X-COM SAGA #3: JAPANESE MONSTERS
by Russ Brown
Copyright (1994) MicroProse Software, Inc. X-COM Copyright 1994, MicroProse Software, Inc. X-COM is a Trademark of MicroProse Software, Inc.
"We shouldn't be doing this at night," Akira complained to no one in particular. Captain Marcelle would know it was directed at him. There was silence in the Skyranger for a minute or two, just the thrumming of the jet engines. Then the captain stood and walked casually to the back of the cargo compartment, toward Akira. He looked at each trooper, nodded his head and flashed a forced smile at a few of them. When he reached Akira, he squatted down, forcing Reynolds, the rookie trooper sitting behind Akira, to move back. The captain brought his face very close beside Akira's, with his mouth up to his ear. He reached up and turned off Akira's headset so the other's wouldn't hear. "There are people dying in Tokyo, squaddie," he whispered, "your people. I'd think you'd be anxious to get there." Akira said nothing. He could feel that the captain needed a shave, and if the acrid smell of sweat was any indication, he was also very nervous. "Anyway," he continued, "you have a right to your opinions, but keep them to yourself. The rookies have it hard enough as it is. And if you don't care about your countrymen, think about all the funding were going to loose if Japan sees this as alien retaliation for its X-COM support and backs out." With that the captain pushed on his knees to stand up and turned to face the rest of the strike team. "We should arrive in Tokyo just minutes before dawn. We can secure the area around the Skyranger to provide a safe haven for civilians, then spread out into the city. We won't have to wait for morning because Tokyo has street lights." The previous afternoon, an X-COM radar base in China had tracked a large UFO over Japan. It had disappeared over Tokyo for only a few minutes, then shot off out of radar range over the Pacific. It must have dropped off the aliens that were shooting up the place. Without a UFO, Akira had no clear mission objective other than killing bugs and trying not to kill civilians. From news reports, they had learned that the alien's terrorist activities were confined to a few city blocks, and the Tokyo police had surrounded the area and were keeping civilians out. But there were still civilians in the area, and the police had taken heavy casualties trying to help them. Up until now they had had very few, if any civilians to deal with on UFO recovery missions. Now there would probably be more of them than bugs - a few blocks of Tokyo could mean thousands of people. The captain held up his alien plasma rifle, recovered in a previous raid, and checked to make sure the clip was seated properly. "They don't know were coming," he said, "but they sure as hell will know when we arrive. Up until now we've remained a secret, with only a few lively rumors from our trip to England in March. If we want to keep it that way, we have to make sure we recover all our casualties and give as little information as possible to the locals, including the police." What do we tell them, Akira wondered, that we're a UN peacekeeping force that just happened to be in town with our plasma weapons? What happens if a stray shot takes out a civilian? Then the media won't leave it alone until the Japanese Government tells them what happened. Akira glanced behind him at Reynolds. The trooper was fumbling with his plasma rifle, nervously checking over the lock on the clip and the large trigger, probably designed to accommodate both floater and sectoid fingers. Reynold's motions were jerky and nervous. They didn't increase Akira's confidence in him. "Remember, Reynolds," Akira said, "I'll go first. Just stay were you can see me and some of the area in front of me. I'll signal you if I see any bugs and we'll kill them together." The rookie took a deep breath and calmed down some. He started chewing again on the same gum he'd had since they took off. "We still have a few hours," Akira said, "try and get some sleep." "Sorry," Reynolds whispered, "I just don't like flying." Akira tried not to smile. He lay back against the wall and closed his eyes, but he couldn't get to sleep. He kept seeing visions of Japanese, people he knew, facing floaters and sectoids and reapers. He's afraid of flying, Akira thought. I envy him his ignorance. four hours later, as they descended on autopilot and the Skyranger switched to vertical thrusters, Akira had not slept at all. But he had to shake Reynolds hard to wake him. This would be Akira's third mission without Crossett for backup. She had spent a month recovering from her wounds and exercising her damaged leg. In the mean time they had replaced her with a rookie, who had lasted only two missions - blown open by a plasma shot in Iceland. Now another rookie had stepped up to take her place. Why did they keep signing on? Why did they stay when they saw the casualty rates? Why did I stay, Akira wondered. Everyone thinks they're immortal. The Skyranger hit ground and the ramp began to lower. "No lights out there," Sergeant Evans called from the back, "so get flares ready, and kill the inside lights." Akira transferred his plasma pistol to his left hand and grabbed an electro-flare off his belt. The alien contours of the pistol actually seemed to fit better in his left hand. The lights went out. As far as he knew, Far Squad had no UFO to secure on this mission, so after the rocket tank had moved to the bottom of the ramp, Akira poked Marin, the Near Squad leader, and waved her to the right. Akira called "Far Squad left," and jumped off the ramp to the left. In the moonlight he could make out the shapes of nearby buildings, but the bright neon signs and interior lights were all out. I guess we're in the right place, Akira thought. "Where are your street lights, Captain?" he said out loud. The Skyranger's computer had set them down in a small plaza behind a blocky office building. The back of a small gas station was visible to the right of the offices, with what appeared to be a convenience store beyond that. To his left was a warehouse of some kind. Above the warehouse he could see the brightly lit high-rise buildings of Shinjuku - giant banks, department stores and hotels clustered around the ordered confusion of Shinjuku Station. He saw no sign of movement, but noticed a dark, prone figure on the sidewalk between the office building and the gas station. He threw the flare, and it landed within a few feet of the still form. When it hit, the shock activated it and it lit up the corner of the office building and the surrounding parking lot. The dark figure on the ground was now obviously the body of a man in a business suit. The sidewalk around him dark with blood. Akira had grown up in Yokohama and had taken the train to Shinjuku many times. He had fond memories of those outings, and he realized that after today they might be ruined forever. He was suddenly aware of Reynolds, squatting in the open on the ramp above his head. "Get down here," he whispered. Then he moved along the belly of the Skyranger, using the front landing gear as cover to check out the door of the office building. While he tried to peer in through the glass door, he noticed a light moving up above. Through a third floor window, he could see someone waving a light of some kind. The light moved up to the window, then stopped, occasionally catching pieces of its owner in its beam. After a few seconds, a young woman's voice yelled down in Japanese. "Help us, please. It's in here somewhere!" Seconds later the light shook and fell, and the woman screamed. The light must of landed at a strange angle - it still shone against the ceiling and far wall of the room, casting disfigured shadows of the woman or whatever else was in the room with her. Reynolds didn't speak Japanese, but he had heard the scream and reacted. He was off the ramp and running for the front door. As Akira jumped up to intercept him, he heard the distinct sound of a plasma weapon off to the right, near the scouting rocket tank. As he reached Reynolds, just in front of the door, he saw the trail of a rocket and the entire landing area was lit up by an explosion near the gas station. Secondary explosions continued as he pulled the trooper down beside the door. Just the thing to get an alien's attention while we're wrestling in plain view, he thought. "Let me go first," Akira said harshly, "and keep your head on." He checked through the door again and still saw nothing, so he stood to move in. He was not used to the weight of the body armor he was wearing, formed from alien alloys, and now realized he had pulled a muscle in his right leg jumping up to stop Reynolds. He put all his weight on it, winced, and decided he could bear it for a while. He moved forward into a lobby and reception area, lit only by moonlight and the eerie glow of gasoline fires. At the opposite end of the lobby, hallways went right and left. There was also an alcove at the far end with two sets of elevator doors. The elevators would be useless without power. Akira decided to check down the hallway to the right for stairs. He turned to call Reynolds forward to cover the other side, but he was already moving up into position. He might work out, Akira thought, and moved cautiously down the hall. He saw the door to the stairwell, three doors down on the far side. There was no time to check out all the rooms on this level - he would have to rely on Reynolds to guard his rear. He walked ahead, then thought he heard movement inside the last door before the one marked 'stairs.' He crouched quietly beside it for a few seconds and was sure he heard a sliding or scraping sound. He opened the door and got down. It was very dark, so he tossed in a flare. He was in what looked like a small waiting room for a doctor's office - a few chairs, mats and low tables. A small area filled with office equipment and a door to the left were partially hidden by a paper divider. No sign of aliens. Akira went wide to the left, using the chairs as cover. He saw movement behind the screen and was ready to strafe everything behind it with plasma fire when he noticed a human leg. A civilian. He stood and walked beside the screen. Something flew and hit him in the chest, bouncing off his armor, then there was a crash like breaking glass. Then something else hit him in the head. He lifted his pistol, but the barrage stopped, and he found himself facing four huddling civilians - a woman, a man, and two young boys. "It's all right!" he reassured them, "we're here to help ... special police," he added lamely. Had they been huddled there all night? He saw motion at the corner of his vision, near the door he had come in through. He new immediately it wasn't human and spun to fire, but two shots came from the alien in rapid succession. One missed off to Akira's left, the other came right at him. The impact jerked him back, but he managed to bend over and stay on his feet. Another shot went over his head. Akira brought up his pistol and fired. He barely had time to look at what he was shooting at before it was motionless and steaming on the hallway floor. It was the strangest alien he'd seen yet - like a man-sized, bloated snake or lizard with arms. Reynolds appeared in the doorway, brimming with energy and smiling uncontrollably. "I got him!" he whispered loudly, "I heard the crash in here and was on my way when I saw him come across the hall." Akira noticed a numbness throughout the right side of his chest and abdomen. He was still bent over, afraid to straighten up or pull his left hand away from his chest out of fear of what he might see. Reynolds finally figured out what had happened. "You need a medic?" he asked. "Just get back out there and watch the hall," Akira ordered. Reynolds lost his smile and left. The numbness was receding and being replaced by sharp pain, spreading out into his right armpit and down into his groin. Akira looked to the side and saw the woman tearing off pieces of her clothing, trying to wrap her husband's leg. It had been hit by the stray shot from the alien and was badly damaged. It wasn't bleeding much though - the plasma must have cauterized the wound. Akira straightened up and pulled his hand away from his chest. His armor had absorbed most of the blast. A small area of skin had been exposed and burned away on the right side of his abdomen. It didn't look too serious, but it hurt like hell. Damn civilians, he thought. Next time we should just stun them all. As he left the room he saw Reynolds on one knee behind a chair in the lobby. He continued down to the stairwell and went in quickly. Had the snakeman they killed come down from the third floor? Were there more on the second, or in the rooms he hadn't entered off the lobby? At any rate, it hadn't sounded like the woman up in the window had been shot, so there was a chance she was still alive. Akira decided to go there first, then work his way back down to the Skyranger. He made his way cautiously up the stairwell, checking every turn, until he reached the third floor. The door out of the stairwell was locked. One shot from his pistol completely destroyed the door handle, lock, and part of the door. Akira pushed the door open and waited quietly in a shadowy corner of the landing for any aliens coming to investigate. In a few minutes he stepped through into the hallway, emerging almost directly across, he figured, from the young woman's room. He heard shooting below, out near the Skyranger. It was a plasma weapon, so it could have been X-COM or alien, or both. The door to the room was open, and he could see the light shining inside. He scanned down the dark hall as he crossed and moved in. It was a small office, divided in two by a dark wooden partition. On the near side were four small wooden desks with personal computers and filing cabinets. Beyond the partition, Akira could see one large, wooden desk. There was no one on the near side, so he moved around to the large desk and the window. Desk items and papers were spread across the floor, and the flashlight lay on the desk, but the woman wasn't there. Where did she go? The window was closed, but he looked out and checked below anyway. No sign of her down there. He could see the Skyranger in the plaza below, but he saw no troopers guarding it. That was strange. He decided he hated anti-terrorist missions - none of the usual procedures seemed to apply. He planned to briefly search the third floor and head back down, but he was worried about being shot by Reynolds. Then he remembered his headset. He had forgotten to turn his back on after the captain had talked to him. He switched it on and heard the end of an exclamation that sounded like Sergeant Perez. "... back to the Skyranger. Right now ... " She sounded pretty upset. How much had he missed? "Reynolds," he whispered into his headset, "I'll be coming down the other stairwell. Don't shoot me." There was no reply. "Reynolds, did you get that" Maybe the transmitter wasn't working. Perez's voice came through, interspersed with heavy breathing. "Akira? ... is that you? ... Reynolds must be gone ... get back to the plane." Out the window he could see two troopers moving quickly into the area lit by flares around the Skyranger. It looked like Perez and maybe Davies. If they were running from something, then he didn't have time to wait and see what it was. And if Davies's rocket launcher couldn't stop it, a few pistol shots from a third floor window probably wouldn't either. Akira left the room as fast as his injuries could tolerate and crossed the hall to the stairway he'd come up. Are we really going to abandon these people here, he wondered, or are we just regrouping? As he rounded the landing between the first and second floors, he stopped. At the bottom of the flight of stairs was a young woman making her way slowly up. Her head was bent down and all her movements were very slow. Was she the woman from the window? "You should come with me," Akira said, "you'll be safer outside." As he spoke she moved up two more stairs and lifted her head to look at him. Even in the darkness Akira could see that she was disfigured. Her face and eyes were swollen, and her limbs looked as if she had been severely beaten. She was obviously dazed, so he moved down to direct her outside. As he stretched out his arm to put it around her shoulders, she suddenly lashed out and struck him with unbelievable strength, sending him flying down the stairs. He grabbed the railing to slow his fall and ended up laying at the bottom. She let out a high, guttural wail and moved slowly toward him. When she reached the bottom of the stairs he paniced and shot her. She staggered for a moment, then stopped, dropped to her knees and went very still. He could see only outlines in the darkness, but she seemed to change shape. The flesh on her side stretched out to a sharp point then went back in. Then the same thing happened on her neck. As Akira scrambled to his feet, sharp, dark objects emerged from her neck, and it appeared as though her body just ripped down the middle. Something else emerged, something pointy, bipedal and quick. Akira ran for the lobby and didn't look back. He could hear a clicking sound behind him. As he crossed the lobby the clicks were getting closer and he realized he couldn't outrun whatever it was. As he left the building, he turned to his left, intending to crouch against the wall and shoot the creature as it passed. Suddenly a rocket shot past, within a few feet of his head and exploded behind him. The blast knocked him forward, flat on his injured chest. He lay there in pain, unable to move for a few seconds. The clicking was still there, behind him, getting closer. Then it was past him, moving toward the rear of the Skyranger. There were shouts of other troopers - he couldn't tell if they were right in front of him or coming from his headset. He heard laser and plasma fire and a scream. The shooting stopped, the pain faded, and Akira pulled himself up. Perez and Davies were near the rear of the Skyranger. Davies had dropped his rocket launcher and pulled out a laser pistol. They were both pointing their weapons down at the dead creature and a fallen trooper. "What the hell are these things?" Davies asked, scanning nervously around,"You all right, Akira?" "I think so." "Get in the plane, Davies," Perez ordered, "I want you ready to hit the autopilot and get us out of here if I give the order." "Aren't we going to wait for the others?" he asked. "Sure. As long as we can." The trooper on the ground was Captain Marcelle. Akira checked to make sure he was really dead and thought about moving his body into the Skyranger, but that could wait. Akira got down close to the Skyranger's ramp and Perez covered the other side. The sun was just beginning to come up, coloring the tops of the buildings golden-orange. A minute or two later he saw something moving beyond the flares, but within the light of the few gas fires still burning. "Something coming," Akira said into his headset, "to your left, near the store." "It's me!" a voice said, "don't shoot." It was Marin, the Near Squad scout. She was running as fast as she could across the open plaza. When she was less than fifty yards away, a plasma bolt shot from one of the buildings off to the right and hit her square in the side. Without enough armor to go around, the rookies had gotten the short end of the stick, and it cost Marin her life. Akira stood and leaned his pistol on the ramp. He could barely see one of the snakemen, around the corner of a one-story building. He got off six shots, but it was very long range, and only a couple shots hit anywhere near the alien. Then Akira heard the distinct thump, thump, thump of an auto cannon and the whole corner of the building where the alien stood was wracked by explosions. There was no sign of the snakeman afterward. "Who was that," Perez said into her headset, as she ran out to check on Marin. "Me, Gaudin. I'm coming in. Kolitov is dead ... no, wait ... hey Kolitov, over here ... what the ..." Another round of auto cannon explosions went off, this time near the gas station. Minutes later Gaudin was running toward the Skyranger without his autocannon, trying to strip off his ammo belt and headset. As he got nearer, one of the bipedal crab creatures scooted out of the shadows behind him, gaining on him fast. Akira fired until his clip was empty, hitting the creature once. Perez waited, probably afraid she'd hit Gaudin, shot and killed the creature just before it reached him. Gaudin didn't even seem to notice. He ran right up into the Skyranger and sat crouched in the back corner, hugging his knees. Perez picked up Marin's body and carried it back toward the plane. "Who's left out there," she said into her headset. There was no reply. She laid Marin in the back of the Skyranger. "Kolitov ... Reynolds ... Sergeant Evans?" no reply. "Get the captain in here and lets go," she ordered. Akira walked toward Captain Marcelle and thought he noticed movement. He stopped and quickly loaded a new clip. Marcelle's arms moved and he pushed himself up on his knees. He had the same bloated look of the young girl inside. Akira pointed his pistol "Sorry about this, Captain." He shot Marcelle three times, then forced himself to watch the emergence of the crab creature. When the captain's body began to split, he suppressed the urge to vomit until he was done firing and was sure the creature was dead. He turned and lost it beside the ramp. He noticed Perez looking past him in shock at what was left of the captain's body. He jumped painfully onto the ramp and was the last one inside. Davies hit the autopilot and the ramp began to close. Seconds later the inside lights came on. Akira, Perez, and Davies looked at each other solemnly and said nothing. Gaudin still sat in the corner, face in his knees, shaking his head. "Going home," Gaudin mumbled. Akira wondered what would happen to Tokyo as those creatures transformed everyone. "That was my home."