XCOM: Enemy Advanced
The First Founding Light
Location: Boondock Bay, Manehattan
Date: 5th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 04:48:13 (Canterlot Standard Time)
Boondock Bay. The birthplace of much of Equestria’s naval fleet, militant or otherwise, and the site of the UFO crash. This early in the morning, it was unlikely that anypony would be at the docks. But just to be safe the place had been cordoned off by the police, to keep unsuspecting ponies from stumbling onto a potential firefight.
The UFO itself was crashed into the dry docks of Manehattan, wrecking decades-old machinery and ruining the livelihoods of hundreds. The impact had twisted the docks, bits of rubble larger than ponies embedding into the ground and punching through cargo containers like a shotgun through balloons. At the very center of it, the crashed craft was steaming, hole torn through its side by high-yield Sunburst missiles.
XCOM had dived right in, hooves flailing. Though a Commander was not yet chosen, they were activated and there was a UFO alert. Responding was the only reasonable option.
The XCOM operatives were arrayed in three groups; Strike One was the closest, and would move in from the north through hollow freight containers. Strike Two was up on the cranes that still stood on the east, providing cover support where they could. Strike Three was down by the south, ready to move in on a moment’s notice and blow the aliens to kingdom come.
It was known that the aliens had already set up a defensive perimeter. That did not matter. This was their home.
“Strike Two-Actual reporting in. Skynet has been set and scopes calibrated.”
“Strike Three-Actual here. Ordnance primed and ready to blow.”
“This is Strike One-Actual. In position and guns cocked.”
“Strike Teams, Central here. Move out!”
A pegasus flew overhead, and a unicorn and a zebra two walked ahead two earth ponies, taking point with shotguns armed and ready to fire. A griffon hovered in the air, claws tight over the sniper rifle and ready to pull the trigger. Soon, they had arrived at the UFO itself. Though there was a hole punched through its side, leaving the interior open, it was still intact.
“UFO spotted. It’s still in one piece.”
“Strike One reports no X-Rays in the AO, Central.”
“Strike Three not reporting contacts, either.”
“This is Strike Two. We have confirmation that all X-Rays are still inside the UFO. Central, please advise.”
“Move on, Strike Teams. Strike Three, move in from the south. Strike One, get to the UFO, but don’t breach yet. Keep from the hole, ya’ll hear?”
“Strike One-Actual acknowledges. Moving in.” The unicorn with the shotgun shimmered magenta and charged, spinning and sliding until his side hit the UFO’s hull. Gun aimed at the translucent bubble, the rest of Strike One moved in save the griffon, who landed and went prone atop a container, sniper rifle rested on a bipod.
“Strike One reporting in. We’re in position.”
A moment passes, and the radios blip again. “Strike Three, in position. Ready to take the breach. Your call, Central.”
“Hit it at the same time, everypony. Strike Two, support.” Radios sputter everywhere, just as the forcefield doors are interrupted and popped. “Hold up, everypony! We’ve got another UFO movin’ to position!”
A UFO screamed into position overhead, and small big-headed aliens backdropped by the moonlight jumped off onto the ground, arms crackling with green lightning.
Strike Two-Actual cried out over the radio, “Strike One and Three, you’re getting flanked! Reposition! Reposition!”
“No!” Strike One-Actual ordered. “Hold position and breach the UFO! It’s our only cover! If we get the aliens first--” Strike Three disregarded the advice and broke ranks, dashing towards the relative safety of the wall of freight containers.
Bolts of plasma shrieked out from within the UFO, catching virtually all of Strike Three in the back with super-hot ionised gas. They screamed, wails punctuated by bursts of static, before their radios died to the electromagnetic disruption.
“Strike One! Breach!” The shotgun-wielding unicorn dashed in first, shotgun firing as he dived for cover. The spray of lead struck true, and caught a Sectoid in the chest. The rest of Strike One followed suit with a hail of bullets, and soon took out the Sectoid crew of the UFO.
“This is Strike One-Actual! We have secured the crashed UFO! Engaging X-Rays on the outside!”
“No can do, Strike One-Actual. Strike Two! Engage the ones outsi... Hold on, Strike One. We’re readin’ an energy spike inside the UFO!”
“Say again, Central?!”
“Dang it, it’s the Outsider!”
A crystal shot out from the main UFO flight computer and coalesced into a physical form, taking the shape of an armored humanoid wielding a plasma rifle of some sort. The members of Strike One turned about too late, and an earth pony died as he turned to ash under the hail of plasma. The zebra next to him wailed, the radiating heat burning him alive in his armor. The others took the opportunity to take cover, and the shotgun-toting unicorn grit his teeth.
“Dammit! Red Glare just ate it, and Pinnacle is burning!”
“One-Actual!” Strike Two-Actual screamed, “We’re getting shot up out here! We need assistance now!”
“Copy that, Two! Ivan, go get her! Strike One, open fire on the Outsider!”
The Outsider swung around just as they did, rifle poised at Captain Shining Armor of XCOM. Looking into a featureless face, the Captain screamed and opened fire.
Location: Throne Room, Canterlot
Date: 5th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 09:01:32 (Canterlot Standard Time)
“Princess Celestia.” General Blueblood the Fifty First was a white unicorn with a short, well-groomed blonde mane and shining blue eyes that were almost always half-lidded.
“General Blueblood,” Princess Celestia responded in kind, smirking slightly. “I do like that image you’re cultivating. ‘Grizzled Commander’, was it?”
The Commander of the Western Front scoffed and eyed his Princess, her wings, legs and torso currently bound in bandages that smelled of... roses? “Why would you drag me away from teaching my idiot son a lesson?”
“The young Prince Blueblood can wait,” Celestia responded, becoming oddly business-like. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent events worldwide?”
Blueblood nodded. “I was there when Aerie Peak was attacked, Princess. I lost lots of good ponies.” He flattened his ears and narrowed his eyes. “It’s about XCOM, isn’t it?”
“Perceptive as always, General,” Celestia nodded with approval. “By the power of the four nations, you have been selected as Commander-in-Chief of the overall XCOM Project.”
Blueblood’s response was swift and merciless, like a kick to the groin. “I refuse.”
“This isn’t up for discussion, General,” Celestia said, and narrowed her one visible eye menacingly. “Whatever your opinions on the XCOM Project, you know that in the event of alien invasion, the world must band together under XCOM. We experienced an alien invasion mere weeks ago. Ergo, we must band together under XCOM.”
“I will not be Commander of a group of madmen and morons,” the General said, tone dripping with bitterness. “You know what they did to Spectre Mountain.”
“I do, General.”
“It turned into Ghastly Gorge.”
“Thank you, General, I know. I was there.”
“And you want me to lead them? You want me to tarnish the name of Blueblood more than it already has?” The General stomped his hoof. “I cannot accept this, Princess. I will not besmirch the name of Blueblood anymore than my son will accept responsibility for anything he does.”
“I am offering you a chance to make XCOM great, General,” Celestia countered, her voice steady and her gaze hard. “XCOM has made mistakes before, this is no lie. But XCOM will also be staffed by our very best, from all over the world. The most diverse group of geniuses and experts ever organised, General, and I am offering you the chance to lead them to glory.”
Blueblood fell silent. “Then why me?”
“Because you are my premier troubleshooter, my dear Blueblood,” Celestia replied with a twinkle in her eye. “We require a commander who can adapt. A commander who cares about the soldiers under their charge. A commander who has faced threats that sent lesser ponies running and laughed.” The wounded Princess of the Sun tented her hooves together. “You are that commander, General. You are our best hope.”
Blueblood grunted. “I suppose I’ll have to deal with it, then?”
“If it helps any,” Celestia offered, “Your priority is to defend Mundus and all its denizens. Everything else is secondary. Money, politics, ethics...” She pondered for a moment, shoe-clad hoof on her muzzle. “...maybe not ethics.”
Reluctantly, the General nodded slowly. “Very well. I will take the job, if only because if you’re offering an infinite budget and almost complete autonomy, the situation must be dire. But I will not be happy about it.”
“Let’s hope that changes when you arrive, shall we?” Celestia said with a wink. “Now, everything you need to know will be known at First Light, XCOM’s first base. It’s east of the Crystal Empire, built from one of the Empire’s old underground war bunkers. For now it will be your first base, but in the coming year more bases should be coming online and making contact.”
“I expect the Shaman King, the Sky Lord and the Golden Bull have sent their best as well?”
Celestia nodded. “We had a pact, after all. With Mundus hanging in the balance, there is no point holding back.”
Blueblood smirked. "No crypticism, dear auntie?"
"Not this time," she countered, with a smirk of her own. "This is not the time for 'lessons' or 'tests'." She then gestured to the side of the room, as a false wall opened up and revealed a pad of obsidian and diamond, covered in runes all over. “Shall we?”
"I shan't let you down, then." He frowned, walking into the teleport conduit. “And I will whip XCOM into shape."
"Do so with my blessings," Celestia said, smiling lightly. “Though, I should note that we must stage your ‘death’ for your own safety. The Codex mentioned the possibility of alien cultists and assassins, and though I would love to trust my ponies and the others’ subjects, we cannot take chances.”
“You only sweeten the deal, Princess. My only family is my son, and quite frankly," the General scoffed, "He is tiresome. I will deal with him after all this is over.”
She nodded, horn glowing with the radiance of the sun. "Good luck, General.”
The General bowed, there was a flash, and he was gone.
Blueblood popped into existence on top of a jeweled, rune-encrusted platform within a cavernous room with a flash of warm sunlight, wearing his usual slightly-disgruntled expression. The caverns around him were smooth and even, as if they were hewn out by magic, crystals dotting the walls, ceiling and even floors with natural thaumatic lighting. The General frowned. This place did not sit well with him. It felt... sinister.
He looked around him, and found himself alone within some kind of command deck, terminals and stations built around a central ring of some sort. Blueblood peered closer, and confirmed his suspicions. A massive gem lens, with the cursive and elegant carvings of illusion-type runes engraved within.
So a projector of some kind. Interesting. A good lens the size of a hoof would cost a fortune, without including the enchantments. Princess Celestia was not pulling punches on this one.
"Welcome to XCOM, General Blueblood," a voice said beside him, making the veteran General jump in his skin. "Has the Princess told you everything you need to know?"
He expected to turn around, more than slightly miffed, and tell off some scholar or renown he could care less for. He held his tongue when he did, considering the mare. "Twilight Sparkle?" His gaze leveled. "You have been conscripted into XCOM, too?"
The lavender mare smiled lightly and hugged her clipboard closer. "No, the six of us volunteered. The Elements of Harmony may have failed against this menace, but the magic of friendship will still see us through!"
He nearly scoffed. Blueblood prefered the reliable kick of an assault rifle, personally, but then again friendship (or rather, as he preferred to put it, teamwork) has been the cornerstone of more than one seemingly-impossible victory. He was still skeptical on their effectiveness, but perhaps it would do everyone go-did she say all six.
"Pinkamena Pie is enlisted into XCOM." The General said flatly. It was not a question, simply a statement awaiting confirmation.
Twilight nodded. "She's Assistant Head of Engineering." She beamed widely. Any wider and the General would have needed new eyeballs. "And I'm Head of Research! Would you believe it? Me? Head of Research?" The young mare squealed in delight.
The General could, actually. Twilight Sparkle was more than smart and inquisitive enough for the position. Pinkie Pie was another matter entirely. What was Celestia doing, putting civilians in his XCOM?
Bah, he had other matters to attend to. Like attending to the defense of the world. Pinkie - and the other Elements of Harmony - get one chance, or they go home.
"I look forward to collaborating, Twilight Sparkle," the General began diplomatically, "And I have other questions, but I would first like to ask: what of my second in command? Or the commander in the field?"
“That’d be me, General.” Right out of a hallway from somewhere, a stetson-wearing earth pony cantered in wearing a regulation turtleneck. “Ah’m Applejack, yer Central Officer. Ah’ll be handlin’ the day-to-day, so you can handle the big picture.”
“The Element of Honesty as my second,” General Blueblood said, mildly surprised. “Quite the day I’m having.”
Applejack bowed respectfully. “Ah’ll do my job, and you do yours. An’ maybe we’ll bond over apple cider during the off-hours.”
“Perhaps.” General Blueblood replied stoically. “Now, Twilight Sparkle, about my Field Commander...”
"That would be Shining Armor, my older brother." A thump echoed throughout the cavernous base, and the young lavender mare clapped her hooves together in glee. “He’s back!”
“He was out on a mission before I even got here,” General Blueblood asked aloud flatly. He shrugged. Shining was still a go-getter, it seems. “At least he has initiative.”
Applejack frowned, but agreed nonetheless. “Let’s go see him, then. Wonder how the mission went,” she wondered, in the tone of one who already knew what happened.
"Hey, Captain." The griffon poked the unicorn on the head twice, beak curled askew.
"Hm?" Shining Armor looked up from his seat, eyebrow raised? "Oh, it's just you, Ivan. What is it?"
"We're back, Captain. Skyranger touched down." The griffon frowned, looking his Captain in the eye. "You alright?"
"I'm fine, Sergeant Ivan," the Field Commander of First Light responded. "Just... thinking about things." Like his failures. Looking back at the body bags piled up like planks at the back of the Skyranger, he wondered what went wrong. The mission? Him?
The griffon shook his head, placing a clawed talon on his shoulder. "Don’t start moping about it,Shining. We all expect to die someday. Might as well be in the defense of the planet. I don’t blame you, and neither does Firebird."
"What about Glimmer?" Shining asked, more biting than he intended. "What about Dusk Shine, or Dawn, or Kunta, or Steady Hand, or all the others who died? What about Moonlight or Beaky, or the half dozen who'll never live a normal life?" He sighed deeply. "I should have taken point. I'm the best shield unicorn in Equestria; it was my job to hold."
"You're Field Commander, Captain," Ivan reminded. "You don't take point. Protocol dictates--"
"Since when did you care for protocol?"
"Since you could be killed by a lucky shot and disrupt the entire mission. I'm not dumb, Shining, and I doubt your shield spell can hold off against a sustained barrage of plasma while everyone moves into position." The talon on Shining's shoulder tightened. "Stop with your self-pity and start acting like the leader I know you are, because no one gives a flying feather about your self-pity. We're at war here. Act like it."
The Captain snorted. Somehow, Ivan was right. "Getting told off by a subordinate. That's unusual. Since when did you self-censor?"
"Since your sister brained me with a book last week," the griffon responded, and the two males shared a small laugh. "Say, your sister's kind of cute. Mind if I..."
"Do it and I'll cut you up with planar shields," Shining Armor said jestfully. "Though I never took you for the kind who liked ponies."
Helplessly, the Sergeant shrugged. "I appreciate beauty in all its forms, my friend. Like your wife." He waggled his eyebrows.
"And for that you're on bathroom detail for a week."
"Darn. I could have used that time learning to shoot straight." The two men shared a look and laughed, louder this time.
"Carry on, Sergeant. I need to write my mission report."
Ivan stood up and saluted his Captain, turning to leave. "I’ll go settle the paperwork for the dead. You go rest up nice."
Shining nodded thankfully. “I owe you a drink, then. See you in the barracks?”
“You know it.” The griffon descended the ramp to the Skyranger, leaving the Captain alone by himself.
Alone with his thoughts.
The group of three entered the hangar bay and saw the Skyranger already on the ground, jets cooling and technicians running inspection on its systems. They saw orderlies carrying empty stretchers and filled body bags away, the two younger mares with some sadness and revulsion and the General with only resignation. And yet, no Shining Armor. Where would he...
“Twily!” Right out the back of the open Skyranger, a white unicorn stallion still wearing his combat armor plowed into the lavender unicorn mare, picking her up and hugging her so hard the General was legitimately worried he could never let go.
“You planned this, didn’t you?” she teased, returning the hug with equal force.
He shrugged, grinning widely. “Surprise hugs are the best hugs.” He nodded at Applejack with respect, and his jaw hit the ground when he saw the older stallion. “General Blueblood? Why’re you in XCOM?”
“I was convinced to lead our first and last line of defense against this alien threat by a very crafty mare,” the General replied with a wry grin. “I was bribed, too. Imagine that.”
“Princess Celestia is very persuasive,” Shining Armor smirked. “In any case, it’s good that you’re at the helm of XCOM. The mission to Manehattan went... poorly.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“I’ll have a full report written up for you by tomorrow, but suffice to say...” Shining Armor chewed on his lower lip, frowning. “The aliens improved from what we saw in the Codex.”
“I expected as such,” he replied with a sigh. “So, how is Cadence?”
“She’s our Chief Therapist here at First Light,” Twilight volunteered. “With the stress of combat, Princess Celestia thought that our operatives will probably need some psychological healing, and Cadence - sorry, Princess Cadence will be the first of them. We’ll probably get more as more operatives deploy here, though.”
General Blueblood frowned, and from the dirty look Shining Armor shot her, he knew that he wanted to keep it a secret.
“General,” Shining Armor pleaded, “I can explain --”
“No,” he replied sternly, “You don’t. What happened at your wedding was a concern and a regret on my part, but it is clear that it was due to the Changelings that you lapsed in your duties as Commander-in-Chief. After all,” he said more gently, wearing a grin, “You defended the Crystal Empire from Sombra for several weeks, did you not?”
“She helped,” Shining Armor admitted. “So... you aren’t angry that she’s here?”
“Angry? I’m thrilled. Cadence has a degree in psychology and as a race ponykind is inherently neurotic. She will do wonders for XCOM, I’m sure.”
“...Right. So!” Twilight said, clapping her hooves together in a bid to change the subject, “The next stop shall be the barracks, where the General can interact with his operatives! Shall we?”
“Please do. I’m still confused by this labyrinthian design. If Princess Celestia was trying to confuse my sense of direction, she has succeeded with more than flying colours.”
Shining Armor grunted in agreement and sympathy, and followed the group as they navigated their way through the tunnels and stairs.
“You’re going to be fine, Blackie. You’re going to be just fine, and you’re going to get back out there and make those aliens pay.”
The black coated pegasus breathed labouriously, muzzle covered with a mask that hissed with every breath. Below the waist he was completely covered in bandages, as was one of his wings. One of his eyes bloodshot, he hacked out a laugh. “You think so, Lt?”
She smiled, dark grey eyes becoming wet. “Yeah. I know so.” The prognosis was bleak. 4th degree burns on both legs and his one wing, and serious damage to his digestive and respiratory systems. Even with healing magic, he might never walk or fly again, much less fight.
“You’re crying for me, Lt? I’m... I’m touched.”
“Oh, this?” Firebird wiped away a tear and laughed, wiping it away on her almost-crimson coat. “This is for all the paperwork I have to file on your burned ass. Do you know how many I-3 forms I have to file because of you? In triplicate? Any more and I’ll have to grow a horn just to write faster.”
“I’m sorry for inconveniencing you, Lieutenant,” Black Moon replied, more sincere than she expected. He wheezed. “If I had... if I had just made the shot --”
“What happened, happened. We don’t dwell on it, we don’t blame anypony for it. We just tend to our wounded, bury our dead, and move on.” She smirked. “Come on, Blackie, we were in Spec Ops together. Don’t tell me you forgot already? Our first op?”
“The raid on Shaira Bloodletter’s compound? How could I...” He wheezed, more painfully than normal, “How could I forget? I nailed that shot good, d-didn’t I, Lieutenant?”
“Right between her ugly eyes,” Firebird grinned. “Darkbolt still owes us drinks for that.”
The two special forces operators shared a laugh. Specialist Darkbolt had died in Manehattan, and his body was currently cooling in the morgue.
“How’d... How’dya think of the Captain, Lt?”
She shrugged. “He’s alright. Has a cool head, knows how to fight unlike most of the Royal Guard, and is a pretty steady shot.”
“No... I meant how’dya think think... about the Captain, eh Lt?”
Firebird rolled her eyes and laughed. Even half-dead, Black Moon was trying to play matchmaker. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but he’s taken. And she’s on-site, in case you’re wondering,” she added. “Besides, he’s not my type.”
“I don... I don’t know, Lt. Honorable, kind and selfless? The image of... image of a Knight in Shining Armor? Mares love that, Lt.”
She grunted, tilting her head to and fro. “I can see the appeal,” she admitted, “But I’d rather you get out of that bed so we can go on that date I’ve been promising for months.”
“For... For real?” Behind the mask, Black Moon grinned as wide as he could manage. “I should... get a tux.”
Firebird chuckled, and batted her eyes at him. “Heal up first, handsome. I prefer my stallions fully mobile and wing-worthy.”
“I’ll try my best, then... Lieutenant.” He yawned softly, and Firebird tensed to avoid yawning as well. Why was it contagious? “S-Sorry, Lt, but I feel... a bit sleepy right now. I think I’ll... take a nap.”
She patted him twice on the good shoulder, called for a nurse and turned about to leave, her cutie mark of two crossed swords and a shield free for all to see.
“Oi,” one of the earth ponies in the security staff said to the other. “Watch the mare. She’s one of General Vanguard’s mares.”
The other, a unicorn, looked at the departing mare with a grin on his face. “The one with the nice flanks served the Mad Mare? Damn.”
“Exactly. Get the psychs to keep an eye on her. Captain Armor won’t like it if she goes to cut herself or something.”
Location: First Light, Crystal Mountains
Date: 5th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 13:01:32 (Canterlot Standard Time)
Dr. Twilight Sparkle entered the room, mane tied up into a bun and lab goggles strapped around her head, nodding to her research staff. “Hello, everypony. Where’re the alien artifacts?”
Dr. Frosty tilted his head at the table to the side, where two sectoid corpses were laying right now. Dead, motionless and filled with bullet holes, the big-eyed things that only reached up to a pony’s neck didn’t seem frightening at all. “You’re a bit late, Dr. Sparkle.”
“I’m sorry, I had to give the commander the tour. So!” She clapped her hooves together, grinning widely. “We have the fragments, we have their corpses, and we have their materials. And we have the probe?”
Frosty nodded. They had brought over the probe that crashed over a century ago. They never did ever finish recovering all the data. They simply lacked the means. But now, they might be able to recover more. “Teams are lined up and ready to go, Dr. Sparkle. Your orders?”
“I’ll take A-Team and look into the fragments.” She smiled, head tilted slightly askew. “Interesting how their weapons explode when they die, isn’t it? It’s a useful safety mechanism to prevent hostile recovery.”
“Interesting is one way to put it,” Frosty said glumly. “Might I suggest I look into the alien alloys with B-Team?”
Twilight grimaced, but nodded. “Alright, and we can assign C-Team to poking the probe and trying to recover any more intact data. But who’s going to handle autopsy?”
“Well, Dr. Butterfingers has expressed interest."
Twilight scrunched up her muzzle and looked strangely at the doctor.
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable leaving a delicate autopsy with a pony named 'Butterfingers'."
"He's the best in his field, though," Frosty explained. "Even in spite of his name. Can't imagine a unicorn with a steadier horn."
"Alright then, Dr. Frosty, I'll trust your better judgement." Goggles snapped around her eyes, and she grinned. "Let's do science."
Human Archives Entry One
“There isn’t much time, so I must be quick. The Ethereals have won. Strike One and the Volunteer was unable to penetrate into the bridge of the Temple Ship, and all attempts at deploying additional units onto the Temple Ship have failed.
“However, we will not go quietly. Dr. Vahlen and the research teams have managed to recover and operate working examples of alien FTL drives. With luck, she and Dr. Shen will be able to construct and download everything pertaining to the Alien War into these probes. Our missions, our technologies... our warnings.
“To whoever that finds this, be warned: you are not alone. The Ethereals will come. Prepare yourselves.
“This is Central Officer Bradford, signing off for the last time. Vigilo Confido.”