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Mission14

GEOSCAPE

Stomping off the Skyranger without a word, Kite's first stop is not, in fact, C3, debriefing, or even the toilet. It's the locker room, and the orderly on shift whose job it is to pack loadouts according to instructions from Command.

"Hi~ii!"

The resultant oh-shit face said that evidently some of Kite's mood swings had indeed been on camera and rumours had made the rounds. Eh, she'd always been absolutely shite at keeping her own secrets.

"Mind if we have a little chat?"

"No Ma'am!"

Kite suppressed a sigh, "I don't know who gave the orders for today's loadout, and frankly, I don't care. It's never a good thing to scream at command for doing something stupid in public too often, but don't worry, I'll be passing this message all the way up the chain by myself so you don't need to concern yourself with that."

"But let me just be nice and clear. It is possible for someone carrying medical supplies to be shot as easily as anyone else. Or to be pinned down. Or to be trapped. We have more than one medkit. If ever that Skyranger takes off with only one medkit on it again, I had damned well better die on that mission, because if I don't? When I come back I am going to get a stick, and I'm going to find everyone responsible, and hit them with that stick until I run out of stick. And as the departure of Sergeant Krouse and the stick up her arse means the only stick-like objects on base are steel rods down in the Foundry, the running out of stick may take an extraordinarily long time. Have I made myself clear? (As written by Kite Winters)

"Er, ma'am, you'd have to take that up to Kay. Bradford-sama said that he's not..."


I think of Lily fighting for her life in sickbay; she's not going to die, but as far as staying in the fight... we're not sure yet. She might lose a leg. Vee has talked Dr. Shen into something pretty crazy, if that happens. It wouldn't surprise me if she had volunteered.

It's one thing if I get hurt, at the end of the day, it's my problem. My poor decisions have gotten Lily seriously hurt, and put Kite in danger. This needs to be addressed. I figure that the best time to do so is right after lunch; I get behind the cafeteria counter and get everyone's attention by banging on a wok. Whatever my gripes with the Council, I have to admit that they have been feeding us extremely well. Kite gave me an earful in private, and she was right; I should go over it with the student body, such as it is. It's fair, and most of these people are more professional than me.

"Hello! This is your benevolent overlord until someone else tries to take over again! Friends, XCOMians, comrades, lend me your ears!"

The ear of corn bounces harmlessly on the wok about half a second I put it on my head, so I take my shoes off, climb on the counter, and continue. The helmet stays, just in case; after-meal speeches have the advantage of a satiated audience, but also mean that they have stuff to throw.

"Three things. One, I'd like to apologize to all of you. I've been reckless with my own life, which is stupid, and reckless with that of others, which is really unforgivable. We're here to write the book on fighting an alien the invasion, and share it with the world. Most of you are here to learn how to deal with this new unknown enemy, so that you can teach your fellow soldiers back home. We've been doing that."

"What we haven't been doing properly is using our unique position to come up with better ways to fight. Recently, the German government asked for alien weapon fragments and they've already got some results -- results which they have shared with us as we've shared ours with them, fortunately."

Lena Krause has been back to her country for a week or so now, and while we haven't communicated, reports of German soldiers fighting aliens using advanced weapons and tactics have made the news. Of course, some of it is probably propaganda, but even so. "That brings me to the second thing. The R&D group has made very promising advances in layered armor and energy weapons. That means power armors, eventually. That means actual, real life laser guns, quite soon. But we have to decide what we want first. I'm putting this up to a vote."

"The third thing is possibly the most unsettling. As you know -- and on that note, thank you to whoever made the remixes on youtube -- we've recently captured live aliens. That, among other recent advances, means that we will be able to... well, take you apart, put some science stuff in you, then put you back together good as new." A few harrumphs from the R&D folks. "Better than new."

"Now, we've all seen the alien cyborgs. I am very wary of taking any step in that direction, and the whole point is to teach men and women how to fight the invaders -- we cannot make an army of superheros, flat out. The point is, nevertheless, if there are volunteers for genetic or mechanical augmentation... well, talk to Dr. Vahlen and Dr. Shen, please. I will consider applications on a case by case basis."

"Oh, one last thing." I wave towards a technician, and with a whir of electric motors DONAR comes out of the broom closet where we hid it. "We now have an expendable scout. We can make more, and while it looks like a quarter-scale Metal Slug, it... well, it kinda is, actually. It can even jump up small obstacles!" The drone tank demonstrates by getting on a chair, and promptly breaking a leg off it. "Battlebots is back on the air! When we deploy this, I strongly recommend anyone who is not doing anyhting else to watch the operator feeds. Please work out a schedule for who actually gets to drive it."

"You may vote for better armor or better weapons by.... Eh, actually why don't we just do show of hands? We can do a proper ballot if it's a close call."

From the back, Lily waves -- she's in a wheelchair with a phlebo tube, and will stay there for the next two weeks, but she's poised to make a full recovery. Looks like the "alternate solution" will not be required just yet.

(OOC NOTE: Should we research beam weapons or carapace armor next? Kite*lasers, Lily*armor, Vee*lasers, Steph*lasers, Riley*armor, Jonny*frickin' lasers, Kay*armor)

Looks like I lose -- not surprising, really, given that the alternatives I presented were "We're going to get some better armor, eventually" and "FRICKIN LASER GUNS FOR EVERYONE!" The vote isn't quite obvious enough to be done by a show of hands, so we do the next best thing -- put brown beans in a bowl and weigh them. Hey, it was good enough for the Romans.

Dr. Vahlen was able to pick the brains of her German colleagues while they came over to get the weapons fragments; between that and the work done in order to get the Arc Thrower battery up to spec, we should be able to make laser weapons soon. The main problem, the battery, required alien alloys to solve, so it doesn't look like we will be able to give laser guns to everyone, although I'm told that it is a matter of quantity rather than quality; we'll get laser guns, the world's armed forces will end up with something that looks like a proton pack, because they'll have to use conventional batteries. I think we can be okay with that, although the thought of selling laser guns to the general public crossed my mind. The working plasma rifles we've recovered from our captives also need study, but we're not sure if they have any DRM features, so they'll have to be reverse-engineered before we can use them -- and, again, there is no chance of mass-manufacturing them.

Now that Dr. Vahlen has a direction -- she seems keener than usual to get back to work; I understand the feeling, I think -- it's time to go take a look at the interceptor fleet. While those assets are under the command of the countries they are stationed in, we can make the final call over whether they can be dispatched to intercept a UFO, and what weapons they carry. Since we've been able to adapt dead danglies' booster packs as maneuvering thrusters for the interceptors, it makes some sense to provide them with dogfighting weapons rather than missiles. I can't honestly tell if "get in close and make with the stabbing" is my personal preference, or what actually seems to work as far as the invaders are concerned... our textbook-in-progress so far mostly says the second.

Hopefully I am not making a mistake. The interceptors are fitted with Phoenix autocannons, and all the dangly booster retrofits we can come up with. Predictably, this pretty much eats up this month's budget.

We're left alone for a couple of days -- the time is used largely to go over what we already know. Some of our tactics can be adapted to use by first responders, although to me further militarization of police is barely any better than an alien invasion. I ask Jonny what he was talking about when he mentioned private sponsorship, and get no answers from Bradford -- who has otherwise been very cooperative -- as to who the Grey Market folks are; they have the proper permits to be on base, but that's all he knows. Our best bet is that it's whatever military-industrial complex contractors the Council members happen to favor.

Dr. Vahlen seems to have developed a hunched back, either that or she's wearing a backpack under her lab coat. She says she's testing some form of carapace plating; although I will respect popular opinion in working on beam weapons first, I can't say I'm unhappy with that. Since she seems to be very distracted, Shen and his people hijack one of the labs to see if they can reverse-engineer the grenade we found on the captured ork; if they can, it'll be the first piece of alien tech we can reproduce fully. Sadly, it's nothing too sophisticated as far as first principles go.

The first requests for augmentations have begun to come in; I'm still not sure about the whole thing. I'm not against transhumanism per se, but I'm worried about the effects on our purpose -- we cannot do this on a large scale, for many reasons, and any tactic we develop that depend on augmented humans will not be usable by anyone but us.

"Headmaster, we're detecting a new contact, much larger than anything we've previously encountered. We should scramble the best interceptor we have if we want to be able to take it down."

The Raven aircraft we have covering Europe has already been fit with the autocannon and the dangly boosters -- we'll have to see what happens. If the new doctrine is sound, it may make sense to at the very least tell the British to get back to making Harrier fighters.

The new UFO looks more like something you'd see in Wing Commander or Battlestar Galactica than a flying saucer -- it's basically a flying brick, with not even token concessions to aerodynamic. The interceptor closes in, firing and jettisoning dangly boosters to avoid fire from a plasma turret, and strafes across the thing's engines while only taking a couple of hits. The damage on the enemy craft looks superficial, but it's enough to turn a controlled descent into a careening crash -- looks like these things have a glass jaw. The question is, what's in there? After the terror attacks, the immediate worry is that this is a bona fide troop transport.

Time to get going. This is going to be Kite, Vee, Jonny, myself and Gabrielle Girard, who I have to say has learned our procedures better than we have. We land somewhere in the French Prealps -- it looks a lot like home. I know Italy is not part of the funding council, and they haven't asked anything of us; all I have heard from the reports we get is that a small scout UFO landed in the centre of Naples and was swarmed by an angry mob.

OPERATION

Bradford said that orbital prediction were that this thing was going to land in Nice, which he mispronounces, to my giggles and Gabrielle's annoyance. Did we stop another terror attack? There are no aliens outside of the wreck, so we land right north of the crash site.

"Could this be the ship responsible for the attacks taking place during alien abductions?" Dr. Vahlen wonders. She sounds very unconcerned and a little airy, like someone's giving her a backrub. "If it was a troop transport they'd have set up a perimeter, I guess, so either that or a terror unit. Watch out for Lovecraft Bugs!"

This time around we won't be able to have Kite play artillery; the UFO is too big and will have to be cleared room to room. Most military forces have a procedure for it called slicing the pie; we'll start by going with that, and change tactics as needed. For now there's nothing to it but jump on board.... We see a Meld canister on a sort of patio above one of the engines; it must be where they're normally kept.

When Kite goes to get the Meld on the roof, Vee notes that since the aliens heard the Skyranger come in from the north, and there are service ladders, it might make sense to tiptoe on the roof and attack from the other side. That's a good idea, actually; I offer to stay here and make as much noise as possible, but she and Kite tell me to stop with the wanting to an hero. Right, we're all going upstairs, then.

Gabrielle peeks in before following us; there's a large loading bay, with two of those energy doors -- one is still active -- and nothing in it. The main cargo ramp is clearly visible. "C'est vide!"

Empty. They were coming in to pick stuff up, then; guess we did stop an abduction operation. Good! The plan is to head towards the ship's front, and see if there's a hole we can breach through. I doubt we can make one from scratch, but what the interceptor plane didn't do, the rocks did for us.

We find an opening to the ship's starboard side -- that's the right side, I guess starboard on a spaceship is everywhere -- and carefully jump down, Jonny and Kite first. I'm last, because I fell behind.

The middle of the ship contains a cross-shaped section filled with... pods. Seriously, pods filled with liquid -- and nothing else as far as we can tell. This was definitely supposed to be an abduction run. What do they do with the captives? Food? DNA harvesting? We fan out, using the guardrails and the pods themselves as cover; the plan is to get to the bridge first, and work our way back. If there's an alien officer, we should try to bring him back alive.

The bridge's airshield is still active -- Vee pushes through it! Still empty; there's some sort of antechamber. We advance cautiously; either all the aliens holed up in the bridge, or most of the danger is behind us.

One of the crystal androids materializes! We've reached the bridge -- as far as we've figured out, these are basically service units for the ship's navigation computer; I doubt this one will behave differently than the ones on the smaller UFOs, but unless it calls for reinforcements, there's five of us and one of it. Even if it does, well, we know where they'll be coming from. "I got this guy, cover the back of the ship!"

I jump down to tase its crystalline ass and get shot for my troubles. Heh. Screw you, I have magic underwear -- it's like soldering iron burns; it hurts, it'll hurt more later, but it's at best annoying. The Arc Thrower does its job, and the android reverses its activation sequence, giving us another shiny yellow thing to take home. Kite calls me an idiot anway -- guess I deserved it. "Arright, I'm staying in the back from now on!"

All we have to do now is get out from the main cargo ramp, and we'll have cleared the ship. Gabrielle and Vee will lead, then Jonny and me, with Kite covering us from the rear since this ship has pretty big rooms and her sharpshooting skills do have a use; this isn't like clearing a house at all, given the interior layout.

We stick to the left side of the craft, simply because it's closer to the Skyranger in case we need to do a Benny Hill tactical repositioning -- we find ourselves in the exposed generator compartment, with three slendermen guarding it! Kite and Gabrielle quickly take one down as I run out of breath just to catch up; Jonny pins down another, giving Vee time to run out and blast its face off. As I'm running to catch up, the third one comes at me! We both stop for a moment, surprised -- I recoil from the pain I expect to feel in a moment; who knows what it's thinking. I don't know how it missed me from ten feet away, but I react instinctively -- since I still had the Arc Thrower in hand, I jam the electric weapon in its chest and empty its battery. I let myself flop against a bulkhead; I'm fine, minor burns from earlier, but this was scary. "Damn it, man, you're a bleedin' plasma magnet!" Jonny calls.

Since I'm the only wounded so far, and apparently it's not safe for me to be in the front OR the back, I'm going to stay in the middle. Just as we decide on that, six danglies show up -- three were in the loading bay, three were starting to range out. Bet one poops on me.

Gabrielle manages to hit one, but it's still up; fortunately for us Kite has a good spot for taking aim at four of them. I hide behind a door frame, and poke my head out just enough to steal Gabrielle's kill -- I hope she gets to rib me about it later, I really do.

One of the danglies flies up to Jonny, and gets a zap from him and some pistol rounds from Vee for its trouble; these things work pretty well at close range. At this rate we'll have to deal with jail overcrowding...

The remaining dangly is headed for the Skyranger! "Get the fucker!" We run out from the hole we originally intended to come him from; Vee is the first there -- FUCK! There was another one! A second dangly was hidden among the mechanical debris; it hits Vee in the leg as she runs towards her target. Vee stumbles, crawls behind a metal plate, and takes down her original target with a close-range shotgun blast. I run towards her, but don't get there fast enough to help or even draw fire. Fuck! Why am I so fat and slow! The best thing I can do is stop in front of a hatch and poke my rifle out, shooting at nothing in particular and hoping this keeps them down. I hear some clangs; maybe I glanced it.

Vee gets back up to find Jonny having exhausted his Arc Thrower on this last dangly. Okay, these things work well... We get back into the ship, but find no trace of more aliens or, for that matter, the second Meld canister.

I'm hurt; Vee is hurt, sligthly worse; Kite lectures both of us on taking too many risks; Gabrielle pokes me about having stolen her kill. We stopped an abduction mission. That's worthy of celebration.

Dr. Vahlen says that she can't get much more out of the danglies -- they are barely sentient, as far as she can tell -- but Dr. Shen wants to take some time to observe the captive cyborgs, and requests Vee's artistic skills while she recuperates. What are those two planning?

Gabrielle will be training with Kite. On coming back, I note to Bradford that Vee dropped out of USAF basic training, yet she's our best fighter. He says that it's fine for her to take all the risks she wants, but not me. "Oh, come on. You'd love to see me out of the picture."

"No, Headmaster. I have a job to do, you have a job to do. What I've realized is that while I know more about military doctrine than you ever will, little of it applies. I don't know what is it with people like you or Kite, but the Council head was right in handpicking you. That said, I still can't pintpoint what sort of psychological profile-"

"Oh, that's easy. We're all raging geeks."

I have to get my burns looked at. Vee's are more severe, but all that means is that she gets first shot at the sauna. Dr. Shen wants her to help him design something for the next few days, anyway... he says he won't tell me what unless it's a specific order, and I can't order someone twice my age around, sorry.

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