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XCOM Team GIO V: The Cold Penguin of Death

Hello and welcome to part five of my XCOM GIO series...actually, that is not an apt description; this is OUR series, not mine. For those new to the series, I am playing through XCOM: Enemy Unknown and using GIO member names and personalities (with permission) to write a creative story based on the gaming experience. I pull no punches on what happens to the team in game and my mistakes are not removed from the final product. I add only story elements surrounding the GIO soldiers and context to the missions in a bigger story. If you want to catch up on the story from the beginning, I have posted links to episodes one through four at the end of the post.

Readers should be aware I am no professional creative writer, I'm still honing the skills and this is my form of practice in the field of study. That being said, I am also proud of each episode. While this episode was particularly difficult for me to write, I am happy with how it turned out.

All this on the table, I present to you XCOM Team GIO Episode V: The Cold Penguin of Death.

**** 

"We all clear?" Jolt asked quietly.

"We're good, he doesn't hit the showers for a couple more minutes." responded Chris. "This new guy is like clockwork, hits the weight room and track before anyone else and has showered before most of us have hit the snooze button on the alarm clock."

"This'll knock him down a couple of notches." Jolt said as he edged his way into the shower stall in the XCOM operative locker room.

Jolt quickly unscrewed the shower head in the cramped shower stall and dropped in the three beef bouillon cubes he had deftly stolen from the kitchens the night before.

"He's coming!" Chris whispered excitedly as Ashaman walked by the locker room door, whistling the signal call, notifying the pair their prey was incoming.

Jolt quickly replaced the shower head with the seasoning cubes onto the pipe and jumped out of the shower stall just as the new recruit, Joyful Penguin, stepped into the bathroom.

"Good morning Corporal!" Penguin said to Chris as he walked in. "Oh, and Squaddie Cynic. Didn't know you guys got up this early." Penguin said cheerfully.

"We actually haven't slept yet." Jolt responded. "Partied pretty hard at the bar last night. I had to hit the showers early to wake myself up. I'm on call today." Jolt explained.

"Same here, first time and I'm excited. Hope we get a call." Penguin said as he started to go into one of the shower stall while Chris and Jolt turned towards the door.

"Wait," Jolt said to Penguin, turning back around towards the rookie, "I almost forgot. For some reason, the showers are putting out only cold water except for that one." He pointed towards the shower stall he had just secretly tampered with.

"Oh, thanks guys!" Penguin responded cheerfully.

Chris and Jolt stopped short of the door, listening as Penguin turned on the shower and started to hum. "Smells like stew in here!" Penguin exclaimed as Jolt and Chris exited the bathroom, laughing.

Two Hours Later...

The base alarm continued to sound as Jolt retrieved his gear from his locker, checking the ammunition in his magazines twice and checking the stability of the new S.C.O.P.E. on his sniper rifle.

On the other side of the locker room, Sergeant Saint was inspecting his rocket launcher. He paused suddenly. "Oh my God...WHO TOUCHED NATASHA?! WHO TOUCHED MY ROCKET LAUNCHER?!" Saint yelled, looking around the locker room at his teammates.

Sheepishly, Corporal Deadman Walking raised his hand.

"Does this look like yours?" Saint asked to which the Corporal shook his head quietly. "That's right, 'cause mine has "Natasha" painted on the side, yours doesn't." Saint said pointing to the red spray painted name on the launcher. "I'm heavy weapons guy, and this is my weapon." Saint paused for a second. "Sorry, I'm on edge." He apologized to Deadman.

"No problem." Deadman said, backing away slowly with his hands raised as Rookie Joyful Penguin entered the locker room.

"Team, this is our newest rookie, Penguin." Saint declared. "He is going to be joining us on..." Saint stopped, sniffing the air as Penguin walked by. "Somebody open a can of beef stew?"

Jolt chuckled to himself while Penguin glared icily in his direction.

The team (consisting of Saint, Ace, Deadman, Jolt, and Penguin) finished gearing up and moving to the Skyranger waiting for them in the hangar. As they boarded the ship, Saint gave them the mission breakdown. "We have a crashed alien craft, larger than the other two we have dealt with. Raven Two dropped it into the woods somewhere in Russia, so we don't have any civilians to worry about. So, if it moves, shoot it."

Operation Cryptic Scepter
Russia
Remote Woodlands

The team stepped out of the Skyranger into the empty woodlands of Russia. It was cold, even with the sun up, chilling the team to the bone. The temperature and the eerie silence of the woods caused more than one member of the team to shiver as chills went up their spines.

To the north, a trail of flames could be seen, making a pathway to where the craft had crash landed.

Saint knelt and turned to his team. "Ace, Deadman, you're with me. We are going to move to the northwest and hit the craft from the west. Jolt, I want you to take the rookie up the middle. Watch his back."

Penguin started to protest but was cut off by Jolt grabbing him by the shoulder and nudging him forward to the north.

As the team moved slowly towards the craft, Penguin started talking with Jolt. "You know, that prank was bull. But I get it, you like to haze the new guys and make them feel lesser than what they are."

Jolt shook his head. "You take things way too seriously." Penguin started to object but Jolt held up his hand and continued. "This, right here," he said, waving his hand around, "this is serious and should be taken as such. But back at base, you've got to loosen up, flip a couple of tables now and then. If not, you'll end up losing your mind and naming your gun." Jolt finished, nodding towards Saint.

The team continued north, with Ace, Saint and Deadman moving up the west side of the field while Penguin moved forward with Jolt.

To the north, Jolt saw a shimmering wall, part of the outer hull of the UFO images they had been studying earlier in the week. Dropping to a knee, Jolt whistled to his teammates to the west. The team stopped and held their positions, looking over at Jolt who pointed towards the shimmering wall.

Saint nodded in response and whispered into his headset, "Push north and do your best to be perfectly silent, I want to get the drop on any survivors."

Rookie Penguin was the first to move into the forest clearing holding the downed alien craft. He slid behind a piece of the alien craft, just ten meters south of the craft. Peering over the hunk of strange metal, his eyes met the large bug-eyes of a sectoid who stood 20 meters to the northeast, flanked by two additional sectoids.

Seeing the operative, the sectoids dashed for cover to the side of the craft and out of the team's sight.

"Three sectoids just took cover to the east side of the craft!" Penguin said excitedly into his radio.

Jolt slid into cover next to Penguin and placing his hand on Penguin's shoulder. "Calm down, brother." Jolt said, peaking over the cover of the wall with his pistol but not seeing any targets. "The team and I have got your back."

To the southwest of Jolt and Penguin's position, Ace and Saint took position behind a log on high ground, scanning the area Penguin had identified the sectoid targets in.

Saint quietly snapped in Deadman's direction, getting his attention. Using quick hand signals, Saint directed Deadman to move east and support Penguin and Jolt while they took the fight to the identified sectoids.

Deadman moved as directed, sliding into cover between Penguin and Jolt. As he did, one of the sectoids moved out of cover, charging towards their cover position, Penguin and Deadman firing as it ran for cover but none of the projectiles connected with the intended target. The sectoid reached cover and opened fire on Penguin who was still out of cover. Reacting quickly, Jolt pulled the rookie back into cover, the shots from the sectoid flying right where Penguin had been a second earlier.

"Thanks." Penguin said, nodding to Jolt.

"Like I said, we've got your-" Jolt was unable to finish his response as the sound of jet engines roared from inside the alien craft. Jolt cursed, pushing his teammates up against the metal cover as three Floaters flew into view, just inside the alien craft beyond the glowing transparent wall.


Three Floaters Attempt to Ambush the Team

Over the team radio, Saint's voice, calm and clear, said: "Natasha's got this."

The rocket streaked across the field from Saint's position, the trail of the propellant leaving a trail of smoke over the heads of Penguin, Deadman, and Jolt. The rocket hit the middle Floater, detonating on impact and blasting its compatriots to either side of the alien craft. All three dropped to the ground and ceased movement.

Saint lovingly patted his rocket launcher as he slung it back over his shoulder, lifting his LMG back into a position to continue the assault on the craft.

Using the explosion as cover, Penguin leaned out from behind the chunk of alien metal he was using for cover and fired on the attacking sectoid. The rounds from his rifle tore the chest of the sectoid open, knocking it off of its feet.

"Hell yeah rookie! That's how it's done!" Jolt cheered.

Saint moved the team forward into the alien aircraft, keeping their eyes open for the other two sectoids they knew were still out of sight. The team halted at the end of the entryway, looking down a hall. Saint peered around the corner, identifying a glowing door north of their position. Opposite to that door and to the east, Saint saw an open entryway and heard movement within the room.

Saint turned to Ace and made a hand motion mimicking the pulling of a pin from a grenade. Ace pulled a smoke grenade from her tactical vest and pulled the pin, red smoke starting to emerge from the canister. She rolled the smoking tube down the hallway between the open doorway and the closed door.

Saint turned to his teammates, "Jolt, post up on the west side of the door to the north, that should give you a view of that room to the east and you can open fire with your pistol if you have any angle. Penguin and Deadman, you follow behind and sweep up the room."

Nodding, Jolt moved to his assigned position, running as the smoke from Ace's grenade wafted around him.

Without warning, the sectoids sprang their trap, firing on Jolt repeatedly as he ran through the smoke. Shot after shot struck the soldier, knocking him sideways into an alien wall and he slid to the floor on his back.

The team had no time to react, watching helplessly as Jolt fell to the floor.

To Penguin, the scene seemed to play in slow motion, the green plasma from the enemy weapons igniting against the body armor of the running soldier. "Stay still, buddy, we're coming to get you up!" Penguin yelled to his fallen teammate.

Jolt looked up at Penguin from the ground, grinned and chuckled. "Giggity." Jolt said, closing his eyes, his head slumping against his chest.

Enraged, Penguin ran around the hallway corner, tossing a grenade at the ambushing sectoids. The grenade landed between the two sectoids and next to an alien power source. Seeing his mistake, Penguin dove for cover behind the wall just as the blast from the explosion cleared the entryway.

Penguin slowly stood, ears ringing from the concussion of the blast. He turned to his teammates who were checking on their fallen comrade.

Saint knelt over the motionless body with his hand on Jolt's neck, searching desperately for a pulse. Saint stood and somberly shook his head. Saint said the only words he could bring himself to say, "He's gone."


The Team Huddles Around Jolt's Body

An eerie growl echoed through the hallways of the otherwise quiet alien craft.

Wiping the sweat from his forhead, Saint shook his head, trying to clear his mind. "Straighten up team, let's clear this piece of crap and get out of here." Saint quietly ordered. "Deadman and Penguin, cover and sweep the hallway to the north. Ace, you're with me. We're going through this door and clearing the room on the other side."

The four spread out, Deadman and Penguin moving deftly into the northern hallway while saint and Ace entered the room on the other side of the glowing doorway which appeared to be a navigation station.

"Room is clear." Saint said over his radio.

"Hallway is clear." Responded Deadman. "We've got a doorway at the end of the hall. Looks like the door on the opposite end of your room leads out next to it."

"Roger." Saint responded. "You two cover that doorway from the hall, Ace and I will open the door and clear it out."

Saint posted himself next to the exit door from the navigation room while Ace opened the door and entered the hallway opposite Deadman and Penguin. She moved quickly and pushed her body against the wall next to the second door. Looking down the hall, she could see Penguin and Deadman, their weapons trained on the doorway.

Ace nodded to her teammates and opened the door. As she did, a bright light gathered in the center of the now-open room, forming a body, and ran towards the doorway Ace was taking cover behind. The glowing enemy pressed against the wall, just on the other side of Ace.

Blindly turning her rifle around the corner of the doorway, Ace fired her rifle. The close range projectiles hit the glowing being in the shoulder, but it remained standing.

Deadman had no shot on the enemy but knew his teammate was in trouble. Acting on instinct, he removed a grenade from his vest and threw it as hard as he could down the hallway and into the room with the glowing enemy, trying his best to keep Ace out of the blast radius.

The grenade detonated feet away from the alien, shrapnel flying in all directions. The concussion shook, the hallway, and the wall separating the alien from Ace disintegrated.

Ace suddenly stood toe to toe with the glowing alien, looking into an eyeless face, the enemy's weapon now trained on her chest. The weapon spewed plasma from its muzzle, hitting her in the chest and both arms, blasting her off her feet and onto her back.

A few feet away, Sergeant Saint watched in horror as Ace crumpled to the ground, memories of Jeremina flooding back into his mind's eye.

The alien stood over Ace's body, triumphant.

On the ground, Ace groaned and slowly leaned toward the alien standing over her. "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fu**ed with? That's me." In a single motion, Ace brought up her rifle, planting the muzzle against the alien's head and pulled the trigger. The alien's head exploded in a flash of light with the rest of its body following suit.


Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fu**ed with?

Sighing, Ace rested her head against the floor of the alien craft. "I'm hurt," Ace said into her radio, "but I'll live." She tore the nano vest from her chest, thankful for the nerds who once again saved her life.

**** 

The return trip to the base was quiet. The metal box holding Jolt's body sat hauntingly on the other side of the hold, draped with an XCOM flag.

The team stood inside the hold of the Skyranger as it touched down, quietly lifting the box and stepping off of the ship. Ace limped as she carried the coffin, but refused to step away until she and Jolt were off of the ship.

Corporal Mrkvicka stepped quietly forward and helped Ace to a medical stretcher while Rookie Ashaman took Ace's place carrying Jolt's coffin.

Silence filled the hangar as the coffin was carried across the deck. Deck crew stopped and saluted as Jolt made his final appearance in the expansive hold. From the shadows of the hangar, Commander Noobtubin8er stood looking on, silent and contemplative.

Days later at the funeral, words were spoken and jokes shared, remembering the acts of a fallen comrade. As the soldiers left the room, they saluted their lost brother for their last time.

From the back of the room, Squaddie Penguin walked towards the coffin and stood quietly in front of it. Penguin smiled, remembering a memory from just days earlier, but seeming as distant as another life. He carefully laid a beef bouillon cube on the coffin and said "Jacka**". 

Penguin stepped away from the coffin, patting Lieutenant Saint knowingly on the shoulder as he walked past.

 ****

Squaddie Penguin walked into the local XCOM drinking hole. The bar was nearly empty at 2:00 in the morning. Soldiers were either in their racks or on call. At a table in the back corner, however, three soldiers sat nursing their drinks.

Penguin stepped up to the table, nodding to Corporals Walking and Mrkvicka as well as Rookie Ashaman. "Mind if I join you guys?" he asked.

"Always welcome." chimed Mrkvicka, pointing to an empty chair.

Minutes later, with drinks in hand, they toasted Jolt, and flipped over the table.

****

For those who don't know, I happen to be good online friends with Jolt and found this to be one of the most difficult chapters to write to this point. It wasn't made any easier by Jolt reporting to me at the same time of writing this that I had been his hero in his own play-through of XCOM. He has also been a big supporter of this project from the beginning.

The end of the story was written about seven times over before I felt happy with it. I also didn't feel right trying to cram another mission into the end, which is why this episode is only a single mission.

Rest in peace Jolt, your character will be sorely missed.

New to the series? Check out previous episodes: I II III IV

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