The lights are on
Power Member - Level 10
It's time for yet another episode of XCOM Team GIO. Last week saw the death of one of the team members. Obviously death plays a role in the game and I felt it important that death play a role in the story, especially how different members of the team react to it. This is a concept I have used as the primary theme of this particular entry in the series.
For those in the dark of what I am talking about, XCOM Team GIO is a series of creative stories written based on a game of XCOM: Enemy Unknown using GIO user names and personalities (with their permission). The missions are documented as I play them and re-written as a, hopefully, cohesive story with all of my missteps left in for the world to see (sorry Jolt). Part six introduces a new character to the Team GIO mix and explores the darker side of a well-known character, I hope you like it.
The days since the death of Squaddie Jolt the Cynic had been dark and mostly quiet. Some operatives had taken to quiet reflection of the dire situation of their planet while others sat silently wishing someone would play a random prank, even on themselves, just to lighten the mood. Yet deep within the training facilities of the XCOM base, two operatives tried to burn off their anger on the shooting range.
The watermelon painted to look like a sectoid head moved along, propelled by a training robot, moving in almost biological motions and in varying directions. The artificial breeze created by the ducts in the XCOM base system would occasionally blow a fast food wrapper by the painted produce and the robot would react briefly to it, causing the fake sectoid to react curiously to the blowing trash.
The artificial sectoid knelt down for a moment, seemingly inspecting the ground. In the distance, a loud bang of a rifle sounded. Before the training robot could react to the noise, the painted watermelon exploded into a haze of red juice and pulp.
"Right in the middle." said Corporal Deadman Walking, 500 yards away from the now decimated imitation sectoid as he looked through the spotter scope.
"This new S.C.O.P.E. the foundry put out is pretty sweet," Lieutenant Jack Gardner responded, "it even accounted for the bad wind measurement you gave me." Gardner looked sideways at Deadman.
"Hey," retorted Deadman, "I'm no sniper. I'm just helping out 'cause someone gave some terrible orders and got Jolt..." Deadman stopped short of finishing his sentence, seeing the look of anger in Jack's eyes.
In the days before Jolt's death, Jack had been training Jolt to be a sniper. They had spent hours on the range and in classrooms, studying the finer points of the sniper rifle and how to calculate bullet trajectories as well as varying combat scenarios.
Jack could remember when Jolt pulled the firing pins from all of his guns, rendering them useless. He had gotten Jolt back with some Icy Hot layered on his scope.
But even though they could joke with one another, they trained constantly. Jolt knew not to be the first to clear the interior of a structure; they had trained on that scenario dozens of times. Jack blamed now-Squaddie Penguin for not holding Jolt back, he knew better. But what enraged Jack even more was that he blamed himself. He could have trained harder with Jolt, trained him a different way. He would still be alive...
Jack put his eye back down on the scope of his rifle and labored to steady his breathing. He found his second watermelon target and willed his body to cease all movement. Using the adjustments from his S.C.O.P.E., he made the necessary adjustments to his shot. He mentally anchored his body to the surrounding surfaces: his feet became as anchors to the ground, the bones of his feet one with the concrete below him, his elbows melded with the metal top of the shooting table anchoring his arms still, he was a solid continual piece with everything he touched.
Jack placed his finger on the trigger, his recently sanded fingertip brushing the metal protrusion. He started to squeeze the trigger.
Out of nowhere, the entire room began flashing red, the wail of alarms sounding from every direction blared through Jack's ear protection.
Jack's localized XCOM ear communicator clicked on and crackled to life, the voice of Commander Noobtubin8er speaking quick and succinct on the other end. "Lieutenant, get to my office as quickly as possible." The Commander's voice had a strong sense of urgency, urging Jack to move quickly.
"I'm on my way." Jack responded as he cleared his rifle and sprinted towards the range exit, pressing his rifle into the Range Master's hands as he ran by.
Jack hurried past the bar, The Rogue Shadow, as he ran towards the Commander's office. The bar was packed. Everyone was crowding around and staring at a television screen, silent. Jack ignored the odd scene and continued through the winding corridors to the Commander's door, which was already open.
Inside the Commander's office, Lieutenant Saint and Commander Noobtubin8er stood, silently staring at a television screen in front of them.
The scene on the television was horrific. Yellow-green jets of plasma were demolishing buildings and streets in Russia, D.C., and Moscow. Innocent civilians were running for their lives from an onslaught of alien forces.
The Commander shut off the television and turned towards the two officers. "This is a major change in tactics." Noobtubin8er said. "Things are chaotic at best in most locations, but some are worse than others. Egypt wasn't anywhere near ready for an attack like this and they are having problems. We have to triage our efforts and I have committed our forces to the Egyptian government to assist."
The screen behind the Commander's desk flicked on and he continued, "At the time of the attack, a number of civilians, about eighteen in total, were visiting a military museum in Cairo." The Commander pressed a button and the screen switched to a satellite image of a small building, its parking lot filled with tanks. "Egyptian first responders and military have been unsuccessful in getting into the building, claiming their forces are being repelled by, and I quote, 'giant praying mantis'." The screen clicked again and a large, multi-legged creature appeared on the screen.
"These creatures, which the nerds are calling Chryssalids, are the problem. We are unsure of their capabilities, but they seem to be holding back heavily armed units fairly easily." The Commander turned to the final slide, depicting a map of the structure.
"According to the survivors who are communicating with local police via telephone, most of the survivors are here." The Commander indicated a small room in the center of the building. "However, they fear the aliens are about to penetrate the building and are talking about trying to make a run for it. I need both of you get out there with three operatives and get these people out. A Skyranger is already prepped and ready to go in the hangar. Your teammates are already there and ready to go."
Saint and Jack nodded quickly. "Yes sir." They replied in unison, turning and moving down the hall towards the hangar bay.
In the hallway, Saint turned to Jack. "Sending us both...this is serious."
Jack did not respond aside from nodding his head quickly.
The pair reached the hangar bay where their gear was waiting. Aboard the craft, Squaddie Ghost was checking his assault rifle magazines. To his left sat Squaddie Jones, nervously pulling back and releasing the bolt on his assault rifle, making sure the bullets cycled properly through the weapon. Lastly, Corporal Chris Mrkvicka paced back and forth in the hold, shotgun in hand.
Operation Shattered PalaceCairo, Egypt
Aside from the noise of the Skyranger itself, bouncing quickly through the sky, the craft was silent. Saint and Gardner had just finished briefing the team on the mission to extract eighteen civilians from structure controlled by hostile forces.
Corporal Mrkvicka looked up from his seat on the bench. "So," he started, "they want us to walk into extremely hostile territory, facing unknown numbers of aliens, some of which we haven't seen before, and just walk these civilians out?"
Gardner glanced over quickly at Saint, both sharing a knowing look. "That's what the man said." Gardner responded in a matter-of-fact tone.
Mrkvicka sat back and let out a deep breath and nodded his head nervously.
"Of course." Jones said sarcastically from the other side of the hold. "No problem. Five guys against a potentially large alien force, grabbing and removing unarmed civilians, it makes perfectly good sense... if they need to make room in the bunks for the new rookies."
"Pull it together guys." Saint calmly responded. "We don't pick the time or the place, but this is what we are trained for."
"I didn't say a word sir!" Ghost cheerfully inserted, Saint rolling his eyes in response.
Mrkvicka stood from his seat, staring out the window of the Skyranger's hold. "Holy sh**!" he exclaimed blankly.
Through the window, the city of Cairo came into view, fires erupting across the entirety of the city. Mouths agape, the team stared at the devastation laid before them.
As the Skyranger touched down on the ground, the door to the hold swung open and the team jumped out, crouching and scanning the field as the craft lifted back to the sky until the team called for extraction.
It was early morning, the sun just getting ready to rise over the horizon and casting a dark red glow across the sky that was amplified by the flames and falling ash from the fires raging in the area.
The team had been dropped on the southwest side of a nine foot brick wall. Based on the satellite imagery provided to the team, the wall surrounded the entirety of the museum complex. A short distance to the northwest, the wall opened up into a lot that held decommissioned tanks.
Ghost took point at Saint's direction, pressing himself up against the wall at the opening. He peered around the corner, seeing nothing but burning tanks and falling ash. Ghost waved the team forward, indicating the battlefield was currently clear.
The rest of the team took cover behind sandbags that had been placed at the wall opening by first-responding military forces.
Gardner scanned the field, feeling the anger over Jolt inside rise from deep inside his gut and up to his throat. His finger itched on the trigger of his sniper rifle. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to kill an alien, any alien.
Ghost and Jones moved north, inside the walled lot with Ghost covering the eastern portion of the lot and taking cover against a tank while Jones covered the west. As they moved forward, Jones saw quick movement to the north. Two massive multi-legged aliens, Chryssalids, charged the team, one of them breaking off in a different direction. Jones and Ghost fired on the incoming enemy, the creature screaming in pain as the rounds tore through its body but it remained standing.
Behind them, to the south, rage began to build inside the pit of Gardner's stomach and he pulled the trigger on his sniper rifle, the shot missing the alien by feet. Gardner cursed on under his breath, cycling the bolt on his rifle.
To Gardner's right, Corporal Mrkvicka quickly slung his shotgun over his shoulder and un-holstered his sidearm. As the Chryssalid approached Ghost's position, Mrkvicka fired his pistol, rounds slamming into the alien's head and killing it instantly.
Jones Takes on the Charging Chryssalid
"Where'd the other one go?!" Jones yelled, scanning the parking area.
"I lost him!" Ghost hastily replied, frantically looking for the missing target. "I think he went that way." Ghost indicated to the east.
The radio crackled to life, the voice on the other end was Commander Noobtubin8er's. "Team, we just got word a handful of survivors saw you enter the parking lot and heard the gunfire. They ran out of the building and into the lot. Intel suggests the aliens are swarming on them." A scream echoed through the battlefield, confirming the report.
"Jones," Saint called quickly, "I want you to push east, watch our flank. Everyone else, push forward. Jack, keep your eyes on the west."
Jones slid into cover behind a tank to the east and started moving along its side for cover, keeping an eye ahead for the unaccounted-for Chryssalid while the rest of the team moved north.
Suddenly, between two tanks to the east, the missing Chryssalid burst from cover, surprising the team. Ghost fired snap shots and hit his target, but the insect-looking alien pressed forward towards him. Gardner fired from his sniper rifle, but his adrenaline and anger spoiled his shot again, sending it wide.
The Chryssalid was nearly on top of Ghost now, preparing to attack. Ghost winced, ducking down and anticipating the pain the bite of this creature would cause.
Corporal Mrkvicka vaulted over the boxes in front of him and knocked the Chryssalid over shoving his shotgun in the face of the enemy. Alien blood and ooze sprayed in all directions as the shell from the shotgun tore through the flesh and insides of the alien, killing it instantly.
Corporal Mrkvicka Prepares to Manhandle a Chryssalid
To the north, Saint saw a blur of activity and the sound of jet engines, "Floaters!" he called out to his teammates. As he did so, Saint saw green plasma projecting from one of the enemy weapons at unseen targets who screamed in agony. More civilians died.
Two other floaters raced to the west, one turning the corner of the closest tank and facing Gardner while the other used the same tank for cover. Meanwhile, yet another floater launched itself across the battlefield, landing directly in front of Squaddie Jones.
Jones was on his own and in a bad situation. Thinking quick on his feet, he retreated back towards his teammates, removing a grenade from his vest as he ran. Sliding behind a shipping crate, the soldier tossed the grenade at the incoming jet-propelled alien, ducking his head below the crate to protect him from the blast.
The grenade exploded in a flash of brilliant light and hot shrapnel, sending pieces of asphalt over the head of Squaddie Jones. The combination of shrapnel, debris, and concussion ripped the floater to pieces, killing it instantly.
On the other side of the battlefield, Gardner dove for cover from the looming floater, just avoiding the shots from its plasma weapon. Gardner snapped off a shot as he dove for cover, but it came nowhere near his target.
Gardner leaned out of cover, checking the location of the floater as he switched magazines on his rifle. The floater was closing ground and at the rate it was moving, Gardner wouldn't even have a chance to get off another shot, it was over.
Closing his eyes, Jack accepted his death. Something inside told him he would see his buddy Jolt again, maybe even Jeremina. He could let go of the anger he held for Penguin. He could be at peace. He felt a streak of heat brush past his head. It was not what he expected death to feel like. Without further warning, his body was thrown backwards by a concussive blast.
Recognizing he was in pain, Gardner opened his eyes. He was alive, lying on his back a foot away from where he had been standing a moment before. Looking up, he saw Saint slinging his rocket launcher back on his shoulder, whispering lovingly to it. Saint nodded to Jack.
Jack propped himself up and breathed deeply. He looked up , looking towards the museum, and saw Corporal Mrkvicka charge , tackle to the ground, and shoot a floater point blank, decimating its partially mechanical body.
A Floater About to Die
Saint helped Gardner to his feet, the concussion of the rocket blast leaving superficial damage to his armor and a couple of small scratches and cuts on his face and arms. Saint patted his friend on the back. "I'm not letting you leave that easily." Saint said knowingly to Gardner.
The team finished clearing the museum, extracting fifteen of the eighteen survivors.
Waiting for the Skyranger to pick them up, Jack scanned the battlefield. He had accepted death moments earlier. But now, in this moment, he wanted to live and to spend every last moment of it making every alien pay for what they had done to Jolt, to make Penguin pay for letting Jolt die, and to make sure no rookie ever let another experienced soldier die. In that burning lot of decimated tanks, Jack silently made an oath with himself to see it done.
Jack double checked the chamber of his rifle, making sure it was clear of any ammunition. With the weapon clear, he checked it in to the armory along with his pistol. Behind him, he could hear the shuffling feet.
"Glad you guys made it back alright." The unwelcome voice of Squaddie Penguin grated on Jack's ears.
"Yeah, thanks." Jack responded icily, trying to keep his anger in check.
"I heard you had a rough time out there. If you ever need someone to help, I'd love to offer you a hand since Jolt's not around." Penguin asked innocently.
Jack couldn't contain his anger any longer. The adrenalin rushed back through his body and he unleashed the days of frustration and anger.
Penguin never saw the punch coming. The impact whirled him to the ground, dumbfounded. Before he could stand, armory personnel were blocking the path between the two, impeding any further conflict.
"He's dead!" Jack yelled at Penguin. "He's dead because of you!"
Even as he yelled the words, something inside Jack told him he was wrong. This only made Jack angrier and he continued to try to force his way to get in just one more punch. Before long, the adrenaline started to fade and Jack was wrestled to the ground and place in handcuffs.