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Mission25

GEOSCAPE

Work continues. I feel better -- keep passing out, keep forgetting things, but Dr. Shen let me help with a bit of construction on one of the new SHIVs and my motor skills are good. We discuss handing the reins over to Bradford and keeping me on the engineering team. I'd like that.

There's some new personnel on base, and I swear I've seen those Grey Market suits snooping around. Officially I'm still in a wheelchair when meeting anyone from outside -- the real reason is that in case I pass out, it's less visible sitting than standing. An official request from Argentian for alien MEC, for law enforcement purposes if you believe that, remains is answered by us sending them a bag of tapes (actual video tapes, Betamax, if you believe that) with all the Robocop movies, and an intentionally grainy copy of the Mechtoid autopsy.

Work continues. I feel better -- keep passing out, keep forgetting things, but we are getting some leads on EXALT. If they have a base of operation, it's in America. I suspect Argentina or Brazil, given how intrusive the arms dealers have been lately, but who knows. We'll have to at least help root them out.

I've had time to watch the news - the latest lull in alien incursion has, for some reason, ramped up paranoia rather than calmed people down. I blame the talking heads on TV. People aren't panicking anymore, they're just sort of... hunkering down. While I'm proud to say that we've kept a lid on things enough to make sure that no elections were postponed, the countries in which elections took place have taken a huge shift to the right. To be expected, I guess, but still... To be honest, I do approve of the new gun laws at least in some countries; we're at war, and if it was for me, I'd give everyone over eighteen a long rifle and Sectoid shaped targets to practice with. Remember the Ferguson riots last year? The usual racist asshats on talk radio are saying that "certain segments of our population" may be more susceptible to alien influence. The problem is that this isn't WW2. This is the sort of low-intensity conflict we've become used to see in Iraq or Afghanistan or Myanmar, just... everywhere. Maybe they'll just mind-control all of us when our nerves have finally frayed.

Work continues. I feel better -- keep passing out, keep forgetting things, but it looks like Bradford is firmly on our side now, which is a great bit of help. I'll have to ask Dr. Vahlen just what she did with the guy. Incidentally, she hasn't worn her yarnall corset lately -- we're trying to put on a professional appearance, like a startup when the VCs come round. The base has gotten a bit of cleanup, and we're actually sticking to salutes now, mostly for the newcomers' benefits. Upstairs a pavilion has been erected for the big news conference that announces XCOM to the world.

And that's when the alarm sounds. It's almost a relief. While all the craziness with EXALT and the Council was going on, a UFO landed in Canada. Past the satellites. Past the interceptors. Just sort of waltzed down. Sure, it's way out in the Newfoundland sticks, but what the hell was that about? I wish we had more control over our aerospace stuff, although I can see why the Council wouldn't allow that. At this stage building our own aircraft is out of the question, although Dr. Shen says that with what we know of alien navigation, if we can capture a small UFO it might be possible to fly them home before the salvage crews show up. Wink, wink.

Work continues. I feel better -- keep passing out, keep forgetting things, but it looks like that while the "hyperwave relay", basically a busted UFO NAVCOM simulating the alien base's systems for the benefit of the odd control system we've found, will take a while to get made, the sensory deprivation chamber used for testing psionics is complete. Unfortunately, people will have to stay there for ten days. I'm exempt from testing: Dr. Vahlen told me that the area of the brain that might be responsible for psi phenomena has, in my case, been thoroughly scorched. She's been using this to estabilish a baseline. I tell her to never let me see X-rays or pictures of the damage, please.

OPERATION

Kite, Vee, and rookies Burns and Cook (what is this, Battlezone 2?) set off to go deal with it. Zajac and Sato volunteer to sortie again before the flying boat has time to take them home -- Dr. Vahlen gives her medical approval, and I'm grateful for the help.

The mission is at three in the morning -- dawnlight is starting to be visible, but all that does is make the place more alien. We remind ourselves that it's just an impression; the bad guys don't have a home advantage, despite how primally scary the place looks.

Vee stomps out, but it's Kite who spots the first aliens -- a MEC and two sectoids. She calls for Vee to get over there. One of the Sectoids summons a shield for the MEC, after which the metal hulk starts laying down suppression fire in Kite's direction; she signals to advance cautiously.

"Ambush! There's another one!" Sato exposes himself to fire from the other Sectoid to look past the ridge. Past it, the unmistakable shapes of another alien MEC and the engorged cranium of a sectoid leader become visible in the mist. "Sorcerer!"

"He's mine. Take everything else out." Kite repositions her laser gun to wait for the sorcerer to show its big head again. We've worked out that it's best to remove a MEC's shield before doing anything else, but an enemy that can take over your body at a distance is... well, good thing the doctrine file is on a wiki.

Vee rushes at the second, unshielded MEC and trades fire with it, while Kite angles herself to be able to take out the sorcerer. The creature managing to hijack Vee's nervous system and bringing three MECs against the rest of the squad is a terrifying thought -- however, adding some sort of remote switch to turn off Vee's suit would be just wrong to her. We can do that, but will only if she asks.

Kite loses track of the sorcerer, and hits the Sectoid projecting a shield around the MEC -- it's a perfect headshot, but we still hear her curse. The rest of the squad advances on the unshielded MEC, Burns all but having to hide behind a tree after attracting its fire. Zajac wants to leave XCOM with a bang, and borrowed Kip's bandoleer for this mission -- she rolls behind a boulder and throws a grenade at the cyborg. It doesn't quite go where she wanted it to, and she destroys Burns' cover.

Mr. Sato tells everyone to duck, and fires the rocket, trying to hit both the other MEC and its attending sectoid; he misses, only taking out the latter.

"Keep an eye out for the sorcerer!" I can't blame Kite for being obsessed with the alien mentalist, not one bit. We'll have to make sure those are designated as priority target from now on... and work out how to counter their power. I doubt tinfoil hats will help on this one.

"Cook! Head down!" Sato hisses. She's exposed. Rather than finding cover, the rookie flattens herself on the ground.

The first MEC retreats -- we see the Meld canister that it carried out. The second fires wildly at Vee closes with it, ignoring the hits on her armor. "ロケット パンチ!" Her, Kite and Sato have been talking anime all the way through the Skyranger trip.

Vee smashes the enemy MEC with a single hit of her rocket fist... and finds herself face to face with the sorcerer and three orks. Rather than retreating, she roars -- literally roars -- at them. To our surprise, the sorcerer skitters off. "Catch up!"

The rookies take out an ork that was exposed, but leave themselves open for counterattack by the other two -- now we've got two wounded. The sorcerer's presence is definitely causing them to act smarter... telepathy? "Head down, damn it!"

Speak of the devil -- the big-headed alien pops up from behind the MEC's remains and gives a death glare to Vee. "Aaargh! Stop it, dangit!" Vee stops for a moment... but rather than turning her armor and weapon on her teammates, she leapfrogs one of the orks and rushes for the sorcerer. The other ork makes the mistake of getting in the way, and gets rammed into a tree stump.

The UFO looks completely intact -- Dr. Shen says that it might even be possible to fly it home, if the away team manages to keep it that way. That means luring all the aliens out.

"Burns, get your ass into cover, you're not the Headmaster!" Sato shouts, getting the rookie to get a move on. I'm a horrible role model, aren't I? Kite takes another shot at the sorcerer, and misses. Two deep breaths, her heartbeat and EEG slowing down as she tries to calm down. "Negative damage."

The rookies pin down the surviving ork, and Sato tries for a stun -- it doesn't work. The sorcerer's stare was fixed on the ork; did whatever communication is obviously going on between that creature and everyone else bolster the ork's nervous system?

"MEC!" The cyborg sectoid that ran away earlier comes back in, running at Zajac and the rookies. "Duck!"

Kite has to decide - force the MEC to get back into cover before it unloads a barrage on the squad, or take another shot at the sorcerer. "I got him!" Vee calls out. Kite fires at the alien MEC's knee joint, forcing it to back off against the UFO; Vee runs forward and takes out the sorcerer with a single punch. "Did she have to smash its head?" Dr. Vahlen asks to a general chorus of YES from the bridge.

"Yarnalls! Stay in cover!" One of the bridge crew spotted the telltale shimmer from Vee's shoulder camera feed -- it looks like we might be able to lure all the aliens out of the ship; they're certainly not keen on our guys coming in.

Hoping that there isn't another sorcerer, the rest of the squad takes cover. The tactic works; Zajac and Cook take out the remaining MEC when it comes out of the UFO again. Kite calls for everyone to stay put -- the yarnalls are predictable, and will try to attack by strangulation; the remaining ork can be dealt with by Vee. So far, only a couple of stray laser shots have hit the UFO, leaving no damage beyond burn marks.

Vee gets away from the UFO, stopping to finish the wounded ork with a backhanded slap. She's fired her gun exactly once during this mission -- it'll be worth it to invest in upgrading her rocket fist. Damn, I said it from the start that we could use melee weapons... the aliens' plasma rifles dominate at standard firefight engagement ranges, but if you can plink at them from far away or get in close, it's a much easier fight.

"Easy now, soldier." Kite takes a moment to reload and start patching up Zajac and Cook as Vee and Sato regroup; the plan is for Vee to get inside and make sure no aliens that can make the UFO take off remain, and lure them outside. If the UFO takes off with her on it, she's to blow up its power plant and turst in her suit's armor to protect her from the inevitable fall. Her comment that this happened to her once before results in puzzled stares from everyone but me and Kite.

One of the yarnalls appears behind Zajac, and is blown to bits in a dazzling lightshow; Vee gets inside the UFO to report that she sees the power plant and, incidentally, one of the Meld canister -- the other has long since sealed itself after it was carried out by the alien MECs. She picks it up and continues to sweep the UFO. "All the lights are on, but nobody's home."

Cook points to a noise she's heard in the woods. Is it the remaining yarnall? A single yarnall unaccounted for and on the loose in a rural area could get a lot of people killed before it's shot down; the plan is now for Burns and Cook to go check that out while Kite covers them, with Sato and Zajac ready to take out anything Vee flushes out. The yarnall shows up as soon as the squad separates, and Cook takes it out. "I think this is all of them!" Vee calls out. "UFO is empty!"

"You'll have to go around and double check. Vee, stay in the UFO's cockpit and make sure it doesn't take off." Bradford seems worried about the Meld that managed to disperse; Dr. Shen and myself are visibly excited about the possibility of capturing a fully intact UFO.

"Guys, something is powering up... SHIT!" Vee finds two sorcerers in the control room, working frantically to get the UFO to take off again. Three sorcerers on a scout UFO? Are they going on a mind control tour? What's going on here?

"DEE, GET OUT! GET THE HELL OUT!" Kite has no choice but to get everyone to aim their lasers at the UFO's entrance -- Vee is running out but there's no guarantee she will be on our side.

Vee runs outside; her telemetry feeds are normal. "Guys, it's me! Don't shoot!" The rest of the squad is waiting outside, firing squad style. Now the problem is - how do we get the sorcerers out without blowing too many holes in the UFO?

"This is where it would be good to have a SHIV along" Dr. Shen comments. "Can't mess with its head." I can't disagree; drone warfare is going to become a lot more important if it turns out that the aliens have an easier time messing with our brains than with our computers. Heh, won't that make the securistas gleeful...

The UFO continues powering up. "Strike One, you'll have to go in or they'll take off. There is no other way."

The squad gets on one of the UFO's back plates, already starting to warm up -- just the bulk of Vee's cybersuit is apparently enough to auto-abort the takeoff sequence, as we can hear things spinning down. One of the sorcerers pokes its head out and comes face to face with Kite, glares at her -- we can't see anything on camera, but Zajac and Sato, who are right behind her, report that the creature's eyes are glowing.


For a single brief moment, two minds meet in a dark place. Where the 'sorceror' expects to brush past and grip the nerves and muscles behind that mind, instead it meets a wall of screams and hate, boiling fury that longs for blood.

The sorcerer headbangs at Kite, who after shaking for a moment, laughs savagely. "Don't worry," she sneers, "I hear it happens to all the boys at least once." (As written by Kite Winters)


Vee gets out from behind Kite and executes the sorcerer with a point-blank railgun shot, after Shen quickly reminds her that the rocket fist risks destroying a bulkhead.

The other sorcerer was right behind the first, and already glaring at Vee. Damn it! "Everyone! Rush in!" Kite calls.

As the rest of the squad does, Kite takes a potshot with her pistol at the remaining sorcerer. The creature skitters behind the power plant, safe from retaliation, and then Kite freezes as the sorcerer looks at her. "No! You... I won't... I won't let you!!"

Vee rushes forward and slams the sorcerer against a bulkhead. Kite falters, but she's back on her feet in seconds.

Other than a neat, sectoid sorcerer shaped hole in an internal bulkead, we've got ourselves an intact UFO.

"Arright. So, can anyone try to fly this thing?"

Cook washed out of helicopter pilot training in the US Army. She'll give it a go. The damage to the bulkhead means that taking the UFO suborbital is too risky, so we're going to try to fly this thing in formation with the Skyranger.

Morale is high -- the only serious wound was to Ms. Zajac, who will have plenty of time to recuperate on the way back to Poland. The handing over of the instructor mantle ceremony has to happen in the infirmary, which means I get to attend it. Vee wriggles herself out of the suit and bunnyhops out of the Skyranger, all but demanding some sauna time, as the transport is pushed off the main landing bay to make room for the UFO.

We receive a note from the Council about their disappointment in allowing Meld to be dispersed... I somehow doubt that X-ALT has managed to use Meld traces for their genetic enhancement program; if they could do that much with that little, we have bigger problems.

Shen and Vahlen stop their mutual sniping to examine the intact UFO -- we mark it down as slated for disassembly, but the actual plan is to repair it and reverse engineer it properly.


Slowing to a jogging pace on the treadmill after hearing a beep Kip checked his work tablet. Two new messages got his attention, one was a warning that due to examinations being performed on acquired alien hardware the base may experience power surges in tertiary systems. Those were common enough when the doctors got a new toy to play with, with lights dimming here and there and he quickly put it out of his mind.

The second message was about the opening of the new Psi Lab on base. It was very stylishly done message requesting for volunteers in “cracking open the mystery's of the mind” The PR Stuff made him wonder if that Jonny kid had lost a bet with one of the doctors to do up this pretty little request for human Guinea Pigs. Kip was just about to close the message and get on with his run.

That's when the power surge hit. Some Lab tech had interfaced the base power grid to the captured UFO by accident. Several breakers blew in the hanger bay protecting the main systems. A bean burrito exploded in a microwave in the now aptly named Mess Hall. On the crew quarters one of the fire fighting foam projectors went off, turning one of the hallways into an impromptu slip and slide for those off duty. And in the Gym, one treadmill decided to add a zero to it's current speed setting as the lights went out.

BANG, KRASH, Rattle THUMP

“Ow”

Shuffle Shuffle

BEEP

“Thank you for signing up for Cognitive Investigative Examination. And Remember it's whats In you that counts!”

The darkened room was then lit by the tablets surface as the prone figure extracted the device from under itself. Kip groaned at the sight and wondered if anyone in human history had ever butt dialled themselves into a lobotomy.

(As written by Kip Hawley)


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