Posted 02 January 2019 - 03:31 AM
The commander closed up his laptop, a tired, wrinkled hand pressing it shut. Leaning back in his swivel chair, Schancer closed his eyes, remembering better days.
Lazy summer days, too hot to move, just sit on the porch and wait for the hint of a breeze. Cold winters at West Point, thick heaps of snow everywhere, a stark landscape of white and black and grey. Summers again, training as a Green Beret. The months before his selection as a Delta Force agent--the seemingly pointless marching through woods and swamps, the disorienting interviews, the final joy of having been selected.
And then this war.
The tired young man frowned. How many have I lost? How many teams have I seen shot out from under me, how many people have I buried?
Schancer, dry-eyed, looked over the long hand-written list lying on his desk.
The Ubercommander stared at the horrendous cost of eradicating the China Hive.
Starting with Colonel Dillan and ending with Rookie Hashira, more soldiers had died taking the alien base than had survived.
The Southerner's eyes were red. He had already shed his tears.
God Almighty, forgive me for throwing away so many, he prayed. More men have died on my orders than this whole base has now.
The realization sickened him, turning a waste basket into an impromptu receptacle for his vomit.
Coughing and spitting out the remains of his lunch, Schancer slid from his seat onto the office floor.
Christ, I never should have become a soldier. Too damn weak.
Reaching up to his desk, the commander pulled a small, gold-framed portrait down before his eyes.
"Carrie, come back soon," he whispered.
Closing his eyes again and clutching the photo to his chest, Schancer slept again.
"I am sick of this shit," muttered Davidson.
Hirsch, half awake but sucking on a cup of coffee, nodded assent.
"I am sick of selecting, training, and educating rookies and then just watching them eat plasma two missions later. I hate this shit. The bugs don't seem to have a problem losing five hundred of their shits, but... oh, fuck this."
Henry reached over the cafeteria table and patted the captain on his back.
"Mike, it's ok. We're gonna win."
Davidson glared back.
"Colonel fucking Wilkes says he knows where the bugs are. That's fucking great! But some good it does us! We are getting a batch of rookies--read green and yellow shits--straight from the oven, and they ain't half done. If the casino lizards don't really beat the shit out of them, we are fucked."
"Nevada Base will take 'Cydonia,'" replied Hirsch, feeling the caffeine really flowing through his veins.
The captain grunted back.
Peeling a banana, Hirsch asked, "You don't think it can be done, do you?"
The big black man shook his head.
"No. Not with the head-shrinkers. They nearly killed Wilkes--and I'm betting that there'll be more than three at that place."
"But Wilkes is stronger than ever, right?"
Davidson looked across the table.
"Fuck that, Henry. Did you see the man when he left?"
Hirsch raised an eyebrow.
"What--was something wrong with him?"
"'Was something wrong with him?'" chuckled the captain, immediately sighing. "He looked pretty bad when he showed up a week ago--that sagging face of his. Fuck, when he left, they had to wheel him onto the 'Ranger! He can't walk anymore, says that he's half paralyzed."
Hirsch swore. "You think those 'Deaths' did that to him?"
Davidson grunted. "Seemed pretty ok when we scrambled from the hive. Set in right after we landed here, though."
The captain chuckled. "Yeah, we're gonna need as much help as we can get from that direction."
The sergeant across from him sat in silence, sipping coffee and thinking.
"I'm sick of this shit," repeated Davidson.
Hirsch smiled. "No, you're not. You're just pissed that Mayumi's up at Hokkaido, leaving you alone at night."
"I respect the lieutenant commander too much to do that," rebutted the captain, jabbing a finger at Hirsch.
"Mike, you wouldn't lie to your best friend, right? I mean, what's it like bedding the second-in- command?"
Davidson shot daggers at Hirsch.
"Henry, shut up. We are not like that."
"Mike, what ever happened to 'the missus wuz lookin' pretty lonesome, so ah's upt and layed her daown while's the massah wuz in da town?' You haven't done your Toby impressions since Lord knows when."
The captain's clenched fist relaxed, and his hard brown eyes softened.
"I think it's the war," he replied.
Henry lowered his eyes.
"Yeah. All that fun shit we used to pull in Bluegrass-"
"Paying off Kell, getting piss drunk and partying 'till Larsen woke up," remembered Davidson.
"Now we just drink. No partying, no nothing, just drink until we fall asleep," snorted the sergeant.
The two soldiers sat quietly in the mess hall, vaguely aware of the comings and goings of others.
"I'm sick of this shit."
In the small, parched river that flowed through the valley where Kansai Base lived, there was a huge boulder, as large as a Mack truck. Crusty lichen coated its smooth, flat top, while thick moss and more than a few ferns hung from its flanks, drinking water from the depleted river.
Atop this twenty-ton giant sat Rawlings.
Eyes closed and ears deaf to the sounds of nature, the bodyguard breathed in and out, slowly, drawing air deep into his lungs. Cross-legged, a sheathed sword sat at his bare feet. The simple, elegant, and undoubtedly deadly weapon was the sole result of a short trip to Tokyo, days after the hive raid. Purchased from a private collector's stock, the sword was quite the museum piece when compared to the wicked plasma pistol Rawlings had carried under his suit as protection.
True, the katana was at least four centuries old and Rawlings held no fantasies of utilizing the weapon against an invader, but it seemed a most appropriate possession considering his duties. Hideously expensive, it had cost him a year's pay; but considering the fringe benefits of XCOM--namely room and board--it was a bargain.
And so Rawlings meditated, his mind and billfold quite devoid of useless baggage. The war was winding down, but he did not think of it.
He thought of Bright.
Paranoid, sociopathic jackass. Back-stabbing sonuvabitch opportunist. Who could imagine that he'd reform?
Rawlings smiled, a thin, crooked grin.
Six months and the jerk became a leader. Six more, and he's a hero.
Eighteen XCOM soldiers had perished in the massive firefight known only as 'New York.' In the earliest stages of the battle, before the psis at Nevada could arrive, Bright and three teams of ex-Bluegrass troops had broken the alien advance at Wall Street, leaving the financial capital of the world a flaming ruin.
Predictably, the Dow had taken a five-hundred point drop.
But not content to fall back with his survivors, Bright had insanely charged on, rolling back the bugs, killing them at every turn. Ingeniously, he and the last four members of his assault team had descended into the sewers to sneak into Central Park.
There, they'd been killed when the bugs suicided their craft.
And in ten years' time, that asshole martyr will be a god.
Rawlings recalled the shock of seeing New York on TV. New York was burning... and yet, even before the last embers were extinguished, the President and all four network's anchors were calling for Bright's canonization.
"Bastard," laughed Rawlings.
As usual, he'd been at the right place at the right time, and by getting himself dead, he'd invalidated any chances to get up close and personal with the psychopath himself.
They want a statue in Battery Park. 'The Avenging Angel,' they call it.
They don't even know his name.
A thousand years, and men will paint frescoes of him.
I'm not bitter, decided Rawlings. I gave him a pistol and turned my back to him. Deep inside that necrophiliac corpse rapist was a good, brave man. A core of iron--tough and unbending. God damn, he was either inspired or insane. A genius.
But I'm being redundant, smiled the bodyguard, picking up his sword and the plasma pistol that lay by it. Flexing the muscles in his still-lean, still-scarred body, the sergeant hopped from his thinking place atop the boulder to another rock, lean legs carrying him quickly back into the temperate jungle.
Schancer cupped his hands and threw another wave of water over his face. Most of it landed on his head, washing back his stringy blonde hair, revealing a receding hairline.
"Shit," he muttered, immediately pulling his locks forward.
What a tired face I have, thought the most powerful man on the planet. Thin wrinkles, not yet canyons but merely the foundations of such, criss-crossed his face. A thick moustache, drooping and soaked, revealed a gray hair or two. Pale blue eyes were streaked with red.
Feeling very much depressed, the Ubercommander staggered over to his quarter's double-wide bed.
Carrie, Carrie, Carrie, thought Schancer.
Wow, I'm already happier, he realized.
Looking over the small collection of photographs, both new and old, that featured the couple's respective families, the officer raised his eyebrows.
"We are going to have a baby," he mumbled in awe.
Running a hand through his hair instinctively, Schancer lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
We're going to have a baby.
"What should we name it?" Carrie had asked.
"Do you have any... uh, successful grandparents, grandaunts, et cetera?"
"Oh, please. Let's not saddle the tyke with all that."
And so they'd named him Jacob, after the first man to see a UFO.
Someone brushed Sakurai's arm, and the captain turned. Seeing nobody recognizable in the small groups of techs, engineers, and secondaries that floated throughout the main hall, the Japanese captain turned back to his mug of coffee.
Sitting in his lap was a thin strip of cloth.
The officer glanced around again, wondering who'd dropped the item. Gingerly turning it over, Sakurai suddenly stiffened, shrinking down in his seat.
It can't be, it can't be, his mind screamed.
A single blood red circle marked the opposite side of the headband.
It is, he realized.
Scanning the main hall for soldiers, the captain clutched the cloth, shoving it into a pocket on his jumpsuit. He rose unsteadily and haltingly walked towards his quarters, his body unwilling.
I must, the soldier commanded. I have been ordered, and I shall not betray.
His shaking hand pushed open the door to his small bedroom.
But you are betraying, betraying your comrades here, another voice screamed back.
Reaching under his cot, to the small holster tied to the springs beneath, Sakurai pulled forth a plasma pistol. Like nearly every combat officer, he'd 'procured' a spare sidearm from the dead fingers of a bug... but this was not how he had meant to use it.
Japan. The Emperor commands me, through his officers of the Self Defence Forces, that I defend Japan.
Checking the weapon's clip, and damning himself for keeping it charged, the captain shoved the weapon into a pocket on his jumpsuit.
Is this how you honor Keisuke? Not even a month in the ground, and you're going to defecate on everything that he gave his life for?
Sakurai slowly pulled the plasma from his jumpsuit and stared down its alloy barrel.
Keisuke should not have died! Keisuke died because of him! He killed Keisuke and all the others, sending you in without knowing what you'd face, sending you in with barely one third the number of troops needed, sending you in and then nuking the whole fucking hive, dumping a thousand tons of radioactive ash across Eastern China... and Japan.
The pistol went back into his pocket.
He doesn't care about Japan! He doesn't defend Japan--look at him, he'll blast the planet to dust motes before he cares about anything but his XCOM. Stop him, stop him before he vaporizes Tokyo and Osaka and Yokohama and Sapporo and Nagoya and Kobe and Kyoto and Nara.
Slowly--not with hesitancy but with deliberate, effortless actions--Sakurai pulled open the door to his quarters and started to stride the twenty meters to Schancer's room. In one pocket, the headband; in the other, the pistol.
The door was open, hanging from its repaired hinges. The captain could hear the Ubercommander sloshing about in his bathroom. In a moment, he would fling the door open, just as the monster stumbled from his sink, rubbing his face and looking up and blinking like some dumbfounded baby.
And then Sakurai would shoot him.
The Japanese officer's left hand swept, touching the cool metal of the commander's door. A sweet, sick sensation filled his head.
The base alarms.
Rushing around the corner, a short, scarred soldier carrying a katana nearly collided with Sakurai.
"Hey," Rawlings said.
Nearly drawing his pistol from his suit and gunning the bodyguard down, Sakurai stared at the ugly American, waves of hatred lapping at his sanity.
"Your team's on call-" mumbled the sergeant, realizing suddenly that something was critically amiss.
Sakurai relaxed, sliding back into the comfortable confines of his current position as officer of XCOM.
"-Captain," finished the American.
"What..." asked the officer, "what is it?"
Rawlings, also releasing his tension, replied, "Looks like a Harvester-class triple-decker headed for Pusan. Looks fishy; there's nothing else on the scope--anywhere on the planet. Will says he'll fly cover for you, just in case things heat up," the bodyguard nearly forgetting, "sir."
Sakurai nodded, the guilty weight of the plasma tugging at his conscience.
"No point in delaying," he stated, filling the air with the typical nonsense of his post. "I'll get my gear on."
The disgusting toad of a sergeant nodded and muttered something equally noncommittal, jogging away with his burden.
Schancer watched Sakurai's transport lift off. Loaded with the walking remnants of the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Kansai, a single 'Ranger embodied over half of XCOM's ground forces in the Japan Theatre.
Come back in one piece, the commander prayed.
With four 'Rangers, one Blitzen, and two Donners, Kansai Base was supremely gutted. The Gabriel had been shipped Stateside for participation in the last, greatest 'ground' assault of the War. Five teams, assembled from Nevada, Lakota, and Cherokee Bases plus one team of psis, led by the increasingly enigmatic Colonel Wilkes filled three Avenging Angel class heavy transports. Each armed with twin plasma cannon and three heavy fusion bombs, nothing, save a solar flare, was going to stop XCOM from reaching the aliens' base at Cydonia, Mars.
Then it's your job, Jonas, thought Schancer, watching the disappearing dot of Sakurai's 'Ranger.
Turning back to his PDA, the commander sifted through the digital heap of electronic mail already clogging his computer. The Europeans, though solely on a grunting basis, were trading UFO salvage for the endless information supplied by Nevada Base and its scientists.
Ever since Siberia fell, grimaced the Ubercommander.
He promised to hand me my heart on a plate, but that doesn't mean I can't mourn for Russians.
Siberia Base, the secret research center of EuroCom, hadn't been defended by anything less than six plasma defense cannon.
The bugs had taken it out with one battleship.
Two to two, mentally commented Schancer, wading through dozens of salvage reports and periodical research status reports. Causasus Hive. Nebraska Base. China Hive. Siberia Base.
I won't count Bluegrass. We kicked your grey asses there.
Cydonia. The word echoed through Schancer's mind.
Wonder if that's how it sounded to Wilkes? What do you have there? All your families, all your loved ones? Everything and everyone you've ever cared about in your cold, alien hearts?
We're going to fuck it back to the Big Bang, you planet-raping Starspawn.
A single e-mail caught the Ubercommander's eye, burning away his fatalistic mood with nary three words:
To: 48372@484800132 [CinC Glbl Ops Cmdr R. Schancer]
From: 48236@789232045 [Cnl (Sndry) C. U. Schancer]
I love you
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!