Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
07 May 2015 / St. John’s, Canada / Operation Demon Ring
There is a Hell, and it is in Canada.
The call came down early in the morning, around 4 AM. Council leadership convened an emergency session following a disturbing account coming out of a sleepy Canadian fishing village. An X-COM field agent (didn’t even know we had those) had been investigating a reported alien sighting when he found the entire town had gone silent. After a quick recon, he made the call that there had been some sort of alien activity.
Strike One arrived a few hours later, with the sun still hidden by the horizon. Electricity was sporadic, but the street lights stayed on long enough for us to get a feel for the layout. The docks stretched across the North side of the town, with house boats and fishing trawlers bobbing silently in the water. Salmon and tuna sat in huge barrels, rotting from the day before. A few sharks hung from wooden beams, their terrifying maws hanging open.
Basically, this place was a nightmare waiting to happen. And we showed up just in time.
Our new assaulter, Ewan, took point with me as we stepped off the Skyranger. Big Sky set us down on the outskirts of town, lest his noisy engines alert the enemy. We moved in two groups of three, closing in on the abandoned buildings. The lights in all of the houses were out, and an eerie silence hung over the village. I remember seeing shadows move more than once, but we couldn’t pin anything down. Sam and Chris teamed up and checked out one of the docks. Ewan called me over to a double door that led into the dock master’s lodge. We entered quietly, letting our weapons lead the way.
It was dark, so I flicked on the light at the end of my pistol. I immediately regretted it.
A zombie stood in the center of the room, bleeding on the floor. It immediately lunged for us. Ewan leveled his shotgun and tore a hole in its gut. I finished with a few rounds to the head, just to be sure.
Sam called out from the docks. “Everything OK?”
“Yeah,” I shouted. “Just a zombie.”
“Well, keep it down. People may be trying to sleep here.”
I smiled, despite myself. Sam had a way with keeping things light, even with the undead roaming around. Technically they weren’t undead, I guess. Dr. Vahlen had cut one open and found something downright awful inside. The Chrysalids, those damned purple monster things, impregnated their victims. The zombification was a byproduct of the newborns growing inside the host body. It happened rapidly. In the field, one of the other X-COM teams had come across a zombie moments before the alien burst forth from inside the dead husk. I can imagine it was terrible.
I was so lost in thought I didn’t notice the second zombie until he was almost on top of me. Ewan caught it with quick burst, and I plugged away with my pistol. My heart pounded in my chest so hard I thought it would explode out of my chest. We’d been in the village less than five minutes and already two zombies lay dead at our feet.
Ten minutes later, five more joined the pile. The entire town, it seemed, had been turned into zombies. We heard scratching coming from inside the houses and barricaded the doors to keep whatever was inside from getting outside. Chris and Sam ran down the docks, blocking the entrances to the ships but keeping them securely fastened. It wouldn’t do to have a zombie barge floating down the Atlantic just waiting to make ground.
And then a shark exploded.
I should preface, Victor called out to me that the saw a shark moving on the line. That would have been impossible; those sharks had been hanging for at least a day. And if sharks can survive that long on land, they should have taken over the world by now.
One of the sharks started to shimmy and shake, foam and filth dribbling from its mouth. I sent Chris over to investigate. He flew backwards as the shark exploded from within, revealing a newborn Chrysalid. The alien was more pink than purple, but had the same sharp claws and mandibles. It screamed and swiped at Chris as it emerged.
Damn, I thought. Lethal right out of the womb.
Victor blasted the alien with half of his magazine, and I finished it off with a bullet from my long rifle. It hit the ground sputtering, green and orange ichor spurting from its face.
I climbed up a nearby tower to get a vantage of the entire area. Ewan followed behind for security. Those Chrysalids could take a beating before going down, and I wasn’t about to stare one in the face with just my pistol. Chris called out that he was taking a precaution. Before I asked what he meant, a grenade went up, destroying another hanging shark. The team went around the village, destroying the fish just in case there was a nasty surprise waiting inside.
Something drew my attention to the far end of the village. The sun was still down, so I had to squint hard to make out the massive silhouette in the distance. A huge ship–some sort of fishing vessel–had run aground just at the edge of the dock. It had plowed over fifty feet before coming to a stop. Ewan said he heard noises coming from inside, but I figured it had to be the wind. There was a real howler coming down from the North. I could barely hear myself think.
Durand got me on the radio. “Hey Boss. Want me to check out the ship?”
I told him to take Sam and tread lightly. Chrysalids tended to travel in packs, and we’d only heard them for now. If they were using this village as a staging point, who knew how many we’d be facing?
Durand and Sam climbed up the broken dock, alternating their movements so one person always covered the other. The made it to the top and paused to catch their breath.
“Smells pretty ripe up here,” Sam said. “Like dead fish mixed with gasoline.”
I was about to answer when another Chrysalid burst from the window of a nearby house. Victor and I lit it up, firing round after round until it lay still. My heart was racing and didn’t seem in any hurry to slow down. It skipped a beat as more zombies poured out of the ship. They crawled from the shattered hull, moaning and dribbling and clawing for us. The night came alive as we fired off salvo after salvo into the walking incubators.
“Sir,” Durand said, his voice shaking. “You need to see this.”
I pulled out my tablet–they gave me this awesome toughpad that could connect to the Soldiers’ headcams–and checked Durand’s feed. He was standing over the open cargo hold on the deck of the ship, staring down into the belly. There, hanging from dozens of massive hooks, was the carcass of a humpback whale. It’s body looked deformed and mutated. Glowing orange pods grew from its back, and a slurry of viscous fluids dripped from its stomach out onto the floor. As we watched, the whale’s side erupted in a spray of gore, and a Chrysalid emerged.
“Jesus,” I said. “Their using a whale to breed those things.” I’d barely finished speaking before a new voice spoke into my ear.
“Strike One, this is Brandon. We need to destroy that boat and everything on board. I’ve alerted our pilots and they are on their way with a heavy payload. You need to activate the transponder on the ship so we can pinpoint the strike.”
“Negative,” I replied. “There might still be people in this village. We need to evacuate.”
Brandon’s voice turned dark. “Two thousand, Captain. And not a single one has been sighted in 24 hours. If that whale pumps out its weight in alien soldiers, Canada will be overrun. Now get that transponder turned on and get the hell out of that village.”
The line went dead and left me alone with a whole bunch of terrible thoughts. I heard my team engaging more Chrysalids, but everything seemed muted. How was I supposed to condemn so many people to death and just drive on? And how were we supposed to clear out before those bombs fell? Big Sky was safely parked miles away. I didn’t have long to think of an answer. The whale was spitting out Chrysalids faster than we could kill them, and I had no other options for dealing with this town.
“Durand,” I said. “Activate the transponder. Strike One, begin to peel back.”
I watched through my scope as he charged into the bridge, sweeping the room with his rifle. He stopped at the main computer and started typing furiously.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Sam asked.
“These systems are idiot-proof. It’s all pictures.” He mashed the keys until something chirped twice. “Okay, we should be good to go.”
Not a second later, Brandon came over the line.”Strike One, this is Command. Bombers are inbound on your position. ETA five minutes. Clear out of that village NOW!”
Five minutes? FIVE MINUTES? It took us 20 just to get to the boat. My throat went completely dry and I stammered the first attempt at speaking. I finally managed to get a word out on the radio.
“Strike One, full retreat in sequence. Fucking RUN!”
Ewan and I held the high ground, covering the team as they scrambled back toward the LZ. Sam stayed put at the edge of the boat, covering Durand as he sprinted away from the ever-growing number of monsters. We didn’t have time to leapfrog back, so it became a mad dash to safety. Big Sky shouted to us over the radio, assuring me he was close by and would make the pickup in time.
Victor screamed and I heard gunfire erupt down by the dock. A Chrysalid had emerged from under a fishing boat and stabbed Vic through the leg. He had managed to kill it, but was bleeding pretty bad. I sent Ewan to grab him and head for the boat, leaving my up on the tower alone. The wind picked up, but I swear I could hear the sound of the bombers closing in.
Sam and Durand appeared underneath me, huffing and puffing from sprinting out of the ship. Durand had a scrape on his armor from a near miss with a Chrysalid. Sam’s rifle was slung on his back, and I could see he’d already dropped his magazine. I myself only had two rounds left in my weapon. Time to boogie.
I hit the ground running, not even feeling the impact, and took off at a dead run. The hounds of hell nipped at my heels, and my team fired over my shoulders to kill the pursuing aliens. Three hundred meters away, Big Sky touched down hard and dropped the back ramp. Ewan and Victor were the first aboard, followed by Chris. Sam and Durand slid to a halt a few feet away and turned to support. Even from that distance, I could see Sam’s eyes go wide.
I dropped into the snow just as my entire squad opened fire on an attacking Chrysalid. It died in a hail of gunfire, sliding to a halt next to my head. I was back on my feet and running a second later.
“Sixty seconds, Strike One. You need to be airborne now.”
One hundred meters to the boat. Almost there, almost there. Just a football field and I’m home. I could hear the Chrysalids behind me. Dozens, maybe even a hundred were giving chase, their mouths slathering for a taste of my backside. My lungs burned and my legs felt like dead weight. I could hear the whine of the bombers’ engines–not imagined this time. I wasn’t going to make it.
“The bombers have the village in sight. Why is the Skyranger still on the ground. GO!”
Big Sky started to lift off the ground, leaving the ramp open. My entire team was aboard, waving their arms frantically. Sam slid to the end of the ramp and held out one arm, urging me to run faster. I felt something swipe the air just behind my neck and I took a running leap. Teeth gnashed at my feet and I closed my eyes. I felt something slam into my shoulder and everything went cold. When I opened my eyes, I was at the bottom of the ramp with the ground dropping rapidly away. Sam had me under both armpits and held on tight as Big Sky rocketed us to safety.
Seconds later, the village of St. John’s was buried under two dozen incendiary warheads. The column of fire raced up after us, and we could feel the heat inside the Skyranger. We pulled ahead and shot back toward home, leaving the raging inferno behind. Before the ramp closed, I crept down to the edge and removed a single purple claw, ripped off at the knee. It tumbled down into the fires before, disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
The debriefing was short and intense. Brandon had one of the Council members call in, and his shadowy form watched over us as we recounted the morning’s events.
“Now we know the kind of plans the aliens have for Earth. Gentlemen, I think we’ve been given better incentive for winning this war than ever before.”
The Commander stood at the front of the room, which was another first. After Brandon finished giving us the final word, the Commander stepped forward. “Adam, can I get you up here?”
I walked up to the front like I was approaching the gallows. I didn’t know how the day could get any worse.
“Gentlemen,” the Commander said. “X-COM has a history of avoiding fanfare when it comes to promotions. I didn’t get a ceremony when I took over here, and I expect my successor won’t either. But Captain Korenman has demonstrated, through his efforts today, that he is truly an asset to this organization and to this mission.” He turned my so I faced him and removed the rank from my collar. In its place, he affixed a golden oak leaf. “Congratulation, Major. I expect nothing but the best from you from here on out.”
I saluted, barely registering the applause coming from the room. Dozens of techs, along with the rest of the soldiers from the barracks, had come down to see. I was the first to achieve Major rank in the unit since the outset of the war. It was a momentous occasion, and one that should have been the happiest of my life.
All I could think about, throughout all the hand shaking and back patting, was that I was supposed to be getting married in three weeks, and that it would never happen.