Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:26 AM
The 'Ranger touched down with nary a plasma bolt scarring its side. The ramp dropped, and the Fifth Kansai charged out.
Encased in their new powered armor, the soldiers moved with the fluid grace of dancers. Kurihara, a rookie, spotted the tall caped profile of a blue to the left of the Skyranger.
"Bug," he grunted, dropping to the short grass of the darkened hillside. The rookie fired, a barely visible beam of microwave light catching the sentry bug in its rib cage. Gurgling from the open wound, the bug coughed blood and keeled over on its side.
"Make sure it's dead," ordered Davidson from inside his suit. Hoisting a huge M-60 light machine gun, he headed for the distant UFO.
A bug stepped out of the ship's front door. Glancing around, it spotted the unusual profile of the 'Ranger parked seven hundred meters away. Turning to alert his crewmates, the blue winced and collapsed as a savage beam of microwaves lanced through his body.
"Snipers, keep them inside," directed Captain Takayasu.
"He's alive!" announced Kurihara.
"Stun him," ordered the captain.
The rookie pulled a collapsible baton from his belt and snapped it to full extension. He touched the device's contacts to the wounded blue's head. A flash of light in the darkness signalled the stun.
Nader's arrival had been a somber affair.
The Sixth Nebraska had been the first team to arrive at the massacre. Setting down on the surface, they'd missed the massive raiding UFO's departure by minutes. Insane with impotent anger and sadness, the ten soldiers had quickly cleared the base, finding nothing larger than a plasma clip to mark the alien's assault.
Then they'd started burying the bodies. Eyes red from crying, the Sixth had carried some two hundred corpses to the surface before Eight, Nine, and Eleven Bluegrass had landed.
"Captain Nader was unfit for command, but Colonel Bright did not dissuade him from personally burying Commander Singer's remains," had sighed Commander Larsen over the vidnet. "Thank you, Ralph, for taking on the daunting task of rebuilding the Sixth."
"What happened to the non-combat units?" Schancer had asked, afraid of the answer.
"Singer didn't have time to evac with the 'Rangers. The full compliment of secondaries, techs, and engineers were still present at the time of the assault. The aliens killed them... every last one," Larsen had reported. Schancer guessed that that was the closest the Bluegrass commander had ever gotten to showing emotion.
Nader's Skyranger had arrived hours later. Worn down by nearly constant flight over the last day, the techs had sighed upon laying eyes on it.
Schancer had sighed too, upon seeing what was left of one of the crack assault teams of XCOM Americas. Still wearing armor and lugging weapons, Nader's team was dirty, tired, and depressed.
"Get some clean gear for these people," Schancer had ordered the secondaries. The Sixth had stowed their weapons, and stripped off their armor, but the Southerner suspected that the baggage they carried in their hearts was heavier than any physical load.
"I wish I could say that I'm pleased to meet you, Commander," sighed Nader. A man of medium height and dull brown hair, he was average, average in every way except the fanatical drive that made men into zealots, terrorists, or XCOM soldiers.
"Get your men settled in, Captain."
Nader had drifted off to take a shower. Schancer kept unsaid the things that Nader needed to hear, but couldn't accept.
"They would've died with the rest," muttered Rawlings from behind the commander's shoulder. "The bugs might've had to send in their reinforcement UFO, but Captain Nader and the Sixth would be dead just like all the others."
"Don't tell that to them," snapped Schancer. "Right now, the only thing the people of the Sixth can think about is how they're to blame for Nebraska's fall. They need time to get a grip on what's happened."
Rawlings snorted. "They don't need rest, sir. They need a good skirmish with the bugs; they need to know that they're still the best, that they lived for a reason--to kill more bugs."
"Jack, they'll just get themselves dead if they go into combat. They don't have any reason to live, now that everyone they give a damn about is killed."
The bodyguard shrugged, knowing in his own way that the Sixth Nebraska would fight again, and soon.
"So, how's that power armor coming?" inquired Schancer, hoping to smooth down some ruffled feathers.
"It's like learning to walk from scratch, sir," answered Rawlings. "The suit's onboard computer has a preset configuration--if you move your leg a certain way, the armor responds in an appropriate manner. But if you just work with that setup, you don't get maximum efficiency. That's why Okano has all combat troops working their armor while he runs diagnostics and tries to create individual settings for each armor."
"Hmm," responded the commander. "So you couldn't use Sergeant Davidson's suit in a pinch?"
"No sir," replied Jack. "There are three armor sizes; one is roughly five foot to five six, the next five seven to six three, and the tallest, for people like you and Mike, is six four to seven. Okano says he can custom build bigger or smaller stuff, but it takes twice as long. Anyway, Mike is tall and I'm short, so no, I couldn't use his armor."
"But you could switch with Captain Sakurai?"
Rawlings nodded. "Okano's modified the original plans to include a replaceable hard drive. I could pull mine from my suit and plug it into Sakurai's. I might have to make a few size adjustments, but it should work."
"Okano's a real go-getter, isn't he?"
"Yessir. A real sonuvabitch sometimes, but his head's in the game."
Schancer watched a pair of the Sixth's squaddies sit down before the main hall's HDTV.
"Does our favorite engineer have spare suits?"
Rawlings frowned, following the commander's line of sight. "No, but the secondaries are getting equipped. You could just give them some of the old body armor, and let the Sixth train in the power armor. That would be an excellent diversion, sir, and it wouldn't involve any suicidal tendencies."
"Did I ever tell you that you're the best yes-man I've ever had?" smiled Schancer.
Rawlings laughed. "I'm sure I can remember numerous times."
"Move it, move it," was Davidson's mantra. The three rookies under his command charged towards the UFO. A bug opened up at extreme range, and his plasma bolts went wild. Gamma squad's snipers dropped to the ground and opened up with their heavy lasers.
Alpha sprinted onwards. The big black sergeant guessed that without the additional strength of the power armor, his rookies would've collapsed from exhaustion seconds ago. But the servos, springs, and pure O2 respirators kept them moving--fast. At a constant speed of almost twenty miles an hour, the four man squad approached the two-story UFO.
A blue, floating on its anti-grav vitals pod peeked around the edge of the ship. Davidson fired a burst at it. The bug awkwardly dodged and leveled its plasma rifle. The creature's chest exploded before it could fire, though.
"Nice shot, Nunobe!" praised Takayasu. A string of plasma bolts flew overhead, smacking the side of the UFO.
"Gamma, hold ground and repress fire!"
Davidson kicked the heavy alloy door of the bug ship. It slid open; Rookie Tokura ripped a grenade from his belt, yanked the pin from it, and threw it underhand into the entrance room. It exploded, throwing a maimed blue out the door. Davidson pumped a round into the creature's skull, silencing it.
"Watch that hill to the north, heavy fire from there!"
Takahashi and Yanagi charged into the smoking room. A single door, opposite the entrance, was the only object of note in the room. The two rookies flanked it.
Davidson detached the belt of hollow-point anti-personnel rounds from his M-60. Working feverishly, he pulled a box of heavier rounds from his backpack and fed the belt in.
"Stand back!" he shouted, leveling his weapon at the alloy door.
He opened fire, riddling the door and its frame with depleted uranium rounds. The armor- piercing rounds left quarter-sized holes and elicited a series of screams from the next room.
"Grenades!" he shouted. Takahashi and Yanagi pulled phosphor bombs from their belts. Davidson activated the door; it slid up reluctantly. The two rookies tossed the explosives under as it slid into the ceiling.
A flash of light from the other side shone through the numerous holes in the door. Davidson, squinting, fired another burst. The door completed opening, and the two rookies piled through, lasers blazing.
A blue, suffering from excessive sunburn, struggled to raise a snub-nosed launcher at the XCOM soldiers. A laser beam through its skull defeated its attempt. Another blue opened up on Yanagi, plasma shots sounding like rapidfire thunder in the heart of that UFO.
"Ugh," grunted the rookie as he took a shot to the chest. It knocked him down, a massive scar forming out of welted and boiling composite armor. Takahashi blasted the offending alien, eviscerating the unfortunate bug. Spitting blood and leaning over, the blue died horribly.
"Behind you!" yelled Tokura, firing at something in the room behind Alpha squad. A blue screamed and died before it could pump a burst into Davidson's back.
But the massive sergeant ignored his brush with death. Lying on an operation table in the center of the room was an abductee--a young Oriental woman whose guts were torn open by alien tools and head was smashed to a pulp by armor-piercing rounds.
"Oh shit," muttered Davidson.
"They call him Berserker,'" whispered Davidson in an almost reverent manner.
"How'd he get that name?" asked Hirsch.
"First mission he ever went on, his sarge got waxed by a lucky head shot. Guy just went nuts; he charged into a medium scout, laser on full auto, and killed four greys before they could kill him. I hear he was frothing at the mouth when his squad caught up with him."
"They found him sitting inside that scout on a pile of dead bugs. He was burnt real bad, all down his sides and shit, but--get this--he was chewing on a grey's leg."
"Holy fuck. And he's still alive?"
"Yeah. Nebraska psychiatrist spent three months fixing the guy's head. Turns out his dad was killed in a hunting accident when he was ten. He and his old man, out in the woods; the old man blows his nose with some Kleenex and bam, his head's gone. He'd repressed all that shit, and then his sarge gets it, just like his dad."
The two Fifth Kansai sergeants sat in the base cafeteria, nursing steins of non-alcoholic beer. The beer wasn't what interested them, though. Across the main hall, two Sixth Nebraska veterans sat alone, watching the incomprehensible Japanese wide shows.
Hirsch wasn't quite sure why Davidson was suddenly his old talkative self. But then again, beggars can't be choosers, thought the newly promoted sergeant. Maybe he's found himself a girl, maybe he's snorting crack behind the 'Ranger. Like I give a fuck.
Hirsch subtly pointed out the other Nebraskan, a red haired female. "Who's the lady?" he asked.
"Jenny Amador. She's gibbed more greys than Bluegrass, combined."
"How do you do that?" asked Hirsch.
"She's carries so many explosives on a mission that normally, you'd be afraid to be within spitting distance of her. But I hear that woman can move, really fucking fast. Can pitch better than anyone on the Dodgers, too."
"She available?" joked Hirsch.
"Like a nun," replied Davidson. "That woman would sooner shove a pineapple down your throat than look at you."
Disgusted, the Nebraskans switched off the big screen television and wandered over towards Hirsch and Davidson.
"Hey, soldiers," smiled the man. "You guys speak Eigo?"
"Damn near the only people around here that do," responded Davidson.
The two Nebraskans sat down across from the two Fifth Kansai soldiers. They offered their hands.
"Sergeant Greg Sudmeier, Six Nebraska" said the man, shaking Davidson's hand.
"Pleased to meet you. Sergeant Mike Davidson, Fifth Kansai."
"Squaddie Jennifer Amador, Nebraska Six," said the woman, shaking Hirsch's.
"Charmed. Sergeant Henry Hirsch, Fifth of the same."
Berserker glanced around the main hall of Kansai base.
"So, what do you do for fun around here? The television is just crap."
"Main attractions involve getting suckered at darts by the commander's pit bull, Sergeant Rawlings," mentioned Hirsch, pointing to a scruffy-looking soldier who looked the world like a janitor-- with the exceptions of the bright bronze sergeant's X & O's on his lapels.
"Commander's bodyguard?" asked Amador.
"Very," affirmed Hirsch.
"Doesn't look like much," smiled Berserker, staring at the short, bald man who sipped on a can of pop. "I'll bet I could take him."
Hirsch glanced at Davidson. The black sergeant shook his head, chuckling to himself.
"From experience, I'd have to advise against that. He might look like shit, but he's a bucket full of mean when he needs to be."
Sudmeier snorted. Amador spoke up.
"What's all this scuttle about China and North Korea? Seems like every two-bit secondary I talk to is wondering if I've heard anything new."
"There's a reason that the bugs haven't been hitting Japan real hard lately," muttered Hirsch. "Commander says that every night two, three big UFOs touch down multiple friggin' times near the larger cities in China."
"So why don't you go in there and kick the bastard's asses?" asked Sudmeier.
"No such luck, pilgrim," added Davidson. "PRC fighters have got themselves a shoot-on-sight policy when it comes to XCOM aircraft. Commander isn't saying it, but you can hear him thinking, and he's thinking that the PRC has got themselves a treaty with the bugs."
Amador and Berserker looked at each other.
"You're fucking pulling my leg," exclaimed Sudmeier.
"I shit you not," sighed Davidson.
"And North Korea?" continued Amador.
Hirsch smiled. "It's not as bad with them. They won't let us land because the man in charge is a fucking lunatic. Oh well, the humans in that nation don't have much meat on their bones anyway," he joked, referring to the numerous famines in that small, backward country.
Sudmeier reflected on the developments for a moment, and then asked, "Sergeant Davidson, do you consider yourself a strong man?"
The black frowned. "I eat white boys like you for breakfast, if that's what you mean."
Berserker laughed. "In that case, I'm experimenting with something. I want to find the biggest damn gun a single infantryman can carry, and I want to modify my power armor to use that weapon. You look like the kind of buck who can carry around a few pounds--how about we have a visit with the supply chief?"
"What do you intend on acquiring?" inquired Davidson, curious.
"Wouldn't it be fun to walk around with an M-60 mounted on your arm?" replied Sudmeier.
"Bug!" Takahashi yelled, throwing himself to the floor. Davidson swung his tremendous weapon to bear, spraying the doorway opposite with a wave of lead. The blue, halfway into the operating room, staggered backwards, splattering blood and viscera across the alloy flooring.
The door slid shut.
"Yanagi--how bad?" asked Davidson, his weapon still aimed across the UFO compartment.
"Just little shaken, sir," responded the rookie.
Gonna be even more messed up if you see that shit on the table, thought the sergeant.
"Stay down and get your laser aimed on that doorway. Takahashi, Tokura, flank that shit."
The two rookies took their positions and not a moment too soon. A pair of blues, brandishing heavy plasma bolters, charged in--or attempted too. In the wild spray of lead and laser beams, both aliens went down screaming for their mothers.
"Shit, I'm outta rounds," muttered Davidson. He reattached his hollow-point belt.
The door opened, but no aliens entered.
"GRENADE!" bellowed the sergeant, ducking behind the operations table. He prayed that his rookies would do the same.
The room shook, the blast multiplied by its close quarters. Even before the flaming spray of shredded alloy and pulverized flesh had landed on the floor, the black was calling for his squad.
"Takahashi? Tokura? Yanagi?"
"My arm!" cried Tokura. Davidson looked over; the rookie's left arm was perforated with shrapnel.
"My laser's shit," snarled Takahashi, pitching away the busted weapon. He pulled a plasma pistol from his belt.
"A little more shaken, sir," squealed the prone soldier.
"Yanagi, clean up Tokura, and wait in the room behind us. Captain," requested the sergeant, "I need reinforcements. Got two walking wounded."
"Mike, Takayasu got dead from a sniper," responded Hirsch. "And we've got company... sir."
Davidson sighed. He'd been disappointed that he'd been passed over for promotions, but this, this was not the way to advance in the ranks.
"I'll make do in here, Henry. Regroup the squads, keep whoever's showing up from toasting the 'Ranger. And don't lose any more of us."
Davidson turned to his squad. "It's up to us to finish this show. Tokura, is your laser decent? Give it to Takahashi. Takahashi, Yanagi, come with me."
The wounded squaddie detached his laser from his backpack and handed the weapon over to his squadmate. He pulled out his plasma sidearm and watched the door leading to the exit.
The sergeant inspected his own weapon, stood, and leaned up against the wall next to the other door. "Takahashi, go right. I'll go left. Yanagi, cover us."
Davidson kicked open the door. No barrage of plasma fire greeted him, and taking heart, he stepped through.
Turning to the left, he realized that this was an ring around the central room, with that being on his left and the outer hull of the ship on his right. Takahashi stepped out.
"Looks clea--" The rookie traded shots with a blue, and both took hits before the alien screamed and collapsed, face first.
"Shit," swore the rookie, grateful that the bug had been armed only with a plasma pistol.
"Mike, we gotta go. North Korean army is sending in troops--they're five kilometers out right now, but they're advancing fast," squawked Hirsch.
"Any aircraft?" inquired the sergeant.
"No, thank God."
"Good. If the infantry open up on you, kill them."
Davidson swore to himself, angry that he had to be the first XCOM officer to order the intentional killing of other humans.
"Reactor core over here, sir!" yelled Takahashi.
"You hit, soldier?"
"Keep on advancing in that direction."
Davidson turned the corner and spotted another grav drive and the strange shaft of glowing light which went for an elevator. Alloy wall to all sides of the lift, he advanced to the reactor.
"I have dead end, sir," reported Takahashi.
"Get over here with Yanagi."
The two rookies jogged over.
"Watch that lift," ordered the sergeant. He pulled a canister and a pair of tongs from the webbing on his back. Tapping several buttons on the alien reactor, its pulsating hum and eerie glow died. A small hatch on its side popped open.
Using the tongs, the sergeant removed a six-inch by two inch cylinder of refined Elerium from the reactor. He placed it gently in the canister and stowed his tools. Picking up his M-60, he turned to retrieve the material from the other core.
A tremendous blast shook the ship, throwing down all three soldiers. Flames raced down the floor, bathing all three in their heat.
"Shit, they're suiciding!" bellowed Davidson, tossing away his machine gun. "Drop your grenades and run!"
The air temperature in the alien ship shot up fifty degrees. Alloy composites began to decompose, and Yanagi ripped off his belt, fleeing in a blind panic.
"Fuck!" screamed the sergeant, stumbling through the flames and struggling to pull a deadly box of explosive rounds from his back. His M-60's ammunition supply exploded around the corner, sending bullets flying everywhere and reminding Davidson what would happen to him in seconds if he didn't dump the ammunition.
Someone ripped the package from his webbing, and Davidson ran, opening the door to the operation room.
"Takahashi!" he yelled, the rookie scrambling through waist-high flames, pitching his laser's battery to a side. Syrupy acid ran from it, boiling black in the inferno.
Tokura lay on the floor, covered in flames. Davidson pried off his belt and grabbed the unconscious soldier. He threw the Japanese over his shoulder.
Smoke obscuring his path, Takahashi led the way, opening the damaged door and finally the exit. The rookie and Davidson sprinted out, their suits welted and burned on every face. Yanagi was hundreds of meters away, screaming and running for the transport.
A huge ball of flames shot from the gutted UFO's side, a great lantern over the darkened Korean landscape.
At least that's over, thought Davidson, looking back at the blazing deathtrap that had almost claimed his squad. The weight on his shoulder reminded him otherwise.
"Shit, Henry! Fire up the engines! Prep for launch!" shouted the sergeant, plodding as fast as he could towards the hill where the 'Ranger sat.
A stream of tracers whizzed by Takahashi.
"Henry, kill the fuckers!"
The hill erupted in fire as the two dug in squads picked off North Korean soldiers. With nightvision and excellent aim, they mowed down an entire company, filling the night with not the screams of dying aliens, but those of dying men.
A half-ton truck exploded far to Davidson's left. A burst of lead ate up the earth behind his feet. The Skyranger's engines roared louder in his ears.
"Load up and dump the FAE's on the bitches," he ordered Hirsch. One by one, soldiers scrambled into the 'Ranger. A rifle shot bounced off the transport's ceramic underside. A laser cut a man in half.
Takahashi sprinted up the ramp. Hirsch, firing a plasma on automatic, covered Davidson as he staggered into the 'Ranger. Henry pounded up the grating on his heels.
"NOW!" screamed Hirsch. A mortar shell splashed dirt meters from the ramp.
Ramp not even up, the Skyranger lifted off, twin GE turbojets hurling flames at the earth. The UFO belched smoke and debris, collapsing on itself. The Fifth Kansai was in the air.
"Medikit, right now," snapped Davidson, gently setting down Tokura in the aisle. Hirsch tossed him one, and the black sergeant plugged in its diagnostics system.
"Shit, this piece of shit!" yelled the sergeant after a tense moment. "Fuck you, Tokura! Fuck you!"
Hirsch looked away, the dull crumpcrump of the FAEs the only sound in the 'Ranger.
Davidson sat back on his haunches and pried his helmet from his head. Soaked in sweat, he touched his lip. Blood.
"Henry, get me Takayasu's PDA," he said in a most monotone voice.
The sergeant handed the notebook computer to Davidson. The black man opened it up, setting the device on the dead man before him.
"Momma bird, this is baby bird. We have aborted mission. The North Koreans didn't like our visit, and the blues fucked their ship. Two dead, momma bird, two dead and multiple wounded. ETA thirty minutes. Baby bird out."
Davidson crawled over to his seat, pulled down the spring-loaded cushion, and sat in it, unstrapped. The other soldiers of Fifth Kansai pulled off their headgear, each and every one tired and pissed off.
An uncomfortable bump on Davidson's back reminded him of something. He leaned forwards and pulled the blackened canister from his burnt webbing.
"They died for this?" he asked himself.
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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!