The Abandoning

The thin commander sauntered his way down the officers' quarters' hallway, his long, lean legs carrying him towards the communications room faster than he desired. Spotting his bodyguard, the man altered his bearing.

"Hello, Jack. Everything normal topside?"

"Yessir," responded the unnaturally short sergeant, sword still dangling from his back. "But it's far from that down here."

The Ubercommander raised an eyebrow.

"Did you see Sakurai? I nearly ran into the captain--I was checking out the work at the far end of-"

"Captain Sakurai?" asked the Southerner, remembering his reasons for avoiding the radar room.

"Yeah, he was right outside of your quarters when the alarms went off."

The commander paused for a moment, striving to recall something.

"He must have desired to speak with me," the officer mumbled.

"Well, he'll get his chance on the main screen. His 'Ranger has got to be on final descent," offered Rawlings.

"Hmm." The commander looked away, signalling the end of the conversation. As the bodyguard trotted off, he too resumed his path.

The 'Ranger's ramp touched down, the soldiers within piled out, and absolutely nothing happened.

"Where is that damn ship?" muttered Suzuki, scanning the desolate Korean landscape. Treeless hills rolled away in every direction, only a few minor roads far in the distance.

"Fan out," Sakurai responded, his order already completed. His eleven soldiers, all veterans of the horrific base assault, jogged away from the landing zone and up the nearest rise. Only Sergeant Suzuki and four others were original Fourth Kansai troops; the rest were assorted odds and ends, a collection of the disenfranchised.

I will kill him, thought the captain, scanning the hills. A roasting noon sky devoid of clouds looked overhead; in the background, Sakurai barely heard the roar of the 'Ranger's liftoff.

"Where the fuck are they?" asked the first soldier to the top of the rise. Adjusting a faceplace built to magnify ambient light rather than restrict it, the squaddie examined the empty land.

Japan demands it, repeated Sakurai, the mantra burned into his mind.

"Sir, are you sure we set down at the right place?" inquired Suzuki, also looking out across the wasteland.

A thin plasma beam lanced out from behind a nearby hill, striking the ascending 'Ranger. The ship wobbled, still intact.

"Yes," replied the captain, diving into the long grass.

The transport dropped a hundred meters, either taking evasive action or crashing or both.

A fusion missile arced up into the sun before screaming down into the crown of the Fourth Kansai's hill.

And the nightmare began.

"Ambush. Ambush," the bloody Japanese sergeant repeated, his helmet camera view displaying only frantic glances, desperately searching for a hidden enemy.

"Davidson, armor up anyone who can drive a powersuit," ordered Schancer, swivelling around in his chair.

"Yes sir!" yelled the captain, sprinting from his perch by the radar room doorway.

More guided bombs pelted the Fourth, shredding men when finding their targets, geysering great truckloads of dirt and grass when not.

"Is that me?" asked his ever-present bodyguard.

The commander tipped his head.

The short man loped off.

Bring 'em back alive, prayed Schancer. Tired eyes watching the final destruction of XCOM's Japanese recruits, the commander winced with every crushing blow of the missiles.

Custer, rang the word. Custer.

"GOD," yelped a squaddie, his chest armor seething with burns. Screaming, the soldier staggered to his feet.

The Ubercommander watched through Sakurai's helmet, grunting with real pain as plasma bolts cut the man down.

"When... ?" whispered the Japanese captain, his voice eerily loud against the twisted background of screams and explosions.

"Sir! Sir!" shouted a datatech.

"They're on the way," yelled Schancer, to the projection screen, to the techs, to the condemned man with ears deafened by blasts.

"Sir," repeated the tech, his face pale.

"What?" snapped the commander, his face livid.

"Sir," the computer jockey pointing to the hyperwave decrypter readout.

A bomb landed on Suzuki, instantly reducing his view to a snowstorm of static.

"What the hell is your problem?" bellowed Schancer.

Shaking with fear, the tech muttered, "Two battleships. Very low and very fast over the Philippines. Coming straight as an arrow for us."

Blood slowly draining from his face, the commander slumped lower in his chair.

He flipped open the intercom on his armrest.

"Mike, nix that takeoff order. We have a base raid in-bound. Base raid."

Schancer closed his eyes, the gurgles of an eviscerated soldier flooding his senses.

He touched the intercom again.

"Base raid. All secondaries, prep for raid. All engineers, prep for evac."

"No time sir. The ships are here in five minutes."

The commander sighed.

"All non-combat personnel, assume raid positions in the engineering wing. You have five minutes."

Datatechs flinging down their headsets, a squad of beefy secondaries stomped in and surrounded the commander.

"Sir, we've got to move you to a suitable combat command position-"

Eyes closed, breathing deeply, the haggard American straightened his back.

"First off, I want everyone inside or on the road. Release the surface patrol, get them out of here. Next, all the chop and mop teams at the lift. Weld the doors shut; they're going to take a beating. Two security teams at the combat prep room. Plasma weapons only, and respirators for everybody. This cave is going to get hammered bad, and with all the smoke, the lasers aren't going to be effective. Rig claymores everywhere; wire 'em to the prox mines. And I don't want anybody but soldiers in the combat zone! All engineers, techs, cooks in the factory."

The surface defenses opened up and were immediately echoed by the alien's weaponry. The room already shaking with concussions, Schancer slowly flicked the intercom off.

"Get me my armor," he muttered.

Screaming by at mach three, the Blitzen pumped a burst of plasma into the battlewagon's side. Huge flaming chunks of alloy armor flaked off at every hit, the sky dark with smoke.

"Looks like the first one has set down," mouthed Will to nobody in particular. A sizzling beam of superheated particles grazed his fighter, and he sent it scrambling to evade the second shot.

"Defense towers were taken out after two shots," he continued, weaving his way down to the Kansai valleys. "Looks like the hangars have been breached, too."

The small terran UFO shook violently, spinning hard to the left. Will winced and pulled the ship under control, flashing off a few shots at the still flying battleship.

A glance at HUD confirmed his suspicions--the Blitzen's left plasma cannon was disabled.

The SDF will get some boys up here in time, lied the airtech. No, no they won't. It's over now.

A fusion missile detonated aft of the fighter, confirming the presence of alien ground units.

Looping around, Will flashed off a few desultory shots at the landed battleship. Smoke was already pouring out of Kansai Base's three hangars, thick soot-black clouds. Another beam lanced into the mauled Blitzen.

The airtech tugged at his controls. Ever so slowly, too slowly, the Blitzen yawed to the left.

Saddened, knowing that he would never see Mars, Will muttered, "Twelve August two thousand and seven. Unlimited ceiling and hundred kilometer plus visibility."

Shrieking madly, a missile slammed into the mortally wounded ship.

"Kansai Base has fallen."

Will touched a small toggle switch and the Blitzen belched out one of its flight recorders. Flipping up his visor, the airtech yanked back on the fighter's stick, aiming its ragged shape at the nearly visible stars.

Beams were crashing into the sorry little ship now with the crushing regularity of waves against a rocky shore. One ripped through the remaining cannon, a bleeding, blistering hole in the ship's right side. Dripping only sparks, for combustable oxygen is rare at that altitude, the Blitzen continued its maddening ascent, beams sparkling by.

Finally, a shot straight from the UFO's main armament tore through the fighter's grav drive, cleanly gutting the cockpit atop it.

And the greens came.

A tremendous flash caught three members of the chop & mop team, pitching them aside and busting through from the access lift.

"Davidson, get the boss into engineering," ordered Rawlings, diving behind a low couch. Someone screamed in Japanese, and another fusion missile went off, flash roasting the sergeant's cover.

God, thought Rawlings, looking up. He lay alone in the open, the only soldier between the access lift and the rest of the main hall. A green poked its head through the doorway, and he shot it.

"PULL BACK!" Hirsch was shouting, dragging a wounded Davidson through the thin haze of smoke and fear that was flooding Kansai Base. Plasma was flying everywhere; a secondary, covering the sergeant's withdrawal, flipped backwards, his chest blown open.

Where the fuck's the commander? wondered Rawlings, lunging for cover as a squad of greens walked right into the prox grenade he'd left for them. The lead bug ate most of the blast, his legs useless ribbons of smoking flesh.

"Where's the boss?" yelled the bodyguard, firing at the invaders. He shouted again, "Where's Commander Schancer?" but everybody seemed to be screaming or moaning or shooting and even the private space inside his helmet was flooded with the din of battle.

"PULL BACK! PULL BACK!" bellowed Hirsch, like some sort of stricken cow. Davidson, somewhat conscious, shot a crab off of a secondary. A grenade blossomed, shredding the Japanese soldier.

Then Takahashi and someone else scrambled past Rawlings, a claymore flooding the air with ball bearings. Two greens went down, their faces pocked with bleeding holes.

"I'm here, Jack. Let's move!"

Rawlings pumped a grenade into the next bug out of the access lift, filling the air with gristle and bloody mist.

A fusion missile cut its way over the bodyguard and into the cafeteria of the base. Its sickening detonation brought down the ceiling.

"Move, dammit!" yelled Schancer, a plasma pistol in his hand.

"GO GO GO!" shouted Hirsch, still holding the big black captain's arm over his shoulder and firing at the bugs coming from the combat prep room. A group of techs sprinted from across the hall, from the communications room. One took a plasma hit in the leg and went down. Another stopped to help him and got his head blown off.

Hirsch covered the men as they started down the long, straight passage to the engineering wing. Rawlings, Takahashi, and the commander staggered over, plasma flying everywhere, the pipes and wiring spilling out from the ceiling like the intestines of a gored horse.

"Go," yelled Rawlings, pointing to the wounded Davidson. Hirsch nodded, limping off with the captain in tow.

The bodyguard and the Japanese and commander bedded down, hugging the smoldering floor as a few more greens tried their luck. A bolt munched on Rawlings' shoulder armor, but that alien took a shot in the groin for his effort.

A moment passed. No more bugs.

The tiled floor of the main hall was thick with the dead. Heaped in corners, behind chairs, or just lying, lifeless and alone, in the center of the burnt, bloody floor. And the blood was everywhere. Thick swashes of crimson, smeared across the walls, syrupy yellow alien blood pooling up around the access lift and the combat prep room entrances, everywhere.

Rawlings checked his ammunition supply. Tossing aside a half-empty cartridge, he plucked a pair of clips from the sad dead mess of a secondary.

"Think they're... ?" asked Takahashi.

"No," replied Schancer and Rawlings at the same time.

Schancer coughed. The two soldiers in power armor glanced at him anxiously. The commander pulled on his respirator and took a long pull.

The smoke was thinning, ever so slightly.

A heavy thud shook the passageway behind them. Rawlings looked back.

"Nanda?" muttered Takahashi.

Another impact shook the floor and sent a few loose tiles fluttering from the ceiling.

A trickle of cold sweat ran down the side of Schancer's nose.

Fourty meters down the passage, roughly two thirds the way to the engineering wing, the wall erupted.

Even before the heavy concrete debris was done collapsing into the hallway the bugs were pouring through. Rawlings swung Faith over, burping out a grenade. It slowly sailed down the length of the passage, its momentum almost spent when it tapped the shoulder of a green and tacked its internals onto the ceiling.

More aliens swarmed out of the wound in the wall.

Far away, on the other side of the growing mob, Hirsch frowned behind his helmet. A pair of plasma bolts caught him low in the stomach.

Rawlings roared, loosing a clip into the greens. Shrieking, a half dozen bugs turned to face their new assailant. Heavy plasmas thundered, hundreds of shots flying in the narrow passage, streaming into walls and tiles and bugs and corpses. Dozens of bolts grazed Rawlings. Red. Two bugs, and then another, fell to the smoldering floor.

Ducking behind the hallway entrance to reload, the bodyguard felt someone grip his shoulder armor. It crumbled away, welted and brittle.


The short man slammed home a fresh cartridge.

"Jack," Schancer repeated.

Takahashi was firing with cool precision, conserving his rounds and bringing down the greens as they piled out of the deep gash in the wall.

"Too many," the Japanese sergeant grunted, a bolt splashing off his shin plates.

"Jack, we must go."

Remembering a day so long ago when he'd set foot in this base, his home, Rawlings waited ten seconds as bug after bug stampeded towards the manufacturing plant, only two wounded soldiers standing between the screaming horde and the techs.

"To the hangars, then," he whispered, the fate of tbe base already set in concrete.

Rawlings was up instantly, pulling a hand grenade from his belt and activating it for delayed blast. Takahashi stumbled backwards, gunning down yet another green. The grenade went into the passageway; the three ran.

Staggering over dead men and aliens, over splintered furniture, over the tattered wreckage of their raped base, Schancer, Takahashi and Rawlings made for the hangars. The combat prep room was empty, its ceramic flooring torn up in a few spots, a dead green or two lingering on the tiles. Likewise, the short passage to Hangar One was devoid of hostiles.

Gazing over the violated landing bay, Rawlings spotted the metal access ladder on the far side. A Ranger, its belly torn open from plasma burns, lay in the thin trickles of sunlight filtering down from the blasted accordion doors.

Across the blackened tarmac. Up the many rungs. Over the lip of the entrance.

In Nagoya and Osaka and Tokyo and Kyoto and in every city on the Pacific Rim, the meteorologists had officially declared August twelve a beautiful day. Warm, late summer rays smiling upon the Earth. Low humidity, a light breeze. The skies were cloudless and robin's egg blue; but it was not a beautiful day.

"Follow me," grunted Rawlings, Faith clutched in one hand, sprinting down the blackened grass, into the bamboo which lay twenty meters from the hangar.

Schancer cleared the rim and did likewise.

So did Takahashi, the Japanese sergeant.

Another series of screams and plasma fire.

Hirsch struggled to keep his plasma aimed at the door. A warm sensation was flooding his lower body, as if he had wet himself. The sergeant concentrated on the metal doorway. He trembled, afraid to look down.

"I'm sick of this shit," gurgled Davidson. He was awake again, barely. A makeshift compress was plastered to his lower right chest. A bit of blood trickled from the side of the black man's mouth. Davidson was lung shot.

"Hey, it's not over yet," mumbled Hirsch, twitching as a plasma went off nearby.

Someone died.

"Fuck... you, Henry. The fat mother has sung," chided the other dying man.

A missile wailed by, both soldiers shivering at its passage.

"Henry, do you believe in heaven?" asked Davidson, suddenly lucid.

The standing man risked a glance backwards.

"I wish I did," he whispered.

The missile hit, its massive blast hammering the small broom closet where the two men hid.

"Don't worry," mumbled Davidson, more blood foaming from his mouth. "I'll have a chat with Saint Peter. You'll make it in."

Hirsch frowned slightly, as more explosions rumbled ominously. However, it was something else that troubled him.

"You'll make it in," sighed the African American, his body relaxing by degrees.

The sergeant snapped out of his trance and peeked back.

"Mike," he asked, "Mike? Dammit."

The captain smiled slightly, the crimson trails down his exposed face giving him the look of a ghastly clown.

"I'm sick of this shit," he barely whispered, the last essence of life seeping away.

Hirsch opened his mouth to swear, but a green ripped open the doorway and leapt in, knocking away the sergeant's plasma rifle. Struggling with the monster, Hirsch realized that it was just as surprised, and afraid, as he. Landing a fist on its face, he fell to the floor under it.

And then the explosions enveloped them, burning away all memories of the long war.

Barely three kilometers away, yet so much further, the three were thrown down by the warm, unstoppable wind that flattened everything before it. The warm wind and then the impossible second sun that ripped itself from the earth, purifying the fetid hole reeking of fear and death, erasing the two alien battleships, and shaking the land for kilometers.

Rawlings blacked out momentarily; and then covering his eyes and shrugging off the mown bamboo and willow that lay over him, he staggered up.

His ears still rang, but he became suddenly aware of someone shouting.

"The Elerium! The Elerium!" went the chant and the bodyguard opened his eyes and saw the commander kneeling on the crushed, beaten earth, staring back at the still-rising cloud.

Takahashi too stared at the sick monument to the downfall of mankind.

But Rawlings did not look. Instead, he plucked up his heavy plasma, inspected it for damage, and seeing that there was none, proceeded to reload the grenade launcher.

Schancer was crying, his respirator off and his dusty face streaked with trails of moisture. Takahashi merely sat and watched, watched the garish cloud rise upwards, until it dominated the blue sky, thin ringlets circling it.

The bodyguard, content that his weapon was fully operational, checked his ammunition supply and pulled out a thin square package. Ripping it open, he gingerly pulled the condom over the barrel of his launcher.

Glancing about, he uttered one word.


The Blackhawks were everywhere, dropping hundreds of soldiers to the burnt, scraggly grass. Long lines of them scoured the valleys, but it was not a US Marine who found him.

Visor up, helmet nearly off, the airtech sadly examined every one he found. Dead. Dead. Dead.

Bob did not cry. He merely spotted the next scorched lump of man and metal and marched over to it, already knowing.

His 'Ranger was nearby, most of its cargo hold blown open by the single plasma beam it had sustained. The crash landing had cracked his visor in half. It had also split his copilot's head.

Another dead body. He rubbed the ash from the man's nameplate. He grunted, reading the kanji. It was a woman.

"Sir," yelled the marine lieutenant, because he did not know what rank the stranger merited, "please report to one of the choppers. We still have hostiles present."

The wiry pilot looked up from the dead squaddie.

"Get a chaplain in here," he muttered, standing and stumbling over to the next corpse.

The lieutenant frowned and barked orders. Several marines jogged over and took up position discretely behind the stranger.

Bob pushed aside the dead sergeant. Suzuki, read the plate. Twenty confirmed kills, mostly greys. Ten stuns, mostly greens and snakes.

"Brave man," muttered the pilot.

The corpse underneath flexed a hand.

Bob didn't bother to glance at the soldier's rank or name.

"Get me a MEDIC, NOW!"