X-Com Saga

by Russ Brown
1 - Saving Wales.

Shuji Akira watched Kojima quickly check the grenades on his
belt, then brace himself, without thinking, against the Skyranger's
restraining straps.  "Just move fast and get behind something," he
said in Japanese, "and don't worry about your rear.  Crossett and
Gaudin will cover you with the heavier stuff."  The trooper and heavy
weapon specialists recognized their names and turned to give Kojima
the evil eye and a smile.  Kojima said Crossett had cut her hair shorter
on each mission and was going to get out when she went bald.
Akira studied Kojima's every move, wondering which were
important to mimic for his own survival.  Kojima was the Far Squad
scout, and a veteran by X-COM standards, with four missions and four
confirmed kills. "Mostly floaters," he would say, "they're sneaky, but
they sometimes go down with only one shot.  I let the Heavies take
care of the Heavy bugs."
Akira could tell the Skyranger was descending - England
somewhere - but he was surprised to find he wasn't frightened.
Everything had happened so fast.  He was still trying to catch up.
Part of him was still back at the underground base in Arkansas and
hadn't even boarded the Skyranger yet.
Had it been only five days ago that the officials in suits had
visited his Defense Force training camp on Hokkaido?  They had
casually reviewed everyone in his platoon, and quickly chose him.  His
commander offered him a chance to not only serve Japan, but the whole
world.  He was not given any details, but the mystery appealed to him,
and the chance to be in a group of elite warriors, samuria from around
the world.  He accepted and was on a plane to America in three hours.
He suspected he hadn't been selected for his abilities as much
as for the fact that he had no wife or children and only limited
family contacts.
He soon regretted his decision.  He and Marc Bouton, a
recruit from Europe, were quickly inducted into X-COM, the highly
secret international Extraterrestrial Combat unit.  Over the course of
three days they were bombarded with information about new weapon
systems and what little was known about the alien technology they were
up against.  And to prove the mission was serious, Captain Marcelle
took them into the refrigerated storage areas to see the bodies of
dead, autopsied aliens.
But the most disconcerting and surreal part was the mission
reports and battle camera footage taken in previous raids.  Most of
the aliens were mysterious and far off, and the footage was poor, but
there had been one taken off a dead troopers body at Santiago which
terrified him.  The image was shaky, the trooper running along beside
a building, continuously glancing to the open street on his right.
Then there was a dull thump, thump, and when he turned back to the left
a reaper stood on its two stalky legs, towering over him and  staring
right at him.  The trooper stopped and got off one wild shot before
the reaper jumped him and smothered the camera.  After a few seconds
of crunches and screams, and wild camera panning, the camera lay on the
ground, recording just the dead trooper's hand and a pool of blood.
Then this morning the alarms had sounded, they all boarded the
Skyranger, and Akira was told he was to be the scout for Near Squad,
meaning he would help secure the area near the Skyranger.
The Skyranger hit ground and jerked Akira back to reality.
The rear ramp began to lower.  Kojima crouched down and motioned for
Akira to do the same. "Bouton's a rookie,"  he said, "you don't want
him to blow your head off if he sees an alien right away and gets
excited."
After that, Akira was all business, completely focused.  It
was the last time the two would talk.
As the doors opened, Akira saw they were in a small country
village with a few fields and a large building to the right.  Kojima
stepped forward onto the ramp and scanned the area.  "Far squad left,"
he yelled in English and jumped off the left side of the ramp.
Akira had been through a few hasty disembarkation drills.  He
took a few steps onto the ramp and jumped off to the right, dropping
four feet to the ground, crouching and scanning the area.  He felt
light on his feet, carrying just a laser pistol, a few grenades and a
stun rod.  He wasn't sure why he had the stun rod and was tempted to
drop it.  Kojima had told him it was for stunning aliens at close
quarters, but that had to be a joke - some kind of initiation thing.
He heard someone drop to his left, probably Crossett.  He could
see an empty field to the right and the building off to his left, but
most of his view was blocked by a stone fence straight ahead.
He was the scout, so the rest of the squad was waiting for him
to move.  Finally his sense of duty, his desire to have it over with,
and his curiosity were enough to get him to his feet and up to the
fence.
As soon as he reached the fence, he saw it.  A man-sized
crimson specter stood at the edge of a small orchard between him and
the building.  But it did not stand, it floated just above the ground,
gliding along slowly.  He lost a second or two getting over the
surprise and remembering the spotting signal.  It was enough time for
the floater to see him.  There were crackling sounds and yellow
beams streaking silently past him.  One hit the wall in front of him
and blew out chunks of rock.
Akira fell back on his training.  He quickly gave the
signal, the international sign language symbol for bug, pointed his
laser pistol and squeezed the trigger hard for automatic fire.
His training with high-powered rifles led him to expect a
serious kick, but it never came.  The pistol fired off streaks of
golden-orange destruction in rapid succession, sending dirt and
branches flying, and destroying one tree completely.  He also thought
he hit the alien at least once.  It was a beautiful display, and it lifted
his confidence for a second or two.
Then the wall ten feet to his left exploded in a green
flash, peppering him with rocks and mortar chips.  He heard the
crackling of laser fire and human screams behind him and then a woosh,
followed by a deafening explosion and an unearthly, piercing shriek.  
He started to turn and drop, then remembered Kojima's advice.  Someone
would cover his rear.
By the time he turned back, Crossett had moved up and was
kneeling, aiming and firing at the floater with her laser rifle
through the newly-formed breach in the wall.  Akira knew instinctively
that this was his chance.  He raced along behind the fence, head and
shoulders exposed, out beyond the point where the Skyranger would
block fire from his rear.  He made it to the end of the fence and got
down, scanning the orchard.
The floater was there.  He didn't know if it spotted him, but
it began to move toward him.  As it glided from behind the cover of a
small tree, a single laser shot streaked across and opened the
side of the alien in a burst of steam and burned tissue.  It gave a
short scream as it dropped.
"Thanks Crossett," Akira whispered to himself.
Akira made his way cautiously across the orchard.  For the
most part, everything was very quiet, with occasional, but intense
bursts of battle sounds behind him.  Obviously behind him. There was
no one in front of him, no troopers anyway.
He reached the near corner of the building and scanned along
both walls before ducking around to his right.  No obvious doors to
the right, and one large service door to the left.  He would leave
that one to someone else.
He moved along, hugging the wall, glancing to the right into
the orchard.  The images of the helmet-cam and the reaper threatened
to break his concentration, but he managed to stay focused.
He peaked through the first window he came to.  Most of the
inside of the building was one huge storage area with a twenty foot
ceiling, probably a warehouse of some kind.  In the far corner there
was an enclosed office area which merged with a mezzanine level
running all across the far side.  He saw nothing unusual, no movement.
He checked each window as he went, and glanced behind and saw
Crossett covering him from the end of the fence, and Gaudin moving
up with a heavy cannon.
He rounded the corner of the building and dropped to one knee.  
Nothing there.  Screams and another large explosion far off sent
shivers up his spine and reminded him how spread out and vulnerable
the squads were.
Straight ahead and to his right were open fields, devoid of
aliens and beyond the required security perimeter.  All that was left
was to check out the building.
He saw a small wooden door near the far end and made for it
quickly.  He wanted to be done with it and back in the air in the
Skyranger.  No, he wanted to be back in Japan.
He knelt by the door and listened for a few seconds.  He heard
trooper footsteps behind him.  What was he listening for anyway, he
wondered.  What sound did a floater make?  Then he heard a door open
inside, probably on the first level and nearby.
Time to kill one myself, he thought, and charged into the
door, dropping down again, ready to fire.  He was in a small office
room with another door open into the warehouse and a set of stairs
going up.  He glanced out the door, saw nothing and concluded that the
whatever opened it must have gone up the stairs.
He had two grenades on his belt and decided this would be as
good a time as any to use one.  He plucked one, primed it for a very
short fuse, and moved quickly up the stairs.
The stairs opened into a room the same size as the lower
office, but open to the wide mezzanine.  It was a bad location to
emerge, and any alien up there would have had the advantage of cover,
and probably surprise.   But Akira was lucky - the area was empty.
Then he heard laser fire directly below and loud thunking
sounds from the warehouse.  The room he was in had a window facing
inside, so he moved to it and looked out over the room.
A floater hung near ground level, half-way across the floor.
Someone, probably Crossett was shooting up its cover through a window
below.
Before Akira had a chance to react, the floater saw him and
took two rapid shots up at the window.  The first was wild, blowing a
hole in the outside wall of the warehouse to Akira's left, but the
next hit the thin wooden wall below the window, shattering the window
and destroying most of the wall around it.
Akira turned to take cover and found himself facing another
floater near the stairs, no more than twenty feet away.  The floater
got off a shot.  A glowing yellow sword shot from his pistol and
stabbed through Akira's left shoulder.
Akira dropped the grenade and fumbled to bring up his own
pistol.  He squeezed off one shot, missed and decided the grenade was
too dangerous.  He turned and jumped through the hole in the wall.
He fell ten feet onto a pile of crates.  As he fell he saw the
warehouse streaked by the fireworks of an X-COM heavy laser.  When he
hit he remained conscious long enough to hear the exploding grenade
and the screams of a dying floater, much longer and more dramatic
this time.

. . .
"... had us worried there, Squaddie," Captain Marcelle said.
His face filled Akira's still-cloudy field of view.
"Can you hear me Akira?"  Marcelle was in his uniform, covered
in blood.  Mine, Akira realized.
"Did you hear me?  You're going to be fine."
They were in the Skyranger, engines running, in flight.
"Kojima?" Akira said.
The captain looked distressed.  "Didn't make it son.  Neither
did Sergeant Buchard."
The captain propped Akira up against the wall.  Akira glanced
around.  The Skyranger was full of artifacts, dead alien bodies, and
stacks of metal sheets like Akira had seen at the base, roughly cut
from a UFO.  Six other troopers sat silently against the walls.
Crossett was there, smiling at him and cutting her hair with a bowie
knife.
"I didn't get to see a UFO," Akira said to the captain.
"You will.  You're Far Squad scout now"
Akira noticed the pile of floater bodies toward the rear of
the plane.  I got one of you, he thought.  Then he saw two more
bodies, wrapped carefully in blood-soaked white cloth, one barely
recognizable as a human form.  One of them was Kojima.
Akira searched around on his knees for his equipment, checked
it over and sat patiently back down.
"Damn you," he said out loud.
            THE END