Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
6 March 2015 / Granite Peak
They arrived on the first lift of the morning, just as I was waking up. The cots ran three high, all the way to the rocky ceiling. Since I had arrived early on, I was lucky to take a bottom bunk. Down here, the air was cooler and fresher. Up on the third row you had to sleep next to the ventilation system, which always seemed to smell of mildew. Corey had tried complaining to one of the technicians, but no one seemed to consider our comfort as too pressing an issue.
There wasn’t really a set schedule at X-COM. Shifts ran 24-hours a day, and the only real structure for the military came from the Commander. He awarded rank based on merit rather than the old numbers game from my time in the service. That’s how Amber, a chocolatier, managed to make Sergeant. It also meant that I was no longer a Captain with the US Army. I was just a Squaddie.
Corey and I had been on the way to the gym for a short run when we saw the bird set down. Eight shocked faces emerged from the ramp, carrying duffel bags or backpacks or nothing at all. They wore all manner of clothing, from military uniforms to chef aprons. I even saw a woman in a wedding dress. I don’t know exactly how these people were found or collected, but I silently prayed they were up for the challenge.
The Skyranger was a modified Osprey VI transport, and it was constantly under repair. Each insertion meant taking a lot of ground fire from the X-rays, which meant a bit of down time after a mission. Big Sky, our friendly pilot, slept inside the hangar and rarely ventured further than the mess. He’d been a Night Stalker, one of the best helo fliers in the world. He’d made more drops into hostile territory than we could dream, and he’d put UH-60 Blackhawks into streets barely wide enough for the rotors. We were lucky to have him.
The crowd parted and I suddenly found it hard to breathe. Every morning I would read the casualty reports from the West Coast, hoping I wouldn’t recognize any names. It was a blessing and a curse when I set down the pages at breakfast without seeing anyone I’d known. More than anything, I just wanted to have some certainty. But then, there he was. Sam. Standing a dozen feet away with his usual look of weathered indifference.
Sam and I had been friends since I moved to Los Angeles six years earlier. He’d been in “early retirement” as he called it. Sam had made some serious money working in the hotel game, and at 30 had more than enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. The last I’d seen of him was right before the attack, when I left from lunch to go to a National Guard event on the beach. I was sure he dead, along with everyone else in my life.
“Well, damn, Adam. Should have known you’d be here.”
I ran over and grabbed him in a tight hug. It didn’t seem real, to have him alive and here with me. Sam wasn’t a soldier by any stretch of the imagination. How was he selected for pick up? How did he manage to get aboard the Skyranger and get out of the Los Angeles warzone?
We spent hours talking over the next few days, but his information was as sparse as mine. Our friends Chris and Scott were still missing, along with dozens of other friends. Sam had lost contact with his parents in Virginia a few days before, and cell towers were all but destroyed. I didn’t have the heart to ask him the last question, but he knew what was on my mind.
“I haven’t heard from her since the attack,” he’d said.
Maybe that was for the best. If I knew she was alive, I’d leave the program and go back to California on my own. More than likely, I’d get myself killed, as well as anyone stupid enough to come after me. Still, I can’t help but wonder. Did she think I was dead too? Did she find her parents in time?
Does she still wear the ring?
Adam Korenman, Squaddie, X-COM