Chapter Seven – The Devil's Disciple
The origin of the Inquisitor movement is very much related to the appearance of the Cult of Sirius pro-alien religion. But, unlike them, the Inquisitors never made a point of publicly defending their anti-alien views. Instead, they chose to take direct action against anything or anyone related to the aliens. It is believed that the pro-alien propaganda of the Cult was one of the key factors related to the appearance of the Inquisitor movement, which capitalized in the extraterrestrial resentment following the First Alien War. Some reports claim that former X-COM veterans instigated the reply to the Cult, although the organization wasn't implicated in any way in the creation of the group.
No matter what the original founders were, the Inquisitor movement started in North America and soon extended throughout the globe. Its actions were motivated by an extreme xenophobia and the desire to lash out at any alien remains on the planet or any use of their technology, but the group effectively lacked any coherent leadership or coordination. Several interest groups, ranging from environmental fanatics to former veterans of the war, composed the Inquisitors, each one its own agenda .Their activities ranged from peaceful boycotts to any products derived from alien technology to the bombing of the Gauss Tower in the 2020's, a corporate headquarters responsible for several consumer products based on the aliens.
As the Inquisitors ideas begun to spread, it was obvious that they where heading for a frontal collision with the Cult of Sirius, who was going through its own expansion during this period. The initial uncontested assaults upon the Cult's members and the burning of their facilities by angry mobs soon escalated into open warfare between both groups, as the governments watched helplessly. The near civil war only ended in 2036 with the defeat of the Inquisitors. In that year the Cult launched a well-organized offensive to break the stalemate and disabled their few physical and electronic installations, killing the majority of their leaders and supporters. As public opinion roared against their criminal actions, the hard-pressed governments managed to regain control of the situation by imposing a crack-down on all Inquisitor-Cult violence. In years, the Inquisitor movement soon sunk into oblivion, with its few remaining members hiding from view. Although their disappearance is still much debated nowadays with the renewal of hostilities with the aliens, their existence as an organized movement belongs now to history."
- X-COM's UFOPedia
October 24th, 2044
Madhouse Rock, Western Pacific
One could say that Lieutenant Commander Parkenson was mad but Markovitch knew otherwise as she waited stiffly in attention at the officers' mess while Parkenson blinked her eyes to try to compose himself. Seated next to him, Chief Petty Agnello was silent, his attention apparently out of the room, but occasionally he would tap his left jacket pocket, where Markovitch knew that he had a rosary there. He had been at the sub pen when the Triton carrying the remains of third squad had docked and as the members of other squads took away the bodies of Mellow, Gutierrez and all the others he had taken out the marble rosary from that pocket and made the aquanauts stop as he made the sign of the cross over while blessing them.
The ride back from Kodiak Island to Madhouse had been tough with few sentences spoken between the remaining members of her squad. Half of them had been killed, most of it by the alien grenades that had went off on the landing zone. The fighting on the First Alien War had been brutal and there had been cases of entire squads or platoons being wiped out but not under Markovitch's command. As the soldiers sat and waited for Books to bring them back home she had contemplated the body bags on the back of the cargo bay of the craft in silence, wondering if that particular catastrophe could have been avoided.
Due to the losses suffered 3rd Squad had been pulled out of the active roster since there were only now five members still ready for combat with Kern still on the medical bay recovering from the sonic round that had injured him.
"Seaman Anne Watkins". Parkenson's voice seemed to falter. "You've been already promoted to Able Seaman rank as you know. However and due to necessity I've requested that you'll be further bumped into Leading Seaman as soon as we get replacements for the losses your squad contained". That was a surprise for her but she kept her face locked. "Understood, sir". Then she added. "May I ask why? There are other senior enlisted aquanauts still available"
Parkenson nodded. "You will serve on an acting basis Watkins: you'll get the grade but your paycheck remains the same until you prove you're fit for the position".
"Petty Renton asked for you to lead one of the fireteams". Agnello interrupted. "Marsden and Kern will be in charge of the other two but he considered that, despite the fact that Able Seaman Teller had seniority over you, it would be wiser to have someone else in charge. Lt. Commander Parkenson and myself agreed with his assessment since the other squads can't spare any experienced NCOs". Markovitch nodded: no one really wanted to see Crazy T in charge of anything other than his weapon. The man was borderline psycho while in combat. "Teller agreed with the recommendation although he asked to be placed under your command".
That nearly made Markovitch sigh since she wasn't too fan of having a soldier with his characteristics in combat: things could get really out of hand and having someone that unreliable could really backfire on the entire team. Parkenson scowled at her question but Agnello gave her a rock face. "They have all declined. Teller says that you'll make a better job at keeping your team alive…but the others say exactly the opposite".
A smug run through Parkenson's mouth at Agnello's description as he remembered her official records. Markovitch wasn't too surprised with the assessment: she had heard it before a number of times, even before joining X-COM. Although Agnello knew nothing of her real identity his expression didn't reveal what was his real opinion about which category she fitted. He simply gazed at her until Parkenson dismissed her.
Norfolk, Virginia, US
"Subject of this recording: analysis of specimens' #479/3 and 479/6, namely two corpses, of a Deep One and a Gillman recovered last month. Scientists present: Dr. Camay and Dr. Elliquist". As she finished speaking to the tape recorders built into the examination's room wall she removed the plastic cover off the first examination table, revealing a green figure of a Deep One, first revealing its muscular legs.
"Gosh, what a stench!" Elliquist flinched backwards as the upper body of the alien was uncovered, as a foul smell started to spread around the room. It also brought a feeling of nausea to Camay even after her considerable time examining these biological monstrosities. Deep Ones were notorious for the smell of their entrails, even after they had been into cold storage for months. It was something rotten but familiar at the same time since they had once been human beings before serving as baby food for an alien larva that had been impregnated to the body while the person was still alive. The rest of the cover came off, showing a humanoid figure whose flesh and skin had a greenish tone from the by products released by the larvae as it grew. On its upper arm and close to the shoulder there were still the traces of a tattoo, another proof of the human origin of the hybrid. Its neck was barely gone, with the head hiding between hunched shoulders and having instead of a nose a pink trunk like an elephant's that hung limply over its neck.
"Get used to it Doctor, if you want to keep researching the aliens. Haven't you ever been on an autopsy before?" Camay wondered if Elliquist was going to throw up over the examination table since his face seemed to be turning of the same color of the alien.
"Yes, well I mean we saw it from a distance and through a window". So far Elliquist had been a nuisance: the young scientist was usually late for the meetings, didn't seem to care much about his personal appearance, as his unshaved chin showed and made all hypothetical conjectures, without caring to support them with facts. But he had been the one that had first made her think about the possibility that the Gillmen weren't tailor made by the Aquatoids and she gave him credit. Plus it would be a way to satisfy his curiosity into finally seeing the object of his studies in person, since he had flooded her office with requests, which if polite in manner were distracting and starting to become annoying.
Grabbing a surgical mask from a metal table nearby she gave it to him as she decided to wear one herself. "Well, it's well dead. It won't bite you now. Now grab please give me that scalpel to cut those stitches". After receiving the surgical instrument she used it to unseal the openings cut into the body by a previous examiner. The front of the creature showed the remains of a grid-like covered built into the flesh, another evidence of the alien's manipulation.
Hesitantly, Elliquist poked at the hard skin with a gloved finger. "What is that? Some sort of garment?"
"It's actually grown into the body. The alien embryo somehow manages to metabolize a structure similar to the aqua-plastic construction materials used by the aliens on their subs. The aqua-plastic armor developed by the SORESO teams and used by the troops is actually based on it".
"How come this corpse is all mangled? Don't they have a better specimen for us to examine?"
She tried not to give the tone of lecturing them but his face told her that she wasn't completely successfully. "The corpses in better condition are all sold by the Council to universities or private research facilities. I'm afraid both these specimens are all we have available at the moment". With a determined motion she cut the stitches and used her hands to open the chest of the creature. "As you can see, most of their inner organs have suffered major transformations and are nearly beyond recognition: the lungs seemed to have collapsed while the digestive tract is gone and the swollen liver seems to have taken all metabolic functions. Also there are new organs that allow the creature to generate a strong electric current, like an electric eel, which they use as their main attack weapon. Also the brain cortex has been heavily modified with implementation of alien technology".
"This creature is a hellish jigsaw puzzle, Dr. Camay".
"Yes". She moved her hands to the head and pulled open the eyelids revealing a pair of dead human brown colored eyes. "They pretty much change everything to their own design. The eyes they left untouched for some reason though".
"What are those for? They seem to wired to all these organs". Elliquist pointed at a small gold and black device attached to one of the creatures' inner belly. Camay tried to keep her voice neutral. "We are not sure".
"Not sure? What do you think they are?"
"Well..: the SORESO team suspected them to be control units to monitor and manipulate the creature using their…molecular control powers". That was only half-truth but it would be enough to satisfy Elliquist' curiosity, she considered, as she took a power cord from a drawer and connected it to a socket on the wall. "Watch". She took the white cord loose end were two plugs were out and connected it to a device standing on the Deep One dissected leg. The green hip started trembling and the whole leg stiffened until she removed the cord. "Very interesting". Elliquist commented but before he could make any more questions she pulled back the cover over the creature and moved to the next examination table saying to get his attention: "But here's what you wanted to see for so long".
A two meter tall Gillman, whose helmet shaped head still showed the entry wound of a harpoon, was laying on the table, with his mouth clenched as if he had died painfully. "This specimen is well-built like most of their race, impossible to determine his age but he is a fully sexually matured Gillmen" Elliquist managed to make a curious look in spite of his repulsion towards the dead alien body. "How do you know that?"
She cocked an eyebrow. She cocked an eyebrow. "Well, some physical male characteristics are quite recognizable, especially since they get swollen out of water". Pulling the rest of the plastic sheet off the Gillman's body the look on the xenophologist eyes' told her that he had seen exactly what she meant, which didn't was also something that didn't please her very much. As she pulled back the cover over the aliens' body he caught his breath and tried to compose his scientific posture.
"I had seen references to their differentiated sexes but they speak in a way that some of the other xenophologist classify as more platonic than physical, although I always thought otherwise. Do you think they still could generate offspring?"
"We have detected common gene markers on their DNA that show the existence of particular genetic lines. However, so far every new specimen has proved itself to have a genetic copy elsewhere on the planet so we're assuming that all of them have been cloned. Thus we never saw a Gillmen child and most likely we never will".
"That would definitely mark them as different for some people, doctor. Unlike Sectoids and Aquatoids these aliens would be more familiar to us".
"Until we find proof of such offspring or that a Gillwoman show unequivocal marks of having given birth that is all speculation, Dr. Elliquist".
"How do you explain that then". He pointed towards the groin area of the covered dead body.
"It's not enough to have it unless you can prove that he was going to use it for that purpose. Who knows? Maybe they thought better than the Aquatoids before tossing out sex and the pleasure derived from it completely. Or it could be something as our wisdom teeth or coccyx bone: leftovers from evolution".
"OK, I can agree with that Dr. Camay. But the Aquatoids could also have engineered their dismissal of sexual reproduction after their conquest of the Gillmen".
"You're speaking of conjectures, Mr. Elliquist. That's not science. If you have an hypothesis you need facts to prove your theory, at least that how it works in pure sciences".
"Yes, but what about the control devices that you showed me on the Deep One? Are they still present on the Gillmen?" Again Camay was uncomfortable but she responded. "Yes. But again what is their relevance? All other species we encountered show them. Like I said we suspect that they are used to connect each individual alien to their network although we never understood how it worked".
"Well, what I do not understand is this: the Gillmen are native to this planet but they have been conquered by the Aquatoids, sometime in the past. The Aquatoids are also an older branch of the Sectoid species. You told me that humans and Gillmen have close genetic similarities and we know that our own evolution was influenced by the Sectoids but why didn't the same happened to the Gillmen when they were conquered by the Aquatoids as the present theory says? Why weren't they changed even more?"
She considered his words for a few minutes, gesturing him to stop talking. The younger scientist ideas had given her a lot to think of lately. Everyone had assumed first that the new aquatic aliens were remains of the first invasion that had adapted to living underwater and had created new species to serve them such as the Calcinites and Deep Ones. No one had bothered to explain several features of the Gillmen that didn't fit this picture until now and it had simply been assumed that they had came also from space or that they were the result of more of the aliens' genetic manipulations.
"They have lived on Earth for a very long time, probably even developed here and were conquered by the Aquatoids/Sectoids, they weren't brought in from outer space millions of years ago. The aliens didn't make any attempt to change our culture".
"But that assumes that an intelligent species was living on this planet for thousands of years without any records from it on human history. In fact, they probably have an earlier claim to Earth than us, if you would believe on that". Camay winced at Elliquist's words. Despite the fact that the genetic research now showed very likely that the Gillmen dated millions of years ago still found it hard to believe.
"And Gillmen can live on land: it would be natural that they would go to land since they're intelligent and battlefield reports shown them to have curiosity. There had to be some interaction before….so why would they only come out now? Because of the aliens? Why didn't we have reports of them from before?"
"This is all circumstantial again, Dr. Elliquist". She was feeling frustrated with the differences between both their methods, considering that the younger man was more given to conjectures and speculations than pure scientific work. "It is unlikely that another civilization could be living on this planet for millions of years, but it isn't impossible, if you consider that for thousands of years the aliens visited this planet and only on the last century did we become aware of that there were other intelligent species on this universe. I'm starting to think that either they kept themselves out of human sight until now. It would make sense, given our own aggressive nature. Until the past thirty years mankind has kept itself mostly out of the oceans. If you feel threatened you react: that's a basic survival instinct".
"Yes, but there are a number of conclusions that can be taken: one, the talk about a division between the Aquatoids and the Gillmen is puff. If their molecular network functions as the way the Brain did on the First War, even if there's friction between both races, the fact that they're all connected into what you call their 'molecular network' makes it highly unlikely that they would have either the will or the means to shake off their enslavement. Second, even if that is possible, then most likely we would have to face them in war as well, since we're moving into their territory and I don't believe any of us would be willing to share resources, especially taking into account what the world situation is. Third, this take-over of the aliens could have happened on the past centuries, something I find improbable, but not impossible since no sightings of both Aquatoids/Gillmen and their technology were recorded for forty years after the end of the first war or before that".
Camay still didn't want to believe what she was hearing but by now she had to realize that what the young man was saying made sense for the first time. "The take-over happened on the past, millions of years ago? But how?"
"The DNA shows that the Gillmen are millions of years old. Most likely the Aquatoids are also the Sectoids antecessors and have been visiting Earth for longer than anyone of us have ever expected. For some reason they have kept dormant until so far or out of sight, probably only decided to come out after the Brain on Cydonia was destroyed".
But Camay had remembered something else, although she didn't speak it to Elliquist. The last alive alien on the Brain's chamber at Cydonia.
Her memory went back to that day. They were standing on the large metal chamber, trying to get close to the mass of organic tissue and machinery that dominated the end of the room. The last alien had shot Colonel Johnson a second time but instead of running or taking cover it had run towards a control panel and activated a beacon that had been transmitted to Earth before the antennas on the Face had been destroyed by the remaining Avengers. What was it doing? A cold feeling came down her spine.
Her last phrase had made her stop in shock. An underwater army waiting to be activated? But why only after the defeat at Cydonia? Why hadn't the aliens used them before to fight during the first war? It didn't made sense other for the fact that the aliens had acted conspicuously and it fit that pattern. But it also meant…
A migraine started to come to Camay's head and she hoped she wasn't getting senile. The younger scientist looked more like a bulldozer in all she and X-COM had believed so far over the aliens. She still found it unbelievable of how the SORESO scientists had missed it but it also made sense because the previous theory was more plausible. Until now. "You know what that means?"
"Yes, I know what it means". Elliquist smiled. "Good luck: I wouldn't want to be the one explaining to the Inspector General or to the Council that their salvation theory of the Gillmen becoming our allies has just been thrown out the window. Also they wouldn't be too happy when they realized that the threat is much bigger than they ever dared to imagine".
I wonder if you're aware of the truth on your last observation. Camay sometimes deeply disliked the younger scientist's opinions and attitude, not to mention his appearance but she was also deeply concerned that her reaction was simply anger for not having thought of it before. Covering the Gillmen she hurried Elliquist out of the storage room and went to her office. She needed to talk to Williams as soon as possible.
October 25th, 2044
"There live the unconverted, the lost souls who are living under the oppression of their human condition and faithless leaders". Xhin kept quiet at Vassilev's words with a silent nod being his only answer as his eyes skimmed through the cold Pacific waters around the hovercraft. The Russian was a good brother, although sometimes he would get too idealistic on his ideas. He had of course raised some objections to this meeting until Vassilev had assented to its realization.
Cult of Sirius had tried previously to contact the aquatic aliens but their attempts had been frustrated first by a lack of response then later by a clear disregard by the aliens who had shown no restrains on attacking Cult facilities and members in case they were on the line of fire.
The defection of Australasia, the nation that compassed Australia, New Zealand and most of the Pacific islands nearby along with New Guinea, however had opened a window of opportunity to finally establish contact with the aliens. Eurasia was one of the few countries that still maintained diplomatic relations with Australasia due to the large number of Cult followers amongst its population and after months the ambassador had finally brought a positive reply to Xhin and Vassilev's requests for parlays with the aliens. Of course, neither the Eurasian government had been informed nor would they have allowed it in their territory so Xhin and Vassilev had taken a commercial flight to the Vladivostok on the Kamkatcha peninsula where they had boarded a large hovercraft that was being manned completely by Cult personnel.
The Unidentified Submersible Object lifted out of the water as if pulled up by an invisible divine hand. Unlike a VTOL craft it made no sound save for the cascade of water raining down its sides as it felt back into the ocean. Roughly arrow shaped, the craft hang on the air close to the open cargo area of the hovercraft and the entire crew stopped on their tracks and was looking silently at the sight of the USO as it started circling them while keeping its bow pointed at the larger craft. Xhin barked an order for everyone to resume their duties and stay out of sight while Vassilev looked weary at the sight of the alien craft keeping a close watch at them with its weapons as it went around.
When it completed its turn the commander of the craft must have decided by then that the humans had been warned enough already as it turned on its axis to present its stern and the doors located there. "Impressive". Xhin commented as it started coming down to land at the steel platform in front of them.
"Indeed". Vassilev wasn't thrilled. "Who do you think it's flying it? The so called Gillmen?"
"That's the whole question isn't it? If there's really a split amongst them as X-COM believes then we will be facing either the Aquatoids or the Gillmen. If it's the first it's possible that we can reach an understanding with them, if they are indeed the antecessors of the Sectoids".
"They are liars. We already know that".
"Both of us know that we can't grasp their reasons. For such is their divine nature".
"Brother, for once I had mistaken you for a mystic". As the door opened the exchange ceased as both of them either expected a short Aquatoid or a tall Gillman, according the information available about both races. What they found waiting for them inside surprised both of them as two armored figures moved towards them.
"It's me. Open up".
"And who might you be?" The computer generated voice nearly replicated the tone of one of those suspicious concierges who are usually afraid of any visitors. Delacroix sighed realizing that the software had failed to recognize his voice unlike Cyberweb's claim that it was 100 full proof.
"The person who pays the rent and the electricity that feeds your goddamn microchips. Open up!"
The female electronic voice nearly had the tone of giving him a lecture. "I still haven't positively identified you yet, lieutenant. Please look at me in the eye". Cursing the software that controlled the door Delacroix stepped to the side and placed his left eye in front of the blue plastic bubble that housed the sensors that read his iris. A flash of light come into his vision but later the door still remained closed. Already tired, he felt his irritation growing at the automatic lock and he growled. "Well, open it up you piece of junk!"
"Machines have feelings you know". The reply made him to look in disbelief at the bubble as the artificial voice stood silent afterwards. Cursing whomever had designed it Delacroix realized in despair that he must have forgotten about the date of the next inspection made by the Cyberweb technicians since it definitely had developed some sort of a bug. The software that controlled the door was supposed to welcome him home with a friendly voice although he had thought that sometimes it was unnerving since it sounded too intelligent and personal for a machine.
The damn thing must be having a glitch. Moving to the small keypad built into the wall below the sensor he tried to remember his personal access code that would open the door but after fidgeting with the plastic numbers for ten seconds he nearly smashed it as he realized that he couldn't remember it. Which gave him only two choices: either blow up the lock with his pistol or take the commuter train back into the city to find a motel to sleep and tomorrow call the nearest Cyberweb store and have them send a technician to deal with the door.
A small click suddenly heard on the gray corridor coming from the door made him look at the lock and utter a prayer of thanks that the software had finally stopped its bitchy mood and had allowed him entrance. Grabbing his duffel bag he pushed the door open and entered his apartment deciding to call Cyberweb the next morning for they to check the electronic lock. He hadn't heard the 'Welcome home lieutenant. How was your day?' usual phrase from the machine as he stepped inside. It had come when he had moved into the house years ago at the beginning of X-COM and the machine still thought he was a lieutenant. So much better since sometimes the question would really annoy him. But that was natural since he would spend weeks absent from home, and he considered it more to be the place where he could storage his few personal objects and serve as a safe house.
A very unsafe house! The first signal that someone had broken into his apartment first brought him into full attention as his eyes scanned the corridor that led into to the small bedroom and sitting room and found something that wasn't supposed to be there. His right hand dropped his bag into the floor and reached for the Gauss pistol holstered against his left side underneath his leather jacket.
It was a dark blue medium heeled woman's shoe tumbled over the dull sand carpet. Then he momentarily relaxed as he heard a mocking voice coming from the direction of the sitting room. "Welcome home, Paul, or whatever you call yourself these days How was your day?" He was sighing even before she spoke to him as he had already figured who the person might be.
Still holding a grip on his pistol he moved down the corridor and turned into the small sitting room, the gun following his sight. The late afternoon's sky thrust its grey tone through the windows at the end of the other room. Delacroix found Lynn seated lazily on his sofa with her bare feet on the carpet and her long curly hair nearly hiding the pillow underneath. She smiled at him while holding a glass half full of an amber liquid but he ignored her. Looking back at his bedroom and finding it empty he finally turned to her and asked: "What are you doing here Lynn?"
She sat upright on the sofa and grabbed her hair with her hands until she had tucked it into a ponytail. "Now that's a warm greeting Paul. No 'Hi Lynn great to see you after all this time'?"
He placed his gun back to the holster and took out his dark jacket and placed it on a chair back. "You and I haven't met in three years for a reason. I thought you'd be clever by now to have understood it. What do you want?"
She shook her head in frustration. "Tsk tsk. Again, you're not making this easy. Why do you have to be so stubborn Paul? You know we could use you back". Placing himself behind the chair he crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I'm through with that Lynn. I belong to X-COM now and that's more than going around setting bombs that kill Cult members along with innocent bystanders".
She looked at him defiantly. "Bullshit. You know that better than me. You don't belong to them. They're just mercenaries". She spat the word in disgust and her eyes narrowed. "They have no belief in what they're doing unlike both of us".
Delacroix didn't dismiss the flash of aggression but he chose to ignore it since it could turn the whole conversation into a powder keg ready to explode. "Let's not have another of our old philosophical disagreements, shall we? Whatever the reason you're here the answer is no". His voice hardened. "Please leave or I'll make you leave, understood?"
She got up and met his gaze in a concerned tone. "Paul I'm here not only to ask but to give you some advice".
"I never stop listening to other people's advice, although in your case I might make an exception". Opening his bag he started taking off his dirty laundry and piling it on the floor. A couple of Gauss pistol magazines also found their way there and he made a note to remember separating them unless he wanted to ruin the laundry machines on the basement.
She moved over and placed her hand on his arm. "You're being blind Paul. You're being manipulated. In the past two years I've suspected more and more that X-COM has been from the beginning nothing more than a sham make to trick us all while someone tries to reach some sort of accommodation with the aliens".
With a slight move he pushed her hand aside. "You're being extremely paranoid as usual Lynn. No one at the council is trying to achieve that".
"How would you know? Did your money loving opportunist councilman Williams tell you that? Do you think he tells you all that is going on?"
"No. But I don't need to know everything that is going on and I don't want it". Moving away from him she stopped near to a small cabinet set against one of the walls where a old fashioned picture frame made of silver stood empty along with some other small personal possessions of his. Lynn pointed towards it and asked: "Wasn't there an old pic of your family? I seem to remember it looking at it once when you were sleeping. Is it still hanging around?" He remembered it quite well but he had it burned when he had joined X-COM since it was a security risk for him and them if someone ever found out about them. "You have nothing to do with it Lynn".
"No? In that case why haven't you gone back to them? Or are you seeing somebody else again to forget her?" That started to anger Delacroix and he was both mad at her indiscretion and the way she was manipulating him using their former relationship. "This conversation is crap. We've been done for years and I have nothing to do with your agenda. Leave or I might get tired of waiting for the police and toss you out instead".
Her mouth snarled in excitement at him. "You wouldn't dare both. If they ever identified you…"
Staring at her eyes he called her bluff. "Your eyes would also say a number of things about you Lynn. Wanna see who goes down faster?"
It worked since she moved away from him but she still didn't let it go. "I remember that you were pretty efficient and deadly when you were on my side Paul. And the body count has never stopped increasing since then has it?"
"I've stopped counting and X-COM is doing more against the aliens than we ever did that way. Plus if I kill people it's not for pleasure but for necessity. Not every Cult member has to die and it matters more if we stop this madness as soon as possible".
"Ha! You believe this Council is different from the other one. You're a fool Paul because Williams will use you then get rid of you as soon as possible. We all have a role to play. I'm calling you to do yours and come back to us. The moment is rising". Again she played the intimacy card but Delacroix shook his head and a memory from these days came back to him, which he thought appropriate for the whole situation.
"The path of the righteous one is a lonely one". Some of his former associates were clergymen who believed the fight against Sirius had to be taken into a spiritual level and gave such messages to the members. That particular one had been burned on his mind for years and its meaning was quite clear for both of them.
She gathered her coat and headed for the door but not before replying in a sad eye. "You fool yourself Paul. We both walked the same path until now. Too bad you will see it when it's too late".
"Goodbye Lynn". His short dismissal made her collect her shoes and leave without looking back. Delacroix watched her close the door and then went back to sorting out his laundry. He would have a couple of days off before his next assignment and the only thing he wanted was to be able to relax meanwhile.
October 25th, 2044
Tuffs Plain, Northwest Pacific
Block Thirty-Seven Alpha was located at Tuffs Plain, an open sea bottom area that extended from the continental platform of North America to the middle of the Pacific. Although the area was located on the high seas and therefore no one could solely claim its resources it was located on the US side of the demarcation line, the unofficial division of the Pacific between Alaskan and US waters.
For Irving Samuelson, that fact didn't please him too much since the gas field that United Oil had detected lying under the sea bed also extended to the Alaskan side and the PRA wasn't too happy to see United discover the field and to develop it without asking for permission or to set a deal to divide the highly valuable gas resources. The work was hard: every two weeks he would be transported by a mini-submarine to the underwater facility that United had installed at the sea bottom close to the gas fields. Boring holes into the seabed and placing valves into them extracted the methane gas and then it would transported by high-pressure pipes, which would be connected to the floating platform that liquefied the gas before transferring it to tankers standing on the surface. Robots did the work on the fields but all of the maintenance work for them and the supervision of the drilling and extracting operation needed human hands and eyes. That meant that every month he would have to go through decompression procedures before coming back to the surface for a week on the shore to rest and also to don his high depth diving suit everyday but the pay fit the nature of his high-risk job. Plus, nowadays such secure jobs were difficult to find and he needed the money to pay for his new house.
As he moved on the sandy bottom a pair of workers also clad on their bronze diving suits passed by him, holding to the mini submersible as it transported them to well #24, which had been brought offline for repairs. Several of the wells at the outermost edge of the field were actually located in what would be considered Alaskan territory, although no country recognized high seas claims made by others. Samuelson couldn't care less if the Alaskans had never bothered to survey this area or to develop it for their own. Occasionally a PRA Militia submarine would inspect the field and the facility from a distance but if they considered United to be trespassing they had never taken any action besides their usual warnings related to any type of exploration on the area. But Samuelson couldn't care less about their neo-communist rhetorical bullshit.
Step by step he advanced on the sea bottom, which stood nearly empty of any life which the exception of some fish that would approach his dive suit and leave afterwards. The living quarters stood some meters in front of him, a rounded yellow metal habitacle that served to support the crew and the drilling operations. Moving closer to the entrance of the water lock he pressed a large red button standing on a panel and watched by the window as the chamber inside filled with green salt water. After the chamber was filled and a green light appeared flashing on the panel he grabbed a lever and pulled it down. The massive door opened and he stepped inside, closing it afterwards and the chamber started to fill with pressurized air as he started to get out of his diving suit.
Twenty minutes afterwards he had already changed into a jumpsuit and grabbed a mug of coffee while heading for the control chamber. Another engineer was standing there and checking the array of monitors and dials that controlled the entire operation. Sitting on a chair, he called from the computer the latest reports from the surface.
Then suddenly a loud boom was heard all over the chamber. Turning to the other engineer on the room he asked: "What the hell was that? Sonar echo?"
"Undetermined. The bearing was 281. That's the direction of well #36".
"What's its status?"
"Shit. Look at this". Samuelson looked at the monitor: NO DATA AVAILABLE.
"Damn. OK, report to top that #36 is offline. We need to send the crew there when they finish the work on #24. One of the damn robots must have screwed up things again. Tell Calatrava to have a look and see what's happening after he's done with #24…". Samuelson and the other engineer stopped as the indicator for well #25 changed its status to offline, along with #26, and #27.
"What the hell is happening!" More lights switched colors in a rapid succession. Ten, no twelve wells going offline all of a sudden?" The buzzer on the speakers on top of them told them that someone on the overhead platform was also looking at the same information and asking the same question.
Grabbing a headset he dialed Calatrava´s frequency and called the diver, who was assigned to that section of the field. "What is going on there Calatrava?" The intercom from the surface had stopped also, which meant a less distraction while he was dealing with this problem.
Seconds passed and he started worrying. All of the sudden the communications had turned dead, both from the field and the platform, which usually meant trouble. Looking at the sonar screen he found nothing but it was set for passive move. "Activate the sonar".
The other engineer looked at him in puzzlement. "What? For what? There's no submarine scheduled to arrive from top today".
Pushing the other man aside Samuelson reached for the button that would energize the small sonar array mounted at the top of the facility. PING! PING! PING! The sound waves immediately started to be heard all over the chamber but Samuelson realized that the sonar array was also offline. "Wait a minute. Those are not our pings…". Then the entire ocean floor underneath the habitacle shook in a single and devastating movement.
October 27th, 2044
The Dome, Juneau, People's Republic of Alaska
The set of buildings that housed the Executive Committee had been designed after the succession on 2026 to replace the old state legislature. The main building was called "The Dome due to its large crystal inverted cup shape that took advantage of the natural sunlight that filled the Juneau area. Both visitors and government officials could also see the green slopes of Mount Roberts, which stood on the mountain range that encircled the city.
The Dome had been built right next to the blue Gastineau channel that stood between the city and West Juneau and Councilman David Roberts, the Alaskan representative to X-COM now stood next to the glass windows looking at the ferry boat traffic at the waterway. Although he was a native of Anchorage, which was Alaska's largest city with more than a million inhabitants, he could still remember the times when Anchorage was simply a state capital that belonged to the US. Back then the climate was still cold enough for the glaciers to come near to the city and while it was the major city in Alaska it didn't felt like an urban setting at all. But that had been before the population had increased tenfold after the mass migrations on the 2020's and now stood at three million people. Ironically, nowadays most of the country's inhabitants hadn't been born in Alaskan territory at all but had come from the 49 states. The large influx of humans had also brought its own share of problems to Anchorage that had before been unheard of: lack of housing, traffic jams and inflation, due to the pressing needs of its new inhabitants. Independence had brought new political visions on how to deal with those matters, especially after the melting of the glaciers had provoked massive mudslides that had destroyed parts of the city and killed hundreds of people. The Committee's attitude back then had been simple: enforce strict urban planning and environment measures and order that whoever didn't like them was welcome to pack its things and get back to the States.
It had resolved the situation in Anchorage but Roberts still preferred the quieter setting of Juneau. The capital's population had also increased from thirty thousand inhabitants at the end of the twentieth century to nearly one hundred thousand but most of it had happened after independence and the government had been able to better organize it. Unlike Anchorage, which had a thriving fishing, oil refining, aquaculture and other manufacturing industries there was nothing remarkable on Juneau except that it traditionally housed the state's government.
And on a political level the population was seen by the Committee as much more reliable than Anchorage. The Alaska's People's Party had been born originally at Juneau by the hands of Adam Okakok, a state legislator that had decided to form a new political movement as the state had been invaded by corporate enterprises that were buying all available land and pushing for the exploration of protected natural areas. Okakok was a native Alaskan of the Inupiaq tribe and had lived all of his childhood on the northern area of the state before coming down to Anchorage to study on the late twentieth century. There he had first read the works of Marx and other communist writers, together with the ideologies of the environmentalist movements and combined them with his own tribal experiences. But after he had been finally elected to the state's legislature on 2020's Okakok had pushed for the state's separation, citing the complete disrespect of the US's federal government and corporations over the Alaskan people and territory. While at first most of the other legislators ignored his proposals, most of the electorate seemed to do not and it took only a couple of years before the legislature was filled with members of the APP, which Okakok had deliberately named after the old communist regimes in further defiance of US politics.
Roberts had joined the APP after he had attended one of the rallies at Anchorage's University. Since then he had never imagined that the new Alaskan country could go as far as it had. Led by Okakok, the Alaskan Congress had declared independence from the US on 2026 and had immediately called for volunteers to defend the state from any acts of aggression. Most to the surprise of everybody the ranks of the Green Militia had been filled not only with Alaskans but also with newly arrived inhabitants which had also came because of Alaska's unspoiled territory and were finding out that unlike something was made to control the migrations and the over exploration the paradise would be lost in a number of decades.
By the time the Marines landed to capture Juneau, the Green Militia had been hastily assembled and trained into a somewhat coherent combat force, equipped by the efforts of Okakok and trained by former US officers who had chosen to join the Alaskan military. The initial invasion had been fiercely repelled by the newly formed Green Militia, in what was the only land confrontation between both countries. After the initial disaster, with hundreds of Marines captured or dead, the US had balked from any direct attempts for fear of a negative public relation and had chosen instead to impose a blockade on the Pacific and refuse to enter any peace negotiations with a "rebel state".
The conditions had improved somewhat since those days, with the blockade lessened but US and Alaskan navy forces still sailed uneasy into what had been called the demarcation line. It ran from British Columbia to the Aleutians and it was the unofficial separation line between both countries on the Pacific. Occasionally there would be some sporadic fighting but otherwise neither the US nor the PRA were too willing to press the matter further.
As Roberts kept walking towards the elevators that led into the underwater facility below the Dome, he passed by the building's central hall, where a statue of Okakok stood in the middle, with the sculptor choosing to represent him in real proportions as when he had confronted the legislative chamber with his famous: "Freedom for the Alaskan people and land" speech. One hand was clenched in a fist while the other held the original document that would be later be signed by the majority of the congressmen and now was Alaska's declaration of independence. The sculptor had undoubtedly reproduced it in a classical style, chiseling the wrinkled nose of Okakok with fine workmanship and it amused Roberts because it represented part of the heritage taken from the US that all Alaskans recognized and had adopted as their own, even if the majority of the population had strong anti-US feelings, with the Inuit minority being the most vocal.
Approaching the doors to the restricted area of the Dome, Roberts saw both Green Militia soldiers stiffening into attention as he approached them and presenting their ceremonial Gauss rifles to their sides. Their uniforms had the same utilitarian cut as his own tunic but the only different was that he bore gray instead of their bright green. "Comrade Commissar". One of them saluted him as the other moved to open the door for him. Nodding to both of them before going through the doors, Roberts was quick to move to the elevators that would bring him to the underwater quarters. Like most of the world's coastline, Juneau had suffered from major floods two decades ago and the majority of the center was now half-submerged. However, the increasing dependence upon the oceans had also meant that the populations had simply learned to live and work underwater. The original plans of the "Dome" had included extensive use of the flooded sections of the city. It would still take a number of years before the original project was concluded but so far most Alaskans felt proud about their capital.
Roberts felt it also. The entire aquatic section of the Dome reminded him of the aquaculture underwater stations that were based off shore near Kodiak, with their numerous fish farms, or the mining operations that were taking place near the Aleutians Trench to take advantage of the minerals that were regularly spewed out of the insides of Earth by the volcanoes. However, no matter how much they had achieved on the years after the independence, he always felt that there was still much to be done. Okakok's dream was still unfulfilled, along with the hopes of the majority of Alaska's population. The citizens that had were immigrants hoped that a peace settlement to be reached with the US but in nearly twenty years it hadn't been possible due to the position of the US Congress which was still obstinate in financial claims to the lands that had belonged to private enterprises and that had been nationalized by the new Alaska's People Republic. And Okakok's dream of a free, peaceful Alaska had died with him ten years ago after a suicide bomber had detonated the explosives he carried inside his body. Despite the following investigation it had been impossible to determine the real motives of the individual beyond the explosion, which had only brought more suspicions of the Alaskans regarding the US, no matter how much the Americans had refuted the allegations that it hasn't been an action on their part.
When Roberts stepped out of the elevator and into the underwater section of the Dome a number of officers looked at his brown coat in curiosity, as it stood in contrast with the green color of the Alaskan military. Although the building housed a number of governmental departments it also served as the central control military base for the Juneau area of operations that was located in the bunkers below the 'Dome'. The Politburo regularly conducted their meetings there on the security of the base and as Roberts finally entered the guarded chamber. Okakok had ruled the PRA with the help of an Executive Committee that was chosen by the Party. After his death the Party had refused to appoint a substitute to Okakok. Instead, and following the old communist tradition, a Politburo composed of the most important elements of the State had taken control of the PRA's government. Roberts was now on its way to meet with the other four members of the Alaskan Politburo. Unlike the rest of the individuals that composed the X-COM Council his position was unique for he also was the Commissar for Foreign Relations of the PRA. Beside himself, the Politburo of the People's Republic of Alaska was composed of the commissars for the Biosphere, Green Militia, Environmental Security and the Party's General Secretary. Each man and woman seated on the table had their own views about how Okakok's dream was to be fulfilled. They had agreed on most basic issues for the past ten years, usually calling upon their collective memories of Okakok's leadership for guidance but there were a lot of differences separating them.
Two of the other three members of the Politburo already present were standing together and talking between themselves while Eleanora Tyson, the AWP's General Secretary was already seated at the head of the table and seemed lost in thoughts. Tyson had been Okakok's companion and wife from the time he had been elected and until the time of his death and afterwards had been elected by the party to the position that he had assumed from the independence. Being a staunch pacifist she had objected initially to the creation of the Militia and only reluctantly recognized the need for a standing military due to the frictions between the US and the alien threat. "Comrade Roberts". After she and General Okakok, the nephew of the Revolution hero and the commander of the Green Militia, had greeted Roberts all of them sat down at the stone table.
"Where is commissar Betts?" As Roberts asked for the responsible for Environmental Security, the door opened and a small plump man entered. "I'm sorry for the delay", was his single comment as he also sat by the table, without providing any explanation. The man had probably been getting as much information as possible on the present situation, Roberts realized. Betts was in charge of the Alaskan intelligence and internal security services and had been responsible for the majority of the successes against the US. His agents inside X-COM had been the ones responsible for stealing the gauss technology schematics at the SORESO base and even the FBI still had him on its most wanted criminals list, due to his activities during the independence period.
"We shall begin then. Comrade General, would you please review the events from two days and the latest developments?" Nodding to Tyson, Okakok got up from his chair. He was the junior member but his status as nephew of the deceased AWP leader compensated for it. "As you all know comrades, the United underwater oil facility was hit two days ago, and the platform above reported an unknown contact before being also sunk. There isn't much evidence but it should be obvious to them that the aliens were the ones responsible for this unwarranted attack. However, it seems to have had the opposite effect. The attack has brought quite an uproar on the American Congress. The capitalists and warmongers are pushing for retaliatory strikes over our positions on the demarcation lines, according what their media has been saying".
Tyson brought her hand to her lips before speaking. "We need to bring some control over the situation".
Roberts concurred. "This won't help our stabilization efforts along the demarcation line. There is great pressure on both sides for the informal cease-fire currently in place to be ignored. Due to the increase of alien activity on the area that might not be advisable".
"The Americans got what they deserved. That oil field is ours". Like his uncle, the older Okakok was a staunch believer of Alaskan independence, and Roberts tended to agree with him most of the times. "But we also need to face the aliens". The missing member of the Politburo, was currently away at Kodiak to supervise the reconstruction efforts as Commissar for Biosphere Development but she also agreed with Okakok on those matters. After all, she was her wife, and politics on the higher levels of the PRA tended to favor those with family connections to the dead leader.
Okakok turned to him. "You have been spending too much time talking in that damn X-COM Council. Their own intelligence have mentioned the possibility of those Gillmen being separated from the Aquatoids? Why don't we explore that? After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend".
Roberts replied to Okakok, knowing that the men also felt a deep animosity towards him because of his Caucasian origin. "That information is unconfirmed and most likely incorrect. But perhaps it is better to ask it to our comrade in charge of Environmental Security".
Betts nodded. "We agree with the Comissar' opinion. And while we are discussing this, our boats and other intelligence sources have detected that the US Navy is preparing to sortie a number of ships and submarines from their bases on San Diego and Puget Sound". The news brought a grim face to all of the members of the Politburo, although Roberts already knew about it and faked his reaction. Juneau was the closest location on Alaska to the US and any attack would only detected a few minutes away, almost giving them no warning. Okakok took a hard stance. "The Green Militia is fully prepared to deal with the Americans. We will teach them another lesson!"
"Nephew, calm down. Our own defensive preparations can be interpreted as if we are getting ready for an attack". Okakok looked in anger at Tyson, who turned to Roberts and ignored him. Ahh, family matters, Roberts sighed, before continuing with the charade.
"That will not be advisable. The Americans are still completely unaware of who was behind the attack. I suggest we immediately start talks using the X-COM council to…"
"That will not be enough, comrade commissar". Betts objected firmly. "We need better resources against both aliens and the Americans. Fortunately Environmental Security has forseen the need for it". He looked to Roberts who already knew what the man would reveal next, since it had initially been his idea although Betts had been responsible to implement it. For the next half hour the Secretary General and the PRA's commander listened to him talking, first with shock then with interest. Those who adapt survive. The thought occurred halfway as Roberts listened to the description of the plans he and Betts had formulated. Now it would be only be necessary to convince the other officials of his other propose. What Okakok realized, unlike his wife or his nephew or the rest of his family is that peace is a dead man's dream and war a fool's errand. Survival is the key to everything.
André Galvão, 2005