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Mission40

GEOSCAPE

This is probably the first time we've been able to fit everyone in a proper lecture hall -- we've sent home a lot of people lately, their graduation binders printed quickly so they can go home and help organize the defenses. The main problem is that a scary percentage of our liaisons with Council nations think that there's nothing to worry about - the alien menace is being contained and attacks are decreasing.

Rather than the Hologlobe, we're using an ordinary HD projector. Vahlen explains, with the occasional interruption by Bradford and Shen. I'm sitting in the back. I have a lot to think about, and less and less grey matter to think with -- in the past few days people have left me some space, even though I did't ask. Sometimes I'm grateful, sometimes I get the impression I am being mourned.

"All right, so here's what we know:

Item one: A large alien craft is approaching the Earth in a trajectory not consistent with any possible orbit. We speculate it to have some sort of mass-masking system, which would give it the ability to travel superluminally... and quite possibly knock the Earth out of its orbit slinging it out of the solar system, incidentally.

Item two: Interrogating the lich, or Ethereal as she called herself, told us that the aliens' civilization, all three or four castes of it, we're not sure -- resides on that ship. We speculate that we are facing some sort of cult or religious community. This bodes ill for rational negotiations to take place. Fortunately, it also means there is no invasion fleet coming; what we do not know is how much of their support fleet we have already taken on.

Item three: The alien craft is effectively protected by what Instructor Hawley has appropriately called a Someone Else's Problem field. Imagine a bright pink Imperial Star Destroyer bearing on us. A significant fraction of Council authorities are dismissing our reports as soon as we stop reminding them about it.

Item four: Intelligence obtained from infiltrating the last X-ALT cell shows that the organization was attempting to build a launch pad in equatorial Africa, and had already assembled an orbital rocket with a payload of-"

A comm operator runs to Vahlen's laptop and stops the presentation and starts messing with the keyboard. "What are you doing?"

"Sorry ma'am, urgent communication from the Council."

The poorly lit, low-res bald head replaces the presentation slide.

"Commander, we have received an unencryped communication from the aliens. Your next and final task is to procure a suitable means of transportation to our delegate, so that we may discuss terms of surrender."

I sneer, slam my fists on the table, and get some quiet, then answer. I feel I can speak for everyone on this one.

"WHAT? Uh, how about NO! Never give up, never surrender! Every man jack of us would rather strap on a solid rocket booster and -- "

The pause continues just a little longer than it takes for everyone to quiet down - we can never tell if these things are live or recorded. Hah, even saw this one coming! Sorry, but no.

"You have heard me correctly. The aliens are surrendering to us. This Council extends congratulations on a job well done. Arrange transportation to our delegate using the captured UFO, and consider yourself honorably discharged with a full pension."


".... wait, what?"


The message ends there. Everyone except Dr. Vahlen is staring at me - she's still pushing the comms officer into a corner with a death glare.

"Well, you heard the man. I guess you've all graduated... can someone print the binders? Anyway, I know when I've overstayed my welcome. I'm going to pack my stuff up and hope Heidi feels like flying me home."

More than a hundred eyes stare at me in disbelief.

"Since I am no longer in charge of anything, anyone wanting to take advantage of the fact that we have, in fact, captured two UFOs and that the second one can get a full company on the alien carrier half an orbit earlier is welcome to draw their own conclusion."

"That's a cargo UFO, they'll just shoot us down!"

"Maybe we can turn their defenses off?"

"This ain't Independence Day. You can't hook up a laptop to their mainframe and expect it to work."

"Actually... they've done it for us. Sort of. The Soul Sphere is obviously able to talk to their psionic mesh."

"That's a far cry from being able to mess with the guns on their big ship."

"So we use a diplomatic solution. Kite, before she expired, the lich offered psionic humans a place into their religious order, right? Just take them on it. They'll understand us wanting to broker a separate deal."


"At long last, YOU have succeeded where WE have failed. You hear our voice, New One, now listen well… Long have we watched… and waited. So many promising subjects, so many failed efforts. And now, after untold trials, the New One emerges to face the rigors of our collective… An enduring physical form, paired with an equally adept mental capacity – the rarest of traits, finally within our grasp."

Kite relays the High Priest's message in a monotone. The crystalline bodysuit has been hastily modified for her emotional comfort, the result being... well, something she's not taking off without power tools, probably.

Jonny has agreed to come with me to Toronto; I gave Heidi Riley's old address for my home. Whatever else X-ALT are doing, it's probably irrelevant now -- but given that they have been operating from Toronto, I suspect that they know what happened to Riley and Stephen. I won't get another chance to get answers, so I'll take this last one.

The plan is for the rest of our troops to take the cargo UFO and act as an escort for the Council delegate when he or she shows up; Kite, Kip, Gabrielle and Vee will go on ahead with the small UFO and dock with it half an orbit earlier - they'll have 45 minutes to either make sure the aliens' surrender is not a trick, or blow the whole thing up. From her brief moment of communion with the alien cult, Kite got the idea that none of the three castes that exist within lich society fully understand their technology either; that used to be the fourth caste's job, but they died out and were replaced by uplifted sectoids.


"Headmaster, why is the Skyranger full of SHIVs?"

I explain my intentions to Heidi. "That's a horrible idea. I'll drop you off anywhere you want in the world, but afterwards... you'll get killed or locked up, you know."

"That's what the SHIVs are for. We can slink off quietly while they make a ruckus."

"You, slinking off quietly? Seriously?"

We set our remaining satellites to act as relays -- the bandwidth is so low that we're going into battle with the equivalent of two-way pagers. It'll have to do. In case X-ALT scooped us on making contact, I want to be able to tell that to the orbital insertion teams.


It's kinda funny. I always wanted to go into space.... and I'm forgoing the best chance I'll ever have.

Bradford points out that the good SHIVs are going to have to be inspected by the delegate, and possibly go with them; the Avenger team will take two of the mass-produced ones, since after Vee's armor that's all we can fit. She's going to fly the UFO personally; Dr. Shen will fly the barge.

Bradford will stay behind and coordinate an eventual Firestorm launch.


Someone's stenciled AVENGER on the small UFO. The names of our dead, and an approximate death toll for the conflict, are written under the name -- it's in the thousands, but less than a single battle of a big war. The UFO barge has been fit with a fiberglass canopy and bunk seats, with the result that it looks like a cheap 1980s set. A quick vote named it FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC. I get on the Skyranger before we finish deciding which pony to stencil on it.

Time to get ready. Me and Jonny take two sets of power armor, and I take the alloy cannon with me. He brings a bunch of audio gear - he wants to be able to wiretap X-ALT in case we get there unannounced.


I take a snack bar, my wallet if I have to ditch -- there's $20 canadian in it -- and my phone. Riley and Stephen's phone numbers are on it. I haven't dared call them. I guess everyone expected a big speech from me. What I did was chicken out, put away the one I wrote, and get the ones from Independence Day and Pacific Rim from youtube, and play them over the base PA, followed by some appropriately epic music. I sing a little song to myself as I put my armor on, instead.

Born under ground

powered from a teat of stone

Trained in the dark

the safety of our island home

Skin made of iron

Steel in our bones

to fight and dig makes us free

come on bother fight with me!

We are XCOM and we're shooting ETs,

pew pew pew ETs,

pew pew pew ETs,

We are XCOM and we're shooting ETs

pew pew pew ETs,

pew pew ETs.

"That... was kinda bad." "Yeah, I know."


Kite was used to whispers, used to screams. One more voice to the cacophony, but more resolve to strengthen the chorus screaming back. They have forgotten more of science and technology than humanity has ever known. They have forgotten. We will not. They wish to see a New One rise? Rise we shall. Waiting in the gollop chamber for the word to come that it is time for the assault, Kite watches the sphere. Rise we shall. Humanity will claim the stars, but by our hands, our path, not as but one more limb of their carrion chimera. The macroconsciousness of humanity will devour every last scrap of knowledge and technology in the invaders' hands, digest them, and in their excretion fertilize our fields, strengthen our bodies, and quicken our minds.

She places one hand on the sphere again, the signal to prep for dustoff will be coming monetarily. Kite is unsure how she knows, but she knows. She has one more gauntlet to throw before that, however. "Hear me, Frankenstein puppets of the stars. I am not your monster. I was never -your- monster. But rejoice. Your task is done. In your final moments, behold what you should have been."

(As written by Kite Winters)


(insert everynyan's preparations here)


"Avenger, Skyranger, you're good to go. We're going to launch the Firestorms for a high altitude CAP to mask your radar dots. Take off every zig. For great justice."

I wave at the UFO flotilla shooting upwards. Where we are, the sky has just turned black. It'll be early morning when we get to Canada. When the Skyranger boosts upward, I look around at how we're suited up and strapped in, and imagine myself headed to space.

"Friendship is Magic here. Flying boat inbound with Council delegates. They've ordered us to stand by for launch after a quick inspection."

OPERATION SECRET KING

OPERATION AVENGER

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