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Two days. Apparently I'm out of here in two days. There's going to be a ceremony early tomorrow -- I've already been warned, by internal email of all things, that any member of the current team behaving with anything less than military decorum will be replaced by a body double for the event -- and we're going to be given medals, and we're going to be sent home. Despite the "test" mission being a disaster by our standards, and meaning relatively little since it was against enemies that at the very least are still classifiable as humans, we've passed it. XCOM has offically moved past the "startup" phase in which unconventional thinking was required and now it's time for the grown-ups to take over so that things can be scaled up.

Of course, I'm going to delay that - we need another shot at the overseer UFO. Dr. Shen has begun converting two of the older scout UFO wrecks into interceptors; we hid the intact UFO we captured inside a nearby atoll, by the simple expedient of setting it to hover just above the water and getting our South American contacts to hire a number of tugs to finish covering the atoll in trash. Now I owe them, and only have days to deliver... even though my security clearance hasn't been revoked, I'm constantly shadowed by some security contractor or other; even so, I suspect that making one last deal with them will be allowed to slide, if the pattern holds.

The problem is, Dr. Shen needs at least two weeks to finish building the interceptors. I've been allowed to help; either this technology is way past my horizon of complexity, or all the bops in the head I've been getting are starting to catch up to me - half of what I'm doing makes no sense to me. At least I can follow the instructions... Even with every man jack of us working on this in semi-secrecy, some amount of delaying tactics will be necessary. I "find" Kite and Kip's consent forms for psi testing, and send them in, along with rookie xxxx xxxx for comparison. Dr. Shen sets a small team to upgrade Vee's rocket-fist and legs, ostensibly with an eye towards mass producing MEC technology. We delete the rota for maintenance duties, and claim we need a proprietary database to make a new one, so we need to do bids, since this organization is going to be a lot bigger. Bradford displays a genuine talent at bureaucratic stalling -- the Council auditors see this as him taking the reins back from me, and seem to be willing to allow a delay.

After watching the pod in the psi-testing chamber close, Bradford turns away from the monitor in the CIC room. "Headmaster, I know we often haven't seen eye-to-eye, but I have to know why you decided that our main drill instructor and one of our best snipers is who you felt best to be the first test subject to be completely, and non-interruptibly, isolated for ten days looking for psi-capability."

Kay grinned, for once Bradford was questioning a decision in a way that could be decisively answered. "I'm supposed to hand over the keys to you in less than a week, remember? Maybe they'll give her a chance to keep fighting here, this way. Besides, I'm reasonably sure she'll test positive."

Bradford stared, "What? How? Where does this information come from?"

"Kite has prior experience combatting multiple forms of mind control, experience acquired before the aliens began their attacks. And with what appeared to be some form of ESP, though this could not be verified...until now."

"But this is important! This...! We could have been testing! Attempting to develop human psychic abilities months ago!"

"Weren't you just arguing we have much better use for her than as a test subject?"

"That was before you were witholding information! I suppose you knew that Vee would be an ideal candidate for MEC conversion, as well?"

"Well, sort of... eh, overall not really, but only because I wasn't aware we were able to do that. Speaking of witholding information, how can I contact your south american friends if I decide we can risk selling them something? I have a contingency plan."

(As written by Kite Winters)

The island is unrecognizable -- they've set up something that looks a lot like a circus tent for the handover ceremony. Barges are being anchored all around to house barracks and eventually to dig through the sea floor to expand the installation far beyond our current means. People in smart uniforms and hats flood the hallways -- even our guys have started wearing actual uniforms in lieu of the XCOM-logo lanital sweater that has become the de facto standard after Bradford was perentoriously told by Dr. Vahlen that she liked the fabric of my socks, and made stuff happen.

I'm almost fit for combat duty again -- the over/under about me going on one last mission before being politely given the boot is about even. One interesting thing is that the big bridge-like room with the hologlobe has been used less and less; with the Hyperwave Relay in place making most of our satellite network redundant, and the new XCOM organization being under direct UN Security Council control, the place has simply seen less use.

Dark and cold. Slowly warming from body heat and computer heat. The only sounds the soft whirr of the fans that would make sure that it didn't get too warm, the rythmic click of the respirator. Usually being strapped down in a claustrophopicly small container would be a good thing in Kite's estimation. But usually, said container wasn't designed to perform 'minimally invasive procedures' all along the occupant's spine and skull pending the results of tests it was going to perform. That rather put a damper on any potential purring the thought 'dolly in a box' could usually incite.

Time stopped having meaning fairly quickly beneath the sense of being invaded, of being pressed on all sides, from within and without. As Kite's mind automatically took to wandering in order to escape it. She tried to resist. If she turned too far inward, she might risk wasting this. To think this, of all things, might finally settle the debate. Alien goddamned invaders.

She hadn't exactly tried to win the debate. "I don't want to believe in it, but shit keeps happening that I don't have answers for" is hardly the most persuasive of arguments, anyway. What was the machine even looking for as test parameters? The aliens' psi seemed to work by line of sight, or communication signals amplified by elerium. What would she be out the other end if this worked? It was fine and dandy to say psi was projection of thought, humans have human thoughts, aliens have alien thoughts. Fine to say that the grey matter had structural similarities between Sectoids and humans. How similar is similar? Second thoughts began to creep in. Ultimately, in getting into this machine meant consenting to have her skull opened up by a machine using alien technology, and designed by Vahlen.

How long it had been, how much of her ten day internment had passed, and how much remained, Kite did not know. What she did know, shortly after she heard the sounds of the machinery begin to shift as the only warning before it began to cut into the naked flesh of her back, was that this had better mean she was going to be able to melt somebody's brain out their ears.

(As written by Kite Winters)

I watch Bradford pistol-whip the bridge officer into unconsciousness, the vacant look brought on by mind control gone with his lights. He looks at what's left of our wall of security cameras -- the hologlobe is fried, but the monitors still work -- and takes command. "Multiple breaches right above us! All guests, evacuate to the videoconference room, NOW!" At least there's food and drinks there, heh. Party from hell.

We get out of the hologlobe room, and I grab a rifle. The light hues change from normal to emergency, indicating that our thermo generators took the tremors for an earthquake and turned off. The situation room is packed with workers, journalists and some dignitaries -- fortunately some of the people on ground level made it in. We lost all video; all we know is that the surface of the island was strafed with plasma cannons, but not bombed.

Delta Section comprises the bridge, the main entrance for ground level, and a few loading bays, including the one we hid the intact UFO in.

"Whoever breached our internal security locked down the door systems separating Delta from the rest of the base. Once we get the doors open again, we can start sending reinforcements through, but that might take some time."

"Commander Bradford, what's going on here?" The demand comes from a tall woman who I recognize as a FOX news commentator. "The aliens had mind-controlled some of the guest security crew, they turned off our radar, that's what's going on!" "Is this how you plan to protect us?" Bradford ignores her and climbs on a table, knocking over a pyramid of plexiglas chalices. "LISTEN! You're safe in here. This base has been breached. The air in this room will last 72 hours, by which time it'll be over one way or another. Now, any of you got a gun? Good, that's the only door in and out. DEFEND IT!"

I turn off some powerpoint presentation about the possibility of SHIVs in urban pacification, and find that some of the internal network is still up - "Anyone from engineering? We have to get the internal security cameras on these screens, gimme a hand with it!"

In less than a minute, we have nine low-rez camera screens on the projector and Bradford on the headset. The base blat doors have come shut as intended; the aliens will have to get in floor by floor. Bradford's voice reverberates through the base speakers, all of them.

"Delta section report. Delta! ...Finally! Delta Section - it looks like your emergency generators are back online and... oh shh...! Delta, whatever this attack is, you're right in the crosshairs! We've got perimeter alerts triggering from all sides. It looks like you've got flyers coming in through the cavern near the guard station... Plus you've got a whole wall of heat signatures coming down through the vents in the ceiling above you!"

I don't even want to think about what's going on aboveground - the tremors we keep hearing is the island getting strafed. Is that what the Overseer UFO was doing? Looking for us, the same way we're looking for X-ALT? No, they must've known - the hyperwave relay! Of course, it would have a locator. They were just waiting for a good time to strike, and what better time than a parade?

"Bradford, I'm going in there."

"Headmaster, you don't-"

"As of five minutes ago, I'm retired, remember? You're the captain, this is your crew, keep it safe."

"... Then as commander, I'm ordering you to stay put! You got enough holes in your head already! And you don't even have a gun!"

"Then as myself, I'm telling you I heard, and I disobey! I can get back control of the blast doors, it's either me or Shen who know how to do that with the network controls reset, and the guy's seventy, send him out if I don't make it, okay?"

Bradford hands me the laser pistol he had grabbed, and pulls out his other sidearm, then sits back down at the improvised console. "Whoever breached our internal security locked down the door systems separating you from the rest of the base. Once we get the doors open again, we can start sending reinforcements through, but that might take some time. Engineering, Science, lockdown should be in place. Foundry, I have no working cameras there, sound off if anyone is in the sector..." With maybe a fourth of the cameras patched in, Bradford starts coordinating what risks becoming a siege.

Politicians and reporters demand answers. I have none. I push, and they let me through, slamming the vault door after me and sealing themselves in for the duration. I have to get to the maintenance room above the loading bay and get control of the doors back.


I make my way to the maintenance closet -- there are shadows moving through the corridors, but we just scurry past each other. Must be visitors. May be students caught outside the barracks. May be sectoids exploring. I hear the stomping of the feet of Vee's armor - that's a good thing. The maintenance closet has a terminal, so I get cracking. All hydraulics down, most of the cameras and lights down... Bradford coordinates barricading the barracks and the labs after having told the people there to talk back to him through Morse code by banging on heating pipes - we get our heat from the steam vents, so those go everywhere. Hopefully they're too small for alien critters.

"Delta Section, you have to hold the line! The future of XCOM is counting on you." Anyone else, anywhere else? Corny as hell. Bradford, in a crisis? Uplifting.

Who's in there? Vee, Lily and Jonny. Were they planning something before the attack? I know Jonny wanted to blow the lid off this place, but do it properly... wouldn't surprise me if he was setting up to broadcast. There's a few of our guys, too.

The Hologlobe has come back online for some stupid reason - I can't move power from it to something more useful, not without actually moving some wires, this isn't Star Trek -- and that's the cue for a bug to come crashing through the upper structure! Vee shoots it out. Must've been quite the light show to see it in person. A group of sectoids come down right after the bug is dead, two grey critters having cut the way open for two alien MECs. What can I do from here - Hey, THOR is in the control room! Why'd they get it over here? I can't drive it from here, but I can at least put it in sentry mode.

Bradford calls explosives free. Lily ducks behind a control station to escape the other MEC's gaze, and manages to take out one of the unarmored sectoids; the other is shot by Vedant, one of the security people. I have to admit I only know his name because I saw him fifteen minutes ago. I don't know how my friends got their weapons and armor back -- they must've had some contingency plan on their own, probably made when I was in sick bay -- but it looks like the rest of our personnel only have the obsolete rifles and ballistic vests that were being packed up at the loading bay.

Bradford calls explosives free, but too late - the bridge bunnies have charged the second MEC, to little effect. The thing came down too close, and even THOR misses; three people unloading bullets into it do nothing.

An ork comes out from the loading bay and blows up THOR - just like that, in one shot, slagged. The alien MEC turns just a little and empties its plasma cannons into two of the guards, with pretty much the same result. I feel guilty about feeling more for the 'bot than the guards for a moment... it was my last link with Riley and Stephen. "Kobayashi! Wu! NO! Dammit, we need to get reinforcements in!" I'm working on it, Bradford! Wow. He does know everyone's names...

"They're repositioning on us!" Jonny points at the rear guard station, in the cavern where we were going to build the new hangar. "SORCERER!" Of course. There's going to be mind-controllers out here. Bradford calls out for Vedant and Vee to go after the sorcerer, everyone else take the MEC. Vedant is right above the hypercephalic sectoid, and jumps down. "NADE!" The grenade explodes off to the side, making the telepath wince and barely scratching the paint job on Vee's armor as she stomps through. She carbonizes it - no - wait - it's still moving! "IT'S STILL MOVING!" Maybe I'm close enough that they heard me. Maybe...

They didn't. Jonny and Lily finish off the MEC, while Vee prods the semi-charred sorcerer. A moment later I see her turn around, facing Jonny with a blank stare... "GET THE SORCERER! NOW!"

Jonny runs forward, and throws the last grenade at the telepath, who had crawled off behind a terminal. Vee shakes her head, shivers, and tries to hug herself, banging her armor against itself instead. Vedant and Ogawa try to pin down the ork, but the big guy runs past Lily and gets behind her. Ogawa hits it, the creature letting out a mighty roar that mixes with the background sounds. I can hear gunfire, plasma... no laser capacitors, bad sign...

Lily turns around and finishes the ork. "They're coming from the vents above the loading bay, watch out!" Bradford calls. I'm still trying to get the damn blast doors open.

"We're picking up airborne hostiles moving on the rear guard station. I'm not sure the alien ground forces can reach that area - they may be limited to aerial units." Dammit, they're in a pincer! I gotta get this door open... and hope there are good guys on the other side of it.

Two slow traces... Two wells, two danglies, and some other movement that I hope isn't a yarnall. In the loading bay, I can hear the chittering of bugs.

Lily screams as three of the critters burst through a partition -- she fires into one of them, but it doesn't budge. Okawa brings it down. A sectoid that hid in the upper vents -- shit, he's just a partition away from where I am, too -- fires at Vee. Lily empties her capacitor at the bug, which finally kills it - capacitors! Okay, I can use the load balancing capacitors in this closet to open the blast door. The problem is that if I do, the hydraulic rams will close them again as soon as the caps discharge... basically I'll be turning a blast door into a Galaxy Quest style chomper. It's better than nothing. "Bradford! I can get the door open for a few seconds! Make sure there's someone behind it!" He starts directing the few of our personnel that aren't pinned down towards the blast door. Thank you, man.

"Of course...they had to catch us with our pants down" Kip muttered he drops the now dented bed pan to the floor.

The Slenderman didn't look like it was getting up considering what passed for it's brains being splattered across the floor, but he took a scalpel to it's throat anyway to be sure, staining the hospital gown that was his only protection at the moment.

The Med techs had dragged him down to the med bay for the preliminary testing phase, away from the pomp of the meetings above that where scheduled. Which would have been more torturous could have been debatable, but his Which means he was somewhat under dressed for the situation as it stood now.

And a bit drafty.

But as one of the few troops in the hospital wing that wasn't strapped to a bed for their own health, he'd taken to guarding the injured which what they had on hand.

The medics were making due with bone saws and other pointy things for now while kip went to secure the blast doors to this wing. Which is when he ran into the alien figure now laying in a puddle of it's own fluids. Kip shivered a bit, something from the cold and something more from how exposed he felt with backup, no gun and no pants, but kept moving, grabbing a surgical drill from a cart and heading for the side panel of the blast door.

While he wasn't exactly the rocket scientist level with the rest of the PhD types in the support wing, he was VERY good at breaking things. A few minutes work had the doors secured and the drive systems disabled. Locked in with the injured was the best he could do for now. It would take the techs a while to reopen the doors once they got down here, assuming there were folks alive out there to do so. Ramboing Aliens might make good tv, but he know better then to press his luck much further.

In the mean time he sat on the floor.

With a yelp he stood back up.

"F- that's Cold!"

(As written by Kip Hawley)

Vee walks up to the second bug and uppercuts it to death - neither eye nor camera can see where the third one went. "Take cover! Wells and danglies coming from behind you!"

"DOOR! NOW!" Blanka Zajac -- thank God she didn't leave yet -- and two more guards burst in before the blast door clamps shut again. I should get my ass down there. The capacitor trick should work indefinitely until power completely craps out, if I can just set it on an interval... let's see, what can I make a simple timer out of in here.

"Brown! Hasegawa! Cover me, I'm going around!" Blanka calls out. The guards obey, and start firing at the danglies -- Brown takes one out, and Jonny takes advantage of the movement to take out the other. Vee blows up the sectoid almost as an afterthought; she's steadied herself after the mind control. "Stay in the control room and use the control stations for cover, they're armored!"

"Change of plans! Set up in the corridor between the control room and the loading bay! You should have a clean field of fire there, and there's still some cover." Bradford calls. I shout out what I intend to do, and he agrees - he'll tell me when to run and when to duck in between coordinating the other fire teams. Jonny is the first to get into position, and the tactic pays off -- there was a bug on the floor, and Jonny takes it out before it can climb on the dais leading to the control room. The crew scramble to cover just as the two wells float down from the cave. Unfolding, they spin around majestically - and throw grenades at Vedant and Jonny. The guard takes the brunt of it, Jonny taking cover under a station.... just for the yarnall to come out and strangle him! Gunfire fills the room, bouncing off the robots' armored hides.

Lily doubles back and shoots at the yarnall -- Jonny was about to fire a rocket at the wells, but ends up curled up coughing after Lily frees him. The rocket veers just a little, blowing up their cover. Okawa runs forward and finishes off one of the wells with a grenade.

Vee runs forward, but can't connect with her rocket fist -- she cannot get a clear shot at the second wells, and takes out the drone instead. "Time for some voodoo!" Blanka shouts. She's packing Kip's bandoleer, and it's full of grenades. "Cover me!"

The flying disc catches it, and levitates up. Hasegawa follows Blanka - Brown is having a panic attack. The disc unfolds, takes a shoot at Okawa, and folds again. "He's down!" "Negative, Delta, he's still alive! Anyone got a medikit?"

It takes focused fire from Vee, Lily and Jonny to bring down the second wells - and all the juice in their capacitors. The control room is a disaster, there's little left of the armored control stations. No medikits.

Two orks, one clad in berserker armor. Our guys reload, except for Hakagawa, who is attacked by a wells from nowhere. Jonny flattens himself against the wall as the orks charge him -- Brown got a grip for long enough to throw a grenade at them. The berserker turns and charges the guard, moving far enough for Vee to take a flying leap and break his back with an elbow drop. The other ork takes cover.

Blanka gets the yarnall off Hakagawa's face while Lily takes cover.

I can get the doors open again, if just - NO! Fuck! Dark. Bad blown-PCB smell. The capacitors weren't up to it.

Nobu Sato made it through! I guess Bradford saw my terminal go down, because he tells the Delta team that there are no more reinforcements. The big Japanese guy has a medikit, he runs forward... just in time to see Okawa die.


Nothing more for me to do here, I get out and start stalking the corridor. If I can make it to one of the thermo generators, maybe I can restart it. Heh. It's 106 steps to the elevator, I got a full capacitor on the laser, half a pack of potato chips, it's dark... and I'm wearing protection glasses.

Hit it.

i can't get out. Hear. Feel. Think. These i can do. i hear screaming. i feel pain and blood and death. And i can't help but think that i have failed. Those i was trying to teach, those i was trying to help become the weapons humanity needed against the aliens. They're dying.

They're dying, and i can't save any of them. i can't even move a single fingertip. i can't wiggle a toe. Alien tech is busy intruding into my body, an attempt to make me better at fighting them, better at killing them. And as i lay here, i can't even scream, i can't even cry, as alien tech intrudes throughout the base, intrudes in so many more bodies in much more violent ways. So much blood. So much death. pooling on deckplates and dripping down between the pieces of metal. Delusion and psychosis make me imagine it's dripping through the plates of metal right in front of my face, dripping into my eyes and nose and mouth despite the life-support tubes distending my throat.

Please. Someone survive. Please. Someone come back. Pleasepleasepleaseplease don't leave me trapped in here all alone as the light fades and hope is extinguished. Fight the hurricane. Please.

(As written by Kite Winters)

The fire team repositions - the stratagem works, the field of fire is excellent and there's still some cover left; the aliens have no choice but to try to rush in. "It's like playing Space Invaders!" Brown quips. Three orks, two of which manage to strip away a good chunk of Vee's armor before being blown away. Two bugs, one quickly taken out by a rocket punch, the other sniped by Blanka.

"I don't have visual, but the accelerometers show that the aliens are massing a force in the forward access tunnel, be ready!" Bradford calls. Looks like they noticed, too.

I've made my way down to the thermo generator - there are signs of a fight everywhere, but I must have missed most of it. All I found was a slenderman popping out from the maintenance staircase behind the elevator. It scared the shit out of me -- they can look surprisingly human before they reveal their double joints, it's entirely possible that this one came in with the guests. It hisses. I hiss back and punch it in the face. Again. Again. When I stop punching, my hands are itching from the shot of barf that it almost had ready for me. I clean them on his suit, then toss the body aside. "Come on! Is that all you got? Send me all of them! I'm going to herd them onto a boat and then I'm going to beat the crap out of every single one!" Bradford orders me to calm the fuck down, and hide inside the elevator while he plays panopticon for another rescue team.

"It looks like this is the last of 'em, Delta. We're not picking up any additional contacts - if we can take them out, HQ will be secure."

I get to the generator to find two guys from the engineering and science teams already at work on restarting it - there's a dead sectoid on the ground. I get to helping. Above us, another bug gets out of the vents and manages to run the gauntlet - only to end at Vee's face. The two could've used a third pair of hands, and I'm happy to follow directions. The ventilation system starts to come back online, we hear sighs of relief in the background of Bradford's microphone.

"We detect a wells, an alien MEC, and... another sorcerer? Not sure on that one. I recommend targeting the last one first."

Blanka sees something first. It's not a Sectoid sorcerer - it's a tall figure dressed in a red cape and wearing a helmet. From the camera feed, it looks like it's floating. Blanka reports that it's walking very gingerly on spindly legs, and she's having problems keeping her eyes on it - it's like it doesn't want to be looked at. One of the folk next to me comments that it sounds like a real life SEP field. The creature spreads its arms for a moment, revealing it has four.

"It's as if it's trying to communicate... " Blanka says. "Are you okay? Can you move?" "I'm fine, I'm fine."

"Drone!" Sato calls. He and Near try to take out the little robot, but it dodges and weaves. "Get a good shot at the tall guy!" The hands look like skin and bone.... is it old, malnourished, or am I just anthrophomophizing?

The new alien closes his arms again, and - all of a sudden, Brown starts to froth at the mouth, then collapses in fetal position! Blanka moves to look at him, and.... shoots him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Jonny stands up. "No! You're one of them! You're one of them!" In a panic, he shoots at Blanka.

What's going on? Who's being mind controlled here? "I don't care what's going on, take the new alien down NOW! Grenades, rockets, whatever!" Bradford calls.

Lily, Sato and Vee lob rockets and grenades at the creature, obliterating it - doesn't look like there won't be enough left for an autopsy, even. Jonny is on the floor sobbing. Blanka is heavily wounded, and barely able to stand. The noise in the base has abated - we got the power plant back to work without interruption, but all the blast doors are still closed. Bradford tells everyone that a couple of the guests collapsed when the new alien got blown to bits, and orders the people in the room with him to tie them up.

"I only see wells and drones left -- they're in a search pattern."

The battle is short - the drones plink at Brown until he collapses, critically wounded. The power comes back on just when Vee shoots the last wells to pieces after Jonny plants a shredder rocket into its chassis. Paramedics swarm the scene, taking over from Sato to save Brown's life - he's in a medically induced coma, but will probably make it.

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