X-Com - The Unknown Menace

X-Com - The Unknown Menace

Chapter Eight – The Grim Horizon

March 25th, 1999

Forbidden City, Beijing, People's Republic of China

As usual, Chairman Zhu's first chore of the day consisted of a session of tai chi in order to prepare for the days' ordeal. He had taken into not falling under the excesses of his predecessors, whose life after obtaining high positions was of what he considered debauchery. One's mind can be only clear in a fit body he thought, as he went through a series of exercises, clearing his attention.

He had chosen one of the restored Imperial gardens that rested in the middle of small plaza surrounded by buildings dating from the Manchus, the last dynasty of China. The area was deserted, save for himself, with specific orders having been given not to disturb him. The crank of the old wood beneath him was only registered on his mind for a second, and the anger of being interrupted quickly dissolved itself into a feeling that something important must have happened. To deal with it, he decided to first complete the exercise he was performing at the moment. Another series of movements was completed, his arms dancing in the air in front of him, moving through the rhythm of his body. He then stopped and said: "Speak!"

He felt his deputy indecision about how to approach him, sudden freezing into place and after a second of hesitation the man nervously said: "Comrade Chairman, I'm sorry to disturb you but contact has been made". That caught Zhu's full attention and he opened his eyes to look directly at his subordinate. The deputy waited that the Chinese leader made any question, but seeing that his silence continued, he then carried on.

"An offer has been made, of collaboration"

"An offer or forced assistance?" Let's see who wants to be the puppeteer here, Chu thought.

"They didn't specify details but merely pointed that they are open to discussion". The deputy had become first exuberant when he was notified. Now noticing his leader's reaction he wasn't sure of what to think. He continued. "If true, it will allow us to dispense with X-Com this minute and start looking for our own interests".

Chu eyes drifted through the ancient setting where both of them were standing, considering his subordinate's words. "How and when did it happen?"

"Last night. One of the Politburo's members loyal to us was approached by one of their agents. He certified his identity, we can be sure that he is one of them". Zhu listened to the last words of his deputy and then restarted his training, saying nothing. After some seconds of confusion, but afraid to disturb his superior again, the deputy quietly left. As his body went through another set of trained exercises, Zhu started meditating about what he had just been told.

April 1st, 1999

Mother One, Black Forest, Germany

Eva Johannes was looking beneath a large reinforced window at an alien weapon that was mounted on a support in test range. The brown and red pistol suddenly fired itself, releasing a green bolt that hit a blackened wall. She then turned to one of the monitors who were displaying the information received from the energized particle detectors. She just shook her head in disbelief. Turning to Doctor Chevereux, who was also present, she said: "Plasma. All of this just to get some plasma!"

"It merely confirmed our suspicions that were based on the description of the beam the weapons emitted and the physical results of the discharges, Doctor".

"How could we have over missed it, Doctor Chevereux? It was that simple!"

"In reality it still isn't. We now have an idea of how the weapons use the Elerium to generate the plasma or how they manage to contain it and direct it. Or even how they use it to move their craft. On the first aspect they most likely are a result of the matter-antimatter mutual annihilation reaction but in the second we are still left in a blank".

"Meaning more months of experiments". And more frustration to come, she added mentally.

"Yes, results just don't materialize themselves on thin air and land at to our desks".

 Air? Traveling? Something connected at her head. "What did you said Doctor?"

"That we must continue our efforts, let's just hope they don't decide to cut the funding for this also".

"No, something about air"

"Results don't appear out of nowhere and land were we wanted them, or something like that"

"That's it!" The missing piece that was eluding them!

"Excusez-moi, doctor? Can you please explain what are you saying?"

"During my stay at Area 51 I contacted with several of the troopers involved in the assault of a two-story UFO near the North Pole. I asked him about the things he had seen working inside the UFO and if there was anything peculiar, but he couldn't remember at the moment anything. But one day I heard him commenting about the lifts the aliens used and his surprise about it. They had no moving parts and that an invisible force elevated the passenger. The trooper said that he simply moved in the air and stopped afterwards".

"What is your point, Dr.?"

"Moving, landing. What's the name of the force on Earth that attracts everything to the ground?"

"Gravity?" Dr. Chevereux thought for a minute and added: "You mean the elevator was an anti-gravity device?"

"And now think about the raid on Coventry. Commander Illyuschenko reported that when the UFO's engines stopped he suddenly could feel the inertia of the craft, something that did not happen while it was moving airborne, because the anti-gravity effect counteracted Newton's laws of movements, that state that a reaction has a counter-reaction".

"An anti-gravity device? The Elerium can generate an anti-gravity field? That would explain how the craft moves or how their weapons control the plasma discharge, but how?"

"Like you said, Dr. Chevereux, we need to do some more testing".

"Yes, unfortunately the research priorities have been changed". He took a resigned look, of someone who had dealt with such situations for many times.

"What? What do you mean? We can't have gone this far to stop everything now!"

"The report from the Council of Funding Nations came this morning and I wished it was an April' Fools Day joke. Many nations are complaining of UFO activity within or close to their borders with no response from X-Com's forces. As a result, they have decided to reduce their contributions and the money we have is simply not enough to cover all our expenses. Scientific programs have been put into a low-priority with the majority of the funds going to cover military deployment costs".

"The Secretary General and the Commander must be insane! You can't allow this to happen Doctor!"

"I supported their decision. The troops are well prepared now to deal with the aliens. We need to deploy them or the cuts will affect us more next month and might even lead to this whole operation being cancelled. I have lived through hundreds of budget constrains and know that if we don't present results, the Council will cut more. Legislators are a funny kind of people doctor. They tend to think more in practical matters than in the long-term".

"What are we to do then?" She felt defeated.

"You will continue with the Elerium research, but at a minimal funding. But most of the staff on the project will be redirected to other areas. We need know to find more about the aliens in order for the military to be able to decipher their intentions and plans".

"But we are this close, Doctor. Remember your words when we started? Elerium is the key to the stars". The older scientist looked absent for a minute and then he replied.

"That might not be so, Dr. We still don't know how or if it's used to transport to travel through speeds faster than light. Zeta Reticuli, the system where the alien claims its species was born, is a long way from here and, most likely the craft we have seen can travel through planets but not out of our solar system. It would take them took long although some recent discoveries archeological discoveries suggest that they might be watching us for a long time".

"The theory that the aliens must have a base inside our solar system to support their operations. Yes, I have seen the conclusions of the…. interrogation made to the alien also."

"Yes. Interesting how we are seen as guinea pigs by them, but not pleasant at all". He checked his watch and said afterwards: "I need to be going Dr. Please continue with your testing and notify me immediately if you come up with any interesting report".

"Of course, Dr. Chevereux". And I will get them, she ordered herself.

April 7th, 1999

Pacific Ocean

The nuclear powered Los Angeles class attack submarine USS La Jolla was traveling at a speed of six knots on her three-day trip from the Hawaii Islands to her pier at San Diego Naval Base. Most of the journey had been uneventful so far, and, besides a group of whales migrating and some merchant ships they hadn't had any contact in the first two days of the trip. Since they were close to the US Coast, the sub skipper had decided to go to the surface and allow his men to get some fresh air and sun, taking advantage to the rather unusual weather conditions. The captain had also decided to go outside and had been on the top of the submarine's sail for nearly half an hour when the intercom started working.

"Captain, Sonar. We require your presence down here sir. We have just picked a strange sonar echo on the passive sonar".

"Nature of the contact?"

"Unidentified sir. It is underwater and moving at an impossible speed".

"I'm coming down". He dropped on the hatch built on the floor of the tower that was built on the top of the submarine, grabbed one of the rails and started going down. After less than a minute he reached the sonar room where two technicians were very occupied.

"Ensign Rollins, what's the range to the target?"

"43 nautical miles sir. But we first detected it more than sixty miles away".

The captain did some mental calculations and frown his face. For the contact to have closed that distance it meant that it was navigating at a speed never seen on a submarine. Unless it was not a sub. He recalled the top security orders he had received months ago.

"Is the sonar signature completely unknown to our databank?"

"Yes, I've triple-checked it already. And the noise we are picking up is very strange; it doesn't quite fit the usual transistent signal. It doesn't sound like mechanical parts working but more as if it's a whale, but in this case it would be a whale with a metallic skin". The senior sonar technician looked completely puzzled and shrank its shoulders. Something on the earphones caught his attention and he looked at the data monitors in front of him, even more astonished with what he saw. "Sir it just suddenly stopped, but I mean a full stop. And it's moving again right now but changed its course. It's not heading toward us anymore but going on a course zero-four-seven. Have you ever heard of anything like it captain?"

The Captain remembered his instructions. They were very precise on this point. "It must one of the Russian new submarines that they are testing right now, according to the CIA".

If the technician even detected that his commander was telling a lie, he didn't even showed it also when he replied: "This close to our shore?!"

"Keep tracking it. And if you have not figured it out yet, gentlemen, what you are seeing is classified. You may never discuss this with anyone else or you will spend the rest of your careers on a federal prison!"

Both non-commissioned officers immediately turned stiff and replied: "Yessir!"

"Inform me of any changes on his present course, I will be in the communications room". He didn't even bother to hear their reply as he was already thinking of a way to put the incident into words.

Santa Cruz, California

Going on night shift at the local radio was always hell for the disk jockey on was assigned to it. And Terry was just starting to feel what it was like, in his first night. First he thought that it would be good to not have anyone else looking at you to see if the newbie made any blunder. He almost wanted that someone would be shouting at him right now. Besides the technician on charge on the transmission gear of the station there was no one else on the top floor of a three-story office building where K-NUT transmitted. And there was nothing to do also, besides occasionally mumbling something into the mike just to wake up whoever would be up at this hour in the night trying to no fall at sleep at the wheel of the car and choosing the tracks that were being broadcasted.

At least the studio had a soundproof window in front of him that opened to the outside and provided a view of the shore and the Pacific Ocean. That helped out to not feeling also claustrophobic. But it didn't do much in helping the boredom of the place. Terry considered going over the technician to chat a little to see if it helped the time passed but when he looked to the booth where he usually sat, there was no one there. Probably went for a couple of coffee at the vendor on the corridor or to take a piss he figured. He looked at the monitor and noticed that the last song on the list was being played. Time to go to work again for some more minutes he thought, while starting to think what it would be broadcasted next. While he was going over the songs stored on the informatics system, his side view begun tracking something.

He first thought it was the Moon on her way across the sky, but his brain remembered that it didn't the Moon didn't travel that quick and also that its shape was never oval. He looked to the window and became absorbed in what he saw. Something bright was flying offshore in front of his eyes. He quickly jumped out of his chair and ran to the window. He wanted to open it but it didn't have a handle so after some seconds of search for one he just quitted and looked again. The oval thing or disk or whatever it was still kept moving from the left to the right, close to the shore. What the fuck was that, he asked? A voice asked behind of him.

"Hey! What are you doing? There's nothing playing on the air right now you moron!" The technician shouted at him from the door that connected the studio to his booth.

"There's something flying out there! It's a UFO or something!" Terry kept looking at the craft.

"What? A fucking UFO? " He moved to the window, and took a peek, but the UFO had already disappeared on the horizon. "Are you nuts or something? There's nothing out there! You must have been smoking some serious shit before coming to work!"

"I'm serious, it was big! We need to call the police! We need to report this on the air!"

"Christ! Wake up! Hello, wake up! What you need to do is to get some music playing right now, you idiot or you can be sure that I will report you tomorrow! Fucking rookie assholes!" The technician turned and went back to his booth, leaving Terry still searching for the now gone UFO.

Area 51, Nevada, US

The hangar where the F-22 interceptor was parked was full of agitation, with technicians going over the craft and warning klaxons sounded in the dark metal walls. The organized chaos that had been installed was repeating itself on the other hangar next to it, where X-Com personnel was also preparing the second advanced fighter that the West team Base possessed.

On a room situated on the facility, Lt. Colonel Harris was finishing the final preparations on his flight gear, together with Captain Clark, both pilots having been called in by Colonel Johnson. When they both did the last checks they both turned to the West commander and waited in silence.

Johnson then started talking: "Ten minutes ago the US Navy detected an UFO underwater in the Pacific heading towards the US shore. It disappeared and the NORAD picked it up afterwards on a course that led it to San Diego. The radar track showed it to be one of their ships used for terrorist attacks".

"What? Jesus!" Before both officers started bombarding him with questions, Johnson raised a hand to stop them. "It over flew San Diego and never launched any attack. Local authorities report no strange events in the area. The UFO just continued its course and is lurking around in the area. Current information puts him 10 miles off the city on Santa Cruz, California. To prevent any possible attacks, the Air Force is putting together a major operation to shoot it down. And you will be the spearhead of that offensive. The Alpha, Delta, Epsilon, Omega, Phi, Zeta and Kappa squads are already getting ready and boarding the Skyrangers, in case you fail".

Harris fought the urge to touch his face and almost raised his hand to do it. Revenge. Just show me the fuckers, every last one of them, he said to himself. Johnson seemed to pick something on the pilot, because he turned to Harris and said: "I share of your fears about that thing that is flying out there, but remember that this is a military operation! You will do as you are told or when you came back here you will be spending the rest of this operation cleaning up the toilets!"

"Yessir!"

"Just remember it! Now board your planes, you will get briefed on the plan when you're airborne. And good luck!"

Both pilots grabbed their flight helmets and left the room. When they entered the hangar, Clark turned to Harris and asked him and they were on their way to the planes. "Harris, you know what that last shit that the Colonel said was all about". The other pilot stopped and turned to Clark, moving his index finger to the scars on his temple. He then moved it over the other burned locations on his forehead, slowly rubbing them, to make sure that the younger pilot knew his point.

"Gosh! I'm sorry sir. I didn't mean to intrude…"

"Don't worry about it. Just remember to not get on my way when we're on the air". He then turned to his plane and started walking again, picking his pace. When he reached it he climbed the stairwell in the cockpit and jumped inside, locking himself to the ejection seat and putting his helmet. A couple of jacks coming out from it quickly found themselves into locations in the cabin, connecting him to the radio. He then connected is breathing apparatus and did the final checks. A technician came to the front of his craft waving a hand carrying red little flags and he nodded. His plane was ready. He keyed on his radio:

"Command, this is Comanche One. Ready to take-off. Over"

"Comanche, commenting launch procedures now". Suddenly the floor beneath the craft begun to raise it itself towards the top of the hangar. The overhead doors started opening and the lift slowly brought the craft up to the surface. Light greeted Harris, but he ignored it as he was starting his engines. When the elevator stopped the F-22 was standing in the middle of a sand-painted runway, with rotating lights coming out of their concealed locations to help him see it. Behind him the F-22 piloted by Clark had also come out of its hiding and was maneuvering to get himself being Harris.

"Comanche flight, clear to take off. Climb up to angels twelve and maintain formation. Your heading is 294. Wait for Air Force instructions from the E-3C Sentry on the area".

"Comanche One, roger. Commencing take-off". Harris let go of the air brakes and applied almost full power to the engine. The F-22 slowly started to move in the hot tarmac and started to gain speed. When his airspeed showed it to be going over 150 miles per hour, Harris began pushing the control stick to him and the plane took-off, closely followed by Clark's. Both planes then reached their assigned altitude and started heading towards their target.

Johnson and Major Patterson were also prepared to take-off, seated on a C-130 Hercules aircraft, together with the remaining Beta and Gamma squads. The thing wasn't as good as the EC-130E plane they were used to, but there was no way they could afford to buy it or even request it from the Air Force.

"Colonel, Captain Markovitch reports her Skyranger is ready to lift-off. Forrester hasn't finished their preparations but should be done any second.

"What's the status of Comanche and the other flights?"

"Comanche One and Two are already on their way to California. There's also a flight of F/A-18C Hornets on their way from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, besides the flights of Air Force and National Guard's F-16s and F-15s fighters on their way coming from bases all over the West Coast. Northwestern Air Defense Sector at McChord AFB in Washington State is coordinating the counterattack".

"Do they have more air resources available?"

"The carrier Carl Vinson and his battle group had started two day ago their trip to their deployment to the Southern Pacific, but they are too far away to help. The Air Force will have more fighters available in some hours, but it might be too late".

"And on the ground?"

"One battalion of Marines ready at San Diego. And some California National Guard units can also assist us".

"Let's hurry up the preparations then. We need this thing on the air in case the fighters fail to stop the UFO. He when in the direction of the Hercules' back ramp door to help carrying the last remaining equipment inside the plane.

Over Central California, US

Harris was remembering his first contact. The excitement and fear of approaching the alien craft. And the surprise and pain afterwards, the sudden rush of air into the cut cockpit of the Aurora, the frantic moments searching for the ejection handles before passing out. A voice brought him back: "Comanche Flight, this is Sentinel. Target is still airborne, near San Francisco. Keep your present vector. You are to fire at it at maximum weapon's range and then clear the area. The other flights will then engage, taking advantage of your discharges".

Harris looked at his weapons display. He was carrying four AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and Clark was loaded with two other Phoenixes and three AIM-120 Amraams, each group of weapons split between his two weapons' bays, right in the intersection between the F-22's body and wings. Usually it would take two or three Phoenixes or Amraam's to take one of the Celtic cross type but the craft that was over the Pacific was much larger. Although it would have been better to load a full AIM-54 Phoenix set on both wings, there simply hadn't been enough time. But he preferred that way. Better to keep things close and personal.

Pacific Ocean

Further up north, a flight of four F-15A Eagle interceptors from the 123rd Fighter Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard were circling, waiting for Comanche flight to make their attack run. The leader, Major Armstrong, was afraid. So far he hadn't ever heard of any exercise that consisted of scrambling all the fully armed, alert-status planes at the base and have them wait off the American Coast. Another thing that told him that something big was up was the amount of air traffic he could hear on the military and civilian channels. He recognized some of the call signs. They belonged to air defense fighter units all over the Pacific states. And even more disturbing was the regular air traffic channels. All civilian flight operations had been cancelled on the Bay Area and the airline pilots were giving hell to the controllers, being forced to find alternate airports. That could only mean that there was some immediate danger, most likely in the form of a hostile attack. But who would be nuts enough to make an air strike against the continent US or even have the resources to do it? The threat looked as if it was coming from the Pacific, which meant that either they would have an aircraft carrier lurking around or it had long-range bombers. The Russians? The Chinese? Has World War III started all of a sudden?

California-Nevada border, US

The noise of the C-130 almost made it impossible for Johnson to hear the radio or Patterson's voice. He waved for him to stop and said: "Say that again?"

His executive officer raised his voice to be heard. "Both Skyrangers are halfway to the Bay Area. Air Force is about to attack the UFO".

"Think they are going to make it?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, Colonel. It depends on the offensive and defensives capabilities of that thing. We know it also carries plasma beams like the smaller UFOs. We just don't know what they are capable of".

"And we on the ground, are we ready?"

"The whole company is ready sir. Army and Marine forces are ready to deploy, but the location of the possible attack will determine for long we will have to wait for assistance".

"Let's hope we don't need them and that this all ends on a deployment drill".

Central California, US

The UFO was going steady, some 110 miles away from Comanche Flight. Harris noticed that it seemed to be just cruising, maintaining the same course and a low speed. The APG-71 radar situated on the nose of the F-22 suddenly started picking the craft and it started tracking it. Checking with Clark to certify that he had also a lock, he then contacted the E-3C Sentry that was monitoring the situation.

"Sentinel. This is Comanche Flight, we have the bandit locked".

"Comanche flight acknowledging your status. Weapons are free, engage at your discretion".

"Sentinel, this is Comanche One. I got a tone on the target. Phoenix is locked and ready. Firing now! Fox Three!" The left weapons bay opened and the missile dropped out of its releasing mechanism, dropping for a bit more than a second before its engine blasted. The guidance system received the information from the F-22's radar and started guiding it towards the UFO. After the second Phoenix was launched the hydraulic doors closed again and both missiles were soon racing over Mach five to their target.

"Sentinel, Comanche One. Both missiles are on their way!"

"Sentinel, Comanche Two, I got a malfunction on my left bay. Only fired two missiles".

"Comanche Flight, get clear and remain close to the area until further orders".

As Harris push the stick towards him and to the right to clear the area, he looked at his radar screen, focusing on the echo's sent by the four missiles and the UFO and ignoring the swarms of fighters that were trying to take advantage of his salvo to get into range to also release their missiles. One of the dots started going slowly off target, and after it lost target lock it self-destructed, the blip disappearing off the scope.

The other three Phoenixes hit the UFO. Harris monitored its speed and bearing, but it seemed that it hadn't been enough to bring it down. Then he started noticing the other blips approaching the craft. Four flights of F-15As, F-16Cs and F/A-18Cs were approaching the UFO from all different locations. Since the planes couldn't carry the Phoenix missile, they would have to come closer than 50 miles to be able to launch their AIM-120A Amraam and AIM-7M missiles. Harris knew it could be a dangerous trick. Inside that distance he had been several times been shot at by the UFOs.

Checking the altitude, course and airspeed, he then turned its eyes back into the radar screen and changed the radio into the general channel.

"Sentinel, Cobra Flight, twenty more miles to weapon's range. Target is slowing down."

"Air Flight, engage at maximum range. If bandit opens fire start taking an evasive approach to the target"

"Sentinel, an evasive what? This isn't Second World War anymore where you zigzagged while on an attack run! Repeat last order please".

"Sentinel…"

"Oh my God! Jesus Christ! Cobra Three is hit! I repeat, Cobra Three is hit! I just saw a flash and his F-15 exploded afterwards!"

"Bear Two is also down! He managed to eject! Request search and rescue immediately!"

"How are they tracking us? There's nothing on my threat detector!"

"Commencing evasive maneuvers! Wildcat One is down!"

"Sentinel, Cobra Two, I got a lock and I'm firing now! Fox Two!"

Harris looked at the screen and ignored the calls made by the pilots while launching their missiles. Nearly half of the attacking fighters had been downed already. It seemed that the plasma beam it carried had more range and was more powerful than the ones of the smaller UFOs.

Pacific Ocean

Major Armstrong couldn't believe what was going on. Before Sentinel had given them the order to fire on the bandit, the damn plane they were chasing had already downed two F-15s of his flight. Both pilots had been immediately killed in the explosion that engulfed their planes, with no chance of bailing out. What was that thing on the air and what was it shooting? Nothing could be seen, not even the smoke trail of the enemy's missiles or whatever he used while they headed out for his flight's planes.

He had launched his four AIM-7M Sparrow missiles and was keeping a steady course to the bogey, since the missiles required guidance from his APG-63 radar until they reached their target. Which made the whole situation extremely risky, since he basically couldn't maneuver or break away, unless he wanted to loose control over the weapons.

Another plasma bolt blew his wingman's plane, transforming it in a mass of fire, metal and plastic. He almost went into panic but he then saw that his missiles were about to hit the bandit. Take that you fucker. Then another blast from the UFO consumed the cockpit of the F-15 and his body, before his mind could even take notice.

California Coast

Harris also saw the impact of the missiles on his radar screen. The four Sparrows converged on the larger blip and hit it, their radar echo's disappearing at the same time. But the UFO continued its flight, as if it were an elephant being stung by mosquitoes. As the last missiles launched from the surviving fighters hit the craft, Harris swore in frustration, seeing that almost a score of pilots and planes had been sacrificed for nothing. In spite of multiple missile hits, the UFO was still flying on the air, some seventy kilometers to the northwest of his position. And the last remaining fighter planes were trying to close in, this time taking evasive maneuvers to avoid the plasma beam destructiveness and long-range. They only had their short-range Sidewinder missiles and cannons now and most likely they would achieve nothing. Harris looked at his weapon's board. He still had three AIM-120Cs on the other weapon bay. Keying the radio button on the control stick with his index finger, he already knew what he had to do. "Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Requesting permission to re-engage and fire my remaining missiles".

"Comanche, negative on that. We are recalling the remaining fighters. We can't afford to lose more men and aircraft".

"Damn it Sentinel, if that thing lands a lot of civilians will be killed!"

"Orders came from National Command Authority and Wolverine Command. Combat troops are already deploying to possible attack locations. Your orders are to return to base".

So, Colonel Johnson and the President are ordering us to retreat, while that thing is still flying and preparing to launch a terrorist strike at a city. Making some mental calculations he estimated that the UFO had been hit by at least a dozen missiles. It probably had been hurt, since it had reduced more its speed and had made now a couple of erratic turns.

"Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Your last transmission was garbled. I repeat, I failed to receive your last transmission. I don't know if you are hearing this, but I'm reengaging the craft". His mind made up, Harris turned the F-22 until it was pointed to the direction of the UFO.

"Comanche One, negative! Break off this minute!"

"I still can't understand you Sentinel. My radio receiver must be malfunctioning. Engaging now". Ignoring the angry voices on the channel, he turned the volume down and concentrated on the Terror craft in front of him. The Television Camera Set, a device developed for the F-14 Tomcat long-range interceptor that allowed the pilot to track at large distances and display a television image of a large contact in the pilot's monitor, picked up the craft in front of him and displayed its image for a few seconds, until Harris threw the plane into a sharp turn out of instinct. A couple of seconds later, a plasma bolt flew by him, missing his plane by narrow yards. "Shit!" Harris cursed. He made another turn to put the F-22 back into attack position and checked the distance to the UFO. Sixty more miles to go, and the thing seemed to have put all of its defense system against him, forcing him to take some more high-g turns while the green bolts flew across the sky, the plasma disappearing itself after some more miles after the charged particles dispersed themselves and interacted with the oxygen on Earth's atmosphere, turning it into ozone.

Harris kept checking the decreasing distance between his F-22 and the UFO and when he was inside the Amraam's range, he took some more maneuvers to get him closer. He was already under the 35 mile mark and wanted to get closer to assure a kill, but something on his screen changed his plans. The UFO was increasing speed and pretty soon it would outpace his F-22. "Oh, no you don't!" he spouted, and aligned the plane to launch his missiles. The radar switched modes from searching to tracking and pretty soon the computer was feeding the necessary data to the missiles' guidance systems. A low whine come over his headphones telling him that the weapons were locked on target. Not bothering to issue a warning he simply fired his remaining missiles, which dropped in a synchronized sequence from his open weapons bay and quickly made a left roll after the last one was on its way to the UFO.

The Terror Ship in front of him was trying to leave the area, by increasing power to its anti-gravity propulsion system, but the previous missiles already injured it. It fired a couple of shots at the incoming missiles as a last-resort measure to stop them, but it failed. Harris aligned the F-22 as the Amraam's were close to reach the UFO and watched it through the TCS system mounted on his plane.

The gray fuselage of the circular UFO had been already blackened in some places, as result of previous hits. And smoke was coming out of one of the compartments attached to the main body where the doors where located.

The first Amraam hit the UFO on the section that connected the circular body to the "wings". The explosion obscured the video image being displayed on Harris central monitor and prevented him from seeing where the other missiles hit the target. But the end result was pretty obvious. The UFO started spinning on the air, due to the failure of one of its engines that left the whole craft with too many power on one of its sides. The alien crew tried to correct it, but the power plant that was unbalancing the craft suddenly overloaded as the amount of power it released was being elevated to compensate for the failure of the engine on the opposite end of the craft. Harris saw a sudden explosion on the main body that shook the entire craft, with the matter-antimatter reaction carving a hole on the bottom of the craft, while simultaneously wrecking the two remaining engines and leaving the UFO powerless. Without the power of Elerium to counteract the effects of Earth's gravity it simply dropped down on the air like a rock. Harris kept tracking it until the radar blip finally disappeared on the waters of the Pacific. He then turned on his radio again and spoke.

"Sentinel, this is Comanche One. Bandit is down. I repeat bandit is down. Gimme a course to get back home". While he waited for the surveillance plane to reply he took pleasure on the turning down of the fire that was raging inside him just minutes before.

Situation Room, White House, Washington DC, US

General Thompson put down the phone and turned to President Winston. "I just contacted the Navy commander in charge of the Search and Rescue operations. So far  they only managed to retrieve three of the shot down pilots".

"How many still missing?" Winston felt sorrow for the lost of so many men, but the alternative could have been much worse.

"Only two. Of the twelve fighters shot down by the UFO, Sentinel registered that five had managed to bail out of their planes. They will continue their search operations. And they have also recovered one Sectoid body that was floating on the water".

"Better if they retrieve also all wreckage belonging to the UFO crash. We can't afford that fishermen or someone at the beach discovers an alien body floating on the ocean". The DCI commented. Winston nodded in comply and asked to his Press Secretary: "What is the media saying?"

"We have pictured it as an exercise to test our air defense force capabilities over the Pacific Coast".

"Word has also been leaked to the papers through unknown military sources that it was also a test of a advanced plane. We are officially denying it, of course. I suggest we keep some planes up on the air for the past days, exercising and also inviting the media to attend the exercises, sir". Mark Casper had approved the Intelligence's team's proposal of disinformation and had forwarded it to the President for final approval. While Winston wasn't fully briefed on the plan, to protect him in case the whole thing went public, he knew and understood the necessity of keeping a tight lid on the existence of the aliens.

"Very well. Has X-Com been able to determine why the craft stood that long offshore?"

"The assessment team thinks it might be making some reconnaissance before attacking. However, the approach method it used is usually made on a surprise attack, going underwater where our detection abilities are far lower than on the air. No one simply knows what where the alien's intentions, sir". The President looked at the Chairman of the JCS, his top military adviser.

"General Thompson, what do you propose?"

"Mr. President, the Navy could start a 24 hour surveillance of our seaboard. While they suffered cutbacks on the area of submarine warfare, we still have assets that can be deployed, such as attack submarines and surveillance ships".

"I will sign the orders immediately then". He finally moved into the American Representative to the X-Com Council. "I would like to know also the name of the pilot that shot down the UFO. He needs some sort of award for it".

Area 51, Nevada, US

When Johnson had learned about Harris actions' and how he had directly ignored a superior order, he immediately called the pilot to his office to have a small chat with him. Harris more than likely knew why he had been ordered to attend to the Colonel's office, but as he opened the door and entered, the pilot showed no sign of being bothered for it. He stood up in attention and said: "Lt. Colonel Harris reporting as ordered, sir".

"At ease! I suppose you know the reason for this meeting?"

"I take it to be directly related to my actions this morning".

"Mr. Harris, let me tell you what I got here in front of me on my desk". He pointed with his hands to the papers in front of him. "I have a transcript of the communications between you and the Sentry. And I also have a letter for the US President thanking X-Com for its efforts in protection of American lives and expressing his sincere admiration at the X-Com who shot down the UFO". Tell me, should I be pleased or should I be pissed off?!"

"I did my duty, sir. That thing flying over there was a menace"

"That thing over there was a menace all right, but this is not the place where you can fight your own little war! You had orders, mister and you chose to ignore them over some personal vendetta! Can you imagine what he would suffer if we lost half of our interception capabilities if you plane was shot!?"

"Sir, I ignored the chain of command because my superior officers were making a wrong decision!"

"The wrong decision was yours mister! In fact, I even doubt you thought about it!"

"Colonel, I knew exactly its capabilities and exactly how to strike. All of my moves were planned and I knew the enemy's tactics and forces available. And as you can see, I was successful".

"Indeed Colonel, and that's why you are not being canned for this little trick of yours. The letter also says that they are considering you for the Silver Star for your actions and you will certainly receive it later although I oppose it. Meanwhile, I want a full report by tomorrow of your actions and the UFO's capabilities and also a complete rethinking of our aerial tactics according to this information. Is that clear?" Harris knew he would have to spend the whole night awake doing it, but at least the Colonel wasn't grounding him. He replied affirmatively and was dismissed by Johnson. When he got outside and was on his way to his quarters he almost bumped into Captain Markovitch as he turned a corner. He immediately recoiled back and apologized.

"Sorry Captain. I wasn't thinking in what I was doing"

Markovitch dropped from her position of full alert and replied: "Don't worry about it Colonel, no harm was done. By the way, congratulations for your actions today!"

Harris winced and adding some irony to his voice while he said: "Thank you. Unfortunately the commander doesn't feel that way. Let me ask you something Captain: you have served with the Colonel before. Did he always have this attitude of being the guy that does everything by the book?"

Markovitch made a little smirk to him and answered back: "I know what you are saying Colonel. I will have a little talk to him.

"Good luck. From what I've seen so far, you will need it, Captain". He nodded and started to walk again. Markovitch replied and thought for some seconds. She then turned to the direction of Johnson's office and headed towards it. Upon reaching it, she knocked and Johnson replied: "Enter".

She got in and saluted. Johnson raised its eyes from the amount of paperwork he had in front of him and said: "What is it Captain? I'm very busy at the moment and I have already congratulated you on the readiness of your team".

"I know Captain, but I need to talk about something else, Johnson". He stopped what he was doing and made a face of being terribly annoyed. "Let's not bring this matter again, shall we Markovitch?!"

"I'm not talking about that, Colonel. I'm talking about your attitude of giving the hell over Harris because of what he did today. He's a damn hero and you condemned him because of his actions!"

"The guy acted irrationally and didn't measure the possible consequences!"

"He took a risk Johnson! But a calculated risk!  He didn't wait for the tacticians down here to analyze it over weeks, he made a combat decision! You should be thanking him for President Winston not be cutting right now to X-Com's funding, which could be happening right now if they had launched an attack".

"He ignored the chain of command and risked his dumb ass and a plane worth millions of dollars that we can't afford to loose!"

"And saved the life of thousands of civilians! Who, if everything had gone over the book or caution would be dead by now!"

"What's your point Captain?"

"You are when you say that the only thing that we have on the same level as this aliens is intelligence and we should use it. Otherwise we are nothing more than hairless apes going against them. But you are also forgetting that you can't predict everything. And that sometimes is better to charge if you feel the sudden urge to do it".

"If there's a rule then it's because there's a damn good reason for it!"

"But if what no one ever thought about it? Or if it made you act against everything you thought and believed, Johnson? What would you do then?" He was about to speak but stopped at her last words.

"See what I mean, Johnson? Sometimes you forget to let go, to ignore all the questions and just do. And you condemn other people for doing it. That's why we had all those discussions before over military matters when I was under your command. And that's why you never understood and accepted that I wanted to join the 82nd. Think about it". She turned and left and Johnson wanted to say something but couldn't possibly think about what to say. He decided to turn back to his paperwork and leave it for later when he recovered.

April 15th, 1999

Highway 50, Maryland, US

Williams was just finishing his coffee at the diner located at the highway that connected Washington to Maryland when Davis entered the establishment. Looking at his watch, he saw that Davis was half an hour late on their meeting. The FBI agent looked all over the place at the few customers that had to be up for whatever reason at this hour in the morning. Detecting no danger, he then walked over to Williams's table and sat down on a chair. "Good morning" he said.

"Good morning? Where have you been? You are half an hour late".

"I stayed outside hidden to see if anyone had followed us. Nothing like triple checking to be safe".

Williams was surprised and continued: "OK. Next time just warn me so that I can bring the paper or something to kill the time. Any progress?"

Continuously looking at everyone who was in the dinner, with his eyes changing direction every few seconds, he replied: "I got about half a dozen suspects, but I doubt it, although I have them on surveillance just to be sure".

"Someone important?"

"No big names. Almost all of them are regular investigators. No, they are small fish".

"But still be careful. You heard about the possibility of hybrids infiltrating our society?"

"Yes. Are my men looking for hybrids?" He fixed his stare on Williams.

"I have reason to believe that the conspirators might be using them. Be very careful, from what I've been reported they can be quite fast".

"I will tell that to my men. I have already informed them about the alien situation although I've kept myself quiet about all the rest".

"Good. Watch out for yourselves".

"We will". He looked again at Williams and said: "I take it that the brain washing deception factory is going quite well. From what I've heard, the delegations of the Bureau all over the country are starting to receive calls from concerned citizens about how a Neo Nazi conspiracy is about to try to throw the country through the use of stolen advanced weapons. That's one of the craziest things I ever heard on my life but I used to thought the same about UFOs".

"We just took advantage of the television focusing on the incidents up in California and the extreme-right militias and patriot groups that appeared making warnings about the alien menace".

"And now you have the Secret Service going nuts every day because of the fights in front of the White House between them and the idiots who hold rallies supporting the aliens".

"Two bunches of lunatics fighting one another on the evening news makes everyone else think that this whole matter is just crazy stuff". The media was having a field day with the confrontations between both groups in Washington and other cities and a set of rumors disseminated by the intelligence team had sparked all kind of weird rumors, distracting attention from the aerial fight over the Pacific.

"Yeah, whatever. Just remember me never to give my vote to you on any election if all of this works".

April 20th, 1999

Unknown facility, unknown location, US

Every time Number Three came to the secret installations of the Group at the United States he felt a natural repulsion about the place. Too many things here stank of the alien presence and he had never become accustomed to the place. Still he knew that the future of mankind and of his position laid here, although the thought wasn't too comforting. He wondered if Number One knew about that and had specifically called for the reunion at this facilities, in order to put himself on a strained position. The old fool must be too clever or too stupid to do that, he considered, but then he realized that he couldn't tell from both choices. It didn't matter, he concluded to himself, since everything was already set up in motion and nothing could stop it.

"The Americans are acting to counter your own deception. Their intelligence group has proven itself to be quite resourceful". So this is from where the hostilities begun, Three said to himself, before answering back.

"Those are close to desperate attempts to regain control of public opinion. In the end they will only contribute more to their own discredit. What is necessary is that we can control the team. I would assume it would have been already done by your part, since they would be fine material for recruitment, since those men are the ones who have the better, if grossly incomplete picture of everything".

Number One recoiled, furious that the other man had the nerve to question his own actions. Regaining control, he shot back: "That would pose as a very dangerous risk. They don't yet have the power necessary to be of importance to us and they are unreliable on terms of allegiance, since most of them don't appear to share of our motives"

"In that case, why aren't they being kept under a strict watch and control? If they are not with us, then they belong to the enemy". Don't escalate this anymore, or I will promise you that you don't know yet how far you can sink.

"They have too much independence from a chain of command. Ultimately, they are becoming analogous to us, starting to act on their own. We need to think of other ways to contain them, since they might suspect something if we keep a strict control over them".

"As we know, that can be arranged. But they are not dangerous to us yet. And if they become, we will provoke their fall and take care of any survivors that might exist. One way or the other they are ours to crush".

April 22nd, 1999

Times Square, New York City, US

What a shitty job I got, Blake thought as he was looking at the crowd gathered at Times Square on their way of making a rally against the alien invasion. Nevada had turned up into nothing and since he had took the journey on its own, he wouldn't get any reimbursement for his expenses. Worse yet, his next vacancies would be way too long now, since he had taken a week off to personally investigate Area 51.

His queries had left to nothing. First it had taken him days just to get a phone number of the base, with all federal and state agencies denying even the existence of the installation. He finally got through it by telling some innocent lies but even that had left into a dead end. The person who had answered the phone on the other end ignored his request to talk to Colonel Johnson and asked before saying or acknowledging anything for his identification. He eventually hang up upon seeing that Blake was just trying to fish for information. And a few minutes afterwards a police car stopped at the gas station where Blake had made the call. When he noticed them from the diner's where he was having breakfast he realized he had hit the jackpot, but that I was useless since there still was no confirmation for Johnson's presence at the base.

But something was going on Area 51 for sure. He had driven his rented car into the base's limits, eventually finding the road used by the military personnel. But after some minutes of hanging around in the area to see if he could detect any movement an unmarked jeep had appeared down the highway. They had parked close to him and two soldiers wearing Air Force insignias had come out of the vehicle. They asked him about his business in the area while keeping an aggressive pose. Blake made up an innocuous story to explain for his presence there, but they proceeded to warn him against staying in a classified area. Still he had managed to see a lot of night activity with jets being scrambled, although he only saw their lights far away. The place was too damn guarded to give away any of its secrets, he concluded after a week and decided to get back to NY.

Upon getting back at the newspaper, his editor had assigned him the task of covering the manifestations that where being held for and against the aliens. "Since you are already familiar to the matter", the bastard had said upon telling him his job for the next days, smiling. And one of the lamest things I've ever done he thought.

The crowd was being restrained by police barriers in one of the sidewalks on Times Square and was making a lot of noise. The state troopers didn't know exactly what to do so they just stood around trying to make a pose as calm as possible while the protesters waved signs against Nazism and a Police State and defending Personal Freedom. Fishing out a notebook out from the inside pocket of his leather jacket he moved towards the crowd, which he noticed was about to turn itself into an angry mob. Looking up he saw the reason for the commotion: in one of the electronic billboards on Times Square an ad was just going through about the new movie Hollywood had decided to put up by 4th of July. Independence Day, or how ET had decided to take Earth on the Nation's Founding Day. Ironical, he thought before noticing the leader of the protesters, a well-built man with brown hair cut in a military style. Pushing through the crowd he approached the individual.

"Hi. I'm working for the NY Times. Could you please tell me what this is all about?" The man looked at him with suspicion and was about to ignore him until Blake added, while going for his wallet: "I can show you some ID to prove who I am".

"Don't bother". He said in an icy voice. "It doesn't matter if you are who you claim. You are nothing but a puppet at their hands".

"I'm sorry, whose hands are those?" He immediately took the cap off his pen and started writing.

"The ones who are trying to install the New World Order. The ones who are trying to limit our freedom and manipulate our minds through the use of propaganda like that". He pointed at the screen that was now giving out some other commercial.

"You don't believe in UFOs?"

"By the contrary, we quite believe on them. But the government knows what they are about. They made them and are using them to blind our perception. The new millennium is coming and they are getting ready to install their new order".

Blake immediately saw the whole picture: another group of people that had decided after the Waco massacre that the Federal government was after them. That and the hype surrounding the coming of 2000. "And what is that new order you are constantly talking about?"

"The one imposed by the new fascists, that are hiding right now on these towers of oppression and in the government under the disguise of Republicans or Democrats. They will take away all our freedoms and make us slaves, but we won't even notice it. There are no aliens. There is only a deception to make us believe they exist and that they are threatening us, so that we abdicate of our liberties under the pretense of false war". He grabbed his speaker and started shouting: "Say no to the false prophets! Say no to the New World Order and their lackeys!" The crowd imitated him and kept shouting at the NYPD personnel in the area who where know looking at one another without knowing exactly what to do. The mob begun gesturing aggressively at the policemen and Blake decided to leave the area, or at least watch the predictable confrontations from a safer place. When he detached himself from the protesters he saw police vans already appearing and unloading agents equipped for riot control. As he watched them deploy he was already starting to compose his article for next day's edition. But something kept troubling him.

April 25th, 1999

White House, Washington DC, US

The briefings at the White House were starting to scare Williams, the hairs on the back of his head raising up as he went through the corridors that led into the Situation Room. Everything pointed out that the infiltrators should be men occupying considerable power positions in US government and most likely at least one of the military and civilian officers present at the meetings was related to the whole cover-up. And most likely that person was watching him closely to see how far he got to the truth. Even if he hadn't discovered that a conspiracy was in progress he would be in danger, he concluded, which sent shivers down his spine.

But who? Going through the painting of past US presidents he considered if any of them knew about the whole alien situation. Hell, even Winston is not out of the whole possible lot, he thought. That would make it one of the most cynical and cruel bastards ever born on this planet if that was the case. But in any case he was going to leave the White House after next year's elections, being on his second term of office. Could any of the most likely Republican and Democrat candidates be it? Vice-President Longstreet had the better chances of being nominated by the Democratic Party, while on the GOP chances seemed that it would the present Governor of New York State, Charles Vaughn. None of then had a really long career in politics or intelligence affairs. Longstreet had been one of the Senators from Georgia before being elected with Winston right on his first term, while Vaughn had climbed up the steps in NY's State legislature until successfully running for Governor some years ago. The VP was constantly informed of the whole alien situation while Vaughn only had been told the minimum about the aliens, not knowing the full dimension of their actions or their intentions. If the guy gets elected he will probably think again if it was a good idea to run now for the presidency, for sure.

When he reached the door to the Situation Room he decided to concentrate again to the job now on his hands. The two Marine sentinels escorting the entrance opened it and he got inside. When he entered several civilians and military chiefs were already inside talking to themselves or sat at their places, going through some last minute information. He greeted several of them on his way to his place by the center table and sat, choosing not to talk to anyone but looking at them instead.

A voice came from behind him "Anything new Williams?" The CIA man almost jumped on his chair but kept his calm as he got up to see the person who had talked to him. He saw his boss, the DCI looking back at him, waiting for an answer.

"No, sir. I have no new data to present besides the information you have already seen".

"Very well". Dropping his voice so that only Williams could hear him, he whispered: "The President knows not to ask about too much about the situation on the alien infiltration thing. He knows we are acting on it".

"Already taken that into consideration, sir".

"Good. And see you start lightening up on this meeting. By this time you should have been accustomed to them". Williams tried to appear relaxed. "Yes sir. Thanks for the advice".

"Don't mention it. You are doing a hell of a job. Keep it that way".

Thoughts screamed at Williams's head upon hearing that last sentence. Stop it! You are becoming paranoid and cannot think or act properly on that state. Then the President entered the room and the other officers took their places for the meeting to begin. Winston then said: "Let's be brief, gentlemen, since I have a meeting this afternoon to discuss this year's budget and the alien menace could look a piece of cake compared to it. Mr. Williams, if you please?"

Williams got his notes and the control remote for the video projector and replied: "Starting right now, sir. Starting with the shoot out at the California Coast, the Navy has begun underwater salvage operations of the UFO that was brought down in the Pacific. Initial findings have shown it to be manned by Sectoids and carrying also a cargo of their battle tanks and the usual type of weaponry they used. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that they were equipped to mount one of their terrorist strikes. The question remains of why they didn't do it and that interrogation can't be answered right now". Clicking on one of the buttons in the remote control, a picture of the UFO appeared in the wall left of Williams. "This is a television picture taken by the system's of the X-Com F-22 that shot it down. Although the whole incident was a military disaster, we have taken some lessons on how to approach and take down these craft. It can be done, but the question is if they have something even more potent, which in that case would mean that ours fighters wouldn't have a chance against it".

The four-star General that was Chief of Staff of the Air Force raised his hand and asked: "What's X-Com's situation on research of UFO propulsion and flying technology? Can they replicate it and make an UFO capable of fighting those things?"

"Not at the present moment sir. Research has discovered some things about how to replicate the materials used and the physics of the propulsion system but nothing on how the aliens navigate or control the craft".

"That is not good, we need to stop them before we land, while they are on their ships to cut down their numbers".

"That leads me into the another problem I was going to pose, General". The military man motioned him to continue with his head and Williams went on. "In spite of our victories we haven't managed so far to slow down the activities of the aliens. So far, X-Com has monitored more that one hundred UFOs on these first months, with possibly many more going undetected. And the rate of growth of alien activity keeps going up. If it keeps going up pretty soon we wouldn't be able to deal with all their incursions and can only expect to hinder them as much as possible".

"Mr. Williams are you saying that we are doomed?" President Winston asked.

"No sir. The scientific personnel have speculated that the aliens must have a base on our solar system from which they are maintaining and controlling their attacks. We know that the Sectoids originally came from Zeta Reticuli although they later abandoned the system, so they now must be living in some other part of the galaxy. The point of all this is that, even at faster that light speeds a military command would have a tough time coordinating and maintaining such an attack. The supply lines would just be too long and the craft we've seen only appear to be capable of moving inside a star system. Otherwise it would take them too long even if they are in the nearest star system who is four light-years away from us.  The question right now is of what exactly is that base:  an installation on a planet or a huge mothership? In any case, for Earth to survive we need to find the location of that base and destroy it".

"That might be easy to say, Mr. Williams, but how do you know where it is and, more important, how do we get there and how we destroy it". The National Security Adviser, was on one of her days, Williams sighted to himself before concluding.

"Well, madam, although we have proven alien interaction with human societies through known History and probably going far back behind, it isn't here on Earth or we would have detected it because of its size. As for our nearest companion, the Moon, the Clementine probe did a sweep of his surface some years ago and it found no unusual ground formations. However, analysis of the UFO's trajectories in space shows it that the majority comes from the dark side of the Moon. Most likely they have a fleet operating there, but whatever there's a Mothership there remains to be seen. Also, the UFOs appear to be coming from other locations in the Solar System, although the astrophysicists are only making guesses right now".

"That hardly answers my question Mr. Williams. Even if we discover it, what are we going to do?"

"I don't know then Mrs. May. That's up for the military planners to decide. But what we need right now is to get more information, either by continuing research or by keep on interrogating captured aliens".

André Galvão, 2001