Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:22 AM
Jack slammed the breach of his 30 millimeter grenade launcher shut. He swung the weapon to up, and fired from his hip.
The low-velocity shell slammed into a spare 55 gallon gasoline barrel, denting it slightly. It ricochetted into the floor, leaving a small black smear. But Rawlings didn't wait for the rubber-tipped slug to roll to a stop before cracking open the launcher's breach and ejecting the spent shell.
He pulled another practice round from his belt, loaded it, and fired again. This one went wide of the WARNING: FLAMMABLE label marking the center of the drum, grazing it and hammering the wall behind.
Frowning, the bodyguard ejected, reloaded, and fired, this time knocking the empty container onto its side. Content, he walked over to the drum and set it upright again, gingerly avoiding the still warm 'bullets' lying on the floor.
Wiping clean the launcher, he slung it over his shoulder and proceeded to saunter up the two hundred meter tunnel which separated the far southwestern hangar three with the combat prep room. Twenty feet from the double alloy doors of the prep area, Rawlings stopped and nodded at a small recess in the tunnel wall.
A black and white portrait, taken upon his induction into the SDF, marked the remains of Tetsuji Hashiratani, the first and only death in the Hokkaido visits. An brass canister held the ashes of the rookie who'd taken a burst of plasma busting into a large scout, and a few personal effects kept him company, including a tall can of Asahi, his favorite beverage.
One thought ran through Rawlings' mind as he checked in his equipment: I could use a drink. Schancer was very strict in his sobriety rules, saving the gallons of quality Japanese beer and sake for the typical morning-after celebrations that followed terror raids.
Not that bad, Jack reminded himself. Japanese cities didn't have the marvelous wonders of easy freeway access like Los Angeles or a number of other US cities. Like that other great wonder of the twentieth century, the Internet, they'd been built to save America in the even of a nuclear apocalypse, and while they'd never been needed in a war between men, the US interstate system could still get people out of town fast.
Japan didn't have such, and thus, even due to the sickening courage of SDF and XCOM units, the Osaka incident had nearly twice the body count of Dallas.
"Morning, Sergeant," greeted Suzuki of the First Kansai Beta. Jack had awoken unnaturally early due to the frenzied pace of construction in the unfinished lower level of the base, and it was only now that other soldiers were waking.
He slipped into the cafeteria line and grabbed a mug of coffee. Sitting down next to Sakurai and Tahara, he nodded to the soldiers.
Sakurai nibbled on a doughnut. "Something happened Monday," he began, in his typically cryptic manner. "I have heard rumors about Sergeant Davidson and the commander..."
Rawlings bobbed his head again. "Commander Schancer and the sergeant had a particularly vigorous discussion of their duties in this base, and after consulting myself, it was agreed that personal matters are not to carry into the chain of command."
Sakurai raised his eyebrow. Tahara and Nakagawa chatted briefly in Japanese, agreeing on something.
Glancing around to be sure that an officer wasn't present, Suzuki explained, "Tahara thinks you're feeding us shit, and he asks you to stop; it's making his omelet taste bad."
Rawlings smiled, and added, "The rumors are true, but I'd advise you to keep mum about them around the bossman and Mike, because one's liable to have you thrown in the loonie bin and the other would be glad to do the throwing."
Suzuki translated for the others. Sakurai and Nakagawa snorted, but Tahara laughed loudly.
"What was the fight about?" asked Suzuki.
"Beats the heck out of me," replied Jack. "I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Davidson lumbered by, and the five concentrated on their beverages.
"Speaking of which... Any of you seen Taoka and the sergeant lately?" said Jack, breaking the silence in the big African American's wake.
"No, why?" responded Suzuki.
"Why would you think such a thing?" asked Sakurai, immediately suspicious, brows bunched up and eyes suddenly piercing.
Like watching weather front appear out of nowhere, thought Jack, realizing that he was in hostile territory.
"Could just be the dark, but I swear I saw the lieutenant commander and Mike on the surface walking together..."
"Your eyes require examination," growled Sakurai.
Shutting down a potential fight, Suzuki asked, "The commander is to make a speech today?"
Still staring into Sakurai's deep brown eyes, Rawlings muttered, "Yeah, bossman's real hyped over the latest wave of tech breakthroughs. Heavy plasmas, Elerium explosives, and some sort of heavy body armor. Oh, there's promotions, too."
"Promotions?" inquired Sakurai, breaking the stare-down. "Do you know who?"
"No," lied Rawlings. "But four sergeants are moving up to captain rank, many of the veteran squaddies are receiving their sergeant's pins, and Wilkes is in for a move to colonel."
Suzuki mentioned the development to Tahara, who excitedly jabbered back.
"Did the commander consider the bravery of each man promoted?" asked Suzuki.
Rawlings chuckled. "I did hear quite a bit of discussion about Tahara, as a matter of fact. Not too many of the officers like a mean streak in their troops."
Suzuki relayed the information to the other Japanese squaddie, who suddenly seemed quite depressed.
"But they didn't really care--Taharasan is going to be the senior sergeant of one of the new captains, so it's that unlucky sonuvabitch's problem."
Sakurai tried to keep a poker face, but he couldn't hold it for long. Tahara, on the other hand, jumped atop the table and screamed a cry of joy. The whole cafeteria laughed at the spectacle, passing it off as another case of combat fatigue.
While the soon-to-be sergeant danced on the mess hall table, Rawlings whispered to Nakagawa and Suzuki. "Your squad has the best kill tally of all squads, so don't be surprised if the bossman turns you 'four horsemen' into a full assault team."
Tahara landed a boot on the edge of a rice bowl, sending it flying.
"Shit," laughed Jack.
The base alarms rang, louder than usual.
The bowl hit the floor and sprayed sticky grains everywhere.
"Get a broom," Rawlings yelled to the cafeteria staff. They ignored his order as they scrambled for a cabinet of another kind.
A squad of black-clad secondaries rushed by, Heckler-Kochs at the ready.
"All combat units, gear up!" bellowed Schancer over the PA system.
"This is your commander! XCOM is under attack!"
Schancer sat atop a radar console, eyes staring at the two-story tall XCOM emblem centered in the screen. Paralyzed, he paid little heed to the flurry of frenzied activity around him.
A small monitor, mounted high and on a wall, blinked on.
"Ralph!" it yelled. Schancer glanced at it. Larsen stared back.
"Ralph! I'm patching this in through the land lines!"
The Kansai Base commander ignored the message, turning back to the huge blank screen.
A tech flipped the correct switches, and it burst to life.
"-AND FAST, ONLY GROUND CANNON ENGAGED. KILLED THE SAM CREWS BEFORE THEY COULD LAUNCH. TEN EAGLES DOWN, SEND MORE! ESTIMATED RANGE OF MAIN WEAPON IS SIXTY, REPEAT SIXTY KILOMETERS, PLUS. AMRAAMS MIGHT--SHIT, THEY'RE IN."
The announcer suddenly came into view. Looking out of place in body armor, Commander Singer uncomfortably wielded a plasma rifle. He glanced over his shoulder.
"GERHARD! ROUND UP NONCOMBAT AND GET A FIRE PERIMETER AROUND THEM. NO, YOU IDIOT! I DON'T CARE IF THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO USE THEM! GIVE 'EM ANYTHING BIGGER THAN A TWENTY TWO!"
Turning back to the monitors, Singer cleared his throat. "LARSEN! YOU GOT SPARE TEAMS--I NEED 'EM BAD. I GOT THREE, REPEAT THREE FUCKING TEAMS DOWN HERE, ALL UNDERSTRENGTH. FUCK THE JAPS, FUCK THEM. COULDA REALLY USED TWO TEAMS OF THE YELLOW MOTHERFUCKS..."
Schancer dreamily turned to the small screen displaying the Bluegrass commander.
"You going to send them?" he almost whispered.
Larsen shook his head. "That'll only give the bugs two of our bases. They have another very large UFO at seven miles up, waiting to kill anything that tries to land. Plus, radar has six unconfirmed contacts of smaller ships. Can't let the bugs find us or Nevada."
"CAPTAIN NADER! IF YOU'RE RECEIVING THIS, GET THE FUCK BACK HOME! BASE RAID, BASE RAID..."
"Nader, disregard that," coldly ordered Larsen. "Returning to Nebraska base will only result in the interception of your Skyranger."
A third monitor flickered on. "What--?" cried a confused Captain Nader from his portable PDA.
A tech at the back of the radar room shouted as he was pushed aside.
"Get the fuck outta my way, Goddamnit!"
Schancer looked at Dillan's firey entrance. The colonel took one look at the screen. He collapsed in a tech's vacated chair.
"Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," he rasped, clutching his head with his hands.
Other officers began to sprint in. Taoka and Will strode in.
"AMRAAMs couldn't take those monsters in the first place," snarled the airtech. "What does that sonuvabitch think those F-15s were armed with, and why the fuck does he think that they can take them now?"
"THEY'VE ENTERED THE HANGARS AND THE SERVICE ELEVATOR," reported Singer. "FIFTH NEBRASKA IS FALLING BACK, THEY--WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK?"
He barked into a headset, "I DON'T CARE, KILL THEM EVEN IF IT TAKES A WHOLE FUCKING CLIP!" The commander tossed aside his tactical radio and motioned to the armored secondaries around him. "LET'S GO GIVE THOSE PUKES A BACKBONE."
"Don't the greys have some form of mind control?" asked a voice at Schancer's side.
"Barely; requires line of sight-" responded the commander before he realized that it was Rawlings standing at his shoulder.
"Forget that," he ordered.
"Then why aren't they using it?" asked the bodyguard, insistent.
"Please don't fuck this up, just let the men fight," begged Dillan. "The men will save old Greengrass, bug fucks don't have a chance, it's our home turf," mumbled the tearful colonel.
"What's wrong with him?" whispered Taoka to Wilkes.
"Nebraska transfer," replied the captain.
"It shouldn't be difficult to kill greys, or even Molotov's blues; just place secondaries with claymores and SAWs anywhere you need to stop them-" argued Rawlings. "How fucking hard is it to kill a bug?" he asked, rhetorically.
In a sick quirk of fate, Singer had left the monitor link open. A tremendous blast shook the Nebraska camera's view, but it remained recording the reason for the base's downfall.
Limping and bloodied, a wounded secondary from Singer's personal detachment staggered back into what Schancer presumed was the Nebraska commander's office. He whipped around at the door, firing a long burst of lead down the hallway outside.
Tossing aside the spent cartridge, he struggled to load the next banana clip. HK at his side, he paused before the monitor to insert it. Movement in the doorway sent him spinning to one side, firing madly at his pursuit.
Oblivious to the rain of fire, a seven foot tall alien dyed a deep green stepped into the office. It deliberately pumped a double-tap of plasma into the off-screen secondary, eliciting a scream of anguish. Its muscular physique evident to viewers, he walked right up to the camera and tapped it with a sausage- like finger.
It idly turned and blasted the dead human again, seeming to take amusement from the gore. Then it rested its gaze on the monitor screen. Uncomprehending, it leveled its weapon, and Nebraska Base died to the outside world.
The radar room in Kansai Base was silent a long time, everyone staring at the two-meter tall X over O of the insignia.
In a daze, Schancer staggered into his office. Rawlings rushed ahead of him and killed the commander's screen saver, a bouncing GIF file of his significant other.
"I'll take it from here, Jack," mumbled the Schancer.
Taoka, Wilkes, and Yoshii paraded into the small office. Rawlings cleared a space atop a filing cabinet and hopped up.
"Colonel Dillan has retired to his quarters," reported Yoshii.
Schancer grunted, eyeing the Hollywood squares. He tapped a few buttons, and the monitor on his wall, a forty inch monster, lit up.
Frederick Junkers, Robin Smythe, M. Gaudin, and Grigory of Kursk, the recently promoted commanders of Suise Base, Nevada Base, 'Kangaroo' Base, and Siberia Base filled the screen with Commanders Larsen, Kalinkov, and Schancer.
Leader by default, Larsen addressed the conference.
"We have all seen the footage. While no definite physical evidence exists as of yet, once the UFO patrols over the Great Plains cool down, I intend to send four assault teams to confirm what we all have witnessed: the fall of Nebraska Base."
"What happens next?" asked Kalinkov. "What is left once the dead are buried?"
"I intend to rebuild a deeper, more easily defensible base-"
"At the same site?" inquired an incredulous Kalinkov.
Larsen scowled. "Of course not! Further to the north perhaps-"
"I believe that Kalinkov asks what happens to us, the survivors," rumbled Junkers, the German.
"Nebraska was as heavily defended, on the surface, as any other base," added Smythe, the female Nevada base commander. "The new air-to-air plasma cannon... I'm going to discover whether it can be converted to air defense."
Larsen shot a glance that Schancer immediately determined was intended for him. We're outnumbered, thought the Kansai and Bluegrass commanders. European demands to 'become involved at the top' had led to a coup of incredible proportions.
"The heavy chemical lasers--determine a method of employing them in base defense," suggested Larsen.
"Already done," responded Smythe. "The plans are in the final stages of development."
"Then it's agreed," announced Kalinkov, "that research shall be turned towards stronger base defenses?"
A silent majority of commanders consented.
Schancer spoke up. "Once they find a base, there's no amount of defense that can save it. If the bugs can't kill it the first time, then they'll come back with ten times the force next time. We need the air power to fight the heavier bug ships on an equal basis, not immobile ground facilities. Stop them before they discover the bases, not too late."
Larsen shot an approving look to his protege.
Kalinkov nodded. "But what happens to the aircraft once the ground facilities are destroyed? Bases are the weakest link in the chain that is XCOM, and they must be protected. The aircraft will come later."
"I'll give the white-coats the nudge," agreed Grigory.
"Done yesterday," chirped Smythe.
Larsen tapped his keyboard, and Schancer received a message at the bottom edge of his screen: Fighter plans were completed 3/01/06--Light VTOL alien tech transport nearing completion.
"We can't scuttle the development of the fighters!" flailed Schancer.
"That's not your decision to make."
Fuck it, thought Schancer. As a high-ranking XCOM Americas officer, he'd known that the US had light UFO mimics built back in the seventies; however, these aircraft had been very fragile and slow, lacking true grav-wave propulsion. Fuck it, the United States would've won this fucking war if we hadn't had to carry the indecisive Europeans and the penniless Russians on our backs the whole way.
And now, they're telling us what to do, Schancer grimaced with disgust.
What a pile of shit, mused Rawlings. Anti-aircraft artillery, techno-gizzard fighterplanes-- nothing but shit. If we can't win it inside the bases, on a man-to-bug basis, we won't win. Research the guns, I would say, if I were the XCOM grand poobah. But I'm not.
"Loons all," muttered Wilkes.
The mess-hall gathering wasn't quite what Schancer had been planning when he'd woken up that morning. Instead of festivities and free-flowing beverages, the base-wide meeting assumed a most somber air. Word had spread quickly; nobody was in the right mood.
"Sergeant Kazutoshi Sakurai, Squaddie Kenichi Tahara, Squaddie Keisuke Nakagawa, and Squaddie Hideya Suzuki, please step forwards."
Still wearing body armor, the four soldiers marched to the head table and received their promotions.
"I wish I could award these under more cheerful circumstances," sighed the commander, handing out their new rank pins and a roster of Sakurai's team. He shook the new captain's hand. "Captain Kazutoshi Sakurai, welcome aboard. Your new team is Fourth Kansai; kill some bugs for Nebraska."
Rawlings watched the promotions with uncaring eyes. There were no surprises for him; he'd known every one beforehand. Takayasu and two other Japanese he didn't recognize got the lift up to Captain, and a score of veteran squaddies received their sergeant rank.
"Yoshii, Wilkes, you're both proven leaders. I happen to know that XCOM is going to continually expand over the next few years, and I want you two to be contenders for that ultimate prestige- -Commander of an XCOM base."
"Captain Mariel Yoshii, Captain Jonas Wilkes, welcome to the rank of Colonel."
Rawlings raised a bushy eyebrow. This was unexpected; Yoshii and Wilkes?
Schancer handed out the very last pins of the day. The great mass of technicians, engineers, secondaries, and soldiers before the commander stirred, ready to leave. But the tall blond Southerner did not dismiss them. Instead, he awkwardly climbed up on the head table.
"Kansai Base," he proclaimed. "Today a tragedy of sickening magnitude has befallen XCOM."
Good, let's get it all into the open, thought Rawlings.
"During the morning meal, a type three alarm sounded, and I announced that XCOM was under attack.
"Nebraska Base, a facility of over five hundred people, was destroyed at that time."
A dull murmur arose from the crowds, especially those who had been too busy for the rumors.
"This war has reached a new phase. The invaders have discovered our weakest link. Now, they know what to look for.
"But do not take this the wrong way. The war has also entered a new phase in another way. We are now the superior force on the ground."
A pair of secondaries walked in with a large crate slung between them. Straining, they lifted it onto the table at the commander's feet.
"Jack, help me with this," whispered Schancer. The bodyguard detached himself from the wall he leaned on and sauntered over.
The commander popped the hatches on the crate, and swung up its lid. Jack walked up and looked into the case. A dull grey weapon, a yard long and ending in a four-centimeter wide snout, lay within the case. Rawlings eyed the banana clip attached to the other end of the weapon.
The words 'Heavy Plasma' rang through Rawlings' mind.
"Can I touch it?" inquired the sergeant.
"Pick 'er up and strike a pose for the audience," replied the commander.
Rawlings stuck his nose next to the stacked clips of refined alien isotopes. He sucked in a deep breath, revelling in the metallic tang of the stolen weaponry.
He lovingly placed his scarred hands on the plasma, glancing at the weapon's action. He glanced at the safety and nearly picked it up before stumbling backwards in shock.
"What's that?" he whispered, pointing at an inscription on the right flank of the weapon. It read 'Product of USA.'
"Pick it up, for Christ's sake, everyone's watching!" snapped Schancer.
Curious, Rawlings hoisted the not-so-alien weapon out of its travel case. He nestled its modified stock/magazine in his armpit and pointed its barrel at the sky.
"As Sergeant Rawlings just discovered, we have mastered alien technology in more ways than one. We can now build plasma weapons of our own or modify those we recover from assaults. Along with the new heavy combat armor you are to begin training with tomorrow, I'm quite confident that we'll give the aliens some things to think about next time our paths cross."
Weapon growing heavy even in his muscled arms, Rawlings silently doubted his commander.
Tide's not in yet, sir, he thought, wondering who else would drown in a grey sea before the war's end.
Dillan cracked his knuckles and looked over the new group of soldiers that were to be First Kansai.
Too many Japanese, he thought.
"Nomura?" he asked.
Dillan looked up from his PDA, his newly-wrinkled face drained of emotion. There were two women amongst the nine rookies. He grunted disapproval; being a military purist, he felt no need to intentionally handicap a team by placing weaker women in its ranks.
"Still here, sir."
Dillan repressed a grin. Battelene might be a hyperactive eight year old, he thought, but at least he's not afraid to walk into a UFO with his laser on automatic. Could use more fighters like him; The First Kansai had lost too many veterans in the promotions. Almost all of his better soldiers were transferred to new teams or teams which hadn't done well in the Hokkaido missions.
"Present... sir." Dillan detected a trace amount of insubordination from the other female rookie. He would have to fix that later.
Fumiko Yoshii had been Dillan's last choice of a sergeant. She'd made her first kill on the First Kansai's second mission; she'd achieved that by flanking a grey sniper dug in on a valley wall and literally dropping a stun grenade on the alien. The close quarters of the blast had been too much for the alien's nervous system; it died in transit to base.
Too fucking quiet, thought Dillan, suddenly realizing why he was vaguely unnerved by the short tea-haired sergeant. Hardly ever talks and makes a point of walking quietly. Doesn't even make a sound in combat--unless she's blowing up a bug.
Gotta watch out for that one, the colonel noted.
"Present and accounted for, sir!" replied the rookie.
Dillan grunted approvingly. He felt it was a necessary vice for every team to have one or two wiseguys. Kept tension levels down.
Jesse Levy was the sole American rookie. Dillan guessed that the kid had been a Delta Far East specialist.
"What brings you here?" he inquired out of curiosity.
"Probably the beer," muttered Battelene.
"Delta, Japan specialist, sir," replied the rookie. "I wanted to put my skill to use."
Dillan grunted and continued reading the new roster.
"Pleased to be on board, sir."
Mmm, thought Dillan. Another quiet one, at least around me. Seems like he's more at home with the Japanese than us Americans. Oh well, he snorted, it figures. With a name like Matsumoto, nobody's going to take you as German.
Dillan looked over his new team again. Unlike the original crew of the First Kansai, these rookies had never seen combat against the bugs, and the colonel grimaced at the thought of the thorough training exercises they'd all have to partake in to ensure a decent survivability rate.
Too many Japanese, he repeated in his mind.
My X-COM Patch Kit For UFO Defense | Emergency XCOM Meeting spoof on YouTube
Zombie: Empirical data's your only man, when formulating a research plan.
A soldier's death is never in vain if it makes the formula more plain.
A few dozen make a better case for refining that third decimal place.
They call me Zombie because I don't sleep, as I slowly struggle to climb this heap,
of corpses, data points, and trials, but from the top - I'll see for miles!