Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
3 May 2015 / Los Angeles / Operation Glass Hawk
Sam and I watched the attack on the mess hall’s monitor. Big Sky dodged blasts of plasma fire as he wove through the hills and valleys of the Inland Empire. Big green bolts splashed down into the desert, sending up shards of glass that pinged against the Skyranger’s belly. We didn’t have a good view of the enemy ship, but from the passenger reports it had to be huge.
Heinz was already in the air, rocketing toward California in his modified Interceptor. It had been Corey’s idea, but we all helped out. Scrounging up that much paint had been a trick in and of itself, but now Raven 1 sported a snazzy shark face, like an old-school A-10. It didn’t help take down UFOs, but it had perked up Heinz’s mood immediately.
“I’ve got tone,” Heinz said over the monitor. “It’s big, I usually can’t get a lock from this distance. Command, are you seeing anything from my gun cam?”
The image on the screen changed and for a minute only clouds were visible. Suddenly an enormous shadow loomed ahead, emerging from the heavy cover as a monstrous Scout. The saucer shape was the same, but the scale was unbelievable. It had to be 10 times the size of a normal scout, and armed to the teeth. I could hear Heinz’s heart beating faster.
“This is Raven 1, fangs out.”
Aerial battles aren’t super interesting to watch, but no one spoke as the Interceptor matched speed and prepared to engage. The aliens must has figured out they were being hunted, because they broke off the attack on Big Sky and turned all weapons on Heinz. He launched missile after missile, dodging the return fire but taking more than his share of hits. No matter how much damage he did, the alien Scout just wouldn’t drop.
“I’ve got smoke in the cockpit. Shit, I can’t take another hit like that one.”
My hands ached from squeezing the table so hard, and I realized I was clenching my jaw. It was anyone’s fight, and command knew it. They already had Raven 2 in the air, just in case Heinz went down hard.
“Last missile. Sweet lock, motherfucker!”
The sidewinder peeled off Raven 1’s port wing, spiraling in for a hit just under the alien engine. Nothing happened. Then the engine exploded with a massive blue fireball, knocking the Scout hard to the right and sending it down to the ground. We leapt from our seats, hollering and hugging and screaming and laughing. Heinz howled like a wolf over the monitor.
“Fly swatted, Command. Have some beer ready for me when I get home.”
Sam and I raced to the hangar, our feet barely touching the ground. Big Sky was touching down just as we arrived, the ramp of the Skyranger dropping to the ground with a loud thud. Civilians emerged first, then a few dignitaries from foreign countries. Finally, two young men walked down. Sam and I shouted, jumping up and down and racing over to them. Another miracle.
Chris fought back tears as we swarmed him. He’d been an animator in Los Angeles, working for one of the big production houses. Apparently he and Scott–a comic book store owner–had been hiding out in a bunker in Burbank, helping others in the area avoid Sectoid patrols, and building up a survivor network. They’d been faring pretty well when a Chrysalid managed to break into their compound. In less than an hour, most of the survivors were dead or zombified. Chris and Scott would have been eaten too if Big Sky hadn’t arrived in time.
Scott had taken a hit to the head on the flight out, so we helped him to the infirmary. Dr. Vahlen was down their working on Amber, trying to figure out how to extract the poison from her system. She smiled and waved as we passed. That was fine. I wasn’t really interested in a long conversation. The docs took Scott and started to examine him when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
CO Brandon stood in front of us, wearing his green sweater like it wasn’t 2015. “Commander wants that Scout hit.”
“Come on,” I said. “I know Chris and Scott from before the war. I thought they were dead. Can’t I sit one out?”
“No,” he replied. “It’s a mop-up operation. You’ll be back here before you know it. But we can’t let the enemy get to that crash before us.”
It wasn’t much of a choice, given that he outranked me by a million steps. I found myself riding in the hot seat toward the burning wreckage of a Large Scout, bringing along Chris for the op. He’d refused at first, but relented when he saw the gear I’d picked for him.
Seekers saw us from the air and took a few potshots. They disappeared as we exited the ramp, cloaking like the Predator. Dr. Vahlen still had no clue as to how they did that.
I took point, dividing us into two fireteams of three. I was a Captain again, after a meteoric rise in X-COM, and had the rank to bring a full compliment of soldiers to the field. The Commander trusted me, and not just as a warrior. He had confidence in my tactical decisions, which meant all the more considering his own pedigree.
A Seeker burst from thin air, breaking my train of though. Olga and I spun on a dime, drawing our pistols and putting it down. They weren’t well armored, and a few round usually did the trick. Victor grinned, flashing his gold tooth, and we continued on. Not a second later, Chris ran into a clutch of three Sectoids, all nursing wounds from the crash.
Durand, our French medic, took a long range shot and ripped through one of the aliens. It gurgled as it collapsed into the dirt, spitting green blood into the orange sand. The other two Sectoids paused, scheming up something. I watched mesmerized as one alien’s head swelled and pulsed, leeching out a visible blue tendril of energy that zapped the brain of the other alien. I’d heard stories of mind melds before, but never seen one in person. From the open jaws of my team, I was guessing this was a first for everyone.
The melded Sectoid took a shot at Chris, but missed wide. I brought my rifle up to bear and selected the hiding merger. I put a round right through it’s pulsing head. Seconds later, the other alien siezed up and coughed out a pint of blood before dying.
“When they’re linked, they can be killed together.” Dr. Vahlen’s voice echoed in my ear. “Remarkable.”
Olga screamed and we all turned around. The second Seeker had appeared and was tangled around Olga’s throat like an octopus. At the same time, we heard engines roar and three floaters appeared. We hugged our cover and weathered their first volley.
Victor took the Seeker, leveling it with a precise burst from his rifle. Chris fired next, winging one of the floaters. I took my shot at one of the further targets, sending it crashing to the ground. Liang, one of our new recruits, buried his shot into the side of the ship, and Olga chose to hunker down and catch her breath. The two floaters flanked around to the side, rising up high above the ground for better shots. One opened up on Chris, pinning him down with suppressive fire.
Liang went for redemption, taking a shot at the firing floater. His first bullet missed, but the second few found their mark. The alien exploded midair, falling to the earth in pieces. Victor caught the other in the midsection with a long burst, putting it down for good. We advanced as one, approaching the massive ship.
It was truly awe inspiring. It had to be the size of a mansion, with ceilings twenty-feet overhead. I could hear the pulse of power cells through the walls and smell the ozone from one of the air scrubbers. Sectoids breathed oxygen at roughly the same concentration as a human, but some of the other species we’d found required specialized breathing apparatuses.
We’d barely entered the ship when the Outsider appeared. It popped into frame with a jarring shriek, firing a burst that splashed all over Liang. He rolled away, screaming in pain and swatting at his burning armor.
Everyone fired at once, blowing up consoles and breaking down walls. The outsider took a hit but quickly dodged away. Before anyone could act, Liang charged after it. I called for him to stop, even warned him by rank. He didn’t listen. I heard a brief exchange of fire and then silence. My heart dropped to my stomach as I rounded the turn, expecting the worst.
Liang stood over the shattered remains of the alien, his body heaving from exertion. He smiled at me, his face speckled with his own blood.
“Sorry, sir. I don’t think I heard you.”
I called in the retrieval team and took off my armor, letting the cool desert air blow against my soaked undershirt. Chris and Victor dragged the alien bodies to the center of a clearing for collection. It was disgusting work, but we had to do it. Science team insisted. Our one mistake had been letting the orange containers go bad. They were some sort of cold storage device, and tended to get corrupted when left too long. Dr. Vahlen had some theories on what they might be, but we hadn’t had a chance to explore it yet.
I had dozed off for a minute when Big Sky came down from above, kicking up dirt and rocks as his tires touched down. It was a short flight back home, and after a shower I was back in the infirmary with Sam, Chris and Scott. We had a lot catch up on, and I felt confident I had at least a few days before I’d be needed anywhere.
But I was wrong.