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X-COM Chronicle – Entry 40: The Sundered Temple

Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor


14 February 2016 / Atlantic Ocean / Operation Avenger

[The following transcript was developed using audio and video recording from Operation Avenger. Dr. Vahlen and CO Brandon were heavily involved in the compilation of this dialogue. Some of the quotes associated with the Alien Commander were paraphrased from messages Colonel Korenman claimed to receive during the mission. They have not been confirmed by any other soldier.]

We’ve been at war for almost a year. That may not seem too long compared to some recent conflicts, but let me add a little perspective. 

In the first hour of the invasion, 68 million people died. That we know about.

In the first month, that number climbed to nearly a half-billion. 

Six month into the war, the population of Earth had dropped by more than 25 percent. 

Now, with extinction nipping at our heels, we set out to reclaim our home from the interlopers. 

What am I even saying anymore? I don’t talk like this. I’ve never talked like this. But, for whatever reason, these are my thoughts. Invasive, well-worded thoughts that spin out of control before making it to my lips. 

I digress.

The Titan Armor felt wrong, so I stopped wearing it. I even dropped the Archangel gear, though that used to be my favorite. Dr. Vahlen and Dr. Chen had prepared a special suit just for me: the Psionic Armor. It fit snug against my skin, and seemed to enhance the abilities already in my head. Once I put it on, I never wanted to take it off again. 

I watched the team climb onto the boat for the last time. This mission was likely a suicide run, but they had all volunteered. 

Corey, my brother in arms. He lugged his plasma HMG over his shoulder and donned a helmet with a crimson skull on the face plate. 

Sam carried his sniper rifle and a long bandolier of ammunition. 

Chris had the experimental Alloy Cannon. It sparkled with golden light, even without any rounds loaded in. 

Scott brought the medkits in a heavy backpack, but it seemed light as air on his frame. 

Victor brought up the rear, clomping toward the ramp on massive metal legs. 

And then there was me. The Freakshow. They’d changed by designation from “ManKorn” to “Omega.” I didn’t like it. 

“Colonel,” a voice said. 

I turned around and saw the Commander, along with a retinue of soldiers and aides. “Sir.”

“You know it doesn’t have to be you.”

“Find another psionic out there, then we can talk.”

He sighed. “You know, you’re a stubborn sonofoabitch.”

I smiled. I was going to miss him. He’d been thrown into this fight, same as me, but he’d managed to keep his cool a lot better. I offered my hand and he took it without hesitation. The Commander never saw me as any different from the rest. In many ways, that was his best quality. “We’re going to finish this, sir.”

“I know.” He started to reach for a file in the hands of a nearby officer, then stopped. “We have your wife in protective custody, Colonel. She’ll be brought here as soon as the skies are cleared.”

I nodded. “You know, we never actually got married. Missed our window by a few weeks.” I felt…something inside move. Maybe my humanity. “When she gets here…I left her a note in my room. Please make sure she gets it.”

“Give it to her when you get back.” 

I paused and gave a wry grin. I didn’t have to read his mind, and I wasn’t about to anyway. It was a rude habit and I was trying to get away from it. But I could tell he wasn’t just saying bullshit to keep my spirits high. The Commander honestly believed I might come home from all this. 

“Don’t rent out my bunk just yet.” I lifted my helmet off the wall and jogged toward Big Sky. He tapped his watch impatiently. “I know, I know. I appreciate you waiting.”

He spat. “Next time, we’re gonna go save the world without you.”

“Promises.” I took my seat next to Chris and Sam and closed my eyes. The ground rumbled as the engine ignited. “Got any music?”

The pilot ruffled through his go-bag for a minute. “Oh, you boys are gonna love this one.”

At first I didn’t recognize the song. Then it hit me.

Gary Jules cover of “Mad World.” Jesus, that seemed fitting enough. Through the thick glass windows I watched the ground disappear, replaced by endless blue ocean. Rain ran in thin lines horizontally across the round portal. I stared for hours, listening to the oddly haunting mix Big Sky had put together. Right about the time Lorde’s “Everybody Want to Rule the World” came on, I saw the Temple Ship.

It was immense, on a scale I just didn’t understand. How did anything that big move around in space? How did it come down to Earth without losing control and crashing? And how in the world had we not seen it until now?

The approach was easier than expected. There was no resistance, no enemy ships waiting to attack or defenses deployed against us. It was as though they wanted us to land. 

The ramp dropped with a thud and the team spread out, checking the dark corners of the outer platform. I squeezed Big Sky’s shoulder and jogged out, waving him off with one hand while I readied my rifle with the other. I barely took a step when the voice hit me. 

You hear our voice, Harkun, now listen well…

My nose started to bleed. 

The Gift is more than just power- it is THE power – to reach beyond the boundaries of your physical form. If you are to control it, you must embrace it.

“Adam?” Sam ran over and helped me to my feet. “What is it?”

I swallowed down bile. “They know we’re here.”

Long have we watched… and waited. So many promising subjects, so many failed efforts. And now, after untold trials, the new one emerges to face the rigors of our collective… An enduring physical form, paired with an equally adept mental capacity – the rarest of traits, finally within our grasp.

For now, I thought. “Okay, we’re splitting high and low. I’ll take Victor and Sam and cover the upper balcony. Anything pops up, put it down. This is not a capture mission. No matter how valuable the target, it’s worth more dead today.”

Chris, Scott, and Corey ran to the lower level, taking each corner at top speed. The ship wasn’t moving, but it wouldn’t take it long to get to one of the remaining population centers. We needed to end this before the aliens decided to cull the herd even more.

I had just reached a small platform when I heard the familiar chittering of a Sectoid. Two of the tiny gray aliens appeared, along with a Commander.

The New One faces the earliest effort of the Ethereal Ones, the first… failure. Though possessed of a certain… brilliance… they are marred by their cowardice and frailty… which made them cruel… and ultimately useless.

The Sectoids went down easily. They barely bothered to fire back. When they died, however the bodies didn’t remain. They flashed out of existence in a swirl of blue light. 

“Adam, did you see that?”

I nodded. “Keep your eye on the prize, Sam.”

“How bout we keep eyes on the two Cyberdisks coming our way?”

Silver Cyberdisks appeared, guarded by drones. Victor swatted one out of the air with his particle cannon before the Voice even had a chance to chime in.

Another attempt, this one inspired. Two subjects, each with a glaring weakness – brought together in the hopes of a symbiotic strength. And yet, this newfound power left them devoid of higher thought, lacking in comprehension. Another… useless effort.

We unleashed hell, putting so many holes into the cybernetic shell that it erupted into flames before crashing to the ground. 

Long was our search… and now… with success so close at hand… we witness the fruits of our endeavor…

“What are you hearing?” Corey asked.

“Voices,” I replied.

The whine of engines echoed off the reflective walls. Three Floaters appeared, screeching and hollering as they approached.

The new one faces a great foe, and an equally great… disappointment. When their organic form failed to evolve… it was given the strength of a machine, creating this… merciless, fearless, killer… A fate worse than death.

The firefight was even shorter. These were lambs to the slaughter, there to punctuate a point we didn’t know was being made. I slung my rifle on my back. That might have been a little premature. After the last Floater fell, three Chrysalids dropped down from the ceiling. They didn’t seem interested in showing off, and skittered in close for the kill. 

A curious endeavor… the search for the Gift in the most… unsavory of beings. They were little more than insects when their uplift began… and in their failure, became the most dangerous of predators… incapable of direction, understanding, they were deemed fit only to breed and die.

The three monsters approached, too fast for me to get off a clean shot. I heard Victor and Sam yelling for me to duck or run or DO ANYTHING but stand there and wait for death. Something rose up inside me like a shout, and I reached my fingers out toward the aliens and watched TIME AND SPACE SHRED APART. 

The world warped and bucked and a maelstrom of purple light swallowed the Chrysalids, spitting out blood and bone in its wake. 

It is as we had hoped… the New One has surpassed all that have come before… and with such great confidence… so skilled with the Gift.

Harkun continues to surge… to prove that this was the worthy path, that we were justified in our efforts. This will bring about our redemption, and usher in our future…

“Keep moving,” I shouted. No one so much as shifted their weight. 

“What the hell was that?” Scott seemed loose on his feet, ready to buckle and feint. “Dude, you just went full Dark Side on those things.”

I felt lightheaded, but pushed the feeling down deep. There was a mission to complete. “Don’t worry about what I’m doing. Worry about what I will do if you quit on me.” The words were certainly not my own, but they came out of my mouth and with my voice. I could see the fear in my friends’ eyes, but I no longer cared. Someone–something–was playing a very dangerous game with me. 

I led the way, walking confidently into the next chamber. A Thin Man waited, hands neatly clasped behind his back. He didn’t make a move for his weapon, but smiled eerily at the group.

A valiant effort… A being of intelligence and exceptional loyalty, easily adapted to serve our needs. Still, despite such great hopes… They were unable to embrace the Gift… Another wasted example.

A waste? I reached out with my mind and squeezed the Thin Man’s head until it popped like a grape, spilling noxious gasses into the corridor. I didn’t even stop walking until we came to the next room. Six Muton stood in our path, protecting a large and angry Berzerker. 

Now Harkun confronts a greater threat: A rare strength, found in an easily controlled breed. And yet, they are incapable of brilliance, of independence… they will never be more than primitive warriors… serving only to fight, and die, as did those who came before them.

A rift and a short firefight later, and all that remained were bleeding bodies. I started to walk forward when a clutch of fingers gripped my arm. I turned, ready to destroy whatever insect had dared…

Jesus, what the hell? It’s Sam. Sam and Corey. They’re trying to get my attention. 

“What?” I demanded.

“It’s…It’s Chris.”

I looked over and saw Chris lying against the wall. Scott had a compress tied tight over Chris’ left arm. Blood was everywhere. 

“He took a shot during your little magic trick. You didn’t even notice.”

I glared at the pitiful creature–looked at my friend as he lay wounded on the ground. “Is he going to live?”

“I’m fine,” Chris said. “Just had the wind knocked out of me.” He stood up on shaky legs. “Are we gonna finish this or stand around jacking off?”

In response, I felt the ground rumble. Sam and I walked to the edge of a large balcony and looked down on the floor below. There, waiting for us, were two armored Sectopods. The alien tanks blared their horns and fired wildly, letting us know we had a fight ahead.

An artificial warrior… created to supplement the limitations of the many… failures. Crafted with a singular purpose… it ultimately contributes little to our cause. Still, there is hope, as Harkun approaches…

The room was huge, with stone pillars running along either side. We used them as cover as we made our way to the other side, trading shots with the alien machines. Victor strolled center aisle, loosing rounds from his particle cannon every few steps. He knocked one of the Sectopods out with just a few bursts. The other, sensing the real danger, launched a barrage of red energy in Victor’s direction. I saw the big guy go down hard and redoubled my efforts. Grenades flew toward the center of the room, exploding with massive concussions. When the smoke cleared, the Sectopod rested in a bubbling pool of green ichor. 

“Vic!” Scott sprinted over to the mech trooper. Victor rose up slowly, his gears and servos whirring. 

“I am fine, Colonel Tipton.” He was far from it. His left arm was completely missing, sheered off at the shoulder. If it bothered him, he wasn’t letting on. I don’t even know if mech troops feel pain anymore. 

“Enough,” I heard myself say. “We’re moving. We’re ending this.”

When the others sought to enslave these races, we moved to uplift them, to create perfection where none was found.

We walked down a thin corridor. The walls were so close we had to march single-file. Once inside, we spread slowly outward. The final chamber was large, but also open. There were no walls, just empty expanse staring out at the ocean. We must have been moving because there was no sign of South America in any direction. 

I saw another Psi-Link on the far side of the room, it’s purple sphere pulsating in time with the words in my head. As the voice spoke, a new creature appeared. It was familiar, bearing the same anatomy as the Ethereals we’d met aboard several ships, but also different. It wore a helm made from the skull of a dead king, and its robes were the color of P’iantir blood. 

Wait, what the hell am I thinking?

The New One approaches… the ultimate disappointment… So strong in the Gift they became… their physical form decayed… and yet they failed… to break free of its confines… their uplift… incomplete.

Ethereals appeared in flashes of blue, immediately setting their sights on us. Elite Mutons charged into the room, brandishing powerful weapons. 

The hunt draws to a close. It was not a vain undertaking… but a necessity, as our physical form has grown… ineffective. Our search for the perfect specimen was driven by our own crippling limitation, and now, at long last…

Behold the greatest failure… of the Ethereal Ones… We who failed to ascend as they thought we would.

Behind the Uber Ethereal–

Qual’Ikor, the Great Madkun of the Baalax, Adjudicator of the Seven Sorrows, Breaker of the Interred…

I saw a massive portal. It rippled from unseen vibrations, and through it I felt a connection to dimensions folded deep away from my own.

We who were cast out. We who were doomed to feed on the Gift of lesser beings… as we sought to uplift them… to prepare them… for what lies ahead.

It started without a word. Victor lifted his one arm and fired a blistering shot into the chest of the nearest Muton. Its armor unfolded like a flower, exploding outward as the beam tore the alien in half. 

Chris charged one of the Ethereals, ducking as it sent a stream of consciousness toward Scott. I saw the medic’s eyes change color and he started to raise his weapon toward me. Chris leveled the Alloy Cannon and blasted the Ethereal in the gut. It fell to the ground, whimpering in an alien tongue–

Hubron, the language of the gods…

Chris walked over and delivered the coup de gras with his pistol. Scott fell to the floor, sputtering, but in control of his own mind.

This is not your path! Not your purpose! You need our guidance to hone this power… without us, what are you?

I raised my pistol toward the Uber. 

“We are human.”

I fired, striking the alien in the shoulder. 

No! This is not the way! So much time, so many failures, and now? Our greatest success… Our only success… We failed to grasp the consequences…

“You wanted to break us, but you made us stronger.” I fired again, hitting him in the stomach. “That was your mistake.”

The search… the trials… this is how it ends… our question answered… but the New One and his kin… are doomed… without our guiding hand…

Sam and Corey cornered the second Ethereal, which appeared more afraid than any we’d encountered before. There wasn’t time for it to plead for its life. Corey unloaded his HMG in its midsection before booting it over the railing. It fell silently to the water a thousand feet below.

I stopped a few feet from the fallen Uber, my pistol raised toward it’s cowering form. 

What are you?

“Just a soldier.”

The shot took the Uber in the neck, ripping open thick arteries and spraying green blood across the metal floor. The alien commander squirmed on the ground for a moment, trying to stem the flow with its four hands, but its strength quickly faded. 

Right then, as the Uber died, reality took a shit.

The entire Temple Ship bucked and rolled as though in a storm. Victor managed to catch Corey just before he rolled over a ledge, saving him from a pretty nasty fall. I held onto a nearby railing, waiting for the shaking to stopped. It didn’t. 

“Strike One! Are you there? What the hell just happened?”

I risked taking a hand off the railing to answer. “Brandon, it’s done. We killed their commander.”

“It’s not done, Colonel. That ship just activated some sort of fail-safe device.”

“What’s happening?” Corey shouted.

“It’s…it’s opening a black hole under the ship.” Dr. Vahlen had to shout to be heard over the roar inside the Temple. “You need to get off that vessel immediately.”

“What about the black hole?”

There was a long pause. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to stop it.”

We stood there, holding on for dear life, knowing we were about to die. 

Harkun.

I turned to face the Psi-Link.

War is coming. Not an invasion, not a culling, but an extermination. We wanted to help. Now, we can only deliver you mercy. You will not be ready for what is to come.

I walked over to the link and touched the rippling purple sphere. 

Greetings, Harkun. I am Engolath, the Temple Ship. Where would you like to go?

Thousands of feet below, the ocean rose in a pillar, drawn inexorably from the depths by the pull of the artificial black hole. 

“Adam, we’ve got to go!”

I saw my friends, my family, standing at the entrance to the room. They were pleading with me, begging me to run back to the ship. To what? To spend Earth’s final moments cowering in fear? Waiting for death?

“Go.”

They didn’t move. 

“GO!” I pushed them through the door and slammed it shut. The force of my will lifted them off their feet and sent them tumbling. I hoped I hadn’t hurt them, but it was for their own good. Better some survive this, to tell the tale. 

Pieces of the ship pulled away from the hull and fell toward the water, only to be caught by the gravitational pull and fly back into the ship. 

Harkun, what are you doing?

I reached into the psi-link, pulling it with my mind. The Temple responded immediately, rising up toward the heavens. 

“This is Big Sky,” my radio squawked. “We couldn’t wait any longer. We’re bugging out. Jesus, we left Adam behind.”

The Temple ship climbed higher and higher, until the bright day began to dim, and the darkness of the upper atmosphere filtered in. I felt…cold.

“Colonel, this is the Commander. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.” There was pain in his voice. “Godspeed, Adam. Thank you.”

Harkun, please. They should not be saved.

“Not your call to make,” I whispered. 

We were well above the Earth now, looking down on the blue planet. There are no walls, but I’m not suffocating. What the hell?

If you leave them now, who will remain to fight those coming next?

The answer came to me, but from somewhere else. Like I was remembering someone else’s thoughts. “When they need me again, I’ll arrive.”

The Temple Ship cleared the upper atmosphere and took up a spot orbiting the planet. The black hole continued to grow. I felt it, the singularity, about to collapse. It would have destroyed everything. Now it would only take me.

“Corinne,” I said to myself. “Forgive me. And be happy. God, just be happy.”

There was light, a sudden and blinding flash, and then nothing at all.

Author: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

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