Posted 02 January 2019 - 02:51 AM
The commander staggered off the ramp of the Skyranger light transport. Secondaries carried heavy crates of salvaged plasmas, alien corpses, and elerium fuel packets from within the airplane, but Schancer paid them no heed. Rawlings marched off, a heavy plasma slung over his shoulder.
"Get the beer," muttered Schancer.
Rawlings nodded, and stomped off to remove his armor. The surviving teams were slowly trickling back to Kansai Base; Ogata, captain of the Seventh Kansai, was still mopping up alien resistance in the Garden, while 'Ranger number three had flown in hours before loaded down with alloy sheets.
Schancer rubbed his forehead, tired. The mild amphetamines he'd taken upon the alert were wearing off. He snorted. With any luck, he'd be unconscious in thirty minutes.
The prep room was littered with battle-weary troops and their weapons. Schancer nodded to them, providing ample praise to the exhausted soldiers. He glanced at the armor lockers; half the power suits were not returned.
Running over the numbers in his mind, the commander decided that the base was down about twenty armors. He closed his eyes. With any luck, the techs could pull the dead bodies from some of those suits and maybe repair the damage. He didn't envy them.
Out of eighty-four soldiers, twenty were dead, half of those from Wilkes' Second Kansai. Easily that many were wounded. And that isn't counting Nader's crew, thought Schancer. Two dead there, five wounded... or mindfucked.
The commander removed his armor and rubbed his body with a damp towel. Rookies would be needed. Many rookies, many who would die on their first mission, were needed to replenish the ranks of Kansai Base. At least I didn't lose any officers, thanked Schancer. Just Wilkes, he winced, suddenly remembering that the cripple had been immediately shipped to Bluegrass for specialized treatment.
Schancer pulled on a jumpsuit that hadn't seen an iron in three months and wandered out into the main hall. Rawlings nodded to him; the kegs were out. A growing collection of soldiers converged around the commander.
The weary Southerner collapsed in an overstuffed chair and gratefully accepted his customary stein. Schancer peered through sleep-deprived eyes at St. George.
"But at least you killed him, and that was that," mumbled the commander. He looked up at the soldiers surrounding him. They shrunk back.
"Normally, I'd make a big deal of our victory. Glory, honor, courage, all very good. But it doesn't matter how. We won. We beat the shit out of the bugs when they wanted to turn all of Tokyo into a fucking zoo. We stopped them, and that's all that counts.
"A lotta good people died out there. To forget them would be wrong, I'll concede, but we must simply mourn their passing and move on. The bugs aren't done by a long shot. They'll be back, and we'll fuck their plans again. Keep your eyes on that. Tomorrow, teams get rookie replacements. I want extensive training for the next week. Get to know everybody in your teams. Life goes on."
Schancer slowly downed his allotted beer.
"But for the rest of today, I have one standing order. Get yourselves piss drunk. We won. Let's celebrate."
The commander fell back into his chair. Rawlings walked over as the assembled soldiers somberly helped themselves to beverages.
"Sir, that wasn't at all appropriate," hissed the bodyguard.
"Fuck you, Jack. If you were an officer, which you're not, you'd wake up and see that this war isn't ever going to end. We're stuck fighting the bugs until one of us blinks, and I think it's pretty fucking obvious that everybody in this room is going to die before we're free of those fucks."
The mess hall was suddenly very quiet.
Schancer muttered something profane and staggered to his quarters.
Davidson, Hirsch, Takahashi, and Araki got drunk together.
"Araki, if that is your real name, you are hereby dubbed a squaddie. Welcome to the most elite club of XCOM," drawled Hirsch.
"Thankyousir," slurred the newly promoted soldier.
Davidson looked over his little team. There was no joy in any of them. Araki was tired. Hirsch was angry that they'd been sucker-punched by the bugs. Takahashi was pale, and his eyes stared at something far away.
I could be better myself, thought the black captain. Five men in his team were dead and one was sitting in the barracks, sleeping and sucking a saline drip.
"Bridge, what did you see in the Maruzen store that's got you so spaced?" asked the captain.
Takahashi hesitated in responding before realizing that Davidson was using a partial translation of his name. Slowly turning to face his officer he replied, "I saw more crabs than a busy day at the fish market. But that does not scare me any more. Wilkes is what bothers me."
Araki dropped his head to the table and drifted to sleep.
"Colonel Wilkes is a very powerful man," Takahashi rambled cryptically. "He will be the key to our victory."
Davidson struggled to remember something, to ask for an explanation, but then the bitter alcohol and the stale adrenaline and the tired sweat from his jumpsuit overwhelmed him.
"Henry, Bridge, grab Araki. Time to hit the sack," he yawned.
Three months passed.
Rawlings sat before the base's widescreen television. The datatechs had finally wired it to pick up US channels broadcast by satellite, and the sergeant was having a field day.
"YOU'LL SAVE BIG MONEY AT MENNA-"
"-rioting in several major US cities. For a closer look at this disturbing trend, we now go to ABC correspondent Brian Malouf."
Rawlings leaned closer to the HDTV. It was late at night, and he had the volume at its lowest setting. Neverless, he could still make out the distinctive crackle of small arms fire.
"New York, New York. Times Square, the center of New York, some say the world. Three hours ago, this busy intersection was shaken by some of the most violent clashes to date between rival factions of the Mutual UFO Network--MUFON--a private organization conceived decades ago to keep an eye on the skies."
The television panned to a view of police beating back protesters outside of the capitol building.
"In recent years, though, MUFON has been increasingly split, though, as to what course of action it should take in regards to what some say is undisputable proof of intelligent life from other planets."
A long distance shot of Dallas burning.
"While the government is remaining silent on this matter, this reporter feels that there is no controversy here; the aliens have arrived."
Back to Times Square.
"But while some members of MUFON consider the aliens a threat, others demand giving the visitors a fair say in these matters. Michael Douglass of the Council of Human/Extraterrestrial Biological Entity Affairs, a self-styled 'welcome committee' for the aliens, says,"
Rawlings squinted at the television. A skinny academic wearing old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses appeared.
"The aliens are not the threat. Our government has attacked, and continues to attack, these peaceful visitors. It is up to the people, the people of America, to let our leaders know that the 'Cold War' does not carry over to these new circumstances. There need not be antagonism."
Another shot of Times Square.
"However, it is obvious that not all agree with Douglass and CHEBEA. A paramilitary wing of MUFON, titled Race of Man, has undertaken a campaign of terrorism and sabotage in order to halt what they see as a danger. Brian Sperber, the spokesperson for Race of Man, has one thing to say about the aliens-"
A man, bearded and wearing combat fatigues appeared in a grainy picture. The voice-over was obviously recorded from a phone conversation.
"They are the enemy. The enemy wants to enslave us and dominate this planet. We, the Race of Man, will not allow this."
The reporter continued.
"Last night, a peaceful march by five thousand CHEBEA members encountered five hundred Race of Man militants. A riot ensued, and two hundred people were injured and five killed when gunfire erupted from the crowd. Authorities have not yet apprehended those responsible for the deaths."
The camera panned to a scene of paramedics hauling a corpse from the street.
"Race of Man denies their part in the violence, claiming via the Internet that they 'only wish peace on our fellow Men' but yet they go on to claim 'there are those among us who would have us shackled and chained. Race of Man vows to eliminate these threats.'"
Rawlings shook his head and snorted.
"If somebody would only learn the real story," he muttered, tossing a spent can of Coffee Boss into the trash.
Larsen looked into Schancer's eyes. The scandanavian's were deep black and penetrating.
"I need to discuss matters of the highest importance with you," mouthed the Bluegrass Base commander.
Schancer nodded. "Should I pack my suitcase?" he asked.
"Bring someone to carry it, too. Make sure you dress appropriately."
Schancer dipped his head again. Larsen switched off his link to the vidnet.
Closing up his PDA, the Kansai commander tapped the intercom.
"Get me Sergeant Rawlings," he ordered the datatech manning the base's PA system.
The Southerner leaned back in his chair.
Life had been good to Kansai Base. After the main engagement was over with, the SDF had spent two weeks flushing out all the crabs which had escaped. It had been nerve-wracking, deadly work, and Schancer was thankful that the SDF had undertaken the task.
Sold 'em enough lasers and armor suits to do the job, thought the commander. The Japanese military had decided that XCOM was a good thing to be on friendly terms with; after all, Kansai Base was ninety percent Japanese personnel and one hundred percent Japanese money. The SDF was buying XCOM gear in record amounts, adding to the cash surplus.
Schancer chewed his tongue. That money wasn't supplied through official channels, so he didn't have to ship it off to the Far East Theater general account... which would have meant funding Siberia Base and Queensland Base. Instead, the surplus was going home to the US of A.
'Colonel' Nader had gone home with his crew to rebuild Nebraska Base, and in the grateful soldier's back pocket had ridden an account number. Thanks to the Europeans at the top of four of the seven XCOM bases, the US commanders were resorting to unusual methods of procuring the necessary funds for their bases.
Good Old Boy system works fine for me, thought Schancer as Rawlings opened the door to the commander's office.
"Jack, get your stuff together. Bring your toys, too. We're flying to the US on the first 'Ranger tomorrow morning."
"Yes sir," muttered the bodyguard, exiting.
Schancer chewed on the tip of his tongue, nearly wincing from the pain. Ever since the return from Tokyo and his admittedly bad behavior, Rawlings had grown very distant from the commander.
Something to work on during the plane ride, thought the Southerner.
Larsen sat before Schancer at the same desk he'd used so many months before. The furniture was the same; the man behind it was not. Dark bags hung under the pale-faced Bluegrass commander's eyes, and a network of wrinkles crossed the prematurely aged man's face.
"Ralph, we are going to violate the Charter," started Larsen.
Schancer raised an eyebrow. It was quite unlike the Scandinavian to be so straight to the point.
"The Charter says that XCOM doesn't communicate with non-governmental civilians except through the appropriate Councilman. It also says that XCOM doesn't divulge classified information to civilians, much less supply those civilians with equipment and weaponry."
A bushy eyebrow twitched on Larsen's face.
"We are going to break every rule in the book."
Schancer rubbed the stubble on his chin.
"Commander Larsen, would you care to explain the reasoning behind this decision? I could never forgive myself if you were to be removed from your post for such actions..."
The Southerner glanced back at the locked door to the Bluegrass commander's office.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, SVEN?" bellowed Schancer.
Larsen wasn't shaken by the outburst. Calmly, and with the same twisted smile he'd been wearing since greeting the Kansai commander at the 'Ranger, the pale-faced man whispered conspiratorially, "This is the only way."
"You haven't answered my question. Why?" Schancer suddenly wished he had Rawlings lurking in the corner, ready to spring to his defence--or at least a decent sidearm.
"The other commanders will surely see the United States destroyed out of spite. The Council's security has been compromised. We are the only ones who know where this war is headed. We must ensure that others like us can access our knowledge."
"Sven, what others? What is this?"
The door to the office opened abruptly. A man wearing a thick beard run through with tinges of grey stepped into the small room.
"Commander Ralph Schancer, please meet Colonel Brian Sperber of Race of Man."
Instead of shaking Sperber's extended hand, the Southerner stood, kicking back his chair.
"What is this? Sven, are you insane? This man is a racist nut!"
Staring at Schancer with deep black eyes Larsen requested, "Ralph, please listen."
"NO! I don't know why I'm even here! You're fucking psychotic, and you're bringing your new friends from the looney bin in to share bunks with you! Commander Larsen, I relieve you of your command immediately!"
"Ralph, you don't mean that."
"Then what the fuck is that?" screamed Schancer, pointing at Sperber like he was a side of meat.
"Ralph..." Larsen tapped the intercom and whispered a word into it.
Schancer threw up his hands. "You've violated the security of the biggest US base, you're conspiring to leak military secrets to civilians, and you're nuts. Fucking crazy insane!"
"Ralph, you've got to listen."
"I don't have to! Jack! Jack, come in here and detain the commander!" shouted the irate Southerner.
The door opened, but Rawlings didn't step in. Instead, Carrie Unger, Colonel of Secondaries, stepped over to Schancer. With a single fluid motion, she slapped him on the cheek.
"Behave yourself," she muttered before departing just as quickly.
Schancer sat down in a huff. He eyed the door, and then Sperber's hand.
He shook it.
"Pleased to meet you," responded the civilian.
Larsen smiled. "Now, let's try that again.
"Colonel Sperber is a West Point graduate with a doctoral degree in psychology. He served in Operation Desert Storm as a junior officer in the psyops division. The leaflets he and the Saudis designed cut the casualties on both sides by unestimatable amounts. Whole battalions of Iraqis surrendered without a fight. Now, he is the head of the unofficial XCOM wing known as Race of Man."
"Tell us something about Race of Man," requested Larsen.
"Let me speak of XCOM first," intoned the bearded colonel.
"XCOM was a grand experiment--the first global defense force held accountable to all nations and yet none. Sixteen countries contributed to its well-being, but the whole world reaped the benefits. Unfortunately, that experiment is failing.
"Look at the dissent between rival factions of commanders; watch funds from nations like China dry up and disappear. XCOM is our last, best line of defense against the enemy, and it is failing. That is where Race of Man steps in.
"Race of Man what happens the day after. Should XCOM fail, and the enemy gain control of the skys and the governments of the world powers, Race of Man will continue the fight as guerillas and saboteurs. We are made up of people from all walks of life who share one common goal--resistance against the enemy, even unto death."
Larsen cracked another smile, convincing Schancer that the man had gone hopelessly insane.
"Smashing, Colonel. But Race of Man can be utilized now, even as XCOM exists."
Sperber nodded. "The enemy's tactics are not original; they can be predicted and prevented. Race of Man will see that every citizen of the largest cities in the world know what to do in the case of a terror raid. If the police cannot hold the aliens until XCOM arrives, we have weapons. Race of Man members will fight delaying actions, seed temporary minefields, and snipe at the enemy."
Civilians fighting bugs? wondered Schancer, bitterly amused. Five hundred Texas National Guard troops had tried that in Dallas... and now they had a cemetery devoted entirely to themselves.
"What do you want?" asked the Southerner.
Sperber looked at Schancer.
"We want live data feeds from your radar webs. The sooner we know about enemy actions, the less people will die. We want lasers and armor, so we have half a chance. We want veterans, anyone who has seen action, to train our members. We want money to set up safehouses in the urban centers and disseminate information. There are many things we want, but the most important is your trust. Race of Man wants to know that someone, somewhere is listening."
Schancer repressed a distinct urge to roll his eyes.
"What can you give us?"
Sperber looked down at the floor.
"I wish you and your brethren strength in the coming battles, but should XCOM fall, Race of Man can guarantee one thing. Your soldiers, should they be forced from these bases, will not fall into the clutches of the enemy. Race of Man is growing each day, and we have enough members to hide XCOM personnel if the governments turn against you."
Sperber looked up at the tall blonde man sitting next to him expecting a sneer.
The bearded man saw something else entirely.
"Thank you, Colonel. If there's anything you need while you're in Japan, give me a ring. Thank you very much."
The two shook hands again.
"Mmm, it's been too long."
"I'm sure you had your hands full with those Japanese women."
"How could I? You're so soft-"
"Carrie, I've been thinking about us."
"Mmm? Like what? Getting me transferred to Kansai?"
"No, I can't..."
"I'll bet you do have another girl there! What's she like?"
"Oh, don't tease me."
"No, really. Is she pretty? I'll bet you don't want me to see her because she's just butt."
"Heheh, no. You're the only one. And that's what I want to talk about."
"'Who needs action when you've got words.' Feeling impotent?"
"Mmm, no, not at all. Been building up my chi since last... oh God, it's been too long."
"Your geisha lover teaching you Oriental lovemaking techniques? Do show!"
"Stop it! You're almost making me wish I had another girl back at Kansai!"
"So you could learn how to have hour long orgasms?"
"No! So I would feel guilty for a reason!"
"Mmm. I hope the bugs are taking the night off. I don't want to sleep at all."
"Are you getting hit bad? How many you lose over here?"
"Don't talk about that now."
"Mmm, yes. Morning."
"Carrie, I want you to be my wife."
"Oh. This is kind of an awkward position to propose in, though."
"Maybe if you..."
"Much better. Mmm."
"As I was saying--Carrie Unger, will you marry me?"
"Is there any question?"
"N--just say it!"
"Oh damn. I guess I can't sleep with Larsen or Bright any more."
"Carrie! That's disgusting!"
"I know. Of course I will, darling. Yes."
"Mmm! Feeling frisky, are we?"
"That brings me to the other portion of tonight's business."
"Mmm. What's that?"
"Now that we're legitimate... Carrie, do you want to have children?"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"No, it's not that."
"I'm sorry for even mentioning it."
"Oh, don't be so apologetic. The way we fuck around, it's a surprise I haven't had a few already. I don't know. The first XCOM baby?"
"I hate to burst that bubble, but there have already been over a dozen."
"If you put it that way--'it's standard military doctrine'--then sure, let's make a family."
"No... this isn't an order from a superior officer or any of that... I'm asking you, Carrie, because something like that would place so much pressure on you-"
"If we're going to talk about having children, then at least use the right terminology. 'Something like that?' Please. It's 'having a baby' or 'getting pregnant.' You bring up the topic, and then you run away screaming. Sometimes I can't stand you men."
"Ralph, it's perfectly fine with me. I'm no combat officer, all I do is yell at a few dozen accountants for eight hours a day. I'm sure I can stand all that 'pressure.' Hell, women have had to since the beginning of time."
"While proto-man went barhopping. Mmm."
"So we don't need these?"
"No. Who knows? Nine months is a long time. Who knows? The war might be over!"
"Or Ralphie Jr. might be carrying a plasma pistol to school."
"Don't back out now, you yellow--somethingoranother."
"Lemme see what those Japanese women taught you."
"I didn't--oh, knock it off."
Rawlings looked up at the sky and cried.
Black only to the eye accustomed to light, the clear heavens above the wooded confines of Bluegrass Base were a shimmering menagerie of diamonds. A wide band of lesser lights flowed from one horizon to the next. Closer stars twinkled with from the distortion of the earth's atmosphere.
Which one? silently whispered Rawlings. Which one are you from? Give us a sign and we'll leave you alone, just as you should leave us in peace.
The bodyguard flexed his shoulders. Heavy was the plasma slung across his back.
What age is this when men fear to look up at the sky? wondered the short man with the scarred body.
He returned his eyes to the small mound of rocks before his feet. The soil of this region of Appalachia was poor and rocky, not at all suited to farming. It had condemned generations of hill folk to poverty and ignorance; they had lived and died in these valleys. So too had XCOM.
Rawlings clutched a large stone resting atop Hudson's grave. He gazed at the stunted iron cross staked into the ground. It was tilted mildly.
Kneeling down beside the crucifix, the bodyguard braced it with the stone.
He stood again, absorbing every sound, every flicker of a leaf from the surrounding woods.
I wonder if anybody will bury me when I die? grimaced the soldier.
He looked down the hill towards the small military supply depot which masked the largest XCOM base in the world. Only a few trace lights were visible; a sentry in the lone watchtower shifted his weight and swung the dim searchlight over the facility. A six-wheeled truck drove off, headlights shimmering in the dark.
Probably not, realized Rawlings. When I go, the bossman will be dead, too. That means the whole team would probably be dead. And if everybody is dead, then that's it for XCOM.
Rawlings glanced up at the invisible menace of the skies.
And if XCOM is gone, then man is, too.
Larsen peered with sleep-deprived eyes over the hyperwave decoder readout. The device was weeks old, and only Volga Base had another working copy. But soon all of XCOM would have the decoders, and that would be the end of the war.
Filtering out the subtle changes in local tachyon densities, the decoders, large unwieldy boxes the size of a washing machine, could detect transmissions between UFOs, their earthside bases, and a massive staging area somewhere within the confines of the solar system. One hundred percent effective, they displayed the sickeningly large numbers of UFOs that evaded conventional detection means.
The voices had been speaking to Larsen recently, though speaking was the wrong word.
Screaming was more appropriate.
"Think they can break me, thinking wrong, they can't," muttered the troubled commander. "I know them, they're coming, must wait."
The decoder chimed and a series of binary codes flashed across Larsen's desk monitor. A moment passed before the computer could accurately translate.
"SEARCHFINDKILL DESIGNATE BLUEGRASSLARSENBASE PROTOCOL MAXIMUM, MINDSCAN. 179 837 123 82 793 877 372 22 294 23 927 40 SEARCHFINDKILL," read the message.
Larsen stared at the ominous characters, uncomprehending.
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!