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Mission26

GEOSCAPE

Work continues. I feel better -- keep passing out, keep forgetting things, but... Hold on a minute. Been there, done that, got the bib. Honestly? I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm terrified of losing my mind. I told Dr. Vahlen to do whatever she has to do. MEC conversion wouldn't have done me much good -- it's a brain problem, the rest of my body is fine. Bradford has taken over day-to-day operations, as much as the Council is letting him; apparently he's training his successor for after this becomes a public operation. I may even have talked with the guy, some Chinese man built like a brick.

Andrey Semyenov has been sent to yet another X-ALT cell operating in Russia.

The psi testing chamber is complete. Someone stenciled the Aperture Science logo on the door hatch almost immediately. Looks like we still got a decent amount of indiscipline around here.

"Our sources report a developing incident in Newfoundland, up the coast from St. John's. A fishing village has gone dark; reports from intel sources suggest alien involvement. We should send in a team to investigate the site and figure out what happened." Specific and detailed as usual. The video freezes, but the audio continues. "Actually, we would like you to send the outgoing cadre on this one. It's a simple recon mission - call it rounding out the experience, if you will."

"Including me?"

"Reports indicate that you are combat-ready. Surely you haven't instructed the medical team to falsify reports, right?"

I'm definitely not running on six cylinders here, but Kite and Jonny tell me that they'll cover my ass. Vee seems very much not worried about having to relinquish the MEC suit. I hope the base augments do the job. It's been hinted that she may not get to keep those either.

Nobody is sure what's going on. Apparently we are supposed to get a combination unveiling/retirement ceremony on the 21st of July, the Moon landing anniversary. There must be squabbling within the Council -- Dr. Vahlen has received a number of contradictory instructions, being chided for both hoarding Meld and not doing enough reverse engineering on it.

Kip and Lily show up with captured X-ALT weapons, the former because the frame feels more familiar, having been derived from a traditional rifle, the latter because it looks cooler. Kite decides that we're all going to go in with grapple-equipped armor, other than Vee obviously; if it's a scouting mission, mobility will be important. I'm urged to take it easy, and handed a scoped rifle instead of the scatter laser. Looks like it's a capture from X-ALT too; I have to admit their stuff looks quite a bit more menacing than ours. Kite is in charge of the operation: she tells me that if I try to play hero again she's going to join the list of people who yell at me for it.

OPERATION

(OOC NOTE: Using a Support squaddie to represent myself not quite back up to speed)

The drop site shows no sign of life during the semiballistic trip to Canada - we're told to expect anything. That helps...

We land in a fishing village near St. John's. At least it's not cold. It's night, but we're far enough north that there's still some crepuscular light. The air smells like fish market - some people hate it, some people love it, I question why the hell I'm not on a boat now. Maybe I can sign up for it. After all, it's our last contribution to the effort against the aliens... unless this turns into total war.

Bradford finally got through to the local coast guard dispatch; a SAR patrol was answering a distress call from a fishing vessel and had just given the all clear, having brought the ship into port with some difficulty, when communications failed. The lights are on, but by the look of it from the Skryanger pass the whole place was silent. Tellingly, there are seagulls about, but they aren't touching any of the fish.

Normally whoever's been on most mission is in tactical charge; I talked it out with Kite and she said she'd rather not be if at all possible. Given that of the team I've been around ships and harbors the most, it falls to me. I suspect that this is a way for the Council to see whether I've lied to them about having recovered. Doubt they'll change their mind about making XCOM public and handing it over to someone responsible, but this is where we prove our playbook.

"Here's what I propose: we use our grapples and do most of the initial snooping around from the roofs. Once we've covered all the roofs, we get into the warehouses one by one, see what we can find, and make our way back. If things get ugly, we grapple up the roofs again and run away. How does that sound?"

I hear Bradford on the secondary audio channel translate that into tacticool, presumably for the Council's benefit, or the media. Something about deploying vertical mobility tools to keep a height advantage during preliminary recon, and something about slicing pies. I'm going to hold him to the part about the pies when we get back.

Kip has had the most experience with the grapple, and briefed us about its quirks on the way here - we quickly get on the roof, Kite scouting ahead using her scope as a spyglass, the rest of us ready to shoot at whatever is under us. We're on top of a prefab office; there are what look like four market stalls ahead -- they are; this is the touristy part of the docks, the actual commercial fishing loading area is further south -- and a small warehouse. The actual docks are to our left -- lots of fog, but looks mostly like boats that get rented out for blue-water fishing. Did some idiot bring a large ship into a small harbor?

Kip half grapples, half runs on top of a container next to the office; a low moan greets him from inside the building. "Zombie!"

"That means the Herbies aren't far behind; We need to find out where these things are coming from on the double." Herbie? I thought we were calling them Herbies... you know, because "love bug", short of Lovecraftian bug. Guess it was a bit too silly. Bradford has no further intel from the coast guard -- they tell us that the SAR team was only four strong, and that this dock is generally unguarded at night, so there shouldn't be that many people around. The cold might have slowed down Herbie conversion.

"Everyone on the containers to the side! Vee, pulp that zombie. Everyone else, cover her!"

Jonny and Kip get on the container; I'm on the roof with Kite and Lily. Vee just sort of... walks through a window in the building we're on top of, walking through the wood paneling like the Kool-Aid man. Jonny and Kip beat her to the punch, though -- they burn the zombies to diced meat in a moment. The kill was fresh, and this smells disturbingly good. Now the office has TWO holes in it -- fortunately, the structure holds and the laser beams give no kinetic impact. "Vee, stay on the ground level. Anything in there?"

"No, just the one zombie. Nice computer! Though, it looks kinda empty... clean desk, no papers around, empty trashcan."

"That's weird. I've never seen a harbor office that didn't look lived in." Maybe they just renovated. "Okay, let's keep going."

Kip and Jonny rejoin us on the roof; the warehouse ahead is on fire -- it's a small fire, though, and by the look of it the sprinkling system tripped to contain most of it. The obviously fake fishmonger stalls will make good sniper nests. Kite misses the grapple, and ends up on the stairs that go down to the actual piers -- a couple of seagulls lazily flap off; nothing moves in response, so she gets up on the second stall. Jonny and Kip take point again, and I follow; the only one on the ground is Vee, who exits the office from the door, for once. "So why all the grapple armors?" Jonny was on equipment detail on this one.

"I figured it might be a false alarm! If we're getting shipped home at the end of this, well, we might as well have some fun with the Spiderman suits!"

We're expecting Herbies, but all we got so far was one zombie. What's actually going on? Are they hiding in the water? Herbies terrorizing the deeps is a disturbing thought.

"Dammit!" Lily also missed the grapple.

"Zombie! Behind you!" We get ready to put on a lightshow as Lily grapples to safety, but Vee simply turns around and smashes the former sailor -- we found one of the SAR team, so they must've made landfall -- into a container wall. We settle in on the roofs of the fishmonger's stalls. "Okay, these are good sniping positions. If there are Herbies, we can just take them all out from up here" Kite notes. "Someone's going to have to smoke them out NOT YOU, KAY."

"Bradford, are we in a hurry?"

"Negative Strike-One, take your time. We're not seeing any movement around your position, and if the Herbies swam off, you'd have no way to get them."

"I can go look for the buggies." Vee stomps away from the zombie omelette and, doing the Pink Panther walk, loudly makes a point of looking behind the two fishmonger stalls. I make for heading back down to the office to see if I can make anything out of transponder logs, but Kite tells me to wait -- we can do that after the site is safe.

With a groan, a maimed but still standing zombie unsticks itself from the wall, and hesitantly moves towards Vee. It's the first thing I've seen survive her rocket punch. What the hell? "Light 'im up!" "I can't get a clear shot!"

Kip has to get down from the perch and shoot the zombie point blank, in the neck, just to be sure. Another one walks out of the warehouse; Jonny and Kite fire at it, but minus a few holes it keeps going. These zombies are acting different... tougher, and aren't turning into Herbies. Come to think of it, we haven't seen one around yet.

Oh shit. Actual, proper alien zombie apocalypse. Great.

"Bradford, any movement outside this area? If the zombies stay zombies, they may not show up on thermo scan."

"Roger that, Strike-One -- we got two satellites over you. we're trying to correlate the images from those and your cameras for motion detection. All clear so far. Wait... I'm no fishmerman, but something about that shark doesn't look right."

A sizable shark is hanging from a gallows near the piers, no doubt for photography purposes -- looks like a fresh kill, but not fresh enough to be twitching. We're staring at that, when Kip calls out, "Herbies!"

Three insectoids roar and crawl out of the warehouse; I guess they were enjoying the relative warmth. They can't get to us without jumping, and if they do, at least the first one or two will get perforated. "Don't move! Steady weapons!" Kite calls. We do. If this is the start of a Herbie apocalypse... well, the aliens will be inheriting a dead planet.

I'm in front with Kip and Jonny - we brace our lasers on the railing as the insectoids move forward. Kite and Lily are right behind, with Vee stomping forward. The Herbies look... well, they can't be fatter. Bigger?

"Grenade!" Vee's amplified voice calls out.

Running forward, Vee aims her grenade launcher and almost hits the stall we're standing on. The Herbies are stunned and bleeding, but still up; dazed, they walk right into our firing line and fall into pieces.

"Zombie! From the pier!" Another undead sailor shuffles up the staircase leading to the stalls from the piers, and bumps into the shark while doing so -- the fish explodes with the grossest sound I've ever heard. Kite shoots the zombie's arm clean off, but not before another Herbie bursts from the shark.

"Well, that's new... we should probably let Dr. Vahlen know about this. I doubt one Herbie in a shark was enough for them to overrun this town though. Keep an eye out for anything else the Herbies might be nesting in." Wait, why isn't Dr. Vahlen watching this already in the first place?

"Got it." The bug and the zombie will take some time to get to us, so we can probably plink at them until they drop. After that... we'll have to play it by ear. Kite takes a shot at the zombie, right through the eye -- and it stays up. "Dammit! Shoot the neck, not the head. " Kip quickly follows her advice. Lily and Jonny move behind Kip to get a better shot at the Herbie; I am out of the flow of battle for a moment, and look inside the warehouse. The fire was very localized, and the rest of the interior looks very empty... and surprisingly clean. Okay, we're in Newfoundland and it's North enough that there's fog, but shouldn't this place reek of fish? Or failing that, alien goo? It's too clean.

There isn't much point in taking cover - the remaining Herbie knows where we are, and tromps towards us ready to make the jump on the roof. Lily and I take it out. Vee advances into the half-gutted warehouse, to find it mostly empty -- there's a shipment of what looks like old-stiley stockfish ready to go out, another shark on a pulley -- Vee empties the magazine into it, just to be sure -- and the usual corner full of odds and ends, which is where the fire happened. The warehouse looks structurally sound enough for Vee to jump on the roof, so she does. She can see past the fog, and her shoulder camera sends the video back to everyone.

Big commercial fishing ship -- if a SAR crew had taken over piloting it, it's unlikely that they alighted in a small harbor by accident. There's a big tear in the side, and by the look of it the hull was breached from the inside. "That ship didn't just run aground... it looks like it was overrun. I'd say that's the likely source of our Herbie problem... I guess we should just be thankful it wasn't a cruise liner."

Kite agrees with Bradford, so do I. Is that what the "kraken" under the alien base was supposed to be for? Terror from the deep?

"Everyone, get on the warehouse roof" Kite calls. "Vee, go knock on the hull and be ready to jumpjet away. If there's a clutch of Herbies, hopefully they're huddling in there."

Vee bangs on the hull four times, the metal-on-metal sound reverberates. We listen. No chitters, no roar. "Okay. I've got better sea legs than everyone else, so-"

"so you're going to stay right here."

"Kite?"

"I'm in charge of tactical, and you're staying here. You got to stop running into everything head on. You're still missing a chunk of braincase, for goddess'sake!"

"I'm not in the best shape, but I'm used to being on ships and - "

"And if you override me, I'm going to stick to you like glue with my medkit ready, and risk my ass to protect yours, and there's nothing you can do about it! Got it?"

"... got it."

Vee can run faster than anyone and the hull should be able to hold her weight, so she can check out the inside, but someone else will have to take a good look at the deck. We draw straws (or rather shingle splinters), and Kip loses. Somehow, we both expected it.

Either the fishing trip wasn't very profitable, or the Herbies already went to town on the catch: the bow section of the hull is mostly empty. Kip hugs the railing, ready to grapple off, and stays in sight of us -- the superstructure damage is minimal, and although he can hear at least one critter, it's out of sight.

Vee advances cautiously, and sees it. "Guys, it's a dead whale. Very dead. Lots of eggs growing off the side."

"I'd say we found the source of our infestation, but this is worse than we could have imagined. If the Herbies are using that whale as some sort of "hive," who knows how many offspring they could produce."

I agree with Bradford, but where's Dr. Vahlen? We could really use her opinion here. The schoolbus-sized carcass shivers and wriggles.

Kip advances, and three Herbies that had gotten out of the boat earlier run back down the pier, one even jumping up to the ship's deck. "Fuck!"

They're too far away - only Kite got a shot. She takes it, but the lead Herbie doesn't budge. Using the fact that I'm two storeys up, I throw a smoke grenade in Kip's general direction, hoping to confuse the insectoids. To our surprise, it works -- the Herbie jumps down, going after Vee instead; her armored bulk deflects the creature's first blow.

"Strike-One, our sensor readings are picking up a whole lot of activity from inside the hold of that ship." No, Bradford, really?

"No shit! They're starting to come out of the whale!" Vee answers. Damn it!

"I think you're about to have a lot of company headed your way, but nothing you've got on-hand is going to be enough for this one. What we need is an airstrike... if you can reactivate that ship's transponder, we can have air support pinpoint your location."

I cut in. "Bradford, what are you talking about? Use Vee's current GPS coordinates and just keep those frozen while we get out!"

"I'm on video with the Council right now! They want the transponder on before they can authorize an airstrike. The JDAMs need something to lock onto." That makes no fucking sense.

"Okay." Transponder. Fuck, I've installed a bunch, I've helped build some. "Kip, the transponder is usually on the bridge, all the way back. It should already be on, it's like a ship's black box, so look for the only thing that's still on. There will be an IP address or a radio callsign on a label. Just tell us that."

"Are you sure it's going to be on? The suit's fingers are too big to use a keyboard, I can jumpjet up there!"

She's got a point. "Okay! Vee, rocket jump! Kip, get back here! Everyone, explosives free!"

Vee sprints past the carcass, giving everyone watching through the shoulder camera a glimpse of a Lovecraftian nightmare. "Okay, here it is!"

"Everyone else, make noise!"

"YOO HOO! HerbieS! COME AND GET US! IGNORE THE CANNED MEAT!"

Kip grapples back on top of the warehouse -- two Herbies follow, and are brought down in a hail of laser fire. Damn, wish we had ballistics -- noise is good here. Through the loading hatches, we see one of the zombified sailors twitch before 'hatching' into a shiny new Herbie; more come out of the eggs inside the whale carcass.

"Okay, there's a little screen with an IP address!" Vee quickly reads it to Bradford, who tells the bridge crew to get the coordinates off that. "The ship's transponder is active and transmitting...you need to get moving Strike-One, that whole place is going up in a matter of minutes and anyone left behind is as good as dead."

"Arright! Spiderman Time! Vee, run!"

Kite calmly drops to one knee. "No, I have to cover Vee. Everyone else, use your grapples to get back, but keep shooting - I want a fighting retreat." It's her call, but to be honest, this time I'd rather turn tail and run. Herbies are bigger than me. Maybe I should've taken the MEC option when it was offered...

We cover Vee as she runs on the ship's deck until the pier next to it goes from wood to concrete, and then jumps. Two Herbies are blocking her path - Kite shoots one as it charges, blowing a leg off, but it's still standing. Kite fires again; Vee runs past the other, and turns to shoot at it. The whale-grown Herbie takes a full railgun shot to the thorax and keeps coming.

Save for Kite and Vee, we all grapple back to the farthest fishmonger stall -- Lily and Jonny take out one of the bugs as it chases Vee into our line of fire. "I'm coming through, cover me as I redeploy!" Kite calls. That means clear the grappleable spots.

We see more movement inside the ship's hull -- the swarm is waking up. The grapple-and-shoot strategy seems to be working, but I cannot in conscience ask Bradford for more time.

"Strike-One, that airstrike is closing on your position. You need to get to the EVAC point before it's too late."

Kite misses the grapple and drops down from the warehouse -- she's okay. Rather than trying again, she runs towards the office building and skids under the nearest stall to it. "Keep Vee covered!"

Lily, Kip and Jonny do - I lagged behind, and can only run after them on top of the stalls.

We hear the roars, but we're staying ahead of the Herbies. Other than Vee, we're all on the office roof -- the Skyranger is almost ready to pick us up and dust off. Kite breaks a flagpole, using it as a bipod.

We keep encouraging each other. Get moving! Grapple! Keep aim! I've never worked this well with a team - the fact that we're all scared shitless of ending up between a swarm of Herbies and a napalm strike.

I hear splashing; so does Lily. A Herbie pops out of one of the smaller boats to our right; I shoot at it, Kite finishes it.

"Big Sky here, I'm almost ready to pick you up!" Vee runs past the office building and helps lower the Skyranger's ramp. "Run?" "Run!"

We jump off the roof and pretty much pile in. The Skyranger takes off and we're rudely told by some Air Force fighter-bomber jock to clear the airspace -- we get to watch the fireworks as a swarm of Herbies hot on our trail get incinerated, along with pretty much the whole of the town.

We're all laughing hysterically, high fiving. Vee wriggles herself free of the MEC suit and does a victory dance on the fuselage's floor. We've made it. None of my friends got hurt. I discreetly take off the caffeine skin patch Dr. Vahlen gave me before the mission, and let myself fall into a stupor.

On the way back, I half-hear Vahlen sending congratulations. Kite gently tells me that see, it's not necessary to rush out and headbutt orks in the face to get the job done. We'll have to add grapple usage to our doctrine file. Wait. There's something I'm missing.... The town was too clean, especially the office and the ship. Looks like someone had just moved in.

"Headmaster? I have a message from the Council. I quote: We've got a hint of how at least one of the aliens would transform the Earth, if given the chance. We'll have to assess future risk to the world's oceans from the Herbie reproductive processes the squad witnessed. Despite your failure to document this episode properly, the threat appears to be over, for now. Good work, Headmaster. Please be ready to surrender your weapons upon landing."

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Page last modified on March 01, 2015, at 10:08 PM