• Published 2nd May 2013
  • 76,704 Views, 7,370 Comments

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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08:32, 05/22/2013, MEDICAL

Matt exited the barracks’ medical section with a stunned look on his face before turning to the mess hall. He idly remembered passing base personnel in the corridors, but what snapped him out of his daze was a figure bumping into his shoulder as he passed.

“Ah, my apologies,” the other person said affably as Matt turned to get a good look at him. He was tall and wearing a well-tailored business suit and tie and carried a suitcase in his left hand. His hair was far too long for military standard and was too well-styled to be a regular on the base. Wire-framed glasses sat on his nose and partially hid grey eyes while his smile was wide enough to seem sincere without being creepy. All told the man was perfectly forgettable and wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an average civilian office.

But XCOM’s barracks wasn’t an office, and Matt turned to challenge the man when he caught sight of the security badge clipped to the breast pocket of his jacket. Before he could scrutinize it any further, a hand fell onto his shoulder, which startled him enough to nearly jump out of his skin.

“Yo, Matt!” Lana greeted with a smirk, though it faded when she noticed the reaction from Matt. “What’s wrong? You’re not usually this jumpy.”

“I was just…” Matt started to answer as he turned back to the man who had bumped into him to find that he had vanished. “Nevermind, sorry.”

“That is understandable,” Zhang said politely as he hovered behind Lana’s shoulder. “Perhaps we should converse in the mess hall. If we speak here we may impede traffic.” The Chinese man stepped to the side to allow a pair of scientists and an engineer to make their way to the elevator at the end of the corridor.

“Sounds like a plan. So, what did the doctors say?” Lana turned and headed towards the mess hall while the two men fell in behind her. “The aliens didn’t screw with your head ,did they? You’ve never been this twitchy after a mission, and you didn’t even get shot or lacerated much!”

The trio entered the mess and sat at an unoccupied table a reasonable distance from the nearest group. When both Zhang and Lana remained silent, Matt finally explained. “Preliminary tests confirm there are no signs of mental tampering, but they mentioned there was lingering damage from… something. I don’t know what, I’m no doctor. They said that it would work itself out in time. It shouldn’t affect my performance.”

“Pardon me for saying so, but I would think that would be good news. Your expression seems more appropriate for someone who’s just been diagnosed with a terminal condition,” Zhang observed as he clasped his hands on the table before them.

“I’ve also just spoken with Commander Bradford, and after reviewing all the information available and assuming I pass the rest of the tests today, I will be promoted to Lieutenant and assume command of Strike One,” Matt answered.

“I would think that would be cause for celebration rather than trepidation.” Zhang’s normally neutral expression lifted into the ghost of a smile while Lana’s was almost enough to take in her ears before it halted.

Lana’s smile slowly shrank before she asked, “You’re thinking about the others, aren’t you? Dryzimski and Fowler?” The small smile on Zhang’s face faded as well as Lana continued, “It’s an unfortunate fact that we have to live with, working here. People get hurt, or die. Someone needs to replace them. You’ve got your head on straight and Strike One trusts you. Who else could do it?”

“You… have a point,” Matt admitted, though in his mind he disagreed. Who else could do it? Dryzimski and Fowler, and Captain Donnely before them. They could command, I’m just good at surviving.

With her point made, Lana’s smile became a mischievous smirk. “Though, when we put it that way, you might consider the diagnosis of ‘Lieutenant’ to be a terminal condi--” Anything else Lana might have said was lost as her jaw clamped shut to suppress a grunt of pain. She turned to glare daggers at Zhang, who continued to sit serenely as though nothing had happened.

“Perhaps another subject would be better for discussion?” Zhang offered while continuing to ignore Lana. “The nature of the enemies we encountered were surprising, to say the least. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Indeedy, I never expected to run into folks like them, ever,” Lana admitted as she turned back to Matt. “Seriously, that stuff they were doing isn’t natural. The sniper I took down? I had to cave in his skull just to make him stay down. Not natural, I tell you.”

“You can say that again. One LANC shot to the chest, two ARC charges and a handful of pistol shots weren’t enough to take down one I fought. He’d have likely had me if you hadn’t stepped in, Lana,” Matt added as he replayed that particular fight in his head. “Speaking of which, opinions on the Excalibur? I haven’t had a chance to try it on the range yet. Does it measure up to your old shotgun?”

“Thing’s heavy as sin but it packs a punch. Clip is a bit more convenient than the shotgun. No kick, either, which took a bit of getting used to. I honestly wouldn’t think I was even shooting a real gun if it weren’t for the bloody bits that show up in the folks I shot,” Lana explained with as much enthusiasm as could be expected.

“I felt the same regarding the LANC rifle. For all the power it has it simply feels like a toy. Mr. Shen mentioned having completed a few sniper variants that he offered for testing on the range. I may spend some time acquainting myself with it later today,” Zhang added, though he arched an eyebrow when he noticed the amount of scrutiny Matt was giving him. “What?”

“You shut your eyes during the firefight and got two head shots on enemies in cover,” Matt stated as he leaned forward and lowered his voice, and Lana looked at Zhang as well. “Once might have been a lucky fluke, but twice with such precision is a matter of skill. How did you do it?”

“I do not know,” Zhang answered after a long pause. He looked down at his palm and stared before blinking and looking away. “I do not know, but I think the cause may be related to our friend in Stardust.”

“The Gift, then? I suppose congratulations are in order.” Lana gave Zhang a hard slap on the back. “The next class is set up for tomorrow at noon, and I’m sure the teacher would be happy to see another familiar face. Come to think of it, we’re going to be having a movie night tonight down at Stardust. Just about everyone who knows about the project is invited.”

Zhang’s first reply was to nod but as Lana elaborated he hesitated. “I will decline the invitation for the event tonight, though I appreciate the offer. I would not want to spoil the atmosphere with my presence.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I have not been as good a friend as I should have been, and I wish to reconcile that inadequacy formally. Were I to make my apologies this evening it would leave a negative tone for the rest of the night. It would be best to make amends tomorrow, I think,” Zhang explained, and when silence came back to him he elaborated, “I made several hasty and incorrect assumptions regarding the nature of our friend in the Stardust Labs which I used as an excuse to behave poorly. I hope this will be resolved tomorrow before the meeting.”

“Well, good enough I suppose,” Matt said before looking at his watch. “I’m afraid I’ve got to get back to Medical for another round of tests but I should be done by lunch. When’s the movie start?”

“About five or so,” Lana replied.

Matt nodded and stepped away from the table. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”


12:02, 05/22/2015, MEDICAL


Gift Analysis for Cmdr David Bradford

Foresight -- the ability to predict or the action of predicting what will happen or be needed in the future.

Strengths of ability are obvious; events can be predicted with a significant amount of certainty within a certain timeframe.

Weaknesses of ability include debilitating head pain that correlates in severity to the amount of events predicted by Foresight. While Foresight can predict events that may occur, once this information is acted on then following events may change in ways not anticipated by Foresight. This weakness may be bypassed by short (1-3 seconds) usages of Foresight, but repeated use of the ability in this manner has a negative effect on perception of events as they occur in real time. Practice or repeated use may lessen this weakness.

Further weakness is that events predicted by Foresight must be within sensory range of Cmdr Bradford. This weakness may be bypassed through the use of radio and video information, but without such assistance then Foresight is limited to events within his sight or hearing.

Current maximum amount of time Foresight may be used to predict: 32 seconds from start before pain prevents further usage. Speculated practice may extend this timeframe.


David Bradford grumbled as he reviewed the report he had cobbled together from his impressions of his surprising ability. It looks like a disorganized mess. I should probably contact Doctor Vahlen, she’s more able to write reports like this, though it would have to be kept secret. I don’t want this to get around the base. Not that there’s much danger of that. The other gifted soldiers are doing a remarkable job of keeping their abilities secret.

Bradford’s fingers hovered over his tablet computers save keys as he gave his rambling report another review. All the other gifted soldiers have already been documented; I just have to submit this mess to make it official. Rather than dither any longer he tapped the keys to save his work and was rewarded with an error message.

Alert: This file is currently in use in another location. (Office of Cmdr David Bradford) Would you like to save as a new file?

Bradford blinked as he finished reading the error message before tucking the tablet under his arm and marching out of Medical. Soldiers, scientists and engineers alike parted before him without so much as a word requesting them to do so, and he knew why. He was hiding the thunder and he was letting it show. He rounded a corner and passed briefly through the Barracks before ascending the staircase to the upper level where his office was located. Without stopping he swiped his badge past the terminal and stormed into the office.

“Ah, the illustrious Commander Bradford,” A voice could be heard from behind the desk that dominated the room, and Bradford’s number one glare fell upon the man sitting behind it. He was quite possibly the blandest person Bradford had ever seen, with brown hair and grey eyes behind expensive-looking wireframe glasses. “You may call me Mister Vide. I must say I’ve been quite a fan of yours since this undertaking started.” The man, Vide, stood and rounded the desk before offering a placating smile and an offered hand. Bradford returned neither.

“What are you doing in my office?” Bradford asked, his voice carefully controlled as he glared at Vide.

He was just about to call for a security detail when Vide’s smile became less placating and more self-deprecating. His offered hand came up to scratch the back of his head and he asked sheepishly, “After Operation Viking’s preliminary reports, the Council wanted an immediate update on all recent developments. They made the arrangements with security to allow me access… did the message not reach you? Oh dear, this is awkward.”

“You haven’t answered my question. Why are you in my office?”

“As I mentioned earlier, the Council has become extremely interested in the developments that have been made since your last report. You might say they’re a bit like kids on Christmas eve, they want to know everything that’s happened now rather than wait until the end of month report,” Vide explained clumsily. “As such I’ve been empowered to gather this information for them. As I understand it, several soldiers amongst the Strike Teams have begun to show superhuman abilities. Lana Jenkins, Matt Harris, Yumiko Fujikawa, Yuri Romalov, and the late Raymond Rodriguez, if I’m not mistaken? Have any of the base’s support personnel begun to show any signs of similar abilities?”

Bradford’s glare released their hold on Vide’s eyes to glance down at his security badge. The badge itself appeared legitimate to the naked eye and the badge’s color coding indicated command level access. Still… there is something wrong with this, he thought before turning his gaze back to Vide’s face. “Unknown. Testing is not yet complete for the base personnel so I cannot answer that question accurately at this time,” Bradford reported without a second’s hesitation. It’s technically true, I haven’t finished testing my ability to satisfy my curiosity. “A report will be compiled at the end of the month for the Council detailing everyone who possesses the Gift on the base.”

“Ah, I understand completely,” Vide nodded before turning back to Bradford’s desk to retrieve a suitcase. “You are doing excellent work, and I hope you continue it until the XCOM project reaches its end,” He said with another affable smile as he reached the exit to the office. As the door slid open he stepped through before turning around and straightening his glasses. “Remember, I will be watching.”

“Security, this is Bradford. Do you have clearance requests for any individuals named ‘Vide’?” Bradford asked as he brought a hand up to his headset.

“I have a record of the highest security authorization and clearance for a visitor by that name, sir. The request was submitted and approved last night. The authorization gives Vide carde blanche authority to go where he chooses without escort.”

Bradford turned to the computer on his desk and pulled up his notifications, and found one regarding VIP clearance matching the man's description. I could have sworn I checked my messages last night. "Understood, thanks for checking. Keep an eye on our visitor and inform me if there's any problems. Bradford out."


16:32, 05/22/2015, THE FOUNDRY

Charles Shen raked his eyes across the table before him as he drank in the technological marvels that were captured in the last mission. Several weapons positively identified as lasers of similar output to XCOM’s own were arrayed.

The first few examples appeared to be closer to the traditional ballistic rifles with a clearly identifiable butt stock, pistol grip, magazine and a trio of tactical rails mounted on either side and beneath the barrel. The profile of the weapon was significantly slimmer than the boxy laser rifles that XCOM had produced, which led to a correspondingly lower total weight. The magazine-shaped batteries for the rifle carried ten less shots approximately but were half the size and weight.

To Charles Shen, it was much more than a captured enemy weapon. It was a personal challenge.

Anything you can do, I can do better, Charles remembered the singsong taunt with a grimace. And to think I was proud of the lasers we had developed. The SAW version of their lasers has a similar size and weight as our rifles but maintains the ammo capacity and weight of our heavy lasers.

Any further musing by the aging engineer was interrupted when two others approached the tables with two of the captured lasers in their hands. They placed the weapons at the end of the table before turning to the Chief Engineer. “It’s as bad as we thought, boss,” the first said with a worried expression. “Nearly identical energy output, but the guns are just… better. Whoever made these things wasn’t just a good engineer; he’s an excellent gunsmith too.”

“Then we should be thankful we were able to capture these before we saw wide distribution,” Charles said with the best smile he could fake. “Treat them like any enemy weapon we’ve encountered thus far. Strip one of each down and catalog every piece. The enemy might be trying to tell us that they’re better at this than we are, but I’d like to show them that they’re wrong.”

“Understood, sir. I should have all three torn down by tomorrow night, and barring any problems we should be able to integrate their advancements into our own weapons within a week,” The other engineer reported before picking up several items from the table and setting them on the cart beside him.

“Good. I hope you can hold down the fort until tomorrow. I’m afraid I have a prior obligation that I’ll need to attend to this evening,” Charles said as he stepped away from the table.

The engineer beside the cart gave a short laugh and shooed the older man away with a wave of his hands. “Go, old man. Take a night off for once. We’ll keep things under control.”

Charles quickly nodded his thanks and beat a hasty exit from the Foundry’s main work area but not before stopping into his office to pick up an unlabelled DVD case and a portable projector. He gave one quick wave as he exited the Foundry before turning towards the Stardust labs. Twilight said she loved the book so I know she’ll like the movie. Charles’ confidence slipped just a tad. Well, unless she’s one of those literature purists. Still, I think it’ll be good for everyone involved if we take it easy just a little bit every once and a while.

It wasn’t long before he reached the Stardust labs, where the only delay was a quick inspection of the DVD case and the movie inside. Neither guard commented but both arched an eyebrow when they saw the movie title. The two guards resumed their posts and Charles made his way into the lab’s testing area.

Most of the personnel who were involved with Stardust were in attendance. Matt and Lana were flanking Twilight, who appeared to be in high spirits, while Joel Mills and Kim Ngo stood opposite beside the central table. All those gathered smiled and waved at Charles as he entered the room

“Ah, apologies for my tardiness, I hope I didn’t keep you all waiting?” He said as he gave each person a nod. “Is this everyone? Will Frank, Shaojie or Moira be joining us?”

“Frank and Shaojie are both busy tonight, I spoke with both of them this afternoon,” Matt answered. “They did say they would make it to your class tomorrow, Twilight.” A warm grin spread on his face when Twilight’s initial disappointment was reversed at the news.

“Doctor Vahlen expresses her regrets at being unable to attend. From what I understand she’s still going through some of the stuff that was recovered recently,” Kim reported, and the emphasis she placed on the word ‘stuff’ was enough to indicate just what she was doing for those who were familiar with Vahlen’s usual duties.

“What stuff?” Twilight asked guillessly, and Kim stuttered several times as she attempted to come up with a plausible explanation.

“Oh, just a few odds and ends that the aliens may have left behind,” Charles explained quickly. Like the Sectoid that was captured… “I’m sure if she finds something interesting she’ll bring it down to share with you tomorrow.”

“Maybe one of you could go ask her to join us and take the night off? I get the feeling she works really hard and doesn’t really take any time to relax,” Twilight offered, and was rewarded with incredulous looks from the humans around her. “What? Oh come on! I overworked myself once! I’ve gotten a lot better than I used to be, and I think it might be fun to have everyone together.”

“Perhaps another time, then? You’re right though, Vahlen is very dedicated to her work,” Charles agreed before continuing, “What she’s doing now though is very important work. Once things calm down we’ll see about getting another night together like this.”

“Speaking of which, what exactly is the plan tonight? Giant card game? I don’t think we’ve gone over any games yet for so many people,” Twilight said as she looked over the five humans in the room.

“We’ll actually be doing something different. You’ve had a chance to see videos that were posted through the tablet you were given, yes?” Charles asked, and when Twilight nodded he continued. “It’s a common practice for us humans to gather to watch videos like those, except these videos are a bit longer and usually tell a story. And I think you’ll enjoy it. Just about everyone here has seen it already I think.”

“Saw it in theatres when I was…thirteen I think. Sister was seven. Both of us got hooked on the books after that.” Matt confirmed with a smirk.

“Same here,” Lana nodded and her expression turned nostalgic, “Me and the brothers all crammed into the theater at seven in the morning the day after it came out. I worked part time at the theater and the manager there gave us a discount showing before the theater opened up.”

“Took the kids to it about six times,” Joel smiled widely. “I could probably quote whole sections of the movie to you from memory.”

“I haven’t seen it yet,” Kim added when all eyes fell on her. “Don’t look at me like I’m some sort of cultural luddite! I was in the middle of my thesis project and didn’t have enough time to sleep, let alone see a movie. How ‘bout we all go watch the movie now rather than poke fun at the poor college kid I used to be, okay?”

Chuckles and smiles were had by all as they filed into Twilight’s habitat. Twilight situated herself on the bed while Lana and Matt took seats at the table beside the bed. Joel and Kim pulled the remaining chairs out from under the table and situated them on the opposite side of the bed. Charles busied himself with setting up the projector and feeding the disk into its corresponding slot in the projector.

With the projector powering up, he quickly dragged the chair out from Twilight’s work desk and brought it to rest beside Matt at the table. “Ah, I’ll get the lights,” He said before heading to the light switch by the door. His fingers almost made it to the light switch before a beep issued from his jacket pocket.

I should have known, Charles thought, and he resisted the urge to rub his eyes with his hands. “Ah, one of the engineers is trying to contact me. It’s probably an emergency so I don’t know when I’ll be back. Feel free to go on without me.” He reported as he dimmed the lights and hit the door controls to exit the habitat. The doors stayed open just long enough for Charles to catch the look of wonder on Twilight’s face when the projector revealed an owl sitting on a street sign that read ‘Privet Dr.’

“This is Shen,” Charles reported cheerfully as he brought the headset from his pocket to his head, “And for your sake the base had better be about to self destruct.”

“Sir, there’s a man in the Foundry and he’s not an engineer,” The voice on the other end of the line reported quickly, and his hurried tone indicated the seriousness of the subject. “His security badge has proper clearance but he’s accessing files on just about everything! Do you know anything about this?”

“No, I don’t. I’ll be there in just a moment,” Charles grumbled as he closed the line and retraced his steps back to the Foundry. Just like the engineer had reported, a man in a well-tailored business suit was sitting at the main terminal of the Foundry while showing every sign of being enthralled by what he saw on the monitor. Several engineers continued their work nearby, and all of them appeared to be watching the suited man out of the corner of their eyes.

“Ah! Doctor Raymond Charles Shen!” The man exclaimed as he looked over his shoulder to see the new arrival. “I’ve read all the books you authored on next generation structural engineering and I must say you are simply a genius in your field. You may call me Mr. Vide,” The man introduced himself with the mannerisms of a gushing graduate student while offering his hand to shake.

“You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Vide, but this is a restricted section of the base and—” Charles said slowly while he shook Vide’s hand. His grip was strong and his hands calloused, but before Charles could learn any more from the contact the handshake was gone and the visitor interrupted.

“Oh, yes. Here I was in a hurry to gush about my appreciation of your work that I didn’t finish my introduction. I’ve been sent here by the Council to gather some preliminary information prior to the end of month report,” Vide explained quickly while he straightened his glasses. “Some of your breakthroughs will quite literally change the world, and I’m not exaggerating when I say so.”

“Advancement without responsibility will bring only ruin, Mr. Vide. It’s our duty to control what we discover until the world is ready for it,” Charles explained quietly as he did his best to avoid showing his aggravation on his face. I had enough of gushing flattery back when I taught classes. I just wish he would get to the point.

Vide nodded quickly while clasping his hands behind his back. “Oh I agree completely! For instance, the LANC class weapons that you’ve developed just this month! I can scarcely imagine the amount of death and destruction that might be caused if they were to fall into the wrong hands. Is it true that a shot fired by a LANC can penetrate all currently used armor materials?”

“That’s correct—”

“Scary!” Vide interrupted, and his happy expression faltered just a bit. “I suppose it’s a good thing that the ammunition can only be created by an Ea class generator? And to start the Ea generator you either need pre-charged batteries or the ‘specialist’ from the Stardust project, right? That specialist must be a genius to have come up with so many brilliant inventions! My engineer heart just about gave out when I heard about practical energy shields and teleportation devices! Is it true that once you complete the Kaleidoscope project you’ll be able to teleport to distant locations?”

Charles tried to interrupt the motor mouth but the other man just talked right over him. “I must say, though, the Rule Breaker project is what I find myself most impressed by. Having devices that could stop the aliens from using their mental abilities would prove to be quite the advantage if further refined! You are quite the asset to this organization, and it pains me that I cannot simply stay here and talk shop with you for days on end. Council business sadly has priority.”

Before any further conversation could be had, Vide walked to the exit and tapped the door controls with one hand while straightening his glasses with the other. “Keep up the good work, Raymond,” He said with a smile before he disappeared behind the closing doors.

Charles took a moment to rub his eyes before taking one step towards the exit before one of the other engineers flagged him down with a question, then another, and another. So much for the movie. Sorry, Twilight.


19:05, 05/22/2015, CONTAINMENT

“The raid perpetrated on the alien facility has provided us with four avenues of research that will hopefully provide us with an edge over the aliens should they choose to escalate their plans from skirmishes and abductions into full scale war,” Moira Vahlen dictated into her tablet as she perused the files on everything that had been gathered thus far.

She chose the first file, which included several autopsies of the humans found at the base. “The first breakthrough is the appearance of what appears to be a hostile human faction operating in concert with the aliens here on Earth. Examinations of their brains show very little damage that results from the aliens attempts at mind control, which leads me to believe that the aliens may have found a less destructive way to assault the minds of humans, or these humans chose to willingly join the aliens with no mental persuasion necessary.”

Traitors, Vahlen thought venomously before clearing her throat to continue dictating. “In addition to the hostile humans found during the operation, hundreds of human corpses were found at a disposal site with numerous signs of surgical scarring on their bodies. These surgeries indicate a clear progression in the aliens' understanding of human physiology as well as their attempts to augment it. I think it would be safe to assume that the hostile humans that were encountered were the final product of the aliens attempts to create such augments.

“Skeletal and muscle structure both appear to be reinforced to allow for much greater strength and endurance than a human being of similar stature. Attached armor camera footage shows several feats of strength and athleticism that simply should not be possible. Numerous alterations are also present in their blood, organs and nervous systems which accounts for a near perfect pain tolerance and ability to withstand normally fatal wounds. The nervous system and brain structure also seem to indicate the potential for dramatically enhanced reaction times.”

Vahlen tapped her tablet to attach two more files to her notes. “Several of these enhancements show similar methods of manipulation in the ‘Muton’ and ‘Berserker’ specimens. It was previously unknown how the aliens were capable of such thorough genetic enhancement for their troops, but the second discovery may have unlocked the secret behind it. A substance that has been dubbed as ‘Meld’ was recovered from the alien base, and it appears to be comprised of—”

A soft ping sound came from the tablet followed by a small mailbox icon in the corner of the tablet’s display. “Stop recording,” Vahlen commanded before tapping the mailbox to read the message she had been sent.

FROM: Dr. Hongou Marazuki
TO: Dr. Moira Vahlen
DATE: 05/22/2015, 19:10

Doctor Vahlen, I do believe we’ve had a breakthrough.

The other astronomers and I have been working night and day using the parameters you provided to us to try and locate the invaders' home system. The archetype systems you outlined for us narrowed down the potential systems to just under a dozen, and when we fired up that new ‘TED’ device on one of the satellites we were able to narrow it down to just one.

The system designated as Omega Centauri was considered a curiosity prior to the invaders arrival due to the wild oscillations of its orbit. Prior to your request it was simply assumed that the star was orbiting a black hole and might actually no longer exist due to the number of light years away it is from us. After the TED system showed a positive reaction to the star, we did a more in-depth analysis and were able to confirm the presence of a planet within the system.

The star is orbiting the planet.

Don’t ask me how because I don’t have the faintest idea. I’ve run the numbers ten different times. I’ve had the others run the numbers and we all get the same result. The star is orbiting the planet. If this wasn’t quite possibly the invaders' home planet, I’d be inflicting this find upon the scientific community as we speak. A star orbiting a planet! Just thinking about it gives me a headache.

I hope this helps you out, Moira, and I hope it leads to the end of the war. Hell, if you find some way to send a nuke over to their planet then give me a heads-up. I want to leave a message on the bloody thing before it gets sent away.

Attached to this email is the encrypted coordinates of the system and the planet itself. Let me know if you need any further information.


Dr. Hongou Marazuki

Vahlen simply stared at the message before rereading it two more times. I had almost forgotten about it. I had contacted Marazuki to search for Twilight’s home world under the guise of finding the invaders origin. But we found it. Her home world. If I tell her then she’ll likely wish to be returned home as quickly as she can. If I don’t, then…

A trilling scream cut through Containment, and Vahlen looked over her shoulder to see the captured Sectoid strapped to a surgical table with its limbs spread wide. Two robotic arms were in the process of inserting metal probes into its skull even as it struggled against the restraints. Again the Sectoid screamed and Vahlen looked back down at the email.

You’re a monster, Moira Vahlen, she told herself, and she could find no grounds to argue the point. Twilight calls you a friend and helps you without asking for anything in return after all that you’ve done to her. You? You’re going to deny her the possibility of returning home just so you don’t have to work hard for your reality-shattering breakthroughs. You’re no friend, you’re a monster.

Vahlen clenched her jaw and stood up before turning to exit Containment. “I am stepping out for a moment. Proceed with the operation as planned, though if the Rule Breaker restraints fail you are to purge the specimen immediately. Understood?” She said to the nearest scientist before heading to the exit.

The door opened and Vahlen nearly ran face first into a man wearing a business suit. He had one hand out to press the door controls but he quickly retracted it upon seeing Vahlen standing in the doorway. A flash of emotions went across his face before it settled on surprise and then unease when another alien scream came from Containment before the doors closed behind Vahlen. “Doctor Moira Vahlen, I presume? My name is Mr. Vide and I am here on behalf of the Council. I don’t suppose I could have a few moments of your time?”

The introduction as well as the man’s slick appearance made Vahlen’s eye twitch with irritation. “Only if you can talk and walk. My time is valuable, ‘Vide’, and I don’t have much of it to waste on the type of redundancy that you’re asking for. The Council can review all of my findings at the end of the month, but if you have questions, ask them now.”

Vahlen turned and began to power walk away from Containment and towards the Stardust labs, and Vide had to rush to catch up despite having a significant stride advantage. “Thank you, and I appreciate you taking the time. The last two months have generated quite a few amazing developments, have they not?” Vide asked affably, though the attempt at friendliness was lost on Vahlen. “All of these developments seem to have come from the ‘specialist’ located in the Stardust Labs. The specialist must be quite the genius, yes?” Still no response. “Considering a significant amount of those developments are for devices that use Elerium in creative ways I have to wonder if the specialist isn’t somehow related to the aliens.”

“Cut to the chase, Vide. What do you want?”

“Just a moment’s time with this specialist, is all,” Vide answered, and Vahlen turned to face the man when he made the request. The smile he had was warm and disarming, and it gave Vahlen the chills.

“Follow me and we’ll see what can be arranged,” She said after a long moment. The two passed through the corridors in silence before finally coming to a stop at the Stardust Labs. Both the guards nodded to Vahlen before turning to eye Vide, and she could only smirk at what was going to happen next. “Guards, detain this man!”

“I beg your pardon?” Vide asked, sounding shocked as the guards tensed and drew their side arms.

“Did you choose the name ‘Vide’? The French word for blank? You would have gotten further if you said your name were ‘Doe’ or ‘Smith,’” Vahlen explained.

“I’m not certain why that makes…” Vide started but Vahlen cut him off.

“When I first saw you, you were about to enter Containment without my authorization. I don’t care if you’re sent by the Council or if you’re one of the Council yourself. When you enter the Science wings you’re entering my domain, and God himself needs permission from me to enter Containment regardless of their clearance. Now you will wait here until a security detail can be arranged to escort you to a cell, where you will enjoy our hospitality for the indefinite future,” Vahlen finished with a vindictive smirk.

The door to Stardust opened and she stepped through, and the last she saw of ‘Vide’ was his disarming smile and raised hands as the two Security personnel reached for him.


Shaojie Zhang had just finished his evening workout when he nearly bumped into Captain Fujikawa and Yuri Romalov from Strike Six. Both greeted Zhang with a smile and a wave, though Fujikawa’s wave was rather awkward due to the crutches under her arms.

“Hey, Shao! Have you seen Matt or Lana?” Fujikawa asked. “Yuri and I were asked to meet in the briefing room in about two minutes and they’re supposed to meet us there.”

“I’m afraid they’re currently engaged in other activities at the Stardust Labs if memory serves. May I ask why you’re meeting here?”

Yuri supplied the answer, “Met with a suit who claimed to have further questions regarding our part in the base assault. Said Council may have special mission for us.” The big man simply shrugged as though it really didn’t matter.

“First rule of the Army, you do something well enough then you’re rewarded with more of the same. Come on, Yuri, I don’t want to be late,” Fujikawa said with an exaggerated sigh before opening the briefing room door and heading inside.

Zhang watched them enter and almost turned to leave but something caught his eye in the room. A suitcase…not suspicious but the placement? Standing vertically on a chair in the corner of the room with the broad side facing the middle of the room. That reminds me… The suspicions wouldn’t go away so he simply closed his eyes and looked again.

Zhang’s service with the Chinese Special Forces was the proudest time in his life where he honed his skills as a sniper to rival any other marksman in the world. When his departure from the armed forces was all but guaranteed he sought alternative employment which led to his eventual career as a thief and assassin with the Triads. When he closed his eyes and looked back into the room and into the briefcase, he saw one of the Triad’s favorite methods of assassination.

“Get out!” Zhang shouted as he stepped into the doorway of the briefing room while leveling an accusatory finger at the suitcase. “There’s a bomb!”

There was the briefest moments of hesitation as the two soldiers processed what Zhang said before they both turned and bolted toward the door. Fujikawa’s crutches were not built for speed however and with all the chairs in the way she quickly fell behind.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!” Fujikawa screamed in rapid succession when one chair leg caught her crutches and threatened to tumble her to the floor. She would have fallen if Yuri hadn’t scooped her up and threw her over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes and flew through the door. Zhang hit the door controls and the room was sealed shut.

A moment passed and nothing happened other than a small collection of soldiers who came running at the Zhang’s shout.

“Zhang, I appreciate the warning, but are you sure—”


The door bent slightly outward and a jet of flame blasted through the cracks in the breached door, and all the soldiers in the hallway were blasted off their feet.


Vahlen made her way to her console and dropped her tablet off before picking up her comms headset. Before she could activate it though, the door to the Labs opened again.

“Now then, Doctor Vahlen, I think I would like to see the Stardust specialist if you have a free moment,” Vide said with his affable smile that was completely at odds with the two bodies that he dragged into the lab and dropped onto the floor. One security guard’s head was twisted at an impossible angle while the other clutched at his throat and struggled for a breath that would never come. The affable smile remained on Vide’s face even as he brought his heel down violently on the back of the dying man’s neck before pulling the guard’s sidearm and pointing it at Vahlen.


We should have done this weeks ago, Matt couldn’t help but think as he glanced at Twilight then back at the movie. She acted exactly like my sister did throughout the whole movie, scene for scene. Well, maybe with less talking.

Just as Shen had predicted, Twilight had appeared to love every moment of the movie though she had shown some understandable discomfort when the scene in the forest with the slain unicorn was shown. There had been a brief moment where they had to pause the movie to reassure Twilight that no one in the room wanted to drink her blood, but other than that things had proceeded smoothly.

The movie’s confrontation had come and gone, and now the house cup was about to be assigned. Even in the low light Matt could see Twilight’s eyes sparkling with anticipation in what she no doubt knew what was going to happen.

Having that anticipation interrupted by the door to the habitat opening was annoying to say the least, and Matt turned to give an annoyed look at whoever decided to destroy the moment.

ALARM!” Vahlen screamed before falling forward in an uncontrolled tumble, and time froze as Matt caught sight of the figure standing behind her.

It was the man he had run into earlier in the day, complete with his disarming smile and business suit but in his hands was what Matt instantly recognized as a nine millimeter standard issue sidearm pointed in their direction. He could see the finger tighten around the trigger and the lazily-spinning bullet exit the barrel.


The faint golden glow caught the bullet and stopped it in place, and Matt was rewarded with a spike of pain in his forehead. Not that it would have mattered. This man had fired a gun at him and his friends, and that made Matt angry.


The bullet reversed direction and flew back at the shooter’s left eye just as quickly as it left the barrel, and to Matt’s utter disbelief he saw the man’s eyes lock on the bullet before dodging it entirely like a Hollywood action movie hero. Even as he leaned out of the way he brought the sidearm up to fire again, but was forced to leap back as Twilight’s table flew through the room at the doorway.

It collided with a metallic BANG, but before it had even fallen to the ground Lana had crossed the distance and planted a flying left-handed punch into the center of the table. The center third of the table was pulverized and the shooter was showered with the debris from the strike. Another shot rang out that clipped Lana’s left shoulder before she was onto him. Rather than struggle for the gun he allowed it to be knocked aside while he drew a knife with his left hand. The smile on his face grew as he saw Lana’s eyes lock onto the blade, and he lofted it into the air.

Lana’s eyes followed the weapon as it arced upwards into the air, and she was completely blindsided by a wicked right cross. The blow struck her across the face and sent her sprawling, which allowed the intruder the time to catch the lofted knife in his left hand behind his back. The knife quickly switched hands and swept in a lateral cut to halt Matt’s charge as he rushed past Lana.

Matt stopped just short of getting sliced by the intruder’s attack and quickly found himself on the defensive as he sidestepped another knife blow only to catch a left-handed palm strike to his rib cage. Even as his eyes watered and he staggered backwards, Matt came to a dawning realization and he smiled at the intruder. The knife came up but the killing blow hesitated as he no doubt came to the same realization.

They had both taken their eyes off Lana.

First, a hand-print appeared around the man’s right forearm followed by the muffled crack of bone. Second, his right shin bent forty-five degrees in an entirely wrong direction. Third, a crease showed up on the man’s suit between his neck and shoulder followed by the SNAP of his collar bone breaking. Last, he flew through the air before coming to a stop on his stomach with his right arm twisted viciously behind him and the broken bones in his forearm giving him a second elbow.

“Don’t. Move.” The words seemingly came from thin air, and Lana appeared above the man with one knee planted firmly on his back. She had the man’s broken arm pinned beneath her knee as she felt what pockets she could from that position for any other weapons.

What started out as a scream of pain devolved into unbalanced laughter from the intruder. “Mister Harris and Miss Jenkins, I presume? You live up to your reputations. It is a tragedy that it will not matter one bit in the end. You cannot stop Ascension. The aliens will succeed.”

“Matt?” Came a tiny question from the habitat, and he glanced over his shoulder to see Twilight’s horrified expression. The door to the habitat attempted to close but the debris from the table blocked it.

She saw everything, Matt realized, and he followed her wide-eyed gaze to the dead security guards beside the now thoroughly beaten intruder. “Twilight, don’t look. Just… just stay right there, okay?” He asked as gently as he could before retrieving the knife that the intruder had dropped.

“And you!” the intruder spat at Twilight, “You think you are helping humanity but you aren’t! You’re keeping us from our true destiny! If you really wanted to help you would KILL YOURSELF!” Anything else the intruder was going to say was lost when Lana grabbed him by the scalp and slammed his head into the metal floor twice in rapid succession. A low moan escaped the intruder’s lips, which resulted in a third strike.

Matt winced as he heard Twilight’s distress at the violence, but he couldn’t spare the time to worry about that at the moment. Now where’s the pistol? He thought before turning to see the other figure in the room. Oh shit.

“You…you are helping the aliens? You are HELPING THEM!?” Vahlen screamed as she raised the discarded sidearm towards the intruder. Her breath came in short gasps and her eyes had contracted to pinpricks. Her hands and the sidearm shook as she struggled to keep the intruder in her sighs, and Lana looked about a second away from simply standing and letting her take the shot.

“Moira, we’ve got him,” Matt said as loud as he dared so as not to startle Vahlen. “If you kill him now then we’ll never learn just how far things go. He’s far more valuable to us as a living subject.” He took another step towards Vahlen and when she lowered the gun he snatched it from her grasp and stepped back. Because of his quick retreat he wasn’t able to prevent her from planting a running kick into the side of the man’s head.

In der Hölle sollst du brennen!” Vahlen screamed and she cocked her foot back for another kick before Matt stepped forward to restrain her. He dropped the knife and kicked it away so he could wrap one arm around Vahlen to carry her into the habitat. The moment his arm wrapped around her the scientist went limp and began to weep in German.

“Matt…” Twilight tried again, “He’s… he’s hurt really bad.” Her eyes were still locked on the intruder though she kept stealing glances towards the two dead guards.

“Twilight, that man was going to kill us all,” Matt explained bluntly as he all but dropped Vahlen in the chair he had been sitting in just a few moments earlier. “I know you don’t like seeing people hurt but it was either him or us, and both Lana and I would do it again if it meant protecting our friends. Please… just stay there with the doctors and we’ll handle this. I promise I’ll be back.” With that, he turned away and kicked the debris from the door so it could finally close behind him.

Neither Joel nor Kim had moved an inch since the fight had started.

I can’t worry about her, Matt reminded himself as he approached one of the dead guards and lifted the radio. “Command Actual, this is Harris, do you copy?”

Any response was overwhelmed by the sound of gunfire.


Maybe I’m just being paranoid, Bradford told himself for the tenth time as he surveyed the holographic globe in the center of the situation room. Maybe it’s a psychological thing. I know I have the capacity to see the future if I turn the Rule Breaker off, so maybe I’m worrying that disaster is around every corner if I can’t predict it? He had to resist the urge to chuckle at that train of thought. Humans have soldiered just fine even without fortune tellers holding their hands.

"Command, Security," Bradford's radio buzzed, "Our internal monitoring just went down. None of the internal security measures are responding to my commands. I'm blind and deaf."

“Commander!” one of the techs shouted from the control pit. A confused look was clear on his face as he looked to Bradford and reported, “The Skyranger hangar doors are opening! Automated control is locked out!”

“Sir! There’s a report of an explosion in one of the barracks briefing rooms, no casualties reported and the fire is under control!” A second tech jumped up and shouted.

“Set alert status to red! Scramble the interceptor squadrons and bring all Strike teams on standby! And get the National Guard airborne!” Bradford shouted quickly before tapping the button on his wrist to turn off his suppressor.

A shot rang out and the nine millimeter slug entered the back of Bradford’s skull.

Bradford ducked down just a second before the shot rang out and he felt the bullet kiss his scalp as it passed. He twisted to the left and turned to face the shooter, who anticipated the move and fired a second shot through his heart.

Bradford ducked down just a second before the shot rang out and he felt the bullet kiss his scalp as it passed. He twisted to the right to avoid the second shot and charged forward to wrestle the gun from the shooter’s grasp. The now disarmed shooter fell backwards and Bradford brought the sidearm up to cover him.

“What did you do?” Bradford shouted even as his mind burned with thousands of possible outcomes. “Tell me!”

The shooter didn’t answer or move or react in any way than to stare blankly at the person he had just tried to kill.

“Commander! I have multiple hostile contacts inbound on the base’s location…mother of God,” One of the techs said before standing up and looking at the globe. One red spot appeared over North America, then two, then six, then a dozen with at least two of comparable size to the ship captured during the Gangplank operation.

Bradford knocked out his would-be assassin with a strike from the pistol before tapping his headset to access the base’s intercom. “All personnel, this is not a drill. Enemy forces are inbound. All Strike Team personnel are to report for imminent defense. All Interceptor crews report to your fighters. All non-essential personnel are confined to quarters or current location. Good luck.”

“Sir, shouldn’t you remain in the situation room?” One of the techs shouted over the chaos that was now erupting. No sooner had the last word left the tech’s mouth than the globe flickered and died.

“I know where I’ll need to be,” Was all Bradford said as he made his way to the Armory.