Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
11 November 2015 / Moscow, Russia / Operation Crimson Father
The Federation Complex glittered in the frozen night. Every other building in the city was dark; electricity had gone out long ago. Snow blanketed the entire city, and with rare exception went completely untouched. There were still animals wandering in from the surrounding countryside, and probably a handful of survivors.
Of course, we weren’t on a rescue mission.
The roof of the complex made a perfect entry spot. We landed hard and fast, with Victor leading the way in his heavy suit. They’d added a massive grenade launcher to his back, along with another thirty pounds of armor. His heavy clomping steps gave away the assault, but that wouldn’t matter in a few minutes anyway. I stared at the enormous railgun in his hands the entire sprint over, wondering just what kind of damage that thing would do.
We made the rooftop doors just as the first wave arrived to push back. Laser fire shot out the windows and walls, snapping by our heads. Corey hollered and returned fire, blasting an entire room with heavy plasma. I shouted for Sam to get to the roof and spot while the rest of us cleared the entrance.
“Adam, look out! High left!”
I spun and drew my pistol, firing by reflex. A scrawny man with alien eyes squawked and collapsed on the ground, a gaping hole in his chest.
More EXALT troops surged toward us, blocking the way forward. They crammed into every nook and cranny, lobbing grenades and taking potshots. Their rounds scorched Victor’s armor but couldn’t penetrate. He squared up against a group of cowering men and leveled his weapon.
“Clear forward firing area,” he rumbled.
The railgun whined as the mechanism cranked into action. There was a momentary silence, and then a terrific SHOOM. The EXALT soldiers, their cover, and the wall behind them vanished in a flash of light and blood. The remaining troops backed away, looking for cover.
“I’ve got more coming up the stairs,” Ewan called.
I looked over and saw his skin vibrating intensely. Dr. Vahlen had given me the rundown on everyone’s new superpowers, but it was still shocking to see in action. Somehow, Ewan was sensing the electrical impulses of the EXALT soldiers in the next room. It was…disturbing.
Ewan pulled a gas grenade and lobbed it around the corner. Purple smoke filled the corridor, effectively blocking off that area from the enemy. It didn’t matter what kind of modifications the EXALT team had made; nothing could walk through that mess of poison and live.
“All forward!” I called out.
Our advance lasted all of two steps before six more EXALT soldiers appeared and blasted away. We slipped back to cover and returned fire. The air stank of ozone and blood and cordite. I could barely hear myself think over the din.
“Jesus,” Sam said. “We’re not even in the main hall yet.”
“Keep pushing forward.”
Victor took that to heart and starting walking–casually, it seemed–toward the enemy. His railgun would burp every few steps.
CLOMP. CLOMP. SHOOM! CLOMP. CLOMP. SHOOM!
I looked up just in time to see Sam take out a sniper. The green bolt flew over the rooftop to a building a half-mile away. Big Sky confirmed the kill. Suddenly, the wall behind me erupted, throwing me to the ground. I rose slowly, my back and legs aching.
“Heavy gunner,” Sam called out. “I don’t have a shot.”
I peeked out from my shattered cover and saw the EXALT HMG reloading his rocket launcher. I fired my rifle, but the shot flew wide. I had just reset on target when Victor slammed into the ground in front of my scope. He pointed a massive arm at the EXALT soldier.
“Discard your weapon.”
“Fuck you, freak.” The enemy raised its heavy gun. He fired a burst that burnt the front plate of Victor’s armor.
“Response accepted.” A gout of flame leapt from Victor’s wrist, spraying in a fan over the EXALT gunner. The man screamed as his flesh crackled and burnt. As his cries reached a fever pitch, I put a round through his head and put him out of his misery.
Jesus Christ, Victor. What the hell was that?
My shot gave away my position. I barely lowered my rifle before a red bolt flew out of the darkness and hit by shoulder. I woke up a second later, disoriented. When did the ceiling get so high? Doc appeared above me, spraying medical gel and patting down my body.
“You doing okay?” he asked.
I pushed him aside. “I’m fine. What happened?”
“You fell off the balcony. It’s a twenty-foot drop.”
I traced a path of broken wood and plaster to the spot I’d been standing on before I was shot. He was right, it was a pretty sizable drop. No wonder my everything hurt.
“Contact front!” Sam fired overhead. Green streaks peppered the far wall, lashing out at the EXALT reinforcements.
Doc grabbed me under the arms and dragged me to cover. My skin itched something fierce, and the air smelt of fried chicken.
“Six down,” Sam shouted. “Keep it up, assholes! I haven’t even started yet.”
Doc shoved me against a wall just as two EXALT soldiers rounded a nearby corner. They froze when they saw us, their eyes inhumanly wide. We both shot at once, but Doc and I had the better aim. The two men fell dead in a pool of dirty blood.
“We’ve got them on the run,” Big Sky called out. “Local X-COM is cleaning up outside, grabbing stragglers.”
I waved off Doc and got to my feet. No way was I sitting out the rest of this fight. My body tingled from the biospray, but I could still move and shoot. That was all that mattered.
We entered the main hall and marveled at a familiar sight. EXALT had copied our base layout in nearly every way. They even had their own holo-globe. As a team, we stalked through the room. Sam called out targets and we eliminated them. Victor reloaded his railgun and took rear guard. He wouldn’t say, but I could see the holes in his armor. He was hurting.
It took another ten minutes to clear the floor, but we saw no more EXALT. I stood in the center by the globe and started placing charges. “Rig the supports. I want this entire level gone.” The team snapped to, placing C-4 at key points around the building. I had just finished my work when I…you know, I don’t know how to describe this.
One moment, my head was clear. I was concentrating on the bomb (seeing as I like all my fingers where they are). Then, out of nowhere, I knew that there was someone behind me.
No, that’s not right. I saw someone behind me, as though I had a camera floating in the air overhead. I could make out the details of their face, their clothes. I saw the weapon their hand.
I turned, drawing my pistol, and found I had actually beaten them to the punch. The EXALT soldier had just arrived behind me and hadn’t pulled his weapon. Before he could take another step I fired into his gut. He shouted and fell back, sliding to a stop against the railing of the central platform.
“Doc!” I ran to the fallen soldier and pulled out my first aid pouch. “I need a medic here.” I tore open the man’s shirt and started to apply the coagulating agent. I knew it was a long shot, but I wanted to try and take this guy alive. “Stay with me. We’re gonna get you fixed up.”
He laughed, spitting blood out through scaly lips. “Why? Why would you help me?”
“Because I want to know why. You turned against your own species.”
“Not against.” He hacked, and I saw organs move inside his wound. He wasn’t going to make it. “This war…it was always humanity’s last. We can’t beat them…not as we are.”
Ewan arrived and started to help out.
“The aliens…they already experiment on us. They know our weaknesses. They know our strengths.” He wheezed. “They’ll win unless…”
He was fading. I shook his shoulder. “Unless what?”
His lizard-eyes opened wide. “Unless we become…more than human.”
I scowled. “That’s disgusting. How can you do this to yourself?”
He started to laugh hideously, and his body spasmed from the effort. “I can hear your friend’s heartbeat. Both of them.” He coughed for a full minute before stabilizing. “You’re no better than them. You’re no better than us. You just haven’t a different plan for after the war.”
His pupils fixed on something against the far wall and lost their light. I sat back on my hands and let out a low breath. Ewan shook blood off his hands. No one spoke for a few minutes.
“This is Big Sky. I’m ready to take you home.”
I looked at my team, lingering on Victor and Ewan. I though to say something, anything, but figured it was best to stay silent. We walked out of the building the way we came in. The Skyranger pushed away smoothly just as the C-4 lit off. The top floors of the Federation Complex erupted into flame and smoke, burning away the cancer that had been EXALT.
But leaving what in its place?