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“Look, I need to get back in the field.....being the resident lab rat for the psi division is all well and good, but I'm fine, Fit for service again. Why am I still down here while Kite's back on the firing lines?” Kip explained in a mildly exasperated tone as he leaned back from his meal in the barracks.

Bradford looked over his own dinner and replied sternly “Kite's back in the field because of the two of you, you ARE less likely to try to explode the skull of the next med tech that pokes you with a needle. Get used to it.”

“Sir” Kip's Voice took on an edge “In the last week, on no less then 3 occasions your Argentinean friends picking up samples have 'gotten lost' and came poking around. One of them even managed to bumble into my bunk and tried to pick a fight, with Rum on his collar but not on his breath. I'm damned sure they know about the psi testing, and are trying to provoke a response to see what we're capable of.”

“That's a matter of base security, we'll deal wi-”

“No need...already dealt with it Sir. We've got enough trouble with this war with the E.T.'s I didn't want to bother you with it. The real problem is that win or lose, anyone that's been through the Psi program is going to be a target for exploitation one way or another. Don't need to be a Psychic to see the writing on the wall. We'd be a resource, a tool. Walking Weapons and Boogymen”

The Trooper took a calming breath, and his next words came out flat.

“We need to set an example here and now. A Statement. We are People... Soldiers...Human Beings...Modified or not, and not playthings for the powers that be. Human or Alien. They want to know what we can do, well we can do that in the field.”

“So what's your intent? To earn their respect on the battlefield, or terrify them with a show of force?”

Kip Laughed out loud at that.

“Leave that to the Spin Doctors, maybe Johnny can work out some press release for the gene and psi modded crowd. That isn't my bag Sir”

“Then what are you trying to show them?”

“That friend or foe, loved or hated, we're to at least be one thing. Respected”

“You aren't going to let this go are you?”

“No Sir.”

  • sigh * “And here I thought you were one of the reasonable ones...”

“Oh I'm quite reasonable, Kite would have had that Argentinian picking his brain off the floor with a soup ladle...”

“What did you do trooper?”

“Tased him and handed him off to the good doctor Vahlen . I think he's cuffed in with the crates of sectoid samples they took home when they left. That reminds me, I was meaning ask just where did she get those fuzzy hand cuffs from? They aren't regulation”

“....That will be all for now trooper, Dismissed”

(As written by Kip Hawley)

"Do we tell the Headmaster?"

"Dr. Vahlen, I am troubled by the fact that we've had to ask this question a lot lately. I mean, as to who's nominally in charge..."

"... I think that went out of the window a while ago, besides, you're nominally in charge now, right? The point is - these are human beings. Do we tell our warriors?"


"Bradford, a soldier is one who fights as part of an organized land-based armed forces. We're not land based, everyone is trying like hell to pretend we're not armed forces, and you complain to me three times a day that we're anything but organized. I agree with the Headmaster here: what we got here are good people, good warriors, but they're not soldiers. That's why I don't think it's a good idea to tell them that the armored danglies are human. Half of them would flip. Including the person who as far as most based personnel is concerned, IS in charge."

"But the X-ALT agents..."

"... solved that problem for us by turning themselves into something that looks roughly as uncanny valley as the Slendermen. Take off the plastic and metal, you can tell that there's the top half of a human being in there. The eyes especially. I mean, they may look like Toclafane, but - oh, Doctor Who villains. Flying human heads in a cyborg shell."

"That's... scarily prescient. I should watch the show on downtime, maybe."

Dr. Vahlen's expression softens. "You do, and you're welcome to hide behind the sofa when the Daleks show up, there'll be me waiting, there."

Bradford clears his throat. "You said that they were clones, right?"

"The new danglies? Yes. The older ones were basically the same genome as the orks. These are basically the same genome as, well, us. And of course, enough Meld to make the setup work - we can actually harvest some from the bodies. But yes, either the aliens kidnapped quintuplets from a very racially mixed family, or these are clones. Low frontal lobe development, either - I don't think they're conscious. But... they're still human."

"What's left of them."

"That's another problem. If we don't tell anyone else, do we tell Dr. Shen and Vee?"

Psionic testing for rookies Cook, Ilyushin and Medina showed nothing significant. After some deliberation, the suggestion is made that there is correlation between exposure to the aliens and psionic potential, so we'll be testing students who have seen combat next - Gabrielle Girard, Daichi Nakagawa, and Leticia Gonzalez. To everyone's surprise, the first is a much bigger Evangelion fan than the second.

Work on the heavy weapons recovered from the armored danglies bears fruit; it should be possible to build heavy plasma weapons, and the SHIV-mounted version can be produced in the Foundry without using alien materials, since it would be big enough. We're also looking at making one for Vee. I think she wants it to be shield-shaped.

On that note, the Canadian government is pressuring us to give the MEC treatment to Mary. I told them that she'll have made a full recovery before the next Council report, but they're literally ignoring our medical reports to that effect. Canadian media has been badmouthing us since the St. John incident, which is at the very least strange, considering that we stymied a zombie outbreak.

Dr. Shen takes me aside. I'm wearing a sort of corset for my injury, and the base consensus is split between "it really looks like crap on me" and "if it doesn't have yarnall tentacles attached to it, it doesn't count". Dr. Vahlen has gotten less and less subtle about those.

The big news is that the three Firestorm drones are finished - each of these can give us first-chance interception capabilities over a whole continent. On top of that, since we can now put plasma cannons on them, we're all but guaranteed to make our first chance the aliens' last, at least as far as what we've seen of their capabilities so far.

"So if we want, we can basically fake a UFO attack, with a minimum of trussing up a Firestorm."

Dr. Shen grins like a schoolkid. "No, John, you are the aliens." We laugh.

He then proceeds to explain that if we stick to the original Inertia Labs chassis designs, in just a few days we can set up the Foundry to produce SHIVs that require no alien materials, carry advanced targeting and plasma weapons, and can self-repair. "Peak output would be... approximately 120 per week."

"Doctor Shen, are you planning to build a drone army?"

"No, Headmaster. The planning phase ended a while ago. We're in production."

The old man throws his head back and produces the most artful, jay-nu-ine bout of maniacal laughter that I have ever heard. He's got me outclassed on that end, too.

I throw my head back and laugh with the old engineering god. Maniacal laughter is quite enjoyable, I decide. I'll have to do it more often.

"What are you boys up to?"

Dr. Vahlen still got both of us beat in terms of commanding presence, though. We do decide before installing weapons on the Firestorms, to treat base personnel to a bit of an airshow.

After a few minutes, Kite opens her eyes, and stretches out from sitting crosslegged on her bunk, drenched with sweat. It's an open guess how many people know she makes a habit of keeping an eye on things whenever Vahlen and Bradford have a 'private meeting'. Probably Kip, she might even have to stop if too many more people test positive in the chamber. Vahlen might have instruments that can detect it, but if so, she hadn't given any hint.

Lies and secrets, secrets and lies. Both of them grow closer to trustible since they started having 'meetings' from time to time where the only information they exchange is mostly in fluid form. Closer is not close enough. Which is why the list of people who know what "just some meditation to help me relax and stay ready for action" actually means is a very short list.

But what to do with this information? For once, the schemers are right, too many would not be able to cope with this information. Even if what's being said is 'heavily modified and mutilated clones from tissue samples stolen from abductees', despite 'if we don't shoot them, they will abduct more people, perpetuate the nightmare another cycle.' Some would scream 'But they're clones! They can only be at most a few weeks old! It's like shooting children!'

In the end, the course was clear. Kite had truly only one option she could accept. Only a few people in the Academy she would say she was loyal to, as opposed to cared about (a longer list, though still not as long as she might like). And well, ferrying what Bradford felt Kay ought not to know directly there had become something of a habit. The only hard part would be convincing Kay that leaving Bradfod and Vahlen uninformed of this revelation is for the best. After all, if they know they were overheard in a secure room with the security recordings deactivated, they might have their secret chats actually IN a containment chamber. That would be very hard to 'overhear.'

Okay, we have an airforce. We might as well have a robot army, too. Just when I'm about to start wearing a cape and practicing my Raoul Julia impression, we find out that a media blitz on French television has resulted in the sort of car-torching riots that usually come after New Year's or losing the UEFA cup to the Germans. Bradford's take on it is that X-ALT is trying to sabotage us.

We're going to send Vincent Mercier back to his home country to look at it. The French government seems to want to not make a public case out of it, and they're oddly interested in the well-being of Gabrielle Girard, the French operative currently in the psi-testing that they're not supposed to know about.

Sometimes I get the idea that I'm the last to know about stuff. I suspect Bradford feels the same way. Come to think of it, none of us really knows what happens beyond the next interception... the assumption was that we couldn't fight a defensive war forever, but in truth, we're doing pretty well at it; the only Council nations in which there is widespread panic are France and Egypt, and we know that this is because of outside interference.

We need to come up with a proper plan, hopefully one that involves stomping X-ALT before they get any more people hurt, but... well, the soonest we work ourselves out of a job, the better. All we know so far is that the alien vessels have shot out our deep space network, but left comsats and even GPS satellites alone. Is there something hiding behind the Moon? The temptation to send a Firestorm to look is great, but for some reason we've been absolutely forbidden to do that; the Council thinks that the Firestorms are suborbital, which they technically are, by firmware setting.

We're two days away from being able to relinquish the lend-lease on conventional interceptors, when the shielded and cloaked UFO reappears over Manitoba. It's close enough for us to be able to send a Firestorm out.

The shielded UFO begins a reentry maneuver - the Firestorm has no combat AI, only navigation, so we have to direct it from here. We're slower, but more maneuverable - that means we get one pass at this.

The drone control panel is very simple - we get one suborbital hop out of this, and intercept at the top of the arc; there's a joystick, a "random dodge" button, and a fire button. Basically, it's like playing Asteroids. The other buttons on the Dreamcast controller don't do anything yet.

Heidi sits down on one of the bridge chairs, the big hologlobe display set up to show trajectory arcs. One of the control station guys is playing Kerbal Space Program. The suborbital movement is essentially ballistic - gross interception is automatic and there won't be a need to steer manually for fine control until the last moment. One thing we can't get from our satellites is a proper video feed, so the targeting display is just a few coordinates, green dots on a grid background.

"It's Saturday night, I have no date, a 2 liter bottle of Shasta, and my all Rush mix tape. Let's Rock!"

That's for Futurama, isn't it? You'd think we would have more than one pilot on staff, for a UFO interception force...

Heidi gets the Firestorm in the UFO's Debye sheath; we have to send and get only a few bytes per seconds to our drone to steer it, which is enough to maneuver. Heidi avoids a few plasma shots, lines up the Firestorm's weapon, and unloads it - we can't tell if anything happened, the UFO's shield probably held. the then the distance to target starts to decrease quickly.

"You put them in a spin!" Dr. Shen calls. Heidi thrusts up and trips the drogue chutes, hoping they do something in the thin atmosphere.

We lose contact with the drone, and a minute later NORAD informs us that they're tracking an uncontrolled reentry somewhere near Winnipeg. They have much better radars than we do, and verify that the trace is a lot larger than the drone's. The bridge explodes in cheers as Heidi strikes a pose; Dr. Shen nods somberly, likely annoyed at having lost the Firestorm.

The hyperwave relay that was used to get a bead on the UFO pings again with life as the craft transmits a distress signal - we haven't seen an alien response to those yet, but given that this is some sort of command vessel, the plan is to do a smash and grab: arctic route to the crash site, get in, see if it's possible to take at least one prisoner, and get out.

My dumb ass is still too raw to go. The distress call confirms ten aliens on board, including one that is marked as a "Sectoid pod" according to our incomplete translation system. Some sort of Sectoid rat-king? Another is indicated as "spaceborne", or "ethereal". Dr. Vahlen is sure that one of these is the psionic "lich", but we're stumped as what the other might be. Maybe the "sectoid pod" is a giant multiple alien brain in a vat...

I have no choice but to join in the betting as the team gets prepped. Ten hostiles doesn't sound too bad, so the orders are to capture - we're going to send DONDER to scout in, Kite to cover, and an assault group in our best gear to storm the crash site. That'll be Lily, Caimile, Anastasia and Gabriela, based on recent test scores and battle fatigue. Looks like there's five women and a robot - Bradford calls the sortie Valkyrie Flight, and it sticks.

Kite's armor has been lightened, and thrusters from the armored dangly remains attached to it. The platform hasn't been tested for proper flight yet, but it should allow her to climb up trees or rock formations despite the power armor - she painted it in purple accents, but it looks suspiciously like the Iron Man Mk2 armor. For once, nobody questions the wisdom to give our resident ball of psionic hate the power of flight.

Vee is annoyed at not being on the roster, and says so - it's the first time in a while I've seen her with her "indoor" prostheses on, in this case the legs that were built for that specific purpose and some attempt to replicate yarnall tentacles, which looks more like four scarves coming out of her back.

"It's a very small UFO, from what little we know. Best to send people who can drop their stuff and run away in case the Plutarkians or whoever-it-is decide to blow it up."

There's also the fact that I'm worried about Vee being puppeteered by a sectoid sorcerer. Unfortunately, the only fix we know of for that is three quarters of a frontal lobotomy.


The Skyranger lands in a sparsely forested area, the sort of place that is covered in snow for eight months a year -- not in August, though. By the look of it, the UFO was heading southeast when it crashed.

We drive DONDER out, with the rest of the team following. Kite instructs the team to advance cautiously - Camille ends up following the drone tank, while the others walk towards the fires, eyes peeled. Drop zone time is early afternoon, but between the fog and smoke it might as well be night.

Two danglies - the new kind - pop out from behind a rock, and dodge all laser fire coming at them! One hides behind a tree, with the other hovering above Lily and discharging plasma at her. "My position has been compromised!"

"Take cover!"

Lily ducks behind a rock and returns fire, with Anastasia following - Kite calms herself down and, instead of following her own command, takes a carefully aimed shot at the cyborg. Reeling from the hit, the dangly boosts upwards and ends up in DONDER's sights. We need to build a man-portable version of the plasma gun: one shot and the cyborg is gone.

Camille takes aim at the one behind the tree, but misses.

We drive DONDER forward so that Kite can duck behind it just as the other dangly fires in that direction; sparks fly everywhere, but the drone is still operable. "Good save!"

The dangly has an excellent position to take potshots at the squad, and just needs to power down to hide behind solid rock. Stalemate, and we don't have time. "Explosives free?" Lily asks.

Kite stands up from behind the SHIV and points at the cyborg. Her eyes glint evilly, then she laughs, and closes her hand into a fist with a twisted little smirk. "Die. Would you kindly?" Her vitals go crazy for a moment.

"Are you seeing this?" Gabriela asks. We aren't, not through the camera feeds, but the effect is undeniable - the dangly shakes, out of control for a moment. "Get it!"

Anastasia, Lily and Gabriela advance, while Camile covers Kite -- the dangly is pinned, but laser fire doesn't take it down.

"WATCH OUT!" Camile shouts before an explosion. Kite took the brunt of it - her armor has lost most of its plating, but she's okay. What happened? Bradford calls for an instant replay using the combined camera feeds. Looks like some sort of alien mortar... did they bring an artillery piece? We can't figure out where the shot came from, but it was from far away.

One of the bridge tech points at a barely visible part of the composite image; there's some large shape moving there. Another Sectoid MEC?

Lily advances on the dazed dangly and takes it out with her arc thrower. Not a high-value strategic target as a prisoner, but we'll take what we can get.

The dangly was terrified. Of Kite. She laughed at it, sent some telepathic message to its cybernetic brain, and that was enough to cause it to cower. Vahlen takes notes, Shen and Bradford whisper to each other somberly. All I can do is be glad that this is dependent on alien technology and can't proliferate. In the meantime, my friend is out there, a bona fide magical girl. With a laser musket.

The science team has been consuming dozens of gallons of Morning Rescue a day since we began psionic testing, and this first positive field result is going to make it worse. What are we going to tell the Council when they inevitably demand the technology?

"Keep moving. Use DONDER as cover." Kite checks that the explosion hasn't messed up her thrusters, calmly walks up to a tree, and then boosts up its height, perching on the tallest branch that will hold her weight - the thrusters occasionally fire to help, but she can keep that position indefinitely.

The drone tank advances, and the assault team keeps moving - the UFO is definitely up ahead. We got an approximate bead on the large movement signal; it seems to be trundling off. Anastasia confirms a loud rythmic thumping consistent with a bipedal chassis.

Kite sees a Meld canister, spilled on the ground, disperse its contents - the UFO is right up ahead. We get a good view of it on the helmet camera; it's very banged up. Overall, it looks like a large scout, but there are obvious modifications on the outside of the craft -- the cloaking and shield systems, we figure.

Dr. Shen says that this isn't right. Damage aside, the modifications look like they were slapped on haphazardly - probably why the shield failed as soon as one hit penetrated. I take a quick look, and agree.

"Maybe they're running out of spare parts?" I'm hopeful.

"Maybe they are learning quick prototyping from you." That's a very worrying compliment there, Doctor.

Kite tells us to send DONDER forward. She has a perfect field of fire on the entire ship; the plan is to lure out as many defenders as possible using the drone, pin them down with heavy laser fire, and pick them off in ones and twos. Two down, eight to go.

DONDER advances, and we see - "Dreadnought!" I blurt out. It looks remarkably like the big robot from the Space Crusade board game. Or ED-209, except this one looks like it can handle a lot more than a flight of stairs. Two repair drones buzz around it. The chicken-walker is about twice the size of an alien MEC, and answers our drone tank's switch from movement to aiming mode by stomping the ground and stabilizing its upper half. I feel like we just sent an antbot against T-Minus.

"Why am I not out there rocketpunching that thing in the snout?" Vee asks.

"Good question. I guess you were right. Strike-One, explosives free!" Not much point in trying to salvage the UFO, one quarter of the ship is shrapnel.

Kite has a shot against one of the flying drones, and takes it. "Got it." She thinks that the big chicken-walker is entirely mechanical, as she can't feel a mind inside it. "Acknowledged, but don't take that for granted" Bradford answers.

Anastasia advances and takes out the other drone. The chicken walker itself seems to be crouching behind debris, and scanning the area with active sensors - ultrasound based, for some reason.

Lily and Gabriela keep moving, with Camille bringing up the rear.

The walker emerges from cover, and is greeted with a veritable light show - which seems to barely singe the thick armor plating in front. Undaunted, the dreadnought opens a slot in the armor while the fire team reloads, and pulls out an aircraft-size laser cannon that bathes DONDER in red light and melts half its plating.

"I want the spectrography on that beam on my desk before the mission is over" Dr. Shen tells Mission Control.

Kite turns on her beam at minimum power, illuminating the big robot's front. "Rockets on the red dot, NOW!"

Lily and Anastasia fire - the robot leans forward to expose its thick top plating. "It's barely dented!" "Does it have a shield?" "Negative, just a lot of alloy plating!"

Kite illuminates what she thinks are the sensors. "It's tanking everything we've got!"

"Raaaagh!" Gabriela runs forward, waving the scatter laser - we've still only built the one, so I gave her mine.

"Oh no, she's trying to be ME." Bradford nods sternly at me after I say that. I find myself praying. She runs forward, and the alien robot pulls a plasma rifle from a hinge on its back to fire at her, narrowly missing.

Shen takes notes. "Laser and plasma, and a mortar. Why didn't it use both weapons earlier?"

Gabriela skids behind debris and fires at it. The armor plating still looks unscathed. When the brief light show is over, Kite fires at the sensors -- this makes the robot do its face-covering routine again, taking a step or two back, but no other effect. The similarity of the movement from erlier hints at this thing not being very smart -- it doesn't look like it needs to be.

"We can't back up because it has a mortar, we can't blow it up because it has reactive armor like DONDER..."

Vee harrumphs loudly, and I acknowledge her. "If we ever find any more of these things, rocket punching is definitely on the menu."

She start talking to Dr. Shen about what needs changed on her cybersuit. On the ground, the situation is not overly tense - Kite is keeping the team together - but we're at an impasse.

We gotta outsmart it. Let's see if I have any brains left.

"That thing's targeting seems to focus on whatever moves the most. If we drive DONDER back and forth in front of it, the rest of you should be able to keep plinking at it until the aliens catch on and start driving it directly. Hopefully DONDER lasts longer than it."

"What if that doesn't do anything?"

"Then you get out of there."

Heidi confirms that the way back to the Skyranger is clear.

We drive DONDER in front of the dreadnought before having it fire -- the return fire tears off most of its plating, the repair systems moving armor from the sides to the front. The tactic worked; nobody got hurt. DONDER can maybe take one more hit.

And that's when two large orks in what looks like ceremonial red armor show up. They look at the ongoing fight, then back off a little, hiding behind the dreadnought like Camille is doing with DONDER.

"What the-"

Kite stares one down, but only for a moment. She fires her laser at the robot's sensors, elicting the step-back response again. "They're bunched up! Anyone got any rockets left?"

Camille takes the shot - the orks growl in pain.

Anastasia fires her last rocket -- it's a hit, as far as we can tell, but these three brutes aren't budging.

Lily braces behind a rock and fires. "I can get it!"

The RPG flies towards the three aliens, and misses, headed towards the ground under the robot. The dreadnaught registers it as a possible hit, hides its "face" downwards exposing the plating... and eats the rocket right on its delicate parts. There's a plasma explosion that hits the two orks point blank.

"Oh yeah! One shot, three kills!" Lily boasts. There is applause in the control room.

Until both orks get back up, making low growls, and walk forward, holding plasma weapons the size of DONDER's.

We drive the drone tank forward, firing wildly - the orks ignore it and focus fire on Lily.

"I'm up!" She's alive and conscious, but from the telemetry we're getting, she was almost baked alive in her armor.

"Get over here!" Kite calls as she jumps down the tree. She's carrying the team's only medkit. Lily complies. "Rub some dirt on it, you wimp!"

Lily looks at Kite as she tries to soothe the burns; so do we through her camera. Kite's expression is cold and uncaring even as she applies first aid. What the hell? "I need eye contact. Window to the soul for breaking and entering."

"Pull back, fire and maneuver!" Bradford calls. "Get DONDER behind cover so that it can fix itself, if you can."

Gabriela and Camille take pot shots as the fire team feigns a retreat - Anastasia takes cover behind a felled tree, but one of the orks shoots right through it. Her armor holds, barely.

The other stands in the middle of the debris field, shoulders the huge plasma launcher, and shoots at Kite from long range. "Aaaagh!" Dammit, orks that can aim? "Are you okay?"

"I'm HURT and ANGRY!"

Kite taps the thruster button and rises into the air, arms spread, with only a hint of unsteadiness. "You're gonna wish you stayed home." She stops her flight, points at the ork that shot her, and closes her fist again. "Welcome to earth, pendejo." The ork falls backwards. Anastasia runs forwards and thrusts her arc thrower at it, the electricity going through a hole in its armor.

"Go! Go! Go!" Lily and Camille run ahead, and take out the other ork. So much for a tactical retreat...

Kite spreads her legs a little, looks down, then reloads. "Ten total, seven down, three to go."

Most everyone is hurt, the medkit only has enough stabilizers to be used once in case of a fatal wound, the strike team only has one rocket, and we still haven't entered the UFO. I wouldn't retreat. I'm scared of bringing the option up to Kite, frankly. We'll have to breach.

"Everyone, rest up and reload." We drive DONDER in the middle of the debris field again, and the self-repair systems start picking up bits of steel and alien alloy and welding it to the damaged frame. Six months ago if I'd seen such a thing on a screen I'd have scoffed at Hollywood, yet here we are.

"Let the drone take point, it's what it's there for, got it?" Bradford says. "Keep an eye out for hostiles. Kite, you can see what DONDER sees on your HUD."

Sounds like a plan. Kite is still flying, her movements becoming a little more natural as she does. Eventually, she lands to avoid using up the thruster fuel.

DONDER illuminates what to me look like Madonna alcoves, the sort you find on the outside corners of old churches, except they're glowing. Holograms of sorts? They depict very thin figures with their hands up. Without thinking, I take the same pose. "I AM CORNHOLIO! ARE YOU THREATENING ME?" The faint laughter stops when DONDER focuses and we see that the figures have another pair of arms, held against their chest. Liches! Are these religious figures? We cannot tell from the video feed if the holograms are the same, or just show different figures in the same pose.

Kite looks up and stares into the ruined ship. "Not holograms, they're really there..."

That sounds creepy as hell. DONDER cautiously pokes one with the tip of its gun, and we see that it's indeed a hologram. "No, they're there... faint... There's one alive! Behind that wall!"

Kite points at the ship's central room, where the NAVCOM usually is. It's the only section of the wreck that still has power.

"We got one rocket left, the structure shouldn't collapse if we make a hole."

DONDER spots a door to the side. Making our own entrance would give us the element of surprise, of course, but we may need that rocket. Dr. Vahlen says that she doesn't need another minced lich.

"We go around. Kay, park DONDER outside of the entrance."

We follow Kite's instructions and have the drone tank lead the strike team in a quick clockwise sweep of what's left of the flying saucer.

She stops in front of two of the holograms, and we can confirm that they represent different individuals -- all shriveled and dessiccated, wearing the same robe with different decorations. It looks very Catholic, to me.

"They're engrams. They can come back, if they find a body..." she says. I'm tempted to order the alcoves destroyed, but we don't have time right now.

DONDER finds the one functioning door and prepares to power through it - the SHIV has repaired its armor with what scrap it found, making it look like something built by drunk vikings.

The control room is largely intact, but soaked in fog - on top of the usual NAVCOM is a large purple sphere. We inch DONDER foward.

A lich, a live lich, stops hovering its hands over the sphere when it sees DONDER come out of the haze. Near it, two more elite orks stand almost a parade rest - the lich looks up, and the two creatures quickly take cover and prepare to fire at DONDER. The lich doesn't bother.

I hit the reverse. "Let's see if we can get the two big guys to come out".

Bradford notes that they're probably better trained than that. "Squad, ready to fire at whatever shows up. Let's keep DONDER on the other side. Winters, how are you holding up?"

"It's... not wanting to talk."

DONDER moves past the door twice - nothing. Camille turns around to look, and sees a robe flutter in the corridor. "They're behind us!"

There was another door? They didn't make a hole in the wall - we'd have heard it. Did they teleport out?

"They're shifting their attack!"

Lily is the first to turn and fire - she hits the lich, who merely raises a hand and summons a shield not unlike the alien MECs. In apparent defiance of physics, some of her beams reflect back to her. "Ah!"

We run DONDER back into the corridor and fire at one of the escorts, to no results. The other is nowhere to be seen. "Well, at least we separated them..."

"No, they're flanking us!" Bradford answers sharply.

Fortunately, he's wrong - the other ork runs past the two aliens, and is promptly shot at by DONDER. The two orks trade fire with the robot, out in the open; DONDER is still holding, but all its ersatz armor is gone.

The lich moves forward -- it's levitating? Sure looks like it from here...

"Aaah! He's in my head- No, wait, I'm fine." Vahlen quickly confirms that while Lily's EEG had a spike, her readings are normal and she's not being puppeteered by the lich.

"They're in the open! Fire at will!" The lich is ignoring cover entirely - given that it has a shield, that's worrying. Still, it's an opportunity.

"Lily, time to use that rocket! Take the orks down! I got the lich!" Kite shouts.

Gabriella runs forward and discharges the scatter laser at the first ork point-blank. "DONDER to cover her!" We're probably going to lose the tank, but that's what it's for.

ANastasia and Camille follow suit, ducking behind the drone as much as possible. Camille takes the shot; Anastasia hides behind the bulky body.

Lily is still loading the rocket. "Lily, belay that, we're all in the corridor, you'll hit half the strike team!"

Lily shoots the rocket in the middle of the corridor - shrapnel flies everywhere. The creature raised its shield again, and barely winced from the blast. Anastasia collapses - she's still alive, but barely.

Lily drops the rocket launcher and calmly raises her laser at Kite. "Stop! Stop now and none of us has to die! They're here to help us! He talked to me, and he's right, he's right! We can- Ah!"

Lily's face loses color as the lich's shield increases in vigor, and she spasms. "Lord, you will keep your promise, right? Heaven awaits... right?" She smiles in the lich's general direction, weakly.

Gabriella raises her pistol, and shoots Lily in the head.

"Valdez, what the hell-"

"Boss, that wasn't puppetry. She got brainwashed. Le llevo' piedad."

"We'll deal with that later. TAKE THAT THING DOWN!" Kite glares at the lich - the gaunt creature makes her look away. "Pity. I've always wanted to break a puppeteer. Guess we stick to perforations for now!"

We pivot DONDER around the lich so that it has nowhere to go, and Kite opens fire. Right in the face.

The alien, mortally wounded, rises to its full height and... everyone passes out. DONDER's camera shows a distortion around the creature's head as it bends on itself, fire sprouting from its hands - it joins them in a double prayer position, and then there's a purple blast of energy as the lich tries to self-immolate, then all sensors go black.

Kite comes to a few moments later, to find everyone dead save for Gabriela. Without a word, she puts the purple sphere on what's left of DONDER and tells us with curt orders to steer the blind tank out of the ship while she helps Gabriela limp back to the Skyranger.

We've captured an elite ork and an armored dangly, and have enough of the lich's remains to perform an autopsy - it failed to self-immolate.

Three of our own are dead. Lily was my friend. Gabriella was in shock when she walked back to the Skyranger; she fell asleep during the return trip, and... our initial guess is that whatever was in her dreams after interacting with the lich made her go mad. She's in a medically induced coma right now; she kept screaming regardless of sedation.

Kite handed Dr. Vahlen the purple sphere after curtly telling her that she better take it off her sight or she'll throw it in the alloy shredder. She gave her report to Bradford in the minimum possible amount of words and ordered everyone to leave her alone after that.

We're building a Faraday cage around the purple sphere for now; Dr. Vahlen has begun interrogating the captives.

I have letters to families to write.

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Page last modified on February 15, 2015, at 10:03 PM