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X-COM Chronicle – Entry 8: A Rock and a Cold Place

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

10 April 2015 / Saint Petersburg, Russia / Operation Fallen Hawk

More abductions are happening every day. Most times, we find out about it after the fact. A reporter on the ground will give a casualty assessment, G-2 will confirm with local X-COM, and the big red board on the wall will go up a few ticks. 

The board was a late addition around mid-March. Akemi and a few of the techs put it together (who knew she had an engineering background?). It served as a constant reminder of what we fought for. Already the number had climbed over fifteen million, and it jumped every hour. So far that number didn’t include any of us, but we knew our honeymoon was due to be over. No one spoke about it, but you could sense the fear in the technicians and soldiers. 

One of us had to die eventually. 

I rode on the Skyranger with Sam and Corey. Amber and Akemi slept on the other side, their heads rocking from side-to-side with the rocking vessel. I patted my chest absent-mindedly and Sam laughed. 

“Can’t wait to rub it in?”

We all had a good laugh at that. I’d barely been a Corporal a day before CO Brandon started asking me if I’d accept a Sergeant slot. Back before the invasion I’d been a bit higher on the food chain, but X-COM promoted on merit over time. Too many people were dying to worry about who was being promoted over whom. Not that I minded. The Sergeant chevrons looked pretty good on me. 

We landed outside an old shopping center and braced for the cold. We didn’t brace hard enough. The wintery blast punched hard, knocking us back as we exited the Skyranger. I ran to cover and slid to a stop behind a wall just as two Sectoids exited a decrepit laundromat. Two more dropped down from the roof, screeching. 

Plasma flew in every direction, splashing against the asphalt and melting the ice and snow. I barely dodged a blast, taking a face-full of steam instead. Sam screamed as a shot seared the exposed skin on his arm, but managed to get a burst off into the stomach of a passing alien. Corey dropped a grenade into a window and rolled as the explosion tore open a new doorway. Another pair of Sectoids lay dead on the floor, shredded by shrapnel. 

Separated from its partner, the final Sectoid took off for cover. I caught him in my scope and put a round through his head. 

Amber moved us forward in sets of two, taking her place in the center. We cleared the laundromat and ended up in the alley outside. The next building over was some kind of video rental store. It must have been closed for a few years at least; I saw posters for Avatar and Twilight on the frozen bricks. We’d barely stopped to catch our breath when we heard the roar of engines. 

“Floaters,” Amber said. 

That’s what the eggheads called them. A mashup of machine and flesh, all to make some sort of scout trooper. Dr. Vahlen had plans to cut them open to find out more about their physiology, but I tried not to imagine what that would reveal. Honestly, the idea of being invaded had just started to click with me, and now I have to contend with new species of aliens as well. 

Amber held up a fist as she peered through a nearby window. The whispered into her radio. “I see one, just behind the used DVDs.”

Sam popped the pin on his grenade before we could speak and let it roll gently against the outside wall. The concrete exploded with a tremendous BOOM, showering us with chunks of rubble. I recovered just in time to see a very surprised Floater taking aim. I squeezed my trigger just a bit faster, and he went down in flames. 

Suddenly plasma erupted all around us. Three Floaters, all pissed and fiery, zoomed in through the back windows. One caught Corey with a grazing shot, and another pinned him down with repeated fire. Sam dove behind cover just as the wall behind him exploded. I hugged a broken pylon and took aim, holding my breath to steady the bobbing scope. I caught a gleam of yellow eyes just as the Floater prepared to move. One shot through its head ended the suppressive fire. 

Corey, now free to fire, unloaded his machinegun at the final pair. One went down screaming, trailing gas and flames from its shattered engines. The last creature went to flee, but Amber was on top of it. She chased it over cover and pinned it behind a wall, blasting away with her shotgun. After a moment, all was quiet again, save the howling wind outside and our own heavy breathing. 

I turned around in time to see Corey collapse against the wall. Blood painted the concrete at his back. Sam wasn’t looking much better. His armor had deep black marks from where the plasma cooked the ceramics. Both of them were pale as the surrounding snow. 

“Big Sky,” I shouted over the wind. “We need immediate EVAC!”