pulled up his laser rifle and checked it. No damage.

His ears pricked up as he heard what he could've sworn to be a footfall.

A machine gun, probably an M249 SAW, chattered. Lead flew past the UFO, and something screamed.

The grey, eyes wide with fright, scrambled around the UFO and right into Patterson.

The rookie fired with his laser, its invisible microwave beam searing the right half of the alien. The bug shrieked and dropped its plasma weapon. However, it charged headlong into the XCOM soldier. Lashing out with a foot, the bug sent Patterson's laser flying.

He responded by grabbing the alien's grey foot and yanking. It fell in a heap, and Patterson leap up. Reaching at his backpack, he found the power cable from the capacitator on his back to the laser emitter. Fingers pulling on it, he had his weapon back in his grasp within seconds.

"Soap on a rope," he laughed, pressing his weapon's shutter to the burnt grey's skull.

"Welcome to XCOM," said the tall southerner. "Thank you for volunteering."

The room was silent. One hundred pairs of hate-filled eyes glared back at him.

Schancer swallowed, his adam's apple jumping.

"Perhaps I should explain the purpose of this organization," he continued.

"Since the late fourties, the United States Air Force has been in contact with extraterrestrials. Over time, we have gathered significant information on their technology and biology. However, we had growing suspicion that these extraterrestrial biological entities--EBE's--intended to use us humans as nothing more than guinea pigs for their bizzare experiments. We broke off our relations with them.

"Back in 1999, the UN Security Council formed XCOM as a precaution against further alien encroachment on Earth governments. XCOM is a world-wide organization developed to deter, and if necessary, halt alien incursions.

"You are the ground troops. Your tour of duty will involve hunting down crashed UFOs and assaulting landed UFOs. Lieutenant Commander Mangus will go into significantly more detail on these topics."

Schancer paused, if for no other reason than to catch his breath.

"This is extremely hazardous combat. You may--will be sent into combat with very little information on terrain or UFO layout. The bugs have weapons magnitudes more powerful than ours. I am being honest when I say it will take a very skilled, ruthless, and lucky soldier to survive a single mission."

For lack of something better to say, he added, "God help us."

"Nice cleanup of those four bugs, soldier," commented the captain.

A pair of Alpha squaddies walked by, bearing a pale, yet living, squaddie Fuller.

"Nice shooting there, Pat. Heard it all on the radio," he grinned.

Patterson looked at the ground, smiling. "Thanks."

The UFO had been cleared without him, on account of his boot. Two men had died inside, bringing the total body count of XCOM soldiers to four. The bugs took more casualties, though--fifteen dead and one captured.

Patterson limped back to the Skyranger. It was landed on a small hill, surrounded by daisies and other wildflowers--with the exception of the twin patches of scorched earth under her VTOL engines. The sun was setting, and it cast thinning light upon the peaceful field.

"Load up, folks. Chop and mop boys need the LZ for their 'Ranger," mentioned the captain in Patterson's earpiece.

Looking back towards the UFO landing site, Patterson sighed.