X-Com Saga

by Russ Brown
8 - Exposure.

Akira and Crossett were sitting in one of the small common
rooms on the bottom level of the Little Rock base's living quarters
when the alarm sounded.  Akira received a personal page over the
intercom.
"Perez wants you," Crossett said smiling.
It was an inside joke, one Akira wasn't quite ready to laugh
at yet.  He just gave her his best look of cold disgust and said
nothing.
They had been watching local news.  A clean cut, well-chiseled
man with an accent from some state farther north tried his best to
squeeze every ounce of sensation from a group of a few hundred
students from the University of Arkansas and the Baptist College who
were marching north toward the state capital.  Some of the students
carried peace signs and placards displaying general slams against the
military.  There was also a group of students trying to block the
gates of Camp Robinson, on the north end of town.
But what concerned Akira the most were the two dozen or so
students who had driven sixty miles northwest in crowded cars, into a
remote area of the Boston Mountains, to march back and forth outside
of a small military supply post built on the site of an old bauxite
mine.  They explained to the single reporter on the scene that it was a
test site for experimental aircraft.
"Do they know we're down here?" he asked out loud.
"Probably not," Crossett said, "Someone may have seen the
Skyranger or the Firestorm taking off or coming back, but they don't
seem to have a clue what's really going on."
There were only a few seconds of coverage about the Boston
Mountain protest, then the station went on to other stories.
A few minutes later, Crossett and Akira felt the sudden roar
and thunder clap of the Firestorm taking off and immediately going
supersonic.  The news station quickly cut back to cover the event.
Their tape showed another old college student sedan pulled up
on the twisty gravel road and five more protesters piled out.  The
attention of all of the students and the news camera was suddenly
drawn back to the supply post by the dramatic sounds.  The camera
missed whatever had made the noise, but some of the students had seen
it.  Most of them huddled together for a few seconds, then one ran off
to an extremely old Ford Escort and drove off toward Little Rock,
probably to get friends.  The reporter, who had been facing the other
way during the launch, interviewed students to get a description, and
got a wide range of answers.
"You'd better go, boss," Crossett said, "sounds like we've got
customers.  You can monitor the action outside from the command
center."
Akira set off west, through the base's main lift, toward the
small command center spread out inside the radar equipment rooms.
We're in no shape to mount a UFO recovery, he thought.  It had been
less than a week since their base raid in Africa, and he hadn't even
had time to fill out the squads with replacement troopers.  And there
were those damn students outside - could they launch with them around
and give them even more of what they were looking for?
He found Perez in a small room filled with monitors, below the
short range radar room.
"It's one of the big one's," she said, "coming in from the
northwest at about Mach four."
Akira checked the radar screen and saw that Perez had launched
the Firestorm to intercept.  "What's that interceptor going to do?
The last one that attacked one of those monsters was destroyed."
"He can follow it," she said, "pinpoint its landing site."
Akira nodded.
"Come look at this," she said, and led Akira down the hall
into a room below the long range radar next door, carefully stepping
around scattered electronic equipment and loose cables as she went.
She pointed to a relatively new display mounted up in the far corner
of the room, connected to their new hyperwave decoder.
The information the decoder had deciphered and translated from
the ship's transmissions confirmed that it was one of the large,
five-legged alien battleships.  It had also classified it as a muton
ship.
"What do you make of that mission?" Akira asked.
In most cases the decoder could also surmise the basic
objective of the UFO, such as base supply, terror missions, or
scouting.  In this case the mission was just "retaliation."
"I asked Dr. Morey about it.  He said it indicates the aliens
want to inflict damage on the sources of the attacks which have
damaged their own ships."
"Us," Akira said, "this base."
"I would guess so."
"Do they know where we are?"
"Don't know - scouts have come close, but have never landed
here. "
"And Morey's people have had the mind shield operating for a
couple weeks," Akira added, "to try and block the emissions from all
the psionic activity." He paused for a moment, thinking.  "Maybe the
ethereal commander has somehow given our position away."
"Maybe," Perez said, "but we checked it for transmitters and
scanned for alloy, and it's had a psi-suppression collar on since we
nabbed it.  Maybe the aliens are watching the local news."
They both hurried back to the command center.  Davies was at
the tracking display.
"Which way is it going?" Akira asked.
"Southeast," Davies replied, "looks like it's coming this
way."
"It could be here in about twenty minutes," Perez added.
"Do we have enough defenses?" Akira asked no one in
particular.  Davies and Perez shrugged without saying anything.  The
base had point defense systems - missiles and plasma, and an unfinished
grav shield to slow down incoming weapons or ships, but they had never
been used and never tested for fear of giving away their position.
Perez gave no sign of taking charge.  She was looking at Akira
for this one.  Technically, he was in command at the base.
He thought it through.  It would take nearly ten minutes for
the handful of experienced troopers to get into their armor and
collect their weapons.  They would also have to evacuate whoever they
could.
"Davies, call the..." Akira suddenly remembered the protesters
again.  "Damn."
"What," Davies asked.
"Perez, Get Dr. Morey in here, and Perry. Fast.  Davies, you
get the troopers suiting up, and round up any recruits that have
passed a reasonable amount of screening.  Get them into defensive
positions with weapons and headsets, and some of the old personal
armor, if we still have any."
Akira waited a few minutes to give Perez a head start finding
Dr. Morey and Perry Lem, the Chief Engineer, then he went to a command
terminal and set off the general evacuation alarm.  He watched the
track of the UFO for a minute as it made noticeable progress across
Idaho, accompanied by the rhythmic honking echoing through the
underground base.  It crossed into Wyoming just as Dr. Morey and Perry
arrived.
Morey was a tall, authoritative scientist who communicated in
short, intense bursts in between forcing himself to listen to other
opinions.  But he was brilliant and very convincing if allowed to talk
uninterrupted.
"Dr. Morey, get your people and the engineers out of here, and
away from the supply post.  And on your way, try to convince the
students up there that this is a real emergency and they're in real
danger.  Tell them there are volatile materials on the post and we
think they might explode or something.  Just get them away from
here."
"An alien battleship may be here in about fifteen minutes,"
Akira continued, "Can you evacuate the Avenger?"
"Don't think so," Perry said, shaking his head and wringing
his plump hands. "we have the drives pulled apart to test the
navigation system.  It would take us hours to get it up again."
"Dr. Morey," Akira continued, "How far along are you with the
alien commander?"
"It's tough," Morey said, "We have the mind shield and
psi-suppression fields operating, so our use of psi-amps is limited,
and the ethereals don't seem to have a spoken language."
"Can you evacuate it in the Skyranger?" Akira asked.
As he spoke they heard the roar of the Skyranger's vertical
thrusters echoing in from the hangar to the south west.  "Damn," Akira
said, "No time to land it again."
"It would have been dangerous and disruptive to move the alien
anyway," Morey said.  Akira couldn't tell if he was serious or just
trying to make him feel better.
"One more question," Akira said, "Will the tanks' programming
allow them to help defend the base if we're invaded?"
Morey looked questioningly at Perry, who stuck out his lower
lip in thought, then nodded slowly.
"Sure," Perry replied, "I don't see why not."
"Then it's time for you both to leave."
They both turned and headed back east toward the lift and the
living quarters.  Before they disappeared, Morey turned and said
"Good luck, Captain."
Akira nodded and looked back at the monitor.  The battleship was
nearly into Colorado already.  It may be coming for the alien
commander, he thought.  Maybe that means we're as close to the
answer as we think.
A few minutes later, the Firestorm caught up to the UFO. It
managed to drop in behind and get a good look, confirmed the
battleship classification, then followed at a safe distance.
"Firestorm-2," Akira called, "if the target gets within a
hundred klicks of the base, I want you to hit it a few times then bug
out for the emergency hangar."
The pilot acknowledged.
The evacuation was proceeding smoothly, but he could see that
the reporter at the scene realized something important was
happening.  Vans filled with dozens of scientists and engineers
streaming from a small supply post gave him plenty of fuel for
speculation.  
One of the vans stopped and Dr. Morey stepped out.  He tried
to shout over the barrage of questions and accusations from the
students.
"I am Dr. Stan Morey, of the DoD Alternate Energy Development
Project," He began.  It was their official cover story, provided by
the U.S. government.  Was there really such a project, Akira wondered?
If so, the heat would soon be on them.
"For the past few months," Dr. Morey continued, "we have been
using this facility as a secure laboratory for the development of a
compressed hydrogen fuel.  Your presence here compromised that
security and we were forced to make plans to move our research
elsewhere.  Unfortunately, an accident in packing the existing
material for shipment has left it unstable and near the point of an
unpredictable and little-understood slow fusion reaction.  For your
own safety, we must insist that everyone evacuate an area within a
radius of ten kilometers from this base, until the small group of
experts we've left behind can stabilize the sample."
"Nice," Akira said out loud.
"I just caught the end," Crossett said, coming into the room
in her full flying suit, except for the helmet.  "but it sure sounded
convincing.  Morey's a scary guy."
Akira smiled.  "We'll see if it works."  The students were
still discussing the situation among themselves, but a few vehicles
were already loading up and heading down the road.
Davies arrived, wearing just the environmental suit that went
underneath his armor.  He checked the radar monitors.
"Looks like we've got about eight or nine minutes," he said.
"How do you want us deployed, Captain."
"What have we got?"
"Well, we have us three, plus Zander, Perez and the two psis.
We also have the two tanks and one rookie, Richter, checked out on
plasma and power suit.  I figure we can give him to Crossett."
Akira nodded quickly.
"Beyond that we have six rookies that I'd trust with lasers,
and I found personal armor to fit four of them."
"Oh," Davies continued, "and Esser - she's hurting pretty bad,
but she refused to leave and is trying to squeeze into her armor."
"Fine," Akira said, "she can guard her living quarters."
Akira looked up at the crude map of the ever-changing base on the
wall above the terminals.  "We have to prevent any damage to key
systems on this base, but our priority is to defend the containment
facility and the Avenger's hangar.  If either was destroyed we'd be
set back months.  If they know where we are, I don't think we'd last
that long."
Akira looked closer at the map, as if reading information that
wasn't printed there.  "We can shut down the main lift and lock the
sliding hangar doors from here to keep them out for a while."
"Not long," Davies said, "A good plasma shot would rip through
the hangar doors like paper - they're made of pretty light stuff. And
there are shafts running alongside the main lift that are big enough
for bugs to get in.  I don't know how effectively we can block them."
Perez was just walking in, already suited up.  She looked as
if she'd stumbled across a party she hadn't been invited to.
"Colonel," Akira said, "can you see about shutting down the
main lift once everyone's out, then block the small service shafts
around it?"
"Sure, Captain," Perez said without much enthusiasm, and left.
Akira checked the monitors again.  The UFO was in Kansas, less
than six minutes away and still headed directly for them.
"I have to suit up," he said, "I want the rookies split up and
in defensive cover where we can watch them." He pointed at Crossett,
"You and Richter take the rocket tank and cover the southwest hangar
and alien containment.  Davies and Zander get the plasma tank and
cover the Avenger.  We'll arm the psis and put them upstairs in the
living quarters with Esser.  Perez and I will stay near here to cover
the lift and the hangar next door."
With that he ran out through the lift room, where Perez and
two rookies were stuffing shafts with lab equipment, then south into
storage to find his armor.  He changed in the center of the floor and
got his helmet on just as the interceptor pilot reported through the
chatter of excited rookies that he was breaking off his attack.
A few seconds later, as Akira ran back toward the command
center, the base echoed with a low, pulsing whine .  It must be the
plasma defenses, he thought, but he had never heard them in operation.
When Akira reached the command terminals, he saw that the
plasma defenses were indeed firing, as were their one laser battery
and two outdated missile launchers.  The UFO was now nearly directly
above them, at about fifteen hundred meters and descending fast.
The external cameras were still operating, and Akira could see
that some of the students and the reporter and camera crew had been
foolish enough to stay.  Now they could see the ship and were
beginning to understand how large it was.  Some ran for their
vehicles, others stood and watched the high-tech fireworks display in
awe or fear.
"No more secrets," Akira said out loud.
Perez heard him as she walked into the room. She stood beside
him and watched the monitor, letting her heavy plasma drop at her
side.
"We'll have to go soon," she said, "in the next few days, if
we survive this.  We can't hold off the press for long."
As they watched, the small groups outside came within range of
the battleship's huge plasma weapons.  A series of flashes
that saturated the camera and left nothing but charred, cratered
ground.  One pulse caught two carloads of students fleeing down the
road, and the next took out the outside camera.
"There's nothing more to do here," Akira said, "let's get into
position."
Perez motioned toward the lift room.  "I told Okabe to wait
for the missiles to stop firing, then head into the passage below the
missile room to cover the hangar's east exit.  Kidd is on the other
side of the lift."
"What do they have on them?" Akira asked.
"Lasers," Perez said, "Okabe only has a pistol."
"Against mutons?" Akira shook his head and tried to position
himself below the short range radar so he could see north into the
hangar and east to lift.  "You cover the west side of the hangar.
They'll have to pass under the laser defenses to get out that way."
"OK.  Good luck."
Just after she left the room, a hollow explosion went off to
the north, following by sounds of metal bending and falling down into
the hangar.
"North hangar doors are down," Akira reported as he ran out
into the hallway and knelt down just outside the hangar.
Two more identical explosions sounded to the south just as
Akira saw a large, barrel-chested purple alien drop into the hangar
only a few meters away from him.  He swung his heavy plasma around and
autofired.  One shot hit and seemed to shake the alien up a little.
It turned within the spray of plasma and looked directly at Akira.
Another plasma bolt caught the alien from behind before it could raise
its weapon.
It dropped, and Akira could see Perez behind, in position at
the entrance to the passage beneath the laser defense room. Suddenly
at least two separate streams of plasma streaked across toward her
from the eastern part of the hangar, hidden from Akira's view.  Perez
jumped back, and Akira couldn't tell if she'd been hit.
There was a short pause in the exchange, but the sounds of
weapons fire from other parts of the base filled in.  Crossett was
barking out orders to one of the rookies.  Akira took two quick steps
north toward the hangar, stopping just behind the opening.
He could see two mutons toward the back right corner of the
hangar, and as he watched, another dropped down to their left.  Perez
moved up, and more plasma streaked as she returned fire.  The rookie
Okabe was firing too, with his laser pistol, from a hiding place
somewhere east of the hangar.
Akira guessed that Perez couldn't see the alien which had just
dropped, so he sprayed it on autofire as he backed up a step out of
sight of the other two.
The muton moved quickly to its right into the plasma defense room.
"Perez," he called on the headset, "A muton has moved into the
passage to your north."
He wasn't sure she had heard it through all the plasma fire.
She didn't respond immediately so Akira called again as he began
moving around toward her.
"I've got one," Hudson the psi reported.
But which one, Akira thought.
"Perez.  Alien to your north," he called again.
As he passed under the long range radar, Akira heard plasma and
laser fire directly behind him, probably on the other side of the
lift.  He ignored it for the moment and continued around to the north
toward Perez.
He approached from the south just as the muton entered from
the north and pointed its weapon at Perez.
The alien got off one shot before Akira sprayed it with
plasma.  When he was sure it was dead, Akira rounded the corner to
check on Perez.
She was still up, but crouching on one leg and leaning against
the wall, firing into the hangar.  The armor on the other thigh had
been blown open, and there was a fair amount of blood.
"Thanks," she blurted out.  Akira could hear the pain in her
voice.
Akira's mind raced.  He couldn't treat her with mutons firing
at them from the hangar.  He had also lost track of the aliens.  They
could have left the hangar and be coming at them from any direction.
More sounds of weapons fire, mostly laser this time, echoed to
them across the hangar.
"One...One of them got past us," someone said excitedly over
the headset, "From the lift...Kidd is down."
In the mean time, Akira had moved up, almost into the hangar.
From partial cover around the edge of the opening, he spotted two
mutons moving toward the front of the hangar.  They fired
sporadically in his direction, missing wide to his right.
Akira took careful aim at the lead alien and fired.  The
single plasma shot caught the muton in the abdomen, ripping open its
purple covering and armored skin.  It stopped for a few seconds but
didn't go down until Perez hit it in almost the same spot.
The second muton paused and fired in their direction.  The
bolt shot past to Akira's right.  Perez gave an audible grunt, and
Akira heard the metalic thunk of her suit hitting the floor.
He glanced back and could see that she had been hit in the
chest, just below her left shoulder.  It looked bad.  He moved toward
her, pulling at his medi-kit and moving his body between her and the
hangar.
"...Go..." she blurted over the headset, "that's an order."
Akira glanced back over his shoulder into the hangar.  The
last muton had moved almost to the entrance to the missile defense
area.  Suddenly one of the rookies - Okabe - spun around the corner
and began firing at the alien from only a few feet away.
The muton towered over Okabe, and they were too close together
for Akira to take a wild shot.  He dropped to one knee to aim.
Okabe got off three shots with his laser pistol, probably all
hits, before the alien got him point blank in the chest with its heavy
plasma.  He dropped just as Akira shot the alien cleanly in the head
and took it down.
Akira brought up his HUD.  Okabe was a white cross - dead.
Perez was flashing.  He turned and found her leaning against the wall,
still conscious.  She had her own medi-kit half unpacked and was
trying unsuccessfully to take care of her own wounds.
"Let me do that," Akira said, crouching beside her and taking
the medical monitor cable from the floor with his armored gloves.
"Won't work," she said, "the jack's gone."
It was true.  The jack would have been on her chest, where
there was now a charred hole larger than Akira's hand.  Her status
telemetry seemed to be working, so he switched to the limited medical
information on his HUD as he began working on the wounds.
He didn't like what he saw.  She was on the verge of shock and
had lost too much blood already.   Coagulants would help, but
stimulants might kill her.
Before he could take any action, Perez looked up at him, and
her eyes cleared.
"Go," she said in her crisp, earthy voice, with no sign of
pain.  "The aliens that got out are headed for the psis."
Akira stared at her for a few seconds.  Was she actually
thinking clearly about the situation at a time like this, or was she
hallucinating?
"Can't you ever follow orders, Captain?"
She was right. There was no time for this.  If the psis became
casualties, the Mars mission would be delayed too long and might never
happen.
"Davies," he called over the headset, "What've you got?"
After a pause of a few seconds, marked by plasma fire from
somewhere south of them, Davies replied.
"Something got the plasma tank from behind," he reported,
"Webb is down, and we have one alien under psi control."
Akira found the injection port on Perez's neck and gave her
coagulants.  "The one that got your tank could have been the one that
got past the rookies up here.  They're both down too."
"This hangar's secure," Crossett interrupted, "but Richter's
hurt and one of the rookies went berserk in the lab north of alien
containment."
"Go" Perez repeated out loud to Akira.
Without a word, Akira dropped the medi-kit items within reach
of her, laid his hand on her shoulder for a second and ran south the
way he'd come.
"Crossett," he ordered on a closed channel, "keep your squad
there and protect alien containment.  If it looks like your berserk
rookie might injure the alien commander, shoot him."
"Her," Crossett corrected, "it's Collignon.  And yes, I'll do
that."
Instead of running straight through the empty hangar, Akira
followed the passages along its edge.  He saw no troopers or aliens
until he reached the main lift.
The big lift doors were open, and he could see a trooper's
body on the other side.  He approached cautiously and saw that it was
Kidd, his laser rifle still in his hand.  He had taken at least two
plasma shots in the chest.  A strange, glistening organic sack lay on
the floor beside him, like a pale alien afterbirth.
Akira continued east into the living quarters.  He could see
down the central hallway into the psi lab's cluster of evaluation
chambers.  He had just seen the body of a rookie, probably no older
than nineteen, and it had barely effected him at all.  His only
concern was that an alien had gotten past and now threatened the psis
and the entire X-COM project.  He decided he would have to take time
later to figure out what this was all doing to him, and he knew for
sure he wanted it to end.
As he rounded the corner to his right, into the north-south
passage, he caught a glimpse of purple moving into a doorway about
five meters down on the left.   A trooper moved into the opening on
the far end of the passage, just inside the Avenger's hangar, and took
a wild shot at the alien before it disappeared.
If Akira remembered correctly, that was the door that led to
Esser's barracks and the psis.
"Hudson," he called on the headset, "did you get it?"
"Not enough time," Hudson called, "but we're ready when it
comes up."
Akira ran down the hall, as did the trooper on the far end.
By her size and location he guessed it was Zander.
"Let Esser take the shot," Akira ordered, "Hudson and Tonida,
hide yourselves if you can."  He knew it sounded callous, using a
wounded trooper as a shield for the psis, but they were more critical
now.
As he reached the doorway, ahead of Zander, something floated
in behind her from a side passage.  It was like a shining opalescent
water balloon about a meter long.
Akira took aim at it.  Zander was running towards him and took
it as a cue to duck.   He didn't realize until later that she might
have actually thought he was under alien control and aiming at her.
As the balloon moved slowly toward them it shimmered brightly
for a second, then something very much like a plasma bolt shot from it
over Zander's head and to Akira's left.  It was followed by an
explosion, like a grenade, and heavy plasma fire from the quarters
upstairs.
Akira had walked this hall thousands of times over the last
year, coming and going from his living quarters down the hall.  Now
the presence of an alien in the same corridor, in his home, struck him
hard.  He was suddenly, uncontrollably angry.
It helped to squeeze hard on the alien contours of the heavy
plasma trigger and to watch the spray of plasma bolts pass around and
through the alien balloon, ripping it to smoking shreds on the floor.
Almost in response, he heard a long volley of plasma and laser
fire from the hangar to the south - Davies hangar that was supposedly
secure.  There might have also been another shot from upstairs mixed
in.
Akira pushed through the door and took the stairs in three
jumps, ignoring the sudden burst of chatter over his headset.  He
entered one of the common bunk areas and found Hudson with a laser
rifle trained on a prostrate muton.  Esser had her helmet removed and
was bending over Tonida, who was propped against the wall and had
taken a shot in the leg.
Zander looked up at Akira.  "It doesn't look too bad," she said,
"toss me your medi-kit."
Akira reached to his belt, half expecting that he had left the
kit with Perez, but it was still there.  He popped it off and tossed
it to Zander.  He brought up his HUD to check on Perez and found her
cross flashing, but still yellow.
In a few seconds he was back down the stairs, passing Zander
on her way up.  He moved quickly south past the slippery remains of
the balloon alien and stopped at the entrance to the Avenger's hangar.
The sight of the new ship, sitting apparently unharmed, helped return
his calm analytical frame of mind.
Then he saw Davies power-suited figure sitting just inside the
storage area to the west of the hangar, next to a dead muton,
with Dreyfus standing guard over both of them.  The rookie looked
extremely glad to see Akira.
"He was under control," the rookie reported very calmly, "then
he just took a shot at the sergeant, so we had to kill him."
"Are you sure it's dead?" Akira asked.  He glanced down at the
alien and realized it was an unnecessary question.
Davies let out a painful, snorting laugh inside his suit and
prodded Dreyfus in the side.  "Oh, he's dead all right. Dreyfus here
decided to use its body for autofire laser penetration testing."
Dreyfus looked hurt at first, and couldn't see the expression
on Davies face, but the rare note of admiration, and maybe gratitude
in Davies voice was clear to Akira.
"How bad is it?" Akira asked Davies.
"I'll be fine for a while," he replied, "You should worry
about cleaning this place out."
Akira nodded and switched to his headset.  "Crossett," he
called on the open channel, "leave someone to watch containment and
sweep north.  You've got everything west of the access lift."
"Understood."
"Zander," Akira continued, "head north through the living
quarters to the missile battery.  I think we may have an alien or two
wandering still.   We'll cover each other and check the second level
as we go"
He spoke out loud to Dreyfus.  "You head up the far east edge
of the base.  I'll try to give some backup to you and Zander."
Dreyfus nodded and ran recklessly across the hangar toward the
psi labs.
"I'll guard the Avenger," Davies added seriously.
Akira brought up his HUD to monitor progress, and it didn't
take him long to notice the small, steady white cross toward the
northwest corner of the base.  Perez was dead.  And she had died alone,
Akira thought.
He stood for a moment as a mixture of memories, regrets, and
self-blame took over his mind as effectively as any alien mind
control.  He tried to shake it off, but only managed a slow, mindless
shuffle back toward the living quarters.
Crossett must have been watching her HUD too.  "Perez is
gone," she reported flatly.
The control in her voice was enough to snap Akira back to
action.  He would have to deal with the memories and guilt later.  For
now he convinced himself that it was the aliens and only the aliens
that were to blame.
He moved into the living quarters, up within ten paces of
Zander.  He watched on the HUD as Crossett's squad advanced.  When
they reached the midway point between the south and north hangars, the
bug warning light flashed and Akira switched his HUD automatically to
the spotters view.  He was just in time to see Crossett's tank launch
a rocket right into the hallway below the long range radar room.
The muton survived the explosion but was immediately hit from
the side by plasma fire.
"Another one down," Crossett called, "last one?"
Akira was still on the tank's view, studying the destruction
the rocket had caused inside the hallway and radar equipment rooms.
Apparently the tanks didn't distinguish between alien and X-COM
property.
As he shuffled forward and tried to discern details of the
damage in the other room, a plasma bolt shot across the passageway on
his right.  There was apparently an alien in with the mind shield
equipment, firing across the psi labs at Dreyfus.
Akira checked to see how Zander was responding - she was
moving up to enter the mind shield room from the west.  Akira moved
into the psi labs while Dreyfus wildly fired back at the alien with
his laser pistol.
A second plasma shot came from the north without interrupting
Dreyfus's fire.  He either has great cover back there, Akira thought,
or he's the luckiest bastard in the world.
Akira moved along the psi evaluation chambers, but thought
twice about stepping out into the cross fire of the central hallway.
He stopped where he could see partway north up the hall, and caught a
glimpse of the muton before Zander's plasma fire tore open the right
side of its big chest.
The alien fell forward to its knees, and before it crumpled
into a fetal corpse on the floor, it looked directly at Akira.  There
was no way for Akira to interpret the expressions on an alien face,
but he got the distinct impression of confidence, of a sense of
victory.  If it had been human he would have expected a smug, knowing
smile.
"This side's clear", Crossett called, "Krause and I are
heading topside to check on the battleship."
Technically, Akira should have given an order to move up the
lift, but he knew she was probably thinking much more clearly than he
was.  "We're clear here too," he reported, "Don't go after the ship
until we're out too."
"Roger, boss."
Zander was making sure the muton was dead, so Akira went to
check on Dreyfus.  He was still kneeling, in the center of the hall
about five meters south.  His laser pistol was still pointed toward
Akira.
"You're a very lucky trooper, Dreyfus," Akira said as he
approached, "hopefully it's a consistent trait.  You'll need it if we
get to Mars."
Dreyfus snapped out of his trance and stood.  Akira could see
that he was physically unharmed.
"Let's go up and see the ship," Akira suggested.
The one-sided conversation was interrupted by Crossett.  "It's
gone," she reported, "The ship is gone.  No sign of any more aliens."
"Could any be hiding in the buildings," Akira asked.  He
headed for the lift, and Dreyfus followed.
"No," Crossett replied, "they're gone too.  Flattened."  She
paused for a few seconds.  "You'll have to come up and see for
yourself, 'Kira.  There's nothing left up here."
The immediate danger seemed to be gone.  Akira's mind raced ahead
as he ascended the lift.  The UFO had landed in sight of witnesses,
some of whom may have survived.  And the news offices in Little Rock
might have tape of the entire incident.  It would be only hours before
the place was surrounded by reporters and blustering local politicians
demanding to know what was going on.
"Zander," he called on the way up the lift, "Davies is in the
south storage area.  See if he needs any help."
"Gotcha," she replied.
He reached the surface and found Crossett with her helmet off.
He removed his own so they could talk quietly while the two rookies
moved among the remains of the supply post looking for survivors..
"We have to go very soon," Crossett said, staring out toward
the twisted, burning wrecks of student cars and the new van.
Akira thought for a moment, then turned to head down the lift.
"Try to get ahold of Morey and Perry.  Get them back here immediately.
Tell them they can have any resources they need, and they can shut
down the mind shield, but they're working eighteen hour shifts until
the ship is ready and the ethereal spills its guts"
"Ethereals don't have guts."
Akira allowed himself a brief smile at that.  he watched her
for a moment as she turned and looked out through the destruction.
"You haven't cut your hair after these last two fights, " he
said.
Crossett just shrugged her shoulders as best she could in her
flying suit.
"I'm going to see if I can contact Washington," he
said as he left, "Maybe they can invoke national security and suppress
this mess, at least until we're out of here."
Before attempting to make the satellite link with half of the
surface equipment destroyed, Akira went to see Perez.
Richter was with her.  He was stripping her flying suit and
getting ready to move her to cold storage.  Two of the rookies were
standing nearby, just watching silently.
Akira wanted to help her, but there was nothing to do.  He
briefly considered taking her with them to Mars, but it was an
unnecessary gesture which would just take up space and disrupt the
mission.  Maybe she was actually better off.  Maybe they would all die
horribly on Mars.
. . .
Akira and Crossett watched the local channels closely that
night.  The destruction in the mountains and the loss of one station's
reporter had not gone unnoticed, but there was no mention of the huge
UFO.  Apparently there were no survivors.
The DoD regretfully reported that research on an important
alternate fuel source had been disrupted by the students, resulting in
the unfortunate explosion which had devastated the area.  The
potential for lingering radiation and future explosions justified the
evacuation of the immediate area around the base.
There would be a complete investigation.  Congress was already
choosing representatives to head up the initial review, which could
take months.
"So no one knows we're here," Akira said.
Crossett leaned against him.  "No one except the aliens."

           THE END