X-COM: Abyssal

by Hobbes
October 3rd, 2044
Norfolk, Virginia, US

The mess hall of the main military US headquarters was several blocks away from the X-Com section of the base but for Dr. Camay the quality of the food and the general mood made worth the travel. In the weeks after her arrival at Norfolk she had barely gotten to know anybody on the base besides the scientific personnel with whom she had been working in alien physiology, one of the few subjects where she could contribute to X-Com's research. But in her case it also allowed her to continue her own secret analysis of the alien's molecular control capability, a mixture of mental powers and some unknown physics that allowed them to influence and control things as great as the climate and as little as the mind of a human.
The most logical explanation was that it was somehow related to the psi powers used by the aliens on the first Alien War. However, they were somewhat different to the point that even humans with high skill psi scores were prone to manipulation from the aliens. There was still no explanation for why it happened and most of the few theoretical concepts learned from the research made during the last conflict didn't seem to apply. Also there wasn't anything that could power a working psi device to test any of these. At least not yet, she corrected, hoping that the team responsible for Zrbite research would come up with results soon. Most of the effort at Norfolk was being put into other areas and deciphering the alien mineral's secrets was not considered a high-importance project by whoever was in charge. Officially, the Council had dismissed the project as either 'impossible' or 'inconsequential'. However the budget line that referred to this controversial research had never been erased or even discussed by at the meetings. Camay knew that it was because even the Oil Cartel knew eventually their influence over the world's energy production ability will only vane in the future. While forbidding any use of sonic weapons or anything powered by Zrbite and locking it down they also made sure that if any single country made a breakthrough they wouldn't be caught completely unaware. But at least it kept the Inspector General occupied and away from her own activities.
It was dinnertime and most of the hall was occupied with a mass of servicemen in white, blue and green uniforms, ranging from sailors to marines and other ground personnel. A few dispersed civilians could also be seen, with their colorful and bright clothing standing out in the lines of tables and chairs. She was one of them, with her already advanced age contrasting brightly against the general youth ness of other mess attendants. So far none of the servicemen had even approached her table although it was more for respect than anything against civilians.
She had no problem in eating her lunch by her own but this time a figure also in white lab coveralls approached her, holding a plastic tray with a juice bottle and a boxed sandwiched inside. By the look of the newcomer she realized that the man was barely past his thirties with its forehead and eyes still clear of any wrinkles although his brown hair was starting to turn white. "I'm sorry to disturb, but are you Dr. Camay?"
"Why yes. And who might you be?" From the insignia she already knew that he belonged to the X-Com contingent at the base.
Holding the tray with just one hand the man extended his other hand. "Robert Elliquist, doctor. I'm a scientist myself back at the X-Com research facility but in a different department".
"What department doctor?"
"Xenopological studies, doctor, I'm investigating their culture". The reference made Camay to take a look again at the scientist wondering if he was one of the type that would get himself lost for years in a isolated tribal environment to study them. He looked too much clean and civilized for that but it only made Camay to realize that most likely he lived on that same sort of environment inside X-Com. "That's very interesting doctor to say the least".
"Oh yes and I would like you to ask you a number of questions over lunch if you don't mind doctor".
The request made Camay curious and worried: the alien psi powers were a major part of their culture. Was he going to ask her about them inside a military mess hall where they could be overheard by soldiers?
As he sat down in front of her he noticed her apprehension and replied. "Don't worry doctor. I have done a research on you and I'm are that some of the topics you have covered on your, if I might say, brilliant career are currently not as well seen by the general public. What I would like to know is a bit more of your own personal contact experiences with live aliens. You are one of the few scientists beside me to have been able to have direct communication with aliens since the military take all the captured ones for interrogation and never release them alive. And time is always short nowadays since the extravagance of my project will sure be ended if the Council decides to cut more funding".
"I'd say so far you have been lucky in keeping your research alive? How do you manage that doctor?"
He made a sly smile. "By convincing the Inspector General of the worthlessness of this project to any of the war effort doctor. Studying the alien culture is something that will need to be done but it won't change the war balance and it doesn't bring any controversy at the Council meetings".
"But I'm afraid you are mistaken doctor". The half lie came next. "I'm afraid my contact with aliens basically resumes to when I was fighting them in the first war and dissecting their bodies down at the lab". She didn't add the fact that she had studied all alien life forms encountered so far, from the Aquatoids and Gillmen and the species they used in their terror attacks for the molecular control research.
"Exactly doctor. What I'm trying to find is if there's something on the anatomies of the bodies you have investigated that is common to all of them".
The devices. The name stuck in her tongue as she thought of an appropriate response to the query. It had been found out that all aliens possessed a device located in their body that somehow connected them to a global conscience network. Every time that one of the sites had been activated the small-boxed devices had gone active in response. Nobody knew why the reason at X-Com and the alien technology was simply removed and destroyed for safety reasons. But she had removed the device in surgical operations performed on live aliens and had discovered that the creatures would die the second it was removed.
"There are indications to that matter doctor". She decided to stick to the official explanation to the millimeter.
"Doctor, I understand security clearances. However what I'm trying to determine is how great the absorption of the species and their culture can vary inside the alien society".
Picking a carrot with her fork she brought it to her mouth but remained silent. He sighed and continued. "I had expected it. But in any case I wonder if you could still help me. See I believe I have strong evidence already of the Gillmen being a natural species rather than being developed by the Aquatoids". She looked at him. The   Gillmen had first been encountered on the second year of the war and it had been a surprise for both scientists and military commanders.
The autopsies and interrogations of captured prisoners had revealed them to be humanoid reptiles that had green skin and were fully capable of living either on the land or underwater. The official version was that they had been developed from human and reptilian DNA to provide the Aquatoids with a army to take the Earth's oceans.
"You are saying that the Gillmen are like the Snakemen of the previous war? Something that the Aquatoids picked along? That sounds ridiculous".
"Just bear with me doctor. There aren't genetic similarities between Aquatoids and Gillmen. However it is known that the same doesn't apply to Gillmen and humans".
"Of course. The aliens didn't simply create the Gillmen out of nothing: they used humans and that's why we share a lot of DNA with them".
"But in that case why didn't they use also Aquatoid DNA? And why haven't we found the same genetic markers that are equal to both humans and aliens on them". The comment drew hard looks from the sailors that were close enough to hear it and Elliquist dropped his voice. "I believe they once were a fully matured and independent species before they were conquered by the Aquatoids".
She shook her head with a strand of hair falling to her face. "That argument has been used over and over, doctor". Removing it and tucking it back to her ponytail she continued. "The truth is that it would imply that an intelligent species has been living on the bottoms of the oceans of this planet for thousands of years without being discovered or even reported. That would be either the greatest case of blindness or a major error being done in the whole logic".
"I know it sounds preposterous but my research has shown that there might be the right answer. Gillmen it seems, have their own mythology which his preserved on a mental tradition close to our oral or written ones, with the only difference being that they use their mental powers in the process".
"Myths? Do you mean they have a religion?"
"No, it's more of a tradition, stories that are passed from one generation to another. Like children or religious stories".
"But how have you determined that?"
"By examining unclassified reports of interrogations being made on the aliens. The intelligence personnel censor most of the information contained but things like details from their society are revealed. Unlike any aliens ever encountered we have found that there are two genders anatomically and genetically separated, full sexual males and females theoretically capable of sexual reproduction, although the military kept out the part if they ever recorded any couplings made in captivity". The notion of aliens having sex also disgusted Camay and expressed it to Dr. Elliquist, who was quick to stop and apologize".
"It's better if you get to your point doctor".
"Yes, madam. Well, when those reports were released to the scientific community a number of social scientists including myself started to wonder if it was possible for more complex patterns of social behavior to exist inside alien societies. Sexual reproduction by an intelligent species would sure mean the existence of a collective conscience regarding the way they see their society as a whole. That's another aspect we are also trying to figure out, if they have something like families or larger communal institutions or even if there's social differentiation between sexes. But going back to my point, another thing we start to notice on the recordings made of their interrogations was the reference to what was translated into nearly metaphysical expressions. Terms such as 'Paradise', the 'Fallen Ones' and others made us to wonder to what they are referring since those words were always spoken in the past tense".
"Could just be that they are longing for the stars. Depends on your point of view, doctor, although nowadays nobody wants to believe the story that the aliens are trying to contact the Starspawn".
"Oh, I'm well aware of how the Inquisitor General sees such opinions expressed on the scientific papers we present to him. Somehow I've discovered that it's easier to get authorization if those ideas are left out of our final research".
Elliquist smiled and but Camay didn't find it amusing enough and kept looking at him with a neutral expression unwilling to be seen as a potential troublemaker. "Anyway, those matters aren't important to my research. What I want to discover is how Gillmen society might have been organized before their take-over. See, there wasn't any data available on that on the few materials available from the..." The conversation carried on during the rest of the meal although Camay didn't said much and preferred to listen more. At the end she decided to go back to the cafeteria at the X-Com barracks since she was bored to death.

October 5th, 2044
Brooklyn, New York City, US

John Delaney was dead. He wasn't physically deceased yet but he was sure the clock was ticking against him as he saw the news on the visionset about the death of the admiral that was in charge of X-Com days ago. He had seen the warnings before as he had watched a number of Cult advertisements on the networks and knew that something wrong had happened.
Not something, he told himself, but an inevitable step that he had taken, choosing to ignore all consequences because they would be even worse. Telling the visionset to disconnect he considered what actions were still available to him. He couldn't go back to the Cult now or even require police protection since they would simply think that he was insane. And meanwhile they could start to suspect of his abilities and police officers weren't much sympathetic towards the aliens in general.
Getting up from the sofa, his eyes crossed the beard and beret of the Che Guevara poster that his female friend had chosen to be projected on the wall behind the visionset. 'No pasar?n', the phrase written below the red and black face said, in a handwriting more likely to have been made up by a graphic designer who had come up with the idea of the entire projection. From his college studies he knew that the expression wasn't even close to reality, having being said more than a century ago by a communist woman in a European civil war that predated Guevara's time. He disliked the thing although he didn't suspect that it had anything to do with the historical errors that it displayed.
Or probably it was the fact that he was staying at the place of an old girlfriend for the time being to hide after fleeing Atlanta. He hadn't spoke to her in years but the moment he had called her from a pay phone on the train station he had sniffed that she would take him. Delaney and others like him called themselves 'sniffers' because of their ability to sense feelings on other persons. The feeling was akin to scent, in the way that fear, aggression, love or sympathy had a different 'taste' to it. And like the human nose can be trained to detect hundreds of different odors so his mind could recognize if not what another person was thinking at least what he or she was feeling. The sensation could awkward to him or even unpleasant if he was in the middle of a crowd since it could be very unpleasant. And he also had to take great care into hiding it since he could be in a lot of trouble if it was discovered. Physical beatings on known psis were common even if they never used their psionic powers.
The owner of the apartment where he was staying never knew about his ability and the same applied to both his parents and childhood friends. In fact, the majority of the ones who possessed it never had any idea about their 'god's gift' like it was called at the church on Atlanta. In primary school the kids would tease or bully the ones that were too quiet and silent, calling them 'freaks' and no one was really interested in knowing something that would mark them as a stigmata all their lives. Except for the Cult, which was always interested in psi capable people.
Although their official policy was to follow the law, which meant that the 'gifted' brothers and sisters would never use their abilities in public or otherwise risk a criminal prosecution, the Cult had plenty of uses for psis, especially in detecting spies or individuals prone to emotional manipulation. Delaney had been at their service for more than fifteen years until he had decided to leave them days ago.
He had came to the conclusion that he had been manipulated by the Cult in the same way that he had helped to do to hundreds of people. It was something that he had always known for the start but now he had finally gotten tired of it.
But now he sensed that his time had run out as he felt the presence that he had sensed before walking down the outside corridor stopping in front of the door to his apartment. And he also knew exactly who it was since he had been with the man many times. Only this time the coldness he felt was something knew that he couldn't place but he had a strong opinion about what it meant.
The door simply opened in front of him without a sound and he saw the figure of Delacroix standing there with one hand on his black jacket pocket and the other in front of his belly. "You should get the door fixed Delaney. In these days you never know who might break in". The sudden apparition made him stumble backwards and he crashed back into the sofa as back of his knees hit it. The X-Com officer was dressed in civilian clothing, with a black jacket and pants and also dark soft hat that was covered with raindrops. There was moisture all over his face also but he didn't seemed to matter. "Good. I was about to tell to have a seat but I can see that you read my mind first". The sarcastic tone of Delacroix's voice arose the temperature on his blood since the man knew that he wasn't able to control minds or read thoughts. He was simply joking with him and he tried to control his anger and fear and he placed his arms on the soft cushion of the sofa to get up again.
Delacroix smiled, something that didn't make Delaney easy but make him stop his movement right away as he patted his leather jacket. "Easy John, just imagine that I have a gun under my pocket and stay cool right there. I'm only here because I need information".
"You have a weapon there for sure". He had known Delacroix for so long that he didn't expect anything less. "In fact you might as well have two of them for what I know about you". Delacroix smiled at him, remembering the additional small caliber pistol he had attached to his leg in addition to the semi-automatic he was holding with his concealed hand just in case. Delaney's next sentence made him to his slight grin into a tight face. "And I can tell that most likely you are here because you're about to kill me".
Still with his hands on his pockets, Delacroix shook his head. "No wonder the Cult decided to get you years ago. And it wouldn't surprise me if they weren't after your head at this very same moment. After all, like they say if you're a psi: either you're with the Cult or you're against us. Isn't that right?"
The cold feeling Delaney felt through the room sent him shivers. "Hey, want do you want Delacroix? I've told all I know about the Cult and their activities. And how did you find me here? I haven't told anyone to where I was going and I made sure that I left no trace". Delacroix shrugged. "I remembered that you once mentioned to me that you had particularly enjoyed a weekend with a female friend of yours up here. That both of you had had a lot of fun at her apartment. From the stuff you told me then it wasn't hard to see that it would be the first place if you would go if you ever decided to run".
Delaney looked in suspicion at the dark clothed man. "You knew for long I was going to run away?"
"Everyone does once in a while, either running from something or from themselves. What I found surprising is when people decide to stay and face the heat. But I've never placed you into that category. That's why I knew exactly to where you would most likely run to".
He carefully started to move away from the sofa and towards the door. "What do you want from me? I've told you everything I knew".
The X-Com officer looked at him carefully and his voice was slightly raised. "No you haven't. For a start and among other things you haven't told me why you decided to leave the Cult without informing me first. And why are they so mad right now that you decided to jump the boat on them?"
"Look, I got tired of all of their religious mumbo-jumbo as you know. And I also was getting fed up running your double game at the same time that they used my powers. The aliens don't care a damn about the idiots who pray for them every night, that's pretty obvious". That wasn't the whole truth but Delaney knew better than to give Delacroix the entire story. Something bad was going to happen; he knew it and he wanted to be as far away as possible. He immediately sensed that the man hadn't bought it like he had hoped.
"Don't give me that regret talk Delaney or that you've decided to turn chicken after all this time. On the last years you simply looked the other way around while giving me information about the Cult without caring to what they would do to you if they discovered. Why have you decided to change now? What is going on in Atlanta that I don't know?"
"Nobody knows! That's the point. I've told you before about how the suspicions of the elders concerning the new aliens. But their ambiguity has been growing more and more. Before I left I heard talk about how they should join with the aliens and how the 'corrupt sinners' should be punished". Delacroix didn't flinch at the mention of X-Com, although Delaney felt that the other man had disliked the expression. He strongly suspected that Delacroix worked for the organization but he simply wasn't sure. But it didn't matter. From what he knew and had seen of the man's past it didn't matter to whom he worked for.
Looking around the apartment Delacroix nodded. "Very well, then". He took his hands from his pockets and crossed them in front of his chest, a gesture that Delaney didn't find too comforting since he felt that the man had decided to give him some room but that it would only last for some moments. "What's your opinion on that?"
"Look Delacroix, when I met you years ago you made me saw how pointless it was to keep following the Cult. I wasn't a youngster anymore like when I joined them". The officer's arguments hadn't been restricted to simple persuasion.
"I don't want to get myself involved into his anymore. A lot of bad things have been happening like the killings of X-Com personnel that appeared on the news and a number of people at Atlanta have also been missing. I don't know if it's revenge or just people who were simply on the way and had to be removed. The only thing I know now is that I'm not going to trust anyone because they can be the person who has been sent to kill me".
As soon as he had finished the words Delaney realized in horror what were Delacroix's intentions all along, although the man had somehow managed to hide them from his psionic powers. But by the moment he had stopped feeling the sentimental flash Delacroix had taken out his semi-automatic from his pocket and pointed it at him. "Relax". He said calmly. "For he whose name wasn't been found written in the Book of Life has been cast to the lake of fire". Delacroix then pressed the trigger three times and the other man felt dead on the floor.
Placing his gun back to the holster Delacroix kept speaking at the dead body as he grabbed it and set it down on the sofa. "You knew too much. Your only value to me was when you were inside them. I guess those alien powers didn't made you clever enough to realize that". Reaching for his jacket pockets he took out the objects he had been holding before. They were both white phosphorous grenades and when ignited they could reach a temperature of several hundred Celsius degrees. He pulled the pin on one and threw it to the sofa and also primed the other one but sent it to the other corner of the living. The phosphorous started to burn immediately, sending thick columns of smoke. Delacroix then opened a window and left the apartment through the fire escape ladder. By the time the fire engines started to arrive he was well away from the building and on its way to the nearby train station.