The Whole Shebang

Schancer peered over the numerous electronic reports scattered across three monitors and his PDA's small screen. Closing his eyes, the Southerner randomly picked one. Opening the pale blue orbs, he leaned over to the message and began to read one.

Guided Missiles and You: Portable Elerium Charge Delivery Systems on the Modern Battlefield, read the article's header.

Schancer rolled his eyes. With a flick of his fingers, he relayed the report to his field commanders. Keep 'em busy, mused the commander. He moved on to the next topic.

An In-Depth Review of Profit Margins in regards to Weapons Manufacturing.

The Southerner, grimacing with displeasure, cast the message off to his Colonel-of-Secondaries-- Carrie Unger.

Sorry, babe, thought Schancer, making a mental note to apologize later.

Looking over the remaining items to be read, the commander grinned wryly. Running two-thirds of XCOM was not a difficult task; just one requiring the ability to delegate the more tedious material. Dozens of battlefield salvage reports, additional research notes, and the occasional accounting memo were the lifeblood of the organization. If Okano has a surplus of body armor, where does it go? Sell it to the US Marine Corps or to the British SAS? Somebody would know the answer; it was Schancer's duty as commander to make sure that person was informed.

The tall man leaned back in his chair to relax for a moment. However, a small memo from Nevada Base caught his attention.


PSIONICS RESEARCH

ATTN: Commander Schancer


I've determined that the extreme attrition rate in the program is to be expected. However, out of the two hundred subjects tested, we have achieved spectacular success with nine. The following eight were determined to possess a remarkably heightened 'sixth sense,' along with excellent resistance to psionic attack.

L. Castro, R. Rubin, D, Sardy, D. Schiffman, S. Marcussen, J. Lurie, S. Perkins, and K. Vigard are all undergoing rapid training in psychic 'warfare' utilizing live capture subjects garnered from recent assaults. After approximately two more weeks, they will be equipped for field service. Portable psionics amplifiers are in development to accentuate their abilities.

Of special note, though, is the ninth subject. I was unaware that J. Wilkes was a close associate of you, or I would not have exposed him to the rigors of the program. However, possible harm aside, Subject Wilkes has displayed an unparalleled adeptness. His 'skill' rating is at least double that of his nearest fellow subject, S. Marcussen.

I am in the process of conducting more inquiries into Wilkes' raw potential rating. As you know, psych operations personnel potentials are rated on a scale of magnitude one, magnitude two, etc. The eight previously mentioned are magnitude five psychics, approximately equal to our captured grey psychic. It is simply a matter of practice before their skill allows them free reign of their potential.

Early tests place Wilkes' potential at magnitude ten. Follow-ups are scheduled for today, but I cannot express my jubilation at finding such a remarkable phenomenon. I assure you that I will do my utmost to nurture Wilkes' incredible ability.


H. Navarro

Chief of Research, Nevada Base


Schancer frowned and glanced around for other messages in the same vein. However, he was disappointed, as there were none. Rubbing a growing mustache with his right thumb and index finger, the commander absentmindedly considered relaying the message to Colonel Yoshii.

No, he decided. Distractions such as this could get her or her team killed. That psionics program is far too rough on people, and it's better that Wilkes remains dead in her mind.

The commander returned to his mundane task of dispatching electronic mail to his subordinates, be they within Kansai Base or located on the other side of the globe.

Schancer looked over at the schoolhouse map of the Earth. Nine X over O crosses marked the nine bases of XCOM. He typed a brief message to a colonel in Nevada Base, and another to a good friend from his Delta Force days who was serving in Queensland Base.

Soon, he realized, will be the time to get this show on the road. Another quick glance at the map brought his eyes to rest on the People's Republic of China. Somewhere, deep within the mist-shrouded valleys of that nation rested a veritable engine of evil, a nexus for alien incursions over Asia and the Pacific.

"In unity, there is strength," muttered the commander. He closed his eyes and prayed that the end results of his work would not be a greater division.


Rawlings crawled down to the edge of the bamboo forest. The bodyguard was clad in a black jumpsuit, completely devoid of identification. He rubbed his face again, and hoped that the natives were friendly.

Stepping out of the foggy, early spring forest, the soldier brushed stray leaves from his clothes and proceeded to walk straight into the temple grounds. A small pagoda, fairly new and of little note, was the central item of the Buddhist complex. An older building, in slight disrepair, bordered the tall, multi- roofed building. Rawlings assumed that the large, low concrete construction was the priest's living quarters.

The bodyguard ran a measured eye over the two buildings. The pagoda, while once painted in bright red hues, bore a slightly dejected, derelict look. The 'barracks' was built of slowly crumbling concrete; Jack guessed that it dated from around the Second World War. Shaking his head slowly, he looked over the rest of the small compound.

The only things of any value in the run-down site were the cherry trees. In full blossom, they were pink testaments to nature's enduring ability to bring beauty to even the saddest of man's trials. Obviously loved and cared for, four rows of the ten meter trees lined the other two sides of a tiled courtyard.

Rawlings smiled and admired the delicate flowers of the trees, remembering a time not so long ago when he'd been in Washington D.C. on leave. Two days of the most peaceful, lazy afternoons in small Georgetown cafes--and then the phone call, the hurried flight to Bluegrass from Dulles and from there to Dallas.

The soldier grimaced at the memories. Bodies...

A middle-aged man in glasses and a not-so traditional short-sleeved shirt and khakis stood before Rawlings. He blurted something in Japanese.

"Wakalimasen. Nihongo hanashimasen," responded Rawlings. He grinned lightly; after two grueling hours of attempting to teach the bodyguard Japanese, Suzuki and Tahara had resorted to embedding two simple phrases in Rawlings' mind.

The priest nodded and motioned for the soldier to follow him. The two walked to the darkened entrance of the dormitories. The man pointed at Rawlings, and then at the ground. The bodyguard grunted affirmative, and the priest disappeared inside.

After a two minute wait, an older man, devoid of any hair on his head except two shocks of white hair for eyebrows emerged.

"Goud morning," managed the older priest.

Rawlings saluted casually. The two religious men conversed momentarily.

"You are... from esu dee efu base?" asked the old man. He pointed up the valley in the direction of Kansai Base.

The soldier concealed his surprise and nodded assent.

The ancient inquired, "Why do you come here?"

"To find peace."

The priest frowned and looked at his companion. A minute's frenzied chatter resulted in the older man twirling his index finger in circles by his right ear.

"You are... crazy?"

Rawlings chuckled, and then broke out into a resounding series of laughter.

"This is joke?"

Jack shook his head and sobered up. "No, this is not a joke. But I am American."

The older man nodded, unsurely before translating to the other priest. The talked for a moment before smiling.

"That why you are crazy!" giggled the old man. "Americans always crazy!"

Rawlings suddenly forgot why he mentioned his nationality, and just why it was so funny.

"So, why you here?" asked the priest.

Dead serious, Rawlings replied, "I've seen too many of my friends die."

The old man dropped the grin from his face.

"You are soldier, yes?"

Jack nodded.

The younger priest whispered something into the ancient's ear. The old man frowned and focused his cloudy eyes on Rawlings'. He peered intensely for a long moment. Rawlings considered it a tad unusual, but he did not pull his eyes away.

Shaking his head, the old man uttered, "No, you are not soldier. You are samurai."


The thin colonel's beady eyes scanned the e-mail message again, looking for a possible explanation.

"This can't be," muttered Vukovic. Part of him wished that he hadn't woken up that morning, another silently smiled at the possibilities a few kilobytes of data contained.

With a steady hand, the colonel deleted the message. He leaned back onto his bunk and stared at the ceiling.

Commander Schancer is correct, agreed Vukovic. Smythe may not be incompetent, but she isn't the right ma-person for the job. Too damn European, can't connect with the troops. And she's always wasting our research talent on that useless ground equipment; my men don't need plasma cannon defenses, they need guided missiles and faster transports and that 'confidential' psionics research.

Vukovic traced a thin crack in the spackled ceiling. Schancer knows what's going on; he beat the bastards in Osaka and Tokyo and Bluegrass. He's seen ground combat. He knows where it's happening. He was Larsen's man, and The Pale Rider didn't pick bad people.

The colonel counted off the men in his team. Then he counted off the soldiers in the other four Nevada teams.

A wry predator's smile spread over the face of Colonel Vukovic.


Schancer leaned across the table and planted a kiss on Unger's lips.

"Dearest, remember all those plans we discussed back at the old farmstead?"

Carrie glared back. "Well, I would've," she snarled, "if they hadn't been drowned out by six hundred pages of mindless dribble on the advantages of selling arms to the US forces and not the Iranians!"

Schancer blushed and grated his tongue over his molars.

"Don't think you can get away with shovelling all that crap onto my desktop," muttered the Colonel-of-Secondaries.

"Uh, I'm sorry?"

"You'd damn well better be."

Three tables over, Davidson chuckled and whispered to Hirsch, "Mighty short leash, isn't it?"

"Looks like the doghouse tonight," replied the sergeant.

"Anyway, I think this whole organization's going to be um, changing quite a bit over the next few weeks," continued Schancer.

Unger simply smoldered and pushed around her beef casserole.

"Carrie, do I have to spell it out for you?"

"Why don't you?" sneered the Colonel. "Us women are far too flighty to grasp such innuendos."

Schancer glanced around, failing to realize that everybody in the entire cafeteria was suddenly concerned with the whiteness of their rice.

"I'm consolidating XCOM under one command."

Unger applauded caustically. "Oh, whoop-de-doo! Not only is he tall, white, and modestly attractive, but he's attempting a major military coup! What a bargain--Mama Unger sure will be proud!" In a less sarcastic tone, Carrie peered at Schancer and muttered, "They'll shoot you for even mentioning that."

Schancer raised his palms. "Who's they?"

"The Council, of course."

The Southerner laughed. "I learned more than a few things from Tom, that backstabbing bastard, and but the one thing that really stuck out was how he seemed so confident that we could get away with biting the hand that feeds us. Hey, if you think about it, the Council doesn't give us anything more than table scraps, so why bother answering to it?"

Carrie smiled. "Ralph, that reminds me of a dog my brother had when I was ten. My brother forgot to feed it one week, so it raided our garbage. Not a pretty sight, mind you, but not any prettier than when my brother shot the mutt out of spite. The point of this little disgusting parable is that while the Council might have forgotten us, they will remember in a hurry if we step one millimeter out of line."

Schancer glanced at his plate and back at his wife.

"There goes my appetite."

The colonel rolled her eyes. "You didn't even listen, did you? What a pig!"

"I'm sorry."

"Can you knock that off?" replied Unger.

"I'm--heh heh," chuckled Schancer.

Carrie looked into his light blue eyes and clasped his hands in hers. "I don't care if you decide to take over the whole damn planet, just as long as you don't go roaming. If you pull that-" she laughed, "- then I'll do the job the bugs seem to fail miserably at every time. Got it?"

Schancer smiled and kissed her again.

"Understood."


Idzerda quietly pulled the keycard from his necklace and ran it through the weapon locker's magnetic reader. The safe hissed open, and the Afrikaaner silently swung the thick metal door open.

Twelve stun batons, four shotguns, four submachineguns, and two grenade launchers armed with teargas charges sat before him. Pondering the decision, the captain selected a grenade launcher and a stun baton. He threw a belt of spare grenades over his shoulder.

Idzerda motioned to Oakes and Ehrig. Both picked up stun rods. The commander, lieutenant commander, colonel, and one of the other captains would all have to be secured to insure minimal resistance. The taking of Queensland Base would be a messy, nasty operation otherwise.

The South African turned back to the weapons locker. With remarkable forethought, he swiped up the clips and shells of the shotguns and the Heckler-Kochs. It wouldn't do for anyone to get killed over such a trivial matter as a basewide mutiny...


Rawlings breathed in deeply and pondered nothingness.

A thought contaminated his nirvana.

Now I see why Zen Buddhism was the choice of the warrior caste, mused Rawlings. Nothing complicated to learn, nothing to memorize, nothing to do, nothing.

My, this grass is damp.

The bodyguard twitched. Establishing a complete lack of sensation and thought sounded easy, but was annoyingly difficult. Kinda like firing an automatic--I mean, how can you miss?

Rawlings mentally kicked himself.

Desire nothing, the priests had stressed. Desire brings want, and want causes pain. No desire, no pain.

Nothing.

The soldier's mind rebelled against the philosophy. What the hell kinda life is that? he'd wanted to shout. However, the logic was pretty difficult to combat.

A cool breeze ruffled Rawling's eyebrows. At least I've already shaved my head, thought the sergeant. A few years ago, a lifetime ago, he'd had greasy locks of brown hair. But that was then. This was now. Now was nothing.

Jack could smell the faint saltiness of the sea, even though this section of Kansai seemed so utterly remote that an ocean couldn't be over the next mountain. But it was, less than fifty miles away, in nearly any direction.

The soldier relaxed his muscles, realizing how tense he'd been ever since the Bluegrass raid. It was really unnerving to know, to know that the bugs knew, that XCOM was down there, somewhere. Rawlings hoped that the greys would lose another two UFO's worth of bugs to the booby traps and jury- rigged explosives lining the rooms and corridors of the abandoned base.

No, reminded his mind. He kicked himself again.

Desire nothing.

A calm in the wind brought a profound stillness to the valley. Rawlings absentmindedly noticed that even the typical chirping of birds was absent.

Nothing.

Rawlings slowly opened his eyes, half expecting to see a UFO hovering over the section of Kansai. Instead, the shaven stumps of hairs on the back of his neck rose uncontrollably.

YOU.

The voice was so distinct it echoed through all parts of Jack's mind, until it seemed that it had never been because it had always been. So loud it was a background noise, Rawlings recognized the voice as a psychic probe.

YOUWHODESIRETOBELIKETHEOTHERS.

Rawlings sighed and looked up at the sky.

YOUDESIRETOBELIKETHEOTHERSWHOKNEWTHETRUTH.

The soldier contemplated the growing greenery of the valley below. During the winter, and its occasional snowstorms, the valley had been an almost desolate place. But now spring was along again, and the bamboo jungle throbbed with life.

WE WILL NOT BE IGNORED.

Plucking up a dry, brown leaf from the previous autumn, Rawlings crushed it between his thumb and his index finger.

WE ARE THE ELOHIM. WE WILL NOT BE DENIED.

Jack shuddered with the sudden silence within his mind. Gasping for breath, he scanned around for his plasma pistol belt and holster. A primal need for the weapon gripped him, and he scrambled over to the vicious tool. Pressing it against his heaving chest, Rawlings wondered just what had just occurred.

Was I under mind-control? Was I like Larsen? Or did I really resist the attack? Or did they just make it seem like I resisted the attack, and I'm under control now? The sergeant's head hurt with the rush of unanswered questions.


Commander Robin Smythe looked up at the door to her office. Her secretary, a slight, brown-haired man, peeked in.

"Commander, Colonel Vukovic wants to speak with you."

The English woman looked up from research reports on her PDA and frowned.

"At this hour? Politely inform the colonel that I will see him tomorrow morning."

The secretary nodded and left the room. Smythe returned to Labtech Nicolo's progress report. The plasma defenses were on schedule, and a prototype would be in the works within a month. She smiled lightly; if Commander Schancer, during his temporary reign as leader of Bluegrass, had possessed such firepower, the bugs wouldn't have made it inside.

A sound reminiscent of a bug zapper made its way under the office door.

Smythe frowned and turned to face the door.

It burst off its hinges and flew inward, her bodyguard Chuck Ludwig flying with it.

Sergeant Dan Miller pounced into the room, plasma pistol out. He stalked over to Ludwig and pointed the vicious weapon's bore at the busted nose of the bodyguard.

"Miller! What is the meaning of this?" shrieked the commander. The sergeant did not respond; instead, he pulled the plasma pistol from the bleeding bodyguard's hip.

Squaddie Ed Kato waltzed in, a stun baton twirling in his right hand, the collar of Smythe's unconscious secretary in the other.

"Evening, Ma'am," sneered the soldier. He sauntered over to Ludwig and held the baton's contacts right under the wounded man's chin. Ludwig glared back.

Colonel Vukovic finally stepped through the door. He rubbed his gloved hands together.

"Commander Smythe, I request that you turn over command to me. Immediately."

Smythe stared back. "You can't be doing this!"

Vukovic chuckled and looked around the crowded confines of the office. He nudged the secretary's prone body with the tip of a jackboot. Smiling crookedly, he looked into the commander's eyes.

"Reality seems to conflict with your hypothesis," he replied. "Now, are you going to go peacefully, or must we have a 'scene?'"

"The Council will have your head for this, you realize," responded Smythe, shaking with rage and more than a bit of fear. "When they hear of this..."

Vukovic shrugged. "The Council has just about no control over us now. Where do we get our money? We make it ourselves. Where do we get our weapons? We make those, too. The Council is no longer our master."

Smythe just glared at the colonel.

"If you're wondering, everyone already knows. The scientists could care less; they're too involved in their work. Oh, sure, they might be a little miffed when I 'change gears,' but then again, they don't have the guns. Those people are mine," uttered Vukovic, apologetically.

"We're soldiers, not the most enlightened bunch, but humans none the less," growled Miller, still eyeing Ludwig. "And as consenting adults, we demand the right to procreate. Might not be the way you like to run things in Europe, but oh well..."

Kato laughed in a high, crazy voice. "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!"

Vukovic nodded. "We decided by vote. Those who didn't agree surrendered their weapons; they've already been transferred to Suise Base. No use fighting over something so trivial, not when we've got the greys to whip."

Smythe opened her mouth and asked, in a tiny, faraway voice, "What was the vote?"

"Sixty three to four... Commander Smythe gets the boot."

The English commander bowed her head.