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I wake up. My front right quarter -- I feel like a piece of meat, so let's call it that -- is covered in bandages, and by moving I can tell there's some rigid stuff in there. The nurse assures me that no Meld was used, we just got a bit better at dealing with injuries like, well, zombie maulings. That in itself sounds pretty surreal. I'm told that I won't be able to get much useful done for a week, and that I was out for ten hours.

A few things happened while I was getting alien bug gunk out of me. The first is that Graduate Webb is going to be leaving later today; as much as I could've used her for the alien base assault, assuming we can get our stuff together before the end of the month, the Canadian government is very keen on getting back personnel who survived a terror mission. I can't blame them, although I'm starting to really hate their guts due to the continued interference. The second is that Lily's prognosis was downgraded from four days to twenty-one, because she didn't respond well to some of the meds -- she'll be fine, and she's in fact already walking around, but she can't be cleared to go on missions until her leg heals naturally. Again, the report (which nobody signed, that I can tell) reminds me that she is an excellent candidate for MEC conversion.

My suspicion that they used the good meds on me and not on her lasts about five minutes, after which a very indignant nurse tells me that I should get off my high horse and they'd never do that -- triage doesn't look at rank. Good. Apparently it's a matter of my immune system being all over the place, and hers not.

I make myself get out of bed for Webb's graduation ceremony; she is handed a nice laser cut acrylic binder with a printout of the doctrine file, her mission logs, and a custom-fit helmet that someone from engineering actually got around to tin-lining. She gets a semi-limp handshake from me, I get a careful hug from her, and she's off to the flying boat that'll take her to a proper airport; five minutes later I get a politely worded complaint from unseen country liaisons, about Canada having received more than its share of graduates. What am I supposed to do, set up quotas? People will go on missions according to how ready they are and on what shift they happen to be when we get the alarm.

I am told that Dr. Vahlen did not operate on me -- the image that conjures in my head is probably inappropriate, and altogether not unpleasant. Well, it's two weeks to the next Council report, we're very, very broke -- enough so that Bradford has invited the arms dealers over while I was under, they're getting a quick tour of our warehouse and will get off the island when Webb is done packing her stuff -- but what else is new, and morale is high; despite the death toll on the terror mission, everyone made it back okay. Well, except me, but at this point the troops are getting used to the Headbutt-master coming back minus some skin. Apparently the rumor is that I'm actually a cyborg.... me keeping my helmet on pretty much all the time probably doesn't help much, but I don't... Well, anyway. Tonight's movie is "Witches to the North", just so people can appreciate a good headbutt -- we should get internet back sometime today, so it's not like people have to watch it.

The arms dealers seem fairly disappointed about going home empty handed -- they were mostly interested in EXALT weapons, likely due to the DRM module, and drone wrecks. I send them home with the modules we ripped out of the weapons we're keeping; the drones actually look a lot like something that could be designed on Earth, so we're going to try to reverse engineer them as soon as we have time and resources to; other than the plasma rockets that hold them in flight, they could've been thunk up at Airware or even at Robots Everywhere; we are in fact sure that drones are being manufactured here on Earth, from sticking the wrecks in a MRI machine. The Wells on the other hand... it looks more like a metal-based lifeform than a robot, if that makes any sense; we can recognize pumps and control logic, and it's nowhere near as outlandish as yarnalls are, but the whole design looks like it came out of a very sophisticated genetic algorithm and not even looked at by a technician before it entered production. Yet more schizo tech.

A theory that's picking up steam on the whiteboard is that the aliens, having discovered psionics, entered an arrested development phase. Why work when you can just bat your eyes at your neighbor and get their stuff? God knows, it's a strategy I've seen used by people.

I look forward to a few boring days as my arm heals; Lily is taking care of Vee, Kite is sort of taking a break by playing housewife to her significant other -- who has effectively replaced me in the alloy SHIV construction project, since I can't solder one-handed -- Jonny is ramping up the epic music in the rotation and having a harmless prank war with the IT staff, and...

"Headmaster, we're aware of your budgetary shortfall. We are sure we can be of grater assistence if you would just --" The arms dealers speak with such measured, accentless precision that I'm tempted to accuse them of being Slendermen half the time. Well, they'd have to be wearing fat suits, but still.

"Thank you, Senor... Mario Martinez, yes?" The man nods. "We do not have any major operations planned at the moment, other than the completion of our satellite network, and we've already allocated sufficient budget to complete that project." Sorry, but we can't risk tipping our hand -- if it means we have to call these guys back to the island at the last moment, well, they'll have to deal with it.

Now, the Skeleton Suit is something we can safely show everybody -- I text Vahlen suggesting that she give a brief demo after putting the other stuff away, and she replies with an emoticon. Bradford visibly gulps as he leads the Grey Marketeers to one of the labs. I can't help noticing that over the last few visits, there's fewer South Americans in the group. Kip has done a heck of a presentation for it...

“Ok...figured with the new suit I'd pull a Tony Stark and document testing with a video log. Lucky for me this shouldn't be flammable, I don't think The SHIV team wants me borrowing their toys for fire suppression”

“Hello there sports fans, This here is X-com member and Universal chew toy Kip Hawley Speaking”

“Today we'll be demonstrating usage of the new Grapple Gun system in the First of the production line General Infantry Skeleton Armour...oh and if you're looking for specs on the Mark One prototypes...go ask Kite and the good Doctor, because I'm not filming anything on that subject with the proverbial ten foot pole and the a good lawyer. Some one has to think of the children.”

“Anyways, on with the show! Now unlike the Dark Knight's gas operated little toy pistol, the Grapple gun is actually wrist mounted, as it's bolted directly to the suits framework. Because we aren't all massively muscle Rob Liefeld comic book heroes, us mere mortal human beings are not likely to be able to carry their entire weight, plus many pounds of armour and equipment one handed with just finger strength alone, and definitely aren't going to be able to hold on when they get yanked to the other end at an acceleration that would make a BMW green with envy.”

“So the load is directly placed on the armour, rather then those funny little tendons and muscles in your arm. Voice of experience on this kids...a separated shoulder is NOT super special awesome fun time. Now While the initial launch of the grappling hook is plain old cordite powered explosive, the reeling in is actually using alien tech, particularly the core electromechanical 'muscles' from one of the so called Danglies tentacles, With an electric shock the 'fibre contract and zoom, you're off the ground ”

“The grapple hook itself is tungsten/extraterrestrial alloy laminate for durability and hardness. Not something you want to be on the wrong end of. Now...I'd voted for the classic spiderman 2 finger devil horns of a palm trigger, but that got veto'd for a recessed push button directly behind the launcher, less cool, but a lot safer over all. You sight along the top of the launcher on your arm, brace with your right, flip the safety and push the button and boom you're theory at least”

Grapple Gun Video Film Montage

Attempt 1: Low powder cartridge leads to limp shot...Kip gets reeled into the dirt at his feet too fast.


Attempt 6: Over powder cartridge, recoil lands kip on his butt and the grapple in the air....landing on his head


Attempt 11: Gear loaded top heavy, Kip Dragged up the Cliff Face Feet First Bouncing against the rocks


Attempt 25: Power setting for Reel too low, Kip slowly dragged up the cliff face at a snails pace

No Thud?

Attempt 26: Power setting for Reel too High, kip gets launched into the air at top of cliff and belly flops


Attempt 37: Aim off, Hits ocean, Kip hit by Reeled in Tuna THUD

Attempt 42: Successful:

Kip is left at the top of the cliff, his armour covered in dirt with him nursing a black eye and a bottle of whiskey, behind him a fish on a stick over an open fire.

“I get Paid for this job right?”

(As written by Kip Hawley)

I don't have much to do for a while - the complaints about one trooper getting tuna for dinner and nobody else are dealt with by explaining that it's OK to fish while off duty, although it's not OK to use experimental equipment and that one time just sort of happened -- update the list I guess. The satellite network should be completed within a few days, and hopefully we can use that to calm some of our funding countries down. While I am at it, I've also asked engineering to set up a text messaging system that uses our satellites -- in case of a comms blackout, I want our pilots to be able to scramble on our orders and our troopers to at least maintain communication with base, even if it's low bandwidth. Fortunately, the diagnostics channel can be used to send six-byte arbitrary packets; it'll have to do, SCRAMBL or DEPLOY or STOP or GO are better than nothing. I'll come up with a code book later; six bytes is actually barely enough to send out 2D gps coordinates...

Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Maybe we can finish this before the solstice. Maybe it'll be a long war. Somehow, I don't think it's reasonable to make plans for the aftermath just yet.

I hope Riley and Steph are doing well. I hope Lena didn't get kissed by a herbie. I hope... Hey, if there's hope, there's life. Or is that the other way round?

The reports we're getting from the US Midwest lead Bradford to think that a X-ALT cell is actively disrupting us -- the Council has been aggressively investigating groups ranging from LaRouchies to Scientology, causing a lot of anger in right-wing circles about Obama being Stalin in blackface... nothing new there, don't get me wrong, but from what I can glean from the sanitized briefings I'm given on alternate days, the security apparatus in that country has used the alien invasion to really ramp things up. Los Angeles is still under curfew, for example... with exemptions made for movie industry workers as essential to the economy, if you can believe that.

Dr. Vahlen has finished the skeleton suit; she's also finished replacing the door on the one bit of labs that she's denying even me access. Oddly, Bradford has been allowed in once or twice... and seems a lot more relaxed since then, more focused. He's also completely changed his body language in our chief researcher's presence. I think it's something a bit deeper than a simple pairing up. Bradford has also taken an interest in sailing dinghies around the island in the last couple of days, in the little downtime he's had -- I'll have to teach him the basics when I'm feeling better; that's a lot of rope burns he's hiding under that sweater.

We're going to need bigger guns; specifically, we're going to need bigger lasers, so our R&D efforts focus on that. The Foundry team discovered that, from the drones we've recovered, it should be possible to give SHIVs self repair capabilities... the drone's firmware can't really be reverse engineered without putting a lot more work in it, but if we rebuild the spot welder and dummy out the weapon, the leftover bits of drone can be tricked into thinking that the SHIV is a Wells and that it has to keep it repaired. We resolve to try this with DONDER and BLISSEM; THOR will have to come later, we're out of salvageable alien drone parts.

Not even two days after the Gray Marketeers leave, a Russian letter (paper letter!) with a presidential seal shows up, offering money and raw material in return for some of the alien alloys we've stockpiled; I approve the transaction, much to Bradford and Shen's surprise. Bradford will have to pacify the Americans, since this can't really be hidden, but-

A message comes in. The Russians have changed their mind at the last moment. Why'd they do that? Dammit, this would have let us build the heavy lasers we're working on.

Neil Hughes, a soft-spoken former SWAT agent that easily got into everyone's good graces by enduring the "Narc" nickname with great patience, has managed to infiltrate a X-ALT cell in Roswell, NM of all places. X-ALT had coopted some genuine, and harmless, new age church called the Cult of Sirius -- hey, if they call themselves a cult, they're probably not dangerous. According to Neil's report, X-ALT offered assistance after the government refused to protect the cult after the obvious waves of anti-UFO patriots picked them as an easy target to harass. Crazy situation...


We can't risk any of our heavy hitters for the extraction mission, so the decision is made to send out the rebuilt DONDER to cover Kip and three rookies; we wouldn't send more than one SHIV out anyway. Annoyingly, the drone recycling project isn't quite done yet. Like usual, we call for volunteers who don't mind going after human beings.

Kip shows up fully decked out -- skeleton suit plated with Herbie chitin, laser weapons, grenades. I didn't think him very eager to go after people, but -- from the look of it he's just really wanting to try out all the new stuff.

We drive DONDER up the Skyranger and rookies Emily King, Tova Eliad and Sara Suleiman follow. I take him aside for a moment. Never mind that he's the only guy in the squad, but... "Kip, why are you getting an Israeli and a Palestinian on the same team?"

"Because maybe they'll bond over shooting actual bad guys. Don't worry." I do note that he's specced the squad out in the heaviest armor we have available. I give him a hug, and see them off. The plan is simple; while the Skyranger is en route, Neil will intentionally blow his cover by picking a fight with X-ALT agents and letting local law enforcement know what's going on. This should be enough to distract X-ALT operatives from the data mining system that he's set up, while hopefully allowing church members to get out of the line of fire.

The team gets there around dusk, to find that the building that the Cult of Sirius had been timesharing with nearly every non-Christian church in town looks conspicuously like it has been on fire for some time; hopefully there weren't any lynchings like with the Sikh after 9/11. We'll have to get Neil's story later.

The network taps are one on the roof, and one in the lavatory in the back; X-ALT operatives are probably wise to how our system works by now, and will likely try to shell the roof now that there's no more pretense of secrecy. The plan is to offer token defense of the first tap, and retreat to the back if they do start using explosives -- either way, DONDER can't access the roof, so we're going to use it to run laps around the building in sentry mode, and offer mobile cover.

"Up up and away!" Kip tests the skeleton suit's grapple by beating everyone else on the roof; Emily has the other one, but prefers to get roof access conventionally. DONDER is going to be teleoperated to get to the building's corners going clockwise, and enter sentry mode when it reaches them.

The extraction team quickly and conspicuously sets up around the "decoy" tap while Neil finishes setting up the second one; DONDER gets to a corner, and reports no hostiles, although from the camera feed we infer that there must've been a riot or a street fight out here.

"Here they come! Watch out, one of them's got a rocket launcher!" The X-ALT operatives probably used the riot as a diversion so they could do get the heavy ordnance. There's three more of the fuckers; Tova has a clear shot at the heavy weapons guy, and takes it, while everyone else scatters on the roof. Neil is done setting up, and asks if he should join the rest of the team. "I brought grenades!"

Where'd he get -- You know what, never mind. Bradford tells him to go around, use DONDER for cover, and see if he can find any way to exploit the DRM thing that X-ALT is, as we already know, still using.

Neil starts looking for the nearest cell phone tower, sprinting past DONDER -- and right into three X-ALTs, one of which with a second rocket launcher!

Kip burns a hole in the first rocketeer's shoulder before he fires -- the decoy tap is intact, but Tova and Sara got hit hard. Thank God for taking layered armor. "All right, let them have it, get out of here!" Kip calls. "Fighting retreat!"

Neil is pinned down by two operatives; one of the X-ALTs gets on the roof, another throws a smoke grenade... which ends up covering the area where Kip wanted to retreat to; he ducks behind a smashed air conditioning roof unit to get to the guy, then cuts his head clean off. "Get over here!"

DONDER's operator gets the robot out of sentry mode and charges at the X-ALT operatives still on street level; ordinary assault rifles don't do much against alloy plating. Neil lets the X-ALTs shoot at the tank, ducks behind a car, and throws a grenade while DONDER returns fire -- one X-ALT gone, two wounded.

On the roof, Tova shoots the second rocketeer off the roof before running into the smoke; Emily and Sara, rather than listening to Kip run forward to finish the wounded enemies, with Emily getting one. "I said fall back, we don't need this tap!"

The surviving X-ALT, even bleeding, gets on the roof -- and Bradford points out the Skyranger's accelerometers having picked up someone dropping on top of the elevator house -- wait, where did they drop from? Do X-ALT have grapple guns too?

The hell did that guy come from? Emily and Sara retreat towards the smoke, the laser crossfire getting two of the enemies; Kip signals for them to hurry -- one of their snipers has taken up position right on top of the second tap!

"I'm at the cell phone tower! There's TWO more guys with rocket launchers down here!" Neil calls. Kip tells him to hit the tower. "Reposition to the second tap, and let's try to patch Tova up when we're there!"

DONDER's operator fires on one of the rocket launcher guys, and misses; teleoperated firing is mostly only good for suppression, due to latency.

Neil trips the cell phone tower; despite this, the X-ALT operatives keep trying to get to the roof like lemmings... Kip waits for the smoke to dissipate. "Change of plan! I got one straggler over here. Everyone else, muster against the brick wall of the elevator housing -- if they keep coming on the roof from the north side, we can just play firing squad!" With that, he uses the grapple to swing down the roof.

Tova follows Kip -- his attempt at Errol Flynning it resulted in a support column in a nearby building with a hole in it, but the X-ALT straggler is still up. Emily slams herself against the elevator housing, and shoots an enemy operative clean in the face when he finally manages to climb up; below, due to the cell phone disruption, DONDER has reverted to sentry mode and taken down the last of the rocket launchers.

These X-ALT people frankly act like they're on drugs. I'm not sure if I want to know what they're on.... whatever it is, it causes surviving grenades while wearing no armor, and climbing roofs almost as fast as our state of the art, barely out of the Foundry skeleton suit.

Bradford says the area has been evacuated -- there's four or five more of these assholes left. Of course, they're not giving up. Tova takes out the one who was in danger of finding the second tap.

When we have visual again, we find two more up the roof, standing right above Kip! How the hell did they get there, they jumped UP the roof? Kip takes cover and uses the medkit to close Tova's wound; we'll have to get the bullets out, but that's for later.

"I'm going back into the church, there's another cell tower on the other side!" Neil calls.

DONDER's operator has finally figured out how to score a kill in teleoperation mode -- drive the robot right to a X-ALT operative and hit the fire button; if the X-ALT guy is too busy trying to get a bead on Neil to hear a frikkin' electric tank approach, it works.

Emily and Sara are out of charge for the laser rifles -- they're holding back X-ALTs with the pistols; the firing-squad plan isn't working as well as it should. Of course the whole squad would run out of power at the same time...

"I'm almost at the cell tower!"

"Hurry up! We need time to reload!"

With one of the jumpers having crawled up Emily's side and severely injured her, Kip and Tova fire their grapples and land right in the face of the second one; a couple of pistol whippings later, the X-ALT agent is left barely alive.... and ready to shoot back at Kip! These guys have to be hopped up on something.

DONDER is also out of ammo; the operator sends it barrreling down the sidewalk anyway, hoping to distract the remaining rocket launcher man. Alloy plating is awesome.

"GOT IT!" Neil rips out the small cellphone tower from its pole. DONDER comes to a stop and starts reloading, probably to the X-ALT agent's temporary relief.

On the roof, Sara and Emily manage to take down the agent that Tova missed with the last of their pistols' capacitors.

The last two agents narrowly avoid a hail of bullet from DONDER, and are hit by a grenade from Neil mid-climb -- they get to the roof by sheer force of will, where one is quickly dropped by Kip -- the remaining agent staggers towards the network tap and turns it off, with four agents just staring at the scene. "We... win." He collapses in a bloody heap on top of the equipment, a grin on his face. Sara and Tova quickly burn finish him off.

"Wow, poor bastard." The second tap has finished its job before Kip and the rest of the squad have time to get off the roof, this time using the regular stairs.

Before returning, we see Kip have a talk with an old man who turns out to be the leader of the Cult of Sirius -- after shoving a laser rifle in a cop's face to get him to let the man go. On the flight home, we are treated by a couple of interesting stories from Kip and Neil, as well as a stream of profanities about the laser rifle's capacitors being way too underpowered... That's an electronics problem that we can deal with, although I doubt we can address it before the base attack.

What scares me is how utterly crazy these X-ALT people are. If this is some sort of secret society of synarchists, you'd expect them to be motivated by money or power, not to be fanatical enough to make Al-Qaeda look like christmas-and-easter Catholics.

Also, why did Kip's teammates all come back with rocket launchers as souvenirs and announced they're keeping them? (OOC NOTE: Seriously, they all got assigned as Heavy)

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Page last modified on March 01, 2015, at 09:50 PM