X-Com Saga

by Russ Brown
5 - House Call.

The immediate area around the Skyranger was clear, so the
strike team disembarked quickly and ran the twenty meters to the
small, scrubby hill.  It was Akira's second mission using the new
powered armor, and it still made the whole scene mildly unreal.  He
breathed air from a life support unit inside the suit, watched the
world through computer-enhanced, blastproof lenses, and every move he
made was mimicked by the suit, relieving him of the burden of its
weight.
A Russian security officer of some kind and two farmers were
standing on the near side of the hill.  Andianov, who had replaced
Gaudin a month earlier as the Far Squad heavy, translated Russian for
Captain Perez, who was also encased in alien alloy.  After a few words
were exchanged, the officer nodded to the farmers and they pulled
aside piled brush and leaves to reveal a metal door.  It was at least
three meters wide, maybe more, like two UFO doors together.
The farmers immediately ran off around the hill to the right.
Perez, Andianov, and the officer followed and they all stopped where
Akira could still see them.  The farmers pulled aside more brush,
probably revealing another door that was still hidden from Akira.
An interceptor following a large alien ship had detected
strange emissions from this area of the Russian steppes, east of
Rostov.  In response, X-COM representatives in Russia had enlisted
local authorities to help them with the search for the source,
claiming there might be an underground terrorist training base built
by the KGB during the late 80's.
The interceptor had narrowed the search area to a few square
miles, and the entrance had been found the next day.  Now the officer
at the site and the enlisted farmers looked skeptically at the array
of unearthly firepower and technology standing before them.  The
hovertank was certainly unlike anything they had seen so far, and as
far as they knew, the three leaders in power armor could have been
robots.  In fact you could only tell the three leaders apart by the
relative sizes of their suits and the family coats-of-arms they had
painted on them.  Perez explained that the special suits were required
because the base was being used to process and smuggle nuclear
material out of Russia.
"We split up," Perez said over the headset, turning back
toward the strike team.  "These are the only two entrances they've
found, so we shouldn't have anything coming out and getting behind
us."
Splitting up made Akira uncomfortable, but they had no idea
how cramped it might be below.  A large group might just end up
stumbling over each other.
"We'll take the other entrance," Akira said, pointing with his
heavy plasma to the one farthest from the Skyranger.  He waved his squad
forward - Okamoto, Crossett, and Andianov.  Davies's squad and the
hovertank gathered near the first door.  Perez and Zander, the team's
new medical specialist, followed Akira.
Okamoto moved up to the door, and one section of it opened,
sliding up into the hill.  The scout moved in and waved the rest of
the squad forward before disappearing farther inside.
Crossett moved in next.  She was different on this mission -
maybe actually afraid, or finally showing fear.  This mission was very
different.  They had only a rough idea how large the base was down
there.  And up until now, even when inside a UFO, open terrain and
freedom hadn't been too far away.
Akira checked his heavy plasma clips and turned quickly to
Perez.  "We have to regroup as soon as we can down there," he said.
"Sure," she said, "but we have to cover this entrance the
whole time.  Each squad can establish a perimeter, then we'll expand
toward each other and try to merge before moving out into whatever
else is down there."
Perez was carrying a blaster launcher, the monstrous
cannon-like device used by the aliens in Brazil, and then in Omaha, to
launch the silver, football size guided bombs.  Akira had seen tapes
of one of X-COM's test firings in Nevada.  The bomb had maneuvered as
programmed around one shack and slammed into another, destroying both
structures, along with everything else within a blast radius of twenty
meters.  It had left a crater eight feet deep.
"Do you really think you should use that inside?"  Akira
asked.
He couldn't read Perez's facial expression within the suit, but
she looked silently at him for a few seconds.  "I'll be careful.  You keep
your head down."
The nature of combat was changing quickly.  The next big
tactics change beyond blaster launchers was already on its way - if
it worked.  The researchers at Little Rock thought they had learned
enough about alien mind control psionics from the sectoid captured in
the Amazon to construct psi-amps for the troopers and train them how
to use the same powers against aliens.  Psionic training laboratories
were nearly finished behind the living quarters.  Everyone in the
strike team would soon be assigned to an entire month of psionic
evaluation.
Crossett was already inside the doors.  She had stopped where
Akira could see her through one of the doors which opened for Andianov
to enter.  She was lit by a strange green glow which seemed to be
coming from the floor.
Akira moved to the door, it opened, and he stepped through.
His squad was inside a large square chamber, with a glowing green
floor.  In the far corner was the red glow of a down access lift.
This one was large enough for a tank to use.
"Okamoto and Crossett, down you go.  Okamoto take north,
Crossett south.  Otherwise make it up as you go."
Okamoto and Crossett stepped onto the lift and Crossett made
the arm motion.  They descended back to back and were gone.
"What have you got?"  Akira asked over the headset.
"A maze," Crossett replied, "like the kind they use to study
rats."
"No bugs," Okamoto added, "but there are four clear entrances
to this room.  We need help to cover all of them."
"OK. Andianov, with me."
Akira and Andianov moved to the lift and descended.  They
arrived in a room the same size as the one above, but with four wide
openings to other areas.  Okamoto crouched to the north, scanning a
large room with a high ceiling, filled with the strange display cases
Akira had seen on the Amazon ship.  To the south, Crossett covered a
wide passage that split into two dark, jagged tunnels through some
strange blue organic material.
Akira waved Andianov to the east and took the west passage
himself.  It led to another room, or maybe a very wide north-south
hallway, lined with large glowing spheres, each held off the floor by
four thin tubes.  No aliens.  There was no opening to the west.
Their first objective would be to meet up with davies.  Akira
used his teeth and tongue to activate a head up display map of where
each trooper was and the areas they had seen so far.  Davies was to
the north, as expected, about forty meters away.
Before ordering the squad to expand the perimeter north, he
moved into the sphere room and up to its south entrance, dropping to
one knee where he could keep and eye on both openings.
"Zander," he ordered, "come west and cover this room with the
spheres."
Just as he finished speaking, a purple form glided smoothly
into view at the far end of the room.  Before it noticed him, Akira
autofired in its general direction.  The first bolt of plasma missed
and struck something in the large display room beyond.  later shots
might have hit the alien, but he couldn't tell because he hit one of
spheres to the left of the alien and it exploded like a small grenade.
When the flash was over, the floater was motionless on the ground.
Zander stepped cautiously into the room, and Akira motioned
for her to cover the north.  Then he turned and moved south into
another area of blue organic surfaces.
The hallway turned into a dim tunnel and split left and right.
He went right and found himself moving back around in a circle to a
point where he could see the sphere room to the north and more blue
tunnels to the east.
"Coming your way, Crossett," he reported over the headset and
moved east.  The tunnels seemed to follow the same circular pattern,
splitting right and left.  He took a quick look up the left tunnel and
waved to Crossett, kneeling, ready to fire.  If he were an alien he'd
be dead.
He went back and took the right tunnel to the southeast and
came back around in a circle to an eastward opening into a normal,
alien alloy room with a partially enclosed area in the center.  The
opening in the small enclosed area faced west toward him, so he could
see inside.  It contained a lift going up.
There was chatter over the headset - Davies ordering
Hudson south.  A few seconds later he heard heavy plasma fire.
"Damn, I'm hit."  It sounded like Davies, but the voice was
distorted by pain.
"Where are you?" Zander asked over the headset, "I'll come
help you."
"Hold it, Zander," Akira ordered.  He quickly checked his map
display again.  Thompson was near the sergeant. "Davies has his own
medi-kit and Thompson can help him with it."
"Thompson's covering our north flank, Akira," Davies said
testily, "I'll be fine.  You worry about your own squad."
Akira turned his full attention to the room in front of him.
No opening to the south - solid wall.  All the way from the sphere
room to here there were no openings from the south, so the squad's rear
was clear.
"Far Squad, we have a wall ten meters to our south and west,
and the area is all clear," he said over the headset.  "Zander and
Okamoto move out north into the large room to link up with Near
Squad."
"This is Davies.  We're secure to the west and north.  The
tank is scouting the big room now.  It looks like there is nothing to
the west of it either."
"Good," Perez chimed in, "as soon as it's cleared, everyone
can sweep east."
Akira needed to know where the lift ahead of him led.
"Andianov, can you see into the room to your southeast?"
There was a short pause, then Andianov answered. "I can see
part of it, the back of the small enclosure and the opening behind
it."
"Keep an eye on it.  I'll be gone for a minute."
Akira moved up to the glowing red lift field and stepped in.
He was about to make the hand motion to go up when he noticed movement
above, through the lift's shaft.  Through the red glow he could barely
discern a purple figure moving across to the side of the lift.
The figure was moving out of sight, so Akira only had time to
get off a single quick shot.  It missed, he thought, but it must have
made enough noise to get the alien's attention.
Akira had one alien grenade on his belt.  He pulled it off,
still scanning and pointing his plasma through the hole above.  He
primed it short and tossed it carefully up through the shaft.
The explosion came quickly, followed by alien screams.  He
wasn't sure how long the area above would be clear, so Akira quickly
made the arm motion and ascended.  At the top of the shaft he scanned
quickly, spotting one immobile alien, but no others.  He was in a
small room containing a few alien display cases, but nothing else.
There were no obvious doors.
Up through the shaft he heard two bursts of plasma fire, followed
quickly by Okamoto's voice.  "The big display room is secure...hold
it...reaper"
Laser fire.
"I hit him.  He's headed south, toward you Andy."
"I don't see him"
Akira made the hand motion and descended.  He moved out of the
enclosure quickly and around to the north where he would be able to
see Andianov.
Andianov glanced quickly at Akira from an opening in the
hallway.  It was enough distraction to keep him from seeing what Akira
saw - a blood-red reaper plodding down the hall on its two stalky
legs, around the corner from Andianov, but only a few meters away.
Akira had been haunted by the reaper he'd seen in X-COM
battle footage, but this one was real, and it obviously saw him.  It
began to move faster toward him, passing within two meters of
Andianov.
Akira moved slowly, unable to concentrate amid thoughts of what
the reaper would do to him - the sounds of crushing bones from the
videos.  The reaper was nearly on top of Akira when he heard plasma
fire from behind it.  He finally managed to squeeze the trigger on
his own weapon, not even sure where it was pointing.
The creature's chest and right leg blew apart in bursts of
plasma.  Akira could feel the searing heat even through his power suit.
The reaper dropped with a heavy thump at Akira's feet.
He looked beyond it and saw Andianov, and Okamoto farther down
the hall, both with their weapons trained on him.
"Sorry, Sergeant," Andianov said, "I didn't see it until it
was past me.  It might have gotten me if it hadn't seen you first."
"Well, it's dead," Akira said, "that's all I care about right
now."
Akira turned to cover the east opening of the lift room.  It
led into another room about the same size, in the center of which was
a room about half the size.  The interior room had a window or opening
of some kind facing him, and through it, as he moved slowly forward,
he saw the red glow of a lift, then caught a glimpse of purple motion.
He got down and waited.  A few seconds later he heard a door whoosh
open.
"This is Hudson," Akira's headset squawked, "just saw a reaper
go around the corner twenty meters east of me."
"Get down, Hudson," Perez ordered.
Akira quickly checked his HUD map to see where
Hudson was.  Would she actually try to maneuver a blaster bomb past
Him?  Before he could protest, he heard the high pitched whistling
sound.
The bomb exploded at the far northern end of the alien base,
but to Akira, even with his suit blocking most of the sound, it
sounded like a grenade going off right next to him.
"Huds...hud...right," the headset crackled as at least three
people questioned Hudson at the same time.  Akira checked his map -
Hudson's signal was still there.
"I'm here," Hudson reported after a few tense seconds, "I'm
fine - just a little stunned. Can we just hang back now and let the
captain nuke everything that's left?"
"As you were, Squaddie," Perez replied, "there may be
valuable equipment in this base.  Begin your sweep east."
Meanwhile, Akira had seen no sign of the floater in the window
room.  He moved forward and knelt where he had a clear view of the
lift through the window.  He could also see that the north end of the
surrounding room opened into an east-west hallway.  He caught a
glimpse of purple in the hall before it slid out of sight to the east.
"This is Akira. Floater in the hall to my northeast," he
reported over the headset - and immediately regretted it..
"Get down, Akira," Perez said.
"I've got it," Andianov called.
Akira called up his map and saw Andianov begin to move.
"Perez, don't..."
He heard the whistling sound and reacted, pushing off with his
legs to jump back and to his left, into the lift room for cover.
The blast hit, but afterwards he couldn't remember hearing it,
only feeling it, like an electric shock to his entire body.  The flash
triggered the shielding on his blast lenses, but they cleared in time
for hims to see molten debris and superheated air surge into the room.
His suit protected him from the worst of the concussion, and he
remained conscious.
Akira stood and stumbled around the wall into the hallway.
The alien alloy floor was scorched and twisted for as far down the hall
as he could see through the smoke and dust. He saw no sign of the
floater, but Andianov lay motionless on the floor a few meters ahead.
He moved toward the body, passing a hallway off to his left,
conscious of the fact that there were now at least two routes for an
alien to move in behind him.
"Andianov's down," he reported, "Crossett, move up to cover my
right."
"Already there, 'Kira."
He glanced right and behind and saw her, standing in the room
with the windowed inner chamber.  She wore only personal armor and
suddenly looked extremely vulnerable.  She finished tossing a
proximity grenade through a window to cover the lift inside, then
waved quickly to him.  "How is he?"
"Don't know yet."  Andianov's legs and abdomen were covered in
blood.  Akira checked his map while he fumbled with his medi-kit.  As
he prepared to seal the wound in artificial skin, Andianov's little
yellow light on his HUD turned to a white cross.
"No."  Akira checked the portable monitor on Andianov's belt,
thinking it might have been damaged by the blast.  It was functioning
correctly.  Andianov was dead.
Akira did what he could, injecting stimulant and administering
clumsy CPR, made extremely difficult and dangerous by his own power suit.
"Andy's dead," Crossett reported over the headset, "Akira and
I are leaving him here."
Akira glanced at her quickly.  She looked back without
expression.  She was right - time to go.
He picked up his weapon and looked around to get his bearings.
The blast had blown out the west wall of the hallway, exposing a
parallel passage and a long stretch of adjacent doors.
There was a series of chatter from Davies's squad, followed by
a grenade explosion.  "The tank has the central east-west passage
covered," Davies reported, "That should free Okamoto to help you down
there."
Akira checked his map.  The tank was indeed covering a large
hallway in the center of the base.  Okamoto could move out.
"Good.  Okamoto, move east twenty meters, and plant yourself
there," Akira ordered.  Then he knelt and covered Crossett as she moved
forward around the window chamber.
"Bare walls, south and east," she reported out loud.
Akira continued to watch the row of doors and the spaces ahead
as Crossett moved on.  It seemed strange covering her after all those
missions the other way around.
"Two parallel north-south passages," she reported, "wherever
those doors lead, it looks like it had its own secret passage
surrounding it."
Plasma and laser shots went off behind Akira and to the north,
near where Okamoto was supposed to be.
"Okamoto...what was that," he called.
No reply.
He checked his map and saw that Okamoto was still yellow.
Maybe his headset was out.
"Cover me Crossett," he ordered and headed back south, around
into the outermost of the two north-south passages.  A floater lay
motionless on the floor with a plasma pistol next to it.  Just around
the corner ahead, he could see Okamoto's head and shoulders.
"Okamoto's out."
"I'm on my way," Perez called, "you keep moving ahead so we
can get the hell out of here."  She sounded very different, maybe
desperate.  She had to realize she had just killed Andianov.
Akira moved back around to the doors and found Crossett still
watching them, along with Thompson, the Near Squad trooper.  He
must have come around the other way.
"North side of the base is secure," he reported, "except for a
few lifts that Hudson and Mederow are mopping up.  There are more
doors behind this area, probably leading into this inside hallway.  The
tank and the sergeant have that covered."
"This is all we have left then," Akira said, "Hopefully this
doesn't lead down to another level."
Thompson didn't wait for further details.  He stood and moved
up to one of the four doors.  It opened, and beyond him Akira saw the
east wall of a large room, probably filling the entire space inside
the twin hallways.
"Big lift," Thompson reported, moving slowly out of sight.
"Let's go," Akira said, motioning Crossett forward.  They
moved up to the doors together.  The doors opened and they moved
inside.
The room was big, nearly the size of the high ceilinged
display case room.  Around the outside were eight large cylinders
containing glowing fluids of some kind.  In the center was a large
lift - the biggest Akira had seen yet.  Their entire strike team could
probably fit on it at once, including the tank.
Akira watched Thompson move toward the lift, scanning for
anything hiding behind the cylinders.  It was very quiet, almost too
quiet.  When Thompson reached the edge of the glowing red platform, he
quickly raised his heavy plasma and fired on autoshot.
Suddenly Akira's vision went black and he was slammed in the
chest and head by a giant mallet.  His blast lenses cleared again and
he saw that the room was filled with smoke, and
everything in it had been destroyed, including
Thompson.  He quickly glanced to his right and saw Crossett choking
and stumbling through the door.
"Perez," he called over the headset, "Thompson is gone.  Do
you think you can fly one of those damn things through an open
doorway?"
"For a shot up that lift?"  She paused, "...Which door?"
"Far west," Akira called, "I'm heading through now.  You've
got about five seconds from my mark."
Akira stood and was glad to find his legs still worked,
although his left arm suddenly felt as if his skin were being peeled
off.  He moved to the door and it seemed to open more slowly than
before.  Aliens could be coming down the lift at any time.
"Now," Akira called.
If she misses the doorway, he thought, I'm dead.
A few seconds later, as Akira ran for cover and was sure the
automatic door was about to close, the whistling sound came and went.
The explosion followed, behind Akira and above, and it seemed longer and
more violent than the others.  Secondary explosions went on for what seemed
like minutes, causing Crossett to cover her bleeding ears and crouch
behind a wall.
Seconds later it was over, and intensely quiet except for the
ringing in Akira's ears.
"What the hell was that" Davies called.
"We hit something big upstairs," Akira called.  He glanced at
Crossett - she looked disoriented, but was already getting to her
feet.  "Crossett and I will check it out."
Akira moved up to the doors, cradling his heavy plasma in his
right arm, and Crossett followed. He moved into the room and scanned,
spotting the bodies of three aliens.  Above him the ceiling was almost
completely gone, revealing another ceiling of alloy and exposed rock
higher up.  The red lift field ahead of him had miraculously survived,
apparently generated from somewhere outside the blast area.
Akira moved to the red platform with Crossett at his back.  He
scanned around the remaining edges of the room above and saw mangled
furniture and control equipment.  He ascended to get a closer
look and spotted one more alien corpse near one of the destroyed
panels.  He saw no other entrances to the room.  They had apparently
cleared the entire base.
"You really trashed this place, Captain," he chided over the
headset, "but you got the last four."
"Good" she replied, unamused.
Akira sobered and descended to help Crossett find whatever
remains they could for Thompson's family.
           THE END