X-COM SAGA #7: ALIEN ABDUCTION
by Russ Brown
Copyright (1994) MicroProse Software, Inc. X-COM Copyright 1994, MicroProse Software, Inc. X-COM is a Trademark of MicroProse Software, Inc.
When the Skyranger arrived in southern Mauritania, just north of the Senegal river, the helicopters from HMS Resolve were still there. Akira watched them fly low to clear away the top layer of loose sand with their prop wash. An interceptor from Russia had found this base after X-COM's new hyperwave decoder, designed with the help of captured alien navigators, had intercepted and decoded signals from a large alien UFO on a base supply mission. The interceptor had kept its distance and followed the supply ship until it landed within a few hundred meters of where the helicopters now swept back and forth. The interceptor then followed the supply ship after it took off and shot it down with plasma cannons over Libya. The Russian strike team would deal with recovering it. The Little Rock strike team had been re-equipped for this mission, a few of their plasmas swapped out for stun launchers. By studying captured alien information and captured alien leaders, X-COM scientists had determined that there was a key to the whole alien operation, but it wasn't located on Earth - a strike team would have to go to Mars. They also discovered that higher ranking aliens, alien commanders, might be stationed at alien bases and might be useful for determining exactly where on Mars the alien facility was located. So their primary objective on this mission was to capture a commander alive. Akira had seen the ship that would take them to Mars, still under construction in a hangar at Little Rock. It was a cross between the Skyranger and a medium-sized UFO. In fact it combined some of the best of human and alien technology into a ship which would fight better and fly faster than any interceptor, yet be able to carry eighteen troopers and two tanks. Akira would have liked to give it a test run on this mission and bring along the extra tank and a few extra rookies. He had been on one alien base raid before, in Russia, and he knew that ten troopers were barely enough to operate down there. And the two psis hanging back left him only eight. He and the psis disembarked from the Skyranger last. They walked across the sand toward the two exposed, nearly horizontal alien alloy hatches. The helicopters still hovered low overhead, blowing sand harmlessly against the ten armored troopers arrayed around the area. They had completed their missions, but their pilots had never seen power suits, flying suits, or hovertanks before. Akira suppressed the urge to give them a demonstration of his flying suit and just waved them off, back to the Resolve. Perez wasn't with them. A week earlier, before a mission in the mountains of Peru, he had finally convinced her to stay behind. She had been reluctant then, but today, with both of her strike teams on separate missions, she had not even mentioned coming along. Her absence had done two things: It had opened up room in the Skyranger to add a trooper to Far Squad, and it had indirectly brought Crossett and Akira closer together. During the Peru mission he had noticed Crossett bantering with Blake, the second scout to take Esser's place during her recovery. After that, he had felt the need to spend more time with her. He wasn't jealous, he just didn't like to think of her starting up a friendship with Blake which could erode their own. So he began seeing her every night, watching movies, cooking, and reviewing old mission footage. One night they left the base for a short time and went into Little Rock. They ate at an Indian restaurant near the river. "I think the last mission went smoother without Perez," he said. Crossett moved her palau around her plate, but didn't speak. "Well?" he continued, "Don't you think so? She was a mild annoyance to me, but she seemed to really have it in for you. What was the problem?" Crossett quit playing with her food and gave him a look of mild disbelief, shaking her head slightly. "You never figured it out, did you? You're a good soldier and a good friend, 'Kira, but sometimes you're unbelievably naive." "What?" "I think you're a good soldier because you understand aliens better than humans." "WHAT?" It was really beginning to bother him, especially coming from Crossett. "You," she said, smiling a little, "... you were the problem." He was still confused. He tried to remember all the things he'd said to Perez, searching for something that could have offended her enough that she would take it out on Crossett just because she was his friend. He realized he had been staring at Crossett with his mouth hanging open. "What?" he said for the third time. "What did I do to her that she would hold it against both of us?" This time Crossett laughed out loud. "She LIKES you 'Kira. You couldn't tell?" At first he couldn't accept that, but the pieces finally began to fall into place. Perez had a very subtle personality, and hanging around Crossett, so direct and open, had probably dulled his sensitivity to it. He thought back again and realized she could be right. But then why take it out on Crossett? Of course, the answer was obvious. Everyone in the Little Rock base who didn't know them well enough assumed Akira and Crossett were romantically involved. Perez was jealous. Crossett was eating again, probably waiting for him to work through everything, and probably knowing what conclusion he would come to. How could she stand being around him, always waiting for him to catch up to her. She looked up at him and he realized that she might not be as direct and open as he had thought. There was something more than friendship there. He felt it too, but had denied it, forced it down out of fear. It was fear of losing her, fear of losing concentration in combat, and fear of talk among the other troopers. But, what the hell. The base was talking about them anyway, he thought. Might as well give them something to talk about. He reached across the small table and took her hand. She didn't look surprised. He stood and leaned over the table to kiss her hard on the lips, and she seemed to expect it. They went to a hotel, arm in arm, and made love. He finally managed to surprise her a few times. Now she stood with her squad, out on the sand, near the entrance farthest from the Skyranger. She was standing beside Blake's tall figure, and they appeared to be talking privately. It didn't bother Akira this time, He realized that any jealousy, any thoughts of possessing Crossett, as a friend or a lover, were foolish. Crossett had a relatively new squad - Esser, Torban and Blake. They had only seven missions between them, which was less than half of what Zander, the least experienced on Near Squad, had by herself. Crossett would have to watch them closely down there. Akira hoisted his blaster launcher - his problem now that Perez wasn't along - and gave the signal. The scouts, Blake and Zander, moved toward the two hatches. As they stepped within about two meters of them, the doors slid open. Akira wondered if there were vertical drops down into the base, and whether they would be too far for the troopers in power suits. But as he watched, Zander moved cautiously and smoothly down, as if she was on a steep set of stairs. "There's a ramp leading down to one of the glowing green rooms," Zander reported over the headset. "Here too," Blake added. Zander's head disappeared below the sand, and Davies waved the tank forward, then Mederow and his stun launcher entered. Akira wondered again if he had made the right choice, trading three heavy plasmas for stun launchers. It would greatly increase the odds of getting a commander alive, but it could also cost a few lives. Davies moved in, and Akira followed. At the bottom of the ramp they found themselves in one of the large green rooms, about ten meters across, with a tank-sized lift in the northeast corner. The psis came down last, Hudson with Akira and Near Squad, Tonida with Far Squad. They each carried a cumbersome mind probe, hoping to mentally locate an alien commander. Until then, the squads had to assume every alien was a commander and take appropriate precautions. "Far Squad. All inside?" he called. "All inside," Crossett replied. "Head down into the base, and try to merge your perimeters as soon as possible," he ordered, "and keep an eye out for anything that looks like the command center from our Russian base footage." Akira sat back now and watched his squads deploy, forcing himself to stay quiet. He couldn't see Davies's expression, but he could imagine how he felt having Akira right at his elbow - he had been in a similar position with Perez along. Near Squad was down quickly. Akira was not surprised that they found themselves in a square alien alloy room the same size as the green one above. It had one large opening on each wall. As Akira stepped off the lift he could see that the southern opening led into a passageway of some kind, and the west opening led to a smaller hallway running north-south. He didn't have a chance to check the other openings. "Bug," someone yelled over the headset, but Akira couldn't tell who it was. He brought up his head-up-display, but had no time to interpret it. The trooper covering the eastern opening, just to Akira's left, stood and moved toward the corner of the room opposite Akira and the lift. It was Mederow. "What is that?" Mederow asked, probably not expecting a reply. Davies was covering the west opening, and Zander the south. They both turned as Mederow moved and began firing plasma and laser through the opening to Akira's left. Return plasma fire came back and cratered the wall above Zander's head. Akira spun left and instinctively raised his blaster launcher as a towering metal biped stepped through into the room. His first impression was of a reaper covered in armor, then of a robot reaper. Akira had to suppress the urge to squeeze the trigger on the launcher. Through the din of plasma discharge and destruction, Akira could hear something over the headset. "It's ... sectopod .. tough." It sounded like Hudson. Akira had no weapons to defend himself, but he was still on the lift platform. He made the arm motion and began to ascend. The metal reaper turned to face directly at him, and he could only hope his armor would help him survive a nearly point-blank plasma hit. Just before the room descended out of sight, and before the alien got off a shot, two final streaks from across the room took it down. The lift took him up into the green room, where he found himself facing Hudson. "I could probe it," Hudson said out loud, "But there was nothing there to control. It was mostly machine, and I couldn't..." "Alien," the headset blurted, "moving among the cases in the big room." Hudson froze in his crouched stance and tightened his grip on his psi amp. Akira's HUD now contained a flashing red light. He descended on the lift and switched his HUD to the video channel of the spotting trooper. He knew that voice - it was Blake. He came up with Blake's view, a large room like they'd seen in Russia, lined with specimen display cases, like a big museum. As he watched the merged scene of what he saw and what Blake saw, a strange alien appeared for a few seconds in Blake's world before disappearing behind another case. Blake kept his head and didn't take the shot with his laser rifle. It was roughly humanoid, and gliding along, almost like a floater, but it was completely covered over by orange robes - a deep orange version of the grim reaper. Why did everything have to remind him of reapers? "It's just a soldier," Tonida reported, "they don't seem to have a spoken language - closest English word to their race-concept is 'ethereal'. Not too tough physically". The alien appeared again, and this time it spotted Blake. Blake got off a laser autofire, and seemed to hit. The alien fired a heavy plasma and grazed Blake's armor. "I can't control it," Hudson said, "these things have some awesome mental powers." Akira reached the bottom of the lift and saw that Near squad once again had things under control, with Zander and Davies cautiously advancing through the openings to the south and west to join Far Squad. Meanwhile, Blake was not firing back at the robed creature and had nearly been hit again. He finally fired back and killed it. "Damn. Something was inside my head for a minute there," he said, "I think they might be turning this mind control stuff back on us." It had been months since the strike team had faced sectoids in combat - the only race they knew of that used mind control. Now they may have found another race, possibly even stronger. But the last time they had faced mind control they had had none of their own, and new X-COM troopers hadn't been screened for their ability to resist. Now they would find out if it was all worth it. Akira knew what the mental strength ratings were of everyone on his team. They were all relatively high, at least in the top third of the recruits screened. He also knew that some of the veterans, specifically he and Davies and Mederow, were somewhere around average. Mederow's score was slightly below average, and Perez had considered dumping him from the squads. Akira checked his HUD. Crossett's squad was ten or fifteen meters to the southwest. The advancing troopers in each squad had already seen most of the intervening space. A barren hallway ran directly east from Crossett's squad and passed just south of the room where Akira was standing. Crossett had already begun moving east along it, giving orders to her squad as she went. "Torban has at least thirty meters of solid wall off to our west," she reported, "It could be the edge of the base if it's laid out anything like the last one." Akira could see Zander heading south into the cross-passage, meeting up with Crossett to secure the southeast corner of their zone. On his HUD he could see the tank to the north, and the schematic representation of what they knew so far showed a solid wall there too. "It looks like we have an edge of the base to the north and to the west," he said over the headset. "Far Squad, freeze on a line with the south hallway. Near Squad, keep a line to the east, even with the lift room. Send whoever you can spare to the north and west to clear our rear, and I want at least one stun launcher from Far Squad back there," Akira gave up trying to track everyone in both squads, and concentrated on finding a use for his blaster launcher. He couldn't haphazardly destroy the place and risk killing a commander. The only use he could come up with was to blow open a more convenient route into the command center. A heavy plasma fired to the south. Akira's HUD showed no aliens spotted. "What is this thing," Crossett called, "some kind of alien tree?" Akira switched to her view and saw a room covered in the dark blue velvety material. In the center was a rooted plant of some kind, probably three meters tall and four meters across at the top. It had thick, rubbery-looking branches, topped with colorful, spurting disks, like flattened doughnuts. "..Can't probe it," Hudson said, "It's alive, but I don't think it's very intelligent. "My plasma blew off pieces of it," Crossett said, "but it would take all day to whittle it all down. I'll just wait and see what it does." Akira thought about having Crossett drop back, then hitting it with the blaster launcher, but it didn't seem necessary. "found the northwest corner," Esser reported, "we've got a couple of those rooms with the rows of suspended spheres and one large, square enclosed area with only one door. It's..." "How big?" Akira broke in. Could they have the command center already? "What?" "The door. Is it large enough for a tank?" "No," she replied, "It's a normal door, around the west side here." "Tank," Crossett ordered, "go to where Blake is now and cover the display room with Torban. Blake, help Esser check that door." "Captain," Crossett called on the open channel, "I can see a thin north-south passage to my south-east about fifteen meters, and it has a small window. Looks like it could be the command center. Maybe Zander could..." "Bug!" someone called out, followed by the "thwump" of a launcher. One red box flashed on Akira's HUD, then a second. He switched and came up with Torban's view of the display room. About halfway across the large room were one of the ethereals and another robot reaper. "The launcher didn't do it ... reloading." "Ethereal soldier," Hudson called, "it's not a commander." Akira switched to the tank's view - it was still moving through the suspended sphere rooms, not yet in sight of the display room. Torban might be able to reload and stun the ethereal, but could the robot reaper even be stunned? Akira checked his HUD map. The hallway to the south of him was clear, except for Crossett, tucked into a side passage. And Far Squad's lift room was empty for now, at least until the tank got there. Good. Akira knelt, quickly programmed waypoints into his blaster, and fired. His heart stopped and he thought of Perez and Andianov as he watched the silver football streak from his arms into the hall to his south, then disappear around the corner to the right. the blast came a half second later, its flash reflecting through the passages and lighting up the room where Akira stood. The flash was followed by a blast of hot gases and smoke. If the bomb had followed its course, it should have hit a display case toward the far end of the big room, behind the aliens - hopefully close enough to destroy them, but far enough away from Torban. "Nice shooting, Captain," Torban called, "I just hope there wasn't anything important in any of these cases" Akira resumed breathing and checked his HUD - All known aliens dead, all troopers alive. Only a few seconds later, Akira's red indicator flashed again. This time he switched to Blake's view. At first it was a little disorienting, until Akira realized Blake was looking up a lift shaft. At the top was an alien - and ethereal - with its back turned. Akira overlaid the HUD map and saw that Blake had moved down a passage inside the large square area at the squad's rear. He had said nothing over the headset, probably trying not to make a sound - nearly impossible in powered armor. "Not a commander," Hudson reported, then Tonida said something, but Akira was distracted. Mederow, still covering the rooms to the east of the lift room Akira was in, suddenly dropped his stun launcher, stood, and ran straight ahead, through a room with a glowing purple floor. Akira moved to the opening to be able to track Mederow better. "Mederow," he called, foolishly using an open channel, "get back here." Mederow kept going, through into a dark room beyond the purple floor. "What happened, Akira?" It was Davies on a private channel. "Don't know. He just stood and ran off that way." Meanwhile, Akira still had Blake's view up. He heard and saw a grenade go off at the top of the shaft, then Blake ascended. When he reached the top, Akira heard plasma fire and Blake collapsed. His video was still running, and seconds later, just at the corner of the skewed field of view, Akira saw another trooper ascended the lift. A small launcher went off, then Esser's face appeared as she fumbled for something next to Blake's body. She moved out of view and Akira heard a laser on autofire. "Two dead ethereals up here," she reported "that last one could have killed me, but I think he tried to get inside my head instead." "Checked both," Hudson said, "one leader, one soldier." Meanwhile, Mederow re-appeared to the east, carrying something in his right hand. As soon as he entered the purple room, he turned stiffly toward Akira and tossed the object toward him. Akira watched it land only a meter or two in front of him, and only then realized it was a grenade. He tried to jump back to his left, behind the wall in the lift room, but the grenade went off before he got there. It blew him back, right onto the lift, and knocked the blaster launcher out of his hands. Zander was still inside the passage to the south and had avoided the blast. Akira remained conscious and was surprised to find the suit had taken most of the damage. He seemed to only have a few bruised ribs and a major headache. "What was that?" someone asked, probably Davies. "Mederow..." Akira answered, getting back to his feet, "he's lost it completely." He moved back to the opening, next to the destroyed robot reaper, and picked up Mederow's stun launcher. Zander moved to where she could cover the east and south. Mederow was still there, with another grenade in one hand, priming it with the other. His face was expressionless. He wasn't in a hurry or excited, as if he was only putting on his shoes or pouring himself a cup of coffee. Akira didn't wait for the grenade to come his way. He fired the stun launcher and hit the far wall, only a meter or two from Mederow. The trooper wobbled a little and seemed to nearly drop the grenade, but he continued his motions, getting ready to throw. Then a bolt of plasma from off to Akira's left took Mederow in the shoulder, creating a spray of molten alloy and a small cloud of vapors. Mederow went down, dropping his grenade. It went off a few seconds later, just beside his head. His icon on Akira's HUD schematic flashed for a few seconds, then went white. "Mederow's dead," Akira announced. Akira was surprised by how much Mederow's death effected him. He stood motionless for a few reckless seconds before recovering his senses and getting behind the cover of the wall to his left. He and Mederow hadn't been that close, but he had been easy to get along with, and it seemed like he'd been in the squads a long time. Maybe it's all finally getting to me, Akira thought. He forced himself back to business. "Davies," he called on a private channel, "You and Zander can't cover this side by yourselves, and I'm no help covering with only a Blaster and a laser pistol." "Right," Davies said. His voice didn't have the usual edge on it - Mederow must have gotten to him too. He called to Crossett, who directed Esser across to the east. "I've got Blake," Esser called back, "he needs a medi-kit." "Drop him near the lift," Torban called, "I can ..." "Leave him," Crossett ordered, "we don't have time for that - I need you in the room to my south." Akira was sickened by his initial response of satisfaction that Crossett could so callously disregard Blake's injuries. He felt he had to do something about it. "Zander, move south into the passageway. Esser, cover east from this lift room. I'll head back and take care of Blake." Confirmations of the orders came from Zander and Esser, but no one else commented on the plan. A few seconds later he saw Esser trotting cautiously into the room from the west. He motioned her toward the east opening, dropped the stun launcher, and picked up his blaster. Damn thing's like an anchor, he thought. If he wasn't so afraid of what it could do he would have traded weapons with Zander and sent her back to treat Blake. He moved quickly west toward Blake, who was still a lively, solid yellow on his HUD. As he trotted the thirty yards through the alien alloy passages, he thought about how seamlessly the squads were operating, cooperating instinctively and able to trade members without a glitch. He wasn't sure they could have done that when Perez was commanding. Blake lay motionless right next to Far Squad's lift. Akira attached the medi-kit's diagnosis package to the port on Blake's suit. It was obvious he had been hit in the chest, on the left side and under his left arm. Diags told him the arm was fine, but there were serious internal injuries, probably aggravated by Esser carrying him. Still, he would probably live. Akira gave him the recommended levels of coagulants and stimulants, trying at the same time to slip artificial skin through the jagged fist-sized opening in his flying suit. "My guess is your fighting days are over for a while," Akira said out loud. "but who knows how long this will go on." Over the headset, Crossett and Davies were giving orders to organize the squads - now only five troopers, including the two sergeants, and a tank. Akira watched them on his display, moving into a rough line from the tank, which had located the southern limit of the base, north-west all the way up to Davies, moving along its northern limit. They would sweep east, securing every door and lift as they went to protect their backs. If the command center was indeed just south-east of Crossett's position, they would wrap around it like a hand grabbing a grenade. Again a red box flashed on Akira's HUD without a word over the headset. He switched to automatic and Torban's view came up, again looking up a shaft at a robed ethereal. Akira was amazed at how motionless and quiet Torban was able to stand - not an easy trick in a suit designed to detect and amplify your every move. After five or six painful seconds, Hudson finally called in. "Not a commander." "Give me second with this thing," Tonida called. Torban waited, still unbelievably still. Under any circumstances the suit should have been making small whirring noises as servos reacted to minute balancing movements and nervous jitters. Akira brought up the heavy's status display and found out how he did it. Torban had manually increased his movement triggering threshold to the point where only significant movement registered. It would slow down his reactions quite a bit, but it was an interesting trick. "I had him for a short time," Tonida reported, "long enough to see he's alone." That was all Torban had been waiting for. Akira, still on the status display, saw his movement threshold drop to near normal, and other indicators all went up, indicating sudden movement. He switched back to video and saw that Torban was moving behind a wall of some kind. A second later a grenade went off and the alien gave out a shrieking, warbly cry. Torban immediately turned, pulled his laser pistol from its holster and headed back toward the lift. When he reached the top, Akira could see that the alien was dead. "We're going to have to make you a scout, Torban," Akira said, only half joking. Davies interrupted. "I think I have the eastern edge here. Me and Esser will start south." Akira had done what he could for Blake, so He stood and checked his map. He decided to join Crossett and move toward the command center. As soon as he moved off in her direction he heard plasma fire directly in front of him, either from Crossett or directed at her. He resisted the urge to just run to her and brought up his display - no red box. "One of them took a shot at me through the window on the command center's side passage," Crossett called over the headset. "I didn't get a read on it," Hudson called, "Sorry." A few seconds later, Akira moved into the room with the large, strange plant. Crossett was covering its eastern opening. "Hello 'Kira," she said on a private channel, without turning. "I was watching - nice work on Blake." "Thanks," he said, getting down on one knee to her south, "Which way to the command center?" Crossett motioned with her heavy plasma at the long wall directly in front of them. "In there." Akira glanced along the wall. It stopped, and the passage curved east about five meters north of them, and it did the same about fifteen meters to the south. In the center of the wall was a small window into what looked like a parallel north-south passage. "It could be the command center," Akira said. Crossett turned and looked at him through augmented lenses and alien alloy. "It is the command center." "We're snagged for a little while," Davies called, "we hit one of those small lift rooms with the windows. I have to cover while Esser checks it out." A red box flashed, followed by the a repeated whine of plasma and laser fire very close to the north-east. "I'm hit," Zander called, "but I think I got it." Akira's gut turned hollow. He switched to an open channel. "Hudson, what was it?" "Don't know, Captain. Didn't have time." "Damn." Akira said out loud. Zander had heard. "Sorry, Captain," she said, "I ..." "Don't worry about it. How bad are you hurt." She paused, "... I'm fine." Akira hated this. Why couldn't he just kill aliens? Now they might have lost their commander and Zander's concentration could be shot. He thought about sending her back and taking her place in the sweep. That would probably make her feel even worse, but it might save her life. He decided to trust her and leave her in place. Akira checked his HUD schematic to see how everything was progressing. Esser had checked out a small room above the windowed lift room and found nothing. Now Esser, Zander, and Davies were arrayed in an east-west line from just north of Akira to the eastern edge of the base. Torban was directly south of Akira, and the tank south of him, in an open hallway running along the south edge of the base. They had secured all but the south-east quarter. "I have a large set of doors to the south of me", Zander said, "just like in the videos." "Good," Akira said, "That's the command center. Can we cover those doors with at least two stun launchers?" "Torban," Crossett ordered, "move up there. The rest of us can cover this end." Akira realized they only had two stun launchers - Mederow's was still lying in the room with the purple floor. He looked down at his blaster launcher and wondered what use it would be. Any blast could easily kill the commander behind a wall somewhere - if it wasn't already dead. And the squad was packed pretty tight now. When they were sure they had an alien commander they could use the launcher to level everything else, but he would worry about that when the time came. "I'm going back to get Mederow's launcher," he said out loud to Crossett. He patted her shoulder as he passed behind her, heading north. His alloy glove on her armor made a dull, impersonal clunk. By the time Akira reached the purple room and the stun launcher, the tank had verified that the south wall of the command center was solid, with no way out, and had stopped to cover a room with a small lift. Torban and Zander were covering the big doors and Crossett had moved to the small window to watch the hall inside the command center. "I've got one of these damn up-and-down lift mazes over here," Davies reported. I think I can handle it on my own" "Right," Akira called, "but if you run into the commander, try not to be too hard on it." Akira swapped weapons and moved south, dropping into position beside Zander. "We're heading in." Zander, Esser, Akira, and Torban all stepped through the doors, into an east-west passage. "Looks like the same layout," Akira announced. He pointed to the east, where the hall turned south. "Esser and Torban that way. Zander keep close behind me." Akira went west, about ten meters, where the hall also turned south. He rounded the corner and got down. The hallway was empty. It turned back east about twenty meters ahead, and was featureless except for the small window halfway down on the right - the same window he and Crossett had seen from outside. A muffled explosion went off somewhere, but Akira wasn't sure where. It sounded like it was both in front of him and behind him. The red box flashed. A second later there was a blast of plasma fire and another explosion. The red light went out. "We stunned one!" Torban announced. "Not a commander," Hudson reported. Akira moved south, and Zander followed. Before they reached the corner, they were hit by a huge explosion. Akira's blast lenses activated immediately and left him blind as he flew back into something else, probably Zander. Sight returned a fraction of a second later, and Akira had to strain to see through the smoke and metal vapor. He was lying on Zander's leg, but her suit seemed to be intact. "You OK?" he asked, not waiting for a reply before bringing up his HUD schematic - Everyone solid yellow. "What was that?" "Must have been a blaster bomb, confined in the passage to the south," someone called. The tank was to the south. Akira switched to its view and found it still guarding the small lift. At the left edge of its field of view he could see some smoke, but nothing like the devastation of a blaster bomb. If they have blaster bombs, its going to cost us a lot to get near them, he thought. But they had to do it. "Zander, go around and collect the alien they stunned, and drag it somewhere where things aren't exploding. Torban and Esser, head south now - let's get this over with." As Akira rounded the corner, he found the site of the first blast. It had completely destroyed the large set of doors leading in to the lower level of the command center, along with most of the wall around them. It had also blown open part of the wall to the south, leading out of the command center. It must have been just out of view of the tank, he thought. He began to wonder if an alien could have gotten past them through that hole, but his thoughts were cut short. A silver blaster bomb zipped out through the open doorway, gleaming briefly in the eerie alien light, then making a sharp left turn. Again the world exploded, leaving Akira disoriented, but still kneeling upright. He thought he had heard a man scream through the lingering sounds of destruction, but he wasn't sure. His HUD was still up, and just as he located the other stun launcher group on the map, one of their marks turned from yellow to white. It was Torban. He checked detailed status on Esser and found that she had been seriously injured. "Zander, ..." he called. "I've got it," she said, "I'll take care of her." Akira had used a blaster launcher and knew it could be reloaded and fired again in just a few seconds. He moved quickly toward the destroyed doorway, hoping to get a shot before the next bomb killed him. As he reached the doors, a robed alien stepped out directly in front of him, carrying a large launcher. Akira reacted and fired his stun launcher, engulfing the alien and himself in a series of sonic shock waves. Akira stumbled, and fumbled to reload his launcher, but his hand was not entirely his own, making only some of the movements he commanded of it. In his weakened state he felt someone else inside him. It was like the alien in his head in the Amazon raid, but much stronger and larger than Akira. He had no option but to move aside into an unused corner of his mind and let the alien take control. It was for the best anyway, he thought. Another explosion went off somewhere and the large alien left Akira alone to slowly, cautiously crawl back to the center of his own thoughts. He sat there for what seemed like hours, wondering if the alien would come back.
"Captain?" Akira opened his eyes and scanned around without moving his head. His helmet was off. Davies stared down at him, still in his full armor, holding a stun launcher in his hand. Crossett walked up. "Is he OK." "Sure," Davies said, "just stunned. You got the last one." "Good," Crossett said, "It almost got to Blake." Davies noticed Akira move and knelt down beside him. "Sorry, Captain. I had to stun you to get the commander." Akira came to his senses. "We got one?" Davies removed his helmet. He was smiling like Akira had never seen him smile before, "Yes, sir. You got him, mostly. You ready for a vacation on Mars?" "My bags are packed," Akira said, pushing himself up to a sitting position and trying to shake the stuffing out of his head. He looked at the stunned alien beside him. The psis had already fit it with a psi-suppression collar. "I have to go check on Esser," Crossett said. Before she left, she bent over and patted him on the thigh. It made a dull, impersonal clunking sound. She looks good in alloy, he thought, as she stomped off down the smoking passage.
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