X-Com Saga

by Russ Brown
7 - Alien Abduction.

When the Skyranger arrived in southern Mauritania, just north
of the Senegal river, the helicopters from HMS Resolve were still
there.  Akira watched them fly low to clear away the top layer of
loose sand with their prop wash.
An interceptor from Russia had found this base after X-COM's
new hyperwave decoder, designed with the help of captured alien
navigators, had intercepted and decoded signals from a large alien UFO
on a base supply mission.  The interceptor had kept its distance and
followed the supply ship until it landed within a few hundred meters
of where the helicopters now swept back and forth.  The interceptor
then followed the supply ship after it took off and shot it down with
plasma cannons over Libya.  The Russian strike team would deal with
recovering it.
The Little Rock strike team had been re-equipped for this
mission, a few of their plasmas swapped out for stun launchers.  By
studying captured alien information and captured alien leaders, X-COM
scientists had determined that there was a key to the whole alien
operation, but it wasn't located on Earth - a strike team
would have to go to Mars.  They also discovered that higher ranking
aliens, alien commanders, might be stationed at alien bases and might
be useful for determining exactly where on Mars the alien facility was
located.  So their primary objective on this mission was to capture a
commander alive.
Akira had seen the ship that would take them to Mars, still
under construction in a hangar at Little Rock.  It was a cross
between the Skyranger and a medium-sized UFO.  In fact it combined
some of the best of human and alien technology into a ship which would
fight better and fly faster than any interceptor, yet be able to carry
eighteen troopers and two tanks.  Akira would have liked to give it a
test run on this mission and bring along the extra tank and a few
extra rookies.  He had been on one alien base raid before, in Russia,
and he knew that ten troopers were barely enough to operate down there.
And the two psis hanging back left him only eight.
He and the psis disembarked from the Skyranger last.  They
walked across the sand toward the two exposed, nearly horizontal alien
alloy hatches.  The helicopters still hovered low overhead, blowing
sand harmlessly against the ten armored troopers arrayed around the
area.  They had completed their missions, but their pilots had never
seen power suits, flying suits, or hovertanks before.  Akira
suppressed the urge to give them a demonstration of his flying suit
and just waved them off, back to the Resolve.
Perez wasn't with them.  A week earlier, before a mission in
the mountains of Peru, he had finally convinced her to stay behind.
She had been reluctant then, but today, with both of her strike teams
on separate missions, she had not even mentioned coming along.  Her
absence had done two things:  It had opened up room in the Skyranger
to add a trooper to Far Squad, and it had indirectly brought Crossett
and Akira closer together.
During the Peru mission he had noticed Crossett bantering with
Blake, the second scout to take Esser's place during her recovery.
After that, he had felt the need to spend more time with her. He
wasn't jealous, he just didn't like to think of her starting up a
friendship with Blake which could erode their own.
So he began seeing her every night, watching movies, cooking,
and reviewing old mission footage.  One night they left the base for a
short time and went into Little Rock.  They ate at an Indian restaurant
near the river.
"I think the last mission went smoother without Perez," he
said.
Crossett moved her palau around her plate, but didn't speak.
"Well?" he continued, "Don't you think so?  She was a mild
annoyance to me, but she seemed to really have it in for you.  What
was the problem?"
Crossett quit playing with her food and gave him a look of mild
disbelief, shaking her head slightly.  "You never figured it out, did
you?  You're a good soldier and a good friend, 'Kira, but sometimes
you're unbelievably naive."
"What?"
"I think you're a good soldier because you understand aliens
better than humans."
"WHAT?"  It was really beginning to bother him, especially
coming from Crossett.
"You," she said, smiling a little, "... you were the problem."
He was still confused.  He tried to remember all the things
he'd said to Perez, searching for something that could have offended
her enough that she would take it out on Crossett just because she
was his friend.  He realized he had been staring at Crossett with his
mouth hanging open.
"What?" he said for the third time. "What did I do to her that
she would hold it against both of us?"
This time Crossett laughed out loud.  "She LIKES you 'Kira.
You couldn't tell?"
At first he couldn't accept that, but the pieces finally began
to fall into place.  Perez had a very subtle personality, and hanging
around Crossett, so direct and open, had probably dulled his
sensitivity to it.  He thought back again and realized she could be
right.  But then why take it out on Crossett?
Of course, the answer was obvious.  Everyone in the Little Rock
base who didn't know them well enough assumed Akira and Crossett were
romantically involved.  Perez was jealous.
Crossett was eating again, probably waiting for him to work
through everything, and probably knowing what conclusion he would come
to.  How could she stand being around him, always waiting for him to
catch up to her.
She looked up at him and he realized that she might not be as
direct and open as he had thought.  There was something more than
friendship there.  He felt it too, but had denied it, forced it down
out of fear.  It was fear of losing her, fear of losing concentration
in combat, and fear of talk among the other troopers.
But, what the hell.  The base was talking about them anyway,
he thought.  Might as well give them something to talk about.
He reached across the small table and took her hand.  She
didn't look surprised.  He stood and leaned over the table to kiss her
hard on the lips, and she seemed to expect it.  They went to a hotel,
arm in arm, and made love.  He finally managed to surprise her a few
times.
Now she stood with her squad, out on the sand, near the
entrance farthest from the Skyranger.  She was standing beside Blake's
tall figure, and they appeared to be talking privately.  It didn't
bother Akira this time, He realized that any jealousy, any thoughts of
possessing Crossett, as a friend or a lover, were foolish.
Crossett had a relatively new squad - Esser, Torban and Blake.
They had only seven missions between them, which was less than half of
what Zander, the least experienced on Near Squad, had by herself.
Crossett would have to watch them closely down there.
Akira hoisted his blaster launcher - his problem now that
Perez wasn't along - and gave the signal.  The scouts, Blake and
Zander, moved toward the two hatches.  As they stepped within about
two meters of them, the doors slid open.
Akira wondered if there were vertical drops down into the
base, and whether they would be too far for the troopers in power
suits.  But as he watched, Zander moved cautiously and smoothly down,
as if she was on a steep set of stairs.
"There's a ramp leading down to one of the glowing green
rooms," Zander reported over the headset.
"Here too," Blake added.
Zander's head disappeared below the sand, and Davies waved
the tank forward, then Mederow and his stun launcher entered.  Akira
wondered again if he had made the right choice, trading three heavy
plasmas for stun launchers.  It would greatly increase the odds of
getting a commander alive, but it could also cost a few lives.
Davies moved in, and Akira followed.  At the bottom of the
ramp they found themselves in one of the large green rooms, about ten
meters across, with a tank-sized lift in the northeast corner.
The psis came down last, Hudson with Akira and Near Squad,
Tonida with Far Squad.  They each carried a cumbersome mind probe,
hoping to mentally locate an alien commander.  Until then, the squads
had to assume every alien was a commander and take appropriate
precautions.
"Far Squad.  All inside?" he called.
"All inside," Crossett replied.
"Head down into the base, and try to merge your perimeters as
soon as possible," he ordered, "and keep an eye out for anything that
looks like the command center from our Russian base footage."
Akira sat back now and watched his squads deploy, forcing
himself to stay quiet.  He couldn't see Davies's expression, but he
could imagine how he felt having Akira right at his elbow - he had
been in a similar position with Perez along.
Near Squad was down quickly.  Akira was not surprised that
they found themselves in a square alien alloy room the same size as
the green one above.  It had one large opening on each wall.  As Akira
stepped off the lift he could see that the southern opening led into a
passageway of some kind, and the west opening led to a smaller hallway
running north-south.  He didn't have a chance to check the other
openings.
"Bug," someone yelled over the headset, but Akira couldn't
tell who it was.  He brought up his head-up-display, but had no time
to interpret it.  The trooper covering the eastern opening, just to
Akira's left, stood and moved toward the corner of the room opposite Akira
and the lift.  It was Mederow.
"What is that?" Mederow asked, probably not expecting a reply.
Davies was covering the west opening, and Zander the south.
They both turned as Mederow moved and began firing plasma and
laser through the opening to Akira's left.  Return plasma fire came
back and cratered the wall above Zander's head.
Akira spun left and instinctively raised his blaster
launcher as a towering metal biped stepped through into the room.  His
first impression was of a reaper covered in armor, then of a robot
reaper.  Akira had to suppress the urge to squeeze the trigger on the
launcher.
Through the din of plasma discharge and destruction, Akira
could hear something over the headset.
"It's ... sectopod .. tough."  It sounded like Hudson.
Akira had no weapons to defend himself, but he was still on
the lift platform.  He made the arm motion and began to ascend. The
metal reaper turned to face directly at him, and he could only hope
his armor would help him survive a nearly point-blank plasma hit.
Just before the room descended out of sight, and before the alien got
off a shot, two final streaks from across the room took it down.
The lift took him up into the green room, where he found
himself facing Hudson.
"I could probe it," Hudson said out loud, "But there was
nothing there to control.  It was mostly machine, and I couldn't..."
"Alien," the headset blurted, "moving among the cases in the
big room."
Hudson froze in his crouched stance and tightened his grip on
his psi amp.
Akira's HUD now contained a flashing red light.  He descended
on the lift and switched his HUD to the video channel of the spotting
trooper.  He knew that voice - it was Blake.  He came up with Blake's
view, a large room like they'd seen in Russia, lined with specimen
display cases, like a big museum.  As he watched the merged scene of
what he saw and what Blake saw, a strange alien appeared for a few
seconds in Blake's world before disappearing behind another case.
Blake kept his head and didn't take the shot with his laser rifle.
It was roughly humanoid, and gliding along, almost like a
floater, but it was completely covered over by orange robes - a deep
orange version of the grim reaper.  Why did everything have to remind
him of reapers?
"It's just a soldier," Tonida reported, "they don't seem to
have a spoken language - closest English word to their race-concept is
'ethereal'.  Not too tough physically".
The alien appeared again, and this time it spotted Blake.
Blake got off a laser autofire, and seemed to hit.  The alien fired a
heavy plasma and grazed Blake's armor.
"I can't control it," Hudson said, "these things have some
awesome mental powers."
Akira reached the bottom of the lift and saw that Near squad
once again had things under control, with Zander and Davies cautiously
advancing through the openings to the south and west to join Far
Squad.
Meanwhile, Blake was not firing back at the robed creature and
had nearly been hit again.  He finally fired back and killed it.
"Damn.  Something was inside my head for a minute there," he said, "I
think they might be turning this mind control stuff back on us."
It had been months since the strike team had faced sectoids in
combat - the only race they knew of that used mind control.  Now they
may have found another race, possibly even stronger.
But the last time they had faced mind control they had had
none of their own, and new X-COM troopers hadn't been screened for
their ability to resist.  Now they would find out if it was all worth
it.
Akira knew what the mental strength ratings were of everyone
on his team.  They were all relatively high, at least in the top third
of the recruits screened.  He also knew that some of the veterans,
specifically he and Davies and Mederow, were somewhere around average.
Mederow's score was slightly below average, and Perez had considered
dumping him from the squads.
Akira checked his HUD.  Crossett's squad was ten or fifteen
meters to the southwest.  The advancing troopers in each squad had
already seen most of the intervening space.  A barren hallway ran
directly east from Crossett's squad and passed just south of the room
where Akira was standing.  Crossett had already begun moving east
along it, giving orders to her squad as she went.
"Torban has at least thirty meters of solid wall off to our
west," she reported, "It could be the edge of the base if it's laid
out anything like the last one."
Akira could see Zander heading south into the cross-passage,
meeting up with Crossett to secure the southeast corner of their zone.
On his HUD he could see the tank to the north, and the schematic
representation of what they knew so far showed a solid wall there too.
"It looks like we have an edge of the base to the north and to
the west," he said over the headset.  "Far Squad, freeze on a line
with the south hallway.  Near Squad, keep a line to the east, even
with the lift room.  Send whoever you can spare to the north and west
to clear our rear, and I want at least one stun launcher from Far
Squad back there,"
Akira gave up trying to track everyone in both squads, and
concentrated on finding a use for his blaster launcher.  He couldn't
haphazardly destroy the place and risk killing a commander.  The only
use he could come up with was to blow open a more convenient route
into the command center.
A heavy plasma fired to the south.  Akira's HUD showed no
aliens spotted.
"What is this thing," Crossett called, "some kind of alien
tree?"
Akira switched to her view and saw a room covered in the dark
blue velvety material.  In the center was a rooted plant of some kind,
probably three meters tall and four meters across at the top.  It had
thick, rubbery-looking branches, topped with colorful, spurting disks,
like flattened doughnuts.
"..Can't probe it," Hudson said, "It's alive, but I don't
think it's very intelligent.
"My plasma blew off pieces of it," Crossett said, "but it
would take all day to whittle it all down.  I'll just wait and see
what it does."
Akira thought about having Crossett drop back, then hitting it
with the blaster launcher, but it didn't seem necessary.
"found the northwest corner," Esser reported, "we've got a
couple of those rooms with the rows of suspended spheres and one
large, square enclosed area with only one door. It's..."
"How big?" Akira broke in.  Could they have the command center
already?
"What?"
"The door.  Is it large enough for a tank?"
"No," she replied, "It's a normal door, around the west side
here."
"Tank," Crossett ordered, "go to where Blake is now and cover
the display room with Torban.  Blake, help Esser check that door."
"Captain," Crossett called on the open channel, "I can see a
thin north-south passage to my south-east about fifteen meters, and it
has a small window.  Looks like it could be the command center.  Maybe
Zander could..."
"Bug" someone called out, followed by the "thwump" of a
launcher.  One red box flashed on Akira's HUD, then a second.  He
switched and came up with Torban's view of the display room.  About
halfway across the large room were one of the ethereals and another
robot reaper.
"The launcher didn't do it ... reloading."
"Ethereal soldier," Hudson called, "it's not a commander."
Akira switched to the tank's view - it was still moving
through the suspended sphere rooms, not yet in sight of the display
room.  Torban might be able to reload and stun the ethereal, but could
the robot reaper even be stunned?
Akira checked his HUD map.  The hallway to the south of him
was clear, except for Crossett, tucked into a side passage.  And Far
Squad's lift room was empty for now, at least until the tank got
there.  Good.
Akira knelt, quickly programmed waypoints into his blaster,
and fired.
His heart stopped and he thought of Perez and Andianov as he
watched the silver football streak from his arms into the hall to his
south, then disappear around the corner to the right.  the blast came
a half second later, its flash reflecting through the passages and
lighting up the room where Akira stood.  The flash was followed by a blast
of hot gases and smoke.
If the bomb had followed its course, it should have hit a
display case toward the far end of the big room, behind the aliens -
hopefully close enough to destroy them, but far enough away from
Torban.
"Nice shooting, Captain," Torban called, "I just hope there
wasn't anything important in any of these cases"
Akira resumed breathing and checked his HUD - All known aliens
dead, all troopers alive.
Only a few seconds later, Akira's red indicator flashed again.
This time he switched to Blake's view.  At first it was a little
disorienting, until Akira realized Blake was looking up a lift shaft.
At the top was an alien - and ethereal - with its back turned.
Akira overlaid the HUD map and saw that Blake had moved down a
passage inside the large square area at the squad's rear.  He had said
nothing over the headset, probably trying not to make a sound - nearly
impossible in powered armor.
"Not a commander," Hudson reported, then Tonida said
something, but Akira was distracted.  Mederow, still covering the
rooms to the east of the lift room Akira was in, suddenly dropped his
stun launcher, stood, and ran straight ahead, through a room with a
glowing purple floor.
Akira moved to the opening to be able to track Mederow
better.  "Mederow," he called, foolishly using an open channel, "get
back here."  Mederow kept going, through into a dark room beyond the
purple floor.
"What happened, Akira?"  It was Davies on a private channel.
"Don't know.  He just stood and ran off that way."
Meanwhile, Akira still had Blake's view up.  He heard and saw
a grenade go off at the top of the shaft, then Blake ascended.  When
he reached the top, Akira heard plasma fire and Blake collapsed.  His
video was still running, and seconds later, just at the corner of the
skewed field of view, Akira saw another trooper ascended the lift.  A
small launcher went off, then Esser's face appeared as she fumbled for
something next to Blake's body.  She moved out of view and Akira heard
a laser on autofire.
"Two dead ethereals up here," she reported "that last one
could have killed me, but I think he tried to get inside my head
instead."
"Checked both," Hudson said, "one leader, one soldier."
Meanwhile, Mederow re-appeared to the east, carrying something
in his right hand.  As soon as he entered the purple room, he turned
stiffly toward Akira and tossed the object toward him.
Akira watched it land only a meter or two in front of him, and
only then realized it was a grenade.  He tried to jump back to his
left, behind the wall in the lift room, but the grenade went off
before he got there.  It blew him back, right onto the lift, and
knocked the blaster launcher out of his hands.  Zander was still
inside the passage to the south and had avoided the blast.
Akira remained conscious and was surprised to find the suit
had taken most of the damage.  He seemed to only have a few bruised
ribs and a major headache.
"What was that?" someone asked, probably Davies.
"Mederow..." Akira answered, getting back to his feet, "he's
lost it completely."
He moved back to the opening, next to the destroyed robot
reaper, and picked up Mederow's stun launcher.  Zander moved to where
she could cover the east and south.
Mederow was still there, with another grenade in one hand,
priming it with the other.  His face was expressionless.  He wasn't in
a hurry or excited, as if he was only putting on his shoes or pouring
himself a cup of coffee.
Akira didn't wait for the grenade to come his way.  He fired
the stun launcher and hit the far wall, only a meter or two from
Mederow.  The trooper wobbled a little and seemed to nearly drop the
grenade, but he continued his motions, getting ready to throw.
Then a bolt of plasma from off to Akira's left took Mederow in
the shoulder, creating a spray of molten alloy and a small cloud of
vapors.  Mederow went down, dropping his grenade.  It went off a few
seconds later, just beside his head.  His icon on Akira's HUD
schematic flashed for a few seconds, then went white.
"Mederow's dead," Akira announced.
Akira was surprised by how much Mederow's death effected him.
He stood motionless for a few reckless seconds before recovering his
senses and getting behind the cover of the wall to his left.  He and
Mederow hadn't been that close, but he had been easy to get along
with, and it seemed like he'd been in the squads a long time.
Maybe it's all finally getting to me, Akira thought.
He forced himself back to business.  "Davies," he called on a
private channel, "You and Zander can't cover this side by yourselves,
and I'm no help covering with only a Blaster and a laser pistol."
"Right," Davies said.  His voice didn't have the usual edge on
it - Mederow must have gotten to him too.  He called to Crossett, who
directed Esser across to the east.
"I've got Blake," Esser called back, "he needs a medi-kit."
"Drop him near the lift," Torban called, "I can ..."
"Leave him," Crossett ordered, "we don't have time for that -
I need you in the room to my south."
Akira was sickened by his initial response of satisfaction
that Crossett could so callously disregard Blake's injuries.  He felt he
had to do something about it.  "Zander, move south into the
passageway.  Esser, cover east from this lift room.  I'll head back
and take care of Blake."
Confirmations of the orders came from Zander and Esser, but no
one else commented on the plan.
A few seconds later he saw Esser trotting cautiously into the
room from the west.  He motioned her toward the east opening, dropped
the stun launcher, and picked up his blaster.  Damn thing's like an anchor,
he thought.  If he wasn't so afraid of what it could do he would have
traded weapons with Zander and sent her back to treat Blake.
He moved quickly west toward Blake, who was still a lively, solid
yellow on his HUD.  As he trotted the thirty yards through the alien
alloy passages, he thought about how seamlessly the squads were
operating, cooperating instinctively and able to trade members without
a glitch.  He wasn't sure they could have done that when Perez was
commanding.
Blake lay motionless right next to Far Squad's lift.  Akira
attached the medi-kit's diagnosis package to the port on Blake's suit.
It was obvious he had been hit in the chest, on the left side and
under his left arm.  Diags told him the arm was fine, but there were
serious internal injuries, probably aggravated by Esser carrying him.
Still, he would probably live.  Akira gave him the recommended levels
of coagulants and stimulants, trying at the same time to slip
artificial skin through the jagged fist-sized opening in his flying
suit.
"My guess is your fighting days are over for a while," Akira
said out loud.  "but who knows how long this will go on."
Over the headset, Crossett and Davies were giving orders to
organize the squads - now only five troopers, including the two
sergeants, and a tank.  Akira watched them on his display, moving into
a rough line from the tank, which had located the southern limit of
the base, north-west all the way up to Davies, moving along its
northern limit.  They would sweep east, securing every door and lift as
they went to protect their backs.
If the command center was indeed just south-east of Crossett's
position, they would wrap around it like a hand grabbing a grenade.
Again a red box flashed on Akira's HUD without a word over the
headset.  He switched to automatic and Torban's view came up, again
looking up a shaft at a robed ethereal.  Akira was amazed at how
motionless and quiet Torban was able to stand - not an easy trick in a
suit designed to detect and amplify your every move.
After five or six painful seconds, Hudson finally called in.
"Not a commander."
"Give me second with this thing," Tonida called.
Torban waited, still unbelievably still.  Under any
circumstances the suit should have been making small whirring noises
as servos reacted to minute balancing movements and nervous jitters.
Akira brought up the heavy's status display and found out how he did
it.  Torban had manually increased his movement triggering threshold
to the point where only significant movement registered.  It would
slow down his reactions quite a bit, but it was an interesting trick.
"I had him for a short time," Tonida reported, "long enough to
see he's alone."
That was all Torban had been waiting for.  Akira, still on the
status display, saw his movement threshold drop to near normal, and
other indicators all went up, indicating sudden movement.  He switched
back to video and saw that Torban was moving behind a wall of some
kind.  A second later a grenade went off and the alien gave out a
shrieking, warbly cry.  Torban immediately turned, pulled his laser
pistol from its holster and headed back toward the lift.  When he
reached the top, Akira could see that the alien was dead.
"We're going to have to make you a scout, Torban," Akira said,
only half joking.
Davies interrupted.  "I think I have the eastern edge here.
Me and Esser will start south."
Akira had done what he could for Blake, so He stood and
checked his map.  He decided to join Crossett and move toward the
command center.  As soon as he moved off in her direction he heard
plasma fire directly in front of him, either from Crossett or directed
at her.  He resisted the urge to just run to her and brought up his
display - no red box.
"One of them took a shot at me through the window on the
command center's side passage," Crossett called over the headset.
"I didn't get a read on it," Hudson called, "Sorry."
A few seconds later, Akira moved into the room with the large,
strange plant.  Crossett was covering its eastern opening.
"Hello 'Kira," she said on a private channel, without
turning.  "I was watching - nice work on Blake."
"Thanks," he said, getting down on one knee to her south,
"Which way to the command center?"
Crossett motioned with her heavy plasma at the long wall
directly in front of them.  "In there."
Akira glanced along the wall.  It stopped, and the passage
curved east about five meters north of them, and it did the same about
fifteen meters to the south.  In the center of the wall was a small
window into what looked like a parallel north-south passage.
"It could be the command center," Akira said.
Crossett turned and looked at him through augmented lenses and
alien alloy.  "It is the command center."
"We're snagged for a little while," Davies called, "we hit one
of those small lift rooms with the windows.  I have to cover while
Esser checks it out."
A red box flashed, followed by the a repeated whine of plasma
and laser fire very close to the north-east.
"I'm hit," Zander called, "but I think I got it."
Akira's gut turned hollow.  He switched to an open
channel. "Hudson, what was it?"
"Don't know, Captain.  Didn't have time."
"Damn." Akira said out loud.
Zander had heard.  "Sorry, Captain," she said, "I ..."
"Don't worry about it.  How bad are you hurt."
She paused, "... I'm fine."
Akira hated this.  Why couldn't he just kill aliens?  Now they
might have lost their commander and Zander's concentration could be
shot.  He thought about sending her back and taking her place in the
sweep.  That would probably make her feel even worse, but it might
save her life.  He decided to trust her and leave her in place.
Akira checked his HUD schematic to see how everything was
progressing.  Esser had checked out a small room above the windowed
lift room and found nothing.  Now Esser, Zander, and Davies were
arrayed in an east-west line from just north of Akira to the eastern
edge of the base.  Torban was directly south of Akira, and the tank
south of him, in an open hallway running along the south edge of the
base.  They had secured all but the south-east quarter.
"I have a large set of doors to the south of me", Zander said,
"just like in the videos."
"Good," Akira said, "That's the command center.  Can we cover
those doors with at least two stun launchers?"
"Torban," Crossett ordered, "move up there.  The rest of us
can cover this end."
Akira realized they only had two stun launchers - Mederow's
was still lying in the room with the purple floor.  He looked down at
his blaster launcher and wondered what use it would be.  Any blast
could easily kill the commander behind a wall somewhere - if it wasn't
already dead.  And the squad was packed pretty tight now.  When they
were sure they had an alien commander they could use the launcher to
level everything else, but he would worry about that when the time
came.
"I'm going back to get Mederow's launcher," he said out loud
to Crossett.  He patted her shoulder as he passed behind her, heading
north.  His alloy glove on her armor made a dull, impersonal clunk.
By the time Akira reached the purple room and the stun
launcher, the tank had verified that the south wall of the command
center was solid, with no way out, and had stopped to cover a room
with a small lift.  Torban and Zander were covering the big doors and
Crossett had moved to the small window to watch the hall inside the
command center.
"I've got one of these damn up-and-down lift mazes over here,"
Davies reported.  I think I can handle it on my own"
"Right," Akira called, "but if you run into the commander, try
not to be too hard on it."
Akira swapped weapons and moved south, dropping into position
beside Zander. "We're heading in."  Zander, Esser, Akira, and Torban
all stepped through the doors, into an east-west passage.
"Looks like the same layout," Akira announced.  He pointed to
the east, where the hall turned south.  "Esser and Torban that way.
Zander keep close behind me."
Akira went west, about ten meters, where the hall also turned
south.  He rounded the corner and got down.  The hallway was empty.
It turned back east about twenty meters ahead, and was featureless
except for the small window halfway down on the right - the same
window he and Crossett had seen from outside.
A muffled explosion went off somewhere, but Akira wasn't sure where.
It sounded like it was both in front of him and behind him.  The red
box flashed.  A second later there was a blast of plasma fire and
another explosion.  The red light went out.
"We stunned one" Torban announced.
"Not a commander," Hudson reported.
Akira moved south, and Zander followed.  Before they reached
the corner, they were hit by a huge explosion.  Akira's blast
lenses activated immediately and left him blind as he flew back into
something else, probably Zander.  Sight returned a fraction of a
second later, and Akira had to strain to see through the smoke and
metal vapor.  He was lying on Zander's leg, but her suit seemed to be
intact.
"You OK?" he asked, not waiting for a reply before bringing up
his HUD schematic - Everyone solid yellow.
"What was that?"
"Must have been a blaster bomb, confined in the passage to the
south," someone called.
The tank was to the south.  Akira switched to its view and
found it still guarding the small lift.  At the left edge of its
field of view he could see some smoke, but nothing like the
devastation of a blaster bomb.
If they have blaster bombs, its going to cost us a lot to
get near them, he thought.  But they had to do it.
"Zander, go around and collect the alien they stunned, and
drag it somewhere where things aren't exploding.  Torban and Esser,
head south now - let's get this over with."
As Akira rounded the corner, he found the site of the first
blast.  It had completely destroyed the large set of doors leading in
to the lower level of the command center, along with most of the wall
around them.  It had also blown open part of the wall to the south,
leading out of the command center.  It must have been just out of view
of the tank, he thought.
He began to wonder if an alien could have gotten past them
through that hole, but his thoughts were cut short.  A silver blaster
bomb zipped out through the open doorway, gleaming briefly in the
eerie alien light, then making a sharp left turn.
Again the world exploded, leaving Akira disoriented, but still
kneeling upright.  He thought he had heard a man scream through the
lingering sounds of destruction, but he wasn't sure.  His HUD was
still up, and just as he located the other stun launcher group on the
map, one of their marks turned from yellow to white.  It was Torban.
He checked detailed status on Esser and found that she had
been seriously injured.
"Zander, ..." he called.
"I've got it," she said, "I'll take care of her."
Akira had used a blaster launcher and knew it could be
reloaded and fired again in just a few seconds.  He moved quickly
toward the destroyed doorway, hoping to get a shot before the next
bomb killed him.
As he reached the doors, a robed alien stepped out directly in
front of him, carrying a large launcher.  Akira reacted and fired his
stun launcher, engulfing the alien and himself in a series of sonic
shock waves.
Akira stumbled, and fumbled to reload his launcher, but his
hand was not entirely his own, making only some of the movements he
commanded of it.  In his weakened state he felt someone else inside
him.  It was like the alien in his head in the Amazon raid, but much
stronger and larger than Akira.  He had no option but to move aside
into an unused corner of his mind and let the alien take control.  It
was for the best anyway, he thought.
Another explosion went off somewhere and the large alien left
Akira alone to slowly, cautiously crawl back to the center of his own
thoughts.  He sat there for what seemed like hours, wondering if the
alien would come back.
...
"Captain?"
Akira opened his eyes and scanned around without moving his
head.  His helmet was off.  Davies stared down at him, still in his
full armor, holding a stun launcher in his hand.
Crossett walked up.  "Is he OK."
"Sure," Davies said, "just stunned.  You got the last one."
"Good," Crossett said, "It almost got to Blake."
Davies noticed Akira move and knelt down beside him.  "Sorry,
Captain.  I had to stun you to get the commander."
Akira came to his senses.  "We got one?"
Davies removed his helmet.  He was smiling like Akira had never
seen him smile before, "Yes, sir.  You got him, mostly.  You ready for
a vacation on Mars?"
"My bags are packed," Akira said, pushing himself up to a
sitting position and trying to shake the stuffing out of his head.  He
looked at the stunned alien beside him.  The psis had already fit it
with a psi-suppression collar.
"I have to go check on Esser," Crossett said.  Before she left,
she bent over and patted him on the thigh.  It made a dull, impersonal
clunking sound.
She looks good in alloy, he thought, as she stomped off down
the smoking passage.
           THE END