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The VIPs reassert themselves as soon as the crisis is over, calling for an inquiry on the poor handling on this. Bradford answers that some of the guests had been mind-controlled by the new alien type.

We get the barracks doors open, and I type as much to Bradford. "Attention all XCOM Academy personnel, this is Central Officer Bradford! Get the nearest weapon and sweep the facility - collateral damage is acceptable. All guests who are not in need of immediate medical attention are to be considered under arrest until Dr. Vahlen's team can determine that they are free of alien mind control."

"Bradford! You have no right to-"

"Senator, one of your entourage collapsed when the red-robed alien was killed. That means he was under its influence. We cannot take any risks, and must assume your entire party is compromised."

The lights are back on, and our guys are sweeping the perimeter - twenty-one dead, seven of which in Delta section. Guard Gerard Brown wounded severely enough that he might require MEC surgery. THOR destroyed. Blanka wounded, Dee out of action for nine days while her MEC suit gets fixed since half the Foundry is busy repairing the other half. The power plant technicians swarm the room I hid in and take my console, so I make my way back upstairs -- I want to go check on my friends, but the crisis is not over.

The elevator works. I get to the situation room to find most people lined up to be checked out for mental abnormalities by the science team. Vahlen is in full regalia -- dear lord, is she wearing the yarnall corset under her lab coat? -- and using her outside voice to line everyone up.

"That's enough, Bradford! You may be the new commander of this facility, but you take orders from the council, and I am their appointed representative! Consider YOURSELF under arrest."

Guns from the politician's bodyguards are drawn. Not even ten minutes after a fucking alien invasion, and man is getting ready to murder man again over... what exactly? Who's got the most chest hair?

Bradford doesn't blink. "Are you really going to shoot me? At this time? In this place?" The door opens; a group of our cadets, armed with confiscated X-ALT laser rifles move in. Vahlen directs them to drag the people who have collapsed over to the alien containment facility until they can be cleared. The politician's bodyguards (where's the guy from anyway? He looks Anglosaxon, but I can't place the accent...) train their guns at them. Dr. Vahlen walks forward and steps between the two groups, then opens her lab coat a little, facing the politician -- now all the guns are on her. She seems unfazed.

"Look, if this is some sort of dick measuring contest, I think the good doctor here can win it by several yards if she so chooses" I interrupt. Nobody paid much attention to me coming, so my presence further startles people who aren't used to me being around. "Now, change of plans. There's going to be a ceremony. We will bury our dead. We will tell the aliens, and the world if it cares, that the XCOM Academy is still standing. You grok that?"

Dr. Vahlen smiles. "Yes, Headmaster."

"Yes, Headmaster." Bradford nods.

"... You have no authority here. Your tenure is over. Commander Bradford, why are you listening to this civilian?"

"Because that civilian, unlike these civilians and specifically this civilian" Bradford waves at the bodyguards and pokes the politician in the chest with a finger, causing the bodyguards to aim their guns at him again -- a couple seem relieved to get to look away from Dr. Vahlen; one seems disappointed -- "went out there and did what that civilian could do to fix this mess, even though it was just getting the damn doors to work. Even although, like you just said, it was no longer that civilian's job."

The room has largely been cleared, an orderly queue formed in the direction of the labs - we've heard the high pitched whine of laser rifle capacitors, but only a few. The makeshift command post that Bradford gave us lifesaving directions from switches to "all clear".

"Because despite the fact that we just got little raids and incursions up until now, this is real war, total war, it's not just something on TV, it can reach everywhere including into your own head. If it wasn't bloody obvious by the fact that two dozen people just died here!"

Dr. Shen comes on on the projector to give a damage report - if there are no interruptions and all nonessential personnel is evacuated from the island, the facility should be back in operation in two days, with full capacity regained in ten. They're routing power to the MRI machine in order to quickly process the guests so that they can be repatriated as soon as possible. The students and base personnel who aren't too wounded to walk have filed in, most still brandishing laser rifles, conventional guns or in at least one case, a crowbar.

"And, last and least, because you've brought firearms to a laser fight."

The bodyguards realize how outgunned they are, and put their pistols away. "This is an outrage! I demand to contact the Council! I will see you all sacked and court martialed for this!" The politician is gently pushed away - we hear him complain about being at the very back of the line for the MRI, followed by some wetly metallic noises from Dr. Vahlen that silence the man.

I'm staring at the healthy half of XCOM.

"We made a statement here today, Headmaster - they came after us, our people, right at the heart of our operation - and we showed them what happens. Now I think it's time we take the fight back to them."

Bradford is right, although I'm wondering just who he means by "them" right now. The refreshments for the planned reception are still massed at the sides of the room, minus the inevitable smashed bottle or two. I guess it's my turn to say a few words.

"...Arright. Them as don't drink, guess we're on first shift for guard duty. Everyone else, there's champagne and tartines and all that posh food, I think you've earned it! Just leave some food for us teetotalers, okay?"

Not much of a speech, but hey, this is a school, and there's free food, what more needs to be said.

"So who's actually in charge?" I sat down with Bradford the now empty situation room, which we're about to turn into sleeping quarters for a while.

"I suppose me nominally, until they do get around to sacking and court-martialing every man jack of us, including the women." Bradford sounds a lot more approachable after a couple of drinks. "I guess in actuality, nothing changes until we see destroyers on the horizon. I'm in charge of operations, Shen is in charge of engineering, Vahlen is in charge of research, and you're in charge of teaching."

"We'll have to revise half our doctrine. Clearly that one robed alien is capable of much wider mind control. We'll have to get Kite and Blanka to talk, compare notes..."

"Blanka is due to Warsaw with the first flying boat trip, Headmaster." Vahlen interrupts via video. "Her being delayed worked out for everyone, but she's already been debriefed, for the most part -- she reported an effect much different than the puppet-stringing we know about. Her loyalties simply... shifted. She thought she was doing the right thing, by axiom, in shooting her own. That is a lot more insidious - it's safe to guess that this type of control is much less taxing than what we saw before, and hence, can be deployed more often even assuming the new creature has the same raw capacity as a sectoid telepath." Vahlen really doesn't like the "sorcerer" moniker.

"Agreed. We'll have to develop countermeasures." "What can you tell us of the creature?"

"What little is left of it? It should've been dead for centuries. I suspect it was sustaining itself on pure force of will, but I'd need an intact head to be able to tell. Not much to do an autopsy from."

"Aliens, mind control, and now the undead?"

"I'm exaggerating, Bradford. It wasn't dead, the tissue was just... old, withered, dying. Certainly a being of mind over matter, quite the opposite from a zombie or some kind of animated skeleton."

"A lich." Dr. Shen has recently gifted the on-base D&D scene with its own map server. "In addition, the cape and helmet fragments we've recovered... no real function. Decorative. Other than the hallucinatory device in the alien base, it's the first time we see any sort of cultural artifact on part of the aliens. Priestly robes, maybe?"

".... You know, that fits. Okay, let's call these liches. Do you think they're finally the ones in charge of the alien force?"

"Sorry for the discomfort, Instructor Winters. The, uh, recussitation process normally would be a bit smoother... hopefully, but just after it was started you seemed to go into convulsions and trying to vomit, which could have gone very badly while you were still intubated. We're not entirely sure why that happened."

"I was asleep. That's normal for me getting woken up suddenly." Kite sat up quickly, and immediately regretted it, clutching at her forehead with both hands. "Please tell me you've got painkillers. Codiene? Morphine?"

"Ahm, I'm afraid you've got to recover from the procedure on your own. The instruments say it was successful, but Doctor Vahlen left instructions that until that was proven, and we've been able to run some tests on how your biochemistry's changed as a result of the implants, no medications except immunosuppresants if there's signs of rejection. Which thankfully there isn't! That's good news, right?"

"Are other people allowed painkillers? Because if I'm not allowed anything for this headache, I am very likely to hurt someone."

"Erm, they are, but that's also why this lab's windows are made out of the same material as the jar down in Containment. Well, more in case psionic implantation allowed the aliens to make you permanently into a puppet and drove you to try to kill us all, but just in case of random spikes of temper, too."

"If that had been part of the pre-test briefing, I don't think I'd have gone in."

"Well, there's a large bottle of iced tea on the table near you that I'm told I shouldn't enquire as to the specifics but that you'd want it when you woke up?"

"That's at least some good news. So, how did we want to go about empirical testing on success?" Kite stretches slowly, forcing herself to move, smiling as the bottle of tea thwacked into the palm of her left hand. "Good throw, whoever that was."

"You're currently alone in the chamber Instructor Winters, Gunnery Instructer Hawley and Rookie Malakhova have not yet been unsealed."

Kite looked speculatively at the bottle in her hand, and the table from which it had evidently leapt from under its own power. Or, presumably, hers. Then shrugged, and took a long pull of the tea. "Make that two pieces of good news."

(As written by Kite Winters)

“Yeah Yeah, I know look Will you just give me...Ok just Give me the damned Camera!”

The shaky image settles down, it appears to be handy cam in the grips of a trooper in the newly christened Psi lab.

“Shoo” The camera shakes as the figure holding it waves a hand at one of the med techs, who begrudgingly steps back out of frame.

The camera angles up and the face of Trooper Hawley, his partially shaved head hidden under a Ball cap.

“So, um...for the moment the techs aren't allowing me anything pointy until the last of the scans come back, so I'm giving my report on film...well...on digital recording...damn does anyone here remember film cameras? Betamax? Anyone? Bueller?”

The trooper looks out of frame and smiles “Thank you Doctor, now I don't feel like quite the only dinosaur in the room.” There is a hrmnph from out of frame. Kip just sticks his tongue out at the unseen figure before turning back to the camera.

“So, big news today for the Psi lab....and for myself. Seems whom ever marked my, shall we say...colorful..service history and other events on my records as something of a statistic improbability for collateral damage was on to something here. Using the neurological studies done on the psionically active...OK, that phrase is still weird to we have a TLA for Know..Three Letter Abbreviation? Sorry...old military joke there doc”

“Anyway..they've done a rather rigorous comparison of neurological structures and brainwave patterns between the aliens with the mind mojo found some parallels with humans. Well...With Me so far, the docs haven't told me how the others they've probed turned out so far. All Hush Hush.”

“So, with a little experimentation on amplifying and directing this energy we can shift it from me to others. Lets go to the High Light Reel Shall we?”

The video snaps from the shaken camera image to a more professional split screen, on the left is The subject with a serieso of Conteact electrodes covering his skull sitting next to a one way mirror. On the right an over head view of several staff, enjoying some recreational board games. Names and Ranks stream under each 'player', listing off doctors, pilots and marksmen. Indivuals known for therir hand eye co-ordination and coolness under pressure. With a nod the Subject seems to focus on one of the figures in the room...One of the medical techs that was flawlessly enjoying a game of Operation is then highlighted.

Btzz “No Way I wasn't anywhere near the-” Btzzzzz “Grrrrr” BTZZZZZZZZZZZZ “*&^%ing Game!”

The video skips for a showing the test subject standing on his side, fewer but more complex devices arranged around his head as he loosens up the muscles in his neck. In the other room is a Alien Test Subject, Orc class. The time stamp reads several days later.

The alien is it's usual aggressive self, but after a moment deviates from its usual actions to freeze in place...looking around as if searching for something. The window showing Trooper Hawley's face shows sweat beading his features as the nose from the other room goes from confused grunts to squeals of panic and the alien tries to claw its way out of the bulk heads...the camera in that room is knocked drunkenly down as the alien attempts to flee....gun fire is heard and the scene snaps to black.

The Video switches back to the handi cam view of the Test Subject Trooper Hawley.

“Fun times I know right?” The jest is made lightly but the face shows some strain. “Near as I can tell I seem to be able to send out a bit of mental static that can screw up others. The light touch of it seems to just irritate and frustrate others under lab conditions, and boy I know I've felt that often enough...but pushing it with all way with the hardware we have seemed to lead to panic and involuntary muscle twitches. Seems to be purely mental...I'm not going to go breaking the bank at Vegas reading minds and changing dice with a wave of my hand, not yet at least. But it's a good starting point with actually sending discrete signals. Maybe even figure out how they give orders to their grunts”

“Well thats all the time I've got before they throw me in the pod again for another round of Pin the Tail on the Amigdala” He says with a forced laugh.

“Until then, May the Force Be with You”

(As written by Kip Hawley)

Bradford, Shen and Vahlen look down from the observation room built above the psi-testing lab.

"These advancements could completely change the course of scientific progress... a new, untouched field of study, just waiting for able minds."

"Dr. Vahlen, I can see that, but in the short term... Surely, much like with the new interceptor project - we'll be limited by the alien resources we can commandeer."

"Bradford, you don't understand. These implants are not even a straight copy of what we found on Sectoids - not the sorcerers, even. The foot soldiers. They require no specialized resources to manufacture, no Elerium, no Meld, no alien alloys. Give me access to economies of scale, and provided it happens to work on you, I could sell you one for the cost of a refrigerator - at a profit."

Vahlen nods at the elder engineer's assessment; the two researchers look at Bradford, waiting for the shoe to drop. It does.

"Do we tell the Council?"

"The Council... heh, never mind that, do we even tell the Headmaster?"

"This stays in this room, for now. I'm nominally in charge, and I'm going to use that, for this once. Put it in the report that it needs Meld or Elerium for something, anything. However..."

"...however, it's pretty clear now what the aliens want from us."

"Our brains."

"This we have to discuss - now we know what they want. Maybe we can use it to make them not want it anymore."

The three senior personnel consider just what sort of person ended up displaying what flat out amounted to psionic powers. "That might be the easy part."

I make a point of following through on the graduation ceremony, such as it is, for Blanka and Sato -- predictably, someone put a Street Fighter II sticker on Blanka's doctrine binder. The VIPs have all been evacuated by helicopter before we even got around to lunch, then the helicopters came back for the wounded (our medical facilities are intact and better than most hospitals, but they're designed to deal with a dozen casualties at a time, not half a gross), and now the flying boat is taking home ordinary mortals.

It will also be taking home most of our stores of alien alloys and elerium; the politicians have dealt with the matter of being exauthorated by the usual trick of pretending that it didn't happen, but an urgent message from the Council let us know in no uncertain terms that while they remain confident in the usefulness of the XCom Academy, it would be unwise to concentrate strategic resources in one locations which the aliens have proven themselves able to breach. In fairness, I cannot disagree, but if we had any hope of keeping the genie bottled in, it's gone. Dr. Vahlen is still trying to raise them to persuade them to not spread Meld around.

We briefly discussed relocating the entire operation to a different site, but it would make any work impossible for months - the good news is that most of the facilities have sustained minimal damage, and we should be back to full function within days.

Dee has refused being issued temporary cybernetics for the duration of the repairs on her MEC suit, and requested to be basically left alone for a week -- she has drawing and writing to do; given her well-deserved hero status, I suspect she'll find plenty of people to carry her around if she wants to be waited on.

Gerard Brown is not going to be our problem. His prognosis was reasonably good for the sort of wounds he suffered, but the Canadian government has requested that he be repatriated as soon as the alien materials "redistribution" was decided - Dr. Shen suspects that they will attempt to perform the MEC procedure on him without our help.

The preliminary results of the psionic testing is in - two out of three positive. Kite and Kip. They're going to stay off the combat roster while they get a grip on their, no sense beating around the bush here, powers (and help Dr. Vahlen make sense of them). Student Polina Malakhova tested negative; we will have to test more of our people to estabilish a baseline. What do Kip and Kite have in common? Dr. Vahlen took me aside and if she'd done a more thorough interrogation, it'd have had to happen in the alien containment room. Well... by rights, I should be comatose, she should be in a padded room, and Kip should be in a textbook as an example of someone who is if anything a little too sane. There's also the matter of Kip's weird relationship with chance, of course. The plan is to let all three test subjects take a week to figure out what happened and, in Polina's case, what didn't -- another factor is that my friends were exposed to Meld and psionics, whereas she wasn't.

Bradford surprised everyone by testing the PA system with a curt "All hands: I am now in charge of this facility. My only standing order: help fix this mess and otherwise keep listening to the Headmaster until such a time as the aforementioned gets yet another hole in the head, in which case we'll reevaluate". I'm still under observation myself; Dr. Vahlen still isn't terribly sure why I am not drooling and listening to Rush Limbaugh.

Jonny disappeared for the whole day - talking to journalists, it turned out. I wonder what story the rest of the world will get.

I join everyone who isn't busy with urgent repairs topside. We lost twenty-one of our own, between base security and technical personnel. Orders came that they are to be cremated respectfully, and not to be memorialized publically.

The flying boat leaves, with the ashes, to a silent but very visible three-discharge salute from our laser beams. Hopefully someone took pictures. Nobody stands at attention -- in deference to our host country, we bow. Bradford holds up what's left of the lich's helmet, hastily bent back into a recognizable shape, and nails it above the base's access lift entrance.

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Page last modified on February 16, 2015, at 07:24 PM