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"You were instructed to be ready to surrender your weapons upon landing."

By now, it is probably a surprise to no one that attempting to forcibly disarm Kite leads to at the very least a black eye, but at least current Xcom medical technology means that only takes an hour or two to heal. I mouth to the security officer to try and be polite, we've just come back from... well, giant lovecraftian nightmares, for one. He seems to ignore me, and I realize how little authority I actually have over anyone outside of the people I'm learning with and, maybe, engineering. Kite answers before I can.

"And I'm now instructing you to take those orders and shove it. We've already had one coup in this anthill, I don't care who's visiting, we are expected to be ready to fight on a moment's notice anywhere in the world, making a few stuffed shirts with extra pips feel safe means fuck all compared to affecting our ability to improve -actual- safety for everyone else."

As much as it's sometimes fun to watch her go ballistic, I decide to step in. "Kite, you're scheduled to start psi-testing in two hours, so you need to be in medical getting a physical in the next ten minutes." She'll always obey orders from people she counts as 'authority given' rather than 'authority taken,' and de-escalation is important. How, exactly, I got into the former category I'm not sure, but I try not to abuse it.

Kite mulls over it for a few moments before grudgingly handing over her gun, to me, which I then hand to the person who's waiting to collect them for lockup. Handing it to someone she trusts, to make the decision about what to do with it from there. "If I have to start stabbing people to get that back in a week and a half, I will be even more pissed off if someone's fucked up my tuning of the sights." Of course, there's that, too. Sometimes I wonder what it'd be like to be perfectly willing to hit someone as soon as being convinced they deserve it. Eh, probably best if I leave that to the expert.

(As written by Kite Winters)

Vee drops the 150-kilogram "railgun" on the security officer's feet, prompting Kip to be the only sane man as usual, and taking over the collecting. Rather than wriggling free of the armor and demanding to be taken to the sauna, she stomps off towards Engineering. So, what's going on is that some military and intelligence officers from all the Council nations are here to, formally, unveil XCOM to the world -- as an elite alien-fighting corps, not a training facility -- and, informally, see what to keep and what to change from my administration. Turns out that disarming everyone except for the VIP's bodyguards is standard protocol in these cases.

(some stuff happens)

The Hyperwave Relay came alive, showing a UFO hovering above Washington State -- one that we could not detect previously. As best as we could translate the output of the alien device, the UFO's designation is "foreman", "overseer", or even "priest".

We watched as our interceptors went after it - the one intact UFO we have is being reverse engineered as thoroughly as we dare, and while Dr. Shen is confident that we can build better interceptors out of the many wrecks we have in storage, it didn't seem prudent to try and take it out both from a practical and a political perspective. The new UFO is flitting about at the edge of the atmosphere in a quasi-orbit that would cost all the rocket fuel in the world to maintain even for an hour.

We watch as our interceptors try to catch the UFO, and fail miserably. We'll need something better; just to appease Murphy's Law, the science team hands over the design documents from the reverse-engineered UFO to Dr. Shen's group just as we watch our last interceptor fire one more missile and then turn around for a glide landing.


This X-ALT cell is in Ukraine - well, debatably, since we're going to Donetsk and if I ask three people whether that's in Ukraine or Russia I'm going to get four different answers. The alien terror and consequent worldwide yanking of the security chain has at least caused the region to be safer to live in, however they end up solving their separatism issue. What's interesting is that thanks to this, X-ALT have been caught with their pants down - they were making plans to become a player there, selling laser weapons to both sides, and having to maintain two parallel communication networks in order to not give the doublecross away allowed our agent to tap the point of contact. We have a decent chance of figuring out who is calling the shots and whether they are alien collaborators or just scavengers.

Naturally, not being able to send out experienced troopers is a problem -- however, the auditors insisted that this mission be completed using what we've written to be standard doctrine -- it's a test, of sorts, although why we're testing this against X-ALT rather than actual aliens is beyond my understanding; I guess they just jumped on the first available incident. At least the rookies won't have to face whoever was in the "overseer" UFO... Four soldiers, two SHIVs, and the "production model" laser rifles that do not use alien technology.

The squad lands near a construction site - looks like X-ALT was planning to set up a proper base of operation here. The plan is simple: now that they have been tipped off about having been infiltrated, we have to prevent them from blowing up their bridge router for as long as possible. Bradford is sure that both Ukrainian and Novirossiyan militias are converging on this position to try and take any stockpile of laser weapons that may have been brought in.

The router itself is in one of the porta-buildings, so the plan is simply to use the steel container's bullet resistance and defend it until it's time to high-tail it to the Skyranger; the SHIVs will be put in patrol mode and circle the building. Attending are Andrei Semyenov, who has done covert ops for us before, and rookies Douglas, Cho, Nakagawa, and Irina Dobrynina. The latter is a local, and whichever army gets here first, it's pretty much guaranteed that her or Andrei will be given a hard time. The solution to that is simply to wait for the auditors' call that the mission is over -- unlike us, they have clearance about conventional army movements -- toss everyone and everything into the Skyranger, and hit the jumpjets.

The operatives run to join Andrei inside the construction site's administration building, while the two tracked robots are sent out to patrol it. Cho asks permission to snipe from the roof, noting that current doctrine is to avoid medium range engagements. Bradford facepalms. "Guys, you're fighting humans, not aliens! You're trained for this! Head down unless you see heavy weapons."

All we can do is watch impotently while the auditors go over previous revisions of our doctrine files. They're mostly asking questions of Kip, being that he's the only one of us with half a clue about conventional warfare that wasn't learned from board games. I want to scream "THIS IS STUPID" to the entire world, but I'm reminded that doing so even within the control room would make everyone look bad. The SHIVs enter patrol mode and start doing clockwise rounds around the administration shack.

X-ALT agents show up, swarming the Toughbook that Andrei left out in the open as a decoy. "One of them's got a rocket launcher!" he calls. Well, that's what our goat sized laser tanks are there for. The X-ALT agents are all clustered near the main construction area, a pit that was dug to lay down foundations for a proper building. If we had a rocket launcher ourselves... "Targets of opportunity! Grenades free!" Andrei calls.

Douglas and Cho run out, take cover behind a bunch of cement mix bags, and throw two of our ersatz alien grenades at the X-ALT agents taking cover behind the excavator and cement mixer truck. The vehicles start burning -- hopefully the fuel tanks will blow up in their faces. Everyone else takes cover, ready to return fire; Andrey gets to a corner of the building and breaks a window. There's a cell phone tower outside; with luck the DRM trick is still in place. Bradford explains to an impassible auditor what that is, and is asked about whether the laser weapon designs have that incorporated. Of course not, it's point and click.

The two SHIVs manage to pin down one X-ALT agent with a sniper rifle, but although we see coherent light sear his clothes, he keeps trying to get a firing solution. Another agent fiddles with the decoy laptop.

"GRENADE!" The X-ALT agent with the rocket launcher throws a grenade at Cho and Douglas -- the first takes it in the chest: instant death -- hopefully painless. Our squad scatters behind cover, half of them in blind panic. All around, the construction vehicles finish blowing up, killing a couple of agents outright. So much for a model operation, this looks like a Michael Bay flick...

No. Not a movie. One of our guys died. Jin Cho, from Seoul. I barely knew the guy - he was extremely professional, wanting to get back to his country as soon as possible, and help defend it whether it be from Northerners or aliens. And now he's dead because someone wanted a damn demo.

I watch our squad scatter - the SHIVs take up the slack, one of them going into roaming mode specifically to attract fire, the other finishing the sniper. Semyenov and Douglas are in the middle of a panic attack from the sheer sensory overload; so much for turning off X-ALT's guns for now. The damaged SHIV is driven behind cover to adjust its adaptive armor, while the other one is driven in the middle of the pit and set to sentry mode -- we're likely to lose at least one SHIV, but silicon is infinitely cheaper than blood. The new XCOM will be heavily mechanized; the mark-one SHIVs are a lot less tough, but can be built by the hundred since they use no alien material. Heh. Robots Everywhere. We already got calls from South America about using them for riot control... who's going to keep the keys for these things?

Irina patches up Douglas, the collagen mesh gluing her under-armor to her skin. We explain to the auditors that this is normal, and will need proper surgery later.

The X-ALT agents unload on the exposed SHIV, but don't quite manage to blow it up -- one of them finally figures out that the laptop in the pit was a decoy. "Get in there!" he yells, pointing at the building where the team is barricaded in. To everyone's surprise, two of the agents do just that -- one gets on the roof, and the other just up and runs the gauntlet, coming in from the front door. Has everyone gone nuts?

Andrei gets it together enough to get to the ersatz cell phone tower and reset it. "They're vulnerable! Fire at will!" The squad does. The SHIV that was put into cover has a good shot at the X-ALT agent that climbed on the roof, and after a second of laser barbecue -- we see Meld-yellow light come out of the guy, and some of his wounds close. Straight out of Doctor Who. "How are they doing that?" Dr. Vahlen hypothesizes Meld put into "repair mode" by pheromones; the auditors take notes. She primly informs the little bald man that while we do have retroviral capability, I've put a veto on it until we can be sure that it doesn't let aliens control our biology. I can almost read the note of demerit from here.

Semyenov jumps back inside the building, which offers less and less protection as its walls get perforated; the sacrificial SHIV rushes out of the pit and slams itself into a X-ALT agent while opening fire, while the other robot finishes off the "regenerating" agent. Everyone else is told to stay put and stay on guard. Now I'm hoping that either army gets here quickly...

Now it's a lot quieter. Nakagawa gets on the roof, hoping to gain a vantage point. "Keep the way back to the Skyranger clear!" Bradford calls.

Just as he says it, a X-ALT agent comes in from the back, out of nowhere, and melts Irina's armor onto her skin. She screams. She looks at the Skyranger, and starts making a run for it. Literally fuming, she kicks him on the ground and burns his eyes out with a single pass of her laser rifle. I'm about to call for abort, but Bradford says that the Ukrainian army is coming in and this should be the last wave of X-ALT troops. Coming from the side of the Skyranger, one of them vaults on top of what's left of the building roof. We've only seen Slendermen do this until now.

The SHIV that crossed the pit manages to catch one of the stragglers and finish him off -- the remaining four agents however are closing in on our team, and they're all carrying heavy weapons. Nakagawa gets the one that jumped up the roof in the arm, but the large man seems undaunted. The second SHIV returns to patrol mode, and manages to soak fire from the heavy lasers before parking itself in front of the agent who burst in the front door and shooting at it. The man doesn't go down - Andrei takes care of it, but at the cost of exposing himself.

Having been pushed off the roof, the X-ALT agent with the rocket launcher makes a mad dash for the router, to turn it off -- Irina is too weak to prevent him from shouldering past her.

"GRENADE!" The agent that Andrei was pinning down throws an alien grenade, same as ours, at the router -- he misses, but kills Irina and manages to severely wound his comrade! Are these people nuts? The man who took a laser rifle to the face and a grenade in the back roars at the sky, glowing yellow exuding from his wounds.

Andrei returns the roar and throws his grenade, finally taking down the berserked X-ALT agent and once again barely missing the router - the agent who did manage to reach the device takes the shockwave literally with a shrug. "SHIVs, converge to objective!" One of the robot makes a mad dash into the pit; the other parks itself near the router, looks completely stupid for a moment, and then burns a fist-sized hole into the only hostile it can see. There's one left.

"Douglas! Nakagawa! Close assault, NOW!" Dammit, dammit, dammit, I should be following that order, not giving it. To their credit, they obey.

Nakagawa misses. With an incredible adrenaline surge, the wounded remaining X-ALT agent pushes both of our operatives off, and rushes to try and blow up the router...

... landing right under the SHIV's sensors.

"Excellent job, Officer Bradford. I think we are going to go ahead and recommend the heavy mechanization variant. Proceed to transmit SHIV design files to approved contractors." The auditors inform me that they consider our performance "good, but not excellent." Two of our people died! They're dead! They're not getting up! Apparently losing half the squad is "good enough" now? Was that what I was supposed to be doing the whole time?

At least, it has been made clear to the auditors that the MEC program is not a third Robocop remake - Irina and Jin will rest in peace. Given the inhuman abilities that X-ALT agents have displayed recently, there is no discussion about making sure they get the appropriate medals and posthumous citations for having fallen in action against the aliens; Bradford quickly takes care of that. I don't get why it makes a difference, but to some of our people it does -- so I don't have to get it, just respect it.

Inertia Labs is not on the list of approved contractors for the mass produced SHIVs. The auditors coldly thank us for the demonstration -- one of them has been chatting up Dr. Vahlen about the possibility of using Meld for biological implants after my tenure is over.

I get one of the notebooks and start writing down two apologies to two families. It's hard to not just send off the same letter twice. I'd get away with it. Which is why I can't do it.

Much to my surprise, we have confirmation that the X-ALT headquarter is not in South America, where I half expected it to be. Guess that those unsavory arms dealers are just unsavory arms dealers after all... second suspicion is that X-ALT is a Canadian operation. Could Riley and Stephen.... no, right?

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