The First Engagement

by scg
X-COM: The First Engagement

I was born on a farm, you know.

It's odd the thoughts that come to you in a moment of extreme stress.  It's as though your brain switches off somehow, or at least tunes in to some lower level of thought, something it can cope with and comprehend.  Perhaps the whole thing is proportional.  The tenser you are, the more pressure you are under, and the lower your consciousness plunges.

So it was that, in the midst of a firefight with extraterrestrial biological entities, I began to meander down old memory lane... first stop, childhood.

My parents were as ordinary as they can humanly be, I suppose.  My father had bought this big old farmhouse out in Yorkshire because, and I quote, "It reminded him of his own childhood."  I suppose it was a charming and rustic old building, but it was also something of a waste.  As a telecommuter working for a top-notch IT consultancy outfit, he rarely did any farming whatsoever.  My mother gave up a job in teaching in order to become a full-time housewife and mother.  I suppose that the housing was so cheap that she really didn't mind the loss of her salary.  With hindsight, I respect her courage and dedication... I could never stand family life.  That's partly why I joined the military.  To get away from it all.  I could have simply rebelled against my family, listened to music they hated and dressed like a thug... but they were so eminently reasonable that there was little to rebel against.  In frustration, I signed up.

X-COM chose me eventually.  I don't know whether or not I'm glad they did.  The feeling of being told I was amongst the finest soldiers in the RAF Regiment was indescribable.  The plunge I took later, upon learning exactly what the foe was capable of, that we few good men would be warring against, could not be put to words either.

Then there was the camaraderie... the brief amount of "settling in" time we had in the barracks with the other rookies.  So typical.  As if professional soldiers could not work together without knowing one another personally.  But, yes, I suppose that we would need to develop powerful emotional bonds... to retain our humanity, to remind us what we are fighting, and, of course, to ensure that our minds and hearts don't snap when confronted with what I face today.  I'm probably not supposed to have worked this out.

But now I snap back to the present.  The sergeant is screaming words that I cannot hear.  He's looking at me.  I think he's demanding to know why I'm not moving.  I would tell him, but he wouldn't understand.  I simply don't want to move.

There is a whirl of colour, a flash of blinding light, and a spray of gore.  What's left of the sergeant crumples to the group in a messy heap.  Past his eviscerated corpse I can see a tiny figure.  It is laughably small, with its stick-like grey limbs and its oversized cranium.  But the weapon it holds in its nimble fingers is no laughing matter; particularly not when the muzzle is glowing white hot from a very recent plasma discharge.

Like it's victim seconds before, the elfin little alien explodes into a mess of gore.  It's a less sudden process than the death of the sergeant.  First, rounds from an assault rifle slam into it.  Skin ruptures, blood flows, bone fragments, and the alien being staggers slightly, firing another blast of green energy into the harsh skies.  It can't regain its aim before it is blown apart by a much heavier shell: someone has brought an autocannon to bear.  The high explosive shells are terrifyingly effective terror weapons; there is no chance of survival whatsoever if such a blast should catch at you.

At last I stand, my knees shaking in fear as I do so.  The other soldiers rush past me, pounding down the ramp of the Skyranger and around my trembling form.  The other point soldiers are already further out in the woods.  With my hearing at last returning, I can hear gunfire, and a distant, choking scream.  The darkness seems to amplify the horror of the situation.

But I am a soldier, and despite my human weaknesses and frailties I do not want to die cowering in fear and self-pity.  I force my combat helmet back down on my head, wrenching the chinstrap tight, and retrieve my rifle from the ground.  After a moment's thought, I stoop by the sergeant's steaming corpse and rifle him for clips.

And then I stand, and vanish into the forest, seeking my inhuman prey.