Take It All

Schancer closed up his PDA.

The results were in.

XCOM was his.

He slid out of his chair and marched over to the small world map stapled to one wall of his office. He pressed an X over O sticker across the state of Nevada. Smiling, he counted the stickers-one, Kansai Base; two, Lakota Base; three, Cherokee Base; four, Queensland Base; five, Azteca Base; and six, Nevada Base.

Six against three, thought the commander, eyeing the dark black stickers over Switzerland, Moscow, and Siberia. The Europeans, and primarily the Russians, would not be amused by the last twenty-four hours of coups and mutinies.

At least nobody died, thanked Schancer. Some of the bases, especially KangarooCom, were presided over by fairly popular commanders. A wild melee of stun batons and fisticuffs had resulted in that base's takeover. Seventeen soldiers were in the med ward down there, all recovering from light bruises or mild concussions.

"Sir, message from Volga Base. It's Kalinkov, and he sounds angry," reported the intercom.

"Put him on hold. I'll be there soon enough."

Schancer smiled again and glanced at the map.

Walking down the corridor from his office to the communications room, Schancer crisply saluted the Japanese techs and secondaries who respectfully bowed to him. The Southerner grinned. The battle for Bluegrass had elevated him to near legendary status. During his stay in America, Sakurai's team had encountered the greens. They'd lost three men to the resilient aliens, the worst single UFO assault in Kansai's history. The fact that Rawlings and himself had killed eight greens confirmed suspicions that Schancer was a truly great warrior.

"Hello, boss," acknowledged Rawlings from his customary post at the entrance to the comm room.

Well, mostly it was Jack, realized Schancer.

"Put him on the screen," ordered the commander. The datatechs complied, and Kalinkov's angry visage peered down from the projector.

"Comrade Schancer," began the Russian. "What have you done? The Council demands your surrender!"

Schancer looked up at Kalinkov's features and responded, "I determined that it was high time for us to stop bickering and win this goddamn war. I took the necessary actions to unify XCOM under a single command. I did what Larsen should've done a year ago; I've merged two theatre commands into one. Now, XCOM works in one concerted effort, not the 'every base for itself' mentality which nearly got the US facilities killed off. All funds, resources, knowledge is pooled. This is a global war, and we are going to fight it on a global scale."

The Russian glared down at the American. "You are ludicrously insane. There is no excuse for provoking soldiers into betraying their officers. You have destroyed the trust which is XCOM, and now we shall all pay the price."

"I did no such thing," retorted Schancer. "The troops didn't like the way their bases were being run; I simply gave them the mandate to change things. Remember, it is the soldiers who fight who must win this war, not the bureaucrats."

"The Council has specifically ordered me to apprehend you," threatened the Russian. "I have four assault teams and 'Rangers-"

"And I've got six. You're not going to do that, Kalinkov, because it's stupid and self-destructive. Since when has the Council told you how to do your job?"

The Russian growled. "The Council is our parent. The Charter is our soul. You strive to destroy both. I sneer at you... you seek to destroy XCOM! I will see you tried for your crimes against humanity. Yes, against humanity! You are betraying us all!"

Schancer wiped his brow. "The Council has been a bad parent, the Charter a cage. The Council has denied XCOM the resources to expand, to do its duty to the fullest. The Charter prevents us from seeking ways around those constraints. Both must be ignored if we are to win. The Council is nothing but fifteen old men who sit around a table and play God, and every time their creation tries to succeed, they wave the Charter and scream bloody murder. To hell with both of them!"

Kalinkov drew back from his camera. "You, Commander Schancer, are going to die. I promise this. It is a sad day indeed when we must turn on each other, but turn on each other we will. You have been subverted by the enemy to an even greater extent than Commander Larsen. You must be killed for the good of XCOM, and this I shall do."

The screen went blank, filled only with the X and O of XCOM.

Schancer sucked in a breath. "Jesus Christ," he muttered.

Rawlings walked over. "This is the beginning of the end, you know."

The Southerner nodded and sat in a datatech's empty chair. "He might even try to land a 'Ranger at one of the smaller bases, maybe take it over and 'arrest' everyone inside. But I don't think so. I think that this is just the beginning of another kind of end."

"How so, sir?"

"Even from the beginning, when it was America carrying the majority of the XCOM load, the entire world was behind us. Then China dropped out, and we found another way to survive, a way which didn't require the Council. Now the planet's going to be divided into two camps: Us, the Japanese, the Canadians, and most of the smaller, third world members, and Them, the Russians, the Germans, the British, the French, and all of the other Europeans. Jack, I think you can figure out the rest."

"'United we stand...'"

Schancer nodded. "Kalinkov and his buddies will never take out our half of XCOM. But the bugs might get Them, or they might get Us. Then that's the show."

Rawlings watched the commander leave. He'd again failed to mention his brush with the probe, and he was coming to suspect that his mind had somehow been contaminated, been tweaked by the voice which couldn't be shut out.

Or maybe I'm just afraid that I'll get the boot if I fess up, wondered Rawlings. Labtechs had administered preliminary psionics potentials tests on the combat troops of Kansai Base; most had either tested high magnitude one or low magnitude two; both were average human readings. Three soldiers, however, had registered magnitude five--low-level psychic potential, but more than enough to tip the balance in a firefight.

They'd been shipped out, to parts unknown.

The base alarms clanged; a scout-class UFO was making a sweep of the Japanese isles. Rawlings glanced up at the projection screen. Two squadrons of SDF interceptors were already in pursuit.

Rawlings recalled his psionics test. The disturbing feel of dozens of electrodes pasted to his shaven scalp, the stink of disinfecting alcohol, the sudden rush of another awareness... Jack wasn't half surprised when the commander had offhandedly remarked that two-thirds of all mag one or mag two subjects went insane after a month of the disorienting exercises.

What Rawlings had noticed most acutely, however, was the eerie sense of knowing where the labtechs who'd administered the test were even when they walked out of his field of vision; not the pure confidence of normal reality, where the mind took for granted the fact that an object would be where one left it, but something else. Something more to the tune of seeing, feeling their point of view simultaneously.

The sergeant had vomited after half a minute of the tests.

"And another one bites the dust," muttered an American datatech. The UFO had fallen, and Kansai's hyperwave decrypter signalled the ship's frantic cries for aid.

"First Kansai, report to Hangar One for deployment," announced the PA. Rawlings looked up, still remembering the bitter taste of acid in his mouth and the mildly amused labtechs cleaning the mess off his uniform.

"Man, we should get an apron for this," one had mumbled. "Just like clockwork, one of 'em always has to toss his cookies."

The bodyguard's preliminary psi potential score had read magnitude one, level three. Feeling somewhat ashamed of his body's reaction, and partially curious as to whether he'd received a low score, Rawlings had remained silent on the matter. Overhearing conversations in the cafeteria, he was disappointed to learn that an average score was mag one, level eight--easily double his reading.

Dillan bounded into the combat prep room, a PDA swinging from a strap over his shoulder. The colonel glanced over the projection screen, soaking up the location of the UFO, its size, and its crew content.

"Yeehaw, snakes. Damnit, I hate snakes," snorted the officer. Snakes, the orange sluglike creatures with two arms and a tail were fairly intelligent soldiers who would take advantage of converging fields of fire and other basic tactical principles. However, they were slow, and did not possess particularly good aim, thus making them a relatively minor threat in combat. Of more worry were the crabs, the black, bipedal monsters that had terrorized Tokyo--these would sometimes be among the crews of the larger snake-piloted UFOs.

As quickly as he had entered, Dillan jogged out. Rawlings lazily glanced after him, assuming that the man was off to join his crew on the ground assault. The bodyguard yawned slightly, idly toying with the idea of talking to one of the labtechs over the nature of his potential reading, and whether he could do anything to increase it.

Probably laugh at me and tell me to bring an air-sickness bag next time, thought Rawlings.

Fuck that.

A full second before the ramp was down, plasma was in the air.

I'm too old for this shit, thought Dillan, pasting himself to the 'Ranger's floor. Bolts were flying up the length of the transport, and one sizzled into the overhead lighting, exploding the florescent bulbs.

"Two of them!" shouted Nakano, Alpha squad's only woman. She leveled her laser at the dense foliage outside and spat beams into the night.

"Shit!" Battelene was down, shielding his head and groaning from a severe burn to his chest armor.

Nomura rolled down the ramp, plasma rifle firing wildly. "Move, MOVE!" Dillan yelled, disobeying his command. A plasma bolt shredded his folding seat, scattering twisted metal springs and charred fluff.

A snake belched, its thorax an open wound. The plasma fire slackened as its companion squirmed away into the dark. Nakano charged out of the ship, her laser firing on auto.

Nomura ripped the ribbon pin from a standard terran grenade and sent it flying after the retreating snake. He ducked to the ground as plasma fire from another direction geysered earth at his feet.

Fumiko Yoshii, Beta Squad's sergeant, kicked Squaddie Sawada in his armored behind. The newest member of Alpha squad shivered and yelped.

"Fucking coward," muttered Yoshii. She hopped over the prone, panicked soldier, her squad following her lead.

"Yoshii, secure the perimeter! Matsumoto, get your crew out there, also!" commanded Dillan. The officer unslung his portable medikit and crawled over to the wounded Battelene.

"Status, soldier!"

The American grunted and rolled over. A hole the size of a dinner plate was punched through his chest armor, and the colonel could see blackened flesh through the tear.

"Shit," muttered Dillan. Plasmas and SAWs traded shots outside, and something heavy bounced off the 'Ranger's side.

"GRENADE!" yelled Nomura. A sickening explosion rocked the airplane.

At least he's still alive, thanked the colonel. He plugged the medikit into the wounded man's belt plug.

"How 'bout some morphine, Dave?" asked Dillan. The maimed soldier grunted approval, and signaled such with a weak thumb's up.

"You want me to lift off?" yelled Bob the pilot from his armored cockpit.

The grizzled American officer momentarily considered fleeing the wild melee of combat. However, he remembered the heavy plasma sitting on the grating next to Battelene. More than one ground assault had been decided by that weapon's thunderous voice... plus, it wouldn't look good in the eyes of the troops. Dillan frowned. He was no yellow American.

"Get yer copilot back here! Man down!" yelled the officer, snatching up his heavy plasma and rushing down the ramp.

"Away from the 'Ranger!" ordered Dillan, plasma streaking by his ear. The soldier threw himself to the ground and hurriedly crawled away from the twin infernos of the transport's VTOL engines.

Yoshii ran by, SAW rattling off bursts. An alien screamed, a terrible, scathing hiss which was cut short by the muzzle flash of Nomura's plasma rifle.

These are always the hairiest moments, decided Dillan. A plasma flared, slicing up the turf off to the colonel's left. Eyebrow twitching violently, the officer swung his heavy plasma to bear and let the bamboo forest have a taste of Dante.

Bolts slicing through foliage as if it weren't there, a pair of snakes died horribly as burning trunks collapsed and pinned them down. Another burst eviscerated the aliens, pouring their guts out and soaking the smoldering forest floor with their boiling blood.

"Try that shit on for size!" shouted Dillan, a thin trail of smoke drifting off his plasma's barrel.

Levy staggered by, dragging a dazed alien by its tail.

"How in hell did you stun that?" asked the colonel.

The American grunt smiled. "Bugger was hiding behind an electric substation. Grenade brought the whole shebang down on his fat head."

Yoshii screamed. Plasma cut through the space the 'Ranger had been occupying thirty seconds before.

Shouting to the grinning Levy, Dillan ordered, "Get down!"

A burst of plasma narrowly missed the diving soldier. Several bolts lanced into the earth, but most fell on the unlucky stunned snake.

A SAW spoke. Nagasawa, earning his name, cut down the alien gunner.

Levy looked up. He scanned around before looking down on his ruined prize.

"Aw, shit," muttered the disappointed man. The snake was little more than a burnt out skin of thick scales, splattered with the alien's blood.

"Report in," yelled Dillan.

"Here," "Aye," "Here, sir," chimed the remaining soldiers.

"Fucking... headache," groaned Yoshii.

Heavy plasma at the ready, Dillan stood and scanned the battlefield. Aside from the small vacant lot the 'Ranger had landed in, the night was quite devoid of anything of note--just bamboo forest.

"Where's that substation?" asked the colonel, a finger rubbing a trigger.

Levy kicked aside the dead alien and pointed off in one direction. "Ten meters that way, next to a road."

Squinting, the officer spotted the sparking of live electrical cables. The unfortunate thing about fighting in Japan, noted the American, is that every mission is a mini terror site. The civilians are always a stone's throw in any direction.

"Anybody see that UFO?" asked Dillan, pushing his way through the woods.

"No sir," reported Matsumoto. The sergeant lay in the shallow ditch by the road. Not so far into the distance, the lights of another Japanese city flared the soldier's nightvision lenses.

"Beta--Yoshii, what is your status?"

"I am alive, sir. Grazed in the arm; looks ugly, but not bad."

Dillan looked around at the woods, the low mountain somewhere to his rear, and the city in the valley below.

"Take your squad on a combat sweep--two hundred meters around the landing site. Nomura, Nakano, go with Beta. Take your time, clear the whole area. I don't want anyone getting killed."

The woods on the other side of the road rustled. The Japanese soldiers moved off.

"What a loss," muttered Levy. "I coulda kept him as a pet!"

Matsumoto grunted.

A long minute passed. Dillan rubbed the armor in the small of his back.


"No sir. We are commencing the sweep."

Another minute passed. The colonel sat down next to Matsumoto's SAW.

"How many we bag, Sarge?"

The Japanese-American looked over. "Eight, sir. What class of UFO was this?"

"Medium scout."

The sergeant frowned behind his faceplate. "Strange. That's a small crew for a bug boat that size, but not unusual. Hmm."

Dillan peered into the forest. "Yoshii, are you finding anything?"

"No sir. There's a small stream in a gully of some kind--very difficult terrain."

"Take your time, Sarge."

"Yes sir."

Dillan scratched his helmet, almost wanting to take it off.

"Something's not right here," he muttered. Looking back towards the landing zone, the colonel snorted.

"Jesse, do you see any way back to the LZ?"

The squaddie glanced around.

Dillan grunted. "Walk one hundred meters up and down this road. Tell me if you find any car access."

Puzzled, the soldier jumped up and marched off towards the city. He stopped after a minute's walking. Passing Matsumoto and Dillan, Levy shrugged. Up the mountain one hundred meters, and back down again, the soldier was visibly disturbed.


Dillan chuckled. "Grab the corpses and get back to the LZ. We're bugging out."

Matsumoto shot him a questioning look.

The American couldn't help but laugh again.

"I'll be damned if we didn't set down right on top of the crash site."