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Good news: Our mecha met their mecha, and our mecha was shootier, stompier, and... honestly, possessed of much greater joie de vivre.

Bad news: It's pretty obvious that the aliens are watching us. While the science team keeps working on sorting out the crystalline structure of Elerium and comparing it to the crystal drone shard, everyone who worked on Vee's mech suit -- me included -- is going to drop everything else and take apart what's left of the alien mech from the wrestling match. I quietly post on the internal BBS that someone should leak the camera feeds for that part of the mission, ideally to Guillermo del Toro... but as much as spirits are high after this last mission, I'm worried and so is Bradford.

Vee is positively happy about her new figure, which has thrown most everyone on the science team for a loop. Dr. Vahlen says that it fit her models, and Bradford points out that while this is likely to reinforce the Council's view that we are all mad over here, it also decreases XCOM's usefulness as a learning tool -- Vee was our best assault trooper, he says, and now her actions will garner maybe half the information they would have if she hadn't decided to be a mech trooper. I point out that it also means our actual trainees will have a better chance to survive missions if she covers them.

Dr. Vahlen finds the South American folks graciously sent to us by our arms-dealers contacts repugnant, but says she's learned quite a few tricks about interrogation methods from them. I decide to ask neither what they are, nor why one of the closet doors in the labs has been replaced by what I think is a vac-bed that has recently been used.


Next to this door is a series of post-it notes, reading in sequence, "Do not use this. It is a bad idea. Put is somewhere safer and get a real door." "I told you so." "Dammit, I already told you I told you so." "You keep getting in this thing just to be stubborn now, don't you?" all signed 'K. Winters'.

Kip spent the next hour with a hammer and an english wheel in one of the shops trying to knock the palm shaped dent out of his armours outer backplate from Vee, Patron Saint of Battlebots, congratulatory backslapping with a wry smile on his face. It had been an interesting day all right, and he'd lived through his trial by fire with out a scratch....a bit bruised from the after party, and thankful that Vee had turned off that jet booster before congratulating him....otherwise he'd be a pink mist over the inside of the troop ship.

A Sectoid silhouette decorated the buttstock of his weapon as it lay in arms reach, he refused to call it a rifle for the fact that rifling doesn't exist on laser weapons and would be pointless anyway.

Wiping some sweat from his face he looks over his armour and nods.

“A new coat of paint and it'll be good as new.”

(As written by Kip Hawley)

We quickly take apart the Mech-toid to learn that the design is essentially what Dr. Shen came up with on Vee's suggestions, largely because some of the quirks -- the digitigrade default stance, for example, which she insisted on -- have been copied servo for servo. The aliens used some interesting tricks for the plating, visibly homologous to ork armor, and the servomotors, a few of which we have found to be direct copies of a dangly's attitude control system. "It's odd" Dr. Shen notes "they obviously have a big bag of tricks, but they employ them haphazardly. Top notch components, but the parts where their overall design deviates from ours, well, it's part of why Vee was able to take this thing down so quickly."

Sounds like the aliens are playing Kerbal Space Program with their wargear; this plus the general schizo vibe we're getting from their technology lends credence to the hypothesis that they are scavengers. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe we're fighting a gang, rather than a civilization -- which is why they haven't just glassed us.

In worse news, the African Union chairperson has requested a special UN session to decry aliens running roughshod over the continent; South Africa and Nigeria are threatening to leave the Council, and we have unconfirmed reports of Nigerian factions seeking to outright make a deal with the invaders. Tonight's movie is definitely going to be District 9.

An email to the Council right after the UN session ended -- not that they invited us -- came back with a generic encouragement to use our best judgement, and let them cover our asses politically; we decide to expand satellite coverage in Africa as soon as we can, with as much publicity as possible, and send a covert operative to look into the District 9 scenario, as quietly as we can. For now, we're waiting to hear from Mr. Petrov; we're trying to figure out if X-ALT is to blame for the Russians' recent bout of haughtiness, or if it's politics as usual for that part of the world. What could Putin want from us anyway? Armored kodiak bears? Attack blimps? Enough weaponized robots to turn hope into a four-letter word?

While we wait for our satellites to do their job, we work on doctrine some more and try to fix DONDER. The Substitute Heavy Infantry Vehicle is basically a total loss; we'll put some of the intact bits into the next one, maybe. The proposal to build something that uses alien alloy plating is floated around; so much for standardizing on a design... I do not approve the idea yet, mostly because I want our SHIV plans to be opened -- to the world's militaries, at least; I won't mind a data leak later on in this instance, but right now we've locked everything down tight after finding the Mechtoid. Obviously, focusing our scarce R&D time into something that depends on alien alloys we can't make more of would defeat the point.

The next time we get a signal, it's from Russia -- time to get Petrov out, and soon; rather than reporting in, he turned on the emergency transponder with his coordinates.

"We're confident that you'll handle this matter with.... discretion." The one Councilman who deigns to speak to us left a bona-fide answering machine message when we started prepping. Oh yeah. I'm sending Vee, myself, Lily, Jonny, and Kip -- all our heavy hitters. Oh, and everyone gets remanufactured alien grenades. I want the Russians to see exactly what I think of their chest-thumping tactics... I like them! And we're better at them than they are!

Bradford tells me that he thinks I shouldn't go; I take that as an excuse, and call for volunteers -- Mr. Sato, our most prominent Japanese operative and the only one qualified for heavy weapons, is glad to take my place. After the roster change, I ask Bradford why he publicly recommended against me going, he told me that it was to let me save face lest I sprain my ankle again -- I find myself thanking him.


The operation is at a dockside warehouse somewhere in the Black Sea -- the Skyranger flies over a tank wreck, which leads us to wonder what the heck has been going on over there. Mr. Petrov, disturbingly, found that the Russian posturing had nothing to do with a X-ALT cell in Siberia... and was promptly caught snooping by Russian intelligence, who pointed him to a possible cell. Given how busy they are with Georgia and Crimea, they essentially conscripted him to go take a look there, which explains why he's about three thousand kilometers from where he was supposed to be. We'll have to get the whole story later. The plan is for him to retrieve the two fake cell phone towers he got from the FSB and get the heck out; X-ALT has been using them extensively, and although we still have no idea about the encryption, we may be able to get something out of the metadata. Fortunately, they haven't changed the remote locks on their guns, so we'll be able to use that trick again.

Petrov has taken refuge inside the tank, and the Skyranger must land on the other side of the warehouse -- Vee is the first out.

The first thing we find odd is that there's an obvious plasma scorch mark on the warehouse. Vee doesn't react to it being pointed out, and dashes to the left, catching three X-ALT agents on one of the fishing boats anchored at the pier -- they were setting up some electronics on the boat. Vee cuts down the one who tried to jump back up the pier.

Sato takes a less gung-ho approach and gets to the warehouse, then opens the main vehicle door and peeks through -- sure enough there's another trio of X-ALT agents. "They're getting to Petrov!" We radio him to find a safe spot and hunker down, so he dashes forward and hides in a container while everyone else tries to make noise as they fan out; Kip, Sato and Jonny will take the other flank while Lily joins Vee.

The agents scatter either inside the warehouse or into the fishing boats' cabins -- Bradford warns the team to get ready for an ambush; a smoke grenade goes off in one of the cabins, we suspect by accident. As expected, Vee answers by charging in. If it's a trap, might as well have the twelve-foot-tall cyborg spring it... Two of the agents shoot at Vee, causing little more than scratched paint on her and pretty much a loss of all the glass in the warehouse's windows. This gives Lily time to find cover.

Kip's more cautious approach results in him taking fire -- the new armor does its job, although the one rookie we have who I know can shoot isn't used to the laser gun yet, and misses. Jonny has better luck; the simple fire-and-maneuver worked well enough, and Kip's shooter is in turn wounded.

Sato has a shot with the rocket launcher -- we don't really care what happens to the warehouse's scarce contents, frankly; a small forklift and the two X-ALTs who hid behind it go up in flames.

Petrov takes a chance and dashes forward; he can either climb on top of the warehouse to retrieve the fake tower, or get back with the rest of the team by the huge hole that Sato blew in the warehouse.

The bad guys stay in cover -- they manage to graze a hit on Vee, who shrugs it off, and miss Lily. Bradford again calls for a possible ambush. "Look, we're not trying to recover technology or anything, as long as we don't blow up the tower, the whole pier can sink for all we care. If they want to stay in cover why don't we blow it up?"

Especially given that we have a vested interest in noise and collateral damage for this one, that seems to be a good idea. "Try to not sink the boats, but other than that, explosives free."

Sato jumps out of a warehouse window to spring the trap, and manages to stay low enough to get missed -- then throws one of our ersatz alien grenades at the X-ALT ambusher. The structural elements of the warehouse are holding together, unlike the guy. Standard doctrine calls for one indirect-fire weapon per squad, while we have three. And a crazy limbless girl in a mecha suit. And, most frightening of all, Kip.

Possibly due to the noise, Petrov makes it to the roof undisturbed, and starts taking down the tower. Vee prepares to walk into the boat and show off some robot-fu, but Lily stops her -- "Rocket away!"

I'm sorry about the boat's cabin, but the hull handles the explosion -- definitely made in Russia. The two X-ALT agents are blown to shreds.

"Damn! There's two on the roof!" Bradford calls suddenly. "Shit, Petrov is by himself up there! Hunker down-"

"Nope! Go Go Mech Jetboots!"

Before I have time to call for any orders, Vee jumps on top of a stack of pallets and from there to the warehouse's roof, landing right next to one of the X-ALT operatives -- they were looking for Petrov, and did not expect to see... well... Vee being Vee. "ROKETTO PANCH!"

Dr. Shen explained to me that she does not in fact have to call her secondary systems like this, but I think she's sticking to that story. The X-ALT operative does not quite fall off the roof after being punched out of existence.

"Secure the warehouse! Let's get those towers and get out of here!" Kip was already halfway through climbing on top of the warehouse while Vee did her acrobatics; calmly, he stops and lets Petrov get a shot at the remaining agent before finishing him with a laser burn in the back of the head. "Planted 'im."

Looks like we got all of them -- Vee lets Petrov finish recovering the tower, then picks him up and jumps down the hole in the roof. All we have to do is get the second tower, which is right there, and get out.

"Vee, cover Petrov! Everyone else, stay outside the warehouse and keep your eyes peeled!"

X-ALT agents are coming out of the boat's hull! Damn it!

Jonny fires a rocket -- and goes wide; Vee is caught in the blast. "I'm all right!" It's hard to tell from here, but the cybersuit is definitely damaged -- the diagnostics however aren't, and Vee definitely got hurt. Sato takes out the X-ALT agent that Jonny missed, while Vee limps to Lily -- the medkit won't do a thing for the armor, of course, but will prevent bleeding. "Vee, pull out."

Petrov got the second tower; time to get out of here before the Russians decide to show up.

The Skyranger pilot tells us that he's got movement on both sides of the craft -- two more X-ALT stragglers. Petrov retrieves the SD card from the tower, shuts it down, and sprints for the craft; Lily throws a grenade at what was pretty much the last intact container in the area, and Vee finishes off the guy who was hiding behind it. Here's a strange thing -- so far all X-ALT agents have been white males.

Kip calls out from the roof. "Sniper!" Taking advantage of the elevated position, he crouches behind the warehouse's sign and calmly burns a hole in the X-ALT sniper's chest before Sato and Jonny have time to reposition for a flanking maneuver. "Kay? I really like your laser."

I smile to myself. "Excellent job, Strike-One" Bradford says tersely. Vee's cybersuit is nearly shot and she is somewhat hurt, but we got it done...

... And we've left a warehouse in ruins. Hopefully Petrov will be able to tell us what was it with the ruined tank, and what's going on with X-ALT...

... Unfortunately, Petrov doesn't even get much in the way of a graduation ceremony -- he is qualified, but the Russians want him to continue working with FSB. We get the X-ALT data, but to avoid a confrontation, we have the Skyranger drop him off east of Donetsk; Vee, as the ranking officer, gets to tell Petrov he has graduated and can now expect an instructor role. The army officers retrieving him are too flat-out scared of her and the impromptu demonstration Kip gives of our laser gun to object, but who knows what he'll end up doing after our guys leave. To Dr. Vahlen's annoyance, we have to leave the X-ALT bodies with the Russians as well.


The alarm sounds a call to go out, and I hear that this time, they'll be sending me. Apparently this one needs to be loud, and well, subtlety isn't exactly my strong suit. Another positive-we're going to Russia, and standing orders appear to be "terminate with all due prejudice". It's been a while since I've been to eastern Europe, and the chance to eliminate some ruskies definitely brightens my day. I hustle out to the transport and stop dead in my tracks. There's Vee, a giant mech. unlike the rest of these chucklefucks, i didn't grow up with giant robot anime, or transformers cartoons, or action movies...or, well, anything, so my thoughts immediately jump to Heinlein and Starship Troops. Guess i'm part of the Mechanized Mobile Infantry. Lets just hope this shit plays out better than it did for Rico


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