COUNCIL SPEAKER: Very well. Bradford, please conclude your analysis of Operation Winter Stank.
C.O. BRADFORD: Skyranger took off on-schedule, leaving Sq. Specialist Kennedy on the ground, where she radioed several editorial comments concerning Carl Sagan. Then she was struck by the psychic domination effect of the sectoid behind her, and finished by saying, “I’m going to kill the Commander.”
COUNCIL: In English? Implying, then, that the mind-control effect is an alteration rather than a replacement of the existing personality. Take note of that, XXXX. [pen noises]
BRADFORD: Um. Yes. I mean, that could be what happened, yes.
COUNCIL: Well, it doesn’t seem…
BRADFORD: It is actually possible that she was lucid for that period.
COUNCIL: Lucid meaning, “not controlled.”
BRADFORD: That is what I meant. Yes. I don’t wish to imply, obviously…
COUNCIL: Do you believe Kennedy was an Advent agent?
BRADFORD: Absolutely not. I certainly do not believe she had any active plots to harm XCOM personnel. I wouldn’t say that at all.
COUNCIL: But you think she might have said, deliberately–
BRADFORD: I think we’re running into a darkzone here. Will call again at 1800.
There’s four people in the world currently entrusted to shoot aliens, and their highest ranking officer just sent a team of medics scrambling when he reached over for his romance novel. In my defense, I didn’t realize I’d twisted up the neosol tubing around my giant-size American biceps.
Howdy, folks. I’m Cpl. Sharpshooter Donald “Donny” King, the best active sniper in the world; though, if any aliens want me to shoot them this month, they’re going to have to come to my bedside with a bouquet of flowers, because the docs tell me I’m not leaving this room until my liver grows back.
It looks like Fisher’s getting out of treatment before the next operation, the lucky bastard, so he’s passed this thing off to me to carry on. He told me to start with a little good news, so here goes: Operation Winter Stank was successful. We recovered one council scientists and only lost half of our active fighting force. Considering this in light of the greater war movement, and projecting our costs going forward, by this time next year the Earth will be saved and twelve-fifths of its people will be dead.
|Did I mention Fisher's the optimist?|
I had my share of disagreements with Kennedy; if I live to see her again, I’m sure I’ll have more. Her general inclination was that no power on this Earth could save us all from extinction. I disagree. I just don’t know what will. Way I figure it is, if we can pick our battles, keep our side up, and shoot straight, we just might float on until we find out how we’re all going to live–but there’s as many “ifs” and “mights” as there are tubes stuck in my body, and despite my best efforts I find myself picking at ’em. So I might as well pick here and not drag down anybody else, because some of these folks have aliens to shoot.
Commander’s idea is we lay low for a while, which this particular week means scavenging for supplies. Turns out there’s not as much stuff around as there used to be.
Supply hauls have been the backbone of our operation since long before we started combat missions, and we’ve found they’re a good way to keep everyone in shape; when you live in a flying bunker with no dedicated storeroom, a good resupply turns every hallway and communal area into an obstacle course. I cannot overstate how much garbage I’ve tripped over since joining this outfit. In the week before Winter Stank we put a pallet of old Soviet electronics outside Bradford’s door; he didn’t so much as crack a smile, he just pushed them all to the left. I’m not even sure he knows it was a prank.
Be nice if we had somebody to clean out all the junky rooms on this dump–but we haven’t exactly run into any engineers lately.
Early this week we picked up two new bunkmates, a Li Mei Zhou and Karl Konig, to address our casualties. They’re brave kids. Braver than we were, when you think about it. They have to know the XCOM project’s not ticking along quite like it was supposed to. News like 50% fatality rate gets around, even if all the world’s news networks weren’t even as we speak editing out the little moments in every mission where we don’t look stupid. I was half figuring we wouldn’t get any volunteers at all, but it turns out there’s more where they came from.
|It doesn't look good when there's more soldiers on your enemy's propaganda poster than you have in your whole army.|
When the painkillers kick in, I find myself wondering: would I have signed up for this? And when I’m almost asleep: do they figure it’s gonna get better–or that it just can’t get any worse?
Since we made contact in New India our next move’s been clear enough: we’ve got to raid an Advent base of operations, determine what they’re undertaking, and find some way to derail their grand plans for the human race. We’ve had to scramble for weeks to find out where the site is and how we can approach from the air, and now that we’ve done that, the mission sheet’s gathering scribbles and crumbs and water rings in our training room. We all know what we’ve got to do–there’s just no sign of us going and doing it.
It’s clear to everybody that we’re not strong enough to crack that nut yet. We’ve got three rookies and Sq. Ranger Fisher, and meaning no offense to any of them, but they’re not ready for this. So for now until next notice, we do…well, we do nothing is what we do. We sit and wait for another mission to come up. The second it does we deploy our new troops, plus Fisher, and complete whatever operation that is with flawless precision–ensuring that our field team is experienced enough to handle the next challenge and healthy enough to go into action right afterwards.
You may have hit on the obvious flaw of the plan, which is that it makes no use of my own world-famous fighting skills. That’s the good news: I’m working on a tactical response wheelchair. Another, lesser operative can push me around the battlefield in it while I lay waste with the attached laser cannon. I call it the SHOVE.
On a serious note, I don’t envy Command–this next little job’s gonna have to go off without a hitch. Otherwise we’re going to have one rough season.
NEXT WEEK: RETALIATION