The XCOM Saga, part 31

February 4th, 2016…

  • A South African pharmaceutical company requests a sample of our combat stims.  They believe there might be some use for treating fatigue or even cardiac conditions.  Though the drugs have never been used by the team, Dan allows a batch to be constructed and shipped out.
  • By February 7th, the third round of psionic testing is done.  Rachelle and Julia both fail, but Adam’s body accepts the implants.  Dan’s face turns stony, but he otherwise offers no reaction to the news beyond ordering a suit of psi armor to be built for him as well.
  • When Dr. Vahlen asks for the next set of names, Dan tells her there aren’t any.  Within the hour, the psi-lab has been pulled from the power grid and its doors sealed.
  • On February 13th, an alien cargo ship lands in Minnesota.  Dr. Vahlen is eager to see how our two psionicists will perform against actual aliens.
  • Dan presents Tex with a simple plan.  Put John in charge of the ground operation.  Send our psychic troops.  Send Cape as well, as there’s no use in sheltering him from the absurdities of this war.  Tex and Ryan can both take C3, but Dan insists on being present to see the results of this exercise.
  • Tex reluctantly agrees.  The team will consist of John, Dan, Jimmy, Cape, Adam, and Chris Mais.
  • The Sky Ranger lands near the craft’s main ramp.  The aliens have offloaded many of the ship’s vats, but instead of human remains, they’re filling them with livestock taken from a nearby farm.  Apparently animals aren’t as easy to subdue as people.  Many of the containers have been smashed open from the inside.  The remains of dead horses and cattle sit half spilled from their broken vats.  Absurdities of war, indeed.
  • John orders everyone forward to cover.  He then splits the team into two squads.  Squad A will consists of John, Jimmy, and Chris Mais.  Squad B will consist of Dan, Cape, and Adam.  The squads will move together and act as a single team.  The only purpose of the division is to make sure there’s a heavy gunner, medic, and assault soldier on each side of the team — and at least one of those is a psychic.
  • Three bugs charge down the ramp.  Concentrated fire kills two of them.
  • Chris locks eyes with the third.  For a moment, he can feel its every twitch and impulse.  He reaches out a hand toward it, suddenly flipping his palm over and snapping his fingers into a fist.  Green fluid explodes from the alien’s mouth and eye sockets as its brain ruptures.  The corpse skids several yards before coming to a halt.
  • The moment is replayed several times on the monitors back at C3.  We’ve never seen the aliens do that trick, nor did it come up during training.  Perhaps he only realized he could do it when placed in proximity to the alien gestalt.
  • A cluster of barfers tries to ambush us from the corner of the ramp.  Though there’s no outward gestures, Adam locks eyes with one.  It seems unable to look away as its blood vessels tear open and massive hemorrhaging leaves it dead.
  • Showing he hasn’t forgotten the old way of doing things, Chris kills another with his shotgun.  The survivor retreats toward the cargo bay.  By now, the prophet has to feel what we’re doing to its minions.
  • A group of elite hulks are sent to stop our progress.  One of them is so desperate that it wanders into the cloud over a dead barfer, gagging on the caustic fumes.  Chris Mais closes his hand again, and though the creature doesn’t die, its already inflamed respiratory system begins to bleed.  Jimmy finishes the job with a blast from his plasma cannon.
  • As with other craft of this design, multiple doors and ramps lead off from the entryway, converging in the surgical theater.  John orders the squads to each take the closest loading doors, giving us good side coverage and an immediate flank on anything standing in the middle.
  • An elite leaps onto a ramp on the right side of the bay.  So much fire strikes its chest that it falls onto its back and slides down to the floor of our level.
  • Squad B can hear the barfer shadowing us from a nearby ledge.  There’s no easy way to get him down, so for now we just let him watch our advance.
  • Both groups move ahead, linking up on the walkway over the surgical theater.  While cattle mutilation is a bit disgusting, it’s far less unnerving than defiled, human corpses.
  • A cloud of gas strikes Squad A.  As if acting on reflex alone, Adam drops into the surgical theater, landing right behind the barfer we had yet to actually spot.  He simply wills the alien to die, and it obeys.
  • Since the psi-amp armor doesn’t filter out foreign substances like our primary infantry armor, Chris finds himself choking on the cloud of poison still floating over his squad.  He drops down, and Adam pauses to administer an antitoxin.
  • As we close on the command center, the prophet begins talking.  “It is not much that I ask.”  Dan asks Chris and Adam if the comments make any more sense to them, now that they can feel some degree of the alien gestalt.  They reply in the negative.
  • John starts aligning the group to breach.  The psychics will be the first in the room, as they have the best chance of winning a battle of wills with a prophet.
  • Squad B reports an aural contact from their left side, near one of the engines.  That means aliens are now behind at least two doors on this level.  Put more simply: we’re flanked.
  • John guesses that the prophet won’t risk himself while his underlings die.  Squad A will cover the control center door while Squad B eliminates the engine room threat.
  • Dan is the first through the door.  Two hulks and a bully are waiting for him.  In a rather uncanny display of skill, he kills one of the hulks and then deals a massive wound to the bully.  Adam successfully invades the mind of the bully and finds it surprisingly easy to terrify.  But before he’s done, Dan plants his third, rapid-fire shot, sending the bully over the edge of the craft.  After an exchange lasting only a few seconds, all that remains around the engine is a single hulk.
  • With the surviving alien cowering below a ramp, it makes easy prey for Cape’s heavy weapon.
  • No sooner than the two squads rejoin, John calls for the control room barrier to be dropped.  The prophet stands there, unflinching, while its two elite guards run for cover.  Back at C3, Tex and Ryan try to guess what would motivate that sort of behavior.  Is it panicked?  Putting away its conventional soldiers as a sign it wants to challenge our psychics?  Or maybe just resigned to its fate and waiting to die?
  • Adam and Chris are first into the room.  Eager to see how vulnerable we really are, they both lock minds with it.  Chris finds himself unable to penetrate its defenses.  But Jimmy pours plasma into its side, disrupting its concentration.  Adam then breaks through, turning its own twisted nightmares in on itself.  The creature spreads its arms and screams before exploding in a wave of psychic energy.
  • One guard remains in hiding.  The other attempts a shot at Adam but misses, blowing apart a nearby console.
  • With the prophet down, John sends the team forward.  Dan deals a grave injury to the first guard, and Jimmy finishes the work.
  • Chris Mais fires at the remaining alien, dodges a return shot, and then pegs it a second time.  The xeno falls dead.
  • 15 aliens dead.  0 human losses or serious injuries.
  • After the team is back at base, Tex asks Dan for his honest opinion.  Sidestepping the intended question, Dan replies, “The heavy armor is making us too slow.  I didn’t see it when I was leading teams, but you can really notice it from the back line.  If that inter-dimensional, cloaking…whatever…armor that our science team drew up actually works, we need to start switching the team to those suits, instead.”
  • While Dan’s behavior still seems unpredictable outside of combat, he was calm, team-oriented, and skilled on the battlefield.  Tex signs off on his combat-readiness release.
  • While we lack the resources to equip the entire team with “ghost” armor, Dan still has Dr. Shen begin construction of the first suits.
  • Adam and Chris are summoned for an immediate examination by the medical and science teams.  Both of them can feel their minds expanding.  Based on a debriefing of the examination group, Chris seems to emanate an aura of fear, while Adam seems to emanate a sense of equally unnatural peace.

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