X-Com: The Unknown Menace

André Galvão

DISCLAIMER: This fan fiction story is based on elements from the X-Com computer games series, which is a trademark belonging to Infogames (or Firaxis, according to the latest rumors on the Internet). Although it has been written for recreational purposes and it’s being publicly distributed for free, the author retains all other rights over X-Com: The Unknown Menace. Please do not change the text in any way without the author’s permission or use any of the elements and characters contained in the text. CONTACT: I can be reached through the following email: aadlg@rocketmail.com or through ICQ (10332434) or MSN Messenger (chemsmi@hotmail.com). Please feel free to contact me regarding any comments on the story. Either being positive or negative, they’ll be much appreciated and they’re the only reward I’m getting out of all this work. THANKS: To all the people that have supported me while I was writing this book and to the readers that emailed me their comments. And also Julian and Nick Gollop and the rest of the team that designed games like Rebelstar, Laser Squad and X-Com, because of all the enjoyment I received over the years by playing them. And please keep up the good work.

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Table of Content
PROLOGUE ............................................................................................................................................... 16 DECEMBER 17TH, 1946 .............................................................................................................................. 16 USS Philippine Sea, South Atlantic..................................................................................................... 16 FEBRUARY 25TH, 1947............................................................................................................................... 17 Ross Sea, Antarctica ........................................................................................................................... 17 CHAPTER ONE – THE FIRST TUNES.................................................................................................. 22 DECEMBER 9TH, 1998 ................................................................................................................................ 22 Swiss military air base outside Geneva, Switzerland.......................................................................... 22 DECEMBER 10TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 22 Governmental facility outside Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................... 22 Unknown location, North America ..................................................................................................... 26 Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................................................................... 28 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia................................................................................................. 29 DECEMBER 11TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 32 Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................................................................... 32 NORAD Headquarters, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States.............................................. 34 Area 51, Nevada, United States .......................................................................................................... 35 Air Force One, Military Airbase outside Geneva, Switzerland........................................................... 36 Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States.................................................................................... 37 Area 51, Nevada, United States .......................................................................................................... 37 Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland .................................................................................................. 37 Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States.................................................................................... 37 Northern California, United States ..................................................................................................... 38 Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland .................................................................................................. 38 Northern California, United States ..................................................................................................... 38 Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States.................................................................................... 38 Northern California, United States ..................................................................................................... 39 Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland .................................................................................................. 39 Northern California, United States ..................................................................................................... 40 Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................................................................... 40 Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland .................................................................................................. 42 Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................................................................... 43 CHAPTER TWO – OPENINGS ............................................................................................................... 46 DECEMBER 13TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 46 Russian Army Compound outside St. Petersburg, Russian Federation .............................................. 46 Unknown location, North America ..................................................................................................... 47 The Pentagon, Washington D.C., United States ................................................................................. 48 Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan ........................................................................................................... 49 Pentagon, Washington D.C................................................................................................................. 50 DECEMBER 14TH, 1999 .............................................................................................................................. 54 Yakolev Aircraft Company test range, outside Moscow, Russian Federation .................................... 54 DECEMBER 15TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 56 Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China......................................................................... 56 DECEMBER 23RD, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 56 Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, US..................................................................................................... 56 DECEMBER 26TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 62 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US .......................................................................................... 62 DECEMBER 27TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 63 Toyota Test Field, Central Japan ....................................................................................................... 63 DECEMBER 28TH, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 64 Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation............................................................................................... 64

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DECEMBER 31ST, 1998 .............................................................................................................................. 66 Unknown location, North America ..................................................................................................... 66 JANUARY 1ST, 1999 ................................................................................................................................... 68 Area 51, Nevada, US........................................................................................................................... 68 CHAPTER THREE – SKIRMISHING.................................................................................................... 70 JANUARY 3RD, 1999................................................................................................................................... 70 Caribbean Sea..................................................................................................................................... 70 NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US ..................................................................................... 70 Area 51, Nevada, US........................................................................................................................... 70 Security Center, KSC, Florida ............................................................................................................ 70 Command and Communications Center, Area 51, Nevada................................................................. 71 Low Orbit, Earth................................................................................................................................. 72 Area 51, Nevada, US........................................................................................................................... 72 Security Center, KSC, Florida ............................................................................................................ 72 Skyranger 1, over Louisiana, US ........................................................................................................ 73 KSC, Florida, US ................................................................................................................................ 73 New York City, US .............................................................................................................................. 77 London, United Kingdom.................................................................................................................... 77 JANUARY 10TH, 1999................................................................................................................................. 78 Area 51, Nevada, US........................................................................................................................... 78 JANUARY 12TH, 1999................................................................................................................................. 83 Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................................................................................... 83 Far Side, Moon ................................................................................................................................... 84 JANUARY 21ST, 1999 ................................................................................................................................. 85 Border of Texas and Mexico, US ........................................................................................................ 85 JANUARY 22ND, 1999................................................................................................................................. 86 Sea of Japan........................................................................................................................................ 86 JANUARY 27TH, 1999................................................................................................................................. 87 Operations Center, Area 51, Nevada, US ........................................................................................... 87 JANUARY 30TH, 1999................................................................................................................................. 88 Far Side of the Moon .......................................................................................................................... 88 CHAPTER FOUR – THE COLD WEATHER FRONT......................................................................... 90 FEBRUARY 2ND, 1999 ................................................................................................................................ 90 Rocky Mountains, Colorado, US......................................................................................................... 90 Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US .................................................................................................... 90 Near Catalina Island, Pacific Ocean .................................................................................................. 90 Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US .................................................................................................... 91 White House, Washington D.C., US.................................................................................................... 91 Skyranger 1, over Washington State, US ............................................................................................ 91 Los Angeles, California, US................................................................................................................ 92 White House, Washington D.C., US.................................................................................................... 93 South Central, LA, California, US ...................................................................................................... 93 FEBRUARY 3RD, 1999 .............................................................................................................................. 104 The White House, Washington D.C., US........................................................................................... 104 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 106 FEBRUARY 4TH, 1999............................................................................................................................... 108 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 108 FEBRUARY 5TH, 1999............................................................................................................................... 110 London, United Kingdom.................................................................................................................. 110 FEBRUARY 10TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 110 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 110 CHAPTER FIVE – SMALL CAT, BUG MICE .................................................................................... 114 FEBRUARY 12TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 114

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New York City, US ............................................................................................................................ 114 FEBRUARY 17TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 116 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 116 FEBRUARY 19TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 117 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US ........................................................................................ 117 FEBRUARY 22ND, 1999 ............................................................................................................................ 122 Vicinity of Marrakech, Morocco ....................................................................................................... 122 FEBRUARY 25TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 124 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 124 FEBRUARY 28TH, 1999............................................................................................................................. 126 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 126 Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China....................................................................... 130 CHAPTER SIX – BAD MOON RISING................................................................................................ 132 MARCH 3RD, 1999 ................................................................................................................................... 132 Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation .......................................................................................... 132 White House, Washington DC, US.................................................................................................... 133 MARCH 5TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................... 135 Mansion outside Paris, France......................................................................................................... 135 MARCH 6TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................... 136 Manhattan, New York City, US......................................................................................................... 136 Middle of the Indian Ocean, Earth ................................................................................................... 137 MARCH 8TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................... 137 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 137 MARCH 9TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................... 138 Middle of Alaska, United States ........................................................................................................ 138 British Columbia, Canada ................................................................................................................ 139 MARCH 11TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................. 145 Las Vegas International Airport, Nevada, US .................................................................................. 145 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 147 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 151 CHAPTER SEVEN – REVIVAL............................................................................................................ 154 MARCH 17TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................. 154 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US ........................................................................................ 154 MARCH 18TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................. 158 The Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation ...................................................................................... 158 MARCH 20TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................. 160 Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico............................................................................................................... 160 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 166 MARCH 23RD, 1999 ................................................................................................................................. 171 Headquarters Strike Command, RAF High Wycombe, UK............................................................... 171 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 171 Coventry, United Kingdom ............................................................................................................... 172 CHAPTER EIGHT – THE GRIM HORIZON...................................................................................... 178 MARCH 25TH, 1999.................................................................................................................................. 178 Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China....................................................................... 178 APRIL 1ST, 1999 ...................................................................................................................................... 179 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 179 APRIL 7TH, 1999 ...................................................................................................................................... 181 Pacific Ocean.................................................................................................................................... 181 Santa Cruz, California ...................................................................................................................... 182 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 183 Over Central California, US............................................................................................................. 185 Pacific Ocean.................................................................................................................................... 185

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California-Nevada border, US.......................................................................................................... 186 Central California, US...................................................................................................................... 186 Pacific Ocean.................................................................................................................................... 187 California Coast ............................................................................................................................... 188 Situation Room, White House, Washington DC, US ......................................................................... 190 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 190 APRIL 15TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 193 Highway 50, Maryland, US............................................................................................................... 193 APRIL 20TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 194 Unknown facility, unknown location, US.......................................................................................... 194 APRIL 22ND, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 195 Times Square, New York City, US..................................................................................................... 195 APRIL 25TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 196 White House, Washington DC, US.................................................................................................... 196 CHAPTER NINE – FORTUNE REVERSALS ..................................................................................... 200 APRIL 29TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 200 New York City, US ............................................................................................................................ 200 APRIL 30TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................... 201 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 201 MAY 4TH, 1999........................................................................................................................................ 202 White House, Washington DC, US.................................................................................................... 202 MAY 5TH, 1999........................................................................................................................................ 204 Central Iowa, US .............................................................................................................................. 204 MAY 9TH, 1999........................................................................................................................................ 209 Press Room, White House, Washington DC, US............................................................................... 209 MAY 19TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 210 X-Com’s Far East Command Base, Complex YY-18, Japan............................................................. 210 MAY 20TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 211 Motel Trucker’s Paradise, Maryland, US......................................................................................... 211 MAY 25TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 215 Swiss Banque of Credit Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland ........................................................... 215 MAY 27TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 217 Area 51, Nevada, United States ........................................................................................................ 217 CHAPTER TEN – LIGHT SPRING BREEZE ..................................................................................... 220 JULY 12TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 220 VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation ............................................... 220 Over the Volga River, Caucasus, Russian Federation...................................................................... 222 New York City, US ............................................................................................................................ 223 Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation .......................................................................................... 223 Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation............................................................................ 224 VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation ............................................... 224 Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation .......................................................................................... 224 Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation............................................................................ 226 Earth’s Orbit..................................................................................................................................... 226 VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation ............................................... 226 Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation............................................................................ 227 JULY 15TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 227 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 227 JULY 16TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 230 Air Force One, Over Illinois, US ...................................................................................................... 230 London, United Kingdom.................................................................................................................. 232 JULY 17TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 232 Azamas 36, Russian Federation........................................................................................................ 232 Far Side of the Moon ........................................................................................................................ 233

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JULY 18TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 234 X-Com Russian Command, Stalingrad Base, Caucasus, Russian Federation .................................. 234 Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation .......................................................................................... 234 Earth’s Orbit..................................................................................................................................... 236 Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation............................................................................................. 237 CHAPTER ELEVEN – BROKEN SHELLS ......................................................................................... 238 JULY 18TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 238 X-Com Russian Command, Stalingrad Base, Caucasus, Russian Federation .................................. 238 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 239 1048 Zulu (Local Time), Siberia, Russian Federation...................................................................... 240 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 241 1112 Zulu, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................................... 241 1240 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 244 1258 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation....................................................... 244 1305 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 245 1308 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation....................................................... 245 1312 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 246 1319 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation....................................................... 246 1329 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 247 1403 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 247 1407 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 248 1409 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 249 1431 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 250 1517 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 251 1525 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 252 1532 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 253 1535 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 255 1541 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 257 1549 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 257 CHAPTER TWELVE – THE EYE OF THE STORM ......................................................................... 258 JULY 19TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 258 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 258 JULY 26TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 260 Outside Azamas 36, Russian Federation .......................................................................................... 260 Underground Command Facility outside Moscow, Russian Federation .......................................... 262 JULY 27TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 264 White House Situation Room, Washington DC, US .......................................................................... 264 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 265 Hotel in the center of Moscow, Russia.............................................................................................. 268 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 268 Unknown location, Earth .................................................................................................................. 271 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 272 Engels Air Base, Russian Federation................................................................................................ 274 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 275 CHAPTER THIRTEEN – DIVINE WIND ............................................................................................ 278 JULY 27TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 278 Sea of Japan, Pacific Ocean ............................................................................................................. 278 2247 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 280 2257 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 281 Engels Air Base, Russian Federation................................................................................................ 282 JULY 28TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 282 0038 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 282 0057 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 283

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National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, Virginia, US ......................................................................... 283 0058 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 283 0236 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 284 0307 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 285 0359 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 285 0432 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 286 0432 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 287 0434 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 287 0435 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 287 0438 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 288 0439 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 288 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 289 0627 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 289 0628 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 290 0629 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 290 0643 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 290 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 291 0712 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation ........................................................................ 293 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 294 0937 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 295 0954 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 296 1129 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 296 1141 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 296 1150 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 297 1606 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 297 1625 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 298 2049 Zulu .......................................................................................................................................... 299 CHAPTER FOURTEEN – MISTY EVENING..................................................................................... 300 JULY 29TH, 1999...................................................................................................................................... 300 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 300 AUGUST 4TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................. 308 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 308 AUGUST 6TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................. 310 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 310 AUGUST 7TH, 1999 .................................................................................................................................. 312 Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation............................................................................................. 312 AUGUST 26TH, 1999 ................................................................................................................................ 316 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 316 AUGUST 30TH, 1999 ................................................................................................................................ 318 Unknown location, Earth .................................................................................................................. 318 CHAPTER FIFTEEN – PARADISE LOST ......................................................................................... 320 SEPTEMBER 20TH, 1999 ........................................................................................................................... 320 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 320 SEPTEMBER 29TH, 1999 ........................................................................................................................... 322 MIT, Massachusetts, US ................................................................................................................... 322 OCTOBER 7TH, 1999................................................................................................................................. 323 Pacific Coast, Washington State, US ................................................................................................ 323 OCTOBER 21ST, 1999............................................................................................................................... 328 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 328 DECEMBER 1ST, 1999 .............................................................................................................................. 330 Military Base outside Beijing, People’s Republic of China.............................................................. 330 DECEMBER 3RD, 1999 .............................................................................................................................. 331 Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, US ..................................................................................... 331 DECEMBER 4TH, 1999 .............................................................................................................................. 332

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Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 332 DECEMBER 19TH, 1999 ............................................................................................................................ 334 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 334 DECEMBER 26TH, 1999 ............................................................................................................................ 339 Papoose Lake, Nevada, US ............................................................................................................... 339 CHAPTER SIXTEEN – ROCKY ROAD............................................................................................... 342 MARCH 14TH, 2000.................................................................................................................................. 342 New York City, US ............................................................................................................................ 342 MARCH 18TH, 2000.................................................................................................................................. 345 Appallachian Mountains, West Virginia, US .................................................................................... 345 MARCH 21ST, 2000.................................................................................................................................. 346 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 346 New York City, US ............................................................................................................................ 347 Over Central Kansas, US.................................................................................................................. 347 Close to Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, US .............................................................................. 348 Denver, Colorado, US....................................................................................................................... 349 Fort Collins, Colorado, US............................................................................................................... 351 Downtown Denver, Colorado ........................................................................................................... 354 APRIL 5TH, 2000 ...................................................................................................................................... 359 Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., US ................................................................................................... 359 APRIL 7TH, 2000 ...................................................................................................................................... 361 Central London, United Kingdom..................................................................................................... 361 CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – COUNTER POINT .................................................................................. 362 MILLIONS OF YEARS BEFORE RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY .................................................................... 362 Zeta Two Reticuli star system, 37 light years from Earth ................................................................. 362 APRIL 14TH, 2000 .................................................................................................................................... 363 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 363 APRIL 29TH, 2000 .................................................................................................................................... 365 Complex YY-18, Japan...................................................................................................................... 365 MAY 4TH, 2000........................................................................................................................................ 366 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 366 MAY 7TH, 2000........................................................................................................................................ 368 Sea of Japan...................................................................................................................................... 368 UN Building, New York, US.............................................................................................................. 369 MAY 8TH, 2000........................................................................................................................................ 370 Northern New Mexico, United States................................................................................................ 370 Virginia, United States...................................................................................................................... 371 MAY 10TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 373 Complex YY-18, Japan...................................................................................................................... 373 MAY 16TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 378 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 378 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – PREMONITIONS....................................................................................... 382 JUNE 6TH, 2000........................................................................................................................................ 383 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 383 JULY 9TH, 1947........................................................................................................................................ 385 Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico, United States........................................................................ 385 JUNE 11TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 388 New York Times Building, NY, US.................................................................................................... 388 JUNE 12TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 389 The White House, Washington D.C., US........................................................................................... 389 Langley, Virginia, US ....................................................................................................................... 390 JUNE 18TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 393 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 393

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JULY 10TH, 1947...................................................................................................................................... 394 Close to Roswell AAF, New Mexico, US........................................................................................... 394 JUNE 22ND, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 395 NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US ................................................................................... 395 Area 51, Nevada, United States ........................................................................................................ 396 Close to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, US ................................................................................................ 398 Over Colorado, US ........................................................................................................................... 398 Close to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, US ................................................................................................ 398 Over Colorado, US ........................................................................................................................... 399 NOVEMBER 5TH, 1947.............................................................................................................................. 401 Wright Army Air Field, Ohio, US ..................................................................................................... 401 CHAPTER NINETEEN – STAR CHARIOT ........................................................................................ 404 JUNE 23RD, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 404 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 404 New Mexico-Colorado border, US ................................................................................................... 407 JULY 6TH, 2000........................................................................................................................................ 415 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 415 JULY 10TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 417 Charlottesville, Virginia, US............................................................................................................. 417 JULY 12TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 419 The White House, Washington D.C., US........................................................................................... 419 CHAPTER TWENTY – A DARK SHADOW ....................................................................................... 422 JULY 26TH, 2000...................................................................................................................................... 422 Unknown location, Geneva, Switzerland .......................................................................................... 422 AUGUST 3RD, 2000 .................................................................................................................................. 423 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 423 SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2001 ............................................................................................................................. 425 Complex YY-18, Japan...................................................................................................................... 425 Over the Sea of Japan, hundred miles south of Okinawa ................................................................. 426 Complex YY-18, Japan...................................................................................................................... 428 Over the Sea of Japan ....................................................................................................................... 429 SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2000 ........................................................................................................................... 430 Lhassa, Tibet Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China ...................................................... 430 SEPTEMBER 31ST, 2000 ........................................................................................................................... 432 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 432 DECEMBER 17TH, 2000 ............................................................................................................................ 439 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US ........................................................................................ 439 CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE – MESSENGERS FROM THE STARS ................................................ 442 MILLIONS OF YEARS BEFORE RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY .................................................................... 442 Zeta Two Reticuli star system, 37 light years from Earth ................................................................. 442 JANUARY 24TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 444 The White House, Washington D.C., US........................................................................................... 444 JANUARY 28TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 447 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US ........................................................................................ 447 FEBRUARY 6TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 449 Albuquerque, New Mexico, US ......................................................................................................... 449 FEBRUARY 7TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 450 Nearby Dulce, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, New Mexico, US ....................................................... 450 Santa Fe, New Mexico, US................................................................................................................ 459 CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – GHOSTS OF THE PAST ................................................................... 460 FEBRUARY 8TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 460 UN Building, New York City, US ...................................................................................................... 460

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Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 461 Archuletta Mesa, New Mexico, US ................................................................................................... 464 CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE – HELL’S KEEP ................................................................................ 480 FEBRUARY 8TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 480 Archuletta Plateau, New Mexico, US................................................................................................ 480 FEBRUARY 9TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 488 Far Side of the Moon ........................................................................................................................ 488 Archuletta Plateau, New Mexico, Earth ........................................................................................... 489 Area 51, Nevada, United States ........................................................................................................ 492 Archuletta Mesa, New Mexico, US ................................................................................................... 492 Close to the New Mexico – Arizona border, US ............................................................................... 493 Archuletta Plateau, New Mexico, US................................................................................................ 494 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 494 Over Arizona, US .............................................................................................................................. 495 Archuletta Plateau, New Mexico, US................................................................................................ 495 CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR – THE ENEMY WITHIN ................................................................... 497 FEBRUARY 12TH, 2001............................................................................................................................. 497 Unknown location, Geneve, Switzerland .......................................................................................... 497 FEBRUARY 15TH, 2001............................................................................................................................. 499 Pollock ANGB, West Virginia, US .................................................................................................... 499 FEBRUARY 23RD, 2001 ............................................................................................................................ 504 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 504 FEBRUARY 21ST, 2001............................................................................................................................. 505 Spitzbergen Island, North Atlantic.................................................................................................... 505 MARCH 3RD, 2001 ................................................................................................................................... 508 Area 19, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 508 MARCH 15TH, 2001.................................................................................................................................. 511 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 511 CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE –DEFECTION ........................................................................................ 516 MARCH 26TH, 2001.................................................................................................................................. 516 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 516 MARCH 28TH, 2001.................................................................................................................................. 518 Manhattan, New York City, US......................................................................................................... 518 MARCH 30TH, 2001.................................................................................................................................. 519 Virginia, US ...................................................................................................................................... 519 MARCH 31ST, 2001.................................................................................................................................. 520 Swiss government facility outside Geneve, Switzerland.................................................................... 520 The Pentagon, Washington D.C., US................................................................................................ 523 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 525 Military Penitentiary, Maryland, US ................................................................................................ 526 APRIL 1ST, 2001 ...................................................................................................................................... 527 Geneve, Switzerland.......................................................................................................................... 527 Military Penitentiary, Maryland, US ................................................................................................ 528 The White House, Washington D.C., US........................................................................................... 533 APRIL 3RD, 2001 ...................................................................................................................................... 535 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 535 CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX – A SIMPLE WAR .................................................................................... 538 APRIL 23RD, 2001 .................................................................................................................................... 538 La Guardia Airport, New Jersey, US ................................................................................................ 538 MAY 10TH, 2001...................................................................................................................................... 540 Louisiana coast, US .......................................................................................................................... 540 MAY 16TH, 2001...................................................................................................................................... 544

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Area 19, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 544 JUNE 21ST, 2001 ...................................................................................................................................... 547 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 547 Anatolia Plateau, Turkey .................................................................................................................. 548 JUNE 24TH, 2001...................................................................................................................................... 553 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 553 CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN – CHAOS ............................................................................................. 556 JULY 21ST, 2001 ...................................................................................................................................... 556 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 556 AUGUST 15TH, 2001 ................................................................................................................................ 558 Alameda, California, US................................................................................................................... 558 Golden Gate Bridge .......................................................................................................................... 559 Alameda ............................................................................................................................................ 559 AUGUST 18TH, 2001 ................................................................................................................................ 562 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 562 SEPTEMBER 25TH, 2001 ........................................................................................................................... 564 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 564 SEPTEMBER 30TH, 2001 ........................................................................................................................... 571 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 571 OCTOBER 25TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 573 Mars’s Orbit ..................................................................................................................................... 573 OCTOBER 29TH, 2001............................................................................................................................... 574 MacMurdo Station, Antartica ........................................................................................................... 574 CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT – FIRE AND ICE ................................................................................ 576 NOVEMBER 4TH, 2001.............................................................................................................................. 576 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 576 NOVEMBER 7TH, 2001.............................................................................................................................. 577 Mother One, Germany ...................................................................................................................... 577 NOVEMBER 12TH, 2001............................................................................................................................ 580 UNSS Avenger, south of the Hawaiian Islands, Pacific.................................................................... 580 Vostok Base, Antarctica .................................................................................................................... 581 CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE – “IT’S FULL OF THEM!” .................................................................. 596 NOVEMBER 13TH, 2001............................................................................................................................ 596 Central America................................................................................................................................ 596 Vostok Base, Antarctica .................................................................................................................... 596 Over the Andes Mountains, South America ...................................................................................... 597 Vostok Base, Antarctica .................................................................................................................... 599 Earth’s orbit...................................................................................................................................... 600 Moon’s Far Side ............................................................................................................................... 601 Moon’s orbit ..................................................................................................................................... 601 Upper Atmosphere, Earth ................................................................................................................. 602 NOVEMBER 21ST, 2001............................................................................................................................ 603 Unknown location, North America ................................................................................................... 603 NOVEMBER 24TH, 2001............................................................................................................................ 605 London, United Kingdom.................................................................................................................. 605 NOVEMBER 25TH, 2001............................................................................................................................ 606 Mother One, Black Forest, Germany................................................................................................ 606 DECEMBER 7TH, 2001 .............................................................................................................................. 611 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 611 CHAPTER THIRTY – AMBER BLUE ................................................................................................. 614 DECEMBER 9TH, 2001 .............................................................................................................................. 614 Unknown location ............................................................................................................................. 614

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DECEMBER 11TH, 2002 ............................................................................................................................ 615 Sea of Japan...................................................................................................................................... 615 DECEMBER 16TH, 2001 ............................................................................................................................ 615 Unknown location ............................................................................................................................. 615 DECEMBER 19TH, 2001 ............................................................................................................................ 618 Frankfurt-Berlin IDE, Germany ....................................................................................................... 618 DECEMBER 21ST, 2001 ............................................................................................................................ 627 Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China....................................................................... 627 DECEMBER 22ND, 2001............................................................................................................................ 628 Moon ................................................................................................................................................. 628 JANUARY 1ST, 2002 ................................................................................................................................. 630 Geneva, Switzerland ......................................................................................................................... 630 CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE – HERE IT ENDS...................................................................................... 634 MARCH 7TH, 2002.................................................................................................................................... 635 Valles Marineris, Mars ..................................................................................................................... 635 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 636 Valles Marineris, Mars ..................................................................................................................... 638 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 639 Valles Marineris, Mars ..................................................................................................................... 640 MARCH 9TH, 2002.................................................................................................................................... 647 Xanthe Terra, Mars........................................................................................................................... 647 The Pyramid, Cydonia Mensae, Mars............................................................................................... 649 Acidalia Planitia, Mars..................................................................................................................... 650 The Pyramid, Cydonia Mensae, Mars............................................................................................... 651 Far Side of the Moon ........................................................................................................................ 652 The Pyramid, Cydonia Mensae, Mars............................................................................................... 654 Close to the City, Cydonia Mensae, Mars......................................................................................... 655 CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO – CRIMSON DEATH .............................................................................. 658 MARCH 9TH, 2002.................................................................................................................................... 658 The City, Cydonia, Mars................................................................................................................... 658 The Pyramid, Cydonia, Mars............................................................................................................ 680 MARCH 10TH, 2002.................................................................................................................................. 681 Earth ................................................................................................................................................. 681 EPILOGUE............................................................................................................................................... 684 OCTOBER 12TH, 1952............................................................................................................................... 684 Area 51, Nevada, US......................................................................................................................... 684 MARCH 9TH, 2002.................................................................................................................................... 685 Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Earth.............................................................................................................. 685 MARCH 17TH, 2002 ................................................................................................................................ 687 Chryse Planitia, Mars....................................................................................................................... 687 MARCH 9TH, 2012.................................................................................................................................... 689 Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, United States...................................................................... 689

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Prologue
December 17th, 1946
USS Philippine Sea, South Atlantic
Although it was summer on the southern hemisphere, the United States Army Air Force officer that was near one of the elevators on the flight deck of the Essex class aircraft carrier had chosen to wear his flight jacket since the temperatures had been dropping as the fleet moved south towards its destination. The man, who seemed to be in his early thirties, had a smooth face and light eyes, with his nose and ears starting to turn reddish from the cold air outside. The weather was a bit cloudy and it was the first sign to the fleet of gray ships that things were about to get rougher in their mission. The Philippine Sea was the largest ship of the sixteen vessels that made up the task force. Besides the combat escorts it included tenders for seaplanes and tankers, together with a Coast Guard icebreaker that had been rushed from California to be included in the force. Looking at the deck of the carrier and seeing his own plane, he shook his head in frustration. He couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the Navy’s decision to send a dedicated task force of nearly five thousand men to such an extreme place. And it annoyed him even more that his superior officers hadn’t deemed him to be important enough for him to know the reasons of the mission. He had fought a number of operations in the war as a part of the OSS, the more general name for the Office of Strategic Services that had been retired last year. But now that the war was over it seemed as if the politicians were bent on getting rid of all things military. The intermilitary branch agency that had been responsible for espionage and secret military missions through the war had been dismantled last year and he had barely managed to stay attached to what remained of it. However nowadays the Army seemed to be in a hurry to get rid of every soldier and officer in its ranks. He wore golden seven-sided leaves on the collars of his shirt that had almost disappeared completely into the inside of his thick flying jacket. Normally, he’d be considered a bit too young for the rank of major but the war had given him several chances for promotion. However he hadn’t missed any of the action since the Battle of Britain in 1940 where he had volunteered to fight for the Royal Air Force. By the time of the United States’ entry into the war at the end of 1941 he was one of the top US fighter pilots. And the Pentagon had been really quick about assigning him to the newly formed OSS, which badly needed veteran combat pilots. To his surprise he had found out that the other half of his work there, which was related to intelligence, started to be the one which attracted him the most. The information, that had been revealed to him, gave him a view of how military decisions where made based upon intelligence along with his realization of just how fallible the system could be also. And in the case of operation High Jump, he was still wondering what the people at the Pentagon and the White House were thinking about when they called the mission. They were had been ordered to conduct a survey of Antarctica and perform military exercises

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to provide information about combat in those conditions. It simply didn’t make any sense to him to be here. His attention turned to one of the planes parked at one of the ends of the deck, which was completely clear of personnel and stood attached by cables to the floor. The converted DC-3 cargo planes hadn’t been originally designed to be flown off carriers but from long runways on land. However since the Navy’s seaplanes didn’t have the necessary range to reach the inner areas of the pole safely, the DC-3s had been equipped with rocket pods strapped to their wings in addition to their engines, in order to allow taking-off from the short deck. And they were also equipped with large skis to land on the airstrip that would be built on the land by the Navy Seabee construction crews that had been brought for the mission. Underneath the flight deck there were six brand new ‘helicopters’ or whatever the new rotating flying machines were called, together with a small force of Navy fighters and dive-bombers. The officer suspected that there were unofficial reasons for the inclusion of combat aircraft and vessels in the force. At the end of the war in Europe strange reports had started coming in from the South Atlantic concerning large movements of German submarines heading for an unknown destination. And after Germany’s surrender further support for the sightings had been found in the Kriegsmarine’s logs that failed to report a number of U-Boats. Also there were rumors in the OSS that a number of high-ranking Nazi officers had evaded capture by the Allies at the end of the war and were still at large. He tried enquiring the personnel of the Office of Naval Intelligence that was present at the task force, but to no avail. The officers had simply refused to answer any of his questions and had refused to further comment on the matter citing secrecy laws. But the worst part had been the arrogance and pettiness in their tone of voice. Although both the ONI and the OSS had worked together during the war it hadn’t been without points of conflict between the two organizations, with much jealousy and egoism present on both sides. And now the Navy officers were simply ignoring him and the dead OSS, in no doubt getting revenge for old grudges. As he started walking down the flight deck and heading towards the mess hall, the officer looked at the setting Sun that was giving mixed color tones to the white clouds overhead. The Moon was also starting to appear on the horizon, glowing white. A mix of excitement and fear passed through him. Well, soon we’ll all discover what’s the real reason behind all of this.

February 25th, 1947
Ross Sea, Antarctica
Leisurely cruising at 250 knots per hour the converted cargo plane was flying over the Antarctic coastline at a height of four thousand feet. The ski-equipped DC-3 had been painted in a new white and gray artic camouflage and was now standing over the packs of icebergs that littered the waters close to the massive white and blue glaciers. Its cargo section, forming the main body of the plane, had been adapted to carry photographic and other survey equipment, leaving just enough room left for a number of technicians to operate the machines.

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The Major and the co-pilot completed the rest of the crew for this mission. They had taken off from the improvised landing strip at first light and now were following the coastline until the point at which they would turn inland into inner Antarctica. Both men were seated inside the cockpit of the craft, still dressed into winter parkas since the plane wasn’t pressurized. So far operation ‘High Jump’ had been a success. The naval task force was able to enter the Ross Sea and land a party at the continent that had later established a provisional base. Then the DC-3s had successfully taken off from the deck of the carrier and land there on the airstrip without incidents. Both them and the seaplanes had now been operating for more than three weeks conducting photographic and weather surveys. And while it was summer, the cold Antarctic weather still took its toil on men and equipment but that was what they had come here for. However there were still some questions that the major hadn’t been able to find answers for. A number of incidents had taken place since the task force had arrived: Strange lights in the skies that had at first been attributed to boreal auroras. But more unexplainable events had occurred in the past week as one of the destroyer escorts detected the sound of an unidentified submersible object in the proximity of one of the groups. No official explanation had been advanced to explain the contact, which had disappeared as the destroyer was moving to engage it. And whatever is happening no one at the top seems to have an idea about what it is or how to deal with it! It was more than obvious to him that someone was keeping a keen eye on the task force’s actions without revealing their identity. The obvious choice would be to give credit to the rumors that a number of Nazi officers had fled from the crumbling German empire at the last stages of the war and had taken refuge on the ice-covered continent. But another alternative was possible: the Soviets. There were already a number of disturbing reports about Stalin’s intentions about the countries that had been liberated from the Axis powers. Unlike the US Russia wasn’t demobilizing its war machine and instead had left its armies in Eastern Europe. And there were reports that the Soviets had used the war to put a network of intelligence officers in the western countries and that Stalin was desperately seeking to develop atomic weapons by every means necessary, including spying on their allies during the war. The dropping of the bombs on the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the previous year had destroyed the cities and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, but it had brought Japan to its knees and forced its unconditional surrender. Another effect of their use had been to reveal to the stunned world that it was possible to built atomic weapons and although the US now had the monopoly there was a high possibility that other nations would be able to replicate its effort. But why would Stalin also be interested in an operation to Antarctica? No, there’s something missing here that all of us involved aren’t able to discover. He wished that he could talk to some of the people that he knew at the former Research and Analysis branch of the OSS but most of them had either left the intelligence field or now worked in the State Department. However, he doubted that even they had an idea of what was going on. As the Major shook his head to try to clear it, his co-pilot looked to him from his chair at the right of the cockpit. “Tired Major?”

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He let go of a breath of frustration before replying. “Yeah. You got any smokes there?” As the co-pilot fished a pack out of his flying jacket the Major took the controls of the DC-3, keeping it on a straight course towards the south, which was hard since they had to use a sun compass to determine their bearing. Magnetic compasses were nearly useless this close to the south pole and the landscape didn’t help much either, since most of it was composed out of endless plains of white that stretched into the horizon. The co-pilot dug out two cigarettes along with a Zippo lighter and was about to light them up when his eyebrows fringed for a moment as he was looking at the Major’s direction. “What’s the problem?” Taking out the cigarettes from his mouth with one of his hands, the co-pilot pointed across the Major’s face in a puzzled voice. “Is that a reflection?” When the Major looked through the plexiglass window on his left side in response to the co-pilot’s query his own eyes grew wide as he picked it up. A small green dot of light could be seen in the vivid blue sky. First the Major dismissed it as a light effect of the Sun’s rays on the window, but as he rocked his head from one side to the other he discovered that it wouldn’t go away. Moreover it seemed to have a solid appearance, as he noticed that he seemed could make out the contours on the green ball as it slowly started to change its form. “It’s keeping formation with us! What is that thing?!” The co-pilot was now nearly all over the Major as he was bending his body to have a better look at it. Shoving him back to his seat the officer barked an order: “Get back there and have someone take a shot at it with a camera!” Whatever that is we’ll need some sort of proof that it wasn’t just the Antarctic sky playing light tricks with two pilots. As the co-pilot unhooked himself from his chair, the Major checked the plane’s altitude and speed to make sure that they were still on a steady course. He thought of radioing the carrier to report the contact, but as his fingers moved to the transmit button they stopped their motion and instead he gripped the control wheel tighter. The ball had resolved itself into what seemed to be an inverted cup. He still couldn’t tell how far away or how big it was but those aspects ceased to matter as it suddenly crossed the entire sky in front of him and placed itself on the other side of the plane. A foo fighter? During the war there had been numerous reports of strange flying machines made by the crews of the Allied bombers and fighters on missions over Nazi occupied Europe that could perform impossible maneuvers and fly at unheard of speeds. It had been initially thought that they were advanced German planes, such as the jet fighters that they had deployed at the last stages of the war. However the “lights” had never taken any aggressive actions towards the Allied planes and the OSS and the other intelligence agencies didn’t have time to spare in order to investigate what seemed to be weird natural effects. “It was gone before we could take a picture!” The disappointment in the co-pilot’s voice was obvious as he came back from the cargo section.

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“You idiot! It’s on the other side of the plane!” The major barked in reply, still keeping his eyes on the green form. He was now sure that it had to be an artificial object as he had watched it transverse the sky from one side of the cockpit to the other. It kept changing its flight path and performing impossible maneuvers. It must be watching us also. It was time that he reported the contact to the Philippine Sea. The carrier had a pair of Wildcat fighters on alert status and they could be launched in five minutes after the order was issued. However he doubted that the Navy fighters would be able to do much against the craft that he was seeing. A sense of dread came to him as he pressed the transmit button. “Home, this is Seagull Four. I have an unidentified contact…” A loud cracking sound made him stop in the middle of the sentence and his eyes widened in horror as something suddenly flashed and bathed the inside of the plane in a burning light. As the DC-3 suddenly jerked to one side the co-pilot crashed against the hull of the plane, violently banging with his head on a container built into the wall. The Major’s restrains kept him in his seat though and he tried to regain control of the plane but the stiffness of the controls told him that they had lost all hydraulic power and couldn’t move any of the plane’s control surfaces built into its wings and tail. “Get the emergency hydraulics going!” The plane was falling in an uncontrolled spiral towards the surface and he watched as the altitude gauge kept dropping from eighteen thousand feet at which they had been flying, to sixteen thousand in a matter of seconds. When no response came from the other man he looked and saw that the co-pilot was lying on the floor, probably unconscious from hitting the wall of the plane. Another glance at the outside told him what had happened to the DC-3. One of its wings had been completely ripped off from whatever had hit them. The Major realized that there was no way they could make an emergency landing, the Major realized and they would hit the ground in less than a minute. Unhooking himself from his seat he tried to stabilize himself as he raced to the co-pilot’s and checked his condition. Crouched against the wall that separated the cockpit from the cargo area he saw that the man was dead. “What is happening? What hit us?” A voice asked in panic as one of the three technicians managed to reach the door. “Get out of here fast!” He hoped that his parachute was still functional as he raced down the length of the cargo section towards the door at the end. As he entered the area holding the photographic equipment the stench of burned flesh briefly caught his attention but he ignored the badly burned cadaver that was against a mass of destroyed equipment near a large hole on where the now lost wing had been attached to the main body. Going over the gap he saw to his surprise that the metal edge of the hole wasn’t carved like he had expected but instead it seemed melted instead. The metal was still incredibly hot as he grabbed the sides with both hands and it started burning through his thick gloves though he ignored it. Lunging his body forward across the opening he hoped that he still had time to safely deploy his parachute. The mangled inside of the plane was quickly replaced by the openness of free falling as he quickly got away from the falling craft. The white ground quickly approached as his

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hands tried to find the cord to deploy the chute and his mind raced in confusion. What was that thing?

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Chapter One – The First Tunes
December 9th, 1998
Swiss military air base outside Geneva, Switzerland
The invitations to the sixteen most developed nations of the world had arrived about a month ago after a long closed discussion between the Secretary General and the Security Council of the UN. They simply proposed the realization of a secret meeting, with the purpose of discussing the extraordinary events that had been taking place on Earth for more than a year now. During that time the major economic powers had tried to respond to them, bringing up the alert levels of their armed forces and trying to get scientific explanations, but so far the results were less than zero. And the word was already out on the streets, despite the efforts of the various governments to impose a black out on the subject. For most of the invited countries the response to the conference was immediate. The others took some more days in even acknowledging the reception of the message but all countries accepted the invitation. On the day before the proposed date, military and governmental passenger planes from all the invited nations started arriving at a Swiss airfield near Geneva. The air traffic controllers first noticed the unusual nature of the flights as they saw the origin of the incoming place was spread out throughout the planet and from the few information available to them they started to realized who the passengers might be. Then, as they landed, the ground personnel also took notice of the international nature of the flights arriving and even recognized some of the planes. Both the tower and ground crews wondered what was going on, but they kept quiet as they were all bound to strict security rules and verbal warnings that prohibited them from discussing the matter with anyone. The ground crewmen, who saw the officials arriving by car to greet the visitors, where even more surprised to see the light blue of the United Nations flag on the some of the limousines and that no less than the Secretary General of the UN was present. They were quickly also to recognize both the Swiss President and Prime-Minister, which were also present, greeting the world’s leaders as they stepped off their individual planes. Although Switzerland was keeping its neutral profile, they had agreed on hosting the UN summit. After each leader greeted the UN’s General Secretary and the Swiss leaders, each of the chiefs of State and Government attending the summit quickly headed to one of the available limousines with his entourage and sped off to a facility outside the city.

December 10th, 1998
Governmental facility outside Geneva, Switzerland
The sixteen delegations were seated in a large meeting room in a circle, each country and the UN occupying a table, with more chairs available to the lesser officials behind the tables. The Chiefs of State and Government of all the countries were present, together with their military leadership and selected officials.

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Outside the room a full staff of UN translators was working around the clock to provide simultaneous translation for the summit. But even though they were well-trained professionals, surprised and interrogative looks were exchanged at times between themselves when they realized the importance of the exchanges of conversation being made in the room next to them. All the attention of the people in the larger room was focused on a screen in one of the walls. The first image that appeared consisted of radar data, superimposed over a map of Siberia. The most surprisingly to the delegations was the date and time displayed in one of the corners. It showed that the records were from just about a week before. Several flights were identified and catalogued as either civilian or military aircraft, but suddenly a blip coming out of the Arctic pole appeared on screen. It was marked as “Unknown” and data scrolling showed his speed to be over Mach five and to be quickly descending. It headed southwards until finally stopping some 20 miles from the RussianChinese border. The map showed it close to a circular icon that apparently designated a either facility or settlement. The screen when black and a phrase come up, written in Russian but with an English translation underneath. It stated: “Visual report on the investigation of the distress signal received from Outpost Zbrynia 41”. After some seconds the screen transformed itself into an image of the Siberian tundra, with a military compound in the back. As the camera operator moved towards the buildings, heavily armed Russian soldiers could be seen in the background along with assault and transport helicopters as the camera slowly moved to the sides to give a general view of the installation. As it approached the entrance it could be clearly seen that the front gate and the watch post had been blown into pieces. Some military snow vehicles could also be seen, reduced to their metallic skeletons after being charred by flames. The operator then switched the view of the camera to the floor. An AK-74 assault rifle was sitting there along a pool of blood and spent cartridges. The rest of the images showed big blast holes on the buildings and the same amount of chaos. As it progressed along the inside of the installation it paused in the radio room. The communications equipment was trashed and another pool of dried blood was on the floor along with a sidearm and empty casing shells. The screen flickered a bit again and the following phrases appeared being written on it: “Transcript of the first radio report sent by the relief forces that arrived at the scene ten hours after the reception of the distress signal. All 152 members of the garrison stationed at Outpost Zbrynia 41 are missing, presumed dead. Evidence of heavy combat in the area, but no bodies found, either of the garrison or of the attacking forces. We also have no indication or tracks of the means of transportation used by the attackers to leave the area. Air Rifle Battalion 271 will continue to investigate and secure the surroundings”. After the image disappeared and the lights came on an uneasy silence was set upon the room. It was however quickly replaced by a distressed comment.

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“This can’t just happen anymore!” The Russian President was quite upset, striking the palm of his hands into the wooden table where the Russian delegation sat. The other representatives of the world’s biggest economic powers just sat in silence on their own tables, contemplating what they had just seen as the electronic screen was starting to recede back into one of the walls. Behind one of the tables the US President turned to a man next to him and asked: “How come our intelligence agencies hasn’t picked this up?” The other man was the Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, the individual responsible for the entire intelligence community in the US that is also the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA. He half turned his head before replying. “Mr. President, so far our resources have been more oriented into assessing how this unknown forces may pose a threat to our national security. The amounts of reports from our sources worldwide have been backlogged so that we can deal with the information that we have regarding our national territory. We have maintained contact with our allies and are regularly exchanging information with them, but in this case we didn’t have enough time to sort and analyze the reports coming from the former Soviet Union. Besides that we have also other operations in progress regarding this matter that had priority. Also the Russians must have been keeping a tight lid on their security”. “Is there a probability of something like this happening over one of our military installations?” “I would say very likely sir. We are one of the major powers on Earth and we can’t pass unnoticed by them. Of course their intentions are still unknown, which makes any prediction of their future actions an educated guess. But from the interference we have already experienced over some of our military bases around the world this action can certainly be seen as an act of escalation”. “Ladies and gentlemen. I think we all agree about the need to take a concerted action on this subject”. The Secretary General of the United Nations rose from his seat and looked around, addressing each of the statesmen present. “So far all reports that were brought to the meeting of the Security Council and now to this conference indicate that the strange and unexplainable phenomena that the world has seen in the past years cannot be the action of any terrestrial power.” “Unexplainable? Try telling that to my dead servicemen!” The Russian President suddenly rose. “Let me tell you all what you have just seen right now: a pure act of war! Simply speaking there could be no other explanation for this!” When the translation was finished another voice replied. “Mr. Larianov, just for the sake of asking: couldn’t your troops have taken actions that could have been considered as aggressive to these aliens, thus provoking some sort of retaliation by them?”. The Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party didn’t move or even look directly at the Russian president while asking the question or afterwards while waiting for the translation. “Mr. Zhu, my armed forces have been on alert since the first corroborated reports came in of these strange craft flying over the skies. They are under orders not to fire unless fired upon. And that outpost didn’t have any aggressive role”. What the Russian president

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didn’t admit was that it was in fact a listening station for Chinese radio transmissions. The Chinese Premier was aware of that fact but he chose not to pursue it, yet. “Still, there are no survivors that can tell us of what really happened in Siberia, are there?” “That is besides the point. The last transmission received from the base was an emergency call, stating that they were under attack by unknown forces. And believe me that if we had wanted to attack these extraterrestrial craft we would have used all of our military capabilities, not just the garrison of an outpost in the middle of the Siberian tundra”. “You would not have achieved anything if you did”. The Japanese Defense Minister cut in. “What? How would you know?” The Russian Chief of State turned his stare towards the Japanese delegation. Looking to the side the minister saw the nod of his Prime Minister and continued. “Some months ago our country established a force to investigate these phenomena. We equipped them with the latest technologies our defense forces have available and tried to intercept the crafts. The results were zero. We disbanded the unit last month because we simply couldn’t justify its costs anymore” “And how come you haven’t informed us before of that?” “So far any nation present here hasn’t bothered to inform the others about what is happening and preferred to consider it as an internal affair. We saw no advantage of doing that, especially until we had proven that this threat didn’t come from any terrestrial nation” The Chinese Premier quickly picked the implication on the Japanese argument. “And who can really prove that these craft are truly extraterrestrial in origin? Couldn’t this be the work of, for instance, the Americans having discovered some advanced technology?” “Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that my country isn’t involved into any of these attacks. I sincerely wish that we had the advanced capabilities possessed by those craft, but the truth is that we don’t”. The US President had been having a tough time with China from ever since Zhu had risen to the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Already a full war had nearly erupted between China and Taiwan about two years before, with the US intervening to keep the island’s independence. “Gentlemen, this is leading to nowhere”. Bomaka, the Secretary General interrupted. “The reports so far have been staggering: cattle mutilations and individual abductions happening all over the world. Sightings of those….” He hesitated before saying the word “UFOs, which possess capabilities unheard of over population centers and military bases. If they aren’t made on Earth there cannot be any other explanation than that some alien life form is behind all these events!” The Secretary General of the UN was trying to establish some control and direction to the discussion. But his power in the world was close to nothing and so was his ability to be listened by the participants in the room. The several delegations that comprised the conference were busy talking, but for the most part conferring between themselves and ignoring the words his words. .

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President Winston turned to his DCI and asked: “This couldn’t be right, could it? Could Iraq or North Korea have developed this sort of technology?” “Impossible sir. This would require a level of technological development that we would have noticed by now. The same applies to the Russians, Chinese or any other nation in this room. If you remember we have discussed this before when the sightings appeared and the conclusion both the National Security Agency and the CIA came up with was that there wasn’t any nation capable of developing and deploying such craft”. “So we consider them as having an extraterrestrial origin then like Bomaka is saying?” The DCI just slumped his shoulders and said: “Yes sir. Although as before this is still quite unbelievable”. Across the room and behind another table the Chairman of the CCP turned to his deputy and said: “We now watch and go along with the events. There is still this question about American involvement to explore”. “Comrade Secretary, to explore? The general feeling seems to be that there is the need for have some action. If not collective at least individually.” “And there probably will be. And we will participate…for now”

Unknown location, North America
On the other side of the world a group of men watched the conference on a large screen with all their attention. Images of all of the delegations were present on the screen, with subtitles provided in every case that the language used wasn’t familiar to the men. The software program did quite a good job in every case. Of course it would take years, if not decades, until it’s capabilities were available to the general public and the same with the technology that was providing the group of men with the eavesdropping of the conference. They were all seated on chairs disposed in a half-circle in the middle of a small amphitheater. None looked to be less than forty years old and their age increased from the sides to the center of the half-circle. The one on the middle of them all was the eldest and the lines over his hawkish eyes and white hair struck a sharp contrast between him and the younger men. Keeping his eyes on the screen the man known in the group as Number One simply spoke. “Looks like our friends just advanced the schedule a little ahead of what was planned”. There was no immediate reply from him to the comment that had come from the blonde man seated on his left. “Yes, but this was not unconsidered by us before”. On the right side of One, Number Two gave the reply he was expecting with his low bass voice. Anyone ignorant about the group could assume that by his position he was his right-side arm but that was not the case, although in this situation he had proven quite skillful in carrying out his plans. “What actions should we take now? Should we undermine any possible cooperation that comes out of this gathering? There are a lot of mistrusts that can easily be exploited in that room”. Still silent, One waited to see the end of the discussion.

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“No, that would be compromising the whole plan. At this stage we can’t risk that national intelligence services discover our existence or any of our operatives”, A third figure seated on the left of One but far from the trio added his comments: “But if we already have top positions in the intelligence services, couldn’t we cover-up our activities like we have been doing all these years?” One cleared his throat as a warning and made a mental note to himself. Like others on the room, Nine held a high-ranking public position and he didn’t agree with that amount of exposure. Two shook his head. “They could, but with the political, social and intelligence turmoil that this will provoke any attempt to prolong the cover-up will be sure to fail after a while, when the reports of several sources start to arrive. Then they will be asking: who is concealing the information? We simply cannot keep this whole thing in the bag anymore and have public and government opinion attribute it to a bunch of mental cases or social paranoia. No, like a chess game we wait for their next move. And then we act accordingly to it”. “And whose move will that be, Two? The Earth nations or our friends?” asked number Four, in an English that had a high-pitched accent. “Both, it seems. Our ‘friends’ duplicity is well known to us. From now on we will not assume anything about them. And we will think of ways of turning events so that our plan goes forward.” “Then, if this conference turns into international cooperation, I suggest that we infiltrate whatever comes out of it”. Number Three’s suggestion was the right course of action and the man seemed to take pleasure in knowing it. “That has been already taken care of”. Number One’s first statement into the discussion brought well-concealed looks of surprise from those in the room who had not been made privy to his previous work. Quickly recovering from the surprise, Three asked. “What? You have taken action without consulting with the rest of us?” “This is an emergency situation. The attack on Siberia and the news of the resulting conference in Geneva would require us to take measures, so I simply anticipated what would be our response, acting on the prerrogative of my position as One. But, like you have said, this demands a ratification of my actions by the remaining eleven. We shall finish debating it and afterwards you will vote to decide if my actions were correct or not” The decision was taken after two hours of cold, rational debate. The position of Number One only allowed him to vote as a tiebreaker. While he was the major coordinator of this group of men, all of them with the same goal, but each one representing different interests and possessing different ambitions, he needed to convince the others of his actions. But these events had been long predicted and discussed, so his decisions were ratified. By a majority.

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Geneva, Switzerland
Despite the fact that the conference room had been checked for bugs by each of the counter-intelligence services of the seven countries whose leaders were present, the sweeps failed to detect the devices that were transmitting it to the other side of the ocean. The seven Chiefs of State and Government at the meeting were the leaders of the NATO countries that were attaining the conference. They had decided previously to gather during the event, due to the previous exchanges of information. “Gentlemen, first of all, let me guarantee you that the US does not possess such aerial craft which we have all reported right now”. Winston started and the French president nodded to him. “Mr. Winston, the French Government had its top scientists investigating since it started to see if it could be man made. The results were negative and they were verified by information from other resources”. The US President raised an eyebrow at that statement, but then logic took over him. He had personally signed the executive order authorizing Operation Close Friend some months ago. Basically speaking, everyone had apparently spied on each other trying to discover the origin of the craft. “Yes, I believe we all had our own investigations and all of them agree that the statement of the Chinese Chairman is incorrect”. The British Prime-Minister added and nods from the other leaders present confirmed his opinion. “So what should we do now? Should NATO take its own measures, according to the Alliance’s Charter?” asked the Italian Prime-Minister. “That might not be the best case. If the US were to act on its own in this matter, others could see it as some individualistic effort aimed at getting an advantage over the others. The same might happen if NATO decides to respond alone to this threat”. The French leader replied. “But can we trust the other nations? Japan, for instance, hid from the rest of the world the creation of a force to deal with the aliens”. The German Chanceler’s argument brought worried nods. “I think that by now we all have come to realize that this isn’t anything originating from this planet. And if we want to have success we need to act together”. Winston was growing restless and anxious to get to the point. “Planning a multinational operation? That would be a nightmare! We had almost fifty years of experience with NATO and we still have problems coordinating our armed forces after all that time. How can we expect to fight this collectively if the whole world is involved? We can’t just throw in troops and expect that they fight like a unit, side by side. And who gets to provide leadership by the way? Les Americains again? Now how would Russia or China feel for Russia?” A hint of sarcasm filled the French President’s voice. Great, not the French attitude again! Winston thought as he thought of a diplomatic reply. “But Mr. Latour if this operation is undertaken by NATO, it makes sense to use the present command structures existent” 28

“And who will be the first country protected by the NATO military then? You expect us to believe that it will be a European country if an American stays in command?” “Gentlemen, we are getting besides the point here. We already know that worldwide cooperation will be essential. What we need to discuss is how we will use our military force on this matter and establish some coordination and command over global efforts”. William Holt, the British Prime-Minister, was more than used to the task of trying to reconcile both the American’s and the European’s positions in NATO reunions after the intervention on Kosovo. “Well, the Japanese efforts seem to shed some light on that matter. We need our best pilots and troops equipped with the latest equipment available. I propose using special forces units such as my country’s SEAL and Delta teams, or England’s SAS Regiment or France’s elite paratroop regiments”. “Oui. My military staff has also come up with the same conclusions before”. Well, at least the French bastard can be reasonable sometimes, thought Winston. “That sounds agreeable but again, what structure will we use? Our own survival may be at stake here”. The German Chancellor still had childhood memories of the devastation brought on his country by the Second World War. The heated discussion occupied one more hour until the leaders decided to adjourn and wait for next day’s conference results.

CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia
“Well MacAllister, what’s the story on the Project Blue Book files?” Major John MacAllister made a frown on his face before answering to his superior. At the same time as the international conference was taking place in Geneva, a similar meeting was taking place early in the morning, at the CIA headquarters at Langley Virginia. “Strange to say the least”. Terry Williams, member of the National Intelligence Committee, looked at his subordinate with an interrogating look. Some time had gone since he had been assigned to a multi agency effort, formed through an Executive Order from the President, to assess the threat of the UFOs to national security. They were dealing mainly with reports from other organizations like the FBI, CIA and local and state law enforcement agencies. But they were also going through other pieces of information coming from strange sources, such as Project Blue Book. From the late 1940’s the Air Force had decided to investigate the general reports of UFOs through a number of projects. The latest one was called Blue Book and was closed in the 60s, after the analysis concluded that such objects could be explained by nature or man-made action. But there were still some events that remained unaccounted for. Williams turned to MacAllister as a puff of disbelief came from the other side of the table. It was hard at times to deal with the several elements that composed his multiagency team like him or Mark Davis, the FBI representative attached who was less than thrilled. The previous tasks of the subdirector included dealing with counter-espionage and counter-subversion and those were the roles that he was representing on this meeting. For his part, Williams was a member of the National Intelligence Commission, which advised the Director of Central Intelligence, who overall coordinated the efforts of

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several federal agencies. And as such, Williams’s job was to provide his superior, the Chairman of the Commission, with information that would go again up the ladder, through the Director of Central Intelligence to the President himself. However Davis had been a field agent and he disdained desk analysts like himself and MacAllister. “Strange? Well there are reports of abductions and experimentations on American citizens over and over. What could be more strange than some files dealing with alleged UFOs?” The official of the Defense Intelligence Agency moved on his chair. MacAllister was a major on the intelligence arm of the US armed forces and he had been assigned to review all UFO information gathered by the military on the past. “Well let’s put it this way. Most of the files are junk. A light seen someplace, a buzz heard… things like that. They are either a misinterpretation of military planes or natural phenomena or even hoaxes. But some remain unexplained to this day. Of course now it seems that they are accounted for, taking into light the events of the past months.” Williams pressed for more. “So?” “While I was looking at some of the files I recognized the name of one of the investigators. He worked on Blue Book for some years right before the thing got axed and he later went on to teach in the Air Force Academy. That’s from where I know him ‘cause he was one of my instructors when I joined the DIA.” “Maybe you should arrange for a class reunion with him then” Mark Davis retorted. McAllister didn’t even bother to look at the FBI man. “In any case, I gave him a call the other day and asked him what he could remember of Blue Book, now that it has been declassified. He mentioned some files that really puzzled him, because there was no logical explanation for them”. “Have you checked them?” “I would if I could. The thing is that are absent from the records”. “What? Are you sure? Couldn’t they have been misplaced?” Bureaucratic errors were not uncommon Williams immediately thought but MacAllister shook his head. “No, because all the files are there”. “What the hell are you talking about then?” “Well, for instance he mentions the case of an airline pilot that saw a big UFO escorted by two smaller ones back in the 60’s and that one of the small ones had harassed the 707 that he was flying, making his engines flame out. I went to look for that file and it isn’t there” “Maybe he’s just old and his memories aren’t that good anymore. I don’t know, Alzheimer or something”. Williams gave a hard look at Davies because of the comment but the other man didn’t bulge and stared back. “I thought that he might be making a mistake and I asked him if he remembered anything else. Apparently this guy’s memory is still impressive. He could recall the name of the pilot, so I found out if he still was alive and called him on his place in Florida. The old timer could still remember every detail and confirmed everything”.

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Confusion made Williams wince. “Who the hell took that file out of Blue Book then?” “That’s the thing. It wasn’t taken out, not officially. According to the logs existent all the files are there. But this one incident is absent from the central records”. “Wait a minute. Are you saying somebody changed the logs and replaced the file?” Davis attention was suddenly caught on the conversation. “Before you go on giving any other explanation just remember that this could well have been a bureaucratic error instead”. MacAllister shrugged his shoulders. “Well, either way I can’t think of any other explanation. But you might be right, of course”. “Let’s get back to the possibility someone might have changed the records. Who could do it? Parker, any ideas?” Brian Parker, the CIA liaison with the team was a very quiet man, rarely speaking unless he had something to say or ask. Officially he had come from the Agency’s Directorate of Analysis but Williams had never heard of him when he had been on the employ of the CIA. The fact wouldn’t be surprising considering that the Agency had thousands of workers but he had worked under the Directorate of Analysis before being assigned to the NIC. He suspected that the man really worked for the Directorate of Operations, the section responsible for conducting clandestine actions and that his present role was simply a cover. “None. I can’t see the point of any foreign nation wanting to cover-up this. Unless they ready had knowledge of the UFO affair and decided to keep the rest of the world in the dark. But this is really something for the Bureau to check out in any case”. “What about the forces involved in all of these incidents, presuming that they are not from Earth?” Williams was unsure that Parker was right. “Nonsense. How could they either have knowledge of such a project or even manage to infiltrate our military bases to gain access to the project?” The idea made Davis think but the man refrained from sharing anything. Williams attributed it to the mistrust between both the FBI and the CIA: no one wanted to admit a foul-up to the other and both didn’t like much to cooperate with one another. But the list of questions kept growing and Williams wasn’t sure that they would find the answers, even if he got both agencies to work together. “Well, something strange has happened with Blue Book and somebody did it. The question is who since we now acknowledge the existence of UFOs, the files missing are hardly important now”. “That’s true, I found nothing in the remaining files that could give us an indication of their intentions or their methods”, added MacAllister. “Well, that door let to nothing then. Davis, what do you got for us?” “So far law enforcement agencies throughout the country have reported a growing number of cattle mutilation incidents, along with abductions and claims of alien experimentation on them and even missing people. Related to that there’s a general feeling of insecurity with all of those reports that are leaking to the media. But the FBI has never found any evidence that there might be extra-terrestrial activity being all this. Some weird cuts on cattle and some kidnappings, but that’s it.”

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“For crying out loud! areas during the time MacAllister. NORAD Cold War to monitor nuclear attacks.

You have seen the NORAD reports about UFO activity in those of those incidents. There is a relation between things!” shouted was the North American Air Defense, a command created in the the airspace of the United States and Canada against aerial and

Davis dismissed his objections. “I prefer to take more believable explanations about what’s happening, MacAllister.” ”Enough of this”. Williams cut in. “Parker, what’s the international situation?” “Pretty much the same as here. The information that we are getting of our allies and our sources report the same type of incidents. We are still considering the possibility that this might be the work of some nation, in order to generate worldwide panic for some reason, but so far that trail has lead to nothing”. “Maybe the CIA should go to an eye doctor”. Davis snap comment even made Parker look at him with an annoyed look. “Davis, that’s enough from you! You got your orders and if we want to succeed we all need to collaborate together. I’m not saying you might not have a point there, but as of this moment we are considering all possibilities, is that clear?” Williams asked himself why the FBI man was so hard on his head. Maybe he just can’t deal with the fact that ET has come. Davis responded laconically. “Yes”. When the tension began to drop a little bit MacAllister asked. “And what is the NSA getting?” “Zip”, started Pharris, the last person in the room. “So far we have failed every attempt to detect any transmissions from the craft. We also don’t have a clue about their intentions. Either they are using some transmission devices that our technology can’t detect or they are operating in some total electronic blackout”. “That doesn’t leave us much to work on”. Frustration was patent in MacAllister’s voice. Williams looked at his watch to check the date. Only two more days before he would have to report to Washington. “Well in any case, I got orders from the upper office: we wrap up what we know about them and present a report in a few days. I suggest that we start with an estimate of the number of craft that are behind these events and their possible intentions, whatever they might be. Parker, want do the honors?”

December 11th, 1998
Geneva, Switzerland
The Russian President was furious. A week had pasted over the attack on Siberia and the reports from military commands all over the Federation kept mentioning the presence of unidentified craft. In all the cases interceptors were sent to deal with the intruders and the air defense systems were on full alert, ready for action. But every attempt made at intercepting the craft had blatantly failed, because of their agility and speed. Nuclear forces were being kept around the clock in full alert, but there wasn’t any target available 32

and blasting pieces of the country into atomic oblivion just to get some planes, or spaceships or whatever they were would be a waste. “So Marshal Boganovitch, you are telling me that our armed forces are incapable of defending the Motherland?” The high-ranking officer responsible for the Russian Federation’s armed forces was very uncomfortable. “Yes sir. We simply don’t have the technological resources to match those of the intruders. And even if we had the resources of the Soviet Union the results would be the same”. Piotr Larianov looked at the uneaten part of his breakfast. He wasn’t hungry anymore, stopping when he got the full measure of the crisis. “Suggestions to prevent further attacks then, Marshal. There simply has to be something we could do”. “Sir, to give you an example, our MiG-31 fighters are one of the fastest in the world, not even considering that the previous model, the MiG-25, is even faster. However, both of them move like snails, compared to the speed of the craft we encounter. We have recorded speeds of plus Mach Six with these invaders. That even beats our fastest surface to air missiles. The same applies with the MiG-29 and Sukhoi-35 fighters. They are some of the most agile in the world but they don’t match the enemy’s capabilities”. “We can’t intercept them? How about reacting to further attacks on military installations?” “Either these forces strike bases right next to available reaction forces or the problem is that by the time we get there the attackers are gone. I deployed a full airborne rifle battalion to assist the Siberian outpost, but by the time they got there the enemy had already departed. I’m sorry sir, but the Motherland is a big country”. “I see”. Larianov lowered his head in frustration. “But I would like your permission to implement the Skyranger program sir. We might get enough time to react that way”. “The what?” At least was something positive, Larianov thought. ”Skyranger program. Do you remember the Yak-141 Freestyle program sir?” Searching through his mind he remembered something about that plane. “Didn’t we cancel it some years ago?” “Yes sir. It was originally developed during the communist regime and was a supersonic fighter with vertical take-off capabilities. But although the program was abandoned, the Yakolev manufacturers continued to develop and implement the VTOL technology. A couple of years ago they presented the Yak-155 model, called the Skyranger, as a parallel to the American Osprey Vertical Take-Off and Landing transport program, only that is much faster than its American counterpart.” ”I see, and what do you propose then Marshal?” “In spite of heavy government cuts they have continued to develop the program even with scarce private funding. They have some prototypes in flying condition. I suggest we give the plane top priority and deploy it as fast as possible”.

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“And how would we use it?” Maybe Boganovitch wasn’t as useless as he sounded. “To transport Spetsnaz elite commandos to react to further attacks. With the Skyranger it might be possible for them to get there on time”. “Your plan has merit Marshal. Well done. You are hereby ordered to implement it as fast as possible, using all resources available”. “Thank you sir. And may I propose something else?” “What?” All of the sudden the Marshal was starting to perform his job, Larianov thought. “The Anti Ballistic Missiles deployed around Moskva. I believe we should re-equip them for anti-satellite use. It would give us a weapon in case these invaders are truly not from Earth” “And leave the capital defenseless?” “It already is sir. If one of those craft decided to drop a hydrogen bomb today on Moskva, the early warning we would get would be of the image of the nuclear blast on television”. “I’m still not convinced Marshal. Make the necessary arrangements, but wait for my command to perform the change” “Right sir. And finally, I believe we should militarize the Mir space station”. Boganovitch knew he was going a bit too far on that one, but he also believed it justified what it would cost in political terms. “And throw into the garbage the Non-Militarization of Space Agreement? Are you mad Boganovitch?” “Sir, Mir was designed also to have military functions as well. We do not need to deploy spatial weapons into it right now, but we can man it with personnel and equipment to extend our detection and intelligence capabilities”. “You seem to have the arguments for everything, don’t you?” “I’m paid to serve the country sir. We might be a shadow of our former might but we still have some assets available. The General Staff and me spent all night analyzing what we have through videoconference so that we could have some options. On your order we can start the preparations to launch a Soyuz capsule carrying personnel in a few weeks. Later we will send a Progress rocket with the necessary equipment as soon as we prepare it for zero-gravity environment”. He actually had liked the military man’s attitude at the end. “Well done. Now go and have some rest. There’s a lot that still needs to be decided and that might be the toughest fight of all so far”.

NORAD Headquarters, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States
The underground command facility responsible for the defense of North America had been on Defcon Two alert for months, in full preparation for war. General Bigelow, the commanding officer of NORAD, looked at the window of his office to the Board that was the heart of the Air Defense Center. A large image of the CONUS, or Continental United States was being displayed in a full three-dimensional mode. Another “fast mover” had

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been tracked, entering the American Air Defense Zone some 100 miles north of San Francisco, flying 30 thousand feet over the Pacific at Mach Six. He looked at his desk and saw the amount of reports from this month alone. The pile already seemed to be of the same height as that of November, with two weeks still left until New Year’s Eve. Bigelow felt extremely tired like the rest of the men he commanded. On the floor a systems operator had just ordered a flight of F-16 Air National Guard fighters to intercept the intruder. Again the same drama unfolded: the planes just weren’t fast enough or didn’t have the enough fuel to catch up with the intruder. Other airbases went into full alert along the predicted path of the fast mover. Bigelow started wondering what was the point using the same worthless tactics over and over.

Area 51, Nevada, United States
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harris finished his pre-flight preparations and grabbed his helmet. It wasn’t a regular helmet. In fact it looked more like one that might be used by astronauts rather than a jet pilot. But he was used to them. Having flown the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance bird for more than a decade he knew the necessity of wearing the bulky flight equipment necessary for flying a plane at tremendous heights and speeds. And, after the retirement of the SR-71 in the 1989 he continued flying the same way as before. Only now his ride was a different one. When plans were announced for the dismissal of the Blackbird, Harris was readying himself to work as a test pilot for NASA or some technical department. That thought quickly disappeared when some of the top brass asked him if he would be interested in participating in some special project under top security. He knew what it meant: not being able to talk about it with anyone and being posted to a location lost in the middle of nowhere. But he jumped right at it after two seconds of thought and had never regretted it. The plane Harris now flew was responsible for some of the Earth shakes felt by Southern California citizens in the last years. It was still a “black” project, officially denied by the government but that was operative for some years now. It was called the Aurora and it looked more like a machine straight out of Buck Rogers than a plane. Its short wings stretched back and connected with its twin tails, making it look like a stretched triangle when looked at from above. And there was no “bubble” canopy for the pilot. From the nose to the tail the fuselage made an ellipse where the pilot and the rear electronics officer where located together with the reconnaissance equipment and the huge fuel tanks. The intakes for the advanced ramjet engines where situated on the belly of the plane. The reason for that was that the plane needed to spread the air over the entire length of its body in order to be able to reach Mach 6 speeds. The aerothermodynamic ducts, or ramjets, located there used the whole underside of the plane to compress the air before it went to the engines. The engineers that built the Aurora also realized that they would have to control the heat made by the friction with air of a craft going over six times the speed of sound. The heat would have to be evenly distributed over all parts of the craft and disposed of. Thus the liquid methane fuel used was heated

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before it went to the engine and then the excess heat would be expelled through the exhaust situated in the rear underside of the plane. The Aurora was a technological marvel. It could cruise at speeds so far only reached by test planes and for short periods of time. Although it only had limited stealth abilities, its strength wasn’t deception but speed. It would be extremely difficult for a surface to air missile or an interceptor to reach a plane that moved miles per second. The mission scheduled for tonight was extremely different from what the plane had been developed for though. Harris hardly believed it when he was briefed some hours later. As the General had put it: “it’s hard to believe Colonel, but we need to get some information on the abilities of those machines up in the air. And there might be some danger involved. We don’t know how they will react to the Aurora’s presence”. At the same time it was a challenge that Harris knew would take him to the extreme. And that’s why he accepted it. The plane was already on the tarmac, fully equipped, hardly illuminated in the middle of the black night. Some hours before technicians had equipped its cargo bay with reconnaissance and electronic surveillance equipment. Harris looked at the sight and smiled. Tonight we are going for a wild ride baby.

Air Force One, Military Airbase outside Geneva, Switzerland
The Air Force One was the name of the Boeing 747 specially modified to transport the US President. It also allowed the Commander in Chief of the American military to direct a nuclear war from there, due to the communications and electronic equipment it carried. President Winston had decided to spend the night at the plane, declining the use of the facilities provided by the Swiss government. Not that the comfort of his room on the 747 was better though. Operation Hawk had been authorized some months ago. Although the date set would put it in the middle of the conference, the Go order was given in order for its results to be used in the conference. And in the early dawn the American leadership was up, cramming themselves into the communications room of the airplane. “Mr. President, the Aurora is ready on the runway. We are already informing NORAD of the mission profile. Pretty soon they will have a target for the Aurora.” The image of the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff flickered on the computer screen for a second. “Very well General. Gentlemen, further recommendations?” The Secretary of Defense and the DCI shook their heads. “Let’s get this show running then. Execute Operation Hawk when ready”. “Yes sir. Transferring command to Cheyenne Mountain this minute”. “God’s speed, General”. President Winston turned to the Defense Secretary. “Are we on communication with our allies?” He looked at one of the Air Force officers who nodded to him before replying. “Yes sir, we are informing them of every step we take”. “Good, Mark, what’s the status of my National Security Adviser?” “Candace is doing great sir. I just talked to her on the secure line. The tumor removal operation was successful and she’s constantly arguing with the hospital staff to let her go

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to her work”. The DCI frowned: “Unfortunately it will take a few more weeks for her to even be able to leave the hospital”. “Keep her informed about things”. The DCI then looked at another officer. “Yes sir”.

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States
Deep inside the mountain General Bigelow smiled when he read his new orders signed by the President. Tonight things would work out a little different, he considered as he called the communications officer and informed him of how things would go tonight. He looked at the Board. The fast mover had taken a southeasterly route after reaching land and reducing speed to Mach 3. Still too fast for the F-16 interceptors, but now he had an ace up his sleeve. “Notify the Nest. Tell them to release the Hawk and give him an approach vector to the fast mover”. “Yes sir.” The communications officer also smiled. Tonight things would be different.

Area 51, Nevada, United States
Lt. Colonel Andrew Harris got his final instructions from the tower and pushed the throttle lever to full and nearly 80,000 pounds of aircraft and fuel started to move down the runway. After take-off he quickly reached the altitude of angels twelve, or twelve thousand feet. Then he engaged the afterburner and the Aurora started going hypersonic. Usually aircraft would be forbidden to reach that speeds at such a low altitude over land, but tonight three air traffic corridors had been cleared by NORAD just for Operation Hawk. The passengers would just have to take a few more hours to get to their destination, Harris thought and smiled at the excuse the airports would making up for the delay. Looking down his display unit, filled with information being beamed directly to his craft from NORAD, he saw that the target was 500 miles away, only some minutes away from him.

Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland
“Sir, I got word from NORAD. The Hawk is hunting.” The JCS couldn’t hide his satisfaction as he reported to President Winston. “Good. Keep the reports coming General, I want to be informed about everything in the minute. If there’s even the slightest possibility of danger tell the pilot to back off, is that understood?” “Fully, sir”

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States
The whole floor of Strategic Air Defense became mesmerized when the icon for Hawk appeared on the Board heading out towards the fast mover. Usually, the operator that picked up an Aurora on the radar had orders to dismiss it and not even make it visualize on the board, due to its classified nature. But tonight things were different and everyone had their eyes on the screen. “Hawk is approaching target sir, range 47 miles”.

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“Tell Hawk to make a pass about one mile in front of the target. And for his rear electronics officer to start preparing his equipment”.

Northern California, United States
Harris slowly moved the plane to the direction plotted on his Head’s Up Display. The computer had the mission parameters and was relaying him of the course that he should take. He keyed his mike. “John, how are we doing back there?” The voice of the officer on the back cabin that operated the Aurora’s reconnaissance equipment replied on his headphones. “Great Andy. I think I’m gonna puke again, the way you are pushing this beast”. The velocity at which they were moving made for some hard pressures on the human body and John was always complaining about it. . “Stop horsing around like the beast you just mentioned. Is the equipment set?” “Yup. As of some dozen miles ago we started picking up the bogey on the IR camera and the data is being transmitted back to base. Just get us a little closer for the other sensors and our job will be done”.

Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland
“Mr. President we are starting to receive data from Hawk. Range to target is thirty miles”. The tension inside the 747 was rising as reports kept increasing coming from NORAD kept increasing. “All right, General”

Northern California, United States
Twenty more miles to target, Harris thought. Although it was a black night out there, he had his night vision goggles on and was looking at the target’s direction, every now and then checking his instruments. He had managed to place himself on the fast mover’s six and was closing the distance.

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, United States
”Hmm, Sir”. The voice of the controller showed surprise and shock. “Target is changing speed and decelerating fast”. The excited comment made Bigelow head for one of the consoles. Staring at the monitor he tried to understand what was happening. “What? What’s the target’s speed right now?” “Well, radar shows it has dropped speed to zero sir!” As the Air Force technician looked at Bigelow he saw him shaking his head in disbelief. “From Mach three to zero in a few seconds? That’s impossible!” “Sir, at that speed the Hawk will intercept it in ten seconds. Also he will come in much closer to the target”. Another technician warned from another station. “Notify the Hawk immediately!”

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Northern California, United States
Harris suddenly saw the UFO through his night vision goggles as the plane pursued its target. First it was only a spot in the night sky that quickly become larger. Then he realized that something was wrong: the target wasn’t supposed to be in that quadrant of his vision and he had kept to the route being relayed to him by NORAD. A quick check on the radar confirmed told him what John was starting to warn over the intercom. He checked his instruments again, as he refused to believe that the UFO had literally stopped in the sky since its speed was zero and it was hovering. By the time he thought of reacting a blue flash of light had already swept over the plane. The NORAD warning came a few seconds later but Hawk wasn’t there anymore to receive it.

Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland
The eyes of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suddenly went wide as he held a phone to his ear. A second later he simply said. “Mr. President we lost contact with Hawk!” Winston couldn’t believe the words. “What? What do you mean?” “The Hawk dropped off our radars and we don’t have radio communication anymore. Also, its data link has been severed”. “Just what on Earth happened?” “I don’t know sir. The target simply ceased it’s speed to zero and seconds later we lost contact with our plane”. “Is the UFO still being picked up by our radars?” “Yes, it has regained it’s original speed and is heading towards the Midwest”. “Keep tracking the UFO and start finding out what happened to our plane and men, General”. “Yes sir”. Winston turned to his advisers. “Mark, Edward, what do you think it has just happened?” “Until we retrieve what’s left of the bird and analyze the data sent, it’s too early to say Mr. President, but I believe the Russians are right: their intentions are clearly hostile” responded the DCI. “Well, that’s agreed for sure. Suggestions?” “We should be talking to the whole Cabinet, sir. We already have to take measures to deal with a situation that is akin to being in war. The press is already making noise about it and while we can for the time being say that we are investigating it, we can also attribute it to some internal or external threat. That is, to say it’s an earthly threat, sir. But, eventually we will have to inform the Congress and the public. There’s already talk amongst congressmen about forming a joint Committee to investigate this matter” “Ask for my Chief of Staff to arrange a meeting with both House and Senate majority and minority leaders as soon as we get back. Is the Vice-President also informed?”

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“Yes sir. He’s been receiving reports ever since we got here for the meeting”. “Good. Edward, raise the level of all of our armed forces to Defcon Two and inform the Russians, Chinese and our allies of our decision and the reasons behind it. While me and Mark go back to the meeting I want you to convene with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and start thinking of ways of dealing with this threat more effectively using the information gathered by the Hawk.” “Yes, Mr. President.” “Where’s the State Secretary?” Winston had assigned him to keep a permanent contact with the other leaders during the conference. “Still having breakfast with the Japanese delegation”. “Get a full report to him and tell him to join me when I arrive back at the conference building. Also, get all of this information available to the General Secretary of the UN and the other delegations beside our allies”. Although Mark Casper was a reasonable man his long years in the CIA and the habits picked on immediately reacted: “Sir, we will be revealing some of our defense abilities and a top secret military program if we do that ”. “I know Mark, but at this time we have no choice. Either we get everyone working together or we will all fall to the forces that were behind what happened this dawn”.

Northern California, United States
The first team to arrive at the wreckage site was a Blue Beret Air Force security team, flown out of Nellis in an MV-22 Osprey VTOL aircraft. The flight took some hours to reach its destination, but the pilot had been given precise information on the area when the crash had occurred. After a quick search they soon spotted smoke rising in the air from the ground and the plane quickly flew into its direction. It was a good thing that the crash had happened over mostly uninhabited country, the captain in charge of the team was thinking. At least we won’t have problems with civilians popping around and seeing what they shouldn’t. The plane landed nearby the wreckage that was still burning. They started forming a perimeter around the remains and waited for the recovery teams to arrive.

Geneva, Switzerland
The mood in the meeting room had turned very somber after all the delegations saw the radar, infrared and visual images of the attack of the UFO on the Aurora again. The Secretary General of the UN took the floor afterwards. Apparently Bomaka had more taken courage from the video to express his opinions on the subject. “Are there anymore doubts? We need to combine the world’s efforts to deal with this threat. The Russians were struck without a chance to react; the Americans used the best of their technology and were also swept away by these forces. There isn’t any nation that can face them alone”. “Mr. Secretary, I think the rest of us stand convinced of your words after what we just saw. I’ve just convened with the rest of my government and Japan is ready to place its

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armed forces under UN control to deal with this threat”. Looks of surprise turned to the Japanese Prime-Minister. “We urge all the other nations to do the same” “And under whose command I might ask? The UN? They are just a bunch of diplomats! You must be crazy” shouted the deputy of the Chinese Chairman. “We will not place our forces under UN control, since that would be placing them under American command for sure. You have all seen what the American actions have taken us for. Who knows if they didn’t just forger this incident and had attacked the Siberian outpost just to make us take that decision!” Winston thought of himself as a patient, but yet determined man, when the circumstances demanded it. But right now he could only think of throwing some punches at the Chinese deputy, which had just sat again under the approvingly, yet subtle, look of the Chairman. But the Indian Prime-Minister stepped in first. “After all I’ve seen in the past months and now this, I can only think that this could not be work of man. But I must say, and I feel I speak for others in this room, that the American action of this morning was rash and precipitated. Who knows if the aliens didn’t understand it as an act of aggression on our part and their actions were just self-defense? Therefore I also support the Chinese restrictions against placing my armed forces under UN or US control.” “If I might address the conference, Mr Secretary”. A man in the center of the French delegation rose to his feet at the hopeless look of Bomaka. “Please, President Latour”. “Last night the seven nations that belong to the defensive alliance called NATO, that are here present, had a meeting and decided upon a number of things. We first thought of calling our defense agreements to form a force capable of facing this out of this world threat but we decided that this shouldn’t be simply NATO formed. The question of American leadership was also mentioned on that reunion and we couldn’t reach a consensus about it then. After much thought last night, which I suppose all the delegations did since we all look very tired,” A number of grins formed at the ends of several mouths of the officers present in the conference. “I believe our delegation came up with a solution”. “And what do you propose then Mr. President?” “In spite of what the Indian and Chinese delegations said, my country believes that the UN should be the rallying place for our efforts. Firstly it will give our forces a sense of union, and it will also show to the public, when they are informed of our work here, that we are doing something together about it. We can divide it into regional commands, each responsible for a world area and each country will be required to contribute with troops and equipment. But control should remain under the hands of a UN Commander in Chief, although the organization can request assistance from national military forces and viceversa. The countries involved can judge its work by the funding they provide. The more satisfactory results, the more money the force will get from each country”. He paused for a minute to let the other delegations to consider the idea before continuing. “However, we must name leaders for that covert force that will be both consensual and satisfactory for the mission, which will involve coordinating the military and research efforts into this threat”.

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Bomaka nodded, clearly impressed. “To be talking so convincing I take it that you already have the names for both, Mr. Latour.” “Yes I do, Mr. Secretary, although they are only possibilities at this moment and others can be discussed. For military command of the operation, I propose Lieutenant-General Dmitri S. Illyuschenko of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces”. A silence descended into the room for a second. “A Russian ?!?” Several voices exclaimed at the same time. Piotr Larianov looked puzzled at the French President, not knowing how this stroke of luck had come for him. “I’m sure that you will all verify later his credentials with your own intelligence services, but I will present a brief profile of him and I asked the Russian delegation to correct me if I make any mistakes”. Latour then started speaking.

Air Force One, Geneva, Switzerland
The American delegation had used a break during the conference to get back to the plane and discuss the new situation. “Well those sneaky French really did their homework, that I can say. And we didn’t have a clue that they were also acting towards it”. Casper was simply appalled at their boldness. “Get to the point Mark. The conference is convening again later in the afternoon to vote on this subject and I need all the information I can get before I make a decision”. “For starters they picked a Russian. And he’s quite a leftover from the former communist regime. That will surely please both the Chinese and also the Indians, since some of their military know quite well the man since he has liaisoned with them. For us it presents us a dilemma: if we go against him we will be accused of thinking only of ourselves as in trying to impose our views all over the others. And, while a lot of countries would follow our lead, France and probably some other NATO members would bail out which means the Alliance would be broken, at least in spirit”. It made sense although he still did not like it. “I’m still listening”. “On the other hand” the Secretary of Defense picked up, “this guy is a tough bastard, from what Latour told us and the Pentagon confirmed. Presently he’s at the head of the Russian Spetznaz forces. He has climbed through the ranks through hard work and is seen as one of Russia’s, if not one of the world’s top strategic and tactical minds regarding Special Forces”. Casper continued. “Which, as we had seen before in the meeting with NATO, would be the main focus of our defense actions, supported with aircraft and light vehicles and supplemented with a scientific and technological staff. The reasons behind it are that we need the best men around and also because it doesn’t involve large forces, which might bring the media’s attention and alarm the population. Finally it will make them harder to detect by the enemy and the research and manufacturing efforts can be coordinated and not be dependent of any country”. “Exactly. No one gets too much control over this and Bomaka is the overseer of that”. Winston wasn’t sure of Defense’s last conclusion. “But what about political control or influence over the force? Isn’t there a risk?”

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“I doubt it sir. This guy was one of the youngest officers to become general. He served in Afghanistan and we suspect that in some liberation movements in Africa and Latin America. He’s loyal to his duty and his troops. When the Soviet Union broke apart he managed to keep most of the Spetznaz forces still active and well equipped, in contrast with the rest of the Russian Armed Forces”. The DCI concluded his arguments. He had already been convinced that it was the only possible solution. “I second the Mark’s opinion, sir”. The Secretary of Defense also nodded in resignation. “Congress will skin me alive for this you know?” “Not really sir. Our participation on this is voluntary. We can always step out of the project when we want, as the French proposal states. And whatever information this force gathers will be distributed to all the countries involved. And US troops assigned to it and our regional command will have an American general in front of them for sure”. “And how do I deal with Congress then?” ”We will just ask them how they would like to be replaced in their seats at the Capitol Building by aliens”. Winston nearly laughed if not for the gravity of the situation. “What?” “If the progression of their activities increases at rate we are seeing, this will come out to public opinion, sooner or later sir. And by then we could expect more serious incidents if not….total war. We will need to rally our people behind a cause by then and it could verywell be this new force. And if they fail, then we fail.” The President looked hard at his DCI’s words. After all he was paid not only for spying but to give the best advice possible to him before he took any national security decisions. And his subordinate’s words were getting to him.

Geneva, Switzerland
Most of the French plan was accepted right away in the afternoon by all of the countries, leaving only the small details to be adjusted in the debates that followed. When overall consensus was found, the General Secretary and his staff were chosen to write the final document that would be signed by the signatory nations, defining the future combat force. Its prologue stated the following: “On the day of the 11th of December, 1999 of the Christian calendar, We, Sovereign States of the Planet Earth, therefore compromise ourselves to investigating and responding to the extra-terrestrial threat to our planet under the guidance of the Organization of the United Nations and with the goal of achieving human survival and advancement. For that, we shall contribute to create a force for this purpose called the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit, or X-Com, to be placed under United Nations command to defend us all”. When the delegations dispersed and proceeded to return to their respective countries, the deputy approached the Chinese Chairman. “Forgive me Comrade Chairman, but that wasn’t logical. I seek guidance”.

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“You question my orders?” “Yes, Comrade Chairman. Because of my duty to the PCC and to you, if you want me to keep giving you worthy advice, I would like to know that you have not gone mad”. “Very well. Tit is your right to ask and to learn”. Although not too much, he considered in private. “The French won the upper hand when they presented that proposal. They knew that neither us or the Americans or the Indians couldn’t refuse for the sake of losing face and being seen as individualistic, while the Russians must have become thrilled and the Europeans were assured of some balance. The Japanese will also gain more control overall without the Americans giving all the orders. The remaining nations also saw most of it and decided that they also had to approve it, being afraid that they would be left out”. “But are we going to collaborate with this X-Com force?” “Be patient. We soon will start working our way around them”. In a similar way, the Russian President turned to his Chief of General Staff, grabbed softly his uniform jacket, the medals biting at his fingers, but without paying attention to the pain and said: “Order Colonel General Illyuschenko to fly and report to Moscow this instant! Also activate all the defence plans we had discussed before and that where pending of my authorization. Mobilize all available resources into them. And I want a full report for tomorrow afternoon”. “Yes, Mr. President”. However, without anyone present at the conference knowing, a location in the Rocky Mountains in the United States started transmitting several messages to individuals around the world. Who soon received them and started complying with the orders that they had received some days ago.

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Chapter Two – Openings
December 13th, 1998
Russian Army Compound outside St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Lieutenant-General Dmitri S. Illyuschenko realized that he was extremely drunk when the rational part of his brain took notice of the cold and metallic taste of the pistol barrel that was inside his mouth. With a sigh he slowly released the pressure his right hand thumb was putting on the trigger and placed the weapon on the table in front of him, after slowly securing the weapon. Not again, he thought looking at the written piece of paper lying on the plastic top of the table in Kremlin stationary. Turning his head to the left he came up with his reflection on the mirror inside the open door of metal cabinet that hold his belongings, its surface revealing a white-haired figure slumped in a chair and beneath his gray eyes he could start to see dark strains caused by the lack of sleep. Although a scar marred his jawbone his face usually bellied his 56 years since he had always kept a lean body and still could outrun any of his recruits in the marathon. But without his self-confidence on his physical and martial skills little left now remained inside him although on one on the base, or even on his life knew what stood underneath it. Several particular ghosts had haunting him that night with one right next to the letter on the table, a silver framed photograph of a blonde-haired woman smiling. He had met Irina on southern Ukraine in 1967, freshly commissioned as a junior lieutenant while his parachute unit was conducting airborne training on the countryside. The farmers of the local kolkhoz were harvesting the fields nearby the training facility and one night the officers of the battalion had been invited to a reception at the farming community. On that late summer night he had been introduced to Irina, three years younger than him and so delicate that she had been startled a number of times by his somewhat exalted enthusiasm as both of them talked through the evening meal. But both had felt in love by one another on that night and for the next weeks he had had to put up with the jokes from the senior officers about the ‘enloved fool’ of their unit as they completed their training. They married on his second leave after that, with Illyuschenko finding out that it had been easier to jump off a plane at night than making the proposal to her. But Irina had died twelve years ago on St. Petersburg’s military hospital while he had been serving in Afghanistan on the elite Spetznaz Special Forces after a coronary stroke. Their few friends who attended the funeral told him later that it had been brief, with not much attendance since both of them were single children and their parents had died on the Great Patriotic War against Hitler. They never had any children since medical tests had shown that Irina was sterile but until then they were happy. She’s gone. He had been gone on a mission, leading a two-helicopter flight to conduct raids on the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to disrupt the supply routes of the guerrilla movement that was fighting Soviet rule on the country at the order of the American CIA. But their transport Mi-8 Hip helicopter had been hit by one of the American Stinger portable anti-aircraft missiles that had become a large threat to Soviet planes and helicopters, the same ones that he had been ordered to shut down their supply. 46

Ordering the other craft away for fearing that it might suffer the same fate if it tried to rescue the survivors of the crash, Illyuschenko then led his unit back to Soviet lines until they linked with an armored column sent to retrieve then. The crossing of the mountain passes had been brutal with the guerrillas in hot pursuit of the small group of men that had survived the attack but when he had finally returned to his base on the outskirts of Kabul he had discovered that Irina had died. He had saved his men from death but he had been unable to save her. Images of a little village lost in the middle of mountains in Afghanistan that he had been ordered to investigate for terrorist activity burned on his mind. And the bloody carnage that occurred afterwards when one of his men overreacted to one of the villager’s actions and started shooting. When he finally got his men under control the bodies of the civilians were spread out on the main street and inside their houses, gunned down by the precision of his elite team. He later saw that his safety on his assault rifle had been taken off and his clip was empty but he couldn’t remember firing the weapon. It didn’t matter at the moment as they continued conducting raids against all enemy forces on the border, under secret High Command orders to raze the land. Now it matters? The same memories that had taken over him again came back and he fought them off. It must be of this of receiving the orders to report myself to the Kremlin later in the morning. Who knows what I will be assigned now by High Command. There was complete darkness in the base where the elite Spetznaz commandos were housed. Almost no sound could be heard in spite of the war condition, which had been ordered by the Russian President himself. But one special squad was always on full alert, ready to deal with any further intrusions or attacks, although Illyuschenko knew that their efforts would be worthless. Already they had tried numerous times to reach the craft when they landed, but the speed and the distances involved had always worked against them. And each time he felt more frustrated and feeling more helpless. He never told anyone about his memories and nightmares. He knew that if the Army knew about them he would probably be discharged for medical purposes. And he had a very important job at hands, making sure that his elite teams were ready for anything and that mistakes like that wouldn’t happen again. For more than a decade duty had been a helpful medicine in keeping away the bad dreams. Duty would also have to suffice now as he picked up the frame and placed it on the drawer of his bedside table, closing it afterwards. He looked at the watch upon the table and cursed, noticing that it was already three in the morning. Looking down to the ground he found what he was looking for. An empty bottle of vodka was on the concrete floor, still intact and right next to the table, where it had fallen from his limp right hand. The dizziness as he tried to pick it reminded him that he had also taken a couple of too much shots. He was used to sleeping few hours due to his training and his duties, but as he got up and went to bed he knew that the hangover would be a bitch. Sleep came almost instantly, but his dreams were still troubled.

Unknown location, North America
In another location on Earth a man thought about the current events and how they would affect it personally.

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Number One’s position was very precarious and he knew it. He was nothing more than a first among equals, on everyone’s perception of the leader. And while the choices for replacing him were dim, this sort of event could just provide sufficient arguments to convince the majority to take such an action. The Group’s strict hierarchy was organized like a ladder. When someone was elected to the first step, the former number One would be then demoted to number Two and so forth with the remaining elements. Which meant that conquering leadership was a long, arduous process. Number One’s last position was Seven and he had managed to convince enough lower “steps” to give him their votes. Usually Number One would be elected from the top “steps”, which had the closest chances of being elected. But the real factor of the equation would be the “middle” steps: if someone below them got elected their positions would go down. It would be real easy to get demoted due to someone’s ambition, which through this way would be put in check. The only other way of ascending, besides being elected to Number One would be through the death of one of them. If Six died all the others below would ascend, with Seven occupying its place. While that could have brought political assassination as a tool to ascend, in this case it was different. The resources available to these men ensure that any strange demise of one of its members would be investigated and if crime was behind the cause of death the punishment would be swift. Death. Or something much worse. Seniority and experience would play a big role on internal politics. And due to a precise reason: the knowledge and means those men possessed made them more powerful than most nations in the world. Patience and careful planning was essential for them to reach their goals undetected by the remainder of society. Number One knew this was a crucial time, the one they had been preparing for years. Although the timetable had been advanced, they would have to be able to seize the initiative and take control over the development of events in the future. He considered what he should do with a piece of data his agents had just sent him: the recordings of the Hawk flight. The Aurora was considered already obsolete, but he had been involved at some point before with its conception and still remembered the pride he had felt years later when it took its maiden flight. But his personal feelings were not relevant here. More important would be the use that could be gotten from the data, especially if it found its way to the media. The Group had already decided that mass upheaval and distrust on the government would play a significant part in their plans. But not yet, he thought. When the time came this particular chess piece would be placed on the board and perform his role. The same was happening now with X-Com: it would give his friends something to worry about for the next months.

The Pentagon, Washington D.C., United States
As Terry Williams passed the last and inner ring of the Pentagon he was feeling a bit nervous. While he had been working for the CIA and the NIC for twenty years he had never been to such a high-ranking meeting. He had dealt with Congressman, Committees and Administration officers, occasionally with a Secretary, but never with the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the whole Administration.

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And now he was getting both and more. He was about to present his group’s report for the top military and civilian leaders of the country and still felt unsure of what he was going to say. At one point, during the early discussions, MacAllister had suggested, halfjokingly, that we should greet the aliens as our saviors. After everyone expressed their heated reactions about such a comment, he then added: “Since we are considering here theories about ET that until now would classify anyone who believes in them as nuts, why don’t think of all possibilities then?” That phrase had rung a bell into Williams’ mind, but he had no clue of what it meant. It came also from the assignment. Until the last year his work had been related to unconventional forces and future threats of the new millennium. When the whole ‘alien’ group was formed no one knew what they were supposed to do. He looked at a mirror as his marine escort stopped by a checkpoint and presented his ID to the other soldier. He exhaled in relief as he looked at the perfect knot on his blue tie made by his wife at his request. His wavy dark blonde wasn’t that bad either. Of course when news arrived to the team of the attack on Siberia and the incident with the Hawk, most of the theories that they had discussed were discarded. They now knew that they were dealing with some alien life form that would react aggressively when it entered contact with humans. Which also posed a lot of terrifying questions about what they were and, most importantly, what they wanted from Earth. When he reached the War Room entry he paused for a minute and checked himself while the military police checked again his identification. When the clearance was given he proceeded into the heart of the US military. Unbeknownst to him at about the same time that he was on his way to the War Room, calls were being made to several military installations all over the United States, ordering the listeners to present themselves to Pentagon.

Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan
Takashi Ishibari felt he was making the most extraordinary speech in his life. He was presenting the reports elaborated by his Cabinet, Military Command and intelligence service to the Emperor about the results of the summit and the overall situation. While he had an almost ceremonial role in the society of Japan and had lost his figure as a divinity after World War II, tradition still overwhelmed the Japanese Prime-Minister. Kneeling in front of the seated Emperor they were both alone and standing inside a large room with walls of white paper. The monarch was listening carefully to his words and asking questions. “So, we can assume that their intentions are hostile?” “Yes, Emperor. They apparently seek something out of Earth. We are speculating, however, if their presence here is temporary or permanent, and if their appearances and hostile actions are provoked by our attempts of interfering with them”. “Meaning that if we do not try to get in their way they might reduce their activity?” “That was considered by the conference but their appearances spread throughout known history. Stories from ships in the sky were recorded by many cultures. Until now we had seen such allegations as ridiculous and mad, but now it seems that we will have to reconsider them. The past year‘s activity has no parallel with what had happened before. 49

This can only mean that they have a goal now and are acting towards it with every means necessary”. Nodding slightly he commented. “We must increase our actions then. You were right in establishing the Kiryu-Kai”. “Yes, your Highness. We now know that we can’t dismiss their real goal here and must stop them, because they are invading and attacking our country to reach it. And the only lead we have are the cattle mutilations and the abductions”. “War again then”. The Emperor’s objections had been stated before to Ishibari about engaging in offensive operations. “There seems no doubt about it, Emperor”. The sound afterwards was the only response Ishibari got. The man’s voice came slightly changed as the monarch changed the subject of the conversation. “What else can you tell me? Who are they?” “They are most likely from outside the Sun system, because there is no place to support such an advanced civilization except Earth in our solar system and if it was possible we would have detected it by now. Which means that they developed a way to travel between stars, something that was considered almost impossible by the modern laws of science until now. The time necessary for traveling with technology similar to ours would have no purpose. About what they look like we might have some indications but no ideas.” “And their craft? Can we match them?” “No, we do not have the technology so we will attempt to capture one and hope we can understand its technological wonders.” “And we have tried every possible means of communicating with them?” “We are still trying, your Highness. They just refuse to respond” “Very well. Japan shall then prepare for defending itself. You shall use every means available to do this and report to me on a regular basis. And if the Emperor can do anything else for his subjects please ask him”. “Thank you very much your Highness” “One last thing. When you have chosen the Japanese members of this team, inform me. I have something I want to present them”.

Pentagon, Washington D.C.
The constellation of epaulets carrying stars in front of him made Williams think for a minute about how now this had really turned into a stellar war. He was presenting his report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the body of military advisors to the President and Secretary of Defense that was composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Air Force, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander of the Marine Corps, along with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the JCS. The generals and admirals in front of all the US’ combat commands where also present, along with the Secretaries of State, Interior, the National Security Advisor, who looked a

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lot better than expected after being through a cancer removal operation, and the President’s Scientific Advisor. Absent were the Vice-President and the leaders of both parties of the House and Senate. The President, who now had just motioned Williams to continue, would brief them later. “Most likely the aliens have a profound knowledge of human constitution and behavior by observing us for so long. They must also know our society and technological level deeply. That is a major advantage over us, since we have no information about them, their strengths and weaknesses. They could have managed this using two ways: passively, by monitoring our transmissions or other such methods than don’t involve direct physical contact with humans, and the other one, the” Williams paused, uncomfortable with the words “abductions and flyovers”. One disturbing possibility also exists that those actions might also be psychological warfare on the aliens’ part, with them trying to disrupt our societies through mass fear and hysteria”. “How do you predict they will react with the occurrence of unexpected encounters with humans?” The General in charge of the Special Operations Command, a special mixed organization with elite units from the Army and Air Force asked Williams with a look that gave him the impression that the man had his total attention focused on his words. Actually they all looked like that, besides the President and the Cabinet members that were already informed of all of the events. “Aggressively, sir. After the Hawk incident we know this for sure. And the Siberian attack can also be seen as a way of testing our forces”. “But so far they haven’t really met us in combat?” “Even the Japanese haven’t been successful in intercepting them but they were using limited resources”. “That might have a tactical advantage there if we can exploit it”. His comment made Williams think for a minute before replying. “Yes, if our technology permits us to strike at the aliens, using tactics on them, then they most likely will be unprepared. They will be committing the classic mistake of underestimating the enemy. But that could also mean that the conflict might escalate several levels as we learn more about the aliens and use that knowledge against them”. “By escalation, you mean that we or they might have to resort to mass destruction weapons?” The Commander of the Strategic Command slipped a trace of concern although he was performing his duty as the responsible for the nation’s nuclear weapons. “That is a possibility sir. It depends on how the conflict will evolve and ultimately if the means to victory for either side reside in the deployment of such weapons”. “And do our nuclear weapons possess any capability against them?” “Unknown sir. They most likely will know we have them and what is their potential, but we can’t tell if their technological level could withstand such power”. “How about their own strategic weapons?”

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“It would depend on how their technology progressed. They seem to have an advanced knowledge of engineering, along with physics and chemistry. The incident with the Hawk showed us that they have high-energy weapons and we can reasonably expect more powerful weapons and applications of their concepts to hand-held equipment.” “And do we have any advantage on them? Chemical or biological warfare for instance?” “The question is if they evolved as much in other areas, like biology, computers, and others. Can we expect that we have any field were we are equal or even more advanced? That could also be an advantage over them that we can exploit”. Another general addressed him, as the questions continued. “In what scenario would you predict hostile encounters?” “At every time we actively interact with them. Their activity is being reported all over the planet, in every different landscape and day hour”. “Including heavily populated environments?” “I am afraid the answer is yes”. All of the generals shook their heads nervously. Urban fighting was one of the most brutal, especially if the enemy was a superior force invading your territory. “And what are their objectives?” “Undetermined. The parts removed from cattle don’t give us any clue if they are using them for food or for some medical purpose. On the other hand the abductions, experiments and disappearances indicate that they have some purpose for us besides specimens for analysis. Their interest in us is not only scientific for analysis. The general disappearances indicated that the missing are having some final destination, whatever that might be”. “Sons of bitches!” None of the assembled men looked at the general that said the heated comment. They all realized what it could mean and anger was running wild in the room. Although Williams had stopped feeling about what we was writing when he was finishing the report and presenting it, he couldn’t hold it anymore behind a neutral voice. “Yes”. The President raised himself and walked to the stand where Williams had made his presentation. “Very well, Mr. Williams. In spite of our almost complete lack of information, your team managed to determine some very enlightening hypothesis about them and their intentions that will make us think a lot. You are dismissed and keep up the good work”. “Thank you sir”. He moved away and went to sit by the DCI. The Secretary of Defense got up and took his position behind the stand. “Well, gentlemen, that’s about all that we know of the aliens so far. General Thompson, could you please present the plan for dealing with them now?” The Chairman of the JCS left his seat and joined him at the bench. “Yes, Mr. Secretary. Basically, what came out of the conference was the creation of an elite strike and investigation group that will be called the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit or X-COM. The world has been divided into geographical commands, whose defense will be guaranteed

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by it’s own X-Com team. Unfortunately the composition of many of the teams will be delayed, due to a lack of equipment and of funding for the bases necessary. While this will be a multi-national effort, with the supreme command in the hands of General Illyuschenko of the Russian armed forces, each area will have a reasonable degree of autonomy. In our case we have assigned Colonel Johnson, the executive officer of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to lead the North American command. His group of elite men and advanced planes will be responsible for an area of operations that will extend initially from the Arctic to Patagonia. As you can imagine there are major operational problems with such a mission, such as the distances that might be involved. We are currently developing some answers to that, but until the Brazilians manage to activate their own X-Com team to cover South America and we establish teams on each coast, we will be severely handicapped”. The admiral in command of the Navy asked: “From what it seems the team will essentially be made up of aerial and ground forces. What role will the Navy and the rest of the armed forces play in this conflict? Is X-Com to act independently of our chain of command?” “About that matter, the President has signed an Executive Order ordering all federal, state and local agencies to cooperate with X-Com. We can request X-Com’s assistance if that is necessary also. But to avoid questions of jurisdiction, each country will retain its sovereignty. Which means that X-Com will still legally be a part of our armed forces, but their overall command will belong to the UN, similar to the formula used in peacekeeping missions before. While we don’t have any control or responsibility over their activities, the North American team will be led by a U.S. officer, which will guarantee some consideration for our interests. With missions in other countries X-Com will have to require the authorization of the local authorities before intervening, especially in the case of the nonsignatory nations of the agreement.” “But what will be the means by which we will have to cede to X-Com?” The commander of the Air Force didn’t like a bit to give away his most advanced aircraft. “After a general assessment of each country’s capabilities we will basically form the team out of the best men from several formations: Delta, Special Operations and Rangers from the Army, SEALs from the Navy and Force Recon teams from the Marines. When it comes to the craft we will put the F-22 fighter program into active status as soon as possible, using the available pre-production aircraft.” “All of them?” The general’s worse dreams had just turned into a reality. “Yes and some will be leased to other X-Com teams” “What? It is our most advanced fighter! We can’t just allow other nations to have access to it”. The military men started moving nervously in their seats, also shocked at the decision”.

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“General, like it was said before, this is a world effort. In here what is at stake is our survival. And the Russians, Europeans and Japanese will also do the same as us with their top-secret projects” “We already lost one Aurora, sir. All means we have are crucial for the defense of the US. We can’t just be Santa Claus and start giving away what we might need in the future for our survival”. “And we will not give everything, General. The Aurora and other black projects still remain in our hands. While X-Com will coordinate a worldwide research effort, we will also develop our own projects, based on what we have now and the data retrieved from the aliens”. “Sir, and what about our space based assets? How will they be used?” Space Command didn’t want to be left out of the action, no matter how it could turn out. “As of the moment undecided and as such they will retain a routine state of operations.” “That’s irrational sir. Just because their ships have all those capabilities we should try to keep the offense in space, just as we are going to do in the atmosphere and in land”. “Mr. Williams, could you please answer that argument?” “Yes sir” Williams got up, not too sure of what he would say. “Well, from our basic premises that we’ve established about the aliens they will most definitely attack any attempts that we make of interfering with their activities in space. In fact our satellite network will surely be targeted when they start realizing their strategic value to us. Which lead us to the fact that we should keep our assets pretty much on a low profile status so as not to draw attention to them and also to be able to use them if an opportunity presents itself”. “Mr. Williams, does that apply also to Strategic Command?” “No, general. My advice would be for the Strategic Forces to be placed into a high level of alert, like we had done in the Cold War. If we ever need to use them in response to an attack, every second will count.”

December 14th, 1999
Yakolev Aircraft Company test range, outside Moscow, Russian Federation
The day after his briefing with President Larianov, Illyuschenko immediately went to check the state of the Yak-141 program. The director of the now privatized bureau was more than pleased to see him, and personally welcomed him to the research and manufacturing complex when Illyuschenko got there. Such cooperation and friendliness would be unusual back in the Soviet Union’s time, the leader of X-Com thought. But now the Russian government and X-Com were putting large amounts of money into a nearly bankrupt company, which made everyone that worked at it happy. He was standing in the tower at the middle of the runway, holding a pair of binoculars and watching a demonstration run of the Freestyle aircraft.

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“Where am I supposed to look at, Mr. Vassilev?” “At the right end of the runway General. The craft will come from that side at almost Mach 1 speed and 100 meters high, decelerate when it reaches the center of the runway and then land vertically.” Illyuschenko waited until he saw a spot in the air that rapidly increased in size. The plane looked like some monstrosity, a fighter that had been drastically enlarged with the two movable jet engines attached to his side. As it approached the center of the runway its engines moved upwards until they locked into the vertical position. A few seconds later the craft stopped its horizontal movement and just hung in the air, like a helicopter. Then it slowly descended until it landed on the runway. “Impressive, Mr. Vassilev” “Thank you sir.” He kept looking at the craft as it completed its landing. “Does it have rough field capacity?” “Yes. It was developed taking into account Search and Rescue, Infiltration, Extraction and Rapid Deployment missions, taking 14 fully equipped troops. Basically it can operate as a helicopter and land on hard terrain. “And what’s the availability of them?” “Well, the one you are seeing right now is the demonstration craft, used to show its capabilities to potential customers. It’s the only one which is operational at the moment, but we have some half-completed models that can be quickly refitted and delivered.” “Very well then. We will need all available craft that your company can manufacture. How many crews do you have certified for operating the plane?” “Only three”. “Do they have any military experience?” “All of them have served in the armed forces as helicopter pilots”. “I will want to see their personal files and talk to them. We will also want to hire them from you for training and operational purposes.” The managers’ eyes went wide open. “All of them?” “Yes and we might also be interested in some of your top engineers” “General, those are the only assets this company has right now. It has been hell to keep them working for us in the middle of all the financial troubles we have been experiencing.” “Mr. Vassilev, this is a very important project...” Illyuschenko had years of dealing with such problems. “And I can assure you that funds won’t be much of a problem”. He made a pause. “Or we could seize these assets claiming national security interests or even pay those engineers better to get them working for us. But we want your cooperation.” The manager quickly realized that he had no choice. “In that case General, my bureau is at your entire disposal”.

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December 15th, 1998
Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
One of Chairman Zhu’s first measures when he reached the top of the Communist Party‘s leadership was to move the seat of the Chinese government back to the Forbidden City. One of its sections had been completely equipped for the effect, while retaining the ancient look. Some voices were critical; especially noisy had been the faction of the Party that still fully believed in Marxism, claiming that the Forbidden City was a symbol of oppression. But Zhu had a different view on the subject and on Marxism, like his predecessor did when he took measures to open the economy. In spite of decades of communist indoctrination, all of the Chinese cultural heritage couldn’t be just negated. The same about China’s role in the world. More important than the implementation of world socialism, the Chairman thought, was assuring China’s survival and predominance over the other nations of the planet. Already there had been a failure before, when the incidents with Taiwan failed to provide the motive to invade the rebel island. The intervention of the Americans had made his government stop the plan, since international opinion had rallied over the cause of Taiwan and threatened to make his country isolated. Not only that, but the threat of the damn American forces that had massed in Japan and in the Yellow Sea would render a military operation almost impossible. China didn’t have the power to openly defy the US yet, but that would change with this alien threat. Attention worldwide would be focused on other events. He had committed, in paper, to supporting the X-Com with a Chinese team of its own. At the moment he had claimed that he didn’t have enough resources for equipping such force, so he would contribute to the Japanese one. While his deputy had protested about it, he knew that the rewards would more than justify it. Not only would his country have access to vital information, but they would also gain knowledge of the aliens‘ and XCom’s tactics and composition. But what about the aliens themselves? How could he assure the survival of his country against such a superior force? He walked to the doors that led to the courtyard and surveyed the night sky. A flicker of light moving against the stars caught his attention and as he contemplated it for some time a thought crossed his mind. Yes, we may just be able to use them also.

December 23rd, 1998
Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, US
Harris woke up on his hospital bed and grabbed the mirror that was resting on the table to his left. He checked again the scars made by the liquid methane’s coolness on his face. The doctors had told him that he had been extremely lucky because the night vision goggles and his breathing apparatus had prevented the burning of both his eyes and nose by the spillage of liquid fuel that occurred after his craft was split in two by the UFO’s beam. When the ray struck the Aurora it hit the rear cabin, where his rear electronics officer sat. Major John Cleaver probably never knew what hit him since he died instantly,

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his body disintegrated by the power of the beam, along with the mid section of the craft. Harris had turned his head at that moment, after feeling some intense heat on his back, to assess the damage and check for the status of his flight partner. But the compressed highpressure liquid fuel had been released by the hit and flew in to occupy the free space in front of him. He only saw the air for a second instead of his partner. And an intense burning on his face afterwards that almost drove him insane while he was descending with his parachute. It continued as the Blue Berets found him. They immediately called for medical attention. If he had been flying as high as the craft could go he would be with his faceplate down and probably nothing of the burned flesh would be there. But the mission called for a low altitude approach and visual reconnaissance also. No, you did what you had to do, he said to himself. A knock on the door distracted him from his thoughts and he put the mirror down. After a second an Army Colonel stepped into the room and removed his cap. His nametag read E. Johnson and he was carrying a full range of decorations, including parachute wings. Harris began by throwing a salute, but the higher-ranking officer waved him off. “That can wait until you are fully recovered Colonel. Right now this is more of a…., let’s just say, of an unofficial matter that I’ve come here to discuss with you”. “Very well sir. What can I do for you?” “I am fully briefed on your flight and its tragic results. I also bring a message from the President saying that he regrets the death of your flight companion” “Thank you sir”. Harris didn’t feel anything when hearing those words. “Anything else?” “Yes, Harris. Right now we are mounting an operation to deal with this, let’s say, hostile threat to our country. It’s completely outside our armed forces structure and it will be an elite thing”. “What does it have to do with me sir?” Suddenly his heart race and he knew what he wanted. “Well, I’m in charge of the US part of it and we will be needing good pilots to fly some of the most advanced planes we got”. “Count me in”. His response came automatically. The Colonel kept his neutral pose. “I haven’t invited you yet Harris”. “Sir, if you came here, the only reason for that is wanting me in that force. I have flown the Aurora for years and have one of the highest security clearances in this country. I also have an idea of what those craft are capable of and how we might develop tactics to counter them. And while my combat abilities haven’t been practiced for years I can quickly pick them up”. “There are more things here at stake than revenge, Harris”. “Yes sir, there’s a mission to accomplish. And to fulfill it I will use all the means I have. Including the motivation of revenge”. It seemed to Harris that his last sentence finally seemed to get to the Colonel who changed the subject of the conversation.

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About half an hour later Colonel Johnson stepped off the hospital building and boarded a Humvee jeep that was waiting for him in the parking lot. The vehicle then headed off to the base gate and took the road to Area 51. When the jeep reached the secret complex a locked steel mesh gate first greeted it with no guards at it. Johnson stepped out of the jeep and produced an identity card that he showed to one of the video cameras mounted on the poles of the gate. A few miles later they reached another checkpoint, this time manned by fully armed Blue Berets Air Force security teams. They signaled Johnson to step out of the Humvee and after he complied with their orders the driver of the jeep moved out of his seat, unloaded Johnson’s luggage from the trunk and threw a nervous salute, under the eyes of the security troopers who here holding their arms. Johnson’s replied similarly and he then went back to his seat, engaged the engine and headed back to Nellis. After rechecking his identity again, using a hand held scanner to certify for the card’s authenticity and searching his luggage bag, he then boarded another vehicle and headed to the main complex. The commanding general of Area 51 was waiting for him at the front door of a two level building made of gray concrete. He had been informed of Johnson’s arrival ever since the first checkpoint and his apprehension had been growing since then. Johnson stepped out of the Humvee and saluted him. He answered it and, without bothering to hide his hostility, said: “Welcome to Area 51, Colonel Johnson”. “Thank you sir. I’m honored to be here”. He had finally made it to the base after a frantic week during which he had flown nearly everyday from one place to another. First to Washington where he had been briefed on the aliens and was asked to command the first US X-Com team. After he had accepted it, he had gone back to Tennessee to get his personal belongings ready to be taken to Area 51, the most secret facility in the US that was used to test advanced craft and technologies. He had arrived yesterday to Nellis Air Force Base, a facility in the middle of the Nevada desert close to Las Vegas and also to Area 51. “Johnson, let’s go to my office to have a talk”. His voice made it clear that he wasn’t pleased. The General entered the building and started to pick his way through a maze of corridors, passing through another series of security checks. The soldiers responsible didn’t even bother to check the general’s identity card that he carried on his chest. They knew it was best as to stay out of the base’s commanding officer‘s way when he was in such a mood, no matter what the security rules are. Johnson tried to keep up with him, the troopers stopping him in his case to check his clearance. As he turned around a corner he saw the General waiting for a lift on the opposite end of the corridor. He joined him and after some seconds followed the general as he entered the lift. The ride to the upper floor was speechless. When they reached the top he followed the base commander until he entered a door with a sign saying: General K. Smith. “Get in and close the door Colonel Johnson”

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“Yes sir” As the lock of the door was sliding into the notch on the wall, Smith started talking: “I don’t like you and your orders a bit” “Sir?” The Chairman of the JCS had warned him that some military commanders had expressed their reservations towards the project. He simply wasn’t expecting that the officer in charge of the installation where his team would be based would also be one of them. “I know what they say. I also know about who signed them and why he did it. I also don’t know almost anything about you. But this is my base and around you there’s an operation of the highest security clearance that could ever exist with almost all of our country’s secrets. And I want everything to be kept that way, including the secret part”. At least the General seemed to be trying to protect his own turf, not actually dismissing him completely. “Sir, this is one of the highest security operations ever also”. He said, trying to inflate Smith’s ego. “You are damn wrong about that. In a few hours a Russian plane will land here. I already have foreign military officers here present. Who knows what hidden cameras or recording equipment that plane might have? And how many of those officers aren’t spies?” Johnson realized that he had touched a sore point on his attempt. “They are commanders of combat troops, sir. With positions similar to mine”. “I don’t care about your position. You will have quarters and working facilities assigned to you, your soldiers and the scientific and engineering personnel, although I don’t like it. And I also don’t like to have some of my best scientists assigned to this. The same with whatever base facilities are necessary. About the rest, you and your, what’s their name again?” “X-Com, sir”. “X-Commie force will be strictly forbidden to enter them, especially that Russian and his spy entourage. General base operations are still under my command, including security and communications, understood? You might command this Commie force of yours, but I’m in charge here”. “Very well sir. I have just one question”. Johnson realized it was better to bring up the issue right away to know what he could expect. “Say it and be short”. Smith looked at him in annoyance. “I can request more assets from this base if I decide so. What will happen then?” “Yes you can, and most likely the President will authorize it, taking into account what you have already gotten from me. Which means that my mood won’t get any better in the future. And it isn’t getting now”. Although his attitude was on the border of the unacceptable, Johnson decider to try to smooth things out right now. “May I propose an agreement then?”

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The General’s heavy eyebrows came together but they moved back afterwards. “I’m not totally unreasonable Colonel”. “I shall consult you before I make such a requirement, sir”. He didn’t have to and the General knew it but it was a gesture of good will. “Like you said, this is your base and you have been running it for years. Your experience with this environment should be quite remarkable and although I have some more than able personnel to deal with flight operations, we could use your experience with planning such operations”. “It will be taken into consideration. Dismissed”. “Thank you sir”. Johnson smiled to himself when he left. Base generals were all the same. If you manage to inflate their ego a bit they will be more than cooperative. Later in the morning Johnson had noticed that the General required his presence at the tower. He went through a series of corridors, his sense of orientation guiding him. After taking a lift he walked into a room filled with sunlight that hurt his eyes. “Black ops people can’t deal with the Sun, Colonel?” “We can deal with everything sir”. “Well, in any case, your commanding Commie officer is arriving in some minutes. I sure hope you can deal with him”. The Skyranger arrived after some minutes, with the pilot landing the craft the same way as he did at the demonstration at the Yakolev test field. When Johnson and Smith went to greet the passengers his hostility to strangers was back, but in a more discreet way, Johnson thought. After the official welcome to Area 51, the General excused himself. Johnson then led the group of men to the barracks occupied by X-Com. Commander Illyuschenko had called for all the regional commanders for a meeting the same day. Time was already running out and the proposed force was taking a lot of scarce resources to arrange and deploy. The result was delays that did not fare good. UFO activity was constantly increasing, as predicted. Pretty soon it could escalate into lowintensity war, although no more aggressive encounters had been reported so far. The dining room was full of military uniforms what were all distinct of one another, with some exceptions. They were the leaders of the several X-Com teams that were being assembled all over the world. The world had been divided into several geographical commands: North America, South America, Europe, Russia, India, Far East, Africa and Australia. Intelligence didn’t have an idea about the alien’s activities in the North and South Pole and due to the almost inexistence of population those areas had not been assigned with X-Com bases. “Gentlemen,” Illyuschenko raised his glass “…to success”. All nine men drank and then sat down again. Illyuschenko smashed his glass into one corner with the astonished looks of all his officials and started talking. “I’m afraid the good times are over for now, and hopefully for just some time. The days we spend here will probably be the only ones where all of us will be together, since operational constrains will limit your availability to leave your command. Nevertheless, we have a mission to accomplish: to defend our planet from alien aggression. We are in all of this together, gentlemen. The human race will require everything we got and more. 60

And while they might have an advantage on equipment and a clear objective unknown to us, we will have to surprise them and learn enough to defeat them. Your commands will be pretty independent in day-to-day operations, while most of the strategic planning will be done with me present. I will also be in charge of the scientific research and equipment requirements of the bases. And finally I will be the connection between us and the several nations and armed forces, through the Secretary General if necessary. Of course all of you already have the authorizations and direct connections to your country’s leadership so use them also, but inform me of such operations”. A hand rose immediately. “Yes, Colonel Santos, want do you want to ask?” The Brazilian officer raised himself. “What about intelligence sir?” “Free to use the means available. In case of any need notify me stating your requirements. Several countries have already put at our disposition manpower and equipment. My command staff will centralize all the information and make it available to all of you. Our facilities will all be linked through a computer system that will allow us to share all data available”. As the Brazilian officer sat, the Chinese liaison to the Japanese team got up. “General, what about rules of engagement?” “You have already received your orders defined by the political leadership of the UN, major Chen”. “But they mean pure aggression on our part. We won’t even offer the aliens the chance to back down and surrender on our first engagement”. Johnson looked at Chen, who was the lower officer present in the room, wondering what this was all about. “We have all seen what they are capable of, Major. They attacked a plane without any warning and destroyed it. If they really have any intentions of wanting to dialogue they would have done it by now”. “Sir, still my country strongly protests this course of action”. “Major” Illuyschenko slowly brought himself up “I don’t care about what your country thinks. In all my life as a soldier I learned that one thing that doesn’t work well with the military is political interference. Here you are part of a military organization under my command. If you feel morally obliged to refuse to participate in our operation you can ask to be replaced your High Command. But while you are under my orders you will follow by them and the rules of engagement established by all our countries. Is that understood?” Chen nodded in reluctance. “I didn’t hear you Major”. “Yes,” he then added “sir” with disgust. Looking around the officer to see if there were any further objections Illyuschenko found none to his satisfaction. “Very well. We shall now go over the status of all the teams. Colonel Johnson, from what I have understood your team is almost ready to initiate operations?” “Yes sir. We presently have two F-22 interceptor craft that are operational. For weapons we are waiting for AIM-54 Phoenix missiles that have a range of almost 100 miles and should give us the ability to shoot down a UFO before it has the ability to strike back 61

with one of those ray guns. Pretty soon we will adapt our craft to them, but in the meantime we will have to use the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile with a smaller range. To pilot those craft we have already recruited some experienced crews”. “And your ground team?” “I have four squads of three men each available, drawn from the elite forces of all of my country’s military. We are waiting for more men to arrive, with some also coming from Canada and Brazil. To transport them I have an MV-22 Osprey aircraft available. If we need to deploy them to places far away we will have to use standard military aircraft”. “Not anymore Colonel”. “Sir?” Those were important news to him. “I got word from the Secretary General and my President. The Skyranger aircraft that I have flown in is to be assigned to this area of operations, since your team is the most advanced. While I would have preferred it to be with my own Spetznaz teams, the truth is that your splendid preparations make it more logical to assign it to someone who could use it straight away. When do you think you can start operations?” Illyuschenko’s honesty made Johnson realize that he was going to like the man. And the new aircraft would also be much appreciated. “At the beginning of the next year, General. There really isn’t that much training that we need to do. These men are all trained professionals and they know it. They just need to develop some team work.” “Very well then. My country will also supply you briefly with other weapons, as soon as I can get my military to give them off”.

December 26th, 1998
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US
Something in all the intelligence estimates made by the team just didn’t work out right, Williams thought. Looking at the papers spread over his desk he considered what it could be, feeling that it might be something crucial. Again he went over the results of more than 50 years of work done on the subject by the US intelligence and military since the end of World War II. Besides Blue Book there were all sorts of reports: NORAD detections that extended over decades. A CIA study of the threat of UFOs to national security that was discontinued after more than a decade of investigations because no danger was detected, the whole affair being considered mass hallucination, misinterpretations and hoaxes. Incidents over Air Force bases had also been ignored after the initial reports. Something just wasn’t quite right in here, he thought. Human stupidity is known to affect everyone, but in this case it just didn’t seem natural. In fact, it looked that if the aliens hadn’t stepped up their activity the whole thing would still continue to be ignored. Until when? The next Pearl Harbor? That gave a cold feeling to his stomach. The analysis group had spent a portion of their last meeting trying to come up with some answers for that lack of foresight. While it was decided to establish an investigation on possible alien infiltration or influence, conducted under the FBI and the Defense Investigation Service, the military agency responsible for counter-espionage, some things just didn’t fit the puzzle. If the intelligence services had been compromised then it would

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be reasonable to expect an alien first strike before the Earth’s response was ready. Basic military tactic: take your enemy when he’s unprepared. But their apparent inaction towards the establishment of X-Com didn’t make any sense. Unless they saw it as irrelevant, which brought a chill to Williams’ spine, since it could mean that all their efforts would be worthless. Maybe the X-Com teams would be swept away without a chance during their first engagements. He went to the window and looked outside. Snow was starting to fall again, covering the area around the CIA headquarters with a blanket of white. A blanket he thought, covering all their activity until recently. But how?

December 27th, 1998
Toyota Test Field, Central Japan
The tanks moved rapidly through the middle of the grassy field, zigzagging as they negotiated the somewhat hilly terrain on their way to a bunker some hundred feet away. Suddenly one of them stopped, pointed its main weapon towards a trench located nearby the hut and let loose a volley that opened a hole in the bunker with an armor piercing round. Automatic fire came out of other sections of the trench targeting the tank responsible, which stopped firing and drove to a small group of trees to get some cover while the bullets were hitting the ground around it. The other tank meanwhile used the distraction to position itself closer to the source of enemy fire. As it brought its massive gun to lock on the trench, the fire suddenly started to redirect towards it. Too late. A rocket flew out of the barrel, hitting the front of the trench and throwing tons of earth into the air in an explosion that could be heard by the Japanese Prime-Minister in the control room of the test field, located not too far from where the action was going. The other tank moved up, meanwhile, and both of them annihilated the remaining opposition. “That concludes the demonstration of the Type 107 tank, your excellency” The Prime Minister looked at the commander of Japan’s Self-Defense Force. “Very well. I never had military training, but it sure looks impressive” “Thank the Toyota engineers and project designers. They are the ones who developed it under our specifications” “But I don’t understand one thing. From what I remember about tanks they are big, massive weapons. Yet the ones deployed in this exercise seem to be small. How can that be? And what about the pilot? He must be cramped inside that vehicle” “There is no pilot, sir. These machines are automated, using the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence. The computers on them will follow the orders of the ranking officer in the scene like any ordinary trooper.” Colonel Yamashita, the Japanese leader of the Far Eastern X-Com team asked in disbelief: “You mean they can think?” “Actually no. Well, it depends on the matter of what Intelligence is. They basically can distinguish between a friend and a foe in their programming and act accordingly to opposition if they are left into that mode. They are basically like big computers developed to play chess, like Big Blue, the one that defeated Kasparov some years ago. 63

But in their case the chess pieces are real, although they can’t go against a human order, no matter how strategically unsound it might be”. “I see, and why are they so small?” added the Prime Minister. “Modern warfare. Nowadays the emphasis is on the ability to transport such weapons as easily and quickly as possible without taking too much transportation effort. We had planned on equipping our paratrooper brigade with these weapons. And the miniaturization of our electronics industry allowed the tank to be so small, which is quite an advantage. It also can be deployed to places where tanks normally would have severe problems, such as mountains, forests and urban environments, because of its size and the ability to deal with difficult terrain” “I look forward into receiving such a machine in my command then General. We need to study tactics to use these tanks” “Unfortunately Colonel, that will take some months still.” “What?” The PM looked in dismay “We need them as soon as possible!” “What you have seen out there is just a demonstration, your excellency, with the tanks being conducted by terminals far away. This project is away from being able to be deployed. The engineers report that they need to iron out the bugs in the software, so that the computer doesn’t decide to start destroying everything around them.” “But why does it take that long?” “A problem has risen recently. The design team lost our main software engineer in a car accident, who was responsible for the initial software code. They are working feverously to pick up his work, but it also means that they have to rethink a lot of the system since they don’t have the general picture.” “Tell them then to be quick General. For that is the will of the Emperor and the faith of the Earth”. The manager bowed his head. “Hai!”

December 28th, 1998
Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
Larianov thought for a minute that the whole world was against him. Not just the whole world, he corrected himself, but also the aliens. How could he have made such a naïve mistake? Could his ego have influenced his reasoning? What had he missed? The French proposal had first presented itself as a marvelous opportunity for protection. A Russian in front of the force that would protect the Motherland and the world. And an assurance that Russia would have the best protection. What could have been better? His doubts began to rise the next day when he flew back to Moscow and talked to Illyuschenko, that unwilling, blind idiot! He seemed to think on the matter and shared many of his impressions on the first occasion, but he quickly realized that he was wrong about the man! Duty always! Duty that the Americans would have the first ready command! Not Russia! And he even gives them one of our few resources! How much time will have passed until they could defend themselves if this goes on like this? And his requests to the military! The latest infantry cannons to be distributed all over the world! 64

The best special forces people! The building of two separate bases instead of using our own installations and allowing us to have direct access to X-Com operations and intelligence! And his refusal to allow their own intelligence agents to those bases! What were they getting from all this? Nothing, besides giving men and equipment! It seemed that they were nothing else than manpower and resources to draw from. He had considered if this hadn’t been a trap from the first time. If the CIA and all western espionage agencies wouldn’t have known for the first time what would be Illyuschenko’s reaction. And the French, those arrogant cowards must have planned this with the Americans for a big piece of what will be discovered. And so he had been deceived. He wondered whom else in that room knew about this deal? Was Russia the only one? Because it turned out that the son of a bitch wasn’t fanatically loyal to the Motherland like my Chief of Staff had said, he was fucking loyal to duty. The idiot should be dismissed of his position as commander of the military if he doesn’t know the differences between the meaning of duty and nation! He had summoned the Defense Council in the Kremlin for addressing those mistakes. “Gentlemen, these are hard times that need hard measures. I expect that you all performed as planned in the last days, otherwise your positions in this room will be in doubt, since your competency wouldn’t seem adequate. And like they accuse us in the Western media, not everything of communist ways have been thrown away, have they?” He let the threat hanging in the air, while looking at the Chairman of the Federal Security Bureau, the agency that had replaced the KGB in the role of counter-espionage and internal affairs. After some seconds of silence after the tall bald man at the other side of the circular table had nodded, he then proceeded. “Irinov, we can start with you, what’s the status on the Mir and missiles?” The Minister of Defense started speaking, apprehensive about what he would say. “In two days time a Soyuz capsule will take = off, carrying three cosmonauts to supplement the other three we usually have there. The Progress ship will take off about 5 days later with the necessary equipment”. “The so called mirrors?”. “Yes, and their necessary control and targeting equipment. We will also install more visual and reconnaissance equipment to allow it to be used as an observation point in space. It will give us a strategic advantage” “And the missiles?” “The first ABM missile has been retrofitted with an Anti Satellite ASAT warhead. Tests are being made to check the condition of both the missile and the weapon. This is not well maintained equipment President and it might take some more days until we can use it.” “And the others?” “For the moment we don’t have any more ASAT warheads available. However we can arm the missiles with small yield nuclear weapons that would destroy anything in their range or wreak havoc with the radiation”

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“Do it” “Yesss….sir” “Mr. Verchenko, SVK report?” The Chief of Foreign Espionage raised himself. “We have successfully infiltrated the American X-Com support personnel. We should start getting reports from them”. “Very well Mr. Verchenko, I’m quite impressed, those are unexpected good news”. “Thank you sir”. “I don’t want to know any details. Your secret operations remain a secret. Just be the eyes for Mother Russia and let us know of everything. And what has your counter-intelligence counterpart have to say?” Alexander Balyev had a public image of a sinister looking figure. He did nothing to repute that image and his voice at the Council sure reinforced it. “The media has been more than cooperative, Mr. President. Especially the press’ managers. I think that the Government’s position was made clear with those leaders. I put myself personally to that task. Abducted victims are taken off to isolated centers. And any remains of mutilations or strange phenomena are attributed to lunatics or terrorists or our own military craft”. “The trend of good news continues then. Finally you, Dr. Ziguanine. Most of my cabinet probably doesn’t know you so please introduce yourself. A gray mustached man lifted himself up and started speaking: “Thank you Mr. President. Gentlemen, what I will present you, more than talking about me, is one of the biggest weapons programs that the late Soviet Union had left us with and the reason why the Mir plays such a big importance in our plans”.

December 31st, 1998
Unknown location, North America
Number One remembered that once there were elected officials or political leaders in the group. People for whom someone had voted and recognized them as their leaders. The same ones that had started his organization. When the last one died they realized that would never happen again. They just couldn’t be trusted and their power would be temporary. Feelings could arise that would go against the group’s interests. And their agenda could never go public at all. As he looked on the television screens to see the various New Year’s messages from around the world’s leaders he felt that their power was inferior to his. And that they had no idea of who really determined how things were. They all sent messages of union against all threats that are amongst them. That it was a time of changes. Sloppy made propaganda. To convince people of lies you have to make them look the other way, not prepare them for bad news. “What a façade.” Number Nine moved in his chair. “Yes” One replied. “Paradoxically, you seemed to maintain yours pretty well until now”

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Eleven pairs of eyes turned themselves towards Number Nine. “If I didn’t report the latest failures of infiltration on X-Com Russia it was because we still have some opportunities left” “And if they succeed then you would present all the reports together, hiding your initial failures. Very well. Unfortunately for you my own sources reported this matter.” “It will just be a matter of time” “Time is sparse. And management of information is crucial” “Yes, we need the information” “No, again you have missed the point” Number One pointed at one of the monitors. A news program was showing some coverage where Number Nine was getting into a government building of some sort. “That is management of information, which you seem to be lacking right now. First that you would so recklessly use your replica meant to substitute you in such an open way”. “My men all have orders not to disturb me when I told them I’m not feeling well. There are also men of trust who know how to help out the clone.” “But imagine he makes an open blunder? Your whole position will be compromised” The other ten pair of eyes quietly assented. Number Nine’s position just had taken a dive. His word would be taken into less account and his resources would shrink until he could prove himself. But he was lucky. The Group well understood the need of deception even amongst themselves. And trying to cover up mistakes and blunders was a common error made by beginners. Not a fatal one, but a serious one nevertheless. Number Nine waited for a sentence. When Number One turned his eyes away from him after some minutes and addressed Number Three, he knew he would still be able to leave the room alive. All the other members of the Group had sent a strong warning to him. They knew the value of patience and the dangers of rash action. “It seems the interference in the Japanese operation was more successful?” Number Three immediately took the chance to raise his status a bit and replied. “Yes. We have acquired the plans of their new tank. And after getting the cooperation from the man responsible for the project we assured his removal from the project. It would be impossible to completely erase the research made without causing suspicions, but at least now X-Com will have to wait some more time before having access to the Japanese design”. “And why did we miss the development of such a technological breakthrough?” Number One knew better than to let Number Three’s ego and ambition go unchecked. He had given him some leverage to satisfy the man, but he couldn’t allow him to go unleashed. “The Toyota Company had the project at a top secret level. Even the military wasn’t informed until they had built the first prototypes. And you know how dedicated and loyal the Japanese can be” “True, but besides the point. This development was a miscalculation” 67

“No, a general strategic surprise. We knew there is always the possibility of something like this going undetected by our operatives.” “You should have predicted it” “The same way your entire previsions for drug consumption were completely off the mark, ruining our profit margin?” So, the battlefield has changed, One thought. Very good. “We haven’t really applied our mass hysteria plans yet. I’m sure the situation will change then” “Really? So far there isn’t even the slightest indication of such a trend. The flyovers and general uncertainty should have increased the use of opiates and cocaine by the general population, like you predicted, but we haven’t seen that”. “And we are at the process of sustaining debts, due to the expenses we are making based on your financial projections, which is quite unacceptable”, Number Four added. Number One didn’t like the situation a bit. This could mean an alliance between two upper members of the ladder, which didn’t fare well for the prospects of keeping his position in the near future. He looked at number Two who just nodded to him and spoke: “The plan is set. We should not care now about financial matters. Pretty soon all money will have no value”. Two’s position would be threatened if Three and Four had made an alliance for one of them to reach power. One knew that the only solution for Two would be to support him, if we wanted to keep his position. “Exactly”.

January 1st, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
The North American team was up early and they had all presented themselves in the auditory of the base. All the men from the four squads were present and seated in their chairs, with Johnson and his executive officer, Captain Hunt, standing up in front of them with a covered table behind them. “All right, I hope you are all fresh this morning after last night” That comment drew some bitter smiles from the assembled troopers. Johnson had allowed them to celebrate New Year’s Eve for some hours. “We have some new toys to play with and I also will be changing each squad’s assignments”. That caught the soldiers’ attention and Johnson carried on, uncovering the table. He picked up with effort a massive gun that looked like a small cannon, with six rotating barrels. “Meet the AGS-19 portable Autocannon, courtesy of the Russian military. So far we have been using M249 Squad Automatic Weapons and M240 machineguns, but now we will replace them for these”. “That is a big gun, sir. Won’t it hinder our movements?” A Hispanic looking trooper with a mustache asked. He was one of the biggest men of the team and usually carried heavy weapons, but his strength enabled him to use them as if they were almost weightless. “That’s why you are being reassigned, Garcia. To keep the squads mobile Delta will now be tasked with providing suppressive fire and armed with this weapon and” He paused to place the weapon back and lifting another cannon with only one barrel, but bigger. “This: 68

the OT-17 Heavy Cannon. While not being capable of automatic fire one shot of armor piercing from this weapon can penetrate almost all body armor, including Kevlar. Besides AP these cannons can also shoot HE and incendiary rounds”. Gunnery Sergeant Hopkins, an Afro-American six feet tall and possessing a massive chest, interrupted. “Sir, does that mean I won’t get to keep Big Momma?” Mild laughter erupted from the enlisted men, only to be cut off when the black ex-marine started giving hard looks. The Gunny’s affection for his LAW-2 rocket launcher was well known. Some even said the man slept with the damn thing. “Sarge, don’t worry. You will keep Big Momma. What would be of us without her?” More laughter followed. After some moments Johnson cut off the laughter. “All right, as of this moment the North American team is on active status. We will go through the final team assignments and afterwards Delta heads out to the shooting range to get proficiency on the new weapons, while the others start exercising together. Captain, carry on”.

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Chapter Three – Skirmishing
January 3rd, 1999
Caribbean Sea
As the sun began to set, a fire streak could be seem across the sky over the island of St. Lucia as an alien craft entered the Earth’s atmosphere and decelerated to more than five thousand kilometers per hour. The UFO then corrected its course and moved towards southern Florida while maintaining the same speed, the 24-foot diameter disc slowly descending as it approached land.

NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US
Space Command had picked up the “fast mover” through the radar that had been set to cover possible missile launches against the United States and had informed Air Defence. The craft’s estimated course was preoccupying General Bigelow, since its trajectory showed it to be heading awfully close to Kennedy Space Center. He decided to take action against it, but as orders were being sent for the Air National Guard and Air Combat Command interceptors to take off and go after it, the UFO had disappeared off the radar screens. Which only could mean one thing: it had landed nearby the facility. Bigelow caught the phone that connected him directly to the War Room in the Pentagon and when there was an answer on the other side he started speaking.

Area 51, Nevada, US
Colonel Johnson was conducting another training exercise outside the facility when base communications requested his presence immediately on his intercom. He acknowledged and started running for the nearest jeep around. Some of the troops around him noticied his rush and started to wonder what was going on.

Security Center, KSC, Florida
The commander of the combined USAF/NASA security team assigned to the space facility was feeling very nervous. The whole center had just been ordered into condition Red by the Pentagon, without any further explanation, and he had stepped up security, but didn’t had a clue about what was happening. He was in charge of the America’s number one space facility and didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Some minutes afterwards the whole southern section of the security fence alarm systems went off. Apparently the electrical power in that part of the centre had failed, although it had its own generator. He had sent one of his teams to investigate and was considering the whole situation when the radio went active: “Base, this is team Echo, over” “Echo, what do you have, over?” “Sir, we are hearing a strange humming noise coming out of a section near the south eastern perimeter, in a swamp”

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“What kind of a noise?” “Uhh, well it’s continuous, like a giant fridge or something” “Any other activity?” “Well, about some 15 minutes ago we saw a light in the sky” “A light in the sky? What sort of light?” “A white one, almost the size of the moon. It headed towards the swamp where we are hearing the noise right now. What shall we do sir?” “Team Echo, deploy and investigate the marsh. Keep me informed” There had been reports of strange events in the sky for a long time, but he had paid them no deed. This was NASA and they knew anything about the existence of extra-terrestrial craft they would have detected it by now. Or would they? He shook his head in disbelief. No, this must be a terrorist action or some espionage or sabotage done by some nation or group. He decided to wait before reporting Washington, until he had a clear picture of what was going on and not just report strange noises and lights in the sky, or they would think he was getting nuts.

Command and Communications Center, Area 51, Nevada
When Johnson arrived at the command, communications and control room of the X-Com facilities at the base he found General Smith already standing there. “Looks like your Commies will have some action today, Colonel”. His mild tone displayed some curiosity mixed with skepticism. Johnson acknowledged his presence and then nodded to the technician that was running communications. A monitor that had a dark blue background with a red X superimposed on a circle on its middle suddenly lit up with the face of the Chairman of the JCS. “Colonel, some 15 minutes ago, NORAD picked up a fast mover heading towards Florida. When it reached land it dropped off radar but from its last trajectory we presume that it was heading towards Kennedy Space Center”. “What’s the word on them?” “They have been ordered into maximum security, but with orders not to interfere. No further reports have arrived from them”. “Good. My team will be leaving in ten minutes”. “Very well. Air Combat Command has fighter planes looking for the aircraft. We are also moving an E-3 Airborne Warning plane up, to see if its radar can pick the UFO and are deploying other reconnaissance assets so we might have more information by the time you get there” “Understood. Area 51 out”. Johnson turned to the technician. “Inform all ground team members to report to the hangar fully equipped. Tell flight operations to prepare the Skyranger for immediate take-off. And notify Commander Illyuschenko”.

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General Smith turned to him and said: “Well Colonel, now we shall see how good your force thinks it is”. Johnson thought of answering to him, but in the next minute he was already on its way to the Armory to get equipped.

Low Orbit, Earth
A KH-11 “Big Bird” reconnaissance satellite started using its correction jets to position his cameras to a location hundreds of kilometers below him. As it slowly changed his position, the electronic and visual eyes it possessed locked into Florida and started searching. Although a weather front was passing through the State, with heavy cloud cover, Space Command had decided to give it a try, hoping that a hole in the clouds would allow them to spot the UFO in the satellite’s visual and infrared cameras.

Area 51, Nevada, US
As Johnson reached the armory all of North American team was already there, waiting for orders. They had been divided into four squads, each with three men. Johnson and his executive officer, Captain Hunt, filled up the remaining capacity of the Skyranger. As he entered the room, Gunnery Sergeant Hopkins shouted: “Attention! Officer in the deck!” Although they were not on a ship and not even in the Navy or the Marines, the Gunny still hasn’t been able to get rid of the Marine expressions. Or maybe he doesn’t want to, Johnson thought, smiling to himself. They all stood up in attention but after a second eased up after Johnson waved off the salutes. “Everybody listen up really careful. An UFO has been detected heading towards Florida. The Pentagon thinks it has landed nearby, or at the perimeter of Kennedy launch facilities. Our mission will be to investigate for possible alien activity and neutralize it. But everyone will proceed with extreme caution, is that understood? Now go equip yourselves and board the Skyranger. We will leave in five minutes time. Any questions?” After a brief moment of silence all men broke ranks and started collecting weapons and equipment.

Security Center, KSC, Florida
“Base, this is Echo, we are being attacked! We need help right now!” “Echo, what’s your position?” “We had just left our vehicle and entered the marsh when we started receiving incoming fire” Silence “Shit! That was close! ” “Nature of the attackers?” “Unknown sir. Albert, get some cover right now! Tyson, don’t stand there. Fuck!” More silence on the radio “Sir! Tyson is dead, some green ray just opened a hole in his chest the size of a toaster” “Fall back at once” “Trying sir, there’s just too many of…” The transmission was suddenly cut off.

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“Echo, repeat the last sentence please”. Only static greeted him. “What is going on there?”

Skyranger 1, over Louisiana, US
Johnson was going over his team’s assignments and deployment when his radio cracked up. “Colonel, Harris here. We have just left the vicinity of New Orleans and the top hats want to talk to you” Johnson had decided that for now Harris would fly the Skyranger, until he had proven himself proficient at air combat missions. He had more than enough experience flying experimental aircraft. “Patch them through”. “Yes sir. And thank you for flying with X-Air, the only airline that is out of this world”. Johnson dismissed the joke and raised his hand to his earpiece to try to listen better in the middle of the noise inside the Skyranger’s cargo section. “X-Com, this is NORAD, over” “This is Colonel Johnson, I’m reading you, over” “Be advised. KSC sent a team to investigate and their last communications reported that they were under attack and were taking heavy casualties. No word from them has been received in the last 15 minutes. A base map with the possible location of the UFO is being uploaded to your system. We are trying to get some real time data, but the weather conditions over Florida aren’t helping”. “Roger and out”. Johnson got a laptop from out of his seat, turned it on and connected it to a data line that would allow him to have access to the X-Com computer system. Then he started examining the tactical situation.

KSC, Florida, US
The Skyranger landed about an hour later, nearby the abandoned vehicle of the security team, which was standing in a road that went around the Center’s perimeter. As it was touching down, its rear door opened and the North American team begun to swarm from it, covering all sides of the aircraft. After the Landing Zone was secured, Johnson immediately started giving orders. “Alpha squad, take right flank. Beta, move to the left. Gamma, take point. Delta, cover our asses and be ready to give support”. All the men moved then without a word to the location of the UFO. They were wearing night vision goggles to increment the available light from the moon and the stars. The whole area looked deserted of any artificial construction, besides the lights of the security fence far away and the service road. But a humming noise, that reminded Johnson of a hive of angry bees, could be heard from a swamp that was near the southeast, inside the base perimeter. He got his binoculars and looked into that direction. Nothing could be seen besides the tall trees and a pool of stagnant water, not even the slightest movement. He touched spoke into his mike. “Everyone watch out. They must be alert of our presence, so look out for ambushes”. The team started to move slowly, When they got about halfway of the distance between 73

the road and the line of trees, some 100 feet, a green jolt suddenly came out from the swamp. Johnson tried to shout a warning but it was too late. The point men of Gamma squad didn’t even have time to scream. The light hit him squarely in the head, decapitating him. The rest of his body continued his motion for less than a second, then dropped to the ground. “Take cover! Delta squad, lay a pattern of suppressive fire in the direction from where that shot came!” Andrews was the first to shot. After getting on the soft ground with his massive body he pointed his Russian AGS-19 portable auto-cannon to the area where the sniper was concealed and started pouring high explosive rounds into it. In spite of the distance, the noise of the blasts was still quite deafening. Guided by the explosions that destroyed vegetation and splintered trees, all remaining members of the team started firing with their weapons. After ten seconds of a barrage of death, Johnson ordered them to ceasefire and had a look with his binoculars. Nothing could be seen. “OK, it looks as if the sniper has been neutralized. Let’s carry on”. As they approached more carefully the line that separated the swamp from dry land, its stench was turning out to be even worse. The rotten waters had calmed down and the fog had lifted a bit, but besides the humming noise, nothing else could be seen or heard. They entered the waters and started moving more slowly, not only because of the terrain but also to avoid making noise that would give their position away. The three forward squads had expanded the line to the sides, to allow them to avoid possible flanking manoeuvres by the aliens, searching with their weapons all the time for possible hostiles. Johnson’s intercom came alive and he ordered his squad with a gesture to stop. “Alpha here. We found one of the security team’s bodies. It took a shot in the head from behind. Brain and face are all gone” “Any vestiges of the aliens?” The trooper’s reply was quick. “Zero” “Beta, any sight of the sniper?” “We just reached the area. It is completely wrecked by gunfire. No bodies found. There’s some green ooze in some leaves though. It looks like alien blood or their equivalent.” Shit, Johnson thought. That would mean the alien would still be out there, although probably injured. “Beta and Alpha, keep moving. Beta, keep an eye on his trail” “Roger” The team continued to move, with Johnson speeding up a bit to join Gamma team. The humming noise could be heard more strongly know, and pretty soon Johnson spotted a weird form that was standing in the middle of a small clearing in the swamp. “Movement!” called a voice “Ten o’clock, thirty feet away”. That would be Trooper King, of Alpha, Johnson thought, while ordering its team to stop. “King, talk to me”

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“I can see him hiding behind a red tree. I picked him up because of the disturbance he made in the still waters” “Did he spot you?” “No, because most likely he would have reacted” “Alpha, try to circle him. King, if he even sneezes take him out. Beta, what’s the status on your flank?” “We have discovered a strange looking weapon that was lying in the water” Suddenly an alien shriek filled the air. “What was that?!” Johnson demanded on the radio. Gunfire from his left side was the only answer. “Alpha team, report your status!” “Sir, this is King. The sound didn’t come from here but when the alien heard it, it started moving. I took him down as ordered. Alpha team reports no other activity.” “Beta, what happened?” “The scream came from the front of us. We stayed put and are waiting for orders sir” “Alpha and Beta cover both flanks. Gamma, let’s move out towards the alien craft. Delta dug in and prepare to give us some cover.” Johnson and his two men started to move towards the puddle where the craft had rested. No, not rested, Johnson corrected himself when he came closer. It was hovering just inches over the water. Maybe the aliens don’t like to get their feet wet, he thought. As they carefully reached it he could see the gray metal color of it. The craft was completely circular and totally smooth, with no equipment or openings discernible. When they reached it, Johnson touched it. It was cold and it looked as if it had been molded or made out of one piece. “Let’s try to find an opening. Alpha and Beta, start circling the craft. Gamma, when they reach their positions we move. Rodriguez, you take the right side, Jones the left. Delta, split and give both sides some cover” When both side teams started to move, all hell broke out. First some strange sounds here heard by everyone and a greenish hue could be seen on both sides of the craft, then the human screams started to fill out the radio, followed by gunfire. “What’s going on?” Johnson had to scream to make sure he was being listened because of the cries of pain on the radio channel. “Sir, Hopkins here. There are hostiles nearby the UFO, on the opposite side of the craft. One of my men got hit and it looks pretty badly. It has burned his left chest” “King here. We also got hit and are firing back. The Lieutenant is dead. They are invisible, we can’t just see them from this distance” “Shit”. Johnson contemplated his options. He needed to spot the threats and direct more suppressive fire to that side of the craft, before both teams would be eliminated. But for Delta to get into position it might take too long, unless... “Rodriguez and Jones, charge the other side of the UFO!”

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Both troopers didn’t even hesitate to comply with the order. Johnson followed Rodriguez as he dashed around the craft. When he completed turning around it, he saw three bigheaded figures that were crouched on the ground, turned sideways, with one shooting at Alpha team and the other two at Beta. They suddenly moved as if they had detected Gamma’s presence, but failed to turn and respond to it quickly enough. Johnson and his troopers were already pulling automatic fire into them from their M4A1 automatic carbines. The M4 had been developed from the M16 rifle as a submachine gun and the version X-Com was using was a Special Forces adaptation, with the option of full automatic fire. The one alone on the right died almost instantly as both Johnson and Rodriguez unleashed their weapons power on him. Rivers of green gore came out of places where the bigheaded alien got it. On the other side Jones had killed one of them and the other was almost firing at him when Rodriguez did a small correction of his rifle and killed him with a direct hit on its head. The alien dropped to the swamp, lifeless. “Jesus Christ, what a mess!” Jones cried out. “This isn’t over yet. There might be some more inside the craft. Delta, get your Heavy Cannons up here and load them up with armor piercing rounds. These guys are hard to take down”. The two men armed with the other contribution from Russia, the OT-17 heavy cannon moved quickly. The weapons were designed to provide long-range heavy stopping power, but during their training the North American team had discovered that they could also be useful in close combat, when you had to take your enemy down quickly. They all started inspecting the side of the craft until one of them said: “I think I found an opening”. Johnson took off his night vision goggles and looked. There was an almost undistinguishable rectangle that seemed to form a door. “And how do we opened it now?” he asked. “Well, what if we give it a push?” The Delta squad man pushed the door and it suddenly moved upwards, disappearing into the fuselage of the craft. The motion surprised him and he never had time to reach to the energy discharges that came out from the opening. Johnson only saw his torso disappear under a green light. The trooper’s arms, shoulders, neck and head fell down on the water, still holding the heavy cannon. After a moment his legs, which were still standing up, dropped on the swamp and joined them. Johnson immediately reached for a grenade, pulled the pin and threw it to the inside of craft before the door had completely closed. A muffled explosion was heard minutes later coming from the inside of the UFO. “Rodriguez, Jones, Garcia, come up here. On my mark I will open the door again and we will take down everything still moving inside”. Johnson pushed the door again as they joined him on the sides of the opening. They pointed their guns inside and kept their bodies out of the door, but no enemy fire came out this time. The Colonel then, very carefully, took a look inside. A metal cylinder was standing in the middle of the room, giving out an orange light. Two seats were fused to the floor on the left side, in front of some monitors. And four aliens were lying on the ground along with their weapons, their bodies cut by the shrapnel of the grenade. “UFO secure. Check out the bodies to see if they are really dead and let’s clear the perimeter, troops”.

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After ten minutes checking the swamp, they found no other aliens alive. Apparently the shriek heard before come from an alien found a hundred feet away from the craft that must have been the initial sniper. It must have been severely hit while trying to get away from the suppressive fire and it then had bled to death. Johnson didn’t feel any remorse. Four of his men were dead, the trooper from Beta dying from the massive shock of his injury, before medical attention arrived from the Space Center. The discovery of the remaining corpses from the KSC’s security force increased his anger. The aliens had cut up some of them and they had parts of their bodies missing, as if they were cattle. But they had succeeded on their first mission. And more important, they knew the aliens could be killed on the ground. A CH-53E Super Stallion heavy transport helicopter borrowed from the Marines was already on its way to help move the UFO to an airfield where it would then be flown back to Nevada. They know had a door to the alien’s technological secrets, if they knew how to open it.

New York City, US
Hours after the encounter, Number Three was seated in a chair facing a desk where a communications terminal had been set in. The 86th floor penthouse had a magnificent view to the Hudson River as well as Wall Street. He joined being up there, because it gave him the impression of power, looking over the glass windows down to the street below and seeing all the little people going through their lives, not knowing anything about what hovered over them. But he was starting to feel that his same power was becoming threatened and, he might end up back among the ordinary humans below him. The report he had just got from Number Seven had accentuated that fear. X-Com’s first mission had been a success. A phyrric one, with the loss of almost one third of the men involved, but they still had been able to kill all the aliens and capture a working craft. That was bad. It meant that the Group was losing control over things, over technology they had been the only ones on Earth to acquire and that had took many work to keep it secret. And their actions would prompt more alien activity, with the result escalation of events and general world knowledge of the UFO situation. And if the Group’s intentions ever were revealed he knew they would be convicted for treason to the human race. Control was being lost over the aliens also. Not that they had ever been capable of really knowing what they were up to, but they knew about their interest on Earth and generally predict their actions. But he sometimes wondered about the opposite, if they weren’t deceiving the Group itself. He had been the first one to be informed by Number Seven, which had his own sources inside KSC and shared the same doubts about humanity in general having access to alien technology. And they had also a strong belief about themselves and the power and necessity of an elite in these dark times. He knew something had to be done about this XCom force, so he isolated himself in silence until he had came up with a plan.

London, United Kingdom
On the other side of the Atlantic, Number Two was considering the same question also while having breakfast. He had a troubled night after being awakened to receive the report. There would be a meeting in a few days to discuss the new events and he knew that deviations were already happening to the plan. Other possibilities were presenting

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themselves and he was afraid that the Group was too stubborn of years of routine to see them. Not all of the twelve men and woman, of course, but that the majority, including Number One, hadn’t really taken many things into account. Like the reaction of the nations of Earth and also about the potential of the X-Com team. Although all those men were elite professionals, their success with dealing with the aliens had surprised Number Two. Others had tried going into combat with the aliens. And while on most cases it had been the matter of being at the wrong time and place for the humans since they got chewed to pieces, in others the Group had sent his men to test the aliens, disguised as ordinary military of the nations of Earth. Few ever survived these encounters and after their briefing they would be disposed of. The Group had never been interested into forming a combat force to deal with the aliens. They knew it would be a waste of effort and resources. The aliens had proven themselves superiorly in numbers and in combat. Until now. It looked as if humans could military defeat the aliens, if properly led and using the right tactics. Earth’s technology had advanced on its own in the last years and while it looked awfully primitive when compared to the aliens it could hurt them. Two suddenly started to realize what would happen if X-Com had access to more advanced technology. Then they would be a military force to be reckoned even by the aliens. And while diminishing their influence and pressure over the Group, it would allow also to guarantee some safeguards about the aliens. Yes, this X-Com had to been seen as a most desirable asset, not like a threat at all.

January 10th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
Colonel Johnson was waiting for General Illyuschenko to leave the Skyranger. A cold wind was coming from the North and he buttoned his service coat a little higher. The days after the raid had been frenetic on the base’s research teams. While Johnson shared some of their excitement, another feeling was stronger. The deaths of his men. It had been hard for all of the team. While those men had been working together for a few time and relationships hadn’t yet been formed it had been a hard blow for all of them. Still, the training sessions had helped them cast aside their thoughts. Now they knew the enemy and what he was capable of and, more important, that it could be killed. General Illyuschenko left the Skyranger that had brought him all the day from Russia, with stopovers of a few hours in Paris and Washington. Although it would be expected for anyone to be showing the effects of jet lag, the General looked as if he had just woken, completely alert. Behind him came some civilians and, after them, some reinforcement troops. The attack had left them a bit unmanned and Johnson was afraid to having to commit the under strength team in the last days. He looked at the eight uniformed men and they lined up and stood up. He was relieved. Now their losses would be filled up and he also could form a replacement squad to cover for future casualties. The latest to leave were a group of men in suits. He knew exactly who they were and what was their mission. But he still hated intelligence officers. They

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always made him nervous. He moved to join with Illyuschenko and the two men saluted when they met. “Welcome back to Area 51, sir”. “Thank you Colonel. I am most pleased to see you again and I wish to congratulate you for your success. Well done”. “Thank you sir, although I wouldn’t call it exactly a complete success”. “I know Johnson. Believe me, I would do anything I could to bring those men back. But they made a courageous sacrifice and for the most noble cause”. “Well, I would prefer not to talk to much about the subject now, sir”. “I understand” The turned to the leading civilian that had stopped some feet behind him. “Dr. Chevereux, could you please come over and meet Colonel Johnson?” The white haired men approached the Colonel with some fear. “Doctor, this is Colonel Johnson, commander of the North American team of X-Com, based at Area 51” “Colonel Johnson, this is Dr. Chevereux, our scientific leader”. They exchanged handshakes but didn’t say anything. Then the scientist turned to Illyuschenko and said: “That we will still have to see General. I agreed to come with you here just because you actually threatened me if I didn’t come here to see it with my own eyes”. Johnson looked puzzled at the General. “It’s all right Johnson, the Doctor here refused the UN offer calling it a nonsense, but now it seems he will join us”. “It is a nonsense! UFOs? Aliens? The things you are talking about are un-scientific and are proved to not exist. This thing here is a complete waste of time”. “See what I mean, Colonel? So I told him, err, convinced him to come and see the proof for his own eyes”. Johnson managed to suppress a shiver. The aliens still made him to have that reaction. “Very well sir.” “I want us to be shown the evidence now, Colonel, if you please”. “Very well, sir. Just let me welcome the rest of your passengers and dismiss my new men, General”. “Please do it”. Johnson turned to them all and said: “Welcome to Area 51, gentlemen. My name is Colonel E. Johnson and I am the commander of the North American X-Com team. You now don’t belong to your services or countries anymore. Now you fight for Earth and against the greatest menace of all. The things you will learn from this day on will come as a shock but they are real, gentlemen. And remember your duty always in those times and let it guide you.” He turned them to his troops “Sergeant Hopkins will guide you to your quarters and later you will receive a full brief and meet the rest of the team. Sergeant, lead them on”. “Yes sir. Platoon, attention!”

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While Hopkins started to make the new recruits life as much miserable as possible, although those men all belonged to elite units and couldn’t be easily pushed, Illyuschenko turned to Johnson: “A most impressive speech Colonel”. “Thank you sir, but I just made it up on the occasion”. “More impressive even. Now, show us the aliens”. “This way please sir”. The cryogenic storage unit was situated into the depths of the base, giving it the most appropriate mood, Johnson thought. The monsters’ laboratory. The stench the things gave off when they died was terrible, Johnson remembered. And while it was gone now, just the look of the dead alien in front of him reminded him of that smell. But another feeling was also more prominent. The one of biological repulsion. The thing there wasn’t anything of this planet and his body reacted with disgust to it. Illyuschenko and the scientific staff of Chevereux had that same reaction also when the cold storage drawer where the body was kept had been opened, although in the scientific groups case it should be more the feeling felt by scholars in the late Middle Ages when someone proved to them that the world was round, instead of flat as it had been said before for centuries. “C’est incroyable!” The other scientists uttered expressions of pure disbelief. “Mon Dieu.” “Silence.” Dr. Chevereux said firmly. All the excitement stopped and he turned to the General and spoke: “Sir, I appear to have been wrong. I ask you to apologize me for my blindness. I will gladly and dutifully accept the UN invitation as Scientific Leader of XCom and will fulfill my role to the best of my abilities”. “Thank you doctor for accepting the job”. Johnson realized that either way the general would have made the scientist to take the position, whatever he liked it or not. “I am happy to have you fighting with us. Colonel, what have your scientific team found out the aliens so far?” Johnson turned to his chief scientist, who he had asked to be present. “Dr. Mantell, could you please answer Dr. Chevereux’s question?” “Gladly. Well for a start, we recovered some nine alien bodies from the area, in several levels of damage. From what we had pictured, from autopsies and all full type of biological exams, these creatures have some interesting traits. For instance, our initial genetic studies show that they are all clones”. “Clones?” Chereveux asked in disbelief. “How can it be? A society of clones would be always at peril of genetic errors and grave mutations”. “We don’t know doctor, but that’s what we are trying to find out. About their anatomy, they show greatly a greatly atrophied digestive system and traces of what have been sexual organs. They basically have no natural way to surviving and reproducing themselves”. “They are greatly advanced in genetic engineering then”. “Yes. And their head is out of proportion to their body when compared to the human anatomy, which would suggest a greater intelligence because of the bigger brain. Their eyes are also much bigger and it seems they are capable of seeing in the dark better than

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us. That has been also verified in the encounter. Finally, and this is a remote hypothesis, they may have evolved from marine animals”. “How did you come up to that conclusion?” “Their skin is similar to dolphins and such like mammals, although I wouldn’t call this aliens mammals since they remind me more of an insectoid species. They also have vestiges of what looks to be webbing between their fingers, which would suggest that their limbs were used to swim in the past”. “Interesting. What else do you have?” “Well, they don’t have vocal cords. The most probable theory to explain how they communicate can be quite unbelievable, but we are considering all possibilities”. “After what I saw today I shall take few truths for granted, Dr. What is it?” “Some sort of telepathy. Their ears appear less developed than ours and can listen to sounds audible to humans. However they where never seen to make any sound, unless when dying and while not wearing of communication devices where capable of coordinating their operations together, while away of visual sight of one another”. “You think the larger brain could be something to do with this?” “We are still running a lot of tests, but I will be able to give you a full report from biology in two days, sir. The other departments will take longer”. “What other departments?” Mantell looked at Johnson who just nodded. “He’s your superior now, doctor, go ahead”. It actually wasn’t quite true since Johnson was in command of the entire personnel assigned to the X-Com portion of Area 51 but he had no voice over scientific issues. Luckily General Smith wasn’t around to hear the comment or he would most likely have a heart stroke. “Physics, Aerodynamics, Computers and Engineering” “What?!” Chereveux couldn’t believe what he was hearing “Mon Dieu! What else have you captured?” Johnson stepped in. “A flying saucer that we captured last week. A UFO. And a lot of alien toys also for you scientists to play with. Please follow me and you will see it now”. After showing to the scientists the captured UFO he excused himself to make his own presentation to the intelligence spooks and General Illyuschenko. He met with them about some two hours later and the proper presentations then took place. Illyuschenko begun speaking to Johnson: “We have all seen the biological analysis to the aliens, Colonel, so please give us now your military evaluation of them.” “Yes, sir. Well, these things, while fragile looking, can be very dangerous. For starters they are extremely intelligent. They knew they were outnumbered and acted accordingly, with the use of snipers and trying to ambush us by using their superior night vision. Fortunately for us, they probably were expecting that we would panic in the middle of their attacks, like the KSC’s security team probably did, so they weren’t really expecting such a reaction from our part. While this is an advantage now, it can quickly change as they learn of our success. Still, most of our tactics worked out which is a blessing. Our weapons are also capable of killing them, although it seems they are more resistant than

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their appearance would suggest. For instance, sometimes they would need several bullets before going down. But their head appears to be their weak spot”. Illyuschenko nodded in approval. “And what about their weapons?” “They were using two types of weapons sir that would correspond to a pistol and a rifle. They release some green energy bolt that has tremendous power. Our Kevlar body armor is almost ineffective against it.” Johnson didn’t like that thought at all “For some unknown reason, the weapons weren’t working anymore when we picked them up, but the scientists are going like mad hungry dogs over them”. Williams turned to Johnson and asked: “Very well Colonel. You have done an excellent job and it will help us on ours. Now we need to ask you some questions. Just give us straight answers please, what you really believe and not what you think we would like to hear”. Well the spook seems reasonable, Johnson thought and nodded “Please ask” “In your opinion, how can we correct our tactics to go against the aliens?” “Sir, I would say avoiding fighting them at night for a start. And develop better weaponry and protection for my men. And finally discovering what they are up to”. “Very well. Would you characterize their actions at KSC as aggressive or of a defensive posture?” Johnson nearly exploded on that question and tried to keep his anger away from his voice. “Aggressive for sure! This things, this insectoids, like Dr. Mantell called them, you should have seen what they done to the Center’s security team’s bodies. They even shot one from behind on his head, never giving the guy a chance. And then they cut them up. The inside of the UFO looked like a slaughterhouse! They have something bad coming up for us, gentlemen, of that I am completely sure of.” He breathed and relaxed a bit. “I apologize for my reaction”. “It’s quite natural, Colonel. Don’t worry. Now we are interested in one more matter, more delicate, we may say. What I am about to say may never be discussed or even mentioned out of this room, gentleman”. Both military men nodded to him in compliance. “What is it?” Williams paused for a moment then he simply stated out. “We suspect of alien infiltration into our societies” “What?!” The colonel and the general looked in astonishment. “Not even Mr. Davis, here on my side, who is of the FBI counter-subversion department, agrees completely with that claim, but there’s something logical to it. The aliens possess a lot of intelligence about us. While most of it came from observation and the abductions, they also seem to know more intrinsic aspects of our society. Take, for instance, the intrusion on KSC. Or many other incidents dealing with military bases in the past. We also suspect that the flyovers are a form of psychological warfare by their part. Therefore, they must have their own agents living among us. How far our society maybe compromised is still to find out, but we need to take steps to avoid that happening to XCom. Both of you are receiving this report because you have been checked and, quite frankly we believe that the odds of you being double agents are quite low. But we don’t know if this infiltration has already begun in your force.” Johnson couldn’t believe what 82

he was hearing. If it ever got known it would break the morale and cohesion of the team apart. They would be looking at one another, thinking about it. “That’s grave news, Mr. Williams”. “And gossip is already out about your force, fortunately only in military and intelligence circles. While they are almost gossip and general speculation, those sort of rumors would be one of the things that such an agent would investigate. Which mean that we will have to triple-check the life of every X-Com member, because if we don’t we will be heading into serious trouble”. Johnson wasn’t pleased but he understood the need. “Very well, I shall provide you with the files of all my men. But please be extremely discreet. My team would cease to exist as a combat unit if word leaked out to them”. “I understand. One last thing: have you noticed any unusual difficulties in implementing your work? From individuals or organizations?” Both military men replied negatively. “Very well, we shall leave you now gentlemen. How about if we meet later in the evening?” After the intelligence team left, both Johnson and Illyuschenko stayed in the Colonel’s office. “I always hated intelligence officers. Although they are not as so egotistical and getting their noses into everything here, there’s still some thing about them I can’t stand”. “Me too sir. But what if they are saying can really occur? We need to take precautions”. “I know. The first one will be to confine this information to this room, like he said. I can imagine only they and your President and his intelligence directors, besides us now, know the last part of the report. The less people who know it, the less chances it will have to reach an infiltrator. He will be slacking a bit after a while, and that will give us an opportunity to catch him”. “But what if acts to disrupt us?” “We may never know if indeed there is one. So we will continue to act as if nothing is different. But we will keep an eye on things”.

January 12th, 1999
Geneva, Switzerland
As he looked over the window to see the lake, Number One reminded that this was the same city that had seen the birth of X-Com. Coincidentally, the same matter that had brought him here now, the discussion of their recent activities. He was annoyed. Too many bickering was taking place in the Group and they had to remain focused if they want to keep control. Some were arguing that I was a grave mistake to allow the Earth’s nations access to modern technology. Others that the X-Com force could play a bigger role in their plans. He then turned to again regain his attention to the center of the table and start demolishing his opponent’s arguments. “This is pointless”. He started. “Your claims are close to ridicule”.

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“We hadn’t properly considered the potential of this X-Com outfit. We need to reassess our plans now and taking them into account”. Number Eight was arguing. Number Three responded: “They have to be destroyed. They are threatening us because they will make the aliens advance their timetable. Which could mean that we won’t be ready on time”. “This isn’t like your crude attempts to build your own controlled force”. Three gave a murderous look at Eight at that mention. The other man paused but continued presenting his arguments. “So far our skirmishes with the aliens have always resulted into disaster. We had assumed that building and maintaining a ready force to engage in warfare with the aliens was pointless, because the operation would be too big to be concealed and we would show the aliens our real intentions”. Number Eight looked surreptitiously at Two, who just lowered his eyelids. “This X-Com force is a strategic asset that we can’t deny”. “Bah! They have managed some success so far, but that won’t last when the aliens start to react to them. They will be simply squashed”. One decided that the discussion was enough and that it should end. “Both of you have never considered properly the new dimension this X-Com force would bring into the conflict, even now”. He let a sinister voice out. “But I have, since the first moment of its creation. You claim that mankind in general cannot have access to this technology. It would severely change the balances of power on our society. It is correct. But also the fact that it is in X-Com’s hands only help us more. So far they are running a concealed operation, trying to avoid interference from the government when possible. Which means that if we take over the organization, little will have come out to the public or even the world’s governments.” He paused and continued: “And for the fact that we haven’t look into their potential, well we have knowledge of the aliens. We know what they are capable of and also what humans are capable of. We have a natural tendency to adapt to new situations. Theirs is not as developed as ours, because of their dependence on technology to even live. It isn’t hard to see that they will have some successes and some failures. But, while they are doing that, they will provide us with necessary information. And also the aliens will have to divert resources to this threat to their plans. But we have spoken too much. Let’s call a vote and see what is the decision of the majority”. His faction still was the biggest, although not the majority, and the other two would never compromise so the result was known from the start. They approved the continuation of his plan, although some abstained or even voted against it.

Far Side, Moon
A massive alien fleet was orbiting the Moon, using it as a shield against detection by Earth’s telescopes and other detection means. More ships were arriving every week, reinforcing it. Pretty soon, the Sectoid Commander on the command bridge of one of the larger ships thought, operations would be stepped up in Sol Three. He had already sent recce ships to find places suitable for the missions that had been ordered by High Command, in addiction to the scientific missions and fleet supply runs to the surface of the planet. But a disturbing factor had come up a few days before. One of his ships had sent a report of defeating a band of armed humans that were approaching it. Then, a few hours later their psychic link had been severed, which could only mean that they were

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dead. He had informed High Command of the occurrence and was waiting for an analysis and answer. It could take days to arrive, so he decided to keep up with the plan.

January 21st, 1999
Border of Texas and Mexico, US
“Tally Ho!” Harris shouted when he picked up the UFO on the long-range television camera situated on the top of the nose of his plane. The device was capable of picking up a target at more than 60 miles away. He was piloting one brand new F-22 Lightning 2 interceptor jet and was chasing an alien craft that had entered the US through the Gulf of Mexico, and was in their way to the Four Corners area. It was good to be flying against a supersonic jet, doing combat missions, Harris thought. Colonel Johnson hasn’t really pleased when he announced to him that his flight status was being upgraded because of a sudden flu that hit both the certified pilots for the F-22s sitting at the hangars on Area 51. “Command, I have one UFO on my screen, range 43 miles, at angels six, speed Mach 1.5. Type is Apollo like capsule. Request permission to engage. Over”. “Comanche, this is Command. You have permission to engage. Good hunting”. “Roger that. Preparing to launch Phoenix.” His hands went over the buttons that transferred information from his radar to the weapon. After one second, a warning tone came to his headphones. “ Missile locked into target. I got a good tone. I’m taking the shot now!” He released the master safety switch and pressed the trigger button on his control stick between his legs “Fox Three! Missile away!” The missile dropped for a second then lighted up his engine and started going at hypersonic speed towards to UFO, guided by the aircraft’s radar. When it got close to the craft the missile’s own radar went active, looking for the UFO and making a final correction before going into the craft. It didn’t even try to perform an evasive maneuver or anything as it approached it. When it approached the craft close enough the proximity fuse of the warhead was triggered and kilos of explosive detonated. The blast almost completely destroyed the UFO, its remains falling quickly out of the sky. “Damn! Those things are made out of tissue paper! Command, this is Comanche. The UFO completely blew up when it was hit by the Phoenix. I don’t think the ground team will find much to pick up, over”. “Roger that. Return To Base, Comanche, and good work”. Harris smiled. This was his second kill in about a week. The first one had been a circular UFO that had been detected over Northern Canada. He had hit it with another Phoenix and it had felt down out of the sky and crash-landed it. Johnson and his people had gone up there to retrieve the UFO and they managed to kill the alien survivors of the crash while only loosing two more people, one dead and one with a serious burn on his side, while killing the four survivors. And while the first ever UFO kill had belonged to the European team on the day right after the KSC’s ground assault, he still was damn proud. Two UFO kills, he thought. Just keep the bastards coming.

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January 22nd, 1999
Sea of Japan
The MC-130H Combat Talon II transport craft flew so close to the stormy seas that Colonel Yamashita sometimes thought that pretty soon they would have to swim back to land. His X-Com Far East team was at the cargo bay of the aircraft, each wearing jump uniforms, with parachutes attached to them and doing the final checks on them. An UFO had been detected over the Sea of Japan, heading for the Korean Peninsula. Although the interceptors couldn’t get enough speed to catch it and the team hadn’t a Skyranger yet and wasn’t declared fully operational yet because of that, a contingency had been developed by the team, who were eager to enter action. Yamashita and his executive officer had devised one plan to deal with UFOs using classic transportation that immediately presented to General Illyuschenko. It had risks but the go order was given. The Far Eastern team had then requested the assistance of an American C-130 which had been special built for infiltration. The plane had took off from Kadena Air Base and had picked them up at Complex YY-18, the Far East X-Com’s base situated at the island of Hokkaido in Japan. By then the UFO’s flight plan had led him to a location over North Korea, where it had disappeared off the radars. Since the North Koreans had been considered as an unstable nation by the national representatives to the X-Com council, they couldn’t let them know about the threat ask for permission to fly and engage the enemy on their territory. But the remote area on which it had landed made it a perfect target for a covert operation. But if they were caught there would be hell to pay. So they had flew into the sea and them turned almost ninety degrees to the west to enter North Korea. He hoped that their air defense system didn’t go into alert with the UFO, but chances of that happening were considered low, since they didn’t know what they were looking after and their radar technology still dated back to the 70’s. They would make a low altitude drop over the area after having located the UFO. Then they would advance and eliminate all opposition, making way for the MH-53J Pave Low III multi-mission helicopter that would arrive two hours later to pick them and bring as much as possible from the UFO. His team was ready, Yamashita thought. They had been eager to fight ever since the secret ceremony at the Imperial Palace, headed by no loss than the Emperor himself. Until now he had been a diffuse but worthy of high prestige and devotion to Yamashita, but after meeting him and hearing his words, he really understood his path. In an evocation of Japan’s martial past a samurai’s swords had been given to all Japanese warriors of the X-Com team. He had called them men with a sacred mission, for whom Japan should pay his respect to warriors who would defend it and Earth. While it remembered the nation’s recent bloody path it would also mean that the Empire of the Rising Sun needed all of his soul to survive this threat. Looking at his men, he noticed that all of them had the Emperor’s swords attached to them as part of their equipment. The use of the katana hasn’t new to Japanese special forces, who went to various courses of martial arts in their training, neither was ignored their potential in close combat. But he saw that this would be the first time that the 86

weapon would be unsheathed by them. Their trust in their capabilities of the swords was total, because of their provenience. Major Chen had mocked their consideration for the katanas and he was glad that the insidious man wasn’t here or its sarcasm would be worse to bear when he noticed that they were bringing the swords to combat. He was a real annoyance. Although Yamashita was technically a superior to him, his role in the FE team was more of a liaison, so he wasn’t in command of Chen. Which meant that his attitude was more destructive than constructive in meetings and around the base. Yamashita remembered in relief that the Major didn’t have parachute wings, so he wasn’t qualified to accompany them to the mission. An officer of an elite combat without jump qualifications was something that the Colonel had never seen before, but he silently just accepted the fact. “Five minutes to reach North Korea”, his radio informed him. He prepared for finding the UFO and getting into action.

January 27th, 1999
Operations Center, Area 51, Nevada, US
Johnson and his executive officer were looking through the last reports sent by General Illyuschenko and the X-Com Command, which was on the process of moving to the European team’s base, located in an airfield at the Black Forest, Germany. “The full report from the Japanese team’s raid in North Korea just arrived” Hunt started. “They managed to capture the UFO, although they had to strip it for parts afterwards and leave a carcass to the North Koreans. It was too heavy for the helicopter to lift.” “How many casualties?” “Three killed and another two in the hospital, one badly injured and the other got off lightly. And by the way, the one who got lightly was Colonel Yamashita”. “How did that happened?” “They sent a grenade inside the craft before storming it. It didn’t kill all the aliens, so he just burst inside with his sword. There was still a live alien holding one of their pistols and fired it. However his firing skill must have been shaken because of the grenade, since he pressed the trigger a bit too early. Yamashita got a scratch on his thigh and the alien lost his head”. “Jesus! I hope they aren’t seeing too much ninja movies”. “Me too” “What else?” “Dr. Chevereux’s team in the European base have started their investigations, but it’s too soon to expect anything from them”. “Let’s hope they don’t take too long”. “Our two pilots should be fully recovered next week. What do you want to do with Harris?”

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“Let’s keep the three of them proficient for Transport and Interceptor roles. That way we can prevent more situations like this to happen. And Harris has been going very well so far. Doing everything by the book, acting with his reason. I can’t think of a possible reason to keep him away from the F-22s”. “Yeah, I agree with you Colonel”. “Good. And Hunt?” “Yes sir?” “How are the men doing?” “Losses have been big sir. They are all having a tough time, like we all are accepting that, but I think all of them will go over it”. “Let’s hope so. And what about squad assignments? I was thinking of putting King solo as a sniper. He has proven himself twice in that role”. “We could replace him on Gamma with Parkerson. The lieutenant is just itching for a shot at the aliens”. “Very well. Just make sure he understands that his first preoccupation is to get his men safe. We have to avoid losses as much as we can, otherwise our operational ability will be undermined, and I don’t want to get into combat undermanned”.

January 30th, 1999
Far Side of the Moon
The Sectoid Commander had just received orders from High Command considering the latest attacks on his ships by Sol Three’s forces. Although they were nuisances, with missions being postponed because of the loss of craft, casualties were expected. And the message received at the bridge of the huge ship was the programmed response to it.

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Chapter Four – The Cold Weather Front
February 2nd, 1999
Rocky Mountains, Colorado, US
Another UFO had been forced to land by the second interceptor F-22. After the initial detection by NORAD, Captain Tyrell had scrambled and managed to get a couple of solid hits into the craft, using Phoenix and AMRAAM missiles, until it had been forced to land in the middle of the Oregon wood forest. Again, satellite reconnaissance was down, although Johnson had good maps on the location, and the Washington National Guard, who had established a one-mile perimeter around the UFO to prevent any aliens from escaping, was cordoning off the area. But what worried more Johnson was the craft itself. Instead of being the classic flying saucer or the smaller Apollo type capsule, the type of this UFO had never been encountered before. According to gun-camera photos taken by the F-22, this one had the shape of a Celtic cross and was larger. Which probably mean for a larger crew. God, how many men will die this time, Johnson wandered. While their two previous missions had been a success, with all the aliens killed and the UFOs retrieved, so far casualties had been very high. The best armour available to Earth’s forces was like paper tissue to the alien’s weapons. He looked around his seat in the Skyranger. All of the team was wearing standard issue forest uniforms, although it wasn’t really known if the aliens saw in the same wavelength as humans, which could make the camouflage useless. His men were apprehensive but by now most of them could be called seasoned after having survived two missions against the aliens. The team was arranged into the usual four squads, with himself and King filling up the last remaining slots. Hunt had been left back at the base. The high rate of casualties had forced the team to leave one of its senior members behind and safe, so that in the even of a bad mission the North American team wouldn’t become leaderless. The raid up north to the crash site at Washington State, near Mount Shasta would take them one hour more. Until that time Johnson tried to relax and rest a bit. They would need all their energies in the incoming fight.

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US
“Where did that came from?” General Bigelow asked the officer in charge of the Air Defense board. “Sir, it probably dropped from space in the Pacific and now it must be heading towards some target near the Mexican border. See its speed? They usually start to reduce their speed as they come near their intended area of operations, so if we ready an F-22 out of Dreamland, it should get it still in California, before it crosses the international border”. “Very well. Alert Area 51”.

Near Catalina Island, Pacific Ocean
A recreational sailing boat was on its way to the archipelago of islands situated in the Los Angeles bay, hoping to get to the port before sunset and the weather front that was about 90

to hit Southern California soon arrived. Suddenly a noise started to be heard by the crew, coming from the west. They looked at that direction but they never managed to see the UFO, only the condensation trail it left on the air. Moving at Mach 5 speed, the craft continued on its intended path to its target.

Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, US
“General? We might have a situation here!” The voice of the controller was apprehensive. Bigelow approached the technician. “What is happening?” The appearance of the second UFO had already increased the level of tension in the room. “Well the UFO simply disappeared off radar coverage over the Los Angeles metropolitan area.” “What? It didn’t reduce its speed?” Something was wrong and everyone on the room “No, and we have just compared the radar tracks of it with the other ones we have recorded. This fast mover is bigger than anything we ever saw before”. “Oh my God!” Bigelow reached for the direct line that would connect him directly to the National Command Authorities.

White House, Washington D.C., US
President Winston was sleeping when the phone on the side table next to his table started ringing. His wife turned to the other side and tried to fall into sleep again. After the third ring he picked it up and answered. He listened to two minutes, and then gave some orders before rushing out of bed.

Skyranger 1, over Washington State, US
Johnson was going through the last minutes instructions and checklist when his radio cracked alive. “Colonel Johnson, please acknowledge, over”. The voice wasn’t from the pilot or Area 51, which puzzled the Colonel. “This is Johnson. Who is speaking?” “Just a moment sir. Patching you through to the President”. The President? What was going on? After some sounds in the channel a voice came on. “Colonel Johnson, this is President Winston. I’m afraid we’re having a big problem right now that will require X-Com’s assistance”. “What is it, sir?” “We picked up an UFO that rushed to the Los Angeles area, stayed there for some 15 minutes and afterwards immediately took off again to outer space. We immediately alerted the local authorities. Then, after some minutes, the Los Angeles Police Department started to report some serious gunfight then in downtown LA”. “The aliens?”

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“Yes, from what we are receiving they are attacking and killing all people in the area, policemen or not. They have to be stopped Colonel. I’ve put into federal service the California National Guard and ordered it to try to contain the aliens to the area. We will also try to keep the media out of this, although some television reports of the massacre are starting to came out”. “Very well sir. My team will proceed to LA at once” “Thank you Colonel and good luck. All forces available at the location are at your disposal. Just stop the aliens. Out” The radio came dead and he called the pilot. “Harris, turn this thing towards the direction of LA and get us there as fast as possible. Also call Area 51 and have them connect to me with General Smith and Captain Hunt”. The pilot acknowledged and after two minutes the radio become alive again. “Hunt here Colonel. The General is also listening”. “Gentlemen, we are facing a serious situation. The aliens have launched an attack against downtown LA. I’m turning the Skyranger around to respond to it, but I will need reinforcements. General, I need to borrow your fastest plane so that the members of the team left at the base can link with us at LA”. “Colonel, are you nuts? Except for Captain Hunt the other two team members are all rookies. They will be bait for the aliens and you remember the discussions we had about you deploying your full force” “General I won’t discuss this any further. Right now it seems that LA is a war zone and I will need any available asset at my disposal. If you don’t like my orders complain to the President” “Colonel, you will get your plane and your men, but I can assure you that we are going to have a long talk when you get back. Smith out.” “Hunt, load up the troops with the heaviest equipment they can carry. Also bring some of those flares we had decided to use and some spare ammo. We don’t know what we will need to take them this time” “On the double. Hunt out”

Los Angeles, California, US
After a mad rush down the Pacific coast the Skyranger landed on a driveway in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in the middle of the night. The landing had been rough, because of the rain clouds that had just hit Los Angeles and were dropping their water load over the city. Johnson had decided to find out first what they were dealing with and coordinate his efforts with the local authorities. When they left the craft fully armed they were met by the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Major in charge of the National Guard unit that had been deployed to the scene. Since X-Com was a covert operation they couldn’t identify themselves as such, but they had a number of options to choose. Johnson moved forward. “I’m Colonel Field of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force.”

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”Glad you arrived. We just didn’t knew what else to do” The Chief looked exhausted. “What is the situation?” “Well, the terrorists have been confined to the area in front of us. My men are trying to patrol the roads surrounding them, but it’s a dangerous duty since they have to get cover to avoid being killed the whole time. Colonel, what are those things? I’ve been hearing some strange reports from my troops”. Johnson knew this was coming. “Gentlemen, I can only tell you that this will have to remain as a secret for matters of national security. We are taking over the situation now, so just fall back your men to safe positions and avoid confrontation. If we require your assistance I will ask for it, meanwhile, please stay out of the way”. “We are already doing that Colonel. The gunfire you are hearing is not from them”. The sound of automatic weapons being discharged could be heard at the distance. “What is going on then?” The Major looked at the Chief, who answered the question: “Have you ever heard of South Central, LA, Colonel? Well, I couldn’t ever think of any reason why a terrorist would attack such a neighborhood, but that’s what they are doing. They just stepped into the territory of some of the nastier gangs that exist in the whole freakin country. And the homeboys sure don’t like strangers into their territory”.

White House, Washington D.C., US
CNN was one of the first networks to report from LA. Winston and his staff were listening to the live coverage. A female reporter was nearby the scene, talking to the camera. “So far authorities have called it a terrorist attack. The media and everyone else is being forbidden to enter the area and all survivors are being transported to hospitals as quickly as they reach a military control checkpoint, with the police keeping the reporters away from them. But some telephone calls have been received from inhabitants of the area claiming that monsters from outer space are killing everyone. This information has not been yet confirmed by other sources. And, meanwhile, an unknown plane has landed nearby the area, in a sealed off road. Polices sources say that federal forces are taking over the matter, but have refused to provide more information…” “Let’s wish them luck gentlemen,” Winston whispered with a sigh.

South Central, LA, California, US
Hunt and the two rookies had been divided into the other squads, reinforcing them. As the team approached the National Guard checkpoint in the middle of the road, they could see a blown up military truck that was being used as a barricade, in the middle of a large avenue. Other wrecked and abandoned cars littered the asphalt, completely blocking the way of any vehicles in or out of the perimeter. As he reached the trooper’s line Johnson asked: “I’m Colonel Field. Who is in charge here?” A Captain approached them, navigating through the makeshift barricade and careful to keep his head down. “That would be me sir, Captain Novalis of the California National Guard” “What’s the situation?” 93

“Well, we have them contained, more or less. Sometimes one of the gang members comes running down the avenue, even shooting at us but we take him down with no problem. The trouble starts when the things appear. They have ray guns or whatever they are, that blow everything in their path”. “Are you talking about 5 or 4 feet tall men?” “I wouldn’t call them exactly “men” sir. But no, those ones are easy to take down if we can spot them on time and concentrate our firepower on them while taking cover. The problem is the machines”. The mention made Johnson worried. “What machines are you talking about?” The Captain suddenly become alarmed and looked to the direction of the shootings, his face in terror. “Those ones!” A sound could be heard from the north, the direction to where the avenue led. As Johnson turned to his right to see what the Captain was talking about, he blinked make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. A low dome had appeared and was slowly coming towards them. He first thought it was some sort of tank, but then as he looked better he saw that it was disk shaped and floated in the air. It looked as if it was an UFO in miniature. Completely polished and smooth, with only a red band on the middle of it. “Take cover!” The Captain called. The North American team needed no further encouragement. One second afterwards, the machine started to spit balls of green fire that punched big holes in the houses and blew up the cars jammed in front of them. “Squads, everyone fire at the thing!” Johnson ordered. “It’s useless” The Major replied. “The bullets from our rifles and machine guns have no effect on them”. “Let’s try something different then. All men equipped with Cannons switch to HE rounds and fire at the thing!” After two seconds, on which the cartridges on the weapons were exchanged, a stream of high explosive fire started to come out of the human line. The rounds made big holes in the street and its surroundings. When the first one hit the disk it looked as if it hadn’t affected it. The machine kept on firing back, dispersing his firepower towards the different attackers. Then, after some more rounds had hit it, it begun to move backwards. ”It must be damaged. Everyone keep on firing at the thing!” The remaining members of the team and the National Guardsmen added their weapons firepower. The disk kept on replying, when suddenly, after being hit by an auto cannon round, it stopped spinning. It then dropped like a rock to the asphalt and, after a second, blew into pieces, the noise deafening all humans. “Jesus Christ! What was that?” Someone asked. “I don’t know, but I hope it was the last one. Sergeant Hopkins, get Big Momma ready. I think we might have some use for her”. Although the name of the heavy weapon made it technically a he, everyone on the team had by now adopted the name given by the Sarge. A more advanced M3 Carl Gustav launcher had replaced his M72 LAW anti-tank weapon. Unlike the LAW, which was a one shot only weapon, the M3 could be reloaded.

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“Captain, get on the radio and call for some heavy firepower to be brought down here. All squads move out! Let’s get this thing over with”. After clearing the barricade, the team advanced down the avenue carefully on its sides, looking out for possible snipers. After walking one block down they reached an intersection with another major street. Johnson activated the team’s radio circuit and talked into his mike. “Gamma, take the East road. Alpha, the West. Beta take point. Delta and I will follow Beta. If something serious shows up, call for backup. Try to protect any civilians but if they refuse to follow your instructions and fire at you use all necessary force to protect yourselves. King, get yourself to some high place and start reporting what you see. I need eyes”. After hearing the instructions the team quickly split into squads and began patrolling their assigned areas. ********** Captain Hunt and the rest of Alpha team had been moving for some five minutes until they reached an area of low buildings which looked deserted, with only dark coming out of the shop’s windows. He made the team stop and checked the situation. Apparently there was no activity so he had the squad moving again, only to make them stop after some seconds when they started smelling a strange scent on the air. “Captain” Trooper Dennis called “There’s a dropped bug up in the front. I’m going to check him”. The Sectoid was lying against a phone booth on the right side of the street, bleeding profusely of bullet wounds all over his body. The rain was washing, a green trail coming off the alien and traveling over the sidewalk, and moving towards a drain. A gun was lying next to him, the ozone smell still patent, mixing with the foul stench of the alien’s inside. “Looks like we might have some help dealing with these creeps”. “Dennis, take cover! We have some movement up front!” Hunt heard the warning from one of his men and rushed to one of the shops on the left side of the street. When he reached it he kicked the door open and checked for possible hostiles while dropping to his knees and turning to face the new arrivals. All over the street the men of Alpha were imitating him at the same moment, taking positions in both sides. “Kowalski here. Humans approaching. I repeat, humans, not aliens”. “Everyone hold your fire but stay alert” Who were these people up ahead, Hunt thought. A group of men slowly appeared under the rain. They were all carrying firearms. Hunt did a quick survey and recognized AK-47 assault rifles, Uzi submachine guns, M-16s and a lot of other rifles and automatic weapons. He recognized them all from his training, realizing that they were packing some serious firepower. After the large group approached X-Com’s position a bit more, one of them in the center, that was carrying an MP-5 submachine gun, made them all stop and then shouted: “You know where you are, motherfuckers?” Hunt replied: “Federal agents! Drop your weapons and leave this location now!” Their leader, who was only using a tank top, in spite of the rain, and had his arms covered with tattoos. He probably was on the edge of overdosing from whatever drug, Hunt thought, because his eyes and face looked as if possessed by some unnatural strength. He

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took a step forward and answered: “Kiss my ass, motherfucker! This is our territory! You get in here, you gotta pay. You got something to pay pig? See this is not a place for toy Army soldiers to be at! Ask the little asshole over there. He now knows not to screw with us!” “You are in danger! Leave this place at once!” “Did you get me wrong you fucker?”A new voice interrupted over the radio circuit. “Captain, King here. I’m at the top of the seven-floor parking building in your two o’clock position. I can see some alien movement towards your direction. Shit, Hunt thought. Not only I have to deal with these idiots but also the bad guys are coming. He turned to warn the gang members “Listen to me! Terrorists are approaching this location. Get outta here now!” “Say what motherfucker? You think you can give us orders? Why don’t you try a taste of this?” He turned the MP-5 into Hunt’s direction but never fired. The blast from the alien weapon coming from behind that hit his back answered him, while his face contortioned with pain. He was dead before he crashed into the street. The rest of the gang quickly started firing back in all directions, including X-Com’s. The squad held back their fire and just took cover. More bolts cut some more gang members down, but they just kept firing, the drugs in their metabolisms making them ignore any fear. Then something unexpected attempted. Hunt watched as one of the gang bangers froze for one second, standing motionless, his eyes staring at a void. He then turned and started firing at his companions. He took down many of them until the remaining ones noticied him and shot back, managing to kill him. The green fire also added to the carnage, cutting down further the members of the gang. “Alpha, move out! Let’s try to find them while they deal with the gangsters”. “Captain, this is Johnson”. The colonel’s voice cut in. “Hold our positions. I’m sending Delta to hit the aliens from the flank. Prepare to move when they hit”. All of the squad waited in impatience while the rest of the gang still kept trying to fight the aliens. Hunt looked. Not only most of them didn’t bothered to take cover, but they also were unable to concentrate fire on the locations of the aliens. By now he could see that there were some four aliens, two on each side of the street. He couldn’t guess where the ones on his side were, but they must be some five buildings away, he calculated, looking at their fire. More green bolts came, one of them going through the remains of the expositor and melting some of the remaining glass. He ducked back into the wall and tuned into Delta’s radio frequency. “Delta, this is Captain Hunt”. “Garcia here sir, we are approaching your position”. “There are some four aliens, two on each side of the street. Not many gang members left. The ones in your side are in the first floor of a warehouse, shooting through the windows. Take them. Me and Kowalski will try to keep them occupied.” “Roger”. Hunt moved closer to the window and raised his M4A1 to his shoulder, aiming for the windows of the warehouse. “Dennis, you and Evans try to find out where the other two aliens are located. Keep your heads low”. Hunt then selected full auto fire mode into his weapon and started shooting. 96

After a second Kowalski joined him. They both fired several bursts until the aliens started to change their fire from the remaining gang members to them. A green ball of fire hit the wall right next to Hunt’s position and he felt a jolt of heat on his face. “Delta, where are you?” Garcia and the other members of Delta where approaching the department store from its rear section. After locating a fire exit, a kick on the door opened it wide open, the squad members pointing their heavy weapons at the entrance. The explosions and gunfire coming from the parallel street where the confrontation was occurring muffled the noise of the kick. They proceeded into the store carefully, checking all corners. After securing the ground floor, the squad found a set of lifts and a stair. “Lee, cover the lifts. Anything comes down them you take it down”. The new addition to the squad positioned over one counter. “The rest of us, let’s get upstairs to give a hand to Alpha” “How about if we give ourselves a diversion?” Andrews asked. He went to the lifts and pressed the button to the first floor on one of them. Garcia understood his intentions. By the time the automatic doors were closing, they were already running up the stairs, their cannons ready. Hunt had to get into cover again. The two aliens were concentrating their fire on him and Kowalski. The other trooper had been already had a scratch wound on its shoulder. He was cursing when suddenly the alien gunfire coming from the store ceased, followed by explosions that could have only come from Delta’s cannons. When Garcia and the other troopers from Delta got to the first floor, the aliens were starting to respond to the movement of the elevator. He saw them moving away from the shattered glass windows and taking cover behind some clothes stand, their weapons trained to the doors of the lift that were opening. Garcia’s first shot from his heavy cannon missed the stand and went through the window, exploding to the other side of the street. He corrected his aim and shot at the counter where the aliens were hiding. The explosive round hit the plastic furniture straight on its center and exploded it. Both aliens were thrown backwards without having a chance to react. One of them still managed to get up but a series of AP rounds from Andrews auto cannon brought him down before it even had a change to discharge its rifle. Hunt’s radio cracked: “Garcia here. Two hostiles down in the store”. “Very well, but just don’t sit on your butts. There’s still another two on the other side of the street”. Hunt looked over the street. All the gang members had been killed or injured. His troopers on the other side were taking cover. “Dennis, Evans. Have you located them?” “One of them seems to be in a convenience store fifty yards away from your position. The other one has stopped firing”. “Captain. Garcia here. We have located both buggers. Our fire must have hit one of them. The other has taken cover on the store. I don’t think we can hit it”. “Kowalski, get a grenade ready. On my mark we dash in and take it out of its cover. The rest of you give us cover. If the ET pokes its head out take him”.

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“Roger”. “Three, two, one. Go!” Both soldiers got up of their concealed positions and started running down the street, on the direction of the convenience store where the alien was hidden. When they were reaching the entrance gunfire suddenly started coming on their direction and they had to take cover on another store. “What the fuck?! Who is firing? Delta, hold your fire dammit!” “Garcia here. None of us in the first floor have fired, but Lee is not responding to my calls”. Something very strange was happening, Hunt realized. “Get someone down there to see what is happening and to make him quit firing!” Hunt screamed. “Lee what’s your status?!” Hunt kept on barking queries on the radio until a human scream was heard on the channel. He froze for a second, then his training kicked in. “Anyone, what is happening there?” “Andrews here. Garcia took three bullets and he’s down, still alive because the Kevlar vest stopped the bullets, but he’s going to need some medical attention. Lee shot him when we were coming down. He didn’t respond to our demands to put down his weapon so we took him down”. “Did he go nuts? What happened with him?” Hunt then got his answer. He felt a presence on his mind, a foreign consciousness that started to creep him, giving him a cold shiver down his spine. As he was trying to make any sense of it he felt it trying to command his body. He fought the presence, but it kept getting stronger. “Aarrrrgghhhhhhhhh!” Kowalski looked at him dazzled by what was happening. Hunt could see its arm beginning to move by its own. He then realized who was inside his mind, trying to control his body. Making a over human effort he tried to speak: “Kowalski. Kill. Alien. Now!” The trooper looked at him for a second and pulled the pin off the grenade he was holding. He jumped out of the broken window, approached the door in the next building with caution and threw the grenade into the convenience store. Hunt immediately felt the presence go away. The grenade bounced for some seconds then went off with a bang. Hunt didn’t pay attention. He started to feel back his body, to be in touch with the outside world. Then a voice interrupted him. ”Captain, are you all right?” Kowalski was looking at him, his rifle pointing on his direction. “Yes Kowalsky, I think that now I am, thank you”. “Sir, then could you please then put the pin back into the grenade you are holding?” Hunt looked at his hands. He hadn’t noticed that the force that had taken over him had made him pull the pin. Fortunately, the alien had been killed before it had forced Hunt to drop the explosive. “Yes Kowalski.” He disarmed the grenade and then he remembered: “The alien?” Underneath the camouflage paint applied over his face the troopers’ eyes seemed to relax. “Blown into pieces sir”. “Very well” He turned into his mike. “Delta and Alpha, let’s regroup. Andrews, how is Garcia?”

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“He’s a little banged up. Might have bruised something he needs to be checked out”. “Can he walk?” “Yes, he’s conscious and swearing as hell. I think I would prefer if he stayed out”. “And Lee?” “Dead. We had to take him down, since he refused to lay down his weapon and surrender”. “Ok, Andrews, bring Garcia down. Kowalski, you and Garcia head back into the police perimeter to get some medical attention. All the others let’s check the gang members to see if there’s any survivors”. Kowalski turned to Hunt, still unsure of that his superior was completely recovered from the ordeal: “Captain, what in Earth happened to you, Lee and the gang member that we saw cutting down his comrades?” “I think the aliens might possess some form of mind control, Kowalski. We need to alert the other squads”. He keyed his mike. “Colonel are you there? Over”. ********* While Alpha and Delta where fighting the gang and the group of aliens, Gunny Hopkins was considering the options for his squad. King had given a warning on the radio that he had spotted two of the alien’s flying disks approaching Beta’s position. He quickly gave orders to the remaining members of the squad to set an ambush on the enemy forces that where approaching. Beta squad was in an area of low-income houses, in a typical street of the area, with wire fences separating the houses, broken phone booths and walls full of graffiti. Some lights could be seen in the inside of the houses, but overall the place looked deserted and trashed. A lot of vacant parking space told Hopkins that the majority of the people who lived on the street had probably been able to flee the area when the fighting begun. Others weren’t so lucky and their bodies still laid on the sidewalk, hit from behind by the alien’s weapons as they tried to escape. The stench of burned human flesh was terrible and some abandoned dogs were already feeding themselves on the bodies. Hopkins wanted to drive them away, the repulsion getting to him, but the aliens were just too close. From the indications King had given him, the logical route for the alien machine to enter this urbanized area would be through a side street that connected it to a major avenue on the left. He had set himself and another member of Beta on a front yard where the bushes that made the fence would give them some cover. The other two members of Beta had dashed along the street to set themselves on the other end, with the side street between both teams. When the disk entered the street they would get its attention by shooting at it, at King’s signal. Then he would bring Big Momma into action and those damn aliens would see how harsh she spoke when angry. ********** “Talk to me Jones, what to do you see?” “Colonel, the gas station looks as good as dead. I can’t see any movement”.

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Johnson had sent Delta to support Alpha some five minutes ago. For now he had no reserve firepower available and while the gas station in front of him looked deserted, he had a creepy feeling going inside him that told him that something might be hidden in there. The aliens must have hit some power lines in this area, because the streetlights were completely out, he thought. And their superior night vision would only give them an advantage that Johnson disliked very much. In front of them, the street they had been walking on for some time ended in a T crossroad some ninety yards away, with a gas station on the top left side of the T. The area again showed signs of urban decay and behind the station he could see what looked like abandoned warehouses. Some cars were still burning on the street, in spite of the rain that now had turned into a small shower, and that was the only light available. He was reluctant to sent a scout ahead because he knew how good the aliens were at picking up the point men. Or worse, they could wait for all of Beta’s squad to be out in the open and drop them without any effort or warning to his squad. He was considering if he should call Gamma and Hopkins’ Big Momma to give them some real fire support. “Colonel, I’ve just picked alien movement at 2 o’clock” King’s voice was almost imperceptible. Johnson became tense. They could be heading into a major confrontation and he knew that he was lacking firepower to deal with the situation. “How many and what’s their direction?” “Two disks. I’ve lost them now, but they were heading towards Gamma position”. That was bad news, Johnson considered. “Warn Hopkins to get ready” “Yes sir” “Colonel?” Johnson recognized Rodriguez’s accent to the squad’s radio channel. “Yes Rodriguez?” “Sir, me and Jones just had an idea to see what’s hiding over there”. “Tell me about it” “Well, I could get into one of the cars on the street, start it running and sent it over on that direction. The aliens would sure react to it if some one of them is hiding over there” “And where would you get the keys?” “No need for that sir. I’ll manage without them”. Johnson wondered exactly what would he do then decided that he really didn’t care. “Very well, you and Jones start working on that. Me and Parkerson will give you cover.” Both troopers approached a 1970’s Cadillac that was parked on the right side of the street. Rodriguez tried the passenger’s door and, after seeing it was locked, used the butt of his M4A1 to smash the glass. He then unlocked the door and rushed inside the vehicle, while Jones waited outside, using the door as cover. After some seconds where Johnson couldn’t what was happening inside, he began to hear Rodriguez starting up the engine. Johnson worried that the noise would alert the aliens, but no reaction came from the gas station. Rodriguez exited the car and both troopers began to push it to the middle of the street, pointed towards the station. The Hispanic trooper then ripped a long piece of cloth from his uniform and used it to secure the driving wheel, while Jones brought a big rock that was standing in a lawn. 100

“All ready sir and I’ve rigged the car with a grenade. When it hits something, the thing will go boom and hopefully take some of them with it”. “Do it then Rodriguez”. “Roger that”. He engaged the gear and put the rock on the accelerator pedal while he and Jones begun to move alongside the car, using the open door to give them some cover. Johnson and Parkerson waited with their weapons ready. As the Cadillac was halfway a green light suddenly erupted from one of the windows in the gas station heading towards the Cadillac. It hit the vehicle on the front, close to the driver’s door, but didn’t alter his course or speed. “Get out of there both of you! Take cover!” Johnson screamed as he and Parkerson begun pouring automatic fire from their weapons. The bullets flew the distance between their position and the alien’s and started pocketing the walls and inside of the store with holes. More hellish green fire began to come out of the area, now from other places in the station. “King here. I’ve just taken down one of them that was on the roof hidden and that started to move when he saw the car. There must be two or three more inside the station”. Johnston barely paid him any attention as he was trying to direct his fire in response to the alien’s. Another green bolt hit the car on the windscreen and another in the driver’s door, now ripping it out of the car. The Cadillac’s trajectory begun to change after some seconds it hit a immobile minivan that was near the station and had been burning since they arrived at the scene. The grenade went off some moments later, completely ripping the inside of the car. Johnson was about to start giving orders when he sensed Parkerson on his side suddenly get up and start firing in every direction. He looked at the lieutenant. The man had a livid expression on his face as if he was panicking. “Parkerson, hold your fire dammit! You will hit Jones and Rodriguez if you continue like that!” The lieutenant simply ignored him and Johnson threw himself on his figure, knocking him down and making him drop his weapon. “What’s the matter with you?” We wondered what could have made Parkerson panicking like that, especially since the man had combat experience and never had shown an inclination of losing his control. “Are you better now?” “Y….yes s…sir”. The junior officer’s voice was shaky. “Good. Get your weapon and give me a hand here then!” Johnson then turned into the station’s direction and was looked at the situation. The aliens were pretty much trapped into the building, unless it had a back door. He needed to get his men close and use some grenades to dislodge the aliens. He almost disregarded the click of a pistol being armed right next to him. As he turned to look back into the Lieutenant he only saw the barrel of the junior officer’s M9 pistol pointed directly at him. ********* Hopkins only had to wait for some tense seconds until the first alien disk appeared coming off the side street as he had expected it to. The second disk was nowhere to be seen and he decided to wait. “Everyone hold your fire and stay put!” The disk had stopped in the middle of the street and Hopkins could imagine it to be assessing the

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situation. After some tense seconds it started to move again, this time in his direction. “Shit!” He thought. In a few more seconds it would get too close to him and Taylor, who were hidden behind a passenger car. He only had one option. He clicked his squad’s channel. “Deck, Miller, get his attention”. Both troopers started firing at the disk from their concealed positions at the Sarge’s order. When the first bullets hit the machine it stopped moving, as if it was assessing the threat. Hopkins could see it through the aiming sight of Big Momma, simply ignoring Beta’s automatic fire as if it had no effect on it. He trained the weapon into it and checked the range: 60 yards. A bit too close for what he would have liked, but still inside the minimum safety range. He pressed the trigger while shouting to Taylor to duck. The 84-milimeter rocket ignited and flew out of the M3 launcher taking less than a second to hit the disk. When the shaped charged warhead it the alien machine it moulded itself for a millisecond on its surface before igniting. The explosion whooshed over the area and for one second the disk looked as if it was still operating, before it suddenly dropped off the air and hit the asphalt making a clank sound. Hopkins raised his head to see it better. It looked the rocket had penetrated the inside of the disk and wrecked it. But what about the second one? ********** Johnson thought that he was going to die when suddenly Parkerson’s head exploded as a 7.62 caliber bullet crossed his skull from one ear to another, with blood and pieces of his brain coming out the exit wound. The lieutenant’s body dropped to the ground, lifeless. Johnson was speechless for one second, the shock of seeing the pistol’s barrel so close paralyzing him. Until he was brought back to reality by a voice on his radio. “Colonel, are you all right? What happened?” King, he recognized the voice. “King, did you dropped the lieutenant?” “Yes sir. I had noticed the scuffle when he went bezerk and started firing everywhere. When you decked him I kept paying attention and as I saw him taking his pistol out of the holster and starting to point it at you I took him down as fast as I could”. “Thank you King. I don’t know what happened to him, but you saved my life”. A new voice came into the channel: “Rodriguez here! Jones just dropped his weapon and started running away!” “What the fuck is going on?” Johnson swore, feeling that the situation was getting out of his control. A blast nearby his position told him what he needed to do, to get his priorities straight. First the damned aliens on the gas station. Then they would discover about the rest. He looked at the place. There were still aliens inside, and while they must be trapped he also now couldn’t just storm the place because half of Gamma squad was dead or missing. If Hopkins was here they could just send him a rocket and blew the place apart. But he hadn’t communicated since when the disks had been seen approaching his position so he assumed that he could be also in trouble or with his hands too occupied. Then Johnson had an idea. He started ordering his men as he pointed his rifle. “King, Rodriguez, start firing on the gas hoses. Make them blew up!” The string of automatic fire from X-Com changed from the inside of the station to the gas meters outside. After a few seconds one of them began spitting gas. A spark from one of the 102

bullets hitting the pavement did the rest. The fire quickly spread in the gasoline that was pouring out of the meters. When the flames hit the underground deposit tank the whole place went up in a massive explosion, with the shockwave throwing cars around and making Rodriguez fall into the ground. While Johnson was wait enough to not be affected by it, he still could feel the heat of the explosion as it expanded across the air, despite the light mist that was still in the area. “Jesus Christ!” King had left his mike opened. “Anyone cares for some roasted alien for supper?” “I sincerely hope none of them managed to get out of that inferno alive” Johnson added. “Rodriguez link up with me. Let’s try to find Jones or its remains”. ********** The second disk suddenly appeared on the air out of nowhere, near Deck and Miller’s concealed position, and positioned itself over the house where both troopers had taken cover. Hopkins tried to give a warning in the radio but it was too late. He couldn’t either use Big Momma since the thing didn’t had any rocket loaded into it and the thing was too close to his men. He saw a green fireball coming out of a concealed weapon on his surface and hitting the area behind the fence where both troops were hidden. Gunfire started coming from that position and hitting the disk but it had no effect on it. After a second fireball had left the machine and hit the same area, the firing stopped. Hopkins didn’t waste time mourning the loss of his men. He picked up another rocket and reloaded Big Momma. Meanwhile the second disk was already moving in the air, heading towards their position. Taylor suddenly got up, dropped his weapon and started running in panic towards the door of the house behind them. “Taylor, get back here dammit!” Hopkins barked. He never made it into the porch. The disk stopped its motion and let loose another ball of green death that hit him in the back. The energy of the beam consumed the Kevlar vest of Taylor and his back, killing him instantly. Hopkins looked at the thing, feeling that he was losing his control also. He took a deep breath and his motions went into automatic mode. Looking through the gun sight he checked the range, 35 yards and closing. His fingers released the safety and he gave a last look at the distance: 12 yards, almost inside minimum range. He then pressed the trigger, the blasts of the alien machine rocketing the car and almost making him miss his target. The rocket barely had time to arm itself before it hit the disk. Hopkins tried to duck, but a world of light, heat and noise took him over and he passed out into the darkness. By the time Johnson and Rodriguez had linked up they saw Jones coming out behind a garage building. Johnson ordered him to halt with his weapon trained on him before he arrived. “What’s the matter Colonel? It’s me for Christ sake!” “What happened back there trooper?” “I don’t know sir. I suddenly felt this panic that I couldn’t control. Never in my years of service have I felt something like that”. “Are you all right now?”

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“Well yes, I think so”. “We will talk about this later at the base then. Get your weapon and help out Garcia going through the remains of the station to see what we can salvage”. “Yessir”. As Jones was walking back to his position to retrieve his weapon, Johnson’s earphone become alive with a radio transmission. “Colonel are you there? Over”. “I’m here Hunt. What’s going on there?” “All the aliens here are dead. And a lot of gang bangers also. We also lost Lee and Kowalski and Garcia are injured”. “Three casualties? What happened?” “Sir, this will sound strange, and I hardly believe it myself, but the aliens seemed to be able to exert mind control on us. Lee just suddenly starting firing at us with no apparent reason. Garcia was luckily but his bullet proof vest absorbed most of the energy of the shots. Still he got hurt badly and was bitching as hell when I sent him back”. Johnson thought about it for a second and answered back. “After Parkerson tried to kill me here with no apparent reason also I’m a bit more open to that explanation than I would normally be, Hunt. But this will have to be discussed in debriefing, now we still have a job to do”. “Very well, sir. What’s your orders?” “Do a final sweep of the area and then fall back to the Guard perimeter line”. “Yes sir. Colonel, any word from Gamma?” “No”. He chose the squad’s frequency on his radio. “Hopkins are you there?” The only answer to Johnson’s call was silence.

February 3rd, 1999
The White House, Washington D.C., US
It had taken near ten hours of fighting to clear South Central of the aliens. But after XCom’s intervention, the Army had finally be able to deal with the few remaining aliens. A full brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division had been emergently deployed to the area and was now finishing the clean up, together with the LAPD and the National Guard units already deployed to the scene. The X-Com North American team was on its way back to Area 51 and Winston had already given his gratefulness to Colonel Johnson’s actions and help, and his regrets for his lost men and women. But the problems weren’t by any chance near their end. Besides the military and police casualties there were the deaths of civilians. Hundreds, possibly thousands of inhabitants of the area had been killed, the majority of them simply gunned down by the aliens while trying to escape. The others had tried to put up some resistance, but their efforts had been unsuccessful. As he was looking through the television scenes together with its staff, Winston was numb, incapable of showing any reaction. A female reporter, her hair and

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makeup showing the number of hours that she must have been awaken up, was making a live transmission just outside the containment perimeter. “So far the number of casualties is growing. We got word that all hospitals in the LA and Orange County area have been warned to receive large numbers of injured. Military authorities in the area are calling it the worst terrorist attack in the United States. But some of the survivors claim that this was an extraterrestrial invasion, no matter how absurd that claim might sound.” After a second, the image of a survivor replaced the one of the female reporter. He was a man on his middle thirties that was wearing a rag around his head to cover an injury. The blood had run down the side of this head and had made a large stain on his shirt at his shoulder. He was still in a state of shock and was speaking very fast. “They just started coming down the street and shooting at everybody! They would go from house to house and kill everyone! And when we tried to run they just kept shooting!” “Sir who were they?” The reporter’s voice asked. “Monsters! Extraterrestrials! Like the pictures of the ones who come on National Enquirer! Small with big black eyes! And their UFOs were also there shooting at people!” Winston decided he had enough and turned the television set off. “Sir, I just talked to the Army Commander at the scene” The Chairman of the JCS cut through the silence “He reports all the aliens have been terminated. Cleanup operations are starting right now”. “Casualties?” “Too early to know for sure. They estimate hundreds, possibly thousands”. “And things will only get worse from here” The voice of the Adviser for National Security cut in. “We all know that Candace, but we had no choice” “In any case sir, we need to take measures to deal with the threat this represents. We need to distract the media from it”. “And who do we do that?” “We offer them a logical explanation for what people think they saw. Link this to the end of the millennium and how people are getting anxious about it. Blame it to some extreme Arab group. It will be easier for the ordinary people to accept that than to acknowledge that aliens exist and that they are a threat to us. See the mention he made to the tabloid press? Normal folks will look at him thinking that he just got too addicted into conspiracy theories”. “And what when other events like this happen?” “Sir, you know my opinion on the course of action that the UN decided to undertake. Not only this escalation could get into out of control proportions but we are also endangering our national security, by allowing X-Com to have so much access to our resources”.

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“I already know your opinion Candace, and quite frankly, I would still make the same choice of signing the X-Com pact today. Our regular forces aren’t prepared to deal with such a situation”. “Nothing that couldn’t be changed Mr. President”. “This discussion is meaningless. Right now we have a very political and emergency situation to deal with”.

Area 51, Nevada, US
Johnson was still extremely tired. He had barely managed to get a few hours of sleep in the time after the arrival of the team at the base. He had been ordered by Commander Illyuschenko to present afterwards a full report on the engagement and he was about to do it right now by videoconference on the reunions room, together with Hunt. The electronic wall of the conference became lit and the half body figure of Illyuschenko appeared. They now all were X-Com uniforms, composed of black pants and jacket. Illyuschenko looked more somber than ever on that suit. His salt and pepper hair gave him the look of experience and someone who looked at him from behind might have been fooled into thinking he was starting to be off his prime. But his blue Slavic eyes told exactly the opposite, carrying an immense will and power. On neck collar a simple insignia denoted his rank in X-Com. A mixture of a skull and the letter X, it had been personally designed by Illyuschenko and marked him as supreme military commander of the force. “Colonel, I know this is hard to do right now and I’m sorry for the loss of your men, but your initial report said some disturbing things”. “Yes General, pardon me, Commander. Captain Hunt and me strongly believe that the aliens have powers that allow them to panic our forces and even take mind control of humans. We had to kill two of our men because they suddenly started firing at us. And if they were previous infiltrators they could have done it in more suitable conditions that would probably make their actions undiscovered and blame it to alien action”. “I see”. “Captain Hunt says that he was affected to, but that when the only alien still alive on the scene was killed the interference he felt on his head disappeared. I’ve talked to Dr. Mantell about it. He will look at the remains of the aliens we brought back to see if there’s some biological proof to that”. “But not all the aliens seem to present that ability it would seem them. It was the first time X-Com ever encountered anything like that”. “That is true sir”. “Very well, I shall issue warnings to all the teams. What about your losses?” Johnson looked at Hunt, who was the responsible for the operations. The Captain sighted and started speaking. “We had five men killed in action and three others injured. Gamma team was almost wiped out, with Sergeant Hopkins being the only survivor, although he has suffered burns and blacked out because he discharged his rocket launcher a bit too close. They still managed to kill two of the alien’s cybernetic disks. Lieutenant Parkerson 106

and Trooper Lee had to be put down by our own forces”. He paused a bit. “And two other men got injured, although one of them will be able to come back to active duty in a few days. Overall we only have ten men available right now, and that’s including the Colonel and myself. I’ve started the recruitment procedures to fill up the losses, but it might take a full week before we are operational”. “What will you need from me?” “Sir, we need better protection for our troops. Otherwise we are just sending cannon fodder on missions”. “I got a report from Dr. Chevereux a couple of days ago. Apparently his team has managed to figure out the composition of the materials that the aliens use. He said that he might be able to develop metallurgical methods to work the alloys into some form of body protection”. “That would be excellent sir. If those metals allow them to travel into space, they might also give us more protection against the weapons they use”. “That reminds me of the second part of his report. They have disassembled some of their weapons and are trying to figure them out, but so far they have no clue of how or where they should start”. “Protection for now will do fine sir. The Sectoids and the flying disks can be killed by Earth weapons.” The Colonel added. “But we don’t know what surprises they still have so we need to be prepared to deal with them”. “Very well. Captain, now I have an assignment for you. After you are done with that I want you to present yourself to the new North American base. I just got off the phone with the UN Secretary who had before been talking to your President. Mr. Winston expressed him the need to activate the second North American team. And, quite frankly I agree with him, since the installations at the Appalachian Mountains are near complete”. Johnson was hearing it and didn’t like that they hadn’t asked for his opinion on that. “Sir, if I might ask, who will command that base? I don’t think Captain Hunt has enough experience for it, no offence meant there Hunt, even if he’s a fine executive officer”. “I agree with that judgment, Colonel, that’s why your government proposed another officer to be responsible for it. They want it to be as fully operational as possible. The attack on LA scared a lot of people”. “And who is he?” “Colonel Jackson of the your 101st Air Assault Division”. Shit, Johnson thought. While he had heard of Jackson’s reputation during the Gulf War when he was still a Captain, he also thought the men’s actions were a bit reckless. And on this war they didn’t have a military advantage like against the Iraqis. “Sir, I don’t know if he has the necessary attitude for this type of assignment”. “Colonel, as you know it’s up to the national governments to propose military officers for the command of each base. While I can and will refuse the offers, if I strongly object the quality of the men sent to me, there’s no reason to get ourselves involved into political arguments with our sponsors”. 107

“But in his case his reputation precedes him, sir, if you’re not aware”. “My reputation preceded me when I got picked for this job. I’ve seen Colonel Jackson’s file and he seems to have all the necessary skills”. “Still, I wish to make an objection, sir”. “It will be taken into account. Anything else?” “Sir, please consider it”. “Let me tell you what I’m considering right now, Colonel. About three days ago the Russian X-Com team successfully recovered its first UFO. You have seen the report. What you don’t know is that the team of Colonel Boronin almost got itself into an armed confrontation with the forces of my country that were sent to help out the operation. As he told me, they were adamant in keeping possession of the UFO and tried to move it to another place. He only managed to resolve the situation, by, like you Americans say, making a bluff and telling my nation’s forces that the craft was highly unstable and could explode if there weren’t taken necessary precaution measures”. “Sir, I didn’t knew that”. “I’m telling you this to let both of you know that political interference is already going over the limit of what I would have wished. Every damn country has its own demands and agenda, and some of them conflict ours. Now, although this man is a Cold War hardliner and with no doubt was chosen because of that, he is capable of the mission. If we start bickering about it, pretty soon you will find out that your armed forces may not be as cooperative as they were before”. “I apologize then, sir”. However Johnson was still not convinced. “Don’t. It isn’t necessary. My job is to deal with this sort of situation. Yours is getting your team ready and to help win this war”.

February 4th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
The German government had given to the European X-Com’s team complete control over a secret research facility located in the middle of the Black Forest. It had taken more than two months to equip it with the necessary accommodations for the military team, but the scientific elements of the unit where already in place and feverously working on the pieces of equipment retrieved from the initial crash sites in North America. The arrival of Dr. Chevereux had merely galvanized them more, if not for his work methods, which Eva Johannes thought they were almost tyrannical. Still he could listen to arguments and agree on them. She had been invited to be a part of the team right after the Geneva summit, which she had immediately accepted. She didn’t have yet much research experience because she had only finished her doctorate a couple of years ago in Particle Physics on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Still, she had been the number one student at her class in University and had finished her doctorate with one of the highest grades. They probably had picked her up also because she was young and open to new ideas. Which

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she desperately needed at the moment, because the alien technology didn’t make any sense to human science. The general consensus in the team about the role of the metal cylinders found on the UFOs was that they should be the propulsion system. But after disassembling one of them they discovered that there weren’t any mechanical devices like the ones found on engines on Earth. Which mean that the energy generated by them should be some sort of anti-gravity system. They even had a clue about what was the source of the power: the golden crystals found in one of the sections of the engine. They had been also found inside what seemed to be the ammunition containers for each alien weapon. Still, they were waiting for the results of the examples sent to several research physics and chemistry labs all over the world to determine what were the crystals made of. And that’s what all the team was now doing. Dr. Chevereux had just received the results and had call of them for a presentation in one of the base’s laboratories. “Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that the golden material has been identified by our colleagues at the Los Alamos Research Lab in America and CERN at Switzerland. They were most anxious to know where it had came from but I managed to convince them it had been found in a natural status, which as you will see might be a bit unreal but its better than the real explanation” He paused. “As we had suspected but didn’t have here the necessary equipment to prove it, it is a super heavy element, not found naturally on Earth and, to be even more strange, it is in a pure form, with no other elements”. “That is impossible!” Someone cried out. “If you recall it, the theory predicts that after a certain point in the periodic table these elements become stable and not decay immediately into lighter elements”. “Yes, but so far we have only managed to make a few atoms of those in lab conditions and it is months of work. It would have to be something completely heavier than we know right now”. “Actually no. The element present here is Ununpentium, that occupies the 115th position on the periodic table of elements”. “But scientists have already fabricated atoms of it and it quickly decays into lighter elements”. The scientist argued. “Yes, true. But in this case the atomic mass, or the number of neutrons it possesses, is different from the one that we artificially manufactured at a lab on Earth. And it has some chemical qualities that make it akin to carbon, which explains its ability to form perfect crystals”. “Do they have any indication on how it does release energy to move the craft or to fire weapons?” Eva asked. “None. That’s for you to discover. Somewhere on Ununpentium lays the key to the human race survival and the conquest of the stars”.

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February 5th, 1999
London, United Kingdom
Number Two looked at the Thames River from the window at his office for a brief moment then considered his plan. While the X-Com’s operation against the alien terrorist raid had seemed to please the faction that was against the force because of the heavy casualties it had suffered he saw things different. They had only proven to him again the validity of his plan, although they were too blind to see. If the problems with the quality of X-Com’s equipment not matching up with the aliens could be resolved, or at least a bit minimized, the team could stand up better against the aliens and not suffer so much attrition. But it would have to be done in such a way that could never be discovered by the Group. If they knew of X-Com receiving foreign assistance all eyes would be turned on him and he would be discovered immediately and killed.

February 10th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
While waiting for Williams to disembark the jet plane that had brought him from Washington at his request, Johnson thought if the intelligence officer could be trusted. Although he still disliked the man’s presence and his functions he tried to refrain from showing them and not letting them disturb his best judgment. He felt the man could be trusted, even if he might kept things a secret from Johnson as he pleased. Williams unbounded the craft and joined Johnson on the tarmac. “Good to see you Colonel” He extended his right hand. “Welcome back to Area 51 Mr. Williams” Johnson took it, still unsure of his decision to inform Williams of what had happened the day before. “This way please and let’s get this done with”. . Five minutes later they were into one of the underground cargo stores of the base. Johnson being careful to check if anyone was following their path. They were joined by Dr. Mantell a couple of minutes later. Williams was puzzled about the place for the meeting for a second but then he realized that something important had come up and Johnson wanted to make sure no one was listening. “Mr. Williams, yesterday Dr. Mantell was approached by a stranger as he took a trip to the town of Nellis” “Didn’t he had a security escort?!” “Yes he had, but he never actually saw the stranger, only took knowledge of his messages”. “What do you mean?” “If I might,” Mantell started “When me and the two escorts went to have lunch at a restaurant I noticed something written on my menu that intrigued me. It said, written in almost imperceptible letters, with every phrase written between items on the menu: 110

“Package under your seat with valuable data. Don’t tell anyone of how you got it. If you want to stay safe”. “What did you do?” “I ignored it, thinking it was some sort of prank. We ordered and the food came, with nothing extraordinary happening. But when I got to see the bottom of the plate, after eating it off the food, there was another writing on it. It said: “It is not a joke!” When I saw that I dropped my arm and pretended to pick up something off the floor. But I instead reached underneath my chair. There was a package there”. “Jesus Christ, and you have no idea of who gave it to you?” “No, I doubt the waitress had anything to do with it”. “What did you do?” “I pulled it off and dropped it into a bag full of things I had been shopping in the town. I only opened it when I later reached my quarters”. “What did it contained?” “A set of papers relating to laser technology”. “That’s nothing extraordinary, we can make lasers for decades”. “Not this type of laser. If the theoretical assumptions are correct on the documents I received, we can make a laser powerful enough to be discharged in Earth’s atmosphere and carry its destructive energy for miles”. “That was the one concept of the concepts looked over by the defunct Star Wars program. The Russians have already managed to do that”. “But by having to use major installations and an immense use of electrical power. What this papers point out is solutions on how to built a laser that could be portable”. “That is unbelievable”. Williams’s mind was getting into full gear with what he was listening. “Like I said, we are still checking the theory” “We?” “My scientific staff”. “They know about it already?” “Only the technical aspects of it. I presented them with the basic theory and nothing else. Told them I had another one of my mad ideas. Some were thrilled; the majority thought it was the more usual wild goose chase. They are actually recreating all the work being done for those papers, but without knowing. It is a bit like to be teaching. When they are in doubt or error, you make then think again without telling the answer. They usually find the mistake in their logic and correct it”. “I still think that you should have waited. Who is this mysterious friend that suddenly has appeared? For whom does he or she work for?” “Mr. Williams”, Johnson interrupted, “Dr. Mantell consulted with me first and I agreed with his suggestions. So far only the three of us know about this, plus Commander Illyuschenko. And if this works my troopers will be better equipped to deal with the aliens. Besides, if someone is helping us, why should we question it? I have better things

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to do than to play spy games, like winning a war for instance!” He was starting to feel a bit angry. “Colonel, I too wish to win this war, but there’s more here than appears to the eye, even for us spies. We might one day be at the brink of winning the war military only to discover later that they have won it in a scale what we didn’t imagine. Why would someone in Earth possess such important information and it had never come out to public before?” And then it hit Williams straight on the head. Because someone had a deep interest in keeping Earth away from that technology the same way I tried to conceal the alien’s operations for decades! Which meant that they had established contact with human society before and probably both sides still are interacting. But why releasing such information now? “Mr. Williams are you all right?” “I just came up with a most disturbing thought gentlemen. Unfortunately I can’t share it with you for now. Like you said, you have better things to do than to play spy games. Those are for me”.

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Chapter Five – Small Cat, Bug Mice
February 12th, 1999
New York City, US
The redaction room of the New York Times was almost deserted at two oclock in the morning, but Evan Blake didn’t care too much about company or how late it was. He had been assigned to cover the terrorist attack on Los Angeles the week before, but so far he had come up with almost a complete blank relating to the subject. The whole area was still being cordoned off by the military, on the basis of the possible existence of chemical weapons being left over by the terrorists. While the justification seemed to please most people around, Blake wasn’t fully satisfied by it. He had flow the day after the attack to the city and talked to inhabitants of the area who had given him terrifying stories about extraterrestrials and their war machines, in a way that reminded Blake of the descriptions made by H.G. Wells on his novel War of the Worlds. While the victims he interrogated were still in a state of shock and their accounts could be easily dismissed, others were more disturbing. A couple of connections on the LAPD and the California National Guard had admitted, off the record, that there had been some strange events that night but declined to further comment on the issue, claiming matters of national security. He had also been informed that a special anti-terrorist task team had deal with the attackers and that the aircraft were they arrived and their weapons where something never been seen by the government officials involved. Later inquiries with the Department of Defence, FBI, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and DEA had come to zero, with all agencies denying the existence of such a force. From where was that team then, he asked. And where did they go afterwards? He adjusted his glasses and looked at the computer monitor in front of him. Two military officers could be seen outside a jet aircraft the likes of which Blake had never seen on his career. Other images showed men helping out wounded comrades board the aircraft, which was parked on a regular street, carrying some strange looking weapons. He had their existence confirmed on film. Although there wasn’t any pictures or footage of the attackers, since all had been confiscated by the military or the folks in the area had been too busy surviving than having the time to take a photo, a news crew from a local television station had filmed the departure of the team. It had been aired, but in the middle of all the confusion surrounding the attack, the media and the public had simply looked at it with no greater significance. Even his editor had dismissed the images, telling Blake to worry more about next day’s paper and not to pay attention to crackpot alien stories. But there was more to the eye here than it seemed, Blake had decided. The news agencies and the media in general hadn’t really picked up the subject yet, but the Web was full of reports of UFOs all over the world. The subject had been deemed with a mere curiosity from the media, as a last resort measure to fill up the remaining spot in a news program or a small article in the last page of the paper. But they were pilling up and this just seemed like more than tabloid press stuff.

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When his computer beeped, letting him know that he had just received an email, Blake let go of a comment: “It was about time!” None of the few reporters in the huge room care to take notice of it. At that hour in the night if you were in the room it meant a huge amount of work to be done and everyone was well familiar with the occasional moments of desperation. He had sent the images to a friend he had on the Department of Defense in order to get an identification of the military and weapons involved. Now the reply had arrived, it seemed. He used the mouse to open the email and took a deep look at the monitor. It read: “From:magicdragon@rocketmail.com Date:Friday, February 12th, 1999 To:eblake@nytimes.com Subject:Take a look at our web pages – Completely free! Evan, I’ve checked the items you have sent me against available records. I could have gotten myself into a lot of trouble, so next time don’t even ask for it. The craft present in the pictures have been identified as a Yak-155 Skyranger, the latest Russian transport aircraft, capable of vertical take-off and landing. It isn’t supposed to be in service yet. And both the large weapons are latest Russian personal infantry cannons. The white circle with a red X that was visible on the craft painted on its side wasn’t been identified as any known insignia of any army or unit. One of the two officers in the images has been positively identified as Colonel Erwin Johnson, of the US Army. He is a Green Beret Special Forces operative, with a tour of duty that includes Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Somalia and Bosnia. Last information available reported him as being the executive officer of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, presently based at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The other officer is Lieutenant Leonard Hunt, of the Navy SEALs, assigned to the unit based on San Diego Naval Base. His insignia of Captain on the photo suggests he’s been attached to an Army or Air Force unit and have been given the correspondent rank on those services. K.” Well, well, well, what have we got here, Blake asked. Two elite American officers leading into combat an unknown military force equipped with Russian equipment? How and why did that happened? After a moment of thought Blake picked up the phone. He made one call; got the number he wanted from the operator and then made another to Fort Campbell. After some seconds the connection was established an a female voice appeared on the other side of the line: “Fort Campbell main desk, how can I help you?” “Good evening, I was trying to reach Colonel Johnson. We have did service together a couple of years ago, and I just arrived at Memphis. I would like to try to see him again”

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“Colonel Johnson is not at the base right now, sir” “I see, well will he be back tomorrow or is there a way to contact him? I’m staying for the weekend” “Sir, Colonel Johnson is on extended leave. I’m sorry but I can’t provide you with more details about his location at the moment. But I can take a message for him if you want” “Well, in that case, don’t worry. I will try to get in contact with him later. Thank you very much, good night” Blake then hang up the phone, after knowing all he wanted. “What is going on here? Where are you Colonel and what are you up to? An unofficial operation using Russian hardware on US soil? That will sure need some serious explanation tomorrow. Better yet, on Monday”. Blake then turned off his computer and went home to get some deserved sleep.

February 17th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Commander Illyuschenko remembered some of the old Communist party officials and for a moment, wished that they were here. Dealing with Dr. Chevereux had proven to be a task a little harder than impossible. Although he was willing to bend his ideas sometimes and admit he was wrong, that only happened through a very detailed, precise logic, or at nearly gunpoint. While Illyuschenko didn’t have to bring out his handgun anymore after his recruitment of Chevereux for the team, he sure had felt the need a couple of times since the Doctor had moved to Mother One. “I’m telling you Commander, my engineers and scientists can’t be working at three projects at the same time!” “Dr. Chevereux, we desperately need both the advanced armor and the new laser weapons at the same time! You have seen the casualty rate of the Los Angeles mission. We can’t sustain more heavy losses like that!” The doctor simply shook his head. “We need to maintain the Elerium research. This element can revolutionize Earth’s science! It can close the gap between our and theirs technology!” “That won’t do us a good damn thing if we only learn how to use it at the moment of our defeat sir!” “You have seen the evaluation and progress reports. The next planned experiment will sure allow us to test our theories.” “And how many more reports will it take until you finally know for what good is that thing? And after that, how many more reports until it has some practical use?” ”Science is slow bringing answers, Commander” “Yes, but in some areas the advances can come quickly. You have almost actually recreated the alien alloys, but suddenly you removed most of the scientists and assigned them to Elerium research. And when the first laser papers came from Area 51 you hardly paid attention to them.” 116

“The basic research is done. We only need now to test it and start building prototypes” “Which you hadn’t so far, leaving our troopers under gunned!” “Commander, from what I know, our weapons can kill the aliens” “And theirs can also kill us, but more easily!” They both paused, Illyuschenko taking a pause to look around on his office, and hoping for the discussion to have an end. “General?” “Yes, Doctor?” “I know about the men who are on the base infirmary still, after their first mission, with burned limbs. If you agree I will augment the research of protection, and afterwards direct the scientists to weapons. But I will also retain a valuable part of our resources directed to physics and Elerium”. Although an agnostic, Illyuschenko thought about heaven and said a blessing.

February 19th, 1999
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US
Williams was having a bad time knowing who to trust with the information he had just learned about the existence of an Earth undercover movement that had been hiding the aliens existence for decades, if not more. The whole thing looked to him as the perfect surprise attack. Before moving your military units you took over of the enemy’s intelligence services, confusing them to hide your real intentions. In the intelligence business that was a well-known tactic. You slip false information to confuse the enemys assessments and evaluation of your own plans. In this case it was much worse. The existence of such a wide cover-up could only mean that all of the intelligence and military agencies were infiltrated at a very high level. While the leadership of the CIA or the NSA or even the Pentagon might not be directly involved, the men in charge relied on their subordinate’s work to make decisions. Which meant that this could not be dealt with in the official and proper channels. The power of the conspirators would be more than enough to eliminate any threat to them and silence the dilators before they could even prove anything. Williams suddenly realized that his life, and the ones of the men assembled in front of him, was already in danger just for knowing the existence of the traitors. But his assessment team would not know for now the full implications of his discovery. Their work would still be based on the assumption that there was an alien infiltration of human society. They just wouldn’t know that a group of humans were actively dealing with the aliens for decades, possibly centuries, with a secret agenda to the rest of mankind. But the release of the laser technology showed also one thing: there must be different factions inside this secret group and that one of them had decided to give X-Com’s a hand. But for what purpose? Williams couldn’t just believe that they had turned suddenly sympathetic towards their fellow humans. A conspiracy of such an order would have mean that those men were ruthless, possessing a cold logic and not letting such feelings interfere. But the incident also assured him that the aliens weren’t in charge of the group 117

through their mind control powers. Although there might be some influence by them, if they had full control it was highly unlikely that such an event would pass undiscovered and the traitors punished. Unless, of course, there was also different factions between the aliens, some opposed to the war. Stop! This speculation is meaningless unless it can be supported with evidence, he thought. He had decided that first he needed to spot out any infiltrators in the evaluation team. And also that he couldn’t trust his superiors. The book said that he should have informed his superior, the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, but the implications of his discovery had pointed him as one of the most likely suspects since he reported to the Director of Central Intelligence and thus, to the President itself. The other members of the committee were also considered by Williams as untrustworthy. The entire team gathered all the intelligence work of the several agencies into several research areas. They decided what information was important and what could be dismissed. Which put them as most likely suspects, but the list was already too big. The idea of alien infiltration had been mainly dismissed by his superiors, claiming that they didn’t saw ET’s walking down the street and taking pictures of Capitol Hill. But the recent data from Los Angeles regarding the aliens’ psionic powers had suddenly given it a lot of credibility. The footage taken from the X-Com’s team helmet cameras had more than impressed everyone who saw it. The first measure taken had been to deploy a fully equipped armoured brigade to the outskirts of Washington, along with an F-15C Eagle fighter squadron to Andrews AFB and full time protection for all major governmental officials. It had been decided that the danger of alien abduction and brain washing had suddenly become too real. MacAllister’s face showed just that. They were both in Williams’ office at the CIA headquarters and he had just finished seeing the footage of Colonel Johnson’s camera, the image of Lt. Parkenson’s face impressing the DIA men with its void eyes at the moment he was attacking the Colonel. And the bullet from Jones that stopped it. “Yikes. This isn’t good Williams”. “I know. The DCI and the Chairman are already informed, and a full briefing is scheduled for tomorrow with the President and other superior officers”. “We could be in serious trouble. The abduction reports we have received show that the aliens must have some sort of suppression memory for the abductees. With both of them combined, they could order any man to do their commands and afterwards have the memory erased.” “Well, it actually isn’t that problematic. The debriefing from the LA engagement shows that they need to be close in order to actually control anyone. That doesn’t bode well for espionage operations. If they wanted to control anyone inside Langley they would actually have to get inside and it seems highly unlikely, at least since the conflict has started, that they would be able to do that”. “Yes, but still we have to take it into account this factor”. “Yes, that’s why I fully supported the recommendation of the National Security Adviser, when she was informed of the problem, for an investigation into our intelligence and

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military circles. The President should authorize the decision when he is briefed on the subject”. “Very well” MacAllister paused for a minute and then asked: “Why isn’t the rest of the team here Williams?” “I will be meeting each one of them separately on the afternoon to show them what you just seen and to give them their instructions about the investigation”. “Their instructions about the investigation? Shouldn’t this be assigned to the FBI in the civil investigations and to the Defense Security Service in the military?” “My recommendation is that each agency conduct its own enquiries about the other.”. “You are nuts man!” “From what we know, we could have mole agents lurking around these same corridors, with them not knowing that they are working for the aliens agenda. If they have been undetected for years, it means that they know our investigation procedures and that they will be useless on this case. Which means we will have to bypass the normal channels and procedures”. “But this is impossible to achieve. Interagency rivalry will only hamper the investigations. Everyone hates internal affairs folks, and if they are from another organization, the feelings get even worse”. “They will just have to understand”. “And you think Congress will understand? The CIA Act passed by the Hill specifically states that the Agency is forbidden to undertake espionage operations on US soil. And the NSA officially doesn’t tap communications on American citizens or entities”. “Both Houses majority and minority leaders, along with the Supreme Court will be consulted before the President taking such a decision. If necessary, the Congress will be asked to pass legislation accordingly. But from what I have heard the legislators who are informed of the alien menace have been deeply shocked by the attack on LA. I think the public outcry would be more if it was known that we are not doing all we can”. “Williams, this is bad, in any case”. And you don’t know the full extent of it. Williams thought. Or do you? He dismissed his own paranoia. “The investigations will be focused and directed. Your job will be to advise the DIA’s, and specially the DSS efforts. They will receive orders to check the NSA. Since they have a double military/civilian role, the repercussions should be less”. “Very well. What should we look for?” “Evidence of a cover-up. The aliens must have distracted in one way or another our intelligence community. You will need to research who could have forged or destroyed records of their existence”. “More easily said than done. Most folks won’t be that cooperative”. “This will be a very secret operation, officially it will even be done under some other motive, so that we don’t spook our pray into hiding. But if you need, well stick the Presidential order on their face if you have to. From the moment he signs it, it will place 119

the counter-intelligence efforts into national security area. If someone deliberately hampers the investigations they can be put into trial for treason”. “Jesus! Isn’t that a bit excessive?” “Well, if you ever have the chance, please ask the aliens if they don’t think their attack on Earth is a bit excessive”. “Ok, ok. By the way, who will check me and the DIA?” “The FBI”. “Jesssus! Not that pain in the butt. Who will check them, by the way?” “The NSA. They will also verify the CIA, so your job in checking them is most important”. “The boys up in Ft. Meade will have a blast on that one, after decades of being placed into a secondary role to the CIA”. “Necessity is the mother of invention”, Williams added with a grim smile. Later in the day his smile turned into a frown when Assistant Director of the FBI Mark Davis walked into his office. This was probably one of the hardest decisions he had to make to his entire life and he felt that the destiny of Earth could be decided right here. Davis and him exchanged greetings, but the look on each man’s face was a bit less than cordial. The FBI man sat on a chair and instantly said: “Ok Williams, cut the crap. Why aren’t the other team members were? What is going on, because I don’t like driving for hours from Washington to here for nothing. I already received the investigation orders before from my boss and we are ready for when the President signs them” “I have a special job for you. Far more important than your orders. The one you are trained to do” Davis expression suddenly became crossed with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. “Yeah? Let’s hope you are not asking me to create something like the X-Files on my department?” “Actually no. I’m asking you to search for humans. That must stand for trial one day for treason” “We will be doing that in no time, Christ!” “No. These ones actually know that they committed treason. In fact, they are still doing it, interacting with the aliens for their own purposes”. Davis became shocked. And angry. “This better not be a joke or a big blunder from you intelligence boys!” “Unfortunately know. I will tell you what has happened for me to come up with such conclusion. I haven’t shared my thoughts about it with anyone yet. And afterwards you will judge if I’m right or if I’ve been thinking too much in conspiracy terms”. Williams started talking, telling the whole laser incident and how he related it to the arrival of the aliens. We was stopped by Davis a couple of times, who asked for some more explanation in some of the details. When he finished everything, including the

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reasons why he had not told anyone else, the FBI man asked: “Then why are you telling me all of this? How come you believe I’m not actually one of that alien fifth column?” “Because you are a big pain. You have questioned everything from the first place. You drove nearly everyone on the team nuts with your skeptical observations. If you were one of them you wouldn’t do that. You would remain in passive stance, but secretly working to gain more influence over things” “But what if I did it just to confuse more the research? To keep the deception?” “Unlikely again. After one year of recorded intense UFO activity, the group knew they just couldn’t keep the lid opened”. “True. But if it eliminated anyone that had came up with your conclusion, they would remain anonymous. What if I pulled my gun out this moment and killed you? If I have such power I could probably walk out of here with nothing happening to me” He reached for his holster and drew out his service pistol, pointing it at Williams. “Would you have anticipated this?” He then asked. Williams turned cold for a second. He breathed and said: “If that happened, then I would be the most terrible mistake I had ever made”. Davis looked straight at him and Williams just gave up for one second, suddenly aware of the great darkness that would involve him in the next second. The FBI man put his gun away and sat back down. “You got yourself a believer now. For you to be so afraid it means you actually believe in that shit. And it sounds true to me also. What you want me to do?” “Fuck. You got a way of doing things!” Williams’s legs were shaking, with the chair keeping him from falling into the floor. “Sorry, but I needed to be sure this wasn’t a spy game and that I was just a pawn”. “Well, please don’t do that again” He regained his thoughts. “ No one besides us must tell this to anyone. I know no one else I can fully trust.” “Me neither. The Bureau must be like an old house full of mice just wondering around”. “The FBI will be involved anyways in every investigation, so I want you to see how your men do things. Observe them without them knowing. See if they report back everything or act like they should. See what the folks from the other agencies do also. If you find one, let me know”. “We follow it?” “Yes. We track everything about him”. “My line of work. You got yourself a deal”.

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February 22nd, 1999
Vicinity of Marrakech, Morocco
The UFO had been detected by the Spanish Air Defense Command as it crossed the Iberian Peninsula, entering it through the northwest and crossing the whole of Spain. The Ejercito del Aire, or Spanish Air Force, had been asked to stand down by Mother One and not try to intercept the craft as it crossed Spanish territory. The reason for Commander’s Illyuschenko decision was simple, Colonel MacTaggert thought. The research and engineering team had both asked for a bit more contention with the interceptions, to allow the recovery of all the alien materials present on the craft. And also, the European Command wasn’t yet equipped with an F-22 Interceptor, since the funding available had been used into equipping the base and to pay for the brand new Skyranger that the X-Com team was now using to race to their target before it took off. The midday sun was striking the plane’s, going through the windows and making everyone on the craft hot, since the Black Forest at this time of the year was cold, wet and cloudy. As the Skyranger moved across the Atlas Mountains, MacTaggert looked by the window and saw a city of white buildings and blue roofs standing in the middle of a small elevation. All around the village the terrain was dry and arid, with rock and sand mixing up. “Why would anyone live here, Pearson? At least the Highlands have plenty water,” he asked to the second in command at the mission. Captain Pearson, formally a Lieutenant in the Special Air Service, who had been promoted because of casualties in the last mission, looked and sighed. “Well sir, I’m not used to such terrain, but I can sympathize with the water concept. Things here are just too dry”. The rest of the team said nothing, trying to relax or doing a final check on their weapons. MacTaggert still had its doubts about the whole thing. The fourteen men embarked on the Skyranger had come up from five different countries, each speaking a different language and with a different culture. His executive officer at Mother One was German. His superior was Russian. And the damn science chief was a pain in the arse Frog. They all spoke English, of course, but some of them with an accent that made MacTaggert almost cringe every time he heard it. European Union, my arse! He thought. Look at what they are doing with the bloody language! “Colonel, two minutes till target” his radio came alive, the Dutch pilot showing no trace of emotion. “The Americans have spotted it on their reconnaissance satellites and have pointed us the location. It is a…Celtic cross type”. “About bloody time! Everyone load up your little firecrackers and prepare to deploy.” The Skyranger approached the UFO from the Northeast. The craft was standing in the top of an arid small plateau, without making any attempt to disguise itself. As the plane was moving close to the elevation and turning to circle it, MacTaggert could see figures suddenly stopping whatever they were doing in this God forsaken place and moving. He didn’t like that, specially since they were not Sectoids, but a different alien race.

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The Skyranger suddenly jerked to one side and everyone in the passenger compartment was thrown to the right. “Bloody idiot! De Wuijers, what are you doing!” “Colonel, the aliens are firing and have hit us with one of their weapons. Right side engine has ceased working. I’m still on control of the plane, but I will have to land it away from those things” MacTaggert barked into the radio “Just get us down into one piece”. “Attention everyone, the Landing Zone is damn hot! All teams prepare yourselves for deployment.” The Skyranger landed outside the plateau, in a valley formed by a long dried river that bordered it. Its left side landed first and for a minute the landing gear looked as if it wouldn’t be able to support the full weight of the craft. The other wheels finally touched the ground and afterwards the loading ramp came down, the men of Blue team already running its length and deploying to cover possible hostiles nearby. Gunfire erupted instantly as the troopers started to respond to aliens on the border of the plateau who kept a murderous rate of fire from their Elerium weapons at the team. While MacTaggert was waiting to deploy, the team’s radio circuit become active. “I’m hit! Medic!” “Take the left one!” “Where, I can’t see it!” “One of them is flying!” “They got us pinned down!” “Etienne is dead!” “Bloody hell!” MacTaggert cursed. “Gold, Blue and Red teams take cover! Grey team remain on the craft! De Wuijers, bring this bastard up and land us on the other side of them!” “Colonel, we have taken a lot of damage” “If we don’t take care of them we will all be dead! Do it now!” The whining of the Skyranger’s engines became heard again and it lifted itself with difficulty. MacTaggert went up to the pilot’s cabin to have a better look. De Wuijers was immobile on his seat, concentrating on keeping a stable flight path. He looked through the windows. The aliens on the ground and air were about two meters tall had a red and pink color. They had a humanoid appearance with head and upper limbs, but instead of legs they had some sort of gray circular mechanical device like if it was a cyborg. The red cape they were and the pink horns that started on its temples but pointed downwards gave them a menacing look, like demons from the stars. And the eyes were black, almost expressionless, in opposition to the mouth, which showed some grey teeth and almost had no upper lip, the nostrils opening directly into it. “De Wuijers, ram that bloody idiot who is on the air spotting and directing fire into our troops!” “Pardon, Colonel?!” “Ram it! Point this thing at it and go over it!”

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The pilot looked at his commander unsure of what to do. As the craft was getting close to the floating alien, MacTaggert grabbed the control stick and suddenly jerked it to the side. The cockpit in front of De Wuijers suddenly become filled with the pink face of a surprised alien, his eyes open wide. Then a thump suddenly removed him out of sight and the Skyranger shook a bit. Alien blood spilled to the Plexiglas, dotting it with green spots. “Now land this thing on the other side of the UFO and lets get this over with!” MacTaggert screamed, while he went back to the exit of the aircraft, getting a machinegun on the way.

February 25th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Eva Johannes was feeling miserable. While she had been more than thrilled when she was assigned to Ununpentium research, the initial excitement had been quickly changed into frustration. The element was just too exotic on its nature for Earth science to understand it, with certain qualities never heard of in physics. They were starting to unravel its secrets, but progress was painstakingly slow. And also dangerous. A whole lab chamber had been reduced to ashes during one of the experiments. Initial research of the weapons retrieved from the recovery sites showed the existence of a particle accelerator. Which led to the theorization that the device was some sort of a trigger for the discharge of the weapon. Based on that, the scientific team in charge of the Ununpentium had decided to bombard the element on laboratory with charged particles to test their theory. After extracting a small part of the element it had been placed on a special vacuum chamber and hit with charged particles beamed from an accelerator. It had produced the reaction they expected, a release of energy. But far greater then they would have imagined. The explosion had completely destroyed the test chamber, taking with it the monitoring equipment and the lives of the two scientists who were testing it. Since then strict rules over the use of Elerium, as the team was now calling it, after someone had mentioned the initial electricity present in the group, in experiments had been implanted. And with good reason, since the data that had been salvaged indicated that the element contained more energy per square inch of mass than plutonium. Which gave it an immense destruction potential. But they still didn’t know what was responsible for such a reaction. No radiation had been detected, which meant that there was not a fusion or nuclear reaction involved. But what caused the burst? Eva and the whole team were still discussing the subject. Some claimed the explosion had all the characteristics of a positive-negative matter reaction, but it still hadn’t been tested. They where waiting for a special chamber to be built using alien alloys, which would be more secure and would allow to perform more experiences. She decided to take a pause, her eyes already tired of looking at all the calculations she had been making on her laptop. After a moment of thought she decided to go and get herself a cup of coffee at the automatic machine that was on the corridor. She looked around. No one else was at the laboratory, so she decided to check the time. One in the

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morning, great another night of four hours of sleep. She got up and went to the door. When she was getting a cup a voice came up. “Mademoiselle, can you get me one also please?” She looked and saw Lejeune, one of the French scientists that were on the team. “Sure, François. What are you doing up this late?” “We are finishing the first field armor prototype. Tomorrow it will go to the ballistic range to be tested”. “Be sure to hurry up with that project. We are sure needing the special alloys to start doing our own experimentations on the Elerium”. Since Ununpentium was such an unpronounceable name, one of the scientists had come up with the other name. No one really knew from where it had came from but it was easier to say than its actual scientific name. “We will. Do you care to take a look?” “Of course. I sure needed the distraction”. Both of them got their coffee and when to a laboratory situated further down the corridor. As they entered, Johannes thought that her brother’s room was even more organized. The whole place was filled with broken pieces of UFO’s structure, with materials disassembled over research desks. She got down an picked up a piece of the alloy. It had a nearly rectangular form, with almost one feet of length and it was gray, with a bluish tone on it. Lejeune turned to her and said: “Try to bend it”. She grabbed it with both hands and applied strength to it. The material gave in and she become surprised as how easily she could mould it into a U. “Now release it, but slowly, otherwise you might get hurt by its movement”. She relaxed her right hand and as she gave away the strength, the material went back to its original position. “We tried about everything on then. First diamond cutters, then the lasers that are used to cut crystals. Pretty soon Dr. Chevereux wanted to convince Commander Illyuschenko to conduct experiments with radiation on it. We discovered that under certain circumstances it would give in, namely the angle of entry of the cutter and so on, but we still couldn’t mould it”. “What did you do then?” “We almost gave up until the lab results arrived. They showed that, although it was a fabrication process never heard of, it could be repeated here on Earth using available materials”. “How do you give shape to it?” “We use a electro-magnetic process on certain plastic and metal alloys combined together. Its unique capabilities came the mix of qualities present on both materials”. “Very well”. “Would you like to see the prototype?” “Please, yes”.

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He led her into the back of the lab, where what looked like a mannequin was covered with a cloth. Lejeune then removed the white coverall to show a blue armor that had been placed on a test dummy model. It had a faint resemblance to the armors saw in the books and films about medieval times, but it didn’t look as cumbersome. It was basically a section that covered the entire upper body, being designed to resemble a human torso. Some material that resembled plastic or rubber was used to the connection points for the plates that covered the arms and legs and also at the knee, elbow, ankle and wrist joints to allow for mobility. At least it didn’t have nipples designed on it, Johannes thought, like the uniform they used for Batman at the movies. “It looks impressive. When will it be available to be used?” “The tests should take about more of a week.” “Why so much time?” “Well right now we will test the resistance to penetration. If all works we shall then adapt the armor to allow it to be used in combat. We still haven’t worked on the way of allowing the user movement. And we are still deciding on the helmet shape.” “And this would stop a discharge from one of their weapons?” “We don’t know. We will test it with lasers, but from what we have seen in the combat reports, it looks as if it will be more durable than any Earth material, but it will still have its limitations.” “Very well” “Well, thank you. We were hoping that Dr. Chevereux would volunteer to use the armor on the first trials, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem so”. They both laughed at the suggestion. The Scientific Leader of X-Com had quickly built himself a reputation as an unforgiving and demanding character, nearly driving everyone nuts or into exhaustion. Eva thought about the North American scientific them and how lucky they were.

February 28th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
The conference room was crowded of X-Com troopers, all wearing their dark gray uniforms uniforms. The group of military men was picking up their places to sit, the veterans naturally getting together and being more at ease, while the recent newcomers still refrained a bit, unsure of what to do. Johnson took a look at them and wondered how many of the rookies would die, if they would be able to survive more than their predecessors. More than half of the North American team members had, by now, been killed or injured. But the number of volunteers for X-Com had continued to rise, to a point where the number of new admissions had to be halted because there wasn’t a need or means to deploy that much men. Apparently there were rumors about the existence of X-Com had spread around the Special Forces community and it was seen as an worthy assignment. It seemed that the talk inside the military circles didn’t include the casualties though. Johnson by now knew he was in command of one of the best units ever on his life, with all the men acting like professionals, on a team manner. Each new recruit, upon his assignment to a squad, would receive a crash but severe training course about the

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aliens and how to defeat them by its own section members. Usually, if he didn’t learn enough quickly, specially on how to use the tactics on the battlefield, or if he was too stubborn or had a high opinion of himself, he would die. Survival of the fittest at its final, the human race against the alien race. Even Harris had quickly stepped into line, never questioning any command and being one hell of a fighter pilot. He looked over the scientific reports, analysing the data to look for possible weaknesses of their craft. He had been the pioneer of most of the aerial tactics they were using now. Although in many of the cases they involved high-speed suicidal chases lasting until the interceptor could get into range to use all of its missiles on the target before it had time to run away, it worked. That is, if you ignored the occasional damage suffered by the F-22s while dodging alien fire on the their attack runs. The team was splitting. Next day the other half would flew to their new base in the Appalachian Mountains and would become active the next day. The new recruits had been divided into each team and all of them had been training together for the past days, taking advantage of the almost zero UFO activity over the North American continent in the past weeks. They had devised a new organization based on the lessons learnt at the Los Angeles attack. Now there were four men by each squad, one of them carrying a heavy weapon, three sections in the Skyranger plus the sniper two-man team. And other changes were also coming along, this time some real advances in the war with the aliens. After all men were seated, he and Colonel Jackson got up along with their respective executive officers. To replace Hunt he had chosen one of his former subordinate officers when he was placed at Fort Campbell, Captain Forrester. The man still looked a bit out of his place, but he was getting better after the initial shock of knowing about the alien invasion. But once he learned everything he would be the finest for this position. He looked at the group of men in front of him, a multitude of darkened figures all looking for him. The dark color reminded him of what would be the cost of defeat. Sometimes it made him scared shitless, but most of the time it would give him motivation. And while reading the reports from Mother One he had received the night before, he had felt both feelings also. He picked out Hopkins in the crowd. The black man seemed to be fully recovered, although some scars wouldn’t disappear. The blast of the destruction of the rocket launcher had left his hands and face with burns and they now showed the effects of it. “Scars are reminders of our own stupidity”, he had said the first time he saw himself after the attack. Or at least that was the rumor on the base, since no one had the balls to ask him directly. Johnson suddenly realized that many of the veterans also had disfiguring physical scars, molded by the blast of the alien weapons. Some like Tyrell’s and Hopkins’s were at plain sight, but others kept them hidden under their uniforms and flesh. He wondered about how good he was doing his job and if he would get a scar or a grave. Despite the serious tone of the meeting, he noticed again that some of the men were wearing unofficial patches on their uniforms. Colonel Jackson had supported the idea, but Johnson was still unsure about it. Identification with their unit gave the men some sort of belonging and motivation but it also could lead them into crazy acts. And he wasn’t sure of liking the insignia the East Coast team had chosen when he looked at Jackson and saw the circular blue patch on his left shoulder. It depicted a white headed eagle looking for prey, with the words “North American” on top and “Wild Hunters” at the bottom of the 127

circle. The design had been Jackson’s suggestion, with no doubt, since he came from an airborne division. Somebody had come up with the West team’s counterpart, which showed a wolverine with its claws and fangs filled with green alien blood, together with the words “Take Me To Your Leader”. At least the West team had a sense of humor, and didn’t display the wild bravado of the other one. He didn’t knew how had drew it, but Garcia, Jones, King and some others had quickly adopted it. He noticed than none of the rookies were using the insignias. He guessed it was some sort of showing yourself: if you could do the job and survived the first encounter with the aliens you would earn the right to wear the badge. But, dismissing his thoughts, Johnson addressed the audience: “Good morning all. This will be the final briefing before the day’s exercises and the departure of half of you tomorrow. But before you all haul your asses to the training range and do as miserably as you can before the goodbye party scheduled for tonight,” that brought grins on most of the men, “I have bad news, worse than bad news, could be better news and good news”. The smiling faces were replaced by looks of attention. “First, the really bad news” He signaled Forrester and lit up a laser pointer. An image of a large alien gun came up, together with the already known Elerium rifle. The white weapon was about five feet meters long, when compared to the four feet length of the rifle. The last third of the barrel had a rectangular bulge, probably the muzzle of the weapon since what seemed to be the trigger was on the other side. The substance from which the weapon was made gleamed white and a small blue clip was situated right at the end of the stock. “This his the weapon responsible for the recent losses of the European team. In the Moroccan operation just one alien was armed with it and still it managed to severely damage the Skyranger aircraft and was responsible for the death of many fellow troopers. Like the rifle it is capable of sustaining auto fire and it is much powerful than it. If you seen an alien carrying one of this things, drop him. This is a very heavy and dangerous cannon, or whatever they call it”. The mood of the room suddenly become more somber. “But the Science and Engineering Departments have good news”. The images on the projector had been replaced by the one of a strange pistol. The barrel had an ellipsoidal shape and the whole weapon looked more as something taken from a science fiction movie. “This is the Mark I laser pistol. One single shot from this weapon has a little more of the penetrating power of a 5.56 caliber round. It is capable of auto fire, although unlimited use of it will drain out the batteries after a while”. “Sir”, Garcia interrupted, “we are going to use pistols that aren’t that much better from our current weapons against those cannons? Doesn’t look like even odds to me”. “I know, Garcia, and the magical science wizards fortunately saw that also, in a brief moment of inspiration and sense of reality. That’s why they also developed this”. The image of the pistol was replaced by what looked like a red cylinder with metals parts attached to it, forming a gunstock, hand support and a trigger. “The Mark III laser rifle. This thing is almost as potent as anti-personnel round from one of our cannons, again with auto fire. From what I’ve been told, they have experimenting a 128

lot of concepts with the laser technology they have just discovered, and this one is about to enter production”. “It sure as hell looks ugly sir. I still prefer my autocannon, Russian or not”. “And you will keep it for now. Apparently they are developing a heavier version, but power requirements deem that it will be without auto fire capability, which means that we will stick to the tactical versatility of the cannons for fire support”. “And when will this new zap gun be available to us sir?” “Today you will all have the chance to test it at the range. We already have one unit available here at the base and Dr. Mantell and his men are calibrating and making the final checks on it at the moment”. Several of the uniformed troopers grinned. “Now we kick ass!” Jackson shouted and the room was suddenly filled with roars. Johnson looked at Jackson with disapproval. Although they both held the same rank and Jackson was actually older and had more time in the service over Johnson, the West Coast commander had seniority on X-Com over Jackson. “This might help, but remember to keep your ugly heads down and not jumping into heroics, you idiots! I would prefer to get back here in one piece, than having a medal on my chest replacing by burned out arm or having to share a ride to hell with the dead aliens!” Hopkins’s voice shouted out the troops. Even Jackson kept his mouth quiet. “Thank you Sergeant.” Nothing like a senior non-commission officer to bring some sense into the troops, even the officers, Johnson thought. “Getting along, the development of body armor, as we have been requesting for ages, is almost done”. Another image showed up, of a dummy wearing some sort of blue body armor. Metal pads covered the limbs and torso, connected together by what seemed to be dark plastic. It even offered the head some sort of protection, with a curved plate covering the forehead and sides of the skull. This time shouts of cheer were more timid, fearful of the Gunny’s reaction. “This is the Type 17 body armor, built using alien techniques”. “Type 17?” Garcia asked, “how come we didn’t got to use the other sixteen types before they come up with this one?” “It took them a lot of experimentations before they come up with this. I think it’s an ugly name also Garcia, so feel free to give any suggestions. In any case, there are still some glitches on the movement parts but Dr. Chevereux says that they will be ironed out pretty soon”. “So we will use them pretty soon?” “Unfortunately not. In order to allow for maneuverability, each of these things has to be built specifically for each soldier. Which means that they will all take our measures and then start fabricating the suits. The end result is that we will have to wait some more time, since they weren’t expecting the manpower that is necessary to build these things”. “Meanwhile our asses keep getting fried up by the alien weapons”. “Nobody pays you to be sitting at the sun, marine, although the Corps have a long tradition of horsing around at the beach”. Again uneasy laughter filled the room at King’s comment. 129

Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
Major Chen passed through the security guards posted at the door that lead to the Politburo’s reunion office without even caring to salute them. His presence was waited and he couldn’t spend time with trivial formalities. As he stopped by the massive elaborated bronze door, one of them opened it and he moved inside, holding his briefcase even tighter. Chairman Zhu was waiting inside, together with the Marshal that was the commander of the People’s Liberation Army and one deputy that Chen never cared to remember his name. He saluted all of them and then spoke: “Comrade Major Chen reporting, comrades”. “Yes Major, if you please tell us now what seems so important for you to fly over here and risk the political consequences of the X-Com council finding out about this meeting” The Marshall tone implied that he was stating an order, not making a request. “Information just arrived through the X-Com information network that I believe of the severe importance comrades”. He thought the Chairman might have risen and eyebrow. Since they were all silent, he continued: “There is another race of aliens involved. They have been named Floaters, apparently due to their ability to hover unassisted on the air”. “Another race? Acting together with the so called Sectoids?” The Deputy queried. “Yes. They use the same equipment which supposes that there’s an alliance of some sorts between them”. “Is that your assessment also, comrade Major?” Chen froze. One thing was to pass on the available information, the other was to make judgments for which he would become liable. “I would say that there might be an agreement between both of them” he paused, unsure of if he should take the next step. “And the Party might find some use later on the future of that alliance, specially if there are divergences between both races”. This time, the Chairman looked at him directly, probing him but keeping in silence. “The alien biochemistries are similar, but different. Analysis shows that the Floaters have been subject to massive surgery techniques, while the Sectoids are cloned. It could be assumed that one is the minor element of such an alliance, and as such, unhappy about its overall participation”. Zhu took some seconds before answering back. This was indeed an important development. He looked directly at the Major and finally spoke: “very well comrade Major. You have done well and your assessment, if right, might lead you well in the future. Anything else to report”. Chen stifled but decided to tell the other unpleasant news. “I have been unsuccessful so far on taking possession of any of the laser weapons X-Com has developed. Since the Chinese team is not yet operational, as by Party’s orders, X-Com High Command has put the re-equipment of my men into a low priority. And they are keeping a tight lid on the scientific information which is only available to scientists and top military leaders. All

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access to the computer net is heavily monitorized and our own laser technology is far less developed than the Russians or the Americans, which means that they apply the principles far more easily. We just don’t have skilled professionals yet, comrades”. “Keep liaising with the Japanese and learn all their secrets. And finally upgrade our team to operational status. We will take care of the rest”.

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Chapter Six – Bad Moon Rising
March 3rd, 1999
Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
The industrial and scientific complex dated back from the 1970’s, when the Soviet Space Program was at its full height, supported by the Communist regime as a way of proclaiming Socialist superiority in the space. The other function it served was less glamorous and propagandistic. It had been also built for the development of space weapons, which made it an above top-secret facility. Its own existence had only been revealed after the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 and since then the military aspects had been cast aside until now, due to a change in the political and economical situation of the new Russian Federation. The grey concrete buildings that once served as homes for thousands of scientists and engineers were now mainly deserted due to the cutbacks on the program and the job proposals that had been made to the skilled personnel to work in the civilian sector and in other countries. But the few remaining inhabitants had noticed some changes in the past months. The security had been stepped up recently and all roads that lead to the city now had military checkpoints, manned by Ministry of the Interior troops. Inside the complex it was even tighter, with constant FSB patrols and a monitorization of all phone calls. But the people who worked there hardly took any annoyance of the changes. They meant that Moscow was interested again in their work, which meant better pay and conditions than generally found in other towns in Russia. Some wondered what had happened in the world for those changes to happen, but none cared to open their mouths since it was not wise to bite the hand that fed you. The city was powered up by a nuclear reactor. While it allowed all buildings to have heating in the long Siberian summer, it had been installed specifically for the purpose of supplying power to the high-energy weapons that were being developed. And today its power would be unreleased again after a lapse of years. About a kilometre to the west of the residential buildings, a massive bunker had been built and now the dozen meters wide opening on its ceiling was open. Mechanical engines slowly and carefully pointed the device inside the bunker to its target. It looked nothing more than a cylinder almost two meters wide in diameter, but the power it released could easily destroy the star at the horizon to where it was pointed. In an underground facility close to the laser, a group of scientists and military men were gathered in a control room. The final ground and space checks were made and after the green light was given from all stations, the chief scientist of the project asked the military commander of the facility for permission to fire which was given. The scientist then ordered one of his subordinates to execute the test. The fluoride laser didn’t have any natural colour. But when it was inside the barrel of the weapon located inside the massive hangar the high-energy photons it contained interacted with the argon inside, energizing it and releasing energy in a blue wavelength. The inhabitants of the city and the security patrols who happened to be looking at its direction

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when it was discharged retained the image on their retinas for some minutes, disturbing their vision. The crew at the Mir Space Station knew the safety procedures. If by any change they were nearby one of the windows and caught the blast they would turn blind instantly and they would die shortly afterwards, their internal fluids boiling and giving them a painful dismissal. But the calculations had been precise. The beam hit the mirror brought by the Progress supply ship that had been installed and calibrated over the last weeks by the extra crewmembers that had came on the Soyuz spaceship. The mirror itself was a wonder of optical design. It concentrated and reflected nearly all of the energy the laser had released, directing to another point in space. The high-energy photons, after having regained the destructive power that was lost in atmosphere dispersion travelled at light speed to its intended target. The whole action took less than a millisecond. But by then the deactivated Cosmos satellite, originally launched by the Soviet Union as a communications satellite had suffered the full effects of the blast. Its internal electronics were fried the same instant and the outer hull melted. The few remaining manoeuvring fuel inside exploded, adding to the damage already caused by the laser. On Earth a group of scientists congratulated themselves. Despite of the technical difficulties and the crash program that had been implemented in such a short notice, Project Umbrella had just become operational. The military commander smiled and went to his office to write a full report to be sent to the Kremlin. At the same time, alarms started to sound in locations on Earth and elsewhere.

White House, Washington DC, US
Ten hours after the Russian test there was an emergency meeting at the Situation Room in the White House. One of the satellites that hovered in low orbit looking for possible Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches had detected the huge energy blast and sent a warning to NORAD. The technicians had analysed it and breathed in relief as they eliminated the possibility that a nuclear warhead had just been launched and detonated by the Russians. But the test had sent other disturbing signals to the US hierarchy. “Gentlemen, I’ve just got off the Red Line phone after having a conversation with President Larianov. He assured me that the weapon won’t be used for Anti-Satellite purposes and that Russia has the right to defend itself from the alien menace with whatever means they chose to. I want to know your opinion about this matter”. Winston wasn’t appreciating the attitude of his Russian counterpart at all. The thing that they did not need now was a loose Russia, acting on its own. The Secretary of Defence and the National Security Advisor started talking at the same time, but then both stopped and the secretary said: “Go ahead Mrs. May”. “Thank you Edward. Mr. President, this represents a serious threat to the US. They just acquired the ability to hit any of our space assets and also they most likely can hit targets on the ground”.

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“Not only that sir, but they just violated the ABM treaty and the Non-Militarization of Space agreement, when they placed that mirror in the Mir Space Station”, the Secretary of Defence added. “Hmm. Doctor Millard, what is your opinion of the capabilities of this weapon?” The Special Scientific Advisor responded: “I doubt it can hit targets on land, due to the dispersion of the laser beam on the atmosphere. The use of the mirror allows then to recharge the destructiveness of the beam after it travelled over the atmosphere to space, but I doubt it can still have the same potential if reflected back to Earth”. “But if they gain access to the laser technologies that X-Com has developed it would mean serious trouble, Doctor”. Candace May added. “That why to minimize that risk that the X-Com Charter has a clause that keeps the release of all alien technology breakthroughs under the supervision of the UN leadership.” The Secretary of State added. “A wonderful clause that now leaves us out on the cold”. Defense snapped. “If we had automatic access to such technology we could devise a counter to it”. “We and who else, I might ask? The Iraqis? The North Koreans? The Libyans? Castro?” May countered. “I continue to fully support that clause, like I did when the treaty was signed. If the technology gets out on the street we will be in serious problem. Just imagine if the Russians knew that secret now: we would be under a continuous threat” “Very well” Winston cut through the discussion, “I recognize all this arguments from before and I retain the decision I made then, that was ratified by the Senate later in a special secret session. What I want to know is if we can resolve this through diplomatic means” “Unlikely sir” State responded. “We could bring it to the attention of the UN Security Council, but it would bring it out to the public. And if we place it on the agenda of the next meeting of the X-Com Council, I doubt that we will get any support. After all, the treaty says that every nation has the right to defend itself, using whatever means it seems fit, as long as they respect the secrecy of the invasion”. “But can this be used against the aliens? Dr. Willard, what to do think?” “If they located a stable target, they might be able to hit it. It was designed for killing ICBM missiles that have a predictable flight pattern and are slow, as compared to a fast moving UFO. While it is a technological breakthrough, the practical effects against the alien menace are quite limited”. “Do we have anything similar?” “No sir. The freeze out of the Star Wars program put into a halt almost all of our beam weapons programs. It would take months, even years for us to develop something similar at our present technological level. The only thing similar that we have is the kinetic weapons program, but even that one is far away from deployment and it was built to destroy single missile launches, not a fleet of spaceships”. “I think I heard enough gentlemen then. From now on, the US will develop such weapons and a strong message will be sent to the Russian government acknowledging their right to 134

protect themselves but also that the weapon is seen with great concern by the US. Any use of it against American assets or military sources on the world and in space and also against our territory will be seen as an attack that will be responded in similar terms”.

March 5th, 1999
Mansion outside Paris, France
Number Three had just arrived from a long flight and was feeling the effects of the jet lag. Still he tried not to be affected by them. Too much was at stake already. First the damn X-Com force and this latest communication from the aliens. They weren’t pleased with the opposition encountered from the Earth’s governments and it sounded as if they were questioning the whole deal. The bastards! How dared they, after decades of mischief and deception from them? The original intention of the creation of the group had been to develop ways to communicate and acquire alien technology. After the first contacts it seemed as they had a purely scientific interest on the planet and would pretty much leave it alone. When their real plans become known through the group’s investigations, they became shocked and felling powerless, not knowing what to do. A deal was suggested and the members who opposed it were eliminated, others appearing to take their places. But even when an arrangement had been made, for several times the aliens forced it, or acted against the terms they had specified. How ironical that this is finally happening now, he thought. Then he cut through the ongoing discussion saying: “Do they think we did it on purpose or do they assume we don’t have the control we told them?” Curious looks around the room focused on him. Number One spoke, after a second: “Why would that be important? We have to be seen as blameless on this”. “It centers about it. If we negate any knowledge they will think lesser of us and make us irrelevant to their plans. On the contrary, if we make them think that we planned the whole event, they will be more careful and have to respect our power and us. The difference between death and survival”. An unspoken agreement flew around the room. “We can make them wonder if we really did terminate the SDI program, as they ordered, after they discovering that we were behind it”. Number Three knew that his position in the Group had just been raised, but probably not enough, as he wanted. It was time to make another climb. “And we can help our services if they wanted to act to destroy the Russian laser. That way, not only we tell them that we still want to collaborate but we keep a control over things”. “But what about X-Com?” Number Two interrupted.

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“We reduce its capability by arranging damaging encounters with the aliens. Their new laser technology is good, but not enough for all that is to come. And we start to manipulate certain social and political players”. “Reveal our existence?” One interrupted, suddenly angry for the way things were turning. “Offer our assistance. But leaving no evidence, hiding our history and talking only to selected, high ranking officials, who can be easily eliminated if they betray us. Or, better yet, posing as aliens”. “And I believe you already have determined some candidates?” One’s voice sounded of defeat. “Indeed I do”. Then Number Three proceeded to explain his variation to the plan.

March 6th, 1999
Manhattan, New York City, US
Evan Blake pressed clicked his mouse to give the command to see the video again. When he had arrived at his desk on the Times and started off his desktop, he noticed that his email program was downloading an awful lot of big messages, which was unusual. He become suspicious when he saw the size of two megabytes of the first email, and that the following nine emails still downloading also had the same amount of data. Most disturbing was the fact that it didn’t have a sender identified nor a direction to reply to. When he clicked to play the file it showed footage from a gun camera on an aircraft. The waiting period for the rest of the video files was well worth it. It was a recording taken by a military aircraft of an encounter with an UFO that looked as if had ended sourly for the plane. There was no indication of the date or place where it occurred or what plane was involved, but he had some clues from the footage. The background showed that it must have happened over the West and the apparent speed of the aircraft seemed to be more than supersonic, if not hypersonic. Which could only mean that it was a black-budget highly classified project. He needed to do some checks on the images, to see if they could be a forgery and to verify the speed of the plane, but he knew that this was a major story. Someone inside the military must be tired of the secrecy about this whole UFO situation, he thought, and how the establishment is dealing with it. This didn’t prove that there were aliens out there, but it would raise some questions as to what was the craft involved and what happened on that incident. The Pentagon would be forced to give some answers to the whole thing. And it also told him where to look for Colonel Johnson. There was only one place where to look for highly classified research projects and that was Nevada. It was known that the U-2, SR-71, F-117 and B-2 advanced planes had been developed there. There were also rumors of that the secret replacement for the SR-71 plane was based there and that had supersonic capability. Or that the US government had acquired Soviet military aircraft since the sixties and had tested them on Area 51. Most likely the Colonel would be placed on one of those bases, he thought. The problem was that they were highly classified facilities. If you took just a few steps inside the area around the facility you could be arrested and sentenced to jail. Worse than that, the Federal Government refused to acknowledge the existence of Area 51, which meant that his queries would be dismissed.

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And he knew he needed some hard evidence for his editor to believe in the story. He had already been rebutted because of his interest on the subject. “Get me a little green men from Mars and you can write about aliens”, his boss had said, “if not, stick to reality”. In any case, if he could prove the authenticy of the video it would be a fantastic newsbreak, whenever it was really an UFO that had shot the craft out of the skies. And if he could trace the whereabouts of Colonel Johnson and link the base to the Los Angeles attack and the shot down of the plane it could even be Pulitzer Prize material.

Middle of the Indian Ocean, Earth
The massive alien craft had just entered Earth’s atmosphere some 200 miles south of the Maldives islands and was on a south-westerly course, heading for one of Sol Three’s continents. No significant indigenous activity had been detected on the sector, which pleased and annoyed at the same time the Sectoid Commander on board. While he wanted to hit back the Sol Three’s forces he knew that his mission called for discretion, since it was needed to advance the forward deployment of the fleet’s forces. The natural satellite that orbited Sol Three’s helped conceal the invasion fleet from detection, but it was also too inhospitable for the deployment of forces. And the supply lines were already too stretched out, which prevented fast reaction to hostile opposition. The other ships that comprised the detachment had also successfully entered the atmosphere and were travelling to the target area on schedule. But his ship would be the one who would secure the landing zone. The war machines it contained would prevent any Terran interference and allow for the next step of the invasion.

March 8th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Commander Illyuschenko moved his arms to his chest to check for the maneuverability of the body armor he was trying. He found it amazing that he hardly noticed that he was wearing it, since it didn’t hamper any of his movements. He had been the first to wear to be issued the new Type 17 body protection, strengthened by the use of alien alloys, by Dr. Chevereux’s orders. He had counter ordered it and told that the ground troops should be the first equipped, since he wasn’t going to do any combat operations soon, but the scientific chief had just started another discussion, saying that more important was to assure the survival of the military leadership. The whole question ended up at the UN’s Secretary General desk, which had supported the doctor’s decision. Looking at himself at the mirror on his quarters at Mother One, he thought that he was still in a prime shape to do some fighting on his armor, to take it to the field and test it. The years and the battles he had seen had brought him a lot of gray hairs, wrinkles and scars to show for, but he considered himself still quite fit for a man on his middle fifties. And by the way of it, he wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t have to occupy one of the seats in the Skyranger in the next missions. “Could I do it?” He asked to himself. Then he remembered Afghanistan again and the reports from the Los Angeles attack. It had been a civilian massacre. The clean up crews had reported that entire families had been gunned down in their houses, and in some cases human organs and blood had been removed from

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them, with the victims still conscious. It was happening all over again and he couldn’t do anything to stop it, just send more men to be killed while they tried to defend the civilian population. He looked at his desk, which was pilled up with personnel files of possible new recruits to replace the soldiers lost in the Morocco operation. While he had given a public reprimand to Colonel MacTaggert about the order he had given to ram the alien, considering it reckless use of equipment and putting his men into danger, he had also congratulated him for taking an action that probably had saved the entire team. The Skyranger was still on the repair shop, but they didn’t have a full team ready to deploy anyways. But it would take some time before it could be repaired. The spare parts hadn’t arrived from Russia yet and his conversations with his government were turning sourer day after day, with President Larianov being short of calling him a traitor. The latest discussion had involved the demands of the release of the laser technology but Illyuschenko had been firmly against it, after seeing the reports of the development of the orbital laser. The weapon had no tactical use whatsoever and if both advances could be integrated it opened the possibility for the development of a new mass destruction weapon. The Russian appeal for a reversal of his decision to the X-Com’s Council of Representatives had been dismissed and he thanked that not all politicians could be so short sighted. Of course, he knew that he had only bought some time, since the information would eventually be disseminated without his approval, through the use of intelligence operatives inside X-Com. The political aspects were just taking too much time and the damn intelligence agencies are just doing what they know best, he thought, which was complicating everything instead of helping, he thought. But things were looking up in general, he thought, as he looked at his new laser sidearm. It was durable and reliable in the test field and the new version of the pistol that was being planned would incorporate alien alloys that would make it even more resistant. Do they really are getting better or are they only going to get worse? The voice inside him brought painful memories, of soldiers being torn apart in ambushes in the Afghani mountains, of the troopers who were captured by the enemy to be found cut into pieces. There were just too many things in common, he thought, too much casualties, too much blood. He looked at the cabinet where he had stashed his bottle of vodka, unsure of what to do.

March 9th, 1999
Middle of Alaska, United States
The first thing that John Dulmer thought when he woke up was that he had fallen asleep and was late for duty. He worked as a technician for the Ballistic Defense Missile Warning System site that had been built by the US government in northern Alaska in the middle of the Cold War for detect possible Soviet nuclear strikes. Although he wasn’t a part of the military that owned the place he had a very specific contract with them for the radar maintenance and they had activated a clause that obligated him to work overtime, although at a very convenient compensation. He didn’t know what was the reason, although he suspected of trouble with China or Russia or something like that. The last weeks had been tough, with him having to pull a lot of extra shifts with no absence from 138

base allowed. Until yesterday. Although it had taken him several hours, he considered the ride to the nearest town quite agreeable. It was nice to be back into civilization, although the town could hardly boost a thousand inhabitants. Memories of the day begun to come to his mind and he started to remember how tough the jeep ride back had been, for him to be still so tired that he couldn’t hardly move. Then he realized that he wasn’t on his bed and, worse still, he was naked with no sheets on. He opened his eyes and tried to get up from wherever he was but there was a strange force tying him down. After a brief moment of confusion as he stared on a gray metal ceiling unlike anything he had seen before, his brain picked up another presence in the room. He turned his head to his right side and become speechless as he looked into alien eyes that looked back at him, emotionless. As he opened his mouth to scream, his thoughts remembered the crackpot base rumors that said that NORAD had taken a peculiar interest into Unidentified Flying Objects.

British Columbia, Canada
The Skyranger was racing across the Pacific Northwest once again and Johnson looked at the familiar mountains and forests that made this part of the continent. It was the first mission of his team after the near disastrous raid at Los Angeles. He hoped that everything worked out as planned, since he hadn’t time to finish training the West Coast team, as he would have wished before engaging in a new confrontation with the aliens. Especially when the UFO detected was one of medium size, which didn’t pose well for the success of the operation, when considering that it was similar on size to the one that had brought the terrorists to the Los Angeles attack. Although it had landed on a pretty remote area, which excluded the possibility of another such strike by the aliens, the area where it had chosen to come down to Earth was another bigger concern. The request for assistance had come up once again from the highest authorities, because of the possibility that it was a raid destined to destroy the missile warning radar site situated in Alaska. The radar sometimes also gave some forward warning against UFO incursions, which made it a very important strategic asset. That had to be defended at any cost. The minus temperatures and the bad weather at this time of the year in the area had precluded an aviation strike against the craft, as it would have been desirable if they were in a search and destruction mission. So his team would have to sneak up on the aliens and take control of the craft in one swift strike. And there were other worries. He and Hopkins were the only ones who were wearing the new Type 17 armor underneath their cold weather garments. The other twelve members of the team had to rely on the old Kevlar body protection, which was close to nothing. Johnson checked again the power on his Mk III laser rifle, which had been painted white and gray, matching the camouflage that they were wearing. The weapon just looked too fragile and nimble for the power it could release. During the initial tests it had proven itself as being very efficient and, better yet, silent, which made it a perfect Special Forces weapon. At least the engineering department had managed to build enough rifles to equip completely the entire squad with them. Although the things hadn’t been tested yet for cold weather operations, the scientists had theorized that they would work. Yeah right, my ass, he thought. That’s why every team member had been issued a personal sidearm, 139

consisting of either a Mark I laser pistol of a M9 nine-millimeter pistol that they all were underneath their clothes to keep them away from the heat. He looked at the team and felt a shiver, considering that most of them were rookies, although he had managed to keep some of his best men on the team. Hopkins had fully recovered and still stayed in command of Beta, making life miserably in general to the three new members that had arrived to fill the losses. Dennis, Garcia and Andrews were gone, moving to the base on the Appalachian Mountains to give some combat experience to the new team that had been formed, along with Captain Hunt. Tyrell’s voice cracked on the combat radio, filling it with his Californian almost annoying accent. He had come from the Navy and was a Golden State native, based on San Diego. “Colonel, sir, just got the latest indications from NORAD about the fast mover’s position. I could land the craft away from it to prevent us from getting detected.” “Roger that Captain”. He then tried to get some sleep. Some hours afterwards they closed nearby the UFO’s position. The Sun was beginning to come up, which was good for the attack, although the heavy cloud cover limited its light. That is, if the aliens were affected by the same sleep patterns than most animals on Earth, including humans, they would be either tired at this hour of the morning or starting to wake up, with their attention lower than usual. The Skyranger landed in the middle of a tundra field, the exhaust from its jet engines throwing snow and rocks everything and blasting the sparse vegetation. It had been attached with ice skates instead of wheels, one of the advantages of it being built and designed by Russians. The three squads quickly exited the plane, taking cover on the nearby snow elevations and looking for possible hostiles that might be in the area. Once the all clear had been given for the landing zone, Johnson and King exited the craft and joined the other men. The dark haired sniper looked nervous as if being out in the open was an unnatural condition to him. Without a word being spoken, the assembled on a line and started moving towards their target, with Kowalsky being assigned point. The short man just acknowledged the order and started moving. After they had walked some distance Kowalsky suddenly made the all stop sign and squat down, with everyone following his warning after advancing. Johnson and Forrester moved up to see what had come up. Moving through the line of his men as they took cover on the available nearby snow and ice mounts, he reached the trooper’s position. Kowalsky was lying down and as he saw his commander’s arrival, he pointed to a direction in front while making afterwards the sign for hostiles. Johnson crawled on the ground until he could get a better look. Some two hundreds yards away the alien ship could be seen, laying on the ground. It was an unrecorded type. It was bigger than anything they had ever raided and its shape, while remembering the classic saucer, had sections that came out of it, remembering petals of a flower. And an alien was standing between them and the UFO, assuming a sentinel position with its Elerium rifle. It was patrolling the area, moving around with an almost choreographed rhythm and scanning through its dark eyes, but it had failed so far to

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detect the X-Com’s troopers. And the dumb idiot was standing directly between them and the craft. He signaled Kowalsky to stay put and motioned the rest of the team to deploy. The plan called for the team to circle the UFO and detect all aliens that were standing outside to take them all out at the same time. That was the easy part. The hardest would be afterwards the assault on the UFO itself. Moving slowly, Alpha, Beta and Gamma squads circled the craft, while Jones moved closed to him and stayed put, keeping a close look at the alien guard. Johnson wondered how it could be just standing there in the middle of the cold wind that was blasting through the landscape. The snow had stopped to fall but the sky was still heavy on clouds. He trailed Gamma as they moved over the right side of the craft. The door was visible, with two other Sectoids guarding it. Looking over he also saw that Alpha was guarding the opposite end from where they had arrived and were placing themselves into position. Beta was out of sight, but he trusted that they had already assumed their places on the left side. They would be responsible for taking down any stragglers that were far away and would race back to the craft after the shooting started. His radio came active with a single click, followed by two others. Alpha had detected two aliens and was ready to take them out. Two other clicks cracked on the channel, followed by the same number of sounds and finally three clicks come up, followed by a single one. Counting the one King was keeping under his sights, that made six aliens outside, Johnson thought. How many more inside? He pointed his own laser rifle at the nearest alien. Then he talked to his microphone a single word: “Go!” All the men from the team that had been assigned laser rifles fired them one second later at their targets. Since the weapons were almost soundless it had been decided to use them instead of the cannons to avoid making any noise. The laser beams traveled at the speed of light towards their targets. All the aliens outside the UFO died the next instant, their gray bodies cut down by the invisible beams. “Gamma go! Alpha cover the door!” Johnson shouted while looking around for any possible aliens that might be on their way back to the ship. The second Corporal Pershing heard the Colonel’s voice he got up and started running. Trailing behind him, Rodriguez and Jones were a bit slower to respond to the order, the same with Jerrell, the new Lieutenant in command of the squad. He knew that they would eventually pick up on him, but for now his reactions had the upper hand. Carrying his Russian heavy cannon was no big feature for him. He weighted almost two hundreds pounds, the mass sculpted into a tall figure of straight muscle. As he was close to the craft, the door suddenly opened and a Sectoid moved out, searching for the fate of his now dead companions. Pershing didn’t even bother to respond. A second, later laser beams from the other squad cut down the alien, his body instantly dropping on the ground and keeping the door opened. Pershing reached it and took a look, trailing his gun at the same time. An entry room greeted him, with a door on the other end. Jones reached him and he said: “Go!” while kicking the alien corpse out of the way. The trooper quickly moved and reached the door on the other side. The rest of his squad arrived and he and Jones then moved closer to the other door, the other Gamma members covering it with their laser rifles. When both X-Com’s troopers arrived they took position on both sides of the door and Jones them moved his hand to open it. The alien device detected the motion and moved

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the metal surface up. Two rounds of automatic laser fire from the soldiers on the back followed into the room and Pershing and Jones then pointed their own weapons. A dead alien laid on the floor with their back pointed at him hit by the laser salvo in several locations. The room reminded Pershing of some kind of hospital room, he thought, as he noticed the two tables on both sides with what looked like surgical instruments on the tops and a table at the middle, where the dead alien now laid in front of. And a patient. A human one. And another life form present in the room. Jones fired first, but the three laser bursts that come out of his weapon all missed, hitting the walls and the table where the alien was close to. The Sectoid tried to take cover but while turning hit the table and the collision took out his balance, making him fell to the ground. Pershing pressed the finger on his trigger but a second afterward a new feeling come up to him. He moved up to the alien, who was trying to get up, raised his weapon and clubbed the alien on the head with the stock. The Sectoid immediately dropped to the ground again, but this time it stayed there, motionless. Payback time, you bastard. Meanwhile the rest of the squad had just entered that room, covering another door that was on the other side. Pershing saw that the Lieutenant was giving him a hard look, but he decided to tell to him to shove later if he brought the subject up. He assumed his position and, a second later a trooper opened the door. This time the laser salvo failed to hit anyone and Rodriguez took a look. He told Pershing to cover the left side and dashed afterwards to the left side, the Corporal following him across the door. The room led into a corridor that whose walls were bare but showed the geometrical inside of the flower like design of the UFO. He looked on front and saw that it ended with a turn to the left and he continued walking, taking a close look at the corner. A plasma round was suddenly heard, followed but the hum of a laser rifle in operation. The thump on the ground heard afterwards reassured him that his buddies still had the upper hand on that side. When he reached he took a quick look at the continuation. It led to a dead end, with two cylinders found like the ones inside the smaller UFOs attached to the right side and giving an orange light. Looking closer he saw that there looked to be an opening on the ceiling, leading to another door with an orange light coming out of it and lightening the floor underneath the opening with a strange red. When Rodriguez joined them both men started approaching carefully the light. He clicked on his radio. “Lt. I got an opening here on the ceiling”. The lieutenant voice replied. “Cover it and hold. Will join you in two seconds. Dead end here”. When all men of Gamma squad reassembled they approached the opening with great care. Pershing looked to the Lieutenant and got the okay from his look. He moved directly underneath the light and looked up. Nothing. He took out his combat glove and tried to see if the light had some effect on the air. As he suddenly moved his arm upwards he felt himself going up, moved by some invisible force. His first reaction was to try to escape from it, but the velocity of his ascent prevented him from having the time to step out of the lift. He met himself on the upper floor of the craft, directly over the opening, with the same invisible force preventing him from falling down. In a brief moment of panic he looked around. His eyes caught a corridor on his front that seemed to have no end. And on his left there was another corridor. And a figure had just stepped into it. Pershing threw

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himself to the empty corridor, the green bolts going through the same position that his body had just left. As he hit the ground he concentrated on holding his gun near him and getting a grenade out of his belt. He took the cap out and pressed the trigger, rigging it with a three second delay. He then stretched his arm and threw it afterwards in the direction of the alien. A squeak was heard afterwards, followed but an explosion. The other members of Gamma figured out the lift and started it, joining him on the upper floor. He saw them move in front of him as he got up his feet and then followed them. Johnson’s radio cracked: “Forrester here. We have secured the UFO. Gamma met some tough resistance on the upper floor, but have no casualties, besides some minor burns. And we have rescued an abductee”. “Say that again, Alpha?” “The aliens apparently abducted a worker in the radar facility. He was extremely lucky not to get hit by our own weapons in the shootout, with an alien taking a lot of shots that would have hit him instead”. “How is he?” “Shaken, but stable. We are getting him some clothes and are giving him the US military team story, but not saying a word about the aliens. Speaking of which, we have captured a prisoner of war”. “A live alien?” “It has a bruise on his head the size of a shoe, thanks to Pershing’s hitting him with the butt of his heavy cannon, but he’s still alive”. “Restrain him. Any reports of mental interference?” “Negative. Gamma’s boys say they felt something weird on their minds when they were storming the upper floor, but it ended shortly afterwards when they got the last alien”. “Have a guard close to the alien and have all men on sight of the guard. The moment the guard sees any of them point the gun at one another he is to kill the alien instantly” Forrester voice replied: “Roger”. Johnson suddenly detected a presence on his left side and he dropped to his knees while turning and pointing his laser rifle at the figure. His training prevented him from squeezing the trigger as he saw a human figure dressed in cold weather clothes looking directly at him. The individual froze on his tracks when he noticed Johnson and a second later hid himself behind one of the snow elevations that had formed over high spots on the cold terrain. Johnson released the pressure on his trigger and shouted: “Sir, this is the US military. This is an quarantined area, please leave this second”. He tried to spot the figure, looking at the direction to where it had moved. Five seconds passed and no answer came. “Sir, have you heard me? Please show yourself”. Johnson started moving into that direction. Great, just what I need, a frightened civilian. This one will take some time to convince that this was just a military exercise, he thought. He ran towards the elevation, climbing over it to get a better picture of where he was. When he reached the top he saw that the men was almost reaching the other 143

elevation, turning back to check on him and regaining his pace afterwards. They had been running for minutes now and Johnson wondered about the physical abilities of the man. If not for his own combat training it would be nearly impossible to catch up with him. He kept running as fast as he could and activated his radio to talk to Tyrell. “Tyrell, a civilian is going on your way from the southeast, some two hundred years from your position. I’m after him. Detain him”. “Roger that, Colonel”. He kept running across the ice and snowfield, catching occasional glimpses of the man as he moved between the elevations, unknowingly going on the way of the Skyranger. As he circulated the final ice boulder, he heard an alien weapon shot. He first considered that one of the Sectoids had been away outside the craft and was now returning, alerted by the previous gunfire. Suddenly all those thoughts stopped. Tyrell was lying on the ground bleeding profusely of his abdomen, tainting the white landscape with the crimson red. He wasn’t moving. The figure had stopped and was turned into Tyrell’s direction. He heard Johnson’s muffled steps in the snow and turned. Johnson stop on his tracks, mesmerized by the eyes that faced him. The figure in front of him was human in appearance and was wearing human clothes, with a protective mask worn to protect against the snow and the minus temperatures that were being felt. His snow goggles were up on his forehead revealing the only part of his face that wasn’t covered, which was his eyes. Human and expressing fear. But with a violet color. And a cat like pupil. The Colonel become petrified, his brain unable for a few seconds to respond to the vision that was now concentrating on him, pointing the Elerium pistol it had on his hand to Johnson’s direction. A blast was shot and suddenly Johnson was projected back, but as he was hitting the ground his training clicked and he moved in the air to soften the effects of the fall and prepare to respond to the threat. As he landed on the snow he was already turning to lay down on his ground and point his weapon at the man. But the cringing pain that come from his chest disabled him to point and fire as he saw the figure start running away again. He looked down at his chest that was pinning his weapon arm to the ground and saw that it was littered with small holes, with blood coming out of them. The armor had worked to prevent him from getting killed from the alien blast, but barely. If he had taken such hit on the back or head he probably wouldn’t be alive anymore. Seeing that the man was getting further away he laid on his back and used his free hand to key his microphone. “Johnson here. I need some assistance. There’s still a hostile in the area and he almost got me”. Hopkins immediately acknowledged the order. As he waited for his men to arrive he got his medical pack off his emergency medical pack off his belt and started to stop the bleeding. While taking care of himself he started thinking about this new apparition and how hell was getting loose again.

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March 11th, 1999
Las Vegas International Airport, Nevada, US
Eva Johannes didn’t even noticed the 747 hitting on the tarmac during its landing. She was used to getting sleep wherever possible, thanks to long nights of study and assignments at college and she only woke up when the passenger next to her bumped into her leg on the way out. She looked around and saw that almost all of the passengers of the flight had already gotten up and were waiting to leave the craft. Until a recent time such travels made by X-Com personnel were made using planes available to the force, but budget and operational constrains had limited their availability. So she had to take a commercial flight from Frankfurt to New York, and then another to Las Vegas were she would be picked up by a ride from Area 51. She checked her watch and it marked four o’clock in the afternoon. No, wait, eight hours less here, so it should be around eight in the morning. And a pretty damn jet lag to go with it, she noticed as she also got up and collected her jacket from the storage compartment on top of her seat. The recent capture of a live alien by the Area 51 team had brought quite a stir to the scientific community of X-Com. While most of the research involving extraterrestrial biological entities were made at the American base, she had petitioned to be present in the interrogations that were being conducted on the creature, in hope to understand more of the Elerium physics. And she also wanted to take a look at the equipment captured in the larger UFO, hoping that it might bring light into its propulsion system. She also would liaison with the scientists at the American facility to try to coordinate better the research efforts. The basic qualities of Elerium had by now been determined. Apparently the extraterrestrial element possessed the ability of turning itself into antimatter when bombarded with accelerated particles. The initial tests had shown it to contain more energy on his mass than plutonium, without possessing the radioactive qualities of the former. But it still gave them no clue of how it was used to power the alien’s weapons and UFO propulsion systems. Theoretically it was possible to use it for military purposes, placing a small quantity on top of a missile together with an accelerator programmed to hit it with particles when the rocket reached its target. But the scientific staff had decided to discard the idea, also because of the implications it would have if a terrorist or a dictator got a piece of the material and also how to use it. When she left the plane she proceeded to the luggage retrieval area where she got her bags. She wasn’t allowed to take with her any of her notes because of security so her stuff was minimal. As she got all of the cases two police officers came up to her. One of them was huge and had blonde hair while the other was the exact opposite, short and dark haired. The smaller one opened his mouth to speak to her, while the other one kept a watch on everyone near them. “Excuse me madam, is your name Eva Johannes?” His look was emotionless. Looking at him, she noticed there was something strange about the uniformed man in front of her. “Ja, I mean yes. Why?”

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“Can I see your identification please?” She handed him her German passport which he looked briefly before giving it back to her. “Is there a problem?” “I am afraid so madam. Please come with us” “Why? Where are we going?” “Madam, please, this is only temporary and will be quickly explained. There’s nothing to worry about. My partner will take your bags” She looked at both of them and realized that resistance would be futile. “Very well, let’s get this over with”. They both placed themselves on her side and the three of them headed for a door that had a Restricted Area sign. Going through it, they guided her through a maze of corridors and rooms, without saying anything, until they finally went through a door leading to a parking lot where a black sedan with darkened windows was parked. The taller one opened the rear door and motioned her to enter, which she did. A man dressed in a civilian suit was inside and after she sat down and the door was closed he gave her a device that looked like a pair of binoculars. “Please look through this” “What is going on?” “Please look. I won’t ask again” He produced a pistol from an armpit holster and pointed it at her. She took the strange device and looked. Only darkness greeted her eyes. “I see nothing”. “There’s a button on the right side. Press it”. She did and her eyes saw a brief flash that left her blind for some seconds making her drop the device. The man picked it and looked at it. He then let go a sigh of relief and put away his pistol. “Captain Forrester, West North American X-Com Command. Welcome to Nevada Miss Johannes” She took his hand and gave it a small shake. “What was that all about Captain?” “I’m sorry about the deception. It is a part of the security measures we have installed for all X-Com personnel. We needed to be sure you were who claimed to be and this machine right here just did a retinal scan to check for your identity. You passed”. He pointed at the front of the car. “Those two policeman seated in the front are, in fact, Corporal Pershing and Trooper Kowalsky, also of the team based at Area 51”. “A full security detachment just for me? What is going on here?” “Let’s just say we don’t want any guest to be harmed, Dr. Johannes. I’m sorry but I can’t say anymore and we should get in our way”. “Very well”. The driver started the car and made it roll, heading for the highway. On the other side of the parking lot, Evan Blake came out from behind a trash canister and saw the limousine drive away. Now what was that all about, he thought? As he was waiting to pick his luggage upon arriving at Las Vegas, his boss consenting to the trip after he had finally convinced him that he wasn’t on a wild goose chase. He had noticed the two policemen the moment they had entered the area. He saw them approaching a blonde woman and talking to her. But their actions were strange. First, one

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of them was more interested in the people around them, as if they were looking for threats. And both of them looked more like military people the way the walked and acted. When all of them left through an exit restricted to airport personnel, he knew something was up. He grabbed his bag and looked for the farthest parking lot, running as fast as he could. His instinct was right it seemed. It could even be that Colonel Johnson was inside the car, but he didn’t managed to look inside. “Well, I will see ya at Area 51, count on it”, he said, before heading out back to the terminal to get a taxi. On the other end of the terminal, an eye stopped looking through a magnification lenses and put the camera down as Blake turned away. The person then placed all his material on a travel bag and headed out to another parking lot.

Area 51, Nevada, US
Williams had followed Johnson to the storage area where they had talked before. The Colonel didn’t said what he wanted to discuss, but he could guess that it should be serious, according to the man’s expression. When they reached the room, Johnson closed the door and locked it. Afterwards he produced a small device from his pocket and turned it on. “Anti-listening device. I asked Dr. Mantell to come up with one, so that we could assure that our conversations remain private”. “You could have asked me for one of those. The scientific personnel back at the Agency has devised a lot of them, I’m sure”. “Yes, but what I wonder is what else they have conceived” His voice took a sombre tone. “Colonel, I’m supposed to be the devious person here. Please keep that role up to me and say what’s on your mind”. “You heard about the Alaska assault?” “Yes and let me congratulate you for your exit in stopping the alien’s actions. I’m sorry for your wounds”. “Well, you are the second person to know, besides Commander Illyuschenko. They weren’t made by the aliens but by a human using one of their weapons”. “One of your men being mind controlled like it happened on LA?” “No. Someone who was approaching the UFO at the time of the assault, unaware of our presence. Who was carrying one of their weapons”. “A human working for the aliens as an operative?” “You tell me. What I want to know is how did they get anyone helping them, besides that mind control thing. He wasn’t under their influence, since we had killed all the aliens by the time he arrived at the scene, which means that he was about to meet them and had a gun with him, which means that he didn’t fully trust them”. Williams thought of his own conclusions about the conspirators but he refrained from saying a thing.

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“There are things you don’t need to know Colonel and that could endanger your life if you did”. “Let me tell you what’s endangering my life! What is jeopardizing this whole operation is the amount of secrets you intelligence people keep to yourselves! Did you knew about this already?!” Williams took a step back. The Colonel looked as if he was about to strangle him. “Colonel Johnson, all the indications I have so far would point that such collaborators would remain hidden to preserve their identities. You meeting with him was an unlucky coincidence”. “Tell that to Tyrell, the pilot who got killed! And I got one last thing for you to know about that human. He had the stature of an ordinary man but his eyes where alien like. I don’t know what that means, but somebody must be playing Dr. Frankenstein up there on the stars!” Or down here on Earth, Williams concluded. “Very well, Colonel. I trust that you haven’t said that to anyone else?” “You bet I didn’t. The story is that the alien who hit me ran away and died in the middle of the snow storm that hit the place hours later. But from this day on, my men have orders to keep their guard up even when there’s only humans around”. “Most likely you won’t have another incident like that again Colonel. But please do take all necessary precautions. And you have my word. When I can talk about it you will be fully briefed. But for now some information has to be contained or the danger of it coming out to the open would be much bigger”. “You bet you will tell me. ‘Cause if you don’t, I will personally give you to the aliens for them to make experiments on you Mr. Williams”. He wasn’t joking. On the other side of the base, Eva Johannes had just finished her early lunch on the base mess hall, escorted by Dr. Mantell. They had discussed several aspects of the research that was being done on alien technology over the meal and as they were leaving the room she noticed a paper sheet posted near the door announcing today’s film session. “’The Day The Earth Stood Still’? What film is that, Dr?” Dr. Mantell let go of a short laugh and said: “Well, some of the troops decided to start playing films using the base projection room. We are not allowed to go to the nearest town so sometimes life here can be boring. But they decided that they needed stuff about their job to motivate them, so they bought a lot of scientific fiction movies, with the plot of all of them being extraterrestrials”. “You mean movies like that one I saw in my childhood, what was his name, ‘ET’?” “Actually no, although I would have liked to see it again. That one and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ are actually censored and banned, due to them being, as Sergeant Hopkins put it, ‘alien propaganda to take away our will to fight them’. No, last week it was ‘Independence Day’, this one is a classic from the 50’s”. “You Americans are crazy”.

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“Why, just because we here believe in aliens?” Dr. Mantell smiled. He was much different from her superior back at Mother One, she thought. “Speaking of which, when can I see him? Or is it a her?” “It’s an it actually. They are asexual, although we have found some biological traces of sexual organs in some of the bodies”. “Well, I think there’s an interrogation session going on at the minute. You could assist it if you wanted”. “I would like that”. “Very well, but prepare yourself”. He led her outside of a mess hall and through a series of scientific laboratories where she saw other scientists going over pieces of strange alien equipment, some of it combined with more Earth like materials. She greeted them, but few of them bothered to answer back, which she understood. It also happened to her to find time a rare commodity lately. They finally reached a door and the doctor punched in a code on the numeric keypad outside it. The sign on the door was quite explicit: “WARNING: BIOLOGICAL HAZARD. DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT FULL AUTHORIZATION”. When they crossed she saw that the entrance was guarded on the inside by two X-Com troopers, both carrying M4 automatic rifles and wearing full body armor. They didn’t pay any attention to her. On the room there were two military men together with a collection of scientists and civilian personnel. She looked carefully at the neck collar of the officers. The closest one had an insignia there with three circles with an X on the middle of them, which made him a Captain. The other one wore what she called the tenticular X insignia, the same worn by Colonel MacTaggert at Mother One. That made him Colonel Johnson. They were all seated on chairs, looking at a big glass window that occupied an entire wall of the room. When she turned her head on that direction she saw what they were looking at and she felt a need to vomit. She barely constrained herself while looking at the alien. It was sitting on a chair in the middle of a room that contained only a table and a bed. A civilian and a military man were also together with the alien, trying to communicate with him through the use of a computer that was built into one of the walls, but having no success for it simply made no reaction. She turned to Doctor Mantell. “Can he understand English?” “We simply don’t know. They must be able to understand our languages but that skill could be restricted to only some of them. In any case we doubt it would be able to replicate human sounds. Right now we are trying to use mathematics but it still won’t respond. We don’t know if it’s because it simply doesn’t understand or if it refuses to communicate”. The alien turned his head and looked at the one-way window. Although Eva knew he couldn’t see it, she felt that it was sensing the presence of all the people on the subjacent room. “He somehow knows that we are here watching him. They must be able to detect thoughts even though this specimen right here doesn’t have the ability to mind control like we have detected on some of the others”. The Colonel noticed their presence and 149

made an interrogating look. Mantell lead Johannes closer to him and made the proper presentations. “This alien seems to be giving you a hard time Colonel, how can we communicate with it?” “You don’t want to know, Miss Johannes” His voice turned cold and professional. “What do you mean?” “I just got orders from Commander Illyuschenko telling me to use every possible mean to extract information from the alien that doesn’t endanger his life. That’s why some of this civilians are here”. “What?!” “They show no mercy to us, Doctor. And we need for it to start speaking as soon as possible for us to learn more about them before it’s too late”. “That’s barbaric!” “Your work is very important Doctor in the fight against the aliens. And the nature of it shields you from being in the frontline and seeing their atrocities. Believe me, if you had seen what I did, you would want to kill them yourself personally”. “The ends don’t justify the means, Colonel!” “Moral is a curious and weird concept, Doctor, even for humans. While it has kept some of us from killing our neighbor, the aliens just ignore them. And why shouldn’t they? We are no better than cattle for them. And one thing I learned is that if you want to win you have to be as vicious as your enemy or he will ever have an psychological advantage over you”. “And what if you had to kill a human instead Colonel?” She started clenching her hands. “I have had, madam. And believe me, with them I can feel remorse. With the thing over there, there’s nothing to be sorry for”. “Well thinking like that could just be the reason why we are on this mess!” Her heart racing, she ignored the looks of everyone else in the room and left it through the door, furious at the Colonel. Even the alien seemed to sense some emotional distress in the hidden room next to him and he turned his head towards the direction of the door. Mantell turned to go after her, but Johnson stopped him grabbing his arm. “This is between me and her Doctor, and I prefer to resolve such matters myself, if you please”. The scientist relaxed and stepped away, nodding. Johnson headed out for the door. Picking up his pace, he eventually found her in the mess hall. The soldiers that were starting to have lunch looked at both of them, in curiosity. She still was breathing heavily while turning to him and saying: “I’m sorry for my reaction back there Colonel, but I still object against the prospect of using torture in another life form”. “Doctor…Johannes, isn’t it?” She nodded. “Apologies accepted. An I wish to assure you that we won’t resort to physical torture unless we really have to. We will first try other softer means”

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“I don’t want to know, Colonel. Do your job. I will do mine. If you excuse me”. She turned her back on him and left, towards the scientific area. Johnson scratched is head in hopelessness, looked at this watch and headed out through one of the corridors into the direction of his office. King, Jones and Garcia watched him leave and then went back to eating their meal. After a second Jones said, almost casually: “Looks like the CO might get lucky”. “Can it Jones. Nothing of our business and you’re getting the wrong picture as usual”. King kept his voice low and continued eating, disregarding the comments of the AfroAmerican trooper. “Man, nothing of our business you say? We’ve been on a one-gender base for months were women are harder to find than UFOs and the Colonel already tries to score on the first lady that I ever saw here? Even when I was back on Special Forces we would see women and occasionally they would even wear a uniform! Officer’s privilege, my ass!” “The Colonel is OK. Even the big man needs to relieve himself once in a while”. Garcia kept putting huge doses of the daily chow into his mouth while making the comment, having trouble saying some of the words. King raised his head and said: “Well, welcome to X-Com, troopers! Against aliens, under budgets and sexual abstinence we fight”. Jones just dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Garcia also stopped eating and smiling from one ear to the other added: “maybe we should get hombre Jones a date with the critter that they have locked on C Section”. “You mean, like those looneys they show occasionally on the night news making rallies to show their welcome for the extraterrestrial brothers and ask them to show themselves to Earth? Man, is that was those meetings are all about? They have a hard-on and want to have galactic intercourse?” Both him and King by then couldn’t control their laughing anymore and the remaining trooper annoyed and deciding to go over his lunch with his mouth shut.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Once again, Illyuschenko felt the need to shoot the face that was in front of him. The rat faced man acted exactly like a weasel and talked like one also. The General Secretary had told him about the atmosphere in the latest meetings of the Council of Funding Nations and now the rumors were on plain sight. “Councilman Likov, I don’t need to tell you how disastrous our country’s decision is! Cut back funding for X-Com is an error at this point!” The damn politician took a deep breath, taking the posture of a schoolmaster that was putting the student in place and giving a lecture. “Commander, the Charter allows us to change our funding, based on the general performance of X-Com every month. And we are most displeased for the results the Russian team has shown in these months, therefore our decision is final. Unless there are some changes in overall performance, we will cut back on our funding at the end of this month.”

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“But if you reduce it, then it will be much harder for the teams to hunt the UFOs, you idiot! We need the funds to build the second Russian base! And to buy the planes necessary to equip it!” Illyuschenko was making a huge effort not to raise his hands from where their rested on the chair’s arms and smack the monitor in front of him. “Then I suggest you pay more attention to the needs of your country, Commander! You have denied everyone of our requests! And other nations are having more success, even smaller ones than us, humiliating our country!” “Don’t blame me for the politicians having messed around Russia for decades Mr. Likov! Those nations have resources that we once possessed and their military cooperate more than ours!” “Your X-Com troopers have no respect for the chain of command! They refuse to follow the orders of Red Army officials that are superior from them! And you refuse to allow them access to a military installation in our own country!” At least I’m not the only one angry here now, Illyuschenko thought. “Mr. Councilman, they are not a part of Russia’s military forces anymore. And they receive their orders just from one person and that’s me! And under the Charter the bases are UN territory that can be entered only under the authorization of the commander of the installation!” This is pointless, he thought. The bastard won’t even try to cooperate. Looking at his watch while Likov was firing another round of accusations he saw that he was already late for his other meeting. He cut through the angry speech the man was firing. “Mr. Likov I need to tend to other matters now, but be sure that this isn’t over! Good afternoon sir!”. Moving his hand towards the communications terminal he reached a button on the side of the screen and touched it, ignoring the weasel’s words to remain on the channel. The image was suddenly replaced by the red X on a white circle, both standing in the middle of a blue background. He pressed another button and a light blue flag with a representation of Earth on white traces suddenly raised itself and disappeared on a box close to the roof. An electronic wall suddenly appeared, showing Earth in three dimensions. Moving with the controls built into his armchair, he made it rotate. It received all information available from radar sites on the ground and satellites. Most of the globe, like the Pacific and the Poles had a gray tone into it remembering that there were no assets monitoring the area for UFO activity. He sometimes monitored interceptions from here but now it was going to be used for a war council. Moving the pointer with a small joystick he clicked on a menu and chose the Communications button. Another submenu replaced the other one on the screen and he chose another icon. Immediately the image of Earth started to turn and afterwards it centered and zoomed on Japan. A blue square icon appeared together with the words “Complex YY-18”. A window popped up and suddenly Colonel Yamashita’s face commander of the Far East team appeared. His face had cuts on it that hadn’t completely healed and Illyuschenko wondered if the man had taken into sword training for his team. Looking another window that had come up over China he saw the now Lieutenant Colonel Chen staring at him. He seemed most displeased and the leader of X-Com decided that it must still have to do with the FE command being led by Yamashita, and putting the still almost inexistent Chinese team taking orders from a Japanese. That would probably change, he thought, at

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the next Council meeting since Japan was also being fed up of dealing with the Chinese, accusing them of stepping on their way constantly. Another square and a word this time in another continent: “Depot S-4”. It had been built in the middle of Kenya and it was being used for storage of many of the alien artifacts. Colonel Waartens, a South African was in charge of it, although he hated what he called “caretaker duty” and was constantly requesting resources to allow him to start performing interceptions and ground attacks. That was even a weirder mix, Illyuschenko thought, considering that there were also Egyptians and Nigerians on the team, all led by an full blood Afrikaner. At least he didn’t show any signs of believing in apartheid. The computer continued connecting to the different bases and when all field commanders were online, Illyuschenko spoke “Hello again, gentlemen. To be short, I’ve just had a word with my country’s councilman. Together with China, Australia and Nigeria, they will also be cutting their contributions in the next monthly budget if we don’t improve at their eyes”. He looked at everyone, looking for reactions. “My government was highly impressed with the Alaskan operation, sir. They most likely will increase their contribution” “Yes, Colonel Johnson. But, unfortunately it probably won’t be enough to cover the money we will loose. Worse still, base maintenance is really eating into our budget now, which will limit our ability to equip more bases and expand our area of operations and also to replace lost equipment”. “What about the bloody UN? Can’ the Secretary General give us more fund?” The Scottish accent of MacTaggert made it hard to be understood. “They would if they could, but they are even in a tighter situation than us”. “Can’t we just borrow money then? This is insane! We are fighting to defend Earth and we still have to do it with a low budget?!” Colonel Jackson seemed distressed, to the point of moving his hands a lot. “Jackson,” Johnson cut in, “we are not a ‘legal’ organization. We officially don’t exist and I doubt any bank on Earth would give the funding we need unless it had some guarantee about us. We can’t just mortgage our bases and get our Skyrangers through a lease system”. “Furthermore, we can’t reveal our existence, under the penalty of being hunt down by the aliens and civilization breaking into a chaos. No, we need another answer here”. But which one? Illyuschenko thought. Finding no sudden answer, he turned to soften the problem as much as he could. “All base construction will have to be halved by now. But we will continue with the expansion and re-equipment of the teams. And we will have to cut into scientific investigation also. Dr. Chevereux won’t be pleased, but right now we need more bullets than lab rats fiddling with toys. We are better armed and protected right now and the latest encounters have shown us that we have closed the technological gap between us and the aliens on the ground. And that’s where this war will be won”.

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Chapter Seven – Revival
March 17th, 1999
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, US
It was almost amazing to see that the Sectoid constrained to the chair had at least one feeling in common with humans. Pain. The restrained alien’s eyes and whatever few muscles it had on his face showed tension and stress from time to time under the effects of whatever the unseen men on the room were doing to him. The cameraman had shot the interrogation well, Williams thought, at least he was sparing the audience the view of whatever tortures the CIA questioners were inflicting on the alien. An unseen human voice kept asking the same questions, making it sounds like a mantra. In English, then in French, German, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and every major language that existed on the planet. Think of the Babel Tower that would connect men to the skies, what a coincidence. The horrific spectacle lasted for a ten more seconds until finally, the alien opened his mouth and tried to speak. It had actually taken many hours of such equal treatment, Williams considered, but there was no point to see it all and there were other more important things to discuss. He was then moved by faceless figures next to a monitor and a keyboard and his arm was set free. The human voice asked merciless: “Do you understand English?” The Sectoid looked at the keyboard and, after some moments of hesitation, punched a few keys. The answer appeared white in the black screen: YES. “Who are you?” THE STARSPAWN. “What is the star spawn?” ALL THE LIVING BEINGS COMBINED TOGETHER BY THE WILL. “And what is that will?” THE WILL THAT RULES US, THAT WILL ALSO MAKE YOU A PART OF US. “Are you here to dominate Earth?” YES THE THIRD PLANET FROM THE SYSTEM YOU CALL SOL IS OURS. Even though Williams had already seen the video, he still felt a chill down his spine whenever this part came up. And the rest of the assessment team that were watching the projection also went cold, suddenly realizing that Armageddon was more closer than they ever could have imagined. The interrogator’s confusion was apparent as he tried to remember another question. He tried another line of approach: “What is your species? Who do you call yourselves?” WE ARE THE HIERARCHY WE ARE THE STARSPAWN THAT IS OUR NAME. You are a fine mess we have on our hands. Williams thought as the rest of the interrogation went on until the recording finished. The lights went back up and a graveyard silence stepped into the room. There were no more

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doubts, only one certain: Mankind faced extinction, slavery or something worse. “Let’s start by going through the resume of all the information the two-day non-stop interrogation took”. “Are they still questioning him?” MacAllister asked, afraid about what other horrors might come out. “He died during interrogation. From what the scientific staff could determine during the autopsy, the reason was fatigue”. “Jesus!” MacAllister coughed, or pretended to, taking his hand to his mouth at the same time to hide the shock. “They didn’t want to risk that it wouldn’t be cooperative next time, so they took multiple rechecks of its answers”. That still made Williams sick every time he thought about it. Pretty soon, we might be getting back to barbarism because of the aliens. “It was necessary”. Yes, but was it justifiable? “In any case, we now know that this Hierarchy, as these Sectoids call themselves are part of a larger invasion force designed as the ‘Starspawn’”. “How do the other aliens fit into that picture?” For the first time on the meetings, Williams could see Parker actually showing any kind of interest on the subjects being discussed. “Apparently the Sectoids and the other race thus far discovered on Earth, the so-called ‘Floaters’ are working in common under this ‘Starspawn’. Whatever the term exactly means is completely unknown”. “An alliance or coalition of extraterrestrial races?” MacAllister volunteered. “Or that the Sectoids, or some other species, have defeated and put into submission the other extraterrestrials. The autopsies of the Floaters show that they have been massively changed by genetic engineering and surgery. Their ability to hover in the air comes actually from a cybernetic implant”. Interesting, Williams thought while assessing the possibility thrown by Parker. “Which would also explain the tone used by the Sectoid on his replies to our queries regarding the Floaters. Although it is an error assigning human emotions to the aliens, the interrogators’ conclusions pointed to the fact that he sees them as inferior life-forms, the same way as he sometimes talked about humans, displaying what seemed like contempt”. “A possibility to exploit, perhaps, the existence of power relations between the aliens?” Parker suddenly turned into a Machiavellian tone, but more jokingly as if it was a rhetorical question. “If we ever come up with a plan that would assure success. But it’s doubtful that the Floaters could see us as allies and that they would even risk going against their masters. We are nothing more than an insect to be crushed in order for them to achieve their goals. Why would you change sides into the weaker part?” Why would the conspirators care about humanity if they had achieved an agreement with the aliens that would guarantee their survival on an alien dominated Earth, Williams concluded for himself. He continued with his briefing.

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“The information he gave about his home star allowed NASA to identify it as Zeta Reticuli, a double-star system situated on the Orion Constellation. That doesn’t tell us much, but he also mentioned the Hierarchy’s motives behind the invasion: to improve their structured society. And through the development of hybrids between them and the human species”. Another gasp filled the room. “Wait, there’s more. Apparently they are organized like a hive, with Soldiers and Workers being the lower castes, then up to the leadership. Which the alien confirmed that possess psionic powers capable of controlling or demoralizing humans. They are also behind the cattle slaughtering and the human abductions, realized for the purpose of obtaining nutrients and genetic materials for crossbreeding of the species and also to make clones capable of infiltrating human society”. All men in the room stood on shock. Williams knew that he needed to get them working. They would all have to find ways to deal with the terrible truth that they had just learned. He had to live with an even bigger burden. At least the interrogation had confirmed many of his assumptions so far. Colonel Johnson had undoubtedly met with a hybrid during the Alaska raid. But what he wouldn’t know was that probably the hybrid might be working with the conspirators. “What about the composition of their forces? Their tactical plans? He didn’t mention anything about it?” MacAllister seemed almost desperate. “He was just a drone, one of their lower castes, what we would call a basic infantry soldier. Why would he know? And they can be not telling their lower ranks what their real plans are, in order to keep them a secret from us”. Parker countered. “We need to check this information with data coming from other methods. And we need to capture one of their higher castes to know more about their plans”. “Also, one thing that can be assumed from their answers is that they must have a base on our solar system, since it can be assumed that it would be nearly impossible to control such an operation from that far, even with their technological resources. From the numbers of UFOs we have been tracking over Earth’s atmosphere this isn’t a limited operation. They must have huge amounts of resources, probably of entire planets and solar systems”. More bad news on the way. “The most logical conclusion is that we can’t stop them military. We need to find out more about them, otherwise it would be like trying to stop the sea with a sand castle”. “Can’t NASA use their resources to find the alien base?” Williams already knew the answers for that query. “No. It’s like looking for a needle on a haystack. The solar system might be small, when compared to the galaxy, but there’s still a lot of space for them to be hidden. And even if we found it we probably couldn’t do anything about it. We couldn’t just arm and launch a Shuttle against it”. More consternation fell into the room. “However there are other pressing matters that we need to act upon. As we had predicted gentlemen, alien infiltration is a serious risk in our societies and might even be spreading through other ways that we had never imagined”. He pressed a button on the video remote control and the machine started playing the tape again. This time the recording was of a live news clip. The recording of one of the major networks showed a manifestation being held next to Congress of several hundred people holding banners and shouting words. The female reporter on the scene was interviewing

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one of the protesters, a bearded male that had a huge sign where a Sectoid’s head, painted in black with almond shaped eyes could be seen. “Sir, why are you were?” She pointed the microphone at her. He unexpectedly grabbed it and started answering loud: “We are here to demand that the US government recognizes and welcomes our extraterrestrial brothers! The truth cannot be hidden anymore! It’s out there on the skies!” “You believe that the recent unexplained phenomena seen is the work of aliens life forms?” “Yes! Enough of the propaganda and lies that the government is saying! Let’s welcome our saviors! It’s the second coming of the Lord!” Another click of the button and the image disappeared into blank while Johnson paused to recollect his thoughts. “The FBI has confirmed that local and state police report manifestations like this happening all over the major cities in the country. And the NSA has also checked, through their interception of foreign transmissions that this is happening worldwide. If it keeps growing like it was for the past months, pretty soon people will be starting asking questions to their elected officials and so will the media about what is the government doing about this”. And the intelligence and military will also be under constant scrutiny, which will only make things worse. More bad news on the way, Williams thought and then cursed it. “We need answers to deal with this”. Parker was so quick to respond that Williams was surprise. The CIA man simply said, keeping his eyes down: “Spread rumors”. “Excuse me Parker?” What was the man talking about, Williams thought? “A few unidentified phone calls. With phony, almost unbelievable stories that also can explain what is going on. Pretty soon everyone gets confused because of the contradiction between all versions and decide to forget the whole story, thinking that the government must be correct. Of course, this is public and media manipulation and, if it ever gets find out we will be spending the rest of our lives in jail”. “Out of the question! That goes against all that we believe in!” After speaking, Williams still kept his mouth opened in surprise of what had just been proposed. “All work in the intelligence business, besides Davis over there, whose job is to hunt down our foreign counterparts. So, we all know what this is all about. Rules get broken on this business, so let’s not have a futile discussion now about morale or ethics and let’s consider the alternatives: one, we do nothing about this and until eventually the whole truth comes out like a bomb, that the government has been hiding the truth from everybody; two, we admit it and chaos sets in, national panic that will only hinder our efforts; three, we come up with a temporary excuse that will only delay and worsen the problem; or four, we act to do our role, which is to protect the public, which doesn’t know that they are being manipulated by the aliens. What is at stake here is how far we are willing to go to fight these aliens, but we, the ones in this room and our superiors. If we win our actions will be eventually discovered but they will be morally justified. If we loose there will be no country, no media, no courts to judge us!”

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Suddenly the words of the alien during the interrogation came to Johnson’s mind and he knew already the action to take. Only one thing left to decide. He looked at Davis, the FBI man showing to be going through the same dilemma, made even worse for he, unlike the rest of them, was a policeman. Sworn to uphold the law, and on this case it stated that the government was prohibited of spreading disinformation. Both their eyes crossed and after two seconds Davis lowered his eyes, in concession. All the other members kept quiet, already coming up with the same conclusion. Is that how they started? Williams considered, a cold darkness filling his heart. By coming to the logical conclusion that they needed to give away all they values, their feelings, their humanity in order to survive? How all the secrecy begun, how the conspiracy started, years and decades ago. Are we going to come up with the same conclusions as them, deciding that collaborating with the aliens is our only way to stay alive? “Very well, but this will go up to the DCI for final authorization. If we have it we will then start making up a plan”. The silence in the room indicated the consensus of all men. At least when the shit hit the fan they could always allege that they were following superior orders.

March 18th, 1999
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
Larianov was getting bored with the technological briefing he was receiving. He had studied to be a party bureaucrat and had managed to rise to the Central Committee of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the break-up of 1991. The last time he had any sort of scientific interest had been long lost in the memories of his childhood, back to the days passed on the CPSU’s Youth Pioneers when everyone had their fair share of enthusiasm about the space conquests of the Soviet Union. But upon passing the teenage years other dreams had come, fostered by a father that had the right connections and a strong will to succeed. And finally his dreams had come through, when the old Yeltsin fool body’s had finally succumbed to a lifetime of abuse, allowing for him, then vicepresident to assume his proper place. The following elections the year after had been easy to win. And this is what I need to keep things as they are right now, he thought. “Dr. Ziguanine, please stop this awful presentation! What I need to know is how we can properly use the laser to kill these invaders!” His tongue startled the scientist who then recomposed himself and talking with a hurt dignity then spoke: “The targeting system is as much as we can do. The computers simply can’t deal yet with the amount of calculations necessary to hit an UFO at it’s full speed. Or at least keep the beam locked into target long enough to assure it’s destruction. That is also because of the deterioration of the beam power by a series of events, such as clouds, air diffusion and so. That also makes it impossible to hit anything on our atmosphere.” “So we spend a big portion of our meager resources for nothing?!” Larianov felt like about to explode. “No sir.” Larianov looked at the man carefully, warning him to watch out for his next words. The scientist just plainly ignored him, giving an almost imperceptible look of content for someone so stupid. “We have done a lot of work before on particle beam

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weapons, which are more powerful than lasers. We can apply that work to the Umbrella project and then, we will have a weapon capable of hitting anything on space or Earth. If any craft lands on our territory it will be immediately destroyed.” “And how long will it take?” “A couple of months sir, at the best estimate”. “I expect to see practical results as soon as possible Dr. Ziguanine and this time don’t disappoint me!” The scientist looked appalled but collected his presentation material, excused himself and left the room. When the door closed, Larianov turned to the head of the foreign intelligence service, which had kept quiet until now and asked: “Mr. Verchenko, what is the evaluation of the SVK over the worldwide repercussions of this weapon?” “At national level the initial test has surprised a lot of Western governments. And their decision not to bring this up to the UN or into public view shows that they don’t want to risk the effects of public opinion knowing about our new weapon, because of it’s disestablishing factor. Our estimate regarding other world players aware of the laser also shows that, while making discreet warnings, they won’t do anything about it”. “And the aliens?” “They either don’t perceive it as a threat, which is understandable, or otherwise they would have attacked against it. Another possibility is that they failed to detect it, which is also likely due to the absence of alien craft during the test”. “So, if we manage to bring Umbrella into his full potential we would be able to surprise them?” “Yes, and get an upper hand. They would have to react to it and the weapon would make that very costly in terms of military losses. Better yet, we might offer our assistance to other countries, in exchange of commercial or monetary assets. That way we could circumvent the actual necessity of X-Com and build our own defense network, directly responsible to us”. “Very well. What else is to report about the bastard Illyuschenko’s force?” “They are into deep financial problems. They have overextended their deployment and right now a lot of bases are undermanned and under equipped. Other nations, besides us, are also complaining about their lack of success over their territory. In specific terms, they have about five bases that can be described as operational, with the others being handled by skeleton crews. The two in North America, the one in Germany, the other in the Caucasus area and the final one in Japan. More grumbling will come from that fact, especially since they are all located in the northern hemisphere. Which might allow for the necessary majority required to take the changes we have been asking, specially in the Charter aspects regarding chain of command and release of weapons data”. “Data you have failed to supply so far”. “The security mechanisms built into their information network make it impossible for my operatives to access it without compromising themselves. Weapons research data is only available to the senior military commanders and specific scientific personnel. My

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services need more time. We should ask our Defense Minister why our glorious armed forces haven’t succeeded so far in recovering an UFO instead!” When on being attacked better to deflect the fire into someone else, Verchenko thought. The final men on the room kept silenced for a couple of seconds until he finally tried to come up with an explanation. “The Charter gives X-Com complete priority upon the assault and recovery of alien craft, in order to restrain public knowledge. And our forces simply don’t have the amount of preparation and material necessary to intercept or raid UFOs. Furthermore, every time X-Com manages to defeat the crew of an UFO they limit the access to the area, preventing our forces to get access to it. Besides engaging on a full confrontation with them there’s no other way. That unless we had command over the Russian team”. “And Illyuschenko would prefer to die than allowing that”. No wonder the old CPSU had so much political control over the Soviet Union’s Armed Forces. Military just couldn’t grasp the politics behind warfare, Larianov thought while cursing again the commander of X-Com.

March 20th, 1999
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Another UFO had been detected as it approached the North American continent through the Pacific Ocean, but this time it headed out for Mexico. After consultations with the Mexican authorities, the team had been given the go to assault the craft after it had landed. The Skyranger had then flown a course that had led it crossing the border over the Rio Grande, before heading south into the Yucatan Peninsula. The satellite reconnaissance had provided sketchy details. It seemed that the fast mover had landed on a deep-forested area that contained unusual natural elevations. But this time they wouldn’t alert the aliens of their presence by landing close to the craft. The men on his team were paid to develop infiltration skills and this time they would sneak on the aliens. Jones moved again on his seat again, trying to get to find a better position. Failing, he then spoke: “Man, we needed to take the change and drop by at Cancun, you know what I mean? I could use some days off this crap since my butt is getting squared by these damn Russian seats”. King was seated in front of him and looked as if he was sleeping, his head hanging against the hull of the Skyranger and his arms locked in front of him, holding his laser rifle. He half opened his eyes and spoke: “Why don’t you suggest that to the Big Lady?” “The what? What are you talking about King?” “You never heard of her? I thought her reputation went over the Army, but I guess you Navy boys tend to keep your ears full of water”. “King, what the fuck are you talking about?” “Base rumor has it that Captain Sheila Markovitch, the Gulf War hero of the 82nd Airborne Division is about to sign in with X-Com”.

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“Wait a minute. You are talking about ‘the’ Markovitch that during Somalia single handily managed to save an entire platoon that had been ambushed?” Jones gasped. “None but her. But like I said: base rumor. Still, from all of the sudden the Colonel has ordered the construction of separate living quarters for women”. “Markovitch is a woman? Holy shit!” “Just get a hold on your hormones while near her Jones. Otherwise she will cut your balls and force you to eat them for breakfast, from what I’ve been heard”. A couple of hours later, the Skyranger landed in the middle of a clearing in the tropical forest. Orders from Colonel Johnson had dictated that operational doctrine for the West team would be of stealthy maneuvers, in opposition of the frontal attacks that were being used by the East team and Captain Forrester was more than willing to comply with the order. After having secured the LZ, all the squads assembled themselves and started moving for their target, which laid some kilometers away keeping a complete silence. King was acting, as usual, detached from the main squads, this time accompanied with a rookie from Quebec that had arrived two days before from the Canadian military. The trooper looked anxious but had been well trained into sniper assistance role, so King didn’t mind the chance of things although his role in this deep forest greatly negated the range of which he could spot an enemy. When they had arrived at thee vicinity of the UFO the teams had deployed and King had been assigned the left flank since it had some elevations that could be used to pour fire down at the aliens. Moving carefully with Deschamps behind he stopped when he heard the muffled sound of laser fire, almost imperceptible to one that wasn’t used to it, on the distance followed by alien weapon’s discharges. “Gamma flank the snipers between us and the UFO”. The radio cracked with the voice of the Captain. King proceed as planned. Epsilon come up front and give us a hand suppressing these idiots in front of us!” Looking back to check on Deschamps he saw that the private looked back at him with a questioning look. “They can handle themselves. Let’s get moving”. They continued through the thick deep forest, now all-quiet from the usual bird and other animals’ noises. The place looks too quiet, King thought, too damn quiet. Then he looked at one of the mounts and saw the reason. Two Floaters were coming in from inside the deeply forested hill that was in front of them, through some opening that was completely with illumination. They probably had also heard the gunfire at the distance and were coming out to check the origin of the noise. King immediately got them and Deschamps quickly followed his motions. The trooper then crawled at the sniper’s indication joined with behind the large fallen down tree they were using for cover. King made a two sign and then pointed to the left. Both men took position and aimed for their targets. Looking through the sight he had installed in his laser rifle, King focused on the chest of the pink alien. Satisfied he then pressed the trigger on his weapon twice. Deschamps did the same thing a second afterwards and both aliens fell to the ground, releasing a gruesome death scream as they died. King immediately moved to the opening of the hill,

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while his partner kept the darkened hole covered. Upon reaching it, his hand went to his belt and grabbed a flare. He broke it to light it up and them threw it into the opening, taking a peek right afterwards. No movement or aliens inside. He gestured Deschamps to come forward and started going inside the cave, checking every shadow. The tunnel was about eight feet high and thirteen wide. He took small steps until he noticed something strange. King looked down and saw the reason: the ground had changed into stone. “What the hell?” he asked. And then he looked downwards and become even more surprised. Trooper Jones wasn’t having a good afternoon. Gamma team had flankered the snipers that were dropping fire into Alpha and Epsilon and had managed to surprise them, killing three in a few seconds of laser fire. Pershing had been hit, but the new armor had kept him alive, although if barely. But other aliens had attacked them at the same time, forcing them to dug in. He looked at the Lieutenant who was trying to contain the bleeding coming from Pershing’s stomach. Great, no help there. He and Rodriguez were trying to see the direction of the shots but the dense foliage prevented them from spotting the aliens. But after some attempts that were greeted by alien fire both of them decided it was a dangerous business. Fuck this shit, Jones thought. Rodriguez crawled up to him and, a few seconds later, a grenade went on the spot he was just laying at. “Shit! Pinche idiot cabrón!” “Would you mind swearing on a language comprehensible to the rest of us, Rodriguez?” “They are closing on us Jones. No time for Spanish classes now. Pretty soon more grenades will follow. We need some support here and fast!” “No can do. The LT just talked to the Capt. Epsilon is storming the UFO and Alpha also got hit by wondering aliens coming back from their jungle stroll and have taken casualties. Dexter bought his six foot”. “Shit! Why do they accept guys who look like if they drink their milk every morning, by mum’s orders?” “Shut up and let’s save our asses instead. Cover me and I will make a run for that elevation there on the right. Maybe I can get a better position to shoot back at them”. Rodriguez looked. A good fifty yards separated them from the small hill. “You will only waste your miserable life”. “Hey. I played running back at the Navy football team. Now just cover my ass”. Raising himself on a leap, he grabbed his laser rifle with both arms, as if holding a football and started running. He heard Rodriguez calling him an idiot, before the green bolts begun to fizzle their way to the point where his body was just one second ago, burning through the tropical vegetation and carving big chunks of the bushes. Rodriguez took opportunity and, getting up, brought his autocannon into play and fired high explosive rounds in the direction of the shots. “Rodriguez, get the fuck down!” The lieutenant was still trying to patch Pershing while taking notice of the situation. “Sorry sir. Too many crazy people on this squad. Just keep Pershing alive”. And he continued firing his cannon, blowing fair shares of the forest that hid the aliens.

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Jones thought that he had just broken a world record when he threw himself to the side of the hill, the last Elerium bolt making a scratch on his back armor and slightly burning him. As he turned to point his laser he noticed that the terrain was unstable, having nothing to do with what he expected. Ignoring it for the moment, he trailed his weapon. A Floater, his pink color now clearly visible behind a huge flowered bush in the distance was fondling with a grenade. “Oh no, you don’t!” He instantly sent a volley of laser fire and missed completely. “Shit!” Correcting his aim he managed to kill the alien before it could end the motion of throwing the grenade into his direction. The explosive felt on the ground and another Floater who was also hiding nearby got up and tried to escape. Rodriguez shots blew his back; covering the nearby vegetation with pieces of his red cloak, pink alien flesh and green blood. The explosion of the grenade help to further wreck the scene, completing the desecration of both bodies behind recognition and showing the metal implants they were. “About time!” Jones spat and then remembered to look down. Instead of earth he saw mortar bricks. “What the fuck?” On another place of the battlefield, trooper Manning was also feeling a different kind of surprise, although because of a completely different situation. It was his first time inside an UFO and although he had been briefed on what to expect and the general layout he still couldn’t keep his amazement. In spite of the illumination inside that illuminated the metal walls and the magenta instruments inside there was no lights to justify for it. He looked ahead. The other members of Epsilon had first thrown in a concussion grenade inside the Celtic cross type UFO and then stormed the room. The Floater that was inside was too stumbled to respond to their entry and had been killed instantly. They had entered through one of the craft’s arms and now there were two rooms on both side arms. Sergeant Grisham and Trooper Manning were moving towards the left one, while him approached the right one, with Pickering on cover. When he reached the door it suddenly went up and a Floater carrying one of the black Elerium rifles appeared. He thrust his own weapon forward and shot him at point blank range. Another Floater stepped in and he had only time to move away from the barrel of the weapon when it discharged. A human scream was heard. Logan saw the blast hitting the Pickering directly on his shoulder and shearing the arm off neatly, showing a blackened collarbone and the up of his rib cage and a stream of blood that painted it quickly red. Logan went crazy on the sight, his mind seeing too much to handle. He grabbed his laser rifle with both hands and started pouring fire on the alien. The Floater spasmed after being hit for the first time on the abdomen, and them dropped to the floor as the next shots took him on the chest. The X-Com trooper then charged into the next room, without paying any regard to his attention. Two blue chairs rested on what he assumed was the front arm of the UFO, with a door that led to the engine room on the center. Other lights were visible from monitors and machinery placed in front of the seats, but Logan was too absorbed to pay attention to them. He saw two Floaters that were looking to the way that the other half of the team had chosen to enter the control room and immediately opened fire at their sight. The shots hit the monitors, short circuiting them and making them go off as the stream of laser fire

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moved from right to left, finally catching the aliens and making them drop with death shrieks that clicked Logan out of his bezerker condition. Shaking his head to clear it off and regain control of himself, he failed to notice that the door to the central room had just opened and that another Floater had just stepped out. He only had time to see the big mouth of the barrel of the alien’s weapon before it all went to dark. Captain Forrester removed his alien alloy helmet and passed his hand on his forehead to clear it of the sweat it was swarmed in. Crap, why did I have to pull such a scratchy mission on my first time on command, he asked. Everything had went according to plan until the aliens had also flanked them and putting the whole team into a lot of trouble until they were defeated. He had already checked with Gamma and find out about Pershing. The Lieutenant had managed to secure his condition although the man needed some urgent medical assistance to survive. Activating Epsilon’s command circuit he them went to check on the other squads. “Grisham, what’s your status?” “UFO secured, we killed a lot of aliens inside and lost Pickering. That is, Logan killed a lot of aliens inside after seeing him went down and going bezerk on the middle of the craft. Thank God no other team members were with him at that time or they also would get squashed.” “How is he?” “Unconscious. The guy was lucky that the Floater who got him used a stun type weapon. I’ve never seen a bastard with such luck. We got the alien afterwards.” “Very well, clear out the UFO of all transportable items. Let’s leave the rest for the recovery crew”. Meanwhile Gamma squad had joined his own squad outside the craft, with Jerrel and Rodriguez carrying the wounded trooper on a makeshift stretcher made out of branches and foliage. Jones was carrying the other trooper’s weapons and he turned to the Captain and said: “Capt, there’s some strange shit around. The mounts and small hills are of an artificial origin. I stumbled into one in the middle of the battle and found out it was made of carved stone”. “Just leave it Jones”. “Sir, this is strange. Why did the aliens land here?” “Let’s leave that to the clean-up crew. We are just paid to kill them”. The radio went active suddenly with King’s voice. “Sir, this is Omega squad. We have found something you might want to check. We are to the north nearby a small hill”. “Hold on King. I’m coming”. Turning to the rest of his men he said: “Finish mopping up this place and take Pershing back to the Skyranger. I want to get out of here before sun dawn”. He then moved in the direction of Omega’s position. He found King and Deschamps waiting for him on the side of one of the small hills, their weapons on their hands but keeping a relaxed position. Two aliens were on the ground, dead, their weaponry already assembled at a pile by the two troopers. When he got near

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them King spoke: “The area is clear for almost half a klick sir. But what we found isn’t aliens”. Forrester felt tired and wanted this to be over. But he also knew the valor of the sniper and weight of his word. King had already saved his butt once. ”What is it then King?” “Just follow me sir, and you will see. It beats any description I can make”. He turned and went inside the hill through an opening that Forrester had disregarded until then. Electrical flares were on the ground lighting up the place. The Captain then noticed that, some yards after the entrance the tunnel looked more like a built corridor, with the ground made of flat stones. The jungle hadn’t completely invaded the inside and, after a while the whole tunnel looked as if it had to be artificial. “What the hell is this King?” “Sir, from what I know, this area is full of pre-Colombian old cities that have been taken over by the jungle”. “Pre-Colombian?” Forrester asked as they kept going through the deeps of the hill, turning left and right in what seemed to be a maze. But King looked as if he knew where he was going. “The ancient American civilizations sir. Here I think it was the Mayans or the Aztecs I’m not sure. And this hill sure looks like one of their pyramids but long abandoned and left to the jungle”. “King, we have better things to do than archaeology. If this is what you wanted me to see, let’s head back now”. “Just hold on a second sir, we are almost getting there”. They made a final turn and suddenly the two of them found themselves on a big chamber, about some twenty feet high, inside and under the pyramid. More flares lit it up, giving it a yellow light that forged shadows into the walls. A big shape was visible inside the room. “What the hell is that and how did it got here?!” Forrester couldn’t believe it. A flying saucer type UFO rested itself on the middle of the chamber, the gray craft reflecting the yellow lights. “Your guess is as good as mine. But I guess the folks down here had better relations with them than we presently do”. Jones pointed to wall that was covering with what looked to be language of some sort. Forrester knew that he wouldn’t be able to understand it, but as he looked at it he saw some familiar representations. Of a multi-staged pyramid and a UFO landed on top of it. And of a Sectoid, recognizable by the black eyes, with human figures standing next to him, but at a lower level. “Holy shit!” “Damn right sir. My guess is that these dumb idiots adored the bugs as Gods or something”. “But how did this thing get inside the pyramid?”

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“The ship is pretty much wrecked inside, with signs that the engine might have exploded. Probably this thing crashed centuries ago and some of them might have survived and contacted the natives”. “If you come up with that much King, maybe you should be together with the lab rats instead of eating dirt like the rest of us”. “I don’t think so, sir. Killing bugs is more fun than trying to understand them. And a lot easier”.

Area 51, Nevada, US
A lot of agitation had been going on the X-Com base, due to the recovery of the UFO, but Eva Johannes just ignored it while she looked at the captured flying saucer that rested on one corner of the hangar. The Colonel was over there looking for the retrieval operation and she wanted to keep clear of him, after knowing what had been the final destiny of the captured alien. He reminded her of her grandfather and the terrible stories that had been told about his actions on Second World War while fighting in the Russian front. It puzzled her at the same time how could a man so civilized to show such a barbaric behavior but she stopped thinking about it and kept her attention at her work. Dr. Mantell was also present and they had just activated the engine inside the UFO, while taking particle readings from it. After a couple of seconds she become frustrated with the results and Mantell, noticing her reaction shut down the engine. “Absolutely no results. This is incredible”. She found one of the blue seats, ignored the laser burn on it and sat down, exhausted. “Like I told you, the energy it releases is undetectable. The Elerium gets consumed but with no visible results. And our work on the control elements to try to get different reactions has also led to nothing. We can’t understand the basic principles of the system”. “And we have found out that it releases antimatter when bombarded with high-speed particles but we are unable to control the process. The energy from the reaction just releases itself in a massive explosion. Something is missing us here”. “Yes. We have theorized that they must be using something close to the magnetic fields used by the Soviets during their fusion reactors development program, but we are unable to replicate it.” “Could we try to apply their research on it?” The frustration was making her too tired. “The concept was still far a long way to go when it was first announced back on the eighties. I doubt if they managed to go any further or we would have seen the results by now”. “Leaving us with a growing amount of trash that can’t be used because we don’t understand how it works”. “They can be used, Doctor, they just aren’t reliable on combat, since one never knows when it eventually stops firing for good, first after the first blast or the tenth and that why High Command has banned their use”. Johnson stepped into the UFO. “Good afternoon, Colonel”. Her tone got cold at the same moment.

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“Good afternoon, miss, Dr. Mantell. Sorry for interrupting but I just finished directing the recovery operations and wanted both of you to look at some if the items retrieved”. “What do you mean they can be fired Colonel?” “Just got a report meanwhile from Mother One, Doctor. Apparently they discovered a security mechanism on the weapons that prevented from being discharged from anyone but their owner. It had to do with DNA detection from what I remember. It apparently checked the user’s genetic code and if a negative answer was given the weapon would unpower down by itself”. “Why haven’t you told this to me before? I need to get back there to study the beam it releases”. She got out of the craft running for the door that led into the communications room and nearly knocking Johnson on her way. “Hey! Watch out!” But she was already too away to hear him. “Crazy woman”, Johnson said to herself. “If you don’t mind Colonel, I must be going also”. Johnson acknowledged and Mantell also left following the direction she took. “Crazy lunatic scientists” he said with a laugh. The lights and siren that warned of an incoming light started to be heard on the hangar and Johnson thought what could be scheduled for landing. He had seen the flight rooster for today and the recovery team was only due for some more hours. Looking up, he saw the massive roof doors begun to open and the blast protections raising themselves on the floor of the hangar. Light from the outside come up and against it Johnson saw a V-22 Osprey VTOL aircraft slowly descending itself into the depths of the X-Com base. It kept lowering, filling the inside of the hangar with noise and a wind that made Johnson take cover inside the UFO. He only come out after it had landed and the engines were off, the fans on the sides of the hangar already working to eliminate all the fumes released by its engines. Johnson looked to the body of the plane to try to identify who might be arriving. He saw that by the almost imperceptible “AP” that was painted on its side to make it appear as an US Air Force plane that it had come from the Appalachian X-Com base, probably on a non-stop flight until here. A door opened on its side and a group of soldiers came out dressed in X-Com black jumpsuits and carrying bags. He started to recognize some of the faces from his personnel logs. They were the new recruits that had just been hired to allow for the expansion of the X-Com’s West team. But why were they here already? Major Prescott, the responsible for flight operations suddenly appeared on hangar, surrounded by a fully armed team of security personnel and an enraged General Smith. When both of them saw Johnson they changed their course into his direction. General Smith got to him first and started firing, his eyes blood-shot red: “You can bet that you will never pull another stunt like that before Mister! You might control this here but you just can’t disregard security protocols like you did!” Johnson momentarily puzzled looked back at Prescott for an explanation. “Sir, that aircraft right there just appeared out of nowhere, unscheduled, without proper clearance and demanded to be let access into the facility through the X-Com’s frequencies and codes”. He took a dire look and completed: “I allowed them to land,

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otherwise we could bring unnecessary attention into ourselves. I take responsibility for that, but there will also hell to pay for the guy on charge of that plane!” “What Mr. Stupid did right here was to ignore every safety protocol of Area 51! And while we don’t need to give you authorization we have the right to be informed of every upcoming flight in advance!” “General, I apologize for this event and can only assure you that will never happen again. Now, if you don’t mind we will discuss this later for I have some explanations to receive”. “You can bet all your money on it!” He turned his back and stomped out of the hangar, pushing aside the security troops that were waiting for orders. “I don’t think we’ll need them Major. I have an idea of who might have arrived. Please get back to Command Center and I will deal with this. And please ask Hopkins to join me here”. Johnson went over to the craft. The latest results of the ground teams had enabled them to lessen down a bit the physical and mental requirements and had allowed for more recruits. Pretty soon West base would have available eight four-man squads which would allow the others some well deserved rest after near two full months of a great deal of activity over the North American continent. He already knew the identity of all these soldiers and their provenience. Most of them had come from the Marines or Army, some even from the Air Force like Johnson himself and the Major in the group of three officers that awaited him. He had worked before with the female officer in front of him also and he decided to get things started by her, with no doubt the cause of all this mess. Just her appearance smelled of confrontation as he approached her. The woman was the walking definition of a female storm trooper. Almost matching his six-foot, eight-inches height, her forehead stood at his eyes level, the brown curly hair cut in a purely military fashion, but when he looked down to see her directly as he approached her, she lift her head as if challenging him while saluting. The same attitude again, it seems. He had known her when they both served together in the same unit, right before he had went to his old 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and her to the 82nd Airborne Division. “Captain Sheila Markovitch reporting for duty, sir!” And now it seemed that she was back. What was troubling him wasn’t the fact that there would be women now in the combat squads since he had no problem with that. He returned the salute with a quick one of his own and started speaking: “Captain Markovitch, might I ask what have you just done? I take it this to be your work, since Major Patterson and Captain Clark here would never try anything like that from what I know of their profile?” Johnson gave her a stern look. As always she needed to know who was in charge. “Sir, reinforcements presenting, sir! I decided that we weren’t doing much waiting for the final paperwork to be done at the Appalachian Base so I arranged for proper transportation to here, sir!” She kept firm, without showing any regret. “Captain, we will discuss this later on my quarters. Let me say that you just got yourself suspended from combat duties for now for an undetermined period!” Her eyes flashed briefly with rage but she quickly composed herself and with grim determination replied: “Yes sir!” Turning away from her, she moved to the next officer in line.

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“As for you Major Patterson, before I welcome my new Executive Officer and the rest of you into Area 51 can you please tell me if the Air Force hasn’t learned anything from the training exercises between the 16th Special Operations Group and the 82nd?” “Just to not get on their way Colonel. And I think that is lesson number one”. The AfroAmerican man made a quick smirk, before its mustached mouth went back into a emotionless position. “I see”. Turning to the final officer, the replacement of Tyrell after the Californian pilot had been killed by the hybrid, he said: “You got yourself into a pool full of sharks here, Captain Clark. Sure you want to continue with us?” The Texan former Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter jockey just nodded and said, with a clear smile: “I always loved a good brawl… sir!” Everyone is getting too cocky, Johnson said to himself. Sure the new armors and laser weapons had put the fight on the battlefield more balanced for the humans, but we can’t allow to build any slack into ourselves or we might get some nasty surprises in the future. He looked at the grunts that were waiting in full attention. They looked as aggressive as the first members of the team had been until the first confrontation. “As for the rest of you, my name is Colonel Johnson and I am the commanding officer of the West North American X-Com team. You have been chosen and asked to volunteer for this assignment because of your skills and combat experience. I congratulate you on your decision to jump into such a dangerous assignment and welcome you to the team”. Hopkins had suddenly crept by his side and he decided to let the Sergeant start whipping them. “This here is Sergeant Hopkins, he will be your guide from now on since other, expected, duties wait me. Carry on Sergeant!” They all saluted again and, after responding, Johnson left, giving a last glance at Markovitch. The woman maintained her pose. “And if you please, Captain, let’s talk about this whole incident in my office”. “All right, you rookies, stop looking like that at my face! If you’re dumb enough you won’t be this lucky to only come out will small scratches like this and will leave this base on a body bag! Get your gear and let’s start moving!” Johnson headed out for his office, with Markovitch on tow. When they reached it he opened the door and headed straight forward, leaving the female Captain the task of closing the entrance. When she finished doing that, he started speaking: “What the hell of a stunt was that Captain? Failure to comply with safety and security procedures! Unauthorized requisition of military equipment! And a gung-ho attitude that we don’t need here!” He kept himself standing up, while waiting for her answer, eyeing her furiously. “Sir, permission to speak freely, sir!” “Go right ahead Captain!” “Erwin, don’t tell me that all of this is because you’re still pissed off that I left you.” Shit, there it goes, Johnson thought. I knew it was a mistake allowing her into the team. “Captain, we have resolved those matters a long time ago. What I’m questioning right here is your failure to follow rules and procedures!”

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“Don’t give me that crap Erwin! I know that you were always sore that I refused to follow you into special ops after you decided to leave the 82nd. When I accepted X-Com‘s proposal I had no idea that you were running this stint and I become surprised. Either you had let it go into the past or you had something else in mind”. “First, that’s Colonel Johnson to you, Captain. Second, X-Com Commander in Chief asked me for my personal evaluation of your combat abilities since you served under my command. I told him what I knew: that you were a crack officer at tactical level and pushed your troops to their limit and far beyond. And also that you had a problem with discipline and that was the reason why you are still a Captain”. “I take it that you failed to mention this thing we had going on between both of us while we served together. Tell me Colonel, was that because you didn’t want to stain your record? Because since we kept it hidden so well before from the hierarchy that you still wanted to maintain your perfect image of following orders with no question? Of course, a relationship like this takes a lot more to maintain a secret when both of us are distant, doesn’t it?” “That is enough Captain! My personal feelings have nothing to do with this situation! You acted your own stubborn way like you always did! Keep it that way here and you will be getting into a lot of trouble, mister!” “Very well then Colonel, sir! I will try to follow operational procedures from this day on…sir!” ”And you will, Captain, you will. Until I’m sure of it you are off combat operations! We don’t need the cavalry storming around here; in fact I’m surprised you didn’t ask to be assigned for Colonel Jackson’s command. His style is more like yours!” “Very well sir. Permission to leave then” “Granted!” Johnson was beginning to calm down when she turned to him on her way out and spoke while closing the door: “And Erwin, I know you are wondering why the hell did I decide to come here instead of staying at the Appalachian base. One reason is that your team is the best in the business. The other is that I miss those long shower debriefing sessions after a mission”. “Get the hell out of my office!” He shouted at her as she closed the door. I knew this was a mistake, he thought. Shit! Someone knocked on the door. Her again? He barked: “Enter and be brief!” Major Patterson’s head appeared on the side of the door cautiously and the officer asked: “Sorry for bothering, Colonel, but I heard some noise down the corridor and I saw Captain Markovitch leaving your office afterwards and I was just checking if everything was alright”. “Everything is dandy, Patterson! Just lovely, thanks. Now if you please, I got work to do”. The Major relaxed and answered back: “Sure sir. Sorry for the inconvenience”. As he closed the door, Patterson said to himself that things were already starting to be like back on the old days.

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March 23rd, 1999
Headquarters Strike Command, RAF High Wycombe, UK
Another cry came out on the communications radio, “I’m hit! The primary hydraulic system is gone! I can’t get the plane to respond any of my commands!” “Tiger Three, this is Lair. Eject! Eject!” The controller looked helpless as another of the Tornado F.3 interceptors had just been hit by one of the UFO’s weapons. The Royal Air Force had committed four interceptors to shooting down the large UFO that had been detected approaching the British Isles from the northwest and was heading for central England. The radar signature of the craft had made it possible that it was one of the kind used in the LA raid and the Air Vice-Marshal in command of UK Air Defense didn’t want it to get close to the Home Islands. “Tiger Three, do you copy?” Silence only greeted the air interception officer. “Tiger Three eject now!” Looking at the board he saw that the friendly icon that identity the remaining Tornado on the formation had disappeared and that the UFO was continuing its course. He turned to the Air Marshall. “Sir all the planes on Tiger flight have been shot down. We could scramble some Hawk training fighters equipped with Sidewinder missiles to try to shoot it down”. “They would only manage to commit suicide, son. The Tornados had to launch at the maximum range allowed for the AMRAAM missiles and still couldn’t get any hits. And that thing is equipped with a weapon that has a greater range than ours. No, get me to the Minister of Defense. They are coming and we need to get prepared”.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
On the other side of the Channel, Colonel MacTaggert and General Illyuschenko were also receiving the same radar information back at Mother One base on the German Black Forest. “Commander we need to deploy this minute! They are going to hit some target on the UK!” “How many men do you have, Colonel?” Illyuschenko already knew the answer. “I have two complete squads sir. Third is down to fifty per cent strength after the mission on Iceland a couple of days ago. And nearly all men of the Fourth are on the medical facility with all types of injuries. We simply had no idea that the aliens had the equivalent of a grenade and that it was much more powerful than ours”. “That leaves you with only eleven combat capable troops, Colonel. Do you think that is enough? The LA raid showed that the aliens deploy a big amount of troops on these incursions”. “Sir, I can’t just let my countrymen get killed by the aliens with me doing nothing. You will have to throw me in the brig if you want to stop me!”

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Illyuschenko looked at his officer and coldly realized that there wasn’t any option. About MacTaggert or anything. Things weren’t getting better. The amount of reported UFO incursions had increased and X-Com simply didn’t have the resources to deal with most of them. A lot of countries were growing dissatisfied at their performance, which only meant more financial bad news next month. And they couldn’t allow that the British had motives to cut back on their funding, a possibility most likely to happen if the UFO was about to conduct a terror raid and if it X-Com didn’t respond to it. “Very well. Get your men ready this second. But I’m coming also. I can’t sent all of you to get killed and sit here watching”. “Commander, that is bloody insane, sir! You are the responsible for all of this and are too precious to risk your life going against the aliens!” “If you think I’m not ready for combat, Colonel, let’s both of us quickly head out for the gym and settle this on a fight. Otherwise, the choice is yours: either we all go or we stay here and watch the killings”. “You have personal orders from the UN’s Secretary General and the Council of Founding Nations not to expose yourself into dangerous situations sir!” “All of them are on their luxurious offices, doing whatever useless things they can find to fill their time. I’m in charge of military matters. And I decide that the risk of not dealing with this threat is much greater than any personal security matters. Let’s go Colonel”. And the hell with all the rest!

Coventry, United Kingdom
Two hours after it had taken off, the Skyranger landed on a neighborhood near the center of Coventry. The last radar report of the UFO showed it stopping its course over the city and landing somewhere inside the city limits. The British Army units assigned to deal with the attack were still hours away and the X-Com commanders, after receiving the sparse reports existent from the British Ministry of Defense had decided to deploy without support, to hold back the aliens until reinforcements could arrive. Illyuschenko had the Skyranger pilot make a flyby over the city for reconnaissance and they had found the UFO landed in the middle of a park before a near miss from a blast of the craft’s weapons had forced them to turn back. Smoke was starting to come out from areas near the flying saucer’s landing zone, starting to form a dark cloud over the city in the afternoon sky. While retreating they had been fired from one of the Floaters that were running amok on the streets, firing at everything that moved. As soon as the first trooper got out of the Skyranger he was greeted by alien fire that come from the right side of the landing door. The squaddie fired back and moved to clear the ramp, other men already racing out to deploy. As a concession to the Colonel, Illyuschenko was the last soldier to leave the Skyranger, waiting impatiently as the men in front of him quickly got out, took cover and started firing back. When he finally deployed he saw that they had already cleared the landing zone and were moving forward to consolidate a perimeter around the plane. Not at some cost. One of the sergeants was lying on the ground near the ramp with his back turned to Illyuschenko and

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smoke coming out of his chest. He when to the trooper and turned him around to see his condition. Blank eyes greeted him, together with a silent bloody mouth. It came back. The ambushes on the Afghani Mountains that took many of his subordinates, the findings of their death captured countrymen, their bodies disfigured by the guerrillas. “Commander, are you all right?” MacTaggert’s voice brought him back to reality. “We gotta leave. The Skyranger is taking off to go to a more secure location”. “What’s the situation?” “The local police forces report on the radio of being overrun. I don’t think we can expect any help from them. But the British’s Army 16th Air Assault Brigade is getting ready to deploy here, although they are still getting ready”. “We need to strike. Make them react to gain more time”. MacTaggert thought for a second and then asked: “The UFO?” “Yes. For some reason it hasn’t taken off yet and it must be the place where they are coordinating their attacks. If he hit it there we may disrupt their plans” “What about the civilians sir?” “We don’t have enough troops to try to hold them back all over the city. If we come forward any situation were civilians are threatened we will help them. But our main objective is taking control of that monstrosity”. “Very well”. You bastard, MacTaggert thought, I would like to see if you reacted that way back if this was happening in Russia. “Blue Squad, take point and get us to the park where the UFO is landed. Red and Gold Squads follow them on the flanks. Move out!” Halfway between the landing zone and the park, the team entered an area of workingclass housing, the old brick building standing on the sides of the street. So far everything looked desert. Either the evacuation warning had been on time or too late. Besides sporadic gunfire nothing else could be heard until a shriek suddenly greeted them. The European team stopped on their tracks. The noise was heard again and again, coming out from several directions. “There!” The shout of one of the man made everyone else suddenly turn on his direction. Coming from a side street, one massive alien had just entered the small avenue and was turning to their direction, running. It looked like a huge brown furred frog in appearance, although it only had two massive legs with claws on the feet, which were pumping his body fast. Metal appendages covered parts of his limbs and back, giving him also a pair of gray horns on the side of his head. Red eyes added to the terror of the sight, together with a mouth full of sharp teeth. Gold Squad was the first to react, firing their laser rifles and autocannons at the beast. Most of the shots went wide, but a few of them hit, leaving the creature with blackened spots and smoke coming out of them. But it kept running. And other aliens joined him, coming from the opposite side and from streets that the team had already passed. Illyuschenko targeted the first large toad with his laser rifle and taking aim, fired two shots in the direction of its head, hoping to hit whatever thing it had for brain. The laser discharges all hit the monster in the forehead and drilled through his tough fur but failed to stop it. 173

A human cry came from close to Illyuschenko and he turned suddenly on the direction. Blood splashed all over his face as one of the giant frogs that had circled the team, kept shredding the corpse of a X-Com trooper he had taken by surprise, his teeth cutting through muscle and bone as if it was wet paper. Illyuschenko pressed the trigger and kept his finger on it. When the first shots hit the alien it turned and got ready to attack. But the X-Com commander never hesitated while the alien approached him; the laser cutting through the fur until the monster finally dropped dead to the floor and continuing afterwards, to assure it was dead. “Commander, stop firing! The alien is dead already! We have to go!” Coming out of a trance, Illyuschenko looked at MacTaggert. One of the frogs had bitten him on the leg, the armor baring resisting to be completely snatched off, and taking a piece of his limb with it. “How are we?” “Two dead. And five of these things killed. Recce Squad has found the UFO meanwhile to the northeast. They report no enemy activity in the area. The way to the craft is bloody clear sir. And British Army units are already starting to arrive. I’m trying to contact their commander but it’s still an overall mess”. “Contact Mother One and have them inform the UK Ministry of Defense informing of our presence and giving information about this new type of alien we have just encountered. And let’s move!” The run to the park where the UFO had landed happened without further incidents, although they passed on their way by civilians that had been killed by the aliens weapons, leaving charred bodies behind, or by the claws and teeth of the larger aliens. The Grim Reaper had arrived, Illyuschenko thought, just like in the American movies it has come into this town and took the lives of everyone who stood on its path. He automatically restrained of looking to the corpses, afraid of his own reaction. The UFO rested in the middle of the grass, showing no activity. Although it had been seen before by the unlucky British pilots who had tried to stop it, it was the first time XCom had ever encountered such a craft. It was a large ship, with a circular central body that was two stories high. It had two shorter extensions on the sides from which large closed doors could be seen. Illyuschenko joined MacTaggert beneath the cover of some bushes where the team had hid themselves. Suddenly engine noise started to be heard and, after some seconds, a Gazelle recce helicopter flew over some meters above their position and approached the UFO. A blast coming from an unseen weapon mount in the flying saucer hit the chopper, exploding it into a firewall. The burning wreckage landed noisily against the ground, the fire spreading to the nearby trees. “Bloody hell!” MacTaggert exclaimed as he saw the destruction. “Another reason for us to assault that thing, Colonel. We need to give your countrymen a chance to deploy and use their weapons on the aliens. Let’s throw some smoke screen to cover our advance and divide the team between both doors”. “What if the outside aliens try to regain control of the craft?”

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“Let them try. We can them ask for assistance and eliminate all of them while they try to dug us out of there”. “Sounds like a plan to me Commander. But I’m still wondering what the hell they are doing. The plan just looks too much deserted”. “Whatever it is, we will get them unexpectely while they are at the middle of it”. MacTaggert clicked on his radio and spoke: “Assault, take the left door. Support, get your weapons ready for close combat and take the right one. The rest follow in behind. Anyone with smoke use it to cover our approach. Target is getting control of that thing and holding it. Kill every alien on sight”. A couple of squaddies threw in phosphorus grenades and they started burning when they hit the grass, burning it into ashes and spreading a smoke cover that pretty soon engulfed all the area between them and the UFO. The team then started to move, trying to keep an eye on the doors through the smoke to see if any alien decided to take a look outside. Illyuschenko took a short run following the Assault team and joined them as they reached the opening. Giving the trooper closest to it an OK nod, he saw him pressing the door with his hand. It immediately went up with a whoosh and the team members jumped inside. A surprised Floater tried to respond but he was too slow and when down as a Corporal unleashed the fury of his autocannon into him, filling his body with armor-piercing rounds. Gunfire noise could also be heard from the other side of the craft. Illyuschenko pushed inside the UFO in front of all others. He was inside a room where a large red canister was standing on a corner, supported by blue pipes that connected it to the ground. It was connected to the main body of the craft through a passageway that divided itself into two directions, circling what seemed to be a smaller room in the middle of the UFO. The Commander started to move forward but he stopped when he approached the central body astonished by what he was seeing. Men and women were restrained to the walls by some invisible force, their silent but conscious faces trying to call for help. Now there was an explanation for the delay on the departure of the UFO: leave one cargo of terrorists behind and board another. As he started to try to help the civilians that had been imprisoned by the aliens, a noise of an opening door could suddenly be heard. Illyuschenko looked up and saw that right in the junction the corridor extended upwards to make a small alcove where a platform could be seen, together with a door that was now opened, showing a Floater. The alien pointed his rifle at Illyuschenko and fired, but missed, the Elerium leaving black marks in the floor of the craft. The X-Com commander dashed to the side trying to get some cover. Other team members reached the alcove and tried to respond to the alien’s fire, but he got back inside, and their shots hit the door while it was closing. “Find a way to get these civilians out of here! And one of you keep an eye on that door!” Illyuschenko then reached for his tactical radio and activated it: “Colonel there are civilians inside and watch out for an opening at the junction that leads into the upper level”.

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“Already know about the civilians commander. We got into a nasty firefight on this side and some of them got hit. We got an alien that tried to take a peak from that door and tried to reach it, but it’s too dangerous. I have someone covering it right now. It seems that there’s a door in this middle room. I suggest we join there since there must be an elevator upstairs inside”. Illyuschenko left a man back and took the rest of the team in both directions. They found MacTaggert and Gold squad waiting for them by a door facing the same direction that they had entered the UFO. “What happened back there Colonel?” “Two Floaters were finishing restraining some civilians when we got in. They fired back and in the gunfire some civilians got hit. I left two men behind, one of them covering the upper door and the other trying to help the wounded, but they need medical assistance badly”. “Let’s take control of this thing and call in for the helicopters. On your mark, Colonel”. MacTaggert nodded and pointed to the trooper near the door, telling him to go forward. The squaddie opened the door and all remaining men looked inside with their weapons ready. The circular room was deserted of any aliens. Dispersed over the room, the XCom soldiers could see four Elerium engines giving an orange glow, circling a red spot right in the middle of the craft that was also illuminated orange, fitting perfectly the North American team’s description of an alien elevator. The soldiers moved carefully inside, checking every inch of the compartment until they suddenly stopped on their tracks when the glow coming out from the engines started to become stronger and a humming noise began to be heard. “What in the bloody hell is that?” interrogated MacTaggert. Illyuschenko was already running for the lift before he replied: “They must be trying to get away! We need to get to the control room before they can lift this thing up!” Checking to see that no aliens were waiting for him in the upper level, he positioned himself then under the opening and raised his arm as the North American team had reported. He immediately started to be moved upwards by some strange, unseen, force. When he reached the upper floor he found himself in a smaller room, completely clear unless for a door directly facing him. Another X-Com trooper joined him, carrying an autocannon after some seconds. Illyuschenko opened the door and looked carefully. The opening led into the middle of a corridor that extended to both sides of the door. He immediately got back inside as, when he looked to the right side, saw the muzzle of an alien pistol coming around the corner. He got out a grenade from his armor belt, pulled out the plastic cover from the trigger and pressed it, throwing it afterwards in the direction of the alien. Both troopers were more or less shielded by the blast and noise of the explosion from the door that started to down again. Other team members had meanwhile entered the upper level. “Where is the Colonel?” Illyuschenko asked quickly. “He’s trying to disable the engines before this thing takes off…shit!” The trooper stopped in the middle of the sentence as they all sensed that the craft was moving. But one second later they felt that the ascent was going erratic as if the UFO was having trouble lifting off the ground.

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“I guess he partially managed that. Both of you take the right side, blow up every instrument and alien you saw. Go!” Illyuschenko followed the troopers as the exited the room through the door, but turned left. Running down the corridor he come up to a Tjunction. He looked right and saw another small door. But when he saw the other direction he noticed that it opened to a much larger room, where there could be seen a seated alien at the controls of the craft. He pointed his rifle and started shooting, one of the three Floaters suddenly going into panic and firing at every direction. When he hit the pilot, the last one dropped his weapon and froze into place. Gunfire coming from the other team member blew him into pieces, the high-explosive rounds smashing his body and all the machinery around it. But the trooper carrying the autocannon didn’t notice his commander on the other side of the room until it was too late. A round hit the wall right close to Illyuschenko and he was thrown into the ground, projected by the blast. Then the UFO suddenly hit the ground and Illyuschenko was thrown up in the air, as the dead engines were helpless now to counteract the effects of gravity and the inertia it brought to the craft. When he finally hit the ground Illyuschenko blackened out from the crash. Illyuschenko regained consciousness slowly and noticed he was laying on the grass outside the UFO, being tended by a British Army corpsman. The remaining members of the European team were close by, some of them also receiving medical attention while the others rested while seated on the ground, their weapons nearby. Transport helicopters flew in the air, together with armed gunships. An explosion could be heard occasionally at the distance. He checked himself and saw that he had no major injuries. After that he tried to get up but the soldier cut him off saying: “Please lay down, you have suffered an concussion and need to rest”. “I’m OK for the moment. There are civilians over there that need help more than me. Go and help them now!” The corpsmen jumped away, surprised by the strength of his voice. He decided it would useless to argue and start to collect his medical gear. Illyuschenko got up and saw Captain Pearson seated on the ground with a red stained while bandage wrapped around his head. He turned to him and asked: “Captain, where is the Colonel?” “He’s giving tactical assistance to the Army’s forces on scene. Most of the opposition has been swept away, especially after they saw the UFO going down”. “Very well”. He then remembered the other thing that was disturbing him. “What about the captured civilians inside the UFO?” “We managed to save the majority of them”. Illyuschenko froze. “The majority? What about the rest?” Pearson pointed to a line of covered corpses. “They got hit in the confrontation”, he paused before adding, “some by friendly fire”. The Commander of X-Com managed to get up, in spite of the huge headache that was starting to hit him. He got to one of the plastic tarps that covered the bodies and pulled him back. The face of a dead woman greeted him. God, it never ends, does it? No matter how much we try, they still keep dying although they have nothing to do with this. And now we have become again killers, instead of soldiers. We are nothing better than the aliens, are we? We have failed. You have failed, the voice kept pondering on him until he finally couldn’t take it anymore and went back into unconsciousness.

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Chapter Eight – The Grim Horizon
March 25th, 1999
Forbidden City, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
As usual, Chairman Zhu’s first chore of the day consisted of a session of tai chi in order to prepare for the days’ ordeal. He had taken into not falling under the excesses of his predecessors, whose life after obtaining high positions had taken a path of what he considered debauchery and sloth. One’s mind can be only clear in a fit body he thought, as he went through a series of exercises, clearing his attention. He had chosen one of the restored Imperial gardens that rested in the middle of small plaza surrounded by buildings dating from the Manchus, the last dynasty of China. The area was deserted, save for himself, with specific orders having been given not to disturb him. The crank of the old wood beneath him was only registered on his mind for a second, and the anger of being interrupted quickly dissolved itself into a feeling that something important must have happened. To deal with it, he decided to first complete the exercise he was performing at the moment. Another series of movements was completed, his arms dancing in the air in front of him, moving through the rhythm of his body. He then stopped before the tension on his body dissipated he ordered: “Speak!” He felt his deputy indecision about how to approach him, sudden freezing into place and after a second of hesitation the man nervously said: “Comrade Chairman, I’m sorry to disturb you but I’ve come to inform that contact has been made”. That caught Zhu’s full attention and he opened his eyes to look directly at his subordinate. The deputy waited that the Chinese leader made any question, but seeing that his silence continued, he then carried on. “An offer has been made, of collaboration” Keeping his calm he considered the junior officer’s words before inquiring. “An offer as allies or forced assistance?” Let’s see who wants to be the puppeteer here, Chu thought. “They didn’t specify details but merely pointed that they are open to discussion”. The deputy had become first exuberant when he was notified but now as he noticed his leader’s reaction he wasn’t sure of what to think. He continued, afraid of provoking a negative reaction on his part. “If true, it will allow us to dispense with X-Com this minute and start looking for our own interests”. Chu eyes drifted through the ancient setting where both of them were standing, considering his subordinate’s words. “How and when did it happen?” “Last night. One of the Politburo’s members loyal to us was approached by one of their agents. He certified his identity in a such a way that we can be sure that he is one of them”. Zhu listened to the last words of his deputy and then restarted his training, saying nothing. After some seconds of confusion, but knowing better to disturb his superior again, the deputy quietly left. As his body went through another set of trained exercises, Zhu started meditating about what he had just been told.

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April 1st, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Eva Johannes was looking beneath a large reinforced window at an alien weapon that was mounted on a support in test range. The brown and red pistol suddenly fired itself, releasing a green bolt that hit a blackened wall, adding another dark hole to the ones already present. She then turned to one of the monitors who were displaying the information received from the detectors that counted the amount of energized particles. She just shook her head in disbelief. Turning to Doctor Chevereux, who was also present, she said still in disbelief: “Plasma. All of this just to get some plasma!” “It merely confirmed our suspicions that were based on the description of the beam the weapons emitted and the physical results of the discharges, Doctor”. “How could we have over missed it, Doctor Chevereux? It was that simple!” “In reality it still isn’t. We now have an idea of how the weapons use the Elerium to generate the plasma or how they manage to contain it and direct it. Or even how they use it to move their craft. On the first aspect they most likely are a result of the matterantimatter mutual annihilation reaction but in the second we are still left in a blank”. “Meaning more months of experiments”. And more frustration to come, she added mentally as she looked again at the alien weapon, now silent on its mount. Dr. Chevereux paused as he looked at its own reflected on the mirror and used his right hand to comb his mane white hair to its side. “Yes, results just don’t materialize themselves on thin air and land at to our desks”. Air? Traveling? Something connected at her head. “What did you said Doctor?” “That we must continue our efforts, let’s just hope they don’t decide to cut the funding for this also”. She shook her head at him with the short blonde curls swinging. “No, something about air” “Mon cheri, results don’t appear out of nowhere and land were we wanted them, or something like that”. “That’s it!” The missing piece that was eluding them! Chevereux looked down at her. “Excusez-moi, doctor? Can you please explain what are you saying?” “During my stay at Area 51 I contacted with several of the troopers involved in the assault of a two-story UFO near the North Pole. I asked him about the things he had seen working inside the UFO and if there was anything peculiar, but he couldn’t remember at the moment anything. But one day I heard him commenting about the lifts the aliens used and his surprise about it. They had no moving parts and that an invisible force elevated the passenger. The trooper said that he simply moved in the air and stopped afterwards”. “What is your point, Doctor?”

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“Moving, landing. What’s the name of the force on Earth that attracts everything to the ground?” “Gravity?” Dr. Chevereux thought for a minute and added: “You mean the elevator was an anti-gravity device?” “And now think about the raid on Coventry. Commander Illyuschenko reported that when the UFO’s engines stopped he suddenly could feel the inertia of the craft, something that did not happen while it was moving airborne, because the anti-gravity effect counteracted Newton’s laws of movement, that state that for every reaction there’s a counter-reaction”. “An anti-gravity device? The Elerium can generate an anti-gravity field? That would explain how the craft moves or how their weapons control the plasma discharge, but how?” She shrugged her shoulders. That was the question that they had been trying to resolve but at least now it seemed that they had gotten a bit forward. “Like you said, Dr. Chevereux, we need to do some more testing”. “Yes, unfortunately the research priorities have been changed”. He took a resigned look, of someone who had dealt with such situations for many times. “What? What do you mean? We can’t have gone this far to stop everything now!” “The report from the Council of Funding Nations came this morning and I wished it was an April’ Fools Day joke. Many nations are complaining of UFO activity within or close to their borders with no response from X-Com’s forces. As a result, they have decided to reduce their contributions and the money we have is simply not enough to cover all our expenses. Scientific programs have been put into a low-priority with the majority of the funds going to cover military deployment costs”. “The Secretary General and the Commander must be insane! You can’t allow this to happen Doctor!” “I supported their decision. The troops are well prepared now to deal with the aliens. We need to deploy them or the cuts will affect us more next month and might even lead to this whole operation being cancelled. I have lived through hundreds of budget constrains and know that if we don’t present results, the Council will cut more. Legislators are a funny kind of people doctor, I’ve done with them before. They tend to think more in practical matters than in the long-term”. “What are we to do then?” She felt defeated. “You will continue with the Elerium research, but at a minimal funding. But most of the staff on the project will be redirected to other areas. We need know to find more about the aliens in order for the military to be able to decipher their intentions and plans”. “But we are this close, Doctor. Remember your words when we started? Elerium is the key to the stars”. The older scientist looked absent for a minute and then he replied. “That might not be so, Dr. We still don’t know how or if it’s used to transport to travel through speeds faster than light. Zeta Reticuli, the system where the alien claims its species was born, is a long way from here and, most likely the craft we have seen can 180

travel through planets but not out of our solar system. It would take them took long although some recent archeological discoveries suggest that they might be watching us for a long time”. “The theory that the aliens must have a base inside our solar system to support their operations. Yes, I have seen the conclusions of the…. interrogation made to the alien also.” “Yes. Interesting how we are seen as guinea pigs by them, but not pleasant at all”. He checked his watch and said afterwards: “I need to be going Dr. Please continue with your testing and notify me immediately if you come up with any interesting report”. “Of course, Dr. Chevereux”. And I will get them, she ordered herself.

April 7th, 1999
Pacific Ocean
The nuclear powered Los Angeles class attack submarine USS La Jolla was traveling at a speed of six knots on her three-day trip from the Hawaii Islands to her pier at San Diego Naval Base. Most of the journey had been uneventful so far, and, besides a group of whales migrating and some merchant ships they hadn’t had any contact in the first two days of the trip. Since they were close to the US coast, the sub skipper had decided to go to the surface and allow his men to get some fresh air and sun, taking advantage to the rather unusual weather conditions. The captain had also decided to go outside and had been on the top of the submarine’s sail for nearly half an hour when the intercom started working. “Captain, Sonar. We require your presence down here sir. We have just picked a strange sonar echo on the passive sonar”. “Nature of the contact?” “Unidentified sir. It is underwater and moving at an impossible speed”. “I’m coming down”. He dropped on the hatch built on the floor of the tower that was built on the top of the submarine, grabbed one of the rails and started going down. After less than a minute he reached the sonar room where two technicians were very occupied. “Ensign Rollins, what’s the range to the target?” “43 nautical miles sir. But we first detected it more than sixty miles away”. The captain did some mental calculations and frown his face. For the contact to have closed that distance it meant that it was navigating at a speed never seen on a submarine. Unless it was not a sub. He recalled the top security orders he had received months ago. “Is the sonar signature completely unknown to our databank?” “Yes, I’ve triple-checked it already. And the noise we are picking up is very strange; it doesn’t quite fit the usual transistent signal. It doesn’t sound like mechanical parts working but more as if it’s a whale, but in this case it would be a whale with a metallic skin”. The senior sonar technician looked completely puzzled and shrank its shoulders. Something on the earphones caught his attention and he looked at the data monitors in 181

front of him, even more astonished with what he saw. “Sir it just suddenly stopped, but I mean a full stop. And it’s moving again right now but changed its course. It’s not heading toward us anymore but going on a course zero-four-seven. Have you ever heard of anything like it captain?” The Captain remembered his instructions. They were very precise on this point. “It must one of the Russian new submarines that they are testing right now, according to the CIA”. If the technician even detected that his commander was telling a lie, he didn’t even showed it also when he replied: “This close to our shore?!” “Keep tracking it. And if you have not figured it out yet, gentlemen, what you are seeing is classified. You may never discuss this with anyone else or you will spend the rest of your careers on a federal prison!” Both non-commissioned officers immediately turned stiff and replied: “Yessir!” “Inform me of any changes on his present course, I will be in the communications room”. He didn’t even bother to hear their reply as he was already thinking of a way to put the incident into words.

Santa Cruz, California
Going on night shift at the local radio was always hell for the disk jockey on was assigned to it. And Terry was just starting to feel what it was like, in his first night. First he thought that it would be good to not have anyone else looking at you to see if the newbie made any blunder. He almost wanted that someone would be shouting at him right now. Besides the technician on charge on the transmission gear of the station there was no one else on the top floor of a three-story office building where K-NUT transmitted. And there was nothing to do also, besides occasionally mumbling something into the mike just to wake up whoever would be up at this hour in the night trying to no fall at sleep at the wheel of the car and choosing the tracks that were being broadcasted. At least the studio had a soundproof window in front of him that opened to the outside and provided a view of the shore and the Pacific Ocean. That helped out to not feeling also claustrophobic. But it didn’t do much in helping the boredom of the place. Terry considered going over the technician to chat a little to see if it helped the time passed but when he looked to the booth where he usually sat, there was no one there. Probably went for a couple of coffee at the vendor on the corridor or to take a piss he figured. He looked at the monitor and noticed that the last song on the list was being played. Time to go to work again for some more minutes he thought, while starting to think what it would be broadcasted next. While he was going over the songs stored on the informatics system, his side view begun tracking something. He first thought it was the Moon on her way across the sky, but his brain remembered that it didn’t the Moon didn’t travel that quick and also that its shape was never oval. He looked to the window and became absorbed in what he saw. Something bright was flying offshore in front of his eyes. He quickly jumped out of his chair and ran to the window. He wanted to open it but it didn’t have a handle so after some seconds of search for one he just quitted and looked again. The oval thing or disk or whatever it was still kept

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moving from the left to the right, close to the shore. What the fuck was that, he asked? A voice asked behind of him. “Hey! What are you doing? There’s nothing playing on the air right now you moron!” The technician shouted at him from the door that connected the studio to his booth. “There’s something flying out there! It’s a UFO or something!” Terry kept looking at the craft. “What? A fucking UFO? ” He moved to the window, and took a peek, but the UFO had already disappeared on the horizon. “Are you nuts or something? There’s nothing out there! You must have been smoking some serious shit before coming to work!” “I’m serious, it was big! We need to call the police! We need to report this on the air!” “Christ! Wake up! Hello, wake up! What you need to do is to get some music playing right now, you idiot or you can be sure that I will report you tomorrow! Fucking rookie assholes!” The technician turned and went back to his booth, leaving Terry still searching for the now gone UFO.

Area 51, Nevada, US
The hangar where the F-22 interceptor was parked was full of agitation, with technicians going over the craft and warning klaxons sounded in the dark metal walls. The organized chaos that had been installed was repeating itself on the other hangar next to it, where XCom personnel was also preparing the second advanced fighter that the West team Base possessed. On a room situated on the facility, Lt. Colonel Harris was finishing the final preparations on his flight gear, together with Captain Clark, both pilots having been called in by Colonel Johnson. When they both did the last checks they both turned to the West commander and waited in silence. Johnson then started talking: “Ten minutes ago the US Navy detected an UFO underwater in the Pacific heading towards the US shore. It disappeared and the NORAD picked it up afterwards on a course that led it to San Diego. The radar track showed it to be one of their ships used for terrorist attacks”. “What? Jesus!” Before both officers started bombarding him with questions, Johnson raised a hand to stop them. “It over flew San Diego and never launched any attack. Local authorities report no strange events in the area. The UFO just continued its course and is lurking around in the area. Current information puts him 10 miles off the city on Santa Cruz, California. To prevent any possible attacks, the Air Force is putting together a major operation to shoot it down. And you will be the spearhead of that offensive. The Alpha, Delta, Epsilon, Omega, Phi, Zeta and Kappa squads are already getting ready and boarding the Skyrangers, in case you fail”. Harris fought the urge to touch his face and almost raised his hand to do it. Revenge. Just show me the fuckers, every last one of them, he said to himself. Johnson seemed to pick something on the pilot, because he turned to Harris and said: “I share of your fears about that thing that is flying out there, but remember that this is a military operation! You will

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do as you are told or when you came back here you will be spending the rest of this operation cleaning up the toilets!” “Yessir!” “Just remember it! Now board your planes, you will get briefed on the plan when you’re airborne. And good luck!” Both pilots grabbed their flight helmets and left the room. When they entered the hangar, Clark turned to Harris and asked him and they were on their way to the planes. “Harris, you know what that last shit that the Colonel said was all about”. The other pilot stopped and turned to Clark, moving his index finger to the scars on his temple. He then moved it over the other burned locations on his forehead, slowly rubbing them, to make sure that the younger pilot knew his point. “Gosh! I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean to intrude…” “Don’t worry about it. Just remember to not get on my way when we’re on the air”. He then turned to his plane and started walking again, picking his pace. When he reached it he climbed the stairwell in the cockpit and jumped inside, locking himself to the ejection seat and putting his helmet. A couple of jacks coming out from it quickly found themselves into locations in the cabin, connecting him to the radio. He then connected is breathing apparatus and did the final checks. A technician came to the front of his craft waving a hand carrying red little flags and he nodded. His plane was ready. He keyed on his radio: “Command, this is Comanche One. Ready to take-off. Over” “Comanche, commenting launch procedures now”. Suddenly the floor beneath the craft begun to raise it itself towards the top of the hangar. The overhead doors started opening and the lift slowly brought the craft up to the surface. Light greeted Harris, but he ignored it as he was starting his engines. When the elevator stopped the F-22 was standing in the middle of a sand-painted runway, with rotating lights coming out of their concealed locations to help him see it. Behind him the F-22 piloted by Clark had also come out of its hiding and was maneuvering to get himself being Harris. “Comanche flight, clear to take off. Climb up to angels twelve and maintain formation. Your heading is 294. Wait for Air Force instructions from the E-3C Sentry on the area”. “Comanche One, roger. Commencing take-off”. Harris let go of the air brakes and applied almost full power to the engine. The F-22 slowly started to move in the hot tarmac and started to gain speed. When his airspeed showed it to be going over 150 miles per hour, Harris began pushing the control stick to him and the plane took-off, closely followed by Clark’s. Both planes then reached their assigned altitude and started heading towards their target. Johnson and Major Patterson were also prepared to take-off, seated on a C-130 Hercules aircraft, together with the remaining Beta and Gamma squads. The thing wasn’t as good as the EC-130E plane they were used to, but there was no way they could afford to buy it or even request it from the Air Force. “Colonel, Captain Markovitch reports her Skyranger is ready to lift-off. Forrester hasn’t finished their preparations but should be done any second. 184

“What’s the status of Comanche and the other flights?” “Comanche One and Two are already on their way to California. There’s also a flight of F/A-18C Hornets on their way from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, besides the flights of Air Force and National Guard’s F-16s and F-15s fighters on their way coming from bases all over the West Coast. Northwestern Air Defense Sector at McChord AFB in Washington State is coordinating the counterattack”. “Do they have more air resources available?” “The carrier Carl Vinson and his battle group had started two day ago their trip to their deployment to the Southern Pacific, but they are too far away to help. The Air Force will have more fighters available in some hours, but it might be too late”. “And on the ground?” “One battalion of Marines ready at San Diego. And some California National Guard units can also assist us”. “Let’s hurry up the preparations then. We need this thing on the air in case the fighters fail to stop the UFO. He when in the direction of the Hercules’ back ramp door to help carrying the last remaining equipment inside the plane.

Over Central California, US
Harris was remembering his first contact. The excitement and fear of approaching the alien craft. And the surprise and pain afterwards, the sudden rush of air into the cut cockpit of the Aurora, the frantic moments searching for the ejection handles before passing out. A voice brought him back: “Comanche Flight, this is Sentinel. Target is still airborne, near San Francisco. Keep your present vector. You are to fire at it at maximum weapon’s range and then clear the area. The other flights will then engage, taking advantage of your discharges”. Harris looked at his weapons display. He was carrying four AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and Clark was loaded with two other Phoenixes and three AIM-120 Amraams, each group of weapons split between his two weapons’ bays, right in the intersection between the F22’s body and wings. Usually it would take two or three Phoenixes or Amraam’s to take one of the Celtic cross type but the craft that was over the Pacific was much larger. Although it would have been better to load a full AIM-54 Phoenix set on both wings, there simply hadn’t been enough time. But he preferred that way. Better to keep things close and personal.

Pacific Ocean
Further up north, a flight of four F-15A Eagle interceptors from the 123rd Fighter Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard were circling, waiting for Comanche flight to make their attack run. The leader, Major Armstrong, was afraid. So far he hadn’t ever heard of any exercise that consisted of scrambling all the fully armed, alert-status planes at the base and have them wait off the American Coast. Another thing that told him that something big was up was the amount of air traffic he could hear on the military and civilian channels. He recognized some of the call signs. They belonged to air defense fighter units all over the Pacific states. And even more disturbing was the regular air 185

traffic channels. All civilian flight operations had been cancelled on the Bay Area and the airline pilots were giving hell to the controllers, being forced to find alternate airports. That could only mean that there was some immediate danger, most likely in the form of a hostile attack. But who would be nuts enough to make an air strike against the continent US or even have the resources to do it? The threat looked as if it was coming from the Pacific, which meant that either they would have an aircraft carrier lurking around or it had long-range bombers. The Russians? The Chinese? Has World War III started all of a sudden?

California-Nevada border, US
The noise of the C-130 almost made it impossible for Johnson to hear the radio or Patterson’s voice. He waved for him to stop and said: “Say that again?” His executive officer raised his voice to be heard. “Both Skyrangers are halfway to the Bay Area. Air Force is about to attack the UFO”. “Think they are going to make it?” “Your guess is as good as mine, Colonel. It depends on the offensive and defensives capabilities of that thing. We know it also carries plasma beams like the smaller UFOs. We just don’t know what they are capable of”. “And we on the ground, are we ready?” “The whole company is ready sir. Army and Marine forces are ready to deploy, but the location of the possible attack will determine for long we will have to wait for assistance”. “Let’s hope we don’t need them and that this all ends on a deployment drill”.

Central California, US
The UFO was going steady, some 110 miles away from Comanche Flight. Harris noticed that it seemed to be just cruising, maintaining the same course and a low speed. The APG-71 radar situated on the nose of the F-22 suddenly started picking the craft and it started tracking it. Checking with Clark to certify that he had also a lock, he then contacted the E-3C Sentry that was monitoring the situation. “Sentinel. This is Comanche Flight, we have the bandit locked”. “Comanche flight acknowledging your status. Weapons are free, engage at your discretion”. “Sentinel, this is Comanche One. I got a tone on the target. Phoenix is locked and ready. Firing now! Fox Three!” The left weapons bay opened and the missile dropped out of its releasing mechanism, dropping for a bit more than a second before its engine blasted. The guidance system received the information from the F-22’s radar and started guiding it towards the UFO. After the second Phoenix was launched the hydraulic doors closed again and both missiles were soon racing over Mach five to their target. “Sentinel, Comanche One. Both missiles are on their way!” “Sentinel, Comanche Two, I got a malfunction on my left bay. Only fired two missiles”.

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“Comanche Flight, get clear and remain close to the area until further orders”. As Harris push the stick towards him and to the right to clear the area, he looked at his radar screen, focusing on the echo’s sent by the four missiles and the UFO and ignoring the swarms of fighters that were trying to take advantage of his salvo to get into range to also release their missiles. One of the dots started going slowly off target, and after it lost target lock it self-destructed, the blip disappearing off the scope. The other three Phoenixes hit the UFO. Harris monitored its speed and bearing, but it seemed that it hadn’t been enough to bring it down. Then he started noticing the other blips approaching the craft. Four flights of F-15As, F-16Cs and F/A-18Cs were approaching the UFO from all different locations. Since the planes couldn’t carry the Phoenix missile, they would have to come closer than 50 miles to be able to launch their AIM-120A Amraam and AIM-7M missiles. Harris knew it could be a dangerous trick. Inside that distance he had been several times been shot at by the UFOs. Checking the altitude, course and airspeed, he then turned its eyes back into the radar screen and changed the radio into the general channel. “Sentinel, Cobra Flight, twenty more miles to weapon’s range. Target is slowing down.” “Air Flight, engage at maximum range. If bandit opens fire start taking an evasive approach to the target” “Sentinel, an evasive what? This isn’t Second World War anymore where you zigzagged while on an attack run! Repeat last order please”. “Sentinel…” “Oh my God! Jesus Christ! Cobra Three is hit! I repeat, Cobra Three is hit! I just saw a flash and his F-15 exploded afterwards!” “Bear Two is also down! He managed to eject! Request search and rescue immediately!” “How are they tracking us? There’s nothing on my threat detector!” “Commencing evasive maneuvers! Wildcat One is down!” “Sentinel, Cobra Two, I got a lock and I’m firing now! Fox Two!” Harris looked at the screen and ignored the calls made by the pilots while launching their missiles. Nearly half of the attacking fighters had been downed already. It seemed that the plasma beam it carried had more range and was more powerful than the ones of the smaller UFOs.

Pacific Ocean
Major Armstrong couldn’t believe what was going on. Before Sentinel had given them the order to fire on the bandit, the damn plane they were chasing had already downed two F-15s of his flight. Both pilots had been immediately killed in the explosion that engulfed their planes, with no chance of bailing out. What was that thing on the air and what was it shooting? Nothing could be seen, not even the smoke trail of the enemy’s missiles or whatever he used while they headed out for his flight’s planes. He had launched his four AIM-7M Sparrow missiles and was keeping a steady course to the bogey, since the missiles required guidance from his APG-63 radar until they reached

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their target. Which made the whole situation extremely risky, since he basically couldn’t maneuver or break away, unless he wanted to loose control over the weapons. Another plasma bolt blew his wingman’s plane, transforming it in a mass of fire, metal and plastic. He almost went into panic but he then saw that his missiles were about to hit the bandit. Take that you fucker. Then another blast from the UFO consumed the cockpit of the F-15 and his body, before his mind could even take notice.

California Coast
Harris also saw the impact of the missiles on his radar screen. The four Sparrows converged on the larger blip and hit it, their radar echo’s disappearing at the same time. But the UFO continued its flight, as if it were an elephant being stung by mosquitoes. As the last missiles launched from the surviving fighters hit the craft, Harris swore in frustration, seeing that almost a score of pilots and planes had been sacrificed for nothing. In spite of multiple missile hits, the UFO was still flying on the air, some seventy kilometers to the northwest of his position. And the last remaining fighter planes were trying to close in, this time taking evasive maneuvers to avoid the plasma beam destructiveness and long-range. They only had their short-range Sidewinder missiles and cannons now and most likely they would achieve nothing. Harris looked at his weapon’s board. He still had three AIM-120Cs on the other weapon bay. Keying the radio button on the control stick with his index finger, he already knew what he had to do. “Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Requesting permission to re-engage and fire my remaining missiles”. “Comanche, negative on that. We are recalling the remaining fighters. We can’t afford to lose more men and aircraft”. “Damn it Sentinel, if that thing lands a lot of civilians will be killed!” “Orders came from National Command Authority and Wolverine Command. Combat troops are already deploying to possible attack locations. Your orders are to return to base”. So, Colonel Johnson and the President are ordering us to retreat, while that thing is still flying and preparing to launch a terrorist strike at a city. Making some mental calculations he estimated that the UFO had been hit by at least a dozen missiles. It probably had been hurt, since it had reduced more its speed and had made now a couple of erratic turns. “Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Your last transmission was garbled. I repeat, I failed to receive your last transmission. I don’t know if you are hearing this, but I’m reengaging the craft”. His mind made up, Harris turned the F-22 until it was pointed to the direction of the UFO. “Comanche One, negative! Break off this minute!” “I still can’t understand you Sentinel. My radio receiver must be malfunctioning. Engaging now”. Ignoring the angry voices on the channel, he turned the volume down and concentrated on the Terror craft in front of him. The Television Camera Set, a device developed for the F-14 Tomcat long-range interceptor that allowed the pilot to track at large distances and display a television image of a large contact in the pilot’s monitor, 188

picked up the craft in front of him and displayed its image for a few seconds, until Harris threw the plane into a sharp turn out of instinct. A couple of seconds later, a plasma bolt flew by him, missing his plane by narrow yards. “Shit!” Harris cursed. He made another turn to put the F-22 back into attack position and checked the distance to the UFO. Sixty more miles to go, and the thing seemed to have put all of its defense system against him, forcing him to take some more high-g turns while the green bolts flew across the sky, the plasma disappearing itself after some more miles after the charged particles dispersed themselves and interacted with the oxygen on Earth’s atmosphere, turning it into ozone. Harris kept checking the decreasing distance between his F-22 and the UFO and when he was inside the Amraam’s range, he took some more maneuvers to get him closer. He was already under the 35 mile mark and wanted to get closer to assure a kill, but something on his screen changed his plans. The UFO was increasing speed and pretty soon it would outpace his F-22. “Oh, no you don’t!” he spouted, and aligned the plane to launch his missiles. The radar switched modes from searching to tracking and pretty soon the computer was feeding the necessary data to the missiles’ guidance systems. A low whine come over his headphones telling him that the weapons were locked on target. Not bothering to issue a warning he simply fired his remaining missiles, which dropped in a synchronized sequence from his open weapons bay and quickly made a left roll after the last one was on its way to the UFO. The Terror Ship in front of him was trying to leave the area, by increasing power to its anti-gravity propulsion system, but the previous missiles already injured it. It fired a couple of shots at the incoming missiles as a last-resort measure to stop them, but it failed. Harris aligned the F-22 as the Amraam’s were close to reach the UFO and watched it through the TCS system mounted on his plane. The gray fuselage of the circular UFO had been already blackened in some places, as result of previous hits. And smoke was coming out of one of the compartments attached to the main body where the doors where located. The first Amraam hit the UFO on the section that connected the circular body to the “wings”. The explosion obscured the video image being displayed on Harris central monitor and prevented him from seeing where the other missiles hit the target. But the end result was pretty obvious. The UFO started spinning on the air, due to the failure of one of its engines that left the whole craft with too many power on one of its sides. The alien crew tried to correct it, but the power plant that was unbalancing the craft suddenly overloaded as the amount of power it released was being elevated to compensate for the failure of the engine on the opposite end of the craft. Harris saw a sudden explosion on the main body that shook the entire craft, with the matter-antimatter reaction carving a hole on the bottom of the craft, while simultaneously wrecking the two remaining engines and leaving the UFO powerless. Without the power of Elerium to counteract the effects of Earth’s gravity it simply dropped down on the air like a rock. Harris kept tracking it until the radar blip finally disappeared on the waters of the Pacific. He then turned on his radio again and spoke. “Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Bandit is down. I repeat bandit is down. Gimme a course to get back home”. While he waited for the surveillance plane to reply he took pleasure on the turning down of the fire that was raging inside him just minutes before.

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Situation Room, White House, Washington DC, US
General Thompson put down the phone and turned to President Winston. “I just contacted the Navy commander in charge of the Search and Rescue operations. So far they only managed to retrieve three of the shot down pilots”. “How many still missing?” Winston felt sorrow for the lost of so many men, but the alternative could have been much worse. “Only two. Of the twelve fighters shot down by the UFO, Sentinel registered that five had managed to bail out of their planes. They will continue their search operations. And they have also recovered one Sectoid body that was floating on the water”. “Better if they retrieve also all wreckage belonging to the UFO crash. We can’t afford that fishermen or someone at the beach discovers an alien body floating on the ocean”. The DCI commented. Winston nodded in comply and asked to his Press Secretary: “What is the media saying?” “We have pictured it as an exercise to test our air defense force capabilities over the Pacific Coast”. “Word has also been leaked to the papers through unknown military sources that it was also a test of a advanced plane. We are officially denying it, of course. I suggest we keep some planes up on the air for the past days, exercising and also inviting the media to attend the exercises, sir”. Mark Casper had approved the Intelligence’s team’s proposal of disinformation and had forwarded it to the President for final approval. While Winston wasn’t fully briefed on the plan, to protect him in case the whole thing went public, he knew and understood the necessity of keeping a tight lid on the existence of the aliens. “Very well. Has X-Com been able to determine why the craft stood that long offshore?” “The assessment team thinks it might be making some reconnaissance before attacking. However, the approach method it used is usually made on a surprise attack, going underwater where our detection abilities are far lower than on the air. No one simply knows what where the alien’s intentions, sir”. The President looked at the Chairman of the JCS, his top military adviser. “General Thompson, what do you propose?” “Mr. President, the Navy could start a 24 hour surveillance of our seaboard. While they suffered cutbacks on the area of submarine warfare, we still have assets that can be deployed, such as attack submarines and surveillance ships”. “I will sign the orders immediately then”. He finally moved into the American Representative to the X-Com Council. “I would like to know also the name of the pilot that shot down the UFO. He needs some sort of award for it”.

Area 51, Nevada, US
When Johnson had learned about Harris actions’ and how he had directly ignored a superior order, he immediately called the pilot to his office to have a small chat with him. Harris more than likely knew why he had been ordered to attend to the Colonel’s office,

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but as he opened the door and entered, the pilot showed no sign of being bothered for it. He stood up in attention and said: “Lt. Colonel Harris reporting as ordered, sir”. “At ease! I suppose you know the reason for this meeting?” “I take it to be directly related to my actions this morning”. “Mr. Harris, let me tell you what I got here in front of me on my desk”. He pointed with his hands to the papers in front of him. “I have a transcript of the communications between you and the Sentry. And I also have a letter for the US President thanking XCom for its efforts in protection of American lives and expressing his sincere admiration at the X-Com who shot down the UFO”. Tell me, should I be pleased or should I be pissed off?!” “I did my duty, sir. That thing flying over there was a menace” “That thing over there was a menace all right, but this is not the place where you can fight your own little war! You had orders, mister and you chose to ignore them over some personal vendetta! Can you imagine what he would suffer if we lost half of our interception capabilities if you plane was shot!?” “Sir, I ignored the chain of command because my superior officers were making a wrong decision!” “The wrong decision was yours mister! In fact, I even doubt you thought about it!” “Colonel, I knew exactly its capabilities and exactly how to strike. All of my moves were planned and I knew the enemy’s tactics and forces available. And as you can see, I was successful”. “Indeed Colonel, and that’s why you are not being canned for this little trick of yours. The letter also says that they are considering you for the Silver Star for your actions and you will certainly receive it later although I oppose it. Meanwhile, I want a full report by tomorrow of your actions and the UFO’s capabilities and also a complete rethinking of our aerial tactics according to this information. Is that clear?” Harris knew he would have to spend the whole night awake doing it, but at least the Colonel wasn’t grounding him. He replied affirmatively and was dismissed by Johnson. When he got outside and was on his way to his quarters he almost bumped into Captain Markovitch as he turned a corner. He immediately recoiled back and apologized. “Sorry Captain. I wasn’t thinking in what I was doing” Markovitch dropped from her position of full alert and replied: “Don’t worry about it Colonel, no harm was done. By the way, congratulations for your actions today!” Harris winced and adding some irony to his voice while he said: “Thank you. Unfortunately the commander doesn’t feel that way. Let me ask you something Captain: you have served with the Colonel before. Did he always have this attitude of being the guy that does everything by the book?” Markovitch made a little smirk to him and answered back: “I know what you are saying Colonel. I will have a little talk to him.

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“Good luck. From what I’ve seen so far, you will need it, Captain”. He nodded and started to walk again. Markovitch replied and thought for some seconds. She then turned to the direction of Johnson’s office and headed towards it. Upon reaching it, she knocked and Johnson replied: “Enter”. She got in and saluted. Johnson raised its eyes from the amount of paperwork he had in front of him and said: “What is it Captain? I’m very busy at the moment and I have already congratulated you on the readiness of your team”. “I know Captain, but I need to talk about something else, Johnson”. He stopped what he was doing and made a face of being terribly annoyed. “Let’s not bring this matter again, shall we Markovitch?!” “I’m not talking about that, Colonel. I’m talking about your attitude of giving the hell over Harris because of what he did today. He’s a damn hero and you condemned him because of his actions!” “The guy acted irrationally and didn’t measure the possible consequences!” “He took a risk Johnson! But a calculated risk! He didn’t wait for the tacticians down here to analyze it over weeks, he made a combat decision! You should be thanking him for President Winston not be cutting right now to X-Com’s funding, which could be happening right now if they had launched an attack”. “He ignored the chain of command and risked his dumb ass and a plane worth millions of dollars that we can’t afford to loose!” “And saved the life of thousands of civilians! Who, if everything had gone over the book or caution would be dead by now!” “What’s your point Captain?” “You are when you say that the only thing that we have on the same level as this aliens is intelligence and we should use it. Otherwise we are nothing more than hairless apes going against them. But you are also forgetting that you can’t predict everything. And that sometimes is better to charge if you feel the sudden urge to do it”. “If there’s a rule then it’s because there’s a damn good reason for it!” “But if what no one ever thought about it? Or if it made you act against everything you thought and believed, Johnson? What would you do then?” He was about to speak but stopped at her last words. “See what I mean, Johnson? Sometimes you forget to let go, to ignore all the questions and just do. And you condemn other people for doing it. That’s why we had all those discussions before over military matters when I was under your command. And that’s why you never understood and accepted that I wanted to join the 82nd. Think about it”. She turned and left and Johnson wanted to say something but couldn’t possibly think about what to say. He decided to turn back to his paperwork and leave it for later when he recovered.

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April 15th, 1999
Highway 50, Maryland, US
Williams was just finishing his coffee at the diner located at the highway that connected Washington to Maryland when Davis entered the establishment. Looking at his watch, he saw that Davis was half an hour late on their meeting. The FBI agent looked all over the place at the few customers that had to be up for whatever reason at this hour in the morning. Detecting no danger, he then walked over to Williams’s table and sat down on a chair. “Good morning” he said. “Good morning? Where have you been? You are half an hour late”. “I stayed outside hidden to see if anyone had followed us. Nothing like triple checking to be safe”. Williams was surprised and continued: “OK. Next time just warn me so that I can bring the paper or something to kill the time. Any progress?” Continuously looking at everyone who was in the dinner, with his eyes changing direction every few seconds, he replied: “I got about half a dozen suspects, but I doubt it, although I have them on surveillance just to be sure”. “Someone important?” “No big names. Almost all of them are regular investigators. No, they are small fish”. “But still be careful. You heard about the possibility of hybrids infiltrating our society?” “Yes. Are my men looking for hybrids?” He fixed his stare on Williams. “I have reason to believe that the conspirators might be using them. Be very careful, from what I’ve been reported they can be quite fast”. “I will tell that to my men. I have already informed them about the alien situation although I’ve kept myself quiet about all the rest”. “Good. Watch out for yourselves”. “We will”. He looked again at Williams and said: “I take it that the brain washing deception factory is going quite well. From what I’ve heard, the delegations of the Bureau all over the country are starting to receive calls from concerned citizens about how a Neo Nazi conspiracy is about to try to throw the country through the use of stolen advanced weapons. That’s one of the craziest things I ever heard on my life but I used to thought the same about UFOs”. “We just took advantage of the television focusing on the incidents up in California and the extreme-right militias and patriot groups that appeared making warnings about the alien menace”. “And now you have the Secret Service going nuts every day because of the fights in front of the White House between them and the idiots who hold rallies supporting the aliens”. “Two bunches of lunatics fighting one another on the evening news makes everyone else think that this whole matter is just crazy stuff”. The media was having a field day with the confrontations between both groups in Washington and other cities and a set of

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rumors disseminated by the intelligence team had sparked all kind of weird rumors, distracting attention from the aerial fight over the Pacific. “Yeah, whatever. Just remember me never to give my vote to you on any election if all of this works”.

April 20th, 1999
Unknown facility, unknown location, US
Every time Number One came to the secret installations of the Group at the United States he felt a natural repulsion about the place. Too many things here stank of the alien presence and he had never become accustomed to the place. Still he knew that the future of mankind and of his position laid here, although the thought wasn’t too comforting. He wondered if Three knew about that and had specifically called for the reunion at those facilities, in order to put himself on a strained position. The young fool must be too clever or too stupid to do that, he considered, but then he realized that he couldn’t tell from both choices. It didn’t matter, he concluded to himself, since everything was already set up in motion and nothing could stop it. The desk on Three’s office buried deep inside the underground facility was empty as both men had chosen instead to stand up as they talked. “The Americans are acting to counter your own deception. Their intelligence group has proven itself to be quite resourceful”. So this is from where the hostilities begun, Three said to himself, before answering back. “Those are close to desperate attempts to regain control of public opinion. In the end they will only contribute more to their own discredit. What is necessary is that we can control the team. I would assume it would have been already done by your part, since they would be fine material for recruitment, since those men are the ones who have the better, if grossly incomplete picture of everything”. Number One recoiled, furious that the other man had the nerve to question his own actions. Regaining control, he shot back: “That would pose as a very dangerous risk. They don’t yet have the power necessary to be of importance to us and they are unreliable on terms of allegiance, since most of them don’t appear to share of our motives” “In that case, why aren’t they being kept under a strict watch and control? If they are not with us, then they belong to the enemy”. Don’t escalate this anymore, or I will promise you that you don’t know yet how far you can sink. “They have too much independence from a chain of command. Ultimately, they are becoming analogous to us, starting to act on their own. We need to think of other ways to contain them, since they might suspect something if we keep a strict control over them”. “As we know, that can be arranged. But they are not dangerous to us yet. And if they become, we will provoke their fall and take care of any survivors that might exist. One way or the other they are ours to crush”.

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April 22nd, 1999
Times Square, New York City, US
What a shitty job I got, Blake thought as he was looking at the crowd gathered at Times Square on their way of making a rally against the alien invasion. Nevada had turned up into nothing and since he had took the journey on its own, he wouldn’t get any reimbursement for his expenses. Worse yet, his next vacancies would be way too long now, since he had taken a week off to personally investigate Area 51. His queries had left to nothing. First it had taken him days just to get a phone number of the base, with all federal and state agencies denying even the existence of the installation. He finally got through it by telling some innocent lies but even that had left into a dead end. The person who had answered the phone on the other end ignored his request to talk to Colonel Johnson and asked before saying or acknowledging anything for his identification. He eventually hang up upon seeing that Blake was just trying to fish for information. And a few minutes afterwards a police car stopped at the gas station where Blake had made the call. When he noticed them from the diner’s where he was having breakfast he realized he had hit the jackpot, but that I was useless since there still was no confirmation for Johnson’s presence at the base. But something was going on Area 51 for sure. He had driven his rented car into the base’s limits, eventually finding the road used by the military personnel. But after some minutes of hanging around in the area to see if he could detect any movement an unmarked jeep had appeared down the highway. They had parked close to him and two soldiers wearing Air Force insignias had come out of the vehicle. They asked him about his business in the area while keeping an aggressive pose. Blake made up an innocuous story to explain for his presence there, but they proceeded to warn him against staying in a classified area. Still he had managed to see a lot of night activity with jets being scrambled, although he only saw their lights far away. The place was too damn guarded to give away any of its secrets, he concluded after a week and decided to get back to NY. Upon getting back at the newspaper, his editor had assigned him the task of covering the manifestations that where being held for and against the aliens. “Since you are already familiar to the matter”, the bastard had said upon telling him his job for the next days, smiling. And one of the lamest things I’ve ever done he thought. The crowd was being restrained by police barriers in one of the sidewalks on Times Square and was making a lot of noise. The state troopers didn’t know exactly what to do so they just stood around trying to make a pose as calm as possible while the protesters waved signs against Nazism and a Police State and defending Personal Freedom. Fishing out a notebook out from the inside pocket of his leather jacket he moved towards the crowd, which he noticed was about to turn itself into an angry mob. Looking up he saw the reason for the commotion: in one of the electronic billboards on Times Square an ad was just going through about the new movie Hollywood had decided to put up by 4th of July. Independence Day, or how ET had decided to take Earth on the Nation’s Founding Day. Ironical, he thought before noticing the leader of the protesters, a well-built man with brown hair cut in a military style. Pushing through the crowd he approached the individual.

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“Hi. I’m working for the NY Times. Could you please tell me what this is all about?” The man looked at him with suspicion and was about to ignore him until Blake added, while going for his wallet: “I can show you some ID to prove who I am”. “Don’t bother”. He said in an icy voice. “It doesn’t matter if you are who you claim. You are nothing but a puppet at their hands”. “I’m sorry, whose hands are those?” He immediately took the cap off his pen and started writing. “The ones who are trying to install the New World Order. The ones who are trying to limit our freedom and manipulate our minds through the use of propaganda like that”. He pointed at the screen that was now giving out some other commercial. “You don’t believe in UFOs?” “By the contrary, we quite believe on them. But the government knows what they are about. They made them and are using them to blind our perception. The new millennium is coming and they are getting ready to install their new order”. Blake immediately saw the whole picture: another group of people that had decided after the Waco massacre that the Federal government was after them. That and the hype surrounding the coming of 2000. “And what is that new order you are constantly talking about?” “The one imposed by the new fascists, that are hiding right now on these towers of oppression and in the government under the disguise of Republicans or Democrats. They will take away all our freedoms and make us slaves, but we won’t even notice it. There are no aliens. There is only a deception to make us believe they exist and that they are threatening us, so that we abdicate of our liberties under the pretense of false war”. He grabbed his speaker and started shouting: “Say no to the false prophets! Say no to the New World Order and their lackeys!” The crowd imitated him and kept shouting at the NYPD personnel in the area who where know looking at one another without knowing exactly what to do. The mob begun gesturing aggressively at the policemen and Blake decided to leave the area, or at least watch the predictable confrontations from a safer place. When he detached himself from the protesters he saw police vans already appearing and unloading agents equipped for riot control. As he watched them deploy he was already starting to compose his article for next day’s edition. But something kept troubling him.

April 25th, 1999
White House, Washington DC, US
The briefings at the White House were starting to scare Williams, the hairs on the back of his head raising up as he went through the corridors that led into the Situation Room. Everything pointed out that the infiltrators should be men occupying considerable power positions in US government and most likely at least one of the military and civilian officers present at the meetings was related to the whole cover-up. And most likely that person was watching him closely to see how far he got to the truth. Even if he hadn’t

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discovered that a conspiracy was in progress he would be in danger, he concluded, which sent shivers down his spine. But who? Going through the painting of past US presidents he considered if any of them knew about the whole alien situation. Hell, even Winston is not out of the whole possible lot, he thought. That would make it one of the most cynical and cruel bastards ever born on this planet if that was the case. But in any case he was going to leave the White House after next year’s elections, being on his second term of office. Could any of the most likely Republican and Democrat candidates be it? Vice-President Longstreet had the better chances of being nominated by the Democratic Party, while on the GOP chances seemed that it would the present Governor of New York State, Charles Vaughn. None of then had a really long career in politics or intelligence affairs. Longstreet had been one of the Senators from Georgia before being elected with Winston right on his first term, while Vaughn had climbed up the steps in NY’s State legislature until successfully running for Governor some years ago. The VP was constantly informed of the whole alien situation while Vaughn only had been told the minimum about the aliens, not knowing the full dimension of their actions or their intentions. If the guy gets elected he will probably think again if it was a good idea to run now for the presidency, for sure. When he reached the door to the Situation Room he decided to concentrate again to the job now on his hands. The two Marine sentinels escorting the entrance opened it and he got inside. When he entered several civilians and military chiefs were already inside talking to themselves or sat at their places, going through some last minute information. He greeted several of them on his way to his place by the center table and sat, choosing not to talk to anyone but looking at them instead. A voice came from behind him “Anything new Williams?” The CIA man almost jumped on his chair but kept his calm as he got up to see the person who had talked to him. He saw his boss, the DCI looking back at him, waiting for an answer. “No, sir. I have no new data to present besides the information you have already seen”. “Very well”. Dropping his voice so that only Williams could hear him, he whispered: “The President knows not to ask about too much about the situation on the alien infiltration thing. He knows we are acting on it”. “Already taken that into consideration, sir”. “Good. And see you start lightening up on this meeting. By this time you should have been accustomed to them”. Williams tried to appear relaxed. “Yes sir. Thanks for the advice”. “Don’t mention it. You are doing a hell of a job. Keep it that way”. Thoughts screamed at Williams’s head upon hearing that last sentence. Stop it! You are becoming paranoid and cannot think or act properly on that state. Then the President entered the room and the other officers took their places for the meeting to begin. Winston then said: “Let’s be brief, gentlemen, since I have a meeting this afternoon to discuss this year’s budget and the alien menace could look a piece of cake compared to it. Mr. Williams, if you please?”

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Williams got his notes and the control remote for the video projector and replied: “Starting right now, sir. Starting with the shoot out at the California Coast, the Navy has begun underwater salvage operations of the UFO that was brought down in the Pacific. Initial findings have shown it to be manned by Sectoids and carrying also a cargo of their battle tanks and the usual type of weaponry they used. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that they were equipped to mount one of their terrorist strikes. The question remains of why they didn’t do it and that interrogation can’t be answered right now”. Clicking on one of the buttons in the remote control, a picture of the UFO appeared in the wall left of Williams. “This is a television picture taken by the system’s of the X-Com F22 that shot it down. Although the whole incident was a military disaster, we have taken some lessons on how to approach and take down these craft. It can be done, but the question is if they have something even more potent, which in that case would mean that ours fighters wouldn’t have a chance against it”. The four-star General that was Chief of Staff of the Air Force raised his hand and asked: “What’s X-Com’s situation on research of UFO propulsion and flying technology? Can they replicate it and make an UFO capable of fighting those things?” “Not at the present moment sir. Research has discovered some things about how to replicate the materials used and the physics of the propulsion system but nothing on how the aliens navigate or control the craft”. “That is not good, we need to stop them before we land, while they are on their ships to cut down their numbers”. “That leads me into the another problem I was going to pose, General”. The military man motioned him to continue with his head and Williams went on. “In spite of our victories we haven’t managed so far to slow down the activities of the aliens. So far, X-Com has monitored more that one hundred UFOs on these first months, with possibly many more going undetected. And the rate of growth of alien activity keeps going up. If it keeps going up pretty soon we wouldn’t be able to deal with all their incursions and can only expect to hinder them as much as possible”. “Mr. Williams are you saying that we are doomed?” President Winston asked. “No sir. The scientific personnel have speculated that the aliens must have a base on our solar system from which they are maintaining and controlling their attacks. We know that the Sectoids originally came from Zeta Reticuli although they later abandoned the system, so they now must be living in some other part of the galaxy. The point of all this is that, even at faster that light speeds a military command would have a tough time coordinating and maintaining such an attack. The supply lines would just be too long and the craft we’ve seen only appear to be capable of moving inside a star system. Otherwise it would take them too long even if they are in the nearest star system who is four lightyears away from us. The question right now is of what exactly is that base: an installation on a planet or a huge mothership? In any case, for Earth to survive we need to find the location of that base and destroy it”. “That might be easy to say, Mr. Williams, but how do you know where it is and, more important, how do we get there and how we destroy it”. The National Security Adviser, was on one of her days, Williams sighted to himself before concluding.

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“Well, madam, although we have proven alien interaction with human societies through known History and probably going far back behind, it isn’t here on Earth or we would have detected it because of its size. As for our nearest companion, the Moon, the Clementine probe did a sweep of his surface some years ago and it found no unusual ground formations. However, analysis of the UFO’s trajectories in space shows it that the majority comes from the dark side of the Moon. Most likely they have a fleet operating there, but the question if there’s Mothership remains to be answered. Also, the UFOs appear to be coming from other locations in the Solar System, although the astrophysicists are only making guesses right now”. “That hardly answers my question Mr. Williams. Even if we discover it, what are we going to do?” “I don’t know then Mrs. May. That’s up for the military planners to decide. But what we need right now is to get more information, either by continuing research or by keep on interrogating captured aliens”.

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Chapter Nine – Fortune Reversals
April 29th, 1999
New York City, US
When Blake put down the phone and made a final remark on his notebook, he thought of a way to make the whole thing presentable for his editor. So far he had the statements of ten witnesses and he could get more if he wanted but those should be enough. He had been right on following the story he had been told from a friend of his that had gone into a two week vacation to Cancun. While at first Blake was skeptical, since it could be first attributed to the amount of alcohol he had consumed that night, the friend had admitted he had taken a little too much tequila that night, but he swore that what he had seen was real. A few phone calls to Mexican UFO organizations and to other people who had been at the area when it happened confirmed that several lights had been seen over flying the tourist city. One of the witnesses, who was driving on the countryside, close to the city, even claimed to have seen a small gray creature in the middle of the highway before it ran away and disappeared. Blake wouldn’t mention it to his editor or write about it though since there was no way to confirm it and sounded too unbelievable. He got up and went to the desk where his editor was seated taking a call. When he put down the phone he asked to Blake: “What do you got Evan?” “Phil, I have ten people with no relation between them and living all across the country telling me that they saw a group of UFOs at night two weeks ago in Cancun”. The man exhaled. “Another one of your ET stories? Give me a break and get me something more real, like a scandal or anything like it. Ever since the Kosovo war ended we haven’t got any major news”. “I know. That’s why I’m bringing this up to you. The military must be involved big time into this. There’s something here they aren’t telling us”. His editor’s face suddenly became all lit up but he suddenly winced and said: “You better had some proof of this or I’m going to get really pissed now!” “Come to my computer, I’m gonna show you something”. Both men walked to Blake’s table. The reporter sat down and started using his computer. Launching his browser, he started navigating on the Internet. “What are you doing?” His editor asked. “Due to the nature of this material, I’ve kept it hidden over a dozen different locations on the Web. That way if someone tries to take it away they will have to do a lot of digging”. He made a final click and said: “Where we go. Watch the screen!”. He punched a command and the computer begun downloading and playing the file that contained the movie of the destruction of the Aurora. His boss become mesmerized and at the end asked: “Are you sure this isn’t image manipulation?” “I’ve shown it to a couple people who work at computer graphics and photography. They said this isn’t a fake and that the object is really there. Moreover there’s also an infrared and radar tapes on the event that came together. The Air Force had these taken by one of its reconnaissance birds and a fast one, never seen of”. 200

“So you believe that this is military footage? Where this came from? Someone of your acquaintances down the Pentagon?” “There’s no trace of the sender in the paper’s server logs. It simply arrived at my email box”. “How can you be sure of this footage here, Blake? This can just be a prank!”. “This is were my ‘acquaintances at the Pentagon’, like you put it, work for something. I’ve shown a clip of it to one of them. He went numb and immediately asked me where I got it”. “Seemed impressed?” “Let’s just say he advised me not to show it to anyone else or I might be in trouble later. Me and the Department of Defense, for allowing such top-security material to be hanging around in the Internet”. “Why do you think you got it? Someone pissed at something at the DoD?” “Most likely. There will be hell to explain at Washington about how this got out and that there might be unidentified craft over flying our country”. “OK. We’ll do a half-page on this. Nothing too flashy on headlines or the paper’s board will have my head”. “I can do my ET story after all?” Blake was surprised. “Yeah, but center it on the movie. Let’s see what the Air Force says about this. Show it to me by Monday”. Watching his editor leave, Blake wanted to tell him to take a hike, since it would mean work on the weekend, but he kept his mouth shut.

April 30th, 1999
Geneva, Switzerland
“And thus gentlemen, the South African government upon appreciation of the reports brought to this council’s attention and review has decided to cut back it’s funding to the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit”. Illyuschenko threw back his head in despair as the African councilmen made the final announcement in a long list of cutbacks already made by the other countries that supported X-Com. Nigeria had been the first, followed by China and some other countries mostly in the Southern hemisphere of the planet. And Illyuschenko already knew that this was coming, upon reading the provisional report made by his staff a couple of days ago about reported alien activity on Earth. His men and planes had taken more than one hundred and fifty combat missions only in the first four months since the first base had been activated. They had succeeded in killing hundreds of aliens and dozens of UFOs while losing near one hundred troops, either killed or injured. And still it hasn’t enough to convince most of the national representatives seated that they needed more funding. Some of the countries had expressed the idea of releasing X-Com’s technological secrets, but the majority now seemed to against it. Hell, the majority was against every damn thing!

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“What about the proposal advanced by the General Secretary to allow more countries into the Council?” In a last effort to raise their funding, both Illyuschenko and the leader of the UN had proposed allowing more nations into X-Com in order to allow them with more resources and money. The Indian representative turned and said: “Yes. My country doesn’t think that would be necessary or advisable”. “What are you talking about? We could use the help of some countries who are stable. I provided you all with a list. Asiatic nations like Thailand ou South Korea, the Scandinavian countries, others in South America. X-Com could really use their help”. Another dead end, Illyuschenko thought. “You have failed so far to properly protect some of the nations who are seated here today Commander. It would not be wise to try to defend more of the planet now. If they bring down the nations who are seated on this room right now, the rest won’t be able to do very much. X-Com should pay more effort to the ones who first invested on it”. “Mr. Councilman, my men are doing the best they can and dying at it while you sit here on your offices and do nothing else than to shuffle a paper occasionally so don’t give me that talk!” Illyuschenko was already getting up to throw himself on the Indian councilman when the American councilman intervened. “General! If I may?” His voice was strong and well placed, making Illyuschenko stop and sit back down again. “Please do”. He threw himself backwards on frustration. “While my country recognizes X-Com’s efforts and has even agreed to raise the funding, we don’t appreciate one thing on this whole matter. The project seems to have turned itself into a large bottomless pit of money, sir. This month’s report is highly unsatisfactory on that matter”. “Mr. Councilman, what do you expect me to do? I can’t tell my men that they won’t get the weapons they need because of some bureaucrat more concerned with numbers than their lives!” “Commander, we all here understand your position. Try to understand ours. So far my country’s contribution to this whole project has come close to more than six billion US dollars. That’s a lot of money sir. If we want to keep this whole operation still a secret you need to get your finances back together. Otherwise we will terminate this whole project”.

May 4th, 1999
White House, Washington DC, US
“UFOs: Tax dollars at work or something else?” As soon as Winston finished reading the title and seeing the picture taken from the Aurora’s disastrous reconnaissance run he knew that someone had screwed up big time. He completely ignored breakfast and kept reading. The story was not on the front pages of the paper fortunately, but what was there meant real trouble already. “The Federal government might have a deeper interest than the official policy about Unidentified Flying Objects, according to the footage obtained by the New York Times.

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The footage, taken by one US reconnaissance plane at a contemporary date clearly reveals the existence of a strange craft flying on the air at amazing speeds. The date of this occurrence isn’t revealed neither the identity of the plane involved, but aeronautical experts have concluded that it must be one of the ‘black budget’ projects, probably the famous Aurora, whose existence as also been denied by the USAF. However, the question prevails, what is the object filmed? Neither of the experts could come up with a plausible explanation, besides it being either another ‘black project’ or a real UFO. In any case, the craft is clearly the same as reported in another so called ‘UFO observations’, the latest of which apparently over flew the Mexican city of Cancun, prompting to many reports by American citizens who were on the area who identified it upon seeing the footage. The main question is, then: what are the intentions behind the pilots of such advanced craft? What does the US Government know about it? Enquiries to official sources at the Pentagon denied any present involvement or research into this area, but the footage seems to show otherwise”. Winston had stopped reading then, having enough, and one hour later he headed towards the Situation Room. Looking at the National Security Council seated in front of him, he saw that some of them were still being informed of the whole crisis and were reading the paper’s story. This was a major political disaster that would need a lot of explanations to do and a lot of work to still keep the whole thing a secret. They had to be able to do that. If word ever came out of the aliens’ existence chaos would emerge and fighting the aliens would become even more difficult. “We need to control this disaster before it spreads. I have had already phone calls from Capitol Hill wanting to know what is going on in our skies. If this keeps going pretty soon Congress will start making enquiries about the subject. Gentlemen, I’m open to suggestions”. The National Security Adviser asked to speak. “Sir, first I would say that we need the Bureau’s Counter Espionage Division and the National Security Agency to see how was it possible for such a leak to have occurred. This material was Sensitive Contained Information, even more confidential than Top Secret”. “Very well, Mrs. May. Where do you think we should start?” “The information is even more secret than our Stealth planes research. We need to see who had access to it on our side but it won’t be easy since the individual will know that we are looking for him and covering his tracks. But, of course there’s also the possibility that the leak didn’t occur on our side”. Several of the military present in the room nodded their heads in consent. Edward Polk, the Defense Secretary turned to her and questioned: “You suspect the leak was on X-Com?” Her voice turned a bit colder. “That organization has no internal security. Although they ask us to run security clearances for prospect members that are US citizens there’s no control whatsoever in the inside”.

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“They are a military force, not an intelligence agency or even the Red Army. You can’t have controllers inside such a unit. The suspicion would drive them apart”. “Nevertheless, I believe that we ask for a reunion of the Council to specifically discuss the problem of internal security inside X-Com. This is something I would say the majority of the countries present would consider most adequate to discuss”. “Commander Illyuschenko won’t be pleased to have intelligence and security personnel going around. Even visits from the Representatives have to be arranged in advance”. “We present it with something they can’t refuse and propose that they form an Intelligence branch of their own. That way they will have more autonomy, although in practical matters we still will control what information we decide to pass into them so that we can prevent more incidents like these”. She pointed at the paper and turned to the President, to see his reaction to the proposal. The President turned to the DCI to see his opinion. Mark Casper scratched his head and replied: “Well, the idea makes sense and would avoid coordination problems like we have been experiencing. They would be able to deal with the alien situation a lot more efficiently and independent in intelligence terms”. Winston looked around to see if there were more ideas but, since no one replied, he finished the topic. “Very well. Mark, I want you to discuss with the rest of the Intelligence to see what we could provide them. Now back to the NY Times situation. What are we going to do about it?”

May 5th, 1999
Central Iowa, US
The two Skyrangers were flying in a loose formation, several hundred feet apart from one another. No matter what High Command said about sparing resources, Johnson still thought that they just couldn’t cut back on operational deployment. Besides, it would be a complete waste to leave a platoon back on base sitting idly while the other one was risking itself to storm an UFO. Besides, it was a pleasure to have the old team, him, Markovitch and Patterson acting back together. The old team. That sure brought a lot of memories back. Johnson had met Markovitch on his old Army Aviation Regiment when she was assigned under his command. Patterson had come along on the way, in so many operational missions done together with the Air Force and he was the finest executive officer Johnson had ever served with. But then Sheila decided to leave after some time and I got inside the Green Berets, he remembered. I did what I had to do, he concluded. Yes, but was it the right thing to do? The thought troubled him for some minutes, until Major Patterson’s voice cut in the radio. “Two minutes for touchdown. I say we keep the second Skyranger airborne and ready to give back up if we need it. Markovitch here doesn’t’ look too pleased at that thought”. “Copy that. Alpha, Epsilon and Beta squads prepare do deploy”. After checking the power level of his laser rifle and found it fully charged, Johnson then put the safety off and got ready for the incoming fight, getting up from his seat and grabbing one of the harnesses attached to the sides of the plane.

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The Celtic cross type saucer had been detected already over the Midwest, where it had stood for some minutes before setting down. The radar track showed it to have landed in a farm and the first Skyranger headed directly to the place, setting down in a small vegetable plantation. Two seconds before it hit the ground the rear ramp started to descend, the servo-hydraulic engines giving out a small whine. Corporal Logan stood ready in front of the other men, ready to take point and be the first trooper to hit the ground. Trooper Sharpe of Beta Squad, who would cover the left side, while he had the duty of securing the right, was flanking him. Not a duty but more of a pleasure actually since he had volunteered for it. Manning and Deckard, the other troopers on Epsilon, were calling him nuts because of his suicidal instincts but he didn’t care. Letting go of his rage was the only thing that kept him away the fear and revulsion he had of the monsters. Not had the ramp fully descended and he was already running over it, much to the chagrin of Sergeant Grisham who barked at him a warning. Sharpe was trying to follow, surprised by the motion, but he touched the ground much faster than the other squaddie. He saw that the Skyranger had landed right next to one barn probably hoping to give some cover for the platoon. But there was something there. A shape moved on the upper floor of the wooden building and slowly appeared behind a window, in no doubt trying to locate the human attackers. Logan immediately fired a round of automatic laser fire into the direction of the alien, but all the shots missed, burning through the wooden walls and leaving scorched marks on them. The alien inside replied and two of the plasma burns hit the Skyranger’s left engine but the armored shielding protected the turbojet inside. The third shot hit the cultivated floor right next to Logan, making him recoil backwards and spoiling his aim for his next salvo. The laser rifle discharges went harmlessly over the barn making him swear as he saw a large bulbous head carefully aim a plasma rifle at him. The sound of an autocannon going on full auto suddenly erupted near him and his reaction instincts kicked in and he instantly projected himself to the ground. One highexplosive projectile flew and hit the window, wrecking the glass and splintering the wood around it. The blast was also sufficient to make the alien stumble backwards, but before the Sectoid hit the ground a second shot hit it square in the chest. The round exploded on impact and the alien was dismembered, the remains of the head and arms falling into the barn floor a moment after the rest of the body. Logan looked around, but the remainder of the X-Com squad had already started to deploy phosphorous grenades that were covering the LZ with heavy, white smoke. He found himself without a sense of direction and unable to find the rest of his squad. “Logan, get the fuck up! You are point man and this isn’t a picnic!” Sarge Grisham’s figure appeared in the middle of the smoke curtain. “Get your ass in the front and remember to leave some of the fun to us!” The Corporal got up in haste and headed towards the direction where Grisham was pointing at, trying not to inhale the smoke but still coughing some times. Taking a quick dash he reached the other members of his squad who were by now standing against the wall of the barn. A grenade suddenly exploded in the middle of the confusion and smoke

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that had become the landing zone and one of the soldiers who were still disembarking suddenly screamed in pain, before shutting his mouth. The sound was muffled on Logan’s ears, which were still recovering from the sound wave caused by the explosion. “Bug in the middle of the orchard!” Manning suddenly called after taking a look around the barn and started pulling autocannon fire into the middle of the fruit trees. “Logan, Deckard! Flush him out with the same treatment!” Both troopers reached for their belt and took out grenades. Setting them up for a short fuse they both nodded to one another before negotiating the corner. The alien was using the trees to get some cover but the heavy fire from Manning’s weapon was forcing him to be constantly on the move and not being able to fight back. The two grenades landed on both sides of the tree he was using for protection and a loud shriek was heard before they went off. The blast wrecked the base of the tree, making the upper section come down on the ground. Johnson appeared by the team, together with Major Patterson. “Let’s get moving! The UFO should be after the field!” Logan looked and started running towards the nearest tree. When he reached it he took cover behind it and looked around. The entrance to the barn was on his right side and on the left he could see the top floor of another farmhouse. No aliens lurking around in the windows though. Seeing that Deckard was moving around to his position and had the barn covered, he moved to the bush fence that was nearly as tall as a man and waited by the entrance in front of him, taking a brief look. The UFO had landed in a similar farmed field to the one where the Skyranger had landed and they were now directly facing the door. The remaining troopers joined him after some seconds and he was about to make the final run to get to the craft when the Colonel motioned him to stop. “Beta and Alpha what’s your status?” So far everything had been too easy, Johnson thought. Hopkins was the first to reply. “We have approached the farmhouse and are about to start checking it out”. Then came Captain Forrester’s voice. “Barn is clear. We have spotted two Sectoids to the East and are moving to suppress their fire”. It would taken both squads quite some more minutes before being able to move. Four, possibly five aliens had been encountered so far. Too few for his liking and experience of how many aliens that type of craft could carry. Where were the others? Inside the UFO and getting ready to blast every trooper who tried to step inside? Or still lurking outside around and hoping to use their murderous sniper fire on them? Either way it was time to play his high trump card and take initiative. “Second Platoon, deploy opposite from us and start fanning any aliens towards our direction. Alpha, Epsilon, watch out for incoming aliens. Let’s give them a lesson on who to perform ambushes this time”. Logan was trying to wait as calm as possibly but the adrenaline he had already taken from the previous gunfight was leaving him nervous and impatient. “Beta move out and watch out the UFO’s door!” The Colonel’s order quickly sprung him into action. He cleared the bushes and started to move towards the UFO, keeping his head low and his eyes alert. The remainder of the squad quickly followed him, Manning finding himself a position to cover the door with his large cannon and the other four X-Com troopers following him.

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The distance between the fence and the UFO was a bit less than fifty yards away and even at a cautious pace he got halfway in a quick manner. In fact he didn’t noticed how fast he was going until he heard Sarge Grisham’s voice. “Logan, slow down”. He dropped with one knee on the earth and turned around to check on the rest of the squad. The summer Sun was burning up high in the sky, baking the whole Midwest like an oven. He saw that they had all advanced but not as further as him. Behind them stood the barn they had just passed. And a large headed creature that had just come into view right at the roof. “Alien! Get down!” Logan shouted while trying to bear his weapon to the threat. An intense pain from his right shoulder suddenly turned everything into a whirl of constant pain and he passed out. Johnson’s attention from the door was first distracted by the alert and then by the plasma fire coming from the farmhouse. They were out in the open, in the middle of a field that offered little in protection and the aliens seemed to hold the high ground. He checked to see where the alien on their backs was and saw a figure in the roof. Damn! The barn was supposed to be clear! Major fuckup. The plasma rounds where already flying and his men were trying to respond but the alien’s position made it damn difficult to root them out. They need to do something before the grenades would start to rain down of the sky and cut them into pieces. “Beta, there are aliens on the roof of the farmhouse and barn, clear them out now!” He was about to start responding when a whoosh sound coming from the UFO made him stop on his motion. Hopkins’ squad had just checked the ground level of the farmhouse and where about to proceed to the upper floor. So far they hadn’t found a trace of any creature, either human or alien, either dead or alive and the Sergeant had wondered what happened to the people who lived at this farm. Everything looked quite in order in the kitchen and living room, without the sort of chaos expected from a recent visit from extraterrestrial beings. Did they managed to escape as they saw the UFO approaching? Or where they killed or abducted? He was afraid of what they might find upstairs in the bedrooms. The call from Johnson made him jump in the middle of the living room. One of the troopers quickly started to head for the stairs but he looked up and had an idea. A quite mad one, but a faster one to take out the alien in the ceiling. The first Sectoid to come out of the UFO had one of their large plasma weapons on their hands. It was amazing that it could manage to use a gun of almost his own height, but Johnson’s attention was more focused on taking him down. Two well-placed laser rifles made in go down releasing a shriek that turned his blood cold. Last piece of the trap set into place. The situation looked as if all hell had broken loose, with two of his troopers already on ground, either dead or severely injured. With no escape possible from either side, they could only try to hold out until the reinforcements took care of the aliens who were ambushing them. And taking heavy casualties in the process, he realized while keeping the UFO covered. Or they could try to get some cover, preferably on a place where the alien’s weapons and explosives wouldn’t obliterate them.

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“Let’s get a place to hide! Follow me!” He dashed towards the closed door. The UFO most likely was crowded with aliens. But it also would protect them from the plasma fire and was the place less logical for an attempt to escape the ambush. Screw caution. “Cut me a large hole up there with the lasers!” Hopkins pointed to a place on the ceiling in the north section of the house. The soldiers from his squad paused for a moment, surprised at the orders but quickly brought their laser weapons upwards, the beams slicing through the wood and plaster and making the ceiling turn red and releasing dark fumes. One of the cuts intersected another and when the third one crossed both the whole section came down. Hopkins paid no attention when it crashed to the ground, spreading plaster all over the room. He had taken the time to get Big Momma ready and now was pointing it to the hole on the ceiling. The rest of his squad realized in amazement of what the Gunnery Sergeant was about to do and quickly moved to the sides. He was well inside the rocket launcher’s minimum range but he hoped that the first floor would give him enough cover. This isn’t heroics, you idiot, this is pure stupidity, he heard a voice inside warning him, but ignored it. When he lined up the M3 with the hole he pressed the trigger. When he felt the rocket leaving the tube he immediately jumped to the side. The unguided rocket exploded against the roof, the blast still hitting the side of Hopkins, but the protection given by the body armor hang out. Not the same happened with the floor of the upper level and roof. The blast made the top of the farmhouse literally disintegrate in the air and caved downwards in the area around the cut hole, making wooden beams collapse and throwing around a cloud of dust that obscured the area. Hopkins found himself on the ground, covered with powder and the remains of the furniture and floor of the first level, but with no major injuries. And laying close to him was the Sectoid from that was sniping on the roof, still alive but looking completely dazzled and with cuts colored green from the alien’s blood. Hopkins realized that the thing probably had also broken a few bones by the position one of his arms had taken. His weapon was also close to him and he looked as if he was about to try to go for it. Hopkins took out a combat knife from one of his legs and said: “Oh, no you don’t”. The second Sectoid that exited the craft managed to get loose a pair of plasma bolts before he was also killed at nearly point blank, his gray body falling over the alien that had suffered the same fate before. Johnson quickly reached the door and moved closer to activate the opening mechanism. The gray fuselage slided upwards again and he threw himself on a roll inside. The two Sectoids who where close by the door immediately turned towards him. A reaction shot from one of them nearly hit him but the energy instead dissipated itself in the floor of the UFO, leaving nothing but a black mark. He fired his laser rifle at him while still down at the ground, at the same time as the other Sectoid also discharged his plasma rifle. The first alien took a hit on the leg that amputated it, the pain making him join Johnson down. But the Colonel immediately felt his arm on fire and a deep pain forced him to release his weapon and cringe his mouth. Raising his head he saw second Sectoid correct his aim and fire another shot at him. When Markovitch and Patterson reached the UFO they saw that the area seemed to have been just cleared of any hostiles, with two troopers helping a wounded comrade coming

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out of the craft. “What happened? Where is the Colonel? We heard it on the radio. Is he OK?” She immediately demanded to Captain Forrester as he saw them and approached their position. The X-Com officer sighted and closed his eyes for a moment before replying. “The area and the UFO are secure. But Epsilon got ambushed and the Colonel took a nasty hit when storming the UFO for them to retreat and get some cover on the craft. He is holding barely alive and has been already moved to the Skyranger but I doubt that he will make it back to base. Logan and White were hit badly but we got both of them stabilized. Plus Chester and Tawney. Found the civvies also. The whole family was cut into pieces”. The Captain sighted hoping that the whole situation was just a bad dream. Markovitch suddenly pushed him, making him drop to the grass on his back. “What the fuck happened!? Your squad was supposed to have checked that barn! I heard you on the radio!” She was about to jump herself on him but Patterson, sensing what she was about to do, quick grabbed her shoulders and prevented it. Forrester stood in resignation on the ground. “There was no stairs to the roof. Somehow the alien managed to climb up there”. “And getting to the perfect place for an ambush you shit brains!” Forrester said nothing at the accusation. She released herself of Patterson’s hold and kicked the UFO’s fuselage. Patterson added: “We will discuss this later. Right now let’s finish boarding the wounded and get the Skyranger to dust off. Maybe if we get to the nearest military base the Colonel might have a chance”. “I’m going with him”. Her tone gave no voice for discussion. Patterson only nodded at her and she started sprinting off into the Skyranger’s direction.

May 9th, 1999
Press Room, White House, Washington DC, US
Every journalist present in the auditorium had adopted one of two stances. They either didn’t believe any part of the story and looked at him sideways or they had expressed to him that they wanted to see what the Government would do about it. When the Defense Secretary came into the room and stood behind the podium he put away all those questions. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today it is my pleasure to announce you one of the latest achievements by our aerospace industry. There were rumors about it before, but so far the program has been highly classified, for matters of national security”. Blake waited in anticipation. Did he really pushed them against the wall so that they needed to come out like this? “With the retirement of the SR-71 strategic reconnaissance plane in the beginning of the 90’s there was the development of a substitute, much more capable than the old ‘Blackbird’. So, let me present you the SR-75 Black Ghost, designed by the world famous Lockheed Skunk Works, following the tradition of such planes as the U-2 and the SR-71”. He uncovered a panel placed close to him and a large picture of the Aurora was revealed. “We have been operating them for some time and right now there is a squadron

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based at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. If you recall that is the facility where the F-117 was also initially based”. Tonopah! Blake suddenly realized. What is going on at Area 51 then, since the place sure doesn’t look deserted now? He brought his attention back to the press conference. The Secretary was finishing his presentation. “But I’ve talked too much already. Please, shoot me with your questions, but not literally, of course”. All the journalists started at the same time to ask questions and Polk took extra delight in picking up individuals. “Mr. Secretary, John Stevens of ABC News. Is that the plane known as the Aurora?” “Yes. This is the craft famous for the sonic booms produced a couple of years ago over Southern California”. Another journalist posed a question. “Is it a spy plane?” “We prefer to call it a reconnaissance asset. Please feel free to bombard me with your questions, but some aspects of the Black Ghost are still classified for the time being”. Blake’s voice imposed over the others. “Is it responsible for the wave of UFO apparitions we have been seeing for the past months”. Polk didn’t even waver at the enquiry. “Now that is a most interesting question, Mr…. Blake if I’m not wrong? Let me tell you that quite some people at the Pentagon took good laughs at your article. Regrettably, the footage you refer to is nothing more than a hoax”. “Can I tell from your answer that the White House denies the existence of UFOs?” “To clarify the whole question, I will make a public statement regarding that matter right here. The US policy towards the so-called UFOs is still the same: our investigations over the phenomena have led us to believe that they all have a natural background. And neither are our Armed Forces trying to develop such a type of craft at the moment. I’m sorry if that isn’t want you wanted to hear, Mr. Blake, but that’s the truth”. “And the plane in the footage? Is that the Aurora?” “I’ve already given that answer when I mentioned that the images you refer to are nothing more than manipulation. A well constructed one, but still manipulation. Next time check your sources better, Mr. Blake. Now back to the Aurora. Any more questions?” As the battalion of journalists went over again to their work, Blake stood silent in the room, thinking. The truth, my ass! There’s something here that you aren’t telling us. And I’m going to find out about it.

May 19th, 1999
X-Com’s Far East Command Base, Complex YY-18, Japan
Colonel Yamashita and Councilman Tamako were standing close to a Skyranger at the tarmac of X-Com’s base in the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. The rear door of the plane was opened and small vehicle was coming down the ramp. While it had the distinct

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look of a tank with a circular turret riding on the top, the size immediately told that this was no ordinary armoured vehicle. It measured less than eight feet in length and four feet in width, making it look that even if it the crew consisted of only one member, the individual inside it would be completely encased in a metal container. It slowly moved down the ramp until it reached the cement ground. The machine then turned around but at a more quickly speed, before both men. The military official spoke. “X-Com’s first Toyota Type 107A automated heavy weapons platform, Mr. Councilman. It took months to rebuild the research on the artificial intelligence but it has passed with high marks the tests on its ability to deal with military warfare environments. We now will start programming it with the tactics we have developed meanwhile and see how it proved itself on simulated tests. If all goes well it will be operational shortly”. “Please afterwards send me the results. I must say the size isn’t impressive, but if it works as the Council was informed we will soon have a powerful new weapon at our disposal. When do you expect to receive more of those?” “In a week. We should receive the preproduction HWP of the fire-support version equipped with an unguided rocket launcher instead of the 60 millimeter cannon this one is carrying. We tried to put guided missiles on it but they the missiles and the guidance system was just too bulky. However, the engineers here at the base will try to devise a turret equipped with one heavy laser to give them more firepower”. “Preproduction? Hasn’t it started already?” “That is the other reason I wanted to discuss with you Mr. Tamako. In spite of the fact that our country has been most generous with X-Com, the Toyota Company has suspended deliveries or the production until we have cleared the present debt we own to them. And my force is starting to feel operational constraints. We had already to limit the use of Phoenix missiles on our interceptors and use instead the Amraams with shorter range that endanger more our planes”. “X-Com’s forces stationed to defend Japan will never have problems about lack of funding or necessary equipment. It is a direct order from the Emperor and you heard it yourself from his Majesty’s, Colonel. Tell us what you need and you will receive it, counting that is not too excessive”. “Yes Councilman, but I also tried to fight the aliens before in the Kiryu-Kai and we had all the resources available. And it proved us that no country alone, not even Japan, Russia or the United States can ever hope to defeat the aliens”.

May 20th, 1999
Motel Trucker’s Paradise, Maryland, US
Waiting at the combined location for the meeting, Williams kept thinking about the memo the DCI had sent him a couple of days ago. The team was going to be separated and he didn’t like it a bit. His opinion had been asked about it but he couldn’t state the worries that went over his mind. For some reason he wasn’t included in the list of the names proposed by the different heads of the US intelligence services to join X-Com. And it made him nervous to feel that he could be kept back at Washington where he

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could better monitorized. Worse yet, the inclusion of such members could mean the possibility of further leaks into each country’s intelligence services and the infiltration of X-Com by the conspirators. It bothered him to loose Davis and other members from the alien team. Technically they were about to suffer problems in efficiency since the replacements wouldn’t be up to date with the whole situation. It all stank of some clever maneuvering behind the scenes and he thought if the National Security Adviser was also just a pawn in proposing the idea or something far more dangerous. After all, resentment against X-Com was slowly increasing over the US military and intelligence services, most of it unjustified or pure jealously, but it was increasing. Three knocks on the motel room’s door brought his attention back to reality. There was a pause, then another identical set of knocks. Like it had been arranged. Such security measures were more to impress the person who was about to come in, since Davis was outside and would react to any sign of trouble. Williams told the man to enter. Blake opened the door, looked around and found Williams seated by a table, with the lights deliberately low. He closed the door and got inside, grabbing another chair placing himself facing Williams. The CIA man spoke. “Before anything, it is necessary to clarify some aspects. I won’t tell you my name and I’m not another Deep Throat and neither what I have to tell you represents official policy. This conversation never took place and I will deny every word of it. Is that clear?” “Sure, but please tell the goon outside to give me back my tape recorder when I go out. I can’t work with that thing”. “Don’t worry. What you should be more concerned about is your work exactly. You have been drawing a lot of attention with some of your articles”. “Are you talking about the UFO situation?” “I’m saying that some things are kept away from the public’s opinion for some reason, specially in a time of crisis. Our government did the same on World War II, since there was a grave necessity of controlling Nazi and Japanese propaganda”. Blake’s face became grim. “Are you telling me that we are at war?” “I didn’t say that. But there are many nations that would desire us harm. And some things have good reasons to be considered national security”. “Look, I got hundreds of reports about UFOs going around in the skies, together with more disturbing stories about extraterrestrial beings. Are you going to tell me that all those people are nuts or wrong? Something is going on here and the Government has the duty to inform the citizens”. “In this particular case, there are greater needs to be first fulfilled. Can you imagine what would happen if those reports were confirmed? There would be massive implications and that is just what the forces behind them want”. “The forces behind them? You mean you know what is going on?”

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“Before I go on, I must stress the fact that this will all eventually come out one day to the public. It is too much important to be kept a secret, specially when deals with events that changed this century”. Good, Williams say to himself as he noticed the journalist becoming more and more interested. However, the question was to make him understand the necessity of secrecy without telling him too much or confirming other suspects that he might have. “Please carry on. And let me tell you I will take all of that into consideration”. Blake asked. Now, it’s time for the big lie, let’s see if the axiom that fiction is more believable than reality actually applies. “This whole matter goes back to 1945 and Nazi Germany. Years back Hitler had ordered the development of special projects, such as the world’s first jet fighters and the V-bombs. But many more where on their final steps of development, with matters of months before they could be mass-produced to turn events and making Germany win the war. The Allied troops captured the majority of them as they conquered Germany, but of some there was nothing more than vague references without any blueprints or scientists left that could explain the concepts”. “Hold it! Just what does it have to do with the whole UFO situation?” “I was about to get there. Some of the papers gave out the description of the Heinabu, a saucer type craft with technological abilities that are still a mystery. The prototype was destroyed before Allied troops could capture it and there was no sign of the scientists who had developed it”. “Those things in the air were developed by the Nazis? By who? The Soviet Union?” “That would make things more simple, but unfortunately the truth is more disturbing than that. As Hitler’s empire was crumbling there were U-boats that left Germany full of men and material and headed for some unknown location. Their destination was never known and even now we are at a loss to dig them out, although we have indications that they might have headed for the South Hemisphere. And a lot of strange events have been taking place in the world and more especially in Europe at the moment. Nationalism at an unheard scale all over Europe and disaffection, especially in countries with large ethnic minorities. Neonazi groups increasing their presence and numbers. And the beginnings of general discredit over our democratic system, reflected on low voter turnout and so forth. Now go back to the 1920’s and see the parallel. Can you imagine what could have happen if suddenly there was an economic recession, together with the fact that there are UFOs out there in the skies?” “Holy shit! Someone might just use the opportunity to make himself a grab for power!” “Or be working behind the scenes in one hell of an evil plan, using advanced technology to scare the general populace and increase the sense of insecurity. I’m pleased to see that you share of the same concerns. Until we have fully detected the threat and how to counteract it there are things that are better if they remain silent”. And now it’s time for the tougher questions, Williams added, that will decide how this meeting will turn out. “Hold on. You told me a great story, but you haven’t given to me any means to confirm it. How can I confirm anything? This could all be a lot of bull”.

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“You can’t. Like I told you, the things I’ve said don’t represent any official position. And there’s more but for the moment just being in possession of such information may represent a danger to the person”. “By whom?” “The very same forces acting behind all this. And no one might be safe from them”. Williams told himself to be careful and not reveal his secret. The whole idea had been discussed on the team and had more holes on it than any intelligence plan that they could consider, but it would give them time and might refrain this journalist from posing too many questions. “You mean I might be in danger?” “I don’t know where you got that footage, but the person behind it breached a security level even greater than the Manhattan Project or the Stealth fighter program. Think about it”. Blake did for some seconds. “Well, I don’t know who sent it to me and probably I wouldn’t reveal his identity if I did”. Just like they had thought, Williams sighed. There was still no indication on who had been responsible for the leak and next time it could be something more damaging, like the recent pictures taken by the Hubble space telescope clearly showing alien ships moving in and out of the dark side of the Moon. At least some of their activities were clearly being conducted from there, since Earth’s natural satellite was the perfect spot to for an excellent base of operations to conduct attacks on the planet. There had been some talk for a reconnaissance run by a satellite or even about equipping the Shuttle fleet to conduct an attack on the alien forces based there, but even the probe idea had only a small chance of success. With no doubt the aliens would detect the vehicle and destroy it. No, Earth’s space technology was no match for the alien’s. Yet, he corrected himself, trying to feel a bit more hopeful, although on his line of work they had to stick to the facts present and make rational decisions about them. Still, they hadn’t yet bothered to strike at the satellites in orbit, which was a blessing but also a complete puzzlement. Could it be that they weren’t aware of the strategic importance of the reconnaissance, navigation and communications satellites placed on orbit for mankind’s military forces? Or did they just have other unknown plans? “You known, this Neonazi stuff you are telling could just be a lot of crap. I need some evidence of it”. The journalist in front of him distracted Williams from his thoughts. “I can’t help you on there. Find your own evidence and think in global terms”. “Why are you doing this? Whom do you work for?” “You will probably find out if you investigate. But don’t ever try to contact me. And I work for people concerned about this planet’s future”. Williams quietly wondered how many times that line must have been used to convince people of committing acts of high treason. There’s a thin line here he warned himself, before telling Blake that he wouldn’t respond to anymore questions and that the meeting was over.

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May 25th, 1999
Swiss Banque of Credit Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland
Tugging at the cuffs of his civilian suit, Illyuschenko wondered about the orders that had come two days ago from the Secretary General of the UN telling him to be present at a meeting in the Swiss financial capital. He had presented himself at the corporate bank’s headquarters and had been taken to the last floor of the building, to a large conference room here he found the Secretary General himself. The former Prime Minister of an African nation looked as if he had grown older quite some years, the Commander of XCom thought. He hadn’t been able to tell him much more that he had been invited for a reunion regarding X-Com’s financial problems and Illyuschenko knew that the thing was about to become complicated. After last month’s cuts in funding from some countries the economic situation of the force was of complete desperation. Their available funds were close to zero and they couldn’t buy the necessary ammunition and spare parts anymore. Worse, scientific research in some projects had already been halved for lack of available funding. And the combat attrition the teams suffered only made it worse. If things didn’t improve by the end of the month Illyuschenko already knew that they were going bankrupt, probably losing the support of the Council of Funding Nations, which would doom X-Com. The requests for more funding had come unanswered and either they would have to let go of some of the research to some nations to get more money or the whole project was doomed. Which was something that didn’t sounded very well to both men. It was clear that some nations were severely penalizing the force for its resolution in controlling access to alien technology and this whole situation, while showing the problems in dealing with just the reported incursions also stank of political maneuvering. Pretty soon they would start demanding other things, like control of the teams based on their territory and that would also dictate the end of X-Com, without a centralized command and with every nation fighting for itself. Eight old men suddenly entered the room and presentations were made. As he greeted every executive, Illyuschenko noticed that these were the leaders of Switzerland’s biggest private financial institutions. All of them sat themselves on chair disposed around a large black circular table, with the bankers sitting together in front of both UN men. The one in the middle started to speak: “As you know some of us are the presidents of the banks through which your operation is run, as defined on your charter, the initial encounters mediated by the Swiss government”. Both Illyuschenko and the General Secretary nodded. Maintain secrecy and neutrality, the Council had decided to deal the financial details through Swiss bank accounts. “That means a large amount of bureaucracy, which by its turn leaves a rather large paper trail. And our conclusions, based on that same documents, indicate that your organization is doomed financially in the end of his month”. Illyuschenko got alarmed, but he decided to listen to more. “From your reactions I take it that you also share of my thoughts. Even the efforts from your field commanders to selling in black markets the latest Earth weapons, which we take it that are being replaced for better, unheard of so far, material, aren’t enough to save

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you from bankruptcy”. Seeing the surprise on both men’s eyes he added: “That can be discussed later if you want. For now let’s continue. Suffice to say, that would leave us as your owners, since we will take over the necessary assets to cover our own losses. But that would be highly unlikely, since the Council would cover our losses, to allow themselves to your material and research”. He paused and had a sip of water from a glass in front of him. “We are not managers, gentlemen. We wouldn’t be interested in running your organization. But we are investors and a big chance has appeared on the horizon. The whole stock market depends on the results of a company. If it fails the market goes into a recession, or even completely crashes. What do you do, invest on it, hoping that it will eventually get its results up again? Or see what it happens and keep the funds in case the bad times are about to come? You see the parallel, I suppose?” Stop this capitalistic talk and tell us want you want, you old idiot or I will be wishing that I had been allow to bring my gun, Illyuschenko thought, almost reaching for his absent holster. “It’s simply a high-risk choice, but we would like to prefer to be prepared for worse times”. We’re dead, Illyuschenko thought. We are going to be massacred by the aliens while a minority of men has all those fortunes sitting idly or spending them in futile things. And the rest of the world suffers from it again. No wonder communism could be sometimes so attractive. “The paperwork indicates that you must be getting your bases full of captured alien material. I don’t know if you have ever learned about the leasing or, better yet, a pawning system gentlemen but we have decided that it could be most useful on this matter”. What is he talking about, Illyuschenko thought? What does that mean? The UN Secretary understood and replied: “We would lease to you some of the surplus equipment in return for payment?” “Yes. And afterwards, if you wanted to reclaim it you would have to pay back the amount received, plus a small interest. If you didn’t wanted to pay the object would pass to our possession and all matters would be resolved”. They wanted to buy the garbage that was filling his bases? Illyuschenko shook his head. Even building a base with a large storage area hadn’t been enough to deal with the cargo problem. There was just too many junk that just couldnt be thrown away into a trash landfill. Because of that, the corridors back on Mother One were becoming filled with crates containing alien alloys, alien weapons and equipment and other things that hadn’t been identified yet. Some areas had even started to be called the freak house or the horror corridor because the dead aliens were preserved there in plain sight of all base inhabitants. If they wanted it they could have it, but for what? “Excuse me, but what would it happen to the material? You couldn’t just use it or do scientific research on it. The reason why we have it stored at our bases is exactly because of secrecy”. “And why would we want to do that? If you fail no one can save us. On the other hand, if you win the secrecy will be lifted and that material will be worth its weight on gold for scientific research. And we share of your concerns to keep the world a safe place if victory is achieved by not allowing that the technology falls into the wrong hands. Of course, if you decide to sell some of it, we have knowledge of some corporations and

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entrepreneurs that are very much interested on it. And we could act as intermediaries, leaving your identity concealed. There are other organizations out there, legal ones, of course, that would also pay dearly to get their hands on ‘foreign’ technology”. He paused to see if any of the X-Com’s civilian and military commanders wanted to make any questions. Seeing that they were waiting for him to finish, he continued: “What we will gain then? Well, even if you buy it back we will make a very large profit. As for the where we would keep it, look around when you go out gentlemen. Switzerland is a place of mountains, of tunnels, of caves. There are many Second World War bunkers and shelters that have been abandoned by the military and how are used by civilian enterprises. And you can seal off the crates and watch them being guarded”. The UN Secretary looked at Illyuschenko and he nodded back. There really wasn’t much choice, taking into consideration the financial state of X-Com. He then turned to the bankers and said: “How do we work out the details? This has to be done with the greatest discretion. I can’t imagine the Council’s reaction if they know about it”. Illyuschenko added: “And with the greatest speed also. I can’t afford losing men and equipment for lack of money!” “Spoken like a true economist, General. How about if you provide us with a list of existing equipment for us to make an evaluation of their price as quickly as possible?”

May 27th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, United States
Captain Markovitch had been informed that the Colonel had finally regained consciousness the night before after the injuries he had sustained in Iowa. She had spent most of her free time near his bed, watching his recovery from the heavy plasma blast he had taken on his left chest. The alien alloy armor had been all but consumed by the weapon’s destructive power and the shock had collapsed his lung and started a deadly hemorrhage. Nobody knew how Johnson had managed to survive the alien shot. X-Com’s doctors had told that her decision to bring him to the nearest hospital available in the area had been a crucial decision. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made the journey back into Area 51, but even how Johnson had managed to survive the small trip to the hospital was a mystery. Civilian authorities were going nuts over the fact that she had taken top secret aircraft and men engaged in a covert mission to a civilian medical facility and exposed them, but she had told them to shove it up their asses. Or something in that way of thinking. She wanted to see him that same day but an UFO warning had been issued and she had been involved the whole day in the recovery of the crash site. They had managed to kill five Sectoids in return for one dead trooper and pretty bashed Celtic cross type UFO. The damn bugs were just using too much of their heavy weaponry nowadays, specially that fucking large plasma weapon. When the Skyranger had landed back she had removed her armor, taken a shower and headed out for the base infirmary, not bothering to do the debriefing first. When she entered his hospital room she saw that he was sleeping. The first thing that she noticed was the large white bandage covering his left chest. And the machines that monitored his

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vital signs along with the blood and serum containers placed on the side of his bed, connected to him through a needle on his arm. He suddenly half-opened his eyes and tried to focus on her. Mumbling he then said: “How….how did it go?” “We made it. Don’t worry about it now”. He closed his eyes and tried to raise his arm but the gave it up in the middle of the motion, the limb dropping to his side. She said, half-jokingly: “Talking about a stubborn attitude”. He tried to move on his bed as if recollecting his thoughts, his face frowning. “And the other operation?” “Major Patterson took over command and successfully defeated the aliens. He has been running the show since”. “Did….did anyone didn’t make it?” He opened his eyes again. She decided to wait before giving him the body count. “They fought like devils. I guess you really inspired them when you decided to jump in the middle of that plasma fire inside the UFO. That and the fact that you’ve been hit twice in the chest and managed to make it both times. It seems the troops are starting to call you ‘Ironheart’, and I must say that is a name that suits you in many manners, Erwin”. He looked at her in silence for some seconds. “The doctors told me you came here every day”. “Just checking to see how you were doing”. “And that you spend hours seated by my side”. She moved closer to the bed and spoke: “You know why I did it Erwin”. He kept looking at her, fixing on his eyes. “Yes, I know. I…”. She reached and grabbed his hand. “Don’t say anymore Erwin. Just rest. There will be time later for this”. He gave her one last look and closed his tired eyes, almost immediately going to a peaceful sleep.

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Chapter Ten – Light Spring Breeze
July 12th, 1999
VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation
President Larianov was feeling very anxious. He was standing in the middle of the complex that controlled all of Russia’s airspace and air defence resources, together with Dr. Ziguanine. After months of almost desperate waiting and spending a huge amount of money and resources, it finally seemed that Project Umbrella was about to reveal its full potential. Although Doctor Ziguanine had supported testing the new blaster technology first on an old satellite, Larianov had specifically ordered that it was used against the aliens as quickly as possible. Ziguanine had complained about the fact that it wouldn’t permit a full controlled trial of the weapon, but he had been dismissed and ordered to prepare to bring the weapon into operational status. Larianov still couldn’t understand completely the technological wonders that were behind the whole project. But Ziguanine had made a good effort to put it into layman’s terms. The laser that had been originally test-fired didn’t have enough power to destroy targets back on land so they had replaced it with a particle beam accelerator. Basically it was like swapping the ammunition and the barrel of a huge-sized cannon, the scientist had explained, since the targeting system was already working. Now they just needed a silver bullet that made the most damage. And what sort of a bullet, Larianov thought. He had personally authorized all the requirements, noting that many were research projects that had been frozen or canned with the demise of the Soviet Union. Although the weapon was powered by the nuclear reactor inside the facility, to assure that it had its own independent source of energy that could feed the enormous amount of power it consumed, it also used parts of technology first developed in the research of fusion reaction. A controlled fusion reaction was still one of men’s dreams, a clean source of power that could be fed using the water of the oceans. The process was close to reproducing the reactions that gave the Sun and stars its energy, but in a controlled fashion. While nuclear fission consists on the splintering of U-235 uranium or Pu-239 Plutonium isotopes through bombardment with neutrons, fusion worked in the opposite way. Two atoms of hydrogen, the simplest element present in nature, consisting of only one proton and one electron were combined together using huge temperatures to form one atom of helium, releasing massive doses of energy in the process. A heavier form of hydrogen, which added one neutron to the proton and was called deuterium, could be better used. The Soviet Union had tried to produce it, but the pressure and heat required were just too advanced for the present technology, since they would have to duplicate the conditions at the Sun. Still, all of the work had left them with a great deal of research on the area of how to contain and direct the deuterium particles used in a fusion reaction, through the use of electromagnetic fields. And those investigations were now having their practical use, being installed in the weapon to control the huge flux of ionised particles it released. “Dr. Ziguanine, is the beam ready?”

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“Yes, sir. I flew from there from Azamas 36 this morning after concluding the final calibrations on the weapon. All we need now is that Marshal Boganovitch find us a target to fire it. But I must say I still would like it to be first shot at another target, preferably one of our dead satellites in orbit”. “The answer is no, Doctor. I want the aliens to feel as soon as possible that they cannot over fly us with impunity anymore”. “You realize you will only be able to hit targets that are slow moving or that have landed? Craft moving at faster speeds won’t be affected, since the movement required on the beam would take out most of its destructiveness”. “But still they will not be able to land anymore” Marshal Boganovitch moved through the consoles where technicians were busily talking into radio speakers and pressing buttons and approached both men. “Sir, the X-Com base at the Caucasus reports that their radar have detected an UFO close to the Ural Mountains that seems about to touch down, according to its flight profile. They are about to scramble one of their Skyrangers to assault it. What shall we do about it sir?” “Do we have the UFO’s location?” “Yes sir. We have also moved one of our remaining reconnaissance satellite to the area to keep an watch on it”. “Don’t tell them about the energy beam, soon they will discover for themselves that we don’t need their assistance anymore. When they get there they won’t find anything besides the remains of the craft”. Turning to Dr. Ziguanine he asked: “When can we hit it?” “Mir is coming around in the horizon. Without their mirror the range would be shortened to targets over the line of the facility’s horizon. Judging from the size of the UFO and its flight profile, we will be ready to fire it in a few minutes, but I would prefer to wait until it lands”. “This isn’t the time for failure Dr.” “As I am well aware, sir. If you excuse me, Mr. President, I must make some more final calculations since we most likely will have to introduce corrections into the targeting computers afterwards”. The physicist left and went over to a group of other scientific personnel. Larianov noticed nervously the board where the alien craft, marked with a red dot, was over flying the Ural Mountains and now was heading west towards the more populated areas of European Russia. After long minutes of waiting, Ziguanine come up to him and the Marshal again. “We are ready, sir”. Larianov nodded, feeling that a great power had just been put on his hands, more powerful than even the control codes for the launch of the nuclear missiles his country possessed. “This is will be the day were Russia will raise up again, gentlemen! Prepare to fire the beam!” Both men excused themselves and when each to his own way to make the final preparations. Larianov contemplated the agitation around him. Each man, either being civilian or military looked sharp and motivated. This is the beginning of the end, he 221

thought. Like the Teutonic Knights, the Mongols, Napoleon or Hitler, these extraterrestrials are now going to feel the power of Mother Russia and how it hurts to invade her.

Over the Volga River, Caucasus, Russian Federation
Colonel Boronin was seriously considering taking a nap on the flight to get some rest before the action. If that was ever possible, since the noise coming from the various mechanical parts of the Skyranger where he was inside made it near to impossible to have a conversation. To worsen the situation, one of the troopers had put on American rock music on a tape player taped to the wall of the plane. Although Boronin knew how to spoke English, the noise coming out of the stereo device was impossible to decipher. He thought of telling the trooper to shut it off, but decided he had slept in far much worse conditions than this one. He was about to give it a try but Major Gerasimov suddenly appeared, moving forward on the Skyranger crew compartment until he met the Colonel. His face was happy as he turned to say to Boronin: “Hey Piotr, nice day to hunting monsters with my platoon, Da? We were getting anxious down here of you spending too much time with the other team”. He made a sarcastical grin and took out a cigarette pack from his weapons belt. Taking one out he brought it to his mouth and lit it up with a small burst from his laser sidearm. Shaking his head, Boronin smiled back and replied: “Vanya, at least Captain’s Likhachev men bathe. Or bother to hose their craft occasionally. This piece of junk here stinks of alien shit and of bad Russian tobacco. Not to mention the proofs of violation of the regulations that forbid the presence of alcoholic beverages”. Gerasimov’s grin went even larger. Every Russian Skyranger carried a bottle of vodka and glasses to toast to the alive and the dead after each mission. Although strictly forbidden by X-Com’s regulations, so far no word had ever arrived to the High Command or the Council of Funding Nations. “Well Colonel, it’s a tradition down here. We don’t clean up whatever goo their recovered stinky bodies let go on the way back. It’s great also to welcome the rookies. They usually puke themselves out after two or three hours putting up with the perfume”. “The same tradition that makes your men cut out ‘souvenirs’ from the dead alien corpses after a battle? You men are surely becoming truly of the traditional type”. The Colonel added in an ironical tone. Gerasimov made a wicked smile before answering. “To make them terrorized sir. They need to know whom they are fighting. I want them to piss on their pants every time they face my team”. Boronin shook his head. “Vanya, that would be logical if the aliens ever went back to the crash sites and saw the disfigured bodies of their companions, but I even doubt they would care. Keep getting your dirty souvenirs, just leave something for the scientists afterwards and don’t let the habit get too out of hand”. “Affirmative, Colonel!” He threw a mock salute. Afterwards he sat down closer to his superior officer and said. “Actually I wanted to talk to you about this mission. Something is strange here. For the first time Russian High Command isn’t on our backs right from

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the minute we informed them that we had detected the UFO. Any thing we should know about Colonel?” “I noticed it also, Major. And I’m also clueless about what it might mean”. Not that Boronin actually was worried. After months of his country’s interference into X-Com’s operations, this was actually a blessing out of the skies. Well, at least something out of the skies. In any case a bit more than two hours they would find out what was so special about this UFO.

New York City, US
Number Three was seated on his chair, behind a large oak desk, looking at a monitor placed on top of it. Everything was coming together, he thought, now we gain the upper hand. Looking over his office he looked at the Picasso that he had on the wall directly in front of him. What would the artist paint of all this, he asked himself. With each step mankind’s destiny would be more and more woven into the fabric of their plans. This is the beginning of a new era, the final revolution that man has to go through. He turned the chair around to take a glimpse of the skyscrapers behind him, with the Hudson River on the background as for the last time. After some more seconds of contemplation, a beep interrupted him. He turned again slowly to face the monitor. Number Nine was standing on the image, also seated. “Is it confirmed?” Number Three asked, already knowing the answer. “Yes. And their first firing test will be in some minutes from now, against a live target”. “As we assumed. You have done well this time”. Taking full flavour of the moment, he continued: “Inform the others. Prepare your operatives in the field. Now it’s our turn to be ready, to move our piece on the board to place both our opponents in check”. He then turned off the communication and glanced around him one more time. “Yes, the world is about to change. But to where it’s going they don’t even have a clue”.

Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
Azamas 36 had been built in the middle of Siberia, in a plain close to the Jenisej River for the dual purpose of being able to cover the whole northern border of the Soviet Union and defend against any missiles that would have come over the North Pole, the most likely route for a nuclear attack. The other intent of building and maintaining such a research project in a desolate area was secrecy. All the roads leading towards Azamas 36 were constantly guarded and a saboteur or spy would have to cross hundreds of miles of taiga to reach the location. Furthermore, a whole area of the evergreen forest had been cut down around the facility to prevent detection. The massive bunker holding the particle projector laser weapon stood silent in the middle of the desolate landscape, its form standing in the middle of the flat terrain. It was more than five stories high and the circular dome placed on his top was now open, making it resemble more of a telescope than the instrument of destruction that it was. Inside the gun barrel of the particle projector weapon and the equipment placed close to it dominated a large room. It had taken the scientists a great deal of work and imagination for the whole thing to work properly and only know would they know if the years of research would

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pay off. A mechanical glitch that provoked a loss of power deactivated one of the electromagnetic fields being used to contain and direct the ionised particles that were the basis of the weapon’s destructive power. However, the personnel present at the facility quickly detected the problem and moved to resolve it, without the need of contacting Moscow to report the occurrence. Then the order to deploy the barrel came and the base on which the whole gun assembly rested started slowly into the westward direction. While it completed its movement power levels and the targeting system were again checked, and word was sent back to Moscow that it was prepared.

Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation
More than a thousand miles to the east of Moscow and almost the same distance that separated the Urals from the facility at Azamas 36, the Celtic cross type UFO finished crossing the mountain range that separated Europe from Asia. The silver colour reflected with the Sun and it slowed its speed, drawing the attention of the driver of a truck that was travelling in one secondary road miles away. It finally came to a stop in the vicinity of a collective farm village and landed in a clearing on a forest. The door on its side opened and a Floater came out carrying a plasma rifle. The alien checked the area for any possible Terran activity and after some seconds more Floaters started to come out but this time carrying different types of an unknown type of equipment.

VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation
The waiting period inside the facility had filled the atmosphere with tension. The silence was almost unbearable to stand and the sound of Dr. Ziguanine’s voice brought an anticlimax to the whole situation. “The invader’s vessel has landed, Mr. President”. Larianov had been feeling a bit nervous until now. Upon hearing the information he smiled and asked: “Are we ready?” Dr. Ziguanine hesitated for one moment and said: “I can’t tell that this is the best way to test the weapon since I can’t guarantee one hundred percent possibly that we will destroy it, but yes, we are ready upon your command”. “Fire at will then Dr. Let the aliens see the strength of our wrath and warn them about the error of dealing with us!” The scientist nodded and gave the command to the officers standing at the consoles.

Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
When the order was given to the computers that controlled the projected particle weapon they didn’t immediately discharge it. Instead, first the more than a thousand megawatt output of the nuclear power plant that fed the bunker’s huge energy slowly increased its power. The energy requirements were tremendous, almost draining the full capacity of the nuclear reactor and making the civilian sections suffer a short blackout in power. One of the main problems had been in controlling the dispersion caused by Earth’s atmosphere as the beam travelled into space and went back to the planet upon reflection 224

on the Mir’s mirror that would have rended the weapon useless. But since the target was stationary the solution found by the scientists had been to apply more and more power to surpass the atmospheric attrition. The first particles would react with the atmosphere to create an ionised corridor for the remainder of the beam to travel, but in a more condensed form, allowing it to have destructive abilities. The whole process would last only a few seconds, but the energies required had been until now impossible to achieve. Only the perfectioning of the power supply and advances in optics, together with the skills of the designers, had made it possible for the whole system to become an weapon. Close to the projector, a newly installed special containment chamber held deuterium gas, a heavier form of hydrogen. Enormous electric charges were suddenly applied into the deuterium, transforming it into a mass of negatively ions, i.e., atoms that possess extra electrons. Using electromagnetic fields the gas was then accelerated through other equipment just recently installed in the outside of the bunker: a long vacuum tunnel. In physics the opposites attract one another, so the negatively charged particles become contained and projected through the use of a combination of positive and negative intense electromagnetic fields. The atoms travelled for a long extension until finally reaching an appropriate speed and being made to release their extra electrons and transformed into neutral particles. The reason for this last process was to avoid that the charged particles trajectory would be affected by Earth’s magnetic field, ruining their accuracy and making the beam harmless. When the first high-energy particles left the barrel they immediately interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen present in Earth’s atmosphere, breaking down the molecules and transforming them into ozone and other rare products. The beam went upwards until it reached the mirror on the Mir Space Station. While it before had been used as a way to reflect the laser beam, now the equipment installed on board of the spaceship had been upgraded with special devices designed by Dr. Ziguanine’s team and couldn’t be properly called a mirror anymore. Instead of a reflective surface, the mirror now consisted of a circular receptor that captured the beam and forced it into a magnetic field where the dispersion from Earth’s atmosphere was corrected. The particles regained their power by being concentrated into a smaller beam and were reaccelerated and sent back to Earth again on their way to their target. When the first high-speed atoms it the UFO they barely had any destructive power left, after all the atmospheric interaction. Still, more and more particles kept coming through the corridor until suddenly alarms inside the operator’s console inside the craft started to come off. The Floater navigator was surprised to see the level of heat and radiation on the fuselage of the UFO starting to come up but he had no time to respond properly to the threat. In a few seconds the level of particles rose to a level that made the grey alien alloys came red and then yellow and finally white as the metal’s temperature come close to the ones on the Sun’s surface. The beam also had another effect on the UFO, disrupting the navigational systems used to propel the craft as the atoms crossed the fuselage and wrecked havoc with the components inside. The Floater tried to respond by taking off the UFO but he discovered that the controls wouldn’t work. His last action before the heat inside made him pass out was to send a warning to the rest of the fleet.

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Meanwhile the craft’s fuselage had already started to melt and burn. Crossing that obstacle, the particles then proceeded directly into the inside of the UFO. When they hit the Elerium reactor they disrupted the containment fields used to control the matterantimatter reaction used to generate power. The final result was a huge explosion as all the Elerium stored inside suddenly went hypercritical, releasing all of its antimatter particles, which annihilated themselves upon contact with matter.

Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation
Five minutes until touchdown, Boronin reminded himself as he was getting up his seat to prepare to deploy. All around him, the members of Gerasimov’s platoon were doing the same as they all received the warning from the Skyranger’s pilot. “There’s a strange light on the sky, Colonel!” Then, all of a sudden a bright light filled the crew compartment and a shock wave rattled the plane, making everyone fall on the metal floor. Boronin found himself lying down, aware that something very wrong had happened. Slowly his hearing came back and he realized that there must have been a massive explosion since his brain he couldn’t remember the noise. He got up and run to the cockpit where he found the pilot struggling with the controls and trying to land down the Skyranger. “What happened there?” The pilot didn’t bother to look back but replied: “Sir, there was a huge explosion on the direction of the UFO. I only recall seeing first a beam of light in the sky and afterwards something as bright as a nuclear explosion. We got lucky that we were circling the UFO’s position otherwise the blast would have made me blind”. “A nuclear explosion?!” Boronin was aghast. “They used a nuclear weapon to take care of the UFO?”

Earth’s Orbit
The DSP (Defence Support Program) satellite that was flying in a geosynchronous orbit over the equator had been placed in orbit over the Equator to detect missile launches against the United States. It was equipped with a infrared detector to spot the plume of any incoming ballistic missile and there was a number of them placed over the Euroasia continent at any time. When the particle projector at Azamas 36 detonated the Elerium power source a set of detection devices in the satellite immediatly went off, transmitting a warning back to NORAD which immediatly put the U.S. war machine ready for a possible nuclear attack.

VVS (Russian Air Force) HQ, outside Moscow, Russian Federation
Every Russian present at the Air Defence facility felt pride as the results of the first firing of the particle beam were announced. Dr. Ziguanine approached President’s Larianov and the Russian Commander in Chief immediately shook his hand. “Well done Doctor. You shall receive our country’s greatest reward for this achievement”. The scientist looked surprised and replied in an unsure way.

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“Sir, while this proves that the beam can be successfully used as a weapon, the results also prove that we can’t just use it indiscriminately. According to the satellite, the blast radius caused by the weapon was more than a kilometre. We will need to be careful upon using it close to civilian facilities”. “But we still can use it against slow moving targets approaching the weapon can’t we?” “Theoretically yes and with the results of this discharge it is most likely we can shoot down UFOs as they would approach the weapon kilometres away. Still, we have failed to take into account that such an explosion could occur. Most likely the beam interacted with the aliens’ propulsion systems”. “Those are small matters now, Doctor. Right now what I want you to do is to start looking of how we can deploy this weapon throughout our country to protect it”. “The power requirements are immense. Most likely we will have to base them close to our nuclear plants in order to have the sufficient energy to fire them”. “Well, start making an estimate Doctor. I want this weapon ready to deal with any alien intrusions as soon as possible. Dismissed”. The scientist was about to say something but excused himself and went away. Larianov turned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry standing close to him and say: “Inform the UN’s Security Council and the Council of Funding Nations of what has just happened. Russia’s just become a superpower again!”

Close to the Ural Mountains, Russian Federation
Upon receiving information about the motive behind the explosion and knowing that a nuclear explosion hadn’t caused it, Colonel Boronin had immediately ordered the Skyranger to go to the location of the UFO. They had landed in what seemed to be the centre of the blast, a dozens of meters wide crater with all the trees around it projected into the ground. The troopers examining the scene had to take care on where they put their feet since the heat coming from the burnt terrain was nearly unbearable. Major Gerasimov came near Boronin and said: “That’s it. The troops have finished their sweep of the area and have found no remains of the aliens or even the UFO. Whatever they used here completely obliterated the craft and all the area around it. Now we know the reason behind Russian High Command’s indifference towards this contact”. “What do you think Gerasimov? Could this be that laser we had heard about? Could they have made it to work to defend our country?” “I don’t know Colonel. I’m glad if it is that way but I also feel that this can take us out of work”.

July 15th, 1999
Geneva, Switzerland
The special session of the Council of Funding Nations had been summoned at the request of several of the Representatives and of the UN’s Secretary General upon the news of the UFO’s destruction in Russia. Besides the civilian delegates, Commander Illyuschenko and Doctor Chevereux were also present in representation of X-Com’s military and

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scientific branches. The meeting was taking place in one amphitheatre located in one of the Swiss’s secret facilities, with all the representatives seated in the half-circle while the Secretary General and X-Com’s officers stood in a table on the middle. A large aerial photograph of the area where the explosion had taken place was being projected while Dr. Chevereux was making a presentation. “While we are unable to exactly determine the amount of power used by the Russian beam weapon, there’s reasonably evidence to assume that the weapon can concentrate enough power to take out any landed UFO if the beam stays locked enough time into target. And from our own research into Elerium it seems that the beam interfered with the containment devices used by the aliens’ propulsion systems that control the matterantimatter reaction. The readings taken by my scientific staff confirm that the resulting explosion can have far more destructive power than the detonation of a similar amount of plutonium, and without the radiation hazards posed by the use of such a weapon, which lead into more grave matters as to what Elerium uncontrolled proliferation could bring us to. One can wonder what would have happened if the weapon destroyed one of their larger UFOs over one of our populated areas. In fact we might just have an idea about the amount of such an explosion”. The image was suddenly replaced by an old black and white picture showing a snow-covered field littered with fallen trees. “This is a picture taken in the beginning of the century at Tunguska in Siberia where there was an explosion so massive that so far science has been unable to positively explain it. Due to the isolation of the place it actually took months before word came out to civilized areas and the first expedition to it recorded reports of the natives about a huge fireball that engulfed the sky and knocked down trees as if they were toothpicks. Science so far has been unable to explain it. Theories were presented of a huge meteorite, a piece of a comet or even a miniature black hole entering Earth’s atmosphere, but so far none of them has correctly explained it. However with the information we have now about the alien’s presence on Earth it seems that one of their craft might have developed a malfunction that caused the Elerium power plant to explode in the upper atmosphere. The Tunguska explosion devastated dozens of square kilometres. If this would have happened over one of our large cities the death toll could ascent to the hundred thousands. Moreover if the beam was used against fixed civilian targets, such as manufacturing facilities or oil refineries the consequences would also be incalculable, specially if one considers how many times the beam can be used”. The white circle containing the blood red X on the middle replaced the image. “That is all ladies and gentlemen and I wish you have fully measured with what we are dealing here”. He sat down and the UN Secretary General got up. “Thank you Dr. Chevereux for explaining to us what has happened since Russia won’t reveal any details”. He turned to the Russian delegate. “Mr. Representative, I can only plea: tell you President to share this knowledge with the rest of mankind. We need to place this achievement available to all of us here so that it can be used and controlled in the benefit of mankind”. The Russian representative got up and replied: “Mr. Secretary, this has already been discussed into the Security Council. And let me repeat my country’s position right here again: Russia will not disclose any technical details concerning this weapon. Furthermore

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we reserve the right to use it in any way we seem fit. The X-Com Charter allows us to do that”. “You have a moral obligation to do it so, Mr. Klimov”. The American representative suddenly got up on the other side of the half-circle. The Russian kept a cold face and replied: “Really? Interesting how you Americans have also kept to yourselves the secret of the atomic bomb for years after World War II and refused to reveal it, trying to use it to enhance your position. I laugh at what you call ‘moral obligations’. Somehow they only seem to apply if your country just found himself in a position of strategic disadvantage”. “This thing goes against every treaty ever signed between the US and the Soviet Union in terms of strategic weapons that Russia also pledged to fulfil”. “I won’t even discuss that, Mr. Portdown. We have it and we are going to use it. But I’m sure my country could discuss with others the possibility that we assume also the defence of their own territory from the alien’s incursions. That is, depending on the compensations offered to Russia”. Illyuschenko moved uncomfortably on his chair. If any of the countries seated here decided to take Russia’s offer they would most bail out of X-Com, diminishing the support for the force and posing a lot of troubles. “That is blackmail and you know it! How can you be thinking only of your country at this hour?” “Don’t you Americans are so hypocrites sometimes? I would like to see what would happened if the situation was inversed?” “Gentlemen, please stop!” Illyuschenko looked at the Secretary General in surprise. “It quite obvious that possession of such knowledge can alter the world’s balance of power among nations, due to the abilities of the particle beam weapon to attack targets in another country, that including the nuclear missiles that so far have kept a deterrent in using nuclear weapons. However those questions should be addressed at the Security Council where they belong”. “And they have as we all know, Mr. Bomaka. And in a most unsatisfactory way, my country considers. But as you say those matters don’t really matter to the discussion here now”. The Japanese Representative sounded as enigmatic as always, making Illyuschenko wonder what was going on at that country, especially in terms of X-Com performance. The Far East team had one of the most impressive results but also had suffered severe casualties. Still the team had never called an inactive status, which was extraordinary to say the least, considering the ordeals that the other active teams had gone into. “What we need to do is to discuss the release of such information to X-Com, according to the Charter that states that every country should contribute as much as possible”. The leader of the UN had just finished his argumentation. The Russian representative was not impressed. He merely spoke in a flat tone.

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“And at a country’s discretion, you forgot to add. And also, the availability of funds or other military or civilian assets can be controlled by each country according to their evaluation of the unit’s performance”. “We can discuss this to the letter of the law if you want Mr. Klimov. However it won’t get us nowhere”. “Mr. Secretary, so far this organization has become completely egotistical. X-Com High Command treats the troops and material assigned to it as if they belong to them, where the Charter clearly states that those military units are still a part of each country’s armed forces. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole situation can’t even lead into confrontations between X-Com and my nation’s forces, for instance, due to the pursue of distinct objectives and strategies”. Illyuschenko suddenly raised himself and asked: “Was that a threat?” “Commander, I order you to please sit down…now!” Illyuschenko had never seen the UN Secretary this distressed. “Keep him on a leash, will you please, Mr. Bomaka?” It was Illyuschenko’s time to nearly go ballistic but this time he managed to constrain himself. “As I was saying, we consider that the release of such technology to X-Com would give no significant gains to Russia and, quite on the contrary would make us gain nothing in return for all the investment we have put into it. However we are ready to discuss with other countries the possibility of using those weapons to shoot down UFOs over the territory of any nation interested on buying such protection or even installing defence facilities, providing that they are manned and guarded by Russian personnel at the whole time”. Illyuschenko looked around and saw that many of the minor countries seated of the amphitheatre were carefully judging the proposal. On the contrary, many of the major powers seemed disgusted but their leaders would in no doubt consider the proposal twice. And he felt a great fear inside, realizing the most likely result of this whole situation.

July 16th, 1999
Air Force One, Over Illinois, US
The whole situation was beginning to put a strain on Winston. He hadn’t stepped on land ever since the Russians had fired their new weapon, to prevent the Russians from making a first strike with the beam to eliminate American leadership and preventing a nuclear counterattack. All of the US major officials were also in protected locations, either aboard National Command Posts were they could all be contacted and kept safe in case the Russians decided to go completely mad. But worse than that was to accept the fact that they had just lost an arms race, with major political implications to the world. Against all possible chances or better judgement the US had been beaten by a nation on his throes. Worse still would be to explain to Congress and the American people why that had happened. So far no word had been leaked into the press but that could change really quickly, especially if the journalists started to notice his and other officials missing appointments and the fact that he was

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always aboard the Air Force One. No, something had to be done about the whole fact and he was connected to the whole National Security Council to decide. “I’ve just talked to the Mr. Portdown. As with the Security Council they refuse to disclose their technology to X-Com. And they are trying to sell their defence abilities to any nation interested”. Everyone on the plane and in the monitors grimaced. “You all realize what this means. Our allies can desert us and place themselves under Russian protection. And unless we pay we will be left out in the cold against the aliens. Even XCom’s need is questioned by this turn of events”. The National Security Adviser spoke on one of the monitors, her voice heavily distressed. “We could request the release of all the data gained by X-Com, but the Russians will outmanoeuvre us and threaten enough countries to block the initiative”. “Exactly what Mr. Portdown feels, Mrs. May. I’m opened to more suggestions”. “We move to disband the force and take over X-Com’s facilities and personnel in the US. We need that data sir, otherwise we are dead. Colonel Johnson isn’t stupid and he will see the organization falling apart, together with the need to preserve the information to our country”. “If we do that, the whole coalition will dissolve. Our allies wouldn’t trust us anymore”. The DCI cut in another monitor and her eyes turned to the right and up all of a sudden. “You can bet they are already discussing to place themselves on the Russian’s boat”. “Stop, both of you. I will take all suggestions under consideration, but so far I’m not happy with what I’ve heard and I need to know more”. The Chairman of the JCS jumped in at the suggestion, but not very much convinced. “We could stage an attack with our Stealth bombers, but air detection abilities have been improved in that area and there’s a risk that the attack planes will be discovered and shot down”. “Even the A-17s?” The DCI asked. “The A-17s are only know about to reach operational status and the crews aren’t yet familiar enough with the attack plane. And a sabotage mission is also out of the question. The crew would most likely be discovered on their way to the target. Besides using nuclear weapons there’s no other way to destroy the facility and even then we could only expect a nuclear response by the Russians. That also applies if they discover we are behind the attack”. Winston shook its head. “We need more time. We shall start by seeing how we can catch up with the Russians and in how many months or years. Then I will decide”. Vice-President Longstreet spoke in a matter of urgency as he was about to dismiss them. “Mr. President, this can’t last for very long. I’m starting to organize my campaign to be your replacement and I can’t do things from aboard a plane”. “I completely agree with you in the point of being airborne”. He turned to the director of the Secret Service who was closing next to him. “Make a timetable so that two Cabinet members are at safe locations the whole time. Include the House Speaker on that list since he gets the job in case something happens to me or the VP”.

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London, United Kingdom
“You know how many years it has been from I last came here?” Two looked at the Thames from the third floor of a building facing the River, addressing a man well into his late forties. “I can imagine but there’s no time for that. Your communication was quite unexpected I must say”. “Desperate times take desperate measures. In our line of work that can be a risk but also there can be no alternative”. “I’ve been informed of what is happening in Siberia with the Russians. Anything to do with that?” “Yes, but much more also. You will find out when it’s time, either through me or some other means”. “Loyalties are hard-earned here. You still trust me?” “You understand certain needs. Pretty soon you might find yourself in a place to act upon them. And I have a particular interest on who occupies that position”. “I won’t ask where since I know that I wouldn’t give me any answer. However I take that this request for a meeting says that I might be required something later on the future”. “You are correct. You might”. “A sleeper then?” “A last resort card if you want to really know. But if the time comes you will understand why”. “As I always did. That’s why neither of us never really considered bringing down the other. Too many secrets to tell”. “And even darker ones to stay hidden between both”. “Knowledge is a blade with two edges. It can strike both ways. I learned that much from you”. “Indeed. That is why we both will have to be particularly careful on this one. A lot here is at stake and failure can make us loose everything”. “In that case I shall be ready. Just be prudent in what you ask”. “For the time being I only ask you to do what you do best. The rest will come much later in the future, if it comes at all”.

July 17th, 1999
Azamas 36, Russian Federation
The sentinels outside of the main entrance to the Security Command Centre were trying to stay alert, although being on watch for almost six hours now was taking a toll on their attention. The base had been on full alert for some days now and everyone knew about the weapon that was being housed and the terrifying power it possessed. But at the same

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time, the sentinels didn’t pay much attention to the orders. Who would be crazy enough to attack a heavily guarded facility in the middle of Russia? They just had shrugged as they had heard the orders. At least they would still be able to go into the city and see a movie at the local theater or get some more decent food. The bunker and the barracks that housed the military personnel marked the end of the civilian area of the city and stood on the middle of one of the sides of the triangle formed by the research facility, laser bunker and nuclear reactor. To the right of the guards a fenced road lead into the facility that housed the weapon and the highway continued to the East where it met the research facility. Some five hundred meters in front of them was the barbed wire gate that lead into the civilian areas. A set of lights could be seeing coming on the road from the city and approaching the guard post at the gate. The sentinels relaxed as they saw the jeep with the two uniformed men seating up front. Relief came over them as both realized that the shift was over and that they could finally get some sleep. The gate opened and the vehicle drove through, covering the space between the fence and the Centre, until finally stopping at a spot on the garrison’s parking lot in the garrison’s motor poll. Both troopers jumped outside and started heading for the sentinels, making sure that their parkas were well worn. One of the guards turned to the soldiers approaching, unable to tell their faces because of the dim light. “Hey Oleg, you are actually on time tonight. What happened? The night went wrong in the city?” None of the soldiers responded and kept walking towards them. When they were almost reaching the circular light project by the lamp on top of the sentinels, the one who talked started speaking again. “Oleg? You drunk too much already and you can’t speak?” He smiled but when both men stepped into the light, he became puzzled. “Who are you? Why has Oleg not come back from the city?” Both men suddenly raised their right hands and the last thing the guards noticed were two strange looking barrels coming from the cuffs of the military jackets. Two green flashes suddenly appeared and both men were projected backwards, their dead bodies landing on the floor. At the same time the guards at the gate dropped suddenly to the floor, both hit in their heads by heavy calibre rounds that had been shot by hidden snipers. The two soldiers grabbed them and hid their bodies behind one truck and then assumed their positions by the door.

Far Side of the Moon
The Sectoid Commander was seated in the command chair in one of the alien’s bigger UFOs on the fleet that was hidden behind the Moon to avoid Terran detection. The alien leadership had been surprised at the destruction of one of their smaller scout ships by the energy beam weapon, but measures had already been taken to deal with this nuisance. The humans had been interfering for too long with their plans, he considered as he looked at the three dimensional screen in front of him. As the alien watched the graphic representation of Sol Three and its natural satellite, his attention changed from the cluster of dots that represented his fleet, hidden behind the natural satellite, to a smaller one, that was now about to enter the planet’s atmosphere.

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July 18th, 1999
X-Com Russian Command, Stalingrad Base, Caucasus, Russian Federation
Colonel Boronin started noticing that something was wrong on the dream he was having. He was dreaming of monsters that came and pursued him in the dark, while he could only run away, until he started to pay attention to a rhythmical sound. Looking around him, he couldn’t perceive the origin of the sound and as he tried to focus more on it he suddenly become more conscious. He was on his bed he finally noticed but the room had a strange pulsating colour. And the alarm on his desk was going on, giving a large beep every two seconds while pulsing red. He jumped out of his bed and went to the desk, pressing the intercom button and connecting to the Command room. Taking a moment to clear his head he then spoke: “Boronin here. What is going on?” “Colonel, this is Captain Likhachev. The Air Force has just detected an alien fleet entering the atmosphere and going to Russian airspace”. “How many UFOs?” “Unsure sir, since they are flying close together and masking their radar signatures. But some have radar tracks equivalent to their Terror Ships”. “Get all the men ready. I will be right there in five minutes”. He went to the closet in his room, opened it and got out an X-Com combat jumpsuit. After getting inside it he closed the zippers and got out the combat boots. He sat on his bed while putting them on, his hands checking the strength of the alien alloys that had been placed over them. Going over to the closet again he grabbed his Type 17 armour, put it over his back and headed out for the door. When Boronin reached the Command Room the whole place was in an organized chaos. He spotted Likhachev and went up to him. The Captain noticed him and said: “Sir, Russian High Command is not requesting our assistance”. “Hum?” Boronin had gotten himself a chair and had started to put on his armour while Likhachev was talking. He stopped adjusting his leg plates and looked at him. “They are going to use the laser on them as soon as they land. Mir Space Station is already in place and ready. They say that our presence isn’t necessary”. “Let’s hope they are right then Captain. We have both seen what that weapon can do, but I have a really bad feeling about all this”.

Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
In spite of the late hours in the night, the underground laser control facility was being fully manned 24 hours a day to deal with any further UFO intrusions into Russian territory. And the Colonel in charge of the night shift was struggling to keep himself awake when one of the soldiers manning the communications console suddenly nearly jumped out of his chair and turned to him. 234

“Sir! Air Defence Command reports a fleet of alien vessels coming through over the Artic. And their re-entry vector shows them to be heading towards our location!” The young enlisted private seemed in panic, having only entered service at the facility some weeks ago. The officer rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was completely awake and start shouting orders in the room. He had been present at the shoot down of the first UFO and knew the capabilities of the weapon that was above him. Feeling confident, he started giving orders to the technicians in the room. “Sound general alarm. Prepare the particle weapon and start feeding it the telemetry and radar data from Air Defence. And contact General Yurinov at headquarters and require is presence here”. He watched as the other occupants in the chamber followed his orders. While he noticed them, he saw that they had a bit of apprehension in their motions. Pretty soon all of that will be over, he thought. Now we can fight back. The technician who had driven him out of his nearly sleeping state turned to him again, puzzled. “Sir. I can’t reach the military garrison barracks. That area doesn’t answer to any of my calls”. “Are you sure? Try again but use the phone. Probably there’s a problem with the base radio”. “Already did sir. Nobody there picks up the phone”. The Colonel reached his chin with his hand and started thinking. He applied immediately his first idea: “Try the other buildings!” But he knew of nothing else to do at the moment. He considered the possibility of an attack, but discarded it. If the aliens had come, their craft would have been detected. Or would it not? “The research facility reports nothing out of the ordinary. The nuclear power plant says the same. And the military checkpoints are all into full alert status, although their voices sounded a bit asleep”. There, he considered. Any attack or approach would have been noticed by now. “Status of the ships and the particle cannon?” Another technician also at a console two seats to the left answered him: “We are targeting one of the bigger ships that are approaching us and are ready to fire when it reaches range. Due to the size of the craft and the fact that it is on the weapon’s horizon, it is better if we don’t use the Mir dish in order to don’t lose an exaggerated amount of power to atmosphere bleeding. We will be engaging them at a shorter range, but one way or the other we will make them drop out of the skies”. The Colonel nodded and turning to a lieutenant he ordered: “Get a patrol and a car and go check the phone lines. There must be a problem with them”. The officer nodded and headed towards the exit doors. All men in the room had their attention focused on the aliens ships and so, they did not pay attention anymore to the younger officer has he opened the security doors. But sudden gunfire made them all turn. Doing a half-turn, the Colonel saw that a group of Russian troopers were entering the room through the opened doors, carefully avoiding the lieutenant’s body on the floor and firing their AK-74 assault rifles. “What is going on? What do you think you are doing!?” He shouted when speechless as one of the technicians on his side took a full burst in his torso and his body jerked with the incoming projectiles on the chair were he was seated. The console became red with blood as he

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finally collapsed into it. Across the room the other operators were starting to run and the Colonel took cover behind another console. On his side he heard the private in charge of communications screaming: “..Command we are under attack! Repeat! We are…arrrgggh!” His voice was replaced by the sound of an assault rifle being discharged at full automatic mode. The officer went for his sidearm and brought it out of his holster, but as he was trying to get the safety off he felt someone was approaching his position. Turning his body to face the threat he saw that one of the invaders had come close to him carrying a smoking AK-74. He raised his arms in an attempt to surrender, but the figure simply pointed the weapon at his head and pressed the trigger. The Colonel’s head exploded and painted the area nearby him with encephalic mass. The men dressed in Russian military fatigues stopped for a moment over his body and then proceed on eliminating the last remains of resistance in the control room.

Earth’s Orbit
As the flotilla of alien vessels was approaching the Azamas 36 complex, one of the craft suddenly detached itself from the formation and started heading out back to space. Within minutes the Russian aerospace controllers back at Air Force HQ had determined his new destiny and froze into place upon the realization of the large UFO’s destiny. They immediately sent an alert transmission but they knew already that Mir Space Station was doomed as long as all the crewmembers inside. Without the protection dispensed by the particle weapon, the largest man made object in Earth’s orbit was nothing more than a big target hanging on space. Upon receival of the notification alerting for the incoming craft, the crewmembers immediately went to the work of preparing the Soyuz lifeboat attached to the Space Station that would enable them to flee. Unfortunately it was too late for either them or the space facility. The first blast discharged by the Terror Ship upon reaching maximum range for its weapons travelled freely upon space, unhampered by the restrictions posed by Earth’s atmosphere and hit the Spektr module, immediately cutting through the fuselage. The force of the plasma beam then found the air present inside the compartment and reacted with it, with the end result being an explosion that completely obliterated the module. Despite the blast all the inside hatches were locked which prevented the loss of the entire station. There was no air in space to allow for the propagation of sounds but the crewmembers were immediately projected to one side as the loss of module threw the station into an uncontrolled spin. Bones were broken as their bodies hit the bulkheads and equipment placed on the walls of the station. The navigational computers still operating immediately started to use nitrogen jets to control the station but the damage had been too extensive. Pressed to one side of the Mir by the inertia provoked by the inertial movement the crewmembers tried to get to the Soyuz rescue boat and detached it from the station in a last attempt to survive. A series of blasts from the alien craft then hit again the station, one of them obliterating the escape module and the others indiscriminately hitting the solar panels and other parts attached to the main core of the station. Satisfied with its work, the UFO then stopped and headed back into Earth to join the alien wave that was about to assault Azamas 36.

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On board the main core of the Mir, the six Russian cosmonauts inside were still alive but not for long. The life-support systems had ceased to function and they were starting to fall back into Earth’s atmosphere.

Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
President Larianov knew that something was wrong as he heard the steps again on his bedroom. He had been awaken before because of the alien flotilla headed towards Azamas 36 but had decided on going back to his sleep when his military commanders had told him that the weapon would be more than capable of dealing with the invaders and keeping them away from the particle weapon. Now, still sleepy he turned in anger to the person that was entering the room again and saw that it was the same aide as before: “What is it now? Can’t the military buffoons do anything about me? Haven’t they shot down the flotilla yet?” The aide stopped on his tracks, looking as if he desperately wanted in that moment a hole to hide himself. “Azamas 36 reported being under attack ten minutes ago, sir…” “Weren’t they already under attack some half an hour ago? Why haven’t the particle beam weapon destroyed their ships yet?!” Larianov went out of his bed and stood up, looking at the aide and demanding a quick answer. “They were getting ready to fire it when suddenly they reported an attack and went off the air. We can’t raise them on the radio them since then and the UFOs are getting close”. The full realization of what was happening hit Larianov straight like a slap on the face and he managed not to drop to the floor by seating himself on the bed. “The weapon hadn’t fired…? They….are going to destroy the weapon…our last hope is gone…” The aide tried to see if he was all right but for the next five minutes Larianov stayed mute on the bed, his eyes fixated on the ceiling.

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Chapter Eleven – Broken Shells
July 18th, 1999
X-Com Russian Command, Stalingrad Base, Caucasus, Russian Federation
The officers of the Russian team were at the base’s planning room going over maps and troop deployments when Colonel Boronin walked inside and closed the door behind him. Taking a deep breath first, he then spoke: “Our country’s government has asked us to try to retain control of the research facility and save the remaining scientific personnel and to secure the laser”. Looking over at the map of Azamas 36, the other two men spat and cursed. Gerasimov spoke first: “They are crazy! The third Skyranger is down for maintenance work. We can only deploy two platoons of men and we are facing a horde of killer aliens of unknown strength”. “How far is assistance?” Boronin turned to Likhachev, lifted to his eyes the papers he was holding on his left hand and replied: “Six hours after we touchdown, according to Red Army information. We might have some air support since the Air Force is preparing to bomb the aliens’ ships”. “Don’t they have regular forces down there? That is a top-secret research facility! Or has someone upstairs been diverting money into his own pockets instead of using it to have his men operational?” Gerasimov just shook is head in disbelief. “They had one battalion of regular infantry plus Ministry of the Interior paramilitary forces. But the aliens assured that the Command Center was one of the first places that got hit. They reported being under attack and went off the air almost immediately. At the best they must be putting a disorganized resistance and will be defeated almost for sure”. Gerasimov seemed as if he was going to have a stroke. He was almost shouting as he continued: “Colonel, we can’t possibly hold out six hours then, specially if we divide the team. We don’t know their strength and Air Defense have reported tracking several alien ships inbound for the complex. The aliens will have destroyed the particle weapon by the time we arrive. God only knows why they haven’t done yet, since it would appear it is their primary target, but it isn’t sane to go defend something that is undefendable!” Boronin nodded his head in agreement. “I just have been talking to Commander Illyuschenko, who gave me somewhat different orders. Luckily for us he doesn’t share of our government’s lack of aptitude for taking military decisions. We are to deploy the full force to secure the research facility. If possible we will try to ascertain of the situation of the laser by sending a reconnaissance mission. We presently don’t have any up to date photos. The ones we have were taken two hours ago at the beginning of the attack. Since then the aliens started attacking any planes that come near the area and Air Force doesn’t want to risk loosing more planes”. “Six hours trying to hold out and still have to see if their precious toys are intact”. Gerasimov cursed, unable to conceive his disgust at the whole situation.

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“And I want you to do it, Gerasimov”. Boronin looked at the lower officer with a sense of urgency. The Major hit the table with the palm of his hand but nodded back in acceptance of his orders. “I should have known this was coming. I take it that the Captain won’t mind”, he turned to Likhachev who was smiling. “All right, you got yourself a volunteer”. “Start making your list of whom you want to take”. “Right. Have we received the batch of the new portable heavy lasers from Mother One?” “The technicians have finished calibrating them. They are yours if you want them”. “I don’t think I will need them all, specially because of their size. Better if you keep them with you Colonel”. “Very well. Go and brief your platoons. We are leaving in two hours”.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Eva Johannes only noticed that something peculiar was going on when she headed out for mess hall to have her breakfast. She had found strange that most of the corridors leading from her quarters to the mess were conspicuously empty at that hour in the morning, but she just shrugged it off, anxious to get her breakfast and go back to examining the possibilities of the new Russian weapon. There wasn’t much to work with, since they had kept all the research for themselves, but she suspected the breakthrough they had achieved on particle beam weapons could be applied with the dilemma of understanding how the alien weapons worked. When she entered the mess hall, she saw a group of people clustering in the recreational area of the base, all looking at the television sets placed there for personnel entertainment. She couldn’t understand what it was all about since the room was separated by a sound proof window from the dining area, so she headed out there. When she opened the door, she noticed the cold silence inside. The troopers, technicians and scientists were all mute looking at a news broadcast made by CNN. She spotted Lejeune, the French scientist and moved closer to him, uneasy about what could be happening. When she reached him, she touched him on the shoulder to get his attention and asked: “Pierre what is happening?” The other scientist almost jumped at her touch and turned to her. Upon seeing who it was he relaxed and replied: “Base command made an announcement some half and hour ago that the aliens had mounted a big assault upon Russia”. “A big assault?” “Oui”. The scientist shrugged his shoulders. “The number of UFOs used by the aliens surpasses everything they have ever used against us”. “Do you mean they are finally invading?” The scientist suddenly felt her blood turn cold. Every X-Com member lived with the grim expectation that some day the aliens would unleash into a full-scale assault on Earth. Only God knew why they hadn’t done it so far but everyone had assumed that it would come. The realization had been most disturbing, like a Damocles sword posed over their heads that would eventually drop and cut them down, but it had also galvanized them into action, making sure that time and resources weren’t wasted. 239

Lejeune wasn’t seeing things that way to her relief. “That’s what everyone here is trying to see right now, but CNN speaks nothing of it. There are some reports of a terrorist attack on Siberia, apparently the work of religious fanatics. Those lunatics sure have appeared out of nowhere in the past months”. The reference to the fanatics was something of an inside joke in X-Com. Most of the alien aggression so far had been labeled as terrorist groups by the governments of the world and the media. But everyone on X-Com knew what really was happening there and shared a dry laugh every time the word came printed on newspapers or spoken in the television sets. Eva took a deep breath but then another disturbing thought came to her. “Where did they say the attack was?” The French scientist raised his shoulders. “Some small city in Siberia. At least it’s Russian Command area of operations, so we won’t be put into a full alert and unable to leave base until the whole situation gets resolved. I was thinking of going out tonight to change a bit our diet of the food we get here. Would you like to come?” The thought that was lingering inside her suddenly become clear. She didn’t reply him, as she wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. Instead she was already on his way to talk to Dr. Chevereux and find out where the attack was.

1048 Zulu (Local Time), Siberia, Russian Federation
The two Skyrangers from the Russian team were racing across the sparsly grass and moss covered Siberian steppe to get to their destination and each second was precious. An American satellite had managed to take some photographs of the area, taking advantage of an opening in the cloud cover but they didn’t help much. The UFO’s apparently had landed directly on the civilian areas of the city, which was an enigma for all Russian XCom officers. So far the aliens were acting as if this was just another terrorist attack, not a strike posed to destroy the enemy’s assets. The laser bunker, nuclear power plant and the laboratories and engineering workshops seemed pretty much intact, but the destroyed military installations that housed the security detail were burning and releasing a lot of smoke in the early afternoon air that was still visible to the Skyrangers’ pilots “Any word from the Japanese or Chinese teams?” Boronin asked Likhachev on the inside of one of the planes. The dark haired short officer just shook its head in disgust. “Chen, as usual, claims that they don’t have resources to help us. And the last communication from Complex YY-18 say that they are readying two platoons, one of the new mobile tanks and another of infantry but they timetable puts their arrival too far away. Most likely we will get assistance from our country’s forces first”. “Great”. Boronin slapped the blue metal plate covering his thigh. “Any word from the defenders at the facility?” “Still no radio communications after their initial reports of an attack. We can only assume the worst”. “Tell the men to be prepared for anything. At least we won’t be fighting at night, although this fucking fog could lift up a little. I hope that the pilot knows what he’s doing. Flying this close to the ground with this visibility is insane!” Ending abruptly the conversation, Boronin went back to his seat.

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Area 51, Nevada, US
Johnson was at the base gym working out to help the final recovery of his injured muscles when Forrester walked inside dressed in a combat jumpsuit. He approached the Colonel and said: “Colonel, sorry for disturbing your training but I would like to talk to you”. He nodded back and got out of the weight lifting machine he was using and grabbed a towel to clean the sweat off his fore brow. “I’m listening”. The officer hesitated for a moment before starting to speak. “Upon Major Patterson’s suggestion I’ve seen the base psychiatric since the mission and it was decided to put me off active missions for the moment. Things haven’t been easy Colonel and I am the first one to acknowledge it. I apologize for my mistake and let you know that I will try not to disappoint you again”. The man managed to speak it with no pauses although it was clear that some strong emotions were stirring inside him. Johnson nodded. “For me there are no need for apologies here but I will accept them Forrester. No one could have had imagined that a Sectoid was able to climb up the wall of a barn using only his body”. “Still, I consider it to be my personal fault, sir. And I would like to know if the alert status for the entire ground assault also applies to me sir. I’m ready to any mission that comes up, I really am, Colonel, and I need the new chance, if you think I’m ready to it. I had my own problems but I can do it sir”. Now here’s a hard decision. Johnson told to himself. Forrester was one of the officers in base with more combat experience fighting the aliens beside himself. But at the same time all the bitter fighting and the endless casualties had affected him. Asking to be placed on combat missions to prove one another could came up wrong. But at least the man admitted it. “Tell you what. You will be in a semi-active status. If something’s up meanwhile I will then take it into consideration”. “Fair enough. Thank you Colonel”.

1112 Zulu, Siberia, Russian Federation
Some twenty minutes later, both Skyrangers slowed their speed and quietly descended into the ground, the blast from the engines lifting up loose gravel and burning the steppe small vegetation. When the ramps of the craft came down, the X-Com squads started to pour out, with their blue armor painted on the journey to sport an artic and forest camouflage, and quickly established a safety perimeter around the craft. Occasional gunfire could be heard to the southwest, the direction of the Azamas 36. Boronin stuck with Second Platoon, while telling Major Gerasimov to start to move out towards the research facility. The Skyrangers had approached the facility from the West and had taken a flight path that resembled a semicircle upon as they approached the complex, to avoid over flying the area. The planes had dropped the team ten kilometers northeast of the city and had quickly lifted off again to move to a safer location. First Platoon quickly moved to take the lead and the remaining of the team was following them.

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Boronin ordered the trooper carrying the satellite communications radio to keep close to him as they crossed the taiga forest that separated the landing zone from the research facility. There were no friendly units in the area and if something happened to the radio they would be stranded in the middle of a hot zone full of aliens. And although First Platoon had spread itself on a loose line in front, there was always the possibility than an alien patrol would spot them and try to circle the whole company, so everyone was keeping a sharp eye into every direction. Boronin had a position in the middle of the line and suddenly he saw that all the troopers in front of him were stopping and dropping down to their knees. He did the same and activated the command circuit on his personal short-range radio. “Ivan, what is happening up there?” Major Gerasimov’s replied to him: “The forest has just cleared and we have reached the outer security fence of the city”. “Well, get someone to cut a hole on it” “Already have Aleksander and Mikhail on it. But the thing is rigged with mines, it will take some time for them to clear it out”. “Tell them to hurry up then. We can’t be still here for too long”. “Understood”. When Gerasimov stopped talking, Boronin looked in front. He thought he could spot the fence since there was a strange feature at the bottom of the light blue horizon. He then turned around and saw that they were completely vulnerable out there. His men were all down, trying to conceal themselves, but if one of the UFOs flew over their position they would be immediately spotted. He dropped completely to the almost sterile ground, covered with moss and sparse vegetation and waited. Most of the snow had melted by now and there was mud everywhere. He saw that the X-Com members close to him had already started to cover their uniforms with the mud to help out on their camouflage. He decided to do the same while waiting and when he was done he looked at his watch. At the rate of movement they were going it would take them some more hours before reaching their objective. If the aliens didn’t spotted them first. Tense minutes passed as he waited. The radio came alive again. “They are done. The picket on the left side has spotted a group of aliens on patrol on the other side of the fence coming into our direction”. Boronin cursed and spoke back: “Are they done with the fence yet?” “I was about to get everyone moving again when the alarm come. What you want us to do?” Boronin weighted his options: if the aliens spotted the hole on the fence they for sure would report it back and investigate, which was dangerous for the team since it would put the aliens on alert. On the other hand if they took care of the patrol they most likely wouldn’t find out about it until they sent another patrol to check it out and by that time the X-Com team would be close to their target. To help his decision the radio came alive again:

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“Picket says the aliens are of a new race that look like snakes”. Doubt came into Boronin’s mind. A new alien race would mean that they were dealing with an unknown enemy. They needed to know more about these new creatures. “Get ready to take them down but wait for me if possible. I’m coming there to see them myself. Tell the men to use only lasers to make less sound”. He started going through the line of concealed soldiers. When he passed Likhachev the Captain nodded, telling him that he had listened to the whole conversation. After some more minutes he reached First Platoon’s line that was some two hundred meters away from the security fence, which was full of lights, mine warning signs and two parallel rows of three metre tall barbed wire. Most likely there were detection devices in the space in-between both fences, but he dismissed them since they must have been disabled by now or the people who were supposed to be on guard at the alarms were dead. Using hand signals he asked the trooper close to him for the Major’s position. The X-Com squaddie pointed left. Good, at least the aliens haven’t reached his position yet he thought otherwise the shooting would have started by now. Trying to crawl as quickly as possible he finally reached Gerasimov, who was lying behind one rock, trying to blend himself with the landscape as much as possible. The Major looked at him, gave the Colonel his binoculars and pointed to the left side. Boronin got himself a conceal position and looked. He saw a group of four brown aliens that seemed as tall as an average human moving on the other side of the fence. He thought their movement was sluggish until he noticed the reason. Instead of legs or any type of bipedal limbs, the creatures were standing up in what seemed to be a massive snake tail as large as the abdomen to which was connected on the body. The reptilian shaped head, with one large fang on each jaw and the gray eyes it possessed added more to the similarly with a serpent standing on its tail. But this serpent had arms and massive ones that ended on hands carrying objects. Boronin identified them as the alien weapons they had seen before. Two plasma rifles and two of their larger plasma cannons. Not good. Just one shot of the rifles could get through the armor the X-Com troopers were wearing. Boronin then noticed that the aliens were slow, even for a patrol. He saw then that the tail movement, going forward and then pushing the rest of the body made them slow compared to any man on his team. But what about the rest of the abilities of these Snakemen? He gave back the binoculars to Gerasimov and slowly got his laser rifle into position. The group of four aliens kept advancing until the extraterrestrial that was on point duty suddenly stopped, some meters away from the whole cut into the fences. He was about to turn and warn the others about it when Gerasimov ordered into the radio: “Now!” A score of laser beams suddenly headed out for the four aliens, some of them reflecting white as the high-energy photons interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms present in the air, instead of the common gold Boronin was used to. The heavy lasers were doing their debut on the Russian team’s hands. The point alien immediately went down, together with another one on the back, but the remaining two stood up. The one next to the point alien took two laser shots on his torso

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and didn’t dropped dead, although green goo started to come out of his body. The other one took a heavy laser hit on the right arm that nearly made him drop his plasma rifle. They immediately turned into the direction of the Russian team and started firing back, although their shots were misguided and missed all the concealed troopers. Boronin put his weapon into autofire and start firing back again at them, but he missed all three shots. It didn’t matter since the laser fire of the team cut down the remaining Snakemen and they dropped on the steppe grass. The X-Com troopers stayed on their positions waiting to see if the confrontation had been heard by other patrols close. Boronin waited in fear that they could be hunted down from this minute. Suddenly he saw movement. One of the aliens that were lying on the ground was starting to get up again. Another laser shot come from the right, bringing it down again. Don’t these things know when to die, Boronin asked himself? More minutes went by until finally Gerasimov told his men to move over the fence and secure the other side. The whole team started to get out of its concealed positions and as Gerasimov was passing Boronin, the Colonel turned to him and said: “Tell one of the men to get one of those bodies. The scientists back the base need to discover as much as possible from these Snakemen”. The Major nodded and after some seconds Boronin went after him in the direction of the hole in the fence.

1240 Zulu
Boronin kept watching the research facility from a distance through a set of binoculars. They hadn’t met any other alien patrols on their way and the whole complex of buildings seemed deserted from a distance. He had sent Captain Likhachev and his platoon to check it out and was waiting with Gerasimov, fearing that the radio would announce that the facility was crawling with aliens. When Likhachev came back on the radio to inform that they had found the laboratories clear he turned to the Major. “Get your men and head out to the bunker. Watch out for the air strike in half an hour. Good luck Vanya and stay out of trouble”. The other man nodded and left. Boronin got up and went to join his troops that had now started to came out of the main building’s entrance.

1258 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
Major Anatoly Gregory looked at the radar screen and saw that the large UFO was still hovering Azamas 36, escorted by two smaller ones. The Il-76 Midas Airborne Early Warning plane had detected his lift-off as they begun to approach the area, in doubt as a response to the number of Russian Air Force fighters and bombers that were converging into the area. He was in command of a flight of MiG-29K Fulcrum fighters and his job, together with the other flights of MiG-31 and Su-27 interceptors was to clear a path for the bombers to level the UFOs on the ground. The air controller had already informed them that the plan would consist for the MiG-31 Foxhounds to launch their long-range R-33 or AA-9 missiles first, depending on the Russian or NATO designation, which could attack targets at nearly one hundred miles. According to the tactical briefing the intruders possessed a weapon that could engage and 244

destroy planes at more than seventy miles away and all the pilots had been ordered to perform evasive manoeuvres upon when they entered that range. That had draw a serious of questions from all the pilots about what they were facing but the General in charge had merely shrugged them off by telling that it was classified information. Gregory had found it also strange that they would be using tactics normally used at close range and seated on the cockpit of his MiG he hoped that the plane’s agility would be enough. The fighter he was flying was the latest version of the MiG-29 Fulcrum, designed by the Soviet Union to be the counterpart of the US agile F-16 Fighting Falcon. All the Fulcrums on his flight carried four R-27 medium range air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and two smaller range R-73. It was his weapons mix that worried him the most. Unlike the active range radar guided R-33s carried by the Foxhounds or the latest R-77 that were equipping the Sukhois, his missiles needed in-flight guidance from his radar, which severely limited his ability to launch missiles while dodging the enemy’s fire. In spite the fact that his Fighter Regiment was a Guard unit and in name one of the best in Russia, they had yet to see any of the latest R-77s. The call from the air controller came to his headphones. “All flight leaders be advised: we have detected a very large contact taking off the ground and positioning itself in front of the other targets. Primary target is now that contact. MiG-31s start your attack runs”. Still at more than 140 kilometers away from the contacts and flying on a clear sky with few clouds at three thousand meter altitude, Gregory engaged the afterburner to use the about to be released missile barrage in order to get closer and the rest of his flight followed.

1305 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
Almost all of the X-Com personnel not presently on guard duty had gathered on the main’s laboratory roof to see the results of the incoming aerial melee. While it was safer to be waiting in a protected position, the Air Force had strict orders not to even overflow the facility to minimize the risks of collateral damage to it. When the very large UFO took off from the city, all the men looking at it through the binoculars gasped in fear. That was for sure the largest alien craft ever reported and while they couldn’t tell the details because of the distance it looked big enough to almost occupy a city block. When it joined the other UFOs hovering the city Boronin could see that it was almost the double of the ship the aliens used for their terror attacks. Then, all of the sudden it started to vomit what seemed to be miniature suns because of their brightness, which quickly disappeared into the horizon. Boronin turned to Likhachev and asked: “What do you think is that?!” The other officer removed his binoculars from his eyes and replied: “I don’t know sir, but I think the Air Force is about to discover”.

1308 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
The sudden acceleration saved the MiG-29 flight. Gregory suddenly saw an orange ball coming in the horizon and his first thought was of how the Sun could be in that position. But as it approached more and more until finally passing through he realized that 245

something very wrong was happening. A shock wave suddenly scattered his flight of planes and two of the MiG-29 would have collided into one another if not for one of the pilot’s skills. He moved the control stick between his legs to regain control of his craft and as he leveled it he immediately turned his body to follow whatever type of weapon that was. He was greeted with a wave of light that made him close his eyes. The alien weapon had detonated close to one of the Su-27s producing a massive fireball that consumed the four fighters in the flight in seconds leaving nothing behind except dark smoke. Other blacks spots in the sky told that several of those missiles had been fired and a look to his radio told him the terrible causalities that they had just suffered. Gregory immediately ordered his flight to break formation and start evasive maneuvers and demanded explanations from the air controller. “What is going on? You told us that they would engage at seventy kilometers, not one hundred and twenty!” The officer ignored those and other questions by simply ordering the remaining MiG-31s to fire and all the other fighters to make their intercept runs. Gregory thought of telling him to go to hell and call back the mission but he knew better. Someone had screwed up big time here and if they didn’t managed to complete the job he would also be blamed for it. He keyed the radio button on his left side thrust control stick”. “Knife flight we have been ordered to proceed. Good luck and let’s hope that we won’t meet in hell”. Time to go to business”.

1312 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
As the first R-33 long range missiles launched by the remaining MiG-31 flights started to close into their target, the sky over the around the research facility become quickly filled with while trails marking the missiles flight paths. But more terrifying was the vision of the sky over the city. The guided missiles started to impact upon the UFO, creating big fireballs in the sky and filling the air with smoke that obscured the craft and made it disappear to the X-Com troopers. They all kept looking it hope, but when plasma beams started to penetrate the smoke curtain and head out to the distance, together with the mini suns they had seen before, the team knew that the UFO was still flying had not survived but was waging a powerful counter-attack. The minutes went by as they kept waiting, still thinking that there might be a chance.

1319 Zulu, Vicinity of Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
The MiG-29 that Major Gregory was flying rocked again as another of the enemy’s powerful missiles exploded on the air and took one of the fighters on his flight. Half the planes under his command had been already shot down, with the first one falling through the use of sort of energy weapon. And pretty soon the bombers would start their attack runs. Would they, Gregory wondered in fear? His radar told him that few fighters remained airborne and so far the

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missile impacts on the enemy didn’t had any visible effect with the four contacts still airborne. Wait! The large plane had just started moving, in no doubt to deal with the remaining planes. Major Gregory almost went to panic, realizing that they had no chance against both targets. He was sure of what would happen to him when if he managed to return to the base, but at least he would be still alive. Taking his fighter to a heavy-g pull to the left he disengaged and straightened his plane at the opposite direction, performing some dodging turns as he withdrew at full afterburner. No word come from his wingman, so Gregory assumed that he either was already killed or had decided to follow him. When he looked on the radar to seek for him a most fearful sight made him shudder on the cockpit. The second UFO was pursuing him and despite that his MiG-29 was flying at more than Mach 1.5 the craft more than doubled it. What are those things, his mind trying to come up with a logical explanation until finally a plasma beam put an end to any more thoughts.

1329 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
As the minutes went by over the scheduled time for the bombers to make their attack, Gerasimov started wondering what had happened as he was lying upon the ground. The team was waiting until it was finished to prevent being hit by a stray bomb or missile, but there were no explosions or shock waves coming through the ground from the city. He decided that the air strike hadn’t been successful some unknown reason and ordered both his squads to start heading again for the weapon bunker. They had already wasted too much time in the same area taking cover from the supposed bombardment.

1403 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
After the failed aerial attack the team guard the laboratories prepared for the hours long wait until the Russian forces would arrive, if they ever arrive, Boronin had told himself but had hidden these thoughts from the his men and officers. He had immediately set sentry stations when the team had reached the facility to keep an eye on possible alien patrols, and a pair of X-Com troopers were outside the main laboratory’s entrance hidden from view and looking for possible hostiles. The facility had a triangular disposition, with a main rectangular building to where the road from the military garrison ended. On both his sides there were two sets of smaller buildings, with testing and manufacturing roles along with the administrative offices. The Russian team couldn’t possibly have the manpower to defend the whole complex, so they had concentrated their efforts on the main building. They had combed the whole installation but had found no scientists around. It wasn’t logical to expect that many people since the alien attack had been at night when most of the personnel would be sleeping on their homes at the city but there had been hope that there might be survivors inside. The Sun was still high in the Siberian landscape, although clouds were obscuring it more often. Both troopers had taken position in the remains of a security checkpoint outside the building and one of them was scanning the area around with a pair of binoculars. At least the ground was clear for many miles, with the exception of an area one kilometer to the southeast that had large bushes and small trees. Still, if someone trying to approach the

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facility from there it would have to go over a large distance of open ground with almost no cover. The X-Com squaddie suddenly noticed some movement in that area. He saw a dark spot suddenly disappearing and decided to warn his comrade. “Vanya, see if pick anything at 2 o’clock”. The other trooper turned on his left side. “I got it. There’s something moving over there and terribly fast at it”. “I’m gonna warn the Colonel. It seems they have found us”. Boronin had set up his command post in one of the larger laboratories inside the building. The aliens didn’t have time to blow up the installation or didn’t know the value of it, since everything was pretty much intact. Consulting his watch he saw that the first Russian forces would be arriving in a bit less than four hours. Most of the men who were not on watch were there also, looking anxiously around and trying to rest. Gerasimov had reported no trouble on getting to the laser, but he wanted that the Major finally completed sweeping the place and headed back. He hoped that nothing happened but he had the Skyrangers at fifteen minutes distance if necessary. The radio came up and he felt afraid. “Command, this is Front. There’s an alien approaching the perimeter fast!” Boronin froze for a moment. The Snakemen they had encountered before couldn’t move at a big speed. What the hell was approaching then? “What type of alien?” “Some sort of big insect sir! What do you want us to do?” “If he gets too close take him down. Let’s try to conceal our presence. Maybe it will go away”. The voice on the under side didn’t seemed too happy about the whole situation. “Very well sir”.

1407 Zulu
Major Gerasimov and his men had just reached the laser facility to found it in ruins. They had taken more than an hour and a half to across the three-kilometer distance that separated the research facility to get to the bunker, due to a detour they had to take to avoid getting too close to the city and all of that for nothing he cursed. The aliens apparently had used some sort of explosive with great destructiveness, since parts of the concrete thick walls had collapsed to the inside of the bunker. And the upper head doors had been also blown and laid mangled on the outside. Going inside they found that the weapon itself had been completely destroyed. Again, no bodies had been found although there were also signs of a struggle, with now dry blood patches on the floor, spent cartridges and burned signs of where the aliens weapon’s had hit the walls and equipment. By luck or whatever the reason they hadn’t found any aliens on their way here. But as Gerasimov stood on the middle of the large chamber that once housed the particle beam he felt the urge to get back. One trooper, wearing the triple chevrons under an X sign painted black on his chest’s body armor and carrying a Mark IX Heavy Laser come up to him and said:

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“We are checking the remaining of the bunker. Should be done in ten minutes or so”. “Get it done Sergeant. Being here is getting me nervous”. “Couldn’t the Colonel send one of the ‘Rangers to come and pick us up?” The NCO looked nervous and Gerasimov noticed that his heart was also beginning to race. “Aleksander, he doesn’t want to draw attention to his position and he’s right. If they get us before the Red Army arrives we are dead meat”. The Sergeant shook his head, put the laser on his shoulders behind his head and went back to the process of checking the troops.

1409 Zulu
Both sentinels in the south facing front entrance of the massive building kept watching the alien form. It was bipedal and had a close to black oily color. It also seemed to have upper limbs but it wasn’t carrying any type of weapon that they could see. The troopers had their laser rifles trained at it from more than 500 meters away but they were waiting to see if it would leave them alone. The alien kept approaching in facility engaging in small bursts and stopping for some seconds. But when it was near two hundred meters from the ruined guard post it suddenly raised itself completely and waved his arms over his head. Both troopers become startled by the sight of its massive claws. They took a moment to respond to the fact that it then begun to run directly at their position taking few seconds to cover more than fifty meters of terrain. Both X-Com troopers immediately started to fire back at him. The alien covered more 50 meters of terrain until the first shots hit him. The two laser bursts hit it, one in the torso and another at the pink flesh where the lower limb connected to the upper part of his body, but they didn’t even made it run slower. More golden laser fire came into his direction but still it didn’t go down. It keeping running, waving his arms and having his insectoid face, which the soldiers now could see, that was surrounded by two antennae that came emerged from its shoulders. When it was about ten meters from the X-Com troopers it finally took a hit on his chest that made it stagger. It released a high tone shriek that almost made the soldiers go into panic as it finally fell on the ground dead, with its belly open and releasing violet and green entrails. Neither of the squaddies moved or said anything for a minute. Only the noise of the main lab’s doors being opened on their back alerted them. They immediately turned and pointed their rifles. Colonel Boronin and the rest of the men who come to investigate the source of all the noise took cover and shouted: “It’s us you idiots! What is going on here? We heard the shots and tried to raise you on the radio but you didn’t answer” One of the troopers composed himself and said: “Colonel, the Devil has arrived!” Boronin got out of cover and went by the guard position, saying: “What do you mean?” “That!” And the X-Com squaddie pointed towards the dead alien on the ground five meters away from them. “It needed five or six shots to come down. And it made nearly one hundred meters in a few seconds”.

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Boronin carefully approached the corpse, followed by Captain Likhachev and other troopers. It was releasing a foul stench, worse than sulphur, from its open entrails where violet and white organs or whatever they were could be seen covered with a green liquid. “Get a body bag,” Boronin ordered “another thing for the lab rats to analyze”. Two of the men immediately went back inside. “And the rest of us let’s get out of sight”. As the soldiers were getting inside the entrance hall they stopped on their feet and turned. Across the horizon inhuman shrieks could be heard. Boronin suddenly become extremely afraid. Likhachev turned to him and said. “Colonel, I guess they all know where we are!”

1431 Zulu
On the other side of Azamas 36, at the now-destroyed bunker, Private Maleev and Corporal Belov were finishing their sweep an underground area full of storage rooms, all joined by a central corridor that connected to the laser bunker by a stairwell on one end. The whole cellar was in the dark and they were wearing night vision goggles. Both troopers were walking down in the middle of main corridor when Maleev suddenly saw a green figure in front of him running from one room to the other in front. He raised his laser rifle but was stopped by Belov who put his arm on his shoulder and said: “It’s a human”. The Corporal moved forwards and said: “Whoever is out there, we are Russian Army rescue soldiers. You can come out we won’t harm you”. Maleev saw a head looking out of a metal door, the goggles giving it a greenish hue. It was a civilian young woman with long hair. She shouted in fear: “The monsters are gone?” “There are no monsters around, madam. This facility has been hit by a terrorist attack”. No doubt the woman had seen already too many of them to believe that story but Belov decided to stick to it for the time being. She came out completely into the corridor and the Corporal lit his flashlight and pointed at both troopers to show her that they were human. She run into their direction and hugged Belov who become too startled to respond. “Thank God you come. They killed everybody!” And she started sobbing on the armour plates on his shoulder. Belov tried to calm her down and brought her close to the stairwell. He turned to Maleev and said: “Go tell the Major we got a survivor here”. As the other trooper went up the stair he turned to the woman: “You are safe now. You are you and what has happened?” “The monsters came in the middle of the night. My husband and me used to work here until they destroyed it, in the optics department. It wasn’t my shift so I was at my home sleeping with my children while my husband was working at work. Their machines came and landed and released the demons. The serpents and the crabs that make you one of them. They started killing everyone on sight and searching over the city’s buildings. We managed to hide until now but I have never seen my husband again”. She lowered her head started crying again. Belov grabbed her on the shoulders and tried to get her back to reality. “Don’t think about him now. Where are you children?” She whispered in the middle of her sobs. “Dead also. Two days I went outside the basement that we were using to hide in the city to try to get us some food. When I came back I saw them carrying my little

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Victor and Tatyana away on their hands. They were already dead. Since then I come here, waiting to die”. “You won’t die now! You are safe with us”. She raised her head and asked: “Are the monsters gone? Have you killed them all yet?” “More forces will be arriving in hours to take care of the aliens. For now we are going to move to a safer location”. She turned her head in a negative way and said in despair: “No. We will all die”. He just looked at her for a moment and then went to the process of getting his platoon ready to move. Gerasimov and his men were preparing to leave when his radioman come up to him with a microphone and headset on his hands, connected to his backpack. “A call from the Colonel, Major”. He took both devices and put them on. Clicking on the transmit button he spoke: “Gerasimov here, over”. “Major, we are getting reports of movement all over us. The aliens might be surrounding us and preparing for a full assault. Keep your position there. If things get ugly I will call for the Skyrangers and we will pick you up on our way out of here”. “Let’s just get out of here Colonel. Call the Skyrangers and let’s leave this place. We have retrieved a survivor and she told us some nasty stuff about some new type of alien”. “We have killed one of it. Tell your men to watch out. It doesn’t carry weapons, but it’s fast and tough”. “Another reason for us to get out of here now before we are trapped”. Gerasimov waited for an answer but it didn’t come back. He clicked on the button again: “Colonel, did you heard my last message?” Only silence responded. “Colonel, are you there?”

1517 Zulu
Boronin had just heard autocannon fire coming from the West side and was making queries on the short-range radio. “First squad, what is going on there?” A stressed voice came to him from the one of the troopers who were placed on the roof. “They are coming sir. Dozens of Snakes and the other things!” “Second Squad give some assistance on that side! Fourth and Fifth get ready for alien attack!” “Fifth here. We are also picking movement of a large enemy force in front of us”. Likhachev voice then added. “By the look of it I don’t think also that we can hold out the two remaining hours until the reinforcements arrive. We should go Colonel”. Boronin become confused and not knowing what to do. Help was only two hours away and with it they could properly defend the facility. On the other hand, they had planning on encountering either Sectoids or Floaters, not two new species of aliens more deadly than the previous ones. He thought of the central patio area that the main laboratory building had. The Skyrangers could probably land there and if they couldn’t defend the facility they would fall back and get out from there. He spoke in the microphone. “All squads hold out. Keep in touch and open fire at maximum range”. Then he got back to the radio: “Gerasimov, I’m calling the Skyrangers. If we fail to stop them we will board

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them and pick you up. If we stall the attack I will send one afterwards to bring you back to here”. “Very well Colonel, good luck”. The two troopers at the remains of the guard station had pulled up closer to the entrance of the building when the alien wave had started its assault and joined the rest of their squad in firing positions from the ground level doors and windows. Already they had managed to kill the leading black aliens, leaving five burned up carcasses on the ground. But more were coming by the second and was nearly impossible to target all of them. Corporal Shadrin spoke a prayer and took aim at the nearest alien. The devilish alien had already taken a well-placed hit on his arm that had severed it away from the rest of his body but it still kept coming fast only forty meters away. Two others were behind it. Shadrin put his weapon into full autofire mode and sprayed the leading alien with laser fire, with his partner doing the same on the alien on the right of them. The insectoid thing took three direct hits and finally dropped down. But Shadrin suddenly saw that the other one on the right had reached their position. As he looked he saw it jumping over the trooper on his side and landing on top of him. The XCom squaddie jerked from the impact but quickly started clubbing it on the head and shouting: “Get it off me!” Shadrin was about to help when the trooper suddenly spasmed on the ground and started foaming from his mouth, his eyes open wide and lifeless. “No!” He shouted and got on his knees, trying to bring his rifle into line with the monster, but the remaining alien on the left side finally reached his position. One of its claws come down on the weapon and cleanly cut the barrel of the laser weapon into two pieces, one falling on the ground and the other still on his hand. He dropped it and tried to run but the alien got itself on front of him. The alien’s eyes didn’t have any expression Shadrin saw, just two globes staring at him. He looked down and saw what seemed to be an appendage coming out of the alien straight at him. Then there was a great pain on his belly and he stopped thinking for good. His higher brain functions were suddenly overridden and Shadrin ceased to exist as an individual.

1525 Zulu
Captain Likhachev was covering the North side, together with four other troopers, all deployed around the first floor’s windows. There were no other constructions between them and the aliens who had been approaching the facility first on an organized fashion, with scores of aliens taking cover while moving in a ragged line against the now pink sky. Then all hell had broken loose. The black aliens had suddenly started to run towards the lab and the Snakemen had started firing their plasma weapons, using damn effective suppressive fire. All over the defensive positions the X-Com soldiers started to respond with laser, autocannon and rocket launcher fire but the Sun was starting to set down right in front of the X-Com squads and it made their aim difficult. Nevertheless several of the aliens were brought down in the first salvo.

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The Russian captain got up and changed his position, taking cover beneath another still intact glass window. Spotting one of the crab aliens two hundred meters away from the building, he aimed his heavy laser at it and fired a two shots, one right after the other. The first one hit it right on the head and the second one missed, but the alien made another of those screams that cooled your soul and went to the ground. He got back into cover and decided to move to another firing location. But as he was crouching underneath the windows, suddenly he heard a whining noise coming from the distance. It lasted for one second and afterwards he found himself in a world of pain on his back and laying in the ground. His ears were ringing but he couldn’t listen to anything else. Looking back he saw the reason. The area of the corridor where he was standing didn’t exist anyone and on its place there was a huge hole on the wall, made by a powerful explosion that had took also the roof and the floor, together with a piece of the room behind the corridor. The fact that he didn’t remember hearing the explosion told him how big it was since his ears had stopped sending information to the brain. He took a look outside to try to see who had fired. At the distance he could see one of the Snakemen carrying some sort of large tube. He frantically tried to get the mike control and when he reached he spoke: “Attention everyone! The aliens have some sort of new weapon highly destructive! Don’t stay too long on one spot!” As he spoke alien fired again. Even with the projectile moving at near the speed of sound he saw the glimpse of what seemed to a gray football flying on the air and going to his right. The door at the end of the corridor suddenly exploded in smoke and flame and he still felt the blast although he was twenty meters away. Then he realized that one of his men was there. “Andianov? Do you copy? Answer me!” Only silence responded him. Likhachev looked by the window again. The Snakemen seemed to be reloading the weapon. He searched in the ground for his heavy laser and found it a few meters away from him. Checking to see if it was functional he then aimed and fired to the direction of the alien. The first shot missed badly to the left of the alien and he corrected his aim, releasing two lines of white light that hit the alien and his weapon. The creature jerked and dropped to the ground. Likhachev saw them that another of the black insectoids had nearly come to the building. He aimed and killed it also, after it had taken three direct hits. Then another fizzing sound was heard at the distance and Likhachev realized that he had forgot to follow his own advice. “Stupidity kills you”, he thought and then he immediately died, his body being torn into millions of tiny pieces by the power of the Elerium blast.

1532 Zulu
In the command post area there was only now Colonel Boronin and the troop carrying the radio. The Colonel was starting to feel desperate. The aliens were attacking from three sides at the same time and even the guard at the West side had reported some alien movement. They were surrounded.

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“Skyranger Flight what is your status, over?” The pilot on one of the planes replied him. “ETA seven minutes. We are getting some anti-aircraft fire but we are flying too fast for it to be effective”. “There’s a central patio on the main building. You should be able to land there one at the time. Watch out for the aliens attacking…” The noise coming from the south door opening made him stop. An X-Com trooper walked inside or, more correctly stumbled inside, his front armor torn and bleeding from his belly. The squaddie expression was more of a living dead, with the eyes opened as if it was experiencing terrible pain. Boronin and the other trooper become shocked at the sight. “Petya? What has happened? How is the main entrance?” He approached the trooper, looking for any possible aliens that might be about to burst into the room. The wounded soldier didn’t respond. Instead, when he reached his commanding officer he immediately threw him a jab that nearly broke the Colonel’s jaw and made him loose several teeth. Boronin almost went down to the ground but managed to keep on his feet. The radioman got his laser pistol out of its holster and fired at the soldier, as he seemed about to press his attack on the Colonel. Three shots hit him and he slowly dropped to his knees. The trooper had to be dead; Boronin thought but instead his body started jerking. The man threw his head back in agony and opened his mouth as if to scream but no sound came, only a fountain of blood. Instead, his shoulders ripped opened and two small alien claws came from inside the human flesh, followed by alien limbs. The radioman wavered and Boronin almost threw up. The trooper’s torso exploded and Boronin saw the man’s rib cage wide open. And from the inside of the now dead body, the head carapace of one of the dark gray aliens begun to emerge, with the claws already outside cutting through the flesh. A series of final slashes released completely the alien, the human flesh and bones falling on the ground and leaving the thing standing up in front of Boronin. It was smaller than the other they had killed before but Boronin swore than it was growing up, that he could see it. A series of laser shots from the other squaddie in the room hit it and it died, but not without first releasing the death shriek they had heard before. “Colonel….? What has happened? What have I done?” Insanity went over Boronin’s head at the gruesome sight but he managed to regain control after some seconds. “Let’s get out of here to the central patio now!” The trooper snapped upon hearing the orders, like his training told him to do and both men started running in the direction of the landing zone. “Everyone fall back! We are being overrun, south section! Regroup at the central patio! The Skyranger is two minutes away! Likhachev do you hear me?” Another voice than the Captain replied him: “Sir, this is Sergeant Zhdanovich, the Captain is dead! The remaining members of my squad are pulling out now!” Boronin winced almost stopped his run upon hearing that. Not Likhachev! Damn! As the research facility was being overrun by the aliens, Gerasimov and his men, together with the survivor, were waiting in the large area that once housed the firing mechanism of the particle beam weapon and getting more anxious by the minute. He had spotters on the roof to check for the Skyranger’s arrival or alien activity nearby the wrecked bunker. The retrieval planes would be here in ten minutes or more, depending on the time they would

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take to pick up the other team, but it seemed too long. A call on his radio told him that it just might be the case. “Major, Maleev here. Large alien forces are approaching the bunker from all directions. They seem to know we are here since they are about to charge. What are we going to do sir?” Gerasimov immediately knew their fate. They would never manage to hold out enough to secure a landing zone for the Skyrangers to land and they might even not be able to resist long enough for them to arrive. The Colonel would have to land in the middle of the alien offensive. She turned to the woman who seemed to understand that something terrible was about to happen. “Madam I’m sorry. We promised to bring you to safety but we failed. Take this”. He brought his laser pistol out of his holster and presented it to her. “From what you have told us to fall alive into their hands could be even a worse fate than the one that waits us”. She started shaking but took the pistol and grabbed it with both hands. Getting on the radio again he spoke: “Third and Six squads, this is it. We are trapped here and it is too dangerous for them to try to rescue us, even if they got here on time. Let’s just take a few of them down before we go. It was nice knowing all of you and having you under my command”. Taking a deep breath he continued: “this is what gives meaning to all our lives. Let’s all see one another on the other side. Major Gerasimov out”. The rest of the X-Com troopers on the room stood quietly on the room for a moment and then all men went to take defensive positions.

1535 Zulu
After taking a left turn at an intersection Boronin suddenly saw a Snakeman at the East end of the corridor where he was now standing, carrying a strange looking weapon with a large end. He suddenly remembered the warning about the new alien weapon and quickly tried to get some cover, but the alien fired first. The projective overflew him and hit the roof behind Boronin, but instead of the massive explosion he was expecting a cold wave went by him, almost making him passing out. He shook his head to try to clear it out of the feeling of unconsciousness that threatened to overcome him and fired his laser. The shots killed the alien as it was trying to reload the weapon. Looking behind him, Boronin saw that his radioman was lying on the ground, motionless. He dropped to his knees and checked him, finding out that he had a pulse and no major injuries. Grabbing the unconscious body he placed it over his left shoulder and lift him up, starting again to head back towards the central patio. After a series of corridors and turns he finally found the glass doors that led into the place. A well-placed kick opened the exit doors and he jumped inside, finding that some of his men had already arrived. The central patio was a perfect square with every side taking about some ninety meters. The whine of the Skyranger’s engines was deafening and he shouted out for his orders to be heard: “Clear the central area until they land!” As he waited holding the unconscious trooper he noticed that most men were missing. Out of the original twenty men that had stayed guarding the facility less than a dozen remained, including him. Suddenly the gray sky on top of him became filled with the

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figure of one of the Skyranger’s fuselage. It hang itself there at fifty meters from the ground started slowly to come down, its landing gear already down when Boronin hear a whining sound. The Skyranger suddenly exploded on the air, spreading burning jet fuel all over this section of the patio and the blast throwing Boronin down to the floor while the wreckage crashed thirty meters away from him. The shock wave also shook the descent of the other Skyranger but the pilot managed to keep the aircraft from hitting the ground or the walls as it continued descending. Boronin raised himself and saw that the trooper he was carrying was still alive in spite of being hit by some of the burning rocket fuel. The material had also covered his arms and legs but he had managed to put it down before it overheated the armor that covered his limbs. But he seemed to have taken a nasty fall right on his hip because it was hurting as hell. The surviving Skyranger had managed to land and avoid the fires and wreckage that now littered the patio, with all X-Com men converging on it. Since Boronin was at the other end he was the last to reach it. As he came closer to the ramp, the men kept telling him to hurry up and moved over to get the unconscious soldier off his load. He turned to one of them and asked: “Are we all here?” “No one from South has appeared. All other surviving men managed to get here”. “Let’s get out them, before they figure how to send another of those blasts right inside!” The trooper moved up to the cockpit while Boronin started to bring the Skyranger’s ramp up. As he feared another blast hit one of the walls, throwing away concrete and steel and leaving a huge hole on it, exposing an office. He shouted to the front of the craft: “Tell the pilot to hurry up and head out for the laser bunker!” When the Skyranger suddenly went up he lost his balance and fell on the ground, deciding to keep himself there until the pilot stabilized the craft. He looking around he saw that most his remaining men had managed to get to seats and put on the restraining harnesses. The movement gave him the impression of going up of a very fast elevator. After some seconds it stopped but the inertia continued to pull him up for a second, the gravity making him drop again on the metal floor afterwards. He got up in pain and went forward to the cockpit. The pilot had stabilized the plane at a low altitude and was going through the alien’s lines. A few plasma blasts occasionally thumped the craft but the Skyrangers had fitted with alien alloys protection ever since the Moroccan fight. Boronin grabbed a spare communications gear and connected it. Choosing Gerasimov’s frequency he hit the transmit button. “Gerasimov, are you still there? We are coming for you this minute!” The response came after some seconds, in the middle of heavy static. “Colonel! I’m glad to hear that one of us will escape. I’m sorry…” static came to the channel “…roblems with the radio…operator has been killed”. “What is your status?” “We are…..dead. All of us. We can’t….much more. Turn back….die coming for us. Goodbye sir” 256

“Gerasimov! Answer back! Gerasimov!” No one on the other side answered. He waited for some more seconds and tapped the pilot on the shoulder. “What sir?” “Head out for the nearest Russian Army outpost. Major Gerasimov told me that they are behind any help”. And Boronin placed back the headset and went back to the cargo area trying to think about the disaster that he was responsible to and to mourn his men.

1541 Zulu
Major Gerasimov threw away the microphone of the radio to the center of the bunker’s main area. He was close to a wall lying on top of the pack that contained the now dead electronic device, with the other hand trying to contain the bleeding from a plasma hit on the leg, taken while trying to hold the aliens outside. He had crawled back inside and had an armed grenade on his hand hoping to take out an alien with him. He could still hear laser fire which told him that the aliens didn’t get yet all of his men. Suddenly he saw movement and prepared the grenade. The woman who had survived came out behind a wrecked piece of machinery and came near him. “I heard what you said on the radio. But I can’t do it myself”. Gerasimov looked up at her and at the laser pistol she was holding out to him. A human scream came from outside. He realized she still didn’t want to be taken alive and was asking a favour. I’m a killer, I’ve been trained all my life to be one, he thought. At least this time I use my skill to do something right. He took the pistol away from her hands and pointed it to her forehead. She nodded and closed her eyes. Another scream at the distance, but this time it prolonged itself for a few more seconds. He pressed the trigger. He saw her body immediately falling down and he dropped the pistol also. A good shot. One of the aliens entered the large room and he recognized it from the description she had made to them about the dark demons. It saw Gerasimov and after a moment it sensed that the human wasn’t a threat, quickly moving on his direction. Upon it reaching him it was about to lower itself, the ovipositor already coming out of his body when the Major smiled, showed it the armed grenade and said: “Next time try to fuck someone else”. And then Major Gerasimov, late of the Red Army and commander of Second Platoon, Russian X-Com team died in a flash of light and fire.

1549 Zulu
“Colonel?” Boronin lifted his head and saw one of the surviving troopers of his command handing him a small shot glass full of a clear liquid. “It’s time to honor them, sir”. He closed his eyes but his hands went for the glass, grabbing it and taking it away from the soldier’s hand. “To the dead and to the living” He spoke and afterwards donned the vodka in one gulp, the alcohol burning down his throat. Boronin then smashed the glass into the metal railing of the Skyranger’s floor and went back to his thoughts. One by one, the men in the compartment did the same.

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Chapter Twelve – The Eye of the Storm
July 19th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
News of the attack on Azamas 36 was already starting to come out to X-Com’s headquarters and they weren’t comforting to hear to the leaders of the force. After the failed attempt by the Russian X-Com team to defend the research facilities, the Red Army was now preparing to take things into its own hands and make a full frontal assault using several armored divisions. All across Russia military units were racing to position themselves along with fleets of bombers and fighters. And meanwhile the whole High Command of X-Com had been assembled online, together with Dr. Chevereux, to discuss the gravity of the situation. The image of the white haired French scientist scowled a second in disbelief as he finished hearing the presentation that was being made. “Finally, the other races of aliens involved, previously unseen. This Snakemen are formidable fighters and are more resistant and better protected than either the Sectoids or the Floaters, although they seem to be slower than humans. Our scientists have just finished dissecting one of the bodies we managed retrieve and bring back. From what I’m told, they carry up to fifty eggs inside of them and it appears their metabolism and reproductive system is very efficient and fast”. Illyuschenko was also present in the same room as the scientist but instead of looking at him he was facing the computer-generated image of Colonel Boronin at the electronic screen and picturing the horrors that the Russian team had encountered. Hearing this, I wonder how Gennadi and the other survivors managed to get back alive. Colonel’s Boronin mouth was a gruesome sight. Several front teeth were missing from the hit he had taken from the zombie trooper and his face was covered with band-aids for the small injuries he had taken when the Skyranger had exploded. His armor had protected his head from most of the falling debris but the plates couldn’t cover everything. “And the second type of aliens that you have encountered? Your initial communications were quite unbelievable, I must say”. The scientific commander of X-Com had immediately waved off the idea that a living organism could have such a quick metabolism but his sense told him otherwise when it came to the biological abilities of the aliens. “Dr. Chevereux, I’ve seen them with my own eyes, those slick dark beasts, as they attacked my team and civilians. They are parasites or whatever you choose to call them. They infect humans with some sort of egg that takes over the unlucky individual and quickly grows and transforms itself into another monster”. “And destroying its human cocoon on the process, like a chrysalis that transforms itself into a butterfly, if I recall the first report correctly”. “Yes I do believe that is the word in English. I will have the specimens we managed to collect shipped to you as fast as I can, for you to do a more detailed scan”.

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“Very well”. The scientist finally conceded. “All textbooks say that such cell multiplication rate that is impossible but I’ve learned better. We’ll be waiting for them”. “Very well, Colonel Boronin. What’s your team status?” Illyuschenko didn’t know what to do with the feeling of hopelessness that he was feeling. Boronin’s face had still dry blood on it. “Four squads completely decimated sir. We even had to shoot some of our own men after they transformed themselves into monsters. These things are terrible and fast sir. Somehow by the work of the Devil they either cut us to pieces or transform whomever meets their embrace into one of them!” “You told us that the Red Army has taken control of the situation. Have you told them of our availability to provide with more forces to deal with this attack?” “Sir, I just got word from President Larianov. He is furious about our failure and has refused any further help from us. He even warned that any X-Com forces near the area will not be allowed to get into combat and made a disguised threat that we might be shot at. I guess we didn’t make a good impression, General”. He sank his head in defeat. “Not your fault, Boronin”. Whose, then? “No one could have predicted this or the decisions our country has taken or the aliens’ response. Question now is what we do”. Yes, what other exit is there? “Commander, I must demand that something is done at once!” Dr. Chevereux had both the touch of urgency and assertiveness on his voice. “Doctor, my country’s forces are preparing to deal with this. We can’t do anything else right now!” “You don’t understand, so I will try to explain it simply. My staff have been going through the few data available from the capabilities of that weapon and, more important, over the technology it uses. Bottom line is, like the Americans say, we need to save the research made by the now dead scientists there. To make sure that their work wasn’t in vain!” Illyuschenko and the other officers present in the room looked at the scientist in confusion. “What are you speaking of?” “We have come to the conclusion that their work on the ionized particle weapon, and more specifically on the electromagnetic fields necessary to contain and direct the beam is the missing part on our weapons research. It took us too long to come up with that conclusion and to verify it, unfortunately. But we now know that if it’s lost we might never know how to build plasma weapons and use Elerium power until it’s too late!” “But the laser and the research facility has been already destroyed by the aliens and the scientists killed. You have seen the battlefield report from Colonel Boronin and the satellite pictures taken afterwards. It’s already lost!” “No it isn’t. Usual research procedures say that there must be always back-up files, regularly updated and stored at a different location to prevent for accidental loss of data on the main computer. We need to go there and get the research they have done. Afterwards we can interpret it and use it to start using Elerium as an energy source. I can’t even speculate with the amount of things that will be possible!”

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“In any case, I can’t do anything, Doctor. The Russian government has told that the area is off-limits to our personnel. We can only hope that the Red Army is successful in defeating the aliens on the ground and the data won’t be lost. For now we can only wait and hope that they will recover it”.

July 26th, 1999
Outside Azamas 36, Russian Federation
Igor Stavkov, Senior Sergeant in command of a T-90 tank platoon couldn’t believe what was happening. In the last days the entire division had been ordered to move as quickly as possible to Siberia. They had mounted the available tanks and vehicles up rail cargo transporters and had ridden on them for thousands of miles until finally disembarking into a huge military camp that had kept growing larger everyday as more men, vehicles and attack helicopters arrived Stavkov and his men couldn’t imagine what sort of exercise was this. Then they become concerned that it might not be an exercise and on that case, what sort of threat could it be that required that much firepower? The answer had came up some hours ago in the morning as the captain in charge of the company had returned from a staff meeting, badly shaken. They were about to attack and regain control of the city that was some twenty kilometers away and had been taken over by hostile forces. All the men had expected this to be the work of Chechen terrorists. But the true nature of the enemy came to all as a shock: extraterrestrials. Some of the men had prayed upon hearing that word and even his tank’s gunner had kept a grim silence when making the final preparations for battle. Now, two of the Division’s brigades had massed together and started attacking the outskirts of the city with the last brigade waiting to exploit a breakthrough in the aliens’ lines. But more than a kilometer away from the city the aliens had started to snipe at the company’s tanks, their deadly weapons releasing green bolts of fire that opened large holes in the frontal armor of the tanks and killing the occupants inside or blowing off tracks and stopping the tank. The Captain in charge of the company had been one of the first to die, some of the crewmen managing to get off the tank screaming of the burns they had suffered until a plasma bolt or machine gun fire would mercifully cut them down. With him gone, command stepped down to the Lieutenant, who Stavkov knew to be too damn young and inexperienced for the role. However he tended to ask and rely on Stavkov’s advice. At least the young officer knew its limitations. The BMP-3 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicles and BTR-80 Armored Personnel Carriers that transported the foot soldiers attached to his brigade weren’t doing also much better. They just blew up whenever hit by one of the enemy’s weapons, the plasma cutting through the light armor and igniting the ammunition and fuel inside at the same time that killed all the men on board. And it was hard to hit the monsters with the 125milimeter cannon the tank carried. They were always on the move and the turret couldn’t track them fast enough to fire. However the company was giving almost as much as it was receiving, and the battlefield there were also the bodies of orange colored aliens with a shape that reminded the Sergeant of serpents. But the advance was being too costly.

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Stavkov was considering his tactical options when his radio stared speaking: “Battalion command here. We have a breach on enemy lines! All units charge to enlarge it!” That’s it, Stavkov thought and reached for his unit’s radio channel. “Platoon, charge out at full speed! We have a breach!” The driver of the tank immediately pressed the accelerator and the metal tracks started to move faster, driving the crew into a series of bumps as it went over the terrain. The monster’s fire is slowing down, Stavkov noticed. Good, they are on the run. If we can just now move the reserve troops on time to exploit the breach…The wind had changed and they were now going into the middle of the battle fog, in part created by the smoke launchers mounted on the turrets of the Russian tanks, moving towards a group of small hills. Looking around the turret through the portholes he could see that what remained of his armored company was charging into the alien’s positions, which seemed to be in full retreat, together with the mechanized infantry. Then he started noticing black figures moving through the fog in front, almost too fast to be noticed. “What the hell? Full stop! We are being counterattacked! Gunner, open fire at once!” The man in charge of the tank’s main weapon started looking for a possible target and found one. Seeing a group of Snakemen on top of the hill, he lined up the barrel at their direction and pressed the trigger. Unfortunately, the movement took too long and the aliens had already left the position when the High Explosive charge hit the ground, blasting and throwing earth and pebbles in a radius of several meters. After the weapon had fired, filling the crew compartment with noise and smoke, Stavkov suddenly noticed that the APC that was accompanying the tank on his left was being surrounded by the black crab figures coming out of the fog. A machine-gun burst from one of the personnel carriers hit one of them but it merely shrugged it off and kept advancing. When it reached the APC it raised one of its oily black limbs. It had a massive claw on it and when he slashed it over the side vehicle, it cut through the armor and the tire like if it was a knife going through warm butter. Time seemed to stop for Stavkov as he saw through the viewport the APC stopping as the thing kept striking at it, hitting the occupants inside, each time the claw drawing more blood on it. The back doors opened and some of the soldiers managed to get out. One of them raised its AK-74 assault rifle at the aliens and let go of a full burst. The black monster didn’t even bother to notice the hail of bullets that ricocheted off his body. He turned and charged the soldier immediately. And Stavkov saw something that made vomit come to his mouth. An appendage came out of the thing when it was on top of the soldier and the monster impaled the human with it. As it removed it, the trooper eyes become white and greenish vomit begun to come out of his mouth. The alien attacked the remaining soldiers and the zombie trooper also turned and started to smash them, throwing vicious jabs that broke jaws and crushed arms. The last remaining soldier managed to fire a full lot into the zombie. It staggered but instead of going down, his body started shaking and he started screaming. His flesh begun to rip off and his neck exploded, throwing the head back and facing Stavkov, who saw that it was still attached to the body by some strings of tendons and muscle. And a small monster’s head started to come out of his neck, together with claws that ripped his arms from where they appeared. What is this?! Stavkov said in panic: “Driver, start the tank and get us out

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of here! This is an ambush!” The engine immediately increased its rotations but the sound of a clank against the tank armor was what took the sergeant’s attention. A metal noise, of something landing on the top of the tank was suddenly heard and all crew looked upwards. Stavkov started looking through the portholes to find the alien, but suddenly his ears were filled of a sharp noise of metal going against metal and a warm sticky substance on his face. As he looked left he saw the claw of the monster piercing through the top armor on an angle and cutting through his gunner’s neck, spewing red blood from the carotidal arteries that covered him. The claw suddenly removed itself and Stavkov looked up. He never saw it coming back again.

Underground Command Facility outside Moscow, Russian Federation
The massive underground bunker built by the Soviet Government to maintain command and communications in case of a nuclear attack was fully manned and all of Russia’s top leaders had moved into the place after the first reports of the attack on Azamas 36. The Emergency Room of the complex was crowded with people, with almost all individuals deeply afraid and somber. Only Larianov had a different attitude and it was hard to tell if the military and civilian personnel were more afraid of the aliens or of his President. . “We have just received information from the Military District Commander”, the Ministry of Defense started, unsure of how to say it. “The attack of our forces has failed. The aliens managed to ambush a full tank division leaving few survivors and severely hurt the other formations through the means of an unexpected counter-attack. They retreated afterwards to their positions and are still in control of the city and military facility”. “Find me a responsible for this or you will be it!” Larianov was enraged, he looked around his council waiting for someone to speak. Another general started to speak. “Sir, the intelligence estimates made on the reports provided to us by X-Com and our assessment of the aliens crews from the UFOs reported were found to be completely inaccurate. We just had no idea that they had deployed so many of those Snakemen and their monsters”. “You mean that you failed twice on your duties. First in properly evaluating the threat, second on being misled by X-Com!” The general quickly decided to shut up. Verchenko moved on his chair and decided that it was enough, if they wanted to have some things done. “If I may interrupt, there’s something more, Mr. President, before we start looking for the persons responsible for this grave error”. The director of the SVK saw that he got Larianov’s attention and he continued: “We have received the preliminary report on the aliens from X-Com. Both types of aliens are capable of quickly reproducing, with no need for artificial facilities. This was unexpected and is no one’s fault. But even worse is that this can be the beginning of an invasion!” Larianov’s eyes slowly closed, the man not believing what he was hearing. “You mean they have started to make a ground invasion?” “Look for yourself, Mr. President. They aren’t leaving after all this time and they have already destroyed the weapons facility, so why are they still there? They must be

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preparing to expand their bridgehead but multiplying themselves. Those Snakemen carry eggs. And we heard of what the other monsters do to persons! That simply takes care of a lot of supply and replacement questions for a force equipped with that sort of combatants”. “We will have to expel them at once!” “Yes, but with what? The best divisions of our Army have tried and failed. And I also doubt that they are able to restrain an alien attack”. “What do you mean?” Larianov was slowly starting to understand the implied message. Irinov, the Defense Ministry, also come up with the same conclusion and added: “Due to the circumstances I also agree with Mr. Verchenko sir. We have tried with conventional means and our men and tanks were killed and the fighters and bombers were shot out of the skies by their air defenses”. “A nuclear strike? In our own country?” “If we are to save the rest, we need to make sacrifices. The remaining civilians in the area are as good as food or reproductive material for the aliens. We are only saving them from that fate by a quicker one”. “I see”. Kill some so that the remaining can survive. “Marshal Boganovitch, I assume our Strategic Rocket Forces are able to perform the task, in the contrary of our troops”. The Russian President wasn’t making a question. “Sir, they are available and at your orders. Just give us the command and we will eliminate the aliens from our land” “If I may, sir,” Verchenko cut in, “what we are looking here isn’t one of our ICBMs. First they wouldn’t have time to deploy and arm, since they were built to hit targets thousands of miles away. Second, their precision isn’t enough for the type of strike we need. That excludes also battlefield missiles such as the Scud or FROG unguided rockets. No, the better alternative would be to drop directly a bomb by the use of a plane in the middle of the parked alien craft. But since the bomber would be shot down in the approach, in this we need to use our cruise missiles, armed with an enhanced radiation warhead”. “A what, Mr. Verchenko?” The Defense Minister answered instead. “Enhanced radiation is a type of thermonuclear weapon that releases massive amounts of neutrons sir. That sort of radiation can penetrate specially hardened targets, while being a more ‘clean’ weapon than the normal atomic weapons”. “Exactly like Mr. Irinov said. What we need here is precision, in order to hit their craft that are landed on the ground and effectively destroy them. Of course that depending on the already miserable state of our armed forces”. The President took the bait and turned to the Defense Minister. “Do we have such weapons available? Do not give me a negative answer or you might find yourself quickly away from your position and on the way to Azamas 36”. The man looked at the Chief of General Staff who nodded and replied. “It might take some time to prepare the mission, but I we have still some of those weapons stockpiled along with the means to deploy them”.

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Larianov turned to the Marshall and the Defense Minister: “Make all necessary arrangements. I want this option to be completely at our disposal when we have to resort to it”. I just offered both of these fools a way out of this mess, Verchenko thought. Let’s see how they deal with it, he said to himself while smiling.

July 27th, 1999
White House Situation Room, Washington DC, US
The board was lit up with a map of Siberia, showing the latest satellite pictures of Azamas 36. President Winston remembered the message he had just received from the Russian President and started thinking. He had been too young to take notice of the atomic bombs that were dropped on the end of World War II in Japan, but he had been grown up in the middle of nuclear attack preparations. He still remembered the fear he felt during those days and it was coming back to him now. Turning to the rest of the National Security Council in front of him he started saying: “I got a message for Mr. Larianov about half and hour ago. The Russians don’t think that they can control the aliens and prevent them to expand their lines through conventional forces”. He paused to add a grave tone to his next sentence. “If they consider it necessary, they are willing to use nuclear weapons to permanently eradicate the aliens out of their soil”. Looks of surprise and terror came across the room. “They are informing all other Charter nations to prevent any mistaken evaluations of the explosion and to avoid the possibility of a World War III right now”. Wouldn’t that be ironic, Winston thought, adding that we may just deserve it. “I have regretted the necessity of going with such means but Larianov just cut me off, complaining about Russia’s overall treatment by the other nations and how it is behind their current situation. I offered our military’s help also but he declined and warned us to stay off their land”. “In other words, they will deal with it as they see it fit and they don’t care for the rest of the world”, concluded the US Secretary of Defense. “Exactly what he made a big deal of pointing out to me. I need options, gentlemen and ladies. I have already contacted X-Com’s High Command and let them know that our forces are fully at their disposal in case they need them to their operations”. “Let the Russians bomb themselves back to the Stone Age. Why should we given our resources to them if they don’t want it?” “General Thompson, I will try to do anything to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, is that understood? Either by them or us!” Before the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could respond, the Candace May said on his defense: “Mr. President. General Thompson stated what everyone shares on this room. If they had collaborated more with X-Com, they probably wouldn’t be on this mess…or would they?” “What do you mean Candace?”

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“They have deployed and used a weapon that threatened the aliens. They reacted by destroying it. One should consider if the aliens shouldn’t simply be left alone”. The Director of the CIA took the challenge. “Your point is moot, Mrs. May, the aliens have attacked other nations that don’t belong to the X-Com Council”. “Yes, but only after X-Com itself was created. We can be throwing away all efforts of a compromise with them if we proceed through this course of action”. “They never answered back any of our attempts to communicate, Mrs. May, it’s foolish to think otherwise”. “That might not be true, Mr. Casper. The reports from the analysis team are quite clear on saying that the aliens might be trying to establish contact through unofficial means to the leaders of the world”. “Don’t play with the words, Mrs. May, they said that, but they also added that since we can’t really verify the aliens claims other than through interrogation, the uncertainty and their psionic powers make it a very high risk. We could be selling ourselves to the Devil”. “But what if another nation signed a pact with the aliens that gave them access to their high technology? Shouldn’t we consider then if it’s wise to maintain our present affairs with them?” The President cut in the discussion: “To solve it all out, I will repeat what I’ve said. This administration’s policy is not to engage in any deal regarding the aliens, is that understood? They have proven themselves to have no respect for human life and to be ruthless enough to wage war on civilian populations”. All the men in the room remained silent. “I have urged X-Com to deal with the situation. Now what I want to hear is how to prevent anything like this ever going on in the US”.

Area 51, Nevada, US
Johnson was on his office, going over the unit’s rooster, both X-Com and US Military to try to come up with a plan that the Russians would accept and eliminate the aliens. All XCom teams had been placed into high alert and while he was waiting for more news from Mother One he had decided to come up with a possible solution for the problem. He had been given information on the most top-secret projects that were being tested at Area 51, but unless they could get authorization by the Russian government to act on their country, it would be useless. An icon suddenly appeared on the computer monitor where he was going through the unit’s readiness and strength figures, telling him that he had an incoming communication coming from High Command. He moved the mouse on his hand until the pointer was over the icon and clicked on it. An image of Commander Illyuschenko appeared some seconds later on a window and the faces of the other geographical command leaders and Dr. Chevereux appeared later to join it. “Good morning, sir. Is there a problem?” “Yes there is Colonel. My government has just informed the Secretary General of the UN and the Council of Funding Nations that they are going to use a thermonuclear weapon against the city to permanently eliminate all the aliens”. Johnson’s heart sank. “The 265

Secretary tried to dissuade him and obtain permission for us to intervene, but with no avail”. “They can’t do it! We need the research like Dr. Chevereux has pointed out!” “The Secretary General tried to explain it to President Larianov, but he simply cut him off. He told him that the reason Russia was in such a dire situation was exactly the secrecy we have been keeping about our weapons’ research. And that more important than the research is to assure that the aliens didn’t gain a foothold and used it to expand themselves. They want to cut away an infected limb to prevent contamination of the remaining body”. “So we don’t have another try?” “No, he specifically refused it”. “You Russians are so stubborn!” Dr. Chevereux cursed. “Commander, what if we set up a covert operation to retrieve the data?” Colonel Boronin asked. “We have already an idea of the complex. We could hit it, retrieve what is necessary and get out before the attack”. “Colonel, the only teams close enough to make such a raid is yours or Mother One’s but both are in no condition to set up an attack. Sending you and the few men available would just get all of you killed”. “We could be reinforced by any of the other teams”. “But how Colonel since there wouldn’t be enough time? Although I want also nothing more than to retrieve the data and piss on the decisions taken by the leaders of our countries, any Skyranger and transport plane that approached Russia would be found and shot down. There would be hell to pay with my country if they ever found out about it”. Johnson remembered something he had just seen on the files and interrupted the exchange. From ever since he had been assigned to X-Com he had been given full security clearance to US military data, including the black budget projects. The National Security Council had recommended it, since the regional US X-Com commander would need to know with what North American resources it could count on. He had also been warned not to share that information with the rest of X-Com, but in this case he had decided that there were other things at stake than security of one project. “But if we had the mean to get ourselves there covertly and on time to extract the data, would you consider it?” Illyuschenko immediately understood that something was up, his expression becoming very intrigued. “If there was a way to conceal X-Com’s activities, yes I might consider it”. “Have you ever heard of a plane called the Super Valkyrie program Colonel?” “One US top secret project, I presume, Colonel? I don’t remember if I saw about it in the list that I got from your military when X-Com was being formed.” “It’s still top secret but I’ve been let privy into it. It’s a program that was started right after the Challenger space shuttle disaster as an alternative measure to put a craft into space. It consists of a huge mothership, based on the former XB-70 supersonic bomber program. They changed the project into a research plane in the sixties and developed the

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Super Valkyrie based on the results. It carries a launch vehicle that can enter low earth orbit. It can be also used for other roles and they have an operational prototype here”. Illyuschenko’s image on the monitor winced. “I’m not understanding Colonel. What is it of use to us?” “The motherplane can reach speeds of more than Mach Three and one of the configurations includes carrying a personnel pod for special ops underneath the craft instead of the usual transatmospheric plane that is carried piggyback”. Illyuschenko opened his eyes: “Are you suggesting that we use it to transport your crew to Siberia? That is insane, the Russian Air Defense Command would detect you immediately and shoot you down”. “No they wouldn’t Commander, because we would be flying too fast and high for their interceptors or missiles to get us. And because of our flight profile we would be mistaken for another UFO. The Super Valkyrie would drop the pod over the area were it would immediately open its parachutes and slow down, enabling us to leave it and make a high altitude jump. The pod is equipped with Radar Absorbent Material and even if your country’s air defenses detected it, they would be more concerned about other things to even start thinking of what it could be”. “But the plane would have to leave. You would have no way to come back”. “We use the Skyrangers of the Russian teams to get to a safe location. Since they still have authorization to fly over the rest of Russia, they can approach the area and secure a retrieval point for us to rally when we are done. Your country’s forces will have other things to worry about on that moment like getting into cover from the nuclear explosion than to be directly looking at it. Or we hide as close as possible to the Russian lines and when they move after the blast to mop it up we escape the area”. “And I could officially request to Russian High Command to observe the clean-up operations. We have that right under the Charter and on the middle of the whole operation who will bother to start counting the number of X-Com troopers in the area?” Boronin added in support of Johnson’s plan. Illyuschenko thought for long seconds and then replied: “Very well. I want a full-detailed plan in one hour, together with the necessary authorizations. Colonel Johnson, I take it that you believe you will get your government’s approval for the use of this Super Valkyrie?” “Some military and civilian leadership will oppose themselves into it, but President Winston has been more than pleased with our work lately. He would even have approved a bigger raise in their contribution to our budget, but he didn’t have success in convincing the congressional leaders who know about it. This was done before sir, and most likely they will take advantage and install some cameras to also take a couple pictures of Russia. If something happens they can always claim that they had no knowledge for which they had lent the plane to us and say that they were only trying to help X-Com as much as they can, without getting on our way. Besides the risk of losing the plane they have more to win”.

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Illyuschenko didn’t like the prospect of having another country taking advantage of Russia, but he knew that there were other things that surpassed that annoying thought. “Let’s hope you keep on having all the answers then Colonel”.

Hotel in the center of Moscow, Russia
The Group had been gathered together since the first news of the attack on the facility had came to their attention, like it had been planned. Too many things could go out of control in the whole situation and they needed to be on top of the events in order to influence them. Number Nine walked into the room where they were all seated or standing up, but none talking to one another, preferring instead to look at the television set in one corner or to look at each other. “I have news. The Russians will launch their nuclear attack the next day to stop the aliens. They are moving the remains of their forces meanwhile to a safe location and waiting for reinforcements for the cleanup”. Everyone’s attention in the room turned up to him at the same time, all considering the same thought at the same time. It was going as planned. “Have our friends been warned about it?” Number One was still very skeptical of this whole idea. Number Nine replied: “They are making no preparations to leave the area. They seemed not to be worried about the use of atomic weapons as we had always assumed”. “Which makes their intentions as I predicted” Number Three cut through the dialogue to bring his point. “And so are the Russians. This will only bring more disturbances. The Russians will be seen as crazy by the other nations and that definitely close the ties between them and X-Com. And a lot of the others will be scared and starting to think about themselves, being more open to any offer we make”.

Area 51, Nevada, US
Area 51 had been built on a valley right at the base of a mountain right next to a dry lake basin called Groom Lake. The geological formation gave its name to the facilities belonging to the Air Force and part of the several thousand feet runway was indeed built over the dry flat lake. While X-Com planes and personnel was being housed at Area 51, the access of its personnel to the Groom Lake installations was restricted to the research facilities located there and to the command center, which was better than the one installed at the X-Com part of Area 51. On the other side of the mountain and connected through a dirt road there was another dry lake, Lake Papoose. The installations that X-Com had occupied there to house its combat operations didn’t appear on any civilian map or photographs. The reason was that everything had been built underground to hide its presence from prying Soviet satellites. Even the runway had been painted with the color of sand and had a coat made of special materials to hide it from an infrared photograph. Johnson and Major Patterson were both looking at the massive gray plane situated at Hangar 18 on the Groom Lake installations. The structure itself was amazing to look at, with a length of more than 250 feet and eight stories tall but the main star was the plane 268

housed there. The lights that suspended from the ceiling and flooded the inside of the building with bright revealed his sleekness and futuristic appearance. On a first look an observer would recognize the similarities between it and the French-British Concorde jetliners. It was bigger than a B-1 or B-52 bomber, with a total length of more than 190 feet and a height of a bit more than ten feet with its landing gear in place. The wings were designed in a delta configuration and when at more than Mach 1.6 the tips would fold down 65 degrees to permit for stability during hypersonic flight. It also had triangular canards at the nose to maintain stability while on flight. The assembly on which the space plane was carried prior to its release was empty and the bomb doors were open with technicians going over the airplane. The six engines air intakes were situated directly in front the weapons bay and a man could walk inside them. The infiltration pod, resembling a massive bomb, measuring more than thirty feet in length, was also being readied close to the plane. Looking at the Super Valkyrie, Johnson thought about what else was hidden inside the other hangars that formed the complex. He knew that the stealth planes, such as the F-117 and B-2 had been tested there and that he probably would find the Aurora planes around. His mind went over other top-secret research projects and he wondered which ones would he find over there. Patterson shook its head and said: “We are going to get a lift from that monster?” “Seems like it. It took some quite some arguments from Williams for the President to authorize it but the order from the Secretary of Defense made it clear that it’s ours to use”. “I hope that the CIA man keeps himself on our side, otherwise we might be into some serious trouble”. Johnson looked back at the Afro-American major, wondering if the man had read his thoughts. “Yeah, but if anything ever happens to me you listen to him. I don’t trust him completely, but he knows some things”. The Major raised an eye, but Johnson didn’t say anymore so he decided to bring another subject. “Speaking of which, how is that wound of yours,” he thought for a moment, smiled and added: “Ironheart?” “Shit! No you too Mike. I wonder who got that nickname going on the troops. It must have been Jones. Tell Hopkins that from now on whoever uses that name gets permanently assigned to point duty”. Patterson gave out a little laugh but stopped right afterwards and added: “I can do the job if you feel you’re not yet recovered for it Colonel”. Johnson moved his shoulder to check for the mobility of his arm. The heavy plasma blast that had hit him on the chest had burned a lot of muscle and he hadn’t fully recovered from the burn. The base physician had complained when he knew that Johnson had already doing physical exercise to restore mobility and strength. But he had ignored him, conscious of the need to be besides the troops in the field and not back at headquarters. The chest still gave him some paints but at least it was on the left side and it didn’t affect his ability to carry his rifle on the right arm. “I will do OK, Mike. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but this one is really important”.

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“Just checking to see if you know your limits Colonel. This whole mission already seems too much hastily planned. I still have my doubts about being dropped like a bomb inside enemy territory with no means for retrieval”. “Well the guys who are going over the pod and the plane are the ones who originally designed it and built it. It has been already tested, although with no troopers inside”. “I hope so Colonel”. As he finished talking both soldiers saw Captain Markovitch coming out of the pod and going towards them. As she reached them she shook her head. “You know, I never imagined that you would pull something like this Colonel. I have never heard of a mission that was the definition of suicide”. Johnson ignored the punt on her statement: “How many troopers can it take?” “Eight squads. We can’t take everyone”. “We will take both yours and Forrester’s Platoon plus Omega and Sigma squads”. Markovitch nodded and replied: “Your personal squad? I hope Crossett does his job well. Otherwise I will have his hide. And the same with Forrester, I hope he learned something back at Iowa”. “I know that Crossett has no military combat training, but I expect he will do well. He only needs to watch my back. Forrester got a bit shaken, but seeing my recovery must have lifted his spirit a bit. I’ve cleared things out with him and trust him”. “The only final mistake you make is the one that gets you dead”. She countered. No time for this now. He deliberately ignored the comment and moved on the conversation. “Forrester and the rest of the junior officers and NCOs should be done briefing the rest of the men and getting themselves ready. Let’s join them and make the final assignments. We should be leaving in an hour or so”. “I’m not too comfortable about that flying piece of can. And neither I like not knowing exactly where our objective is”. “When they finished equipping it we are ready to go. The pilots have been already briefed and they seen to have penetrated Russian airspace before since they didn’t react as if it was a big dangerous thing”. “But we still have to found where the damn back up files are! For all we know they could right by the aliens ships. I know it’s logical to assume they would be in the barracks area since it is the most protected place on that facility, but who knows how Russians think?!” “I know Markovitch, but we can’t just ask the Russian government about the location of it. Just do your job”. She was about to answer when the sound of a jeep hitting the brakes outside the hangar made them all turn. General Smith came across the half opened doors and looked around. When his stare caught Johnson it locked into target and he came towards him, taking few time to cross the fifty yards that separated both men. “That plane ain’t going anywhere! You can’t just walk around while I’m not on base and giving orders to men under my command!” “General”, Johnson started to respond, “This is an emergency situation. I don’t wanted to step over you, but we need the plane”.

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“You are not understanding. That plane is under my command and my security! What are these two officers doing here!?” He pointed at Markovitch and Patterson who were now on the sides of the Colonel. “They have no security clearance to be here or to know about the existence of that project! Remove them this instant!” “Captain Markovitch and Major Patterson have been authorized to have access to the Super Valkyrie program under Presidential Directive 85/99, sir! Furthermore the same order from the US Commander in Chief states that the US Air Force should put the plane and every necessary means to X-Com’s assistance, sir!” General Smith went livid and replied on a menacing tone: “Are you trying to see who is the big dog around here, Colonel? You have gone over the line over and over. You can rest assure that it won’t happen again”. He turned his back on him and left. Markovitch whispered. “The good General sure seems pissed”. “Get Prescott to come here while we are finishing readying the team and supervise the final preparations of the craft. Takeoff is scheduled in half and hour and we will land at approximately 2230 Zulu, with the explosion scheduled for 0630 Zulu in the next day. We can’t loose time because of him. Let’s go”. All three men left the hangar and went to board a jeep to head towards the X-Com installations.

Unknown location, Earth
The last report coming from the forces assigned to destroy the Terran weapon had been more than satisfactory for the Sectoid Commander. Not only had they managed to destroy the energy weapon but also they were preparing to take the next step of the plan after having defeated two major Terran counter attacks. Seated in a blue chair around a large pink console in the middle of the new base that had been set on Sol Three, the Commander looked at the lesser castes directing all aspects of the craft and the fleet. The Starspawn united them all and he could know what everything he wanted about his forces by just concentrating. All the physical power present on the base and at his disposal was nothing compared to it. The location of the facility made it perfect to coordinate the operations, although the extreme weather conditions put a strain on both his subordinates and material. He suddenly detected a thought that distracted his attention. Images of a world lost forgotten in the passage of time, with two suns burning on the sky and vast surfaces of water. He immediately recognized his ancestors’ planet. He considered that the memory might have risen from the fact that he now had set foot upon a planet after a long time boarded in a spaceship, the natural gravity making him remember past events. But he quickly dismissed it. No one of his kind in the entire fleet had ever touched the surface of what once had been their home world. Concentrating he discovered the source. One of his subordinates was daydreaming and they all shared that collective memory through the Starspawn. He immediately dismissed it and gave a mental command for the technician, ordering him to stay in focus. It was time to be prepared for the next phase, not to be dreaming of now a now dead past.

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Area 51, Nevada, US
Johnson was on his office putting on his body armour when Markovitch got in and said: “Colonel, a minute please?” He decided to take care of this now than to be listening to it the whole mission. “Give me a hand attaching the back plates while you talk”. He held out to her the rear section, which she grabbed and started to put into position. “Don’t you think you are going over your head into this one, Colonel?” He turned around and she stopped. “What do you got on your mind Markovitch? Speak it” “This whole mission is insane. This is something Colonel Jackson would have come up with, not you. We are going to use a deployment system never fully tested, going to face superior numbers and we are not sure of our objective’s location or means to escape. This sounds like one of those cases they teach back about the academy on how not to plan a mission! And every trooper back there thought it also as they heard you doing the final briefing. Even Patterson isn’t too convinced but like the rest of them they trust that you know what you are doing. Are you Erwin?” He lowered his head in defeat: “No”. But he turned back and motioned her to continue her work while saying: “But I got an idea that just might work out”. “The Russian team had a better plan and they got squashed. What makes you think you are different?” “We will do this my way. Get in, get what we want, get out without anyone seeing us”. “But what if we take more time? The whole place is going to be fried eight hours after we hit the ground”. “As long as we save the files it doesn’t matter. Besides, it should take us about two hours to get there and locate what we want inside the wrecked command center, two more hours to retrieve it and the rest to get outside the blast radius. We will make it”. “Of course it matters! There you go again!” She finishing locking the back plate into the other ones with a heavy push that made him jump. “You have been too strange from ever since almost died. You are already a damn hero, you don’t have to worry about performing more heroics during the rest of this war!” He moved his shoulders to check for mobility. “Thanks for the help. As for what you are saying, the matter is pretty simple and has been discussed with High Command. The appearance of the new aliens makes it impervious that we get better weapons. It’s a technological race. We got lasers to deal with the Sectoids and the Floaters; they then got tougher weapons and aliens. If we don’t get back the initiative and discover how to use their plasma technology we are as good as dead”. “Crap! Forget about that! It sounds really strange to be saying this but you are pulling a major stunt here Johnson and you are getting everyone following you into it!” “We will be all dead one way or the other Captain”. He stopped. “His that what this is all about Sheila? You are afraid of dying?” She looked away. “You bet. Just know what you are doing. I’m going to do the final preps and I’ll meet you back at the plane”. He tried to

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say something as she was leaving the room but couldn’t come up with any words. Johnson shook his head to clear it out of any thoughts and continued with his preparation. Laser rifle, check. Electro-flares, check. Night vision goggles check. Someone knocked on the door. “Who is it?” Grenades check. The voice replied: “Agent…err…I mean Corporal Crossett sir. You told me to present in fifteen minutes here”. Tactical radio check. “Yeah, get in, I’m almost done”. What am I going to do with this man, Johnson asked. The Council of Funding Nations had finally approved a resolution for the development of X-Com’s Intelligence and Security Branch. Many of the military leaders and a few of the scientists had disapproved such a matter, but Illyuschenko’s threats and arguments had at least managed to see that the hired spooks would be directly under his command. Still, it was troubling to see the ever-increasing former spies and law enforcement agents back at the base. And another unexpected addition had been the soldier now entering the room. A medium-sized muscled man with a military cut on his black hair got inside the room. He was already fully equipped for the mission, carrying the high altitude maneuverable chute on his back, together with the spare on his front. In one of his hands he had the suspended bag that would carry his equipment. On the other he hold in a loose grip the helmet and oxygen mask necessary for the jump. He was carrying a M79 grenade launcher on a bandolier over his large chest and he also had a Remington 12-gauge shotgun on his back. Johnson was surprised by all the firepower the men was carrying. “Jesus Christ, why do you need all that stuff?” “Long and short range stopping power sir. Those laser rifles you use only make a single entry point and won’t stop the motion of the most attackers. I prefer to have something that hurts a lot anyone who tries to come near you”. Pointing with his head, Johnson warned: “That shotgun might not be any good against the Snakemen”. “For your sake let’s hope it is”. He replied with a yellow smile. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Crossett. Your role on the team. Just keep yourself out of my way while you are guarding me and we will get along fine”. “Sir, please let me correct you. You keep yourself out of my way and do as I told if you want me to perform to the best of my abilities”. “Crossett you came from the Secret Service. You know what’s a chain of command so I don’t need to explain it to you”. “Colonel, the President was my Commander in Chief and in some situations he had no power or control over me. You will have just to learn to trust me. Depending how quickly you manage that is the amount of time you have left on this life”. “I could send you back to the Secret Service you know? It was generous from President Winston to provide me with an escort but I didn’t had to accept this offer from him if I wanted”.

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“You could, but after what happened to you on your last mission when you decided to go kamikaze, I’m not sure if General Illyuschenko wouldn’t assign me to take care of you permanently. And I was on your shoes I’d prefer that the men didn’t call me ‘Ironheart’, like I heard among the ranks. It would mean that I’m not getting hit by the enemy”. “OK, you made your point. Anything else?” “Just relax Colonel. I will be your shadow from now on. Just try to ignore we when I’m not needed and do what I say when I tell something”. He saluted. “I will be waiting outside, sir to escort you to the plane”. Johnson saw him leave without knowing what to do with him. He shrugged and decided to see what happened and not worry more about it. More important things were at stake.

Engels Air Base, Russian Federation
The technicians dressed in white lab coats carefully moved one of the attack missiles out of its storage compartment inside the nuclear weapons depot using a specially designed forklift. The old Soviet denomination for it was Kh-17 but NATO had designated it AS16 Kickback. The name didn’t actually matter for its purpose. It had been built to be carried by a bomber and attack a 500-kiloton warhead at Mach 5 speeds and attack a target at a 100 kilometers distance. The firepower it would release would be equivalent to 500 times the energy unleashed by the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. After removing it from storage the engineers slowly and carefully placed it over a workbench and proceeded on removing the warhead cover. Carefully they then checked all the components of the nuclear warhead with electronic equipment, making sure that every element was working properly. It was a long process, since after the warhead they would have to verify the solid fuel engine system, which could be even more dangerous than the actual thermonuclear bomb placed in front of the missile. In order for the nuclear reaction to go off it was necessary to have present a certain amount of Pu-239 plutonium present for the material to achieve critical mass. As with all nuclear weapons it had two parts: a main section composed of plutonium modeled as a globe, but with the center missing; and a smaller ball also composed by the same material but outside the globe. When the weapon was triggered an massive conventional explosion would propel the ball inside the globe and both parts would achieve critical mass, initiating a nuclear fission reaction. The resulting explosion would be already terrifying, but thermonuclear weapons used the blast to compress hydrogen and deuterium molecules with helium atoms. The process was what stars used to energize themselves and was called a fusion reaction, the inverse of a fission reaction. But it released far more energy; greatly extending the destruction potential of the warhead and transforming the bomb into one of the most destructive weapons mankind had ever seen. Or at least until the arrival of the aliens. The missile wasn’t armed yet, with the section containing the ball still outside the compartment where it would fit later. But the weapon still contained a lot of explosives necessary to detonate the nuclear reaction and rocket fuel that could easily ignite. In the days of the Soviet Union these missiles would be kept ready around the clock, in case it was necessary to quickly equip aircraft bounded to respond to a US nuclear attack. Nowadays maintenance was down and improving in response of the recent alert exercises

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but they still had their share of problems. And they still had another three missiles to ready after this one.

Area 51, Nevada, US
The Super Valkyrie was ready to take-off, with all the crew already inside the cockpit and the final X-Com troopers were boarding the pod right below the weapons bay. Johnson and Crossett got out of the Humvee they used to get to Groom Lake from Papoose and crossed the now open huge doors in the direction of the craft. Suddenly Crossett put his hand on Johnson’s arm and he stopped. What did the man wanted now, he thought? Looking to his left he saw General Smith walking fast towards him. He looked at Crossett. The man was completely concentrated on the military officer approaching them, as if assessing a threat. Shit, won’t this guy relax a bit? He will eventually start getting on my nerves with this crap. The General came near them and Crossett grabbed his shotgun with both hand, griping it tighter. “Colonel, a word please regarding this whole affair” “General, be quick I got a mission waiting for me right now”. “Yes, your mission. I need to talk to you about it”. He seemed about to give Johnson another verbal assault because of the way he had been overstepped. “There’s nothing more to discuss about it, sir. I got my orders, you have yours”. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I got right now a call from the President who gave me some important information destined for you. You had already left the barracks when it arrived”. “Well what is it?” Smith looked at Crossett before answering. “He shouldn’t be present”. The soldier stiffened but the General continued. “It’s Top Secret and it’s too much of a risk to tell you this here. Let’s get to a less crowded place”. Looking at the General, Johnson thought what could possibly have happened. Had the Russians anticipated their attack? Had the aliens moved first? He started going with the General but Crossett spoke: “I should go with you sir” “Get to the pod, I will join you in a minute, I will only need you later”. The trooper looked pissed off but turned around and started headed for the plane. Johnson and Smith left the hangar, heading out for one of the offices in the hangars section of the base. When they reached it Smith closed the door after they had entered. He then moved behind a desk and sat down on a chair. “Be quick please General, time is running out”. The other officer suddenly moved and on his hands he had an alien plasma rifle pointed at him. “Don’t move. You are not getting anywhere!” Johnson started heading back and Smith barked: “I know what that armour can take and I can fire a couple of shots that will stop any stupid attempt on your part. Now tell your men to head back into their quarters”.

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“What do you think…”. The door suddenly opened with a large thump and both men inside the room looked in surprise. Smith tried to react but his shot when wide, the green bolt fizzling in the space between Johnson and the door and hitting the wall to his left. “Down!” Johnson heard as Crossett fired the laser pistol he was holding with both hands. Three bolts of light crossed the air between them and the General, with Johnson immediately smelling the ozone they produced. The first one missed, but the other two hit Smith right on the chest, one of them burning the chest bone until it reached his heart, effectively killing the General. Crossett quickly walked into the room still pointing the weapon at the corpse. He kicked the rifle away from it and gave it a kick to make sure the body was truly dead. Only then did he speak. “Did you got you hurt?” Johnson shook his head. “Well Colonel, next time I tell you to get down, you get down or I will shoot you in the knees!” Johnson was too shocked from what he had just seen. “The… the General was trying to kill me”. “Yeah, I could sense immediately that he wasn’t up to anything good, so I dropped my gear at the plane and went back to follow you”. “Where did you got that pistol from?” “I borrowed it from one of the officers back at the pod. When fighting at close quarters better if you do not use weaponry that can also hit whom you are expected to protect. Standard procedure ”. “And where did the General got that alien weapon? And why did he tried to kill me?” “Good question. But the one who could clarify all that is already dead. From what I’ve heard you have checked for alien infiltration before and came up with nothing. Maybe he was who the intelligence people missed on their queries”. Johnson moved to the body and started to pick it up. “Gimme a hand here”. “What you want to do Colonel?” “Let’s hide his body in some closet or anything for now. If he was working for the aliens, the whole portion of the base that is occupied by the USAF could be also part of the fifth column. We need to get this mission underway and hide the Colonel’s death the longer we can until we came back to deal with this situation”. “After some time someone will be sure to notice the smell”. Crossett moved over and grabbed the legs of the dead body. “I will tell our personnel to pick it up when we are gone. They also have to be warned about this treachery. We don’t know who else on this freaking base might be also involved”. Both of them lifted the body and when outside to find a closet that didn’t show signs of use. After finding one they put the body inside and covered it. “Now let’s go. We have a mission to accomplish”.

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Chapter Thirteen – Divine Wind
July 27th, 1999
Sea of Japan, Pacific Ocean
To every member of the West team who was seated on the infiltration pod housed in the belly of the Super Valkyrie the trip seemed to be endless, although the flight from Nevada to Siberia would only take a few hours due to the plus Mach Six speed the plane could attain. But the thrust of the Super Valkyrie’s six Pulse Detonation Wave Engines was felt in the bomb bay, adding vibration to the pod. On the contrary of other planes, which burnt jet fuel to perform a reaction that propelled the plane, the Super Valkyrie’s PDWE engines performed continuous controlled detonations of liquid methane to move the aircraft over hypersonic speeds. Both the pilot and the navigator on cockpit were isolated from the noise, but the insertion pod was not, since it had been only tested with dummies inside. Worse yet, the bay was situated in the rear section of the plane, with the long air intakes at its front and the bay located between the engines. And the X-Com troopers had to wear oxygen masks close also since because of the possibility of a lack of pressurization on the bay. At that altitude the lack of oxygen would kill any human being. Another handicap in the experimental pod was also the absence of any communication or radio devices. The tactical radio had been changed to be able to listen to transmit on military aircraft channels and that had been the only way to talk to the President and tell him what had happened with General Smith back at the base. He had found it unbelievable but had agreed to Johnson’s request that X-Com placed the USAF section of Area 51 at discrete surveillance and to conceal the General’s death from the personnel there until they got back. The X-Com personnel back at Papoose had been already forbidden to enter Groom without his authorization. He looked around inside the pod, with the blue armor worn by the team’s members turning into black in the red light provided by the few bulbs around the capsule. At an altitude of more than 140 thousand feet the cold would kill any man, if the lack of oxygen didn’t. But the heat created by the friction of the plane on the atmosphere, while doing its cruise speed of 8.7 Mach was nearly impossible to stand. The pod was isolated, but still everyone looked as if they were standing in the middle of a desert at noon. A tap on the shoulder made him turn and he saw Corporal White handing him the tactical radio headgear. He put it and said: “Johnson here”. The voice of the pilot answered him. “Five minutes Colonel. You still can quit you know?” “Get us there. Tell when”. Johnson gave the radio back to White and got up, Crossett immediately following him. “Everybody get ready. Be sure to check your equipment triple time and when you are done have someone do it for you. Five minutes”. They all went through their parachutes and gear, with each member checking the load he was carrying before turning to the side and doing the same to the soldier next to him. White brought his hand with the index finger hand to Colonel. “One minute to start depressurization! Hurry it up!” As they finished they all stood up, grabbing a strap

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connected to the roof with one hand and another one connected to the floor on their left. Johnson finished checking Crossett’s gear and did the same. As the bay came to a complete depressurization the bay doors started to open. All X-Com members suddenly felt the cold coming from the gelid atmosphere and it was nearly a thermal shock after two hours of continuous sweating. Johnson ignored it and concentrated on the drop. The mother of all rides was about to begin. The Super Valkyrie had lowered its speed to a bit more than Mach One and had gone down a bit in order to launch the pod. The crew container had been designed with a bomb format because its flight path would be similar to one and for better aerodynamics. They actually would still have to travel nearly some 40 miles to the target but this time it would be done falling and at an even increasing speed, due to gravity. The targeting computer inside made its final calculations, judging the wind and other factors. The algorisms built into its software determined the best position to launch that would place the pod as closest to Azamas 36 as possible. Then it released it when the plane reached the position. Every X-Com soldier on the pod started to fell a grip on their stomach close to the one when riding a roller coaster and afterwards they were raised upwards due to the inertia. Grabbing the straps attached to metal pins on the floor they hold out to counteract the movement but two of them reacted too slow and were throw into the ceiling. Johnson looked at them and noticed that they seemed a bit shaken but didn’t have any major injuries. Then he saw around him and saw that the other men and himself were floating in the air like astronauts going around in a spaceship on Earth’s orbit. Will we ever have to fight in such an environment, he asked, suddenly realizing that no one yet back at High Command had ever considered that possibility. They would be experiencing a false loss of gravity, the scientists had explained to him, originated from the fact that the pod and its inhabitants were falling too fast for Earth’s gravitational pull to bring them downwards. Every one was trying to hold still but occasionally a motion would carry someone’s boot again another’s mask. Johnson at his altitude meter and saw it dropping behind one hundred thousands. About time to go. He motioned the men at the ceiling. They went to the center of the pod pulling themselves with their arms and grabbing rungs attached to the metal ceiling. In the middle there was a hatch and with a press of a button one of the soldiers made the small explosive charges went off, throwing it away from the pod and exposing the night sky. One by one the X-Com troopers threw in the direction of the hatch and were caught by the two waiting men close to it. Then they were placed facing the open hole and were pushed outside. Johnson saw Markovitch over along with the remaining members of her platoon. Forrester’s men went afterwards and his turn then arrived. He used the straps to push himself forward and crossed the distance that separated him from the opening. The XCom squaddies caught him and placed him over the hole. He gave them a thumb up sign and they carefully pushed him outside the pod. As soon as his head was out in the open he felt himself being sucked by the air moving around the pod and his body immediately followed. He quickly found himself moving

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away from the pod and out of the turbulence it caused going through the atmosphere. Spreading out his legs and arms, he slowed the speed at which he was falling, enabling him to join the altitude level of several of his men. It was pitch dark, with only the stars lighting their descent, but they all carried a pulsating flashlight to not being lost. If any XCom trooper became separated from the rest he would touch down miles away from his buddies on hostile territory. If Snakemen didn’t found them the Russians eventually would. The lights started converging and Johnson checked the GPS attached to his pulse. All the squads had already reported on his headset and they still were at a thousand. Time to get close to their target.

2247 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
The West North American team had already deployed their chutes and was doing the final approach. So far everything had gone according to the plan but now come a tricky part, landing without the enemy seeing you. Every team member had by now taken off his high-altitude oxygen mask and put his night vision goggles but no one knew if an alien patrol would be right below them. Captain Markovitch had glimpsed what he thought were the alien ships, landed in the middle of the city almost three kilometers to the south, which seemed to be the focus of the alien activity according to the latest satellite pictures. But those were already hours old and everything could have changed by now. Looking on the other side, he could see the nuclear power plant lights glowing at the distance, together with the imposing form of the huge vent chimneys used to expel the excess heat and water vapor coming from the cooling of the nuclear reactions boiling inside. She suddenly realized that the plant was still operating and that the aliens hadn’t bothered to shut it down after taking over the whole facility. Another fucking hole in the plan, great! She remembered the Chernobyl disaster and her gut turned cold. Maybe it had automatic controls, she told herself. In any case, they were about to hit ground and if the place hung together while they were in the vicinity it wouldn’t matter. Scanning the ever-closing ground below her, she found that it appeared to be free of any hostile forces. She looked at the Global Positioning System visor she had on her wrist. They were touching down about one kilometer to the northeast of the location of the former command center. Pulling the cords that came out of the chute, she reduced her airspeed and prepared herself for hitting the ground. On the other size of the landing zone, Trooper Jones was seeing the ground fast approaching. His armored boots hit the Siberian tundra and he quickly bended his knees to absorb the impact. As his body started to come down he immediately rolled over to his left. Unfortunately his parachute refused to make the landing perfect and it felt all over him, covering the soldier with the artificial material. Jones got up and immediately tried to get himself loose of the fabric sheet that was covering him. Not good he thought, the Lt. will sure get me on this. His radio started to go off with calls for his name and he just told them that he was ok and turned it off for it not to distract him. Going for his leg he removed a combat knife from there and started cutting himself free. Suddenly he felt that another trooper was doing the same from the

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outside, cutting through the fabric and helping him out of the prison the chute had turned itself into. One final thrust finally uncovered him and he turned to thank the other trooper: “Hey, thanks for the…” He didn’t finish the sentence. As he completed his motion he saw a big black oily Chryssalid gesturing its sharp claws and about to jump on him. As it crossed the space between them, Jones’ training was the only thing that avoided its deadly embrace. He moved his body to the left while making a thrust with the tip of the knife at the creature while it passed him. The blade hit and slightly penetrated the exoskeleton of the Chryssallid but it didn’t penetrate it. Instead as the alien moved it broke, leaving only a shattered knife on his hands, while the alien landed on where he was standing just a minute before. The bug’s antenna on the side of its head flickered and the thing got itself standing up again, but Jones had already dropped the knife and started to run away, screaming for help. “Down Jones!” As soon as he heard the shout he threw himself to the front, flying a couple meters on the air before hitting the ground again, but this time hurting his arms in spite of the armour built there. He felt the heat of a laser beam that had just passed too close while he was falling and waited in expectation on the ground, almost pissing on his pants from the fear he was feeling. After some seconds terrified by the wait to see if the alien would get him, he suddenly felt the another presence close to him. He looked up and recognize the figure of Sarge Hopkins holding a heavy laser on his arms and looking actually amused and pissed at the whole situation. “Did…did you got it Sarge?” He asked as he grabbed the hand the non-commissioned officer was offering him. “Yeah, some of us caught it dashing towards you as soon as you hit the ground. You are damn lucky for that shitty landing of your since it saved your ass!” He then pulled Jones up to his feet. “What do you mean?” “I mean that was one of the worse landings I’ve ever saw but since you got yourself all wrapped up in the chute the alien couldn’t get to you immediately which gave us time to go for our weapons meanwhile”. Jones’ mouth went open and the Sarge gave him a hard push on the shoulder. “Close that stupid mouth of yours and get that radio working again. We sure tried to warn you to lay low but no one managed to raise you on the tac radio!”

2257 Zulu
As soon as all the X-Com troopers had finished hiding their parachutes, the team assembled at a small taiga bush forest to the northwest of Azamas 36. Fortunately no casualties had been suffered on their descent, which was a blessing, considering that they had deployed on a most unorthodox way. After setting sentries to watch for alien activity, Johnson was having a tactical meeting with his officers. Major Patterson was the first of the crouched group to speak, almost in a whisper, just a little higher than the necessary for everyone close to him to hear. “We have landed inside the perimeter according to the GPS indications and the satellite 281

pictures. All squads are go. The barracks are one mile on that direction”. He pointed towards the south. Johnson calculated that they need about an hour and a half to get there. Time was going to be critical on this mission. “Markovitch your platoon leads the way. Forrester, cover our back. Be aware of the alien troops we have spotted to the southwest. Move out”. The three other officers got up and went passing the orders to their platoons and squads. In less than half a minute the team was already on their way to the command center with Markovitch’s squad up front and scouting the way.

Engels Air Base, Russian Federation
On the other side of Russia the two Tu-160 Blackjacks assigned to perform the nuclear attack on the aliens were being serviced for the mission. One of the supersonic bombers had already been replaced by another plane as one of his four jet engines had developed a malfunction, but no other glitches were found after that. The Tu-160s were already being refueled and the vehicle carryalls transporting the Kh-15 Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAM) were waiting to be placed in the planes’ weapons bays. The Blackjack was Russia’s more advanced bomber, having being designed as a close replica of the American B-1, with swept back geometry wings, which would be controlled into several positions to help the plane’s aerodynamics. But more important was the ability to perform hypersonic attack runs that would enable him to quickly enter and exit the area after having launched his K-15 missiles. When the crews appeared fully equipped on the hangars to board their aircraft, they had already been equipped with the nuclear weapons. After the last preparations the pilots fired up their engines and started moving their planes towards the kilometers long runway.

July 28th, 1999
0038 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
The Command Center and adjacent barracks located in the entrance to the civilian sections had been completely trashed by the aliens. Large portions of the security fence were missing and the gates had been thrown out of their hinges by explosions that had contortioned the metal. The front of the concrete building had collapsed, exposing the rooms inside and blocking the main entrance with broken concrete and steel beams. And all the vehicles in the parking lot had been hit by alien fire, leaving only scarred blackened skeletons of trucks and armored personnel carriers. After the forward platoon had given the all clear sign on the radio, the rest of the X-Com troopers approached the facility with Johnson looking at it in dismay. How could something be intact in the middle of that destruction, he wondered. Patterson came near him and expressed the same idea. “Let’s hope High Command didn’t made us get into this hole for nothing”. “Yeah, I know what you are saying. Send pairs to find out the location of the backup data banks. And get the remaining men on watch. At the first sign that the aliens have detected us we get out of here”. Johnson started moving towards the ruins, hoping that the reserve data center would be there.

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0057 Zulu
Corporal White finished connecting the laptop that one of the men had carried all the way through the jump. Somehow in the middle of the indiscriminated destruction the aliens had ignored the closed doors that lead into the backup computers containing all the research made by the now dead Russian scientists. Since the front entrance was being blocked by all the rubble, they had to use a side entrance to get inside. The command center’s room had been heavily attacked, with signs of gunfire and blood marks all over the consoles and offices but the levels below ground had been found to be pretty much intact. Most likely the aliens had only bothered to eliminate the humans defending the place and didn’t had yet time to make a proper search of the facility. Who cares, White told himself, focusing on the computer in front of him. A spare satellite radio was standing on the top of the table where the laptop rested in one corner of a room occupied with rows and rows of cabinets containing data storage electronic units. They had to blow the locked steel doors to gain access but at least they had found that the emergency power generator was still running. A group of troopers had already finished installing the antenna at the top of the building while he had finished connecting the databanks in front of him to the laptop. When everything was ready he opened the link between both computers and waited. A window immediately popped up with all sorts of different symbols appearing. He spoke to the microphone he was wearing: “Ultra, the link is up. Start doing your show, over”.

National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, Virginia, US
On the other side of the globe another man seated by a terminal received the call and acknowledged it. The NSA’s function was to protect and secure the US’s communications. But it also had a technological system called Echelon, used some of the most powerful computers available in the world to monitor every transmission being done in the world and to crack the security codes used by them. Although the speed of the satellite data link connecting him to Azamas 36 was terribly slow for the technician’s normal speeds, his first analysis of the security system that controlled access to the data made him shrug his shoulders. The NSA had been established with the Soviet Union as their most powerful enemy and its computers had spent years analyzing their code systems. The one the Russians were using was a variation of the systems used by the Communist regime. One of their best, but still not enough. Not only had the NSA spent years around it but also one defector had given them the complete algorithms used to cipher the information and generate the access passwords. It took the Cray computers less than fifteen seconds to penetrate the security, which annoyed the operator since he was looking for a better challenge. Pushing the transmit button he sent the access codes back to Corporal White’s laptop.

0058 Zulu
Cyrillic characters had replaced the non-sense symbols on White’s computer already as the operating system started to apply a Russian alphabet font. When the sequence code came from Ultra the whole screen went blank for a second and afterwards a list of files started to emerge. White then applied another piece of software, an automatic translator

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that replaced the Russian with English. Turning on again the satellite radio he called this time X-Com’s HQ back in Germany. “Goose, this is Dancer. We have gained access to the system. I’m sending over the list of files available. Don’t take too long to choose your present, over”. He copy-pasted the information into a simple text file and sent it up the satellite. One of the problems with the retrieval of the information was that the satellite uplink was no better than a normal telephone modem. Maximum data transmission was limited to 28 Kilobytes per second and he had seen that most of the files were several megabytes-sized. With the prospect of a nuclear explosion on their heads in a few hours, they had to carefully choose what information was more important and to reduce its size as much as possible before sending it back to Mother One. Right now the scientists back at the base would be looking over the list of files to try to determine what information would be most critical in attempting to reproduce the Russian particle weapon. White fished a cigarette out of one of his pocket and lit it up. He was half-way done with the smoke as the reply came after some minutes as an electronic message came back, showing a list of files. White transferred them from the databanks to the laptop and used a compression program to reduce their size before sending them upwards. When the sending status appeared on the screen he saw that the first batch of fifty-five megabytes would take 36 minutes until transmission of all the files was finished. And meanwhile the scientists back would start to examine the received files and figure out what else they would need. Too much damn work, White thought. He called the Colonel. “Sir, data transmission has just started”. The reply came immediately: “Try to hurry up. Any estimates upon the necessary time?” “Depends on what more Mother asks”. Looking for an ashtray and founding none, he threw the cigarette to the floor and put it out with his combat boot. “Let’s hope they don’t get good excited. At 0430 we get out of here. Keep monitoring the transmission and let me know if something comes up. Out”. White looked at the laptop and got himself prepared for a long wait.

0236 Zulu
The two sniper teams that formed Omega squad had both placed themselves on the roof on alert for alien activity. Five minutes ago King had issued an order to cease all activity after they had detected the movement of enemy troops. Looking through the highamplification night-vision scope installed in top if his heavy laser rifle, he and Deschamps were pressed against the ground and concealed, keeping a close tab to the road almost half a mile in front of them. The aliens were using it to deploy their troops around and a column of Snakemen was marching in a double line heading right and in no doubt to prepare for the alien offensive. When the squad had first spotted them on the horizon and determined their numbers they had exchanged worried looks. Just this column was composed of more than eighty aliens, according to King’s count, more than the double of the size of the X-Com troops. Still, the two teams were doing their jobs, with the spotter locating the alien leaders in command and pointing them out to the snipers. Some old thumb rules still applied when dealing with the aliens: take the

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enemy’s officers at the beginning of a confrontation and they will fight less effectively afterwards.

0307 Zulu
Concealed in several positions in the rubble overlooking the road, Jones and the rest of Gamma squad were finding the waiting close to unbearable. Captain Forrester had forbidden any movement on their part and all they could do was to watch as the aliens less than a kilometer away from them passed by and hoping that none would remember to move into the direction of the ruins. Alpha and Beta squads were also close by but that thought gave Jones no rest as the twelve men facing the scores of aliens could hope no better than to delay their approach before having to fall back. And while the Sectoids and Floaters were unmenacing by now to the veteran soldiers of the platoon, these new aliens sent shivers down the spine of every men. The Snakemen reminded him of a sidewinder standing on its tail and readying for an attack, with their lean bodies and reptilian heads that sported wide fangs coming out of their mouths. And the gray things were even worse. When the pre-mission briefing had focused on that matter, the orders stated were clear: to shoot down every man impregnated by one of those monsters. The reason that justified it was even more terrifying. It remembered Jones of the Alien movies that he had seen on his teens, where the alien would also grow into the victim’s body until finally bursting out. Only on this case the thing would be even more quicker to grow. And he could swore that he had seen through the Lieutenant’s binoculars some of the gray monsters focusing their attention into their direction. The yellow figures in the night vision binoculars had suddenly stopped and turned looking at his direction, with their antennas raised. He had passed that information to the Lt. but no one else had reported that type of movement on the part of the aliens. He hoped that it wasn’t just his paranoia and xenophobia affecting his perception. Looking again at the ugly crabs, he wondered what sort of planet could had created such a living nightmare like it had came out of a terrifying Sci-Fi movie. What would be next, the Alien Terminator?

0359 Zulu
Looking at his watch, Johnson was slowly getting more relentless in the data storage chamber. In a bit more than thirty minutes they had to start moving or otherwise when the explosion occurred they would be still in a high-risk area. “Can’t you just leave it there now on automatic?” He asked White, whose look both reflected a professional but also hopeless feeling. “We had already two broken connections with the satellite, we just can’t risk it again at this moment. Batch number six is on its way and should take more 36 minutes. Mother thinks they have gotten most of the basic data by now but that there are still some concepts missing to them. After this one I can put it on automatic and queue up enough files for it to be uploading until the explosion. But now we have to wait. “Putting us over the schedule. Isn’t there any way to speed up the process?” White just shook his head. “Only by using US military communications satellites. But they would soon decipher the code we are using and have access to the information”. “Impossible. I’ve received particularly specific orders from High Command on that matter. If any Earth country, including our own, possesses that information the world’s balance of power would be completely altered, probably disrupting the effort towards 285

fighting the aliens”. White moved uncomfortably on the chair upon hearing again that explanation. Some of the troops had shouted interrogations and complains as when they had been informed of it and Johnson understood their patriotism. But he believed that the reasons that supported Commander Illyuschenko decision were even more right at this time. And the fact that the man had chosen X-Com over his countries seemed to strike a note on the troops, although he knew that some of them still had their doubts. Still, he wanted to make them all understand. But as the clock continued ticking his own doubts appeared. They had rented a commercially run communications satellite and installed both ends with a ciphering device hastily built that used the first alien algorisms discovered on their computers. Their mathematics at first defied any known calculus and it had taken months to understand their concepts. Whoever once it was done, the XCom’s radio transmissions had been coded using them to secure them from being listened by any nation on Earth. The security placed on this operation was so much that the unit had a team at the moment in France to monitor and secure that no traces of the information would ever be left into the company’s computers. And as a final measure, the satellite would be brought down into the atmosphere and destroyed. That would make a huge dent on X-Com’s finances but Johnson had waken up to discover that Illyuschenko had managed a way to get more money. When he asked him where all he got told was not to ask and not to discuss it with anyone. That was strange and probably something illegal was going on, but Johnson didn’t bother since his troops were getting what they needed now. Still, looking at the minutes going by, he wondered what good was money if you couldn’t buy time with it.

0432 Zulu
“Shit!” The fourteen men overlooking the highway said at the same time. Up ahead another company of aliens had just came from the city. But on the contrary of the others they had seen before, it didn’t turn into the right or the left, instead moving forward towards the ruins of the command center. Captain Forrester got quickly his radio working and spoke: “Attention everyone. A group of aliens has turned into our direction, ETA seven or less”. Johnson’s voice came immediately back. “Markovitch, status?” Her voice came immediately: “Zeta, Kappa and Phi report no alien movement. We have a wide open escape route”. Patterson looked at him and spoke what he was thinking. “We either go now or risk a confrontation”. “I know damn it! White, what’s the status?” The communications technician looked at the monitor on the laptop and replied: “Four minutes”. Johnson stood silent for a moment, doing mental calculations. Patterson guessed exactly what his commander was thinking and replied even before the idea was stated: “A very risky one. Markovitch can start clearing the escape route and covering our withdrawal while we wait to be sure. But we gotta watch out for the aliens”. Johnson thought for a second, looked at Crossett, who seemed resigned with the situation and then nodded. Patterson grabbed his mike and spoke: “Markovitch get us an escape route. Forrester and Omega hold your positions and prepare to buy us some time but only fire at my command”. The acknowledgments came back and all four men in the room placed down their helmets again and grabbed their weapons.

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0432 Zulu
It was a matter of time, King had already felt it and now like always in sniper assignment, time had proven him correct. The alien horde that was approaching the military compound had gotten close to half away when suddenly several of the crab monsters had started mad dashes towards their direction. King didn’t even waited for the call on the radio. Focusing on the serpent figure on his scope he let go of a breath of air before squeezing the trigger on the grip of his heavy laser. The barrel emitted a golden ray of light that hit the creature square in the head, immediately killing the alien leader. On the other side of the roof, he heard the humming sound of Private Rumpole’s heavy laser, but he didn’t even bothered to look if it had hit. She was the first female sniper he had ever seem but she was as good as him. Searching with his scope and using the directions being told to him by Deschamps he prepared for last shot before moving to another position before the enemy detected his presence and used suppressive fire against him.

0434 Zulu
Several of the Chryssalids laid dead in the ground already as Captain Forrester had ordered his platoon to first that down the running monsters before they got to their defensive positions. But now the Snakemen were starting to react, although in a disorganized way and the X-Com troops had to be constantly on the move, taking cover behind the wrecked walls and broken concrete to avoid being pinned down by plasma shots or the alien’s guided missiles. Jones got out of his concealed position behind a large cement block and fired three bursts of laser fire after getting his target. A group of aliens carrying more of those missile launchers had been spotted on the left flank and he knew that they needed to taken down otherwise they would blast his troops into a million pieces. He hit one of them, but a rocket, in no doubt launched by Big Momma, did the most damage, cutting their scaled bodies into pieces. The alien troops had figured by now that they needed to use suppressive fire and were slowing their advance. Still, as Jones came out again of his hiding place and supported the rifle’s muzzle on the cement he considered if that was a good thing as he saw Private Bryant from Alpha ahead of him getting killed by several plasma shots as he tried to move into another position.

0435 Zulu
As the timer on the upload status window reached zero, Johnson quickly spoke into the tactical radio to all his men. “It’s done! Go!” Right, afterwards all four men of Sigma squad immediately headed out for the ground level. Close to the front entrance of the center, Forrester considered for a minute what he should do. Bryant and Holloman had been killed already, someone at Beta also badly injured and two other light causalities. Not adding to that list the burn at his ankle that he had managed to stop the bleeding with his medikit but still restricted his movement. That was an amazing piece of equipment he realized as he saw he remembered how the X-Com designed personal diagnosis and medical treatment unit had immediately released drugs into his bloodstream that sped up the healing process and painkillers upon placement of it over his wound. However, it simply wasn’t enough to enable him to even walk again at a normal pace. The other two men’s injuries were light and wouldn’t impair them but his and Wright’s would slow down the team. Slow realization of what was requested of him 287

came to his mind. The duty of slowing the aliens while not doing that to the team. And he would die in peace, knowing he had came up to the Colonel’s expectations. “Alpha, Beta and Gamma, pull out. Hopkins, how’s Sharpe doing?” “He’s as good as dead if he doesn’t receive medical attention and he knows it. We can’t stop the hemorrhage that the missile blast caused on his chest”. “Me and him are staying behind to give you a bit more time. I’m disabled also. Sharpe and I will be a dead weight on the team. Good luck”. The voice on the other side paused for a second before trying to conceal the emotion on his response. “Understood sir. It…it was a pleasure serving under your command. Good luck and goodbye Captain Forrester and don’t worry, we will make it”. A few seconds later Pershing came up but instead of carrying his autocannon he was helping Wright. The man’s face looked bleached white to him as he put him behind the concrete block. Pershing did a short salute and nodded to him before leaving crouched until he reached deeper inside the ruins. Wright was laying with his back on the ground and spoke in a ghastly voice. “If you don’t mind Major, could you please put me facing the aliens since the pain to do so by myself is too great?” He looked at the medikit attached to his arm and wondered what sort of pain Wright could be feeling that even the medical device wouldn’t be able to lessen it. Moving to the soldier’s side he rolled him over until he was next to the end of the block. Getting to the other end, he resumed his weapon’s fire.

0438 Zulu
Looking at some hundred meters distance from the main facility Johnson saw that Omega squad had nearly descended from the roof using ropes and that Forrester’s men were starting to evacuate the facility through the rear section, which consisted of burnt and destroyed barracks and warehouses. His own squad had already joined Markovitch’s Zeta, with the other two squads under the Captain’s command already scouting more territory ahead. He counted troopers coming out of the facility and painfully realized that the other ones would never come back. He called on the radio: “Captain, what’s the status?” Instead another voice came to him, of Lieutenant Jerrel. “The Captain stayed behind together with Wright sir. Both were too injured to walk”. Jesus all mighty, Johnson told to himself while trying to reach Forrester. He gave up after three unanswered calls, spoke a silent prayer and started organizing the retreat of his team. “You have proven me right Captain”, he said to no one.

0439 Zulu
Up on the other end of the security center, Forrester noticed how the aliens had resumed their suicidal attacks with the Chrysallids in no doubt after realizing that the defensive fire had lessened in volume. While the monsters charged the Snakemen appeared to have halted their fire and moving forwards, in no doubt realizing that the humans facing them would have to deal with the death wave in front of them. He and Wright kept firing and succeeded in bringing down a couple more of the terrifying aliens but the Chrysallids quickly covered the last hundred meters that 288

separated them from the concrete block. The one in front of the horde made a terrifying jump as Forrester showered him with laser fire at close range. The thing flew in the air and over the gray block until it finally landed behind the concrete ruin and both X-Com troopers. Wright tried to turn in the ground but in his condition he only managed to let go of a shout of pain. Forrester moved his rifle to deal with the threat, but his three shots missed as the Chryssalid ran into Wright’s direction and landed upon him. “Nooooooo!” He shouted and pointed his rifle at the thing quickly firing it. One of the red beams hit the crouched alien on the head and it dropped to the ground. But it was too late. Amazement came to the Captain’s mind as he saw the gravely injured trooper came up slowly to his feet but then flashes of warning came to his mind, reminding him of what Wright had just turned into and of what he should. But his finger on the trigger of the laser was a second too slow as a large claw suddenly cut the rifle’s barrel into two. Then something run into his left side and he felt himself falling. Until he found himself inside a dark, painful hell.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
All scientific personnel currently engaged in Elerium research had been recruited for this mission to help determine what information would be more essential in reproducing the Russian weapon and, more important, the electromagnetic fields used to contain and direct its power. At first they had picked the files whose names were too obvious to miss, but even then they had came up into some dead ends later upon conferring the information upon them. While it would take them many weeks of hard work to compile together all the data and then fully understanding it, right now they could only hope that they had everything they need as they couldn’t order any specific file anymore. The system would be sending information until the explosion or a loss of connection, but if they found later out that they need anything else it would be too late. Dr. Chevereux turned to Commander Illyuschenko and reported: “We have everything we think we need. Will they make it on time?” Looking at the time display in one of the command center walls, Illyuschenko simply asked: “Are you a religious man, doctor?”

0627 Zulu
After crossing most of Russia in a flight that included an aerial refuel, the flight of Tu160 Blackjacks finally prepared their attack run. The second bomber was kept as a reserve in case something happened that prevented the first one to release its missiles and it was circling the area. Meanwhile the first bomber moved in and the power engaged the afterburners for full speed in the attack. When first bomber managed to finally reach the Kh-15 missile maximum range it had already to dodge several plasma volleys shot by the UFO who had gotten up in no doubt to face the plane. When the targeting computer confirmed at lock on Azamas 36, the weapons systems officer alerted the pilot. The attacking Tu-160 opened then his twin weapon bays and fired both missiles. Then, the pilot rolled his plane until they were almost flying the opposite direction, going away for sanctuary in the form of distance and the flights of Russian Air Force fighters waiting for it in the blue sky.

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0628 Zulu
Running like madman in the barren ground, the X-Com tried to put as much distance as possible from the city. They had lost visual contact with the aliens after a series of rearguard confrontations that had been costly to the extraterrestrials. But they had even further delayed the team although now even the faster Chrysallids were to be seen anywhere. Since the Snakemen were too slow to accompany the other aliens or even the humans pace, they were being left behind, allowing the squads to take down the Chryssalids with unopposed long-range fire, since the things didn’t carry any plasma weapons. The team since then had went through a steeper pace trying to get away from the nuclear blast that was eminent upon them. Johnson kept checking this watch to see how many time they had left. Every military safety procedure was being violated on this escape but that didn’t bother all the men and women on the team. Finally when there was only half a minute he shouted: “Time’s up! Get some cover!” Everyone immediately dove for any depression on the ground that could cover them from the radiation, shock wave and the heat that was about to come. Johnson looked back and saw that an UFO was getting airborne, in no doubt trying to escape the area. They all tried to dig themselves to the ground as deeper as possible, closing their eyes and keeping their faces turned to away from the city.

0629 Zulu
Both SRAMs dropped several dozens of meters below the Tu-160 after being launched, right before their solid fuel engines started propelling them at a supersonic speed. It would take the missiles less than four seconds to cover the ninety-kilometer distance to Azamas 36 and detonate together in a nuclear blast. However, a bit more than a second after their launch, the two missiles encountered a wall of plasma shots and the alien’s own missiles. Then one of the mini-suns used by the aliens exploded close to the missiles and threw them off course, sending one of them to crash harmlessly to the ground and throwing the other one into the middle of a plasma beam that cut into two parts.

0643 Zulu
After some minutes of waiting that more seemed like a lifetime, Johnson signaled Corporal White who was covering in the ground close to him: “Something is wrong here. Get HQ online to see what has happened”. The trooper took out the communications pack off his back and immediately begun the task of preparing it for a satellite connection. He produced a foldable antenna and opened it, afterwards connecting and preparing the radio. He finally gave Johnson a headpiece. He grabbed it and spoke: “Magic, Magic, this is Dancer, over”. After some seconds the reply from Area 51 came. “Dancer, Magic up and listening to you. What’s your status?” “Didn’t manage to clear the area on time but the explosion didn’t go. You know what happened?”

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“Word is getting to us from Mother that the enemy managed to take out the attack missiles as they approached the site”. “They what!?!” “They used antiaircraft fire. What is the enemy up to?” “We are seeing large movements of aliens leaving the city. Will the Russians try again?” “Can’t tell right now. Are you clear?” “We are ten clicks northwestern of the city. Will the Russians still try to advance?” “Unlikely since they were counting that the blast decimated the aliens’ ranks” “Shit!” “Yeah, get some cover and stay put. We are still deciding how to retrieve you since we can’t use the Skyrangers”. Johnson replied and went to gather the senior officers on his command. They all grouped in the middle of the defense perimeter set by the X-Com troops, with Lt. Jerrel as a substitute of the deceased Captain Forrester. “This is the situation: the aliens shot down the nukes. Most likely the Russians won’t make another attempt at this time and will try to hold out the alien offensive, leaving us stranded here since the Rangers would be shot down trying to cross their lines. High Command is trying to sort out this mess, but right now we are right behind enemy lines with no prospects for extraction. Any ideas?” All the other officers looked down in resignation while Johnson tried also to think of a possible way out. After some tense minutes where everyone kept trying not to get on despair, Markovitch raised her head and spoke: “Why don’t we blow the fucking nuclear reactor?” Everyone looked at her as if she was crazy. Patterson replied: “Blow the reactor?” “I don’t know how, I’ve just remembered. The thing is also nuclear right? If we set some explosives on it or mess up the controls and get out of there on the double, the whole thing could go off and do the role the nukes were supposed to”. She threw her hands up and Johnson faced her. “And how are we going to do that Miss Rocket Scientist?” “Get on the radio and talk to HQ. The nerds over there will sure come up with a solution. Otherwise we are screwed and Russia will never contain this toilet who is about to overflow with shit”. “That’s insane Markovitch”. Patterson replied shaking his head. “Piss off Mike. Do any of you have any better ideas?” No one answered her question. Johnson looked at them and spoke: “OK, we will pass that idea and see what they tell us. Meanwhile keep your eyes sharp for alien movement. We can’t risk being discovered at this time”. He got up and, still crouched moved towards White’s position.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Eva Johannes was still wondering what could be the emergency situation that required her immediate presence when she entered the operations room. Commander Illyuschenko was there, along with Colonel MacTaggert, Dr. Chevereux and other senior officers, all grouped around one table filled with maps and sheets of paper. The X-Com commander

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raised his head and spoke. “We need quickly some technical information on nuclear reactors Doctor and Dr. Chevereux told us you are the person here more familiar with the subject”. “Well I did some work on the area before, Commander. What do you need to know?” “To put it simple: can a nuclear reactor be rigged to explode as an atomic bomb?” “Impossible. In a bomb you have a concentrated amount of nuclear fuel that is quickly joined together and bombarded with neutrons at the same time so that the reaction consumes the available uranium and releases all the energy contained on it on less than a millisecond. In nuclear reactors the fuel is separated into rods isolated from one another and the process is closely controlled through the use of neutron absorbent materials. Even when those are removed the heat will blow the plant first before it explodes”. Every officer shook its head and Chevereux said: “I told you so Commander”. Illyuschenko looked hopeless and but still asked, out of curiosity: “But what if the control mechanisms were removed? What would happen?” “There on each rod the fuel isn’t concentrated enough like a bomb, so the neutrons have to fly further which due to the neutron physics won’t be enough for an explosion”. The scientist started stating what he had just said before, to make sure Illyuschenko had understood it. “The most that you could achieve would be an overheating of the fission materials that would lead into the melting of the reactor’s core and the release of huge amounts of radiation. Essentially the same that happened in the disaster at Chernobyl”. The reference to mankind’s worst nuclear accident in history brought a strange look to Illyuschenko’s face and Johannes realized that the Commander probably had been personally affected in some way by it. “Chernobyl….” He started mumbling but turned to the French scientist after some seconds of reflection. “Dr. Chevereux, if something like that happened in Siberia, what would be the effects on the aliens?” The scientist looked puzzled but started recalling the information he had on the aliens biology and metabolism. “Well, most likely the radiation would cause mutations upon the alien’s genetic structure. In the case of the Chryssalids those changes would even be more important due to the fact that they have a fast cell division rate. In humans radiation greatly affects the marrow and reproductive tissues, due to the fact that both of them are quickly generated and the cells don’t have enough time to conduct repairs upon the DNA before they divide, with the genetic errors being carried to the next generation of cells. It would also greatly affect the Snakemen, since they carry a lot of eggs. Most likely their ability to self-reproduce would be severely constrained, not to mention other side effects from short and long-term exposure to radiation since the alien’s bodies doesn’t seem more shielded than ours”. “Commander, you can’t just order the destruction of a nuclear power plant! The environmental damage would be horrendous, not to mention the possibility that the radiation would be carried into civilized areas!” Johannes was shocked at the possibility. Illyuschenko cut her off. “Miss Johannes, I’ve had family and friends affected by Chernobyl so I know that are the effects of such a disaster. However, the situation here can turn out into something far worse and I need to consider all the possibilities we have got left. If the aliens push their

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attack my country’s forces will be unable to restrain them to a confined area and judging from their rate of multiplication and the possibility of receiving reinforcements, the whole of Asia and Europe could be lost to them in months or even weeks”. “You military are all the same, aren’t you Commander? Life is just like a bullet. Something to be expended if there’s a need to it and all with the justification that without the sacrifice further losses would occur”. She shook her head. “I won’t get into this discussion now, Miss Johannes. What I need is that you and Dr. Chevereux tell me how it can be done. If your conscience forbids you to do so, you can always resign the unit. In any case I expect that this matter doesn’t get out of this room”.

0712 Zulu, Azamas 36, Siberia, Russian Federation
All of the commanding officers had gathered again upon Johnson summon. He still felt uneasy about the orders received from Commander Illyuschenko, but there was nothing he could do since they seemed the last hope available. “In five minutes we head back to the facility and approach the nuclear reactor to make it blow. Looks like your idea was useful after all Markovitch”. She looked back at him, shocked. “I didn’t know it was possible!” “From what I’ve been told, it isn’t. But when we get there we will tinker with the reactor’s controls to hopefully create another Chernobyl, although we will be long away from it before it happens”. He still felt very uncomfortable at the whole prospect of making what could be the worst nuclear contamination in history but had decided to leave those thoughts for after, when they all managed to get back to safety. Lt. Jerrel showed his fear on his voice: “But even if we are far away from the reactor when it happens, what about the radiation? Tactical nukes are far ‘cleaner’. On this case we are going to release massive doses through an large area around the reactor”. “This whole mission had taken that into consideration. The body armor we are carrying is made out of alien materials and we could only get better protection if we were wearing a lead suit. We will have to make a complete clean up of any radioactive particles when we reach the Russian lines but they will have the necessary equipment. The Red Army has been equipping the forces around Azamas 36 for NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) warfare for the past days so that they can fight in such environments. As long as we keep in cover while the wind carries the particles around we should come out with no problems”. “Shit, we all will be glowing in the dark for the remainder of our lives”. Markovitch spat. “You’re not coming to the reactor with the rest of us, Markovitch”. She looked at him in surprise as he continued. “The scientists have taken all the necessary information from the backup computers. But we can’t leave any trace of our presence here or allow that the Russians access again that information. I want you to go back and retrieve our communications gear and destroy the data stored there”. All officers threw interrogatorial looks at him. “I know what you are thinking. The Russian team also divided themselves and they were crushed. But if we want to savage the entire operation and don’t turn into worthless all

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the deaths that have already happened, we need to do this”. She shook her head in concern. “Are you sure you want to do this Colonel?” She’s afraid? Johnson asked himself, not believing that she ever would have admitted it in combat. But as he realized of what she was afraid of he become speechless. She and her men could be trapped and killed like it had happened with Gerasimov’s platoon. And if that happened Johnson would never be able to forgive himself and Markovitch would be dying knowing that. He looked at her eyes and said: “I’m sure Sheila. But I trust you and I hope that you feel the same about me”. She closed her eyes for a moment and afterwards got up. “There might be some sort of explosives left in the barracks. Two squads, one to take guard while the second rigs the place. I won’t need more men”. He nodded to her “go” and faced the other officers “Let’s start moving”.

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
Dr. Chevereux unfolded a large blueprint over a lit table for all the scientists around the table to see. Printed on white lines and letters, the technical schematics of a nuclear reactor were recognized by all after some seconds. “This is the Soviet built RMBK nuclear plant. Science should serve mankind, but in this case we need to discover how we can make it wage destruction. Basically what we need is to provoke a short, massive release of radiation from its core. One of the scientists, a former East German, turned to him and said: “That’s the same type of reactor responsible for Chernobyl, Dr. Chevereux. I did studies on those in my youth and even worked in one as part of scientific personnel exchanges. If you open the hell contained inside one of them, it will take a lot of work to close it”. “Your warning is noted, Dr. Schmidt. Unfortunately there are more things at stake here right now. If you know of a way who, please tell us so?” The man thought for a second and then pointed to a group of conducts on the left and right sides of the reactor. “There’s one way to do it. First you increase the power level until the coolant water becomes so hot so that even the high pressure can’t help it from turning into steam, dramatically increasing the heat inside the reactor since there’s no coolant anymore and provoking an explosion. Even though this type of reactors suffered security modifications, we can bypass the automatic safeguards. We then program the control computers to slowly raise the power and at a point to cut down the heat transfer mechanisms. The central core will melt in seconds due to the excessive heat”. “Can the team do it?” The German scientist thought for a second and replied: “I doubt it. Too many things can go wrong and you would need a trained specialist that knows the system. Not to mention the fact that everything should be in Russian and it would take anyone who doesn’t know the language too long for it”. Dr. Chevereux looked in dismay. “However there might just be another way. If we destroy the control system and provoke leaks on the cooling conducts the reaction should increase enough to provoke an explosion. Basically one of the flaws in this reaction system is the positive void coefficient. That means that if some refrigeration water is lost the nuclear reactions will actually increase, on the contrary of the majority of the reactors where they automatically stop. That’s one of the design flaws that caused Chernobyl and if the system that deploys

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the control rods automatically to reduce the fission reaction is down the whole thing will go up”. “The team still has some demolition explosives left. Let’s start looking over these prints to where to place them”. As Dr. Chevereux finished talking all the scientists gathered more around the table.

0937 Zulu
The nuclear reactor’s compartment was a large building attached a larger but lower rectangular one. On its top a cooling tower released the excess water vapor caused by the heat exchange mechanism that refrigerated the reactor and provided heat to be transformed into electricity. High-tension power lines connected the electrical generator to the rest of the facility. The X-Com team had found it to be once again deserted of any people, which sent brought uneasy thoughts to all the troopers after they had finished their sweeps under the still illuminated rooms and corridors. So far Azamas 36 had proven to be completely empty of any former inhabitants, although it was reported to have a population of several thousand military and scientific personnel plus their families and other inhabitants. The thought of what had happened to all those people troubled Johnson and he wished that they all would be dead by now. Using the indications given by Mother he had sent demolition teams to several points in the reaction. Since the spare radio had been left out at the backup database to beam the research to the satellite they had to use the only one they had left. But it didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered. His men were setting up the detonation system, using wire taken from the walls to connect the bombs to the explosives that were being set in different places of the facility. What have I done, Johnson asked himself. Everyone on the team was starting to show signs of fatigue after hours of running around. How much further can I push them? He decided to step outside the room and get some air. Moving out the door he paused to see the morning Sun and decided to find out a near toilet to take a piss and water his face. Crossett started following him but he dismissed the soldier after finding a public toilet down the corridor. As he was pissing he immediately felt more relieved. When he finished he went to the sinks and tried the taps while looking at his face in the mirror and noticing how tired it looked. Water immediately flew out of them and he washed his hands and afterwards brought his head down and watered his face. As he got up again he stopped in the middle as he saw a black thing coming from the corridor behind him. Jumping to his left side, he barely managed to dodge the charging Chryssalid, who tried to hit him with its claws right before it crashed into the sink, breaking it and the mirror in the process and falling down on the ground. Johnson was already there and was trying to get up, but the fountain of water coming of the broken taps was making his combat boots skittle in the floor. He reached for his laser pistol but as the alien got up there was a crack sound. The Chrysallid’s body immediately became full of small holes, making it stumble backwards. However it quickly regained its balance and lunged forwards again. Meanwhile Crossett reloaded his shotgun and fired another shot at it while Johnson also discharged his laser pistol several times.

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A strange liquid started to came out of the locations where it had gotten hit again and it dropped face forward to the ground. Crossett quickly reloaded and filled its gray body with several more shots until he felt assured that the thing was dead. After that he went to see the toilet cabinets in the corridor from where the alien had appeared when he came back Johnson had already gotten to his feet and several other X-Com troopers had appeared. He merely spoke: “Found some human remains back there and an open ventilation grill. The guy must have been impregnated and when the alien popped up it must have decided to nest inside the ventilation system”. Johnson thought it strange but left it to the xenobiologists back at the base to think of what it meant. Despite being shaken from what had happened he remembered however to bark a warning to any trooper regarding enemy stragglers.

0954 Zulu
As Markovitch and her men were exiting the backup system she let go of a deep breath, considering that they had managed to clean up X-Com’s tracks and destroy the data contained without a glitch. They had used the lasers first to cut through the information banks and afterwards placed grenades into them before setting the whole place on fire using whatever combustible materials they could find. Sergeant Krenon had found a couple of intact half-full petrol barrels in the remains of the wrecked motor pool and those had been moved inside and their contents spilled over everything. After they had set fire into it and cleared the underground room, a couple of explosions greeted them. They then moved away, before the aliens decided to send a team there to investigate and headed towards the rendezvous point with the rest of the team.

1129 Zulu
Johnson kept looking at his watch. They were waiting for Markovitch for ten minutes now and she still hadn’t appeared at the rally point and they couldn’t wait any longer. No further incidents had occurred at the reactor station and they had successfully rigged the place. However they had no way to contact Markovitch after leaving the radio back. She had used the spare to inform them that she had been successful and was heading backwards but that had been thirty minutes ago. He looked at Patterson and spoke: “Mike, they can’t be that far”. The other officer simply closed his eyes.

1141 Zulu
The reason behind Markovitch’s delay had been that her squads had stumbled upon a Snakemen patrol as they were close to their destiny. As she gave the order for everyone to hide she realized that it would be useless as the plasma fire was starting already to come from the aliens, together with grenades. Holding her laser rifle tighter she saw as her point man, Corporal Shaw was suddenly cut down by heavy plasma fire, falling dead to the ground as he was trying to get more cover. She immediately spotted the alien responsible for it and sent it reeling to the ground with two well-placed shots into its head and torso. However, the situation wasn’t getting any better. She had estimated more than fifteen Snakemen and she now was reduced to seven men, which didn’t make for terrific odds.

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In any case they needed to pull back or do something else, since they couldn’t call in for help.

1150 Zulu
As the final Snakemen was cut down by a round of armor piercing shots fired from Pershing’s heavy cannon, the men of Gamma and Sigma squads quickly moved forwards, followed on the flanks by Alpha and Beta and covered by Omega’s snipers. When they reached the alien’s line they went to check that everyone of them was dead. By then the survivors of Zeta and Phi squads had started to come out of their cover positions among the ground. Looking for Markovitch’s figure, Johnson didn’t spot her in the three soldiers who were know approaching him and feared the worst. He recognized Sergeant Krenon and went over to him, asking almost in a panic: “Where’s the Captain?” The trooper made a weak smile and pointed with his thumb backwards. “Over there. She suffered a concussion from an alien grenade that exploded too closely but she will be all right in a little while. Prune also got injured and Camay is back there taking care of both. Too bad Shaw and Freyuth didn’t made it but thanks for the save, Colonel”. Johnson immediately placed a hand over the non-commissioned officer’s shoulder and the man nodded to him. He stayed there for a minute until he headed towards the group of injured troopers. Markovitch was lying on the ground with a medikit close to her side but trying to get up, in spite of the objections being made by Private Camay, the female soldier strictly ordering her officer to lie down. As she suddenly noticed him, she immediately said: “About time you decided to show up!” Looking at her commander, Camay decided to let him deal with her and went to check on Prune’s status. He moved closer and replied: “Thanks for keeping them into a straight line. You made them exactly into place for us to ambush them as we were approaching”. He offered her a hand to get up. She grabbed it and answered back: “Well, next time don’t wait too long”. As she was almost up he used the momentum to push her closer to him and hold her in an embrace. “I won’t,” he said. Markovitch become surprised but didn’t step away, the feeling of him suddenly justifying everything. While both officers stood there the two privates on the ground had dropped their mouths to the ground in complete surprise, looking at the entire situation for some seconds until they wisely decided in silence to ignore it and act as if they hadn’t seen it. She started moved away from him and spoke. “Before anything else, you still have to get us out of here”. Taking conscience again of the situation he said: “I will. Can you walk?” She smiled. “I can run if I have to. Wanna race me?” He shook his head. “Get your troops running. We are leaving this wasteland this minute”. He looked at the sky. Even in the middle its short summer Siberia looked as desolate as ever.

1606 Zulu
The X-Com team had finally managed to reach the vicinity of the Russian lines and contacted Colonel Boronin on the spare radio retrieved by Markovitch. When radio contact was finally made he gathered his team and went to pick up Johnson and his men and lead them through the Russian lines. When finally both teams encountered 297

themselves in the no man’s land between the Red Army and the aliens, Johnson simply nodded to Boronin when both men encountered and the Russian officer gave an ordered to his radioman. No word was spoken afterwards as they went back and crossed the lines at a different point than the one Boronin had left so that the Russian troopers wouldn’t notice that he was returning with far more soldiers. They immediately headed for the Skyrangers, with Johnson noticing how all the Russian camp had turned into a hectic confusion as the radiation cloud coming from the now blown power plant was detected by the radiation meters. He looked at Azamas 36 at saw that the early afternoon sky now seemed to have a pinkish hue coming from the city. Johnson wondered if the radiation would be actually visible, but then decided not to think anymore about it. Now it was the Russians time to deal with all the mess they nearly had gotten everyone into it. Getting into line for the decontamination showers he got ready for the chemical shower that would clean his armor of any radioactive particles attached to it before boarding the planes.

1625 Zulu
The X-Com Russian trooper carrying the radio merely took it down and deployed its antenna, selected an unused frequency and pushed the transmit button. The small electronic umbrella sent a short radio burst up the sky, towards the communications satellite that then beamed it back to Siberia. The satellite engines then made a short burst, making it starting to fall back to Earth. But before it re-entered the planet atmosphere and burned up into pieces the artificial machine executed its orders in space completely unaware of the damage they had caused or what would happen to its own fate. Many kilometers below the satellite, three sets of explosives all rigged together to the radio receiver went off at the same time inside the nuclear reactor as their detonators were triggered by the transmission. One of them was placed against the conducts that transported cooling water to inside the reactor, cutting them and immediately flooding the room with water so hot that when it came outside the ruptured tubes it immediately went to steam. The temperature rose immediately but in a few seconds it was quickly surpassed by the one of the reactor. The loss of the cooling liquid had immediately raised the temperature of the fuel rods several thousand degrees and increasing the number of nuclear fission reactions taking place inside them. The automatic control system would detect such an event and immediately deploy control rods, which absorbed neutrons and stopped the nuclear reactions, avoiding a disaster. But the second and third explosions had taken out both the system and the electrical power to the engines that operated the rods. Without any force left to constrain its growing power the number of fission reactions increased quickly until the heat generated was too great for the water still circling in the refrigeration tubes, making it explode and take out the cover of the reactor and also the roof of the building that housed it. The blast ejected into the outside a cloud of highly radioactive materials from the now melted fuel rods and the reactor itself, including uranium, cesium, strontium and the highly toxic plutonium. The level of radiation in the vicinity of the reactor immediately went up several thousand times, making it dangerous for a human to stand in the area for even minutes wearing a protection. And the reactor wasn’t dead yet, still spilling out his deadly entrails away to the wind. It would continue to do so for many more days.

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2049 Zulu
Some hours after the explosion the Red Army soldiers begun to see groups of aliens trying to break their lines but in a disorganized fashion. The Snakemen and the Chryssalids seemed more preoccupied in escaping the area than to actually perform an attack, which made easier the job for the tanks and the soldiers. The wind had spread the death area now so that it included most of Azamas 36 perimeter, including large sections of the city. For thousands even millions of years the city would become inaccessible to any human, due to the radiation emitted by the radioactive fallout. The Russian High Command had already determined the cause of the explosion and was moving more men and equipment to stop the release of radiation of the reactor core as soon as all alien opposition was defeated. They didn’t had to wait too long as six hours after the explosion the UFOs took off their positions near the city and headed permanently for space. But Earth’s victory was a phyrric one. It would take the Russians many months to contain and seal the open radiation core, even with assistance from all of X-Com’s funding nations and the technical assistance of the organization. But unlike Chernobyl the casualties from the clean-up crews that built the coffin to contain the radiation were lower than in that incident, due to the usage of anti-radiation suits made by X-Com and using the alien alloys. Still, the whole explosion created huge public health problems as the airborne radiation cloud traveled through Siberia and Russia.

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Chapter Fourteen – Misty Evening
July 29th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
As the C-130H Hercules transport plane finished its landing back at Groom Lake after the mission in Russia, Johnson wondered what other surprises might be forthcoming back home. They had boarded the plane at the Japanese X-Com base, after flying there from the Russian base. The Super Valkyrie had also landed there and had waited for them per Johnson’s instructions, which didn’t want to risk the plane by flying it again to Area 51 yet. Instead the flying beast had been ordered to fly back and land at Tonopah Test Range, an high security military base situated also in Nevada, some 65 miles northwest of Groom, until the whole matter of General Smith’s attempt to sabotage their mission was resolved. When the plane stopped completely, the cargo doors suddenly opened and the North American West team deployed, although most of them were in a rugged condition after the vicious fighting at Azamas 36. They escorted the C-130H while it was taxiing to the front of his designated hangar There they were greeted by Major Prescott and a group of X-Com security personnel. Their sight was a relief for Johnson’s eyes. As the rest of the team deployed and secured the location around the experimental craft Prescott come up to Johnson and asked, in complete puzzlement: ”Colonel, what is going on here? We have found the body of General Smith after your departure where you indicated, as you indicated together with your order to keep an eye on the USAF’s facilities and their personnel, with the full authorization of President Winston”. “Have you entered the facilities?” Johnson kept looking around searching for possible Xenos coming out of the darkness, still shocked by their abilities. Many good men had been lost to them. “No. I kept an eye on their activities but in complete discretion, as ordered”. “Good. Gather your security force and follow us. We have orders to take control of the whole base”. Prescott’s eyes opened wide. “What? You mean the Groom Lake installation? You can’t just take over a government facility! That would be considered an act of aggression. We have no authority to do so!” “Major, I have the order of President Winston himself. It’s a long story, but it appears that we have been nesting the aliens right next to us. We don’t know what we will find inside, but we are to take control of it and secure all personnel”. “Holy shit!” “Yeah. General Smith was working for the aliens. I don’t know what else he kept in there but we are sure going to find out”. Then he started heading for the command section of the facility, the remaining of the team following him.

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They found the ground floors to be only occupied with humans, mostly security personnel, test pilots, scientists and technicians. After some hot incidents on which two guards were injured by X-Com fire while resisting arrest, all of the upper floors were cleared. When they arrived at operations center they found the doors locked. “I guess they must be inside trying to talk to their masters, whenever those are the Pentagon or the Starspawn”. Johnson commented while testing the strength of the metal doors. “Some one come over here and blow up this door,” he ordered and afterwards when to get some cover. A X-Com trooper come up to the door and removed a package from his backpack. Looking at the door he took some seconds analyzing it and, afterwards unwrapped the explosives out of their plastic cover and started attaching them to well thought places in the door. He then got some detonators, and the red pins were placed on the C-4 explosive around the entrance. Giving his work a final look of approval he when for cover and removed a device from his belt. Opening the safety he shouted: “All clear! Going in Three... Two…. One!” When he pressed the trigger the detonator sent a radio signal in a very specific and unused frequently and gave the order for the chip inside the pins to explode the C-4. The reinforced steel blew out of its metal hinges slamming against the floor of the corridor with a large metallic sound. The first X-Com trooper that reached it immediately brought out a concussion grenade and pushed the pin, throwing it inside. It made a loud bang two seconds later, and Johnson immediately jumped inside the room after it went off. The control room was a mess, the smoke for the explosion still present in the air despite of the air conditioning that was pulling it up. The bodies of the military men made unconscious by the grenade rested on the floor, some of them still clutching weapons on their hands. Johnson saw Colonel Billings, the second on command and approached him. The man had his service revolver drawn and was pointing it to the X-Com Colonel. “Billings, drop that weapon now and tell the rest of your men to surrender! We are taking over this base!” “The General was damned right about you!” He shouted back and looked as if ready to press the trigger. Sensing the response of his men he raised an arm to stop them. “Billings, your pistol can’t kill me unless you hit me right between the eyes because of the armour I’m wearing and you know that. The President ordered this base to be surrendered to X-Com because of confirmed alien infiltration. If you’re not involved on it, drop the weapon. Otherwise, I will have to kill my second traitor on the war, General Smith being the first”. “The General is dead?” He looked deeply shocked. “Yes. Drop the weapon now!” He lowered the pistol and, after a second placed it on the ground. “Surrender your weapons men. The President just ordered X-Com to take over, whatever we like it or not”. Johnson took a deep breath and thanked whoever had created humans with a safeguard called reason. After securing the control center, Billings ordered in the intercom for the entire Groom military inhabitants to gather on one huge, unoccupied hangar. The process of rounding 301

them up took some time, since the facility had more than two thousand people. They were all rounded up and after confirmation that every name present on the rooster was there. When the process was done, he turned to Billings and asked: “Is that it?” The USAF officer closed his eyes, as if he was taking a grave decision. Opening them again, he spoke: “No. There’s another facility close by that you know nothing about. There’s few men based there, but it also falls into Area 51’s command”. “Take us there”. “I can’t do that Colonel. Those are classified installations!” Johnson pointed his laser rifle at his head and calmly said: “General Smith just tried to kill me before we went off on our mission. I don’t know why he did it, but I’ve just been fighting the most vicious things that I’ve ever seen on my life and I’m still pissed at this whole thing. I have a presidential order that gives me access to every corner of this base and if you try to stop me, I’ll have to assume that you are also under the alien’s influence and have to kill you.” The other officer kept his stare at him and replied: “Don’t try to bluff me Colonel, I know you won’t kill me”. “Maybe not, but consider this. Everyone on this base is under suspicion of collaboration with the enemy. In case you don’t know, the penalty for treason is death. You can either show it to me or wait in the brig for the federals to take you in custody. Your choice”. Billings swallowed hard and said after a minute. “Very well. The place is some miles from here. We shall need transportation”. “Patterson!” The Major limped to Johnson’s side. “Get us some Humvees to carry a full platoon plus me and the Colonel”. Thirty minutes later the motorized column had already left Groom Lake. At the junction where the road intersected the gravel path to Papoose, Billings said that they should continue going straight into the West. “Where are we going?” Johnson inquired. “Area 19. Have you ever heard of it? It’s still in the Nevada Test Range but is ran by the Department of Energy”. Johnson reminded seeing some references to it on the maps but gave up trying to remember after a while. The whole US military occupied more than one forth of Nevada’s State area and it was close to impossible to know all about it, especially since many of those areas were classified and under heavy surveillance. They kept going through paved roads until finally Billings told them to turn into a gravel and dirt road heading northwest. Finally he said them to stop in the middle of a plain. The only structure visible was a power line that ended on a substation up to the north. Looking around and checking on the map, Johnson saw that they were in the middle of Dead Horse Flat but there was nothing here to see. “Where have you taken us Billings?” “Wait and you will see. Come with me”. He looked around, moved over to a location on the basin and dropped on his knees. Johnson immediately started to react but he then saw that the man had started to remove some camouflage tarps. At the distance they were undistinguishable from the terrain. And underneath them Johnson saw sand painted metal doors, buried on the ground.

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“Now Colonel. Please let me go in front. There are men down there that be surprised at your appearance. Once I tell them that there’s no problem they will follow your instructions, but until then they might overreact to your presence”. “Go right ahead. That way you will be the one shot at if they fire back at us”. “I wish to prevent that Colonel, that’s why I’m taking the lead”. He opened both doors and started to come inside using a metal ladder that ended on a corridor, with the X-Com troopers quickly following him but taking a look first. The passageway ended on another door. With the help of Billings they cleared out the facility from all the upper level occupants, found to be only manned by technicians and security personnel. Johnson couldn’t tell what they were doing down here, but he knew that he would have to find out later about it. Right now they needed to clear out the whole installation. He took one squad to check the lower levels, together with Colonel Billings and left the other two squads to guard the prisoners. When they reached the elevator for the subterranean floors Billings stopped and said: “You are unauthorized to see this Colonel”. Johnson tapped his laser rifle and said: “This is all the authorization I need”. “Very well”. He passed his card on a magnetic reader on the wall and tapped in a code in a numeric pad on the device. A light suddenly turned green on the reader and the elevator doors opened. It was small and gray with some buttons pressed on it. “Colonel, the elevator won’t take all of your men and I’m the only one here with an authorization. I would prefer if it were only you to come down to keep this restricted to as few people as possible. You have my word that nothing will happen to you down there”. Crossett immediately become stiff and Johnson was almost ordering Billings to override the security system when he saw something on his eyes. An impression that told him that the man has saying the truth. “All of you hold over here and pay attention to the radio. If I don’t say anything in fifteen minutes blow this door and storm the place”. Crossett turn to him and said: “Are you nuts sir? You know I have to go with you!” “Crossett stay here. You have already proven your worth but I feel that there might be something down there that’s best if few people know it”. The ex Secret Service agent begun to protest, but Billings spoke: “I offer that your bodyguard can come also down but he will have to wait by the lift. Under no circumstance may he leave that area”. Johnson looked at the soldier. He didn’t seem too happy with the idea but shrugged. He nodded then to Billings who looked on his eyes before they all entered the lift. He chose the bottom level button and pressed it. Johnson asked: “What’s on the others?” “Research laboratories and machine shops but presently unused. We can stop by those later if you like but I think what you want to see is on that level”. Sensing still no threat, Johnson kept trying to relax a bit. After some never ending seconds, the elevator stopped and the doors opened showing three corridors: one in front and the others on the sides of the lift. 303

“Your bodyguard stays here”. “I trust him completely”. “This is not about trust Colonel. What you are going to see is something that was kept hidden for many years. If some people knew that you have that information they would stop at nothing to hunt you down”. “OK then. Let’s get this over with. But be warned that you won’t leave the sight of my weapon”. “This way please, Colonel”. He pointed ahead “I will show you how all of this begun”. He then proceeded in front and Johnson followed, keeping his rifle ready. Crossett waited reluctantly by the lift giving Johnson the hand sign to keep his head down. The corridor ended up on a massive dark hangar where few things could be seen. “Let me get the lights Colonel. Billing hit a button on the wall and the ceiling projectors immediately started going on. The bright white pointed to a location on the middle of a hangar. And a saucer shaped UFO was on the middle of it. Johnson immediately started to react to the threat but Billings cut in: “We recovered it on a crash a long time ago! There are no aliens around!” Johnson then noticed that one of the sides of it was smashed. Finding no threats he lowered the laser and asked: “When? Why weren’t we informed?” “It’s a long story and we haven’t finished the introduction yet. There’s still something else for you to see”. He led Johnson back the corridor and turned into the left hallway, passing Crossett on the way who looked in anxiety but Johnson told him that everything was OK. They led to a door and when the turned on the lights of that room Johnson was amazed. Sectoids. With their big bulgy black eyes staring back at him with the same gaze they have when they are alive. Four dead Sectoids rested on huge glass cylinders, with half of them wrecked by the crash, others pretty much intact. And the machinery. It was new but at the same time it looked old. “For how long do you keep all of this down here?” He kept his eyes on the dead Sectoids. “That’s where our story begins. There’s an office on the end of the other corridor. I suggest you tell your men that everything is OK when we reach it and sit down there to have a talk”. They went back, all sorts of questions coming through Johnson’s mind. After the remaining corridor turned out OK he told his men to stand down and sat on an office chair in front of a desk. Billings sat directly opposite him. “I wondered for how much they would keep the secrecy”. “Who? The Pentagon?” “Doesn’t matter yet. Tell me Johnson, have you ever heard of a place called Roswell, in New Mexico?” Seeing his negative answer he continued. “Well, back on 1947 there were reports that a flying disk had crashed over there on the desert and that the Army Air Force had retrieved it. The newspapers of the day made a

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big fuss about it but by the end of the day the military had denied it saying it was a weather balloon. But actually it was true, although there were two craft that crashed, after a midday collision between both”. “You knew about the aliens since 1947 and didn’t warn the world even when they started attacking us?” “No one on his base knows why it was done or the whole truth. I doubt even General Smith knew. We knew parts and were warned not to discuss them with anyone or even ask for information we weren’t supposed to know. The penalty for it would be instant death”. “Who told you that? From whom do you receive your orders?” “From Smith. From upwards on I have no idea of who gave him the orders. I always thought I had to be someone on the top hierarchy but I never knew. I was waiting for their orders when you burst into the command center, but they never came. Something serious must have happened”. Johnson couldn’t believe the man’s words. He felt completely hopeless. “Continuing with our story, one was an unoccupied Apollo-type UFO and was unmanned. That was the one the press talked about and that was brought to WrightPatterson Air Force Base, Ohio by the Army personnel. The other craft is the one you have just seen. And one of the four aliens who were inside managed to survive the crash. I doubt if the number of people that know what come out of his interrogation but whatever he told them before dying, those same persons took immediate efforts to hide their existence at every level and to contact them”. “That’s treason to the human race you are talking about. The responsibles are worse than Hitler or Stalin!” “Colonel, besides them and the aliens no one knows whatever they agreed on when they eventually established contact. I’m not trying to justify their actions, but think what would have happened if things had leaked out and the government was caught in the open, not knowing how to explain it”. “How come we haven’t prepared since then for their invasion?” “Probably they were deceived by the aliens, who knows? Something that is missing on this whole story is the truth. Many of us on this base who knew the secret thought that we were doing something to help the world. This is our planet also. Only when we heard of the formation of X-Com was that we started wondering what had been going on, but we could never say anything against it”. “You are not humans anymore! Have you considered what you might have done? You sold us all to the aliens!” “You are right on that part, Colonel, although a bit incorrect. We are not totally humans but we still prefer mankind over the aliens”. “What are you talking about?”

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“This. The last part of my story”. And he brought his head down and raised his hands to his eyes. They moved around a bit and Johnson couldn’t understand what the man was doing. Then he raised his head and looked at the X-Com Colonel. Violet, cat like eyes almost mirrored Johnson’s face. His first reaction was to get his rifle, which he had laid against the chair. His arm hit the rifle and dropped it to the floor. Thinking fast he took his laser pistol out of his holster while Billings was shouting and raising his hands in a hurry: “I’m unarmed Colonel and I kept my promise I made up there!” Johnson stopped and saw that the hybrid had taken cover under the table, his arms covering his head. “OK. You can get back up but really slowly”. Getting his rifle back while keeping the pistol pointed at him he said: “Now keep talking but with your hands on the top of the table”. “Try to relax Colonel. You will understand when I finished. The aliens gave to certain men knowledge on cloning technology and they decided to try to combine alien and human DNA to create a hybrid. After some initial failures they eventually succeeded. I’m the result of that experimentation, being the first hybrid ever created on Earth. My alien father is one of the bodies you saw in there. They took DNA from it and combined it with human ova, artificially inserting it afterwards on my human mother’s womb. I don’t think she ever knew she was pregnant since she most likely was abducted and I never met her”. “You are the first? Where are the others?” “Most of us were assigned to this base as we were conceived, receiving a human identity. Besides the ones here at Area 19 there’s still some assigned to Groom Lake. The others I never asked, knowing what the penalty would be like to pose too many questions. Eventually, through the death of the humans who knew this secret or their reassignment to other places we become the only ones on the base who knew of the existence of all this, besides General Smith. We become also the ones who had access to the underground facilities. Other US secret projects, like the Aurora and the Super Valkyrie, were more like a cover. We originally occupied Papoose but we had to move to here when X-Com was assigned to that place. And we could never tell it also to anyone else, because if we revealed our existence we would be hunt down and imprisoned as aberrations”. “You most likely would be plainly sentenced to death or life-imprisonment by any court on Earth”. “Yes. And while we are hybrids, we inherited from mankind some of its distinctive traits, including human feelings and a desire for freedom. We don’t support the aliens Colonel, we have seen that our fate will be similar to yours if they take over Earth”. “But if you stay here you will most likely die. At least with them you have a chance of living”. “Yes, but at what price? We also have, like humans and aliens, psionic ability, although we are naturally born to be more conscious of ours. We have heard the voice of the Starspawn, their collective mind or whatever it is, giving its commands. That’s slavery for us also, Colonel. And we instinctively fight it the same way you do”. “You have psionic abilities?!” Johnson tightened his grip again on the pistol.

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“And humans also. You are just not trained to use them and so aren’t we. Not that surprisingly we where never trained on them, otherwise the puppeteers might end up being the puppets. But we don’t need them to be free now”. “What do you mean? I have to put you into custody! I can’t just let you wonder around” “You and me, Colonel, we both know what will happen if this comes out. Your troops up there would more likely kill me on sight if they knew about it. And the rest of the world would have the same reaction. But what have we done to deserve such punishment? We were slaves, Colonel, with no control over our lives. We are not directly responsible for our actions, because we done them at gunpoint. I saw many of my companions get punished for questioning even the slightest order”. “That doesn’t justify or make up for what you have done!” “You are right. And to show you that we just want to be able to live without ever harming the human race again we will give Earth something it desperately needs now to survive”. “What could that be?” “Helping on how to use the alien technology to build UFOs. That was our mission down here to service such craft. We understand their secrets”. “That’s a gift too good to accept. What do you want in return?” “That only you, Colonel, know about our existence here at the base. And if Earth wins, that we are allowed by you to leave and live the rest of our lives in a remote place, but free”. “How do you expect me to trust you? It would be like carrying a scorpion close to my body, knowing that one day it would strike”. “Colonel Johnson, have you ever wondered why General Smith wasn’t right away informed of the President’s orders when they came and only had time to do a desperate action when he arrived? Could you imagine what he would have done if he had been informed on time by his Executive officer?” Billings kept looking and Johnson suddenly understood that the hybrid had already helped X-Com once. But he kept questioning. “Even then, how do you know I will keep my part of the deal? How do I know about you?” “You will have both answers when I start talking to your scientific personnel and working with them on UFO construction. One way or the other we will reveal what we know for mankind. It’s called choosing the lesser evil out of two ones. And if mankind wins, it’s up to you then to decide what will mankind do about us Colonel. If you want I will give you the names of all one hundred and sixty-three hybrids here, including myself. I just asked for your discretion meanwhile”. Damn! Johnson cursed everyone and everything.

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August 4th, 1999
Geneva, Switzerland
Number Three realized that he needed a lot of maneuvering in order to maintain his status on the group. General Smith’s death had been a terrible blow to his plans and the meeting had been specifically called to discuss the results of the Siberian attack. The defeat of the aliens when the nuclear reactor had meltdown and exploded was irrelevant for the whole matter, but the fact that one of his agents had been killed and possibly exposed put a grim future on his horizon. “Seems that things didn’t went exactly as planned. Yes, we have managed to inflict terrible casualties on X-Com and Russia’s military capabilities, giving us also move leverage as you planned, but other things weren’t taken into account”. Number One was still a trained hunter. He knew when his prey was injured and loosing blood. “However, your actions have compromised the security of the group. X-Com have searched Area 51 and found out our little toys. Further if we had been informed on time of this situation we might have been able to prevent it or minor its damage”. The ten other men in the room waited for him to speak. He knew that this was more than his position on the group. If negative judgment was passed his own life was at stake. “What they found there is of no significance. General Smith was the link that connected it to us and now he’s gone and took all the secrets he knew to the grave”. Number Two added quickly: “But how will they explain the presence of the artifacts? Worse yet, what if they detect our collaborators? That would make them ask a lot of questions”. “A major confrontation erupted right after X-Com took control of our facilities. Some of base personnel resisted imprisonment and in the middle of the confusion about thirty of our agents got killed. The others know that they can only run and try to join us again or keep themselves quiet. If X-Com or any nation ever learned of their presence they would be immediately killed”. “How can you be sure of that?” “They are half-humans, their instinct to survive will surpass anything else”. “But there’s still the actions of General Smith to justify for! There will be investigations to find with who he was conspiring with!” Number Three knew that he had managed to get the challenge set so that he could play his trump card: “And that’s the beauty of it”. One and Two both looked at each other suddenly realizing that there were other factors in motion. The leader of them all asked: “Explain”. “My plan involves a deeper destabilization of the Earth’s nations. The attack on Russia was the first step. Not only it has brought the Russian to an extremely weak condition but it also drove a wedge between them and X-Com. The failure of Smith to prevent X-Com from retrieving the plasma data was unexpected but it gives us a window of opportunity to exploit”.

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Pushing one button in the table in front of him, a map of the United States appeared on the wall behind him. “We already had long-time plans concerning the US and those are still in operation. There’s time though to make use of rumors concerning a general feeling going through the military high ranks concerning the priority being given to X-Com when dealing with the aliens, something that the late General Smith helped to reinforce. Every X-Com officer of the North American Command is aware of this and quite frankly, if the US President hadn’t personally endorsed collaboration with the unit, things would be much different”. “We all know about this before”. “Yes and X-Com also. Remember Eisenhower’s words in 1960 when on his farewell speech from the Presidency he warned about the dangers of the military-industrial complex? What X-Com has uncovered is that the presence of the aliens was known before to people on Earth and one general was keeping the secret. He couldn’t possibly do it for himself so were are the rest of his associates?” “In the military”. One spoke and Three could see that the rest of the group suddenly realized where he was getting at. Good, Three thought, but not sufficient. He added: “X-Com will start to have their own suspicions about the loyalty of the high-ranking hierarchies of the US. Worse yet, they will have trouble whom to trust in the US government about it. If you want to hunt, you do not warn your prey in advance. And while they are looking inside the Pentagon we do our own bidding”. The trump card was played, it was now time for Number Three to eliminate any further resistance. “How? General Smith’s death was a major disaster for our intelligence!” One replied. Three smiled to himself. “He wasn’t the only one inside their North American operation”. With that sentence and the reaction it provoked on the room, he knew he was again riding the wave. That his value and position had suddenly rose almost back to where it was before the whole fiasco as they paused to consider this new information. “But by your previous statements at the meetings, their access to the technological information is a major disaster”. Still, One kept trying, the old fool. “That technology has its own limitations as they will find out about. Yes, I would prefer that they didn’t have access to it, but they eventually would. Let them have it. It won’t do anything than slowing down the aliens’ forces. And it will keep the aliens dealing with a lot of other things than us”. “All the previsions about X-Com have turned wrong. By now the whole project should have been terminated on financial basis. Instead, from what is reported, the Russian base will soon be operational again with new recruitment and more purchases of war material”. “That money can only be coming in through unofficial ways. If the Council of Funding Nations knew about it they will quickly launch an investigation. All we have to do is find out from where it’s coming and let the proof reach the Council”. “And what if they find another way to expand their activities? Pretty soon their actions could be close to disestablishing the whole plan and making the aliens unpredictable”. “In that case, we tell exactly the aliens how to crush them. There’s one rule in warfare: destroy the enemy’s ability to wage a war and you will win the war”. 309

August 6th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
“I take it that you read the official report?” Johnson swiveled on his chair, while looking at Williams. The NSC member had flown to Nevada as soon as he had received the briefing describing the whole operation and the treachery committed by General Smith. He came forward and replied: “Yes. A whole bunch of crap, if you ask me but the President bought it and I pretended to also”. “Why pretended?” Johnson wanted to put him just in the right position before the strike. Williams looked shocked and countered: “There’s more to it than the words you have chosen for the report. One high-ranking US officer doesn’t suddenly went nuts and tries to assassinate someone, for Christ’s sake!” “Dr. Mantell did a full autopsy on him and found abduction marks. We have deduced that he must be under alien influence when he did that, although we have no idea of how”. After he was done talking, Williams took a deep look at him and replied: “Something stinks here Johnson and you better tell me what it is. A lot of people down at Langley and the Pentagon find the whole concept unbelievable. A high-ranking US military officer running his own operation and dealing with aliens? Nonsense! I feel that you or someone must be hiding something!” “Really? Maybe they should think about their own skeletons in the closet before starting to point accusations at us”. Johnson barked back in anger. Williams stopped, feeling a great fear. “What do you mean? Tell me the truth Colonel and I will do the same. I told you before that there were things that you better not know about but you might have come with the same conclusions that I did”. “If I told you what really happened here you would do the same? About the hybrids, the laser technology, etc.?” Johnson waited patiently for an answer. Williams shook his head. “No, I couldn’t tell you everything. But I could confirm or deny what you think that goes around us, ‘unseen’”. God damn it, Johnson cursed. The idiot knew about this right along! He tried to contain his anger. “Well Mr. Williams, what if I tell you that General Smith had his own operation right here on his side of Nevada? And that he had kept a crashed UFO and four dead Sectoids hidden in a secret basement?” “What?” “And that he didn’t do it for himself for sure. You might have heard about the confrontation that occurred while we were investigating for alien presence. We suspect that it was done by his own agents”. “I read about it. Thirty or something people killed”. “It was self-defense. When we stormed into Smith’s little secret in the middle of the desert, they refused to listen to our calls to disarm themselves and resisted. In the middle of the confrontation they all got killed, along with Billings. The official history is

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different, of course. But so is the part stating that Smith acted on his own. I know that he had help on the outside”. Two persons already know about the terrible secret I carry, Williams thought. Is it time to bring a third one into it? “Colonel, you are right. I have thought about the events you told before and come up with the conclusion that there is a major conspiracy going on for years to hide the alien presence. I don’t know why or who they are but I’m definitely sure that there is one and I’m trying to unravel it”. “Is X-Com infiltrated?” “I don’t know”. “You don’t know or you don’t want to tell me the answer?” “Believe me Colonel, there are things that I will only tell you on a need-to-know basis, but in this case I haven’t ascertained for sure that possibility” “Very well”. He paused for a minute. Williams broke through the silence. “Now what’s this story about the confrontation? Weren’t there any survivors? We need to make a full interrogation into them”. “Go and dig up their bones then Williams. We have sent you the official report done by the Branch. Your team can interrogate the rest of the USAF personnel at Groom if you want but I doubt you will ever get any answer. That Davies character you sent to us sure can be intimidating in interrogations, let me tell you”. Williams shook his head. “Remember when you asked me if I was holding information? It appears you are doing the same, Johnson. Maybe Davis should use all his talents on you Colonel”. A dry grin appeared on the X-Com Colonel’s face. “It might be. Remember what you told me about need to know basis? It works both ways. If you need to worry about it I will tell you”. The nerve of the man! Williams was about to complain but decided to keep his mouth shut. “Touché Colonel. Let’s just hope that both of us know what we are doing”. After the conversation was finished and Williams had left his office, Johnson was doing some paperwork when there was a knock on the door. “Come in”, he said. Billings entered the room but instead of wearing his Air Force uniform he was dressed in civilian clothes, wearing a fake beard and glasses, and behind him came Dr. Mantell. “Good afternoon Colonel”. “The same to you Dr. Young”. Both of them had decided to fake Billings’s death, along with some of the other hybrids and hide their presence inside Papoose Lake complex as X-Com technicians or scientists. All of the other military personnel and the research planes were being transferred up north to the Tonopah Test Range and X-Com would take control of the entire base, both Papoose and Groom Lakes. “Dr. Mantell and I have just gone over the research you have already done. I must say I am impressed”.

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“Well, I must add that we are the ones impressed with you, Dr. Young. For someone out of this project, you seemed to be a quick learner about the basic concepts behind the alien technology”. Dr. Mantell added, smiling. “Dr. Young will be of help then, Dr. Mantell?” “Colonel, do you remember I had discussed with you before the problems that the XCom scientific community was having with understanding the navigational systems behind the UFOs?” “Sorry doctor, but I sometimes get lost in the middle of the technical terms”. “Well, from what I’ve heard of Mr. Young’s ideas, I believe we are about to reach a breakthrough in our research”. The scientist was completely smiling. “Recruiting him was a good idea then?” Johnson looked at Billings, who looked back but said nothing. “You bet Colonel, this men is worth his weight in gold to our research. I don’t know where you found him, but we couldn’t be more pleased with him”. “Very well Dr., I’m glad to hear that. Now if you could excuse us, we still need to take care of some things about his transfer to X-Com”. “Very well, I will be at the main lab if you need me”. The scientist gave a long handshake to Billings and left. After that, the hybrid turned to Johnson and asked: “Is the bargain still up?” He raised an eyelid. “Yeah, don’t worry about it, your identity is still a secret. I won’t say anything to anyone else right now”. “Good. Will we be transferred to Germany?” “I don’t know yet. It would be better, so that none of the men at Groom recognizes you, but I need to fabricate solid background checks on you first”. “And on the other hand you still don’t know for sure if you can trust us”. Johnson frowned. The hybrid seemed to be exactly what he was thinking. “It’s logical Colonel and I don’t have any bad feelings about it. I would do the same in your shoes”. “Scientists and military personnel usually don’t mix here. Keep it that way. I’ve already had a chat with all my soldiers who went to Area 19 and told them to keep their mouths shut”. “Was having enough of military life already. Thank you Colonel”. “Just try to get out of sight from anyone that might recognize you. And remember I’m watching you”.

August 7th, 1999
Kremlin, Moscow, Russian Federation
On this way to see President Larianov, Illyuschenko had noticed the preparations being put into place by the Russian government to prepare for war. He was accompanied with 312

Colonel Boronin and both men had flown from Stalingrad base in the Caucasus to Moscow using a military flight. The Commander noticed how under the disguise of an escalation of the conflict in Chechnya and the radioactive cloud released by the reactor in Siberia, Moscow and all major cities had been put into almost martial law, with the authorities claiming it to be due to possible “terrorist attacks from fanatics”. The radiation released had spread itself largely in unpopulated areas, but those would still need years of cleansing. It was a major ecological disaster but at least the aliens had been contained although few people back at X-Com liked to discuss the matter. Even Dr. Chevereux had privately expressed to him his doubts about if the retrieval of the information had really been worth the disaster they had caused over Siberia. The X-Com Commander had before heard of such actions, specially the ones dealing with press censorship but now on the way from the airport to the Kremlin he finally saw a nation preparing itself for war although his citizens didn’t knew it yet. There seemed to be roadblocks everywhere and he had seen columns of mechanized vehicles and antiaircraft missiles posted close to the highway. His grandfather had participated on the defense of Moscow from the Fascists hordes and he thought if it was the same, back then and now. Every soldier they passed acted as if there was an under siege mentality although he could see that many seem to care less at the order and a few even scowled at it. However some looked seriously worried and Illyuschenko wondered what rumors might be coming out from the survivors of the Red Army units that had fought the aliens at Azamas 36. Larianov is a fool if he thinks he can keep the lid on that one through press censorship, Illyuschenko said to himself, not even the Communist Party managed to control gossip. Idiots, haven’t they learned that they cannot defeat the aliens this way, that even with all the tanks and guns we are outnumbered? He said to himself while going through the Kremlin’s reinforced security checkpoints. When he reached the outside of the President’s office he looked over at this uniform. For concealment reasons he could never hear his X-Com’s dress uniform, so he had dug up his old Russian Army clothes and put them on. It had been a strange experience at that moment back on Mother One, he remembered as he looked himself at the mirror before boarding the flight to Moscow. What seemed to be an entire lifetime had pasted before his eyes, from the moment he had been chosen to the Kiev Academy and later when he had finally received the General’s star. A whole lifetime! Was it worth it? Is it worth right now? Clearing his thoughts he entered the room. He was curious to know the reason of such a request from the Russian President to have a meeting personally. When he and Boronin entered the room he saw Larianov, together with several other government officials. Oddly he saw that there had been some changes in the Russian Cabinet lately. Irinov, the Defense Minister, was no longer among them so he considered that the man had been dismissed from his job due to the Siberian fiasco. Something strange was also present and Illyuschenko noticed why in a flash. Now there was a huge Russian flag unwrapped on the wall behind the standing-up men, where before it was standing on a pole. Are there men trying to impose patriotism on me? He asked himself and started noticing other subtle hints. The fact that they had invited him to the Kremlin, making him to have to leave his X-Com uniform behind and wear his Russian one. And

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where’s that master spy Verchenko? Dismissed or hiding behind the scenes, manipulating? He decided to not let them have an advantage on him. He didn’t bother to give a salute and spoke out “Commander Dmitri S. Illyuschenko presenting, sirs!”. Boronin seemed was puzzled at the General’s presentation and saluted afterwards, apparently not noticing the emotional trap laid by the other men. President Larianov seemed a little frustrated but greeted them back and told them to take places at the meeting table. After everyone was seated, with the Russian government facing both X-Com officers he spoke again: “Thank you for your short time in granting us with a meeting, General. I want to clarify some things out after the shameful incident at Azamas 36”. Trying to act as normal as possible Illyuschenko threw a disguised barb. “Our country was extremely lucky that the reactor had gone critical at that point, sir. Of course we will have to deal with the radiation released for decades but the aliens left the area”. Larianov stiffed. Stupid General. I don’t need to be reminded of my failures. “Yes, extremely lucky. Of course we were sure that our next counterattack would be successful”. “Of course sir. But this conversation is meaningless. What do you wanted to discuss about, sir?”. Boronin caught the meaning behind the tone and his eyes turned briefly to the General’s attention. “I…we…this whole matter made us rethink of our recent rifts with X-Com. After all your are Russia’s prime fighting force when facing the aliens and the help you provided during this month’s confrontation although unable to stop the destruction of the research facility showed your resolve and courage”. He wants something, Illyuschenko immediately considered, but what? “It was our duty sir” “Yes and you have done it to the best of your capabilities while we have not try to do so in our duty, which was to assist you”. “Sir, you have your duties and rights stated in the X-Com Charter. There seen to be a certain latitude on every nation to interpret what says there”. “Well General, in this case we want to go a bit further than that. One thing that the attack has shown us was the fallacy of keeping away technology from X-Com. Let’s face it, the Americans are willing to lease their latest Stealth fighters. Why don’t we do the same? After all none of Earth’s technology seem to be able to throw a major punch at the aliens. And only X-Com can develop weapons that will benefit us all one day”. Illyuschenko had to keep himself from jumping at the man. You mean, now that the perspective is so great that the council will dissolve X-Com due to its financial problems, you bastard. If the project were terminated, all of you vultures would quickly land to pick its pieces. Well, I know two things that you don’t. First, our money situation is not getting worse, at least and it might even get better. Second, my people have recovered the laser technology that would have been lost because of your jealousy. It would give me no more pleasure than to tell you the truth but I would be

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putting X-Com’s and Earth’s future at stake. “Thank you very much for your cooperation, sir”. He replied, trying to put as much enthusiasm in his voice as possible. The meeting ended after two hours of discussing several matters regarding coordination with Russia’s military and the cajoling almost drove him nuts meanwhile. He and Boronin then left the Kremlin and boarded two different VIP cars that had brought him there from the airport. The vehicle carrying Illyuschenko then proceeded to one hotel in the center of Moscow while the other returned to the airport. The official reason for his prolonged stay in the Russian capital was the excuse of visiting his sister and some old-time military friends. But the real motive that had brought him here appeared as he reached the hotel and was about to enter his room. When he spotted the two men coming down the corridor he stopped the motion of inserting his bedroom key into the hole and looked at them. They were the latest Western suits but they physique told him that they were no businessman. When they approached him one of them spoke: “General Illyuschenko?” “Yes, who are you?” “We are here to escort you to the meeting you requested”. He looked at the door. “Are you alone?” “All by myself”. “Very well, this way please then, sir” “I’ve met your type before and they weren’t this polite usually. How do I know you are who you claim to be?” “Sir, even out of the Red Army I will always respect you as an officer”. Illyuschenko blinked and realization came to him right afterwards. “Where?” “Afghanistan, a whole lifetime ago. You went to retrieve my company after the guerrillas had trapped us. To the dead and to the living”. Illyuschenko kept a hard face and nodded. “To the dead and to the living. Please lead the way gentlemen”. They took him to a hotel suite in the last floor. Three other men were waiting inside, two of them more henchmen. But the third one was different, having a more casual look, with his fingers full of gold rings and a well-trimmed beard. When Illyuschenko entered he turned the swiveling chair he was seated at and said: “General, it’s been a long time. You disappeared without a trace last year”. “Yes indeed, Mr. Arbatov. And business keeps to prosper I see”. The man shrugged. “What can I say? It’s a shame that people keep fighting one another, but if I don’t supply them with what they need somebody else will. Even NATO’s involvement in Kosovo didn’t change anything. We just had to change into supplying the other side”. “Business as always, indeed”. “And the way the government is acting, pretty soon they will be starting to buy things from me also. What is going on, General? Russia’s looks as if it is getting ready to go to war”.

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“Before we go on, is this room secure?” The man nodded. “I can’t tell you anything about it. However, I can tell you of some interesting surplus war material I’ve got”. “I see. The same type of material that was ‘destroyed’ in Chechnya?” “Even more advanced”. The phrase drew a look of interest into the arms dealer’s face. “I can arrange for a demonstration and them we can discuss prices. But no one else besides us in this room knows about its precedence”. He looked at the security men. “I trust these men with my life and pay well for it. And if they ever spilled their guts they know that they would die shortly and very, very slowly. The same restrictions as with the other batches?” “You will find that this sort of material demands a different customer”. Illyuschenko basically didn’t care of where the alien weapons would end up. A few plasma weapons all over the world wouldn’t make much difference, especially due to their reliance upon Elerium for fuel. Tests at various research facilities had proven the impracticability of artificially manufacturing it and it was not a natural element on the planet. That reduced the military use that could be given to the weapons. Most likely they would end up in other organized crime bands all over the world and be used into special actions. In either case the appearance of a plasma weapon in the black market could always be attributed someone stepping into a crashed UFO. “There are all sorts of weird stories in the street about what’s going on. That material wouldn’t have anything to do with it, would they?” “Draw your own conclusions Mr. Arbatov. But I would say that is some knowledge that would be best kept silent”. He tapped his belt where his sidearm would be if he was carrying and the guards nearly jumped at the threat. “Relax! All of you! The problem is that they are young heh? They don’t go as far as I and haven’t seen before how you deal business General. But that’s what I like about you: straight to the point. Don’t worry. You know that I’m loyal to both costumers and suppliers”. He pointed at the ex-soldier that knew worked for him. “After seeing him I got convinced that if I ever killed you I would be hunted down by your men when they found out”. Illyuschenko took the hand off his belt. Exactly you low-bunch criminal. Interesting how even scum can be important in times of need. Our financial situation has gotten a lot better in the past months but even still the expenses are still increasing. If the whole Swiss deal goes off we would be even worse than before it. And Chechnya told me that black market deals can be sometimes the most reliable source of money, to hell with the law or moral. You are about to become a safeguard to X-Com, Mr. Arbatov. Looking at the arms dealer he didn’t felt too assured but many more would be willing to step into his place, if the man needed to be replaced.

August 26th, 1999
Mother One, Black Forest, Germany
When the door of his office suddenly opened, Dr. Chevereux raised his head from the paperwork he was working on and looked in anger at the intruder. 316

“Qu’est-ce passe?” He grimaced as he recognized the person in front of him. “Dr. Johannes, what’s the meaning of this?!” The scientist took deep gulfs of air and tried to calm herself before speaking: “Dr. Chevereux. It works!” The Frenchman looked at her in puzzlement until realization came to him. “The test engine?!” “Yes! The first results have just come out. It’s amazing! Come and see!” Both of them headed out for the test facility on a run. When they reached the armored room they entered and saw that the blast windows in the control area that opened into the experimentation chamber were opened, with an orange light coming out of them. Dr. Chevereux immediately stopped and shouted while pointing at the windows: “What is that? Do you want us all to die?” Johannes grabbed his arm and pushed: “There’s no problem anymore, we have the reaction perfectly controlled”. She led him into a computer and pointed at the numbers that were scrolling at the monitor. Chevereux looked into them and started enunciating: “Elerium decaying at a consistent rate. Electron release also, wait! These values can’t be right! Mon Dieu! Particle flux going into the reactor at two hundred percent over the safety levels!” He turned to the scientist in charge of the experiment. “Electromagnetic field status?” The man seated grinned: “Reactor giving more than enough energy output to maintain the containment field. We are actually powering this portion of the base with the remaining energy since we don’t have way to store it. The trick was to coordinate between raising the particle accelerator’s output and increasing the power of the electromagnetic containment filled, but we have already come out with an equation. Watch the monitor Dr. Chevereux”. The scientist did and saw that the amount of particles bombarding the Elerium increased, corresponding also to a high emission of energy from the matter-antimatter reaction. The particles were hitting the Elerium and making it release antimatter. The antimatter annihilated with contact with matter and energy was created. But this time they were controlling the reaction and the energy so that the Elerium wouldn’t detonate out of a sudden. A thousand technical words came to his mind about what he was just seeing but he settled with a single one: “Amazing”. His mind was already racing and trying to picture what applications this source of power would allow, besides being able to understand the alien’s weapons. The chief scientist turned to him and said: “And it looks that the outcoming energy flux needs no further suppy of power to electromagnetic containment, which could make even more power available. I suspect it has to do with the creation of the gravity field. Dr. Chevereux frowned in surprise. The scientist noticed and then realized what was happening: “She didn’t told you about the rest?” “What rest?” “Watch the reactor Dr. Chevereux. I couldn’t believe it myself the first time I noticed it in the camera, so I had to lift the blaster windows to see it with my own eyes”. He slowly

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increased the test reactor’s level. Then, slowly, but in a constant ascent the almost two meters high started to lift from the ground as if it was being suspended by the cables still attached to it. Chevereux went livid at the sight. “Anti-gravity….?” “We will have confirmation in about a week, as the measure equipment I’ve just required will take about that long to arrive and to be installed. But the visual results are there to prove it”. Dr. Chevereux stood speechless, looking at the first man made Elerium reactor. This would earn a Nobel Prize in Physics for everyone on the team. Hell, they were about to rewrite physics as it was. But even something more important would come up from this discovery. He took a breath and spoke: “All of you mark this day. Mankind is about to conquer the stars”.

August 30th, 1999
Unknown location, Earth
The Sectoid Commander finished transmitting his last report. Everything was going according to the plan so far although they hadn’t expected that the Terrans would be able to fight so well the Starspawn’s forces. Still, they had managed to fulfill every major part of the plan until now and his superiors were pleased, although a bit concerned about the losses of troops and equipment. There were still some things to explain though. Although the atomic weapons used by the Terrans had been destroyed before they reached the spaceships, one of them must was able to penetrate their defenses and release lethal doses of radiation in the area. His ships were shielded against such explosions but the forces on the ground were not and they had been caught on the open, without any protection as they were about to press their attack. The only option had been to retreat the remaining assets but it didn’t matter. They had already fulfilled their objective, the destruction of the Terran weapon. But by now they had another foothold on the planet. The ancient base set up by the exploratory teams a long time ago had been found intact, with no signs of Terran interference, like planned. The Starspawn had by now extended the original facilities and it was ready to be used in the next steps. Due to its location, they would most likely never find it. And if they did…

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Chapter Fifteen – Paradise Lost
September 20th, 1999
Area 51, Nevada, US
After the virtual reality helmets were put on by everyone else present in one of the labs back at the Groom Lake section, Dr. Young proceeded with his presentation. Every one of the scientists and military personnel present was wearing a circular helmet covering their eyes with an electronic visor. But the former USAF officer was also wearing gloves covered with electronic devices and he used his right hand to click a mouse connected to on a computer standing on a table beside him. All the men and the women in the room saw themselves suddenly transported to Earth’s orbit and standing in the middle of the space surrounding the planet. Looking around themselves they noticed how the virtual environment even included a burning Sun, too bright to be looked at and a multitude of stars like they never imagined, since now there wasn’t any atmosphere to hide their light. And suddenly all of them were at shock, seeing what seemed to be an UFO navigating towards them and closing the range until they were looking at a half-size representation of the craft. Dr. Young’s voice broke their attention. “This is where virtual reality can be quite helpful”. He motioned the craft, one of the saucer shaped type, to stop and it did at his command. The side door opened after some seconds a two-feet height Sectoid came out of it, his size making it ridicule. “Analysis of the aliens captured or killed show that there are variations on their intelligence skills, depending on race and position occupied on their societies. Sectoids are smarter than Floaters or Snakemen, for instance, and the leaders also show seem to shown more skills than the ordinary ground troops. But for the most part their mental abilities are close to humans, except in the psionic area, such as mind control, where we have already heard about their terrifying abilities. This range of abilities found plus the studies conducted on the interfaces found among captured UFOs seemed to say that some of the aliens could be pilots that use physical devices to connect their minds to the navigational systems”. The alien suddenly had a circular metal helmet with a goggle covering his right eye. His hands were also covered with metal gloves, connected to the back with extensions of an unknown material. “However we were unable to determine yet what physical process they use to connect to their physical machines. It is highly likely that they use their mental powers to interact with some yet undetected device on the helmets, but we don’t know. But it gave us a clue on how the alien’s computers operate. We had already determined that the mainframe consists of a network of highly efficient optical processors all aligned together. The mathematical operations done by the processing unit are transmitted through the use of photons, not electrons as in our machines. But surprisingly, it resembles Earth’s own network systems, where all computers are connected through a master terminal”.

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Johnson tried not to frown. What was he saying? That the aliens invented the PC and that Smith’s superiors got the technology from them? He made a mental note to remind Billings not to mention too much the similarities between both technologies. “However, we still don’t have a clue about their operating system that they use to give instructions to the computer on how to operate the craft, for an example. But we know how they must interact with it and may be able to use it to decipher their own machine code”. An image of a man seated at a computer appeared close to the alien. “So far our interaction abilities with the machine were quite limited and time delayed. A computer can only be that fast has it receives the necessary input to perform mathematical operations. But the possible means of mental interaction that the aliens use have led us to believe that the power of their computers to deal with the complexity of physical reactions coming from navigating an UFO must implicate that they have succeeded in removing many barriers between mind and machine. Artificial intelligence is quite limited and we may never be able for a computer to have the human’s capabilities of intuition, imagination and so forth. However, if those abilities are available and directed the computer through the use of the human user, what would happen?” The artificial human representation was suddenly wearing a virtual reality helmet and the whole environment around the seated group suddenly changed. Instead of being in Earth’s orbit they were now navigating through a series of one and zeros coming out of nowhere. “Ladies and gentlemen let me present you the inside of an alien computer. It is actually working right now in another place of the facility and we are seeing a processed view to be able to see the mathematical representations. The computers we are using to allow this are many times more capable than Big Blue, the machine that defeated the former world chess champion Kasparov and still we have problems about being on the edge of their abilities. If we connect directly to the alien mainframe this is what we could see”. The image suddenly transformed itself into a series of strange symbols floating in the air, which were a mixture what seemed to be hieroglyphs and Chinese characters. “These are all suppositions about what we will find when we enter their system. The helmets they wear must be able to interpret their mental commands and transform them into computer instructions similar to these you are seeing. However, since we can’t operate the devices we don’t know what type of data is transmitted to the operating system. What we are doing is like linguistics trying to decipher a completely unknown language, looking for recognizable patterns”. The room again changed into the zeros and ones. “And as you can see it can be quite complicated”. The image lasted for a couple more seconds and gradually it dissolved into the room where they were seated. The whole group removed the helmets and some shook their heads and took deep breaths. Dr. Chevereux was in the front row and said: “Dr. Young, that was a magnifique presentation. I am most impressed by the amount of work you have managed to do in such little time since you joined X-COM. You will receive more means as soon as possible to keep developing your team’s research. What is most urgent in your requirements?”

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Pharris replied on that one. He was wearing an X-COM uniform instead of his civilian clothes and had gotten closer to Dr. Young. “Even the computers we have back at the NSA can’t possibly deal with the amount of calculations necessary. It could take ages attempting to resolve the code, since we have no way to start. However, if a human operator, like I have exposed before aided them, we could greatly speed the process. It’s something never tried so far but it seems that now the technology might allow a shot at it. “What do you propose?” The cryptologist added. “What we have here are pentas, even tetrabytes of data that need to be examined to try to detect patterns. A computer can do it, but meanwhile it goes over a lot of unnecessary stuff since they are not intelligent enough to see hidden patterns. However, if we use one of this to enhance the communication between the human operator and the machine, the individual connected to the computer can tell it what are the most interesting pieces of data. The processors will then concentrate on those, hopefully reducing the process. However the operators would have to be highly trained in dealing with operating systems and recognizing patterns”. “We will get the best computer scientists”. Pharris shook his head and replied to Dr. Chevereux. “Not scientists. We need a very special type of individuals, indeed”.

September 29th, 1999
MIT, Massachusetts, US
As Jake was getting closer to his dorm building he told himself to quit being so paranoid. He had stepped outside to the nearest convenience store to get himself some soda and food before heading back to his computer at his room. He needed to complete an assignment for one of his Computer Science classes. Although he knew that he could make big time money without a college decree, he felt that if he knew how to walk decently he would run even well later. Unfortunately the money didn’t seemed to be enough for everything, from keeping up with the hardware and paying for the tuition fees, so some of his computer talents were used to get illegal means of financing. But he was a quiet type of hacker, erasing all signs of his presence into the databases that he had broken into to steal credit card numbers. He took every step not to get caught but there always a risk that one investigator might one day get an electronic trail back to him. He tried not to think of it when the subject came up on his mind, but the dark-haired man he had seen at the convenience store wearing dark glasses and a suit had troubled him. He was reading a magazine at the newsstand but as Jake looked occasionally from the counter line at him he saw that the man looked to be focusing his attention on him. He acted calm and never looked back when he paid and left the store, but dropped the change on purpose outside and away from the store to see if the man would come out. Nothing had changed, so he kept walking back towards campus but still a bit shaken from the experience. As he was going up the stairs and looking for his keys, he saw that the 322

entrance door suddenly opened and the same man came out from the building, but with his glasses removed and looking directly at him. Noise of cars come from behind him and he turned to see two cars parking in front of the building, with more suited men coming out from them. A voice made him turn. “Good evening Mr. Landon. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Please don’t try to escape”. The man had moved closer to him. “What do you want? I did nothing”. “Really? Well I could bust you right here for violation of several federal laws regarding impersonation, theft and illegal entry into protected computer systems”. The young man looked in despair and said: “I ain’t saying nothing anymore until I talk to a lawyer”. “It’s your choice kid. But first listen to what I got to say: I can read you your rights and the gentlemen back there will cuff you take you away to serve a long time sentence after the trial. Or you can come with us also and in exchange for your collaboration the US government won’t press any charges against you and forget the whole subject”. Jake was suddenly puzzled but still remained cautious. “Yeah? And what is this ‘collaboration’ all about?” “You won’t know until you accept it. But it will be put into writing by the US Attorney General to guarantee what I have just offered”. “No bull?” Jake was skeptical of the whole matter. He still hoped that he might put this off in a court. “Your choice. The way I see it and I know you know it also, your ass will end up in a federal prison if you don’t accept it. Our experts have already figured out how you entered the Bank of Connecticut system and traced it back to you”. Bank of Connecticut! Jake remembered that it was his hardest successful attempt and he had taken triple care on that one. Even if they only had a hint that it was himself on that one, what would happen if they investigated his other hackering activities. Who told him that they hadn’t already? As the question raced through his mind he already knew what to do. “Well Mr. G-man, where do I sign?” Mark Davis smiled to himself upon hearing those words. Although he wasn’t any more part of the Bureau, some things were still the same. He waved back at the other agents and two of them went forward to meet them. “Get a suitcase ready. Pack to be away for a long time. These agents will escort you”. Leaving the room he went back to one of the cars that were waiting outside.

October 7th, 1999
Pacific Coast, Washington State, US
Sitting at the crew compartment of the Skyranger, Markovitch kept fiddling with