RP XCOM2: Liberation of Earth

DarkGemini24601

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#1
This thread will contain the story "XCOM2: Liberation of Earth" and all that entails, whether it be base roleplay, XCOM missions, or other facets of the RP. To begin with, there will be a prequel chronicling the fall of the original X-COM, and the fate of the survivors leading up to the establishment of the second XCOM organization. Only once this 'Story of Despair' is concluded will the main RP begin. Until then, sit tight, prepare, and enjoy. [This message will be modified once X2: LoE begins.]

We Are Still Vigilant.JPG
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#2
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Prologue
Part 1


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 1st, 2018
0800 Hours


In a darkened room in an underground base, a screen crackled to life. A man perhaps in his thirties, bald and in a business suit, appeared on the collection of points of light with his face hidden, and spoke.

“Hello, Commander. In light of the recent extraterrestrial threat, this Council of Nations has approved the activation of the X-COM Project. You have full control of X-COM headquarters, but do not take your position lightly.”

The man in the room that the Council Spokesman was speaking to tugged on the collar of his black shirt, revealing some of the white undershirt underneath. They certainly aren’t the friendliest people, are they? the Commander of X-COM thought to himself. “I won’t, sir. we’re ready to begin on your order.”

The Spokesman clasped his hands together. “That’s good to hear, Commander Jones. We have a mission for you.”

Already? Damn. Ross straightened his tie. “What is it?” The American asked.

“There appears to be further alien activity in Berlin. If they plan to be doing something there we cannot allow them to succeed. Send in a team to take out any hostiles in the area. Even if the presence seems minor, we have to act.”

“Understood.” As soon as the word escaped Ross’s mouth, the screen shut off and the room lit up again, having charts of funding and a map depicting the places where the initial abductions had taken place. The Commander shook his head, and stepped out through a door on the left, entering central. Staff members were positioned around a holographic representation of Earth, and a young man in a green sweater stood at the forefront of it all. “Bradford, we’ve got a task.”

The Central Officer nodded, pointing at a red dot on the hologlobe. “They’ve already inputted the coordinates. Who do you want to send?”

Ross lifted a clipboard in his hands, going over the roster of 100 soldiers from across the world. “Presence was purportedly minor, so we’ll send a small but effective team. How about…. Lindy Nyugen, Adrian Ivankov, Maximillian Arturo as an acting officer, and… Serina Darger.”

Bradford frowned. “Are you sure about her?”

Ross grinned. “Relax, Brad. She may be something of an animal, but she’s our attack dog. If Strike One finds more X-rays than expected, then she’ll be the one to take them out.”

Hesitantly, the Central Officer nodded. “I’ll get them ready to go, then.”

One by one they were called to the vertical hanger, housing the four interceptors for North America, twice the number in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia that had hangers with two each. On the ground floor was the X-COM state-of-the-art dropship, the Skyranger. The hatch was open, and Central Officer Bradford had the four selected soldiers line up in front of him below the troop transport.

On the right was an Italian with black hair, brown eyes, and an age of 31 years: Maximillian Arturo. He had a heavy rifle in his hands and a heavy pistol at his side along with a frag grenade and a flashbang. He was to be the leader of the team of four on the ground.

The next soldier was Lindy Nyugen, having blond hair and green eyes as a Caucasian Australian. She had gone for a carbine and regular pistol, wearing lighter armor than Max for mobility, and use of her medkit and smoke grenade. Third was Adrian Ivankov, Russian, nondescript features. He carried a regular rifle and wore heavy armor, and had brought a battle scanner in addition to an antipersonnel grenade.

On the left was by far the strangest of the bunch, an American with hair dyed white and eyes an odd brown that seemed redder than anything. She had a shotgun and heavy pistol, heavy armor, and one of each type of grenade. The 20-year-old was named Serina Darger.

Bradford looked over the four briefly. “We’ll be dropping you in downtown Berlin at approximately 2 P.M. local time. Visibility will be low due to heavy raining, so keep your wits about you. The target is to eliminate all hostiles in the area.”

“Yeah yeah yeah, we get the point, it’s spooky,” Serina interjected. “we can take out the aliens easy, no need to worry.”

Brad raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Allow me to remind you that you are no longer a mercenary, Ms. Darger. Show a measure of respect to your commanding officer, please.”

“If you prove worthy of my respect, maybe.”

Bradford sighed, knowing this wasn’t the time nor the place to pursue the issue further. “In any case, you should all get going before the X-rays move too much.” With that, the team of four boarded the Skyranger, and it took off for Germany, leaving the Central Officer to dread the fate of the Earth possibly being in the hands of unscrupulous individuals like the mercenary.
 
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DarkGemini24601

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#3
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Prologue
Part 2


Berlin, Germany
March 1st, 2018
1400 Hours


As the Skyranger came downwards towards the landing zone, Bradford’s voice crackled to life over the speakers in the helmet of each soldier. “Alright, we’ve got some further details coming in. It seems that the German government sent in a patrol to investigate the area, and they haven’t reported back since. Look for them, but bear in mind it may be too late to save them.”

“Copy, Central. We’ll remember that,” Arturo affirmed.

“Who cares about the, they’re probably eviscerated or something already. We’re here to kill fucking aliens, right?” Serina complained.

Maximilian didn’t respond to the comment, standing up and holding onto one of the bars at the exit hatch. He prepped his rifle and had the others get up as well. “Seek cover as soon as we touch down.”

The Skyranger landed and quickly opened the hatch, the four soldiers piling out and seeking cover along benches and cars near the bus station. Aside from the heavy rain pouring down and blackening the day, the day combined with the rolling thunder, there was no sound or movement initially. “They’ve got to be around here somewhere…” Lindy uttered nervously, keeping an eye out in all directions. “The target building’s just thirty meters up ahead.”

Max nodded. “Advance slowly and cautiously, let’s see what we can find.” He moved up from the bench to the bus stop itself, but froze in horror when he rounded the corner, seeing a German soldier with his guts torn out lying on the ground. “W-What the hell is this? Are you seeing this, Central?”

“We are… thoughts, Dr. Vahlen?” Bradford asked of the head scientist standing near him.

“The subject appears to have been killed recently, with some sort of blade, obviously, but… they’re undergoing advanced decomposition… what in the world…?” Vahlen muttered.

“Max, there’s some sort of glow to your-” Adrian began to warn, seeing a silhouette near a truck in the middle of the road, but he was too late. A burst of burning plasma shot out from the source of the glow, an alien weapon, and the shot evaporated Max’s head, leaving his body to crash to the ground lifelessly.

“N-No!” Lindy shouted, her eyes widened and her hands shaking. She fired off some shots from her carbine, but her fear threw off her aim. The bullets collided with the side of the truck, and the figure disappeared behind it a few seconds later. Lindy suddenly fell to the ground, as if being possessed, and wept. “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die…” she mumbled, seeming to lose all sense of the danger she was in.

Serina narrowed her eyes. “There you are, little bastard,” she growled, noting the bulbous-headed gray alien hiding behind an automobile. She dashed up, seeming to care more about revenge for Max and the kill than the safety of Lindy. Getting into cover on the other side of the car before the little alien had a chance to retreat, Darger fired off her shotgun, some of the spray catching the alien as it peeked out and blowing off the right side of its head.

Ivankov’s gun resounded with several shots as he fired at a collection of three machines with a central eye and four manipulators like miniature drones, blowing away one of them before the two got a chance to fire. The heat blasts that exited their guns slammed into the unprotected Lindy, burning her but not quite killing her. “Snap out of it, Lindy!” Ivankov pleaded.

Lindy seemed to come to her senses, and turned around to blow away the other two drones with the Russian’s help. “S-Sorry… they did something to my mind,” she explained before being hit in the chest by two shots of plasma from two more of the grays.

Ivankov’s eyes widened and he swore. “Darger, get over here!” He turned around to fire, blowing off the arm of one of the aliens before they darted behind a car each. “Oh no you don’t, you damn bastards!” He pulled out his antipersonnel grenade, and tossed it behind the cars, the death squeals of the two being filled with shrapnel avenging his comrade.

Serina ran over, realizing it was now just the two of them. “There’s still the one that killed Max behind that truck. I’ll go to the left, you go to the right.”

Adrian nodded, and together the two advanced carefully, the thunder dimming as they focused solely on getting there alive. Strangely, the enemy didn’t attack, and they reached the truck. Ivankov held up three fingers, counting down to zero, and then both snapped around the corner, surprised to find two more grays and a drone instead of the tall figure from before. They didn’t hesitate to blow away the two organics, while the drone beeped and went straight for Ivankov.

“What do you think you can-” Ivankov began before realizing a spinning light around the drone. “Oh, shi-” he managed to say before it blew up, blasting through his armor and impaling his legs and torso with shrapnel. That wasn’t the killing blow, though, his death instead coming from the chain reaction that blew up the gas tanks in the truck and melted his flesh while throwing Serina backwards.

“Fuck!” Serina exclaimed, her armor damaged but the American having gotten the least of the damage. She was conscious enough of her situation to spin around, seeing the tall figure from before aiming straight at her. Oh no you don’t. The soldier dashed forward, diving out of sight on one side of the bus stop while the thin alien took the other wall. The two seemed to stay that way for what felt like an incredible amount of time to both, Serina’s rage simmering and growing as she pulled out her high explosive grenade. She tossed it to the other side, and the tall alien couldn’t react in time to do anything other than dive out of the wall to avoid being killed by shrapnel or concussion.

Serina did the same, but was also going in for the kill. As the tall alien pulled himself to his feet, the X-COM soldier noted he seemed a lot like a human, with the exception of markings on his neck and reptilian eyes. “Oh, you think I’ll go easy on you because you look like us, huh?” Serina grinned widely, and pulled the alien into a headlock, putting intense pressure on his neck, but enough that it snapped slowly. She didn’t even finish the job, throwing the wheezing alien to the ground and starting to beat it into a pulp with her gun.

This was not the best choice, for when the creature finally expired, it released a plume of acidic and poisonous toxins from its body. Serina coughed, her eyes watering and her whole body feeling sickly. Although it hurt to move, she pulled herself over to where Lindy’s body was, using the medkit to neutralize the toxins for the most part, and peeled off the damaged armor that was melting further. “Think that’s all of them…” she muttered into her comms.

“Ack… Acknowledged. We’ll sweep the area with satellite and if there aren’t any more x-ray signatures, you can head home. Get back into the Skyranger for now, a team will retrieve the bodies later.” Bradford stepped back, placing his hands on the console and looking down, taking a deep breath. Three already dead… we don’t seem like we’re any match for them… but… we should have sent more than just the four. We underestimated them.

Ross seemed to be having the same thoughts, a grim expression on his face. “Mark down the dead and file away the letters to their families for later. It wouldn’t do to tell them that their children or siblings died so early, not now.” Folding his hands behind his back, he walked back to the situation room, dreading the report he was going to have to give the Council. “And tell Dr. Vahlen and Dr. Shen to begin studying the alien corpses and equipment we’ll be bringing in. Let’s make those sacrifices count.”
 
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DarkGemini24601

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#4
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 1


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 1st, 2018
1600 Hours


Atka Ipiktok lay back on her bed, her mind clear for now, her eyes closed. The tragedy of the morning that she had witnessed on the mission feed had shaken her confidence in the success of the project as it likely had for everyone else, but the Inuit woman had done her best to calm her thoughts and relax. It’s just a bad mission. Not everything has to be an omen. Slowing opening her eyelids, she sat up, and glanced over at a white duffel bag at the foot of her bed, opposite the standard-issue pillow on the bunk. It contained all her worldly possessions that she had brought with her: some mementos of home including an ivory wolf she had carved as a child and an ivory blue whale she was in the process of carving - as well as supplies to make more. Not much else was of interest, though. She signed up to fight the alien threat, after all.

“I wonder what they’ll be like…” The former Canadian army officer said to herself. ‘They’ were her three roommates, none of whom had showed up yet. They were likely busy with other things or were only now showing up to the project’s headquarters. As for the woman herself, at least in physical description, she was a short Inuit woman with a build that belied strength and speed honed beyond the typical parameters for her sex. Short black hair ran to the base of her neck, and was not far from the color of her dark brown eyes. At the moment Atka wore a brown army jacket over a white shirt - having a design of a Canadian flag with two gray wolves flanking a polar bear below it - and brown khaki pants.

A couple of minutes passed but the door opened slowly without a knock, the person on the other side being shown to be a rather handsome man, being of an average build with grown out, dark brown hair, the most noticeable and eye-drawing feature of him was his red eyes. He had fairly plain white skin and wore just a normal gray T-shirt and some dark blue jeans and strode in with an air of power about him. If it wasn’t for his pleasant smile and currently soft features, he could almost be intimidating. “Hey.” The guy said to Atka, putting his bag at the foot of his bed.

“Hello. I assume you’re one of my roommates and not a random janitor, correct?” Atka asked, offering a light smile to the newcomer.

“Do I really look that bad? I just chose the first thing I saw in my closet.” The man took in a deep breath and sat on his bed. “Name’s Desmond Walker. You?”

“Atka Ipiktok. I won’t fault you if it takes you awhile to pronounce that,” the Inuit woman replied, crossing her legs and sitting Indian-style on the bed.

“Atka Ipiktok… not that hard.” Walker stated, smirking as if achieving a small victory. “I am guessing we are both soldiers, and you are not some stalker looking for their next victim?”

“You hope not.” Atka chuckled. “But in all seriousness, I am. A ‘rookie’, just like everyone else here due to the brass’s unusual rules regarding rank.”

Desmond let out a wary sigh. “I’ve never actually fought before. That was the rest of my family’s job. I joined up because I lived alone and had bills to pays. Some of my brother’s old buddies contacted me and asked if I was looking for a worthwhile job. Never figured I would end up here…”

Atka raised an eyebrow. “I… hope that you’re an unusual case. No offense, but it’s worrying to me if we only have so many experienced soldiers here. I hear the number is only 52… 49 now.” The female soldier’s smile fell, but she continued, “Though don’t worry about that too much. I’ll do my best to show you the ropes beyond any preliminary training they gave you.”

“Thanks… that would help a bunch.” Desmond flashed her a grateful look.

Atka uncrossed her legs, leaning forward. “So what did they teach you at boot camp, anyway?”

“Just the very basics… how to fire, how to run, stuff like that. I just sort of thought I would learn as I went. I mean… this is an important cause after all. Everyone who can has to help out. Who knows… maybe the Walker bloodline makes me a natural?” He tried as a joke, but the laugh he gave was clearly nervous.

“With any luck, I’ll have time to show you the nuances of combat that they didn’t have time to,” Atka insisted. “Like I said, you’re in good hands.”

“I’m not… completely useless though…” The man stated in a rather hushed voice, leaning forward. “I can do… things. I don’t know how, I just know I can. It is really weird, like something out of a movie.”

“Well, certain people tend towards certain talents. So perhaps you do have it in you. Have you ever hunted, Desmond?” Atka inquired. “That could be one thing that would be an improvement upon your current skills.”

“Hunted? No… I grew up in a city.” He rubbed his hands nervously. “You… you seem to have missed my meaning. What I do… it… it isn’t natural.”

“What… things are you talking about, then?” The Inuit woman pressed, seeming confused.

“I guess it would be in order to show you, huh?” Desmond bit his bottom lip for a bit. He held out his hand and his face tensed a bit, a small flame sparking to life over his hand. “See… I… I can just make fire out of thin air… I can also control it… if I really try.”

Atka’s eyes widened. “So you… have abilities like that as well.” Shaking her head, she explained, “I can speak to animals in a manner that they can understand. Like an empathic ability. Tell me something… have you seen any of the news feeds related to the first alien attacks? Did you see a violet link between those ‘Sectoids’? My friend thought I was nuts when I pointed it out, as if they couldn’t see it… but maybe you could.”

“My friends thought the same thing… but I know I saw something between those… things.” He confirmed.

“Our powers must be related, then. Something akin to psionics,” Atka asserted. “Though I imagine the aliens actually understand those powers.”

“I hope within time we will understand them ourselves… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidently used my power without even knowing. Caused quite a few fire alarms to be pulled throughout my school life.”

Atka shrugged. “Yeah, that does sound inconvenient. For me… some people thought there was something wrong with me, but most that knew of my ability didn’t think too hard about it. The Inuit are a very spiritual people, so we all just figured it was something related to that.”

“I took yoga briefly in a high school gym class but that was the closest I ever got to being spiritual. My brother liked to call it ‘bullshit that serves no one’. He was… a very forward guy before he died.”

Atka nodded. “I’d say ‘I’m sorry’, but I’m sure you get that more than you’d prefer - even if I do feel for you. How… long ago did he pass away?”

“Four years ago, while I was still in school. He got himself killed in the line of duty. He worked privately, so there wasn’t really a ceremony, and we were poor, so not really any insurance, though a few buddies of his came to check on me as a favor to their buddy. We never really saw eye to eye all that much, but I didn’t hate the guy. It was actually the same guys who got me here.”

“Well, I have no intention of letting you suffer the same fate.” Atka smiled gently. “I’ve been on several military operations, and my teams always made it out more or less unscathed. I’m not perfect, and I doubt in a war like this I can keep a nearly-flawless record up, but I’ll watch your back.”

Desmond gave Atka a wide smile. “Thanks… that… that means a lot to me.”

The door opened again, and this time a woman with choppy blond hair and blue eyes, and a man with the same color of hair - cut a bit shorter - and brown eyes entered. “Would you look at that, they’re already friends!” The latter proclaimed. “Looks like us four will get along well, then.”

The woman with him just smiled and shook her head. “Must you be bombastic all the time? At least I know to contain it.”

“You’ve only known me for an hour at most, you know,” the young man replied, seeming a bit miffed. Turning back to the two that had got to the room first, he introduced himself. “My name’s Kevin Nash. And she’s…”

“Madelyne Wheeler,” the woman finished. “Nice to meet you two… Atka Ipiktok and Desmond Walker, if I remember the roster correctly.”

“You get to see the roster?” Atka asked.

“I’m the current Lieutenant for our troops, so it stands to reason,” Madelyne answered. “Though no saluting is required at this time.”

"You're a Lieutenant while the rest of us are Rooks? You been on missions already?" Desmond asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I haven’t,” Madelyne responded. “Though I wish I had… if they’d called me in sooner…” She shook her head, seeming a bit frustrated. “Regardless, I was informed they needed an officer, and they selected me. I question that decision looking at Ms. Ipiktok’s file… but I’ll do my best.”

“Likely seniority-related,” Atka responded, and then covered her mouth. “N-Not that I’m saying you’re old or anything?”

“I’ve killed for less.” Seeing Atka pale, Madelyne laughed. “Kidding, kidding.”

"Interesting sense of humor..." Desmond noted.

“Censors are for the weak. I like her,” Kevin countered.

Atka shook her head. “This is going to be an interesting campaign, isn’t it…” she mumbled.
 
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DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#5
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 2


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 7th, 2018
1400 Hours

Atka straightened her shirt, her jacket on a rack near the door, and then tightened her navy blue gloves. “You ready?” She asked her opponent in the small ring set up in the gymnasium.

"Uh... No... Not really." Desmond stated as he looked down at his own red gloves.

“Relax… I’m not going to hurt you,” Atka assured him. “The purpose of this exercise is to get you anticipating an enemy’s movements. The hours we’ve put into the shooting range is great for aim, but we’re going to have HUD scopes for that sort of thing too. You need to be able to think on your feet in addition to being able to shoot accurately. Targets don’t always stand still or move in predetermined fashions, and you need to consider how they’re going to act offensively as well.”

He jerked his head to one side, cracking his neck as he tapped his gloves together. I can't do this... "Okay, I'm ready."

With that prompt, Atka lunged forward, sending a light set of swings at Desmond’s right side in her advance, and kept moving to bypass him and avoid counterstrikes.

Desmond did his best to try and keep her in front of him, keeping his hands close to his chin but not being able to find an opening for his own strikes.

Atka kept up a quick but reasonable flurry of strikes for awhile, and then suddenly swung upwards in a kick with her right foot, seeing if she could catch him off-guard.

Caught him off guard she did, Desmond ending up on his back before he even knew what hit him. "Ow..."

Atka offered him a hand up. “If your enemy is at all smart they won’t fall into a pattern. If they do, and you can’t be certain they’re as dumb as dirt, expect it to be part of a plan.”

He took her hand and stood up, rubbing his jaw. "I can expect something all I want and still get my ass kicked... I just can't beat someone like you. I'm lucky I can shoot decently."

“Your mindset shouldn’t be beating me, at least not initially. Just try to be able to hold your own, to improve. War is about survival as much as it is victory.”

"Won't have many victories if we all keep dying after all I guess..." Desmond tapped his gloves again. "Okay... Again."

Atka went back on the offensive, this time incorporating a few kicks between punches, but did retain the strategy of avoidance and dodging rather than the blocking Desmond performed.

This time, he tried to stay more alert and focused, but once again ended up flat on his ass. Next attempt, he tried to move around more and found himself tripping over his own feet. By the third time, he was down again. "Damn it! Why can't I do this?"

Atka seemed unflustered. “You know how they say that exercise is half mental strength? The same principle applies here. You’re going in expecting to lose, so you’re either not giving it your all, or you are, but you’re just throwing everything you have at me without a direction, a path to follow.”

"So what? I just will myself to win and I will?" He asked skeptically and out of breath.

“That’s half of it. The other half is practice.” Atka walked over to the bench and grabbed two water bottles, coming back to offer one to Desmond.

Desmond took it with a nod of his head and took a rather large sip. "So... One more time then?"

“If you’re willing.” Atka took a drink and then laid her liquid container down, ready to go at it again. “You start this time.”

Desmond held up his hands again and went in a slow circle around Atka. Letting a moment pass by, he threw a few left jabs before going in with a right hook.

Atka did anticipate the strike, but only narrowly dodged it, unable to risk blocking the much larger man. “Not bad…” She counterattacked with a sweeping kick from her left leg.

Desmond saw that trick coming again, taking a brief step backwards to avoid her leg, then charged himself forward with his shoulder to knock her down.

Having overcommitted, Atka couldn’t dodge in time, and was knocked on her back by the advance. The oxygen was expelled from her lungs, and her eyes widened in surprise. I take it back… now THAT wasn’t bad…

Not wasting any time, Desmond quickly got down, pinning her down by sitting on her waist and holding down her arms. "There..." He breathed heavily.

“Is this… really necessary?” Atka wondered, a slight tint to her face. “I give up.”

"Necessary... No. But I at least know when you fight... You don't fight to win... You fight to make sure the other person doesn't get up." Having a rather subtle color to his face, he quickly got off and extended a hand to her.

Seeming to calm down, Atka took it, standing to her feet and brushing herself off. “Glad to see you’re improving, regardless…”

"Didn't really think... Just sort of acted." He admitted.

“Sometimes instinct is the best choice. It makes you unpredictable, and it doesn’t often fail you,” Atka professed.

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind." Desmond said, flashing a small smirk.
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
5,153
1,085
113
19
Texas, United States
#6
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 3


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 14th, 2018
0700 Hours


Atka rushed forward, bounding over a fence set in her path. The end of the obstacle course was not far away now, and it seemed Kevin and Madelyne were somewhat behind, the former not by much, but it was her third roommate that she was worried about.

Unfortunately for Atka, she didn't have to worry. Desmond hopped the fence she had as fluidly as possible, and went at a dead sprint, quickly catching up and even passing the Inuit woman. She might have been the better soldier, but Desmond was the better athlete.

With only a dead climb wall between them and the finish, Desmond reached the wall and pushed himself up with his foot, grabbing the edge and pulling himself up easily as he had a height advantage. Instead of dropping down immediately, he glanced back at Atka.

The Inuit woman bit her lip, before saying with as little air wasted as possible, “Are you taunting me?” while continuing her dash.

"No, I want to see if you can scale the wall." He called out to her, just waiting. He could have been to the finish by now.

Atka narrowed her eyes in concentration, and approached the problem tactically. Banking on being able to jump farther than she could jump high, the soldier hopped onto one obstacle, and then crouched down. Prepared, Atka launched herself at the wall, and just barely managed to catch onto it with her hands, though she realized that if only one had landed she would have likely pulled it out of the socket. Why am I so determined to impress him? she privately questioned. He’s just a good friend… I’m willing to lose if I’m outmatched...

Desmond chuckled and he reached down his hand to her. "Come on, we finish this, we finish it together."

“If I didn’t know you better I’d say you were trying to patronize me,” Atka mumbled, taking ahold of his hand and pulling herself up.

Kevin and Madelyne stopped at the wall, preparing their own jumps to go up, and exchanged glances. Kevin muttered what both were thinking: “Do those two not realize what’s going on between them?”

Desmond hopped off the wall and proceeded to bolt, his moment of chivalry seeming to vanish as he ran away from the woman, laughing as he left her behind.

“Bastard!” Atka ran after him, going as fast as she could, but ultimately came in second. Despite all her physical conditioning, her stature ended up being her undoing in this particular contest.

Even as she strode across the line in defeat, he was there with an extended hand that had a bottle in it. "Nice try partner."

“What are you, a cowboy?” Atka said sarcastically, though took the drink gratefully and downed half of it. “You can be exceptionally cruel, you know.”

"Nah, I denounce cowboys... But... Let's just say I wouldn't want anyone else by my side in a fight, so that makes us partners. Also has nothing to do with the fact we work well together." He rubbed his chin. "As for being cruel... Well look at it this way, I didn't have to give you water, and I didn't have to help you over that last part."

“Fine, fine, you win… in more ways than one.” Atka smiled. “In any case, though, we should probably get something to eat. I’m not the biggest breakfast person, but after a race like this one…”

Desmond returned the smile. "I would love breakfast."

The two headed down to the bar, where the barkeep and some of the kitchen staff prepared meals that were more palpable than the mess hall’s food if you knew how to ask. Atka did, and managed to get them ham and eggs with toast, sitting down at a booth with Desmond.

"Not like you to treat someone to breakfast." Desmond noted as he looked over the breakfast. "I didn't even know there was better stuff than slop."

“I didn’t either until Sarah mentioned it to me,” Atka responded, giving credit to the Chinese sniper the two had trained with once before. “Apparently she couldn’t abide the mess hall’s food and searched for an alternative.”

"You think in a time of desperate need, they would expend every luxury considering it is us or bust." He put an egg on top of his toast and bit into it.

Atka shrugged. “So would I, but then again I don’t pretend to understand the decisionmaking around here.” She shook her head. “Commander Jones isn’t exactly the most open person.”

"How would you run things given the chance?" Desmond asked curiously.

“Honestly?” Atka took a bite out of her own toast before answering. “I’d be more open with my plans with the troops, and I’d try to get to know some of them better. He wants to stay detached, and I understand that, but it hampers his effectiveness and our ability to have mutual trust. I know from experience that losing soldiers you get to know as friends is painful… but if you are too far removed you aren’t an effective leader because the prospect of death ceases to move you.”

"Maybe you should be the one on command after all. Just when you do reach the top, let me be there to be your second in command." Desmond chuckled.

Atka shook her head. “I doubt that’ll happen… but I appreciate the sentiment.”

"I'd follow you anywhere Atka." Desmond told the Inuit woman honestly.

Atka reddened a bit. “Are you sure about that? Would you jump onto a burning bridge swarming with Sectoids in some harebrained plan?”

"You know me... I'm tactical enough to think of anything other than harebrained, and if it was to save you..." His voice trailed off.

“What do you… consider me? Consider us?” Atka asked honestly.

"I... I don't know. I would say we're friends but..." He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "What would... You consider us?"

“I’m not sure… honestly… maybe…” Atka glanced down. “Maybe something more, though I wouldn’t want to overstep my boundaries. It wasn’t long ago that we were total strangers.”

"I wouldn't think you were... Overstepping anything. I feel... Pretty much the same..." He admitted. "We may not have known each other for a while but... I do feel something at least."

“It’s a dangerous sentiment… we’re at war, and if one of us were to die…” Atka trailed off.

"Well... That's always a possibility but wouldn't you rather have something more personal to fight for? I know... I know I don't want to die alone. Any family I had is gone so... This is really the only place I have."

Atka nodded. “And it’s probably too late to turn back now, isn’t it?”

"Most likely." Desmond stated fairly confidently. "Unless you would rather change rooms and forget I ever exist or any of this ever happened."

“Doubtful.” Atka, sitting on the same side as him, leaned over and pressed her lips against his.

He was definitely stunned for a moment or two, but he quickly returned the affection. He was the one to pull away after a while. "Wow..."

Atka shook her head. “Don’t make it weird…”

"Any weirder than it already sort of is?" He asked with a raised eyebrow, his eyes quickly becoming interested in his food.

“Damn you…” Atka glanced away, becoming rather interested in the wall.

"I wonder what Kevin and Maddy would think if they saw that." Desmond thought out loud.

“I’d rather not hear their teasing…” Atka replied. “There… is the risk that they might come by here though.. and assume something if we’re sitting together like this…” She sighed. “Would you like to go somewhere else?”

"I would suggest back to the room but then you might get the wrong idea."

“I-I…” Atka trailed off, seeming at a loss for words.

"Do you... Have a better idea?" He asked with a quiet gulp.

“Just… follow me.”
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#7
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 4


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 14th, 2018
0800 Hours


Atka got up quickly, heading down one of the hallways. After walking for some distance she paused, and posed a question. “You… never know what tomorrow might bring.” The Inuit woman glanced up at the ceiling. “If… that’s something you want to do… I… wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Desmond froze. "You... You aren't... Are you?" Is she serious?

Atka looked over him for a moment, and shook her head. “Y-You’re right… it was stupid to suggest… I’m sorry.”

"N-No... No... I wasn't saying it was stupid." Desmond scratched his head. "If that is something... You would like, then... I would... Be... Honored."

Atka nodded slowly. “I’ve never… done something like this before, but… I’m afraid… that if something were to happen, I never would.” She opened the door that was to her right, stepping into a supply closet, and motioned for him to follow.

He slowly followed. "I mean... I haven't either but..." Desmond found himself with a small smile. "I couldn't think of anyone better."

Atka took in a deep breath, and then her hesitation seemed to wash away as she wrapped her arms around his back and kissed him, this time with more passion and fervor.

He returned with just as much, if not more, as he reached over and shut the door.

***

X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 16th, 2018
0500 Hours


Lights flashed in central as the hologlobe lit up, a contact appearing over Africa. Commander Jones was present, as was Bradford, as always. “What’s this one?” Ross inquired, as this was not the first UFO X-COM had dealt with. A week ago Lt. Wheeler had taken a team to a splashed alien ship, likely a scout or fighter, and cleared the site with only one casualty. Preliminary readouts showed this UFO was different in design.

“A much larger ship than the last one,” Bradford cautioned, walking up to the slightly-raised platform where his CO stood. “Could be a cargo ship or a transport of some sort. Either way, we can’t shoot it down… but it’s NOE. Looks like it’s going to land.”

“I’m aware of what ‘nape of the earth’ means, thank you,” Ross replied, shaking his head. “In any case, prepare a team.”

“Are you… sure that’s wise?” Bradford asked. “If there’s too many enemies in that ship… I’m not sure we can successfully board it.”

“We’ll send a team of twelve - a maximum size squad. I’m not overly concerned, especially with nano-weave vests and HUD targeting for our soldiers,” the Commander insisted. “That’ll offer enough protection and aiming assistance that even the rookies shouldn’t have much trouble. But… just in case, I’ll send out someone who has a little experience. Squaddie Darger… and did you have Ipiktok promoted to Squaddie as well? I’m not stupid enough to allow the psychopath to take charge of a mission.”

Bradford nodded. “I did. I just have to wonder at how the rest of the team will take it.”

“If they’re good soldiers they’ll deal with it. Especially knowing the alternative is to have Serina in charge.” Ross crossed his hands behind his back. “Get that team ready. We have a big haul ahead of us if we can take this ship.”

***

Atka sat in the Skyranger’s interior, taking a deep breath to steady herself as she went over her equipment. She had opted for a strike rifle along with a standard pistol. She was wearing a tac vest, realizing that if she were to be hit by anything more than a plasma pistol it wouldn’t really make much of a difference if she was wearing heavier armor or not. Better to rely on my mobility over armor that’s flimsy compared to enemy weapon tech… She was satisfied with her flashbang and smoke grenade, but not as much with the murmuring among the team about her odd promotion. “Listen up,” Atka told the others. “I understand that my promotion seemed to come out of the blue, and believe me, it was a surprise to me as well. But I’m going to lead us in and out of there, despite the odds.” I just hope Commander Jones knows what he’s doing.

“We’ll see about that,” Serina said dryly. “If you’re green against these aliens I don’t see you faring very well as our leader. You’d all be better off under me.”

Atka shook her head. “Whether… or not that’s true…” Which it isn’t. “...orders are orders. I expect you to follow mine, Darger.”

“If you prove effective,” was her reply.

Goddamn mercs… “I will be.” Atka glanced at the other two members of her fireteam. She didn’t know Dosni Makkrin, but she was reassured to see the fourth member was none other than Desmond. You ready for this? she asked him telepathically. I’m… a bit afraid of hitting this big of a ship, to be honest.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried too. He responded back, even though he kept his face clear. Gotta have faith though… right?

Atka nodded slightly. Right. We can do this… Madylene pulled out a victory with few losses, we can too. The Skyranger’s hatch closed, and its engines flared up, as it headed for its destination: the jungles of Nigeria.
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#8
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 5


Jungles of Nigeria
March 16th, 2018
1230 Hours


With a quiet hiss and clunk of the landing gear, the Skyranger landed on the solidest piece of ground it could find. Beyond it, the enemy ship was not hard to sight. A small line of trees lead to an artificial clearing where the ship had come in, simply flattening the vegetation with its massive size. It certainly appeared like a transport, having a space that was likely a cargo bay, as well as a hangar and bridge, the two on opposite sides of the ship. Atka stepped out with her Fireteam A, followed by the eight in B and C combined.

“We’re going to approach from the side,” Atka informed the team over a radio quietly as they spread out somewhat, but kept within visual range of each other. “Team B, I want you to A’s left, and C should remain at A’s right. We’ll go in through that ramp that seems to be between the bridge and the storage depression. That way we can hit them from a place they’re not expecting, take out the Outsider or Outsiders at the bridge, and then any responders.” The thought of there being multiple energy constructs practically petrified Atka, as she had seen firsthand how dangerous one was - it had caused the only casualty of Madeylne’s mission with its impeccable aim.

As the team came on approach of the clearly, a quiet, unnatural and low set of noises caused their head to pause, hold up a hand, and carefully pull out her weapon. Where are they… Her gaze settled on three drones, flying around at the peripheral of the clearing, about 6 meters downrange. She and the rest of Fireteam A got low. “Take aim and take them out as efficiently as possible.”

“I could just rocket them,” Serina hissed.

“No explosives. Do you want the entire crew coming down on us in an instant?” Atka chastised. “Just shoot normally, hit them with a spread while the three of us deal direct blows.” Each of the three designated targets. With an inhalation as she lined up her shot, and then an exhalation as she pulled the trigger, Atka’s marksman rifle round leapt out and found a home in the side of a drone, sending sparks flying and making it crash to the ground.

Dosni seemed to follow suite, but his excitement had gotten the better of him, his shot not hitting anywhere close to home, his bullet flying past the drone. Desmond picked up his teammates slack, and he shot down the machine with a couple of close hits.

Serina, for her part, managed to rip apart the third, not with precision but with a hail of fire that had her reloading by the time she was done with her onslaught. “What’s next?” She said with a wild grin.

Atka did her best to ignore the other woman’s overenthusiasm and had the squad start to advance slowly again. At the ramp was a group of two Sectoids. Two fireteams were able to line up shots this time, and take them out with barely a sound. Atka’s fireteam approached the ramp, with Team C in tow, and Team B being up against the walls beside a ladder. “We’ll go up on three. One, two, three.” Eight of the squad members charged up the ramp, finding that it sloped downwards again. At the foot of the internal ramp were three unfamiliar aliens, with cybernetic limbs, distorted bodies, and no legs: jetpacks took care of their movement, as evidenced by them ascending a few feet upon contact and taking aim.

“Take them down!” Atka fired off a shot, this one missing just between two of the aliens. However, there were seven more soldiers ready to give it another try, and the resulting spread took down two of the Floaters, the other one fleeing into the cargo hold. “Team B, stop it.”

“Got it ma’am!” A male voice confirmed, the sounds of gunfire coming over the comms as it cut off. “Enemy… down…” He responded hesitantly.

Atka led her group of four to confirm, but as they peered around the corner they realized the same thing B was: there were a lot more aliens that had witnessed the takedown. Two sets of three Sectoids turned their heads, three groups of three drones swiveled into action, another group of the ‘Floaters’ turned their heads, and a pair of two robots that vanished as soon as they were seen made up a horrifying total of 20 enemies at once.

“Pull… pull back!” Atka shouted, doing as she had told the others. “Team C, line up against the cover on the edge of the ship! A, we’re doing the same and watching the corners! Team B, take cover on the rocks just to the side of the ship and watch for any incoming fliers!” The squad scattered to do as it was told as the enemy advanced.

The Sectoids lined up in high cover on the low ground, suppressing rather than trying to score any meaningful hits. It wasn’t an ineffective strategy - it pinned Team C and some of A, and spoiled any advantage high ground shots would give. The Drones, for their part, were fearless. They all advanced, scattered, towards team C, small blinking on their optics hinting at a deadly outcome if they got in close. The two vanished machines were nowhere to be found, and the Floaters jettisoned up into the air, on the roof and temporarily out of sight.

Atka took a quick but calculated shot, taking out one of the drones, while Serina fired wildly at the disappearing Floaters, wasting some of the precious time they had to thin the enemy forces.

Desmond fired upon the enemies Serina had ignored, the PFC taking shots at any enemy he could instead of trying to go for kills. This strategy damaged the enemies but also brought upon their ire, multiple drones firing at him, some landing hits, but he soldier got behind cover before anything fatal got him.

Atka’s breath caught momentarily at his plight, but she didn’t stop returning fire. Three more drones dropped, one from her fire and two more from the other members of the squad, but four remained, and executed their final directive. One collided with a member of Team C, and the other three exploded upon members of Team B. Half of the kamikazed soldiers managed to survive, only to be shot by Sectoid pistols due to them being uncovered by the force of the blasts.

“No!” Atka cried out, but kept her wits just enough to hear the roar of engines as the three floaters appeared from over the roof. She lifted her rifle up, her anger guiding her aim, and managed to blow a hole through one. Serina blasted apart another, but the third took out Dosni with its plasma carbine, cackling victoriously as a hole was left in the center of the rookie’s chest.

The alien’s victory was to be short lived, the Floater’s engine erupting in flames, covering the half alien, half machine in a roaring fire that caused it to fall in agony and slowly burn to death, Desmond lowering his hand and laying his head back on the ground, gritting his teeth in pain.

Atka struggled to control her breathing. We can still do this… “Take out the Sectoids! Use any explosives you need to, our cover’s blown!” She tossed up a smoke grenade to provide her remaining six allies with extra cover, giving the three in Team C a chance to merge with the sole survivor of B, who was cowering in terror.

It took a bit of encouragement from the remainder of C, but the woman took up her weapon again and began firing, her shaking hand making it hard to take aim accurately, but gave her some sense of comfort in knowing she was helping.

One by one, the Sectoids began to fall in sprays of ichor. However, by the time three of them were down, two of the hidden robots - of which the team had forgotten about in the chaos and bloodshed - reappeared, firing off a set of plasma shots into the last member of fireteam B’s head, destroying it and killing her instantly.

“God… dammit!” Atka screamed in denial, needing to reload her marksman rifle and only being able to shoot at the murderous Seekers with her pistol. Serina was not so inhibited, a bloodlust clear in her eyes as she shot down one of the robotic squids.

Desmond was back on his feet, having used the medkit he had on himself, taking his own shots at the second Seeker, killing it quickly as he slowly limped back towards his two teammates.

“There’s just six of us now…” Atka spoke into comms. “Central, we’ll attempt to clear out the rest of the ship, but if we encounter…” She trailed off as her decision was quickly made for her. Four hulking humanoids in green armor appeared from the cargo bay, escorted by two more Floaters, and they began advancing towards the half of Strike One remaining. “We need to get out of here, now!” Atka ordered, taking a potshot and downing one of the Floaters before pulling back, heading back down the ramp. Desmond, I know you’re not at your best, but we need to run!

Don’t worry about me so much… just concern yourself with getting out yourself… He thought tiredly, throwing his empty rifle back over his shoulder and taking out his pistol, turning as he ran to fire himself.

The six dashed towards the edge of the clearing, heading back for the jungle and the Skyranger. As they got within 6 meters of it, though, Atka heard something whizzing through the air. Grenades? How could they throw them that- she thought before the world turned upside down, the shock of an explosion nearby her that claimed the lives of two more allies knocking her off her feet, along with the sole remaining member of fireteam C.
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
5,153
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#9
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 6


Jungles of Nigeria
March 16th, 2018
1245 Hours


Serina managed to stay up, and got to a tall, overturned stone, returning fire and taking down a Floater so that only the large enemy soldiers were left in sight, and were forced to start climbing down. “Get up, you idiots, or I’m leaving you here!” Serina yelled.

Desmond grabbed his side, his healed side now having a bit of shrapnel in it. When he tried to stand, he was met with a jolt of pain, falling back down as he reached out and grabbed his pistol, pulling out the clip and replacing it with a fresh one. “Get out of here!”

“I can’t just leave you here!” Atka pleaded, pushing herself to her feet and trying to get the spinning feeling out of her head, not even noticing a piece of alien alloy lodged in the side of her leg at the moment. She took aim with her marksman rifle, reasoning that the enemies were at just the right range for her to strike and them to be forced to advance. A shot echoed out, adrenaline allowing her to aim, and fired a shot into the helmet of one. It didn’t completely break it, but Atka only momentarily faltered, firing again and taking down the enemy before they could respond. The other three sought cover, advancing more slowly.

However, help had already snuck into the jungle, and two sets of plasma bolts leapt out, one narrowly missing Serina and the other claiming the life of the last member of Team B, leaving only the three from fireteam A alive. Serina turned, an expression of rage and denial on her features. “You aren’t going to kill me that easily, you damned aliens!” She briefly recognized the shooters as Outsiders, and fired off her rocket into their midst, blowing up the energy constructs before they could have a chance to regenerate.

One of the Mutons, who got courage from seeing the lowered number of enemies began to advance towards Atka, determined to get close and personal with the kill he was going for as she was reloading again. The alien stopped short however, reaching up as if grabbing some invisible force around his face. The Muton rose slowly in the air, dropping his weapon and trying to hit whatever was doing this to him, but fell limp as his head imploded, spewing out liquid like a crushed grape, his arms swinging back and forth as they fell to its side.

The body flew to the side, Desmond collapsing to one knee, vomiting up his meal from earlier as a wave of nausea rushed over him. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his armor, slowly looking to Atka. “I thought… I told you to run…” He said with a small smirk, nearly falling flat on his face but stopping himself as he propped himself up with his arms.

Atka looked at him in a mixture of gratitude and horror. “Serina, help… help me with him.” The two, one not really happy about it, helped Desmond to his feet, guiding him into the trees and out of sight from the Mutons. The Skyranger quickly came into view, but Serina suddenly stopped walking. Atka glanced back at her, her expression becoming one of terror as she realized that there was a spiral of violet energy connecting the American’s head to a strange-looking Sectoid in the brush, seeming to have burn wounds from the rocket earlier.

“Die,” Serina said with uncharacteristic calm, pulling out her pistol and firing at Atka. The shot punched through the nimble Inuit woman’s arm, and she fell to the ground in pain, alive but injured further, the pain starting to flare up. The Sectoid Commander vanished into the brush, content to let its puppet do the killing with no risk to itself.

“S-Serina… get a hold of yourself…” Atka begged, trying to reach down to her pistol but her right arm failing her. “Don’t… do this…”

An unnerving smile crossed Serina’s features. “Oh, but this is so fun… to make this one kill her friends for what she did to me…” Scar said, her voice sounding mixed with one that was certainly not human. She aimed at Desmond’s head.

“Resist… damn you!” Atka weakly raised her right hand, and a helix of blue leapt out, looking like a half-frozen set of icy lines crossing like a rigid strand of DNA. The mindfray impacted with Serina’s head, temporarily disrupting control, but not enough. With a growl of mental anguish and rage on both the controller and the puppet’s parts, Serina dropped her pistol, and reached back for her SAW. Pulling it out, she aimed at Atka, only to realize the Inuit woman had drawn a pistol just a second before.

Unfortunate, but at least I have my direct revenge, the Sectoid Commander mused to itself as Atka pulled the trigger, putting a bullet through Serina’s head.

Atka collapsed to the ground to her knees, her eyes seeming vacant from what she had just done, her pistol dropping to the jungle floor as she did. After a while, Atka would feel a pair of arms wrap around her, a bloody and battered Desmond having to muster any strength he had left for the act. “You had to.”

“That… doesn’t make it right…” Atka mumbled, shakily getting to her feet, knowing they had to get to the Skyranger before the Sectoid Commander returned with friends. She and Desmond dragged themselves into the Skyranger, taking off with only 2 survivors from a squad of 12.

***

Back at base, the two were taken to the medical ward, where Commander Jones awaited, seeming somber but also eyeing them with distrust. “What… did you two do out there? An alien’s head exploded after some red glow… and Darger…” He seemed to lose his nerve momentarily, the image of what Atka had done to her still in his head. “Not only did she suddenly seem weakened, but you… you two have their powers, don’t you? How can I be sure this wasn’t a setup? That you’re not spies that were allowed to survive?”

“Because you are not currently experiencing what that Muton did right now for sending us on that crap-shoot of a mission.” Desmond stated, too tired and in too much pain for pleasantries.

“I’d watch your mouth, I-”

“Commander, enough. Please,” a second voice came from the doorway, the aggrieved central officer standing in the doorway. “No one could fake the hell you can see they’ve been through. We’ve lost enough people today… just… leave it be. They may have psionic abilities, but they aren’t spies. They may be two of our best soldiers.”

The Commander shakily stepped back, seeming to have only been able to gather his wits enough to make those initial accusations. “You’re… probably right. I… think I need to be alone for awhile.” Without another word, he departed, leaving the two to be sedated and treated.
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#10
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 1: Frail Beginnings
Part 7


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 21st, 2018
1600 Hours


Atka sat in bed, staring up at the ceiling rather than her bandaged leg and arm. Bags were under her eyes: sleep had evaded the Inuit woman since the mission. Rarely was it not tainted by nightmares that would wake her up with her blood running cold. Her only comfort was that her lover was nearby, even if he couldn’t safely get out of bed to embrace her.

Desmond lay on his separate bed, doing much the same, though his sleepless nights were more from his wounds than nightmares. When he wasn’t looking at the ceiling, he was looking at Atka, wanting to comfort her but the words failing him.

“I… wonder if we can win this war,” Atka spoke quietly, her voice dry. “After losing ten people… we only have… what, forty people left? And if we keep losing like that…”

“Not like we can back out though…” Desmond responded, turning in his bed, groaning as he did so from his wound. “We did what we could… next time… we will be more prepared.”

“We… do have new powers…” Atka smiled weakly. “I have an offensive one now, but yours seems… more effective, if more training. Was that… telekinesis, maybe?”

“I don’t really know. All I remember is thinking I had to protect you and was going to crush that Muton myself if he had hurt you…” Desmond admitted, wanting to roll his eyes at his own corniness.

Atka laid back down. “I’m… grateful for that. I just…” She held back tears. “I wish I could have saved more… I have the deaths of ten people burned into my memory now…”

“We both do.” He told her, wishing he could reach out to her. “You are not alone.”

“I know…” Atka huddled deeper into her blankets. “We just have to stay strong, for everyone. And improve our powers so we can protect them better.”
“Yeah… But it will be a tough time training, since we seem to be the only ones here who can use these things so far. If nothing else, we are the strongest.” Desmond grabbed his side as he turned back onto his back. “Plus… we will get more time together at least… always a bright side?”

“Always a silver lining, even in bloodred,” Atka muttered. “Make sure to shoot me before I become a poet.”

“I don’t think I could ever hurt your pretty face.” He said teasingly. “You know… when I am not beating you in the training ring.”

Atka smiled waveringly. “Just… promise me I’ll never have to choose between leaving you behind like you wanted me to there and staying. I… wouldn’t be able to leave.”

“I…” I can’t promise her something I don’t know will happen. I’m not invincible… Desmond thought to himself. “I won’t leave you like that Atka… I’m not gonna die until I am wrinkled and graying… hopefully with you there with me.”

Atka chuckled. “Just as long as you don’t know something I don’t. If the aliens have aging rays I’m out.”

“That seems like… a horrible waste of technology.” Desmond said, shaking his head as he weakly laughed.

X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 28th, 2018
1200 Hours


At noon Atka and Desmond were released, and returned to their room. Madelyne and Kevin had visited, but still happily welcomed the two back. “I didn’t know you two had mind powers… could you teach me?” Kevin asked with a wide grin.

“I doubt it works that way,” Madelyne said more levelly.

“Sure, I can teach you.” Desmond made a little flame and flicked it at Kevin. Before it caught his clothes on fire, he recalled the flame, leaving a signed hole on his shirt. “Consider yourself taught.”

“Ass,” Nash muttered.

Atka merely smiled. “It’s nice to be back on my feet again… going to need some exercise before I feel up to snuff, though.”

“To update you, by the by,” Madelyne interjected, “We’ve researched beam laser weapons and are in the process of manufacturing them. Stopped an abduction attempt. Two casualties, but we made it.”

“And now I am an assault like flame-boyant over there,” Kevin added.

Desmond gave one glance at Kevin and he was pushed backwards onto the bed. “I had such an urge to send you into the wall for that pun.” Desmond looked back to Madelyne. “I am so sorry we left you with him.”

“Believe me, it was a struggle,” Madelyne professed, “but I survived. Somehow.”

“Screw all of you,” Kevin growled. “Well, except Atka. She’s actually nice.”

Atka chuckled. “I have nothing else to add.”

“Kiss ass.” Desmond commented to the man. “You might make Maddy jealous with your flirting.”

Madelyne shook her head. “There is nothing between us… don’t think everyone in this room has to be lovers with one another.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The Walker said smoothly.

Madelyne rolled her eyes, grabbing her cup of coffee and going back to drinking.
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
5,153
1,085
113
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Texas, United States
#11
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 1


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
March 30th, 2018
2300 Hours


A bald man with his face shadowed appeared on that familiar situation room screen before an anxious Commander Jones. “Commander…” he began with a ‘regretfulness’ that felt like cold disappointment more than anything. “We regret to inform you that Nigeria, in light of X-COM’s failure to remove the alien transport from their soil, has withdrawn from the X-COM Project. We hope you will… perform better in the future to prevent such losses to the initiative. We are transferring a status report to you. Good luck next month.” He cut off just after that, the report going up with a damning ‘B’.

Ross shook his head. “Dammit. But it’s just one nation. To hell with Nigeria if they can’t muster the ability to clean up what was left of that ship’s crew.” He turned on his heels and marched out of the room.

X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 4th, 2018
2300 Hours


“You’re an ass, you know that?”

Several heads turned towards the sudden outburst by the bar. The man in his late twenties facepalmed as everyone looked away, all too slow for his liking. Clean cut and shaven with dark brown hair and green eyes, the man sat in a business suit that made him stand out in the crowded bar of people in training clothes and lab coats. Not as much as the woman with him, however. The blue eyed blond with hair down to the small of her back wore a tank top under her lab coat, one that barely hid her exceptional physique under a Pink Floyd symbol. The black shirt contrasted with bright red leather pants that hugged her figure.

“Not only are you an ass,” the woman continued, drawing eyes again, “But you are the donkey’s butt. You’re an ass’s ass!”

“Vicky, please… you know I love you. I would hope our two kids would lay credence to that…”

“Then marry me already!”

Through clenched teeth, the man said, “This is neither the time nor the place. The bar for this fight, or X-COM for marriage. I am going to marry you, I just want to wait ‘til the war is over. Not like we’re in any danger in the base!”

The woman tapped the finger against her lip in thought for a moment, then picked up her martini glass, repeating, “The ass’s ass.” The man threw up his arms in defeat, and turned away, sulking.

A short woman in a simple white shirt with the Canadian flag and brown khaki pants approached with an eyebrow raised. “Should I be concerned? You’re not soldiers, so I doubt you’ll be pulling guns on each other… but still.”

“Do you have a gun? Because I’m tempted right now!” the woman threatened, folding her arms and pouting.

The man leaned forward a bit and muttered, “She goes from insisting I marry her to wanting to shoot me. This has been my life for four years. Lucky me.”

Atka glanced at her companion. “Please tell me that’s not us in four years…”

“You planning to pop the question?” Desmond asked with a small smirk to the Inuit woman.

“Yes! Good idea!” The woman turned to the man. “Joseph Chambers...”

Joe’s eyes widened. “Wait.”

“...would you do me the honor…”

“Veronica Lockheart, I swear to God, I…”

“..of being my…” Joe practically leaped forwards, pressing his lips against hers before she could finish. Surprisingly, she didn’t push him back.

Atka shook her head. I’m not sure if you helped or not… she silently told Desmond.

I was being serious… He informed her, Desmond clearing his throat at the two in front of them reminding the couple they still existed.

Veronica pulled away, giggling like a drunk schoolgirl. Her face instantly turned serious as she said, “This isn’t over,” then instantly turned gitty again as she turned to the other two. “I am so sorry. My name is Veronica, and this is my baby daddy, Joseph.”

Desmond threw up his arms and turned, “Alright, I’m leaving. This whole socializing thing is overrated anyways!”

“Calm down…” Atka smiled, though she kept her incredulous look. “I’m Atka Ipiktok, and this is Desmond Walker.”

He turned back around, rolling his eyes. “Hello.”

Veronica took their hands, shaking them both at the same time. “Nice to meet you. I… your names are familiar. Did you… do something bad I should know of?”

Joe’s face was serious as he said, “They… are the only two survivors of that disaster of a mission to Nigeria. Cost us the nation, cost us ten soldiers and their equipment, and almost cost us them.”

Atka’s smile quickly fell. “I imagine we don’t have a very good rep because of that, huh?”

“If you mean for failing to secure the ship, failing to get more people alive, and failing to keep Nigeria…” Joe leaned in close. “No. Only morons on the Council would think that. Trust me, I know.”

“I-It’s those… other rumors floating about that make people… wonder,” Veronica stated nervously.

“I think I know where this is going.” Desmond mumbled, crossing his arms and letting out a sigh.

Veronica’s eyes darted between them. “Well… as a scientist… if it’s true, I find it fascinating. Something worthy of investigating. But… a-after seeing what the aliens can do…”

Joe folded his own arms and gave the pair a serious look. “I just have one… simple… question. Are you two spies?”

Atka’s eyes narrowed. “The Commander… asked us the same thing. Accused would be a better word. But if you think… that I didn’t feel… anything when I saw almost everyone in my squad wiped out...!” Her arms trembled, and her eyes - seeming to have darkened in color slightly since the mission - glowed with a soft blue light that only Desmond could see.

Joe watched her for a few moments, then nodded and turned towards the bar. “Can I get another drink?” When he turned back, he was smiling. “That’s good enough for me!” He shrugged. “You seem legit.”

“What… just like that?” Veronica half whispered. “Are you sure?”

“Yup,” is all Joe responded with.

Not all of the hardness drained from Atka’s features, but she didn’t offer a retort. “I… assume we won’t be having any issues, then?”

“Us? You two, the two of us? No.” Joe took a sip of the beer he was given and frowned. “I’ve had better…”

“Well… okay.” Veronica tried smiling herself. “Sorry. It’s… human nature. Fear of the unknown. But Joe has this thing about people. Always able to tell when they’re being honest or not. It’s why he became a lawyer. If he says we have nothing to worry about, then I believe it.”

Desmond raised an eyebrow, looking at Joe with an unbelieving look. “Alright… I failed both 5th, 7th, and Junior year in high school math, graduated top of my class for quantum physics in college, and I once owned a hamster named Melvin.” He said to the man, trying to see if he could pick apart what was true and false.
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#12
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 2


Joseph looked Desmond up and down as he spoke, watching his face and body movements and listening to his tone. “Well… I don’t think the first is true, or the second… no offense. And Melvin isn’t a bad name for a hamster. I had a turtle named Howard… and I have no idea why I named him that.”

Desmond seemed a bit put off guard. “Alright, I was seven at the time… can you really blame me?” He rubbed his chin. “Alright, I have the best girlfriend in the world.”

Joe chuckled. “Guess I should say I can tell when people are being honest… but that doesn’t mean it is true.” He grabbed Veronica’s hip, and pulled her close. “Though Atka should be flattered. He isn’t lying.”

Desmond glanced at the woman next to him, his cheeks reddening a bit from embarrassment. “How do you know I was even talking about her? I could mean anyone.” He responded calmly.

“The way you both reacted when you asked about popping the question. And the little things. The subtle glances. The closeness of how you two stand next to each other. The… aura of comfort I get from you two.” He took another sip, and spoke into his glass. “Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous. That’s… just the impression I got.”

Atka shook her head. “We are an item, I have no reason to hide that. Though I think it’s a little early to be talking about marriage, at least for us.”

“Good to know the right time… and place.” Joe said, and Veronica just rolled her eyes. Joe took one more drink from his beer, oddly finishing it despite looking like he was being poisoned after each drink, and placed it down. “Whelp… this was fun. But can’t start a relationship on a lie. You guys ready to hate me?”

Atka looked at Veronica worriedly. “Is… he a lightweight?”

“Nah. He’s just afraid you’ll punch him,” Veronica answered. “You wouldn’t be the first.”

Joe stood up straight, and with a smile, he said, “My name is Joseph Chambers. My job here is to act as the on-site liaison for the Council of Nations, and report any major issues to them, particularly when it comes to the Commander.”

“I… see why you’d think we’d be wary of you. Hard to speak freely around that sort of person,” Atka said neutrally.

Joe nodded, and turned to Desmond, pointing at his chin. “Come on. Let off that aggression. I can’t get you in trouble if I give you permission, right?”

“I’m not just going to randomly punch you…” Desmond said, rubbing his hand. “You haven’t deserved it yet. Besides… I could do a lot worse than just a straight punch to the face.”

Joe glanced at his girlfriend. “What do you think he means?”

Veronica shook her head. “Do you really want to know?”

Joe shrugged. “Well, I have a pretty steep hill to climb. I can’t speak for my employers, but I’m more interested in the needs of the world first, the needs of this project second, and their needs a distant third. So please, don’t censor yourself around me.” He placed his hand to the side of his mouth and added, “Seriously, if I ever pissed Vicky off too much, I’ve said so many bad things about them around her that she could really send me up the river.”

“So, you really want me to hurt you that badly, huh?” Desmond asked as he crossed his arms with an unbelieving look.

Joe threw up his hand. “N-not really. I’d just like a chance to earn your trust. I’m a swell guy when you get to know me, despite what they say about lawyers.”

“I can attest to that.” Veronica wrapped her arm around Joe. “He’s the kindest, most honest man you’ll ever meet. Trust me, I’ve met a lot of creeps in my day. And if Joe wasn’t all he claims to be, no way would we have kids. Or be getting married very, very soon.”

“Are your… children here?” Atka asked curiously.

“Mhmm.” Veronica took a sip of her martini. “They’re with one of the caregivers now. Such darling little girls. I wanted a boy, but Joe insisted they both be girls like their wonderful mother, and who am I to argue?”

Atka chuckled. “I do hope they inherit your confidence, at least.”

“Only time will tell,” Joe responded. “They’re still toddlers. And the cutest toddlers you’ve ever seen. I’m counting on you to keep them safe by busting heads out there.”

Atka nodded. “Right. Something more to fight for. I can get behind that.”

“Well, we’d love for you to see them sometime. You’ll simply love ‘em.” Veronica turned to pay her tab, but remembered she didn’t have one. “I love free drinks.”
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
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#13
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 3


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 11th, 2018
1200 Hours


“And this is our shiny, clean, brand spanking new Xeno-Biology Laboratory.” Veronica took a deep breath. “Smell that new chemical smell. Or don’t. That is probably not something you want to inhale a lot of.” She stepped around a counter, grabbing a box of gloves. “Hope your shoes are clean. Wanna keep this place as clean as possible before we make it messy chopping up aliens here.” She noted the in use room to the left. “Oh… too late.”

“This why command is such a stickler about explosive use?” Desmond asked Veronica as he took in the room around him, never liking anything scientific related.

“That it is!” The woman slipped a glove on with a loud ‘SLAP’. “How are we supposed to find how these things tick to better fight them if you blow them all to smithereens?” She slipped on the other glove. “And when we understand that, you’ll have free reign to blow the crap outta them.”

“Miss Vahlen would agree with you,” a voice said that required a brief glance around to locate. A young girl, perhaps six or seven years old, stood before the group of four, wearing a pair of brown cargo pants and a plain blue shirt. “Though I think she doesn’t think about the troops a lot.”

“Dear… I don’t think you should be running around in here,” Veronica said sternly, like a mother.

“Um… Vicky?” Joseph laughed nervously. “I don’t think you… this is, um…”

The girl crossed her arms. “Well, they’re soldiers, and they’re in here,” she pointed out. “And I’m An-Yi Shen. People usually just call me Lily though.”

“Shen?” Valerie scratched her chin. “As in… Dr, Shen? Or a different Shen? I don’t want to assume anything. No… you know, racial fopahs.”

The girl tilted her head, having no clue what the last word meant. “Uh… yes, I’m his daughter… if that’s what you’re asking” she said slowly.

“Shen has a daughter? Didn’t know he had it in him.” Desmond noted. “How old are you? Seven, eight?”

“Seven,” An-Yi replied, shifting her weight between her feet idly. “So why are you two here?”

“Dr. Lockheart was showing us around, primarily. We figured it would help our efforts if we had a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes,” Atka responded evenly.

Lily nodded. “I guess so… well, you see the… more pretty half here, and then you just get some squabbling with the big four in the back.”

“Oh, yes. The arguing…” Joseph ran a hand over his face. “How anything gets done around here with Shen and Vahlen always butting heads…”

Veronica shrugged. “As I see it, Vahlen is usually the one who is right. Um… no offense kid.”

Joseph shook his head. “You sure that isn’t you working under her talking?”

“Well, she’s won over dad and Brad…” A thought about rhymes likely went through Lily’s head due to her inquisitive look. “...in regards to the whole ‘Arc Thrower’ thing. That’s what we’re going after next… so further weapons and armor research is gonna have to wait.”

“Is that so?” Veronica looked around the lab. “You know, we’re not exactly equipped here to take on live aliens shoot psibeams and whatnot. I hope your father has something else he intends to build.”

“We’re going to build some sorta containment facility to hold one of the little gray ones,” Lily affirmed. “I… guess we’re sedating them or something to prevent them from making people go nuts?”

“Makes sense. Those not accustomed to psionics tend to be weak-willed when it comes to those annoying creatures.” Desmond crossed his arms and looked off to the side. “Even if it does still hurt like hell when they try.”

“Besides, if they give us trouble,” Lily began, pulling out a wrench that looked slightly comical in her hands. “we can always just knock them over the head.”

Veronica leaned close to Joe. “I like this one. She has spunk.”

Joseph scratched his head. “Are we entirely sure the alien psionics are, like… *really* psychic powers? What if it is some kinda trick that looks real. I mean… it is one thing for a few humans, but *every* Sectoid?”

“They wouldn’t pull a trick on those that they don’t know have powers,” Atka contested. “You can’t see the psychic half of things, but I can. They get a purple glow when they’re using their mental attacks, and they usually take the form of threads or distorted lines.”

“Really? So when they use it, there is literally something… metaphysical…” Joe made a motion, as if forming a link between his and Vicky’s heads.

“Sometimes.” Desmond said. He held out a hand and flames sparked to life. “That look metaphysical to you?”

“That looks like a fire hazard,” Dr. Shen noted with a shake of his head, stepping out of a nearby door. “You might want to put that away before-”

“As interested as I am in your powers, Mr. Walker,” the chief scientist said with her noticeable German accent, walking around the engineering chief, “I suggest you ‘dispel’ that power before you set something valuable on fire. And draw my ire.”

“The rhyming today,” Lily mumbled. “Is it some holiday I’m unaware of?”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Shen. Dr. Vahlen.” Veronica rubbed her wrists nervously. “I-I know they’re not supposed to be here, but… but considering their position… and who they are, it would do good for them to know what they’re dealing with.”

The elder Shen shrugged. “It’s not really my problem, so you don’t have to worry about me,” the engineer said enigmatically.

“You are too dismissively of proper protocol,” Vahlen complained.

“And you two argue like an old married couple!” the younger Shen whined. The blank stares she earned from both of them made her look between them incredulously. “...uh… was I… out of line or something?”

“N-No… just an odd comment,” Vahlen asserted. “I would never marry someone like him,” she growled.

Veronica held a hand over her mouth, desperately trying to hide the fact that she was laughing as she stepped away. “Excuse me… little sick… gotta… water…”

Vahlen gave her subordinate a particularly evil look as she departed, and turned around. “If you’ll excuse me I have some real work to do,” she insisted, heading back to her office.

Shen sighed deeply. That woman… he thought to himself with maintained disbelief. “Regardless of… rocky starts, it’s nice to meet you two,” he spoke to the two psionic soldiers. “I see you’ve already got acquainted with them in your typical fashion, Chambers,” he noted with a slight smile.

“Yes, Dr. Shen. I must say, they are a cut above your typical soldier. And interacting with them makes for more positive reports to the Council, even if that isn’t… what they want to… hear… ahem…”

The Taiwanese engineer rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes, they are pessimists, aren’t they? I can tell the Commander’s patience is wearing a little thin with them. I just hope that in this case I’m wrong, and developing the arc thrower will give us a valuable edge in information that supersedes whatever new weaponry and armor could get us.”

“I’m just worried about soldiers having to get so close to the aliens to capture them,” Joseph admitted.

“I might be able to disable them,” Atka noted, “though if I’m not on the operation… we’ve got flashbangs and that’s about it.”

Shen nodded. “At the very least the Sectoids were chosen because they are the easiest targets. I sincerely hope we encounter more of them and not those ‘Mutons’ as I’m aware the soldiers have taken to calling the alien shock troopers you encountered.”

“At least not until we have better equipment of our own,” Veronica stating, walking back over. “Incidentally… does you daughter help out building our weapons and armor? She’s… so young.” She looked down at the girl. “No offense.”

“I’ve been letting her learn by experience,” Raymond confirmed. “You’d be surprised how much someone can learn by simply watching and taking mental notes.”

“Apparently she’d be really surprised,” Lily grumbled.

Veronica shook her head. “Not so much, young one. I don’t… oh, I’m sorry. You probably hate when I call you that, don’t you?”

“You sound like a monk,” the girl groaned. “Just call me Lily.”

“Right.” Veronica placed a hand to her chest. “I, believe it or not, am not as… educationally presentable as I would like to be. But, like you, I am sure, I had a brilliant mind, and simply needed the right opportunity to show it off. And I can not tell you how many new things I learn simply by having hands on experience here.”

That seemed to placate Lily, and she shrugged. “Alright… maybe we can be friends then. Hard to find many of those here.”

Veronica bowed her head. “Sounds great. Now… if you’ll excuse me…” She held up her hands. “I gotta see if a Sectoid has a bunghole I can stick my hand up.”

Joseph smiled as she walked away. “God, I love that woman.”

Atka raised an eyebrow. “I assume not for that last comment.”
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
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#14
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 4


The lights flickered erratically in the Kyoto Subway as a team of eight soldiers cautiously advanced. They were on high alert, but nevertheless were trying – and somewhat failing – to rush forward. For the target the X-COM squad was after was a powerful plasma bomb primed to blow up the city. Attempts by the Japanese Defense Force to break into the passage and deactivate the tactical bomb in their capital had resulted in said forces being blown to pieces by alien ‘defenders’.

Strike One soon came into contact with those forces. A cluster of four Sectoids scuttled into view, one blasting one of the team’s members in an ambush. The nervous team took two of the grays out with a subsequent reaction firing squad.

“Man down!” one of the squad members reported grimly before taking cover behind a pillar. One of the Sectoids vanished from sight, and thus the soldier poured fire at the other. It didn’t immediately go down, and lifted the hand that hadn’t been blown off at him. Visions struck the soldier, horrible predictions of his death that caused him to panic and blindly charge his tormentor – a move that ensured his death from the hidden Sectoid’s plasma pistol.

“Dammit! Yamada!’ another soldier cried out in anguish. She used what distraction the death of her teammate provided to avenge him, moving forward to flank and riddle the healthy Sectoid with bullets. It went down, and the other fell with it.

“Damn,” the squad leader muttered. “So those things really are mindmerged.”

“Strike One, you need to keep moving,” Commander Jones’ voice crackled over radio. “That bomb is still charging.”

“There’s a power node just ahead of you. Move to disarm,” Shen added.

The avenging trooper went to do so, and as she pressed down on the deactivation panel she noted a civilian cowering behind an immobile train. The woman advanced, calling out, “Hey! You’re safe! Get out of here!”

The civilian turned around, staring at her with reptilian eyes, and the soldier realized her mistake. The Thin Man proceeded to draw a plasma carbine and plant her.

“Holy shit!” the squad leader exclaimed. Before he could say any more the alien unhinged its jaw and spat poison onto him and two others. A pair of similarly suited and armed infiltrators appeared from behind the vehicle, and locked down the two unpoisoned soldiers with suppressive fire.

“Tt’s those damn… *cough* … Thin Men!”

Shen’s eyes widened as the firefight dragged on. “Strike One, the power is going critical on that bomb! You need to act!”

“Can’t! We’re locked down!” a team member reported with rising panic.

“I see it! Someone take out the one on me!”

A Thin Man exploded into gas from a laser shot. The soldier that spotted the bomb moved towards it as it began to spin.

All video feed went black.

Ross went pale. “Strike One, report!” he requested. . “Strike One, report!” he demanded. “Report!” he almost pleaded.

“Sir, we’re… getting video feed of Kyoto on the news…”

“Bring it up,” Ross said raspily. The hologlobe vanished, and in its place was displayed a smoldering crater where half of Kyoto used to be.

X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 12th, 2018
2300 Hours


The shadowed face of the Councilman seemed mocking to Commander Ross Jones as he stared up at it coldly, a lump in his stomach and a hole where his heart should be. “What… do you want…?” he said, temporarily forgetting his place with the frustration and despair he felt.

“Commander… we regret to inform you that Japan has immediately withdraw in light of the destruction of their capital. What is left of their government has lost all faith in the X-COM Project. Two nations have now left, and others are worried about our future performance. We… trust you will do better in the future to avoid these sort of situations.”

“What would you have me do?! There was no way we could have predicted that outcome!” Ross shouted in denial. “We were screwed either way…”

The impassive figure did not change in his posture. “You have lost the majority of your laser weaponry,” he stated rather than questioned. “Rebuild it. And keep the fight on. We cannot stop now, even with this tragedy. Good luck, Commander.” With that, the screen went blank.

“Good luck… that’s all you fucking have for me, huh?” Ross spat, kicking the console in front of him and then holding his head in his hands.

A hand slowly lowered onto his shoulder. “Commander, I…”

Ross spun around, a burning anger in his eyes, and only calmed somewhat when he saw who it was. “What… do you want, Chambers?” he asked with fury present in his tone, interwoven with weariness.

“Only to lend a sympathetic ear.” Joseph let out a long sighed, and looked at the console. “They… I can’t… I don’t… listen, I speak for them… but I don’t… speak for them, if that makes any sense.”

“You don’t agree with them is what you mean,” Ross said weakly.

“Yeah…” Joe let out a huff, flopping in one of the chairs. “Maybe I’m not cut out for this. They wanted a yes-man, and I can’t deny what I feel.” He rubbed his eyes. “How could this happen. What kind of… monster would just… blow up…”

“Ones that know just how to show us their superiority,” Ross replied. “Things were going so well in the world until this happened… and yet…” The Commander sighed helplessly. “Was this whole project a mistake, Joseph? Are we fools to think we stand a chance to an enemy that’s so much better armed than us? All the tenacity and ingenuity in the world might not be enough to wrest victory from them.”

“Are we fools? Maybe.” Joe looked at him. “Is there a chance we might fail?” He nodded. “A significant one. But is this project a mistake? Absolutely not. We will fight through this. We will win in the end. I don’t care if this is one of the first planets or the hundredth they’ve tried to take over, humanity always finds a way. We just need the right person to lead us. And that happens to be you. And that, sir… is more pressure than I could handle, I assure you.”

“How do you even know it’s me?” Ross countered bitterly. “Do you know how many people - people more capable than me - declined this position in favor of their home nations? Nine. I was tenth on their list.”

Joseph nodded. “As the Council representative, I was aware of that. But that doesn’t matter in the end. Those people had their chances. They declined it. If they were right for the job, they would have said yes. They didn’t, you did. This job takes drive, sir. You have to want it as much as you have to work for it. As long as you have the drive, we are in good hands. But… times like this are going to shake your resolve. Understandably. It is times like this that you need the support of others. The support of the Council would be a nice one… but in their absence, I’ll have to do.”

“You’re an oddity… I don’t think a lot of people here like me. Respect me.” Ross sighed. “I supposed I haven’t done much to deserve that respect, though. And the way things are going I’m not sure I will be able to earn any.”

“Maybe. But I am sure you’ll keep trying. Some people give respect freely. Some insist that you earn their respect. And sadly, there are some that never seem to give it. Me?” Joseph shrugged. “I trust my gut. Always have. And my gut tells me, whether we win or lose, you’re a respectful man. You’ll pull us through, or you’ll make sure we fight to the bitter end. Either way, I’m here to help.”

Ross nodded. “Speaking… about bitter ends, what happens if we fail? To X-COM personnel, I mean. I don’t think the Council has given us a single protocol about how to handle an evacuation of the base, or a fortification.”

Joseph chuckled grimly. “Wish I could tell you they’re keeping you in the dark, but if they are, I’m in the dark too. I’m not entirely sure what we would do… but maybe you can make one. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. If you want… I can help with that. I’ll make a list of the most valuable personnel. Individuals that would be best to take over positions, including yours and mine. And make plans to evacuate if need be. It would hopefully never be needed… but it might give you some peace of mind.”

Ross nodded. “Thank you, but… do focus on the latter. If it comes down to it… those in charge should live with their mistakes. I’d want your kids… Shen’s daughter… to make it out of here. They shouldn’t have to go down with the ship. That’s the captain’s job.”

“Understood. I’ll make sure they’ll be the first ones out.” Joseph stood up, and smiled. “But that won’t happen. We’re going to win this. Count on it. If it takes a year, five years, or twenty, we’ll win. Count on it.”

“I hope you’re right, I really do,” Ross replied. “Tell Shen to get working on replacing our gear as best he can. I don’t care if we have to use up every last cache of alloys we have… we need to give our soldiers a fighting chance as soon as possible.”
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
5,153
1,085
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#15
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 5


Bradford entered the bar area, a dim shadow seeming to cover his face as he slowly lowered himself onto a stool, and even before the bartender asked he said, “Strong… something… very strong.” The bartender seemed to hesitate but it took only one look from Brad to turn him around, and fast. “An… entire half of a city… millions of lives most likely. All… gone in an instant.” He muttered to himself, and when the bartender put a glass in front of him he said, “Get me the whole damn bottle!”

Once again the bartender quickened his pace as Bradford rubbed his head with his hand, trying to keep in the look and aura of failure he had. “Not to mention the men, and the equipment we lost… morale will plummet.” He thought out loud, bringing the glass to his lips and downing it all in one go. “God save us all… rest in peace.” The Central Officer whispered as he began his most likely long night of drinking ahead.

“Sir… I’m not sure that’s going to help,” the dry voice of a young woman cautioned from behind the Central Officer.

“Says you.” He noted informally. “Now you going to patronize me some more or let me drink in actual peace?”

“I said I’m not sure I will… but believe me, I’m questioning a lot of my own convictions these days.” Atka sat down next to him, and asked the bartender, “Get me a glass of beer, please.”

“I didn’t think you drank.” Bradford noted, keeping his gaze glued forward, as if he was staring a thousand miles away.

“I don’t,” Atka confirmed. “Always thought it was dangerous, that it led people to throw their lives away in squalor… but I wonder now if maybe I was looking at what I saw among my people wrong… maybe the squalor was the cause, not the effect.”

“I’ve been drinking ever since I was old enough to buy a bottle, and haven’t stopped since. I’m no wreck. I’m just fine.” Bradford said in denial. “What is supposed to be the next step from here. A code black… it is worst case scenario, but to add insult to injury we lost most of our good gear. That means whoever goes out next is more likely to bite it. How do I assure them to their faces everything will be alright?”

“At this point… you don’t. We have to be honest, I think,” Atka responded, receiving her glass and taking a drink, not enjoying it but continuing out of solidarity. “We… all know that these missions aren’t going to be without their casualties. And it’s going to be difficult as hell. But we have to try. If we just hand over the world to these… savages… who knows what they’ll do to it? Better to go out swinging than give in to them.” The Inuit woman shook her head. “They wanted to demoralize us… we can’t let them have that psychological victory.”

“You know… sometimes I think that… well, off the books of course, you would make a better Commander than Ross. He should take notes from you.” Bradford told the soldier as he refilled his drink and downed it.

Atka’s eyes widened. “I… I don’t know,” she responded. “I have a good record, sure. And this isn’t the time for humility… I know how to lead people. But to be in overall command? I worry I’d lose the personal connection, the bond I feel with those I fight alongside. It hurts more to lose them when you’re that close… but it encourages you to watch their backs.”

“To be honest, and this may be the alcohol talking, but he isn’t fit. He is… too… too… what is the way that would describe him?” He asked the Inuit woman.

“Out of his element? We all kind of are, even if some of you guys were with the organization longer than he was,” Atka replied.

The British man chuckled. “That is too nice. I would think more along the lines of… green… soft… honestly a bit of a pansy.” He downed another drink, his eyes finally showing weariness. “This job is going to age me so much I am going to look like a raisin by the time I leave and get to go home. If I get to go home.”

“We certainly can’t give into a defeatist mindset, or we’re going to make more mistakes,” Atka warned him. “Even if we might lose, we can’t think we are going to, or we’ll go about this the wrong way.”

“Maybe I should pick up a gun again. Go out with the men myself, if that would help. You know I once served in the British Army. Was in active duty before a took some shrapnel to the back and was sent on medical leave. During that time, I studied, did a lot of contemplating. Found out I had a knack for war tactics and information. Thought maybe I could be some… hot shot general, or something of the likes.” He chuckled grimly. “What I would give to go back in time and slap myself silly for that one. Who knows where I would be if I took a different route than the one I did.”

“I’ve been offered promotions to a higher rank before, but I usually declined because I wanted to stay with the men,” Atka stated. “Maybe we both picked the wrong career.”

“Fine, take my job, I’ll take yours. Can’t do much worse.” Bradford said with a hollow laugh.

Atka sighed. “I don’t know that you’ve done a terrible job… Ross may be a… ahem, a ‘pansy’, but you aren’t. You have a head on your shoulders at the very least.”

“Thank you, Atka.” Bradford said to her as he sniffed, taking the bottle to look it over for a few moments. “I need to clear my head. Haven’t slept in 37 hours, and with this blunder… hopefully we will have some reprieve time before the next attack comes.” Bradford got up from his stool, doing it slowly so he didn’t fall. “Thanks for the pep talk. If I ever become the Commander, kindly shoot me for my idiocy.”

“Understood, sir,” Atka said with a gentle tone. “I’ll watch over the hologlobe if you need me to. A little coffee should be all I need to stay up at least half that long.”

“Don’t break it. It is expensive.” The Central Officer saluted Atka before he slowly trudged off, hoping he actually found his bunk and not a garbage chute by accident.
 

DarkGemini24601

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#16
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 6


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 22nd, 2018
1400 Hours


Kevin looked through the sights of his laser rifle before firing, taking satisfaction in the minimal recoil it responded with upon activation. The blast hit the corner of the target - not exactly the best shot, but better than his shotgun accuracy. “I can’t wait to get a laser one of these…” he muttered.

“Shen’s been working hard as it is, don’t give the man a heart attack,” Madelyne replied with a shake of her head.

“He’s certainly done a good job,” Atka chimed in. “I… wish I had a long-range one of these to call my own… hopefully an old-fashioned ballistic marksman rifle will do the job.”

“Hey, nothing we’ve seen so far has been anything short of squishy,” Kevin offered optimistically. “They care more about offense than defense, and we can use that.”

Atka nodded. “From what we’ve seen… aside from the Mutons of course. They certainly have worse in store.”

“Concentrated fire for the Mutons,” Madelyne advised. “They have big profiles, so one grenade will ruin any cover they have as well. They did a number on us with a surprise attack, but next time we go up against them it’ll be different. ‘Know your enemy’ as they say. The more they beat us down, the better we’ll know them, and we can come back from defeat because of that.”

Atka smiled. “You really do know how to turn even the worst of situations around, Maddie.”

“Stop, you’ll make me blush and undignify myself,” Wheeler complained. “I have to maintain the ‘prim Englishwoman’ facade.”

“Like you do every time Kevin is around?” Desmond teased her as he was leaning against the wall slightly away from the rest of the group with a smirk. “What happens to the facade then?”

“Will you give it a rest already? I swear, you are absolutely reoccupied with this idea that everyone on this base has a thing for someone else,” Madelyne complained - quite indignantly - and picked up a laser rifle of her own, her weapons fire a lot more accurate than Nash’s.

“That is not true and you know it.” Desmond said with a roll of his eyes. “You just do such a crappy job at how hot you are for him.” A smirk came soon after he said that, knowing it would get her riled up, causing Kevin to intervene.

The other assault got involved before that. “Fucking hell, Desmond. Don’t tell us how to live our lives…”

“Touchy.” He noted, pushing off the wall as he went to pick up his own rifle he had long since put down, and just idly fired, though still kept considerably good aim. “Just trying to lighten the mood, love birds.”

“I already succeeded in doing that,” Madelyne wasn’t afraid to admit. “You’re just slow, Dessy.”

“Ouch. How can my ego ever survive your onslaught, Maddy?” The American man asked in an exaggerated way.

“It can’t. Abandon hope,” Atka assured him. “And I know you can do better shooting than that.” She pulled out a ballistic rifle, this one longer than a standard-issue assault rifle, and lined up a shot. She breathed in, and fired when she exhaled, the bullet hitting closer to the bullseye than the other two had, and was marginally more accurate than Desmond’s shots.

“Must you always one up me?” Desmond asked his ‘girlfriend’ as he pulled out a ballistic pistol, looking rather standard in shape and size but when he fired it one handed, it sounded a lot more beefier, his shots getting a nice grouping along the chest area of the paper target. “Cause I can always follow suit.”

“That doesn’t look like an X-COM weapon,” Madelyne noted. “Aside from it not being a little bulky… it’s modified somehow, right?”

“They are a slightly higher caliber round with FMJ. Gives me more power in a relatively same package as a standard issue one, though the kickback will get you if you are not careful.” He turned the pistol in hand, holding it out to Madelyne. “Wanna give it a go?”

“Hm… that’s likely more Kevin’s style. I prefer weapons that aren’t going to knock me over.” Maddie took the weapon, and handed it off to Kevin, who took aim and fired. He nearly missed the target due to the recoil, but still seemed satisfied by the heavy impact of the slug.

“Nice…”

“Won’t take down a big guy in one go but it definitely makes them think twice.” Desmond explained as he took the gun back. “Hard to believe how far we’ve come in a matter of months.”

“Wonder if we can get a laser slugger pistol,” Kevin mused.

“You can dream, but they seem to prefer conformity in their weapons,” Atka suggested. “Not that I can blame them. They’re faster to make, and we need whatever we can get as fast as possible.”

“Who knows Kevin… maybe X-COM will get so desperate for weapons they will just say fuck it and start handing out swords. Could you imagine going into battle with one. Just seems so impractical.” Desmond said to his friend. “Especially for you. With your luck you would trip and stick yourself with the pointy end.”

“Pffft… swords are an easy weapon to use. You don’t need to be good to swing one at someone who has no experience,” the New Yorker contested.

“What, like you in a boxing ring?” Desmond questioned.

“O-ho-ho, that’s where you lose,” Kevin said snarkily. “My dad used to be a boxing champ in his heydey, so I could kick your ass in the ring.”

“I didn't know personal skill was hereditary. Besides, I could beat your ass,” He said, pointing to Kevin, “Yours,” He then pointed to Maddy and when he turned to Atka he shrugged. “I need special permission to do it to you.”

“You’re not getting it with that sort of comment,” Atka said snippily, crossing her arms.

“Wow, you pissed everyone off,” Kevin illuminated with a grin.

“It seems to be something that is hereditary for me. Can’t help it.” He teased, rolling his eyes as he went over to Atka, “I’m sorry for the rude comment, could you find it in you to forgive me?” He asked as if feigning to be a gentleman.

“Maybe during the next ice age,” Atka replied.

“There’s the reason I love you.” He whispered to her with a grin as he turned around and took up his spot next to Kevin again.
 

DarkGemini24601

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#17
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 7


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 25th, 2018
1600 Hours


Lily dashed through main engineering, weaving past some concerned engineers in hardhats - though most of them had come to accept the young girl’s rambunctious presence. It brought some levity to an otherwise dark time, after all. Regardless of the feelings of those around her, however, Lily made it to her father, handing him a report from the science division. “Here’s the final specs, dad,” she said breathlessly.

Raymond chuckled, taking the datapad from his daughter. “A couple of modifications to the power core, an extra prong to the output module… alright. That shouldn’t take too long to fix up.” He walked over to the assembly line, where laser weapons were being worked on nonstop. Those weren’t the objects of his current interest, however, as he looked over a clunky white electrical device - the Arc Thrower - and got to work on it.

As he did so Lily was off again, going to the other side of the assembly line upon noting an engineer having some trouble. She had him go off to assist the assembly of a Laser Carbine while she went to work figuring out the problem with the mechanical arm. It took the young engineer awhile, but she eventually found the obvious solution - a missing ‘Then’ statement, and brought the engineer back over to show him and have him input the proper data.

“You really are quite the prodigy, aren’t you dear?” Veronica commented, walking up to the child with her boyfriend. “I can only hope my little ones have half of you brains when they are your age.”

Lily smiled and shrugged. “Eh… I’ve still got a long way to go… but I am proud of what I can do to help so far. Imagine what I can tell people when I’m older. ‘Oh yeah, I helped save the world as a kid.’ Something like that.”

“Well, let’s hope your future contributions transcend this conflict,” Joseph stated. “This is a big thing, but let us hope we can turn it into a footnote in history that goes to show how well humanity can come together against a terrible foe.”

Veronica slapped his chest. “Don’t be so dramatic, hon. The girl deserves whatever fame she can get. Isn’t that right, Lily?”

Lily threw her fist up in the air triumphantly, and then lowered it with an ‘oh no’ expression. “The ice queen has returned.” She hide behind a desk as the chief of science staff walked in.


“Where did that pest go?” Dr. Vahlen questioned with a mixture of exasperation and irritation. She approached Shen. “Dr. Shen, your daughter has…” she noticed he was the one holding the datapad, and swiped it from him. “has absconded my equipment. I could have just sent a message down here, and I wouldn’t have lost valuable time.”

“She just wants to be helpful, Doctor,” Raymond said gently. “Nothing more. She didn’t mean to cause you trouble, I’m sure.”

“Sorry, Dr. Vahlen,” Veronica said. “But children will be children. And she is quite a lively one. Perhaps if… she was given a chance…”

“Stay out of this,” Joe muttered quietly into his hand. “You’ll regret getting into the middle of it, hon.”

Vahlen turned to her. “That may be true, but I question the logic of bringing them on the base in the first place. It’s a distraction in a time where we can’t have any,” she pointed out, placing the datapad under her arm.

Veronica folded her arms. “Well, perhaps I am a little… biased. But I believe they’re the good kind of distraction. The kind that brings some some levity to the depressing state we tend to get to in the middle of a war.”

“Perhaps… for you,” Vahlen said with a sigh. “Not all of us can think of children without… baggage.”

“Do you have any children, Dr. Vahlen?” Joseph asked. Veronica quickly kicked the back of his leg. “Ow! What?” Veronica didn’t answer.

“I… do, though sometimes honesty is hard to bring oneself to practice,” Vahlen stated. “Just one… she is young, we are estranged… and yet she is perhaps mature beyond her years, enough to accept things as they are.”

“What caused you to be estranged?” Joseph asked. “If you don’t mind my asking, of course. Is it your work?”

Vahlen glanced slightly to the side, and receiving the slightest of nods she muttered, “Divorce. Not everyone is as compatible as they initially hope."

“I see. Where is you ex…”

“Joey, dare.” Veronica tapped him on the shoulder. “You were going to get a progress report. Best do that now before people get too busy.”

“Right…” Joe excused himself and walked off, and left a very embarrassed looking Veronica to smile nervously at her.

“S-sorry, doctor. He’s, um… nosey at times.”

“It’s.. fine… I tend to be the opposite, and perhaps that isn’t all for the best.” Vahlen walked as if to leave, but stopped halfway, whispering, “Perhaps… you could give me a second opinion. Do you think she should know?” she asked, glancing subtly towards a confused-looking Lily Shen peeking out from behind her bunker.

Veronica sighed. “It isn’t quite my place to say. But… I… I’d say yes, but probably not now. You should tell her. She should know who her mother is. But these harsh times might cause too much distress for either of you to do it now, you know?”

The Doctor nodded. “That much is true. You’re forgiven for the snickering, Lockheart,” she told Veronica before continuing to walk off.

Veronica’s faced flushed a bit, and she looked over to Lily. “You can come out now, dear. She’s gone.”

Lily did so. “Did she threaten you? Do I need to arm you with that laser carbine over there?”

Veronica laughed. “No, dear. I don’t think that will be necessary. You know… she’ a little high strung, but maybe you should give her a chance. You might find you have some things in common with her.”

“Hmm… I guess, but I doubt it,” An-Yi replied. “Thanks for stopping by, anyway. Maybe next time we’ll have one of those SHIVs operational.”

“Don’t hold your breath through, the plans we got from the US aren’t exactly… complete. The most they had was the basic functionality,” the elder Shen cautioned.

“Well, I don’t know much about engineering, but you’ll always have the science division’s help as long as I have anything to say about it.” Veronica shrugged. “Not sure how much say I actually have. Probably… not a whole lot.” She grinned as she turned away. “But it’s the thought that counts, right?”

Both Shens chuckled, and Raymond replied, “Indeed it does.”
 

DarkGemini24601

Well-Known Member
Sep 25, 2014
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#18
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 2: Battered Routine
Part 8


X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
April 30th, 2018
2300 Hours


Commander Ross Jones sat before his computer, glancing up at the door as if someone were going to come in at any moment - even if he had locked it and forbidden entrance for anything but an emergency. Despite his assurance by his Chief Intelligence Correspondent that this meeting would be private and wouldn’t draw the ire of the Council, Ross wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t just being set up. Cautiously, he activated the supposedly ‘secure’ connection to the man he would be speaking with. The Overseer.

Though the connection read ‘connected’, at first there was no sound. After a moment, however, a drawn out “hmmmm” emanated from Ross’ speakers. “Secure connection,” a modified voice said, “untraceable IP address. And, to boot, I can’t use the connection as a pathway into your systems. Top level security you have here.” A chuckle. “Very well, you have my interest. To whom do I have the pleasure?”

“Perhaps the last chance Earth has against the invaders,” Ross replied, taking a deep breath. “Though we could use your help.”

That brought a laugh from the Overseer. “A resistance effort? So, you do exist. I was wondering where all those soldiers swarming on alien activity centres came from.” A pause. “And you want my help? What for, not enough resources on the intelligence front?”

“Our resources are somewhat… inadequate, due to bickering among our backers,” Ross admitted, sighing. “We need to be able to respond to threats quicker, to perhaps even deal with them before they spring up. I’m sure you’re aware of what… happened to Kyoto.”

The Overseer’s tone turned somewhat grave. “Kyoto… yes, I saw what happened there. It was… an impressive display of destructive force, if nothing else. And yet, after even that, you say your backers are still withholding resources that could help? Keeping them for personal interests, no doubt.” A scoff. “Bureaucrats. I would not, however, be averse to assisting you stop further acts of terror from the aliens. I have no interest in letting cities be blown up left right and centre, after all.”

“I’m in your debt, then. And to ensure your continued assistance, I propose we… exchange information, since there are things I know that I am fairly certain you do not. Mostly information related to the aliens,” Ross suggested.

“I’ve never turned down a free gift,” the Overseer said. “And an initial exchange would help both of us. But just to be clear, this is potentially the only time I will not accept any kind of monetary payment for my services. If you want my help, I have but one condition for you.” They paused, likely for dramatic effect. “Win.”

“Believe me, I have every intention to,” Ross replied adamantly, though his fears that such a victory would not be possible had not been completely quelled. “First off… I’m not sure how much you may have seen of us, but I can confirm that by studying the alien weaponry, we’ve been able to make practical laser weapons. They don’t seem… incredibly compatible with machine guns though, even if they are a step up from conventional ones.”

“I have witnessed those,” the Overseer said after a moment of consideration. “At the time, I thought you were trying to trick them with laser sights. Like pointing one at the wall and letting a cat try to catch it. The… burns left after impact suggested I was wrong, though. That explains a bit.”

“We’ve also been able to work with - to a limited extent - their advanced alloys… hell if I know how they make them, but they’re light, durable, and they make good armor. Plasma is still a threat, though,” Ross continued.

“I noticed,” the Overseer said dryly. “I’ve had my own tangles with the invaders. Lost a number of good operatives in the initial invasion. The ones that weren’t smart enough to run, anyway. Learned the hard way that ballistic vests aren’t that effective against that green shit.”

“As have we.” Ross rubbed his forehead. “There was one thing in particular I was hoping you could do for me. We’ve lost the support of quite a few Asian backers… Japan, obviously, but just a few hours ago Korea, China, and India’s representatives bid their farewells to this project. We don’t have any intel on what’s going on in their countries anymore… but you might be able to fix that problem.”

“Hmm. Let me just…” There was a brief pause, and the occasional sound that could be interpreted as that of shuffling paper. “As I thought,” the Overseer said. “I’ve had a steady stream of operative deaths since the war started, but in some countries it’s been far worse than others. After the bomb, the attrition rate in Japan jumped. And not a few minutes ago, I received word that several operatives in several other Asian countries have also perished. Take a guess which ones.” They sighed. “That’s not to say I have no coverage - just that my staffing in those countries is dwindling quickly. Past a certain point, I probably won’t be able to get insight in there anymore.”

“I suppose we’ll have to… act fast then. If I had anywhere in particular to look into, I’d suggest Japan and India. The former might have been cowed by the aliens, and could be colluding with them. The latter… shouldn’t have left, honestly. They seemed too staunch in their support until the end of this month. I suspect the alien’s ‘psionic’ abilities might be the cause.”

“Very well,” the Overseer said. “Unfortunately, movement in between those countries is already difficult - and the longer India stands alone, the harder it will be. I’ll move quickly, send a number of agents in there before the borders totally close up. Japan… my agents there are essentially on their own. At least now that I have a goal I can stop assigning people to monitor the politician’s emails. Streamlining the objectives of my agents in both countries will become priority.”

“Understood. I just hope we can find… something,” Ross reinforced. “My superiors want results, and despite everything we’re laying on a silver platter for them solid intel couldn’t hurt.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee anything concrete,” the Overseer murmured. “It’s been difficult the past few weeks. With purpose, hopefully that will become easier.”
 

DarkGemini24601

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Sep 25, 2014
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#19
X-COM: A Story of Despair
Chapter 3: Shattering Charge
Part 1

X-COM Headquarters, Somewhere in Greenland
May 1st, 2018
2000 Hours


The Council Board loomed over the dimly-lit Situation Room, displaying the grim news received earlier that day that South Korea, China, and India had all withdrawn from the X-COM project. That was one of the many things on the minds of the five people seated at a table within. At the head of it was Commander Ross Jones, his hands clasped together and his expression apprehensive. To his right was Dr. Vahlen, having a relatively calm posture despite the events of last month, while Shen, seated further down, did not hide his troubled state. To the Commander’s left, Joseph had a neutral expression on, almost hiding the worry in his chest were it not for the bead of sweat dripping down his cheek.

Next to Joseph, Bradford rubbed his hands on his pants with his gaze downward, the man with a less then happy look on his face, and occasionally his gaze went to Ross, the look only growing when he did so. Ross, if he noticed this, did his best not to react. The Commander cleared his throat. “Simply put, we need to do better. We’re down to 25 soldiers, and while we have better equipment…”

“Which I am working on finalizing,” Vahlen inputted.

“...we can’t have a situation like Kyoto again. I’ve spoken with Chambers, and we’re working on ways to increase our intelligence and response times, but the rest is up to us. If we think we’ve been doing our best… that sentiment isn’t enough on its own. We’re supposed to be Earth’s finest. We need to prove that to be true.”

“We’ve worked closely with Atka to try and increase the intensity and frequency of troop training but it is stressing out the soldiers, leaving them on edge. It is a fine line we walk between training them hard to leaving their nerves shot.” Bradford said to the room, sitting forward.

“I understand that… but it’s not only up to the soldiers.” Ross glanced at Vahlen with a glimmer of hope. “Have you made any progress on that side project I had you begin?”

“Not so far,” Vahlen replied sadly. “I am still unable to grasp how it is Ipiktok and Walker are able to do… what it is they do. The psychic powers they and the aliens possess are unfortunately beyond our ability to replicate at the moment.”

“What can we do to change that?” Joseph asked. “I don’t like the idea of forcefully turning our soldiers into psychics akin to the aliens, but it would no doubt go a long way towards turning the tide.”

“The best solution I can come up with at the moment would be taking one of them alive. I doubt the Sectoids, which I’ve tasked anyone using the arc thrower to go after, will be enough… but if we can find an alien among them that understands how such powers work, that might be what we need,” Vahlen offered.

“Or, at the very least, we can try and decrypt any data we come across from future UFO crashes,” Shen added. “Though my team is still working out the alien cypher.”

“Well, I hate to play the part of the bad guy, even if that seems to be what I was sent here to do…” Joe scoffed. “Might as well be a punching bag. But the Council is breathing down my neck for results. I know there are more important things at stake than their interests, but their interests pay our hefty bills, and I need to present more to make them stop… well, whining.”

“Surely they understand there’s much we cannot do on our own,” Raymond pointed out. “Our moves thus far have been reactionary, and while research into the arc thrower is more proactive… we need time to gain anything from it.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the converted here. Working on base, I can see that. It is the whole reason why they have a base rep, and so far they trust me. But some of the nations we’ve lost were ones that listened to me, meaning my power is waning.” Joe leaned back. “Damn. It is so frustrating. We need them to make a big enough move to help us along, but not bigger than we can handle. Not like we can control the aliens at all.”

The Council rep stood up and paced over to one of the monitors, shaking his head. “Is there… absolutely no way to prevent the alien’s weapons from exploding when they die? The one or two plasma pistol we get here or there doesn’t exactly make it easy to research plasma weapons, I’m sure.”

“That would require that we deliver some sort of incapacitating charge to the aliens or their weapons,” Shen replied, shaking his head. “So it falls in line with our plans to capture an alien… though I fear that even if we gained access to a plasma weapon we wouldn’t be able to maintain it. Without a proper understanding of the processes used to provide its ammunition… we’d get a few shots out of it at best.”

“I… was considering your concerns - concerns that were shared by our Central Officer - about the… range of the arc thrower, and I am having one of our scientists prototype an ‘arc rifle’ of sorts. I don’t know when it will be ready, but that may make our task of recovering artifacts and live specimens easier in the future,” Vahlen chimed in.

“Yes…” Joseph turned and nodded, smiling. “That is what I like to hear. Even if it is still in the works, I can use that with the Council. Arc Rifle. More captures. Safer captures. Maybe actually get enough specimens to satiate the… usual requests we get all the time from various countries. I like it.”

“You should make them aware that without a sonic frequency disrupting concentration they’d merely be inviting all sorts of havoc trying to house any of the Sectoids,” Vahlen noted. “Why someone would request such a thing without a proper risk assessment is beyond me…”

“My good doctor… let’s just say there are certain interrogation techniques you don’t want to know of.” Joe sat back down and sighed. “You know, I read a study once that said torture is a lot less effective than people seem to think. But that won’t stop them, will it?” He looked over at Bradford and sighed. “You were mentioning pushing soldiers too far. How is the overall morale on the base?”

“Well… if I had a graph to visually represent what it was like, I would merely print out a picture of a toilet. Some of the soldiers are trying to help things but it is very minimal. Too many are turning to the bar nowadays.” Bradford stated, knowing very well first hand about the situation, and wondered if that made him a hypocrite. Damn I could use a drink right now.
 

DarkGemini24601

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#20
“So… morale is shot, we are struggling to keep up, we’re losing nations left and right, and we can’t unlock the alien's powers. Great. At least we have long range stun guns to look forward to.” Joe sighed and looked to the Commander. “Is there anything more I can do to help? Anything at all?”

“The contacts you’ve given me are pretty much all I can ask for… I doubt there’s anything more you can do than what you’ve already been doing,” Ross answered tiredly. “Keep the Council from giving up on us. It may seem hopeless - it may be hopeless - but I’ve been told over and over that I need to try to win.” He glanced between his chiefs of staff. “And I realize that I haven’t… been the most effective leader. Unfortunately, you’re all stuck with me… and I’m stuck with myself. So I’m going to give this the best shot I have, and we need to ensure the Council doesn’t take our will to fight lightly.”

“They won’t. As long as I speak for you… and you speak for yourself.” Joe shook his head. “None of this ‘stuck with me’ shit. You are the one that will lead us to victory, or way or another. What you do here will set the groundwork for how this war is handled, now and for however many years it takes. But you will not succeed if you give up on hope. I’m not say positive thoughts are all we need, but… but damn it, they have to account for something in this godforsaken war.”

“Right… and if I have one suggestion, it’s that all of us should find the time for some sort of break. I realize we have a lot to do, but if we work nonstop we are going to become less productive. Even if it’s only for your meal breaks, do whatever relaxes you. Hang out with the staff. Read. Whatever it takes to get you in the frame of mind to do what needs to be done,” Ross suggested.

“Good advice.” Bradford said to the Commander, though his tone was no less heavy then when he entered. “How about it Vahlen? Would you enjoy grabbing a drink with me sometime. I always toyed with the idea of what I could do if I got you drunk.”

The doctor merely raised an eyebrow incredulously. “My idea of relaxation is not dulling my mind with chemicals.”

“My wife would argue you should give it a try.” Joe sulked down in his seat. “You know, Commander… you make a really good point. I… I get so much joy out of Vicky and the kids. But I don’t know the last time I spent more than twenty minutes with them that we were all awake for. I should change that. Never know when I’ll lose my chance to...”

“Well if anyone wants to go out for drinks with me, they are welcome. No worries about me trying to get into your pants though Vahlen, if you do take me up on my offer.” The Central Officer said as he sat back.

“I never said that was your intention, but I will have to decline for now,” Valda replied, though cracked a small smile. “Perhaps… sometime, though, when I can ensure there will not be certain people around to be amused by what alcohol might do to me.”

“Hmph… you remind me too damn much of my husband.” Bradford said to the German scientist.

While Vahlen seemed unfazed, Ross was anything but, blinking for a few seconds before asking, “Um… come again?”

“Hello.” Joe grinned and leaned forward. “Do I hear some gossip? I’m nothing if not a glutton for juicy details. It is my job, after all.”

“Ross, don’t tell me you forgot. Or was my file that much a bore for you that you were unable to finish it?” Bradford let out a long drawn out sigh and said, “Yes, I am married to a man. I never brought it up because I just assumed you all knew already.”

“I… well… I didn’t look through much on personal details since I was brought in so quickly… and certain people… requested I didn’t in the first place,” Ross muttered, his eyes darting between a certain Valda Vahlen and Raymond Shen meaningfully.

“Not that it’s a problem, right?” Joseph nodded to Bradford. “It just means I don’t have to worry about you around my wife. Though it begs the question, if you’re married, where is your husband? Surely as the central officer, you should have been allowed to bring him on base.”

“I respected his wish of him wanting to stay home. He was always a big pacifist, could never stand violence. However, my time spent in the Royal Air Force was what made it easier for him to fall in love with me. We have been happy together ever since.” However, Bradford crossed his arms and closed his eyes. “Though you may want to spend that extra time with your wife Joe. Gay men are notorious for being able to do whatever they want with women. I wonder if my curiosity got the better of me she would let me…”

Joseph raised an eyebrow and let out a huff. “Don’t worry about that. If she cared enough about you to let you do stuff to her, she’d care enough to not do so, lest I do something that paints an ugly picture of myself, and the walls with something from you if you catch my drift.”

“Sorry, I do not do orgies.” Bradford said with some composure, though a smile did make it’s way onto his lips.

“Hmm…” Joe couldn’t help but smile himself.