• Published 2nd May 2013
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Stardust - Arad



Can Twilight earn the trust and friendship of people who are by nature suspicious and hostile to anything that isn't 'human'?

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Viking

SENATOR FRANK BEACHAM FOUND ASSASSINATED IN HIS VACATION HOME AFTER WEEK-LONG TOUR RECRUITING FOR THE ARMED FORCES. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS REFUSED TO COMMENT ON THE NATURE OF HIS DEATH BUT LOCAL SECURITY CAMERAS NEAR HIS RESIDENCE SHOW A HELICOPTER HOVERING OVER THE ESTATE AT THE ESTIMATED TIME OF DEATH.

WIKILEAKS CONTINUES TO BE THE FOCAL POINT OF CONTROVERSY AS MULTIPLE GOVERNMENTS WORLDWIDE THREATEN TO BLOCK THE WHISTLEBLOWER WEBSITE AFTER MEMOS ABOUT ‘EXTRATERRESTRIAL COMBAT UNIT’ ARE LEAKED. JULIAN ASSANGE WAS UNAVAILABLE FOR COMMENT.

------

23:52, 05/20/2015, SKYRANGER BIG SKY

The more things change, the more they stay the same, Matt thought to himself as he surveyed the other members of Strike One. Just add the background noise of a Black Hawk and I might have thought I was back in the Army again. The brief feeling of nostalgia was gone in an instant, but Matt allowed himself to enjoy it nonetheless.

Lieutenant Dryzimski was scrolling through pages of information on a tablet computer, no doubt checking and double checking the the force estimates for what the soldiers would be facing once they reached the alien base. He also spared glances toward his conventional light machine gun and the heavy laser that Jack Finch held beside him.

The British soldier was completely oblivious to the attention, and was apparently doing his best to lose his shirt to the little pocket poker game he had brought with him. He had been muttering an almost unbroken string of what Matt could only assume was profanity as he continued to lose more and more virtual money to the electronic time waster.

Robert Sachs, however, was the picture of serenity as he demonstrated the time-honored soldier's tradition of sleeping at the drop of a hat. His arms were crossed and his chin rested on his chest, which rose and fell slowly. The only other noteworthy features of the seasoned campaigner was the worn but well-cared for G36 beside him and a knife strapped to his chest. The sergeant tried not to think of having to resort to using such methods to fight the aliens as he turned to the two Japanese recruits.

Kaito Yamazaki and Kaori Suzuki were at first glance having a conversation with very short and clipped sentences in their native language. Their expressions during the course of the conversation ranged from consternation to triumph from the very start. It had taken Matt nearly half an hour to realize that when one spoke they matched the syllable of their word to the last syllable the other had spoken. Judging by how often Kaori was abusing the syllable 'ko', she was quite the old hand at whatever game they were playing.

Zhang sat towards the front of the Skyranger doing what Lana had dubbed as his 'statue impression.' His eyes were closed and his hands were clasped serenely in his lap. His chest rose and fell just as slowly as Sachs but unlike the Australian his posture was ramrod straight even in repose. A scoped LANC sat at his side instead of his usual sniper rifle in light of where the operation was going to be taking them.

Speaking of Lana... Matt thought as he brought his eyes around to survey the last member of Strike One. Lana somehow managed to appear relaxed despite the cramped quarters of the Skyranger with her legs stretched out. In her hands was a beaten paperback book with near microscopic text from what Matt could see. The torn cover read Structural Engineering Methods by R Shen.

“What?” Lana asked with a smirk when she noticed Matt's attention. “Going to make a joke about how you're surprised I can read?” Her smirk grew just a bit when Matt recoiled from the supposed accusation. “I didn't sign as infantry like you when you joined up, Matt. I built things prior to joining XCOM. Once we finish up this little alien mess I'll have to find meaningful employment. Oh, sure, I could sign on with a PMC but I'd rather get into something less dangerous.”

Before the discussion could continue any further, the crew chief entered the troop compartment and held one hand up. “Five minutes until landing! Message from Command is inbound.” The crew chief turned and tapped the monitor towards the front of the compartment.

Bradford appeared with a somewhat harried expression which immediately set Strike One on edge. “Strike Teams, you will be entering the airspace near the alien base shortly. Our satellite scans have revealed a heat bloom at the base of the mountains in the target zone, but further scans were unable to penetrate the mountain to get a layout of the base. Enemy forces at the base are unknown, so your primary objective is to infiltrate the base and gather any intelligence you can without being detected. If it's feasible to neutralize the enemy personnel on site to capture the base, then you have the green light to proceed. If it's not possible, then it's believed sabotage of the base's power systems will result in the facility's destruction.”

The commander's expression hardened as he leaned forward, “In the event of mission failure, Interceptor squadrons will deploy Fragarach weapon systems to destroy the base. The aliens are also jamming all communications near the base, so you will not have long range comms until the base is captured or destroyed,” The implication was clear, they would be on their own. “Good luck. Command Ou--” The screen burst into static before the crew chief turned it off.

“Well, that's ominous,” Lana said with a smirk as she began to load the gun on her lap. It bore a superficial resemblance to the LANC but was somewhat larger. A slot for an Ea power cell could be found in the butt stock much like the rifle, but forward of the trigger guard rested another slot. Matt's unspoken question was answered when Lana slid an equally oversized magazine into the forward slot before loading an Ea power cell into the rear.

“Now, now, kids,” Dryzimski spoke up, “Just because Command isn't here to watch over us doesn't mean anything. Some good old fashioned soldiering is what will get things done today.”

Matt caught the lieutenant's eye and asked a question without saying a word. Dryzimski's glance away was all the answer the sergeant needed. No comms means Bradford won't be able to help with that freaky power of his, Matt winced as he finished thought. Commander Bradford's always been good at his job, but if he uses... whatever he does too much then the soldiers will elevate him to omnipotent status.

“Thirty seconds!” The crew chief announced as he walked toward the ramp at the back of the Skyranger. “Closest landing zone is a small valley approximately half a mile from the suspected enemy installation. You'll have to leg it from the landing zone to the base.”

“Why aren't we landing closer? I was under the impression the new Chameleon systems would block detection,” Dryzimski asked as he pocketed his tablet and brought his LMG onto his lap.

“Stealth systems are currently engaged, but enemy surface patrols were detected around the perimeter. If we deliver you to the base's doorstep then the Chameleon system won't have enough power to cover us as we leave and the op would be blown,” The crew chief answered quickly before turning back to the passenger compartment. “Ten seconds! Good luck and give them hell!” One hand slapped the ramp controls to reveal the pre-dawn gloom.

The soldiers of Strike One released their harnesses and reached for their handholds as they turned to face the ramp. They stumbled slightly as the Skyranger set down before flooding down the ramp in a rush and crouching behind the myriad of rocks that littered the terrain.

“Big Sky, Strike One. We’re on the ground,” Dryzimski reported as he glanced over to the looming shape of another Skyranger deploying troops.

“Crimson, Strike Six. We’re clear,” the report came from Fujikawa, and both craft began to rise back into the sky.

“Solid copy, Strike teams,” Matt heard Big Sky reply and even at such a short distance he could hear static and interference on the line. “We’ll await your signal for recovery. Good luck.” And with that farewell the two aircraft disappeared into the night. The low light amplification in Matt’s helmet allowed him to watch the Skyrangers ascent as well as the approach of Strike Six.

Without a word between them the two teams formed up and headed east.

------

00:10, 05/21/2015, Hörgársveit

The early morning air carried a chill that, while unpleasant, wasn’t unwelcome.

Anything to maintain focus, Zhang thought as he surveyed the mostly barren terrain of the valley around him. The route the Strike teams had taken from the landing zone had been purposefully meandering to stay within the low depressions and shallow valleys to avoid the patrols that the Skyrangers had reported. The potential for aliens to be lurking in the dark without the Skyrangers’ overwatch was causing no small amount of tension in the group.

Zhang, however, was a pillar of calm at the head of the group. His position as point man assumed a great deal of risk and his unshaken composure was rubbing off on the men and women behind him. He hoped it was, at least.

Despite Zhang’s attempts to maintain his laser-like focus, the complete lack of action was giving his mind room to wander. Have I been misunderstanding the situation? He thought as his mind drifted back to the last conversation he had with Twilight. I had thought the worst of her for what I thought was her choice. I always thought I was an excellent judge of character, but this mistake… Zhang bit down on that train of thought. Doubt is the enemy, but denial is no better. When we return, I shall speak with the others to resolve this conflict.

Any further internal debate was cut off when he caught sight of two hunched shapes at the mouth of a cave entrance. Zhang froze and raised his fist to halt the other soldiers, but before he could give any more hand signals he blinked and found a rocky outcropping directly ahead. With practiced ease he crept up to the outcropping and glanced around the corner.

Two sectoids lurked amongst the rocks outside of a sizeable cave entrance. Zhang’s initial incredulity at the thought of openly posting such guards was quickly smothered by the realization that the diminutive alien’s death-like stillness combined with their gray skins resulted in almost perfect camouflage to an untrained eye in the rocky terrain. Zhang’s eyes were far from untrained, and any thoughts he might have spent wondering how he had originally seen the two sentries were better invested in preparing for blood to be shed.

A flash of hand signs relayed the news back to the soldiers behind him. A few moments later he heard two move out of position and stalk into the hills. Several more minutes passed before Zhang caught sight of the two soldiers as they crept up to the two sentries from opposite sides.

The first yanked his target off the ground with one arm around the neck while his other arm brought a combat knife precisely into one of the sectoid’s massive eyes. The blade sank in to the hilt and the alien died with hardly a struggle. The second soldier’s attack caused Zhang to raise an eyebrow.

The soldier’s left arm came up before chopping down like an axe onto the crown of the second alien. The alien dropped to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. The soldier kept a pistol trained on the incapacitated alien before giving the all clear signal so the others could approach.

With the sentries taken care of, the Strike teams bolted up the hill and into the shelter of the cave the aliens were guarding. Zhang couldn’t help but notice the ‘incapacitated’ alien now sported what was most certainly a fatal indentation where the soldier had struck it.

“Ugh, I knew I should have worn a glove,” Zhang heard a rather annoyed whisper from the depths of the cave. “Seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now I’ve got alien bits mixed into the joints. Blegh, that stinks.” The owner of the voice was quickly revealed to be Lana as she trained her weapon on what appeared to be a doorway set into the end of the cave.

“It’s your own bloody fault. You were given a knife for a reason,” Sachs, the other soldier, grumbled back before taking note of the new arrivals. “Sentries were taken down without a peep and no sirens either. I think we still have surprise on our side.”

“Excellent,” Captain Fujikawa replied with a nod. “Once we get inside, Strike Six will handle the power plant. Strike One will handle the capture assignment. I'm feeling keen for an abduction of my own.” The helmets masked any facial expressions but Zhang didn’t have to strain himself to imagine feral grins on most of the soldiers present. “I’m also interested in any computers they have here, as well. If this is the aliens base of operations then they’ve got to have information on where they’re taking all the abductees at the very least. But first things first, we need to open that door.”

The soldiers assembled near the door and Fujikawa reached out with one hand to brush against it. Unlike the doorways found in the alien ships which were shimmering energy fields that dissipated when approached, this was for all intents and purposes a metal wall built into the stone with a small indentation within the wall to mark the entrance. No buttons or control mechanisms were present anywhere in sight, and Zhang found himself reaching for his demolition charges before the door whooshed open of its own accord.

Fujikawa hopped backward and trained her rifle on the open doorway while letting loose a burst of sotto-voce profanity. Ten long seconds passed before the captain or any of the soldiers relaxed enough to speak. “Well, that was easy. We’ll regroup here in thirty minutes. Radio silence until power can be shut down. Good luck, gentlemen.” With that, Fujikawa raised her rifle and led Strike Six into the unknown.

“You heard the lady, we have a job to do,” Dryzimski said, and Strike One formed up to follow them in. Zhang was in the tail position this time, and he kept a wary eye on the door before the group rounded a corner and it fell out of sight.

------

Strike One swept through the base like a murderous ghost. Alien encounters were few and far between and were almost entirely Sectoids. A significant portion of them weren’t even armed or paying any attention to anything other than the wildly complex computer screens at their work stations. The operation was going just a bit too well for Matt to be comfortable with it.

Where are their heavies? Or thin men at least? The longer we go with just fighting Sectoids the more convinced I am that this is all a setup, Matt couldn’t help but worry as he watched Lana and Sachs perform their fifth consecutive double takedown of unsuspecting Sectoids. They aren’t even using Chameleon equipment and the aliens are just letting themselves get slaughtered.

As the last Sectoid corpse fell to the floor, Strike One formed up and headed towards the next room. Matt and Lana took their positions on either side of the door before quickstepping around the corner with their weapons raised. The room was larger than the corridors and kiosks that they had swept through previously with an elevated platform in the center. Four Sectoids occupied the platform but didn’t spare so much as a glance towards the approaching humans. Their eyes were fixated on the device in the center of the platform and the myriad of colors that filled the air above it.

Not one to miss the opportunity, Matt began to creep up behind one of the aliens with his pistol and knife in hand. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lana, Sachs and Zhang mirroring his steps. And like a well-oiled machine all four dispatched their targets. Sachs and Zhang performed the eye stab takedown while Matt elected to slip his own knife into his target’s back.

Lana dispatched her target with what was becoming a rather infamous maneuver. As before her left arm raised above her head before whipping down to strike the back of the Sectoid’s head. A crunch not unlike the sound of a pumpkin being smashed was the only sound the alien made before slumping to the floor with a skull fracture shaped like the edge of Lana’s metal hand.

With all four aliens dead, the soldiers switched back to their rifles and began to make their way to the next door, but not before Finch took a moment to study the alien light show. “Is this what the aliens do for fun?”

“At least they’re not reading bad fanfiction on the internet,” Kaito remarked off-handedly as he walked past, and Finch turned and made a gesture at the Japanese man’s back.

“Are you going to just stand there and argue that there aren’t any--” The Englishman started to argue until he caught sight of Dryzimski pointing one finger at him. “Right, sir. Sorry, sir,” he mumbled before falling into line.

The next room appeared to be storage or a loading area packed full crates, and the sheer incongruity of it struck Matt like a blow to the face. The crates were wood, and covered with numerals and English lettering and wouldn’t look out of place in any of the countless shipping warehouses that littered the Earth. At least three dozen identical crates filled the room, with the majority lining the walls while others sat on palettes on the floor. The question on everyone’s mind remained unspoken until Strike One reached the end of the warehouse to confirm they were alone.

“Finch, Suzuki, Yamazaki, Sachs, secure the entrances,” Dryzimski ordered before turning to the nearest crate on the floor. “Jenkins, pry one of these open. I want to know just what they are shipping.”

“Aye aye,” Jenkins said as she let her weapon dangle from its strap. She drove her left hand into the wood just beneath the lid and lifted. The lid came loose with a squeal of protest from the nails, and Lana didn’t hesitate to look inside. “What do you think? Bomb? Power source?”

“I have no idea. Matt, get over here,” Dryzimski said, and Matt joined the pair in gazing into the crate. Nestled inside the crate’s packing material was what appeared to be a metal container shaped vaguely like a cube. Seams ran along the top and outer edges of the cube and wafts of golden light could be seen leaking out of them.

“Sounds like a job for Vahlen,” Matt said with a helpless shrug, “I have no idea what they could be.”

“Right then, form up and on to the next room,” Dryzimski ordered and the team quickly suited action to words. The next room was much like the first but rather than a wall at the far end the room opened up into a far larger chamber. Strike One filtered through the boxes until they had line of sight into the larger room. “What the fuck?” Dryzimski asked with a great amount of feeling, and Matt could only agree with the sentiment.

The larger room was a hangar, and the floor was littered with all sorts of debris and devices that Matt had come to expect from such facilities. The hangar itself wasn’t the source of confusion; the single craft that rested on the far side of the hangar was. The familiar shape of a Skyranger sat with its wings folded and loading ramp down. Several figures could be seen pushing crates into the cargo bay… several human shapes. Around a dozen and a half could be seen, men and women in their late twenties to early thirties with most wearing slacks, ties and vests. The remaining few were wearing an outfit that anyone in the Strike teams could recognize instantly: XCOM first generation tactical armor and helmets. Just over half were armed with weapons Matt had never seen before.

“Strike One, Strike Six Actual, do you copy?” Matt heard through the radio, and he nearly jumped out of surprise. Why is Fujikawa transmitting? I thought we agreed radio silence…

Dryzimski signaled for Strike One to take cover before responding, “Strike One copies.”

“We’ve found what they’re doing to the abductees. Some of them anyway,” Another warning flag rose in Matt’s head as he took note of the captain’s tone. Something had scared her, badly. “There’s bodies; hundreds of them. Mutilated after some kind of surgical operation. We found where they’re doing it, too.”

“Six Actual, do you need backup?” The lieutenant asked patiently.

He’s hearing exactly what I’m hearing but he wants to know why she’s using the damned radio, Matt thought as he peaked over the crates at the humans on the other side of the hangar. They were continuing their work but one had stopped and pressed a hand to his ear in the classic position of someone receiving a radio message.

“Negative, One. We found a survivor. He… he ripped Rodriguez’s head off with his bare hands,” Fujikawa blurted out in a rush, “If you see humans, keep your guard up. They might look like us but they aren’t human anymore! They are not--”

Anything else the captain might have said was lost as two things happened. Dryzimski took the opportunity to look over the box at the humans on the other side of the hangar, and one of the humans on the other side of the hangar took the opportunity to open fire. A blood red beam of coherent light crossed the distance instantly and connected squarely with Dryzimski’s faceplate. Time seemed to slow as the beam vaporized everything that it hit, and Matt could only watch in horror as Dryzimski’s corpse fell backward onto the floor.

“Weapons free, open fire!” Matt shouted as he brought his LANC up and fired a quick snap shot at the closest enemy he could see. The rest of Strike One opened up as well in a frenzied rush to score a kill.

The moment the sniper’s shot rang out, a similar shout could be heard on the other end of the hangar, “Intruders in the loading bay! Flank them!” The humans on the other side of the hangar immediately snapped into action and dispersed with an enviable degree of professionalism. For the first five seconds both sides traded fire before the enemy humans made their move.

The volume of fire increased from the other side of the hangar, and Matt had to duck down to avoid being incinerated under the torrent of laser fire but not before he caught sight of two humans sprinting out from cover and leaping thirty feet upwards and onto the catwalks above the hangar. How the hell did they do that? Matt gaped before having to press himself further into cover to avoid fire from this new angle.

“Finch! Rocket the catwalks! Covering fire!” Matt shouted as he suited action to words and began to pepper the unloaded crates with LANC fire before falling back into cover to reload. The satisfying sound of an explosion followed by screams was the only indication that Matt needed to know the Englishman had hit home.

Less welcoming was the reply he heard shouted from the opposition. “Rocket their position, now!”

Matt couldn’t restrain himself from letting loose a string of profanity as he rose to try and shoot whoever was going to rocket their position. Unfortunately the enemy was faster and Matt could only watch helplessly as the missile flew from its launcher towards Strike One’s position.

No. No no no no no NO, Matt screamed in his mind as he watched the rocket cross the distance. They’re all going to die again and there’s NOTHING I CAN DO.

Do not think of what can’t be. Think of what you want to happen and it will be.

STOP!

The faintest of golden auras caught the rocket and it stopped dead in its tracks as though it had hit a brick wall. It crumpled and detonated prematurely, but the searing spike of pain in Matt’s head prevented him from doing anything other than falling back into cover. “Jenkins, Sachs; flank them using your Chameleon gear. We’ll cover you!” He growled through clenched teeth while he suited action to words.

A chorus of affirmatives greeted him though he winced when Kaori stepped out from cover and caught a blast in the face just as Dryzimski had. Zhang jerked to the side at the last moment and a line of laser fire creased the right side of his helmet. A surprisingly thorough string of Chinese epithets could be heard as he ripped his helmet off, closed his eyes and fired his LANC.

Zhang’s connected with a piece of cover on the opposite end of the hangar and was immediately followed by one of the humans falling over with a neat hole drilled in his head. Again Zhang fired with similar results before being forced back into cover.

Did he just… Matt started to ask himself but was brought out of his thoughts by a laser shot square in the chest. The chest plate held, but was cherry red as he fell back into cover. Priorities, genius, priorities!

“Strike Six, this is One Actual! I have assumed command and we are engaging with hostile human forces! We need reinforcement now!” Matt shouted into the radio as he rose to take shots at the hostile humans. The IFF tag for Lana was bolting towards the right flank of the enemies while Sachs had taken cover behind the Skyranger just as the power supply for his Chameleon gear ran dry.

The grizzled veteran began to take single shots from his new position but quickly found himself in danger of being flanked himself. Two of the suit-wearing humans leapt atop the Skyranger from the opposite side and dropped down behind Sachs. The man’s instincts were keen as he ducked and stepped backward to avoid the swipe of one soldier while bringing his rifle to bear. His G36 opened up on full auto and unloaded into the second soldier’s chest and stomach. Unfortunately Sachs’ luck ran out as the second soldier was on him. One gloved fist connected with the soldier’s helmeted head and sent him into the side of the Skyranger where he dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. The enemy human raised one boot and brought it over Sachs’ head, but the killing blow was halted by a flurry of heavy laser fire from Finch.

The second enemy, the one that had taken a two second full auto burst in the chest from Sachs, slowly began to rise despite the massive amount of blood coating his chest. Stay dead! Matt thought as he lined up a head shot on the recovering enemy, and he put three shots into the stubborn enemy before he was certain he’d stay down.

Matt caught sight of two more things farther in the hangar. Time slowed as he caught sight of a sniper leveling a long rifle directly at him. His helmet lacked any sort of zoom function but in his mind he could almost see the sniper’s eye in the scope as he lined up the perfect shot. That shot would never come as the second thing that Matt saw was Lana’s IFF tackling the man to the ground.

“One Actual, Strike Six is nearby. I think we’ll be coming into the hangar from your right, watch your fire,” Fujikawa said, and Matt could only grin in response.

“Copy that, Strike Six. Be advised that the enemy has lasers and explosives!” Matt quickly updated the other strike team as he saw them enter the hangar. Two soldiers were immediately cut down by a torrent of laser fire before they could get into cover and Matt cursed before shouting, “Strike One, advance!”

Matt burst out of cover and made a bee line for the Skyranger. Several others fell in beside him, and he glanced over his shoulder to confirm just who had made it. Finch, Zhang… Where’s Kaito? Matt’s gaze retraced their steps before settling on a mangled corpse halfway between their starting point and the Skyranger. Oh. “Finch, I want you on this corner providing covering fire. Do not let them flank Strike Six. Zhang, you’re with me.”

A pair of confirmations came from the two as Matt rounded the corner with his LANC raised and with Zhang close on his heels. The high pitched pulsing whine of the heavy laser drowned out all other noise as the pair advanced into the miniature maze of crates and moving equipment at the base of the Skyranger’s ramp.

The pair came across a full squad of the enemy humans that were in the process of suppressing and flanking the newly arrived Strike Six. Matt and Zhang were quick to return the favor. Their first two shots were perfect crowns on the two rearmost soldiers. The second and third enemies fell to double taps in the back. Matt was just about to move onto his third target when a hidden enemy leapt the box beside him and landed within arm’s reach to his side.

Matt’s mind snapped back to his close combat training as he saw his enemy draw a knife and swing it at him.

Option one, step back and shoot the target.

Matt quickstepped backwards to avoid the first knife blow while raising his LANC. He got one shot off before the rifle was ripped from his hands by a viciously fast swing.

Option two, use secondary weapons to gain the advantage.

Without missing a beat he snatched the ARC grenade from his belt and hurled it at his enemy while smoothly drawing his pistol. The human caught the grenade in midair and tossed it aside even as it discharged into him, all the while continuing his advance on Matt in spite of the pistol fire.

Option three, advance and gain control.

Just as his pistol clicked empty Matt ducked under another wild knife swing and leapt forward in an impromptu shoulder check on the now off-balance enemy. He staggered backward, his once pristine vest and slacks now pockmarked with bullet holes and blood. In spite of all his injuries he stood and charged right into the ARC thrower Matt drew at point blank range which caused him to stumble again.

The human screamed in outrage and slowly got to his feet again while Matt hastily reloaded his pistol, only for the upper half of the man’s body to disappear in a spray of gore and a BANG.

Always remember, the person who wins hand to hand combat is generally the one who has friends with guns.

Lana stepped over the remains as she swept the remaining bodies for any sign of movement. “Check the bodies,” she said grimly, “They don’t stay dead for long unless you’re… thorough.”

Matt watched her go before letting out a long ragged breath he didn’t know he had been holding. Bodies, human bodies littered the hangar. While most were wearing the curious business formal suits that the enemies wore, a great deal too many were wearing XCOM Carapace and Chameleon armor.

It didn’t take long for Matt to find the rifle he lost during his hand to hand fight, though the hit that had knocked it out of his hands apparently had enough force to crack the case around the Elerium Circuitry of the barrel. Just as he was about to lament the loss of his weapon, the familiar sound of Australian-accented profanity drew his attention.

“Ugh, son of a bitch,” Sachs said with as much enthusiasm as could be expected. He rolled over and slipped his helmet off of his head. The face plate of his helmet was cracked down the center and his nose was broken and bleeding profusely. Sachs rolled over again and tried to rise but slipped and fell back to the deck.

“Don’t try to get up, you’ve probably had a concussion,” Matt said as he hustled over to the injured soldier. He gave the older soldier a hand propping himself up against the Skyranger before asking, “Do you think you can supervise the wounded while we secure the base?”

“Don’t you patronize me, sergeant,” Sachs growled, “I might not be able to walk I can still shoot a gun. Drag me in the direction you want and I’ll keep anything from getting through.”

“I’ve no doubts,” Matt forced a smile before his eyes settled on the G36. “I may need to borrow your rifle. Mine was damaged in the fight.”

“Damned Americans don’t know how to keep your kit,” The Australian muttered even as he fished through his pockets and offered up two full magazines while drawing his sidearm. “You bend that rifle and I’ll bend you.”

Matt maintained his forced smile as he ejected the spent magazine and replaced it with one of the full ones. “It’s a promise, then.” He gave the other soldier a tap on the shoulder and rose to join the others but a shout caught his attention.

“Got a live one!” Lana shouted, and Matt wasn’t the only one who ran towards the shout. Finch and Zhang were hot on his heels as well as Fujikawa and a giant that could only be Yuri. They found Lana standing about ten feet away from a man who was dragging himself towards the closest exit in the hangar. A blood trail marked his path, and a significant amount of blood continued to leak from what remained of his legs.

Matt was a heartbeat away from performing a battlefield interrogation when the wounded man finally noticed the attention he was receiving. One hand pulled a syringe from his belt and held it high before jabbing it into his neck. Matt hadn’t been the only one who tried to rush forward to stop the suicide, and he wasn’t the only one to notice the grenade in the wounded man’s hand that fell free as the last bits of life left him. The blast was deafening and reduced any recognizable part of the man’s body to little more than a stain on the floor.

“Any injuries?” Matt asked before making his way to Fujikawa. The captain had sunk to the ground with blood seeping out from under the armor of her leg. “Don’t move! I think the shrapnel is still in your leg.”

“Just my luck, that’s what this is. Get me over to the other wounded and I’ll keep things going here. It’s up to you now to secure the base, kid,” Fujikawa ordered, and Matt had to resist the urge to scoff instinctually about being called a kid by someone shorter than his little sister. “Yuri will join you, but I’m afraid that’s all I can offer. Good luck.”

------

The sweep of the base was mercifully short as the remaining uninjured soldiers steamrolled the opposition. A paltry half dozen sectoids and only three plasma pistols between them were the only enemies they found, and they did little to curb the bloodlust that the survivors had. Only one room remained and all the soldiers took the time to reload.

Lana’s Excalibur gave a pleasant hum as she fitted a new Elerium battery into the butt stock, and she switched the magazine out for one that was topped off. Zhang’s LANC hummed in harmony with Lana’s weapon. Finch’s heavy laser beeped as he loaded his last power pack and powered the assault weapon up. Yuri’s and Matt’s conventional rifles both gave satisfying clicks as fresh magazines were loaded.

“All right, we haven’t run into a control room yet so by process of elimination I think this is it. If there are command assets inside I want suppressing fire only while Lana and I close to ARC thrower range. I’m not leaving without a head for my wall,” Matt explained grimly, and each of the soldiers nodded as he gave each a meaningful look.

As one they charged through the door, now that any chance at stealth had flown.

The room was indeed the control center for the base, with the walls lined with computer consoles and various holographic displays. And at the far side of the room was a Sectoid standing in front of a massive beacon. It whipped around to face the humans and they were assaulted with feelings of trespass, of invasion. The word was screamed in their minds: INTERLOPERS!

Matt, Lana and Zhang continued their charge, but Finch and Yuri staggered and fell behind before taking cover and laying down suppression fire. Zhang took up a firing position at a console towards the center of the room and began to take precise shots towards the Sectoid commander with the intent of forcing it out of cover. Lana broke left and drew her ARC thrower as Matt broke right and drew his own.

Finch’s heavy laser opened up on their target’s last position and Matt rushed around the corner and brought his ARC thrower to bear in a practiced motion. His finger began to squeeze the trigger just as those horrid alien eyes fell upon him. Instantly a million voices began to scream at him and it took every ounce of his will to hold onto his sanity.

No no no no no! How could your kind have progressed so far? You can’t, you can’t, you can’t! Impossible! Understanding of Elerium comes from exposure but the Design has limited such exposure! Makes no sense, no sense, no sense! And this one, this one, it shows signs of the gift! The gift! THE GIFT! The species shows signs of developing the gift but none should be this strong yet. The Design allows for all contingencies but this is not anticipated! Not anticipated! Wait… this Gift isn’t true, it is the echo of another. Another, another with the Gift! Tell us who it is. Tell us, tell us, TELL US!

Matt struggled with all his might but it took the invaders less than a fraction of a second to pluck from his mind what he wanted to keep secret. The image of a little lavender unicorn was brought to the front of his mind, and it was devoured by the voices.

It is…the Apex. The Apex! THE APEX! This one has access to it, this one could secure it. It will serve us well—

And just like a light being switched off, the voices stopped and Matt fell backward as he franticly backpedaled. His eyes locked onto the now-twitching Sectoid and he had to force himself not to draw his sidearm and shoot it until he ran out of ammo. He nearly lashed out violently when he felt a tap on his shoulder, and he turned to see Lana staring at him with a concerned expression.

“You alright?” She asked, and her voice sounded as though it were at the end of a tunnel.

“No, not now,” Matt said shakily. They know about Twilight now for certain. Dear God, I hope I didn’t just get her killed.

------

OPERATION VIKING: COMPLETE
ALIEN BASE OF OPERATION CAPTURED
ALIEN COMMAND ASSET CAPTURED
ALIEN BEACON CAPTURED

STRIKE-1 REPORTS 3 KIA, 2 WIA
STRIKE-6 REPORTS 4 KIA, 3 WIA

RECOVERY TEAM INVENTORY:
(Documented by Lt Weiss)
PLASMA PISTOL (1 total)
SECTOID COMMANDER LIVE CAPTURE (1 total)
PLASMA WEAPON FRAGMENTS
SECTOID CORPSES (22 total)
MODIFIED HUMAN CORPSES (24 total)
LASER RIFLES (X/lt pattern) (4 total)
HEAVY LASERS (X/lt pattern) (1 total)
LASER SNIPER RIFLE (X/lt pattern) (2 total)
SKYRANGER (1 total)
MELD CONTAINERS (20 total)
ALIEN SURGERY (10 total)
ALIEN STASIS TANK (30 total)
ALIEN ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (1 total)
UFO ELECTRONICS (Various)

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