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It looks pretty bleak from here. I have to talk a guy I don't know into helping me wire my lung into a forklift starter battery, break into a military base -- admittedly one I have the keys into -- and kick out the person who has taken it over from me, all this while I can barely walk.

Maybe Jonny is wriggling towards me, maybe he isn't. I can't get any closer, because they were smart and made sure the extension cord for my ventilator was short.

If I'd been in better shape, maybe I'd have healed by now. If I hadn't been so brash, I wouldn't be in this situation. I thought I was leading by example, honestly. If I had been a better leader, maybe Riley and Stephen would've stayed. I think that this qualifies as a pretty low point in my life.

You know what I've learned? When it looks like this, know that your friends will be right behind you, as long as they know what's going on and it's reasonably easy for them to do anything. This means that sometimes, it makes sense to put effort into that, rather than into solving a problem. Either drive the load directly, or be the preamplifier stage... Assuming that anything's listening, of course.

Come on, Kay, think. You don't need help. Well, you'll need help later, but you don't need help to bootstrap the solution for this. That's how I've always seen teamwork happen. Take the first step. Take the second, the tenth, the sixtieth if that's what it takes. If you're a good leader, they'll run the rest of the way... Except it's never worked like that. My mind instantly goes to all the group projects I did by myself and brought to my teammates for signing lest it not be counted, to all the times where I built it, they came, patted each other on the back, and left with my tech and my money and my credit. I think back to a hundred Friday nights spent soldering while the guy who did the Powerpoint slides and signed things because he could get a security clearance and I couldn't, was out partying with the half of my salary he was keeping without telling me. Bradford's right. I am not a leader. This is too big for me to handle.

Even my mom told me, so many times, that I wasn't allowed to save the world. It's okay. The floatplane will come, they'll take me to Osaka, patch me up there, and then I can go home. Strategic value zero. They'll leave us alone there. I can sleep for a week, get back to my work, and this'll be another cool story to tell at pubs and then get funny looks because I don't look the part.

It'll be okay. I smile at Jonny as he tries to get closer to me so I can untie him.

"Hey, if you -- don't think it's -- a good idea, don't -- worry. They won't -- kill us. The -- ride home is -- coming soon." I smile at Jonny. It is my duty to make sure he knows he is not in danger. It is my hope that someone helps me. In this condition, there's no shame in admitting I can't do much but wait for help. Well... help is coming, I didn't lie. Just not the kind I want.

Bradford was right. My tenth grade gym teacher was right. Lead, follow, or get out of the way -- you can't lead and you're too slow to follow, so clear the spot. I smile to myself, and knowing how lucky I've been in the first place, wait to see if I've made a difference.

It took time, and almost getting killed twice, and seeing things you people wouldn't believe. I guess I have seen attack ships in flames off the shoulder of, well, France, but still. I watched plasma beams glitter in the dark near the Tokyo Gate Bridge. And all these moments will... hey, maybe they'll stick, maybe not, maybe I'll be remembered, maybe not. Tears in rain. But I have no reason to cry, you know? Work got done. Nobody got killed on my watch. Even if I don't get credit like usual... maybe we will survive, and I will have helped a bit, and then as long as we can have a history who cares if I will be remembered or not? I think for the first time in my life, I am okay with either result.

Bloodshot eyes stare into watering ones from really far too close. Base Security Sergeant Raymond Gunn has, on many occasions, had long, lingering thoughts about having his face in such proximity to the face of a female, and, as he has had to do of late, rapidly amends this in the silences of his own mind to 'human female', but these circumstances are not those. For one thing, they involve too much clothing. While many of his compatriots have had much to say in the locker rooms about the health and wellbeing benefits of a blowie in full armour for feeling like king of the world, Raymond Gunn liked to consider himself a bit of a romantic. Now, pinned to a wall, that was a workable element of the situation. A hand on his throat, eh, not his thing, but any intimate liason is likely to have elements of compromise. The core problem, though, was that Base Security Sergeant Raymond Gunn had to express that women reeking of stale sweat and waving a combat knife around with an air of lazy je ne sais quois simply weren't his type.

"Now, my friend, and I'd like to think we can all be friends here, I really need for you to come clean with me. Imagine my surprise upon visiting the infirmary for my daily round of 'This area is off limits to non-command personell' while trying to visit another friend, who I must say I am much closer to than you, but we ARE still friends, my friend, to find it not guarded, but empty! Can you imagine this surprise, my friend? It was quite a surprise, as there was no announcement of their discharge from the medical wards! But they had not returned to the barracks, nor was there any word of their departure from the base. And Mister Shen, who I must say, is extremely friendly, you could really learn from his example, is extraordinarily agitated. Extraordinarily so! Why, you might think that he had seen something he very much did not wish to see, or heard something he did not wish to hear. But that is understandable. There are sooo many monitors down in engineering. And there are things to see on all of them! All the time!"

"But I'm getting away from the point. You really shouldn't let me get distracted like that, my friend. I'd like to suggest, one friend to another, because I believe that like me, you'd like for us all to be friends here as well, wouldn't you? I'd like to suggest that you should do the friendly thing, and take me to where Mister Bradford has put the Headmaster right away. Right now, as soon as I let go of your throat. Because you DO want to do the friendly thing, don't you? I'd hate to think you'd rather be a thing than a friend, my friend. Shall we go?" (As written by Kite Winters, if it wasn't bloody obvious)

I wake up on concrete. Not an unfamiliar sensation, but usually its self-inflicted. My brain tries to catch up with where I am, where I might be. Someone else is here. They're speaking. I focus. They're speaking to me. Getting up doesn't seem to be working and as I thrash around I figure out why. Having my hands bound behind my back isn't really my style. Tried it once, didn't like it.

My senses crunch through overload as sirens and lights start up, giving me a moment's panic that trouble is on route, but glancing out through a half open roller shutter I realise its just the warning for one of those big dick X Men jobs taking off.

I push with my legs, which apparently aren't tied. Hallmark of a job half done. Their problem. 'I'm Jonny,' I grunt as I get closer to the voice. 'Who are yo.... fucking hell.'

They've only gone and locked me up with a budget Steve Austin. Wires and batteries and shit everywhere. Pretty it ain't.

'Shit, if you're in charge what the hell do they do to people who don't work here?'

It's also pretty clear they need my help more than I need theirs, although we're gonna have to start with mine. I manage to wriggle myself around so they can pick at the ropes around my wrist. Lucky for us they must have been out of cable ties.

We get there, and I push myself up to a sitting position, rubbing my wrists. It all has a slightly unreal feeling, like interactive theatre. Tried that once too, didn't like it.

Still, here we are, and the dude IDing themself as Kay seems to have a plan.

'Alrighty,' I say, trying for nonchalance and probably missing it by a fucking mile. 'What's first?'

(as written by Jonny Flames)

"Thank you. My -- lung has a hole in -- it. It needs constant draining, so -- I can't move past this -- extension cord." I'm chewing through the guy's zip-tie handcuffs; it's just a big zip tie, the sort that riot police use. Easy to take off if you can reach; he can't, I can. "Okay. Now please get -- that forklift battery and bring -- it here."

We talk a little. The guy is a DJ, wanted to find some conspiracy cranks to interview, and ended up stumbling upon the damn thing. Fortunately, the XCOM charter specifies that its primary goal is the protection of all humanity, so neither of us got killed. Bradford may be an asshole, but he's not evil... then again, I felt the same way about someone who once stole all my savings.

Jonny does most of the work, since I can't breathe with the fan disconnected; he's been around enough electrical stuff that he knows what to do. The fan stops, I genuinely am terrified for twenty seconds, the fan starts again.

The problem is the cord is very short, I have nothing to carry the battery with without it poking into the drainage tube, and Jonny would have to basically hug me the whole way to carry it himself; we're slightly less stuck than before, so there's that, but still. In the meantime, I explain roughly what's going on, including the latest development; his opinion is that having the headmaster go on field operations is probably not the best idea. I'm starting to agree.

We try to figure out how to get going in either direction, and fail. Then the elevator door opens. Kite calmly walks past it and pushes one of the guards aside.

Three leather straps later -- of course she has leather straps on her, Jonny -- I have a respirator backpack again. Mister Gunn still looks terrified. "What's going on?"

"We got a feed from the public TV right before the Skyranger left. The aliens are attacking openly, they're strafing cities now. The Council called and told us to drop everything and send the away team to Saint John's. People are going crazy. Some are saying the dead are rising. What worries me is that they'd actually broadcast that."

"Right. We will -- deal with Bradford later. -- I need a glass of -- water."

"You also need to stop putting the beats in your own scripts."

I grin at Jonny. Kite is armed, so she'll lead the way. We make our way to C3; Shen and Vahlen join us. Bradford is staring at the big screen, wordless. Moscow, New York... Fox News splices in footage of Independence Day, voiced over by someone blaming abortion.

The Skyranger is still en route to Canada; C3 is eerily silent, with only the people on the big screen talking.

"At least they haven't used weapons of mass destruction" Shen notes. "These are the small UFOs we've seen so far, they're just using them to dive-bomb."

"Zat is strange. They certainly have the capability."

"... It's a message. To the entire world. That nothing can stop them." Bradford looks like he hasn't slept in a week. I suspect there's a lot more footage he's not showing us. It's the first time I have seen him anything other than imperturbable, and I get the idea his facade was brittle; he looks almost like he's in shock.

Vahlen resumes, "It would appear the aliens are trying to cause panic, rather than crippling the infrastructure. Zis is a terror attack."

"Doctor Vahlen" I say, Kite and Jonny propping me up " -- please finish patching -- me up. Bradford -- keep an eye on things. Kite -- keep an eye on Bradford. Shen -- show Jonny around. Jonny -- welcome aboard."

"Wait, what?"

Bradford gets C3 ready for CAPCOM duty after Kite has taped him to a swivel chair; she's not quite fit for combat duty either, but she's very good at this sort of thing. Jonny, rather than being led away by Shen, ends up staying right there with him and Kite. They start talking while I follow Dr. Vahlen to sickbay; apparently I'm not allowed to be a plasma sponge anymore. Not a bad idea there, honestly: I've had my hero moment, you know?

"Headmaster, you will be pleased to know that after further testing, I estimate the Arc Thrower to be ready within eight, rather than ten days."

"That was -- not medicine."

Vahlen smiles. She's been kicking my ass at Team Fortress 2 too, like three quarters of everyone else.

"All I can tell you about zis next procedure is that it will be excruciating."

I asked for it, eh?


The Skyranger lands in what looks like a complete nightmare. There's tanks and jeeps and rigs of every size, all blasted by plasma weapons. Some of the Americans and British soldiers we have comment that it looks like Iraq.

The squad rushes forward. This is a Canadian Force Reserves depot -- their equivalent to the US National Guard. A tank yard, basically. Sgt. Diaz hopes that some of the tanks' guns can be used, but it is quickly confirmed that they were in stand-down status... so much for preparedness; the government of a XCOM funding nation should have known better. Can we stop with all the secrecy now, damn it?

Our best guess is that the aliens are trying to send a message by attacking what they probably guessed to be an active military installation; the maintenance personnel are mostly in a state of shock, the few who managed to grab a gun and fight back visible to us in the form of sporadic fireflash in the night.

There's a horrifying scream in the distance. Diaz calls for Lefebre to find somewhere sensible to set up, and the rest of the squad to advance with him.

Brigitte runs forward, trying to climb on a tank -- one of the maintenance personnel was futilely trying to get into the thing. No go. She has her run back to the Skyranger instead.

Anderson runs ahead towards the other row of tanks, and -- "GIANT BUGS!" What the hell is that thing? Four legs, spindly body, tiny head with round eyes. Bug-eyed monsters straight off a fifties flick. They don't seem to be armed; one runs towards Anderson while the other scurries off into the distance.

"Close ranks and advance slowly!" Diaz calls. Anderson shoots at the creature -- it takes a shotgun blast to the face, and doesn't even flinch. Diaz braces his machine gun on some sandbags, and finishes the job. Now to find the other one.

A sick noise off in the distance, followed by a scream, provides the answer; the squad advances to the depot's warehouse to find two danglies hovering between it and one of the tank -- Christine and Brigitte move to check it out. "Stay within sight of each other!" Anderson moves to engage the two danglies -- at least it's a known enemy. Given how fast they can get around the battlefield, it's best to eliminate them quickly. A shotgun blast takes one out before it can boost upwards.

Christine and Brigitte spot the giant bug headbutting a door open -- they can use doors, dammit! -- and getting into the warehouse. "After it!" They try to comply... and stop in terror.

One of the maintenance folks advances towards them, shambling. He is pale, and there's a huge gash in his chest. He lunges at Brigitte. "ZOMBIE!" she calls out, retreating.

Bug-eyed monsters and zombies? What the hell is going on here? And most of our best people stuck here. Damn it. Damn it. The dangly takes off and shoots at Anderson, who ducks behind a tank tread -- that somehow seems the least of our problems now. What sort of nigthmare is this?

"Explosives free!"

Kazmarek shoots at the zombie -- center of mass, of course, this isn't the movies, right? right? A three-round burst doesn't do much other than push it backward a little. So much for that. "I got this!" Brigitte rests her bolt action rifle on one of the tanks and lines up a headshot. The zombie falls backwards.

They're messing with us. They've figured out what we're scared of and they've somehow created it. For a moment I hope that this is just an illusion and we're actually shooting at sectoids wearing the equivalent of paper masks over their faces. The alternative is that in the few weeks since initial detection the aliens have managed to create a new species and a way to reanimate the dead, just to create terror -- if they can do this, why toy with us?

Diaz fires a rocket, shredding a corner of the warehouse and exposing the bug for Christine to shoot at. Anderson charges the second dangly, but the shotgun blast bouncess off its armor.

Christine's bullets connect. "COME AT ME YOU FREAK!" she screams. The bug instead leaps up to the warehouse's mezzanine and grabs one of the workers who were hiding there -- after disemboweling her, it gives the corpse some sort of grotesque kiss with its mandible. Christine finishes it, too late to save the maintenance worker.

Anderson chases the dangly into the warehouse -- there's two more cyborgs in there! He turns around and shoots at one point-blank, negating the ambush; if it was up to me I'd issue everyone with underarmor and a shotgun, since it seems to be the most effective option. Brigitte, having a suspicion, takes aim at the worker's corpse.

Kazmarek flushes out the dangly that Anderson was after. We can't help but feel that the cyborgs are an afterthought. Why pair bugs with cyborgs? Maybe the bugs would go after aliens with more flesh to them? We can only hope.

The maintenance worker rises as a shambling monstruosity -- Brigitte half-expected it, and shoots at the zombie (let's not pussyfoot around and use the Z word for these; it fits the bill). Center of mass, still -- we'll have to screen some Romero movies.

The dangly that Kazmarek shot down boosts up -- and shoots Anderson dead in one blast! "MAN DOWN!"

The zombie ends up in Christine's face, and she blows its head off with her shotgun at point blank range. "Groovy."

It takes both Diaz and Kazmarek to drop the dangly -- the last dangly now has a perfect shot at both of them. Did that one come back from the dead, too?

To our shock, that last dangly turns around and blasts another worker who had taken refuge behind some sandbags. Now it is exposed, and Kazmarek shoots it in the back, blowing up one of the rockets.

We think it's over -- a sweep confirms it. Casualties in the immediate area come to around forty percent; the Canadian government, to our surprise, quickly rounds up the few witnesses to the zombies we saw rise and heavily sedates them before remanding them for medical care. Now they act quickly? I disapprove, but genuinely hope they end up thinking that particular piece of this nightmare was fright-induced delusion or an alien trick.

Bug-eyed monsters. Zombies. Our first casualty, David Anderson of Perth, who -- of course -- was about to graduate. We receive a quick message from the Council, calling our response "good". I guess given that we've gone from Lucas to Lovecraft, we did good to not collectively lose our shit.

They're messing with our heads. They're messing with our memes. This much is obvious. What do they want? Is this being done for some sadistic thrill? What if this isn't an invasion, but the intergalactic equivalent of the Clockwork Orange boys going out at night to get their kicks by random ultraviolence.

Kazmarek and Peterson's cool under extreme stress and the insightful information they provide upon debriefing persuade Lena and Diaz to grant them graduate status -- they will be shipping back to Poland and New Mexico, respectively, as soon as the paperwork comes through.

I have to write a letter to a family. How can I explain that someone's son and lover died because an alien cyborg shot him full of plasma while he was hunting for zombies? Maybe Bradford was right and I am going mad. But video doesn't lie. This whole thing is going mad. I hope I'm the right kind of mad to handle it.

Immediately after the mission log is sent to the appropriate channel, the Australian parliament holds a closed-door session. I doubt it bodes well.

Good thing Kite was in C3; she had no problems calling a zombie a zombie, which sped up our reaction somewhat. Apparently Bradford has lost most of his cool.... I don't know what did it, the Lovecraftian nigthmare that unfolded on the video feeds, or Kite.

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Page last modified on January 02, 2015, at 05:06 AM