Silver Screen

The cluster of dots representing twenty-four F-15E's loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-surface missiles touched the pink square--the alien base. The balcony leaned forwards. A speaker crackled on; the fighters were engaging ground targets.

"Thermals on."

"Target acquired. Target lock."

"Missiles away."

The F-15's shot away from the Russian valley, their mission accomplished.

"Target is breached."

"I'll be damned if this is an exercise..."

"Can it, Hertz Two."

Schancer smiled lightly. The two squadrons of NATO craft on loan had been designated 'Hertz' and 'Avis' due to their unusual status.

"Excellent work, gentlemen," praised Molotov, from the nearing cluster of six Skyranger transports. "Return to base."

The 'Ranger markers contacted the square. A flurry of Russian and German communications followed.

"What's going on?" asked Dillan.

"The Ruskies are dumping Fuel-Air Explosives into the base hangar," answered Chief Airtech Will. "Not bad, not bad at all." The glorified pilot rubbed the stubble on his chin.

A series of muted explosions jarred the speakers.

"Unless you're in that hole," added Wilkes.

The screen switched from map mode to a huge, grainy live feed. In the upper left corner, meter- tall letters read 'VOL 0 A 1.'

"It's Molotov's helmet cam," explained Schancer.

The Russian closely followed a pair of brawny squaddies onto the smoking ground around the hangar mouth. It was early morning, and long shadows stretched across the hillsides. Molotov shouted something in Russian; a squad of soldiers ran by, strange attachments on their backpacks.

A German squaddie screamed, and a flurry of plasma shots rained down on the landed 'Rangers. The mad chatter of a light machine gun shut up the alien sniper. The German yelled again, this time elated.

Molotov looked over to the soldier. He held up an alien's plasma weapon as a sign of victory.

Panting, he said in English, "Well, friends. First blood is ours. The First Suise have secured an access lift from a guard post; we will descend there."

The rush of multiple rocket-propelled grenades launching and the sudden concussions of their explosions filled the background.

"The hangar will be taken," grunted the commander. He leaned over the dead alien.

It had a deep violet skin, and possessed a humanoid upper torso. However, the dead bug's lower half was replaced by a large alloy ball; it was cracked and machinery could be seen inside. Molotov grabbed the alien by its collar--a purple cape covered its back--and got a close-up of the corpse's face. Pale yellow pupils rolled back into their sockets, two thin slits for a nose, and two horn-like protrusions on the sides of its jaw made for a fearsome visage.

"My, he is an ugly bastard," chuckled Molotov. A pair of grenades exploded nearby.

Vladmir Gradenko, the scientist, leaned forwards, squinting at the blurred picture.

"If that pig Molotov does one thing right today, it will be the rapid recovery of that corpse," muttered the white-coat.

Dillan ignored the sniping and voiced his wonder. "Other races? Damn, what are we up against?"

Nobody answered his question, but then, he did not expect such.

Schancer ran a hand through his hair.

It should've been expected that the greys would enlist whatever help they could. After all, the little grey aliens were far too vulnerable; a very lucky policeman in the Dallas terror raid had killed three with a nine-millimeter pistol.

Maybe they'd taken a cue from XCOM, thought Schancer, looking around at the other officers. He glanced at Taoka and Yoshii, and then back at his own tall frame. God knows, the bugs might think we're a collection of different species. Japanoids, Russiods, Crackeroids...

A gruff Russian's voice interceded. Molotov glanced over at the smoking pit that was the alien base's hangar entrance.

"My deputy reports that the hangar has been taken with no casualties," dictated Molotov. "There are numerous machine-shops and holding bays surrounding that area. These are badly damaged. His teams proceed to clear them of surviving aliens."

A squad of German soldiers pulled aside a loose pile of brush to reveal a darkened hole in the side of a hill. Molotov tapped his helmet, and the grainy color picture faded to monochrome.

"Infrared on, oxygen masks on," yelled a sergeant, leading the squad into the bunker. Molotov staggered as a stiff wind pushed him back.

"The aliens use higher atmosphere pressure to keep out toxins," noted the Russian. He pulled a strap over his head and began breathing canned air. Glancing down at his plasma pistol to check its ammunition capacity, the commander closely trailed a brawny Nordic sergeant.

Explosions rocked the alloy-braced tunnel; somewhere down its slope, grenades were being used to clear out another cavern.

A thick Russian voice in Molotov's ear asked something. "Nyet," was his curt response.

Gradenko nearly hurled his mug of coffee at the projection screen. Standing, he shouted, "That fucking son of a bitch! He's given full exterminate orders!"

Colonel Dillan nearly leapt away from the screaming scientist. Schancer leaned over and grabbed the Russian's arm before he could harm anyone.

"Can't you do something?" pleaded the researcher to the base commander. "The aliens aren't drones! They can think, they can talk; we must capture them, not kill!"

Schancer glanced back at the grainy infrared footage. Molotov was stepping on a eviscerated alien. It twitched, and his alloy boot crushed its remaining innards. It ceased living.

"God," muttered Dillan.

In a calm voice, Schancer replied to Gradenko, "It's Molotov's show. He wants to keep his people alive, and if that means killing every bug in that hole, he'll do that."

Muttering profanities in his native tongue, the scientist remained in his seat, terribly angry but still mesmerized by the potential discoveries within the alien base.

A pair of white-hot plasma bolts streamed by the edge of Molotov's vision. He dove for the metal flooring as angry German squaddies opened up with lasers and a light machine gun. Aliens screamed; a grenade exploded. The sergeant shouted. Molotov climbed to his feet, yelling orders in Russian, and then German, just to be sure.

"The hangar has been secured. The Second Suise is in the process of sacking a small weapons store, located near a bunker much like the one we entered," reported the Russian. He was a bit unnerved, and he hung back from the leading edge of the attack.

A series of plasma shots and explosive blasts from far away chewed at his confidence. A panicking Russian voice in his headset confirmed his suspicions. Molotov barked orders, and the Germans before him doubled their pace down the tunnels.

Jogging after them, the commander swore. "Alien reinforcements from deep within the base structure have attacked the hangar. The First Suise and I try to back up the Volga units under attack."

The tunnel widened out into a low-ceilinged, curved room with several open doorways to the hangar room. Blacked machinery, quite extraterrestrial, and the carbonized corpses of their operators littered the floor. A German's foot landed on the skull of dead grey. It flattened, scattering ashes, and leaving only a black smear.

A Russian squaddie stumbled through a doorway. As he fell to the floor, he swung his squad machine gun to face an unseen threat. He emptied the gun's belt, crawling backwards in terror.

The German sergeant saw it. A volkswagen-sized animal crashed after the Russian, two legs supporting a tremendous jaw lined with hundreds of razor teeth.

"Bozha moy," swore Molotov. He nearly dove to the floor, but the others across the globe who watched the battle unfold through his eyes noticed a deliberate glance at the screaming soldier about to be devoured.

The Russian sighted his pistol and leveled a burst of plasma fire into the monster's flank. Roaring with pain, the beast trampled over the downed squaddie and cannonballed straight for the commander.

Jaw set with determination, a German rolled under the terror and discharged his heavy laser's entire energy supply. Its microwave beam lanced through the creature's jaw and braincase, but the animal staggered on, smoke pouring from its oversized nostrils and mouth.

Molotov ejected a spent clip and slammed another home. Kneeling to steady his shaking hands, he dumped plasma fire into the stricken monster. Squealing now, one leg buckled under. The great carnivore snapped its jaws one last time, and died with a burst of lead to its torso.

"Holy fuck," whistled Dillan. A moment of profane silence passed in the Kansai radar room.

Rawlings pulled the red, black, and white darts from the formerly virgin board, and accepted the thousand yen note. The Japanese rookie who'd forked it over shook his hand. Walking off with his squad, the kid scratched his black hair and swore in hushed tones.

Jack smiled to himself and pulled a worn sharkskin wallet from his jumpsuit's rear pocket. The big Japanese bill looked out of place amongst a sea of green, but he hoped that a few more games would garner some friends for the newcomer.

Stowing his wad, Rawlings glanced around. A few squaddies and a few secondaries milled about, but no potential suckers. He frowned. Darts were his one vice, and as long as he could get away with ripping off all takers, Jack would gladly lose his shirt in poker, pool, or bingo.

"Hello, Squaddie Rawlings," said a Japanese-tinged voice from behind him. Jack turned around to face Sergeant Sakurai. The hint of a smile graced Rawlings' scarred lips.

The Japanese soldier burst his bubble.

"Sorry, I am not here to play."

"That's too bad," mumbled the bodyguard. He absentmindedly tossed the three darts into the wall near the board, joining those of the Japanese rookie.

Rawlings sat down in a painfully new lazyboy chair. He hated to think how much the damn things cost on this side of the Pacific. Sakurai sat new to him.

"Rawlings, what are you?"

Staring at the sergeant and raising a thick black eyebrow, Jack betrayed his surprise.

"Come again?" he asked.

Sakurai smiled. "What are you? You are assigned to no team, you eat at the head table with the officers, and you can spend all day shooting darts. Yet you aren't an officer or an aide to the commander, and you don't seem to have any command."

"Um," mumbled Rawlings, "I suppose I get the decent treatment because of what I do in battle."

"You are the commander's bodyguard? You said that before. But most commanders use a squad of four, not a single man."

Rawlings wracked his brain for an explanation. "Call it intuition, but I have a tendency to be at the right place at the wrong time."

Sakurai was silent, waiting.

"This is going to sound bad, and it should, except that it's true," continued Rawlings. "Right before a bug opens up on Commander Schancer, I knock him down, or jump in front of him, or pull him out of the way. If the boss--the commander--told me to do that, I couldn't do it fast enough; but somehow, I know when, and I always keep his hide out of the fire."

"You have some sort of 'telepathic link?'" asked the sergeant.

Rawlings chuckled. "I don't hold much stock in those myths. That's garbage for the National Enquirer..."

"But you know," argued Sakurai.

"That I do," acknowledged Rawlings.

"When Hollywood starts making 'em this good, I'll burn my books," whispered Dillan. Schancer nodded slightly, eyes fixed on the vicious firefight portrayed on the projection screen. Another dozen plasma bolts slammed into the "reaper's" corpse.

The entire population of the base, it seemed, had come alive. From Molotov's furtive glances over his makeshift barricade, it was sickeningly obvious that the aliens had become suicidally desperate. The little humanoid bodies of the greys lay everywhere; the Germans had used the last of their machine gun ammunition to devastating effect, killing scores of the bugs in savage bursts of lead. Here and there were dead 'blues'; they were, apparently, the soldiers manning the base, and hadn't yet resorted to kamikaze attacks. They had the guns.

A shrill yell went up from across the hangar; the greys were coming back. Molotov barked orders to his fellow Russians--ten had been killed in the initial rush from deep within the base, but the survivors had regrouped with their commander in the maintenance bay.

The Russian peeped over the steaming heap of dead monster, pistol at the ready.

"The blues are just as low on ammunition as us, I think," he whispered into his mouthpiece.

A screaming front of insane aliens rushed from across the hangar. Greys all, their wide black eyes were utterly devoid of fear. Their hive-mind demanded victory, and even if they should have to beat the armored invaders with their feeble limbs to achieve such, they would with fanatic pleasure.

"Pick them off!" bellowed Molotov. He was again the leader, having regained his famed paratrooper courage. Arrogantly, he showed his whole body to the charging horde.

"Grenades," he spoke. A German squaddie at his side snorted; they'd run during the last wave.

The grey mass stampeded ahead. Schancer could almost see Molotov smile--a great wide grin, beard jiggling with a laugh not yet born.

"Now," ordered the Russian. The German sergeant snarled, his light machine gun long since out of ammunition. But he did not need his sidearm, for a hail of iron bombs fell through the blasted hangar roof and clattered to the floor amidst the thickest region of the massed greys.

The besieged troops cheered. The aliens, too shocked to scream, died by the bushel as shrapnel rendered limbs from bodies, eyes from sockets, digits from hands, feet. A mist of green blood, vaporized in the hellish calamity, hung in the air like some poison gas. But it was the aliens who died.

The Russians and Germans calmly advanced into the now secured hangar, shooting the merely wounded greys to cease their sufferings. A blue, so named for their violet coloration, tossed aside its weapon at the sight of so many dead comrades. A German squad, advancing from another entrance, gunned down the helpless creature. Gradenko winced at the sight.

"These 'blues' are not the same as the greys," chided the scientist. "They will not die pointlessly!"

"If they wanted to save their damn ass, then they shouldn't have signed up for the job," snorted Dillan. The American smirked at the steaming Russian.

Schancer ignored the bickering, concentrating on the layout of the base. The hangar, a roughly circular enclosure, was pierced at the top by the NATO fighters. Thin cables marked where three Volga Base teams had descended to its alloy floor. A large scout class UFO and two medium scout class ships, sides welted and charred, were parked in the center of the hangar. On three sides, it was bordered by the low-ceilinged maintenance shops and storage areas. From the bay where the greys had charged en-masse, three passages led out, one obviously where a Suise Base team had entered.

"Scouts report that there are two major caverns below us," noted Molotov, also looking around. "The smaller is a cloning module; the greys seem to have come from there."

To emphasize the point, the Russian crushed a dead alien's torso under an armored boot.

"The other is a laboratory facility. It is very large, as large as this hangar, and seems to go down several hundred meters."

Secondaries, in light kevlar armor, gently lowered cases of ammunition and fresh weaponry down the gaping rip in the hangar roof. Soldiers changed the barrels on their machine guns or strapped grenades to their armor. A Russian pushed a dead grey from a computer console and sat where the alien had died. The scene was almost leisurely.

"Second Suise, and First and Second Volga will explore the cloning facilities. First Suise and Fourth Volga, the reserve unit, will accompany myself into the alien laboratories," reported Molotov. He repeated the orders to the troops milling around; they straightened up their gear and marched off to complete the conquest of the base.

Schancer leaned back, and finally finished a mangled sandwich that had been sitting in his lap for the last half-hour. If his guess was correct, the lower facilities of the base would be deserted; the Russian air force radar plots of the last two years revealed only two suspicious contacts over the area.

"Will, how effective is the Russian radar net?" asked the Kansai Base commander between mouthfuls of ham and cheese.

The pilot sipped on his coffee, adjusting the tinted aviator's glasses he wore even in the dim atmosphere of the communications balcony. "Some of the older Ruskie sets can pick up UFOs and stealth aircraft better'n our own hardware. Damned if I know how that one works, sir, but that was one of the big arguments against the F-117."

"What do you suppose the ratio of evaders to detections is, for the old Russian gear?" Schancer eyed the Texan pilot. Twenty years ago, he would've been planning ops to take out the Soviet air defence networks. Funny how times change, thought the Southerner.

"It's got to be less than one to five, depending, of course, on the quality of the personnel and their alertness. The damn bug boats can really move when they have to, sir."

On the big screen, Molotov was quietly conversing with a Russian colonel, deliberately hanging back from the squads. From the scout's reports, the labs and cloning bays would be very 'busy' environments, with cover aplenty for defending aliens.

"This base was not completed, Ralph?" asked Taoka, her voice already annoying to Schancer's ears.

"With only three scouts running out of it? I seriously doubt that this base was more than a year old. I think Molotov's shoot-down of the supply train derailed its construction," replied the commander. The lieutenant nodded and opened her mouth to ask something else, but Dillan intervened in a most timely fashion.

"There will be more of these 'hives,' won't there, sir?" asked the colonel.

Schancer nodded, thankful for the disturbing visions of the future; they were preferable to the increasingly amorous speech coming from the lieutenant commander. Taoka had already hinted vaguely at sharing office space--"Okano needs my office until the manufacturing wing is secured"--and Schancer feared that her overtures would quickly lose their subtlety. He too had heard the Japanese grunts talking amongst themselves.

"You can bet on that, Colonel," he responded. "Makes quite a bit of sense; the bug ships are coming from a long ways off, and they need facilities Earth-side if they want to hit us harder and more often."

"A Dallas every weekend," whispered Wilkes, sending a bolt of primal fear down Schancer's spine. God, more disastrous raids like the massacre at Dallas, and XCOM would soon cease to exist. The 'Funding Fathers,' as he'd taken to calling the Council, did not smile upon two thousand dead civilians, National Guard, and Metropolitan Police. To drive home the impression, Schancer recalled the photos of the dead that the major papers had published. One stuck out in his mind like a scab that he couldn't pick for fear of bleeding--a man, slouched over in his wheelchair, dead from a plasma bolt to the gut. Schancer shivered.

Someone yelled on the screen.

Camera tilted perpendicular to the floor, it took a split second for audiences worldwide to realize what had happened. A plasma bolt sailed over Molotov, but he did not scurry for cover. More shouts followed, and then the Russian colonel, panicking, rolled the Volga Base commander over. Pulling off helmet and respirator, his face, etched in a sudden, profound sadness, was the last image to grace the projection screen.

"Some veterans speak of an 'ultimate sacrifice,'" said Rawlings to Sakurai.

"It is the death of a commander."

Jack was enjoying himself more than any victory in darts. The Japanese sergeant was a good listener, and he'd touched upon the subject which had been dwelling in the back of his bruised mind since stepping off a doomed Blackhawk in Osaka.

"They say that only with the willing death of a commander at a major battle can XCOM emerge victorious. Now, I think that's just pure shit on a stick, but the parallels to reality are there. The two biggest examples that come to mind are Dallas and Osaka.

"In Dallas, Commander Tureen of Nebraska Base was the last XCOM soldier to die. The six soldiers who escaped in a 'Ranger say that he shot a dozen greys so that the bird could lift off without getting slagged. That number may be a bit high, but there's no doubt in my mind that Tureen gave his life to save his team."

"But," interjected Sakurai, "was not Dallas a catastrophe?"

Rawlings nodded. "However, those six that escaped were worth more than any number of civvies," he said, spitting out the last word. "Captain Sven Larsen, Sergeants Adam Singer and Ryan Sundeen, Squaddies Ariel Marx, Jodes Richter, and Rookie Tom Bright were those six. The future of XCOM Americas was within them.

"Larsen, Singer, and Sundeen became commanders. Marx is Singer's lieutenant commander, and Richter and Bright are colonels. Half of the ranking officers in Americas were survivors of Dallas... that is, before Osaka."

"Commander Sundeen," mentioned Sakurai, head bowed.


The former SDF soldier looked at Rawlings, eyes strangely penetrating.

"I saw Commander Sundeen's body," he whispered.

The bodyguard raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't know it was him at the time. But now I know who he was."

Jack was silent.

"There was a pile of four soldiers near a big department store--you don't know the name--but behind that pile, there was a clearing with only one body; this one had many plasma burns across his chest. I thought that he must have been very important, because of the soldiers who had died protecting him and the number of times the aliens had shot him."

Rawlings looked away.

"That's my nightmare," he mumbled. "Too many bugs, and only me between them and the bossman. I might kill a hundred, but there's always that bolt which cuts me down. Before I die, though, I can hear the commander getting hit."

It was Sakurai's turn to be quiet.

"The worst part isn't getting killed. It's that moment when I'm not quite dead, but I'm not alive enough to stop the bugs, and I know that I've failed. That's the worst."

The Japanese sergeant thought for a great while, and then opened his mouth to speak.

But only one sound came out--a low, distant moan.

Rawlings held his head in his hands and repeated the dismal sound, groaning with pain. Sakurai shut his mouth and frowned, glancing about for the source of the wailing. Jack exhausted his breath, but lay collapsed, devoid of energy.

"What--what was that?" asked the disturbed sergeant.

Rawlings looked over to the XCOM newbie, a thin trickle of tears rolling down the fresh scar on his left cheek.

"Don't you see?" he cried. "It's happened again."

The mournful sigh that had risen from the techs on the floor below was gone even before Schancer could drop his half-eaten sandwich. It disintegrated in midair, leaving a nasty mess of mustard, mayonnaise, ham, Swiss cheese, and bread.

The janitors will give me hell about that, off-handedly thought Schancer, still staring at the projection screen, even though Molotov's live feed had been replaced by the XCOM insignia.

"Shit, shit, shit," mumbled Dillan.

The other officers remained quite silent.

"Shit, shit, shit."

The Senior Tech on duty glanced at a side monitor and waved at Schancer.

"Shit, shit, shit."

"Be quiet, dammit!" rasped Wilkes.

"Sir, we have a priority zero alert. It's originating from Bluegrass Base."

Jarred from hypnosis, the commander responded, "Route it to my office." Schancer suspected that Larsen was calling an emergency conference in light of Molotov's death.

"Yes sir," replied the tech, snapping off orders.

"Get back to your units, people. Vlad, see you next week." The Southerner stood and stretched before bounding down the balcony stairs and towards his office.

"Find my bodyguard," he ordered the first black-clad security man he spotted.

Schancer's office was very small, being only ten by ten feet. Dominating the room was a light metal desk with the PDA Larsen had given him sitting square in the middle. A printer, a scanner, and two desklamps created a wild tangle of cables pouring off the table. Two file cabinets flanked the chair behind his desk; one was for paper and the other was merely a data terminal for his aides. An economy coffee pot sat on the computerized cabinet; it would not do to spill liquids on paper.

The commander, bread crumbs still flaking off his lap, marched in, unfolding a metal chair with a swipe of his hands.

The Data Assistant's screen was already fired up as he slid into his cheap aluminum seat. The traditional Hollywood squares were opened; apparently Senior Data Tech Nishizawa had taken the liberty of obtaining the commander's conference passwords. Schancer made a mental note to discipline the computer jockey.

Only four of the six squares were filled, though. Sundeen's post was still vacant, and Molotov... was the subject of this sudden convergence.

Larsen, Singer, Kalinkov, and Schancer's reflection stared back. The Kansai Base commander adjusted his desk lamps to improve his portrait.

"Gentlemen," started Larsen upon noticing Schancer's arrival. "I wish we did not have to meet under such unfortunate circumstances. However, due to the Council's lack of speed in dealing with such matters, I felt it necessary to call upon you today."

"Are you aborting the assault?" blurted Singer. His face was paler and fatter than before.

Kalinkov answered for Larsen. "That is not an option. The Volga Base soldiers will not withdraw."

"What?" asked Singer, puzzled.

"They will not leave," repeated Kalinkov.

"I believe that Commander Kalinkov is referring to the troops' desire to finish the task," added Larsen.

Schancer closed his eyes. The reports would take a few weeks to be finalized, but he ventured that there wouldn't be one live capture and that the corpses hauled out of the base would strangely be missing heads, hands, fingers, and feet.

"The aliens could be sending reinforcements as we speak!" yelled Singer. "They're all sitting ducks!"

"The Russian Air Force is not completely incompetent," growled Kalinkov.

Singer rolled his eyes. "Molotov would've-"

"Do not hold that over my head," snarled the Suise Base commander. "I knew Ivan more than any of you did, or will, now. We joined up with the paratroopers together, and served in Chechnya in the same unit.

"Ivan would not order a retreat. His death means nothing to the aliens; we cannot let it stop us from completing the mission. The men must have vengeance, they must have this..."

Larsen cleared his throat.

"Who commands Volga Base now?"

Kalinkov looked down; his granite features momentarily softened.

"I am transferring my command to Volga. A transport is waiting."

"You are going to handle Suise and Volga?" asked Larsen.

"Yes," replied Kalinkov.

Larsen nodded, thinking. "Keep your eyes open for any candidates for Suise. You're our man in Europe now, Joseph."

"I'll get those Eagles back in the air. AMRAAMs... they should buy your guys enough time," added Singer.

"Thank you," said Kalinkov, rather grateful. "I will take up where Commander Molotov left off."

"Ralph, we are in a pinch."

Schancer was back on the vidnet, this time late at night, a steaming cup of select roast his only companion. Larsen had requested the meeting to voice concerns inappropriate for Kalinkov or Singer's ears.

"What do you mean by that?"

Larsen's pale face was growing bags under its eyes.

"We've got openings for Commanders in four locations, and XCOM doesn't have the numbers to fill those posts with really talented people."

"Four?" asked Schancer, downing a scalding sip.

"Nevada and Suise, obviously. But we're upgrading the Siberia research facility to full base status. Then there's the matter of Australia and the South Pacific. Radar down under is picking up a tenfold increase in UFO incursions. The Aussie councilman is raking us over the coals for our 'bloody impotence.' We need to establish a presence down there before Australia packs up its bags and leaves."

"God, we can't afford that after China."

"We couldn't afford China, either. Your alternative financing was the only thing that kept us afloat, Ralph. It was only yesterday that the penny-pinchers showed me the numbers."

"Thank you, sir," blushed Schancer. Extremism in the defence of liberty...

Larsen was silent, reflecting on the compliment. "You are a good man, Ralph. Don't let three bases under your belt let you lose that. Three bases, maybe fifteen assault teams. That is power in its basest form. Don't let it go to your head."

"I won't sir."

"That's what Molotov said."

Schancer frowned.

"Poor Ivan thought he was so important that he couldn't die. Even a rookie could tell that he didn't secure the alien base properly. The bug which got him was hiding in an unfinished tunnel--which our deceased Russian friend somehow forgot to clear. He wasn't thinking tactics.

"Don't die pointlessly, Ralph."

Thanks a lot, Sven, thought Schancer as he struggled to fall asleep. He considered placing the blame for his insomnia on the three gallons of Columbian roast he'd sucked up during the course of the day, but the glaring echoes of Larsen's dire warning played hell with the exhausted commander's mind all night.