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The good news is that we're in reasonable shape, for having been suffered a base incursion - it will be a week until power is back up fully, but all it means is that we will have to keep using the emergency lights and won't be able to use the Foundry. Not that we could do much with it anyway; the Council has redistributed most of our elerium and alloy reserves to its member nations. In theory, the order to stand down has never been countermanded; Bradford lets me know that this gives the Council an excuse to shut us down for real without warning.

I don't know how Dr. Vahlen talked the Council into not forcing us to share Meld; I suspect that they're as worried about the stuff as we are.

The flying boat comes back with some supplies and five new recruits - unlike the previous batch, these have been picked by our previous graduates, rather than by their governments. This means that they already have some idea of what they're facing. Vee's armor is still being worked on, but all four of our SHIVs -- THOR was given combat honors by taking the wreck apart and putting what was still good to use immediately, given the battle damage to our facility -- are back in action. So am I.

Dr. Vahlen was unable to do much with what's left of the lich's corpse other than confirm that the thing was ancient, but she did manage to complete an autopsy over the berserker -- it's essentally an ork that has been pumped full of steroids and given what looks suspiciously like Freddy Krueger's gauntlet to play with. From comparative analysis, we discover that the orks' implants actually improve their ability to perform complex tasks, and they include the removal of a gland that produces extreme amounts of testosterone at the minimum provocation; the berserker lacks the former and still features the latter. She reminds me that the Council would like to see some of this biological research be put to use.

Dr. Shen points out that Vee is bigger and has a nastier punch. True, but we've got only one of her... Of course, we could also produce more MEC troopers as soon as the Foundry is back to full powered. I'll have to make a decision - all that Meld swirling in the storage area makes me nervous.

We are left blissfully alone for a couple of days of repairs until another UFO managed to slip past our satellites and interceptors, landing in Baja California; the hyperwave antenna picks up communications to and from it, and that's how we catch it -- we'd need more than one of the damn things to triangulate from where, assuming the transmissions are even coming from "real" space. It's an abductor, and it's setting up to "harvest" live specimens!

And that's where the problems start. Bradford shows me a piece of paper called DOCTRINE REVIEW, faxed (we have a fax?) from the Council. It says that our doctrine file is incomplete or ambiguous, and mandates an experimental review. Mandates? I'm about to answer that this isn't Dwarf Fortress, but the noise of the people shoring up caverns and corridors in order to fix up our huge underground complex after we barely survived the siege of a vile force of darkness prevents me. Apparently the next missions must test various prongs of our doctrine; the heavy weapons approach, the mechanized approach, and the one-two punch of close combat fighters and snipers approach.

"Headmaster, I recommend that we play along. Officially, we're still due to be disbanded. Besides, this is legitimate research, not some whim, for once."

"Officially we don't exist."

"I mean..." Yeah, I know what you mean, Bradford. Like often, you're right, we'll have to go with it.

I'm sending Jonny and Lily out on this one, with Sutherland, King, Douglas and Nakagawa. They're all heavy troopers; according to the hyperwave decoder, we're looking at a crew of mostly orks and berserkers. Handily, we're forewarned of the presence of yarnalls. Kite is still in psi-testing, so we're going to out-brawn them and send heavy troopers out. We could use salvaging more from the UFOs that land, but filling the abductor ship with rockets before it can get started seems to be the best way to limit civilian casualties.

By the way, it looks like that the XCOM Academy unveiling simply didn't happen, as far as the news are concerned - we get the BBC on shortwave, and not even there anything was said. The blogs are all over the place, but so far all the pictures I can recognize our base in ended up on the sort of site where they're next to blurry driftwood and Lochness Monster captions with five exclamation points.


A field of the kind that could be anywhere between Nebraska and the Central Valley; our team gets there during the day. The UFO has landed in a deserted area -- the nearest farm is two miles away. Did the aliens want to go cow-tipping? The plan is simple; as much as we want to rebuild our caches of alien materials, this is an abductor UFO: our heavy troopers are here to play wrecking crew, pure and simple.

The Sky Ranger touches down next to the massive abductor ship and we quickly find that yes, the aliens have been chopping up cows; the smell of rotten meat is at odds with the fact that this has clearly only just happened, but matches previous instances - something near the aliens causes fast decomposition. Is that how Meld or other nanotechnology "eats"? Are the Vashta Nerada real?

Either way, the squad's arrival interrupted the aliens mid-cattle-mutilation; a number of stasis tanks are strewn outside of the UFO's loading ramp. Lily and Jonny motion to use those for cover, and the rest of the squad follows suit; it looks like the aliens have retreated inside the craft.

The first enemy contacts are sectoids - a sorcerer and a MEC. Seeing Jonny advance, to everyone's surprise they hide behind a bulkhead. "Rockets!" While the MEC is imposing, carapace armor can take one or two hits from it - eliminating the sorcerer is a priority. Unfortunately, my friends can't deploy their rocket without stepping out of cover and the students charge forward rather than bracing for firing.

The MEC runs forward, and is blown apart by an impressive light show as soon as it leaves the safety of the bulkhead - the sorcerer however takes this as its cue to also step into the open while everyone else is busy with the larger target. Sutherland got the kill.

"Get out of my head!" Jonny has been mind-controlled! We now know that "mind control" is a misnomer; what the sectoid sorcerers are doing is, essentially, puppeteering, taking over the primary muscles of their victim. Jonny is still looking out from behind his eyes.

"Rush the bastard!" Lily calls out, and Emily King follows suit immediately - the two take out the sorcerer, compensating for poor aim with volume. The squad is exposed now, but Jonny is back in control of his body; he slumps against the empty stasis tank, but gives a thumb up.

"Sutherland, close that Meld canister" Jonny says, pointing westward. "Everyone else, get back into cover." The words are belabored, but loud and clear, and let everyone know that he's back on Team Good Guys.

As the squad redeploys behind the opposite side of the bulkhead our only contacts hid against, we hear two sinister "thunks" of the sort that yarnalls make when they collapse, but much louder - what could that be?

The plan is to keep moving through the loading area, to the storage room, to crew quarters and then to the bridge, then hit the engine rooms at the sides last; we're not worried about recovering this particular UFO, but from what we know of abductor ships it's the safest way to cover enough of the ship that the aliens will come for us. Best not to have a firefight next to an Elerium reactor.

One problem with a squad of heavy troopers is that it takes longer to reposition; Nakagawa reports hearing a roar and mechanical noises. If the aliens decide to take off, we're in trouble... It's entirely possible that we already took out the captain and its bodyguard, though.

Lily calls advance up the central ramp. Running up after everyone else but Sutherland, Douglas suddenly calls a halt. "Yarnalls!" Two blurs in the left cargo compartment confirm her words. "Everyone, stop and watch out for movement!" The squad is very bunched up on the ramp - one ork with a grenade would make a mess.

One of the forcefield opens - the yarnalls are outside the ship, probably getting ready to reenter it through the central ramp. But they're nowhere. "Spread out!" Jonny calls.

The squad fans out into the central room, where "harvesting" is performed -- all the stasis tanks and the operating table are empty, much to everyone's relief. The squad will keep moving until it reaches the bridge. For now, no enemy contact. Are they setting up the ship to leave? Preparing to blow the reactors? That's possible. "Lily, peek out to the left engine."

"Clear! There's the second Meld canister."

"Might as well lock it up. Where are they?" Jonny reminds everyone to be cautious; the plan was to go in guns blazing, but... Perhaps they did hit the captain and the other aliens aren't sure what to do, but in that case, where are they? Even just having the yarnalls wander off would be a problem, although I think that the locals are only marginally less well-armed than we are.

Lily shuts the Meld canister, and gets back into the surgery room; the bridge is just ahead. The squad gets behind the sides of the energy door and prepares to breach; Lily and Jonny will go in first, as they are the most experienced. I've heard recommendation that dedicated scouts be used for breaching, but that strikes me as too close to "forlorn hope" soldiers, as a logic - best to send in veterans who know what to expect and have thick armor instead.

Lily runs in, and - THREE sorcerers! Taken by surprise, the psionic creatures hide behind a bulkhead, huddling and trying to regain their concentration. "GRENADES! NOW!" Lily calls.

So much for not wrecking the UFO, but three sorcerers in the same spot is worrying. We already know Sectoids can cooperate telepathically; there's no telling what these could do.

"Catch!" Jonny is the first to run in, slinging a grenade at the critters and blowing up a control console enough that two of them have no cover.

Sutherland is the next to run in. The alien grenade finishes the job on the navigation system, but the three creatures are still standing - the squad is out of grenades, having opted for under-armor. "Light them up!" Jonny calls.

To our surprise, Lily pulls out her arc thrower and tries to tase one of the sorcerer - the creature, even wounded, shrugs it off as its eyes flash purple and we register a burst of static. Douglas and Nakagawa burn it and the one next to it to cinders. King is the last to run in - and misses her target.

The surviving sorcerer points a bony finger at Lily! Hesitantly, we hear her say "it's nothing" after shaking her head. Did the mind control fail?

Emily runs forward and takes another shot; we see Lily collapse for a split second. She confirms that the words out of her mouth weren't of her volition. Are the sorcerers learning how to speak? Or just that one? We won't know much from the autopsy; getting more captives may be important. The bridge is clear, although there's a big hole in the side of the ship.

Jonny is the first to look through the impromptu window; sure enough, there are trees, and there's something moving in them. "We'll have to jump down. Careful where you step on the structure, we don't know if there's any live power conduits."

Sure enough, a berserker and its ork handler are right outside, climbing back onto the ship from where the second Meld canister is! Jonny quickly climbs back up - the berserker cjumps back down, but isn't nimble enough to follow.

Douglas and Sutherland try to take a shot at the handler, but the latter manages to destroy another wall section and the former has to hide since this left her exposed. "Let them come in, they'll have to use the bridge door" Jonny calls. "I got a shot!" Nakagawa answers. "Take it."

The rocket flies a short distance and blows right in the berserker's face -- the big ork growls and runs forward. Behind it, we see the remains of a yarnall, probably caught in the explosion. "Let it come in, then paste it!" Berserkers seem to be completely uncaring of pain; they will charge straight at whatever hit them last. This makes them much less of a threat for a full squad.

Sutherland is being fired at by the handler ork, but takes a second shot using the smoke from the first, just as the second yarnall reveals itself - another big hole in the ship's port side, a hail of shrapnel hitting the two orks.

The berserker comes in, and Lily fires her shredder rocket right in its stomach, splitting the brute in two. When the handler ork and the yarnall come in, Jonny and Douglas take them out without flinching.

"Bridge and surgery room clear, no friendly casualties. Central, is there any movement around us?"

"American national guard convoy closing in - I'm guessing they're going to secure the perimeter for you". And take the UFO, I bet.

"Roger that. We're going to hold the fort until they get here."

A successful mission, and nobody got so much as a scratch. We just need to confirm that this UFO is empty. Sounds too good to be true...

"Wait, what was that sound?" Douglas calls. Everyone freezes for a moment.

Sutherland confirms - there's still something out there. "Strike-One, be warned, if the regular troops finish the job for you, there's a good chance that they will try to lay claim to the UFO." Bradford notes. Apparently lawyers and diplomats have been busy; there are already UFO salvage rules. This tells me that regular troops have enjoyed some success... and that we haven't been notified of it.

"Right boys and girls, you heard the man, we'll have to do a ring round the ship." With the big gash on the side, the UFO isn't going anywhere anyway.

Lily takes point. Sure enough, there are three orks outside - they're startled by the squad coming out in force, until one of them growls and, I swear, lets a really loud one rip. The other two halt their retreat, and shoot - Sutherland is hit, although the armor took most of it.

Douglas and Lily fire their rockets, taking out one of the orks and the boulder that they were hiding behind; Nakagawa runs forward to patch up Sutherland. Douglas takes an aimed shot and, to our surprise, takes the second ork out.

King exposes herself, and is shot in the chest - she can stand up, but the squad had to use all remaining medkits to patch her up; however, this allows Nakagawa to get to the last ork's side and take care of him.

"Was that it?"

"We think so - finish the round, though."

Jonny motions towards the front of the ship, and the squad advances; Emily King will have to stay back. Jonny is the only one with any rockets left, so he'll have to lead from behind.

"Huh, almost hit a tractor there" Jonny notes when walking past the craft's prow. The squad marches forward.

An ork comes out of nowhere, from inside a cranny in the ship's exterior! It jumps Jonny, and unloads a frenzy of plasma bullets into him. Lily and Douglas pry it off him, and quickly end it. Jonny collapses; Lily kneels next to him.

"He's alive, but barely. Anyone got a medikit left?"

Five minutes later, Jonny has been stabilized by US National Guard medics; their commander is having a shouting match with Bradford, via the Skyranger's radio, over whether this consisted of a "relief" or a "rescue", which apparently determines who the UFO salvage belongs to. Eventually, some admiralty court person is called, and an agreement is reached; the US military keeps the majority of the UFO while we keep the powerplants and other components.

All I know is that we've got two casualties due to simple carelessness after what would've been a flawless mission otherwise. I tell Dr. Shen to get the Meld ready; Jonny is coming home in at least three pieces. He'll make the trip home sedated, but we'll have to pump him full of stimulants so he can decide whether to get the MEC treatment or let the chips fall where they may.

"Headmaster, there's another option" Dr. Vahlen notes. Has she ever taken the yarnall corset off since the base attack? She's bothering to cover it with her labcoat less and less lately. "Mostly thanks to the experience collected in tending to your injuries, we should be able to restore Mr. Flames to full function without the use of cybernetics. In addition, the Council has taken the uncharacteristic step of being sensible for once, and issued a strong recommendation that we investigate bio-augmentations as well..."

"Dr. Vahlen, are you talking about grafting alien organs into our soldiers?"

"Vell, not exactly. Let me show you our genetics lab - you never quite got a tour of the facilities while not on the brink of death, have you?"

"I'm more familiar with Dr. Shen's work, I'm trained as an engineer after all. Lead on."

"Excellent, follow me." Vahlen turns and winks theatrically at Bradford. "Don't worry, I'm sure I've hid the toys." Bradford giving the deer-in-headlights stare is a disconcerning sight; he just gave a dressing down to a US Colonel for crying out loud!

As for the rest - lots of bruises, and King is going to have to do her graduation skit in crutches, but we're back in business.

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Page last modified on January 02, 2015, at 05:21 AM