Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
20 April 2015 / Lyons, France / Operation Rotting Father
We landed in France late at night, pushing through pillars of smoke and fire that seemed to reach all the way to the atmosphere. I rode up front, by Big Sky, on the long flight over. The Skyranger managed a cruising altitude of 65,000 feet, which enabled us to be almost anywhere in the world in under 6 hours. That also meant that, when the sun was right, we could see the devastation of Earth.
Craters covered the old world, the only remnants of the great cities that once stood. The bombardment campaign had started only hours before, and already half of the globe smoldered. The aliens had decided, for an unknown reason, to throw away their tactics and go for something altogether more horrible. These terror strikes culled the population and had a terrible effect on the morale of our supporting countries, but all it did for X-COM was fuel the fire.
I wore Amber’s rank on my chest and felt the weight of it. The silver bar had a black corner from where plasma had melted her suit. I planned to keep it as a reminder to never second-guess the enemy. They had come to kill, and they certainly wouldn’t be forgiving of mistakes. Before we boarded the Skyranger for the response, I had been sitting at her bed in the infirmary. She was under heavy sedation while the medics treated her various injuries, but her color had improved dramatically from even a day ago. The poison that Thin Man had put into her system was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
Big Sky hit my shoulder and I realized I’d fallen asleep. We were passing through a cloud of ash and dust as we neared Mont Verdun Air Base. I could see the wreckage of the French Air Force scattered like forgotten toys on the runway. A surprising find were six Leclerc tanks staged near the entrance to a storage center. It even appeared that a few were in working condition. I made a mental note to check them out when we finished with the site recon.
If I survived, of course.
Five of us stepped out onto the gravel-covered ground, fanning out toward the base. I had set us up into two fire teams for better command and control. Shannon served as my backup sniper. She was Canadian, a former Mounted Ranger, and shot far better than anyone else on the squad. I had her run with Milena, while Victor took the new guy Jin. We paused at the entrance and did a “sils” halt.
“Nice and slow,” I remember saying. “By the books. We’re all coming home.”
Stop. Look. Listen. Smell. SLLS. Basic Army training at its finest. I didn’t even know I’d remembered all that, but as soon as I took out my own squad it all came flooding back. We each breathed in the acrid air, saw the desolation, and heard…I don’t know. A horrible sound, like a rending of flesh and the guttural roar of a demon. There came a sudden clicking and a thumping of many legs, and the fight began.
Shannon saw it first and screamed. It stood just a little taller than a man on four, blade-like legs. Each arm ended it terrifying claws, and huge mandibles hung off its jaw. It was a deep purple, with orange glowing protuberances across its spine and face. It stopped when it saw us, emitted an inhuman cry, and charged. We all fired wildly, peppering the ground the walls and the tanks in the courtyard. I managed to punch a hole through its chest, but the damned thing kept coming.
Shannon held her rifle up, trying to ward it off. The alien swooped in fast, knocking her weapon aside with its hands and grabbing her in its jaws. For a moment nothing happened, and the two stared eye-to-eye. Then the creature clamped down hard, nearly severing Shannon’s head. It dropped her lifeless body to the ground.
I felt numb. Then sick. Then angry. I leveled my rifle, but Victor beat me to the punch. He held a long burst, burning through ammo as he ripped the insect-like monster into pieces. The air felt heavy as we each caught our breath. The smell of fresh blood caught in my throat and I gagged.
“Jin,” I said. Or maybe someone else said. I honestly can’t say. “Go get her tags.”
Jin jogged over to Shannon’s lifeless body. He reached down into her collar to pull off her ID. I could barely watch. We were only a few minutes into my first mission as a leader, and already a soldier lay dead. I turned to look at her one last time, forcing myself to accept her fate.
Her eyes opened and stared right back at me.
Jin leapt away as Shannon rose shakily to her feet. Her skin had taken on the color of dirty water, and her eyes were blood red.
“Shannon,” Jin said weakly. “Are you OK?”
Shannon took a swing and hit Jin in the head. I heard a loud crack and he collapsed, his neck bulging out at the side. We all fired at once, plugging the risen Shannon through the chest and arms. She remained upright, her body swelling and flexing as though something were alive inside her. Milena took the kill shot, putting a burst through Shannon’s head. She fell to the ground, dead twice in one day.
Another purple alien appeared, screeching and braying. It started toward one of the base’s technicians at a gallop. We all fired, but it kept moving, shoving one of it’s bladed legs through the tech’s gut. I sighted it’s beady eyes through my scope and cleaved its head clean off. We rushed forward to see if the man had survived. Moment later, he clamored to his feet and charged. I could see the same dead look in his face as I saw in Shannon.
Milena took a swat to her arm, but managed to shrug it off. We blasted the zombie, aiming for the head to make sure it went down for good. Milena looked close to death, but she put on a brave face and we marched on. The sound of engines drew our attention to the warehouse at the far end of the lot.
Victor reached the rollup door and yanked it up, ready for anything. Instantly, four Floaters appeared, spreading out in every direction. It was a shooting gallery, and both sides were playing for keeps. I took out the engines on one and he flew screaming into a wall to explode. Victor launched a rocket into a pair at the back of the room, burying them in the debris.
Milena dodged a shot from the last alien and followed with a long burst from her rifle. She clicked empty as the final round tore into the Floater’s unprotected head, sending him crashing to the ground. We stood there a long time, bloodied and broken, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Five minutes later, civilians appeared from the shadows, crying and thanking us for saving their lives.
The flight back was longer than any before. Shannon and Jin lay under heavy tarp, weighted down in case we hadn’t killed them enough already. Command was buzzing in my ear about the mission, saying it wasn’t my fault or some such nonsense. I didn’t hear a thing. All I remember from that flight, other than the ammonia smell coming off the bodies of the purple aliens, was the sinking feeling that this was just the beginning.
The aliens were changing tactics, trying to scare the fight out of us. And it was working.